There's no law that says you can't own more than one really cool camera.

Last weekend things got a bit rocky on the blog when I suggested that the Olympus OMD camera represented a tipping point in the evolution of cameras aimed at advanced amateurs and working pros.  The cadre of very stupid people immediately started screaming incredibly silly stuff along the lines that we'd never see a micro four thirds camera at the Olympics (as though the people who photograph sports at the Olympics are a great and representative cross section of all working photographers and share the photographic interests of the vast 99% of non-professional camera buyers....). I think they meant to say something about full frame cameras having significant imaging advantages over the smaller sensor size of the m4:3 cameras.  They were unable to make the sentences and thoughts match up.

Another less vituperative crew wanted to hold forth about focusing speed in AF-C crippling any use of the m4:3 cameras but I'm pretty sure, given Nikon's great work in incorporating phase detection (fast) autofocus on the their sensor, that all the camera makers will master the vagaries of fast focus within a generation or two.

But the most obtuse group were a contingent of rabid Panasonic owners who felt that giving credit to the OMD was totally misplaced.  That all credit for ground breaking should go to the Panasonic GH2 camera and several other models of Panasonic cameras.  I think they missed the point entirely but that didn't stop them from questioning the number of brain cells I have left, my parentage, and even the veracity of my Kenyan birth certificate...

One gentleman in particular felt that I'd "jumped the shark" and "gone off the rails" in ignoring the Protean contributions of the Panasonic machines.  (Here's the article)

My point was not that good photographers and smart people would finally accept the smaller, mirrorless format (we had already done that several years ago...) but that now the mental blocks that constrained the mainstream of photographers had been removed by a combination of features, performance and handling, resident in perfect measures, in the Olympus OMD.  The Panasonics clicked a lot of boxes.  The Olympus pretty much clicked all the boxes.

But my intention was only to point out that the whole category is now pretty much ready for prime time.  And I come now not to bury the Panasonic line but to praise it.  Because I've owned several Panasonic m4:3 cameras for quite a while now and like them very much.

In fact, today I went to see art downtown and I took along one of my favorite street and gallery shooting cameras, the woefully underestimated Panasonic GH2.  I coupled it with one of my favorite mini-format lenses, the Leica Summilux 25mm 1.4.  I could have reached into the drawer and pulled out a Hasselblad or a Nikon F or a Kodak full frame digital camera or a Sony camera or an Olympus m4:3 camera but I chose the GH2 for its stealth, its smooth working relationship with the Pan/Leica lens and its convenient size and weight.

In my mind the IQ stumbling block resides mostly these days with the IQs of the users and not the cameras.  I'm sure that the Olympus is somewhat better at very high ISOs and at image stabilization.  Neither of which I needed walking down the sunny streets of America's current most popular destination to relocate...  The trick with smaller sensor cameras and super high res cameras is to work as close to wide open as possible in order to minimize a phenomenon known as diffraction.  The further you stop down, after a certain point, the fuzzier your image gets.  Wow.  Science.  Light rays bending around the edge of a lens diaphragm.  Who would have thought?  Oh, yeah.  Real photographers figured that out back in the film days...

So higher ISO would have been counter productive.  And, already working at 1/1,000th of a second I didn't feel the need for lots of IS either.

The cold, hard reality is that all the cameras on the market today are pretty darn good.  Especially when you consider that a huge, huge percentage of the images output are viewed at no larger than 1200 pixels wide on the web, and that fewer than 30% of all images generated by advertising and commercial photographers will run in printed applications.  Wow.  So Olympus was pretty much right on the money---for most users---when they said that 12 megapixels was the sweet spot for resolution.

People talk a lot about stuff but I'm not always sure they have any knowledge about the stuff they say.  Take the bad Panasonic Jpeg Color which I've heard about for years now.  Can you say user error? All the Jpeg parameters (sharpness, contrast and saturation) are controllable in the camera.  You can literally set the GH2 files to look the way you want them to.  Is it the camera's fault if you are too incompetent to read the manual and then change the settings to your liking?

My readers tell me they love to read stuff that's more about the nuts and bolts of an interesting job or the thoughts behind a style or a technique and that they really aren't here for the equipment reviews.  That's a good thing because, based on the feedback I've been getting when writing about Olympus gear, I don't know much about equipment anyway.  But the reality is that when I write about Olympus gear my readership surges to over 50,000 pageviews in a day.  When I write about non-gear it drops by half.  After reading many of the responses I got from the latest flurry of gear reviews I think I might be happier sticking with my regular readers.

In closing I must say that the Olympus OMD is a very nice camera.  We might just be able to buy one as the next model is about to hit the market, given demand.  In the meantime the Panasonic GH2 (while not really a "break through" camera) is a really fun camera to shoot and puts out files that I think stand up quite well in real, every day shooting, to just about anything on the market in their price range....or even a bit above.

I am not an Olympus or Sony fanboy.  I am a camera fanboy.  Well, older fan-gentleman..


tomt said...

Based on what you've said, I'm guessing that your recent swimming entry did not pull high viewing numbers. Yet, I think it was one of your best, as it explained something that people in my family do that has heretofore baffled me.

I hope that you keep writing about what moves you.

Ian said...

Recently I attended a lecture to undergraduate photography students given by someone who has worked as a news photographer and commercial photographer all of his career. His work is held by our national gallery and a state gallery(of art).

He is grateful that he can earn his living at photography and because of that, be able to spend time making other photographs that he is interested in, by taking time out for projects.

He describes himself as an 'advanced amateur'.

Other than comments about the patience of his children when he photographed them with a medium format film camera on a tripod, he totally neglected to mention what camera he uses, considers to be the best, or what will be the best in the future.

So, I have made my point.

On an unrelated subject, do you think that we have been conditioned to be enthusiastic consumers, rather than enthusiastic photographers? Must have been caused by all those great photographs used in advertising over the years.

Daniel S. said...

Alright, I'll admit it: I was part of that last group. I did think "why is he calling the OM-D the beginning of a revolution that started ages ago?" after reading your OM-D posts. My thoughts never coalesced into words however, here or anywhere else, and the respect I feel for you as a regular reader was never into question, but I still feel guilty about it, so: I'm sorry for jumping to a conclusion before understanding you fully.

As an aside, though, I hope that you'll keep posting this kind of "random walk" photos even if you stop writing gear reviews; I've really missed them whenever you've gone on a long spree of showing only your most serious work, which can be mentally taxing at times.

Bill Bresler said...

I can always find someone who wants to talk cameras. Much rarer to find someone who wants to talk photos.

Ron Nabity said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
geyes30 said...

I am one of your more regular readers (I've probably read every single post in the last 1.5 years) and I have to say I really enjoy your posts on portraiture. Not the nitty-gritty details, but those posts about connecting with the subject. I can't take a nice portrait to save my life, but I'm sure glad to hear an expert talk about his work. :)

Phillip Harris said...

A very stirring post today Kirk.................Love it!


Sayuuk said...

Hey Kirk,

I very much appreciate your "normal blog entries", but even one like this - generated by some premature comments - is very interesting to read. I think those rarer entries here will contribute to bringing a few people down to earth again.

I myself am happily shooting with a 600D, I don't mind the size and weight (yet) and I am not completely sold on the EVFs in the "advanced entry level" cameras, although I think that as well will only be a problem for so long.

I know that shortly after I bought it I was looking at the competition of EVIL cameras even more frantically than before I had bought it. There was this feeling that with me having bought a "Standard-DSLR" I had missed out on the cutting-edge features some of the offer. I was tempted to sell my 2 only lenses at the time, return the Body and get a different camera.

After a lot of thinking I came to the same conclusion that you voice hear - and for which I am thankful in the name of the others, who read it and decide that what they have is just "good enough" - and that I should just go out more and take photos. That way you don't even have sufficient time to read up on cameras all the time ;-)

So... thanks for all the effort you put into publishing so many interesting posts. They really help pretty much every aspect of photography.

Keep them coming!


Jes said...

I come here to read about photography, not cameras. I can read about tech specs at dpreview, but inspirational levels of passion and drive are a lot harder to find and that's what I keep coming back here for.

The composition of that last shot just floors me.

(Long time reader, almost never commenter)

Claire said...

My beloved (yes, that's the proper term !) GX-1 has been showing some wonky magenta cast that no effort, tweaking, setting or re-setting in any of the menus has been able to totally get rid of. Being a strict jpeg shooter, it has caused me to lose a few handful of hair (not to cool for a gal...). However, it's still such a freaking awesome, great, killer, photo making machine that I've learned to live with it and correct as much as possible in post. And I think it's my unit too, cameras and lenses are prone to sample variation.

David Farquhar said...

I love reading all of your posts, those about gear, photography as an art or profession, and even the swimming ones (which inspire me to get out and train a bit more). So I want to applaud the variety and encourage you to continue to include your (often controversial) postings on gear. It is sad and disappointing that people in the internet world don't seem to understand that many different points of view are possible and choose to attack you when yours differs from theirs

I'll be honest, if you hadn't published your OM-D preview back in February I wouldn't be having the time of my life shooting with one now. I think you're right, the OM-D finally ticks enough boxes to push some of the die hard DSLR shooters towards M4/3, even though the quality and cameras have been there for some time. Its almost as though people need a super M4/3 camera to realise that the whole system is good. Perhaps it was that way with the first cars?

I've had more discussions about this camera in the past week than I've had in the past 4 years with my DSLR, and I hope this encourages more people to start thinking outside the (mirror) box

John Flores said...

Between my brother, myself and two photographer friends, we've got the OMD, the GX1, the XPro1, and the Pentax K-01. As a result, we've all become much better photographers with the new gear. Ok, that's a lie.

It is regrettable that the gear gets more tongues wagging than...you know...photography. I used to get my shoulder straps tied up in knots debating in forums the merits of cameras and their impact on the industry. I've since given that up and have used the time to...you know...take pictures. I couldn't help but opine about the OMD on my last blog post though - http://whatblogisthis.blogspot.com/2012/05/in-defense-of-dslrs-kind-of.html.

Really enjoy the blog and your contributions to TOP. Even the photo stuff. Especially the photo stuff.

Ron Zack said...

In regards to the Panasonic JPEG's being less than ideal, on the first generation of Lumix cameras, the GH1, GF1 and G1, it is no exaggeration. There is a pink/orange/magenta "tint" that comes through no matter what. In photographing people, it gave white Caucasians some really funky skin tones. Reds are more like dark pink, even in RAW format. However, that strange color palette works really well for nature photography, if not for people photography.

On the other hand, my Olympus cameras JPEG's are about the best for pleasing skin tones that I've come across, and that's been true ever since the E-1.

From what I understand, the Lumix JPEG's have been improving steadily since the first generation of cameras, and might be giving better results than they used to.

Unknown said...

Fanboi intelligence, is as much an oxymoron as military intelligence 8-0

A 135mm on FF is good, 85mm on APS-C is better, and it looks like 75mm f/1.8 on a m43 will be best.

I see no reason to call attention to myself, I like to look like a tourist (even in the studio). So the question is what would make me look more like a tourist, 1. a Pro Body FF w/135mm lens or 2. APS-C and 85mm lens 3. a 75mm lens on a m43 ??? At this point 3. is starting to look a lot better than 2. :-)

The older I get, the less reason I have to impress impress people with the size of my lens. I'd rather impress my back with the lighter weight on my small lens ;-) YMMV


Cris said...

Kirk I think the first problem is that you give the folks who make these comments far to much credit by calling them "Photographers" I have found over the years that the people that scream the loudest are typically website trolls who talk a big game when shielded behind the curtain of the internet, but when you look at their work online are far from what i'd call a "Photographer"

Who gives 2 rips what kind of camera you shoot just go out and make good photos.

What did these people do prior to the digital age ;-)


Søren Kvistgaard said...

Sex. Religion. Politics. Camera choice. The four great internet arousers of public hysteria.

Stan Yoshinobu said...

I agree -- the main problem is the IQ of people and not cameras. The problem for bloggers like you is that you also hear disproportionately from the trolls. A lot of us, myself included, rarely email or comment on good posts. So today I decided to say hi, to say thanks, and to wish you well. I enjoy your blog very much.

Full disclosure: When not doing my day job, I shoot with Panasonic, Olympus, Canon, iPhone,... It's all good stuff.

cidereye said...

Yes it's quite funny really isn't it? OK, so I know if I get stopped by a fellow photographer in the street I can quite understand them being interested in whatever gear I am using that particular day but it's not just photographers I find that show much more interest in the gear being used, average people seem just as hyped.

Friends often ask me which is the "best" camera and they usually don't like or understand my stock response which tends to be - "Why do you ask?" followed by if you really want to know it's the one between your ears.

Funny when you think about it because if you were to see a nice, newly constructed house with the proud builder stood in front looking at his masterpiece how many people ask him what brand of hammer did he use to make it?

Ananda Sim said...

Ok, give up the goods, mate. How do I change the OOC JPEG in Panasonic to near Olympus colours. I just got my first Panasonic, a G2 and like how it handles but sincerely would like some settings to tweak to warm up the yellows and skin tone and make the sky more blue. Oh and more red reds than the magenta pink. I am happy with the camera, I am just searching for some settings. I am thinking of getting some colour swatches to shoot and tweak but anyone who has done the in-camera JPEG settings before, please speak up.

Mark Davidson said...

I have to admit that I have been a camera fanboy since the 70's. The usual top drawer Nikons and Canons were the over-reported objects of lust in the magazines. Cameras such as Petri, Alpa, Fujica, Yashica, Kowa, Topcon and Exakta got far fewer mentions despite having many interesting features. The diversity of gear created an appreciation of the camera makers's art yet at the end of the day I still wanted to make cool photographs.

They are two distinctly different pleasures yet almost any camera, even my original Argus C-3, made the act of making photographs a distinctly enjoyable pastime through the unique characteristics they possessed.

FrugalFilmmakers said...

It is funny how we get caught up in what is new. My cameras have changes over the years and I have to admit I amy really enjoying the GH2. I have no real desire to change that. I just bought a second one. I am glad though that I migrated to m43rds. It is nice to reduce the weight and size. Thanks for your thoughts.

Scott said...

I enjoy all of your posts, including the ones about hardware. Unlike other sites, your "hardware" posts are about how it feels to use the equipment, and what it means to you, and that's often more valuable to me than the technical details, which are available anywhere.

I like the ones about your business, and your occasional rants as well. As an official crabby old man, I feel you, dude.

Talking about photography, about photographs, however, often leaves me out. Maybe it's the scientist in me, but it seems that discussing photographs pretty much always boils down to "I like it" or "I don't like it." But with many more words.
Like "dancing about architecture."

Probably my fault, and my loss.

Adventure Rob said...

I'm surprised by just how much attention new camera equipment gets. The manufacturers must love it. I too got massive traffic surge when I reviewed the OMD because I was one of the first that got it. I imagine Robin Wong found similar getting a pre production one to play around with too.

It does seem difficult to find people interested in the actual art now, rather than the equipment. As interesting as it is. It's a shame we've all turned into consumers of what is basically a tool that shouldn't need upgrading as often as we do.

Saul Molloy said...

Kirk. When you started out with all this m4/3 nonsense I thought you'd gone utterly bonkers. Then Mike Johnston started at it with the OMD and it made me go and look at the review images. You know what? I think you might be right, and I think I'm going to forget that 5DIII purchase altogether...wow I can have a smaller camera that produces excellent quality images AND I get to use all my cool lenses? What the hell have I been waiting for? I'm going shopping!!

Matthew Miller said...

I don't know anything special about Panasonic's JPEG engine, but I think your disparaging comments about people changing settings are out of line. I mean, not out of line like you can't say them on your own blog, but unjustifiably mean. As I'm sure you well know, these settings are pretty course grained and do not offer much adjustment over color curves. It's very true that some cameras render JPEGs differently from others, and that most don't give you a lot of flexiblity in how that's done. The right answer is: Okay, if you don't like the JPEG colors, that's why there's RAW, and your choice of RAW converters, which *do* offer that flexibility. And if you don't happen to like the JPEG output of a particular camera, okay, that's fine.

kirk tuck said...

Hi again Matthew. I don't make "disparaging" remarks. I make observations based on feedback from both studious and less than studious photographers. People who take the time to experiment with their own gear don't seem plagued with the same issues in any camera brand as those who want an instant cheat sheet. Let's talk about Jpegs. So, in Jpeg you get to make a lot of choices. Shall we go through them? Okie-Dokie. In each Panasonic GH2 Jpeg's "film look" you have five settings of control for each of the following: Saturation, Contrast, Noise Reduction and Sharpness. Two steps up and two steps down from a center point. Then, using the GH2 as an example, you have seven different image curves, without considering the black and white modes (standard, cinema, vivid, etc). With those eleven different parameters you have a huge range of customization you can do. But I think, when people talk about crappy jpegs they really mean two thing: 1. The color temperature of the scene didn't match the sensor's selection of final color temperature and hue. And, 2. Variations in exposure cause my files to have color shifts.

In the first issue most of the color mismatches can be easily (yes, easily) solved by setting the camera to the discrete setting that matches the color temperature under which you are shooting. This means the camera is now under the control of the most powerful of computing units, the human brain. If you require still more surgical control over exacting color, all of the cameras allow you to do custom white balancing. You can use a reference target and have a fairly exacting replication of the hue and color temp of a given scene by clicking one or two buttons and saying, "ok." You also have the option of setting a discrete color temperature via the kelvin scale in the color balance menu.

The second issue is easily remediated by using an external light meter, carefully keeping track of a histogram or learning which scenes throw off your camera's meter and ways to compensate.

I'm not a professional mathematician but I can see thousands and thousands of possible combinations of parameters. And I can throw color space into the mix for even more! I think what we're saying, really, is that people can't pull the camera out of a box, point it at something in fully automatic mode and get color that looks as good as an Olympus EP3 or similar camera.

That's a whole different argument since I can't do that with many different cameras. Including some that cost over $20K.

Finally, if you don't have time to experiment with different setting combinations I whole heartedly agree that raw is a good way to go. It's actually the new "amateur" choice. You don't have to know your gear. You don't have to pre-visualize what you want to come away with and, you can have someone else do it for you...after the fact.

Matthew Miller said...

Thanks for taking the time to reply.

It's definitely the case that one can get more out of the JPEG processing by turning the available knobs, and by spending a lot of time deciding which of those settings suit their own artistic preferences best and which best match the scene. But it's also true that the tone curves are "pre-baked", even with seven different selections and with those knobs for changing their settings. There can be millions of possibilities but if they're all along a certain axis without really any control over another, it still may be impossible to get a desired look.

So, it really isn't fair to say "All the Jpeg parameters (sharpness, contrast and saturation) are controllable in the camera" or "You can literally set the GH2 files to look the way you want them to" — one can make some changes, but there's also a lot in the hands of the camera maker.

I spent some time with a Fujifilm X-Pro 1, and it's got a number of film simulation tone curves, all but the most neutral really not to my taste. That's fine, and I know a lot of people like them. And I got results I was very happy with from the settings I did choose — but I can see a reasonable person preferring some other implementation better, and not being able to get a good match for it no matter how much manual-reading was done.

Now, there certainly are plenty of people who actually are incompetent, and are very loud about it on the Internet. That's unfortunate, but I hope your comment is simply overly-strong for the sake of rhetoric and not really meaning to paint everyone with the same brush.

(Anyway, I'm certainly not here to argue with you, and I'll try to focus my next comments on the positive. I'm a regular reader, by the way; I just happened to comment on couple of things today.)

kirk tuck said...

Cool with me. But what you're suggesting is a big order of the average camera shopper: Test the jpeg files of every single camera until you find the one you (think) you want... I do think most good cameras can get into the ball park. Perhaps older Panasonics (which I never owned) were particularly hard to grapple with. I find the GH2 to be very neutral when I go in to do production on the files. And, with a CWB I find the files accurate to color references such as book covers shot on white, etc.