I took the day off on Friday to go on a school field trip to San Antonio with my younger son. It’s an annual event for 4th graders and I went on the same trip with my older son 4 years ago. They went to the same two locations, the Mission San Jose and a museum called the Institute of Texan Cultures. I thought it would be interesting to compare the two trips, photographically, and primary from a technology point of view.
First, I noticed a big change in the type of cameras the parents used. It’s no secret that point and shoots are diminishing in popularity. Most every parent I saw shot with iPhones. The kids used iPods and inexpensive digital cameras, perhaps the hand-me-downs that the parents no longer use. I also saw only one DSLR on the entire trip. Four years ago there were many parents that used DSLRs and smaller dedicated cameras. Not a statistically significant sample but interesting none the less. A couple of parents even said that they had DSLRs but they were too heavy to bring on the trip.
You know that I have shifted away from DSLRs. A bit crazy and unwieldy but I brought 3 cameras with me. The Olympus E-P3 with the 25mm f1.4, the E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 and the Olympus XZ-1 point and shoot. My rational? I was going to do two distinctly different types of photography on the trip. I wanted to shoot casual, mostly candid pictures of the kids to share with rest of the class. I also wanted to shoot HDR urban landscapes on tripod. You can see a subtle HDR that I shot during the trip at an old Adobe house. I used the XZ-1 for the casual snaps, mainly outdoors. I used the E-P3 with the f1.4 lens indoors so that I didn’t have to use flash. The E-PM2 was attached to a tripod and acted as my “serious” landscape camera.
I just looked at my archives and discovered that I brought two DSLRs with me on this trip, four years ago. I used a Canon 20D with a 18-55mm kit lens and a Canon Rebel XT with a 70-210mm. Outdoors, I also used an external speedlite to tame the harsh sun. Indoors, I cranked the ISO up to 1600. Back then, I had no need for a tripod, I just shot people and didn’t do any urban landscapes. Today, even with three cameras and a tripod, I’m pretty sure my gear weighs less than it did back then.
I was surprised to see the XZ-1 point and shoot held its own, in daylight, compared to the DSLRs 4 years ago. The XZ-1 has a slight edge in resolution, 10MP vs the 8MP DSLRs. The DSLRs have a shallower DOF and more dynamic range, however I used a flash on both cameras outdoors and the resulting images were very similar. Using flash outdoors tends to soften harsh shadows and reduces the need for wide dynamic range. Of course I used fairly basic lenses on my DSLRs back then so I’m sure nicer glass would have tipped the quality balance towards the DSLRs. Back then I only shot JPEG, while now I use RAW. The RAW has the benefit of grabbing more detail and dynamic range in favor of the XZ-1.
Indoors, the DSLRs will run rings around the XZ-1, of course. But the Olympus E-P3 with the f1.4 lens holds its own and surpasses the Canon 20D and XT. Noise wise, the E-P3 has similar performance to these 2005 vintage DSLRs. The Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 lens however is clearly superior to the Canon kit lens. Ironically, I was getting shallower DOF with the Olympus and the 25mm, then with my Canon DSLR with the kit lens. The image quality of my newest Pen, the Olympus E-PM2 is even better than these DSLRs.
It appears that my candid and posed compositions of the kids were no worse and possibly better than it was 4 years ago. This is noteworthy since I rarely shoot these kinds of photos anymore. Back then, it was all that I did. Nowadays, I do a lot more city and urban photography. There are also changes in the way I shoot and post-process photographs. These days, I tend to expose darker and my photographs are a lot more colorful. The JPEGs that I shot back then were minimally processed and had dull appearance. Ironically, even though I now shoot exclusively in RAW, my colors are a lot more rich and vibrant. I attribute this mainly to my post processing that has evolved over the last several years.
Finally, I guess after years of practice, I now have the ability to shoot different kinds of photographs on the same outing. While I concentrated exclusively on candid, event type photography 4 years ago, I’ve added tripod based landscapes with HDR to my repertoire. It certainly keeps me busy and perhaps a bit goofy juggling multiple cameras, but it seems to work for me. I have little downtime and no dust, since I don’t have to change lenses. Since the cameras are so light and small, I’m not bogged down with a huge load of gear like a pack mule. I’m curious to see what I will be shooting with, 4 years from now.