Thursday, August 11, 2011

Figuring these new tools out...

It's a little crazy how much the ultimate quality of the image I'm able to produce is dependent upon so few factors.

This weekend I went out with my mother, grandmother and little sister to visit my late grandfather's grave. Being that our intent was to straighten up the plot and lay down fresh flowers, it seemed prudent to bring a camera. Some people find the concept of photographing a funeral or grave site profane or taboo, but my family is intuitive enough to understand my method of grieving involves the lens. Photographs of the gravestone and arrangement were certainly taken, but those are private.

Not private, however, are the photos I can't help but take of my little sister. Like most kids her age, she's a spitfire, a well of drama and overflowing personality, and she makes for some awesome photographs. I took a few of her at random points, some in the car, some over dinner. Some strange thought crossed my mind earlier that day and possessed me into bringing both the XZ-1 and E-P3. While snapping pictures of my sister in the back of the car with the E-P3, I realized she was reticent to hold still for a photo and thus switched to the XZ-1 for sake of its faster lens. Once home and able to review the images in greater detail, something stunned me. I couldn't tell the damn difference from one photo to the other.

Now, granted, the images were not shot with the same lens, parameters were very different and one was a 10MP image whereas the other was 12MP (but since when did anything less than a 400% difference in MP ever matter). From a technical standpoint they were very different images, but coming from a purely aesthetic standpoint, paying attention to the little factors that matter such as color, tone, gradation, the commonly overlooked elements that are only not the subject of camera review websites and forums because they are impossible to quantify, the images looked as if they were produced by the same camera. Both images were sharp, with perfectly balanced detail retention, held great skin tone, well measured warmth, little to nothing stood them apart.

I'm sure such a discovery would offend some consumers, feeling that the E-P3 is a rip-off of a tool if a tiny, boxy little point-and-shoot could rival it in any capacity. Personally, this realization that my compact can give me comparable quality to my EVIL tool has me elated. What working photographer is ever satisfied without a backup system of some kind to fill the gaps present when the primary tool isn't up to the task at hand? When time is a critical element of a shoot and there's no time to switch between a telephoto prime to a wide-angle lens, what does one reach for? And if the tragic scenario should occur in which the primary tool, for whatever reason, becomes an expensive paperweight, what does that working man reach for?

A backup is a critical tool in and of itself. Most photographers use a duplicate camera as a backup so that lenses may be paired between the two, but I find the compact backup much more useful, especially when it demonstrates image quality to the extent of the XZ-1. The thing gives me an absolutely incredible 28-112mm coverage equivalency, and the f/1.8-2.5 aperture spread allows it to de-focus a background much in the same capacity as any kit f/3.5-5.6 zoom. Given the subject matter I prefer to shoot (interiors and landscape) having the light capture of f/1.8 and the depth of field equivalent of f/3.5 is more than ideal. And like most compacts, the macro capabilities of the camera are very competitive with equivalent macro lenses, and for those things that hold still and don't require much working distance, the switch-able "Super Macro" mode allows the camera lens to nearly be touching the subject. Put simply, the XZ-1's feature set makes it not only an ideal backup but an addition of versatility to my system.

Although the photos have yet to be processed and posted, I put this XZ-1/E-P3 duo to the test yesterday to put it to working practice. Understanding the nature of the images I'd be capturing beforehand, I simply attached the Lumix 14mm f/2.5 to the E-P3 and pocketed the XZ-1, a very light load. While I found myself shooting the E-P3 mostly for the wide-angle and edge on image quality at higher ISOs, I much more than once slung it over my shoulder, palmed the XZ-1 and fired off some incredibly clean macro shots of various items around my locale. Both tools saw nearly equal use, and the ease of switching between cameras made the transition almost transparent. It was a powerful combo, and a very enjoyable one to work with.

Can't wait to review the images (hopefully today) and share them, as well as yesterday's adventure.