Saturday, April 21, 2012

OMD - Week One, Some Further Thoughts

Hey fellow photo travelers and camera junkies, welcome to this short update on my first week with the gorgeous little Olympus OMD. I had the very good fortune to have the last post published on Steve Huff's website and it got some very interesting reaction. I think for the most part it was no more than a lightweight introduction to the camera and I intend to build on that a little now that I am getting more familiar with the it and have had a chance to see how it works for my shooting style. I have also added a low cost accessory that is astonishing me with its benefit, more on that later. As you can see above, I managed to get out and about with the camera this evening and took along the Samyang fisheye and a new acquisition, the Sigma 30mm f2.8 which I bought to fill the gap in my prime range between the 20 and 45 's. More on it later on and a few early shots from it as well.

For some reason I am finding that the Lumix 14 pancake is my favorite on the OMD at the moment though and I see that Steve has the Olympus 12 f2 so it will be interesting to see how it works out in his tests. There is something about that focal length that really works for me though and I find that I get some really nice grab shots with it. The responsiveness of the OMD is first class in this respect, it fires up, focuses and snaps of a short burst perfectly for this kind of shooting. Sorry to the purists out there that didn't like the Snapseed editing in the last post but the 'drama tone' works really well for some of these shots and its so easy to use.

I also took along the 40-150 zoom as I anticipate using it a fair bit on next weeks trip to the Fujian coastline of China where I hope to shoot seaweed harvesting and other fishing activities and landscapes from vantage points. I mentioned in the last post that I am no fan of the build materials of this lens and it doesn't look robust enough for prolonged travel use however it did seem to perform well enough and I got some nice shots of this musician although its a bit weird to see a Singaporean playing a targe !!! I am thinking of taking a M43 only kit on this trip and will also take along the Lumix 45-200 which I find pretty good but like all of these lenses a bit too slow for anything other than good light. I will definitely give it a try on the OMD with its superior looking stabilization and decent high ISO performance. On the subject of using Lumix lenses on the OMD, remember to turn off the stabilization on the lens and allow the OMD to do its stuff. Also, if you are using a tripod like I did for these following shots, turn off all stabilization.

Sigma 30 mm F2.8

I made a bit of an impulse purchase yesterday and, given my love of prime lenses, I bought a Sigma 30mm F2.8 which of course gives a rather handy 60mm equivalent that I thought would be quite nice as a portrait & context lens where I would be able to take close in portraits but still have a little room for the surrounding environment. I really haven't been able to put it through its paces in that respect but its in the bag for tomorrow's China trip and in the meantime I used it for some still life shots and to shoot a few things that I am taking on the trip.

It occurred to me after the last post that, despite my like for Richard Avedon's work, I should really have been associating the Olympus's with one of my other favorite photographers, David Bailey. Bailey is fascinating to me because he sums up the era that I was brought up in and shot iconic images of every major musician or star of the  60's. He was also famed as an Olympus user but how much of that was marketing spin I am not exactly sure, maybe someone out there has a take on that and can let us know...... Anyway, here's a nice contemporary self-portrait of him and I have added a lovely old OM1. For the IQ eager out there, these are out of the camera Jpg's as I don't yet have the Lightroom update. All of the shots are taken with the Sigma 30.

No one that enjoys photography can forget some of Bailey's interpretations of the media personalities of the day and here is the fantastic shot he did of the infamous East End gangsters, the Kray Twins. How Bailey got them to pose like that with snakes I will never know, what a classic shot that says it all.

This is one of the few color shots of his from the era and these can be found in a lovely little, inexpensive book called 'Look'. It's really worth searching out as all of his classic portraits are in it.

I can't leave this topic without including his extraordinary and widely copied portrait of Michael Caine in a shot inspired by his Harry Palmer movie character. By the way, if you get a chance watch 'The Ipcress File' and drink in the outstanding cinematography work of Otto Heller. I wrote a little piece on drawing inspiration from the movie if anyone is interested Photographic Inspiration . I also liked the post on Steve's site by Robert Falconer where he tracked the evolution from the original OM designs, its well worth a look if you like the OM's.

On the Sigma lens itself, I have pretty mixed feelings. It seems sharp, no question, but the first few shots I took with it were into the light at Marina Bay and it flared horribly, the images were very washed out. This may be down to a lack of coating or something but I know I can take similar shots with the Lumix 14 & 20 without the same issues. It is pretty well made though and I personally like the simple, discrete, unobtrusive looks. It is a fair bit bigger than the Lumix pancakes and not as fast, but it does offer a nice range for environmental portraiture. I am going to reserve full judgement on it until I can use it more in the field in realistic travel situations and I look forward to seeing if any of the reviewers have the same issue I did. One real gripe with Sigma is the lack of a lens hood with the camera, I was able to source a nice metal one for S$15 and I would have traded this for the fancy lens case that I will never use. Even although the lens was cheap at S$299, its still not on to miss out this important accessory, especially when the lens flares the way this one did on me. Full marks to Sigma for entering the M43 system with some reasonably priced, good quality optics. I would like to see them bring out some faster glass if they are going to bring something new to the system though.

On to my other impulse purchase and this is something I have been meaning to try a for a long time, a pistol grip for the M43 cams. I was initially a bit skeptical about this until I tried it and the difference is amazing. I have always thought of myself as someone who has good camera handling skills and I can usually hold well at low shutter speeds but this thing brings a new dimension to steady shooting. I can feel the difference when I use it and although it looks a bit naff I am convinced the results will show its worth. Again its going with me to China and I will put it through its paces and report back.

Here is a shot of the grip in action and shot with the Sigma 30 (Snapseed edit) I like the close focusing of the Sigma and it is a useful range for me and I think it looks very nice on the OMD into the bargain.

Well I am off to pack my bags now for Fujian so I will close with some final shots from the OMD. This one of the chairs is taken with the Sigma 30 and looks very sharp and contrasty.

Here by contrast is a shot with the Lumix lens that is similar to the one that I couldn't get with the Sigma. I am going to mess around with this a bit more but I did have a hood on it and was surprised with the extent of the flare. 

That's it for this post folks. Gotta say I am getting on really well with the OMD and am really looking forward to putting it to the test on a trip. The weather forecast for China is not looking so good so I may also get a chance to put the famed weatherproofing to the test as well !!!

Keep a look out for the China post which I will get up as soon as I get back. In the meantime, safe traveling folks.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Olympus OMD - First Day in Singapore

I got a very big surprise yesterday when the guys at Artworkfoto in Singapore contacted me to say they had OMD's in stock !!! I jumped at the chance and bought the two lens kit (they didn't have the new 12-50 one) as I wanted a longer zoom for the trip to China and the 40-150 would fit the bill nicely. I have slightly mixed feelings about this as I will never use the 14-42 and to be perfectly frank found the build quality to be way, way bellow the Lumix lenses that I have. Oh well, too late now. I will use the 40-150 for the upcoming China trip but can't see it standing up to the rigors of prolonged travel use. Having said that, the OMD in black is to my eyes absolutely gorgeous. It has a real quality feel to it and appears to be very well put together and I am so glad to see Olympus paying homage to the stunning designs of the 70's OM's.

I didn't have a choice and I know many people are favoring the silver one but to me the black one has the killer looks. My instant reaction on getting it home was to stick on the Zuiko 50mm F1.8 and try it out and I think this combo not only looks great but delivers lovely dreamy results, definitely one for a future portrait session :)

Back to my thoughts on the camera. I am not a camera reviewer per se and will leave that to guys like Steve Huff and Kirk Tuck who are better at that than me. All I wanted to do here was show some early shots and share my thoughts on it as a travel camera. This post will focus on my views of the handling and usability of the camera and I will leave the technical and image quality tests to other better qualified testers. Please also bear in mind here that I couldn't open RAW files in Lightroom so I just edited the jpg's in Snapseed which I find great for simple stuff anyway. I have been looking a lot recently at the work of fashion photographers and had an opportunity to try the OMD with a model so I jumped at the chance. I immediately took a liking to the handling and the EVF which is nice to use. I personally use exposure compensation continually and I was delighted to find it on the front dial near the shutter so that I could find and use it with the camera to my eye. I have never overly concerned myself with camera metering accuracy preferring instead to use my eye and compensate or, as I have been doing more and more recently, bracketing the exposures by one stop over a set of three. I do think this is very important with smaller cameras as you don't want to be too far underexposed if it can be avoided.

It was pouring rain in Singapore so I decided to try some  still life shots using the 45 mm f2.8 Lumix macro. I was delighted with the OMD rear screen and touch focus, this for me is a major boon for this type of shooting. I simply set up the OMD and 45 on a tripod and configured a 2 second timer delay, touched the screen on the focus point and a few seconds later I had the shot. I know this is dreadfully cliched but I couldn't help but pay homage to the film OM's and a couple of very nice books that I have been reading lately.

Please remember my comment at the start, this review is not about the image quality, I am simply sharing my early thoughts on the use of the camera. Having said that, with some simple Snapseed editing I got some pleasing results.

Again, I apologize for the cliche, I am sure we will all get sick of these soon but it did look rather lovely and that tasty little 50 mm Zuiko will be working its butt off shortly on the OMD.

The good news is that I was finding this very simple and after a few shots the camera was out of the way and I got more focused on the composition and look of the shot. I have mentioned this previously when I re-visited the GF1 but I can't stress strongly enough how important it is to know how you shoot and know your camera intimately for the control you need for your style. this was a mojor objective for me today, I know how I like to shoot and I had to get to grips quickly with the focusing (manual for the Zuiko's), bracketing for exposure and fast exposure compensation. Once I get these things nailed I can get on with the look and composition and forget the camera settings.

I tried a few different presets in Snapseed and really liked the B&W one above. I am not usually a fan of the Snapseed B&W but this seems to have come out fine. Finally, here's a color shot using my other favorite read of the moment.

At last the weather picked up and I headed off to my favorite shooting location in Singapore - Marina Bay. I just love the afternoon light there and I stuck the Lumix 14 and 20 lenses into the bag and off I went.

Here are the first two shots which both benefited from the 46 mm polarizer which, as I have mentioned previously, fits both the 14 & 20 Limix lenses, this is a huge benefit and one that is often overlooked. Like many of the shots I took at Marina Bay these have had a tweak in Snapseed 'dramatone' filter. Somehow I felt it worked really nicely for the contrasty shots at the Bay.

The one above was taken low and again the benefit of being able to fold out the screen and focus by touch point was significant in making the shot. This is a great feature of mirrorless cameras like the sony Nex's and some of the Lumix models and I have to say that I pretty much consider this essential in a modern camera, it really does make a difference as we shall see with my late afternoon shots.

I am no fan at all of many of the options in the OMD menus but couldn't level this criticism at Olympus alone. They simply clutter though and all of the pointless art filters and so on are better managed in simple apps like Snapseed which offer more flexibility. I am a bit of a fan of the Snapseed drama tone for example and found it more subtle and flexible than the OMD efforts, Similarly with the above grainy B&W shot. Here are another two using the same effects and I really liked the EVF in the OMD, I read that its not as good as the Sony NEX 7 one but it is very usable and I found that it was preferable to disable the eye sensor trigger and leave it on either the EVF or the screen and manually switching depending on what I was doing.

I was trying so hard to close the lens down to maximize the sunburst that I got surprised by this cyclist and the shutter speed is a shade too slow but I liked the shot anyway and I found the focusing and speed of the OMD to be spot on for this kind of street work, the motion blur on the subject was all my fault.

As the sun started to go down I found myself relying more and more on the screen and touch focusing. This allowed me to get some interesting low angle shots of the late afternoon walkers.

This sequence of shots were taken with the OMD on the ground and pre-focused on where I thought the feet were going to be. Much as I liked the subtlety of color above, I found drawn to the drama tone in Snapseed when I was looking at these as it really brought out the boardwalk nicely.

I quickly found that people don't really take so much notice of little cams like this and was able to sit for ages capturing a wide variety of contrasting shots.

I know that effects like 'drama tone' become tiresome very quickly but as this was a fun shoot and more about me learning to use the OMD than anything else I shot away until the sun went down.

 Just in case anyone is thinking that I have gone all voyeuristic, I also found that it was extraordinary the variety of different subjects that I shot and everything from cycles and scooters whizzed into the sunset view. I also get a sense from using the jpg files that they were easy to work with and I have high expectations of the RAW files when I get the Lightroom update. 

I suspect we will all have 'drama tone' overdose by now so here is a nice simple shot taken as the sun descended behind the Fullarton Hotel and the new LV store. This was hand held and it looks like Olympus's grand claims for the in camera stabilization look justified and this will be awesome for using with the old Zuiko lenses.

Time to wrap up then with some early thoughts on the camera.

Despite some early irritations with the menu system I have gotten to grips with it quite quickly. I still feel that Lumix spoiled us with the GF1 and its usability, but the OMD comes reasonably close and in some respects the dual dials work better giving really fast control over vital exposure compensation and aperture variation. The flip out screen is superb and the touch screen focusing brilliant, this is a real step forward for varied angle shooting and works really well. I didn't find the limited articulation of the screen limiting at all but I think it might disturb some users who want vertical movement as well.  The stabilization works well and I am a big fan of in-camera type as opposed to the lens version. This allows for more effective use of legacy lenses for example and once I got to grips with the magnification manual focus assist, I found that my Zuiko 50 mm f1.8 had a new lease of life. I also have a nice 135 that became unusably long on the GF1 and I look forward to trying it out. My real disappointment with the kit so far is with the lenses which I am sure will be adequate optical performers but they simply don't look strong enough for prolonged travel use.

It will be interesting to see how the image quality reviews but I have to say that for my purposes as a travel cam this thing looks perfect and its rugged build and out and out usability have me itching to get it on the road for a more thorough workout.

I hope you enjoyed this somewhat lightweight first look at a very interesting camera and I know the cliched OM shots are a bit stiff and the 'drama tome' overused but please look on it as what it was - a learning experience for me in using the camera the way I want and a bit of fun into the bargain.

Here's a nice moody street shot to finish and I think this was with the lovely 50mm Zuiko. Until next time, safe traveling and if you are looking for a new travel cam don't hesitate on the OMD its a cracking camera, just don't buy the two lens kit :)



Saturday, April 7, 2012

Saturday Fun - GF1 & G3

Lighting - Keeping it Simple

Hey friends and fellow camera addicts, welcome to this short post on using the Lumix GF1 & G3 with the sexy 20 and 14 mm primes in a very simple lighting set up. It was a pretty rainy day in Singapore so I got together with some friends to mess around with this lovely old Ibanez Artist guitar and a 3M Desk Light. If you don't have one of these do yourself a favor and go get one, not only is it a cracking reading light but the clear polarized light it emits is perfect for simple photography lighting.

The set up for these shots is simplicity beyond belief and I always get a chuckle when I look at some of the lighting set-ups used in many instructional clips where it seems essential to have at least three lights and a giant Octa to light any kind of subject. Don't get me wrong, the results from these set ups are awesome and I occasionally venture into that environment myself but its also way cool to get good results with basic, even primitive set ups. These first two shots were taken with the 3M desk lamp close to the guitar and through a 32" reflector with the covers off to use the diffuser. I also edited them in some cool Lightroom presets that I downloaded free !!!

Regular readers will know that I am on a roll just now with the GF1 and I recently added the lovely little 14 mm F2.5 prime which is not only sharp enough wide open but is also extremely close focusing and this is an often ignored benefit in any lens and one that I think is critical. You can see this clearly in the following shot which for me works only because of the impact from the detail on the guitar and, because its shot open, there is a nice little blur of the background, all from a little pancake 14 mm lens. Incidentally, the shot was processed in Nik Color Efex Pro using the 'film effects' processing and set on Ekatchrome 64 which I thought brought out the lovely sunburst on the guitar. 

A quick word on 'keeping it simple'. Everything in this shoot and post was done for simplicity and speed. The little GF1 camera and prime lens set up is cheap, effective and fast to use once you know the controls and the lighting is in every day use as a desk lamp but can easily be pressed into photographic use when required. The editing was done in Lightroom and I either hit one button for the free preset effects, used the easy to select Nik features or did some simple contrast tweaking.

I wouldn't normally go so crazy with the presets but it was all part of the fun of the shoot and aligned perfectly with the simplicity ethos ( and they cost nothing...)

Much as I love the gorgeous worn sunburst color of the Artist I found that I liked the preset effects or a B&W conversion better, I think this is probably down to the contrast effect of the backlit lighting set up but look how nicely the 3M/diffuser set up has rendered the texture on the guitar in this one.

Here's a similar but even more contrasty take on the same set up, this was done to bring up the reflection.

The more I use the GF1, the more convinced than ever I am that for my personal purposes and style of shooting the M43 and small mirrorless system cameras work best. It really is so easy to shoot low and bracket the exposures (spoke about this in the previous post) that I find the shortcomings of the high ISO and to a smaller degree resolution issues are insignificant to me. I would urge anyone who has not tried one to buy a secondhand GF1 and either the 20 or 14 and give it a go, if it doesn't do it for you then you will pretty much get your money back anyway - what have you got to lose??????

Well that's it for this more equipment than travel orientated post which, for me, is all about sharpening skills and technique for when you are in situations where it is critical to get the shot you want. Big thanks to my mates and in particular the lovely legged Cyn for making this such fun, and lets not forget a note of thanks to whoever dreamed up these cracking Lightroom presets.

Until next time, feed the addiction folks and drop me a note on any simple lighting tips you might want to share.



Monday, April 2, 2012

Singapore Sunday with an Old Friend - the GF1

Hey fellow travel photo fans and camera junkies, welcome to this short post on Singapore and a lovely Sunday evening stroll with an old friend that I have fallen in love with all over again - the Lumix GF1. I posted recently (GF1 Revisited) on my rediscovery of my GF1 and how I found that somehow I really liked to shoot with it and this short article expands on that a little and attempts to rationalize this affinity while having a look at Singapore's Marina Bay area.

I have been shooting a lot recently with the little Nikon V1 and getting pretty reasonable results However, certified camera addict that I am, I spotted a 14mm f2.5 pancake lens for the M43 system on Singapore camera communities Clubsnap market place and scooped it up from a very nice guy for S$245. Regular followers of this blog will know that the vast majority of my work is shot at wider angles and I am at a total loss to explain why I have never bought this lens before - well better late than never. Looking resplendent with its new lens in place I set off for Singapore's Marina Bay with the GF1 back home on my shoulder.

Marina Bay is a pretty new part of the city and built on reclaimed land. The main attraction for me is the Sands Resort casino complex with its stunning views and fantastic riverside boardwalk. It goes without saying that boardwalks just cry out for late afternoon shooting when the shadows and contrast is at its highest. This was a great test for the new 14mm and I have to say that I was really loving shooting with it and it handled the contrasty scenes superbly.

I have always believed that Black and White is the GF1's true forte and although I have never had the good fortune to use a Leica, I felt that the little GF1 with its primitive EVF attached gave something close to that experience. Let me explain what I mean by that. It's a waste of time trying to use an LCD screen in this kind of light so I always use the hot shoe attachable viewfinder accessory. Now, as I have said before, this is a stone age device compared to the new Sony's however, for this kind of shooting I am only interested in the framing and I find that because I am left eye dominant I can look into the VF and use my right eye to scan for approaching subject material and that is how I got the shot above.

In addition to the framing experience, the GF1 also allows for excellent manual control of the camera and I find two aspects of that to be invaluable. Firstly, its a dawdle to change exposure compensation through the little thumbwheel that also controls aperture, and secondly, its so simple to bracket exposures using the shooting control dial lever. This to me is a hugely underused feature but one that is essential to getting the best from the GF1. Set it up to bracket 3 exposures at 2/3 + and - and you will seldom get a badly exposed shot. I firmly believe that when the light begins to fall you need to use this on the GF1 to avoid having to mess about too much with the exposure in editing thereby minimizing the amount of noise you bring in if above ISO 400. I like to pride myself a bit on my ability to judge exposure and get the compensation right but this method is faster and gives a good margin for error. This really came to my attention when I watched a wonderful show on Kelby Training which was Scott Kelby wandering the streets of New York with Jay Maisel and guess what? Jay exposure bracketed all of the time.....

Here's the final B&W against the light shot of the day and I have to say that I am so pleased with the little 14, I think that coupled with the 20mm f1.7, this is one of the finest walkabout kits going. These lenses appear to take the contrasty, straight into the sun shots in their stride and are still fast enough to use when the light goes down.

Back to color and a bit more about Marina Bay. It really is a photographer's paradise for evening shooting and you will see loads of tripod, and kit laden, sunset hungry shooters on the go. It's a very easy place to walk around and I would recommend starting at the far end from the theatre centre to get the sun descending through the buildings before you come around to the front of the casino complex for the sunset shots. If, like me, you don't like tripods there are loads of barriers and pillars that you can steady against when the light goes down.

This is a pretty dodgy shot that was taken wide open from the Helix bridge that links the Esplanade to the Sands Resort. To be honest, despite what I said above, this could really use a tripod :) This is the last leg of the walk and its worth going over to the other side of the bridge to get the shot looking back.

You may be wondering a little about the projected images on the Lotus shaped science and arts complex and this is all part of the sustainable light show that has been running this month and sadly closed on Sunday, how lucky was I to get there on the last day.... Well, as you should all know by now, its not luck at all, there are always, always, always interesting things to be shot and if I hadn't meandered along here to try out the new 14 I would have missed out, for me going here is a no brainer whether there are light shows or not its just an interesting place with great light. If I hadn't set out on this trip to try the new lens I would have missed the following shot which I enjoyed taking so much. I have no idea whether this appeals to anyone else but I was really tickled at the image of Andy with the giant, colorful explosion above. This is how I imagine his mind to look if I could ever photograph it.....

I hope this isn't too pretentious for you folks, but I am really serious that I enjoyed the craft of making these last two shots so much with the GF1. They were both bracketed in the way I describe and shot with the little 14 wide open. I have no idea how this lens reviewed and frankly, I don't care. I often find that when I use kit it behaves differently from the reviews, I don't shoot walls or dolls but I do shoot into the sun and don't want washed out over-flared images. I also like to shoot open with these kind of lenses and this one did just fine.

Well, back in love again with my GF1, here's the last shot from the shoot and again one of the two personal fave's along with the Andy shot above. Until next time, happy wanderings,