Saturday, 23 October 2010

further thoughts on the benefits of small

I have stated publicly that for most of the photography that I like to do, smaller cameras do not equate intrinsically to better. On many Internet fora - particularly ones which cater to the 4/3 community (encompassing Olympus and Panasonic 4/3 cameras and the surging m4/3 class of camera from many makers) - there is significant debate about and, dare I say it, hate directed towards the larger cameras out there. This seems particularly true if the large camera is made by Olympus.

Olympus has long stated that one of the key advantages of the 4/3 system is a smaller size when compared to the offerings of other dslr manufacturers. They claim that their cameras and lenses are smaller. To a large extent, they have delivered on this promise when you consider the size of the lenses they make and compare them to lenses which offer an equivalent field of view when put on a full frame camera. However, to many, the sheer bulk of a camera like mine - the E-3 - and the HG or SHG class of lenses makes the promise of small to be a bit of a joke.

What "equivalent" means when comparing things like field of view, depth of field and admission of light to the sensor across different systems is a subject of debate. To me, these debates are largely irrelevant. Each sensor standard - be it 4/3, aps-c, aps-h, or 135 - has its own strengths and weaknesses. Throw in the variation each camera manufacturer brings to the table regardless of which sensor standard they choose regarding picture output and the debate becomes even more confused. The trick is to decide which output from which system you like and to go with the one which gives you the look you desire and meets the needs of the kind of photography you do. Trying to use one tool to do the job of another tool and then complaining when it doesn't work out seems a bit silly.

Which brings me to the subject of small as being intrinsically better. It isn't. It is merely different.

I would personally not like to hang a heavy zoom lens (like my 50-200, which while heavy and fairly bulky, is not heavy when compared to the SHG line of lenses from Olympus) on a small camera body no matter what the quality of the camera is. The ergonomics simply don't work for me. Ergonomics are so personal and so important that they have become one of a few deal breakers for me when I purchase anything. I prefer a larger bulkier camera for doing things like wildlife photography or event shooting.

Until Olympus released the E-5 and proved beyond a doubt to my eyes that they can compete IQ wise with the smaller 4/3 sensors, I was seriously considering moving to Canon. Almost everyone I know uses Canon. Canon makes superb gear, but their camera bodies (at least the ones I could reasonably afford) do not fit my hands and are not comfortable to hold. I would not like using them even though the results people are getting with them are terrific. I was actually not happy at the prospect of moving away from the E-3 form factor to one that to my hands is "inferior" ("inferior" to me - I know many users of other cameras who say "ewwww" when they hold my E-3 - it has to do with the shape of my hands).

Having said that, the E-3 is not a great tool for shooting in other circumstances. I am finding it too "in your face" for many family events that I want to photograph. My non-photographer family members feel the dslr is too intrusive. I get that. It is also fairly big and obnoxious when used in some urban environments.

This brings me to the finally fulfilled promise of the 4/3 system: the m4/3 cameras.

I am starting to really like the idea of a camera which can match the results of my E-3 and fits in the pocket of a jacket. I am liking it so much that the odds of me getting an E-5 any time soon are dropping as I debate saving for an EPL-1 and a panasonic 20mm lens for using with family events and for street shooting. I am also really missing the camera when on my bike and a m4/3 camera would fit that role very nicely.

Here are a few samples of this combo from one of my contacts on pbase for you to look at:

Not all of those are EPL-1 photos, but some are - check the exif.

Cheers and have a good day.

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