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

Thursday, 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 wide 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

Monday, 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:

portrait

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

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

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

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

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

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Real world lens tests:

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

The Olympus is first then the Canon:

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

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And I shot this Canon image at f/3.5:

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While this Canon image was shot at f/1.8:

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But what about portraits?

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

Olympus 45mm:

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Canon 85mm from a touch further away.

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

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

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Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

It seems Olympus has finally ditched manufacture of Four Thirds lenses to concentrate on Micro Four Thirds

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

According to Four-Thirds.org and highlighted by dpreview.com, unsurprisingly, it seems Olympus has decided to discontinue manufacture of their superb range of Four Thirds lenses designed for Four Thirds dSLRs – which they stopped making several years ago.

The Four Thirds dSLR system was introduced 14 years ago and introduced many innovations such as telecentric lens design to optimise digital sensors, Live View, sensor based image stabilisation, and sensor cleaning, but it was their High Grade and Super High Grade Four Thirds lenses which drew many like myself to this system – these lenses were amongst the best optically corrected lenses ever made – for example, nothing that Canon had made came close to the Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4 lens, and the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 was more compact, optically better and with closer focus than what Canon or Nikon provided in the focal length range of 100-400mm for a full frame.

Alas, these lenses were often no smaller than full frame lenses and often not that much cheaper which meant most professionals quite rightly could not see the value in the system, while in the mirrorless world, these lenses were not optimised for CDAF which is the main AF technology used in most mirrorless cameras.

With the removal of the mirror, and the development of the far more popular and more compact Micro Four Thirds system, Olympus and Panasonic have a winner in their hands, and as could be expected, are putting all their R&D into this system – both having now given up on the ill-fated Four Thirds system.

New in-camera optical distortion correction technologies and the shorter sensor to lens flange distance has given the Olympus engineers more freedom to create smaller, lighter, more affordable lenses than their Four Thirds counterparts could ever be – albeit sacrificing optical distortion as a priority in lens design.

Olympus and Panasonic have already created a great range of Micro Four Thirds lenses, and Olympus has said it will now concentrate on developing new wide aperture prime lenses – to continue on from their 1st digital f/1.2 lens,  the superb Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2 lens and the amazing Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 OIS lens.

There is a lot to look forward to, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with – perhaps a 9mm or 12mm f/1.2 for Milky Way astrophotography (Panasonic already have their superb 12mm f/1.4 and Olympus have a great ground breaking f/1.8 fisheye lens), perhaps a 100mm f/1.4 and a 200mm f/2.4?

 

Supermoon Obscured By Clouds but the Olympus 300mm Shines Like a Crazy Diamond

Monday, November 14th, 2016

Tonight was the much trumped Great Gig In The Sky of the so called Super Moon – a full moon at closest perigee (closest distance to earth) for 7 decades making it 14% larger than when it is at its smallest.

No one would really notice this but it made a good excuse to do some calculations and flex the brains to work out where to shoot it from and which lens to use.

Well, for me, the new amazing and superbly sharp Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 OIS lens was the one to play with and really makes Micro Four Thirds system and the Olympus OM-D E-M1 shine – this would make a moon which normally has an angular diameter of approximately 0.5 deg, nice and large in its 600mm equivalent field of view in full frame terms which gives a 4.1° diagonal field of view (2.3° x 3.4°).

The problem is that to get a city skyline and the moon in the shot, you need to be a long way from the city – perhaps 30km depending upon how much of the skyline you want in, and the moon must be rising – remember the lens only has 4 degrees field of view so if you want the moon and skyline in the same image, you need to capture the moon within 15 minutes of it rising (the moon travels 15 degrees every hour).

Here is my test shot hand held with the 300mm lens in daylight uncropped but with tonal adjustments in LR to show how big the moon will be with this lens and how sharp it is even handheld with its superb image stabilisation:

300mm eq focal length moon

I wanted to shoot the Melbourne skyline and have the moon rising behind it and for this I calculated that the small mountains to the south west of Melbourne – the You Yangs at 50km line of sight from Melbourne would be a reasonable choice – although a little too far but there were no closer accessible elevated sites available.

Heaven sent the promised land, looks all right from where I stand ….

I had tested it last week at sunset, and just to give you an idea how far away the city skyline was, I took a shot with a 50mm equivalent field of view lens (the traditional “standard” field of view) but I had to use a LR brush to highlight the buildings as they were so tiny in the distance:

50mm eq focal length

Here is the Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 lens hand held at f/5.6 – an uncropped version using LR to increase contrast and clarity of the buildings:

600mmeq focal length


And here is the cropped version which really blew me away with the details it resolved including the AMP sign is clearly visible through the 50km of haze – just amazing – click on the image to get a larger view:

600mmeq focal length

The weather forecast was not looking great with remnants of a passing low pressure system still generating much low cloud, but at 5pm, there were large areas of clear sky which would move over Melbourne bringing hope.

So there I sat like a lunatic on the grass (further apologies to Pink Floyd – but I think many of us photography addicts are a little brain damaged – especially when the heavy clouds came over making our heads explode with dark forebodings, and we would not even get to see the dark side of the moon let alone the super moon), and Wishing You Were Here

 

I was thinking I like to be here when I can …. but Time was ticking away the moments that make up a dull day … fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way … kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town, waiting for someone or something to show you the way,

and, although No-one told me when to Run, I decided to give up, packed up my camera and tripod, drove down the mountain and out the gates of no return … one sure way to make the clouds part and show the moon – and sure enough it did – so I stopped my car on the side of the road and took a hand held shot just to show I was there.

600mmeq focal length

And when I come home cold and tired … It’s good to warm my bones beside the fire….

and then I think of the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and how well this would work with this lens …

and my mind again plays tricks on me …. the cash registers start ringing …. Money …. if you ask for a rise, it’s no surprise that they’re giving none away

Apologies again to Pink Floyd for the dozen references to their fantastic archive of works which I will treasure until I die.

New 2.5x macro lens from Olympus – the Olympus mZD 30mm f/3.5 macro

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

In addition to the brilliant new OM-D E-M1 mark II and the 2 new PRO level lenses announced at Photokina this week, Olympus also announced a new “PREMIUM” level but affordable macro lens for Micro Four Thirds which is a world 1st being able to shoot as low as 2.5x macro (in 35mm full frame terms) and still be able to shoot subjects at infinity with fast AF.

The lens is very light and compact at only 128 g (4.5oz) and 57mm long (2.24″) and having a small 46mm filter thread.

It thus is also well suited to underwater work and for this it is compatible with certain Olympus housings  and lens ports (PT-EP13 (E-M5 Mark II), PT-EP10 (for the E-PL6/E-PL5), PT-EP11 (for the E-M1)) as well as having a couple of its own dedicated underwater accessories – PPZR-EP07 focus gear, Antireflective Ring POSR-EP11.

AF is said to be 20-30% faster than its previous Olympus macro lens, the weathersealed Olympus mZD 60mm macro lens,  and is designated MSC – silent and smooth AF and aperture for movies.

The close focus is down to 9.5cm with a working distance of 14mm in front of the lens giving a field of 13.9 x 10.9mm which is able to reveal subjects the unaided eye cannot see.

It has 7 circular blades for nice out of focus rendering when stopped down.

It appears that it is not weathersealed but users will mainly use this for controlled environments indoors out of the wind, or in an underwater housing.

RRP is $US299.

PPZR-EP07 Underwater focus gear

Underwater Antireflective Ring POSR-EP11

As reviews are posted I will link them on my wiki page for this lens.

Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 bokeh

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

The brilliantly designed Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 IS PRO lens for Micro Four Thirds is an amazing lens in terms of compact 600mm super telephoto capabilities with near diffraction-limited optical superb resolution and almost zero aberrations.

A 600mm super telephoto lens though usually has very limited utility – usually to shooting wildlife or sports at a distance.

Not so this lens, it is light enough and compact enough to walk around with and with its close focus of only 1.4m, it doubles up as a close up almost macro lens to allow taking shots of small things from a distance without scaring them.

It could even be used for people photography where a busy background can be compressed as well as rendered out of focus with a nice bokeh.

So here are a couple of examples of the bokeh with this lens:

oak leaves in winter

residual oak leaves in mid-winter.

bokeh flowers

Not sure what this plant is – a winter flowering plant I found on my walk yesterday through the Victorian goldfields, dodging incredibly deep and steep mine shafts littered all around – without any hazard protections – so one had to tread carefully indeed!

As you can tell – I love these Olympus lenses because they are sharp edge-to-edge and this has freed me from having to have my subject in the centre as with most dSLR lenses – the above were shot hand held in very overcast conditions.

Interestingly, 43rumors.com has posted that Olympus has applied for patents for a couple more fascinating super-telephoto lenses around the same size as this 300mm f/4 lens:

  • 200-300mm f/2.8-4 lens 228cm long
  • 300-500mm f/2.8-4 lens 338cm long

It will be very interesting indeed to see if these lenses eventuate as they also had applied for a patent for a 500mm f/4 lens measuring 338cm long.

See my list of Micro Four Thirds lenses.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 for sports using C-AF Tracking and the Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 lens

Saturday, July 2nd, 2016

I come from many years of using a long line of Olympus cameras – none of which had continuous autofocus tracking that actually was useful (OM film cameras, C8080WZ, E330, E510, E-M5 digital cameras), so even though I have owned the only Micro Four Thirds camera with on-sensor PDAF, Olympus OM-D E-M1 , I have never bothered to really try C-AF Tracking … until today.

Today I took the E-M1 with the awesome Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 lens for a spin at a local Australian Rules Football footy ground in heavy overcast with the prime aim to see if the folks on the internet are correct that C-AF Tracking mode actually works well with this kit.

So I set the E-M1 up as follows:

  • almost the latest firmware installed – E-M1 = 4.0; lens = 1.0; (just realised there is v4.1 available, although this update is not said to change AF capability, so updating to that tonight!)
  • Noise Filter = OFF and Picture mode = vivid (just in case I use CDAF as these settings give faster CDAF – which I didn’t actually end up using)
  • Shutter priority exposure mode with shutter speed 1/1250th sec, aperture automatically used f/4 and ISO was on auto-ISO and automatically used 800
  • Exposure compensation to – 0.7 as the shadow/highlight indicator in EVF was suggesting the whites on the jumpers was otherwise blowing out
  • High speed burst mode (10fps)
  • AF mode = C-AF + Tracking
  • AF region = centre 9 squares
  • EVF refresh rate HIGH
  • C-AF Lock = LOW (to reduce chance of loss of lock when a player ran in front and AF re-acquiring lock on that player instead)
  • Release Priority C = OFF (gives more focused images but less images and you do get more shutter delay as it needs to lock focus before releasing shutter)
  • IS on

Technique:

  • Point and shoot and hope for the best – no I did not wait to gain AF lock, I just pressed the shutter when the action was in frame – it does help to have the action in the AF region – you may want to expand the AF region for your own needs but this does risk AF lock on the background or a player to the side in the foreground.

Outcome:

Pleasantly surprised seeing beautifully sharp images pop into the EVF on playback

See example below, these have been cropped, and have had a touch of toning and vignetting applied as this lens does not vignette to any appreciable amount even wide open.

footy

no crop for this one:

footy

and a short ~50% cropped sequence:

footy

footy

footy

Conclusion:

Although I am not a sports shooter, the C-AF Tracking seemed to work at least as well if not better than my Canon 1D Mark III sports dSLR, and I was able to get more telephoto effect and image detail hand held than I could with the Canon.

I was very pleasantly surprised the I could just point and shoot and the camera did the rest reasonably well.

The main issue is at 600mm equivalent field of view, it does take a bit of practice to ensure you get the action in the frame when it is moving quickly over the ground – and it is for this reason, Olympus introduced the Olympus EE-1 Dot Sight as I have discussed in a prior post. I feel that the Dot Sight would largely address this problem and be a very handy addition to this kit.

 

Coldest day for 12 months, snowing, time to get the Olympus 300mm f/4 out again for a little bird

Friday, June 24th, 2016

Victoria had a cold blast of air today bringing widespread snowfalls to even low altitudes, a circumstance that only happens here once or twice a year.

As I had the day off, I decided to venture to central Victoria hoping to see some snow covered kangaroos but alas I chose poorly and whilst it did snow, not enough fell to leave a coverage on the ground – or on kangaroos.

I went to one of my favorite cold places and only a little snow on the ground with some light snow falling and as I walked in the 2degC air temperature and sub zero chill factor with the 35 knot westerlies blowing, a beautiful little and lively bird kept circling me as I walked.

I went back to the car and reached for … you guess it… that awesome Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 super telephoto lens with its 6 stops image stabilisation to counter my chilled and shaking fingers, and the Olympus weathersealing and freeze-proofing that the falling snow would not be an issue.

So here are a couple of hand held shots of this little fellow both shot hand held at f/5 to get a bit more depth of field on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera  (please click on images to show in large size):

uncropped bird

The above is not cropped and shows the lovely bokeh as well as across the frame, edge to edge sharpness.

cropped bird

This one has been cropped a touch, and shows the shallow depth of field at such close distances

I believe the bird is an Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis) which are lovely, friendly birds. They are curious and inquisitive and relatively easily photographed despite their small size of only around 19g.

And here is one of the last autumn leaves, before my fingers fell off in the cold, hand held again with the Olympus 300mm in very low light:

autumn leaf in winter

A field review of the Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 super telephoto lens – shooting birds and quolls

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

Following on from my last post on the 300mm vs other super telephoto lenses, today I decided to take it for another test walk, this time for an hour walking around a bird sanctuary.

I walked without my back pack or my waist belt camera support and am pleased to report that despite the 1.8kg combined weight of the Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 OIS lens on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four thirds camera, it was very easy to carry and much of the time I walked with it held by only my two fingers given it balances so well on that camera.

For static subjects it was a pleasure to use, although at close distances (it does focus as close as 1.4m), the depth of field is so narrow, even stopped down to its highest performing aperture of f/5.6, that great care has to be taken to focus exactly and then ensure you don’t move an inch, nor the subject before you take your shot.

When you get this right, it is indeed superbly sharp, just check out this lovely bird that was walking around about 1.4m from me taken at f/5.6 (image practically straight from camera via Lightroom RAW conversion):

bird

and now, a 100% crop to show how sharp the lens is – check out that eye!

eye

For a relatively large bird with a long beak looking at you at these distances, you definitely have to stop down to at least f/5.6 or perhaps f/8 to get the beak and eyes in focus, the depth of field is that narrow at f/4!

You can shoot birds at close range at f/4 if they are perpendicular to you like this one, as then you get eyes and beak in sharp focus:

stork

With a moving target at such close distances, it is hard to compose the image due to the very narrow field of view let alone get the correct part of the subject in focus.

Nevertheless, I was able to capture this very active tiger quoll at f/4 and nailed the focus (shot through a 1″ wire cage as these things have very sharp teeth) – click on the image to get a larger version:

tiger quoll

How is the bokeh and depth of field for shots at around 4-6m? Here is a cheeky emu hiding around a tree to show this at f/4 (although this is a bird sanctuary and there were emus, this is not a real one!):

emu bokeh

This gives you a great idea of how fantastic a head and shoulders portrait could be when you really need to compress as well as blur out a busy, distracting background.

But how well does it perform when the subject is about 30m away, and will it still give good subject isolation at that distance? Well here is a wallaby with its mate about 10-15m behind it, shot at f/4:

wallaby

But what about birds in flight I hear you say?

Just before the park closed and in low light at the end of an almost Winter solstice day, I thought I would test out shooting birds in flight, flying almost directly over my head.

Now I am NOT a birds in flight shooter and this genre requires a LOT of experience and skill as well as the correct equipment, plus good light and obliging large birds which don’t fly too fast.

This became a very frustrating exercise as most of the birds were too small and flew too fast for me to get in the image let alone allow the camera any chance of autofocus lock.

I finally found one eagle, but only had one chance to capture him in flight, and whilst I managed to do so, it was not the sharpest of images. I had decided that for this type of shot I would resort to manual exposure with a fast shutter speed and high ISO and f/4 aperture (given the large brighter sky would otherwise create a silhouette effect and under-exposing the bird which I didn’t want), burst speed to High, C-AF, all area AF, and set Release priority C to OFF in the hope I would get less shots of blank sky or out of focus birds.

The first problem which I alluded to earlier was the narrow field of view making it hard to ensure I was actually aiming precisely at the bird – this would be made so much easier by using the device Olympus made especially for this purpose – the Olympus EE-1 Dot Sight:

dot sight with bracket

Above is the EE-1 Dot Sight mounted on a Etsumi E-6672 bracket – normally one would mount the sight on the hot shoe as in this review:

After my reasonable but imperfect 1st attempt, I waited for the eagle to take another flight from its perch 20m up in the top of the eucalypt trees, I waited, and thought I would try to get a shot of it flting off its perch, but my hands soon tired from holding this combo up towards the sky for 5 minutes.

And then the park ranger came along and escorted me off the premises as I had failed to realise the park had closed – oops, my bad! Oh well, another time perhaps!

I think in experienced hands in good light with a large bird like an eagle, this combo could do some very decent birds in flight shots, but it will take some practice and the correct settings to optimise the camera.

More details on shooting birds in flight here.

Disclaimer: I do not work for, nor am I paid in any way, by any photography company, including Olympus and Panasonic, and any gear I test, I have bought from a retail store without any privileged discounts. My links on this blog will not send you to online sellers and I don’t get paid by these. I offer this from my free time to help others make choices as photography gear can burn a hole in the pocket!