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Architecture camera-lens kit for travel to Europe

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

I am off for a conference trip to Rome, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Amsterdam in October this year, and am deciding on which cameras and lenses to take with me – after all it s a long way from Australia to change my mind.

I am mainly interested in photography of urban architecture, streetscapes, and cultural activities, and if I can get to more rural settings perhaps some nice landscape work.

I will be wanting to travel as LIGHT as I can but still have high image quality and versatility.

A clear IN for the trip are the following:

  • Panasonic GH-1 Micro Four Thirds camera
  • 10x zoom lens (the excellent Lumix 14-140mm) for general purpose use
  • Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 Four Thirds lens with M43 adapter as my main walk around lens and for low light (unfortunately, I do not have the much smaller and lighter Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens)
  • OM 135mm f/2.8 with OM adapter for indoor conference use / videos from the back of the theatre – its a nice combo – just set MF, WB, manual exposure and you are ready to record all that good information you would otherwise forget.
  • small tripod
  • no-name inexpensive backpack

Now what will I do for those tallish buildings in cramped spaces so I don’t have to angle the camera upwards and create convergence distortion?

I thus compared my Canon 1D MIII with the Canon 17mm tilt-shift lens at maximum shift upwards in portrait mode with my GH-1 in 16:9 aspect ratio with Olympus Four Thirds 7-14mm lenswould I miss the tilt shift lens that I love so much?

Interestingly, using both cameras at the same subject distance and parallel to the subject, the 7-14mm lens at 7mm provided almost the same height coverage to the top of the subject, but with much more bottom coverage and a little more width coverage.

Thus, the GH-1 with 7-14mm lens will give me similar angle of view to top of a building but with a lot more crop options – for instance,  I could crop the bottom 1/3rd off to match the the same image crop as the Canon on full shift and end up with an 8mp image vs a 10mp image on the Canon – not a great deal of loss.

The other advantages of the 7-14mm lens is that I can choose 4:3, 3;2 or 16:9 image aspect ratios, use it for video work, or use it on my Olympus E510 and gain autofocus and image stabilisation to allow 1/2sec-1/4sec hand held shots for motion effects.

But the obvious main advantage of the GH-1 with 7-14mm lens is that the combination is 1kg lighter, it is smaller, the battery charger is SO much smaller, and the kit is cheaper to replace in the event of a loss or breakage.

Now, my conclusion may well have been different had I owned a Canon 5D MII full frame high resolution body instead of a 1.3x crop 10mp Canon 1D MIII, although the weight and insurance would still be major issues.

So, that settles it very convincingly, my 2nd camera kit will be the Olympus E510 with 7-14mm lens and 50mm f/2.0 macro – these are what I shot with for the far majority of my photos on my Italy holiday in 2007 with and it was an awesome combination – see here.

That leaves me with one last question, can I afford to take my beloved Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens as well for those special shallow DOF, beautiful bokeh shots (although the 25mm f/1.4 and 50mm f/2.0 lens will give some good options for this but without the telephoto reach)?

Note: for an even more compact and lighter, cheaper system, one could use the Panasonic Micro Four Thirds 7-14mm lens instead of the Olympus Four Thirds version but of course, it could not be used on an E510 body – having said that, if  had that lens, I would be wanting to buy an Olympus E-P2 to take instead of the E510!

The acid test is – can I fit the kit with a 1.3kg laptop in the 5kg carry-on cabin baggage limit?

This is the beauty of the Micro Four Thirds System – you get to take more equipment within the weight limit, although my ideal system of currently available gear for travel would be:

  • Panasonic GH-1 with 10x zoom 14-140mm kit lens
  • Olympus E-P2 with EVF and Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens
  • Panasonic 7-14mm lens if doing urban work or Olympus 9-18mm lens if doing landscapes
  • perhaps the Olympus 50mm f/2.0 macro for Four Thirds while we wait for Olympus to make a Micro Four Thirds version
  • Cokin ND gradient filter with adapter for the 14-140mm and 9-18mm lens

Such a system gives you high quality photos with focal length range in 35mm terms of 14-280mm as well as low light capabilities of an image stabilised 40mm lens (in 35mm terms) at f/1.7 light capturing capability, plus you get the BEST quality HD video available on dSLR systems courtesy of the new firmware hack for the GH-1.

Some would add the Lumix 45-200mm lens, but personally, I wish they would make a compact, high quality, Micro Four Thirds 200mm f/2.8 lens (preferably image stabilised), or if they must do zoom, then a compact 100-200mm f/2.8-4.0 (please, not another f/5.6 lens!).

Firmware hack unleashes Panasonic GH-1 video potential apparently giving it the best looking videos of all the dSLRs

Friday, June 11th, 2010

If you are a Panasonic GH-1 user and wanting the highest quality video – you can now have it courtesy of a free firmware hack by tester13 but please, if you use it, make sure you donate some money to him because this firmware hack is said to be truly amazing – yes – even better image quality than the full frame Canon 5D Mark II.

I must admit, I have not installed it myself yet as I mainly shoot at 720p 50fps motion jpeg as it suits my needs and I am happy to wait a little longer for resolution of a couple of the issues outlined below.

AVCHD may be the latest and greatest HD video compression for consumers but it is not easy to work with, and on the GH-1 without the firmware hack moving subjects or panning tends to result in mud artefacts.

The official GH-1 firmware limits HD video to 17Mbps data rate with options of AVCHD 1080i at 50/60fps derived from native 25fps, or 720p at 50/60fps in either AVCHD or MJPEG.

The firmware hack allows an astounding 50Mbps data rate at 1080/30p MJPEG (detailed scenes with sharp lenses and wide depth of field may deliver up to 70Mbps data from the sensor but then tends to crash the system – they are working on how to limit the data rate to 50Mbps), or 32Mbps AVCHD 1080/native 24p (although currently videos shot in this mode crash the camera on attempting to play them back and you may need to remove the battery to reboot the camera – but seems this has been fixed here). Some users are achieving 80Mbps at 720 30p on Class 10 SD cards.

The GH-1 50Mbps video images are cleaner than the Canon 5D Mark II at 35Mbps partly due to the fact the GH-1 bins the pixels to down- res the 12mp sensor whereas the Canon skips lines to down res its 22mp sensor, and partly as the MJPEG gives less compression artefacts than the Canon’s H.264 codec.

Surprisingly, it seems the GH-1 can write data to the SDHC card at over 8MB/sec which is almost double the Canon 5D Mark II’s rate. The other good news is, you only need a Class 6 SDHC card and not the more expensive Class 10 SDHC cards as one would think.

Be warned though, at 50Mbps 1080p MJPEG, you only get about 2 minutes  39sec of recording until the 2Gb file size limit is reached, and you no longer have the option of shooting in smaller file sized official 17Mbps video without re-installing firmware and incrementing the firmware another integer. Furthermore it seems in 720 mode you can now only get 30fps not 50/60fps but they are working on this.

Finally, Remember…version numbers cannot roll back which may have implications for future official firmware releases.

Post-script: it is possible that the latest production of GH-1 cameras which come with v1.3 firmware pre-installed MAY NOT allow updating the camera with the firmware hack – see here. I am sure if this is the case, there will soon be a way around this.


Panasonic GH-1 with Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 on a quick forest walk

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

On Easter Monday, I thought i would check out a local forest which was hand planted some 100 years ago in central Victorian highlands which makes it rather unique in Australia as it is mainly trees from northern hemisphere origin.

I had never been to this forest before and as it was a beautiful sunny early Autumn day, it would be great for a walk, but probably too sunny for great photographic forest landscape shots.

I only had an hour or so, so I took my beloved Panasonic GH-1 and Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 lens with the primary aim just to document ideas for shots in better lighting and when I had more time.

In stark contrast to native Australian Eucalypt forests, this man made forest of diversified trees including conifers, and oaks, had a very different ecology – most noticeable were the multitude of introduced mushroom species including the poisonous, hallucinogenic, Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) and the very weird absence of the usually omnipresent Australian native bull ant – which I must say made the walking a lot more relaxed, as no-one enjoys being stung by those ants!

Maybe the bull ants are killed by the Amanita, or they need Eucalypt habitat?

The flip out swivel LCD screen of the GH-1 was fantastic as usual for ground level work of hand held shots of mushrooms – the following two are at the closest focus of this lens and show the difference between f/1.4 (the first one) and f/2.8, – oh, and I do love native 16:9 image aspect ratio which is available on the GH-1!

at f/1.4:


and at f/2.8:


and here is a more mature Amanita muscara:


and of course, I better show a sample of this lovely forest:


more photos from the walk here

Panasonic GH-1 at Melbourne’s Moomba Festival hit by a once in 10 years super-cell hailstorm

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

It was a nice warm, albeit humid March day in Melbourne yesterday, so I decided to pack my Panasonic GH-1 , Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 and Olympus OM 135mm f/2.8 lens and catch the train into the city to enjoy Melbourne’s annual Moomba Festival – a nice multicultural family event – Moomba is Australia’s largest free community festival and one of the longest running festivals in Australia.

There was no evidence of storms on the horizon, not on radars.

After a bite to eat  in our great little laneway cafe’s, I headed down to the festival region along the banks of the Yarra river.

I decided to try out my OM 135mm lens wide open at f/2.8 and stood some 30-40m from this African musician – I think his name is Jali Buba Kuyateh from the online programme (I did crop this image by removing about a third):

OM 135mm

and at the BMX bike stunt competition, I used the Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 lens at f/1.4 with the lens pre-focused so I could get nicely sharp shots with relatively shallow depth of field of this lad doing a jump on his bike (again about 1/3rd cropped out):

bike stunt

Then, with little warning, all hell broke loose, with sudden onset of golf-ball sized hailstones and cyclonic wind and rain which dumped 33mm in 30min causing flash flooding and cancellation of the festival for the day – this was the most dynamic super-cell thunderstorm to hit Melbourne’s CBD in 7 years – it dumped 66mm in 30min on nearby Flemington Racecourse where the Melbourne Cup is held.

Check out this short 720p HD video I posted to YouTube at the peak of the storm using the Leica D lens from the “safety” of a crowded, small gazebo – not protection at all for the lightning strikes, but we were lucky in that regard and had no other choice for better shelter.

This is freakin’ awesome man!

freakin awesome

And that Panasonic Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 lens was freakin’ awesome too!

See more of my photos from the event here.

See photos from other people hosted on The Age here.

Will I dare go back again today given that similar storms are forecast again for today?

ps.. my website was down for several hours after this event as the storm knocked out power to my internet provider’s data centre – apologies for that!

Now when will Olympus or Panasonic introduce a weather-proofed Micro Four Thirds camera and lens?

Panasonic GH-1 does Dave Hill grunge – a tribute to my mate Ian at his retirement

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

My mate Ian retired this week, and we are all going to miss him at work.

He is a gentle, kind giant of a man with a rare intelligence and a wonderful sense of humour who was always dependable and never shirked his responsibilities when things got tough as so many others do.

He made a tremendous impact on many lives and he will perhaps never quite understand the magnitude of his influence, not only to his clients but on those with whom he worked.

A couple of years ago, we thought we would have a bit fun with my Olympus E-510 and a couple of flashes and we came up with this image of a mad man in a padded cell:

the mad man.

This week we had a little informal lunch to celebrate his farewell at work, with his colleagues gathered around the room, I managed to get a few shots after his speech as he gave a farewell wave.

This image is approximately a 33% crop of a 16:9 aspect ratio image taken with the Panasonic GH-1 Micro Four Thirds camera with Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 lens at f/2.8 and an Olympus FL-50 flash bounced from the ceiling.

Although the original captured the occasion beautifully, I wanted a more punchy, grunge effect along the lines of a Dave Hill effect, because to me this suited another side of his personality which I love, I hope he likes it:
Dave Hill effect

Panasonic GH-1 HD video of an Australian bullant – 14-140mm kit lens at 2x digital zoom

Friday, February 12th, 2010

I went on a modified storm chase today hoping to get to a vantage point and take some storm and lightning shots.

Unfortunately the rain clouds kept coming after the main storm producing low cloud and preventing vision of the cumulonimbus structures or the lightning, so I headed to my favorite forest to smell the Eucalypt leaves in the air after the rain and watch the hurried activity of the ants coping with the flash flooding.

For those who have not been to Australia, one of the conspicuous features of Australian fauna is the ubiquitous bullant – short for bulldog ant as it aggressively defends its nest and has a nasty little sting in its tail which may be lethal to those who are allergic to it.

The bullant species belongs to the ant genus Myrmecia which only exist in Australia, apart from a rare species in New Caledonia, and its nearest relative is a fossilised ant which lived some 135 million years ago.

The most common species of the bullant in my area is a medium sized black ant approximately 1cm long and which creates a nest often 1-2 metres in diameter at the surface, and often on gravel paths in forests.

We also have much larger bullant species and I had the pleasure of watching them busy at the entrance of their nest while I was waiting for the rain to stop.

I decided I would try out continuous AF of the Panasonic GH-1 Micro Four Thirds camera with its unique 14-140mm 10x zoom lens which is the only dSLR-like camera – lens combination which allows continuous autofocus during HD video.

The light was very poor necessitating ISO 1600 and 1/80th sec at f/5.8 at 140mm focal length and white balance was set to cloudy, video set to 720p motion jpeg, while digital zoom was set to 2x which in effect gave me focal length reach of ~ 560mm in 35mm terms, and this was hand held.

The continuous autofocus was surprisingly good given such magnification and a relatively fast moving ant which measures only 2-3cm in length.

I had to make sure they didn’t crawl onto my feet as I was only 2 feet from their nest and they have good eyesight and aggressively chase away and sting intruders.

The short unedited video complete with rain drops in the audio can be seen on Youtube here.

One could have used intermittent autofocus but this would have been difficult with the ant running around so much and would add noises of the half-press of shutter button to the audio track.

For those wanting to know more about this amazing little ant, check out the Australian CSIRO web page on Myrmecia nigriceps.

In addition, biologist and photographer Alex Wild has many awesome photos of ants from around the world on his website, and a couple of them I have selected to post here, the first is this species, Myrmecia nigriceps:

Myrmecia nigriceps

and the second demonstrates a Myrmecia piliventris stinging him:


Next time I might bring my Olympus Ring Flash and try some macro still shots.

New Year’s Day 2010 – a very overcast morning in Melbourne

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

Despite having a sleep in New Year’s Day morning, it will still heavy overcast in Melbourne but ideal for a walk to stretch the legs.

I was hoping to get some shots of celebration remnants in the city streets but alas, the Melbourne street cleaners had beaten me and it was as if it was just another day albeit with rather empty streets.

As I strolled down Flinders Lane, I took the opportunity to get a couple of quick shots of Melbourne’s ever changing graffiti art in the alley ways using the Panasonic GH-1 with 14-140mm lens:

AC DC Lane
AC/DC Lane – yes the rock band AC/DC were from Melbourne.


I’m in love with my car, and my Panasonic GH-1

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

I decided to go for a drive on my own today… at my own pace this time.

I drove through the back roads of Victoria’s ruggedly beautiful volcanic plains which were once host to the 1850′s gold rush in Australia.

There are few things more peaceful than listening to classical music as one leisurely drives through isolated rural pastures with rolling hills and barely a sole to be seen.

I can drive for hours and I could not feel more relaxed even lying on a beach on the French Riviera.

But perhaps best of all is having my Panasonic GH-1 with 14-140mm lens and my Olympus E-510 with ZD 50-200mm lens sitting on the seat next to me, just begging me to stop the car and stretch my legs a bit to try to capture those wonderful feelings where one is alone, yet does not feel lonely – sheer bliss of getting away from the stresses of the world – and the madness of Christmas shopping!

The day was far from a perfect day for a photographer, but I have learnt to try to make the most of whatever nature throws me.

It is early Summer and the hay fields have been cut. This depression was once a thermal lake created by the surrounding volcanoes and was once home to palm trees, crocodiles and gold-bearing rivers. The gold has since been mined in deep leads, and the climate has changed, while the volcanic activity has ceased some 10-30,000 years ago.

hay field

And I keep driving never knowing what will be around the next bend as the sunlight plays across the fields:

the long and winding road

Perhaps there will be an old gold mining relic such as this one:

gold mine

Or just another nice vista:


Whatever, it is, photography has taught me to search for the beauty in all things and to see the world in a different light. Does it really matter if others like my work or not? Of course not, but what matters is that I lived for that moment in time.

The Olympus E510 with ZD 50-200mm lens comes in handy for when I need a bit more zoom (400mm in 35mm terms) as I avoid trespassing on private property, yet many subjects of interest are some distance from the road. It also comes in handy when I need more shallow depth of field.

I would like Olympus to make a more compact Four Thirds ZD 200mm f/2.8 or 250mm f/4 lens with contrast detect AF compatibility with Micro Four Thirds but much cheaper than their 150mm f/2.0 lens.

Here’s another photographer’s blog (Craig Mod) on how much he loved the Panasonic GF-1 and 20mm f/1.7 lens for hiking the Himalayas, leaving his Nikon gear at home.

Olympus OM 135mm on the Panasonic GH-1 Micro Four Thirds

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

The Panasonic GH-1 Micro Four Thirds camera comes with a very expensive, unique HD video optimised, 14-140mm OIS lens, so why would I even bother putting a cheap $100 2nd hand Ebay Olympus OM 135mm f/2.8 lens on it?

As nice as the 14-140mm lens is, there is one major problem for me – its aperture at 140mm is f/5.6 which means I am not able to blur the background as much as I would like.

Now I could use the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD which I love, or the brilliant Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens, but these are both big and heavy, not to mention expensive.

When I go hiking, I prefer to take a few lens options but still travel light, here is where the Olympus OM 135mm f/2.8 comes in.

The beauty of the Olympus OM lenses are that they are so compact and light – much more so than Nikon F, Canon FD, Canon EF or any other 35mm SLR lens.

Of course, I would not use this for sports or action shots unless I could pre-focus – accurate manual focus even with the very nice MF assist of the Panasonic GH-1 still takes me 1 sec or so.

But would this lens perform wide open?

On Friday, I decided to test it out on one of my bush walks in a mallee tree forest and although the image below is not going to win any prizes, it does show how nice even a busy distracting background can become. There has been no PS sharpening but some toning/contrast applied.

The background would have appeared even smoother had I not applied a bit of contrast, but the image needed a bit of contrast given the overcast day. Also, note that these were taken in the GH-1′s uncropped 16:9 aspect ratio – another great feature of the GH-1, just wish it had an in-built image stabiliser too like the Olympus cameras.


Compare the background with that taken at f/5.6 which would be similar had I used the Panasonic 14-140mm lens wide open:


I was very pleased with the performance of the lens wide open, although it will perform better at f/4.

Remember though, using this lens is giving you telephoto reach of a 270mm lens on a 35mm camera, while its f/2.8 aperture is allowing a fast shutter speed – even in overcast conditions as with the above, shutter speed was 1/2500th sec at f/2.8, ISO 400.

More photos by lens used here.

Canon, Olympus and Panasonic Lens Tests on the Panasonic GH-1

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

A few posts ago, I discussed results of my simplistic lens tests (photographing a lens resolution chart at variable distances according to effective lens focal length to keep chart size almost constant with careful live view magnified manual focus on tripod with self-timer).

I have now placed double-sized crops (ie. cropped the centre of the images and uploaded using PS to double the size of the image which equates to viewing these images at “200x” in PS and then compressed them to 29% jpeg compression) of these images on my website here so that you can get a better idea.

Most people do not like looking at photos of lens resolution charts, so if you fall into this category, then don’t look, just check out the photos I take with the lenses here instead.

The main conclusions of the tests were posted in these blogs:

In the previous post of the EF 85mm lens in action, Jeff commented on the purple fringing and whether it is sensor blooming rather than chromatic aberration given the absence of green fringing as well.

From the lens tests, the new ED glass lenses such as Canon L lenses and Olympus ZD 50-200mm lens had minimal if any purple fringing even wide open.

In comparison, older legacy lenses (even the EF 85mm f/1.8) with no ED glass showed much purple fringing but no green fringing wide open which tended to improve substantially as one stopped down.

Thus I suspect it is not sensor blooming per se that causes this but perhaps an interaction between the sensor microlenses and chromatic aberration or perhaps lack of telecentricity of the lenses which tends to be worse wide open.

I have older lens tests using the same technique here (but chart magnifications may not be identical to that above so may not be directly comparable):