I’ve always found tilt/shift lenses very desirable, or at least shift (or PC, for Perspective Control). I never found the tilt part all that useful, or indeed easy to control or understand. Back when I owned a Hasselblad ArcBody, I had plenty of opportunity to experiment and learn, but that is long gone. The availability of high quality PC lenses is one huge attraction, to me at least, towards the Canon/Nikon world, but I own neither. There are also some very expensive third party lenses from the likes of Schneider available for Canon/Nikon, but again, out of my league. And there are some cheap adapters, which by and large don’t work very well. But generally, these adapter solutions are the only options for my system, Micro Four Thirds - with, however, two exceptions.
Back in the 1980s, Olympus made two PC lenses for the OM system, a 24mm f3.5 and a 35mm f2.8. The 24mm is sought after, rare, and very, very expensive. The 35mm is less celebrated, a little easier to find, and much more affordable second hand. And I found one.
Although PC lenses tend to be used for architecture, in confined spaces, and therefore benefit from short focal lengths, 35mm is still quite useful. However, on a Micro Four Thirds camera, that corresponds to a 70mm equivalent field of view, which might seem less useful. This is mitigated by the fact that Canon make an 90mm TS lens, so it can’t be totally useless, and anyway, nothing was going to get in the way of a serious bit of retail therapy.
The best known application of PC lenses is to “stop buildings falling over”. However, there are several other uses. One is creating sets of photographs to stitch into a high resolution composite. By shifting laterally and vertically you can gather a set of images without moving the camera, and with no nodal point or parallax issues to worry about. Another is giving more latitude for composition when using a tripod in an awkward space. For the photo below, the tripod was resting, just, on a jumble of boulders, adjacent to a torrential stream, with very little latitude for adjustment. The vertical and lateral shift allowed me the frame an image I otherwise could not easily (or safely) have captured. I do own a Gitzo Explorer tripod with a fully articulated central column, which is also useful for working in tight spaces, but that has some stability issues, and I still need to get behind the camera in it’s probably precarious position.
The shift movement on the lens is achieved just by pushing. There’s no lock, no gearing mechanism. It all works by friction. Obviously on a tripod this could be a disaster, knocking the tripod out of place when giving the lens a hefty shove to shift it. But actually Olympus got the level of resistance just right. Enough to hold the position steady, and not so much that you have to push too hard. It helps to make it surprisingly compact and light for a PC lens.
In terms of optical quality, it’s pretty good. No vignetting at full shift, wide open, although on a Four Thirds sensor, only the centre of the lens is actually being “seen”. But even so, the results are impressive. It will be interesting to see what photos taken with it on my OM-4Ti look like. The lens is also beautifully built and just demands to be fondled. And what better retail therapy can there be?
A couple of announcements on the gear side of photography have sparked my interest in recent days. First, the emergence of the preview of Apple’s “Photos” application. This is supposed to replace both iPhoto and Aperture, although exactly what Apple means by “replace” might not quite match up with the expectations of long-term users of either application. The synchronisation between devices is something that’s been missing since the 3rd party Pixelsync was murdered by Apple, but otherwise there’s little to be optimistic about. On the Aperture side it looks fairly grim. Photos is showing some sign of innovation on the manipulation front, but the effort seems to have gone into a narrow range of tools. Aperture’s in-depth colour controls don’t seem to have been taken over, for example. That’s not good, as Aperture was lagging a bit behind competitors such as Lightroom and CaptureOne in that area anyway (although perhaps far less so that internet chatter would have you think). But on the organisation / editing side, it’s a total wipeout. There seems to be basically no tools at all. You get Apple’s hardwired idea of how your photos should be organised (“Moments”, “Collections”, etc) and that’s basically it. And as for metadata, well, someday perhaps. Maybe a third party plugin will support it. And that’s the basic issue - Apple wants us to wait, and wait, and wait, and then (maybe) rely on some 1-man band App Store plugin developer to provide Aperture feature parity. Well, no thanks. This is not the sort of house of cards I want to entrust a lifelong endeavour to. Aperture was - and is - fabulous, but it clearly doesn’t fit into Apple’s corporate vision, and indeed probably never did. I suspect it was largely sustained, as a square peg in a round hole, by Steve Jobs’ foaming-at-the-mouth hatred of Adobe. Aperture was a throwback to Apple’s last-century culture. It has no place in the world of the iThing factory. Photos, on the other hand, is iThing to the core, which is probably excellent news for
selfie addicts casual photographers and Apple shareholders.
The other news is from Olympus. The latest OM-D camera, the (deep breath) OM-D EM-5 Mark II, might tempt me where the OM-D series so far has not. The big deal for me is not the 64Mpix sensor-shift high resolution mode, although that is interesting, but rather the long awaited (by me at least) return of the swivel mounted rear screen, which was such a key feature of the E-3 & E-5 DSLRs. The EM5.2 also seems to carry over the rugged build of these two. Olympus is pretty much the only company to have ignored the line that swivel screens are too fragile to include on weather sealed, pro-build quality cameras. I certainly never found any issues with their implementation on the E-3 & E-5, despite those cameras being roughly handled in a fine selection of aggressive environments. Unfortunately the E-5.2 does not have the phase detect auto-focus which provides full compatibility with Four Thirds lenses. I suppose we’ll have to wait for the EM1.2 for everything to fit together. But this time around, I might, possibly, be tempted. I’m due to visit the Icelandic highlands in the summer, and at present I don’t own a camera which would put up with much of the weather encountered in those regions.
Well, following my recent despairing musings, I’ve taken words of advice to heart, and decided that the best way to gain some redress from my creative slump is to BUY CAMERAS! Yay! So, rather than embark on some dull as ditchwater Photo-A-Day endeavour like everybody else, I’m going to be totally original and buy and rave about a new camera every week! Nobody has ever thought of that! (er, are you quite sure about that ? - author’s alter ego). By the time I’ve worked out what button to press to active Sweet Puppy Darling Cheesecake Party Light Selfie Mode (no, really, Panasonic *do* have that, I saw it on DPReview), I’ll be using the video mode (whatever the hell that is) to show the unboxing of the next one! And my blog will instantly become as cool as 35MMC! (author’s little voice - in your dreams, and after some extreme outsourced graphic design makeover, matey)
So, drum rolls and whatever, here’s the first in a long, long series (promise), a brand new (almost), totally up to date FULL FRAME DSLR (Dented-SLR): the truly stunning Olympus OM4Ti.
I’ve wanted one of these since, like, forever (I’ve seen cool people use “like, forever” on Facebook, so whatever). But it used to cost about $2000, which was a little on the ascendant side, given that it doesn’t even have Exposure Priority. Or indeed video. Then again since I only ever use Aperture Priority, that’s not a problem. And it cost CHF 89.-, which is slightly more US$ than this time last week (and let’s not even mention €), but still rather a lot less than $2K.
And OMG is it gorgeous. I can’t stop fondling it. The view through the finder makes me babble incoherently (nothing new there), and feathers would kill for its lightness of touch. It makes my Digital Wonderbox E-P5 look a little tragic, really. The handling is just perfect, the multispot mode that I remember Canon copying on the T90, and which I used a lot until it gave me a hernia, is excellent, although overkill for negative film, and the Hilight / Shadow buttons are fantastic for when you can’t remember how exposure compensation works. So, I ran two rolls of slightly expired Ektar 100 through it - I hate Ektar 100, actually, but it’s all I had to hand - and rushed off to the only 1-Hour photo lab left this side of the Alps… and it was bloody closed. So no slightly delayed chimping for me.
…two days later…
Well, getting two rolls of Ektar processed and scanned automatically to CD on a Fuji Frontier 1000 cost me about half the cost of the camera, which gives one pause for thought, but the results are promising. Apart from the shots where I forgot that image stabilisation was invented about 20 years later, and allowing that it is, after all, Ektar, they look pretty good to me. When I get time I’ll do my own scans. I have two Zuiko lenses, a rather crotchety 50mm f/1.4, and a very smooth 85mm f/2.0. Both work far better on the OM4Ti than on digital bodies.
So, these are all basic vanilla lab scans, no tweaking.
Film’s not dead. It’s just resting.
Right, that’s enough of that camera. Bored. Attention span exceeded. Next, please!
I’ve very recently discovered RPF, the Real Photographers Forum. A dedicated site for people to discuss photographs in a good natured way, and without hiding behind nicknames. Seems like a good idea to me.
Naturally, being fully committed to the Art Of Photography, the first sub-forum I visited was “Equipment and Media”. And there, I immediately found a very interesting post by a chap named Rob MacKillop about the 21:9 format available on the Sigma DP2 Quattro I’ve previously drooled over. I do recall being intrigued about this feature before, but I’d forgotten about it.
Now, 21:9 isn’t that far removed from the 12:6 format of the Linhof 612 Technorama which I’ve drooled even more over but cannot realistically afford this side of a serious bank heist. But I’m already a card carrying Sigma Foveon fan (literally, Sigma includes a little plastic card in the box in Swizerland), so all in all it looks very tempting. And even vaguely affordable.
So I decided to see what the image aspect looks like:
The photo is a scanned XPan frame, so 2.7:1, not far off the 3:1 format of 617 monster cameras. The green lines represent a 612 frame. And the red, a 21:9 frame. Looks pretty ideal to me…
Of course this is a crop of the Sigma Quattro sensor, and possibly does not match the resolution of a 612 slide or negative scanned in my OpticFilm 120, but I bet it’s not far off. And, of course, I could just as well crop a shot from my DP2 or DP3 Merrill. But I would like a DP1 to complete the set, and framing at the time of the shot is important to the way I photograph. So maybe this would be a good compromise. And the look of a Foveon image on a good day is pretty stunning. Almost like film… Actually, it’s almost like film on a bad day too, although that’s probably not a good thing.
Alternatives still remain: a Fuji GSW690 would crop down nicely, although obviously not a 6x12 resolution, and 6x9 is basically boring old 35mm 3:2. And I’ve got my eye on a Mamiya 7 at at very attractive price on a certain auction site (no, not that one). But can one use a Mamiya 7 without plagiarising Bruce Percy? I doubt it.
So, thank you RPF for nourishing my Gear Acquisition Syndrome. But, for once, in a good way!
As part of a dedicated weight saving exercise before leaving for Colombia, I decided to buy the Olympus 14-42EZ “pancake” zoom. According to reviews it is better optically than the standard 14-42, which I already feel is pretty good for a kit zoom, and so it seemed to be a good idea- Well, as it turns out, it wasn’t. The 14-42EZ is the worst Olympus lens I’ve ever used, in fact the only one I’d qualify as bad (or even less than very satisfactory). The results from it are uniformly soft, far more so than could be explained by poor technique on my part. This was not helped by the terrible “shutter shock” behaviour of the E-P5 body. Yes, I know there’s a fix for that, yes I installed it, but not having read all the reams of internet chatter about this, and in the absence of any guidance whatsoever from Olympus, I failed to set all the correct obscure menu entries. And since I hadn’t really used the E-P5 much I hadn’t noticed the issue before (actually it seems to be much worse with lighter lenses).
This photo looks ok as a small web jpeg…
...not so good at 1:1
I also had the 40-150 “plastic” zoom with me, and that worked pretty well, as ever. I’m not sure why that lens gets so dismissed by the forum denizens. But in general I’m pretty disappointed with Olympus in general, and not regretting my decision to pass up a good offer on an E-M1. It seems that camera is plagued with exactly the same issues for which the company does not appear to want to invest in research for a fix.
At this point then I’m wondering what to do next. I’ve sold off a lot of gear this year, initially to fund a Linhof 612 (which I chickened out of), and now I have no “rugged” camera. My general idea was to buy an E-M1 at some point, but now I’m really questioning that decision. I’ve been using Olympus cameras since the introduction of the E-1 in 2003, so changing brands now would be a major shock to the system. I find the Sony A7 series interesting, but the lenses are expensive and there’s no realistic telephoto. Also, I tend to believe that rather than an expensive camera makes you a better photographer, you should first be a good enough photographer to justify an expensive camera, and my output doesn’t merit a Sony A7 system. Another option, going against the flow, would be a Nikon DSLR, but the same caveat applies. However that would open up the potential to use tilt/shift lenses … but then again, would go totally counter to the objective of having a lot weight, good quality travel kit. Based on personal experience I wouldn’t touch Fuji X-series cameras with a bargepole. Too fragile by far, and slightly ridiculous with all their design pretensions and luvvy owner clubs.
Perhaps my 14-42EZ is a “bad sample”, a concept I’ve always been a little dubious of. From a sample of internet reviews is does seem to get a mixed press, and some report very good results. But even if that’s the case, and even if I could get it replaced, which would be pretty hard in Switzerland, the damage is already done. And my confidence in Olympus Quality Assurance is severely dented. I have one major trip planned for next year which without doubt would require me to replace my now sold Olympus E-5s with something equally robust and flexible. However at present I’m feeling more like cancelling the trip and taking several steps back from photography. This might sound like a major over-reaction to disappointing performance from a (fairly) cheap lens - well, also from a fairly expensive camera, but in fact it’s perhaps the final of a whole series of nails. Investing all this time, money and emotion in photos which attract little interest except from me is getting a bit ridiculous.