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Came home from a trip to Philly to find a package on the front stoop. It was my long awaited Olympus OM-D E-M5. Rushing it inside the first thing I did after unpacking it was to plug in the battery. After that I started to look over my new acquisition and start assembling the various components (camera, lens, power grip, accessory flash). While I couldn’t play with my new toy yet, I could at least start photographing it for the user guide I’m writing.

I’m a bit surprised at just how small this camera is even with the full battery grip attached. My second glance reminded me of just how much it looked like an OM system Olympus camera. As small as this camera is though, it feels good in my hands. I’m not sure I’d be as happy with it if I didn’t have the battery grip, but with it, I still feel like I’m shooting with a real camera. It’s definitely solid and reassuringly heavy.

Once the battery finally finished charging, I was able to play with the camera a little. It has a nice feel, autofocus seems crisp and accurate and the automatic switch from OLED screen to EVF is reliable, if not always quick. These are my first impressions. I’ll try to add to this as I go along.

I suffered a photographer’s nightmare on this trip, the loss of an expensive camera system because of an equipment failure. I was snorkeling off of Key West when I noticed some weird behavior by my Olympus E-5. It sounded like the shutter button was locked in the firing position and blasting a stream of images. The camera then stopped responding. I swam back to the boat and handed my gear up to one of the crew.

“Is this camera waterproof?” he asked.

“No. It’s supposed to be water resistant,” I answered. (The E-5, like other “pro” cameras is supposed to be weather sealed to provide some protection against the elements.)

Once on the boat, I checked the camera expecting the worst. Sure enough, I could see water inside the LCD display and the lens. My flash and battery pack were also toast. Sea water is the absolutely worst thing for a camera and I had no doubt my gear was wrecked.

What happened? I was using an Ewa Marine UAXP soft housing. While I didn’t have a lot faith in it as a dive housing, I was confident it would be safe for simple snorkeling, especially since I’d wet tested it in my sink at home and then in the hotel pool the day before this excursion. I never had it more than two feet below the surface while snorkeling. Somehow it just didn’t get the job done.

I’m now hoping my homeowner’s insurance will cover at least some of the loss. If not, well, I was aware of the risk I was taking and knew there was a chance things could go terribly wrong. I did have a backup camera with me and still have a Canon DSLR system to fall back on (plus photography is not my job anymore, I just do it for fun these days). I can eat the loss if I have to, but I guarantee I’ll never trust Ewa Marine (or any soft housing) ever again. If I do decide to go beyond a cheap underwater point and shoot (like the SeaLife point and shoot I ended up using) I’ll go with some kind of hard camera housing.

I’m currently on a train headed to Miami. One of the really cool things about this trip is using my iPhone as part of the traveling process. For instance, I had tethering activated before we left so I could use the iPhone as a mobile hotspot giving me internet access for the trip. Another really cool thing I’m using it for is keeping a record of this trip.

I posted earlier about the Travel Journal app and am using it again to keep a journal of this vacation. One of the really fun things about it is setting it to map view so I can see where we are at any given time during the trip. It also keeps a record of the route we take so we can retrace our steps any time we want. This is a pretty neat feature that can be very useful for photographers. How many times do you find a great shooting location and then have to worry about finding it again. With tools such as the iPhone and apps such as TravelJournal, it’s now a lot easier to keep track of such things.

And while this app is designed for travelers, there’s no reason why photographers can’t adapt it to their needs. Use it as a notebook for shoots that includes snapshots of signs, shooting spots and other useful records.

Lensbaby composer and 10x Diopter

As usual, I’ve compiled a list of gear I want to bring with me on this trip. This brings up my next decision, which offering from bag mountain should I choose to carry all the gear I want to bring with me. Since we’re traveling by train, I can hope we’ll be able to carry more bags than when flying, but there are still some complications.

We have a roomette for the 25 hour train ride. These tiny spaces are private and are well thought out, but they also make some of the tiny cabins I stayed in on cruises seem downright roomy. Almost every space in a roomette is designed to pull double duty. Storage is limited.

Often, when faced with a photo trip marked by differing exploits (landscape photography versus hiking photography) I take more than one bag with me. I’ll use a camera backpack to carry some clothing while putting most of my gear in my carryon along with a computer and other must not check items. I can also pack an empty camera bag to fit in my luggage. (My old Domke F3X with its removeable and foldable inserts is perfect for this).

It’s tempting to take this approach again, perhaps substituting a bigger LowePro bag for the Domke and using the camera backpack (a LowePro Mini Trekker AW) for clothing and other stuff. Since the camera backpack has removeable inserts that can be positioned in a variety of ways, it still gives me lots of options.

The problem is I haven’t been using any of these bags in quite some time. These days I’ve been preferring bags from Think Tank Pro’s Urban Disguise series. The company has provided me with several bags for review and illustration purposes, and I’ve become quite fond of them. Besides being solidly constructed, and wonderfully designed, they also don’t look like camera bags making them a less attractive target for potential thieves. I’m just not sure even the biggest one in my collection can handle all the gear I want to take this trip.

Normally I use a Think Tank Pro Retro 20 bag as my main E-5 bag. I love how it doesn’t look like a camera bag and still manages to hold a fair amount of gear. This time around though I need something bigger. Fortunately, I still have an Urban Disguise 70. I’m not done packing yet, but it looks like this bag is going to do the trick. So far I’ve got my E-5, three lenses an FL-50R flash and a full Lensbaby kit packed plus memory cards, and other accessories. There’s still room for the E-P2 and 14-140 and a few other pieces of kit as well.

While I don’t expect to do a lot of flash work this trip (except to play with the flash in the Ewa Marine rig) I’m not bringing much lighting stuff with me. This was another reason for choosing the E-5 over the 40D. The E-5 has a wireless flash controller built right in, so I won’t have to bring my ST-E2 for wireless flash. As blogger/shooters David Hobby (www.strobist.blogspot.com) and others have noted, getting your flash off camera make a big difference in your photography. I’ll bring either a small portable light stand or a super clamp for mounting the flash where desired. I’m also bringing my Vertex light modifier (here’s my Brighthub review of this nifty gadget). This is an awesome device for manipulating the light from your flash indoors and it’s so small I don’t even notice it in my camera bag.

Lensbaby is another company that’s provided me gear. That’s fine with me because I honestly love working with the company’s products. Some of my favorite photos have been made using a Lensbaby and its accessories.

When you have as much equipment as I do, planning what to take on a vacation can be a real challenge. After 30 plus years as a pro photographer and photography writer, I’ve accumulated a lot of gear (heck, I even helped write a book on photo gear and accumulated even more stuff in the process).

The Old Battle Axe and I are getting ready for a trip to Key West. While we’ve never been there before, there’s obviously a lot to photograph and we only have about three days there. One highlight for us will be getting a chance to do some snorkeling. We tried snorkeling for the first time a few years ago during a visit to Grand Cayman during a Caribbean cruise. At the time, we purchased a small Olympus underwater digital camera and were quite pleased with the results.

Over the years we’ve experimented with other inexpensive underwater options. Our best results so far have come from a little Canon point and shoot and hard case underwater housing. We’ve used this snorkeling in Cozumel, Mexico and underwater nudes in a swimming pool back home with excellent results. 

This time around I’m trying out an Ewa Marine soft underwater housing I bought off ebay last year. I plan on using my Olympus E-5 in this housing rather than my Canon 40D for two reasons. One, I’m currently writing a user guide to the E-5 and two, the E-5 has better sealing against the elements so if there’s a small leak in the Ewa Marine, I’ll have a better chance to save the camera.

I’m also bringing my Olympus E-P2 and a backup Ewa Marine soft housing I bought a few years ago (it’s a much older model designed for a small SLR film camera). The two can share the E-5’s lenses (with an adapter) and use the same flash units. I can also use my Lensbaby kit with the E-P2, but not the E-5.

The next question becomes which lenses to bring? The 9-18 is probably the best choice for underwater; the 12-60 SWD is a great all around lens and the 55-200 SWD is a quality optic with some serious reach. I also have the Olympus 70-300 which is smaller, lighter and has even greater reach, but isn’t a fast when it comes to light gathering or auto focus as the 50-200. I’ll probably leave the 70-300 at home because of that.

For the E-P2 I’m also going to bring my Panasonic 14-140, which I normally use with my GF1. This has turned into my favorite micro four thirds lens because of its ruggedness, AF speed and versatility. It will work just fine with the E-P2.

An old Navy buddy of mine just asked me a camera buying question on Facebook. For years camera makers have hyped megapixels. Camera buyers are finally starting to realize that mp is only part of the equation and the question of sensor size is at least equally important. I’m going to share my answer in hopes of offering some perspective on the whole issue of buying a camera (something hobbyists often over think).

“Hi Jeff, you’re right, sensor size is more important than megapixels, especially since we’re at the point where the megapixel count is over 6 mp or so. Still, it is possible to over analyze the subject.

Generally you don’t see a different in sensor size between cameras in the same class (point and shoot versus point and shoot, pro dslr versus pro dslr). Instead, this becomes a factor when you’re considering cameras from two different classes such as whether to go with a p&s versus an entry level dslr. 

When comparing cameras within the same class, a bigger concern can be the age of the sensor/camera. Generally, if the camera has the manufacturer’s latest sensor, you’re fine. It’s cameras that have older sensors that can show the most dramatic difference. 

The good news is that all this is kind of academic. While in lab tests it’s probably possible to see the difference, for the average user, it’s not going to be a big deal unless you’re choosing between a five-year-old used p&s versus a brand new just released dslr. 

I would place a greater emphasis on finding a camera that feels good in your hands, does what you need it to do and that you like using. The truth is that any of the big name brands are excellent choices. The whole issue is figuring out which camera helps you enjoy shooting the most. 

DPreview is an excellent resource for camera shoppers who do want to delve deep into camera specs. I’m adding a link to the site’s info on one Sony camera, which will give you an idea of what kind of resource this can be. (It does include sensor size btw).

DPreview
This is an interesting topic btw. I’m probably going to adapt this response for my blog because the question of how to buy a camera is certainly a popular one for most hobbyists.

Let me know if you have any other questions.”

Readers of this blog are also welcome to add their own questions.

Dan

I’ve created a web gallery of images of Stephanie at Pbase.com

These photos were created with the Olympus E-P2 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1.

http://www.pbase.com/digitaldan1/stephanie

Images are NSFW btw.

Attended a really cool meetup last night. For those of you aren’t familiar with the meetup concept, it’s one of those things that wouldn’t be possible without the affordances of the internet. Meetups give people of similar interests a way to connect with each other coordinate activities. There are many meetup groups on the web (check out http://www.meetup.com to see what’s in your area).

Last night I joined up with an established meetup organizer, Kat and her Fortress of Solitude studio in Northern Philadelphia. I was one of about a dozen photographers working with four models and some helpers to create painting with light and ghosting images. If you’re not familiar with these techniques, stay tuned. I’ll described the process in another post later today or tomorrow (Easter get together with the family may serve as a distraction). I’ll also be bouncing back and forth between blogs since many of the shots we made last night are NSFW and I’m trying to keep my MFT blog SFW at least in part because I’m using it as a teaching tool as well as a blog.

Photo information: (Left) L Lawless, Panasonic DMC-GF1, f16, 12 seconds, 100ISO, Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42 lens at 42mm, helpers standing behind waving rope lights, model also illuminated from the front via a studio strobe. (Model: L Lawless, http://www.modelmayhem.com/1451868)

(Right) Stephanie Beattie, Olympus E-P2, Panasonic 20mm 1.7, f16, 15 seconds, 200ISO, camera mounted on tripod, model illuminated by a low power video light (for video camera) and painted with a flashlight. (Model: Stephanie Beattie: http://www.modelmayhem.com/1190371)

My wife, Lisa, using the E-P2 with microphone adapter and stereo microphone.

I’ve created a second blog http://www.dansimonm43.wordpress.com to focus on my work with Micro Four Thirds cameras such as the Olympus E-P2 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1.

One reason for this second blog is as a teacher I often want to send my students to my blog, but am hesitant because of the subject matter I cover on this one (photographing nudes) and would prefer to have a separate blog that’s more appropriate for this audience. The other reason is that I’d like to specialize a bit on just this one type of camera and the photographic possibilities. I’m still going to try to post to this blog too.

I’m going to be covering the Photo Plus Expo in NYC Thursday and Friday for http://www.Brighthub.com. Since Brighthub’s interested in stories with a long shelf life, I’ll be able to provide news announcements and opinions here while sticking to reviews and big picture event stuff at Brighthub. 

I currently have meetings setup with 8 or 9 manufacturers and will be visiting the booths of quite a few more to see what gear they’ve got in the pipeline and also to see if I can get my hands on some pieces of equipment for review purposes. 

It should be an interesting few days.