If I Were A....

Ok. The street bag was fun and easy.

Now to this years projected primary bag.

“What if I were a day tripping Landscape photographer, what would I pack?”

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Landscape photography has a few advantages over other types of imaging. Lens quality is important, even more important than in less scrutinised forms, but you have access to the best settings a lens has to offer, often evening out performance. The super fast, sharp when wide open prime is usually a pointless waste of money and weight if used at f8+. Some are even poor performers stopped down due to all the corrections being weighted to the more open apertures.

Although I am a fan of prime lenses for most of my work, zooms also really come into their own for tripod work, offering a minimal or no crop work flow. Get it right in the field and there is no wastage of precious pixels in processing.

Occasionally a lens comes along that offers the same quality as a premium prime with zoom versatility.

The Olympus 12-100 f4 has revolutionised my thinking for landscapes.

I remember all too recently shooting with a Canon full frame, top end “L” primes and resolving to do some serious landscape work. Heavy bag (very), shutter vibration reducing monster tripod (that still failed to tame my 200mm even with precise and unforgiving technique) and lots of wasteful cropping, made for a very uncomfortable, expensive and frustrating process.

Skip on a few years and I can now match that set-up pixel for pixel with an electronic shutter (read; no noise-no vibration), edge to edge sharp, all-in-one super zoom that also has the benefit of amazing stabilisation if a tripod is out of the question and the cropping factor DOF advantage (f5.6 = roughly f11 on a full frame allowing a 2 shutter speed/ISO buffer).

The lens covers 24-200 full frame equivalent, which is all I need as I am more of a tight abstract, rather than big sky style shooter. It is also a decent semi macro for my artistic close-up needs.

The camera is a Pen F, which I find well suited to tripod work. Ironic really as it is designed for street and travel shooting, but the mechanical cable release connection, Arca style tripod optional grip and general operation all point me towards tripod rather than hand held use. I can, though rarely, use the high res mode as I find a “perfect” 20mp is actually more than enough for big prints and processing/storage are lighter.

I still remember the first time I tried out this set-up. I was hopeful, even confidently fatalistic about the results, but still surprised at the ease of getting that quality out of the camera regardless of the lens and with (by my standards) sloppy technique. The images below were taken within seconds of conception and my then make-shift tripod set-up was clumsy to say the least. It almost felt like cheating.

Pen with the 40-150 pro. Much the same quality is possible through the whole Pro range (and many of the non Pro lenses as well).

Pen with the 40-150 pro. Much the same quality is possible through the whole Pro range (and many of the non Pro lenses as well).

Crop from above. The sort of quality I could have dreamed of in the film era (top end medium format maybe?) and so easily printed. This lens was really too big and heavy for landscape, so the added range of the 12-100 is kit changing. The 75-300 is nearly indistinguishable from the 40-150 at middle apertures over the same range with the added bonus of more reach when needed.

Crop from above. The sort of quality I could have dreamed of in the film era (top end medium format maybe?) and so easily printed. This lens was really too big and heavy for landscape, so the added range of the 12-100 is kit changing. The 75-300 is nearly indistinguishable from the 40-150 at middle apertures over the same range with the added bonus of more reach when needed.

The Pen also seems to have a very slightly cleaner/sharper sensor at lower ISO’s than the EM1 mk2 (not scientific fact, just my observations).

The only down side is the lack of camera body weather proofing. If this is really a consideration, I switch out the Pen for the EM1 or carry a back-up EM5 mk1.

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More than enough for my fine art printing needs.

More than enough for my fine art printing needs.

For filters, I use a polariser and a 10 stop ND that is enough to create silky water in daylight. I do not find weaker ND filters of much value.

The 75-300 makes into the bag for the occasional wildlife or extreme distance shot (only made possible by the gentle camera), also with matching filters.

The bag is a modified Lowe Pro Inverse 100 (review posted). The modification is cutting out the bum bag “wings”. This allows the bag to be used as either shoulder bag with the supplied strap or to be threaded onto the front of a real* back pack’s waist belt using the massive, padded “wing storage” rear loop.

It holds a surprising amount of gear and acts as a handy work bench in the field.

The camera’s gentle operation also allows me to carry a small to medium tripod. My current one is a basic Manfrotto 190 that I have had for ages and a new Pro Master ball head or I can chance a light weight Velbon Sherpa and mini Gitzo ball head I picked up a few years ago. For expeditions I can even carry both easily in case of mis-hap, chopping and changing heads as desired.

Again, lots of batteries, spare cards and snacks etc.

*lets be honest. If you are going any real distance, a photo style back pack is pointless. The camera component of your rig needs to be accommodated in a real trekking pack, not be in place of it (otherwise you will not sleep/eat/survive etc.).

Still fun to do, more on the way.

If I were a......

This is a fun and totally self indulgent set of posts, basically about me thinking out aloud about different applications for my embarrassingly over sized kit. There is nothing scientific or even that useful about these posts, but they take me back years to when I perused magazines looking for any little insight into the lives of the photographers I followed (in the buy the book, read the magazine sense, before the internet).

First up;

“If I were a street photographer, what would I pack?”

This is an easy one, because I already do this.

Now a pure street kit s a little different to a light travel kit because you are probably nearer your base of operations and you are also very target specific. The trick with street shoot (I have found), is to keep it simple and comfortable. I would rather two primes mounted on cameras set up best for each lens than a zoom, simply because it keeps the focus (ehrr) on specific, known view points, not a larger range of more confusing compositional options. The be a little clearer, I would rather have to compose within the limits of a lens’s single coverage choice and perspective than add in the slower and more particular option of “perfect” composition. There is simply not much more time often the see/recognise potential- raise/compose and shoot. Adding zooming for best fit would rob you of precious seconds in the process.

I suppose this is still possible with a zoom (and I will probably try it next trip to Japan), but there will need to be some self imposed restrictions on zooming to a known focal length before, not during the shot.

See-point-shoot. All done is a split second. Adhering to the “life in motion/invisible observer” school of street photography, stopping, zooming and framing are simply impossible. Ideally i go completely unnoticed, or at worst the subject(s) may be aware of my presence, but are not offended by my intent and most importantly, I get to see the “unguarded moment”.

See-point-shoot. All done is a split second. Adhering to the “life in motion/invisible observer” school of street photography, stopping, zooming and framing are simply impossible. Ideally i go completely unnoticed, or at worst the subject(s) may be aware of my presence, but are not offended by my intent and most importantly, I get to see the “unguarded moment”.

The simplest of kits.

2 OMD EM5’s as much out of operational comfort as loyalty to their efforts over the years. The flip up screen is vastly more useful than the flip and rotate type when shooting from lower angles and the AF is still top notch. They also owe me nothing, so risk is minimised.

Camera “A” would be on a 60” Gordie strap and hanging cross-body to my right hip (I am right handed), ready to be grabbed and used at any height. It would be set to Manual focus and about 2m, Shutter priority (1/250 or higher as light allows) and limited auto ISO (400-1600), with the 17mm attached.

This lens has a known Bokeh benefit, rendering better/longer transition for street grabs, making it useful even at f1.8 in low light using “guestimation” focus or it’s lightning fast AF. This is as wide as I like to go with street lenses. It allows for good coverage without too much distortion, especially when shooting from lower angles.

I am very comfortable with this lens in every way and can now usually get the angles and coverage right by judgement.

I have experimented with the 25mm in this role and some of my favourite images have come from using it, but the tighter coverage more often than not cuts something out and the Bokeh is very in/out or short transition in the modern way, so it punishes focussing mistakes. It is small, light and sharp, so it usually ends up in a bag just in case, but for street it has become an emergency lens only.

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Two rare occasions where the slightly tighter and more compressed 25mm worked well, on Osaka’s wide main streets.

Two rare occasions where the slightly tighter and more compressed 25mm worked well, on Osaka’s wide main streets.

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*

The “B” body, with a 45mm mounted is in the left hand, with a left hand wrist strap, leaving the right hand at the ready. It is set for centre point/face detection AF. I can literally raise it and shoot in one action (yep they are that quick). It’s perspective and magnification are very natural to the eye, so you get what you expect. I even find it excels at wrist-flick grab shots.

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If distances are greater, or respect for privacy is more crucial, I switch the 45 out for the 75mm. Although a little long for street, this lens never ceases to surprise. The extra separation is a double edged sword (the 45mm is gentler with it’s transitions as well as naturally less aggressive in it’s perspective), but as a candid portrait lens it has few equals.

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The bag* , needs to be comfortable, low profile, easy access (no zips or velcro) weather resistant and understated. The bag is really only important for getting from a to b, as gear readiness is at a premium when doing street photography, but if the need arises for packing up and moving fast on or a quick gear change, there is no time to fiddle.

*usually an olive rugged-ware Domke F3x at home* or a Filson Field Camera bag or Tokyo Porter sling bag as the occasion/gear requires and there is a Think Tank Turnstyle 10 on the horizon.

Lots of batteries, a note pad, spare cards, a snack bar and water if warm, then all is done.

That was fun. I love looking through other photographers bags and hearing their techniques and hard learned pointers, so sharing mine I hope helps someone else.

More to come.

Forgotten techniques

When testing my two zooms for their macro capability, I forgot one of the basic principals of macro shooting.

Manual focus removes one of the many variables and it also guarantees the minimum focus distance is adhered to.

Tooling around in my in-laws garden last evening, I re-discovered this technique. Low light and a slight breeze required reduction of one of the afore mentioned variables (subject movement/own movement/AF jumping).

All images EM1 mk2 hand held at 1/30-90th (ISO 400-800) with the 12-40mm at 40mm and manually set minimum focus. A tripod would have offered better DOF, but I am still pleased with the high keeper rate.

Not a healthy bee. He was out too late and not moving well.

Not a healthy bee. He was out too late and not moving well.

The point of focus is perhaps 2-3mm deep at f2.8

The point of focus is perhaps 2-3mm deep at f2.8

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What value is a specialist macro lens?

60mm macro used much as above. This was about 2 inches across. This is not as close as the lens can focus, but it is as close as I could get hand held.

60mm macro used much as above. This was about 2 inches across. This is not as close as the lens can focus, but it is as close as I could get hand held.

Bokeh Explorations

Bokeh, or it’s perceived quality, is dependant on a lot of factors.

The viewer and their tastes (up to you).

The lens selected and it’s magnification on the chosen format (Oly 60mm M43 acting as a 120mm FF lens).

The aperture selected (f2.8).

The distance to the subject (roughly 10cm).

The subject (Agapanthus buds- a favourite).

The distance to the background/foreground (1/2 meter).

The background (and foreground) form (mixed leaf and stem background).

The light (shaded on the subject, mixed on the background).

Processing (Basic very mild EM1 pre set with a touch of contrast and clarity added)

Miscellaneous such as the interplay of tones and colours, atmosphere or flare (as you see).

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Some interesting, but possibly too distracting Bokeh “balls” in the background. This reminds me of the Canon 200mm f2.8 prime, which had interesting hexagonal shaped highlights, but gorgeous lush colour.

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A different feel in colour.

There is little that is right or wrong when talking about Bokeh, it just is, like the weather.

It is (almost always) present in some form, no matter how mild as long as there is any small amount of the image that is not fully in full focus.

Defending the un-defendable

Micro Four Thirds or M43 is my format of choice.

So what?

Sometimes I feel I need to justify my choice, sometimes I feel like I know a secret many others have to learn and sometimes I am simply ecstatic that I have a set of image making tools that are so close to perfect for me that I should never question them in any way.

Is my kit perfect?

No, of course not, none are.

Is my kit more than I could ever need?

Probably not, but also usually yes.

Is my kit better than all others? No and yes depending on specific criteria.

Do I dream of switching to “X” or “Y”?

Sometimes, but it takes little to remember that I have been down most roads and always come to the same conclusion. The gear does not matter unless it restricts.

The kit you use only has to allow you reasonable freedom to express yourself. It is unreasonable to expect all kits to fit all purposes, or for any to be perfect, even at the task they are designed for. The reasonable expectation is that your vision is not un-reasonably held back or curtailed by your gear, especially in relation to other tools available.

There have always been technical limits in photography. These limits have often created styles or specific looks over time as photographers overcome and work within them as best they can. We have fewer technical limits than ever before and ironically, like a person who can choose anything, many are paralysed into indecision and often unhappiness. Creativity is then equally paralysed

What I mean by that is, it is much easier to create a look or style when you have fewer choices and more to over come, but (I think) harder when there is not much that is not achieved easily.

Years a go, one of my mentors used paper developer to develop their medium speed film, giving them amazing super sharp grain and clarity. This combined with a bespoke enlarger set-up rendered stunning (even more so at the time), super clear and sharp mono images with grain so acutely rendered that he could actually focus through it. His compositional eye was better than many and very experienced*, but the technical limitations he overcame also gave him a signature that was unmistakable. The perfect blend of out of the box technical thinking and application. I used to use Rodinal at 1:200, with minimal agitation with super slow film trying to get medium format results out of 35mm, succeeding sometimes, but it would have probably been easier to just go into MF. Each to their own.

What can we do now that circumvents the technology we have to rely on? The choice of editing software is as much debated as the best brand of camera, but at the end of the day the technical limit envelope is set by the software creator. This is likely why many art based photographers are happier with film?

The only tool of difference we have is our own eye, our effort and our dedication, supported by excellent tools available to all. A 1” sensor compact camera now takes a better image than a 35mm film camera and more easily. M43 can match 6x7cm film format and full frame+ enlarges as well as large format film. The camera shows us what we will get either before or immediately after the shutter is fired and pesky things like noise/grain are becoming more of an annoyance than a forced creative element.

With this relative technical freedom comes creative paralysis. If everyone is using the same tools, then aren’t we all playing on the same predictable field? How do we stand out? What is our signature. This is of course the ideal, where only skill in communicating ideas with images count, not tricks, but realistically, many fall to one side out of apathy and an inability to make their mark. Photography (not graphic imaging) is probably doomed as an art form in it’s own right, but artistic communication will still use it to purpose.

It frustrates me that photography has for many come down to a constant micro comparing of tools. Think about the number of sites that are dedicated to gear reviews and the amount of traffic they get. Then compare that to the number of sites that promote only creative photography, especially the format or technique agnostic ones. Unfortunately, the reality is most website hits come from reviews. My most read posts are bag reviews!

A token image. I do not like a words only post. The unique Bokeh comes from a window panel reflection of the same door.

A token image. I do not like a words only post. The unique Bokeh comes from a window panel reflection of the same door.

These generate revenue for some bloggers and guarantee constant traffic which promotes the desire to keep posting. The reality is most bloggers would rather talk about photography as a whole, not just gear, but that as they say “does not sell papers”.

The point?

Take the best images you can and keep on taking them. Take them for you with what ever gear is at hand. Do not compare your technique/gear/results to others or past equivalences as you cannot and should not (there is just too much out there to compare to). Sure, learn from others, but be you, not someone else. The only things that are yours are the when/where/why of your image and your interpretation of it. In that context, the gear used is a minor foot note, a marker in time only, not the defining characteristic.

*He won more prizes in a prestigious international mono imaging salon than some countries and more than all of the other entrants from Australia combined.

Texture

Western Australian textures. Three of these were taken on the same street.

Impossible Horizons

I liked this image from first perception, into the camera and on later viewing. It has to me an Alex Webb or Harry Gruyaert colour palette and simple beauty.

The issue when processing is with two competing horizons. The umbrellas force an artificial horizon through the frame, completely at odds with the real horizon visible on the left of frame (relatively straight in this image, making the umbrellas look crooked). Fiddle as I might, there is no fix except cropping, that looses some of the natural image balance.

EM5 25mm lens

EM5 25mm lens

This on the other hand has no horizon challenge, but it lacks an element such as a road marking, or a seagull or similar to break it up.

This on the other hand has no horizon challenge, but it lacks an element such as a road marking, or a seagull or similar to break it up.

Wide View

For a long time, I have limited my self to a single, not very wide lens in my kit (17mm being a 35mm FF equivalent).

Now I have two excellent wider and probably better ones. Coming in at the equivalent of a 24mm on a full frame camera is still only in the real, but not extreme wide category, but for me that is plenty wide enough.

I have never really liked the extreme perspective and distortion wider lenses offer, limiting myself in the part to a 20mm equivalent at most. I also find the images they make too similar to each other.

Mr wide angle composer going absolutely nuts obviously. Look at that self control going out the window!

Mr wide angle composer going absolutely nuts obviously. Look at that self control going out the window!

Just a hint os distortion in the top corners, but that is what comes with the territory, especially when you are not well practiced with this perspective.

Macro Land

Ok, so it turns out I do want a macro, just not the one I originally bought.

The 35mm lens is an ideal technical macro. My father-in-law will use it to it’s maximum potential, with his spider studies. I found it too limited creatively.

This is, I suppose the main difference between the main macro styles, creative or technical. We, like most image makers view our styles differently. John likes his street/travel images to be portrait style, I need mine to be documentary or unposed, he needs his macro to be technically sound and repeatable as he has a scientific application for the images, where I like mine to be creative, i.e. abstract and technically useless.

You could (I hope) make a book of pretty flower photos from my image bank, but not a useful book on plant recognition, where John has written a book on spider recognition!

The 60mm macro is longer and faster, giving me the more appealing Bokeh monster I like to use. I really felt that the 12-100/12-40 zooms could fill this space, but after clearing out my old film camera stocks, I had some money kicking around and the macro was the only (genuinely) useful addition I could think of for my kit.

Pushing the bounds of abstract and far from the perfect application of it’s talents, this is the style I am looking for.

Pushing the bounds of abstract and far from the perfect application of it’s talents, this is the style I am looking for.

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The Bokeh weirdness in the images above intrigues me and adds to my options.

The Bokeh weirdness in the images above intrigues me and adds to my options.

It is also a useful light weight and weather proof portrait lens, falling in between the 45 and 75mm prime lenses and the 12-40 and 75-300 zooms.

What a goof ball.

What a goof ball.

The magnification is genuinely better. The left hand image is form a 12-100 “macro” image, the right one is from the macro (not necessarily the very closest focus distance for either, but pretty near).

2 new primes that turned into a zoom.

Feeling a bit flat this week. Loosing jack, then my wife’’s work finishing up for the year with a couple of her friends leaving, has given us both a heavy feeling of things ending.

I bought myself a couple of toys, in the vein of new beginnings for next (this) year and to distract me for awhile (new gear always leaves me unsettled, something I will use to hep me move on).

Firstly an old friend, but previously a problematic lens for me also. The 20mm Panasonic (Mk2). This one lost out against the 17mm Olympus because it suffered from both poor manual and auto focus application. The MF ring on this one (bought blind) is lighter than any I have used before, which is good and the AF on the EM1 or Pen F is better also. To put that into context, the 17mm on an old EM5 mk1 still whips it on the EM1 mk2, but it is at least useable.

Peaking on the new cameras in MF helps to.

What it brings is a focal length I like and have missed. From memory a lens with a snappy sharp/soft dynamic and Panasonic’s colour and contrast as an option to Olympus’s rendering. I could live without it, but just at the moment, while filling a hole our boy has left, I choose not to deny myself anything that will keep me occupied.

It looks to be a good one.

The second lens is more of a tool/toy. The 30mm macro is a lens that I have always been intrigued by, but have had difficulty deciding on having enough need for. Traditionally there has always been a macro in my bag. Equally traditionally they do not get used much.

Edit…

The 20mm did not sit well with me. I am not sure if it is me moving on to better and more sure footed lenses (the 45, 14 and 20mm’s were my first keeper lenses for M43), or maybe my memory of it’s performance on the older EM5’s is at odds with the EM1’s performance with it now.

The focussing still sucks on a camera that is a true speed demon. To give you some idea, the 20mm on the Em1 mk2 is noticeably slower and noisier than any other lens I own mounted on a non firmware updated EM5 mk1!

I have also not been overly blown away by the image quality in light of many of the lenses I have been using since I last had one. Maybe I just had a special one. I was hoping for the unique* organic and old fashioned look, but the end product was comparable (therefore no different) to the 17mm, which has it’s own benefits and the 25mm Olympus that is it’s superior in every other way (except at being a pancake 20mm).

The macro was fun for about 5 minutes, then it fell into that familiar malaise of “I should have a macro just in case”, knowing it will rarely get any use and I found it a little intimate for my preferred subject (flower details). Both of the standard zooms I have give me good close focussing, which to me is macro enough.

The macro found a home with my father-in-law who is an accomplished arachnid photographer (happy birthday John) and the 20mm went back to the shop.

What did I get with the credit?

An old friend, that I am not worthy of as I had one for a while and did not appreciate it as I should have.

The 12-40mm Pro. This is doubling up on the 12-100 I guess, but the two lenses are so completely different in handling and image look, that, in light of a trip to see family in the big west (Western Australia), it just felt right to get it again. The other option was the 15mm Leica, but again, for nearly the same money, nothing really to be gained.

Boy was that a good call.

The smooth and generous look of the 12-40 is a good fit in my kit. The smaller form factor (than the 12-100) makes it genuinely more comfortable and the faster aperture sits better with me for general walk around shooting. I also feel that maybe the Bokeh/rendering is nicer for general shooting and portraits than the 12-100. This one and the newer ones I have seen seem to have also removed the barrel wobble most of the early ones had.

40mm f2.8

40mm f2.8

A crop of the above image showing that even M43 renders very short DOF at semi macro distances.

A crop of the above image showing that even M43 renders very short DOF at semi macro distances.

“Milk storm sailor” 36mm f2.8. Sharp, smooth Bokeh drop off, but pleasing and “bigger format” looking. This is what happens when you do not use eye detection AF!

“Milk storm sailor” 36mm f2.8. Sharp, smooth Bokeh drop off, but pleasing and “bigger format” looking. This is what happens when you do not use eye detection AF!

The bigger zoom was bought for landscapes, where it excels, the shorter lens as an ideal core standard.

The 12-100 at f4. It looks to get a little closer and with a longer working distance. The Bokeh of this lens often looks a little more nervous than the 12-40, but nothing significant either way and the added magnification often adds back in practical smoothness.

The 12-100 at f4. It looks to get a little closer and with a longer working distance. The Bokeh of this lens often looks a little more nervous than the 12-40, but nothing significant either way and the added magnification often adds back in practical smoothness.

The longer zoom (at least with my copies) looks to be slightly crisper or “hard” sharp*, where the shorter lens makes beautiful smooth-sharp images. The sort that you may prefer for general shooting.

The longer zoom (at least with my copies) looks to be slightly crisper or “hard” sharp*, where the shorter lens makes beautiful smooth-sharp images. The sort that you may prefer for general shooting.

I am really happy with this dynamic. The smaller, faster standard lens mounted on the EM1 is the better choice ergonomically and it’s rendering is very pleasant for general purpose imaging (bold and rich, a lot like the 25mm f1.8*), where the longer lens (and the Pen F camera it is mounted on) is the less comfortable in-hand unit, but seems ideally suited for tripod use.

The 12-40 is also a logical partner to the 75-300, which is (for the moment) my long lens option, where the 12-100 has unneeded overlap, but not enough reach to leave the longer lens at home.

What started as a misguided attempt to freshen up my kit, filling holes that either did not need to be filled or were not significantly different enough to gear I already owned, turned into an unlikely revisit to a previously unsatisfying space and an ideal choice.

So much for mister “primes only”.

*My Olympus lenses seem to fall into two rendering groups. Smooth/rich sharp (12-40, 25, 45, 75-300 with the 45 being the stand out, blurring the distinction) or hard/micro contrasty sharp (75, 12-100, 17, 40-150 pro when I had it - the 75 managing a good bit of both). This is just my observation from my own results with my work flow, but these intuitive (not scientific) impressions are often the best guides to help properly apply the right tools to the right job. The former tend to make generally more pleasing images more effortlessly but the latter shine brighter when the hit the mark. Interestingly, the sensors of the EM5 mk1 and Pen F also have harder, crisper sharpness, where the EM1 is smoother, but slightly less snappy.

Goodbye jack

On Tuesday December 11th after 15 joyful years, my wife and I lost a good and loyal member of our small family.

A hard to describe mix of Smithfield and Spaniel, Jack was truly unique.

On the day we found Jack (a few months after loosing Ziggy our 12 year old Schnauzer), both my wife and I, separately and without any coordination found the same litter of pups at a local pet shop and excitedly shared to news with each other simultaneously. Armed with the surety of fate’s intervention, we returned. I picked up one little black puppy (I think I remember he stood out because he came to me), who promptly gave me a little lick of acceptance on the chin and settled in to my arms. Resigned to a choice made by us for her, my wife paid and we went home. More coincidentally a friend of ours got a girl from the litter and named her the name we had for him George (Georgie who is still going ok also), so naming him took a little longer than we anticipated. After a little consideration, Jack (Jack-flash, Jack-in-the-box) seemed to fit his rambunctious personality so Jack it was.

He never looked back.

Soulful eyes. He was 13 or 14 here, full of life, although the signs of decline were there.

Soulful eyes. He was 13 or 14 here, full of life, although the signs of decline were there.

Always torn between herd dog and hunting dog instincts he developed some curious habits of finding, retrieving and delivering his favourite toys (usually Duck-bear, an odd stuffed toy mostly bear but with a ducks bill!), presenting them with a strange delighted wiggle, but then not releasing. We called this the “here is this…but you cant have it” game.

To say he filled a room with his presence is an understatement. We feel that dogs (and people) have two sizes. Their physical one (13kg/1 foot at the shoulder) and a “pack” size. In this Jack was at least 6 foot tall! Pepper, his house mate for the last 7 years is three times his size, but always seemed to take up less room. She can disappear under a table amongst the feet of dinner guests, where Jack would be in a corner interacting periodically.

Never one to whine (I do not ever remember hearing him actually whine), he had several barks that we all instinctively recognised.

The most used was the inclusive or “fishing” one, which he used to connect. It was a simple, quite deep for his size, single woof. As he grew older and slower, with failing eye sight and hearing, he would use this when he needed to go outside*, or just to stay in contact (often when I was on the computer at the other end of the house I would be summoned to at least wave down the hall, which would be enough).

*We learned quickly to react to this, or to his and our embarrassment, there would be a very rare accident (he hated to disappoint, toilet training himself at a very young age and even at his late stage in life only had a very few accidents if left inside all day).

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The second was the cheeky, playful bark. With the smallest lift of my chin or eye brow, I could get him anticipating a game on the floor or his favourite, “hide and seek”. The game would start with his head dropping, a low growl and his jaw would drop, revealing a cheeky smile and then it was game on. The actual game usually ended with a gentle nuzzle and we quickly moved on. It seemed the anticipation and contact were often greater than the need to play.

Ready to go. This also shows a slightly ragged rear end, due to the allergies that plagued him for much of his life.

Ready to go. This also shows a slightly ragged rear end, due to the allergies that plagued him for much of his life.

The third, less endearing one was the leash or fence line bark (a bad habit taught to him by his predecessor/mentor Pippin the less friendly Spaniel, Fox Terrier cross). He knew every dog in the neighbourhood and they new him. You could walk Jack down a street he had not been down for years and he would remember all of the possible dog encounters on offer, often sneaking up on the suspect gate (I swear with a mischievous giggle), launching out with a bark, then moving on to the next one.

Not a fighter, he was a rabble rouser, an agitator. He had the ability to bring out the worst in the best behaved, trotting off laughing, job done. We could often picture him hoisting his pants up around his rib cage in anticipation of a friendly bout, but it mostly smoke without fire. Strangely, when he was young he was off the leash at a park once and another dog entered from a hidden pathway. We immediately assumed things would spiral downward quickly, but he simply sat down on all fours as if waiting for instruction, a Smithfield instinct we assume. We sometimes wonder if, without Pippin’s bad influence early on, whether he could have been one of those always off lead dogs, able to handle himself in any situation without fear of pending disaster.

before I paint him as a total rat bag though, I must remind myself of his deep sensitivity. When I was ill a couple of years ago, he was a stalwart companion. It was only right that I did the same for him.

Playing Fooh.

Playing Fooh.

The need to please was the driving force with Jack. Although he had a very Alpha male vibe, usually sitting away from other dogs, magnetically drawing them to him, then feigning disinterest, he was keen to do the right thing and was fiercely protective of his “pack”. People were his focus and he could win anyone over. You always felt with Jack, he knew you were there for him.

I can only remember scolding him once or twice in the 15 years we had him. Usually the hint of our displeasure was enough to bring him back from crossing the line and once learned, he never forgot. Ours was a partnership of mutual understanding, not a one way master/servant one. He had no formal training, but picked up (mostly) good habits from day one.

Jack’s hair smelled like a favourite old jumper. Rarely bathed (and never sporting a particularly good hair cut), he was always pleasant to be around. He took grooming seriously, but unfortunately did not have control of the scissors, something I am sure annoyed him a little.

Really….best you could do?

Really….best you could do?

It is impossible to describe how much my wife and I will miss him. Even people who do not connect with dogs will notice his passing from our family group. There is a genuine hole in our lives, making our house feel bigger, emptier and less alive with his passing (I feel it most at night, my wife in the morning). On the final day he went down hill quickly and our distress from loosing him quickly changed to a strong need to make him comfortable and quickly.

This is always a tough time. Two days before he has a slightly wonky, but fully involved member of our family, the next day he was lethargic, probably caused by a bleed similar to one he had last February when the vet told us his prognosis (he had a large benign growth on his spleen*, that caused little pain, but was growing big enough to limit his normal functions), the next day he refused food for the first time and clearly did not have the energy to even relieve himself without help (but the little trooper still growled to let us know he needed to go out).

This was enough. With little left in the tank to recover with and not even eating his favourite food, roast chicken (we called it the “chicken test”), we knew it was time.

I think if you are torn between guilt at possibly stealing away some days from him and guilt that maybe he should have gone sooner, then you have reached the time for the tough decision.

I will confess to some relief. Feeling him slowly fade away was hard. You are constantly aware he is not who he used to be, but is still a relevant and vital force in your life. We are also locked in for a trip away at Christmas that was threatening to fall flat if he was not either in good enough health to leave with family or (as it turned out) declining quickly and clearly.

Time to move on, but never forget. There will be another dog in the near future, as we are dog people, and Pepper our gorgeous 10 year old Ridgeback/Cattle dog cross would like the company. There is no feeling of disloyalty to Jack, more a feeling of doing our part giving a new life a loving home.

I am glad I have an interest in photography. I feel for those who loose their little friends and do not have any decent photos of them. Unlike Pepper (my muse), Jack was harder to photograph, but over his 15 years managed to keep a record of him and his funny habits. I am sure I will add to this as I go.

*Add to this almost total deafness, poor short range vision, dicky hips (from berth) an obvious heart murmur, another small growth on his heart, summer heat stress (often leading to odd habits like straddling a cool wooden table brace with his tummy) and two replacement knees from his 8th year on, he could probably be classed as a minor walking miracle, especially when you consider how well he handled all of these issues. Oh and the skin allergies, can’t forget the allergies.

Bye mate.

Purple Patches

Ok, so long story short. I have a couple of friends/customers (yes, they can be both) who, after a short but intense search for the right cameras for their wedding business, settled on a pair of EM1 mk2’s with F1.2 primes.

All looked to be going well enough until they came across a purple “quilt pattern” issue in the flared areas of the image. I must admit, it had not crossed my radar (I cannot help but think that if I was shooting/buying for myself, I would have come across it, but being more camera agnostic in a shop environment, it slipped through the masses of data).

A little research yielded little. A little testing even less.

All I can say so far is, I cannot get my EM1 mk2 to show any patterned artefacts in the purple flare areas of the image with either the 25mm f1.8 or the 45mm f1.8. I shot 30 images into the sun through some leaves or the edge of a building, trying to get it to come out. The images do show some purple in the flare areas, but Olympus lenses, especially the f1.8 ones do have a tendency towards purple CA (my 25 especially), so this would be the colour, if any, that would show through.

Obviously more information and more testing are needed. I would have put the problem down to the new F1.2 lenses (maybe a coating issue like the old Nikon 50mm f1.8 blue reflection one, or the unusual element design in those lenses or maybe even the lenses speed). It is likely an issue that post dates the EM1’s release, but one thread had a comment about it showing up on most of the lenses tested.

As modern manufacturers push harder and harder, the simple things seem to be paying the price. If there is an issue I hope Olympus fix it, quickly and efficiently.

Come Fly with me

Australia, the land of the fly. Apparently there a million of them for each one of us. I would believe it.

Even in quiet and relatively temperate Tasmania, we can produce plenty.

They can be an easy and surprisingly interesting study point in the morning, before the heat comes on.

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They seem to like each others company,

They seem to like each others company,

The proverbial “blue assed fly” (and friend).

The proverbial “blue assed fly” (and friend).

Small things…

Kind of like shooting slide film.

Using slide film was tough. There was the exposure accuracy to consider, the waiting for processing (1 week for Kodachrome) and of course the not insignificant question of what to do with your slides when done. Of course the pay off at this time was the best quality colour image available.

Negative film was more immediate and more flexible/forgiving and black and white gave you the (illusion) of complete control.

A passing thought. If I am happy with the jpeg files form the Pen F and they give me HDR, HiRes and other multi file options as well as built in lens corrections, then could (should) I switch to jpeg for landscapes.

This would in effect be the same as shooting slide film without all of the problems mentioned above. In fact it would reduce a few issues I have now with file storage and processing. Is it too limiting if I intend to process aggressively?

Hmmmm….thinking.



print or screen?

We all spend a lot of time and effort creating our art form (and not inconsiderable funds). What is your personal ideal end destination for your work?

Are you attempting to break even on your investment, even get a little ahead?

Are you more content with more emotional reimbursement?

Just as importantly as why is what you do to secure this?

The pinnacle of the process for me is a fine art print. I feel there is nothing that compares to a high quality print, correctly sized, under glass and framed tastefully*. This both a visual and emotional commitment and requires a good amount of courage to apply.

The print is your vision in hard copy, placed in full view and intended for extended viewing, there is no escaping it’s presence. This is a bold gesture in this era of 3 second viewing and semi anonymous posting. The extra effort and expense involved in printing forces the artist to make decisions often at odds with our modern way of working. I know for a fact that I post images that I would not print and I do not mean just the crops and examples, but images that I am happy for the world to see at low resolution, surrounded by words, but would not hold up as a constant companion in a room or hall.

An image that is good enough to print has to transcend technical quality. It has to be more than just the better of a lot of similar images (i.e. least worst). It must, to my mind be the best you can do to tell the world who you are as an artist. Technical short comings can be overcome by a strong enough image, but ideally, the print will be completely and fully accomplished. For me, it is a baked in assumption, that any doubts I have cancel an image out as a contender.

If it is good enough to print, it also needs to be framed and placed well. Any short fall at any step in the process undoes the whole*.

Should this be everyone’s premier end point?

Of course not. The reality is we all photograph for different reasons with any number of applications. The irony though is the whole industry is geared up for “the big print”. The only other uses we have for super high resolution cameras are technical/scientific applications or for viewing/reviewing at 100 percent or bigger (photo nerd stuff).

If a screen is the limit of your vision, then a reasonably low-res image, taken technically well will always do (perceived sharpness, contrast and composition have little to do with pixel counts). Screen resolution in the future may change this quality gauge, but not by much in real terms and even if it did the experience of the viewer would need to change to suit (that is to say we would need something better than the human eye at normal viewing distances).

Once again I roll out one of the test images I mistakenly shot on small jpeg (about 3 1/2 MP). Even on a 29” screen I did not realise my mistake until I went to pixel peep and the images would (could) not increase. Let there be no doubt. At this size I have rarely seen a sharper or glassy smooth image from any of my cameras. It only lacked the ability to “embiggen”.

Once again I roll out one of the test images I mistakenly shot on small jpeg (about 3 1/2 MP). Even on a 29” screen I did not realise my mistake until I went to pixel peep and the images would (could) not increase. Let there be no doubt. At this size I have rarely seen a sharper or glassy smooth image from any of my cameras. It only lacked the ability to “embiggen”.

Another ironic twist here for me is the reversal of roles cameras and prints have made in the last 10 years. For years, film resolution and enlarge-ability were the limiting factors for printers. Now we are free to print as we want while the ratio of printing to image making is at it’s lowest point ever.

Finally we can all print as well as the masters, even at home. We have the front end cameras, editing tools, speed of turn around, low running costs and can even be more comfortable doing it, but printing has become the poor forgotten cousin to screen viewing.

When I first began with film in the 80’s, printing was the only form of sharing. The bigger the print the grander the share. Shooting mostly slide film, I am guilty of having some of my best work lost to apathy or the inadequacy of presentation options and skill. The black and white darkroom was better by a hair, but still a place where I found I lacked commitment and enthusiasm, seeing it mostly as a severe money and time drain**. Rare were my prints and meagre my talent in creating them. I did not realise it at the time, that I was part of a small community (most more committed than I), who had a chance to put into print, for the long term, their (our) little place in time. It also escaped my notice that connecting with friends and family about my passion only came from showing them my prints, not my gear or books of others work.

All this comes down to the question the photo industry probably does not want asked (up front anyway). “What is the realistic end result of your work?”.

The answer to that question is at odds with the illusion required for camera sales to continue or increase. The most honest customers, when it comes to matching perceptions with needs are at the two extremes of the market.

The cheap compact camera purchaser (also known as the bus user) knows they only need something basic to get the job done. What they do not realise is, most people who spend a lot more have the same technical needs, they just pay into the industry perpetuated illusion they need better tools.

At the other end of the spectrum are the fine art, technical and commercial photographers (AKA the racing drivers) who may indeed print big or have their images scrutinised closely. Realistically very few and far between, the industry needs more than just these few to justify the volume and quality of cameras they produce. The industry does this by selling the emotionally charged promise of something truly special, by directly connecting to technical minimum requirements.

The rest of us are just like regular car consumers. We buy cameras the same way we buy cars with potential top speeds well in excess of the speed limit. Some by a sports cars, some basic sedans and some motor bikes, but all limited by the speed limit or our own skill regardless.

In a previous post I posed the question “Is M43 good enough for printing reasonably big fine art prints"?”. The better question, assuming the content of the image itself is the most important indicator or quality, may be “Is it realistically more than I need?”.

Anyway, a bit off topic as usual, so lets return to the real question.

What is the realistic end product of your images and how do you get there.? Once the journey is defined, it often becomes much easier to facilitate and we can get on with doing it.

*I am not a fan of canvas prints in most cases, as I see them as an object that is self-justifying, almost regardless of the image content, but can also reduce the impact of a good print by their very nature.

** Funny though that I could easily spend hundreds of hours reading up on all aspects of the subject and pore thousands of dollars into it also, just not commit at the output end.

JPEg and Raw comparison

Just a quick look at a RAW and jpeg image comparison from the Pen F and 12-100 (at 100mm f4, supposedly it’s worst performing setting and hand held at 1/60th)

Standard, fairly mild pre-set for the RAW, nothing for the jpeg, then some mild brush work over the focus area.

The first of each is the RAW. Getting increasingly hard to tell. This bodes well for the jpeg based HDR, HiRes and other features the camera offers for landscapes.

A serious look at the fine art potential of M43

Readers of this blog would be aware that i not only like to use Micro Four Thirds (M43) equipment, but that I also make high claims for the format, especially from the perspective of my (and I believe most peoples) realistic needs.

What about unrealistic or extreme needs?

One of the fields I intend to pursue in the new year is the fine art landscape and abstract field. This is one of those itches that I have never properly scratched and like a lot of itches, it refuses to go away. Living in the beautiful place I do, I often come across something that translates well to imaging and so the seed of “what if I actually tried a bit harder” is growing.

Stumbled over twice (once on a camping trip and the second time is post processing almost a year later). To put it into perspective, every ripple in the dunes is sharp and clear at 12x16” print size. The image came from a hand held file made with a budget tele zoom and with a 6 year old 16mp sensor (and it is a fairly aggressive crop).

Stumbled over twice (once on a camping trip and the second time is post processing almost a year later). To put it into perspective, every ripple in the dunes is sharp and clear at 12x16” print size. The image came from a hand held file made with a budget tele zoom and with a 6 year old 16mp sensor (and it is a fairly aggressive crop).

This comes inevitably to technical considerations.

Fine art and Landscape photography both scream quality needs. Landscape imaging is one of the few styles of photography genuinely demanding of detail and consistency across the frame.

Fine art also says to me “big”.

Can my (puny) Olympus M43 cameras and lenses actually cope with this level of scrutiny?

Lets see.

Viewing distances and ideal resolution for fine art prints I am sure has a mathematical formula for acceptable quality. Without going to the trouble of finding, understanding and translating this on a purely technical level, I will posit my own quality minimum based on what my own eyes see.

The A3+ print is the limit my own printer can manage, but I may go up to an A2 (Canon Pro 1000) in the near future. So A2 or A3+ with a little wiggle room is the goal. A viewing distance of say, 3-6 feet at the closest (lets not worry about quality obsessed photographers who may “pixel peep” a paper image at a few inches), up to several meters on a more casual “print you pass hanging on the wall in a working space” dynamic. I am achieving this (A3+) already with EM5 16mp files (some cropped reasonably heavily) on a Pixma Pro 9000 mk11 printer. I actually think the printer, which prints very fine ink jet droplets cannot show all of the file quality.

I know that the gold standard in the past has been 6x7 film or bigger or in the more recent past a full frame 20mp camera did the job for years. Nobody complained about the base image quality from these camera’s at A3+ or bigger sizes. When using a 5D2 I was plagued with technical issues, such as mirror and shutter vibration, stability and sometimes lens calibration, but still managed to reach the minimum required quality most viewers appreciated. In the film era, I did not have the luxury of a 6x7 camera (645 was my mightiest tool), but even well handled 35mm, could stretch the printing limits available at the time.

How does M43 (the Pen F specifically) compare?

High ISO comparisons aside (not relevant for landscape work where time is a controlled element), I now have a smaller, silent and gently operating, calibration guaranteed, 20mp sensor without strong aliasing filters, and an edge to edge sharp all-in-one lens, so technically I have exceeded the 5D2 in realistic field applicable quality. As an option, when conditions are right, I can even match or exceed the pixel count of a 5Ds using the HiRes mode without moire and lens resolution issues.

As a time friendly process (usually anyway), issues of dynamic range, perfect exposure, focussing accuracy and framing constraints are effectively irrelevant.

The set above is a 20mp Raw, 50mp jpeg and 80mp RAW. Not practical for moving subjects, it is as useable in the field as a full frame camera working with smaller apertures for deeper depth of field at a low ISO. The last file is still 4-5mp.

As for film comparisons, Ctein, a noted colour fine art photographer and printer is on record as saying the older 16mp EM5 mk1 sensor is equivalent to a Pentax 67 negative. He used both for long enough to know and regularly prints big (A2+). I guess this puts an improved 20mp sensor in the middle ground between medium and large format.

M43 sensors were the first and only major format sensors made to purpose in the digital world. One of the reasons Olympus and Panasonic chose it was lens design. The smaller and slightly squarer sensor allows the designer to make not only smaller lenses, but consistently better ones or even near perfect ones with little design compromise. Ask a full frame lens designer how hard it is to cover the big, rectangular sensor and they will tell you a long and frustrating story of many lens model re-thinks, each better than the last, but none without flaws as an ever higher bar is raised.

In the M43 world, some really good glass came out from the get-go and the offering has continued to surprise. My ideal is a good quality super zoom allowing for perfect framing without constantly avoiding don’t go areas. The 12-100 is that lens for me, no other super zoom would cut it.

Of course the proof will be in the pudding, so time to cook.

Creativity or accuracy?

Photography sits is in a difficult and delicate position in the artistic world. On the one hand it is generally accepted as an accurate enough recording system for every thing from dinner to dinosaurs, where most other forms of art disqualify themselves by their difficult and bespoke nature. On the other hand, the art world often assumes it to be a traitor to it’s own best characteristic, accuracy. It is assumed it is manipulated and compromised as a matter of course

Photoshopping has even become as much a household word as “Hoovering”, giving the modern photographer, in the eyes of their viewers, little solid ground to stand on if they claim to produce “pure” or untampered with work. The reality is, it never has been.

The fact is, no image making can be or has ever been perfectly accurate or unadulterated. There will always be forces out of the control of the photographer. Even in the film era, often cited as “real” or true photography, the choice of film, processing, light, filtering, lens coatings, film age, exposure, printing paper, printing chemistry, framing options etc. etc. would inevitably erode the accuracy of any attempt at literal reproduction. Ironically, this was how photographers controlled their style or signature process, by harnessing these differences.

So, does it matter if an image is not perfectly accurate? If it does, then how far from accurate is ok and how far is too far?

The argument of whether or not to manipulate a digital image will never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Many reject too much obvious processing, added and fake elements, while others make a strong body of work doing exactly that (just look at most novel covers). The trend of regular over processing seems to be behind us to some extent, but these things do have a habit of coming and going. The biggest offenders recently seem to be well known film era photographers who have had their old work manipulated (knowingly or not) from it’s previously accepted form (Steve McCurry, as an example has copped a lot of criticism for this lately and my personal bugbear is the difference between Ansel Adam’s colour reproductions old and new).

Anyone shooting in RAW is by definition deciding to process to their own tastes, aggressively or gently. Those who subscribe to an “untouched”, straight out of the camera jpeg. file are simply letting the preferences of the camera manufacturer take precedence. There is no escaping the fact that someone’s ideal is being applied. The logic of then processing the jpeg file heavily escapes me.

Where to draw the line is a personal decision. I cannot do more than offer my own thoughts, with no intention other than to share, not judge.

Lightroom is my line in the sand. It allows me to manipulate the same functions that I could in a purely photographic sense when using film, but much more accurately and easily. Some of these decisions would have been at the film selection stage, some during processing and some in the Darkroom. Lightroom gives me much the same control in a more repeatable and cost efficient form. Printing also, is now simply a matter of accuracy (although instinct rather than technical processes is usually applied).

The basis of this approach is because of it’s inability to add anything that was not there. It only allows manipulations within the file as captured or the removal of extraneous details and flaws. These are exactly the same limitations we had before.

The more “graphic arts” applications of Photoshop leave me cold, but I also know that their lure would be too much temptation to ignore. I am aware however that the controls in Photoshop are sometimes more refined and powerful.

There are many other programmes similar to Lightroom, some with superior core pre-sets for some cameras, but the features I love to use most are only found in the Lightroom suite.

The all-in-one nature of the programme is helpful. It is my filing system, my processor and my printing interface. If I have the need it can also produce books or other styles of presentation, so for now, it provides all I need or may need.

The tools that are the most useful to me are;

The Brush tool. This gives greater control and subtler application of the more aggressive editing functions. Localised contrast, clarity and sharpness are simply better to look at than global settings. If you use global sharpening or clarity, the entire image, even the soft parts will change. If on the other hand you apply mild (positive) clarity, contrast and sharpening to the area of main interest and negative values of the same to the softer areas, the image gains “pop” and three-dimensionality. The thing to remember with the brush tool is to apply it in multiple sweeps of gentle settings rather than heavy, one off sweeps.

The first image above only has a basic pre set applied. The sharp and soft elements are too close to give a real feeling of separation. The second image has global contrast, sharpening and clarity added. The rose looks stronger, but the out of focus elements have become rougher. The final image has the same settings applied with the brush, but only to the rose and negative settings applied to the OOF areas, making the slightly less than perfect “onion ring” Bokeh smoother and creamier. This also add the three dimensional effect.

Camera Calibration. This one slipped under the radar for ages, but once discovered it gave me the ability to change the core colour rendering of my camera’s sensors. The EM5’s in particular have a colour base that is not to my liking. For ages I was frustrated with a magenta-yellowish baseline that took too much fixing to be comfortable (the more you process, the more file quality you potentially loose). The Camera Calibration sliders don’t just adjust colour like the normal colour sliders, they change the core colour bias of the file on a fundamental level (think of it as adding raspberries to a cake mix rather than putting them on top of the baked cake later). Just a little (+20) blue channel saturation for example makes my files cooler/deeper/more mysterious in the cool tones and by contrast warmer/richer in the warmer tones and not murky.

In the set above the first image looks cold and a little dull. The second image, with +20 added blue channel saturation warms it up and adds some brilliance. The colours could be played with individually, but this simple fix usually suits and I feel it does a lot more to the base colour than is obvious.

Black/White sliders. These two, again for the EM5 mk1’s add a richness and bite to the files that the simple contrast control cannot. Darkened blacks and lightened white make the files more contrasty and brilliant fashion. Each needs adjustment to compensate with their less aggressive siblings (+ shadows, - highlights). This is not as necessary for the newer sensors, but for the older 16mp sensor, it adds clean punch. I have heard that using the curve tool to do the same is a cleaner application, but I cannot confirm that.

This is my style, applied to my liking. It may be more (or less) than you prefer, but it suits me.




Lets not forget old and faithful friends

Lots of talking about, playing with and thinking on the merits of new cameras, but lets not forget old friends.

I have 3 OMD EM5 mk1 cameras, ranging from 4 to 6, nearly 7 years old, all with a 100k+ frame count, each going well with the following minor “faults” recorded.

  • The second oldest lost the cap off it’s top rear thumb dial about 3 years ago, I stuck it back on with double sided tape and it has been fine since.

  • The youngest and special edition model produced at the end of the production cycle, very occasionally (twice?) had to be turned off/on again to get the sensor to power up, although this may be a lens contacts issue.

  • The oldest one, purchased out of the first batch we received, had a spot on the sensor once very early on (oh the horror!), but it disappeared next on/off cycle and has never happened again. It is also sporting two pretty deep gashes on it’s top plate, with no known after effects.

The two older ones have not had their firmware updated since purchase, but it does not worry me.

What they are still great at;

The sensor/processor combination creates beautiful, uncomplicated, cleanly sharp and rich images especially in strong light. They really love late afternoon sun, shiny things and strong contrast with deep blacks, reminding me of how film rendered the same.

75-300 at 75mm. The two make an amazingly capable combo.

75-300 at 75mm. The two make an amazingly capable combo.

17mm at f5.6

17mm at f5.6

45mm. Kyoto has a series of odd chrome buildings in and around the city centre.

45mm. Kyoto has a series of odd chrome buildings in and around the city centre.

75mm. Building detail Tokyo Japan.

75mm. Building detail Tokyo Japan.

25mm

25mm

75mm at f1.8. The slight “CA” on the dog tag was actually from a green tinted, hardened glass window, not the lens, but it could/should have been cleared up anyway.

75mm at f1.8. The slight “CA” on the dog tag was actually from a green tinted, hardened glass window, not the lens, but it could/should have been cleared up anyway.

I just love the simple 70’s film glow that some files have.

I just love the simple 70’s film glow that some files have.

The image above was taken “loosely” on a day when both Fuji and Canon FF were in the final mix. This file was the only one that came easily and well (the Canon missed focus and Fuji at that time was just too slow and “detached”). I had at that point decided to go back to full frame. After trying this image on an XE-1 and 6D mk1, I added a couple of lazy grab shots from the Olympus . On examination, these 2-3 files were the best focussed, easiest to manipulate and fastest/surest to take. This one ended up printed as an A2 for work, helping sell a lot of M43 cameras.

40-150 f2.8 through a hazy window.

40-150 f2.8 through a hazy window.

75mm at f2 through a reflective window.

75mm at f2 through a reflective window.

The controlled highlight rendering matched with good shadow recovery combine to make post processing surefooted and consistent.

45mm

45mm

75mm

75mm

They are still quick to fire, reassuring in operation and low profile enough to go under the radar more often than not.

17mm. this set is jut a small showing as a brilliant day in Tokyo. Hitting a real winning streak, I captured 20+ “keepers” in an hour.

17mm. this set is jut a small showing as a brilliant day in Tokyo. Hitting a real winning streak, I captured 20+ “keepers” in an hour.

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The first acquisition AF is still cutting edge, surprising me still to this day, as long as you do not need tracking.

17mm. One of many hip level snaps, using the tilted-up rear screen.

17mm. One of many hip level snaps, using the tilted-up rear screen.

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High ISO performance is still good as long as the lens used has strong micro contrast and the exposure is accurate.

Shot with the 40-150 pro and a slight crop. This lens allowed me to use ISO 3200 cleanly for a series of images shot in on unlit stage, without flash.

Shot with the 40-150 pro and a slight crop. This lens allowed me to use ISO 3200 cleanly for a series of images shot in on unlit stage, without flash.

One of the big advantages of M43 cameras is the combination of format (rendering better depth of field at lens wider apertures), and stabiliser means you do not have to use high ISO’s as often.

17mm wide open. Taken in near darkness, this was one of my first revelatory images with the new (then) EM5. The combination of a lower than expected ISO due to an excellent stabiliser, good shadow recovery, natural “filmy” grain and the ability to shoot with a 17mm lens wide open made this possible.

17mm wide open. Taken in near darkness, this was one of my first revelatory images with the new (then) EM5. The combination of a lower than expected ISO due to an excellent stabiliser, good shadow recovery, natural “filmy” grain and the ability to shoot with a 17mm lens wide open made this possible.

Black and whites can be either smooth and very tonally pleasing of have a very film like and natural grain.

75mm

75mm

17mm

17mm

45mm

45mm

From early on I found myself keen to shoot in available darkness.

From early on I found myself keen to shoot in available darkness.

What I feel needs addressing for best results.

I personally do not like the colour straight out of the camera. Jpeg’s need the warm tone setting taken off then -1 magenta in the tonal slider (camera back).

RAW files get a pretty strong Lightroom pre-set applied (Darkened blacks, lightened whites, reduced highlights, increased shadows and added blue saturation in the camera calibration window). This gives me a cleaner, cooler-neutral and richer look without the yellow/magenta caste the base images tend to show. I also find the brush* with a little added sharpness/clarity/contrast really makes important parts of the image jump out. Although highlights recover well, I lean on under exposure to make the shadows deeper or stronger, knowing I can recover them if needed.

*Generally I lay off global sharpening, saturation and contrast/clarity. You get better results by locally brush-tool applying these.

Images on bad light days can be a little flat and dark, almost too literal. This is to be expected, so Fuji cameras, compared at the time were my go-to’s for poor light quality shooting as their jpegs added a little (possibly fake) brilliance to dull day images. I think part of the problem comes from the expectation you can get something useable from every file and sometimes, the simple, honest images form the Em5’s are just too honest. Often reviewing them later, they look better than their first impression. Another thing I need to remember is the blue saturation slider in camera calibration trick came later, after the first two trips to Japan that were plagued with cool, wet spring light.

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The basic adjustments outlined above, quickly (too quickly probably) applied. Sometimes I feel the more I dig, the more I will find.

The basic adjustments outlined above, quickly (too quickly probably) applied. Sometimes I feel the more I dig, the more I will find.

As above, nothing added, only found and enhanced. All the colour in both images is natural to them. Post processing need only strengthen the better elements and reduce the weaker ones.

As above, nothing added, only found and enhanced. All the colour in both images is natural to them. Post processing need only strengthen the better elements and reduce the weaker ones.

In comparison to the Canon sensors I came from using (5D2, 550D, 50D) 6 years ago, they held much better highlight detail and were generally more robust in processing. Canon’s issues with burned out highlights, lens calibration and accuracy issues and general “softness” in operation really pushed me over the edge and at the time and Olympus/Panasonic were the only viable alternative if you wanted to swap fully into mirrorless, not just fiddle.

Many of the little niggles I had with the EM5’s have now been addressed and the new sensor and processors have raised the bar, but there is still much to like in the older cameras.

Exciting times.

The 4 Stages of Street photography (according to me)

You may or may not have heard of the 5 stages of photography? If not, they are the recognised developmental steps (most) photographers go through from beginning, accumulating, adapting and finally settling on their gear and technique. I cannot say it is bunkum as I recognise myself, sometimes repetitively in these steps.

Street photography, I feel has a similar set of recognisable stages.

Stage 1. Recognition.

The first is often the step that creates interest for the budding street photographer. Full of the desire to experiment, but lacking direction, the enthusiastic and increasingly competent early shooter may be aware of all sorts of things on a purely photographic, compositional level and may naturally find human interactions, observed normality or urban detritus draws them. The moment they recognise this as a recognised form, they have started their journey as a street photographer. This may come early or late in the photographers journey, depending on their interests.

Stage 2. Luck and effort.

One of thousands of grabs taken over 5, 2 week trips to Japan. Sometimes the frame fills itself with balance and interest, creating the organised chaos style I favour, often not. (EM5 mk1 17mm Kyoto Japan)

One of thousands of grabs taken over 5, 2 week trips to Japan. Sometimes the frame fills itself with balance and interest, creating the organised chaos style I favour, often not. (EM5 mk1 17mm Kyoto Japan)

Once recognised, more concentrated effort is directed at fast accumulation of images. The new adherent now has to decide what style of street photography they are going to subscribe to. This is often subconscious, maybe an extension of what has worked before, but if they have also become a deep researcher on the subject, then maybe more deliberate. The reality is though, at this early stage, luck and dedication will determine the volume and then the overall look and feel will come from habit. This constant practice will come easily as long as the feeling of excitement and exploration lasts. Often the most satisfying images at this stage are the “coincidental” or clever ones, which often come down to saturation of the subject coughing up the odd perfect image.

Stage 3 The divergence.

One of many potential images from a series of Japanese shop windows I am working on. (EM5 mk1 25mm Kyoto Japan)

One of many potential images from a series of Japanese shop windows I am working on. (EM5 mk1 25mm Kyoto Japan)

As the practitioner gains confidence and accumulates a library of images (including a reasonable set of favourites), they pair down their gear to just what is needed rather than what they may need (street shooters usually find simplicity and self discipline their best friends, not a heavy bag full of options), they start to gravitate to a clearer path, often in contrast to other styles that also fall under the banner of “street”. Unfortunately this where many become judgemental of others work citing theirs as the only true form. For those I feel their journey often ends here.

  • The Portraitist will approach their subject, taking candid, but fully cooperative environmental (or not) portraits, often with a short introduction or story to provide context. This is a modern style that is so recognisable with movements like “Occupy Wall Street” or the work of Robin Wong or Eric Kim. Their style is inclusive and completely overt, more about community than documentation. The photographer needs to built confidence (courage) and good communication skills. They may find language their biggest barrier, but they have the advantage of time. This also includes the documentary shooter, who will include other images to fully flesh out the story, but their anchor will be the portrait. Of course the biggest problem portraitists face is one of variety. People come in all shapes and sizes, but portrait image tend not to, so unless they rely on gimmicks, the portraitist must always find relevance for their work.

  • The Watcher on the other hand will try to stay invisible. Choosing not to intervene or interrupt their subject, the watcher is trying to capture fleeting moments of life without their presence influencing it. To this practitioner, the unadorned, natural and intimate moment with emotions stripped bare, is like gold. This style has it’s roots very much in the dawn of street photography and went all but unnoticed, for most of the 1950’s to 2000’s, classed loosely as documentary photography. Among my favourites here are Kenneth Tanaka, David H Wells (especially his early mono work), Hiroki Fujitani, Saul Leiter, Ernst Haas (most of the early colourists), Vivian Maier, Helen Levitt, Alex Webb just to name a few. Although each very different from the next, all share the same desire to see, capture and move on invisibly, non-destructively. The detached nature of this style runs the risk of alienating the viewer, relying on composition, clever message and technique rather than an engaged subject to anchor it, and it can be seen as invasive or sneaky by the subject. Personally I love it. I want to see the natural way of life people live.

  • The Rule breaker who carves out a style alien to some (often shunned by the “purer” forms above), but adhere to the basic, broader precepts of street shooting. Kate Kirkwood, substituting streets for country lanes and cityscapes for hills and cow spines or Phil Borges making the landscape look like a studio for his thrid world portrait subjects and even Jan Meissner making New York streets look like carefully managed stage productions are all exceptions to the rule. These photographers are hard to categorise and often do not even get included under the broad umbrella of street photography. Strict rules are contradictory to the street shooting ethos which since day one has been filled with rule breakers.

Very much in the watcher’s style (EM5 mk1, 17mm, Nara Japan).

Very much in the watcher’s style (EM5 mk1, 17mm, Nara Japan).

Stage 4. The Deep Connector is the fully developed street photographer. No longer relying on luck, coincidence, nervous approaches or subterfuge, this photographer is style agnostic and very adaptable. They are now fully immersed in their subject and embrace any and all styles. Their guiding force is to connect on a level they have not reached before and continue to develop that connection. Peter Turnley is a good example of the fully developed, mixed style street shooter as is Eugene Smith. This also includes the bulk of National Geographic travel-doc photographers such as Sam Abel, David Alan Harvey or Steve McCurry.

Again the watcher at work. EM5 mk1 25mm Kyoto Japan.

Again the watcher at work. EM5 mk1 25mm Kyoto Japan.

The journey may be shorter or longer with each photographer, but for many this is the shape of a street photographers development.

Personally I feel I am at a transition point between stage 2 and a stage 3 watcher with a dash of rule breaker. My “Kensho”* is stage 4. I can only hope.

*Kensho is a buddhist term meaning roughly the initial “seeing” or understanding of one’s true nature, but not yet reaching the perfect form of it.