Over the past week I have received at least four emails asking what Micro 43 lenses I would recommend for Landscape Photography. I can also see quite a few people reading a related post I created back in 2012. Given my advice has changed since I wrote the original post, I thought it was time to revisit the subject. If you would like to know more about the image above, check out the video at the end of this blog post.
Before I share my own recommendations, I believe there are a few points that need to be taken into consideration. These are:
- Camera Ergonomics
- Shooting Style
You should consider these points carefully in order to come to your own conclusions. These points will also help you to understand my answers.
Micro 43 is an extremely flexible format with a large range of available lenses. Unfortunately, not every micro 43 lens will suit every camera in the micro 43 range. The lenses may fit the camera and operate correctly, but are the two well matched. For example, the Olympus 12-40mm may feel great when used on the Olympus EM1. But place the same lens on the tiny Panasonic GM1 and it would feel completely out of place. If the lens makes your camera difficult to work with, it doesn’t matter how good a landscape lens it is.
Flexibility & Shooting Style
It’s a little difficult to cleanly separate these two areas so let’s cover them together.
Consider if you would prefer to work with prime lenses or zoom lenses. My own preference is for zoom lenses as sometimes you can’t get into position with a prime lens. I would much rather have the flexibility of using zoom lenses.
Consider the focal ranges you want to cover with your lenses. My kit covers 9mm to 150mm (or 18mm to 300mm in full frame equivalent). Would this suit your needs for Landscape? Do you need greater coverage of focal lengths or is such a large range unnecessary?
How will you carry your equipment? I use a small shoulder bag in which I carry the camera and main lens as well as two additional lenses.
The price of some lenses may be restrictive, especially if you are purchasing them new. Some lenses are quite difficult to obtain second hand so you might not have any option but to purchase them new.
Lens quality is of paramount importance to me. I want to render images that are superbly sharp and which contain lots of detail. This might not suit our style of photography or you might place other features ahead of image quality. A further example of this is lens distortion (Barrel and Pincushion). Although I say lens quality is paramount, I don’t really mind some level of distortion. If this becomes too obvious, it can usually be corrected by software during post processing.
Are there any features that you need in a lens? For example, you may require the lens to be water resistant. One feature that I find important is the ability to mount filters to the front of the lens. Personally, in common with many landscape photographers, like to mount graduated ND filters on my lenses to help control exposure. Some ultra-wide angle lenses such as the Panasonic 7-14mm won’t accept such filters. The 7-14mm lens is a super performer but the frustration it caused me when trying to use filters resulted in me selling the lens.
Do you need image stabilisation in your lenses? I shoot with an Olympus EM5 which has in camera stabilisation so having a stabilised lens is not important to me. If your shooting with a Panasonic Micro 43 camera, this might not be the case. Equally, if you work exclusively on a tripod, you won’t need this feature.
How about having a constant fast aperture or close focus range? You need to think about these.
Based on everything I have said, my current recommendation for the best Micro 43 lenses for landscape photography are:
- Olympus 9-18mm
- Olympus 12-40mm
- Panasonic 45-150mm
These lenses are in my core kit and the ones that I take with me when travelling. All of these perform excellently, producing very sharp images and resolving fine detail. Of the three, only the 12-40mm is large. The other two are tiny for their focal range. I am prepared to accept the additional size and weight given the lens is weather sealed and has amazing optics. It also has a very close focus distance even at the 40mm end which makes it a pseudo macro lens if I don’t have room for one. In fact, the 12-40mm is such a great lens for my style of photography, it remains on the camera probably 90% of the time.
In the past I have worked with a Panasonic 14-45mm kit lens from a GF1. These are excellent lenses and available at a good price second hand. This is a good option if you don’t want the size, weight or cost of the 12-40mm lens. It’s sharp and versatile but lacks a little on the wide end of the focal range (for my preference).
If your confused by the multitude of lenses available in the Micro 43 range, consider the areas mentioned carefully before committing to a purchase. Whilst my lens choice is perfect for my needs, they may not be suitable for you.
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This last weekend was possibly a turning point for me. My XT2 has finally arrived and I’m excited. I haven’t been excited about a new camera in a long time. It’s hard to say what’s different this time but there is just something about the Fuji. The XT system and lenses is very high quality but compact. It seems to have many of the benefits of the Olympus EM5 but with improved image quality. That’s something that was difficult for me to admit at first as the Olympus has served me well for several years and is an excellent camera. Let me share my first impressions with you.
Removing the camera from the packaging for the first time, it feels very much like the XT1. The various dials which felt well positioned on the XT1 are all still there but with a few more options. What I liked about the XT1 was that everything seemed to be where you would expect to find it and the XT2 is very similar.
There are a few points though that Fuji should be specifically commended for:
- The eyecup on the XT2 is just like the replacement eye cup on the XT1. This is an optional accessory with the XT1 (and worth investing in).
- The screen protectors for the XT1 fit the XT2.
- The battery from the XT1 fits and works fine in the XT2. Sony is the only other manufacturer that seems to adopt this approach.
Looking over the camera controls I immediate notice one enhancement. I am very fussy about where I place the focus point and the XT2 just made life easier for me. The back of the camera now has a small joystick with which you can move the point of focus. I used to have one of these on my old Sony R1 and I loved it. You can even use it with the camera to your eye.
The other enhancement that I like is the two-way articulated rear LCD. I don’t particularly find the swivel screens very useful as I tend not to get horizon skewed. With the XT2, the screen moves on a hinge but there is a second hinge allowing it to tilt either horizontally or vertically. Nice.
In short, this feels a lot like the XT1 but with a few nice features thrown in.
When I bought the XT2 I purchased it as a kit with the 18-55 lens. Although I already have the amazing 16-55 I decided I couldn’t pass up the extra lens for only £250 more. The 16-55 whilst excellent is bulky and doesn’t have IS. The 18-55 is much smaller and does have IS. Whilst it’s not wide enough for all my work, it’s fine as part of my walking kit.
This lens also allows me to use the camera with my LowPro 140 shoulder bag. I use this bag for trekking as it allows me to also use a good sized day pack. The XT2 with 18-55 lens, together with the 55-200 lens all fit into the shoulder bag.
In terms of the 18-55 performance, the results are very good. It’s very sharp and seems to perform well across the entire focal range as well as into the corners. The only problem I’m finding is that after shooting a lot with Micro 43 cameras, I keep misjudging the depth of field with the Fuji. Given how sharp the images are, it’s not something I’m happy about. I need to get used to the larger sensor.
The colours from the XT2 RAW files are excellent as is the detail. I have been looking hard for signs of water colour effect and false pattern (wiggly worm) when using Lightroom but so far none. I did spot what I thought was some false pattern in a couple of images but then realised how to avoid it. I need to consider this more with the XT1 but if I have hit on something I will share it soon.
Shadow detail is also very good and the images are clean when lightened. I could apply a substantial amount of shadow recovery to a very contrasty scene and the result were very natural. The film simulations are also very nice in Lightroom.
Overall, I’m very impressed with the XT2. I’m looking forward to putting it through its paces in a proper shoot.
Since I purchased the Fuji XT1 (and had the fright of my life due to soft, distorted images) I have become a little obsessed by image quality. The results I can now achieve using the XT1 are far beyond my expectations. I’m even beginning to question the need for my Sony A7R, especially as I have the Fuji XT2 on order. I need to give this some serious thought.
Anyway, back to the purpose of today’s blog post. I should stress that whilst I am using the Fuji XT1 RAW files as an example, other RAW files also see improvements. Whatever your camera, you need to experiment with alternate RAW converters.
So far I have concluded the best converters for the XT1 files appear to be RAW Therapee, Photo Ninja and Iridient. This is purely in terms of ability to render fine detail and image sharpness. If you’re not a Landscape Photographer, this might not be as important to you.
I have now returned to test Affinity Photo and have been quite impressed.
For those of you who aren’t aware, Affinity Photo is an image editor with Photoshop like capabilities. Currently it’s only available for the Mac but its priced well and includes a RAW developer module. If you are a Mac user and want an alternative to Adobe, it’s worth exploring. It also costs less than Elements and Iridient (but infinitely more than RAW Therapee which is free).
In this test, I processed the same RAW file (from which the above image was produced) and developed this in both Iridient and Affinity Photo. The conversion was done on a Mac and then the resulting TIFF files loaded onto my Windows PC. Here the two images can be seen side by side at 100% resolution.
The image on the left is from Affinity whilst the image on the right was converted using Iridient. The Affinity image appears sharper and with better defined detail. It does though suffer a little from my having added too much clarity. The Iridient image appears slightly more natural and softer. For the Iridient image I used the Deconvolution sharpening. If I apply a further round of sharpening using Nik Pro Sharpener (RAW) I can pull more detail from the Iridient image but not from the Affinity image. I suspect the difference in performance between the two is down to my (as yet) lack of experience with Affinity.
Something further that I noticed when doing the tests is that Iridient appears to have automatically corrected for lens geometry whilst Affinity didn’t. Overall, both packages did a great job of converting the RAW file as can be seen below (Affinity is on the left).
As I mentioned at the start, the results from the Fuji XT1 have impressed me greatly. I’m so pleased I didn’t dump the camera. I can’t wait to test out the XT2.
As some of you reading this may know, I have recently switched from a PC to a Mac for Photography. Initially it was a move from a laptop to a MacBook. Next came the move from my desktop PC to an iMac. This last move is probably longer term as I need to retain a Windows PC for businesses reasons.
Having paid a not insignificant sum for the iMac I decided it was time to get serious about my image editing. For years I have used a mouse for most editing tasks but at one time I did buy a cheap Wacom graphics tablet. In reality, the tablet was too small, I didn’t enjoy using it and then I broke it. But now the time is right to grasp the nettle and invest in a larger tablet.
What I really want is a larger graphics tablet that would provide me greater control over detailed work. At the same time this tablet needed to fit on an already overcrowded desk without getting in the way. Something around A4 size would probably be ideal. The tablet also needed to have a number of buttons (virtual or physical) which I could program with useful commands. My other requirements include:
- A nice surface to move the pen nib across.
- Functional buttons on the pen/stylus.
- The pen needed to be of a reasonable size and weight to make drawing comfortable.
- At least 2000 pressure levels allowing the pressure applied to the pen to be interpreted by my software.
- A resolution of at least 5000lpi.
I started my search with the Wacom tablets as they are a recognised industry leader with a quality product. Their tablets clearly meet my needs but I needed to pay quite a bit, typically in excess of £200. Bearing in mind my earlier experience I couldn’t quite bring myself to pay this.
I decided to search Amazon which revealed a lot of graphics tablets for less than £100. The one that I really liked was the XP-Pen Star03. It met all of my requirements and was only around £50.
I have to admit to being rather dubious of this low price but in the end thought it was worth the risk. Having now used the tablet for around a month, I like it – a lot. It’s useful for applying more artistic editing to images. Do I use it all the time? No.
Where a graphics tablet like this comes into its own is when you to brush in or out adjustments and this depends on the software you use. The Nik filters for example provide excellent Control Point technology so tend not to need a graphics tablet. In contrast, if you work a lot with Photoshop Layers or products such as On 1 Enhance, the graphics tablet brings real benefits.
If you find yourself looking for a graphics tablet to try, I would definitely take a look at the XP- Pen. It works with both Mac and Windows PC’s.
In my most recent blog posting I shared my thoughts about the Fuji XT1 and at the end, mentioned my intention to upgrade to the XT2 once available in the UK. Following this a few people contacted me to ask if I had considered the XPro2 and in one case, someone offered to share with me sample RAW files from their XPro2.
To answer the question, have I considered the XPro2, the answer is yes I have. Personally I find the camera body a little wide and I don’t like the handling anywhere near as much as the XT1. I’m therefore prepared to wait until I can get the XT2. I don’t need to urgently change my camera and getting something that I can love and work with for a number of years is much more important to me than just changing the camera to improve the technical spec.
Now for the interesting part and for which I have to thank Nick Harvey-Phillips for sharing some RAW files from the XPro2. All the images on this page are provided by Nick as test sample and he retains copyright. The reason XPro2 RAW files are helpful is that the same sensor is being used in the XT2.
The first thing I noticed on opening the image below is the very high image quality.
In the next shot you can see a section of the train at 100% magnification.
This is a 25Mpixel sensor giving a large image at 6,000 x 4,000 pixels. The images appear to be very well defined and sharp. The detail in the objects is very sharp but then it always was in the XT1 which uses the previous generation of the sensor with a lower 16Mpixel count. Clearly, Fuji has been able to maintain the good performance here so let’s take a look at the problem area of fine detail in grass and foliage, which often gives rise to a water colour effect.
As I have mentioned previously the water colour effect tends to be more obvious on screens where there is a lower pixel density. For this reason, I am doing the assessment on a 24” screen which is 1920 x 1080 pixels. When I look at the images on the 27” Mac running a 5K display I see perfection.
The other factor which seems to cause or emphasise the water colour effect is the RAW converter. Here Adobe converters seem to have problems so I used the latest version of Lightroom (CC 15.7). When I review the images in Lightroom at 100% I see a much better result than I expected. The “false” water colour effect/pattern is largely gone and you need to look extremely closely into small areas to find any trace of this.
This is the full image with only modest adjustment to the exposure, contrast and sharpening for the purposes of the comparison. In the next shot below you can see a section of the image magnified to 100% with an area of the grass which exhibits traces of the water colour effect. In all honesty, if you didn’t know what you were looking for I think you would miss it.
To provide a comparison I processed the image using the Iridient RAW converter. Here the “false” effect isn’t really detected (although I did over-sharpen the image for the lower resolution monitor). The image is also lacking some of the mid tone contrast present in the Lightroom conversion.
Overall, the images coming out of the new sensor are excellent. They actually reminded me a little of the RAW file images from the Olympus EM5 except they are much larger and more flexible.
Now, when you compare the images from Lightroom and Iridient side by side, you can still see the Iridient images have more fine detail and Lightroom version is a little soft.
For the Lightroom images I used the settings
Amount = 36
Radius = 0.6
Detail = 57
Threshold = 10
I also had the Colour and Luminance noise reduction set to 0.
I recalled though that one of the comments from the “Fuji RAW Conversion Challenge” I issued said that you needed Deconvolution sharpening to bring out the best in the XTrans sensor. I therefore thought that I would apply a second pass of sharpening to the Lightroom file using Nik Sharpener Pro RAW sharpener (available free from Google). What a difference.
The results now match those from Iridient in many areas of the image. Attempting the same with the Iridient file didn’t produce much of an improvement. Next step is to try this experiment with some of the XT1 file I have.
It’s now been a few weeks since I purchased the Fuji X-T1 and I think it’s fair to say it’s been a bit of a roller coaster in terms of how I have taken to the camera. But despite this it’s also been a huge learning experience for me and one that I am happy (now) that I have had. With this in mind I wanted to share some further thoughts about the camera in a few broad areas.
Handling & Build Quality
The camera is very well thought out and handles perfectly, at least for me. All the dials and buttons are where I would like to find them on the body, allowing me to work quickly. I find the layout and operation largely intuitive but so far I am probably using only a fraction of the features. I tend to shoot in Aperture Priority mode and then use exposure compensation to correct the exposure.
The only niggle that I have is that when I am changing the ISO dial, I sometimes catch the dial below this and set the camera to do multiple exposures or something equally annoying. With the EM5 this wouldn’t have bothered me as I tended to keep the ISO at the base 200. With the X-T1 I am much happier to push the ISO high for reasons I will mention shortly.
The build quality of the camera gives a lot of confidence. I have heard some people complain the body is too light, but I would say it’s about right and is in line with the EM5 that was my main camera.
The camera with lens attached is slightly larger than the EM5 and I probably need to find a new bag. I am struggling to fit a body and two lenses into my LowePro 140 which can take my EM5 and three lenses. I would say thought that size and weight of the Fuji kit is still acceptable as a travel and trekking camera.
The lens range is excellent although not as large as the Micro 43 range. I really like the build quality of the lenses, especially the super wide angle 10-24mm. Although there are a couple of lenses in the Micro 43 range that offer similar focal lengths these won’t accept filters due to the front element protruding. As I rely on lens filters heavily to achieve good exposures, this makes the Fuji system a real joy to use.
In the past I have tried the Micro 43 wide angles and then sold them because of the filter issue. Only the Olympus 9-18 remains in my kit as it will accept filters but it just doesn’t compare to the Fuji 10-24.
So far I have only tried 4 Fuji lenses. These are:
- 10-24 – excellent
- 16-55 – excellent
- 55-200 – excellent
- 18-135 – poor
It’s possible the 18-135 that I bought (and which has now been returned) was faulty. I experienced some focus issues with this lens as well as it appearing to exaggerate the watercolour effect (see below).
Overall the lenses that I have give me a great deal of confidence in the Fuji system.
I particularly like the Image Stabilisation in the lenses (although I would prefer it in the camera body). Despite this I seem to be able to shoot at some crazy shutter speeds handheld. Couple this with the excellent noise handling at high ISO (see image quality below) and you have a very flexible camera. It’s a real shame that the stabilisation is missing from the 16-55mm lens.
My initial thoughts on the image quality were that it was poor. I couldn’t believe this was a premium camera with no anti-aliasing filter as my result were so soft. With more use I have come to realise a few important points:
- The water colour effect is a problem with the Adobe software but you can improve the results with careful sharpening, noise reduction and contrast/micro-contrast adjustment. The feedback on the “Fuji RAW File Conversion Challenge” was very insightful.
- There are a number of factors that seem to exaggerate the water colour effect as mentioned below and you should try to minimise these in your shooting. This includes camera shake and getting the depth of field/focus point wrong.
- Poor lens performance appears to exaggerate the Adobe water colour effect problem. Remember, lenses may not perform well across their entire focal range and aperture making the problem more difficult to pin down.
- The water colour effect can be hidden if you are working on a screen with a high pixel density. If you are using a large screen with such as a 24” screen in HD resolution (1980 x 1020) you will likely see it much more than if you were using a 27” 5K Mac screen.
- There are some great RAW converters out there which do a superb job of decoding the XTrans RAW file. Both Iridient and RAW Therapee produce better results for me than Adobe software, with fine detail being preserved and not becoming blocky. The Adobe software also appears to introduce a false pattern in distant foliage and which these other RAW converters avoid.
- The images are very clean with noise not being evident. Even when I am shooting at ISO800 I have can happily turn off the noise reduction (Luminance and Colour) in order to better preserve fine details.
- The RAW files are very flexible and stand up well to heavy processing. You are able to recover significant amounts of shadow and highlight detail without causing noise or other issues to become evident.
- Colours are excellent and the film simulations supported in Lightroom are superb although sometimes a little contrasty. It’s therefore best to apply these first if you are using Lightroom. I also recently discovered that the Iridient RAW converter has its own version of these simulations which are also good and can be applied to other camera RAW files, not just Fuji.
Switching back to the EM5
Last week I took a bit of a break and went to Italy to hike up a few volcanoes. I decided not to take the Fuji as it was a little heavier and bulkier than the EM5. Overall I had the feeling the EM5 was a little like a toy camera in comparison to the Fuji. This is despite me having loved the EM5 for over three years. Now I am back and looking at the images I have captured, the RAW files don’t feel as flexible when applying image adjustments. I can also see much more fine noise in the images than with the Fuji RAW files, even when the EM5 is at base ISO.
In summary, I’m now sold on the Fuji. The only question now is do I carry out the rest of my plan to buy the Fuji X-T2 when its released? I’m really tempted by the increased pixels but would I be better upsizing the X-T1 images?
In case you haven’t been following the story so far, allow me to recap. I decided it was time to replace my trusty Olympus EM5 and I was seduced by the great Fuji lenses and the promise of excellent image quality. I purchased a Fuji XT-1 and a couple of lenses only to find problems with the RAW files when I came to convert them – the images look as if they had been painted and lacked crisp details. Apparently this is a well-known problem.
I managed to improve the performance of the system by updating firmware. I also returned one of the lenses, replacing it with two others so that I have:
The results from all of the lenses can be excellent which leads me to suspect lens quality is a factor in the problem. I have also chosen my words carefully here as I have seen the painterly effect with the 10-24mm when used at the longer end of the focal range.
Despite all these improvements, the single biggest factor seems to be the RAW converter used and this can have implications for all of us, even if you’re not a Fuji user. Let’s take a look at an example focussing just on the image quality.
What I want to see in my images is plenty of sharp, well defined fine detail as well as getting a feeling of texture in the image. What I don’t want to see is lots of noise.
The first thing I have noticed with the Fuji RAW files is that they are incredibly clean and don’t have much noise even when shooting at ISO 800 or 1600. In some cases, they seem unnaturally clean so I have started to shoot at ISO 400 and 800 regularly as I prefer the appearance.
Something else you may have read is that the JPEG files are great out of camera and are difficult to improve on. My experience of the JPEG’s is that they are indeed very good out of camera. But when processed well with a good RAW converter, you can easily exceed the results. With this in mind, let’s take a look at an example image.
OK, it’s not pretty but it was shot in good light and features the type of detail that people often complain isn’t rendered well by the Fuji. I have checked the image over and its sharp everywhere.
Here is a section from the JPEG out of the camera image at 100% magnification. You may need to click on this to view at full magnification.
What you see here is a screenshot of my screen which us 24” and running at 1920 x1080 pixels. This isn’t a very forgiving resolution but is great for sharpening and checking if things are in focus.
Let’s now compare this with the RAW file processed in Lightroom.
If this doesn’t look quite as sharp and detailed as the OOC JPEG image, I agree. This Lightroom rendering was also using all the tips I could find from the resources on the Internet that readers suggested as well as my own trial and error.
An improvement on Lightroom was Capture One which you can see below.
A word of warning with this image, it was produced using version 7 pro. I have tried to upgrade this but it just goes wrong with my Capture One 9 Sony only version. The results from version 9 may be better than the above. The RAW file converted in Capture One shows great colour and lots of contrast. The sharpness and detail are marginally better than Lightroom and probably on a par with the JPEGs. Some of the improvement may be contrast related.
Next we have Iridient which many people seem to swear by.
Apologies for the watermark but this is an evaluation version. The results are very promising and I may well spring for a copy of this. The detail is better than Capture One and the image looks very natural. It’s definitely better than the OOC JPEG.
Now for second place runner up and in fact, with some practice I might put this in the winning position but equally I might also relegate it to last spot.
This is sharper and more detailed than Iridient but much more difficult to control. I have actually over sharpened this image in the RAW converter. Part of the problem is that the image preview appears to have some form of blurring applied each time you make an adjustment but once you apply the conversion the blurring effect is removed. This may make it very difficult to handle but the results can be very good.
Now for the top spot in RAW converters for extracting fine detail and texture and one I recommend for all Fuji users and possibly other camera users as well.
This is from RAW Therapee. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s a free RAW converter and it really does blow away the competition with the Fuji RAW files. The OOC JPEG files don’t even come close to the detail that can be rendered by this application.
I repeated this testing with a number of files and the results are consistently good. Here is a second test image from the Fuji.
And a section of this at 100% magnification.
And if you don’t use Fuji, please still try this out as I had great results with the Olympus EM5. I suddenly realised how poor Lightroom was in comparison.
Now for the slight downside, the interface for RAW Therapee is pretty poor and the software crashes from time to time. There are that many options available that you probably need a PhD to get the optimum results. Despite this, it’s well worth the effort, especially if you have been plagued by the dreaded painter effect.
If you are wondering what happened to the fuji RAW converter from SilkyPix, I started to see quite a lot of artefacts in the tree detail so ruled this out. Equally, I didn’t like the lens distortion from Photo Ninja although the detail and sharpness was good. I have been a user of both of these software packages in the past and they may be worth taking a look at.
Finally, I will point out that the painter effect isn’t just as a result of the RAW converter. I’m finding it from time to time in all the RAW converters and in some of the JPEGs. I will post more about what I think is causing it once I have managed a little more research. But for now, RAW Therapee is producing great results.
I hope you found this useful. I’m off for a lie down.