We spent the weekend in one of the worlds great treasures, the east coast of Tasmania, specifically the area from.......well, all of it.
There are lots of beaches, some rocky, most sandy, but all spectacular.
We spent the weekend in one of the worlds great treasures, the east coast of Tasmania, specifically the area from.......well, all of it.
There are lots of beaches, some rocky, most sandy, but all spectacular.
I think everyone has a lens "ground zero". It may be they know it already, or more likely don't realise, but on investigation would find that they gravitate towards the same focal range often. For me it is about 60-70mm on a full frame.
I have often said that I find the 40mm focal length to be the perfect all-rounder, but looking at the question as a "world coming to me", rather than "me going to the world" scenario, a slightly longer, than 50mm focal length feels perfect for what I like to do.
How do I know?
There are a couple of clear indicators.
1) It is roughly the middle of my comfortable range (35/50/*/90/150)
2) I have used a couple in the past (Canon 40mm on a crop and Sigma 30mm on M43, 135mm on a Pentax 67) and they have felt the least "opinionated" of lenses to me.
3) As a portraitist, I like a little compression and tightness, probably more than the 50mm offers (one of my issues/challenges with the 50mm focal length is it's indecisive nature) , but as wide as I can get for versatility and naturalness.
I honestly feel I could work as a full time portraitist with just this focal length.
The perfect foil for it is the 40mm, offering probably the second least difficult focal length.
A neat pairing is the excellent 23/40mm (40/65) pancake pair from Canon, mounted on a crop body. Very compact, versatile and high quality.
I am still sporting and enjoying the OMD EM5's I have had for roughly 5 years.
They still surprise me sometimes to.
My last generation of Canon used the 18mp sensor that I felt lost highlights very easily, creating a solarising effect. The Olympus sensor was (is) a revelation, allowing me to recover some images that my Canon honed perceptions would normally write off. Earlier Canon's and full frames did not suffer so badly, but the 15/18mp sensors made me very over exposure shy.
A much needed break and catch up with our god son and family, allowed me to get in some needed practice in before a wedding (scheduled for tomorrow but postponed due to illness).
Sporting the 75/25 combination, that I must admit felt good and safe, I grabbed those little moments that happen. For privacies sake, I won't show the more recognisable ones, but here is a good example of great colour, sharpness and bokeh from the 25mm at f2.
The pre-set is a new one I have been working on called "deep dreaming cool" (bit wanky, but the deep feels right, dreaming refers to the slightly softened approach and cool speaks for itself). There is also a "deep dreamer warm", both looking to give the rich and deep Canon like, when slightly pushed, colour.
The main setting is boosting the blue and red saturation in the camera calibration settings, some noise reduction for smoothing, even with the slight loss of sharpness, reduced highlights, increased whites for brilliance and a little vignetting. This is just a more aggressive set of my standard preferences these days (in colour any way).
I am trying to make a fist of it with the 25mm. It is the go to lens at the moment as I try to find a place for it, both as a focal length and as the preferred representative of that focal length.
The focal length offers a true alternative to 35/90 as opposed to the 20mm (40mm) that would just make me unhappy, as I love the 17mm.
Close focus is also a boon. The above image was taken of our small, old dog Jack sitting on my lap.
It is also shows very accurate focussing, even with the wider focus area box on a a non-firmware updated EM5 mk1.
My wife and I have booked for Japan again. This time in winter which has been my desire since early on.
I find winter quieter, more intimate and often less touristy. There is a slight chance of snow and a high chance of seeing new things and also old things new.
2 OMD EM5's, the Pen F and 4 primes with lots of batteries and cards.
I will be looking to my 25mm and 75mm rather than the shorter 17/45 combo because the distances in the cold will likely be longer or I will be able to compose tighter in less busy situations and I feel like a change. The light weight of the other primes will allow me to take them as spares as well, so no harm.
The 75-300, is probably too long and slow for the limited light to lug around but that much power for weight is hard to leave behind. Maybe in the travel pack, but probably not often in the bag. We will see.
Two or three cameras and attached lenses without changing makes sense in the cold and there is always a chance of cold weather static.
The bag was a little harder. I intended to take the Filson field bag as it has never been used in anger, but my lucky find of the Crumpler "Leaked Memorandum" has fixed the problems of insulation and secure access in the cold.
Off soon again to Japan.
A winter trip this time (not skiing) and a chance to see old things a new way.
It is a bit odd packing forJapan's winter in 30 degree heat here, but a cold snap a week or two ago helped remind us to take it seriously.
My one consideration is bags (what another one? No). My concern is really a lot of small things, but they are real enough to warrant a search.
1) Insulation. The bags that I usually buy are for comfortable "temperate" environments with little thought put into any other considerations other than rain. This makes for a cupboard full of thin walled canvas bags.
2) Secure access, closure with possibly gloves (no fiddly clasps) and weather proofing that is not dependant on a scrupulously closed bag. Thin flaps, buckles, poor rain proof flap designs are all things that will realistically be a problem if I am cold, wet and in a hurry.
3) Vanity knocking,. My winter clothing is generally well considered, modern and synthetic. My camera bags tend to be transitional season, jeans and a T shirt style, meaning I will have a trendy, rustic and faux worn or actually worn looking bag that looks out of place (because it is) over black nylon etc. As I said, pure vanity, but I am also keen as ever to blend in.
The answer (review coming) came in a chance encounter with a recently discontinued Crumpler bag, the "Leaked Memorandum". I will go into more detail later about my search for the perfect Crumpler, but for now a quick and dirty image of the new bag.
It is basically a "Flock of Horrors" style, fold over sleeve, lap top satchel (a favourite that I could never pull the trigger on for various reasons), without the annoying clasp strap and with two useful front pockets. Note the way the top flap folds forward (or backwards) for easy access, instant security and weather protection. And it was only $85 direct from Crumpler on clearance!
More to come.
The thing I find most useful when describing black and white images, especially when comparing them to colour, is the importance and relative ease with which they convey clean, clear messages.
The message may be obscure by nature, but the intent, the content, by it's very nature is simple, graphic and free of clutter. Honest.
I guess another way of looking at the difference is, mono images have one "emotion". That is to say, they they only offer one emotional opinion. It is somewhere between cold reality and stark certainty. The offered image has only one level of context and that is content.
If a little colour is added, through toning or if the images is in fact colour, just devoid of most colours, then there is, no matter how subtle (or even because of?), a shift in our pre conceptions. As humans we look for clues. Colour is a clue, tones are a clue and so is texture. Take one away and the others dominate, but add the smallest amount of the missing one and we tend to fixate on it's discovery, much as a lone figure in distant heat haze garners all the attention.
How does it make you feel? Is it more removed and distant, more interesting or less. Is the graphic nature diminished by the hint or colour "candy"? To me I think of Scandinavia. Can't tell you why, just a triggered memory I suppose.
Something I always feel with mono images is, they tend to look more evenly lit, more equitable in representation of depth and tonal range.
What if the image is manipulated, against it's true nature?
Does this feel warmer, or does it offer an untold story of sand storms or smoke filtered sunsets or even "old" styled sepia tone images?
I must admit to not being even close to familiar enough with the sensor in the Pen F.
It is better by some measures than the one in the OMD's I guess, but I just have not done the yards with it.
One of the great things about hanging on to older gear is the familiarity it blesses you with. Getting to know the functions of a new device seem to take a multi level path.
Early on, you feel functions become automatic, almost intuitive, but it is only after hundreds on hours with the same equipment that you forget to remember what you did not know intimately.
The Pen F still feels foreign, both inside and out. The grip is different, drawing attention to "odd" finger placement. The on/off dial action seems too deliberate. The list goes on.
I know I can rely on it with possibly fewer reservations than the OMD's, but how far can I push it? How far will it cover me when things are less than perfect?
A before and after test* image from the other day. Recovery is good, although the noise is a little "mushier" than the OMD's, softening the image a little when reduced. The OMD images recover well from noise reduction, becoming smoother, but still holding plenty of edge sharpness. Maybe the images are more sophisticated, or maybe less straight forward and defined?
First up the lens shows nice enough Bokeh, especially with the nearly impossible to render smoothly candle holder in the back. The jar is odd shaped, so there is no lens distortion and the new filter looks to be pretty flare resistant. I have only noticed one flare spot in a couple of dozen torture test images so far.
One area of concern is the stabiliser/shutter combination in the Pen. I just do not feel as confident with it. There seems to be a disconnect (with mine?) from 1/30th down, not an area I have been troubled by with the older cameras. It could be me. "Someone looking for trouble usually finds it" comes to mind, but the shutter is not as definite sounding or feeling, and the electronic option makes it hard to judge the point of release.
*The lens, the filter, the camera. You know... stuff.
I have a new filter on the 25mm. Not sure if it will change anything, but it feels good to try something.
What do Eagles, Bikes, Long board Surfing, 500 year old temples in rain forrest gardens and funky beach side boutiques have in common?
Seriously, they have signs out warning you to watch the eagles around small dogs!
One of the highlights for us each year is the small (but growing) Entally House Garden Festival. Squeezed between several other garden shows and the Deloraine Craft Fair, this one is small and has an "old school fair" feeling. The grounds are lovely and the stall holdings strike a fine balance between comprehensive and quaint.
We felt this year that it is on the verge of out growing itself, but we will see.
I also took the opportunity to try out an old friend. My first 45mm (silver) has come back to me after a few years on loan. I have a feeling that this one and the black one I own have slightly different character, especially in their bokeh, but only use will tell.
Limiting yourself to only one focal length, and a non standard one at that can be liberating (yes liberating, not frustrating or annoying! Well maybe a little). If anything, I missed a longer lens!
One of my favourite subjects to photograph is people in the act of simply living.
Oblivious, gentle, intimate.
The only thing I look for more is more than one person in the image. In fact, the more the better.
I love it when several stories collide in a way only the viewer gets to experience.
The most satisfying images to me are multi faceted and complicated. Grabbing the "decisive moment" more than once, connected or not.
Filters. Can't live with them, can't live (with piece of mind) without them. I have always been a little sus concerning filters. The makers of lenses work hard to perfect their optical formula, then we whack a lump of glass in front and don't expect any degradation of quality.
On he other hand, plenty of tests have proven that they do little if any harm, even if they are cheap, even if they are stack a dozen at a time on the front of the lens*
The 25mm lens that I have been coming to terms with has always left me a little under whelmed. It has solid numbers, a great reputation and has produced for me some excellent images, but there is something un settling.
After a couple of images with strong sun in them coming out a bit halo-smeared, I thought to check the filter on the lens. Sure enough it was a bit dirty. I have cleaned it, but have not put it back on.
This troubles me as I have had a couple of issues with marks on the front of Olympus lenses from spots that would not move, cleaned firmly turning into shiny speck blemishes that look permanent.
Olympus used to be known for their soft lens coatings, but this was a bit of a surprise. All of my lenses promptly got the filter treatment, so taking one off is a bit unnerving.
Unfortunately I did not think to do a test before cleaning the filter, so I tried to "stress" the lens, naked of protective glass this morning.
The issue, if there is one, looks to be from strong sun deflecting off surfaces and edges. Possibly ideal conditions for a polariser? The image below was taken with the suspect filter on, showing little compromise in quality if off angel to the sun.
The big question to me is focussing distance. I have had lenses that excel at one end of the focus range and fail at the other, but not in Olympus. The 25mm has performed well at close distances as a rule, but maybe the issue is with infinity focus? More testing required.
This Dogwood has been in our garden for three years. It flowered for the first time this year, twice. Not really twice as such, but two flowers only.
One is enough.
It took a few tries to get the front of the stamen in focus, even at f5.6
The saga of categorising the humble 50mm has gone from simple justification of a lens I own over re purchasing a lens I did once own, to a detail study of the role of the humble 50mm.
On my walk home yesterday I found myself composing a fairly dismissive and negative essay on the uselessness of the 50mm. Not wide, nor long it was, to my way of thinking, a pretty pointless bit of glass.
Then the thought struck me;
If the 50mm fails to deliver an easy answer, if it is impossible to simply find or assign it a clear role, then is it possible that it is both the hardest lens to use well and the only lens that makes you work harder for good results. You have to literally define it's role as you use it on a case by case basis.
This takes us back to the 50mm as the perfect lens to learn on, as it forces the user to work hard, maybe too hard?
The longer or wider a lens is, the more obvious and defined it's job is. The list of can't do's quickly grows longer than the list of can do's as the perspective and magnification becomes more exaggerated. This makes the choices of application relatively easy, even prescribed.
Is their ease of use just an easy way out? Does the 50mm offer a genuine challenge, forcing the user to actually apply greater control to make up for a lack of an obvious look?
Looking at it another way, I often find anything wider than a 35mm or longer than 90mm, tends to become a little predictable. I tire of the same looks coming from super wide or long lenses. They do their assigned tasks well, but often manage little else. Maybe I have looked at too many images over the years, but when I can reverse engineer an image far too easily, I often get disillusioned by the process.
My own 75mm (150mm equiv.) is a bit like that some times. The strong flattening of it's perspective is a powerful look, but it can easily be over used.
I find myself excited by the difficulty of the 50mm. The lens is challenging to use well. Rather than discard it as all too hard, I will embrace it and it's difficulties, growing my self as I learn it.
Rather than be the seldom used "catch all" or middle of nowhere lens, it will be the "I challenge you" lens, forcing out of the (regular little) box thinking.
Too narrow for street grabs? Learn to compose tighter, faster and with an eye for the abstract.
Too short for tight portraits? I will learn to include limited amounts of extra detail, relaxing away from the "head 'n shoulders" only portrait style, without going into true environmental portraiture.
What are my best lenses? Technically at least that is easy to work out based on my own observations and the many test bench reviews available.
75mm f1.8 The surgical instrument (and my dearest lens now the zooms are gone).
25mm f1.8 The "perfect" all-rounder
45mm f1.8 The gentle portrait expert (and the cheapest lens)
17mm f1.8 The street specialist
75-300mm The surprise packet
Ok, that was as easy as it was irrelevant.
What are my most used lenses?
17mm The first picked up for anything non portrait
75-300mm The handy, do-anything tele. It is amazing how often it produces brilliant images.
45mm The natural lens for portraiture or anything that needs a natural look.
75mm Not as versatile as the zoom, nor as gentle and easy to use as the 45.
25mm Still coming to terms with the role this one will play.
Almost a perfect inversion. There you go. I could have saved a lot of money if I knew this at the beginning!
Still on that 25mm (50mm equiv) lens and it's role as the new 20mm.
I think the real issue for me is that even though the 20mm is considered the "true" standard lens both mathematically and visually, it does commit to a look. The lens is too wide for normal portraits, but wide enough for environmental portraits. That is to say, if you get too close there is some "fish bowl" effect to faces, that stepping back a bit fixes, while including some context.
Often considered a boring lens, I think it is simply the first wide angle lens.
The 50mm lens perspective on the other hand is too tight for environmental portraits that share a feeling of intimacy with the viewer. As a compression style, true portrait lens it is also weak. This is possibly why I have found the lens hard to use. I either want a street scene in all it's chaotic glory or I am closing in tight on one subject. The 50mm perspective does neither well. If pushed, the 17mm and 75mm would be my last two lenses kept.
What is it good for?
I do not believe it is a true all rounder. Telling a budding shooter to just use a 50mm to develop their eye will, I believe, lean them towards portraiture over environmental images. It will however clarify their vision and force a good understanding of depth of field, so good for technical training. The 50mm may also be a good lens to force a decision, being not enough of either. I reckon pretty quickly, the fresh minded learner will start to shift one way or the other. One of the most comfortable lenses I have ever used was a Canon 28 f1.8 on a crop frame camera. The 45mm focal length just felt perfect.
Imagine how different the first images from a new photographer may be if they started out with a 35mm lens only? They may show an aversion to tight cropping of faces due to distortion, will learn to include more width and depth as the lens will reward these, not fight them. The 35mm trained photographer will be the stage manager, where the 50mm photographer stresses the main subject or "hero" of the image. The 50mm may well become their portrait lens in contrast to what they see as normal.
A lot of the classic street shooters* used 40mm lenses, or later the 35mm as it was the nearest available, as the 50mm perspective was too focussed in on a single thing over the interplay of multiple subjects. It is fine to say, "just step back a bit", but that looses intimacy, often opportunity and changes depth perception. I find you tend to look further out to compensate for the extra magnification, often composing in your head images that cannot happen due to obstructions or timing (this could be just a practice thing, but 17/45mm photography comes far more naturally) . The 17mm allows you to be "front rank" in a crowd, shoot from lower without unnatural distortion and allows a little room for error. The 45mm gives you a better "tight" lens, not requiring a short walk or heavy cropping to achieve composition.
For my own uses, the 25mm is going to be my intimate portrait and general close-up lens, more a little brother to the 45mm than a longer 17mm. There is a lot of depth control and quality to be had, even withstanding the neither here-nor-there angle of view.
The differences in Bokeh, colour, sharpness (the look of, not the quantity) and contrast when compared to the 17mm with well controlled distortion (ideal for panoramic landscapes) are also a benefit. It has similar characteristics to the 20mm Panasonic, but with better auto focus, more compression and a bigger jump up from the 17mm.
The images below were taken to see how the lens performs with reasonable depth of field** In the role of fine art/close up lens. This is important because the lens will rarely have perfect back to front focus when doing close-ups (nearly impossible without focus stacking etc.).
It is clear to me that the best Bokeh will come from the lenses best able to show it, the 45 and 75mm, but the 25mm will have a place as my shortest and most inclusive portrait lens and won't let the side down.
Everyone has a different sweet spot when it comes to favoured lenses, but I have determined mine. The 25mm will be my least used lens, but not unused. As an exercise, take a zoom out for a day of general shooting and look at the focal lengths you tend to use most. The next step is to go into primes only for those focal lengths. Go on, you know you want to.
*Cartier Bresson used 50mm a lot, but his images speak as much to portraiture as pure street.
** It is important to remember that Bokeh is not just blur discs shot with long lenses, set wide open, it is the character of any transition from perfect focus to out of focus on any lens at any aperture at any focal distance. This is why it is so subjective and open to interpretation. There is little "bad" Bokeh, but there is almost infinite variety.
Some believe street images should not be cropped. They also believe you should shoot with primes only and "use your feet". What happens when that does not do the job? Do you toss the image?
Cropping, whether it is done before or after the initial capture is a part of photography and always has been. Some of the greats of old did, some did not.
This image is a busy (too busy) street scene with no strong focus.
The extra intimacy and impact of this image cropped surprised me.
I do not crop much. I am a bit OCD about straight lines, but often there is not the room to fix every lop sided image.
Later in the same trip to Tokyo, mentioned previously, I switched the 17mm to the EPM2. The little EPM has a tough run. It was gifted, but not used much. It was sold, but came back. It now sits around as the spare to the spare to the spare.
On the Tokyo trip last year I decided to do one of the no-no's of street shooting. I took two cameras with different interface, different batteries even and two I was not overly familiar with (the two Pen's).
The Pen F continued to frustrate as the on/off switch magically got turned off regularly (by magic me it seems). The EPM on the other hand started to quickly feel very comfortable. The left hand hold I favour actually allowed me to turn on and off, focus and shoot, all with my thumb. The thing worked like a dream.
I also feel the EPM is a slightly more mature sensor and processor than the EM5 mk1. Not much, but occasionally the images have more punch without excessive contrast.