I intended to do my shutter therapy today with the Olympus PEN E-PL1, only to realize on the way out of the door that the battery was not charged, and the camera had been used for two shooting sessions already. Initial alternative was to either use the DSLR E-520 or E-5, but I made a change of mind in that very last minute, to take out my much ignored compact point and shoot camera Panasonic Lumix LZ8. If you know that I have this compact camera (which I bought 3 years ago) stashed somewhere, you must have been following my blog for quite a while now, and I have you to thank for. The Panasonic LZ8 was my everyday camera that I used for documentation purposes on for my day to day work on a construction site, and I paid little attention to using the camera on my own non-work activities. However, a camera is still a camera, and why not give this lowly, budget, neglected, looked-down upon camera a spin? Will the camera work for street shooting?
The camera that I use for day to day work, but almost never for my shutter therapy.
All images in this entry (except the above image of course) were taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8.
Something in your hair
Relevance of Compact Point and Shoot Camera
I am not sure where the compact point and shoot category fits into anymore in today's modern digital photography world. Most people who wanted to venture into photography will surely skip this small sensor, small body, non-changeable lens and non-professional looking cameras, jumping straight to monstrous sized, professional grade, high performance, most technologically advanced system out there, such as the full frame DSLR system. No, people are not exactly that interested in entry level DSLR anymore these days. Where does this leave the compact camera? I am very, very sure the sales of compact cameras are declining to a sure death, the question is when. Mobile phone photography is taking over the world now, for those who refuse to lug around those gigantic neck-breaking DSLR bodies with bazooka lenses. For those who would want to consider compact cameras for light-weight, small-sized and easy to carry around reasons, they would go for high-end compact or "bridge" compact systems, with slightly larger image sensors and more advanced controls, such as the Panasonic LX-7, Sony RX100, and Canon G12. Those cameras are not exactly compact point and shoot anymore, considering the much higher price range, and more sophisticated packed with features and functions. Piecing all the above puzzles into a larger picture, I cannot help but wonder if my Panasonic LZ8, a budget, lowly compact is still relevant anymore. Should I just give up on it? I do not even shoot much with it !!
Using the Compact on the Street
As I looked back into what I have been doing for the past month, I have come to a very stark realization: I do not need high end cameras to do all the experimentation that I have carried out (flash photography on the street, and the slow shutter speed techniques). In fact, all that I have been shooting with the DSLR E-520 and kit lens, with a manual flash, the similar results can be obtained with a compact camera, such as the Panasonic LZ8. Hard to believe, but I can assure you, it is true, and I have photographs in this entry to show.
It all comes down to your own preferences and how you perceive street photographs. As for me, my usual style includes using shallow depth of field (bokeh, oh beautiful bokeh), producing very sharp images (wonderful 50mm macro lens), and displaying glorious, natural colors. Nonetheless, most street photographs you will find in the world are against such technical execution. You will find mostly grainy photographs, that could be out of focus, or soft, or even blurred due to motion captured in the photograph. The sharpness was never that important. Furthermore, the popularly used zone-focusing system renders everything in focus and clear in the photograph, with no place for bokeh or shallow depth of field. Undeniably, almost all of the best and most popular street photographs are shown in black and white, with the absence of color. If we were to take what a "typically good street photograph" is against my usual shooting style, I would say I most certainly have disqualified in all criteria. I am fully aware of this, but I love what I have been doing, and that is not going to change. At the same time, I also have been experimenting with the black and white, gritty, grainy, not so sharp output, no-bokeh, harsh with flash-in-your-face shots for the past month.
Why do you use an F1.4 lens if you decide to shoot at F/11 or narrower for zone focusing to have everything in focus/sharp? Why do you need such large image sensor (APS-C or full frame) that gives you so much dynamic range, just for you to throw it all away when you boosted the contrast so that the shadow is blackened and the highlights and blown to pure whiteness? What is the point of having so many megapixels when at the end of the day you purposely induce motion blur and create very soft dreamy output? For those "typically good street photographs" output, I don't think you need to use something so expensive and powerful.
Now enters the compact camera. With the small sensor (smallest you can find really) you get massive depth of field. Set the aperture to F/5.6 or smaller, you get something equivalent to "zone focusing" effect. With the gritty, high contrast, harsh, slightly out of focus, black and white kind of outcome, there really is no need for very good lens, even the tiny built in lens would do. Flash photography on the street? No problem, almost all compact cameras have a built in flash, and they work relatively well too. So why not use a compact camera on the street?
Vegetables on my Shoulder
Please do take note that using flash, creating very harsh, high contrast black and white and dark-toned, gritty images are not usually my style, or preference when shooting on the street, I believe in trying out different thing, and exploring more possibilities. I want to be able to see and experience different techniques first hand, before I can give any comments, and when I do, I can be more objective and clear about the topic, because I have done it, and I have put myself in doing it again and again, not just a simple, quick encounter.
So what did I do with the Panasonic LZ8 this time? The camera has manual controls, full PASM, and I switched between P (programme exposure) and S (shutter Priority). When I am shooting normal subjects, with direct point and shoot and nothing extra fancy, I use the P (programme exposure), with ISO set to Auto and exposure compensation +0.7 EV (I prefer my images to be brighter when they are in B&W). As you have probably noticed in this entry, quite a few shots were taken with motion blur in mind, hence for slowing down the shutter speed, I switched to the S (shutter priority), using 1/10sec to 1/30sec, depending on how fast the subject moves. I switched the Image Stabilization OFF for smoother panning results. I also engaged the in camera black and white conversion. Mostly I shoot at wide open (equivalent 32mm) but when I did close up portraits, I zoomed in at least 2x to avoid ugly distortions on the facial profile. The focusing was not very fast (as the same with most budget compact point and shoot cameras) but with some pre-planning and pre-focusing (focusing on nearby subjects) it was not much of an issue. For some shots that I needed to use flash, the in camera flash worked just fine.
I do have my set of complains with this camera. The main problem is shutter lag, and it was bad enough for me to have some important misses, which was frustrating. I can blame the camera, but the camera can blame me at the same time, for not using it enough, to understand its focusing behaviour and time myself more efficiently as I execute my shots. It is true I spent very little time with this camera, and not knowing it thoroughly, it was not easy to work with it. At 8MP output, the resolution was quite poor, lacking details, and the file viewed at 100% is full of compression and sharpening artifacts. As expected, even at ISO400, noise can be quite an issue, even on monotone images. Traces of luminance noise can be seen throughout the images, especially those with more shadow.
I Chew My Shirt
Searching for the Answers to the Universe
Today's street shooting session with the Panasonic LZ8 compact point and shoot camera made me realize that all the experimentation with the more "typically good street photographs" do not require high end cameras, in fact, they can be achieved with relatively cheaper, and lower-end cameras. Indeed, in street photography, the focus has never been about how sharp your image is, or how beautiful the colors you have captured. It has nothing to do with the 3D effect that your lens can deliver, or how much dynamic range your image sensor is capable of showing. What makes street photographs work? Good subject content, with emotion and drama in the image, composed creatively and timed strategically to capture that moment.
What do I believe in? Do I agree with the "typically good street photographs"? Lets just say, I am still very young (in terms of photography age) to make any conclusions, and I shall not make any. There are so much more to learn and try out. Lets not tie ourselves down with too many rules and restrictions. I want to stay open to more possibilities, and be flexible when I approach street photography. Therefore, besides shooting within my comfort zone, I dared myself to try different techniques. And of course, pushing myself on the street with even the compact camera that nobody seems to care any more.
Does any of you have a compact camera still, and do you still use your compact camera frequently? Do share some thoughts.