Avalanche Coming … Too Many Cameras
I spent my whole career involved in the field of technology when I worked for various Government military research laboratories. Early on, I enjoyed working with new technologies but eventually I realized that there were many different technologies being pursued that would probably never make it into a weapon system. They wouldn’t make it not because they weren’t great technological advances, but because of limited opportunities. Only so many new weapons would make it through the development process due to lack of need and funding to replace the older ones with newer ones. It was at this point in my career when I got involved in strategic planning.
In strategic planning we tried to match up the likelihood for future war needs with the timing for the development of those technologies with the life cycle of current weapons. In addition, we tried to match resource availabilities with the needs. There was never enough funding available to pursue all the new technologies so we had to match the greatest need with political moods and available funding. Lately I have thought about the similarities of this process with photography.
I think that we have too many different camera manufacturers turning out too many similar products. They are racing to pile on technology and cost that only moves the capability a smidgen while most of them are losing money. I am not talking about the fact that point & shoot camera sales are way down since they are being replaced by cell phones. I am talking about the large number of mirrorless and DSLR cameras. There are far too many new cameras coming out every six months or so. Many more than the market can support in the long-term. Maybe sales are down because consumers are slowly waking up to the fact that they don’t need an evolutionary increase in more technology. I will not be surprised to see some manufactures drop out of the camera business.
Relationship between my next Camera and Photography
Rain + pollen = yellow soup : Camera + Subject + Photographer = Picture
If you have no subject to be photographed, I guess the concept of photography reduces itself to nothingness. I’m beginning to think that might apply to my photography more and more. It’s like the question of which comes first, the chicken or the egg? I guess without either of them you have nothing, at least in the long-term. If you have a subject plus camera plus photographer you have pictures. Without any one of these you don’t. But that’s not what I want to discuss first since that is a scary rabbit hole to go down. Today my mind is rummaging around the relationship between the camera and pictures.
In the past if you wanted to capture up close details you needed a macro lenses mounted on a DSLR with interchangeable lenses. Yes, I know that is not totally true. A lot of compact cameras, like my LX7 for example, take pretty good macros, but today I’m limiting myself to higher quality pictures made with larger sensor cameras to focus on one aspect of some changes within photography. With today’s higher mega-pixel cameras it is possible to crop-zoom and get pictures like the above. It isn’t as good as what could be gotten with a macro lens, but maybe it is good enough.
Likewise, if you wanted to record details of a subject that was off in the distance, you needed a long focal length lens; but today with crop-zooming you can, to a degree, avoid the need for such lenses. Long focal length lenses are also generally a lot slower so they also need cameras with sensors that are capable of working at higher ISO levels.
In the past a photographer had to decide what type of photography he or she wished to pursue before getting the camera and lenses. This also generally meant that they got a DSLR with the ability to use multiple lenses. For these reasons, a DSLR is a general purpose camera and many even use them for family pictures, street photography, etc., even though they might not be the optimum choice in all cases … especially if you need a smaller, lighter, more discreet camera.
In the immediate future, longer focal length lenses, heavier DSLR cameras, multiple lenses, etc. might not be as necessary in some cases. In some cases (it is a matter of degree), a single discreet camera with a fixed lens and higher mega-pixel high quality sensor might suffice.
There are other aspects of the relationship between cameras and pictures. They too are related to what most people think of when thinking of what came first, the chicken or the egg. The camera and lens combination sets limits on what a good photographer can take pictures of. Without the macro lens or the really long focal length lens, the photographer is limited in how much cropping they can do to compensate. In addition, the camera-lens combination has a minimum focus distance that affects the macro capabilities. The speed of the camera in focusing, etc. also limits its use for sports and action shots, etc. And there are many other aspects which limit the use of a camera. Knowing these limitations of your camera causes you to look for only things you can photograph with it. For example, if I go out with a wide-angle lens on my camera I don’t look for distant wildlife to photograph.
Since I have been interested in photographing as much as I can, I have acquired multiple cameras and lenses for use in different types of photography, different subjects, different lighting, etc. But I’m thinking of changing that. I’m considering chucking all of my cameras and lenses and starting over. I’m thinking about getting one camera and only a lens or two and then spending my time learning how far I can push it to take all the pictures possible and not worry about those beyond the limits of the camera. If you look back through the history of photography, you will find that the good photographers only used a few cameras and lenses in their lifetimes and they tended to concentrate on only a single type of subject. Most of them spent a lifetime learning and specializing on one type of subject, etc. Another way of looking at it, is that I don’t have 20 – 50 years ahead of me nor do I have endless funds to keep trying something different.
This isn’t a new idea of mine. I have toyed with this idea for simplifying my photography over and over. Usually it comes down to I really don’t wish to spend such a large sum on one camera that I would really prefer to have and carry so I keep adding lenses, etc. to what I have, but in the end I end up spending even more money over time. It is also a question of “can I make it work for me?” Can I satisfy myself with one camera? Over the last few years I have experimented with this idea. I even went down to just one camera for a short period. In addition I have tended to select one lens and one camera and then use them exclusively over a period of a week or two. Another issue is that I haven’t figured out what that one camera and lens would be. I have waited and watched as new technology resulted in better and better cameras thinking that the next one will be the one. That kind of thinking doesn’t work since there will always be something better.
Before I make such a drastic change, I have a few more questions to answer. I think it comes down to deciding when the risk is worth it. Should I pick a camera, sell my existing ones, and start over? Do I know enough now to pick the one camera? Has technology progressed enough for me to do this? What are the odds of me ending up spending less money in the long run and getting sufficient enjoyment out of my photography? Will I be cutting off my potential supply of subjects to the point where I find little to photograph and end up killing my hobby?
I have hinted in earlier postings that I was researching new cameras. I have enjoyed trying new cameras and in the past it has given me an outlet as a hobby, mostly for two reasons. First it gave me a chance to learn new technology and then write an occasional post about it. I usually never have more than three cameras at a time since I have bought and then sold them. This approach is now going to slow down. The resale or trade-in price of cameras has plummeted. I can no longer pursue my past practices without incurring a higher financial loss. The trade-in value of the newer design mirrorless cameras now drops to around one-third of the purchase price in about six months. That will slow down the up-grade sales for the camera companies. It also means that the best time to buy a new camera might be right before a new model comes out since many of the new models only have minor improvements or changes that aren’t worth the new prices.
The second reason that I enjoyed getting new cameras and lenses is that it always tended to rejuvenate my photography. With new capabilities I would go out and explore new things to photograph. If I’m now going to slow down on trying new cameras I will also likely slow down with photography in general. This is a bad time to do that since photography is my only hobby and the principal way I spend my time … researching, reading, taking pictures, developing pictures, and showing some of them in this blog, etc. If I don’t do that what do I do?
At the moment I’m mostly reading and thinking about it. My challenge is to find new ways to photograph and show life’s changes that happen nearby where I live using the cameras and lens, etc. that I have. It’s theoretically possible but not easy and might get boring; but you have to admit, it is a challenge. It’s also no different than it has been for the last few months. It’s just that a potential solution has been closed.
Empty Seats, Empty Pockets
Empty seats … a view of the future.
I’m always looking to get a better camera and lenses but since I don’t have an immediate need and the future looks bleak, I decided to leave the charge card in my pocket for a while. I’m thinking that my next camera might be my last and I want to get the right one. My decision to at least look now is driven by this month’s sales.
Japan is in big trouble. Their debts are still growing and their government is continuing to spend a lot more each year than comes in as revenue. The U.S. and Europe are “small potatoes” in comparison. To try to change this situation, the Japanese are trying to print their way out of debt. One immediate result of this is a change in the value of their currency and a temporary ability to reduce the export cost of cameras; but it won’t last and I don’t know how much they will drop the prices before it ends.
Japan needs to sell more and more bonds and keep the interest costs from rising at the same time. Since their own people will not be able to buy these bonds (they are getting older and cashing in bonds to live on), it means the rest of us will have to buy them, and that won’t happen without an increase in interest. The normal way out would be to increase productivity and grow their way out, but their population is aging fast and they don’t have natural energy resources so they can’t grow, and have actually been shrinking. Many economists think that they will eventually crash and burn, so it might be a good idea to get a good camera soon since you probably won’t be able to later. There will probably be a massive domino effect. Their economy will crash; then U.S. and European economies will crash. When this happens there won’t be lower cost cameras to purchase, and most of us won’t be able to afford them anyhow.
Through the Blinds … Read the Text
I was playing around with my camera this morning and noticed that it has super powers … it literally sees through the blinds. I was sitting at my computer while I took a picture through my window. The blinds are aluminum metal curved opaque venetian blinds. If you look carefully at the above picture you can see that the vanes do not totally block the light … or rather that it seems that the light flows around them almost as if they weren’t there. This is noticeable both in the clouds and in the villas at the bottom.
I wasn’t really playing with my camera … I was changing the focusing spot and using a small focus area in the center of the lens to be able to focus on the distant tree line while looking through the window and between the blind vanes. If I had focused on a blind vane it would have been opaque and dark and the scene between the vanes would have been blurred. It is also a function of how close the camera was to the blinds. If you are wondering what your neighbors can see through your blinds, you need not worry unless they are right up close to the window.
BTW, this is to encourage some of my visitors to read my articles and not just look at the pictures.
Future of (My) Cameras
I wish the above was an all-seeing eye that could look into the future, but it’s only a small shell we found in Ireland. For looking into the future I can only look at current trends in conjunction with the changes in the environment, and I include all aspects under the environmental umbrella. Those aspects include everything from political, to natural resources, to fiscal, to climate, etc. … including declining physical abilities as we age.
For cameras in general, I expect that we will see the size of sensors grow with the demise of very small sensors in P&S cameras. The cell phones will use the smallest sensors and replace most of the small P&S cameras. I expect to see larger sensors placed into smaller cameras, but I don’t see the size of cameras dropping much, if any more, due to ergonomics. The 1 inch to micro 4/3 sensors will be the new smallest size sensors in cameras with the APS size sensors taking over in the small to medium size cameras and eventually the so-called full frame sensors growing in number in the better equipped cameras. I also think that the low-priced entry-level DSLR cameras like the Nikon D3200 and the Canon Rebels will be displaced with smaller mirror-less cameras as prices of mirror-less cameras drop with volume sales.
The biggest change that I think we will be seeing will be the continuing computerization of cameras. They will become (now are) small computers with no moving mechanical parts other than lens components. The shutters, focus, and zoom mechanisms will be all-electric. The biggest change will be in the on-board processors. They will become more like general purpose computers in the sense that we will be choosing functions by acquiring software and loading it on our cameras. As the cameras have fewer mechanical parts we will update our cameras by updating the software in them. This could enable us to keep our cameras longer with less need to replace the camera, but we will have to wait and see how the manufacturers react to this possibility.
Another change that has been evolving is the shrinking of lenses. I originally switched from an APS DSLR to micro 4/3 cameras since in addition to the cameras being smaller and lighter, the lenses were a lot smaller and this resulted in smaller, lighter systems to carry around. Now the APS size sensor cameras are also getting slightly smaller and lighter lenses since the cameras are mirror-less and are using electric motors to control focusing and zooming and not the older mechanical systems.
My decision is to decide how, and when, I will react to the above. I have no doubts that my Pentax K-5 DSLR and its’ lens system is going to become the dinosaur of cameras. It will grow heavier, relatively speaking, as I get older and it is probably the last of the old style mechanical cameras that I will purchase; but, for now it does a good job. If you have read my blog for any time, you also know that I have had a desire to reduce the number of my cameras to one so that I can better learn and use it without having to remember and think about the differences in controls and settings, etc. At one time I thought that micro 4/3 cameras were the solution for me … until I had problems with the size, control layouts, etc. and I started to have doubts about the sensor size relative to future capabilities. All of this leads me to thinking about another solution … another camera.
I’m thinking about switching to Sony cameras. Given my beliefs about the computerization of the camera, I’m thinking that going with Sony might be the best technical and most economical direction. Besides, almost all the camera manufacturers are now using Sony sensors … from Olympus to Nikon to Leica. The Sony NEX-6 has an APS size sensor packaged in a camera about the same size as my previous micro 4/3 cameras and the ergonomics with the hand grip and controls looks like it might fit my needs better. Up to now Sony’s downfall with their cameras has been the size, quality, and quantity of available lenses. Recently they have rectified this problem and other third parties have started producing lenses in their E-mount, so I don’t think this will be a problem going forward.
My big problem is that no one near where I live carries the camera so I have to order one to see how it works in my hands. I will also have to wait until I see some reviews of the camera after it starts shipping, which probably won’t be until Nov. before I make up my mind. Hopefully I’ll have an answer by late Nov. since I have my order in for the Sony NEX-6 camera so I can try it.
Seeking Another Change
Just as the dogwood blooms again each spring, I seem to also be going through a change … finding a camera or lens that suits my ever-changing situation. As I mentioned earlier, I have gotten frustrated with the ergonomics of my Panasonic G3. It seems that I end up accidentally pushing buttons and changing my settings far too often.
Seeking a solution and trying to best utilize my micro 4/3 lenses; I pre-ordered the Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera … and then canceled the order a few days later. The price seemed too steep for just trying something with IQ not much (if any) better than my G3. I have also been carefully reading reviews and comments on the E-M5 and I have noted that others have had problems with its buttons being too small and awkwardly placed.
I’m still not sure whether to replace the G3, or with what, but I took another tack and got the Nikon D5100 DSLR. It is lighter than my K-5 was and I hoped that would make enough of a difference that I could use it with a lightweight prime lens, but it didn’t. I had to send it back; but, I did learn more about my situation relative to being able to handle cameras.
I have arthritis in my hands and my thumb joints are particularly bad. I found that it isn’t just the camera weight that causes me problems. It is also a function of how far I need to bend my thumb back. DSLRs, like the Nikon D5100, have a pretty good grip to hold onto but it is deep and they tend to bend my thumb back farther than I am comfortable with. The additional camera weight also requires that I hold on more tightly and the combination of the force and the bent-back angle are too much for my hands. My days of using a conventional DSLR with a mirror are over.
I am now back to trying to find a mirror-less camera that is lighter, has an appropriate back-to-front thickness and sufficient room for my hand without accidentally pushing buttons and changing the settings when I don’t want to change them.
The Aging Photographer
Some of us can remember when these cabooses were on the rails being pulled by a coal powered steam locomotive. I can remember stories about my grandfather who, by the time I could remember him, was a retired conductor and had spent his entire working life on the rails in WV. Now they seem to be converting the old cabooses into museums and parking them off to the side of the main tracks. The one above is in Old Bowie.
Unfortunately, many older people feel like they have also been parked on the sidelines, and they have to make a few changes as a result of it. Before I mention some necessary changes, I’ll go over some of the problems that I have seen or experienced due to the problems of aging.
Our eyes change and some need to get cataract surgery. We end up with either bifocals or eyes that can’t see well in the distance or eyes that can’t see well up close. Either way, that means that it is difficult to see the control settings of the camera at the same time that we are trying to focus and compose the subject. This is a minor but irritating problem that slows us down, but fortunately, artificial lenses enable us to see better as long as we learn to compensate for the far-near issue.
A far more difficult problem is arthritis. It can make it hard for us to get around when it attacks our knees, hips, or back … and sometimes we have to use a cane or walking stick. Have you tried walking with a cane and them using two hands to hold and adjust your DSLR without dropping the cane? Also keep in mind that photography is a mobile hobby or profession. You have to go to where the subject is located if you wish to photograph it. And if you are into street photography or the photographing of any moving subject you have to be fast. Another issue is the effect of a heavy camera bag that causes you to lean to one side. If you have arthritis of the back you need to keep straight and keep the load balanced and minimized. Many of us may end up with lumbar fusions, and/or artificial hips and knees, but they enable up to keep doing what we love.
Another problem with arthritis is when it hits the hands … usually it’s the thumb joints that go first. This makes it hard to hold heavy objects between the thumbs and fingers.
By now you should be getting the idea; getting older creates different problems. If we wish to pursue a hobby of photography, what can we do? Well, from my experiences, I decided to make several changes in my equipment. The most important change that I found that I needed to make was to reduce the weight of my camera gear since I was having trouble holding it as well as carrying it. I sold my heavy DSLR and all of its heavy lenses. I replaced them with a micro 4/3 system consisting of the Olympus E-PL2 along with three prime lenses, the Panasonic 14 and 20mm and the Olympus 17mm lenses, and two zoom lenses, the 14 – 42mm and the 14 – 150mm Olympus lenses. I also kept my older E-P1 camera so that I have redundancy in cameras, lenses, batteries, and chargers while traveling. This new system gives me a wealth of choices in lenses and allows me to go out with a very good, very low-weight, very small camera. I never go somewhere with all the above since I select a camera and a lens or two depending upon where and what I will be shooting. I can just put a camera in a jacket pocket or take a small bag. And when/if this system becomes too much I can always get a good point & shoot camera. Since we all age, I think that many of you will be making similar changes.
I’ll be saying more about how I carry my latest camera, the type of bags I use, etc. in a later article but for now I would like to end with some comments about using a cane or walking stick while carrying a camera. Fortunately I’m no longer using a cane or walking stick but I had to use one off and on for several years, and may have to use one later as my arthritis increases, but I found a way to resolve any problems with using it and a camera. I got a cane with a wrist strap. I then replaced the original wrist strap with a longer piece of nylon parachute cord and attached it to my wrist so that the cane wouldn’t fall to the ground when using the camera. You can see a picture of it in an earlier article called Gear Preferences (click here).
As we age we have increased problems with mobility and that has a major impact on the types of photography that we can do, I’ll try and make that a subject for another article. In the meanwhile, age wisely.
Replaced my Pentax K-7 with an Olympus E-PL2 Micro Four-thirds Camera
I finally mailed off my Pentax K-7 and all of my lenses for it. While I loved the camera for its capabilities, I decided that I wasn’t going to carry it with me enough to justify keeping it. Even though it is one of the smallest weather resistant DSLR systems (including lenses), it is still a very sturdy and heavy camera system. It feels like a miniature tank, so if you are off to do serious battle, it’s a great camera.
After deciding to sell the K-7, I was down to having only one camera and no long focal length lenses. I only had my micro four-thirds Olympus E-P1 which I love, and since I never travel without a backup camera, I needed to find a replacement for the K-7.
If you have read my earlier postings, you know that I have always carried the weather resistant K-7 or a small waterproof P&S camera for backup and to use in the rain or during extreme dust conditions. Since I don’t like the weight of the K-7 and I don’t like the image quality of the waterproof P&S cameras, I was faced with a dilemma. After much thought, I decided that in all reality I wasn’t going to be traveling as much in the rain forests or deserts in the future, and that if I bought a small camera I could suitably protect it inside a zip-lock plastic bag, and just not take pictures in hard rain or dust storms. I decided that the merits of having an interchangeable system out-weighed the weather protection qualities. I decided to stick with the micro four-thirds system and expand around my E-P1. I bought the latest Olympus, the E-PL2. I decided to get it rather than the E-P2 since it was lighter and had some other features I liked, and since I already had the E-P1.
Rather than for me describing the virtues of the E-PL2, it would be better if you read the review in dpreview.com so that you can decide if the camera will work for you. I have included their picture of the camera along with a few of their final words below and you can click here to read their review.
“Life is full of compromises and buying a new camera almost always inevitably ends up in one. Before the arrival of the mirrorless camera you could either get a DSLR with lenses that would give you great image quality across the ISO range and a comprehensive control interface, but would require you to carry a camera bag and possibly result in severe back pain after a long day of photography. At the other end of the spectrum you’d find compact cameras that would easily slip into a shirt pocket but offer, compared to a DSLR, mediocre image quality at best.
Mirrorless system cameras have given consumers a third option, providing DSLR-like image quality in a more compact package. None of them have been able to totally solve the dilemma described above and buying into a mirrorless system might for many still be a compromise. However, in the case of the Olympus E-PL2 it’s not a bad one at all.
Its image quality in good light is excellent and at higher sensitivities is pretty much on the same level as many entry-level DSLRs. The focus speed has noticeably improved over previous models and is now amongst the best in class. The camera is more customizable than many entry-level DSLRs and you get all of this in a camera/lens package that is currently as small as it gets if you want a large sensor in your camera.”
In addition to getting the E-PL2, I got the new 14 – 42mm collapsible kit zoom lens, and the 14 – 150mm longer zoom lens. These lenses give me an 35mm effective focal range between 28mm and 300mm. Since all of my lenses and cameras are now interchangeable, I can switch lenses around on either camera depending upon the travel situation and always have a backup system to use if anything happens to a lens or camera. I can also keep a zoom lens on one camera as a walk-about system and the 20mm lens on the other camera for use inside museums and at night and not need to be changing lenses out in the field.
To summarize, I now have a totally interchangeable light-weight, small, micro four-thirds system which includes:
- Olympus E-P1 and the E-PL2 cameras,
- Olympus 17mm, 14 – 42mm, & 14 – 150mm lenses
- Panasonic 20mm lens
Downsizing from APS to Micro Four-Thirds System … Selling my Pentax K-7 DSLR
The picture above was taken in the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, WV. It represents, in many ways, the decision path that I have been on relative to my future. As I have been pondering my photography path, I have been lured into many options, as represented by the many open inviting doors. I even contemplated taking the exit to the right and giving it up. But hopefully, I have succeeded in making the right decision. I think that I am managing to make progress in reaching the light at the end of the hall.
As I indicated in earlier articles, I have swayed back and forth between my Olympus E-P1 and my Pentax K-7 cameras. The K-7 is a nice compact, weather resistant DSLR camera system, but it’s still not what I would call light-weight. Since I had grown less fond of my 18 – 250 mm lens for it, I purchased the Pentax 18 – 135 mm lens for use as a slightly lighter, smaller walk-about lens; but, after trying it out I wasn’t satisfied with the image quality. My test images were not bad, but they tended to be a little on the soft side and I wasn’t able to process them to my satisfaction with LightRoom. In all fairness, this was probably because of the image quality (IQ) that I have become accustomed to with the Panasonic micro four-thirds 20 mm prime lens. Yes, I know better than to ever expect a zoom lens’ IQ to equal that of a prime lens, but I expected them to be more comparable due to the larger sensor in the K-7. It wasn’t; I’m sending the 18-135 mm lens back.
In addition, while carrying the K-7 camera with the 18-135 mm lens on a walk, I began to feel like the camera bag was growing heavier. [By the way, I was using my bag with the tether arrangement as shown in an earlier article with the bag strap across my chest.] I have back problems and been recovering from a Lumbar Fusion operation and while walking with the camera bag, my back began hurting. I probably shouldn’t have carried it the whole time on one side; but this aggravation with carrying a heavy camera isn’t new for me. For some time I have used my lighter Olympus E-P1 camera more often (like on my trip to Tunisia) than my K-7 camera since the E-P1 is much smaller and lighter. The K-7 with the 18-135 mm lens and battery weighs 42 ounces. The E-P1 with the 20 mm lens and battery weighs 17.5 ounces. Note that I’m comparing totally different systems. Not only are the cameras different sizes, with different capabilities, but I’m also comparing a zoom lens with a prime lens.
As a result of all the above, I have decided to sell my Pentax K-7 DSLR and all of my lenses for it, and use micro four-thirds cameras. I’m thinking of getting either the Olympus E-P2 or the E-PL2, or maybe waiting for the next new version, to compliment my E-P1 camera (It’s a classic keeper). I’m also considering getting the Olympus 14-150 mm and/or the new Olympus 14-42 mm zoom lens and/or the Panasonic 14 mm prime lens for it. Part of my future decision process also deals with carrying a zoom lens vs. a few prime lenses. Also as I have mentioned in previous articles it depends on what I intend to photograph. I’ll let you know what I end up getting in future articles.
Basically, I have found that I’m not alone and that there is a good reason that many pros leave their big DSLRs at home when they aren’t working and take smaller cameras with them when they travel for pleasure. I urge you to read “Leica M9 as a Landscape Camera” by Jack Perkins about his even bigger change. While Jack went down to a Leica, I can’t afford that, but the micro four-thirds cameras serve a similar function for weight reduction for the rest of us. Also note that with the micro four-thirds system you gain the size and weight savings and retain auto focusing, without the need to forgo some of the other things Jack discusses.
It isn’t that the camera alone is so heavy … it’s the camera plus all that heavy glass in those lenses! Going to a slightly smaller sensor and eliminating the mirror enables the manufacturers to also make much smaller and lighter lenses. A big difference in weight is in the lenses. There is no reason to continue building digital single reflex cameras similar to the old film cameras. This is the age of digital electronics. We no longer need mirrors and large heavy lenses for our new-age cameras.
Now is the time to downsize. With the unsustainable demand on the earth’s resources it is time that we learn to not only live with less but to also reduce the weight and size of what we do use. Less stuff also means smaller stuff.