On the last day of July, the heat finally broke. The humidity, too. A few months ago, I got a Panasonic Lumix f4, 40 to 150mm telephoto for my Olympus cameras … and then, the Olympus f1.8 25 mm went on sale.
I bought it, thus completing my lens collection for the Olympus cameras. There are others I wish I had, but they are all out of my price range — or they duplicate (or overlap) lenses I already own.
It was a very bright day. The big problem on very bright days is always exposure. The contrast is so sharp, it is hard to find an exposure where you can see the highlight and not lose the detail in the shadow.
I learned a lot about my two lenses. That the Lumix telephoto is not as good as I might wish, but it’s okay. It gets me closer than I thought it would with acceptable quality. The exceptional lens in that range is out of my price range. I can work with this.
The Olympus f1.8 25 mm is a terrific piece of glass. Sharp from edge to edge with lovely bokeh.
My collection is complete. I know I’ll want something else. That someone will make a camera I lust for because a passion for camera gear never really ends. But for the foreseeable future, I’ve got what I need, more than I ever expected.
I was playing with a camera this morning, trying to capture flowers in the morning light. In the middle of this artistic endeavor, I had a minor, yet memorable techno-crisis. It is a classic example of the kind of problems that beset us because of the technology on which we depend.
I’ve been taking pictures for more than 40 years. I know my way around a camera.
My first cameras were mechanical. Film. I took a lot of rolls of black and white because I could develop black and white film. A lot cheaper than sending it out to a lab. I also did my own printing, mounting, and framing, though I’ve completely forgotten how.
The only electronic part of those film cameras might be the light meter. My first half-dozen cameras didn’t have built-in light meters, so I used a Weston Master V. It was a standard part of my equipment for years. If I forgot it, the piece of paper that came with Kodak film was a pretty good substitute. We affectionately called it “the paper light meter.”
A while back, I bought a handheld meter almost exactly like the one I used for so many years — and realized I had no idea what to do with it. It has been a long time.
Cameras might break and need repair, cleaning, or adjustment, but basically, there wasn’t much to go wrong. As long as you didn’t drop it, soak it in salt water, or spill coffee in it, it could last forever. To prove my point, there are a surprising number of these old film cameras still in use.
There weren’t many moving parts: shutter, film winding mechanism. You set film speed (ISO), shutter speed, f-stop. Aim, frame, focus, press the shutter. Voila. Photograph.
Today, my camera wakes me in the morning and starts the coffee. If I ask nicely, it will do the grocery shopping, though it draws the line at laundry. Not really. But close enough.
If something goes wrong, it’s crazy time.
This morning, I removed the lens cap and turned the camera on. I unlocked the lens. The menu came on, but no picture appeared. Flashing on the screen was something I’d never seen before. Without a clue what it meant, I double-checked to make sure I really had removed the lens cap. I had.
So I did what I do with my computer. I rebooted. I turned it off, waited, then turned it back on.
More flashing. No picture.
I removed the battery and the memory card, counted to twenty. Put them back. Still flashing. Still no picture.
By now, I was in full panic mode. My camera wasn’t working. Fear gripped me. Eventually, it occurred to me to check whether or not the lens was properly seated.
Click. The flashing stopped. A picture appeared. The lens had been loose. I must have accidentally pressed the lens release button, so it wasn’t quite locked. Ergo ipso, the camera wouldn’t work.
With all the ridiculous, useless functions built into modern cameras, how come they don’t have anything that alerts you that the lens is loose? Or for that matter, that your battery is about to die? The next time someone is adding bells and whistles to the software, please consider adding something useful. If necessary, remove one of the many pointless menu options and add something we might use.
A couple of days ago, my new 60 mm Olympus macro lens arrived. I didn’t expect it so quickly. I’ve been lusting after this lens for years. Olympus finally dropped the price by $100. I bought it.
I unpacked it, attached it to the new Olympus PEN PL-6. I moved the 20 mm lens to a different camera and put the 40-150 zoom into a pouch because that’s the lens I never use.
I decided to put together a “grab and go” bag of Olympus equipment, but the bag was too small.
After a lot of pulling things out and repacking, I knew a full equipment reorganization was the answer. The big bag I’d been using for “spare parts” moved up to lead camera bag. Previous number one became the grab and go bag.
By the time I finished reorganizing the equipment, I was too tired to take pictures. But I took some yesterday morning — the camera bags and the fuchsia were taken with the new lens.
Today, Garry and I are on a photo shoot in Boston.
Just to let you know, I'm off-line all day.
The good news? I found a place for everything, sort of. I’m careful with equipment. Every camera, lens, widget, and gadget has a clean, padded place to live. But it’s an incoherent solution. Too much stuff in too many containers. I need one large box with a lid to put cables, cords, wires, connectors, lens backs, flash attachments, filters in a place where I might find them should I actually need something.
The empty box situation is out of control. In recognition that I need to deal with it, I piled the empty boxes on my desk chair. Each time I go in there, it will remind me to reconsider the box situation.
Alternatively, I could avoid the room. Just close the door. It would bother me only when I have to put something away or retrieve something. Which would probably be every day.
Or I could deal with the boxes.
I have the original box from every camera, lens, cell phone, and accessory I’ve bought since 2000, when we moved into this house. The theory is that original boxes make equipment more valuable on resale. Except, I’m not going to sell anything. I already know that. So what’s the point? Why am I keeping the boxes? For that matter, why do I have software and manuals from the 1990s?
Maybe I can re-purpose one of my sweater boxes for spare stuff. Even though I don’t need and won’t use any of it. Anyway, if I re-purpose a sweater box, what will I do with the sweaters?
I’ll think about that later.
Among the many things I don’t want to think about are trunks filled with doll parts and clothing for antique and collectible dolls. For that matter, one of the closets in my office holds a couple of dozen (small) Madame Alexander dolls from the 1950s and 1960s. In original boxes with tags. Properly stored, face down, so their eyes won’t stick or fall back into their heads. But the poor girls have no place to go.
I would happily give them away, but kids don’t want dolls like that these days. These are relatively common dolls, as old plastic dolls go. They aren’t worth huge money. Antiques and collectibles are the ultimate goodfer. I don’t suppose anyone out there collects dolls and would like a lot of dolls and related stuff? You pay the shipping and it’s yours. Free.
Then, there’s the crate containing books I wrote, the evidence I worked for a living. The books have no value — other than sentimental — because I’m never going on another job interview. Ever. I’m retired.
My office has become a closet. Not disorderly or dirty. Just full.
It comes round to the same point at which I started. I do NOT need another bag. I need to get rid of stuff. I can’t seem to do it. It’s a disease, a disability.
Some photographers use a favorite camera all the time. Others use various cameras, depending on what they are doing. I’m one of the latter.
On some level, I’m always shopping for a camera, lens, a bag, an accessory. Shopping for equipment is as much of a hobby as taking pictures. I guess this counts as a confession. Of sorts. I suspect it’s true for many of us.
We love equipment, the discovery of something new to play with. And, I’m always looking for the perfect camera. The perfect lens, bag. Something.
Meet the Super Zoom
I like taking pictures of birds. Doesn’t everyone need a super zoom, at least sometimes? There is no super-zoom lens for my Olympus or Pentax. It’s not even an issue of price. The lens I want doesn’t exist for my interchangeable lens cameras.
My solution is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200. It’s got a 24x f2.8 Leica lens. In 35mm terms, that’s 24 to 600 mm. In technical terms, it’s a helluva lens. Faster than the usual glass on a point and shoot. Faster than most long lenses you can buy for big money. It’s a big camera. Not a pocket-size point-and-shoot.
I love this camera and have loved it from the first day I owned it. Panasonic makes longer zoom lenses, and much more compact versions of this camera. But none of them are as fast as this camera … or can do as much. Did I mention that Garry uses a slightly older version of the same camera? And loves it?
OLYMPUS PEN PM-2 and PL-5
The backbone of my camera collection are Olympus PEN 4/3 cameras. I have two PM-2, a PL-5, and a PL-6. Why so many? It’s easier and faster to swap cameras than lenses. The PL-5 and PL-6 both have adjustable LCD screens. The recent entry into the U.S. market, the PL-6, has a touch the screen focus-and-shoot function I love.
Finally,I can overcome auto-focus’ programming which defaults to focusing on the foreground. The PL-6 lets you touch any part of the screen. The camera focuses there and snaps the picture. Fast. Of course, all Olympus PEN cameras let you manually focus, but my eyes are not good enough. I have to rely on auto-focus. Age is a bitch.
The PL-6 was released more than a year ago in Japan, but never released in the U.S. Until mid-April when for reasons best-known to Olympus, they released at $299. At which price, it’s a bargain, especially if you have a few credits available to apply.
The quality of the lenses is great and Olympus color is the best. I have five lenses, three “normal” zooms which came with cameras, one medium zoom, and three primes.
My favorite lens is the Olympus 45mm f1.9. It has a wafer-thin depth of field and gorgeous bokeh. I always say you can’t take a bad picture with that lens. It’s not entirely true. Close.
Really, I’ve taken plenty of bad pictures with every lens. Don’t we all?
Replacing a point and shoot compact camera as my carry-everywhere, the little Pentax Q7 has put the fun back into photography. This little camera is unlike anything I’ve used. It’s better than I expected and different. Hard to explain the difference, but you can see it in the pictures. There’s something about them …
Specs don’t always tell the story. The Pentax Q7 doesn’t sound like a big deal on paper, but in fact, it’s a great little camera. Tiny, light, it does almost everything its bigger brethren do.
The resolution is startling. You can’t make poster-size prints from these files, but 8 X 10, and 11 X 14 prints are no problem. The focus is fast. The gyroscope level is a great help. Most important, it gives me pictures that are crisp, clear, and true to color.
Pentax put out a new version recently, the Pentax QS1 but the Q7 is still available on Amazon and other sites.
It is the smallest camera I own — the smallest interchangeable lens camera anywhere. I carry it in a padded insert in my tote. Which is how come it gets used more my other cameras.
Portability is an issue for most of us. I am always searching for the most camera in the smallest package. The Q7 comes very close to it. The camera with 3 lenses weighs less than most compact cameras. But … it isn’t right for everything.
No Camera Does Everything
No camera is good for everything. The camera industry is based on this fundamental truth. If one camera did it all for everyone, business would be very slow.
1) The Q7 takes gorgeous landscapes and is great for street photography, but it would not be my first choice for portraits, and none of its lenses is long enough for birds or other wildlife.
2) The FZ200 is a great all-around camera, but too big to carry all the time.
3) The Olympus 4/3 cameras are amazing, but I need lenses that don’t exist or at are too expensive for me.
When I combine all the cameras, one is usually just right for the job at hand. If I’m not sure, I default to the FZ200.
THE BEST CAMERA
The best camera is the one you have when you need it. Whatever you choose, keep it close.
Comparison Shopping – THE ONLY Way To Go
I only paid full price for a camera once. These days, it’s hard to tell if there is a “full price.” You can find two identical new cameras online, one for $350, the other for $700.
Before you buy a camera or lens, check at least two camera sites, plus Amazon. Buy from a legitimate site, but don’t overpay. You’ll kick yourself when you discover you could have gotten it for hundreds less if you’d looked around.
How Will I Know It’s the Right One
You won’t know for 100% until after you’ve used it for a while. You can read every review, get advice from every photographer you know and still discover it’s not exactly right for you.
No matter how carefully you do your research, you may not love the camera you buy. There’s no logical reason. It’s like finding the pair of jeans. They look the same, but they don’t feel the same.
We take better pictures if we love the camera. Seriously, we do. The search for perfection is ongoing … and fun.
Some photographers have a favorite camera they use all the time. Others use various cameras, depending on what they are doing. I’m one of the latter. Cameras come and go and no doubt always will. I have slots to fill. I don’t have much money, so I have to hunt for bargains.
I always need a camera with a long telephoto lens for shooting wildlife. Birds. My first choice was the Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ70. It was cheap and turned out to be worth less than I paid. The lens was crap. Bells and whistles don’t make up for bad glass. I gave it to my son and got a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200. With its f2.8 24X Leica zoom, if it weren’t so big, it would be the camera. But, compact is the one thing it isn’t. I got a great deal on it, before word got around and its price tripled. I could not afford it today.
NOTE: If you are looking for a camera that does it all, size isn’t an issue, and you don’t shoot RAW, check out the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ60. With 25-600 f2.8-5.2 Leica lens shooting 20MP, it’s a great camera. Nearly identical to the FZ200, but faster. It’s out of production (the entire FZ line is out of production), but Amazon has some.
The backbone of my camera collection are the Olympus PENs. I have three of them: two PM-2, and a PL-5. I had an Olympus PEN P-3 which recently moved to a new home. I got the Olympus PEN PL-5 in return. Why so many? I find it easier and faster to swap cameras than change lenses. And the PL-5 has interesting bells and whistles I actually enjoy using. It’s the first time I’ve ever used built-in camera effects.
I replaced my go-everywhere camera, a compact point-and-shoot Panasonic Lumix ZS19, with a newer Panasonic Lumix ZS20. On paper the ZS20 is a better camera. Jazzier interface. Cooler bells and whistles. But it focuses slower than its predecessor (especially in low light), and burns through batteries twice as fast.
Specs don’t always tell the story. I lean heavily on my compact camera. It’s the camera I keep close. On the advice of a fellow blogger, I picked up a Pentax Q7 kit. It is tiny, light, yet does almost everything its bigger brethren do. Now that I’ve figured out how to use it (blame the delay on bad documentation and a stubborn unwillingness to ask for help), I’m hoping it will be my go-to compact. So far, so good.
Except for the Olympus PEN P-3, I’ve never paid full price for a camera. Sometimes I stumble on sales. More often, I get an email from a fellow blogger telling me there’s a “flash” sale on a camera, lens, or software.
These “flash” sales sometimes last as little as a few hours. I got one of my Olympus PEN PM-2 cameras for about $150 because I would take it in white. Otherwise, the price was $450. I got a second PEN PM-2 the same way. In both cases, I got an email from an Internet friend telling me to grab one, they wouldn’t be available long. I did. They weren’t.
Cameras are intimate items. I would rather share my toothbrush than my camera. Not every camera is right, no matter how carefully you do your research. The P-3 was never right, even though it was a great camera, maybe the best of the modern Olympus PENs. It never felt as good in my hands as the cheaper, lighter PM-2. There’s no logical reason. It’s like finding the pair of jeans. They all look the same to someone else, but they don’t feel the same to you.
It’s hard to explain to a non-photographer the buzz you get from holding the right camera. I’m convinced cameras work better if they feel our love. And we take better pictures if we love them. Seriously, we do.
Maybe I should just give up, but I spent my career writing material to help folks use complicated equipment and sometimes very obscure software.
I should probably start by mentioning that I’ve fought this battle for long years … and was utterly defeated. About 7 or 8 years ago, high-tech companies, in a money crunch and driven by that bottom line that seems to be the only thing that matters anymore, began to eliminate technical writers. Entire departments were dismantled and eliminated. Jobs disappeared and what remained paid so badly it was insulting.
A decision had been made at the corporate level: YOU don’t need documentation. No matter how complicated or expensive the equipment or software you purchase may be, don’t need documentation. Companies provide the minimum the law requires or they can get away with. Quality is no object nor usability. Information is limited to basic stuff like how to install a battery and if you are lucky, where the compartment is.
I was a technical writer for about 75% of my career, the rest being divided between journalism, editing, promotions and advertising. But mostly, I wrote documentation and I though my work mattered. Probably naive, but I believe that if I documented a system, it should be well written, clear, organized, and useful., When a user needed to find something, it would be in the book and in the online help. It would be easy to find. I carefully avoided using mysterious search parameters that could be deduced via a psychic link to my brain. If you knew what you wanted, I made it easy for you to find it.
I was proud of my work. I still believe the fundamental goal of documentation is to make complicated things simple. Not necessarily easy because sometimes, the product was not easy to use, but that didn’t mean that it had to be hard to understand. My documentation was good for another reason: I used the product and tested what I wrote to make sure it was true. This testing makes the difference between a pile useless gibberish and a manual.
Thus, when you get something that appears to be documentation, stop and read it. Appearances are deceiving. Most “manuals” are generated, not written, and never checked for accuracy or usability. Such “manuals” are as likely to increase your confusion as provide illumination.
I bought a PEN EP3 camera from Olympus. Seven months and hundreds of photographs later, it remains one of the mysteries of my world. It takes wonderful pictures, and it has hundreds of functions. I haven’t the slightest idea how to find most functions and have no idea what to do with them if I could find them.
New digital cameras have a vast and overwhelming array of functions, most of which you or I will never use or need. I believe they are there entirely to impress us with the super high tech-ness of the equipment. I doubt that even the designers — especially the designers — expects us to actually use them. Which is good, because I don’t know what they are supposed to do anyhow or why I would need them. Ansel Adams didn’t need them. Neither did Edward Weston. Neither do I. But, the more you pay for a camera, the more of these obscure functions you get and I figure that the least they owe me is an explanation of what these setting do and how to find them.
I’m not sure whether to curse or say thank you. Maybe if Olympus provided a manual that explained these options, I’d be grateful, but that is not happening.
This is true of cameras, but the lack of documentation on your computer is actually worse … much worse because most of us depend on our computers. We need them to work and we need to have some control over the environment in which we work. Configuration of our computers to suit our needs is not a minor detail: it’s the difference between having a tool that does what you need and one which is a burden … an enemy with which you do daily battle.
I spent all last night — until dawn — trying to figure out how to turn off the touchscreen functions of my monitor. Before Mac users jump in and point out that it’s because Windows doesn’t work, that’s irrelevant and untrue. Windows works fine. It’s just that the company doesn’t provide any written documentation. There is embedded information in the operating system, but much of it isn’t logically arranged. It’s rather like looking for your car keys after you’ve dropped them someplace you don’t normally put them. You know they’re in the house, but where? It could be years before you find them..
On a new computer, you typically get an “introductory” video and that’s pretty much it. I watched it. It showed me in exquisite detail how to do what I already knew how to do.
Operating systems are designed to be used the way the system’s developers expect you to use it. If you prefer a different setup, trouble starts. The only way to figure out how to do something differently is to keep querying the system and hope you’ll stumble on the right key word — the word that will bring up the information you need. What is most frustrating is that you are sure it IS there, but whether or not you will ever find it is a different issue.
If you are sufficiently persistent and a bit lucky, you will eventually find a mystery menu after which you fix your problem in a few seconds.
Last night, I searched, searched again and again. It didn’t call Dell because I knew the support person wouldn’t know the answer either. They pretty much never do.
So I tried one word combination after another, recombining them in the hope that it would lead to a menu buried in the system. There had to be a way to deactivate touch input.
Around 5 in the morning, I found it. It took me less than 30 seconds to eliminate the problem that had been driving me nuts since I got the computer. Now, it’s a monitor. A great, high-definition, 23-inch monitor that’s a joy to work on and makes photo editing a pleasure. No more configuration by crawling insect. I am mistress of my virtual world at last!
A technical writers earns less than an entry-level developer. I understand the guys in India who provide telephonetech support work cheap, but I bet a tech writer would cost less than a network of telephone support no matter how cheaply they work.
Assuming you are under warranty and you can get through the voice mail maze … and further assuming you get someone who understands the problem and don’t get blown off because software is not part of your warranty (Note: If someone can tell me how, without using software, you can determine if you have a hardware problem, I’d like to hear it) … Round and around you go.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Would it blow the budget to hire a competent technical writer to embed online help that will live on even after the warranty period is over? Wouldn’t it be nice to help users avoid needless aggravation and not wind up with angry, frustrated, exhausted, and homicidal customers whose problems remain unsolved?
Granting that many home users have a limited understanding of how their computers work and for them, it wouldn’t much matter what documentation you supply. Most problems result from insufficient understanding of a product or process. If you are talking about a novice user, perhaps more information wouldn’t help. But …
I’m not inexperienced and I still can’t find essential information I need to configure my monitor. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect a menu on the control panel that I could use to configure the monitor’s capabilities, not merely its resolution but any other functions it may have. Functions not available on a particular model could be grayed out. How about that?
There is nothing wrong with my computer that better organized and easier to find information would not solve..
Every issue I’ve had over the last 5 or 6 years was ultimately fixed with a few clicks of the mouse. The problem was never something broken. It was always lack of documentation.
That pisses me off. Because tech writers — even highly experienced ones — work pretty cheap. Users do need documentation, and not just for software and computers. We need documents that let us use our cameras and telephones and DVD players and all those other pricey little devices that we own and often, don’t know how to use. Online FAQs are insufficient.
This is an old battle I’ve already lost. I know it’s hopeless. I find it infuriating that I can barely figure out my telephone without customer support, so rather than spend time on the phone with customer service, I don’t use anything I can’t easily configure.
I had to buy a separate book on how to use Photoshop and another for my first camera. I was able to get some help from a fellow user of my new camera, but that only goes so far. For my PEN P3 camera, there IS no customer support nor any after market book. I depend, as Blanche DuBois said, “… on the kindness of strangers.”.
My camera will remain a mystery until someone writes a “Dummies” book for it. Hopefully I’ll still own the it when the book finally gets published.
It’s not fair. The reason they get away with it is because we let them. Think about it.
So how did I finally figure it out? The “monitor” menu should have been a gateway, but was useless. The only thing you can the “Monitor” menu lets you do is lower your screen’s resolution. That’s useless.
Finally, I typed: Touchscreen.
Up came something that I hadn’t considered. Flicks. Now, for me? That means the movies. Having never used it, I had no idea it had anything to do with the monitor or its touchscreen technology. Once I got to “Flicks,”, I started opening menus and voilà, there were two check boxes allowing me to toggle an option:
Enable finger as pointing device.
Do not allow finger as pointing device.
I un-checked the first one by checking the second. I clicked “Apply.” As the sun rose in the east, my problem was solved and I went to bed, to sleep, perchance to dream … of murder, destruction and vengeance.
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