Tuesday, 16 October 2012

My New Camera! Plus A Couple of Buying Tips...

So after a lot of research, 2 deliveries, 1 return and an hour in Jessops, I finally have my new camera! I'm upgrading from a dinky pink Samsung ES55 which has served me well for nearly 3 years, but was starting to get reeeally frustrating in low light and in terms of lack of controllability... After ordering and fighting with a Nikon DSLR which really just wasn't for me, and testing out the Canon 550D, I've (controversially?) plumped for the Olympus PEN E-PL3, a mirrorless/micro four thirds/EVIL compact-DSLR hybrid.

From my modelling experiences, I am convinced that different cameras can make you look completely different, regardless of settings, photographer skill etc... I've had photos taken by different photographers in the same week, in which I look about 3 dress sizes bigger in one set compared with another... And obviously, if self portraits are your main stock in trade, you really don't want the results to depress you every day! I've never really got the entrenchment with which people dig themselves into the Canon or Nikon "clubs", but I do now! Despite reading the manual from cover to cover and playing with every setting I could find, I found the Nikon pictures cold and just really didn't like how they captured me, at all - I wanted to run back into the arms of my little pink point and shoot, crying!

So, my number one tip if you're looking for a new camera? Try before you buy!

Sounds simplistic, but hours of internet research or looking at the results other people have got from a camera are no guarantee that it'll feel right for you and produce the kinds of images you're dreaming about (which is still no excuse not to study your specs, reviews and other bloggers' photos too!).

Having narrowed it down to an "EVIL" Olympus PEN or a Canon DSLR, I ventured to Jessops in Epsom (my nearest store with both in stock), where the staff couldn't have been more helpful, or less pushy (although they were politely bemused when my mum and I inadvertently started talking in unison, thanking them for their help in complete synchrony).

Which brings me to my next top buyers' tip: Take your own memory card with you so that you can compare the photos from different cameras when you get home. 

Zooming in on a camera's LCD bears no comparison to getting the full picture on your laptop. Mum and our friendly sales assistant took portrait and full length shots of me (a bit cringe, but worth it!) with both cameras, and, although I liked the (very similar) rendering of images from both, we were pretty sold on the Canon from the views on the LCDs (although, after much agonising, our Jessops man decided he'd go for the Olympus)... until we got home.

Now I know you can coax awesome fashion images out of a Canon, but, on Auto, in terrible fluorescent shop floor lighting, the images from the Olympus were undeniably better - crystal clear, with slightly better colour rendering and less overblown highlights (or shiny face syndrome!). So, combined with its ridiculously cute vintage styling and handy size (and weight), it was a no-brainer for me.

It's available from Amazon from £285 (in silver; £320.28 in black) with a 14-42mm lens, but I decided to go for the twin lens kit from Jessops, which includes a 14-42mm and 40-150mm lens for a pretty bargainous £369.95 - as the longer lens is selling for around £200 alone, I figured it was a deal not worth missing! Another plus point for Jessops - and I'm not working for them here! - is that they throw in a 2 year guarantee.

The E-PL3 is the middleweight in the PEN range (L for Lite, between standard and M for Mini) - I was originally looking at the E-P3, but from online reviews gathered that the performance of the Lite version was near-identical. I would never have got the standard version plus 2 lenses for anything close to my £400 target budget, so this was a welcome finding! The third PEN generation seemed to be the best fit for my requirements and budget, balancing features and performance with value for money - the E-PL5 has just become available (for some reason there is no E-PL4), but I haven't tortured myself by reading about how wonderful it might be, at the prices it's currently retailing at!

I'll try to do a fuller review once I've got it up and running (waiting for the battery to charge as we speak)... but I think it's a great option for anyone upgrading from a standard compact, or wanting a more portable DSLR-like camera - it offers pretty much all the control you get with a DSLR, plus better video capabilities than most (up to 29 minutes in full HD with stereo sound) and a hot shoe for accessories/flash upgrades. The one thing I was concerned about from reviews was its low light performance (generally regarded as good, but not as good as a typical DSLR), but, as I've said, on Auto, it surpassed DSLR performance in the shop, so fingers crossed! I'd imagine it's not really a "night landscape" camera, but hopefully for indoor outfit shots it will suffice!

Results of initial experiments coming soon to a screen near you...

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  1. Hello, Sam! How are you?

    Undoubtedly, to select the best photographic equipment is always a big challenge - it demands a lot of work on balancing costs and benefits...

    I'm confident you did a great choice. Personally, I had very good experiences with Olympus optical equipments. Furthermore (and of course) a very sensitive (and determinant) component of every camera or optical device is the lens and prisms assembly - and with regard to this specific item, I'm a great fan of German lenses since always ;)

    Hope will have wonderful new photo shoots :)

    1. Hello Flávio! I'm very well thank you, hope all is well with you!

      Ah thank you for your comments, it's reassuring to hear that you approve and have had good experiences with my kinds of choices! I'm still trying to figure out everything I can do with my new equipment at the moment - it's quite daunting! - but I will be getting started on creating some new photos and maybe even videos soon :)

    2. You're welcome Sam! And I'm fine too, thank you!

      I'm pleased that you appreciate my comments, thanks! ;) Despite the fact I'm just an amateur photographer, I use as a reference my professional experience with optical devices, and the Olympus brand always remained on top due to their high quality and reliability...

      Oh, I think just over time you'll have full control over your camera. The key strategy is, after mastering the basic technical concepts, to take as many shoots and exposures as possible and to compare them, performing, at the same time, an analysis of what sort of settings you applied on each image. As if occurs in publishing industry, for each published (and edited!) photo, there are "rolls" of accompanying dispensed films...

      I'm sure you'll do a great job with your new camera and your readers you'll be glad to check it out :)

      All the best!
      - F.

    3. Great advice Flávio, I will definitely be bearing it in mind! Many thanks for your thoughtful and insightful comments, as always :)