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....