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blurring the background with your Olympus OM-D camera


  • many photographers look down upon the Micro Four Thirds system because they falsely believe that the 2x cropped sensor does not allow adequate blurring of the background
  • now it is true that the cropped sensor does not allow as much depth of field (DOF) control and background blurring capability as full frame cameras with wide aperture lenses
  • HOWEVER, by choosing wide aperture lenses for your Olympus camera you can usually achieve sufficient blurring of the background for your needs and have it at much less cost, weight, size, and with more accurate focus on the subject's eyes, no matter where they are in the frame, and with more FUN
  • Furthermore, the Olympus camera will allow you better image quality hand held in low light when you actually need the depth of field - such as when shooting a group of people - you don't want half of them out of focus!

head and shoulder portraits

  • for most single person portraits you need sufficient depth of field to ensure that the subject's face is in focus from the ear to the tip of the nose
    • generally, on a full frame camera you are looking at 90mm f/4 (perhaps down to f/2.8 if you are very careful)
      • some photographers like to do “arty” shots where only an eye is in focus, and for this they may use a very expensive ($A2,700), heavy (~1kg), and slowly focusing lens such as a Canon 85mm f/1.2 lens - these are difficult to use but do produce rather unique portraits and this degree of shallow DOF will not be possible on Micro Four Thirds
    • on an Olympus camera, the Olympus mZD 45mm f/1.8 lens at f/1.8 will be perfect for most photographers needs, however, there are a multitude of other options:
      • Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2 lens
      • Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens
      • almost any other lens ever made can be used in manual focus mode including:
        • f/0.95 lenses
        • using f/1.4 lenses with a 0.72x focal length reducer adapter to turn them into f/1.0 lenses
          • eg. a cheap full frame Rokinon/Samyang 85mm f/1.4 lens becomes a 60mm f/1.0 lens which then gives similar DOF and degree of background blurring as a 120mm f/2.0 lens on a full frame camera - there are NO easily available lenses for full frame which are wider aperture than this at this focal length!
          • even using a cheap 50mm f/1.4 legacy lens will give 36mm f/1.0 which equates to 72mm f/2.0 on a full frame
  • professional dSLR photographers generally rely on a heavy, expensive 70-200mm f/2.8 lens for portraits
  • the 45mm f/1.8, and 75mm f/1.8 will give almost the same background blurring and DOF characteristics as this lens, but will be far lighter and cheaper, and much more fun and less intimidating to the subject

Olympus mZD 75mm lens:

the party portrait

  • the Olympus camera wins hands down at parties compared to large, bulky dSLRs
  • mate it with a Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens and a small FL-600R or FL-36 flash and you can fit the whole kit in jacket pockets or a hand bag
  • you will have more fun, but be aware that shooting at f/1.7 will be too shallow a DOF for groups of people at relatively close range of 2m - aim for perhaps f/2.5-2.8
  • see for examples such as:

the outdoor wedding party group shot or full length fashion shot

  • if you want to get a blurry background with a large group (or a full length person at a distance as a wide angle environmental fashion shot) and a relatively close, cluttered background, the full frame camera will be your best choice by far as a 24mm f/1.4 or 35mm f/1.4 lens (each cost ~$A2000 and weigh ~0.6kg) on a full frame camera will give you more DOF control than any current AF lens for Olympus
    • HOWEVER, you could use a 17mm f/0.95 lens with manual focus if you really wanted to achieve background blurring although lens flare and softness may be an issue
  • if the background is distant, then the Olympus will be fine as you will get the SAME background blurring as long as you use the same focal length and aperture as on full frame - you just need to step back twice as far from the group to fit them in
  • if the background is uncluttered, then blurring it won't matter at all.

sports or wildlife shots with long telephotos lenses

  • generally very shallow DOF is your enemy with long telephoto lenses
  • Olympus gives you are big advantage in allowing MUCH smaller, lighter lenses and more telephoto reach to make this work more enjoyable for you
  • watch out for the Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 PRO lens in 2015 - you can't shoot a 600mm lens hand held on a full frame camera!

macro close up shots

  • shallow depth of field is generally not something you want, rather you want as much of the subject in focus as possible
  • any close up lens will do the job on your Olympus camera (eg. the lovely, light Olympus mZD 60mm f/2.8 lens) and you set it to f/11 or so to get maximal depth of field without losing sharpness from using too small an aperture (f/16-f/22 cause less sharp images on these cameras)
  • full frame cameras do allow you to use smaller apertures with similar depth of field but the cameras and lenses are bigger and heavier, and much less fun to use in the field, particularly as Live View is so clunky to use, and thus the Olympus cameras wins this easily

making the ordinary beautiful

  • the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens is my favourite for achieving lovely bokeh:


hand held shots without flash such as walking the streets at night

  • the Olympus with a 20mm f/1.7 or 17mm f/1.8 or 12mm f/2.0 lens easily beats a full frame dSLR as:
    • the built-in image stabiliser allows hand held shots down to around 1/3rd sec or so
    • using a 12mm f/2.0 lens at f/2.0 gives the same DOF as a 24mm 1.4 lens at f/4 on a full frame camera
      • for adequate DOF of a scene, you would need at least f/4 on a full frame camera
      • at f/2 on the Olympus vs f/4 on a full frame, any high ISO image quality advantage is nullified, and yet we still have the amazing Olympus image stabiliser available to give even slower shutter speeds
    • it is FAR MORE DISCRETE - easily hidden in case potential thugs come by or you travel on public transport home

Handheld Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens at dusk:

Handheld Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 in very low light in fog and 1/8th sec exposure to allow sufficient DOF:

flash exposures of large groups

  • the Olympus is comparable to a full frame here as it can use an aperture 2 stops wider than the full frame camera for the same DOF that is needed, so for the same flash output, the full frame camera would need 2 stops higher ISO, thus similar image quality.
  • BOTTOM LINE: whilst there are some situations where full frame is MUCH more desirable than Olympus OM-D, these are few and irrelevant for many, while the compromises of a much lighter, smaller package means MORE FUN and less backache when you have an Olympus OM-D
omd/blurred_backgrounds.txt · Last modified: 2015/01/15 01:00 by gary1

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