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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Life at 60

(60mm, that is!)

in Photography , Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Well, I may be a way off 60 yet (mind you…), but the effects are clearly setting in early: when I wrote my review of the Sigma 60mm lens a few days ago, I completely forgot that I’d taken another set of shots specifically to illustrate it.  Oh well, it gives me an excuse for another gratuitous post.

So here are some more photos taken using the rather excellent Sigma 60mm DN f/2.8 “Art” lens.

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The following two photos are processed using a blend of colour and black & white layers, following Gianni Galassi’s mentioning of this technique on his blog.  I’m sure he does it better than me, but anyway I quite like the effect.

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Sigma 60mm DN f2.8

a subjective (re)view

in GAS , Monday, May 19, 2014

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I rarely talk about gear these days, but for once I’ve got something to write about. A couple of days ago, on an impulse triggered by a post on Kirk Tuck’s blog, I indulged myself in a bit of retail therapy in the shape of a Sigma 60mm DN f2.8 lens for micro FourThirds. This was greatly helped by the unbelievably low price, in Switzerland at least, of CHF 170. Bearing in mind that this is about a third of the price of the Olympus equivalent (which to be fair is a macro) and something like one fifth of the cost of an Olympus 75mm f/1.8, and taking into account the fabulous optics on my Sigma Merrill, it was hard to resist.

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Olympus E-P3, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/640

Apart from the 40-150 zoom, the longest lens I had for mFT was the Olympus 45 1.8, and I could certainly find some uses for a relatively fast, sharp 60mm. It could come in quite handy for stalking street photography,as well as landscape. So along with Kirk Tuck’s glowing praise, I had enough to convinced myself.

Like all of Sigma’s “Art” range for mFT, the 60mm comes in black and silver versions. I would have preferred the black, but it was back-ordered everywhere, and impulse buys demand instant gratification. So I went for the silver.

The package, especially for the price, should make Olympus hang their heads in shame. The lens comes in a robust box, complete with padded carry case, lens hood (hear that, Olympus?), and a cute Sigma Switzerland credit-card format warranty card giving not only 2 years guarantee but also a free yearly service and alignment check. For CHF 170. Ok, aesthetically the lens itself is going to be an acquired taste. It’s probably a little less challenging in black, but in silver the first visual impression is of a large tin can. Since it is also available for APS-sensored Sony NEX, it’s larger than it needs to be for mFT. The design is certainly, um, functional, but nevertheless solid, and with some really nice touches, for example the characters around the front of the barrel and left uncoloured, just etched into the black plastic, so as to avoid any chance of spurious reflection off a filter. The lens barrel itself, though, while very large for mFT, has a slippery finish and makes manual focussing harder than it needs to be.

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Olympus E-P3, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/1000

When you pick up the lens you are rewarded with a muffled clunking sound. Being pre-warned about this, I wasn’t worried: the autofocus system apparently uses an electromagnet, and when there is no power to the lens, the assembly just moves around. A bit weird, but by design. And it doubles as audible check that the camera is switched on - give it a shake and if the lens goes “clunk!” the power is off! Once powered up, the autofocus seems good enough. I don’t measure this stuff, but subjectively it seems a touch slower than average. Oh, and the lens barrel scratches very, very easily. If keeping your gear pristine and ding-free is important to you, DO NOT buy this lens.

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Olympus E-P3, ISO 200, f/3.5, 1/500

I’ve been going through a bad period of photographer’s block recently (or possibly much, much longer but I’ve only just noticed), so the photography here is illustrative at best. But hopefully it gives some idea of how this lens works.

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It’s a portrait lens. So here’s my long-suffering portrait subject. Olympus E-P3, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/1600

It does that bookey stuff too!!

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Olympus E-P3, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/800

From what I can see, it performs very well. There’s no sign of vignetting, even wide open, and the edges seem as sharp as the centre, also from f/2.8 onwards. It’s a fun lens to use.

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Olympus E-P3, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/800

And finally, a bit of pixel-peeping. Two 1:1 segments of the above photo:

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The centre

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The bottom right corner

And that’s quite enough gear reviewing for now. Far too much like hard work. In conclusion, I can hardly not recommend this lens. Even forgetting the quite unbelievable value for money, it delivers great results and is fun to use. It is a little on the large side on my Olympus E-P3, but less so than, for example, the Panasonic / Leica 25mm. A less slippery focussing ring would be nice, and as I said, if you’re allergic to scratches, steer clear.  But if you like great quality optics for not very much money at all, you can’t go wrong with this lens, or indeed pretty much anything from Sigma these days.

All photos taken at the UNESCO-listed Monte Sacro di Varese, Lombardia, Italy. A stunning and remarkably little known location, well worth a visit.

 

35mm

Back to basics

in Photography , Sunday, April 27, 2014

My rate of photographic gear acquisition has slowed down quite drastically over the past couple of years. This is partly due to gear fatigue, partly due to finding other ways to spend money, but mainly because photographic technology has arrived a such a level of adequacy that frankly, new cameras make very little difference, however much they get trumpeted as the New Messiah. Certainly there are some exceptions, where the technology is different enough that it might have photographic potential. A good example being Sigma’s recent cameras. But otherwise we’re really in a period of small incremental changes, and to my mind at least the biggest potential is making cameras more intuitive and enjoyable to use.  So really my gear lust has turned more and more towards lenses, and over the last 18 months I’ve acquired two new ones, the Panasonic Lumix 14mm (28mm equivalent) and the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f1.8 (35mm equivalent). The 17mm is a fairly recent newcomer, and one I hesitated over for many months. According to the rent-an-experts on the various inter web fora, it’s a truly dreadful lens, the production of which is little short of original sin. According to expert brick wall photographers it’s terribly soft at the corners and has so many things wrong with it that a combination of couldn’t rescue it. Then again, looking at the actual photos of real things posted by Olympus blogger Robin Wong it’s rather nice.

A lot of my very early photography was done at 35mm, mainly because that’s what cameras came with in those days, if not 50mm.  So film compacts like the Minox ML and Olympus XA, both of which I resurrected last year, unconsciously trained me to use 35mm. And of course, many consider 35mm to be the classic “street” focal length. And yet in the digital era, I’ve never had a 35mm prime lens. Somewhat discouraged by various people claiming it is a difficult focal length to use, especially if you like 28mm - which I do, sometimes - I decided the best thing was to try fixing the Olympus 14-42 “kit” zoom at 17mm and seeing how that worked for me. Well, it turned out very well, so I decided I’d like to have a “real” 17mm lens.  Olympus actually make two, an f/2.8 “pancake”, which gets even worse reviews (yeah, whatever), and the newer f/1.8 with the “clutch” manual focus system.  After a lot of months of hesitation, I sold the Lumix 20mm (very highly rated but never really worked for me), and I eventually decided to go for the f/1.8, in black. And it’s been pretty much glued to my Olympus E-P3 ever since.  It’s a really nice lens to use. The clutch system is much more effective on this lens than on the 12mm, which doesn’t really need it.  The wide aperture is great for low light, and also gives a quite adequate level of depth of field control, unless you’re an absolute fanatic about having about 1mm of the field in focus. Is it “soft at the corners” ? Does it show chromatic aberration in high contrast ? I have no idea - certainly if it does it doesn’t detract from any prints I’ve made. I guess if I zoom in on-screen at 200% I might find some lack of perfection, but it won’t keep me awake at night.  It’s just a very enjoyable and rewarding lens to use, and for me that’s quite enough to justify buying it.

Here are a few samples:

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Bellinzona, Switzerland

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Bellinzona, Switzerland

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Venice, Italy

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Lugano, Switzerland

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Lugano, Switzerland

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Lugano, Switzerland

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Schloss Favorit Woods, Bad Wurtemburg, Germany

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Schloss Favorit Woods, Bad Wurtemburg, Germany

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Bellinzona, Switzerland

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Giubiasco, Switzerland

Final word: the thing is, you just have to decide how the photographs you want to make are going to be best achieved, and in particular by what angle of view. Then choose the lens to match your needs. Never mind if it’s “soft at the edge”, or has 0.5% barrel distortion, or whatever. To 99% of your audience it won’t even register, and the other 1% only like cat and brick wall photos anyway. But if it works well for you and the way you seen the world through a camera, it will make your photography better.

 

m.zuiko 45mm f1.8

a bundle of fun

in Olympus E-System , Friday, October 28, 2011

One of my favourite-ever lenses was the Canon FD 135mm f2.0.  This fast telephoto would let me pluck a detail out a scene, beautifully sharp, with the fore- and background smoothly blending into a creamy smooth bokeh. And it had great contrast. And I gave it away, with most of my Canon FD gear, to the daughter of a friend who wanted to study photography but had no way of affording the gear. 

I never really found anything to compare to that lens, but now maybe I have: the Olympus m.Zuiko 45mm f1.8, which has the added advantage of being almost absurdly low-priced.  Mine arrived today. And here’s a sample of what I’ve found it can do.

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Stray leaf. Olympus E-P2 with m.Zuiko 45mm f1.8, wide open

So far I’ve found that the E-P2 tends to underexpose by 1/3 to 2/3rds of a stop with this lens compared to the 14-45mm. But that’s not much of a problem.

This is a fun lens to use, much more so in my opinion that the highly-rated Lumix 20mm. It is light, but well built, with a large, well damped focus ring. It looks gorgeous. And the results are pretty much guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. This is a must-have lens for and Micro Four Thirds camera owner. And an absolute bargain.  I’ll post some more examples soon.