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Europe holiday Rome II – my trusty backup camera – the Olympus E510 with 50mm macro lens

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Although the far majority of my travel photos on this trip were taken with a Panasonic GH-1 Micro Four Thirds camera, I did take my trusty Olympus E510 dSLR which was my main camera I used on my Italy trip in 2007.

The combination of the E-510 with the superb Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro lens is one I have always loved for travel, and I had to get it out for a few shots such as these gems from the crowded Spanish Steps in Rome all within a minute, as my wife was lacking patience in this very crowded area:

A fashionable mum coming up the rear?

It’s shallow depth of field allows one to isolate your subject very well whilst still retaining the context, here I have selected the first tourist to focus upon rather than the fashionable mother at the rear:

Blonde tourist

And, finally, the smoking Roman Centurion:

Roman centurion

As much as I have loved my Olympus E-510, it is now almost 4 years old, and technology has marched on. Although image quality is still excellent at low ISO, and it does have built-in image stabilisation, the optical viewfinder is no match for the EVF on my Panasonic GH-1, and it lacks the native 16:9 aspect ratio which I find is perfect for travel photography.

If I had the money, I would replace the E-510 with the new Olympus E-5 (much better viewfinder and weather-proofed), and replace my GH-1 with the new GH-2 (much better video and AF), but alas, no such luck there.

Victorian bushfire landscape at 12 weeks with Olympus E510 and ZD 50-200mm lens

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Following on from my previous photo essay blog on the Victorian bushfires at 6 weeks after the fires in Feb 2009, I took another trip yesterday and went bushwalking amongst the burnt rainforests of mountain ash.

It was great to see the forests gradually regenerating, particularly the gullies, although in vast areas of drier forests, there was little signs of new life.

But amongst the devastation, paradoxically, there was beauty to be found.

The following image was taken with the late afternoon sun highlighting the dead orange leaves of the Australian Eucalypts, and contrasting with stark dead trees on the hills behind.

This is a very unusual scene for Australia, as although it may look like a northern hemisphere fall scene, Australian Eucalypt trees are not deciduous and don’t turn orange in the Autumn as they appear to be doing here. All these trees were affected by the bush fires.

The farm pasture has become green – indeed they had returned to green by the 6 week stage, and the farmer has rebuilt his fences.

Please click on this image to view it at larger size.

bushfie landscape

This image was taken hand held with Olympus E510 and the brilliant Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens – I just love this lens except it is a bit big and heavy, but much less so than its Canon or Nikon counterparts.

Sports using the Olympus ZD 50-200mm with 2x TC for 800mm reach from the boundary

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Much has been aired of concerns of the inevitably higher noise levels at high ISO of the Olympus 2x cropped when compared to the larger sensors.

BUT, if you can get by with ISO 800 and below, the 2x crop creates a unique opportunity by giving you unprecedented image stabilised telephoto reach of 800mm in a compact, relatively light (1.8kg), hand holdable package which you just can’t manage to achieve at all with a Nikon D700 or Canon 5DMII.

Yesterday, I played in our annual social cricket game, and brought along with me two camera kits:

  • Canon 1DMIII (1.3x crop) with EF 135mm f/2.0L + 1.4x teleconverter
  • Olympus E510 with ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD + EC-20 2x teleconverter

I like this combination as they are both about the same weight, and I can use the Canon to get in close while I am on the field risking my life getting hit by a cricket ball as I concentrate on getting the shot. While the Olympus I gave to a friend’s teenage son who had never used such a camera before, and I showed him how to AF by pressing the Fn button and all he had to do was take shots from the safety of the boundary line.

He absolutely loved clicking away and the extreme telephoto of 800mm reach in 35mm terms allowed him to capture the action on the centre of the pitch as if he was standing right there.

It was quite a cloudy day (great for avoiding highlights being blown out but not so good for super-telephotos hand held), so I had set the E510 to AWB, ISO 400, aperture priority at f/8 (f/4 x 2 for the teleconverter, although for some he must of accidentally moved it to f/10 ie. f/5 x 2).

So here are a few of what this 1st time, unsupervised photographer managed to achieve – these are straight jpegs from the camera – no crop, no sharpening, no PS other than resize and jpeg compression for the web.

Click on each to be taken to a larger view.

The first is a photo he took of his dad leg glancing for four runs:

his dad

And a batsman about to punish a bowler:


And he took one of his friend on the field not to far away, and it shows the lovely bokeh this lens has (this one I have cropped to about 25% of the whole image):


More of the day’s cricket shots can be seen here – yes that’s me in far camera right of the team photo

The close portrait shots using the Canon are very nice but it did require me to be within 3m of the subject to get them, not 100m as with the Olympus combo – distance changes everything!

More of my photos of the 50-200mm with 2xTC combo can be seen here.

The new E-620 and E-30 will be MUCH better than the E510 for sports as the extra AF points will allow more functional continuous AF, while the E-3 will allow you to keep shooting with this lens combo even if it starts raining.

Each tool has its strengths and weaknesses – as good as the Nikon D700 and Canon 5DMII are, I doubt they could achieve this telephoto reach without necessitating a tripod or monpod, and of course, the 5DMII may die if it starts getting a bit of a drizzle rain happening whereas the E-3 should be fine.

I have a web page outlining the comparative offerings available to Canon, Nikon and Olympus for telephoto lenses here – as can be seen, a hand holdable 800mm kit is not really possible on full frame dSLRs but could be achievable on the 1.5x or 1.6x cropped sensor dSLRs but on these, the noise at high ISO is not substantially different to that on Olympus.

Partly cloudy, showers – great weather for urban photography

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

Yesterday was one of my preferred days for urban photography so I headed into Melbourne on the train as usual with my little hiking backpack with Olympus E510 + ZD 7-14mm lens and Canon 1DMIII with EF 24-105mm IS L lens and a Lee 0.6 neutral gradient filter for the Canon.

I prefer to select only 2 cameras and 2 or perhaps 3 lenses for a given trip and then target shots that will suit those cameras. Given the weight of the Canon kit, I decided to leave my beautiful Olympus ZD 50-200mm at home – with regret as it turned out as there was a Homeless World Cup 2008 soccer event on in the city which that lens would have been perfect for.

Here are a few shots from the day (click on then for larger views):

After a brief shower which temporariliy made the day stand still, some nice reflections of St Paul’s church from Flinders St railway station using the Olympus E510 with ZD 7-14mm to give a 14mm rectilinear ultrawide image in 35mm terms (Can’t achieve this with any lens on the 1.3x crop factor of the Canon 1DMIII).

St Paul's

and same outfit with a bit of sky drama:


and as the sky got darker and more menacing, this time with the Canon kit:


Superman fails! Opportunistic photojournalism with OM 200mm lens

Friday, November 14th, 2008

I was on a brief holiday sojourn to Lorne, one of our beautiful coastal resort towns in Victoria, Australia when a car burst into flames in the main shopping strip just as I arrived.

I quickly parked the car at a safe distance and grabbed my Olympus E510 and Olympus OM 200mm f/4 manual focus lens to give a nice 400mm effective focal length so I could keep my distance and still get close shots.

None of these shots have been cropped or PS – just resized for the web. Click on the photos to see a 1000 pixel wide version.

In this shot it appears like the guy in the white shirt is asking superman why isn’t he putting the fire out – I will let you work out a version of the story line.

where u going superman

and moving in a bit closer….


oh.. and in case you are wondering, the guy is wearing a surf wet suit – the surf beach is only about 100m from the shops.

and the Country Fire Authority (CFA) arrive and the Captain watches his female junior carefully as she does a great job in putting it out.

fire girl.

More photos of this event can be found here.

More photos of use of the OM 200mm lens on an E510 can be found here.

For those who can’t afford the wonderful but big, relatively expensive Olympus ZD 50-200mm SWD lens, and can manage with manual focus, the Olympus OM 200mm f/4 lens works very well and is quite compact and light. Of course, with the Olympus E510/520/E30/E3, image stabilisation is provided. Although I do not have one, it would be worth getting an adapter with a AF-confirm chip on it to assist with manual focus.

Olympus ZD 50mm macro – flowers with Olympus Ring Flash

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

What else to do on a lovely sunny Spring morning with not much wind (wind is BAD for macro shots!), than to take a wander and see what you can find….


and, attaching the Olympus EC-20 2x teleconverter allows 1:1 macro, such as these Mt Fuji cherry tree blossom with tiny Argentinian ant which have now created one of the biggest ant super-colonies in the world, here in Melbourne.

cherry blossom

Click on the images for larger views.

The 800mm fashion shot

Sunday, October 5th, 2008

I was helping another photographer yesterday shooting a very quirky fashion style shoot in the middle of the busy streets of Melbourne’s tramways. Instead of me holding his strobes, I suggested I show him what my lowly Olympus E510 could do from 100m away at a 35mm equivalent focal length reach of 800mm hand held.

Even with this relatively compact outfit in the fading light, many passing by asked who the famous model was and did their best to distract me so I would get hit by a tram.

Despite my shakes, the image stabiliser on the E510 worked well enough at 1/200th second, f7, ISO 400 to take shots like this one.

800mm fashion shot

Now, the 60′s outfit, etc will not be to everyone’s taste, and the sharpness may not allow a poster size advertisement to be scrutinised closely without criticism, but the point of the shot is, that this shot with such a compact, carry anywhere outfit is currently only possible with the Four Thirds system and in this case with two great optics – ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD and the ZD EC-20 2x teleconverter.

For the tech heads, I have added some vignetting and contrast in Lightroom and some selective sharpening in PS.

Now, I had to also demonstrate to him how good the ZD 50-200mm lens is on its own at 200mm (ie. 400mm eq. focal length) for outdoor portraiture to blur and compress the background.

This time we are in a back alley in Melbourne’s CBD, and we decided to go for a non-traditional, emotive portrait with a bit of anguish, and a touch disturbed – I do like emotional expressive works when dealing with people as a canvas. perhaps the model read my mind!


Larger size images are available here and here.

Olympus ZD50mm macro + ZD EC-20 2x TC macro

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

Another day out with the wonderful combination of Olympus E510 + ZD 50mm macro lens + ZD EC-20 2x teleconverter + Olympus Ring Flash.

This combo makes macrophotography a piece of cake – all you need do is find a subject, put exposure mode onto manual, select an aperture to give enough depth of field such as f/8 or f/11, select a shutter speed slower than 1/180th sec (you can adjust this to adjust degree of ambient background lighting you want instead of just getting a black background), set focus to manual and crank lens out using the focus ring until you get the desired magnification you need, then just move into your subject carefully until it appears in focus.

Olympus TTL flash will do the rest, although be warned, it needs to fire a pre-flash to determine exposure and this causes a bit of shutter lag.

  • You can easily avoid this by changing the Flash mode to manual (just hit the mode button) and dial up a manual output (eg/ 1/16) and adjust this according to exposure results – for the same macro magnification, aperture and ISO, this manual output can remain constant. In manual mode you can also trigger additional flashes by optical triggers as there is no preflash to cause premature firing.

Here is a portrait of a butterfly today, no Photoshop, no cropping, just resized for the web:

butterfly portrait

you can see more of my butterfly pics from today here, including this fabulous butterfly mating:

my macro photos

oh….and a nice frog (without the 2x TC or the ring flash – hand held):

butterfly portrait

Olympus ZD 50-200mm SWD + EC-20: moon revisited

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

Well I had a chance to capture a crescent moon tonight between the clouds so I thought it was worth comparing the 50-200mm with 2x teleconverter (ie. 800mm telephoto reach) with hand held vs tripod with mirror up.

These are 100% crops of original jpegs (ie. you are pixel peeping at 100% here, more than you would if you printed this), and no PS processing, no sharpening.

First, at 200mm+2xTC f/3.5 (ie. 800mm eq. f/7), 1/200th sec, ISO 400 hand held with IS ON:

moon with IS on, hand held 800mm

and, at ISO 100, 1/25thsec, f/5 (ie. 800mm eq. f/10) on tripod with mirror up (antishock = 5sec):

moon via tripod 800mm

Well, I don’t think there is a lot of difference, so using this lens combo at 800mm hand held with IS on and 1/200th sec gives pretty impressive results and such results at this telephoto reach with autofocus hand held are unlikely to be had with any other system.

Of course, with manual focus mirror lenses you could get the reach on other cropped sensors but unless they have IS in the body, you would not get away with 1/200th sec and these lenses have less contrast and resolution compared to this lens combination.

These were taken with the Olympus E510 and look even better with a bit of sharpening such as with unsharp mask in PS.

Extending the E510 – 800mm reach hand held – wow!

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

I dropped into my local shop today to help me solve a little dilemma.

Will the much touted new Olympus EC-20 2x teleconverter work well with my Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens, or will the image suffer or the AF take too long to work, and could I use it hand held at 800mm at ISO 400 in the shade?

Well, much to my and the salesman’s surprise, when I tried it out in the store and manage to rapidly focus it with AF on a man INSIDE a passing tram and take a reasonable image (although a little blurred on zooming in) of him at 1/50th sec at 800mm hand held, I knew this was going to be one brilliant combination and couldn’t resist it – so I bought it…. just don’t tell my wife!

Firstly, what would be reasonable shutter speeds to use at 800mm reach (ie. 200mm setting on the lens)?

I discovered that although I could take reasonable images at 1/50th sec very carefully hand held at 800mm with IS on, this was pushing the capability just a bit too much and much sharper results were attainable at 1/100th sec, but to be safe I decided to opt for Shutter speed priority exposure mode (the S on the exposure dial), and use 1/200th sec all the time at ISO 400.

So there I was in the city on a cold Winter’s day in fairly heavy overcast, sitting on a bench thinking, now what can I test this unique outfit on?

My shoelaces at 800mm focal length

If you havent guessed, these are the shoelaces I was wearing on my old sports shoes taken at about the 1.2m closest focus distance hand held & rather casually hand held at that!

Given the heavy shade I was in, the camera took this at wide open aperture (f/3.5) which makes it f/7 with the 2x teleconverter and 1/200th sec, ISO 400. As you can see the depth of field is extremely shallow – but that is 1:1 macro or near enough at about 1.2m focus distance and 800mm equivalent focal length reach. This image is not a crop, just resized for the web.

So off I went for a walk, and tried a few different style shots…

see here for these photos with comments on the bottom.

This is a really fun lens, although a bit big especially with the lens hood on (so I took it off walking in the city to avoid scaring people!).

Even into the light without a lens hood, flare was well controlled, image sharp, beautiful background bokeh and this can get you shots not possible before by allowing you to get closer images or to compress perspective to the extreme.

S-AF worked very fast and C-AF worked well once AF had been attained and you kept the subject on the AF point. C-AF does take a while to do the initial lock though, especially if you have changed focus distance considerably, eg. from a close up focus to a distance focus.

I am sure this will work admirably for surfing and wildlife and relatively stationery birds (birds in flight would really need the Olympus E3 body for a better reliability at capturing them).

BUT the important take away point is that this combination provides an extremely usable, portable, relatively light kit with still very good image quality at 800mm reach even in the shade.

What other camera lens combinations could achieve this super telephoto reach at effective aperture wider than f/8 so AF still works and under 3kg?

Olympus with Olympus ZD 70-300mm lens + EC-14 1.4x teleconverter = 840mm reach at f/8 but lower image quality.

Olympus with Olympus ZD 300mm f/2.8 + EC-14 = 840mm reach at f/4 but VERY expensive and big.

Canon APS-C dSLR (eg. 40D) + 300mm f/4L IS + 2x TC = 960mm reach at f/8 but that’s a bigger lens, white and Canon 2x TC’s image quality is not as good.

Canon APS-C dSLR (eg. 40D) + 400mm f/5.6L + 1.4x TC = 900mm reach at f/8 but that’s a bigger lens and no IS.

Canon APS-C dSLR (eg. 40D) + 400mm f/4L IS DO+ 1.4x TC = 900mm reach at f/5.6 but that’s a very expensive lens with DO aberrations.

Canon 1DMIII (1.3x crop) + 400mm f/5.6L + 1.4x TC = 728mm reach at f/8 but that’s a bigger lens and body and no IS, although you can increase ISO by 1-2 stops and you get 10fps.

Nikon DX camera + 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 + 1.4x TC = 840mm reach at f/8 but lower image quality and no IS.

Nikon DX camera + 300mm f/4 + 2x TC = 900mm reach at f/8 but lower image quality and no IS.

On a full frame dSLR, you would need a 400mm f/4 with 2x TC or a 800mm f/5.6 and these lenses are very big, heavy, and expensive.

This is one of the advantages of the Four Thirds system – telephoto reach with portability, and again highlights that sensor image quality is not the PRIME reason to buy into a camera system.

If it were, we would all be taking 8″ x 10″ film cameras to take social shots at parties – a ridiculous notion!