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Friday, August 9, 2013

Is Technology Overrated? Part 2



Technology. I admit that a lot of it doesn’t impress me much. I’m not one to buy into the latest and greatest little gadget just to say that I own it. Oh sure, there are many cool gadgets out there. And camera technology has come a long way since I first started taking photos. But a lot of features on new cameras, I doubt I’ll ever use. My opinions on new technology have been covered in my old blog post, "Is Technology Overrated?"

I have been happily using my two Olympus E1 cameras for 7 years. Yes, even in 2013 I’m still using this camera that was originally released in 2003. And many people have enjoyed my photos captured with this old dinosaur of a camera. And not just online, but also as printed photographs for home decorating, magazines, and books. Granted, the E1 is a bit of a cult classic. Many photographers feel the same way as I do about this brilliant camera which has outstanding ergonomics, and amazing color rendition. Last year, I did start to feel the desire for an upgrade though. I would like a few more megapixels, better high ISO performance, live view and in camera image stabilization. But no available cameras at that time really appealed to me and I figured I would wait one more year or so.

But then it happened. A publisher contacted me about using some of my images for large wall prints for the lucrative home décor market. I’ll be honest here, this is a major dream of mine. It always seemed to me an almost unattainable one, an opportunity for the extremely lucky & marketing geniuses or for the already famous. But then I saw the image file requirements and my heart sank. My images are half the required size. The jury is still out on whether my sizes will be able to upsized to meet the size & quality requirements. So far the deal is still on the table, so we’ll see what happens.

So I know it is most definitely the time for that upgrade, and now I find myself immersed in the world of technology as I do research for my next camera. Ugh, technology. Since I have always been loosely following the advancements in camera technology, I’m not exactly starting at ground zero. I already had an idea of how many megapixels we’re "at now", how much high ISOs have evolved to offer better image quality and less noise, and was already aware of such advanced new features such as live view and video capabilities. But now I need to know which cameras have the features I can use for my type of photography and how they fit into my tight budget. I am also concerned about how I will like the ergonomics of those cameras, my E1 has spoiled me with its layout and handling which work perfectly for me. I dearly love my E1 and its lenses, and I am so familiar with my gear that I can work with it in near complete darkness. Yes, it’s pretty obvious I do not want to switch.

And just why did I mention the love of my lenses, like they would be replaced as well? I use a DSLR don’t I? Just upgrading the body, right? Well, for most brands that would be the case but there is a little thing I like to refer to as the "Olympus Situation." There are rumors that they will no longer be making their regular 4/3 DSLR cameras, opting instead to only manufacture mirrorless ILC (interchangeable lens compacts), which they market as micro 4/3. They are smaller because they are mirrorless (hence the micro moniker) and have no optical viewfinder. My lenses can be used with those cameras, but only with an adapter and never quite as seamlessly as with micro 4/3 lenses as they will focus slower and be a bit "clunky" for these much smaller bodied cameras. At this point it is only a rumor, and another rumor has been recently dropped stating that there is in a fact a new Olympus camera on the way that will be able to use my 4/3 lenses available this year. So far only rumors, so we’ll see what happens.

So now here I am, doing the research for my new camera. Spending time reading reviews in print and online and trying to crunch those numbers. Luckily, I do not need to rush into this as I have decided to make the purchase around January. But this research is not a favorite activity of mine, I much rather be using my old cameras than researching a new one. Or perhaps I could even be catching up on editing my photos, an activity that I am now a little bit over 2 months behind on.

Right now I am seriously looking into the Nikon system, specifically the D7100 camera. I had almost bought a Nikon in 2006 when I bought my E1. Do I regret my decision? No, I do not because the E1 restarted my love affair with photography and I will never regret the time I spent using that camera and building my kit and image archive. And truthfully, I am no even sure that I will switch brands. I find Olympus to be a company that is innovative (they were first with live view amongst other innovative features) and they build solid and dependable cameras. I have put heavy use and some abuse on my cameras and they are still up and running. Even though I love my DSLR with its optical viewfinder, I am not ruling out that sideways jump to the micro 4/3 systems. I am seriously looking at the OMD EM-5 camera of theirs. I have never been a fan of electronic viewfinders, but there are some users out there that have brought up some very valid points as to the benefits of mirrorless cameras. Since I am not buying until around January, there are many months of research and possible new releases to consider.

 

So has all this recent research changed my mind about technology. No, I still think it’s overrated. I just can’t see buying into new technology if you don’t really need it. But that’s the thing. Do you really need the latest and greatest in new technology? That is always the thing you should think about before parting with your hard earned cash on any new gadget. And the more I read about some of the really cool features available on these newer cameras, the more I get kind of excited about it.

Here are some of the things that I think are important to consider while researching a new camera purchase:

High Megapixel Count

Do you dream that one day your photos could be printed large? Or even better still, do you actually print your images large or even print them at all? Or maybe you are one of those people that like to zoom around in your photos to look at all the little details that are so easy for the naked eye to miss. Despite my current conundrum, I still genuinely feel that 5mp is enough for many people. I have printed as large as 11x17 and have heard of others printing as large as 30x40 with careful upsizing. Remember, bigger files will result in you using more storage space. You will use up your memory cards quickly and fill up your computer’s hard drive faster with those larger files. And you will require larger capacity off computer storage options (dvds, removable hard drives, cloud storage, etc.) and quite possibly a more powerful computer to process them. The prospect of shooting with the 24MP D7100 makes me a bit apprehensive about those things. Thinking about the reality of having to store those large image files may actually slow me down while capturing photographs and may possibly make me really think about whether a photo is worthwhile taking. This could result in me slowing down and taking better photos. But it may also stop me from taking that occasional snapshot for myself, or from experimenting and fully working the subject which could result in me never growing as an artist (see "It’s All About The Good Shots.") It is something to consider.

High ISOs

This is one advancement in technology that I can really get behind. Even though many of my images are actually captured during the daylight hours, I do often work under somewhat dim lighting conditions. I live in a wonderful wooded area with lots of trees and shade and I like to shoot handheld (see "The Tripod Hater’s Tips For Sharper Handheld Images.") That means I need to use fast shutter speeds to prevent camera shake and that’s where high ISO capabilities come in handy. Newer cameras have greatly improved not only what the top high available ISO is, but also render less noise and more image detail than the cameras of just a few years ago. If you shoot most of your images in very bright sunlight and seldom find the need for anything higher than ISO200-400, then you’re covered with pretty much any camera made after 2010, no worries for you. More about noise in my post "What's All The Noise About Noise?"

Dynamic Range

A camera with high dynamic range, the ability to capture details in both the brightest highlights and deepest shadows in an scene, is a wonderful thing. Most digital cameras only can record detail in about a 5 stop range in brightness. That means you will have to decide whether you want to retain detail in either the highlight or shadow areas of your scene. Sure there are special shooting and computer techniques to help extend the range, but those require extra time and effort to achieve. You can read more about that in my old blog post "You Can Always Fix It In The Computer Later." I admit that I like to use limited dynamic range as part of my style. For example, I love capturing images with black tree trunks and bright glowing leaves. But remember, you can more easily limit dynamic range than extend it. Taking away detail is easily achieved. Adding detail is not possible. The ability to record a higerh dynamic range is one of technology’s goodies and camera manufacturer’s keep making great improvements there.

Autofocus

I’m old enough to remember when autofocus was a relatively new thing and a big deal. And 26 years later, it is still a big thing. I got my first autofocus SLR camera in 1988 (my first SLR was a simple manual everything camera) and I can say from experience that it has come a long way since then. It’s faster, more accurate, and can even track and predict focus on moving subjects. I hear that the D7100 has 51 focus points. Wow! And you know what? I still hear of photographers with cameras with many focus points and advance focusing features still choosing to use either manual focus or just the center focus point. Sometimes even with all that technology, us mere morals can focus faster and more accurately under some circumstances. As a macro shooter, I find myself focusing manually often. But as I age and my eyes have more difficulty seeing, I do find myself favoring autofocus for some subjects. And I’m sure I’ll be relying on it more as the years pass. Yes, autofocus is a very nice thing. Nonetheless, I recommend using a camera that has the ability to quickly switch to manual focus when necessary.

Video

Most DSLR carmeras offer video now. I have mixed feelings about it. Many of my older & newer digicam/compact cameras feature video capabilities but I have seldom used it. I do admit I have a few quick video clips that I would like to record in mind, so I most likely will experiment with the video feature in my new camera. But if I could be offered a discount for the same camera without video capabilities I would go for the video free version. There is no such option though. And I may feel differently about it after using it, but I doubt it.

Live View

I love this! The capability to view the live image on your LCD while recording images is a wonderful thing for a shooter like me that likes to shoot low to the ground to capture macro view of flowers, bugs, and other goodies in nature. It is also great in crowd situations where you may need to raise the camera above your head to get the shot. With live view you can also get a preview of how your image will record at the current camera settings, very handy so as not to waste time and shutter rotations on poorly exposed images. Yes, technology really brought it with this feature.

WIFI/GPS

It doesn’t get more technological than these features. If you work with an editor that needs your photos right away, or if you travel a lot and want to upload your photos to the cloud this is a great feature to have. WIFI can also be used to remotely control some cameras, and that is pretty cool as well. Not all cameras feature it and not all WIFI is created equal, specific details as to what the WIFI can do may vary. So it’s not enough to know that a camera or device has WIFI capabilities, but also what those capabilities entail.

GPS is great if you want to record the exact location of our photos, especially handy if you want to share the locality or return later in the future. Not something I really see myself using, but for some photographers it may come in handy.

Personally, I don’t feel the need for these two features. But who can tell? Not having used them, I can’t say for sure. And again, if given the option for a discount for not having it installed, I would choose the discount. But I could see myself experimenting with WIFI capabilities, but not so much the GPS.

Advancements In Photo Technology

This includes the recording of accurate colors, expanded available shutter speeds and flash sync speeds, wireless TTL flash, advanced metering modes and more. These are the things that I look for and the things that are most important to me. They are seemingly less glamorous to many casual camera buyers. But they are the things that are most important to serious shooters and should not be overlooked when making a new camera purchase in favor of some of the flashier features.

Photo Filters, Special Effect, & More

Many cameras now also offer special effects that can be done in camera. Super saturated colors, muted colors, pinhole camera effects, high contrast effects, black and white, etc. Many of these things can be done during computer processing, but sometimes it can be fun to experiment with these effects in camera. These fun features intrigue me, but never would bear much weight in my purchasing decision.

The Numbers

Ok, the final "feature" here is not really a feature but something we see a lot when reading the specs and reviews. It’s all too easy to get caught up in comparing the numbers: numbers of megapixels, numbers of features, numbers of resolution and color accuracy on the charts etc. But seldom are the comparisons that easy. My digicam Olympus SP500UZ is 8mp and my Olympus E1 is only 5, but the E1’s larger sensor and superior lenses record sharper images with less noise than the SP500UZ. If you were to just compare number of megapixels, you would not believe that statement. If you, like me, are looking for a new camera, read the reviews and check user forum’s for owner’s honest opinions and concerns. You can also pixel peep image samples online. Sure, look at the numbers in reviews, but don’t let them rule your purchase. Also be aware that some of those online image samples may not do the camera justice if the shooter was less than skillful in their capture. Another thing to consider is ergonomics and handling of the camera. If a camera is too heavy, unbalanced, or just unpleasant for you to use then it won’t work for you no matter how stellar those numbers make that camera look. Everyone has a different preference for those things, and only you can decide.

So do I still feel that technology is overrated? Yeah, pretty much. I just can’t see parting with lots of cash for features I don’t need. Perhaps you are in the same position, and if so I hope this post has given you some things to think about. There is no need to spend extra money on features you simply won't use. And while I acknowledge it is time for an upgrade, I am only doing so because I feel the need for it and not because it is simply available or because I want to show off. My purchase will be based on my needs not on the seduction of technology. My last choice served me well for over 7 years and I’m sure my next one will too. Yes, I am stubborn, and resistant to change and technology, but at least I’m happy!

***

There are so many cool features on new cameras, that I could not really touch on all of them here. And as I research further, I keep learning of awesome new features. Some of which I can actually imagine myself using. If you know of a camera feature that just drives you wild with joy, feel free to shout about it here in the comments. Yes, I moderate and approve the comments first before publishing, but that’s because I want to keep spammers off my blog – not to censor people with alternative views.

I would love to own all this! But don't. This is an official Olympus from their facebook page.

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