Equipment

Preparing for an Overseas Trip

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Death Valley Sand Dune. Panasonix GX1 with 45-150mm lens. f/8.0, ISO 160, 1/200".
Death Valley Sand Dune. Panasonix GX1 with 45-150mm lens. f/8.0, ISO 160, 1/200″.

I am planning to take a trip a little later in the year and intend to be travelling light. At the same time, I want to be sure that I produce high quality images so I have been spending a little time today working out what my kit list is likely to be.

Olympus OMD EM5 will be the camera of choice given the quality of the images produced together with the image resolution.

To support the EM5 I will be taking the Olympus 12-40mm lens which gives a full frame equivalent of 24-80mm. I will also take the Olympus 9-18mm (18-36mm full frame equivalent) and Panasonic 45-150mm (90mm – 300mm full frame equivalent). All of these lenses produce very good image quality and with the exception of the 12-24 are small and light.

Accessory wise I will only need a few memory cards (I will actually have 6) ranging between 32Mb and 64Mb as well as 5 spare batteries. I hate running out of batteries so carrying 5 spares will allow for a couple of days shooting. My other essential accessory is the Lee Seven 5 filter system. Here I will be taking the 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 ND Grad filters as well as a 6 stop and 10 stop ND filter.

All of this will fit into a small LowPro shoulder bag.

EM5 with 12-40 lens and small shoulder case.
EM5 with 12-40 lens and small shoulder case.

As I am going to use the 6 stop and 10 stop ND filters I will also need a tripod and camera remote. I want to travel light so I am in two minds over taking the Velbon tripod. The Velbon is very light but feels a little bulky at times given how light the rest of the equipment is. I did purchase a Rollei Travelling Tripod a couple of years back and which I am also considering for the trip.

I have never used the Rollei (how bad is that) and it feels a little small and light despite being very well made. If anyone has any experience with this tripod I would be interested to know what you think and what its short comings are.

The Olympus 12-40 Sweet Spot

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Olympus Em5 with 12-40 lens. See blog text for settings.
Olympus Em5 with 12-40 lens. See blog text for settings.

I have noticed that when shooting with the Olympus EM5 I have become very lazy about setting the aperture. I have fallen into the habit of shooting at f/7.1 when using the 12-40mm lens. Unless there is something that’s very close to the camera I find that I can get away with using this aperture almost all the time. With this lens and aperture combination I find that it gives me an excellent depth of field for Landscapes but also produces sharp images that are well focussed from corner to corner.

But this isn’t to say that it’s the best aperture for the lens.

I have actually found that my lens tends to perform at its best when stopped down to around f/5.6. There is less depth of field at this aperture but you can still achieve a hell of a lot when used with the 12mm wide angle end of the lens. You just have to take care where you place the focus point – but more on that in another blog post.

You might also find a similar setting are also good with other Micro 43 lenses in this focal range. I also used to use a Panasonic 14-45 and this seem to match the performance characteristics of the 12-40.

The image above was taken inside an old kiln in the Royal Mint in Bolivia. It was shot at f/3.5 so that I could keep the ISO low (in this case ISO400) together with reasonably fast shutter speed as I was shooting hand held. Actually the shutter speed was 1/15” but it was sufficiently fast. I had the camera in burst mode and fired of a few shots one after the other to ensure one of these was sharp.

This lens seems to perform very well across most of the aperture range. Take a look at the enlargement of the top left of the image, shown below. This has minimal capture sharpening applied as part of the RAW conversion in Lightroom.

Corner sharpness at f/3.5
Corner sharpness at f/3.5

So whilst I am always keen to use my lenses at the optimum aperture, I don’t mind deviating if it means that I can capture the image.

Lightweight Cameras

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Canon G16 ISO80, f/4.0, 1/320".
Canon G16 ISO80, f/4.0, 1/320″.

There was a comment on my last blog post asking what had happened to the lightweight cameras as I seem to be publishing images from the Sony full frame. I was thinking about this and wanted to present a slightly longer response as it gives rise to an interesting point.

What is a lightweight camera?

The first thing that comes to mind is that size is relative. If your used to shooting with a Large Format camera, Medium Format might seem lightweight. To a Medium Format shooter, a DSLR might seem lightweight. There is a very good You Tube channel from Ben Horne who shoots with an 8×10 large format camera but then takes a Nikon D800 on his trips to use for video. That’s a camera manypeople think is perfect for Landscapes.

Is the Sony A7r lightweight? Perhaps it is as it’s a mirrorless design and smaller than most DSLRs. If I use it with old prime lenses, it’s actually smaller than my EM5 with 12-40 lens. But if we are determining a camera as being lightweight based on sensor size, then it’s not.

But then this raises the question of my Sony RX10. This is a large camera for what is effectively a bridge camera. It’s a little larger than my EM5 but has only a 1” sensor. Personally I consider it to be lightweight as I need only this camera and a couple of filters to shoot landscapes. I can fit everything into a small shoulder bag. If I were to take the equivalent lenses and the EM5, I need a larger bag.

Then there are the compact cameras. Currently I have only the Canon G7X which is a great pocket camera with the same sized (1 inch) sensor as the Sony RX10. This is definitely a lightweight camera with good image quality. Whilst I can produce good results with this camera, commercial reality means I can’t use this all the time. This is more of a carry anywhere camera in case the opportunity for a photo arises.

Finally, there is my latest purchase, the Go Pro Hero 4. This is definitely the smallest camera I have and wasn’t really purchased for photography but rather for filming some of my photo trips. I want to make some on location tutorials and will use the Go Pro to film these.

Back to the question raised, whilst I may not have published many images shot with the EM5 of late, I have been publishing shots taken with other lightweight equipment such as the RX10. I can’t shoot with every camera I own all the time and must vary the use. I like to publish recent material which probably explains the limited EM5 images. But rest assured, the EM5 is alive and well in my camera bag and will be used in the near future.

What I would be interested to understand is what people feel makes a camera lightweight. Feel free to add any thoughts as comments below.

A Love for Film

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Bronica SQ-Ai image captured on Kodak Ektar 100 film and scanned on an Epson V700 scanner.
Bronica SQ-Ai image captured on Kodak Ektar 100 film and scanned on an Epson V700 scanner.

A few weeks back I did something that was a little out of character; I bought a large camera. It isn’t the largest camera but it’s a quite big and somewhat heavy. The camera in question is a Bronica SQ-Ai together with 4 lenses and a 2x converter. If you’re not familiar with these camera’s, they were quite popular in the 80’s and 90’s and shoot medium format roll film.

Now I don’t intend to use this camera on a regular basis, although it is lovely to use. My reason for buying it is that I really like the process of shooting and printing film. I like the slow pace as you need to check and then double check the camera settings. I like the difficulty in using a hand held light meter, not knowing if you have metered correctly. I like the lack of feedback – no histogram and no image preview to distract you. I like the focus markings on the lens and the need to use a focus screen and magnifier in order to focus correctly.

I can’t say that I’m too happy with the process of scanning and spotting the images but then this is more than made up for with the images themselves. There is a certain look to film images that I really like and just can’t recreate digitally. And, it’s not just me who seems to prefer film…

Recently I printed around 10 images. All were digital captures using either the Sony RX10 or Olympus EM5. The exception to this was one image that was shot on Kodak Ektar 100 film using a Hasselblad XPan 35mm camera. I showed these prints to a friend and he went straight to image shot on film. I had to agree with him that the printed image stood out as it looked so natural, as if you were standing in front of the scene. When I returned home I repeated this exercise with my wife. Again she immediately picked out the film print as being different and having a look that she liked far more than the digital prints.

Image captured on Kodak Ektar 100 35mm film. Shot on a Hasselblad XPan with 45mm lens.
Image captured on Kodak Ektar 100 35mm film. Shot on a Hasselblad XPan with 45mm lens.

So my objective in buying this old film camera is to help me enjoy my photography more. To move outside of the repetitive digital process and challenge myself. Having recently started a personal project (Views from the Moors) I’m finding that photography is more enjoyable and I hope this latest adventure adds a little something extra.

Hidden Gems

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Boat study at Heswall Marina. Panasonic GX1 converted to Infrared. ISO160, 45mm lens, 1/50" at f/10.
Boat study at Heswall Marina. Panasonic GX1 converted to Infrared. ISO160, 45mm lens, 1/50″ at f/10.

Yesterday I finally decided to sell my Panasonic GX1 that’s been converted to shoot infrared. The cameras been sat in a bag since I had the EM5 converted and whilst I thought it would be a good backup, I need the money for a new project (more on that in the future).

Whilst advertising it on eBay I decided to look through my back catalogue for some example images to show what an Infrared conversion can do when processed. I can’t believe how many shots I really like and that I have overlooked. Again, this is an example of distancing yourself from the event of taking the image.

I don’t know why but I particularly like this cluttered shot of the boats at Heswall Marina on the Wirral.

Hope you like it as well.

An Interesting Concept

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K&F Concept adapter to couple the Canon FD lenses to the Sony A7r. The image was captured using a 50mm Canon FD lens mounted on an Olympus EM5 using a K&F Concept adapter.
K&F Concept adapter to couple the Canon FD lenses to the Sony A7r. The image was captured using a 50mm Canon FD lens mounted on an Olympus EM5 using a K&F Concept adapter.

Last year when I invested in a Sony A7r and Canon L series lenses, I posted a few thoughts about the adapter I was using. This was a Canon EF to NEX adapter which although poor for autofocus maintained the aperture link to the EF lenses. If you aren’t aware, the only way to control the aperture on a Canon EF lens is by coupling it to a camera that can talk to the lens. Everything is electronic and that keeps the price of these adapters high.

But at that time I also posted some thoughts about the Canon FD lenses a friend had begun to use. For anyone not familiar with the FD lenses, these predate the EF lenses. My conclusion following a little experimentation is that the centre of these lenses was marginally sharper than my new EF L series lenses.

In the end I did purchase a few FD lenses to experiment further with. A 28mm which is quite soft. A 50mm 1.4 which is sharp stopped down but soft wide open. And a 70-210 which is very nice at the 70mm end and goes off at the 210mm end. All need to be stopped down to around f/8.0 to really perform well but all have a wonderful feel and produce quite creative looking images. I think the most expensive of the lenses was the 50mm f/1.4 which I bought on eBay for £30. The other two were bought from Ffords Photographic for £24 and £28.

Now the adapter I bought for these lenses was the K&F Concept and cost me around £12 from Amazon. When I received the adapter I couldn’t believe the build quality for this price point. I was so impressed that I bought a second, but this time for the Canon FD to Micro 43 body. Here’s the link (http://amzn.to/1JQ22gk).

I love the eel of the Canon 50mm on the Olympus EM5, it seems to have been made for it. It also turns the 50mm lens into an amazing 100mm lens with virtually no depth of field. Just remember to keep away from the edges if you are using it wide open. Actually, forget that last comment. Use it wide open and embrace the quirky old school effects.

Is anyone else out there using old lenses on a Micro 43 camera? It would be great to hear your experiences if you are.

Telephoto Troubles

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Sony A7R with Canon 70-200L.
Sony A7R with Canon 70-200L.

Not too long ago I took the decision to supplement my Olympus EM5 with a full frame camera and purchased a Sony A7R. It was the smallest and most compact option on the market for full frame at the time. I really like Sony cameras for their colour handling (I also have an RX10) and the A7R is no exception. But one of the other features of the Sony is that I can easily “bolt on” almost any lens using an adapter.

In the past, as much as I like the Sony cameras, their lenses have been a bit of a let-down. The choice of focal lengths is limited and the image quality has suffered into the corners. With this in mind I opted to purchase Canon EF lenses which I am familiar with having previously owned a Canon 5D MKII.

My lens choice was the 16-35 L f/4.0, the 24-70 L f/4.0 and a telephoto. I say telephoto as I really wasn’t sure which lens I wanted. As it turned out I finally went for the 70-200 L f/4.0 in the knowledge that this was a super lens and good value for money. Yes it was quite large and heavy but with a lens collar fitted I could expect good results when mounted on a tripod.

Unfortunately my experience of the 70-200 lens was not what I expected. Most of the time, probably 80%, I achieved great images. They were sharp, especially into the corners of the frame and the image quality was excellent at any aperture. This is the sort of lens that you want, where you can simply ignore the aperture and focal length from the perspective of image quality.

The problem with the other 20% of images though was quite an unusual one and occurred quite randomly. I could shoot a sequence of images using the same settings and without touching the camera, some would display the problem whilst others wouldn’t. The problem was that parts of the frame would be in focus whilst other areas would be blurred. In some instances the blurred area would be in the middle of the frame but the foreground and distance would be sharp. You can see an example below.

Full image
Full image
Foreground - in focus
Foreground – in focus
Mid distance - out of focus
Mid distance – out of focus
Distant hills - in focus
Distant hills – in focus

In the end the lens was sent back for a refund and a new lens purchased. Full marks to WEX Photographic for their service. In my next post I will explain which lens I purchased – it might come as a surprise.

Great news also. Lenscraft is back up and running on the new website host.