ZD EC20

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Zombies vs Olympus E510+ZD 50mm macro + ZD 2x teleconverter

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

I was catching a tram in the city today when a horde (is that the right word?) of Zombies doing a Shuffle descended on the good folk of Melbourne and luckily for me, having left my Canon 1DMIII at home because it was too heavy, but had my Olympus E510 with ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro and ZD EC-20 2x teleconverter with me.

So I thought I would make the most of the photo opportunity and joined the dozens of other photographers and decided to shoot these amateur Zombies.

Here’s a taste:

Zombie with syringe

Check out the rest here:

Melbourne Zombie Shuffle May 9th 2009

Although I love the 50mm plus EC-20 combination, shooting these constantly moving targets (they were far too fast-moving for Zombies!), was a challenge for this combination’s autofocus and the extremely narrow depth of field I was shooting at meant only a few were caught at their sharpest. As I did not have time to loiter and be a bit more persistent, I decided to accept those that I got and move on.

I am sure the E-620 with its additional AF points would make C-AF mode much more useful, but I am still waiting for Olympus to update their 50mm macro lens to include SWD, contrast-detect capability compatible with Micro Four Thirds, and focus range limiters. Please Mr Olympus, get your act in gear, I love this lens so much but I need it to AF better.

Sports using the Olympus ZD 50-200mm with 2x TC for 800mm reach from the boundary

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Much has been aired of concerns of the inevitably higher noise levels at high ISO of the Olympus 2x cropped when compared to the larger sensors.

BUT, if you can get by with ISO 800 and below, the 2x crop creates a unique opportunity by giving you unprecedented image stabilised telephoto reach of 800mm in a compact, relatively light (1.8kg), hand holdable package which you just can’t manage to achieve at all with a Nikon D700 or Canon 5DMII.

Yesterday, I played in our annual social cricket game, and brought along with me two camera kits:

  • Canon 1DMIII (1.3x crop) with EF 135mm f/2.0L + 1.4x teleconverter
  • Olympus E510 with ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD + EC-20 2x teleconverter

I like this combination as they are both about the same weight, and I can use the Canon to get in close while I am on the field risking my life getting hit by a cricket ball as I concentrate on getting the shot. While the Olympus I gave to a friend’s teenage son who had never used such a camera before, and I showed him how to AF by pressing the Fn button and all he had to do was take shots from the safety of the boundary line.

He absolutely loved clicking away and the extreme telephoto of 800mm reach in 35mm terms allowed him to capture the action on the centre of the pitch as if he was standing right there.

It was quite a cloudy day (great for avoiding highlights being blown out but not so good for super-telephotos hand held), so I had set the E510 to AWB, ISO 400, aperture priority at f/8 (f/4 x 2 for the teleconverter, although for some he must of accidentally moved it to f/10 ie. f/5 x 2).

So here are a few of what this 1st time, unsupervised photographer managed to achieve – these are straight jpegs from the camera – no crop, no sharpening, no PS other than resize and jpeg compression for the web.

Click on each to be taken to a larger view.

The first is a photo he took of his dad leg glancing for four runs:

his dad

And a batsman about to punish a bowler:

batsman

And he took one of his friend on the field not to far away, and it shows the lovely bokeh this lens has (this one I have cropped to about 25% of the whole image):

portrait

More of the day’s cricket shots can be seen here – yes that’s me in far camera right of the team photo

The close portrait shots using the Canon are very nice but it did require me to be within 3m of the subject to get them, not 100m as with the Olympus combo – distance changes everything!

More of my photos of the 50-200mm with 2xTC combo can be seen here.

The new E-620 and E-30 will be MUCH better than the E510 for sports as the extra AF points will allow more functional continuous AF, while the E-3 will allow you to keep shooting with this lens combo even if it starts raining.

Each tool has its strengths and weaknesses – as good as the Nikon D700 and Canon 5DMII are, I doubt they could achieve this telephoto reach without necessitating a tripod or monpod, and of course, the 5DMII may die if it starts getting a bit of a drizzle rain happening whereas the E-3 should be fine.

I have a web page outlining the comparative offerings available to Canon, Nikon and Olympus for telephoto lenses here – as can be seen, a hand holdable 800mm kit is not really possible on full frame dSLRs but could be achievable on the 1.5x or 1.6x cropped sensor dSLRs but on these, the noise at high ISO is not substantially different to that on Olympus.

The 800mm fashion shot

Sunday, October 5th, 2008

I was helping another photographer yesterday shooting a very quirky fashion style shoot in the middle of the busy streets of Melbourne’s tramways. Instead of me holding his strobes, I suggested I show him what my lowly Olympus E510 could do from 100m away at a 35mm equivalent focal length reach of 800mm hand held.

Even with this relatively compact outfit in the fading light, many passing by asked who the famous model was and did their best to distract me so I would get hit by a tram.

Despite my shakes, the image stabiliser on the E510 worked well enough at 1/200th second, f7, ISO 400 to take shots like this one.

800mm fashion shot

Now, the 60′s outfit, etc will not be to everyone’s taste, and the sharpness may not allow a poster size advertisement to be scrutinised closely without criticism, but the point of the shot is, that this shot with such a compact, carry anywhere outfit is currently only possible with the Four Thirds system and in this case with two great optics – ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD and the ZD EC-20 2x teleconverter.

For the tech heads, I have added some vignetting and contrast in Lightroom and some selective sharpening in PS.

Now, I had to also demonstrate to him how good the ZD 50-200mm lens is on its own at 200mm (ie. 400mm eq. focal length) for outdoor portraiture to blur and compress the background.

This time we are in a back alley in Melbourne’s CBD, and we decided to go for a non-traditional, emotive portrait with a bit of anguish, and a touch disturbed – I do like emotional expressive works when dealing with people as a canvas. perhaps the model read my mind!

anguish

Larger size images are available here and here.

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.

800mm hand held telephoto reach hand held

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

OK…you have probably guessed… I am so impressed with this unique combination:

Olympus E510 + ZD 50-200mm + ZD EC20 2x teleconverter to give a relatively light (~2kg), compact, easily carried and used hand held kit that can deliver great images hand held at 1/200th sec shutter speed allowing great photos in the shade at ISO 400, f/7.

Why would you want this?

Well sometimes you just can’t get in close such as with this image of a Sumatran tiger in our zoo here in Melbourne. It was a nice cloudy day and this guy was way up back of his enclosure resting in shade some 50-100m away from me.

Now I’m not that crazy to jump the fence or throw things at him to get him to come closer, nor am I that patient to wait all day for him to move and nor do I want to cart around a 4-6kg camera kit and tripod, and lastly I don’t want to stand out from the crowd that much – I might get mugged!

So here is a cropped version (cropped to 3.8 megapixel) to emphasise the tiger – remember this is at 800mm telephoto reach so you can get a reasonable idea of how far away he was if I still had to crop it by 60%:

tiger

But when viewed at 100% crop, you can see how sharp this combo is even hand held at 1/200th sec – this just should not be possible!

tiger

see here to see the first image resized to a nice computer screen resolution.

The great thing is that even with the entry level E510, the AF worked very nicely indeed, and before you take this for granted, remember that on nearly all other brand cameras, AF will not work when the lens aperture + teleconverter combination becomes f/8 or smaller.

So even if you are happy to lug a much bigger and heavier lens around with a Canon or Nikon, you may find that you cannot use AF and you may not have image stabilisation available.

A case in point is if I bought the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 lens and used it with my EF 1.4x teleconverter on my Canon 1DMIII, the result would be 728mm telephoto reach at f/8 and according to Canon’s website, AF is not possible and of course there is no image stabiliser, and it now weighs almost 3kg and is a very conspicuous long, white lens which has a close focus of 3.5m and not 1.2m as with the Olympus combo.

So you would miss out on photo opportunities such as these flowers at the zoo (no crop, just resized):

flowers

Now I am not criticising Canon or Nikon here, as they have their own advantages, but for handholdable, super telephoto reach with macro capabilities, you can’t beat the Olympus system.

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 ZD 50-200mm SWD + EC-20: moon revisited

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

Well I had a chance to capture a crescent moon tonight between the clouds so I thought it was worth comparing the 50-200mm with 2x teleconverter (ie. 800mm telephoto reach) with hand held vs tripod with mirror up.

These are 100% crops of original jpegs (ie. you are pixel peeping at 100% here, more than you would if you printed this), and no PS processing, no sharpening.

First, at 200mm+2xTC f/3.5 (ie. 800mm eq. f/7), 1/200th sec, ISO 400 hand held with IS ON:

moon with IS on, hand held 800mm

and, at ISO 100, 1/25thsec, f/5 (ie. 800mm eq. f/10) on tripod with mirror up (antishock = 5sec):

moon via tripod 800mm

Well, I don’t think there is a lot of difference, so using this lens combo at 800mm hand held with IS on and 1/200th sec gives pretty impressive results and such results at this telephoto reach with autofocus hand held are unlikely to be had with any other system.

Of course, with manual focus mirror lenses you could get the reach on other cropped sensors but unless they have IS in the body, you would not get away with 1/200th sec and these lenses have less contrast and resolution compared to this lens combination.

These were taken with the Olympus E510 and look even better with a bit of sharpening such as with unsharp mask in PS.

Macro with ZD 50mm f/2.0 + EC20 2x teleconverter

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

Well, promised I would get out and play with my new EC-20 this weekend, so here are a couple of them using the ZD 50mm lens.

The EC20 means that you can choose to go for 1:1 macro or a longer working distance than with the ZD 50mm lens alone, and as you can see the image quality is still excellent.

These were taken using the Olympus Ring Flash, off camera for the cumquat shot.

First another bee shot, this has been cropped and resized to fit here.

bee - cropped and resized

and the cumquat shot, minimally cropped but resized.

cumquat - resized

larger versions can be found here

Macro with ZD 50-200mm SWD + EC-20 = 1:2 at 1.2m

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

Now let’s test the macro capabilities of this combination out in the real world.

I chose as a subject, my apricot tree which is in blossom and plenty of bees buzzing around – an interesting test to see how well this goes.

BUT first, I thought I would try a less wieldy combination, my Olympus OM 200mm f/4 lens with the ZD EC-20 on the E510 with IS on, here is a 100% crop of a blossom taken at about 2.5m which is its closest focus and at 1/500th sec, unfortunately, this is about the best I could achieve.

OM 200mm f/4 crop

This shows that although the Olympus OM 200mm f/4 lens was a good lens for 35mm film, and usable with a 2x teleconverter on a full frame, and indeed usable without one on an Olympus dSLR as my other images with it show, it lacks the amazing resolution capability of the Zuiko Digital lenses which were apparently designed to give an MTF of 4-5 times better than the OM lenses.

This is why Canon & Nikon are now hitting a wall with their current lenses which were designed for 35mm film and struggling to cope with the high resolution sensors such as on the Canon 1Ds Mark III. Indeed, Nikon have started revising their lenses in readiness for their 25mp full frame.

Enough rambling, let’s see what the ZD 50-200mm with EC-20 can do at the same distance of 2.5m hand held, again a 100% pixel peeping crop:

50-200mm 100% crop

Now, we have resigned the OM 200mm to the cupboard, let’s do some more:

see the bee and blossom pics here

Now to use this lens like this at 800mm effective focal length at focus of 1.2m giving 1:1 macro (ie. width of image equates to about 36mm of subject), and having a hyperactive bee who just does not want to sit there and pose, you really need to resort to manual focus techniques.

I tried the C-AF but even the small ramblings of the bee on the blossom was making the AF go crazy and taking the shot was a bit of luck as to if it was in focus or not – the E510′s AF mechanism just wasn’t designed for such macro activity.

The S-AF works well with it being activated by the AFL lock button and not the shutter button (set wrench 1 on the E510 menu so AEL/AFL setting is M:3 and set AF mode to MF on the rear controls. This means you can quickly lock an AF in using the AEL/AFL button and know that touching the shutter won’t change your focus. You can then just sway in and out minutely until your subject is in focus then fire away. If you want the bee in flight, this is a bit harder and requires a bit of trial and error and anticipate it will fly a little off the flower and pre-focus there and wait for it to fly there and hope you have it – of course you need flash or a fast shutter for this.

Mind you this combination did get a bit heavy trying to keep focus while waiting for something to happen, but it should work well for all those flying insects which don’t like you getting very close.

Whilst I suspect I could get even sharper results with the ZD 50mm macro, the shorter working distance would have prevented capturing flighty bees and I am very happy with these initial results.

Finally, at such magnifications, you really need to reduce blur from subject and camera movement to a minimum, and better results could probably be attained by use of an off-camera flash, such as a hand held Olympus Ring Flash or a Twin flash attached to the lens.

Moonrise hand held at 800mm with ZD 50-200mm + EC-20

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

It’s getting past my bed time now, but I just noticed the moon rising about 10deg above horizon amongst thick clouds and being a keen astrophotographer, I just had to try my new toy on this target.

So here is my first quick shot, hand held rather carelessly at 800mm equivalent focal length reach with lens wide open at f/3.5 (ie. f/7 effective aperture with the 2x TC) and ISO 400 and shutter speed, wait for it… drum roll please….

yes, only 1/100th second – could I hand hold a 800mm shot at 1/100th at almost 1am and still get an OK shot?

here it is straight from camera but resized to 600 pixels wide to fit here:

ZD50-200mm moon shot

Wow, it has enough magnification to see the craters well, although with all that atmospheric interference near the horizon, we are unlikely to get much more detail until the moon rises higher in the sky.

Imagine getting a moon THAT size in the background of your landscapes – mind you your foreground subject would need to be a reasonable distance away to get anywhere near the depth of field to make out both subjects in the one frame, but hey, its impressive.

here is the crop without any PS or sharpening:

ZD50-200mm moon shot crop

Remember, the blurring is more due to atmosphere and clouds rather than lens or camera shake (well it could be a bit of camera shake seeing as I was tired and it is only 1/100th sec!).

I didn’t get a second chance to see if I could do better as heavy clouds obscured it within a minute.

That will have to wait for another day.