Two cups at ISO 6400

Robin Wong had an article on his blog lately which he called “About High ISO Shooting with Olympus“. And in his post he showed some impressive images done with ISO settings between 3200 and 6400. One commenter accused him of cheating because his photos were reduced in size, which helps suppressing noise (with reducing the overall size of a picture, the grain gets smaller and so less visible as well).

Of course Robin wouldn’t have to do that – he proved often enough with 100% crops how good these modern cameras actually are. Look at this one:


Two cups at ISO 6400

Like he wrote, it helps if you don’t underexpose. It also helps if you take a custom white balance even before you go for your final image, especially in diificult light. The light here came from our kitchen, ca. 5 meters away, from a 7 or 8 Watt power saving LED bulb. So even with ISO 6400 and with no underexposure, I had a time of about 1/8th of a second with an aperture of f/2.2.

For all those who think Robin was cheating – go ahead and download the full resolution image from Flickr if you want. If you “pixel-peep” at full size, will you see noise? Sure. But if you look at the whole image on a 24 inch monitor like mine, you’d have something like an A3 print. Noise at that magnification? Sure, it’s still there, but on paper it would be gone if you view that from a normal distance. Plus the noise is a bit like film grain, but much finer and less obtrusive than anything I ever achieved with real film in the small 24x36mm format (which they nowadays call “full frame”). It’s no comparison at all; this is much better.

Anyway – thanks to Robin who showed much better (and lots more) pictures than I have here as my quick eexample shot. But I even dared to do it with “crappy” light – and the result is still pretty good enough for my eyes.

Thanks for reading.

A VF-4 for Mitchie

We gave Mitchie’s VF-2 viewfinder to my brother Willi, for whom the E-PL1 is a totally new camera with it, as he said. And for Mitchie I ordered the newer VF-4 viewfinder which has a higher resolution and a bigger picture. It arrived today, and one look through it confirmed it: this is like an old Olympus OM – big, even brighter than its older film sibling, and with lots more overlaid information in the picture of course. Should be ideal to manually focus lenses for instance, but even the initial experience of looking through it confirms: this is big cinema indeed. I recently looked through a Nikon D700, and I definitely prefer the VF-4 (ok, that might be a bit unfair, because the Nikon had the 50-500mm “Bigma” lens mounted which isn’t as bright as our small primes of course).

To show you the difference, here’s a photo of both our E-PL5 cameras:


Tabletop with two cameras. (Almost) identical twins. Photo taken with Olympus E-520 and a ZD 50mm/2 Macro lens (and two studio strobes). More info about the photo is on Flickr (click on it).

Now I understand why everyone who tried it loves the E-M1. Or the E-P5 which comes with this same viewfinder. It’s compatible with “lesser” (cheaper but not necessarily worse) cameras like ours, but you might need a firmware upgrade – so in case you’re interested, don’t forget to consult the Olympus pages first.

Thanks for reading.

– and the meter works as if nothing happened

Yesterday I wrote about some sudden problem with my light meter, and that it began working normally shortly afterwards. It still measures just fine again today, so I don’t have the slightest idea where that hiccup came from. Measured only the first of these two photos – by now I pretty much know the apertures I need anyway as long as I don’t move things around:


Concert cards. Olympus E-520 with Zuiko Digital 50mm/2 Macro lens at f/6.3.


Zuleikha, looking at a toy catalog, November 2014. Olympus E-PL5 with Micro Zuiko 45mm/1.8 lens at f/6.3.

Oh, and while you can count every single eyelash of our daughter, the chin and everything beneath falls nicely out of focus already even at an aperture of 6.3 – so whoever said that Micro Four Thirds wouldn’t give you enough blur or had no “depth of field control” obviously never took any portraits like these. Just love those lenses.

Thanks for reading.

practising, measuring

Today I wanted to take another cat photo, with flash – but my light meter constantly showed me “E.u” (about which the manual said: underexposed). Hm. So I guessed the exposure for this one:



After changing batteries a few times (which didn’t help), and simply waiting a bit and trying again, it worked:



Strange. Thought it was the battery, tho the symbol for that showed just fine. And now it works with the battery which was in it before. Have to keep watching that…

By the way, if you care for these settings you see: yes I set the light meter for a reading at ISO 125, both for the E-PL5 at ISO 200 and the E-520 at ISO 100, which are their lowest settings. And according to DxO these settings are pretty identical, and both are nearer to what they also measure as ISO 125 than to anything else. So setting that ISO value in the light meter gives me good results, and I agree with DxO in this regard, even if I cannot understand some of their lens measurements.

Thanks for reading.

Some photos for Zuleikha

Zuleikha got her instrument from / for school yesterday, and I took some photos for her so that she can write about it on her blog. That’s why I only show one of them here which I took using the “PanaLeica” 25mm lens, and with the camera set to black & white. So this is a kind of a “teaser” image while waiting for her to show the ones in colour:


French Horn

Thanks for viewing.

An additional studio strobe

Just bought another studio strobe, which arrived today. So of course I had to test it right away:


Tuna the cat, November 2014

I took this with the new strobe bounced over the wall and ceiling across the room, from between our bookshelf and the entrance. The flash was set to 1/4 of its maximum power output (of 300Ws), which gave me an aperture of f/2.8 on the sofa where the cat was dozing. I left the modeling light off for this one, and the photo above is as good as straight out of camera.

Here’s a photo of the new device:


N8fang Simock Mythos E300 studio strobe

For this photo taken with the same aperture and without flash, I had to use 1/1.3rd of a second (at ISO 200), and my tripod. Ok for a static object like this, but for anything which moves and breathes, I’d take the flash at 1/160th of a second instead.

In my opinion it’s the best thing you can buy to improve your indoor (and with a generator, even your outdoor) shots. You can even mix flash with daylight without any filtering tricks – just turn to for advice on how to do that.

A studio strobe like this one is way cheaper than your typical camera makers’ TTL flash – I bought my first one together with a 36″ Octabox and a light stand for under 200€ new at N8fang, and I wrote a long-term review of it on/for the Lighting Rumors site. Just in case you’re interested, I receive nothing for recommending it.

Update, from about half past 6 in the evening:

Here’s another one of Tuna – this time with two strobes:


Tuna the studio cat

Another update, from short past 7pm:

Here’s another photo for which I used both studio strobes, and this time the PanaLeica 25mm lens. In this case, the second strobe provided some kind of room lighting for the background, which would otherwise have gone almost completely black:


Mouth piece and valve oil, again

As you can see, having more than one light can be really useful to include things like a background, or to set accents or whatever. By far the most popular use of two lights would be some kind of clamshell lighting, either from above and below or angled up to 180 degrees from each other – that is what you see in your TV series each day (usually with some more lights to simulate windows or whatever).

But even one light, even a compact flash like our sub 40€ Yongnuo YN-460II ones will really help in getting better colours, contrast, and even sharpness. Especially in the dark season which lies ahead. Much more important than what kind of camera you’re using.

Here’s an image – one last one for today – which I took using only one of these lights:


Leaf. Olympus E-520 with 50mm macro lens.

Thanks for reading.

The brick wall

We have several old and manual (or in newspeak: “legacy”) lenses which we bought over a period of 2-3 years. The first one I bought was for my Olympus E-520 digital SLR camera, to use a lens with a wide aperture for portraits. For that one I paid 36€, and the same amount for an adapter to mount the OM lens onto an E-type camera.

Then later I found an OM Zuiko 50mm 1.4, and I paid 70€ for that one – together with my OM-2N film camera attached to it. What a bargain.

Again a little while later I found an OM-1 (as a kit with a 1.8 lens) for Zuleikha to teach her some basic photography, and an OM Zuiko Auto-Macro 50mm 3.5 lens for Mitchie. With around 120€ or so, that was the most expensive of the bunch so far.

I always had a feeling that my 1.4 lens was the best of them all for general (not macro) photography. But since this was only a feeling and no verified knowledge, today I decided to shoot the proverbial brick wall to find out.

Ok; first here’s the complete image, in this case shot with my 1.4 lens mounted onto the E-PL5 “Pen”-type camera, manually focused on the wall which was 4.1 meters away:

Brick wall

Brick wall

I took this same image with all mentioned lenses at all the apertures you can set them to, and to compare with a more modern lens and without an adapter, I also took the same set of images using my M.Zuiko 45mm 1.8 lens.

The center of the image is pretty good on all of them, so I’ll show some corner crops here. On this blog, they will be sized 1:2, if you want to see the 1:1 sizes, you’ll have to get them from Flickr.

First, at an aperture of f/5.6 which they all can do:



Top left: OM Zuiko 50mm 1.8
Top right: OM Zuiko 50mm 1.4
Bottom left: OM Zuiko 50mm 3.5 Auto-Macro
Bottom right: M.Zuiko 45mm 1.8

Well I don’t know what you think, but I find them all pretty good at this aperture. You wouldn’t see much of a difference when looking at the whole picture, and even these corner crops must be inspected in 1:1 size to spot any difference. There are differences alright, but keep in mind that the macro lens was just 1.3 stops down from being fully open. So when using them stopped down like here, it’s not important whether you spend 36 or several hundred Euros or Dollars.

But what about using them fully open? Well here you go:



Top left: OM Zuiko 50mm 1.8
Top right: OM Zuiko 50mm 1.4
Bottom left: OM Zuiko 50mm 3.5 Auto-Macro
Bottom right: M.Zuiko 45mm 1.8

Well here you *do* see differences. And you see that my feeling about these lenses was just right – for general photography (means not macro distances which only one of them could do), of our old manual lenses the 1.4 one is clearly the best. And it’s also clearly out-performed by its newer and younger 45mm sibling which is pretty astonishing even used wide open like here, and simply awesome when used from f/4 to f/8.

So the macro isn’t that good wide open? Ha! Have a look at a real-world shot which I couldn’t have made with any of the other lenses. This was on Mitchie’s camera at f/3.5, and the in-camera sharpening was dialed down one stop:



All photos shown here except the last one are out of camera. And did I mention that I just like Olympus lenses, especially their fixed focal length ones?

Thanks for reading.

The most important lens you’ll ever buy

No, I can’t tell you which one it is, or will be – for you. But I can tell you what mine is, and how you can get there.

Most people who buy system cameras where you can actually change lenses buy some kind of DSLR, normally with what is called a “kit lens”. And according to the statistics, most people never change it (tho some invest a bit more and get some kind of “super zoom” (which they never change), or – like me, a “double zoom kit”. Both options give you a bit more reach, and thus they’re also quite popular). And the future of the consumer DSLR will be mirrorless, with less parts (which can break), lower costs (to produce at least), and fewer problems (like focusing and exposure).

But let’s get back to lenses. So how do you find out what you probably need, or rather want?

Well the first thing you should probably ask yourself is why you’ve got a camera, or why you’re planning to get one. Is it because you like the technical side, and playing with gadgets? Is it to just document your life, and that of your friends and/or family? You just want to hide behind a camera, or use it as an excuse to get closer to people? Holiday photos, safaris, portraits? Or macros, flowers?

The typical quick answer to this is: “Everything”. Well yes. But what is it really for?

For me, I’m an amateur, and by far the most photos I take are those of my family (which I can’t all show here, because some members of my family wouldn’t like it). My favourite photographic subjects are humans and animals, the occasional land- or cityscape, and something you could call product shots, or still lifes. So what does that translate to when thinking of lenses?

Experiment. Set your kit lens to the widest possible angle (shortest focal length), and keep it there, for at least a week. Now go and shoot everything you can. The next week, set the same lens to somewhere in the middle, to a more “normal” angle of view, and again, leave it like this for a week and shoot everything including your favourite subjects. The week after, repeat with the longest possible setting. Take lots of photos with each setting, of every subject you like to take pictures of, and then look at them.

What was the most difficult setting? With which setting did you get the highest number of “keepers”? Did you wish for even wider or longer, or could you be just happy with something in the middle? How did it all work outside, and how inside, with more difficult and dim light? Did you have to use flash inside most of the time, and would rather try without? Could you actually fill the frame, even with smaller subjects?

Well for me, it was more or less easy. When I was younger, I had a film SLR with what was considered the typical trio of lenses: a 28mm, a 50mm, and a 135mm. I loved the 135mm one, but inside it often was too long and gave me lots of “head shots”, or even crops of those. So I always wished for something a bit more moderate, like a 85mm or a 100 or 105mm. These focal lengths are great for photos of a single person, so the first and most important lens I’ve got after buying my double kit zoom DSLR was – no, not what I wanted. What I wanted was a macro lens, or for the Four Thirds system I bought, the macro lens. The one everyone wanted, because with a maximum aperture of f/2 it doubled as a relatively “fast” portrait lens as well.

Since I couldn’t afford it in the beginning, I got the closest possible substitute (sans the macro capability): an old and used OM Zuiko 50mm/1.8, plus an adapter to mount it to my DSLR. Now I had an angle of view like the one of a 100mm lens on an older film SLR. Life was good.

Of course, I still bought that 50mm/2 macro lens later, and life was even better. For me that is the most important focal length because it covers most of my subjects: people, macros and close-ups, product shots and still life.

Yes, you can also do it with a normal focal length, like here:


Eight muffins. Olympus E-PL5 camera with Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm/1.4 lens at f/6.3. Studio strobe (flash) with beauty dish, and a reflector.

So while I could do this with what would have been my 50mm lens on the film camera, doing it with a longer lens is a lot easier if you concentrate on just your subject and want to exclude as much background as possible. And because Mitchie lately photographed some small flowers for Zuleikha, I gave her my macro lens which has that 100mm-like angle of view on our cameras:


Mitchie’s camera and my macro lens. Olympus E-PL5 camera with Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm/1.4 lens at f/6.3. Studio strobe (flash) with beauty dish, and a reflector.

I wouldn’t take that 50mm macro or our 45mm/1.8 primes as my “normal” focal length for outdoors, but Mitchie loves her 45mm, while I have the 25mm lens mounted most of the time. I also have a 14mm lens, so for the Micro Four Thirds camera, I’m pretty much back with a classical trio, equivalent to 28mm, 50mm, and 90mm (plus this 100mm-like macro you see above).

We still have our kit zooms, both the normal 14-42mm (which equals 28-84mm on film), and a 40-150mm (double that for film again). But we both rarely use them. These single focal length lenses are simply better and sharper. They spoil you as soon as you get one. 😉

So my most important lens – apart from the normal one which I have mounted most of the time – is a 100mm macro (on film or on DSLRs with a sensor in film size), a 70mm macro (on APS-C sized cameras if I had one, that would include today’s most sold DSLRs and even some mirrorless cameras), or a 50mm macro (on Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds cameras).

YMMV as they say – your mileage may vary. But for me, the 100mm-equivalent macro lenses are the lens to get as a second one (additional to your kit zoom or normal prime). I hope that helped with finding out what your most important lens could possibly be.

Thanks for reading.

Some good advice from Ming Thein

If you ask yourself (or even other photographers) which camera you should probably buy, Ming’s latest article “System thinking” has some good advice.

For most people the answer would be either “none”, or a mirrorless camera. Go and read it; he explains why (and has some alternatives mentioned for people who instead ask which next camera they should probably buy).

Recommended reading.