31 October 2013

Camera and Photo Fun

As you might remember I rented an Olympus OM-D EM-5 a while ago to figure out whether that could be a new camera for me. During the last vacation the desire for a smaller but still flexible and capable camera has come up and I started looking into alternatives for our Canon 40D kit that wouldn't weigh in at about 3kg as the Canon kit does.

The more I researched, the more I looked at my own photos, the more I realized that I'm not very good at framing shots and making them interesting. Andrea has a much better eye for that and I'd like to improve my own skills. After a bit (actually a lot) of reading, I decided that I should not give myself more, but rather less options. Less variables to worry about, less things to setup. My plan is to use a 50mm focal length equivalent lens as my main lens for a while. A standard. Something simple. Something to get used to and to learn how to use. I don't want to go to the full extreme of only using that one, but I'd say it should be for around 90% of my shots.

I started by getting a 35mm lens for our Canon DSLR (which means it is a 56mm equivalent on our Canon APS-C sensor camera) as I wanted to wait for the typical fall announcements from the big camera manufacturers before I decided on a new camera. 

Here are some example shots:

Custom bike trunk at IMS in San Mateo

Race at IMS San Mateo

I haven't had all too many opportunities to use the lens and to take a few more photos just yet, but they will come over time. It's a nice focal length and a fairly fast lens (max aperture is f2.0), so there will be plenty of opportunities going forward. 

To get some traction on this and more incentive for me, I also started a "50mm Fun Shared Photo Stream" (let me know if you want to participate) with iCloud Photo Streams where subscribers can comment on individual photos and also add their own ones as long as they are made with a roughly 50mm equivalent prime lens. It's a focal length you ought to have anyways in your kit, so here's your excuse to get one ... ;-)

Now, all that aside - I also decided on a smaller, lighter camera set for our travels and for me as my main camera going forward - read on.

The New Camera

After acknowledging my zooming inabilities and deciding on limiting myself to simple, straight forward photography, a few things became more clear. I came up with a check list for a new camera system, also keeping Andrea's wishes and our travel needs in mind:
  • Lightweight - the camera system should definitely be less than 1500g for the camera body, a standard zoom (for Andrea) and one or two prime lenses (definitely the 50mm equivalent mentioned above and either a wide angle or a longer lens).
  • Small size - the above kit should fit into a tank bag; the camera with one prime mounted + one other prime also should fit into my PacSafe hip bag.
  • I wanted to be able to fit camera and all camera related gear we normally take on trips into an inconspicuous small shoulder bag that wasn't too heavy. This should include a mini tripod (GorillaPod), the 50mm lens, a standard zoom, lens hoods, one or two filters, chargers, SD cards, ... I plain didn't want to walk around with a bag that said "Canon" or "Nikon" in big letters or just generally screamed "steal me, expensive camera gear inside". 
  • Easy to use - the camera should have the settings I actually use quite a lot (aperture priority, white balance, ISO, exposure compensation) readily available without digging into menus or trying to figure them out via settings on the back screen. 
  • Inconspicuous design so that people don't feel "threatened" when taking pictures publicly. The big Canon lets them jump out of the frame sometimes.
  • A view finder. I hate holding a camera at arms length into the general direction of my subject.
  • I didn't care for movie recording, "intelligent" scene programs, excessive HDR, or any other super fancy, new, and hip thingies. Simple was more important.
  • A selection of lenses that should be in the same league as our three Canon L lenses, preferably for a lower price. And I was looking whether a system had a consistent line of great lenses, not just a one or two here and there. 
  • Preferably from a manufacturer that has some reputation in the camera field and isn't changing direction or trends every year but instead shows a solid camera line up with some product strategy behind it.
  • Not too small sensor to be able to create a nice and shallow depth of field. I wasn't looking for full frame as it makes the camera much more expensive, the depth-of-field often too shallow with fast lenses in low light, the lenses more expensive and bigger in size and weight and the resulting files too big from excessive megapixel counts. Not that the gear head in me wouldn't love it, it's just that it doesn't make sense for me.
I had various contenders but most of them didn't do one or more points of the list above. Sony has a very weird lens line up for their e-mount, also changes strategies, names, ideas, design a bit too often for my taste. Canon doesn't really have anything in that range, the EOS M doesn't count as a serious attempt to get into the mirrorless market. Nikon has the Nikon 1, but the sensor is a bit too small for what I want to do and the lens line up doesn't have what I was looking for. Micro Four Thirds (M43) was super interesting but most cameras were either too fancy, or too simple, or ... just not exactly what I was looking for. 

The most promising contender for a while were the Panasonic GX7 and the Olympus OM-D E-M1, both very modern and excellent M43 cameras with very compelling features. Combined, the two manufacturers have a large lens selection, although you'll have to piece things together by really cherry picking from each. In the end, the E-M1 was a bit too fancy and professional (and too expensive) and the GX7 just didn't excite me enough, can't really put a finger on the exact reason why. It just didn't move me.

So, after all that - I settled on the new Fuji X-E2

Fuji has build a very impressive system with their X cameras. The camera bodies follow the slightly retro style range finder design from Leica, but have very modern technology packed inside. They come with a unique APS-C sensor which gets praise pretty much everywhere, are designed for picture taking, not for the "spray and pray approach". The lens line up is great, everything I was looking for is covered, all the lenses have consistently high quality. All the other systems have great lenses, too, I just felt that I found the most consistent and compelling line up from Fuji

The new X-E2, which was introduced about two weeks ago, is very much just an X-E1 with a lot of details upgraded, updated, improved. Newer but very similar sensor, newer and faster processor, faster view finder, nicer display, optimized button layout, a solid upgrade, but not a totally new camera. No crazy design or strategy changes. Just consistent improvement. On top of that, Fuji continuously releases software updates for the existing cameras to add features and fix bugs - and they seem to be the only manufacturer that does this with some consistency even for two or three year old models. Very impressive behavior for a large corporation. But that's how you get a loyal customer base.

Unfortunately, the camera will only start hitting the market in mid November, which means I will likely not receive the one I ordered before early December. Bummer, but that's what it is. 

I will take photos with and of the new camera when it arrives ...

Here's what I already know:
  • Weight of the body + zoom + 35mm (52mm equivalent) is around 900g, so leaves some room for a second prime.
  • It's a medium sized camera. Larger than most M43, but not too large. I found that the X-E1 which has an identical body feels absolutely great in my hand and is still small enough to pack easily. 
  • It also fits in my PacSafe bag.
  • I found a nice camera bag - the "ONA | The Bowery", of course I will write more about that one when it arrives here. This will fit the camera plus one or two additional lenses and some small assorted stuff and doesn't scream "camera bag" from far away.
  • I immediately loved the feel of the X-E1 when using it in a store here. 
I ordered the X-E2 with the 35mm F1.4 lens and the (excellent) 18-55 F2.8-4 optically stabilized kit zoom (for Andrea). Don't confuse this kit zoom with the cheap plastic pieces from other manufacturers, it's a high quality lens. The 35mm will give me the ~52mm equivalent I want to continue with my "50mm Fun Stream".

Can't wait for it to arrive! 

19 October 2013

First Ride Out

Just photos for now, more to come ....

2014 R1200GS on Skyline Blvd

2014 R1200GS on Skyline Blvd

Obligatory First Addition: Top Case for Some Luggage Space

16 October 2013