A Few Abstract Landscapes

The chalk downland between Dorset and Wiltshire is a superb location for photography. The gently rolling ploughed fields produce some hypnotic patterns which are the subject of this weeks post (well most of it). All shot on an Oly EpL5 using the basic 40-150 f4-5.6 kit lens which is excellent given it’s price and light weight and pretty sharp one stop down from it’s modest maximum aperture.

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To get that ‘flattened perspective’ the long end of the telephoto zoom range is needed – not normally considered a landscape focal length, but as some readers may have noticed, on this blog it’s all about breaking those classical photographic rules to achieve a ‘different’ result (or maybe just being contrary)…

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To further enhance the abstract effect, monochrome has been used, and to maximise contrast the Oly’s ‘Dramatic Tone’ and some heavy post processing has been ‘inflicted’ on these images.

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The jpeg’s straight out of the camera are already heavily stretched across a broad tonal range, so they’re quite ‘brittle’ during post processing. The worst side effect is a tendency to see heavy banding in the sky so careful exposure is required (it’s just visible in the shot above).  This is usually only seen in clear blue skies, but with a 300mm equivalent lens to play with (150mm on micro four thirds), just cheat and don’t include too much sky…

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These lines of trees have yielded some good images in autumn – looks like they’re also quite photogenic in winter too.

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Next one of those odd ones which I quite like but I’m not sure why. The two trees frame the distant view,  and the dramatic tone effect has given a lightening effect around the trunks. The bokeh produced by the little 40-150mm Zuiko is quite good too!

Finally – one not in the slightest way connected with abstract landscapes but I thought I’d throw it in anyway just for fun :-

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This looks like a grad filter effect but it’s a result of that dramatic tone doing odd – but very good – things….

Thanks for looking – hope you like them.

 

p.s. if you like this effect, have a look at this WordPress photo blog (he’s rather taken with ‘Dramatic Tone’ too!) – Postcard Cafe.

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Dramatic Tone Landscapes

Having liked this effect on chalk downland landscapes in an earlier post last November,  it was only a matter of time before another shoot. These were all taken on an Oly EPL5 with a 40-150mm Zuiko on the Wiltshire/Dorset border (southern UK) in January during a brief break in what has been truly terrible winter weather.

The ‘Dramatic Tone’ effect – if used with care – can produce some impressive images on a dull day. Winter seems to be the best time to take these as the bare trees and ploughed fields seem to suit the moody darkness of the images.

These are cropped to a square format from the 4/3 ratio of the Oly because they (and a few others) are going to be printed and framed in groups of three as a series of triptych type arrangements.

The shot above was a quick ‘grab shot’ – the lonely figure looked perfect, but only for a few seconds as he disappeared over the horizon.

Finally a nice sweeping landscape looking towards Shaftesbury – the edges of the downs are quite impressive too!

Thanks for looking – 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!

A Roll of Efke 820 IR Film (found in the film box in the fridge!)

I was sorting through the tupperware box of film in the fridge last weekend and found a bit of a treasure – a roll of Efke 820 IR film ordered last year and completely forgotten about!

efke3sAll fired up with enthusiasm I waited for a sunny day, and for a bit of fun, loaded up the OM2N and shot off the roll inbetween some other photo business . Exposures were bracketed at  at 2/4/8 seconds at f8 and gently developed in ID11 stock for 8.5  minutes (rolling the liquid in the developing tank rather than inverting it) – these are the results. Much grainier than I’d remembered – almost reticulated, but the temperatures of dev, stop, fix and wash were all 20 degrees centigrade. Maybe it was a dodgy last batch of film, these not being made any more, but in an odd sort of way I like it.

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What’s better is that there’s another roll left! As it’s the last one I’m not sure whether to treat it reverently and take immense care, or just have some fun with it. Rollei IR film – at least judging by these results – produces better images so not many regrets at it’s demise.

Hope you like them – thanks for looking!

p.s. apologies for the repetition of subject – I’m spending a lot of time at Knowlton lately!

Rocking Horses and Russian Dolls

(Four Images). The search for saleable stock images on a wet day leads you to have a look around the house for something to shoot – hence a very strange combination of subjects….

Starting with the russian dolls – no idea when these were bought, they were just sitting on a mantelpiece. A plain white background left cover designers an opportunity to place whatever background they wanted. The camera was an Oly 620 with the 50mm f3.5 macro.

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Same subject, different angle – the important thing is the part of the image which is out of focus.

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And next it’s the rocking horse, sitting under the stairs, it’s been there for years but worth a few shots both taken on the 60D. Can’t remember the lens – sorry.

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This was enhanced using the ‘Toy Camera’ effect, giving a vignetted/faded appearance.

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If it’s not that good outside, have a look around the house for something to photograph – it can work really well and it’s better than watching the TV!

All shots taken for the book market, hope you like them and thanks for looking.

Manual Focus Lenses on a Canon 60D – A Zuiko 28mm f2

Manual Focus Lenses on a Canon 60D – A Zuiko 28mm f2

This is the second of a detailed series of posts for photographers who are thinking of using relatively cheap old manual focus lenses on an APS-C DSLR. This time it’s the Zuiko 28mm f2, my favourite lens on 35mm SLRs (hence the name of this blog), which sometimes graces the Canon 60D when it’s very lucky as a fast standard lens.

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What it’s capable of in bright conditions at f8 – sharp, superb colour and saturation. This was take on an Olympus 620.

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Same boat from the front – so sharp it hurts!

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On a very dull day – depth of field at f2 at close focus distance. Not much room for error but easy to focus!

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Close up at f2 – the mill (see below) is in the background. The rendition of out of focus areas is very pleasing – the bright edge on the out of focus verticals (just behind the snowdrops) disappears at smaller apertures. The Sweet 35 Lensbaby does the same thing.

It’s effective focal length on a crop frame is around 45mm, the aperture range is f2 to f16 and its minimum focus distance is just less than 30cm. To improve close distance photography it uses ‘floating lens elements’ which move to compensate for near distance abberations- unusual in a lens of this age. Filter size is a standard 49mm.

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In use – nicely balanced – like the previously reviewed 17mm Vivitar lens, it’s all metal and quite heavy. The focus throw is short and smooth. All in all – lovely!

On to some proper tests – all test shots on an 18MP Canon 60D at ISO 200 and Olympus OM mount lenses using a Fotodiox adaptor. Images were taken in centre weighted metering mode, saved in RAW and converted to JPG with default settings in Canon’s DPP software. The only tweak was to the white balance – the 60D was in auto WB mode and the shots had a very blue cast – corrected in DPP.

So – the test and it’s back to the Mill which has become a test standard :-

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A dull day with not much light, so something of a challenge in the contrast department. Given the conditions, nice contrast, colour and sharpness.

Starting at f2 – wide open and more of the ‘sheen’ seen in the 17mm lens test caused by light bouncing around the mirror box. Not bad but there’s a bit of soft purple chromatic aberration in the centre shot. These are huge enlargements from the frame though and these faults wouldn’t be seen on a 10×8 inch print – or larger probably. Nit picking!

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f4 – The ‘sheen’ has gone – edge slightly softer (strange) and centre as sharp as it’s going to get.f4

f8 – out resolving the sensor I’d say …f8

f16 – some softening in the centre again but the edge is fine.

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Chromatic aberration – other than some soft purple and blue CA at f2, there isn’t much at all, maybe a few pixels at most.

All in all, this is a bit of a special lens, and I’m very lucky to have one having bought it for my OM system 20 years ago. To be honest, buying one second-hand is quite expensive and doesn’t make that much sense, when Canon make an AF 50mm 1.4 for around the same price – I’ve seen mint condition ones go for £300. If you come across one for less or get the chance to ‘inherit’ one from someone – snap it up!

In summary then – at f2 it’s two stops faster than a standard zoom and pretty good. At f5.6 to f8 the resolution is as good as it gets.

There are f2.8 and f3.5 versions which are much cheaper but I’m afraid I haven’t ever used them – but I know where I can borrow one!

To see how this – and virtually every other known Zuiko lens known to man – performs on four thirds and micro four thirds sensors have a look here – an excellent series of tests at biofos.com!

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful.

If you’re interested in using other MF lenses on your DSLR have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.

How to Improve an Olympus OM1N – an OM2N?

Well, it’s just possible to improve an OM1N – Yoshihisa Maitani put an auto exposure mode in a body of the same size and weight but kept to the same design ethos. Olympus didn’t just put a simple ‘aperture priority’ mode in the OM2N, they put the most advanced exposure control system for its time in place – more sophisticated than most even today.

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Basically the same as an OM1N from the front – the film rewind release to the left along with the self timer ratchet.

Flick the top plate switch to ‘manual’ and the OM2N is essentially the same as an OM1N. Push it into ‘Auto’ mode and the  OM2N’s ‘Off the film’ (‘OTF’) exposure control takes over. The exposure indicated in the viewfinder is an approximation – the final exposure is determined in ‘real time’ by the OTF exposure system. Variations in light during exposure, from natural or from multiple flash systems is all taken care of. Exposures of from 1/1000th of a second to 120 seconds will be used – however film reciprocity failure is not catered for (how could it be?) so beware. Pretty amazing nevertheless.

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Standard OLY 35mm controls – from top to bottom – aperture, focus and shutter speed. The blue shutter speeds indicate the risk of camera shake which is a bit superfluous but looks pretty. Exposure compensation/film speed dial and film winder on the left of the pentaprism, main mode switch to the right.

So what changes were made? The basic controls stay the same. The film speed dial is incorporated into a dual ISO/exposure compensation dial on the top plate – in ‘auto mode’ you might need dial in exposure compensation. The only unfortunate omission is the lack of a mirror lock up – something which is useful on the OM1N but wasn’t possible with the dual metering system.

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The 3 metering mode displays available in different exposure modes. The displays seem to be transparent plastic and slide in and out of view as the mode switch is moved.

One significant feature is that it’s possible to use the camera even when it’s mode switch is in the ‘off’ position. The ‘OTF’ exposure system trips in and sorts it all out , limiting  the shutter speed to shorter than 1/30th of a second as a safety mechanism against battery drain during accidental activation. The ‘B’ mode is only available via a release switch and is the only mechanical shutter speed.

If you plan on using slow film – Adox CMS20 for example – the lowest ISO rating is 12 which is one of the recommended ‘box speeds’.

As the shutter is electronically controlled and is dependent on battery power, there’s a check/reset setting on the main control lever just in case the batteries run out, the shutter is tripped and the mirror locks up.  When the batteries have some charge this setting provides a battery check from an LED on the back plate. As an added extra there’s somewhere to push the card film box top into to remind you what film’s loaded – very sophisticated!

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Back plate showing – well not much other than wear and tear! The battery check LED is to the left of the viewfinder, and the film reminder thingy in the centre of the back plate. This pic shows the black paint wearing through to the metal body under the film winder – I hadn’t noticed that before…

The OM2N is 100% compatible with the OM1N – the complete range of small and fast OM lenses, motor drives and focus screens etc. It shares the same massive, clear viewfinder, smooth shutter release and lovely handling.

Problems?

None really other than those of an obsolete system. The seals may need replacing which is a cheap and easy job. I’ve got two OM2Ns, and they both just keep going faultlessly – bought not as collectors items but as working cameras ‘earning’ their living.

The batteries are cheap 2xSR44’s silver oxidies – don’t use alkalines as their charge drops slowly over time. If they run out of power the OM2N is dead – unlike the OM1N. Rumours abound that the camera will still fire at 1/60th of a second without power – I’ve tried it and it’s not true on the OM2N but is apparently on the OM2SP (which is where the confusion has arisen). The dependency on batteries isn’t really as much of a problem as I used to think it was – I change them every year and have had no problems.

So all in all a real pleasure of a camera to shoot with. Put it into ‘auto’ mode for average scenes or when you’re feeling a bit lazy. Where the lighting is more tricky switch to manual or stick to ‘auto’ and use the exposure compensation dial.

Cheap, simple and rugged, adding a bit of sophistication to an OM setup – though for some reason I still prefer the OM1N but only by a whisker! For those who dislike ‘pure manual mechanical’ cameras it’s worth a look, and at under £100 for a good working example definitely worth a try.

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful if you’re considering one.