7.31.2012

Giving the "old" stuff time to deliver.



I was feeling all jangly this morning. I've been writing articles this week that speak to the idea that there will always be technical progress but that learning to use your equipment wisely is so much more important to your work than having the latest lens or camera.  What if I was wrong?  What if every new permutation of camera moves your game forward?  How silly I would feel. 

When I left the house this morning I had the idea that I should just give in to the pressure of the market place and buy one of the new cameras. I should get an OMD or a Fuji Pro1 or a one of the new and wildly popular Canikons.  Ben and I left the house around 6:45 am this morning.  I drove him to cross country practice (don't know how he can run 7-10 miles on a glass of water and a spoonful of honey...) and then I headed to swim practice, visions of Michael Phelp's performances dancing in my head.  On the way out of the house I slipped into the studio to grab a camera and a lens or two. I grabbed the Pen EP3 (predecessor to the OMD) and I made a conscious decision to grab my absolute favorite Pen lens, the 60mm 1.5, to see how it stacked up to the new 75mm lens I played with earlier.  I didn't do any side by side comparisons but by now I've developed a retinal memory of how lenses perform and that's how I was gauging the relative performance of the 40 year old lens.

When Ben's team runs they finish at the Austin landmark, Barton Springs Pool.  I was waiting there for him at 9:30 am (wow, that's a long workout...).  I was a bit early so I snapped a few shots of the big pool and the spillway at the end of the pool.  Then we headed home.  I ate a breakfast taco and had a cup of tea while Ben made a monumental smoothie, a cheeseburger and a half a cantaloup. I guess running fast for a couple hours helps one build an appetite.

The spillway into Lady Bird Lake.

A construction made for spending afternoons in the cool water.


The temperatures soared up past 100 this afternoon so around 5pm I decided to take the same camera and lens combo and head back over to Barton Springs to show you how real Austinites cool off on these Summer days.  The water that flows into the one eighth mile long pool is a constant 68 degrees (f).  It was also a chance to continue testing the camera and lens combo.  Was I missing out entirely by not having the latest and greatest? I'm going to say no.  The stamina required to walk around in the blazing sun and actually have energy to shoot certainly trumped the  advantages of the new bodies.  At least I think so since no other photographers were out braving the weather with their cameras....


I think that the bottom line is this:  There is a point at which cameras really don't have to be any better.  If you check out the 100% crops on the leaves in the images further down I think you'll agree that sharp is sharp and sharper becomes less real, less believable. The EP 3 is fun to use in manual.  Hit the magnifying glass button twice and you enter high magnification for great manual focusing.  At f5.6 the lens is as good as anything on the market.  To my eye it's as good as the new 75mm.  While the 75mm might outperform it at wide open apertures I continue to be amazed at the performance of a lens that's been around for such a long time.




Even though I've had the EP3 for almost a year I feel like I'm just now coming to grips with what that camera is capable of doing. Part of that is my fault. I made a mental demarcation between my "professional" work cameras (Canons and Sonys) and my fun, "art" cameras (Olympus and Panasonic) and I spread myself too thin to master everything. 

The strengths of the EP3 are the traditional things people like about the Olympus cameras:  The in body stabilization, the incredible Jpeg files and the small, discrete design.  If the camera has weaknesses they are the performance at high ISO's and the lower resolution.














In the moment, while I'm rational and thinking about it, I think I should declare a moratorium for myself on buying or selling cameras.  I think it takes a long time to learn how to get the best out of every camera.  At least 18 months.  I'm almost there with the EP3 and I'm resisting the lure of upgrading to a new art camera at least until I've mastered the one in my hand.  Nothing is sadder than selling off a camera only to later stumble across a frame that's incredible. I've had too many incredible frames already out of the Pen cameras to think about abandoning them yet.

The EP2 and the EP3 are incredibly good shooting cameras.  I'm sure the OMD is better but I'm equally sure that, right now, I am the weak link not the cameras I'm shooting with.

If I'm the weak link it's because I'm not pointing my camera at the right stuff.  I know how to do all the technical steps to take accurate photos, now I need the courage to point them in a new direction and take chances with failure in order to pull out images that are more about me than about the process.  Honestly, it's not the camera...

Edit:  I just stumbled across this blog post from two years ago. It's still relevant. Maybe more so than ever....


http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2010/04/just-saw-this-quote-on-friends-site-and.html

26 comments:

jrapdx said...

No question I'd have to agree, that whatever failure there is with my images, it is my doing, I can't blame the camera. Photography is a relatively new invention and changing constantly. Every "upgrade" costs not only cash, but also so much time spent on climbing the "learning curve". How much I've wasted there is hard to know, but any time wasted is too much.

I succumbed to the charms of the EM-5, but now it's developed a shutter problem. So I'm back to the EP-3, which is not a tool to complain about. The fault is looking for something that magically transforms imagination into images, the digital kind.

So now you've convinced me, I won't find it. All that's left to do is use the old, familiar tools I already have. Always harder to actually do than to want.

JRA

calex said...

The pictures from this lens is incredibly sharp. I wonder if i will have any luck looking for one of these in good condition from eBay.

David Farquhar said...

Love the photo of the leaf, beautiful colours

sixblockseast said...

Kirk,

Your dedication to getting the most out of every camera is inspirational. My favorite lens to use with the Samsung NX10 has similar specs to the 60mm Pen. It's a 40+ year old Minolta MC Rokkor 55mm f/1.7. I wrote about it here:
http://sixblockseast.blogspot.com/2012/06/my-first-minolta-legacy-lens.html

I was particularly happy with it's performace at the hospital after the birth of our son:
http://sixblockseast.blogspot.com/2012/07/one-new-baby-one-samsung-nx10-and-two.html

I'll see if I can keep the same moratorium you propose. I've got about 12 months to go..

Arthur Emerson said...

Great frames. Clear comments. Could not agree more.

Dave Jenkins said...

You're really fighting the OM-D, aren't you, Kirk? Just give up and join the fun. The OM-D does everything the Pen series can do and does it better.

It was love at first sight for me. The OM-D is the camera I was hoping for back in 1992 when I reluctantly and sadly gave up my beloved OM system because my eyes would no longer do manual focus quickly and accurately.

Lest you think I'm just another fanboy, the OM-D is only the second new camera I've purchased since 2006. I long ago came to your conclusion that in most cases good enough is good enough.

Frank Grygier said...

It was a decision made in haste. I ordered the Olympus E-500 kit. I guess I could have chosen from the Canon or Nikon on the same web page but something about the Olympus camera resonated with me. This would be the beginning of a love/hate relationship with a camera system. I have accumulated quite an assortment of Oly cameras and lenses since that fateful day and never quite felt the connection I was hoping for until I acquired my first PEN series camera. It just felt great in my hands. The hate part in this relationship came down to the image. To my eye I needed to see more dynamic range. When Olympus announced the OMD I ordered it immediately image quality unseen hoping that this would be the one. I can say that my quest has ended and I have found a camera that is as close to a soul mate that an inanimate object can get. I will treasure this camera and the assortment of prime lenses I have and as Kirk just said "point it at the right stuff".

Frank Grygier said...

This the closest I can find: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Olympus-Pen-FT-70-2-101849-/260995117884?pt=Camera_Lenses&hash=item3cc485733c

theaterculture said...

I'm not sure if it's that we're looking for cameras that will magically improve our skill set, or if it's that we've been convinced by boatloads of marketing and the discourse of the internet photo "experts" that appraising all the available camera options and picking exactly the right state of the art imaging machine is actually a PART of photographic skill?

In reality, it's all so darn good these days that you can pretty much randomly pick a brand and the results will be there. But more importantly, you can pick a brand for personal and ergonomic reasons: it seems like you've gone with Sony largely because they were the first company to stick a beautiful evf on a work-a-day pro camera, and with m4/3 because it was the first digital system to unlock the Pen F glass you love. At the end of the day, aren't those reasons just as good as whatever nonsense about marginally improved high-iso capability or slightly more continuous caf or imperceptibly burstier burst-shooting rates that the internet spec-hounds will declare the next "must have" feature?

Carlo Santin said...

The gear has been good enough for a long long time. I find the new cameras just too much for me now. Too many menus, too many options and shooting modes and art filters. Too many parameters to think about. So I've stopped looking and thinking about new cameras, and I'm surprised at this because I am something of a techno-geek, I love technology. I should be all over the new stuff.

A recent day with my Nikon FE cemented this for me. My wife and I attended a South Asian street festival. Terrific weather, great food, great cultural experience. Toronto is such a multi-cultural city and it's what I love most about it. Everybody is from somewhere else and we all seem to just make it work. I'm a high school teacher in my other life and more often than not I'm the only white guy in the room, but ALL of us are the children of immigrants...anyway, back to the FE. I took a couple of rolls of film and just a 50mm 1.8. I had a blast and I loved the photos I took that day, not because it was film (this is not a film vs digital rant), but the simplicity of what I was shooting with. I could focus on the photography, I could take time to look and soak it all in, shooting what caught my eye. There were a lot of photographers out that day and every single one of them had a Canon or Nikon DSLR, big lenses, big straps, big bags. Everyone else was shooting with some sort of phone.

I would love a digital camera with just ISO, shutter speed, aperture on the lens please, just the basics, oh and one focus point in the middle of the frame. I know that's the Leica approach but I can't afford a Leica.

The Olympus EP 2 with an old Zuiko 50mm 1.4 is a terrific combo. Just glorious image quality from that lens. It is sharp and soft all at the same time and the files are every bit as good as anything from any other camera.

This week I received my Yashica 24 tlr and ran my first roll of 120 through it. I love the camera already. The camera is more than good enough. I don't think I am though.

Anonymous said...

I agree. It's not the camera to blame for bad images. I could blame my old p&s camera due it's shortcomings, but now I have an E-M5. No more excuses about the hardware, especially not around my wife.

I use to shoot with a mechanical camera, load film, set the iso, adjust aperture & speed, focus, compose, shoot. took me just a short time to become familiar with the camera.

Now I'm 2 months with the E-M5 and am still learning the camera. took me a while to learn what some of the litle icons in the manual are. Just last night I incorrectly cleared my stored settings and had to redo them. I use the internet quite a bit to figure out stuff I can't find an answer for in the manual. I haven't even tried the video yet.

with my new camera I find I need to use it often, read the manual over again, memorize settings, buttons, etc so when a good photo opporturnty arrises, I remember enough that I get the picture.

The camera is great, but today's cameras are modern electronic gadgets that happen to take great pictures. I'm finding this is much more complicated than expected and does have a steep learning curve. I created a little cheat sheet of 17 settings for this camera for it to behave the way I want. I still have a long ways to go with this camera.

I can see where constant upgrades can cause issues besides the money part. Never becoming totally familiar with the current camera before upgrading could definitly get in the way of taking pictures.

Michael

kirk tuck said...

I really get it. The OMD is an exceptionally good camera. And the next one will be better. And the one after that better still. You are more disciplined in your camera buying than many. It works for you. I wasn't singling out the OMD but making the point that many constantly upgrade based on hype and the idea that the camera is providing magic. It's not. It's just a good camera. I hope people who've bought one will do themselves a favor and really learn to use it well instead of jumping immediately to the OMD-2 the moment it comes out...

Dave Jenkins said...

I've heard many horror stories about the OM-D's complicated menu system. However, it is much more intuitive than I had imagined. I followed the instructions in this DPReview article with a few modifications and find the camera surprisingly easy to use.

http://www.dpreview.com/search/?query=getting+the+most+out+of+the+om-d

It's especially cool to pre-chimp a scene in the EVF and make adjustments quickly with the finger-dial around the shutter release or the thumb-dial just behind it.

Anonymous said...

To add to all of these comments, I'll say that having the same two cameras or similar ones (in my case, the Nex-3 and Nex-5n) is a godsend ! You can put two different lenses and you have no more hassle to change them, as you grab the most relevant camera for the picture you are intended to take.
I'm lucky enough to get these two similar cameras and a bunch of really nice lenses. Before going out for a trip, I choose the most well adapted lenses according to my mood and my needs et voila !

The fun is in the lenses, not in the camera : two different focal length and you can enjoy the relief of having the choice at hand.

Mr said...

so.. what youre really saying is... no new camera till one comes out with a mini ac unit on the back instead of a touchy flippy screen? :)

Claire said...

Very honest and pretty deep post from you Kirk. I love the fact you're struggling, goes to prove even the very best are prone to doubt and lust.
The terrible thing about camera lust (and I know the O-MD has been nagging at you for a long time now), is that it doesn't subside. It's a vicious beast, that pretends to go away in our sane and lucid moments, only to come back full force when we don't expect it, and when they do the only apparent cure is to indulge (sound a bit like fighting an addiction, or a heartbreak, right ?). Even from you just *reading* you I can tell the only way you're gonna be at peace with the though of the O-MD... is to get an O-MD.
Are we all lost then ? Are we powerless in the face of this society that creates desire that our minds can't escape ? Not quite. You (and I) are going to buy this camera eventually (that's about a given fact) but we still have power over the WHEN that's going to happen. So we're not powerless after all, we're in charge of when we're going to indulge, and in my case I decided that would be AFTER Photokina, and everybody else (mostly Panasonic and Fuji) are going to get their stuff out of their sleeves ;)

Frank Grygier said...

The simplicity of a Leica is available to all. Just turn off all the extraneous stuff. If another camera manufacturer came out with a simple camera it would cost about the same as a Leica because the market for it would be small.

Carlo Santin said...

It's not the same thing. I already do that but it's still there, and I know it's still there. So I go digging and exploring, ultimately wasting my time and energy without really improving my photos. Changes how I approach the camera than if it were not there at all, but that's just me, maybe others are able to just turn off what they want. If I know something is there I'm going to be tempted to fiddle with it. Kind of like expecting a recovering alcoholic to walk into a bar and just drink a glass of water.

kirk tuck said...

Thank you. It was totally unexpected. It just appeared.

kirk tuck said...

I'm also fighting getting a Sony a900, an a99, a Canon 1dx, a Nikon D800e, and all for the same reason: I know they're good but will they make me a better photographer? Is it worth the money or the time?

kirk tuck said...

I agree with Carlo, I just can't ignore stuff that's right in front of my face. And if we don't use all the buttons and filters and stuff do we really need the new camera? I, for one, am very happy with the quality of the images above...

kirk tuck said...

Camera air conditioning would be pretty stellar. I also want one with a replaceable sensor so I only have to upgrade the new part that I want...

Brad Burnham said...

The first two leaf images blew me away. They're so, so beautiful. The texture and light are wonderful.

Anonymous said...

I don't make a living from my camera so I need "buy in" from my wife before I purchase new equipment. The P&S I had was definitly getting old, so I was able to get the buy in for the O-MD since it was a huge step up. Used a few lines like better pictures of the family, our son, etc. Now that I have it, it is a wonderful camera.

I don't find the O-MD terribly complex, but it has so much that it is taking a while to learn everything about it.

I'm with Kirk, wish I could just update the sensor. Unforturnatly, the closest is either the Hasselblad type digital camera back or the somewhat strange to me Ricoh GXR

Now if you wait just a little longer, rumors have a new O-MD ++ just around the corner for more $!!!!

Michael

Chris Malcolm said...

The Gear Acquisition Syndrome first showed its head in my late school days. I became convinced that I'd write much better essays, exam answers, etc., if only I had a much better pen. I did a lot of research into pens, inks, and penmanship, and bought a new (and usually more expensive) pen at least every year.

It's pretty obvious that I'd write a better and more legible essay much more quickly with a good fountain pen than the stub of an old carpenter's pencil. It's not at all clear to me that the difference between last year's Waterman pen and this year's Parker would make even as much as 1% difference to the quality of my written work.

But of course there's more to it than just the technical qualities of the instrument. There's the reassuring satisfaction of knowing that you have a Quality Professional Tool and of being recognised as a Discerning Professional by Those In The Know.

It's a terrible illness. We're lucky that the gear we need is legal.

kirk tuck said...

Amen.