Tag Archives: travel

Biwako, Japan

Biwako, Japan

I lied on the grass, using my body to stabilize my camera and square ND filters (not screwed on), no tripod… as I was touring in Japan with me 20-inch singlespeed folding bike with fully loaded panniers. Not to forget it was about 15-18 degrees Celsius near sunset. The last time I took landscape photography seriously was probably 20 years ago.

One of my last student I taught in my private classes is into shooting landscapes. She sort of made me think about getting back to shooting nature again. It’s always a refreshing experience to breathe in the fresh air in nature, indulging in the masterpieces God has created. No two leaves are the same. So are humans.

 

Smallest 300mm and 600mm Lenses in the World

I am so sorry for this long-awaited post. The current status of Olympus micro four thirds lenses have been updated to be ALL MSC (Movie-Still-Compatible) except the pancake 17mm F2.8 and the discontinued 14-42mm mk1 kit zoom lens.

This is a visit I made to the Singapore Zoo not long ago. I must say these are currently the world’s SMALLEST 80-300mm and 150-600mm (equivalent) MSC lenses available! You can hold them in ONE hand.

On the left, E-PL1 with m-zuiko 40-150mm and to the right, m-zuiko 75-300mm.

They do not have great apertures for those longing for F2.8 or F2. The 40-150mm comes with F4-5.6 and the 75-300mm comes with F4.8-6.7. But common sense tells us that if they are made with F2-2.8 apertures, the sizes would be considerably larger. As usual, ALL images you see in this post are SOOC (straight out of camera) with no editing done other than adding watermark and black border.

shot with 40-150mm at 94mm, ISO1600, 1/60sec, F5.1.
shot with 75-300mm at 234mm, ISO3200, F6.4, 1/125sec.

By now, in the world of the mirror-less systems, it is obvious that Olympus faces tough competition from the Sony NEX and Panasonic GF series. The market share of Samsung is still quite negligible. When it comes to buying cameras, the general consumer usually follows the larger crowd BUT the discerning consumer will look more into details like Image Colors, Sharpness and Distortion, AF speed and the practical need of image stabilization (I.S.), etc.

shot with 75-300mm at 75mm, ISO3200, F5, 1/160sec.
shot with 75-300mm at 164mm, ISO2000, F5.8, 1/160sec.

In today’s digital photography world, it’s common for consumers to choose cameras based upon looks rather than actual performance. At the same time, consumers want instantaneous feedback regarding which camera they should buy, either from their friends, the internet or from the salesman they deal with. We gotta remember NO Review is completely accurate on the internet and NO camera’s LCD screen is totally trustworthy!

shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO2500, 1/160sec, F6.7.
shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO3200, F6.7, 1/160sec.

Some tips on choosing cameras:

1. NEVER just based upon the looks

2. Bring your own memory card to the shop/showroom and test shoot with the camera

3. NEVER trust the LCD screen, always judge the images using a reasonable computer monitor (most modern monitors are okay, and the MACs have the best colors)

The MOST RELIABLE way to check for Focus-Accuracy and Sharpness is “zooming” in at your computer, NOT on the camera’s LCD screen. That’s also the way I compared GF1, NEX-3 and E-PL1’s AF accuracy in my previous posts. Just click a word in the top left hand corner “SEARCH” box and you will easily access my previous posts.

4. Test shoot both in natural daylight and indoor artificial lights (white balance), test shoot on both still and moving subjects (AF-accuracy), test shoot the minimum focusing distance and infinity focusing at widest aperture (sharpness of images and closeup magnification factor), test shoot at high ISOs (cameras today have no problem with low ISOs but it’s good to check out what’s the maximum useable high ISO).

5. NEVER rush in your decision-making.

shot with 75-300mm at 208mm, ISO2000, F6.3, 1/160sec.
shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO200, F6.7, 1/160sec. (this image is slightly adjusted brighter due to my own metering mistake)
shot with 75-300mm at 75mm, ISO500, F4.8, 1/160sec.

I do not write reviews based on test charts, curves, diagrams, etc. I write reviews based on my personal experience with the cameras and lenses. We have to understand that at many times, reviewers online (including me) are not given much time with the equipments to share the most balanced view about them. That’s why I make my own purchases when necessary.

As I walked into the zoo with my family, the 75-300mm lens became my main lens instead of the 40-150mm due to it’s 600mm (effective) telephoto capability. I did not have to squeeze with the many tourists to get a front view of the animals, my camera and lenses were the smallest among all tourists who were using DSLRs, and I had the BEST reach at 600mm effective!

I did not see anyone use the same equipment as me. It’s kinda sad that I saw more NEXs and Panasonics. But of course, DSLRs still dominated the entire zoo.

shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO320, F6.7, 1/160sec.
shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO320, F6.7, 1/160sec.
shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO320, F6.7, 1/160sec.
shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO320, F6.7, 1/160sec.
shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO250, F6.7, 1/160sec.

Having tried the Sony NEX, the Panasonic GF1 and the Samsung NX-10 and NX100 (briefly), I would say the Olympus PEN produces the best colors straight out of camera. Among the mirror-less systems, Olympus PENs are still the smallest in size, having the smallest lenses among all.

The more knowledgeable people may argue about the limitations of a small sensor but we have printed out enlargements up to 50 inches wide with no problems.

The way I believe in photography is about using the right tool for the right job, and most importantly, in overcoming each camera’s limitations and still make outstanding images out of it.

The digital Olympus PEN, being the smallest interchangeable lens system camera which produces DSLR-like quality images with NO shutter lags like the compact point and shoots, is a great camera for anyone, to photograph your daily lives, to travel the world with it or to photograph your family snapshots.

shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO250, F6.7, 1/160sec.
shot with 40-150mm at 150mm, ISO250, F5.6, 1/160sec.
shot with 40-150mm at 124mm, ISO250, F5.4, 1/160sec.
shot with 75-300mm at 75mm, ISO250, F4.8, 1/160sec.

The mirror-less system today is NOT for those who “need” to hang DSLRs on their necks to prove that they’re professionals or professionals-to-be, or for those who require 6-12 frames per second in shooting sports/birds/etc.

To me, images you make speak the loudest, NOT what you carry on your neck or shoulder. Like I said, the right tool for the right job.

This system is for those who don’t want to break their backs by carrying heavy equipments. It is suitable for light travel. It offers a great deal of opportunities for discovery, for example, the use of old manual focus lenses with F1 aperture on it. (Here)

It is ironic to see in general that newbies want big professional cameras, but the seasoned working photographers want smaller cameras.

In general, active street photographers love small unobtrusive cameras. A seasoned professional wedding photographer would not mind exploring into the use of smaller unobtrusive cameras to shoot weddings. I have personally shot weddings with a PEN and am now using one rangefinder camera alongside a DSLR for weddings and private functions. I also know of other working photographers who love their GF1s, PENs, etc. These professionals sure know the hidden photographic opportunities in the use of small cameras. DSLRs, Rangefinders or PEN, they serve different purposes.

shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO2000, F6.7, 1/160sec.
shot with 75-300mm at 150mm, ISO2000, F5.6, 1/160sec.
shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO3200, F6.7, 1/100sec.

Conclusion:

Advantages of these two lenses:

1. Small and portable. I love it when I am actually shooting the Baboon’s ass, standing at the back of some tourists holding big DSLRs with their huge telephoto lenses. LOL.

2. MSC (Movie-Still-Compatible). They are absolutely quiet in focusing when recording video unlike current DSLRs when AF sounds are easily recorded.

3. Sharpness. These lenses are absolutely sharp! Look at these 100% crop for example…

ISO3200, 75-300mm at 234mm.
ISO1600, 40-150mm at 94mm.

Disadvantages:

1. These lenses do not auto focus well in low light conditions due to their small maximum apertures of F4 and F4.8. Be prepared that they can’t find focus in low light.

2. When zoom is extended the maximum especially, it’s advisable to use the optional external electronic viewfinder VF-2 to help stabilize camera on your face. Looking at the Live View can make you giddy.

shot with 75-300mm at 300mm, ISO800, F6.7, 1/160sec.

My overall experience has been good.

1. The option of using the external viewfinder VF-2 is necessary when it comes to using long telephotos as such. So far, only Olympus has such a bright and sharp electronic viewfinder. The Panasonic one still sucks. It’s not even half as good as the Olympus one. The NEX has no such option.

2. The Olympus in-body I.S. is still most amazing. It offers opportunities for using slow shutter speeds without lugging a tripod. The NEX has no I.S. The Pannys limit their I.S. to only a few lenses. The Olympus I.S. works on ALL lenses which can be mounted on it, and that includes all legacy lenses.

3. The depth of field of these two lenses are sufficient for my usage at the zoo. I don’t need too shallow depth of field when capturing close up shots of animals. I’d rather all the hair and whiskers around the face to be sharp! (these are definitely NOT paparazzi lenses!!! They aren’t efficient in low light )

In my opinion (IMO), the 75-300 is good for travel, for safari. The 40-150 is a much lighter option. You can opt for the 14-150mm with the 75-300 in your bag, and these two lenses will be more than sufficient for traveling the world. Total weight? Less than a DSLR with a 18-200mm lens and you get coverage from 28mm-600mm (effective range). Woohoo!

Olympus E-PL2 Review . Part 1

The E-PL2 (SOOC image from XZ-1).
The E-PL2 (SOOC image from XZ-1).
The E-PL2 (SOOC image from XZ-1).

IMPT: THIS REVIEW IS BASED ON A PRE-PRODUCTION UNIT. ALL SOOC IMAGES ARE FROM A PRE-PRODUCTION UNIT.

Just like the Olympus XZ-1 Review earlier, this review IS gonna be about the SOOC images! Some may think that SOOC images aren’t important cause they choose to shoot in RAW anyway, BUT RAW does not mean “unprocessed”. It basically means “UNCOMPRESSED”! That’s why Nikon D3x’s RAWs are different from Sony Alpha 900’s RAWs even though they have the same sensors. And having a Good Image Processor saves you more than half the trouble, whether you shoot in RAW or JPEG.

Image Sensor + Image Processor + Optics = Image Quality.

Good image quality does not just rely on one element.

Before showing you the selected images (MORE are in my flickr, kindly follow my instructions at the end of this review), I will like to share my short verdict of the E-PL2. I have used the first digital PEN E-P1, then the E-P2, E-PL1 and now this pre-production E-PL2 and what I have to say in a short conclusion is:

1. THIS IS NO E-PL1 mk2!!! Even though it has the same image sensor and processor as the E-PL1, it’s ergonomics are DIFFERENT. Finally, I have back the DIAL which I personally think is indispensable. Next, it feels much more solid than the plasticky E-PL1. It definitely has a better grip with that nice textured rubber on the side. It is so much better looking than the E-PL1! It’s Matt Black!!! (Not glossy… I hate glossy)

2. The NEW 14-42mm mk2 kit lens has a Remarkable Improvement in AF speed! It is MSC (movie-still-compatible), which means AF is silent and fast, totally no sound recorded in video when lens is zoomed in and out! This is not just as claimed by Olympus! The Difference IS EVIDENT!

3. The E-PL2 has included so many variations to it’s Art Filters, which I personally am having a headache as to what to use in what situation. BUT I fell in love with it’s Grainy Film II Mode which renders the image lower contrast as compared to the often too-overly-contrast grainy film mode which existing PEN users are experiencing. And my favourite workflow which I developed with the E-PL2 shortly in these 10 days is shooting in the Grainy Film Mode II with Art Frame ON and recording it both in JPEG and RAW at the same time. The RAW is my backup in the case when highlights are blown.

I have also been using the NEW Olympus Viewer 2 software to convert the RAW files when necessary and I must say this is the easiest software I have encountered in my years of using different digital cameras. Results from the software are also excellent. The main setbacks of the software which I have found are:

a. Art Filter Variations NOT included. Things like Grainy Film II, Pop Art II, Art Frame, etc.. ONLY the basic Art Filters are included and that includes the Dramatic Tone Art Filter. (I know many “die” for this…) Will there be any hackers who would hack the software and make these Art Filters available to all other RAW files… that I don’t know, I am not a software geek.

b. Certain corrections can’t be done, like Contrast, Picture Tone… this could be due to the pre-production E-PL2 I’m using… so it may be too early to draw a conclusion.

Grainy Film II Mode, with Art Frame, ISO200, F4, 1/50sec.
Grainy Film II Mode, with Art Frame, ISO200, F10, 1/250sec.
Another variation of the Pop Art Filter. This is shot in Pop Art Filter II with Soft Focus Effect.

4. The NEW 14-42mm mk2 lens is designed for fitting the NEW macro converter, wide converter and fisheye converter. So if you think these new converters can be fitted on your existing 14-42mm lens, you are wrong. Soon we’ll see the old 14-42mm kit lenses flooding the used market at dirt cheap prices! The macro converter allows 0.28x magnification at 24cm with the 14-42mm lens at 42mm. The wide converter turns your 14mm to 11mm wide. The fisheye converter gives 120 degree view.

I personally think that the “perfect combo” could be using the m-zuiko 14-150mm lens with a step up ring 37-58mm (available from Olympus) to fit on the NEW macro converter! You can also do the same for the m-zuiko 40-150mm lens since it also has 58mm diameter!

5. Macro Arm Light: This is innovative! It is a pair of alien-looking flexible arms with LED lights for use in macro photography. Now macro photography has gone to a new level of excitement.

However, if you are getting the macro arm light, it’s better to use it with the macro converter, unless you have a short specialized macro lens. Reason being: the arms are NOT long. (in this case, I doubt the compatibility with the 14-150mm and 40-150mm lenses. I haven’t try, so I can’t say for sure…)

Shot with macro arm light attached to the hotshoe with 14-42mm lens zoomed in at 42mm. No macro converter was used as it has not arrived from Japan at the time of shooting.

6. PENPAL: a bluetooth transfer device. I was told that this is NOT compatible with the APPLE iPhones/iPads. Sad… I am still wishing a bluetooth transfer technology to my iPhone for me to upload images on the go to facebook and flickr (which has automated resizing capability).

The following are the rest of the selected images:

iAuto Mode, ISO200, F9, 1/250sec.

Dramatic Tone Art Filter
Dramatic Tone Art Filter
iAuto Mode, ISO200, F10, 1/500sec.
Pinhole Art Filter, ISO200, F4.5, 1/50sec.
iAuto Mode, ISO200, F5.6, 1/200sec.
Shutter Priority Mode, ISO200, F3.5, 1/3sec handheld.
iAuto Mode, ISO400, F3.5, 1/60sec.

With SO MANY FEATURES packed into the E-PL2, this is obviously NOT a E-PL1 mk2!!! To view full resolution images with EXIF data, please have a flickr account, add me (click here), and send me a message. I’ll make sure you see them!