Did the revolution start already? - Perception is everything / nothing?.

All images - Panasonic GH3 - 12-35mm f/2.8 and 35-100mm f/2.8 lenses.

Every day there seems to be another article about how good the Olympus OM-D or Panasonic GH3 are. Often written by someone who has used DSLR's previously. There are all levels of photographers from enthusiasts to professionals, all writing about how one of these cameras is a refreshing change, in terms of weight and size, and how they work very well and have speed and versatility.

Some are using them alongside what they already use, again this is normally a DSLR system. A few, not many, are talking about moving exclusively to the system. Though we certainly aren't about to see these cameras taking over at major sporting events and there is a lot of marketplace left for Nikon and Canon and to a certain extent Sony. (Though with regard to them I've seen some recent figures that indicate they are way behind the big two in the DSLR (DSLT) market.)

However there are many people who don't shoot sports or current events and can pretty much use whatever system they want. They don't seem to be particularly bothered by the 16MP limit on file size, or the improving but still not great high ISO performance. And though I'm a long term enthusiast for the system, I won't try to convince anyone that this is the best IQ you can get out there, because it isn't. For my own part I seem to be drifting slowly towards the decision that the OM-D and GH3 are the two cameras I'll keep. Nothing is decided yet, but I don't seem to want to use anything else currently. 

So what is it that has changed things, why have these two cameras suddenly moved things along, and seem to have "authenticated" m4/3 as a serious digital camera system and format?

Well for me the answer is relatively simple, but involves admitting what many of us don't really like admitting. They "look right". The OM-D and GH3 with their grips and recent lenses such as the 75mm f/1.8 and the two "pro-spec" Panasonic zooms aren't compact camera lookalikes and they don't look like those nasty little bridge cameras, trying so hard to look like DSLR's but failing miserably. Much as I admired the GH2, I absolutely hated how it looked and handled. There is the attractive look of the Pens, but even those don't have the right feel and give out the "right message". And I have tried to love my NEX cameras, both my NEX-7 and 6 do wondrous things, but they are just so........small and cheap looking. There, I said it!

There's obviously a whole world of difference between a GF5 and a GH3, and its not just 4MP. The GF5 is a casual camera, admittedly a very good one, but it is a happy-snappy, get the dog in next to auntie Joan, its Christmas where's the camera? type unit. OK, some might use it for other purposes, but lets not kid ourselves, thats what it looks like. Neither the OM-D or GH3 look like that. Yes they can be broken down into quite small units and with the right lens can do a pretty good happy-snappy impression, but we're serious photographers right? We want a serious looking camera. And now we have serious looking mirrorless cameras that don't look like compacts, bridge cameras etc. etc., and more importantly we don't look like someone who popped into our local branch of Argos the day before we went on holiday to buy it. Plus dare I say it? we look like we spent some money on it, and the more we spend on our camera, the better the photographer we are, right?

And to me thats the trick Olympus and Panasonic have pulled off. Lots of people might well have appreciated what the Pens and the G series did, but did they want to go out with one of those over their shoulder? Well I think many didn't and pretty much because of what they looked like. And you can talk all you like about Male and Female jewellery, about how its what the camera does thats more important than what it looks like, photography isn't about the gear......blah blah blah. The question is do we perceive ourselves as serious photographers? And if we do, do we want other people to perceive us as serious photographers as well? I suspect that many of us would have a hard time admitting it, but I think a lot of us do.

I must own up to the fact that when I spent last summer carrying round my Nikon D800E with 28-300mm lens, there were times when I was a little embarrassed and tried to almost hide it, but then there were also times when I had a smug inner smile of satisfaction. "Mines definitely bigger than yours matey!!" There are these ideas that big DSLR's can get you into trouble or be intimidating, but my experience of walking round English holiday resorts with my Nikon + monster lens was completely different. When I raised the "big one" to my eye, people stopped, got out the way, walked round me and basically deferred to the photographer with the big camera. I was actually quite surprised and yes I'll admit it, quite pleased at the same time. 

So some of this is tongue in cheek obviously, but I think that the GH3 and the OM-D give us this reassurance that we have all the advantages of mirrorless, but we don't look like amateurs. There are I guess some virtuous people who will argue that I'm just pandering to all the worst aspects of hobby photography, and maybe I am, but I can only speak from my own experience. There are a few times when I need to be discreet, but to be honest there aren't many of those. One of the great things about photographing weddings is that everybody pretty much does whatever you want and once you come into view with some big battery gripped, zoomed lens monster, people take you seriously. Am I alone in enjoying that experience?

When I use my OM-D, it gets a lot of looks. I've been asked if its a film camera and it certainly attracts peoples attention. (This does of course make a bit of a nonsense of m4/3 being some kind of stealth camera.) Completely different to when I used a Leica, as no one took a blind bit of notice apart from the very occasional photographer who knew what it was. "Poor soul, has to use his Grandads camera" was the look I saw most of the time. 

So is perception everything or nothing? I guess to most of us its different, but I've never pretended that the look of my camera doesn't matter to me, because it does. And I suspect it matters to quite a few of those smitten with what m4/3 is currently offering.

N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) below.

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