Why I’m Big on Small – Part 2 of 3

EPL2.jpg

In my last post (click here), I declared that I had moved away from my traditional Nikon DSLR rig and into the micro-4/3 realm.  This was not, I implied, a toe dip… rather, it was a full on belly flop.

Here’s why…

First of all, it’s worth pointing out that internet fora are buzzing on this very topic, with some posters stating that this newer format is the perfect step-up from a basic point and shoot camera for the person who wants to take it up a notch or two.  Others argue that micro-4/3 is great for someone who wants an entry level camera and the flexibility of interchangeable lenses and higher image quality.  Some write that they are ditching their expensive DSLRs and all of the associated peripheral equipment in order to shed pounds and save their backs.  And some declare that it’s the perfect travel cam, noting that they would never trade in either their smaller compact or their bigger and better system.

I myself have contemplated all of these various points of view and, at times, felt as though any one of them might push me into the micro-4/3 camp.  Ultimately, here are the five specific factors that drove me over the edge:

My shooting style has evolved over time.
My start in photography began as photo editor of my high school newspaper.  That meant a wide diversity of shooting situations, most notably sports.  I loved taking action shots from behind the baseline or from the edge of the goal line and developing them in my darkroom to create beautiful, sharp black and white prints.  All this was done with my manual exposure, manual focus Pentax… typically using slower (i.e., smaller aperture) lenses.  Yet somehow, I developed a broad portfolio of competent sports photos.  For the most part, rarely have I shot things that move fast since.  Despite that reality, however, I’ve been clinging to the notion that I ought to have cameras and lenses that would allow me to do so “for when that time comes”.

Recently, I’ve assisted my own son who is now shooting high school sports.  As he’s been working, I’ve been taking my own photos and feeling pretty good that my equipment set-up allowed for fast autofocus, rapid continuous shooting, and great low light performance.  But in looking at my photos, it has become quite clear to me: this is not a style of photography I enjoy any more, I don’t know that I’m any good at it, and my opportunities to shoot in these settings are waning over time.

There are other fast action opportunities (e.g., birds in flight)… but long ago, I decided that that’s not my cup of tea either.

In short, I’ve possessed greater technical capability than I’ve actually required.

Reviewing my portfolio taught some very valuable lessons.  I have well over 12,000 photos in my Apple Aperture library, and I’m one to clean out often.  If there are photos that aren’t worth keeping, I don’t.  Recently, I spent several hours looking through my portfolio and was quite surprised to see that nearly as many of my favorites were shot with lesser (e.g., advanced compact and point and shoot) cameras than with DSLRs.  Here are two recent examples:

IMG_0196_HDR.jpg

P1010937.jpg

The first is a composite HDR photo taken handheld with a Canon Powershot S95 and the second (previously posted on 2 Guys Photo) with a lowly Panasonic point and shoot camera.  Neither cams are low light all-stars, but my post-processing techniques, including the conversions to B&W, have actually introduced digital noise or grain.  Better cameras, including most DSLRs, excel at reducing the amount of noise/grain… and here I go adding it for effect.

I’m happiest when I’m moving.  I don’t shoot in a studio and I’m no Ansel Adams when it comes to setting up a camera on a tripod and then waiting for the perfect light.  I have neither the patience nor talent for such a technique and prefer instead to rove, whether hiking across a national park, roaming through the boroughs of New York City, or strolling around the park a few miles from my home.  This style appreciates small and light, never big and heavy.  On many occasions, when walking with my DSLR and one lens, I stop and wonder how a scene might look through a wider angle lens or with further isolation of the subject via a wider aperture.  But alas, those lenses frequently are in the bag… at home.

A much smaller and lighter kit would, I’ve concluded, suit my shooting style better.

Simpler is better.   Many have touted the benefits of simplifying your approach to photography… and to life.  A google search reveals that this has been a frequent topic for reflection.  Counter to the pursuit of simplicity is the pursuit of perfection and a usually false sense that something newer is always going to be something better.  I’ve heard it said that we’ve moved so far in the direction of eliminating any kind of noise or static or “imperfection” from audio recordings, that we may have made the resulting sound less attractive, not more.  As such, more and more recording artists are jumping back to analog technologies or even introducing digitally created noise back into their recordings.  In similar fashion, many photo post-processing programs allow for the use of various templates or pre-sets designed to achieve a specific look… a look that frequently includes the introduction of noise (see my second point above).

All this points to going with equipment which, while still quite capable, might not actually be up to snuff compared to the current (and always evolving) best-in-class.

Getting off the merry-go-round.  There’s an inherent problem associated with trying to optimize the equipment you own rather than always desiring the equipment you don’t.  Camera makers and the multi-billion dollar support industry (including some of the most popular website forums) live and die off how fast the I-want-more-and-better merry-go-round turns.  Unfortunately, the spin is perpetual and the ride never ends.  Something better, that proverbial brass ring, will always be around the next turn and it’s easy to whip yourself up into a near maniacal frenzy thinking that as soon as you grab that ring, all will be well.  All will be right.

Trust me, I know.

So, these are the five reasons for my switch.  In Part 3 of this series, I’ll let you know how it’s going…

Note: We hope you’ll consider purchasing your equipment at B&H Photo, our favorite on-line destination for all photographic gear and accessories.  B&H sponsors 2 Guys Photo and your clicking through on our links won’t cost you a penny more, but it will provide a small financial benefit to us… a benefit that will allow us to add features and keep bringing fresh content.

The Olympus EPL2 can be found here.

Thanks!

Posted by Rey

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21 Responses to Why I’m Big on Small – Part 2 of 3

  1. Diane Fields says:

    Enjoyed both of the posts. Nicely written and with enough meat to make one think about the transition.

    • 2guysphoto says:

      Thank you, Diane. Your photos are amazing. Wonder if you’d mind if we feature your work sometime on 2guysphoto?

      Rey

  2. Peter says:

    Came across your link in dpreview. I enjoyed both parts one and two. I transitioned from my D700 & VR lenses to the oly system at no additional cost with better glass IMO. The e-5 stays home more often not in favor of the EP-2 + 20f/1.7. My neck thanks me 🙂

  3. DjordjeJ says:

    Nice posts. I had similar experience with my Nikon D90. I am happy with E-PL1 with Lumix 20 and few MF lenses. I dont miss Nikon at all.

    • 2guysphoto says:

      Nikon makes some amazing stuff and I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for them. They are rumored to be working on a pro-line mirrorless compact. If so, I think that’s a fascinating and probably pretty good niche for them.

      Rey

  4. Joseph says:

    Very interesting analysis ! I own an Olympus E-30 and still own my old E-500, and several very good lenses (14-54, 50-200, 9-18, 35 mm macro) but since I have bought an E-PL1, to which I have recently added the optional electronic viewfinder, my E-30 is collecting dust (pity for such a good camera).

    Smaller cameras and lenses allow me to have them with me (almost) all the time. It’s important to say, like you do, that they are not really suited for action or bird photography, but outside of those two particular fields, they are amazing little photographic tools.

    Your B&W samples are beautiful, especially the second one !

    • 2guysphoto says:

      Joseph – thanks for your post. I wonder if Olympus is going to refresh the E30 or E620 for that matter. I wonder if they’re throwing in the DSLR towel? The E5 looks pretty lonely at the top of their line.

      Rey

  5. Ray says:

    I agree with most of your reasoning and made a similar decision. Except that I never took the step into DSLRs – I got back into photography after a long absence and decided against going to a DSLR (I used to shoot with film SLRs in my youth) for many of the same reasons you mention. Mostly with m43, but I’ve added a Sony Nex and for some types of shooting, I like it even more.

    But one thing I think you’ll find you’re wrong on. Its still possible to lust after the latest and greatest and always try to make your kit the best possible with smaller cameras. You’re doing it with a different set of criteria and so the resulting equipment will be different, but the basic impulse to upgrade is the same. At least it is for me – more power to you if you can avoid that!

    • 2guysphoto says:

      Ray – agree that it’s possible to keep the lust and to transfer the desire from the DSLR realm into the smaller camera one too. It’s going to take a lot of patients and resolve…

      Rey

  6. Loved reading these too! I found myself agreeing with your reasoning!

  7. Paulo Neves says:

    I think we have some things in common. I also ditch the Nikon DSLR gear because simply I wasn’t having the trouble to pick it up just to grab some shots of my 3 year old son. The result was disastrous, I ended up with 6 months of my son’s life undocumented, including his 3rd birthday. I just thought: “Why?”. The answer was obvious, I had a great camera,a top flash gun, good lenses, but could not stand the weight and size anymore. I also shot some sports events semi-professionaly.
    Sold everything. Didn’t bought an E-P2, too expensive for me. Got a very sweet deal on a E-P1, less than half price of E-P2. Waiting for it to arrive as I write. Now I hope to follow my son more closely, without him looking at my meter-sized equipment and loosing his beautiful smile. And for me that’s it.

    By the way, very nice writing, really spot-on! Congrats!
    Paulo Neves

    • 2guysphoto says:

      Paulo – thank you for this comment. We do have some things in common. When my own kids were younger, I was in a “de-ephasized” phase of photography and I now regret that. The good thing is… it’s never to late to capture memories of the ones you love…

      Rey

  8. Dwip says:

    I’m in a similar boat. My camera gear has been growing smaller over the years, not bigger, and it’s been great. Right now I use a LX3 when traveling — super handy. I’d jump into m4/3 in a second if there was a reasonably fast, auto-focusing zoom available for it. Maybe Oly will bless us with one someday — they certainly have the ability to produce good lenses.

    • 2guysphoto says:

      Dwip – the lx3/lx5 is a fantastic camera… and unique in providing the 24mm wide angle view. There are rumored fast zooms coming for m4/3 and Schneider-Kreuznach recently announced they’re joining the consortium. I think that bodes well for your wishes.

      Rey

  9. Richard G. says:

    Rey,

    Saw your link from dpreview.com and thought I’d take a look. I really enjoyed reading your 2 articles on this topic and am looking forward to part 3.

    I’m at a crossroads myself where I’m looking at the m4/3 or NEX system but hearing that Nikon may have something coming as well which is paralyzing me from making a decision.

    While I do own a Canon 5D Classic and a few quality lenses, it never comes with me when I go out with the family or other events. Its just so big and clumsy and I worry about it getting stolen or just being in the way. What’s the point of the system if you’re not going to use it?

    Anyway, keep up the good work. You have a refreshing writing style.

    Anyway, I’ll do some more reading about the system

    • 2guysphoto says:

      Richard – thanks and I’m working on Part 3 right now. I tried the NEX and while there were some things about it I liked (the sweep panorama mode actually works and the HDR mode as well), I ultimately did not like the overall feel and very untraditional interface. I think if Sony could re-issue the NEX with some interface changes and a re-balancing between the top heavy lenses and minuscule body, I think it would be more successful out there in the marketplace.

      Good luck in your decision…

      Rey

  10. Lukas Night says:

    This review has greatly helped. I have also struggled with the question of big SLR or small compact and light. The example pictures are superb.

  11. Tony says:

    Great piece, really enjoyed reading it. Seems like I’m coming from the other direction: p&s to micro 4/3. Right now I’m trying to decide if I really need all that the GH2 can offer (bit heavier esp. w/zoom lens), or simplicity and compactness of the E-PL2 is fast enough to keep up w/my 2 & 5 yr. old. I’m really looking forward to your 3rd part to hear your thoughts!

    • 2guysphoto says:

      Thank you, Tony. The GH2 is an excellent camera… but in my view, fairly close in size to a very good APS-C camera. If your priority is video, you can’t beat the GH2. But if you’re primarily interested in stills, you may want to look at the entry level Nikons, Canons, and Pentax’.

  12. jim r says:

    It’s tough comparing these apples and oranges, that’s for sure. The GH2 is definitely on the large size for m4:3, but don’t overlook things like the 90-400mm equivalent Lumix zoom, 380 grams with OIS and the size of a soup can! That’s worth something to me.

  13. rdungan says:

    I am sorry you have paused your blog, but, I understand it takes a lot of time and energy.
    I have tried many cameras seeking the perfect one. Only problem there isn’t one. When the Nikon D7000 came out I wanted one bad, but eventually convinced myself that the D5000 was perfectly adequate and the D7000 was not needed. I was off the merry go round. While photographing in surf a high wave knocked over my tripod and the D5000 was drowned. I replaced it with a D7000 (and no I did not drown the D5000 on purpose). This still left a gap in what I wanted/needed. The one thing I hate is having to stop and changes lenses. I tried carrying two cameras one with a short and one with long zoom. Don’t like it, too much stuff dangling and hitting things or threatening to fall off my shoulder. I looked at the new EVIL’s and coveted their APS-C sensors, but, they are too large to carry in your pocket. I wanted a go anywhere camera to compliment the D7000. After much research I just purchased a Cannon S95. I now the S100 will be here shortly. I got a great deal on the S95 and the added features in the S100 don’t seem to be worth increased cost. When I go on a photo walk the D7000 goes with a long zoom and the S95 is in my pocket for images the long zoom can’t handle. The D7000 is on a Black Rapid strap, so, it is out of the way, and is not going to fall off. In addition the S95 is small enough to go anywhere. Not a perfect solution but one that works for me. I am off the merry go round. I have stopped reading reviews of the latest and greatest cameras and plan to concentrate on improving my image making skills.

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