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Can Micro Four Thirds cameras do portraiture well?

Monday, December 26th, 2016

I often get asked this question as many people are told that you need a full frame camera to do portraiture to get adequately shallow depth of field and nice bokeh blurred backgrounds.

This might apply if you are shooting wide angle lenses but once you hit standard focal lengths and longer, Micro Four Thirds cameras are very adequate indeed – IF you are using a wide aperture lens such as the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7, Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2, Olympus 25mm f/1.8, Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2, Olympus 45mm f/1.8, Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 or even the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 when used at 135-150mm.

A world famous portrait photographer, Sean Archer started off with Micro Four Thirds, and was encouraged to migrate to full frame dSLR which he did, but he is now back using Micro Four Thirds and the Olympus 45mm and 75mm f/1.8 lenses.

I have blogged before of Sean’s beautiful work here.

The Olympus OM-D cameras offer a few major advantages over full frame dSLRs for portraiture:

  • image stabilisation with prime lenses allowing you to shoot at slower shutter speeds such as in low light or with fill in flash
  • more compact and light – you are more likely to take it with you and not intimidate your subjects
  • near silent – great for ceremonies, concerts, and anywhere else where a noisy dSLR is not welcome
  • closest eye detection AF for superbly sharp autofocus on the closest eye one of the most desirable features of a portrait (although not 100% reliable but much better than a dSLR, and your subject’s eye does not need to be near the centre of the image as with a dSLR AF point)

There are some downsides compared with a full frame dSLR:

  • AF is not so good for moving subjects unless you get a Panasonic G85 or Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II
  • the near silent shutter can work against you if shooting models – they can’t hear when you have got the shot
  • the cameras don’t look as big and heavy to be “professional” – never-mind, just carry a few with battery grips attached and external flashes
  • less able to gain shallow DOF with wide angle lenses
  • less able to gain super shallow “arty” DOF – don’t worry, most professionals won’t use this for  portraiture as you don’t get the ear to nose in focus which is what is desirable for most portraits
  • ability to use standard f/2.8 zoom lenses for adequate shallow DOF portraits (the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 won’t give you the shallow DOF you want)

My favourite lens for portraiture is the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8:

Here are some examples from a workshop I ran on a sunny day outdoors without reflectors or flashes to show that you don’t need a full frame dSLR to get beautiful imagery.
75mm

75mm

75mm

75mm

please say yes

You can see more outdoor sunny day portraits of mine using this lens at this blog post.

One can use the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8:

Olympus lens

The Olympus mZD 45mm f/1.8 makes for a nice light, compact portrait lens:

Zombies shot outdoor with an off-camera Orbis Ring Flash attached to an Olympus flash with a orange filter on:

zombie guy

retro zombie

For social events, I love the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake:

Camera, lens and bounce flash kit all fit in a couple of coat pockets!

Here the camera automatically focused on the closest face which is well to the left of what the AF points on most dSLRs would be able to detect, but not an issue with a mirrorless camera!

For Olympus users, they may prefer the larger and newer Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens with faster AF, or, if you have the money, the very expensive but superb Olympus 25mm f/1.2 lens.

DOF
see more of these here.

With Micro Four Thirds, there is a large range of lenses, but if you want shallow depth of field, you do need to choose a wide aperture lens such as f/1.2 – f/1.8 or f/2.8 if focal length is longer than 135mm.

 

Melbourne’s graffiti art with the Olympus mZD 75mm lens

Saturday, October 29th, 2016

After checking out the Zombie Walk, I decided to head home the long way and shoot some graffiti in more remote back alleys and in in some of my visual interpretations.

I decided to shoot with Micro Four Thirds and just my Olympus OM-D E-M1 with the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens and no additional lighting this time.

Melbourne

The first two are obviously not graffiti, but I am throwing them in the mix for fun.

Melbourne

Melbourne

Melbourne

Melbourne

Melbourne

Melbourne

Melbourne

Melbourne

There is a bit of talent there!

Melbourne’s 1st official Zombie Walk – zombies shot with the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens

Saturday, October 29th, 2016

Melbourne has had a very popular unofficial Zombie Shuffle for the past 11 years, and this year’s one was held last week.

But today was Melbourne’s first sponsored Zombie Walk – a great family fun day in the spring sunshine with charity proceeds going to the Brain Foundation.

It is a day for photographers to have fun shooting the zombies which have gone to considerable lengths to look the part.

I decided to shoot with Micro Four Thirds and just my Olympus OM-D E-M1 with the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens and no additional lighting this time.

zombie

zombie

zombie

zombie

zombie

zombie

zombie

zombie

It was a great day out and fantastic to see so many having fun and being generous and patient with each other.

I don’t have to remind you how much I love that lens – although it does make it hard to get group shots in crowded situations where you can really step back too far.

The new Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2 might be a better choice for these events!

The Bachelorette – a little photo story from an available light portrait workshop yesterday using the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens

Sunday, October 25th, 2015

I rarely shoot portraits and so when an opportunity came up for an outdoor available light workshop yesterday on an afternoon in the harsh Australian sun when only crazy people shoot portraits, I just had to attend.

The Australian sun in spring and summer is high in the sky casting dark shadows on eyes and is not easy to work with – most fashion photographers shooting outdoors would only shoot in the early morning or late afternoon to catch a more flattering sun angle or just the glow from the sky after the sun has set.

Why do workshops?

Photography is a life long learning experience and by attending workshops you get to experience new ideas and experiment with them as well as network with like minded people. Another great benefit is that with a few people attending the costs of model and hair and make up artist time becomes more affordable for non-commercial photographers like me and this makes them attractive and a win-win scenario for all concerned.

This workshop was organised by a Melbourne professional photographer, Nelli Huié, who ran an excellent, well organised session and demonstrated several different styles and gave some great tips.

The brilliant actress / model was Kyla Nichole Nelson and the hair and makeup artist was Aneta Nabrdalik – both had their work cut out in the trying sunny conditions.

After perusing my images I decided to create a “Bachelorette” storyline (or perhaps it is more Mills and Boon?) to fit the emotive feel of some of my images I selected from the afternoon – a bit cheesy, but then so it is the reality TV show. The chosen images are partly to show the diversity of what we achieved and also show the talent of Kyla’s ability to morph from one emotion to another whilst still creating aesthetic poses with minimal direction, while I tried to position the camera for best subject and background interplay whilst juggling with exposure (mostly manual exposure mode), white balance and focus.

All images were shot hand held with a Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with my favourite portrait lens, the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 with available light only – no fill-in flash. The last two images used a diffuser in bright sunlight, the others were achieved with selective placement of the model amongst trees. The 1st image foreground bokeh was generated from out of focus fellow attendees in front of me which I decided to include in the shot.

Post-processing was of RAW files in Adobe Lightroom with editing mainly of removal of blemishes and some local and overall tone edits, but no skin smoothing and no sharpening other than the default sharpen for screen on export from Lightroom. No adjustments to eyes except for some lightening of her eyes in the smiling shot.

Enjoy.. and I hope they inspire you to get out and do some workshops and experiment – look for the light, always observant of how the light falls on your subject and just as important how you choose a background and how you render it with nice bokeh.

The Bachelorette:

Please, please, say yes ….

please say yes

Yes, he said yes!

yes

Today is the day, I can’t wait til he gets here:

optimism

anticipation

Typical guy, late as usual…

late

Now I’m getting worried, he should be here…

late

How could he do this to me?

glassy eyes

I couldn’t bear to live without him

sleeping beauty

Sleeping beauty waiting for another prince to come along:

sleeping beauty