As I discussed in my previous post, I am considering moving to the micro 4/3 system for my primary camera system, and I’m still pondering that choice. At the moment I am concentrating on how well the Olympus E-P1 camera will work for me in Ireland. I am also considering getting the new Olympus 14 – 150mm lens to use while walking about and then using the Panasonic 20mm lens while inside buildings or during the evenings. I really love that 20mm lens.
This morning I decided to really test the 20mm lens under conditions that aren’t ideally suited for photography. It is very overcast, with a bit of moisture in the air, and snow on the ground. Other than for the snow (and trees) it might be representative of dreary days in Ireland. To test it out under field conditions, I decided to see how well it would do as a replacement for a wider lens. In other words, what if I had it on the camera when presented with a wide view that really required a much wider lens? To check out an alternative, I took a panorama by taking 4 pictures of my backyard and then stitched them together using the Olympus software. As you can see below, the Olympus software did well at stitching them together.
My next test was to go in the opposite direction. What if all I had with me was the 20mm lens and I needed to zoom in on the scene. The picture below is the original picture which consists of the right hand section of the above view … all that I would normally get with the 20mm lens.
You can click on the picture to see a larger image.
I then did a “digital zoom” on the picture by cropping down to just a small portion in the center of the above picture. You can see the results below.
You can click on the picture to see a larger image.
It’s pretty good for use in my blog or for the usual slide shows that I make. When using the panorama function and the cropping function, I have a wide range of latitude with just the excellent, very small, Panasonic 20mm lens.
I now feel a lot more comfortable about walking around with my E-P1 camera with just the Panasonic 20mm lens on it since it is good enough for making panoramas or for cropping to frame in on just a small section of the picture. Does it negate the need for a zoom lens? No, but it is a reasonable substitute when I only wish to carry a small, lightweight camera.
I’m still thinking about ordering the Olympus 14 – 150mm zoom lens and then repeating the above test with the 20mm lens under brighter conditions and comparing the results to what I can get with the 14 – 150mm lens. Given the cost of the 14 – 150mm lens along with the above results, I might just go with the 20mm lens … now that would really make a small lightweight system. If the results continue to please me I will be on my way to just using a micro 4/3 camera and carrying a lot less weight around.
Lately I have not been able to see the forest for the trees. By this I mean that I have been in a dilemma relative to future cameras and lenses without a chance to buy some alternative lenses and travel to try them out while taking pictures. I have just been sitting here looking at my cameras and pondering.
As you know from previous articles, I have two separate camera systems. I have a Pentax K-7 DSLR with the 18 – 55mm, f/3.5 – 5.6 WR zoom, a prime 40mm, f2.8 lens, and the 18 – 250mm, f/3.5 – 6.3 all-purpose zoom and I have a micro 4/3 Olympus E-P1 with the Olympus 17mm, f/2.8, the Panasonic 20mm, f/1.7, and the Olympus 14 – 42mm, f/3.5 – 5.6 lenses. For my trip to Tunisia last April I took the E-P1 system with the 17mm and the 14 – 42mm lens since I needed to travel with no more than 11 pounds carry-on (I never check my cameras). For my trip to West Virginia last October I took my K-7 system since I wasn’t walking much, was working out of my car, and felt like I had neglected my K-7.
My reasons for selecting the Pentax DSLR rather than a Nikon DSLR were due to the smaller size of the Pentax camera, the excellent prime lenses that they have, and because the Pentax system was better sealed against rain and dust. I wanted to have a good, but small and light camera for walkabouts either in the U. S. or in foreign countries as well as the ability to use the camera in rain and have the ability to put a long lens on it for taking wildlife pictures in the rain forests.
After I committed to the Pentax DSLR system, the micro 4/3 Olympus E-P1 camera became available. Before going to Tunisia I bought my micro 4/3 system and tried it out and found that I liked it a great deal and that it was much easier to carry around. In addition I found that for the type of pictures I usually take in dry countries and for the way I display them (on the web) that the micro 4/3 system was quite good.
My dilemma now is: Could I make do with just the micro 4/3 system for all of my photography? At the moment I need to use the K-7 in rainy weather and when I need a longer lens. If I were to go back to the rain forests in the Amazon, or to Costa Rica now, I would definitely take my Pentax system. My problem is: I don’t know if I will be doing that again. While traveling, I usually like to go to new places where I haven’t been.
Assuming that I will only be taking pictures in good weather, I could acquire a micro 4/3 all-purpose long zoom for my E-P1 … the Olympus 14 – 150mm lens or the 70 – 300mm lens. The 70 – 300mm lens would actually give me more reach then I have with my longest current Pentax lens since the Olympus effective zoom range is from 140 to 600mm and the Pentax effective zoom range is from 28 to 375mm but it wouldn’t be practical without a tripod or at least a monopod … which just adds to the weight and volume of the system. The 14 – 150mm (effective 28 – 300mm) lens would make a nice all-purpose travel lens … at least in good weather; but I didn’t miss having no more than an effective range of 84mm while traveling in Tunisia from the Mediterranean to the Sahara desert. You can see my Tunisia pictures, in earlier articles, by looking under “Category” (top right of this page), just select Tunisia. There are some 20+ different Tunisia selections.
We are considering traveling to Ireland this year and that is adding to my dilemma. My expectations are that I won’t need a long lens (no wildlife & no distant mountain ranges) but I should expect touring in the rain. If we were to go tomorrow I would probably take the K-7 and the 18 – 55mm weather resistant lens along with the E-P1 with only the 20mm lens for inside, low light shots; but, I wonder how often I would want to take a picture in a hard rain, and the smaller camera would be easy to keep dry under my rain jacket … hmmm, I wonder if just the 20mm lens would be enough … maybe a wider lens, the 14mm?
In the meanwhile, I am just going to continue pondering. I also expect that my options will expand in terms of new micro 4/3 cameras and lenses becoming available this summer. But, for now, I heartily recommend the micro 4/3 system for lightweight, small, high quality travel cameras and I’m leaning towards eventually making it my one-and-only system. See this field review of the Panasonic GF1 (a competitor to my Olympus E-P1 micro 4/3 camera using the same 20mm lens I have) as a travel camera while traveling in Nepal. Make sure you read past the ads clear to the end and some of the 100’s of positive comments if you have the time.
PS, I still prefer the Olympus system with the in-body stabilization system, but there are now lots of new ones to consider (click here), and more coming in the next six months.
The following is aimed at the average family member who likes to record family events, vacations, etc. It is not written for the professional photographer but it is a start for those who might later wish to migrate towards photography as a hobby. This is a large subject and it would take a long article or book to cover all of it so I’m only going to go over the very basic differences, show you where you can get a lot more information, and give you some guidelines to help you decide which camera type will be “enough” for your uses.
Cameras are generally referred to as P&S (point and shoot), prosumer, or DSLR (digital single lens reflex) type. I’m using the term “prosumer” to refer to the P&S type cameras which have additional features beyond those needed by the normal family photographer. Almost all digital cameras take digital still pictures and videos and most of the following information pertains to video as well as still pictures.
P & S Cameras
The P&S cameras are the bulk of the ones available. All of them have automated functions that automatically make all of the focus, aperture, and shutter settings for you … and they do a very good job under normal circumstances. Most of them have built-in zoom capability, usually a factor of 3 to 5. Most also have built-in IS (image stabilization). For the novice this is a requirement in my opinion since it will give you a much sharper picture and overcome the motions caused by normal hand shake; i.e., no tripod needed. Most also have built-in flash. In other words they come with all of the features required to take good pictures under most normal conditions. These cameras are the cheapest and smallest cameras. Most will fit in a pocket.
The prosumer cameras are those which have features above and beyond those discussed above and are designed for a wider range of photo opportunities but have a fixed, non-removable lens. For example, if you wish to take pictures of wildlife that are some distance away, you will want to get a camera that has 10 – 20 zoom or greater capability. Some of these cameras also allow you more freedom in over-riding the automatic settings and thus let you apply more of your expert knowledge and take pictures under some conditions that the automatic functions can’t handle. The biggest disadvantages with these cameras are they cost more and are much larger than the P&S cameras.
The DSLR category of cameras allow you the most latitude in settings, lens choice, etc. They have a wide range of prices and capabilities. In addition to buying the camera you have to buy the individual lenses. These are larger and much heavier cameras than any of the above.
One of the biggest differences in cameras is the physical size of the sensor. The sensor is the key item since it receives the incoming light and converts it into digital bits. The sensor size has a strong bearing on the noise generated and the ability to handle low light situations. The smaller the sensor, the smaller the individual pixels, and the more noise there is. Noise is seen as a random speckling in the picture. P&S and prosumer cameras have the smallest sensors. The number of mp (megapixels) of the sensor is not an indicator of sensor size. Most cameras now cram 12 mp into the sensor regardless of the physical size. The higher megapixel cameras require larger memory cards, but they also have the capability to make larger prints, and they give you more room to crop the picture. Cropping is the process of using only a portion of the original photo in a picture. Sensor sizes vary approximately from:
- 864 sq. mm 35mm full frame
- 370 sq. mm APS size, most entry level DSLRs
- 225 sq. mm Four thirds system
- 38 sq. mm Compact P&S and prosumer
ISO is a measure of the sensor’s light sensitivity. Cameras with lower numbers, like around 100, have less sensitivity but higher apparent sharpness to the eye. Higher ISO’s like 1600 and above enable pictures to be taken in a darker setting (without a flash) but they will have a grainier look and will result in more noise. P&S and prosumer cameras generally have low ISO capability while the DSLRs will have greater capability due to their larger sensors.
The price of cameras is often a deciding factor when you go to purchase one. Generally, P&S cameras cost in the $100s – $200s, while the prosumer cameras cost between $200 and $400s and the DSLR cameras cost more on the order of $600s to $7000 (body plus one lens).
Which type of camera is right for you depends on how and when you plan to use it, how much you wish to learn and play with it, and how much weight and volume you wish to carry around. An old saying is that “the best camera is the one you have with you”. Some people buy a big, heavier DSLR and then don’t take it with them because of the weight and size. Others own multiple types and take the one best suited for their needs at the time. For example, I generally keep a waterproof camera around and use it while kayaking or canoeing in the jungle, in the rain forest, or walking in the rain. It is also a sturdier camera which can be tossed in a pocket, bag or pack without worry. For trips by car I usually take my entry level DSLR with a long zoom lens.
If you just wish to take quick pictures whenever the subject warrants it, and if that is usually in sunny weather or you don’t mind the flash indoors, buy a small P&S that fits in your pocket or purse. If you need a camera for taking pictures of fast moving subjects, like the kids playing sports, and don’t mind the weight or cost of buying extra lenses, buy an entry level DSLR. There has been quite a compression of both cost and capability in cameras. Regardless of what you can afford, it often comes down to how much you wish to carry. When you compare the weight and size of cameras, remember to count the total weight of the system, including the body, lenses, and battery. I suggest you go to a camera store and hold them, see how they fit your hand and or pocket before you make the decision to purchase a larger camera.
Generally the type of camera limits you in the number of settings where you might wish to take pictures more so than limits you in the quality of the pictures. Depending upon the photographer, a good P&S can take excellent pictures in good lighting with little subject motion. I only recommend going to more expensive cameras if you don’t mind carrying them around and if you need to take pictures in darker settings without flash or need to take pictures of fast moving subjects.
But, as usual, there is a compromise. A new class of camera has recently become available. These are the micro 4/3 (four thirds) sensor cameras. The latest ones do not have the mirror like older DSLRs but they do have removable lenses, and they do use a rear LCD screen for framing and viewing the picture … both before and after taking the picture. These cameras are in between the P&S, prosumer, and classical DSLR cameras in both size and capability. At the moment there are only two series of these cameras available but many more will be coming out shortly. These are the Olympus E-P1, or E-P2, or E-PL1 and the Panasonic GF1 cameras. These cameras cost on the order of $1000 plus or minus a few hundred. I have recently acquired the Olympus E-P1 camera and will use it as my primary travel and walk-about camera. When I don’t want to be bothered with adjusting the settings, I can use it in auto mode, and when I wish to intervene it has full manual capability. This camera gives me the highest quality (larger sensor) in a size that will fit in a jacket pocket.
In the past I used P&S or prosumer models for the international travel pictures that you see in my earlier articles on this web site. I prefer to travel light with only carry-on luggage.
Now that you have some ideas of what to look for, you can go to the web and check out the various cameras and manufacturers. For the P&S and prosumer cameras the manufacturer is not so important, but it is very important for the DSLRs since different lenses don’t fit on different manufacturer’s cameras. When you buy their camera you primarily buy their lenses. So far, the micro 4/3 camera manufacturers have decided to utilize a standard lens fitting and the lenses are interchangeable.
There are a few web sites that focus on new photographers where you can get more information. Check out these sites for more general information.
Check out the following reviewers to learn the pros and cons of individual cameras as well as recommendations.
There are many more web sites with excellent information about cameras but the above are a good start as you narrow down your choices. Once you have narrowed them down search the web for each camera and you will learn a lot more. No matter which camera you buy it will be a compromise so consider how you will be using it and read up on them very carefully. I have not discussed the full frame professional DSLR cameras since they are not for the people I’m writing to. Those who are non professionals and who buy them are spending a lot more money than is prudent; i.e. more than enough!