From 35 to 43
Having come from 35mm film cameras to discovering digital photography using a 2 mexapixel Canon Ixus compact, I upgraded through the Canon range of digital SLRs from the D30 to the D60, 1Ds, 5D, 1Ds MkIII to the 5D MkII, also picking up a 20D and then a 40D (as back-up bodies) along the way. I amassed a fairly large lens collection including the 15mm fisheye, 16-35mm 2.8L, 24-70mm 2.8L, 70-200 f4L, 400mm 5.6L (u), 35mm 1.4L (u), 50mm 1.2L, 85mm 1.2L (u) 100mm 2.8 macro and 135mm f2L(u). ((u) denotes “bought used”)
I’ve bought and sold others which either didn’t perform as well as I’d hoped or became redundant including the old 20-35mm 2.8L(u), the 20mm 2.8, 28mm 1.8, 50mm 1.4, 50mm 2.5 macro(u) and the 24-105mm f4L.
That’s a lot of kit! Even taking a modest 3 or 4 lenses out with one body and a tripod would amount to a considerable load. Now its one thing carrying all this gear around when your being paid to return from some far off place with a thousand high quality photos. Its quite another thing to lug it around on a Sunday walk on the beach or a day out in Brighton. Invariably though, its the times you’ve left your camera at home when you often see things worth photographing. Many have quoted the following statement to illustrate this point, “the best camera is the one you have with you“. So the answer many photographers have been looking for in recent years is a smaller, lighter camera which can produce quality results on a par with 35mm digital.
I started along this journey buying a Ricoh GR digital, an 8 megapixel compact camera with a sharp, fast, fixed 28mm lens on a 1/1.8″ sensor.
I then moved to a Panasonic Lumix LX3, a beautiful and diminutive object with a fast “Leica” 24-60mm f2 zoom lens on a larger 1/1.63″ sensor. With its tan, half leather case and its Leica pedigree lens, the LX3 really was a joy to use and the results could easily be printed up to A4 in size without disgrace!
To be quite honest, both of these cameras easily fit the bill for the second “carry anywhere” pocketable camera, but technology moves on and “once a gadget-head always a gadget-head”, so when the news broke in 2009 of a camera barely larger than the LX3, with a huge sensor (almost 3 times larger) and a super-fast f1.7 “interchangeable” lens, I got in the queue!
Having purchased this camera and seen the quality of the images it was capable of producing, I quickly realised that this system was quite capable of giving me the image quality I needed to in fact “replace” my larger DSLR system. There are still gaps in the 4/3rds system, but for most purposes and particularly when printing up to super A3+ size,this little camera can match the image quality I am used to with the best Canon equipment available. I have subsequently sold many of my Canon lenses keeping just the 35mm 1.4 and the 85mm 1.2 with the 5D MkII body. These 2 lenses offer two of the best ‘looks’ available in 35mm photography and I may decide to get into video someday so I’ll keep the 5DII for now. With the money from these lenses I’ve ‘invested’ in some diminutive glass from Leica, a 35mm 1.4 Summilux ASPH and a 75mm Summicron APO ASPH. Both manual focussing ‘M’ system lenses which with the M-MFT adaptor offer an incredible look and superb optical quality. The 75 in particular acts like a 150mm on MFT cameras and the results feel similar to those I used to get with my 135mm f2 Canon lens, extremely sharp with a lovely separation between the subject and the out of focus areas and a creamy bokeh (although not quite as diffuse). I start using these Leica lenses from ‘Sofia’ onwards in the blog.
In 2010 Olympus updated their EP1 model, their version of the GF1, which uses virtually the same imaging sensor. With the new model, imaginatively called the EP2, came an electronic viewfinder of staggeringly high resolution and quality. It looked a bit bulky plugged into the hotshoe but when its advantages for manual focusing were combined with the Olympus “in body image stabilisation” (IBIS) feature, it meant that this was a camera which could be used with non stabilised lenses at much lower shutter speeds than the GF1. This would enable lower light photography and give sharper images at low speeds. I eventually bought an EP2 and have been delighted with the results. It is very much used as my main camera, with the GF1 a handy back up for flash shots or when 2 cameras are handy to have. Update: It has now been 5 months since I bought the Olympus EP2 and in that time I have hardly used the Panasonic GF1. The GF1 is a fine camera but the EP2 is simply more enjoyable to use. I am considering having the GF1 converted for infra-red images.