Connections to the past

I love a bit of irony.

Something that I do find ironic is that the further away from traditional camera designs the latest crop of mirrorless get, the easier some older, lost processes and techniques get.

Manual focus is one. SLR/DSLR cameras have prioritised auto focus so much over the last few decades that manual focus has become, not only less popular, but also harder to do. Focussing screens optimised for auto focus lack the accuracy needed for good manual focus, especially if you like to use the whole frame to compose with. Thumb toggles etc aside, you cannot create an AF system that reads a creative mind.

Not only this, but using focus confirmation or AF and re-composing is for me far too distracting. I often like to use deep transitional bokeh in my images, using the better characteristic of my 17mm lens in particular to it’s fullest. AF makes this more of a black and white process, the forced preciseness is to me more distracting than beneficial.

Manual focus for this style of shooting is gentler, more deliberate and calmer. Placing transitional blurring is not a matter of accuracy and speed, but rather instinct and connection to an idea. Looking into the “middle distance”*, instinctively feeling the framing come together is simply harder when fighting with or being aware of possibly fighting with AF. It is a little more like hanging on to a bronco than moving with a thoroughbred.

Something I liked to do with my Canon cameras was to tae the AF off the shooting button. This at least allowed me to short circuit the AF when it was not cooperating. I missed this feature at first with the EM5’s, but I have come to realise that it was as much a distraction as any AF limitation.

Is it possible, that auto focus has changed the way we have started to compose our images? I for one have felt for a while that focussing has become more a matter of camera limitations that creative needs. Did past masters habitually use the whole frame to shoot with more than we do now? Another bit of irony is possibly the attention spent on lens edges and corners in an age where possibly we use them less, allowing the AF system concentrate on the more logical middle of the frame or do we use them more to help recover our misses?

In the modern age of strong Bokeh effects, is the subtle art of deeper transition under even more threat. We are so obsessed with the amount of Bokeh, maybe the more practical and less creatively one dimensional types are not used enough. Third ironic thought; For most of photographies short life, more depth of field was craved. Now we can achieve it easily we want less, or is that just how fashions work.

I like a smooth background as much as the next person, but I do get tired of it’s over use. It is harder to fill a frame with harmoniously interactive details, but using too much blur to hide the bulk of the frame can feel like a cop out after a while.

Complicated, even messy compositions with often illogical placement and framing. Bring it on!

*A martial arts term for looking into the middle space between you and your adversary so you do not look at anything, but everything at once.

micro four thirds and romance

It occurred to me as I was penning (!) that last post, that two of the reasons I have connected to Olympus and the Micro Four Thirds format, are visual but also very different. They are the look of the cameras and lenses and the look produced by the camera and lenses.

The EM5 mk1’s took me straight back to my roots. At first it was a connection to everything old, older even than my first actual cameras (Canon T90’s). They took me back to the 70’s and 80’s, to the creators of my first influences.

The second visual attraction came from the slightly flawed, less than digitally perfect, but still very capable files. They were not afraid of a little grain, if the end result has added clarity, acutance and tonal range. I felt for the first time in a long time that I had a film-like, semi limited imaging process that could produce beautiful images within an envelope of realistic expectations.

untitled-0187.jpg

Ironically, the handling of the cameras lacked the simplicity of a true film camera, but my first impression of them stuck all the way through, and still does six years later.

The file charm has also stuck with me. Not a huge fan of the base colour of Olympus files (possibly a product of their adaption of the Sony made sensors that have a few issues natively with colour), I adapted and found plenty of room for improvement, the digital equivalent of darkroom tweaking.

 Natural skin tones, with vibrant colour on a palette of smooth detail.

Natural skin tones, with vibrant colour on a palette of smooth detail.

The newer cameras have added both greater charm and performance and the sensors are better, but I have not forgotten the natural, restrained beauty of the first 16mp sensor.

 Very film like to my eye (Kodachrome 200 maybe)

Very film like to my eye (Kodachrome 200 maybe)

The designers wanted to make an impression with the first OMD cameras and they did cosmetically, but I feel the real hook was in the results. How many times has something been dressed up to look like something that has worked in the past, but failed to follow through?

 Shades of the colour and tones I was influenced by in magazines such as Camera and Darkroom at the hight of film’s relevance. There is an honest realism to them. I came from Canon and am record as saying I miss Canon colour, as well as Fuji and even Sony, but cutting the others loose has allowed me to appreciate the Olympus rendering fully.

Shades of the colour and tones I was influenced by in magazines such as Camera and Darkroom at the hight of film’s relevance. There is an honest realism to them. I came from Canon and am record as saying I miss Canon colour, as well as Fuji and even Sony, but cutting the others loose has allowed me to appreciate the Olympus rendering fully.

Of all of the brands out there, I feel Fuji has the most direct connection to modern photographies roots, with film algorithms literally built in and handling closer than most others to tradition. The Olympus files however seem even more old fashioned. They remind me of National Geographic style Kodachrome more than any other files I see. Being technically better than 35mm film (closer to 6x7 in quality and ration) does not hurt, but not being 40+ mp super files keeps their feet firmly grounded.

 Their handling of deep shadows with gentle highlights is particularly nice.

Their handling of deep shadows with gentle highlights is particularly nice.

 No slouch with mono tones either

No slouch with mono tones either

For me the future is here. I do not want time to stand still, but I will hold on to what I have for as long as I can, as it satisfies my creative soul on a deeper level than It has been for many years.

Is the romance gone?

Cleaning out my old camera closet (much diminished already, but still some surprises), a wave of nostalgia hit me. This is not the regret laden “wish time would stand still” or even go in reverse thinking that I and many others have felt in the past, but rather a sense that a way of feeling about photography has passed.

The young seem to be in tune with the romance of the past, but I am not sure they are connecting to the same sense of anticipation ad achievement I know I felt or even the sense of belonging to a group of people who knew how to do something that was not always easy, cheap or sometimes even much fun. The challenges of photography were more immediate but also more gratifying.

The good signs to me are the adoption of film cameras* (older the better) rather than the fake film simulations available through post. The other lure of this is of course the retro chick cool factor that comes with them. Don’t get me started on the polaroid resurgence.

*This is mainly restricted to the mass consumer colour negative/print process as it is easy and well supported. Gone are the days of dark rooms and colour transparency printing.

Like the car industry, the camera industry has reached a level of manufacturing near perfection. It is no longer a matter of the reliable brand or the one that does that “one unique thing” that the others cannot* (Japanese marking strategy still drives this as a design necessity), but rather a loyalty to a fraternity, a memory of past identity. Why one brand over another when the differences are becoming more and more irrelevant? The camera industry at the moment is offering up so much variety of form and function, it is impossible to say any brand is best, even good at most things, but what they all have in common is a sameness of quality.

*It amazes me that Canon and Nikon have allowed there to be such an obvious point of difference between them and the rest of the industry in such short order.

To stand out, the main manufacturers have fallen back almost completely on bigger/faster/sharper, but I feel the industry as a whole is on the cusp of change.

The sheer quantity of quality has been addressed (for most, some are never satisfied), so I feel the hole needing to be filled is a uniqueness and preciousness of that quality. Good image makers are always looking for the extra something. That something is rarely found in the homogenising of perfect tools. What happens when everyone is equipped with more pixels than they can possibly use, automatic depth of field/focus and dynamic range fixes that always work and near bottomless battery charge and storage? The subject will become more important than ever, indeed it will be the only important thing. The ability to tell a story with a unique look and feel will be entirely creative, not a product of technical limitations.

When film was king, technical short comings limited or caused many variables, so finding solutions created character. Overcoming imperfections added connection to it’s processes. I had a friend who would process his film in paper developer for very short hits, at precise, slightly hot temperatures, then print through the extremely sharp pebble sized grain with a modified enlarger. Solution to a perceived problem = character. I used an entirely different approach (Rodinal at 1:200, with hardly any agitation over extended periods for maximum physical edge development to establish my “look” and a modified light source based on a trick picked up from the very last issue of Camera and Darkroom magazine). Two contrasting roads to the same end.

All darkroom users had their own tricks and secrets with glass, chemicals and light and there laid the romance.

Therefore film, what ever the real process, is not dead and will have a relatively long if niche life. It is not technically better, but it is different and it’s exponents talk a different language. As time marches on, common traits become less common, making anything to do with film “mysterious”. The uniqueness of the light leaking camera or poorly processed film is also falling away as genuine artists are starting (or continuing) to seek the better characteristics of film not just it’s fault filled faux character. The later user is after that alternative contrast and time stamped chemical look of film in all it’s ordinariness.

Is it just this physical rendering we pine for or are we trying to connect with a lost romance?

I feel that, like music, cars and other pursuits, the tangible nature of an analogue or mechanical process promotes connection, where digital separates us from process, making us focus heavily on end output. Without a connection to process, we stifle, even remove the romance. No one out there is trying to emulate the sound of early CD or digi cam look, but the quest to re capture the feel and look of film or sound of an LP goes ever on.

 The retro bunch. All working and all probably going for cheap sale to people who will use them. The P67 belonged to a well known local photographic icon and the C33 to an equally well known local artist. Already a bunch of Nikons have gone to a friend and a Contax or two also. There is even the odd EOS in the background. The Zenit is mint if a bit (ironically) dusty.

The retro bunch. All working and all probably going for cheap sale to people who will use them. The P67 belonged to a well known local photographic icon and the C33 to an equally well known local artist. Already a bunch of Nikons have gone to a friend and a Contax or two also. There is even the odd EOS in the background. The Zenit is mint if a bit (ironically) dusty.

I no longer have any romance for photography, but maybe that comes with age.

Musings

This post is a little out of order as it was started before I bought the EM1, but the thinking is still relevant.

I hope my thought processes are of some value to my readers. The fact is, I am not comfortable talking about myself ad nauseam, but I am also aware how hard it is to get deeper, neutral information on processes and choices.

This was proven to me when I posted a review of the Filson field camera bag.

I had trouble finding more than passing thoughts or a couple of nice, feel good reviews that lacked useful specifics when looking at one and the purchase price (in Australia) was prohibitive for a blind purchase. This is common with bag reviews. many will talk about what fits, but not the usability of the stowed gear. I do not want a bag that just fits me gear packed tightly. I want to know what will actually work.

As soon as I received my blind purchase, I thought about a review to help the next review chasers get some more useful information. It proved to be my most popular post.

The next most popular was a review on the Domke f802 satchel. Also popular, even though this bag has been around for a while. It seems that no one had previously talked about the Tenba insert other than in passing or how to fit the extra lens bags. Simple stuff but so hard to find without internet fatigue.

Self indulgent it may be, but I hope that saying what I am thinking out loud can help my own thought processes and by sharing my thinking I may help others with a similar dilemma.

*

For me, the missing link in my gear has been tracking AF and to a lesser extent improved AF and MF application with some lenses that play critical roles in my kit. The 75 f1.8 for example is a powerful compositional tool, but it’s focussing on an older camera is slower and less predictable than my other prime lenses and it has a tendency to get “stuck” on a subject, then hunt. It’s stable mate, the 75-300 is a great lens but also not the fastest in either AF or aperture choice. In effect I do not have a fast/long enough option for sports/action, especially indoors.

The 40-150 was a revelation here. It not only focussed more consistently, but it was so fast, I felt like I had passive tracking on an old OMD.

Selling that lens in response to wanting to get back to basics, reduced certain capabilities in my kit.

Options for me at this stage were two fold.

If I buy an EM1 mk2 (great special going with $500 off with a free battery grip and a voucher that would cover a second battery, I assume in response to the flood of new camera releases), all of my lenses are elevated to at least a slightly higher level. The 75 on an Mk2 at work tracked quite well when I tested the older non firmware updated demo one. The 75-300 will probably gain the same boost or maybe better. The 12-100 will be at the cutting edge for M43 and it’s better weather seals will be matched by the camera. The other primes will all benefit to one degree or another. Waiting for the EM5 mk3 may be frustrating as Olympus will most likely wait until next year and the specs may be less practical, falling somewhere between the Pen F and the EM5 mk2. The current price (with free grip) is probably cheaper than a new EM5 3 anyway.

+ I would give my whole kit a focussing upgrade, some lenses performing to a level I have not enjoyed since the 5d3. My 12-100 especially would be perfectly matched in all areas to the camera it was released with.

- I would have 5 (!) working cameras and the added features are not things I have missed much for my current work (although I am aware of a direct connection between the subject matter I tackle and the gear I have).

 Old camera, cheap lens.

Old camera, cheap lens.

If I retrace my steps and get the 40-150 again, I avoid some camera obsolescence and regain the AF performance I enjoyed before, but will know there is still much more to be gained in camera upgrades currently available. Selling that lens was partly due to stepping back from pro work and a lack of connection to it’s standard lens partner. Weight was under question also, but I was not in a great place personally at the time.

+ I would gain a quicker focussing, faster, longer, slightly sharper mid range telephoto. With my 12-100 it would give me back my “pro” level confidence. The 75 would become a portrait/travel specialist and the 75-300 a travel/distant sport option.

- I would be relying on old model cameras for the bulk of my work, granted, cameras that have never really failed me and a newer “serious amateur” Pen F camera for some of the things the oldies cannot do as well.

 Old camera, new lens, ISO 3200 and cropped 50%.

Old camera, new lens, ISO 3200 and cropped 50%.

The thought of ditching my EM5’s (placing them “in reserve” at least) for a new work horse is a little disturbing. The Pen F was more of an exercise in pin-pointing specific kit weaknesses and addressing them in a non destructive way. Loyalty to an object for it’s own sake is pointless, but they have served me well. I may be a little touchy at the moment as we are caring for an elderly dog and my thinking is becoming habitually protective.

The logical option was the camera upgrade. It added tangibly to my capabilities and fixes known issues. The deal is also very good at the moment, while the lens is on a mild special that will undoubtedly be repeated again soon. I also have a sneaking suspicion that if I recommit to the older cameras, they will start to fail (each has 100k+ frames on them and 6 years of constant handling), while Murphy’s law says if I replace them, they will likely plug along for ever.

The older cameras? They will be ideal for travel as they now owe me nothing and have proven to be tough and reliable. 16mp on an older sensor/processor has been my base line for so long when travelling that I would have no trouble sticking to then for that alone. They will also do duty as back-ups and save me hundreds, even thousands of wasted frames on the newer cameras for general grab shots, extending their lives also. I may even get one Infrared adapted.

What if a camera comes along that makes even the newer ones look redundant? I reckon by then the OMD’s will be falling away naturally though wear alone.

It would be a commitment to more serious work, but that is my lot. Whenever I drift away from photography, I am called back. There has been a lack of satisfaction in my photographic life for a while. This is due in part to a paired down, single dimensional kit (in response to not wishing to work as much commercially and concentrate on other things).

No macro, no wide angle, poor tracking AF, no weather proof support for my WP bodies, then no high res weather proofed camera for my new WP lens etc , etc have all made me feel thinly resourced, even unbalanced.

More involvement and constant gear upgrades seem to be interrelated, so why fight it. I am probably the most serious photographer who has not upgraded recently that I personally know and although I am no Kirk Tuck, ignoring the improvements made over the last 5-6 years seems regressive.

Musings done.

Thanks for reading.

When do you see

Yesterday’s post stirred up in me some procedural self analysis, even healthy self doubt.

When do I “see” an image and how does the process effect my compositional choices?

Before (predictive)

With experience and familiarisation with their gear, photographers get better and better at predicting the magnification and perspective of their lenses. This “pre-visualisation” is a benefit, but can also lead to habits and restrained expectations. A photographer’s style is tied directly to a combination of deliberate decision making, and reacting to changes. We cannot succeed without a pre-conceived idea of what to expect and what may be required to overcome obstacles. It is human nature to repeat what works. Here also lies the path or repetition.

Prime lenses force a certain amount of pre-visualisation due to their limited perspective. Choices made before a lens is mounted on a camera are based on these expectations. They have the effect of settling me (personally) into a comfortable rhythm, working within known constraints. This settling process gives me the solid bedrock I need to work quickly. Your mileage may vary.

This process requires regular re-exploration otherwise the same shots keep getting taken. One of the reasons I find the excellent 75mm a bit limiting to use is I feel it offers limit compositional choices, but maybe I am limiting what and how I choose to see with it?

 Taken late evening with the 75mm. The f1.8 aperture helped both gather light and create the shallow DOF that defines the image. Did I see the image because of the forced compositional limitations and light gathering/DOF benefits of the lens or would I (could I) have found a workable composition using a zoom and different settings? Did I create the image   because   of the lens or did the lens only control some of the choices made when making the image?

Taken late evening with the 75mm. The f1.8 aperture helped both gather light and create the shallow DOF that defines the image. Did I see the image because of the forced compositional limitations and light gathering/DOF benefits of the lens or would I (could I) have found a workable composition using a zoom and different settings? Did I create the image because of the lens or did the lens only control some of the choices made when making the image?

Using a zoom effectively changes this thought process. With an effectively free floating focal length range, choosing a set perspective must be general at best, but with the subtle refinements they allow, perfect framing is always possible.

When using a zoom I tend to approach the subject with a whirlwind of options, usually too many to be helpful, which explains my reluctance to use zoom lenses in dynamic situations. A trend I have noticed in my process is to use the extremes of the zoom’s range almost as if the two ends (tight or wide) are prime lens choices. Something else I have found is I prefer wide or tele only zooms, I think because they are limited to one perspective or look, just more or less magnification within it. In other words, I would find a 16-35/70-200 combo preferable to a 24-70 or to be more precise a 35/70-200. To be even more precise, what I really use is a 35/90 or 150 (equiv) combo on two cameras.

If I tip this on it’s head and pre-select a focal length (literally choosing one on the lens barrel), the process stays much as above, but if I let the visual stimulus of the subject control my thinking, there is a reactive freedom, possibly at the cost of deliberate control. It is just that the options are so many.

It strikes me that the process of zooming vs the process of finding a framing option with a fixed lens length with movement are much the same in theory, but for me personally, the cleanness of the prime wins. I think this is definitely prediction-adaption dominating reaction. I certainly find it faster and less distracting and often more creative.

Prime lenses are (for me) cleaner to use if you like to pre-visualise an image before putting the camera to the eye, then working within that frame work.

During (reactive)

This is where the zoom shines. If we can fully immerse ourselves in the process, then the zoom gives instant satisfaction, changing framing precisely based on how we respond to what we see. All of the variables except for very shallow depth of field are available to us (f2 on the new full frame Canon may be an exception).

Working from a tripod is a logical application of zoom lens use, hence my purchase.

 Tough to frame well without a zoom or choice of primes and time to sift through them (or heavy cropping). This is definitely a case of zooming being the better option.

Tough to frame well without a zoom or choice of primes and time to sift through them (or heavy cropping). This is definitely a case of zooming being the better option.

A prime reduces the variables by fixing the magnification and perspective, making the photographer move their feet, change angle and control depth of field (here the prime has the edge). The skill comes from practicing and predicting the anticipated image, or images.

So, zoom lenses may be better if you prefer to react to your subject after the camera is up to the eye, working the composition from one creative step back, adding in magnification last.

After (post process)

I am often surprised what I find using my post processing editors hat, not my photographers.

Not one to shoot loosely and fix later, I still reserve final judgement until after uploading.

If the body of work is strong and varied enough, there are always surprises to be found. Sensor size/pixels, good technique and edge to edge lens sharpness can all contribute to the quantity and quality of the usable frame and files. Editing software is of course a very powerful tool if not over used.

 A complete write off as a colour image (shot through a dirty, hazy window into the sun), this is as heavily processed and cropped as I have ever needed to go, but is also a lesson to me to look harder and with an open mind. This image was shot using a fixed 400mm, so framing was based on this one perspective. A zoom may have resulted in a different composition, so the skill here is in seeing an image within the limited options.

A complete write off as a colour image (shot through a dirty, hazy window into the sun), this is as heavily processed and cropped as I have ever needed to go, but is also a lesson to me to look harder and with an open mind. This image was shot using a fixed 400mm, so framing was based on this one perspective. A zoom may have resulted in a different composition, so the skill here is in seeing an image within the limited options.


The Steps for me are;

See a potential image using your personal image memory bank of workable situations to draw from. As the image is seen the choice of what type of image it will be must be interwoven in the process. Here is where pre-conceptions and exploring fresh directions collide.

Assuming a lens of the correct magnification/perspective is available, the image is taken as visualised and as circumstances allow. Primes may force movement, where zooms allow framing options, but may (?) distract from moving to a better angle. If the wrong lens choice is all that is available, compensations are made or the image given up on if time is limited (part of step one directly related to knowing what options are available?).

Part of this must be muscle memory and instinctive as many images are taken that I honestly do not remember getting at the time. I suppose if the process is practiced enough, much of it will take care of itself.

 I remember feeling that the frame became generally balanced at the point of shooting, but the facial expressions and their “generational” relation to each other was pretty much in the lap of the gods.

I remember feeling that the frame became generally balanced at the point of shooting, but the facial expressions and their “generational” relation to each other was pretty much in the lap of the gods.

 Again, a bit of luck that came with preparation, awareness and timing, but there was no way that I could arrange these elements with full control “on the fly”.

Again, a bit of luck that came with preparation, awareness and timing, but there was no way that I could arrange these elements with full control “on the fly”.

 A third from a series taken on a day the stars aligned for me.

A third from a series taken on a day the stars aligned for me.

 In this case the placement of the people balanced the frame and the girls look added animation, but the t-shirt characters looking directly at the girl, seemingly in surprise was just lucky. Again effort and preparedness brings luck, but lucky just the same.

In this case the placement of the people balanced the frame and the girls look added animation, but the t-shirt characters looking directly at the girl, seemingly in surprise was just lucky. Again effort and preparedness brings luck, but lucky just the same.

 This is a much easier process. On identifying the strength of the image (repetitious patterns of the tiles and clean lines), compression and a tight abstractness came to mind. The mono processing really only cleared up an idea that the minimal colour version lacked.

This is a much easier process. On identifying the strength of the image (repetitious patterns of the tiles and clean lines), compression and a tight abstractness came to mind. The mono processing really only cleared up an idea that the minimal colour version lacked.

If the image can be, it is improved in post processing along with any others that are discovered. Sometimes the improvements are based on the original concept, sometimes not.

How about you?






A Super zoom from the perspective of a dedicated prime lens user

I am on record as a dedicated prime lens user. Not only a prime lens user, but certainly a strong advocate of prime lenses over zooms.

There are a couple of times where this perspective is forced to be flexible, such as scenic work using a tripod, where moving your feet is irrelevant, or fast handling moving situations when working for a client, but generally speaking if given a choice I would take one or two prime lenses over a zoom every time.

Lately I have found myself using not only a zoom, but a “superzoom” and happily enough due to it’s subjective quality, but what changes have I made to accommodate this in my work method?

A prime forces me to pre-visualise my compositional options, often deliberately selecting a lens intending for it to force me into a well practiced (predictable?) thought process. I am even known to go for a photo walk with only one lens, to sharpen my eye to the possibilities (not limits) it will offer.

 A composition forced by the 45mm lens mounted on the camera at the time. My choice of lens was pre meditated, but did that define my process or limit it?

A composition forced by the 45mm lens mounted on the camera at the time. My choice of lens was pre meditated, but did that define my process or limit it?

The zoom has the expected, reverse effect of letting me see a “thought” image, then zoom to accommodate it. This worries me a little as the process seems to be a little easy/lazy. The compositional challenge of making the subject fit my minds eye within strict limits and succeeding is exhilarating. The ease of zooming to suit visual stimulus is less fulfilling, even a little hollow. I feel I have missed a step or let my lizard brain follow the easiest path.

Added to this is the lenses limited aperture range (a very good f4, but nothing like a useful f2 or 2.8). Limited depth of field and placed focus is half of my compositional tool box. Limiting this is by far more restricting than limited focal lengths. On the week end I took over 1000 images of a medieval festival with two zooms. The thing that stood out to me most was the repetition of the images. Just a few with very shallow depth (not just achieved using a long lens) would have added depth to the work.

 Late evening Shibuya. I use shallow depth as the compositional corner stone of many of my images, using Bokeh in it’s many forms along with sharp focus. Limiting my range of available apertures is stifling.

Late evening Shibuya. I use shallow depth as the compositional corner stone of many of my images, using Bokeh in it’s many forms along with sharp focus. Limiting my range of available apertures is stifling.

 Rainy day Hiroshima. Basically a failed image, saved only by good Bokeh and some mystery.

Rainy day Hiroshima. Basically a failed image, saved only by good Bokeh and some mystery.

As a contradiction to the above, I did not use the wide angle end of the lens more than twice the whole day, using the 100mm end most often. It seems the habit I have is to get in tighter, even with more options available. This feels right.

The zoom was purchased with the dual purposes of landscape work and general pro “clients needs” trouble shooting, adding some missing focal lengths and capabilities. If I use it too much for general shooting I can see my skill set changing. Oh the lure of the lazy zoom!

New processes

The basic import settings I use for the EM5 mk1’s do not suit the newer cameras. The EM1 in particular needs almost no adjustment at all to it’s base RAW files on import. I add a tiny bit of Blue channel saturation in the camera calibration settings, a bit of added white and reduced black channel and just a smidge of colour vibrance to taste. That is it.

Any further post is in the form of a little mild brush work for added “snap”.

 Gas pump, Latrobe Tasmania.

Gas pump, Latrobe Tasmania.

 Umbrella detail Latrobe Tasmania

Umbrella detail Latrobe Tasmania

 Globe detail, Latrobe Tasmania

Globe detail, Latrobe Tasmania

 Light Horse Veteran, Sheffield Tasmania.

Light Horse Veteran, Sheffield Tasmania.

 Eagle Handler, Sheffield Tasmania

Eagle Handler, Sheffield Tasmania

 The vanquished, Sheffield Tasmania

The vanquished, Sheffield Tasmania


Going medieval

Medieval festival Sheffield (Tasmania). An ideal chance to try out the tracking focus of the Mk2.

The other thing to put to the test is the focussing speed on the budget 75-300. Can this lens cut it, or will it give me an excuse to re buy the 40-150 f2.8?

 Frame after frame after frame perfectly in focus.

Frame after frame after frame perfectly in focus.

It is quite a change going from no focus tracking at all to very good performance. The only real issue was over use. 16gb card filled in an hour!

Separation is the big issue with the riding images. The f2.8 lens would have blurred out some of the messy background, but not all. The 75mm f1.8 (if I had it with me) would have done even better, even cropped.

 The combo even kept up with the Light Horse, and they were really moving. Turns out I set the AF lock to “+1 Tight” in anticipation of shooting down the line, rather than left to right. Even so, the camera and lens coped.

The combo even kept up with the Light Horse, and they were really moving. Turns out I set the AF lock to “+1 Tight” in anticipation of shooting down the line, rather than left to right. Even so, the camera and lens coped.

The Em1’s tracking was impressive, but not as impressive as the riding. He repeated this with a sabre straight after. Looks like the photographer has issues with straight horizons though.

 The tightness a 600mm equivalent allows.

The tightness a 600mm equivalent allows.

 Wide open at the long end.

Wide open at the long end.

 Same as above. This bird was small (pigeon sized). The f2.8 lens would have required even more  cropping.

Same as above. This bird was small (pigeon sized). The f2.8 lens would have required even more cropping.

 And again. The shallower DOF of the f2.8 lens would have been at the expense of half as much magnification and I like the balance as is.

And again. The shallower DOF of the f2.8 lens would have been at the expense of half as much magnification and I like the balance as is.

Not forgetting that the lens is better both stopped down a little and at shorter focal lengths. The above is about 170mm (340mm equiv), and it has pleasant Bokeh. The 150 f2.8 would have blurred the background more, but I doubt the sharpness would be noticeably better.

Excuse to spend more money? Probably, just to get the added separation the f2.8 offers to help clean up backgrounds.

ed.

After looking at the equation logically, I will not be repeating the exercise with the 40-150mm. All of it’s focal lengths except for 150mm are covered by either faster aperture primes (45/75) or a similar performing pro zoom (1 stop slower but better IS up to 100mm) and those that are not (150) are covered by the capable, cheap and proven zoom working in it’s best range.

My ideal would be a 200 f2.8 or similar (patents have been lodged for a 200mm 3.2 which would do). This would give me more speed and reach rather than effectively a 150 f2.8 prime with some added versatility.

more fun with the em1

Having lots of fun with the Em1 and that brilliant 12-100. I found out after the fact that C-AF is not best suited for still subject shooting, but still nailed a few interesting images.

 Good, natural detail and some shadow recovery

Good, natural detail and some shadow recovery

 I am very interested in the high res mode in the EM1 (standard res above). Apparently the improvements made are noticeable. I feel that when Olympus has developed single frame, high speed capture for this,they will have put all of their detractors doubts to rest.

I am very interested in the high res mode in the EM1 (standard res above). Apparently the improvements made are noticeable. I feel that when Olympus has developed single frame, high speed capture for this,they will have put all of their detractors doubts to rest.

Passing Thoughts on the future

My boss asked me where I thought the industry is going, especially the future of Nikon and Canon in mirrorless. I answered quickly at the time, but after a chance to think on it, I can be more succinct.

I believe that in the short term, the adventurous, the troubled, the unsatisfied, the frustrated and the adventurous have already moved on. Olympus/Panasonic, Sony and Fuji have all taken a reasonable share of an ever growing pie, leaving the resolute SLR users to their favoured tools. The lower level consumer is at the whim of the local market, some pushing SLR’s, others not. This is the level I find most troubling from a salesman’s perspective. Who is better serviced by a what-you-see-is-what-you-get camera than a new or occasional user, yet the bulk of the selling market is still fixated on putting a traditional SLR in their hands.

Nikon and Canon now have to swing their SLR faithful over to ideas their customers have already rejected/been suspicious of (or even oblivious of), by showcasing the very features they have been fighting against for the last five years (and contradicting with their own Live View developments) and this with the weight of the two biggest sensor makers (Sony and Panasonic) innovating further all the time. Just another example of “Film is better” or Auto focus is just a gimmick” thinking?

This is by far the tougher road. Apart from possible customer resentment of being abandoned (again*), or forced to adopt a new direction, they have also inherited the slower to change, more deeply invested or less adventurous. Maybe the transition will be easier than I suspect, maybe not. The point where the thinking and language changes will be critical. If they go too hard, they may alienate their core business, but the longer they delay, the greater the chance of loosing more of this same core to their opposition. Maybe they should do as those that came before them have and listen to their customers.

*(I still remember the FD to EOS change and the shift film to digital and lets not talk about 4/3 to M4/3 and Sony mirrored to translucent mirror to mirrorless shift in lightning time).

Could they have done things differently? Probably not.

The incentive for them to change the way we think would have been about as realistic as an Arab oil sheik pushing solar power down our throats in the 1990’s. They had a huge stake in the status quo, looking down at the “lesser” brands desperately trying to eke out a living with as much care or awareness as a Cape buffalo notices a tick-eating bird on it’s back.

Where will we be in 2-3 years?

Canikon will be expanding their mirrorless range at the expense of their mirrored and their language will inevitably change. All of their years of dominance will be diluted by mixed messages and unsettling changes. The early adopting mirrorless brands will start to look like old hands, gaining back much of their lost strength from the film era.

The big two may start to look less dominant and less exciting or they may adapt well and keep their majority share. Both brands have created problems for themselves (Nikon more than Canon) by fluffing their early attempts at consumer level mirrorless, so this will need a fix (cheaper full frame, or gradual replacement of low end cameras up).

Those annoyed enough by the change will probably take the opportunity to switch to the opposite brand (as they do every so often) or may look sideways at the brands that have a 4-6 generation jump on the big two.

The SLR may be starting to look a little “over ripe” or even quaintly “old school” as reduced size, improved optics and the other technical benefits of mirrorless design begin to appeal more. The “D” designation will increasingly be replaced by “M”. The only thing that will retard this would be the reluctance for Canikon to change entry level consumer thinking, at their peril.

Talk of performance with lens “X” on camera “Y” with adapter “Q” will become more common, although many will still resist adapters as the preferred alternative (maybe Nikon or Canon could have stayed with the same depth to their cameras, as this is not the primary point or benefit of mirrorless and designed mirrorless specific lenses with the added benefit of protruding rear elements where needed?).

In 4-5 years?

As the majority of the market are led down a clearer and fully accepted pathway, even the most reluctant will gave switched over (look how far mirrorless has come in such a short time with only the fringe players as champions).

Mirrorless was really nothing more than a fledgling oddball six years ago. In another five years, we will look back and wonder what took us so long to see the light as even this technology becomes old school.

Possibly the one camera, pick your lens from any stable kit will start to be semi-normal, maybe even desirable. Camera to lens adapters may be part of life for many* rather than a necessary evil.

The fight against this trend, with the promise of improvements allowed by dedicated mirrorless lens designs, will start to make many slightly older SLR lenses less attractive and pressure will mount to upgrade. This will be a new golden age for the lens designer. Conversely, older legacy lenses from as far back as the 60’s will find ever more welcoming homes as the “look” of an image will become more important than just it’s measurable quality (which we have plenty of already).

*Serious shooters will be able to hunt down the exact combination of glass they prefer without having to commit to just one brand or run multiple cameras. We may even see the return of the “Adapt-all” style mount system Tamron offered years ago. To a certain extent, I feel this will homogenise the marked, with only the top dogs in each category accepted by the internet aware. This is already happening to some extent, but will be much easier to apply.

At the same time, I feel photographic equipment will continue to shift to;

  • The general purpose phone, limited in potential only by physical dimensions and technology will be augmented by options such as “free hand” or add-on cameras and accessories using WiFi as a direct development of Go Pro/Drone thinking. The compact camera will disappear completely.

  • A dynamic, super compact to mini SLR/video hybrid camera type based on a 1” or slightly bigger 4/3 sensor (The Nikon V/J and Pentax Q style cameras would have fit in here well, but were released out of their time). This will be the enthusiasts camera.

  • Serious shooters, will get their super SLR/medium format cameras with a flexible outlook on sensor size with higher and higher resolution and extreme video. These will be driven by old perceptions of bigger being better, meeting state of the art technology and cheaper manufacture. The limits of lens design will be stretched (maybe even changed to non glass types), as will the very shape of photography, with 16k+ video making many forms of still photography effectively irrelevant (as well as focus, ISO, dynamic range and stability). Mass editing will become an art form as information gathering goes to stratospheric heights.

Pentax, the inventor of the mirrored SLR will possibly be the last to offer one, completing the cycle.

In 10 years?

The SLR style camera will be as much a foot note as film cameras are now. Technology will have moved on in ways not even guessed at by most of us (organic sensors, ISO irrelevance and fully electronic, global shutters, flat cameras) and mirrorless will be just one natural part of an ever changing environment. Much of the terminology we are using will be gone such as Crop/Full Frame, Video camera, Mirrorless, digital etc. as cameras become multi capable and ever more varied.

Hybrid tablet/phone/cameras/camera controllers will rule, but in what form(s) I can only guess.

 No relevance, but I do not like words without pictures.

No relevance, but I do not like words without pictures.

Can’t wait to see, although I am a little sad the age of the photographer is coming to a close.

The Dynamic duo

How did this happen I ask myself. Happy enough with enough, I suddenly have a “full noise” kit.

The New

untitled-030112.jpg

Fast, furious and tough. Fully pro in look, feel and performance. This is the camera/lens combo Olympus needed to make, a no excuses workhorse with the heart of a racing thoroughbred.

The balance (literally and figuratively) of the 12-100 and camera with grip is sublime. Not one for big and bulky cameras, I will forgive this combo it’s heft for what it delivers.

Chasing bees in the back garden, cars in the street and birds on the back fence it performed flawlessly and the lens range, which is wider than my usual core kit, settles my coverage jitters (it provides a true wide angle and a good one).

What I love (already);

The gentle, almost intuitive shutter release and shutter smoothness. It almost feels like it is in electronic shutter mode, with a fake noise added.

The button placement and many small, ergonomic improvements like the cards (2!) going in facing the user (never got used to the face-away loading of the other cameras).

The feeling of being bullet proof. This refers to battery power, focussing, stabiliser, lens range and general performance and of course durability. My EM5 mk1’s have proven to be rugged and long lasting, providing 300k+ files over six years between them. Using that logic, the EM1 mk2 should be utterly reliable and long lived (should I touch wood here?).

The feel and balance.

Not a videographer, but the C4K video!

Concerns;

Only that I will not use it much as I should.

some dead pixels (mapped out) early on, but I have seen that before in other new cameras until they settle down.

That annoying “wobble” that most Olympus zoom lenses have when they extend. I know it is normal, but I just do not like it.

The Old New (or new old?)

untitled-030113.jpg

Very much the same imaging performance except for effectively zero focus tracking, this is the gentle touch, the “love” camera with an old school feel.

Ideal for portraiture and general street shooting and when the bigger camera is over kill.

What I love after a year of use;

The off-centre viewing for better interaction with portrait subjects and “open left eye” environment watching.

The image quality and near silent operation (same options of course with the EM1 except for the size and form factor).

Manual focus, even without peaking, and the fast primes. It just works.

The difference it provides to the bigger camera.

The jpegs.

Concerns;

Not in love with the “flappy” mechanical shutter sound.

The EM5 mk1’s?

I will be using these for hack images around the house and for travelling. I know it beggars belief that I would not take the premium cameras traveling, but almost every image I have taken in Japan has been with the older cameras and they owe me nothing financially or creatively, indeed the look of Japan for me is very much intertwined with the early 16mp sensor. Travelling with the peace of mind old, slightly worn and well loved cameras provide is a real bonus. Stressing about new, expensive and larger cameras can add an unneeded stress to travel. I just do not want to be that guy.

Part of me is also curious to see how long they will last.



More samples

Just a couple of images I missed from the other day. They are all hand held snaps with the Pen F.

 100mm f4

100mm f4

 Detail from the focus point above. The transitional blur is not as aggressive as the 12-40, making the lens a little more forgiving of focus errors.

Detail from the focus point above. The transitional blur is not as aggressive as the 12-40, making the lens a little more forgiving of focus errors.

 41mm f4.5

41mm f4.5

 100f 4.5 The glare on the gold windows was hard on the eyes, but tamed well by the lens.

100f 4.5 The glare on the gold windows was hard on the eyes, but tamed well by the lens.

 Central detail at 100mm f4.5

Central detail at 100mm f4.5

 Well known subject. 100mm f5.6

Well known subject. 100mm f5.6

 This is the sort of detail the 40-150 produced.

This is the sort of detail the 40-150 produced.

 The original file is mostly flare (the sun is just out of frame on the lower right side)

The original file is mostly flare (the sun is just out of frame on the lower right side)

 Again the great macro. The Bokeh I have seen in macro has varied from nervous to good. Not sure here, but I have other options if it is ever a problem.

Again the great macro. The Bokeh I have seen in macro has varied from nervous to good. Not sure here, but I have other options if it is ever a problem.

First Test of Faith

I arrived at work today a little unsettled. I like the 12-100, but still struggle with the idea of having a lump of a zoom lens in the kit, no matter how good.

As fate would have it, a 12mm f2 Olympus prime appeared as if out of nowhere (the one that got away?). This lens is a rarity in the shop as most people want the 12-40, 12-100 or 7-14 which are all a match for it in performance, especially across the frame and are comparatively good value in comparison.

I grabbed a camera and took a couple of quick test shots. Unfortunately, the light was very different to the other day, greeting me with very strong contrast and deep saturation as well as a different angle of shadow. Basically perfect photographic conditions, but I think I got enough to know.

The 12mm looks to be much the same in the centre, but a little weaker on the edges (a little better than the bulk of the other lenses the other day at 12mm). The lens has always had a shadow over it for me, with some reviewers such as Ctein reporting some variation lens for lens and some other odd behaviour. The odd behaviour Ctein noticed was a strange “wobbly” blur in the outer frame creating almost the impression of a double image with fine details. This is likely due to an aspherical element doing good things, but showing a little transition point that cannot be corrected.

 Lots of work done here, but still a nervous look. All of the other test shots from even weaker lenses look either sharper of more controlled than this one.

Lots of work done here, but still a nervous look. All of the other test shots from even weaker lenses look either sharper of more controlled than this one.

 Odd thing is Olympus can control it with in camera JPEG processing, but I could not with a RAW processor. The far corner looks better to.

Odd thing is Olympus can control it with in camera JPEG processing, but I could not with a RAW processor. The far corner looks better to.

One odd thing I noticed with this lens and going against common belief, was no discernible CA. Just could not see any. It may have been the day, but none, anywhere? Keep in mind that the 12mm is over half the price of the zoom, so it should be stronger generally, not having to be a swiss army knife lens. The zoom, even accounting for the softer light, matched the prime and was a touch better on the edges and corners (more normally behaving slight sharpness drop off), but did have some minor CA.

Prime on the left, beautiful day accepted. Really hard to tell in different light, but the zoom needed less minor processing for sharpness (it did need a bit of CA correction). The prime however did sharpen up well enough I felt for a 12x16” print. Would this matter in the reality?

Prime first again and the sign is well lit in that shot. I think the zoom has the edge again considering it shows similar detail without the benefit of the more contrasty light. You can nearly make out the writing. If the conditions were reversed, I would bet the zoom would retain even more detail as it seems to have excellent flare control.

Why bother testing it after all I have written about my thought processes to this point?

Indeed, why bother posting this at all?

The reality is, I don’t like zooms. The 12mm would be useful as a travel/street lens and do duty as a landscape lens more proportionately for my landscape needs. It is a vastly smaller lens although I do have to consider the clutch of other primes needed to do the job (15/25/45). The zoom adds versatility and some other performance benefits, but would it be a single task tool, one which I am still struggling to justify? Realistically, perfect framing capabilities aside, I could take any 2-3 of the tiny 12, 30, 25 and 45mm lenses in a super small hiking outfit.

All focal lengths are well served by solid, proven primes except maybe a small compromise at the 12mm end edge to edge. The 15, 25 and 45 have no noticeable advantage over the zoom, but loose nothing either.

The zoom is probably not much bigger overall, but would always be the heavier and bulkier single option. Would I take it to Japan as a wide angle option?

Another issue is the $200+ of filters I have to get. The smaller prime shares the same filter thread (46mm) as most of my other lenses and I have those as well as stepping rings for the less used filters.

Finally, the zoom may need a heavier tripod or at least larger head to work successfully, where the small prime will sit perfectly on the smaller ones I have already.

It would be fiddly. It would possibly be less successful overall and it will definitely be less flexible in the field for landscapes (but add options for travel), but it may be better suited for me. For the cost of the zoom I would also get the Leica 15mm, providing a stable semi-wide between the 12 and the 25. This methodical way of working, using a selection of fixed lenses and taking what comes is normal practice for most seasoned landscape shooters, but I have a genuine option of a premium zoom.

I suppose what it comes down to is, can I justify a big, expensive zoom just for specific tasks and run a separate preferred kit for all else?

Day 2 High demands

I have never successfully used the High res mode in the Pen F. When I have tried it, the timing was poor and my preparation non existent.

Turns out I have set the C2 mode on the camera to High Def with all the trimmings, probably out of disappointment with previous results, then promptly forgot about it.

Not a replacement for a higher res camera due to the short time it needs to create the file, the mode does have some benefits and in many ways makes me work much the same way I did with slow speed film on a “full frame” camera. Because the sensor’s native resolution is 20mp, it seems the demands put on lens is lower, the sensor apparently runs a little less noisily and moire is also less of an issue (all based on my pretty flawed memory of past review glancings).

I am going to use the 50mp JPEG version, because using the RAW requires another step that I am not going to bother with, but the JPEG’s out of the Pen have impressed enough, to make them a real option.

 The first base image. There was the slightest breeze this morning, so some sets were ruined and a couple of times I just had to walk away.

The first base image. There was the slightest breeze this morning, so some sets were ruined and a couple of times I just had to walk away.

 The perfectly respectable and realistically more than enough cropped resolution from a RAW file with basic processing (upload pre-set)

The perfectly respectable and realistically more than enough cropped resolution from a RAW file with basic processing (upload pre-set)

 The High Res version. This is a JPEG, so the colour is a little more aggressive, but no added processing was used. The mode limits aperture selection and the electronic shutter also limits ISO choice, but (I assume) all in camera JPEG fixes are applied, although my Pen predates the 12-100 and I have not done the update.

The High Res version. This is a JPEG, so the colour is a little more aggressive, but no added processing was used. The mode limits aperture selection and the electronic shutter also limits ISO choice, but (I assume) all in camera JPEG fixes are applied, although my Pen predates the 12-100 and I have not done the update.

 Here is the RAW file with a little brush work for extra detail and added saturation to mimic the JPEG settings. Apart from slight colour variance, is there any real benefit to the the higher res when printing is the end product?

Here is the RAW file with a little brush work for extra detail and added saturation to mimic the JPEG settings. Apart from slight colour variance, is there any real benefit to the the higher res when printing is the end product?

 Base image 2. I though this one shifted during exposure, but it looks like it was fine, although I missed focus a bit (my usual process is to use magnified MF, but on C1 or non high res, tripod mode, I did not have that on and it shifted so I used touch focus instead.

Base image 2. I though this one shifted during exposure, but it looks like it was fine, although I missed focus a bit (my usual process is to use magnified MF, but on C1 or non high res, tripod mode, I did not have that on and it shifted so I used touch focus instead.

Write here…

 The crop from the RAW base file. The visual impression of sharpness if high.

The crop from the RAW base file. The visual impression of sharpness if high.

 And the HR JPEG. This one prompts the viewer to “look inside”, if that is possible (depending on visual media and access). Even though the image above is sharp enough, there is a feeling of more (colour, contrast, detail, brilliance, clarity?) in this file.

And the HR JPEG. This one prompts the viewer to “look inside”, if that is possible (depending on visual media and access). Even though the image above is sharp enough, there is a feeling of more (colour, contrast, detail, brilliance, clarity?) in this file.

And even closer in on the best focus point of the HR image (385x596 pixels)

 A closer crop of the focus point of the low (!?) res image (378x489 pixels). The smooth rendering of the RAW file makes up some of the ground between the two.

A closer crop of the focus point of the low (!?) res image (378x489 pixels). The smooth rendering of the RAW file makes up some of the ground between the two.

Interesting. The initial impression of a real gain in quality, looks to be diminished when comparing the JPEG to RAW files.

 Final one. This is a subject close to my heart as I have often found Birches a “soft” looking tree in previous images.

Final one. This is a subject close to my heart as I have often found Birches a “soft” looking tree in previous images.

 The RAW crop. Natural looking, detailed and sharp. This image had nothing done to it except basic import settings.

The RAW crop. Natural looking, detailed and sharp. This image had nothing done to it except basic import settings.

 A little brush work applied to above for added “pop” (+10-15 clarity, contrast and sharpening). This is really only necessary at this scale. The bigger “print” size would be treated differently as these minor localised changes would be mostly invisible.

A little brush work applied to above for added “pop” (+10-15 clarity, contrast and sharpening). This is really only necessary at this scale. The bigger “print” size would be treated differently as these minor localised changes would be mostly invisible.

 The HR image suffers from some JPEG harshness, but holds more contrast and detail, although it did require some exposure and highlight recovery work. The HR images looked lighter on the screen and exposed lighter as well.   Bit torn here. There is nothing wrong with either, so I suppose it comes down to need. Scientific levels of information retention or a more artistic and pleasing experience.

The HR image suffers from some JPEG harshness, but holds more contrast and detail, although it did require some exposure and highlight recovery work. The HR images looked lighter on the screen and exposed lighter as well.

Bit torn here. There is nothing wrong with either, so I suppose it comes down to need. Scientific levels of information retention or a more artistic and pleasing experience.

Will I use it?

Probably not. I am more than happy with the electronic shutter-20mp-RAW-new lens combo for my high end landscapes and the tripod used looks to be enough. My style will be mono or colour semi-abstracts and urban landscape, not so much super high res traditional landscapes that require such close examination. Gentle manipulation of the RAW files is not the same look as the added resolution, but the JPEG files are not as smooth as the RAW ones, which I prefer.

I could use the RAW option, but the though of an added step, massive files and processing time is not appealing.

Non HR modes also allow me to realistically use more useful things like HDR/Bracketing and stitching.

Later the same day....

The combination of zoom framing and stabiliser helped to get this shot quickly and efficiently.

 Portrait crop from the landscape original.

Portrait crop from the landscape original.

 This has the almost too sharp look of some JPEG’s I shot with the 12-40 and Pen last year, but it is from a gently processed RAW file.

This has the almost too sharp look of some JPEG’s I shot with the 12-40 and Pen last year, but it is from a gently processed RAW file.

First day

Sporting the new 12-100, the testing has begun.

All of the images were taken this morning on my walk with the Pen F in JPEG/RAW. The images are a mix of JPEG and RAW images, edited as stated, otherwise nothing done to them.

The lens is big, but tight and solid feeling. It is not for me going to be a walk around lens, but rather a lens to cover everything my preferred primes cannot do.

I know I have trust issues, so bear with me.

First up a shot that shows the highlight retention the lens has a good reputation for. This extends your effective shooting range as you do not have to allow for so much highlight blow out. The Pen F sensor is good here to, but the lens adds a level of highlight detail retention that allowed in turn, some shadow recovery. First the original JPEG, then processed and finally the RAW file with slightly better mid to highlight tones and detail.

This time the sun is just off access to the top of the frame. To my eye, the white flowers at the top are mostly glare and flare, but the lens controlled them well. A little recovery brush work in the second image gave me full recovery of any lost detail.

This means I can control not only the magnification and perspective of an image, but also use nearly any angle to the sun.

Most reviews give the lens very consistent results through the range except some drop off in the corners/edges at 100mm f4. I must admit to being a little concerned that my copy was a little off on the right side also so I have obsessed a little when testing. After a couple of missed focus and out of DOF heart flutters, it looks to be fine, even better than many.

Bokeh has been rated as good to excellent, but like all zoom lenses, especially wide range ones, there will be good and bad combinations. Bokeh is such a subjective thing and it has many variables. Adding the variable of a zoom makes trying to come to grips with it nearly impossible.

Above is a simple front/back focus bokeh test.

 The more traditional “Bokeh ball” test. 100mm f4

The more traditional “Bokeh ball” test. 100mm f4

 A bit nervous here, but not a realistic application. I love near-far semi macro landscapes. Realistically more DOF would be applied.

A bit nervous here, but not a realistic application. I love near-far semi macro landscapes. Realistically more DOF would be applied.

 A more logical use of Bokeh in a composition and perfectly adequate for the job.

A more logical use of Bokeh in a composition and perfectly adequate for the job.

 More than useful macro. This is an un-cropped image of a thumb sized flower. It has a more powerful and comfortable to use macro range than either the 12-40 or 25mm which is all I need.

More than useful macro. This is an un-cropped image of a thumb sized flower. It has a more powerful and comfortable to use macro range than either the 12-40 or 25mm which is all I need.

The image quality os close enough to the feeling I get from my primes, on par with the two pro zooms I had previously. The handling is good (nothing I notice when using it), but I am concerned my tripod stocks may need a more substantial option as the lens is (front)heavy enough on the camera to feel possibly less steady than my previous setups.

Do I have what I wanted?

A better macro option? Yes. Stronger magnification and better working distance.

A better landscape option? Yes. The lens has the handling characteristics I was after and is optically sound and shows the right “characteristics” for landscape work.

A better mid range telephoto AF option? Yes. It is possibly in the same league as my 40-150 pro.

A better (state of the art) OIF option? Potentially, but I need to do a firmware upgrade first.

Zoom Zoom

Over in the technical essays section I have exhaustively covered my recent thinking on landscape photography and it’s very different needs to street/portraiture and travel.

My thoughts on zoom lenses would be clear to any long time readers of this blog. I don’t generally like them on a number of levels.

Lazy framing. There are a lot of forces at work when composing an image. We have to be aware of them to avoid becoming a slave to the limitations of our technology. Auto focus, eye level viewing and zooming all tend to distract the photographer from more important compositional considerations such as timing, angle, perspective and interaction.

Sticking a big zoom up to your face may seem to be true “immersion” in the subject, but are you thinking of angles, are you missing shots while micro managing framing and is the intimidating contraption in front of your face creating a barrier between you and your subject?

A small prime can be used intuitively. The user becomes used the angle of view, the lens offers, pre-visualising the end product before the image is made because they do not have to guess an enormous amount of possible framing options. yes you can pre select a focal length on the barrel and use the zoom like a prime, but who does. The forced limitations of the prime lens makes you learn it rather than the zoom coming to your demands. This is how we learn to frame, use perspective and become flexible (less distracted) in our photography.

Inconsistency. Generally a zoom lens will have good and bad points. Anything with variations will vary. Makes sense, but it can be hard to swallow when you get unexpectedly bad results out of the blue right next a good image at a slightly different focal length and aperture taken seconds before.

Prime lenses have generally even and predictable temperaments. If they have weaknesses, they are often part of the design choice, not the necessary evil of compromising some of the range for the betterment of the whole.

Bokeh can be an important part of lens choice. A zoom lens can have good, even great Bokeh, but like other performance parameters, it will vary though the zoom range, making it useful only on a case by case basis, not predictably, so not creatively.

Speed. Zooms can be and are getting ever faster in maximum aperture. The Canon 24-70 f2 coming for the new mirrorless range is a “next step” lens for zoom users. The humble 50mm f1.8 offers the same or better shallow DOF and light gathering for 1/10th the price and weight (or less) and in a low profile option. It will always be the way that lens speed will be easier to obtain with a prime lens. As zooms get better/faster, primes do to. As a micro 4/3 user, I can use any aperture available in a practical way. My f1.8 is the full frame users f2.8, so too-shallow-to-use DOF is never an issue and wider choices are employed often. Slow zooms for me are generally of little use.

 The strong separation the 75mm gives me at f1.8

The strong separation the 75mm gives me at f1.8

Here is the contradiction.

My ideal landscape lens can be;

Big and heavy. I will be moving slowly, interacting with inanimate objects and I will appreciate a little lens bulk for added stability when shooting on a tripod in windy conditions.

A zoom. The practical value of 100% useable framing is far more appealing than sifting through a clutch of primes to find a “near enough” focal length, then cropping away precious pixels later. Add to this the constant changing of expensive filters every time you change lenses and primes loose their gloss quickly in field conditions.

A good to average lens. I will not be using high stress wide apertures, but the more useful and usually better middle apertures. Most lenses, even cheap kit ones are good enough at f5.6-11.

 Taken on a safe aperture with a “crappy” kit lens

Taken on a safe aperture with a “crappy” kit lens

A slow lens because speed (see above) is not an issue.

The ideal for me at the moment is the 12-100 f4 Pro Olympus.

It is according, to my fairly sloppy, lets call it “field conditions” testing, better than or equal to most of it’s competition, especially across the frame which is important for landscapes. The only two lenses that gave it a run were the Olympus 45mm that I own and the Panasonic 15mm Leica, which tied for quality, but had a nice smooth look (could have been the ever changing light). The 15mm was limiting in range (I already have a decent 17mm), so it was never really a contender. The 100% framing with reliable cross frame performance are a boon. Most reviewers put the lens roughly equal to the 12-40 (some higher, some lower), which is near enough for me.

It has for me the ideal range. Never a big fan of super wide angle lenses, a 24-200 equivalent range is perfect and my 75-300 is a good enough extension when needed giving me an excellent 24-450 and decent 450-600 range.

It has a better than average macro focus. I seldom shoot true macro, but often take detail images.

It is fast enough to be useful and importantly is still good at f8-11 (f16-32 equiv), which can be the starting point of diffraction limitation on M43 lenses. It also has a brilliant stabiliser, which will get those fleeting images tripod users sometimes miss.

It is weather sealed, although my Pen F is not. The back up camera is an OMD body for really bad weather and the plan is to upgrade to an EM5 mk3 next year some time, switching the Pen to street use.

The Bokeh is rated as generally equal to or better than the 12-40, which will be better than the 40-150 pro. Not a big consideration, but if it is good it will be used.

Seems a no brainer and my wife is happy to turn a blind eye to the cost. Perfect.

Now I just have to justify it by using it.

Pointless

Some images defy logical explanation, but still work on some level.

 Pen F 25mm

Pen F 25mm

Sloping oddly, flawed compositionally, colour bland and basically pointless. It still talked to me (maybe only me) on some level. Maybe you literally had to be there.