Tea in Kanazawa

The old Tea district of Kanazawa. We rate this as one of the better “traditional” areas we have been to.

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Very active, very lived in.

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Haiku #75 Dotonbori

Taking Stock

Fresh from our latest trip, I feel it wise to take stock of technical and technique changes and gear performance.

Cameras

The EM5 mk1 I took (my least favourite) failed during the trip. It was fine for the one outing it had but the next time i went to use it, I noticed banding i the image. Luck was in my side as i shot an unappreciated snap of my wife sitting next to me and noticed it before I went out to with only.

Turning it off and on again, the sensor (or power supply) showed definite signs of “pink line” failure.

This limited me to one camera and a heavy reliance on my 12-40 zoom, rather than my preferred 2 camera/2 prime style.

It and the 3 primes I took became dead weight for the rest of the trip.

The Em1 performed flawlessly.

There are a few things I would change;

  • it and the zoom were a little too big for my liking, drawing attention and just being bulkier than I like.

  • The ISO setting in Aperture priority (set low for quality) and Shutter priority (set to Auto for adaptability) cannot be set separately, which got annoying.

  • The camera suffered from slow buffering sometimes, with brand new fast cards, even taking as long as 20 seconds to buffer one file if i turned the camera on a shot immediately. This will have to be investigated, but is probably just a little compatibility issue and I was shooting RAW and LSF jpeg on two cards at the same time.

  • The spongy shutter button when fired by thumb, forced me to miss a couple of shots.

On the bright side, the image quality and hit to miss ratio was definitely higher than previous trips, so a win overall.

My bias towards flip up over flip out screens is also changing. The ability to shoot from a low angle in portrait orientation is a plus.

Lenses

The 12-40, a rush purchase before a Christmas trip to see family, paid for itself over and over. It became my “2 lens kit” usually hovering around the 18 and 40mm settings. The focussing may well be faster, or at least more accurate on the EM1 than the 17mm prime and it’s balance of sharpness and Bokeh are ideal.

So fast, it could capture fleeting moments as quickly as i could compose them.

So fast, it could capture fleeting moments as quickly as i could compose them.

The crappy little 40-150 kit tele got a disproportionate amount of use and took a series of images that will prove to be my favourites from this trip. Apart from the stiff zoom mechanism, (so stiff it actually created a little lens mount play over time) it never made me conscious or concerned about using it. In tandem with the 45mm prime for low light work, it was just right.

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The primes all performed as expected, but were not used much. The heavy 75mm only got an outing at the end of the trip to justify taking it at all.

Other

The TT Turnstyle 10l was a revelation. It limited me to amount of gear I needed (especially when the EM5 died) and never felt cramped. I even managed to fit a large table top Manfrotto tripod into it.

When fully loaded, it felt comfortable down the middle of my back and when half empty, it seemed to disappear. Any bag over a couple of weeks can wear thin, even just the strap can get annoying, but this one was definitely the best I have used.

The mini tripod I took was only used twice. I found the EM1 with the inertia of the 12-40 lens was capable of pulling of plenty of 1/5th to 1/15th of a second images for suitable blurred water images.

This was with the tripod. Without, the blurring is not as silky, but is smooth enough to avoid the “caught in motion” look.

This was with the tripod. Without, the blurring is not as silky, but is smooth enough to avoid the “caught in motion” look.


Apart from the slight fear i felt when facing the bulk of the trip with only one camera, all went well and i adapted to changing dynamic.

To Catch a Star

Just back from Japan, mostly recovered from the 36 hours it took to cover 10 hours real distance , marathon trip back (I average 1-2 hours sleep a day when travelling) and game to start the task of (for the first, tentative time) exploring my images.

First up, some files from a lightning visit to Dotonbori, Osaka. We decided to pop down for an afternoon look and with my wife taking a load off, i had a quick once-up and once down of the main strip. I do believe this is the best street image environment I have ever been to. Hot or cold, day or night, it just has so much going on. It does not hurt that generally people are so distracted by the environment, they pay little attention to just one more guy with a camera.

“Star catcher” Dotonbori, Osaka EM1 12-40

“Star catcher” Dotonbori, Osaka EM1 12-40

EM1 12-40

EM1 12-40

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Lessons learned and a few technique changes, some desired, some forced (I will get to these later), but overall, a good trip, great weather and plenty of new things discovered.

Final Thoughts on the Kit 40-150.

After a few days of not very methodical, mostly random snapping with the 40-150, I think I am on to a winner.

Up front I need to say, the lens feels very low end. the zoom is stiff and the lens itself so light it is almost comical on a solid camera like the EM1, but that aside. the results and usability it offers are solid, even slightly impressive. Most of the images below were ISO 200 RAW files from the EM1 , except the last 2 (ISO 800 RAW).

It is amazing what you can get without even moving.

The 40-150 Kit Lens, A Closer Look

lens reviews are a dangerous thing. Sometimes they can shatter your contentment with an owned or desired tool, other times they can instil un-warranted confidence.

I never really know myself if a new lens will sit well with me until I try it for a while. Sometimes the magic just never arrives and I part with a perfectly good bit of glass just because (two 25mm and two 14mm Pana/Leica lenses for example that were excellent, but were moved on in the face of other options).

My preferred process is to discover a gem where one has no right to be. One example of this is the 17mm f1.8 Oly, a lens I cannot see myself being without, and recently lately, the little kit 40-150 has surprised.

All images taken on a variety of cameras within a day of each other and in RAW. Processing is standard for me with a little brush work and basic settings (why look at images that are not processed to my liking?). the files reacted much as I am used to.

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If I lied and said this was taken with uber lens “X”, would I get away with it? Sharpness is plentiful these days, even at the bottom of the food chain.

Strong colour, even generous. No sign of any other faults, just a decent image. To be honest, if this was printed and the file lost, I would be hard pressed to work out which lens took it.

Strong colour, even generous. No sign of any other faults, just a decent image. To be honest, if this was printed and the file lost, I would be hard pressed to work out which lens took it.

Showing signs of it’s lack of pedigree here. The edges are a little soft wide open at 145mm, although not as soft as I thought, as much of the left hand edge detail is actually out of focus (the rocks  under  the leaves on the left hand side are sharp).   Could this hang in a gallery? Quality wise, there is enough to get by with if the subject is strong enough. Most of my other lenses do have near perfect edges, so this is my low point, but is still well within an acceptable range.

Showing signs of it’s lack of pedigree here. The edges are a little soft wide open at 145mm, although not as soft as I thought, as much of the left hand edge detail is actually out of focus (the rocks under the leaves on the left hand side are sharp).

Could this hang in a gallery? Quality wise, there is enough to get by with if the subject is strong enough. Most of my other lenses do have near perfect edges, so this is my low point, but is still well within an acceptable range.

A really sharp image edge to edge and again good control of flare, transition and colour. Taken at 65mm wide open.

A really sharp image edge to edge and again good control of flare, transition and colour. Taken at 65mm wide open.

A poor image compositionally, but “glassy eyed” and detailed. Nice contrast, not too much, not too little.

A poor image compositionally, but “glassy eyed” and detailed. Nice contrast, not too much, not too little.

Flip Flop

Well I bought a 40-150, just not the one I thought.

A 3 lens kit, available for the moment with an EM10 mk2 on clearance cycle, offered me a set of options that, to be honest, made a lot more sense than the big pro lens.

I always think, that if a decision is too hard to make, then walk away, and that is what happened with the big lens. I failed to crack a telling shot after two tries and then I started to question the relevance of the lens for me at all (as I have previously). It looks like the sport I was to shoot is more social than action, may not even come about and possible other lens options would have made more sense. I guess what it came down to was the lens (the one I tested) just did not produce that “wow” image, especially when compared to the humble 75-300.

The two images below are heavy crops. The 75-300 image (a little bigger, but proportionately cropped), is maybe sharper or “nicer” to my eye, which is often the case with that lens. The 12-100 is similar in rendering to the 40-150, which I find appealing for high detail landscape images, but less so for general shooting. When I was testing my previous one of these, an early test of each at 75mm showed almost no difference between the 75 prime, 40-150 and 75-300 (at the same apertures), which was thought provoking to say the least.

Looking with fresh eyes, the little triple kit made more sense.

The first lens of note is the quite well regarded 40-150 kit lens. Not in the league of my usual kit, it none the less produces a very serviceable file, generous and forgiving, colour is good and even it’s Bokeh is not offensive. The 75-300 now feels like a luxury lens in comparison, both in hand and optically, but this little, almost weightless lens (about the same weight as a small prime), produces a good enough image that I do not feel like I am being short sighted using it, as long as that is carefully and realistically. A bonus is it’s truly lightning fast, almost instinctive, AF. This will be going to Japan as the mate to the admittedly better 12-40 pro rather than the heavier and longer 75-300.

Lens two is another 45 f1.8. My favourite one has a small scratch on the front element (my fault) that bothers me a little and to be honest I do not want to be without it, ever, for what ever reason, so another one in reserve just feels right. I have a third (!), silver one, but that may be gifted to a family member.

Sharp edge to edge wide open (possibly even better than my current favourite) and showing beautiful Bokeh. Another winner. This one seems to have a smidgeon more CA, but may actually be sharper? Not sure, too hard to test and I don’t really care.

Sharp edge to edge wide open (possibly even better than my current favourite) and showing beautiful Bokeh. Another winner. This one seems to have a smidgeon more CA, but may actually be sharper? Not sure, too hard to test and I don’t really care.

Finally, the neat little 14-42 EZ kit lens, which may be the future mate for a new camera for my wife, who is looking out for a new EPL# at some point. I am going to return this one as my unscientific test, tooling around the house, showed it is clearly a little de-centred (soft left side at wider settings as opposed to a quite sharp on the right side). According to Image Resource, these are a little soft on that side (love those 3d blur charts), so it may be as it is to be. ed. After trying another, they look to be consistently like this, so no harm, no foul.

Plenty sharp, but a little colour challenged. A nice, balanced lens but not spectacular.

Plenty sharp, but a little colour challenged. A nice, balanced lens but not spectacular.

I picked the set up for less than the price of the 45 alone.

Unlike many, I do not find buying new gear fun. Stressing over relative or theoretical quality is never a road to happiness, but it is something I seem to need to go through before I am truly happy and the more I spend, the more I stress. Working in the industry, I know that genuine faults are few and many actual faults go completely un-noticed, but rather than take the hint, I still tend to look for trouble.

Rather than tests and comparisons, I personally do not settle until I get that image that just makes me smile. I believe a lens is as good as it’s best image, simple as that. ironically, the actual image often has little to do with true, definable, technical quality, but rather an emotional quality that only a really terrible lens could actually detract from. My testing procedure for these lenses came down taking a few images, focussing on the edges often and checking for obvious anomalies.

What exercises like this remind me of, is that the gear matters less than using it. Having a big, pro lens, with little application is a waste. It makes me feel like I should push myself into using it over common sense. The smaller kit on the other hand, means that I have a significantly higher chance of actually having a camera with me when something is worth capturing.

Something to think on with tele lenses, is their realistic operating environment. Wide open, many top long tele lenses are not as sharp as even petite little portrait lenses. The compression they have often disguises this, making the image “snap” naturally. Even my humble 75-300, which does not do brilliantly on a test bench, can produce pro grade images in the field. When the atmosphere is filled with haze or glare, it is as hobbled as any, but so would a multi thousand dollar lens be.

Plenty of detail, compression and good contrast.

Plenty of detail, compression and good contrast.

Landscapes and very occasional wild life are covered by the 12-100/75-300 (24-600 equivalent),

Portrait and Street by the four primes (35/45/90/150e all f1.8),

and Travel by the 12-40/40-150 (24-300e), which is quite light meaning I can add in parts of other kits as needed.

Sport? Not doing any now, but any of the above as needed.

The Merry-Go-Round

Back on the gear Merry-Go-Round again. I may have an opportunity to do some sport in the near future. Indoor, high end, genuine pressure stuff. Fun!

My kit is too big, but it still lacks a decent fast/long option with premium. pro focus, so the 40-150 if back in the mix.

A perfect day off allowed me an opportunity to borrow the floor demo one (we do not have “demo” gear as such, as we are a small store), for an hour or so.

Off to the park!

All of the images below were taken hand held with the EM1 mk2 and most are LSF jpegs.

First up, the usual mandatory check to make sure I have a “good” one. I have never had a dud lens from Olympus, but there is always a first time and this is a little too expensive to risk.

My last one was the lens, that combined with the brand new Pen F, produced some of the best quality images I have ever created.

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Looking good first up. There is clear sharpness in all four corners and fine detail.

The set below are a comparison of the realistic application of the lens against the 75-300 “budget” kit lens (top) and the “naked” (no teleconverter) pro lens (bottom).

As usual the cheaper lens puts out a great image, but again I am seeing it handle micro contrast completely differently (as with the 12-100 comparison). The 75-300 is hard to criticise on a purely artistic level, but by comparison, you do see more fine detail resolution from the pro glass.

The third set are from the 75-300 again for a not very scientific comparison. Is it just me, or do the set from the budget lens look more exciting?

With the 1.4x extender, the quality and responsiveness does not seem to drop off much either.

With the 1.4x extender, the quality and responsiveness does not seem to drop off much either.

The only issue is the speed loss (1 stop) forcing the ISO up. I am really not loving Lightroom’s handling of the EM1’s noise over ISO 400. The jpegs are better and that is not how it should be.

The only issue is the speed loss (1 stop) forcing the ISO up. I am really not loving Lightroom’s handling of the EM1’s noise over ISO 400. The jpegs are better and that is not how it should be.

Ok, it looks like a good one, but I am again impressed by the beautiful images created by the little travel tele.

Just lovely, as usual.

Just lovely, as usual.

Now for what I am looking for, AF.

At first I had the usual frustrations with C-AF (don’t even get me started on AF-Tr). I have found the continuous focus is plenty for a car moving at normal speed, a fast horse moving across the frame or a bird flying steadily, but not great (with the 75-300 anyway) with erratic subjects. Don’t get me wrong, the EM1 is a good performer in this area, but I personally do not like to leave all of the driving to the car so to speak.

Being an old school sports shooter (old school as in manual focus, no winder and with film), I do know, although I tend to forget, that timing, anticipation and skill are more important than AF speed. Never under estimate the skill of sports shooters in the past who were often limited to ISO 400 films, forced to use wide apertures with manual focussing and relying on pure, practiced reflex to get the shot, and that was without any ability to review their images until processed. I was not that good, but I knew people who were.

After a few minutes of tracking fast moving monkeys, with patchy success, I tried single shot and rediscovered the lightning fast acquisition the OMD series are known for. Even before they could track focus, the early OMD’s could still shoot sport. You just have to learn to break your old habits of DSLR tracking. The trick is, just shoot. Do not hesitate and do not try to follow the action with the cameras focus, just follow it with your eye*. The early OMD’s did not have tracking and I am not fully trusting of the newer models, so this style, once accepted, was ideal for me.

With the 40-150 and an old OMD, I have managed to capture medium grade basketball with a better than average success rate and indoor swimming was almost too easy (just focus on the water a foot in front of the swimmer and fire at the right time).

EM5 mk1 and 17mm lens zone focussed.

EM5 mk1 and 17mm lens zone focussed.

With the EM-1 I am not really interested in the tracking, but more in the first grab focus speed, which is better than the older models. I can basically see and shoot, with near instant acquisition and capture. This combined with wide angle zone focus under the hoop, manual trap focus for oncoming subjects, tight portraits with S-AF and a little tracking should give me options aplenty.

The ball swing (a heavy crop) was rocking violently after a monkey had jumped off it. I let the camera do the grab, without trying to track at all. The runners were really moving (and were smaller, faster, more erratic, closer and lower contrast than a sporting human). These are a few of many similar images. Unlike the tracking sets, these are not the one or two of the sharper grabs from a cluster, but single, timed, pin sharp files with maybe one or two more on either side as they presented. It is fair to say, the misses were not from the camera and lens, but me.

One from the teleconverter combo.

One from the teleconverter combo.

Taken with the 75-300 which is no slouch, as long as there is enough light.

Taken with the 75-300 which is no slouch, as long as there is enough light.

Other considerations.

It is weatherproof, which my longer tele is not (but that may be pointless due to it’s limited coverage and weight when out in the field with the 12-100).

It provides another strong Bokeh option (but nowhere near as powerful as the 45/75mm primes).

The substantial difference between the Bokeh of the 12-100 (f4 at 90mm) and the 40-150 (f2.8 at 90mm). The 40-150, like the 12-40 seems to produce a lighter and brighter file than the very hard 12-100.

Another image is to show the Bokeh of the lens which is pleasant front and back. I felt I had issues with the last one I tried early on with busy Bokeh. I think, like a lot of things, early impressions can be misleading.

Another image is to show the Bokeh of the lens which is pleasant front and back. I felt I had issues with the last one I tried early on with busy Bokeh. I think, like a lot of things, early impressions can be misleading.

So the questions are;

Can I justify the substantial cost of a lens that adds a small window of speed/reach** that is otherwise a very pleasant lens to use?

Do I need the teleconverter?

*One eye on the viewfinder and the other (left) eye looking around outside of the frame. It is tricky at first, but once mastered, you are not limited to the lenses view only and can respond to what is coming.

** In telephoto’s I have at my disposal;

up to 100mm (200mm FF equivalent) f4 pro grade, 75mm (150e) f1.8 absolutely top tier optics, but older and possibly less speedy to focus, and up to 300mm (600e) with better than average glass, but “kit” grade focus and a slow maximum aperture.

The new lens would only add;

150mm (300e) at f2.8 with pro grade glass and focus, and 210mm (420e) f4 near enough pro grade with the extender.

Short Sighted and Forgetfull

With all of my detailed analysis (non scientific, but detailed none the less), I cannot forget the humble, aged EM5 mk1’s. They still take a cracking image and show the strength of the core principals Olympus aimed for all those years ago.

Always at their best controlling strong, contrasty light, they were a revelation after Canon. EM5 and 75-300.

Always at their best controlling strong, contrasty light, they were a revelation after Canon. EM5 and 75-300.

Both shot with the Em5 and 75-300. Love the firm control of colour and flexibility of the files.

Both shot with the Em5 and 75-300. Love the firm control of colour and flexibility of the files.

EM 1Mk2 jpeg Explorations

Still trying to get a handle on the LSF jpeg’s from the EM1. They look to have different, but similar “power” to the RAW files, but with a running head start for processing.

The image below has minimal processing other than a basic mono conversion, some control of the relevant colours and and a little brush work to remove “strays” in the black shadows. Unlike a lot of jpeg files, they do not fall apart when treated like RAW files (many serious jpeg shooters process jpegs in layers as they do not push or pull well with basic sliders).

EM1 75-300

EM1 75-300

Each year we take down the mandatory Australian fly screen in our bedroom and get a short window (so to speak) of lush late summer garden through clear glass. Most of the images I get this way are impossible to take from outside.

Another taken in the same set.

Another taken in the same set.

Strange Birds

Apparently they escaped from Perth zoo in a storm and now want to come home. Careful what you wish for.

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