While I was at a local camera store earlier, I bumped into a guy purchasing an Olympus Zuiko 50mm F2 lens. I sparked up a conversation, and he turned out to be a long time Olympus user. "I am guessing you will be using that marvelous 50mm F2 on an E-5?" I asked curiously. His response was warm and quick "No, I am now still using my old Olympus E-510". I was shocked for a little while, but at the same time I felt a wave of familiarity when I got that response. That particular sentence, still using an Olympus E-510, has layers and layers of meaning behind it. According to that dude (I have got to start remembering names) he loved how the camera renders the colours, looking so natural and true to life. He was very happy with everything that the camera does, and yes, he admitted that the camera is getting obsolete, but for his use, E-510 is more than sufficient to fulfill his needs and shooting requirements. He was so happy with the E-510, that he proudly added an important remark on how National Geographic actually spotted a photograph that he took through his blog and purchased the image from him, which was taken with that humble E-510. The fact that the camera is still fully functional without even the slightest hiccup speaks a lot about the durability and reliability of Olympus as a brand.
All images in this entry were taken with Olympus DSLR E-520 and Zuiko Digital lenses: 14-42mm F3.5-5.6, 25mm F2.8 pancake and 40-150mm F3.5-4.5
I can totally relate to his stories. I too, am still using my first DSLR (not exactly first, but my E-410 which was snatched from me did not really count, so yeah) the Olympus E-520 (a generation newer than the E-510), which is coming to four years old now. It is an entry level DSLR, with very basic functions, extremely limited dynamic range to work with, horrendous high ISO shooting capability where anything above ISO400 is practically not very usable (unless you do a lot of noise reduction post processing). Give this camera to a kid these days, and that kid would not even want to have a second look at the camera.
That brings us to the problem I wanted to voice up here. The days of entry level DSLR cameras are numbered. Yes, it was partially due to the aggressive mirrorless compact system camera which ate up quite a hughe slice of camera sales lately. However, most mirrorless compact camera system (micro 4/3, NEX, etc) are still categorized under entry level cameras. I have encountered so many cases, where a school kid asking his father to buy him a camera, and the father asked me for recommendations, and I gave him a few entry level DSLRs (such as Canon 600D, Nikon D5100) and the kid just scoffed at my recommendations. They wanted higher end models, they wanted full frame cameras, that can shoot extremely high megapixels and high ISO numbers. They want larger bodies, with even larger lenses to match. I am not just talking about kids, I am talking about general photography crowd, especially the newcomers to photography, as observed locally here in Malaysia. When they started out on photography, purchasing their first serious camera, entry level cameras are no longer in the equation. When they see even the slightest noise at ISO1600, they would scream and compare that to a full frame cameras that can shoot clean ISO6400.
I am in no way referring to working or professional photographers. If you earn a living through photography, by all means, you have the right to purchase the best equipment, best suited for your job, to deliver to your clients. No questions asked. However, if you are just shooting for hobby, and most importantly, just started on photography, don't you think you should at least start somewhere first, before going all out in equipment purchase? If you have the money and do not know how else to burn your cash, ok, I have nothing to comment. There were friends who would starve for months, eating bread and instant noodles, just so that he can save enough money to buy that 70-200mm F2.8 IS 2 lens. What is wrong with the lowly budget 55-200mm lens? Oh its not sharp enough, and the bokeh is not good enough. And more importantly, the lens is not big enough to reflect your ego, right?
I started with an entry level E-520, with mere kit lenses. I was often looked down by my peers, both Olympus and non Olympus users. Non Olympus users would say that Olympus will never be better than Canon and Nikon, and due to the small sensor size, the image quality will always be inferior. They marked my photographs down, based on my inferior equipment. I think I can live with that, because I do not judge photographs based on the gear that was used to shoot it, and photographs are a lot more than just technical excellence. What truly hurt me more was when Olympus users talked me down, saying that the original kit lens, the 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 was a crap lens, that it has so much distortion and how unusable slow the focusing is in dim light condition, that they said the only way for me to improve in photography is to upgrade my lens to either Olympus 14-54mm or 12-60mm. I agree, both suggested lenses were superior, and much better than 14-42mm in every single sense, but the thought of myself being treated insignificantly due to the small size equipment I carry, pushed the consideration to upgrade aside for a while. I stuck by the 14-42mm kit lens for quite some time, and I was shooting merrily with it. I did think I have made some good images with it. Although it was a lousy, cheap, mostly ignored kit lens, I still think its a good lens, and if you are patient enough to learn how to use it, it can deliver good results. After my photographs and blog gained some attention (thanks to you all beautiful people) the naysayers started to keep quiet, and again, the old saying that "it is not the camera that takes great photographs, but the photographer" can not be more relevant even in today's photography culture.
I am using Olympus E-5 as my main camera now, and that was mainly because I needed the camera's capabilities for my paid assignment. I still bring my E-520 as the second body, or a back-up camera. Yes, the E-5 is way ahead in terms of image quality and performance, and everything else, but E-520 is still a DSLR, very decent, and very capable on its own. Why would I want to throw that away?
I think it all comes down to what you are doing with your camera. If you find yourself constantly shooting in extremely low light conditions, such as an opera show with poor stage lights, where you need to shoot high ISO at all times, then go ahead and be happy with a full frame camera. If you are shooting sports, and you need that burst speed and sophisticated focusing system, go get a D4 or a 1D series camera. Get the camera that does what you do. However, if you are just a beginner, shooting at random things, why do you need all that power and capabilities? If you shoot on the street, do you need to blast 10 frames per second? Do you even need to shoot anything beyond ISO200 under harshly lit sun light?
I have friends who shoot with professional grade cameras for years now, and when you ask them about metering, or the relationship between ISO-shutter speed -aperture, they will hesitate and cannot give the right answers. After all, if the camera fails to deliver the results they were after, it was so easy to blame the camera, and replace it with whatever newer cameras that will be released tomorrow. And you have reasons to brag and show off your new gear, and justify the purchase by saying (wow, you know I can now shoot ISO12800 on my 5Dmk3 much cleaner than my ISO3200 on 5Dmk2).
Noodles with Char Siew
For this morning's shutter therapy session, I brought out my beloved E-520 and the kit lenses. I used the 25mm pancake most of the time, because the lens felt just right coupled with the E-520. Such a small and light combination, easy to handle, and such a joy to use. The image quality was brilliant.
What I really wanted to say in this entry, is that, do not overlook entry level camera system, may it be the mirrorless compact camera system or beginner DSLR bodies. Kit lenses are not crap lenses, they are still decent lenses, capable of good results, if you are willing to work the lenses. More importantly, be happy with your camera, have a sense of pride, and you will find out that your camera will reward your faith and loyalty with great images. Get to know your camera well, don't give up on your camera too easily, and your camera will respond to your shooting style accordingly.