I love the simplest point & shoot film cameras. Take a Holga or some cheap disposable/reusable model and just go enjoy shooting. They are so easy to use, so hard to master, so much fun to shoot with.
I’ve got few cameras like that in my collection and while I run the more affordable films through them, in the end it can still gets bit pricey. This got me thinking, would I be able to somehow recreate the experience in a digital form, avoiding the rising price of film and development? And what i mean by this is that I didn’t want just to switch a camera to full-auto and keep using it as before, I wanted the proper experience with guessed focus, uncertain exposure and questionable framing.
And I got exactly what I wanted.
I knew I would be using one of my Micro Four Thirds cameras for this, the question was which lens to pick to pair with it? Right away I skipped all my autofocus lenses, there would simply be too much temptation to use them “properly”. Instead, I started looking into the wide range of cheap manual lenses, believing I would be able to restrict myself better with them. But then I found something even better, something even more basic. I found the bodycap lenses.
There are actually quite a few such lenses for M43 mount, ranging from first party Olympus models, over different fish-eyes, to a pinhole in a plastic body cap. In the end, I decided to go with a newer 7Artisans 18mm f/6.3, for M43 cameras framing equivalent of 36mm, and a depth of field equivalent of f/12.6 – all available for only $69!
The 7Artisans 18mm f/6.3 is a very simple lens with fixed aperture and even fixed focus, perfectly replicating standards of classic disposable cameras. They somehow managed to squeeze 6 glass elements into its ultra-thin all-metal construction, so it’s bit fancier than a basic plastic lens. Rendering can be described as a “unique”, with bit of color shift, slight distortion, unsharp corners and a few other optical flaws.
At first, this seemed to be the biggest issue. A quick online search for optical viewfinders got me to Ricoh or Voigtlander, and these were definitely in a completely different category than what I was aiming for. But as with many other things, just give it a little bit of time and you will find somebody in China making exactly what you need.
That was exactly my case, discovering this one small company, offering a range of cheap viewfinders on Taobao and Ebay. And their 35mm viewfinder at $10 was just the perfect choice for me. It’s small, all-plastic construction, gets bit dusty over time and it lacks framelines. It’s also wrong aspect ratio for my 4:3 camera. And I found it to be noticeably wider than the lens.
As you can guess, it’s exactly what I was looking for.
The easiest step, as I already owned the camera nicely matching my desires, a 12 years old Panasonic Lumix GF1.
Small rectangular body, with an ultra-thin body cap lens, nicely imitates looks of the film point-n-shoots. And without the faux SLR hump, I can get the optical viewfinder into nice position right above the lens. The overall package is really compact and I can always keep it with me, easily fitting as an extra item into full camera bags, carrying it around in a small sling bag or just throwing it into a bigger pocket on my shorts.
The old 12-megapixel sensor is not competitive with modern standards of digital cameras, but I like its colors and you know I’m not here to chase image quality. Its limited ISO capabilities are even reminiscent of using film, with the ISO 1600 being the upper limit you want to go to.
And maybe the most important feature of the GF1, its screen can be turned off for a distraction free analog experience! Much cleaner and more usable solution than slapping a bunch of gaffer tape over the screen. To some, this can feel like a small thing, but you never appreciate it fully until you try it. I firstly tested a newer Panasonic GX1 in this role and its always-on screen was irritating way too much when using it with the optical viewfinder.
I dug out old 2GB Micro SD card, giving me space for approximately 85 photos, which I found to be just the right balance coming from 36 frames. I added a very short paracord neck strap, to keep the camera always at hand for the “decisive moment”. And for the distinctive look, mixing something between annoying tourist and old school professional photographer.
For settings, I keep it in aperture priority mode and just pre-set the ISO when heading out, letting the shutter speed float around. This allows me to react fast if I need to, but at the same time I have to keep exposure in mind, to avoid too low speeds. Sometimes I try to play around with the exposure compensation, but that’s bit tricky with no indications. I ended up with some messed up shots, because I forgot to reset it back to zero.
With focus it’s even simpler. Trying to keep the subject between 2 and 6 meters, anything closer is just lost and anything further is questionable at best. And with an instantaneous focus it’s now just up to my timing of pressing the shutter.
Cropped and edited to taste in DXO Photolab 4.
A few months in with this rig and I’m still enjoying it so much. It works as I wished, serving as a great choice for these spontaneous long walks with no clear intentions in mind, helping me to practice certain photography skills and from time to time getting an actually nice shot. I still use my film point & shoots, but keeping them reserved for the special occasions or dedicated film photowalks.
I know this endeavor might seem bit pointless to many of you. Spending time and money on recreating something that doesn’t make much sense in the modern world. But that’s why we have hobbies, allowing us to do pointless things just to have fun. And I would recommend for everybody to try the same.
You can check my photos from life in China on my Instagram @FrantaBina
And take a look at our recently established photoclub – Shenzhen International Foto Collective @ShenzhenFoto
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16 thoughts on “Panasonic GF1 & 7Artisans 18mm – My Analog Point & Shoot Experience Digital Camera – By Frankie Bina”
One of my most favorite digital cameras ever, wish they would remake it with an updated sensor! Though your photos show that it’s about that photographer, not the gear, great shots!
Yes, GF1 is so lovely camera. I have the GX1 follow up, which is same at the core, but better in almost every way. Too bad they abandoned it and all follow-up models went in different directions.
Glad you like my shots.
Commendable repurposing of a once great camera. I still on occasion pull that camera out and use it when I run errands and want something more than my iPhone. The output is perfect for sharing images online and for outputting prints as large as 16 x 20.
For a long time I used it as a “daily driver”, paired with some small lens, always carrying it in my backpack. even if I’m just going to work that day. Anytime I will rather shoot on this 12 years old camera than on my phone 🙂
Thanks for the nice photos and inspirational post. Time to get out of the closet my p&s kit of Oly E-Pl1 and 18mm f/8 bodycap 🙂 I also liked your motto to shoot without a screen. I made a viewfinder from an old Samsung film camera. But even though the camera does not fit in my pocket with it, I intend to try it in battle.
Glad it inspired you!
I was dealing with similar issue with the viewfinder, making it bit problematic when putting into pocket or pouches. I just remove it from camera when I have it in my bag, but put it on the moment I go shoot. And then I just keep it on my hand or around my neck for the few hours.
This is great. I too like to mirror my digital set up as close to analog as possible. The flow and feel of film photography creates a more zen like approach than shooting endlessly and chimping around after each shot. It forces you to slow down and weigh more heavily on creativity.
I know exactly what you mean, this slower feel is something I’m now trying to recreate with different combo (digital Pen F and manual lens).
But this project was kind of opposite, taking the freedom of snapshots of the old point – n – shoots and reducing the cost for a film 😀 With this combo it’s about catching the moment, not having to deal with things like focus or exposure.
Bravo! I was intrigued enough that I brought out my dusty old LX3…but I found out that it wasn’t micro 4/3’s. But more power to you! Looks like a great little set-up.
LX line are sweet cameras. I personally find controls on LX3 bit annoying, but the later LX5 and LX7 are so nice to use and affordable on used market these days.
An interesting project and even if some others may consider it “a bit pointless” if you have had some fun and learned things then it seems well worthwhile.
I had a GF1 on my first foray into MFT photography and regret selling it as it was so convenient to carry around.
Perhaps I’ll source out a similar 7artisans lens to have some fun with my GX1. The pinhole lens I used with it gave interesting results.
Thanks for the idea.
I’m happy it inspired you.!
Nowadays there is such a range of cheap chinese lenses for M43, it’s joy to pick from them.
I think a great combo could be with some of the 10mm fisheys bodycap lenses. Tiny camera rig that could be so creative!
Hell yes! A tiny, older camera with a 35 pancake. Nicely done.
Glad you liked it 🙂
One more thing: Thank you for WRITING a blog post instead of making a YouTube video. For photography, written posts are 100x better.
I enjoyed my p&s film compacts but the cost of film and developing has put an end to it. This could be exactly what I’m looking for!