On the benefits of not upgrading.

This post is a lot easier to write now that I do not work in a camera shop. Selling and being around cameras was once my dream job, but I must admit, the ridiculous pricing pressures, the dominance of improvingdigital technology and gimmicks over the importance of the human eye (good "seeing" followed by strong editing and then good presentation) and then the worshipping of these gear improvements rather than user improvement have taken away my satisfaction with the industry and especially the sales side.

For the last 3 years (!) I have used, with some drop ins and drop outs, pretty much the same cameras. Not the same format, or even just the same brand, but the same cameras. The critters used are the Olympus OMD EM5 (the original one).

Are they perfect? Not by a long way. The buttons are "squishy" due to the weatherproof membrane under the outer shell, some of the buttons are in just stupid spots (although the ample customisation of the camera fixes many of these issues) and the the performance, although good is a little laggy in places, but they are more than ample in so many ways that they are worth persevering with.

EM5 mk1 and 75mm 

EM5 mk1 and 75mm 

The benefits with sticking with the same format/brand/model are many. In the film era cameras changed little and less often. the user became so familiar with their camera, they could often change all settings without looking at the camera and the number of buttons, dials and switches were kept to a minimum allowing for fewer mistaken settings. The DF Nikon is an example to me of a camera created by a generation unaware of the expectations and hopes of the previous generations, expectations often rediscovered by the next generation who embrace old film cameras.

To me the camera looks like a thing made by a group of people who are aware of the "ancient" machine it is mimicking, but have only seen a photo of one and are then locked away in room to re invent the wheel.

It is;

Too big (have they never seen an FM2 that also had to accommodate a roll of film?).

Too fiddly (far too many locked off buttons and dials and it feels odd in the hand).

Too light for its size (why so big then so light, from the company that worships stupid heavy=quality?).

Too expensive and looking more so every month (D4 sensor, in a relatively cheap body only goes so far).

The reality is the Fuji XT1 (and the newer Mk2) ate this one's lunch!

When I purchased the EM5's, the mirrorless world was just starting to mature and it showed. the OMD was one of the first breakthrough cameras of its type, heralding a bright future. It offered a vastly improved sensor, faster (by some measures) AF performance than most other cameras and a camera that appealed to the lost generation of film camera owners who just liked the way it looked and felt (the OMD sold consistently and at good prices for over a year and surged again towards the end of its life with some great deals, in that time Canon and Nikon went through 2 full model changes, with sales slow at first and the prices quickly dropping). 

What has changed since? Lots of little things, but if I looked at from a RAW file quality perspective, very little until the GX8/Pen F upped the pixel count. I had until recently the luxury of comparison with any camera you could reasonably imagine and drove myself mad trying to find a more capably kit, but to no avail. The little OMD's always came up with the best balance of camera size/weight, image quality and lens selection. They constantly surprise me with the things they can pull off, that I have come to rely on and these things can bite me big time if I switch to another brand or format for a while. 

I would love the silent shutter, slightly improved viewfinder/stabiliser/AF of the Pen F, but really do not use it. Recently I started a project photographing natural portraits in a school environment. The light was mixed, often poor, the children always moving at least a bit and distances were often longer than ideal. I found myself shooting hand held with a budget 75-300 SLOW telephoto, and at higher ISO settings than desired.

OMD EM5 mk1 75-300 at 300mm F6.7 (wide open) ISO 1600

OMD EM5 mk1 75-300 at 300mm F6.7 (wide open) ISO 1600

There were misses, as always, but there were a lot of wins that even surprised me as I processed them. I cannot show you any with the children in them for legal and ethical reasons, but believe me when I say, when stretched to its limits, this little system pulled of images that would have been only recently in the realm of the big cameras and super priced lens. 

EM5 75-300 at about 100mm ISO 800

EM5 75-300 at about 100mm ISO 800

"Counting every eyelash" used to be a bit of a un official quality gauge. It has now become an expectation from even the most unlikely of situations. As I shot, I knew the limits and believe that that certainty allowed me to get on with the job.

Since then I have photographed two stage productions for the same school, with the 75/75-300 combo and have been amazed by the results.

The problem with upgrades.

Knowing your cameras strengths and weaknesses is key to performing with your gear. How do you milk the best quality out of the cameras and your work flow unless you have experimented in many situations, failed and succeeded at the edge of the reality envelope and come up with the most effective work arounds. If new cameras actually removed problems the world would be a better place, but they only mitigate them by ever decreasing amounts, bringing with them a series of other small differences that have to learned and sometimes avoided.

When shooting Canon, I had a love/hate relationship with the 450D slr. On one hand the camera had a poor screen and low pixel count compared to many new cameras (which felt important at the time) and it felt cheap and plasticky, but the files were nearly bullet proof for their day and the shutter just kept on going. Shooting street in mixed lighting can produce some pretty crappy files, often 2-3 stops out, but the 450 files often gave me a workable image (recently I went into the archives to find an old image use in this blog and hanging on the wall and missed it repeatedly because the original file was so poor!). When I shifted to the newer models, full of hope for vastly better images I was met with poor highlight recovery, bigger files and less "sharp" looking images in much the same body. Only full frame satisfied and the difference was not as much as you would think.

One of the above images was taken with the 450d the other with a 5d mk2.

I suppose what I am trying to get across is; when buying a new camera, be aware that the actual benefits will most likely be less obvious that the perceived benefits. More pixels rarely make any difference (unless you are going from 12mp on a crop frame camera to 36mp on a full frame), are often far to many and create storage and computer processing issues. Faster is sometimes important, but in most modern cameras the difference is not much, i.e. all things that were missed before will not be automatically be captured with a new model. Fuji is the one brand that has really had to work on this and recently have gone ahead, a lot, but they are the only major brand with big issues to fix. 

So, before buying a new camera, maybe you should look at a specialist lens, a superior software programme (Adobe is not always the best) or time spent travelling/taking lessons will make more actual difference to your image quality.