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2 new premium quality super-telephoto lenses for Micro Four Thirds – Panasonic 100-400mm and Olympus 300mm f/4

Friday, January 8th, 2016

Micro Four Thirds camera users are spoilt by the rich array of wonderful lenses at their disposal – but until now there has not been any premium quality super-telephoto lens optimised for CDAF (there are Four Thirds lenses such as the superb 300mm f/2.8 which do work well with phase detect cameras such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1), and now, at last, we have been endowed with 2 great lenses coming to a camera store near you over the next 2-3 months.

Each lens has its advantages and disadvantages which will make us all spend weeks trying to decide which will be best for our needs.

These lenses although very niche in the dSLR world given they would need tripods, have a much more versatile utility in the Micro Four Thirds world ranging from wildlife, nature macrophotography, sports action, and perhaps even for concerts when silent shooting is needed from a distance.

At only around 1kg, even long distance overnight hikers would consider carrying one of these to get those shots that full frame dSLR users would need Sherpas to carry their gear.

In addition, the amount of background perspective compression can make them useful for fashion photography and other creative uses.

The class leading image stabilisation of these camera-lens combinations with lower weight and bulk make them superior to dSLR alternatives for use where tripods are not useful such as on ships to the Antarctic, while the weathersealing and freezeproof design of the Olympus lens also comes in handy!

Common features:

  • compatible with any Micro Four Thirds camera whether Olympus or Panasonic – although having the same brand as your camera can give better functionality
  • weathersealing
  • high optical quality
  • tripod mount
  • focus limiter switch
  • close focus is around 1.3-1.4m giving very useful macro performance of around 0.48x macro in full frame terms
  • optical image stabiliser which can be combined with the camera’s sensor based image stabiliser to allow even better dual system image stabilisation (but will this work on different branded cameras?)
  • relatively large and expensive for Micro Four Thirds but smaller, lighter and less expensive than a full frame lens of similar quality and field of view
  • nano coating for reduced flare and improved contrast
  • fast, silent AF capable of face detection AF and even nearest eye detection AF, and optimised for video
  • 9 rounded aperture blades

The benefits of the Panasonic lens over the Olympus lens are:

  • its a zoom lens which means it is more versatile, particularly when subjects are coming towards you as you have 200-800mm field of view in 35mm full frame terms in an easily handholdable lens and it has a zoom position lock
  • it is considerably less expensive at $US1799 vs $US2499
  • considerably lighter at 985g vs 1270g
  • considerably shorter at 172mm vs 227mm
  • 10mm thinner at 83mm vs 93mm
  • smaller, cheaper filters at 72mm vs 77mm
  • AF will be faster on Panasonic Lumix cameras than the Olympus lens thanks to compatibility with Panasonic’s DFD (Depth From Defocus) technology (presumably no difference on Olympus cameras though)

The benefits of the Olympus lens over the Panasonic lens are:

  • wider aperture at 300mm allowing 1EV lower ISO to be used as presumably lets in around twice as much light or 1 stop more light (600mm field of view in full frame terms)
  • ability to use the Olympus mZD MC-14 teleconverter which converts it to 420mm f/5.6 (840mm field of view in full frame terms)
  • the “highest resolution lens ever made by Olympus” which promises superb optical quality
  • focus limiter switch has 3 settings not just 2 and thus improved utility for nature macrophotography
  • perhaps better weathersealing with its 11 separate hermetic seals, and Olympus is renown for its wonderful weathersealing
  • Manual Focus Clutch mechanism for improved manual focus feel and rapid access
  • configurable lens function button can be used to suspend C-AF, etc
  • image stabilisation may be somewhat better, particularly as few Panasonic cameras have built-in sensor based image stabilisation and Olympus are class leaders in this technology

The Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4-6.3 Power OIS lens:


Panasonic lens

  • model H-RS100400
  • 200-800mm telephoto reach
  • 20 elements in 13 groups (1 aspherical ED lens, 1 UED lens, 2 ED lenses)
  • Power OIS image stabiliser with Dual IS compatibility
  • high speed digital signal exchange at 240 fps to comply with the high-speed, high-precision AF (Auto Focus) with DFD (Depth From Defocus) technology on LUMIX G cameras
  • focus limiter 5m to infinity
  • built in sliding lens hood
  • 171.5mm / 6.75in long but extends upon zooming
  • 83mm / 3.3in diameter
  • 985g / 34.74oz excl. lens hood, tripod mount
  • $US1799
  • see my wiki for more links and information

The Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 OIS lens:

Olympus lens

dual IS

  • 600mm field of view (840mm with MC-14 teleconverter)
  • weathersealed with 11 separate hermetic seals
  • freezeproof
  • 5-6EV optical image stabiliser and dual IS / sync IS with certain cameras
  • “highest resolution” Olympus lens ever made
  • fast, silent AF (completely silent shooting when used in electronic shutter mode)
  • Zero and Z nano coating
  • Manual Focus Clutch mechanism
  • 17 elements in 10 groups
  • close focus 1.4m giving 0.48x macro in 35mm terms
  • 3 position focus limiter: 1.4-4m, 4m to infinity and full range
  • configurable lens function button
  • 77mm filter
  • 93mm x 227mm
  • 1270g (27lbs) excl. tripod mount presumably
  • compatible with Olympus mZD MC-14 1.4x teleconverter to give 420mm f/5.6 (840mm telephoto reach in full frame terms)
  • $US2499
  • see my wiki for more links and information

Handheld video shot entirely at 840mm field of view using the Olympus 300mm plus MC14 teleconverter – amazing IS indeed!

Summary

Users will have an agonising decision to make as these are two wonderful lenses but given the price, it is likely only one will make it into your kit, so you need to decide whether you go for smaller size and zoom versatility vs larger aperture, perhaps better optics and better low light capability of the Olympus.

For those who cannot afford these, all is not lost, there are a number of enthusiast quality telephoto zooms for Micro Four Thirds which are lighter, smaller and much less expensive, but you do get what you pay for here. Examples are Olympus mZD 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 and the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 100-300mm f/4-5.6 Mega OIS.

Compared to the new Canon EF 100-400mm pro lens:

For perspective, Canon has recently introduced a superb telephoto zoom lens, the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens which could be used on a APS-C cropped sensor dSLR such as a Canon 7D to give 160-640mm OIS which places it between these lenses in capability and price with these notable features:

  • only 640mm telephoto reach (on testing it only gets to 383mm = 613mm) and this is at f/5.6 (half the light of the Olympus and much less reach than the Panasonic lens)
  • heavier at 1.64kg incl. tripod mount
  • image stabiliser is not as effective (“4EV” vs “5-6EV” for the Olympus) and not able to be used in Dual IS mode as Canon do not make sensor based IS cameras
  • weathersealing is not as good as the Olympus as only “dust and moisture sealed”
  • cumbersome bayonet style lens hood not like the sleek slide on hoods on these lenses
  • AF is not optimised for CDAF camera systems and thus not optimised for Live View, silent AF, nor video C-AF nor for face detection or eye detection AF
  • vignetting is severe while sharpness is a bit soft wide open at 400mm when tested on full frame cameras
  • similar close focus macro magnification although working distance shorter at 1m
  • less accurate AF as needs micro adjustment calibration for each camera
  • AF sensors cover less of the image frame than with mirrorless cameras
  • $US2199

Other options for Canon and Nikon dSLR users:

Canon APS-C users also have the less expensive option of the excellent 1993 designed Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L lens which comes in at 1.25kg although much longer, and only $US1249 but it is not fully weathersealed, and does not offer image stabilisation and thus really needs to be used at high ISO and on a tripod, and the close focus capability is substantially poorer with close focus only down to 3.5m. Furthermore it only has 8 straight diaphragm blades not 9 rounded blades. Nevertheless, this lens has been popular with birders. Most Canon users though would be better off with the Canon EF 100-400mm II lens outlined above.

Nikon DX users have the option of the new Nikon AF-S VR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 G ED lens giving 120-600mm in full frame terms but it is a touch heavier at 1.47kg w/o tripod collar, priced at $US2299 (RRP is $US2699), does not focus as close (1.75m vs 1.4m), image stabiliser not as effective at 4EV, not optimised for CDAF (see above), cheap, plasticky bayonet lens hood, and is not weathersealed.

Both Canon and Nikon cropped sensor dSLR users also have the option of the 300mm f/4 image stabilised lenses combined with a 1.4x teleconverter to give around 600mm f/5.6 telephoto reach but these lens combos weigh in at about 1.4-1.5kg and would not match the image quality nor the image stabilisation of the Olympus lens, let alone the CDAF functionality. Nikon does however have a new fresnel technology ultralight 300mm f/4 lens which is half the weight of a usual lens and comes in at 755g and $US1999, but you then need to factor in the teleconverter and potential for fresnel artefacts.

Full frame dSLR users will have to use heavy, very expensive lenses to get to this 600-800mm telephoto reach or resort to 2x teleconverters with the above 300mm f/4 lenses and try to AF with an f/8 widest aperture.

Which lens to buy for your Olympus OM-D camera?

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

This is an extremely hard question to answer given everyone has different photographic needs and styles as well as budgets.

First, the consumer lenses:

Most newbies will tend to end up with one or two of the very good  consumer level “kit” zoom lenses as they are very well priced and affordable, especially when purchased as a kit with a camera.

All camera manufacturers offer such kits to allow the entry level budget compromised photographer an option of getting into the system.

Fortunately for Micro Four Thirds camera users, these consumer kit lenses tend to offer very good performance for the money and historically, the lenses have often outperformed their Canon and Nikon counterparts.

HOWEVER, most enthusiasts will tend to end up purchasing the higher quality “premium” or “pro” lenses and generally will cease to use these consumer grade lenses once they have an improved option.

The main issues with the consumer kit zooms are that their aperture is quite narrow – often f/3.5-6.7 at their widest aperture and this means several compromises:

  • they do not let much light in and thus will have more trouble locking autofocus in dim light and will probably require a flash to be used indoor, and will have very limited use when outdoor light levels fall unless you use a tripod.
  • the aperture is not wide enough to allow really shallow depth of field images for when you want to blur out the background (unless you are shooting macro close up subjects)
  • adding a polariser filter further darkens the already relatively low light intake, again limiting hand held options and AF locking capability in low light
  • given the consumer grade optics, best image quality is often at around f/8 instead of around f/4 with the premium and pro lenses, which further limits your options if you want the best quality shots
  • they generally are not weatherproof (important exceptions are the Olympus mZD 12-50mm lens and the Olympus m.ZD 14-150mm f/4-5.6 II)

Nevertheless, if you are shooting mainly outdoors in bright light and not needing to blur the background, these lenses make great travel companions and there are a LOT of lenses to choose from depending upon your needs.

Some things to consider are:

  • focal length range
  • size
    • in general, the more zoom, the longer and bigger the lens will be, so one has to weigh up what they can fit in their bag with what focal length range they need
    • some lenses also have the option of reducing down to a more compact size when not in use, but these can be a bit clunky to unlock and you can miss shots because you forgot to have it unlocked
  • silent autofocus for movies
  • autofocus speed – the older lenses designed around 2007-2008 tend to have slower autofocus
  • weatherproofing – only a couple of the consumer lenses are weatherproof
  • macro capability – the Olympus mZD 12-50mm lens is not only weatherproof but has very good macro capabilities

The Olympus “premium” lenses:

Olympus has marketed a middle tier of the m Zuiko Digital (mZD) lenses to the enthusiasts who want extra wide apertures either for low light work or for shallower depth of field and better ability to blur the background to emphasise your subject.

Furthermore, these are mainly “prime” lenses in that they only have one focal length and no zoom functionality which makes them easier to design for better bokeh – the aesthetic quality of the blurred background.

These lenses are generally very good optically even wide open at their f/1.8 or f/2.0 maximum apertures and are great for indoors or outdoors and perfect for portraiture, and creative arty work.

My personal favourite of these is the brilliant Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens which is fantastic for single person portraits and for creative shallow depth of field work.

If I only take 2 lenses with me, it will be this one and the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens.

If you can’t afford the 75mm f/1.8 lens and you want a similar look and you can be happy shooting in manual focus only, then try the Rokinon/Samyang 85mm f/1.4 lens.

Other great options are:

  • Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.8 – great for street photography, parties, small group photos, etc (a more compact alternative to this lens is the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens – this lets you get your E-M10 or E-M5 camera into a jacket pocket at social events or for walking the streets at night and doing hand held night urban landscapes)
  • Olympus mZD 45mm f/1.8 – great for portraits of couples or one person, if you have plenty of cash to spare, also take a look at the Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2 lens for even shallower depth of field
  • Olympus mZD 60mm f/2.8 macro – the only “premium” lens that is weatherproofed – a must have lens if you are into macrophotography

My next tier down are:

  • Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens – this is great for hand held night urban landscapes and infrared landscapes, but if you own the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens, you may not use this as much as you think and for my mind, it is over-priced.
  • Olympus mZD 17mm f/1.8 lens – great for street photography and groups at parties, but perhaps not as good as the 25mm f/1.8 lens, although many people absolutely love this lens – I don’t have one

The Olympus “PRO” lenses:

These are the current holy grail for many Olympus users, great lenses, relatively compact for their capabilities, well built, weatherproofed, relatively wide apertures (most are f/2.8).

The most useful of these for most people is the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens.

It could probably replace the need for the 12mm f/2.0 lens (unless you shoot hand held at night), and the 17mm and 25mm f/1.8 lenses (although I would still like my compact Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens to provide a compact, low light option).

The choice of a second lens to match with this lens depends upon your needs and may include one or more of:

And for the nature, wildlife or sports photographer, the much anticipated Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 PRO lens is due perhaps late 2015.

In the meantime, if I am shooting the moon or need super telephoto capability, I use the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens +/- EC-20 2x teleconverter which gives me up to 800mm f/7 capability in full frame terms.

Olympus has also indicated it will be working on even wider aperture prime lenses, so we can expect some f/1.2 and perhaps even f/0.95 lenses with autofocus and ability to AF on the closest eye which is one of the brilliant capabilities of Olympus cameras and much needed when using such shallow DOF cameras, and combine these with the awesome image stabilisation and your creativity can go wild!

Many, many more options:

The beauty of the Micro Four Thirds system is not only its compact, light size, the amazing Olympus image stabilisation which works on ANY lens, but it is extremely adaptable allowing one to use well over 50 lenses designed in Micro Four Thirds mounts as well as those in Four Thirds mount, but also almost any lens ever made via third party adapters which offer the following options:

  • plain adapters for manual focus of nearly any other lens ever made albeit in 2x crop field of view
  • focal reducer adapters for manual focus of nearly any other lens ever made but with a 1.4x crop field of view and a 1 stop wider aperture
    • for example, a Canon EF 135mm f/2.0 lens becomes a 100mm f/1.4 lens giving similar field of view and depth of view as a 200mm f/2.8 lens on a full frame camera
  • autofocus adapters such as the Kipon AF adapter which allows relatively fast AF using Canon EF lenses while providing aperture control
  • tilt-shift adapters which convert nearly any full frame Nikon lens into a tilt-shift lens

In search for the holy grail of 85mm wide aperture portrait lenses – 2 new premium lenses announced this week – Panasonic and Fuji

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

For many 35mm full frame photographers, a wide aperture 85mm lens is the preferred tool for portraiture as the focal length allows a natural perspective without distorting facial features whilst still allowing the photographer to be close enough to interact well with the subject. Furthermore, the wider the aperture of the portrait lens means there are more options for creating shallow depth of field to ensure the subject is emphasized whilst the background is thrown into a nice blur – hopefully with nice bokeh qualities.

When it comes to shallow depth of field capabilities, Canon dSLR users reign supreme as they have access to the very expensive and heavy Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II lens – the only f/1.2 85mm lens currently manufactured.

However, all is not what it seems.

As superb as this lens is, there is one huge draw back – the autofocus is very slow and combined with the extremely shallow depth of field, this lens can be very challenging to use well wide open.

Canon users then are at a quandary, as their only other Canon autofocus 85mm lens is the excellent consumer grade Canon EF 85mm f/1.8, but this lens suffers from significant purple fringing wide open.

Nikon users don’t have access to a 85mm f/1.2 lens but they do have a good Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G lens (the 1995 D version lens was designed for film cameras and was not great on digital cameras), so perhaps they have a better compromise than Canon users.

Sony full frame dSLR users are in a similar situation to Nikon users as they have the Sony Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T* lens but AF can be slow and at $1700 it is not cheap.

All dSLR lenses using phase detect AF need microcalibration of AF and this is particularly important with shallow depth of field images.

In addition, the above users have access to 3rd party lenses such as the excellent Sigma 85mm f/1.4 lens although AF speed and accuracy can be an issue. For those on a budget, the Samyang/Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 manual focus lens may fit their needs.

Cropped sensor dSLR users can resort to their 50mm prime lenses although they will have less ability to gain shallow depth of field.

What do we really need?

Extreme shallow depth of field is not usually the prime requirement, and most portraits can be shot at 85mm f/2.4-2.8 on a full frame camera and get potentially even better results wide open as most portraits are best if at least the area from the subject’s ear to tip of nose is in focus.

Indeed, if one is shooting low light portraits, or using fill in flash with a slowish shutter speed without a tripod, then image stabilisation becomes very important and none of the Canon or Nikon options offer image stabilisation.

Furthermore, the most critical technical part of taking the shot is often ensuring that the closest eye of the subject is the sharpest part of the image. This can be very difficult to achieve with dSLRs using shallow depth of field.

This is where mirrorless cameras can be the BEST tool for portraiture as they can offer:

  • sufficiently shallow depth of field
  • sufficiently out of focus backgrounds with lovely bokeh quality of the blurring
  • more depth of field wide open so you can use a faster shutter speed or lower ISO in low light if needed
  • image stabilisation to ensure excellent sharpness (Olympus cameras)
  • face detection autofocus with closest eye detection (Olympus cameras)
  • small camera and lenses to reduce the subject being intimidated and allow them to be more relaxed
  • high optical quality portrait lenses which are sharp edge to edge even wide open (full frame lenses generally lack sharpness just where you want the subject’s eyes)
  • consistently accurate autofocus (no need for microcalibrations)

This week, Panasonic and Fuji have officially announced 2 new premium portrait lenses for their mirrorless cameras.

The Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R lens:

Designed for the 1.5x crop Fuji X mirrorless system and gives an equivalent to a 85mm f/1.8 lens in field of view and depth of field terms on a full frame camera.

This lens is well built, relatively affordable at $US999, and it should be a very popular option for Fuji users.

However, there is no image stabilisation, AF of Fuji cameras still lags behind Micro Four Thirds cameras, and closest focus is 0.7m which may be limiting for some uses.

The Panasonic Leica DG 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron lens:

A very expensive lens designed for Micro Four Thirds (which are 2x crop cameras) and thus gives an equivalent to a 85mm f/2.4 lens in field of view and depth of field terms on a full frame camera.

It has “Power OIS” optical stabilisation built-in, and Olympus users also have the option of using sensor-based image stabilisation.

Close focus is 0.5m.

Surprisingly it is a touch bigger, and heavier than the Fujinon lens, but perhaps it will have less vignetting.

This lens should be available from march 2014 at £1,399.

Summary:

Given the advantages of image stabilisation, edge-to-edge sharpness, closest eye detection AF and generally quieter, smaller, less intrusive gear, my personal preference is for an Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 or E-M5 combined with either the 42.5mm f/1.2 lens if you can afford it, or the much smaller, less expensive Olympus mZD 45mm f/1.8 lens. Having said that, I do most of my portraits with the superb Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens but this may be too long a focal length for many people.

For group shots at parties, you can’t go past a Micro Four Thirds camera with Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens and a bounce flash – see my recent post.

If you don’t believe me that great portraiture is possible on these cameras, check out Sean Archer’s work with Micro Four Thirds cameras – see this post, and Edmondo Senatore’s work – see this post.

A brief retrospective on camera and lens pricing – today’s cameras and lenses are ridiculously cheap compared with 1982 prices

Monday, August 6th, 2012

I was prompted to search out an old photography magazine I bought in 1982 in an attempt to solve a reader’s information request.

The photography magazine contained RRP pricings of nearly every lens available at the time, plus my own notes of pricings for some Olympus OM gear I was considering purchasing to expand upon my little system.

So I thought I would share my findings to create some perspective on relative camera and lens pricings from then and until now in $AUS (although in 1982 as is the case now, $A = $US approximately)

Here are a few prices regarding Olympus OM gear in $A (1982):

  • Olympus OM-10 chrome body = $236
  • Olympus OM-1N black body = $398
  • Olympus OM-2N black body = $575
  • Olympus OM-4 black body = $848
  • Zuiko 8mm f/2.8 fisheye lens = $1,120
  • Zuiko 16mm f/3.5 fisheye = $618
  • Zuiko 18mm f/3.5 lens = $618
  • Zuiko 21mm f/3.5 lens = $369
  • Zuiko 21mm f/2.0 lens = $575
  • Zuiko 24mm f/2.8 lens = $250
  • Zuiko 24mm f/2.0 lens = $560
  • Zuiko 28mm f/3.5 lens = $158
  • Zuiko 28mm f/2.8 lens = $170
  • Zuiko 35mm f/2.0 lens = $315
  • Zuiko 35mm f/2.8 lens = $181
  • Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 lens = $90
  • Zuiko 50mm f/1.4 lens = $145
  • Zuiko 50mm f/1.2 lens = $467
  • Zuiko 50mm f/3.5 macro = $250
  • Zuiko 55mm f/1.2 lens = $286
  • Zuiko 35mm shift lens = $697
  • Zuiko 85mm f/2.0 lens = $386
  • Zuiko 100mm f/2.8 lens = $217
  • Zuiko 135mm f/2.8 lens = $250
  • Zuiko 180mm f/2.8 lens = $770
  • Zuiko 200mm f/4 lens = $250
  • Zuiko 300mm f/4.5 lens = $493
  • Zuiko 350mm f/2.8 lens = $5,500
  • Zuiko 400mm f/6.3 lens = $1,120
  • Zuiko 500mm f/8 mirror lens = $620
  • Zuiko 600mm f/6.5 lens = $1,334
  • Zuiko 1000mm f/11 lens = $1,652
  • Zuiko 35-70mm f/4 AF lens = $841

If you wanted Bronica SQ medium format lenses in 1982:

  • NB. only the professionals or the rich could afford Hasselblad cameras and lenses and the magazine did not publish their prices (“price on request”)
  • Zenzanon-S 40mm f/4 lens = $$1,175
  • Zenzanon-S 50mm f/3.5 lens = $875
  • Zenzanon-S 80mm f/2.8 standard lens = $500
  • Zenzanon-S 150mm f/3.5 lens = $895
  • Zenzanon-S 200mm f/4 lens = $875
  • Zenzanon-S 250mm f/5.6 lens = $999
  • Zenzanon-S 500mm f/8 lens = $1,850
  • note that Bronica gradually replaced the S versions from 1983 onwards with their PS versions and in the late 1990′s before they were discontinued by their new owners, Tamron, their retail pricings were generally in the $2000-$4500 range excepting the 80mm standard lens which was $1660 – see my Bronica wiki page.

But how does this compare with today’s pricings?

While 35mm film cameras are generally worth almost nothing now (most can be bought 2nd hand under $100 for a body) with notable exceptions of sought after models such as the Olympus OM-3Ti, Leica’s, etc, most of the OM lenses can be bought on Ebay in good condition at 50-75% of their original retail value in 1982, but in current dollars. In other words you can buy a OM 24mm f/2.8 lens for about $100 now.

The Bronica picture is quite different, the S lenses on Ebay usually sell for under $200 now – very cheap indeed, as it has been difficult to mate the Bronica SQ cameras with digital backs and thus demand for them is minimal.

The Bronica system does make a very cheap entry point into high quality medium format film though – hence I bought up a system in case I had the urge to do some 120 film work.

But how does the dollar in 1982 compare with the dollar in 2012, some 30 years later?

My best way of illustrating this is that a block of land in Melbourne, Australia in 1982 selling for $15,000 would now fetch $250,000 (~17x growth) after the real estate market went through 2 major boom periods (1983-1989, and 1996-2007) with 2 recessionary periods of flat /zero growth in the interim periods. In another suburb, a block of land sold for $31,000 in 1982 and now would be valued at over $700,000 that is a 23-fold increase!

I am not sure how much average salaries have gone up in that period, but I would think it would be at least 10 to 15 fold.

Now photography generally is not a great way to invest your cash, and purchasing $15,000 of camera gear in 1982 is never going to give you $250,000 30 years later, in fact, you would be lucky to get $7,000 for it if it was in excellent condition.

Let’s look at today’s camera and lens pricings:

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 black body sells for ~$1250 in 2012 – only 50% more than an OM-4 body in 1982 and it packs a LOT more functionality (although it may not last as long).

The expensive new micro Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 lens sells for $999 – only double the price of the Zuiko 85mm f/2.0 but the 75mm lens is a far better lens optically and it has the world’s fastest auto-focus where the old Zuiko was only manual focus.

The biggest downside of current technology is that it devalues current cameras so fast that cameras become almost worthless in a financial perspective (but not photographic unless it dies) within 5 years of purchase, while a similar fate also may hit the financial value of our lenses as new technologies are introduced such as new AF mechanisms.

Hopefully with Micro Four Thirds, their will be little need to update AF mechanisms for a while as the new ones are so fast already (EXCEPT for fast moving subjects – that may introduce new technologic fixes requiring new cameras and new lenses).

Canon and Nikon dSLR users may end up with a double hit in devaluation of their lenses – first new versions needed to be made over the last few years to improve optical quality to match the new sensors, and now, the issue of fast CD-AF will hang over them, and most likely require new lenses again – although Canon’s 1st attempt, their STM AF lenses do not seem to have resolved the AF speed issue as everyone had hoped.

We are so very lucky that we have all this wonderful technology available to the masses, not just the professionals, at much, much cheaper prices than what was available in 1982 when you take into account the value of the dollar changing.

Now when is the 75mm f/1.8 lens hitting the shelves in Australia???

Final moral of the story:

DO NOT BUY AN EXPENSIVE CAMERA IF YOU ARE NOT GOING TO GET ENOUGH USE OUT OF IT WITHIN THE NEXT 2-3YEARS – BAD INVESTMENT!!

BUY the cheapest camera that will do what YOU need it to do, and then save the spare cash for an upgrade in 5 years time or get a better lens which will make a difference to your photography.

 

Canon updates it’s pro lenses, adds a weird fisheye zoom, and introduces a mid range dSLR – the 60D

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Following Canon’s announcement this week that it had produced a 120 megapixel, APS-H 1.3x crop sensor (for research only at this stage), it has predictably updated several of its pro lenses to match the current high resolution sensors as I predicted it would need to do 2 years ago (see here).

The updated lenses include:

  • version III of both the EF Extender 1.4x and 2x
  • version II of each of the EF IS USM L lenses: 300mm f/2.8, 400mm f/2.8, 500mm f/4 and 600mm f/4 – the latter 2 are still in development
  • and a more affordable L lens – a 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM

The updates include Sub Wavelength Structure coatings are employed to minimize flare, water-repellant Fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements, new IS mode has been added that activates stabilization only during exposure, and a ‘Power Focus’ mode for video shooting.

A real surprise is yet another extreme lens – this time a world first full frame 8-15mm f/4 USM L fisheye zoom lens – not sure the world needs this but perhaps I am wrong! I would have thought circular fisheye images were a bit passe! See dpreview.com.

The Canon EOS 60D APS-C cropped sensor dSLR is a rather predictable evolution of Canon’s mid-range dSLR series which has the following specs:

  • 18mp sensor
  • flip out 3″ LCD – finally they have adopted a similar LCD to Olympus and Panasonic – about time!
  • full HD movies with manual control as per Canon 7D
  • 5.3fps
  • 9 point cross-type AF
  • iFCL metering with 63 zone dual layer metering sensor
  • integrated Speedlight transmitter for infrared wireless TTL flash
  • EyeFi wi-fi file transfer
  • SDXC memory card support

Unfortunately, still no built-in image stabiliser, but I can only hope Canon bring this is in sometime this decade because I really want it – I miss this functionality which I take for granted on my Olympus dSLR.

See more at dpreview.com

Fast 50mm lenses

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

I have started a resource page of 50mm lenses for 35mm and Micro Four Thirds cameras as these lenses are likely to be considered as portrait lenses on cropped sensor digital cameras and many might find it useful to have a list of lenses with some links.

Feel free to add your comments to this post here – but spammers forget posting comments on my website – I have a super intelligent spam processing system which will delete spam type comments that do not contribute to other readers.

The page on 50mm lenses is here.

Hope it is useful to some of you.

By the way, the term “fast” in this context refers to wide aperture lenses – and I have restricted it to lenses f/2.0 or wider aperture.

Micro Four Thirds to get world first twin digital interchangeable 3D lens

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Panasonic has just announced it will be developing a world first twin digital interchangeable lens – a compact, twin 3D lens for instant 3D video and still photos.

The 3D lens will be similar to that on its new 3D HDC-SDT750 camcorder and will project dual images onto the sensor and allow instant creation of 3D video compatible with its 3D VIERA televisions and 3D Blu-Ray TM disc players.

In the camcorder version, the 3D images result from capturing the right and left images (each with 960 x 1080 pixels) that enter through the lenses and are recorded using the side-by-side method.

If this same method is used in M43 cameras, one would assume new cameras or at least new firmware would be needed to record this, and still images perhaps would be limited to 960×1080 pixels.

Micro Four Thirds with Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 plus Olympus WCON-08B 0.8x wide converter

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

Ok, perhaps I was a bit silly, but I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to buy a superb Olympus WCON-08B 0.8x PRO quality wide converter which was designed for the Olympus E-20 when it came out in 2001.

In the USA, they come up on Ebay regularly for the price of a good polarising filter, but they don’t come up much on Ebay in Australia so I snapped it up.

Here is the combination on my Panasonic GH-1 Micro Four Thirds camera (but it would also work on a Four Thirds dSLR and you would get image stabilisation as well):

GH-1 + Leica-D + WCON 08B

Why, oh why would I buy something like this in this day and age??

Number 1 – it was a reasonable price – albeit twice the price of a good polarising filter here.

Number 2 – it is said to be one of the BEST wide converters you can get – although it is big and heavy for a wide converter

Number 3 – it’s rear thread is 62mm – perfect for my superb Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 lens, and the unique Panasonic Lumix 14-140mm HD lens for Micro Four Thirds.

Number 4 – it may save me carrying around my heavy and expensive Olympus 7-14mm lens, if it gives me just that little bit more width.

Number 5 – it looks good with the Leica-D and makes an interesting talking point while impressing those who know little about photography – after all, the whole idea of Micro Four Thirds is to be under-stated and look more like a casual camera belying it’s awesome image quality for its size, but sometimes you need to give people some confidence in your photographic capabilities :)

Why it may end up being false economy:

Number 1 – while it converts the Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 to a 20mm f/1.4, it is very soft on the edges at f/1.4 but pretty good at f/2.8, but I suspect I will be much better off buying the far smaller and lighter Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens one day when I can afford the $A700 for it.

Number 2 – while it converts the Lumix 14-140mm lens to a 11-110mm lens, I would be much better off getting the very nice Olympus 9-18mm lens for Micro Four Thirds which still allows me to use ND gradient filters, etc and is much smaller and lighter.

So, I took it out for a test run today at one of my favourite Melbourne locations, the old artist colony at Montsalvat:

at f/2.8, it performed very well, first, without the wide converter, no sharpening just a little extra contrast added to the jpeg:

no wide converter

and with the wide converter ON – showing almost no vignetting or barrel/pincushion distortion and reasonable but acceptable loss of sharpness at the edges – remember, I am pushing the image circle of Four Thirds lenses here by using native 16:9 image aspect ratio which is a wider sensor than a normal Four Thirds sensor!

with wide converter

I think that is a very acceptable result indeed!

But at f/1.4, the edge softness becomes quite noticeable, although depending on your image, this may not be an issue:

wide converter at f/1.4

Indoors into the window light is often problematic for many lenses, but even at f/1.4, this combination did a wonderful job of controlling flare:

wide converter at f/1.4 indoors

More photos here.

I think this wide converter will be useful and fun to play with – as long as I don’t drop it while screwing it on!

Cine or movie camera lenses on Micro Four Thirds cameras

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

One of the main attractions of the Micro Four Thirds camera system is that you can use almost any lens ever made on it, so that your creativity and fun is maximised.

This is possible because the MFT system has a short sensor to lens mount distance which allows adapters to be made which will allow many cine lenses to focus to infinity, and the cropped sensor of the MFT system means many of these lenses will give reasonable coverage across the frame, although most will cause substantial vignetting – this problem is MUCH more pronounced on larger sensors such as the APS-C size Sony NEX camera system.

Cine lenses offer users of Micro Four Thirds an opportunity to experiment with very small lenses (perhaps a 1/4 of the size of 35mm format lenses) with wide apertures and short focal lengths at often very reasonable prices, and thus allow images with a different “look” without breaking your bank, or your back. The most popular focal lengths to use on Micro Four Thirds are 25-75mm.

Cine lenses are often very simple lenses and include newer Closed Circuit CCD TV lenses which are generally not designed for high image sharpness as with photographic lenses, but also include very expensive, high quality lenses such as PL prime lenses.

16mm movie film dimensions are 10.26mm x 7.49mm, while Super-16mm movie film is 12.52mm x 7.41mm – both MUCH smaller than Micro Four Thirds sensor size of 18mm x 13.5mm (hence the possible vignetting and peripheral smearing of details).

Lenses with a 22mm image circle will give full coverage on a 4:3 Micro Four Thirds image, while a 20mm image circle will cover a 16:9 cropped Micro Four Thirds image, and 16mm image circle (for Super 16) and 14mm image circle (for regular 16) will cause vignetting even on 16:9 cropped Micro Four Thirds.

In general, C mount lenses with focal length less than 25mm will generally have substantial vignetting, and the bokeh is often characterised by a circular, swirling appearance, for instance, this image taken with a Tokina 16mm TV lens and posted on the net by Ben Bammens:

Tokina 16mm

Longer focal length C mount lenses give more classical image appearance as in these images by Yu-Lin Chan:

The main mounts for cine lenses are:

  • D mount – 0.625″diameter thread, 12.29mm flange distance, designed for 8mm movie film – NOT useful for M43 cameras
  • CS mount – 1″diameter thread, 12.52mm flange distance, designed for 16mm movie film – NOT useful for M43 cameras
  • C mount – 1″ diameter thread, 17.5mm flange distance, designed for 16mm movie film
  • Arri PL mount – breech lock mount for 16mm and 35mm movie film
  • Panavision PV mount – breech lock mount for 16mm and 35mm movie film
  • Arri Maxi PL mount – mount for 70mm movie film

Issues with C mount to MFT mount adapters:

  • some lenses, especially TV lenses do not have aperture ring and thus you will not be able to stop them down
  • some lenses may require a little machining (eg. Sony TV 16/1.8)
  • Lenses with max. inner diameter of 37.2mm (lenses with max. near-thread diameter of 37.2mm all can fit well without any modification)
  • Lenses with near-thread diameter larger than 37.2mm but smaller than 49.2mm still can fit, but will not focus to infinity!

Examples of C mount lenses:

  • Kern-Paillard lenses for Bolex movie cameras
  • Schneider 10mm f/1.8
  • Kodak Cine Ektar 15/2.5 – vignetting
  • Schneider Kreuznach Xenon 16/1.9 – vignetting
  • Kern Switar 16/1.8 H16 RX – vignetting
  • Som Berthiot 20mm F1.9
  • Wollensak Cine Velostigmat 1:/1.9
  • Kodak Ektar 25mm f/1.4 – corner vignetting
  • Taylor & Hobson
  • SOM Berthiot 25mm f/0.95 gives full coverage but requires machining
  • Angenieux types M1 or M2 25mm f/0.95 give 95% coverage
  • Angenieux 75mm f2.5
  • a Micro Four Thirds compatibility table can be found here
  • a more extensive listing of C-mount lenses can be seen here

To get ideas of what you can achieve with these lenses, surf the net, for example:

10x zoom lens comparison – Canon, Nikon, Tamron, Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

Many people are looking for a travel or general use / walkabout camera with higher image quality than point and shoots but with a single 10x zoom lens.

So I thought I would amalgamate the lens review results over at the excellent dpreview site as they appear to have relatively good standards for testing which should allow reasonable comparisons of their results. In doing so, I have tried to estimate values from the charts for each lens at their widest aperture, and compared them at approximately equivalent field of view focal lengths – not their native focal lengths.

I have chosen the 5 common zoom lenses likely to be considered for cropped sensor cameras (none of these lenses are applicable to full frame dSLRs):

  • Olympus M.ZD 14-150mm f/4.0-5.6 ED for M43
  • Panasonic Lumix G 14-140mm f/4.0-5.8 OIS HD for M43
  • Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS
  • Nikon DX 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR
  • Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 VC macro for EF-S or DX

Clearly from these tests, if you want a light, compact lens with very good image quality and the sharp macro image quality with minimal aberrations, the stand out lens is the new Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-150mm f/4.0-5.6 ED, although if HD video is critical to your needs, the heavier, more expensive, and even sharper, Panasonic Lumix HD G HD 14-140mm F4-5.8 OIS may be the better option, particularly if you choose a Panasonic Micro Four Thirds camera instead of an Olympus one.

Note that the Panasonic M43 cameras use in-camera optical corrections and the CA results with the Lumix lens is actually neglible after correction (the figures in the table are uncorrected and would apply if the lens is used on an Olympus camera).

Both Panasonic and Olympus cameras are correcting the barrel distortion of their lenses and the table shows the corrected values.

Compared to the Canon, Nikon and Tamron EF-S/DX lenses, the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-150mm f/4.0-5.6 ED lens is:

  • half the weight
  • significantly shorter
  • uses a nice 58mm filter thread instead of more expensive 72mm filters
  • is MUCH sharper edge-to-edge at practically all focal lengths at wide open apertures
  • has much nicer macro image quality
  • nicer bokeh quality
  • no zoom creep (although the zoom is a little stiffer)
  • has comparable levels of CA
  • neglible distortion due to in-camera corrections.
  • importantly, for the rapidly increasing use of these cameras for video work, the lens has been optimised to reduce AF noise being captured by the camera microphones.

This Olympus lens shows that you can have your cake and eat it too!

Of course, it is not going to give the same results as a pro quality f/2.8 zoom lens, but these lenses are a totally different size, weight and expense category.

Perhaps now you can understand why I am loving the Micro Four Thirds camera system – you can take more lenses and cameras with you for the same size and weight, which means, more fun!

Furthermore, with the new firmware hack for the Panasonic GH-1, this camera will now give the highest quality HD video of all the dSLRs.

When you want really small and light, you have the options of the excellent Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens or the cheaper Olympus 17mm f/2.8 pancake lens.

There are a couple of caveats however:

  • if your main aim is capturing fast moving subjects, the Micro Four Thirds system does not currently auto-focus fast enough, and thus you will have to resort to pre-focusing, or resorting to a dSLR such as a Four Thirds Olympus E-30 or E-3 (lenses will be relatively compatible with your Micro Four Thirds camera), or a higher end dSLR from Canon, Nikon, etc. However, all of these 10x zoom lenses are a bit sluggish to AF at telephoto end on moving subjects, so you would probably need a lens better designed for sports anyway.
  • if you also want to use large f/2.0 or f/2.8 zoom lenses, you need a bigger dSLR to make them easier to hold.

If you do decide to go with Canon or Nikon cropped sensor dSLRs, the Tamron lens offers 15x zoom with reasonable image quality.

NB. MTF-50 is an indicator of sharpness, the higher the figure, the better it is.

NB. 10x zoom lenses should not be expected to give nice smooth bokeh quality, and these lenses show this, however, it would appear that the Olympus lens gives the most pleasing bokeh of the five lenses.

Oly M.ZD Pan M43 Canon Nikon Tamron
focal range 14-150 14-140 18-200 18-200 18-270
aperture 4.0-5.6 4.0-5.8 3.5-5.6 3.5-5.6 3.5-6.3
Price $US600 $US790 $US699 $US680 $US629
weight (g) 280g 420g 600g 560g 560g
length (mm) 83-142 83-142 102-162 97-162 101-190
Filter (mm) 58mm 62mm 72mm 72mm 72mm
35mm eq. zoom (mm) 28-300 28-280 29-320 27-300 29-432
close focus (m) 0.46m 0.5m 0.35m 0.5m 0.42m
macro mag. 0.25x 0.2x 0.31x 0.26x 0.32x
MTF-50 at max. apertures
28mm centre 1550 1900 1200 1300 1200
28mm corner 700 760 400 725 650
100mm centre 1450 1450 1450 1100 1500
100mm corner 850 1000 750 450 750
200mm centre 1400 1200 1000 750 1125
200mm corner 700 750 400 460 650
300mm centre 1125 1250 1125 1000 1100
300mm corner 650 700 700 650 600
max. CA at corners
28mm 0.13% 0.12% 0.11% 0.14% 0.08%
200mm 0.14% 0.08% 0.09% 0.10% 0.02%
300mm 0.11% 0.16% 0.22% 0.16% 0.16%
distortion 28mm +1.2%# +1.6%# +3.4% +2.8% +3.5%
max pincushion nil# nil# -1.9% -2.3% -2%
best native focal lenth 25mm 25mm 50mm 24mm 50mm
bokeh the most pleasing
ok? ok bokeh harsh bokeh ok bokeh
macro IQ nice macro IQ nice soft macro soft macro soft macro
zoom creep nil nil ? yes yes
notes HD video silent AF

IS via camera

HD video silent AF

IS

Stepless aperture

IS IS IS

Other 10x zoom lenses:

  • Ricoh GXR P10 lens kit 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 VC – but only a tiny sensor in this lens
  • Samsung 18-200mm OIS / F3.5-6.3 for its NX mirror-less cameras – not yet available ? 2011
  • Sony NEX 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OIS for the NEX mirror-less cameras – not yet available
  • Olympus ZD 18-180mm f/3.5-6.3 ED - consumer grade Four Thirds lens gives 36-360mm coverage and weighs only 440g and costs $US499
  • Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM – cropped sensor lens; less distortion and CA than the Canon, Nikon and Tamron lenses displayed in the table above, but not as sharp as them, and with less effective IS.
  • Sigma 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM – cropped sensor lens; not as sharp as the Tamron but faster AF and better build.
  • Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 L IS USM – pro grade full frame introduced in 2004 but weighs 1.7kg and costs $US2420
  • Sigma 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3 OS HSM full frame - introduced in 2010, available in Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony versions but uses a 95mm filter, weighs 2kg and costs $US2400! There is an older non-IS version of this lens. Personally, I would go for a smaller, lighter 4x telephoto zoom with better image quality, but some people may need such a lens.

Another alternative – wide aperture 3-5x zoom lens with 2x teleconverter:

  • Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 with EC-20 2x teleconverter
    • provides 100-400mm range at f/2.8-3.5 and 200-800mm range at f/5.6-7.0 image stabilised with Olympus camera bodies, pro grade and weighs only 1kg excl. tripod mount and EC-20
    • ie. equates to 100-800mm f/2.8-7.0
  • Olympus ZD 90-250mm f/2.8 with 2x teleconverter
    • provides 180-500mm range at f/2.8 and 360-1000mm range at f/5.6, super pro grade and weighs over 3kg but that is much less than anything in the Canon or Nikon line up for similar telephoto reach.
    • ie. equates to 180-1000mm f/2.8-5.6
  • Canon or Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS/VR with 2x teleconverter
    • provides 70-200mm range at f/2.8 and 140-400mm range at f/5.6 image stabilised but weighs 1.7kg
    • ie. equates to 70-400mm f/2.8-5.6 or 112-640mm on a 1.6x cropped sensor Canon

Since writing this post, Nikon released their full frame Nikkor AF-S 28-300mm f/3.5-5.36 ED VR II G lens for €899 or currently about $US999 which gives a great option for Nikon D700 users in particular:

  • made in Thailand, it obviously provides 28-300mm coverage in 35mm full frame terms but also 42-450mm when used on a DX crop camera.
  • close focus to 50cm
  • zoom lock switch to prevent zoom creep, and 9 rounded aperture blades
  • it is too noisy for recording video while it focuses, but then you probably wouldn’t use a current Nikon dSLR to do high quality video anyway.
  • 2 ED and 3 aspherical elements but no optical performance reports to date
  • it is said to be sharp and certainly seems much sharper than the Nikkor 70-300mm and the DX 18-200mm but less sharp than the pro lenses or the primes as would be expected
  • it has lots of distortion at focal lengths other than 35mm – “Distortion is strong barrel at 28mm, none around 32mm to 35mm, strong pincushion midrange and mid-tele, and moderate pincushion at 300mm”.
  • bokeh seems reasonable
  • the lens hood looks a bit dysfunctional and I suspect many will leave it at home
  • 77mm and weighs 800g – less than half the weight of the Canon 28-300mm L lens, but still not a light lens to carry all day – it is still twice as heavy as a Micro Four Thirds Panasonic option and almost 3x heavier than the Olympus option!
  • Ken Rockwell loves this lens but does state: “If you don’t mind the hefty size, this 28-300mm is perfect. I wouldn’t enjoy traveling with it, and it is perfect for use on a dedicated photo trip”
  • for a full frame user who can’t afford the faster aperture pro lenses, it will give a lot of versatility with somewhat faster AF and better high ISO performance than a Panasonic GH2 with 14-140mm lens, but at significantly more weight, bulk and without the superb HD video capabilities or automatic distortion correction capabilities of the GH2.
  • at the end of the day though, a substantial point of having a full frame dSLR is not only for high ISO performance but shallow depth of field work, and full frame users are still likely to want their heavy, large 70-200mm f/2.8, 24mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.4 lenses with them as well so perhaps the 28-300mm may in fact be redundant for most, and they would be better suited to having a GH2 with 14-140mm lens instead as a 2nd camera for travel and video work.
  • I suspect this lens is a wonderful marketing ploy by Nikon which entices new users to a full frame dSLR at a reasonable price point with the delusion that this lens will be all they will need or want, only to find it does not have the aperture they need, nor the AF speed, and so they end up having this lens becoming redundant – too big for carry around or travel and not good enough for their needs. But by then they are committed to the Nikon system and spending more money – a very nice marketing ploy indeed!