Olympus OMD EM5 cameras, What are they good at?

I have and we all do sometimes dwell too much on what other people/things/circumstances have wrong with them. It is human nature. My wife, who is heavily embedded in wellbeing and personal growth study at the moment, will point this out to me when I stray too far from being happy (as anyone in the first world should be by default) and go down the path of problem hunting.

Using some of this thinking in the most practical way I can apply, I am going to look at what my reliable, faithful and excellent little EM5's do really well. There is always the other side of the coin like the never ending eye cup replacement stream, but I will indulge the good as it is overdue to be indulged.                                                                                                                 This has ended up being as long as a "thoughts" essay, but oh well.

*

They are sharp. Really sharp. Sharpness that I had rarely had the pleasure of seeing** in digital until M43 and Fuji mirrorless* came along. They are sharp enough to hold their own against cameras with far bigger sensors and more expensive lenses.

The lenses don't let the side down either, even the kit lenses raised the bar. Scratch marks on polished metal, eyes of birds from massive crops, tiny branches on trees hugging the horizon on a sweeping landscape image. Results well within the happiness range of demanding and experienced image makers, even when the cameras only sported a 12mp sensor. Indeed the worst combination in the early period of the format (EP1 with it's heavy anti alias filtering and early, much maligned 17mm f2.8) could match the D700 Nikon full frame and 35mm f2 at similar enlargement sizes. It was (is) a different world of clarity that changed how we see images in the digital world.

Sometimes I smile to myself when people nit pick between two lenses in this format, because all are sharp on a level higher than we had before, so it is largely a pointless exercise in justification of choice. My 14-42 kit and 12-40 pro zooms render differently and have different specs, but I can work professionally with either. I have a pecking order in my mind, but my worst (cheapest) two lenses could get most jobs done and the actual order is not what you would expect.

To see the numbers if you need to, just go onto Lenstip or Photozone and look at the resolution numbers for the EPM1/2 or EM5 with any lens vs similar pixel count full or crop frame cameras and matching lenses. The numbers are telling.

A slightly cropped image taken with the EM5 and a "budget" tele zoom. This image matches a 16mp full frame and "L" series prime image taken a couple of years before of the same subject.

A slightly cropped image taken with the EM5 and a "budget" tele zoom. This image matches a 16mp full frame and "L" series prime image taken a couple of years before of the same subject.

Heavy crop from an image taken with the 14-42 kit lens.

Heavy crop from an image taken with the 14-42 kit lens.

They love and tame strong light. The sensor handles warm and strong light really well, never getting pushed out of their comfort zone. The smooth glow that comes from the sensor is very much like film's handling of hard highlights. Personally I reduce the exposure compensation to deepen the shadows and help control the highlights, but I have never lost a properly exposed image to blow out that was unnatural to the image and shadows recover very easily.

Some sensors add sparkle to the image even when the subject is not represented naturally, but not the EM5's. At first this frustrated me as Fuji in particular could magically make bland or dull look interesting, but this was not natural. It was not the real world. When I got my head around the ideal that the camera should not make bad look good simply by cheating, I really appreciated the controlled reality envelope the Oly's offered, even if I felt a little creatively cornered for a while.  

Running Canon, Fuji Sony and Olympus/Panasonic at the same time, really did not help. I felt I had potentially the perfect camera for any situation, when really I had no chance of getting to know any of them intimately, so I would be doomed to choosing almost at random.

A very contrasty situation that I never fear trying to capture. Very little post required. EM5 17mm

A very contrasty situation that I never fear trying to capture. Very little post required. EM5 17mm

EM5 75mm

EM5 75mm

Speaking of sparkle. When given a metallic subject the sensors ability to control the amount of sparkle and glow is really apparent. The brilliance of the final image is really up to the processing. Those deep and moody shadows, the bright highlight at the top of the pipes and the overall warmth and richness of the colours are the home play ground of the camera and something I would miss if lost. They manage to supply both Kodachrome 64 character and Fuji Velvia colours on the same file, but without some of film's short comings. I think of doing prints often when viewing files like this.

EM5 45mm 

EM5 45mm 

EM5 17mm on a system comparison morning (XE-1 23mm vs EM5 17mm). Initially the highlights were a blinding white flash point, but easily recovered until the right amount of glow was found. The Fuji looked beautiful, but I could not get back the lost highlights from the jpeg (don't ask about RAW at that time).

EM5 17mm on a system comparison morning (XE-1 23mm vs EM5 17mm). Initially the highlights were a blinding white flash point, but easily recovered until the right amount of glow was found. The Fuji looked beautiful, but I could not get back the lost highlights from the jpeg (don't ask about RAW at that time).

They convert to mono really well. Some of the charm of the film like properties the EM5's show is best displayed in their mono conversions. I would have to say, I never really meshed with Canon black and white conversions, Fuji was nice and Sony (Nex 7) was very good at mono, but I did not like other aspects of their images.

Mono with Canon became my destination when an image was beyond salvaging in colour and they always felt a little fake, like colour film images printed in black and white. With the Olympus cameras, I have been genuinely torn between mono and colour versions of so many images. The whole "mono vs colour face off" series is a direct result of this constant tug of war. I could and have contemplated fully switching to mono for my own work, but I love colour too much! I am a colour shooter who has alway respected, but never committed to black and white. I feel that both, for the first time in 30 years, are now even in my creative thinking.

EM5 75-300mm with the M2 "Basic film clean" profile applied. The print is sumptuous.

EM5 75-300mm with the M2 "Basic film clean" profile applied. The print is sumptuous.

Not specific to the EM5 camera, but a part of committing to the format is the depth of field rendering which is (in my opinion) perfect in practical terms. As you will have read here before, boke aji or bokeh is one of my areas of heightened awareness photographically (read; obsession). Bokeh means to many modern exponents "fast lenses, wide open, up close on big sensors", but it is far more than that.

True appreciation of bokeh is to understand that all but a very few fully and equally in focussed images have a component of bokeh transition (from fully focussed to partially or fully unfocussed) present. Even in small amounts, it is important to the viewer's feelings towards the photo.

It is not just how fast or loud music is, it is how it is played at all times that really counts and it is the same in photography. Anyone can max out bokeh to prove it's power, but how does it function in the real world when you need to use practical apertures?

EM5 17mm f2.8 (f5.6 on a full frame). If this image works on any level it is because of the relative clarity of the girl in the background and the dress in the foreground, but the orange case still gently dominates the composition. This is as much a characteristic of the lens used as the format, but it is so much harder with a larger sensor.

EM5 17mm f2.8 (f5.6 on a full frame). If this image works on any level it is because of the relative clarity of the girl in the background and the dress in the foreground, but the orange case still gently dominates the composition. This is as much a characteristic of the lens used as the format, but it is so much harder with a larger sensor.

Want super shallow DOF? Just do what you would do with a larger format only a tiny bit more aggressively. EM5 75mm f2 (not even wide open). Any less focus depth may not be practical.

Want super shallow DOF? Just do what you would do with a larger format only a tiny bit more aggressively. EM5 75mm f2 (not even wide open). Any less focus depth may not be practical.

I feel that every aperture I have is realistically in play. My lens arsenal provides a variety of magnifications and different renderings, which I am only now starting to really understand, but I feel fully equipped to produce the look I want, when I want.

They are clean. One hair, that should have been left alone and my own clumsiness forced a small, spot, sensor clean and one spot on an image very early on are all I have had to deal with in 5 years! No sensor cleans or servicing and 100,000+ images put through them. I am careful granted (I started in digital before sensor cleaning was a thing and have some good habits), but not obsessively so.

Finally, they are fast and stable. Shutter lag, the in camera stabiliser and auto focus are all very good. I do not miss shots because of the cameras, only my own skills. The AF has pulled off some miracle shots and the shutter lag is spot on for my own timing. I get what I see unless I stuff up. I had a bad habit early on of holding down the shutter button as I did with Canon in continuous AF, but when I stopped pushing it down too soon every thing worked brilliantly. It is stunning how often the camera grabbed onto something sharply when in touch AF mode and bumped or just fired off by mistake! Lots of sharp shoe shots.

EM5 17mm "flick of the wrist" shot with AF.

EM5 17mm "flick of the wrist" shot with AF.

The shutter sound and the camera's feel give great feed back when shooting slow shutter speeds. I rarely get surprise blurry images when pushing the camera into difficult stabiliser/shutter speed territory and generally know what feels ok will be ok. The Pen F on the other hand is not as forgiving with it's less defined "slappy" shutter sound. 

Another taken like the one above, but light starved.

Another taken like the one above, but light starved.

*The Fuji cameras are not as pixel peeping sharp when comparing fine details, but have an amazing smooth clarity and glassiness, that in their own way match the results from much bigger sensors.

** The Canon 1Ds mk2, and my best primes could get me there.

top end of town

Kyoto is a funny little town. The traditional capitol of Japan through much of it's more recent history, the city has the duel burden of being the tourist mecca, or "Venice" of Japan and at the same time just being a little city out side of a bigger city (Osaka).

The images below were taken at the "top end" of town. They are at the end of the main shopping street and the entrance to the primary temple area. It is, to be honest, a bit run down up there. The massive temples and the over one kilometre of shops tend to distract, but if you look a little harder at the buildings, they have a small town "charm", usually seen in the smaller cities.

From where these are taken I could just as easily have taken temple filled parkland or shop fronts.

All EM5 and 45mm.

Really sharp

Just a look at the 75mm lenses sharpness at f1.8.

It is reassuring that the lens not only offers the equivalent reach of a 150mm on a full frame, but also this is with f1.8 speed and is this sharp wide open. Basic processing was added on import, then the blue/green camera channel push talked about in the last "thoughts" post.

This is one of the biggest benefits of M43/43 format.

I really like the 40-150 zoom for some things, but this is surely my best lens. The bokeh in particular is consistent and excellent, where the zoom can be a bit busy to the point of being a concern in some circumstances. It is often pleasant at closer distances, but at middle distances with a busy back ground can look a bit like some older Nikon teles I played with a while back showing strong cross eyed or double image (Ni-Sen from memory?) bokeh.

I remember that this is almost the same dynamic as the 70-200 f4L and 135f2L Canons. The Zoom was often on par with the prime in perceived sharpness and definitely more versatile, but the bokeh was a bit hit and miss (better on the "IS" version apparently) and it lost 2 stops, just like the Olympus combo. The big difference is in weight. The 75mm Olympus is basically the same size as the 85mm f1.8 Canon, roughly half the volume and weight of the 135mm, while the f2.8 zoom is about the same size as the 70-200 f4 and both are a lot lighter than the 70-200 f2.8 Canon, so more reach/speed for the weight/size/price. 

Unlikely

This last trip, I decided to not use a heavy kit, aiming to keep my bag flat and out of the way. Two primes (17/45) mounted on two cameras (EM5's), allowing fast and clean operation (no lens changes) and supporting clear vision. 

For the most part it worked, but of course things come up you wish you prepared better for. I have never managed a crane in flight image. In the past I have had with me lenses up to 600mm (equiv. to FF), but opportunities did not present. No big deal really as that is not my thing anyway. 

So, what happens when not one, not two, but half a dozen cranes fly over you at helpful intervals while they build their nests and you only have a 45mm lens on? Well, you have a crack. 

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Heavily cropped and against a bland sky (one of only few this trip), but ok I guess. The EM5's grabbed the high contrast subject quickly and I shot without hesitation. This is important because the EM5 will acquire focus quickly, but will not track.

spontaneous

The people of Japan can get a bit of a bum wrap some times. Often they are stereo typed as emotionless, or at least prone to hiding their feelings. As I have posted before, they have a capacity to show strong and infectious emotion spontaneously.

These guys (and another out of frame) were enjoying a friends dodgy skate boarding in a shopping strip mall late in the evening. The mall was pretty empty, so they were not being incautious, but even so, the level of fun being had may have taken some foreign visitors aback. 

The Japanese are very pleasant. Their customer service is first rate, but sometimes it feels habitual, even culturally forced (it seems often that the Japanese response to most things is to smile first, which is nice, but over time can become waring). It is nice to spend enough time there to see their good natured and gentle humour show through naturally. 

At other times, they can be caught out just being themselves in another place. This girl danced her way across the street, seemingly oblivious of everyone else and those around her were typically too well mannered to be seen noticing.

experience shifts perceptions

As you have probably guessed from the last few posts, my grudging acceptance of the olympus 17mm has turned to strong admiration and reliance.

Night street photography is a true test of camera, lens and technique. Anything with low light and movement (subject or photographers) is going to push the envelope of firstly; acceptable image quality and then potential quality limits.

The image below is cropped and lightly processed. It was taken at ISO1600, f2 and 1/125th using auto focus while walking. It is good enough quality to print big, even cropped. The only processing was an import pre set called "gentle" (increased whites/shadows/saturation/noise reduction, reduced highlights/blacks) and a little brush work pre set called "gentle push" (increased contrast/clarity/sharpness). As you have probably guessed by their titles, neither is a dramatic or heavy handed group of settings, rarely reaching +15 on any slider in Lightroom.  

Note sharpness was only added by the brush tool, not globally and much of that was provided by boosting local clarity and contrast.

What did the lens bring? Sharpness and contrast at a wide aperture, combined with lightning fast AF and bokeh of a type that supports this type of work (coherent, but snappy with smooth, gradual drop off giving good coherence in the immediate back ground). 

I should praise the EM5 as well. Any camera that is 3-4 generations out of date, that can still produce this type of image shows an attention to design detail in areas such as shutter lag, AF speed and overall image quality that helps us to put off all too regular upgrades. This image reminds me of one I took 5 years ago when I purchased my first EM5.

Sometimes, in low light work I get the jitters and desire a better/bigger sensor. I am worrying over nothing. With F1.8-2.8 fully usable in a practical sense (providing F2.8-5.6 full frame equivalent depth of field) and noise that looks like very fine and clean film grain, the EM5's stand up well against most full frame equivalents*. Focus accuracy and live viewing also help. 

The secret to the goodness with M43 lenses, as with most other formats, is in the lenses. The basic kit lenses are excellent, but it is when you get into at least one fast lens (the 45mm instantly comes to mind), that opportunities open up.

*At the most extreme of extremes, the full frame sensor will test as more powerful, but in practical field conditions, where ISO setting/aperture/shutter speed combinations have a finite limit, they are enough for any realistic situation. Two stops of practical depth of field, accuracy of focus and exposure, sharp lenses at wide apertures and some of the best stabilisers around might add up to a combination of say; F1.8 1/125th (75mm actual focal length lens) at ISO 1600 where the full frame may need F2.8, 1/250th (150mm lens) at ISO 12,800 for the same result!

It is only fast moving subjects in very poor light that force high shutter speeds/ISO settings, with fast lenses already wide open that the full frame shows more legs, but again, not if M43 can supply a faster lens for the reach. Oddly, the comparison is most effective with full frame cameras. Many crop frame models blur the differences in apertures and depth of field benefit, reducing the differences to stabiliser/lens quality comparisons.

Cool art in the real world

Nara Japan. Three roller doors in a small part of a street. Each commissioned for a business or residence. The boxer was on the door of a Gym, the green sticks on the door to a night club? and the fire bucket on a residence I think. I hate borrowing someone's art, but this was really good stuff in a surprising place.

All EM5 and 17mm.

A little more 17mm love

Another quick example of the good transition of the 17mm. Taken at f2, the rail in the foreground and the Armani sign are all still well shaped, but the bike and rider have some "snap", standing out against the bus (really obvious in a bigger size).

EM5 17mm f2

EM5 17mm f2

Another one below taken from the same spot seconds before. The shelves in the store behind and the bike are quite defined, if out of focus and the sign on the elevator is almost legible, but the main subjects still have a little extra contrast and clarity to define them. Rare and clever design, going against the current trend.

untitled-4250028.jpg

I like how the viewers eye is first drawn to the main point of focus, drifts to other parts of the image, then back to the main subject with a little feeling of extra clarity jumping out at them.

The lens is not perfect (what is?), but it is amazing how quickly it's little chromatic aberration and edge softness issues fade into the back ground when you start using it. More perfect lenses like the 25mm f1.8 or the pro zooms have failed to win me over as this one has.

It seems I need to like the end product (the image) more than the reviewed promise. That's a win.

If I did not have to work with my gear, what would I need? The 17 and 75mm would do most things, maybe the 45mm for it's comfort and character and the 25mm for it's close focus, but not much else.

More bokeh thoughts

Another example of the 17 lenses ability to produce very practical and nice bokeh.  At F2 it shows obvious drop off of depth of field, but the left and right sides of the image look pleasantly coherent. The good central sharpness, enhanced by good micro contrast, allow the front of the rail to stand out well against the immediate background of the wall and the areas further away are well and logically rendered. Notice how your eye can stray to other parts of the image where you expect sharpness and may feel you find it (back edge of the wall front), but when you look back to the hand rail holder, the sharpness jumps at you a bit. this allows the image to transition effortlessly from the point of best focus, to other areas of the image without calling out the focus/sharpness difference. In other words, you can tell a story with the whole image area without worrying about micro differences in focus point accuracy, but also prioritise the prime focal point slightly over the supporting elements. 

A focus miss is a miss, but how the lens renders those misses is part of it's character and practical benefit.

OMD EM5 17mm f2 (35mm f4 on a full frame)

OMD EM5 17mm f2 (35mm f4 on a full frame)

In practical terms, I found the Panasonic 20mm lacking (on EM5's) because it lagged in auto and manual focus speed (meaning in real terms accuracy) and it's bokeh had the more in vogue fast drop-off of focus, showing misses in all of their glory. I would not hesitate to shoot with the 17mm at f1.8-2.8 if needs must, knowing that the lens is very forgiving in it's depth of field transition. The 20mm lens would be used in a more considered way, applying wider apertures only to highlight sharp to blurred areas of an image. it would also require a lot more accuracy and smaller apertures when applying fixed "zone" focusing like below. In my kit, the 25mm f1.8 fills the role of the preferred 20mm focal length as I feel it does what that lens does only better, being a little longer. It is not that I like 25mm more than 20mm (I like 20-40mm equiv the most of all focal lengths), but I like the 25mm's perspective better in the way the two lenses render and the 17mm at what it does.

EM5 17mm f4, zone focussed at about 5 feet. It is perceived as sharp from the gloved hand to the car in the background. I would usually use f5-6-7.1 for zone focus application, but even f2.8 works ok. If I am forced to use a wider aperture, I switch to AF on this lens.

EM5 17mm f4, zone focussed at about 5 feet. It is perceived as sharp from the gloved hand to the car in the background. I would usually use f5-6-7.1 for zone focus application, but even f2.8 works ok. If I am forced to use a wider aperture, I switch to AF on this lens.

EM5 17mm f1.8. Focus fell on the phone and chain. I snuck 3 images in a row, with focus landing in different places with each. This was the one I liked the most, but all of them were ok. Notice how clearly the sleepers are rendered even at f1.8 at a close distance. They support, but do not compete with the main subject. His hair is not completely sharp, but a little clarity added with the brush tool helped. When studying this image I have felt I needed to fight the slight urge to lean back when transitioning from the rear people to the man leaning in. The lens also shows excellent contrast at ISO 1600, wide open.

EM5 17mm f1.8. Focus fell on the phone and chain. I snuck 3 images in a row, with focus landing in different places with each. This was the one I liked the most, but all of them were ok. Notice how clearly the sleepers are rendered even at f1.8 at a close distance. They support, but do not compete with the main subject. His hair is not completely sharp, but a little clarity added with the brush tool helped. When studying this image I have felt I needed to fight the slight urge to lean back when transitioning from the rear people to the man leaning in. The lens also shows excellent contrast at ISO 1600, wide open.

Pen F 12-40 at about 25mm f4 (slightly more DOF than 17mm f2). This image is busy, but with the 17mm lens it would be worse. Better to shoot at f4 with that lens, going for an all in focus look.

Pen F 12-40 at about 25mm f4 (slightly more DOF than 17mm f2). This image is busy, but with the 17mm lens it would be worse. Better to shoot at f4 with that lens, going for an all in focus look.

By comparison, the 12-40 zoom with it's "portrait" bokeh drops sharpness away faster and more dramatically and provides more "blobby" smoothness, considered by many to be the bokeh ideal. I will do better/closer comparison images at some point.

The 12-40 would have made the above (hand rail) image more fashionably sharp/soft, taking away some of the story telling ability the 17mm provides.

De haze trial

Not looking for trouble necessarily, but curious if I could pull it off.

Straight in to the sun with a single leaf blocking out direct sunlight down the barrel, using the 12-40 and a Hoya protect filter.

I am really happy with the handling of flare. No obvious flare spots, but the inevitable haze is not ideal. The flare artefacts often make removal difficult, but if the flare is limited to just global haze, then the repair work can be relatively easy.

To give you an idea, i could not look at the composition straight.

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The brush tool was used with the dehaze setting pushed quite high (+60), contrast increased slightly, blacks reduced slightly and a little clarity added. I brushed over the obvious areas, leaving the rest. I went back into the darkest leaf with a little added lightening and saturation to bring out the lost detail.

Global application of the de haze tool tends to look a little strong, overly boosting contrast, saturation and reducing exposure too heavy handedly for most jobs, but like most tools in Lightroom, careful application through the brush can fix a broken image without too much harm being done. 

Jpeg processing with the Pen F

he last two quick posts were shot with the Pen F in jpeg.

The colour setting s were a little towards the saturated end, but not overly. What the camera produced was slightly dark (I tend to expose darker), Fuji Velvia style files. The Fuji cameras have the "correct" algorithms, but the Olympus files have very much the same punchy colour and ability to hold both warm and cool colours in the same file, something Kodachrome struggled with.

The processing was almost as quick and as much fun as the taking.

Loading up was quick silver and the files played nicely, but were really pretty close to perfect as was. I will have to learn to trust the camera more. The exposures were a little on the dark side, because that was what I set out of habit with the EM5's (-1/3 to 2/3 usually, -1 occasionally). I will have to say, the jpeg files from the Pens hold highlights almost as well as the RAW files from the EM5's and expose more accurately as a rule. Up to -2 exposures can be retrieved from EM5 files, so I tend to lean that way, but the Pen gives less trouble with exposure and up to a full stop either way is fine for any needed fixes.

 

The original OOC jpeg. A little dark, but fine for most uses and very natural.

The original OOC jpeg. A little dark, but fine for most uses and very natural.

A little push.

A little push.

The processing was limited to;

Some cropping.

Boosting exposure about +1 and a little added global contrast and clarity (I backed off the clarity a bit as it made the nice bokeh look a little less smooth). Some brush work over the in focus leaves with about +10-15 contrast, clarity and sharpness. A tiny bit of vignetting. White balance was excellent, allowing the exposure adjustment to warm the image up, but a added a little yellow anyway.

Reducing the saturation just slightly. It looks pretty much as it did with brilliant, low angle sun light bouncing around light coloured walls and a little overcast acting as a giant soft box and freshly rained on leaves, but that was easier to swing in the days of film, now everyone assumes you pushed the saturation slider through the roof.

The whole process too about 2-3 minutes. 

I usually liked the Fuji jpegs, but sometimes they were over the top or the wrong setting had been chosen. They were all quite different, meaning you spent a lot of time choosing or shooting RAW and changing in camera. I really like the Olympus ones and feel they are more flexible, generally what I want and "deeper" looking.

10 minutes the other way

Here are the verticals from this morning. Again, all on the 12-40 except number 2.

Lots of fun, deliberately spontaneous, so no deeply pondered compositions and quick.

10 minutes in the garden.

This year is shaping up to be one of the best autumns we have had in a while. Timing, gentleness, a little rain, marvellous.

It is amazing what my wife can accomplish (with a little, mostly uneducated coaxing from me) in a short space. This is our third autumn in this house. When we arrived there were only hedge plants and grasses in what was obviously designed to be a low maintenance garden. It is actually not a big space (probably 1 tennis court in total, spread around the bulk of the average sized house, but wow!

Mostly taken with the Pen F in jpeg (little processing needed, but more on that soon) and the 12-40, with one on the 25mm (top right?) until I changed for more versatility. Really love the smooth and quick to drop off bokeh of the 12-40.

These are the horizontals, verticals next.

broken promise.

I promised myself, no more redundant shots of sleepers on the subway. Promise broken.

EM5 17mm f1.8. Love the coherent and helpful bokeh.

EM5 17mm f1.8. Love the coherent and helpful bokeh.

night shots. ridiculously easy

Sometimes I forget that night photography, hand held is really easy with modern cameras.

EM5 f4 17mm

EM5 f4 17mm

The above shot is a slightly cropped image taken at ISO 1600 1/20th and f4. The image was easy to take for a couple of reasons. The first is the in built stabiliser, the second is the "what you see is what you get" preview and the third (not used here as much as it could have been) is the extra depth of field the M43 format offers. I could have used ISO 400 at f2 no problem, but the bus shelter in the immediate foreground and the tower across the road are both in focus.

EM5 17mm f3.5 1/30th

EM5 17mm f3.5 1/30th

The more you look for trouble, the more you will find. Now I have started to love this 17mm lens, it is really delivering.

EM5 17mm f3.5 1/40th

EM5 17mm f3.5 1/40th

All of the images above and lots more, were taken within 1 minutes walk of Kyoto station. None of them failed to come out due to blur.

colour mono shootout #11

Another comparison of the effect of colour and mono in the same image.

lets look at the colour on first for a second.

EM5 17mm f5.6

EM5 17mm f5.6

What is the first thing that you were drawn to?

For me, it is the woman's face that dominates a busy image, but is it strong enough? The warm skin tones, the contented look then the babies head and hat and her arms. I tend to linger on her arms cradling the baby. This is the "connection point" of the image emotionally. I next notice the colours of the red bag and the green socks. The background seems close, the car less visible due to the neutrality of it's colour and the green bush and blue sky and green walk signal harmonise with the warmer tones and colours. Even though it is a busy image, the balance and the warmth of the colours works for me.

As is often the case the mono image looks sharper (contrast?) and the woman seems to stand out more from the back ground. All of the warmth of colour is obviously lost, so the woman's look and pose are more important and the temperature, time of year are less obvious, adding to the mystery. The car is simply a tonal distraction like the building and there is nothing added by the missing colours of sky etc. The walk sign has effectively disappeared. The little bit of pole in the top left corner is annoying, where it is irrelevant in the colour image (I did not notice it at all until the mono image). he main subject become more of a confused play of patterns and tones. In short, the look on the woman's face has to carry the whole image. Selectively lightening some tones (the bag, her stripes) may add openness, or it may muddy an already busy image. Maybe a warm tone to the whole image? 

Not a landscape lens?

Although I do not consider myself a "dedicated' landscape photographer, I have spent time and effort (and money*) on kitting myself for landscapes. I am not sure if I am waiting for some long lost bug to re-bite me, or I subconsciously want to force the issue because I live in landscape central (Tasmania, Australia, where you can see sandy beaches and snow in the same hour). Either way, I consider myself always semi prepared. I just need to get my head right.

The 12-40 lens was originally purchased to do landscape and has since proven it's worth as a work lens, giving me rarely used, but necessary, wide angle capability. I don't love using it normally as I find zooms less satisfying generally and this specific lens too bulky for close quarters use (plus I still have trouble trusting it for some things). My reasoning, apart from the sheer convenience of a zoom when working from a tripod and weather proofing, is that I did not feel the 17mm and by extension the 12/14mm options were as good across the frame when stopped down. An important consideration in landscape work.

Travelling light in Japan (2 bodies, 2 primes), I shot what I saw, how I could. Low and behold, the 17mm lens, strictly a street lens in my mind up to now, has turned out some lovely images. I always felt the 12mm had the potential to be the stronger one of the two here, but once again, the little 17mm has punched above it's weight.

I consider this lens the equal of the 75mm in that it produces the right look for the lens it is. Straight tests of resolution and distortion give the field to the 75mm hands down, but the bigger story is, the 75mm does what a medium telephoto should do and the 17mm does what a wide standard should do best, so they cannot be measured equally (apples/oranges). Olympus decided to make the 17mm out of metal like the 75mm and not plastic like the supposedly optically better 45 and 25mm lenses. I am starting to see why.

I almost grabbed the 15mm Panasonic a couple of years back. It is a slightly better lens in some areas, but I found it looked brighter (nicer?), but thinner which is not always a good thing. I think I like what the 17mm brings in highlight control and warmth.

The perceived sharpness of all of the landscape shots is very good. I though I was looking at 45mm lens images at first because telephoto lenses usually show more natural snap (distances can be hard to judge after the fact). 

EM5 17mm

EM5 17mm

The detail in the image below is fairly high at leaf level, but the contrast of the full sized image looks very snappy. I think the zoom is probably sharper looking with close screen viewing, but I don't think the images would look very different in print.

17mm at f5.6 crop. Not a lot of sharpening applied.

17mm at f5.6 crop. Not a lot of sharpening applied.

Remember, this is hand held, unpolarised at ISO 400, using f5.6, not f8/ISO 100 on a tripod. there were almost no unusable images out of 50 or so, in trying weather (it was quite dark and I was usually holding an umbrella).

EM5 17mm

EM5 17mm

This image has a dreamy quality, even though it is sharp front to back. I have often not responded to OMD EM5 landscape shots as I would like, but these came effortlessly. It might just be the light and the subject, but it felt different.

I (we) should not judge our landscapes/gear with purely technical specs. The look of the image is as important to landscapes as any other form of artistic endeavour, not just technical perfection.

This makes me wonder if I should look at getting the 12mm and selling the zoom. I could travel lighter and use smaller filters and also get back to the one bag kit. I would also have a wider angle for street work.

*Filters, lens coverage range, tripods, specific bags, weather proofing, camera releases and macro capability are all landscape photography considerations. If I could rule it out completely, life would be much simpler.

Kyoto rust

One thing I like about Kyoto is the slightly shabby look a lot of the buildings have. It suits what i like and it also suits the EM5's strengths.

EM5 45mm

EM5 45mm

Another print contender.

Starship Kyoto

Kyoto is a contradiction of a city in a land of contradictions.

Temples everywhere then this odd building in their midst. The street was so crammed with obstructions, it was nearly impossible to get a clean image, but that only added to the mystery.

EM5 45mm

EM5 45mm

EM5 45mm

EM5 45mm

One thing I had in mind this trip, was to shoot more with printing in mind (the 4th "C" completion). These had a boost in clarity and contrast to enhance their impact and will, I think, print up really well. 

No reason

Sometimes you just like what you see, even if it is not really relevant to your project, or intentions.

EM5 45mm f5.6

EM5 45mm f5.6