My review of the Zhongyi ZY Optics Mitakon Lens Turbo focal reducer Canon EOS lens adapter version I for Micro Four Thirds cameras

Written by admin on February 13th, 2015

The Zhongyi Lens Turbo focal reducer is a special type of lens adapter which contains glass elements to give a 0.72x reduction in focal length AND f/ratio, and in so doing lets in 1 stop more light in exposure terms, gives a wider field of view and purportedly even gives more sharpness as it is compressing the image.

There are two main manufacturers of 0.72x focal reducersZhongyi and Metabones.

The Zhongyi Canon EOS to Micro Four Thirds adapter which I purchased on Ebay from the manufacturer for around $AU159 is much less expensive than the  $600 Metabones version as it does not have the electronic coupling, and hence, unlike the Metabones version does not allow aperture control, nor does it allow the camera to add the lens focal length and aperture to the EXIF data.

Note that the original version I adapter for Sony NEX had major optical design issues and this was corrected in version II for these cameras. This version I adapter for Micro Four Thirds cameras is the same optics as version II for Sony as I understand it and currently there is NOT a version II for Micro Four Thirds.

ZY adapter
The lack of coupling potentially has one benefit – you can be sure what focal length setting is being used for the camera’s image stabiliser algorithm – I am not sure if the Metabones adapters are telling the camera the actual lens focal length or the adjusted focal length – I suspect from EXIF I have seen on Sony adapters that it is the former, although I understand Metabones is producing a firmware update soon.

Nevertheless, the main reason I want to use such an adapter is to use wide aperture lenses at wide open aperture to gain even more shallow depth of field than is possible without it.

For instance, when combined with the Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens, the 0.72x factor converts the lens to 100mm f/1.4 (this will thus give the same field of view and depth of field as a 200mm f/2.8 on a full frame camera).

So not only do we get an effective 200mm f/2.8 lens in full frame terms, but when used on an OM-D camera such as an E-M5, E-M1 or E-M10 we also get:

  • awesome image stabilisation (just dial in the adjusted lens focal length)
  • awesome manual focus assistance controls including:
    • large, high quality EVF image
    • focus peaking
    • image stabilised magnified view +/- addition of focus peaking

But how well does this work?

For a more extensive range of lens tests I have published using this Lens Turbo adapter, please see my tumblr lens test blog: http://lenstest.tumblr.com/search/Zhongyi+Lens+Turbo

Let’s look at some of the shots with the Canon 135mm f/2.0L lens wide open, hand held:

Australia Day flag and roses backlit by low sun

flowers

owl

And for comparison, here is the same owl taken with an Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens which has been cropped a touch to get to roughly the same field of view, and which gives more depth of field and less background blurring:

owl with Olympus 75mm f/1.8

Well I am VERY happy with the results indeed!

Now let’s try with the cheap but lovely, Rokinon Samyang 85mm f/1.4 lens – with the adapter we get 60mm f/1.0 which equates to 120mm f/2.0 in full frame terms, and we get manual aperture control thanks to the aperture ring on the lens.

Now I have found that as could be predicted perhaps, lenses with f/1.4 apertures, especially when combined with this adapter are quite subject to internal lens flaring and ghosting when shooting into bright light sources or very exposed areas of subjects. This can be used to effect, or minimised by avoiding these circumstances.

Rokinon 85mm

and for comparison, similar scene with the Olympus 75mm f/1.8:

Olympus 75mm f/1.8

 

But it is NOT perfect!

Crops of a shot into the sun with the 85mm lens showing the ghosting (uncropped version here):

85mm

and for comparison, similar crop with the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens (uncropped version here):

75mm

There are a few minor optical issues which mainly are only visible on star images such as increased vignetting, and weird star shapes away from the centre.

Most problematic though is that whilst it appears to focus to infinity with all my Canon EOS lenses, it DOES NOT FOCUS TO INFINITY when used with lenses attached via a secondary adapter such as my Nikon mounted Rokinon, and my Olympus OM lenses.

This suggests that the adapter was made a few millimetres too thick, and there must be just enough leeway in the Canon lenses which presumably can focus past infinity so it is not an issue with these lenses but does become an issue with other lenses.

This is not a deal breaker as this really only affects astrophotography uses and it is not great for that anyway, the vast majority of my shots are within 10m and so focus at this range is not an issue.

Note that using any filters on the lens will make the flaring and ghosting MUCH worse – so either get multicoated filters or don’t use one with this combination – although you may have trouble with over-exposure in bright sunlit conditions using an f/1.4 lens without a ND or polarising filter, even if you set ISO to 100 and use shutter of 1/8000th sec.

For me, it was money well spent and it will be a fun addition to my Micro Four Thirds versatility.

More information on focal reducers on my wiki here.

 

Nikon’s new D810A astrophotography dSLR – why bother?

Written by admin on February 11th, 2015

Nikon has just announced a special version of the Nikon D810 full frame dSLR, the D810A designed purely for astrophotography.

So what is different about it?

  • infrared filter has been modified to allow the H-alpha 656nm wavelengths of light to better image certain nebulae
  • additional features to support long exposure photography:
    • Long Exposure M mode that provides selectable shutter speeds from 4 to 900 sec (15 minutes) – similar to the Olympus Timed BULB mode
    • a virtual exposure preview in bulb and time settings, similar to Olympus Live Time mode
    • a dark frame subtraction mode (called ‘astro noise reduction’ in Raw) – and I thought all cameras had this already!
    • red virtual horizon, so as not to interfere with night vision
    • ability to dim the viewfinder’s OLED

It will set you back $US3800 for the body only.

Is it worth it?

Maybe to some astrophotographers who are just into Milky Way landscape shots but really keen astrophotographers need more than this in an astro camera, such as:

  • cooling of the sensor
  • no SLR mirror to cause camera shake (the mirror is pretty much useless for astrophotography anyway)
  • electronic view finder with Live Boost (as with Olympus OM-D cameras)
  • WiFi full remote control to avoid touching the camera and causing shake

These keen astrophotographers would be looking more to modifications of cameras such as performed by CentralDS

For instance they will take apart your Canon EOS 5D Mark III and totally transform it by removing the mirror housing, changing the IR cut filter, adding in a cooling system for the sensor to keep thermal noise as low as possible, adding in a drop-in filter system, etc.

Perhaps a better suited camera is a mirrorless camera, and so this company will also modify your Sony A7s mirrorless full frame camera and turn it into a dedicated cooled astro camera with IR filter replaced for under $US1000 which should give far better results than an uncooled Nikon D810A:

modified Sony A7s

and this is what happens to thermal noise when you use a cooled camera vs un-modified camera:

thermal noise

 

The new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II camera – my take on the camera of the year for 2015

Written by admin on February 7th, 2015

The original Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera released in 2012 was one of the best cameras ever released. It brought nearly everything together in one camera that still photographers needed in a light, compact, weatherproof kit and finally showed the photographic world what the Micro Four Thirds system could really achieve in terms of image quality, versatility and sheer fun, not to mention great retro looks.

It was so successful that many dSLR users finally took the plunge and changed over to a mirrorless world – a world where rapid advances in technology would not be held back by the dinosaur technology of the SLR world – the mirror.

Why make a E-M5 mark II when we already have a budget OM-D in the E-M10 and a pro level OM-D, the E-M1?

E-M5 MII

Olympus has clearly decided to target the movie makers with this new version of the E-M5 whilst being an even better stills camera than the original version.

Firstly, what this camera is NOT:

  • a sports camera with fast continuous AF or C-AF with tracking – for this you need a camera with PDAF such as the E-M1 or a sports dSLR
  • a super high megapixel camera – sure it CAN do 40mp/64mp shots but these are for only limited circumstances, and very few people really need more than 16mp
  • a super shallow depth of field camera – you CAN get lovely shallow DOF shots with buttery smooth bokeh with this camera but if you really need to push this, then blur in post-processing or get a full frame dSLR and 85mm f/1.2 lens
  • a 4K super video camera – it does not do 4K but it seems it may be the best 1080 HD camera for HAND-HELD run and gun videos – if you want 4K get a Panasonic GH4
  • a camera that will quickly autofocus a Four Thirds lens – for this you need PDAF and thus an E-M1
  • remote radio TTL flash capable camera – you CAN do light-based remote TTL flash but for radio TTL flash you need a Canon or Nikon, but then remote TTL flash does not give consistent results, and most would prefer manual remote flash
  • a camera with a long battery life – battery life appears to be less than on the E-M5, E-M10 and E-M1, just buy a couple of spares and keep them charged, it really is not a big deal!

However, what this camera can do is amazing:

It takes the features of the E-M5, adds in nearly all the features of the E-M1 (except notably the sensor, PDAF feature and a few buttons) and then to really push things along, adds in these features:

  • an articulating, swivel touch screen designed to make the videographers happy as well as those who loved such a screen when Olympus was the 1st to introduce such a design on a dSLR back with the E330 dSLR (albeit without touch capability then).
  • world’s best image stabilising system which has evolved even further than that in the E-M1
    • the Olympus 5-axis IS was amazing in the E-M5, even better in the E-M1, and now further enhanced again to 5 stops
    • this further reduces the need for tripods or use of high ISO
    • with each iteration of improvement value adds to EVERY lens you already own whether it be a Micro Four Thirds lens, or a legacy lens such as a Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens, and then even with these Canon lenses you can combine them with a ZY Optics Mitakon Lens Turbo focal reducer for even more fun and shallow DOF, all the while having the best image stabilizer in action in the world, along with fantastic manual focus features such as 14x magnification aided by concurrent focus peaking and image stabilisation
      • eg. Canon 135mm f/2.0L lens + ZY Optics Mitakon Lens Turbo focal reducer = 100mm f/1.4 lens with lovely bokeh and very shallow DOF equivalent to 200mm f/2.8 lens on a full frame but with a 5 stop image stabiliser and as the aperture is f/1.4, allows ISO to be 2 stops lower than on a full frame without even taking the IS into account! See my lens tests to see how awesome this combo is
  • a silent electronic shutter mode to 1/16,000th sec and 11fps burst rate
  • a 64mp RAW/40mp jpeg 8-shot sensor-shift Hi-Res mode
    • this mode requires tripod mount, static scene, electronic shutter and high quality lens
    • it would be great for product photography or landscapes at tops of mountains where there are no quickly moving subjects
    • any moving subjects such as moving water wind on leaves, etc will cause artefacts
    • flash sync in this mode is only 1/20th sec due to use of electronic shutter
    • ISO limited to 1600 and aperture cannot be smaller than f/8 – both design features as one will not achieve high resolution outside these parameters anyway
    • you can set the delay between shots to allow for recharging of the flash if used
  • substantially improved video “OM-D Movie” thanks to
    • improved image stabiliser making this an awesome run and gun hand held video camera without needing a big, heavy, expensive and difficult to use stabilising rig
    • improved video codecs now up to 77Mbps ALL-I and with 24p/25p/30p/50p/60p modes
    • improved focus peaking
    • improved video optimised AF algorithm
    • various settings can be adjusted while recording using the 3-inch touchscreen, including:
      • AF-point selection
      • exposure
      • electronic zoom and Movie Tele-converter (lets users touch an area on the screen to enlarge it without losing image quality)
      • microphone sensitivity
      • headphone volume
      • art effects
    • clean HDMI output , supports time code settings and connection to an external HDMI
    • headphone jack to monitor audio via optional grip
    • phantom power to external mic
    • Clips tool enables short clip capture, allowing users to combine footage and effects directly on the camera for instant sharing
  • improved ergonomics to better match the E-M1 whilst retaining the nice optional 2 stage grip/battery holder style as was used in the E-M5
  • new Live Boost II mode for improved view of stars
  • better bundled FL-LM3 flash – now can tilt and swivel
    • thankfully, no longer requires the accessory port – in fact this port is not on the E-M5 II, and it is no great loss at all, given there is no real need to attach an external EVF, and there is a built-in mic port, as well as WiFi.
    • BUT it gains power from an additional pin on the hotshoe thus cannot be used with older Olympus cameras which lack this pin

Compared to Canon and Nikon dSLRs:

It has most of the features expected in a pro level dSLR camera such as:

  • excellent image quality with excellent dynamic range and very good noise characteristics up to ISO 3200
  • low ISO of 100, and auto ISO (although in manual exposure mode, cannot do exposure compensation with auto ISO on, and cannot set shutter speed ranges)
  • weatherproof – assuming it is as good as the E-M5, in fact it probably has substantially better weatherproofing than any non-Olympus dSLR, so good you could pour a bottle of water onto it
  • freezeproof to minus 10degC
  • sensor dust cleaning – Olympus were the 1st to introduce this technology and still has the most effective sensor cleaning system
  • full range of shutter speeds to 1/8000th sec – but wait, you get more, this camera also has 60 sec where most dSLRs stop at 30sec, and you also get 1/16,000th sec
  • fast flash sync to 1/250th sec (but not as good as the E-M1 as only 1/160th sec in RC mode)
  • TTL hotshoe
  • Super FP flash (same as HSS flash on Canon and Nikon, and was initially invented by Olympus)
  • PC sync port for manual external flash – also great for pushing the shutter speed past the sync
  • red-eye reduction flash mode, slow sync flash 1st or 2nd curtain
  • remote TTL flash in 4 channels and 4 groups controlled by the bundled flash or a flash on camera capable of being a master flash
  • 81 autofocus points covering most of the frame not just the centre as with many dSLRs – fantastic for subjects off-centre
  • excellent matrix metering system – the 324 area Olympus system can also detect a face and preferentially expose for the face automatically – very few dSLRs can do this!
  • excellent metering range EV -2 – 20
  • excellent spot metering system – although does not have option to automatically spot meter on AF region as with some of the very latest dSLRs
  • fast burst rate of 10fps and 11fps in electronic shutter mode, this practically matches the best pro sports dSLRs (although as mentioned you don’t get C-AF tracking for fast moving subjects)
  • large burst buffer – unlimited RAW shots when using 5fps when using TOSHIBA SDHC UHS-II R95・W90 EXCERIA SD card (16 when shooting at 10fps)!
  • intervalometer
  • self timer (in addition to usual 2 and 12 sec modes, there is now even a custom mode where you determine the delay, how many shots and whether to do an AF before each shot!)
  • AF assist illuminator lamp
  • extensive white balance options including 4 custom captured settings
  • i-enhance wide dynamic range jpeg mode
  • ±5EV exposure compensation
  • studio tethering for full control by a computer via USB
  • GPS geotagging capable (via smartphone tethering)
  • a multitude of bracketing modes
  • compatible with SD cards of type SD, SDHC, SDXC, Eye-Fi and is compatible with UHS-II
  • optional grips including battery holder, AC adapter, portrait mode controls
  • optional underwater housing

But with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II, you get MUCH, MUCH MORE than you can on a dSLR:

  • full time Live View so there is no need to be constantly swapping from a limited optical view to live view to get access to the many electronic features
  • a beautiful electronic view finder which appears much larger than most dSLR viewfinders and can display a multitude of tools which an optical viewfinder cannot:
    • live histogram, shadow/highlight warning to assist in determining exposure BEFORE you take the shot
    • WYSIWYG live view so you can not only see how your exposure will look, but how the various ART filters, Picture styles, Color Creator toning styles will appear BEFORE you take the shot
      • this also allows one to SEE through the viewfinder when using infrared filters or 100x ND filters which would otherwise be impossible to see through using optical viewfinders
      • likewise, your view is not severely dimmed just because you have stopped down the aperture on a legacy manual lens
    • Live BOOST to ignore exposure settings so you can better see your subject when ambient light is very low and ambient exposures are ignored such as with flash studio work or long exposure astro work or night landscapes
    • electronic levels to help you ensure your camera is level with the scene
    • in-camera visual keystone correction functionality
    • visualisation of multiple exposures
    • movie mode through a viewfinder instead of being forced to view via an LCD screen
    • ability to achieve accurate face detection AF on the closest eye no matter where the person is in the frame – this is an awesome feature which is a game changer for me
    • ability to view almost every setting within the EVF and change them without taking your eye from the EVF – this makes using it without reading glasses very possible, whilst a dSLR is impossible to use without reading glasses if you need them!
    • image stabilised magnified view with ability to add focus peaking or perform AF whilst in magnified view mode – this is just incredible!
    • focus peaking to assist manual focus
    • framing guides, including those for panoramic stitching
    • multi-aspect framing
    • digital teleconverter
  • a swivelling articulated touch screen
    • you can even touch a subject on the screen to immediately AF on the subject and take the shot – just brilliant!
    • there is also a “selfie” mode
  • the world’s best image stabilisation system that works with ANY lens and gives the best hand held movie stabilisation – 2 second stills hand held with a wide angle is well within the possibilities!
  • faster and more accurate autofocus on static or slow moving subjects
  • more compact, light camera and lens kit  capable of being carried in a jacket pocket easily – especially when equipped with a pancake lens
  • ability to use almost any lens ever made in manual focus mode with full image stabilisation – just dial in the lens focal length
  • unique Olympus long exposure modes such as Live BULB, Live Time, Live Composite
    • Live Composite mode makes an extremely complex process extremely simple – awesome for many types of night shots
    • Live Bulb and Live Time allows you to see how the long exposure image is building up so you can stop if once you are happy with the exposure – great for many types of night shots
  • full WiFi remote control with live image visible in a smartphone and you can even touch a subject on the smartphone screen to immediately AF on the subject and take the shot!
  • WiFi tethering to a smartphone for automatic image transfer to the phone
  • automatic and manual HDR modes
  • multitude of SCENE modes and an iAUTO mode to assist newbies
  • access to awesome relatively affordable, light and compact lenses specifically designed for this crop factor
  • Hi/Lo spot metering modes – unique to Olympus – allows one to spot meter on a white or black object and get the correct adjusted exposure – very neat!
  • 40mp/64mp Hi-Res mode with better color detail and less moire than a dSLR
  • ability to use a variety of interesting compatible cameras as second cameras:
    • Olympus OM-D E-M1 if you need PDAF for sports or for use of Four Thirds lenses
    • Panasonic GH-4 if you need PDAF for sports and extremely high quality 4K video
    • very small compact pocket sized Micro Four Thirds cameras
    • Wifi super compact “cameras” such as the new Olympus “Air Clip” camera
  • the best hand holdable telephoto reach thanks to the high pixel density – can’t wait until the Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 lens comes out!
  • better hand held movie quality thanks to 77Mbps 24p codec, movie optimised AF, focus peaking during video recording and the awesome image stabiliser
  • highly customisable dials and button functionality, further improved by addition of the unique 2×2 switch
  • in-camera RAW editing and Photo Story creation option
  • MUCH LESS INTRUSIVE at parties or other events as smaller lenses
  • MUCH QUIETER as no mirror noise, a quiet shutter (even more quiet than previous OM-Ds) and also the option of silent electronic shutter mode
  • MUCH LESS CAMERA SHAKE as no mirror, electronic 1st shutter and of course, the amazing IS system
  • MUCH LESS BACK ACHE and MUCH LESS NECK STRAIN = MORE FUN HIKING and LESS FATIGUE EXPLORING the wilderness
  • CAN TAKE MUCH MORE on flights and in your back pack
    • you can even put a camera with pancake lens in one jacket pocket, a swivel bounce flash (FL-600R) in another pocket, and portrait lens (45mm f/1.8) in another pocket, all with ease
  • = MUCH MORE FUN

 

For hand held video in difficult conditions, the E-M5 II is a game changer, just check out this awesome video shot in freezing conditions:

ESCAPE = JOY – KAUASxOLYMPUS from KΛUΛS on Vimeo.

As with any camera, there are bound to be a few gotchas which will be important to some people, the main issues I see will be around:

  • battery life
  • still only USB 2.0 (just take the card out and use a USB 3.0 SD card reader for faster transfers), and USB cable is a multi-connector for AV as well – not a standard connector
  • no PDAF and pretty average C-AF tracking if at all – as I said earlier, if this is important, et an E-M1 or GH-4 instead
  • poor or no AF on fast moving subjects – you just have to accept this and use pre-focusing techniques
  • ramifications of the new hotshoe pin – will it now fry Canon flashes if they are attached to it? The official instruction manual warns as per older manuals that using such flashes could potentially damage the camera, it may be that now the E-M5 II is sending power through the pins may really damage flash and camera! Best to use a single pin adapter or resort to the PC sync port!
  • limitations of the movie mode – such as the HDMI out feed, and perhaps some currently unknown image issues
  • flash sync reduced to 1/160th in RC mode
  • limitations of the HiRes mode – but these seem to be well documented
  • camera shutter is TOO QUIET – this may be an issue for model photography
  • camera is TOO SMALL – may be an issue for those with big hands, and for those who have clients expecting a big “PRO” camera as evidence you are a professional
  • cannot balance larger lenses well – BUY the optional HLD-8 grip
  • as with older OM-D’s, exposure meter only displays +/- 3 EV even though you can set +/- 5EV exposure compensation
  • to avoid issues – read the full instruction manual (pdf)

More details and links on the E-M5 mark II

 

Finally Olympus enticed me to buy the Olympus OM-D E-M1 – thanks to some unbelievable post-Xmas price reductions

Written by admin on December 30th, 2014

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera is the flagship of the Olympus camera line up – but until now, I have resisted buying it and have been happy with my awesome OM-D E-M5 camera.

I had not been that excited by the E-M1 for a number of reasons:

  • it is too big for MY liking
    • the E-M5 was the perfect size for me – able to fit in a jacket pocket with a pancake lens, and able to handle larger lenses well with the 1st stage of the HLD-6 grip.
    • the E-M1 is wider and much the same otherwise as the E-M5 with the HLD-6 grip in place which makes it too big to get into most pockets, plus it is a touch heavier.
  • unlike the E-M5, one handed operation is more difficult – it is really a 2 hands camera
    • you need your left hand to turn it ON and OFF as that switch is now located to the left side of the top panel – impossible to reach with your right thumb
    • the AFL/AEL button is now further from your right hand so if you are using it one-handed, your thumb needs to stretch more – and I use this button a LOT
  • it was too expensive at $US1599 for the body
  • the button positions were very different to my E-M5 which makes using both concurrently annoyingly confusing
  • long exposure thermal noise is substantially worse than with the E-M5
  • most of my photography is with still subjects so I really did not need the C-AF and PDAF – although it would be nice to get AF back with my many Four Thirds lenses
  • most of the other improvements do not really make my photography better except for niche areas – although there are quite a few

Likewise, as nice as the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens is, it was not really exciting me as:

  • the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens is rather big and heavy for Micro Four Thirds (although much smaller and lighter than a dSLR or Sony equivalent)
    • it is the same length (84mm) but lighter (382g  vs  460g) than the Panasonic 14-140mm lens
  • 62mm filter thread is larger than most other MFT lenses – but at least is the same as my Panasonic Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 and my Panasonic 14-140mm lens
    • to use my Metz ring flash, I will need a step down ring 62-58mm and this will cause a little vignetting in the corners
  • it is known to break at the mount if dropped -perhaps that is a sacrificial  design feature to allow easy repairs
  • I already have 12mm f/2.0, 20mm f/1.7, and 45mm f/1.8 lenses – all of which are individually smaller and lighter, with better low light performance than the zoom lens and perhaps better optical image quality – but none are weathersealed!

But then DigiDirect changed my mind overnight!

But when DigiDirect advertised the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens for a ridiculously low $AU1373 when the $AU is worth only 81 US cents, and the usual price for the combination is well over $AU2000, I just had to buy it as I was getting the camera for $AU800 (they were selling the E-M1 body only for a low $AU878 and the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens by itself reduced from $AU899 to $AU719), and the lens for only $AU537.

ps. they are selling the E-M5 for a ridiculously cheap $AU449 – that is one awesome camera and at that price is amazing value – assuming you don’t need PDAF, C-AF, WiFi.

Some other reasons to buy:

At this price I was willing to overlook the flaws with both the camera and the lens, and there were some other almost compelling reasons for the purchase:

  • the rumours of the features of the forthcoming E-M5 replacement camera due in Feb 2015 were not exciting me as I don’t really need 40mp capability, but I would like PDAF for my Four Thirds lenses which have been relegated to my cupboard for too long – and alas it is looking as though the E-M5 mark II will not be getting PDAF.
  • it is unlikely an E-M1 mark II will be coming in the next 12 months
  • with the poor $AU, future imports are likely to be priced substantially higher
  • I really do want PDAF and C-AF tracking that sort of works
  • I love using flash outdoors so the boost in flash sync to 1/250th sec with external flashes and the built-in PC sync outlet will make my life easier
  • the Live Composite mode sounds like something I would like to experiment with, and as I do not use Photoshop, I can’t readily achieve this effect myself in software with only Lightroom
  • the sensor based image stabiliser is even better than on my E-M5 and I do like to push hand held limits of shutter speed
  • the improved EVF allows one to see down to magnitude 6 stars instead of only magnitude 3-4 stars (with a 25mm f/1.4 lens and Live Boost = ON) which makes astrophotography and low light work that much easier
  • the WiFi smartphone control and image transfer could be quite useful
  • as I shoot a lot of manual focus with legacy lenses, the addition of focus peaking will make a great addition to magnified view mode
  • I discovered on my snow trip last year, and in the Xmas party photo booth shoot I did last week that I really do need a quality zoom lens, and better still that it is weatherproof
  • I get an extra BLN-1 battery and charger and these sell for a silly $AU90-100 for each of these  – so I figure I am paying only $600 for the camera :)

 What about other cameras instead?

Well, I did look at a few.

Canon 7D Mark II:

  • nice dSLR and would work well with my Canon L lenses
  • but I don’t do much sports photography and I do have the Canon 1D Mark III
  • and I need reading glasses to operate it just as with any other dSLR – with mirrorless cameras I don’t need to take my eye from the camera for the far majority of functions – unless I need to delve into the menu system which is rare during a shoot.
  • the future is mirrorless
  • it can’t do closest eye AF – and I have grown to love this accurate AF without need from AF microadjustments which plague all dSLRs
  • I have had enough of carrying around those heavy lenses

Sony A7ii:

  • now this does interest me as it is not only full frame mirrorless but has sensor based IS, albeit not as effective as the E-M1
  • it is not yet available and when it does come, it is likely to be $AU1798 body only, then I would have to buy Sony lenses or resort to using my heavy Canon lenses in slow AF or MF mode – neither excite me – great pics perhaps but not much fun

Sony A7R:

  • full frame 36mp mirrorless
  • but really need to use this on a tripod otherwise one is wasting all those megapixels and just clogging up your hard drive
  • and again, I would have to buy Sony lenses or resort to using my heavy Canon lenses in slow AF or MF mode – neither excite me – great pics perhaps but not much fun

Sony A7S:

  • full frame 12mp mirrorless
  • no sensor based IS so not interested
  • would give me perhaps 2 stops better high ISO but has its own issues and again, I would have to buy Sony lenses or resort to using my heavy Canon lenses in slow AF or MF mode – neither excite me – great pics perhaps but not much fun
  • I would get better resolution images from the E-M1 and have much more fun
  • might be great for videographers or those really serious about astro scapes (night landscapes with the Milky Way – although I am growing a touch tired of seeing these)

Fuji XT-1:

  • a nice cropped sensor mirrorless and expensive but no sensor based IS and I would have to buy Fuji lenses so not interested

Panasonic LX-100:

  • Micro Four Thirds sized sensor in a petite camera with some awesome features:
    • lovely 3x zoom 24-75mm (in 35mm full frame equivalent) f/1.8-2.8 OIS zoom with 3cm close focus is perfect for most travel needs
    • built-in EVF
    • nice dials for aperture, shutter speed, etc
    • multi-aspect sensor
    • flash sync at all speeds thanks to leaf shutter
    • 40fps electronic shutter mode (to 1/16,000th sec)  and 11.9fps mechanical shutter
    • 4K video
    • fast AF, focus peaking, eye detection AF, etc
    • WiFi smartphone control
  • but for me it was a touch too small and had no tilt LCD and no touch screen and at around ~$AU900 was a touch expensive, although maybe worth it for many given its great feature set

So now I have an E-M1:

  • first step was to update firmware as this will rest most of your settings, so you may as well get in done first
  • next set date and time
  • then to configure it the way I like it:
    • cogs A:
      • AEL/AFL set to S1:C2:M3
        MF assist = OFF
        AF illuminator = OFF
    • cogs B: buttons/dial/lever:
      • Fn1 = peaking
      • Fn2 = magnify (to keep similar settings with E-M5)
      • REC = keystone
      • right button = ISO (to keep similar settings with E-M5)
      • down button = WB (to keep similar settings with E-M5)
      • rear buttons = direct mode so I reduce the chance I accidentally change the AF region position
    • cogs D: display:
      • Control Settings: PASM = Live SCP on, Live Control = OFF (I love the Super Control Panel)
      • Info Settings: Playback Info: histogram and highlight/shadow ON
      • Info Settings: LV Info: histogram, level gauge and highlight/shadow ON
      • histogram settings: Highlight = 245 (to avoid blown highlights when shooting ETTR metering)
    • cogs E: exposure:
      • Noise Filter = LOW (or OFF)
      • Antishock = 0 sec to enable electronic 1st shutter
    • cogs G: color/WB:
      • Keep warm color = OFF
      • Flash WB = OFF
  • this means that the other functions are accessible via:
    • front buttons:
      • one-touch custom WB
      • depth of field preview
    • 2×2 switch = 1:
      • top left control, front button drive/self timer/ HDR modes
      • top left control, rear button – exposure meter modes / focus modes
      • front dial: exposure compensation (or aperture if in Manual mode and no action in iAuto)
      • rear dial: aperture or shutter depending on exposure mode (no action in iAuto)
    • 2×2 switch = 2:
      • top left control, front button bracketing modes / bracket actions
      • top left control, rear button – flash exposure compensation / flash modes
      • front dial: ISO
      • rear dial: WB
  • more here

In conclusion…

Despite the above, I have been extremely impressed with the capabilities of the E-M1 thus far – the C-AF tracking actually works fairly well in good light and with a contrasty subject, while I can do hand held photos of stars with my 25mm f/1.4 lens at ISO 3200, 1/4 sec and get lots of stars – I doubt any other camera could achieve that without a tripod.

The focus peaking, 2×2 switch, extra buttons (such as custom WB, DOF preview) and remote control via iPhone is fantastic.

Furthermore, my old Olympus FL-50 flash which would only sync at 1/160th sec on my E-M5 now can sync at 1/250th second – very handy indeed when you need every bit of power and shutter speed for those outdoor shots.

Better still, when used with external “manual” flashes such as with my Canon 580 EX II, I get FULL SYNC without need for FSS or Super FP modes with full frame coverage of flash up to 1/500thsec, and can even push it to 1/840th sec with only ~20% of the top of frame not lit by the flash – now that is incredible for outdoor flash – better than my Canon 1D Mark III even with HiSync using PocketWizard technology!!

I have 2 little disappointments:

  • when using a Four Thirds lens with CDAF optimisation such as my lovely Panasonic Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 lens, the E-M1 insists on using PDAF and not CDAF (CDAF worked quite well on my E-M5 with this lens).
  • whilst the camera allows +/- 5EV exposure compensation, in manual exposure mode, it only displays +/- 3EV exposure metering – this is annoying when using spot metering on a white or black target.

Overall, I am very happy indeed!!!

If high quality video is more important to you:

Andrew Reid of EOSHD.com chose his 5 best video cams of 2014 which are:

  • Used Canon 1D C
  • Sony A7S & Atomos Shogun combo
  • Panasonic GH4
  • Samsung NX1
  • Nikon D750
  • honorable mentions:
    • Panasonic LX100

 

 

Merry Xmas all – it’s the silly season – here’s how to really capture your work Xmas party with a simple photo booth

Written by admin on December 24th, 2014

Most of us have a Christmas work party where everyone gets to dress up and have fun and really get into the team spirit.

You can value add to this is an enormous way by creating great quality photos and leave them to their own creative devices.

Add a few props for them to play with and you will get some fantastic shots they will all love – although I did end up with well over 300 shots which I had to edit – but I loved them all as they were so natural looking with fantastic expressions which really showed how much they all enjoyed the opportunity to be creative – knowing that they will look great unlike typical indoor iPhone snaps!

And there were none of those helicopter-style selfies!

None of these have had any significant PS work on the skin, just some cropping, cloning of creases in the backdrop, and some tonal adjustments and some have a little increased clarity added.

xmas

xmas

xmas

xmas

xmas

xmas

xmas

xmas

xmas

xmas

xmas

xmas

Now for the set up:

A couple of sheets as backdrops – would have been better with a white wall to save cloning out the creases in every shot – a clean background really makes a big difference in the aesthetics!

A flash to light the backdrop – I had intended to use 2 x Metx 45 CL-4 flash units triggered by optical sensor, however, one of the PC cords failed me so I had to be happy with one on full output with a diffuser attached. The light from the flash had to be shielded so it did not directly hit subjects causing blown highlights.

A main light – here I used a studio flash with a soft box on a light stand to provide some soft semi-directional light so that it didn’t matter too much where the subjects were facing as that was always going to be next to impossible to control!

A fill-in light at 1 stop less exposure than the main light – to avoid secondary shadows from a fill-in, I decided to bounce a studio light off the rear wall – the main downside to this is that the photographer is visible in the reflections of glasses – but that is a reasonable compromise.

The result is lovely soft semi-directional light on their faces with catchlights in their eyes and no nasty secondary shadows. nor nasty flash reflections from glasses.

The camera was irrelevant – as long as you can trigger the studio flash with PC sync cord or a radio remote trigger, and you have a suitable lens you are going to be fine.

I forgot to bring a zoom lens for my Olympus OM-D E-M5 (the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 would have been perfect) so I decided to resort to my Canon 1D Mark III with Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L lens hand held and set on manual exposure mode to f/5.6 at ISO 320.

A zoom lens proved to be critical instead of my primes as there was no time to constantly change lenses to accommodate varying numbers of subjects from 1 to 12 at a time!

White balance was set to Sunny, but as I shot in RAW, I adjusted the white balance in Lightroom according to a test target I photographed.

And there you have it – fairly easy portrait lighting for some fun portraiture.

 

Victorian goldfields with the the Olympus OM-D E-M5 – part VI – Tarnagulla

Written by admin on December 23rd, 2014

Stage VI of my road trip takes us further north east a few kilometres from the lovely gold rush town of Dunolly to the much smaller gold rush town of Tarnagulla.

This quaint little town is well worth a visit with its old buildings and cottages and seemingly on the verge of becoming a ghost town.

These photos were taken with the wonderful Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera.

Main street and former bank building (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/3.2):

bank

bank

The old church with pink flamingos – unfortunately the church burnt down around 10 years ago and was sold into private hands.

church

Cottage window:

cottage

Heading north from Tarnagulla takes one through some pleasant pastoral regions with old farm cottages such as these:

cottage

cottage

Then tracking to the north-west towards Wedderburn, there is a very nice granite outcrop hill where Captain Melville, a bushranger of the gold rush days hid from the police – hence its name – Melville Caves – a great spot to explore and there is a camping site at the top of the hill as well as a picnic ground at the base – here is a shot from within Melville’s cave:

Melville caves

Heading back to Melbourne from Maryborough, you cross cairn Curran Reservoir and pass through Newstead before reaching Castlemaine, and on the way you will see sites such as these:

Old farm gates with water pump (my version of solarisation in Lightroom):

old farm

Cairn Curran Reservoir with a low pressure weather system crossing Victoria bringing storms:

Cairn Curran Reservoir

 

Victorian goldfields with the the Olympus OM-D E-M5 – part V – Waanyarra gold fields

Written by admin on December 22nd, 2014

Stage V of my road trip takes us north east a few kilometres from the lovely gold rush town of Dunolly to a rather deserted, dry forest which was once the Waanyarra gold fields of the 1850′s – there is a short gravel road drive, first to the old cemetery (1856-1990), then to a picnic and camping area (byo water!), and then in a circuit past Morton’s old hut and then back on to the main highway.

When gold was discovered in Waanyarra in 1852, it was soon discovered that the alluvial gold nuggets were one of the purest in the world. From 1859-1888, large mining companies entered the field and displaced the individual miners who were to return in 1889 when the depression hit.

Waanyarra was a gold rush town in the 1850′s which consisted of 2 hotels, several stores, a school, and a post office which remained opened until the 1920′s – but there are few remains of any of these today, although the foundations of the Jones’ Creek School are still there – this school operated from 1857-1873 and had an average of 16 pupils. In 1877, a new school was built – the Waanyarra School No 1879, and in 1903, 65 students were being taught in one class room. There was a nearby cricket ground and picnic area. Other remnants can be found as one wanders through the bushwalks with a careful eye.

These photos were taken with the wonderful Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera.

Some shots of the mysterious Waanyarra cemetery which is well worth a wander around for a few minutes to get a sense of the history (Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens at f/1.8).

Wooden grave of Jesse Turner who died in the 1860′s aged 37yrs:

grave

Wooden graves:

grave

And this is the grave of one James McCoy who died in 1898 aged 82yrs and who chose to be buried with his mate William Horan who had died there in 1874 at age 46yrs:

grave

Happy campers at the picnic ground (Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens at f/1.8).

happy campers

BBQ

Morton’s hut was once the Welcome Inn – Morton’s Old Hotel built by the ex-convict in 1850 as a replica of his home in Ireland. The building served as a home for his family of 8, as well as a provisioning store and public bar for countless miners (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens at f/6.3)

Morton's hut

Morton's hut

Morton's hut

Next stop… the almost ghost town of Tarnagulla….

 

Victorian goldfields with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 – IV – the lovely gold rush town of Dunolly

Written by admin on December 18th, 2014

Stage IV of my road trip takes us to the lovely gold rush town of Dunolly which is just a few kilometres north of Maryborough – the geographic centre of the “Golden Triangle” of the 1850′s gold rush and a great place to base one’s explorations of the nearby ghost towns.

These photos were taken with the wonderful Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera.

The little town hall in the main street of Dunolly (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/6.3).

Dunolly Town Hall

The court house (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/6.3).

Dunolly Court House

One of the churches with its bell (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/6.3).

Dunolly church

A mansion with its lovely gardens given a ghostly infrared haunted look (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/6.3).

Dunolly mansion

The main street (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/6.3).

Dunolly main street

Verandah of an old cottage (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/6.3).

house

Ironmongers shop in the main street (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/6.3).

ironmongers shop

Next stop – the ghost town of Waanyarra and its interesting cemetery, camping ground and old Morton’s hut.

 

Victorian goldfields with the Olympus E-M5 – III – Timor and Bet Bet

Written by admin on December 14th, 2014

Stage III of my road trip was just north and north east of Maryborough – the geographic centre of the “Golden Triangle” of the 1850′s gold rush and a great place to base one’s explorations of the nearby ghost towns.

These photos were taken with the wonderful Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera.

Although only a few kilometres from Maryborough, the ghost town of Timor was once a thriving community with a population of 27,000 and 38 hotels. The last hotel closed down in the 1960′s and the General Store has closed down in the last decade (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/5).

Timor

The town of Timor was the result of the adjacent large gold mine – the Grand Duke Gold Mine of which there are few remnants remaining such as the main entrance granite arch of the pump house upon which the beam of the pump sat (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/5):

Grand Duke

The Grand Duke mine operated from 1869 to 1896 and produced 216,000 oz of gold and was sited upon a deep lead of auriferous quartz which was about 4 miles long – hence an adjacent mine the North Duke Mine also operated on this lead.

This gold mine boasted the biggest and the first Cornish beam pump in Australia with only 2 others of that size in the world – it was imported from England in 1874 and had a massive 30 ton iron beam, used 270 horsepower and pumped 200 gallons per stroke and 2000 gallons of water per minute and 20 million gallons per week out of the 110m deep mine shafts during the last 7 years of its life making the mine the longest and most continuous wet mine in Victoria. The pump did break down in 1879 resulting in the mine becoming flooded and out of action for 2 years. An accident in 1883 killed 4 men.

Wherever possible the miners mined upwards as this was easier as the material fell to the floor and was more easily loaded into skips – this method is called stoping.

The mine required a massive amount of timber to shore up the shafts plus hundreds of tons of firewood was need each week as fuel for the boilers. This devastated the region’s forests and by the end of the century each acre only had a few twisted old trees, and on average 15 young trees. At the turn of the century, the Maryborough forests were closed as a source of timber for mining.

In 1896, finance became an issue and the pumps were stopped and the mine permanently closed, and it was reported the water levels in the shafts rose by 8.5cm per day.

From this mine, one can drive along the gravel road to Bet Bet which is now also pretty much deserted as indicated by the owners putting this old weatherbeaten Church of Christ weatherboard church up for sale along with the cacti (Olympus mZD 45mm f/1.8 lens at f/5):

church

church

Heading north from Bet Bet one can find this old cottage:

cottage

and just south of Dunolly is the old gold rush era Wighams Junction Hotel built between 1862 and 1867 to serve the Gooseberry Hill gold mining operation. Ann Wigham was the licensee when it opened and the large sign sprawled across its facade read Ann Wigham’s Junction Hotel. The Wighams also ran a nearby corn store. The hotel was a popular meeting place and a venue for indoor and outdoor sports. It was extensively damaged in 1910 and was de-licensed in 1912 (Olympus mZD 12mm f/2 lens at f/6.3).

Wigham Hotel

Wigham Hotel

Next stop .. the awesome little gold rush town of Dunolly…..

 

Victorian goldfields with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 part II – Maryborough

Written by admin on December 11th, 2014

Stage II of my road trip was Maryborough – the geographic centre of the “Golden Triangle” of the 1850′s gold rush and a great place to base one’s explorations of the nearby ghost towns.

The region was initially settled by the Simson brothers as a sheep station called Charlotte Plains in the 1840′s when the squatters took up grazing runs throughout Victoria.

Gold was discovered in 1854 as part of the Victorian Gold Rush which led to the development of the township and population is said to have hit 30,000-50,000 and now sits around 7,000 and is consistently ranked as the most socially disadvantaged local government area in Victoria although this ranking is perhaps because it has no pockets of wealth to help mask the poverty as do most other areas. Perhaps only 6 or so houses had been notable for their wealth

One should also ensure they visit the heritage museum at Worsley Cottage (built 1894):

Rebuilt slab squatter’s hut from the local squatter’s farms (c1844):

hut

A painting of a photo depicting a streetscape and portrait photographer in Maryborough’s main street during the gold rush of the 1850′s:

streetscape

Maryborough local council journals from the 1860′s:

council journals from the 1850's

Unlike Bendigo and Ballarat, Maryborough never really did make it rich and has struggled since the gold ran out in 1918, perhaps saved only by the railroad passing through the town in 1874 and one of the greatest railway stations of the 19th century. The town of Timor to its north had a similar population during the gold rush of some 27,000 people, and had 38 hotels, but not one commercial building functions today with the General Store closing down in the last decade and the churches being sold off. Perhaps without the railroad, Maryborough may have suffered a similar fate.

In 1895 American writer Mark Twain visited the town and remarked about the station upon his visit.

Don’t you overlook that Maryborough station, if you take an interest in governmental curiosities. Why, you can put the whole population of Maryborough into it, and give them a sofa apiece, and have room for more. You haven’t fifteen stations in America that are as big, and you probably haven’t five that are half as fine. Why, it’s perfectly elegant. And the clock! Everybody will show you the clock. There isn’t a station in Europe that’s got such a clock. It doesn’t strike–and that’s one mercy. It hasn’t any bell; and as you’ll have cause to remember, if you keep your reason, all Australia is simply bedamned with bells.

railway station

The immense platform at night, with the Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens at f/5.6, ISO 200, 1.3sec:

railway station

Maryborough Flour Mill – now closed due to safety issues:

flour mill

Maryborough boasts some nice heritage buildings dating from Federation years (1901 onwards) such as:

The Bull and Mouth Hotel (Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens):

Bull and Mouth Hotel

Hadenham House
– a lovely Federation Edwardian mansion with 5m ceilings which is a very nice place to stay a few nights while you are exploring the region:

Hadenham House

Another lovely Federation house on the main street:

Federation  house

In 1909, the town was still full of optimism and built this grand cricket stadium (Olympus mZD 45mm f/1.8 at f/3.2, ISO 200, hand held at 1/25th sec) – a photo I took at sunset in tribute to the late Australian test cricketer Phil Hughes who was killed in a freak accident when a cricket ball hit his neck:

cricket stadium

After the gold finished, Maryborough kept chugging along thanks to the development of the regional wool industry and the opening of the woollen mills in the 1920′s. Unfortunately, the woollen mills closed in 1978, then the Kennett state government’s economic rationalism stopped the trains in the 1990′s, and along with the continued loss of the manufacturing sector to overseas, has really hurt the people of Maryborough.

In 2007, the train station was renovated and in 2010, a couple of trains per day were re-instated and substantial efforts have been made to boost the economy of this region – hopefully the fantastic people here will again have optimism for their future, in the meantime, it seems to lack the tourism it needs to flourish – perhaps being over 2 hours drive from Melbourne and with significant competition for tourists from Castlemaine and Maldon will always make it difficult to succeed.

Nearby in Talbot, a lovely little town with a great little cafe, book shop and 2nd hand shop (which is more than the adjacent ghost towns of Majorca and Amherst have):

Talbot