Friday, February 20, 2015


Pretty sure I lost my mind at the onset of this new year. This analysis is based on the efforts I took to "front load" my business year with all sorts of expenses in anticipation of unrelenting work coming in the future. Based on business level progression over the course of 2014, this makes complete sense, however not a single year of the last 3 spent operating as a sole proprietor has yielded relevant trend information to serve as a basis for prediction. But oh well, too late for second guessing business expense decisions, especially when they serve as fun toys as much as tools.

It really comes down to the behemoth, Olympus' newest PRO zoom, the 40-150mm f/2.8. The week it was ordered, I was courting a commercial food photography client and had anticipated a 2 day long, 10 restaurant wide contract, and being commercial work it was a job I was excited about. For carefully executed food photography work I knew I wanted a long focal length with a sharp look at f/4.0, and from everything I had read the 40-150mm f/2.8 boasted the close focus distance necessary. Pulled the trigger on it before the contract had even been fleshed out. Which was maybe unfortunate because the client rather suddenly opted to hire another local who pitched a painfully low bid for the work entailed. Whoops.

Not that I was genuinely upset to have purchased the lens despite the work falling through. Just because I had no work that necessitated such focal lengths didn't mean I wouldn't enjoy playing with it otherwise. Not since the old Nikon days, with the D40X and Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6, had I handle a lens with telephoto focal lengths stretching beyond the 90mm equivalence of the M. Zuiko 45mm f/1.8. And housed in the constructed of a PRO lens, well, I was excited, for sure.

Then it arrived, and upon unboxing was immediately intimidated by the weight and heft of the thing. The old D40X, the deplorably "large" DSLR I had sought to get away from with the diminutive minimalism of the Micro Four Thirds system way back in 2008, could've been mistaken for a baby camera next to the combo of Olympus E-M1 paired with its vertical grip and the hooded 40-150mm. Whatever benefits in regard to size I had enjoyed with the E-P3 and assortment of primes was gone. It was undone. My efforts to define my style of shooting with the absurdly small, if not already undone by brandishing the E-M1 to begin with, was dragged into the backyard and shot with this lens. Equivalents in other systems may have been bigger, but this was well past the line I had arbitrarily drawn years ago.

And I freaking love using it.

Without a paying client to support first "tests", I got in touch with a good friend for a short outing in the cold. The location itself supported architectural shots for sake of his interest, but I knew the primary function of this unreasonably sized cannon was for stellar portraits, and in that regard it put even my former portrait champion, the 45mm f/1.8, to shame. One can read reviews all day boasting its autofocus performance and sharpness across the entire breadth of its focal length range, but put into practice it is almost surreal that such a (comparative to my former system) heavyweight combination can disappear in the hands so easily as a function of taking stellar photos. Even its balance on the tripod, mounting a collared lens being completely new to my well of experience, was fantastic in the balance of weight distribution provided. It's simply a lens I want to use.

Having strictly been a prime lens shooter for the last 7 years, the duo of the 12-40mm and 40-150mm f/2.8 lenses has brought about a change in my comfort zones. Even with the same focal lengths available on the zooms and my assortment of primes, I'd been leaning toward prime lens use for work for a general sense of familiarity. Of safety. With the 40-150mm, however, and matched by the extra high ISO clarity afforded by the E-M1 as opposed to the PEN E-P3 used in years past, I'm finally leaving the primes behind for the quality and convenience of the PRO zooms I've been dropping so much money on but have been too afraid to make exclusive use of. My mental allocation of camera system assets has now split into a clear 2-system approach, with PRO zooms on the E-M1 and my primes on the E-P3, almost exclusively split if not for situations in which the 17mm f/1.8 goes remarkably well on the front of the E-M1. It's a logical divide, and for the first time I find myself able to confidently say I'm fully appreciating the value of a 2-camera system.

There's a real freedom in not feeling bound to a single camera for all work which I'm only now realizing. I've worked with multiple bodies before, but one of the set always felt superior and the other a painful compromise. Arguably, the same should be said for the E-M1 and E-P3, however their use cases for my part are different enough for one to excel in areas for which the other is lackluster in use.

Or maybe it's more simple than that. Maybe now I can confidently say I have my "workman's camera" and my "street shooter", because that very succinctly describes their primary roles. I still like my tiny camera and tiny primes when shooting for myself. Should Olympus put out another PEN E-PX, I would pick it up in a heartbeat to level up my casual street shooting system, because photography for me simply isn't fun with big cameras and big zooms all the time. Maybe 80% of the time I'd rather just walk around with a tiny fixed 35mm equivalent field of view and be content with that. Perhaps that's why cell phone photography has exploded into the fun artsy thing to do.

Olympus has announced release of its 7-14mm f/2.8 ultra wide zoom as well as an 8mm f/1.8 fisheye some time around the Summer of 2015. More fun expenses with which to front load my business budget. The items more catching my attention is the proposed digital OM-4, built small with an EVF but no rear screen. Internet Experts naturally hate the idea of a digital camera with one less screen size metric against which to pit against other digital cameras, but I personally love the idea. One less screen, one less distraction. The KISS principle, "keep it simple, stupid". I'd take a new PEN just as well, but in any case I'm a fan of the persistent inspiration of minimalism in design. Still wish someone would make a square MFT sensor, though... 1x1 MFT would be kind of amazing. Just saying.