Strange Eyes

Our new pup, it turns out, has unusual eyes.

Like a deep space phenomenon.

Like a deep space phenomenon.

Haiku #84

My image making lately has degenerated into simple garden abstracts.

Haiku #83 New Life

We will not soon forget our old friend Jack, but it is pleasing how a new pup distracts your thoughts.

She has been accused of eating plants, but she insists there is no proof.

Soon It Will Be Time To Make The Call

I really will miss the images making capabilities of the Em5 mk1 cameras when they are all used up. This may be soon (of the 4 I have, two are showing intermittent faults, one has a missing a strap lug and all have “done enough” to be retired), but even with two new cameras in the kit, they offer something I cannot define, and will lament when it is gone.

The front one is missing a strap lug which resulted in a 3 foot fall, the back one has a “twitchy” sensor that bands when I know not what, conditions are met and the 4th, not pictured jumps in and out of mode in the (unused) “Art” setting, but they all still do the job (usually) and I still love the results.

The front one is missing a strap lug which resulted in a 3 foot fall, the back one has a “twitchy” sensor that bands when I know not what, conditions are met and the 4th, not pictured jumps in and out of mode in the (unused) “Art” setting, but they all still do the job (usually) and I still love the results.

I also really like the surety and gentleness of the shutter.

I know the stabilisers in the newer cameras are better, but with practice, I have been able to pull off some surprising results with the EM5’s due to smooth operation and a solid feel.

With a few Lightroom tweaks, the files can look like any other cameras or even film. The Canon colour I grew to like is basically a +20 blue channel saturation fix in calibration, some added whites/reduced highlights and boosted shadows/darkened blacks. The images are however more “real”, sharper more immediate, and crunchier than the files I got from Canon, and often with ridiculously small, mid range primes, not monster “L” glass.

With a few Lightroom tweaks, the files can look like any other cameras or even film. The Canon colour I grew to like is basically a +20 blue channel saturation fix in calibration, some added whites/reduced highlights and boosted shadows/darkened blacks. The images are however more “real”, sharper more immediate, and crunchier than the files I got from Canon, and often with ridiculously small, mid range primes, not monster “L” glass.

For a while Fuji also gave me something to ponder, but the simple, no gimmick Olympus files won again and at the time, the Olympus cameras and their RAW files were considerably nicer to use.

I did buy a well used EM5 from a work colleague (the one with the odd mode dial flicker), but at a reasonable price, so if it gives me a few thousand good files, it will make the pack go longer overall.

This is the first time since owning a Canon Fin years ago, that I am dreading the demise of a picture taking friend. Most other digital SLR’s or mirrorless cameras have been moved on well before this point.

From a job mostly shot at ISO 3200 with 40-150 f2.8.

From a job mostly shot at ISO 3200 with 40-150 f2.8.

An odd phenomenon I have noticed when processing the EM5 files is their ability to effectively clean up noise. The EM1 and Pen F (less so) have “regular” noise, like other cameras. This noise tends to smear, reducing sharpness a little. The EM5’s have black speck noise that cleans up with very little resolution loss.

They have their limits, but when used within their reality envelope, they produce beautiful, honest files.

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No call to be made yet, but soon I guess.

Hard Line

I am tough on, even dismissive of my 25mm f1.8. It is funny how often it gets grabbed and the results are always great in spite of my regular lack-lustre comments.

EM5 mk1 also which is the topic of a future post.

EM5 mk1 also which is the topic of a future post.

New Arrival

We still dearly miss our old boy Jack, but it is time to take on another member of our family.

Meet Daisy, our sweet little Smithfield-Border Collie cross.

Boy, are we in for a busy next few months.

Tandem

Taken on the same day and on a similar theme, otherwise no reason.

No Sake

We visited the Sake area of Kyoto on a glorious spring day. To be honest it was a bit of a wasted trip for us as we have little interest in the museums in the area and there is nothing out of the ordinary otherwise, but the day was the true hero.

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Favourite Times

Probably my favourite time of the year photographically, is the last of Autumn just hanging on against the stark back drop of early winter light.

Our winters are mild compared to many, but spectacular none the less.

These are from a frantic five minutes in the back garden this afternoon.

EM1 mk2, 12-100 F4 wonder lens.

Sense of Community

The spirit of community is very strong in Japan.

Exchanges between friends are common and the congenial nature of the people is touching. Infectious.

Bit o' Basketball and Thoughts on the future of Olympus and Sports Photography

As part of the workshop series we run at work, a small group of us attended a local seniors basketball game.

My own efforts, grabbed between talking to other attendees, surprised me. Sport was the primary reason I picked up a camera in the 80’s. This developed into a more mature and measured love of all things wild, but in my younger days, I was drawn to the “thrill of the chase” sports photography offered.

To clarify, the “thrill” back when I started came mostly from getting a sharp, reasonably relevant image “in the can”. Shooting film, often black and white so I had some control of quality in darker winter months, using a camera with no autofocus or motor drive and on film with maybe 3 rolls (108 shots total) to get the job done, sometimes felt like playing Golf with one arm and in the dark!

To say my skills went up a notch because they had to was an understatement. Some other shooters I knew at the time would expect 5-10 keepers per roll. I was happy to just come away with one decent image for the day.

The EM1 has been my work horse for the last couple of weeks in Japan and it is earning my grudging respect. I still prefer the images out of the old EM5’s, but that is as more habit and “success memory” than an actual measure of compared quality.

Most of the images here were shot at ISO 6400, some at 3200 with apertures of f2.8 to 1.8 as available. They are fine I guess, but needing to work at these ISO settings never sits well with me.

The EM1 has better high ISO quality and meters more consistently, but I like the way the EM5 images clean up. The older sensor has little colour noise, meaning what noise there is tends to be sharper and cleans up well. The stronger colour noise in the EM1 images leads to more “mushy” noise reduction (or maybe that is Lightroom). I have to keep in mind also, that I scrutinise these images more closely. I was often surprised by the EM5, I am often demanding to be surprised by the EM1.

The surprise for me on the night was the AF.

No kidding you might say, it is a sports action camera, but the reality is I have never fully trusted AF for most things. I feel that it is too hit and miss and strips the photographers decisive control and intuition away, but using the 12-40 and 75mm (cupboard is a little bare at the moment), I experienced a better than 75% technical success rate, allowing me to concentrate on the action, not just technical things. Some shots happened as quickly as I could spin around and push the shutter. Very few missed entirely.

If this was to be my main photographic focus, a 17mm or 25 f1.2 (for cleaner, low angle back grounds) and 40-150 Pro zoom (more versatile for down the court runs) would be in the bag and maybe the EM1x, but for occasional stuff this works fine.

The area I think Olympus really needs to offer something is in the super fast medium tele area (200 f1.8 or f2). This would make the most of the the other set of advantages the M43 sensor has to offer*, but until then they are fighting a head to head sensor race with full frame cameras that do offer theses lenses, even with their inherent disadvantages (bigger size, higher price, and a 50% reduction in reach).

*More depth of field at the same magnification, allowing the use of faster glass without razor thin focus and/or the 2x reach at the same focal length (200=400 on a FF) it offers. The reality is, it is much easier to make a 200 f2 than a nearly impossible 400mm f2! My 75mm f1.8 that did really well on the night is a full frame 150mm f1.8 equivalent, or in other words the mid point between Canon’s slightly slower, bigger, more expensive 135 f2 and insanely big and expensive 200 f2 IS lenses. All this power in a lens that fits in a coat pocket. Olympus (or Panasonic) needs to go one better and soon, before the Olympics. To add more emphasis to this argument, they already have a history of making these lenses for the recently replaced 43rds range (a 35-100 f2 and 150 f1.8)!

If not why make the EM1x?

Children's Parade

You do not have to look far for culture in Japan. This parade appeared at our hotel door as we were leaving and followed the same path as us for a block or two. Apparently there is at least one festival every day of the year, somewhere in the country.

The Incident.

The great shmutz on the shirt incident.

Argh! My shirt. It is ruined!

Argh! My shirt. It is ruined!

“What that tiny bit of shmutz?

“What that tiny bit of shmutz?

“Really, get over it. It’s tiny”.

“Really, get over it. It’s tiny”.

“Hardly noticeable, hazard of the job”.

“Hardly noticeable, hazard of the job”.

“In all seriousness, you should go back to your station, shmutz and all.”

“In all seriousness, you should go back to your station, shmutz and all.”

Meanwhile, business as usual at the “coal” face.

Meanwhile, business as usual at the “coal” face.

No Cliches

A few loose promises made to myself this trip.

No mobile phone (user or otherwise) images

But it is nearly impossible to shoot Shibuya without catching someone else’s selfie.

But it is nearly impossible to shoot Shibuya without catching someone else’s selfie.

Or at any other crossing it seems.

Or at any other crossing it seems.

Even when the light takes on the intensity of a renaissance painting.

Even when the light takes on the intensity of a renaissance painting.

Or when they are incidental, in the background.

Or when they are incidental, in the background.

No homeless or urban decay.

Rare as they are in Tokyo streets, the classic juxtaposition of poor/wealthy is still findable, and hard to ignore.

Rare as they are in Tokyo streets, the classic juxtaposition of poor/wealthy is still findable, and hard to ignore.

All fronts, no backs.

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No more metro shots. God no.

Well what was I supposed to do. Just keep walking?

Well what was I supposed to do. Just keep walking?

Especially no metro and mobile phone shots!

And above all, no Geisha, especially the “fake” ones.

…..

…..

Oh well, maybe next time.

The Relative Value of Lens Speed

This trip forced on me a change of basic technique. Loosing the use of one camera very early on, made me rely on a single camera and a pair of zoom lenses, which is not how I usually work.

The three primes, work horse lenses on every other trip, sat idly in my now uselessly overweight bag leaving me both a little frustrated and guilty that I was not using them. On the last night in Kyoto, I decided to go light and only take the 17 and 45mm lenses.

The value of their faster apertures soon came back to me, especially the 17mm lens’s very practical long transition Bokeh.

The true value of this lens comes with it’s ability to hold coherent detail in well out of focus areas. This matched with it’s slightly wide angle of view and small focal length (due to the format) makes it ideal for street style grab shots at wide apertures. This benefit comes at a price of course. You have to be aware of these included elements. The first image below could probably do with a little cropping to get rid of the left hand figure, still coherent (irrelevant) even at f1.8.

The main subject in the second image below is out of focus (best focus fell on the man in the hat to the left). If this shot was taken using my 12-40 or the Panasonic 20mm at equivalent or even slightly smaller apertures, this focus error would be a lot more obvious.

First the 17mm wide open or at F2.

And the 45mm, again mostly wide open or near.

As an ideal contrast to the 17mm and designed more commonly to suit, this is a true portrait lens with smooth and rapid Bokeh transition or in practical terms it easily makes a “hero” of the main subject. I personally (and this is highly personal), do not like to much the overtly super-Bokeh look. I generally prefer to have some subject context rather than just pleasantly smooth mush, so if I owned for example an f1.2 lens, after the one trick buzz of very strong drop off was exhausted* (although I fully admit it has a practical use to reduce ugly backgrounds), I bet it would be used at f2 or 2.8 most often, where it would have little benefit over the equivalent f1.8 lens.

For example the middle image of the set above, is a messy image. It only works (if it does at all for you) because of the balance of the messiness. With a faster aperture or longer lens, the plane of focus would be more defined and the out of focus subjects, the man’s sleeve and the distracting blob over the woman’s eye, less so. Would it make for a better image or not? I feel the “painterly” rendering rather it has rather than the more modern sharp/soft dynamic suits it better.

If you love your full frame, fast lens, super soft and powerful Bokeh rendering, then fair play and it is as relevant as any other technique, but remember, it is a bit like sugar. Too much can be addictive and mask other flavours. The best aperture may not be the widest available. A customer/colleague of mine recently showed me a series of work place portraits taken on his full frame camera a with an f1.4 105mm lens used wide open. The sharpness and smoothness of the Bokeh was impressive, but the strongest visual element in the images was the row of perfect “Bokeh Ball” yellow lights in the background, taking much of the visual power away from the human subjects. As good as they were, I could not help but think that they and the biting sharpness of the lens wide open were the true success stories of the image.

*Fully achievable at smaller apertures or even shorter lenses if needed, even if some post processing is needed. My one true “cut-out” lens is the 75mm f1.8, which is a powerful tool when used properly, but it wears thin when over used.