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Hardware

well it’s more interesting than photography…

in GAS , Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A couple of months ago I had two blog posts playing around in my head, on the twin topics of “Software” and “Hardware”. “Software” got published, and here, belatedly, is “Hardware”.  I know: gear isn’t important, it isn’t interesting and it has nothing to do with Art, or indeed Photography. But, hey, it sure gets clicks.

The idea really is to get this stuff behind me once and for all. To choose a solution on both fronts that I’m comfortable with, and from then on just do the photography stuff. I might still browse through gear reviews and those crazy, crazy forums on the train or wherever, but only at a distance. And actually, on the Software side it seems to be working. I did have a bit of a glitch a month or so back, when my faithful Epson 3800 printer finally decided to throw a hissy fit. I replaced it with an Epson P800, and thanks to my investment in ImagePrint, it just slotted in and was immediately productive. In the past it would have taken me weeks, months even to get to grips with a new printer, but with ImagePrint handling everything it is completely seamless.

So, printing, that’s kind of halfway between hardware and software. The real hardware is the glitzy black boxes covered with dials and knobs with big tubes sticking out the front. Since I got into digital, I’ve been a faithful (or maybe lazy) Olympus user. My current “default” camera is an Olympus E-M5 MkII which I actually bought on impulse at a crazy low ex-demo price as a backup to take to Antarctica.  By the time I returned it had become my main camera, and although the shutter count is still some way short of my near-retired E-M1, I’m sure if I could record how long I’d carried both for, the E-M5 would win easily.

My last major outing with the E-M5 was to Madeira, where I was seriously surprised by the wealth of photographic potential. I had just the E-M5 with the 12-100 lens with me, having taken a fairly casual approach. What I sorely missed was a polariser, but still, the combination generally worked very well.  Where it did fall down is on something I’ve noticed before: distant fine detail, especially in vegetation, has a tendency to turn into an unsightly mush, which is noticeable even at A4 print sizes - well, it is to me, anyway. This impression has been confirmed to me by an acquaintance who is a professional Olympus user, and just has to be considered to be a limitation of the relatively small sensor and low-ish 16Mpix resolution. But it really only strikes in very particular circumstances - for example in urban photography I never notice it.  But anyway, this leaves an itch when it comes to some types of landscape photography.  Other than that, the Olympus m43 system fits me just fine. The lenses are just superb, and the bulk / weight, or lack of both, are very welcome.

But still, I wanted a “high quality” solution.  I’ve been seriously toying with the idea of Medium Format mirrorless, the Hasselblad X1 or Fuji GFX.  I briefly tried out the GFX and felt that it was a very nice camera, even if I prefer the aesthetics of the Hasselblad.  But the prices ... especially of the lenses ... I really cannot justify. If I was a professional, maybe, or even if I was a good enough photographer to do either justice, but I’m neither of these, so no. I’d rather spend the money on a trip to Greenland, but since I don’t actually have that kind of disposable income anyway, that’s not an option either.

But there’s another option lurking, which any readers of my past writings on gear might well see coming: Sigma. I’ve been dithering about this for ages, and typically, the death sentence of the Sigma SA lens mount and associated cameras bought about by Sigma joining an alliance with Leica and Panasonic was just the trigger I needed to grab a Sigma sd H Quattro while I still could. I’ve been a strong fan of Sigma cameras since the DP2 Merrill, and have got some very satisfying results from the ultra wide angle dp0 Quattro. But these are fixed lens cameras and rather specialist. The sd is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, albeit one compromised (in some senses) by taking Sigma SA mount lenses designed for DSLRs.  The Sigma Art lenses are optically fantastic, on a par with the best Olympus can do, but O.M.G are they huge and heavy.  Initially I got the 35mm f1.4 Art, and supplemented it with the 24-70mm f2.8 Art.  I doubt I’ll be adding to the collection.  Being used to micro Four Thirds (or even non-micro Four Thirds), and indeed Sigma “compacts”, I’d largely forgotten about camera weight. The Sigma sd H itself isn’t heavy, but add a lens to it, and it takes me back to the nightmare days of my Canon T90 with solid lead telephoto lens bolted on the front. It’s going to have to really produce the goods to stay off the shelf.

Although people rave about the resolution of the Sigma Foveon sensor, rightly so, my attraction is more to the crystalline clarity and luminance of the photos it produces.  It’s as close to film as I’ve ever seen from a digital camera - indeed much closer than any other. The colour output has a similar character to Kodak Portra, although unfortunately with a dynamic range more like Fuji Velvia.  But in the right circumstances, both the Merrill and Quattro variants of the sensor really sing.

So there we have it - Olympus m43 for general use, Sigma sd H and dp0 for when I need something a little different. I decided to take the sd H, with the 24-70 lens, along with the E-M5 and 12-100 lens for a short trip to Venice last week, thinking I might dedicate a little bit of time to some side by side testing.  Of course I could do side by side testing in our back garden, but I actually need interesting subjects to motivate me to “test”, and our garden, welcoming as it is, doesn’t really qualify, especially not at this time of year.

It all went wrong. Of course it did. The 24-70 lens arrived at the last moment, so I decided to take advantage of an hour between trains to try it out at Milan Central station, and to review the files on the way to Venice.  Then in Venice I took it out in the late afternoon to just do some more familiarisation shots.  The battery ran out at about 70 shots, probably because it wasn’t fully charged to begin with, but also because the lens has an optical stabiliser, which doubtless sucks up power. No problem, I just reached into my pocket to swap in the spare battery, only to realise that I’d bought the dp0 spare, not the sd, and they’re very different.  And of course I’d brought the dp0 charger as well. So the wonder-camera turned into a temporary very heavy doorstop.

Not haven taken any really challenging shots, or indeed been all that careful, and no comparison shots at all, I don’t have much to base an opinion of the sd H in an urban setting on, but to be frank, what I do see doesn’t really blow me away.  It’s early days yet, but I have a nasty feeling that the perfectly matched fixed lenses of the Sigma dp series play a bigger role than I’d realised.  I did, however, take a few landscape shots in December when I first got the camera, and they were promising. We shall see.

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Venice, by Sigma sd H Quattro with Sigma Art 24-70mm f2.8 lens

The kind of embarrassing thing though is that I also had my Ricoh GR II with me, and due to the lack of power for the Sigma, and also an unfortunate accident with the E-M5, it got pressed into service far more than I expected. And not only did I really enjoy using it, but the “image quality” is actually quite breathtaking. Of course I already knew this.  Waaaay back towards the end of the last century it was the original film GR1 which shocked me into realising what a difference a great lens can make, and the descendants of that camera have maintained the tradition of optical excellence. In fact, I’m loathe to say this, but the GR, at least at 28mm, may be every bit as good as the Sigma. Ouch.

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Venice, by Ricoh GR II with Ricoh 18.3mm f2.8 lens

The Olympus E-M5 did its job efficiently and reliably, and I certainly enjoyed using it.  It doesn’t quite have the wow factor of it’s two companions, but it provides a far greater degree of flexibility than either, and remains my no 1 choice.  Unfortunately, on a night time shot, I was carrying it on my Gitzo Traveller tripod, and the assembly holding the ballhead to the centre column fell apart just as I was heading home.  The E-M5 hit the paving stones - well the 12-100 lens did so first - rather abruptly. The mount on the lens was visibly skewed and the lens was unusable. Fortunately there was no other visible damage, and the camera seems fine.  The lens has gone off to Olympus for repair, and I’ve ordered a new centre column from Gitzo through gritted teeth. I do sometimes - ok, often - wonder just how much Gitzo actually really deserve their reputation.

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Venice, by Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkII with Olympus m.Zuiko 12-100mm f4.0 lens

So, that’s the hardware story.  I did cast around a little, I looked at the new Nikons, I even looked at Panasonic, but finally I decided that Olympus backed up with Sigma and Ricoh are a pretty good comfort zone.  Actually, if only Ricoh could expand their philosophy to a somewhat wider range (yes I know about Pentax, but no thanks) I could be very happy with just that. The Sigma sd H may turn out to be a big, heavy mistake. But the dp0 is a gem.

Oh, and about film cameras? Yes, well, they’re all sitting on a shelf, along with a drawer full of film. I haven’t used a film camera since last September, and right now I feel absolutely no urge to do so again.  Things may change, but I may, just possibly, finally be done with film.  Anybody want to buy an XPan ?

 

Interesting Times

Fame ...AND fortune!

in Photography , Thursday, January 10, 2019

Welcome to 2019. I spent the last couple of weeks off the grid - no forums, no Twitter, no Brexit, no Trump. It was wonderful.  On my return I found quite a few surprises, for example the palace revolution at the veteran Luminous Landscape website - see Andrew Molitor’s take on that. Other than some very helpful experts populating the technical forums, the Luminous Landscape hasn’t been very relevant to me for quite some time, but in it’s heyday it was a big influence on me. I followed the site since the very early days, pre-digital boom, and I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge Michael Reichmann as a major influence on both my photography and my approach.  Some may find that an uncool admission, but it could have been a lot worse.

But the next big surprise was an email from Olympus Europe, telling me that my already forgotten submission to their “snow” competition had actually won.  And netted me a €500 voucher to spend on Olympus gear. Well, I don’t really know what I’m going to do with the voucher, but the praise is very welcome!

I’m also feeling just a little vindicated, because the photograph in question - which I actually took way back in 2006, is reasonably typical of my general approach, and not a blatant attempt to win a competition with some 500px super saturated horror.  To be honest I had no expectation whatsoever of winning.  The technical quality is terrible and the photo was shot using a measly 10 Megapixel Olympus E-3 camera.  Here it is…

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I can only thank the judge, Lukasz Bozycki, for his astounding good taste :-)

Literally ten minutes after the email from Olympus Europe, I got a totally separate email from the publishers of the UK-based Olympus magazine asking to use a photo of mine in an upcoming special issue. Fame AND fortune! The day job must be starting to feel nervous.

Happy New Year.

 

 

 

 

Uncompetitive spirit

although with right incentive…

in Photography , Monday, October 08, 2018

I’ve never been one for competition, of any kind. I prefer to do things my own way, to set my own goals, and not bother too much what other people are doing. This is not restricted to photography - I have the same attitude towards all forms of work and play. I certainly compete against myself, for example setting time or difficulty targets for mountain biking, but I really have little interest in fitting in with some set of restricted parameters to compete with others. The fact that I’m a miserable antisocial loner doesn’t help much, mind you. But when it comes to photography, and indeed all arts, I really, really do not get the idea of competing. How can we say that one person’s mode of self-expression is better than someone else’s ? It strikes me as being more harmful than anything else. Of course if you treat photography as a technical endeavour then it can work - prize for the razor-sharpest photo of nothing in particular, prize for the highest resolution brick wall, prize for the most slavish conformance to the Rule Of Thirds. Etcetera.

Which is all a long preamble to say I entered a competition. Not exactly National Geographic, but instead a competition run by my local bricks and mortar camera shop, Foto & Ottico Carpi of Bellizona (of which more below). The competition required a submission of just one photo, of an animal. Any animal. And the first prize is an Olympus E-M1 MkII, so not exactly nothing. Still, despite my having plenty of photos of animals (not that I’m any good at all at wildlife photography), I still dithered up until almost the last moment before sending in my entry.  You may be able to spot it in the screenshot below:

Screen Shot 2018 10 07 at 22 07 51

The quality of the entries to the competition has really taken me aback. This is a competition run by a small, if excellent, shop, in a small provincial town in one of the sleepiest parts of Switzerland, open only to subscribers to the shop’s mailing list. It just goes to show how many really excellent photographers there are, and that despite all the sneering about selfies and camera phones, there is still a very significant section of the public who take photography seriously. Of course, these could all be the shop owner under different pseudonyms :-).

I’m not sure when the winner will be announced, but I am sure it won’t be me.

Footnote:

Foto Carpi is a family business, run by the professional photographer Milo Carpi, located in the Main Street of Bellinzona, Ticino. They are an Olympus Pro dealer, Nikon as well I think, and also stock Sony, Leica, Panasonic, Sigma and a surprisingly good range of accessories. They even sell film. I got my last ever rolls of Ektachrome E100G there. They quite often run open days supported by the importers of their main brands. It’s really encouraging to see such a business managing to survive in these times, but the icing on the cake, and really surprising thing are their prices: I only really look at Olympus prices, so I can’t say for sure that this applies to all brands, but their Olympus prices consistently undercut even the lowest prices from Swiss internet box shifters. And this with personal service and advice, the security of being able to personally bring in any defective or damaged item, and a hotline to Olympus Switzerland. I try to give them as much of my business as I can.  And I often find excuses to stroll past their window display.

 

Photokina Fallout

GAStrology time again

in GAS , Wednesday, October 03, 2018

The recent avalanche of new camera announcements (albeit most of them vague promises for 2019) have once again stirred up doubt and Gear Acquisition Syndrome. As a committed and long term user of Micro Four Thirds, and Four Thirds before that, I might be wondering if all this rush towards “full frame” somehow invalidates my photography. It’s a stupid reaction, but not uncommon, and let’s face it, I’m just me against the relentless onslaught of marketing and Internet pseudo-peer pressure. Every telegraph pole out there has a raven perched on it, croaking “Micro Four Thirds is dead, nevermore!”.

I have to confess some of the offerings look tempting. The Nikon Z7 seems pretty nice in theory - I saw one in the flesh yesterday, alongside the Olympus E-M1.2 and Lumix G9 MFT cameras, and the Nikon looks about the same size as the Olympus and actually smaller than the Lumix, despite housing a sensor that’s twice the size. Then again, boy is that Nikon ugly! And not even in a quirky way.

The standard defence of MFT would be that the cameras and especially lenses are smaller and lighter. Well, although there are smaller and lighter variants in the MFT world, honestly if you want reasonably fast, weather sealed lenses, and a rugged body, in many cases you may wonder if the smaller, lighter bit starts to get a bit marginal.

I’m not so bothered, in general, about “image quality”, whatever that means. Generally any modern camera is good enough for everything except very special cases. But nevertheless, recently I have been starting to get frustrated with a certain lack of resolution of high frequency detail in the far distance. Close up, there’s no problem, the Olympus body/lens combinations can deliver all the resolution I’ll ever need. I can understand that MFT might impose too many limitations on, say, outdoor portrait or wedding photographers, but for my mixed urban/landscape stuff, generally it’s not the limiting factor. I rarely need to go over ISO 1600, indeed I’m not that often over 200, and I tend to be scaling for more depth of field, not less.

Anyway, to try to get a handle on the realities of the situation, I decided to make a small series of prints from Olympus files (all 16 Mpix) at the largest size my printer offers, A2. And, frankly, they worked out just fine. They stand up very well to high quality scans from 120 format film, and in some respects to Sigma Foveon files. Honestly, I can’t see me ever needing to print bigger - I have no actual use even for A2. If ever I did, I’m sure I can find professional printers who can go up to A1.

IMG 5179

A2 Prints from Olympus 16Mpix files

IMG 5180

Detail of above A2 Prints

I then started to think about a couple of future trips I have planned, which involve flights with very restricted weight limits. That’s when the apparently marginal weight advantage of MFT starts to kick in. For example, the marvellous 12-100 f/4 lens is practically on a par with any Olympus prime, even the f/1.2 series, and at a push could work as the sole lens for most trips. It weighs 560g, and with Dual IS offers unbelievable stabilisation. There is a 24-120 f/4 Nikon lens that weighs 710g and has less range (yes, I know all about depth of field, but for me this is at best irrelevant, at worst a downside). If we move up to the equally fabulous Olympus 40-150 f/2.8, which weighs 760g, then the closest Nikon I can find is the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, which weighs 1.5kg and is significantly more expensive and bigger. It’s at this longer end that the MFT weight advantage really kicks in. And if you’re willing to compromise a bit on aperture, then you can find very good MFT lenses that hardly register on the scales.

Certainly “full frame” sensors have an attraction and certain advantages in noise threshold, dynamic range, and resolution. But frankly, these advantages are often not much different from trivial. I’ll take the possibility of carrying an extra 150mm of focal length reach over a 0.5db increase in dynamic range.

Olympus didn’t announce ANYTHING at Photokina, which was another sign that the sky is falling on them, apparently. Well, it might not be the best news for Olympus, as new product drives sales (I suppose), but it’s fine by me: I’ve pretty much got everything I need - although that 300mm lens is sort of tempting. I don’t even have the latest body, the E-M1.2 - it doesn’t really offer me anything over my E-M5.2 or E-M1.1, and it’s noticeably bulkier. What I would like to see Olympus work on, personally, is a range of optically excellent medium aperture primes, along the lines of Leica Elmarits, and a high-end medium aperture medium zoom, within the 14-35mm range. But then again, the “low end” lenses they already offer in this range are really far from poor.

So, in summary, the grass is actually a perfectly nice hue of green on my side of the fence, and I’m sticking to it. I did vaguely hint at the one Photokina announcement that really did have me clutching my wallet: the L-Mount alliance. The thought of a full frame Sigma Foveon camera interchangeable with Leica and Panasonic bodies, all three taking each other’s lenses is really interesting news. Certainly not a solution for weight-constrained trips, but otherwise, I can see this paired with my Olympus kit as the ultimate solution - for me.

 

Olympus stuff for sale

Get that lens you always wanted!

in Site Admin , Wednesday, March 08, 2017

As explained here, I'm having a bit of a clearout, and offering various bits and pieces of Olympus gear for sale at AMAZING prices.

Everything here is used, but in good condition and full working order. There are some scuff marks, particularly on plastic lens shades, but these come from carrying stuff in bags. Nothing has been dropped or badly handled. If it was damaged, I wouldn't sell it, I'm just not that guy. Everything was bought new, by me, through official importers.

I'm located in Switzerland, which is not in the EU. For EU customers, I can easily send by (registered) Italian post - which is perfectly reliable, whatever prejudice may say. Otherwise I can send worldwide by Swiss parcel post or by DHL (but DHL is very expensive here for private customers). Within Switzerland, I will cover the cost. Otherwise, we can negotiate. From previous sales I have satisfied customers from USA to New Zealand and China.

All prices are given in Swiss Francs (CHF), which are more or less 1:1 EUR and USD. Rounding errors can be negotiated. I've tried to keep the prices fair, and low. Generally I would request payment on receipt of goods by PayPal.

Anyway, here's the stuff.

SOLD 1. Bundle - Olympus Four Thirds 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 SWD SOLD



with lens hood, caps, tripod collar, carrying case and the following extras:
- Olympus EC14 1.4x Teleconverter
- Olympus EC20 2x Teleconverter
- Olympus MMF2 Micro43 adapter (not shown in photo)

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The asking price for this bundle is CHF 600.00


2. Olympus Four Thirds 12-60mm F2.8.4.0 SWD



This lens was serviced two years ago by Olympus to fix a broken lens hood mounting ring (a known issue with this lens), and hardly used since, so it is like new.

with lens hood, caps, soft bag.

sale1703 - 4

sale1703 - 3

The asking price for this lens is CHF 350.00

3. Olympus Micro Four Thirds 75mm f1.8 (black)



This is a truly fabulous lens, but it is primarily a portrait lens, and I don't really do portraits. Hence it is very little used.

with lens and body cap, and additional optional extra Olympus metal lens hood and alternative push-fit lens cap.

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The asking price for this lens and extras is CHF 500.00

SOLD 3. Olympus Micro Four Thirds 12mm f2.0 (silver) SOLD



This is also a very good lens, but it gets very little use as generally for wide angle I use panoramic cameras, and if I need 12mm on Olympus I have a 12-40mm.

with lens and body cap, and additional optional extra Olympus metal lens hood.

sale1703 - 6

sale1703 - 7

The asking price for this lens and extras is CHF 350.00


 

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