Buying a back-up camera (updated)
I'll say right at the start that I love my DSLRs and all the gear that goes with them: lenses, filters, flashes, tripods and so forth. But, to be honest, even just the DSLR with a lens attached can be more bulk around my neck than I'd wish if I'm not heading out specifically to take photos. And, of course, it's a rather conspicuous item if you don't wish to draw attention.

So, several years ago, I purchased a little pocket camera. Although it claimed to have some controllability, that proved to be limited and in reality it was a "Point & Shoot". It was very nicely made, with a robust and very compact metal body but there it stopped. Images always had blown out areas; the colour balance was poor particularly for skin tones; the usable ISO range was limited; and the lens was softer than I'd have preferred. You can guess the result: it usually stayed at home!

Over the past year or so, in idle moments I have found myself looking at camera review pages and magazines, progressively more impressed by many new offerings and wondering if any might be suitable for my needs. So I made up a general list of what I wanted (not all in priority order):

1: pocketability (a must)
2: a viewfinder
3: good ISO capabilities
4: a good lens
5: control over settings
6: image quality
7: water resistance (least important)

With much of the 'non enthusiast' camera market now taken by smartphones (just hold it at arm's length and point it in the general direction, the little gnomes called apps will do all the messy photographic stuff) the camera makers have been working furiously to meet photographers' needs. Strangely though, including viewfinders seems to have been a low priority: maybe because it seems the 'home' Japanese market are happy to take 'arm's length' photos. If, like me, you're "chronologically gifted" and need to wear bifocals, this arm's length approach is unworkable. Yes, I hear you cry, some makers do include viewfinders - but I'm talking about pocketable cameras, not the "electronic viewfinder with interchangeable lenses" (EVIL) cameras; all very nice but approximately as large as the DSLRs against which they compete.

Finally, I found a mention of a camera that met all my requirements, other than water resistance. It was released about a year ago, but seems to have had very little attention from the camera media. It is the Panasonic Lumix LF1 and is also released as a Leica model. Mine arrived in the mail this week and, so far, has exceeded my expectations though I have not tested all the functions by any means (and some, such as the WiFi/NFC capabilities, I shall have to ask my grandchildren about).

The EVF has a diopter adjustment, for those of us needing optical assistance, and I am fully able to use it wearing my spectacles. Despite some negative comments about the eye level viewfinder in one review, I find it excellent and it has twice as many pixels, at approx 200,000 as did my old 2005 vintage Lumix FZ20, which did (still does) a great job for me: the important thing is that I can see it!

Most of all though, the LF1 does indeed fit in my jeans pocket and it does take excellent quality images up to 800 ISO. And that will do me nicely! It won't be replacing my DSLR, but I'm sure it will complement it well, and already is making it easy to have a camera handy when otherwise I'd have been saying "I wish I had my camera here!" You can expect to see images from it in my stream, the first is already up (and in Explore).

With a little experience using the LF1, I feel I now can give some positives and negatives. I'm not about to do a full review, but there are links to those below.

If you've only time to read a few words, the quick answer is yes, I'm happy with it. The more detailed answer is that it's not perfect (is there such a thing?) but it meets my needs and expectations very nicely in most circumstances. The further details are below as positives and negatives.

It is good and, importantly, pleasant to use. It fully meets my requirement for 'pocketability'. The ergonomics are generally good and the systems are reasonably straightforward with just a little experience.

The controls and screen displays are very useful, as shown by these two shots of the rear display (the viewfinder shows the same and is easily activated with a button). They indicate:
1/ the range of settings for a correct exposure in manual, with the (optional) composition grid and green line camera level indicator.

2/ the depth of field available (yellow arc) at the aperture and focus setting.

The image quality is generally very good, as I think some of my recent postings have illustrated. The focus is fast and accurate, the AWB also is reliable except in extreme conditions, such as some artificial lighting.


I don't wish to overplay these points, but they should be made:
1. The lens is prone to light flare (and sometimes sky burn-out) as shown above. I have also found purple fringing in a shot of tree branches against the sky (which is a fairly tough test for many lenses and cameras)

2. The battery life could be better, so it would be useful to have a spare battery handy if going for a full day's shooting.

3. The position and style of the on/off switch can result in the camera being accidentally turned on (I'm learning to be more careful). As the lens extends, in a pair of jeans this can be a problem. Who knows, it could lead to the following variation on the Mae West line "Is that a Lumix in your pocket or are you glad to see me?" :)

Taken overall though, it meets my needs well and I am indeed very pleased with it. I'd be happy to recommend it for anyone with similar requirements.

In case anyone wishes to read full reviews on the LF1, you might care to look at these links.
"Inspired Eye review" tinyurl.com/m548yqq (detailed and highly recommended) "Sydney Morning Herald" tinyurl.com/kmdc7ku (clear, concise and positive)
"Camera Labs" tinyurl.com/m5nypzu (detailed, mostly positive, rates at 86%).


Pam J said:

Excellent reviews and a far better price than I expected !

One more thing for the wish list !

Thankyou George !
8 years ago

tiabunna replied to Pam J:

Thanks, Pam, at least it's fairly affordable.
8 years ago ( translate )

beverley said:

o0o what can I say ... having started digital point and shoot my first was a Ricoh and loved it ..imagine having just about mastered it ... dust inside ... would not repair ;-) and so a new Ricoh ... but thats ok I got used to it ... or it got used to me ... but then a problem ... so ...Panasonic it was ... wonderful lens ... took some time to get used to as I am a technophobe and a real DOH ....but it now does what I want it to do ... its a Panasonic Lumix DMC~TZ30 and its great,
but I am reliably told that these little point and shoots as with all digital point and shoots
do not have too long a shelf life ... they are superceded and for anyone like me who is a clutsy
to say the least ... its a nightmare ... ;-) I am just saying my prayers every night that it behaves
and does not go defunct ... the thing is they supercede quick and will not always repair ...
its change ... upgrade ... as so it goes ... ;-) best of luck with yours George ... I am sure
you will be thrilled with the brand ;-) and the lens ... brilliant ;-) oOo
8 years ago

tiabunna replied to beverley:

Thanks, Bev, my first digital was an early Nikon Coolpix. It was enough to give an idea of what a good digital could do, but had awful shutter lag and the colour balance was poor. A year or so later (2005) I bought a Lumix FZ20 which I still use from time to time, a lovely camera - but still not pocketable. As you say, the obsolescence rate is awful, but I'm interested only in the results the camera gives, rather than fashion. If this is as reliable as the FZ20, I'll be happy. :)
8 years ago

David Lloyd said:

Good choice, and sticking to your objective of getting a compact camera has got you this camera. It's very east to start looking at functions and features and ending up with the opposite of what you set out to get.
Size is important, I rarely use my K10 now, just my Sony NEX. And that's getting big because I use old manual focus lenses on it. I need something like your LF1, I'm looking forward to seeing the results from yours.
8 years ago

tiabunna replied to David Lloyd:

Thanks, David. Yes, I was torn between compromising on my 'preferred specs' or looking at one of the larger and increasingly capable and impressive EVIL cameras. The typical P&S lacked viewfinder and controls, but the latter would not have given the essential 'pocketability'. In the next few days I'll give my general findings and reactions on the new camera in an update to my article.
8 years ago

just"jj" said:

and I thought it was my arms getting shorter!

Thank you for this; it is an issue for me too.
8 years ago

tiabunna replied to just"jj":

I think that the length of a photographer's arms is inversely proportional to their age, "JJ". LOL Glad you found this useful.
8 years ago

GrahamH said:

In earlier times before the ageist #*%#s stopped employing me I used Minolta film SLRs. Being of a small budget these days my first digi camera came from a rubbish bin in late 2006. A P&S with fixed focal length and a whole 2M pixels. It took some good landscape photos.

The first bought camera was a Canon PS A550 (had a REAL viewfinder). Another major advantage was its using 2x AA batteries. This took good photos over a wider range of subjects and the pocket size was a great advantage. After a few years it acquired some problems so I its younger brother the PS1200. This was 1/3 the price of the previous one but doesn't handle skin and the red soil colours very well. I noticed a better response by humans when pointing these small cameras compared with the 35mm SLRs.

Last year I was given an Olympus E410 by a relative who didn't need it anymore. It's definitely a step up but it needs a bag rather than a pocket. Still learning how to get the best out of it.

On trainscapes and landscapes the Canon is the backup but for 'techy' shots I still prefer the Canon.
8 years ago

tiabunna replied to GrahamH:

You've raised an interesting point there, Graham. As digital cameras have developed over the years, the 'bang for a buck' factor certainly has improved enormously - as seems to happen with most electronics. My FZ20, bought back in 2005, cost about three times the price of the new one. It still has a larger zoom (X12 cf X7) but the sensor is nowhere near as good (either pixels or ISO capabilities), the EVF has half the pixels, and it's far more bulky. I think the FZ20 now will be 'officially retired' - but I know that, for me, there is far more satisfaction from the DSLR and lenses, so the main gear is not even slightly at risk
8 years ago

Janet Brien said:

Nice review, George! :) Pocket cameras are getting better and better, and I'm glad to see that you're continuing to be happy with this one. Some day I we may get to the point that a pocket camera will replace a DSLR but who knows when that will be. Being a person who moved up the ranks from a pocket camera to a point and shoot super zoom, and then to a DSLR, I am very much aware of what non DSLRs cannot handle, and their issues became too much for me to bear. However, they DO have their uses, and you have nailed the top ones for me: convenience, good quality and (for me) not attracting attention. My Canon SX30 IS is not a pocket camera by any stretch of the imagination, but it's nice compromise, so I put up with its non DSLR problems when I travel. I bet the quality of image from your camera is even better, it being a newer model with a better processor.

Thanks for taking the time to write this in-depth article and for including pictures and your overall positives and negatives. Great to read, and may I add, you're a super writer!
8 years ago

tiabunna replied to Janet Brien:

Thank you, Janet. Yes, I fully agree with your comments about the limitations of pocket cameras compared to DSLRs. Ultimately, those tiny sensors just cannot control the d.o.f. as well as larger ones - and as you do in so many of your shots, the mushrooms come to mind. But technology does indeed gallop along, as I outlined in my note to GrahamH above. I guess that it all comes down to priorities and acceptable compromises, and that will vary from person to person: and also goes some way to explaining why there are so many camera models out there! Finally, thanks again for your kind comment on my writing, isn't it great being able to have blogs here!
8 years ago