A couple of weeks ago I was delighted to be invited on a photography masterclass by Panasonic UK to the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey. I was joined in the event by three other photographers: Jason Alexander (aka, the 'Wildlife Gadget Man', championing the role that technology can play in connecting younger generations with the natural world), travel blogger Heather Cowper and family photographer Hannah Harding.
We were given the smart new Lumix G80 mirrorless camera to experiment with during our morning at the centre, and use subsequent to the day to profile some brilliant advancements from Panasonic's gadgetry. After receiving a background talk and introduction by professional wildlife photographer Phil Gould, we headed off to explore the centre's diverse array of native mammal and bird species in the various enclosures, getting to grips with our new cameras and capturing some #UnmissableMoments in the process.
The new G80 (also referred to as the G85) exhibits some smart features which allow the photographer to get pretty creative with imaging. Some particularly exciting developments for this new model that I was keen to get to grips with are the 4K photo and post-focussing 4K picture functions. I was also looking forward to experimenting with the 4K video capabilities- a feature which has made the previous G8 series cameras a popular model for use in film and moving-image production. I'll go into a bit more detail about the overall technicalities and performance of the camera in a second blog post, having used it for a couple of weeks now.
However, it was brilliant to spend the first photo shoot with this smart camera by capturing images of some charismatic wildlife species such as these cheeky little chaps...
During the morning's session I was able to shoot with a variety of different lenses, although the kit lens (24-60mm) that comes with the camera is a great and versatile lens for capturing a range of subjects at close ranges - I particularly enjoyed getting up close to the red squirrels as they nibbled on their rewards, trying to showcase their inquisitive and rather endearing nature!
We were truly lucky with the weather conditions for the day's masterclass, with barely a breath of wind and beautifully clear skies - ideal for photography! The squirrel enclosure was great fun, although the hyperactive little mammals can be tricky to capture at times, even with the technologies of 4K photo and pos-focussing at your disposal! Here Phil Gould (left), Heather and Jason are pictured alongside an obliging squirrel
Gorse Flowers - even using the standard kit lens, I was impressed at the macro abilities and close-up images that were possible with the G80
A small mushroom that caught my eye - using the post-focus selection feature worked really well for this tiny fungus. After shooting a burst of 4K images, the nifty feature allows you to retrospectively scroll through and select the exact frames which are best focussed for your needs. I am looking forward to having more of a play around with this!
It was lovely to have the opportunity to photograph this particular Red Fox called 'Biscuit', who is impressively at the ripe old age of 15! She is certainly doing well for her age, and I'm sure has brought pleasure to countless thousands of visitors to the centre!
Using a shallow depth of field and utilising the really handy flip-screen on the Lumix allowed me to get nice and low to the ground to try some more impactful portraits of this smart animal
With the leaves draining of the green colour and beginning to drop from deciduous trees, some of the enclosures were gleaming in autumnal colours, and this made for particularly pleasing shots of the fox in a thoroughly seasonal setting! These two images were taken with a 200mm lens on the G80 - I have to say that the new combined image stabilisation system works wonders with handheld photography. Even at longer focal lengths, the image remains very stable and I can see this being superb for filming
Admiring the gorgeous fox 'Biscuit'
It was brilliant to be introduced to some of the centre's pure Scottish Wildcats - a species which inbreeding with feral cats has reduced to just a handful of individuals in the uplands of Scotland. They are stunning creatures, and with real characters!
You wouldn't want to get too close to these chaps...except by using a reasonable zoom and remaining at a comfortable distance! Using the 4K photo mode whenever these hissing bouts ensued allowed me to chose the exact shot I was after. It is really straight forward to use the 4K picture mode, and the touch screen makes it super easy to scroll through a burst of shots afterwards and then simply select and save the ones you want to keep
I really liked the cracks in this tree stump, using them to lead your eye into the image - and one of the wildcats obliged at the perfect moment to capture a #UnmissableMoment
One of the hardest subjects to capture images of, despite being one of my favourites to watch, was the Otter. Their slinky-like style of movement and inquisitive nature is a rather endearing trait, but makes it hard to get perfect images at times! Jason opted for the low-level technique in this situation, which really is made so much easier with the flip-out and rotational screen on the G80. One of the great things about the G8 series, though, is the retention of a viewfinder - I struggle to use live view for photography in a lot of circumstances, having used digital SLRs most of my life!
A great end to the morning was getting up and close to this superb species: the Tawny Owl. Resting against the gnarled trunk of a mature oak, it made for some great images taken with the 200mm lens. It isn't often you get to see such fine details of a bird that is usually a ghostly figure in the night
Besides the wildlife of the centre, I enjoyed experimenting with the camera on a range of other subjects...
backlit oak leaves in the morning sunshine
the silhouetted fruiting bodies of a rosehip
So overall I had a thoroughly enjoyable time at the wildlife institute, and the masterclass was brilliant - it's not too often you get to use a fantastic new Lumix camera on charismatic British mammals in stunning autumn weather! A great combination, especially shared with the company of accompanying photographers and Phil Gould, who was thoroughly helpful in explaining some of the technicalities related to using the G80.
I have since had a very busy few weeks filled mostly with uni work for exams, assignments and practical write-ups, and so haven't had anywhere near as much time as I would have liked to get to grips with the camera. I am really looking forward to putting the G80 through its paces when I return to Bardsey at christmas - I am hoping to focus on filming the Grey Seals whilst I'm there and making use of the #4Kvideo
Many thanks to Panasonic UK for the opportunity and superb masterclass, and to the staff of the British wildlife institute for allowing us to spend the day at the centre.
- take a closer look at the specs for the new G80 here- British Wildlife Centre
- Panasonic Lumix UK