Ok, I’m in love! It has taken a while for me to talk openly about it, because I have been broadly faithful for a long time, and coming to realise that something fundamental has changed has not been easy; there comes a time when only full confession will make things feel OK again.
Pic by Kārlis Dambrāns
Let me explain. I started photography as an interest in 2006/2007. I started out with the ground-breaking Canon EOS 400D with its APS-C (cropped) sensor, and progressed through the Canon 40D to the Canon 7D and 5D Mk2 both of which are my main cameras now. En-route I briefly had a Canon EOS 100D for its small size, and along with 2 pancake primes this made a genuinely portable combination, but it has now been sold and replaced by my new love. You see, like many photography enthusiasts I struggled to find a camera that would give me the quality I need and still be portable enough to have with me casually at all times. I have tried various solutions throughout the development of my hobby, and none of them have actually stuck with me for various reasons:
There was the Canon G7 enthusiast/professional compact. It had a larger sensor than most compact cameras, but it still struggled to produce magic in low-light. I used it on some cycle-touring expeditions, but it had a tiny optical viewfinder which only approximated the actual photographic area as you zoomed, and had no overlaid shooting info at all. Worse still, there was the irritation of the zoom lens extending into the field of view of the optical viewfinder when fully extended which you were just supposed to ignore and not be distracted by. I have to say that I was fond of this camera, which I used on loan from my work at the time, but ultimately although I got some good shots with it, it didn’t work well enough for me for that crucial bonding with my camera to happen. Close, but not love.
Then came the affair with the Sony NEX5. I should have seen from the start that we were destined to go our separate ways; this romance burned briefly and brightly, but the pain and compromise, which turned inevitably to disinterest and ultimately contempt were all predictable. The NEX series turned my head; I’ll admit I am an unashamed lover of modernity. A tiny minimalist camera with very few physical controls which was more worn by its lens than the other way round, seemed to me to be logical and technically beautiful. The fact that its sci-fi-tiny body contained a visible and bold APS-C crop sensor even larger than my Canon 7D’s, was a clincher for me. An interchangeable lens camera of diminutive proportions, with a sensor that could get quality images from candlelight, that looked like NASA engineered it, was always going to tempt me to make a fool of myself. I know what I like in a camera, and I knew then, but from first view, and then first gushy reviews, I was lost…. I like good lenses, The NEX had a few , but not many as it was a new system. I like a viewfinder, it only had a screen like a casual or amateur camera, but I bought it anyway. Love waned fairly fast. Image quality was lovely, but the lenses were pedestrian; good glass was thin on the ground and with Zeiss branding on the best of it, expensive. I got bored with the lenses I had, bought a cheap manual Olympus OM adapter and had some great fun with my friend Martin’s vintage OM lens collection; it was great fun too, but I simply could not get used to holding a camera out in front of me like a phone; it had to go.
At this point I realised that nothing out there was likely to fit the bill, until I happened to pick up the first camera to impress me outside of my Canons. Argos stores happened to be selling of old stock of the Panasonic G3 (a micro four thirds system camera) and the price was almost trivial. It was around £160 when it had been a £500 plus camera only two years before. It had a sensor way smaller than my Canons’, but big enough to be considered a real camera sensor, and some professionals were beginning to favour the system for its balance between image quality, small body and lens size. I loved the camera, and took some favourite pictures with it within the limits of the kit lens that came with it. It produced beautiful image quality, but limited bokeh (background blur) due to smaller sensor size. The interesting thing is that I really enjoyed this camera, and I was sorely tempted to “jump into bed with it” on a total commitment basis, but that would have meant buying a prime lens or two; I balked at this as I already have a fair lens collection for my Canon DSLRs, but something had changed, this was a camera I could love because it felt so good to shoot with. It gave me my first taste of a modern Electronic Viewfinder (EVF), a touchscreen and a folding/rotating touchscreen at that. The EVF overlaid whatever info you needed and in dim light or in direct sunlight it produced a clear enough and sharply representative image. The twisty-screen let me photograph in portrait or landscape format from ground level or held above my head; it was awesome. Focus speed and accuracy were amazing too, the only area that I felt could be improved was ready-to-shoot time as the buffer could fill fast, but honestly that never caused me problems as I am a single shot photographer who tends to compose and shoot one image at a time. A good prime lens would be a fraction of the size of my Canon lenses, and would produce some reasonable bokeh/depth of field control, but I sensed that I was better staying out or going all in; I stayed out as I could still carry my Canon system in a decent sized backpack and didn’t yet feel the need. I hung on to that Panny G3 though and really enjoyed some occasional outings with it when I couldn’t be bothered with my bigger kit. I still think this was one of my favourite cameras ever.
The crunch came this Easter, when I went on holiday to Dubai to see my brother and Sister-in-law, and I took my 4-year-old girl with me. To be honest my travelling carry bag was going to require wet-wipes, spare clothes for her, a soft toy and the seemingly endless accoutrements of childhood. I simply didn’t fancy carrying my Canon 5D or 7D and a few of the large lenses that go along with it as well as my dad-stuff! I knew I wanted a smaller camera as I wanted to capture the trip and still have space to be a good dad. I can’t remember how I found my new camera? Whether it was reading reviews or visiting a shop to see the options, but I knew that the micro four thirds system had already impressed me as the right balance between size and quality for a portable system, then I found the Olympus OMD 10 MK2 in a kit with a standard zoom and a telephoto zoom and I was in. The features were amazing and the price was reasonable. In-body image stabilisation that really performs, plenty of on-body controls to ensure easy handling, genuinely petite for what it does, great software and out of camera images, tilting touchscreen, remote flash control in-body. I bought one prime f1.8 25mm lens (50mm equivalent) for creamy bokeh portraits, and packed it all into a tiny corner of my mini backpack; I loved it, and between the amazing results and the joy of living with this beautiful camera, I am not going back. It’s like I said at the beginning, I’m in love…
In part 2 I’ll explain more about why!
Meanwhile, this older post reveals how long I have been thinking like this, as well as showing a nice size comparison between the lovely Panasonic G3 micro four thirds camera here and the Canon EOS 5D Mk2 which is my main camera.