gear for the revolution – 2019

Olympus E-M5 with M.Zuiko 14-42mm EZ left, Panasonic Lumix G9 with Olympus 12-100mm PRO zoom right

A little over two years ago I wrote a post titled “gear for the revolution” as a set of suggestions about what kind of camera to use for citizen reporting. Since that time a lot of water has flowed “under the bridge” to the point where I can’t support my suggestions in that original post. Here’s what features I would suggest you consider when selecting a camera other than the one that comes with your smartphone; size, autofocus speed and accuracy, and wireless communication between your camera and your smartphone.

  • Think about size. The photo at the top shows the size difference between the original Olympus E-M5 next to the larger Panasonic G9. The size is further exaggerated between the two zooms. On the left is the Olympus 14-42mm EZ kit zoom, while the right is the Olympus 12-100mm f/4 PRO zoom. Both lenses are superb in broad daylight, and even morning and afternoon light (“blue” hour and “golden” hour, respectively), with the edge going to the PRO, as it should. And both are pretty quick to autofocus. But the Olympus with its EZ pancake zoom is far more discrete than the G9 with its 12-100mm zoom on the right. And with the E-M5 powered off, the pancake automatically collapses down to a very small size. Great for moving around quickly in a crowded situation when needs must.
  • Which leads to autofocus speed. The original E-P2 can also use the EZ kit zoom, but it’s far slower to drive the zoom’s autofocus motors than the E-M5. Keep in mind that the E-P2, introduced November 2009, was only two-and-a-half years old when the E-M5 was introduced in February 2012. Yet in those two-and-a-half years tremendous advancements had taken place between the two, not the least of which was the efficiency and speed of autofocus. Thus, if deciding which camera to own, assuming that both are used and everything else being fairly equal, I’d recommend the E-M5 hands down over the E-P2 because of the drastic improvement over autofocus speed and accuracy in the E-M5.
  • As good as the E-M5 still is, it lacks one critical feature that is available in the G9, and a number of other micro four thirds cameras from Olympus and Panasonic, such as all versions of the Olympus E-M10, the Panasonic GX85, the Olympus E-M5 Mark II, and of course the Panasonic G7, G8, and G9: wireless connectivity with either an iOS or Android app, allowing your smartphone to wirelessly transfer photos immediately from the camera to the smartphone.

There will always be many other issues to consider, not the least of which is cost. When your resources are constrained you have to make some hard choices as to what you can afford, even when considering used equipment.

Right now, for example, the best new micro four thirds camera bargain on the market is the Panasonic GX85 with a Lumix 12-32mm pancake zoom and a Lumix 45-150mm telephoto zoom. The whole kit, usually with a bag and memory card, can be had for US$490. That’s far cheaper than just about any other new camera. That camera is small, has marvelously fast and accurate autofocus, and can send photos to your smartphone of choice with the Panasonic Image App. The GX85 also has in-body image stabilization and can record 4K video (or lesser bit-rate; that keeps file sizes down and keeps from depleting the battery too quickly). It’s compact, easily transportable, pro-level image quality, and overall a great system to start with.

Of course, you can always stick with your smartphone. Nearly every mid-range Android phone as well as the Apple iPhones can record excellent stills and video. That keeps your expenses down to just having to pay for the phone and a data plan. But then you don’t get the benefits of the various focal lengths (12mm to 150mm) that the Panasonic system provides. Sometimes it’s good to have the ability to record an event from a distance with a long zoom.

Just remember, these illustrative photos were take with an iPhone 8 Plus and processed in Snapseed before being imported into my blog with the WordPress app.

E-M5 on the left powered off and the EZ zoom retracted

a tale of two roses, told by two different cameras

A rose by any other name

Here is a tale of two roses I photographed, both in my backyard garden. The first one at the top was taken with the Olympus E-M5 and M.Zuiko 45mm/1.8. I imported it into Lightroom, cropped to a square size, dropped the sharpening down -15, and boosted clarity +20. The color is just like the camera recorded, which matches what I saw before I took the photograph.

Technically there’s nothing special about the photo. I got as close as I could (the 45mm has a minimum close focusing distance of a little less than two feet; it’s no macro lens) before I took the photo. And yet the rose shows beautiful veining and shading throughout, while the background as it falls away grows to a very pleasant dreamy out of focus view.

I will say this about post processing. I’ve discovered that Lightroom is too aggressive in its sharpening setting (25 is the default). And running the image through Niks Color Efex Pro 4 will destroy that clean transition between areas of tone and light. I almost dialed the clarity back down to 0 because if its effect on such separation as well.

Pink roses

This photograph of those same group of roses is entirely different. Different time of day, different lighting (the upper right before a thunderstorm, the lower in the afternoon), different time of the year (May 2018 vs January 2019 in the first photo). The camera and lens used to take the second rose photo are the Panasonic Lumix GH4 and the Lumix G Macro 30mm/2.8. In post I did the same thing with it that I did with the first photo: square crop, sharpness -15, clarity +20. The Lumix macro is much more closer focusing, and the color science is different in the GH4 than the Olympus. In spite of all that I like both equally well.

Past history: I picked up a GH4 last year when Panasonic first dropped the price below US$1,000. It was inexpensive enough I felt I could get a copy, in no small part because I wanted to dabble in video. Well, I dabbled, and that’s as far as it got. But along the way I discovered it was a stellar stills camera, so I began to use it to take photos. If nothing else, it appeared to my eyes the output was more “cinematic.” Unless I’ve really screwed up exposure and/or color balance, I tend to do minimal processing. Otherwise I’m happy with the results.

The cameras are three years apart (the E-M5 was introduced in 2011, the GH4 in 2014). The GH4 is far bigger than the E-M5. Their menu systems are radically different. The E-M5 has IBIS, the GH4 doesn’t (that’s why I got the Lumix 30mm; ILIS). And yet, with their 16MP sensors, they produce equally beautiful photography. Both cameras are beautifully designed and built, and fun to use. They thus inspire one to go out and photograph the world. I might not be doing the video I thought I would with the GH4, but I sure do like the still output.

Bottom line:

  1. You don’t need leading edge, just-released, nose-bleed expensive camera equipment to create pleasing photography. I got that GH4 four years after introduction and one year after the GH5 was introduced. The E-M5 was introduced in 2011. And yet they are both still wonderful cameras.
  2. Use what makes you happy. One key path to happiness is to stay away from highly expensive equipment. Buy used. KEH Camera is a great place to start, and both Adorama and B&H sell used, and on occasion open box cameras.
  3. Photograph. A lot. Mike Johnston over at The Online Photographer just published seven laws of lenses, in which the Leica Lens Precept says it take a full year to test a lens. That means a lot of testing, by the way. Lots of use. Lots of chances to experiment, mix things up just for the heck if it. Remember that digital isn’t film, so you can take as many photos as you want until you run out of card space or the battery runs down.
  4. Stay away from social media gurus. They’ll never view the world the same way you do, which means they can’t create the same images you might with your camera.
  5. Keep it small and simple. The E-M5 and 45mm lens are compact and make it so easy to take the camera with you wherever you go. Today’s equivalent would be the Olympus E-M10 mk3 with the M.Zuiko 45mm/1.8. Very portable cameras make it very easy to take photos.
  6. Have fun. The most important part of the camera is the user behind it. Don’t let the camera intimidate you. Don’t let the critics intimidate you. Do be careful and use common sense. But above all, have fun.