Awesome portraiture can be done with ANY camera – you don’t have to spend megabucks!

Written by Gary on December 27th, 2019

This post is inspired by some wonderful portraiture I found today on the web by a Russian photographer, Rustam Rakhimov Рахимов Рустам and I will show some of his works which appear to me to rely on aspects generally unrelated to the camera itself for their success – in particular, his wonderful understanding and control of light as well as a creative mind and the use of foreground materials.

Obviously to achieve imagery such as this you need some studio lights of the appropriate types and a makeup artist, but neither are beyond your capabilities if this styling is something that inspires you to go beyond the millions of boring FB and IG portraits.

So before you rush out and spend your hard earned cash on a fancy expensive new camera, consider if what you really need is something else such as lighting – but note that these results will take quite a bit of practice, experience and knowledge to achieve! That’s why a good professional photographer is worth paying if you want great results consistently.


Hopefully, these will inspire you to experiment more with light, shadows, chiaroscuro, gels, camera angles and use of out of focus foreground objects.

 

My picks for a travel camera kit in the post-Xmas 2019 sales

Written by Gary on December 26th, 2019

Buying into a new camera system for 2020 is quite confusing as each system has compromises, and their own issues.

Disclaimer: I am not paid or offered incentives from ANY camera or lens manufacturer or retailer, I don’t have advertising on my site or send you to online retailers. I personally use a range of systems including Olympus OM-D cameras, Olympus and Panasonic pro lenses, Sony full frame cameras, Canon pro dSLRs and pro lenses to match as well as a range of 35mm and medium format film systems. These are my thoughts from my travel experiences, you may have different priorities to me.

2019 was the year that all the major brands finally committed to mirrorless camera systems which will eventually consign older dSLR mirrored cameras to a niche market.

Hence the following places emphasis on mirrorless cameras which will be the future of most photographers. Having said this, if you are budget challenged then you may be able to pick up an older dSLR full frame kit at a more affordable price than the newer mirrorless alternatives – HOWEVER, I would personally avoid the cropped sensor dSLRs from Canon or Nikon.

Whilst many of the new full frame mirrorless cameras are quite small and compact, they tend to be very expensive and their lenses are too large, heavy and expensive for travel, particularly if you are traveling to regions where a conspicuous camera kit may make you a target for attack and theft.

The new Canon mirrorless cameras still do not have sensor shift image stabilisation and lack pro features, and, along with the new Nikon mirrorless cameras, these systems lack a good range of lens choices, especially lenses for travel.

The Sony full frame cameras tend to be too small for their purpose and are uncomfortable to use and lack the fun and ergonomics of Micro Four Thirds.

Furthermore, whilst, cameras such as the new Sony a7RIV with its 61megapixels and awesome AF capabilities make it a great camera in terms of image quality, to achieve this image quality you need to shoot a fast shutter speed at low ISO and only a handful of super expensive, heavy lenses are capable of delivering the resolution to match the sensor – see THIS BLOG WHICH TESTS LENSES for the 61mp sensor.

My suggested requirements for a travel camera kit

The camera kit, including lenses should:

  • be relatively affordable as risk of loss or damage is high (yes that excludes Leica!)
  • be relatively small, light and discrete and easily carried on aircraft cabin luggage with weight limits of 5kg.
  • have acceptable image quality and offer something more than your smartphone such as faster, more reliable AF, ability to use without needing your reading glasses, ability to shoot wide angle (eg. 24mm in full frame terms), at least short telephoto (eg. at least 150mm in full frame terms), ability to handle low light scenes hand held (MUST have sensor shift image stabiliser, adequate high ISO performance to ISO 3200 and at least 16 megapixels)
  • be ergonomic and comfortable to hold for hours whilst walking without resorting to camera straps.
  • be able to send images via WiFi to smartphone for uploading to internet without need for using a computer.
  • have a viewfinder so you can see what you are shooting even in bright sunlight, and this also allows you to hold the camera more steady in low light.
  • must have a nice selection of quality native lenses (this excludes most APS-C sensor sized cameras apart from Fujifilm)
  • preferably be weathersealed so you can shoot in the rain or not have it damaged by accidental water leaks in your bag, and if that gelati or pigeon droppings hits your camera you can just wash it off with a bottle of water.
  • preferably have a good sensor dust prevention mechanism – Olympus has the best ultrasonic system as they invented it, Panasonic has borrowed the system from Olympus, Canon R has a automatic shutter closure when camera is turned off which is promising, Sony and Nikon Z cameras have the worst issues according to Tony Northrup and the Sony cameras really need to have the sensor cleaned before each shoot!
  • preferably have an articulated screen so you can shoot selfies or selfie videos while walking.

My preferred kits if you have the money

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II

This is the only camera which fulfills all of the above and is a joy to carry and use even with larger, heavier, pro quality weathersealed lenses.

It is so feature rich that there are very few features that are missing from this camera and the larger battery allows better battery life, while the two SD cards gives you options of backing up SD cards on the run or shooting to both cards simultaneously for security against card loss or corruption.

Discounted price is currently around $AU1870 body only.

This could be mated with lenses such as:

  • Olympus micro ZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO for the ultimate in telephoto zoom versatility and image quality (I would leave the bulky lens hood off unless you expect to shoot in the rain, and I would remove the tripod mount to reduce bulk and weight). I often use this as my ONLY lens for walk-around, knowing I can use my iPhone for wider field of view shots, or I might add in a compact, light lens such as a 12mm f/2 or if I am thinking of capturing ultra-wide images, I will take the Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 lens but there is also a nice Panasonic 8-18mm or the awesome 10-25mm f/1.7 lens.
  • Olympus micro ZD 12-100mm f/4 OIS PRO for a smaller, lighter, one lens option with awesome image stabilisation of 6.5 stops allowing many seconds of hand holdable exposures at the 12mm end. You may wish to mate this with a compact wide aperture lens for moving subjects in low light or for use at night or indoor social events such as an Olympus 25mm f/1.8 or 45mm f/1.8 lens.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III

This has most of the capabilities of the E-M1 Mark II, and adds in 5x SLO-MO video in a smaller, more compact camera making it THE BEST SELFIE VLOGGING CAMERA when combined with a small, compact wide angle lens.

Discounted price is currently around $AU1615 body only.

The main issue with the camera is that it is TOO SMALL for comfortably holding larger, heavier lenses such as the PRO weathersealed lenses, HOWEVER, this can be easily addressed by adding in the optional grip although availability at this time may be problematic.

But the small, compact size when mated with a small pancake lens does allow this camera to fit into a jacket pocket for even more discrete walk about use in high risk places or just in pubs, etc.

This could be mated with lenses such as:

  • Olympus 12-200mm lens has a super zoom range in a compact, light, weathersealed lens is more a priority than the sharpest image quality (it is not the sharpest lens at 200mm, but then you are getting an amazing telephoto zoom reach in such a small, light lens!
  • Olympus “consumer” prime lenses if not buying the grip, although these are not weathersealed, eg. Olympus 12mm f/2.0, Olympus 17mm f/1.8, Olympus 25mm f/1.8, Olympus 45mm f/1.8 and perhaps the superb Olympus 75mm f/1.8 if you are want blurred, less complicated backgrounds for your portraits, or just need a brilliant short telephoto lens for low light.
  • any of the lenses as for the E-M1 II IF you buy the optional grip.

Alternatives include the Panasonic G9 (an excellent, larger, less expensive camera which lacks PDAF AF and instead uses the less effective DFD technology which only works with Panasonic lenses but worth considering and is better value than the cheaper Panasonic GX9) and perhaps the Sony a7III (but this requires larger, heavier, expensive lenses and has poor ergonomics requiring a grip), or a Fuji system (most do not have sensor shift IS apart from the XH-1 and the lenses are expensive).

My suggestion for those on a budget:

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III

This is a similarly sized camera to the E-M5 III but lacks many of its features including PDAF for focus on fast moving subjects, the articulating swivel rear screen for selfies, weathersealing, and the image stabilisation is not as effective while the sensor is only 16mp not 20mp, shutter only to 1/4000th sec instead of 1/8000th sec, and there is no HiRes mode, but it does have a built-in pop-up flash instead of the separate bundled flash.

Despite these issues, it is great value and you can get a TWIN lens kit (standard zoom and telephoto zoom) with the lovely low light Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens thrown in for free at a great discounted total kit price of only $AU799 which is pretty awesome when you consider the 25mm lens itself normally sells for $AU399 and will give a boost to this kit’s low light, and portrait capabilities.

Panasonic G7

The Panasonic G7 is also available in a twin lens kit and available for a discounted $AU755 after EFTpos gift card redemption. It has the advantage over the E-M10 of having DFD AF which is better for fast moving subjects than the CDAF only technology on the E-M10, but you don’t get the extra low light portrait lens thrown in and it doesn’t have sensor-shift image stabilisation.

Alternatives

Most of the alternatives at this price point have significant deficiencies such as EVF issues, poor flash sync speed, and lack of sensor-shift image stabilisation (Sony a6100, Fujifilm X-A7).

More camera suggestions:

See my wikipedia page for further options on what camera to buy this Xmas.

 

Blog is back up and running

Written by Gary on December 23rd, 2019

The automatic WordPress and Jetpack plugin upgrades crippled the blog post causing 403 Forbidden access errors whenever users attempted to click on a link to another blog page or image.

I have tracked this down to the Jetpack v8.0 plugin and all seems well again after de-activating it.

 

Dubrovnik, and the Olympus E-M1 II plus a Sony with 17mm tilt shift

Written by Gary on November 22nd, 2019

Dubrovnik, at the southernmost region of Croatia, has rapidly become one of the leading tourism destinations, thanks in no small part to it being a key feature in the Game of Thrones series which highlighted this old fortified walled port city.

Indeed the thousands of tourists who arrive every day by cruise ships (except Sundays I believe) have adversely impacted the enjoyment of the city itself during the day but obviously are bringing much needed tourism money to the region.

Dubrovnik is not accessible by rail, and my preferred option is a flight to the nearby airport from one of the main European cities, and then a taxi or Uber to your accommodation (or if you choose the Old City to stay, to one of the Gates such as Pile Gate and then you need to walk a short distance – although depending upon how wisely you chose, you may have many steps).

I loved my time there which thankfully was in shoulder season in September and not too hot and not too cold, but still it was over-crowded during the day time. I took advantage of their local seafood cuisine, especially the calamari, for the evening meals.

I personally prefer Venice for its variety of photographic subjects, but if you are wanting to swim, enjoy the Mediterranean sun in your bathers or go fishing, then Dubrovnik wins hands down.

Here are a selection of images from the Old Town.

The inevitable local vendor – This was shot with the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens at 150mm (300mm FF eq) to get past the crowds and isolate the subject.
Sony a7II with Canon TSE 17mm tilt shift lens, 3 shot hand held HDR – not easy to get without the crowds!
Sony a7II with Canon TSE 17mm tilt shift lens, 3 shot hand held HDR
This is one of the reasons why I absolutely love Micro Four Thirds and the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II for travel! This was shot with the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens which is perhaps the biggest lens I would comfortably walk around with for a couple of hours and it was shot from a dark alley way in the Old City at dusk handheld at 1/25th second and a full frame equivalent focal length of 220mm at ISO 400 and f/2.8 which gives just the right amount of depth of field. There is NO EQUIVALENT option in the full frame cameras that is this size, covering up to 300mm and with this optical quality.
Unlike Venice where cats are scarce and dogs are the favored pets, Dubrovnik’s Old City has quite a few cats and this one liked to sit at the Pile Gate and get pats from the tourists. mpus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens at 82mm f/2.8.
There are many bars even within the Old City, and this is one of the few on the outside of the wall sitting on the rocks above the sea. It would be a nice spot to have a beer … except everyone else seems to have the same idea!
Overlooking the port of the Old Town. Olympus 12-40mm lens at 24mm.
Don’t forget to get outside the wall, as nearby, there are bars on beaches with kayak hire and options for a nice dip in the water – the water is generally warmest in September although the days are getting cooler.
Exploring the back alley areas does get you to some interesting photographic subjects.
The adjacent fort makes for a nice view of the Old City before sunset.
 

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III and rumors that Olympus may sell its imaging division have been refuted by Olympus

Written by Gary on November 12th, 2019

Yesterday, the internet was hit with a rumor that Olympus may be selling its imaging division within the next 12 months – I do not have any contacts with Olympus and I do not know if this rumor has any truth in it or not.

POST SCRIPT:

The Official word from Olympus is that Olympus is NOT closing down or selling off its imaging division – see this post from PhotoFocus!

ALL camera manufacturers have been hit hard by the sustained downturn in camera sales and we are in the midst of a major change of dSLRs to mirrorless full-frame which is unsettling buyers everywhere.

Personally, I would dearly hope they they don’t sell it off as Olympus have shown the photography world that not only are they among the leading innovators in camera technologies, but their OM-D line of cameras have been built with the photographer in mind – they are small, light, compact yet highly customizable, fully featured cameras that are not only stylish and ergonomic to handle but are fun to use.

No other camera manufacturer has been able to design cameras with all of these qualities in one camera.

It started off in 2012 with the original OM-D, the Olympus E-M5 which truly revolutionised the mirrorless camera world and made mirrorless cameras a viable option because for the first time, they were able to combine all the following features into a fun camera:

  • awesome weathersealing, so good, that you could pour a bottle of water over it and not worry
  • great retro styling
  • small enough to fit in a jacket pocket with a pancake lens
  • high image quality – the 16mp sensor was a massive improvement over the previous 12mp sensors, and not because of the increase in pixel numbers, but its dynamic range and high ISO performance was much improved
  • the fastest, most accurate AF system then on the market for relatively still subjects, and they were the first to include closest eye AF detection which was a god-send
  • their incredible innovative class leading 5 axis in body sensor shift image stabilization system which would work even with legacy lenses
  • an electronic viewfinder that was at last good enough for most people not to miss their optical viewfinders
  • a flip out touch sensitive rear screen which could be used to select the AF point and immediately take the shot
  • a fast 9fps mechanical shutter burst rate which rates well with the pro sports dSLRs of the day, albeit with AF locked
  • flash sync to 1/250th sec
  • unique innovate night modes such as Timed Bulb and Timed Live modes where you can do well past the usual timed limit of 30secs as with most other cameras, and in addition you can see the image “developing”, while the Live Boost allows easier visualisation of stars, etc.
  • a range of lovely small prime lenses which were a pleasure to travel with and yet provided adequate shallow depth of field for most purposes, excellent sharpness and combined with the IBIS, excellent hand holdable low light performance of static subjects as well as hand holdable infrared photography using very dark R72 filters
  • wonderful ergonomics of its extremely customisable buttons and dual dial control system
  • image stabilised magnified view for accurate manual focus
  • unique innovative Live Histogram so you can better analyse your exposure setting BEFORE you take the shot
  • an adequate image stabilised video mode of 1080 30p which was the standard at that time
  • an of course the ultrasonic sensor dust removal system which Olympus pioneered
  • optional battery holder grip for when you need longer battery life or a better grip to hold heavier lenses
  • optional underwater housings
  • and don’t forget, IT WAS FUN to use!

 

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

The 2nd version of the E-M5 in 2015 was a substantial evolutionary improvement over the original which updated various components and added a few extras such as swivel out fully articulating screen, Live Composite mode for stacking night images, 64mp HiRes pixel shift mode, improved video codec and image stabilisation, 1/16,000th sec electronic shutter which could do bursts to 11fps, mechanical shutter to 1/8000th sec, electronic first-curtain shutter mode, improved EVF, autoHDR, keystone correction, colour creator, focus peaking, and WiFi remote control with smartphone apps BUT this was still missing two important features PDAF for AF of fast moving subjects, and 4K video.

The new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III

With the 3rd incarnation, the Olympus OM-D E-M5III, Olympus has essentially completed the package of what any photographer could really want in a light, compact, Micro Four Thirds camera by adding in most of the sports and video features of the pro Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II which I so love.

The 20mp sensor is the same as in the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II and has 121 all cross point PDAF which allows excellent subject tracking at up to 10fps (6fps mechanical) and can do Pro capture mode whereby 14 full RAW frames can be captured BEFORE the shutter is fully released thereby allowing capture of unexpected action before human reaction lag time.

The AntiFlicker mode makes capture in indoor lighting so much better while the EVF has been further improved to 2.36mdots.

Video now allows Cinema 4K 24p as well as 24-120p 1080 FullHD video to create Slo-Mo videos, all with minimal Rolling Shutter thanks to a fast sensor readout.

The even smaller size and lighter weight when combined with the swivel out selfie mode rear screen, the awesome image stabilisation and a light wide angle lens such as a 12mm f/2.0 creates perhaps THE BEST selfie vlogging tool for walks short of using a drone. This little outfit should fit into most jacket pockets!

When you need to use larger lenses then just add on the optional grip for better ergonomics.

This makes it one of the best family / travel / enthusiast cameras available.

But what about the rumor?

Rumors such as these would scare off most people from buying into the system, BUT this is a unique system and it is comprehensive and there is also Panasonic which has stated it is committed to this system earlier this year despite themselves also entering the full frame market.

No other system can offer such small, light, high quality telephoto lenses, for example, I love using the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO zoom which covers 80-300mm in full frame terms – but I would not be wanting to carry around a weathersealed, high quality 80-300mm full frame lens on my hikes or travels!

If the rumor is true and Olympus sells off its highly valuable imaging division, and likely buyers may be Sony, Samsung or Panasonic given they would be the main ones large enough to take on such a system.

Whilst I am not a fan of how Samsung or Sony have designed their cameras in the past, Sony at least is the leading sensor manufacturer and may incorporate Olympus ergonomics into the range of future cameras, while maintaining a Micro Four Thirds presence to to provide a truly compact option. Sony have always seemed to value compact cameras, but unfortunately, their APS-C and full frame cameras, whilst being compact, have had to use large, heavy lenses – Micro Four Thirds may just add that extra capability of smaller lenses that they have always been chasing.

Perhaps the only real stumbling block for Sony is the different flash systems, but in the current world, these differences have been overcome by users choosing universal flash systems such as Godox and Cactus, so users will probably not feel this incompatibility is as serious as it seems.

Would Samsung venture back into the camera market again after its failed NX series venture and in a world where there are declining camera sales? I think not.

Would Panasonic acquire the Olympus gear to value add to their Micro Four Thirds system? This would make a lot of sense as the Panasonic cameras tend to target videographers while Olympus has targeted still photographers, so the two camera styles could co-exist, and it would be an opportunity for Panasonic to at last make the two brands fully compatible (eg. DFD AF working with Olympus lenses, Dual IS working with both brand lenses, aperture controls on lenses working with Olympus cameras).

The worst case scenario is that Olympus ends their imaging division and can’t find a buyer, and then Panasonic decides to also give up on Micro Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds is no more. This would seem an unlikely scenario, as at the very least I would think there would be enterprising Chinese companies out their willing to take on the Micro Four Thirds system if the price was right.

I just hope whatever happens, the style and functionality of the current Olympus OM-D cameras is continued by whoever takes this on, but hopefully, Olympus in their 100th anniversary would not be giving up now.

There is opportunity to continue to undercut the full frame cameras which seem to be going up in price each year to levels far too high for most families and enthusiasts and hence there is a market for such amazingly good cameras as these OM-Ds, as long as the price is right and there is reassurance that the Micro Four Thirds system will remain viable.

 

Venice re-visited with a tilt-shift lens

Written by Gary on October 21st, 2019

Venice has to be my most favorite city to stroll around and photograph – once you escape the crowds or explore it outside of the busy periods.

There is no denying its visual appeal, practically no matter where you walk, you can find photographic subjects – and this is perhaps the problem with Venice – there is so much it is overwhelming in quantity of imagery that it is often taken for granted.

Why does a unique city like Venice even exist?

Who in their right minds would build a city on a swamp land which floods the city frequently every time a king tide comes in.

It seems the story begins around 800AD borne out of necessity to escape the barbarian hordes on horseback invading Italy from the north as a result of the fall of the Roman Empire several centuries earlier.

Horses and swamps are not a great mix, but the early Venetians had a massive problem – fish to eat and water all around but no fresh potable water to drink. The clever Venetians designed an amazing solution – to build self-filtering wells in the centre of campi (squares) so the rainwater could be directed via gutters into an underground area of sand which filtered the water but prevented the water mixing with sea water by having the massive underground pits lined with clay. The filtered water would then pass through “pozzali” (bricks) and into the well pipe from which it could be extracted by authorized citizens who prevented it from becoming soiled, and kept it locked to secure it.  The surface area of the campi collecting rainwater equated to around 10% of the city’s surface area and each inhabitant had a right to around 6L of water per day.

These wells were critical to the success of the developing city, and when rain water was inadequate, from 1386, they were filled by water brought by boat from the mainland. The “acquaroli” who brought the water by boat also took the rubbish back to the mainland.

In 1609, a water channel was built to bring water from the Brenta River to Moranzani to reduce the distance of boat transport of the water.

NB. If the following images do not display in correct aspect ratio for your device, click on them an open them in a new browser tab. Unless specified, most of these images were taken using the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro lens – although slightly longer and heavier than one would like for travel, it is easily my most favorite travel lens which allows me to find vignettes and get past the crowds. There is no equivalent lens in the full frame market which can match the range and quality of this lens and this value adds to my Micro Four Thirds cameras significantly.

One of the hundreds of now dis-used wells with their secured tops in place.

In 1884, an underground water pipeline was completed which was the beginning of the end of the wells which had become difficult to maintain and were inadequate for the needs of the population.

One of the first wells to be removed, was the one in San Marco as this is the lowest part of the city and most prone to flooding, the well was perhaps most at risk and indeed it was frequently spoiled, and with the new pipeline opening, a fountain was created in the piazza.
The above photo was taken with a tilt shift lens with 3 bracketed exposures to allow the beautiful clouds at dawn to be rendered.
Doge’s Palace and San Marco at dawn. Taken with a tilt shift lens with 3 bracketed exposures.
The original bridges in Venice were made of timber and were relatively flat to allow horses and carriages to cross, while the city itself was made largely of timber creating a major fire risk. It is for this reason that a decision was made to ban the industry of glass making from the city and instead transplant it to the nearby island of Murano where the trade secrets were regarded with critical importance such that those workers were never allowed to leave Venice. They were well compensated for this although it did not totally prevent their skills escaping to northern Europe.
Packing up the wares for the day and hanging out the washing in Murano – a must visit island along with Burano – fantastic places to escape the crowds of Venice proper and explore the colorful villages where the houses are each brightly colored apparently to assist the fishermen finding their homes.
It is a fairly leisurely life for many of the locals on Murano.
Strolling around Murano….
Murano
The island of Burano is known for its textile industry and laces, but like most of Venice, it also has its leaning towers as depicted here as a tourist walks past in the reflection.
Burano
Umbrella vendor in Burano.
A canal in Burano
Venice conservatory region.
Interior of Chiesa di San Vidal
Many “aesthetic” towns have a uniform building code to create the appeal such as on the Greek islands most obvious on Santorini, but I love Venice because each building is different, and yet they all belong.
A gondolier awaiting business.
Even powered boats look cool in Venice.
Tourists strolling in the afternoon sun past a church of which I have forgotten the name. Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 lens with keystone correction.
A slow day for this salesman.
Chiesa di San Giacomo di Rialto
A lone tourist trying to find her way out of the maze of dead end walk-ways. Although this design was probably necessary, I can imagine how much easier it would have made for the locals to trap any invading force of foot soldiers.
I do love the ancient urban grunge, would Tintoretto, the Mannerist painter love it too?
Note the buildings are numbered and these numbers are not restricted to a given street as in most other cities but they apply to a region of Venice. This makes using Google maps even more difficult as the locals may juts use the address 2905 San Marco, and that will not be located by Google. Even if you do find your location on Google maps, the GPS is often inaccurate whilst you are in the more narrow lane-ways as it struggles to reach the satellites.
surely he could not resist such beauty?
and through each secret tunnel there is more … far more…
even the modern day artists have had a go at creating their own textures only to see it decay away into yet another form of beauty
and one could not write about Venice without mentioning the famed Venetian masks – the festivals which have caused so much grief to the law makers over the years as the masks were used to hide many nefarious or otherwise activities!
perhaps the feature of love the most is the retention of the lovely old street lamps whether they be stand alone as with this one, or the lovely ones attached to the walls of the many narrow lane-ways. This one is near arsenal which was once the greatest industrial centre in the world, building war ships and which was the main employment in Venice at the time.
a 3 shot bracketed exposures using a tilt-shift lens for perspective control to capture the lovely lamps in San Marco at dawn with the morning storm clouds starting to recede to make way for yet another day’s onslaught of tourist crowds.
water bottles at the ready for the start of a new day
and the tourists wake up and start to explore this awesome place they call Venice – another 3 shot bracketed exposure with the tilt shift lens.
many of who will come to see the ornate San Marco church.
and commence their walks until the day is no more

When one walks an average of 10km a day around these cities on holiday travels, a small, light, compact camera kit such as the new Olympus OM-D E-M5 mark III would allow a lot less back strain than carrying a Sony with the massive, heavy Canon TS-E 17mm tilt shift as I did on some days (it did end up being left in the room most days!).

 

A winter’s morning in Melbourne with the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 tilt shift lens on a Sony a7II

Written by Gary on July 28th, 2019

Last weekend I had time for a short walk in Melbourne’s mid-winter sunshine and I decided to bring along my Sony a7II with Canon TSE 17mm f/4 tilt shift lens.

I shot most of these at f/8 or f/10 hand held and with the shift position optimised for the height of the buildings while trying to keep the camera level. I used the zebra mode to manually focus although given the aperture and wide depth of field this was not going to be critical.

Some of the images I decided to shoot in continuous 3 shot AE bracketing mode in case I decided to create a HDR in Affinity Photo, although most of these were mainly processed to B&W in OnOne Photo RAW 2019.

You can click on these to open up a much larger version.

3 shot HDR of Melbourne Conference Centre and the Polly Woodside ship
3 shot HDR processed to give a typical color HDR effect – some like this effect, some hate it.
hmm… I am not sure this has been corrected perfectly but then I am not an architectural photographer professional.
3 shot HDR with shift hand held into the low morning sun.

The question is, would these have been better had I used the new 61mp Sony a7R IV instead of this 24mp camera – the only way you would see the difference is if I posted a small crop or the full size images and you zoomed in to pixel peep at the detail, or perhaps if I printed a very large wall print and you moved in close to view it.

If I really wanted lots of megapixels, I could have used this 17mm tilt shift on the new Fujifilm GFX 100S 102megapixel medium format camera but then this lens behaves more like a 14mm lens, and at full shift there will be some vignetting. If you want to see more on Canon tilt shift lenses on this camera system, see this Youtube review.

Hence for most of us, 20-24 megapixels is plenty!

Why didn’t I use my Olympus OM-D E-M1 II?

Unfortunately there are no shift lens options available for Micro Four Thirds that give you 17mm field of view in full frame terms, and of course this Canon lens becomes a 34mm on Micro Four Thirds, although I could use my focal length reducer adapter to get it back to around 24mm field of view.

I had hoped someone would make a Four Thirds to Micro Four Thirds adapter with shift capability so I could use my superb old Four Thirds Olympus 7-14mm f/4 Super Pro lens in this manner but even then I am not sure the image circle will allow for sufficient shift without vignetting, but this lens does allow me to go wider at 14mm full frame equivalent which may then require less shift.

I could have used my Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye and then de-fished it and then adjusted keystone effect and cropped, or perhaps my Olympus micro ZD 7-14mm f/2.8 would have sufficed for this purpose – but either way, I would lose pixels and potentially a little image quality by post-processing in this way.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II has in-camera keystone adjustments so much of the guess work can be removed which does allow for better compositions if you do have to resort to keystone post-processing.

 

Why a 61 megapixel camera is probably too much for you – post-processing may not be so much fun

Written by Gary on July 22nd, 2019

The megapixel race is apparently still on .. Sony has upped the ante in the full frame sector with their 61mp Sony a7R Mark IV which can also do a 16 shot sensor shift 240mp image.

Fujifilm has their new 100mp Fujifilm GFX100S medium format camera.

Whilst many professionals and enthusiasts have very valid reasons for needing such high resolution cameras, these come at a cost not only in terms of purchase price and file storage costs but also in terms of post-processing frustrations due to their massive file sizes.

The Sony a7R IV is said to have 124Mb RAW files and apparently if you shoot the 16 shot Hi Res image you will be up for a 2Gb file!

Unfortunately, they have not allowed you to have a full frame RAW file in lossless format at lower resolution so that means you are committed to shooting every one of your full frame shots at 61mp – although you do have an option for a 62Mb compressed lossy RAW file or a 24mp APS-C crop file.

Let’s see what happens to file sizes in post-processing

I recently decided to purchase Affinity Photo to play with as it has been many years since I used Photoshop and I am certainly not going to be paying Adobe in my retirement an annual subscription fee just so I can re-use my old edits.

So far I have been impressed with Affinity Photo, and perhaps will write a more detailed analysis of some very cool things it can do for your photography at some later time, in the meantime you can check out resource links and video links on my wiki page here.

I went for a walk up onto the nearby mount on the weekend, and yes it was cold, but I needed the exercise, and on my way up, I took this quick hand held shot with my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II with the Olympus mZD 60mm macro lens (I decided to travel extra light!).

straight from camera

This was the image straight from camera with Olympus Natural profile, autoWB and just resized for the web using Lightroom v6.

The RAW file of this 20mp 12bit image was a lovely, easy to handle 19Mb – yes, no problem shooting off a hundred or so of these on a shoot, or shooting at 18fps at a sports event or capturing wildlife.

But after watching a video tutorial or twenty on how to play with Affinity Photo, I decided I would create some light rays and a touch of fog from the highlights of this image without adding in ready made ones.

sun rays and fog

After a bit of experimenting I came up with the above, I am not sure it really is an improvement on the original, I am feeling it is much like some music which has too many notes in it, but each to his own, some people like Rachmaninoff instead of Pink Floyd.

The point I have been labouring to get to is that this above file in Affinity Photo’s internal format in 16bit AdobeRGB is no longer 19Mb but a whopping 1GB thanks largely to its use of layers, and that is not even a complex post-processing case!

Now if my simple 19Mb image gets to 1Gb so easily, just imagine how your poor high end computer is going to strain with playing with a 61mp 124Mb file that is already almost 10x the size, let alone starting off with a 2Gb HiRes file!

There are better ways to improve your photography than just by megapixels

For some purposes you may just need the extra megapixels, but in many instances you actually will get better photos by taking a number of shots depending upon your needs such as:

  • managing high contrast scenes with HDR exposure bracketing
  • managing depth of field by using focus stacking
  • managing transient imagery such as fireworks by blending images in a similar way to Olympus Live Composite mode
  • managing high ISO noise by stacking 10-50 images to average out the noise
  • creating a panoramic stitch to give you more detail and more scene coverage
  • shooting a burst of images to ensure you have captured the correct moment

A high resolution camera such as a 61mp full frame may well give you 61mp but if there is camera shake, subject movement, marginal focus error, high ISO or use of an older lens, then those 61mp may well be wasted but you still end up with having to deal with the massive files.

At the top of my walk up the mount I was greeted by real sun rays, no Photoshopping here to add them in (but you can watch this video on how to add in God’s rays to your images using Affinity Photo if that’s your thing).

These scenes are not simply captured in one shot as the dynamic range is far too great – for this I resorted to a 3 shot hand held exposure bracket and then used Affinity Photo’s awesome HDR tools to align the 3 images and perform 32bit tone mapping and some contrast adjustments and cropping to 16:9 aspect ratio and a 249Mb image.

I ended up with the following lovely little shot (the individual single shot exposures looked terrible due to the high contrast, but combined, they now look more like how my eyes witnessed this scene):

real sun rays

You need to open this up in a separate tab by clicking on it.

 

Two new full frame mirrorless cameras – Sigma FP and the Sony a7R IV

Written by Gary on July 17th, 2019

The full frame mirrorless market place is becoming increasing difficult to decide upon which system to jump into as each offers something different but none offer everything you need – see my previous post on this.

We have Nikon’s Z system which only has entry level enthusiasts cameras at present without some of the features pros need and with a Eye detect AF that is still very immature compared to Sony as it seems to detect eyelashes instead of the iris, and a strange initial line up of lenses. A potential big advantage of the Nikon mount is that it can use almost any lens ever made including Sony FE and potentially, Canon RF – the question will be – how well will the AF work with these lenses. We now just have to wait and see what Nikon can do with their cameras and what native lenses they decide to bring out and whether they will be affordable.

Canon with their new RF mount has been introducing some ground breaking lenses which will be far more functional and optically better than their dSLR versions (in particular, the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2) but it has only introduced uninspiring entry level cameras and none have in-camera sensor shift image stabilisation which is now an expected feature in cameras.

Add to this the new medium format mirrorless camera with image stabilisation, the Fujifilm GFX100S with its “relatively” affordable 100mp medium format image quality and one can see there is pressure on the full frame camera manufacturers.

The new Sigma FP L mount camera

Last week Sigma, which has joined the L-mount alliance with Panasonic and Leica, announced a camera from left field – their pocketable Sigma FP full frame mirrorless camera which is designed to be the heart of a powerful, modular videography kit and allows Cinema RAW video output. You can read more about this interesting camera on my wikipedia page.

In addition, it is likely Sigma will be bringing out other interesting cameras in this mount such as a Foveon sensor for those Foveon fans.

Now that 3 companies are making cameras and lenses (and Sigma has a substantial arsenal of lens designs ready to go), the L-mount may become quite competitive – especially for videographers.

The new Sony a7R IV

Yesterday, Sony announced their 4th generation of the Sony a7R series, the Sony a7R IV which obviously targets professional photographers who need the highest resolution possible to allow their images to be utilised in a variety of ways by their clients through cropping of different parts for different output purposes.

The main differences over the Sony a7RIII are:

  • 61mp sensor instead of 45mp – this takes the pixel density and pixel size to that approaching Micro Four Thirds, but somehow Sony have maintained a high dynamic range of 15 stops for stills.
  • a new 5.76mdot EVF with 60 or 120fps refresh rate (the latter has lower resolution) – presumably the same as on the Panasonic S1/S1R
  • sensor pixel shift HiRes mode now produces 16 shot 240mp output images
  • improved shutter, grip and weathersealing around battery and card doors which have been an Achilles heel for the previous models
  • slightly greater PDAF coverage of 74% of the frame instead of 68%
  • advanced Real-time Tracking plus Real-time Eye AF for still image recording
  • new ‘Focus Priority’ mode allows camera to acquire AF at wide open aperture at a cost of increased shutter lag
  • Real-time Eye AF and Touch AF Tracking functionality for movie recording
  • anti-flicker mode
  • new Multi Interface Shoe™ with new digital audio interface delivers the high-quality sound recording with Sony’s new microphone and XLR microphone adapter
  • USB-C now has double transfer speed
  • both SD card slots are now UHS-II
  • 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi for improved tethering

Issues with the Sony a7R IV:

  • very large file sizes means storage issues and slower and more frustrating post-processing and one would be hard pressed to see the difference between a 45mp image and a 61mp image – you generally need to double resolution to be able to see a substantive difference.
  • what will high ISO performance be like if pixel size is now approaching that of Micro Four Thirds? 60-100mp makes sense on a medium format camera with its larger sensor – but what will be the image quality costs of such high pixel density on a full frame sensor size – we will have to await testing.
  • no option for lower resolution full frame files with lossless compression – but you can use their lossy compression files or use a 26mp APS-C cropped sensor mode
  • video features lag well behind peers and are little changed from the a7RIII with only 8bit output, the Super35mm modes are cropped more than one would like (1.6x in 24p and 1.8x in 30p) while the full width mode uses binned pixels, and no 4K 60p mode, plus rolling shutter is likely to be a major issue.
  • menu system apparently unchanged and this is in need of a change
  • seems you still can’t get your 5th finger to hold the camera which makes adding a grip more of an ergonomic necessity with larger, heavier lenses.
  • LCD is still only a tilting LCD not swivel and no good for vlogging
  • no electronic shutter faster burst modes – presumably due to slow sensor read out time as the sensor is full frame with 61mp and unlike the Sony a9 it is not a stacked sensor.

Sony has certainly upped the ante on Canon and Nikon and especially at the price point of $US3499 it will be challenging them head on and at the same time the 61mp and the 240mp HiRes mode will likely decrease the move of pros to 100mp medium format cameras.

Sony has obviously decided to leave the video capabilities to minimalistic levels given the slow sensor read out to allow for a new version of their Sony a7S series which targets videographers – but they will be having to compete with Panasonic and Sigma now for this market.

This camera will be popular for pros and gear-heads but the far majority of us do not need that resolution for all our photos and having to store all those files and have the fun taken out of your photography with the slow and frustrating post-processing experience will be a cost you have to factor in – most of us would probably be better off with a 20-24mp camera for most uses, but some without budget issues would perhaps like this camera for special uses.

As usual, I have a wiki page for the Sony a7RIV which I will update with links and resources as they arrive.

 

Upgrading to an Olympus OM-D E-M1 II from an E-M5 or E-M10

Written by Gary on July 10th, 2019

While the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds camera is getting a bit old having been announced way back in Sept 2016, the recent firmware upgrade that Olympus has kindly offered has breathed new life into it and makes it a very attractive option for those with an E-M5 Mark II or E-M10 series camera, especially if one can get it at discounted prices.

What are the main differences compared to the E-M5 series?

  • grip is built in making it bigger and with better ergonomics and build than when using an add on grip as was needed with the E-M5
  • new bigger and much longer life battery – sorry the old ones can’t be used.
  • better image quality – 20mp vs 16mp, 1 EV better high ISO noise and improved dynamic range and no low-pass filter for more detail
  • further improved image stabiliser now to 6.5EV with OIS lenses
  • much faster image processor Truepic VIII with double quad core is 3.5x faster than the Truepic VII in the E-M1 which also helps to reduce the start up time (the E-M5 II uses Truepic VII)
  • two SD card slots one of which is UHS-II compatible for even faster saving of images and video allowing faster burst rates and 4K 30p video
  • improved silent shutter – to 1/32,000th sec and 18fps or 60fps burst with much less rolling shutter and a flash sync of 1/50th sec in silent shutter mode
  • much improved AutoISO – can now use exposure compensation with it in Manual exposure mode and you can set the slowest shutter speed to use in A or P exposure modes
  • can now use the 2×2 switch as the Power On/Off switch for one handed use
  • new electronic viewfinder with faster refresh rate
  • Frame Rate Priority added to Live View Boost/On2 display
  • PASM dial now has 3 custom modes you can use BUT you no longer have Scene modes given this is meant for people who shouldn’t need to resort to these
  • automatically saves your settings to computer and restores them during firmware upgrades – and you do this manually too if you have a range of settings
  • improved HiRes mode – processor tries to reduce blur from moving subjects and now produces 50mp jpegs not 40mp
  • improved menu system
  • new AF Scan will allow users to adjust the lens scan operation settings in low-contrast environments to prevent unnecessary hunting
  • much improved video – 4K 24/30p, Cinema 4K at 237Mbps quality , much better continuous AF and image stabilisation during movies, Log profiles for better grading during editing
  • anti-flicker mode to prevent unstable exposures when shooting indoors.
  • improved Focus Stacking – from 3 to 15 shots can be selected in Focus Stacking and guide lines have been added to the shooting area
  • Support for Olympus Workspace new USB RAW Data Edit

BUT, the real benefits are in shooting moving subjects

The E-M5 series of cameras were not designed for tracking moving subjects and indeed had trouble focusing on them if they were moving too fast.

Not so with the E-M1 II, it has a multitude of features which helps the photographer capture wildlife, sports or any other moving subject much more reliably and faster than ever before in an Olympus camera, and currently is only bettered by the much bigger and much more expensive new Olympus OM-D E-M1X.

Let’s look at shutter and EVF improvements that are not on the E-M5 II:

  • EVF has faster refresh giving 60% faster response rate and virtually no blackout when following a moving subject
  • silent shutter mode allows 18fps with C-AF or an incredible 60fps with focus locked on first image (EM5II could only do 11fps) and does this with much reduced rolling shutter artefacts (see my previous blog)
  • mechanical shutter allows C-AF to 10fps and can do 15fps with focus locked on first image (E-M5 II could do 5fps with some C-AF and 11fps with locked focus)
  • much faster card writing speed and the buffer is much larger
  • you can get to 1/32,000th sec in silent mode instead of 1/16,000th sec which might be useful for freezing some subjects
  • camera does not freeze up during writing files after a burst

But the real deal is the massive AF improvements:

The biggest difference is the E-M1 series have PDAF detectors on the sensor not just CDAF detectors and these PDAF detectors work far better for moving subjects than do CDAF detectors – the E-M1 II has 121 cross-type PDAF detectors which cover 80% of each axis of the image to ensure that you have a better chance of locking onto your subject no matter where it is in the frame.

The PDAF detectors also mean far better AF performance when used with lenses from other dSLR systems such as Four Thirds (via Olympus MMF-3 adapter) or Canon EF (via AF-compatible adapters such as the Metabones adapter).

These PDAF detectors are supported by some very useful AF features, some of which are unique to the Olympus E-M1 series:

  • improved AF region options including the new 25 point region which makes birds in flight easier
  • better AF in low light – now works down to -6EV
  • new “AF Cluster Display” can display the AF points being used to track the subject in real time
  • C-AF Center Priority delivers high-precision tracking of moving subjects and sudden subject movement whereby the centre is prioritised in the Group AF target settings but if the centre cannot lock on, the surrounding points will be used
  • AF algorithms for much better subject tracking (same as the E-M1X but no AI tracking of trains, motorbikes, etc)
  • customizable C-AF tracking sensitivity allows users to choose the best setting for their subject to optimize C-AF tracking performance
  • new, unique, in-camera AF limiter to achieve faster focusing by limiting the focus range of ANY compatible lens, thus preventing time-consuming focus hunting and much more versatile than the AF limiter which is found on some lenses. You can turn this on or off easily by assigning it to one of the buttons. This is great for shooting at sports grounds where you can set it to ignore focus ranges such as the crowd on the opposite side of the ground – no other camera system can do this!
  • in-camera Preset MF lets users quickly set a focus distance when using manual focus and allows one to change rapidly from AF back to this preset MF distance – this can be turned on or off easily by assigning it to one of the buttons.
  • new “PRO Capture” can start capturing images as soon as you start to depress shutter and up to you depress shutter fully allowing lag free pre-capture of 14 RAW frames to reduce chance of missing a precise moment – this is great if you are waiting for a bird to take flight, or you are shooting someone coming over the jump but you can’t see them coming until the last second.
  • C-AF+MF1 which allows users to instantly switch to MF by turning the focus ring while in C-AF for fine tuning the focus. This requires an additional firmware update to most of the PRO lenses.
  • Once you have worked out what settings work best for your subject, you can assign these to a custom setting which is rapidly accessible from the PASM dial.

Summary

Upgrading gives you an amazing new level of capabilities, particularly for shooting moving subjects and tracking them, but learning how to use these will take some time and practice.

There are a few minor downsides to upgrading:

  • it is bigger and a little heavier – but to me this is much more ergonomic when using larger lenses such as the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 which I love as my main walk-around lens.
  • it is not compatible with your old batteries or their charger so you need to buy a new spare.
  • there are no Scene modes – you will have to learn how to do these yourself!
  • you will have to get used to the new control layout and menu layout

But, these are all very minor compared to the fantastic improvements you are gaining and the E-M1 II will take your photography learning experience to new levels and provide a far more versatile tool.

Of course, you could wait for the Olympus E-M1 Mark III but that could be 2020 and is likely to be much more expensive than the current discounts one can get on the Mark II, and if you don’t need any of these features, don’t waste your money and stick with what you have got.