A DEEP GREEN SUMMER – GARRY ARMSTRONG

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It was the first day in a couple of weeks that wasn’t too hot and humid to breathe, so we went with out our cameras. I have a not-quite-new, but not-much-used-yet camera, a bright yellow Pentax Q7 which Marilyn got for me before they disappeared from the market.

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We went down the road to where the river flows under a bridge and around a long curve and the wildflowers bloom on the banks.

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Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we find a heron or a gaggle of geese.

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It was a very bright day, making it a challenge to get the right exposure. I did some experimenting. It was the first time shooting without contact lenses and without a viewfinder.

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No wildlife today, but the bright sunshine turned the river into a mirror reflecting everything. The dominant deep green of the leaves. The deep blue sky and white fluffy clouds scudding across.

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VERY CLOSE – THE WORDPRESS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE

Macro fuchsia on the rail

A more perfect challenge could not have been arranged for today. Especially in view of my working for the past few weeks almost exclusively with my dearly beloved macro lens.

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I could not select a single picture, so I’m including a bit of everything from the past few weeks of macro shooting. It is mostly flowers, but also, a few other little things are included, just for variety.

late afternoon bouquet

All these pictures were taken using the Olympus f2.8 60mm macro lens on the Olympus PEN PL-6.

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A word about the Olympus PEN PL-6. Olympus dropped it into the market with no warning at a hard-to-resist price of $299. It is the Japanese version of the PL-7. I have made every comparison I can.

green bug on fuchsia macro

I can’t find any difference between the two cameras. The PL-6 was available for about a week. I bought one and it has become the home of the macro lens. You can’t get a PL-6 at any price now, not on any site, including Olympus or Amazon.

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I have no idea why Olympus dropped them into the market like that, then made them disappear. I’m grateful I was on the ball and able to snag one while it was hot!

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I can’t begin to say how much I’m enjoying this lens and camera. It is so satisfying, I find it hard to remember how I took closeup pictures before I owned it.

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TOO MUCH TECH

I went to the dentist. Discovered I’m not (no longer?) dying of infection (antibiotics), but I need a $1200 crown. If I plan to keep the tooth, that is.

Olympus PEN PL-5

At which point, I noticed how lovely was the late afternoon sun. Trying to forget about dental issues, I grabbed my camera to snap a few pictures.

My camera had lost its date and forgotten how to focus. And was making double and triple exposures. I was sure it was not broken, that I had inadvertently pressed something. Clicked something. Turned a dial and changed a setting. Lacking a viable manual, I’d have to go through every menu, setting by setting, until I figured out what happened.

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Every year, cameras have more settings. More menus, bells, and whistles we don’t need and probably don’t understand. Extra techno junk is no problem when everything is working as it should, but if it  goes wrong, I’m lost in technological la-la land.

One accidental pressing of a button, a glancing touch on a dial and your camera is a useless hunk of metal.

Unable to figure out what happened, I reset the camera to its default settings. After which, it was fine. I’ll never know what happened. Just one of those things.

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Did the memory card go belly up? Was it me? Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve unset, or reset something without knowing what or how. Each time it happens, whether it’s a camera, software (Photoshop is particularly prone to going weird), or the computer itself … it makes me crazy. It requires a lot of deep breathing and mumbling to myself to straighten out the mess.

People say “extra bells and whistles” do no harm. I think they are tiny electronic land mines waiting for the unwary to step on them. Not that anyone listens to me, but I would love it if whoever you are, don’t add things, change things, complicate everything because you can. Not a good enough reason.

Stop fixing what isn’t broken. If you can’t improve it really, whatever “it” is, leave it be. And make dental work affordable.

ON THE EDGE, OFF THE LEDGE

What keeps me on the edge, but off the ledge? Dogs. Friends. Writing. A new camera and a good lens. A husband who is always a challenge. A movie that makes me laugh.

Speaking of Garry (were we?), he likes to hang around on ledges. He’s an edgy, ledgy kind of guy.

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Me? Not so much. I prefer not to tempt fate. Curiosity keeps me going — and safely off ledges. I want to be around to see whatever is coming next.

Survival is nature’s way of keeping the species going. We survive because. I don’t think we need a reason to follow our instinctive need to be.

As for edginess? “Getting old is not for the faint of heart.” Getting through any day is quite a balancing act.

On the edge …

SPEAKING OF CAMERAS

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

Some photographers use a favorite camera all the time. Others use various cameras, depending on what they are doing. I’m one of the latter.

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On some level, I’m always shopping for a camera, lens, a bag, an accessory. Shopping for equipment is as much of a hobby as taking pictures. I guess this counts as a confession. Of sorts. I suspect it’s true for many of us.

We love equipment, the discovery of something new to play with. And, I’m always looking for the perfect camera. The perfect lens, bag. Something.

Swans battle geese

Meet the Super Zoom

I like taking pictures of birds. Doesn’t everyone need a super zoom, at least sometimes? There is no super-zoom lens for my Olympus or Pentax. It’s not even an issue of price. The lens I want doesn’t exist for my interchangeable lens cameras.

My solution is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200. It’s got a 24x f2.8 Leica lens. In 35mm terms, that’s 24 to 600 mm. In technical terms, it’s a helluva lens. Faster than the usual glass on a point and shoot. Faster than most long lenses you can buy for big money. It’s a big camera. Not a pocket-size point-and-shoot.

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I love this camera and have loved it from the first day I owned it. Panasonic makes longer zoom lenses, and much more compact versions of this camera. But none of them are as fast as this camera … or can do as much. Did I mention that Garry uses a slightly older version of the same camera? And loves it?

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OLYMPUS PEN PM-2 and PL-5

The backbone of my camera collection are Olympus PEN 4/3 cameras. I have two PM-2, a PL-5, and a PL-6. Why so many? It’s easier and faster to swap cameras than lenses. The PL-5 and PL-6 both have adjustable LCD screens. The recent entry into the U.S. market, the PL-6, has a touch the screen focus-and-shoot function I love.

PL-6 focus test

PL-6 focus test

Finally,I can overcome auto-focus’ programming which defaults to focusing on the foreground. The PL-6 lets you touch any part of the screen. The camera focuses there and snaps the picture. Fast. Of course, all Olympus PEN cameras let you manually focus, but my eyes are not good enough. I have to rely on auto-focus. Age is a bitch.

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The PL-6 was released more than a year ago in Japan, but never released in the U.S. Until mid-April when for reasons best-known to Olympus, they released at $299.  At which price, it’s a bargain, especially if you have a few credits available to apply.

The quality of the lenses is great and Olympus color is the best. I have five lenses, three “normal” zooms which came with cameras, one medium zoom, and three primes.

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My favorite lens is the Olympus 45mm f1.9. It has a wafer-thin depth of field and gorgeous bokeh. I always say you can’t take a bad picture with that lens. It’s not entirely true. Close.

Really, I’ve taken plenty of bad pictures with every lens. Don’t we all?

PENTAX Q7

Replacing a point and shoot compact camera as my carry-everywhere, the little Pentax Q7 has put the fun back into photography. This little camera is unlike anything I’ve used. It’s better than I expected and different. Hard to explain the difference, but you can see it in the pictures. There’s something about them …

Pentax Q7 plus lenses camera

Specs don’t always tell the story. The Pentax Q7 doesn’t sound like a big deal on paper, but in fact, it’s a great little camera. Tiny, light, it does almost everything its bigger brethren do.

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Low light test on the Q-7

The resolution is startling. You can’t make poster-size prints from these files, but 8 X 10, and 11 X 14 prints are no problem. The focus is fast. The gyroscope level is a great help. Most important, it gives me pictures that are crisp, clear, and true to color.

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Pentax put out a new version recently, the Pentax QS1 but the Q7 is still available on Amazon and other sites.

It is the smallest camera I own — the smallest interchangeable lens camera anywhere. I carry it in a padded insert in my tote. Which is how come it gets used more my other cameras.

Portability is an issue for most of us. I am always searching for the most camera in the smallest package. The Q7 comes very close to it. The camera with 3 lenses weighs less than most compact cameras. But … it isn’t right for everything.

Pentax Q7 camera inset in bag

No Camera Does Everything

No camera is good for everything. The camera industry is based on this fundamental truth. If one camera did it all for everyone, business would be very slow.

1) The Q7 takes gorgeous landscapes and is great for street photography, but it would not be my first choice for portraits, and none of its lenses is long enough for birds or other wildlife.

2) The FZ200 is a great all-around camera, but too big to carry all the time.

3) The Olympus 4/3 cameras are amazing, but I need lenses that don’t exist or at are too expensive for me.

When I combine all the cameras, one is usually just right for the job at hand. If I’m not sure, I default to the FZ200.

From across the pond with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200

From across the pond with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200

THE BEST CAMERA

The best camera is the one you have when you need it. Whatever you choose, keep it close.

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Comparison Shopping – THE ONLY Way To Go

I only paid full price for a camera once. These days, it’s hard to tell if there is a “full price.” You can find two identical new cameras online, one for $350, the other for $700.

Before you buy a camera or lens, check at least two camera sites, plus Amazon. Buy from a legitimate site, but don’t overpay. You’ll kick yourself when you discover you could have gotten it for hundreds less if you’d looked around.

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

How Will I Know It’s the Right One

You won’t know for 100% until after you’ve used it for a while. You can read every review, get advice from every photographer you know and still discover it’s not exactly right for you.

No matter how carefully you do your research, you may not love the camera you buy. There’s no logical reason. It’s like finding the pair of jeans. They look the same, but they don’t feel the same.

We take better pictures if we love the camera. Seriously, we do. The search for perfection is ongoing … and fun.

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Wide-angle normal on the Pentax Q7

TURNING ON THE OLYMPUS SUPER CONTROL PANEL

Olympus Super Control Panel (SCP) — The Olympus Super Control Panel is a hidden control system. As you can see, it simplifies viewing and changing settings on your Olympus PEN camera.

SEE: blog.atmtxphoto.com

If you have Olympus PEN cameras, from the PL-1 to the latest OM-D, this is information you can use to turn on a “one menu does everything” for your camera. Indispensable, but hard to find information!

See on Scoop.itForty Two: Life and Other Important Things

PENTAX Q7 – BIG BANG IN AN ITTY BITTY PACKAGE

The little Pentax Q7 puts the fun back into photography. I’ve been an enthusiastic amateur photographer for 45 years, but this camera is unlike anything I’ve ever owned or used. And it is way better than I expected and different, with unique optical qualities.

That a sensor so small produces sharp pictures with excellent color is remarkable.

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The resolution is startling. Although you can’t make poster-size prints from these files, 8X10, and 11X14 prints are not the impossible dream. The focus is fast, and the gyroscope is a blessing for those of us who have trouble getting the picture straight (I drop my right hand). I can’t give you technical explanations of how it works, but the information is available elsewhere online. I can assure you the pictures are crisp, clear, and the color is true.

Battery life is pretty good. They are small batteries, so you’ll get maximum a  hundred and fifty to two hundred shots on a charged battery. I suggest you buy and carry extra batteries when you use the camera. Of course, I think you should do that for all cameras. Amazon sells good-quality, modestly priced, after-market batteries by the bunch. They recharge in a couple of hours. Pentax includes a separate charger with the camera.

The color rendering on the Q7 is almost as good as I get from my Olympus. That is very good indeed. It is true though a bit less rich. It’s easy to adjust in post-processing for more saturation, or change the setting from natural to enhanced. There are plenty of settings from which to choose.

The Q7 is fast, light, and ultra-compact, so it should surprise no one that it lacks a built-in viewfinder. If you demand a viewfinder, this won’t be your favorite camera. Pentax sells an accessory viewfinder, but I have not tried it. I don’t use a viewfinder. Between my eyesight and eyeglasses, viewfinders don’t work for me.

A NOTE ON DOCUMENTATION

The controls are simple and would be even simpler if it included a real manual. The manual it comes with is not “authored.” Likely it was generated by software and includes information without context. It doesn’t even tell you where to find specific controls or function.

Camera manufacturers have unilaterally decided we don’t need manuals. They are wrong. We all need manuals. This issue is not exclusive to a particular camera. It is a malaise affecting the entire electronics industry. Bring back manuals!

OPTICS

The zoom is theoretically “equivalent” to about 90-280mm in 35mm terms, but it isn’t really. That merely describes its field of vision but takes no account of the optical qualities of the lens. The equivalence is inaccurate.

You can’t realistically expect optics to translate by a simple multiplication process. We translate them in a general kind of way for reference purposes, but the field of vision is not the same as the optical quality of a lens. The Q7’s 8.5mm prime lens roughly translates to 50mm (in 35mm terms) if you only consider field-of-view. Depth-of-field, hardness, softness, how it flattens or widens an image are all optical qualities. They don’t translate.

For example, the 8.5mm shoots wide-angle and focuses at about 8 inches. The Q7, however, lets you control bokeh — at least to some degree — and you can get some amazing effects. I’m still learning how to use some of them. I wish it came with a decent manual!

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I use the 8.5mm prime lens for landscapes and close-up work. At f1.9, it handles both tasks well. It’s my default lens, and I bought it separately from the kit that came from Adorama.com with two f2.8 zoom lenses.

I carry the camera and three lenses in an insert that fits into my tote. Sometimes, I bring only the camera with a lens attached. 

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It is the smallest interchangeable lens camera on the market. I originally heard about it from a blogger I’ve been following since before I was a blogger. He has written a lot about this and other cameras. Great photographer, too.

Check out his website at ATMTX PHOTO BLOG Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography.

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Taken from inside a moving car through the windshield glass (which was none too clean).

I shot all the pictures in this post with the Q7 except the photos of the Q7 itself. For that, I used an Olympus PEN PL-5 with an f1.8, 45mm lens.

I don’t do HDR and used minimal processing. Did I mention that the Q7 shoots RAW and JPEG? At the same time, if you like.

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It won’t replace a full-size camera. Its smallness creates limitations. But the range of its capabilities is substantial.

The Pentax Q7 is an ideal travel camera.  It is compact and light, but not a toy. It’s a real camera. You can get a sense of its size from the gallery pictures.

Pentax released a new version recently. I’m okay with the Q7, so I haven’t checked it out yet. I don’t know what new features have been added. I hope Pentax will release new lenses. Otherwise, I am very pleased with my current gear.