Even More Dramatic Tone on an Oly EPL5

This ‘Dramatic Tone’ phase in a dark cloudy winter is hopefully over soon! Overcast is an uninspiring light source at the best of times so any useful technique helps. A recent trip to Tyneham and Worbarrow Bay in Dorset (UK) provided a chance to use it again.

Tyneham – a village taken over by the army and never returned to the previous owners (the Bond family). The Bond’s family motto ‘The World is not Enough’ was used as a Bond film title.

This isn’t just a gimmick – it’s genuinely (commercially) useful at those times of the year when light is limited and flat and you need to inject some drama into an otherwise bland scene. ‘In Camera’ effects are often criticised for being a bit crass – the ‘Dramatic Tone’ is genuinely useful in black and white if used carefully, so I beg  to differ.

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A published book cover (Arcangel Images/Rob Lambert) using this technique!

Corfe Castle shot from the south. The original was pretty dreary but this is good.

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Corfe Castle – a remarkable range of tones for a winter landscape, shot with the 40-150mm kit lens.

Finally, a shot of an old farm building near the coast, inhabited by some wind battered trees.

Using the 14-42mm kit lens. The remains of a farmstead on the way to Worbarrow Bay.

Thanks for looking – hope you like these!

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Olympus PEN Dramatic Tone

As you might have guessed from the previous post, I’ve been messing around with an Olympus EPL5 lately, having sold my EPL3 earlier in the year. What I really missed was the ‘Dramatic Tone’ art filter, which is proving useful in dragging some useful images out of an otherwise overcast few days (it’s quite useful when used on video too).

A walk up on the downland on a dull day – the filter really pulls detail out of flat cloud and the pseudo ‘HDR’ effect can produce a subtle infra red effect.

It’s not great for every scene, but when the light is just right – mixed overcast when normal photography produces flat uninteresting images – this can produce some intriguing results.  These are all straight JPEGs (plus a Raw file as a backup), toned in DXO filmpack.

Sometimes the results are a real surprise – this looked nothing like this to the naked eye, but through the viewfinder (or LCD) the effects can be judged quite accurately. A real transformation of reality!

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Shot a few minutes earlier that the first shot – and completely different.

These are shot using the monochrome filter, the colour version produces results which look too artificial for my taste. You could of course argue that these look artificial – however years ago I used to work for hours in a wet darkroom to produce similar effects and it never occurred to me that I was doing any ‘unethical’ post processing. Maybe our negative attitude to computer/camera based post-processing is that the results weren’t produced by traditional darkroom skills? Whatever the reason, the results are good enough for me not to worry about it any more!

In some circumstances the images just look like a lightly dodged/burned print :-

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This result was more predictable – the cloud forms were visible to the naked eye and all it needed was something interesting in silhouette.

And on other occasions the dodge/burn effect is less than subtle…

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This one is possibly looks too over-processed!

So, whatever your attitude to post-processing images – thanks for looking and hope you like them.

Olympus VF4 Viewfinder Review

I’ve liked Olympus cameras for many years – from my very first ‘proper’ camera, an OM-1n through Trips, OM2s, an E400, an E620, an EPL3 and now an EPL5. The EPL5 is a great upgrade to the EPL3 but I’ve never been a fan of ‘arms length’ LCD camera operation, so it’s not quite ‘perfect’. Adding a viewfinder to the PEN EPL5 seemed like a good idea so I took the plunge and ordered a VF4 a week ago – and I’m very glad I did. This is a high resolution Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) – not an Optical Viewfinder (OVF) as you might think by looking at it from the back.

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The EPL5 PEN, kit 14-42mm lens and the shiny new VF4 – it appears bigger on this picture that it really is….

Firstly, an upgrade of the camera’s firmware from 1.1 to 1.2 was required – it just won’t work without it. This is done through the Oly ‘Viewer 2’ software and is pretty easy as long as you’re patient and leave the camera to update itself. The process takes around 5 minutes. You can check the firmware installed in your camera via the menu system.

After that’s done, just slide the viewfinder into the accessory port on the top of the camera and off you go. It’s worth pointing out that EVFs on the PENs take over the hot shoe – so no use of the supplied flash unit while it’s attached. This may be a problem to some, but as I never use flash it’s fine for me personally.

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The VF4 from the rear – the button is the EVF/LCD switch. The two blue circles are probably the eye sensor – not used on the EPL5  unfortunately.

The only controls are a button on the back – this switches between the LCD and the EVF, and an eyesight diopter adjustment on the right. If you’ve got a top of the range PEN there is an eye sensor which switches between LCD and EVF automatically, but on the EPL5 you’ll need to use this button. There is also a lock button on the lower left which secures the viewfinder – a nice touch as losing this rather expensive accessory would be a tragedy!

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The diopter correction wheel – this is quite stiff so won’t move accidentally.

It adds some bulk to the smallish EPL5 but not that much and seems nicely in proportion. To provide a bit of extra versatility it will also pivot at it’s front to allow the eyepiece to swing vertically through 90 degrees (and all positions in-between), which means you can compose landscape shots as if you were using an old Twin Lens Reflex camera, peering down into the viewfinder from above – very nice.

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The EVF in the vertical position. There’s a ‘push/click’ type catch which keeps it in place when ‘closed’ in the horizontal position.

What you see in the viewfinder is the ‘active’ central portion of the LCD – i.e. the strips of shooting information either side of the image on the LCD are either pushed into the image area or not reproduced e.g. the touch screen icon. The image is large, bright and detailed (2.3 million pixels) and doesn’t ‘smear’ when it’s moved – in fact it appears about as wide as a Canon 60d’s viewfinder but taller due to the 4/3 aspect ratio of the camera (the 60D is 3:2 so wider). It can’t quite match an Olympus OM system viewfinder, but it’s not too far off!

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The unlock button on the left side.

However the really – and I mean really – big improvement when shooting is when using manual focus lenses. To achieve critical focus the ‘focus magnify’ button is used to enlarge a portion of the image while focussing. On the LCD this is OK, but the LCD image is relatively small at arm’s length. On the EVF however it’s huge – and so much easier to get perfect focus.

It’s very like using MF lenses on a film SLR and so instantly familiar and comfortable – a real pleasure to use and a massive change in how useable the camera is. This is probably going to remain permanently attached!

So, if you’re thinking of getting one, especially if you shoot using MF lenses, I’d heartily recommend one.

Thanks for looking!

Shooting Doors Part Five

A few more for the Legion – hope you like them!

First one taken with a Vivitar 17mm with an OM1N on Ilford PAN F (to see how well this lens does on a DSLR look here). All very dark and mysterious.

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Next a shot on the much missed Adox CHS ART 50 film, and a door next to an oddly curved wall. A texture layer was added in Photoshop to enhance the shadow fall off to the left of the frame.

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Finally a neglected terrace door and gate, layered/textured as per the previous one. This was taken on an Oly EPL3 with the kit lens.

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As always these shots are taken for the book cover market, and all comments, critiques and questions are welcome.

Thanks for looking – hope you like them and they give you some creative ideas for your photography.

Lensbaby Magic

The Lensbaby is an unpredictable beast – the results you think you’re going don’t often appear.

So with that intro, some shots which were pre-visualised as a particular image but ended up as something better – Lensbaby ‘fairy dust’ if you like, and hypnotically good as you play around in Photoshop and watch the results emerge!

First then – one of ‘those’ shots taken by instinct on a Sweet 35 mounted on an EPL3 in the winter. I could look at the wave patterns for hours…

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Next on the plastic lens and this was vaguely what I had in mind, just better than I’d imagined.

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Finally the best example – I can’t even recognise where this was taken, just sunlight off a road somewhere and, well much more impressively abstract that whatever I’d thought of!

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As always these shots are taken for the book cover market, and all comments, critiques and questions are welcome.

Thanks for looking – hope you like them and they give you some creative ideas for your photography.

40 Years of Imaging Technology Development – how much difference has it made?

An earlier post saw me going on about how good the Olympus Trip was.  So in the interests of  ‘putting my money where my mouth is’  I got to thinking – how does it compare to a relatively recent digital equivalent – an Olympus PEN? Both are aimed at roughly the same group of  photographers, even if they are separated by a generation or two. How much has technology really improved photography at the ‘consumer end’ of the market?

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So, armed with an Olympus Trip (loaded with Agfaphoto APX100) and an Olympus EPL3 on a fine winter’s day I took the same pics with both and did a comparison – it turned out to be more of a challenge  than I anticipated.

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Trip on the left, EPL3 on the right. Not bad for the Trip but the EPL3 has a bit more dynamic range.

The EPL3 has a smallish micro 4/3 12 Mp sensor, the Trip uses full frame 35mm film so can be scanned to 20 MP, it’s only advantage. The Trip has no autofocus, no image stabilisation and only has simple metering. It’s also only equipped with ‘P’ program mode, the EPL3 has all the bells and whistles – aperture priority, ISO 200 (the lowest setting) and mid aperture were used for this comparison.

The film pics are nearly all crops – it’s surprisingly difficult to compare the field of view between a LCD and a basic viewfinder when taking comparison shots. Good fun though… This is a monochrome test because – well, I like black and white. No other reason!

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EPL3 Top, Trip bottom. More even this time – the Trip has a slightly better look but it’s only a personal preference.

To do a fair comparison, the EPL3 pics were taken in RAW and converted using default settings to JPG and desaturated in Photoshop, the Trip shots scanned, then noise reduction, ‘dust and scratches’ and unsharp mask applied which seemed fair for comparison purposes.

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Trip left, EPL3 right. The EPL3 has managed to capture more DR in the water but only marginally.

The EPL3 has a nice 14-42mm (28-84mm equiv) zoom lens, the Trip a faster fixed focus 40mm lens. this meant the ‘defining’ shot had to be taken with the Trip, then an approximation with the EPL3.

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Trip left, EPL3 right – these were framed as the same shot the same to me on the day. This was more difficult than I’d initially imagined!

As much reduced images size can only give a basic impression – so here are some crops:-

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Detail crops from the above shots – Trip left, EPL3 right. Not much in it but the EPL3 has just won this one on sharpness (and no scratches).

The APX100 film was developed in Rodinal 1+50 for 12 minutes.

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Trip left, EPL3 right. The Trip is better based on personal choice here – more subtle midtones.

It’s significant that these shots were taken in good light – the EPL3 would have such an advantage in low light that the test wouldn’t be worthwhile.

There are so many film/developer/post-processing variables that any number of answers could result from this test – I like film and digital so I’m not trying to force any conclusion – just come to a general one.

The surprising thing is that for these two ‘consumer grade’ cameras the differences aren’t that great. The Trip needs slightly more experience to get the most out of it – especially estimating focus distance, and it’s results aren’t immediately available like its modern digital equivalent. However within the restrictions imposed by its age the Trip can put up a decent performance against its modern digital descendent which surprised me.

Maybe it shouldn’t though – film technology had many decades of development before it was widely dropped in favour of digital 10 to 15 years ago. The EPL3 is a very capable camera for all everyday uses, as was the Trip in its day. I’m really surprised that the Trip can still – just – hold its own against a much younger rival.

Is the inconvenience (some might say fun) of using film worth it versus the convenience and sharp clarity of digital? B/W film + home processing is £3 for 36 (more carefully) taken shots so you’ve got around 3000 shots before the cost equation is equal (the Trip was £50 refubished, the EPL3 £300). I’d personally say yes – on aesthetic as well as cost grounds, but many would say no!

Hope you find this interesting and thanks for looking – I had loads of fun doing this!

Shooting Doors Part Four

A few more for the Legion – hope you like them!

First one – a badly bashed up and overgrown door on an old farm. APX100 film, OM1N.

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This is ‘quality’ peeling paint – Canon 60D + some basic post processing.

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Can’t do a post without a Lensbaby shot…. This one’s the Sweet 35 on an Olympus Pen.

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Well it’s part of a door… The slatted parts made a nice graphic pattern surrounding the latch.

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This one was taken as part of the series in the Rollei Blackbird film post – Zuiko 50mm F1.4 wide open.

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Thanks for looking – hope they give you some ideas for your photography (doors in this case!).