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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!

Which super telephoto lens for Micro Four Thirds? The Olympus 300mm f/4 vs Panasonic 100-400mm

Saturday, June 18th, 2016

Now that a few lens testing websites have had time to review the new super telephoto lenses for Micro Four Thirds, I thought it might be an opportune time to give some pros and cons of each.

The average consumer would be tempted to buy the least expensive zooms which cover the most range, such as the 10x 14-140mm zooms and the 4x super zooms such as the 75-300mm consumer lenses.

There is nothing wrong with doing this but one must be aware that there is no free lunch in photography – something has got to give, and in these lenses, it is image quality at the telephoto end, and the low aperture resulting in poorer capability for low light conditions, need for higher ISO, slower AF.

Panasonic has just introduced a high level 4x super telephoto zoom lens, the Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 ASPH which is a great lens given it is so small to reach 800mm field of view in full frame terms, while the 4x zoom is very versatile.

The lens is well built, weathersealed, has optical image stabilisation compatible with Panasonic’s Dual IS, 9 rounded aperture blades,  close focus to 1.3m is superb, high speed silent AF motors compatible with 240fps CDAF, focus limiter, zoom lock, sliding lens hood, and all this coming in at just under 1kg.

With the Olympus mZD 300mm f/4, Olympus decided to take a different approach and went for a very high end, optically superb (the sharpest lens they have ever made and that is saying something as Olympus make great lenses!), weatherproof lens but instead of going for a zoom lens, went for optical quality of a fixed focal length 300mm f/4 OIS lens, compatible with their 1.4x teleconverter.

Remember that 300mm on Olympus OM-D cameras or Panasonic cameras gives the same field of view as a 600mm lens on a full frame camera.

What do I want from a super telephoto lens?

  1. excellent optical image quality at the super telephoto focal length
  2. wide aperture to allow faster AF, shallower depth of field, better subject isolation, and lower ISO
  3. fast, accurate autofocus with focus limiters
  4. weatherproofing because these lenses are likely to be used outdoors in all conditions
  5. if it can be compact enough for comfortable hand held use, then an effective image stabiliser
  6. removable tripod mount (no need to carry extra weight if not planning on using a tripod)

So how did these lenses compare optically at 300mm focal length?

For this I found one website which has compared them all, so these charts are courtesy of ePhotozine which is an great lens testing site, worth a visit.

Resolutions at 300mm:

Olympus 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II
Panasonic 100-300mm f/4.0-5.6: results are better than the Olympus 75-300mm II and you get 0.5 extra stop aperture, but still not excellent sharpness at 300mm
Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-f/6.3
Olympus mZD 300mm f/4.0

Chromatic aberration at 300mm:

Olympus 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II
Panasonic 100-300mm f/4.0-5.6: results are better than the Olympus 75-300mm II especially towards the edges
Panasonic 100-400mm f/4.0-f/6.3
Olympus 300mm f/4.0: superb results, especially at f/5.6 where it is incredibly sharp and with low CA!
Olympus 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II Panasonic 100-300mm f/4.0-5.6 Panasonic 100-400mm f/4.0-f/6.3 Olympus 300mm f/4.0
Price $US499 $US549 $US1799 $US2499
Weight 430g 520g 985g 1270g
Size 116mm 126mm 83 x 172mm 93 x 227mm
Filter size 58mm 67mm 72mm 77mm
distortion at 300mm 0.25% pincushion 0.8% pincushion almost zero 0.2% barrel
close focus 0.9m at 75mm 1.5m 1.3m 1.4m
optical image stabilisation no OIS 3-4EV OIS ?5EV OIS with Panasonic 6EV OIS with Olympus

Conclusion:

You get what you pay for!

The budget 4x super zooms are great as light, compact, travel lenses but performance at 300mm is only fair, while the slow aperture will limit low light use. Of the two, the Panasonic 100-300mm gives sharper images and wider aperture at 300mm with only a little more weight and size.

The Panasonic 100-400mm is much more expensive and more than 50% bigger and heavier than these but you get more reach and better image quality and better image stabilisation and autofocus speed, making it a great, versatile lens.

The superb, but very expensive Olympus mZD 300m f/4.0 is just an amazing lens in every aspect, easily beating the above on image quality and image stabilisation as well as weatherproofing, and although it is not as versatile as the zoom lenses in terms of zoom, the f/4.0 aperture really makes a BIG difference in low light capability, subject separation, ability to use lower ISO for sports, and will probably allow faster AF. It is a much sharper lens and with faster AF than the Canon EF 300mmf/4L IS lens which only has 2EV image stabilisation and does not give the same reach even if used on a Canon 7D dSLR.

In addition, it is compatible with the Olympus 1.4x teleconverter to give the equivalent field of view of a 840mm lens on a full frame camera whilst allowing this to be hand held and used at f/5.6 (although it would probably be even sharper at f/8).

The Olympus lens is so good I just had to have a play with one, so here are some samples:

bokeh test

Above – a handheld bokeh test and to show how narrow the depth of field is at f/4 – this is a walking path and focus point is around 4m.

moon

Above – hand held shot of the moon through thin cloud – focus was very fast, IS awesome, resolution superb, no purple fringing anywhere – fantastic indeed!

crop moon

Above is a crop of the moon shot showing all the craters.

sports

Above is a hand held shot of sports under lights at f/4.0, ISO 2000, RAW file with post-processing to crop by about 1/3rd, add vignetting, and a edgy tonal structure. Unfortunately a 300mm lens is too long to be allowed into most commercial sports stadiums for commercial image licensing reasons, but as you can see, if you don’t have these issues, it can give awesome results indeed.

The AF technique I used for the sports shot was S-AF, central group of 9 AF points active, Release Priority OFF, burst mode on High, then just fired away (no half-press shutter as is usual to lock AF as in these scenarios just a straight shutter press usually gives better results as S-AF is so fast as long as contrast and light is reasonable).

The lens balances nicely on an Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera, such that carrying it in the hand for 1-1.5hrs was not a problem as total weight with camera but without the tripod mount comes to 1.8kg – easily passes for carry on cabin luggage in an airplane.

When reviewing images on the LCD screen, I was amazed by how sharp they were, even magnifying to 14x did not show the softness I usually see in many other lenses.

Hand held shots at 1/25th sec are very sharp as long as you hold it steady – quite amazing for 600mm field of view!

For commercial sports venues, I would really love Olympus to give us a great 200mm f/2.8 weathersealed lens which we can take into the venue – perhaps this will be their next fixed focal length telephoto! Here’s hoping.

Start saving up!!!

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.

Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 vs Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens for portraiture

Monday, April 25th, 2016

At one of my photography workshops using available light, no hair stylist and no MUA,  I had the opportunity to test the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM lens mounted on my Olympus OM-D E-M5 using face detection closest eye AF (a little unreliable but this shot worked) against the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens mounted on an Olympus OM-D E-M1 at 135mm f/2.8 again with face detection AF for closest eye but with this combination, AF was much faster and more reliable.

I was brought up to respect women for who they are and not how much makeup they wore, what adornments they had nor what fancy clothes they wore, so my preferred portraiture is a very natural look with minimal post-processing of natural skin textures largely restricted to removal of blemishes. I certainly don’t go for the over-processed glamour looks nor the plasticized Instagram looks which are commonly used on iPhone selfies these days.

Photographing women in such a manner to achieve an intimate imagery with beautiful aesthetics is a rare privilege for me, so hope you like the results .. and spoiler … I don’t think the extra f/2.0 aperture advantage of the Canon lens makes up for the better depth of field at this distance, the faster AF and the more subject detail and pop that the Olympus lens provides.

If you do really want smoother bokeh, then look at the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens – it is my favourite of all lenses for outdoor portraiture assuming you don’t mind working at that focal length.

I have tried to post-process them from RAW in an identical manner.

Olympus lens

Above, the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens at 135mm f/2.8.


Canon lens

Above, the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM lens at 135mm f/2.0.

See my last post as to how one can attach the Canon lens to the Micro Four Thirds cameras and gain full aperture control, EXIF data and some AF capabilities.

 

Hands on review of Metabones Canon EF lens to Micro Four Thirds Olympus OM-D “T Smart Adapter” with the Canon EF 135mm f/2L lens

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Readers will be well aware that not only do I love my Micro Four Thirds gear but I also own quite a few expensive Canon pro lenses so it made some sense for me to buy the Metabones “T Smart Adapter” (MB_EF-m43-BT2) when one came up second hand on Ebay recently.

adapter

I have actually been wanting to buy the Metabones Speed Booster adapter which also has internal optics giving a focal reducer effect of 0.72x (and 1 stop aperture), but in Australia, these are ridiculously expensive at around $A1200 if you can find a store with one in stock – at that price you would be better off buying a Canon mirrorless camera with sensor-based IS and fast AF – except Canon don’t make any such camera.

A bit of background on adapting Canon EF lenses to Micro Four Thirds

One has always been able to buy cheap Chinese adapters to mount Canon EF lenses BUT these do not allow aperture control (Canon EF lenses do not have an aperture ring to manually change the aperture), do not support OIS, nor AF and do not send EXIF data to the camera.

This means that when using these adapters, one must manually dial in to Olympus OM-D cameras the actual focal length so the camera’s IS system is optimised, and if one wants to use a different aperture, one needs to dismount the lens, attach to a Canon camera, set the desired aperture, press the DOF preview button whilst dismounting lens, then re-mount on the Olympus camera – not a wonderful idea but it does work.

Recently, adapters have been produced with electronic communication between the camera and lens which provides aperture control, OIS support, EXIF data (camera automatically detects focal length for IS), and variable capabilities of AF.

One such lens is the Metabones T Smart Adapter, and this lovely adapter is firmware upgradeable via its built-in USB port, and Metabones have recently updated the firmware to add phase detect AF compatibility with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 for specified Canon EF lenses (BUT NOT the Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens!) as well as improved CDAF autofocus on other Micro Four Thirds cameras. This adapter also has a tripod mount for use when using larger lenses.

Optical image stabilisation in the lens is functional on Olympus cameras if the OIS switch on the lens is ON and the camera IS is OFF – although you probably would not want to do this as the Olympus IS is going to be much better than Canon’s OIS, and as yet, support for DUAL IS is not available.

Autofocus is best used in single AF point mode (indeed multi-point AF modes are not supported), and in S-AF (C-AF and C-AF Tracking modes are not supported as yet even on the E-M1), in addition, you may wish to use the Vivid Picture mode as this improves contrast detection AF.

I upgraded the Metabones adapter’s firmware to the latest version which is V2.2 released on April 2016.

First, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 AF quirk:

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera is different to all other Olympus mirrorless cameras in that it is the only one with a sensor that has on-sensor phase detect AF sites which makes this camera far better at autofocus on faster moving subjects and on lenses which are not optimised for CDAF such as most Four Thirds lenses.

When using CDAF-compatible lenses the E-M1 uses a hybrid of both phase detect AF and CDAF algorithms to provide ultra fast AF.

When using lenses the E-M1 does not detect as being CDAF compatible, CDAF is apparently disabled and the camera relies solely upon phase detect AF which raises a paradox for this Metabones adapter – phase detect AF will be the default mode on the E-M1 BUT, if Metabones has not optimised the adapter for a specific lens (eg. the Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens), AF performance will be terrible on the E-M1 and MUCH, MUCH worse than on the other Olympus cameras which will at least use CDAF mode!

Please Olympus, add a setting where the advanced user can select CDAF mode only – this also creates a difference in the way the E-M1 handles the Panasonic Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 lens which is CDAF compatible but not recognised by the E-M1 as being so.

Some quick AF tests:

When using Canon lenses listed by Metabones as compatible (eg. Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS and 50mm f/1.8), AF on the E-M1 is quite good and snappy, although not as fast as using Micro Four Thirds lenses but perhaps around the speed of using Four Thirds lenses on these cameras.

When using Canon lenses including the 135mm f/2.0L lens on Olympus OM-D E-M5 which does not have phase detect AF, AF is relatively fast IF the subject is contrasty, in good light and almost in focus, otherwise it will hunt quite a bit, much like when using Four Thirds lenses.

When using face detect closest eye CDAF with the 135mm lens on the E-M5 for close portraits at 2m, the camera appeared to select the face and focus but some of my images were not in focus on the eye suggesting this may not actually be working all the time – I will need to test this further to make sure it wasn’t just shallow DOF and subject-photographer movement causing the issue.

Why bother using Canon lenses on Micro Four Thirds?

Now this is an excellent question given that Olympus and Panasonic have an excellent range of dedicated lenses with silent, fast AF and which are much smaller and lighter, and often with better optics than the Canon lenses.

However, if you have some niche lenses like I have (the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4, 45mm f/2.8 and 90mm f/2.8 tilt-shift lenses) then aperture control is very handy indeed. Note that you don’t really need tilt-shift lenses for the Olympus cameras as you can buy adapters which convert full frame legacy lenses into tilt-shift lenses, nevertheless, if you already own these nice canon lenses then you may as well use them.

I would not have need for the Canon 50mm f/1.8 as the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 is better and has fast AF.

I would not have need for the Canon 85mm f/1.8 as the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 is better and has fast AF.

I would not have need for the Canon 24-105mm f/4 IS as the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 is wider aperture and gives more telephoto reach and has fast AF.

But what about the Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens?

I used to love the shallow DOF and lovely bokeh of the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM lens on my Canon 1D Mark III camera, but when I discovered I could achieve almost the same imagery but with far more accurate focus and microcontrast using the Olympus OM-D with a Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 or Rokinon/Samyang 85mm f/1.4 lens, my Canon lens has remained idle in my cupboard along with my big, heavy, pro expensive Canon 1D dSLR.

I have the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens which is far more versatile, much faster focusing, with much less internal flare and better micro contrast than the Canon EF 135mm f/2 lens for much the same size and weight, but the Canon has one significant advantage which may be valuable to those who want even smoother bokeh and shallower depth of field than what the Olympus zoom lens can provide.

Of course, Olympus users could buy the superb Olympus ZD 150mm f/2.0 Super pro lens to get even shallower DOF and smoother bokeh but this costs thousands of dollars and is big and heavy, and like the Canon lens is not CDAF optimised.

Using the Canon EF 135mm f/2L lens on the Olympus OM-D at ISO 200 almost gives the equivalent field of view, depth of field, exposures and image quality as when using a Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS lens on a full frame Canon dSLR body but at much less weight and size, and with better manual focus support, but AF for moving subjects will not be possible with the current firmware.

I have used the Canon 135mm lens to great benefit in shooting comets with the Olympus camera attached to a guided equatorial telescope, and for this purpose a cheap Chinese adapter is all that is needed:

comet

To demonstrate the differences in how the Olympus zoom lens paints images at 135mm compared to the Canon EF 135mm f/2.0, I shot some comparison images at the same position and roughly similar settings and compositions. The Canon lens was shot on the E-M5 while the Olympus lens was shot using the E-M1. No polarising or other filter was used. Picture mode was vivid on each and all were processed to web size from RAW files via Olympus Viewer software without any post-processing otherwise.

Olympus 40-150mm

Above, the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 at f/2.8 with lens hood into the afternoon sun

Canon 135mm

Above, the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM at f/2.0 with lens hood showing more internal flare, less microcontrast, but thanks to the f/2.0 aperture, larger out of focus highlights and shallower depth of field.

and … a closer subject with out of focus foreground in bottom left:

Olympus 40-150mm

Above, the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 at f/2.8 with lens hood into the afternoon sun

Canon 135mm

Above, the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM at f/2.0 with lens hood again showing more internal flare, less microcontrast, but thanks to the f/2.0 aperture, larger, smoother out of focus highlights and shallower depth of field.

Canon 135mm

Above, the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM at f/2.8 to show that at equivalent apertures degree of out of focus blurring is similar but with the Canon you now see the shape of the diaphragm blades while in the Olympus image the out of focus highlights at the edges are oval due to vignetting.

 Conclusion:

If you have Canon lenses then the Metabones T Smart adapter or the Speed Booster adapter may be reasonable to give you more photographic options, just don’t expect miracles with AF speed just yet although even with the 135mm lens on the E-M5 AF is usable if you have a static subject and are patient.

For most people, the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens will give adequate DOF and be far more versatile and with faster AF that they will not bother using the Canon 135mm f/2 lens, but some of us do like to have access to the effects of using a f/2.0 lens even if the result is relatively subtle and probably only photographers who are aware of bokeh will notice the difference.

Of course, with the Speed Booster adapter, the 135mm f/2 lens becomes 100mm f/1.4 which gives similar field of view and depth of field of a 200mm f/2.8 lens on a full frame camera, and this does make it attractive although the Speed Booster is almost twice the price of the T Smart Adapter.