Elevating Compacts and Embracing Snapshots

Dia de los Muertos 2019 - Austin, Texas

Dia de los Muertos 2019 – Austin, Texas

I’ve often talked about my love of this eight-year-old compact camera from Olympus, the XZ-1. The 2011 camera has a CCD sensor that renders a different look — colorful but not clinical. There’s a softness and richness to the images which seem superior, in some ways, to the super-sharp look of current cameras. This year’s Dia de los Muertos is the first time I brought a digital compact camera, in addition to my larger, more serious cameras.

I shoot differently with a compact. A casual free-flowing style which has more of a snapshot aesthetic. In fact, with the bright midday sun, I was often flying blind, using “The Force” to feel the composition instead of precisely framing based on an easy to see EVF. I think these challenges play to the advantage of these kinds of cameras and this style of shooting.

I also believe that a small, non-professional camera positively affects the subjects too. They are less intimidated. And, who can take a bright white point and shoot camera seriously? I can get closer to my subjects, really close.

Dia de los Muertos 2019 - Austin, Texas
Dia de los Muertos 2019 - Austin, Texas

With a small sensor, there’s more depth of field, which can make framing more challenging. Ideally, you want to exclude distracting or irrelevant backgrounds.

These challenges are similar to smartphone photography. Except with a point and shoot, you have the benefit of physical controls, which can be faster. Plus, a real optical zoom, which can help simplify the composition.

Dia de los Muertos 2019 - Austin, Texas
Dia de los Muertos 2019 - Austin, Texas

I like how the cheerleader’s arms mimic the wings of the bat.

Dia de los Muertos 2019 - Austin, Texas
Dia de los Muertos 2019 - Austin, Texas

Notice how close I was to the subjects. With a wide-angle, getting closer adds some distortion and more drama. I think it pulls the viewer into the image. You can certainly do this with a larger, more serious camera, but it might make the subjects uncomfortable.

Dia de los Muertos 2019 - Austin, Texas
Dia de los Muertos 2019 - Austin, Texas

Repeating patterns. Always a desired visual for photographers.

Dia de los Muertos 2019 - Austin, Texas
Dia de los Muertos 2019 - Austin, Texas
Dia de los Muertos 2019 - Austin, Texas

Compact cameras and snapshot images don’t get the respect they deserve in America. It’s different in Japan, I heard, where professional compact camera photographers like Daido Moriyama command tremendous respect.

In a few days, I’ll feature photos from my Fujifilm X-T10. Same event but a very different look.

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6 thoughts on “Elevating Compacts and Embracing Snapshots

  1. This camera’s ability to cope with all those backlit shots in extreme bright sunlight is remarkable. The final one, for example, containing both full-on direct sunlight and the eyes of the guy behind a mask, beneath a dark sombrero. Of course, I don’t discount the processing wizardry you put into achieving a workable balance. But the detail had to be there for you to pry out. Looking forward to the Fuji comparison.

    1. The camera does pretty good, considering its old technology. However, the dynamic range of newer cameras is clearly superior.

      It also helps a lot if you happen to nail the exposure. The first photo required the most elaborate post-processing. I had underexposed a little too much and needed to brighten the faces.

  2. Nice work. You couldn’t have picked a better event for capturing colorful photos, Andy. I have an E-PL3 and XZ-2. Love ’em both. I mostly use the Oly 17mm ƒ2.8 on the E-PL3… it’s a dandy little lens.

    1. Thank you, Russ. The E-PL3 and the 17mm f2.8 make a really nice and small combo. These smaller cameras are really wonderful for candid shooting with minimal intimidation.

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