Zuleikha: playing. Cat: sleeping.

Some hour or so ago:


Zuleikha: playing. Cat: sleeping. (Me: using my Olympus E-520 camera with the 40-150mm zoom lens, manually focused. In-camera b&w setting used.)

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An image taken in low light

We have a LED reading light in our living room, taking about 5W or so. Not very bright as you can imagine. Tuna the cat was sitting about 2 meters from it, and that gave me 1/13th of a second with the lens wide open at f/1.8 and ISO 6400, hand-held. No noise reduction, no sharpening:


Tuna the cat in low light, August 2014. Olympus E-PL5 with 45mm/1.8 lens at f/1.8.

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Our little studio helper

While I was setting up the lights and background for today’s family photo session, Tuna helped me a lot. And she seemed to like the storm grey, so I had to take her photo of course:


Tuna the studio cat 1/2. Olympus E-PL5 with 45mm lens, flash.


Tuna the studio cat 2/2. Olympus E-PL5 with 45mm lens, flash.

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Tuna the ‘tweener

Sometimes when it’s raining and Tuna – our cat – cannot decide if she rather wants to be outside or to stay in, she just sits in the opened door and waits.

“She’s a ‘tweener”

I told Mitchie, who laughed and agreed. Thankfully, at 18°C you can keep that door open for a while; it’s much more difficult in winter…


Tuna the ‘tweener

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Two with the ZD 40-150mm

My brother asked about longer focal lengths, and so I decided to use mine today again. Mitchie and me both have the original Four Thirds Zuiko Digital 40-150mm zoom lenses, and both are very nice. Not the fastest ones to zoom when used with the contrast detection autofocus of the “Pen” cameras, but still.

Here are two of the photos I took today, the first on our veranda, the second one during a Sunday walk:


Cat in the sun. Cropped 5:4 during post processing. 150mm wide open at f/5.6.


Which way should we go? 102mm wide open at f/5.1.

No sharpening for both, in fact – as almost always – nothing much “post processed” anyway.

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Tuna the cat, sleeping, with Mitchie’s 20mm lens

Had the camera on -0.3EV when I took this, but it had to be corrected to +0.5EV during post. Even at ISO 800, this push of +0.8 steps still gave a nice result. The camera was set to black & white without a simulated filter, and using RawTherapee I toned the image a bit with pushing the lights of the ‘b’ curve in LAB mode to +18 – in my opinion that fits the ‘old fashioned’ look of a b&w image taken with a 40mm-equivalent lens:


Tuna the cat, sleeping on Zuleikha’s bed, April 2014

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The problem with DSLRs

Today I took two photos using my Olympus E-520 DSLR, together with the 50mm macro lens. Both wide open at f/2. First, Tuna the cat in the garden:


Tuna the cat, April 2014

And a short time later, a clay cat in our bookshelf:


Clay cat in a bookshelf

As you probably can see, that 50mm macro lens is wonderfully sharp, even when used wide open at its maximum aperture of f/2.

Still there’s something wrong with the first photo. The focus point seems to be on the nose instead of the eyes, which means that when you “pixel-peep” (look at the photo in its original size, with 100% magnification, so one pixel on screen is one pixel of the original image), you’ll see it.

Two reasons are responsible for this:

The first one is the fact that my Olympus E-520 DSLR has only three focus points when using its normal phase detection autofocus, which means you’ll have to “focus and recompose” (put the middle focus point over the eye, let the autofocus do its thing, and then move the camera to get the frame and composition you want, which is with the eye off-center). This movement of the camera after focusing is most probably responsible for the slight blur you see here, and the higher the amount of megapixels on the sensor, the more you would notice this.

The second possible reason for the slight shift of focus might be something like front- (or with other camera/lens combinations) back-focusing. This can happen when using phase detection autofocus because of a slight misalignment of the focus sensors and the image sensor. Better cameras (like the Olympus E-620, E-30 or E-5 to name their latest but discontinued models) offer the possibility to perform an autofocus-microadjustment of your camera and lens combination, and can store this information for several lenses you might have.

Still this won’t prevent you from the first possible reason, which means moving the camera after acquiring focus. So if your DSLR has more focus points than mine, chose the one which is on the eye, and don’t move the camera after focus acquisition.

I took the second photo using live-view on the rear LC display, and with the contrast-based autofocus used in this mode. This one is lots slower, especially on DSLRs which aren’t optimized for this mode. But it is also lots more precise as you probably can see. Even with f/2, here the eyes of the clay cat are perfectly (or purrfectly?) sharp. In this mode, you can use magnification on the display (I used 10x here), and move the green focus area rectangle exactly to the point where you want it.

This works for inanimate objects like for this clay cat, but for anything that lives and moves, this method is by far not fast enough.

And that is, in general terms, the problem with all DSLRs. You can either use phase detection AF which is fast but not very accurate, or you use contrast AF which is lots better, but in most cases far too slow.

The solution? Try any current µ43rds camera (at the time of this writing, the Olympus lineup would be, from lowest price to highest: the E-PM2, E-PL5, E-M10, E-M5, E-P5, and the E-M1). These cameras nowadays offer a very good “nearest eye detection” AF, which is really usable, and ultra-precise. Their electronic viewfinders let you magnify the picture even when using the viewfinder, which is perfect if you want to manually focus older lenses. The “keeper rate” (of pictures in good focus) is much higher, not only because of the perfectly fast contrast-based AF, but also because with this live view even in the viewfinder you’ll see over- or underexposure even before taking the shot. Same with a wrong white balance. It’s an electronic image alright, it might not look as good as a big and bright optical viewfinder on first glance, but I got used to it after about a week or so.

I still love to hold and use my E-520, but even with its 10 megapixels I have to consider and think about autofocus as much as I think about exposure when taking photos with it. These mirrorless cameras pretty much free you from that – what you’ll see is what you’ll get. In most cases, my E-PL5 delivers much better results than my DSLR. I still carry both, the “Pen” camera with the PanaLeica 25mm lens, and the DSLR with that 50mm macro, but if I had two of these mirrorless bodies, the DSLR would gather dust on the bookshelf – as nice as it is to hold it.

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Two photos with a manual lens

Today I mounted the first manual lens I bought for my DSLR onto the “Pen” camera. It’s an Olympus OM-System Zuiko Auto-S 50mm 1:1,8 lens, made in Japan (according to what’s engraved onto its front). I paid 36€ for the lens, and I forgot what I paid for the OM-µ43rds adapter later. Here are two photos I took with that combination today, the first one at the lenses “sweet spot” which means f/5.6, the other one is a hand-held quarter second portrait of the cat with the lens fully open at f/1.8:




Tuna the cat, April 2014

And while I took the first one with ISO 200, the other one is ISO 5000. This 1/4 second is over four and a half stops slower than the recommended 1/100s (for a lens with an equivalent angle of view of a 100mm one on film), but for me that photo is still acceptably sharp. As an aging coffee junkie like me, you just gotta love that Olympus in-body stabilization.

Thanks for reading.