Lightening up

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When I first started in photography, big cameras ruled the landscape.

And lots of lenses. Lots and lots of lenses. And multiple bodies. Yes, at least two, maybe three.

Until I weighed myself at a county fair with and without my camera bag. There was a 40 pound weight difference when I dropped the bag off my shoulder.

Then, in 2000, I ruptured a disc in my back and was in excruciating pain for a month. Two of those weeks I was really unable to move off the floor. All of which came from the repetitive motion of pulling 40 pounds of gear in and out of my vehicle and lugging it around on one shoulder or another.

I learned quickly the value of lightening my load.

I pared down, carrying one body and two zoom lenses. It didn’t inhibit my photography in any way, either.

I still like to travel light. I try to see if I can get away with so little gear that I can carry it on my motorcycle.

A few years ago, the Micro 4/3 system came into being and has piqued my interest ever since. Basically, this system does away with the mirror and prism system in larger traditional digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras. They use either the lcd backs or electronic viewfinders for composing the photos.

I was fortunate to get a Olympus e-pl1 for a Father’s Day gift not too long ago. Of course, in the march of camera manufacture, the camera has been replaced by four generations of cameras since, so it’s actually kind of a dinosaur in three short years.

But, I have built a little bit of a system around the camera. I have two zoom lenses and a digital viewfinder, which makes for a really small lightweight camera system.

It’s not without its flaws. It’s slow. I mean, sslllloooooowwwwwwwww in terms of responsiveness. It takes forever to focus. Because the sensor is smaller than a dslr’s, the image quality isn’t quite as good, but you probably wouldn’t notice that on a computer screen.

But, what it has allowed me to do in terms of portability is wonderful. It’s a great knock around camera that doesn’t break my back on vacation. It’s been on a few cruises with us, and most recently was one of my go-to cameras on a trip to Guatemala. It means that I don’t have as many excuses for not taking photos; I don’t mind carrying this around with me because of the weight of the thing. I don’t give up a ton of image quality (although I do admit there are some image compromises), and I can hand it to someone to include myself in the photo without the other person being too intimidated.

It’s also much less intimidating to photograph strangers with it. There’s something about a small, tourist-y camera that doesn’t get the subjects’ defenses up like a Nikon bazooka can.

The fun thing has been the images that I’ve produced from the camera. Most people associate good photography with the gear. Granted, the right tools can make your job a lot easier. However, the most important piece of gear is generally located six inches behind the camera, and I’ve been able to create some great images using a camera that many would dismiss due to its physical size.

All of the photos I’ve included in this post have been taken either with the Olympus e-pl1 or a borrowed Canon G7 point and shoot. I’ve seen a lot of amazing images using these mirrorless cameras. In fact, many well-known photographers such as Zack Arias and David Hobby have cut back on their use of DSLRs and embraced smaller systems without sacrificing quality.

I’m often asked by people interested in photography, and I don’t hesitate for them to give a serious look at a mirrorless camera system. Ultimately, their back is going to thank me.

 

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