Sunday, 28 May 2017

Six months in - the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk ii


About a year and a half ago I left behind the world of the big DSLR and went mirrorless. My initial beast was the E-M1 and while it was very good and I had no regrets there were some aspects that I had hoped were better. Six months ago along came the E-M1 Mk ii and my desires were answered.



I've had the EM-1 Mk ii for six months now so I thought it was time to write about it now that I have had a chance to properly experience the machine. I shoot in many widely varied situations from Urbex (Urban Exploration) to People (both indoor studio, indoor natural and outdoor) to Performing Arts (usually within poorly lit environments) to Railways to Fire and Light Painting. This means I need a machine which is general purpose and good in many lighting situations from very low light to very strong light and wide dynamic range.

Viewfinder

At times I found the viewfinder in the Mk i a little slow, it was noticeably behind the action and I had to learn the look over the camera method when shooting dance and movement to ensure I got the moment. The Mk ii has an amazingly fast amazingly bright viewfinder - it is so quick that I have gone back to using the viewfinder instead of looking over the camera when shooting fast movement. Obviously it doesn't work at the speed of light like a DSLR mirror path does but it is fast enough that the human eye cannot see any time lag.

Tuck Away Foldable Screen

The new screen is awesome, it's bright, faithful and just right resolution give you everything you need for image review but my main love of this screen is the fact you can tuck it away facing the camera. This means you stop the bad practice of chimping and concentrate on composure up front. You don't need to wear your glasses (I need them to look at the screen but not the viewfinder as it has a diopter). You don't need a screen protector because it's not exposed and not having it on is fantastic for Street photography because no-one knows what you just shot - keeps 'em guessing.

Battery

The Mk i had woeful battery performance. I used to carry five batteries when on a photowalk and would generally get into the fifth one by the end of a ten hour session. The Mk ii battery performance is so good I rarely change batteries during the long sessions now unless I've been doing a lot of long exposure, lots of moving focus tracking or 4K video. I only own three batteries now and I only bought a third one because I like to go into the bush on camping trips and need four or five days worth of battery.




Focus

The most common need I have is to be able to focus on things in near darkness and be confident that the focus is going to be what I need. The EM-1 Mk ii is superb at focusing in any light conditions even nearly total darkness. Where previous machines have hunted and hunted and hunted the E-M1 Mk ii locks on and is ready to go. That gives me the confidence I need in the environments in which I shoot.

There is a very good video that explains the focus capabilities on YouTube from Olympus - yes its marketing hype but as it happens to be true I link to it here.


When I'm out in the street I like to shoot from the hip or quickly point, shoot and move on. I know the EM-1 Mk ii is up for the challenge and rarely misses the mark.

Low Light

Lets talk about what everyone seems to think is an elephant in the room - low light performance. So many times I read that its low light is no good and this simply means that the person hasn't actually ever seriously tried the E-M1 Mk ii and is probably basing their opinion on information on someone else's misinformed musings.

Mellz

To give you an idea, this is a SOOC jpeg from a model shoot with Mellz in a very low light situation ISO 1600 1/20th f/2.8 using the Oly 12-40 f/2.8 glass. I have no qualms using this machine in low light. It's predecessor wasn't as successful but the new sensor combined with the new processing in this machine give you amazing abilities. The reader should also take into account that the Olympus stabilisation lets you hand hold many shutter speeds that others simply cannot (e.g. I can reliably hand hold 1 second and if I try hard enough 2) which means you don't actually need to use high ISO at all. I rarely go above 1600.

Flexibility to be an all-rounder

Because my patterns and styles of shooting are incredibly wide I ask a lot from my machine. I don't want to carry multiple bodies and I want to minimise the glass I carry. The EM-1 Mk ii simply copes with everything I throw at it and most of the time I'm happy with the shot. Those times when I've not been it's because I tried to break the laws of physics and we all know how well that goes.

The dynamic range of the machine is quite amazing - yes there are DSLR that cost two to three times as much that will do better, of course they will that's why they cost that much but this machine is more than good enough for me.

Steamy Morning - Example of Lights and Darks

Beautiful Bokeh / Smooth Background

I keep hearing this crap over and over - mirrorless can't do bokeh - those jokers think they know everything don't they? Well you can so I'm going to throw them a bone to prove it.

f/2.8 and oh look, bokeh ;)

The other thing I keep reading is that mirrorless can't do nice shots with a wide open lens - I don't know where that comes from - here is Emily shot at f/1.8

Emily f/1.8 50% crop
I did a 50% crop on this one because I wanted to keep this particular article family friendly. The treatment is solely done in Lightroom and was predominantly a removal of saturation and a slight contrast boost.

In Camera Multi Exposure Time Lapse / Live Composite / Live Time

Your camera can't do this? Oh I'm sorry for you. This feature was introduced in other OM-D models, but the Mk ii really excells at it. It is simply awesome for things like fireworks where you open up the exposure and close if down while you're watching it develop on screen. The camera can either capture only changes in light (Live Composite) or be visible development with up to 24 previews of the image as it happens (Live Time).

Live Composite Fireworks

Here is a 7 second exposure SOOC using Live Composite for Fireworks. In this mode the camera shoots a base image which you set the exposure for then it adds in new light. This means that if you expose your highlights properly in the first place they will not blow out. The building windows, street lights, and signs stay coloured and readable. There are multiple bursts from multiple fireworks in this image.


Friday, 12 May 2017

Review: Tall Dark & Art - An Art Nude Shoot Opportunity

Earlier this week I went to a "workshop" run by Tall Dark & Art  which I found via their meetup.com https://www.meetup.com/Photography-Workshop-Meetup/ group.

I've been wanting to extend by nude art shooting for some time, the big challenge is that amateur nude models are hard to find and a bit fickle and professional nude models are usually expensive. Getting studio space on top of that is prohibitive.

The setting

Model: Emily
The Tall Dark & Art shoot was held in a commercial hire studio in the midst of industrial Moorabbin and came with two models and assorted props. The two models were Emily who was a bubbly happy girl (seen in this shot) who worked well with or without direction and strikes up an easy relationship. The second girl Kiko was from a dance background and for the most part simply did her own thing except when specifically asked to do something by one of the six photographers.

It wasn't really a workshop, although anyone who needed help certainly got plenty of it from host Peter and the studio owner - all you needed to do was ask.

Two main sets were provided and lit at the start and the photographers had freedom to use those sets and the girls within their boundaries. Emily had strict boundaries, Kiko didn't really mind anything and did most things that were requested of her.

Set one was a simple stool lit with a octagon photoflash where you could choose to use the flash trigger or utilise just the modelling lamp. While the lamp required use of ISO around 3200 this was the approach I took most of the time because it suits my shooting style of darkness and high contrast with significant softness to the shots. The image on this post is SOOC (Oly high contrast b&w mode) and gives you an idea of where I work with nudes when inside.

Set two had various options and was lit with blue, red and white stage lighting. I have to say the Oly sensor easily blew out on the blue and had to be constrained - fortunately the OM-D E-M1 Mk ii abounds with colour settings to tone down the hideous blue. The options included a bench like a small picnic table that lent itself to all sorts of things (used in this image), a small 1x1x1 cage,  a large cross, a small cross, a coffin and a chain post.

The operation

Model: Emily
The studio was unlocked about 6.30pm and people came in to familiarise themselves with the sets and lighting. The girls arrived, introduced themselves and nuded up at 7pm and were available until 10pm with a couple of breaks in the middle. The six photographers worked across the two girls taking turns to direct (something I admit I'm awful at) and moving around the sets. I was happy because most of the time they concentrated on the more exotic Kiko which meant that I had Emily to myself for a lot of the shoot. Emily fits my shoot ideal much better than Kiko because I like to shoot the normal girl not the dance model. Spending a couple of hours with Emily nearly 1 on 1 was great as she helped me extend my direction abilities as we talked through the shoot. Emily had a good idea of what would look good and what would not and a simple routine was quickly developed.

The shooting environment was cordial and friendly. The studio owner and Peter set some rules up front regarding respect and treatment of the models. Each of the girls had the opportunity to express her boundaries.

Coffee was available for the asking and there were a selection of other drinks available at a cost if you wanted them.

Cost and wrap

Model: Kiko
The session cost $149 and included the models and studio hire. I consider this to be very well worth the cost and enjoyed the session quite a lot. The low lighting is challenging so you'll want your low light fast shutter skills up to par before you try this. You could use a tripod or monopod if you want to but I prefer the flexibility of position and movement that high ISO brings.

By the end of the session I had around 1,200 images to look back on to think about what did and did not work to help me improve later.  I'm fortunate that I've done a number or semi nude and nude shoots with both males and females so my skills are developing to my satisfaction.

I definitely recommend trying out one of these sessions (they run quite often) and give nude shooting a go if you have any interest.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Olympus 12-100 f/4 Pro Lens

I'm addicted to the Olympus MFT platform and my main shooter is an OM-D E-M1 Mk ii, I've written about the beast quite a bit in other articles and won't rabbit on here. I had the opportunity to test drive the new 12-100 f/4 Pro lens over a weekend thanks to the wonderful people at digiDIRECT Melbourne my usual camera store.

Ethics Statement: digiDIRECT loaned me the lens free of charge and have not attempted to influence my test drive results in any way. They have not paid me or offered me any other reward I mention them only because I'm a satisfied customer. All images in this blog article are SOOC (straight out of camera).


The 12-100 f/4 is billed as a great all rounder (well it would be if Olympus marketing people were Aussies) and that it is targeted at the general shooter going on holidays. Retailing for around $1670 that makes for an expensive holiday if you're only going to use it once. If you like the concept of replaceable lenses but are a bit tired of changing them all the time to get the range moving from close up things to distant things then this really is the lens for you. If you like shooting in dubious lighting then again this is the lens for you. There are a few things I'm going to talk about up front. 

Let's start with the disadvantages

I found that the lens mounted on the E-M1 Mk ii was front heavy and until I got used to it did not support my desired one handed shooting position where I suspend the camera from my hand with a hand strap. This would be worse on the lighter Mk i or OM-D E-M5. 

The lens is fairly large for a MFT lens so negates some of the advantages of the small platform, until you realise that in 35mm it's a 24-200 and comes in at only half the size and a third of the weight of an equivalent class lens in the Canon L series.

And now for the good stuff

At a constant f/4 the lens sounds like it might be quite dim, but the reality is its actually a bright and useful lens. Most of the time I actually kept it on f/4 during the evening and ranged into smaller apertures during the brighter day on Sunday. I was achieving great depth of field and the images are bright and lively. 

I used the lens from dusk on Saturday through into darkness then into the day on Sunday. The Saturday light was dull and poor being towards the end of April in Autumn. The light on Sunday was bright strong and contrasty - especially in the lanes where capturing colour and form was challenged by the dynamic range of the light. 

Testing that extra 1.5 stops of IS


During dusk and the evening I was pushing the lens to experience what that extra 1.5 stops of stabilisation gives you and was quite impressed. I don't have steady hands, even when braced I experience blur at anything over a half a second normally from my shakiness which is kind of annoying for someone who just loves to shoot noir street and theatre.

To test out what the lens could do I set up a silly unrealistic test. I found a flat subject on a dark wall in a fairly dimly lit alley and configured for 2 seconds. I crouched at ground level and did not brace myself adding a bit of body unsteady to the already unsteady hands.

Dismal Melbourne 2 seconds hand held f/8 iso 200 lens IS on camera IS on

This isn't the grandest image in the world but it shows well what the lens can do. If I did not have the stabilisation this shot would have been a complete mess. This is hand held at 2 seconds when only about 30cm from the subject which is a tough ask for any lens. So if you think that result wasn't great (granted those ultra sharpies are not going to think so) then lets take a look at the same shot with the lens IS turned off but the body IS turned on (down from 6.5 stops of stabilisation to 5).

Dismal Melbourne 2 seconds hand held f/8 iso 200 lens IS off camera IS on

Well this torture test shows how well that IS is actually doing, so lets make it a bit more realistic now and see how things go let's bring it back to half a second by coming down from f/8 to f/4

0.5 seconds hand held f/4 iso 200 lens IS on camera IS on

At half a second we've got a wonderful crisp colourful vibrant image from dull light, unbraced shooting for half a second. Let me say that again, half a second. I could not even think about doing that with my old Canon 5d Mk ii - I'd be lucky to get a clean shot with IS turned on at 1/6th with that thing. This result is quite amazing. Even the sharpies should be impressed with this one. I need to say it again, half a second.

Is there a down side of this sort of exposure? Of course there is, if you're trying to capture an evening street scene then forget about people, those bastards move. 

34mm `1/6th second at f/4 iso 200

See they move - can't capture that guy coming out of the Club X with this kind of shutter speed. Actually, well you can, and the blur tells a story. It tells of a person trying to hurry out of shot so no one knows he's coming out of the sex shop behind him. It also gives the fun of that moment without embarrassing him through identifying him to the internet.

So how does it do at 100mm (200mm for you big 35mm fellas) in long exposures, great is the answer. Here's one at 0.8 seconds, there is certainly some softness but go on, go and do that with your 70-200 on your 5d and send it to me. Have fun with that.

0.8 seconds at f/11 iso 200

Not impressed yet?

1 second f/4.5 iso 200
This image has great detail and crispness, the lens seems the thrive in the range from very dim to quite bright in this image and cope very well with it.

Still not impressed? As the evening wore on and we visited laneways it got darker and darker, I found this pasty on the wall and thought, why not, lets have a crack. For this shot which I have to admit is slightly soft I crouched with legs splayed as much as possible and held my arms in as close to my body as possible and held my breath. Take a look at the exposure time...

5 seconds f/4.5 iso 200
Did that caption say 5 (five) seconds - why yes it did. Sure its a bit soft but if you want to capture something and need five seconds and don't have your tripod - guess what, you can! I reckon with practice and stiffening up my flabby muscles a bit more I could probably make this sharper. This is just incredible. Five seconds hand held.

So how does it do with street images? Part A - Street Noir (Night Street)

I love to shoot street at night, and I also love the Oly's heavy contrast, high grain art mode made just for street noir - well I reckon it is. These two images give you some idea of what kind of street you can manage in the dark. These were all taken in Chinatown well and truly after sunset.



Yep those images are shot in the dark. Actual dark. Lit only from the shop windows and signs around them in Melbourne's Chinatown.

This one was taken inside a restaurant that seems well lit until you look at your shutter speeds.

What about colour night shooting and complexities like panning to follow a subject?


No problemo. Got that covered nicely. I was really surprised how well the lens and camera simply adapted to my pan - the software had to have recognised what I was trying to do. Grabbed the nice crisp bike rider and bike with some wonderful movement blur in the background.


It's for holidays right? You need to be able to do great food photos then...

1/13th second f/4
Yep, got that covered. Crisp. Nice fall off with the depth of field and great colour reproduction even under the hideous combination of fluorescent and LED tube lighting.


So how does it do with street images? Part B - Day Street







So you tell me? I reckon it's got what it takes to be a great day time street lens. That 200mm equivalent means you can get some shots you might not otherwise get. It's a little soft at f/4 but go up to f/5.6 or f/6.3 and no worries sharp as a tack with great depth of field. That f/4 is nice when you want to isolate your subject a little while still keeping the impression of what is around them. The lens while bigger than any other MFT lens except the big 40-150 I own it is very unobtrusive and continues the toy camera look of the MFT platform at a distance, shoot people in the street with a big lens on a big camera and they notice you much more than a little one. With this combo most people are going to assume you're just a tourist on holidays and ignore you.

The big question... am I going to buy one?

This is one I'm not sure about. I've got the lenses that cover the range of this one (12-40 and 40-150) so buying a 12-100 is a difficult question. It would be very convenient for me and would allow me to carry only one lens for nearly all of my shooting except portraits and birding but is that worth the price tag. That's the big question of the day. If I was buying my kit from scratch I wouldn't buy the others over this one - it would win hands down, by a mile.

The lens certainly impressed me and I certainly want one but I've got months to mull it over while waiting for my annual bonus assuming I get one :).