Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Olympus OMD EM5.....a year on

It's nearly a year since I decided to commit to the micro 4/3rds system as my principal camera and I went out and bought a black Olympus OMD EM5. All the reviews were very complimentary although at that time the camera was still in relatively short supply. I managed to track one down and a year on I have no regrets. To the contrary the camera, the lenses and the results have exceeded all my expectations.

Olympus OMD EM5 with Panasonic f1.7 20mm prime lens
Olympus OMD EM5 with Panasonic f1.7 20mm prime lens

I have never written a camera review in my life and I don't want to start now, but it may be helpful to anyone who reads this entry to know why I have so much enjoyed using this system in the past 12 months.

Firstly it has to be the quality of the results. The 16mb sensor captures so much detail and A3 size prints are excellent. They helped me achieve my LRPS distinction back in December when they were viewed by a well qualified and experienced panel of judges; a seal of approval as far as I am concerned. I have yet to print larger than A3 but will be doing so in the near future, so watch this space. I do not use Auto ISO as I prefer to set this myself and  nearly always use ISO 200. I will push it to ISO 1600 if lighting conditions are poor or I need more depth of field and a faster shutter speed. The quality is still good but I have not used a higher ISO rating.  The fantastic built in 5 axis image stabilisation is worth at least two stops which helps to offset the need to resort to a high ISO anyway. A lower ISO of say 100 would be good but it's not something I really miss that much.

Olympus OMD EM5
The camera, its great 16mb sensor and Part 1 of the HLD-6 hand grip

Secondly it has to be the range and quality of the lenses from both Olympus and Panasonic. I can only comment on the ones I have in my collection. Having committed to micro 4/3rds and the EM5 in particular, I have been fortunate in the last year to acquire a fine range of optics.

The camera was supplied with a kit lens - 12mm to 60mm f3.5 - f6.3 but I have to say I have hardly ever used it. It is splash and dust proof and does have a macro function but that is not my style of photography.  It came with the camera and if ever I sell or upgrade the EM5 then I assume it will help the sale. It's a reasonable lens, so no real complaints but it's no match for the lenses I am about to mention.

One of the main reasons I was drawn to the system was the choice of excellent prime lenses. I now have the Olympus 12mm f2.0, the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 and the Olympus 45mm f1.8. They are all great lenses. They are very sharp, fast to auto focus and with their large aperture openings can be used in low light conditions without having to increase the ISO to a very high setting. They are lightweight and keep the camera and lens combination quite compact. I still can't decide if I like the silver finish of the Olympus lenses on the black body? It is of course down to personal preference - they do look smart, but they are not so discreet for candid work.

Micro 4/3rds prime lenses
A set of prime lenses
From left to right - Olympus f2 12mm, Panasonic f1.7 20mm and Olympus f1.8 45mm

As much as I enjoyed using all three prime lenses, the 45mm probably being my favourite, I did find there were occasions when a zoom lens would be more flexible in general use. So when Panasonic announced the addition  of the 12mm - 35mm f2.8 and the 35mm - 100mm f2.8 to their range, the temptation was too hard to resist. It was made particularly more difficult when I spotted a second hand (as good as new) 12 -35 in my local camera store at a really attractive price, certainly when compared to the cost of a new one. These two lenses are quite superb in my view. To my untrained eyes they are a match in terms of optical quality to the prime lenses, are just as fast to autofocus and whilst f2.8 may not as wide as the primes, it's plenty wide enough for most situations. They are splash and dust proof and whilst they do add to the bulk of the camera they sit well on the EM5. Compared to their full frame equivalents they are tiny in both bulk and weight. Do read this blog entry for a comparison.

Panasonic and Olympus micro 4/3rds zoom lenses
Zoom lenses for Micro 4/3rds cameras
From left to right
Olympus 12-60 kit lens, Panasonic f2.8 12-35mm and Panasonic f2.8 35-100mm

Lastly I have the Panasonic 45mm - 200mm lens which I bought second hand from a fellow member of my camera club. The two Panasonic lenses mentioned in the previous paragraph were not available when I bought this lens and frankly it doesn't get a great deal of use. I rarely have a need for the extra length, but there will be times when the additional range will be useful, so I will keep it for now. It doesn't share the image quality of the other lenses but it's still very good, it's just that the others are superb.

Thirdly the size, weight and feel of the camera is just right. This will not be the same for everyone and there are times when the small size of the buttons can be a nuisance, but I would rather have a relatively compact and lightweight system and just accept there will be times when I hit the wrong button. I can't recall ever missing a shot as a result and I am sure there are seasoned DSLR users who will have used the wrong control unintentionally. Once you have explored all the camera settings the EM5 is very configurable and I now have it set up just as I like it. It does take a little time but it is worth the investment and a little trial and error.The tilt-able screen is a real bonus and the built in electronic view finder (EVF) is very clear.

The tilt-able screen and some of the controls on the rear of the EM5

As far as accessories are concerned I have not used the detachable flash as I prefer to shoot in available light. I do though have the two part grip (HLD-6) and the first part stays on the camera 90% of the time. There is no question that it improves handling of the camera without adding too much extra weight or bulk. The second part of the grip houses the spare battery and provides extra controls for 'portrait' use. I don't use it a great deal but when it is required it's an excellent accessory. The spare battery on the other hand is essential, as the battery life is not that great compared to say the Nikon D90 DSLR which was my previous camera.

Olympus OMD EM5 with HLD 6 Hand grip
OMD EM5 with both parts of the HLD - 6 hand grip

Lastly I no longer need a large rucksack to carry all my gear, so I now have a Billingham Hadley shoulder bag which takes all I require for a days shoot, apart from a tripod of course. It's a pleasure to use and I can happily fit the EM5, two part grip, both f2.8 Panasonic lenses and 2 or even all 3 prime lenses in the bag plus other bits and pieces, including an iPad.

Billingham Hadley shoulder bag and Olympus OMD EM5
Billingham Hadley Pro shoulder bag

Another big advantage is that I used to spend a lot of time reading reviews about the latest equipment. I am pleased to say this does not happen now, which frees up more of my time to take photographs and adding new entries to this blog - both of which give me far more pleasure!

I suppose the only draw back is the price. I do not dare to calculate the total cost but like most things in life you get what you pay for. My late father also told me to buy the best you can afford at the time. I am very fortunate and have been able to follow his advice and invest in a first class system, which is really enjoyable to use.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Alternative views of the Dorset landscape

The great appeal of landscape photography is the vast variety of subject matter and how just a few steps   and a change in viewpoint, can yield two entirely different images.

This is well illustrated by the two pictures in this post. The first, is I guess, a fairly classical treatment of the rolling Dorset hills and fields of barley, taken towards the end of the day on the longest day of the year. It was the shot I had wanted to capture when I returned to this particular location just south of the village of Cheselbourne. The view is of Warren Hill as the road snakes southwards on its way to Puddletown. I used a 3 stop ND filter to slow the shutter speed down to 1/6th of a second to blur the movement in the foreground. The camera was mounted on a tripod.

Fields of barley
Fields of barley at Warren Hill

The light was constantly changing as the clouds circled around me. There was a period when I didn't think the sun would break through. As I waited I walked across to the other side of the road, turned to look the other way, only to see the sun on the grasses, the telegraph pole and the grey clouds behind. So very different to the first shot, but for me it still has a story to tell about the Dorset landscape. For me  the telegraph pole with its insulators at the top could be trying to mimic the stems and flower heads of the cowslips below.

Telegraph pole
Telegraph pole
Two very different views of Dorset from virtually the same position and both taken within an hour of each other. It has made me think more about the type of photographs I wish to take. Both styles have their merits and personally I enjoy both of them for different reasons. The main lesson is 'look around' there may always be an alternative picture to be taken just over the shoulder.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

A fleeting glimpse and an instinct to return

Something has changed since I started to take my photography more seriously. Quite simply I look at everything around me and consider whether or not it offers an opportunity for me to get out my camera. Inevitably some of these occasions arise when I am out and about, in the car and driving from one place to another. I will fleetingly see a possible composition but without time to stop. I then think to myself whether or not the 'opportunity' is worth a return visit. I also try and pre-visualise the light and more importantly the direction of the light at a particular time of day.

Three chimneys
Three chimneys and a field of barley

This happened to me the other day when I was returning home from a rather long and tiring day at work. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a field of barley and a house on the horizon. It wasn't the house itself that grabbed my attention but its three chimneys silhouetted against the sky.

The next day I knew that I would be passing the same location, so armed with my camera I returned to see whether or not my fleeting initial glimpse could turn into something worthwhile. I took a number of shots from different positions but I was unsure whether or not I was going to be happy with any of the results.

I returned home only to decide that I would like to go back later in the evening when the light might be better. I explored the location for a second time and felt no more inspired by the composition I was after, so I walked a little further and noticed how the late evening light was shining through the field of barley.

It wasn't until the following morning that I downloaded the files from the memory card to the computer. To my surprise the earlier shots of the 'three chimneys' were the most promising and the best of the bunch is shown above. The light on barley field which was catching one particular ear in the foreground is below.

Barley in light

Having now had the chance to look more closely at these two images I really am pleased I made the effort to return to this location, following what I had seen out of the corner of my eye. I guess my eyes are learning to see - it's such an important part of photography, perhaps the most important part in fact. You can possess the best equipment, have been trained in all the technical skills but unless your eye can truly see, then your ability to take a good image will be severely restricted. That's not to say these are great shots but the fleeting view, combined with my instincts and a desire to return, then I would never have taken these images in the first place.

Both shots were taken hand held, with the Olympus EM5 and Panasonic 35 to 100mm f2.8 lens.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Happy First Birthday to my Blog!

Today this Blog is one year old!

It hardly seems possible that a year has passed since my very first 'blog entry' - 'Finally happy with the design'. It was not the most inspiring of entries and didn't even include a photograph, which is a bit odd for a blog about photography......but I had to start somewhere!

In the twelve months which have followed there have been a total of 72 posts; an average of 6 posts a month. At the outset I really didn't plan or indeed think there would be this many, to the contrary a new idea often turns into a stale one after a short period of time. What has happened in practice is quite the opposite in fact. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing these entries, the vast majority including some of the many photographs I have taken during the course of the year.

The past twelve months has seen a shift in my style of photography, mainly to black and white, and hopefully an improvement in the quality of my work. Looking back I know that I have learnt a great deal, both in terms of the taking but also the making of an image in post production. This now includes some of the skills and equipment required to produce a good print. The more knowledge I have acquired, the greater my realisation that there is even more to learn and that's a big plus, because there are always going to be new challenges to look forward to.

I wanted to mark this day with an image taken just a few days ago. It had been a glorious summer's day and the evening light was just beautiful, as it illuminated the trees lining the footpath and the yellow field of oil seed rape. This is now a common scene across the country, a really colourful feature of the English landscape at this time of year. In a few days time the flower heads will be gone but they are sure to return again next year.

Evening light, Idsworth
Evening light, Idsworth

I can't be sure how many people have read this blog over the last 52 weeks, however, irrespective of the number of visits, writing a blog was always intended to be a journal about my photography, which I could look back on as I chart my photographic progress. It was never about reaching out to a wider audience. After all I have no control over who does and who doesn't visit the site anyway.

My enthusiasm for this hobby has grown and grown, so I will continue to post more entries as I learn fresh skills, try new techniques and make more images.  This way, when I celebrate it's second birthday, I will be able to review another year to see how far I have come. All I do know is that if the second year is as good as the first, it will be a lot of fun.....and that's what a good hobby should be all about!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Flying in a new direction perhaps?

As far as my landscape photography is concerned I consider myself to be something of a traditionalist. I tend to adopt a rather 'classical' approach which may produce a very pleasing image, (I hope so anyway!) but it may not cross the boundary into something which might be remotely described as artistic.

Having given this a little more thought, I remembered an image I took back in February which might lend itself to a different and arguably more artistic treatment . So here is the result of my attempt at being a bit more arty!

In flight
In Flight
The crow flies away from the gorse, which is surrounded by the dune grasses
of East Head on the West Sussex coast.

As well as using my normal processing in Photoshop I have also applied 'grain' using Silver Efex Pro2, which I think adds something to this particular shot. It wouldn't work for every image but I was keen to create a more atmospheric look, as well as having a bit of fun in the making.

I have to say that I was inspired to take a fresh look at my work by the work of the Welsh photographer, Chris Tancock, and in particular his on-going project called Beating the Bounds, where he explores 'five fields over a period of five years' and documents the changes which take place over time. Chris describes himself not as a landscape photographer but as a rural documentary photographer. I would simply call him an artist, who through his excellent work tells an intimate story about the world that surrounds him. If you have not come across his work then do click through to his website on one of the links.

Does this mark a photographic change in direction? Probably not, but I do think its very important to try new things, be willing to experiment and to challenge established techniques. At the same time it's essential to enjoy the whole process, irrespective of the end result. Is it art? I don't know, but I do know that I had a lot of fun making the image and that's what really matters as far as I am concerned.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

First colour print from the Epson 3880

In a recent post I wrote about how pleased I was with the black and white results from the Epson 3880, not to mention how easy it was to set up and select the right settings. Whilst I expect most of my prints will be in monochrome, there will be times when I want to print a colour photograph, so I thought I would run a test print.

As opposed to using Lightroom I opened the image in Photoshop CS5, resized the image for A4 paper and selected the 'Photoshop manages colours' option. I also selected the ICC profile for the Fotospeed Platinum Lustre fine art paper which I had chosen for this first print.

The settings are shown in the screen shot below.

20130601-PS colour print.jpg

The print settings in the Epson print driver is shown below.

20130601-Epson 3880 colour settings.jpg

The printer started doing its job and the result looked quite promising. The printed colours were as I had hoped, although the clouds in the sky were rather more grey than blue when compared to how they appeared on the screen, but arguably more true to the scene itself.


I have taken a shot of the finished print standing against the iMac. A camera will never satisfactorily capture the true colours of a back lit computer screen so it would be wrong to compare the print with this image below, so its purely for illustrative purposes. Having said that the screen does appear to have a 'blue' cast, so this is something I need to look in to in the future. It may well be the iMac needs calibrating which is something I have not done for quite some time. So in colour terms the print isn't perfect but it's more than acceptable and frankly if it wasn't standing alongside the monitor no one would know the difference anyway.


Having seen the results of this first test print I decided to print another version of the image with the same paper, ICC profile etc but using Lightroom instead of Photoshop. Lightroom has a 'sharpening' algorithm built in, so I wanted to compare the results both in terms of sharpness but also to see whether or not there was any noticeable colour variation.

In the print module in Lightroom I used the settings below, selecting 'glossy' paper for the print sharpening.

20130602-Lightroom print settings.jpg

When laid side by side the colour rendition of the two prints was very similar. I could not detect any difference in the greens and oranges of the foreground and middle distance, nor could I see any change to the colours in the distant hills and the clouds.  It's pleasing to know there is no discernible difference when printing between these two programs, with one notable exception. The big difference between the two prints was the sharpness. I had not applied any extra sharpening when I printed from Photoshop, whereas Lightroom had applied it's own sharpening for the size of print. There is no question the additional sharpening applied by Lightroom improved the image considerably. The grasses in the foreground now had real impact. The same can be said of the wall and the branches of the trees.

Given these were the first colour prints from the Epson 3880, I am very pleased. It really is quite a printer and in no way am I disappointed with any aspect of the product. Having read so many excellent reviews before deciding to purchase the 3880, there is always the possibility that it wouldn't have met with expectations. This is far from the case. It's a first class printer which more than meets my requirements and whilst it's expensive at nearly £1,000, it fully justifies the cost in my opinion.

I now need to make sure that the quality of my photographs are up to the quality of the Epson 3880; after all, 'rubbish in and rubbish out', as the saying goes!