Sony A7II full frame with Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 vs Olympus OM-D with Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens – real world comparison images

Written by admin on April 24th, 2017

In an earlier blog post, I compared the Sony A7II full frame with Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 vs Olympus OM-D with Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens in terms of how they render the background wide open at f/1.8 at approximately the SAME subject distance and approximately the same field of view. The full frame kit allows 2 stops more shallow depth of field, but for most situations, the ability to blur the background with the 45mm lens is adequate, and it does so at a much smaller size.

In this post, I tackle the photographic problem slightly differently as I tried to maintain the same subject magnification by shooting the 75mm lens twice as far away from the subject as the Canon EF 85mm lens as the 2x crop factor of Micro Four Thirds means the Olympus 75mm lens actually has the field of view of a 150mm lens in full frame terms.

These are two of the sharpest wide aperture “consumer” lenses from each manufacturer – unfortunately, neither are weather-sealed.

Thus when shooting both lenses wide open at f/1.8 at same subject magnification as outlined, one can expect for the Olympus 75mm lens, the background field of view will be narrower and more compressed (which I prefer as most Australian forest backgrounds tend to be busy, chaotic and distracting, and one can better avoid having distracting bright skies in the frame, so less background for me is better, even though it is not as blurry).

Had I shot with the background at infinity, the DOF calculations indicate that the background would be just as blurry, but when the background is quite close to the subject as in these images, the full frame does give more blurry images – but at times too blurry (although this can be addressed by stopping the aperture down but then may need to increase ISO by 2 EV if you cannot afford to have a slower shutter speed, and then the benefits of full frame are largely lost).

One big difference between the two is the far better close up magnification obtainable with the Olympus mZD 75mm lens as both have close focus of around 0.85m but the Olympus does this with twice the telephoto effect giving twice the macro.

In addition, I feel the Olympus OM-D cameras render the greens in a more pleasing way than the Sony a7II, and of course, the Olympus camera has a 4:3 aspect ratio which I think works better for portraits, while the Sony has the old, historic, narrow 3:2 ratio.

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 lens is a highly regarded “portrait” lens, often regarded as one of the best Canon lenses which is not a Pro L lens. It is sharp but does have some CA issues wide open. When used with the Sigma MC-11 EF-Sony lens adapter, you do get fairly fast AF but no Eye AF.

On a full frame camera such as the Sony A7II mirrorless camera, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 provides the user with shallow depth of field options when compared to the slightly smaller (58mm filter vs 58mm filter), lighter (305g vs 400g) Olympus micro ZD 75mm f/1.8 lens but will this really matter for most people and will the many benefits of the Olympus system outweigh the DOF benefits of the full frame system?

The Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens is regarded as one of the best lenses ever made optically and is one of my all time favorite lenses for people photography and also shallow DOF work on Olympus cameras. Unlike the 85mm lens it is optimised for mirrorless cameras and their CDAF system and thus you can have fairly fast, accurate face detection autofocus on the subject’s closest eye (if they are not moving much), which is an awesome feature indeed – this is not possible with the Canon lens.

The Olympus lens has 5EV image stabilisation thanks to the Olympus OM-D E-M1, while the Canon lens gains around 2-3 EV IS thanks to the Sony a7II (it would have none if used on a Canon dSLR).

Real world lens tests:

Let’s have a look at some images straight from camera (just resized for web viewing) with both lenses at f/1.8 as I walked around an oak forest yesterday, not really looking for great shots, but shots to show difference in depth of field and image quality between the two systems when taken from the same camera position.

The Olympus is first then the Canon, all taken at f/1.8, base ISO, with auto WB unless specified, and none had any filters applied to the lenses – both had lens hoods attached:

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I much prefer the Olympus version of the above two, gives better context and I personally find the bokeh of the Canon one a bit annoying because we have lost the definition of the trees too much leaving distracting vertical lines.

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The above was taken with “Shady” white balance.

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The following two show that if the subject distance is substantially less than the background distance, then the degree of background blurring becomes more similar with the two lenses.

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The following two were taken not with the same imagery, but I have added them anyway.

The Olympus  was with WB set to “Shady” but came out too warm – I should have taken a custom WB with a grey target to get the best rendition here.

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The foreground bokeh of this last Canon EF 85mm lens image is very distracting and busy and in fact is so annoying I would be forced to crop it out.

Each lens renders images differently even though I have tried to control subject magnification – both have nice bokeh in most cases, but you do get quite different images – sometimes in favor of the Olympus (thanks to double the background compression), sometimes in favor of the Canon 85mm (thanks to more blurring of a nearby background).

There is no “RIGHT” camera / lens combination that will suit every image – you as the photography have the decision to make as to which tool is needed – assuming you have the tools with you.

But in the end, if you had not seen the full frame imagery, most would be very happy with the degree of background blurring of the Olympus lens – it has how you use it that will determine the success of your photography.

Here is what the Olympus 75mm lens can achieve in outdoor available light portraiture:

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Sony announces awesome new high end full frame mirrorless camera – the Sony a9 – essentially a full frame version of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II at more than twice the price

Written by admin on April 20th, 2017

Today Sony announced details of its new high end full frame E-Mount mirrorless camera – the Sony A9 – and on paper it looks great!

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Check out the specs:

  • 24.2MP Full-Frame Stacked CMOS Sensor giving 20x faster data than the a7 models
  • ISO range of 100 – 51200, expandable to 50 – 204800
  • dust and moisture resistant design
  • Blackout-Free Quad VGA 3.7m-Dot OLED EVF with 23mm eye point from lens (18.5mm from frame)
  • silent electronic shutter to 1/32,000th sec
  • mechanical shutter to 1/8000th sec
  • flash sync 1/250th sec
  • 3.0″ 1.44m-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD
    • touch focusing on the rear LCD screen for easily selecting of and shifting focus towards a desired focus point or subject
  • Internal UHD 4K/30p XAVC S  100Mbps Video Recording with HDMI out
    • uses full pixel readout without pixel binning to collect 6K of information, oversampling it to produce high quality 4K footage
  • full HD 1080 120p at up to 100mbps with AF Tracking
  • stereo mic
  • 20 fps Shooting with AF/AE Tracking for up to 241 RAW/ 362 JPEG images
    • 10fps continuous shootingwith AF/AE tracking even when you use A-mount lenses with a mount adapter (LA-EA3)
  • 693-Point Phase-Detection AF System with 60 AF/AE tracking calculations per second and covering 93% of the image – much better than any dSLR!
    • 25% faster performance when compared with α7R II
    • Eye AF improved 30%
    • AF down to EV -3 at ISO 100
  • “5EV” 5-Axis SteadyShot INSIDE Stabilization
  • Mag. Alloy Body, Dual SD Card Slots (one for UHS-II media), Ethernet port for file transfer, b/g/n 2.4GHz WiFi, Bluetooth, stereo mic jack, stereo headphone jack
  • Sony multi-interface hotshoe
  • all-new Sony battery (model NP-FZ100) giving double the battery life of a7R II – rated at 480 shots EVF or 650 shots LCD
  • 673 g / approx. 1 lb 7.7 oz incl. battery, SD card
  • 126.9mm x 95.6mm x 63.0mm/5 x 3 7/8 x 2 1/2 inches
  • $US4500

93% coverage of PDAF

PDAF points now cover 93% of the image area – far better than dSLRs!

The feature set is very similar to the Olympus OMD E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds camera but with a full frame sensor and more than double the price, and of course, much larger and more expensive lenses with less hand-holdable telephoto reach.

The main advantage of the Sony a9 over the Olympus E-M1 is the better image quality at high ISO, so it will be useful for those shooting sports in low light, but apart from that, and the potential for more shallow depth of field and improved dynamic range, the E-M1 will be far more cost effective, lighter, less burdensome and more fun.

On paper, this camera addresses many of the issues I have with the Sony A7II - but will the many ergonomic quirks be addressed?

Sony a7II issues that have been addressed on the Sony a9:

  • rear LCD is now touch screen and in addition, like the Olympus cameras can be used as touch subject to AF but seems you may not be able to do fast AF lock and shoot as with the Olympus
  • better EVF – now the best in the business?
  • silent shutter at last!
  • dedicated AF-ON button to act as back-button AF instead of having to delve into menu to turn this mode on and off
  • can link spot meter to spot focus
  • improved autoISO – can set lowest shutter speed as well as a lowest ISO
  • internal 4K video
  • 1080HD video now to 120fps instead of 60fps allowing 4-5x slo-mo
  • 20 fps burst rate in electronic shutter mode with AF-C instead of only 5fps which is still the fastest mechanical shutter speed
  • 693 PDAF points spread across 93% of screen instead of only 117 PDAF mainly located in the central region
  • faster more accurate AF-C
  • improved image stabilisation – have to wait and see – Sony suggested the a7II was 4.5 EV but in reality was more 2-3 EV, and it was said part of the issue was the physical diameter of the lens mount limiting range of movement that was possible – this could not be addressed easily one would not think!
  • dual SD card slots at last
  • better battery life – we will have to see if the 2.2x more powerful battery translates into longer life
  • zebra settings seems to have been changed to “brightness from 0-109%, set +10% and -10% range” – hopefully for a more useful zebra functionality
  • PC sync socket

A few gotchas:

  • to realise the 20fps AF-C capability you will need to shoot with dedicated lenses designed and optimised for the Sony – Canon EF lenses won’t cut it, and even Sony Alpha lenses will only achieve 10fps
  • the longest focal length Sony E mount lens capable of 20fps AF-C is the new Sony 100-400mm f/4.6-5.6 and when coupled with the 1.4x converter you get 560mm f/8 so no real advantage over the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II with 300mm f/4 which gets you to 600mm f/4 at 2EV better ISO and with 6.5EV IS at 18fps with AF-C, although you do get to zoom but then it is likely the zoom plus TC will result in less sharp images than the Olympus 300mm prime which is amazingly sharp.
    • the target audience for this camera – pro sports shooters – generally need 3 lenses – 16-35mm, 70-200mm and something around 400mm f/2.8 – they will not be impressed with the 100-400mm at f/5.6, and using a non-native lens means they will lose critical AF-C performance
  • if you want to shoot flash, you must use mechanical shutter and thus restricted to only 5fps burst – half what you can achieve with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II with flash and still have AF-C, but if you don’t need AF-C, the Olympus will shoot mechanical shutter at 15fps
  • the electronic shutter speed of 1/32,000th second is only available in S or M exposure modes
  • IS unlikely to be as effective as in the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • no 60fps burst mode as with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • no Pro-Capture mode as with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • apparently touch AF does not trigger shutter automatically as can be configured on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • Eye AF cannot be configured to select closest eye as on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • no in-camera user configurable focus limiter range to ensure out of range areas are ignored as on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • no long exposure timed modes as on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II such as Live Composite
  • weathersealing unlikely to be as good as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • you will struggle to get this into a jacket pocket
  • Professional Service is unlikely to be anywhere near the level and accessibility of Canon or Nikon for major events – this is also a major factor for Olympus and the pro sports photographers

Concluding remarks:

Could this camera along with the E-M1 Mark II revolutionize pro sports photography by adding silent, faster burst rates of 20fps with continuous AF covering a much wider area of the image and with better image stabilisation?

We will not find out until real world tests are conducted.

Nikon and Canon really need to start worrying – if Sony has already leapfrogged over Nikon in full frame camera sales in the US, this camera will add impetus and could potentially make even bigger in roads in the pro dSLR market, especially now that Sigma have created an adapter which allows fast AF with Canon EF lenses, and Cactus radio TTL triggers now allow almost any flash system to be used with the Sony cameras in radio remote TTL flash mode – the barriers to change are rapidly being broken!

I expect Canikon will respond with hybrid optical/electronic viewfinders in their new dSLRs so they can move into “mirrorless” mode through the viewfinder to then offer similar features as the Sony a9 but with the option of full optical/mirror mode when the situation suits it, after all, there is no real size benefit of mirrorless cameras when in the full frame domain as the full frame lenses are so big that shrinking the camera does not make much difference. But then, they still have the issue that most of their lenses are not optimised for mirrorless shooting.

More details on the Sony main website.

 

A very nice video documentary of Australian photographer Robert McFarlane

Written by admin on April 19th, 2017

If you like photography at all, do yourself a favour and watch this short 30 minute documentary that was recently aired on Australian ABC channel but which is currently accessible on the net via:

ABC iVIEW

The camera gear is NOT important for his style of freelance photo journalism (he used a Nikon F film SLR but these days, one could use an Olympus OM-D, Fuji, Sony, or a dSLR – it doesn’t really matter!) – it is what he brings to the image, his creativity, his eye, his personality and interaction with the subjects and his respect for his subjects, while there is the sad underpinning throughout of his own family photography and tragic, unexpected death of his main life long subject – his son while he was traveling in Sri Lanka as a young adult.

Do yourself a favour and don’t miss it!

 

Which camera and lenses to take for your overseas travel holiday? Best travel camera kit in 2017

Written by admin on April 17th, 2017

For many people, they are happy with their smartphone, but as convenient as a smartphone is, it does have severe limitations on your travel photography and knowing these limitations may make it easier for you to determine what you need to take to supplement it.

For example, the iPhone 6S has a fixed optical focal length of around 35mm with the ability to digital zoom in albeit with loss of image quality. It has very limited ability to isolate the subject by blurring the background. It is difficult to take control of the exposure and manual settings. You can’t use an external bounce flash to take nice portraits. The image quality in low light indoors or outdoors at night is pretty awful unless you resort to the built in flash and then you have the on-camera flash issues. No RAW output for high quality post-processing. No high quality 16-20 megapixel resolution images. ISO limitations such as ISO 500 on the iPhone 6 Plus. Fixed default tone mappings to create the jpegs, for example the iPhone 6 Plus is renown for creating poor skin tones. Limited burst rates. Image stabilisation not as good. Fastest shutter speeds for freezing motion is probably around 1/500th sec despite the phone suggesting otherwise. Poor ergonomics.

But most modern smartphones do take serviceable shots in bright light conditions as long as you are happy with the 35mm focal length field of view and the lack of high quality RAW images, and the 1080 HD video and Slow-Mo video are not too bad in good light.

What then do we need?

  • preferably the camera and lenses coming in at under 3kg to comfortably allow other goodies in cabin luggage and still stay under the weight limit, plus it is not fun carrying around heavy gear everywhere – and if you are feeling exhausted, you won’t be feeling inspired to take great creative imagery!
  • ideally, the camera and at least one of the lenses should fit in a jacket pocket
  • the camera kit should not scream out wealth – it is not only insulting to people in poorer cultures when your camera is worth a year’s salary, but it may also place your life at risk!
  • a camera with:
    • a viewfinder
    • fast, accurate autofocus
    • full manual controls when needed
    • ability to wirelessly transfer images to smartphones without needing a computer
    • good image quality at least to ISO 1600
    • excellent image stabilisation to allow long exposure wide angle flowing water waterfalls, rivers and seascapes without needing a tripod
    • weathersealed would be nice
  • a wide angle lens to take in the epic scenes of our travels or the massive buildings
  • a bit more usable telephoto if possible, preferably with some ability to blur backgrounds and emphasize your subject
  • a kit for walking the streets at night for hand held urban night shots but discrete enough that it can be placed in a jacket pocket for safety
  • a kit capable of nice indoor shots (and if you are really keen, add in bounce flash for flattering portraits – no more need for those ghastly Instagram filters to plasticize everyone’s features out)
  • if you are super keen, then perhaps ability to use a tripod for night shots, or for long exposure flowing water shots with a ND100 filter during the day time.
  • unless you are shooting wildlife, you probably don’t need a long telephoto lens
  • unless you are going for a long time and are bored, you probably don’t need a dedicated macro lens

What options do we have?

Fixed lens compact cameras:

  • these are great, particularly if image quality is not as high a priority as having an ultra-compact 3x zoom camera or a relatively compact super-zoom
  • they are not usually weathersealed and they generally have a small sensor which does not perform well for low light situations without a tripod, or for blurring the background
  • some of these do have larger sensors for better image quality and low light capabilities but they generally only have a 3x zoom, but these are worth considering such as the Panasonic LX100 or the Sony RX series

Digital SLRs or full frame mirrorless:

  • these will do the trick but are a bit too big, heavy, noisy (dSLRs), and obtrusive, and certainly not jacket pocketable when the thugs start tailing you.
  • the larger, heavier lenses also can impact your airline cabin baggage weight limits.
  • BUT if you are prepared to accept the many problems of carrying full frame cameras and their large lenses, they can potentially take the best quality images, especially if you are shooting high dynamic range scenes or you need to shoot at ISO 6400 and higher – not sure why you would want to do that while traveling!
  • if I was going to go full frame, then the Sony a7II (or Sony a7RII if you can afford it) would be reasonable options but you do miss out of the fun, feature set and the much less burden of carrying the Olympus cameras, and it does really force you to take a big, heavy tripod for those waterfalls, etc, and then you may as well bring along large ND gradient filter sets and the mandatory large, heavy , expensive lenses – then you need to work out how to stop them getting stolen in checked baggage on airlines – good luck with that – and don’t be thinking travel insurance will cover it!

Micro Four Thirds mirrorless:

  • for me, the Micro Four Thirds system is the ideal compromise in terms of compact size, weight, image quality and versatility, and unlike the Fuji and Sony mirrorless systems, it has an enormous range of lenses to satisfy your needs.
  • the ideal compact travel camera is something like the Olympus OM-D E-M10 mark II, Olympus OM-D E-M5 mark II or the Panasonic GX-85, but if you want something more substantial with built-in grip, then the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark I or II (if you want bell’s and whistles!)
  • if you don’t already own a zoom and you have plenty of budget to pay for a pro 8x zoom lens then the new Olympus mZD 12-100mm f/4 OIS lens will serve most of your needs in the one lens, if this is too expensive, then there are many cheaper super zoom options,  or you can resort to a 3x pro f/2.8 zoom lens such as the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 and mate this with either the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 or  Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 for awesome portraits and background blurring in a short telephoto lens
  • for walking the streets at night or shooting indoors, I would recommend a compact, wide aperture wide angle lens (but you could potentially get away with an f/2.8 3x zoom lens) such as:
    • Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 but this is expensive
    • Panasonic 15mm f/1.7
    • Olympus mZD 17mm f/1.8
    • Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 II pancake lens
  • if you are an ultra-wide angle fan, then consider the Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 or perhaps even the Olympus mZD 7mm f/1.8 fisheye
  • if you really need a bit more telephoto and don’t mind a bit of extra weight and bulk, then the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens can come in handy

 My choice kits for best image quality but still relatively compact:

  • Panasonic GX85 + Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 + Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 II pancake lens (for jacket pocketability)
  • Olympus OM-D E-M5 mark II + Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 + Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 II pancake lens (for jacket pocketability)
  • Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark I or II + Olympus mZD 12-100mm f/4 OIS lens plus perhaps Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 or Panasonic 15mm f/1.7

If you are budget conscious and can skip the smartphone WiFi transfer functionality, then a smart move would be to buy an Olympus OM-D E-M5 original version second hand ($AUS300 for body only or $AUS450 with a kit lens or two) for the same price as a entry level dSLR and you will have a far better camera in almost every regard, and the lenses will be smaller.

Disclaimer: I don’t work for the photography industry nor do I receive any incentives from them, but I do own Olympus OM-D E-M5, E-M1, E-M1II, Sony A7II, and a Canon 1D Mark III pro dSLR – the latter two cameras will NOT be coming with me on my overseas trips!

 

 

Sony A7II full frame with Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 vs Olympus OM-D with Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens – real world comparison images

Written by admin on April 16th, 2017

Similar field of view and both have nice bokeh but are very different sizes and ergonomics.

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 lens is a highly regarded “portrait” lens, often regarded as one of the best Canon lenses which is not a Pro L lens. It is sharp but does have some CA issues wide open. When used with the Sigma MC-11 EF-Sony lens adapter, you do get fairly fast AF but no Eye AF.

On a full frame camera such as the Sony A7II mirrorless camera, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 provides the user with a further 2 stops of shallow depth of field options when compared to the much smaller (37mm filter vs 58mm filter), lighter (115g vs 400g), and similarly priced Olympus micro ZD 45mm f/1.8 lens but will this really matter for most people and will the many benefits of the Olympus system outweigh the DOF benefits of the full frame system?

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Real world lens tests:

Let’s have a look at some images straight from camera (just resized for web viewing) with both lenses at f/1.8 as I walked around some gardens yesterday, not really looking for great shots, but shots to show difference in depth of field and image quality between the two systems when taken from the same camera position.

The Olympus is first then the Canon:

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The following Olympus image I accidentally shot at f/2.2 instead of f/1.8:

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And I shot this Canon image at f/3.5:

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While this Canon image was shot at f/1.8:

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But what about portraits?

A group of young ladies asked if I could take a photo of them with their iPhone – for some reason this is an incredibly frequent happening for me – perhaps they know they can outrun me if I take off with their phone! One of the ladies became excited when she saw I had her “dream” camera – the Sony a7II in my hands and wanted to see what it can do with a portrait so I did some very rough comparisons of the two cameras (NOT the iPhone!):

Olympus 45mm:

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Canon 85mm from a touch further away.

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I tried to explain the differences, but what really got them excited was when I showed them they I could just touch the rear screen of the Olympus and instantly, it snapped it accurate AF on the subject I touched and took the candid shot:

Olympus image shot using the touch AF on rear of screen:

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Conclusion:

There is far more to photography than the technical aspects – photography should be about fun, affordability and inspiring exploration, and above all not be too cumbersome to carry around, and on these points the Olympus kit wins hands down!

The Sony’s poor ergonomics, lack of touch screen AF, no eye detect AF with the Canon lens, only 2 stops IS vs 5 stops in the Olympus, and its propensity to not turn itself off were also big factors in favor of the Olympus OM-D camera.

And, having just played with an entry level Canon EOS 1300D dSLR, it’s poor ergonomics, lack of features, very poor, dim and small viewfinder – I can’t understand why people would not just buy a much better built, weathersealed, very versatile and good looking second hand Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera for a similar price with similar image quality but much better image stabilisation, AF speed and accuracy as well as better dedicated lenses.

I can easily understand why Sony have jumped to 2nd place on full frame camera sales in the USA – leap frogging over Nikon – this would have been unfathomable even 5 years ago – but Canon and Nikon persist with their dinosaur mentality in camera and lens design – and I can understand why the traditional studio or landscape pro photographers who used their systems are jumping to medium format or to Sony.

I can understand why Canon and Nikon are reluctant to introduce functional mirrorless full frame cameras – it exposes their faithful who own very expensive dSLR lenses to the same fate that Olympus Four Thirds users have suffered when Micro Four Thirds was introduced – the realisation that all their existing AF lenses are no longer suitable for the new age of mirrorless CDAF technology and need to be replaced with CDAF-optimised AF stepping motors which will seriously devalue their lens collection – fortunately for me, most of my Canon pro lenses are manual focus tilt-shift lenses so this won’t impact me much when it happens.

In the meantime, we can buy Sony full frame mirrorless cameras with in camera image stabilisation with Eye AF capability, etc and ability to use Canon lenses and flashes even in remote TTL mode – so why buy a Canon dSLR?

In the end, you have to ask yourself if the full frame imagery is really worth it – and in some situations it may be – but if I am needing shallower DOF with the Olympus, I resort to the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens which is my go to lens in this situation – of course if you have the money you could also go for the Panasonic Leica DG 42.4mm f/1.2 lens.

 

 

 

 

Getting creative with dragging the shutter with 6.5EV IS and the Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 lens with birds in flight

Written by admin on April 7th, 2017

I was a touch bored last night as the sun set on another lovely Autumn day in Melbourne.

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I had been carrying my Olympus micro ZD 300mm f/4 lens and my Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens on two Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera bodies for 3 hours as a walked around some old salt pan lakes.

The sun had just set behind some dark clouds and the very skittish tiny robins were hopping along the track in front of me as I walked hungry and thirsty back to my car – always frustratingly keeping their distance well away from me – even for the 600mm super telephoto reach of this lens.

So when I came across a heron I decided to try something different – drag the shutter and see how good the E-M1 Mark II’s IS works for panning.

So here we have the same bird (I presume a heron) taking off and landing but in very different light angles as it flew 180 degrees around me.

These are NOT meant to be sharp, documentary style shots of birds in flight but something a bit more abstract and arty – and I quite like what I achieved, and the AF was fast and the Olympus image stabilisation panned very well indeed!

 

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Above was shot at 1/40th second hand held 600mm telephoto reach in full frame terms – rear feathers under the wing are still quite sharp despite the slow shutter speed and flight of the bird!

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This one was shot at 1/10th sec – the panning lines are very straight – either I panned extremely smoothly or the IS worked very well to ignore my angular pan – anyway I quite like the effect – although there does seem to be the face of a demon here – an angel in wolf’s clothing perhaps?

I suspect the vivid colours straight from the camera need a bit of subduing before it becomes wall art but it was a fun interesting little exercise – just don’t try this at home with your Canon or Nikon 600mm f/4 lens – you will do yourself an injury!

 

Alpine hiking and camping at Victoria’s remote Macalister Springs – The Crosscut Saw and The Terrible Hollow – part III

Written by admin on March 27th, 2017

See Part I for an introduction to Macalister Springs region.

See Part II for Mt Howitt in the clouds.

ps. click on images to see a larger view.

Friday morning, it was clear skies overhead with the valleys and The Terrible Hollow below filled with low cloud.

Although my sleeping bag discouraged me from waking for sunrise, I did manage to scramble up to the lookout area soon thereafter and enjoyed the magical views:


The Crosscut Saw

The Crosscut Saw and to far right, Mt Buggary, with the cloud hiding the depths of The Terrible Hollow.

After breakfast we decided to head up to The Crosscut Saw before we head home.


The Crosscut Saw

Cloud still hiding The Terrible Hollow with The Crosscut Saw on the left.


The Crosscut Saw


The Crosscut Saw

Yep, no back pack for this short trip, my light rain jacket had pockets large enough for a water bottle, and my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with 12mm lens, while I was also able to borrow my friend’s 75mm lens.


The Crosscut Saw


The Crosscut Saw

Hikers walking the start of the Crosscut Saw – Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens.


The Crosscut Saw

Looking back eastwards towards The Devil’s Staircase – Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens.


Mt Spec

East aspect of Mt Speculation with Mt Buffalo in the background – Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens.


Mt Howitt

Looking south east to Mt Howitt on the left and Mt Buller on the right – Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens.

What a difference a day makes with the sun out:

  • everlasting daisies and other flowers opened
  • insects buzzing around – including small butterflies and those flies
  • the aggressive alpine ants were active
  • it became hot walking even in tee shirt and shorts with sun hat on
  • eyes became sunburnt – so busy taking photos I forgot about my sunglasses – at end of the day my eyes were red!
  • you have to drink more – that means carry more water
  • the copperhead snakes are out – we almost stepped on two basking in the sun on the walking path near Mac Springs
 

Alpine hiking and camping at Victoria’s remote Macalister Springs – Mt Howitt and the Crosscut Saw – part II

Written by admin on March 26th, 2017

See Part I for an introduction to Macalister Springs region.

We left our home in the Melbourne burbs around 10am to avoid peak hour traffic (in retrospect 1hr earlier may have been wiser!), reached Traralgon a little after noon and had a lovely gourmet lunch at Momos (highly recommend it!).

We then headed to Heyfield and up the Macalister River valley past Lake Glanmaggie and up and over the range to Licola, where we made a mistake from lack of concentration and kept driving through the little one shop town and up into the mountains on gravel roads until luckily we realised we were on the wrong road – the road to Jamieson is very long and winding one but doesn’t take you to Mt Howitt!! We back tracked to Licola and took the correct turn, but by then had wasted valuable daylight hours.

We arrived at the Mt Howitt carpark shrouded in thick cloud with misty rain at dusk around 6.30pm – the last half of our 5km 1.5hr walk to the Mac Springs camp area would be in complete darkness with fog and light rain, guided by our LED head lamps and aided by our walking poles to save us from the many uneven rocks and surfaces that characterize these tracks. Thankfully, navigation was not problematic.

There had been only one other car at the car park and so we were looking forward to a quiet time, and selection of a nice tent site, albeit in the dark.

Alas, as we arrived, we discovered a tent city – Geelong Grammar Timbertop students – all 60 of them and their 15 teachers had already set up camp after hiking up the Howitt Spur – thankfully we found a couple of vacant tent sites and the school group were quiet overnight and left after sunrise to head back across the Crosscut Saw to their return descent down Stanleys Name Spur.

Once our tents were up, we cooked up our pasta dinner on a Whisperlite stove, supplemented by some red wine and blue vein cheese before heading off to bed around 10pm.

That night there was the constant dripping of water onto our tents from the overhanging tree branches, but little wind to bother us, and the temperatures dropped to around 7degC – my compact, light, Sea to Summit Micro II sleeping bag with silk liner kept me toasty all night.

We awoke to a foggy morning which persisted throughout the day, dampening any prospects of heading over the Crosscut Saw for nice views. The school kids had left and we made use of the hut to prepare breakfast and work out what we should do for the day.


MacSprings

Foggy morning amongst the snow gums at Mac Springs – Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens at f/5.6 – a great combo to keep in your jacket pocket, and the lens filter thread is the same size as the Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens and the Olympus mZD 60mm f/2.8 weathersealed very light macro lens – not a bad threesome to take on alpine hikes when weight and size are critical.

Having your head in the clouds has its pros and cons:

  • great for photography as you can take in the ambiance of the fog, while the low contrast lighting makes the forests, boulders and mosses easier to photograph in an aesthetic manner without the complexity of harsh shadows
  • you don’t get so hot and thus don’t need to carry as much drinking water
  • there are almost no active insects – no flies to annoy you
  • the probability of stepping on a potentially deadly snake is much reduced
  • BUT you do miss out on the amazing alpine views, the flowers (which only open in the sun),  and the summits are likely to be very cold and windy with no sun to warm you up

We decided on a walk to the summit of nearby Mt Howitt with option to proceed past Big Hill and onto Mt Magdala then return.

It was a lovely ascent to the Mt Howitt – Crosscut Saw junction along a rugged snowgum lined track with views to the north over The Terrible Hollow, The Devil’s Staircase and the CrossCut Saw – if you could see them through the ever changing fog. The sheltered microclimate of this region at 10-13degC with minimal wind meant that you just needed boots, gaiters, thin pants with waterproof overpants, teeshirt, long sleeved shirt and thin waterproof jacket for comfort. For someone lacking hiking fitness, this was the perfect amount of interval training that I needed – and carrying my water and lenses in my jacket pockets without need for a backpack made a big difference to my enjoyment levels. My colleague kindly brought his backpack to carry snacks and extra layers as well as the mandatory EPIRB radio beacon.


near the junction


snowgums in fog


snowgums in fog

Both the above were taken with the Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens.

 

From that junction, you are essentially above the treeline and the ascent to Mt Howitt is over meadows with fascinating lichen covered rocks and fields of flower buds.


lichen


lichen


lichen


lichen

 

The final ascent to Mt Howitt though was a very different climate – 25-40kph southerly winds on the exposed summit made the wind chill factor considerable and required additional layering up – feather down vest on, gloves on, beanie on (perhaps balaclava would have been better!)


Mt Howitt summit

The Mt Howitt summit and a short break for snacks and drink behind the shelter of a large rock – unfortunately we failed to layer up before snacking resulting in us feeling cold and not too keen to continue on in the fog and wind to Mt Magdala – so we layered up and headed back to the comfortable microclimate of Mac Springs.


the walk back to Mac Springs

Back down in Mac Springs, we decided to explore the area and get some more imagery:


the Devil's Staircase

The Devil’s Staircase – Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens


the narrow hiking ridge of the Crosscut Saw

The narrow hiking ridge of the Crosscut Saw – not so much fun to hike in the cloud! Olympus mZD 60mm f/2.8 macro lens as a short telephoto lens

That night we were joined by 7 university students and their leader who camped near the hut, while we remained in our tents near the spring.

We cooked up a nice chicken noodle stir fry for dinner and finished off with a hot chocolate, marshmallows and a couple of shots of Bailey’s as a night cap.

The night was much colder than the first night, and despite pre-emptively replacing my silk sleeping bag liner with a Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Plus liner and closing the foot end of the sleeping bag, the night felt less comfortable with the cooler conditions which were probably around 2-6 degC. Perhaps the alcohol was not a good idea!

See Part III for The Crosscut Saw and clear skies at last.

 

Alpine hiking and camping at Victoria’s remote Macalister Springs – Mt Howitt and the Crosscut Saw – part I

Written by admin on March 25th, 2017

One of the favourite overnight hiking treks in the Victorian Alps is the hike across the narrow, steeply sided ridge line that is The Crosscut Saw which is a ridge 20km east of Mt Buller, with options of camping at Macalister Springs at the southern end or at Mt Speculation at the northern end.

The walk from Mac Springs to Mt Howitt is a 2km moderate grade ascent to 1742m at the very exposed and often windy bare peak well above the tree line, easily done with a day pack with water, snack, gloves, beanie, wet weather gear, and warm vest.

The optional hike across The Crosscut Saw (1705m elevation at its highest peak) to Mt Spec (1668m elevation) is not one for those afraid of heights, and does require a good degree of preparation and fitness – it is very exposed and requires some 600m of ascents and 600m of descents one way, plus if you wish to get up to Mt Spec, it does require a bit of heart stopping rock clambering which is best done with a small pack, or, if a big pack, then passing the pack up to your colleagues. The only reliable water source on this hike is at Camp Creek which is 45min return hike, 1.2km north-east, down from the Mt Spec camp areas which give a nice view but are very exposed – be warned! Mt Spec to Mt Howitt is 7.5km 2.5-3hrs with about 700m ascents and 700m descents.

There is also an optional 2.5hr 8km circuit walk of Bryce Gorge with waterfalls (in season) about 10-20min drive before the Mt Howitt car park.

Another optional hike from the Licola approach is from McFarlane Saddle 14km past the Arbuckle Junction which allows a 2 day 33.5km circuit walk down to the hidden Lake Tali Karng, although the descent and return steep ascent from the lake can be skipped.


map

Macalister Springs

Macalister Springs is a lovely camp site at around 1600m elevation surrounded by snow gums and relatively protected from prevailing winds, and it has a small water source that runs most of the year (although people do recommend boiling it to make it potable as there is potential risk of Giardia but the myth of the nematodes has been dispelled).

The site also features a “4 star” hut and pump out toilet which makes it that much more pleasant – the toilet even has an expansive window looking out over the valley to the south!

The Vallejo Gantner hut was built by volunteers in difficult access conditions over two year period 1970-71 by the Gantner family in memory of their 19 year old son Vallejo (grandson of wealthy Melbourne retailer Sidney Myer) who died in an accident. It boasts a central stone fireplace, although this, as well as the sleeping area should only be used in extreme circumstances – hikers are expected to be self-sufficient and bring their own tents, warm clothing and cooking gear. Outdoor wood fires are not permitted, especially within a 1km radius.

Fortunately, the hut, toilet and camp region were spared the alpine bushfires which devastated the region last decade.

Hut


Hut

Interior taken with the Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens.

The region does have potentially deadly although relatively good natured, highland copperhead snakes (Austrelaps ramsayi, colour can vary from brown form to black form, thankfully bites from this species are quite rare as they tend to avoid biting unless they are grumpy on a really hot day or you antagonise them severely – we did encounter 2 within 20m of the camp, basking in the midday sun on our walking path and neither seemed too keen to move out of our way! They become quiescent late April-Nov, mate in Spring,  and are mainly diurnal except for very warm nights, and tend to be active earlier in the day in Autumn compared to Spring and Summer, rest under fallen logs and amongst tussocks of grass,  prefer to be near water, feed mainly on the multitude of skinks in the area).

Bring a snake bite bandage, know the first aid for snake bites and bring an EPIRB radio beacon – otherwise you will need a companion to walk to top of Mt Howitt area to get mobile reception and call for help. Even then you may need to be carried 5km to the car park then either driven to the air strip or a 3hr drive to the hospital at Traralgon – I am guessing a chopper evacuation would be needed to save your life this far from medical support and anti-venom! Don’t play with snakes, don’t step on them, wear boots and gaiters on any tracks!

The camp is extremely popular with school and uni groups – the night we arrived there were 60 Geelong Grammar Timbertop high school students and 15 teachers camping there – having hiked up 1000m ascent to get there!


camp ground

Our tents in one of the several camp areas – this one is adjacent the spring itself – about 100m downhill from the hut and toilet. Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens at f/5.6 on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark I Micro Four Thirds camera – makes a great compact combo to have handy in your jacket pocket!

Getting to Macalister Springs from Melbourne

It is a long way by car – allow 6-6.5hrs drive plus a 1.5hr 5km mildly downhill hike to the camp site – that is an all day proposition – hence one should aim for a two night camp rather than just overnight to make the long drive worthwhile.

The gravel access road is seasonally closed from Queen’s birthday in June to Melbourne Cup in November!

The drive from Melbourne to Traralgon will take about 2hrs depending upon traffic conditions – try a meal at Momos – it was delicious and great coffee to boot.

Traralgon to Licola will take around 90 minutes, the last half is through winding alpine roads, much of it along the Macalister river valley.

Take the right fork in the road BEFORE the bridge at Licola (there is a general store with petrol and diesel), and from there it will take around 20 minutes on bitumen, passing numerous river-side camp grounds to get to the bridge over the Wellington River and from their it is all uphill, winding, alpine gravel roads – 30 minutes to Arbuckle Junction, then a further 45 minutes to Mt Howitt Car park. That is a total of 3hrs drive from Traralgon to Mt Howitt car park then the 1.5hr walk.

From the car park, it is a 1.5hr, 5km mildly undulating walk to the camp (might take you 2hrs back up on a warm, sunny day!)

Getting to Macalister Springs from Mt Stirling or Mt Buller

Shorter drive from Mebourne with much less gravel roads, but a much harder hiking route – several options – all require > 1000m strenuous ascent with a heavy pack to the very exposed Mt Howitt or the Crosscut Saw – with only a few areas to collect water once you leave the Howqua River.

1 hr gravel road drive from TBJ at Mt Stirling (seasonally closed!) will get you to Upper Howqua Camping area (elevation 800m) which can be used as the start point for your hike. The Helicopter Spur hike departs the camp to the south-east, while the other 3 routes have a shared initial 3.5km hike criss-crossing the Howqua River in a easterly direction from the camp.

See my wiki page for hikes.

Hike maps  have been posted by someone on the net here.

Via Helicopter Spur:

  • Helicopter Spur is graded difficult -steep, often difficult, scrambling over rocks, total ascent ~800m to AAWT over 6km, then 150m descent before climbing 200m gain at Mt Magdala then descending 200m to Hellfire Creek campsite (creek may be dry!) for a total of 10km hike taking fit, experienced walkers 4-5hrs, this walk does take you past Picture Point and Hell’s Window.
  • Upper Howqua Camping area to Picture Point 5.5km, 2.5-3hrs, 700m ascent
  • Picture Point to  Hellfire Creek campsite 4.5km, 1.5-2hrs, 320m ascents plus 290m descents
  • Hellfire Creek campsite to Mt Howitt, 3km, 1hr, 260m ascents, 80m descents from Big Hill
  • “exhilarating but potentially dangerous”
  • seems you need knee protectors, march fly swat and perhaps climbing gloves to get you over the 3 rock bands intact, and one to avoid in wet windy conditions
  • next day hike to Mt Howitt (3km, 1hr ~200m total gain), then down to Mac Springs

Via Mt Howitt Spur:

  • perhaps the most popular spur to hike up
  • 8.5km, 900m ascent  to West Peak (1725m elevation) and then Mt Howitt (1742m elevation)
  • requires crossing the Howqua River a number of times, then crossing the South Branch of the Howqua River at the 3.5km mark from Upper Howqua Camping area
  • avoids The CrossCut Saw
  • descent takes 2.5-3hrs

Via Stanleys Name Spur (SNS)

  • Upper Howqua Camping area to SNS via the Queen Spur Road disused logging track  crossing the Howqua River a number of times, 7km, 2-2.5hrs and 450m ascent
  • SNS to The Crosscut Saw
  • you may need to battle some blackberry bushes on the way up
  • you get to walk a section of the Crosscut Saw but avoid the more difficult Mt Buggery and Mt Spec sections as well as the tallest peak of the Crosscut Saw

Via Queen Spur:

  • 7.5hr 15km ascent via Queens Spur to camp at Mt Spec
  • Upper Howqua Camping area to SNS as above for SNS – 7km, 2-2.5hrs and 450m ascent
  • SNS to Mt Spec via Queen Spur and Mt Buggary (1605m) 8km, 2.5-3hrs with initial 100m descent to cross the headwater of the King River South Branch (last chance for water unlesss it is dry in summer or droughts) then 420m ascent requiring rock scrambling and following a faint track to Mt Buggery then 200m steep descent into Horrible Gap before the final 250m ascent to Mt Spec with rock scrambling
  • then need to walk across The CrossCut Saw to Mac Springs

Getting to Macalister Springs from Lake Cobbler

This is a rather long 5-5.5hr 330km+ drive from Melbourne via Whitfield  (either via Mansfield or via Milawa) and really needs a 4WD to get to Lake Cobbler where there is a camp ground and nearby waterfalls and option to climb Mt Cobbler.

The hike up to Mt Spec from Lake Cobbler is more gentle than the ascents from Upper Howqua camp site.

One then continues over the CrossCut Saw to Mac Springs.

See Part II – hike to Mt Howitt in the clouds.

 

 

Another nail in the coffin of Canon/Nikon relative duopoly – Cactus introduces cross-platform radio remote TTL flash system

Written by admin on March 25th, 2017

Since the 1960′s, Canon and Nikon have enjoyed a relative duopoly in the world of system cameras, especially amongst professional photographers.

In the late 1980′s, Canon took the lead with their totally redesigned lens mount system allowing fast AF, and it is only in the last decade or so that Nikon has again taken the lead with their even better AF tracking and metering technologies.

But as Olympus has shown with their Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II camera, the advantages of the Canon and Nikon dSLR systems are rapidly being lost to ever improving technological advances, especially with sensors, AF and mirrorless systems which, particularly in the case of Micro Four Thirds, offer adequate image quality (often better edge to edge image sharpness) , smaller, lighter, less expensive kits more suited to our travel and hiking needs, more accurate and often faster AF, faster burst speeds with accurate continuous AF, much better image stabilisation, hand holdable super telephoto reach as well as better run and gun hand holdable 4K video.

Part of the successful marketing strategy of Canon and Nikon is keeping their users loyal to their brand – once they have invested into their system, much like Apple users, they are generally too heavily invested to swap brands or even to use other brands with different user interfaces or incompatibilities.

If you had, or wanted to use Canon lenses to their full capability, you had to buy Canon dSLRs, likewise for Nikon.

If you had a Canon system, you had to buy Canon-specific flash systems if you want TTL or remote radio TTL flash – likewise for Nikon.

Canon dSLR owners could use other lenses, even Nikon lenses but with sacrifice of fast AF.

Nikon dSLR owners could not use non-Nikon mount lenses due to a physical design issue – the distance from sensor to lens mount is too long.

Enter the new world of cross-platform utility

My last blog post espoused the potential utility of using Sony full frame mirrorless cameras with a Sigma MC-11 adapter which at last provides fast AF with most Canon EF mount lenses on Sony cameras, but in particular, the Sigma branded ones.

This allows photographers increased choice – they could get a mirrorless full frame camera with a different sensor characteristics plus sensor based image stabilisation and face AF for their Canon lenses with better feature sets at the same price as the entry level Canon 6D dSLR- seeing that Canon has not shown interest in creating such a camera.

Now, Cactus has massively increased cross-platform utility by announcing a free firmware upgrade to their Cactus V6 II radio remote control flash system, which allows Canon, Nikon or Olympus flashes to be used with most other brand cameras with either on-camera TTL or remote radio cross-TTL capability!

This is awesome, but wait, there’s more, the Cactus V6 II x-TTL also allows:

  • remote control of flash unit output, even below 1/128th level for ultra short, motion-stopping shots
  • automatic zoom level control of flashes
  • Super FP or HSS mode (but Pentax and Sony cameras need a brand-specific flash for this to work)
  • Power Sync mode to allow a faster flash sync without losing flash output as occurs in Super FP/HSS mode
  • two unique new flash exposure modes:
    • Flash Compensate – store a desired flash exposure that will automatically adjust according to changes in camera settings.
    • Flash Power Lock – lock flash power output after a desired TTL exposure is achieved, for consistency in repeat shooting.

See my wikipedia page for more information of remote control of flashes.

 And, of course, this also also fantastic news for Micro Four Thirds users who can now have radio TTL flash on their Olympus and Panasonic cameras – even with Canon flashes!