...now browsing by tag


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.




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.

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 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.









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!

One week in South Korea – part 2 – The Secret Garden

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

sunrise from my hotel room

My first sunrise in Seoul – from my hotel room using the Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 ultra-wide angle zoom lens

Our first morning in Seoul was a hot 34degC partly sunny, humid day with little wind as we headed off to a guided tour of The Secret Garden in Changdeokgung Palace – a lovely relaxing walk with plenty of shade and beautiful little vistas.

The local Koreans seem to love to hire traditional apparel and wander the palace grounds and taking selfies, and on some I was asked to assist and others I asked them for permission to take an even better shot with a proper camera and lens – my trusty Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera mated with the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens while I also carried a E-M5 with Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 ultra-wide angle zoom lens for the occasional wider perspectives.

It was a great introduction to Korean culture, although unfortunately much of these palace structures were severely damaged during the early 20th century Japanese occupation.

As I mentioned in my last post, the Korean people I met were lovely, quiet, generous, respectful and honest looking people with no evidence of pick pocketers, violence or aggression.

Out of a population of 50 million, there are apparently only some 130,000 muslim people, and these are nearly all foreigners.

A modern Korean lady on the garden tour.

Yours truly helping out a couple of ladies with their “selfie” shots.

Of course there are hundreds of shots one can achieve of the gardens and palaces which I will not post here apart from these:

My crazy tour buddy!

Micro Four Thirds for portraiture – a tribute to Sean Archer’s works

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

To continue a theme, you don’t need a dSLR any more for most photography, and you will enjoy using and carrying a smaller, lighter Micro Four Thirds camera and lenses at much more affordable prices and still create great images – here is a little tribute to one of my favourite online portraiture photographers who uses the older Micro Four Thirds cameras such as the Panasonic G3  with an Olympus mZD 45mm f/1.8 lens and ambient lighting – so anyone could achieve this without having to resort to big, heavy, expensive gear. Note his 500px.com portfolio is NSFW but has many more delightful portraits.

on artyfaces

on artyfaces

on artyfaces

See also an interview with him here.

Quote: “”Everything I know now came from taking thousands of images, hours of processing and fooling around with every setting on the camera.” Stanislav pointed out numerous times that everything he learned came from his own experiences and mistakes.”

His technique is simple window light in his attic, no flashes, reflectors, minimal skin Photoshopping, but does add background textures to his blank wall, and applies some tonal modifications.

Note. it seems someone convinced him to buy a Canon 6D full frame dSLR with 50mm f/1.4 and 135mm f/2.0L lenses, but looks like he has then reverted back to Micro Four Thirds and purchased an Olympus OM-D E-M1 with 75mm f/1.8 lens.

Outdoor portraits with the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens – Melbourne’s Zombie Shuffle, bokeh heaven!

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Olympus released the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens for Micro Four Thirds cameras in the middle of this year and I am now a proud owner of said lens.

I decided to join the thousands of zombies and photographer’s at this year’s Zombie Shuffle in Melbourne – a great fun family event with a fantastic vibe and best of all for photographers, plenty of great portrait opportunities with some fantastic makeup and costumes and their owners very willing to pose for you.

The 75mm lens is not the ideal lens for use within a crowd
, particularly when they start moving – the long focal length and lack of room to get distance from your subject combined with the very narrow depth of field, makes accurate autofocus very challenging indeed.

Nevertheless, I wanted to test out the 75mm lens to find out how to use it best.

It was a bright sunny day, but fortunately, I could choose to shoot mainly under the shade of the big elm trees and thus could shoot at f/1.8 without having to resort to using polarising filters or ND filters. When I did go into the sun, I just switched the exposure mode dial to Shutter Priority to avoid over-exposure which would otherwise occur in Aperture Priority mode set at f/1.8. The Shutter Priority mode was set to shutter speed of 1/4000th sec (so it would give the the largest aperture possible), and ISO set to auto ISO with high level of ISO 800 (in case I moved back into the shade).

When taking portraits with the E-M5 with eye detect AF mode ON, it is important to give the camera that extra split second to detect the face and the closest eye, otherwise you will end up with AF on the default AF region (for me that is the central square, and thus not always what I am wanting).

This AF technique gives you wonderful opportunities to get sharp eyes no matter where they are in the frame without having to recompose – BUT, the short lag in acquiring the face detection may mean a trigger happy finger gets out of focus shots or you may miss a critical moment – that’s a compromise but a reasonable one.

An issue with face detect AF in a Zombie shuffle is that it does not always detect faces with extreme makeovers.

Finally, the E-M5 is not great at subject tracking of subjects moving towards the camera as Zombies tend to do!

The solution when using a lens with very narrow depth of field such as the 75mm lens – just wait for them to stop then get the shot.

Check out the incredible sharpness and lovely bokeh of the blurred backgrounds of these shots taken at f/1.8!

These have had minimal post-processing in Lightroom with some vignetting added to a few.

zip it up!

A beautiful zombie who met a sad end:

zombie girl

A backlit bride:

zombie bride

and a couple more:

zombie 1

zombie 2

In celebration of the wonderfully smooth bokeh of the Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 manual focus lens – another demonstration of its amazing qualities

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

Rokinon bokeh

Compare all 6 images from this series – see them on my Flickr set.

The amazingly cheap Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 manual focus lens on a Micro Four Thirds camera (The Panasonic GH-1) bokeh and CA test on an extremely challenging subject – a strongly backlit wax mannequin with a multitude of highlights on the pearls – a challenge for any lens wide open – but this lens passes it easily – even with a cheap UV filter and no lens hood!

This image is to show how good the rear bokeh is for out of focus areas at f/1.4 but at closer focus than the others in this series to give even shallower depth of field – look at the pearl highlights in the rear.

AWB in artificial light.
No cropping.
RAW file with no post-processing performed other than Lightroom export with resizing and compressing for the web and its default standard sharpening.

This len gives me similar imagery to my Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens at f/2.0 on my Canon 1D Mark III camera at 1/5th the price and less than half the weight (see here for my comparisons) – no wonder my Canon stays at home now!

The amazing 1920′s flapper styled wax mannequin and pearl-beaded head piece belong to Ken Gray and Alister Reid Gallery of Melbourne who created the pearl jewelry and kindly consented to me photographing it in their store, as well as creating unique, high quality, individualised jewelry which can be re-fashioned from your existing jewelry – if you are in Melbourne, check their work and gallery in Collins St.

As I love this lens so much, I bought another one from Ebay tonight – this time in a Nikon mount so I have greater versatility:

I can let my friends use it on their Nikon (it is better than my friend’s mark I Nikkor 85mm f/1.4)

I can use it with AF-confirm adapter on my Canon 1D Mark III as a 110mm field of view f/1.4 (it is way better wide open than my Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 lens)

I can use it on my Four Thirds dSLR and gain image stabilisation as well as AF confirm giving me an effective 170mm field of view f/1.4 IS lens.

I can use it on my Micro Four Thirds and have easy live view magnification, and if I want, via the LensBaby Tilt Transformer, I can convert it into a tilt lens.

Fascinating mug shots of Australian criminals taken by Sydney police in the 1920′s

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

see this blog for some interesting pics!

you can buy the book from Amazon.

Natural looking outdoor portraits with a single flash

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

As I mentioned in a previous post, last weekend I offered to help a friend shoot some beginner models for their portfolios in an outdoor urban setting on a freezing cold, windy day.

I thought this would be a great opportunity to try my portable Westcott umbrella softbox and a flash in manual mode, much as how the excellent blog from Neil van Niekerk advocates.

It doesn’t matter which camera or flash you use – I could have done this with any flash with a wireless trigger and either an Olympus E510 with Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 lens, or a Panasonic GH-1 with Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro (manual focus only on this camera), but for this outing, I blew the dust of my Canon 1D Mark III and used one of my favourite (although often difficult to use) lenses – the Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L.

Neil has some great pointers in his blogs regarding use of a single flash as the main light for outdoor portraiture.

He manages to achieve this by ensuring ambient light on the subject’s face in only 1-2 stops underexposed from the main flash light, thus ensuring there are no dark shadows while using the flash in a softbox which ensures the edge of the shadows are nicely blended rather than being harsh – if you don’t have a softbox, you could bounce flash off a white cloth or wall.

The first requirement is finding a location with an aesthetic background lit approximately1-2 stops more than the subject – and as I found, finding such locations out of the wind can be more difficult than it would seem – a sunlit background is generally too bright for the ambient light falling on your subject unless this is reflected sunlight from a wall rather than from open sky.

Once you have found your location, then you need to work out how you would like to render the background

  • set your camera and flash to manual exposure mode
  • set your shutter to maximum flash sync (eg. 1/160th – 1/250th sec depending on camera)
  • set your aperture to f/2.8 or f/4 to blur the background while still having all of your subject in focus,
  • set ISO to give the background exposure you want (as long as ambient light on your subject stays under-exposed so that it acts as a fill in).
  • if your ISO setting is going too high for your liking, you could use a longer shutter exposure as long as you avoid camera shake or subject movement.

Your subject exposure then becomes entirely dependent upon the manual flash output setting and how far you have the flash to your subject – this will take a little trial and error while checking the histogram on the camera after you take test shots – unless you happen to have a flash meter – and even then he suggests it is wise to check your histogram.

I like this concept as it produces images that look natural, can be flattering to the subject and avoids the flat lighting that often results from overcast conditions.

Here is an example of what I achieved with this technique on this horrible day for taking photos of people outdoors, although I have purposely limited the degree of main light from the softbox and increased contrast and added some vignetting in PS:


I highly recommend you peruse Neil’s excellent blog – he has some great examples of simple flash and ambient light portraiture, and there is much one can learn from his experience as a wedding and fashion photographer.

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

Get shallower depth of field in flash-filled sunlit portraits II – high sync flash

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Following on from my previous post on getting shallower depth of field for flash filled sunlit portraits by using a trick to use a higher shutter speed with a normal flash, this post is about doing the same but using a high shutter speed sync flash (HSS or Super FP as it is termed).

In the 1970′s, Olympus invented off-the-film TTL flash for their OM2, and in the 1980′s went a big step forward again when Olympus invented Super FP flash for their OM3 and OM4 film cameras that would allow the flash to operate at all shutter speeds not just up to the x-sync speed of 1/60th sec (as it was in those days and 1/160th-1/250th sec in most digital cameras now).

Since then, the other manufacturers have adopted this technology and while Olympus calls it Super FP mode, Canon calls it High Speed Sync (HSS), and for brevity I will just call it HSS here.

The main purpose of HSS is to allow outdoors flash at high shutter speeds so that you can balance with sunlit ambient light and still have a relatively wide aperture for shallow depth of field portraiture.

The good news is that it is quite simple to use and allows shutter speeds up to 1/8000th sec usually, and thus apertures of even f/1.2 depending on the strength of your ND filter.

The bad news is that you need a camera and flash that will allow this, and the maximum output of your flash in this mode decreases very rapidly as your shutter speed becomes faster – typically, the flash output halves for every 2 stops shutter speed up from the x-sync speed.

Unfortunately, Canon do not publish the maximum GN available for each shutter speed for their main flash – the 580EXII – I can’t find it anywhere in their user manual, but the following is from the Olympus FL-50 user manual:

Note that instead of using a ND8 filter for the below calculations, if your camera is capable, you can use ISO 50 and ND4 filter instead. If your camera’s ISO starts at ISO 200 then life is that much more difficult as you are not going to want to use a 4 stop ND 12 filter as you will have trouble focusing, so you will have to settle with a 1 stop higher aperture and more depth of field – sorry Nikon users.

In HSS/Super FP, maximum flash distance remains unchanged (~3.5m when using the FL50 at full zoom and using -1EV fill), and the figures below assume you want to fill flash at 1 stop under the ambient sunlight exposure as an example.

Using x-sync instead of HSS allows you to effectively gain more flash output and thus maximum distance or in reality, ability to use soft boxes with your flash, as you shorten shutter speed BUT at  a cost of an increasingly large unlit band at the bottom of the image which limits this to 1/400th sec.

Olympus FL50 at ISO100 and zoom at 85mm focal length in 35mm terms Normal X-sync
Super FP mode
GN in m at maximum output at 1/180th sec 50 30 – yep we already have taken a hit!
aperture bright sunlight at 1/180th sec f/12 (f/4.2 with ND8) f/12 (f/4.2 with ND8)
maximum flash distance in meters 5.6m 3.4m
GN in m at maximum output at 1/250th sec 50 25
aperture bright sunlight at 1/250th sec f/9.8 (f/3.5 with ND8) f/9.8 (f/3.5 with ND8)
maximum flash distance in meters 7m 3.5m
GN in m at maximum output at 1/320th sec 50 but some banding at base of frame 22
aperture bright sunlight at 1/320th sec f/8.9+ (f/3.1 with ND8) f/8.9 (f/3.1 with ND8)
maximum flash distance in meters 7.9m 3.5m
GN in m at maximum output at 1/400th sec 50 but banding at base of frame 20-30% of image 20
aperture bright sunlight at 1/400th sec f/8 (f/2.8 with ND8) f/8 (f/2.8 with ND8)
maximum flash distance in meters 8.9m 3.6m
GN in m at maximum output at 1/500th sec 50 but banding covers at least 50% of frame 18
aperture bright sunlight at 1/500th sec f/7 (f/2.5 with ND8) f/7 (f/2.5 with ND8)
maximum flash distance in meters 10m 3.7m
GN in m at maximum output at 1/1000th sec not possible 13
aperture bright sunlight at 1/1000th sec not possible f/4.9 (f/1.7 with ND8)
maximum flash distance in meters n/a 3.7m
GN in m at maximum output at 1/2000th sec not possible 8.9
aperture bright sunlight at 1/2000th sec not possible f/3.5 (f/1.2 with ND8)
maximum flash distance in meters n/a 3.6m
GN in m at maximum output at 1/4000th sec not possible 6.3
aperture bright sunlight at 1/4000th sec not possible f/2.5 (f/1.2 with ND4)
maximum flash distance in meters n/a 3.7m
GN in m at maximum output at 1/8000th sec not possible 4.4
aperture bright sunlight at 1/8000th sec not possible f/1.7 (f/1.2 with ND2)
maximum flash distance in meters n/a 3.7m

Thus, HSS or Super FP mode is great for direct flash fill of sunlit portraits, but if you are doing a wedding group in the sun, your flash GN will be much less for wider focal lengths and you generally will be more than 3.7m away, so you would be better off with using 1 or 2 Metz 45CT, 45CL or 60CT flashes (these have much higher GN at wide angles than a FL50 or 580EXii and you have to use manual mode anyway for this trick) at a slightly higher shutter speed such as 1/250th or 1/320th sec given the unlit portion at the bottom may not come into play anyway.

Likewise, if you are wanting to use your flash in a soft box or bounced, then even at maximum zoom, you may find you don’t have enough flash output in HSS / Super FP mode unless you get in close with the flash, and you may be better off using x-sync.

Lastly, the above figures are just one example. You may wish to slightly over-expose for the sun so that it becomes a kick light such as a hair light which would allow wider apertures and more flash distance, and you may want to change the amount of flash fill – less flash fill needed means more flash distance that can be possible.

Try out your camera and flash combination, and let me know how it fairs by writing a short note in the comments.

Have fun!