Panasonic’s Post Focus feature lets you shoot first, focus later
A growing trend in camera technology is the ability to refocus an image after the exposure has been made. For traditionalist photographers, it’s a promise that seems too good to be true—even impossible. Two new tech start-ups, Lytro and Light, have built cameras that capture distance information along with each photograph, which hands focus and depth of field control over to software. Lytro’s expensive Illum never really caught on, with its low-resolution output being too large a sacrifice for its novel functionality. It remains to be seen whether Light’s L16 will fair better. Panasonic’s implementation of this ability, through its new Post Focus feature, takes an intrinsically different approach, however, building off of its existing cameras.
Post Focus is yet another upgrade to Panasonic’s unique 4K Photo mode, which essentially shoots 30 frames-per-second bursts of 8MP photos, recorded as a short video. 4K Photo isn’t for everyone or every situation, but it can be handy for capturing action shots when getting the right moment would otherwise be very tricky. Post Focus, however, aims to find a use for 4K Photo that goes beyond high-speed action photography. The camera still takes a burst of 8MP images, but this time it refocus between each exposure, capturing images at different focus points. The user can then select a focus point during playback with the touch of a finger and choose to save the frame as a JPEG. With a tripod, it also helps provide a good starting point for focus-stacking in post, which can increase depth of field for macro or landscape shots.
The other trade-off is inherent of the 4K Photo mode: the loss of field of view. Since 4K Photo (and video) on Panasonic cameras is accomplished by cropping the sensor to just the pixels needed, rather than scanning the full sensor and then downscaling, the field of view is narrower. On a 20MP GX8, the effect is quite noticeable. Personally, I think this is an even a bigger concern than the loss of resolution. The other downside to be aware of is that any 4K Photo exposure is essentially a compressed MPEG video, so you won’t have the same editing latitude as you get with raw files.
Despite the compromises, Post Focus is yet another brilliant implementation of 4K Photo mode and I look forward to seeing how Panasonic will continue to innovate in this area. With the advent of faster processors in the future, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before we see Post Focus with higher resolution and full-sensor readout. Currently, it’s not an innovation that every photographer will take advantage of, but as a free firmware update, it certainly doesn’t hurt.