TECH SUPPORT – WHERE “BAD” IS THE NEW “GOOD”

Bad customer and technical support is the new good. You only think it’s bad. The problem is your attitude. Or so they’d have you think.

YOU CAN RUN, BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE

Death cust servAll the big technology companies are working hard to save a few bucks. The competition is fierce. Every penny counts. Since executives won’t accept lower pay nor will stockholders accept lower returns, it’s customers who fill the cost-cutting gap.

In the race to be the cheapest, tech companies stopped including chargers with devices. No manuals. No system software. No reinstallation software. Short power cords that don’t go from an outlet to a desktop. No connector for printers, speakers or whatever. Everything you need to finish setting up costs extra.

Customer service was the first thing to go. They hired people who don’t know anything, don’t understand or speak English. For all I know, they don’t understand or speak Spanish either. They aren’t trained, don’t know the products. And since manufacturers no longer include documentation, you don’t have the option of taking care of it yourself.

No company — not cameras, computers or software — includes documentation. I became obsolete years ago when the industry decided no one reads the manuals. So they fired the tech writers, put some generated information in an online PDF. They figured customer service techs would handle the fallout. But they don’t. Many of us would be happy to fix minor glitches but have no alternative to spending our time on the phone, frustrated and angry.

THE PLAN IN ACTION

You can’t say they didn’t have a plan. The big corporations indeed had a plan. A bad one.Customer Service waiting

It was so bad, it was immediately adopted by everyone. Globally.

It’s not a Microsoft problem, a Dell problem, or any company’s individual problem, though some are more awful than others and a few are notorious. It’s a cross-industry problem, affecting virtually every organization in this country.

Bad is the new good. Because good is remarkable.

WOULD IT KILL THEM TO INCLUDE A MANUAL?

CustServCartoon In every industry, business, service — service support stinks. It doesn’t matter where you go. You’ll get the same lousy service. It’s the great leveler.

Sometimes, you get lucky. The guy or gal you connect with actually knows the product and you think “Wow, that wasn’t bad! Maybe it’s improving.” The next time, it’s the same old, same old.

AMAZON – THE BRIGHT SPOT

There is a bright spot. Amazon and Audible (a subsidiary of Amazon) still have terrific customer service. That could change any time on the whim of a company exec, but for now, it’s great.

It’s no accident I shop through Amazon. They offer really good service. You have a problem, they go out of their way to make it right. You need to return something? They don’t question you, make you jump through hoops.

I wish I could buy everything from them.

PHOTO INFLUENCES: ALFRED EISENSTADT AND VINEYARD SUMMERS


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

In 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 and Lois Maillou Jones was in her mid 80s. It was a great moment when Eisie told Lois she was “just a kid.” We laughed then, but time has changed our perspective.

I had been an admirer of Eisenstadt’s work as long as I’d been taking pictures. I took my first ever roll of film on Martha’s Vineyard in 1966. I had stayed at the Menemsha Inn where (it turned out — a wild case of serendipity) Eisenstadt lived from late spring till Labor Day. Books of Eisie’s work — that was what everyone called him and he preferred it — were all over the inn, in bookcases and on tables. Most featured Eisie’s landscapes of Martha’s Vineyard.

I was using my first camera, a Practika with a great Zeiss 50mm lens, but no light meter, nothing even slightly automatic. It had a crank film advance, a barebones camera. Perfect for a beginner. I had to learn how to take pictures, how to take a light reading with a handheld meter. I had to focus it myself.

No zoom lens — no other lenses at all. Just a single f2.8 50 mm prime and no flash. My feet did the zooming, God did the lighting. I learned the basics of photography many people of the digital generation never learn. Most of today’s photographers have never used a non-automatic camera much less a hand-held meter. Maybe it doesn’t matter. But maybe it does.

The camera was a gift from a friend who had moved on to more modern and expensive gear. With that Zeiss lens and a good eye, I followed Eisenstadt’s path. I discovered where he’d taken each picture, figured out how he’d gotten the perspective, framed it, and not only duplicated his shots down to the clump of grass he’d crouched behind to create a foreground, I also added a few ideas that worked out well. Surprising because I was winging it.

My first roll of film was declared brilliant. It was, except that the photographs were Alfred Eisenstadt‘s pictures reproduced by me on my camera. I learned photography by following his footsteps and seeing what he saw. By the time I was done, I’d gained a whole education. The technical stuff took … is still taking … the rest of my life. I was good in a darkroom with black and white film, but Photoshop has been an ongoing challenge.

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

As we got to know Eisie better, I asked him to autograph his books for me and he did, but he didn’t merely autograph them. He went through each book, photograph by photograph. He was in his early 90s and forgot many things, but he remembered every picture he’d taken, including which film and camera he was using, what lens was on it, the F-stop and most important, what he was thinking as he shot it. He could remember exactly what it was about the image that grabbed his attention. It was an education money could never buy.

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 and he saw them, the dark of the sailor’s uniform against the white of the nurse’s dress and he shot. He knew it was what he wanted. The light, the contrast, perfect. Great street journalism looks accidental … but it isn’t. It’s, in my opinion, the most difficult of all the various types of photography because you have to see your shot and grab it, get it right the first time. If you miss it, it’s gone. No second chances.

Were we close friends? Close enough I guess, considering the late date at which we entered his life. At that point in his life, he spent most of his time in the company of Lulu, his former sister-in-law who took care of him. She was a lovely, warm, sweet lady who sometimes needed an afternoon off. We were happy to Eisie-sit and let her go to town for an afternoon. Eisie was interesting and funny, but high maintenance. He did not suffer from a lack of ego.

We spent time with him every summer for about five years until he died, and we were honored to be among those invited to the funeral which was closed to the public. Although it was sad because Eisie was gone, we also found things to laugh about. Knowing him was special and some memories are worth a laughter. I don’t think he’d have minded.

Camera Industry: the trend towards “good enough” is affecting enthusiasts too

See on Scoop.itBooks, Writing, and Reviews

From ATMTX PHOTO BLOG

A lot has been written about how smartphone cameras have decimated the point and shoot market. It’s actually worse than that. Most regular people, non-enthusiasts, don’t really want to use DSLRs — they’re just too big and cumbersome. I see former DSLR owners just bag it and end up using smartphones instead. But how about people like me, the crazy, passionate photo enthusiasts. What are we doing?

Well, we are falling victim to the “good enough” mantra too.

I see two distinct groups of photo friends. Some diligently continue to use DSLRs for their serious work and then flip over to an iPhone when capturing casual snaps. I got a laugh when we go on photo walks. We all have expensive, sophisticated gear and we end up taking group pictures with an iPhone. These people are the same as the masses, documenting their world on smartphones. Except, for their serious pro or hobby work, they break out the DSLR. It’s like they have two distinct modes.

The other group, which I’m a part of, have embraced mirrorless cameras or even premium point and shoots. They may still own a DSLR but use it infrequently. These people tend to use tweener cameras (between DSLRs and smartphones) for both their serious and casual work.

Which ever group you’re in, there is no right way, of course. And I’m sure there are some people who don’t fall conveniently into either camp. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s going to get even harder for camera companies. Most cameras, especially under typical conditions, are now good enough. People know this. There is no longer a pressing need to update to the next model. The camera and sensor companies have done too well. They are perfecting themselves out of business.

So what can these companies do? There are still a few under served niches. Sony is the first to the mirrorless full frame game. Perhaps some others will follow. There is the retro camera movement that Fujifilm is leading. Nikon has followed with their Df. But ultimately, as the market saturates, these companies need to be in the aspiration business.

See  the rest of the story at ATMTX PHOTO BLOG

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

I can’t argue with any of this … and that worries me. Because “good enough” really isn’t the same as “good.”

See on blog.atmtxphoto.com

The Olympus Stylus 1 Review

Marilyn Armstrong:

Another great review from my favorite photographer’s website.

Originally posted on atmtx photo blog:

Olympus Stylus 1 Comparison

Competitive Landscape

Olympus Stylus 1 details
Olympus Stylus 1 details

As we start 2014, The camera industry has become really challenging and the manufactures are doing their best to fill every conceivable niche. On the low-end the ubiquitous and basically free smart phone camera has sucked the air out of the point and shoot market. But they also affect the higher end cameras too. I can tell you from experience that most parents at our elementary school have switched to camera phones, even the parents who previously would have used DSLRs. What can camera companies do to complete?

In the point and shoot market, adding a bigger zoom and increasing image quality has been the response. With the Stylus 1, Olympus have come up with a unique combination of features. They use a bigger 1/1.7″ sensor with a very usable 28 – 300mm (10.7x) equivalent zoom range. Though not a super zoom per say, with a crazy 30x…

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In 2013, mirrorless broke out, the gap will widen

Marilyn Armstrong:

Even the most diehard DSLR users can no longer dismiss mirrorless cameras. Here are 2013′s four top cameras, in brief. I think it’s going to be a great year for photographers with more and better choices top to bottom! Cheers!

Originally posted on atmtx photo blog:

I’m surprised, not because the E-M1 isn’t an excellent camera. It absolutely is. I was fortunate to get pre-production access and wrote an extensive 7,000+ word review of the Olympus E-M1. I’m surprised because there are so many big name cameras that dominated the airwaves towards the end of the year and the Olympus didn’t get lost in the shuffle.

The Sony A7 and A7r made a big splash because it was the first mirrorless full frame camera (excluding Leica of course). But the first does not mean the best. I found the A7 to be unrefined. I can’t help but wonder if the camera was rushed to market.

The Nikon Df intrigued traditional film shooters into thinking that maybe the complexity of digital can be tamed and simplified. What they got, however, was a typical DSLR body with extra analog controls grafted on. Unfortunately, it’s more complex than a…

View original 272 more words

DAILY PROMPT: KEEPING UP WITH MYSELF

Since you asked …

I want the Voigtlander Nokton 42.5mm f/0.95 Micro Four Thirds Lens at a mere $999. It’s never on sale. It would be perfect paired with a new Olympus PEN E-P5. Also, I would very much appreciate the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 Leica DG Summilux. These two lenses in combination would let me shoot in very low light without flash yet get fantastic quality.

96-P3-40mm_2

I don’t know about the Jones’. Are they photographers?

I don’t expect to get either lens or the new camera. I’ll gratefully work with what I’ve got, my latest addition being a long yearned for Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 Lumix II. It has turned out to be as good as advertised and I’m having a blast with it. I’m basically a happy camper, photographically speaking. Of all the things I own, my cameras give me the most joy. Hard to regret them.

But … oh … those lenses. And the new line of Olympus 4/3 cameras are so sweet. I’m allowed to yearn, aren’t I?

 

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Review – ATMTX PHOTO BLOG Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

See comparisons, detailed, analysis, photographs and more on ATMTX PHOTO BLOG.

See on Scoop.itIn and About the News

Olympus OM-D E-M1

MY BACKGROUND

I currently own 4 Olympus micro 4/3 cameras, 2 E-PL1s, an E-P3 and an E-PM2. I also own 7 Olympus and Panasonic micro 4/3 lenses. I’ve shot more than 20,000 frames with my Olympus cameras, so I know these cameras well. I’ve also used the newest Olympus Pen, the E-P5, during a week and half evaluation.

I’m also a Canon DSLR shooter. I started with the Rebel XT 7 years ago and have upgrade over time to the 20D, 7D and currently own the full frame 6D. While I shoot a variety of subjects, I’m most excited about urban landscapes and street photography, especially in the evening and night. For this reason, I’m usually drawn to fast shooting cameras that have great low light (high ISO) performance.

THE 4/3 FORMAT

Before micro 4/3, there was an older format called 4/3. Olympus and Panasonic also shared the original 4/3 standard. This standard was for DSLRs with traditional lenses and a flipping mirror. The goal was to create DSLRs smaller than Canon and Nikon by using a smaller sensor.

The 4/3 DSLRs were in fact smaller but it ultimately didn’t make a big difference — Canon and Nikon continued to dominate sales. Back then the smaller 4/3 sensor didn’t perform as well in low light, which was the main knock against the format. Also the mirror assembly still added considerable bulk so the 4/3 cameras were not “radically” smaller than the bigger APS-C sized DSLRs.

Ultimately, Olympus and Panasonic regrouped to form the now popular micro 4/3 standard. They took out the flipping mirror and further shrank the lenses and, in the process, started the mirrorless interchangeable lens movement.

The jewels in the old 4/3 system are the highly regarded Olympus lenses. Olympus DSLRs focused faster than the original mirrorless offerings and while Olympus released an adapter to use 4/3 lenses on micro 4/3 cameras, they didn’t work as quickly. The 2010 release of the E-5 was the last time Olympus updated their DSLR. Since then, 4/3 lens fans had no modern, high performance cameras to use their glass. This changed with the release of the OM-D E-M1.

BRINGING THE FAMILY BACK TOGETHER

With the release of the OM-D E-M1, Olympus combined the best of the micro 4/3 world with the best of the 4/3 lens world. Though the E-M1 is not an SLR, it has phase detect and contrast detect focusing which allows the older 4/3 lenses to focus quickly. Reports on the web indicate that while some 4/3 lenses don’t focus as fast as on the E-5 DSLR, the E-M1 is significantly faster than previous micro 4/3 cameras. Robin Wong in Malaysia reports that the focus speed with the 4/3 lenses are more than enough and it is a very usable system. It appears that 4/3 lens focusing speed is lens dependent. A reader indicates that SWD lenses focuses even faster. I didn’t have any 4/3 lenses to test but reports on the web indicate positive results indeed.

In one bold stroke, Olympus managed to up its mirrorless focusing capability while supporting the older, loyal Olympus 4/3 owners. It’s a move that brought back the two side of the Olympus household under one roof.

CHALLENGING THE DSLR

While the original 4/3 DSLR never did challenge the Canon / Nikon duopoly, the new mirrorless E-M1 has put together a package that has compelling advantages over the old-fashioned DSLR. Imagine a camera that is as fast as a DSLR, with equal image quality, with superior video in a small package.

It took several years of refinement and ultimately a new Sony 16MP sensor, but the micro 4/3 system currently has the same image quality as an APS-C DSLR. When I tested the Olympus E-PM2 against my Canon 7D, I found the low light image quality to be equal to or superior on the Olympus. Even the newest Canon 70D, which is better than the 7D, appears to be in the same ball park as the E-M1. Looking at the DPReview results, it appears that the Olympus JPEG engine still does better than Canon, pulling out sharp details. High ISO performance seems about the same for JPEG and the new 70D might be a tad better than the E-PM2 in RAW.

At 10 frames per second in continuous focusing mode, the E-M1 is the first micro 4/3 camera that I would recommend for sports. The latest generation of Olympus Pens are quick for normal shooting — it has one of the fastest contrast detect focusing systems. But when it comes to fast action sports, like soccer, the contrast detect can’t keep up. The E-M1 uses phase detect focusing to assist the contrast detect focusing when set in continuous mode with the micro 4/3 lens (on 4/3 lenses, I’m told it uses phase detect full-time) which makes all the difference. I was able to continuously focus more reliably than with my Canon 7D, which by the way, only shoots at 8 frames per second. DSLRs still have the sports advantage in certain ways, which I will explain below however, this is a major step for mirrorless sports photography.

One of the knocks against the DSLR is the size of the camera and even worse, the size of the lenses. Since the E-M1 uses the slightly smaller micro 4/3 sensor, the body and the lenses are noticeably compact. Even though this latest OM-D has the beefiest body so far for an Olympus micro 4/3 camera, it is still a lot smaller than a comparable DSLR. Here is a photograph I took at Precision Camera that compares a Canon 70D with the 24 – 70mm f2.8 vs the Olympus E-M1 with the very similar 24 – 80mm equivalent (Note: technically the Canon 24- 70mm lens on a 70D has a 38mm – 112mm equivalent). Notice a difference?

A GROUND BREAKING LENS

Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 The impact of Olympus’ new lens, the 12 – 40mm f2.8, is hard to overstated. This is the first PRO micro 4/3 lens from Olympus. It has a metal exterior, it’s weather proof and it’s fast. f2.8 is typically what pros like to use. The large aperture and a usable 24 – 80mm equivalent range makes this a do all lens. This type of lens is popular with wedding photographers and photojournalists where fast action and changing light conditions makes it indispensable.

But imagine all this capability in a size not much bigger than a typical DSLR kit lens. That’s what you can get with micro 4/3, a constant 2.8 zoom in a small package. With Canon, for example, their 24 -70mm f2.8 is nearly 3/4″ larger in diameter and over an inch longer. It weighs more than double, coming in at a hefty 1.77 pounds. The Canon lens also runs about $2,300 which is $1,300 more than the Olympus.

Unique to the Olympus lens is a feature where you can pull back on the focus ring, which automatically switches the E-M1 into manual focus mode. Between the focus peaking and digital zoom, this maybe the easiest way to manually focus, at least on a digital camera. This manual focus interface is also available on the Olympus 12mm f2 and the 17mm f1.8. The 12mm and 17mm don’t do automatic focus peaking or digital zoom when the focus ring is pulled backed, however. Unlike the 12-40mm zoom, you need to program a function button to bring up the manual focus aids.

UNBEATABLE PACKAGE

Separately, the E-M1 and 12-40mm lens are excellent in their own way. But together, as a package, the two complement each other perfectly. They’re an unbeatable pair. Of course the E-M1 can be used with any micro 4/3 lens. Conversely, the 12-40mm can be used on any micro 4/3 body. This lens needs the beefy grip of the E-M1 to be comfortable. While the lens is small in DSLR terms, it is one of the bigger micro 4/3 lenses. Perhaps adding the optional grips on the OM-D E-M5 will also do the trick but on a smaller camera like the E-P3 or even the smaller E-PM2, the lens is too heavy.

Mated together, you get a total package that is significantly smaller than the DSLR equivalents. Remember, a smaller sensor may reduce the body size somewhat but it really has benefits in shrinking the lens size. I carried around this high performance, weather sealed, f2.8 zoom camera all day with no strain. It fits in my small Domke bag and it didn’t tire me out. Try that with your DSLR.

LENS OPTIONS

The E-M1 and 12-40mm combo may be the first setup that handles 95% of my needs. That includes my serious photography as well as family vacation snapshots and videos. Action in low light maybe the only time I’ll need a second lens with a big aperture. I like to use the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4. Other choices may include both the Olympus 12mm f2 and the 17mm f1.8, both really good lenses. Finally, the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 is a very popular and compact alternative.

A serious portrait shooter, which I am not, may also want to consider a wide aperture portrait lens to decrease the depth of field. The Olympus 45mm f1.8 is a low-cost and highly rated lens. The Olympus 75mm f1.8 is considered by some to be the highest quality micro 4/3 lens.

THE ERGONOMICS

Olympus E-M1 Details Olympus E-M1 Details The E-M1 is unlike any previous Olympus micro 4/3 camera. The actual size, in person, seems smaller than expected. It doesn’t look “toy like”, which is the reaction I had when I first saw the E-M5. In actual use, it feels more like a DSLR than the typical mirrorless camera, albeit a very small DSLR. It feels very different from the Olympus Pens that I’ve come to know very well.

On first use, I found the camera heavy. It fit well in hand and all the controls are easy to reach — many accessible single-handed. I can change the two control dials with just my right hand which is not possible, for example, with my Canons. I may opt to use my left hand for added stability, but it wasn’t required to change the primary controls.

There is enough direct access buttons on this thing that I rarely need to go into the menus or super control panel. And all the buttons are well place and easily accessible. Between the weight, build and control, it’s a totally different experience than using an Olympus Pen. Compared to this camera, my otherwise excellent E-PM2 feels like a plastic point and shoot. In less than a week, I got used to the weight. It became the new normal. My Pens felt tiny but the DSLRs still seemed a size or two larger.

While the control accessibility of the E-M1 is superior to my Canon 6D, I prefer the larger grip of the Canon for heavier lenses. The 12-40mm works fine on the E-M1 but with heavier lenses (like the legacy 4/3 lenses), I think you should attach the optional HLD-7 Camera grip. The E-M1 is a lot shorter than the DSLR so the grip does not extend down to the pinky, even with my smaller hands. The optional battery grip will add needed support for heavier lenses.

The menu system seems very similar to the other Olympus micro 4/3 cameras however there are some changes. I noticed, for example, the menu options around bracketing and HDR have changed somewhat. There are probably other small differences but I didn’t do a comprehensive check. I like all the options and customizability of the Olympus menus but I know some find it overwhelming. The good news is with all the external, physical controls, you will rarely need to visit the menus.

THE DESIGN

Olympus E-M1 Details Olympus E-M1 Details Olympus E-M1 Details Unlike the other Olympus models, this camera only comes in black. The dark, angular shape with its sharp creases is in direct contrast to the smooth and rounded shapes of DSLRs. It also has a very different aesthetic from the Pen line. While the smaller Pens are cute, retro or in the case of the E-P5, upscale. The E-M1 looks like a purposeful photographic tool and its smaller than DSLR size still makes it accessible and non-threatening. It strikes a good balance. While there is a similarity to the old, film Olympus SLR, to me the design doesn’t look retro, It looks modern and high-tech.

There is enough heft and size, especially with the 12-40mm lens, to come across as a premium product. However, unlike the two toned, Olympus E-P5, it does not look luxurious. The E-M1 is more functional than decorative. My 14-year-old son describes it as cool but not Pro. Meaning, a big DSLR with a large white lens looks more professional and impressive. So if you are getting this camera to impress people, it may not be the ideal choice. But it doesn’t look like a budget plastic DSLR either — you can tell it is something special. This thing has a solid all metal build with nice rubbery grips. The only section that feels a bit lacking is the SD Card door located on the grip, by the palm. It doesn’t seem cheap, I just don’t know how solid it will be after years of use. For the record my Canon 6D also has a similarly placed SD card door, of which I have the same concerns.

Not looking like a typical DSLR but with DSLR performance is why I like the camera. It’s certainly not as stealthy as an Olympus Pen, but I don’t think it will attract attention like a Pro DSLR either. Purely on looks, I prefer the two toned E-P5. It has just the right amount of sparkle and it seemed like a “civilized” travel and street camera. Performance and flexibility wise, the E-M1 is clearly superior. You can shoot sports, take it into country for landscapes (in all kinds of nasty weather) and do almost everything in between. In that sense, E-M1 is Olympus’ most versatile camera.

Where the E-M1 is clearly superior over the E-P5 is with the integrated EVF (Electronic View Finder). I didn’t like that add-on EVF on the E-P5, one of the few things I complained about in an otherwise fine camera. On the E-P5, the EVF is an afterthought. It doesn’t integrate into the design and, for me, get’s in the way. The E-M1 EVF, I believe, has the same technical specifications but it is full incorporated into the body. (Note: A reader reports that the E-M1 EVF has slight improvements over the VF-4 EVF that optionally comes with the E-P5. It has less lag and automated brightness, adjusting to ambient light) It looks good, design wise, and is less fragile. I don’t typically use EVFs, but on the E-M1 I used it more than usual. Perhaps I used the EVF more because, conceptually for me, the E-M1 handles and feels like a DSLR. The Pen cameras, on the other hand, work more like point and shoots.

The EVF quality is the best yet. It is the closest so far to the feel of an optical view finder. It smooth, with great color and it doesn’t get overly bright in dark scenes. It’s the first EVF I don’t mind using, though I still find it comfortable and more flexible using the flip LCD up screen.

I know there’s a lot of people who like the Olympus E-M5 but I never warmed up to that camera. The ergonomics, such as the button placement didn’t work for me. Also, it just looked a bit “toy like” because of its small size. It looks like a retro SLR but not sized like one, which is where the disconnect for me happens, I think. The E-M1 just looks right. It still seems smaller than expected but not to any extreme. There is a balance to it that the E-M5 doesn’t have unless you add the optional grips.

IMAGE QUALITY

There are many aspects to image quality, of course. There is color, dynamic range, contrast, noise levels and sharpness to name a few. Color is probably the most important for me and usually the most visible. The Olympus color, which I really like, is a key reason I use the system. Beyond that, I tend to look at noise levels particularly for high ISOs. I shoot a lot in dark conditions and having great high ISO performance is important. Certainly, I would like better dynamic range but for my serious urban landscapes I often use HDR which increase the apparent dynamic range. This, I find, is a great equalizer between systems.

I rarely do serious ISO tests. I generally look at the results from normal shooting and see what looks acceptable to me. I view the photograph on my 27″ Apple Thunderbolt display so that the image fills the display (not at 100%). If I can’t see any noise or general harshness, I deem the image as acceptable for my purposes. While I may do retouching at 100%, I don’t pixel peep at 100% once I know the limits of a camera.

Compared to other Olympus cameras

For Olympus Pens I’m usually satisfied with the images up to ISO 3200. Keep in mind that noise levels vary by color and exposure so ISO 3200 is a general rule of thumb. The EM-1 uses a new 16MP sensor. I’ve head reports that it might be better at higher ISOs than the previous E-M5 sensor. I decided to run some quick tests to see if I can detect a difference.

I shot the Texas State Capitol on tripod with both the E-M1 with the 12-40mm attached and the E-PM2 with the Panasonic 14mm attached. Both cameras were set to f8 and at 14mm (28mm equivalent). I was testing noise levels, not sharpness so I decided not to use the same lens. I shot 3 photos at -2 stops, 0 and +2 stops exposure compensation. I did this at ISO 200, 1600, 3200, 4000, 5000 and 6400. By varying the exposure compensation, I can judge noise levels with both over and under exposed photographs. I also shot both cameras with RAW + JPEG but did the analysis with JPEG since I don’t have a RAW converter for the E-M1.

My results? In this simple test, the two cameras did about the same. I did not see a noticeable improvement with the E-M1. This is in contrast to Ming Thein’s results where he was getting about 1/2 or so stop better noise performance. Ming is a professional photographer out of Malaysia and I certainly trust his analysis. Keep in mind that noise characteristics change with exposure and color. So even if we are both testing noise performance, our results may vary depending on the subject. Also, Ming was using an OM-D E-M5 and I was using a Pen E-PM2. My understanding is that both cameras use the same sensor and processor but a quick check over at DXO Mark reveals something interesting. According to their tests the E-PM2 does a tad better at high ISO. Could that account for the difference?

That’s not to say I didn’t see any differences. For my state Capitol scene, things looked about the same until ISO 1600. At 3200 and above, I noticed that the E-M1 processed JPEGs differently from the E-PM2. The JPEG noise reduction on the E-M1 seems lighter creating a more detailed but slightly noisier images. I am splitting hairs though, pixel peeping at 100%. At full size on the 27″ monitor, its hard to make out the differences.

That said for the “normal” non-test scenes I shot, I was getting decent, usable image as ISO 4000 and 5000. Even ISO 6400 was okay in terms of noise. Remember that these are JPEGs so the camera adds noise reduction. I usually use RAW where noise is a bigger factor unless I add additional noise reduction. The advantage of RAW is that I can post process the image with more latitude, pulling out details from shadows or bringing back some detail in over exposed areas. I can also manipulate color more in RAW without the image falling apart.

So your mileage will vary. I wouldn’t expect radically better high ISO results with the E-M1 over the current generation micro 4/3s. But this camera’s strength lie in other areas. I’ve also noticed more noise in some over exposed images with the E-M1, which I create when shooting HDR brackets. I don’t see it all the time and it may be related to the way JPEGs are processed. The net effect is that I’ve created a noisier than usual HDR image, the one of the State Capitol displayed above. I needed to apply extra noise reduction via software to get it down to acceptable levels. I would need to run more tests to determine if this was a fluke or a real issue. The image above used the photos I shot at ISO 200. And in case you are wondering, the white specs you see on the pavement are not noise but light reflecting off the pavement.

Compared to DSLRs

The current generation micro 4/3 are surprisingly competitive, image quality wise, with DSLRs with APS-C sensors. The larger APS-C sensors should give it a distinct advantage but in actual usage there seems to be very little difference. I am more familiar with Canon than Nikon so I will talk about the former. I’ve been shooting with micro 4/3 for a while and I was surprised to discover that my small Olympus E-PM2 matched or exceeded the low light performance of the Canon 7D. I’ve talked a lot about this. Basically, Canon have not improved their APS-C sensor for over 3 years. In that time, smaller sensored cameras, like micro 4/3 caught up. Recently Canon released the 70D. This is first Canon APS-C DSLR that noticeably improves low light performance. I would estimate that 70D is about a 1/3 to 2/3 stop better in RAW performance than the E-M1 (that’s assuming the E-M1 RAW performance is similar to the E-PM2). If you compare JPEG performance, it appears that the superior Olympus JPEG engine still matches Canon’s results.

For full frame DSLRs, it’s a very different story. High ISO performance on full frame is clearly better than micro 4/3. The physics of a grossly larger sensor is hard to beat. On my Canon 6D, for example, I get nearly 2 stops better high ISO performance. So ISO 10,000 on my Canon 6D is about on par with ISO 3200 on micro 4/3.

Olympus does have one tangible benefit though. The E-M1 has a very sophisticated 5 axis in-body image stabilizer. This allows you to take clear shots at lower ISOs by reducing your shutter speed. This technique will not help with fast action but for scenes with little or no movement, you can reduce your shutter speed greatly. Couple this with some large aperture prime lenses and you can easily best APS-C sensored DSLRs. And you can almost close the gap on full frame cameras too depending on the circumstance.

See on blog.atmtxphoto.com

DAILY PROMPT: CLEAN HOUSE? I TRIED. I FAILED.

Is there “junk” in your life? Are you kidding? I am human, therefore I have junk!

What kind? What would you like? I’m sure I’ve got it somewhere. Books. Photographs. Goodfers. Old dog leashes. Old empty purses and briefcases — there’s nothing wrong with them … they just aren’t in current use — don’t call them junk!

Unframed original art. Musical instruments. Posters. Dolls. More dolls. Even more dolls. Pottery, ancient and new. Clothing that’s too small. Clothing I used to wear but don’t like any more. Old bills. New bills. Envelopes for bills I’ll never use because I pay everything online. Medicine bottles with and without medicine. Empty eyeglass cases. Old tax records. New tax records. Records. Stuff you can’t throw away but just accumulates with the years. Documents. Mortgage documents, remortgage documents, official documents, unofficial documents.

How do you get rid of it? I can’t get rid of it. It’s valuable. Maybe someday I’ll be able to frame the art. I have to collect the clothing and donate it. There are people who need clothing. It’s not junk to them. And the cameras aren’t junk. They are organized and carefully packed in their bags.

96-CameraBags-37

Photographers, artists, poets: show us JUNK. Junk! I beg to differ. It perhaps appears junky to the untutored eye. I look at that pile of stuff. I see a favorite poet, one to whose works I frequently refer. I spy a book I will read as soon as I finish the one I’m reading. The rest? The biggest bag, the blue one with handle and wheels contains a career’s worth of writing samples. Or maybe old doll clothing and the writing samples are somewhere else. I could open the bag and look. Nah. Then I’d have to figure out what to do with the stuff.

If only there was a room in the house with an available closet. The office is closing in on me.

The rest of the “junk”? Camera bags containing … are you ready? Cameras. And camera accessories. Set up so I can grab the medium-size yellow canvas bag, Garry can grab the black bag and we are off, each with our favorites including spare batteries and anything else we might need.

There’s a thin line between treasures and junk. Very thin and I tread the line with deep trepidation.

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SUNNY DAY BY THE POND WITH A PANASONIC DMC-FZ60

PanasonicDMCFZ60It was a beautiful day. As nice as weather gets in this part of the country. I had a new camera to play with, the Panasonic DMC-FZ60. It’s not really new. It has it been around for a year or so, but it’s new for me. There’s a newer version – Panasonic DMC-FZ70 — bigger, heavier, lots more bells and whistles, including RAW capability which I never use. This was new to me and a pretty nice camera it turned out to be.

It’s bigger than any of the cameras I’d tried before, more the size cameras used to be. Not a compact. Nice heft to it.

This is not a camera you can put in a pocket unless you are the Jolly Green Giant in overalls. It’s got a heck of a lens. I liked it better than the dainty little point and shoot cameras. They always feel a bit too small for my hands.

Among other admirable qualities, the lens goes from 25 to 600 mm … great when you are expecting to shoot water fowl across a big pond. It also turned out to be noticeably faster focusing extended than other super zooms I’ve used. None of the super zooms are exactly easy to focus extended, but this was easier than others I’ve used … a good choice on a day when we had no idea where or what we were going to shoot.

Marilyn is more inclined to swap lenses or cameras. She thought I might like this one and I did.

We went to find the swans, but they were nowhere in evidence. Instead, we discovered an unusual dam at the southern end of Whitins Pond.

I got some nice pictures. I would have gotten more, but the shoot ended abruptly when Marilyn fell face first in the parking lot. We left a lot of blood evidence behind and I’m sure my fingerprints are all over the scene … something she keeps pointing out as she limps around the house.

Who said photography isn’t a contact sport?

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Acceptance In Advance

Getting an award. Accepting an award. Waking up the next day and realizing that the festivities are over and wondering if anyone even remembers the day before … then being pleasantly surprised to discover …yes, they do. It doesn’t hurt to have a lot of pictures posted of the event. It helps the remembering.

With Harvey Leonard (WCVB, Channel 5)

With Harvey Leonard (WCVB, Channel 5)

As a photographer, event photography has never been my strong suit. I don’t have the right equipment and in this case, yes, it does make a difference. The right lens, a good flash unit … they make a huge difference. You want a fast lens or a good strobe that recycles fast and has oomph. And bounce. A really good, fast camera … one that focuses quickly even in low light. I had the camera. I had a lens. A portrait lens. No flash.

Well. I have pretty good equipment, but it was never intended for this purpose because this stuff doesn’t come up all that often. And I can’t afford it. A small matter, but crucial.

When Garry was still working, it came up a lot more often. He hosted events. We were guests at events. Regularly. I used to actually own (and need) a separate formal wardrobe. Garry owned more than one tuxedo. That was then …. not at all now.

Here, in sleepy Uxbridge, fancy dress is anything clean that matches. Or minimally, doesn’t clash. Wearing earrings makes it formal. For men, a belt rather than a drawstring is formal wear. I am not exaggerating. Okay, maybe a little. But not much. It’s more than merely casual here.

The best moment - Garry and Anton, together.

The best moment – Garry and Anton, together.

It’s dress down time every day of the year, but especially on weekends. You should see what people wear going to church. Even the ministers don’t wear suits or ties. So far, never seen the pastor in shorts, but I’m sure it will come soon enough.

The Olympus E-P5 Review

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

See complete review on ATMTX PHOTOGRAPHY BLOG

Charles, the Olympus representative out of Dallas asked me if I wanted to review the Olympus E-P5. I jumped at the chance but I clearly stated that I’m giving my honest opinion. All of my previous in-depth reviews were of cameras that I bought myself. This would be the first time I received a review unit from a manufacturer but I wanted to remain as impartial as possible. Charles agreed and he sent me a two toned, black and silver E-P5 with a black 17mm f1.8 lens. I got the camera just a few days before my business trip to California so I got permission to bring it out there with me.

I’ve already done many posts about my experience with the E-P5 out in San Francisco. This review will go into depth and add my thoughts about how it stacks up against other cameras. I decided that street photography in a big city would be a great way to test the speed, handling and image quality of Olympus’ newest micro 4/3 camera. I shot in and around Market Street in San Francisco. After I got back home, I also shot down on 6th street in Austin. All told, I had the camera for about a week and half.

I currently own 4 Olympus micro 4/3 cameras, 2 E-PL1s, an E-P3 and an E-PM2. I also own 7 Olympus and Panasonic micro 4/3 lenses. I’ve shot at least 20,000 frames with my Olympus cameras, so I know these cameras well. I’m here to say that this is my favorite Olympus micro 4/3 camera, hands down. It’s certainly the most refined both from the design, fit and finish and performance perspective. While I don’t own an Olympus OM-D E-M5, I’ve used it enough to be very familiar with it. I strongly considered getting one until I ultimately decided to get the entry-level E-PM2. The E-P5 has better controls and fits better in hand than the OM-D.

Note: Micro 4/3 is a standard that is shared between Olympus and Panasonic. Lenses from both manufactures fit each other’s camera bodies. Micro 4/3 also referrers to the image sensor size. It’s a lot bigger than point and shoots and the 1 inch sensor on the Nikon 1 but it is not as big as the APS-C sensors used in DSLRs and the Sony and Fujifilm mirrorless cameras.

The E-P5 is the camera I was hoping for when I wanted to upgrade from my E-P3. I really like the form factor and I wanted the new Sony sensor. I seriously considered the OM-D but that camera never felt comfortable, at least without the optional grips. I like micro 4/3 for its compact size so I wasn’t keen on adding grips that would increase weight and bulk. The E-P5 feels great in-hand and is the perfect size — big enough to have comfortable controls and small enough to be the perfect travel partner. I own many cameras including the Canon 6D, but the micro 4/3 cameras are what I use the most.

Starting in 2012, Olympus began using the 16MP Sony sensor. This sensor finally put Olympus on par with Canon’s APS-C offerings. Previous to my Canon 6D, I owned the Canon 7D which has a APS-C sensor. I was surprised to find out that my E-PM2 exceeded the low light performance of the DSLR. And amazingly, Canon had not improved the performance of their APS-C offerings in more than 3 years. While I suspect the just announced Canon 70D might finally improve image performance, for the time being, Olympus micro 4/3 matches or at times exceeds the image quality of the APS-C Canon DSLRs. Now keep in mind that full frame DSLRs like the Canon 5DM3 and 6D are a different story. That’s one of the reasons I also own the Canon 6D. The full frame cameras offers a different class of low light performance.

The bottom line is the Olympus E-P5 is a fantastic camera and a blast to play with. It is surely the best Olympus micro 4/3 camera to date and it arguably is the fastest handling mirrorless camera from any manufacturer (with the possible exception of the Nikon 1). For fast action sports, DSLRs may still have the edge but for almost anything else, the E-P5 is plenty fast. The biggest issue for the E-P5 is it’s price. At $999 for body only and $1449 with the 17mm f1.8 lens and EVF, the camera is pricy. The mirrorless camera market is now very competitive and there are many worthy cameras out there. How does the Olympus E-P5 stack up against the competition? Read on to find out.

Olympus E-P5

THE ERGONOMICS

The E-P5 is basically the same size as the previous generation E-P3. The grip size and feel is remarkably similar but improved somewhat with the rubberized thumb rest. Olympus upgraded the controls with easier to adjust dials on the front and back of the top plate. The jog dial and the tall dial on the E-P3 can be fiddly to adjust. Not so with the improved E-P5 controls.

Unlike some of the OM-D buttons that can be small and mushy, the E-P5 buttons are all easy to access and solid. Olympus slimmed down the previously bulky flip-up LCD, used on the OM-D and E-PL5. Now the LCD fits flush with the body and has a thinner border.

It seems like every detail of the previous micro 4/3 cameras have been rethought and fine tuned. The camera did feel a bit heavy compared to my light-weight E-PM2. But after using it on the streets of San Francisco, I found the weight to be a non-issue. The camera is certainly a lot smaller and lighter than any DSLR. If anything, the extra weight gives the E-P5 a very solid and high quality feel.

The menu system remains the same as the previous Olympus micro 4/3 cameras. For anyone familiar the Olympus interface, the camera will fit right in. Some say that the Olympus menu system is too complex with too many configurable options. I agree that there is a level of customizability beyond most camera brands. As a serious shooter, I like the control it gives me. For the novice, the menus might overwhelm.

THE DESIGN

While I generally like black cameras, the two toned silver and black E-P5 is certainly handsome. I prefer it over the pure black model. The shiny silvery top and bottom give just enough sparkle to add design interest. Coupled with the black 17mm lens, it makes for a very stylish and retro inspired camera. The all metal build, while adding a bit of heft, adds to the premium feel of this camera. In comparison to the E-P3, the E-P5 has a level of sophistication and build that is a notch or two above. My wife, who is not into cameras at all, remarked how nice the E-P5 looked. For anyone into design and familiar with previous Olympus cameras, the E-P5 is a noticeable step up in quality and sophistication. My friend Dan out in California owns an Olympus E-PL5. As soon as he saw the E-P5, he wanted one. It’s that much nicer in looks.

Olympus E-P5

All of the dials, especially the ones at the top, have a crispness about them. They seem like they too are milled from metal and have that quality feel. All of the dials also had the right amount of resistance that gives a reassuring click as the settings are adjusted. I also noticed that there are no longer any visible screws except for the bottom plate. In comparison, the E-P3 has a pair of screws on the left and right side of the camera.

As mentioned previously, the flip-up LCD, folds flush with the body, This makes it visually attractive but also improves the camera ergonomically by not getting in the way of the rear grip area. The shutter click sound great like the OM-D’s though if memory serves, the E-P5′s might be a bit quieter. It’s not totally silent but should be quiet enough for most situations. The on and off switch is new, indicating its state by its lever position. The previous Olympus Pens had an annoyingly bright blue LED which attracted attention at night. I much prefer the new switch.

Like the E-P3, the E-P5 has a built in retractable flash. I rarely use flash but I like it built into the camera. On the OM-D, E-PM2 and E-PL5 for example, there is a separate clip on flash that inevitably gets left at home. I’ve been stuck before without the flash.

About the only thing I didn’t like design wise is the optional EVF that attaches to the hot shoe. The big plastic unit is built decently enough but it doesn’t match the finish or robustness of the all metal camera and lens. Aesthetically, the big chunky unit ruins the lines of the retro looking camera. Functionally, the EVF works great and it’s one of the newest, high quality units. However it’s an appendage that seems to get in the way. It changes the shape of the camera enough that it is awkward to put into a small camera bag. I found that while in a bag, I like to take the EVF off to make the camera fit in a tighter space. For people with large camera bags, this may not matter. I tend to use small bags for my small cameras.

IMAGE QUALITY

Simply stated, the image quality on the newest Olympus is fantastic. It matches the quality of all current mirrorless and APS-C DSLR offerings at least up to ISO 3200. Olympus has always had great, vibrant color, which is what attracted me to them in the first place. The JPEG processing is better than most manufacturers and the RAW easily boosts the sharpness and low-light performance.

The in-body image stabilization also helps in low light shooting along with the f1.8 lens. With the 16MP Sony sensor and good high ISO performance, the camera will handle your daily photographic needs without hesitation. This includes interiors at night as well as night shots in the city.

Take a look at these 3 photos I shot inside the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco. This is a dark hotel but I was able to take high quality photos without using a flash. The lens was at f1.8 (wide open) and at about 1/20 per second shutter speed. The first two images are at ISO 1600, the last one at ISO 3200. This is what you can do with IS, f1.8 and high ISOs.

Waiting in front of Bourbon Steak - San Francisco, California

Waiting in front of Bourbon Steak – San Francisco, California

The long moody corridor, Westin St. Francis - San Francisco, California

The long moody corridor, Westin St. Francis – San Francisco, California

Making Reservations, Westin St. Francis - San Francisco, California

Making Reservations, Westin St. Francis – San Francisco, California

At this point, the only way to tangibly increase image quality, especially at low light, is to use a full frame DSLR. Those cameras, however, are still more expensive and are a lot more bulky. As you can see, the small E-P5 is more than enough to capture life around you. I enjoy taking urban images in the evening or dark, moody, interior photographs. The sample photos in this review were shot with the Olympus E-P5 in San Francisco — real world results of its low light performance.

More photographs taken with the Olympus E-P5

PERFORMANCE

The E-P5 is noticeably faster starting up and focusing than the previous generation E-P3. It seems to be on par with the OM-D and E-PM2. I found the camera to be fast enough for nearly any occasion. I would not hesitate recommending this camera for a parent trying to photograph their children. For most casual usage, I find the focus speed comparable to a DSLR in decent light. In darker conditions, the focus speed does slowdown somewhat but not enough to be annoying.

About the only thing I won’t recommend this camera for is fast action sports, like soccer, with unpredictable motion. Sports like baseball and tennis, where you can better anticipate player position, should work fine.

The E-P5 is more than fast enough for street photography. If fact, I had to slow down the multi-shot medium setting from 5 frames per second to 3. The high-speed shooting mode goes up to 9 frames per second. You don’t get continuous focusing at these speeds but it is impressive never the less.

VIDEO

I expected video on the E-P5 to be better than any of my previous Olympus Cameras, mostly because of the 5 axis image stabilization. The IS is similar to the one used on th OM-D but with a slight improvement where it auto detects tripod usage.

What I didn’t expect, and was pleasantly surprised, was how much quieter the lenses were on the E-P5. On my E-PM2, I was disappointed with the video because I heard clicking sounds caused by the auto focus lenses. I expected the Olympus designated MSC (Movie Stills Compatible) lenses to be completely silent in auto focus mode, but there weren’t, at least on the E-PM2. Interestingly, the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 is my quietest lens.

I’m happy to report that on the E-P5, most of the lenses I tried were dead quiet. That included the Olympus 17mm f1.8, Olympus 45mm f1.8, Panasonic 14mm f2.5 and Panasonic 25mm f1.4. Only the Olympus 14 – 42mm f3.5 – 5.6 II R kit lens, that came with the E-PM2, had some faint clicking sounds. Much quieter than on the E-PM2 and barely audible on the E-P5. The kit lens is probably usable in all but the most quiet settings. Regrettably, I didn’t try the Panasonic 20mm f1.7, but my guess is that the slow focusing lens is not well suited for video.

The EP-5 is the closest yet to having that universal device that creates high quality stills and high quality auto focusing video. DSLRs, for example, produce great videos but they don’t auto focus well. My video needs are modest. I’m not looking to create cinematic movies. I just want to take effortless home videos, the kind that autofocuses and autoexposes without me fiddling with the controls. The E-P5 does this quite well, good enough that I can ditch the family camcorder. You still occasionally get that fast in and out refocusing that is prevalent in contrast detect focusing systems but for the most part the camera is well-behaved.

COMPARISONS

So how does the E-P5 compare with the competition? Olympus along with Panasonic started the mirrorless interchangeable market but now every manufacturer has a mirrorless offering. The biggest competition comes from Sony and Fujifilm.

Sony NEX

When Sony released the NEX 7 at the body only price of over $1000, I was a bit surprised. Price wise, it went over a psychological barrier for me. To be sure it was nicely equipped. A high-resolution 24MP APS-C sensor and the built-in EVF are its standout features. Now the E-P5 comes in with a similar or arguably higher price. For the $1000 base price on the Olympus, you get a smaller, lower resolution sensor and no EVF. But the two are better matched than the specs might indicate.

The Olympus has a smaller sensor but superior high ISO performance at a per pixel level. The camera is also faster and it has that wonderful 5 axis image stabilizer (IS) which works with every lens. Add to this the large selection of lenses for micro 4/3 and you still have a superior ecosystem.

Compared to the NEX 5R and NEX 6, the price difference becomes more startling. While not an exact comparison, pair a NEX 5R or NEX 6 body with the Sony 20mm f2.8 and you get a 30mm prime system from $850 to $950, some $500 to $650 less expensive. The sensor and image quality comparisons are close too. The Olympus still has a superior IS and a better lens selection but the price difference is significant.

I prefer the color on the Olympus and the fit and finish of the E-P5 is superior but Sony wins in the value proposition.

Fujifilm X

In a previous post I compared the E-P5 to the Fujifilm X100S. While the X100S does not have interchangeable lenses, there are many similarities to the E-P5 with the 17mm kit. They have the same focal length equivalent and both are well-built with a sharp retro look. The X100S has the superior, integrated with EVF, styling at $1299 which is $200 less. The Olympus adds the 5 axis IS, interchangeable lenses and a more solid build.

Image quality of the X sensors used by the X100S and the other X cameras are a mixed bag. While strides have been made by Adobe and others to come out with a better RAW processor, I don’t think the true power of the X sensors have been unlocked. RAW quality now looks on par or slightly better than JPEG but the images look soft with less detail. I think the Olympus is competitive up to ISO 3200 but above that the Fujifilm does better.

With the price decreases of the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and X-E1, they are also in the same ball park, price wise. Fuji does not currently have a 35mm equivalent X mount lens. But if you consider the 27mm f2.8 which is equivalent to 40mm in 35mm terms, you get a X-Pro and X-E1 package around $1249 to $1649.

Image quality of the interchangeable X cameras are in line with the X100S which bests Olympus at high ISOs. The Olympus counters with a much faster focus speed, better video, better IS and more lens options. The build quality on the E-P5 is better too. The Fuji X cameras (excluding the X-M1) have an all metal build but they feel more hollow compared to the Olympus.

Panasonic micro 4/3

The just announced Lumix GX7 has a feature set the resembles the Olympus. I only had a few minutes to play with this camera but have a feel for it. Price wise, it’s roughly $250 less than a comparably equipped E-P5. There is a high quality integrated (in body) EVF that also tilts up — I think a first — at least in the recent mirrorless camera market. The physical design, the button placements and the beefy grip are very comfortable. The onscreen user interface (UI) is attractive, which is a big change from previous Panasonics. Earlier micro 4/3 Panasonics had this horrendous 90s era blocky fonts and amateurish icons. I’m glad the GX7 is updated with a modern UI.

What’s disappointing about this camera is its budget plastic build. While the two toned, silver and black has as similar appearance to the E-P5, the GX7 is primarily plastic — at least the top and bottom silver parts are. The E-P5, by contrast is an all metal camera. This makes all the difference. The E-P5 feels and looks upscale. And the Panasonic? It looks okay but feels cheap. Comparable in build to my E-PM2, a $450 camera, about $650 less expensive than the GX7. Yes, the GX7 has a nicely integrated EVF but the value proposition is not there for me.

Olympus micro 4/3

The E-P5 replaces the 2011 model E-P3. While the size and shape are about the same, every detail has been upgraded. The controls have been improved, the metal appears to be more substantial and there is an integrated tilt screen. The in-body image stabilization now works in 5 axises instead of 2. Most importantly, the E-P5 uses that same excellent 16MP Sony sensor first released with the OM-D E-M5.

Operational speed is another huge improvement. The camera starts almost instantaneously instead of waiting the second or 2 it takes for the E-P3. This makes a big difference when you want to capture that candid moment. The focusing speed of the E-P5 is class leading. I don’t know of any mirrorless camera that is faster except perhaps the Nikon 1. The Nikon 1, however with its small sensor, does not compete in terms of image quality.

On almost every measure the E-P5 is superior to the E-P3. The two are so different from each other in feel and capability, it might be almost foolish to compare them. About the only thing I prefer on the E-P3 is the slightly lighter weight. On paper, there is a 51g (1.8oz) difference, but it’s noticeable, at least for me.

The more likely competitor to the E-P5 is Olympus’ OM-D E-M5. The two cameras share almost all the same specifications but there are crucial differences. Simply put, if you want an integrated, in body EVF or want a water-resistant body, go with the OM-D. For everything else, I believe the E-P5 is superior. I already mentioned that the ergonomics are better on the E-P5, with a better grip and better placed controls. The E-P5 is better built and has a more premium feel. The E-P5 also has a 1/8000 per second top shutter speed and built in WiFi. It also has a built-in flash which, in a pinch, is useful to have. The E-P5 even has a dedicated HDR bracketing mode (it’s also on the E-PM2 and E-PL5) that the OM-D does not have.

The lens packaging for the E-P5 vs the OM-D may be the biggest factor, however. The OM-D comes in 3 less expensive configurations, body-only, with the 14 – 42 kit and the 12 – 50mm kit lens. The E-P5 comes either body-only or with the 17mm prime. Olympus is clearly aiming the E-P5 to a more experienced, premium market. The lack of a kit zoom option may turn off some potential buyers.

MISCELLANEOUS

The E-P5 has built-in WiFi which will probably become a check off item for all future cameras. I tested this feature and it worked easily. When you turn on WiFi, you get a QR code on-screen. The Olympus OI.Share app reads that QR code and automatically makes a secure connection. The only thing that wasn’t clear from the documentation is that you then have to explicitly select the camera’s WiFi network from the iOS WiFi settings screen.

You can browse all the images taken on the E-P5 and then select them to be copied over to your phone or tablet. Once copied, you can optionally add image effects and add custom or preset watermarks. Below, I added the Olympus logo and applied the pinhole Art filter and then emailed it from the iPad. If you want to edit you photos extensively, you will need a separate image editing program like iPhoto on iOS devices.

Olympus E-P5

You can also stream the live view feed directly to the iPad and take pictures on the E-P5 by tapping on the iPad’s screen. This can be handy when you want to remotely trigger photos while seeing what you are taking. The WiFi system is limited as a high volume professional work flow. As a consumer-oriented application, it’s great for casual photographers who want to post photos to social media.

MY LIKES

1. Premium, almost luxury build
2. Attractive retro styling (without the EVF attached)
3. Well designed controls and placement
4. Excellent quality photographs to ISO 3200
5. That great Olympus color
6. Accurate Exposure
7. Class leading 5 axis in-body image stabilization
8. Fast focus
9. 1/8000 per second maximum shutter speed
10. Built-in flash
11. Extensive ability to tweak parameter settings
12. Great lens selection, best in the mirrorless market

MY DISLIKES

1. High price, at the upper end of the mirrorless market
2. Large external EVF not harmonious with overall design
3. Slightly heavier than previous E-P3.

CONCLUSION

While it’s always fun to play with a new camera, I initially didn’t expect too much from the Olympus E-P5. After all, I’ve been using the E-PM2 for over 7 months and that camera shares the same sensor and image processor. I also use the E-P3, the previous generation, for nearly a year and a half. I knew the E-P5 was better built and had some tweaks but I never expected the sum of those changes to add up to an absolutely enjoyable camera, far beyond any of my previous Olympus cameras.

Spend a few minutes with the E-P5 and you realize that Olympus has put together a beautiful looking camera. They took the existing 17mm f1.8 metal lens and mated it to the all new but familiar sized body with beefed up metal. This combination, especially with the optional lens hood makes for a surprisingly harmonious camera. I would venture to say it feels almost like a luxury item. It not only looks retro but feel old world in its heft and build quality. There are so much disposable plastic gadgets these days that a metal tool just seems like something from another era.

Getting Off, Market Street - San Francisco, California

Getting Off, Market Street – San Francisco, California

The old world illusion, however, is easily broken if you attach a different, plastic lens. Even the very nice Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4, with its plastic build, diminishes the aesthetics of the camera (though the image quality will be spectacular). I now understand why Olympus chose to pair this camera with the 17mm f1.8 lens. Not only does it have an easy to frame and versatile 34mm equivalent point of view, the visual synergy of this combo can’t be beat. The only other lens that would look equally good, aesthetically speaking, is the 12mm Olympus, which also has an all metal build. As long as we are talking about aesthetics, I would also recommend adding the optional metal lens hood. The hood not only protects the lens element but completes that old world retro look.

Tourist Stores - San Francisco, California

Tourist Stores – San Francisco, California

But here’s the thing. That nice looking metal lens hood costs an eye-popping $59 (even higher for the silver version). That seems completely crazy until you get to see it in person. The $15 eBay metal lens hood are screw-on models that don’t tighten with a chrome compression fitting. And even the all plastic Canon lens hoods can cost up to $40.

Ultimately, the lens hood pricing is a microcosm of the E-P5. To be sure, the E-P5 is a fine camera and from the review you can tell I like it a lot. But is it worth $1500? There are many worthy competitors, some with even better image quality at high ISOs. I think the build quality is superior to all other mirrorless competitors. It’s nearly Leica X Vario level but with more character lines.

Lively Market Street - San Francisco, California

Lively Market Street – San Francisco, California

The shooting experience is unmatched too. The speed of focusing and the versatility of controls and the flip-up LCD makes for a very fast camera. The street photography in San Francisco was telling. As much as I talk about the aesthetics, I truly became enamored with the camera once I started shooting it on the street.

So would I buy the camera? If I didn’t already have the E-PM2, yes. To be sure, it’s at or above the upper price range for my mirrorless budget. But I’ll gulp hard and plop down my credit card. But with the E-PM2 already in my arsenal, it’s a harder sell.

Palace Garage Neon - San Francisco, California

Palace Garage Neon – San Francisco, California

Here’s the best analogy I can come up with. A Toyota and a Lexus are both great cars. They’ll both get you reliably to where you want to go. But the Lexus is going to get you there in better style and comfort. The materials will be better and the cabin will be quieter. If you like or appreciate the good things in life, the E-P5 is the camera for you. It should handle all the stuff you need it to, day in and day out, in a small and elegant package.

As a Toyota owner, I tend to go for solid, no-nonsense devices. But when you get to experience that touch of luxury, you get spoiled. That’s how I feel about the E-P5. Is it absolutely necessary? No. But it sure is an enticing camera to own. If spending $1000 will get you the best of something, maybe that’s worth it to you. Certainly, the E-P5 is the best micro 4/3 Olympus camera and possibly the best micro 4/3 period. And depending on the type of photography, it may be the best mirrorless camera yet.

If this review was helpful to use, please use my Amazon affiliate links for your Amazon purchases. Any Amazon purchases quality, not only photography gear. You will get the same low price but I get a small commission from Amazon.

Sample photographs were taken with an Olympus E-P5 using the 17mm f1.8 lens that comes as part of the kit. The photos of the camera and lens were on loan from Olympus. E-P5 product photographs taken with the Olympus TG-2 waterproof point and shoot camera.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

A great camera review from my favorite photography blog. Not only a great photographer, but a fine writer and the guy who got me into blogging.

See on blog.atmtxphoto.com

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.

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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.

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.

The Best Parts

One of the oddest adjustments one has to make in retirement is how everything transforms into “hobbies” and “activities.” No matter if you spent a lifetime doing something professionally, our society has specific definitions of “professional,”which is you have to earn money doing it. Professional equals paycheck. No matter how hard one labors, it’s not work if you don’t get paid.

Whereas in the past, I got paid to be a writer, writing is now favorite pastime or activity. I think it’s rather a bit past “hobby.” I am no less a professional now than ever. I no longer do only what I’m paid to do, but work harder to be a better writer than I did when leashed to an office and bosses. Deadlines are no less rigid because I set them. My standards are no lower. Just no one sends me a check. Pity. I could use the money.

How do you define a thing that is an essential part of you? Something you need to do or you feel like a piece of you is broken or missing? Is that an activity? A hobby? That seems a trivialization, doesn’t it? The best part of writing now as opposed to then is freedom. I can be playful or serious, topical, timely, or ramble off into the mists of obscurity.

The only one with authority to rein me in is me. As a blogger, I get direct input. If no one likes what I’ve written and no one reads it, that’s a hint I’ve strayed or at least need to rethink my presentation.

I’m stubborn. If I’ve written a piece I believe is good, I will keep redoing it and putting it back up until finally, it gets the notice I think it deserves. I tweak it with each pass but fundamentally, the story stays the same. If nothing else, these long years have given me enough confidence to know if it’s a good piece or not. It is one of the painful ironies that many of the pieces I don’t like are much more popular than the ones I know are better. C’est la guerre.

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Photography really is a hobby. I’ve been taking pictures nearly as long as I’ve been writing. My first camera came into my life when I was a young married woman with a baby. I had been painting and experiencing more success than I could handle. I don’t have any paintings left because I sold every one of them. I often sold them before I was halfway done. Friends and their friends would come, look and buy. It sucked the fun out of it. It was also logistically difficult. I didn’t have a studio and having cats, dogs and a baby, I couldn’t leave projects around unless I was actively working on them. It’s hard to lock up a painting in progress.

When I was 23, a friend gave me a camera, a couple of minutes of instruction and a few rolls of black and white film. Off I went on vacation. I had no idea it would be the start of a love affair with photography that would never end.

Unlike writing, my forays into professional photography were brief. I quickly realized I didn’t want to do baby pictures and weddings. Luckily, I had other professional choices and could keep photography as a thing of love, unsullied by commercial considerations.

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Forty years later, I continue to strive for some kind of perfection, trying to grow my technical skills (always my weak point) and to try new and different forms. Photography is a perfect hobby. You never outgrow it. It never gets boring. It may empty out your bank account from time to time, but many hobbies cost more and return less satisfaction for the investment.

What was the question? Oh, right … what activities and hobbies do I pursue. And here it is: I write. I take pictures. I put them together and call them stories or blogs. I will continue doing this until they carry me away.

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