Glass lust

Please pardon the length of today’s entry. Compared to any other object I have coveted and written about, this one is vastly more difficult. I have written about items I have wanted to grab or to gobble, but I don’t think that I have ever written before of having “given up hope” of getting one, to loose “my mind’s grip” on it, to “wrestle with the decision” not to buy it, as with this. Since beginning this blog, I have struggled several times to write about this item and failed to even begin to set down a few words. Hence the length of time since my last substantial post on this blog. I’ve been fighting the urge to acquire this item.

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The Olympus XZ-2

This item is the excellent Olympus XZ-2 camera, which is most notable to me for a lens with a bright, light-eating maximum aperture of f/2.0-2.5, which is practically unheard-of for a point and shoot canera.

Decades ago, when a poor graduate student, I somehow managed to scrape together a month’s pay and bought an Olympus OM-4 with a portrait lens. The OM-4 was one of the last legendary film SLR cameras before the age of autofocus, which was just then coming in. It can even be used without a battery. The esteem in which it is held by its owners can be seen on eBay, where fond sellers tend to set bottom bids at least three times higher than buyers are willing to pay more pragmatic sellers.

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The Olympus OM-4

The OM-4 has all sorts of useful abilities, particularly spot exposure, and it could use what was then phenomenal (and no longer produced) ISO 3200 film for low-light conditions.

The Olympus Zuiko 85 mm f/2.0 lens was an affordable marvel. Portrait lenses for digital SLRs of that length and brilliant aperture are now essentially unaffordable to all but pros, costing in the thousands today. (Portrait lenses are so called because an 80-105 mm length is ideal for taking portraits, although actually they can be used for anything.)

Glass lust is hard to explain to non-photographers, but when you have a really good lens on a good camera body, you know it, because it makes taking pictures effortless; you have no awareness of limitations. With a bright and high quality lens, even under dim conditions, the light comes through clear and easy, not shadowed, cramped, and darkened by a small aperture. A blurred background becomes possible, which is particularly good for portraits, as it draws the eye to the subject, instead of the face being one blob among an equally sharp background. With just a little care in framing and choosing an exposure, pictures can look professional.

Glass lust is so powerful that when a young amateur photographer who did good political photographs made a plea for donations for a better lens while he followed our favorite presidential candidate around the country, I sent him $200 without question, because I knew the ache of glass lust in him had to be real for such an unusual and specific plea.

I had a wonderful time teaching myself photography with the OM-4 and that lens. Most notable was a portrait I took of a roommate who then asked for an 8″ x 10″ version to give his mom — “This is the best picture of me that anyone has ever taken,” he declared. Other successes included some remarkable shots of candlelit church services that came back from the processor with fingerprints all over them because they had been handed around the lab. I took a fine shot of a string of 25 Sun Gold tomatoes in my garden. And once, I startled my mother when I showed a picture of her I had casually taken. Used to wide-angle snapshots filled with glare and grinning people, she stammered, “That looks…” she hesitated, “real.”

And then, gradually, over the years and particularly as my finances failed along with my marriage and my business, I stopped taking pictures. There was not much to see in those days that gave me pleasure; there was no money for film and processing; and an abusively controlling spouse meant that I had very little freedom to find any good subjects, particularly people to take portraits of.

When I emerged from that long personal nightmare, the digital camera had dawned, and professional photographers were debating whether to go digital or stay with film. I had no money then, and was much too occupied with survival to use my trusty OM-4. And I had become a recluse to avoid my obsessive husband. However, after I handled demos of cameras that could fit in an Altoids tin, and weighed in my hand the plastic bodies of larger cameras, my OM-4 began to seem less like a prospective pleasure to take up again and more like a steel-framed two-pound albatross around my neck.

I wasn’t satisfied with having a small camera, though, and even the big pro DSLRs could not match the technical capabilities of the OM-4. I wanted something small and capable, not a big DSLR but a smart compact.

And then about a year ago, I noticed that the Olympus XZ-2 was close to the capabilities of the OM-4. I watched the price come down as later models superseded it but did not match its abilities. Now would be a very good time to buy one. If you are dissatisfied with a point-and-shoot, or the picture quality of your phone, or dissuaded by the cost of a DSLR, you should take a look at the XZ-2. I think it is a much better camera than its successors in that line.

However, I cannot see myself getting back into photography. Photography simply no longer appeals to me. Sure, it would be useful to take pictures of things for eBay to thin out some of the muck I have in my little room, but I don’t need a $400 camera with $200 of wonderful accessories for that. Better to use a hundred-dollar tourist toy for that. The XZ-2 is certainly worth its cost, considered objectively, but not as a part of my life. I never did emerge from reclusiveness even after my husband died, and although I have friends, I do not have enough people I want to take pictures of, or to show pictures to, to justify such a purchase.

At this point when in person I discuss things I do not want to buy, my interlocutors channel the cheerful, materialist voices of “positive thinking.” I know the tropes well enough to imagine when alone what such people would say about the XZ-2. “You should get it, because it would renew your interest in this hobby and provide a new way to enjoy the world!” or “You can easily amortize the cost with the things you will sell on eBay.” “You could start a small side business as a classic portraitist, you’re good enough.” “Don’t you want to learn what digital photography and image processing are all about?” And, most appealing to me as a hoarder, “You can buy it and keep it for the day when you are ready to start again.” But I’m simply, plainly not interested in any of that. If I ever have a change of heart, technology and software will have progressed to the point of making the XZ-2 obsolete.

My pride and a dream to regain my youth push forward, encouraging my desires to own this new camera, but it would be a waste. My month-old $30 Dustbuster has given me far more pleasure than the prospect of this camera offers. And so, with tremendous regret, I turn away from this fine Olympus XZ-2.

This hurts.

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2 thoughts on “Glass lust

  1. Scintilla July 27, 2016 at 9:42 pm Reply

    “Portrait lenses for digital SLRs of that length and brilliant aperture are now essentially unaffordable to all but pros, costing in the thousands today.”

    I have the pleasant duty of informing you that this is not actually the case. Canon and Nikon both have 85mm f/1.8 lenses for under $500 new, and even the brilliant Pentax-FA 77mm f/1.8 Limited (which I own) can be had for $800.

    • asceticshopper July 27, 2016 at 11:17 pm Reply

      I am delighted to know that I can aspire to a bright portrait lens!

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