Thursday, April 22, 2010

Making the Switch: DSLR to m4/3rds

I have seen a growing number of threads on photography forums with same question in mind:  Should I do it ?  Should I make the switch ? A number of people, like myself, have made the switch while others have clearly stated that they would never give up their DSLR.  In effort to provide more food for thought I have decided to write about my story in "Making the Switch'".

Before I begin I want to preface this story by stating that you can always switch back.   Some of the forum posts seem to be from people who are agonizing over this decision and yet they fail to realize that nothing is  permanent,  nothing is written in stone.  If you do decide to switch from one format to the other you can always sell and reacquire what you had (or upgrade to something more desirable).

As someone who has owned a few DSLRs over the years: Nikon D50, D200,  and Rebel XSI I can tell you one important lesson I have learned:  The camera is simply a tool limited only by your imagination.  Regardless of brand, model, and design - a camera is (to a certain degree) a camera.   Of course your requirements as a shooter truly define what your needs are, but most modern digital cameras have the same basic features.  The key reason I purchased my first DSLR was image quality.  I wanted noise free, high dynamic range, color accurate, detailed images - something I could not get from point and shoot camera - and something you could only get from an SLR.  The migration from a point-n-shoot camera to an SLR was truly a wonderful and rewarding experience though at the same time was also my Achilles Heal.  You see with SLR ownership came GAS or Gear Acquisition Syndrome.  I needed more lenses, more flashes, tripods, bags and bags for my bags, etc.  After a while, the Gear Acquisition Syndrome that comes with DSLR ownership somehow became Gear Burden Syndrome.  So to countermeasure the GBS, I begin shooting my D200 with small primes.  At first I felt as though I was somehow limiting my capabilities as a photographer running around with nothing but a 28mm prime attached, but I never seemed to miss a shot - it was challenging, yet rewarding and put a little passion back into the process..  The D200 with a small prime attached left me wanting more (or I suppose less would be the more accurate word here) so I switched from the D200 to a Rebel XSI.  Yes of course that seems to be an odd migration moving from a Pro body to a Consumer, but my reasoning was quite simple:  I wasn't using the D200 for everything it had to to offer:  Was I shooting Birds in Flight ?  No.  Was I shooting sports ?  No.  Was I shooting in the rain ?  No.  90% of the time I was using the D200 with my own no-fills recipe: aperture priority - center point auto-focus, and matrix metering.  After a while I reasoned that I could do the same with a Rebel XSI and have a more compact body in the process.  Yet even with the purchase of the Rebel  I still  found myself  leaving the camera behind.  It was still  something I had to worry about, something I had to lug around and something that drew unwelcome attention at times. - it was still an SLR.  Then the Olympus EP-1 Pen came onto the market.  It was the perfect compromise between an SLR and a point-n-shoot camera.  Interchangeable Lenses: Check.  SLR image quality: Check.  Compact Size: Check.   Of course the Pen is by no means perfect  The grip isn't as comfortable, no viewfinder, slower performance, limited lens selection, and so on.  I honestly begin wondering at first if I had made the right decision, after-all on paper the Pen was no SLR.  And then in a moment of clarity I stopped thinking about  what I gave up, started taking pictures and realized what I had gained.  Taking pictures was no longer a burden.  No bags, no bulky bodies, no protruding lenses.  No pain around my neck, no unwelcome attention.  As Mel Gibson put it best in that movie I can't seem to remember: 'Freeeeeee-dom".  I could take pictures and leave all of my worries behind me. Even better the Olympus JPEGs were so good that I  could even finally retire RAW which went from being the ultimate control freaks best friend to an often exhausting , repetitive process.

So am I telling you to "Make the Switch".  No.  I am simply sharing My Story.  Now please share your own.


  1. I have been agonizing over the decision as well for a while now and have finally confirmed my decision to go with Micro 4/3s. My mantra when selling my kit was "I'm tired of having a camera that looks like a weapon". I liked my 20d and before that my N90 just fine but couldn't carry them with me most of the time and let's face it, people just freeze up when you point a bazooka-like SLR at them. Looking forward to a more portable, friendly camera.

  2. Claude, I know how you feel. I think the Micro 4/3rds format represents a pretty good compromise with the Olympus and Panasonic models being wonderful alternative to DSLR bodies. My only gripe is that M 4/3rd lenses are a bit expensive and the selection is still limited, but then again the later is probably best for me: I have moved from having a bag full of lenses to only a single prime which not only makes my back happy, but also my wife :)

  3. I echo your sentiments exactly. As a teenager, I was seldom seen without my trusted Canon AE-1. Then marriage and parenthood forced me into the portability of 35mm point and shoots, with the lovely tiny Olympuses being my favourite (XA, XA2, Stylus, Twin). Fast forward two decades and I'm still happily snapping with my Panasonic TZ5. Then a friend passed me his old Canon 10D. Ah, back to SLRs! I enthusiastically bought a couple of lenses then proceeded to lug the thing around like my old AE-1. And you what? I hated it. I thought I could go back but I couldn't. Soon, I was back to snapping with my TZ5 95% of the time. The Micro Four Thirds format intrigued me, as did the E-P1 when it came out. I finally decided to take the plunge a month ago and I don't regret it one bit! Yes, I was aware of all the drawbacks going in--slow focus, low res screen, no flash, no viewfinder. But it turns out that none of these bothers me that much. Viewfinder--hah! I hated peering through an SLR viewfinder, especially when wearing glasses/sunglasses. Flash? I prefer available light anyway. Focus? It's quite acceptable with the latest firmware. Besides, as long as it focusses as fast as I could with my AE-1, I'm happy. Viewfinder? I thought it'd be a big blow to give up the lovely 460K screen in my TZ5 for a paltry 230K one. But damned if I must admit--this is _one fine_ 230K screen! The viewing angle is incredible, with no loss of gamma. Puts the TZ5 screen to shame in this respect. The only thing that really bugs me is the lousy circular scroll wheel that's next to useless. But aside from all this, the E-P1 is everything I expected--compact, stylish, well made, great pictures. Much less intimidating to photograph people with. The best of all worlds!