Landscape Photography

Revenge of the EM5

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The Lake District. Olympus EM5 with 12-40 lens, 0.6 ND Grad filter.
The Lake District. Olympus EM5 with 12-40 lens, 0.6 ND Grad filter.

Over the last few months I have been noticing an increase in the image noise from my EM5. Some areas which you would expect to be free from noise, such as clouds and blue sky, are starting to display faint traces of noise. These then become quite exaggerated when processed hard with Nik filters. In addition, I was beginning to feel that the greens and blues in the EM5 images just weren’t quite right, but it was difficult to put my finger on the problem.

It’s hard to say when this started but it may be that I was becoming increasingly fussy about quality as the Sony A7r was generally producing much cleaner images. A further factor may be that where I had begun to process old RAW files from the Canon 300D I was also seeing a very clean image, surprisingly so. All these factors started to suggest to me that it might be time to upgrade the EM5 or perhaps even switch to another camera manufacturer.

My intention had been to hold out and get the new EM1 when Olympus gets around to launching but I don’t know what the timeline is. In any case, I didn’t feel that happy with the Olympus colour handling and it certainly wasn’t as good as the Sony. These perceived problems together with my impatience lead to me trying a Fuji X-T1. The Fuji line up would also give me a great ultra-wide angle lens in the 10-24mm that would also accept filters. This was a failing of the Micro 43 ultra wides with only the Olympus 9-18mm taking filters but which suffers from edge distortion at 9mm (at least that’s what I was telling myself).

Hopefully this gives you an idea why last week I purchased a used Fuji X-T1 together with 2 lenses. Now the EM5 has taken revenge by making me regret this decision.

At the weekend I collected the new camera from the post office and headed off to the Peak District to try it out (between the heavy showers). Later with the images on my computer, what I saw shocked me. I called my wife in to get her opinion of the images and the first words out of her mouth was that the Fuji image “looked like a watercolour painting”, and that’s without zooming in on the detail. You can see this image below.

Fuji Sample
Fuji Sample

When you zoom in to the detail you don’t see much at all other than blur. Take a look at this 100% crop from the point of focus. You may need to click the image below to appreciate it fully.

Section of Fuji at 100%
Section of Fuji at 100% – click the image to enlarge

Now let’s compare this with an image shot on the EM5 from a couple of weeks earlier.

Olympus EM5 sample
Olympus EM5 sample

And again, here is a 100% crop from the point of focus.

EM5 section at 100% - click to enlarge image
EM5 section at 100% – click to enlarge image

Both images have been sharpened only slightly in Lightroom as part of the conversion from RAW. I found I couldn’t sharpen the Fuji very much without causing artefacts. Both images have noise reduction turned off. Both sections are from the point of focus.

I can also tell you that this effect has occurred on all the Fuji images using both lenses and across different apertures. Fine details just vanish and become smudged.

I find this unusual as a friend who has the same Fuji shared a RAW file with me before I bought the camera so I could check the image quality and it was much better than I seem to be able to achieve. Another friend has also just shared a link with me which confirms the “watercolour” effect is a known problem with the Fuji XTrans sensor when using Adobe RAW converters.

I will need to investigate this further but if I can’t find an easy solution the camera will need to go back. This would be a shame as it’s a really great camera to use. Perhaps I should have waited for the EM1 MKII after all.

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Friday Image No.103

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Higger Tor. Sony A7R + Canon 16-35mm lens. ISO50, f/18.0, 1/4". Tripod mounted with 0.6ND Grad and Polarising filter.
Higger Tor. Sony A7R + Canon 16-35mm lens. ISO50, f/18.0, 1/4″. Tripod mounted with 0.6ND Grad and Polarising filter.

This week I want to share an image from last weekend. A friend offered to meet me at Higger Tor to get a few morning shots. I have never been to Higger Tor before although it’s on an hour’s drive from my house. When I arrived there was only his car and someone camping at the side of the road.

The weather for once was on our side and I thought the location was amazing. I can’t believe that I don’t shoot in the Peak District more often. It seems to be much under rated and we don’t see enough images from the area. I suspect this is because they aren’t quite as dramatic as many other locations.

I hope you like the image and have a great weekend.

Friday Image No. 102

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Three image stitch using Lightroom. Olympus EM5 f/7.1, 1/250" at ISO200. Hanheld with the Olympus 12-40 lens.
Three image stitch using Lightroom. Olympus EM5 f/7.1, 1/250″ at ISO200. Hanheld with the Olympus 12-40 lens.

Last week I was in the Lake District followed by France. That seems so long ago now that I thought I would share one of the images. This one was captured on the Olympus EM5 and is three shots merged in Lightroom. The light on the day was quite blue and the hills were a very vivid green so this image is pretty true to life. I did do a little post processing in Alien Skin Exposure X, applying the Agfachrome 1000 RS slide film simulation. If you think you can see noise in the sky, it’s actually the grain simulation.

Have a great weekend.

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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.

Friday Image No.101

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Swanage Pier, Dorset.
Swanage Pier, Dorset.

Here’s one for all you fans of Black and White. If you’re wondering what the colour image looked like at the start or the processing I used, it’s all covered in a short You Tube video.

View You Tube Channel

You might find it rather surprising if you haven’t seen it before.

Have a great weekend everyone.

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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.

New Nik Color Efex Video Post

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If you have been following my series of video posts on the Essential Landscape filters found in the Nik Color Efex software, I have uploaded the fourth in the series. This is possibly the last of these so if anyone has a particular request relating to Nik filters or other aspects of image editing let me know and I will add this to the list for future videos.

If you haven’t already visited my You Tube channel the link is below:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYMWL3WXU9QMeOUhD3lOpEw

I hope you enjoy.