29 September

Images from the Glory of Autumn Photo Workshop

We just wrapped up our Glory of Autumn photography workshop in the Canadian Rockies. We had a great group of photographers with diverse interests – watch the blog for a sampling of their photos from the workshop coming soon! Here are a few shots that Darwin and I made during the workshop.

A little scouting before the workshop began seemed a good idea.

Fire burn, Kootenay Plains, Alberta, Canada

Darwin photographing the colourful underbrush in an old fire burn. ©Samantha Chrysanthou

Aspen trees, Kooteny Plains, Alberta, Canada

The colours starting to turn. ©Samantha Chrysanthou

Abraham Lake was full! The shoreline scattered with leaves made for unique shots.

Abraham Lake, Alberta, Canada

A brimming lake surrounded by fall colour…what more could you ask for? ©Samantha Chrysanthou

Aspen Trees in Autumn Colours, Abraham Lake, Bighorn Wildlands,

©Darwin Wiggett

Reflections, Abraham Lake, Alberta, Canada

A more abstract take on Abraham Lake. ©Samantha Chrysanthou

We had fun playing with the glorious aspen colour.

Aspen Trees in Autumn along the Crescent Falls Road, Crescent Falls

Beauty, roadside. ©Darwin Wiggett

Aspen Trees in Autumn Colours, Abraham Lake, Bighorn Wildlands,

Did we mention the lake was full? ©Darwin Wiggett

Aspen trees, Kooteny Plains, Alberta, Canada

A neutral density grad filter helped get longer shutter speeds here. ©Samantha Chrysanthou

Aspen Trees in Autumn Colours, Abraham Lake, Bighorn Wildlands,

Make it a pano – Darwin’s 90mm tilt shift lens makes it a snap! ©Darwin Wiggett

Aspen Trees in Autumn Colours, Abraham Lake, Bighorn Wildlands,

The floods last year caused serious erosion on Abraham Lake. ©Darwin Wiggett

We each tried to shoot beyond the ‘classic’ landscape image.

Whitegoat Lake showing Mount Stelfox (right) and Elliot Peak (left), Kootenay Plains, Bighorn Wildlands, Alberta Canada

White Goat Lake reflection. ©Darwin Wiggett

Kootenay Plains, Alberta, Canada

Subtle fall colours in the meadows… ©Samantha Chrysanthou

9 July

Artists in Residence – Week One Summary

We started our Artists in Residence program at Aurum Lodge last week on July 1 (Canada Day). After two weeks of intensive packing and cleaning our house for the renters, we packed up Betty-Tina (our 1976 Trillium travel pod) and planned to be on the road by noon. But our trailer lights did not work and so one of our nice neighbours in Cochrane, an electrician, came over to help us out. A couple of hours later we were ready to go and the last thing we packed from the house were Sam’s home-made rhubarb juice popsicles!

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

In hindsight, travelling on Canada Day was probably not the best choice especially because we plodded along with our RAV-4 pulling Betty-Tina at 80-90 km per hour. I’m sure we were the cause of  a few muffled expletives but we were happy sucking on the popsicles and enjoying the scenery. Canada Day was the start of a crazy hot week here in Alberta with high temperatures and dry conditions after a rainy June. Once at the lodge we settled into our wee cabin in the woods that lodge-owners Alan and Madeleine had pimped out for our arrival. Betty-Tina is parked in the trees ready for us should we need to give up our cabin for guests. It took us two days to unload and get settled. On day 2 we were sitting outside our cabin enjoying coffee and a scone slathered in honey that we’d brought from the Farmer’s Market in Cochrane when a black bear meandered around the corner of the cabin units. This was a big surprise more for us and our dog than the bear which was eventually shooed away by Alan. Alan managed to snap a few photos while we retreated into the safety of the cabin. We now look twice before opening the door with scone in hand.

©Darwin Wiggett - A black bear from another time, we did not get photos of the visiting bear because we were hiding in our cabin!

©Darwin Wiggett – A black bear from another time; we did not get photos of the visiting bear because we were hiding in our cabin!

The great thing about hanging out in a lodge is that you meet awesome people. On day 5 Sam and I had our first private instruction clients, Rob and Michelle Avis. Rob and Michelle booked a full day with us and they were a delight to hang out with (and both were quick studies so the lessons went quickly!) The Avis’ are leading edge permaculture instructors and have been a force in the permaculture movement in Alberta. They offer a two week permaculture design course complete with a certificate at the end. Sam took the course last year and it changed her life. I am taking this two-week course starting in a few days myself and I look forward to being charged about this exciting learning prospect! Personally Sam and I think that permaculture is the biggest bang for the buck if we want to heal the planet. Here at oopoomoo we’ve always looked for ways to minimize our impact on the planet – plus we would love to learn how to grow more of our own food in a challenging climate like Cochrane.

©Darwin Wiggett - Michelle Avis relaxing at Little Indian Falls

©Darwin Wiggett – Michelle Avis relaxing at Little Indian Falls

The other thing of note is that on day 3, a wildfire (likely caused by lightening) erupted about 30km west of Aurum Lodge. The billowing, dirty smoke was striking to look at as it rose behind the mountains. We got a few shots of a blood-red sun through curtains of smoke before the ashy air settled through the entire lake valley. It’s a bit challenging to breathe at times until the wind picks up, but with a wildfire there’s a lot to photograph including the golden light reflected through the orangey clouds and the misty look to the forest. The fire is now under control so we’re not threatened at present except for our lungs when the wind changes directions.

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Smoke in the trees makes for beautiful moody photos.

©Samantha Chrysanthou – Smoke in the trees makes for beautiful moody photos.

©Darwin Wiggett - The suns peaks through the ash and smoke.

©Darwin Wiggett – The suns peaks through the ash and smoke.

©Darwin Wiggett - The drama of forest fire clouds!

©Darwin Wiggett – The drama of forest fire clouds!

Being out here is busy. There’s always lots to do, and we help Alan and Madeleine out from time to time as well (except maybe me who is likely banned from serving after I dropped an entire tray of dishes). Even though we are in a unique situation living in a mountain lodge, we still need to carve out precious creative time. For everyone creative time needs to be scheduled just like anything else. Make it a priority and make sure you get it done first thing everyday!

©Darwin Wiggett - Even if you can't get away for a proper photo shoot, carve out a half hour and make images of the things around you. Here is the grass beside our cabin.

©Darwin Wiggett – Even if you can’t get away for a proper photo shoot, carve out a half hour and make images of the things around you. Here is the grass beside our cabin.

So, we’d like you to join us in a creative challenge every month. This month the task is to take your least used lens (or focal length if you only own one zoom lens) and head out four times this month, using just that lens/focal length. Sam’s least used lens is her 60mm macro lens. She always leaves it out of her pack so I told her she needs to go out this month and make some photos with it. My least used landscape lens is my 85mm f1.4 lens. I always use it for portraits but rarely for landscape and so I will be sure to get out at least four times this month doing landscape work with this lens. Share your story of your least used lens and the images you make in July on our oopoomoo Facebook group for feedback or comments!

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Macro photography with a point-n-shoot not the 60mm macro lens!

©Samantha Chrysanthou – Macro photography with a point-n-shoot not the 60mm macro lens!

27 May

The Ultimate Kill the Clutter Challenge – One Month to Process or Delete My Digital Image Backlog

When Sam first told me about her self-imposed deadline of June 30, 2014 to have all of her image backlog either processed or deleted I was shocked. She has so many great images just waiting for processing (many of them multiple image stitches or HDR sequences) how could she dare even think about deleting all that great work? It deserves to be seen! She is destroying art – how can she?

But I totally understand her need to kill the clutter so she can move on with creating new work. The problem arose because both Sam and I have precious little time for processing our image files in our backlog because other aspects of our photo business have higher priority. It’s weird, but as photography instructors, our own creative work most often gets the least priority. But because we are headed off on a creative sabbatical this year it would be great to start off our personal journey with absolutely no backlog from the past. In fact, I think it is mandatory that we start off our artistic journey with no baggage! And so… with a big, big dose of courage garnered from all the support that oopoomoo readers have given Sam, I am going to make the same resolution to have my image backlog processed or deleted by June 30, 2014.

How big of a job is it? I have 199 folders (each one representing a shooting day) to sort, edit, process and mostly delete from my hard drive. Some folders go back to 2005!!! It’s hard to think of letting go of many, many hours of shooting but really out of all those folders how many great images are there? Even if I only keep 10%, I should be able to get it all done (he tells himself hopefully)… so here it goes….

I am starting off by processing my folders of images from the Nordegg Mine (Brazeau Collieries) in advance of our Coal Mines and Cantons in the Canadian Rockies; an HDR Workshop starting this Thursday (we still have a spot or two available if anyone has time off this weekend – we have no plans to run this next year). The photos below were from a September 21, 2011 when we spent a full 8 hours at the mine.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

NMP15091

©Darwin Wiggett

NMP15092

©Darwin Wiggett

NMP15095

©Darwin Wiggett

NMP15094

©Darwin Wiggett

NMP15096

©Darwin Wiggett

NMP15098

©Darwin Wiggett

NMP15099A

©Darwin Wiggett

NMP15100

©Darwin Wiggett

NMP15101A

©Darwin Wiggett

NMP15102

©Darwin Wiggett

NMP15104

©Darwin Wiggett

NMP15106

©Darwin Wiggett

NMP15107

©Darwin Wiggett

 

8 May

Artists in Residence – Our One-Year Creative Sabbatical

Hey everyone! Darwin and I are really excited to announce that, starting July 1, we are going to be Artists in Residence at Aurum Lodge! This is the same eco-lodge which hosts many of our photography workshops and is located within one of our favourite landscapes on planet Earth...the Canadian Rockies! This Artists in Residence program is part of a larger commitment to creativity for oopoomoo, and we want you to share in the journey – please join us! Read on to learn more about why we’re making this move and how we hope to share our experience with you.

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Aurum Lodge

©Samantha Chrysanthou – Aurum Lodge

A Passion for Photography

As many of you know, last June Alberta (the province in which we live) was struck by some of the worst flooding in Canadian history. After days of pounding rain, many towns situated near mountain-fed rivers and creeks were inundated by surging, raging waters. The economic heart of the city of Calgary was shocked into abandoned stillness by the frothy anger of a changeling river; it was surreal to watch the incoming footage as a normally placid, rippling blue Bow River turned into an insatiable, banks-crumbling maw in just a few bare hours. Costly clean up is ongoing.

©Darwin Wiggett - The flooding Bow River

©Darwin Wiggett – The flooding Bow River

We weren’t directly affected by flooding in our neck of the woods but, for many Albertans, the flood devastation served a visceral reminder of the power of nature and spurred a dialogue about how climate change impacts our communities and our future. It also raised the issue of whether the fast pace of resource extraction pursued by Alberta needed to be re-examined – and interestingly many people we spoke to mentioned an interest in slowing the pace of their own lives and living a more fulfilled, healthy, creative life.

These conversations really resonated with us. We started oopoomoo to encourage photographers to invest in their artistic development within the larger context of a healthy planet and vibrant communities. We’ve frequently written about the need to balance work and life and the importance in investing in your creativity in ways that minimize the impact of the pursuit of photography on the earth’s resources. The flood of 2013 sparked awareness in our community about the hidden costs of our fast-paced, consumptive lifestyle… and reminded us personally that we hadn’t been paying as much attention to our own creative goals as we should.

We decided it was time for that to change. For one year, we would rent our house in Cochrane and would run oopoomoo from our field base at incredible Aurum Lodge, on creative sabbatical as Artists in Residence free to explore our own creative goals but with a keen interest in sharing our journey and, as far as possible, opportunities for artistic growth with oopoomoo fans and readers.

©Darwin Wiggett - Hiking buddies with Samantha on Vision Quest above Abraham Lake.

©Darwin Wiggett – Hiking buddies with Samantha on Vision Quest above Abraham Lake.

Journey With Us

We appreciate that not everyone can take a year off to pursue their artistic goals. But you can carve out one more hour a week for your own creative development. And you owe it to yourself. Get up an hour early. Skip that hour of TV. Turn your lunch break into an artistic fiesta. It’s really about taking a good, honest look at the priorities in life and latching on to what is important to you. Family, friends…your passions…why should they take a back seat? You’ll always remember those times when you were happy and present. You won’t remember, and won’t be remembered for, those sacrificial extra hours at your job.

©Darwin Wiggett - Many of us want more time with family, friends, outdoors, and our art.

©Darwin Wiggett – Many of us want more time with family, friends, outdoors, and our art.

We want you to whisper your secret creative dreams in our ear. How are you hoping to achieve them? What can you do right now to take a step toward those dreams?

We’re going to share our journey with you, and we encourage you to pick up your camera and start your own exploration this summer. There’s plenty of ways to be involved, and we’d love to hear from you! Join us in our Creative Assignments Project, and share your inspiring work and photographic inspirations in the oopoomoo community on Facebook. And of course, if you ever find yourself in our neck of the woods consider staying awhile to learn with us in this, one of the most stunning natural places on Earth. We look forward to embarking on this creative journey together!

Having fun is what life is all about!

Having fun is what life is all about!

7 May

Congratulations to Hiro Kobayashi – Photographic Artist of the Year – Professional Photographers of Canada

Samantha and I were so pleased to hear that our good friend Hiro Kobayashi just won the title of Photographic Artist of the Year from the Professional Photographers of Canada. Could not have happened to a nicer guy! Way to go Hiro! Hiro was also famously immortalized on our “what does oopoomoo mean” video. Below are the four pictures that garnered Hiro his award with descriptions in his own words.

©Hiro Kobayashi

©Hiroaki Kobayashi

Lights on Green

I found the beautiful moss while I was hiking in the morning. The day was quite rainy day in Lake O’Hara (Yoho National park), but after some hiking I came back to this location and fortunately the rain let up enough for me to take an image. The creek was running below the trail and if I had tried to access the moss, I would destroy natural habitat. I did not want to do that. So I kept walking until I found a path that came up the creek from lower down. Leica M8, Voigtländer UltraWide Heliar 12mm;when I took this photo, I was crazy about this lens. This is an HDR image processed to look like the human eye sees the scene.

©Hiroaki Kobayashi

©Hiroaki Kobayashi

Floating Root

I think everybody has a secret place. This location is my secret place, Goat Pond in Kananaskis country. I like visiting this place in the middle of May since I can see transitions from winter to spring. The reason I still use the Leica M8 even though the M9 has been my main camera for some time is that I can take infrared photography with the M8. The infrared filter gave relatively long exposure to this image. Leica M8, Leica Elamarit 21mm.

©Hiroaki Kobayashi

©Hiroaki Kobayashi

Sunrise on Abraham Lake

I had hesitated photographing Abraham Lake since I was afraid of not to being able to create original images. Actually, Darwin was the one who encouraged me to try. He mentioned “every image is different”. So I tried a winter scene of Abraham Lake last November. Driving in dark morning, I passed the location I planned to photograph and I missed beautiful red sky. The next day, I arrived at the spot on time but the sky was not as spectacular as the day before. So I changed my strategy. I waited until the sun was coming out from the summit of the mountain, and captured this photo. While I was shooting, I totally forgot about the dilemma I had from the day before. I am sure adrenalin was rushing  into my blood stream. Kootenay Plains has been my favorite place since then. Leica M9, Leica Elamarit 21mm.

 

©Hiroaki Kobayashi

©Hiroaki Kobayashi

 Touching You, Touching Me

Years ago, I saw TV show called “chasing wild horse” about Romanian photographer, Roberto Dustesco’s journey to Sable Island. I wished to make amazing horse images one day. About one year ago, a friend of mine allowed me to photography her horses. Since then, I fell in love with these gentle and beautiful animals. Photographing horses required a new set of skills so I could get good images. Although I expected more dynamic action shots all the horses were doing were eating and pooing. So I decided to focus on capturing their intimacy they occasionally showed. Nikon D800, Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8, 175mm, f/3.5, 1/500 sec. I added some textures to this image.

22 April

Announcing our Winter Discovery Photo Adventures 2015 (at Abraham Lake)

Samantha and I am pleased to partner with Aurum Lodge in January and February of next year (2015) to offer two, small-group Winter Discovery Photo Adventures at Abraham Lake in the Kootenay Plains of the Canadian Rockies. We’ll spend extensive time in the field photographing the incredible beauty of this unspoiled region. From the iconic methane bubbles trapped in the ice of Abraham Lake to the rugged peaks towering over the quiet winter highways of Canada’s world-famous mountain parks (Banff and Jasper), there’s so much to photograph and share!

We’ve tramped around photographing this area for years and we love it so much we literally wrote the book on the area! No matter what the weather or conditions, there’s a variety of locations to challenge all creative photographers, and a few additional assignments here and there provide creative support for those interested in firing up their artistic muse. The small group size of 4 to 7 participants is a rare thing on photo workshops and tours in the Canadian Rockies, but we chose a favourable student to instructor ratio to ensure lots of elbow room at all locations and access to us for all your photography questions. Another rare thing: our packages are all-inclusive (instructor and accommodation fees including all meals, beverages and room tax) so there’s no hidden or additional fees when you get here. For those looking to extend their learning experience, NEW this year is the opportunity to book private, one-on-one instructional outings before or after the Photo Adventure at a special discounted price! Join us! Discover your own vision of the magic of winter in Canadian Rockies. Click here to learn more.

Raven, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

©Darwin Wiggett

SAM4006

©Samantha Chrysanthou

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Samantha Chrysanthou

©Samantha Chrysanthou

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Samantha Chrysanthou

©Samantha Chrysanthou

©Samantha Chrysanthou

©Samantha Chrysanthou

©Samantha Chrysanthou

©Samantha Chrysanthou

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Samantha Chrysanthou

©Samantha Chrysanthou

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

 

14 April

Clean the Clutter – The Longer the Wait, the Easier the Edit

Samantha and I have spoken many times about being ruthless in editing your work. Keep only the good stuff, toss the rest. Easier said than done though!

Of course, the longer you wait to edit your images, the more likely you’ll be objective and really clean the clutter. I finally got around to editing and processing my images from The Glory of Autumn in the Canadian Rockies Workshop held in, wait for it… 2011! So after two and a half years of sitting on the hard drive it was easy to look at the images objectively. Of the 500 photos I took, most of them seemed pretty pedestrian. I narrowed the selects down to about 50 images with ‘potential’ and in the end kept only 25 photos. I wonder if I waited another 2 years if I would keep any at all! Hmmmm… I just found several folders of images from the fall of 2005, the more time passes, the more ruthless I get.

Below are the 16 images I liked the best from the 2011 workshop. It remains to be seen if any of these images make it to my top 100 list over time. It will be interesting to see if I have anything at all to share from the 2005 trip!

001NMP14634

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett

003NMP15114

©Darwin Wiggett

Abraham Lake, Kootenay Plains, Alberta, Canada ©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett

005NMP15120

©Darwin Wiggett

006NMP15117

©Darwin Wiggett

007NMP15132

©Darwin Wiggett

008NMP15126

©Darwin Wiggett

009NMP15129

©Darwin Wiggett

010NMP15122

©Darwin Wiggett

011NMP15115

©Darwin Wiggett

012NMP15116

©Darwin Wiggett

013NMP15134

©Darwin Wiggett

014NMP15138

©Darwin Wiggett

015NMP15139

©Darwin Wiggett

016NMP15113

©Darwin Wiggett  

25 March

New Photo Adventures at Abraham Lake — Coming Soon!

In honour of the fact that spring is delayed this year in Alberta, here is a wintry shot from this year’s winter photography workshop at Abraham Lake. Speaking of winter photography…we are just putting the finishing touches on our 2015 offerings at the Lake. We will announce the full details to our newsletter subscribers first (hint! hint!) so they get first dibs at the very limited number of spots available. In other news, Darwin and I have an exciting announcement to make soon (no, we’re not pregnant) so stay tuned!

Empty Nest ©Samantha Chrysanthou

Empty Nest ©Samantha Chrysanthou

22 March

Art and Craft of Photography – Using Technique to Enhance Mood

Art is about personal expression. How do you feel about a subject? What is your connection to what you see? Why are you attracted to a particular subject? What do you want to tell the world? Who are you? These are the bigger questions we need to ask when making our art.The desire to paint, to sculpt, to make music, or to create photographs should be motivated from within and be an expression of you. External motivations like making money, getting likes, or pleasing others will only spoil your artistic expression.  Create for yourself.

Once you are creating for yourself and not others AND you are photographing from your feelings and a connection with a subject, then you can think of which camera technique and post processing methods will enhance your message. Whenever I go to the old coal mine in Nordegg (Brazeau Collieries) I immediately feel a sense of nostalgia and sentimentality. Where some people see a hulk of rusty industrial power, I see a romantic dream of the past. It took me a visit or two to honour my inner feelings about the mine but once I let those feelings out, then I could make the images I wanted to make about the mine.

For example, there is a spot in the mine called the bone yard where random pieces of equipment lay scattered about in the grass. I wanted to show a sense of the passage of time and the static nature of the rusting equipment among the living world. To do this I used a solid ND filter on my camera lens to lengthen exposure time so the grasses moved as a ghostly blur around the rusting pieces of metal. This painterly look was enhanced in processing by using the Orton technique. The end result gave me a wistful look.

©Darwin Wiggett - Gears in blowing grass.

©Darwin Wiggett – Gears in blowing grass.

©Darwin Wiggett - Long exposure using an ND filter and enhanced with Orton processing.

©Darwin Wiggett – Long exposure using an ND filter and enhanced with Orton processing.

The selective use of aperture to have parts of the scene rendered sharp and parts of the scene a dreamy blur was also effective for me in translating my dream-like feeling for the mine. I used apertures such as f1.4 or f2.8 to give me a thin slice of sharpness.

©Darwin Wiggett - Mood was enhanced by using a thin slice of focus at f2.8 and then painting then enhancing the blur with the Orton Technique.

©Darwin Wiggett – Mood was enhanced by using a thin slice of focus at f2.8 along with the Orton Technique.

©Darwin Wiggett - An aperture of f1.4 returns an image with a thin slice of focus to give a more dream like image.

©Darwin Wiggett – An aperture of f1.4 returns an image with a thin slice of focus to give a more dream-like image.

©Darwin Wiggett - Peeling paint at f2.0

©Darwin Wiggett – Peeling paint at f2.0.

Another technique I used to enhance the nostalgic mood was to convert the images from colour into sepia-toned black and white. Many of the scenes inside of the buildings at the mine site are contrasty with bright light coming in through the windows and cavernous shadow areas. To capture the entire range of bright to dark in the image I used HDR exposure blends (multiple images blended together at different exposures) to create one image with complete tonal detail. The final exposure blend is then converted to sepia to give a historic looking image.

©Darwin Wiggett - an HDR exposure blend converted to sepia.

©Darwin Wiggett – an HDR exposure blend converted to sepia.

©Darwin Wiggett - A sepia converted HDR image.

©Darwin Wiggett – A sepia converted HDR image.

©Darwin Wiggett - Old cars in sepia HDR.

©Darwin Wiggett – Old cars in sepia HDR.

If you would like an opportunity to see and photograph the Nordegg mine and find out how this location makes YOU feel, come join me and Samantha along with Royce Howland for our Coal Mines, Canyons, and the Canadian Rockies: the HDR Photography Workshop this May. I know I’m excited to return to this unique industrial landmark…maybe my creative vision will be different this time…who knows!

©Darwin Wiggett - What is YOUR vision of the mine?

©Darwin Wiggett – What is YOUR vision of the mine? 

6 March

Real Life Review: Panasonic Lumix GM1 – Big Performance in a Tiny Package but at what Price?

Samantha and I have been looking for a small, portable, carry everywhere  digital camera for a long time. But we need a camera that has raw capture, great image quality, high ISO performance AND can fit in our coat pocket. Big demands on our part but we think technology is getting closer to giving us what we want.

When we saw the size, specs and description of the Panasonic GM1, we thought we might finally have the answer to our wants (or are they needs?). This camera is touted as being the smallest interchangeable-lens camera in the world but giving us a 16 MP micro four thirds sized sensor (half the size of a 35mm sensor) in a mirrorless and viewfinder free camera. In addition Panasonic made a specially designed tiny 12-32mm (24-64mm equivalent) lens that makes this camera a miniature powerhouse. Pretty cool but will it also meet our demands in the field of a quick and easy to use camera with dynamic, creative controls?

Courtesy of panasonic.com

Courtesy of panasonic.com

Only one way to find out! So we contacted our friends at McBain Camera in Red Deer, Alberta and asked them for a GM1 to play with for a few weeks. They sent us the camera and off we headed to our annual Winter Photography Workshop in the Canadian Rockies to run the little camera up against the fierce wind and cold of Abraham Lake and the Kootenay Plains!

©Darwin Wiggett - a selfie with Samantha from day 1 of the winter workshop - only -34 degrees!

©Darwin Wiggett – A selfie with Samantha from day 1 of the winter workshop – only -34 degrees!

The Specs

For a complete list of specs on this camera we suggest you check out this link. We are not too picky about specs and our needs are simple. As long as the camera has a decent sensor with at least 10 MP or higher, raw format, exposure compensation, histogram display, auto-bracketing, a good LCD display, aperture priority, manual mode and some kind of program mode we are happy. We did like that this camera has a crazy shutter speed range from 60 seconds to 1/16,000 of a second. And we have grown to love touch screen displays (especially touch focus) after using our Canon 70D for months. We also really appreciate face recognition autofocus and variable aspect ratios for shaking up our compositions. Really, this camera has all the features we need and more for fully automatic (‘no thinking’) shooting or for fully manual (‘we are control freaks’) shooting. We found nothing lacking in the specs and the camera had many pleasant surprises on its “I can do that too” list.

For instance, one of the big surprises was Panasonic’s Intelligent Auto (IA) mode. When we wanted to get a shot fast and not have to think of the technical controls, we just shot in IA mode and the camera did everything for us and did it surprisingly well. In fact, we were blown away by the resulting photos in IA mode. It made us realize that modern cameras give technically good photos 95% of the time and that what separates photographers now is not technical prowess but creative vision (what we see, how we portray it and how we compose our photos). Being a technical whiz behind the lens really matters very little any more.

©Darwin Wiggett - Photo shot in IA mode while at a Michael Bernard Fitzgerald concert in Canmore. The camera handled the high contrast, low light beautifully and properly exposed all tones!

©Darwin Wiggett – Photo shot in IA mode while at a Michael Bernard Fitzgerald concert in Canmore. The camera handled the high contrast, low light beautifully!

©Darwin Wiggett - When you don't want too play with camera controls (e.g. it's too cold) then IA mode does the work for you, just compose and shoot!

©Darwin Wiggett – When you don’t want to play with camera controls (e.g. it’s too cold) then IA mode does the work for you, just compose and shoot!

What we liked about the GM1

There was lots to love about this camera and below is a wee list of things that impressed us.

  • image quality was really awesome. We could easily sell our dSLRs and just shoot with this camera and have images  usable for all of our professional needs – seriously! (hmmm…. maybe something to consider, sure would save our backs and our wallets!)
  • the size, oh yes the size… (and the weight)  a truly pocketable interchangeable lens compact camera – we would take this everywhere
  • interchangeable lenses – this is huge, we can customize this little beast with whatever lens suits our fancy!
  • the base ISO of 200 and the OIS (optical image stabilization) of the 12-32mm lens makes this camera a hand holdable powerhouse (no tripod needed)
  • for lower light requirements good high ISO performance makes this camera a real walk around workhorse.
  • the auto focus was zippy and accurate and we really like the touch screen option of placing the focus point anywhere in the frame. Face recognition auto focus worked really well even with people covered up in balaclavas!
  • video capture was really easy to use and did a great job (see video here)
  • with fast lenses like f1.7 or f2.8 it was possible to get sharp subjects and a soft beautiful background (something not possible with point-n-shoots with small sensors)
  • the camera gave us every control we would ever need to do creative professional photography and we loved the extended shutter speed range which went beyond what even our pro dSLR bodies could achieve
  • closeup photography was decent with the 12-32 mm kit lens (not as good as some point-n-shoots but totally workable)
  • awesome silent shutter mode for ‘stealth’ photography
  • really awesome IA mode for photographers more worried about capturing a moment than in getting bogged down in technical considerations
©Samantha Chrysanthou - oopoomoo.com

©Samantha Chrysanthou – Abraham Lake Ice and Snow

©Darwin Wiggett - leaf on ice at f2.8

©Darwin Wiggett – Leaf on ice at f2.8

©Darwin Wiggett - We like the camera to do quick and easy nature close ups.

©Darwin Wiggett – We like the camera to do quick and easy nature close ups.

©Darwin Wiggett - the camera could handle high contrast scenes very well, no filters, no tripod just compose and shoot!

©Darwin Wiggett – The camera could handle high contrast scenes very well, no filters, no tripod just compose and shoot!

Check out our test video from the Michael Bernard Fitzgerarld concert in Canmore.

What we did not like about the GM1

It is probably too bad that we tested the GM1 in -30 degree weather. If we had tested it in the summer this list of dislikes probably would be shorter. Our main frustration with the camera has to do with the miniature size of the camera controls (buttons and dials). The camera is so small that the main control dial gets accidentally depressed all the time. Or worse, when you want to make a specific change (change the exposure compensation or aperture) what you think you are pressing on the control dial is not what you meant to press and then you are in a worm hole of shifting white balance or moving focus points. Aaargh!

Unless you have thumbs the size of a pencil the command dial will end up driving you crazy. Sam only used the camera for about an hour and was ready to toss the thing at the frozen lake! Add thick gloves or mittens and the camera is almost unusable except in IA mode where all you do is press the shutter button. But still there is the issue of how to hold the camera without accidentally pressing something! Even indoors with bare hands, it is super easy to touch something you did not mean to and mess up the camera controls you were going to change. After a while you get used to the precision required to change settings but it takes a while and some patience (note to Sam). Even after mastering the finicky controls the truth is this camera is a bare hands, warm weather camera!

The controls on the back of the camera are small and jammed together and there is no little room left to actually grip the camera.

The controls on the back of the camera are small and jammed together and there is little room left to actually grip the camera.

Our dislikes include:

  • small, finicky, hard to accurately manipulate camera controls – these could have been designed much better (we have suggestion for Panasonic if they are interested!)
  • the camera is slow to use when wanting to change controls on the fly, the buttons and wheels are just too small – as pros who take charge of the camera and have to respond to quickly changing subjects and light, fast access to camera controls is necessary. Often we ended up just using IA mode because changing settings in the cold was just too hard!
  • the camera is not ergonomically well designed for one handed shooting. You mostly have to pinch the camera with the thumb and forefinger of both hands gripping the bottom and the top of the camera
  • the easiest way to change camera controls is with the touch screen which works great but not with thick gloves or mittens
  • low battery capacity; about 200 shots in warm weather, much lower when it is -30 degrees! You definitely need a second battery for a day shooting with this camera
  • the flash sync is 1/50 of a second or slower
  • there is no mic jack for video
  • diffraction kicks in severely with this camera after about f11, using f16 or f22 is not recommended!
  • does not really handle well with with telephoto lenses
©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett 

Conclusion

This camera isn’t for everyone. Making a small but capable camera comes at a cost and mostly that cost is in ease of use. Sam and I want a camera that has easy controls so we can make creative control decisions fast and easily. To really make the most of this camera you need to use the touch screen; the control dial and buttons are just too small. But to use the touch screen you need warm weather. If you live in an environment that is not too cold, then this camera would be great because touch screen controls are usable with bare hands. Here, in Alberta, we seem to have 10 months of winter and the touch screen has its limitations so we had to rely on the control dial which mostly drove us crazy because it is so small to use effectively (especially with gloves on).

We think this would be a perfect camera for travel to warm destinations. Its small size does not make it a target for thieves, plus it’s so small you’ll never leave it behind. With the Panasonic GM1 you just look like a tourist with a point-n-shoot and not a serious photographer; you can take the camera anywhere and nobody will question you about your gear or your motives for snapping shots. Big pro dSLRs attract attention good and bad. this camera with its silent shooting mode and awesome IA mode would be a great little street photography camera (in warm weather)

This camera would also be a great hiking or backpack camera as long as you pocketed a couple of spare batteries to power the hungry little camera (or use a solar roll to recharge your batteries while on expedition). We love the image quality and the compact size of the camera. If the handling was better (better designed control dial and buttons) this camera would have made it into our bag. Give us this camera with usable dials and buttons and we would have our perfect go everywhere camera. Almost there Panasonic, maybe in the GM2?

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

Thanks again for letting us test the GM1, McBain’s in Red Deer!

mcbain_fotosource

 

Top