Month: June 2013

More Details

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Beach rock detailed captured on a Panasonic GX1 - the right tools for the job make the job much easier.
Beach rock detailed captured on a Panasonic GX1 – the right tools for the job make the job much easier.

I have to admit that I have never been very good at taking detail shots. I’m not talking here about macro work but about identifying and shooting abstract details and patterns close up. This is the sort of work that photographers such as David Ward have become well known for.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate this work, I do; I am actually in awe of people who are able to do this well. I simply struggle to create something pleasant myself.

When I look back at the times I have tried this in the past, I seem to struggle to visualise and spot the opportunities. I think this is partly because much of this type of work uses a square format. As much as I like the square format, finding it very balanced, I can’t seem to create compositions within it myself. If I do happen to spot something I then find it difficult to translate this into a composition on the camera. My shots never looked quite right.

Recently however I took a trip to Whitby with some photography friends. When the conditions became less than ideal for Landscape work we switched to trying to capture details on the beach. Typically this would be things such as sand patterns and rock details. At first I tried using my DSLR (which I have now sold) but then switched to using the GX1 Micro 43 and Sony RX100 compact camera. Suddenly I found this world opened up to me simply because I wasn’t hunched uncomfortably over a tripod trying to use a DSLR.

I found that I was able to visualise and compose much better images by holding the camera away from me and using the image on the back of screen as feedback. Whilst I still struggled to compose images within a square frame, at least I was able to see and appreciate this. I then switched format and surprisingly (because you don’t see it often with detail shots) I found the 16:9 format much more rewarding.

Whilst I still have a way to go with producing this sort of work I have at least captured some images that I might be happy to share. I will also be trying this type of photography much more in the future.

Depth of Field with Micro 43

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Captured with a GX1 and Olympus 9-18 lens. Front to back sharpness was achieved with 12mm focal length and f/9.0 aperture. The foreground is just feet away but I selected the point of focus carefully.
Captured with a GX1 and Olympus 9-18 lens. Front to back sharpness was achieved with 12mm focal length and f/9.0 aperture. The foreground is just feet away but I selected the point of focus carefully. Click the image to see a larger version.

I responded to a question the other night asking for some guidance on Depth of Field and if possible an article. I thought about this for a while and it’s quite a complex subject involving ideas such as circle of confusion and hyperfocal focusing. Personally I don’t like complexity as it tends not to be that practical in the real world. Here then is my Lightweight guide to depth of field with a Micro 43 camera.

The first thing to realise is that Depth of Field is something completely different to lens sharpness. Sharpness is about how well defined edges appear in your image. Lots of things can contribute to an image being sharp or not. Camera shake will detract from sharpness as will vibrations. Unfortunately the aperture also contributes to sharpness which is possibly why people sometimes become confused.

When a lens is wide open at its maximum aperture e.g. f/1.8 it is unlikely that it will produce its sharpest results. Whilst high quality lenses will perform well when wide open, most lenses achieve their best results when stopped down around 2 stops from wide open. My experience with Micro 43 lenses is that they usually perform well when wide open and achieve excellent results when stopped down by around 1 stop from the maximum.

Stop a lens down to the other extreme and you will see the effects of diffraction creep in. This is where the light entering the lens diffracts on the blades of the aperture. This causes it to spread and the image becomes softer. Different lenses will start to suffer from diffraction at different apertures so I can’t give you any guidance other than to say test your lenses.

Now for depth of field. The first thing to realise is that there is only one point of true focus in an image. The further you move from this point the more the focus deteriorates. Near to the point of focus you probably don’t notice this but further away the image starts to appear blurred and out of focus. The area that appears in focus to the eye is the zone of acceptable focus; remember it’s not actually in focus, only the point of focus is in true focus.

The acceptable zone of focus extends beyond the point of focus and also in front of the point of focus. This is said to be the depth of field. How far this zone extends is determined by a number of factors which include:

  1. The size of the sensor – the smaller the sensor the greater the depth of field at a given aperture. Micro 43 is therefore good if you want lots of depth of field. Generally speaking you can’t do anything about sensor size unless you change camera.
  2. The distance of the point of focus from the camera – the nearer the point of focus to the sensor then the less the depth of field.
  3. The aperture – a smaller aperture will produce a greater depth of field than a larger aperture on the same lens assuming the other factors are constant. Take care however as you could make the aperture so small that the lens suffers from diffraction. There is therefore a balancing act between depth of field and optimum aperture.
  4. The focal length of the lens – Now all you science types don’t all cry out saying there is no difference it’s just down to compression and magnification (ignore this comment if you don’t know what I am talking about). Remember, this is the simple approach to depth of field. The wider the focal length of the lens then the greater the apparent depth of field that can be achieved, all other things being equal. Putting this in simple terms, take a picture with a 14mm lens and take the same picture with the same aperture and focus point using a 45mm lens and the 14mm will appear to have a greater depth of field.

The final key piece of information is that the depth of field extends roughly twice as far beyond the camera as in front of it.

So, how to use this assuming you want to create a large depth of field from the foreground to the distance:

  1. By the time you are about 50m away from the camera, you will effectively have reached infinity focus on your lens. Remember, this is a practical real world simplified guide.
  2. Select a lens that will allow you to create the composition you want.
  3. Estimate how far the nearest point to you (in the frame) is.
  4. Estimate how far 1/3 of the distance is from this point to 50m and identify something around that point in the frame. This is where you should pick your point of focus. Don’t leave this up to the camera to decide.
  5. Select an aperture that gives you the depth of field you need. Until you are adept at judging this you may need to take a few shots and check them at 100% magnification on the back of your camera.
  6. When you check shots the foreground is more important to judge than the distance. The foreground will show up areas that are out of focus much more than the distant hills.
  7. If you find your image is slightly out of focus in the foreground but the hills are fine you need to move the point of focus nearer to you.
  8. If the hills are blurred but the distance is fine you might need to move the point of focus away from your OR use a smaller aperture. Try both.
  9. Try to keep the aperture within the range for optimum sharpness.

All this might sound like a lot to remember but after a while it becomes second nature. I tend to shoot landscapes with a 14mm lens set to f/8.0. I know when the focus point is well selected this will give me good depth of field on most of my compositions. Selecting the focus point becomes automatic for me based on years of experience gained by taking a picture and checking the results.

Hope this helps.

I’m Getting Closer

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Another of the Olympus OMD images shot at Haweswater recently. The quality of this camera is amazing. It has also shown me what the 14-45mm Panasonic lens is capable of.
Another of the Olympus OMD images shot at Haweswater recently. The quality of this camera is amazing. It has also shown me what the 14-45mm Panasonic lens is capable of.

Firstly I want to say there has been a great response to my previous post about my search for a Micro 43 bag. Thanks to everyone who has added comments and to those who have emailed me with various suggestions. I really appreciate your help and there have been some great ideas which I am going to look at properly over the next week.

At the time I wrote the last post I had been considering one of the ThinkTank bags (I think it was the Speed Demon v2) which straps round your waste and also has a shoulder strap. It can therefore be used as a shoulder bag or strapped around your waist. When around your waste you can wear it at the back, front or even to the side. The shoulder strap can also be worn around the neck/over the shoulder to add extra support. I was actually near to buying one of these when I realised it was still going to be too bulky and probably not what I was really looking for.

Another of the suggestions that came in via email was to use the bottom half of an Orion Lowepro backpack (thanks Ed). This is an old model now but the idea was that there was a split backpack where the top half could be used to carry clothing and food whilst the bottom half was for your camera gear. What was special about this design was that the two halves could be detached. The bottom part could then be turned into a belt pack and also had a detachable shoulder strap just like the ThinkTank bag.

Ed provided a picture of his kit in the bag and it looked to fit great. More importantly I actually have one of these bags in the loft so I decided to get it down. Unfortunately this still isn’t the solution. The idea is sound and the bag is extremely well padded. This however makes it rather bulky so trying to strap this to your front whilst wearing a backpack makes you feel very confined. More importantly I felt a little unsteady and decided it could make me unstable when out on the hills.

What all this searching for a suitable bag has made me realise is that I might already own the solution. About 8 years back I bought a Marmot belt pack. The idea was to keep a drink, waterproof and food in this pack if I was out carrying my large camera backpack with SLR. It is however very light (really it was made for fell runners), quite spacious and would allow me to carry most of my Micro 43 gear comfortably (we shall see). It also has an internal waterproof pocket that is perfect for batteries and memory cards. One of the front packets would be perfect for my Infrared GX1 and the side pockets would fit my larger Panasonic 45-200mm lens.

Front view of my Marmot pack
Front view of my Marmot pack

If I now purchase some Neoprene lens wraps (GBP7 each) I can protect the lenses from rubbing against each other. The whole lot can then be placed into a waterproof Exped bag that fits into the main pocket. You can guage the capacity in the next image.

Inside the bag is the OMD with 14-45 lens attached, the 12-50 Olympus lens and in the size pocket the bulky (in comparison) Panasonic 45-200.
Inside the bag is the OMD with 14-45 lens attached, the 12-50 Olympus lens and in the size pocket the bulky (in comparison) Panasonic 45-200.

This still isn’t perfect but it’s the right size, weight and more importantly it’s comfortable when I am wearing my backpack. I still think I will end up buying a 14-150mm lens to prevent lots of lens switching but this solution allows easy access to all my equipment when out on the hills.

And a final word, please keep the suggestions coming as my solution isn’t perfect but your might be.

Camera Bag Frustration

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One of my Haweswater images from the weekend shot on the Olympus OMD. It doesn't show the lake but it does show the start of the ridge in the background that we would later be walking up.
One of my Haweswater images from the weekend shot on the Olympus OMD. It doesn’t show the lake but it does show the start of the ridge in the background that we would later be walking up.

I am feeling happy once more. My frustration with not taking my camera out has subsided somewhat. At the weekend just gone I was up in the Lake District with my new camera at one of the best locations you can imagine – Haweswater.

Unless you are familiar with the Lakes it’s unlikely you have visited this spot and yet it’s one of the most spectacular. It lies near to Penrith and is away from the usual tourist destinations. It has one narrow lane that leads to a dead end at the head of the valley where the lake also ends. Well, I say lake but it is actually a manmade reservoir. When it was created the designers were careful to create a number of features that blend it into the landscape. I suspect they must have been photographers as it’s so picturesque.

The purpose of this blog is not to bore you with details of the location but to share a new problem now that I have gone totally lightweight. I couldn’t find a bag that suited the equipment I wanted to carry.

For the day I had decided to take the Olympus OMD and the GX1 Infrared body. In addition to batteries and memory cards I also took a few lenses; the Olympus 9-18mm, Panasonic 14-45mm, Panasonic 45-200mm and the Olympus 12-50mm that came with the OMD. This was too much equipment to fit my small shoulder bag but it wasn’t enough to warrant carrying my Lowepro Mini Trekker. At the same time, because we intended to walk one of the ridges leading up to the summit of Highstreet, so I also needed to take a traditional backpack with outdoor gear. Oh yes, I also wanted to take the Sony RX100 as a backup. I did think of using a Sling shot but it would have been that little but too heavy and I need to watch my back/neck.

Interestingly my friend had the same issues with his kit which is also Micro 43. As you can imagine, the conversation soon turned to the inadequacy of most camera bags to cater for Compact System Cameras such as the Olympus and Panasonic. Particularly those of us who want to combine this with day treks in the hills.

Since returning I have been scouring the internet trying to find something that meets my needs but most of the bags are either a shoulder bag or designed for DSLR sized cameras, making them quite bulky and heavy.

What I am really looking for is a lightweight bag which is either a back pack or a front pack. If it’s a backpack it needs to hold my waterproof clothing and extra layers in winter as well as food and of course the camera equipment. It needs to be the correct size for the Micro 43 camera as I don’t want wasted space of lenses rattling around. The alternative I think would be a front pack and I think this would be more practical as it would allow access to gear without needing to remove the bag. It should however be light and again suitably sized for the Micro 43 equipment. If it’s a front pack it needs to include some sort of shoulder of neck strap to prevent the pack hanging too low as you walk. It must also allow me to still wear a backpack for my clothing, emergency shelter, first aid kit, food etc.

Now I don’t think this is too much to ask for but I haven’t yet found it. I did come across some bags last night that look promising. They are designed for press photographers who work in the field and need to keep mobile and on their feet. The bag strap to your front and over one shoulder to allow easy access to kit but I need to do more research; they may still be too bulky.

If you are a bag manufacturer and reading this, let’s see some serious bags aimed at Micro 43 cameras and don’t try to brush us off with your SLR line rebadged. If you are a Micro 43 photographer who has cracked this problem I would love to hear your solution.

Not Finding Time for Photography

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One of the images I found time to prepare for my recent presentation. 4 images shot on a GX1 and stitched in Hugin.
One of the images I found time to prepare for my recent presentation. 4 images shot on a GX1 and stitched in Hugin. Click the image to see a larger version.

I need to go slightly off topic today in order to gain some personal therapy.

You see I have a problem at the moment. I seem to be working very hard but not finding any time for photography. By photography I mean the act of actually taking a picture. Instead my life is a round of activities that don’t progress any of my goals photographically. Unfortunately it’s all my own fault. Allow me to describe a few examples.

Last night I gave a presentation at a camera club. I really enjoy doing these and this was no exception. You always end up meeting groups of really nice people who love photography, so what could be better. Unfortunately I reviewed my usual presentation a few weeks before the meet and decided I needed to update it. I don’t think anyone would have been any the wiser had I left it the way it was but I decided it had to be updated. The update wasn’t however a few tweaks and picture changes. No, I decided on a full re-write in order to satisfy my personal standards.

That is just one example. A further example is the updating of my PC which I did back in April. When I made the switch I found that I couldn’t simply move my website across to the new PC because the authoring software I use wouldn’t work properly. The same problem happened with the email software I use to send out newsletters and updates. I have now managed to move the website after weeks of trying but I couldn’t fix the email problem. I have therefore cut my losses and invested in new email/mailing list software which to be honest is a decision I should have made weeks ago.

All this time, I have a new Olympus camera sitting unused. What am I thinking? My camera equipment might be lightweight as is my post processing, but my life isn’t. I look at some of the other blogs that I subscribe to and I feel almost inadequate. One blog (sethsnap) seems to post a set (not just one but a set) of new images daily.

I think I need to stop making decisions that burn my time and keep me away from doing what I love – taking pictures. Does anyone else have the same problem?

Saying Goodbye

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Captured with the OMD E5 on my recent OMD Experience Day
Captured with the OMD E5 on my recent OMD Experience Day

I did it. I sold my 5D MKII and now own an Olympus OMD E5. It’s much smaller and lighter than the 5D and whilst I have yet to take it out on a shoot, I feel somehow liberated. I will miss the 5D and the excellent image quality. It was incredibly well built but I find the size and weight are quite limiting.

My next problem will come in deciding how to spend any surplus cash from the sale of the camera and lenses. I expect I will buy a good quality macro lens to fill some a gap in my Micro 4/3 kit. It would be nice to have a dedicated macro lens or perhaps a 14-150mm lens for when I am walking in the hills; I hate having to swap lenses when I’m walking.

Looking back, if someone had told me 5 years ago that I would have gone completely Micro 4/3 rather than full frame I would have laughed. It’s strange how much the advance of technology has changed my thinking. I also expect to swap the OMD in a year or two when the next advance comes out.

Once I have put the OMD through it’s paces I will post some of the image and let you know what I think.