Leveraging Technology

New generation cameras can broaden our photographic potential, but unless we are adept at leveraging technology our potential stagnates. This article discusses the link between technology and our need to develop both physically and mentally.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge. Photographs have been added to serve as visual breaks. All photographs featured in this article were captured handheld yesterday at Windemere Basin Park in Hamilton Ontario.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, 1/5000, ISO-1000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3295 pixels on the width, subject distance 7.5 metres

Accepting responsibility for our outcomes.

One of the greatest impediments to us leveraging technology effectively is accepting responsibility for our photographic outcomes. Far too often photographers blame their camera gear rather than question their skill set and effective use of their gear.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2102 pixels on the width, subject distance 10.4 metres

I find it interesting that the auto-focusing performance of the new OM-1 has been judged to be superior to previous generation Olympus cameras by many owners. And yet we can still find online comments by a number of recent buyers of the OM-1 complaining about the ‘poor’ auto-focusing performance of the camera and what a disappointment it has been.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, 1/5000, ISO-1600, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3468 pixels on the width, subject distance 10 metres

Obviously these diametrically opposite opinions are valid from the perspectives of the owners as those viewpoints are based on personal experiences.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, 1/5000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3147 pixels on the width, subject distance 10.6 metres

When it comes to new camera gear I make a couple of basic assumptions. The first is that the engineers who designed the gear are far more intelligent that I could ever hope to be when it comes to designing cameras. Quite simply they know what they’re doing. The second assumption is that no camera company would risk its future by launching new technology that simply didn’t work.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 186 mm, efov 372 mm, f/6.3, 1/5000, ISO-1250, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3193 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.2 metres

So, when it comes to the divergent opinions noted, my assessment is that the cause of substandard performance is almost always caused by humans… not their gear. The only exception is when a camera leaves the factory with a manufacturing defect.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2988 pixels on the width, subject distance 10.2 metres

Skills review and ongoing improvement.

Improvements with technology often need to be accompanied by corresponding improvements in our photographic skills. It is unreasonable to expect that our skills can remain static and still be sufficient to effectively operate every new technology that is introduced.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, 1/5000, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2960 pixels on the width, subject distance 10.2 metres

For example, we could be new to bird photography and have not yet developed at least a minimum competency with eye/hand coordination for birds-in-flight. If this is the case the auto-focusing and tracking technology in a new camera could be a moot point as we don’t possess the skills to effectively harness that technology.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-640, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3078 pixels on the width, subject distance 10 metres

Leveraging technology often requires a significant investment of time and effort for us to learn how to best use it. Our skills with technologies that are not used on a frequent basis can erode over time. Periodic practice can be beneficial.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, 1/5000, ISO-1000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4176 pixels on the width, subject distance 7.1 metres

Experiment and adapt.

Many of the new technologies that are coming to the photography market can expand our capabilities in a number of ways. Some of this is dependent on subject matter and the shooting style of an individual photographer.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-640, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2832 pixels on the width, subject distance 10 metres

Experimenting with new technologies… and even combining them… could result in us needing to adapt our shooting style. Sometimes to a reasonable degree. This can take time and patience before we become fully proficient.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, 1/5000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3339 pixels on the width, subject distance 10.6 metres

Regular readers will know that I most often use a combination of Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking and Pro Capture L when photographing medium and large sized birds-in-flight. It took a number of months of practice before I could use these technologies in combination with a modicum of competence.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-640, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3825 pixels on the width, subject distance 10 metres

Using the right technology for the opportunity.

Sometimes we can become enamored with a particular technology and use it in situations when other shooting approaches may be a better choice. If our cameras do not provide easy ways to quickly change settings we can develop habitual patterns of shooting that could prove counterproductive.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, 1/5000, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2340 pixels on the width, subject distance 10.4 metres

At the end of the day cameras are nothing more than image creating tools. Our role as photographers is to use the tools we have at our disposal to maximum effect. When faced with identical image opportunities photographers standing next to each other could use very different approaches based on their gear and individual skill sets. We have to keep focused on doing what is right for us given our gear, our skills, and the photographic opportunity.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 2951 pixels on the width, subject distance 10.2 metres

I very seldom read gear reviews anymore. One of the things that put me off some reviewers was their proclivity to ‘test’ aspects of cameras in situations that were, in my mind, nonsensical. I sometimes asked myself, “Who in their right mind would actually do that and expect to capture a decent photograph or video clip?”

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, 1/5000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3174 pixels on the width, subject distance 10.2 metres

Of course experimenting with camera gear is a good thing to do. As is using it in unorthodox ways just to see what will happen. Sometimes we may stumble on an unusual approach that actually works for us. The difference is having appropriate test expectations rather than judging gear on nonsensical parameters.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, 1/5000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3410 pixels on the width, subject distance 10.2 metres

Mental conditioning.

Many image opportunities are missed due to the mental conditioning of a photographer. Some folks wait hours for a particular bird to arrive, then get flustered when the bird finally appears, and miss their shots. Having the latest technology in our camera means nothing if we are unable to remain calm and focused when opportunities present themselves.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, 1/5000, ISO-1000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3719 pixels on the width, subject distance 7 metres

Ongoing, intensive practice is one way to develop mental conditioning. Once using our gear becomes a Zen-like experience where we are at one with our camera, stress and anxiousness fall away… and are replaced with quiet confidence.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-640, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3825 pixels on the width, subject distance 10 metres

Pretending it’s a paid gig.

Professional photographers can attest to the fact that a paid gig can be a very different photographic experience. Especially in situations when a photographer has tight time lines to deliver the project… with no opportunity for a ‘re-do’.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/8, 1/5000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3358 pixels on the width, subject distance 10.2 metres

Going out with your camera gear and pretending you’re on a paid gig can sometimes help create mental focus and discipline. Some folks find that it gets their creative juices flowing differently… and can help them see opportunities with a more critical eye. Levering technology can benefit from pretending you’re on a paid gig as it can help a photographer assess the best technology to use to accomplish their goals.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 186 mm, efov 372 mm, f/6.3, 1/5000, ISO-1250, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3719 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.2 metres

Technical Note:

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.  Crops are noted. Photographs were resized for web use. This is the 1,159 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

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6 thoughts on “Leveraging Technology”

  1. Hi Tom,

    Thank you for another excellent, sane article. I recently bought an Olympus M1X and am in the process of learning it. I normally need 7-10K actuations before I become proficient using a camera, especially for action and bird photography, even though I have done action/bird photography before with Nikon cameras (D2H, D300s, D810, and V2).

    Modern cameras like the M1X are complicated so camera reviewers need more than a couple of weeks to master. Unfortunately, most reviewers and early users often rush to publish their reviews and their experiences, both of which often leave much to be desired. IMO, the best reviews are by actual photographers who have used the camera for a few months.

    1. Hi Tony,

      Depending on the potential popularity of a camera and the demand from reviewers, often times they don’t even have a week with a new camera body before they need to return it to the OEM so it can sent to next reviewer on the list. Sometimes manufacturers hold short duration junkets where a number of reviewers are brought together at a particular location for a few days to ‘test’ out new cameras and lenses.

      I think it is crazy to expect someone to fully understand how to use a new piece of gear in such a short timeframe. The compressed time frames may be why many reviews are done in a boring, formulaic manner.

      Like you, I would much rather read about the experience of actual photographers who have used a camera for a reasonable length of time so they have learned about the nuances of its use.

      Tom

  2. Very valid reasoning Tom. From my point of view and being the owner of the M1X and Om-1 I can say that the new camera is way better with subject tracking. It is the best camera I have owned. But! The big but is that if I had your skills then I would get even better results than I do now with either camera. So I shall keep practicing and learning as much as I can. That is half the fun.

    1. Hi Carol,

      I can appreciate how it feels to have “the best camera I’ve ever owned” in your hands. That’s how I’ve felt about the E-M1X for the past number of years. From the first moments that I held the E-M1X it felt incredibly comfortable and natural… like it was created just for me. I think it’s fantastic that the OM-1 meets your needs so well.

      Tom

  3. There is one massive difference that raises many question marks with the new OM-1.
    Olympus produced high quality cameras for about a century but pulled out because they were losing money,
    OM system is a made up name of a totally unknown company.
    There are huge question marks about how they have made cost savings and we have no clue if the new camera is as well made etc as om system have no reputation or history to protect so all we have is marketing and biased reviews to go on.
    You can only pre-order in the UK which is useless to me as i need to look at one in person.

    1. Hi Stephen,

      We do know some of the information raised in your comment. OMDS reduced worldwide personnel from 6,000 to 2,000 people. This would have saved them a massive amount of money in terms of their fixed costs. This in turn would help make them profitable on a much smaller number of unit sales. If my memory serves, OMDS bought the assets of the Olympus Imaging Division rather than a share purchase. If things in Japan are the same as in Canada this would mean that they didn’t have any significant financial burden in terms of severance payments. I believe that the Olympus Imaging personnel who moved over to OMDS were offered new employment contracts.

      I think the original announcements indicated that at least in the medium term that OMDS products would be built in the same factory as in the past, but under a production relationship with Olympus. The sale of the Olympus Imaging Division included key personnel, research etc. I think that many of the key OMDS executives were with Olympus Imaging. So… OMDS should have a good strategic HR plan.

      In terms of history etc. to protect, we need to remember that when OMDS was formed it began with about $335 million US in share capital. That’s real money that came from private investors that had faith that JIP had a solid strategic plan to make the organization profitable. There’s no way JIP/OMDS would want to upset their private investors by screwing up their camera business.

      From my vantage point I think OMDS is doing exactly what they should be doing to improve financial performance and reposition the camera business as a niche market differentiator.

      Tom

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