Photography and Art

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Few Observations on a Rainy Day

The U.S. Open golf tournament is about to start tomorrow and they're expecting a lot of rain. There will be more than 50 squeegy people waiting to get the water out of the greens in an emergency. Photo journalists have a hard enough time lugging big expensive cameras with big expensive lenses around hilly golf courses without having to cope with miserable, wet weather. Covering golf events sounds like a great job until you see a photog burdened down with two pro bodies and three huge lenses running between holes to get in position to take yet another photo of Tiger Woods. Add in some mud and a few torrential downpours and you can take that job and shove it!

Speaking of emergencies, I've been reading a lot of camera reviews lately where the reviewer says something like the following: "the Acme 300SX takes great pictures up to 400 ISO. Beyond that, the amount of noise starts to become and\ issue. The claimed maximum ISO of 64 million is good for emergencies only". What kind of emergencies? I'll be damned if I can think of any good reason for having an inflated ISO level that makes subjects look like they have the plague. Perhaps they think we'll all have the presence of mind, when being mugged in a dark alley, to pick up our camera, turn it on, select the highest ISO setting and shoot speckled photographs of our fleeing accoster. Or is there some other "emergency" that I've missed?

We have a hot new camera poised to hit the marketplace. The Olympus E-P1 adds its name to a small stack of contenders for what Mike Johnston calls the DMD or Decisive Moment Digital Camera. These are cameras that are small, preferrably pocketable, responsive and able to produce high quality images. Here are some of the contenders:
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2 and LX3. I have an LX2 and find it a decent compromise. It is capable of good quality (it has a Leica zoom lens), but suffers from shutter lag and poor high ISO performance. The LX3 has a faster, wider lens that makes up somewhat for the poor low-light performance. Great for city landscapes, poor for taking photos of anything moving. As a DMD, it is more of a miss than a hit.
  • Sigma DP1 and DP2. The DP1 has been available for a while and the DP2 just came out. Reviews have been mixed. Picture quality has been praised, while general responsiveness has been panned. Auto focus is poor for both cameras and build quality is low for the price (just under $900). If all you desire is DSLR quality images in a small format, then the Sigma delivers. However, it is not a DMD because of the slow auto focus and response.
  • Olympus E-P1. This newest entry to the DMD sweeps has a nice-sized 4/3rds sensor and supports interchangeable lenses. There aren't any reviews out yet, but the previews suggest that auto focus is crisp in normal lighting conditions and that shutter lag is minimal. I would guess that image quality would be on a par with Olympus DSLR's (i.e. very good). Pending the availability of hands-on reviews, this sounds very much like a DMD contender!
One thing to note about these DMD wannabes is that the optical viewfinder is a thing of the past. I've often thought that digital cameras are undergoing a slow transformation a little like cars did at the beginning of the 20th century. If you recall, the first cars looked like carriages with engines mounted on them. Similarly, the first DSLR's looked like film cameras with the sensor installed where the film used to be. Now, with the micro four/thirds system, we're starting to see radical changes. The mirror and the optical viewfinder are going away in favor of using the LCD to compose photos. Fast microprocessors are automating adjustments for lens distortion and noise reduction. ISO has been elevated to the same variable status as shutter speed and aperture instead of something you set and forget. It won't be long before the camera automatically generates composite multi-exposure images to obtain more dynamic range and greater depth of field.

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