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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.

 

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...

 

Still bemused by pixels

, Thursday, October 16, 2003

So anyway over the last months, with the release of the EOS 300D, the Pentax *ist D, and various others, I have been absorbing information, reviews and opinions like a sponge. I'm very taken with the Olympus E-1, but it has drawbacks. I looked at an EOS 300D, but there are some issues. I tried out an EOS 10S, then realised Canon doesn't yet make any really suitable lenses for it (in subjective terms of range, price and quality). And so on. I also note that well known landscape photographers, who's level I basically aspire to, such as David Noton or Michael Reichmann, are either staying with film (Noton) or moving up to astronomically priced (for a non-pro) medium format digital systems.

I wonder why...

Maybe it's because the current range of "35mm" digital SLRs are simply not suitable, with the expensive exception of the Canon EOS 1Ds, for landscape photography. The "keyhole" viewfinders restrict the ability to focus manually and preview depth of field and the effective focal length magnification factor of smaller sensors restricts the potential for wide angle photography.

It seems that my personal needs and constraints are not yet met by digital SLRs on the market. So I'll just have to put up with waiting 4 days for processing, followed by endless scanning, for a while yet.

 

Digital mania

, Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Oh dear, my contribution rate has already dropped off... but since nobody is actually reading this it doesn't really matter!

The photography world has been abuzz with talk about the latest Canon digital SLR, the 300D. This could be what the world (well ok, photographers) has been waiting for - a (relatively) cheap and very high quality, changeable lens digital SLR camera, devolved from the more expensive but highly rate 10D. Seems like it should clean up, or at least kill off a lot of the more expensive all-in-one cameras, with their small sensors, awful viewfinders, and crazy shelf-life. It might even kill the new Olympus E-1 and Pentax *ist Digital before they get into the shops. But the gadget factor on the 300D is pretty low. No movie mode! Heavens. (although why not, finally...) No image manipulation gimmicks! No sepia mode! Just a solid little camera with a sensor that delivers results as good as the best 35mm film. Will I get one ? Probably not. I've already got good 35mm film equipment, so in terms of absolute quality it isn't much of a step up. And whilst the camera is cheap (ok, "cheap"), the better lenses certainly are not. For me, a step up would be a medium format 645 system, which, one day, I might be able to afford a digital back for. It seems to be becoming an interesting choice. Unless of course next month Canon releases a full frame DSLR at $1000... they will one day. So, time to take a step back and think, what will make my photos better ? The unwelcome answer is of course, hard work and dedication. Not shopping :-)

 

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