Digital Photography

My most disappointing camera is…

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The hills and moors above Dovestones in Saddleworth
The hills and moors above Dovestones in Saddleworth

I should actually say my most disappointing camera was because there has been some remarkable changes with it. But first you need to hear a story to understand my disappointment.

Back in 2009 I purchased a Sony R1. For those of you don’t know, the R1 was a bridge camera with a fixed lens that was the size of a small DSLR at the time. It was very expensive new and had quickly lost favour with the general public. It was quite a weight really due in part to the huge lens. This was a 24-120mm lens made by Zeiss which was razor sharp. The 10Mpx sensor was the same one as used in some of the Nikon DSLRs at the time and was good at ISO 200 (base ISO) but quickly became noisy. The camera also lacked image stabilisation.

Despite its limitations the camera was a joy to use and produced amazing images. There are many fine art photographers who used this camera at the time and indeed I sold mine to one in 2011. Despite loving this camera I had become convinced that the Sony NEX5 was going to be a direct replacement for it but much smaller. Needless to say it wasn’t and I ended up switching to Micro 43, which I’m very pleased I did.

Roll forwards to December of last year and Sony launch the RX10. I didn’t pay much attention at the time based on past experience but then I say a picture of the RX10. It was clear that it was a reworked R1 with the same huge Zeiss lens. I did have some reservations about the 1″ sensor but already owning the RX100 I knew the sensor was quite capable. I purchased one immediately having traded in a very poor Panasonic 14-140mm lens.

The new RX10 was everything I wanted it to be. It reminded me so much of the R1 but improved. It handled well and meant no more lens switching. The lens range was now improved to 24-200mm with a fast f/2.8 constant aperture. I was so pleased.

But then came the let down. On paper this camera should perform brilliantly but when I processed the RAW files I couldn’t attain the sort of legendary image quality as the R1. At the time I was comparing this to the Olympus EM5 which is my main workhorse camera. The RX10 just seemed a bit, well soft in comparison. I tried all sorts, even convincing myself that the files were good enough. Once or twice I even came close to selling the camera had it not been for the excellent handling and convenience. In the end it was relegated to be my walking camera.

I hope you can now understand my disappointment.

Then to surprise recently I decided to open some of the RX10 RAW files in CaptureOne 8 (more on this some other time). The results were excellent. Image quality was not as “crisp” as the EM5 but then the images appeared more natural. The colours were also amazing.

At this time I also decided to update the firmware in the Sony as it was version 1.0 and version 2.0 was now available. Whilst the firmware talks about improvements to video, I’m sure they have done something to the focusing and image stabilisation. The camera now handles much better and I am getting much less shake than previously.

Over the past couple of weeks I have made a number of A2 prints from the RX10 files and they are really nice. There is a good feeling of depth to the images and they don’t feel so crisp that they appear unnatural.

In summary, a camera that was often left at home as it was disappointing has turned into one that I am happy to use and pleased to have purchased.

Friday image No.035

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The Moors near Saddleworth. Sony RX10
The Moors near Saddleworth. Sony RX10

The moors near where I live can be a rather bleak and unforgiving place. It’s not really a landscape that attracts photographers and you don’t often if ever see images of it in magazines. Despite this I often walk in the area with my camera so on the odd occasion that an image looks even half good it makes me happy. Here is one such recent image captured on my Sony RX10. I love the colourful golden grass in this scene and the way the contours of the land snake off into the distance.

I hope you like it and have a great weekend.

And the new camera is…

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Nikon D800. Not the easiest camera I have ever used. Watch out for interesting comparisons coming soon.
Nikon D800. Not the easiest camera I have ever used. Watch out for some interesting comparisons coming soon.

Big and heavy. It’s a Nikon D800.

But don’t hit the unsubscribe button just yet, there are some valid reasons for this and some really interesting results.

Firstly, this was an absolute bargain. It’s like new and was a fraction of the cost of the new camera. I don’t know about you but I just can’t resist a bargain.

Secondly I was curious. Not a little but a lot. You see I keep hearing that Micro 43 is not a real camera and that you can’t shoot serious landscapes with it. If you want to shoot landscapes you need a great camera with lots of high quality pixels in full frame. In short you need something like a D800.

So I bought one and want to use it as a benchmark against which to compare and judge my Olympus EM5 and the even smaller sensor of the RX10. Whilst I have only had two outings with the D800 I promise you the results are interesting and will surprise. I will also own up that I am struggling a little with the D800. I think shooting with Micro 43 has made me a little lazy; but more on that in future posts.

So now you know, I will be posting some interesting comparisons over the coming months.

Don’t buy a Micro 43 lens until you read this – Part 5

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Olympus EM5 with a 25mm Olympus lens.
Olympus EM5 with a 25mm Olympus lens. 1/50″ @ f/2.8 and ISO1600

Over recent years the range of prime lenses for the Micro 43 system has expanded greatly. For anyone who’s unsure, a prime lens is one with a fixed focal length for example 25mm. Again, what follows is a review of the lenses I have or have used (I have owned all of them at some time).

Panasonic 14mm

I still have this lens and it is a good performer. It was once a kit lens for one of the Panasonic systems (I forget which) so there is a ready supply of these second hand. I purchased mine second hand but it was sold as having been part of a kit but unused. The lens quality is very good with very little distortion. It doesn’t have a very wide maximum aperture but it’s better than the Panasonic 14-45 kit lens.

In terms of sharpness, it is marginally better than the 14-45 kit lens but you really do need to make a side by side comparison to see this. Where this lens does score highly is in its size and weight. It’s very light and very small. If you like to use a wide angle lens for your street photography, this is great. It’s also very useful for Landscapes as it gives the equivalent of a 28mm lens on full frame. Although many would suggest this isn’t wide enough for landscapes, it’s a very pleasing focal length. For around £100 used, this is a bargain lens.

Olympus 17mm f/2.8

There are two Olympus 17mm lenses and I have owned both. The distinguishing feature when looking at the description is the maximum aperture. The cheaper of the two has a maximum aperture of f/2.8. This version is very cheap at around £100 or less but I have seen people trying to pass these off as the more expensive f/1.8 lens discussed below. The two lenses do look different and certainly perform differently so beware. Be sure you know what you are buying.

Whilst this lens is cheap, small and light, I can’t really recommend it. It doesn’t perform anywhere near as well as the Panasonic 14-45 kit lens. Yes it has a wider maximum aperture but only just. In all honesty, if this is all you can afford and desperately want a 17mm prime lens, save your money and put it towards the next lens listed below – it’s worth the wait.

Olympus 17mm f/1.8

This lens is the complete opposite of the f/2.8 discussed above. I suspect some of the poor reviews you sometimes see listed are from people confusing it with the cheap version. This lens is beautifully made, performs amazingly well and just oozes quality. It has a metal construction and a reassuring weight whilst remaining small and compact. It will produce sharp images from wide open. It gives a beautiful shallow depth of field and is sharp into the corners with virtually no distortion. It really is a pleasure to use.

It also has a nice feature in that the end of the lens barrel will pull back to switch the lens into manual focus mode. When you do this it also reveals a nice depth of field scale; not quite as nice as a traditional manual prime but still very helpful. In short, this is a great lens and whilst a little more costly, the money shows in the quality of the lens and results. Highly recommended.

Panasonic 20mm

Some people rave about this lens and I have owned two of them now (but mine were the initial model and not the latest MKII model). I honestly can’t understand why people rate this lens so highly. The versions I have owned were very, very slow with autofocus and also quite noisy. Whilst the centre of the lens was a little sharper than the Panasonic 14-45mm kit lens the edge performance was worse. The lens is nicely compact but I couldn’t get on with it.

I acknowledge there is a strong following for this lens and I could have been unlucky enough to have two poor samples. I would urge caution if you are considering this lens and consider the Olympus 25mm discussed next as an alternative.

Olympus 25mm

This is a relatively new addition to the Olympus range of primes. All I can say is wow. I love this lens. It’s small, light, compact and really sharp. Performance is excellent as is the price. If you are considering the Panasonic 20mm prime mentioned above, do a side by side comparison with this lens. I find myself turning to the Olympus lens quite often now.

Olympus 45mm

This lens looks very similar to the 25mm Olympus mentioned above and is equally sharp. Again, this lens is highly recommended. This is a great lens with a lovely shallow depth of field.

Olympus 60mm Macro

If you want a dedicated macro lens then you don’t have many options. This lens looks unusual and is rather long. It is however an ideal focal length for a macro lens and super sharp. I really like this lens a lot although understand when some people say they can’t get on with it. Focus speed is OK but not terribly fast. I suspect this is why there is a range switch on the side so you can limit the range it tries to focus over. The only thing I don’t like this lens is the 1:1 magnification switch. Once in this mode you really need manual focus and if you accidently press the shutter button you can lose this level of magnification. You do really need to be focussing manually at this setting. Despite this the lens produces wonderful results and also makes a very capable 60mm prime for general use. You don’t need to use it as a macro lens all the time.

I hope this miniseries has helped people and if anyone has any additional comments on lenses not covered I would be delighted to hear them.

And I haven’t forgotten about revealing what my new camera is. More on that in the next week.

Friday image No.034

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Olympus OMD EM5 + 45mm Olympus lens
Olympus OMD EM5 + 45mm Olympus lens. Click the image to enlarge.

Yet another trip from my recent visit to Nantes in France.

This time I was walking along the river and spotted these three bird(two cormorants and a heron). They appeared quite tame as this was shot with my 45mm prime – it was the longest lens I had with me at the time. Fortunately it was the 45mm prime which is exceptionally sharp and will allow me to a high quality enlargement if required.

I hope you like it and have a great weekend.

Don’t buy a Micro 43 lens until you read this – Part 4

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Captured with an Olympus OMD EM5 and Panasonic 45-200 lens.
Captured with an Olympus OMD EM5 and Panasonic 45-200 lens.

Telephoto (Long) Zooms

Continuing this miniseries, it’s time to take a look at telephoto lenses. I class these as lenses that have a focal length beyond 45mm. And please do remember, I only cover lenses that I have used. As I haven’t yet tried any pro level lenses in this class I haven’t included them in the review. If anyone does have experience with these please add your thought to the comments section. I for one would be interested in the Olympus 40-150 f/2.8 or Panasonic 35-100 f/2.8. Lens titles include links to amazon.co.uk to view the lens and ensure you know which I am refering to.

Panasonic 45-150mm

This is my current long lens having switched from the 45-200 below. The reason for my switch is because of the size and weight. This lens is actually tiny when you consider its focal length. It’s only very slightly bigger than the 14-45 kit lens so is very easy to carry. This is a huge advantage over the typical telephoto DSLR lens which tend to get bigger and heavier.

Performance in image quality ranges from excellent at the 45mm end to very good/excellent at the 150mm end of the range. At the 45mm end I would say that my example is sharper than the 14-45mm kit lens that I love so much. It also performs well from wide open, displaying little colour fringing but does improve slightly when stopped down.

A lens of this quality for such a low price is a real bargain.

Panasonic 45-200mm

This is another good performer which achieves results similar to the 45-150 lens discussed above. Beyond the 150mm lens the image does soften slightly but it’s still very good and beyond what many DSLR lenses can achieve at this focal length.

As I mentioned above, I recently sold this lens because I found I wasn’t using the additional reach beyond 150mm, given the additional size and weight of the lens.

Panasonic 100-300mm

I have seen some negative commentary on this lens but have found this difficult to understand. From my experience, I have wondered if the problems are more to do with technique than the lens. With a lens of this focal length, small vibrations can be a problem as they are significantly magnified.

The downside to the lens is that it’s quite costly and also quite specialised, giving the equivalent of 600mm at the long end. Whilst this is a good focal length for getting close to action, the maximum aperture is quite slow, making it less suited for low light work.

Next time we will look at prime lenses where there are a few surprises.

Another Door

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Another door in Nantes, France. Olympus EM5 + 12-40mm Olympus lens. 1/60" at f/4.0.
Another door in Nantes, France. Olympus EM5 + 12-40mm Olympus lens. 1/60″ at f/4.0.

As my previous image of a door in Nantes has drawn such favourable feedback I thought I would adjust one of the others. This one is perhaps not as elegant but it was still in use as I found out. Someone opened it from the inside just as I was lining up the shot. I’m not sure which of us was the most surprised.

I have also included a black and white conversion and a classic camera conversion using Nik Analog Efex. I actually think the Nik Analog Efex conversion is my favourite.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Converted in Nik Analog Efex
Converted in Nik Analog Efex

Friday image No.032

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2014_08_RNW9587

A simple image from my trip to Whitby last week where I was busy trying out a new camera. I will reveal shortly just what that camera was, and why I want to use it to make some comparisons. It’s going to get interesting.

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

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.