Don’t buy a Micro 43 lens until you read this – Part 1

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Steps at Sandsend near Whitby. Olympus Em5 + 25mm Olympus lens. The quality of this lens is amazing.
Steps at Sandsend near Whitby. Olympus Em5 + 25mm Olympus lens. The quality of this lens is amazing. Click the image to view larger.

I recently bought another camera (used) and whilst I will have more to say on that in the future, one thing it made me realise was just how good the Micro 43 lenses are. But this isn’t the case for all of the Micro 43 lenses; there are some really poor ones out there. When these lenses are good they are really good. The corners are sharp and show little distortion and you can use them wide open without worry. But when they are poor, they can make you question your decision to invest in the Micro 43 system. With this in mind I thought I would share some of my experiences and hopefully others of you will share yours.

I will point out that this is not a scientific lens review but what I think are the important points having used the lenses discussed. You also need to be aware that being a Landscape Photographer I like to achieve a good depth of field, very sharp images and well defined details. Depending on your photography interests you may have different needs.

Now both Panasonic and Olympus produce some excellent lenses (as well as some poor ones) but they take very different approaches to image stabilisation. Olympus builds stabilisation into their camera bodies whilst Panasonic build it into the lens (but not every lens). This means that if you have an Olympus body you can use any lens and still benefit from stabilisation. If you have a Panasonic body then you will only benefit from image stabilisation when you use a Panasonic lens (and only then if it is stabilised as not all lenses are).

Now you can mount a Panasonic lens on an Olympus body without any problems; this is one of the prime features of Micro 43 – it’s a standard. For example, I frequently use a Panasonic 14-45mm lens with stabilisation on my Olympus EM5. I do take care to turn off the lens stabilisation using a switch on the lens barrel. But even when I forget it seldom causes an issue. With other lenses such as the Panasonic 45-150 the lens is stabilised but there is no stabilisation switch on the body. Despite this I have never experienced a problem mounting these lenses on my Olympus EM5 and leave the stabilisation for the camera on all the time.

In short, don’t worry about mixing lenses and camera bodies from Olympus and Panasonic although you might need to give a little thought to manually switching it off for some combinations of lens and camera body.

Next time we will start to review some of the zoom lenses I have used. But before we go I will leave you with a few section of the above image zoomed to 100% magnification. This shows just how good the Micro 43 system can be.

100% magnification
100% magnification. Click to zoom in fully.

 

100% magnification. Click to zoom in fully.
100% magnification. Click to zoom in fully.

 

100% magnification. Click to zoom in fully.
100% magnification. Click to zoom in fully.

Friday Image No.031

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View from Yewbarrow
View from Yewbarrow

Regular readers will have noticed that I didn’t post a Friday image last weekend. That’s because I was on my way to the Lake District (the Wasdale area to be precise) for a long weekend of walking and taking photographs.

The image above is from the Saturday walk up Yewbarrow (again to be more precise it was a scramble up and down due to my route) and is taken from just below the summit looking towards Pillar in the distance. It’s one of the most scenic destinations in the Lake District and for any overseas visitors to the UK you should make it one of your destinations. And for anyone wondering what Yewbarrow looks like here you go.

Yewbarrow in the Lake District
Yewbarrow in the Lake District

I hope you like the image and have a great weekend.

Deciding how to edit a photograph

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View from the leading edge at the top of Yewbarrow
View from the leading edge at the top of Yewbarrow

Following my last blog post on the Essential Skills for photography, the question was posed “Where I’m stuck is the step between picking the strongest image and playing with software. How do I decide what to do with it. ” This seemingly simple question is one of the most fundamental in photography and is one that I found myself wrestling with for a number of years. This is how I resolved the for myself. As I am a Landscape Photographer I will speak about scenes but you can apply this approach to most forms of photography.

The key to deciding how to edit an image doesn’t start when you download the image to your computer, it starts much earlier. It even starts before you even lift the camera to take the shot. It actually starts when you spot the opportunity to capture an image. When something catches your eye and you recognise there is a photograph to be taken, at that moment you should be working out what has captured your attention.

Having identified something that is attracting you to a scene you will begin to take photographs. It’s unlikely your first image will be what you wanted (if it is you are either amazingly talented or very lazy) so you need to experiment with angles and composition. As you work with a scene your vision for the image should become stronger. This is the vision that will become so important when you come to edit your image later.

Having a strong vision is the key to understanding how to edit your image.

Having selected the image that you want to work with; the one that best represents your vision, you should ask yourself 2 questions:

  1. What defects is the image suffering from that I need to correct? Perhaps it’s too bright or it looks a little flat. Perhaps it has a lot of dark areas which look ugly and need to be opened up. Spend time looking at the image and identify what you don’t like about it. Defects in the image hide your vision from the viewer.
  2. Now consider your vision and ask how can this image be enhanced to better convey my vision for the photograph? This should take you right back to the reason for taking the picture in the first instance. Why did you take the picture? How can you emphasise this aspect of the image to the viewer?

As you consider these questions, make notes about the changes that you would like to make. Don’t try to get all technical about how you will make the adjustments, just describe the changes. If you want to make some dark areas lighter, write that down. If you want to make the pinks more vibrant and colourful, write it down. If you think the image looks a little hazy and you want to give it more snap, write that down.

Once you have the list of changes you need to write out a plan for the adjustments you will make. Start with the global adjustments and work down to the smaller localised changes. Also try to make the corrections and fixes (question 1) before you make the enhancements (question 2).

I hope I haven’t made this sound easy as it’s not. It takes years of practice to develop your own styles and preferences as well as the skills necessary to be able to make the adjustments. But preserve and improvements will come.

Starting image for the scene above.
Starting image for the scene above.

Essential skills for Photography – Skill 6

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RWhalley_5D_2012_04_IMG_7272

In this final blog post of the series I will introduced the sixth skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography.

Image Adjustment

There are two aspects to this:

  1. Technical skills to be able to make the adjustment
  2. Aesthetic skills so that the adjustments are pleasing and not taken to an extreme

For the first element you must understand the image editing and adjustment tools that you use. You must also seek to use the best and understand how the different controls can be used to manipulate he image. You also need to understand this from the perspective of a photographer or an artist. You are not interested in lightening an image or adjusting the contrast, you are interested in creating illusion. Illusions such as sharpness and clarity. You need to understand how to control and manipulate light.

As you master your chosen tools you also need to understand the aesthetics of the adjustments you make. Your adjustments should be believable and realistic. Take your adjustment too far and the image will appear ugly. This is art and this is where you can truly introduce your vision.

Now it’s your turn. What have I missed? Do you agree with the skills discussed or do you find the concept of these skills too vague? Let’s share some opinions.

Essential skills for Photography – Skill 5

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RWhalley_2012_10_IMG_7654In my previous blog post I introduced the fourth skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography. Today I will try explain another of these essential skills.

Image Selection

In an earlier post we spoke of exploring your subject in order to realise a clear vision and strong communication. It’s likely that this will result in many photographs of the same subject with only small variations between images. What we can’t do is present all these variations to our audience and expect them to select the best one; that’s our job as the photographer. I recall attending a wedding where the photographer was shooting continuously. When the bride and groom received the proofs the photographer had presented them with almost 1700 images and expected them to pick the 20 they liked best.

Being able to edit your images in order to select the best one for any particular subject is an essential skill that’s often overlooked. Let’s say we are faced with 20 image variations for a subject we have been shooting and we need to pick the best one. Which is best is quite subjective but:

  1. It must have a strong composition – if we can’t recognise a weak composition to weed out poor images we need to study this.
  2. Of all the images with a strong composition, which one conveys our vision and communication best? If we don’t know, it’s because our vision isn’t as strong as we thought it was and we need to spend more time developing this.
  3. If we are producing a series of images we need to ensure all the images work together. If we have one image that stands out above the rest we will make all the others appear weak. If we have one weak image it will stand out and damage the story being told.

If we really do have a few images that are similar and all very strong, just pick one. The rest of the world will never know we had a difficult choice to make. They also don’t care; they just want to see a great photograph.

I will introduce the final essential skill tomorrow.

Essential skills for Photography – Skill 4

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RWhalley_5D_2013_02_7840

In my previous blog post I introduced the third skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography. Today I will try explain another of these essential skills.

Understanding your equipment

Now please don’t confuse this with knowing how to use the features of your camera. The ability to pick up and control a camera is a given skill that every photographer needs. No, this skill is about understanding and appreciating the characteristics of the equipment at your disposal and understanding how we can use this to strengthen our communication with our audience.

An example to understand this a little better is if we were shooting a portrait. The subject would need to be the person in the image. What we therefore want to avoid is having multiple people dominant in the frame as these will be distracting. If our composition and technique is very poor it may leave our audience unsure which person is the subject. To make it clearer we might chose a long lens so that we can concentrate on a single person in the frame. We might also use a wide aperture to create a shallow depth of field. This will ensure objects behind our subject are thrown out of focus, so emphasising the subject still further.

A second example is where we use of Wide Angle lenses in Landscape Photography. Unless we move in close to our subject and include something in the foreground, the image loses impact as objects recede very quickly into the distance.

These examples are about understanding the characteristics of your equipment and then being able to make decisions about how use them to create strong compositions.

I will introduce another essential skill tomorrow.

Essential skills for Photography – Skill 3

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RWhalley_5D_2012_04_MG_8820

In my previous blog post I introduced the third skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography. In today’s post I will explain another of these skills.

Composition

This is probably the first of the recognised traditional camera skills and one the many people will answer with when asked what do you think are the essential skills for photography. But a lot of people when starting out in photography (myself included) struggle with knowing how to create strong compositions. I can remember reading lots of books on the subject but never quite grasping what was being said. What I had failed to understand is that composition can’t be reduced to a set of rules that if followed will produce the best compositions.

Whilst it’s true that a strong composition is recognisable, it’s almost impossible to arrive at the perfect composition. What you need to strive for are strong compositions. Whilst you can follow some guidelines, it’s better to train yourself to recognise good composition as well as the faults of poor composition.

If your composition is weak it will hamper your photography as it will hide your vision and communication. When you get it wrong, the composition will jar with the audience and they won’t invest the time necessary to appreciate your work. Your communication will be hidden by the noise of poor composition. It’s a little like experiencing a small amount of static on the telephone line. Whilst you can still hear the conversation it becomes more difficult to hear the message, requiring more concentration. Your audience is choosey with their time as it’s precious. If they can’t hear your message clearly, they will move on to another message that is clear.

I will introduce another essential skill tomorrow.