What a wonderful wonderful lens

Andy from Austin, Texas was given the opportunity to try an Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 50mm F2.0 Macro lens and wrote about it in two articles, here and here. Now he and one of the commenters on his blog are considering to buy one, and all I could say to that is: excellent choice!

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Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 50mm F2.0 Macro. Picture by its makers.

I use this lens for everything. Macros and portraits are the obvious choices, but it’s also my go to lens for product shots, still life, sometimes even landscapes. In fact it pretty much lives on my DSLR (and that’s why I mostly have the 25mm PanaLeica lens on the “Pen”, so I have a normal and a short telephoto lens without even swapping lenses).

Take this photo from this morning for instance:

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Cups. Olympus E-520 with 50mm/2 macro lens at f/2.

Here is some of the Exif data from the original out of camera jpg image:

Lens ID : Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 50mm F2.0 Macro
Focus Distance : 1.29 m
Circle Of Confusion : 0.015 mm
Depth Of Field : 0.04 m (1.27 - 1.31)

4 sharp centimeters in 1 meter and 30 distance – and if you focus on the closest edge of the cup, you even lose half of that in-focus plane. That’s what also makes it a great portrait lens; with apertures like f/2 or f/2.8 you’ll have the eyes in focus, the nose still ok, but the ears will show some slight blur already. With f/4 at close but normal distances, a head will be sharp and perfect as it can be.

I showed Andy this photo in a comment on his page:

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Happy birthday to Zuleikha. Olympus E-520 with 50mm/2 macro lens at f/2.

This was taken on December 29th, 2012, on Zuleikha’s 8th birthday when she gave a party for some of her friends. Even Robin Wong liked this one (and he loves that lens as well). You can separate single people out of a group when used wide open, again at close to normal distances. Here’s another favourite of mine showing the same separation effect:

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People from Moerfelden-Walldorf. Olympus E-520 with 50mm/2 macro lens at f/2.

Here are some of my more popular images from Flickr, without further comments:

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Looking out. Olympus E-520 with 50mm/2 macro lens at f/2.

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Zuleikha, May 2011, lit. Olympus E-520 with 50mm/2 macro lens at f/5.6. Yongnuo YN-460II at 1/4 power through a 24″ softbox. Background is a white wall.

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Marble. Olympus E-520 with 50mm/2 macro lens at f/5.6. Yongnuo YN-460II flash behind object into 24″ softbox. Cellophane surface, partly reflective – no “shopping” around here…

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OM Zuiko 1.8 50mm. Olympus E-520 with 50mm/2 macro lens at f/5.6. Simock E300 studio flash with 36″ Octabox.

And if you want to see more, here are some more…

This lens is wonderful, one of the best if not the best I have. It is in fact the one reason I’d never consider switching to other systems (another reason is the in-body stabilization of Olympus cameras, so all of your lenses, even the oldest manual ones from the OM film system become stabilized lenses). Apart from Olympus, only Pentax has that (if I remember correctly).

I bought mine used, so it wasn’t the most expensive lens I’ve got (that would be until now the PanaLeica). Still, if I were Gollum, this one would be my preciousssss – the one I’d take to the proverbial island, the one I’d shoot all of my images for the rest of my life with*. It really is that good. Or, as DPReview wrote in their test of this one:

“Quite simply, every E-system user should own one.”

Thanks for reading.

* Take this as what it was meant to be – a joke. Of course, people are much more precious to me as things could ever be, so should I really crash on that deserted island, I’d know whom to take πŸ˜‰

Stopped my one month experiment

I’ve decided that it’s enough. I get frustrated much too often when trying to reduce myself to using the DSLR and its “kit zooms” solely for one month. This is old technology, and while there might be some use cases for these, they’re mostly for things I don’t do anyway – like sports (greetings and congrats to the German team for winning the FIFA world cup btw), or for birds / wildlife and so on. For about everything else, we have much better stuff by now.

Couldn’t have taken this with my DSLR for instance:

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Karipap. Olympus E-PL5 with Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm/1.4 lens at f/1.4. Cropped 3:2. Very low light from next room (our kitchen).

Zuleikha and Mitchie made karipap today, for explanations see the Malay, English and/or German Wikipedia pages.

I took this hand-held with an f/1.4 lens wide open at ISO 2500. No sharpening, no noise reduction.

Is it noisy? Yes. Does it bother me? Not at all – this is still far better than ISO 400 film in a “full frame” camera, and also better than using ISO 800 with my DSLR. For which my fastest lens is the Zuiko Digital Macro 50mm/2, so there’s another stop advantage for the smaller but more modern “Pen” camera.

Also, the white balance was set to “Auto” with the additional option to “keep warm colors = off”, something the DSLR couldn’t do. The focusing is much easier and more precise with the newer camera as well, and even in crappy low light like this, these cameras have a wonderful and fast working autofocus. I took this in aperture priority mode with the lens wide open, the rest is more or less point & shoot (except the composition and framing like always).

About the only advantage of an optical viewfinder vs. an electronic one is that the former doesn’t drain the battery, you can look through it as long as you want. For everything else, electronic viewfinders are much better than their pentamirror or pentaprism cousins already, and even the VF-2 has an image much larger than the one from most of its DSLR counterparts – the newer VF-4 is the same as the one in Olympus’ OM-D E-M1 camera, which is as big as the best “full frame” DSLRs (Canon 1-series), but with much more information displayed.

So in my case, it’s a clear 1:0 for mirrorless (or mirror free) cameras against DSLRs, which are becoming a thing of the past in my opinion. And it’s also – and again – a clear 1:0 for fast prime lenses against zooms, but I knew that already.

My DSLR is 5 years old by now, and it’s still a nice or at least usable studio camera, and for a portrait its 10 MP are more than good enough as well. For everything else, the “Pen” wins easily and clearly – in fact, it’s no competition at all. Maybe it’s about time to reduce the weight even more, and to get an E-M10 for the studio work. For about €600 for the body, I’d clearly prefer that to any DSLR I could think of.

Thanks for reading.

Berries, with a strobe

As regular readers of this blog will know by now, I’ve decided to use my older DSLR – and only that – for a whole month again. But of course it would be unfair to use it only with ambient light. First, the two zoom lenses it came with are of a variable aperture type (f/3.5 to 5.6 and f/4 to 5.6), and so they have a huge disadvantage when compared with my fixed focal length “prime” lenses which I normally use on my mirror-free “Pen” camera (they have maximum apertures of f/2.5, f/1.4 and f/1.8). Second, even with these I use flash indoors quite often, since it simply gives much better colours than whatever “available” room light there might be. So last evening I took a shot of some berries which Mitchie bought, using my studio strobe with a beauty dish attached to its front:

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Berries. Olympus E-520 with 14-42mm lens at 42mm, studio strobe.

To give you an idea of what that “strobe” (= flash) looks like, here it is, taken with “uncorrected” room light:

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Studio strobe with beauty dish. Olympus E-520 with 14-42mm lens at 21mm. ISO400 with +0.5EV correction during the raw conversion with Olympus Viewer 3.

That’s a Simock E300 strobe with a Jinbei 20″ beauty dish attached which also comes with some nice add-ons like a grid and a “sock” which you see here. The strobe itself can be bought as a kit with a light stand and a 36″ Octabox for around €200, which is an incredible value for the money (cheaper than most on-camera TTL flashes, and much more powerful than those, also giving nicer and softer light). Dangling from behind the flash you also see a Yongnuo CTR-301P radio remote which I use for triggering, and which is also cheap and works flawlessly since years. Highly recommended stuff if you’re on a budget and still want good light.

Oh, and because someone asked on Flickr: yes, I’ve tried one of those berries by now, and yes, they taste really nice.

Thanks for reading.

Some links I found worthwile…

I had mentioned Mike Johnston’s question about opinions regarding the Olympus OM-D E-M1 already; now he asks the same from owners of the Fuji X-T1. Mike has both but wants to keep only one; it will be interesting to see his choice (and to read about the reasons for whatever choice he will make).

And Thom Hogan also tries to find an answer on the question which of the better mirror-free cameras to choose, and for whom. Interesting.

Paul Liu describes his experiences about changing from a Canon 7D to an Olympus OM-D E-M10 on Steve Huff’s page, and he has very nice photos there as well.

Pekka Potka tried a Sony A7R again, and still doesn’t see much of a difference between it and his Olympus OM-D E-M1.

Lindsay Dobson invites everyone who’s interested to take part in an Olympus Proteges program; you’ll get an E-M10 to keep, so I applied. I chose the class with Damian ‘The Big Dog’ McGillyCuddy tho. Let’s see if I have what she calls ‘the X factor’ πŸ˜‰

Update from July 7th: I haven’t read the terms and conditions before applying – I don’t qualify since I’m not a resident of the United Kingdom. Too bad…

PhotographyLife welcomes Sharif aka Alpha Whiskey Photography, and he shows beautiful photos indeed, well worth a look. Much better than only to read about cameras all of the time IMHO.

And Reinhard from Pen and Tell shows an impressive video of a Cello player which he made with two E-M10 cameras. You can read about it on their page or watch the video on Youtube as well, which I recommend (it’s bigger there). Astonishing what you can achieve with cameras for 600€ (plus a few heavy and expensive Four Thirds lenses of course) πŸ˜‰

Ok, that’s it for this lunch break… more perhaps later, should I find anything else.

Thanks for reading.

My DSLR, long

So today I had the longer 40-150mm “kit zoom” lens on my DSLR, but I didn’t have time to take too many photos. Therefore, I’ll show you one from today and one older one again:

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Leaves. Olympus E-520 and 40-150mm lens at 150mm.

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Arno, June 2013. Olympus E-520 and 40-150mm lens at 150mm.

In that second one you see how you can blur the background on closer distances to your subject. The first one above is a bit “busy”, but you can also see how thin the depth of field really is – one of those leaves is really sharp.

Also a really nice lens, and for the price as good as unbeatable. A long zoom like this is really recommended if you want to concentrate onto a single subject, and leave as much as possible out of the frame. Or to blur it into oblivion like in picture #2.

Now I have to find some even nicer light, maybe at those golden or blue hours of the days. Oh well, maybe on the weekend which lays ahead.

Thanks for reading.

My DSLR, wide

After reading Kirk Tuck’s take on an older Canon T3i / 600D I had decided to use my 2009 Olympus E-520 double zoom kit for this month. So before I say anything about it, let me show you a photo I took this morning:

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Corolla 2002. Olympus E-520 with 14-42mm lens at 14mm.

First impression / learning effect: I had to take this photo twice, the second time with an exposure compensation of -0.3EV. While I would have seen that even before taking a similar shot with the electronic viewfinder of my “Pen” camera, your typical mirrored DSLR with its optical viewfinder doesn’t show you any over- or underexposure warnings beforehand, so you have to “chimp” (= check on the rear display) after taking a picture, correct, and try again. So a modern mirrorless (or “mirror free”) camera is much faster and more secure in this regard – you take the shot and you’ll know that you’ve got it, and walk away.

Second impression / learning effect: I also used a custom white balance after reading about it on Kirk’s site (again, thanks for that as well, friend) a while ago. It really gives you a boost in overall quality if you do this before taking a shot, since you don’t have to boost the blue channel (and with it, the noise) afterwards to get a neutral grey. This, and the use of my tripod here falls under the category of “shot discipline” like Ming Thein uses to call it, and it’s highly recommended by me as well.

Third impression / learning effect: this lens at 14mm on this camera front focuses a bit. While I had the middle focus point on the car’s light, the license plate is actually sharper (also not ‘critically sharp’ as some call it, but good enough for this demonstration). My E-520 camera cannot correct the phase autofocus like you could with an E-620 or E-30, so for future work at close distances and with the lens wide open, this should be remembered, and possibly worked around with using contrast AF with ‘live view’ on the rear display for static scenes like here. It’s far less critical for greater distances like in landscape / cityscape shots like this one (from 2011):

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Genova, as seen in the morning from the Youth Hostel. Olympus E-520 with 14-42mm lens at 14mm. Cropped 16:10 in post production.

Fourth impression / learning effect: the lens isn’t bad at all, tho the out of camera jpg bends the pillar on the right in the first image a bit. But this is easily corrected with one click of your mouse in the Olympus Viewer 3 software which I used to convert the raw to a tif file (and the RawTherapee to make a jpg out of that tif; my usual and very fast workflow). It’s probably a bit better than the Panasonic 14mm/2.5 prime lens on my “Pen” camera, but this is down to personal taste and only true if you use both lenses at their optimal apertures. While the Panasonic (and the “Pen”) is definitely sharper in the middle of the frame, the corners are in my opinion a bit better on this one. For a “kit zoom” it’s an absolute bargain without any doubt, and now that I know about the front focusing issue for closer distances I can explain my initial feeling that the longer of the two always seemed sharper – and I know how to get around it. Learning about your tools is at least as important as thinking about getting better gear all of the time.

Yes, it’s only a pretty boring picture of our car. But if you look, you can actually learn a lot from these, and that’s why I keep taking such shots. When it matters, like in the second photo for instance, it’s either luck or this acquired knowledge which will save your butt. πŸ˜‰

So – day one of my month-long experiment turned out to bring some Aha! effects already. What else could I ask for? Always good to ‘look over the border of your plate’ as we say here, and to reset yourself and to use your old tools with what you’ve learned over the years.

Oh, two more things (and links):

1. I love the question and the replies in this blog post from Mike Johnston’s T.O.P. page. The camera body costs three times as much as my DSLR kit, but’s also in a complete different class without any question as you can see from some of the answers. The fact that some people are moving back from cameras like a Nikon D800(E) to this one should give you something to think about.

2. Cameras are luxury tools. Kirk lately linked to the.me, which republished an article I read much earlier already on Marty’s original page. Highly recommended reading in case you’re obsessed about gear.

As always, thanks for reading.

Qotd for July 2nd, 2014

Quite contrary to yesterday’s quote:

“And the exterior styling is as exciting as a 2002 Toyota Corolla body. But, like the Corolla, it’s a reliable, and for the most part comfortable appliance and it gets you where you are going.”

Kirk Tuck about the Canon T3i / 600D, here.

Seems that Ken Rockwell was quite right with his recommendations of basic gear, which he keeps repeating since a few years. And to celebrate that rediscovered wisdom, I think I’ll use my Olympus E-520 DSLR double zoom kit for this month, and nothing else.

Oh, and before I forget it: we love our 2002 Corolla… πŸ˜‰

Thanks for reading.

Qotd for July 1st, 2014

“The question for an enthusiast with a few bucks is which to choose: A 16mp X-T1 body for $1299, an Olympus 16mp E-M1 body for $1299, or go the extra $40 for a 24mp, full-frame Sony A7?”

by Bill Danby, via The Online Photographer (see the readers’ comments)

I’ve asked myself that question many times already…

(Short explanation about the reason: for my style of photography, speed isn’t the most important thing, so I could live with all of the cameras mentioned above. And if I had some more “legacy” Olympus OM glass of different focal lengths, the choice would be easy I guess)

Thanks for reading.

One small, one not so small, and a few thoughts

Two great reviews about gear small and big:

1. Laurence Kim about the new Sony RX100 III, and
2. Ming Thein about the Ricoh/Pentax 645Z

So, two interesting cameras without any doubt, the first would probably be something for one of my nephews who likes small cameras and Sony, the other one is of course of interest to anyone. But it leaves some questions, and the first one comes directly from Laurence:

“How good is good enough?”

– and for that Sony camera, he answers that for himself with:

“I’d say it’s more than good enough to use not just as my secondary camera, but as my primary camera for just about all my non-professional use.”

The second question, and about the second camera of course, is the one about price. How much are you going to or willing to spend, and how much to you have to spend for a camera? Ming writes about that Pentax MF camera:

“Granted, as relatively β€˜cheap’ as the 645Z is, it is still going to be far too expensive – and too much weight – for most photographers to consider; it’s a niche product and overkill for pretty much everybody but a very small group.”

Right. With a price for the camera body being about the same as the one we paid for our used Toyota, we’re talking serious money here, and even a colleague who has a Nikon D800 (the normal, cheaper one, not the -E) told me today that as an amateur, he’s probably at the uppermost border of “investment”, and spending anything more wouldn’t make much sense – to justify that, he should make much more use of it than he actually does.

So what do you need, and how much do you have to spend for a camera, and possibly some decent lenses for it? That depends of course – a lawyer or a dentist would probably get a Leica while those of us who have a more modest income would think (or dream) about that for long.

For me? The amount I would probably spend on a camera body is maybe somewhere around €1,500 – for that, you’d get a professional Β΅43rds or APS-C mirrorless camera like the Olympus E-M1 or the Fuji X-T1, or you’d probably even get an entry-level “full frame” camera like the Sony A7, the Canon 6D, or the Nikon D610. Anything higher I’d consider overkill.

But is it necessary to spend even that much? Not really. An Olympus E-M10 or a Sony A-6000 or any consumer-level DSLR have almost the same image quality than their bigger and more expensive brethren, in fact the sensor of my (and Mitchie’s) E-PL5 and the OM-D E-M5 are the same. And that E-M5 was considered a game changer in Β΅43rds, and DPReview wrote that if you want and/or need more, you’d have to look at “full frame”, not at APS-C.

So, about €600 will get you a nice mirrorless Olympus or Sony (or Panasonic or Fuji) camera, and it would also get you some middle-of-the-road “consumer” DSLR which could be better for moving stuff (while mirrorless has other advantages).

But when lowest weight and form factor – maybe for traveling – are your thing, or if you simply demand the highest possible quality you can get today, have a look at these tests to which I linked above.

Thanks for reading.

That standard lens on my “Pen”

Both Kirk Tuck (on his blog) and my friend Thorsten Wieszniewski (with email) lately reminded me of my standard lens, which is a Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm/1.4 on my Olympus E-PL5 “Pen”-type camera. And to both I replied that yes, it’s gorgeous, and one of the best we have. My blog header photo shows me using it, and take this quick snapshot for instance:

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Small purple bucket. Mixed light: daylight in the foreground, flash in the background.

Noticed the bokeh from the small standby light on our TV set? Here it is at 100% for all of us (you) pixel-peepers:

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Perfectly round at f/2 which I used here, isn’t it?

It’s my go-to lens, and because I have the 50mm macro on my DSLR, this 25mm rarely leaves my mirror-free smaller camera. It’s just that good.

Thanks for reading.