Years ago I had different Olympus PEN cameras and liked them very much when traveling. I managed to own, at one time or the other, the Olympus E-P1, the E-PL2, and then the E-P3 camera. I found that the PEN cameras were lightweight, small, and worked well with prime lenses when traveling in Ireland and Tunisia, but I eventually replaced them to increase the quality of my images. I decided that the image quality (IQ) of the micro 4/3 system just wasn’t what I desired, especially at higher ISOs, so I replaced my Olympus E-P3 with a Fuji X100.
This year, Olympus came out with a new version of the PEN series, the E-PL5. It has the same Sony sensor and processor that they use in the more expensive OM-D E-M5 camera. That new 16 MP sensor has shown in reviews to have far better IQ than the older 12 MP sensors that were in my previous PEN cameras. Based on the reported quality of that sensor, I decided to try an Olympus PEN camera again. The question: “Is it now good enough to replace my Fuji X100 and my Canon S95 cameras?” According to the literature, the IQ of the E-PL5 is almost as good as the X100 and the camera is smaller and lighter and has a wide choice of good lenses available for it. The E-PL5 is larger but has far superior IQ than my Canon S95, and thus the E-PL5 fits nicely in between the two cameras that I have. My Canon S95 is a very small pocket camera but I have stopped carrying it due to its’ relatively poor IQ.
If warranted, my intentions would be to use the E-PL5, mostly with the Panasonic 20 mm lens, as my jacket pocket camera and when I want a more discreet camera than my Pentax K-5. I would miss the hybrid viewfinder of the X100 but the tilt-able LCD of the E-PL5 would probably compensate for it. It also has the advantage of being able to use it to take pictures down low to the ground. I have a very stiff back and can’t bend down low like I use to so I expect this to be a very useful feature. The E-PL5 would also enable me to take occasional movies for insertion into my video shows. I also imagine that I would use the E-PL5 when traveling, especially when flying when I keep the weight as light as possible.
In order to check it out, I ordered the E-PL5 with the 14 – 42 mm zoom lens. I doubted that the kit lens would be useable from my perspective but since they include it for only $50 more than the body alone I got it. So far I have only used the E-PL5 with the 14 – 42 mm zoom lens and I don’t like the lens. It is a little too large for my use (carry in a jacket pocket), is too slow for low light photography, and is not sharp enough to allow for significant cropping. The pictures at the top illustrate the limits of sharpness and low light capabilities for an optimum aperture and zoom for the lens. These pictures were all taken hand-held with no flash at the 20 mm zoom range, ISO = 5000, f/4.0, and 1/25 or 1/40 sec. I was surprised at the low noise levels at this high of an ISO … they cleaned up reasonably well using LR4 on the raw files of such a small sensor. This shows that the sensor and processor of this latest PEN camera are far superior to the earlier ones. My biggest complaint is the lack of sharpness at all zoom ranges, and this is due to the lens. I have the Panasonic 20 mm lens on order and I’ll let you know how the E-PL5 performs with it when I get it. There are newer and better lenses available for the micro 4/3 system but they are more expensive and larger.
I love my Fuji X100 and it would be a difficult decision to sell it if I decide to keep the E-PL5. I definitely wouldn’t sell it if I didn’t have the Pentax K-5. While I have had problems in the past carrying the weight of the K-5 with heavy lenses, I am managing it now and I have enjoyed its excellent IQ and other features. My K-5 will remain as my go-to, preferred camera when its’ quality and features are desired and I can handle the weight and size.
Basically I am still a conflicted photographer. I enjoy photography but find that I really have no particular style or preferred subject. If I did, my camera of choice would be an easier decision. I have always believed that having and using just one camera would be preferable for me. Since I don’t have a particular preference in type of photography, and since I have had various physical limitations that have changed over the years, I have tried different cameras with the hope of finding “the one” for me. What I have found is that there doesn’t seem to be “one camera”; therefore, I’m hoping to use the K-5 as my preferred camera and something like the E-PL5 as my discreet carry with me camera when among people.
I believe that my camera capabilities exceed my capabilities and that I need to focus more on getting out and about and taking pictures. I still need to practice and try more things and I’m hoping that having the small E-PL5 with a prime lens on it in my jacket pocket or a small bag will enable me to do that. Some may think that I have taken two steps forward and then one back with this latest choice of camera, but I’m going for more portability with a more discreet choice as part of my plan to be a better opportunistic photographer. As Ming Thein would say, I’m going more for sufficiency than quality.
Victor Hugo said that “Each man should frame life so that at some future hour fact and his dreaming meet.” In essence this says that our dreaming should be a form of planning. This is hard to do at this time of year since it is Photokina 2012 time when lots of new cameras and lenses are announced and all the announcements try to convince you that you must buy their latest and greatest product.
While you might think otherwise given the number of cameras that I have gone though in the past few years, there has always been a goal or purpose in all of my camera purchases. I am a seeker of the smallest, discreet yet most ergonomic camera that I can find that suits my needs. My largest problem has been defining my future needs. I have traveled to various countries with a camera and wished that I had brought something different. An example of that would be the lack of a weather resistant camera that was sealed against dust while in the Sahara desert and the lack of a rain-proof camera with a long lens while traveling within the Amazon rain forest or in Costa Rica. Those events led me to get the Pentax K-5. Will I need that capability in the future? I doubt it, but what will I need?
One consistent need that I still keep coming back to is for a single camera that is small and light-weight but still has suitable ergonomics and image quality (IQ). I’m still looking for a camera that is easy to always take with me no matter where I go. I once thought that one of the micro 4/3’s cameras would be a good compromise. I liked the Olympus E-P3 but felt that the IQ was lacking in low light and that its ergonomics didn’t work with a long lens. I liked the IQ of the Panasonic G3 better but I kept hitting buttons and changing settings accidentally. It doesn’t look like the ergonomics of the Olympus E-M5 are sufficiently better … especially given the location of the on-off switch. So far, the best attributes of the micro 4/3’s system has been the smaller, but high quality lenses. Will the new cameras like the Panasonic GH3 overcome the poor ergonomics of its peers? They did make it larger so the ergonomics might be better, but it is now about the same size of the K-5.
So far I haven’t seen anything in the new cameras coming out that are worth me dreaming about … well except maybe the Fuji X-E1 or the Sony NEX-6. One of them might have the potential of being the best overall camera for me provided that I don’t need long lenses for wildlife, nor a weather resistant system. Will I need, or want such capabilities in the future?
Every time that I start looking at the new cameras trying to find the best compromise for my uses, I keep coming to the conclusion that there isn’t one single camera that will satisfy me now and that the only way I will be able to get down to one suitable camera will be to reduce my range of potential shooting options … to forget about the rare future chances that I will need a long focal length, weather resistant system for the Amazon rain forest and to forget about long lenses for photographing wildlife at a distance, etc. Maybe I should refocus my dreams on fewer types of photography.
This is an interim report on my sojourn in seeking a better camera … a better camera relative to ergonomics and my problems with holding and carrying it due to arthritis. As I stated earlier, I have gone through a number of ideas and trials relative to different cameras. My latest approach is as follows.
I have found that I can minimize the accidental button pushing on the Panasonic G3 camera, with the resulting change in settings, if I only use it with longer, heavier zoom lenses. What I did was take the neck/shoulder strap off and replace it with a wrist strap on the left side of the camera (facing the back of camera). I then put the strap around my left wrist as a safety measure if I lose my grip. I then hold/carry the camera in my left hand by gripping the lens rather than the camera. This keeps me from hitting the buttons while I carry it and raise it up to my eye when shooting. It doesn’t eliminate the problem since I still occasionally hit the buttons with my right hand while shooting, but I notice it immediately since I have my eye to the view finder and can quickly hit the delete button to cancel the unwanted action.
The above partial solution still leaves me with frequent problems while using the camera with prime pancake lenses since I can’t hold it by the short lenses. Since I primarily experience this problem when using my fast prime lenses indoors under poor lighting conditions, I decided to see if I could find a better camera for those conditions. I’m looking for better in two ways: no accidental button pushing while being easy to hold, and better low light capability. At the moment I think I may have found the solution. I ordered a Fuji X100 camera. It has a range-finder profile … small, thinner, control dials, and not too heavy as well as an APS size sensor along with one of the best view finders available. The APS sensor is larger than the micro 4/3 sensors in the G3 and E-P3 and does better at high ISO settings with less noise. In addition it has a non-zoom, single 35 mm (effective) f/2 lens. I have been using my Olympus E-P3 with either the 14 mm f/2.5 or the 20 mm f/1.7 lenses (effective 28 or 40 mm). The Fuji X100 with its lens is a perfect compromise in focal length, with better low light capability, better image quality, and hopefully with better ergonomics and easier to change dial controls.
I won’t know how well this approach works until after I get my X100 and try it for a while. If it solves my problems, I’ll primarily only use the G3 with my Panasonic 45 – 175 mm and 100 – 300 mm lenses while taking short walks with the primary aim of taking wildlife shots. I’ll use the X100 for my indoor photography and as a walk-about camera while traveling, walking city streets, shooting landscapes, etc. It has a smaller profile, is easier to take with me, and has the advantage of being silent and more discreet when taking pictures in crowds of people.
The above is a picture of ducklings wading in Plum Creek. I used my Panasonic G3 with the 100 – 300 mm lens. This picture was taken at the 300 mm focal length (which on the G3 equates to an effective 600 mm) while hand holding it. I’m showing this as an example of one end of my photography … wildlife pictures taken with a long focal length lens.
At the other extreme, I often take pictures with my 14 mm lens, which is the widest lens that I have. Since some of you have been interested in the status of our porch construction, I’m using pictures of the porch to illustrate that extreme of my photography.
These pictures are a few days old. They have since seeded and spread straw over the bare area. We are now waiting for the final power washing, a bit of painting, and installation of the ceiling light.
I used my Olympus E-P3 with the Panasonic 14 mm lens for the porch pictures. That combination is my favorite walk-about photography set-up since it is my smallest, discreet combination. It is a very good camera/lens combo for landscape and street scenes with good lighting … and I even sometimes use it when shooting inside in not so well-lit rooms; but I often switch to my 20 mm lens since it is faster and handles low light settings better.
As I have stated in earlier posts, I have had problems with accidentally punching buttons and changing my settings on the G3; but, after researching alternatives, I have decided to continue using my G3 with my long lenses. When I use the longer lenses I tend to carry & hold the camera by the lens with my left hand and don’t end up changing settings as frequently as I do with shorter lenses. That leaves me with the decision as to what works best for me when using shorter focal length lenses.
I have decided that I would rather look for a better walk-about camera/lens combo that can also handle low light situations better than the E-P3. I would also prefer having an integral view finder rather than having to rely upon using the LCD to compose pictures, especially in bright sun light. I have thus reduced the alternatives down to a few cameras with APS size sensors (for better low light, high ISO shots) which have built-in view finders, and which are discreet in size but easy to hold and handle with dials for changing settings. Oh, I forgot to add, and that are cheaper than a Leica M9!
Those of you who have followed my blogging for a long time remember that I use to write some about climate change and the expected results because of it. I slowly stopped writing about it as more and more people finally accepted the facts about global warming.
The half of my readers who do not live in the U.S. might not realize the differences between their weather and that of the U.S. While the climate has changed and the globe has been slowly warming, many of you experienced unusually cold and snowy weather while those of us in the U.S. had the opposite.
For much of the U.S., 2012 was the year without a winter. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that not only was March the warmest on record in the U.S. (lower 48 states), but so too was the entire January-February-March period.
The average temperature across the U.S. was an incredible 8.6 degrees F above the 20th century average (half a degree warmer than the previous record from 1910). Aside from January, 2006, no month on record has surpassed its average by such a large margin. It makes me wonder what it will be like in the future.
The following is a Summary of the Climate Highlights for March as reported by NOAA:
- Record and near-record breaking temperatures dominated the eastern two-thirds of the nation and contributed to the warmest March on record for the contiguous United States, a record that dates back to 1895. The average temperature of 51.1 degrees F was 8.6 degrees F above the 20th century average for March and 0.5 degrees F warmer than the previous warmest March in 1910. Of the more than 1,400 months that have passed since the U.S. record began, only one month, January 2006, has seen a larger departure from its average temperature than March 2012.
- A persistent weather pattern during the month led to 25 states east of the Rockies having their warmest March on record. An additional 15 states had monthly temperatures ranking among their ten warmest. That same pattern brought cooler-than-average conditions to the West Coast states of Washington, Oregon, and California.
- Every state in the nation experienced a record warm daily temperature during March. According to preliminary data, there were 15,272 warm temperature records broken (7,755 daytime records, 7,517 nighttime records). Hundreds of locations across the country broke their all-time March records. There were 21 instances of the nighttime temperatures being as warm, or warmer, than the existing record daytime temperature for a given date.
- The nationally-averaged precipitation total was 2.73 inches, which is 0.33 inch above average. The Pacific Northwest and the Southern Plains were much wetter than average during March while drier-than-average conditions were observed in the interior West, Northeast, and Florida. Colorado had its driest March on record.
- According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of April 3rd, 36.8 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, a decrease from 38.7 percent at the end of February. Above-average precipitation across the Southern Plains improved long-term drought conditions across Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
- The warmer-than-average conditions across the eastern U.S. also created an environment favorable for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. According to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, there were 223 preliminary tornado reports during March, a month that averages 80 tornadoes. The majority of the tornadoes occurred during the March 2-3 outbreak across the Ohio Valley and Southeast, which caused 40 fatalities and damages exceeding 1.5 billion U.S. dollars.
- The U.S. Climate Extremes Index (USCEI), an index that tracks the highest and lowest 10 percent of extremes in temperature, precipitation, drought and tropical cyclones across the contiguous U.S., was a record 41 percent during March. The extent of extremes in warm maximum (71 percent) and warm minimum (70 percent) temperatures was at or near record levels across the nation. A record extent of extremes in both maximum and minimum temperatures covered all of the Northeast, Upper Midwest, Ohio Valley and Southeast regions during the month.
- On March 9th, a cut-off low pressure system impacted the Hawaiian Islands, bringing heavy rainfall and severe thunderstorms. A rare EF-0 tornado hit the towns of Lanikai and Kailua on Oahu, causing minor damage. A separate storm dropped a hailstone measuring 4.25 inches long, 2.25 inches tall, and 2 inches wide, the largest hailstone on record for the state.
Life is about opportunities, but they are bounded by changing realities and still take some effort if you are going to take advantage of them. Living here at Homewood at Plum Creek I have plenty of opportunities, even though I don’t always take advantage of them. Lately I have gone to some of the musical events and have enjoyed them, for several reasons. First they are enjoyable, very close by (I don’t have to drive), and they are included benefits of living here. Second, they provide me opportunities to hone and test different skills with my cameras.
The above picture was taken with my Olympus E-P3 with a 20 mm lens … no flash, no zoom … while listening to the Irish Road band. The lighting is never ideal for photography and thus is a challenge in the Omni Auditorium. The following picture was taken through the window of the Homewood bus when I took it to the Winters Mill High School to hear the Carroll Concert Band. You can see some of the window reflections in the sky.
The following picture is a shot of the band.
As I first mentioned, opportunities still have imposed restrictions. In my case it is one of not being able to carry a heavy camera around with me everywhere I go. In addition, I like to not impose on others around me as I take pictures. In my view, this means having a camera that is small enough to fit into a pocket, not having a big long lens thrust out in someone’s face, and never using a flash. I suppose that I could carry a little point & shoot camera, but it will not suffice.
I choose to use a camera with a larger sensor and one that I can shoot in raw format rather than jpegs. So far, I have found the micro 4/3 compact system cameras to be the best affordable choice for me. All of the above pictures were taken with the Olympus E-P3 and the fast Panasonic prime 20 mm f/1.7 lens, and I never used the flash. It isn’t the lightest or smallest camera but it still can fit into a coat or vest pocket and the handling ergonomics are pretty good. I only shoot in the raw format and then use Adobe Lightroom to develop the picture. In the above circumstances it is almost a necessity to utilize software to extract views of this quality with such a camera. In addition, it gives me as much, or more, enjoyment developing the pictures as it does taking them.
The above was taken in my front yard with the Panasonic G3 camera and the Panasonic 45 – 175 mm lens at a focal length of 107 mm.
As mentioned in earlier articles, I have been simplifying my photography gear. My desire has always been to be able to get down to one camera that is small, lightweight and does all I need. My Panasonic G3 almost does it. I have sold my K-5 and all the Pentax lenses as well as my Olympus E-P1 and E-PL2 cameras, and all of my Olympus lenses other than for the 14 – 42 mm kit lens for the E-P3. The only reason I have kept that lens is for when I eventually sell my E-P3. I also plan to sell my Canon S95.
While I initially preferred the Olympus micro 4/3 cameras over the Panasonic ones since the Olympus cameras have in-body image stabilization, I have switched to Panasonic cameras. I did that since 1) Panasonic was quicker to switch to a refined, better sensor, 2) Panasonic had a built-in viewfinder, and 3) the Panasonic cameras were more reasonably priced.
The one shortfall that I experience with the G3 is the ability to carry it in a pocket or a very small bag; therefore, for the near term, I am keeping my Olympus E-P3 to cover that need. Eventually I hope to replace it with a micro 4/3 camera that is easier to carry in a jacket or vest pocket. Until that happens, I will use the E-P3 with either the 14 or 20mm Panasonic lens on it when I don’t think I will need the G3, or at least don’t wish to take it with me.
As of now (I know I keep buying and selling cameras :-)), I plan to use the Panasonic G3 with either the 14, 20, 14 – 42, or 45 – 175 mm lens on it, depending on where I’m going and what I’m photographing. I’m finding that I really like the Panasonic 45 – 175 mm lens for when I’m walking outside in the more open areas, and generally only switch to one of the wider angle, faster lens when I’m in town or inside a building.
The next lens that I’m thinking about getting is the Panasonic 25 mm lens to use on the G3. I’m thinking that I will keep the 20 mm lens to use on the E-P3, and then, hopefully on another micro 4/3 camera … probably a future generation of a small micro 4/3 Panasonic camera. If I proceed with this plan I will then have redundancy between the two cameras and all of the lenses and will be photographing exclusively with micro 4/3 cameras. Eventually I hope to be down to primarily one camera, but it would have to be a small lightweight micro 4/3 camera with a built-in viewfinder.
Now, if only I could reduce the number of my camera bags. I have acquired many bags for many cameras and different uses over the last few years, and while you can never have too many bags :-), I do have some larger ones that I will probably never use again.
I am taking the big step and selling my K-5 and all the lenses I have for it. I have replaced it with the Lumix G3. The primary reason is that I decided to reduce the size & weight of my gear. As configured above, the Lumix G3 with the 14 – 42 mm lens weighs 560 gm. and the K-5 with the comparable 18 – 55 mm lens weighs 1010 gm. I had not been using the K-5 and had been primarily using my Olympus E-P3 with prime lenses since it was lighter and easier to carry … until I got the Panasonic Lumix G3.
My rationale is that the extra weight & size of the K-5 is not worth it to me. The K-5 is a better camera, has an APS size sensor, is weather resistant, and is sturdier with a magnesium body; but I have not been utilizing those features. Those benefits had no value to me if I didn’t take the camera out and use it. The weight and size disadvantage of the K-5 system was even worse when I used it with the 55 – 300 mm lens and that was my main configuration. I preferred to use the long zoom lens on it rather than a comparable zoom on the E-P3 since the E-P3 doesn’t have a viewfinder and it was harder to hold steady when holding it out so I could see the LCD to compose pictures.
I have ordered the Panasonic 45 – 175 mm Lumix GX Vario PZ lens and intend to use it on the G3 most of the time. The lens doesn’t have quite the reach of the Pentax set-up (only an effective 350 mm rather than the 450 mm I had with the Pentax), but I think that will be sufficient. I could have ordered a longer lens for the G3 but I liked that the new 45 – 175 mm lens doesn’t extend when focusing or zooming. It will be easier to hold steady and won’t be so noticeable when using it on the street. If I need a longer zoom, Panasonic has a 300 mm lens (effective 600 mm) … longer than anything Pentax has.
It will take a little more time to get real familiar with the G3, but so far I really like the ergonomics and the quality of the images. I’m even thinking that I might sell my E-P3 and just use the G3 for my photography … I still have my Canon S95 for a pocket camera but haven’t been using it so I might also sell it. I will wait and see if I’m always carrying the G3 with me when I go out. If not, I might keep the E-P3 as a jacket/vest pocket camera with either the 14 or the 20 mm pancake lens and just a wrist strap on it.
Normally on a day like yesterday when it is foggy and drizzling, I would prefer to take my K-5 while out walking; but this time I took the G3 with the 14 – 42 mm lens. I kept it on a neck strap under my raincoat and only took it out while shooting. Here are a few shots that I took. The G3 did just fine. I’ll soon be saying goodby to the K-5.
Update (20 June 2012) …. I reversed this action … click here for a change.
I have a Canon S95, a Pentax K-5, and an Olympus E-P3 camera with multiple lenses for the K-5 and the E-P3 … more cameras than I need or use. I mostly use the E-P3 because of the quality, size and weight compromise. In addition, I seem to be gravitating towards using a prime lens on the E-P3 … the Panasonic 14 or 20 mm, or the Olympus 45 mm. My dilemma is what will I need in the future? It’s always easier to look back in time, and these cameras have all served me well under different circumstances. The question is, what will I need down the road? Will one of the newer cameras better serve my future needs?
I’m contemplating replacing my cameras with the new Olympus OM-D, E-M5. It would give me the weather protection that I have with the K-5 but in a much smaller, easier to carry system package. It would also allow me to continue to use the micro 4/3 lenses that I have and love, but it might not have the image quality that I can get with the K-5. The E-M5 might be the single camera solution that I have dreamed about.
My current reservations are:
- Will I use a camera enough to warrant buying a new one?
- Will I really need an all-weather camera?
- Will I do a lot better with the EVF of the E-M5 due to my eye-sight?
- Will I be able to handle the E-M5 with one hand if my other hand is holding a cane or walking stick?
- Should I keep the E-P3 for backup?
If I only knew what was down the road.
In earlier posts I talked about the advantages I have found in using 14 mm and 20 mm prime lenses while touring in Ireland, etc. I’m not going to repeat the advantages of touring with prime lenses since you can read them in many of my earlier posts. What I’m addressing today is why I have added another prime lens to my daily walks … the 45 mm f/1.8 Olympus lens which gives me an effective 90 mm focal length.
In Ireland the 14 and 20 mm lenses were ideal for the wider landscape pictures that I took, but I learned that while walking around Hanover city streets, the things with the most character were found in the smaller details. To capture this I decided to get the 45 mm f/1.8 lens to obtain a greater reach.
The question I’m sure you want to ask is “why not use my 14 – 150 mm zoom lens?” since it would give me a lot more focal length flexibility. The primary reasons are that it is bigger, weighs more, doesn’t have as good low light capabilities, and isn’t as sharp. The 45 mm lens is sharp at f/1.8 and the sharpness is quite good, and consistent at f stops between f/4 and f/8. If I wish to focus on details with the further stuff blurred, I can set the aperture at f/1.8 … can’t do that with the 14 – 150 mm f/4 to f/5.6 zoom lens. If I’m interested in maximum detail and depth-of-focus I can set the 45 mm prime at f/5.6 to f/8 and keep shooting without any thought. In addition, since the 45 mm is so sharp, and since I display my pictures on digital devices, I can crop-zoom significantly to home in on the details thus negating the need for a longer zoom. If I need to take a wider shot and don’t have a wider lens in my pocket, I can take a panorama with two or more pictures and then join them when I get home.
The only potential disadvantage of shooting with prime lenses is the occasional need to change them and this raises the possibility of getting dirt on the sensor or dropping a lens; but I haven’t found this to be a problem. My practice is to choose the best lens before going out depending upon where I’m going and what I’m shooting. In doing this I am almost always able to change lenses while sitting at home or in my car, and almost never need to change them while walking.
Since this is a different focal length than I am use to using, I have tried to learn more about shooting with it by walking around close to home. Above is a picture that I took while testing the lens under the conditions I expect to encounter. I’m showing the same picture below in B&W. That is another aspect of my pictures that I’m exploring; i.e. displaying the older buildings, etc. in B&W.