photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Gear Malaise

Looking for retail therapy

, Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Every now and then my thoughts turn to new cameras. Although I certainly keep up with a fair sampling of camera pr0n sites, I don’t really get caught up much in day to day gear lust these days. There’s very little that excites me, and most new releases nowadays are 90% marketing and 5% rehash. Look at the Olympus E-P3 for example: a smoke & mirrors AF system (well, actually no mirror, but whatever) and a new screen which isn’t actually much of a step forward. Yawn.

What ails me now is more of a gear malaise.

I’m not even vaguely under the illusion that a different camera would make me a better photographer, but I do wonder if maybe there is some scope for making more of my opportunities.

I’ve got lots of cameras. On the film side I’ve got a full Hasselblad XPan system, which hopefully will last many more years. On the digital side, I’ve got the Olympus E-System, with E-3 and E-400 bodies and a full set of mid to high range lenses, several of which are widely considered to be top of their class. I’ve got a Micro Four Thirds system for casual use, and finally a Ricoh GRD for when I’m feeling minimal. And they all get used.

It’s the E-System which seems the weak point. This is what I use for “serious” photography, and it fits the bill - up to a point. The E-3 body is a fantastic tool and an excellent piece of engineering - albeit without the “inspiring” feel of the E-1. The 12-60 and 50-200 lenses are gorgeous. But there’s no getting around the image quality issues. It isn’t bad - in fact in many situations it is more than adequate - but it has relatively narrow dynamic range, relatively poor high ISO performance (offset by a very, very good image stabilisation system), and relatively low resolution. Relative to what? Well, almost all the competition, sadly. The question of course, is does it make a real difference ?

There are a lot of arguments in favour of sticking with the E-System. I’m very attached to the 4:3 aspect ratio; I originally went for this because of it’s close match to the 645 format of the unfulfilled object of my lust, the Pentax 645. I’ve invested over 8 years of time & money in this system, and I’m very familiar with it. Again, and always, those Zuiko Digital lenses.

Then of course there’s a big argument against. Although rumours of an E-50 are floating about, there is a very strong possibility that the E-5 could be the last of the line.

So what about camera envy? Well by and large, and on the basis of real world experience with friends using top end Canon and Nikon systems, I don’t really suffer from it. There’s something about Canon cameras that doesn’t appeal to me, and Nikon is like a foreign country. I could not make head nor tail of a D700 I picked up, wanting to take a quick shot. But there is one .... the Sony A900. That is close to nirvana. Huge sensor, huge viewfinder, and crammed full of Minolta DNA. Back in the old days I really, really admired the Minolta Dynax 7 & 9, and the A900 is a direct descendant of these. And then there are those Zeiss lenses.

And then there would be the crippling invoice. I don’t even dare to think how much it would cost to build up an A900 based system with the range of my Olympus setup.

And the A900 has a fairly big drawback, in that it doesn’t have Live View and a hinged screen like the E-3. It looses out in versatility, but the trade offs are pretty attractive.

Of course there is another option: the Olympus E-5. It’s practically identical to the E-3, and has the same basic 12mp sensor as the E-P2, but according to reviews, it manages to extract a remarkable amount of detail and finally matches the potential of those lenses. It sounds good, but then again, it’s very incremental, quite expensive, and probably not the quantum leap I’m looking for.

The MFT system is ok, but has certain serious drawbacks, as I’ve mentioned, and doesn’t seem to be likely to accomodate an f2.8 200mm in the forseeable future. It’s good for wide to short telephoto focal lengths, but not longer.

And then of course there’s the fact that to the average viewer none of these amounts to much. World-class photography can be done on most systems.

And yet, I have this gear malaise…