The least technically capable camera I carried in Australia was the one built into my cell phone, the Moto Razr. And when I say ‘least technically capable’ about the imaging quality, what I mean is that it is pretty atrocious. The shutter is remarkably slow, the color calibration is bland, the orientation and ergonomics are awkward and unpleasant. That said, although it was less capable than my other ‘real’ cameras, in non-traditional ways, it was the most capable.
With all its limitations I was able to do some interesting things. The panorama feature was slightly redeeming – I could wave the phone in a circle, and it would stitch together a wobbly but coherent frame. I could instantly share pictures by uploading to Instagram. I could take “selfies.” Most importantly, I was able to use pictures as a surrogate notepad, for ‘mentally bookmarking’ things I needed to remember later – like an interesting newspaper article, the name of a beer I tried, or a rental listing in a property office’s window.
I was able to take pictures less pretentiously, of things that I didn’t particularly need a great photograph of, but did want a great memory of. And when I did want a great photograph, I was usually carrying another camera for that, and if I felt that impulse we now have to instantly ‘share’ the scene with the world, I could snap the same (less technically sound) frame with my phone, and upload it right away.
The E-PL1 is an amazing camera. What I love about it (aside from the image quality) is its inconspicuousness. When shooting street photography, or casual travel scenes, pointing a big DSLR neck-weight can easily tip off potential subjects that their image is being captured, and may intimidate them into feeling a need to ‘perform’ for such a large camera. The small body E-PL1 is a much friendlier camera to be in front of – it looks small and harmless, and leaves people to behave as naturally as they would if a camera weren’t around.
It uses the same 13 megapixel sensor that the much larger E-30 does, but in a compact “micro 4/3” body system. The Micro 4/3 line of cameras offer big quality in a small package, and with a lens converter, I can shoot with the same glass that I use in any other E-system camera. (So with the E-PL1 and the E-500, I traveled with three interchangeable lenses, and one kit lens for the PL1.)
The E-PL1 is also the only camera I have capable of shooting video under manual control settings. This opens up a whole world of creativity, and I have only just begun to explore the possibilities. Any scene I encountered with defining movement was available to be recorded in a short movie clip.
The E-500 was the first DSLR I ever used, and I’ve been shooting with it for nearly eight years. I learned how to operate manual controls with this camera, and built a muscle memory with it that I can’t quite replicate with any other camera body. The E-500 doesn’t have the live-view features or the 13MP sensor of the E-30, my other Olympus camera body, but I chose to travel with the 500 because it’s smaller, lighter, and I am more familiar with its nuances. Comfort with a tool could be more important than features, bells, and whistles.
Even with its older sensor and more limited features, it’s very capable of producing gorgeous images. I’ve always been impressed with its color accuracy, especially shooting in .jpg with no post-processing. Rich blues and greens make it great for landscapes.
It’s the biggest question I face when I get ready to take a trip – which cameras are coming along?
For my trip to Australia, I ended up packing four cameras, four lenses, and 38GB of memory cards. Each camera served its own unique purpose, and I gave all of them almost equal use.
This camera was put to market in 2006, making it the oldest of my crew. I found it on eBay for under $100 back in 2007, so you could probably put 50 cents in a vending machine to get one today. It’s a small 6 megapixel point and shoot, with 38-114mm (equivalent) zoom. By today’s standards, it is very limited in image quality, but it has something none of my other cameras did – an element of “disposability.”
At 4.4 oz, and with only two buttons I needed to press, it is exactly what I needed to carry while running the Sydney Half Marathon. I didn’t care if sweat was seeping into the buttons, I wouldn’t have been heartbroken if I dropped it. I had already tested its durability – It also traveled with me to China several years ago, and ended up shooting some of my favorite images of a camping trip in the desert.