Digital Photography. There was a time when it was an absolute craze. The introduction of the digital age removed the cost of film, the advent of social media made it possible to share photos without the cost of printing, and the camera, previously a mostly mechanical device, became much more of an electronics gadget – hence the entry of electronics giants like Sony, Samsung and Panasonic…at the expense of companies with long photography heritage like Kodak (nobody knows what a “Kodaker” is nowadays). This made cameras more affordable, and all of a sudden the cost of purchase and use of system cameras like the DSLR – previously the exclusive domain of professionals and serious enthusiasts – became accessible to the general populace, and stocks of big, advanced cameras flew off store shelves. That was over 5 years ago.
Nowadays the fever has died down. People wearing big black cameras while walking on sidewalks and malls have become uncommon, and even when travelling I see less of those being carried by fellow tourists. I myself have migrated to a smaller, more spine friendly system called the ILC (Interchangeable Lens Camera). I attribute the “return to sanity” to a few things. First, technology has finally right-sized things. A lot of the tricks that were the exclusive domain of the huge sameras can now be done with smaller ILC’s and even advanced compacts, therefore people who want to be creative yet not want to be burdened by size and weight now have alternatives. Second, people grew tired of carrying all that weight for photos that, in many cases, look not much different from ones taken with smart phones. While it’s true that system cameras can take better and more creative photos, one has to invest time to learn how to make it do so, and not everyone can or are willing. Just like how a better paint brush does not, by itself, make a better painting, so too with cameras. Third, imagine taking a selfie with a big camera? People now put a premium on the speed of sharing, and the big camera, no matter how digital, is simply no longer the best tool for the task. Time flies, and it flies fast.
Still, while being an enthusiast is not as expensive as before, it’s still not cheap. The digital sensors of the likes of the Iphone 5s will put a standard compact camera of five years ago to shame, but there is however still no substitute to good lenses at the moment, though the advent of the ILCs brought smaller lenses to the market. A good lens, and control over things like aperture and shutter speed, are things not yet in the realm of smart phones, and they come at a price. Given that, my purchases of equipment still come few and far between. The last major one I made was early last year, when I bought my first ILC.
This year, I made another purchase on a recent trip to Japan – an Olympus Micro Zuiko 25mm f1.8, made for the company’s micro four-thirds standard. It’s only my second fixed focal length lens, the other one being a Zuiko 50mm bought over three years ago. What’s intersting with this new 25mm is its versatility. First, its perspective is very close to the natural perspective of my eyes, and I find it easy to capture a scene close to how I actually saw it. It can be done with any lens the reaches 25mm of course (or 50mm in the 35mm film standard), but it’s one of those things I often neglect when I have the ability to zoom in and out. Though the focal length is fixed, 25mm is pretty flexible, and applicable from portraits to narrow landscapes. Second, the wide aperture is very handy, though lots of enthusiasts are fairly used to f1.8 so I don’t need to state the obvious. Third, the lens comes with premium branding, meaning it’s a notch above Olympus standard lenses. It shows in the lens’ weight compared to the kit. It weighs heavier due to more (and larger) glass elements, though not by a lot, and it feels very solidly built with barely any wobble anywhere. There is a noticeable upgrade in the quality of output compared to the kit as well, partly due to the enhanced sharpness, enhanced lighting, and the ability to isolate a subject. Fourth, the size of the lens is fairly diminutive, and it balances well with my equally diminutive ILC. This makes make a relatively high grade but very compact kit that’s barely a hindrance especially when travelling. And lastly, it’s relatively inexpesive compared to the manufacturer’s other premium products, and I even bought it tax free at BicCamera in Namba, Osaka.
And I would have to admit that unless one makes money out of taking pictures, then all these gear are just grown up toys. But like all toys, the value is found in how much fun it gives. And though I’m not one to judge technical aspects like edge sharpness and corner illumination and such, I would give this lens five stars for fun. It’s only been a few weeks since I’ve bought it, but I’ve already found it an enjoyable lens to bring along anytime, anywhere.