The Party: Taking Pictures When There’s Nothing to Shoot – Marilyn Armstrong

Sometimes, there’s really not much to shoot.

Here’s the story. There I am at a party. I’ve brought my camera, because hey, why not? I’ve been taking pictures of people doing what people do at parties. Talking. Eating. Sometimes laughing. A few loners. People talking in pairs, in groups. And I’m trying to find a new way to do something at which I’m not particularly good while finding a way of making pictures that are inherently dull, not so dull.

Tall pines from the deck.

The host, a retired photographer and videographer, hates parties and was hiding. I was pretty sure he wouldn’t appear until his wife rousted him from wherever he was holed up.

This is a group dominated by professional media people, some retired, many still working. So there were a lot of cameras, mostly Canon, a few Nikons. I’m the only one with one of those funny little cameras, having brought my Olympus PEN E-P3 and a spare battery while leaving the rest of my gear home.

The man with the Canon.

In this crowd, pictures are not taken on telephones or tablet computers. It’s not that kind of crowd. This is not a group in which anyone suffers from techno-envy. We all have equipment. Lots of it, our own and stuff that belongs to the television stations for which most of the guests work. Oddly, no one is doing video. Too much like work.

A hallway.

I didn’t actually know more than a handful of the people at the party except in the most general way. I know the host, the hostess, a few other people here and there. Pretty much everyone is a former colleague of my husband or related to the birthday boy.

One way or the other, I’m not sure I could get most of the names straight. Even if everyone was wearing a name tag it wouldn’t help much. The problem is partly because I didn’t know most of the guests. It’s also that I am terrible with names and faces. I’m nominally better with faces, but hopeless with names.

Still life with cheese remnants.

You can tell me your name and within a breath, I’ll say, “I’m sorry, what’s your name again?” and if it happens more than twice, I’ll be too embarrassed to ask again, so I’ll smile and nod. Life can be a bitch. Parties are worse.

So it’s me and my camera. It’s an event and besides, what else am I going to do?

This is not a really exciting experience for me. About an hour into the event, my boredom exceeded my tolerance, so I set myself a challenge. Find something to shoot in a lovely, but architecturally ordinary, suburban house.

In the corner.

In the end, the choice was simple: play “Word Mole” on my telephone or find something to shoot. I went with photography, although I’m a world-class “Word Mole” player.

Reflections in a high window.

Here are the results. “Seek and thou shalt find” should be the motto of all photographers. I looked. I didn’t just look around, I also looked up and down. I looked in corners, I peered through banisters. I tried natural light and flash, wound up using both.

Kitchen talk.

Motto of the story? There’s always a picture somewhere. Somehow. You have to look for it, sometimes very hard, but it’s there.

 

It’s Not Your Equipment … It’s a Lack of Documentation! – Marilyn Armstrong

Maybe I should just give up, but I spent my career writing material to help folks use complicated equipment and sometimes very obscure software.

I should probably start by mentioning that I’ve fought this battle for long years … and was utterly defeated. About 7 or 8 years ago, high-tech companies, in a money crunch and driven by that bottom line that seems to be the only thing that matters anymore, began to eliminate technical writers. Entire departments were dismantled and eliminated. Jobs disappeared and what remained paid so badly it was insulting.

A decision had been made at the corporate level: YOU don’t need documentation. No matter how complicated or expensive the equipment or software you purchase may be, don’t need documentation. Companies provide the minimum the law requires or they can get away with. Quality is no object nor usability. Information is limited to basic stuff like how to install a battery and if you are lucky, where the compartment is.

I was a technical writer for about 75% of my career, the rest being divided between journalism, editing, promotions and advertising. But mostly, I wrote documentation and I though my work mattered. Probably naive, but I believe that if I documented a system, it should be well written, clear, organized, and useful., When a user needed to find something, it would be in the book and in the online help. It would be easy to find. I carefully avoided using mysterious search parameters that could be deduced via a psychic link to my brain. If you knew what you wanted, I made it easy for you to find it.

I was proud of my work. I still believe the fundamental goal of documentation is to make complicated things simple. Not necessarily easy because sometimes, the product was not easy to use, but that didn’t mean that it had to be hard to understand. My documentation was good for another reason: I used the product and tested what I wrote to make sure it was true. This testing makes the difference between a pile useless gibberish and a manual.

Thus, when you get something that appears to be documentation, stop and read it. Appearances are deceiving. Most “manuals”  are generated, not written, and never checked for accuracy or usability. Such “manuals” are as likely to increase your confusion as provide illumination.

I bought a PEN EP3 camera from Olympus. Seven months and hundreds of photographs later, it remains one of the mysteries of my world. It takes wonderful pictures, and it has hundreds of functions. I haven’t the slightest idea how to find most functions and have no idea what to do with them if I could find them.

I grew up in a pre-digital world. I know F-stop, depth-of-field, shutter speed, aperture and focus, film speed and composition. I have a good eye. I’m no genius, but my pictures are pretty and I enjoy taking them.

He solves the problem the way most do: Automatic everything, then shoot.

New digital cameras have a vast and overwhelming array of functions, most of which you or I will never use or need. I believe they are there entirely to impress us with the super high tech-ness of the equipment. I doubt that even the designers — especially the designers — expects us to actually use them. Which is good, because I don’t know what they are supposed to do anyhow or why I would need them. Ansel Adams didn’t need them. Neither did Edward Weston. Neither do I. But, the more you pay for a camera, the more of these obscure functions you get and I figure that the least they owe me is an explanation of what these setting do and how to find them.

I’m not sure whether to curse or say thank you. Maybe if Olympus provided a manual that explained these options, I’d be grateful, but that is not happening.

I spent half our shooting time trying to find the menu to change the ISO.

This is true of cameras, but the lack of documentation on your computer is actually worse … much worse because most of us depend on our computers. We need them to work and we need to have some control over the environment in which we work. Configuration of our computers to suit our needs is not a minor detail: it’s the difference between having a tool that does what you need and one which is a burden … an enemy with which you do daily battle.

I spent all last night — until dawn — trying to figure out how to turn off the touchscreen functions of my monitor. Before Mac users jump in and point out that it’s because Windows doesn’t work, that’s irrelevant and untrue. Windows works fine. It’s just that the company doesn’t provide any written documentation. There is embedded information in the operating system, but much of it isn’t logically arranged. It’s rather like looking for your car keys after you’ve dropped them someplace you don’t normally put them. You know they’re in the house, but where? It could be years before you find them..

On a new computer, you typically get an “introductory” video and that’s pretty much it. I watched it. It showed me in exquisite detail how to do what I already knew how to do.

Operating systems are designed to be used the way the system’s developers expect you to use it. If you prefer a different setup, trouble starts. The only way to figure out how to do something differently is to keep querying the system and hope you’ll stumble on the right  key word — the word that will bring up the information you need. What is most frustrating is that you are sure it IS there, but whether or not you will ever find it is a different issue.

If you are sufficiently persistent and a bit lucky, you will eventually find a mystery menu after which you fix your problem in a few seconds.

Last night, I searched, searched again and again. It didn’t call Dell because I knew the support person wouldn’t know the answer either. They pretty much never do.

So I tried one word combination after another, recombining them in the hope that it would lead to a menu buried in the system. There had to be a way to deactivate touch input.

Around 5 in the morning, I found it. It took me less than 30 seconds to eliminate the problem that had been driving me nuts since I got the computer. Now, it’s a monitor. A great, high-definition, 23-inch monitor that’s a joy to work on and makes photo editing a pleasure. No more configuration by crawling insect. I am mistress of my virtual world at last!

A technical writers earns less than an entry-level developer. I understand the guys in India who provide telephone tech support work cheap, but I bet a tech writer would cost less than a network of telephone support no matter how cheaply they work.

Assuming you are under warranty and you can get through the voice mail  maze … and further assuming you get someone who understands the problem and don’t get blown off because software is not part of your warranty (Note: If someone can tell me how, without using software, you can determine if you have a hardware problem, I’d like to hear it) … Round and around you go.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Would it blow the budget to hire a competent technical writer to embed online help that will live on even after the warranty period is over? Wouldn’t it be nice to help users avoid needless aggravation and not wind up with angry, frustrated, exhausted, and homicidal customers whose problems remain unsolved?

Granting that many home users have a limited understanding of how their computers work and for them, it wouldn’t much matter what documentation you supply. Most problems result from insufficient understanding of a product or process. If you are talking about a novice user, perhaps more information wouldn’t help. But …

I’m not inexperienced and I still can’t find essential information I need to configure my monitor. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect a menu on the control panel that I could use to configure the monitor’s capabilities, not merely its resolution but any other functions it may have. Functions not available on a particular model could be grayed out. How about that?

There is nothing wrong with my computer that better organized and easier to find information would not solve..

Every issue I’ve had over the last 5 or 6 years was ultimately fixed with a few clicks of the mouse. The problem was never something broken. It was always lack of documentation.

That pisses me off. Because tech writers — even highly experienced ones — work pretty cheap. Users do need documentation, and not just for software and computers. We need documents that let us use our cameras and telephones and DVD players and all those other pricey little devices that we own and often, don’t know how to use. Online FAQs are insufficient.

This is an old battle I’ve already lost. I know it’s hopeless. I find it infuriating that I can barely figure out my telephone without customer support, so rather than spend time on the phone with customer service, I don’t use anything I can’t easily configure.

I had to buy a separate book on how to use Photoshop and another for my first camera. I was able to get some help from a fellow user of my new camera, but that only goes so far. For my PEN P3 camera, there IS no customer support nor any after market book. I depend, as Blanche DuBois said, “… on the kindness of strangers.”.

My camera will remain a mystery until someone writes a “Dummies” book for it. Hopefully I’ll still own the it when the book finally gets published.

It’s not fair. The reason they get away with it is because we let them. Think about it.

So how did I finally figure it out? The “monitor” menu should have been a gateway, but was useless. The only thing you can the “Monitor” menu lets you do is lower your screen’s resolution. That’s useless.

Finally, I typed: Touchscreen.

Up came something that I hadn’t considered. Flicks. Now, for me? That means the movies. Having never used it, I had no idea it had anything to do with the monitor or its touchscreen technology. Once I got to “Flicks,”, I started opening menus and voilà, there were two check boxes allowing me to toggle an option:

  • Enable finger as pointing device.
  • Do not allow finger as pointing device.

I un-checked the first one by checking the second. I clicked “Apply.” As the sun rose in the east, my problem was solved and I went to bed, to sleep, perchance to dream  … of murder, destruction and vengeance.

WHERE DID IT GO?

It started when, the other day, I reached for my sandwich and discovered a frozen sirloin steak. On my desk. Next to my sandwich. I picked up the solidly frozen beef (it must have been recently taken out of the freezer) and carried it back to the kitchen.  I showed it to Garry.

“Why,” I asked him, “Do your think I might have brought a frozen steak to my office?”

“I have no idea,” he said, “But it sounds like a great post.”

96-MyGear_3

I’m still puzzled about the steak. Usually if I bring something odd to some place even odder, it’s because I meant to grab one thing but instead grabbed the other. However, in this case, I also had brought my drink and my sandwich, so I had brought an extra thing, the frozen sirloin. I put it in the fridge to defrost. The mystery remains unsolved.

Tomorrow, we are going away for a few days to visit friends, a long overdue visit to which we are looking forward. In preparation, I needed to do some sorting. Among the many things I’m taking with us — the gifts I bought for them that needed to be wrapped — I’m giving my buddy my oldest, favorite camera, the Olympus PEN PL-1. It was the first of my mirrorless cameras and I love it. It’s been replaced by newer Olympus PENs — the PM2 and E-P3, both of which are faster but not necessarily better. The PL-1 is the camera on which I took many of my favorite pictures. It came with a great little lens and handles beautifully. It also produces the best color balance of all my cameras.

That’s just background information. Here is where it starts getting complicated. Try to follow along.

On Black Friday or Cyber Monday or maybe during one of the gazillion sales events of the past month, I bought two very fast SD 8 GB memory chips for my cameras, replacing the older slower chips. The camera I’m giving Cherrie has a good, premium chip in it, but when I took the older slower chip out of my camera and put the new one in, I was left with one more chip than I had places or containers to store it.  (Are you still with me? Good.) I thought “Okay, I’ll give the chip to Cherrie as a spare since I don’t need it anyhow. It’s not super fast, but neither is the PL-1.”

96-MyGear_8

I put the chip down on my desk in front of the monitor and proceeded to search my I-don’t-know-how-many camera bags to see if I had any of those little plastic cases to put the chip in. All chips used to come with a little case, but not anymore. Now you have to buy them — talk about a rip-off. I mean really, how much do they save by not giving you a case? Anyhow, at some point, I found a couple of empty chip cases. I turned around to get the chip to put into one of the cases, then realized I needed to take cases out of the bag. I wheeled my chair around again, but couldn’t remember in which bag I’d found the empty cases. I looked where I thought I’d seen them, but they weren’t there. I rotated again. The chip was gone.

During this exercise, my butt never left my desk chair. I never stood up. But I had lost (again) the cases and somehow misplaced the chip too. On one level, it solved a problem. I didn’t need the case anymore because I had no chip to put in it.

Someday, somehow, I’m sure that chip will show up. And maybe so will the cases because they are in one of the bags. But what about the frozen steak?

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Now Playing on Walpole Community Television

Garry Armstrong, Tom Ellis with Guy Giampapa on Walpole Community Television.

September 2013.

Daily Prompt: Off the edge and the ledge

What keeps me off the edge and the ledge? Not one thing, but a set, human, creative … and furry.

There’s photography, more important with each passing day. My creative outlet, the visual side of me. I discovered it when painting  become too much of a hassle with 4 cats, a toddler and no studio. I loved not only shooting. I loved working the darkroom, the magic of the shadow show. Choosing the perfect paper. Trimming and mounting prints. I even liked the smell of the chemicals.

Then life happened. I fell back on writing, ever been with me. For decades, I did no more than take an occasional snapshot.

In the 1990s, suddenly there were digital cameras. I bought the first Sony digital. The Mavica. It used floppy disks. Remember? Big clunky cameras. By today’s standards, primitive. I liked the easy availability of disks. The quality, for its time, wasn’t bad. They were solid. Sturdy. Rocks amidst fragile flowers. I gave the second of them to a doctor who liked the Mavica to record images of patients in the office. Computers still used those plastic not-so-floppy disks. Now, I suppose not. We don’t even have a disk reader in our computers and I have long since thrown away the old disks.

Cameras

Then came a leap in technology. Every day, the pixel count, the lens quality went up while prices went down.

Now  I have digital cameras up the wazoo and no doubt will have more. I’m deep in lust for the latest greatest. My world is digital. Bet yours is too. How did we survive all those years without digital, without WiFi? How primitive.

Photographs are how I show my world to the world when words aren’t enough or are too much. I keep a camera in my purse, another on my desk. To handle emergencies, when I suddenly need to take a picture.

You’d be surprised how often such emergencies arise. Without warning, I absolutely must take a picture from the deck, of the garden, of a doll, bear or window decoration. I grab the nearest camera and go create.

Then, there is writing. It’s like breathing. I write because I can’t imagine not writing. Always, from when first I understood words I have written. I hear words in my head before they go through my fingers into a keyboard.

Other components to sanity. My friend Cherrie. The fur kids. I think they sense when I need them. Maybe they don’t know what it is they sense, but they sense something. And I love them. My amazing husband, though his passionate devotion to the Red Sox is sometimes troubling. I believe he’s angry with me, but the ominous glower and frowning countenance is aimed at his team.This is what we call “a guy thing.”

Movies. Silly games.

75-MyBooks-NK-05

Books. Reading. More books. Audiobooks. Kindle, hardbound and paperback. The smell of printer’s ink when I open a new hardbound book. The soft crack as the spine gives way. How delicious is a new book. I caress it. Sniff it. Look at it, feel it. I send it love. It’s alive, a world to explore.

Take everything but books and the people I love. I’ll get through.

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It’s about the light

Sometimes I get so involved in the technical stuff of photography I forget the impact that small technical changes have on what the picture says.

Yesterday I posted the second of a series of pictures of my kitchen. The pictures were taken only a few seconds apart. The difference between them is the light.

The first picture (below) isn’t about the kitchen. It’s about the window. What’s going on outside. It’s about the trees. Flowers. Everyone who commented on it mentioned how nice it was to have a window so you could look out while you work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To capture the image, I took the light reading directly on the window, which darkened the foreground and made the window and trees outside the important features of the shot.

Morning AgainThe second picture (above) is about the kitchen. The window is just a solid, bright light, as if there is nothing outside but light. The picture is about interior — not exterior — space. Comments reflected this, talking about the kitchen, its old-fashioned coziness. No one even mentioned the window.

For this shot, I took my reading on the dark wood cabinets. It made the kitchen bright and eliminated all detail through the window.

I use spot metering almost exclusively. It gives me control of my metering. I get dependable results. I know exactly what I’m reading. No guessing. With “center-weighted” I’m never sure how much is weighted to the center, or where the camera’s light meter is taking its reading.

I use prime lenses rather than telephotos for similar reason. I like the consistent depth of field and aperture from primes. There’s a trade-off, of course. Primes aren’t versatile. When I’m in a rapidly changing environment, a telephoto is better.

Choosing to read the window instead of the cabinets gave me two pictures that tell different stories.

As usual, it’s about the light.

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Buying the camera instead of the lens — Updated!

This is the story of how and why I didn’t buy a Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 prime lens for my Olympus PENs and instead bought the Canon PowerShot S100. I got the camera in basic black because I’m a traditionalist. Black goes with everything and it cost $50 less than the identical camera in silver (why?). Not only is this the story of how and why I bought it, but how well it has worked out and how glad I am I bought it. I really don’t know how I did without it. I think if I had to pick just one camera, this would be the one I would choose … and that is saying a lot. Okay, maybe it would be the new Olympus PM2. But maybe not.

Powershot100

It took me a year to work this out. Many people, including myself, have pointed out I have a plenty of cameras and accessories, so why in the world do I need or want another? It’s a valid question. I’ve given it a lot of thought.

Secretly or not-so-secretly, we all want the new camera

To the last man and woman, we are gadget freaks. We love’em, can’t get enough of ‘em.

Too  many? No way. There is no “too many.” No photographer can have too many cameras, even if we have dozens of cameras including ones we never use or haven’t touched in years. It may appear to the non-initiate as if we have excess equipment, but each piece plays a unique role. Like children in a large family, no two are the same. Each has a special destiny, a niche, a purpose. Although a small degree of overlap may exist, it is surprisingly little.

Someday they will make a camera that will do it all … and I will not be able to afford it. Life can be cruel.

The Collection

The foundation of my equipment is a trio of Olympus PEN cameras. The PL-1 was my original camera. It’s a few years old and plays backup for the newer E-P3 and the even newer PM2. I got the Olympus 40-150 zoom when I got the PL-1 as well as one of my two 14-42 Olympus lenses. More recently, I bought the 45mm F/1.8 Oly portrait lens. I love it so much it makes my  heart flutter thinking about it.

OlyPEN EPM-2

Last, but far from least, I added the Panasonic LUMIX 14mm f/2.5. It’s pretty fast, decently wide, an all around excellent landscape lens. Since that’s mostly what  I shoot, this is an extremely useful lens.

Also notice my amazing camera bag. It’s the Opteka Canvas Weatherproof bag that holds every piece of camera equipment I own and can actually also carry the tripod I never use. It has its own raincoat that lives in a hidden pocket at the bottom of the bag. I have the medium and small version of the bag too. I love it in all three sizes and finally feel I have what I need. It sure took long enough.

75-GearNIK-CR-72

Next up, meet the Canon Powershot SX260 HS with its 20X zoom, f/3.5-6.8. Until the s100, it was the go everywhere camera. Light and small, it has a lens that zooms from moderately wide  to very long (about 300 feet). I do more grabbing and going than planning and organizing, so it has gotten a lot of use. It’s also a great camera when you don’t know what you’ll need. That super zoom comes in very useful. As do all the Powershot cameras, it focuses fast, is easy on batteries and small enough to slip into a pocket. It’s a fine  little camera until the sun goes down. Then, its maximum aperture of f/3.5 becomes a problem.

Enter the Canon PowerShot S100 . It can shoot JPG and RAW (as do the PENs, but not the 260). This isn’t always important, but it can be.  The lens is not as long as the 260, but it’s much faster — maximum aperture f/2.0 versus f/3.5. In low light, it’s the difference between getting the shot and not. I carry it everywhere I go and as a result, it is the camera I use the most. It may not be the best camera — that honor goes to the PM2 — but it is the camera that is always at hand. There’s a saying that the best camera is the one you have with you. This is that camera.

In the end, after sifting through all the possible permutations and arguing with myself about “need” versus “want very much,” the decision was between getting the Panasonic LUMIX G 20mm f/1.7 lens ($348) for the PENs, or the Canon PowerShot S100 ($279 minus some coupons I had from Amazon).

The Panny 20 is a fast 40mm lens (in practical terms) that many photographers who work with micro 4/3 cameras use as a normal. It’s ultra compact, ultra light  and renowned for high quality optics. I eventually dissected my reluctance to buy it and came up with a simple answer. I don’t like its 40mm length.

It is a bit on the wide-angle side of normal. This means if I use it to photograph people, they will look a little wider than they really are. No big deal you say? Are you kidding? Whatever other truths exist about photography, there is one global truth: No one wants to look fat in a photograph.

A little bit extra width would go over among the women in my life like the proverbial lead balloon. It’s an unflattering length for any kind of portrait. If I shot a lot night scenes or cityscapes, it might be worth more to me, but we don’t live in a city. It’s rural here. We have a moon, trees, fields, rivers and waterfalls. Cows and horses, too. Our towns go to sleep early and don’t leave the lights on. Our roads are mostly unlit. If if you are from an urban area, driving after dark in this neighborhood can be unsettling. It is very dark.

So I bought the camera

I finally admitted I was never going to buy the lens, even if  the price were to drop. Decision made, I felt better. Indecision concluded, let the buying commence.

First shots with the s100 were the big blizzard ...

First shots with the s100 were of the big blizzard …

And that’s the story.

Rarely do I know exactly why I made a particular decision, but this time I agonized over it for so long that I can — this once — follow my process. That the price of the camera dropped a lot during the last month made the decision easier. When it was around to $400 dollars, it wasn’t so tempting. At $279 with free shipping and a couple of discount coupons? I bought it.

What I use a lot, use occasionally, never use at all, and why

Cameras

  • I use the S100 the most because it is small, light and on hand. It’s fast, adaptable, and takes excellent pictures. It is only a little bigger than my iPhone. I love it. I think it loves me, too.
  • The Olympus PM2 with its 16 megapixel sensor is great. Fast as lightning, small, light and accepts all the micro 4/3 lenses that I use with all my Olympus cameras.
  • I use the Olympus PEN E-P3 often and am always glad when I do. It is fast to focus, recycle, flash, everything. Almost instantaneous. It’s lightweight, compact and a ton of fun to use. Also, the pictures come out well. The auto-focus is important these days since my eyes are not what they were. The speed at which the P3 zeroes in on its target as well as its effective anti-shake (built into the camera, not the lenses) are great for hands that aren’t as steady as one might like.
  • I don’t use the PL-1 much, but I keep it fitted it with a the 40-150 lens. It’s slower than the other PENs but it still takes great pictures and has the best color rendition of any camera I own. It’s always faster to switch cameras than change lenses, so it serves a useful purpose.
  • Garry was using the Canon Powershot 260 a lot, but now uses one of the PENs. He likes the slightly bigger and heavier Olympus cameras better and I may pass this to my son. I haven’t decided yet. I love the lens on it, so I’m hesitant to let it go.

I bet more and more people will be using these high-end point-and-shoots instead of interchangeable lens cameras of any kind. The quality has gone up and the prices are, for the most part, not breathtaking. There’s not much one of these little babies can’t do.

The difference between point-and-shoot and “other” is getting blurry. All cameras, including some super high-priced DSLRs can all be used as point-and-shoot cameras. You might be surprised how many people have never gotten beyond that. They own thousands of dollars of professional equipment and don’t know an f/stop from their Aunt Fanny. I figure eventually they will give up the pretence and get a good point-and-shoot.

Micro 4/3 format Lenses

1) Most used: The 14-42mm kit lenses. In 35mm terms, this is 28mm to 85mm, or slightly wide-angle to portrait. It is — especially for a kit lens — an exceptionally good piece of glass and it’s versatile. At its maximum aperture of f/3.5, it’s fast enough to shoot in most natural light until the sun begins to go down. If I can’t make up my mind what lens I need, this one gets the nod.

2) Close contenders:

(a) Olympus 45mm f/1.8 (90mm per in SLR terms) is a beautiful, fast lens I often use instead of a “normal.” When you are shooting tight, it has a wafer-thin depth of field letting you do portraits anywhere without the background intruding.

(b) The Panasonic LUMIX 14mm f/2.5 (28mm per SLR) is a moderate wide-angle with high quality glass. At 2.5, it’s reasonably fast, even in low light. It’s also compact and weighs close to nothing.

3) Rarely used:

Olympus 40-150 f/4 (widest aperture), translates to an 80 – 300 if it were a 35 mm. Why don’t I use it? Because I often shoot wide, but rarely shoot long. I shoot macro, portraits and landscapes, but things in the distance rarely interest me, at least in part because I can’t see them. The one time this year I needed a long lens, I had the other camera with me. Oh well.

The Olympus XZ-1 Review

Marilyn Armstrong:

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I also love my quality point & shoot cameras though I also have a set of excellent micro 4/3 Olympus cameras and one Panasonic, too, with lenses. Yet as often as not, it’s my Canon S100 that gets the nod because it’s small, light and always at hand. I have heard only good things about the Olympus XZ-1 and if could think of any excuse, I’d probably buy one, too.

 - – -

Originally posted on atmtx photo blog:

The Last of the Victorians - Austin, Texas

The Last of the Victorians – Austin, Texas

A Series of Interrelated Curves - DFW, Texas

A Series of Interrelated Curves – DFW, Texas

Before the passengers, American Airlines - DFW, Texas

Before the passengers, American Airlines – DFW, Texas

The Positives

The XZ-1 is smallish camera that is joy to sling over the shoulder. It’s too big, however, to put in a pants pocket. The camera comes in a black or white. While I generally prefer black, I got the white version because that’s what was on sale. And I’ve come to enjoy the cuter white color, especially since I’ve received numerous compliments about the camera as I traveled through airports. There are two stand out features. A larger 1/1.8 sensor and a f1.8 to f2.5 zoom lens. Combined, these two features allow the camera to create nice quality photographs even in less than ideal lighting. Certainly several notches above typical point and shoots and drastically better than smart phones.

As you may know, I’m…

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The Olympus E-P5, is it worth it? — ATMTX Photography Blog

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I mentioned on last Friday’s post that I thought the E-P5 was Olympus’ take on Fujfilm X100S. — the retro style, the packaged 35mm prime (34mm to be exact) lens and the premium pricing to match. My friend Mike aptly says it’s closer to a Fuji X-E1 because of the interchangeable lenses. Even though the X-E1 does not yet off a 35mm equivalent, he has a good point. Either way, it seems like Olympus created an upscale camera that echoes cameras of a bygone era. The big question is, is it worth the premium price?

I’ve been busy with my, yet unannounced, equipment changes so I really didn’t look into the E-P5, until today. I knew I wasn’t going to get one any time soon. After all, I already bought an E-PM2, late last year and the image quality should be the same. But what if I didn’t get the E-PM2? Would it make sense to buy the E-P5? As I already mentioned, it’s pretty much the camera I wanted last year — it has most the features on my wish list.

First, let’s compare the E-P5 vs. the OM-D E-M5. The two cameras mostly share the same feature set. Sure the body style is different, but they both have the same sensor, same image processor, the roughly the same 5 axis image stabilizer and the same speedy focusing system. You lose the water resistance and the EVF (Electronic View Finder) on the E-P5 but gain WiFi, 1/8000s max shutter speed and a faster 1/320s flash sync speed. The OM-D body is $999, the same price as the E-P5. However, keep in mind that the body-only E-P5 doesn’t come with an EVF. Bought separately, the EVF costs more than $200. So effectively, the E-P5 body is sold at at least a $200 premium.

Second, the E-P5 replaces the E-P3 introduced in 2011. The E-P3 with the standard $100 kit lens ran $899. Subtract out the kit lens and a fictional body-only E-P3 configuration should run $799, again $200 lower than the E-P5 body-only price.

Third, assuming you support my premise that Olympus is competing against the Fuji X100S with the 35mm equivalent lens, consider this. The Fujifilm X100S is priced at $1299. The Olympus E-P5 with the 17mm lens (34mm equivalent) and the EVF is packaged at $1499. Now, despite the retro look of both cameras, they are very different beasts. Direct comparisons are a bit of a stretch, but let me try. On the plus side for Fuji, you get a very good hybrid optical/EVF, arguably better image quality, true analog exposure controls and an attractive well designed body with a seamlessly integrated viewfinder. The E-P5 has the advantage of a world-class in-body image stabilizer and the flexibility of interchangeable lenses. People can quibble of the price but I believe the two cameras should be priced the same. Certainly, I find it hard to justify a $200 premium over the X100S.

My conclusion, the Olympus E-P5 is overpriced by $200. The body only price should be $799 and the kit price should be $1299. Still expensive, but it makes sense based on the competition. So is the camera worth it? Only you can answer that question, however, if I were in the market for an Olympus, I wouldn’t pay $999 for the body or $1499 for the kit. So despite my fondness for Olympus micro 4/3, I can’t recommend the E-P5 at the current price.

I also predict that the prices will fall fairly quickly. Olympus will inevitably have a $200 rebate or just reduce the price. No guarantees of course, but that’s been Olympus’ pattern over the last couple of years. What do you think? Is the E-P5 worth it to you?

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There’s always something new …

Just when I thought it was safe, that I have every camera I could ever want, out comes the new Olympus E-P5. There’s some kind of law that as soon as I buy the camera I’ve finally saved up for, out comes the next generation that’s got all the nifty features I hoped to see.

Olympus E-P5

Actually it isn’t coincidental. I wait until the price on the equipment I want drops before I buy it. The price drop nearly always signals the imminent release of a new generation of equipment, or at least a new model. So I’m likely to remain at least a generation behind in camera technology.

That’s what happens when one lusts for the coolest newest stuff, but don’t really have the money to buy it. Moreover, I have nothing more than the flimsiest excuse to get another camera, even with my rationalization engine turned up to full. Lucky for me there isn’t much the P5 is offering that I don’t (more or less) have with the P3/PM2 combo. So it’s lovely, but I can resist it.

On the other hand (trumpets and a drumroll) … the new Panasonic (Leica in all but name) LUMIX DMC-LF1 was announced this afternoon. She’s lovely, scheduled for delivery in June. Just a few short weeks from now.

Lumix DMC LF-1

Lumix DMC LF-1

It’s got a built-in (be still my heart!) optical viewfinder, shoots in JPG or RAW, has a fast Summicron F/2.0 medium-long telephoto lens. At $499, it is almost affordable. Could this be the perfect do-it-all camera for which my soul yearns?

LUMIX DMC LF-1 (back)

I have a longstanding policy of never buying a new model of anything  (cars, cameras, computers, software) until I’ve heard from regular users, not the PR spinners. I want to feel the love before I start hoarding my pennies and quarters.

Since it won’t even be available to regular users until next month, I figure it will be a while before feedback starts coming in. There’s a strong possibility by the time I might be able to afford it — assuming I hear really good things about it — my computer will stop having intermittent seizures and quit working entirely, ending any chance of getting another camera no matter how wonderful.

Somehow, I think I’ll manage anyhow.

It’s new, better, exciting, cool. But if I miss it, there will be another — and another after that.

Because there’s always something new on the way. Trust me.

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How come you have so many cameras?

This is a question that every photographer, professional or amateur, periodically asks him or herself … and is inevitably asked by friends, family, and occasionally, complete strangers. My answer is 7, plus the iPhone (on which I’ve never actually taken a picture) and a Coolpix that I don’t like and never use — which I guess totals 9. I am not counting cameras I used to own but gave away … or which I have somewhere in the house, but who knows where?

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The little pocket-sized Canon Powershot S100 is my go everywhere favorite. Light and compact, with a good quality, fast, versatile lens, I carry it in my purse. It is the camera I always have with me so it gets a lot of use, even in situations where another camera would do a better job. This is the camera that embodies the maxim “The best camera is the one you have with you.” Technically, I guess I also have my iPhone S4, but I don’t consider it a camera.

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The heart of my gear are my Olympus PENs — the PL-1, E-P3 and now the PM2. These are the cameras I use when I am planning to shoot and want the best quality. As part of the mirrorless micro 4/3 set, I also have a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 I bought because it came with the 14mm f/2.8 lens and ironically, it was cheaper to buy the camera with the lens than to buy only the lens. It’s not a bad camera, but it is definitely there for backup and not as primary shooting gear. It has the advantage of being small and light and the same format as the Olympus PENs.

I picked up the Olympus 800UZ on sale when I wanted  a really long telephoto zoom. I live in the country in a river valley and this camera is particularly useful to get pictures of birds far across the pond where nothing else I own could possibly grab the shot.

The battle is on, but I do not think it went well for the swan.

Fully extended, it is 830 mm — a very long lens. Shooting with an extremely long telephoto lens is problematic, but this is even more of a problem because it is difficult to focus. Part of the issue is that fully extended, even the tiniest movement is greatly exaggerated and makes focusing impossible. I have to brace my arms against something solid or I can’t get any picture and sometimes can’t even find my subject. Nonetheless, it is the only camera I own that will capture really distant shots. It’s not a camera I use often, but it has a specific uses. It was a lot cheaper to buy the camera with the super zoom than to buy a very long lens for the PENs.

I also have a Canon Powershot SX260 HS. It too has a super-zoom, but not as extreme. It won’t capture swans and geese at the other side of the pond, but it will catch musicians at the far end of the concert hall … even in dim light. It’s easier to use and much faster focusing than the 800UZ.

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For the joy of photography, my favorite remains the Olympus PEN E-P3. I use it most often paired with the “portrait” 45mm F/1.8 lens, a fine portrait lens, but also great for artistic shots of flowers, foliage, dogs, and people in general. The shallow depth of field makes ordinary shots look like art. It’s not me. It really is the lens.

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I usually keep the 14mm F/2.8  Lumix lens on the Olympus PEN PM2 and the 40-140mm on the oldest of my PENs, the Olympus PEN E-PL-1. The Panasonic DMC-GF3 doesn’t get a lot of use, but I put the “normal” 14-42mm Olympus lens on it in case I have a “normal” lens emergency. I find it easier and faster to swap cameras than lenses, so having  bodies on which I can put different prime lenses may look more complicated, but for me is actually a simplification.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I grant you it tends to add up to a lot of cameras, if you just count them and don’t recognize that there are special uses for some of them and others are there because they came as part of a package or, like the PL-1, was an original camera that I’ve kept because it’s still a good camera, if a bit old.

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Whenever I go out to shoot, I have to think hard about what I want to take with me, where I’m going and what lenses I’m likely to need. Because I won’t ever take everything … but hopefully, I’ll have what I need when I need it.

So that’s why I have so many cameras. And will probably have more eventually. How many do you have?

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Beep, ding, whirr, ping, buzz …

It’s the little things that trigger epiphanies. Those tiny moments of recognition that make me say “Oh! I see!”

A few days ago, I took my Canon S100 out of my shoulder bag where it lives. I’m very careful with my cameras. When I’m shooting, I’m so focused that unless I adhere to a strict routine, I lose stuff. As I’ve gotten older, I lose stuff anyway and I don’t want to lose any cameras, so I follow my checklist to make sure that no camera or accessory gets left behind. I pull the camera out of my bag, stuff its sleeve in my pocket, take my pictures, and put it all back. When I get home, I pop the SD card out, plug it into the computer, download the pictures, clear the card and return it to the camera. Back into my bag it goes. I know if I keep to the program, I will always have a camera near at hand. For some reason, the last time I used it, I didn’t put the S100 away and left it next to the monitor. I’m sure I had a reason, though I can’t recall what it was.

I forgot it until last night when I picked my bag and noticed how light it felt. What was missing? Ah, the camera.

“Hmm,” I said. “I didn’t realize that little camera adds so much heft to my bag.”

It was late. I was on my way to bed, but stopped in my office to collect the cordless phone to return it to its cradle in the bedroom. I noticed the camera lying on the desk. I picked up the camera and thought “Gee, I should swap the battery and charge this one. I’ve been using it a lot.” I have quite a few spare batteries. There is nothing that will ruin a shoot more completely than having a battery die in the middle and not having a replacement with you.

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I popped the battery out and went to put it in the charger. I looked at my power strip. Six chargers. Impressive for a strip that only has 6 plugs.

This being a Canon battery, I tried putting it in the first Canon charger on the strip. It didn’t fit. I tried the next but it didn’t fit there either, which shouldn’t have surprised me because it was Panasonic and this was a Canon battery, but who can read black lettering on a black charger in dim light anyhow?

There was one charger in the strip I hadn’t tried. Unsurprisingly, the battery popped right into place. I looked around and realized I have two more Olympus chargers nearby and an off brand charger whose purpose I do not recall. The chargers in this group each attach to one arm of an octopus splitter. With a wrinkle of concern, I realized I had another little camera on the way and no room for a charger. I was going to have to add another strip. I wondered where I could possibly put it. Things are getting crowded in the electrical part of the office.

Epiphany.  Bong. Whack.

I have a lot of cameras, computers, tablets, readers, telephones, printers, transmitters, routers, modems, Roku, DVD players and music making thingies. I don’t even know how many there are. I don’t even know where I’ve put them all. Or if they work. They have accumulated while my back was turned. There are all the old ones I used until I got newer ones. Then there are the back ups I never use, but have in case a piece of equipment fails. Spare telephones, extra cameras. Even a couple of miscellaneous computers.

Everything uses batteries including items that plug into a socket somewhere and most things seem to need a WiFi feed. No room is exempt, from kitchen to bedroom. We have electronic toothbrushes in our bathrooms. After even the briefest power outage, my entire house starts blinking.

Night is lit up by the soft glow of red, blue and green LEDs. It’s never fully dark or entirely silent. Everything flickers, whirrs and buzzes, beeps and dings. The telephones variously whoop, bong or play obnoxiously loud music. Even my wallpaper (the stuff on the computer, not the walls in the kitchen) makes splashing sounds as my virtual dolphins leap in an electronic sea.

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My universe collapses in the face of a power outage. Nothing works if the power’s down. I am slavishly devoted to technology and the thought of having no electricity for even a brief period makes me shiver with dread.

Everyone these days seems to have a vast quantity of electronic gadgetry, no matter what they say because nothing is simple anymore. The microwave, the refrigerator, the range and the oven are computerized. Those are merely the basics.

I had to reboot my bed the other day.

I may not in theory need so much stuff, but I can’t imagine giving anything up.  I love it all. I even love the things I don’t use, cell phones that served me well and obsolete computers or cameras which have been replaced by newer models. They are my Hall of Fame collection.

Accumulation will never stop. Garry’s new computer is on the way and who knows how many peripheral items it will spawn.

I swear this has all crept up on me, slipped into my life a gadget at a time — a computer, a modem, a router, a laptop, another computer another and another. New cameras replaced old ones and they were themselves replaced by even newer gear. New gadgets were invented and became indispensable. As technology continues to evolve, each piece of equipment will be replaced eventually by newer versions. Like virtual seasons in an endless cycle of beeping, flashing and whirring change.

Excuse me. My oven is beeping. Dinner must be ready.

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Ordinary Things – Waiting for Spring

Marilyn Armstrong – Olympus PEN E-P3, 45 mm F/1.8