The challenge: Shoot one photo a week with one camera and one lens, for one year. The catch? It's not you regular camera.
As photographers, we tend to too often blame our (in most cases) perfectly capable gear for our (sometimes) mediocre images. We tend to too often complain about our current camera's poor low-ISO settings, or lack of a viewfinder, or cropped sensor, etc etc. With a new year, comes new challenges. And with new challenges, no excuses.
I set myself to put together the cheapest digital camera setup I could find, that would still give me decent image quality and versatility, all for around $200 including all taxes and shipping. The result:
- An gently used Olympus E-PM1 body, AKA Pen Mini (micro four thirds mount): U$84 (About $100 Canadian), plus shipping. Comes with small external flash (guide number 10 or 15 I believe?)
- Olympus 15mm f8 body cap - fixed aperture pancake lens with 2 fixed focus settings. The worst lens in the world, according to DXO marks. C$ 49.99.
I've been shooting with this camera and lens for about a month, trying to get used to it, and I can confirm that both camera and lens are extremely...quirky (Scroll down for some samples).
- It's really unusable in low-light without a tripod because of the fixed f8 aperture and the awful sensitivity of the E-PM1 sensor. I also own an E-M5 and tried the latest E-P5 and E-PL7, and the E-PM1 sensor and processor is far behind in terms of ISO than any of those cameras.
- Focusing is sometimes inaccurate, forcing magnified view.
- No shallow depth of field due to the small aperture.
- No zoom (but I shoot with primes mostly, so no real issue there).
- The E-PM1 settings menu is atrocious, and lacks many physical controls, including a PASM dial!
- A relatively larger sensor on the E-PM1 - at least larger than most digital compacts and smart phones, so image quality is great in good lighting, under 800 ISO.
- Perfect focal length (30mm equivalent in Full Frame) and f8 aperture for street photography, ensuring that most of the images is in focus in good light, at any given time.
- Focusing is fiddly, but quick and easy because for the fixed settings.
- The 15mm body cap is surprisingly sharp at the center, although very soft closer to the edges.
- The lens focuses very close, to about 30 cm, so there is potential for some macro work.
- Super compact and portable.
By limiting my gear, I hope to concentrate on finding interesting shapes, lights, and subjects that can make visually pleasing and emotionally compelling images, and finally leave behind the Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) that affects so many photographers - myself included. 2015 will be the year when I hopefully find out that it really is about the photographer - not the camera.
PS: I originally wanted to do this challenge with a used Nikon D3000 DSLR body (C$99.99 from Henry's) and an old, manual focusing Nikon 50mm 1.8 E series lens. I eventually opted for the Olympus setup, since it's a truly pocketable combo, and is more suitable for street photography, which is what I do mainly. The best camera is the one you have with you...
Here are some sample images taken with the E-PM1 + 15mm body cap lens setup. They are all shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom only for cropping and some colour and shadows/highlights, nothing fancy.