Insurmountable problem

As you probably well know, I have strong feeling s about bokeh (or Boke Aji) and it's best application with my various lenses.

Yesterday I used the Pen F and 12-40 for some street images and re discovered why I usually do not use that kit, that way.

Both of the images were taken at 14mm with focus fixed at a little over 1m (nothing between 1 and 5 meters, so it's hard to tell), f7.1 (thats about 28mm and f13 on a full frame!) and there was enough light to guarantee a reasonably fast shutter speed. The focus drop off is so fast with this lens, that even subjects slightly out of focus are soft. After using the 17mm for a while now, this is really off putting. I know that at f2.8 the 17mm will give me a gradual and acceptable focus transition. It gives me confidence and allows me to take images that would otherwise push the camera impossibly. It looks as though I have two lenses at the extreme ends of the range when it comes to focus draw.

The issue may be incorrect barrel markings on the lens, and the markings are a lot sparser than the 17mm's, but even so, the drop off is severe, but nice for portraits.  

This snap of a dejected Jack as we were leaving is at f2.8 (af lock on) and 35mm. Pleasantly the DOF looks to be from a bigger camera, but his eyes are a little out and three previous images were unusable. 

This snap of a dejected Jack as we were leaving is at f2.8 (af lock on) and 35mm. Pleasantly the DOF looks to be from a bigger camera, but his eyes are a little out and three previous images were unusable. 

Another taken at f7.1 and 38mm (f13 and 75mm full frame). The subject was about a meter away and the image is not cropped. The foreground and background leaves are all slightly out of focus. The ones in the middle where focus landed are nice and sharp. Not crazy 75mm sharp, but smooth sharp*.

Another taken at f7.1 and 38mm (f13 and 75mm full frame). The subject was about a meter away and the image is not cropped. The foreground and background leaves are all slightly out of focus. The ones in the middle where focus landed are nice and sharp. Not crazy 75mm sharp, but smooth sharp*.

Is this a problem?

It is something to aware of and explains why I have had a luke warm reaction to lens. Between very unforgiving focus drop off and a pleasant but not biting sharpness in it's sweet zone, the lens can frustrate. I am intending to use it for landscapes, as a second to my 40-150, that will get a lot more work and should be able to work well enough with it, but for street, I cannot be bothered with better options (17mm and 14-42 kit) available.

On the bright side, Olympus have been able to supply a f2.8 pro lens on a larger sensor look, and real f2.8 benefits at the same time.

*Another thing to ponder is the sharpness types Olympus have offered in their range.

The pro zoom has a smoothness that is ideal for it's type, giving both the lens and the camera the benefit of it's rendering. The 17mm is more "gritty" sharp and simply clear, using lots of micro contrast to (possibly) help it's bokeh and to suit it's street subject matter. The 75mm is just razor sharp with great drop off for portraits.

Moving on

As of this month (end of financial year), I have decided to discontinue my active pro work. My main client is quiet at the moment, giving them the chance to fill the spot before it gets busy again.

The work has been fine, much of it fun and I have met some nice people, but the work itself has put pressures on my photography that I did not foresee.

1) Gear pressure*. My OMD EM5 cameras have continually surprised me, but I am starting to resent the use they are getting for work that few ever see and I cannot use personally. On one hand I feel the call of an EM1 mk2 upgrade and on the other, I do not want one just for work and cannot justify it/do not need it for myself. All of the hundreds of images I make get chosen for the odd publication, face book etc., but the quantities do not match the volume taken. The Pen F, one EM5, the 40-150 and 12-40 are pretty much kept in reserve for work only, but I actually wanted them for landscapes where they get little use. 

2) Storage. Some jobs can really chew up the space on my hard drives. I have maxed out a couple of drives keeping multiple copies of the original images and my drop box storage is always groaning. I like to run cleanly, but working professionally has forced a shift in my habits, well away from where I want to be, keeping a lot of so-so images just in case. Lately it has been costing me as much to buy storage/drives as I seem to be earning.

3) My interest is flagging. Rather than anticipating my next excursion or trip, I am finding myself inwardly groaning at the thought of another job and my gear sits around in "ready to go" bags, untouched unless a job is on. Please keep in mind that my income comes mostly from a part time retail job, a job that has shown amazing flexibility when needed for my photography, but it is always one sided. The proof to me came on receipt of the half yearly school magazine, filled with my images and with due credit given (a bit too much as it turns out as some of the images were not mine). It was not as fulfilling as I thought it would be. Be careful what you wish for.

4) I don't and never have liked the dynamic of working in photography for money. I would prefer to have someone love my image or purchase a print they like than have to work towards an idea that I have little or no creative input in. As a job I would much rather work to a wage, but those days are gone. I will admit to having little idea of my value photographically and one of my problems stems from not charging enough for my time, not causing resentment as such, but rather a feeling of getting behind, not ahead. 

5) I am feeling the relevance of photography wane. This goes back to the reasons I left the camera shop. The industry is tanking, going back to levels of the late 1990's where serious only photographers are buying specialist gear, the vast majority are happy with phone images, the equivalent of compact camera images of the past and don't care to see a difference. This is fine and expected. I am under no illusions that photography is loosing it's preciousness, but I like it and I want to continue doing it, I just don't see the value in doing pro work, for me anyway. My goal was never to work professionally, just to take the images I want and if that led to a job, than ok.

Yay. Free to do things my way again.

Yay. Free to do things my way again.

I feel a great sense of relief at this decision. I am still available at the junior campus of the school where my wife works for some free jobs to support her and the school. That is where it all started and where it will end.

* I fully expect my current crop of cameras to see out traditional photography for me. I would be very surprised if I buy another serious camera body as I have the quality I need (artistically and commercially), and hundreds of thousands of frames of life left in them (4 bodies), but not if they get hammered for jobs.

Analysis paralysis

I used this term a couple of posts ago and it came to mind again just now. How much time do some of us waste theorising about things to the point of in action. 

One thing that using my gear more, without the stress of working around it (yes stress, not pleasure, pleasure would be owning it or being able to use what ever you want when ever), or the time to worry about it, by working professionally, is that gear very quickly falls into the category of usable, usable with provisions or not usable.

Use it as is because it does what you expect, use it in certain situations due to it's character or limitations or don't use it, because something else at hand is better.

Collectors and hobbyists can, by choice, think too much about things. These things take on a preciousness, a life of their own based on imaginings and intellectual processes.  

Users of equipment also imbue their tools with a life and some loyalty, earned from companionship and shared experiences. Like simple, well worn jeans, they wear their scars with pride not fashion forced self consciousness.

My old EM5's are carrying a few dings, and they are sometimes so known to me they bore me, but something happened a while back. Instead of boredom equalling selling, I became content with them in a relaxed way, a surety they will serve as needed and rest until then. 

Effectively killing off new camera lust and replacing it with an impatience with new things, this thinking is much closer to contentment than the whirlwind of acquisition and resell I found myself in a few years ago. It has just dawned on me that my personal purchasing of gear has slowed to film era rates (one lens and one camera last year and less the year before).

I think this is a sign of the times. Progress of technical things has slowed in a retail sense. No longer do lines spread around the block on the launch of a new device and when one fails dismally and in large numbers, the effect is simply one of customer shift, not shock. The camera industry in particular is in for a tough future. Phones have effectively replaced the compact camera market, taking away the connection between burgeoning photographers and camera shops. Cameras are better than ever, but fewer and fewer people need what they offer as phones are perceived to be enough. 

No more the stress of what to get.

No more the stress of what to get.

How long will my old stalwarts last? How long does anything really. Probably long enough to see out photography as we know it, especially as I have decided to move on from the pro work I have been doing and use them artistically only. They will each pass as things should, after fulfilling the potential given to them from design to manufacture, not growing mould in a ward robe.

They will then deserve a place in a display cabinet as a good horse is put to pasture.

Memories of stars

One of my early influences, John Shaw once took and shared an image that had a strong effect on me. The image was of leaves on a still pond, with under exposure turning the water jet black. He likened it to stars in a night sky.

That example of exposure control and the composition stayed with me from then on. I cannot take an image like it without thinking of him, over 20 years ago.

My image is not as "stellar" (excuse the bad pun), more early landscape style like Elliot Porter maybe?

EM5 45mm

EM5 45mm

Human connection

There is nothing great about the image below. It is a focus miss, due to bumping the focus ring while on manual/zone focus, but serves as another example of the 17mm lens bokeh. It is dark and gloomy and it is poorly composed. 

There is something that caught my eye though. 

Human connection? Human mystery?

Simply put, I cannot dump it or rejoice in it, but I can share it in case it does the same for you.

EM5 17mm

EM5 17mm

The image below is another near delete. It was/is a lesson to me to not make editing decisions in the field (but maybe be more brutal when in front of the screen) and trust my feelings, not just my eyes. I have never managed to process this one successfully though.

EM5 75-300 at 75mm. A speculative flick of the wrist image.

EM5 75-300 at 75mm. A speculative flick of the wrist image.

Threes

Japanese women and girls of all ages often travel in threes. Not sure why, but maybe two is too intimate and more than three is impractical? Just guessing.

They don't practice perfect timing I am sure.

EM5 17mm

EM5 17mm

EM5 17mm

EM5 17mm

EM5 17mm

EM5 17mm

All of these images were shot on the same morning in, or going to Nara.

tourist spotting

It is rare that excessive human noise gets your attention on Japan. The little ones above managed to get the attention a fair few tourists in the back streets of Kyoto though. The little one in blue was quite raucous and pretty cheeky, bailing up knots of intrigued wanderers. Too cute. 

EM5 45mm

EM5 45mm

Princess in the glade

Kimono adorned Japanese women (and traditionally dressed men) are common in Kyoto. They come in many different forms, from the quick "hire for a day" to the professional Geisha. Somewhere in between are the harder ones to pick. They have clearly been dressed properly, but maybe for a photo shoot, a wedding or simply because they desire to put in the effort for the authentic traditional look.

This delightful discovery was probably for a self commissioned photo shoot or maybe a wedding as there were a lot of temples nearby, but it is hard to tell. She has the bearing of a Geisha, but was not engaged in traditional duties. Just out of the frame is a two person photo crew. 

Anyway, the image has a bit of a "discovered fairies in the dell" look due to the short lens I used (45mm). My wife has a much closer image thanks to the 24x zoom on her compact.   

EM5 45mm

EM5 45mm

modern classics

Something reminded me of a renaissance painting in this. I think it is the mother and boy facing the opposite direction, much like the heroic primary figure and adoring others at their feet. The irony is of course is the distracted phone users.

EM5 45mm

EM5 45mm

Maybe with a muted colour palette and a bit of heavy handed vignetting.

Textures of time

Wonderful textures provided by the wood and decaying paper. There were a lot of these posters around, all in some state of dis repair, but this one, on an overcast day after some light rain, really stood out. The slight angle distortion is from the subjects. I could have probably straightened it, but I decided to leave it alone.

EM5 45mm 

EM5 45mm 

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. 

untitled-4200116.jpg

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.