Shooting Sports with a Panasonic GX8 and Olympus 40-150 f 2.8 lens

The York Prep boys varsity soccer team played their first game of the season Friday night against Lake Point Academy. YPA handily won the match 6-0, but It was a good match despite what the score indicated. Lake Point played YPA hard for the full 90 minutes and it was a great match for all the fans. I shot most of the images on my trusty Nikon D3 outfitted with the Nikon 300mm AFI f2.8 lens but… wait for it… I did test the Panasonic Lumix GX8 with the Olympus 40-150 f2.8 and 1.4x converter. Yes, I shot soccer with a micro four thirds mirrorless system! Everyone knows the advantages and disadvantages of MFT systems, but there are more and more pros using them for their clients. These are mostly static or slow moving images like portraits, weddings and commercial product shots, but I know of no one trying to shoot sports with them. So (in my best Jeremy Clarkson voice); what could possibly go wrong?

Ok, we already know the short comings of MFT in regards to shooting sports: high ISO performance or lack there of and focus systems not exactly up to DSLR speed and accuracy. There used to be a third issue and that was no good glass, however Panasonic and Olympus have solved that issue for the most part. I do not want to come off as “bashing the MFT format or the GX8” in this blog post, instead I want it to be more of a how to get the job done with the GX8. I actually bought a GX8 with the Panasonic 12-35 f2.8 and Olympus 40-150 f2.8 with the matched 1.4x converter solely for travel photography. The weight savings is insane compared to my Nikons!

I really like the camera and enjoy using it a lot. It does take some getting used to if your coming from a DSLR but it’s not that big of a learning curve. I found many sites and videos on how to operate the camera but one resource in particular was extremely useful in setting up the camera for action shots:

http://naturalexposures.com/birds-in-flight-settings-for-lumix-cameras/

Kudos to Daniel and team at Natural Exposures for all the info they provide on the Lumix cameras and lenses! Out of the box the GX8 does fine for everyday photos but is severely challenged if your subject is moving. Daniel’s recommended settings for birds in flight were a great starting point for shooting sports or other moving targets. After setting up the camera and playing around with it I decided to try it on a youth event (Nerf Wars) at the public library. Things did not go so well, had banding issues above ISO 800 and rolling shutter, both due to the electronic shutter (user error!). Still managed to get some great shots but missed lots due to the problems. Next up was the soccer match, so I made corrections (disabled the electronic shutter) and headed out to the field.

The camera performed better than expected, but compared to the Nikon D3 (vintage 2008 gear), well there is no comparison, the D3 blew it away in every conceivable measurement – except weight where the GX8 is far superior. With that said we have to put it into perspective; the D3 is a serious imaging machine designed for shooting sports whereas the GX8 is designed to be a great all around camera. Lets take burst rate for example, the D3 is at 9 fps with AFC while the GX8 is at 6 fps with AFC. That is a big difference, but it does not tell the whole story. Lets go back to the good old film days, back then 5 fps and manual focus was what the best sports shooters in the world had at their disposal to create all those iconic images we cherish today. 5 fps and focusing manually! So what does this mean? Well it should send the message that you can get sports images with the GX8!

So how did it perform? Not to bad. I was able to get some good shots that were more than acceptable, the only real issues I found were the high ISO performance and the auto focus would hunt occasionally once the light went down.  I enjoyed using the camera but as the light went away and the ISO went up image quality went down substantially. This is where the D3 gets the leg up on the Gx8. If we were shooting at 2 pm and not 7 pm things would have been more equal, however your success rate can be improved substantially if you keep a few things in mind:

  1. Micro Four Thirds is a small sensor! The key to a sharp detail filled image is pixels on subject, i.e. fill the frame with the subject. To do this you will need longer lenses to get you close enough to fill the frame.
  2. Use the lowest possible ISO setting. This one goes hand in hand with filling the frame, if the subject is close you can get away with a higher ISO because you will have more detail in the image and can apply noise reduction with out too much image degradation. If the subject is not filling up the frame and you use a high ISO all detail will be lost.

Overall I’m happy with the results the GX8 produced; will I replace my aging D3 with it? Probably not. Will I take it on a family outing and leave the D3 at home? Absolutely! Here is a link to the archive, there are images from the D3 and GX8 so you will need to check out the exif details to see which is which.

Taken with the Panasonic GX8 and Olympus 40-150 f2.8 with 1.4x converter, ISO 640, 1/500th and f4 at 210mm (420mm 35mm equiv.).

 

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