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:

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Four_lenses_corner_crops_f56

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:

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Four_lenses_corner_crops_wide_open

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:

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7dd_7310620_withoutNR-tunas-eye

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:

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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:

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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.

Another useful tool…

… and another present from Mitchie (my wife), this time for what they call Eidul Fitri in Southern Malaysia, which means the end of Ramadan.

It has a counter weight:

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Boom stand detail: counter weight. Olympus E-PL5 with 45mm lens.

It has a pivot:

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Boom stand detail: pivot. Olympus E-PL5 with 45mm lens.

It is a boom stand!

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Boom stand, carrying my studio strobe and a 20″ beauty dish. Olympus E-PL5 with Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm lens.

Very useful, even essential if you want to achieve what they call ‘butterfly lighting’. I made use of it for the family photo session today already (tho not for ‘butterfly’). It’s a Chinese product, but it seems to be pretty sturdy, so I trust it enough to hang it right above my own head in our dining room. And as you can see, it doesn’t come with the usual sandbag but with a solid 4.5kg counter weight – so this is meant to be kept in “the studio” (read: our home).

So thanks again sayang!

And thanks to you all for reading.

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 😉

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.