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.

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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.

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.

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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?

– – –

Turning on the Olympus Super Control Panel

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!!

Ordinary Things – Waiting for Spring

Marilyn Armstrong – Olympus PEN E-P3, 45 mm F/1.8

The Bedroom Door

The bedroom door

The bedroom door – Marilyn Armstrong – Olympus PEN E-P3, 45 mm F/1.8