macro

Paper Bargain

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Woodland detail, tree trunk and moss.
Woodland detail, tree trunk and moss.

Today I took delivery of some new inkjet paper that I wanted to try out. It’s a traditional Baryta paper from First Call Photographic and I have to tell you that it’s excellent. And not only is it excellent, its exceptional value as well.

In terms of papers you might know, it’s quite similar to the well regarded Ilford Gold Fibre Silk and it responds similarly to colour. The level of detail you can reproduce is superb as is the dynamic range and colour handling. Having now printed a few images using both papers, there is virtually no difference when viewing this side by side with the gold fibre (except that I feel much happier about the price). The prints have a lovely rich colour and a three dimensional feel that makes you think you could reach into them.

The only downside to the paper at the moment is that there are no profiles available. If you are using an Epson 3880 printer, you can download a profile I created from my Lenscraft website. You should also set the paper handling in your print driver to a Lustre or Silk surface with a paper thickness of 0.4mm – it’s quite a thick, heavy paper.

If you are using printer other than the Epson 3880 and don’t have the ability to create your own profile, I suggest setting your printer to manage the print. The paper appears to respond very closely to what you see on screen so it’s quite possible the printer colour management will be fine. Of course if you do prefer to use a printer colour profile, you could always invest the money you saved by buying this paper into a bespoke profile from a profiling service.

This paper is definitely worth trying if you like to make your own prints. Unfortunately, if you are outside the UK the postal costs may make it uneconomical.

Favourite Filters

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Wet tree bark. Captured witht he Olympus EM5 + Olympus 12-40 lens. Post processing with OnOne Effects.
Wet tree bark. Captured witht he Olympus EM5 + Olympus 12-40 lens. Post processing with OnOne Effects.

I have written here many times about my love of software used in the image creation process and in particular filters. But this wasn’t always the way. At one time I was a hard core Photoshop users and believed there was very little any filter could do that I could do using Photoshop.

But times have changed and filters have developed substantially. I no longer view filters as a way of taking money from less experienced users but as a way of making advanced image editing accessible to everyone. Most importantly, filters now allow you to make complex, advanced edits to your images very quickly and with little learning. This is the essence of Lightweight Image Editing.

Despite my early dislike for filters, there were some that I owned and use. These were tools such as Neat Image for noise reduction, Genuine Fractals for image enlargements, Topaz Detail and Enhance, Contrast Master from PhotoWiz and a very good masking tool that I can’t recall the name of. Over time I began to favour some of these tools over others, ultimately standardizing much of my work on the Nik Efex range of plug-ins.

But I’m now reconsidering my standardizing on Nik and have started to use OnOne software Photo suite once more. Whilst Nik tools are excellent and very flexible, I have found the need to be careful when editing image files from Micro 43 cameras. These files seem to have a “noise pattern” that would become emphasised when the image was edited using some Nik filters (and it’s not just Nik tools). The difference I found with OnOne Photo Suite 10 is that I can make quite extensive and strong edits without negatively affecting the image quality.

At the moment I am only really using the Effects module but the results are very impressive. Best of all, if you’re not familiar with the software, there is a free version you can download from the OnOne site

https://www.on1.com/apps/effects10free/

Whilst this doesn’t provide all the filters of the full version, it does include some excellent and very useful ones. If like me you like to use software as part of the creative photographic process, this is well worth looking at.

Setting Your Expectations

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Wet bark on a pine tree. Three images taken on an Olympus EM5. The images were shot for focus stacking using Helicon Focus.
Wet bark on a pine tree. Three images taken on an Olympus EM5. The images were shot for focus stacking using Helicon Focus.

Landscape Photography is much more difficult than most people realise. Sure you spend a lot of time out in the landscape but your also at the mercy of the same landscape. If the weather decides not to play ball, then there is nothing you can do about it. Or is there?

Part of the problem I at least appear to suffer from (I suspect I’m not alone) is unrealistic expectations. Each time I head out into the landscape I have my mind set on shooting the large open landscape bathed in beautiful light. Living in the UK, these conditions probably exist for only a small proportion of the year and only at certain times of day.

The odds are that I won’t be in the right location at the right time. Most of the time the conditions are quite poor (especially in winter) and this can be depressing. This last weekend though I decided to change this and set out with a friend in the knowledge that the weather was going to be dreadful. But guess what, we had a great time and I managed a couple of shots that I quite like.

The difference was that I expected the weather to be poor so set out with the mind-set that I was going to shoot in bad weather and that the light would be poor. I also chose the equipment that would perform well in these conditions. Rather than trying to fight with the Sony A7r I kept to a pocket camera and the Olympus EM5.

The lesson for me is that my expectations have quite a large bearing on how successful I view a day’s photography and probably, how much I try.

Super Sharp 60mm

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Lichen and rock. Captured with a 60mm Macro lens on an Olympus EM5
Lichen and rock. Captured with a 60mm Macro lens on an Olympus EM5

I think I have mentioned previously that I recently purchased a 60mm Olympus Macro lens for use with my EM5. At that time I hadn’t had the opportunity to use it but I finally put the lens through its paces during my visit to Acadia National Park in the US. Here are my thoughts having now it used it for a number of days.

First off I should say that although I have a number of prime lenses, I have historically tended to use zoom lenses. I think this is because they are better suited to shooting on a tripod (which I do a lot being a Landscape Photographer), as you tend to place the tripod first and then use the zoom to fine tune the composition. With a prime you find yourself moving the camera and your position constantly to refine the composition. The benefit to this is that you feel you are engaging much more intensely with the subject matter. It’s a different way of shooting that I actually find more rewarding.

The 60mm lens is quite long in terms of focal length as its equivalent to a 120mm lens on a full frame camera. This results in a very shallow depth of field, even when you stop down. It does however allow you to maintain a nice working distance to your subject. If you are unfamiliar with using a macro lens of this focal length I think there is a tendency to move too close to the subject initially, unless you are doing serious close-ups. In the image you see at the top of this post I would estimate I am around 4 feet from the subject.

On the side of the lens there is a switch which allows you to set the focus distance to the subject. The options are 0.19m-infinity, 0.19m-0.4m, 0.4m-infinity or 1:1. The idea of the first three is that you can set the working distance and helps prevent the camera hunting around to focus. At first I thought this would be a bit of a pain but it isn’t and the focus speed isn’t bad at all.

The 1:1 focusing that I mentioned above works slightly differently to the other options. When this is selected you can move in really close to your subject and achieve a 1:1 magnification. With this option you don’t focus the camera with the shutter but move the camera backwards and forwards. The depth of field even when stopped down is wafer thin due to the long focal length and close working distances. If you are going to do any close up work I strongly suggest purchasing a focussing rack such as the one mentioned in my panoramic kit in a previous blog. This will allow you to move the camera to focus.

In case you are not familiar with Macro lenses, they can be used at distances up to infinity. I would say this particular lens would also make an amazingly good portrait lens. I had a lot of fun using this lens in the woodlands of Acadia to pick out trees. The focal length was good but it was also nice not to have to think about it. By removing the zoom aspect of composition it somehow simplified my working but at the same time made me think more.

So, in terms of operation I thought this lens was great. It provided much more flexibility than I had expected. As for results, this lens is exceptional. It is so sharp and renders such detail as to be breathtaking. OK, that’s hard for me to quantify and prove but I would say this is the sharpest lens I have, even sharper than the 45mm (but it’s only marginal).

I will look to post some further example images in the near future, both close up and distance.

I hope you like the image.

Looking Closer

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Close up with the macro function on the 12-50mm Olympus kit lens.
Close up with the macro function on the 12-50mm Olympus kit lens. The shallow depth of field has been exagerated a little with OnOne FocalPoint software.

I have to start this blog post with an admission. I have been purchasing new camera equipment again. This time it’s the Olympus 60mm macro lens. I had promised to buy myself one of these when I sold my Canon 5D MkII, but then thought I couldn’t justify it.

Macro isn’t my usual style of photography but on my recent trip to France I spent some time in a botanical garden photographing the flowers. I didn’t achieve anything spectacular (or even close to spectacular) but I did enjoy myself. The experience convinced me that I should buy the lens.

The image you see above was shot using the 12-50mm kit lens from my Olympus OMD. This has a macro button on the side which is surprisingly good at getting you close to subjects. It’s not as sharp as a dedicated Macro lens but it certainly provides better magnification than simply using a telephoto lens.

Another alternative I had looked at was a Raynox DCR-250 macro adapter that will attach to the front of other lenses. This was good value for money but the results from the 12-50mm kit lens are much better. If you have a micro 43 camera and would like to try macro photography but don’t want the expense of a dedicated macro lens, these options might be worth a look.

Once I have managed to capture some nice images with the Olympus 60mm macro lens I will post a few samples.