18 May 2014

Born by chance: handbag photography

The joy of having a small camera with you at all times is that it will grant you countless opportunities to capture images in places where you didn't expect to photograph at all. Not that there are places or situations suitable for photography and others that are not (after all, photography is a complex, subjective art that depends on the eye of the photographer and not in the surroundings themselves), rather there are situations in which you carry a camera along and situations in which you don't. And this is the key point here: having an unobtrusive camera with you wherever you go is like carrying a pack of tissues: you don't remember they hide somewhere in your handbag (for they are small and light), but should the occasion arise, you instantly know they are there, within immediate reach.

Early riser, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Light trap, GM1 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Inversion, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
I discovered this blessing when I purchased the GM1 a few months ago (which, in fact, it's no bigger than the aforementioned pack of tissues, though it's a bit weightier); before that, carrying a camera was always a conscious exercise, not only because it's bigger and obviously you cannot ignore its presence hanging from your neck or in your bag, but also because I only carried it along when I willingly wanted to go out to shoot. Some people would argue that you can use your smartphone as an "always with you" camera, and that might be true, but in my experience, a phone is a multitasking device that happens to take pictures, while a dedicated camera, as small as it might be, has a completely different feel to it and offers much more flexibility for the demanding photographer.

Flower frame, GM1 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Resting grill, GM1 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
This post is proof of my previous assert: during the last weeks, I have been to several places for different reasons, ranging from work, to leisure, to family matters. In all of them, photography was not among my initial purposes, as there were other concerns that mattered most, but I happened to carry the GM1 with me every time. And this is the sole reason why all the images in this post exist. In between meetings, on the way to the office, while waiting for someone in the street, going back home, walking to the bus stop or the pier..., all these captures were born because my camera was at hand while I was doing something else. The scenes unfolded in front of me, and I only had to unzip the bag, switch on, and shoot.

The smash, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Street art & street sport, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Nevertheless, do the circumstances really matter? Is there any difference between taking a picture while, let's say, on a photo walk with a group of other photographers, and while hurrying home from the supermarket on your own? When considering only the images, there is no difference at all, they are all equally valuable, they both tell a story, they both speak the same language and can have the same impact (besides, the audience, more often than not, has no clue about the process behind each capture, and knowing wouldn't change our perception of the capture that much, most of the times; it could deepen our understanding, empathy or appreciation, but an image that is not able to catch our attention by itself, rarely will do after an explanation of its backstory). In my view, words should enhance, complement, dress up the image, but the photograph is, and always should be, the center and star of the show, so to speak.

The dog in the sun, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Flows, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The walk, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
In the end, it's not a question of differences, but of something much more essential; as a well known playwright once said, "to be or not to be" is exactly the issue at play here; had I not have had the camera with me on those occasions, none of the stills displayed in this post would exist. Simple as that. Though we could add another added benefit of a small camera: its tiny size is extremely misleading (and useful for that same reason) and most people will take it for an under-performer, thus granting you permission to enter with it to a location that explicitly restricts the use of dslr's, such as a concert. Thank you misinformation!

Furtiveness, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm


  1. Beautiful pictures and nice post, it summarizes exactly my thoughts on the subject - I carry always my E-M1 in a very little bag, some of my most interesting pictures were born in that way...

    1. Thanks for your words Andrea! We are fortunate to live in a time in which such capable cameras have become so small and easy to carry everywhere. There is definitely no excuse not to shoot everyday!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing all these images you took with the 12-32. I am currently thinking about purchasing this lens--it wasn't even my first choice, though. I am actually ogling the 12-35 or the 12-40, but the factor that is making me reconsider those two is ... size. And weight, to be honest.

    I found that after I switched to mFT from being a (D)SLR user for the longest time, I finally took my camera with me again because it's so darn *small* and lightweight. I no longer have to lug around 10kg worth of bodies and lenses. My goal was to replace my 9-18, 17, and 30mm lenses with one of the PRO zooms, but even if that would spare me from changing lenses (something I so despise), it would still mean that I'd have to lug around at least 0.8kg when paired with my OMD E-M5. I know it doesn't sound like much, but as you said so well: "handbag" photography. The E-M5 and a PRO lens would not fit into a jacket pocket, and as someone who has back/neck issues, having that weight around my neck for an entire day isn't really appealing.

    So, the 12-32 popped up on my radar, but I read many discouraging comments about the lens being soft on the right side, it not being fast enough, it not having a manual focus ring... I was really getting anxious because I feel that this lens would be a great compromise: it's a perfect zoom range for a walk-about lens and it's so tiny and light that I would enjoy carrying my camera with me wherever, instead of getting stressed about which prime to take and in the end leaving everything at home.

    Your images (I've looked through all of your 12-32 posts :) ) have proven to me that this is a *very* capable lens that can take stunning photos. I especially liked the ones with the monks, the concert shot at the end of this post, and the ones you took at the beach with the stranded ship. It shows that this lens can handle many different situations very well. And it has convinced me to start looking for a copy of the lens after my snowboard vacation (funds are depleted now :D ) and I'm already excited about the opportunities that will (hopefully) open up to me. The best camera (and lens) is the one we actually carry with us...and it seems that the 12-32 will allow me to reduce my bloated mFT system and start enjoy taking pictures again instead of worrying about how to transport equipment.

    Thank you for sharing all these images and stories, it's been inspiring!

    1. Thank you so much for your warm words and for your support Julia! The 12-32 is a fantastic little lens, let me summarize its biggest pros and cons for you here:
      + It's so small that, paired with a diminutive body it will fit in any handbag and even in a jacket pocket. However, if you plan to use it on a bigger body, this advantage somehow disappears, so think about the body you want to attach it too (the EM-5 would be the biggest you could carry in a small handbag)
      + It's about as sharp as the 12-35 in the center at the same apertures, really, the difference is negligible even at pixel level, so you won't be disappointed, but the corners are softer (less so in the 12-35, but you would need a prime to have sharp corners anyway, so the difference won't be that big either)
      - The build quality is mediocre, it's just cheap plastic, so you have to treat it carefully (the outer plastic ring in mine has come loose after 2 years of use and I had to re-glue it)
      - It's not that good for low-light due to its slow aperture, but again, even f2.8 is not that bright either, you would need a bright prime to make a big difference in this regard.
      All in all, if you know its limitations and take advantage of its strengths, it sure delivers more than one could guess from its looks!
      Hope this helped you make the decision you are after!
      Best regards,

    2. Thank you so much for your additional information, Gonzalo! You are right, the EM-5 body might be a bit bulky, but I have an E-PL5 somewhere, so I can try it on that body, too. I do like my viewfinder, though. But definitely worth considering!

      Thanks also for easing my concerns regarding edge sharpness and pointing out that this will basically effect all zooms--I think I get carried away sometimes with my expectations.

      I knew about the build quality, and read about the ring coming off, but most users reported that they just glued it back on, so I'm not too worried about that. For a lens that I can get for about 150-200 Euros here in Germany, I'm ok to accept that.

      And as for low-light photography, I might just keep my Oly 17 1.8 around, or grab a tripod if I plan on long-exposures, so I don't see that as a huge issue.

      Thank you again for your input and feedback, it really helped me settle on the 12-32 for now instead of one of the bigger and heavier PRO lenses.

      Happy new year!

    3. Glad to be of help, and happy new year to you too Julia! Happy shooting!