The new Arsenal AI Smart Camera Assistant remote control has arrived, initial tests with the Sony a7II mirrorless camera

Written by Gary on August 17th, 2018

After a long wait from the Kickstarter campaign, I finally received my pre-order of the Arsenal AI Smart Camera Assistant which is designed to sit in the camera’s hotshoe and plug into the camera’s USB port and then you take control of the camera via WiFi connection to your smartphone using the Arsenal app.

 

This device and app will have a variety of functions to extend or make it easier for you to use, the camera’s more complex functionality such as:

  • AI algorithms to determine optimal camera settings for a given image by measuring subject speed, camera shake, exposure data, and comparing to a bank of vectored test images.
  • Remote Live View and remote touch AF
  • Multi-touch AF to then allow the app to determine the most appropriate focus point to get those points in focus as optimally as possible using a modified hyperfocal distance calculation
  • Whole Scene AF – the device determines the AF point – this is mainly for landscape or architectural imagery
  • Full manual remote control
  • Timelapse – interval 3secs to 10 minutes and 2-10,000 images, it then automatically tells you how long this will take and then how long to play back at 24fps, and “coming soon”, the option to allow the app to change exposure settings over time
  • Video recording with option of delay start from 1sec to 3hrs
  • Battery meter display for both the camera and the Arsenal device
  • HDR Exposure Stacking – manual or automatically determined by device
  • Focus stacking – manual settings or automatically determined by device (auto mode is “coming soon”)
  • Long exposure blending – manual settings or automatically determined by device (auto mode is “coming soon”) – this mode may allow avoiding the need for ND filters in some circumstances
  • Display compositional grids – Rule of Thirds or Golden Ratio grids
  • Focus Peaking
  • Zebra Stripes
  • Refocus before shot
  • Mirror lock up – On/Off, or automatically determined by device
  • Night focus on stars – device takes a series of images of stars at different focus points then determines which is sharpest – this apparently occurs seemlessly when Smart mode detects a night scene.

In stacking modes, RAW files are merged into a single RAW file within the device – “Arsenal is capable of merging multiple RAW exposures into a single 16-bit DNG file on your camera. This file format is supported in most modern photo editing software. The files are merged on the Arsenal device and written back to the card in the camera, resulting in one image file”.

Most of the features are designed for remote control of your camera which is mounted on a tripod.

You can however, set the device to “hands-free mode” by holding the device’s power button for 3 secs, and then you shoot using the camera as normal however, the device will control the exposure settings depending upon the scene data it receives – in this mode, you take the photo as normal, using the shutter button on the camera. HDR, focus stacking, etc will be disabled in this mode.

It does not actually need to be mounted in the camera’s hotshoe (although it needs to for the Smart mode to detect camera shake), but for convenience when connected via USB cable it can be. If you need to use a flash in the hotshoe, that is fine, but the device will only work as a remote shutter trigger with remote manual exposure settings.

AI Smart Photo

Smart photo mode detecting scene and camera movement

Multi-point focus mode

Determining optimum focus position to achieve multiple distances in focus

Getting started with the device:

The first thing that occurs when you try to connect the smartphone app to the Arsenal device via WiFi for the first time is that it detects the firmware version and then insists on advising downloading the latest version (almost 500Mb), and if this stalls due to the internet being busy or the server being busy, you must close the app, restart it and then start all over again – it does not just start back at where it stalled.

Once downloaded to the phone, the phone will then send the firmware to the device and update it which takes about 15 minutes.

There does not seem to be a way of stopping the download and using the current firmware – this could be an issue if you have not used it for a while and then go out to do your astro work and find that you have to download 500Mb through your phone provider to get it working.

So I am now using the current firmware as of 16th August 2018 which is v 0.8.51.

Note also that the device has a smallish battery which will only last a few hours and needs to be charged via the microUSB port on the RIGHT side – you may need to bring along a USB power bank if you are going to be using it extensively on a shoot.

The current reality with the Sony a7II (and a7RII):

The Arsenal developers seem to have run into issues with certain cameras including the Sony a7II (and all version I and II Sony a series cameras) in that the direct USB cable approach does NOT work with them, and instead, you need to turn the camera’s WiFi on (ie. aeroplane mode to OFF), and have installed the Sony PlayMemories Smart Remote App (downloadable from the Sony website in-camera once you have a Sony account and connect the Sony WiFi to your internet). See here for details on setting everything up.

The first time you connect the device to the Sony camera, you need to follow these steps:

Once you have set the camera to run the Smart Remote App, press the camera Trash button to display the password that you need to enter into your smartphone Aresenal app to allow the Arsenal device to connect via WiFi to the camera.

Open the Arsenal smartphone app and once you have joined the Arsenal device’s WiFi network (this may take a few goes), you then choose Connect to Sony camera on teh app and it will prompt you for the Sony camera’s password.

Subsequent use:

You just put the camera into the Smart Remote App, turn the device on, open the smartphone app, join the Arsenal device WiFi and then the camera connection should occur automatically.

Current features not available:

  • auto modes for focus stacking, long exposure blending
  • Multi-touch AF
  • Whole scene AF
  • auto exposure of images during timelapse
  • video capture mode
  • no white balance settings appear to be possible within the app
  • the final timelapse video does not seem to display in app, only the last image is displayed

The issues with Sony focus may apply to these cameras when doing focus stacking – see here.

I have not tested the Night focus system on stars which apparently should come into play automatically when Arsenal detects a night scene (in which case it will also tell the Smart mode to limit the shutter duration to the 500-rule for earth’s rotation when doing Milky Way astroscapes).

Other gotchas:

It only works with some cameras such as the latest Canon, Nikon or Sony cameras.

They promise support for other cameras in the near future such as Micro Four Thirds Olympus or Panasonic.

It is not weathersealed – although when used in WiFi mode, this is not an issue as you don’t have to connect it with the camera physically, and it could be carried in a pocket as long as you don’t need the Smart mode which needs to calculate camera shake.

Battery lasts 4-5 hours, but at least there is a separate port for USB charging while in use – however using this on the Sony a7ii with its poor battery life, means you will run its battery down as well, plus your smartphone’s battery – especially if you forget to turn them off!

There is no current iPad app or Android tablet app as yet, only the smartphone apps.

You can only control one camera at a time, and only one device from a smartphone at a time.

Does not do panoramic stitches at present.

At $US250, it is not cheap, but for many it may be worth it as it may make their photography easier – particularly if you do macro, architectural, landscape or astrophotography or you wish to create timelapses.

For other options of remote control, see my wiki.

 

Panasonic Leica DG 200mm f/2.8 and Olympus OM-D E-M1II makes a formidable sports combo

Written by Gary on July 1st, 2018

The Panasonic Leica DG 200mm f/2.8 lens for Micro Four Thirds combined with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds camera makes an amazing compact sports kit providing 400mm field of view in full frame terms in one of the sharpest lenses ever made mated with excellent continuous AF at 18fps in silent electronic shutter burst mode.

When using a prime lens at a sports event, you have perhaps a quarter of the field where you could capture the action without being too close or too far away.

This lens allows a spectator near the fence to capture great action imagery from around 10m to 60m from the camera.

For these test images of the combination at a stadium event at night under lights, I used manual exposure of 1/800th sec, f/2.8 at ISO 1250 with optical IS on, although, I presume at this shutter speed the IS probably does not add much. The AF was set to central 9 AF regions and I applied the in-camera AF limiter to 5m – 65m to ensure the camera did not focus lock on the background spectators or advertising hoardings. This is an amazing technology unique to this camera and makes C-AF all that more accurate by avoiding accidental locking!

To avoid the ens being too intrusive for spectators behind me, I did not use the lens hood and a UV filter was on the lens as a protective filter.

These images have been cropped a little and have had some clarity applied to the in focus players to give them a more rugged appearance, although I did forget to apply noise reduction in LR.

Click on the images to see a sharper, larger view.

afl

afl

afl

I also tested C-AF on a player running towards the camera at 18fps and it kept focus lock admirably well.

I did not need the Pro-Capture mode in this scenario but this is another great feature of this camera for sports.

One complaint I do have is that there is a significant delay between turning camera on and having the lens ready to AF – one does need to anticipate the action if one turns the camera off between plays.

The other main complaint I have always had with this camera is that you cannot select more than 9 AF regions without having to select all focus regions – Olympus could you please add a middle range such as 15 AF regions so one has a little more flexibility with composition as the subject moves across the frame.

That said, the default AF settings did very well in ignoring a foreground player momentarily passing in front of the subject during C-AF burst shooting, and by using the focus limiter, it does not lock on the background when the subject moves out of the AF region.

What a brilliant compact, silent, minimally intrusive, weather-sealed kit thus is also great for classical music concerts or the tennis.

 

Panasonic Leica DG 200mm f/2.8 lens vs Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens and Canon 1.4x TC on Micro Four Thirds

Written by Gary on June 28th, 2018

The Panasonic Leica DG 200mm f/2.8 lens for Micro Four Thirds is now readily available, and very expensive ($US2999 with the bundled 1.4x TC which was NOT used in these tests), so, after having ran some tests with other Micro Four Thirds and Four Thirds lens options in a previous post, I decided to test it against the flagship Canon prime lens – the Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens with and without the Canon 1.4x teleconverter – mounted on the same Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds camera to ensure there were no differences in sensors, and I used a bounce flash with no direct light onto the lens to remove issues of camera shake, image stabilisation etc. Both lenses were used without any filters and with their long lens hoods. The Canon lens was mounted via a Metabones adapter and as this does not allow AF with this particular Canon lens, I used careful, magnified view manual focus.

In each case, the actual AF target chart was the focus point to ensure their were no flatness of field issues.

I performed the exact same image processing in Lightroom – import RAW file, cropped to the top right corner lens testing chart, and exported as jpeg without any further resizing but with LR’s default sharpen for screen applied.

Note: the links on my posts take you to more information on my wikipedia, not to online retailers!

at effective f/2.8 center corner
Panasonic 200mm f/2.8 comparison comparison
Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens with Canon 1.4x TC to give 189mm f/2.8 comparison comparison
Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens shot at f/2.8 but moved closer to chart to give similar magnification, better resolution than with the TC on, but still very soft contrast! comparison comparison

With the Canon lens with TC, I did try to achieve similar magnification but the size for the corner shot indicates I was a touch too close, nevertheless this should have given a resolution advantage to the Canon combo but obviously the combo was no where near a match for the Panasonic lens!

The Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens is renown for its internal lens flaring when direct light hits the front element, and this can be used to effect to soften portrait images without having to apply Vaseline to a front filter, but in this test I took great care to avoid this in this testing, and yet the micro-contrast is very poor in comparison with the amazingly superb results of the Panasonic lens which is much more expensive, but is also better weather-sealed, has optical image stabilisation, focus range limiter, much faster and more accurate autofocus system (compatible with CDAF cameras and face recognition eye detection AF), and a Lens Function button.

The optical deficiencies of the Canon 135mm f/2L lens is one of the reasons I moved from full frame Canon gear to Micro Four Thirds as the superb Olympus micro ZD 75mm f/1.8 lens provided far better microcontrast and faster, more accurate autofocus, especially for portraits, as well as gaining 5 stops of in-camera image stabilisation which is incredibly useful when you need lower shutter speeds for fill in flash in full sunlight.

That said, the Canon 135mm f/2L lens is still a useful lens, and when you need that extra shallow depth of field on a full frame camera, it can be useful, and of course, if you want that soft low contrast look then this lens gives it to you in spades, plus, it can be useful for deep sky astrophotography such as comet photography with a guided equatorial mount.

Panasonic 200mm lens bokeh examples straight out of camera:

bokeh

bokeh

bokeh

And even after the end of a bushwalk in cold conditions, the image stabilisation is so good that this image without a lot of care, was shot at 1/8th sec hand held – that is incredible for a 400mm effective field of view lens:

bokeh

and here is a quick “close up” image of some dew to show the bokeh at closest focus (this one has had a matte colour grading applied):

bokeh

 

How to use your Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II to measure distances

Written by Gary on May 15th, 2018

Using your camera to measure distances can be very useful, even if you are not a golfer.

You could focus on a subject and read off the focus distance on the lens but this is very imprecise.

Another useless method would be to just measure how wide your camera is and then mark out how many cameras it is to your subject, but this requires a calculator and is time consuming and very impractical, and often impossible.

An alternative AFTER you have taken the shot and got the image on the computer is to drop the file onto exiftool(-k).exe and this will display a lot of EXIF information in the image file including the recorded focus distance. You can download this free and excellent EXIFTool file from Phil Harvey’s website.

BUT, the E-M1 Mark II has unique magic – measure BEFORE you shoot!

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds camera is the first, and still, the ONLY camera that I am aware of which has two unique, in-camera, brilliant focus functions:

  • Preset Manual Focus distance (most pro cameras only have this function available on some lenses and although these lenses can set a focus point it won’t give you a read out of the precise distance set), and,
  • in camera AF focus limiter (other cameras only have this available on some lenses and even then you only have 1 or 2 options which are mainly designed to speed up AF but do not give you enough flexibility to ignore foregrounds or backgrounds)

To measure a distance:

In the Super Control Panel, go to the focus mode section and select Preset MF, then press the INFO button.

Now when you lock AF on a subject (eg. half-press shutter button as per usual) it will display the estimated distance to 0.1m precision which seems accurate on my brief testing.

You then can use these values to set the in-camera near and far AF focus limiter range which is an amazingly good function which allows the AF system to ignore anything closer (eg. foreground subjects, dirty windows, wire fences, etc) and ignore anything more distant (eg. the crowd in the background). This function could save you a LOT of frustration and also potentially avoid out of focus images – just don’t forget to turn it off when it is no longer needed.

Use the AF Limiter to make AF on stars MUCH easier:

AF on fainter stars can be a frustrating experience as the lens runs through the full range of focus distances trying to find maximum contrast.

You can address this issue superbly by setting the in-camera AF Limiter to something like 900m close limit and 999.9m further most limit (this essentially is treated as infinity by the camera).

Makes astrophotography sooo much easier!

 

Training your eye for photography and experience the present

Written by Gary on May 13th, 2018

Photography not only requires a firm understanding of how to use your camera and an understanding of visual aesthetics and rules of composition and how light sources play with your subject, but a photographer often benefits from time and patience to see what others do not see – if they are prepared to take time out and take in the ambience to its fullest.

So here are a couple of variations of the same bit of eroded coastal sandstone and shells which no-one else noticed as they walked along the coast – but if you don’t know what to look for or don’t take the time, you will never see….

These were taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with Olympus micro ZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens :

sandstone and shells

Perhaps a man drooling?

But then look closer and re-visualise it by re-orientating your eye and you get this beautiful simple, relaxing composition:

sandstone and shells

To me the greatest gift that photography has given me is to learn to see the world differently, to look for beauty in everyone and everything, to see what others cannot see – it is not really about the end photo, it is not about a journey’s end – it is about living life.

It is a form of mindfulness to restore our stressed brains, and really take in the ambience, smell the salt in the air, feel the breeze, see the light in all its glory, and then to look around and see unseen beauty which helps to rejuvenate all those traumatized brain cells.

 

Walking in the steps of dinosaurs

Written by Gary on May 12th, 2018

There are not many locations in Australia where dinosaur fossils are to be found, but the south Gippsland coast has a spot where the university teams come each summer to recover what the Winter’s waves have uncovered.

Sorry, unfortunately I didn’t go digging for fossils, I left that to the pros!

While exploring the coast for my Milky Way shot, I enjoyed being able to walk along the lovely eroded sandstone formations and try to find patterns which sparked with my visual cortex.

These were taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with Olympus micro ZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens (yes, this kit is so weathersealed, I can wash off all the salt spray when I am finished):

So see if you think along the same wavelength as me, or perhaps you may have a totally different take on them:

sandstone and shells

The loner.

sandstone and shells

Ancient Hebrew writing or perhaps it is our Gold Coast theme park – Dreamworld.

sandstone and shells

Pie in the face?

sandstone and shells

Teenage pregnancy?

sandstone and shells

Smiling dog skull?

sandstone and shells

Sunbather massaging suntan lotion onto his partner’s back … or an anteater riding a horse, jumping over a snake?

sandstone and shells

And this one is just colors and textures.

 

Olympus 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens does the Milky Way, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn

Written by Gary on May 12th, 2018

Last month I had the opportunity to head down top the coast and find a nice spot to shoot the Milky Way with Jupiter, Mars and Saturn nicely lined up with it.

It was not an easy shot to achieve – after initial planning during daylight hours to find the right location which was under the ocean at high tide, I had to wait until low tide coincided with the rising Milky Way, then walk about 500m amongst the rock pools in the dark.

My first attempt at 10pm I had to abort due to clouds coming over and I thought the last chance for the month was going to be gone.

At 1.30am though the clouds had cleared and although the tide was now rising and there was increased risk of rogue waves washing me off the rock platform, I decided to get back in the car and drive to the location and try it out.

I used the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds camera matched with the lovely Olympus micro ZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens which is a nice lens for Milky Way shots as it renders stars well, as a very wide field of view which means one can use longer exposures without obvious star trailing, and the f/1.8 aperture means one can shoot comfortably at ISO 1600-3200. The ultra wide field of view avoids the painstaking task of shooting a dozen different shots and stitching them together.

I lit the foreground structures with my LED Lenser head torch on its low spot setting.

Here is my single shot image which has had some LR post-processing – 8mm f/1.8 fisheye at f/1.8, 15 secs, ISO 3200:

Milky Way

Note that the top left bright “star” is Jupiter, the top right constellations are Crux (Southern Cross) and the Pointers of Centaurus. The two bright “stars” below the Milky Way core are Saturn, and the brighter Mars. The bright orange star near Jupiter is Antares, the brightest star of Scorpio. I love that the rock formation to the right looks a bit like the map of Australia. The green to bottom left is some light pollution of a nearby town where I was staying and residual sea fog / cloud – perhaps I left Netflix on with Stranger Things running!

I was also keen to see how the new Olympus Viewer defishing function would work with star shapes (I could have used the new in-camera defishing function but I wanted to work with RAW files not jpegs) – unfortunately at the ultra wide setting – the edge stars were severely stretched – this may need a bit more experimentation to mitigate, but at least we get a straight horizon – for me though I would prefer nice star shapes and a curved horizon.

Milky Way defished

I have posted previous blogs of Milky Way shots taken with the Olympus 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens:

 

Panasonic Leica DG 200mm f/2.8 – how good is it really on an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and how does it compare to other options?

Written by Gary on May 10th, 2018

In my previous post, I outlined the super telephoto lens options for Micro Four Thirds (only those with autofocus).

I have now had an opportunity to play with the newly released and very expensive Panasonic Leica DG 200mm f/2.8 with its supplied 1.4x matched teleconverter to see how well it plays with the Olympus OM-D E-M Mark II (with the latest firmware update which addressed C-AF issues with this lens).

This combination is perhaps the most compact, high image quality, wide aperture super telephoto kit you can buy – and in addition, you can also shoot at an insane 18fps RAW with continuous AF with silent electronic shutter and is weathersealed making it perfect for inclement weather conditions.

In full frame camera terms, this combination gives you the telephoto reach of 400mm f/2.8 image stabilised, or 560mm f/4 image stabilised when used with the teleconverter in a very compact, easily hand holdable, walkaround kit (although in Micro Four Thirds terms this lens is not that light but far lighter than full frame options.

At 1.25kg, it is about the heaviest lens I would hand hold comfortably for any extended length of time on a camera, and the heaviest lens that is comfortably carried with a waist belt system, and it might even allow you to get your gear under the flight cabin luggage limits. It balances nicely with the E-M1 when hanging down and holding camera only with the grip, but as would be expected, it does become a bit front heavy when in shooting position.

How well does it work on the Olympus E-M1 Mark II?

Some great news here – in a word – fantastic!

AF is very fast and silent, seems to work very well in C-AF for kids running towards the camera at soccer games, even when using low burst electronic shutter mode at 18fps!

Eye detect AF works as for other lenses.

ProCapture is enabled thanks to the latest firmware upgrades of the E-M1 Mark II.

Although Sync IS / Dual IS is NOT supported, the OIS only option allows sharp hand held shots down to 1/15th second with care (1/50th with TC on), while the E-M1’s superb IBIS alone will get you handheld acceptably sharp shots down to around 1/8th – 1/5th second!

Theoretically, at this focal length, OIS may have advantage over IBIS as it can offer larger corrections as the sensor can only move so far and for telephoto lenses, the optically element has a wider range of shake correction, so I guess a lot depends on how you are holding it. There does not aoppear to be a way to set the lens OIS to panning mode (Panasonic cameras have a menu option for this but Olympus do not as the Olympus IS is now “auto-sensing”). Users of the Panasonic 100-400mm lens on the E-M1 for birds in flight (BIF) have commented that there are issues with OIS in that lens during panning and that they resort to IBIS to avoid those problems, or to turn IS off altogether given you will be using a fast shutter speed of around 1/2000th sec anyway – this may also hold true for the Panasonic 200mm lens .

The OIS functionality requires a menu setting – if you want the lens optical IS to be the one working, you need to set the E-M1’s menu option, cogwheel, C2, Lens I.S. Priority to ON as well as the lens Power OIS to ON (if this is OFF and you have the E-M1 IBIS set to IBIS-Auto, the camera’s IBIS will be working instead).

The lens focus memory button works as does the focus limiter switch – but you also have the option of the E-M1 setting a more limiting focus range in camera and also an in-camera preset focus – no other camera I am aware of allows this fantastic functionality for sports.

The Lens Function button works as with Olympus lenses – just assign a function to it from the camera menu – default is AF-ON which halts AF while you have it depressed – this is great for C-AF when something moves in front of your subject, or you wish to transiently lock focus and recompose.

For most sports however, the IS is not as important as the wide aperture as you will probably be wanting to shoot at least as fast as 1/500th second, and here, the f/2.8 or f/4 with teleconverter allows you to keep ISO down to usable levels around ISO 1600-3200.

The automatic focus stacking function is not currently possible with this lens, and, as with all Olympus MFT cameras, they ignore the aperture ring functionality which some Panasonic lenses have.

The images in this post (other than the side-by-side lens comparisons which were taken using the Olympus 45mm f/1.2 lens) have not been post-processed other than resizing for the web, and the moon and sharpness images are the only ones which have also been cropped

crop of handheld moon with TC on

Crop of moon rising behind clouds, handheld with TC and OIS on, 280mm f/4, ISO 200, 1/100th second.

book at 1/8th sec IBIS

Sitting on my couch playing with the lens at night in low light – 200mm f/2.8 hand held using E-M1’s IBIS at ISO 800 and 1/8th second shutter – now 400mm equivalent at 1/8th second hand held is rather incredible – but this performance is what we have come to expect from Olympus cameras!!!

book at 1/60th sec OIS

Sitting on my couch playing with the lens at night in low light and a bit closer to the books – 200mm f/2.8 hand held using Power OIS at ISO 3200 (no post-processing NR and camera set to LOW Noise Filter) and 1/60th second shutter

Let’s compare it without the teleconverter to other 200mm options:

Firstly, the Olympus micro ZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens with its 1.4x teleconverter:

I have grown to absolutely love the Olympus 40-150mm lens as it is so versatile, so weathersealed, has a lovely long lens hood to protect the front elements from the rain and provides great image quality and the f/2.8 aperture combined with IBIS allows low light imagery at low ISO.

I am not such a big fan of the matched Olympus 1.4x teleconverter as you do lose a bit of sharpness as well as the inevitable loss of 1 stop of light that all 1.4x teleconverters cause, thus this lens becomes a 56-210mm f/4 lens.

Let’s see how well it matches up with the far more expensive and heavier Panasonic 200mm f/2.8.

comparison

As you can see, they are both practically the same length, but the Panasonic is much heavier and has a wider diameter.

The 880g Olympus lens gives the advantage of being able to zoom out to 56mm, and has a lovely lens hood which collapses back over the lens although this design can be problematic as it is easily damaged and does make the lens more bulky, plus you can totally remove the tripod mount as I have done to reduce the weight and bulk even further, and the manual focus clutch is really handy at times. It can also focus much closer, to 0.7m, giving almost twice the close up performance. Uses a 72mm filter instead of the larger 77mm filter.

The much heavier 1.25kg Panasonic 200mm f/2.8 has the option of Power OIS, and the additional lens functions – although none of these are really needed when used with the E-M1 Mark II. It’s lens hood is also nice and large, but it slips on and you must tighten it up – I will have to see how this works for me – I hate the design on my Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens as it keeps falling off, but time will tell how this one works as it does have a different mechanism again.

The Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 lens:

The Olympus 50-200mm lens used to be one of my favorites on the Four Thirds dSLRs, but now I have Micro Four Thirds, the lens is a bit big, heavy, intimidating and more crucially, the AF was very slow on the cameras prior to the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II – thankfully this camera brings this superb lens back to life, although C-AF capability does not match a dedicated Micro Four Thirds lens.

I mention it here because, for those on a budget who are not needing it for fast moving subjects, it may be a great option as they may be able to pick it up at a great price second hand.

comparison

comparison

And with the zoom extended to 200mm showing how long and intimidating this lens becomes, especially when you then attach the lens hood which is a reversible design with a bayonet mount.

Close focus is comparable at 1.2m, weighs 1.07kg plus you need the FT-MFT adapter, and it uses a 67mm filter.

There is also the option of using it with a ZD 1.4x TC or a ZD 2x TC to give 400mm f/7 (equates to 800mm telephoto in full frame terms).

Panasonic Leica DG 50-200mm f/2.8-4.0:

The Panasonic 50-200mm lens is a newly released and relatively expensive lens, which I have not been able to get my hands on as yet as it is not yet in the stores.

It promises to be an awesome lens but, like the Olympus, you are losing around 1 stop of aperture compared to the 200mm f/2.8 lens.

See my earlier blog post for specs of this lens compared to its competitors.

Now for a quick almost center resolution comparison:

wide open at f/4
Panasonic 200mm f/2.8 comparison comparison
Olympus mZD 40-150mm+TC comparison
Olympus ZD 50-200mm comparison comparison

Now for a quick almost corner resolution comparison:

wide open at f/4
Panasonic 200mm f/2.8 comparison comparison
Olympus mZD 40-150mm+TC comparison

These were all taken at the same distance with a manual flash to eradicate camera shake and AF used (apologies for not decreasing flash exposure for the wide open shots, but by keeping it constant, you do get an idea of the light transmission ability of these lenses – to me, the Olympus 40-150 with TC gives marginally less light transmission).

Clearly the Olympus mZD 40-150mm with TC, whilst giving sharp images is no match for either of the other two lenses (the 200mm blows it away in the corners even at wide open f/2.8), even when these are used wide open instead of at f/4 – compare the separation of lines at the 12 marker.

With the teleconverter compared to the Olympus 300mm:

The Olympus micro ZD 300mm f/4 is an amazing lens.

When mounted on the Olympus OM-D E-M Mark II you get Dual/Sync IS and sharp handheld images are possible down to around 1/8th second at 600mm full frame field of view – now that is pretty amazing!

The Panasonic 200mm f/2.8 with 1.4x TC gives 280mm f/4 which is almost the same reach, but in my testing is not quite as sharp as the Olympus lens at f/4, but it is almost there it is splitting hairs!

The Olympus is the same weight and also has a better lens hood design (as per my discussion above), a two-stage focus limiter, and the lovely MF clutch which is often very handy. The tripod mount is designed to fit an Arca Swiss mount which is very handy for some. There is the option of using it with the 1.4x TC to further extend it – I am not sure how well the Panasonic will work with a Panasonic 2x TC to nearly match this field of view (400mm vs 420mm).

The Panasonic has several advantages of its own – it can be used at 200mm, and thus it can be taken into many sports venues which will not allow the 300mm, it focuses 20cm closer, the lens itself can still be mounted to a tripod without attaching the “external” tripod mount, and it is around 2″ shorter which makes a big difference when carrying it around or transporting it mounted to the camera:

side by side

Above a side by side comparison, note the 300mm has the tripod mount removed to reduce weight and bulk, and the lens hood is retracted.

Conclusions:

If you need 400-600mm field of view in full frame terms, and you can afford the cost of this superb lens, then it should perform better than the Olympus 40-150mm  with TC, although the Olympus 40-150mm will give you more versatility with its closer focus and zoom range and be much lighter and more affordable, while the Olympus 300mm may be a better option if you really need to get as much telephoto as you can get although the Panasonic will nearly match it when used with a TC.

When used on the latest Panasonic cameras, you also gain two very important functions not currently available with Olympus lenses on these cameras – Dual/Sync IS and DFD autofocus for moving subjects, ability to set OIS to pan mode, and of course, the aperture ring will function.

This lens is a superb optical tool with extremely well controlled levels of aberrations and lovely bokeh – when you add in that it is so compact and the fast, silent, 240fps AF system along with the capabilities of the E-M1 Mark II you have one awesome kit that is hard to beat for size or price.

Oh, and if you think that the MFT sensor is too noisy at high ISO above ISO 3200 for your type of work and so you really need that 5kg $10,000 super telephoto full frame lens, then, things will be changing very soon to address that and then there will be very few reasons to carry around heavy, expensive, bulky full frame gear:

  • sensors are being developed and indeed available on the new Sony and Panasonic cameras with dual base ISO which brings much improved high ISO performance, and,
  • AI can now produce amazing image quality from a severely under-exposed image taken at base ISO – one would expect it won’t be long before this technology is incorporated into image editing software and then into cameras as part of the “auto-ISO” system – check this out: https://petapixel.com/2018/05/09/ai-is-taking-low-light-photo-quality-to-the-next-level/
 

Choosing a super telephoto lens for Micro Four Thirds cameras

Written by Gary on May 5th, 2018

Here I will define a super telephoto lens as giving at least 300mm lens field of view on full frame cameras, which equates to at least 150mm focal length on Micro Four Thirds cameras thanks to the 2x crop factor of their sensors.

This sensor crop factor is a major advantage of Micro Four Thirds when it comes to achieving super telephoto range with a smaller, lighter lens, making this type of work more enjoyable, and much easier to hike with or carry as cabin luggage on planes when compared to full frame systems.

As is usual for my blog posts, the following links do not take you to a 3rd party online retailer but to my information wikipedia where you will find more details and links to reviews, etc.

Which lens best suits your needs will depend upon your budget and what you like to shoot.

If you are shooting moving subjects, then you need a camera that can AF on moving subjects such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 (this has PDAF technology) or a Panasonic camera with DFD technology (most of the latest cameras from Panasonic have this). The other Olympus OM-D cameras do not have PDAF or DFD technology so you will not be able to track moving subjects well with AF locking onto them as they move.

Be aware that you may lose some features if you use a Panasonic lens on an Olympus camera or vice versa – in particular, you will not get Dual IS/Sync IS capability, and you may not be able to use auto focus stacking. If you use an Olympus lens on Panasonic cameras you will not have DFD AF and thus AF on moving subjects will not be great – this is not an issue with Panasonic lenses on the Olympus E-M1 models as they have PDAF built in which will work on any Micro Four Thirds or Four Thirds lens.

With any lens over 1kg, you may wish to invest in a vertical grip for the camera if you will be shooting a lot of portrait mode images as the lens will be causing strain on your hand otherwise.

Small birds or distant subjects = long focal length lens:

For small subjects such as birds, you will probably want a lens with 300mm focal length to give 600mm telephoto reach in full frame terms, or perhaps even a 400mm lens to get you to 800mm  reach – and ideally this should be weather sealed, have a wide aperture to allow faster shutter speeds and have a fast, accurate autofocus system.

The best lenses for this are:

  • Olympus micro ZD 300mm f/4
    •  has optical IS / Dual IS capability (on Olympus cameras only), a superb, but expensive lens, optional 1.4x teleconverter
    • unique manual focus mechanism is really handy for tripod work with difficult subjects such as astronomy
    • heavy for MFT (1270g) but light compared with full frame options
    • focus range limiter with two settings: 1.4-4m and 4m to infinity
    • lovely retractable lens hood
    • will focus as close as 1.4m which is much closer than full frame super telephoto lenses
  • Panasonic Leica DG 200mm f/2.8 with its supplied 1.4x teleconverter to give 280mm f/4
    •  superb, very expensive lens, optical IS (can sync with IBIS on Panasonic cameras but not with Olympus cameras)
    • heavy for MFT (1245g) but light compared with full frame options
    • 2″ shorter than the Olympus 300mm makes it more portable although just as heavy
    • focus range limiter with one setting – 3m to infinity
    • lens hood is an awkward slip on and tighten style hood
    • will focus as close as 1.15m which is much closer than full frame super telephoto lenses
    • is shorter than the Olympus lens and can be used in major sports events, while the 1 stop faster aperture allows lower ISO to be used if you don’t need the teleconverter to get closer to your subject, making it a more versatile lens than the Olympus 300mm
    • OIS may not be as good as the Olympus 300mm – further testing required
    • when used with teleconverter, image quality is almost as good as the Olympus 300mm lens and the Olympus 300mm gets you a touch closer to the subject
    • aperture ring (but does not function on Olympus cameras – you need to use the camera controls as is usual on all cameras)
  • Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4-6.3 lens
    • more affordable, lighter (985g) but smaller aperture and lower image quality may impact on what you want to achieve
    • focus range limiter with one setting – 5m to infinity
    • similar length as the Pan. 200mm f/2.8 but it extends outwards on zooming

If you are on a budget, then consider the Olympus m.ZD 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II zoom lens or Panasonic Lumix G Vario 100-300mm f/4-5.6 Mega OIS lens however, image quality will not be as good and the aperture limitations will require higher ISO levels to compensate.

An alternative for those who cannot afford the premium lenses but who own an Olympus OM-D E-M1 with its PDAF technology, is to buy a second hand used legacy Four Thirds lens – the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 with a teleconverter (and a FT-MFT adapter) – the AF will not be as fast as with the Micro Four Thirds lenses but image quality is excellent and it is weathersealed.

Outdoor arena sports events = 200mm lens:

Unless you are a certified photographer for the event, you will probably not be allowed in the event (eg. AFL football or Australian Open tennis) with a lens with a focal length greater than 200mm, and even then you are not licensed to publish or sell any images!

Note that some venues do allow lenses up to 300mm (eg. AAMI Park), and for these you could choose a lens as per the previous section.

This makes the Panasonic Leica DG 200mm f/2.8 with its supplied 1.4x teleconverter the BEST option by far of ANY system, but it is expensive and you cannot zoom out.

More affordable alternatives with zoom options but 1 stop less aperture are:

The kid’s soccer game:

Here you can usually get to stand at the fence within 5m of the pitch near the goal.

This gives you challenges as, for play near you, you may want a 100mm focal length, while play in the closest half of the pitch you need 200mm, play around the center and closest part of the further half, 300mm focal length, and for play around the goals at the opposite end, perhaps 400mm. (Note these focal lengths are for Micro Four Thirds, for full frame cameras you need to double these).

Imagine you are shooting a 10 yr old playing soccer with a 200mm lens on Micro Four Thirds (400mm on full frame). At 12m, you will get a half body shot in portrait mode. At 15m distance, you will get a great 3/4 length body shot when shot in portrait mode. At 25m distance you get the perfect full body action shot in portrait mode. At 50m, you can get a landscape shot of a group of players, but you may wish to crop it further.

For parents on a budget or wish to remain discrete, a Olympus m.ZD 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II zoom lens or Panasonic Lumix G Vario 100-300mm f/4-5.6 Mega OIS lens or if you really want more zoom and image quality, the Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4-6.3 lens may be ideal, but the slow aperture may be challenging when the light gets dim.

Perhaps a better choice for those with more budget would be the Panasonic Leica DG 50-200mm f/2.8-4.0 lens and accept that you will just have to either forego the far end play or crop it a lot, but the wider aperture will be more forgiving in low light and will provide better background blurring. I would also expect image quality will be better but we will have to await reviews.

Of course, the Panasonic Leica DG 200mm f/2.8 with its supplied 1.4x teleconverter will cover most of your needs (and you may need to have another camera ready with a short telephoto for close play) but this may be overkill at $AU4299! Then again, your kids are only young once!

The full frame perspective:

For those wishing to compare full frame camera system alternatives, here is a short list of Canon lenses:

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 lens:

  • no image stabilisation at all
  • old optical design and 8 straight blades instead on 9 rounded blades
  • not fully weathersealed
  • much longer than the MFT options at 257mm
  • close focus only to 3.5m!
  • 1.25kg and $US1249 making it at least relatively light and affordable but the f/5.6 aperture means any advantage of using full frame over MFT with a 200mm f/2.8 is nullified.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II:

  • a more modern design than the 400mm f/5.6 but still the f/5.6 aperture means any advantage of using full frame over MFT with a 200mm f/2.8 is nullified.
  • heavier at 1.64kg, improved weathersealing but still not as good as the MFT options
  • 193mm long but extends on zooming
  • close focus to 1m
  • $US2199
  • Sony has a similar lens, the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens but this will set you back $US2499

Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II:

  • a unique diffraction optics (DO) optical design allowing a much more compact lens but characteristic DO aberrations
  • requires 52mm rear drop in filters
  • close focus only to 3.3m
  • 233mm long
  • 2.1kg
  • ~$A9000

Canon EF 600mm f/4 does give significant low light advantages over the Olympus 300mm f/4 but at 4kg it is not fun to carry and use, and at $US11,500 it is incredibly expensive and its close focus is 4.5m – it is a totally different beast altogether!

And, to cover the zoom range needed for a kid’s soccer game of 200-600mm full frame range, you might need to go for:

  • Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM EXT lens
    • this has a built-in 1.4x teleconverter which can switch it to a 280-560mm f/5.6 lens, very neat and a great lens but this will set you back $US11,800 and break your back at 3.6kg! It still doesn’t get you to 800mm for the far end shots.
  • “Sigmonster” – Sigma 300-800mm f/5.6 lens
    • 6kg monster of a lens over half a meter long and will cost you around $US6000 and it won’t focus closer than 6m!
  • Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 lens
    • perhaps a more sensible lens for most, but still weighs 1.9kg and won’t get you the telephoto reach for the far end of the pitch
  • Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 lens
    • now we are talking, more reach than the Sigma but still sensibly sized and weighing 1.9kg, and is only $US1299

 

 

Background blurring test – Sigma 35mm f/1.4 on Sony a7II full frame vs Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake on Micro Four Thirds

Written by Gary on March 25th, 2018

One of the main reasons many photographers prefer to use a big, heavy, expensive full frame system instead of a fun, lighter Micro Four Thirds system is that you can gain a greater degree of background blurring in certain situations which is just not possible with the smaller sensor of Micro Four Thirds.

For macro work and for telephotos, this is not really an issue as you get plenty of background blurring with both systems.

BUT, it is with wide angle lenses that full frame systems with their f/1.4 pro lenses should create a substantial difference – BUT how significant is this difference?

If your subject distance is more than 3m away, and you are using a 35mm lens on a full frame, then the degree of background blurring at each aperture from f/1.4 through to f/5.6 really does not change that much, so you will not see a massive difference between full frame and Micro Four Thirds at this field of view.

The closer the subject is, the greater the difference is possible IF you are shooting the 35mm full frame at f/1.4 vs a Micro Four Thirds 17mm f/1.2 lens (which gives a similar image to the full frame system as if you are shooting the full frame 35mm at f/2.4).

Now, I don’t have the beautiful, optically superb, Olympus micro ZD 17mm f/1.2 PRO lens to compare, so you will have to assume in the comparisons, it will look like the 35mm f/2.5 images.

I do have the lovely super compact, very sharp Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens (original version) on my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark I to test for this comparison, and it should come in with similar imagery as the massive, heavy Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens when shot at f/3.5 (there is a slightly narrower field of view with the Panasonic lens – my apologies, but that should not take much away from this lesson) and the 1st two images are to demonstrate this, both focused on the leaves to the right perhaps where you would normally place your subject, but what I want you to carefully observe is the amount of blurring of the background in each of the images so you can decide if buying a big, heavy, expensive system is worth it for you:

These have all been taken as RAW files, opened in Lightroom 6, minor adjustment in exposure to make them roughly similar, auto white balance, and Adobe default camera profile used, the images were then resized for the web.

As usual, the links on this page take you to my wikipedia which gives more information – and NOT to a 3rd party online reseller.

Panasonic 20mm at f/1.7

Above is the Panasonic 20mm f/1/7 at f/1.7.

Sigma 35mm at f/3.5

Above is the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART lens at f/3.5 on a Sony A7II full frame mirrorless camera to give a similar depth of field as the Panasonic wide open.
Sigma 35mm at f/2.5

Above is the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART lens at f/2.5 to give a similar depth of field as the Olympus 17mm f/1.2 lens wide open.

Sigma 35mm at f/1.4

Above is the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART lens at f/1.4 to show the absolute maximum degree of background blurring this lens can achieve with a subject at this distance – is that enough to make you want this system or would it not make or break your image if you used the Olympus 17mm f/1.2 lens instead?

Sigma 35mm at f/5.6

Lastly, above is the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART lens at f/5.6 to give a similar depth of field as the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens at 17mm f/2.8 – an f/2.8 Micro Four Thirds wide angle lens is certainly not going to give you much background blurring unless the subject is much closer.

A couple of other notes to make with this test shoot:

  • despite the Panasonic lens being a 1st generation Micro Four Thirds lens with a “slow AF system”, the Panasonic 20mm was MUCH faster and more reliable at gaining AF on leaves moving a little in the wind than the Sigma lens, while the Sigma lens often hunted and sometimes would inexplicably lock focus on the background – it certainly was not fun and I couldn’t really trust it! HOWEVER, as I don’t have the Sigma USB Dock I can’t check if the lens has the latest firmware and seems it cannot be updated via the MC-11 adapter which has a USB connector for its own upgrade.
  • The Sigma lens also kept open and closing the aperture while I was trying to compose and lock focus which made the EVF experience quite poor – this is probably a lens firmware – have just ordered the Sigma USB Dock to update the firmware.
  • The Sigma lens was too big and heavy for the Sony a7II – it did not feel balanced and was very tiring to hold.
  • Unlike the Olympus 17mm f/1.2 lens, the Sigma lens is not weathersealed.

When used with a smaller Micro Four Thirds cameras such as the Olympus E-M5 II, one could put the Panasonic lens and camera in a jacket pocket quite easily – there is no chance you can do this with the full frame kit which will also be more that twice the weight.

The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 shooting at around 4m subject distance:

Sigma 35mm at f/1.4

Above is the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART lens at f/1.4

Both of these are essentially straight from the camera with the Sony a7II focused on the lovely Eucalyptus “gum” tree.

Sigma 35mm at f/5.6

Above is the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART lens at f/5.6 – the difference in background blurring is now quite subtle despite the lens being stopped way down to f/5.6, although the foreground blurring is more noticeable!

Moral of the story:

If you want to blur backgrounds either:

  • use a standard or telephoto lens with a relative wide aperture and stand further away to get the subject in frame,
  • use a wide angle lens with a wide aperture BUT have the subject closer than 2m – the closer the better for a blurred background
  • use software to add a Gaussian blur to the background – just as the smartphone companies are now doing in the latest iPhones.

Maybe full frame advantage is not all it is cracked up to be if your subject is more than 2m away!

I am not convinced the fairly minor increase in background blurring with the 35mm f/1.4 lens at f/1.4 at this subject distance would make a difference to my image in most situations – whether such an image succeeds or not will be far more dependent upon other factors such as subject, composition, lighting, etc.

Who should consider buying the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART lens?

Those with full frame cameras who primarily need it for either:

  • astrophotography (although it’s field of view is rather limiting unless you are doing panoramic stitches), or,
  • close up portraiture/fashion work with subject closer than 2m to provide a nice environmental style portrait – but you may want the Sony a7III, Sony a7RIII or Sony a9 to improve the AF speed.

Landscape, street or travel photographers do NOT need the bulk and weight of this lens to achieve their needs, a much smaller, lighter 35mm f/2.8 lens or a Micro Four Thirds option should suffice as most of the time you will be shooting at f/8-f/11 for adequate depth of field on a full frame camera in these scenarios (f/4-5.6 in Micro Four Thirds).

Post script:

The Sigma lens firmware was v1.4, I have now updated it to v2.0 via the Sigma USB Dock but still the AF-S focus locking is significantly slower than the Olympus – Panasonic combination and the Eye AF functionality works (in AF-S mode only with the Sony a7II) and has similar speed as the Eye AF on the Olympus but you need to press a button to activate it each time on the Sony – it is not automatic as on the Olympus cameras.