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Why Olympus?

Thursday 3 December 2009

Natural Bonsai (ZD 12-60mm; E-30)

Every once in a while I drag myself over to the dpReview Forums and take a look at the Olympus SLR Talk. I am constantly struck by the number of trolls who take pot shots at Olympus and the 4:3s system. In fact, right from the very first 4:3s announcement posters have sniped at Olympus:

  • Olympus cameras are not “professional” enough
  • the lenses are too expensive
  • the sensor is too small
  • yada yada yada

which is all bogus when you get right down to it. Even dpReview had a thing against Olympus (which they have since toned down – and for good reason). It’s as if individuals in the Canikon group have such a superiority complex that they just need to bully around everyone else. I don’t get it? You shoot with what you like and let us create photographs with the equipment we prefer. Is Canikon better if its more expensive? Is it better if it doesn’t have the feature set that attracts us to Olympus? Is Canikon better if I can’t get the lenses I want in a size and price that suits me? Do I go and bash Canikon for this? The answer to all of the above is a simple “no”.

It’s as if the Olympus snipers are a bunch of conformists: they feel slighted because not everyone in the world thinks like them so they need to vent their frustration by picking on the ones who don’t share their views. Wake up folks – Olympus has never had the market share of Canikon. Does that stop them from making fine cameras and even finer optics? No. It’s not unlike Apple computers – does a 5% market share ever get them down? I don’t think so, otherwise they would have cheapened their product to increase market share. The most popular isn’t always the best for everyone.

Dawn, Little Blackstone Lake, The Massasauga Provincial Park, Ontario

Dawn (ZD 50-200mm; E-30)

Years ago, I, too, bowed to the Nikon god – for years I owned two FMs and an F2 plus Nikkor lenses: 24mm; 50mm; 85mm; 200mm Micro-Nikkor; and a 300mm f/4.5. I loved using the equipment. The FM especially was small enough for me to comfortably hike, backpack and canoe with it. We were inseparable; except when my photography took me to Pentax 67. I couldn’t afford to own both, so I traded in all my Nikon gear for what I believe is the best system I’ve ever owned – at least for me and my style of shooting.

I am happiest shooting on a tripod – slow and methodical an hour before sunrise – that’s me! Learning this about myself led me to 4×5 – a gorgeous Zone VI wood field camera with 90mm, 150mm and 210mm lenses. In a word… Zen. So what’s this got to do with Olympus…

During the same time I met the women who would become my wife and she was using her Dad’s Olympus OM-1 from the early 1970s (this was in the late 1980s). I fell in love again, not just with her, but with Olympus. I say “again”, because I took my first photos with my Dad’s Olympus OM-1 back in the mid-1970s. The OM bodies were the epitome of 35mm photography – small and lightweight with the largest viewfinder available – nothing came close to it back then and nothing comes close to it now. The lenses were wonderfully sharp, made with precision and equally small and lightweight. I ended up adding an OM-3 and an OM-4 to my kit along with Zuiko 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 90mm Macro (Tamron), 100mm, 20omm and a 300mm f/2.8 Tamron. All were wonderful lenses. Why the Tamrons? I’m a realist – I simply couldn’t afford the equivalent Zuiko lenses (nor could I afford the equivalent Nikkor or Canon lenses!).

Tree fungus, the Arboretum, University of Guelph

Tree Fungus (ZD 50-200mm; E-30)

Was the OM system a professional system – sure it was. Olympus never slowed me down. Was it ideal for everyone? No, and it never captured market share like Canon and Nikon. Did that ever stop Olympus from making excellent equipment? No – the equipment was always first class. You see, photography is not defined by Sports Illustrated photographers. Not everyone needs 600mm f/4 lenses on cameras with a bazillion frames per second. I’m an artist; I assemble my images from elements in the landscape. I don;t ush a button and hope to capture something.

So, what next? I had all this film gear and the world was going digital – what to do? Which system to choose – it was wide open for me because Olympus had stated that their new 4:3s system would not support their film camera lenses. Man I was pissed. All that money wasted – there was NO WAY I would buy into Olympus.

I checked all the competitors to see how well they matched up to my requirements and soon discovered that only Olympus make a wide angle zoom that went to 28mm f/2.8 and wasn’t huge in glass or hugely expensive. And, as a bonus, I could own a 400mm f/3.5 (so coveted through the 1980s and 1990s) as part of a second zoom that would help me cover the entire range from 28mm to 400mm. Matched to an E-1, I had the ideal system for my style of photography – and it all fit into a waist pack with room to spare.

You see, what everyone seems to miss is that photography is all about the photographer. The equipment comes secondary. What you need is the highest quality lenses you can afford that permits you to do the kind of photography you enjoy doing. That’s why I chose Olympus back in 2004 and why I have stuck with Olympus to this day. Especially since they came out with the Zuiko Digital 12-60mm f/2.8-4. What a superbly thought-out focal length range and aperture. I do 90% of my shooting with this lens now.

Could I create better shots with Canon or Nikon? Perhaps, perhaps not. If I’ve “missed” a shot, it’s not because of the equipment. Have I ever lost a job or a photo competition because I use Olympus? No, in fact when Canikon people see my prints they marvel at the quality and want to know which model of Canikon I use. Has Olympus hampered my growth as a photographer? Not in the least.

I have never felt the need to conform to what others have. Nor have I been swayed by what the camera salesman or adverts want to convince me of. Perhaps that’s why I chose Olympus – it tells the world that rightly or not, I can think for myself because I’ve chosen a system because of its inherent, proven qualities and how well that system fits to my style of photography. Do I expect Canikon exponents to understand my decision? No, they are not me. Let’s just agree to disagree and get on with our photography.

Trees, Morning Mist, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario (ZD 12-60mm; E-30)

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