Some first impressions

Yesterday we were at the biggest local music store for a while. Zuleikha played some electric and acoustic pianos and bought some scores. And I took some hands-on first impressions of some instruments. What I found nice was:

Yamaha CG192S

Yamaha CG192S Classical Guitar

Ibanez SRH500F Fretless Bass

Ibanez SRH500F Fretless Bass

This one is awesome. Listen to it here, in 4- and 5-string versions:

In the studio department, we saw both my microphone and also my interface for it – but there, the most impressive experience for me was to listen to some active nearfield monitors:

Yamaha HS8 Powered Studio Monitors

Yamaha HS8 Powered Studio Monitor

Interesting – all Japanese products. Oh, and the Kawai and Yamaha acoustic (upright) pianos were also very nice.

As always, thanks for reading.

Portraiture, naturally

Happy new year again, everyone.

I’ve been thinking about my (and others’) photography lately, and watched lots of videos, and read lots of other photographers’ blogs. I also looked at my own photos, and identified some favourite ones. Almost all of them are photos of family members (including “our” cat). And that reminded me of my original reasons to get better cameras since late 2009.

It’s this personal photography which is most important to me. Keeping memories about family, friends, colleagues, strangers, simply people I’ve met or with whom I live. Thinking about 2017, I’d say that I have everything I need gear-wise. Ok; I could use some more lights (and/or modifiers for them), or maybe some more lenses. But mostly I have what I need – a very nice and capable little camera with prime (single focal length) lenses, and a telephoto zoom should I need some more reach and/or the perspective you have with these.

So I started the new year with what I like the most: take some portraits, naturally. Like this one:

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Zuleikha, January 2017

A propos the title of this short article, “Portraiture, naturally” – got that one from a video of British photographer David Thorpe on Youtube. David is a very interesting photographer, and both his Youtube channel as well as his blog are very worthy of having a look and read. Like us, he has discovered the Micro Four Thirds system as pretty much ideal for his needs, and this after a life-long career as a photojournalist. I’m always glad when I discover people like him, and some of his writings are just so funny – take for instance his description of a “gentleman” from his article about “The Gentleman’s Lens“:

“The gentleman has always held an emblematic status in England. A gentleman is good at what he does but not superb. That would involve too much effort, which is ungentlemanly. A gentleman is superior but without effort. Effort would imply that he is concerned about what others think. That would be pandering and decidedly ungentlemanly. The essence of a gentleman is summed up by the old English aristocracy’s mode of dress. For example, an expensive, but not too expensive jacket which has been allowed to become a bit ratty, with leather patches on the elbows and frayed – but not too frayed – lapels. The message of the jacket is that the wearer has enough money but not too much (vulgar!), though almost certainly more than you because he allows a good quality jacket to become scruffy whereas you, not being a gentleman, would probably have had it repaired or – horror! – bought a new one. The message is that so superior are you that you do not even deign to compete.”

Time- and priceless, just as his discovery why gorgeous women in glamorous bars never give him a second look (that’s in another of his articles, but I’ll leave that discovery for yourself). The man surely can make you laugh. And he has world-class photos.

Ok, enough for now. As always, thanks for reading.

Cat cookie

It’s two days before Christmas. Wow, the year was short, at least in retrospective. Today Mitchie and Zuleikha, who’s on holiday already, made some cat cookies, so I took a picture:

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Cat cookie

Taken with the Olympus E-PL5 camera and the 14-42mm zoom lens set to 17mm and f/4. I “muted” the colours with the Olympus Viewer 3 raw converter, and desaturated (-3/100 clicks) a bit further in RawTherapee.

Somehow I love the 17mm focal length, and because I don’t have this and that, I use the “kit zoom” when I want it. That 17mm Olympus lens is recommended together with the successor of my E-M10 camera for kid photos, here. And this whole trip to Europe was also taken with that single focal length, which shows how versatile that can be.

No affiliate links here, just a tip if you need a camera for family and travel photos.

And as always, thanks for reading/viewing.

If your camera…

Yesterday I took some photos of Mitchie who was sitting on our sofa, knitting. The only light was our small LED reading light with approximately 5 Watts or so – and since she was moving, I had to raise the sensor sensitivity (or amplification) to about ISO 6400, or even ISO 8000. With settings like these, I ended up with times like 1/10th to 1/15th of a second at an aperture around f/2.8.

Of course the results were not really optimal, so I started looking and comparing, like here. A Sony A7 Mk2 would be at least a stop better than my camera, a Nikon D750 easily two stops, and a Canon 5D Mk3 (an older model, but I wanted to stay roughly in the same price range) would be somewhere in between.

But while dark things in low (or almost no) light are one thing, I remembered that my camera also had the advantage of having built-in sensor stabilization (which that Sony also has), so I started comparing the Nikon’s and Canon’s ISO 12800 with 6400 on the Sony, and with 3200 on mine – which equals out the field considerably.

But ok, two stops lower also means times x 4, which would be counter-productive, at least for moving subjects. So what to do?

Simple: more light, as Goethe is believed to have said. Tried and true:

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Tuna the cat, December 2016

I took this photo of Tuna some minutes ago, while it is dark outside already. So I used my compact flash at 1/4 power on my computer desk, reflected over the wall, and one of my studio strobes at around 1/10th of its maximum output reflected over the opposite wall (behind me in this photo, you see it reflected in her eyes).

The aperture here is f/2.5, but with the really bright flash light I could use the sync time of 1/160th of a second, at ISO 200. Much better than my efforts from yesterday.

So if your camera isn’t as good as others in low (or almost no) light – simply add some. Better, far easier, faster, and also cheaper than to become envious and to think about other and supposedly better cameras…

As always, thanks for reading.

Some snapshots from today

The guys from “The Camera Store” (in Canada) lately had an interesting video, where they asked several people’s opinions about their preferences of standard jpg outputs of different cameras. Interesting to see, and with a maybe not so much expected “winner”.

Standard jpgs from our Olympus cameras are very nice, tho a short comparison I did last weekend showed me that in certain situations, other colour engines than the one built in (or the similar Olympus Viewer 3 software) gave me a better starting point, especially for portraits under strong and contrasty studio lights – my “winner” for these situations is Darktable under Linux.

But anyhow, I’d like to show a few snapshots from today, and tell you what I did with these, using my standard procedure (“workflow”, except that for me this ain’t work): convert to a 16 bit .tif with Olympus Viewer 3 (on a virtualized Win7 machine), then add metadata using RawTherapee 4.2 on Linux.

For today’s first picture, I was in for a surprise:

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Cat, with (rainbow) lens flare

I took three photos of Tuna at that place, and my rear display on the camera is normally turned off – no “chimping” and instant reviews. So when I sat down on our sofa to show one to Mitchie, I wondered why these had such a low contrast. Only later on my computer I saw the reason: strong lens flare in rainbow colours (I didn’t have the hood on my lens, that’s why). Interesting. Here I added lots of contrast from my usual in-camera settings of -1 for both contrast and saturation.

This one is much stronger:

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The last remaining leaves

This was again taken with my custom picture setting, which is the same as natural but with both contrast and saturation on -1. The only thing I’ve changed here in Olympus Viewer 3 was to also reduce the sharpness to -2 to avoid halos on the small branches against the darker sky. This is – for my taste at least – a very nice standard output of an Olympus camera.

Then, a bit later:

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Sometimes, there’s just good – in this case mirrored – light

I saw this mirrored light, partly on the bird feeder and also on the background, and took the photo with a -0.7EV compensation. To which I added -0.3EV in Olympus Viewer 3, and -0.05EV in RawTherapee, maikng it 1.05 stops darker than what my camera measured (on center-weighted, my standard setting). No other manipulations, and white balance was on auto.

Then I took the last day of light like this:

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Restlicht (including a reflection of the photographer)

This was taken with -2.7 stops set in the camera, even before taking it. Which is one of the reasons I wouldn’t like to go back to optical viewfinders – they won’t show you any overexposure until after the shot. So these small mirrorless cameras let me “work” way faster than any big bad DSLR… 😉 No further manipulations to this as well.

But to this one:

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Tuna the cat, in-camera black & white with simulated red filter

The title says it already, and I’ve done that conversion with Olympus Viewer 3, so the same could have been done in-camera (except of course to add a title like that, or any tags).

I don’t know about you, but I can live with outputs such as these. And I’m not alone – read Gordon Laing’s opinion about these cameras. Of the Mk2 successor of mine this is what he wrote:

“The Olympus OMD EM10 Mark II is in many ways the perfect mid-range camera.”

and/or:

“But for general day-to-day photography, the OMD EM10 Mark II is hard to beat.”

To which I have nothing to add, except maybe: see a video comparison of mine (the Mk1 version) against a Nikon D810 here

Thanks for reading, as always. As a small reward for making it until here, here’s some music for you. And it contains a much nicer photo than my blog pictures here as well. Snowy White – Midnight Blues.

Using my compact flash

It’s definitely getting dark earlier, and getting bright later already here in the Northern hemisphere. No wonder in the middle of autumn, and with winter approaching soon.

That leaves you with a problem when photographing indoors – either accept very bad light (and thus, quality) in your “available light” photos, or make some light when and where you need it.

Setting up the studio strobe(s) is quite a long process tho, and we don’t own any compact TTL flashes – only inexpensive but very nice and reliable Yongnuo YN460-II models. And because even measuring the light is an additional step which takes some time and action, I wanted to get used to guessing the right exposure again. Turns out that I’m not that bad, I’m usually correct within 1 stop or so.

To try it out, I took two:

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Tuna the cat, October 2016, bounced flash (f/2, flash on 1/8th power) and

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Remarkable – Zuleikha reading, October 2016 (f/2.2, flash on 1/4 power from across the room)

I’ll continue to do that, and maybe get some more of these flashes. The experience and the knowledge always pay off when using them somewhere else as well.

As always, thanks for reading/viewing.

My free week is half over…

I have a week off of work, but since we don’t visit anybody and the weather isn’t that nice, I spend most of it at home.

So since our last Sunday walk, most of the photos I took so far were also from our home. At least I used all of my cameras, several different lenses, and even the polarizer filter which you still can’t emulate after taking your pictures. Here are some taken since Sunday, just for the reference:

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You are next… (E-PL5 with the 14mm/2.5 lens)

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While photographing a plant, I was watched… (E-M10 with the 25mm/1.4 lens and a polarizer)

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Tuna the cat, looking out (E-M10 with the 25mm/1.4 lens and a polarizer)

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Pegs (Clothespins) – “shooting” the DSLR (E-520 with the 40-150mm/4-5.6 lens at 150mm, 1/40th of a second, hand-held)

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Occupation: box tester (E-M10 with the 25mm/1.4 lens)

I also filled the remaining few photos on an ISO200 colour negative film; a cheap one from the grocery, and I brought away that film for development already. With this I used my OM Zuiko 50mm/1.4 lens wide open for these last shots – I wanted to see its quality again. But as always when using film, that has to wait a bit. After I have these photos back, I’ll decide what to do with the three black & white Kodak 400TX (Tri-X) films which are still waiting to be used.

Anyway, thanks for reading/viewing, as always.

“Selfies”

This week I’ve got my first “smart” mobile phone ever. I’m still not sure if I need such a device (who would?), but since I have it, I could as well try to take some advantage of it.

The newer one of my two cameras has WLAN and can act as an access point for such a phone or tablet device, so you can share photos vie these mobile gadgets or use them the other way ’round to act as a remote control for the camera. Which is exactly what I did yesterday, first in the office:

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and later at home:

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These look a bit different than your usual “selfie”, because you don’t grab the imaging device itself, only the remote. Plus you can of course use all the controls of such a better camera, and like in the second photo, even studio strobes (camera-external flashes).

Such an “external viewfinder” – in my case with a 5″ screen diagonale – is fun, and much better than the infrared remote which I have for my DSLR. Like on the touchscreen of the camera itself, you just poke yourself in the eye (or tip onto any other point you want to have sharp) to select both the autofocus point, and to trigger the camera (and flash and whatever). This could also be used for shy animals, who would possibly approach a camera, but only if there’s no human behind it.

Real fun.

Thanks for reading.

E-M10 vs. D810 (vs. film)

In the middle of March, there was the Luminale (German Wikipedia page here; an English one doesn’t exist (yet)) festival in Frankfurt, which is some kind of light festival set up each 2 years. My colleague Basti (Bastian) wanted to see it and take some photos, so he did something here very rarely does: he brought his Nikon D810 camera, along with some lenses.

I wanted to compare it to my Micro Four Thirds camera since a while, so when Basti asked me which lens I’d like to have on it, I said: “the fifty?”, because that’s what I have as well – my Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm/1.4 has about the same angle of view like his Nikkor 50mm/1.4G lens.

So I took his and my cameras (I also had my OM-2n film camera with its OM Zuiko 50mm/1.4 with me, loaded with Agfa Precisa CT100 colour slide film), and within a few minutes only I did what I normally do, which is take pictures of people – him in this case. Yesterday I finally asked him whether I could use and show these pictures for writing about my short experience with all of these cameras, and he kindly allowed it. Thanks again Basti, both for letting me handle your camera, and for showing your photos here.

Since I don’t have Lightroom or Photoshop which he is normally using, I took the raw files from his and my cameras and converted them using the free and open source RawTherapee raw converter on my Linux machine. I switched the results to black & white and simply pressed the “Auto” button in that program to get about the same exposure levels on both. The cameras were set to aperture priority and f/4, since I wanted to give both lenses a bit of a stop-down quality for better results. His camera chose ISO800 with 1/50th of a second (no image stabilization with that lens), mine used ISO1250 for 1/80th of a second (in-camera image stabilization (IBIS) with every lens attached). I also cropped the image out of my camera to the 3:2 format which his (and my film camera) would produce.

The expected outcome? Well his should have less depth of field with using f/4 on both a 50mm vs. a 25mm lens, but the rest? I was very exited to see these results, so without any further ado, here they are:

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Basti, with my Olympus OM-D E-M10

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Basti, with his Nikon D810

And, for comparison, the one of my film camera (1/8th of a second hand-held with ASA100 film and no stabilization), also converted to black & white for comparison:

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Basti at work, film, Frankfurt 2016

Looking at the digital cameras, what do I see? Well my first reaction was something like: “Wow, very similar” (with the exception of the difference in depth of field of course, should have taken one more with my camera set to f/2 to get closer to what his camera produced). Second thought was that I drink too much coffee – none of the photos are “critically sharp” as some bloggers would say after looking at them at 100 or more percent. The IBIS in my camera helped a bit with that.

But the real differences show up as soon as you start to manipulate some of the settings in a raw converter (like the “sliders” in Lightroom) – his camera has lots more reserves for that of course, and the “noise floor” of his camera is also better than the one of mine, which was to be expected as well.

The handling of that Nikon (“full frame” as they say these days) together with the “nifty fifty” 50mm/1.4G is wonderful. You have some real camera in your hand, which is just what my brother Willi would want – these Micro Four Thirds “Pens” and OM-D cameras he finds “fiddly”, and his argument has something to consider – you have to be careful not to press any buttons when handling mine, which isn’t that much of a problem with Basti’s Nikon.

And tho his camera still has one of these flipping mirrors like my OM-2n, the shutter sound of that Nikon is also fantastic – very muted but reassuring, a bit less noise than my OM-D and lots less noise then the film camera makes.

Viewfinders? Hm. Some love optical through-the-lens viewfinders, others prefer electronic ones nowadays, because they show equally big pictures like those “full framers”, but with more information if you want/need it. I’d say that all of them are very good, and if I had to choose I’d probably take one like the Olympus VF-4 (which Mitchie has, it’s the same bigger picture viewfinder which is also used in all newer Olympus cameras (E-M1, E-M5 Mk2, E-M10 Mk2)) in favour of an analog one like the very good ones in my OM-2n or in Bastis D810. But like I wrote already, that is a matter of personal choice, experience, and opinions, and I won’t get into any religious wars about these. Some even love rangefinders…

Talking about those pictures a bit more, I love the result out of Basti’s camera, not only because it’s the better one where he is smiling (he was really working while I played around). The quality is wonderful, as is his 50mm lens, so I’d love to have one of these.

Both pictures are not like film, not even like colour slide film converted to black & white after “scanning”. I’d love to also see a direct comparison between some real silver halide films like Kodak Tri-X, Ilford HP5, and Fuji Neopan Acros 100 (or even Delta 3200) against digital cameras like Basti’s, mine, or even a Leica Monochrom, a Fuji X-Pro2, or the new Olympus Pen-F, all of which try to emulate the look of film digitally.

But I’m no camera tester, so other people who run blogs for mainly that purpose will have to help with these. Just read a good camera review of the Fuji X-Pro2 mentioned above from Jordan Steele, where he says that for digital, these ones come probably closest to a film look, especially in black & white. So if you love the look of film as much as I do, but want the way bigger convenience of digital output directly into your computers, you should probably have a look at those cameras (they’re all of different sizes and price segments, with the mentioned Leica costing more than double or almost triple of a D810, lenses not even considered).

So, for me – is that camera of Basti’s worth the triple amount of cash compared to mine? Well if I had the money, in an instant – like I’d also love to have a Leica with at least the 50mm Summilux if I could ever spend that much.

Realistically, one would have to look for alternatives if it’s the “full frame look” one is after. A Nikon D610, a Canon 6D, or a Sony A7 are alternatives which start at even under 1000€ now (for the older and original Sony A7). Spending about 1500€ for a camera and lens would get you one of these, so recommending anything smaller for about the same amount (like the mentioned Fuji or Olympus) would mean that you’re more a specialist who wants exactly what these offer.

For me, and for the time being, I am more than happy with what I have. I’ve even ordered some prints for both Basti and myself, and from what I see the result of his camera is fantastic in 30x45cm – but so is the output of mine in 30x40cm for its original 4:3 format.

So, just a quick & dirty comparison of two very good digital cameras, with some film thrown in just for the fun of it.

As always, thanks for reading. And also thanks again to my colleague Basti.