The Pleasures of a New Camera

Saturday was another gray, wet day, added to a month of near record-breaking rain. Indoors seemed like a good place to be, but I was eager to try out my new camera. I thought about Seattle’s Volunteer Park Conservatory – should be perfect – so I drove over.

I can’t resist a glass house.  This one is small, well kept and comfortable. Built in 1912 in a traditional Victorian design, it is centered around a central palm house, with a seasonal display house and a fern house on either side. At the ends of the broad, spreading building are a cacti/succulent house and a bromeliad house. For Christmas an old model train is set up in the seasonal house and surrounded by poinsettias – nothing new or novel, but it’s a sweet tradition.

I started in the cactus house.

The new camera is an Olympus, the first Olympus I’ve owned. It’s a micro four thirds, or ILC – interchangeable lens – camera. They’re smaller than DSLR’s but do just about all the same things. The market for ILC’s is growing as the technology improves. The DSLR market is dropping off, but of course the edge is owned by smartphones, Go Pro’s and drones. I’m not ready for a drone or a Go Pro and my smartphone isn’t versatile enough.  I like a smaller camera but compacts don’t cut it –  I want to use different lenses, be able to focus manually, have an articulating LCD screen and a viewfinder – just for starters.

My last camera was a Panasonic Lumix G3, also a micro four thirds. A few months ago the LCD screen died. So every photo I’ve taken for the last couple of months has been kind of blind – I can’t review shots on the screen, can’t use it to see settings – nada. Repairing the screen costs almost as much as replacing the camera (no surprise!). I started looking at alternatives – maybe it was a sign that it’s time for a different camera.

In a local camera store I held an Olympus OM-D EM-5. Very nice. The lenses I already have for my Lumix would fit it.  That’s huge. Then I tried the EM-1 – even nicer! It had a film camera feel, the buttons and grip were comfortable in my hands, it was solidly built, with WiFi and weatherproofing (I can be rough on things).  Though it’s not a new model, the salesman said a huge firmware update was due in November, with many performance enhancements, like focus stacking.  I thought it over, waited, thought some more…

Then Santa came – hurrah! (Santa’s an expert at finding the best deal).

It’s always a learning curve when you move to a different system and this one is a lot more complex than the Lumix. Things got prickly.

At times I felt like tearing my hair out.

I persevered and found a good video online that reviews the camera – that made a big difference. Who writes those manuals, anyway???

I took a few photos around the house, trying to figure out the focusing. Then I went out. It was Christmas afternoon, and I got to the good espresso place just in the nick of time – it was closing early.  (First things first!)

The rain stopped for a moment so I went to the lake, two minutes from the cafe, to try the camera outdoors.

This is straight out of the camera, nothing at all done to it. The camera did well with poor and difficult lighting.

It still felt alien though, and I felt like I had no idea what I was doing.  There are a million options on this camera – for example, you can see in the photo above that I was using the 16:9 image size option, for a long, skinny landscape shot. When you’re not familiar with your camera, finding the button or series of clicks or whatever to change options is torture! I really didn’t want every single photo to be in those proportions. You just have to spend some time figuring it out.

Back at home I started playing with a setting called Art Filter, which I think is unique to the Olympus cameras (other than the hundreds of special effect apps you can download onto your smartphone). There’s pop color, sepia, watercolor, vintage, pinhole, etc. One intrigued me  – soft focus.  I thought it would be good for plants and flowers.

It was. I was impressed with the smooth tones and retention of detail.

I wasn’t using a tripod. That’s impossible in a space like the conservatory. Besides, I’m an impulsive, walk-around kind of photographer. I brought three lenses with me. I quickly removed the 20mm in favor of a macro and used that one lens the rest of the afternoon.

The camera has five direction image stabilization built into the camera, and I think it made a difference. As the day wore on and the ambient light grew dimmer, I could still get sharp detail with very little noise.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On to the other houses –

A fallen Alamanda flower.

The palm house has orchid displays.

 

I framed a photo looking up through a giant Monstera deliciosa leaf.  This is the kind of high contrast shot a lot of cameras would have trouble with – not this one.

The mature leaves have these cool holes and are called fenestrate – the French word for window is fenetre, so there you go! This plant is a vine and an epiphyte. It has aerial roots, and produces tasty fruit, though I’ve never had it.

Went crazy with the soft focus here –

Spanish moss (Tilandsia useneoides) is plentiful in the Bromeliad house, and epiphytes of many types hang from supports everywhere.

I don’t know what this flower is; it was hanging at about face height. It looks like a confection dusted with sugar. The conservatory has many delights – a little waterfall set with ferns, a bog garden with carnivorous plants like the red-edged plant above, Nepenthes alata, other odd plants, and many repeating plants, which lend consistency as you walk through.

The photo below was taken with my phone, looking towards the bog area. You can see what a pleasure this place is on a December afternoon.

I love the way conservatory windows steam up.  Two views from inside are above (without filters or special effects), and below, a view from the outside. A Tilandsia of some kind presses hard against the glass.

And the train set-up – I didn’t realize until I got home how old the figures are. I should have taken more pictures of them. Last year, the train blew it’s horn AND blew smoke, but on this day, no smoke. Still nice! And it was the perfect shot for another art filter  – Diorama.

The conservatory from the outside:

 

I think this camera’s going to be fun.


48 comments

  1. Congratulations on the new camera. I know so well the excitement and the frustration of playing with a new camera and trying to find out what it can do and how. Of course, even with the difficulties, the pleasures are greater than the pain, and I can imagine your excitement. The last Olympic I had used film. But I have two Lumix, and like them very much. As a matter of fact, I often prefer the compacts or a bridge camera to the DSLR, and there are some top level compacts which can be used manually as well as a DSLR. The DSLR still has the advantage when it comes to the size of the sensor, but it has a lot of serious competition these days. Have a lot of fun. And we’re going to have fun seeing your new experiments.

    • It’s always good to hear from you – but I know I’ve said that before. I figure the sensor size matters less and less as everything gets better on the smaller cameras, and I don’t make prints as a rule. The pleasures are indeed greater, and I’m sure you’ve been through this more times than I have, with your long career of serious shooting. Best New Year to you, Shimon, how nice that 1/1 falls on a Friday. I would wish you peace, too, but that would be foolish. How about enough peace to get you through, and more understanding all around you to get everyone else through. Maybe that’s a sensible New Year wish.

  2. Hi sis!

    Lee has an Olympus PEN – the little sibling of yours – and likes it a lot. Great pictures! – maybe I should consider trading up my old Olympus mid-level DSLR.

    yo bro

  3. Beautiful works of art! And I loved the diorama shot, just like a freeze-frame in time of a little community. My dad let me borrow his macro lens until spring and I haven’t had a chance to get out with it — this post gives me the itch!!

    • 🙂 Cool! I know you’re a dyed -in-the-wool sensualist. BTW, I spent a very enjoyable time going through all your NZ posts the other day – wow. You really sang a song of s different place. Maybe I will get there. The wanderlust stirs.

    • Sometimes I think that for some people, it’s just a picture of a plant and nothing can change that. But that’s OK – for those of us who are drawn deeply to plant life, it’s satisfying to work at making better images. Nice to hear from you –

  4. Lovely shots – it looks a little like Kew Gardens! And a fascinating review also. I have a Lumix and love it, but am thinking of trading it in next year so it’s interesting to hear your thoughts on the Olympus; I’ve always loved the Olympus film cameras but feel they lost their way a bit with digital. Maybe things are improving! Enjoy your new camera and looking forward to seeing more!

  5. Isn’t it wonderful getting to know a new camera. I can see from the quality of your images that the two of you are going to be great friends. Wonderful images Lynn! The quality really shines through and coupled with your fabulous eye for a photograph, this gallery was a real pleasure to view! 🙂

  6. Hey Lynne,
    well done pictures, all shot with the olympus ?…i live in Hamburg /Germany and work as an advertising photographer, and…surprise surprise 🙂 i did a lot work for olympus/europe…if you like i will give them a link to your blog… and indeed : Olympus optical lenses are great…as good as the Zeiss lenses…i started my job with the analog Olympus OM 4…and everybody thought i shot my pictures with a Hasselblad :-)…then the digital age started and i move to Canon…much bigger than Olympus but not much better….and now i shoot with a phase one back…but i think the eye makes the picture !
    Have a good start in 2016 !
    best regards from jürgen,

    • Hi Jurgen, Thank you! Yes, it’s the eye, but it seems that for me, this camera sees more they way my eyes do. All shot with the Olympus, except one with my phone – the doorway. I have only one Oly lens so far – a 60mm macro – it’s great. I have a 20mm prime Lumix that’s also very good. Have only used those tow at this point. I have an old Asahi Super Takumar 50 mm too, that I’ll try on the new camera soon. SUre, give a link, but maybe wait a bit until I have more posts with the Oly!

      • 60mm macro is really great…in analog times it was the 90mm macro…better than the zeiss 90 mmm macro…olympus have great lenses , but asahi too…i used to shoot with the pentax6/7 on advertising jobs…better than hasselblad 🙂
        ok, i will wait a while …and see a lot of cool pictures from you in between…
        best regards, Jürgen

  7. Your last sentence says it all Lynn 🙂 and you’ve given it a super outing here with a few of the differing scenes and settings . I can sense your excitement with it all , having that stabilisation must be a boon – as you say being a wander about type of photographer that is a huge bonus for such sharp shots . Beautiful details and with a creamy soft focus in some of those abstracts this a lovely set of first photos . Enjoy !

  8. Great images, Lynn! You really do have a good eye for images. And very interesting to hear about your experiences with this new camera. I’m still using huge Nikon DSLRs but, although I like them a lot, I am thinking about something smaller – tho I’m waiting to see what Nikon’s next up market offerings are going to be. Happy New Year to you! Adrian 🙂

  9. Great images, Lynn! It can be frustrating getting used to a new camera, but a lot of fun too of course. 🙂 From what you’ve shown here, I’m sure you’ll start enjoying it more and more. Looking forward to your next post!

  10. Ah, nothing like a glasshouse to raise the spirits in winter AND offer great photographic opportunities. Now I’m inspired to go to Phipps soon. You put your new camera through its paces, with lots of very sensuous and tactile images to show for it. But in the end, it is all about the eye, and you’ve sure got a great one, Lynn. You make me see the world in a new way – thank you.

    • Absolutely nothing like it! Thank you very much – I love the idea that a day spent communing with camera and plants could result in not only pleasure, but a bit of inspiration for the eye.

  11. “I think this camera’s going to be fun.”
    As others have said, I look forward to seeing more. Wonderful set of lyrical, sensual images.

  12. Wow Lynn, these photographs are amazing ~ looks like you’ve gotten into a great groove with your camera. This post is a beautiful way to bring in the New Year, wish you the best with your writing and photography in the New Year. Cheers to a great 2016.

    • Thanks so much! How I used to love NYBG, and also the Staten Island Botanical Garden with its somewhat ragtag conservatory, complete with plants bursting out of broken windows. So glad we have one or two glass houses here.

    • Interesting – I hadn’t remembered that! You do great work with yours, and you show the versatility. I’m having a hard time putting my finger on what it is that feels right, but I’m not complaining a bit.


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