Saturday, May 11, 2013

Olympus, Fuji, and Style

I am one of the few people, it seems, who believes that the output from the camera has more importance than the way it looks to other people while I'm using it.

A few years ago, a friend in Singapore was telling me how great the new Sony dSLRs (new from Minolta at the time) looked and how he just had to have one.  I commented that they weren't very good technically and that Minolta was always a mediocre brand and it seemed that Sony was aspiring to mediocrity lately, so they fit.

It didn't matter--the camera body looked great to him.  He later bought the thing and, as he wasn't expecting much, it didn't disappoint.

More recently, when Olympus brought out the new Pen and OM-D series, they took bit styling cues from their film-laden past.  The film Pen series was quite popular and the OM series of SLRs was extremely popular, even with professionals.  I noticed a change in the forums I visited.  Suddenly, people were worried about cases and straps and the colour of the lenses that they bought more than they were worried about the photos.  Odd, that.

I suppose it's different coming from one box, a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, and feeding it rather large film with small hands, looking through the viewfinder at an upside-down image and learning to compose a shot with thought.  Then, I had a Polaroid instant camera of some sort that took Type 88, 107, or 108 film (The Convertible, I believe) and I had control over the exposure.  My dad's heavy Polaroid Land Camera actually had the numeric exposure values that you could choose.  I'd be comfortable with those now, but the plastic Polaroid camera had it set to a medium setting and you could twist the dial in the light or dark direction.  I could never remember which did what, so I rarely messed with it.  The inbuilt light meter really didn't help much, but I suppose it kept me from ruining all 8 prints in the pack.

All this time, I was concerned with getting the shot right.  I walked forward and I walked backward.  I leaned and I would sometimes lie on my back in order to get the shot.  I was never concerned about how the camera (or I) looked.

So, I was also recalling people who would buy a dSLR because they wanted to look "professional", whatever that is.  They didn't know how to work it and they only had the kit lens and their photos weren't very good, but they felt no ridicule in using the camera completely on automatic settings because they looked professional.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Olympus' latest micro Four-Thirds camera, the E-P5 harkens (ha! I never have used that word) to a simpler time and the Olympus Pen F half-frame 135 format camera.  It has some good upgrades like the 1/8000th of a second shutter speed through better mechanicals and less time for shutter power saving to boost the performance.  It bodes well for the end of the year announcement of a professional body to replace the E-5.  This may or may not be a mirror-less body with some sort of modular lens mount that will allow both Four-Thirds and micro Four-Thirds lenses to be used.  (Update 2013.12.11: How reality can smack you when you've read too many rumors!  Rather than a modular camera body, the E-M1 is a micro Four-Thirds body than requires an adapter to use Four-Thirds lenses.)

In any case, the announcement seemed slanted more toward accessories with new leather half-cases and wood grips.  They even had a country club theme to the announcement venue.  Seriously odd, that.  However, people worried about image more than image quality might aspire to being seen as someone who should be recognised for whatever reason.

Fuji has been busy too, with their X-series of rangefinder cameras.  They even have a zoom lens.  If you remember how to use a rangefinder, you might remember making guesstimates of distance for focusing.  You had to take time to plan each shot.  It was a wonderful process that people are re-learning.  Considering that Fuji was having a terrible time with auto focus on their early releases, I'm sure that people were learning a lot about manual focus and taking time.  I had a chance to handle the Fuji X10 yesterday and it seems a fine piece of work.  It was next to a Canon Powershot G1X and I have no doubt that the X10 was better in most every way.  It wasn't enough for me to put money into it, though.  Given that I've seen Panasonic's GX1 body for sale for US$199 recently, why not spend less and be compatible with lenses I already have?

Given the dearth of lenses, many people have bought simple adapters and learned to use lenses from the deep, dark past when auto exposure and auto focus had not been available.  Two rather beloved (and expensive for the mirror-less cameras) lenses come from Cosina/Voigtländer and feature no electronic connection at all but the very lovely f/0.95 maximum aperture.  It's amusing that people will reject a camera body because of the auto focus speed but will use a very, very manual lens.  They must take the time to learn what works.  Maybe, they even work the numbers in their mind.  The thought of thoughtful photography and composition is wonderful.  Instead of the "professional" pointing at something and holding the shutter release for seconds, we have someone setting up a tripod, walking to and fro, moving the tripod, setting the distance, working out the aperture, and finally after minutes of work, taking the photo.  It's progress!

Update 2013.12.11: With some of the Fuji bodies succeeded with faster processors and newer sensors, FujiFilm keeps showing us the alternative viewpoint of how a digital rangefinder could be done.  I don't particularly care about the style, one way or the other, but the processing speed is better than adequate now, and the image quality is far better than average.  Still, I'm not that patient.

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