Tag Archives: landscape

Which Micro 4/3 Lens for Landscapes

This Blea Watern tarn below High Street in the English Lake District. Captured using an Olympus 9-18mm lens on a GX1 body with a 0.6 ND graduated filter. Post processing in Lightroom and Nik SilverEfex Pro.

Something I find really valuable is the Statistics module of my blog. Not only does this show me how my readership is growing but also how people have found my blog. One of the most interesting aspects of this is the section on search terms used as often these are people looking for answers to questions about Light Weight Photography. The title of this blog is one such question I have seen appear a few times.

Firstly I will qualify my answer by saying I have not done extensive testing with all lenses and neither will I present lots of evidence to support my findings. I also won’t try to find the absolute best lens for sharpness or resolution. What I will present will be some practical thinking from the perspective of a Landscape Photographer using a Micro 4/3 camera that I think people might find valuable. Life’s too short to look at details that won’t show up in the final print. I would rather be taking pictures.

The majority of Landscape images are created using wide angle and ultra wide angle lenses. It’s true that there are exceptions but I think 80% of shots are probably taken with a 28mm or wider lens (in full frame 35mm terms). In the Micro 4/3 world this translates into using a lens that’s 14mm or wider.

For my own work I tend to use a 14-45mm Panasonic lens a lot especially when walking (possibly more so than I would have thought before I checked my archives). I think this is down to the way I use the smaller camera (GX1) as I tend to get down lower and move in closer to my subject than I do when I have a DSLR mounted on a tripod. This helps me make the most of the wide angle, emphasising the foreground and I often find 14mm is wide enough.

This is a good lens in terms of contrast levels, sharpness and ability to resolve detail in subjects, even at distance. It therefore meets my criteria for a good quality lens that can be used for Landscapes. If you buy a reasonable example of this lens on the second hand market it will be a good investment. I know there are later examples of this lens when it was changed to a 14-42mm and also a Powerzoom variant but I have yet to see RAW files shot with these that measure up to the 14-45mm.

The problem with the 14-45mm is that it’s not really wide enough for some subjects and most Landscape photographers want something that is at least 20mm (in 35mm full frame terms). The options for wider lenses are however quite limited with only two current choices:

  1. Panasonic 7-14mm (equivalent to 14mm – 28mm) for which you can expect to pay around £700
  2. Olympus 9-18mm (equivalent to 18-36mm) costing around £400

The lens I went for was the Olympus 9-18mm but not because of the cheaper price. It was because it is not possible to attach screw in filters to the front of the Panasonic lens as the glass element extends beyond the end of the lens.

Do I think I have compromised by buying the cheaper lens? Not at all.

The Olympus is perfect, light and very small. It has a neat trick of collapsing down when not in use. This is also a brilliant lens for capturing sharp, detailed images with minimal distortion. It lacks the image stabiliser but that’s not really a problem for the sort of use it will be put to.

So if I had to recommend one lens to use when shooting landscapes with a micro 4/3 camera, it would be the Olympus 9-18mm.

The Small Sensor Advantage

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The other night I received a number of emails that reminded me how people involved in Landscape Photographers are failing to move with the times. It used to be that you would start photography using a 35mm film camera and in time, if you were interested in Landscape Photography you might move up to a Medium Format camera. Finally, if you were taking your Landscape Photography seriously and ultimately wanted to turn pro, you would use a large format camera which gave a number of benefits such as image size and camera movement. In truth for many, the camera movement was mainly necessary in order to get proper depth of field and stopping down the lens to a small aperture e.g. f/64 just wasn’t sufficient.

What prompted me to think about this last night were a number of emails I received showing relative newcomers to Photography posing next to their new large format cameras. This caused me to wonder if they had a specific reason to migrate to the large format camera or if they were just following the well trodden path of landscape photographers in the past.

In the past, large format equipment meant exceptional image quality and detail together with huge depth of field; all the things the landscape photographer needed. It still does equate to these things however there are other routes to achieving great landscape results. I can show you images that I have shot with my GX1 using a 28mm lens set to f/7.1 where the rocks at my feet are sharp and detailed, as are the distant hills. This is one of the advantages that having such a small sensor brings; incredible depth of field even at quite wide apertures.

As for the question of detail and resolution, I can upscale my prints to 30 inches and it’s got just as much visible detail as the file printed at the native size. Why, because the printer is the limiting factor. If I can see the barbs on a barbed wire fences when I view the image at 100% on screen, then I might need to print the image at double its current resolution or more before I can see the same barbs in the print. The limitation is therefore the quality and resolving power of the lens and the ability of the printer to print the detail.

I should stress that there is nothing wrong with large format cameras and that a micro 4/3 camera can’t compete with the image resolution from a large format camera, but do you really need all that extra cost, weight and time investment if you don’t print larger than say A3+?

I will however admit however that it doesn’t look quite the same when I am posing for a promotional shot with a tiny GX1 as opposed to a large format camera.

My Lightweight History

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In my previous posting, and the first Lightweight Photographer blog I set out what I mean by Lightweight Photography and why this is of so important to me. In this posting I’m going to look at the history of my interest and what got me to this point in my Lightweight photography.

Now if you are reading this posting on my regular Lenscraft blog (www.lenscraft.co.uk/blog) you might wonder what’s going on so I will take a moment to explain. After a lot of soul searching about my photography I realised I am enjoying my photography more when I am using lightweight equipment; it helps me feel more free and creative. I decided therefore to create a second blog on WordPress (https://thelightweightphotographer.wordpress.com/) to explore this, but I will also post the same blogs on Lenscraft under a new category called “The Lightweight Photographer”. Back then to the blog.

There is a new trend in Photography that I’m sure you will have noticed and that’s the almost meteoric rise of the CSC (Compact System Camera). Not surprisingly the camera manufacturers have started to jump on the popularity of these small cameras as it’s a new market for them to extract even more money from us photographers. Initially I was sceptical about these cameras but now I am a huge advocate.

If I look back to where all this started for me, about 5 years ago I won a competition giving me money to spend with Olympus and a trip to Paris to use it. At the time Olympus offered either pocket cameras of SLR’s and I wanted neither. I already had an SLR and lenses (I was hooked into Canon) and wanted better quality than was offered by a pocket camera, I decided to use the prize on their new bridge camera. This was supposed to be a pocket camera that gave SLR quality by virtue of having a good lens, larger sensor than a compact and allowed image capture in RAW. I won’t go into if this was in fact the case because it’s irrelevant, what is important is that I became hooked on shooting with Lightweight equipment that could produce high quality results.

After my initial steps with the Olympus I traded it in for a Sony R1 as I wasn’t happy with the quality of the images. The R1 was a spectacularly good camera with a fixed 24-120mm lens. Image quality was and still is amazing but it was big; almost as big as my SLR. This caused me in time to trade the R1 for a NEX-5 which was Sony’s new baby at the time. This again was a great camera that was much easier to carry than the R1. It was however let down by down by the limited available lenses and the suspect quality of some of these.

Around the time I bought the NEX-5 I also purchased a Panasonic Lumix LX5, which is a top end compact camera with a superb lens and which shoots RAW. It may seem counter intuitive but the results I was able to achieve in many of my shooting conditions were better than I managed with the NEX-5. I also found the LX5 much easier to handle and was therefore more likely to use it. On one trip to New York I found myself gravitating away from the NEX-5 and using the LX5 almost exclusively. It was this trip that convinced me to sell the NEX-5 and make the switch to a Lumix GF1 in the hope the expanded lens choice and better quality would give me what I wanted – great image quality that Stock Libraries were happy to accept.

Looking at it on paper the NEX-5 should outperform the GF1 on almost every level. It has a higher pixel count, a larger sensor, better ISO performance etc. None of this however mattered to me as in practice I was achieving much better results with the GF1.

In the past couple of days I took the decision to upgrade the GF1 to a GX1 in order to take advantage of the 16Mpixel sensor and improved ISO performance. I suspect I will upgrade this when something better comes along but for the time being I am happy. What interests me about my latest upgrade and also the GF1 is the quality of results that can be achieved with small cameras has become outstanding. This is something I will look to explore in future posting.

For now, here is an example image taken on the GF1 which prints beautifully on Matte paper.