Buying the camera instead of the lens — Updated!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Collection

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

OlyPEN EPM-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I bought the camera

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

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

First shots with the s100 were of the big blizzard …

And that’s the story.

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

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

Cameras

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

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

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

Micro 4/3 format Lenses

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

2) Close contenders:

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

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

3) Rarely used:

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

Phoneography Challenge: My Neighborhood — Roxbury in Boston

I carry a small point and shoot with me all the time and most of my pictures end up being taken with this camera — the Canon PowerShot S100 — rather than my larger, more complicated and expensive system camera. I guess it’s ironic. My little Canon cost less than a single lens in the larger system. It weighs almost nothing and takes up no more room than a cell phone.

We lived in Roxbury for more than a decade, only leaving when the construction of The Big Dig made living there untenable. I still think of it as home, along with the entire city of Boston. Between Roxbury, Beacon Hill, and Charles River Park, we lived in Boston neighborhoods for a very long time and I always enjoy going back again whenever we have an excuse. These were all taken a few weeks ago when we returned to the old neighborhood for a memorial  event for an old friend who recently passed away. The neighborhood is looking better than it did when we lived there. It’s one of those neighborhoods that is improving. I would stop short of calling it gentrifying. I don’t think the folks who live there want it gentrified. They don’t consider themselves gentry and neither do we.

This is a bit of Roxbury. It was, once upon a time, a city in its own right, but years ago it was absorbed and became a neighborhood within greater Boston. It is almost entirely Black and when I lived there, I was often the only white face in the crowd. Despite that, it was by far the friendliest neighborhood in which I’ve ever lived. We had great neighbors, wonderful block parties, and a sense of community we have never had anywhere else. People in general don’t understand how wonderful these ethnic neighborhoods  can be, how warm and supportive the community is when they consider you one of their own. I still miss it, though I love the country. Each place has its own charms, but Roxbury was a wonderful — and eye-opening — experience.

I do not shoot with my cell phone.  I cannot afford the data package that it would make it practical to use mobile apps for anything other than emergencies and our cell phones are for emergency use. Life is not always a matter of preference. More often than not, you don’t get to decide how you will live. Life hands itself to you and it’s your job to figure out how to make it work.

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Deep White: Shooting Snow With the Canon Powershot S100

A snow as deep and heavy as Captain Nemo does not quickly vanish. Here are photos from the Northland. I’m not thrilled by the inconvenience, poor footing, or mud to come, but you can’t beat the beauty of a snowy rural New England landscape.

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This is the first outing for my Canon Powershot S100. The extreme brightness of sun on snow made RAW a better choice. Unfortunately, Photoshop doesn’t recognize Canon’s RAW format or at least CS5 doesn’t. I used Canon’s native software, but it’s a pain to use, klutzy, awkward, non-intuitive. It does the job, but its interface needs to go into rehab. It’s essentially unchanged since I first used it more than a decade ago. Software has come a long way; Canon needs to get with it.

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For shooting snow, RAW is better and it also helps to take your light reading on snow and not on the darker trees or sky. This lets you capture the brightness and still retain shadow and detail amidst the whiteness. RAW adds a lot of extra processing, time and labor. Whether or not you find it worthwhile is subjective. For me, it will depend on circumstance and subject matter. I often don’t use it because I’m posting online and not printing … but for snow, the difference is significant. Sunlight on snow is tricky.

I like this little camera. It produces quality pictures. It’s small, truly pocket-sized, exactly what I wanted. It does not have a super zoom, but the combined optical and digital zoom get me as close I need.

This is a convenient, quality go-anywhere all-in-one camera.

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I prefer the pictures from my Olympus PEN E-P3, probably because I prefer the color the PEN gives me and because I have some great lenses for it. You can’t match that with any all-in-one camera, even a very good one

But for convenience and general purpose shooting, the Canon Powershot S100 is great.

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I have a question for camera manufacturers: why not offer a “weather-proof” option for cameras? Every time take my camera into the rain or snow, it gets soaked. I worry about damaging the electronics. If I’m near salt water, I worry about damaging the lens. Since the technology exists, why not offer it as an option? I’d pay for it. So would a lot of other photographers.

 

Party!

Party!

I have spent this day multi-tasking in the best way. Listening to the audiobook version of “A MEMORY OF LIGHT” for which it feels as if I have been waiting forever while simultaneously running the pictures from last night’s party through Photoshop. As expected, many pictures were too dark and too fuzzy to be worth rescuing, but there was a good selection of pictures that came out reasonably well.

It was a frustrating photographic venue for me and my Canon Powershot sx260 hs, which is a pretty good little point and shoot, does not have a fast enough lens to handle the low available light … nor does it have a good enough strobe to provide discriminating fill flash. Being short does not help either. Tall photographers can see and sometimes reach over the crowd. Even with arms fully extended, I’m still vertically challenged. And yet … I managed to come up with a fair number of acceptable, even good, pictures.

Sign of the Times

Speaking of celebrities, the place was crawling with them but most of them were people I’ve met at other parties and who were colleagues of my husband so it was amusing to realize that he was actually one of the celebrities … and for some obscure reason, I sort of was too, although I’m not really certain why. Some people turned out to follow my blog. One rarely never knows who is following. Just today, I learned Queen Mab of the Winter Fae is following me on Twitter.

I have little familiarity with court protocol, especially of the Fae, but I would certainly not want to be anything but highly respectful of the ruler of this high court! She has some serious magical powers and could make my life very difficult. And she would have been a fine addition to the party.

Mab, Queen of the Winter Fae

So who did we meet and who are in these pictures? First, The Examiner did a story about the party and you can pop on over and read all about it. Queen Mab was not in attendance though I’m sure she would have livened up the affair.

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Garry and I chatted with — and I took some pictures of — Ray Flynn, Mayor of Boston. He was surely the most fun of any mayor Boston has had since the revered Mayor Curley.

Bob Lobel emceed the event and he and Garry also, having been colleagues, had a few memories to share. Derek “Turk” Sanderson, one of the greatest of the Boston Bruins and a Hall of Famer, in whose honor the event was being held was there and he and Garry remembered each other very well indeed. Edward Burns, actor/producer, director Doug Atchison, producer Shep Harmon. All were there to gather support for a movie about “Turk” and his battle against drugs and booze, a battle that many others at this party have also fought.

Noteworthy was that this was a very sober crowd and they still seemed to be having a good time. I’ve never been a drinker, and my one coke (the drink, not the drug) barely slaked my thirst which is not an allegory. I really was thirsty, but the line at the bars were too long to do twice.

This was an amazing —  huge — change from parties of the past. I’m pretty some of these people who knew each other from “the old days” had never spent any time together when all were sober. Something to ponder.

There comes a point with drugs and booze where you have only two choices: quit or die. Because after a certain point, your body isn’t going to tolerate the abuse.

I was glad to see so many people who made the good choice. They quit. Good for all of you. It is a hard battle to fight, harder to win, hardest of all to hang on to that victory. Since winning the battle over addiction is the theme of the movie, it was appropriate that a large number of the attendees knew the story up close and very personal.

Old dog, new tricks: My photographic evolution.

I have always preferred photographing landscapes. There are several reasons why, the most prominent being I’m good at it. In the same way that reading and writing came naturally to me, taking picture postcard style photos has been easy. Give me almost any kind of natural environment and someplace to stand, I’ll find pictures and take some good ones. As soon as I developed my first roll of film taken on a real SLR, I knew this was something for which I had natural aptitude.

Dry weeds by the river

But there are other, less obvious reasons:

  1. Everyone loves pretty pictures. Animals, waterfalls, seascapes, sunrise and sunset, trees and leaves … purple mountain’s majesty and fruited plains. There’s nothing controversial about landscapes.
  2. Landscapes (excluding wild animals, a whole different category) have the decency to stay put. They don’t wriggle, make weird faces, or try to stick their noses into the lens.
  3. Shots of nature are usually done in day time or at worst, dawn or dusk, which means no complicated lighting issues. Sunlight,shade, or overcast — daylight is easy. Nobody does lighting like God.

After more than 40 years of taking pictures of nature, I realized I wasn’t getting the same satisfaction from my photos as I had in the past.

Riverside

Part of the problem is that we live in a valley of rare natural beauty. That may not sound like a problem and it isn’t a complaint, but it’s a big change from how I’ve always lived. I was born and raised in New York, moved out to Long Island, then over to Jerusalem. When I came back, I bounced from New York to Boston.

The countryside  was where I went to find pictures to take. Now everything is upside down. It’s the city that’s far away; nature is all around me.

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It’s no challenge to find lovely scenery. I can stand on my back deck to catch a sunrise. It’s less than a mile to my choice of rivers, marshland, half a dozen waterfalls, the big pond where swans live and herons wade by the shore.

If I walk a few hundred yards up my street, Percherons are grazing in the pasture. Down the other way are the old barns and restored Victorian mansions. Anything I might want that’s pretty or illustrative of country life — other than the ocean (that’s a bit of a haul) — is easy, convenient and accessible. No parking problems, no crowds.

Swans

In the autumn, every tree looks as if it’s lit from within. When the snow falls, the world turns into a Currier and Ives drawing. The valley is beautiful in all seasons, stunning in several. Spring is glorious when we get one. Some years we have spring. Other years, we go from winter to summer with a barely enough time between them to buy a bathing suit.

Painted Lady - 2 Marilyn Armstrong

One day, while my granddaughter and I were out shooting, she commented that everything looks the same. I understood what she meant. Not that it isn’t beautiful. I had also begun to notice the same thing. There was nothing to challenge us.

Beautiful, but predictable. Woods are woods and we have plenty of that. We have lots of waterfalls, rivers, ponds and streams but they all look very similar to each other. Assuming normal lighting conditions, you don’t have to take your camera off automatic unless you’re looking for a special effect. We revisit places often enough so that even using all the creativity we can collectively find, we’ve much made our statements and have no more to say.

An office.

A few months ago, my back was bothering me more than usual, but I was in the mood to shoot. I started looking around to see if there was something worth shooting in my house. It turns out you can do a lot with light coming through windows. I became enamored of shadowy scenes of my house transformed by various angles of light. Eventually I ran out of windows.

Morning light in my kitchen as coffee brews ...

I yearned for urban architecture, abstract shapes and forms. I got a bit of a fix from some of the mills, but most of the mills are not architecturally particularly interesting. The very old ones can be, but the newer ones are just big square brick factories and often hard to get close enough — or far enough — to make a picture. I’ve never been good at that kind of photography but I wanted to try. Lacking a city, I began carrying a camera everywhere, even to the grocery store, the mall, the doctor’s office. I have been pleasantly surprised at how much I’ve found.

Symphony Hall Pillar

I’ve shot vegetables and farm stands, parking lots and street scenes and on our annual Christmas excursion into Boston, a fair number of night pictures in and around Boston Common and the Statehouse. I didn’t even have “the good cameras” with me. I shot all of it with the little Canon point and shoot I bought so that I’d have one very compact camera with a super-zoom that I could toss in my bag. The result has been better than I imagined possible. I’ve also gained even more respect for the capabilities of these Canon Powershot cameras.

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This is the fourth one I’ve owned. The first got passed to my son when I replaced it with a newer one and it is still working fine. It’s replacement was an amazingly good camera, but somewhere along the line, it was dropped. The culprit has never confessed, but the camera was dead.

Statehouse - Dec Night

In between, I got a relatively inexpensive Canon Powershot 130. I knew I would soon replace it, but I needed a camera in a hurry. It did the job, then moved on to my daughter-in-law.

That was when I got bought the big Canon that now belongs to my granddaughter, discovered the big camera was much too heavy for my aging wrists … and got the Olympus PEN E-PL1, then the Olympus PEN E-P3. Then a long zoom. There’s nothing wrong with that lens. It’s fine. I just never use it. It turns out that I rarely shoot long, but I frequently shoot close. I want — but am not likely to get — a good wide-angle lens.

The ones that are wide enough are slow and those that are fast enough are not wide enough or so expensive it makes my heart stop. So I treated myself to a 45mm 1.8 portrait lens which is delicious and since, next to landscapes, my strong suit is casual portraits, it fits nicely into my lens set.

City Life

Somewhere along the line, I bought the Canon Powershot SX 260 which has a good superzoom. It isn’t fast enough for most night shooting, although if I would actually use my tripod, I could overcome that problem. But if I’m going to haul the tripod, then I’m going to bring the Olympus cameras and lenses, not the point and shoot.

It is ironic that I take more pictures with the  little Canon than the much more expensive and higher quality Olympus cameras because I won’t just toss them into my bag. Compact superzoom is currently trumping higher quality. I’m beginning to think what I really need is one of the new generation of incredibly expensive but really high quality all-in-one cameras … but they are out of my price range. Still, there are a couple of good ones out there that make my heart go pit-a-pat.

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There’s no moral to this story unless it is that photography has been my hobby since I got my first real SLR in 1970. It’s the world’s best hobby. You never outgrow it. You never are too old to take pictures. It’s fun, very occasionally profitable (but not profitable enough to cover the cost of the equipment!), and there’s always something new to try.

If you have money to spend, there’s always a new generation of cameras and lenses. Giving my granddaughter a camera was the best gift I ever gave her. She has an entire lifetime of discovering the world through a lens ahead of her. No matter what else happens, it will still go with her.

The Golden Days Begin With A Dental Checkup

It was a beautiful morning and if I hadn’t had a dentist appointment, it would have been a great day for a photo shoot. I didn’t want to go to the dentist anyhow and if it weren’t for all those reminders from the office on how overdue I am for a check up, I would have happily canceled and wiled the bight hours away in the woods and by the streams.

A tiny waterfall behind the leaves.

As it was, I had the presence of mind to toss the little Canon point and shoot into my rucksack. That’s why I bought it, so I wouldn’t be reduced to trying to use my cell phone. Do not tell me what great pictures I can get with my phone. I don’t care. My phone is not a camera. I have issues with taking pictures using non-camera-shaped objects.

A red barn in Mendon.

I found a long-lost waterfall, waving grasses, a great old red barn. A white farmhouse with a tilted white well. Some color on trees and vines. It’s just the beginning, but I’m hoping this will be a good one. A long autumn, a bright autumn. The last good time before winter closes in again.

All photos taken using the Canon PowerShot SX 260 HR, processed in Photoshop.

And I didn’t have a single cavity!