An Important Decision

Ullswater Boat Jetty, The Lake District, England
Ullswater Boat Jetty, The Lake District, England

It was an early start yesterday. Up at 4:30 in the morning in order to make the 2 hour journey to Ullswater in the Lake District for a dawn shoot. Despite the early morning start it was without question one of the most enjoyable days photography that I have ever had.

Overnight the temperature had dropped like a stone and there was a thick haw frost on the ground. Most waters in the Lakes had a thin layer of ice starting to form around their edges but because the temperature had dropped rapidly the deeper water was still cooling. Instead of ice covering their surface they had a wonderful mist and the conditions just got better as the day went on. The image you see above is of the boat jetty near Pooley Bridge, at dawn. Captured on the Olympus OMD EM5 with Olympus 12-40mm lens and a 0.3 ND Grad on the sky. Aperture was f/9.0 (a mistake as I would have shot this at f/7.1 usually). ISO200 and shutter speed 1/125″.

So you might ask, what is the important decision? The answer is, that I have decided to sell the Nikon D800; but I want to explain and share my reasoning.

Firstly, this is the third trip I have made where I can’t bring myself to carry the extra weight. When I returned from Bolivia I suffered a prolapsed disk at the base of my neck and for a while it looked like I might need major surgery. Fortunately, this is looking less likely now but the pain over the past couple of months has been unbearable at times – and pain killers just didn’t have an effect on it. I was finding that even trying to lift and support the heavier equipment was aggravating the pain.

OK, so this might be a temporary condition (I certainly hope it is) but other things are more permanent and important. One of the reasons I bought the D800 was that a lot of people were claiming how the image quality is exceptional with the right lenses and I would agree, yes it is. The camera would perform very well even with lesser quality lenses but needed a little more adjustment to really bring this out. But the important point is, the image performance is no better at low ISO (which I use almost exclusively) than the EM5. In fact, the corner and edge sharpness of the EM5 images beats the D800 even with high quality lenses.

All I really get with the D800 is an image file that produces a 24.5″ inch image rather than 15.36″ at 300dpi. Does this additional image size matter? Well, unless I am going to be making a print larger than 30″ and look at this with my nose pressed against it. You really need to be doubling the print size to notice the difference in output quality due to the way inkjet printers work. If you print on Matt paper then you might even need to go larger than this. As for output to the Internet, there is no benefit to having more pixels and then throwing most of these away by downsizing the image.

Where the D800 does score well over the EM5 is in the RAW files. I seem to be able to push these all over the place in editing and see almost no noise, even in shadow areas. This is very nice but again it comes with a downside. The RAW files from the D800 do seem to need much more processing in comparison to the EM5 RAW files. It’s almost as if the D800 RAW files are a little flat, possibly to the additional dynamic range the camera has. Whatever the reason, it feels like I am having to relearn how to get the most out of the camera and I don’t really have time for that at the moment.

The final and most important problem is that the D800 really doesn’t suit my style of shooting. What I don’t like to do is pop the camera on a tripod, spend a lot of time getting into position, check everything and then make one or two good exposures. This just doesn’t work for me. My approach is to move around and into the subject, taking lots of pictures and checking them regularly. As I work I find images that I like or things I like about an image that I work with to incorporate. The shots gradually get better until I arrive at the image I want. This style of working isn’t for everyone but if it’s your style, you will find it hard working with a large DSLR.

I do have to admit though that I didn’t always recognise this. It was only when I moved to the EM5 that my shooting style really started to develop in this way and that I started to feel free. Now when I try to go back it’s as though I am constrained and I have lost that feeling of freedom and spontaneity.

So, this is my reasoning but I will caveat it with a final thought. I reserve the right to change my mind. As I was writing this I was looking back at some of my RAW files from the D800 and they do have a quality that I really like. I’m just not sure it’s enough to make me want to keep the camera.

19 thoughts on “An Important Decision

  1. I have been a professional portrait and wedding photographer for over 40 years in the south western delta of the Netherlands (Associate of the BIPP and a QEP photographer) and bought myself about a year before my retirement a Panasonic G6 camera for during my holidays. Soon I discovered that this little gem works as well in my studio; I sold almost all my Nikon gear and became an avid M43 enthusiast.
    Just recently I discovered your blog. It strikes me you are one of the few people that almost think like me, both in terms of weight of gear and imaging. I like your style of imaging -especially the one on top of your blog of January 2013- as it is often the way I think.

    This is just a message to let you know how much I appreciate your imaging and the resulting blog; please continue this way and keep us informed about the way of you personal development of yourself. Thanks!

  2. Well thought out reasoning. You have helped me to form my own decision not to pursue Nikon Full Frame and stay with Micro 43. My interest in Nikon FF was primarily based on having several FF Nikon mount lenses which are basically sitting in limbo. But the reality of having another large body and hauling all that around just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I really do appreciate small, light, and most of all, the way Olympus designs their cameras as I do like to use them on light tripods. Having the ability with the EPL5 and the EM5 mounted on a tripod and being able to flip down the back screen and having the EVF do the same is a real pleasant feature for landscapes. I suppose this is a definite throw back to my medium format film camera days, but there really are so many advantages for using tripods for better focus, eliminating camera shake, and composition. And when one needs to hand hold, there is that beautiful built in anti-camera shake to use. (By the way, just to clarify, I do mount a VF4 on the EM5 to be able to look down at waist level or ground level. This does receive a few perplexed looks by those who notice the double stacked EVF’s). One other thought, that I am pursuing, is shooting color for more “Impressionistic” renderings. This means simplifying and blending lines and color that really do not benefit from huge mega pixel cameras such as Nikon FF. Again, thanks for a wonderful blog. John

    1. Thanks John. Your way of working sounds quite similar to mine in that I like to look down on the rear screen, although I may use a tripod less often. Whilst I have quite a few tripods I keep returning to the Velbon. It’s so light (lighter than a carbon fibre) and very compact. It’s stable and a joy to work with. I can get it very low when I need to and with the EM5 it’s a perfect match.

  3. I had a Sony A99 which I thought was giving the same problem until I got the Op/tech strap. However I sold it and got the Sony A7R – great little camera, superb results but gobbles battery life…. I also have the A77 II which has great high ISO performance. Still miss the A99 though even though it is only 24Mp v 36 in the A7R…

  4. Ouch a prolapsed disk is all kinds of horrible 😦 My neck is stuffed due to a car accident about 15 years ago, and I NEVER hang a camera around my neck, I either sling it sideways or carry in my hand instead (or backpack and fluff around getting on and off)

    Be kind to your neck, its the only one you have 🙂

    1. Very painful unfortunately. I agree so much with your sentiment about not hanging cameras around your neck. I stopped doing that about 10 years ago and now tend to carry mine in one hand with the strap wrapped around my wrist. My problem is that I spend so much time behind a computer typing that I stress my neck. Fingers crossed for the new year.

      1. Do you know about the Alexander technique? It’s a postural theory that addresses the kind of issues you are having. Got a book out of the library a year or so ago and adopted some of the changes and it was hard work and painful for a while, realigning my neck and back but it has definitely helped. It was developed in the uk and you can probably see an expert over there. Worth a crack?

      2. Thank you for the suggestion. I am aware of the technique as a friend of mine was a practitioner. I toyed with it for a while in the late 90’s but it never really worked for me. I then moved on to Tai Chi which I still practice (Yang, Chen and Sword form). I have found the Tai Chi quite painful but it does help and my physio is encouraging me to do more. I appreciate the suggestion.

      3. One thing you may consider – if you already don’t use a roller-ball mouse, try to move to one – it’s quite amazing how much you move your neck when using a conventional mouse.

      4. I have always struggled with the rollerball mouse so tend to use a normal one. I have a graphics pen which I use for editing. But your right, you do tend to use your neck a lot when editing.

      5. Be careful with the crossing of the fingers… before you know it they’re stressed as well….

  5. It’s very interesting to hear you feel you’re moving away from the D800 back towards the M4/3. I’m still using my Lumix GX1 and loving it but I sometimes feel that maybe I should splurge on one of the super Mega Pixel full-frames that are coming out.

    But I think the reason I love taking pictures is not being burdened with the huge DSLR. Something about that little rangefinder format just feels like it opens up so much more range for artistic freedom.

    1. I loved my GX1 and only sold it (well one of them) becaus I was so impressed with the EM5. As well as being so usable and small the image quality is great. I have some A2 prints from Zabrisky Point in Death Valley that I shot on the GX1 and the level of detail is just amazing. I think Panasonic got it right with the GX1 and I still love using my remaining one which was converted to shoot Infrared.

  6. An interesting and honest and considered view which states the very obvious. That you do not need loads of high spec gear to take great images. I’m a new recruit to the m4/3rds community having purchase the Panasonic GX7 back in the summer. It’s like a whole new world has opened for me as I can take this fab little camera almost anywhere.

    I am sorry to hear that you have been suffering, and agree that carrying a heavy camera around your neck is not so good I hope you manage to feel better soon.
    Very much appreciate your blog, images and views, please keep up the excellent work

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