ME AND MY CAMERAS

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Taken with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 from hundreds of feet away. Great lens!

Some photographers have a favorite camera they use all the time. Others use various cameras, depending on what they are doing. I’m one of the latter. Cameras come and go and no doubt always will. I have slots to fill. I don’t have much money, so I have to hunt for bargains.

Olympus PEN E-PM2
Olympus PEN E-PM2

I always need a camera with a long telephoto lens for shooting wildlife. Birds. My first choice was the Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ70. It was cheap and turned out to be worth less than I paid. The lens was crap. Bells and whistles don’t make up for bad glass. I gave it to my son and got a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200. With its f2.8 24X Leica zoom, if it weren’t so big, it would be the camera. But, compact is the one thing it isn’t. I got a great deal on it, before word got around and its price tripled. I could not afford it today.

NOTE: If you are looking for a camera that does it all, size isn’t an issue, and you don’t shoot RAW, check out the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ60.  With 25-600 f2.8-5.2 Leica lens shooting 20MP, it’s a great camera. Nearly identical to the FZ200, but faster. It’s out of production (the entire FZ line is out of production), but Amazon has some. 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200

The backbone of my camera collection are the Olympus PENs. I have three of them: two PM-2, and a PL-5. I had an Olympus PEN P-3 which recently moved to a new home. I got the Olympus PEN PL-5 in return. Why so many? I find it easier and faster to swap cameras than change lenses. And the PL-5 has interesting bells and whistles I actually enjoy using. It’s the first time I’ve ever used built-in camera effects.

Olympus PEN PM-2 with Olympus f1.8 45mm lens
Olympus PEN PM-2 with Olympus f1.8 45mm lens

I replaced my go-everywhere camera, a compact point-and-shoot Panasonic Lumix ZS19, with a newer Panasonic Lumix ZS20. On paper the ZS20 is a better camera. Jazzier interface. Cooler bells and whistles. But it focuses slower than its predecessor (especially in low light), and burns through batteries twice as fast.

Pansonic Lumix ZS20
Pansonic Lumix ZS20

Specs don’t always tell the story. I lean heavily on my compact camera. It’s the camera I keep close. On the advice of a fellow blogger, I picked up a Pentax Q7 kit. It is tiny, light, yet does almost everything its bigger brethren do. Now that I’ve figured out how to use it (blame the delay on bad documentation and a stubborn unwillingness to ask for help), I’m hoping it will be my go-to compact. So far, so good.

Olympus PEN PL-5
Olympus PEN PL-5

Except for the Olympus PEN P-3, I’ve never paid full price for a camera. Sometimes I stumble on sales. More often, I get an email from a fellow blogger telling me there’s a “flash” sale on a camera, lens, or software.

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Using the art filter setting on the Olympus PEN PL-5

These “flash” sales sometimes last as little as a few hours. I got one of my Olympus PEN PM-2 cameras for about $150 because I would take it in white. Otherwise, the price was $450. I got a second PEN PM-2 the same way. In both cases, I got an email from an Internet friend telling me to grab one, they wouldn’t be available long. I did. They weren’t.

Pentax Q7 in pouch
Pentax Q7 kit

Cameras are intimate items. I would rather share my toothbrush than my camera. Not every camera is right, no matter how carefully you do your research. The P-3 was never right, even though it was a great camera, maybe the best of the modern Olympus PENs. It never felt as good in my hands as the cheaper, lighter PM-2. There’s no logical reason. It’s like finding the pair of jeans. They all look the same to someone else, but they don’t feel the same to you.

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Wide-angle normal on the Pentax Q7

It’s hard to explain to a non-photographer the buzz you get from holding the right camera. I’m convinced cameras work better if they feel our love. And we take better pictures if we love them. Seriously, we do.

3 PERFECT SHOTS ON THE PENTAX Q7

Three Perfect Shots

Take a subject you’re familiar with and imagine it as three photos in a sequence. Tackle the subject by describing those three shots.


The pictures are my living room, picture window, and snowy front yard between yesterday evening and this morning, all taken (finally!) on a teeny tiny Pentax Q7.  You cannot give this prompt to a photographer and not expect actual pictures. I don’t know if these qualify as perfect, but they come with an entertaining story of the continuing battle of human against technology. And, of course includes three pictures.

Taken by the light of a 40-watt bulb. Evening at home.
Taken by the light of a 40-watt bulb. Evening at home.

Weeks ago, I got a Pentax Q7, a tiny, light, compact camera which uses interchangeable lenses. Even shoots RAW, like a real camera. I had never used it, though it has been lurking in the office for a while. It was like an itch I could not scratch.

I got the Q7 on the advice of someone who has one and loves it. He got his in Hong Kong, but he was sure there’d be great deals on it soon. There were. I got it as a kit with 2 lenses for less than a point and shoot.

Spring hasn't come yet, but we live in hope.
Spring hasn’t come yet, but we live in hope.

It looks like a “real camera” that got put through a wash-dry cycle, and shrank to less than half its size. It’s tiny. Its lenses are weightless, but fast at f2.8.

So why had I never used it? It wasn’t for lack of trying. It was set to some weird color setting. Red. Hideous. I couldn’t figure out how to unset it. The manual, like most manuals for Japanese cameras, had lots of pages, but no useful information. How can they publish so many pages without saying anything? I could not find so much as a reference to “Bold Unicolor.”

I tried resetting the camera to its defaults. I went through every menu, every setting. I tried the White Balance dial and went deep into every possible variation on the many menus. Nope. It remained “Bold Unicolor.” I discovered I could pick a different unicolor. Yellow, blue, green, magenta. I could not turn it off.

We've got a bright blue sky and sunshine ... but it's cold out there!
We’ve got a bright blue sky and sunshine … but it’s cold out there!

I was positive the camera wasn’t broken. Also sure the Q7 is shortly going to be discontinued in favor of a newer model and may become abruptly hard to get — which would also explain its low price. Regardless, I was sure there was a dial, button, or obscure menu setting that would fix the problem. All I had to do was keep looking.

Finally, having reached the end of my patience, I turned it around and stared at it from the front. I talked to it and I think I wasn’t very polite.

I generally look at cameras from the back. When I initially get them, I check to see where memory chips and batteries go, where a USB cable attaches. I attach a strap, which I could do in my sleep. Unless I’m changing the lens, I don’t look at the front of the camera much. All the stuff I need is out back.

I sat there and looked. Realized I couldn’t see it very well, so I took off my glasses, turned up the light and squinted. Eureka! Tucked in next to the lens, near the bottom of the body, I spied a tiny dial with minuscule — unreadable — text. I could see there were settings on it (which I have not yet deciphered). One is a plain dot without text. I turned the dial to the dot and I finally had normal color.

I had been brooding over this for weeks. Longer, actually while watching my warranty run out. It haunted my dreams. Last night and this morning, I (finally) took a few pictures on this tiny camera. If you are over forty, bring a magnifying glass. And about that manual …

ALFRED EISENSTADT, PHOTOGRAPHY, AND ME TOO

Garry and I used to vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, sharing a house with a bunch of other people from Boston TV stations.

Alfred EisenstadtIn the early 1990s, Garry did a feature about Alfred Eisenstadt and Lois Maillou Jones, both of whom lived on the Vineyard and had been given Presidential Medals of Honor for their work. We became friends with both artists. Eisenstadt was in his early 90s, Lois Maillou Jones in her mid 80s.

I had been an admirer of Eisenstadt’s work as long as I’d been taking pictures. I shot my first roll of film on Martha’s Vineyard in 1966. I had stayed at the Menemsha Inn where (serendipity!!) Eisenstadt lived from late spring till Labor Day. Books of Eisie’s work were all over the inn. In bookcases, on tables. Most of the books featured his landscapes of Martha’s Vineyard.

I was using my first camera, a Practika with a great Zeiss 50mm lens. Great lens, but no electronic light meter. No electronic or automatic anything. It had a crank film advance.  A bare bones camera with a Zeiss lens. I had half a dozen rolls of black and white film.

It was ideal for a beginner. I had to learn how to take a light reading with a handheld meter. I had to focus the lens, set the shutter speed, the f-stop, and choose the film speed — though you only had to set film speed once each time you loaded the camera.

It wasn’t a lot of settings to learn, but they were and are the essentials of photography. If you can take a light reading, set film speed (now ISO), understand shutter speed, depth of field, and see when a picture is in focus —  and you recognize a picture when you see it — you’re home free. Everything else is dessert.

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Photo by Alfred Eisenstadt

My 50 mm lens was a prime. No zoom. It was a good piece of glass and moderately fast at f2.8. No flash.

If I wanted a close up, I could move closer to what I was shooting. A wide shot? Go back! I learned photography in a way those who’ve only used digital cameras and zoom lenses can never learn. Most of today’s photographers have never held a camera that doesn’t include auto-focus, much less taken a reading with a hand-held meter. (What’s a hand-held meter?)

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it does.

The camera was a gift from a friend who had bought a new camera. Armed with the Practika and determination, I followed Eisenstadt’s path around the Vineyard. I discovered where he’d taken each picture, figured out how he’d gotten the perspective, framed it.

I duplicated his shots down to the clump of grass behind which he’d crouched to create a foreground. I added a few twists of my own. I was winging it, but I winged well.

Photo by Alfred Eisenstadt

My first roll of film was brilliant — except the photographs were copies of Alfred Eisenstadt’s. He taught me photography by giving me foot prints to follow. By the time I was done with those first rolls of film, I had learned the fundamentals. I’m still learning.

When I actually met Alfred Eisenstadt, it was the most exciting moment of my life.

As we got to know Eisie better, I asked him to autograph his books for me. He didn’t merely autograph them. He went through each book, picture by picture.

He was in his early 90s and had forgotten many things, but remembered every picture he’d taken, including the film and camera, lens, F-stop, and most important, what he was thinking as he shot. He could remember exactly what it was about the image that grabbed his attention.

For example, the picture of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square on VJ Day, he said he was walking around Times Square with his Nikon. When he spotted the dark of the sailor’s uniform against the white of the nurse’s dress, he knew it was what he wanted and shot. Light, contrast, composition.

We spent time with him every summer for 5 years until he passed. We were honored to be among those invited to the funeral.

Although we were sad that Eisie was gone, we found things to laugh about. Knowing him was special and some memories are worth a chuckle. I don’t think Eisie would have minded.

PHOTO A WEEK CHALLENGE: FLARE!

A Photo a Week Challenge: Flare

Sun and lens flares can be annoying, but I like it. Flare can add a wonderful hazy, sleepy feeling to an image, a touch of magical unreality. I often shoot directly into the sun to create flare and to cause rays on sunlight. When I’m a little lucky or clever, I get both. This is natural flare. No filters, no special effects. Just the early morning sun in Autumn in Vermont.

This is my favorite flare image.

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SENIOR SELFIES FOR THE PHOTO-CHALLENGED

My new camera, the Olympus PEN E-PL5 has a flip screen that you can turn 180 degrees. It is, as they say, “selfie-friendly.” Unable to resist, I took a few, just to see how it worked.

selfie in mirror January 2015
I used the a portrait lens (Olympus 45mm f1.8) and a mirror. I put on a little makeup, and brushed my hair. Put on a pair of earrings. I smoothed out some wrinkles, deleted a few spots. Put a little glow over the whole picture. Did some cropping … oh and I lowered the overall brightness.

The results were just this side of traumatic. I still shudder thinking about it. From this test, I reached some conclusions. Created a few guidelines, as it were, for selfies. Who should take them. Who should not. Ever. Take Selfies.

1. Just because your camera (or phone) is “selfie-friendly” does not mean your face is.

2. Wrinkles and selfies go together like oil and water. Actually, oil and water go together far better than wrinkles, wattles, liver spots and selfies.

3. Your arms are too short. I don’t care who you are. Your arms are still too short. If you are over 50, you would need to be ElastiGirl (or Guy). Otherwise, your arms are too short.

4. Nothing will compensate for the bags under your eyes, the deep baggy folds of your throat. Or the furrows where your chin droops. It isn’t about fat or thin. You can be young and fat and look fine in a selfie. You can be slender, fit, and 75 … and look like a zombie who hasn’t eaten a good brain lately.

5. Touch up tools are not enough. If the picture is awful, there’s only so far Adobe’s Healing Tools … or even the NIK Glamor Glow filter … can take you. If the picture is a horrible closeup, touching it up will make it a touched up yet horrible closeup.

SUGGESTIONS FOR THE PHOTOGRAPHICALLY CHALLENGED

If youth is but a faded memory, don’t take selfies. If you are not outright horrified, you will be at the very least, saddened. Don’t take them on your phone, or your camera. Unless you are one of those Hollywood people, you will look bad, even if you are actually attractive. The camera is cruel. Unforgiving. It doesn’t see you with an overlay of love.

I see the selfies posted on Facebook. Some are so awful, I cringe. What were they thinking?

I don’t even know the individual, but I do recognize an unflattering picture when I see it. It isn’t merely unflattering. It’s an extreme closeup. Anyone who has ever worked in front of a camera will tell you: extreme closeups are for the young. Everyone else? It looks like a prison intake photo. (Sometimes, even the young look pretty bad.)

Some parameters as the first picture, but I tilted my head and remembered to add the hint of a smile.

Meanwhile, the friends of the people in these godawful photographs tell them that their beautiful soul is shining through. I have a hot flash for you. Your beautiful soul is not shining through,  but your wart with the bristly hairs is. Photographs do not capture your soul, just your image.

If you need a picture of yourself and there is no one on earth you can ask to hold the camera a decent distance away, have you heard of a mirror? Step back, get some perspective. Maybe turn your head so you get rid of that “America’s Most Wanted” look. Do not use a flash.

How about some makeup? Do you own a hairbrush? Would you consider using it?

Don’t wear white in a photograph. If you have an unfortunate neck, wear a scarf. Jewelry can help. A nice pair of earrings can work wonders.

And you guys? Shave. Trim the beard. Remove  the nose hairs. How about putting on something attractive? That wife-beater shirt might not be your best choice for that portrait.

Why do people think it’s cheating to look good for portraits? Is there a law (a secret to me) which requires full, naked disclosure in photographs?

I delete ugly pictures of me, Garry, family and friends who look particularly grotesque in pictures. And I use all the tools at my disposal — filters, healing brushes, soft focus — to make the subjects of my portraits look attractive. Not necessarily young. But no one has some inherent right to get the full details of Jenny’s wrinkly neck or mottled complexion, then have it posted on social media sites so everyone can snicker at poor Jen. And trust me, they snicker. Or worse.

Putting your best foot forward is never bad. And all was right in the world.

Now, put down that cell phone. Step away. Don’t make me hurt you.


(Your Thing) for Dummies – Take a complicated subject you know more about than most people, and explain it to a friend who knows nothing about it at all.

And just in case they fix the link to today’s prompt:  Easy Fix

THE SERENDIPITY SETTING ON THE OLYMPUS PEN PL-5

I just became the tickled pink owner of an Olympus PEN PL-5 camera. It arrived today, having sped here from Arizona, where its previous owner, an old and loved friends, has upgraded to the OM-D.

Somewhere between yesterday afternoon and this morning, a nasty cold hit me like a runaway train, but the arrival of the camera distracted me enough that I forgot how crappy I was feeling … at least for an hour.

The camera, probably while being packed, had gotten set to the Art Bracket setting. I have never used any of the Art effect settings on any of my Olympus PEN cameras. It turns out that the results of using this setting are … well … interesting. Serendipitous. You really don’t know what you will get.

It’s kind of fun. You snap one picture and the camera gives you 12 versions, each using a different Art effect. The focus and bokeh also change. These are some results. What do you think? interesting, yes?

Mirrorless cameras trends in 2015 and forecasting the future

Marilyn Armstrong:

The technology is moving fast. I’m not always as quick to realize what’s happening as I want. I rely on good reviewers to keep me on my game! Here’s an excellent roundup of the latest, greatest mirrorless cameras. My favorites have been the PEN line of Olympus cameras, which I expect will continue since I have acquired a pretty nice selection of lenses for it.

However, if I was going to invest in another system, it might be the Pentax Q. The tiny Pentax sounds really intriguing. I looked it up online. It’s a lot of camera in an incredibly small package … an interchangeable lens system that is genuinely pocketable. It’s actually smaller, at least the camera body and basic lens, than my Panasonic Lumix compact. Lighter too.

Originally posted on atmtx photo blog:

Now the successful mirrorless companies have steadily moved to the higher end. All cater to either DSLR owners scaling down or getting a second, lighter system. Let’s look at the mirrorless companies garnering the most attention, Olympus, Fujifilm and Sony.

Olympus started with the lower cost and smaller Pen cameras but they found greater success with the premium OM-D line. Starting with the E-M5 but breaking through with the E-M1, Olympus has steadily brought higher-end mirrorless cameras to market. The same goes for lenses. With the low to mid-level lenses covered, Olympus is busy filling out their Pro line, weather-sealed, constant f2.8 zooms.

Fujifilm has built a noteworthy lineup of X cameras, starting with the unexpected success of the X100. They quickly moved into interchangeable mirrorless cameras with matching premium lenses. And while they have some entry-level X-M1 and X-A1 cameras, they don’t seem to garner much press. The top…

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