Wednesday, July 04, 2012

A Means to an End

Gear July 2012
In spite of what you might read lately, cameras are still a basic tool for making photographs. Yes, you can paint and draw to produce images (and many remarkably so), but a camera, at least to me, is a means to an end. I don't collect cameras just to have cameras even though it looks like that. I buy cameras to make photographs, and I make photographs to document my world around me. The methods I use to compose and process these images may be limited to your eyes, but they're sufficient to me, and they are also a means to an end. If that somehow diminishes the artistic value of my photography, then so be it. I don't photograph to please or impress you. I'm on something of a personal life-long mission that attempts, in part, to take my ego out of the picture (no pun intended).

I'm writing this entry because I've gotten so tired of reading about the superiority of any given camera model or brand over any other, which indirectly implies that great sums of money must be spent to achieve some creative edge. They're all good, both digital and film. The limiting factor has been and always will be the guy or gal behind the camera. If you think my work is bad, it's not due to any limitation of my gear. I could sell it all and buy Canon or Nikon or Sony to take its place and my work would still be as good or as bad is it is right now.

I don't use these particular cameras to impress anybody. I don't care if you're impressed or not. I use these cameras because I like them. If you don't like your tools then your work will suffer as a consequence. Why you like or dislike a given camera or system is personal, and only effects you one way or the other. That's why, in a way, it does absolutely no good to publicly praise or condemn a camera or system. The best you can do is write a personal lucid post documenting your observations and experiences in order to offer a data point that others might use to make an informed decision to purchase a given camera or system. And that, on occasion, is what I do.

The biggest reason I like these Pens is because of their small size vs the high quality images they produce. I walk around now with a Domke F6 Little Bit Smaller camera bag. It holds both Pens and six lenses along with the two lenses on the body (six primes and two zooms) along with a pair of battery chargers, extra batteries, SDHC cards, a Color Checker Passport, and various odds and ends. When I really want to go all out I bungee a small tripod to the outside of the bag.

When I'm out using the Pens I put a lens on each body and carry an extra in my shirt pocket, and leave the Domke in the trunk of the car. I'll carry either the 14mm or the 17mm on one body, the 45mm on the second, and either the 20mm or the 14-42mm in my shirt pocket. And maybe an extra battery. At 6'4" and 250lbs, those cameras disappear rather nicely against that much bulk. When I pull them up to use them I look like some overweight tourist with a point and shoot, somebody to be ignored. In broad daylight or shade or indoors they focus just fine. When I want to get all "artsy" I'll mount the OM50mm or OM28mm and manually focus. Manual focusing, counterintuitively, is actually faster than autofocusing with the µ4/3rds lenses. That's because once you set the focus the camera fires as quickly as possible, not having to run a lens through its focus regimen.

Right now those cameras are getting pretty darn cheap. The E-PL1 is going for $150, body only, while the E-P2 and the E-PL2 are selling for $250, body only. You can find a lot of M.Zuiko kit lenses for dirt cheap to go on those cheap bodies. The only really expensive item is the VF-2 finder, and yes, I have a finder for both bodies. If you're really strapped for funds you can buy just one and use it on whatever body you fell is necessary.

For "development" I use LightRoom 4.1 to get the kind of final image I like. I could use direct JPEG but I've reached a point were I can quickly run raws through LightRoom. Frankly I like the way LightRoom converts the raws.

I like these cameras. I like them a lot. Unless there's a massive drop in price with another brand similar to what I see right now with these Pens, I'll continue to use them until they break down or somebody makes an offer I can't refuse, like the Nikon D3200 for, say, $150 body only. They're tools, a means to an end, and so far they're doing just fine.


The setup was taken with an Olympus E-3 and 12-60mm zoom. I had an FL50R flash, remotely controlled, off to the side on its stand and a Rogue Flashbender attached to the snoot, shaped to bounce the flash onto the two Pens. The Pens sat on a large piece of white poster board, which was itself shaped to help bounce some of the light back into the shadows. Simple and sweet for small devices. Post processed in LightRoom 4.1.


  1. Good one Bill! Oh, and I *do* like the photos you take. That's why your blog is RSS-bookmarked in my browser since long.

    1. Thanks, Wolfgang, I really appreciate the support. It's just I think if all the complainers spent the time agonizing over what they had (or didn't have) on using their gear then they wouldn't spend all that time agonizing over what they don't have (or complaining about what they do have). At this point in digital photography all grass is equally green.

    2. How true.

      Sure it would be nice to have an E-M5 or even a Nikon D800e. And sure my files would most probably look different. But would it make any difference to my photography? Not at all I think.

      That said, my E-520 turns 3 (in my possession) this end of November, and the E-M5 - or whatever exists then - could be a successor. If it really handles highlights half as nice as Michael just wrote on T.O.P. it's surely a winner, and lots better than my aging DSLR.

      Which doesn't even remotely mean that I would retire that camera, or even sell it. But I'm as much interested in new µ43rds lenses as I am in their bigger brethren. The 20mm and the 45mm of my wife just *are* that good.

      Until then, I'll use what I have. Used to support people with 486 and 586 machines when mine was still a 286. And I made a profession out of that...

  2. I agree with you about the photographer being more important than the camera, but to a certain extent. The reason why I say this is I used to use an Olympus Tough 8000 to take photos while scuba diving.

    The pictures I took nothing fantastic. Much like yourself, they were to satisfy me. I did find that when I got to about the 6-7 metre mark, the camera began to slow down considerably as the light began to fall off. When that happened, by the time the autofocus finished moving and the shutter went (which was often too slow), the target would be out of focus, and blurred. White balance issues were also present, with far too green, even with the preset underwater white balance. The camera would only spit out JPEGS, so nothing much could be done on the computer. Turning on the flash wouldn't really help unless the subject was up close, which could mean lopping tails or fins out.

    Last Christmas, I got the E-PL2 as they were beginning to get cleared out, and the Olympus dive housing. I'm pretty happy with it, and there is a definite difference. Custom white balancing it could not be easier. Even though it has a little too much red sometimes, it's nothing Viewer 2 couldn't fix. I've become the limiting factor now, and I'm content with that fact, as I know that over time I will improve, which isn't something a camera can do.

    Final point as I close off my long winded post. My friend got the TG-820 and housing around the same time I got my E-PL2 set up. He's already annoyed with the camera. Unfortunately, the camera spits out pictures just like my Tough 8000-far too much green, with very little contrast in the image. So to an extent, I would have to say that the camera will matter, but by the same token, you could probably say above a certain point, it probably won't.

    1. Your comments and experiences are what I mean about using gear. Yes, you found out it was limited, and you corrected for it. It certainly wasn't for lack of trying, and certainly not for lack of experience. My comments are for the forum dilettantes that post more than they shoot.

      I wish I could scuba dive. Unfortunately I can't equalize pressure in my ears.

    2. Shame you can't equalize your ears. As for forums, I never bother with them. Too many people talk crap on gear they've never used, or used for long enough to master it, but they'll base their assumptions off things they've read online. I usually just keep up with a few blogs if I like their work or writing. Saves me from some frustration!


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