I figured if I don’t find the time to write any meaningful articles, I could at least post a new picture every now and then. Well, here is one, taken on a hiking trip in the black forest recently.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 + Tokina 135mm f/2.8 PK
When my wife got her new haircut recently, she wanted me to take her picture. I took one with her phone, then decided to get my camera to take a “proper” one. It just so happened that I had the 50mm lens of my Pentax adapted to my G1, so I quickly grabbed the flash. I wanted some shallow d-o-f, so I set the aperture to f2.8. I dialed down the flash intensity and bounced it from the ceiling. This was the first and only shot I took. The b&w conversion was done manually in Lightroom, so as to emphasize the texture in her hair and eyes and the color of her lips, but have the skin in her face look as gentle and even as possible.
Recently, on the way to kindergarten:
I’m a moody kind of person. One day I fancy this, the other day I fancy that. My mood can swap within minutes. This is especially bad when it comes to toys. And with toys I mean cameras. Let me digress.
I bought the Olympus E-P1 when it was relatively fresh on the market, in late 2009. I saw that it was a very capable small camera, and I saw the future in mirrorless systems (and Micro Four Thirds in particular). Also, MFT had a very neat lens to offer that made a perfect match with the E-P1: the Lumix 20mm f/1.7. This kit has served me pretty well since then. It had two major drawbacks, though: AF was awfully slow (due to both the lens and the camera), and the display was only 230k dots and there was no hi-res EVF available (the VF-2 was only introduced with the E-P2). But nonetheless, the combo is capable of taking some very good pictures that would rival contemporary consumer DSLRs.
A little later, I was bitten by the Leica bug. I had seen so many pictures from and read so many stories about the M8, that I wanted one for myself. It was a crazy idea back then, and seems even crazier now. I didn’t really have the money loose, so I decided I would pay it pack to myself (read: to my savings) over time. Which I did. And once I had the M8, I enjoyed it tremendously. It is a wonderful piece of machinery that looks gorgeous, feels absolutely fabulous in your hand, is pure joy to operate and outputs some of the finest images when combined with a good lens.
There is a drawback to the M8 as well, though: it’s expensive. And I don’t mean just expensive to buy. It’s also expensive to maintain. Mine hasn’t failed so far, but chances are that it will, at some point, need a new shutter and/or sensor. Or the rangefinder realigned. Or new circuitry. And this all gets very expensive very quickly.
Fast forward to today. Here I am, proud owner of a lovely Micro Four Thirds system consisting of the E-P1, the Panasonic G1, the 20mm f/1.7, the Noktor 12mm f/1.6 and a couple other stuff, and a Leica M8 with three great lenses. All good and well. I love all my cameras, because — being the moody type I am — each one fits some kind of mood I’m in. I don’t always like the M8, because it’s a primadonna. Sometimes I want to go compact, so I take the E-P1. Then, I want to use a fancy C-mount lens and need the EVF of the G1.
The M8 is the king of the hill in my setup, there’s no question. But the E-P1 and G1 and pretty capable themselves. And they have AF to offer, and much better high ISO than the M8. And if they ever break down, they’re cheap to replace. Which got me thinking. I’m also a father and have a family to feed. We’re getting along well, but there’s never really much left. Which means I can’t really justify to have the M8 around any longer. Because when I have it, I use it, and when I use it, it wears, and when it wears, it will need service. And realistically, I can’t afford a camera that needs money put into it just so I can use it. I already spent a four-figure sum on the camera and lenses. That’s money we could well need to pay for our car’s repair bills.
So, do I really need the M8? Well, that’s a silly question. Of course I do. I mean, it’s an effin’ Leica! You need a Leica! But despite what my heart tries to tell me, I know that the M8 will, in the long term, cost me money that I don’t have. So as much as it hurts me to admit — because I really, really, really love this camera — the M8 has to go.
I had a good time with it. I enjoyed using it. It’s a unique experience to shoot a rangefinder camera. If you want to read the whole story about me falling in love with rangefinder cameras, zip over to Steve Huff’s site. I won’t repeat all of that here. Suffice to say: if you ever hold a Leica and fall in love with it (which is highly probable), you will never want to part with it. It’s like with a classic car: your head keeps telling you it’s a waste of money, but your heart just can’t let go.
I’ve taken many, many great pictures with the M8. And I’ve learned quite a lot about photography in the time I had it. About manual operation, about judging light, about composing with an inaccurate viewfinder, etc. etc. But when I’m honest, it’s not like I couldn’t take similar pictures with a camera less expensive. And it’s not like the M8 really takes better pictures. They have a different, unique quality to them, yes. But I’ve taken stunning pictures with my E-P1 under the right circumstances.
So, if I let go of the M8 — which I am not yet 100% sure I will be able to –, what will I fill that big whole with, that will be left in my soul once it’s gone? That’s a simple one. I’m already invested in another fabulous camera system: Micro Four Thirds. And compared to late 2009, that system has matured by now. Not only are there a number of really really great lenses available for MFT, there are also some very very good cameras out by now — chiefly the new Olympus OM-D E-M5, which trumps pretty much everything else in the mirrorless world today. Save for the Fuji X-Pro 1, maybe, and the Leica M system of course.
So here’s what I’ll do. I will send in my M8 and the lenses for service, so I can sell the stuff with a good conscience. From the revenue, I will get the Olympus OM-D, and probably sell either the E-P1 or the G1, because I don’t really need three cameras of the same system. In addition to my 12mm f/1.6 and 20mm f/1.7 I will get the 45mm f/1.8. The Olympus 12mm f/2 and the Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4 are both tempting, but too close to the lenses I already have. Though I might just get them at another point.
What I will have then is a pretty complete system, spanning focal lengths from 24mm (equivalent to 35mm full frame) to 90mm, in a compact and highly capable package. I will have a system that will last me for quite a while, that I can take anywhere, and that is inexpensive to maintain and/or upgrade. Quality wise, and from the pure bling-factor, it won’t be as posh and as fancy as a Leica M. But cheaper, a lot cheaper, and 95% of the quality probably. And I will be able to sleep a lot better, not having to worry about frighteningly high repair bills …
It’s a difficult decision, because it’s not only a rational one but also a highly emotional one. But it’s one that’s got to be made. And if I’ve learned anything during my recent vacation (where I used the M8 almost exclusively), then it’s that there’s nothing I can do with the M8 that I can’t with a camera which is cheaper, smaller, less posh and above all, less expensive to maintain.
So, here goes nothing …
For quite some time now I’ve found myself frustrated with manually focusing adapted lenses on my Olympus E-P1. The low-resolving display simply isn’t accurate enough to focus without the magnification loupe. And even with the loupe activated, focusing can still be tricky. Then there is the issue of holding the camera still when you have it at arms length in front of you. So I was contemplating a number of options, chief among which ranked getting an E-P2, E-PL1 or E-P2 with the VF-2 external viewfinder. I would’ve known the interface, the menus, I would’ve gotten those great Olympus JPEG colors AND I would’ve had a high-resolving viewfinder that would a) allow more precise manual focusing and b) help stablising the camera. But since my budget was very tight, I couldn’t get either. (Thus, the new OM-D E-M5 was out of the question right from the beginning.)
Then I remembered that Panasonic’s Micro Four Thirds cameras have been using integrated hi-res EVFs from the very beginning, starting with the G1, the first Micro Four Thirds camera ever. So I did some research and found out that — despite lacking a video mode — the G1 still seemed to be a viable option, from a technical as well as financial point of view. A quick look at current eBay auctions conveyed that G1 bodies are being traded at insanely low prices these days, going as low as 100 € depending on their condition. None of the Olympus options would’ve been available for that low a price. And the main point for me was having an EVF with high resolution, which the G1 has. It might be considered “old” already from a technological point of view — especially considering the brilliant EVF in the Sony NEX-7 –, but it resolves 1.44 million dots, which should in theory make manual focusing even without magnification a blaze.
So I took the plunge and got myself a black G1 in very good condition, looking like it had hardly been used. As soon as I received it, the first thing I tried was of course the EVF. While it is indeed not the best there is, it is absolutely sufficient for my needs. The image is created by sequentially displaying the red, green and blue channels at a high frequency that is not visible when your eye holds still. However, as you move your eye around, you can see colour artifacts that can be a bit distracting. But the resolution is very good, and high enough to even focus my 50mm f/1.4 SLR lens manually without magnification — although activating the magnification loupe, which needs two button clicks and a third for the higher magnification grade, helps significantly with achieving critical focus.
One thing that bugs me about the G1, though, is that when light gets sparse, the preview on the screen or the EVF is nowhere near what you will get in the final image. I am not used to this — the E-P1 will always preview exactly what I will get in the final JPEG image. With the G1, images taken in low light generally turn out a lot darker than the preview, while the display and/or EVF can get very noisy. This can be quite frustrating, but since I am shooting RAW (something that was recommended since Panasonic’s JPEG engine allegedly isn’t very good — something I have yet to confirm), I suppose I can always correct exposure in post-processing.
So far, I have only taken a couple of test shots, none which have any artistical value at all. But what I can say already is that I am quite satisfied with the EVF, and happy that I finally have a camera that enables me to manually focus my adapted lenses much easier and much quicker than was possible with the E-P1.
Another thing I found was that the G1 and the 20mm lens seem to be a perfect match — size-wise as well as technically. Since the lens was made for Panasonic’s cameras, the two work together very well. Focusing is much quicker than on my E-P1 (which was never famous for having a quick AF algorithm), and because of the size-adjustable focus point of the G1 also much more precise when it comes to critical focusing. Also, I really like the size, feel and handling of the package. BUT … the E-P1 + 20/1.7 is still smaller, and is still my favourite combo if I want to carry a small package that takes great JPEGs that don’t need much post-processing.
Stay tuned for future reports!