Manhattan skyline

I was on the Staten Island Ferry on Sunday, and I used the opportunity to take some photos of the Manhattan skyline with my new Olympus Pen-F.

It’s not highbrow art, but it’s one of the better Manhattan skyline photos that I’ve taken.

Don’t use a telephoto lens

This photo was taken at 12mm on a Micro Four Thirds camera (which is equivalent to 25mm on a full-frame camera; see my blog post about the correct Micro Four Thirds focal length multiplier). You need a wide angle to capture New York City, or any other city full of tall buildings or narrow streets.

The gearhead types who frequent the message boards at dpreview love telephoto lenses. I read so many posts about people going on a vacation and not being able to leave their telephoto lenses at home.

But the truth is that telephoto lenses take ugly photos. Robert Capa is famous for saying, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” He meant that you need to get physically close using a wide-angle lens, he didn’t mean that you should get close from a distance with a telephoto zoom. Very few great photos are taken with telephoto focal lengths. If you visit a display of fine-art photography, you probably won’t see any photos with a telephoto look. Assuming you’re not a birder (which I consider to be a hobby distinct from photography) or a professional portrait photographer (I don’t dispute the value of using a short telephoto lens for a tight head and shoulders portrait), you don’t ever need more telephoto than what you get with a standard zoom lens, and I recommend avoiding any focal lengths longer than the “normal” (which is 50mm on a full-frame camera).

The camera companies won’t tell you this, because they make money selling telephoto lenses. They want you to think that to be like a “pro,” ready to take any possible picture at any time, you must buy expensive telephoto zooms. Don’t fall for the marketing.

A good take on the benefits of wide angle lenses is found in Rafi Letzter’s article at Business Insider, except that he confuses telephoto with zoom. Zoom means that a lens changes its focal length, it doesn’t say whether you are shooting at wide-angle or telephoto. You don’t need to buy prime lenses to get the wide-angle look, you just need to refrain from using the long end of a standard zoom, or you can buy a wide-angle zoom. (Although some people have the belief that zoom makes you lazy and less creative, and maybe even there’s some truth in that belief.)

Shamed by an older woman

I used my small and light M.Zuiko 9-18mm lens to take this picture, from the High Line. And while walking around the High Line, I passed by an older woman, old enough to be my mother, carrying a DSLR with a really huge lens, probably a full-frame f/2.8 zoom. Obviously, I was very wimpy to complain that the M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 is too heavy when an older woman carries around a lens twice as big and heavy.

Perhaps that’s why Olympus cameras aren’t popular in America, American men are too macho to carry small cameras while their womenfolk carry huge full-frame DSLRs.

In Japan, where Olympus cameras are popular, the smallest Olympus PEN cameras are especially popular with women. This is not the case in the United States, where women more commonly gravitate to Canon DSLRs, and alternate brands like Olympus, Sony, and Fuji are disproportionately favored by men. (Hey, just an observation, don’t shoot the observer.)

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This picture was taken from a crowded tourist area, the High Line park, so this alley has probably been photographed a huge number of times, making any photograph at best non-unique and at worst a cliché.

First photo with the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens

Yay! Just what the world needs. Another picture of a sunset. As if there aren’t already tens of millions of sunset pictures on Flickr and Instagram and wherever else you find photos online.

But is the lens sharp? I’m not entirely sure yet if it’s as sharp as its internet reputation. But this picture isn’t very sharp. It was a half-second exposure, and apparently the IBIS didn’t work well enough. However, when reduced to a small size for the web, you can’t really tell.