At Arm's Length

On October 6, 2009, in Photo, by psu

Some reviews of Panasonic’s answer to the Olympus EP-1 are starting to trickle out into the intertubes. I just noticed that the Luminous Landscape people are talking about their experience with the camera. The review is about what you would expect. The camera is quicker to focus and generally more usable but it does not have the sensor-based anti-shake. You can’t have everything.

But here is a line from the review that confuses me: “Doing serious photography with a camera at arms length just isn’t my thing.”

You hear this complaint over and over again from the people in the world who just can’t live without an eye-level viewfinder. I understand the shortcomings of the LCD screen, but this complaint still baffles me. The implication is that the only way to use the LCD on the back of the camera to compose pictures is to lock yer arms straight out in front of your face like a mentally crippled robot and then point the camera in the right direction. So here is my question: do serious photographers not have elbows? Can any of you out in the Intertube-land enlighten me? Do you have elbows?


3 Responses to “At Arm's Length”

  1. Sarcastic jerk says:

    Actually, I lost my elbows in a freak accident and my arms were fused straight.

    Big viewfinders are the only way I can take pictures, but without anti-shake, they come out all blurry.

  2. jny says:

    Of course serious photographers have elbows, usually quite sharp! How else can they get to the front of the crowd?

    Snark aside, many serious photographers prefer a waist-level viewfinder over an eye-level viewfinder. Each type of viewfinder excels in different shooting situations.

    But to the concept at hand, what I hate most about *not* having a peer-thru viewfinder is that the LCD screen photo-taking position (elbows bent or straight) is inherently less stable, and forces one to prop the camera on tangible solid object for careful framing or lower-light (non-flash) situations. The typical SLR stance with the left hand cradling the lens and camera weight, camera lightly pressed to face, and right hand operating the shutter and spin-controls is far less shakey, and far easier to brace and control. Even with a tiny PnS, you can do a better job of steadying it when your elbows are at max-bend, which is when you have the camera up to your face, not more than a foot in front of it bobbling around in space

    I have >5 different non-SLR digicams. The one (totally autofocus) that has both an optical (zooming) viewfinder, as well as the LCD gets used by the LCD about 70% of the time. But the optical (eyelevel) viewfinder is quite useful in multiple situations.

    The one (panasonic fz20) that has a rotating ring for manual focus and two LCDs (an EVF as well as a rear LCD) got used almost 100% thru the EVF, with the rear LCD only lit up for playback & review. When I bought my second DSLR body, I got a flip-up opaque cover for the rear viewfinder, and that made a world of difference in how I used the camera. I wasn’t so psychologically attached to “seeing” the results, and I returned to my grove from film days of trusting what I saw when the mirror flipped, rather than constantly checking. In short, I started “seeing” better pictures when I took them, and didn’t need to look to see that I missed the shot.

    My eyes also thanked me, because I’m at the age where focusing close and then looking far was not happening as fast as it needed to.

    I do have a couple of the panasonic TZs. They make great “shoot pix out the car window” cameras. I basically only use the LCD to get a rough frame, and snap away. Cropping can happen later. I don’t just use them at arms length, I use them over my head, as they were the first (only?) camera to come out with a high angle LCD mode meant explicitly for that purpose (other “thicker” cameras have LCDs that swivel).

    And I dare you to be able to actually see to frame a photo with the large LCD pressed to your eyeball. ;)

  3. Mike says:

    I recently killed my Olympus E-1 (heavy lens + heavy body + heavy grip + concrete = expensive) and upgraded to the E-3, which adds live view (LCD) shooting into the mix, along with a usefully articulated monitor on the back. Keeping it “face in” has helped me psychologically — I’m not chimping/reviewing every shot (this is also helped by the orientation sensor; I don’t have to review shots to rotate them into place) and second-guessing.

    I used to have a Panasonic LC-1, which looked like an expensive rangefinder but had a shoddy EVF which I used most of the time anyway. One day I switched to the back LCD and from then on, I never turned back to the EVF; another review said that the rear LCD was like seeing through a tiny little ground glass. Monitor articulation would have made it better — adding a WL finder when needed.

    Funny thing is that we used to pay extra — way extra — to have an “action finder” with a large image you didn’t have to have your nose crammed against to see — check out Nikon’s DA-20 and DA-30, for instance. I suspect that the subset of camera owners who actually need and would pay for exotic features (I keep thinking about how Thom Hogan wants a digital FM2, preferably fitted with a B&W chip) is much smaller than the internet noise would have you believe.

    It will be interesting to see if the limitations of the Leica X1, say, outweigh the limitations of the GF1 when the reviews come out. Most people can’t say enough good things about the X1, but I suspect that most people won’t be buying one, either.