The Panasonic Lumix DC-G9, 80 Megapixel High Resolution Mode and Portraiture Old and New

Inspiration can come from anywhere, but my first source of it after choosing to become a portrait photographer was the great portrait painters, foremost London-based German, Hans Holbein. Two Holbein portraits were key, Portrait of Christina of Denmark and The Ambassadors.

The Ambassadors, by Hans Holbein the Younger.

The Ambassadors teaches us how to use light, location and objects to tell a story in one frame.

Portrait of Christina of Denmark shows us how to depict someone so it feels like we are standing in their presence, as if in Holbein’s shoes, forever.

Environmental and full-figure portraiture are two of my favourite photographic genres that quickly became specialities during my magazine editorial days, creating them with tripod-mounted sheet film or 120 roll film cameras, with or without flash or continuous lights supplementing the lighting I found on location.

The medium format option

Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan, by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Although relatively affordable digital medium format cameras and lenses are here with the arrival of Fujifilm’s GFX 50S and its reportedly excellent lenses, medium format photography remains relatively unaffordable for me right now and for the foreseeable future.

I have learned to bypass version 1.0 of most new moviemaking or photography hardware unless there is a truly compelling reason to be an early adopter, another reason why I have passed on the GFX 50S.

I do look forward to seeing what comes of the GFX 100S and wonder whether a rangefinder-style GFX camera might be in the works some day, one drawing on Fujifilm’s remarkable 120 roll film rangefinder camera heritage.

Meanwhile Panasonic may already have their own solution to my high resolution, high image quality portrait photography needs in the Lumix DC-G9’s 80-megapixel high res mode.

All that I have seen so far in Panasonic’s marketing web pages is a low res landscape, the genre in which I am least likely to ever want to photograph.

Panasonic’s image to illustrate the Lumix G9’s 80 megapixel high resolution mode, leaving much to be desired and the technology unexplained.

Hard facts about how the G9 performs in high resolution mode and precisely how it does so are thin on the ground, but a reasonable surmise is that it does so by pixel shift, a technology also appearing in other mirrorless cameras including Sony’s a7R III and Olympus’ OM-D E-M1 Mark II, OM-D E-M5 Mark II and Pen-F cameras, and the Pentax K-1.

What is pixel shift?

Imaging Resource has explored high resolution modes via pixel shift in several Olympus and Pentax cameras, links below, so I won’t reiterate their findings.

Quite how Panasonic does it in the G9, whether shifting by half or full pixels, remains to be seen and Imaging Resource will no doubt produce a similar article on it soon.

How pixel shift works, by piezosystemjena.

Meanwhile, according to Imaging Resource’s Mike Tomkins and William Brawley:

“The G9 takes eight separate frames in quick succession and composites the individual frames together in-camera. Like other pixel-shift high-res modes from other camera makers, the G9’s comes with similar limitations, or rather, appropriate use-cases. The high-res mode on the G9 is best suited for still life, architecture or certain landscape subjects without any moving subject matter.”

What is it good for?

I beg to differ on their list of subjects best-suited to the G9’s 80.6 megapixel  pixel shifting high resolution mode, and so, it appears, do Panasonic UK’s Carol Hartfree and UK-based Lumix Ambassador Ross Grieve.

Both have just begun exploring the G9’s high res mode for portraiture and both report their first impressions in glowing terms.

“… my first test is impressive.”

“We have just had a go and it works like an absolute dream as long as you and the model is very still. It works particularly well with a good prime…. Stupid excited!”

“We were discussing formal portraiture earlier and the fact that people don’t really do it any more. Using the G9 in this way, on a tripod with slowish exposures might really lend itself.”

Formal, casual and all forms in between may be more popular than meets the eye judging by the slew of portrait photography award, books, competitions, Instagram accounts and websites I came across in the course of researching this article.

Formal portraiture for a myriad of uses and whether environmental or of the figure or face alone, has endured from the birth of photography onwards with such notable practitioners as Arnold Newman, August Sander, David Bailey, Richard Avedon and others too many to mention here.

Three approaches to portraiture

I have long wanted to find affordable digital analogues for the way I successfully made casual and formal portraits in sheet and 120 roll film during my magazine photography career, affordable being the key word.

I had three distinct approaches – documentary-style with a Rolleiflex twin lens reflex camera, environmental or full figure or face close-up with 4″x5″ view cameras, and less frequently a casual medium format rangefinder approach.

Fujifilm’s X-Pro2 does an impressive job of matching if not surpassing the image and handling qualities of its many generations and variations of 120 roll film rangefinder cameras under the Fujica brand name.

Panasonic’s GX8 provides a rare digital equivalent to Rolleiflex twin lens reflex cameras with its magnifying waist-level viewfinder-emulating tilting EVF, a unique feature I hope will continue in the Panasonic Lumix GX9.

Linhof view camera with Graflok stitching adapter for Phase One digital back.

While the only exact digital equivalent of a multifaceted sheet film view camera like the Linhof 4×5 Master Technika Classic is a Linhof 4×5 Master Technika Classic with Phase One digital back, I suspect that the Panasonic Lumix G9 may provide good enough emulation of its high resolution image qualities, minus the camera movements.

“Good enough” being enough high resolution to produce large exhibition prints with more detail and more sense of the sitter’s presence than I can achieve right now with 20 megapixel and 24 megapixel mirrorless cameras.

Some portraits as evidence?

A couple of photographers with access to pre-production G9s have agreed to shoot and send me some portraits made in 80 megapixel high res mode, and I will share them here when they arrive.

Meanwhile, what would be my ideal stable yet portable set-up for creating the sort of portraits for the web and exhibition that I have long planned for ‘Untitled: Stories of Creativity, Innovation, Success’?

  • Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 – until I learned about its high resolution mode, I might have passed over this camera and defaulted to relying on the GH5 for stills as well as video.
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f/1.2 PRO Lens – moderately wide prime lens for environmental portraiture for a sense of a figure enclosed within a space. I prefer lenses with manual clutch focus mechanisms for focussing accuracy especially when using wide open apertures.
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 PRO Lens – standard or normal prime lenses have been used for portrait photography in many different camera systems and are a good compromise between medium wide and medium long lenses.
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 PRO Lens – medium long telephoto lens often seen as one of the default portrait photography focal lengths along with 42.5mm in Micro Four Thirds.
  • 3 Legged Thing Albert or Winston tripods – their unique construction makes them more stable for their size and weight than any other tripod I have used.
  • 3 Legged Thing QR11-LC Universal L-Bracket – fast and easy flipping the camera from landscape to portrait orientation from switching from environmental to full-figure mode.
  • Rotolight NEO 2 LED Light with barndoors, softbox, handle or light stand– small enough to easily fit in a backpack yet powerful enough to be a prime light supplemented by available light.
  • Rotolight AEOS 2-Light LED Kit – an excellent self-contained two LED light kit for continuous light or flash, with high output for its colour accuracy, versatility, weight and size, that can be used with optional barndoors.

Links

Image Credits

Header image concept and hack by Carmel D. Morris.

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  • Fujifilm X-Pro2 Mirrorless Digital CameraB&H
  • Linhof 4×5 Master Technika “Classic” Rangefinder Metal Field CameraB&H
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO LensB&H
  • Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital CameraB&H
  • Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital CameraB&H
  • Olympus PEN-F Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital CameraB&H
  • Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera – B&H
  • Pentax K-1 DSLR CameraB&H
  • Sony Alpha a7R III Mirrorless Digital CameraB&H