Friday, June 29, 2012

Drifting

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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.

Technical

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.

5 comments:

  1. Bill,the one good thing to extract from the need of contantly "improving and Upgrading" is, the chance to purchase "obsolete" gear at even lower prices.

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  2. Right on the spot Bill. I find that I'm using the E-PL1 in about 80% of all outside situations now, either with its kit zoom (still got the version 1 of it), or with my wife's 20mm Panasonic lens. The rest I take with the E-520 (18-19%), or the OM-2N film camera (1-2%, I reserve this for people or for special moments with awesome light).

    The Pen-type cameras are just convenient, and at least as good as my older DSLR. I paid under 250€ for the E-PL1 kit, some 550€ for my wife's double zoom kit, which is about 1.5 years older. And yes, it would be great to have a D800E, but I don't have to - I can still take my OM-2N (70€ as a kit with the 1.4/50mm) if I want 35mm...

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    1. Smaller sensor cameras offer a degree of quality undreamed of a decade ago. All the digital cameras have advanced, to the point where I think of the new Nikon D800/E as the new medium format camera. At US$3,000 the D800 might be too much for my budget, but it's a lot more approachable than a digital medium format camera or even the more stratospheric Leica S2. There's something seductive about 36 MP on a large slab of silicon...

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  3. The good news is that if you want your Yashica back, they're about $20 these days. I ended up buying two, a G and a GSN, fixed the light seals in both with a $1 sheet of foam rubber, and then sold the G to a friend for about what I paid for it. Nice little camera. I took one of my two (lifetime) photos of celebrities with the GSN.

    There's another aspect to the 'disposable camera' philosophy – no brand tie-in. Yes, you have a lot of Olympus lenses, including some great ones, but if you have a chance to buy a cheap camera from another system, why not? These days a Nikon D3100 and kit lens costs just slightly more than a Canon S100. NEX kits go on sale from time to time. So what if you never buy another lens for it?

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    1. The time has truly long passed for the Electro 35. I have the digital equivalent in my bag now, built up from either the E-Pl1 or the E-P2 and the Panasonic 20mm.

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