micro 4/3

An Important Decision

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Ullswater Boat Jetty, The Lake District, England
Ullswater Boat Jetty, The Lake District, England

It was an early start yesterday. Up at 4:30 in the morning in order to make the 2 hour journey to Ullswater in the Lake District for a dawn shoot. Despite the early morning start it was without question one of the most enjoyable days photography that I have ever had.

Overnight the temperature had dropped like a stone and there was a thick haw frost on the ground. Most waters in the Lakes had a thin layer of ice starting to form around their edges but because the temperature had dropped rapidly the deeper water was still cooling. Instead of ice covering their surface they had a wonderful mist and the conditions just got better as the day went on. The image you see above is of the boat jetty near Pooley Bridge, at dawn. Captured on the Olympus OMD EM5 with Olympus 12-40mm lens and a 0.3 ND Grad on the sky. Aperture was f/9.0 (a mistake as I would have shot this at f/7.1 usually). ISO200 and shutter speed 1/125″.

So you might ask, what is the important decision? The answer is, that I have decided to sell the Nikon D800; but I want to explain and share my reasoning.

Firstly, this is the third trip I have made where I can’t bring myself to carry the extra weight. When I returned from Bolivia I suffered a prolapsed disk at the base of my neck and for a while it looked like I might need major surgery. Fortunately, this is looking less likely now but the pain over the past couple of months has been unbearable at times – and pain killers just didn’t have an effect on it. I was finding that even trying to lift and support the heavier equipment was aggravating the pain.

OK, so this might be a temporary condition (I certainly hope it is) but other things are more permanent and important. One of the reasons I bought the D800 was that a lot of people were claiming how the image quality is exceptional with the right lenses and I would agree, yes it is. The camera would perform very well even with lesser quality lenses but needed a little more adjustment to really bring this out. But the important point is, the image performance is no better at low ISO (which I use almost exclusively) than the EM5. In fact, the corner and edge sharpness of the EM5 images beats the D800 even with high quality lenses.

All I really get with the D800 is an image file that produces a 24.5″ inch image rather than 15.36″ at 300dpi. Does this additional image size matter? Well, unless I am going to be making a print larger than 30″ and look at this with my nose pressed against it. You really need to be doubling the print size to notice the difference in output quality due to the way inkjet printers work. If you print on Matt paper then you might even need to go larger than this. As for output to the Internet, there is no benefit to having more pixels and then throwing most of these away by downsizing the image.

Where the D800 does score well over the EM5 is in the RAW files. I seem to be able to push these all over the place in editing and see almost no noise, even in shadow areas. This is very nice but again it comes with a downside. The RAW files from the D800 do seem to need much more processing in comparison to the EM5 RAW files. It’s almost as if the D800 RAW files are a little flat, possibly to the additional dynamic range the camera has. Whatever the reason, it feels like I am having to relearn how to get the most out of the camera and I don’t really have time for that at the moment.

The final and most important problem is that the D800 really doesn’t suit my style of shooting. What I don’t like to do is pop the camera on a tripod, spend a lot of time getting into position, check everything and then make one or two good exposures. This just doesn’t work for me. My approach is to move around and into the subject, taking lots of pictures and checking them regularly. As I work I find images that I like or things I like about an image that I work with to incorporate. The shots gradually get better until I arrive at the image I want. This style of working isn’t for everyone but if it’s your style, you will find it hard working with a large DSLR.

I do have to admit though that I didn’t always recognise this. It was only when I moved to the EM5 that my shooting style really started to develop in this way and that I started to feel free. Now when I try to go back it’s as though I am constrained and I have lost that feeling of freedom and spontaneity.

So, this is my reasoning but I will caveat it with a final thought. I reserve the right to change my mind. As I was writing this I was looking back at some of my RAW files from the D800 and they do have a quality that I really like. I’m just not sure it’s enough to make me want to keep the camera.

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.020

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Not a Landscape Image - Captured on a Panasonic GM1 with 12-32mm lens
Not a Landscape Image – Captured on a Panasonic GM1 with 12-32mm lens

I have been working on a book which discusses how to improve your photography and which takes a different approach to the more usual “instruction manual” format. On reviewing the draft my Editor helpfully commented that perhaps I should drag myself out of my Landscape comfort zone and sample some of my own medicine. So this week’s image is in response to his suggestion.

Have a great weekend everyone.

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.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.

Friday image No.016

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Sunset on Filey Brigg. Olympus EM5, 9-18mm lens and 0.6 ND graduated filter.
Sunset on Filey Brigg. Olympus EM5, 9-18mm lens and 0.6 ND graduated filter.

This week’s Friday image is another shot from my Filey trip last weekend. Here is the spit of land that juts out into the sea and forms the Filey Brigg. The low setting sun was an amazing transformation from the grey sky of the earlier day.

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.