Equipment

Appealing Nuclear Power

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Seascale Nuclear Power Station. Olympus EM5, Panasonic 45-150. Three image stitch with post processing in Nik Silver Efex.
Seascale Nuclear Power Station. Olympus EM5, Panasonic 45-150. Three image stitch with post processing in Nik Silver Efex. Click to see a larger version of the image.

Firstly, my apologies for the blog and video silence over the past week. I decided to take a break with my wife to do some walking in the Lake District and then to visit our Grandson over in France. In fact, I haven’t been back in the UK for more than a few hours and wanted to share this image.

I shot this from the top of a hill in the Lakes called Black Coombe. The Power Station in the centre of the shot is at Seascale and beyond this you can just make out the hills in Dumfries (somewhere that I have wanted to visit for a while but never found a good excuse).

The image was taken handheld with the EM5 and Panasonic 45-150 lens at 150mm. It’s not bad and should print OK but it is suffering from a lot of atmospheric distortion. The best cure for that of course is convert the image to black and white then throw in a lot of grain. It hides the fine detail but helps make the image appear sharper and less distorted.

Aperture & Sharpness

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Death Valley. Even for extreme cases such as this three image stitch, f/9.0 was all that was required for full depth of field.
Death Valley. Even for extreme cases such as this three image stitch, f/9.0 was all that was required for full depth of field using th e Panasonic GX1.

At one time I didn’t understand the relationship between aperture & image sharpness. I read many magazine articles and books where Landscape Photographers would commonly say they stopped the lens down to the smallest aperture to ensure the image was sharp from front to back. What I hadn’t realised is that they weren’t discussing image sharpness but depth of field. I also hadn’t realised that many of these photographers were using medium format cameras where depth of field could be a real issue. Fortunately, I now understand this relationship but there continues to be misinformation published on the subject.

Here then are the key points you need to be aware of in relation to depth of field:

  • Depth of field is how much of your image appears to be in focus from the nearest point to the most distant.
  • Depth of field is determined by the aperture you use. If all other variables remain the same, as you make the aperture smaller (larger f/ stop number), you will increase the depth of field.
  • Other factors affecting the depth of field include:
    • Where you place the point of focus – the nearer the camera the shallower the depth of field. It’s also worth remembering that the depth of field will extend twice as far beyond the point of focus as in front of it.
    • The size of the film or the image sensor – the smaller this is, the greater the depth of field at the same aperture.
    • The focal length of the lens can also make the depth of field appear greater – a wide angle lens makes the depth of field appear greater than a long telephoto lens.

When I first started in photography, what I failed to grasp is that the factors determining how sharp an image is are different to depth of field. Let’s take an example where you shoot three images using a typical lens; the first image with the aperture as wide as it will go, the second with the aperture as small as possible and the third with the aperture between the two extremes. If you then review the images looking at the point of focus, you would find that the third image with the aperture at mid-value is the sharpest image. This is because lenses are design to perform at their best when aperture is closed down by a couple of stops. Once you go to the smallest aperture though, the performance and sharpness is compromised by something called diffraction, which makes the image appear soft.

One benefit of using a Micro 43 camera for Landscape work is that you can typically achieve front to back sharpness (depth of field) without needing to stop the lens down to the smallest apertures. In my own work I tend to shoot Landscapes with the lens set to 12mm (24mm equivalent on a full frame camera). The aperture I tend to use is f/7.1 or sometimes f/8.0. Providing you place the point of focus correctly you will have all the depth of field you typically need and the lens will be near to its optimum performance.

Where I use the Sony RX10 which has a smaller 1-inch sensor, I tend to shoot with an aperture of around f/5.6 for full depth of field at 24mm. And when I was shooting with the LX5 compact camera I was using f/3.5 to f/5.0 for full depth of field at 24mm.

I hope this helps all you small sensor Landscaper photographers.

Friday Image No.99

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London by night. Canon 400D, ISO200, 8" at f/6.3
London by night. Canon 400D, ISO200, 8″ at f/6.3

This week’s Friday image is something a little different. My main Drobo storage unit (4TB) is full. I could buy more storage but given that all 4 drive bays are in use and the existing disk drives are all quite large, it would be a costly exercise. It’s much cheaper if I go and clean out some of the images I have cluttering it up that I just won’t use.

Whilst doing this I started coming across all sorts of shots. This one is from London, just below the Millennium Footbridge. I shot it with the camera on a Gorillapod wrapped around the railings of the footpath. Whilst I would have liked the footbridge not to have cut into the dome of St Pauls, I was more focussed on timing the shot. The bright patch of light you see just behind the central column of the bridge is a passing boat and I needed to judge the exposure just right.

Looking at this image now, what surprises me is how good a camera the Canon 400D was when the RAW files are processed with today’s software. If you haven’t processed any old RAW files in the latest software, you should give it a try.

Have a great weekend.

Help Me to Help You

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North Wales, Olympus EM5. 12-40 lens, 1/400 at f/7.1 and ISO200.
North Wales, Olympus EM5. 12-40 lens, 1/400 at f/7.1 and ISO200.

I have been reading some books about blogging recently and apparently I need a mission statement – okay, let’s go with this for a moment. When I started The Lightweight Photographer blog it was my intention to share information about lightweight cameras as well as information about achieving fast results when editing images. Four years on and I feel I have lost a little bit of focus. In an attempt to address this, I wrote a mission statement.

To create a valuable resource of lightweight photography information and to make this freely available.

And this is where I now need your help. When I sit down to write these blogs, as well as the tutorials on Lenscraft, I am guessing a little about what people want. I am also guessing as to what problems and concerns people have about following a lightweight approach. So…

  • Do you have concerns about the image quality of micro 43 for example?
  • Do you like to print A3 images and wonder if you will be giving up print detail?
  • Are you concerned about noise levels with compact cameras?
  • Do you wonder about the aperture you should use with micro 43 cameras for depth of field?
  • Do you shoot with a Lightweight camera? Why?

I really want to hear about your concerns, thoughts, observations and questions. This will allow me to focus the blog and my website to hopefully respond to some of these points. If it is to do with photography but in particular lightweight cameras and image editing, then I would like to hear.

Please take a moment to let me know your thoughts.

Thank you.

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.