lightweight

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.

Free Lightroom Profile – Faded Summer Colour

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Example of the Faded Summer Colour preset for Lightroom. Available as a free download from my Lenscraft website.
Example of the Faded Summer Colour preset for Lightroom. Available as a free download from my Lenscraft website.

I promised I would do it if anyone asked, and you have. You can now download my Faded Summer Colour Lightroom preset for free. The preset was used to create the image above and the one in my previous post.

You can download it from a new Presets and Textures page on my Lenscraft website. You will need to log in as a member to download the file (but membership is free). When you download the zip file it contains the preset, installation instructions and a thumbnail sample image.

I hope you enjoy.

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.

RX100 V’s LX5 and LX7 – Part 2

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Death Valley Sand Dunes - RX100
Death Valley Sand Dunes – RX100

Continued…

Sensor quality – Here I would say I am interested in producing natural colours and smooth images (free from noise). The LX7 is better than the LX5 but neither can touch the Sony. The Sony has smooth images with very limited noise that doesn’t get exaggerated when the images are processed. The colours from the Sony are also very lifelike. I have often thought the Panasonic colours, especially Green, look a little unnatural. The ISO performance of the LX7 is better than the LX5 but the Sony is much better than both of these. As I shoot most of my work at base ISO and hardly ever go above ISO800, the LX7 and RX100 are fine. The LX5 struggled above ISO400.

Pixel Count – This only becomes important if you are going to be producing large prints and by that I mean above A3+. The Sony will produce a slightly larger than A3+ print at 300dpi without any enlargement whilst you will need to enlarge the LX5 or LX7. What is interesting is that some of the LX5 or LX7 images enlarged appear sharer and more detailed than the Sony. If you go to A2 printing the LX5 and LX7 can achieve this is you take care whilst the Sony can be enlarged to this easily but it can reveal the soft corners (I said it was irritating). If you are only going to share your images on the Internet then any of the cameras will be fine.

Filters – I shoot landscapes so I need to be able to attach square filters such as ND Grads. All three cameras allow this but the LX5 requires a bulky tube to be attached. I hated this as it stopped the camera fitting easily in my pocket. The LX7 uses a screw in adapter which I like but I can’t leave the filter adapter ring attached as it jams the lens when it retracts. It also causes vignetting at the 24mm end when shooting 16:9 format (which I do alot). The RX100 filter adapter is a stick on affair which is very slim and works well but it’s expensive.

Handling – I find the RX100 small to handle but it is improved by the addition of the Sony leather half case. The layout and dials are good on the RX100 as is the front aperture ring which can be switched to other purposes such as focussing. The LX7 has a great aperture ring and I love the format switching ring. The LX5 is similarly good but lacks the aperture ring. If pushed I would say the LX cameras are easier and faster to work with than the RX100. If your bag is street photography then I think the LX cameras are probably better to work with.

What this all means is that for me, none of these cameras is perfect but all will perform well and achieve the results I want. I suspect (unless you see something above to convince you otherwise) that they would also serve you equally well. The best advice I can give is what I started this blog with – understand what features are important to you and why before investing.

If I had to use just one camera it would actually be the RX10. It has the great sensor of the RX100 but the lens is amazing. Its failure (if you can call it that) is that it’s significantly larger than the others and won’t fit in your pocket. Surprisingly my Olympus EM5 is quite a bit smaller than the RX10 and produces the best image quality of all the cameras – I still can’t fit it in my pocket unless I am using prime lenses.

Remember, no camera is perfect for all tasks.

Friday image No.008

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Wonderful morning light. Captured using an Olympus EM5 and Olympus 9-18mm lens (my favourite lens for landscape work).
Wonderful morning light. Captured using an Olympus EM5 and Olympus 9-18mm lens (my favourite lens for landscape work).

Another image from my recent Yorkshire Dales trip. This was also taken on the first morning and is perhaps my favourite image from that day. I feel the quality of light is amazingly strong in this image. The light quality is often better in the morning than the evening as there is less dust in the atmosphere. This gives the light a sharp and clean feel. The heavy rain storms the night before also helped a lot. It’s this feeling of clean, sharp yet warm light that I find so captivating – the locations not bad either.

Have a great weekend.

Panoramic Photography Update

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7 image stitch captured on the Olympus OMD in portrait format using my homemade panoramic kit.
7 image stitch captured on the Olympus OMD in portrait format using my homemade panoramic kit.

Recently blogged about my lightweight (and to some extent cut price) alternative to using a Panoramic head. By combining a Macro focussing rail (purchased from Amazon for an unbelievably cheap price) with an L-Bracket I was able to position my camera vertically and rotate it around the nodal point to avoid parallax error.

Parallax error occurs when objects in the distance appear to shift position in relation to foreground objects when you swing your camera in order to make exposures for stitching. If the movement is small, the stitching software you are using may be able to fix the problem. The best solution though is to avoid it. Panoramic heads fix the problem by mounting the camera so that when the camera is rotated it moves around the nodal point (actually the term is not entirely correct).

Whilst I have a couple of panoramic heads they are bulky and heavy and quite expensive. I have therefore been searching for lighter and cheaper solutions, hence my earlier post. One of the more expensive components in my solution is the L-Bracket which is a Novoflex item. This is very well built and quite light given its size. I hinted at the time that I was exploring an alternative and am now able to confirm this has arrived.

The new L-Bracket is much smaller than the Novoflex item as well as lighter. It was also around £20 including shipping which is amazing. I purchased this from ebay and here is the link.

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/MPU100-Universal-Quick-Release-QR-L-Plate-Bracket-For-Camera-Body-Arca-Swiss-/330947325790?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item4d0dff6f5e

To say that I am delighted is an understatement. The only problem some people may experience is that the item is small for SLR’s and may not fit larger models. For Micro 43 users however this is the perfect size and very well made. Even if you are not thinking of shooting panoramic images, this is a great solution to being able to change the orientation of your camera without moving the tripod head.

It’s not often you find something so good for such a great price.

Super Sharp 60mm

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Lichen and rock. Captured with a 60mm Macro lens on an Olympus EM5
Lichen and rock. Captured with a 60mm Macro lens on an Olympus EM5

I think I have mentioned previously that I recently purchased a 60mm Olympus Macro lens for use with my EM5. At that time I hadn’t had the opportunity to use it but I finally put the lens through its paces during my visit to Acadia National Park in the US. Here are my thoughts having now it used it for a number of days.

First off I should say that although I have a number of prime lenses, I have historically tended to use zoom lenses. I think this is because they are better suited to shooting on a tripod (which I do a lot being a Landscape Photographer), as you tend to place the tripod first and then use the zoom to fine tune the composition. With a prime you find yourself moving the camera and your position constantly to refine the composition. The benefit to this is that you feel you are engaging much more intensely with the subject matter. It’s a different way of shooting that I actually find more rewarding.

The 60mm lens is quite long in terms of focal length as its equivalent to a 120mm lens on a full frame camera. This results in a very shallow depth of field, even when you stop down. It does however allow you to maintain a nice working distance to your subject. If you are unfamiliar with using a macro lens of this focal length I think there is a tendency to move too close to the subject initially, unless you are doing serious close-ups. In the image you see at the top of this post I would estimate I am around 4 feet from the subject.

On the side of the lens there is a switch which allows you to set the focus distance to the subject. The options are 0.19m-infinity, 0.19m-0.4m, 0.4m-infinity or 1:1. The idea of the first three is that you can set the working distance and helps prevent the camera hunting around to focus. At first I thought this would be a bit of a pain but it isn’t and the focus speed isn’t bad at all.

The 1:1 focusing that I mentioned above works slightly differently to the other options. When this is selected you can move in really close to your subject and achieve a 1:1 magnification. With this option you don’t focus the camera with the shutter but move the camera backwards and forwards. The depth of field even when stopped down is wafer thin due to the long focal length and close working distances. If you are going to do any close up work I strongly suggest purchasing a focussing rack such as the one mentioned in my panoramic kit in a previous blog. This will allow you to move the camera to focus.

In case you are not familiar with Macro lenses, they can be used at distances up to infinity. I would say this particular lens would also make an amazingly good portrait lens. I had a lot of fun using this lens in the woodlands of Acadia to pick out trees. The focal length was good but it was also nice not to have to think about it. By removing the zoom aspect of composition it somehow simplified my working but at the same time made me think more.

So, in terms of operation I thought this lens was great. It provided much more flexibility than I had expected. As for results, this lens is exceptional. It is so sharp and renders such detail as to be breathtaking. OK, that’s hard for me to quantify and prove but I would say this is the sharpest lens I have, even sharper than the 45mm (but it’s only marginal).

I will look to post some further example images in the near future, both close up and distance.

I hope you like the image.

Lightweight Panoramic Set-up

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120 degree panoramic stitch from 7 files shot on an OMD
120 degree panoramic stitch from 7 files shot on an OMD. Click to view larger.

Not too long ago I related how I had been struggling with the small size of my Olympus OMD EM5 when using it on a tripod. My solution to this had been to buy the two part grip and also to use an L-bracket from Novoflex. The Novoflex bracket wasn’t required to solve the size issue but was the solution to another problem of how to shoot stitched panoramic images with the camera positioned vertically. If you didn’t read the original blog you can find it here.

What I didn’t say in the original article is that I had even considering buying a Nikon D800E together with some lenses. Not a decision I would take lightly, as I am after all the Lightweight Photographer. I therefore decided to try an extended period of working with the Olympus on a tripod. This weekend past I had my opportunity to do just that. Here is what I found.

Firstly I need to share my decision. I won’t be buying the Nikon or any other DSLR for that matter. The OMD EM5 was a joy to work with on tripod using my new setup. Despite the Nikon D800E being a wonderful camera, there are some aspects to the camera that make me think it’s a backward step.

The new found size of the Olympus with the grip attached made it perfect for tripod work. Not only that, I found it very easy to work with and the L-bracket was perfect for quickly shifting the camera to a vertical orientation. If you are interested in shooting panoramic images but don’t yet have a head, then I really recommend you get one of these

Finally, I want to reveal my new panoramic set up for single row shooting and stitching.

New Panoramic set up
New Panoramic set up

As you can see, this uses my Novoflex L-bracket attached by the Novoflex Q-Mount plate. The Q-mount has then been attached to a Macro focus rack which is used to move the camera for focussing in macro work. Instead, here it allows me to position the camera lens on the nodal point so that I can easily create a stitch.

The cost of this setup – Novoflex L-bracket £69, Q-Mount £49, Focus Rack £7.30 – yes less £8 from Amazon (here is the link). I will also reveal that I have an even cheaper option for an L-bracket which is only £20, but I am waiting for that to arrive before I get peoples hopes up.

So, does it work? Yes it does and is much easier to work with than my larger and heavier panoramic head. I was able to carry this set up around all day (10 miles on day 1 and 8 miles on day 2). The only difficulty I had is in finding the nodal point. I needed to have worked this out prior to venturing out but because the focus rack only arrived when I was leaving the house I couldn’t and needed to guess instead. Trial and error seems to suggest the Nodal point for the micro 43 lenses is pretty much at the front element but that might not always be true. Once I have some time I will work it out properly and can then use the scale on the bracket and rack to find it quickly in the field.

As for the image above, this comprises 7 vertical shots using the 14-45mm lens at 14mm. It also swings through about 120 degrees. When stitched it gives a 17” x 54” print at 300dpi. If I drop the resolution to 250dpi and resize the image slightly then I believe a 35” high panoramic will be possible even if you press your nose to the image.

The stitching aspect of this image was done using Photoshop CS5 and there was very little distortion. I now need to spend some time working with Hugin to see what is possible as I took quite a few sequences with ultra wide angle lenses, as well as having the camera angled down.

The OMD EM5 has superb image quality and this set up allows me to make the most of it.

The Lightweight Photographer Bulks up

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Typical stitched panoramic
Typical stitched panoramic

No I haven’t gone mad, but I do need a bigger camera – sometimes!

Some of you reading this will recall my decision a few months back to sell my Canon 5D MKII and switch to an Olympus OMD EM5. At the time I felt the EM5 would give me the quality I needed but provide me with a much lighter kit and greater shooting flexibility.

Well, the Olympus has met my expectation and more but it has a few limitations I can see now that I have been using it for a while:

  1. The hand grip isn’t large enough so after a while I find my right hand becoming tired because I need to grip the camera just a little too firmly. I suspect Olympus are also aware of this as they have addressed it in the new EM1.
  2. I find myself shooting a little too much material because the EM5 is so easy to use. Its size and weight make it ideal for hand-held work but that means I am not slowing down sufficiently. If I were shooting on on a tripod I would be slower and I suspect my work would appear more considered. As it is, I think I am producing more but lower quality work.
  3. You may be thinking have read point 2 above “why doesn’t he just put the camera on a tripod?” The answer is my third limitation – this isn’t a good tripod camera. It just feels too small when tripod mounted. It may just be psychological but I want my camera to feel natural when shooting both hand held and tripod mounted. The EM5 doesn’t do that for me.

My solution to the above points was to buy the two part optional grip for the EM5. This has made a tremendous difference to the feel of the camera. Initially I thought I would just use the first part of the grip which adds another release button and extends the body forwards. Having experimented further, I find that I prefer using both grips (the other part adding a battery pack and extending the camera downwards) when using a tripod. When I shoot handheld I like to remove the battery pack part of the grip.

Now, I have also been toying with a separate problem. I like to produce multi shot panoramic images which I later stitch together in software. I don’t however like the extra weight created by my panoramic head; it’s bulky, very heavy and slow to set up.

What a panoramic head does is to mount the camera so that it rotates around the nodal point of the lens, making stitching much easier because there is no parallax error. Providing however that you don’t use a very wide angle lens (or include the foreground), you can get away with mounting the lens over the centre of the tripod and dispense with the panoramic head.

Unfortunately, the above scenario limits the height and/or quality of the final panoramic as you can only shoot with the camera in a horizontal orientation. Try to flip the camera through 90 degrees using the tripod head and it no-longer rotates around the lens. This proves quite a problem for most stitching software.

My new solution to this problem is to mount the camera on an L-shaped bracket that allows me to set the camera on the tripod in either a horizontal or vertical orientation. In either configuration the centre of the lens is directly over the tripod and it makes switching between the two a snap. The bracket I have chosen is from Novoflex and is very light. You can see it in the following shot.

Camera, grips and Novoflex L-Bracket
Camera, grips and Novoflex L-Bracket
And now mounted vertically in the same L Bracket
And now mounted vertically in the same L Bracket

The nice thing about this set up is that it feels substantial for tripod work yet its very light to carry. Better still, I can easily separate the two grips by using the locking wheel on the back of the camera. This leaves the hand grip in place on the camera (ideal) and provides an easy way to reattaching the camera to the bracket when I want to work on a tripod.

Battery pack and front grip separated.
Battery pack and front grip separated.

At the moment I love this set up and the flexibility it gives me. I will however report back in the future once I used it for some serious landscape work.

Learning to Love your Location

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View above Delph in Saddleworth
View above Delph in Saddleworth, England. Click to view larger version. Captured with a Panasonic Lumix LX5

One of the things that I love about compact cameras (aside from the great quality you can now achieve with some of the “Pro” models) is that they are easy to carry. They are light and fit easily into your pocket or bag. This makes them the ideal photographer’s tool to have ready to hand at almost any time. It also means you can take a good quality camera with you, just in case when you are out and about. This is one reason why I first invested (a few years back) in the new breed of compacts and bought an LX5.

At the time I had heard good reports about the LX3 and LX5 but had decided not to invest as I was concerned about image quality. Once I saw some images and processed some RAW files for myself, I was convinced. This was also the ideal camera for me to take out when I was walking locally.

I am sure many of you reading this also have or would like compact cameras that allow you to capture images when you are out and about near to home. If that is the case, let me ask you, how often do you actually do/would you do this and what do you do with the images after?

The reason I ask this is because I don’t think that I take my camera along often enough. If I am out for a walk locally, I often don’t feel the landscape (I am after all a landscape photographer) is worthy of taking photographs. This is odd as I know people who travel to where I live to take picture and I have even seen magazine articles. Strangely I just can’t see it and can’t enthuse over the landscape. I think I have become blinded by familiarity and often find myself travelling for an hour or two to areas that I feel offer more potential.

Last night however I was working through my huge back catalogue of images that are yet to be processed, looking to delete some when I came across the image here. I have never really paid any attention to the images I have snapped locally but I found last night that I actually quite like this one. It’s not earth shattering but it gives a pleasant view of one of the villages where I live.

The village you see in the picture is of Delph in Saddleworth and I am on top of the hill above Dobcross. You probably haven’t heard of either of these but both have been used as Film and TV locations. Dobcross was used in the film Yanks amongst others whilst Delph appeared (briefly) in the Film Brassed Off. They must have been chosen for a reason.

What I think I need to do is to open my eyes to the beauty of the location where I live and not go out with a pre-conception of the type of image I want to capture.