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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.


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


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!

Macrophotography with the Micro Four Thirds – what options do we have?

Monday, January 11th, 2010

This post is an attempt to answer one of my reader’s questions on whether to buy a GH-1 for dental macrophotography.

As popular as the Micro Four Thirds cameras have been in 2009, the system is still very young, and one area that is yet to be developed adequately is macrophotography.

Micro Four Thirds allows you to embark on either an expensive auto-focus route with the Leica-D 45mm f/2.8 macro lens, or an extremely large range of very cheap but high quality, legacy manual focus macro options.

First, the bad news:

There is only one dedicated AF macro lens available for the M43 system at present – the expensive Panasonic Leica-D 45mm f/2.8 OIS MFT lens which is a very nice lens with focus range limiter and allows one to image a subject size 1/4 that of a full frame film, but its lack of focus scale makes manual focus more difficult than with other macro lenses.

The Olympus Four Thirds ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro lens, although one of the sharpest lenses ever made, it will not AF on a Panasonic M43 camera, and will AF slowly on an Olympus M43 camera. This AF issue also applies to the cheaper Olympus ZD 35mm macro lens for Four Thirds.

The Olympus SRF-11 Ring Flash for Four Thirds has a FR-1 adapter for the Olympus Four Thirds ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro lens but it is 1mm too wide to attach to the Panasonic Leica-D 45mm macro lens, and is quite a large flash to use on the small M43 bodies – but you do get TTL exposure and it is a lovely ring flash with full circumferential flash unlike the Canon ring flash.

The 14-140mm lens will have difficulty with AF inside the mouth given its f/5.6 aperture (I have tried that!)

The built-in popup flash of the GH-1 is not high enough to prevent lens shadowing when the 14-140mm lens is used at focal lengths 14-20mm, or when the ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro lens is used at closer than 0.26m focal setting.

The GH-1 will not allow TTL flash with legacy lenses – seems it needs to know what the aperture is and works on the assumption aperture is ~f/2.8, furthermore flash exposure compensation with legacy lenses gives strange results – please Panasonic fix this up with a firmware update! Fortunately, you can easily set the Ring Flash to a manual output setting (you can’t do this with the built-in flash though!).

Now the good news:

1:1 macro on these cameras is HIGHER magnification than 1:1 on 35mm cameras as it gives subject size of 23mmx17mm not 36mm x 24mm.

From dpreview.com’s review of the Panasonic 45mm f/2.8 macro lens:

“On Panasonic G-series models, the 45mm becomes capable of something that’s simply not possible with any DSLR system – genuinely usable autofocus when shooting macros. These cameras allow you to choose an extremely small AF point and place it wherever you like within a large area of the frame (although not at the extreme borders). This means you can tell the camera to focus precisely where you want within your composition, and it will just do it without any fuss – it’s a very useful tool indeed.”

Most photographers who are serious about macro work do not use autofocus but use manual focus – often setting the lens to a given magnification setting (ie. a focus point), and then move the camera in or out from the subject until focus is achieved.

Autofocus is generally a challenge in macro work, particularly when the subject is not in a plane parallel to the camera, and in the low light levels inside someone’s mouth, and where there is low contrast such as on mucosa or teeth, combined with specular reflections of the light source.

Thus, the lack of AF macro lenses is not a big deal.

The absence of a mirror means you have much more efficient access to accurate manual focus and you can choose any area of the screen to magnify, plus you don’t have to worry about vibrations of the mirror and having to use mirror lock up for each shot at high magnification.

For instance, to see how easy and accurate it is to manually focus with the Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro lens on a Panasonic GH-1:

  • turn GH-1 on and set it to Manual Focus, set desired aperture/exposure mode as usual.
  • turn focus ring of the lens to closest focus
  • half-press shutter to return view to full view and then move camera in to get approximate focus
  • either press the AF button on the rear of the GH-1 and press OK button, or better still, rotate the lens focus towards more macro (and thus it won’t change the focus point as it is already at closest focus, but this will activate the magnified view function of the GH-1)
  • now magnified view is activated, move camera in or out to achieve perfect focus
  • take the shot even while in magnified  view mode if you wish – there is no mirror to drop down as with dSLRs
  • manual focus with this lens on a M43 camera is super easy and accurate, much better than on ANY dSLR I have seen.

The M43 cameras allow you to use a wider 16:9 aspect ratio which may be more applicable to cosmetic dental photography.

The EVF or LCD means that even if you stop down a lens, your viewfinder does not become dark as it would in optical dSLR viewfinders.

If you use the GH-1 on a tripod, you also have the wonderful advantage of the flip out swiveling LCD to make your life that much easier.

This means you have access to using almost every macro lens ever made with or without extension tubes or bellows or teleconverters.

For example, you can pick up an excellent Olympus OM 50mm f/3.5 macro lens on Ebay quite cheaply, and as this is a legacy lens, it has magnification markings (although you will need to double these for the 2x crop factor).

If you are going to routinely use the same magnification, then manual macro flash photography becomes a LOT easier and you could even use a Canon Ring Flash on your M43 camera in manual mode, and attach it to whichever lens you wish to use via the appropriate filter adapter – see using Canon flash on M43 cameras here.

If you have the Olympus Ring Flash, it can be used without an adapter for a lens by holding it as the lens sits inside the ring, and of course you will have TTL auto exposure, even if using legacy macro lenses (as long as you use an Olympus M43 camera as TTL on Panny’s seems to assume lens is set to f/2.8!)

The hopefully near future:

I posted a blog in August 2009 suggesting that it was time for Olympus to revamp their macro system, in particular, a faster focusing 50mm f/2.0 macro lens for Four Thirds – in fact, Olympus has announced a M43 50mm macro lens will be available in 2011 – hopefully a f/2.0 so it can be used as a portrait lens as well, and a more compact macro ring flash kit with ability to adapt onto M43 lenses.

Although neither Olympus nor Panasonic have announced a new Ring Flash for M43, I am sure it can’t be too far away, presumably it is more likely to be 2011 than 2010.

In the meantime, there are many options to consider, and the many Canon dSLR users who have adopted M43 as their 2nd camera system will be thankful that their Canon flashes can be used without modification on a M43 camera – albeit only in manual mode.

What options now for dental work using a Panasonic GH-1?

Option 1 for AF  and  TTL flash but need to hand hold the ring flash:

  • Panasonic Leica-D 45mm f/2.8 OIS ($US899 or $A1549 RRP) + Olympus Ring Flash ($A1299)
  • manual focus more difficult as no focus distance scale thus hard to preset a focus distance
  • perhaps the best macro AF system available with any camera system
  • softer corners on imaging flat surfaces as not a true flat field lens

Option 2 for MF only and TTL but no need to hand hold the ring flash:

  • Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro ($A769) + Four Thirds adapter ($A345) + FR-1 Ring Flash adapter ($A100?) + Olympus Ring flash ($A1299) +/- EC-20 2x teleconverter for 23mmx17mm subject size ($A675)
  • focus distance scale makes presetting manual focus distance easier
  • f/2.0 allows better use as a portrait lens for blurring the background
  • very sharp edge to edge image quality
  • can add the EC-20 teleconverter to give a 35mm equivalent 200mm focal length reach at f/4 light levels, and subject size 23x17mm
  • FR-1 ring flash adapter makes a very handy and effective lens hood as well as helps to protect the lens – I leave mine on!
  • can be used with full AF on Four Thirds cameras, and with slow AF on Olympus M43 cameras
  • only marginally larger than the 45mm f/2.8
  • this would probably be the best option for those who also have Four Thirds dSLRs.

Option 3 for good quality on the cheap, manual flash and hand hold the ring flash:

  • Olympus OM 50mm f/3.5 macro ($A150 Ebay) + OM-M43 adapter + Olympus ring flash ($A1299)

Option 4 for good quality on the cheap, manual flash but no need to hand hold the ring flash:

  • Olympus OM 50mm f/3.5 macro + OM-M43 adapter + Canon ring flash + 49mm ring flash adapter (or 49mm step up ring)
  • Olympus OM bellows or OM 65-116 auto tube with OM macro lenses + OM-M43 adapter
  • Nikon micro lens + Nikon F-M43 adapter ($A40)
  • Canon FD macro lens + Canon FD-M43 adapter ($A40)

NB. of course, you may find the cheaper Olympus E-P1 is adequate for your needs instead of a GH-1, in which case you will get some slow AF with the ZD 50mm macro and you will also get image stabilisation for non-flash uses, and presumably you will get TTL external flash even with legacy lenses (unlike the GH-1 but I have not tested this on the E-P1).

See also my links to macrophotography information although this article was written before Micro Four Thirds system was developed and some of my macrophotography photos (mainly taken with an Olympus E510 before I bought my GH-1)

Ring flash
Panasonic GH-1 with Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro, flash adapter and Olympus Ring Flash. The hand grip on the GH-1 is very handy here.

Finally, Metz offer a Mecablitz 15 MS-1 Slave Ring Flash which is compatible with Olympus and Panasonic Four Thirds wireless TTL, however, as no M43 camera yet has remote TTL capability you may need to resort to also using its 6 level manual output control and either an in-built or external flash to trigger it optically (I presume that is what is meant by Slave Flash with pre-flash suppression). It has adapter rings for 52, 55, 58, 62, 67, and 72mm filter threads.

Olympus macro system – time for a re-vamp?

Friday, January 9th, 2009

I love the Olympus dSLR macro system introduced in Dec 2003 because:

  • it’s relatively light for hand held use
  • availability of swivel live preview LCD screens so you don’t have to get down on the ground – eg. Olympus E330, E30, E3 dSLRs
  • a high optical quality macro lens – the ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro with circular aperture for nice bokeh, and edge to edge sharpness that is usually not found on full frame lenses
  • availability of superb teleconverters to allow higher magnification whilst maintaining working distance
  • availability of excellent complete ring flash and twin flash which share the same flash controller, and as is standard, provide full TTL auto exposure metering or full manual control as well as modeling lights, and for the twin lights you can control light ratio and importantly there are diffusers to improve the quality of the light
    • the Canon ring flash is actually segmented tubes giving a poor catchlight
    • Nikon don’t currently make a ring flash for their system
    • whilst the small size of macro ring flashes are not adequate to create the beauty ring catchlight of large pro ring flashes, they make great shadowless fill-in flash for portraits as well as their use for almost shadowless macro shots
  • it’s easy to use, particularly the flash module settings
  • image stabilisation is available for all lenses when using an IS-capable body such as E510/520/E30/E3
    • whilst Nikon make a VR macro lens, there are no image stabilised macro lenses available for Canon dSLRs
  • ability to use almost any macro lens ever made (Nikon, Leica R/M, Carl Zeiss, Olympus OM,etc) with notable exceptions such as Canon EOS
  • you can combine it with non-Olympus flashes in manual flash output mode by setting the Olympus macro flash to Manual mode (to switch off pre-flashes which prematurely trigger your other flashes), and use an optical trigger device on your other flashes

ring flash

The system is capable of taking some great shots such as this one I took of a bee:

Hold on to your dreams:


BUT I believe its time to make it even better, so here are some of my suggestions:

First, the ZD 50mm macro lens:

  • the AF can be a bit frustrating – time for SWD and compatibility with contrast-detect AF
  • focus range switch to allow switchable settings such as 1:1 macro to 1m and 1m to infinity
  • 1:1 macro instead of only 1:2 – could we dream of 1:0.5 even?

Next, make adapters to allow the existing macro flashes to attach to almost any lens.

  • unfortunately Olympus designers seem to have been on hallucinogens making the current macro flash – the bayonet mount will only mount on certain lenses and even for the 50mm macro lens, one needs to buy a separate adapter.
  • the bayonet fitting used to fit the original ZD 50-200mm lens but the new SWD version of this lens amazingly has an incompatible bayonet mount
  • it’s time to make some adapters as is available in the Canon system so that these flashes can be mounted to various filter threads such as 58mm, 67mm, etc.

Now the macro flash system:

  • the obvious need is to add capability for it to be a master controller for remote TTL flash so that one could control FL-36R or FL-50R flashes used to light the background
  • it would be nice to be able to control light ratio of two halves of the ring flash – perhaps make the ring flash with 2 tubes as with Canon, but make them seamless so that you still get a full circle catchlight instead of the segmented ugly Canon ring light catch light

Lastly, perhaps some new macro lenses:

  • a 1-5x macro lens similar to the Canon lens although these are unlikely to sell in large quantities given the difficulty in using such high magnifications, the absence of AF or ability to focus to infinity, but such macro capability is essential in a complete macro system
  • a 100mm f/2.0 macro lens to provide a longer working distance and at the same time be a relatively compact, high quality f/2.0 lens for portraits, indoor action, astrophotography and whatever other applications one can think of
    • currently, the ZD 50-200mm f2.8-3.5 SWD provides good macro performance at 1.2m close focus and 200mm focal length (400mm equivalent reach in 35mm terms), but I think a 100mm f/2.0 SWD macro would be a brilliant, even sharper lens in the pro line (rather than super-pro) and also compliment the current ZD 150mm f/2.0 lens which is probably due for a SWD upgrade
    • Stan has reminded me of the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 macro lens but this does not appear to have the resolution wide open that I would like – see 105mm lens review.

More information on macrophotography here.

Olympus ZD 50mm macro – flowers with Olympus Ring Flash

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

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


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

cherry blossom

Click on the images for larger views.

Portable portrait lighting with Olympus E510 & flash/strobe

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

There are several requirements for portable portrait lighting:

  • a portrait lens if you wish to blur the background
  • a key light – the main light that will light the face
  • a fill-in light – a light to fill in the shadows and thus modify contrast, hopefully without adding its own shadows
  • optionally a hair light or kicker rim light

I use a Ring Flash here, but you could use the built-in flash instead, it just give more shadows as it is further from the lens.

With the E510 we do not have the joys of wireless TTL automatic flash exposure, so we need to stick with manual flash if we are going to use more than one flash, but I prefer it that way anyway.

Of course, if you have the E520 or E3 with the R Olympus flash units you could go down the wireless TTL route as an additional option to my proposal here.

A further issue is that we can’t use the Ring Flash in TTL mode as the pre-flash prematurely fires other flashes (at least with my optical triggers), so I am resorting to full manual exposure and trial and error.

When doing complex things like this and people are involved, it is best to test things out and standardise your procedure so when the time comes, they don’t lose interest and get bored or frustrated.

Thus, in the name of standardisation, here is a setup I propose:

  • Olympus E510 with ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro + macro adapter + Olympus Ring Flash
    • the Ring Flash is handy here as it will fulfill three roles:
      • triggering the other flash(es) optically
      • providing a catchlight in the eyes (but at this distance it won’t be a beautiful ring as in the glamour magazines) – and hopefully not too much red eye as we will be under-exposing this flash
      • finally, the almost shadow-less fill-in lighting
  • a second flash with an optical trigger attached
    • I use a Metz 45CL-4 on its W (1/64th output) setting inside a Westcott Apollo umbrella softbox held ~1.5m from the subject – but you can use any flash/umbrella/bounce option you want
  • optionally, other manual flashes with optical triggers, eg a flash with a snoot attached for hair light

Now how do we set exposure for each when we don’t have a flash meter?

Let’s set the E510 to ISO 100, auto WB or daylight, manual exposure mode, 1/180th sec (the flash sync speed), f/2.5 (you could use any aperture but then you would have to adjust the flash outputs accordingly, and in case you want to use a wide aperture to blur the background, f/2.5 is a good aperture to start with).

Set the Ring Flash to manual mode and dial down the output to 1/256th second so we can see the effect of the other flashes.

Set the output of your main flash (or its distance to subject) until you get the exposure just right when checking your histogram.

Now do the same for any other flashes.

Ensure you are at the desired distance to your subject (as changing this will alter the effect of the Ring Flash).

Finally, adjust the output of the Ring Flash until you get the fill-in level to your desired aesthetics – you will probably find its between 1/256th to 1/16th when using f/2.5 and dependent on effect needed.

Write down these settings and perhaps make lengths of string so you can quickly reproduce the flash to subject distances.

Now, to tweak this a bit, you can adjust the shutter speed to longer duration to allow adjustment to ambient light exposure of the surroundings (as long as you are not in bright outdoors as this may require smaller apertures to allow a shutter speed at the flash sync).

Hope this makes sense, have fun with experimenting – if you have a macro lens with ring flash, you may as well use it for portraits as well as your macro work.

Macrophotography – which aperture to use?

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Aperture has a big role to play in how your macrophotography images come out.

With the smaller sensor on the Olympus/Panasonic Four Thirds system, there is the issue of decreasing resolution and thus image detail with small apertures as a result of the physical limitations imposed by diffraction.

At the same time we want to increase depth of field and this requires small apertures, thus creating opposing image quality effects on the aperture we choose.

So what aperture is best?

To answer this I ran some simple tests which will ONLY precisely apply to using the Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro lens combined with the excellent Olympus EC-20 2x teleconverter, however, the general principles can be applied to ANY camera system.

For simplicity, aperture f stops mentioned below are those shown in the camera – ie. f/8 is actually f/4 on a lens and multiplied by 2x to account for the 2x teleconverter. The camera automatically does this for you and records the calculated aperture in the image EXIF data.

Check out the tests of aperture versus depth of field at 1:1 macro (this should apply to ANY camera system at 1:1 macro as depth of field is a function of subject magnification and aperture and is independent of sensor size or lens focal length – at least that is my understanding of the theory).

Check out the tests of aperture vs resolution. Although these are not at 1:1 macro, the relationship of resolution vs aperture should be applicable for all focus points with this combination. Perhaps surprisingly, diffraction limitations really only started to become evident at 100% pixel peeping at f/16 which was still not much different to the best resolution at f/5.6. This is surprising because it seems to be contrary to what would be expected according to table 3 on this article which suggests on this sensor, diffraction should be limiting resolution to 2mp at f/16 when clearly the results seem to be MUCH better than that.

  • ps.. have now added some images of aperture vs resolution for the ZD 50mm macro alone at 1:2 macro, its closest focus.

  • optimum apertures for 50mm without the teleconverter at 1:2 macro seem to be f/5.6-8 while f/11-16 starts to get a bit soft

In general for optimum DOF vs resolution with the 50mm + EC-20, use:

  • f/5.6-f/8 for flat surfaces, and,
  • f/11-16 for non-flat surfaces (eg. bugs) – f/22 if DOF more important than resolution.
  • f/11 (f/5.6×2) if in doubt will give excellent compromise.
  • this suggests that the 2x effect of the teleconverter in light loss terms could possibly be ignored when factoring in diffraction issues

To avoid the shutter lag and pre-flash using the Ring Flash, you can set the Ring Flash to manual exposure and adjust as needed according to your macro combination, distance of flash to subject, aperture and ISO you select.

For simplicity, using this combination at 1:1 macro, ie. manual focus to closest focus with Ring Flash attached, you can try this setting:

  • ISO100, f/11 (f/5.6 x2), 1/180th sec, set Ring Flash to manual at about 1/4 power.

  • obviously you will need to manually adjust output if use different aperture or distance to subject. 

NB. my Ring Flash seemed to be overexposing at wide apertures so if you use these, double check the exposure with the histogram.

Finally, does the EC-20 degrade image quality?

To test this, I imaged a maple leaf at 1:2 macro magnification – at the closest focus of the ZD 50mm at f/8 alone, and at ~double this distance for the 50mm macro + EC-20 teleconverter (at f/11 – f/5.6×2) so that the image magnification was pretty much identical. I used AF for both.

These are pixel peeping 100% crops near the centre:

First, the macro lens alone:

leaf - 50mm alone

and, the macro lens + EC-20 teleconverter:

leaf with teleconverter

In terms of image detail, I must admit, I can’t see much difference although for some reason the EC20 image has more contrast which appears to give it more detail which is counter to what we would otherwise expect.

This is how good this teleconverter is – no wonder Olympus claims it is one of the sharpest ever made!

Since writing this post, dpreview.com have posted their review of the ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro which confirms how good this lens is optically – although it really needs a SWD version with focus range limiter switch – hopefully Olympus will be updating this soon.

Macro eyes again… this time with ZD 50-200mm lens

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

In an attempt to provide an alternative to prominent ring flash catch lights in the previous post when using a ZD 50mm macro lens with ring flash, I decided to try the ZD 50-200mm SWD which gives a much longer working distance and thus reduces the size of the catch lights significantly.

Whilst it is possible with the ZD 50-200mm alone, the magnification at its closest focus of 1.2m is about half that of the ZD 50mm macro and thus the diameter of the iris is only some 550 pixels on a 10mp camera.

ZD 50-200mm alone

Thus to get higher magnification (now we are back to about 1200 pixels for the iris diameter), I tried adding the EC-20 2x teleconverter to the ZD 50-200mm at f/11 and increasing the ISO to 400 given the greater working distance. The greater working distance means the flash is now illuminating the interior of the eye a bit causing a mild red eye appearance which I would personally prefer not to have in the images.

ZD 50-200mm with 2x TC

I could probably have got away with ISO 100 but at f/11 (f/5.6 x 2 for the TC) and 1.2m distance it is pushing the ring flash near its maximum output, and if I was serious about getting the best images, I would try ISO 100-200 and perhaps even try f/16 (f/8 x 2 for the TC).

My preference for obtaining a catch light smaller than the iris opening is to use the ZD 50mm macro lens with ZD EC-20 2x TC with lens focused at 0.3-0.4m
instead of its closest focus depending on desired catchlight size:

smaller catchlight

For a complete comparison, see the rest of the images here

Beautiful eyes …. fun with macro and ring flash

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

A few of my friends inspired me to start a fun mini project using my Olympus E510, ZD 50mm macro lens and Olympus ring flash.

Just set manual exposure to f/8, ISO 100, 1/180th sec, and set manual focus. Make sure the flash is set to TTL then rack out the lens to its closest focus. Then just move in and out until you have achieved focus … now this is a bit tricky given you have a subject that moves a little and your depth of field is very narrow still.

Here is a sample, … when Irish eyes are smiling :)

Irish eyes

For more beautiful eyes, see my little project on my website, in particular, the interesting distortion of the ring flash catchlight when photographing eyes with contact lenses on and those with subtle corneal distortions.

ps… not all are perfectly focused but my subjects would only tolerate a couple of tries, so I decided to accept a few less than perfect to thank them for volunteering.

also, these images have been cropped ~50% and resized for the web -use of the EC-20 2x teleconverter would enable images with minimal cropping.

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

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

butterfly portrait

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

my macro photos

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

butterfly portrait

Olympus EC-20 teleconverter for macro use – 1st test images

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

OK, the logical thing to do in the evening after buying the EC-20 2x teleconverter today (see my earlier post on its outdoor tests with the ZD 50-200mm to give 800mm reach) was to have a play and see how well it works with my lenses and Olympus Ring Flash.

The results are brilliant.

First, I re-checked its closest focus on the ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens and hand-held the Olympus Ring Flash on the lens. Using manual focus and then just moving in and out from the subject until it was in focus was not so easy whilst holding the flash too but you can do it.

Here is a shot of the Microsoft stickers on my laptop from 1.2m (I didn’t measure this, but it seemed like it was as Olympus states as the close focus for this lens). I have placed a ruler there and you can see the width is indeed ~36mm which is the same as a 35mm film width, hence the conventional statement that this offers 1:1 macro in 35mm terms with this configuration.

This was shot at lens aperture of f/5.6 and thus with the 2x TC, the effective aperture is f/11.

ZD50-200mm macro

The upper part of this image is blurred as I intentionally angled the lens to reduce reflections from the flash.

And here is a 100% crop of that image:

ZD 50-200mm macro crop

That is not a bad performance at all given we are 1.2m away!

NOW, let’s try it with one of the sharpest lenses out there, the Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro.

Obviously, the Ring Flash fits nicely on this lens as long as you bought the optional adapter.

One thing worth noting with this combination is that AF does not work for the shorter focus distances and you have to resort to MF, but that’s OK, that’s what I prefer anyway, and you still get AF confirm light in the viewfinder flashing when you have it exact.

Now for the test photo of the same subject as above but taken at f/8 (ie. f/16 effective with 2x TC):

ZD 50mm macro

The long edge of this image represents about 18mm so it is a 2:1 macro in 35mm terms and this combination thus offers twice the magnification as the 50-200mm + TC-20 combination, but of course the working distance is much closer.

and check out the 100% crop:

ZD 50mm macro crop

Amazingly, this teleconverter also works on my Olympus ZD 7-14mm lens although I’m not sure I would really want to use it that way but given I often only take 2 lenses on my outings, the 7-14mm and 50-200mm, and now the 2x TC, if I desperately needed that gap in my focal lengths, the TC with 7-14mm would give me a 14-28mm lens (ie. 28-56mm in 35mm terms), albeit at f/8 wide aperture.

Note, the Canon teleconverters ONLY work with certain lenses, usually the L series telephoto primes and zooms as well as the tilt-shift lenses.

I will have more of a play with the TC on the weekend, more fun :)