There's a famous series of books in the psychology field by John Bowlby called "the attachment and loss" series. (It's a trilogy, actually, as it includes Attachment, Loss, and Separation.) Those books are about human attachment and loss, of course, the first title mainly covering infants and children.
Not to demean the concepts too much, but I have attachment and loss issues with equipment, too. What I mean by that is that there comes a time when I either "take to" something, or I don't.
As a professional, I could use any sort of camera. I'm capable of sorting out how a camera works, setting it up so I can operate it, and then getting on with the job. In my early years in photography I shot with Contax—I had two lenses—but when I joined a studio of Nikon shooters, I switched to Nikon. Our equipment didn't belong to each of us, in practice—it was a pool. If we all shot the same system we could all share equipment. Done.
So...you can use whatever you need to use. It's not emotional, it's not psychological. Just use what ya got and get on with it.
Even so, some cameras I hated (Hasselblad, I'm looking—staring balefully—at you), and some I loved (beloved Contax RTS II, how I wish you had not been stolen from me...). Okay, gettin' a bit too geeky; I'll stop.
But, past hard-boiled, hard-headed professional matter-of-factness, there are bonding issues, is what I mean.
I've written about my speakers lately. My stereo system, after a number of settled years, is in an uproar. Here's the basic progression: I get the new speakers. They're tight and not yet broken in, and sound harsh with the transistor amp; so I switch to the tube amp. Then, for days, I think the balance is wrong with the speakers—tilted up, too much high end, not enough bass. They sound leached out, thin. Finally, it occurs to me that the tube amp has been out of the rotation for a couple of years and needs biasing. Duh. Sure enough, it's way out of bias. After biasing, balance is restored—it's like I turned the bass drivers on. But then I'm hearing another problem—an occasional hardness in the upper midrange. It's not a huge problem, but it's there, and I'm on the alert for it when I listen (interfering with the crucial "relaxation shift," we might call it, when you stop listening to the sound and start listening to the music). After a week or so of this, it occurs to me that this might be the source, not the speakers. So I switch to vinyl. Upper midrange hardness gone. It turns out it was not the speakers at all—it was in the DAC I've been using! The DAC I've been pleased with for years. The new speakers are just so much more revealing in the midrange that I can hear it for the first time. So now I can hear so much more difference between the DAC and vinyl that I've been doing comparisons. Meanwhile, the speakers sound so rich and liquid they're almost too plummy—there's gobs of bass and the little tube amp just isn't doing the best job of controlling it. Of course, I did all my tube rolling with the old speakers. Maybe KT66's, which were a bit lean with the old speakers, would work better with the new ones.
Whew. Everything's in flux. And we're not done yet. Change one thing, everything else changes too.
The 'relaxation moment': When you get a new camera, you're learning how to use it, reading the manual, discovering its controls; testing its image quality (you see it all over the web—"here are some test shots I did with my new — —," meaning, you're not to look at the picture because the picture isn't important—you're to look at the technical quality only), marveling over what it does, complaining about what it doesn't, reporting your findings and opinions to other users of the same camera or other prospective users (or mutually congratulating each other over the perspicacity of your purchases).
It's the equivalent of listening to the sound of a stereo—listening to the gear. Not the music.
But you can't do that forever with a camera. The day comes when you either start using the damn thing to make pictures with, or else you have to start the process again with something new. (Let's be honest—some people dig the testing/learning/gearhead aspects so much that it's really most of what they're interested in. Once that phase is over with one thing, they have to get something new.) To me, what I'm waiting for is that shift, that switchover, when I've just learned the stupid camera well enough that I stop obsessing about how it acts and what it gives me. I just...relax about it. And I switch over to concentrating on pictures again. As you go along, of course, you continue to refine your knowledge of the camera, and you encounter little glitches or curiosities that send you back under the hood again. But basically, whenever you need to shoot a picture, you grab the old trusty and on you go.
Bonding: The day will come when my new speakers are all "sorted," to use the very serviceable UK term (it's what you're doing: you're sorting everything out). I will have "demystified" them; I will know them. They'll be completely broken in, and I'll have learned how to feed them what they want. I'll have made all the adjustments I need to, further up the chain. And then there will be this question that will answer itself: are they okay? Can I live with them? My old speakers weren't great, by the book. But I liked 'em. There was nothing about them that annoyed me, nothing to draw me back out of the music and make me listen to the sound of them (the speakers). I listened through them, and I was happy. They worked. They worked for me.
If you ask me, this is what we're looking for in a camera, too. It doesn't have to be a great camera. What it has to do is be okay with you. You have to like it, trust it, know it, be comfortable with it. Then it's really "your" camera. A friend, a tool. Your axe, to appropriate the term guitarists use. (How many great guitarists settle on one guitar that's their great favorite, that they love?)
These are mainly psychological issues. They lie in a realm beyond reviews and tests and trials and online discussions of what's "best."
A couple of personal notes
So most of the above are general comments...they could apply to everybody. Or maybe other people have different ideas, I don't know. Maybe everything's a tool for some people, or, for other people, they're looking for fetish objects, In Search of the Perfect Camera. Some people like to batter their cameras and use 'em up ("put their stink on them," to repeat an expression I heard way back when); other people like to do their best to keep them pristine and perfect. (I'm more of the "use it up" school.) Everybody's different*.
Typical blah "out for a walk" picture of the type I have way too many of. This is a statue that adorns a bridge over the Fox River. The funny thing is, whenever we're stopped at the stoplight next to this little guy, Lulu barks at it!
But here's where I am: I'm having bonding problems with the OM-D. To my great surprise. It's everything I wanted, it's got all the features I want and need, I love the company, even like retro styling generally. And I'm gobsmacked (another useful UK term!) by the image quality, which I love. (We're having a really engrossing discussion behind the scenes with one of the wizards of Adobe about Raw image quality—me, Ctein, and four or five friends. I'm sure Ctein will report on it eventually. I'm just along for the ride, but it sure is fascinating. But I digress.)
And yet...I'm just not quite taking to it.
I'm trying. I went out for a long walk the other day and dutifully took bunches of pictures...all of which look like "out for a walk" pictures of nothing in particular. (Then I went to the stupid drugstore last night and missed a great picture because I'd left the camera at home. Or maybe it wouldn't have been great, but I sure would have liked to take a shot at it. Or fifty shots at it. I'm still smarting over that. You really never know what you're going to see or when you're going to see it.)
And I'm forcing myself not to grab the GF1 (which I did bond with) when I head out to take pictures. I dutifully take the OM-D. Got to give the thing a chance.
One thing I've learned is that, wonderful though the 45mm lens is, I really just don't quite like the OM-D/45mm for portraits. I don't know why, I just can't quite get comfortable with it. A purely personal thing, not a judgement on the camera or the lens.
So I went all the way back to my Contax days...I bought a copy of the Sony 85mm ƒ/2.8, a descendent of the Zeiss Contax 85mm ƒ/2.8 Sonnar that I did most of my best portraits with way back in the day. It's going on the A900, and that will be my portrait camera. (Anyone want to buy a very little-used Olympus 45mm? [UPDATE: Sold.] Quite possibly one of the best lenses I've ever used, and one of the very most solidly recommendable, yet it, and the camera it goes on, just doesn't quite fit the way I like to work for the work I want to do with it. C'est la vie.)
That's not a "review" judgement. It's not even a criticism. It's just that some cameras you bond with, and some you don't. Kind of a mystery as to why.
I'll keep you posted about this. I really do want to like the OM-D....
*And if there's one thing I've learned in seven years of blogging, it's that no matter what you say, someone can disagree with it. Watch, someone will disagree with this.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Gary: "Getting to that stage of easy fluency with your camera used to be inevitable for all but the most cack-handed. You worked you way up to a decent camera, and then stuck with it through a multi-year apprenticeship. So unless you were particularly dim-witted, a certain polished slickness was almost bound to result. No longer. The pixel arms race demands wading through 200-page instruction books on an annual basis. We all now really, really need those 'green' label idiot settings because we live our photographic lives as fumbling novices."
Featured Comment by Miserere: "I'm not going to disagree, I'm going to agree! I was ready to buy the E-M5, and throw some money at two or three Micro 4/3 primes, based solely on specs and internet pics of the camera, but I thought I should try it out first. I got myself commissioned to write a review and spent a month shooting with it, and it's a fantastic camera...yet I couldn't get to like it enough to buy it. If anyone's interested, here's my review.
"It irked me to feel this way because I've spent years waiting for my perfect street camera to come along, and I really believed the E-M5 would be it. Instead, I'm still shooting with my Samsung NX10 + 30mm ƒ/2 combo. It only has one control wheel, a less than stellar sensor, much slower AF than the E-M5, no Auto-ISO in M mode, no tiltable rear screen, worse EVF...and I could go on listing how it's inferior to the E-M5 in almost every way. And yet, I feel so comfortable shooting with it I can't let go.
"I'm a scientist by trade and it annoys me that I can't upgrade to a much better camera (the logical decision) because my gut won't let me. Damn it, gut! I want two control wheels and better high ISO performance! Can't I catch a break...?"
Featured Comment by Paul: "You need a project, dude. Not bonding to cameras relates to not knowing what to take pictures of. Start torturing yourself over a project that's hard and you'll stop disliking your camera and start kicking your own ass. Works for me!"
Mike replies: Hey, that's my line. (You're probably right, though.)
Featured Comment by Jim: "My new camera is so advanced, a light comes on when there is a new model! (Plagiarized from a New Yorker cartoon)."
Featured Comment by Steve Jacob: "I didn't bond with the OMD either, so don't panic. It's a personal thing. The OMD was—on paper—the preferred option for me but I didn't buy one."
Featured Comment by Ben: "Impossible! You can't possibly not like my favourite camera with my favourite lens. You're clearly WRONG, and now I have to convince you of that! On guard...."
Featured Comment by icexe: "Back in the late 1990s to the mid 2000s, building computers was my main hobby. I admit I fell into the 'gear-head' trap myself. I spent most of my time tweaking and benchmarking my system for ultimate speed, dumping God knows how much money chasing the latest and greatest technology so I could claim bragging rights. I was so pre-occupied with benchmarking that I wasn't actually using my computer to do anything fun or productive, nor was it really useful for doing anything fun or productive since I had pretty much stripped it of anything and everything that might slow it down even one nano-second.
"And then I got married. That pretty much put the brakes on such silliness. Now I might upgrade my computer every 3–4 years instead of every 3–4 months, but I do actually get a lot more fun and useful thing done with my computer nowadays."
Featured Comment by Kirk Tuck: "I have to laugh. I was all excited by the 'fact' of the OM-D and ready to buy it...until I actually used one a couple of times. To say I couldn't bond with it would be mild. It may be the most perfect camera I never want to use. It was the catalyst for my abandonment of the Micro 4/3 system and my embrace of the Sony NEX-7 with which I bonded almost immediately. The 85mm ƒ/2.8 was one of the first lenses I bought this year for my burgeoning Sony DSLR system and it's one of the best. It's sitting on my desk right now, just waiting for the a99 to arrive. We're both excited."
Featured [partial] Comment by PWL: "Funny...I'm stoned on the OM-D. Almost the perfect camera for me...."
Featured Comment by Softie: "I think the bonding between a photographer and her camera is a feedback loop, with great images captured leading to greater acceptance of a camera's foibles. If I don't get good images, I tend not to like the camera; and I don't have fond memories of Rolleis as a result. I advise our fearless leader to sell the OM-D while the selling's good."
Mike replies: I haven't given up on 'er yet....
Featured Comment by Phil Maus: "Ooohh Mike. I must say I disagree...."
Featured Comment by psmith: "That's a great article Mike. I was camera shopping recently and tried the OM-D. I could barely press some of the buttons with my fingernail! In the end I went for the Pentax K-5. It was a no-brainer really. My last DSLR was the K10D and after a shakey start I got very used to it indeed. The only picture I have taken that has got a mention in a competition was taken with that camera. K-5 is really not too much different—I just find I make less adjustment in Adobe camera raw as it gets it right more often. That said, my wife is absolutely lusting after an OM-D!"