Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Re Focus

Here it is, then, in all it's g(l)ory. The post I advertised at the end of the previous one. Enjoy...

Remember the almost quote from the precious post? The one to do with the best camera being the one you actually want to use? Well, this post is all about that one. Or, for the impatient among you, all about how - and why - I have made what looks like a step back in terms of my photo kit.

As you may have noticed (or, more likely, not), I have spent the last couple of years in the DX format DSLR camp. And what a most enjoyable journey that proved to be. I loved my Nikon D3100. I adored my (now almost vintage) D90. I was impressed by the almost current D7000. I fell in love with fast primes, but also saw where the attraction is with versatile long zooms. Oh, and must not forget medium zooms!

Also, along the way I happily learned a bit about how to make nice photos. And by this I mean intentionally, not just because digital allows you to make 700 slightly different shots of a single scene in the hope that one will actually be nice to look at a month later.

But, above all, I started taking a lot more photos than ever before (no, not the above mentioned 700). And this is what eventually led to this post. Or, more accurately, to the focus shift that I feel the need to share with you (yes, you in particular - the only reader of my musings).

Let me quickly recap my photographic history...

The first couple of cameras I used seriously were 35mm film ones: Zorki 4, a Kodak with an extendable harmonica lens setup, and later a Chinon which was almost as automated as modern digital cameras. I am sorry I can't remember the exact models here, but it was a long time ago, and the ones I still have are too much hassle to get to.

And then I entered the digital world, sometime in 2002. From the relatively basic point-and-shoots, all the way to bridge cameras (and back to the miniature ones with non-extendable zooms), and then finally to DSLRs.

The DSLR experience was quite significantly punctured by the Fujifilm X100, a hormone unsettling camera if ever there was one. Having gotten there, I honestly thought that was it, as far as the kit of choice is concerned: a DSLR - eventually to move up to FX, and a smaller fixed lens beauty of the X100 kind. Teh compact system cameras seemed an abomination, despite some rave reviews, and some undeniable advantages (and also quite sizeable sensor sizes).

But then, there came the Olympus OM-D E-M5...

Rave reviews - check. Good looks - check. Compact system, Micro Four Thirds - unfortunately also check.

Around the same time I started realising I am using my Nikon D7000 less and less. At first I didn't quite realise why that is, putting it down mostly to just not really needing it at various occasions.

Then, I came across the quote from the top, and it suddenly dawned on me: I am choosing my Sony RX100 over the Nikon D7000 because the latter has become a pain to lug - and use. But mostly it was about the size, I realised. For a serious photo trip with a Nikon I needed the body and at least two lenses, and none of these were either light or small. Yes, the Fujifilm X100 was more than superb for occasions where its fixed lens was appropriate, but for anything else the RX100 won over the D7000 hands down.

And the RX100 could just about cut it for all my photographic needs were its sensor a bit bigger, and thus its bright lens a bit more capable of more than amazing low light performance (not to mention the lack of optical zoom past 3.6x mark).

So, with some trepidation, I decided to give OM-D a go. And, just to be on the safe side - and, because I recently wrote a scathing post about just such cameras  - and, because I don't mind being proven wrong - and (just this one more, OK?), because I saw a bargain should I decide to keep one or the other, I actually went and procured an OM-D as well as an E-MP1, the latter a nice example of (even) small(er) sensor and body compact system camera. With these came two kit zooms: 14-42mm and 50-150mm, neither particularly fast, but neither particularly slow, either.

As I already mentioned in the previous post, my highly critical post just before it turned out to be pretty much spot on: the tiny E-MP1 with these two lenses (and most people would have them) feels wrong in so many ways I can't be bothered to ever try to name them. On the other hand, the OM-D... Oh, the OM-D...

Not only does the OM-D have that gorgeous retro look and feel about it, but the two lenses fit it just right (and so does the 45mm f/1.8 fast prime I tried a bit later) in all possible ways. OK, for more serious shooting, you'll want to replace them with some others, but there is none of the awkwardness of mismatchign relative sizes which maims the E-MP1. The balance is well and truly right. It's a true joy to shoot, almost (but not quite) in the way the X100 is (but it's very, very close).

So, with all this joy at my fingertips and the good advice Ming Thein supplied, I felt I could - I should - do one thing that seemed unthinkable a fortnight ago: I got rid of the whole Nikon DSLR malarkey and used the proceeds to buy into the Micro Four Thirds (MFT), and the OM-D E-M5 in particular.

I have made this decision when I only had the two kit zooms to play with, but when I got the 45mm f/1.8 prime and played with it a bit I knew for sure I have made the right decision. To my eye, and even at 100% magnification, there is absolutely no difference in image quality between the APS-C sensor in Nikon DX cameras, and the MFT one in the Olympus OM-D E-M5. I also couldn't find any difference in lens performance between the two systems. Of course, I will be replacing the kit zooms with something more serious (think a fast wide prime at least), but all in all I see no degradation in quality whatsoever.

On the other hand, something that was distinctly impossible with the Nikon is now a breeze: sling the OM-D with the 14-42mm zoom fitted over the shoulder - and forget about it; slip the 40-150mm zoom into the shirt pocket (yes, a shirt breast pocket) - and forget about that one, too! Go and spend a day out and about with a 13 month old, and come back home with a bunch of great shots and none of the sourness of having to also tackle the weight and bulk of the DSLR.

So, all in all, unless you are a pro, or an artist (and maybe even if you are), you may find you do much better with the OM-D (or similar, well balanced) MFT camera if for no other reason then because you enjoyed using it so much more, and having used it so much more you got home with more shots to choose from, and much more crucially, with more practice and experience without which you can't become - or stay - a good (or even great photographer).

The moral: do try and eat your own dog food, and once you ate it don't hesitate to have some of your own words for desert, too. After all, you are after bettering yourself, and not just being right at all cost, aren't you?

Are you?