Monday, August 1, 2011

A New Tool on the Horizon

Let's get one thing out of the way - I am a consumerist whore. Much as I would love to say I'm steadfast with the "It's the photographer, not the camera" preaching, the fact is I am a shallow bastard and also want a camera that "looks cool" and has a crisp shutter sound that tickles my ears.

For a couple months after my recovery I've been using the XZ-1 and I've had some decent success with it. As a tool, the compact has proven itself to be competent and pro-minded, with extensive controls I appreciate and a lens second to none I've ever seen in a compact. It is a fantastic camera, plain and simple. But fantastic as it is, there has always been a strong pang deep down for something a little more... substantial.

The XZ-1 is small. Diminutive. Easy enough for my hands to hold, but very difficult to hold steadily unless cradled in a frankly retarded manner with two hands. Its shutter barely exists, making a nearly mute click-click when triggered that doesn't ever jostle the hands. Shooting it feels like playing with a toy, a tiny mock-up that doesn't hold strong in situations where a more professional demeanor is desired. Misguided as the perception may be, it's very difficult to be taken seriously as a photographer when the only tool at your disposal is a point and shoot. The camera will still have a place in my bag of tricks, but with a much more casual (and therefore limited) capacity. It is a camera for nights out at the mall with friends, at restaurants, at events where you'd rather not be noticed as "that guy with the camera".

Originally my camera lust directed me to wait for the rumored pro-model GF1 replacement. To some degree I'm still waiting for that camera, but am not leaning on its release as a crutch like I once was. First I'd heard it was due to be released this month or next, but the new word is that its release has been pushed back till the very end of the year, simply too long for me to suffer by with naught but an overpowered compact package. Used GF1s still sell for upwards of $900, so a direct replacement seemed out of the question. Panasonic's latest offerings, the GF2/GF3 and G3 all have the wrong ideas behind them from the perspective of a photographer. More and more it feels like Panasonic is marketing to the mass consumer, implementing touch screens and dropping direct control dials and buttons. More so, the JPG output of Panasonic cameras only managed to worsen with the cramming of more megapixels on the same sensor die (although the RAW image quality remains upper echelon).

It took time, but my patience and brand loyalties wore down enough to where I much more readily jumped ship, this time redirecting my system investments into yet another brand - Olympus. I've spoken plenty on the impressive JPG output of Olympus cameras, a strong need for the event shooting I am often tasked to do. RAW does not disappoint either, with much better support in ACR for Olympus lenses making my lens correction process as simple as selecting the utilized lens from a drop-down list. Despite owning and frequently using the LVF-1 viewfinder on my old GF1, I'd be lying if I didn't admit the unit was piss poor at its job, with utterly low resolution and color reproduction, whereas Olympus is nearly famous for the VF-2 viewfinder it managed to produce for use with its PEN line. And that is a rather important difference that influenced the shift - the presence of a compatible and VERY competent viewfinder. Something I've missed ever since I dropped the Nikon branding (and DSLRs in general) was the intimate feeling of composing through a clear eyepiece. Especially when candidly photographing people, I would constantly have one eye to the cup of the viewfinder and the other still open, one ensuring the proper composition of the image and the other keenly trained on the subject unobscured and ready to trigger a mental reaction to coax my finger down on the shutter. With the LVF-1 on the Panasonic this was much more difficult to achieve as the image in one eye did not even remotely match the other. Having tested the VF-2 on an Olympus, I already know the unit will more than exceed my expectations, necessities, hopes, dreams, etc.

So, finally, after much bantering about the process of thought behind it all, I get to my original point - my new tool. It is due to arrive via UPS today, and unlike previous system investments I don't find myself suffering the typical latent buyer's remorse. Despite being of a different brand, it will still accommodate the few Panasonic lenses I have left over from my GF1 days with the caveat that those Panasonic lenses will never be capable of producing clean JPGs but can absolutely produce stunning RAW files. Unlike the GF1 and its strict RAW shooting experience, this new tool will be able to generate gorgeous JPG results out of camera, with a plethora of customization options available for adjusting the color space and how various aspects of the resultant image are handled. And with the reintroduction of intimacy to the shooting experience with the VF-2 viewfinder, I foresee a resurgence of candid portraits in my portfolio. Mentally, a system is ready to be constructed, with different elements already prioritized and a reasonable timeline of acquisition drawn out. A body and kit lens now, a 45mm f/1.8 next month, a VF-2 and spare battery not long after that, and a 12mm f/2.0 before the end of the year. All lovely tools for a lovely trade.

E-P3, can't wait to meet you!