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 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.

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.

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.

Friday image No.018

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The Gherkin, London. Olympus EM5 with Panasonic 45-150mm lens.
The Gherkin, London. Olympus EM5 with Panasonic 45-150mm lens.

This is another of my images from last week’s London trip. For those of you not familiar with the skyline, the large domed building is the Gherkin. And the building in front of it covered in ducting and cranes is Lloyds of London which I’m sure must be pretty well known around the world (if you are into Insurance).

This image was captured on my Olympus EM5 with Panasonic 45-150mm lens (it’s a cracking lens and quite compact). I hope to start posting a few images from my GM1 next week – early indications are very impressive.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Friday image No.017

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Long exposure on Filey Brigg using an Olympus EM5, 9-18mm lens at f/8.0 and 8 stop ND filter
Long exposure on Filey Brigg using an Olympus EM5, 9-18mm lens at f/8.0 and 8 stop ND filter. Click to view larger image.

It’s back to images from my Filey trip for this week’s Friday image. This was shot from Filey brig and is a long exposure taken during the day. It’s a 6 second exposure which I captured on the Olympus EM5. I used a Hi-Tech 8 stop ND filter from their ProStop IRND range (here is the link to a 10 stop on amazon). I have to say that I am really impressed with these filters. They give a blue colour cast to the image but it’s really nice and something that I decided to accentuate in this shot. The image quality is very good and I am going to buy some more of these in different strengths to give me more choice. As I am using them with Micro 43 I only need the 67mm size so they become very affordable.

There is something about a simple image such as this that I find quite relaxing.

Hope you like the image and have a great weekend.

I have no will power

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Whitby, captured on the Sony RX100 with 0.6 ND graduated filter. Post processing in Nik Color Efex and Viveza and a tweak in Photoshop.
Whitby, captured on the Sony RX100 with 0.6 ND graduated filter. Post processing in Nik Color Efex and Viveza and a tweak in Photoshop.

A couple of weeks back I was out with my friend Steve (who is also an Olympus EM5 owner) and we were discussing just how good this camera is. At the time we agreed that we didn’t want for anything so would stop all this chasing around after new kit and just work with what we have. Just two weeks on and I have ordered a Panasonic GM1. I just had a gut feeling that I needed one – I don’t know where the feeling came from but I tend to listen to my hunches.

But hear me out (I need to justify this for my own piece of mind).

I currently have two compact cameras, an LX7 and a Sony RX100. I like and am impressed by both but neither is perfect. Of the two, I would say I am least happy with the Sony and want to replace it. It’s not that I don’t like the Sony it’s that I just don’t love it. My intention with the GM1 is to use it as a replacement compact camera and potentially as my travel camera.

I am hoping that by pairing up the GM1 with some of the great (small) lenses that I already own I can have a great compact kit. I will need to see how well this works before deciding to sell the LX7 (as I do love that camera) but the RX100 is going on eBay.

Watch this space for my future experiences once I get the GM1 – it has just been reported to me as being out of stock.

Infrared Filters

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Canal near to my house. Shot on an IR converted GX1 but with an IR850nm filter on the lens. Halation effect added in Photoshop.
Canal near to my house. Shot on an IR converted GX1 but with an IR850nm filter on the lens. Halation effect added in Photoshop.

Over the weekend I published my spring newsletter. Those of you who subscribe and who have had an opportunity to read the latest issue will know that the main article explores the options for infrared photography (including some that cost very little). As I was writing this it got me thinking that I wanted to shoot some Infrared film using my Hasselblad XPan which I haven’t used for about a year.

Choices for film are very limited these days so it was either Ilford SFX (which isn’t really a true infrared film) or Rollei IR400. I purchased a few rolls but realised I didn’t have a 49mm Infrared filter for the XPan lens, so needed to turn to eBay. I also realised I had sold my light meter thinking (incorrectly) that I wouldn’t need it again, so ended up needing to buy another.

Anyway, whilst searching for a 49mm Infrared filter (720nm strength) I also had a quick look for an 850nm Infrared filter and found quite a few. For anyone who is unfamiliar with these filters they will block out light with a wavelength shorter than the filter strength. For example a 720nm filter blocks light with a shorter wavelength, effectively blocking visible light but allowing infrared wavelengths through.

The reason for wanting a 52mm 850nm IR filter (which incidentally only cost £10 including postage) was so I could use it with my Infrared camera. When I had the camera converted to infrared I had a choice of having it fitted with either 720nm filter or an 850nm filter. The 850nm filter gives a more dramatic effect and can only be used to produce black and white images. I opted for the 720nm filter as this allows you to create some false colour effects. By using a screw in 850nm filter on the lens it’s like having my camera converted with the stronger filter.

When the new filters arrived I checked them. The 720nm filter made no difference to the IR camera but blocked the visible light from a standard (unconverted camera) so I knew it was a good filter. The 850nm filter when attached to a lens on my infrared camera caused a loss of about 2 stops of light making it very usable for handheld shooting. It also caused a colour shift to blue in the image but this is probably because I didn’t bother setting a custom white balance. The blue tint was easily corrected during the RAW conversion.

Now here’s the interesting thing, when I used the 850nm filter on the infrared camera, although the shutter speed was slower by 2 stops, the image quality was better. I didn’t take sufficient images to check this out properly but across about 10 scenes, the 850nm images appeared to have sharper and finer detail in all cases. I can’t explain why as in fact I had expected the opposite to happen. I’m going to keep a close eye on this as the light starts to get stronger and better for shooting infrared.

When is an A Series Filter not an A Series Filter

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Sunset on the mud flats. ND Graduated filters are a must for shots such as this.
Sunset on the mud flats. ND Graduated filters are a must for shots such as this.

I want to share with you a valuable lesson about filters. Those of you reading this blog regularly will no doubt be aware of the importance I place on the use of filters, particularly ND Graduated filters, for Landscape Photography.

For some time I have wanted to try out the reverse ND graduated filters that have started to become so popular recently. These are just like the normal ND graduates except that they are slightly lighter at the top part of the filter. This means there is a darker band running across the centre of the filter. The idea is that you place the darker band on the horizon where it is typically lighter at sunrise and sunset. This helps prevent the rest of the sky becoming unnaturally dark.

The problem with these filters is that they are unusually expensive. To buy a set of 100mm filters you need to take out a second mortgage and I can’t help but feel that I’m being ripped off. The P series are a little better but still cost upwards of £60 each.

My solution has been to switch to using A Series filters. I can do this as I use micro 43 and compact cameras (forget the recently acquired RX10 for the moment). To give you the complete story a friend had been thinking about the same thing and made the purchase first. I tested the filters on my lenses and all worked perfectly with no vignette so I was happy to make a purchase.

The filters I bought were the HiTech 67mm which are the same size as the Cokin A Series and are the same as my friends. He was using his with the Cokin A series filter rings and holder but I thought that I would buy the HiTech versions. This was more costly but I liked the modular holder and it would allow me to attach a 77mm polarising filter with a separate adapter.

All is fine with the filters and the holder is great.

It was at this point that I decided to purchase a cheap Cokin holder as a spare. Well, the damn thing won’t fit on the HiTech filter rings. They are too thick and slightly too wide a diameter. I checked this again by trying to use a Cokin A Series filter ring with the HiTech holder. That doesn’t work either as the Cokin ring is too small.

So, this lesson didn’t cost me very much (about £10) but I thought it would be worth sharing.

The A Series filters from HiTech are much more affordable as well so my loss is more than compensated.