Olympus thoughts after a month

OM-D E-M1 and  40-150 lens Top
I have now had my Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera for just over 1 month (purchased on 5th November) although it seems much longer for two reasons. The first is that I had decided to go for the E-M1 over a month before I purchased it at the LCE Photo and Optics show; there were a myriad of reasons for waiting and the results was that I got a much better deal by wating too.

The second reason is the sheer amount of images that I have taken and the fact that I have used the camera in two Olympus organised events starting with a 2 day course with Damian McGillicuddy in East Bridgford and a 1 day course this week with Rob Pugh in Reading. I now know one of the Olympus employees quite well as I have seen him at each event as well as the LCE Photo and Optics show – Aiden is a great guy and is so helpful.

I have already posted my thoughts about Olympus in general here but this post is about the actual camera and system that I have built up since acquiring the camera.

At first all I had was the E-M1 with the excellent 12-40mm f2.8 Pro lens, this was added to some existing gear, a few Cactus Speed Lights and a Panasonic Leica Summilux 25mm f1.4 lens. I also purchased the 40-150mm f2.8 PRO lens and 1.4x Tele-converter kit. Although I now have the 40-150mm f2.8 lens there is no sign of the 1.4x tele-converter and the LCE store that I use do not know (nor do Olympus UK its seems) when they will have them in stock. Some time ago WEX Photographic had a few in stock but they sold out quickly; this wouldn’t have helped me anyway as I have to get the converter from LCE. After all LCE will honour the kit price for the 2 separate items which has allowed me to get the lens before the kit is generally available which is Jan/Feb next year.

I had already played with an OM-D E-M1 a little but before I owned the camera and to help I also downloaded a PDF copy of the user manual too, so it wasn’t my first time handling the body. At first many of the controls seemed alien to me and I really hated the menu system as well as the font on the rear screen when the Super Control Panel (SCP) was displayed. That said the I personally felt that the EVF, control dials, shutter button, grip and overall feel of the camera were (and still are) excellent.

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The implementation of the WiFi is the best one I have found and worked first time, I remember trying with the Fujifilm X-T1 and this never worked reliably. Having a WiFi icon on the display is great and means that we don’t waste a button. Having a control lever on the rear of the camera to enable the control dials to perform two separate functions was a touch of genius and I don’t know why more cameras don’t do this.

Thanks to the two courses I have attended and the excellent Gary Friedmann book I am a lot more proficient in setting the camera up and how to use the Super Control Panel and the menus to enable the feature that I am after. There is still some way to go before I am truly au fait but I am pleased with my progress and now like the menus and SCP – the true key to controlling the camera is to fully utilise the SCP as there are some items in there that cannot be found anywhere else.

On my last course (with Rob Pugh) I learnt for the first time how to set a custom white balance using nothing more than a white cloth. This is something that I have never done before on a Canon or Nikon and was so easy to do, I also like the way that once you have taken the white balance reading you are given the option of assigning this to one of four white balance pre-sets. Rob also when through his “Hollywood” black and white settings and how to assign this to a pre-set. By the end of the day I was quite confident in what I was trying to achieve with the camera. I also had one of those total clarity moments; with a DSLR you take a picture, check the shot, adjust, take a picture – repeat. With a mirror-less camera you frame the picture, adjust and then take the picture and then move onto the next shot – it seems obvious but it has taken a lot of work to move away from the DSLR way of doing things and making better use of the advantages that a mirror -less camera provides.

So all in all I am pleased with my decision to move to the Olympus MFT system, the E-M1 is an excellent camera and most if not all of the Olympus glass is excellent too. There are not many gaps left in the system and the gaps that are there are mostly filled with lenses from Panasonic, Sigma, Samyang/Rokinon and many others. Olympus themselves are releasing two additional PRO lenses (to accompany the 12-40mm f.8 and 40-150mm f2.8) next year; these are the 7-14mm 2.8 and the 300mm f4. These two allow Olympus to have their own “Holy Trinity” of f2.8 zooms and for the first time we also have a true fast Telephoto lens that will be great for the Wildlife shots that I enjoy taking, the 300mm can also be used with the 1.4x tele-converter which gives a 420mm f5.6 lens which is truly astounding*.

Image from PhotoRumours

Image from PhotoRumours

*NOTE: I have decided to stop reporting what the 35mm “full-frame” field of view equivalents are as I exclusively use MFT and I know what wide, normal and telephoto focal lengths are. For those who need to convert simply double the focal lengths to obtain what the equivalent 35mm field of view equivalents. This is similar to when you learn a language, at first you have to convert everything to your native language to understand. However, after a time you simply understand the foreign language’s words directly and no conversion is necessary.

So I am enjoying the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and the lenses that I now own. I see a long future with the camera system – I know that I have said this about the other systems I have tried over the last few years. The initial proof will be shown over the next few months and then if I am still evangelising in a year’s time we’ll know if it’s true.

There are only a few small items that I don’t like, the list is much smaller than before as I have now used the camera. The battery life and the reporting of battery life are not great, this isn’t a fault that only affects Olympus as it affects all of the mirror-less cameras out there today. This is not the worst of the bunch, the Sony A7 series cameras for example are probably the worst – that big 35mm full-frame sensor just eats the battery. At both events I have been caught out by the battery simply dying on me. Although I do have a spare, I see that I will need at least a couple more batteries to combat this – at £60 each they aint cheap. I also need to start using the battery grip too, this allows the use of two batteries and improves the handling of the 40-150mm f2.8 PRO lens too.

Unfortunately, I cannot fit the gripped EM-1 into my Lowepro Event Messenger 150 bag, I need one that is bit bigger (wider). The additional problem is that the 40-150mm lens doesn’t fit in there well either, you can get it in the bag at a push – I knew that I should have kept my Hadley Billingham bag :(

Lowepeo Event Messenger 150

For now I have had to use my much larger Nova 200 AW bag instead which whilst it holds nearly all of my gear is simply too big to take to work every day. It’s OK for dedicated photo shoots though and with a bit of careful re-arrangement I reckon I can get all of my photo gear in there. WEX Photographic have 10% off all of their bags until the end of the year so I will have to see if I can get the right bag – there is no such thing as the perfect bag though.

Hartsholme Park with the E-M1 and 40-150mm lens

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Yesterday I visited Hartsholme Park which is only a few miles from where I live; I met up with Richard; he wanted to try out his newly acquired Nikon D800 with his and Nikon 300mm f2.8 lens and I wanted to try out my OM-D E-M1 with my newly acquired Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm f2.8 PRO lens. I was hoping that I would also have my Olympus M.Zuiko 1.4x tele-converter which would extend my range to 56-210mm (at f4.0) too . Unfortunately my local LCE store hasn’t managed to get me one yet as these are still quite rare in the UK at the moment.

Richard has already written his blog post about the event, you can read that here. He also has a picture of yours truly taking a picture of a squirrel.

We met up at just after 9AM, both attaching our respective tele lenses to our Gitzo tripods, fortunately for me one of my existing Kirk Arca Swiss plates (purchased for a Canon lens) mates quite well with the tripod collar’s foot on my 40-150mm lens. Just in case I also attached another Kirk arca-swiss plate (this one for a Canon 70D) to the E-M1’s battery grip whilst not as good a fit as the one on the lens it should suffice if I wish to use another lens.

The main benefit to the Micro-Four-Thirds (MFT) system (and this applies equally to Olympus and Panasonic) is that the overall size and weight of the system is much smaller than the DSLR equivalents. The zoom lens that I had was at the extreme tele end equivalent to Richard’s 300mm f2.8 lens (in field-of-view terms) and the extra depth of field that the MFT lens has over a 35mm full-frame body (such as a Nikon D800) is actually a benefit in capturing wildlife photography. Whilst packing my camera into the bag and just giving a final check I did laugh at Richard’s tweet that morning about how heavy his lens was :).

So after a short walk we set up at our usual place and started to shoot. This is the first time that I had used my E-M1 on a tripod and the first time that I has used the tripod in many months in fact I cannot remember the last time I used it. However, the light weight of the system was a joy to use.

Not long after we started to take pictures Richard commented about how quiet my shutter sounded – another benefit to the MFT system. If I was using a Panasonic GH3, GH4 or GX7 it could have been totally silent.

At this time of the day the light was changing rapidly and it was difficult to keep up, I tried both Aperture and shutter priority as I needed to make sure that the shutter speed stayed above 1/500 second, having an aperture of f2.8 to play with certainly helped, even so I had to push the ISO up to around 640-800 which didn’t help matters with regards to image quality. This is more of problem when you need to crop the images; unfortunately 150mm even on MFT is not enough reach, I really need that tele-converter!

Common Coot:
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I was trying out different exposure compensations and what I was seeing in the Electronic ViewFinder (EVF) as being clipped didn’t seem to correlate with the live histogram in the EVF. This meant that I wasn’t sure what I was seeing so in the end I gave up with the priority modes and switched to manual exposure. I have to say this is the first time that I have had to do this but using and EVF I could intuitively adjust the aperture and (if needed) the shutter speed to get the correct exposure. For the most part this worked quite well and I have never been able to do this before.

I also tried lots of different focusing modes and whilst there is still scope for much improvement here the focusing system on the E-M1 did manage more than its fair share of “in-focus” shots. I also managed to get some (slightly soft) images of a couple of Egyptian Geese flying in:
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I must commend the EVF on the E-M1, it is so good that I almost forgot I was using one. Having the various detail within the viewfinder means you never need to take it away from your eye, this matched with the direct control dials and switches just makes using this a dream.

(Mating) Mallard Ducks:
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One area that the E-M1 was far superior over the D800 was the drive modes; the E-M1 can shoot between 6.5fps and 10fps depending on whether you need to maintain focus tracking or not. I shot mainly at the lower speed to keep the number of shots down. I always shoot in RAW + Fine High Quality JPEG and I never hit the buffer limit once; according to DPReview this is 39 shots at the lower speed.

Male Mallard Duck:
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The fact that the EVF kept up with the continuous drive mode was impressive, I remember trying this before with earlier mirror-less cameras and using the EVF would be essentially useless until you took your finger off the shutter button and evn then you sometimes had to wait for the buffer to clear. I’m amazed at how we have come.

The main bird species at Hartsholme Park were the black-headed gulls:
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Duting the shoot I noticed some rustling to my left and saw a rather large pair of wood pigoens, so I just took my E-M1 and lens combo off the tripod and shot handheld. I remember reading Richard’s blog and this is not something he wanted to do with his D800+300mm lens so he just moved his tripod. Going handheld allowed me to quickly get lower and therefore a better composition.

Wood Pigeon:
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In addition to the wood pigeon there was one (and then two) grey squirrels collecting leaves in their mouths and taking to them what look like a nest (called a Drey) in the tree-tops. It was quite amusing watching them do this back and forth collecting leaves and small twigs. I think Richard captured a video on his D800.

Once I moved back slightly one of the squirrels stopped and then looked at me, I managed to capture a few frames, this being the best one:
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The unfortunate side-effect of using the (low) continuous drive mode was that I took over 600 shots and after about an hour and 20 minutes the card was full

More black-headed gulls:
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I took this a sign that the shoot was complete; I did after all had to go home and cook a Lamb Tagine (that was very nice by the way). I used GPS4Cam to capture the GPS co-ordinates for the shoot and nearly forgot to take the final QR-Code you need at the end of the shoot; I had to use another card to do this. I took a few shots and made sure that they were blur free.

Using GPS4Cam is really simple and when I got home adding the GPS coordinates to the JPG and RAW files was really simple. This is with out a doubt the best phone based GPS system out there and doesn’t rely on synchronizing clocks, you should give it a go if you have an iPhone or Android based phone; the “computer” companion software part works on Macs and PCs too.

It was nice to go out and shoot wildlife but both Richard and I are very rusty as we haven’t done this in a long while. I need to find the best focusing method on the E-M1 and also find a better way to control exposure too as you can see from the shots that some of them are a little dark. I see a new-year’s resolution coming (go out and shoot more wildlife) and hopefully I will get my tele-converter before Christmas too.

The Wedding Photography Business

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Last Monday (8th December) I was lucky enough to be invited to another Olympus organised training event; unlike the previous one with Damian McGillicuddy this one didn’t cost me anything – thank you Olympus :).

The event called “The Wedding Photography Business” had another Olympus Ambassador in attendance – Rob Pugh and like Damian was a photographer I wanted to meet. Rob is a nice guy and you can tell that he is really enthused about Wedding Photography as is evidenced by his beautiful pictures and total understanding of what is required to make it in this business.

For me the day started with getting up at 04:30 in the morning and then leaving my house in Lincoln at 05:35 to get to the event in Reading for around 09:00. The journey started well getting through Newark quickly and was OK until I left the A46 and got onto the M1 which after about 10 miles become an exercise in 50MPH-Stop-50-Stop-50-Stop, etc., the whole journey was like this and I eventually got to the venue at 09:20. There was no parking anywhere near the hotel so after much frustration I found a reasonably large car park near the Train Station (cost me £17.25 – and I thought parking in Lincoln was expensive). So after parking up and getting my bearings I ventured towards the hotel arriving just before 10:00.

As I was about to open the main door into the Hotel it was opened by none other than Rob himself and this was a very nice start to the main event of the day – did I say that Rob was a nice guy. I was fortunate to not be the last person to turn up. Once I had sat down I noticed Aiden (from Olympus) was there and he remembered (from the Big Shoot Experience event) that I had asked to try one of his old lenses with MFT adapter which he handed me and I had a go of the lens.

After a quick coffee and the arrival of the final tenth photographer Rob and Claire (from Olympus) started the day off.

Rob went through his business and discussed the gear he used, most of what he used was of no real surprise but he did go through how he carries the Olympus bodies and lenses which was very interesting. Naturally different parts of the wedding required different lenses and presented different lighting challenges.

Rob uses a variety of lighting tools and although he has a number of Olympus FL600R flash guns when he needs to use on camera TTL (for the dancing at the end of the wedding where the subject to flash distance is constantly variable) he also uses a LumoPro LP180 flash inside a medium sized soft-box and fired via a Pocketwizard. He is also a strong advocate of the Westcott “Ice Light” and had a few of these along with some accessories such as the Barndoor set and extended usage power packs; the majority of the lighting during the day was provided using one of the ice lights although he also showed how he used each of the other aforementioned lighting tools too.

Like previous Olympus events they (Olympus) were also on hand to provide the loan of cameras and lenses to the photographers at the event. Unlike my last organised event, most of the photographers were already Olympus users and those that weren’t made use of the loan cameras and lenses during the day. One of the photographers made use of his non mirror-less Olympus four-thirds (FT) DSLR camera during the day and although it did not offer as much functionality as the newer Micro-Four-Thirds (MFT) cameras it did have a full vari-angle rear display which is something none of the current Olympus cameras offer anymore.

There was still no sign of the 1.4x tele-converter at the event but to be fair this is not something you would need for a wedding.

Rob also discussed the required number of shots; he recommends taking between 350 to 400 hundred shots for each wedding form prep to ceremony to group shots to post wedding breakfast meal and final dances. Taking anymore makes choosing the best shots difficult and will take much longer to get the required images – time is literally money here.

Rob also talked about the business side of wedding photography and this was of real interest, there are certain things to avoid and certain things to go for but it does sound a bit complicated and getting the right kind of help upfront would be a good idea. He also covered having a backup photographer in case you cannot make a shoot; the best way is to be each other’s backup. Finally he also talked about having an assistant with you on the shoot as this can make the day easier too, he suggest that all of the photographers (who were all male) hire a female assistant as they can go places the male photographers cannot especially during the bridal prep session. This is something my friend Richard agrees with, his wife is his assistant when he shoots weddings.

So with the business side and the gear side out of the way we went through a few of the essential shots throughout the day:

  • Bridal Prep detail shots
  • Bride Portrait
  • Bride and Groom Portraits
  • Bride and Groom Ceremony
  • Bride and Groom post ceremony shots

The whole pace of the event was very different to the previous event that I went to. Whereas Damian takes as much time as he needs to get the shot and get it right, Rob has to get a large number of shots throughout the day and as soon as the shot he’s going for is taken he moves onto the next. You cannot afford the luxury of taking too long for each shot, the group shots for example should take between 20 and 30 minutes – the wedding guests will actually thank you for this if you manage to achieve this.

Once the presentation was over we went upstairs to one of the bedrooms in the hotel to go for the first shots. We started on one of the detail shots, these are great to use in albums at strategic places to help with the overall day’s experience. We started with the brides shoes:
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Here is the bride (a model of course) waiting whilst we took our detail shots, at the right you can see Rob talking about how to use the Ice Light:
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Here is the second detail shot, one of the flowers on the bouquet:
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We tried some portrait shots of the bride next, we had to crop the left side of the bride’s body to exclude the harsh shadow form the spot light that was being used:
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One of the shots with the bide having makeup applied is also another key shot that is required, although this was taken in the darkened environment as is shown here it would have been better to have this take place near the windows of the room as the lighting is much better:
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Once the male model/groom showed up we went for the typical fiddling with the cufflinks shot, here you can see the quality of the light coming through the net curtain:
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We also took a few shots of the bride and groom together, these are my favourite shots of the day, I love the bride’s cheeky smile in the first photograph:
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We left the hotel room and ventured downstairs; to the bottom of the stair case was a black grand piano, the piano had been very well polished and was therefore highly reflective, we all took quite a few shots in black & white as well as colour, Roib gave us a great “Hollywood Black and White” in-camera setting. Although these are edited RAW photographs they are quite similar to the JPEG files that were created:
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I took a few bride and groom shots at the piano but they weren’t as good as the bride only shots:
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After a break we went over to a small chuch a short distance away, the church was very picturesque. Rob talked the group through a number of shots that are required. As well as taking photographs during the ceremony (within any restrictions that the vicar has) you sometimes have the couple stay behind once the other guests have left tot get the key shots.

Here is Rob talking with the models about the next shot:
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I took a number of photographs in the church and must admit that this is where the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 excels, I had to crop most of shots and a number weren’t very well focused. However this one of the groom came out very well:
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We had to keep changing the white balance and Rob showed us how to set a pre-set white balance on the OM-D E-M1 using a white object in the room. Once I had this set I noticed that the colour cast that as affecting some of my images went away.

I managed to get a nice candid shot of the bride whilst the next shot was being set-up:
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Rob’s next idea was to have the bride and groom sit in prayer in front of the church’s virgin Mary figurine. The stained glass windows and the blue and gold star wall made the shot. We all made used of Rob’s Pocket Wizard Trigger and Lumopro LP180 light in a softbox light:
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Once we were finished in the church we went outside try and see if using some nice colourful bokeh using some inexpensive battery operated fairly lights. Once we had some additional lighting set up we all took our shots and I have to say that I also like this photo too:
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The final shot of the day was for the cutting of the cake, unfortunately I only got two photographs, the first is out-of-focus and the second had another photographer in the background so there is no shot here. It’s a good job that this is a mockup wedding :).

Although it was a long day, I had a great time and learned a lot on lighting, white balance settings, compositions, getting the most out of my camera and lots of other stuff besides. I would like to thank Rob and Olympus.

If you get the chance to go to one of the Olympus My Space events – please go they are well worth it and if you want to see more of Rob’s work you can go to his website here.

The Olympus Big Shoot Experience

On Thursday and Friday last week I was fortunate enough to attend two days of the three day “Big Shoot Experience” with Damian McGillicuddy and his team. Over the two days a number of photographers and I were given an insight into how Damian and his team create and produce portfolio grade photographs.

I had a great time and I learnt an awful lot. It was also very nice to meet other photographers some like me who do this as a hobby and a number of them are working photographers who came to hone their skills working with a pro like Damian.

Olympus UK are very active in the training and trying in a real environment arena. They have a dedicated site which details the activities that they along with working Olympus professional photographers and retailers are involved in. You can access the site from here.

Details of the two days I attended are as follows:

  • Day One details here
  • Day Two details here

The models (Bexie and Pixie) were excellent and very patient working with novices like me who still find the whole direction rapport with models not as straight forward as others. This was an area that the working photographers were much better at; I still find this a little bewildering. :(

Damian along with his Make Up Artist (MUA) Zoe work together to produce the shots and it was evident how they worked together. Damian explains what he is after and Zoe helps the model to create the overall look that is needed for the shoot.

I would also like to thank Aiden from Olympus UK who was there with a large number of Olympus bodies and lenses and was on hand to help with any technical issues that Damian or the delegates like me had. I remember Aiden from the LCE Photo and Optics show earlier in November and it was nice to have a few conversations with him. He like everyone else involved in the shoot was very nice and approachable.

Finally I would like to thank Jan who looks after Studio Antics and is very interested in keeping the interest alive long after Damian leaves to his next Olympus assignment; I hope to keep in touch and also get involved in some of the activities Jan is planning. I had no idea that this place existed and it will be nice to see some of the other photographers there again.

Day One
The first day was split into two halves and a shoot was prepared for each one.

I love the imagination that Damian has for each set-up he had a story to tell in each shot and this helps him and his MUA “dress” the model and design the set to portray that story. The story is very important as without one there is little point in taking the picture.

The first shoot involved a model who was playing chess to win (a Porsche) and after a quite lengthy set-up Damian achieved the look and lighting that he was after. He showed why he used a light meter and then explained about that the final medium in print had such a limited dynamic range (much less than the camera can produce) that he needed to ensure that the difference between the darkest and lightest part of the picture was within this limited range.

Although I took a number of photos throughout the two days this shoot provided my best and favourite photo, it has gotten many likes on Facebook:
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I got quite a few shots in this first shot that are also very good too:
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After lunch we then started to construct the second shot of the day, this took much longer than the first one as the lighting was more complex. I am less happy with my shot and the other versions that I have seen are better:
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Day Two
On the second day we managed to get in three shots. Like the first day we spent some time configuring each shoot. It all starts with an idea and for the first shot the architecture of the building meant that Damian had to change the initial shots angle somewhat and once the lighting was in place and following a quick wardrobe change for Bex the best position was found. Once Damian had got his shot he let the rest of us have a go, here is my effort:
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Following lunch we went back downstairs for the second photo, this time Pixie was in a very elegant Wedding Dress and once the set had been constructed and the lighting was fine-tuned Damian got his shot and again we all had a go:
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Due to an even larger number of photographers for the second “half” day it took some time for each of us to have a go, I managed to take a nice one from the other corner of the room (camera left of original picture), it seemed that the flash went off as I was taking my picture (a total fluke), this shows Pixie’s beautiful back:
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Once we were all finished with the second shoot Damian (after a small break) explained his third shot to us. We went into the Dining room and all managed to see the shot being constructed. During the lighting setup Damian needed the assistant of Boom Man (his assistant – James) to help throw flash light onto the rear wall. You can see a short (YouTube) video about this here, this gives an idea of Damian’s humour too:

The final speed-light was placed outside so it could throw a bit of light into the room through the window. Once the shot was set-up, Damian got what he was after and we all had a go with and without the coffee cup; my favourite is as follows:
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Voigtländer 42.5mm f0.95 Nokton Micro Four Thirds Lens
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One to the great things about these Olympus events was the number of lenses that you can try with your Olympus camera. Along with the Olympus lenses Damian also had a Voigtländer 42.5mm too (he actually used this on his third shoot). The limited depth of field at f0.95 is astonishing and using light peaking to focus is essential if you want sharp shots.

You can get an idea of this from this shot of the Chess Board:
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This was taken in ambient light, and there wasn’t much of that in the room. The lens used to cost almost £1K but as it is more common it now retails for around £739 from WEX Photographic.

Other things
I learnt a number of good important points during the two days, you can have the vision created and produced by Damian for each shoot, you can have the same settings in your camera that Damian was using and the same advantage point, you can have the model proving a number of poses for your shot. You can have all of this and still fluff the shot!

During the event there was only a single 40-150mm f2.8 PRO lens there and this was Damian’s lens. Aiden used to have one too but had to give it up for another trade show (Olympus are hosting a lot of these at the moment), apparently there are only around 14 of these in the UK at the moment. I talked to both Damian and Aiden about my pre-order and although they couldn’t say for definite, that they had both been told availability starting in December – so I should get one. As a side note a non Pro announced on the Olympus UK Facebook Group that he had got one from the Leamington branch of LCE – this bodes well for me as my pre-order is with LCE too (albeit the Lincoln one).

There was no sign of the 1.4x tele-converter at the event so I may have to wait for this part as there are no firm availability announcements about this yet.

I played with many different lenses at the event from the 12mm to the 75mm and they are all superb lenses. The biggest surprise for me was the versatility of the 45mm f1.8 lens; this is the cheapest M.Zuiko prime lens and would be a fantastic addition to my kit. The few Olympus shooters that were there were surprised that I did not own this lens!

The training events are camera agnostic and don’t care which camera you use; if you wish, you can try an Olympus outfit but you are under no obligation to do this. I noticed that some of the photographers were really keen to give them a go (one or two did not take up this opportunity) and I see some possible new OM-D users on the horizon.

Finally, I also learnt an awful lot on how to use my camera over the last few days and I am starting to know my way around the menus and have just sorted to configure to the way that I shoot. I hope to eventually set up some of the “My Sets” which are the custom modes on the camera in the not too distant future.

If you get the chance to go to one of the Olympus My Space events – please go they are well worth it!

Light Meters

Sekonic L-208 Lightmeter
Ever since I started taking pictures I have never once used a light-meter I was always of the opinion that the meter in the camera was always up to the job; if it wasn’t “quite right” you just applied some exposure compensation. With practice you could also apply this before taking the picture depending on the subject, lighting conditions and camera/lens combination in use.

The meters in the cameras got better and along with centre-weighted metering came complex manufacturer created algorithm based measuring methods such as Matrix or Evaluative metering. Spot and partial (Canon’s proprietary “large spot” metering system) meters were added to the pro cameras and are now found on nearly all DSLR/CILC cameras too.

With digital photography this got easier as you could take multiple shots and if the one you took wasn’t OK you would just take another shot, bracketing your shots no longer cost anything (apart from more post capture image sorting maybe). Capturing in RAW and using software programs like Adobe Lightroom allowed even more control and some shots could be rescued from incorrect exposure settings – to a degree anyway.

Another revolution came with mirror-less cameras that allow you to fully preview the shot before the picture is taken – provided it is configured that way.

So with all of these enhancements why are light meters (still) required?

The main issue with the in-camera meters is that they take reflective light readings; i.e. they measure the light being reflected off the subject you are taking pictures of and this is different to measuring the light falling onto the subject. This is particularly evident when taking pictures of a subject that is predominately black (i.e. a Groom) or white (Bride in white wedding dress).

Assuming you can approach the subject (be that a person, animal or object) you should meter the light falling onto the subject – i.e. take an incident light meter reading; even the best camera in the world cannot do this you need a light meter. There are a few exceptions to the rule (isn’t there always) such as translucent subjects. When you start to add flash into the mix the in-camera meter has a really hard time getting the correct exposure.

I was never sure if I needed to add a light-meter to my lighting set-up that I have progressively been creating over the last few months. That was until I watched Damian McGillicuddy at work at this year’s LCE Photo and Optics show; he showed how using a meter you could gradually create lighting configuration he required (he calls this his Lego-brick method) with taking a single test shot.

Although Damian uses a very advanced Sekonic (he is after all sponsored by Sekonic) he points out that he only uses a small portion of its features, so as long as you don’t need the advanced features a more basic model will do.

Sekonic L-308s

I had a look and after a bit of research (via Google) I found that the Sekonic L-308S would be suitable for the job. This meter usually retails for around £150 but thanks to an Amazon Black-Friday lightning deal I managed to get one for only ⅔rds the price. You can read more about this meter here.

Part of my research involved looking at the various YouTube videos initially about this meter but also about light-meter usage in general. The two following YouTube videos from the PhotoVideoEDU team (www.photovideoedu.com) provide a good explanation of how to use the light meter in two different situations.

The video “Measuring and Evaluating Light in Landscape Photography” was filmed on 6th August 2012 but the techniques are still relevant and show how to use a light meter for Landscape photographs. Even though I was talking about portrait photographs earlier the principals are the same and I do take landscape photographs:

The second video “Adding Fill Flash for Beautiful Ambient Light Portraits” was produced this year (21st April) and although is typically using a much newer touch-screen Sekonic light meter still follows the same principals. The trainer also mentions how to use the older L-308S to do the same thing:

Another photographer that I respect that advocates the use of a light meter is Frank Doorhof, there are any many articles on the Internet about this, the best one to start with is the one titled “Why I use a Light Meter (and You should, Too)”, you can read this here. I recommend a quick trip to Google and search for “Frank Doorhof on light meters“. If you have a Kelby One subscription you can watch many of his training videos too and one of them goes into great detail on how he uses the light meter.

I have read through the manual a couple of times and it seems that using the light meter is quite easy; I’m glad I didn’t go for a more expensive, complex model as I would still be reading the manual now.

I also hope to learn a lot more about using light meters at the Olympus Big Shoot Experience that is hosted by Damian McGillicuddy at the end of this week (from tomorrow in fact) there are a number of training opportunities to choose from and I will be there on Thursday morning and all day Friday too. There is a Saturday option but unfortunately I couldn’t afford this as well – maybe next time Damian is in the vicinity. The shoot is taking place at Studio Antics which is just outside Nottingham (East Bridgford).

Hopefully I will be able to try-out the meter whilst I am there to see it in action.

Sony’s A7 Mark II and Forum nonsense

Sony A7-II Front

Last week Sony announced the second version of their popular “35mm full-frame” 24MP A7 camera – the A7 Mark II. Along with a number of feature updates and improvements to the Autofocus system the headline new feature is IBIS or In-Body Image stabilisation. When I read this I was surprised as they seemed to be headed down the road of Optical lens based Image Stabilisation a technology they call Optical Steady Shot (or OSS) for their zoom lenses.

What is not known at this stage if this a technology they will eventually roll out to their entire A7 range (i.e. the 36MP A7R and the 12MP low-light beast the A7S) or if this will be an exclusive feature to the A7 markII.

A lot of people are aware of the fact that Olympus and Sony are linked together in that Sony helped out when Olympus was suffering due to an “accounting problem”. The precise details of this are not publicly known and it could be expected that some joint ventures or technical licensing deals would come out of this deal.

The fact that the A7-II has IBIS and the Olympus cameras also have IBIS (and have done for some time now) hasn’t escaped the rumour sites and forums. The consensus is that Sony got this technology from Olympus. Sony claim that this isn’t the case and maybe this is true or the fact that the technology was adapted from a small MFT sensor makes it a new Sony technology is also not known.

Sony A7-II Top

For example some of the Nikon sensors are made by Sony (others by Toshiba and Aptina) even though Nikon claims this isn’t so; Nikon has no sensor fabrication capability so we don’t know why Nikon claim this. It may be that the coupling of the sensor into Nikon bodies along with their image processing allows Nikon to make these kind of claims?

So whether this is Olympus technology or not it doesn’t really matter. This is great for existing and would be Sony full-frame mirror-less users.

Forum Nonsense
I was over at the DPReview site today and was perusing the Olympus DSLR forum and one of the topics was along the lines of: “If Sony got the IBIS from Olympus – what did Olympus get from Sony?”. Although the intent of the topic was quite innocent, it is quite naive to expect a sensible answer to this from a forum; I also suspect that the answer, if this is true is very complex and will never be known to those outside of the Olympus and Sony board members.

As usual after the first suppositions, the topic had morphed into something off topic and it is this that I have a problem with. There were many users that are saying that it is now game over for Olympus as their “crown jewel” – their 5-axis IBIS technology is no longer exclusive in the mirror-less camp.

WTF? I cannot fathom why a lot of users think that the only point to own an Olympus based MFT system is because of the IBIS! I’m sorry but the main reason a lot, in fact the majority of people pick any small-sensor camera is down to weight and size.

Yes the IBIS is fantastic and when you are using an EVF (or rear screen) the only advantage to optical based IS technology is gone. Not having optical IS in lenses keeps their weight and size down and also means that legacy lenses that were created before IS lenses existed also benefit from IBIS when needed too. I was amazed at how good the IBIS system on the OM-D is but the IBIS only made me choose Olympus over Panasonic – both are MFT systems. If I was primarily concerned with video then I think that I would have picked Panasonic, but the better stills camera is the OM-D and not just because it has the IBIS technology.

Granted, a few members of the forum tried to point this out but there were drowned out by the “game over” members – I wonder what camera they use – are they actually trolls from other systems?

One day I may learn to steer clear of forums and comments on some of the websites as most of the people who post on them cannot behave and then change the intent of the forum topic or web site comments into something that has nothing to do with anything but asserting FUD!

Updated: 25th November @ 19:00 to correct the inaccuracy that only Sony made Nikon’s sensors. Thanks Anders!

LL first look at Samsung NX1

NX1_01_LARGE-0
One of the most interesting cameras at Photokina this year was the Samsung NX1, this APS-C sensor sized camera seems to including everything including the proverbial kitchen sink. This is the only recent camera release that I have not had a go of (apart from the Leica T series) but as neither of my local stores stock any Samsung gear it is unlikely I will get to see one in the near future. Also looking at the price of the camera I don’t see this appearing at the stores that normally do stock Samsung gear such as PC World or Currys for example.

However, a few of the various photographic based web sites out there have managed to get a hold of some of the initial production level camera bodies and lenses to give people like me an idea of what to expect. One of the better ones is the Luminous Landscape and the founder – Michael Reichmann – has posted his first thoughts on the camera here.

Michael has even posted a few images taken with the camera including some high ISO shots, I recommend that you give this a read. Samsung have clearly been thinking outside the box and if they can get the marketing sorted out and start to really talk to the photographic retailers and some of the pro photographers could be a force to be reckoned with. They have the money and they seem to understand how to make good bodies and glass and they are not hindered by other manufacturers as they make their own sensors too.

I will be going to next year’s Photography Show at the NEC in March next year and hopefully Samsung will decide to be there (they are not on the exhibitors list at the moment) and I will get a chance to have a go with the NX1.

You can read a more at Samsung’s site here.

You can pre-order the NX1 from WEX Photographic for £1299 here. There is also a “pro” kit that includes the body, lens, battery grip, second battery and charger but this does not seem to be available in the UK at the moment.

What do I think? Well I have invested into the MFT (Micro Four Thirds) system at the moment and I am very happy with the quality of images I get and the overall “bulk” or lack thereof so won’t be switching. If I wasn’t invested I would give this a serious consideration but I suspect that even though it is an APS-C sensor sized system it still might be too heavy for me – but I won’t know for sure until I can handle one. Maybe one of local LCE stores will stock them next year?