Tommy Ku Photography

Do I really know my gear?

On my Japan trip I brought along my Olympus XA2, an all-rounder camera that works in every situation and doesn't disappoint.

Looking at XA2's sibling, Olympus PEN EE2, I have went through only one roll of UltraMax 400 on it and hastily wrote the gear page for it, not knowing exactly how it fare in similar situations.

When the opportunity presents itself with 2 trips: a hike and a trip to Macau, I gave PEN EE2 another go as a portable convenient pocket camera, just like the XA2, but with doubled the shots per roll (72 shots!), because PEN EE2 is a half-frame camera.

Sharp planataion
Sometimes it's sharp, most of the time it's not (quoted from)

Olympus PEN EE2 is easily pocketable. During my hike and my trip to Macau, I kept PEN EE2 in a waist pack, taking out to shoot whenever desirable. Shooting is trivial by simply pushing the shutter release.

Buddha, rather sharp
Sharp enough for half-frame, backlighted buddha probably forced PEN EE2 to close down the apreture, allowing for more depth of field

The convenience doesn't come without a cost. PEN EE2's fixed focus lens allows for very narrow depth of field at low light, when the aperture opens all the way at f/3.5. Using ProImage 100, an ISO 100 film exacerbate the issue, causing the image to blur out for the most part in dim evening sunlight. (ProImage 100 has little exposure latitude, expect highlight to be blown out for most of the sky images, somewhat salvageable in post-processing, though)

Macau student is sharp, rest behind him are not
When shooting 45 degrees away from sunlight towards the sky, observe the sharpness drop beyond a few meters

I had thought the fixed focus element of this camera to be some magic bullet that would give me clear (not sharp, just clear) image under most light conditions, and while it's true for higher ISO films, ISO 100 is just too harsh for this camera.

Consider disposable cameras like Fuji SimpleAce or Kodak FunSaver, both need at least ISO 400 film to allow higher aperture stop (fixed f/8) and in order to keep the focus distance reasonable.

Olympus XA2 doesn't have this problem with its simple focus control. When I was using XA2, I didn't really worry about focusing at all, it comes all naturally, as I slide open its case to power on the camera, my finger would have subconsciously selected the right focus.

Blurry Macau landmark
Terribly blurry in dim evening light

Above two shots display how the photo would look like at f/3.5. Why? Because at first the camera refuses to take the shot, given how dark the scene is, it raises a red flag in viewfinder and refuses to release the shutter. The way around this is turn the ISO selection to a higher ISO film to trick the camera into thinking it is able to capture the scene given the available light.

Strangely, this shot doesn't look underexposed at all. Is PEN EE2 overexposing every shot, opening up aperture unnecessarily…? This selenium cell is older than me, so it's possible that after years of degredataion and CLA by dubious technician, the metering system may have been a bit off (if you're interested in PEN EE2's metering system, watch this).

Left: blurry forest. Right: sharp, slightly overexposed dam.
Is it overexposing…? Not in low-light, but when light is ample, it tends to end up slightly too bright

Anyway, that means by using a higher ISO film, say ISO 200 and up, and setting the camera's ISO to something like ISO 320, I will either underexpose slightly, or nail the correct exposure, plus having a bit of extra depth of field. Good stuff. I wouldn't have known this had I not become so disappointed with the recent results from PEN EE2 with ISO 100 film. I came to this realization right as I am writing this post!

I thought I know my gear but not really, because I haven't used it enough and put too much trust on it before I have tried it on various situations.

The disappointing result of this shoot is a good lesson for me in two ways. First, I should shoot my gears enough of times to form a proper understanding in them. Second, every disappointment is an opportunity to understand my gears more.

Have you used the cameras in your collection enough?

Do you think you really know your gears?

By the way, the roll of Kodak ProImage 100 film went through the X-ray machine at Macau customs and did not seem affected.