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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.




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.


Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 vs Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens for portraiture

Monday, April 25th, 2016

At one of my photography workshops using available light, no hair stylist and no MUA,  I had the opportunity to test the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM lens mounted on my Olympus OM-D E-M5 using face detection closest eye AF (a little unreliable but this shot worked) against the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens mounted on an Olympus OM-D E-M1 at 135mm f/2.8 again with face detection AF for closest eye but with this combination, AF was much faster and more reliable.

I was brought up to respect women for who they are and not how much makeup they wore, what adornments they had nor what fancy clothes they wore, so my preferred portraiture is a very natural look with minimal post-processing of natural skin textures largely restricted to removal of blemishes. I certainly don’t go for the over-processed glamour looks nor the plasticized Instagram looks which are commonly used on iPhone selfies these days.

Photographing women in such a manner to achieve an intimate imagery with beautiful aesthetics is a rare privilege for me, so hope you like the results .. and spoiler … I don’t think the extra f/2.0 aperture advantage of the Canon lens makes up for the better depth of field at this distance, the faster AF and the more subject detail and pop that the Olympus lens provides.

If you do really want smoother bokeh, then look at the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens – it is my favourite of all lenses for outdoor portraiture assuming you don’t mind working at that focal length.

I have tried to post-process them from RAW in an identical manner.

Olympus lens

Above, the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens at 135mm f/2.8.

Canon lens

Above, the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM lens at 135mm f/2.0.

See my last post as to how one can attach the Canon lens to the Micro Four Thirds cameras and gain full aperture control, EXIF data and some AF capabilities.


Merry Xmas all – it’s the silly season – here’s how to really capture your work Xmas party with a simple photo booth

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

Most of us have a Christmas work party where everyone gets to dress up and have fun and really get into the team spirit.

You can value add to this is an enormous way by creating great quality photos and leave them to their own creative devices.

Add a few props for them to play with and you will get some fantastic shots they will all love – although I did end up with well over 300 shots which I had to edit – but I loved them all as they were so natural looking with fantastic expressions which really showed how much they all enjoyed the opportunity to be creative – knowing that they will look great unlike typical indoor iPhone snaps!

And there were none of those helicopter-style selfies!

None of these have had any significant PS work on the skin, just some cropping, cloning of creases in the backdrop, and some tonal adjustments and some have a little increased clarity added.













Now for the set up:

A couple of sheets as backdrops – would have been better with a white wall to save cloning out the creases in every shot – a clean background really makes a big difference in the aesthetics!

A flash to light the backdrop – I had intended to use 2 x Metx 45 CL-4 flash units triggered by optical sensor, however, one of the PC cords failed me so I had to be happy with one on full output with a diffuser attached. The light from the flash had to be shielded so it did not directly hit subjects causing blown highlights.

A main light – here I used a studio flash with a soft box on a light stand to provide some soft semi-directional light so that it didn’t matter too much where the subjects were facing as that was always going to be next to impossible to control!

A fill-in light at 1 stop less exposure than the main light – to avoid secondary shadows from a fill-in, I decided to bounce a studio light off the rear wall – the main downside to this is that the photographer is visible in the reflections of glasses – but that is a reasonable compromise.

The result is lovely soft semi-directional light on their faces with catchlights in their eyes and no nasty secondary shadows. nor nasty flash reflections from glasses.

The camera was irrelevant – as long as you can trigger the studio flash with PC sync cord or a radio remote trigger, and you have a suitable lens you are going to be fine.

I forgot to bring a zoom lens for my Olympus OM-D E-M5 (the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 would have been perfect) so I decided to resort to my Canon 1D Mark III with Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L lens hand held and set on manual exposure mode to f/5.6 at ISO 320.

A zoom lens proved to be critical instead of my primes as there was no time to constantly change lenses to accommodate varying numbers of subjects from 1 to 12 at a time!

White balance was set to Sunny, but as I shot in RAW, I adjusted the white balance in Lightroom according to a test target I photographed.

And there you have it – fairly easy portrait lighting for some fun portraiture.