Which camera do you use and why?

I just finished up a great road trip to California where I was photographing and teaching. Throughout the trip I was using my Olympus PEN cameras constantly. The reaction that my cameras drew was fascinating. Many of the students were very interested in what I was using because of the size of the cameras and lenses. Half the pros I encountered smirked at my “tiny” cameras. The other half wanted to know more. Nearly everyone asked the same question, which went something like “which camera do you use and why?”

I will blog in the future about my experience at the California Photo Festival http://www.californiaphotofest.com.

By way of disclosure, I am also an Olympus Visionary, thus I am sponsored by Olympus. I have blogged about why I use Olympus cameras in the past. But as I have noted in those blogs, I was using Olympus cameras long before I had any formal association with Olympus. I use Olympus cameras because they solve my problems, which is what any camera should do.

The point of this blog is to get any photographer thinking about why they choose a given camera, regardless of brand. Choosing a camera because I say so is silly. Choosing a camera because it solves your particular set of problems, that is smart.

I had the Olympus E-P3, E-PL3 and the E-PM1 cameras with me, plus an assortment of lenses. Since the lenses I am using are the same and the imaging sensor is also the same in all three cameras, the question I heard often was, what makes me use a given body for a given situation?

One factor used to be the placement of the button to switch from stills to video. Since I am doing multimedia, I like to be able to toggle easily and quickly between stills and moving images. All three cameras now have the video “on” button in the same place, which makes things much better for my use and so that is no longer a deciding factor for me!

I have had the Olympus E-PM1 the longest and I really enjoy it. Having said that, the interface is a bit less intuitive, the full manual controls a bit harder to access and the Art Filter options are more limited than the E-P3 so I use the E-PM1 in only certain situations. It is the smallest, so when I want to go out with just ONE camera, say if I am walking or running errands but I still want to have a camera, it usually is the first choice. Also, when I do not want to “look like a photographer,” I choose the E-PM1. Mine has that beautiful, white enamel finish, so it looks less serious and I look less threatening, though it makes great images. I was in Newark airport making some photos and video on the way to California Although I looked like a bit of a fool sitting on the floor (in order to get the great reflections) I am pretty sure no one bothered me because the camera looks so “simple.”

My main camera is the Olympus E-P3 for a variety of reasons. It has the widest options in the Art Filters. It allows you to combine more than one filter (in some cases in very interesting ways.) The E-P3 has the easiest to use controls for full manual setting of exposure, which can be important in a shoot something where I know I will be changing both aperture and shutter speed often. With my still images, which I make initially as RAW files and then work on more in post production via Lightroom, I do not use those filters that much. I use them constantly with video and in my time-lapse animations, since both of those require you get the image just right “in the camera.” The E-P3 has the highest synch speed of all three cameras, when using electronic flash. If you are working with flash in daylight, every little bit helps.

The touch screen on the Olympus E-P3 is absolutely a delight for viewing the work. When reviewing images, I can scroll left and right to see images with a swipe of my finger, like I do with my iPhone. I can move my finger up or down to zoom in or out on the image to check my focus. The ability to tap the screen to pick out where to focus is also a great feature. The best thing about the E-P3 is when I set it so can both pick out the point of focus AND take the picture by tapping the back of the camera, on the touch screen.

As soon as I saw that, I knew it would be good for landscape images and still life pictures, where I would want to move the point of focus around. It also works great for portraits, especially when working on a tripod. The person may move around or I may want to have different parts of them in focus, so being able to tap the screen to both focus AND shoot the image really speeds up the process, while giving me more creative control. Early in the trip, I was photographing inside a foreclosed house for a project I am doing and I ended up doing much of the work on a tripod because it was such low light indoors. The touch screen was great for picking out varying points of focus so I could make many variations of the same image with the point of focus in many different places. Finally, the E-P3 has a viewing option where the monitor/screen can be set to show a level, which is incredibly useful when I am shooting video and time lapse projects since a tilted horizon can ruin those in an instant.

Inside the foreclosed house, I used another camera, the Olympus E-PL3 a lot also since it is what I reach for first if I want to position the camera in an unusual place, especially higher or lower than my standing height. I do this often to give my images (and video) an unusual perspective. I frequently use a table-top tripod to do this. The folding screen on the back of the E-PL3 is the key to this, since I can put the camera in some weird position, fold out the screen and then look up (or down) to see what the camera is actually recording. With my video and time-lapse work, I regularly have to lock the camera in one place to get the camera fixed and capture the moving image just right. Often I am not able to see the back of the camera, so the folding screen allows me to put the camera in strange but stable places AND see what the camera is seeing.

As I was working fast and furious inside the foreclosed house, because I had places to go and people to see, I had all the cameras out, switching mostly between the E-PL3 and the E-P3, but the E-PM1 was handy, just in case I needed another camera (and to hold the other lens that I wanted to have out and easy to switch to.)

Yes, I am sponsored by Olympus as a “Visionary,” so I am doing this evaluation/comparison on Olympus cameras. However, even when I was not sponsored by Olympus I was using their gear because their cameras solve my problems. As a photographer, what we want most out of our cameras is that they solve our problems.

Any photographer looking at a line of cameras should do a similar evaluation of the various models strengths and weaknesses. As the imaging chips get better and better, the difference is less and less about the chip and more about how the camera works. And this is the most important question, since how any camera works in your hands is all that really matters.

5 responses to “Which camera do you use and why?”

  1. II’ve been using the Olympus EPM-1 since they GAVE ME ONE thru the PENready project and now that I’ve read your post I’ll have to try the E-P3.

    My main camera is a Hasselblad H4D-40 and moving to the PEN was quite a difference. However, since my goal is large prints, when out shooting personal “work” I cover the image in both formats.

    Also – in the interest of full disclosure: Yes, I am the luckiest photographer in the US. Not only did I get a free PEN from Get Olympus’ PENready Project (Google it!) but I WON the H4D-40 18 months ago in a Hassy NYC promotion.

    Still, I miss film and my Leica M6…

  2. I laughed out loud reading about your luck. Very impressive! Did you know you can shoot “square” with the PENs, in case you want to stick with the square, although that Hasselblad is also 4/3rds.

  3. It took me forever to find the menu to shoot RAW – I’ve figured how to go 16:9 – I’ll still to making my squares in Photoshop…

  4. David:

    I read your Blog commentary about using the Pens for your work. Question: What lenses do you routinely use on the Pens? Compared to the 12-60, for example, do you find much drop-off in image quality? So then, when do you now use your E-5, with its premium lenses, and when do you use your Pens?


  5. I love the 12-60 on the E-5 (which become 24 to 120 which is great range.) Having said that, the size of the PENs is key, especially with all my travel. I use the 9 to 18 (which becomes 18 to 36) a lot. I also use the 14 to 150 (which becomes 28 to 300.) I have very high hopes (once I get them) for the 12mm f/2.0 and the the 45mm f/1.8 (which become 24mm and 90mm respectively.) I actually find no drop off in quality but I am very disciplined about getting the right exposure, using the appropriate f/stop, using a table top tripod, etc. to get good RAW files. I am sure that there are tech specs that show the E-5 lenses to be better than the PEN lenses, but my clients seem perfectly happy with the work from the PEN lenses so…

    I use the E-5 when I need the faster motor, faster buffer etc., especially when doing more rapidly changing events like news (which I do less and less of these days.) The biggest use of the E-5 is when water, dust, dirt or humidity are involved. I have done shoots in rain and fog that would make other cameras unhappy and my E-5 has been great. The sealed lenses have been equally great on the E-5.

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