In 1977, comedian Steve Martin told America, "Let's Get Small" when he released a comedy album by the same title. In 2015 I'm taking his advice by relegating my DSLR cameras to second string, and going back to where I started with digital photography, with a small sensor digicam.
My first digital camera was a 2002 Canon Powershot G3. I bought mine in 2003 for a great price at the end of its production run, just as its successor, the G5 was being released. It was a great camera, far exceeding my film-biased expectations. With that camera, with its mere 4 megapixels and 2002 technology under the hood, I was able to produce some absolutely gorgeous 11x14 prints, a couple of which still hang in my living room today.
Eventually, however, I discovered that starting out with only 4mp made cropping a very iffy proposition. Cropping a little too much left me with a file too small to do much with. I also began to be dissatisfied with a zoom lens that was only 140mm on the long end. I'm a telephoto man, and that just wasn't enough reach for the kind of photos I wanted to make. I began to look at bigger (and more expensive) cameras.
At the time, I had dreams of being a semi-professional location portrait photographer, and also trying to sell some of my scenic photography as “fine art”. Rolling up to a portrait session with a little digicam will not inspire confidence in your clients, so I decided a big, black DSLR was called for. I finally decided on the Olympus E-500, which could be bought as a 2 zoom lens-kit at the time. It had 8 mp which allowed me to crop with more confidence, and the longest zoom lens went to 300mm, giving me the kind of longer reach I wanted. Problem solved, for the moment anyway.
So for the last 10 years I've been toting around various combinations of big, black camera, and big, black lens. With a full time job and other obligations, I never had the time to market myself properly as a portrait photographer. The rise of the “Mom Photographer” with a Canon Rebel and plenty of time on her hands to shoot during the week did me in. I wasn't willing to sell all the files from a sitting on a CD so the customer can make their own prints at Walmart as seems to be the trend today. The sale of scenic photographs never panned out either. Our area is super saturated with Ansel Adams wannabes, all shooting the same barns, waterfalls, and sunsets. It's very difficult to distinguish yourself in such a crowded market unless you really have Ansel Adams talent. I don't.
Some friends got me interested in backpacking a couple of years ago. A seemingly excellent opportunity to to bag some good outdoor photos, but carrying a BIG camera along with all the other gear just didn't seem practical. Mountain biking also provided other opportunities for outdoor photos, but carrying the big camera was a hindrance there too. Finally, I've become more interested in street photography in recent years, and the big camera/big lens combo attracts too much attention when going for candid street photos. Now that I've decided to go back to shooting strictly for my own enjoyment, the allure of the big DSLR is gone for me. I needed a smaller camera!
My demands for a replacement were demanding, and unattainable just a few years ago. I print less that 1% of my photos, but I want to be able to print quality 11x14s if desired. I wanted a zoom lens with a range of at least 28-400mm. That would cover 99% of what I like to shoot. I also demanded an electronic viewfinder. Trying to compose on a LCD on sunny days is a fool's errand as I've discovered on other digicams and my smartphone. Finally, I wanted all that in a package that was truly pocket size. Not a large coat pocket, a shirt pocket. Was such a thing available at a price I could afford?
My search finally came down to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50 and the Sony DSC-HX90V. (Why do cameras need such long, complicated names?) Both had almost identical specs. These two cameras were obviously designed to compete with one another. The Lumix has a viewfinder that is built into the body, with a sensor that turns it on automatically when you put the camera to your face. The Sony has a viewfinder that pops up out of the top of the camera. That design seems like something else to break to me. I also liked that the Lumix has a Leica lens on it. The deciding factor, however, was price. The Sony was $100 more than the Lumix after Panasonic lowered most of their camera prices around Thanksgiving. That made my choice between the two fairly easy! A couple of weeks ago I made Amazon aware of my choice.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50. (I'm going to skip all that nomenclature from now on and just refer to it as "the Lumix".)
The camera arrived this week, and I'm eager to see if it's everything I'm hoping it will be. Early results are very encouraging. Can a camera with a sensor the size of my pinky fingernail give me the print quality I'm looking for? The old 4mp Canon did, so I'm confident that a camera with 12mp and 13 years of advancement in technology will do at least as good. A zoom that extends to 720mm will exactly double the reach of my DSLR zoom. And all that in a package not much bigger than a deck of cards! No longer will I be hindered by the bulk of that big camera and big zoom lens on hikes or other excursions.
A new camera never makes anyone a better photographer, but sometimes it can re-light the creative fires. I'm ready to get back out there and start making photos again. Stay tuned for the results.
River Cane, Canton, NC - 2015
(Click on photo to enlarge. From first test shots with the Lumix. )