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…

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

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ATMTX Photography Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Turning on the Olympus Super Control Panel

Marilyn Armstrong:

For anyone who has an Olympus PEN and can’t figure out how to get the super menu to display, here are real instructions you can follow! Wow, what a gift!!

Originally posted on atmtx photo blog:

Olympus E-PM2 Super Control Panel

Olympus E-PM2 Super Control Panel (SCP)

I own 3 Olympus Pens, the E-PL1, the E-P3 and E-PM2. I can confirm that all Olympus Pen cameras, since the old E-PL1, as well as the new OM-D have the Super Control Panel (SCP) option — they are all turned on in the same way.

Before you can turn on the Super Control Panel, make sure you have the Custom Menu turned on. It is easy to do and here are instructions on how to turn on the Olympus Custom Menu.

Olympus E-PM2 Setup Menu

Olympus E-PM2 “Mode Dial” (only on the Pen Minis)

Step 1: The E-PM1 and E-PM2 are the low cost cameras that lack a mode dial. The menu above is used only on these two cameras to set the shooting mode. Simply hit the menu button and click over to the “SETUP” option on on the right and hit the OK button to…

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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.