Pivotal Photographic Moments

This article discusses three pivotal photographic moments in my career. Many of us have had these types of experiences in various areas of our lives. My three pivotal photographic moments discussed in this article will be different than the ones that you may have experienced. The intent of this article is not to suggest that anyone should do what I did. Or to interpret photography in the same way that I do. It is simply to share the growth and learning that has occurred for me as a result of my pivotal photographic moments.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge. Photographs have been added to serve as visual breaks.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-400

Pivotal Photographic Moments #1: Buying Full Frame Camera Gear

I readily admit that back in 2012 I fell prey to all of the hype and online buzz about the benefits of full frame camera gear. Like many photographers I read the rave reviews. Then reread them time and time again. There were dynamic range, colour depth and low light sensor test ratings to analyze. Pixels to peep. Sample images to agonizingly study.

Then I opened my wallet and invested in some excellent full frame camera gear. At the end of my flirtation with full frame camera gear I owned a Nikon D800. My camera bags were full with a good compliment of Nikkor FX glass and a Tamron 150-600 mm zoom.

By all accounts I should have been thrilled with my camera gear. At the time the Nikon D800 was one of the highest rated cameras in terms of sensor performance. Even today the D800 still ranks in the top 20 of cameras tested by DxOMark. My selection of Nikkor glass, both primes and zoom lenses, provided excellent image quality. And, the Tamron 150-600 mm enabled me to cost effectively pursue my interest in bird photography.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/4, 1/10, ISO-3200

There was one serious problem. I had believed the full frame hype and forgot to critically assess my specific photographic needs. Finding myself with over ten thousand dollars invested in critically acclaimed camera gear that did not fit my needs, was an eye opener to say the least.

I never really used my full frame camera gear as much as I could have. It was heavy and bulky. To get the most out of the D800’s full frame sensor I often needed to use a tripod which I found restricting. Composing images, deciding on camera settings and focusing points was more finicky and time consuming. Especially when doing landscape and travel photography.

Noise when shooting video was disappointing. The D800 was very good to ISO-800. Useable at ISO-1600, and began to fall apart at ISO-3200. This may sound strange, but video quality with the D800 was no better than my Nikon 1 V2 when shot at the same ISO values. When using the D800 for client video work I needed to bring three to five studio lights with me. During onsite shooting days I would be constantly moving lights around. This consumed valuable onsite shooting time and was physically taxing.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro with 16 mm and 10 mm Kenko extension tubes, f/8, 1/320, ISO-6400, subject distance 255 mm, Hand-held Hi Res Mode

Totally consumed by cognitive dissonance, I kept trying to rationalize the decision that I had made buying into the full frame hype. By the late spring of 2015 I finally came to grips with the fact that I made a huge mistake. I hated using full frame camera gear… and it simply did not meet my specific photographic and video needs very well.

Having promised my youngest son that I would photograph his upcoming wedding, I kept all of my full frame gear until mid-July 2015. The day after his wedding I sold my Nikon D800. Ten days later all of my Nikon FX glass and the Tamron 150-600 zoom, had new homes. Fortunately I was able to recoup most of my investment so the financial impact was minimized. I have not regretted selling my full frame gear for even one second.

Deirbhile’s Twist, Ireland, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-160

Buying full frame camera gear was one of my pivotal photographic moments for a few reasons.

  • It reinforced the importance of always focusing on my specific photographic needs, and ignoring internet hype, formal camera reviews, and online chat room advice.
  • I learned that a mistake never gets better with time. As soon as a mistake is realized, it needs to be corrected.
  • A deeper understanding was gained that a camera is so much more than just the sensor inside of it.
  • Camera equipment that isn’t enjoyed and used constantly is of little to no value to the person who owns it.
  • I realized that using full frame camera gear stalled my development as a photographer. I never used it enough to get really proficient with it… and when I did use it I hated the experience.
Kylemore Abbey Ireland, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 f/4-5.6 @ 20 mm, efov 54 mm, f/5.6, 1/50, ISO-3200

Pivotal Photographic Moments #2: Using Nikon 1 Camera Equipment Exclusively

After I sold all of my full frame camera gear I had a very brief, and unsuccessful, experiment with Panasonic M4/3 gear. In retrospect the only reason I made this purchase was because I had some residual ‘sensor size phobia’. A glimmer of the ‘bigger is better’ sensor hype was still rolling around in my brain. I was at the precipice of committing to Nikon 1… and just needed a nudge to take the plunge.

Deciding to use Nikon 1 gear exclusively was not one that I took lightly. I had to make sure that I could meet the needs of my safety video business, as well as my personal photographic needs.

A whole new world opened up for me once I started using Nikon 1 equipment exclusively. My video business immediately became more time and cost effective. I no longer had to haul studio lights with me when doing onsite client work. Shooting a 1 Nikkor 10 mm prime at f/2.8 gave me the same depth of field as shooting a Nikkor FX 28 mm prime at f/8.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/8, 1/800, ISO-400

Being someone who hates using tripods for still photography, I found that shooting handheld with small, light Nikon 1 gear was incredible. I could get my camera into tight situations with ease. Every time I held a Nikon 1 camera in my hands it created a feeling of freedom and creativity.

Knowing that my Nikon 1 cameras had small 1″ sensors made me experiment more when shooting with my gear, and in post, in order to get the most out of it. I focused on improving my handheld technique so I could effectively shoot at slower shutter speeds and lower ISO values.

I found myself constantly challenging my Nikon 1 kit and myself, to see what was possible. Ignoring the small sensor naysayers and their opinions of what was ‘impossible’, I continued on my photographic adventure with unbridled enthusiasm.

Olympus TG-5 @ 18 mm, efov 100 mm, f/4.9, 1/400, ISO-800, microscopic mode

If the Nikon 1 system had continued with ongoing improvements from Nikon, I would very likely still be shooting with it today on an exclusive basis. But that was not in the cards.

Since the late summer of 2013 when I purchased my first Nikon 1 V2, I have created over 500,000 images with my Nikon 1 gear. The only reason those photographs were created was because Nikon 1 gear felt right in my hands. I love the format. I love the simplicity of the system. I love some of its unique capabilities. I love the feeling of freedom I have when I use it.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-640

Using Nikon 1 gear on an exclusive basis was one of my pivotal photographic moments…

  • Shooting with Nikon 1 absolutely helped make me a much better photographer as it forced me to challenge myself and my kit.
  • Nikon 1 proved to me that camera gear can be critically important. Not because of its specifications, but in how it can resonate with a photographer and encourage creativity and photographic engagement.
  • Cameras can create a zen-like experience with an owner. When that happens the camera gets out of the way, and allows a photographer to create with abandon.
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/320, ISO-6400, Handheld Hi Res Mode, subject distance 295 mm

Pivotal Photographic Moments #3: Switching to the Olympus M4/3 System

For as much as I love using Nikon 1 equipment, I was not prepared to let a discontinued system restrict my photographic explorations and experimentation. Nor was I prepared to limit my service options for my video clients.

Participating in the Olympus Pro Loaner program and experiencing the capability of the Olympus OM-D E-M1X first hand was incredible. It took my desire for spontaneous creativity to new heights. Going out with my Olympus camera gear creates a deeper feeling of freedom and independence than I have ever felt before.

Not having to care about weather conditions is liberating. Being confident in my ability to shoot handheld for multiple second exposures opens up all kinds of creative options.

Utilizing the E-M1X’s incredible image creating technologies like Pro Capture, Live ND, Handheld Hi Res, and in-camera focus stacking gives me new and exciting ways to relate to the photographic opportunities around me. These functions redefine what is possible and feed my desire to create.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 170 mm, efov 340 mm, f/8, 1/40, ISO-200, subject distance 1 metre

The quality and functionality of M.Zuiko lenses has opened my eyes to new potential. Being a photographer who has always preferred to use zoom lenses, the PRO series of M.Zuiko lenses are ideal for my needs. The size/weight/image quality relationship that these lenses deliver is simply wonderful.

Pursuing my passion for handheld macro photography has expanded significantly when using my Olympus OM-D E-M1X. My ongoing adventure now has more creative options. These include standard resolution, Handheld Hi Res, in-camera focus stacking, or using the STF-8 Twin Macro Flash.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-6400, Handheld Hi Res Mode, subject distance 715 mm

Switching to the Olympus M4/3 system has been one of my pivotal photographic moments for some critical reasons…

  • I have come to fully appreciate that sensor size is completely irrelevant for the future of photography and cameras.
  • The creative development of image creating technology, computational photography functions, and the integration of artificial intelligence are the critical elements for the future.
  • Photographic creative freedom is being redefined. Its potential far exceeds the minimal benefits of sensor size or more megapixels.

So… those are my three pivotal photographic moments. Each has come into my life at an opportune time. Each of these pivotal photographic moments has provided opportunities for learning and growth. No doubt you have had moments like these that have been important along your photographic journey.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-1250

Technical Note:
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

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6 thoughts on “Pivotal Photographic Moments”

  1. Hey Tom
    Another good article and one which happens to mirror most of my own experience. I am not in the business as a professional so there we differ. I did buy a D800 as soon as they came out in 2012 along with a few lens. I shoot a lot of birds and animals and next bought a 80-400 Nikor lens. At that point I could not hold the equipment so I was using a good tripod with a gimbal head. Combined with the camera and lens, it was a pretty good load for me although I loved the photos I took. I watched a couple of buddies shoot with Olympus and Panasonic with ease and wished I could get there but thought the quality of the output would be a significant drop. So I switched to Fuji in early 2018. I liked the Fuji a lot. The quality of the shot and the dials readily available on the body made shooting fun. Just one problem. While I did lower the weight some, it was not enough for me to be able to handhold the cameras with a 100-400 lens and 1.4 tc. I was resigned to using it anyway and then I read one of you columns on the new Oly M1X and was intrigued. I read all I could find on it and then ordered one with a 40-150 f/2.8 lens and a 12-200 lens. I have used the 40-150 with a 2X TC regularly to get to 600 efov and love it and can actually handhold it as long as I am not trying to do it all day. All the other great features are a bonus and really have helped my ability in shooting BIF and anything else that moves. I have only had the equipment since December so am still learning it and it is wonderful gear. I appreciate your columns which gave me the information that allowed me to move to the Oly M4/3.

    1. Hi Joel,

      Thanks for your comment and sharing your experiences over the past 8 years! I’ve not had the opportunity to use the 12-200 mm lens. How are you enjoying that lens? It strikes me as a great travel lens given its efov range of 24-400 mm.


      1. I bought the 12-200 for use primarily as a travel lens but also because I needed a wider lens since my first purchase was the 40-150. Travel to me means when my wife and I are traveling, not when I am with a bunch of photographers. My wife is not a photographer and I try not to push her patience when we are traveling together. For times like that, I think the 12-200 is a very good lens. It certainly has the range and allows me to carry one lens. I will likely add a wide angle lens and macro in the future.

        1. Hi Joel,

          Thanks for the additional information! It will be interesting to see which wide angle lens you choose for your system. I’ve always preferred shooting with zoom lenses so I purchased the M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8. It is quite a bit more money that the M.Zuiko 9-18 mm f/4-5/6. I needed a constant f/2.8 aperture for my client video work. I also wanted a weatherproof lens with a focus clutch to aid focusing under dark conditions. I haven’t used mine extensive yet… but I do love it. By far the best wide angle zoom that I’ve used. Having an equivalent field-of-view of 14 mm on with wide end of the zoom can make a huge difference when doing landscape and architectural work. Going from 18 mm to 14 mm doesn’t sound like much. When you look through your viewfinder or on the rear screen of a camera, the difference is huge.


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