Business Decisions versus Personal Shooting Decisions.
If you've read my column you probably know that I've spent the last year shooting with Olympus DSLR cameras and lenses and, for the most part, have been quite happy with them. Most of my clients have moved the majority of their advertising to the web or some other electronic avenue and so the size of the files isn't really meaningful to them. Armed with a couple of e30's and some hand selected SHG glass I think I would have been very happy to shoot with nothing but the e stuff for years to come. At least that was my intention. And if I shot only for myself I do think that 12 megapixels with really nice color is the "sweet spot" most of us were looking for in the first place. But one thing I've learned in this business is that nothing stands still. Everyone is a looking for a marketing advantage and when they find one, they press it.
The wild cards in all my presumptions about gear are the advertising agency clients. The art directors. The creative people on the front line. Over the past year we did many images that were destined for small space ads in print or for use on the web in websites and in presentation materials. People loved the Olympus colors and really got the idea of differentiation of vision. Then the economy recovered and the one Achille's Heel of the smaller camera sensors emerged. Raw resolution.
My single largest ad agency client, someone directly responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars of billings over the past decade, did two things. First, he worked with a photographer in Dallas who just bought a high megapixel (21+) camera and was very evangelical about it's attributes. Second, he designed a piece for a client that was: 1. 11 by 17 inches, with full bleed images. 2. Destined to be printed on very expensive, gloss paper stock. He started comparing the raw resolution and detail he got from his Dallas shoot to some of our preliminary tests on 12 megapixel cameras. And then he threw down the ultimatum: High resolution camera or no assignment.
Whatever his understanding of photography he had parsed what he considered to be defining attributes for his projects going forward and he made the determination that he would set out his own expectations for his creative suppliers. I had three choices and I didn't particularly like any of them. 1. I could rent the gear I needed for the job. But I was certain that, if the job went well, he would partially attribute our success to the gear and I'd be renting the gear many times, over the course of the year. Not to mention that local rental houses have different lenses than I normally use.. 2. I could tell him all the reasons that I think the 12 megapixel paradigm is the "sweet spot" and how much I like the colors, etc. and take my economic chances that he would choose to work with more compliant partners. This is not a person who is confrontational, and we've worked together for 20+ years. He obviously saw differences that were/are important to his work. If I chose the second course of action we would still be good friends, he still might hire me to do work that was headed solely to the web but........
The third course of action, and the thing I wound up doing was to listen with intensity to what my client was saying and to react in the way that would, long term, be most profitable for both my working relationship with him and my piece of mind. I bit the bullet and headed to Precision Camera to decide on a new system. Having done six video projects with Will van Overbeek and his Canon 5d mark 2 I was already leaning in that direction. I like Nikon stuff okay but the video in the 5d mark 2 is pretty convinciing. I also ran my decision making process past "no nonsense" architectural photographer, Paul Bardagjy and he gave a big thumbs up to the Canon 5d2. It's the camera he uses, along with just about every shift lens ever made, to do all of his current business.
In fairness, I did play with the Sony cameras, the a850 and the a900. In the end it was the lack of a big line up of lenses and the lack of any video capability that was the final determiner. I reached deep into my beleagured and weary wallet and plunked down for a Canon system. I'm sure everyone will want to know what I bought so I might as well divulge the list here and now:
Canon 5d mk2, 24-105mm L zoom, 70-200mm f4 non IS L zoom, 20mm 2.8, 100mm f2 and the "nifty fifty", the 50mm 1.8. I toyed around with getting some Canon flash but I've never been very impressed with the flash capability of the system, especially having once been a Nikon flash user, so I stuck with my current cheap favorites and ordered a Vivitar 383df dedicated to the Canon. I use a macro on a bellows quite a bit so I bought a very inexpensive Fotodiox EOS bellows and am using a nice, older Micro Nikkor 3.5 lens with an adapter ring for my high tech wafer and microprocessor work. There are a few things I'd like to add including the 28mm 1.8 (which Will says is his favorite) and the 85mm 1.8 (which is similar to the Canon 85 I had back in the non-AF days. I also owned the EOS film cameras and many of the lenses so I am more than passingly familiar with the system.
What's my verdict? When raw resolution is at the top of the purchase order this camera delivers. I like it for the most part and I think the menu is easy to get used to. The 24-105 mm is very decent but not in the same league as the Olympus 14-35mm. The 70-200 f4 is very sharp, even wide open. And it's much lighter than the Olympus 35-100 but the Oly lens is so sharp and the out of focus areas are so delicious that I can't let go of it.
Here's the bottom line: To get the most out of the Canon, to get what I paid for, I have to shoot at 21 megapixels and shoot in RAW. That's how you maximize the perceived difference that the clients demanded. But you end up with so few images on a CF card. You end up churning your computer's hard drive and processor. Storage becomes an new concern. Etc. If enough people are interested in the Canon 5d2 I'll write my review but frankly, I don't have much to add to all the stuff that's out there.
So, what happens to all that cool Olympus stuff? Well. I keep shooting with it for all the same reasons I did in the first place: Better jpegs. Better out of camera colors. The most interesting normal focal length zoom I've ever shot with. The perfect file sizes for shooting theater, events, travel, etc. In many ways the systems are complementary. I think of the Canon as my "print advertising camera" and my Olympus stuff as my "all purpose toolbox".
Some friends suggest I simplify by getting rid of the Oly stuff and just ramping up with Canon gear. They assume I'll do this eventually anyway. But they are forgetting that I already own the best camera system in the world.....the Olympus Pen Cameras!!! And as long as I can shoot video with them, and put all kinds of esoteric lenses on the front ( like the 14-35mm f2 and the 35-100mm f2) it's silly to sell off the 4:3 bodies. Life has changed. We're not shooting the same stuff all the time. It's nice to have different tools.
It's the reason I still have so many other cameras. It keeps things fresh.
Long version: all I've written above.
Short version: follow the money.
Just thought I should continue to divulge. That's what readers have said they value.