When Your Camera’s Just Too Good

Not yet two weeks into the April chapter of my One Month, One Camera (OMOC) project, where my chosen cohort is a Panasonic Lumic GF1, a couple of interesting developments have occurred.

First, an unfortunate accident.

On a photowalk where I wanted to gauge how the GF1 felt to use with old M42 lenses (plus an adapter) compared with the only native Micro Four Thirds lens I have, the very light and compact Lumix G Vario 12-32mm zoom, in changing over the lenses I had a mishap.

The Lumix lens rolled off the edge of the bench I was sitting on, and bounced on the floor. The lens caps were still attached, and physically, the lens looks perfect, but ever since, all I get is a “Please check the status of a lens” message. Which basically means it’s broken inside somehow.

The lessons learned?

Well, try to be more careful changing lenses (even though I think I am really careful!).

Don’t assume a modern plastic lens will happily smack into the pavement, be dusted off and live to fight many another day (as has happened with my old Helios 44-2, and a Pentax-A 50/1.4 amongst others).

And I forgot what a faff it is to change lenses, when you can be using a cameras with a thoroughly excellent fixed lens, like my Ricoh GX100, Ricoh GRD III or Panasonic Lumix LX3.

The second development is actually related to the first. 

Photographs made with the Lumic GF1 are almost too good for my needs.

They’re too close to perfect, even using its dynamic mono mode and raising the ISO to 400 or 800 to try to scuzz them up a little.

Consider the three images below.

The first was made with the GF1, the second with my 4MP Sony DSC-L1, and the third with a 4MP Olympus C4040 Zoom.

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43865472570_c1e41864fd_b

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Objectively the GF1 image is sharper, clean, better resolution, less noisy.

But somehow this is just the problem. I think the second and third images have more character and appeal. 

Going into this month, I had been open to perhaps considering Micro Four Thirds as an avenue I could broaden, exploring smaller, later cameras than the GF1.

But as the GF1 is one of the oldest M43 cameras, anything newer is likely to produce even more “perfect” digital images, another step further away from what I’m really looking for.

Despite the annoyance of the broken lens (probably amongst the three most expensive lenses I’ve ever bought), this is a positive development though.

It saves me exploring M43 any further, and as I mentioned previously, I may even look at selling the GF1 at the end of this month.

Especially as I now have no native lens option for it, and with M42 lenses it’s too bulky and fiddly in use, and too good in the final image.

This also reminded me that some of my favourite photographs made with my Pentax Q have been with the tiny and rather primitive Mount Shield lens, with its fixed focus and aperture, and which takes me back to where I started with film photography, the Holga 120N.

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Which ties in with the conversation we had the other day about the beauty of imperfection.

Am I alone in liking cameras and lenses that don’t make pristine pictures and instead leave a little rawness around the edges? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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45 thoughts on “When Your Camera’s Just Too Good”

  1. Hi Dan, Sorry to hear about your mishap…. it just goes to show we are all human and in some ways…. welcome to the “I dropped a Boll**k club”, yes we have all done it and many times for some of us…. not only that but it always seems to happen when you least expect it to…. but again, sorry for the mishap…. moving on to your idea of the camera being too good…. well yes I do agree with that in so much as in today’s world of retro…. photos that have a bit of a roughness to them are not only in vogue but also they in my opinion are always the most interesting….somehow…. not everything in life is perfect and so photos that look perfect tend not to have such a presence….. (sorry about the lack of posting, but I have only just come back to being at full strength after a operation…) BR, Lynd

    1. Lynd, that’s a colourful way of phrasing it!

      It was a minor drop really and as there was no obvious surface damage I assumed it was all fine. Alas not. At least it was not the greatest lens I’ve ever owned, and it did force a decision about the GF1 and Micro Four Thirds generally.

      Imperfection is beautiful, totally agree.

      And good to have you back, hope you’re recovering well.

  2. No, you are not alone. By choice, I shoot 35mm rather than medium format film, usually ISO 400 rather than slower, using lenses at least 60 years old, and developing the negatives with Rodinal, a high acutance developer that does nothing to suppress the inherent grain of these faster films.

    1. Doug that sounds like a recipe for low(er)-fi loveliness!

      Indeed the digital cameras I’m most fond of have an on board grainy/contrasty b/w mode that sounds similar in spirit to your film photos.

  3. I ought to send you my Canon S80 then.

    I like perfection. I don’t enjoy the lomo look and I like T-Max over Tri-X because of less grain.

    My dad used to work for Oliver Plow and he used to talk about them making parts for Massey tractors.

    1. Jim, I’m sure I’ve seen a few more grainy images on your blog (and enjoyed them!).

      If you wanted perfect colour film photos surely you’d be shooting stuff like Portra 160 and Ektar 100 all the time.

      My uncle and his father, my grandfather, both worked on farms and so my childhood saw plenty of tractors from Massey Ferguson, Ford, Case, John Deere, and others…

  4. Dan, Sorry to hear about your lens, but I can’t say I’m surprised My few M43 lenses feel like cheap toys. I think you were saying you felt like you could live without your GF anyway. I must say that I’m a fan of the imperfect look. I really enjoy my old Jupiter lenses which are far from perfect. And I quite like my only lens for my Canon EOS which is the 24mm crop lens that doesn’t get a lot of respect. I am also a big fan of the Olympus “Body Cap” lens which I haven’t read anything good about anywhere.

    1. Jon I am half tempted to try that Olympus body cap lens before I sell the GF1. But I have a very similar “mount shield” lens for my little Pentax Q (I mentioned above) so again it would be unnecessary duplication.

  5. I love micro four thirds. I’m fully invested in the system with three bodies and eight lenses. More than I’ve ever owned for any other system. And yet my photographic buddies shoot Nikon D850 or Sony A7 II. I don’t understand it. Why chase perfection when the beauty is in the flaws?

    For me, micro four thirds is my comfort zone between perfection and anarchy. But I keep looking at the Panasonic LX5 (essentially the same as the LX3, but with a slightly longer lens) and thinking it looks like the perfect holiday camera.

    1. Alex, I do love the idea of MFT. But it’s just a bit more than I need. Do you mind me asking what you have? What’s your smallest body and lens?

      I have the Lumix LX3 and looked at the LX5 the other day, and for me the main difference of the longer reach of the lens is irrelevant – I rarely go beyond 35mm with my LX3. The LX7 however, with a faster lens, is a very attractive proposition…

      1. Hi Dan, my smallest lens and body combination is the Olympus PM2, and Olympus 14-42 EZ pancake lens. It’s a great combination for holidays, when I want something pocketable that will give me a good focal range. For my money, it’s almost ideal. The 35mm equivalent focal length is 28-84mm. It’s tantalizingly close to the 24-90mm which I would really like, as it would allow me to shoot claustrophobic cityscapes and modest telephoto images with the same lens. And now that you’ve encouraged me to look at the Panasonic LX series in greater depth, I realise that the LX7 would be even better than the LX5. Thank you!

        Incidentally, the four thirds website has a great tool for visualizing the what any combination of M43 lens and camera will look like. A great tool to use if you’re debating whether a lens/camera combination will look unbalanced.

        1. Alex, do you swap lenses much with your M43 cameras? Just wondering what the benefit of something like the Olympus body and lens you mention is over a higher end digital compact like the LX3/5/7?

          1. I guess, at this stage, it’s just a personal preference. I used a Sony RX100 for several years, but I got frustrated by the amount of lens distortion I saw in the RAW conversions. When I swapped to M43, it just felt “right” in a way that compact cameras rarely do.

            Generally, I go out with only a single lens, usually a prime, because I enjoy working within self-imposed restrictions. But then, having a body that takes interchangeable lenses allows me to use the same body when I’m shooting wildlife with a long zoom, and then again with a walkabout lens when I’m on holiday.

            It’s all down to personal preferences. I took my favourite ever photo with a compact camera, and I’ll probably go back to them at some point. But for just now, I’m enjoying the SLR experience with near-compact sized cameras.

            Thanks for your thought provoking blog. There are a few blogs I follow which challenge my photographic status quo. You make me think, and that improves my photography.

          2. Alex, thanks for your reply, and all of your posts here, it greatly enriches the conversations.

            I have found a few cameras that just felt “right” but the GF1, my only M43 so far, isn’t one of them. Perhaps a smaller body would, like one of the little Olympus ones, or the Lumix GM1, but to find out, now my only M43 lens is broken, I’d have to invest probably £200+ in body and lens to find out. Which seems silly when I have excellent cameras like the Ricoh GX100, GRD III, Pentax Q and Lumix LX3 already, all which to a great extent do feel very right.

            I have considered the Sony RX100 a number of times, but I think the it’s another case of being just too good, too perfect, and better than I would ever need. Plus having handled one in a shop, the ergonomics weren’t great, just a cold slab with no curve or grip on the front. Just felt like a “device” not a proper camera.

            The only camera that really interests me is the Lumix LX7, but again this is a step up in some ways from the LX3, and that is almost too good sometimes too! Spending £150-200 just for in reality just a slightly faster lens doesn’t seem wise.

            Thanks again!

  6. Hi Dan, you are not alone with your preference for “imperfect” images. For me personally, however, that has less to do with the tool and more with workflow or post-processing.

    I recently got an old Nikon D90 (because I had enough of my unfortunate purchases of second-hand compact and mirrorless cameras). Still a very decent camera with high image quality, but by adding (a lot of) grain in post, “double exposures” and/or using a cheap LensBaby Spark lens, I can still get a “less clean” look with this camera. So for me, it does not depend so much on the camera I use.

    (Note: I was unable to comment for several months, as WordPress somehow automatically deleted my comments. Recently, I fully deleted my WP account – PITA by the way – so hopefully I can give it another try without an account).

    1. Robert, what happened with WordPress, did you try to delete your account and it just deleted your comments?

      Yes you could of course taken any camera above a certain standard then post process the clean images to give as grainy and “lo-fi” a look as you wish. I just like to try if possible to do this in camera and have the character of the camera and its sensor and lens give me that look, rather than it be a result of post processing.

      But I might try some really grainy images with the Lumix GF1…

      1. Re WP: No, when I still had the account (and blog), I suddenly couldn’t post comments on your blog (or any other WP blog). Well, I could post, but shortly after posting the comments were removed again. At first I thought that one or two people had blocked me, but it turned out to be the case with every WP blog. And because there were more technical issues and I didn’t get any support from WP, I eventually decided to delete my blog and also my full account. However, problems were not over yet, as you can delete your WP account, but not that Gravatar thing (it’s even worse than Facebook). So now Gravatar requires that I log in with WP, while I no longer HAVE a WP account. The only way to post comments right now is using an alternative email address ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        1. Very strange, I wonder what happened there?

          I only have my own experience with WP, and the two occasions I’ve needed input from their support, they’ve been excellent and got me what I needed within a couple of minutes (via the live messaging thing within your WP dashboard).

          Can you just close your Gravatar account and start again, so it breaks any link with WP?

          Sounds similar to Flickr still needing a Yahoo login. It’s the only reason I’ve had a Yahoo email for about ten years but never used it as an email inbox!

          1. Sadly not, you cannot close a Gravatar account. You can delete the photo and information, but there is no way to delete the Gravatar account or disassociate it from your email address. So they kinda “hijack” your email address. Quite disturbing (as I said, worse than Facebook), and for me a reason to never start using WP again.

          2. How odd. And annoying! I can’t even remember when I signed up with Gravatar, it was so long ago. I never go on the site directly, I just know it shows my profile and pic on WP posts when I’m signed into WP.

    1. Yes, annoying, but in this case it did give me an extra nudge in a direction I was leaning towards anyway.

      I can be quite clumsy, a good reason to not use super expensive gear!

  7. Ah sorry about your lens! I blame the bench, clearly it was sloping for no good reason! I definitely don’t think modern lenses are built to last unfortunately 😦

    With the 3 comparison images, I feel like the GF1 image has too much contrast, and is too sharp, so I can see why you would prefer the other two.

    Generally I prefer no noise in my digital images because I hate digital noise, it’s just not the same as film grain. It offends me! Film grain I can deal with. I have shot ISO 800 films, or pushed films to 800, and enjoyed the results. Many years ago I also shot some 1600 b&w film and loved how it came out.

    I like my images to be pretty natural, whether colour or b&w. I can’t be bothered to do many enhancements. Some might see them as imperfect, I like them as they are 🙂

    1. Thanks Mel, yes I genuinely find some images too sharp and too clean for my liking.

      I think digital grain can vary considerably depending on the camera and the age and size of the sensor. Some is ugly, but many of the older CCD sensors seems to give a pleasing grain/noise.

      “I can’t be bothered to do any enhancements” – Yes I’m much the same, prefer using out of camera JPEGs!

      1. Hmmmm don’t think I have tried a higher ISO on my D50 before… might have to give it a go and blog about it 🙂

        1. Some cameras get ugly, and the “noise” can get blocky and smudgy at the same time, there are a number of variables. Best thing to do is try a camera for a few shots you would typically take, and at a range of ISOs, to see what you’ll tolerate.

  8. You are most certainly not alone in liking lenses that are less than perfect. For many years I have been using a Nikon 500mm reflex mirror lens precisely because of its donut shaped bokeh. In some situations its imperfections actually make the photo.

    1. Thanks Andrew. Some of your images appear smooth and crisp, and some seem to be really “blocky”, especially in the background. I’m not sure if they’ve not downloaded fully on my browser(s) for some reason. Do you heavily crop some images?

  9. Hi,Its probably because I upload low res images typically less than 1mb of both digital and film files. I have noticed recently some banding on my negative scans probably due to my ‘ancient’ setup, something I am constantly changing. I am open to suggestions.

  10. Two main reasons. First, as I test the waters of blogging I host all content in WordPress which has limited space. Second, I’ve discovered that the blog is viewed principally on mobile devices and therefore suits my current approach.

  11. I want to thank you so much for your encouragement. I have been sitting on the fence regarding Flickr for some months now and you have given me the nudge I needed. Thanks again.

    1. Andrew, glad I could help!

      The way I see it is we’re photographers, so we want to show our images off as best we can. It doesn’t mean we need 42MP cameras, but just by using decent resolution (all of my digital are 12MP or less, most are 10MP, and one of my very favourites is 4MP) and uploading them at a good size (I go with 1024px on my blog here), we can do them justice I think.

      Best of luck, let me know if I can give any help with using Flickr.

  12. Another good read Dan.
    I will put my hands up and admit that I was guilty of always seeking sharpness in my images but then I discovered vintage lenses a couple years ago.

    Some of my favourite images theses days are those taken with xpro-1 and a 50mm 1.8 Pentacon lens, the bokeh and softness, wide open is superb for those close ups of plants and such like.

    There is indeed a beauty in imperfection

          1. Same here, my Helios 44, Mir 1v, and Jupiter 9 are kept in my emergency bag in case we ever have to evacuate! I could never replace them!

          2. Have one, had one (some great images but the focus always seemed weird, I think it was put together wrong) and always been curious about one. I have the 135mm Jupiter-37A in M42 mount which is wonderful.

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