noun ( pl. therapies ) treatment intended to relieve or heal a disorder: a course of cultural therapy
Therapy comes in many forms suited for an equal number of ailments. For me, my ailment has been that while I love the prospect of street photography (After all, I moved back to the Mecca of street photography), I have been troubled with the cumbersome nature of a full frame camera system. Don’t get me wrong, The D700 is a fantastic camera and I am not sure I even have plans to sell it at this point, but there are two distinct and sustained disadvantages that such a camera brings: weight and suspicion.
Many of you that have arrived at this blog after a Google search may be here to inquire about the weight problem. A D700 is huge. And spending a net amount of $300 to shave a couple hundred grams off for a D600 is no sweet bargain, either. The lenses are big and they are getting infinitely more expensive. The software demands are big. (See: 50+MB RAW files from the D800) The second major headache I found when traversing New York with the D700 is the awesome magnetic field it generates. By that I mean while pointing a 1400 gram camera and lens combo (I know it’s light, I use primes) at someone, they can feel it and they will generally stop from the awesome activity I am trying to capture and turn their head towards the lens! Anyway, that is enough of the badmouthing. The fact is that the D700 takes fantastic photographs and I am happy to own it. About the weight though, I’d rather leave carrying it to events for which I am paid to carry it.
I spent a massive amount of time exploring the option of a new or second camera system. I started by looking at APS-C, having the idea that maybe a wee bit smaller sensor won’t be that big of a deal in terms of quality losses. I was still convinced on Nikon’s dSLR lineup, so I was eyeballing the D7000. But to spend $1000 just to shave a couple of ounces and shrink the overall size by around 25 percent? I thought there must be another way. Besides, Nikon does not make any serious fast lenses for the DX spectrum in a “DX” price bracket.
Then I went for the X-PRO1. I bought it along with the 18mm and 35mm lenses from B&H. The clincher on the deal was reading Zack Arias’ article on the X-Pro1. Oh by the way, if you do not know of Zack Arias- he is a real straight shooter from Atlanta, and I highly recommend reading his blog. His biggest problem with the Fuji is that it focused slow and could not find focus in the dark. OK so the latter is a problem even for my eyes, but the former was a real legitimate problem. Fuji is steadily increasing focus performance with firmware upgrades- so that is a cool feature we did not have in the film days- but they still have yet another major problem: RAW file conversion. They created this new color pattern that is supposed to increase overall sharpness while reducing moire. Google it. Anyway- because of this new design, none of the software manufacturers, namely Adobe, have been able to come up with a decent way of converting RAW. Fuji provides software with the camera and that would be pretty cool if the software wasn’t about as exciting as a box of hair. On-One software is supposed to be pretty good- but I was not interested in learning a whole new camera and post-production method. So the camera was received in the gracious hands of the B&H Return Department shortly after the purchase.
Square One. Crap. So I started looking for another option. D7000 again, 6D, do I just lighten load with a couple fast primes on the D700, throw the whole photography hobby in the garbage and take up solitaire… I went down a number of Avenues. I don’t remember where the Olympus OM-D E-M5 first struck me as an interesting prospect- I probably just took a look at it at the camera store one time and then decided to see if it was actually capable of taking a photograph. To my great surprise, a product manufactured by other than Nikon, Canon or Hasselblad did infact seem to produce an image! What was more was how fast it auto focused! But surely there must be a catch, right? What could it be?
“It’s a Micro Four-Thirds, Sir.” I hesitantly inquired: “A what?” Then he showed me the sensor and I wondered if the one in my iPhone was about the same size. : ) So I figured that’s the catch. Surely, with a sensor so small there would be a huge amount of noise, artifacts, scratches, holes, whatever else can be thrown in the mix. But the speed, size and weight were so damn intriguing. By weight I mean picture your 24-70 2.8 being about twice the weight of this entire camera system.
I took pictures in the store as we all do and went home to examine them with the most critical of eyes, as we all do. Yeah there was noise at ISO3200- go figure. But the noise looks different. If any of you have read that the noise appears similar to film- that is true. It has a certain grain or roundness to it, as opposed to pixel blotches. Interesting. What is more interesting is that it is easily corrected because unlike the Fuji- the RAW files can be read in Adobe software.
Eureka! I am quite pleased with that this camera allows me to do: It allows me to have a camera that is as handy as the iPhone take photographs that are certainly print-worthy in almost any situation. I printed a snapshot of the salesman and my wife at 16×20 before buying this camera- and they look fantastic! Here is another available light photograph taken with the 45mm 1.8:
Notice the depth of field range. This was taken at 1.8. If I used my 85mm 1.8 on the D700, the depth of field range would have been approximately the sixth eyelash from the front! I have read a number of arguments about the increased depth of range being a major setback but I disagree. Street photography, in my opinion, needs a great deal of range in most of the photographs taken. Now I can take those photographs in dimly lit rooms at, say, 2.8 and ISO400 instead of f8 and ISO3200. That is huge. That is enough to totally trump the low light performance of the full frame sensor. Sure full frame ISO3200 is better than m4/3 ISO3200, but it certainly is not better than m4/3 400, or even 800!
Now about the suspicions: Street photography is something new to me but one of the first lessons I have learned was that the inconspicuous photographer is the one that gets the photographs. Frankly, I want to look like a tourist. When people see me in the corner of their eye, I want them to think I am some nobody that is taking a picture of anything else but them- and even if they think I am taking a picture of them, I want them to think that I will just delete it as soon as I see it is not a picture of someone I know.
The Olympus is giving me the results I want. I use the flip screen, the faux-confused look on my face, the random snapshots between the shots I really want to take, and the ceiling-staring that is oh-so-common amongst tourists.
And then they forget I am there. I blend into the background. And I take the shot.
I hope this article contributes towards the decisions some of you have yet to make. I am still very new to the camera system and am learning it as well. I can say that I think I am as pleased with this camera as I have been with my D700- but they are two different systems for two different applications.
However, the Olympus is certainly more rounded. In closing- I use my Nikon speedlights for strobe photography with the Olympus by means of a $15 hot shoe to PC-sync adapter.
It works fantastically.
In closing, I suggest that if you are really interested, purchase from B&H or Adorama. They offer 30-day return policies and their customer service is unmatched. I use two primes: 17mm 1.8 and the 45mm 1.8- I don;t believe in slow zooms. Also, I bought a Voigtlander Nikon F to m4/3 adapter so now my tele-zoom just became a 400mm f2.8 beast! I can’t wait to check that out in the woods with some deer or birds this spring!
This is my therapy.