In August of this year I became the lucky owner of an Olympus 75mm lens. I wrote a review of it here and have since used extensively. It is a stunning lens in every way and I love it dearly.
So, given the choice, which should you buy?
This may seem like a stupid question, similar to “should I buy an armchair or a wristwatch?” (I get asked this a lot). After all, surely the 75mm is designed to produce shots like this:
Whereas the 60mm macro is designed to produce shots like this:
Well, yes, but with a flick of a switch on the side of the 60mm lens, it stops being a macro and can take general shots, albeit with a maximum aperture of F2.8 compared to the 75mm’s F1.8. So, how do the two compare for general shooting? Let’s find out.
I walked a bit closer to the subject with the 60mm to try and get the same area of coverage, then cropped both shots a little. The colouration is slightly different, but that could be more down to the ever-changing light on the day rather than the lenses. Let’s have a look at a crop (click to view 100% size).
Here’s another. Again, the sun was darting in and out of clouds, and I moved my shooting position to obtain a similar field of view.
Crops (click to view at 100%):
A couple more crops, this time at F7.1 (click to view at 100%):
Finally, a simple field of view comparison between the difference between 60mm and 75mm. Both these shots were taken from the same point:
And here is the same shot with the 75mm at F1.8 to show the difference in bokeh:
Image Quality Conclusion
Allowing for varying light and a variable photographer, what can we conclude from the above? My conclusion is that the 75mm is slightly better, but you have to pixel peek to see the difference and there is really little to choose in overall image quality between the two lenses.
Handling and other considerations:
The 60mm is smaller and lighter than the 75mm and is dust and splash proof, although the 75mm’s metal construction feels more substantial. The 75mm focuses slightly slower than other M43 lenses, the 60mm, like most other lenses, focuses almost instantaneously on the GX1. The 60mm is 2/3 of the price of the 75mm.
How close do you need to go?
If you don’t want anything smaller than pretty flowers, the 75mm can do the job:
But if you want a photo of a fly’s eye, then you will need the 60mm macro.
Which to buy?
If you are not interested in macro, and are prepared to pay 50% more, go for the 75mm. The extra light gathering of F1.8 can be really useful, as well as offering creamier bokeh and a chance for thinner depth of field if such is you need. And the IQ is beyond reproach.
If you are after a macro, the 60mm will give you great macro shots, and also double as a general lens providing almost as much as the 75mm. And it’s lighter, cheaper, faster and more weather resistant.
Given the above, the 60mm seems like the obvious choice. Wrong. Buy the 75mm.
Then convince yourself and anyone else in your purchasing approval process, that you really need a macro. Buy the 60mm.
Result: Two great lenses in your collection. After all, the world is about to end and there are no pockets in a shroud.
The Lytro camera is the world’s first consumer light field, or plenoptic, camera.
If you want to understand more about the science behind a light field camera, then Google is your friend. For this review it is sufficient for you to know that capturing the light field allows you to choose the focus point for the image after it has been taken. How useful is that? Your answer to that question may help you decide whether a Lytro is worth your money.
So let’s get the money side of things out of the way first. An 8GB model will cost you $399, a 16GB model will cost you $499. The 8GB will hold 350 images, the 16GB holds 750; although the battery may not last long enough for that many shots. It’s a lot of money; but as the only other light field camera on the market (for industrial use) can cost you up to $30,000, you might feel that this is a reasonable price for a neatly packaged chunk of cutting-edge technology. Plus, it comes in a choice of colours which must be worth something.
On first inspection, it looks nothing like a camera:
The minimalist design makes you think that this is what a camera might look like if Apple designed one, and the packaging reinforces that impression. Coincidentally, it is also exactly the same length as an iPhone 4S:
The Apples ethos extends to the documentation, there isn’t any; other than a single card with a website address and a suggestion that a visit might be in order. There is also a twenty three page Product Information Guide, which sounds promising but it only tells you not to drop it, not to allow small children to swallow it, and then launches into nineteen pages of warranty details.
Never mind, what else can we find in the box? There is a carrying lanyard, a lens cap which falls off really easily, a cleaning cloth and a USB cable. So let’s plug the camera into the computer via the USB cable and see what happens.
What happens is that the desktop software for the camera is downloaded and any firmware updates for the camera are installed. From then on, every time you plug in the camera, your photos are downloaded to your computer and show up in the Lytro application, and the battery recharges while the camera is connected. It’s all very slickly done and even my granny could manage it if it wasn’t for the fact that she is dead.
Still, we haven’t taken any photos yet, so it’s off to the Lytro website which indeed contains plenty of “how to” information.
The camera controls are pretty basic. On the bottom of the device is a power switch and a cover, beneath which is the USB connector.
On the top is the photo taking button, which also acts as a power-on button, so you would only use the power button on the bottom to turn the camera off if you don’t want to wait for it to do it by itself.
Near the photo taking button is a little ridged area. You slide your finger along this to zoom in and out. The lens offers 43mm-340mm (full frame equivalent) zoom. It is easy to move the zoom slider by mistake, so you have to keep an eye on the zoom indicator in the LCD:
Talking of which, at the back is a a touch-sensitive LCD.
It may not look like it in this example, but it does display colour. But this example does show that the resolution is very low and the display is poor. Plus, the touch-sensitivity is very variable and it can take several stabs, with associated swearing, to select some options.
And finally, at the front, there is the lens; beyond which lies all the clever light field stuff.
Right, now we know where all (both) the buttons are, lets go take a photo.
Lytro suggest you start by getting about six inches away from a subject for your first attempts, so let’s do that:
Click on the nose. It’s in focus!
Click on the hair. It’s in focus!
Click on the building in the background. It’s in focus!
Is that it? Well yes, that’s pretty much it.
Here are a couple more, have a play:
A target market for Lytro are people who attend social gatherings, take crap out of focus shots, and then load them to Facebook. “Look at all my friends, they are all blurry, how can I get them all in focus? Never mind, with my Lytro I just take the snap and people can choose focus later”.
Sadly, I don’t have any friends and I don’t attend social gatherings; so instead I dragged out she who must be obeyed’s doll collection (I knew it would come in useful one day), and pretended they were my friends. “See my friends; I can make each of them in focus! My social standing has just increased immeasurably, thank you Lytro”.
Using “everyday” mode you can just snap away, knowing that everything from about six inches out to infinity can be re-focused. In this mode you can also tap on the screen to indicate where you would like exposure to be calculated.
But slide up on the screen and you can not only check your battery and storage status, but you can also select “creative” mode. This allows you to get much closer to a subject, almost touching. You then use the touch screen to indicate the point around which the focus depth will be calculated. If you get really close to the subject, then you cannot re-focus to infinity; but it does allow for some interesting close-up shots.
If you get really close, you need to be aware that your re-focusing will be limited accordingly. In this shot you can just about re-focus on the second doll, but not on the one in background.
Put the camera into “Manual” and you can then slide down on the LCD to bring up controls that allow you to lock either the aperture, or shutter speed, or both. In manual mode you see the aperture and shutter on the LCD (as in the LCD shot above). This can be interesting if you want to see how the camera is managing the shot; beyond that I didn’t feel a need for manual mode.
There is no aperture control as such on this camera, but it has the equivalent of F2 in terms of light gathering potential. Take it outside on a sunny day and the maximum shutter speed of 1/250th second means that there is going to be too much light coming into the camera at F2. So it employs a built-in neutral density filter which seems to take the effective F stop down to around F8.
Indoors it can push the ISO up to 3,200; but the pictures look pretty dire:
Still, under normal social lighting conditions, the camera will probably be using around ISO 800, and the pictures are quite useable at this setting:
Sharing your shots
Assuming you are not the sort of person who just likes to sit in a darkened room, clicking and re-focusing Lytro photos; you will want to share your creations with the world, and the Lytro software is designed to facilitate this. From the desktop application you can export to your own gallery on the Lytro website and create albums of photos. In addition, you can export to Facebook or Twitter or Google+. In all cases, the photo sits within a piece of software so the full clicking and focusing experience can be shared. It’s elegantly done and even my grandfather could do it; although we would have to dig him up first.
If you are only going to look at Lytro images in their re-clickable 400 pixel wide frame; then the quality is quite reasonable provided very low light does not force the camera to use very high ISOs. But the Lytro approach is only relevant when you have objects at varying distances from the camera, and at least one is quite close. What about a normal landscape holiday snap like this:
Everything is in focus so clicking round the photo doesn’t do anything.
Never mind, you always have the option of exporting a normal JPEG image from the Lytro desktop application. Problem is, the resulting images are rubbish.
Here is a JPEG from the Lytro:
It’s pretty ugly, even at 640 pixels, at the original full size of 1080 pixels it looks even worse. If you are going to use the Lytro as a general camera, you are not going to like what you see once you step outside the world of the little Lytro box.
The obvious contender to a Lytro for general snapping is a phone. Here is a snap of the same scene taken with an iPhone.
Your phone will take better photos than a Lytro, and your phone offers you different processing options, sharing to Instagram and other social photo sites. It’s hard to see Lytro competing with phones for the social media marketplace.
It would be easy to be blasé about the technical wizardry built into this camera, but the team behind Lytro should be congratulated for producing a tiny, useable light field camera, albeit at a fairly hefty price tag compared to normal point and shoot cameras. Both the hardware and software are well designed and the whole makes for an interesting product.
However, as a camera, it really isn’t very good. The LCD touch screen is of poor resolution and is vicious stab sensitive rather than touch sensitive. The shape of the camera is interesting but not convenient for taking shake-free photos; although it does look promising when placed inside a gentleman’s trousers (but a cucumber makes for a more impressive and cheaper solution. Allegedly). Resolution is low and image quality is poor, perhaps inevitably at this stage of the development of this technology.
The only gimmick in favour of the Lytro is the ability to snap away and then choose the focus point later. To make this in any way interesting, you have to choose your subject matter quite carefully. And the interest does not last very long. Once you have played with the focus point on a couple of photos, it ceases to amaze.
Lytro promise more software improvements so, for example, you can choose to have everything in focus or can produce 3D images. These improvements will work with images you have already taken. You can also imagine future technology enhancements. Surveillance cameras where you can grab focus anywhere in the frame. A movie camera where you could edit the footage and change focus points as the movie plays. Cameras that produce images of the quality of a reasonable point and shoot camera, with the ability to change the focus point. Light field technology built into phones.
But given the current state of the art, would I buy a Lytro camera? No. Should you buy a Lytro camera? Probably not. And why did the owner of my test camera buy one? I have no idea; but I would like to thank Spacefruit for entrusting me with his new toy and I hope he has many happy hours shooting with it. And when he gets bored of using it, he can always stick it down his trousers.
I realise that my unbridled enthusiasm for Micro Four Thirds has been indirectly responsible for the ruining of many other wallets, to the extent that if I had been on commission I would have received enough cash from Panasonic and Olympus to buy… well, I suppose another bloody lens.
The latest potential victim is a friend who made the mistake of buying a Canon lower end DSLR with a Tamron lens and now discovers it doesn’t do much more than his old compact cameras in terms of image quality. He is pondering the new Nikon D600 full frame camera, with a suitable lens attached, and very nice that would be too. But he was wondering whether for much less money and bulk, he could join MFT and still get good enough IQ. Only he can decide the answer, my only contribution has been to throw a selection of reviews and image samples in his direction to help him in his decision.
He wants to start with a zoom lens with a range roughly equivalent to a 24-70mm on full frame. He could spend $1,000 plus on the new Panasonic X 12-35mm, but a much cheaper and smaller option would be the Panasonic 14-45mm.
Just as an aside, isn’t my hand lovely?
I then suggested it would be good to have a low light prime available for those special moments, and the classic Panasonic 20mm F1.7 pancake would be just the ticket.
For not a lot of cash, especially at current GX1 prices, a powerful and portable solution.
And, with the substitution of the GF1 for the GX1, it’s exactly what I started out with nearly three years ago. So what went wrong? How did I move from this simple setup to the cabinet full of lenses that now graces my home? Let’s chart my rocky road to addiction.
December 2009 – Spike buys a GF1 kit which includes the 20mm and 14-45mm. This is to be an alternative to his 1D and suitcase full of Canon lenses; for use on casual days. For the next six months Spike enjoys the heady rush that comes from using this amazing little setup.
June 2010 – Spike realises he is not using his 1D any more, apart from sports shooting, and resolves to sell all his Canon lenses, apart from one. Cash inflow ensues; champagne for everyone!
With money burning a hole in his pocket and at risk at being co-opted for the purpose of handbags, Spike decides something a little longer would be nice (she who must be obeyed agrees, until she discovers he is talking about lenses). So, in June 2010 he buys the Panasonic 45-200mm, doesn’t like it, sells it and gets the Panasonic 100-300mm.
Then in August 2010 he decides he would like something a little wider (she who must be obeyed agrees, until she discovers he is talking about lenses). The Olympus 9-18mm is purchased and does OK until March of this year when the better and wider Panasonic 7-14mm replaces it.
Finished? Of course not. October 2011 sees the availability of the wonderful little Olympus 45mm at a reasonable price. It would be a crime not to own one; so that joins the collection; at which point the 14-45mm is consigned to the cupboard unless specially required.
Early this year and the Summilux 25mm F1.4 replaces the 20mm pancake in the bag. It’s much bigger and more expensive; but the images are so beautiful and F1.4 is nice to have.
Final indulgence has been the Olympus 75mm F1.8, purchased in June of this year and never regretted for one moment; what an amazing lens.
So what goes in Spike’s bag for an outing when he wants to be sure of being able to cover almost anything? This lot:
Every one a winner; I just need to take better photos to do them justice.
For occasions when I know I will need more reach, then there is the 100-300mm For macro there is the Yashica 55mm, and then there is an assortment of other oddities which are pulled out when I want to try something different.
I do have a rule, which I rarely break, and that is whatever I take has to fit in my very small camera bag.
It’s a Think Tank Retrospective 5 and is the result of research that has resulted in almost as many camera bags as my wife has handbags (of course, I exaggerate). It’s light, tough, flexible, packed with clever features, and specifically designed not to look like a camera bag. Best of all, it will accommodate my camera and the four preferred lenses, but with no room for any more.
The current camera and four lens setup weighs just under 1.5 kg, twice the weight and a lot more volume than the original 14-45mm and 20mm kit. Do I need it? No. If you forced me to tour Europe with just the 14-45mm and 20mm, would I feel unhappy? No, unless you made me go to France.
All these alternative lenses are just an indulgence. But hey, you only live once, no pockets in a shroud etc etc. But… that Olympus 45mm is sooo sweet. And that 75mmm, well, just look at the shots it produces. And the Summilux, it’s designed by Leica for goodness sake, and if you close one eye I could swear you can see “the Leica look”. And the 7-14mm, crispy wide angle goodness; you just need it sometimes.
Bugger it, I need and love them all.
My name is Spike and I’m a lensaholic. There should be a help group for people like me.
Avid readers* of my Russian camera saga will recall that I carried out an exhaustive** trial of the various lenses that had come into my possession following the acquisition of too many Kiev cameras. The winner was the Helios 103, a vision in metal and plastic representing the finest Russian craftsmanship of its time (joke).
The Helios was produced between 1978 and 1984 and was shipped with Kiev rangefinder cameras. Problem was that the quality control on the cameras reached such a low point that entire production runs were sent for scrap, to reappear later as wheelbarrows. So by 1984, the lenses that were being produced had no associated camera, and hundreds (thousands?) of Helios 103 lenses ended up in a warehouse, unloved and forgotten.
But with the resurgence of interest in film cameras, and the medium of eBay, these spare lenses are being dragged out of storage and put up for sale. The going rate is between $25 and $40, and I paid near the upper limit, $39 for a lens with caps, a rather dirty box, and a piece of paper which is worth nothing more than amusement value; although thirty year old Russian paper does have an interesting aroma.
The lens itself, dating from 1984, is very clean, after some dusting. How would it compare with my existing Helios, a 1981 model? I carried out an exhaustive** comparison and the older lens won. Perhaps, like the cameras, the lenses reduced in quality over the years.
Never mind, having two of them allowed me to take a photograph of a Helios 103 with a Helios 103, and Spanky tells me there is nothing like a bit of Russian on Russian action.
This is the new lens being shot by the old lens at F1.8 on a Panasonic GX1 with an adapter. Nice bokeh.
* Just me really
** Brief and unscientific
My acquisition of assorted Russian cameras has resulted in a collection of assorted Russian lenses.
Not that any of us care particularly, but from the left they are:
1981 Helios 103 53mm F1.8
1957 Jupiter 3 50mm F1.5
1978 Jupiter 8 50mm F2
1950 Zorki ZK 50mm F2
As they are all 50mm or thereabouts, I wanted to find out which was the best, so I could strap it permanently to my Kiev and get the best possible photos. So I ran a couple of films through the camera using all the lenses in different situations and made careful notes as I went along, so I could work out what shot was taken with which lens afterwards. As usual, I got carried away with taking photos and my notes got screwed up and I was never sure which photo was which. Dick.
Another solution was required, so how about an adapter which would allow me to use the lenses on the GX1? This would also enable me to go out and have some digital Russian lens action, just for fun. Problem is that the Kiev lens mount is rather complicated and what looks like part of the lens is actually part of the camera body. But then I found a man who takes broken Kiev cameras (of which there is no shortage), rips the front off and then turns it into an adapter. Perfect:
Spent a few hours taking a variety of shots with all the lenses and tabulating the results.
I was hoping that the 1950 Zorki was the best because it is a classic, and the same age as the camera. Failing that, the Jupiter 3 would be my second choice because it looks cute and is F1.5. The Jupiter 8 would be a sorry third because it is the boring stock lens and everybody has one, and the Helios 103 would be my last choice because of the shitty black plastic ring. Plus, the Helios has dubious heritage (not based on any famous lens); and it didn’t go into production until 1978, long after the glory years of Russian lenses.
Given Sod’s Law, it will come as no surprise to learn that the Helios 103 was by far the best performing lens of the four. So its black plastic shittiness will be hanging off the front of my Kiev in future (oh, the horror):
The Helios came with one of the cameras I purchased, but you can buy remains from the 1980s production, brand new in a box, for less than $40; so have ordered a spare which might turn out to be even better than my current copy.
Then I thought it might be fun to compare it with the Olympus 45mm F1.8.
The first thing you might expect is a size difference. The Olympus is designed for Micro Four Thirds and is one of the smallest lenses you can buy. The Helios is designed for full frame and has a slightly longer focal length and the same F1.8 aperture.
If it wasn’t for the extended mount, the Helios would be much smaller. So much for the “full frame lenses must be bigger” argument.
So then I went out and took a few shots with both of them. A little unfair to compare a $40, thirty five year old Russian lens, designed in a back kitchen for use with film, and constructed in a spare corner of a tractor factory more than thirty years ago, with a modem, much praised digital masterpiece from Olympus costing ten times as much; but I did it anyway. Here’s a shot from each:
I know, I know, the difference is staggering. We’ve come a long way in forty years.
Tomorrow sees the start of the biennial Photokina show in Cologne. As anyone with even a basic knowledge of German knows, Photokina translates as “Camera Gear Wankathon”, and all the major players announce new toys in the hope of attracting extra media attention.
I already feel the stirrings of an ill-informed, opinionated treatise on the current state of the industry; so be ready to ignore that. But in the meantime, those of you with an interest in Micro Four Thirds may want to check out the latest releases from Panasonic and Olympus.
Panasonic’s top of the range model has always been the video-friendly GH series and, as expected, today sees the release of the rather chunky GH3. Videographers are already wetting themselves at the specs, while the rest of us are wondering whether we need something that has increased in size and is now heading for DSLR proportions. Probably not.
Olympus have restated their PEN range by dropping the top model and replacing the mini and the Pen “Lite” with the EPM-2 and EPL-5; both offering internals ripped from the EM-5 with a reduced feature set and rather bland styling compared to the original PEN digital cameras.
On the lens front, Panasonic have a 35-100mm F2.8 X lens introduced now; with more exciting 42.5mm F1.2 and 150mm F.28 lenses promised for the future. Olympus have the long-leaked 60mm macro, a black version of the 12mm F2 (I still don’t want one), and 17mm F1.8. There is also a very weird thing that looks like a lens cap but is actually a 15mm F8 pancake lens. Why?
Schneider-Kreuznach have also released three M43 lenses, but as my German doesn’t extend much beyond translating “Photokina”, I don’t know much about them yet.
Previews and image samples are popping up all over the web, so if you are interested I recommend going here and following all the links.
Three years ago today*, Panasonic introduced the GF1.
*Yes, pedants, most press releases were on Sept 2nd, but the first announcement was Sept 1st.
It wasn’t the first micro four thirds camera, but it was probably the first to capture the imagination of keen amateurs. Prior to that there had been the Panasonic G1 and GH1, fine cameras but not really micro enough. Then there was the Olympus EP-1, a cute fashion statement and a good enough machine; but the focus was a little slow and the supplied lens was nothing special.
Then along came the GF1. Small, fast, configurable; and with a couple of cracking lenses. There was a 20mm F1.7 lens, and a 14-45mm F3.5-F5.6 lens. The 20mm lens is still sought after as a must-have for the system, and although there have been six subsequent kit zoom lenses by Panasonic and Olympus (all 14-42mm), the 14-45mm remains the preferred lens in terms of quality of construction and optics. A fantastic combination of camera and lenses and sales went through the roof, such that it was very hard to find them until later in the year.
I found mine in Singapore on the 15th December 2009. I believe I had sold the trip to she who must be obeyed on the basis of “seeing the lights”; but once there I dumped her in a shoe shop and scoured the island for a GF1 kit with both lenses. Found it in the afternoon and spent a couple of frustrating hours dodging the pouring rain trying to get shots, before repairing to the Long Bar at Raffles for free peanuts, expensive drinks and a chance to take a photo.
Nothing special, but could I have whipped out my Canon 1D in such a place and pointed it at the patrons? Not without being firmly ejected in a shower of peanut shells.
At the time I had the 1D and a collection of weighty lenses, about twelve kilos in all. We were taking regular trips within and outside Thailand, and we were both getting a little tired of my hauling around a backpack full of gear everywhere we went. The purpose of the GF1 was to be a secondary camera, to take along when photography was not the prime objective. But it didn’t take long before the GF1 and the two tiny lenses were all I was taking everywhere. The GF1 was easier, more fun, gave me shots I would never had captured with the 1D, and that 20mm lens blew a hole in my rather average 24-105mm Canon L lens.
Within a year I had sold all my Canon gear. At least I was going to until I was persuaded it would be made worth my while to retain the body and the 300mm lens. But everything else was sold, which provided cash for the extension of my M43 lens collection.
Since disposing of my DSLR gear there has never once been a moment that I have wished to have it back, and days beyond counting when I give thanks that I am no longer saddled with the unnecessary weight and bulk of such equipment.
Eventually, the GF1 gave way to a GX1, and the original lenses were less used as new prime lenses came along. But I didn’t sell the GF1, partly because my wife wouldn’t let me (“it’s a classic” – annoyingly, she’s right), and partly because it looks like it has been dragged through a hedge backwards, and it’s a hedge made of steel wool, and it’s happened more than once. And I didn’t sell the lenses because; well because they are really good lenses. The 20mm still gets used by she who must be obeyed, usually with the GF1. The 14-45mm is used sometimes, for example for shooting the wife’s little sister:
Fabulous IQ, it’s just the F stop that makes it a bit restrictive.
So my purchase of nearly three years ago remains available, should it ever be called upon to give service. It’s a little battered, not helped much by a stick-on black covering which hides the worst of the abuse but adds its own particular brand of crap.
I decided to call upon its services last night, and give it an outing to mark the anniversary of the unveiling of this remarkable little camera. I took the GF1 without the added viewfinder, because that is all I had when I bought it, with the 20mm on the front. I went to Walking Street at night, shooting Dynamic Black and White JPEG files at ISOs up to 1600. I also shot RAW, so I could use colour if I felt the need. In slightly over half an hour, I came back with these:
The first three are of a young girl, performing with a hula hoop to extract cash from tourists while her minders looked on. She seemed to be enjoying herself, but this was not the environment for a young girl at a time when she should have been tucked up at home in bed.
The IQ and noise may not be up to the GX1, but it’s not at all bad for a four year old sensor design. And I missed the touch screen of the GX1 for choosing focus points and changing options. Apart from that, stepping back in time was a painless and fun experience.
Spike, you are going on a trip and you can either take any modern DSLR of your choice and two lenses of your choice; or that battered old GF1 kit you bought nearly three years ago; what’s it going to be?
GF1 of course, it really is (still) that good.
There are now thirty two lenses available for the micro four thirds system, with more on the way in time for Photokina next month. Plus there are hundreds of other lenses that you can use in conjunction with an adapter. That’s a lot of lenses, enough for anyone to create a collection that matches their needs, wallet and camera bag volume. Contrary to she who must be obeyed’s assertions, I don’t own the full set, and deciding which lenses to choose for my collection has been an interesting process (for me). More >
My only hiccup when using the new 75mm lens, was that it sometimes slowed down a little when focusing.
Thought I should check this out further, and see how the lens performed on an Olympus body; so I borrowed Nik’s EM-5 for a few hours. This also provided the opportunity for a camera porn shot; don’t they look lovely together?:
Once I had finished ogling, I set about pointing the lens at things with both cameras, with the following conclusions:
1. I thought that maybe the lens would work differently if attached to the same make of body, but the Olympus EM-5 does not focus the lens faster than the Panasonic GX1. In fact, the GX1 seemed to be fractionally speedier; but as I have no idea how Nik has set up his focusing rules on the EM-5; we’ll call it a draw.
2. In good light, both cameras acquire focus at a speed which can be described as “instantaneous”, even though it cannot be. When used with modern M43 lenses, these most recent bodies from Olympus and Panasonic claim to be the fastest focusing cameras on the planet and I wouldn’t disagree.
3. In low light, “almost instantaneous” would be the appropriate phrase, unless you are moving from focusing on something close to something distant, or vice versa, in which case there is a slight pause as the lens moves to the new position for focusing. Is it slow enough to be an irritant? No, but it is noticeable and is not present if you use, for example, the 25mm Summilux.
I initially assumed the issue was to do with having to move a substantial piece of glass in the lens; but then this would be evident whatever the light level; so it must be something else.
Not something that I am going to worry about. Unlike many cameras I have used, the GX1 has an astonishing ability to lock focus in almost complete darkness; and if I have to wait a fraction of a second with the 75mm sometimes, it is not a problem. Also, unlike many cameras (are you listening Canon and Nikon?), Olympus and Panasonic do provide firmware updates for individual lenses to improve performance; so maybe the 75mm will get a boost at some point.
DPreview have just published a little video comparing focus/shoot times between a Canon and a Panasonic G5. The Canon focus system is the same as that implemented in the wanky new EOS-M. The G5 system is probably a little slower than the GX1 or EM-5; but it totally destroys the Canon.
As the tag line on this site proclaims, Pattaya is an extra-ordinary place. And it is extra-ordinary not because of the surrounding temples or flower gardens or other attractions; it’s extra-ordinary because of the people on the streets.
Anywhere in Thailand has life on the streets; Bangkok is teeming with it. But only Pattaya has the unique mix of normal Thai life, intermingled with abnormal Thai life in the form of street hookers, assorted mafia and Thais of many persuasions drawn here to make a living from the tourist trade. Then there are the foreigners; guys looking for fun, couples and families looking for a beach holiday, and residents trying to live a life in this most strange of cities.
With my wife working, the opportunity to travel has all but disappeared over the last year. I still want to take photographs; but there is only so much you can do with a temple or some flowers; and here is is this weird, wonderful city just waiting to be photographed; what was I waiting for?
Never one to refrain from blaming my equipment, turns out that what I was waiting for was the Olympus 75mm F1.8.
In general, the good-natured Thais don’t mind being photographed. It’s a tourist town and if you point a camera at a beach vendor they will either ignore you or give you a smile. But if you point a camera at a hooker or a pimp, or one of the less desirable characters that frequent the streets; then you could be heading for trouble and a reduction in the number of teeth. Less dangerous, but frustrating, point a camera at a Thai for a candid shot and, if they notice you, you will be rewarded by a huge grin and a V for Victory sign; not exactly what you were hoping to capture. Take the shot above. To me there is a little story you can construct about what the girls are thinking and who is missing from the third chair; all that would have dissolved if the subjects had seen and reacted to the camera.
I do not believe my talents extend as far as describing myself as “a photographer”; especially one who appears so specialised so to be titled “a street photographer”; but those worthy of the name employ a variety of techniques. Some request permission for each photo and will then set up the subject and the location to get the look they want. At the other extreme are those who go out of their way to remain anonymous on the street, capturing life as it happens without interference. Then in the middle there are those who look for neither anonymity or involvement; taking shots when they can and interacting when their subjects spot them. I definitely prefer the anonymous route, partially because I think images without the photographer’s influence are more interesting; but mainly because I have no interest in having my head kicked in.
And that is where the gear comes is important. In theory you can, and probably should, shoot a selection of focal lengths to get different looks in your street photography. Do you want to capture just the face, or a small scene, or a whole street? Each require a different focal length of lens, or a lot of walking to put you in the right place to get the image you are after. A popular focal length is 50mm (25mm on M43); and that will get you shots like this from a metre of so away:
But how many shots like this can you count on before you need a little trip to the hospital? And some replacement gear.
Next size up for me is 90mm (45mm on M43). More anonymity; but not enough to be comfortable. See the guy in the middle at the back? He’s on to me.
Another option would be to strap on the comparatively large 100-300mm lens and shoot from much further away. Downside of this is that you may be a little further away, but a fat lens on the front of the camera pointed directly at the subject is something of a giveaway; and something that almost got she who must be obeyed a kicking from a ladyboy when she tried it.
I tell you what I want, what I really want, I tell you what I want, I want the recently announced Olympus 75mm F1.8. Ideal focal length for what I want to do, and small enough to be inconspicuous.
Two problems with the Olympus 75mm lens. Firstly, it is not widely available. Secondly, my little piggy bank of camera funds is currently depleted so no new gear for me. But when I walked into a camera store in Bangkok on Sunday (just by chance, I wasn’t searching for the lens, honestly officer) and discovered one of the first batch of 40 in the country was sitting on a shelf pleading to be taken home; what could I do…? I did what any feckless, irresponsible gearhead would do, I took out my credit card.
The lens itself itself is a beautiful amalgamation of metal and glass. It looks well made, it feels well made and it probably is well made; as it should be for something that is more than twice the price of the dinky, but plastic, Olympus 45mm. It feels lighter than you expect and, even on the diminutive GX1, it does not make the whole feel unbalanced. This is maybe because my preferred grip is to cup the lens in my left hand while my right hand is on the camera controls. This lens falls perfectly into my hand, such that it is practically invisible; nobody can spot that you have an effective focal length of 150mm pointing at them.
To test this hypothesis, I took the lens out onto the streets yesterday. It was a liberating experience. In the space of two hours (less an ice cream break), I took 150 photos, mainly just seeing if I could point the camera at people and get a shot without being spotted; and my subterfuge rate was close to 100%. This is exactly the weapon I have been waiting for.
Of course, most of my shots were not interesting, but I had many more keepers than normal, and a few I am quite pleased with. Every 75mm shot in this post was taken in that short space of time yesterday, many more useable shots than I would usually get, and I have not posted all of them.
Image quality? Fantastic. Sharpness, contrast, colour, bokeh all sublime. I don’t think I am getting the best out of it yet in terms of using the correct F stop (depth of field issues), shutter speed (some blurring because shutter speed too low), or post processing. If you want to see what the lens is capable of, visit Robin Wong who is a great street photographer and really put the lens to good use.
Meantime, here are some of my first efforts:
Out onto the street and I chance upon the charming old lady I met previously. She is pleased to see me, even more pleased when I make a donation, and I take her photo at F1.8. Reviewing the shot later confirms that, if you are close to your subject and using F1.8, your depth of field is going to be very small. Her blouse is in and out of focus which is disconcerting, and I would have liked her cheeks in focus as well as her eyes. Will have to go back; give her some more baht, and take her photo again. But apart from that; impressive IQ at F1.8 (no additional sharpening).
Learning my lesson, the next was at F4.5, to ensure both people were in focus. The second of the two photos is a 100% crop (click to see full size). Pretty much straight out of the camera; clean and crisp.
Focusing M43 lenses on the GX1 is lightning fast; so it was a little surprising to discover that the 75mm wasn’t, or at least not always. If the focus was initially way out from the position required, it seemed to take a few fractions of a second to gird its loins before launching itself into focus mode. Once it was focused in the general area, subsequent shots were back in the “almost instant” range. Will have to let neighbour Nik check and see whether it is much quicker on an Olympus body. Not a big issue though, and the resulting focus in the image was always perfect. Have not tried manual focusing yet; but the focus ring is smooth with no slop; should be a pleasure to focus with.
Update: See some more thoughts on focusing speed here.
After only one day of shooting, I am delighted with this lens. For a 75mm F1.8, it is compact, the construction is excellent and the IQ exemplary. Just wish it was available in black as well as silver for extra stealth, and include a hood for the price please Olympus.