A Bad Day With A Camera

First Olympus FE-120 Walkabout

Choosing a single camera for a walkabout is hard, especially when you have access to a lot of good gear and lenses and you don’t like denying yourself. Choosing a single camera for your outing when said camera is getting close to twenty years old and is very limited compared to your newer digital cameras – especially your phone – is even harder.

That creeping dread, Ilford 200 SFX simulation, Lambert Park, Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-02-11

The Olympus FE-120 is a pocket-sized 6.0 MP digital camera circa 2005 and it was gifted to me by my wife’s Uncle Roy, an avid photographer himself. It has a small sensor, which means it’s hard to establish any sort of selective focus. It can only save JPEGs. The screen on the back is so difficult to use in bright daylight that you may as well be shooting with an old 126 film camera, which is what the shoot felt like to me.

Olympus FE-120, Front, Strathmore,
Alberta, 2024-02-11
Olympus FE-120, Back, Strathmore,
Alberta, 2024-02-11

There is also no optical viewfinder which would have been nice to save on battery life, and the controls are a bit fiddly and fumbly. The one control that I do think was very well-handled was macro selection. The camera can easily have macro (near) and super-macro (very close) photography toggled on and off with little effort.

Seed head, Macro, Lambert Park, Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-02-11

It took me a few tries to realize that the FE-120 has two different macro settings. The initial attempts didn’t work out and I finally realized that I was using the wrong setting; near macro. Use the super macro setting for extreme close-ups and Bob’s yer uncle. I didn’t expect the camera to be this good at close-ups and I am very pleasantly surprised.

Lambert Station Info, Cross processed, Lambert Park, Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-02-11
S-curve, Pathway, Lambert Park, Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-02-11

I have to say that the camera feels solid and well-made, comfortable in one’s hand. Most of the digital cameras I have owned over the years can be described as chunky, if not downright chonky. Nothing that would easily slip into a coat pocket, for sure. I didn’t get that functionality until good mobile phone cameras came along. I have to say I would have been quite happy with this little snap shooter back in 2005 as it is surprisingly useful and the image quality is much better than I expected.

Strathmore Library Mural, Kodachrome simulation, Lambert Park, Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-02-11

The colour accuracy of the Olympus FE-120 is also quite good, although that is not always high on my list of concerns as I tend to skew colours in post.

Seeing the light, Lambert Park, Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-02-11

It takes the unit about three seconds from when you hit the power button for it to be ready to shoot. I kept turning it off between shots to save the battery, but I may not have needed to. The camera runs on a pair of 2800 mAh rechargeables and the battery indicator never left the green for the entire shoot. I had a spare pair in my pocket just in case.

Station Gardens, Lambert Park, Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-02-11
Please be seated, Lambert Park, Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-02-11

I did learn something new today by accident. When reading the signage, which I normally don’t pay attention to, I realized that a rail line used to run through this park and there was a train station where the gardens are now. Maybe I should read signs more often.

Strathmore Lion’s Club Sign, Lambert Park, Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-02-11

I zoomed in to 100% in Photoshop on most of the images I got today and I have to say that the quality is rather good. Perhaps a touch soft, but nothing that AI sharpening software can’t fix these days. I was shooting in daylight and never got above ISO 200 so noise wasn’t an issue. I’m guessing this Olympus won’t be so great at night because of the small sensor, but it is what it is. As things stand, I would be quite comfortable making a sixteen-inch print from one of these files.

The camera stores its files on Olympus’ proprietary XD storage card format which was a victim of the storage wars. It’s a 1 GB card that holds almost 700 photos, so I don’t see myself buying another any time soon.

Strath Paths, Thomas Drive, Strathmore,
Alberta, 2024-02-11
The road to Perdition, Lambert Park, Strathmore,
Alberta, 2024-02-11

The walk to and through the park was pleasant enough. It was about +2C and the last snowfall is continuing to melt off of roads and sidewalks, but everything is looking brown and dirty as usual at this time of year. It is very challenging to find points of interest during any photo shoot under these conditions. I had exhausted myself creatively after half an hour of wandering in Lambert Park and headed home.

I am happy with today’s shoot even if no great art was produced, and I’m especially happy with this cute little Olympus FE-120. I enjoyed using it and I will enjoy using it again in the future. It’s a nice little camera.

Note: All of the images in this diary entry were produced using the Olympus FE-120 save for the two faux Polaroid images of the camera itself.

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© 2024 Sean D. McCormick

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