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First Light (Panasonic LX7)

Something telescopes do … the first image.

4 1/2 years ago I did this with my Panasonic LX3 looking at the Bötzow Brauerei. This time I try and do it with the Uferhallen. Alas the sun is directly down the barrel. Instead, I look along Uferstr, where the light cuts across.

1/500 exposure at f/1.4 (!!!), ISO 125, shot in Aperture mode using the ND filter (more exclamation marks!), focal length 24mm (at 35mm equivalent), auto-white balance, and everything else normal or off. It’s not an especially interesting image, but it tells me that despite looking much the same as my LX3, it’s quite different. Slightly more barreling for one, a small bit of purple fringing, and disturbingly wide field of view, but that lens, for a compact camera, it’s insane!

I didn’t exactly need a new camera; I’d also imagined my next camera would be a Panasonic Micro Four Thirds, and I’d spend quite a lot of money indeed on it. As I’m staring down the neck of having to buy a new laptop in the coming months, and having a small amount of cash for a change, and that the LX7 with fancy leather case costs less than what I paid for my LX3, well, we can see where that’s going.

It’s slightly bigger in all dimensions than my old camera, though some elements are identical (the never-used flash, the springy battery / SD card door). What’s added is what makes it in my mind the best serious compact camera around.

Last time, it was a toss-up between Canon’s G10 and the LX3. This time, the “enthusiast compact camera” market has at least eight contenders, including Canon’s G16, cameras from Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, Sony’s RX100 II (which, due to its large sensor is regarded as a bit of an LX7 killer, though it’s almost twice the price), and the Fujifilm X20, the camera I almost bought.

This time again it was the lens that did it for me. The LX3 had an f/2 lens, the only compact camera with such a massive slab of glass. In the intervening years that’s become standard, so Panasonic does the obvious and makes it f/1.4, going to a mere f/2.3 when zoomed. It lets in so much light it’s obscene. So they put a Neutral Density filter in the camera, with a switch for it on the back. Brilliant!

They also gave it an aperture ring! Which admittedly is more common with cameras of this type now, but it’s still well cool. No more faffing around with knobs on the back; it’s a proper camera now. And they stuck the aspect ratio (including 1:1, which is now muck-common) selector just behind the ring, next to the focus selector. It’s very much a tactile camera now, especially for someone like me who holds even this one as I would a DSLR.

And what else? 1920×1080 Full HD video at 60fps (AVCHD and mpeg-4), with manual mode while filming. Stereo microphones. Massively improved LCD screen. Monster burst rate options. A slightly larger sensor, upgraded to CMOS. Improved zoom (which admittedly arrived with the LX5) … a bunch of other things like ISO, shutter speed, auto-focus, image processing all have also been bumped up. Shooting in RAW has sod-all noise and stonking dynamic range, and it’s got OIS image stabilisation. I had a play with the electronic viewfinder in the shop, something I always wanted for my LX3, even though it costs almost as much as the camera. I’m seriously considering buying; it’s so very good.

For me and what I tend to use it for, a combination of landscape, macro, interior, low light, plus some videoing, I think none of the more-or-less equivalent high-end compact cameras are either that flexible, nor could do so well based off their specs, and usually cost more. As well, it’s just such a joy to use. It’s really a camera for someone whose idea of how a camera should feel is thoroughly seeped in SLR. I can go from this to say a Panasonic G5 or a Canon 5D and the feeling is the same (ok, yes, they weigh more and are much bigger). My LX3 is also happy to have a sibling.

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lx3 v2.1 1:1

While I suffer with what I shall call VogelschweinSARSgrippe, and ponder whether I can arrive in as many cities as I did empty of SARS and depart leaving a trail of disease (unlikely as I have no immediate plans to visit airports), I shall delight in firmware.

Many things I like about my LX3, (some not so much – mainly the lack of a longer zoom and distortion at both ends of) but one I was uhhh… quite drooling when I heard of its arrival in the version 2.1 firmware. 1:1 format. Square in other words. To add to the 16:9, 3:2 and 4:3 ratios already affixed to the barrel.

Other exciting things including exposure compensation to +/-3 stops in 1/3 increments, white balance bracketing, and faster auto-focus induce much happiness, but… 1:1!!! Excitement. Somehow in the current frenzy of widescreen 16:9 or even greater, there is something very satisfying in a square image. It’s a different approach to composition that seems to suit how I look at things.

(Shall try and blog more also…)

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riding home at night

Many other photos to show, of shibari chrome sex robots, and a nach dienstschluss mit Katrin, whom I am designing her portfolio website. Not coding, just design. I seem to have a lot of thoughts of coding and design at the moment, and also dance and making. Nice, comfortable, familiar to feel this.

I bike along Karl-Liebknecht-Str in the morning and then again evening. This was a flat concrete apron, devoid of structures, then a monstrous digging pit, now, late in darkness, I ride home and have my camera, so… mmm I’ve been wanting to photograph these things at night in Berlin.

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leaving the brauerei

For the last nine months, I’ve been living in a beautiful, isolated small apartment, by virtue of being on a hill, high above Berlin. By virtue also of an empty Brauerei returning to wilderness. Plants, shrubs, possibly even young trees are sprouting from its eaves and gutters and roof. For winter it was a mesmerising dance of muted colour under snow and weak light. Summer brought with it a jungle, rich saturated vegetation, the brilliant greens jumping out of the tan and red brickwork and slate tiles.

Today I leave. Cleaning. Packing almost done. I slept in, even. A rarity when only on the weekend do I have time to dance, but for this morning, a more leisurely approach to this day felt needed.

I have accumulated much in the past nine months. Well, much for me. The two suitcases I arrived with have swollen to number four additional bags. I move north then, the view is not comparable, and while it is a pretty and homely place I go to, I am leaving somewhere I could have easily spent years in.

Impermanence. Wondering how long will I stay anywhere, and when friends remain in one home for three years and I make my way through a clutch of countries in that time… More than one year in Berlin. Yes, planning on new things again, more dance, more attention to the things that interest me… a solo of course. Yes, as unsurprising as what I wrote in November was, so should that last remark be equally unsurprising.

Photos then. The Brauerei last night, as a storm moved in. Autumn is pushing back sumer, at first in the cooler nights, then whole days of inclement grey, rain, and lowering skies. Still not the burdening and monotone expanse of deep autumn, and still yet days of summer to arrive, but unlike those days in March, bursting out of winter, when we lay on the grass beside Engelbecken, soaking in warmth and brightness, these days hold the imminent coming of the coldest season.

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night and trees

I saw my darling Ivo perform last night at Halle. Sublimely brilliant and I shall attempt to write something on that. I took my camera because I hoped to take some things of him. Sadly no. Though I played in the darkness before, wondering over dark light photography.

Playing then, in Manual mode and Shutter Priority with ISO, aperture, shutter speed and focal length. I discover (well compared to my camera phone anyway) useable and beautiful things. Up to ISO 800 is ok, though there is smeariness from the image processing, I forgot to turn off because I forgot about it. (Oh, a little blurriness also because of slow shutter speed, around 1/15 to 1/20). Pushing the exposure two stops also helps bring in more light, though at the expense of what, I’m not sure. Aperture at 2 or 2.8 also lets more in, like opening faucet. It would be nice to try with a tripod for longer exposures with lower ISO and smaller aperture maybe, but even these to me have an attraction.

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brauerei fast fertig

Soon I will have to leave my beloved hobo dachgeschoss. Eight months, surely one of the most beautiful homes in Berlin, and of all the many I have lived in, the peach. Coming up the stairs each night, home. I wander around in underpants and a t-shirt, or naked. No curtains, but then who is to see when my outlook is the brauerei. I had hoped to see her through to winter, a full year. Perhaps I will somehow anyway, on occasional visits.

I go to Brussels tomorrow, for the weekend. Fleeing Berlin as I perhaps prone to do, though never have the velocity to escape. A short holiday adventure. Things afoot. Plans, future, anticipation. It is nice to feel this again.

I couldn’t pick one I liked so I decided on all. I’m very taken by the 4:3 aspect ratio on my camera, very square and somehow conveys a sense of depth that suits the wide angle of the lens at least as much as the 16:9 ratio does. It is time to do yoga and pack though.

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plants vs brauerei

Somehow I stumbled back onto a couple who inspired my greatly years ago when I first started computers and design and… then they were doing beautiful things with Flash, now yes, well still bits of Flash, but also WordPress and other things. I seem to follow without being aware of it.

He has a video, shooting HD macro with a Nikon D90, and I thought, “oh! I have a camera. It shoots HD. I like Macro. I wonder…” I wonder can I combine aperture priority with manual focus or the macro lens setting with HD video somehow to get those beautiful to me out of focus backgrounds and crisp flecks of detail? It was getting dark, or towards, towards twilight. Then I spent an hour maybe in Final Cut, trimming six minutes down to 52 seconds.

I wonder if someone who bakes might enjoy the view, and her Oma’s plants? I wonder if someone with Audiogeräte might like to play with tiny films?

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nahe brauerei, sonnenblumen getötet

Playing with my camera yesterday during the rain, ah summer in Berlin would like to be tropical, but I miss dearly the blanketing humidity of Guangzhou, skin moist to melting even, it changes a body. Daniel has left this city, and tomorrow shall fly east and south to Adelaide. Not till December shall I see him again, unless I scurry west to where they will be touring in November.

Ballet today, seeing my body change from not experiencing the intensity of physical life is not pleasurable. It accelerates aging, this sloth. Ah but… plans… Plans at least to return to the Sunflowers Christian brought here early July, which have died, dried in places, rotted in others, small bugs strewn on the petals and around, where they fell, dead.

Playing with shallow depth of field again, and using Aperture Priority with manual focus. I dirty my lens and think I shall buy lens cleaner, a screen protector, and the beautiful Panasonic LX3 case. Also plans for neutral density lens filter, a polarising one, and I have heard there are infrared ones which fit, though the lens does show up a hot spot.

The manual focus on my camera is a joy, a rectangle in the middle magnifying the scene and the focus is very easy to see. Ah but shaking hands, so instead I try the opposite, set a focal distance between 1 and 3cm, and then take the shot and see what comes out. Of course the Brauerei is in the background.

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a plant a brewery

Learning more of depth of field and finally moving into the full manual mode on my LX3. It has a delightful magnified rectangle to assist in manual focus. I have discovered I get a nice background blur on non-macro shots if I use the macro setting. Not sure if this is acceptable camera behaviour, but I do have a habit of “what happens if I…” … “…oops…”

(one day I shall write entirely in ellipses)

A juicy plant on the windowsill, naturally the Brauerei is in the background. I was thinking of using my mobile phone as an external lightsource or flash. I’m less concerned with nice photos and so on than in learning the technique of this camera. I had thoughts about the autofocus that follows the subject and mmm… a lot to learn.

I am taken by the 3:2 format though, quite square and has an unusual depth that 16:9 or even the usual 4:3 misses, like falling towards the horizon over the landscape inbetween. For the moment it is my favourite, perhaps especially because I have never played with it before.