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Surprisingly Good

Delights and DeLitesThe title speaks on several levels, one having to do with the aging DSLRs to the right, the other the camera that took the photo.

If you don't recognize them (or can't read the markings on the body) you looking at an Olympus E-1 with a Zuiko Digital SWD 12-60mm zoom attached nestled next to an Olympus E-3 with a Zuiko Digital SWD 50-200mm zoom attached. I continue to use those two cameras and those lenses because they continue to provide quality photographs for my kind of photography. I could sell them and invest in the current standard bearers such as the Canon 7D, the Nikon D7000, Pentax K5 or the Sony α77. All of those cameras use a larger APS-C sensor, and all of those cameras boast higher resolutions (18MP, 16MP, 16MP, and 24MP respectively) than the E-1's 5MP and the E-3's 10MP. Even the camera that was used to make the photograph, an Olympus E-P2 with a Panasonic 20mm lens, can only boast of its 12MP sensor.

I've seen remarkable work from all three of those cameras, and don't think I've not been tempted. But I've also seen remarkable work from all three of my Olympus cameras (remarkable work from all models using the 4/3rds sized sensor) which nicely counterbalances the competition. And I continue to get very pleasing and more than satisfactory results from all the cameras. Since purchasing my first Olympus DSLR, an E-300 in 2006, my technical competency with all these cameras has increased (albeit in fits and starts) so that I've never felt a strong need to replace them.

One day, if I should ever hit a technical wall with regards to photography, then I will indeed look to replace them. But that day has yet to come. If it does come it will be because a camera manufacturer has produced an affordable camera with such capabilities that it would be irrational not to buy one and use it (Lytro notwithstanding). The pricing of Canon's and Nikon's latest high-end cameras puts them well beyond my budget. They will certainly, in  the right hands, produce such magnificent technical results they will put my meager efforts to shame, but the brutal truth is that I can produce no better photographs artistically with such cameras than I can with my current equipment.

The camera that took the photo was an Olympus E-P2 with a Panasonic 20mm, taken raw. Normally I'd fire up my notebook, attach my external USB 500GB drive, fire up Lightroom 4, import the raw photos, adjust to my taste in Lightroom 4, export the resultant JPEGs, then finally upload to Flickr. Lots of  little steps just to get a photo and post it.

Today I decided to be lazy. I "post-processed" the raw image inside the E-P2 using Menu | Edit. Before I got to that point I adjusted the white balance manually to shade and adjusted the exposure -.7EV using live view to preview the camera settings. I then converted the raw image to JPEG within the E-P2 and posted it. I could have shortened that process even further by going straight to JPEG. Bottom line: even though I laud Lightroom 4's capabilities, the E-P2's internal JPEG engine with proper exposure is more than capable of producing surprisingly good JPEGs without heavy duty post processing.

I used to live exclusively with JPEG. Then I switched almost exclusively to Raw and post-processing in Lightroom. Now I'm beginning to shift back more towards a balance between the two. One reason is time. I don't have a lot any more to post-process every single image. The other is art vs technique. I'm more interested now in what I photograph, not so much how it's photographed, and along with that, how it's post processed. My personal tastes are slowly shifting again, adding renewed interest to the whole act and art of photography.


  1. That's a wonderful photo of those two beauties and the oranges. And they are, as you correctly state, surprisingly good. Of course camera bodies do not live in isolation of all else, the need lenses to bring that precious light to their sensor, and the 12-60 and 50-200 are two of the very best zoom lenses ever made for any platform. Those DSLR's combined with those lenses are superb tools capable of quite a bit.

    For me personally, I stick with Olympus primarily because of the excellent lenses, though lately I've been getting more and more disenchanted with the camera bodies. But of course me needs and they areas I'm moving into as a photographer are increasingly asking a lot of the cameras themselves, and some of those features on the APS bodies would come in really handy for me personally.

    I've been shooting quite a bit with the E-3 and the 14-54 Mk II, and the 50-200 SWD Mk II lenses, and also using the Olympus 9-18mm wide-angle zoom with that combination. The incredible quality I keep getting from that setup amazes me to no end, photos that come straight out of the camera are almost always very useful, and only need a light touch with post-processing. The part that amazes me the most are the fantastic colors--which I rarely need to edit or mess with at all. The E-3's metering and white balance are almost always spot on, the focusing is almost always accurate (at least on static, non-moving subjects!), and the cameras just plain work, as do the lenses. Best of all, you don't have to baby any of them.

    I have a Lumix GH1 and an Olympus E-600 as well, both with 12mp sensors. And while they are both excellent cameras in their own right, neither is as pleasurable to use as the E-3 when it comes to serious shooting. The E-3 is always eager, always ready, and always does it's bit day in, and day out. I take my E-600 and GH1 out when I just want to goof-off with my cameras, but when I'm serious about my subject matter, the E-3 always gets the call, and never lets me down.

    I too have been mostly a RAW shooter for the past three years, but the JPEG's that come out of Olympus cameras are so very good, I don't hesitate to use them in place of RAW under certain situations. Where JPEG fails for me is with scenes with very high contrast, where I know I'll have to do some post-processing to get the most out of the files. But if it's a bright sunny day with blue skies, and I'm shooting mostly with the sun at my back, JPEG's are more than adequate.

    One area where Olympus truly excels above and beyond most of the competition is the way the cameras render people and skin tones--it's about as flawless an image as you could want, straight out of the camera. The only thing I ever have to correct for is when I mess up the white balance under artificial lighting, but once that is corrected, I never, ever have to play around with colors to get a look I want. The E-3, and Olympus cameras in general, always nail it.

    Even though I've been actively looking at the Canon 7D, Nikon D7000, Sony a57 and especially the Pentax K5 now that they've knocked the price down considerably, I will probably never get rid of my Olympus cameras and lenses, even if going with a new brand. I just wish they'd update the E-5 with their most current technology from the E-M5, and give us one or two "lesser" DSLR's for use with those outstanding 4/3 lenses. If I could count on the continuation of 4/3, and a continual updating of the DSLR's, I would even bother to look elsewhere, but the near complete disregard of 4/3 by Olympus for these past 18 months or so, does have me very concerned.


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