Thursday, July 5, 2012

A User's Guide to the Lumix G3

With micro 4/3rds technology getting better and cheaper, many people are trading up from point and shoot cameras. The problem is that, if you're used to letting the camera make all the decisions, getting the most out of this camera can be overwhelming. This guide is designed to help you bridge from a point and shoot to gaining more control over your images.

All the information in this guide can be found scattered about the manual, but the 208 page manual, which is only available electronically, is not really very user friendly. I suspect most users will never bother reading it. By way of background, this guide assumes you're using a Lumix G3 with the kit lens (14-42 OIS). 

Since I have a couple of other Lumix cameras where the functions are laid out similarly, I believe the guide can also be of use to owners of other micro 4/3rds Lumix cameras as well as Lumix bridge cameras. 

Lesson 1: Use P Mode

It's easy to turn on iA and let the camera act like a point and shoot. Don't do it. Instead, switch the camera to P mode and leave it there. This mode is flexible enough to let you override the decisions the camera makes while not having to bother with optimizing the exposure if you do not want to. 


You'll need to adjust some of the P mode settings from the default. Below are my preferred settings:

Auto white balance (AWB) - default
Matrix metering (the metering box with (.) in the center) - default
AF lock (To access, click the menu button, choose "custom setup", then on the "2" tab, choose "AF" from the AF/AE lock tab.)
Center focus point (To access, click on, choose "AF Mode" and select center focus. This is the mode with a single dark square in the center.)
Guide lines: (Choose menu, custom menu, tab 2, guide lines. Choose the tic tac toe pattern.)

One problem with point and shoot cameras is that the camera chooses where to focus. Sometimes, it makes really bad choices. With these settings, you take over deciding on what part of the image should be in sharp focus. To do this, place the subject of the picture in the center, half depress the shutter, then move the camera to recompose the image the way you want. This may feel slow and unnatural at first, but stay with it. In a very short time, it will become second nature and you'll never again have to put up with having the camera stupidly focus on the wrong thing. 

I like to have guide lines to ensure that my horizontals and verticals are straight as well as to influence composition. Initially, the guide lines will seem distracting but again, within a short time you won't even notice them. They are crucial for keeping your horizons straight. While you can straighten in post processing, this entails significant image degradation, so it's much better to get it right in camera.


After you've composed your shot, you'll want to make some adjustments to give the image a more professional look. There are only two adjustments you need to worry about, depth of field and exposure. Depth of field determines how blurry the parts of the image that are not the subject will look. Unlike point and shoots, the G3 can produce lovely blur (bokeh). Exposure determines how white or black things look. Your camera sensor will want to make the image a neutral color, which is fine in most cases. But if you're shooting extremely light or extremely dark scenes, you'll want to adjust the exposure.

1. Depth of Field (DOF):

The beauty part of P mode is that you can control the DOF (amount of blur away from the subject) in the shot. To do this, after you've half pressed the shutter, rotate the dial to change aperture (the leftmost number in yellow). Choose the smallest aperture setting for lots of blur (bokeh), choose the largest number for maximum focus throughout the image. If you don't care, just leave the dial alone. 

Hint: You can half press and then release the trigger to activate the adjustment mode. Move the dial to the preferred aperture and then redo the focus. The camera will remember what you want to do. 

2. Exposure

If the image is too bright or to dark, you can control the exposure by clicking the dial and then increasing or decreasing exposure. You'd want to do this if the scene is especially white (like snow), in which case you'll need to brighten, or especially dark (like coal), in which case you'll need to darken. The camera's bias is to make everything a neutral brightness. 

Low Light Situations

To prevent blurs when not using a tripod, you need a sufficiently fast shutter speed. A standard rule of thumb is that if your focal length is x then you need a shutter speed of 1/x or faster. So if you are maximally zoomed with the kit lens, you'd want to be shooting at 1/42 of a second or faster. Thus, our goal to prevent blurs is to either speed up the shutter or stabilize the camera. 

1. Shutter speed: You can use these adjustments to trick the camera into giving you a faster shutter speed. First, use the DOF adjustment to choose the smallest f/stop (aperture number) possible. Second, darken the exposure by about 1 stop. This will produce a too dark image, but you can recover the lighting in post processing. 

2. Foot zoom: A simple way to solve the blurs problem is to dezoom the camera, instead relying on the "foot zoom" of moving closer to the subject. The kit lens will focus up to about a foot from the subject, so you can get quite close. 

3. Bracing, natural tripods: Bracing yourself and the camera against a wall, counter, or some other surface also improves stability. Also, tables, chairs, and various other objects make excellent natural tripods. If you have one, choose timer mode (the lowest button in the cross-keys on the camera).  

Lesson 2: Poor Man's Zoom

One issue with the kit lens is its reach. The 14-42mm lens is equivalent to 28-84mm with a full frame SLR. Sometimes, you need more zoom. Here's how to do it without spending more money on lenses. 

1. Go to P mode. Activate and go to "Picture Setting". Change to a picture setting with an M instead of an L. I prefer 3:2 M since I like to shoot with the same image ratio (3:2) as an SLR. 

2. Click on the main menu, choose "Rec." and then go to tab 4. Choose "Ex. Tele Conv." and  set it to "On". 

3. Click on the main menu and choose "Custom Setup". In tab 1, choose "Custom Set Mem." and pick "C1". When it asks you to overwrite custom set 1 with current settings, choose "Yes". 

4. Activate the and reset you image quality from M back to L. 

The C1 setting is now your zoom lens. What Ex. Tele Conv. does is to create, in effect, an extension tube on the lens. This doubles the focal length so that your kit lens is now equivalent to a 56-168mm on a full frame SLR. This doubles the zoom capabilities. You take a slight hit on image quality but, in my experience, it is not noticeable except if you make poster sized prints or extreme crops. So now, if you want to go long, just change from P to C1 mode.

Lesson 3: What Mode to Use?

This lesson runs through modes for various shooting situations. 

1. General shooting: P mode. 
2. Zooming in close: C1 mode
3. Portraits: P mode, make the f/stop (aperture) as small a number as possible.The subject should cover about 75% of the image. (Also, see lesson 6 on fill in flash)
4. Landscapes: P mode, make the f/stop as large a number as possible.Choose either the sky or the ground to cover 2/3rds of the image. Do not place the horizon in the center of the image as it won't produce a pleasing composition. 

 Unusual Shooting Situations:

While you can use P mode with adjustments to deal with unusual situations, it is quicker to just use the pre-programmed scenario modes.

1. Close-up Flowers: Choose SCN mode and select flowers. 
2. Fireworks: Choose SCN and select illuminations 
3. Fast moving subjects: Choose SCN and select sports
4. Night portraits: Choose SCN and select night portrait. Use something to stabilize the camera if you possibly can. A tripod is ideal. 
5. Sudden, unexpected shooting opportunity: iA mode
6. Indoor Shooting: See Lesson 4 below
7. Sunsets, images that are both very bright and very dark: See Lesson 5 below

Lesson 4: Shooting Indoors

Many shooting situations, especially those at parties and the like, occur indoors. These are surprisingly difficult shooting situations. The temptation is simply to use a flash as the source of illumination and fire away. This technique, however, often produces poor results. 

This lesson teaches how to shoot indoors and get good shots. 

1. Customize the white balance: While auto white balance is good in many situations, indoor lighting can produce strange color effects. It is better to customize the white balance to the exact shooting situation. 

How to do it: Choose, go to white balance, choose custom 1, shoot a white piece of paper, then choose set. 
2. Use P mode with no flash: You simply cannot produce good shots using the onboard flash. Don't use it. Instead, move the subjects to the lightest part of the room, make your aperture number as low as possible and darken the exposure by -2/3 EV to gain shutter speed. Use a tripod (artificial or naturally occurring) or brace yourself to reduce camera shake. Take many images. 

The goal here is to rely on the image stabilization of the lens along with various bracing techniques to reduce the chance of blur. By taking many shots, you improve the odds of getting some good ones. 

Lesson 4: When to Use Flash
Flash can be used in two ways. The one that most people are familiar with is where the flash is used as the lighting source for indoor pictures. The less familiar is where the flash is used to fill in shadows outside. 

1. Indoor shooting: Don't use the flash as the illumination source unless you have a separate flash that you can bounce or place away from the camera. The flash that comes with the camera is pretty weak as the sole lighting source. Also, since it is so close to the lens, it produces harsh and ugly lighting that is unflattering to subjects. 

The right solution is to move individuals to the best natural light you can find, use the tricks described above to maximize shutter speed and brace the camera in some way, either with a tripod or some naturally occurring version of a tripod. 

Take lots of shots. Blurring is unavoidable in these situations, so you need to make up for this with volume of shots. If you take enough shots and brace, some will come out clearly. 

This technique will produce many more blurred shots than using a flash, but it will also produce many more "keepers" than the flash method. 

Lesson 5: Sunsets

Sunsets are a classic example of a situation where a scene is to bright and too dark for a camera to capture. The human eye is capable of resolving a much greater degree of light/dark contrast (about 11 stops) compared to a camera (about 5 stops). To approximate the "actual" view with a camera requires multiple shots of the same scene that are subsequently fused together. This is called exposure bracketing. 

To take an image of a sunset (or any other scene with both extreme brights and extreme darks), perform the following steps:

1. Set camera in P mode. 
2. Using, choose "drive mode" and select the third choice from left (exposure bracketing), a submenu will appear from which you should choose (5, 1), i.e. 5 shots at one EV (exposure value or f/stop) gap each. This will produce a series of shots from -2 EV to +2 EV, which is a good range to cover both the lights and the darks. 
3. Hold down shutter until it shoots 5 images. 

So far so good, but what to do with all these images. In post-processing. the program Photomatix (  is invaluable. This program will blend the images to produce a single image that captures both the lights and the darks. The setting "fusion/natural" in that program will produces natural looking images using the five shots taken with the Lumix. 

Lesson 6: Fill Flash

Many people buy cameras to take portraits of their family. Sadly, these portraits are often taken in poor inside light with harsh flash and are, consequently, bad. Here's how to take a good picture of your loved ones. 

1. Get them outside. Even when the weather is not sunny, outside light is far better than inside. The only reason to stay inside is rain, which is death to the Lumix. 

2. On a sunny day, place your subjects in light shade facing 90* away from the sun. Never place your subjects directly in the sun, as the harsh shadows are bad. Don't place them in deep shade or you'll have blur problems. Light shade is perfect. Locating them so that they are facing 90* away from the sun should minimize squinting while still providing some degree of sidelighting. 

3. Set flash to have -2/3 EV (use and add the flash to the scene. The goal here is not to use the flash to light the scene, rather the point is to even out the lighting over the face of the subjects. 


The most important lesson about mastering a new camera is to use it. Hopefully, these lessons allow users to get more out of their cameras than merely turning on iA and treating them as point and shoots. Happy shooting!