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When I moved from Minnesota to Los Angeles in 2004, I brought along three Kodak disposable cameras. They were the first cameras that I had ever owned, and I didn’t end up using them on my trip. Not even when I drove through Utah, which might be one of the most photogenic landscapes on Earth. At that point in my life, making photographs wasn’t really a concern.
As I settled into life in LA, I finally decided to break down and buy a cell phone. I bought a Sprint PCS flip phone that happened to have a camera in it. I was excited. It even had filters that would make your photos look like cartoons. Suddenly I was compelled to take candid photos as I went about my daily routine. I wasn’t sure why that appealed to me at the time, but if you want to see some really terrible first attempts at photography, I have a few examples, in all their cartoon-filtered glory.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is that I didn’t have a clue about cameras or photography when I first became interested in both. We all have to start somewhere.
On my first visit back home to Minnesota, I received a Canon PowerShot point-and-shoot digital camera as a gift. When I returned to Los Angeles, I put it to good use on my walks around Hollywood and downtown LA. I annoyed my friends at happy hour with my obsessive photo making. I started sharing my photos on Flickr, where I soon discovered a popular street-photography group that ignited my curiosity about photography history.
I was hooked, which meant it was time to upgrade to a Canon 20D. But a few months later, my new Flickr pals advised that if I were serious about street photography, then I would need to get the camera of choice, a Leica rangefinder. However, because I couldn’t afford a Leica, I sold my 20D (maybe not the wisest choice) and opted for a Bessa R3A. A few months later, I picked up an Olympus XA and a Stylus Epic. I photographed with these cameras for a few years, and started to slowly improve as I continued to study and build my archive of photographs.
"I started to think that I’d never be able to find a digital camera I was comfortable carrying around on a daily basis."
Around 2008, I had a fleeting notion that I might want to pursue paying gigs, doing events or something along those lines. So, of course, I figured I’d need to buy a new, more professional DSLR (should have just kept the 20D). I purchased a refurbished Pentax K10D with a kit zoom lens. A few months later, I realized that you need to do more than buy a DSLR to get paying gigs, so I quickly gave up on that idea, and I’m sure many professionals would agree that I made the right choice.
I used the Pentax sparingly for a few years, but I never felt comfortable with it. It was too big and bulky for carrying around on a daily basis. I felt too claustrophobic looking through the viewfinder. I started to think that I’d never be able to find a digital camera I was comfortable carrying around on a daily basis.
Then the era of retro compact cameras arrived. I was excited about the Fuji X100, but had friends say that focusing was an issue. It looked awesome though, and given how quickly new models are released, I figured I’d be able to find a camera that would work for me. As one can imagine, once I started working here at B&H, I became much more knowledgeable about new camera releases, plus the pros and cons of various models.
I started to become mostly interested in point-and-shoots. I considered the Sony RX100, but it felt too small in my hand, and I wasn’t crazy about the design. I thought the Fuji X10 looked solid, but I had read some dreadful reviews, and was advised by a few friends to avoid it.
So, of course, I ended up buying it. It felt right for what I wanted—a small, stylish point-and-shoot with a decent zoom lens. It turned out to have some flaws, yet ended up being a great little pocket camera. Sometimes, working with certain limitations forces you to think differently, as a photographer. Cameras are machines and machines are often very flawed.
I spent nearly two years using the X10 as my pocket camera. I started making many more photographs than I had the previous few years. It became a challenge to edit, but that forced me to think more deeply about what I was doing. I’m not going to say that I’ve figured it out yet, not by a long shot, but making more photographs and dedicating myself to editing has certainly made me improve.
While I was enjoying the X10, I was frustrated with the autofocus, and eventually knew I needed a more powerful camera. I had my mind set on the Fuji X100S, and I was ready to become a full-blown Fuji fanboy. I have several friends who absolutely love the X100S, so it seemed like the obvious choice. But I was hesitant about its fixed focal length. I enjoyed having the zoom option with the X10, and wanted to retain that functionality.
I started looking at the current crop of mirrorless cameras, and quickly locked in on the Olympus OM-D E-M5. I saw a friend holding one up in a selfie, and I asked him what he thought of it. He said, “It strikes me as the perfect camera for the flaneur-type photographer.”
"It feels like you’re making a photograph, something that could possibly be good, or important, or memorable."
I read the reviews, consulted my colleagues, and eventually made the leap, buying the body with the 14-42mm lens. I didn’t waste any time heading out into the streets of New York City to see what it could do. As usual, it took me a few days to tweak some of the settings and get accustomed to the feel of it in my hand.
I was immediately impressed by its quick focusing. The “clack clack” of the shutter made it feel like I was shooting with a film camera. I waxed nostalgic. There’s something about that sound that sparks the imagination. It feels like you’re making a photograph, something that could possibly be good, or important, or memorable.
As with any camera, it takes a few weeks to get comfortable with the E-M5. I began to realize that this camera would be primarily used for longer walks in my neighborhood, and for indoor use with an off-camera flash. I’m thinking about getting either the Panasonic 14mm, or the 17mm from Olympus, which I’ll use to photograph in Manhattan. I like to stay wide when I’m photographing the swarming masses that jam the sidewalks in the Big Apple.
Every day that I photograph with the OM-D EM-5, I feel more and more like it's the perfect camera for me at this moment in time. I’ve even grown to appreciate the electronic viewfinder, and no longer feel claustrophobic when using it. The camera feels solid in my hand, and I’ve noticed my confidence level has even risen since using it. I still have plenty of work to do to create the type of lasting photographs I want to make. With the OM-D EM-5 in my hand, I’m confident I won’t need to worry about hunting for a new camera for awhile.