Getting ready for the new cameras. Jockeying around with the inventory.

Change is interesting and, I think, non-linear.  More like two steps forward and one step back instead of a graceful and ever escalating, upward spiral.  I've shot with all kinds of formats but since Olympus introduced the EP2 back in 2009 I've been drawn in the direction of smaller, lighter and more fun cameras like paparazzi are drawn to Snooki.  Sometimes I over step and sometimes I under step.  For a while I was three systems deep in smaller cameras.  Just two systems deep if you count the Panasonic and Olympus micro four thirds cameras as one contiguous family of mini-cams.  But I've been rationalizing the whole mess.  I've sold off a few Canon bodies.  I'm concentrating on the full frame bodies only.  I've bid farewell to two fine cameras, the 60D and the 7D, so I can concentrate on thinking about the full frame lenses in a singular way.  I've sold off all the EFS lenses and beefed up the fast Zeiss Primes.

Now I have the full frame Canon field covered with multiple cameras and I can consider those my "old school" professional tools.  To be used for clients who like "big" and "megapixels" and big brand names.  But I don't shoot with them nearly as much as I do the little cameras.  In fact, if I didn't shoot as a professional I'd sell them all and just concentrate on the little cameras.  More particularly, the Olympus Pens and the GH2.  (Because of its combination of resolution, hot shoe, EVF and good performance, I've come to regard the GH2 as the lifeguard in the pool of m4:3.....for now).  

While I'm excited, like everyone else who shoots with m4:3 Olympus cameras, about the arrival of the OM-D, I think I'm even more excited about all the cool lenses that have been introduced and are being announced.  So I cleared out even more inventory of non-related systems in order to make room and generate cash to add to my stash of lenses.  On friday I  added the Panasonic/Leica 25mm 1.4 Summilux and the Olympus 45mm 1.8 to the mix.  I was going to stretch and go for the 12mm Olympus lens but I'd like to see how the 12-50mm performs first.  I'm not as interested in wide angles as I am middle and slightly long focal lengths....

I haven't taken the 45mm out of the box yet because I'm captivated by the Summilux right now. (I've shot with borrowed 45's a number of times...).  I walked around and shot with the Summilux yesterday and had a blast.  It spent the day attached to an EP3 and I loved it.  The lens makes mechanical noise when it's just sitting there with the camera on.  That's been reported by most users.  I don't know what it is that makes the noise but I've decided not to care.  

The focus, under every condition that I shot, is fast and accurate.  The center two thirds of the image is radically sharp from wide open on down and the stuff I shot at f4 was pretty amazing.  My friend, Frank,  educated me about a unique feature on the EP3 that (in a moment of blind snobbery) I had overlooked.  If you set the camera to enable face recognition AF you can also select which eye you'd like the camera to focus upon.  The choices are:  Left, Right, Closest, Furtherest.  I chose "closest" because that's how I shoot portraits.  I tried it over and over again yesterday and it's a great, fast way to work.  I'm glad I have friends who are more open to experimenting than me.  It makes the camera a much more potent portrait camera.

I walked my usual weekend route and passed by the Littlefield building as the clouds and the light shifted.  The metering was on the money and the lens rendered a very crispy file.  As you probably know, I shot with Leica M and Leica R cameras for nearly the entire decade of the 1990's and I love the look of the Leica lenses.  While the Panasonic lens is a design by Leica with all the construction done in Japan it still seems to have some of the Leica DNA.  The files have more "weight" to them and there seems to be more contrast between tones.  I've only shot several hundred frames with the lens and only on a 12 megapixel camera but what I see is very, very good.  I'm sorry I waited so long to get this lens.

I know the nuance is largely lost to the vagaries and insults of web presentation but this simple shot of flowers is a telling example of what the fast prime lenses are all about.  The focus on the flowers is as sharp as I could ask for.  At 100% on the screen the range of tones within the purple of the flower is richly variated.  And the background goes out of focus in a smooth and visually pleasing way.  

But here I must be truthful and say that while the Pan/Leica lens is great it's not leaps and bounds better than some of my older Pen lenses (except at it's widest aperture).  So why did I shell out for this modern version?  After spending a few years zooming in and out to check manual focus I was ready to capitulate and go with some auto focusing options.  In fact, in a circular way, it was the EP3 that drove me there.  The autofocus is so good it was a shame not to use it.  

You can preach to me till you're blue in the face about the need to have super deluxe, noise free, high ISO's but I'll preach right back to you that it's more important to have high ISO if you hobble yourself with 2.8 and slower zoom lenses.  The image above was shot at ISO 640 in very, very low light.  The fast aperture obviates the need to crank up the amplifiers and bang away at the files.  I'm not necessarily a Luddite.  I do use a Canon 5Dmk2 from time to time but the whole noise thing seems over blown to me.    Give me a fast lens, a fun camera and some in-body stabilization and I'll be a happy camper in most situations that are bright enough for old eyes to see in.  Your mileage will vary, profoundly.  Test your own technique before accepting mine.

I photographed this little tableau at the W Hotel.  I used an ISO of 1250, at f4 and hand-held the camera at a quarter of a second.  I love the fact that anything I stick in front of an EP3 automatically gets image stabilization.  I can hardly wait to test the stabilization in the OM-D.

So, if I'm so amazed by the 25 Pan/Leica why did I also buy the 45mm 1.8 Olympus lens?  Why not?  It's a great focal length for the kind of portraits I like to do. I've shot with it and found it good.  Judging from work I've seen my friends produce with it the lens is probably as sharp wide open as the 25mm and it helps me fantasize about a time in the near future when I am able to shoot everything I want with just a bag full of m4:3 cameras and lenses.  

I'm photographing some portraits with the 45mm this afternoon and throughout the week.  I'm sure I'll have something to say about it in short order.

It's kind of funny.  I've been reading across the web this week about famous photographers who are making a transition in the opposite direction.  They are rushing to embrace the promise of medium format digital cameras.  Zack Arias has written a long blog entry about how amazed and impressed he is with the file quality of his new medium format camera.  David Hobby recently revealed his adoption of medium format as well.  Even my friend, Paul, has joined the exclusive club with the latest Hasselblad MF.

Several of my newer readers wrote to me directly asking me when I was going to "dip my toe" into the MF waters and see what it was all about.  They assumed that medium format was a  very new category and a fast growing one for professionals.  Well, I guess my answer is:  Been there, done that.  Box checked.

Back in 2008 and 2009 I was asked to extensively test and review three different medium format cameras over the course of the year.  I spent "quality time" squeezing the best performance out of each camera, exploring their proprietary raw files and dealing with their quirks.  Here's what I wrote at the time:

If you read through the reviews please keep in mind that, at the time of the reviews we were just starting to see announcements for 21 megapixel cameras from Canon and that Nikon had not year dropped anything bigger than 12 megapixels on the markets.  At the time 12 megapixels was considered a good standard for professional cameras.  It was a different time.

I'm happy to see the prices on the current MF cameras start to drop.  I think the benefit is not in endless resolution but in the size of the sensor and its relationship to focal length.  The benefit for portrait shooters has always been the use of a longer focal length for the same angle of view, with its attendant faster drop off of depth of field.  It's a look that's hard to duplicate.  If you are rushing to the big cameras just for the resolution then you've missed the train already.  But these camera sensors are still smaller than the 6c6 cm of the old, film Hasselblads. 

I'll be happy to sit on the sidelines and watch everyone embrace the new cameras in an attempt to differentiate themselves from the middle of the photographic Bell Curve.  If it works and puts more clients in their corral then more power to them.  But as Buckaroo Bonzai said,  "Wherever you go, there you are."  

The week ahead should be fun. I can hardly wait to see which company announces what this week.  It's just part of the continuing process of re-inventing photography....

This is an image from a 40 Megapixel Phase One back.  Is there a difference?  What is it?  How would you describe it?


D&E Photography said...

I've just sold off or given away most of my Nikon gear in favor of the GH2. I spent several years in a camera arms race only to figure out that I didn't need noiseless ISO 6400.

Blame it on Olympus who three years ago captivated me with the E-P1 while I was waiting the the Nikon D700 to come down to a price I could afford. At this point my plans are to add the wonderful 25mm Panasonic and 12mm Oly primes, grab an EPL1 or EPM1 for my second camera.

I'm seeing other people at Nikonians doing the same thing, so I wonder if this is starting to have an impact on them.

kirk tuck said...

My Nikon D700 is long gone but its contemporary, the Olympus EP2 is still in my camera bag. There's more to cameras than specs and ultra high ISO file performance. First, a camera has to be fun. Otherwise we should all be cardiologists. Or actuaries.

Cliff said...

Kirk, it seems that all of the Panasonic lenses make those same noises when mounted on the Olympus bodies. If you look at the front of the lens, you can see the aperture blades rapidly fluctuating open and closed, which is what causes the noise.

Jeffrey Goggin said...

FYI, there are at least a few of us who are using both m4/3 and medium-format systems.

They each do different things well and I wouldn't want to be without either one!

kirk tuck said...

Jeffrey, That's pretty cool. One of my photographer friends is so eclectic that he shoots with everything from an LX-5 to his digital Hasselblads. I'm just bi-directional: from m4:3rd to Full Frame 35mm and back again. Over and over.

Jim said...

I split my digital work between a DSLR and a Canon G12 that I use as a "carry around" camera but I also like to shoot MF film and just bought a mint RZ Pro II. I'd love to be one of those with more money than common sense and buy a digital MF but right now high quality MF film cameras are so cheap (with a few exceptions) that I can buy an awful lot of film before I come anywhere near the price of digital MF.

Mel said...

I shoot 4/3rds digital, medium and large format film. Each has a reason to be for my work and I love what I get from each. And I'm starting to learn what each is best for. Just when I start thinking about paring down (or diving into another system) I get surprised with something from each of these.

As Kirk and others keep reinforcing, it's what's behind the camera that makes the difference.

stephen connor said...

And then there's this interesting little experiment: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/kidding.shtml

stefano60 said...

cameras and lenses do help; subject and photographer however always matter more. that is why even today where everyone has access to cameras with technologies that could only be dreamed about only a few years back, we do not see a similar increase in the percentage of GREAT images or GREAT photographers.

i thoroughly enjoyed my spell with the olympus e-pl1 and then the e-p2, i was shocked by how good the images were; i loved the nikon v1, for the same reason.

even though i am pretty much back to my rangefinders now, i know for a fact that the image quality coming out of most 'better' cameras is now very close.
my X1 was giving me similar images to my M8. the shooting experience is different, the results are comparable.

yes, nowadays i am still tempted to dip my foot back into the MF waters (film MFs are so cheap), but i am not sure it would make me take better pictures ... maybe when the digital MF drops down to a sensible level i may take the plunge again, but it would be for 'fun', not because i feel that i need it.

typingtalker said...

How would you describe it?


Wolfgang Lonien said...

Yeah, I'm an amateur. So I won't probably need a D800 or even a MF camera, tho it's nice to keep in mind what these can do.

I'd love to have that PL 25mm lens, and also the viewfinder for my E-PL1 - and if these newer cameras like the E-P3 or the E-M5 are really focusing that much better (some say definitely better and faster than my E-520), then it could be m43rds for me all the way some not too distant day. For the studio, I'd take that E-M5 for about the same reasons like you (built-in VF, and free hot shoe).

But: that AF face- and eye-detecting function with the 'nearest eye' - how can that possibly work in portrait mode vs. landscape I wonder? Does it still work? That would indeed be a genuine feature which sets them apart.

Low Budget Dave said...

I could not afford the Phase camera, or know how to use it. But the Phase picture has tons of resolution, and the bokeh is so good that the subject looks almost 3d. It pops.

If Zack carries that thing around all day, he must have arms like Schwarzenegger.

Philip Ho said...

She looks too real to be real. Does that make sense?

kirk tuck said...

Wolfgang, The face detect, and more importantly, the eye detect, works in portrait and landscape mode and it works fast. I don't know how we lived without it.

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Oh wow, that almost sounds too good to be true, if I think about the focus/recompose problem, or the time it takes to manually set (and check!) a correct focus point with magnification. Definitely a strong point of these newer cameras indeed.

Thanks for answering that fast.

Anonymous said...

Kirk, I do see a difference with the MF photo. As is sometimes the case with your posts, if I magnify the first photo in your post, I'll just look at all of them magnified before returning to the text. I liked the flower photo (for the reasons you wrote about), but I've never been all that knocked out by the PENs' files (yup, still using a Panny L1 at ISO 100 about 90% of the time.) But that last photo, I thought, well if the PENs can do THAT! Then returned to the text to find it was an MF file. Could also be lighting, don't know, just an excellent photo that "pops", as another commenter said. Thanks for all you do, Kirk!

Tom in Dallas

Unknown said...

Kirk, do you still have your V1?

neopavlik said...

Pic of Amy is nice. Looks more "lifelike" with the reflection on the top of her hair and her hand almost looking 3d.

Excited for new camera stuff; will be watching the prices of lots of cameras; Medium Format digital, D3X, D800, D700, 5D II, 1ds II, etc.

Louis Berk said...

Kirk, thanks for a great article.

It is interesting how more and more these cameras are being followed and discussed by serious amateurs and pros alike. When you consider what they offer in small, easily portable packages over their big cousins you can see why. The old adage 'its the camera you have with you that gets the picture' comes to mind. Long ago I gave up on the idea of lugging large cameras around when my only transport is my legs. There is rarely a time when I cannot justify carrying my Panasonic GH-2 and at least one lens.

One thing I do feel about m43rds is that the promise has been fulfilled. We were promissed small, lightweight high quality lenses, a bit like the Leica M brand formula. While I cannot match the best results of my M glass with my m43rds glass (including both the Leica DG45/2.8 and the DG25/1.4) I can get enough high quality results to say hand on heart that the difference is 'horses for courses'.

Personally, I can see a difference with the MF sample but only to the extent that it is beautifully lit. I would be interested to see a similar studio shot with the EP3 and the 45/1.8 and decent studio lighting.

Best regards

Louis Berk