Olympus 300mm

...now browsing by tag

 
 

Getting creative with dragging the shutter with 6.5EV IS and the Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 lens with birds in flight

Friday, April 7th, 2017

I was a touch bored last night as the sun set on another lovely Autumn day in Melbourne.

sunset

I had been carrying my Olympus micro ZD 300mm f/4 lens and my Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens on two Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera bodies for 3 hours as a walked around some old salt pan lakes.

The sun had just set behind some dark clouds and the very skittish tiny robins were hopping along the track in front of me as I walked hungry and thirsty back to my car – always frustratingly keeping their distance well away from me – even for the 600mm super telephoto reach of this lens.

So when I came across a heron I decided to try something different – drag the shutter and see how good the E-M1 Mark II’s IS works for panning.

So here we have the same bird (I presume a heron) taking off and landing but in very different light angles as it flew 180 degrees around me.

These are NOT meant to be sharp, documentary style shots of birds in flight but something a bit more abstract and arty – and I quite like what I achieved, and the AF was fast and the Olympus image stabilisation panned very well indeed!

 

bird

Above was shot at 1/40th second hand held 600mm telephoto reach in full frame terms – rear feathers under the wing are still quite sharp despite the slow shutter speed and flight of the bird!

bird

This one was shot at 1/10th sec – the panning lines are very straight – either I panned extremely smoothly or the IS worked very well to ignore my angular pan – anyway I quite like the effect – although there does seem to be the face of a demon here – an angel in wolf’s clothing perhaps?

I suspect the vivid colours straight from the camera need a bit of subduing before it becomes wall art but it was a fun interesting little exercise – just don’t try this at home with your Canon or Nikon 600mm f/4 lens – you will do yourself an injury!

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II + Olympus 300mm f/4 lens – just awesome for water-ski events such as Melbourne’s Moomba

Sunday, March 12th, 2017

I come from a long line of broken Olympus promises when it comes to useful continuous autofocus capability.

Olympus have had C-AF and their even less useful C-AF Tracking modes in nearly every digital camera I have owned – C8080, E330, E510, E-M5 and E-M1 mark I – and sadly, they have all sucked when it came to continuous autofocus on a moving subject, although the E-M1 mark I was a big improvement. Even my super expensive Canon 1D Mark III dSLR AI-SERVO AF mode which was designed for pro sports photographers had sub-optimal AF in this regard.

So, you can see I am used to being let down in this area and was preparing myself for another disappointment.

The BIG C-AF TEST:

This weekend it is Melbourne’s Moomba festival and a big part of it is the water ski-ing championships on the Yarra River.

So now I have this opportunity to test out the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II flagship sports camera from Olympus with their truly amazing Olympus micro Zuiko Digital (mZD) 300mm f/4 OIS lens which makes a comfortably hand holdable kit for the whole day giving 600mm telephoto reach at f/4 aperture with over 6 stops image stabilisation – which may have been a factor in image quality given I was panning madly all day as if I was a tennis umpire.

I am not a sports photographer and this camera does allow a number of settings to allow you to optimise AF algorithms – I left these at their default value, but I did create an in-camera focus range limiter – a novel and unique functionality peculiar to this camera – you can effectively speed up AF and have it ignore the crowds in the background or any foreground leaves. I did find a weird quirk though – the C-AF Tracking mode seemed to ignore the focus limiter settings, so I resorted to C-AF which is almost certainly the thing to do with this camera anyway! You can rapidly disable the in-camera focus limiter by applying a lens based focus limiter – this was handy at times.

The other amazing thing with this camera is the insanely fast electronic shutter burst mode of 18fps with full C-AF, and you can also enable the Pro-Capture mode which I did at the end for the jumps as I lost sight of the skier behind the jump, but Pro-Capture ensures I did not suffer any reaction lag by capturing the 14 frames prior to pressing the shutter – this will be an essential feature for pros one day!

Thus, I shot all my shots in Aperture Priority metering at f/4, Picture Mode = Vivid (I probably didn’t need to do this to improve CDAF speed as for this work we are using the PDAF sensors), Silent Burst Low rate (18fps), with C-AF using the central 9 AF points (the full area seemed less reliable – I hope Olympus add a larger region than just 9 to choose from as getting your subject in this area is critical for AF success!). Depending on whether the skier was front-lit by sun, or backlit, I would adjust the exposure compensation a touch.

When the skier came along I just composed to have them in the AF region, then held down the shutter as I panned – almost no EVF blackout made this possible with a little practice and getting used to the skier’s rapid changes of direction.

At the end you do have to wait for the burst of RAW files to empty from the buffer before you can review them – I just used one card so I could more quickly review them in camera and delete the duds (there were many where the skier was well away from the AF region and thus out of focus – but that was my lack of skill not the camera’s fault). If I wrote a RAW to one card and JPEG to the other card, I would have had to separately delete from each card which would have been a big pain.

Firstly, will the camera C-AF ignore intervening foreground?

then passing behind a tree branch as I panned madly to keep up with him:

Well that was an unexpected awesome surprise! It worked!

Now, the hard one – a 1.5 sec sequence at 18fps with skier covering 50m camera-to-subject distance:

This sequence was shot in much lower light as dark grey storm clouds gathered and blocked the sun, but at least I didn’t have to shoot directly into the sun which could have made the AF more challenging.  This sequence is essentially straight from camera just resized for web.

Here is the 1st of the sequence of 25 shots all taken at ISO 800, f/4, at around 1/800th sec – perhaps I should have used shutter priority at 1/2000th sec and auto ISO:

The 15th frame, still keeping her in focus despite me panning away:

Preparing for her landing, 22nd frame, still in reasonable focus – I think the horizontal distance covered was some 45-50m from what the commentators said:

Yes! a safe landing, 28th frame, acceptably in focus – of all the 28 frames, only 2 were grossly out of focus, and they were mainly because my panning let the subject leave the AF region while the subject was coming towards me very quickly!

I don’t know about you but that craps on my Canon 1D Mark III and what’s more, the image quality in terms of subject sharpness was better than what a fellow I met there who shoots the event every year achieved using a Nikon D3S pro dSLR with a big, heavy Tamron 150-600mm lens which I am guessing is not as sharp wide open as is the Olympus lens, plus the old D3s only as 12mp not 20mp to play with as does the Olympus – but I presume it would beat the Olympus kit when the light faded, plus he had an advantage of being able to zoom out.

OK, I am satisfied – at last Olympus have a winner for sports photography, and the 18fps is really cool, plus being electronic, it doesn’t wear out the mechanical shutter mechanism! Just be prepared to weed through the images and discard those you don’t want, otherwise you will end up with 20-40Gb easily in an afternoon.

Now the technical stuff is addressed, here are some cool beginner shots:

You can click on these for larger size views.

In addition to applying some vibrance, and clarity in LR, the following have all been cropped as even with 600mm effective focal length, they were too far away – feel bad for the full frame guys trying to do this! This were at ISO 400, f/4 and around 1/2000th – 1/6400th sec. In retrospect, in bright sunlight, I should have used ISO 200 to get a tad more dynamic range and image quality, or used auto ISO and shutter priority at 1/2000th sec.

Attaching the leg rope for trick ski-ing:

Cool as she can be:

Somersault action:

Ooops, lost the rope – this is why 18fps beats 10fps – you get to capture action in more detail within the time window:

A B&W somersault:

This guy is obviously having too much fun on the jumps – Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens at ISO 800, f/4, 1/500th sec (I should have used f/2.8 not sure how it ended up as f/4 – perhaps I forgot to check it after changing lenses):

This lady nails it too – Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens at ISO 800, f/4, 1/1000th sec:

No major issues with rolling shutter from the electronic shutter and me panning horizontally with near vertical lines- Olympus has this well controlled although you can demonstrate it if you try hard.

Perhaps Canon and Nikon should be worried – how are they going to integrate 18fps into their sports dSLRs without really giving their mirror system and their mechanical shutters a real working out every time, not to mention the noise from the mirror slapping around!

And, don’t forget, I could have gone to a really insane 60fps with this camera if I didn’t need C-AF – Canon and Nikon could build a dSLR with this but you would have to resort to Live View and hold the camera away from your face to view the rear screen – not great for camera shake!

But if the Canon and Nikon guys are prepared to shell out $20,000 for their pro dSLR plus 600mm f/4 OIS lens, then they could get more background blurring, and shoot at lower light levels thanks to their lower noise at higher ISO – but then carrying this 7kg kit and a monopod around all day would be heavy work indeed! The E-M1 Mark ii plus Olympus 300mm f/4 gives same field of view with faster burst rates plus the option of awesome image stabilised 4K cinematic video and weighs only 1.8kg and costs around 1/3rd the price.

 I do though have a couple of firmware suggestions for Olympus:

  • create an alternate method of setting the in-camera focus limiter – entering a distance manually is not easy and takes a lot of trial and error work in estimating distances then testing to see if you are correct – surely an option could be to use the current focus position?
  • make another option for AF area selection – perhaps 25-59 AF points?
  • prevent C-AF Tracking from selecting subjects to track which are outside the AF Limiter range – although I suspect C-AF Tracking has a long way to go before it becomes really useful – I do remember once, this was almost useful on my Panasonic GH-1 if the subject was not moving too fast, but the Olympus cameras seem to lose the subject too easily and too randomly. My tip – don’t use C-AF Tr just use C-AF or if your Olympus cameras does not have PDAF, stick to S-AF.
  • add an AF adjustment distance option +/- x meters for scenarios such as the jumps where the camera will AF on the skis leaving the face a touch soft being perhaps 1-2m behind the skis – the ability to program in such fine control could come in handy although only for defined and consistent scenarios with shallow DOF. This would be similar to AF Micro Adjustment function but with a distance scale with 0.1m precision.
  • provide a delete option that deletes the image from both SD cards simultaneously, in a similar way the option to delete RAW and the JPEG on the one card is available.

Tips for using the new unique AF Limiter functionality:

One must set the AF Limiter range in meters via the menu system.

Although you could guess a focus range to use such as 10m to 50m and then test it to ensure your subjects will be able to have AF lock achieved.

There is a much more accurate way – use the other novel functionality – use the Preset MF mode to measure the distances accurately for you!

Set AF mode to PreMF and while in the settings mode, press INFO button, and then half-press shutter to lock AF on various distances, and for each, you will get a read out of the camera to subject distance with 0.1m precision – just what you need when shooting in an aquarium and you wish to ignore the dirt on the glass!

Put your AF mode back to C-AF.

Use the distances to dial into the AF Limiter menu settings (you can store up to 3 AF Limiter ranges).

To rapidly disable the in-camera AF Limiter (eg. you decide to shoot something different), you have several mechanisms:

  • turn it off in the menu – a little time consuming, or,
  • turn the lens focus limiter ON and this will over-ride the in-camera AF Limiter range, or,
  • set your sports shooting mode with AF Limiter ON to a custom setting, and normal mode with AF Limiter OFF to another custom setting, then you can just rotate the PASM dial to switch modes, or,
  • allocate AF Limiter to a function button which will allow you to choose which AF Limiter setting to use or to turn it off

Summary:

The world is full of millisecond events which all blur in our minds, or we just don’t notice, or perhaps just have an overall gestalt perception – this Olympus camera’s 18fps and 60 fps modes opens up this world – I never really noticed the skier losing grip of the rope during the somersault, my mind barely could take in the somersault itself as it was over and done with so quickly – but this camera caught that moment in time – you just have to be there and be ready – and with pro Capture mode you can even capture the milliseconds before you pressed the button – just awesome!

C-AF is finally there and works extremely well even at 18fps – I am impressed!

Tarra Bulga National Park and Aussie wildlife in the wild

Monday, November 28th, 2016

Tarra Bulga National Park is a mountainous region of cool temperate rainforest which once covered most of Gippsland until European settlers cleared most of it in the mid 19th century.

Access is via Traralgon from the north (2.5hr drive from Melbourne)  or via a windy narrow two-way bitumen road from the south along the Tarra Valley which is not suitable for caravans, but which takes you to other picnic areas en route such as Tarra Falls (not an easy photograph) and Cyathea Falls (a short circuit loop walk accesses this small waterfall), the remote Tarra Valley Caravan Park (this is as far north on the Tara Valley road that caravans can access – they can’t go further north to the NP), and then access to coastal Gippsland including historic Port Albert (Gippsland’s first port, established c 1850) and Wilsons Promontory  (The Prom).

If you are coming from the south then a short detour to Victoria’s tallest waterfall, Agnes Falls is well worth it:

Agnes Falls

Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens at 17mm.

Tarra Bulga NP has a nice open picnic ground and nearby tea rooms. The picnic ground has a variety of birds including the very friendly crimson rosellas which you may find end up sitting on your shoulder while you try to eat:

rosella

The flighty wrens and robins are much harder to catch such as this flame robin which was about 10-15m away and required cropping:

wren

and even the Laughing Kookaburra likes you to keep your distance of about 10-15m:

kookaburra

on the road near the picnic ground was this poor wombat who appeared to be coping well despite a limp from past trauma:

wombat

The main attraction though at Tarra Bulga NP is the historic suspension bridge within the majestic Eucalpytus regnans rainforest (the tallest flowering plants in the world) – if you walk the full circuit “scenic track” it is a pleasant largely shaded 2.8km circuit walk with total ascent of 129m (mainly up graded path rather than steps) which will take just under 1hr allowing for time to get a few pics.

suspension bridge

suspension bridge

If you have the time to also visit Wilsons Prom you can complete your Aussie wildlife in the wild experience with a few more such as this cute kangaroo joey feeding at dusk:

joey

or these emus:

emus

and if the prevailing winds have been westerlies, you may find the beaches covered in these small beautiful but painful Blue Bottle Portugese Man’O'War jellyfish which will give you a painful sting if your skin touches the tentacles which can measure some 1m in length:

blue bottle

and nearby, this Sooty Oyster Catcher was taking a bath:

oystercatcher

I hope this has inspired you to get out and go for a drive, or better still stay for a couple of nights or more and explore the region.

We had an amazingly tasty and healthy lunch at the Port Albert Cafe and Wine Bar – the owner is a brilliant chef who obviously loves her cooking, the crispy duck with mango and cashew salad was awesome and the many cake options for dessert (or take with you for your NP walk) make it well worth the visit – unfortunately she has the business up for sale so make sure you get there before she has moved on.

Most of the above photos were taken with the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens, or for the birds, the Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 lens using a Micro Four Thirds Olympus OM-D E-M1 or E-M5 camera.

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

Monday, November 14th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

300mm eq focal length moon

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

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

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

50mm eq focal length

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

600mmeq focal length


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

600mmeq focal length

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

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

 

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

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

600mmeq focal length

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

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

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

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

Victoria’s famous Wilsons Promontory – the Prom – a mecca for nature tourists

Monday, October 17th, 2016

Victoria has several main tourist destinations which are must see for many who come to Australia such as:

  • the fairy penguin parade at nearby Philip Island
  • the Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road along with the rainforests and beaches of the Otway Ranges
  • Wilsons Promontory with its unspoilt beaches, lovely orange moss covered granite boulders and plenty of Australian wildlife including kangaroos, wallabies, emus, wombats, echidnas and perhaps you may see koalas and other animals.

This week I had the luxury of a few days off by myself to explore the Prom – it’s been a long 30 years since I was last there, and is only now recovering from devastating bush fires, storms and floods from just a few years ago – but none of these have adversely affected the lovely beaches which are just as I remembered them.

The following photos were taken with my Micro Four Thirds cameras – the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and E-M5.

The Prom is around 2.5-3 hrs drive from Melbourne (including the 30 minute drive from the entrance gates to the main camp ground at Tidal River).

Before you go, check the 7 day forecast here.

Note that the Prom is regarded as THE most windy place on mainland Australia thanks to the exposure to the south-easterly winds coming across Bass Strait from the Antarctic, and note that October is generally the most windy month of the year. Hold onto your hat when you climb the Big Drift!

October is a great time to visit the Prom because:

  • there are not too many people down there, especially mid week when you can often have the beach to yourself and accommodation is not an issue (accommodation needs to be booked months in advance for school holidays and public holiday peak periods)
  • the weather is not too hot given that most of the walks and the beaches as well as the very exposed Big Drift dune system have little sun protection
  • the weather is not too sunny – October is generally a rather cloudy month but that makes for more pleasant walking and more interesting photography
  • the weather is not too cold, although it did struggle to get to 21 deg C, the overnight lows though were only down to around 9 deg C so not too harsh for overnight campers
  • it is Spring and the multitude of wild flowers including native orchids are in bloom, along with the swarms of native bees (which don’t attack you!) and other flying insects including butterflies – a downside is that your car will need the multitude of dead insects removed from windscreen and bonnet!
  • in Summer and Autumn, there is not only far more people to contend with but sand flies with their delayed onset severe itching, and biting march flies are more problematic.

Facilities at the Prom:

The prom is managed by Parks Victoria who run the bookings for accommodation – which includes cabins, huts, powered and unpowered camp sites including the various unpowered remote overnight walk camp sites  (there is no free camping within the park).

An overview map of the park can be downloaded here and the Parks Visitor’s Guide can be downloaded here.

The last petrol is just before the park entrance at Yanakie where there is also a general store and a bakery cafe (although the cafe is not open every day!).

There is a general store and take away food cafe at Tidal River and they make nice hamburgers, although obviously, prices at such a remote place are not on the cheap side. Note that this cafe closes at 4.30pm in daylight saving time and 4pm at other times (winter). This means you MUST provide for your own evening meals in the park – but they do offer free gas BBQs to use.

There is a general store in Yanakie and Sandy Point but like most rural shops close around 5-6pm, so after this time you will need to go to the pub in Fish Creek or a restaurant further afield such as Meeniyan or Foster.

A map of Tidal River can be downloaded on this link.

At most of the camp sites the tank water probably should be treated to ensure it is potable, or bring your own water.

An information pamphlet on the many walks can be downloaded from this link.

The lovely beaches that require only a short walk from your car:

Tidal River and Norman Beach:

This is an incredibly beautiful pristine beach with a lovely tannin-colored but clear freshwater stream flowing alongside uniquely coloured granite boulders to the sea.

On warmer days, the beach will be filled with kids playing beach cricket or football, while others surf or just enjoy the sand, river and exploring the boulders.

tidal river

Squeaky Beach:

A favorite of mine – the sand grains are fine which results in a lovely squeaky noise as you walk – you will need to get your toes wet as you need to cross the shallow stream to get to the beach – but it is well worth it.

The north end has a maze of large “plum pudding” type granite boulders in which to explore at low tide with a back drop of Mt Bishop whilst one looks out to small islands.

squeaky beach

squeaky beach

Whisky Bay:

Another photographer’s favorite beach with its large boulders at each end which can be explored at low tide.

whisky bay beach

whisky bay beach

whisky bay beach

Hand held long exposure using a ND400 filter and the Olympus OM-D cameras with their amazing image stabilisation.

The regenerating forests make for relaxing walks:

An easily accessible nature walk is the Lilly Pilly Gully Nature Walk which not only takes you through some nice eucalypt forest regenerating after the bushfires but is abundant with wild flowers and wild life such as these which were all taken with the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens:

echidna

An echidna quickly crossed the path ahead of me – it pays to have your telephoto lens always ready to shoot!

native orchid

Native orchid

butterfly on a flowering native grass tree

Butterfly on a flowering native grass tree

forest

Forest

forest

Fire affected forest

At the end of the day you may be blessed with a lovely sunset:

forest

This image was taken with the brilliant Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 lens giving hand held 600mm telephoto reach allowing good views of the peninsula at South Walkerville in the distance which in itself is a nice area to explore with its historic limestone kilns on the beach.

My next post, is my favorite area at the Prom – the massive, remote and very eerie sand dunes that are the Big Drift.

Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 bokeh

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

oak leaves in winter

residual oak leaves in mid-winter.

bokeh flowers

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

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

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

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

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

See my list of Micro Four Thirds lenses.

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

Saturday, July 2nd, 2016

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

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

So I set the E-M1 up as follows:

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

Technique:

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

Outcome:

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

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

footy

no crop for this one:

footy

and a short ~50% cropped sequence:

footy

footy

footy

Conclusion:

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

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

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

 

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

Friday, June 24th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

uncropped bird

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

cropped bird

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

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

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

autumn leaf in winter

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

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

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

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

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

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

bird

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

eye

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

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

stork

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

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

tiger quoll

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

emu bokeh

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

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

wallaby

But what about birds in flight I hear you say?

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

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

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

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

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

dot sight with bracket

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

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

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

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

More details on shooting birds in flight here.

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

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

Saturday, June 18th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do I want from a super telephoto lens?

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

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

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

Resolutions at 300mm:

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

Chromatic aberration at 300mm:

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

Conclusion:

You get what you pay for!

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

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

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

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

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

bokeh test

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

moon

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

crop moon

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

sports

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start saving up!!!

Disclaimer: I do not work for, nor am I paid in any way, by any photography company, including Olympus and Panasonic, and any gear I test, I have bought from a retail store without any privileged discounts.