Equipment

Don’t buy a Micro 43 lens until you read this – Part 3

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Shot on a GX1 with Olympus 9-18 lens as part of my Cloud Structures project
Shot on a GX1 with Olympus 9-18 lens as part of my Cloud Structures project

In this posting we will look at the lenses falling in the super wide angle category. I define this as being those that are wider than 24mm (full frame equivalent) or 12mm (Micro 43). At the time of writing there are only two zoom lens options which are described below. Headings are links to amazon.co.uk to see the lenses.

Super Wide Angle Zoom

Olympus 9-18mm

If you need a wider angle lens than the 12mm standard zoom you don’t have much choice. It’s either this lens or the Panasonic 7-14mm mentioned below. I own the Olympus 9-18 and really like it. It’s a sharp lens that performs well. At the wider angle end of the zoom range it will distort but the lens retains its sharpness. Some chromatic aberration is apparent but no more than you might expect from such a wide angle.

The lens is very light and small. It also collapses down on itself when not in use. This makes it very easy to carry and suitable for all sorts of camera design. Most importantly you can easily use filters on this lens, something that can be tricky with the Panasonic.

Panasonic 7-14mm

I can’t deny this is a sharper lens than the Olympus and is most certainly pro quality. The downside when compared to the Olympus is that it’s larger and quite a bit heavier although it’s still much smaller and lighter than a DSLR wide angle lens.

Despite its amazing performance, I opted not to buy this lens because of one key problem. The front element of the lens protrudes beyond the front of the lens making it very difficult to attach filters. If you can overcome this limitation and don’t mind that it’s quite a lot more costly than the Olympus then this is a great lens.

Don’t buy a Micro 43 lens until you read this – Part 2

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Captured with an Olympus 12-40 at f/3.5. This lens is sharp across the entire frame and shows little distortion (although that could be down to Lightroom auto correction)
Captured with an Olympus 12-40 at f/3.5. This lens is sharp across the entire frame and shows little distortion (although that could be down to Lightroom auto correction)

In this post I am going to share my thoughts on some of the Standard zooms I have used. As there isn’t really a definition of what can be considered a standard zoom, I view these as a zoom that will go from moderate wide angle (24mm or 28mm) through to short telephoto (80mm to 100mm). Don’t forget as you look through the list below that the Micro 43 sensor has a magnification factor of 2x. This means a 14mm lens will become a 28mm lens on a Micro 43 camera.

Panasonic 14-45mm

This is the old kit lens from the GF1 and you can still buy it new for quite a reasonable price. Now just because this is a kit lens doesn’t automatically mean it’s bad. In fact I have owned 4 of these (all purchased second hand) and all were excellent. The lens will produce sharp images even wide open and will become very sharp from around f/4.5. It does start to drop off slightly from around f/8.0 but still performs well until near to the minimum aperture.

In case you’re worried about getting enough depth of field and think you need to stop the lens down to the minimum aperture, don’t. At 14mm, setting the aperture to f/7.1 usually allows you to achieve sufficient depth of field for most landscape shots, providing you don’t get in very close to your subject. You also need to take care to pick a good point of focus to maximise depth of field, but you would need to do that with any camera system.

This lens is an excellent workhorse and will serve you well in a wide variety of situations. Best of all you can buy these used at very reasonable prices, sometimes with a very serviceable GF1 attached (which you could always have converted to shoot infrared).

Panasonic 14-42mm

There are various versions of this kit lens on the market but I would suggest you treat them with care. I have tried a few but none come near to the 14-45mm mentioned above. These appear to have been made to a budget and it shows in the soft images. Now I don’t have any significant experience with the Olympus version but as a budget kit lens I would still be cautious.

If you’re thinking of buying a Micro 43 system consider buying body only and purchasing the Panasonic 14-45mm (used). Or perhaps if you do have one of these lenses consider trading it in. There are better options.

Panasonic 12-32mm

This is the kit lens that comes with the Panasonic GM1. It looks to be too small to be stabilised but it does have stabilisation. Whilst it’s not the sharpest lens, it is surprisingly good. Mine doesn’t have much edge distortion and chromatic aberration appears well controlled. Its real advantage though is that it’s surprisingly small and light as well as being a great little performer. If you happen to come across one at a reasonable price give it a try. Or if you are thinking of buying a GM1 and have some existing lenses, don’t automatically go for the body only option to save money. When I bought my GM1, buying the body only would have saved just £20. Compared to the value of this lens, that’s a tiny saving.

Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8

This is by far the most expensive of the standard zooms I have used. This is the Olympus Pro quality lens and benefits from a large fixed aperture across the zoom range. It performs superbly well from wide open and both distortion and chromatic aberration are very well controlled. As you might expect from a pro lens, it is very sharp and an excellent performer.

The downside to this lens besides the price is the size and weight. It’s still smaller than a standard DSLR lens but it’s probably a similar weight although a little smaller. For some cameras you might find it feels a little unbalanced. [Having used this lens quite a bit now I would say the sharpness can also be a problem. Some of my prints (even A2 prints) show so much sharp detail that it can look false. On occasion I have found myself applying a very slight blur to the image to give a nicer, smooth feel to the print.]

Whether this lens deserves the high premium over the Panasonic 14-45mm, only you will be able to decide. Panasonic also have their version of this lens which is 12-35mm and at the time of writing is even more costly than the Olympus.

Olympus 12-50

This is the kit lens that comes with the Olympus EM5 and EM10. It’s not actually a bad lens but it definitely isn’t a great lens. The focal length range of 24mm-100mm equivalent is great and very useful. The downside and reason that I sold mine is that the image quality just isn’t as good as the Panasonic 14-45mm. I would rather lose a little flexibility at either end of the zoom range for the comfort feeling of knowing image quality is good.

One area that isn’t very good with this lens is the maximum aperture. As soon as you start to zoom in, the maximum aperture drops very quickly. This makes it a poor choice for lower light situations and almost forces you to select a more sensitive ISO. Now the aperture on the Panasonic 14-45mm isn’t great but it is easier to work with than with the 12-50.

Something I did find very annoying about this lens is the electronic zoom. It’s easier to work with than the Panasonic power zoom switch as you still use the zoom ring on the lens, but it’s just not a nice feel. I never felt comfortable zooming in and out using this feature of the lens and trying to fine tune the zoom was very difficult.

On the plus side, this lens does have a very useful macro button. I think it gives 1:2 life-size enlargements and allows you to get quite close to your subject. If you are on a budget, this can be a useful lens, just don’t expect it to match the optical performance of the Panasonic 14-45 or the quality of the Olympus 60mm macro.

Next time we will take a look at Super Wide Angle options.

Quality costs but it also pays

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Olympus EM5 with 14-45mm lens. Lee Seven 5 0.9ND Graduated filter. Post processing with Nik Color Efex and Viveza. f/11 at ISO200 for 1/13" handheld.
Olympus EM5 with 14-45mm lens. Lee Seven 5 0.9ND Graduated filter. Post processing with Nik Color Efex and Viveza. f/11 at ISO200 for 1/13″ handheld.

Looking back some 3 to 4 years, I was a devoted user of Lee Filters although they were far from perfect. I didn’t think the quality was great and I can point to examples of colour shifts in my work. When I moved to Micro 43 I found the Lee 100mm filters were too large so I switched to using Hi-Tech 85mm filters and then more recently the Hi-Tech 67mm.

I was very pleased with the Hi-Tech filters and they were also much better value than the Lee equivalent. That was at least until I purchased the Sony RX10. When I use the 85mm Hi-Tech filters with this camera (the 67mm filters vignette badly) I find the sky takes on a purple tint. I can correct this in Lightroom using the grad tool but it’s annoying. What’s interesting is that this isn’t a noticeable problem when I use the filters with the Olympus EM5.

Now enter the GM1 and I found a similar problem was now occurring with the 67mm Hi-Tech filters. It’s not as strong an effect as the 85mm filters on the Sony but I can still notice it. Again, the effect isn’t noticeable when using the filters with the Olympus EM5.

It was this small but very frustrating tint that has taken me back to the Lee filters. I decided to bite the bullet and invest in the Lee Seven 5 filters, and I’m so pleased that I have. These filters and holders are very well made indeed. Best of all there is no discernible colour shift on any of the cameras I use. What really hit home for me was when I used the 0.9 Grad for this image and found the effect to be perfectly natural. If there was going to be a colour shift it would be with this filter but the results are excellent.

If you are thinking of investing in the Lee Seven 5, my view is that the expense is well worth it.

Sony RX10 Colour Profile for Lightroom

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Image captured on the Sony RX10 and converted in Lightroom using the new Colour Profile I created.
Image captured on the Sony RX10 and converted in Lightroom using the new Colour Profile I created.

I have finally managed to find a little time to produce and upload a new Colour Profile for the Sony RX10. The profile can be used with Lightroom and gives a nice improvement over the standard Adobe profiles that come with Lightroom. The improvement isn’t quite as marked as some of the other cameras I have profiled but it’s still better. Blues have more punch and the reds are more natural.

You can find the free download on my Lenscraft website.

I hope you like it.

I was editing this and noticed

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Olympus EM5 image shot with Olympus 45mm lens
Olympus EM5 image shot with Olympus 45mm lens

After I published the Friday Image No 20 I decided to review my Olympus EM5 shots. I had taken a few of the same location with the extremely sharp Olympus 45mm prime. You can see one particular example above.

What I noticed, that took me completely by surprise, is that I can see traces of noise in the EM5 image which isn’t present in the GM1 shot when viewed at 100% magnification. I have always been impressed by the EM5 images and just how clean the images are, but the GM1 appears to surpass this when both cameras are used at their base ISO.

Olympus EM5 image at 100%. ISO200 with some processing applied in Nik.
Olympus EM5 image at 100%. ISO200 with some processing applied in Nik.

 

Panasonic GM1 at 100%. ISO200 with similar processing in Nik to the EM5 sample. Notice also the different colour handling of the two systems. I need to profile both of these cameras.
Panasonic GM1 at 100%. ISO200 with similar processing in Nik to the EM5 sample. Notice also the different colour handling of the two systems. I need to profile both of these cameras.

If you are wondering why I find this so important, it’s because this noise becomes amplified in post processing, especially when enhancing images with structure and dynamic contrast tools. The less noise is present, the higher the quality of the finished image and the less noticeable any image artefacts are.

Panasonic GM1 First Thoughts – part 2

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GM1 paired with the Olympus 9-18mm lens
GM1 paired with the Olympus 9-18mm lens

In my previous post I looked at the size of the GM1 in comparison to the LX7. In this post I will look at my thoughts around image quality. Right up front I should say that this camera is in another league when compared to the LX7, but then you would expect it to be. And to be entirely fair to the LX7, I have been producing some very detailed and high quality A2 prints from it recently.

In the following image you can see a shot of cracked paintwork which was captured on the GM1 with the 12-32mm kit lens at 18mm with the ISO set to ISO 125 which is the expanded ISO, base ISO being 200. It’s very difficult for you to see the image quality in this other than perhaps the colour rendition.

2014-05-10 RWhalley_GM1_2014_05_1000351

The next image shows the central part of the frame zoomed to 100% magnification.

Image section at 100% magnification
Image section at 100% magnification

This is an exceptionally sharp lens and camera combination and I would put it on a par with the Olympus EM5 paired with the Panasonic 14-45mm lens (which is excellent). What I have noticed though is that the lens starts to soften in the corners as can be seen in the next shot.

Corner section of the image at 100% magnification
Corner section of the image at 100% magnification

This softening isn’t too bad but you can also see some light fall off. I was finding that when shooting something near to me I was needing to stop down to about f/6.3 in order to bring the corner sharpness up to a level where I could add additional sharpening later. Being fair to the 12-32mm lens, it is an excellent performer and is never going to compare with the likes of the Olympus 25mm or 45mm primes. If you are shooting more distant subjects or those that don’t demand exceptional corner sharpness, it is ideal.

What is also noticeable about the images above is he colour rendition in the GM1. I have found the images on a par with the Olympus EM1. The RAW files are a pleasure to work with and I seem to be able to achieve great results.

Now one area I don’t usually like is shooting at higher ISO. If I have to push my camera to anything over ISO 400 I start to fret that I am losing image quality. So occasions where I have to shoot handheld in low light are something that I hate. Take a look at the following image where I had to shoot at ISO800.

 

Low light image shot handheld at ISO800. Processing in Nik Silver Efex Pro
Low light image shot handheld at ISO800. Processing in Nik Silver Efex Pro

Now take a look at a section of the unprocessed image at 100% magnification.

Section of the image at 100% magnification prior to processing.
Section of the image at 100% magnification prior to processing.

I have applied a very small amount of noise reduction to the image but it’s hardly noticeable. The low light performance appears to be on a par with or even slightly better than my Olympus EM5, something that surprised me as Panasonic have always produced images that are noisier than their Olympus competition. I would certainly have no problems printing this image at A2.

One odd thing that I noticed about the camera when shooting in low light was that it performed better with the 12-32mm lens than any of my primes. Neither the lens nor the body have any form of image stabiliser but I could consistently shoot clearer images. Use the 25mm and the shake would be very evident. I can’t explain that one.

In summary, put a good lens on this camera and it really performs in terms of image quality. And if you only have the 12-32 lens, it’s still a good performer if you are not ultra fussy about corner sharpness or know how to overcome this. It really is a superb quality pocket camera.


As someone has kindly pointed out since I made this post, the 12-32 lens is stabilised, so that sorts out my confusion. I even have to admit to having looked at the front of the lens to see if I could see OIS and I completely missed it. Time for new glasses I think.

 

Panasonic GM1 First Thoughts

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As regular readers will know, I recently splashed out on the purchase of a Panasonic GM1 camera. If you are not familiar with the GM1, it is possibly the smallest Micro 43 system camera that you can buy. My thinking was that I would use it as a backup to my main Olympus EM5, a lightweight travel camera, possibly pairing it with my GX1 infrared or as a replacement for my LX7 compact camera. The LX7 is a lovely camera and I really enjoy using it but there are times when I want better quality and a higher pixel count than its 10Mpixel sensor will give me. If the GM1 is a nice pocket camera it might replace the LX7.

So, I have been using the GM1 for a couple of weeks now and am starting to get a feel for how its specification translates into real life shooting. I know quite a few of you are keen for me to share my experience (as you keep writing to me) so here we go. First off, let’s compare the size of the GM1 to the LX7 which is a compact camera and which fits quite nicely into my pocket.

The GM1 that I purchased came with a 12-32mm f/3.5 – 5.6 lens. The neat thing about this lens is that is collapses down when not in use. This makes the lens and camera together roughly the same depth as the LX7 which also has a lens that retracts. Here you can see the two cameras side by side from above with UV filters in place. Notice the depth of the GM1 body (which is on the left) is less than the LX7 although the lens is deeper.

GM1 and LX7 side by side. GM1 is on the left
GM1 and LX7 side by side. GM1 is on the left

When viewed from the front you can see the GM1 is actually smaller than the LX7 both in terms of width and height.

GM1 and LX7 side by side. GM1 is on the left
GM1 and LX7 side by side. GM1 is on the left

This is even clearer to see when the camera is viewed from the rear (GM1 is on the left). Despite this reduction in size the screen area is the same size as the LX7. I know this as I fitted a screen protector from the LX7 to the GM1.

GM1 and LX7 side by side. GM1 is on the left
GM1 and LX7 side by side. GM1 is on the left

Once both cameras have their lenses extended for use they are still roughly the same size.

GM1 and LX7 side by side. GM1 is on the left
GM1 and LX7 side by side. GM1 is on the left

One aspect of the GM1 that some users may find annoying is that there is no hotshoe to fix an external viewfinder to so you are limited to the screen display. Personally I haven’t found this an issue and the screen has been easy to see even in quite bright conditions.

What I really like about the GM1 is that ability to attach other high quality Micro 43 lenses to the body. Here you can see the Olympus 45mm prime in place.

GM1 with an Olympus 45mm prime
GM1 with an Olympus 45mm prime

And also the Olympus 17mm Pancake lens.

GM1 with an Olympus 17mm prime
GM1 with an Olympus 17mm prime

With the pancake lens in place the camera is a very small package that fits easily into your pocket.

But size isn’t everything, even with small cameras. You need to know how the camera handles. So far I have tried the GM1 with the 12-32mm kit lens, Olympus 9-18mm wide angle, the primes you see above, the Olympus 25mm and Olympus 60mm macro lens. The 60mm macro lens is actually quite large and is possibly where the camera starts to feel unbalanced but is still perfectly usable. Using the camera with the 12-32 is very enjoyable and is probably the ideal partner for it.

In conclusion, this camera is a good substitute for my LX7 in terms of size although the 12-32 lens (equivalent to 24-64mm) is less flexible than the LX7 which has a 24-90mm equivalent lens.

In my next post I will look at the quality of the GM1 in comparison to the LX7.

Friday image No.019

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Brickwork captured with the Olympus 25mm lens on an Olympus OMD EM5.
Brickwork captured with the Olympus 25mm lens on an Olympus OMD EM5.

Following my last post where I was sharing my first experiences of the Olympus 25mm lens, I thought I would share another image. I shot quite a few images that I would class as “texture” but I found this brickwork particularly fascinating. The salt crystals corroding the bricks make a great pattern and the lens performed very well. Not only is it relatively free from distortion with corner to corner sharpness, it seems to resolve an amazing amount of detail.

Take a look at this section magnified to 100%. Make sure you click the image to see it properly.

 

A 100% close up of a section of the wall shows just how much detail this lens can capture.
A 100% close up of a section of the wall shows just how much detail this lens can capture.

Have a great weekend everyone.

New Lens for the EM5

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Sharp detail across the entire image. The new Olympus 25mm lens with the Olympus EM5.
Sharp detail across the entire image. The new Olympus 25mm lens with the Olympus EM5.

Along with my recent purchase of a Panasonic Lumix GM1, I also picked up an Olympus 25mm prime lens. This weekend I had my first opportunity to use it properly.

My first general impression is that the lens is well constructed and feels to have a nice level of quality. It’s nice to see that Olympus have decided to include a lens hood, which is of the bayonet type so it can also be reversed on the lens for carrying. The lens diameter is 46mm which again is in line with some of the other prime lenses. This is good news in that I won’t need to buy more filter accessories.

All these points are nice, but what really counts is the quality of the image. Lots of people reading this will want lovely creamy smooth backgrounds which can be easily thrown out of focus using a large aperture. The lens certainly doesn’t disappoint here but I won’t be discussing that in this post. What’s really important to me with respect to image quality is corner sharpness.

I have a real pet hate at the moment as I think too many lens manufacturers are creating lenses that are soft in the corner. Certainly a lens of this focal length and design should be sharp into the corners and it is. What’s very nice is that you don’t need to stop down very far to achieve excellent sharpness across the entire image.

The image you see above was only f/4.0 and that was only necessary because I seemed incapable of holding the camera parallel to the wall. The working distance was quite close and the lens so sharp that a small variation in camera movement were picked up. I am being very fussy though.

Overall, the lens was a joy to use and the results excellent. It has made me realise that I now value lens performance and image quality as my top priority. I will most likely streamline my equipment further as a result of this realisation.

The Need for Enjoyment

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Reflections in Leadenhall Market. Panasonic LX7 compact camera.
Reflections in Leadenhall Market. Panasonic LX7 compact camera.

So, here I am in London with a couple of friends for the day and our sole purpose is to enjoy ourselves taking pictures. But I wasn’t. Not because this isn’t a great city or I wasn’t happy being with my friends, I just wasn’t inspired. I was taking photographs but I wasn’t creating photography. My mojo had gone and I just couldn’t stay enthused.

I was used to this dip happening around early afternoon but today I just hadn’t got into gear and now it was mid afternoon.

What snapped me out of this was finding a puddle in Leadenhall Market. The market itself had been decorated with flags and whilst pretty wasn’t very interesting. It was only when I found a puddle that showed their reflection that I began to feel interested. I ended up slaving over trying to create the image above for around half an hour without much luck.

Ultimately I decided to put away my main cameras and just work with the little Panasonic LX7. This is where everything just clicked into place and I started to create photography. That little camera is a joy to use. I love the control it gives me and the quality is very good. I have since printed some of my shots at A2 and they look super (but more on that at a later date).

After this switch of equipment I started to feel enthused again and everything came together. I even switched back to shooting with my other cameras to vary things and it worked well. This just goes to show the importance of enjoying yourself when taking photographs.