Buying the camera instead of the lens — Updated!

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

Powershot100

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

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

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

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

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

The Collection

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

OlyPEN EPM-2

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

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

75-GearNIK-CR-72

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I bought the camera

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

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

First shots with the s100 were of the big blizzard …

And that’s the story.

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

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

Cameras

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

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

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

Micro 4/3 format Lenses

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

2) Close contenders:

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

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

3) Rarely used:

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

Young Photographer At Work

This is the off-season for pictures in the northeastern states. The bright gold of early sprint has long passed. The flowers and lush foliage of summer is just a memory. Golden autumn is past and winter, with its white icing, has not arrived. It is not a photogenic time of year. It’s a challenge to find things to shoot. Nonetheless, Kaity and I hit the road.

Kaity

She has her learner’s permit now, so now she drives and I sit. Neither of us has any sense of direction. We are lost most of the time, only to discover that when we next turn, we are really just around the corner from home. Still, we always find someplace we’ve never been before. Today we discovered Skull Rock Locks, another piece of the ubiquitous Blackstone River. We didn’t see the locks, but found the river. It’s never far away.

Pensive

When a grandchild shares a passion for photography with you, it is a wonderful gift. It can be very hard to connect with teenagers unless you are one. When they hit their teenage years, as often as not they want nothing to do with you. You are just one of the old people and vaguely embarrassing as they try their wings and discover independence. Eventually, most of them get past that stage and ultimately realize you aren’t a total loser after all, Maybe you even have something to say. It doesn’t mean they’ll listen, but there’s hope.

If your teenage child or grandchild genuinely enjoys doing something with you, that’s special. In sharing an activity, you get to meet as equals. In this case, the meeting ground is photography. She has stuff to learn … most of the technical aspects of photography are still mysterious to her, one of the big disadvantages of the easy availability of fully automatic modes on all cameras, but also because she shows a definite lack of enthusiasm for technical stuff. She will have to learn it and she does know it. She’s just delaying it as long as possible.

Still, she loves taking pictures, has a good eye and a unique viewpoint. When granny suggests going out and doing some shooting, if our schedules can be synched up, we’re out there, getting lost on back roads, discovering new areas of the Blackstone River as it winds through our valley.

At work

I think we are both surprised at how many little parks and boat launch sites can be found throughout the valley. Today we found the Skull Rock Locks, a piece of the Blackstone we’d never heard of and may well never find again.

We took pictures. Since this was the first outing for my new portrait lens, I took pictures of Kaity as photographer. Usually she declines being photographed, but I did point out that I had a portrait lens and she was the only person to be found, so she gave in.

More shooting

This is the first time in a quite a while I’ve had a portrait lens, and the first time in years I’ve worked with a fixed focal length (prime) lens. I kept trying to get it to zoom, which of course, it won’t do. Fixed focal length mean that your zoom are your feet. You want to get closer? Walk or run, but the lens won’t do it for you.

The lens also turns out lovely landscapes. Good lens, glad I bought it.

You can see Kaity’s pictures from today on Kaity Michelle’s Photo Page on Facebook.

Introducing Kaity Michelle’s Photography

Okay, she’s my granddaughter, but even so, ever since I gave her a camera when she was maybe 11? She’s been getting better and better until finally, I realized she needed a real camera and thus inherited my Canon, then got the next lens for the following Christmas. This is the first time she has “gone public” with her photography being rather shy … but she’s got a good eye. If she’s this good at 16 and keeps at it, she will be even better in years to come.

Of all the gifts I ever gave her, the cameras are the ones about which I am most pleased. Photography is something that as a hobby or more than a hobby becomes part of your life. You never outgrow it; you never get too old to enjoy it.

You will find Kaity Michelle’s Photography on Facebook. Please take a moment to go look.

Sometimes grand-parenthood is satisfying indeed. This is one of those times!!