photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Why the E-1 ?

in Olympus E-System , Wednesday, January 21, 2004

So why choose the E-1 ? Well first of all, I defy any photographer to pick one up and not instantly recognise that it just feels right, in a way that no other DSLR - and very few film SLRs - does. I don't believe this is an accident. It has clearly been very well designed by people who understand what a camera is for. I'm not saying that Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Pentax or other engineers have no idea, but the Olympus team is clearly top quality, and of course they had the considerable advantage of not being tied into a legacy 35mm system.

But that isn't enough. There are some serious factors weighing against the E-1, and they are mainly to do with the sensor. Really, 5 megapixels is right on the resolution limit. And the noise issue, which seems to affect all sensors produced by Kodak, whilst over stated is should still be considered. The 4/3 side doesn't bother me at all. I like working with squarer formats, alongside my Xpan work, and replacing most 35mm work with 4/3 is going to give my creativity a boost.

So what are the other good things ? Three points: lenses, lenses and lenses. The quality / price ratio of the E-system lenses is second to none, and I don't know how often I've read that you should choose your system on the basis of the lenses you want. Again, nothing wrong with the competition on that front - so long as you accept, largely, that you'll have to compromise because the designs on offer were conceived for 35mm, and also that you're going to pay a very high price for a lens which is capable of extracting the full potential of the sensor. People who should know agree that the Olympus Zuiko lenses are on a par with Canon L glass - that's good enough for me.

On the quality / resolution side, finally I made up my mind by downloading some RAW files from a few web sites who's owners were good enough to post them. I processed them using Photoshop CS, which does not yet fully support the E-1. The real clincher was when I printed out an image at A3, compared it favourably with a good 35mm print, and then discovered after the event that it was taken at 800 ASA - which, as web lore has it is noisy as hell. Well it isn't. Probably a pixel pusher would take issue with this, but a photographer would soon work out what is relevant and what isn't.

Of course I went over endless reviews on the web. The two that convinced are well known, but worth mentioning: the first by Michael Reichmann at The Luminous Landscape - as well as his review in his Video Journal DVD, Issue 9 - and the diary by Uwe Steinmueller at Digital Outback Photo. Both are intelligent reviews, both list pros and cons. After reading these, and of course others (apart from the specification sheet regurgitators), and based on my own first hand experience, I decided the E-1 was for me.

The Canon 10D was a very close second. It lost out on ergonomics (minor issues) and, mainly, cost and weight of appropriate lenses. Obviously if I already had an EOS system it would have won. And had I had a Nikon system, probably I'd be writing about the Fuji S-2 now.


No turning back

in Olympus E-System , Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Well I've done it. Today I placed my order for an Olympus E-1 and various accessories. It should arrive in a few days. Since the E-1 is quite new, and it's all new to me, it seemed like a good idea to maintain a diary of my progress. At the same time it forced me to work out how to run two weblogs at the same time from MovableType (yes I know it's basic but I do have other things to do...) So, what did I order ?
  • The E-1 Body and 14-54mm lens kit
  • the 50-200mm lens
  • the extra battery & grip (yes I know it is really an alternative, not an extra)
  • the 1.4x converter
  • the grid line focussing screen
To be honest I wasn't totally sure about the battery grip, but what the hell. I ordered from my local shop (Il Fotoamatore in Lugano) - I got a pretty good price. Sure I could have shopped around on the internet, but that's a mug's game. Everybody - the shop included - is aware that this is an option, but with this kind of thing I prefer to pay the small premium and get personal service, confidence that any problems will be resolved, and the simple pleasure of being able to discuss things with professionals beforehand (and they initially tried very hard to convince me that the E-1 was a risky choice!)

So, here we go.


1 million photos to save the world

, Thursday, January 15, 2004

Recent news articles have been highlighting the dramatic environmental and ecological disaster we are facing if governments - and George W Bush's in particular - stay in their greed-fuelled state of denial. The Independent recently published an article reporting Tony Blair's chief scientist's attack on US policies. It states, amongst other things, that "results of a major study showed yesterday that more than a million species will become extinct as a result of global warming over the next 50 years".

So what has this got to do about photography ? Well in fact it need not have to have anything to do with it, but it has. The work of talented and high profile wildlife photographers help to keep issues in the public eye. Seeing a great picture of a wild animal in its natural habitat is always nice - seeing it in the context that your children will probably only ever see it as a historical curiosity is another matter altogether. The photo that sparked off this train of thought - although the environmental issues were already well to the fore in my thoughts - was of a group of lions, published today by Michael Reichman on his Luminous Landscape website.

It illustrates that beyond all the talk of megapixels, L lenses, Canon, Nikon, Leica, etc ad nauseum, that there is, sometimes, some tangible social benefit to this photography stuff. If just a few visitors to his very popular site stop and think, hey, a minute, maybe that goddam pinko liberal limey scientist guy has got a point...then maybe the lions, and the other 999,999 species will have a better chance.


Outside world

, Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Just discovered some interesting links today, which I should have known about...

This one, I discovered a few weeks ago, but today it led me to the somewhat opaque but still interesting Opaque, because as far as I can see it doesn't appear to be run by anybody :-). Anyway, that led me to the gallery by Alexandra Emde on Munich Airport, which was interesting because today's background theme in my head is architectural photography. Following up to Alexandra's website, I then discovered a near cousin to this site, PhotographyBLOG (I think Photoblogography is a better name, but obviously there's no competition on content...)

Endless wonderful stuff out little time to explore. Come back here when you've seen them all!


Emperor’s Clothes

, Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Well I still can't bring myself to buy a digital SLR. I came close, but then I did a quick calculation, and worked out that by the time I'd finished making up the theoretical savings in film and processing cost, then whatever I bought would be terminally obsolete - i.e. in about 18 months. Of course it would still work, it would still take photos as well as it ever did - but some new device would be on the market driving gear lust, and I'd be spending hours rationalising to myself why I have to have it. And that is pretty much where we come in - I have, to a great extent, all I need now to enjoy photography. Even too much. I have some growing doubts that there is something slightly wrong with the focussing of my Canon T90, but it could just as well be my eyes.

Yesterday I saw a shop window with more or less the whole array of DSLRs proudly lined up, from Canon 1Ds to Pentax *istD, via Nikon, Olympus and Fuji. And all at, let's face it, breathtaking prices. Yes, really. Magazines, internet pundits, manufacturers (obviously) are lining up to tell all photographers that without a DSLR they can't take photos anymore. And that they should "upgrade" to a camera which, in terms of basic picture-taking capability, is on average 5 to 10 times more expensive than an equivalent film camera. And yet, even with these wonders, you can find endless discussion lists all over the internet devoted to desperate owners trying to debug their new wondertoys.

I know this sounds like sour grapes, but it isn't. I cannot deny my credit card was twitching outside that shop. But I'm getting more and more aware of the fact that I'm only prone to DSLR envy when I'm not out taking photographs. When I'm happily using my Hasselblad Xpan, my Canon T90, my new (old) Fuji GS670, or even my little Ricoh GR1, I don't think about whatever DSLR XYZ1000 at all. I don't even think about it when I'm stuck for hours in front of a film scanner. The only time I do think "hmm, well, maybe" is when I'm trying to find space to store away the latest box of slides.

And in that same shop, in the secondhand window, were devices like a Canon EOS 1v, a Leica R8 and M6, a Hasselblad 503cw, in pristine condition and at frankly jaw dropping prices I would not have believed a year ago. And these, I think, would help me to improve my photography.

If I was a pro, with deadlines and income-limiting workflow issues, then, obviously, a DSLR would be in many (most?) cases a no-brainer. But is it really a good idea for amateurs such as me to end up multiplying their gear budget by such a huge factor, and yet end up with, at best, slightly better results and slightly more convenience, and at worst, worse results because they can't afford quality lenses any more ?

There's nothing wrong with digital on technical grounds - quite the opposite - but I think I can wait until the prices make sense, even if, somehow, this means I can't be taken seriously any more...

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