Lately I've been using a low-cost E-PL1 with a low-cost M.Zuiko 14-42mm II MSC kit zoom. I've gone to this configuration because I want the absolute minimal, lowest cost quality system camera I can own. I want simplification in all things, including my camera.
Back in 2009, at the lowest point in a downturn of the Austin market, Kirk Tuck was writing about how small low-cost cameras such as the Canon G10/11 and the SX10/20 were capable of producing results most of the time that were indistinguishable from far more expensive cameras. There were times when the heavier expensive iron had a place, but for a lot of shots just knowing what you were doing allowed you to create photography from any reasonable camera regardless of cost. The point being, if you could get the same great results from an inexpensive camera like those from a far more expensive camera given the same starting results, then why spend the extra money?
Why indeed? I've discovered that the more you spend as an amateur the more recalcitrant you are to move up. It becomes a drag, an anchor on purchasing the next camera, especially when the next camera has significantly advanced capabilities over your current kit. It also tends to corral you into a given brand. How many times have I heard that so-and-so won't move to such-and-such camera because they have too much "invested" in glass? Even I've said that indirectly. I love the Olympus lenses I have, I just wish I could put them in front of a different sensor. Like one from Sony.
I've been working with a discounted kit zoom on a discounted camera body, just enjoying the highly visual and kinesthetic moment using a small but powerful camera system. In a way it was like being transported back in time nearly 40 years to when I owned a Yashica Electo 35 fixed-lens 35mm rangerfinder. If I'd known then what I know now I'd have kept that camera. But I was too impetuous to really dig in and learn that machine, too ready to toss it aside for a "real" camera, an SLR. I did that and while I certainly enjoyed the later SLRs, I have with hindsight come to appreciate the Zen-like simplicity of the Electro 35. The closest I can get to the Electro 35 with modern kit is with either the E-P2 or the E-PL1 with and the Panasonic 1.7/20mm mounted on either, so not all is lost. The Electro 35 had a 1.7/45mm permanently mounted on the body.
There are incredible opportunities right now in the marketplace for low-cost but powerful cameras. Cameras that allow you to document the world without busting the bank. A blogger by the name of Marty4650 wrote an interesting entry where he writes that your "first camera should be disposable." His point is not to invest heavily in your first camera, but buy something that you won't mind losing if you decide after several years that you don't like photography. I'd like to weave his line of reasoning with Kirk's and say that you should always buy "disposable" cameras.
Buy at the trailing edge, where the previous wonder-cameras are heavily discounted to make way for the current and soon-to-arrive wonder cameras. The same technological advancement that allows camera phones to replace classical point-and-shoots is also making the so-called older large-sensor cameras more than good enough and certainly cheap enough. It allows you to buy something to experiment with, and if that doesn't suit you, then to try something a little different. In my case it allowed me to pick up a second µ4/3rds body and the next generation kit zoom for a price that's half that of the latest "pocketable" wonder camera, the fixed lens Sony RX100. The M.Zuiko 14-42mm II MSC certainly isn't a fast aperture lens, but so what? It's very silent in its focus when shooting video, and it's more than good enough in spite of what the forum photographic intellectuals say. And at $300 for body and lens, it's a camera that's far more approachable to a larger population, especially in these continuing economically challenging times. I'm sure Olympus won't like to hear this, what with them trying to sell E-M5's (and doing a very fine job based on what I read), but at least it's a low-cost discounted Olympus camera I've bought, not some other brand.
The top photo was taken out on one of my luncheon walks. The lantana was in heavy bloom after Debbie's rains. The kit zoom was used at its widest aperture, which at 39mm (78mm equivalent) was f/5.3. In spite of the aperture the background was far enough away that it sufficiently blurred out. The bottom photo was taken with the kit zoom at its maximum of 42mm and f/5.6. I wanted my flower closeups to be nice and sharp, and the f/5.6 delivered reasonable depth of field on all the blooms and buds.
In both instances I "visualized" these as wide (16:9) photographs, the opposite of the 1:1 esthetic. It was fun.