quality

Don’t buy a Micro 43 lens until you read this – Part 5

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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.

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.

Deciding how to edit a photograph

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View from the leading edge at the top of Yewbarrow
View from the leading edge at the top of Yewbarrow

Following my last blog post on the Essential Skills for photography, the question was posed “Where I’m stuck is the step between picking the strongest image and playing with software. How do I decide what to do with it. ” This seemingly simple question is one of the most fundamental in photography and is one that I found myself wrestling with for a number of years. This is how I resolved the for myself. As I am a Landscape Photographer I will speak about scenes but you can apply this approach to most forms of photography.

The key to deciding how to edit an image doesn’t start when you download the image to your computer, it starts much earlier. It even starts before you even lift the camera to take the shot. It actually starts when you spot the opportunity to capture an image. When something catches your eye and you recognise there is a photograph to be taken, at that moment you should be working out what has captured your attention.

Having identified something that is attracting you to a scene you will begin to take photographs. It’s unlikely your first image will be what you wanted (if it is you are either amazingly talented or very lazy) so you need to experiment with angles and composition. As you work with a scene your vision for the image should become stronger. This is the vision that will become so important when you come to edit your image later.

Having a strong vision is the key to understanding how to edit your image.

Having selected the image that you want to work with; the one that best represents your vision, you should ask yourself 2 questions:

  1. What defects is the image suffering from that I need to correct? Perhaps it’s too bright or it looks a little flat. Perhaps it has a lot of dark areas which look ugly and need to be opened up. Spend time looking at the image and identify what you don’t like about it. Defects in the image hide your vision from the viewer.
  2. Now consider your vision and ask how can this image be enhanced to better convey my vision for the photograph? This should take you right back to the reason for taking the picture in the first instance. Why did you take the picture? How can you emphasise this aspect of the image to the viewer?

As you consider these questions, make notes about the changes that you would like to make. Don’t try to get all technical about how you will make the adjustments, just describe the changes. If you want to make some dark areas lighter, write that down. If you want to make the pinks more vibrant and colourful, write it down. If you think the image looks a little hazy and you want to give it more snap, write that down.

Once you have the list of changes you need to write out a plan for the adjustments you will make. Start with the global adjustments and work down to the smaller localised changes. Also try to make the corrections and fixes (question 1) before you make the enhancements (question 2).

I hope I haven’t made this sound easy as it’s not. It takes years of practice to develop your own styles and preferences as well as the skills necessary to be able to make the adjustments. But preserve and improvements will come.

Starting image for the scene above.
Starting image for the scene above.

Friday image No.028

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Lloyds Building, London, Captured on an Olympus OMD EM5 with Olympus 9-18mm lens. Conversion to black and white using Alien Skin Exposure 6.
Lloyds Building, London, Captured on an Olympus OMD EM5 with Olympus 9-18mm lens. Conversion to black and white using Alien Skin Exposure 6.

Some of you might recall that a month or so back I asked people to recommend their favourite image enhancement filters. I love playing around to explore new software and was interested in film emulators. One thing led to another and I ended up trying then buying Alien Skin Exposure 6. I don’t know why I haven’t bothered with this software before but I love it. I will go into the reason why some other time, but I also discovered some great tools (not Alien Skin) for pulling more detail out of my Infrared images which, I will share this in another post.

For now, here is the latest Friday image. I shot this on my trip to London back in April. This is landmark Lloyds Building which I used to pass almost daily when I worked in London. Back then I never paid any attention to it but now I think it’s iconic. In case you’re wondering the conversion to black and white was done in Alien Skin Exposure 6, using one of the Infrared Presets which was then tweaked a little.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Another Drought

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Low water in the reservoir. Sony RX10. See text for details.
Low water in the reservoir. Sony RX10. See text for details.

I had intended to get out yesterday for a long walk (about 20 miles) as I find it helps to clear my mind. In the end the 24 hours of torrential rain and quite severe thunder storms put an end to my hopes.

Today was much better though and despite not having the time for a 20 mile hike I did manage a drive over to the Peak district and a clocked up 12 miles over the hills.

The first thing that struck me when I arrived was how low the water level was in the reservoirs. Above is one of the images I shot with the Sony RX10 and it makes me wonder if we are heading for another drought with all the nice weather we have been having.

As a side note for those of you wondering about my use of the RX10, I have tended not to use it much as I don’t find the images anywhere near as crisp and sharp as my Micro 43 cameras. Despite that the camera has a lovely feel and is a joy to use.

For this particular image I didn’t use the usual Nik sharpening tools but opted for Focal Blade. This is an excellent although quite complex sharpening filter which I have been using on and off for a number of years. I don’t know why but it appears to achieve better results than Nik Sharpener Pro with the Sony images.

The other thing I did was apply Contrast Master which is a contrast adjustment tool from the same people who produce Focal Blade (PhotoWiz). I was reasoning that the images from the Sony seem to lack contrast and pop which is easily corrected in Contrast master. Having just printed this image at A3+, the detail is excellent. It also has a very nice quality to it, very much like film.

I just thought I should try adding some grain and making another print. I’m off to experiment…

More Emotional Impact in Photography

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Does this image trigger any emotional memories for you or does it leave you blank ad wondering what it's about?
Does this image trigger any emotional memories for you or does it leave you blank ad wondering what it’s about?

I have posted a few blogs now talking about creating emotional impact in photographs. The subject is something I find absolutely fascinating but it’s also a double edged sword. You see each person’s background and experiences will dictate to a large extent what triggers an emotion. There are of course some things we are all hard wired to respond to such as a kind smile, but in general it’s our past experience that we link to with emotional triggers. The double edged sword I mention is that whilst these emotional triggers can create very powerful photography they can equally fail to have any impact, leaving the viewer wondering what the image is about.

So what sort of things can trigger an emotion?

There is the subject matter – examples might be a cute image of a baby or it may be an image of a subject that triggers nostalgic feelings. If you are from the UK you might instantly start to date the image above in your mind, possibly linking it with hardship or good times. But if you are from another country you might not understand the image at all; it could be meaningless to you.

Colours can trigger feeling such as blue making us feel cold and reds are warm. But it goes beyond this as certain combinations of colour used when toning an image can trigger feelings. Some pastel shades are particularly helpful in this respect and if you look carefully you will find this used in lots of advertising materials. Ever wondered why cupcake packaging all follows a similar theme.

Some special effects such as a simulated light leak or film scratches or film grain can all trigger emotional memory (even if you never shot film). This is possibly why some of the software packages that simulate film have become so popular in recent years.

Light can trigger emotional feelings as in the following image. This small out of focus image of light reflecting on water triggers a very strong emotion in some people that reminds them of lazy summer days spent relaxing, possibly in their childhood. Personally I love it even though it’s of nothing in particular; it may not do anything for you.

Light reflecting on the sea, but deliberately out of focus
Light reflecting on the sea, but deliberately out of focus

Why do I keep talking about this? Because I think it’s a route to creating more compelling, powerful images. If we can identify different ways of triggering peoples emotional memory we can create more striking, enjoyable and enduring images.

Free GM1 Camera Profile for Lightroom

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Panasonic GM1 shot processed using custom camera profile - the colours are more realistic and vivid
Panasonic GM1 shot processed using custom camera profile – the colours are more realistic and vivid

I have some good news for all you Lightroom users who own a Panasonic GM1. You can now download for free my custom camera profile at my Lenscraft website. This profile works with Lightroom and can be used instead of the “Adobe Standard” profile.

Once installed you can select the profile in the Develop Module under the Calibration section.

Lightroom Camera Profile found under the Calibration section of the Develop Module
Lightroom Camera Profile found under the Calibration section of the Develop Module

 

In order to access the profile you will need to be working on a RAW file shot with a Panasonic GM1. If you are editing a TIFF or JPEG file you will see “Embedded Profile” in the Calibration section. If you are editing a RAW file and can’t see the profile you have either:

  1. Installed it to the incorrect location
  2. You need to restart Lightroom (following the installation)
  3. You are working on a RAW file that isn’t from a GM1

Have fun.

Olympus OMD EM5 Colour Profile

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Captured on an Olympus EM5, converted in Lightroom using new color profile and tweaked in Nik Viveza
Captured on an Olympus EM5, converted in Lightroom using new color profile and tweaked in Nik Viveza

I admit that it’s been a while coming but I have finally managed to shoot the XRite ColorPassport in suitable lighting conditions to generate a profile for the Olympus EM5. To be honest, I didn’t expect the new profile to achieve much as the EM5 produces good colours already and in any event, Lightroom includes a few alternate profiles. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when I generated this profile and tried it out in Lightroom. The images are noticeably stronger and more natural than using the Adobe Standard profile. I also like the new profile more than the other options that now come with Lightroom for this camera.

If anyone uses Lightroom and an Olympus EM5 (shooting in RAW format) then you can download the colour profile for free from my Lenscraft web site.

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.