Amazing multicoloured bioluminescent Ghost Fungi mushrooms at night under an auroral glow

Written by admin on May 27th, 2017

I went for a bush walk in a rather remote Victorian forest today and, unexpectedly, stumbled across an isolated patch of Omphalotus Nidiformis mushrooms – the “Ghost Fungi” which give off a very dim eerie glow in the forest at night (to our naked eyes without colour vision, using only rods in the dim light, they appear white).

He they are just after sunset taken hand held with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Micro Four Thirds camera with Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2 lens (jpegs straight from camera just re-sized for web):

Ghost fungi

The above was hand held resting on my thigh at 1/4sec, f/3.5, ISO 1250.

Ghost fungi

The above was hand held resting on my boot at 1/4sec, f/2.5, ISO 640.

Ghost fungi

The above was hand held resting on my thigh at 0.6sec, f/4.5, ISO 1250.

So, hoping I was correct, I headed back into the closest town, had a quick bite, then headed back well after twilight had finished, and there they were, once my eyes had adjusted to night vision, the patch of fungi giving off their strange light.

Here are a few I shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II with Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2 lens sitting on a towel as a support (jpegs straight from camera just re-sized for web – no light painting or artificial lights, and white balance for these was set to sunny day):

Ghost fungi

The above was at f/2.8 (trying to get some more DOF), ISO 1600, noise filter = LOW, long exposure NR on with an 8 minute exposure using the very handy Live Timed function (I didn’t bring a remote to activate a BULB mode – thankfully the OM-D’s don’t need one!) and shows some lovely orange as well as green, with the top left corner being the brighter night sky (perhaps 2 stops brighter) illuminated by an Aurora Australis or Southern Lights.

The still night air without a breeze to be felt allowed me to use these nice long exposures, rather than having to open the aperture up to f/1.2 and loose depth of field even more than I was losing.

I could just imagine all the local insects coming out to dance and sing under the soft light – but it was too cold for most of them tonight – which saved me getting a few bites at least!

Ghost fungi

The above was as for the previous one but f/2.0 at 4 minutes exposure.

And, finally, just for a little fun at 10pm on a winter’s night, all alone in a remote forest, a fisheye view – taken with the unique Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens sitting on a towel at f/1.8, ISO 1600, 2 minutes to avoid the bright auroral sky washing out – and yes, you can tell it is looking south from the out of focus star trails making an arc around the South Celestial Pole somewhere near the centre of the image.

Ghost fungi

Camera settings for shooting these ghost fungi at night:

  • I used a 25mm lens (50mm in full frame terms) but one could go wider than this
  • getting adequate depth of field while keeping ISO low and exposure duration a minimum is a challenge without resorting to complicated post-processing focus stacking techniques – for the 25mm Olympus lens I prefer the f/2.8 setting but this required 8 minutes exposure at ISO 1600, if using an equivalent 50mm lens on full frame this would require using f/5.6, 8 minutes at ISO 6400 – so any high ISO benefit of full frame is lost.
    • if it is windy, then you will not be able to achieve nice imagery, even if you chose to shoot at f/1.2 and ISO 12800 to gain a shorter shutter speed, it may still be too long if the fungi are moving – go on a still night without wind, and suffer the pea soup fog on your drive home.
    • if you can’t shoot BULB (you didn’t buy an Olympus and you forgot your remote control), then you may need settle with f/1.8, ISO 6400 and 30secs
  • manual focus and a torch is a must – and it helps if your lens has a nice MF clutch, and your camera can do magnified view to allow you to accurately manual focus using a torch to assist
  • I chose to shoot sunny day white balance as I wanted to see what the colours were like compared to our normal visual experience of a sunny day
  • Noise filter should be set to LOW or OFF as ideally you should be removing noise in post-processing (I haven’t done this in these images – I will wait til I get a chance to process the RAW files)
  • Long exposure noise reduction should be set to Auto or ON – this does double the length of waiting for exposure to finish but it removes the thermal noise and you don’t need that!
  • I decided not to use my tripod as I wanted to be at ground level so i rested the camera on a towel
  • turn IS OFF
  • If you don’t have an Olympus camera then you will need to bring a remote trigger for your BULB mode to get past 30secs

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II with 25mm f/1.2 is great for this type of photography as:

  • the image stabiliser is fantastic when using it hand held for the dusk shots
  • ISO 1600 or 3200 is usable, and that is all you really need for the night shots
  • the flip out LCD screen means you don’t have to get down level with the camera on your stomach and get real dirty or have crawlies all over you
  • the 25mm f/1.2 not only is an amazing lens which focuses twice as close as similar full frame lenses, but it has a wonderful manual focus clutch
  • accurate manual focus is easy using magnified view mode
  • noise reduction phase displays a count down so you know how long you have left
  • if your torch is getting dim, you can have the Live Timed mode automatically activate Live Boost so you can see in the dark better
  • normal timed exposures go to 60 secs not like most other cameras where you need a remote control to activate BULB mode to get past 30secs
  • Live Timed mode allows you to visualise how the image is developing (eg. every 30 secs):
    • if you stuffed something up like composition, just terminate the exposure rather than wait until your planned exposure finishes
    • you can see how the histogram and image exposure is devloping, and then terminate when desired – this is how I chose to terminate the fisheye shot – when I saw the sky was starting to blow out
    • unlike BULB mode, you can set a duration for it to last and it will self-terminate the exposure without you having to be there with a remote control – this allows you to use another camera to do something else such as take Milky Way astroscapes while you wait 16 minutes for an 8 minute exposure and 8minute dark frame.
    • you don’t need a remote control – just wait for it to time out or press the shutter button to terminate exposure.
    • you can see from 5m away what the status is – is exposure still occurring or is it in noise reduction phase when its OK to turn torches on, or is exposure complete

For more mushrooms, see my previous post

 

Is this the biggest documented Amanita farinacea (Australian Flour Lepidella) mushroom – cap of 30cm diameter?

Written by admin on May 21st, 2017

It’s Autumn in Australia and mushroom time.

I stumbled upon an amazing white mushroom in a Eucalypt forest at altitude around 800m on Mt Macedon in Victoria after the rains which was so big and white with a veil of delicate frills all around blowing in the wind and white drops on the ground nearby (hence the Flour in its name)  that it looked like it was artificial and someone had just dropped a can of white paint on to it!

As I understand it, all species of Amanita mushrooms have white gills underneath, and most are poisonous – these ones are not likely to be fatal, unlike the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) with its amanitin toxins which destroy the liver in a few days.

Amanita Farinacea

The gigantic Amanita farinacea mushroom was adjacent a massive Eucalypt tree – I placed my iPhone 6s for reference and although I did not have a ruler, the cap of it measured at least 30cm in diameter – this species is usually said to grow to 10cm diameter.

A few days later, I found a more juvenile specimen some 10 meters away which stood some 6″ tall and perhaps 4-5″ in diameter:

Amanita Farinacea

Both of the above were taken in low light at dusk, hand held with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Micro Four Thirds camera and Panasonic Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 lens for Four Thirds, the first image shot at f/2.8, ISO 800 and 1/20th sec while the second image was shot at f/5.6, ISO 800 and 1/30th sec.

Some more common poisonous Amanita mushrooms:

Everyone’s favorite fairy tale fantasy mushroom – the colorful, warty, Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) from an oak forest:

Amanita

Olympus OM–D E-M1 II with Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens at f/1.8, ISO 200 and 1/100th sec.

The Fly Agaric is likely to cause delirium, hallucinations and possibly coma and seizures within 2hrs of ingestion – if someone was stupid enough to try eating one.

and presumably a related couple in a pine forest:

Amanita

The above was taken in very low light under dense pine forest canopy hiding adjacent to a fallen tree trunk, taken hand held with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Micro Four Thirds camera and Panasonic Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 lens for Four Thirds – f/2.5, ISO 500, 1/10th sec – thanks to the awesome image stabilizer in the E-M1 II.

And, who can resist some fall foliage?

foliage

The above was taken in very low light at dusk under a canopy of trees, taken hand held with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Micro Four Thirds camera and Panasonic Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 lens for Four Thirds – f/1.4, ISO 200, 1/15th sec – again, thanks to the awesome image stabilizer in the E-M1 II.

 

 

 

Sony A7II full frame with Canon EF 50mm f/1.8ii vs Olympus OM-D with PanaLeica D 25mm f/1.4 lens – real world comparison images

Written by admin on May 1st, 2017

These two lenses give a similar field of view – that of the “Standard lens” or 50mm in full frame terms.

I have posted similar DOF and background blurring comparisons for full frame 85mm f/1.8 vs Olympus 45mm f/1.8 and also full frame 85mm f/1.8 vs Olympus 75mm f/1.8 taken twice as far away.

This blog post is to demonstrate the slightly shallower depth of field (DOF) and more background blurring that a full frame camera can attain over a Micro Four Thirds camera – but does it make the image more aesthetic, and is the difference really worth losing all the fantastic benefits of Micro Four Thirds – smaller, lighter, less expensive kit, easier to take traveling, to social events and hiking, better weathersealing, better image stabilisation, touch screen AF, closest eye AF, more fun and versatility, and the list goes on.

Only you can decide if you really need to go shallower DOF – and of course on both cameras you can get even more shallow DOF – the full frame allows use of 50mm f/1.4 lenses (and even a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L), while on the Olympus OM-D, you can use the wonderful superb Olympus micro ZD 25mm f/1.2 lens, and if you want, you can go to f/0.95 lenses but currently only in manual focus.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens is known as the plastic fantastic – perhaps one of the worst build quality of any modern AF lens, and a cheap price to match but it has reasonable optics – although, not the sharpest tool in the shed wide open, and has lots of vignetting on the Sony a7II, plus lots of coma aberration and the bokeh is quite busy and often annoying – but this comparison is just to show DOF and degree of background blurring at f/1.8. When used with the Sigma MC-11 EF-Sony lens adapter, you do get fairly fast AF but no Eye AF, BUT it is very frustrating to use as you must re-mount the lens every time the camera is turned off or goes to sleep, and sometimes AF is a very slow stuttering experience. For some reason, the Sony a7II under-exposes this lens at f/1.8 but not at f/2.8 – very strange indeed!

On a full frame camera such as the Sony A7II mirrorless camera, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 ii provides the user with a further 1.3 stops of shallow depth of field options when compared to an Olympus OM-D E-M1 II with the old, now discontinued, Panasonic leica D 25mm f/1.4 Four Thirds 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?

Note that this Four Thirds lens is one of the few that is compatible with CDAF, but for some reasons, AF is stutteringly slow on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark I but works fine on the mark II camera. This lens was replaced with a smaller, lighter, less expensive Micro Four Thirds version. Neither are weathersealed but the new Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2 lens is.

Real world lens tests:

Let’s have a look at some jpg images straight from camera (just resized for web viewing) with both lenses wide open 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 Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 lens is first then the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens, both taken from same camera position:

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Note that the severe mechanical vignetting of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens on the Sony a7 II is causing much more annoying “cat’s eye” shaped bokeh near the edges – note the sky highlights, as well as much darker corners. In addition, the longer aspect ratio of the full frame system makes it harder to exclude distracting skies in portrait orientation than it is with the wider Micro Four Thirds 4:3 aspect ratio – another reason I prefer Micro Four Thirds for portraiture.

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The greater blurring capability of the full frame is well demonstrated here but the near out of focus leaves on the right are far more annoying with their distracting bokeh compared to the less blurred but less distracting bokeh of the Panasonic image.

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When the focus point is farther away, the difference of the degree of background blurring becomes less between the lenses – as demonstrated with my previous posts.

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For this image, the 25mm lens gives adequate subject isolation and background blurring, and I think it has much nicer bokeh, plus if you look at the highlight area of the statues’ head, the cheap and nasty 50mm lens has much more flare, softer, less contrasty imagery – that’s one of the resons why you may want to pay more for a higher quality lens!

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Again the 25mm gives adequate background blurring and it is less busy – look at the branches of the birch – but this bokeh issue is not a full frame versus MFT issue but a lens design issue.

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The larger out of focus circles of the 50mm are actually much more distracting and annoying – sometimes the more background blurring is actually worse for aesthetics!

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Again the 25mm gives adequate background blurring and it is much less busy with nicer bokeh.

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This closer image of grapes, looks nicer with the 50mm lens to my eye as the much larger out of focus bubbles make it less busy.

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The 50mm lens here is giving too much background blurring making it hard to work out what is in the background which can work against the aesthetics by making the viewer work too hard – of course, the 50mm could have been closed down to f/2.8 to address this.

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The bridge looks busier on the 50mm lens – the 25mm to my eye is giving nicer bokeh and sufficient background blurring.

Moral of the story:

Just buying into a full frame system does not guarantee you nicer looking, shallower depth of field, more aesthetic bokeh – you do need to choose your lens carefully, and lens design is always a trade off between wide open sharpness vs wide open bokeh:

The superbly sharp, big, heavy, expensive, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens has busy, distracting bokeh – sort of defeats the purpose of having a shallow DOF lens.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L lens has buttery smooth bokeh but is soft (not that sharp) wide open with lots of aberrations.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 lens is soft wide open with lots of aberrations and often busy bokeh but at least it is relatively small and inexpensive.

The Sony FE CZ 55mm f/1.8 ZA is sharp across the frame, relatively compact but has busy onion ring bokeh and costs $AU1150.

The Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA has nice bokeh and is sharp in the centre wide open but is soft half way to edges and will set you back $AU2250!

See also my comparison table of the high end 50mm AF lenses for a Sony full frame.

And here we have the full frame conundrum – which is the lens that suits your needs best and can you afford the cost and weight?

If you are going to have stop it down to f/1.8 or more for adequate image quality or depth of field, then perhaps you are not really gaining much over an Olympus 25mm f/1.2  lens which is weathersealed, compact, relatively light, has almost zero aberrations and minimal distortion, probably better edge-to-edge sharpness wide open, can focus twice as close, has a lovely manual focus clutch, and has by far the best image stabilisation of 5EV 5 axis IS when used with Olympus OM-D cameras, which also allow fast, accurate AF almost anywhere in the frame (not just near the middle and which can be activated rapidly by using the touch screen or even the touch of the Live View screen on a wifi tethered smartphone) and with ability to accurately AF on the closest eye – just awesome! And that’s not all – on the E-M1II you get continuous AF at 18fps and silent shutter, not to mention the unique Olympus Live Composite mode for doing star trails, car headlights, etc at night, and for static scenes with tripod, the ability to shoot 50mp Hi Res shots.

ps… I didn’t do this comparison with the Olympus 25mm f/1.2  lens as I don’t own one ….. yet! :)

In the end, do you really need the extra shallow DOF that full frame affords when you are giving up so much to have it?

 

The intricacies and complexity of lens design – interview with designer of the Olympus 25mm f/1.2 lens

Written by admin on April 27th, 2017

If you can get past the Google translate issues, it is worth having a read of this interview with Olympus lens designer published on DC.Watch.

Olympus is embarking on a series of high performance “PRO” level metal, weathersealed, f/1.2 prime Micro Zuiko Digital (micro ZD) lenses with MF clutches, capable of withstanding professional “abuse” for Micro Four Thirds, now that the system has matured and many of the cameras have 1/8000th sec shutter speeds to allow f/1.2 in bright conditions without having to resort to use of ND filters or polarisers.

The following is my summary adopted from this interview.

Lens design is always a compromise!

F/1.2 was chosen instead of a wider aperture in order to keep the lens size down, AF speed fast and cost down – all of which are important for users.

The larger the lens elements, the slower the AF response as it takes more effort from the AF motors to move them.

The current f/1.8 “PREMIUM” range of lenses (17mm, 25mm, 45mm, and 75mm) were optimised for Olympus PEN camera users, but these lenses are not weathersealed.

The Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2 lens has a an amazing lens design of 19 elements in 14 groups including 1 Super ED lens, 2 ED lenses, 3 HR Lenses, 1 E-HR lens and 1 Aspherical lens with 1 small lens element (the 5th group lens) being used for fast AF that can be moved with high frequency and precision, yet be silent. It uses a retrofocus design in which the front 3 groups produce a negative power which reduce achromatism while the rear groups produce a positive power with the master lens being in front of the AF lens. As aberration fluctuates as the AF lens moves, these variations in aberrations are reduced by increasing the number of lens elements and then controlled by multiple correction lens in the rear groups which also add back in some spherical aberration to improve bokeh and also form a sound barrier to the moving lens helping to create a silent AF system

Design principles included:

  • fast, silent AF optimised for CDAF and PDAF and satisfy the Olympus MSC standard (Movie and Still Compatible)
  • weathersealed
  • robust
  • MF clutch mechanism
  • optimising MTF at low frequency and edge-to-edge high frequency detail to provide contrast and aesthetics, particularly with portraits
  • aim for twice the MTF accuracy of a 35mm full frame lens
  • maintain the shape of Newton rings (An interference fringe of light which is generated when a lens having the opposite curve is superimposed on a certain lens) as constant as possible
  • optimising the quality of blur (bokeh) with aim for blur to “bleed slowly” but maintain resolution
    • use of a front aspherical lens to reduce incoming light to zero spherical aberration
    • adding a lens element to restore some spherical aberration at the expense of some high frequency MTF resolution
  • eliminate coma aberration – avoid use of lenses which sharply bend light as these introduce too much coma aberration – hence the need to use many lens elements to gradually modify the light rays
  • minimise all other aberrations such as distortion to reduce the extent of jpeg in-camera corrections needed but where needed, optical characteristic data corresponding to the aperture value, focus position, and zoom position is sent from the lens to the camera body and corrected by image processing.

 

 

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.

I have posted similar DOF and background blurring comparisons for full frame 50mm f/1.8 vs Olympus 25mm f/1.4 and also full frame 85mm f/1.8 vs Olympus 75mm f/1.8 taken twice as far away.

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!