Saturday, January 14, 2012

Just Because There Are New Cameras Doesn't Mean Older Cameras Wont Click Anymore

Newer and newer cameras are coming into the market, and this season is getting more and more exciting, especially for gear lovers. The lust for higher and higher megapixel count, superior clean  high ISO performance, more powerful and faster lenses have been the popular "wishlist" for things to come in the newer products. Surely, technology is progressing at a rate faster than ever before, and greater things are coming up, replacing the older generation cameras. Most people would just dump their older camera and equipments into the used market, and quickly grab that latest released camera that promises better image quality and camera performance.

I asked myself this question: Am I happy with what I currently have? To be honest, I am very satisfied with what Olympus camera system has offered, both from the E-System DSLR line and Micro 4/3 PEN series. Both my Olympus DSLRs, E-5 and the older E-520 served me well, and still are functioning at their full capability. I have used both E-5 and E-520 for countless shutter therapy sessions as well as paid assignment (I do need some side income to fund for lenses and other accessories!). On the other hand, my PEN E-PL1 has been with me to many places almost everyday, and does its job well as the camera that I can whip out at any time to capture the spontaneous photo opportunity. I am very happy with the image quality that all the Olympus cameras are delivering, and I treasure most the versatility and sharpness of Zuiko lenses, which have been nothing but reliable and performing well in many shooting situations.

All images in this entry were taken with Olympus DSLR E-520 and Sigma 30mm F1.4 lens

Love the natural catchlight.


Walking difficulties

Being Frail

Public lounging area

Auspicious colors

Morning friendliness

Not the best direction against the light, eyes were black.

Flower man

Being dreamy

Two friends

Are there any complains? Of course, we all wish we have something better than what we already have, I am after all, just a human being. I do lust for better high ISO performance (Oh heaven knows what we can do with clean ISO3200, or even usable ISO6400 on full frame sensor), and I also occasionally dream about fast lenses which Olympus never had, such as a 85mm F1.2, or 24mm F1.4, delivering sharp images with unparalleled bokeh quality. The "what I want more and more" items will never end, and the appetite is insatiable.

Lets say I am given a super powerful camera (the latest Nikon D4 would be awesome). Will my photography suddenly jump to another level? I doubt so. Obviously, my photographs will have lesser noise, much higher dynamic range, I can have higher shooting frames per second, more sophisticated autofocusing system (continuous focusing would be great) and perhaps, the camera has a brain on its own that I can shut down mine and just use my numb finger to click and click and click and still produce noise free, correctly exposed, accurately focused images. Are those great photographs? Are good photographs defined by technical aspects, such as noise, distortion, chromatic abberation, resolution/sharpness, colour accuracy, exposure correctness, etc etc?

As much as I yearn for a more powerful camera system, I cannot help but answer that previous question, by saying that a good photograph is a lot more than just all the technical perfection that we all are so desperate to achieve. Of course, if you are working professionally, and you need to deliver the files to your clients, by all means, go ahead and get the latest most capable camera and sell your images. However, for most average users who are just hobbyists, such as myself, I find the neverending lust for better equipments not being too healthy for my photography development. My photography skills wont improve much. I can probably do what I do with my current set of cameras, when it comes to finding the right subject, approaching the subject, composing it and executing my camera controls and settings to accomplish my photography vision. Those things cannot be changed by just upgrading your camera system.

Cook with a smile

Pedestrian walkway is also for sitting down.

Life is never fair

Missing body

At the market

A couple shopping in a market

Love their large eyes !!

Working at the back of a shop

Peeling shallot skins.

Hard work and relaxation on the same table.


Therefore, for today's shutter therapy session, I have decided to leave the Olympus E-5 and PEN E-PL1 home, and used my old, trusty beloved E-520 on the streets instead. The E-520 has been bruised and battered, it is showing signs of age, but it still performs flawlessly, as it should. Olympus makes really durable and tough cameras, no dispute on that. I mounted the Sigma 30mm F1.4 lens on the E-520, and merrily snapped away. Was the image output less superior than E-5 and E-PL1? Yes, the sharpness was not really there (less fine details), the noise started to creep in at ISO400 onwards, the dynamic range was so unbearably limited, and the autofocus was marginally slower than E-5. Did any of those issues bother me? Not exactly, and you know why? Because on the street, superior image quality is not the main concern here, what we needed to concentrate on more was to hunt down the photo opportunities, grab the scene as quickly as possible, and approach the subjects.

Would I have enjoyed myself better if I were using E-PL1 or E-5? Maybe, but I have had a great time using the E-520, and oh I love how small and light it is, yet having substantial hand grip for good handling. The original file output had great tone and colours, and I just love Olympus colours, especially when it comes to natural skin tone and rendering of natural outdoor colours. They feel very true to life and are very pleasing to look at. I did not find anything much to complain about using the E-520, which is coming close to 4 years old now since 2008. It has never failed me, and it has fulfilled its duty faithfully. So what if I am not using the latest, most capable and powerful camera? So what if I am not using a huge ass long zoom lens? I don't think it will make that much of a difference, seriously.

As long as I can nail down the shot that I had in mind, and manage to present the shots in a way I have intended them to be, I have successfully created meaningful photographs. E-520 did splendidly well, and I am glad I am still keeping it until today. Photography is not about chasing the most capable equipments, photography is about shooting, and making photographs happen. I have known some very good friends who still shoot with film, and make wonderful images. Talking about going back to basics, we should all start from the roots and remind ourselves why we picked up the camera in the first place.

I have complained about AutoFocusing issues with the Sigma 30mm F1.4 lens when I used it on my E-5 previously (click). One of my readers, Bill (click)  has kindly pointed out to me that the Sigma 30mm F1.4 is optimized to be used on older Olympus AF system, especially for the first generation DSLR, E-1. If the Sigma 30mm F1.4 is used on newer bodies with different (updated) AF system, it wont perform optimally. Having used the Sigma 30mm F1.4 on my older E-520, I can now understand and agree that, it is true, the Sigma 30mm lens is indeed working much better on older Olympus DSLR bodies. I find no issues at all on the E-520, though sometimes it hunts when autofocusing, but it will almost certainly, everytime, lock focus rather accurately. My hit rate of accurate AF was very high today, significantly higher than when I used the Sigma 30mm on E-5. I suspected that the 3-point Autofocus system on the E-520 body is not too far different than the original first generation E-1's autofocus system.  I can safely say that I am more confident in using the Sigma 30mm on my E-520, than the E-5. The focusing of the lens is not exactly blindingly fast, I still do miss some shots due to the lens not focusing fast enough, but careful planning, anticipating of shot and practical pre-focusing techniques can help save lives, if done efficiently.

I still love cats.

Harsh light but I like the contrast

Axe the meat and bones

Friends in market

Quick gas supply (not a very successful panning attempt)

By the roadside

Kids being kids


After shooting, we had lunch at a local Chinese restaurant at Masjid Jamek.

Lou Sang

5 course meal. *burp

Meet Ananda Sim. Oh his sexy Zuiko 7-14mm F4 lens. Go to his blog here (click)


For today's shutter therapy session, it was organized for a dear friend from Melbourne, Ananda Sim, who came home to KL for the Chinese New Year holidays. We had a last minute call for a group shooting session, and 10 members of PEN Lovers (click here to find out more) who turned out. I have promised to bring Ananda to my favourite street hunting grounds such as Jalan Masjid India and Chow Kit, which I have not had a chance to fulfill since about a year ago, his previous stop in KL. The group of PEN Lovers went to Jalan Masjid Insia and Chow Kit this morning, and I sure hope everyone had a great time shooting. People were friendly on the streets, and there were plenty of good photo opportunities. Ananda, I hope you love the streets !! Now you have seen where I make most of my shots on this blog happen.

Chinese New Year 2012 is coming really soon. There is so much to do, yet so little time left. I shall gear up, and do all I can to welcome the year of the Dragon.

For the Kuching guys, I will be flying home on 18th January 2012, and stay in Kuching until 28th January 2012. Hope to catch some of you beautiful people in my lovely hometown !! Can't wait to fly home. Oh glorious Kolo Mee and Laksa, here I come.

11 comments:

  1. Great photos as always Robin, and I totally agree on the E-520: its handling is perfect, at least for me.

    And tho there are times when I wish for more autofocus points or better high ISO, it never let me down.

    That Sigma seems to produce very good results on the camera as well. Thanks for sharing.

    Oh, and have a good time on Borneo. Wish I could join you, I'd like to see the real jungle...

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  2. great photo! just to have a question on my mind, from ur perspective, do u think the current EP-3 has the enough capability to take on the commercial photo, i.e. wedding photo shooting or etc? i am wonder whether next time got any ppls taking commercial photos using this kind of mirrorless system camera ...

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  3. I have said the same thing about the Olympus E-1. And I didn't get my first E-1 until two years after I purchased my E-3. Timeless cameras remain timeless regardless of what comes after them.

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  4. Hello Wolfgang,
    Thanks for the compliments, and yes, the handling is very good !
    I wish to explore the jungle too, but Chinese New Year is busy time for us.

    Hello Dreamie,
    Thanks for the kind words. For commercial use, it all comes down to the final deliverables to the clients: whether they need large prints or not. If large prints (poster size) is required, I am afraid the Olympus limited 12MP sensor will show its limitations. But if the wedding clients only require album prints, there is no reason why E-P3 cant perform well enough, in terms of image quality. As for performance during shooting, having three lenses, the 12mm, 20mm (or 25mm) and 45mm, you are set to have more than enough to do all the wonders in capturing happy moments for the couple.

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  5. Bill,
    Very true, many of my friends have used the E-1 and raved about it. I have not used one extensively. Perhaps I should borrow one and start having a good time with it !

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  6. Hi Robin,

    Great read as usual. I have been reading your blog for a few months and this is my first time commenting.

    I started shooting with an E-520 two years ago and I can say it is one of the best built entry level DSLR even by today's standard. I have used the 25mm pancake, 50mm macro, 12 - 60mm SWD and the two kit lenses that came with the camera. Sadly the 12 - 60mm focusing motor broke on me for no reason (maybe there was lol).

    I admit I am a gear centric person, who always wants the better lens/camera. And I switched to nikon for its better ISO because I shoot mostly indoor, and the range of prime lens it offers. So I brought a D90 when the D7000 came out, because after the my experience with the E-520, I understand it is the lens that makes difference to the photo not the camera itself.

    And here I am a year after having my D90. I found myself rarely need anything above the ISO 1250. Maybe when I shoot hockey and the rink is not bright enough. To me the clean ISO thing is just crazy, if anyone telling me they constantly need to shoot at ISO 1600 - 3200, I would call him crazy. If I ever come to a situation where I need to shoot ISO 3200, there's probably not alot of light available. And I would just convert it into Black and White and be happy with it.

    I recently brought a good condition E3 for less than a price of my D90. And I am planing on takeing the E3 and 14-54mm with me to my japan trip at the end of the month :)

    I guess I always have a soft spot for olympus lol...

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  7. Hello Apotpoc,
    Thanks for commenting, and it was great to hear from you !
    I myself have been tempted to jump to nikon, especially the D700 several times due to the better high ISO performance and not to forget, the bokeh !!
    Nonetheless, after calculating the cost it was not feasible for me because the photo-assignment I take in wont be able to recover the lost funds fast enough.
    I do agree with you that we rarely need anything beyond ISO1250, in fact, most of my shots I do outdoors, and for indoor shots I use flash, hence I do not even need to push beyond ISO1000. However, I do acknowledge the fact that there are some shooting situations when the high ISO will come in handy, and undeniably useful.
    I am glad to see you finding yourself back to Olympus. E-3 is one robust beast, I am sure you will love using it with the 14-54mm lens for your coming trip !!

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  8. Well thought out and full of great pics as always. Sometimes we love new toys just because they are new!

    I am guilty of the same sin, after some times hitting the street with my E-PL1 and Lumix 20mm, I ended pairing it with a tiny black E-PL3 and Olympus 45/1.8 - and immediately went into Florence shooting first.

    I like these little ones, shooting therapy helps.

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  9. Hello Alf,
    Those are devilishly delicious lenses you have !!! And E-PL3 is a great body.
    Wow, and you've got some nice shots there too. Your streets look so different from what I find here. Youve got very nice architecture going on in the background as well.

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  10. Robin,

    What a wonderful web site you produce.

    Not only are the photographs great (I live in the U.K and find such photos very interesting) but your grasp and explanation of technology is both informative and easy to read.

    Thanks again for you efforts.

    John

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