New Tricks For An Old Dog

I hinted last week that I had made a purchase that would require a lengthy post. I’m sure some of you immediately thought, “That glorious bastard bought an Apple Watch!”

Nope.

My feelings about the Apple Watch are pretty similar to how I viewed the initial iPhone back in 2007: cool gadget, but I don’t see the need for one in my life. I think we’ll all be wearing some kind of connected watch in the relatively near future.[1] I’m just not ready to jump in yet.

So, what did I buy? Read on!


Each November I sit down and go through the pictures I’ve taken over the past year and build a photo calendar that we print three copies of: one for ourselves, one for my step-dad, and one for my father- and mother-in-law. It’s always fun to look back on the previous year, pick out the best shots of our favorite moments, and arrange them in a way that fits the natural rhythms of the year.

Over the past couple years, though, I’ve noticed my pool of pics from which I can select has gotten slimmer and slimmer. Like a lot of parents, my photography went through the roof with the birth of each kid, but has slowly tapered off since. Thanks to our iPhones, we rarely take out our Canon point-and-shoot anymore. When we do, I’m frustrated by its slow speed and limited abilities. And while the iPhones take good-enough pictures for small screen viewing or printing for school projects, many of its photos look very noisy or lose their focus when blown up to calendar size.

One saving grace is that I have a sister-in-law who is very into photography and owns a high-end Nikon DSLR with a good assortment of lenses. She’s always there to take pics at family gatherings or when we need a quick, high quality photo.

At C.’s First Communion I got out the Canon to try to get a couple better-than-iPhone pics. It/they sucked. I had already been toying with the idea of upgrading our camera, but that day pushed me into the mode of serious research.

Or into Obsessionville, I should admit. Over the next couple weeks I spent most waking hours when I wasn’t at, or traveling to-or-from, a sporting event researching cameras. I began with articles aimed at folks like myself, looking to get into more serious photography and away from smartphones and point-and-shoots, but not looking to spend a mortgage payment on gear. From these overviews, I drilled down and bookmarked dozens of reviews of individual cameras which I skimmed through. Next I built a list of contenders which I carefully cross-referenced against the best body + lens deals available on Amazon.

My big discovery in this research is that most photo experts no longer recommend jumping into the DSLR realm when moving from low-end cameras. The mirrorless category of cameras has matured enough that most recommend starting there. Which was perfect to me, as I loved the looks and size of most of the mirrorless cameras I was considering. My worry, though, was that the quicker speeds of DSLRs are better suited to sports photography than mirrorless cameras.

Thus I hit my conundrum: speed for sports in a larger package vs. a smaller, more stylish body that still takes great pics but may lag in the speed + distance area.

Two weeks ago I had my list narrowed down to two cameras: the mirrorless Sony a5000 and the Nikon D3300 DSLR. The a5000 was listed by some as the best beginner’s mirrorless camera, and Amazon offered a nice deal that included both a 50mm prime lens and a 16–55mm zoom lens for a hair over my preferred entry cost. The D3300 is considered by just about everyone the very best entry-level DSLR, would allow me to borrow lenses from my sister-in-law, and for a little less than the a5000 package I could get two zoom lenses and a bag.

For the next 48 hours I was maniacal about reading about each camera. Comparing specs. Finding flaws and deciding whether they were deal-breakers. Reevaluating my wish list. Finding similar cameras that I threw into the mix, only to later delete them. It got a little ridiculous.

I had each camera in my Amazon cart at least twice, but then went through one last check of details that made me change my mind.

By two Saturdays ago I had reached an impasse. I could not make a decision. I went back to my first thoughts: I wanted something that was relatively small, at a decent price, but which a) still took great pictures and b) gave me access to good quality glass for building a lens collection.

While at one of C.’s softball games, something tickled the back of my brain and I made a mental note. When we got home, I went to two different websites I read for non-photography reasons, remembering some camera discussion in the past. I found the two posts I was looking for, read through them, then spent the entire evening on a crash course learning about mystery camera #3.

At roughly 11:30 pm, I clicked Place Your Order. There was no going back.

Although I had selected regular delivery, at about 5:30 pm Sunday, our doorbell rang and a small package was sitting there when the girls opened the door. I was officially the owner of an Olympus OM-D E-M10.

Why the change from the Sony or Nikon? The E-M10 is mirrorless, and part of the Micro Four Thirds family of cameras that use common lenses. Olympus makes great glass, and any Panasonic or other manufacturer’s MFT lens will fit it. The E-M10 is roughly the same price as the Sony, but a much better camera. In fact, it’s not far off in performance from its big brothers, the E-M5, which is several hundred dollars more, or the E-M5 Mark II, which will set you back over a grand for the body alone.

In short, it’s a small, good looking camera that captures great images and gives you high level performance for a relatively modest price. It ticks just about every box I was looking for.

My entire life I’ve been a point-and-shoot photographer. I will occasionally use my sister-in-law’s Nikon, but almost exclusively in full auto mode. I don’t know anything about shutter speeds or aperture sizes or ISO. Since the camera arrived I’ve been reading books and websites to try to figure out how to use it in more than just Auto or Program mode. I still need to do some review to make sure I have the concepts straight in my head, and the controls on the camera figured out, but I think I’m going to go and and do some shooting in full Manual mode this week. If you’ve got the tools, you have to know how to use them.

So far I’ve only taken a few pics, mostly of the girls. As my policy is not to post pics of them here, I don’t have any early examples of my efforts. Hopefully I can get some decent non-kid shots to share here soon. L. and I are headed to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a field trip Friday. That seems like a perfect spot to start.

It’s been fun to read and learn about photography. I’m looking forward to using the camera and being able to actually use real photography terms in conversation. While I’ve only done limited shooting, I like the way the camera feels and works. I’m excited to gain more control of it as my knowledge expands.

And, like any good, adult hobby, I’ve discovered that photography can be a real money pit. Sure, you go buy a body and lens to start off with. But you need a bag to protect the camera and glass.[2] And you need a cool strap to replace the crappy one included in the box. And then there is the lure of better lenses, many of which can match or exceed the original cost of the camera body. As I’ve quickly learned, there is no such thing as a cheap accessory in the photography equipment section.

So that’s my latest purchase and my newest hobby. You’ll be hearing more about it.

Pre-teens walk around with smartphones now. Technology is unrelenting and undeniable.  ↩

I ended up just buying a small insert I can use in bags I already own.  ↩

2 Comments

  1. Billy

    3000 words on buying a camera? It is time for you to get out more.

  2. ddbrann

    Come on! 1500ish, before footnotes.

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