micro 4/3

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.

Why you dont need a DSLR

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Captured on a DSLR - a 10 Mpixel Canon 400D (just to prove I'm not biased). This makes a great A2 print.
Captured on a DSLR – a 10 Mpixel Canon 400D (just to prove I’m not biased). This makes a great A2 print. Processed in Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex.

One of the great things I love about my blogging platform is that it allows me to see how people have found my site. Recently I have seen a lot of traffic coming from forums where people have considered switching from a DSLR to Micro 43. Typically someone with a good DSLR such as a Nikon D800 or Canon 7D will poses the question to gather the thinking of others and make a decision.

Often the reason they give for considering such a switch is not because the images are higher quality but because the Micro 43 cameras are more practical. Try carrying a full sized DSLR and 3 lenses up a mountain (with all your other gear) and you will soon understand the problem. Micro 43 is also more flexible than a bulky DSLR and people are now waking up to this fact.

The typical response I have seen to this question are dozens of replies from people suggesting they will regret it and will miss the quality of the DSLR. Clearly a lot of these answers will be based on what people have read in the photography magazines and not on personal experience from using the equipment.

So far I have resisted pitching in to these discussions as my voice and opinion will probably be lost in the noise. I thought therefore that I would post some reasons why you may not need that big DSLR (having made the switch myself) in case it provides help for someone grappling with this problem.

  1. If you are happy with your DSLR at the moment then don’t bother switching. You should only really consider this if you are at the point where you need to replace the DSLR or you have sufficient money to invest in dual systems. You are unlikely to achieve a noticeable improvement in performance unless your current lenses are poor quality (micro 43 lenses are typically better for their cost) or your camera is poor in which case you are back to needing to replace it.
  2. Do you really have the need for something smaller than a DSLR? I am a huge fan of Micro 43 and high quality compact cameras as they give me freedom to shoot in ways that DSLR owners would find difficult. But not everyone finds themselves in this position. Be sure you understand and need the benefits a smaller camera format would offer before you make the switch.
  3. What do you do with your images? If all you are doing is putting them on the internet to share with others then your typical dimensions are going to be around 1000-1500 pixels on the longest side. Even my camera phone does more than that. If this describes you, you are wasting all that extra resolution and lens quality. Why spend £1000 on a lens that is super sharp and largely free from defects only to reduce the image resolution to a point where the benefits can’t be seen.
  4. The last point also leads on to printing. Do you print your images and at what size? If the largest print you make is an A3+ then a quality compact camera is going to be able to do that just as well as a DSLR. It doesn’t matter that you may need to enlarge the image to make the print, you won’t be able to tell. Printers can’t resolve anywhere near as much detail as you can see when you view your image at 100% on a monitor. And if your thinking that you need the image to look sharp and detailed when viewed at 100% on screen, your back to the argument that says you will be reducing the image resolution in order to view it. We don’t view images zoomed in. We view them at a resolution where we can see the entire image on screen at once.

The recurring argument that people seem to trot out on these forums is that you will notice the reduction in quality when switching from a DSLR to a Micro 43. My response to this is you might. If you are viewing your images at 100%, full resolution on the screen and you have a D800 or similar then yes you will notice there is a larger print with more detail than my Olympus EM5. If however your reducing your resolution down to 1500 pixels to share your images on the internet, no you won’t.

Equally, if you are printing your images then you will need to be printing at larger than A2 from an image made on a top of the range DSLR, using a great printer (with good technique) in order to distinguish any difference to my Olympus EM5. Oh yes, you would also need to have good, young eyes with the print viewed close up.

If you want stunning results, it’s not the equipment that will make the difference it’s knowledge and skills. That’s where you should invest your money and not buying into all the marketing hype spawned by camera companies and perpetuated by the magazines that need advertising revenue (you can’t blame them) to survive.

End of rant. I have probably blown any chance of sponsorship from a major camera manufacturer.

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.

When more is less

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GX1 V's EM5 V's RX10
GX1 V’s EM5 V’s RX10

So, I have done it. I returned the 14-140 lens for a refund and the money has gone against a Sony RX10. My first impressions are that this is quite a large camera. Actually, it’s not a camera at all but a huge lens with a sensor stuck on the back.

You might feel that I am being unkind but this is exactly what I expected and even wanted. It reminds me so much of the beloved R1 that I sold a few years back. This camera oozes quality and the dials and buttons are a joy to use.

In terms of size, it’s larger that my GX1 (which is now Infrared only) and it’s even slightly larger than the EM5 (which I absolutely love). It’s not however as large as either of these cameras plus the three lenses I would need to cover the same focal length as the 24-200mm lens. The lens also seems to produce great image quality across the entire focal and aperture range. It’s early days yet though.

Annoying limitations at the moment are that I don’t yet have a 62mm filter ring so I can’t really shoot good landscapes. Lightroom also doesn’t support the RAW files so I am having to use the dreadful Sony RAW converter (at least until Adobe release an update). I hated this software when I had an NEX5 and I still hate it now.

I’m looking forward to really getting out with the camera. It’s nice that it’s a sealed unit so less chance of dust getting in there. I also don’t need to stop to change lens so I am thinking this is a great hiking camera for the hill and it should make for a great travel outfit also.

I will report back on the image quality when I have been able to put it through its paces properly.

Never Give Up

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View descending Lingmoor Fell, The Lake District
View of Langdale Pike whilst descending from Lingmoor Fell, The Lake District

I was in the Lake District at the weekend for a couple of days walking in the hills and as you would expect I took my camera along (the Olympus EM5). Looking through the images last night, this particular one stood out for me.

This was the last picture I shot at the weekend. It was taken after sunset (although there wasn’t one to speak of) when the light was fading fast . There must have been sufficient light around though as it was captured handheld at 1/20″ using ISO400 with my 14-45 lens set to f/5.6. The great thing about Micro 43 lenses is that they tend to be sharp even when the aperture is quite wide.

When I took the picture I liked the scene but I didn’t hold out much hope for the image. I thought it would be quite coarse and grainy, filled with noise and lack detail. In fact, I almost didn’t take the shot because I had conditioned myself to give up under such circumstances.

I’m pleased that I did though as this reminds me never to give up whilst there is still light.