Friday, November 10, 2017

Doing your classical? (Is there a future for the traditional way of photographing?)

(Part of "the contemporary meaning of photography" series)

Nota: This final episode of our photography meaning search saga is dedicated to all my old friends and colleges that have a profound passion of the traditional ways of doing photography. A great great generation of picture takers that are thinking that they have been spoiled by the introduction of the digital age, an age that have no respect for traditions or ancien manners of all kind.

It is amazing to try to count how many times the death of traditional photography has been announced since the last 3 or 4 decades. In fact it is a testimony of the continuous resilience of the medium over two centuries. But is there still a future in doing photography the classical way? Otherwise described by that taking picture with a specialized camera device, then treating the image registered and  then after diffusing it or printing it.

Specialized camera devices have known a lot of transformations during those 200 years. Many socall modern photo equipment have become totally obsolete in a relatively short period of time. It happens all the time and will happen again. SLR then DSLR designs are now on the verge of anhilation by more recent un-mirror design. Since we are constantly on the move we want performing cameras in a smaller and lighter package with easy connecting virtues. That is the price to pay for innovation and many traditional camera manufacturers are facing the challenge to simply survive in that new dimension.

So is traditional way of doing photography will disappear in profit of an "instamatic" world? Not really because the demand for more sophisticated photography both technical and artistically will remain and expand following our demographic grow. But as usual during all the course of the photo history learning the more demanding aspect of producing original and impacted pictures will stay the work of a more specialized users.

When I have started to take pictures we were at the pinacle of film photography and many older photographers were stating that the days of traditional photography were over, that everybody (meaning not especially skilled) can take good pictures. Since that time I can certify you that many very talented new artists and photographers just prove the contrary by exploring new ways of exploiting the medium.

It occurs to me that today photography can ask you a greater personal investment than just clicking but offer also a much more rewarding consideration. It is up to you to go ahead!

The Art of frozen vision

Part of "the contemporary meaning of photography" series)

It is about photography. Is it an Art? We know already the "art" of doing photography but the result of it can we compare it to the others forms of art such as painting or sculpture? It has been already a long debate and even today photography is still fighting for its legitime place in the Parthenon of Art.

In fact photography has been and still is a very actual art by creating trends and carrying them over the past two centuries. Artists have incorporated or simply expose their pictures into a variety of visual presentations. So it seems very difficult to restreint photography into its classical 2D flat representation. But photography is stil the expression of a frozen vision as a flash of the selected moment by the auteur.

Today there is a multitude of photographic events that are showing many of the different aspects of this contemporary visual art. Subjects, treatments and diffusion modes have exploded around our cultural world. Influences have become fully multi-lateral at a point that make uneasy to identify the many currents of creativity available. Moreover artists have chosen for many an ecliptic way of life that bounce from one interest to another. Although mécènes of art are still exist in variable forms a lot of artists are self-sustaining producers and diffusers.

Is there a place for innovation in our today world of constant communication? This question is surely initiated by the arrogance for the past artistic creators versus the actual production. Surely all visual arts (as for the others forms of Art) will continue to evolute in form, in practice, in showing. New subjects will appear as for older subjects that can be reinvent. New and more classical visual representations of the frozen vision can be reconstructed. The limitations as we are seing today cannot prevent us to research new frontiers and reach them.

Photography is certainly a very contemporain cultural expression that showcase many humain interpretations of our world.


Next theme: Doing your classical? Is there a future of the traditional way of photographying?

Photojournalism: Where is my public ?!!!

(Part of "the contemporary meaning of photography" series)

It is a drama related over the Photo Web sphere of the last two decades. What is happening to the traditional photojournalism that has been the most famous front of popular and professional photography reconnaissance?

If the technical skill to physically producing a product can be accordingly remunerated it is by far more difficult to get paid for an idea or  style or any original expression.

Multiplicity of the photographic resources can be also a definitive changing factor in photojournalism. With the past five decades of demographic explosion it is impossible to ignore the variety and the availability of the different sources of pictures in these societies.

But the necessity of pictorial interpretations of our human realities is still prevailing today. True to say that the so-call golden era of photo reporters with secure retribution is now over and we are facing a kind of renewed version of the ancient "pictographers" as we have seen at the very beginning of modern photography practice. Except for very specialized segments of photo production you cannot pretend no more to build your profesional life on the base only of taking news pictures.

The act of photo taking is for the good or the bad an highly democratic feature. So it depend of our own motivation and resources to plan, to produce and to diffuse our results. As I use to call them 25 years ago during my photo professionnel career the days of the corporated photographers are terminated (The bar is closed!). Today a new generation of young, talented and persistent photographers have taken the lead and their pictures can be seen on many new media.

It remains the question "Where is my public (gone)? The answer is everywhere in our present Web sphere of connections and communication.  There is no more general audiences (There is never had in fact) to refer in  for the diffusion of every kind of information. It is now specialize, local, institutional, corporative, etc. At the end the need to register part (bit) of human history will prevail one way or another.


Next theme: The Art of frozen vision (Photography as a cultural expression)

Memory of the future: Paper, Disc, Cloud...Photography in search of a future!

(Part of  "the contemporary meaning of photography"series)

For over more than its 180 first years the representation of photography has been done on a solid 2D support like paper, cardboard, glass, etc. Today it seems to be no really relevant to show our pictures that way only. Instead we are using on screen devices that for most of them give us a very handy and high resolution representation of the image. The problem with this is that those devices dont really sustain the picture permanently as it use to be in the past. So for any archival purpose or future reference you will need another support (digital or not) to preserve your photographs.

Preserving images doesn't matter if you are not interested to keep souvenirs or picture reminders from your past. In that case future access to digital memory or digital memory fading are not a real preoccupation. Sorry to confirm you this fact that can be observed for the immense majority of the pictures taken today. People in our present societies have a tendency to obliterate the past and are not interest anymore with history. The question of connection (Internet) is now essential to every photographing today devices. Many traditional camera manufacturers are finding very hard to understand that very basic fact of our consumer world.

The "consumer" societies as we are experiencing today is not really prepared and not really interest to stock over information that will seem obsolete in a very short term. So we are actually dropping or flushing most of our media production. And more important even when we intend to preserve some of it, it is only for a very short period of time.

The other problem of photographic preservation is the selection of what we think it is wort to do so. Because of the outstanding amount of imagery we are constantly producing in this digital age it start to be painfully annoying to try to choose and to classify our photographs.

In my sense the only approach of preserving pictures on a long term (at least for few generations) is to complete the entire cycle of producing photography. In simple term doing a print copy of your picture as we use to do for the first 200 years for the medium. So (ironicaly) the print may eventually win over disc, tape, drive,  cloud ... after all!


Next theme: Photojournalism: Where is my public?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Can I say (show) something? (The purpose of photography)

(Part of "the contemporary meaning of photography" series)

Is photography has became a redondant figure of our visual expression during our modern age?

For many it seems to be true in view of the always present of the animated image mainly in cinematography and videography. But representations of still photography are present as never everywhere in our society. So it is not a question of life and death for photography today but more a perception factor.

The purpose of (still) photography is multiplied by its diversified uses. Commercially no question about it the picture representation is here to stay. All kind of pictures illustrate products and services in many ways. There is a strong demand to do so and be more "pictographic" informative than textual.

What is changing a lot about today photography is its great diversity and its immense availability. In that sense you cannot anymore try to synthesize it in few categories or ressources or purposes. Moreover you cannot anymore speak about a very specialized medium because it became so popular, so accessible and so easy to diffuse. The "elite" time of photographers is gone for ever.

It is a combination of technical advancements in picture taken and of digital implementations that really democratized photography. But the messages remain... because photography is still an universal language with a strong impact to its audiences.

So can I show something new, different, relevant, informative? The answer is surely yes. What is a bit more difficult to admit is the fact that the traditional ways to present the picture are only a fraction from the many others ways to do it. And that can be frustrating for a lot of traditionalist picture takers.

At the end the purpose of photography can be simply describe as a visual way to express yourself. It can be art, news, illustrations, souvenirs but it is always about an image memory of a privilege moment in our life.


Next theme: Memory of the future: Paper, Disc, Cloud...Photography in search of a future!

Polaroid all over the "Phone" Planet and the "Web" World (as a trace of personal life involvement)

(Part of "the contemporary meaning of photography" series)

Finally Edwin Hebert Land the creator of the original Polaroid instant film process has won the war over Kodak. Its idea of instant photography succeeded with the combined introduction of the smartphone and the web facilities of our digital world. You can call it the digital Polaroid of our time. And nobody can contest that simple fact and even the idea of an instant print picture has been revived by nostalgics, by artists or by web fans and many commercial opportunities have been taken by small entrepreneurs like the Impossible group or by big industrial machine like Fujifilm.

So doing digital "Polaroid" was really the future of popular (instamatic or instant) photography. And it works at the gigantic scale in our modern demography. The tools are available, affordable and easy to operate with good picture results in standard situations. There will be no coming back to the despair of many traditional camera manufacturers.

Today instant photography is becoming an expression of ourself in the context of our life and surrounding. It interact with our close friends and relatives. It definite our style of living. It express our thinking, our reaction and our endorsement of the moment. It confirm our presence in space and events. It leave a fugace trace of ourself into our instant world, a trace that will be almost certainly obliterated the next moment. But this is part of our today world and the success of the medium. This world is about constant change more than evolution. It is like fashion and photography is fashion.

It isn't a question if instant photography is good or bad because it fulfil deeply a need of interpersonal communication in a society that have idealized individualism as a main way of life. Those who don't need it will simply ignore it as a way of expression because and it is still the beauty of it you can choose to participate or not to this instant world.

So what the most popular way of doing photography? You dont need help to find that answer! Just look simply into your pocket or your bag!


Next theme: Can I say (show) something? (The purpose of photography)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The contemporary meaning of photography: a story in color and in black and white

A short series of personal perceptions on photography


Almost 200 years has passed since the basis of modern photography has been settled by directly or indirectly printed the right interpretation of our surrounding on the same manner as your eyesight. It was at the time a complete visual revolution that brings us with flashes of memory of our time past and many foreign spaces. It has shaped a new and extended vision of our world. It has fascinated large specialized or unaware different publics. Today photography even after 2 centuries remains a source of constant controversies on many of its diverse aspects or subjects. Some populations or cultures are still banning it on the base of its own subversive power.

At first photography was essentially a technical curiosity with strong limitations. It took several attempts and further technical development to reach a practical level of producing it. It was also a privilege medium of the few before industrial pioneers like George Eastman with its Kodak had popularized it. Today with the introduction of photography into the digital age with the web connected smartphones photography became an instant part of our every day life. But what is the contemporary meaning of today photography? Is it a simple communication tool of personal expression or a reliable memory instant statement of the time or a visual art expression of its own? Is it still valuable in our past-present-future way of living? Many questions had risen over the past three or four decades on the importance of the photography in our societies.

At least we have one answer about the need of photography in today world and it is paramount to try to evaluate its intense use in our way of communicating and living. Billions of pictures are presented on many different viewing supports everyday almost everywhere. So there is a strong demand to do and to consume photography and sorry…photography is not dead!

Here are the themes that have been developed along this series:

Polaroid all over the "Phone" Planet and the "Web" World (as a trace of personal life involvement) 

Can I say (show) something? (The purpose of photography)

Memory of the future: Paper, Disc, Cloud...Photography in search of a future! (The diary of our present conserved for the coming generation) 

Photojournalism: where is my public? 

The Art of frozen vision (Photography as a cultural expression) 

Doing your classical homework? (Is there a future for the traditional way of photographing?) 
Your comments are always appreciated.

Daniel M

Thursday, November 2, 2017

(Very) Difficult times ahead for Nikon ...

Nikon I am on the edge!

Nikon the famous camera manufacturer that created "the" F series from the original eponym to the last one (F6) still available is enchaining (very) difficult times. Natural catastrophes over the last years have first undermine their productivity at a period which timing on market can make the difference between success or indifference. Quality control issues first denied than after admitted have lowered the customer confidence over the Nikon products. Awkward choices of new products and even of lines of products for finally dropping them have questioned deeply the pertinence of the planning staff of Nikon. Finally closing of some of the Nikon factories just confirmed their slip down over the market.

Except for very specific technical avancements Nikon has never been a real innovator in the camera market. It is true to say that they have been excellent marketer of new products that proved to be in high demand at the right time. Models such as the F series just demonstrate that. Even more Nikon has builded a solid reputation as a fine optician (not the finest we must also agree) by offering very good and affordable lenses. But there has been also some errances over their history and some incapacities to cope easily with some technical changes like in the case of autofocus lenses.

The Achille heel of Nikon as a corporation has been always their renown incapacity to be auto-critical. As an international marketer Nikon never believed that outside input is necessary to their development. So you can be lucky all the time and be able to recover by ourself every times when a serious problem occur in particular if you have originated yourself the difficulty. You need some original advise with fresh people and fresh perspectives. But can we be critical at Nikon? It seems over the net that it is almost an impossible mission... ask Thom Hogan who has been since several years one of their best ambassador and who has a profound knowledge of their products.

Now Nikon is experimenting the realities of the new world market that became very critical and very documented for any product. For example Nikon have missed completely the strong coming of the high-end mirrorless cameras. Its Nikon 1 series was a fruitless effort to maintain an artificial segmentation between "serious" photographers and pure amateurs. Now Nikon have simply abandoned their faithful supporters. That can be very costly in term of its follower base.

So what is necessary for Nikon ahead to recover and stop that dropping slope. Many things in fact because a lot of ancient Nikon owners have now adopted new systems very reliable and always updated (which is not really part of the Nikon culture) and the probability that they decide to come back to Nikon on a short term is very thin. Nikon will have to do its work and prove to them its serious involvement. In that thinking we are literally speaking of a complete new high-end and compact mirrorless system with different camera models and a complete lens line-up. This development may take at least two or three years to be done and maybe more time to get full success trust over the market.

At this point I am not overly optimist especially seeing that many recent Nikon decisions seem to be issued from corporative preoccupations only in complete ignorance of the evolution of the camera market. And I have serious doubt that somebody can be able to give them a serious wake-up call in the near future.

Nikon won't be the first big trade name of the recent photographic history to be flush out of the market for reasons that originated of their own organisation. It is a destiny that they will share with others famous names.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The size (dimension) factor in modern compact digital camera

(Picture fromWeb source)
35mm film (135) format cameras of the latest century have represented for most of the photographers the finest representation of a compact photo device. Highly practical,  very versatile, more ergonomic, relatively cheap and always innovative until the beginning of the digital era. But even considering all these interesting factors and others not mentioned here their size remains the most conclusive element of success during all these times of using traditional negative and transparency films.

In fact the size factor is not only an intemporel data regarding the design of cameras it is also a decisive one. Today we are facing the same dilemma for digital photographic tasked devices. What is the magic formula in terms of weight and dimensions? The answer is that there is no need to reinvent the calculations because that has been done several times already on several studies and the results are always approaching the same compact size package. A package that have been definite early by pioneers like Oskar Barnack with its Leica (although he was first using 35mm film but with a bit narrower negative frame format).

What we learn with experience is that the picture frame format is far less relevant to the photographic users than the size (and weight) of the camera. The models which are transgressing that moto will soon or later be put aside one way or another. It is a very unforgiving market law.

With the introduction of the OM-1 (M-1) in 1972 Olympus has redefined
the Leica concept to 35mm (135) SLRs (Picture from Web source)
During the last two or three decades of the SLR era we have observed two major successives tendencies. At first a general trend to downsize SLRs initiated mainly by the introduction of the Olympus OM series ( OM-1 in 1972) followed by most of the other manufacturers ( Pentax M series, Nikon E, FM & FE series, Canon A series, etc.) This trend has been succeeded by the extended automation of the functionalities of the camera like exposure metering, motorized film advance, ISO auto-indexing and even more significantly the auto-focusing. All these change have induced the creation of bulkier camera that were using a lot of software and ... battery power. The size of lenses also inflated a lot.  For sure there is a period that many photo enthusiasms were sharing the desire to be associated with camera models that were at first identified as professional apparentus.

Its about that time that the first attempts to substitute traditional 35mm SLRs by digital cameras appear. The new technology of digital image captor prevent the manufacturer to produce frame sensors of the 35mm size format equivalent. This is why they defend themselves by saying that DX (Nikon) or APS-C (Canon) were largely sufficient to do the job. And as a bonus the size of the cameras and lenses appear to be similar to the old film SLRs. Canon was the first to come back with a sensor size of approximately 24 X 36mm (comparable to the 135 film format). After a few years of denegations Nikon finally imitate Canon in that way. The big advantage for them was to be able to market again the old full line of lenses issued during the film era.

Today building a digital camera will face different new constraints. The image sensor and its processor will take the place of the old negative and its cartridge of the film era. You need to accommodate an LCD screen that can be act as a live viewfinder or a picture viewer for image review. automatic and regulator system are more sophisticated and rely on battery pack power. The heating issue mainly seen during video recording has to be addressed also. And not saying that you still have to design a camera that will withstand general and intensive uses in sometimes very adverse conditions. All those aspects have received special attentions from the manufacturer designed teams with success most of the time.

Today in 2017  the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II is fully respecting
 the weight and the  original dimensions of the 1972 OM-1.
But what about the sizes of the modern digital compact cameras. Two schools have emerged since a decade. The one that privilege the 24 X 36mm image frame format issued from the old 135 film (called falsely Full Format because full format image is in fact available in every formats...). The others that have chosen to exploit the "new" formats like APS-C and M4/3. These smaller formats combined with the electronic viewfinder (EVF) technology (first developed for videographers) are permitting much smaller designs that appear to be very similar in weight and dimensions to the former compact manual focus 35mm cameras. The two most mentioned arguments against them are the disparition of the traditional optical viewfinder (via a mirror box) and the more deep of field generated by smaller format frame dimensions. And each case advantages and disadvantages of each schools ( Mirror versus Mirrorless) tend to be gradually narrowed by technologic advancements.

But at the end you will finish with the size factor. And more and more photographers are choosing the compactness of the mirrorless models precisely for that. The picture quality output of the modern mirrorless can easily withstand the usual requirement of the virtual or printed publication even better than the traditional film of the past.

Every technological step of evolution encounter stiff resistance at its first introduction. But solutions of the past have never been eternal answers to the problematic of the future.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Short Splash Comment: Autonomy of (digital) cameras have never been so good!

No contest about memory cards that have already a fabulous
picture (file) capacity compare to traditional films.
Very often people tend to refer on recent past history in photography. For example in pretending that older (film) cameras were having more or autonomy than their modern digital personifications. While it is true to say that the in-board  exposure cell battery of these cameras was able to last a very long time (more than one year in many cases), are we comparing the right think?

Because autonomy in my book is referring to the ability of taking pictures on a continuous flux without any interruption (like a camera reset of any kind). In the case of the digital cameras this occurence will apply mainly when you are substitute an exhausted battery for a freshly charged new one. Rarely it apply in this modern age for a replacement of a fully loaded memory card by an empty one since their capacity have increased dramatically in the past decade.

Manufacturer proclaims more than 300 exposures with this unit but when adding
 the optional vertical power grip you will simply double that number...
Digital cameras (including mirrorless) will give you a typical autonomy of 250 exposures or more per battery pack charge. At that point you can substitute the battery pack by a newer in less than one minute. And the battery pack is reusable once it get a full charge ... which is not the case of a used film! Speaking economic a 36 exposures film including basic processing will cost you something like $10-12 assuming that you will thereafter scan the film to further process your image for print or to share the result (because traditional and chemical printing is costly and far less flexible). Per comparaison the cost of a new battery pack is about 7 or 8 times the selling price of a film and again it is reusable several, several times!

Loading a 135 film? Just follow these simple steps!

Just make sure the film tip is fully engage but not too much!

Wind the camera until Number 1 position...

(All pictures from Nikon FM Manual)

And dont forget to ajust your ASA (ISO)!

Nikon F3 HP / MD4: 
A faithful combination of the golden era of the SLRs
(Picture from web source)

Now a last question for all the happy triggers of this world: What is the autonomy of a 36 exposures film in term of working time? Lets say you are using a Nikon F3 HP equipped with its MD4 motor drive (with the very useful electric rewing option) and your shooting rate is 5 frames per second. Your film cartridge will last around 7 seconds of recording time not much more. So very short burst are recommended if you dont want to change fil too often. And not instant review of your pictures is possible with film cameras. With a digital camera it will depend essentially of the memory card capacity or the camera memory buffer capacity or the battery autonomy. But you can be sure it will surpass largely the traditional film camera abilities.

In short digital cameras are better photographic devices with added autonomy and more accurate and oriented results. So next time take a little longer to apprehend and do your picture and ... bring an extra battery pack, That way you will face all the odds!

1989: Nikon F3 HP good times with 36 
exposures per film cartridge autonomy...
Refill those pockets!
2017: Olympus OM-D E-M5 II with 600 
exposures (accentuations) autonomy!
Scotty, Beam me up!

And as a bonus feature: How to load a film into the Nikon F3 HP (Extracted from Nikon F3 Manual). That was part of the entry exam to be qualified as a true photojournalist!


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Olympus M.Zuiko ED 60mm F2.8 Macro: Doing more than macro in M4/3 format.

It may be the most curious looking lens of the entire Olympus optical line up for M4/3 format camera. Strange may be also another epitheth to describe it. Its physical aspect with its non-obvious function dials are giving to the Olympus M.Zuiko ED 60mm F2.8 Macro lens a more confidential reputation based for a good part to its specialized first task intended i.e. macrophotography.

Close focusing photography has been always of a great interest for me as for many of us. Subjects in that field are infinite with various points of view. On a purely documentary side doing macro photography was at first on the scientific priority but very early on following the first spreading of the new medium we have seen beautiful artistic black and white and later on colourful macrophotographic pictures. We may qualify them as the prelude of abstract photography.

Although many fine lenses designed for more general purpose can produce very fine close focusing pictures camera and lens manufacturers had soon beging to offer specific macro lenses calculated mostly to cope the flat field exigence of reproduction purpose. That trend has been observed throughout the technical evolution of the photographic equipment. Today macro lenses are current part of many photo arsenal of photographers around the world.

Into the M4/3 format lenses you can rely on different models part of the Olympus and Panasonic line-up. All of them are exceptional contenders of their own. Normal focal ones such as the 30mm length are more suited to be versatile as macro and everyday lenses. Long focal counterparts such as 45mm and 60mm may represent a more powerful alternative for doing very small and near object or better tool for studio and reproduction works.

The Olympus M.Zuiko ED 60mm F2.8 Macro represent a very interesting lens with close focusing ability at first and unprecedented characteristics such as its longer focal length and its all-weather construction. With an angle of view of 20 degrees it surpass many short telephoto for portrait work. Even with a maximum aperture of F2.8 it can be use for action photography in normal daylight condition. Of course close focusing can be its primary advantage combined by the fact that its longer focal length prevent most of its potential obstruction of light on the close subject.

Maybe the most spectacular part of the Olympus 60mm Macro is its oddly aspect if you compare it with others lens designs. But in the past many macro lenses had and still have that kind of visual aspect. I have to concede that it is not the most discrete optic I have ever used.

As for most telephoto macro lenses the Olympus M.Zuiko ED 60mm F2.8 Macro is a very creative tool and versatile because of its close focusing ability. If you accept the fix focal length factor you will find many ways to produce very original pictures that emphasize your main subject. As usual telephoto lenses can be also very competent for doing landscape or urbanscape photography with their dramatizing compression of many subjects in one frame.

The Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro lens is a small optic which is part a the traditional M4/3 format line of prime lenses. With a focal length of 60mm it is magnification factor of 2.4X compare to a standard lens (25mm) with an angle of view of 20 degrees which is qualified the optic for portrait or for small telephoto work. At 185g it is also a very light package easy to bring with you as an extra lens but you have to pay more attention to your stability in use since it is not possible to count on its own weight inertia (like bigger telephoto counterparts), In that case the camera stabilisation option is a welcome feature.

Manual focusing can be performed nicely through its large and very smooth focusing ring. Using the 60mm with the OM-D E-M5 II and its EVF (Electronic ViewFinder) is easy and the image is clear and accurate in most photographic situations. Focusing speed is surprisely responsive for this type of (macro) optic and it qualify the 60mm Macro lens for all other subjects associated with the use of a medium telephoto.  And yes the use of the limiter dial can save you time (and picture opportunities!) if it is applied in the good working context. The reproduction ratio scale is an amusing gadget also.

Typical third-party screw-in (46mm) metal lens hood
for telephoto. (Always check for trace of vignetting)
There is always that annoying discussion about the utility of using a lens hood with the 60mm since Olympus does not provide one with the lens (which is also very annoying...) My answer is simple: if you can afford to buy and bring one dont prevent yourself to do so. I have found the Olympus official lens hood to be a clever design (like the one that came right from the box for the Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm F.2.8 Pro model !) but you may consider some third party options less pricy and less bulky available through the Web. Essentially lens hoods are preventing some lens internal reflections (flare) especially when you are pointing in direction of punctual light sources.

The Olympus M.Zuiko ED 60mm F2.8 Macro is a very fine lens as it is intended to be. We are reaching pro level image results. Picture are crisp and rightly detailed. Colours are accurate and follow the Olympus expected bias without any adaptation compare to the other lenses of the Olympus line up. Out of focus areas are pleasant even considering the moderate maximum aperture of the lens.
The macro ability of this 60mm is flawless and enhanced by the longer focal length that reduce the risk of interfering with the subject light.

In bref it is fair to consider the Olympus M.Zuiko ED 60mm F2.8 Macro lens as an all-around medium telephoto optic with very handy macro possibilities but also nice other abilities such as for spontaneous photography, portrait or even action subject.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Choose your lens first! ... then look for the camera body

The Lens Factor

For must of us it is a commun and general tendency to select first a camera model and then combine an optic to it. After all it is the camera body that will register your picture and no picture mean no photography! Let say that is a bit similar to human nature with no possible image memory without a brain to sustain it. But think about the essential role that have to play your eyes during that process. Without them no image at all (except your own virtual in mind imagery of course...)

So the lens role is equally important in photography. And often the most neglect one when a lot of people buy a new camera. Many camera manufacturers have comprehend the idea and usually propose a combo kit lens with good optical performances but cheap overall construction. It is also intended that the kit lens will be used more lightly than intensively and will be certainly replaced by one or another with a more quality optic if the photographer get more dedicated in his or her practice of the medium.

The different ILC camera systems will offer you a complete line-up of lenses. Some optics are more oriented to a general purpose use. Others are really specialized tools. The manufacturers will often produce a professional alternative of lenses that are designed for more intense use in adverse conditions. Moreover these "pro" optics are bigger units equipped with larger focusing and zooming rings, smoother mechanism, constant and larger maximum aperture for most of the models but these are also heavier devices to bring with you and operate.

Are you looking for focal fixed length or variable (zoom) ones? The price to pay for the zoom ones is usually a more modest maximum aperture and may be a variable one which can be annoying if you want to to keep constant your basic exposure parameters such as the shutter speed, the aperture or the ISO sensibility. The zoom (focal length) range is another factor to consider. All-in-one zoom models are addressing to photographs that like to work with a minimum photo equipment and a maximum of flexibility. The short zooms can be basic trans-standards optics or specialized ones like did trans-wide-angle or long telephoto models. The maximum optical quality will be obtained with the "pro" series and will be comparable to focal fixed (prime) lenses.

The focal fixed (prime) lenses are the most compact ones with larger maximum aperture compare to the zoom lenses. Because of their fixed angle of view they will ask from the user to be more available to mobility and anticipation of your subject. Many prime lenses will give you superior results and will force you to pay more attention to your picture composition. You have also a better control of your deep of field (DoF) that will help you to discriminate easier your foreground and background from the main subject. Furthermore some prime lenses are really specialized tool to produce macro photography or corrected linear architectural pictures from the ground level or giving you an hyper wide angle view (fisheye) for example. These complex lenses are really dedicated tools and offer far less flexibility than more "normal" counterparts. Lens manufacturers have started to add in their line up some focal fixed "pro" lenses with very exotic maximum aperture like F1.2  but those units are fairly expensive ones.

Give them a try!
So selecting a lens that will suit your need and taste can be a perilous exercice of pick so try and ... repeat again if necessary. The possibility to borrow them or to rent them or at least try them at the store or at manufacturer (store) clinics can help you. The other factor to consider is what will be the best camera combination to choose for the type of lens and the style of pictures you want to realize. Again trying the equipment will give an edge before buying the thing.

It is amazing to think that most of the personal involvement of people for the purchase of a photo device is directed to camera body specs and features in forgetting the crucial aspect of the optic in photography. Sometime it's better to use a lens that correspond to your vision and will suit your photographic needs instead of having the most powerful camera body.

P.s. Lens Factor
If you intend to equip yourself with 2-3 or more different lenses chance you may adopt a complete lens system. The good way of doing it is to stay with the same manufacturer and the same lens model series. In doing so you are assuring yourself to have a fully comparable design, construction, optical results and future compatibility with the camera upgrades.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Olympus Pen-F: a “large” pocket digital camera

The love of rangefinder style camera

The Olympus Pen-F with the M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 as a fine all-around combination. 
(Please take note that I will not talk about the video abilities of the Olympus Pen-F)

Personal Note: I always have a special crush for any rangefinder style film or digital camera. It has and still represents the traditional way of seeing a (real) compact camera in my sense. All those models are usually fun to work with and can generate very original photo material. When Olympus had introduced the Pen-F I was charmed by the look of the product and now I began to discover its special abilities as a strong but funny photo device to experiment. The Olympus Pen-F has its own standards and cannot be assimilated or compare to other D-SLR type (or on-axis viewfinder) models.

There’s always that modern camera style debate regarding SLR versus rangefinder categories that you can translate today by the choice of on-axis and off-axis viewfinder compared to the taking lens. Moreover rangefinder style cameras have been assimilated to compact and discrete devices nor that SLR style camera have been associated as the center element of a complete and extended photographic system which is using longer telephoto and wider lenses and faster motorized advance film option.

The best illustrations of those two “schools” are present in all major line of mirrorless products available from Fujifilm, Olympus or Panasonic cameras and lenses. It replicate in this digital era the same pattern observed in the past with the Leica film camera offer with the M and the R lines.

With Olympus you can choose between the Pen and the OM-D lines. Accordingly their focal fix prime lenses fit perfectly with the Pen models and their zoom and Pro lenses combine well with the OM-D series.

Olympus EP-3 Pen series predecessor 
During the past decade I have the chance to use both Olympus series including the earlier EP models with the add-on viewfinder (a bit similar to the ancient Leica film I-G series). You can refer with my previous blog-notes on these models such as the EP-3 or the OM-D E-M5 (first version) or the most recent ones concerning the OM-D E-M5 Mark II and the OM-D E-M1 Mark II.

Both rangefinder and SLR styles have their own advantages. OM-D E-M1 and OM-D E-M5 are really all-weather devices with enhanced grips useful when combined with bigger faster lenses or external bigger flash units. The battery autonomy is greater and the viewfinder in the case of the E-M1 Mark II is clearly more confortable with its wider view. For many assignation works the OM-D series will get my preference. But for urban, travel or everyday subject the Olympus Pen-F is a perfect on-hand camera.

Clearly ex-centris viewfinder compare to the taking lens.
The Olympus Pen-F

Doing spontaneous photography with the Olympus Pen-F is unbeatable because of its compactness and its own discretion. On travel and urban surrounding it is a strong advantage. And the Olympus Pen-F is far less intimidating regarding people or animal (domestic) photography. Using the silent mode option (electronic shutter) represent another strong advantage of the Pen-F if you are facing more quiet or calm condition but with still subject.

It is already said that the Olympus Pen-F replicates many aspects of the ancient rangefinder film cameras. But in that sense the past ergonomic solutions of the film era may also apply to the actual digital devices. On the Olympus Pen-F some traditional dial functionalities have been transformed such as the On/Off interrupter that simulate the traditional film rewind knob and the front special effect dial which is recalling the old slow shutter speed selector during the film era. You can also use the traditional screw-in shutter release cable as a remote trigger unit.

The Olympus Pen-F is a slim and compact camera. Its “Pavé” design (like a slender decorative brick size) will dictate a less confortable and secure sense of handling. In three words there is “no protuberant grip” to rely and the use of a wrist or shoulder strap seem to be an obligation for the everyday user. There is also the possibility to add the Olympus ECG-4 optional grip. The slim design of the Pen-F is especially suitable for the combine use of the small Olympus (or Panasonic) fix or variable focal lenses. Examples of these fine optics are the Olympus M.Zuiko lenses such as the 12mm F2.0, the17mm F1.8, the 25mm F1.8 and the 45mm F1.8 lenses or the 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 zoom as an all-around optic. A lot of bigger lenses are fully compatible with the Pen-F but the handling of the camera will suffer accordantly.

Except for the On/Off interrupter all the important dials and function buttons are located on the back & front of the Olympus Pen-F right hand side. This disposition facilities greatly the right hand control of the camera and liberate your left hand for a better handling of the taking lens especially in regard of the manual focusing (and zooming if available) option. As usual for Olympus cameras many functionalities may be directly available after prior setting of the control knobs and push buttons. Most default setting are logical and nicely presented although it may be altered at will in regard of your specific requirements.

EVF / Back live screen
The “look through” electronic viewfinder (EVF) will give a well definite picture with a very short time lag not really noticeable if you are concentrate on your subject. As usual the more high contrast rendering compare to the final image output registered has to be considered.  The Live/Review back screen is also very well definite and can be relied as a good reviewing tool.  It has also the great versatility of pivoting in almost every way (A tilt able version may have been marginally more slim but with less video capability).

Interface and Quick menu
Olympus interfaces are by tradition very extended and complete but the numerous accesses to the different setting options can be confusing and will ask you to invest on the learning curve of the menu. Many default setting are excellent and can be use right from the start. Furthermore the quick menu mode synthetize the most important factors usually chosen for the camera setting. There are also the Custom modes setting (C1; C2; C3; C4) that are very handy for the photographer who want to switch on the spot to a complete different setting. My suggestion is to experiment gradually the Olympus Pen-F and get use to its multi-possibilities. On a short note I have found that in many cases the multiple way (by going through the menu or the quick mode or even the direct dials and function buttons) of doing the same adjustment can be a bit confusing.

As for many other Olympus models (with the exception of perhaps the OM-D E-M1 Mark II) it is suggested to bring an extra battery considering the limited autonomy of the BLN-1 battery pack. Shooting by using only the EVF can extend significantly the life of your battery pack charge.  I just have to reverse the LCD screen to use this option.

Flash options
No in-board flash has been incorporated to the Pen-F. A small external Olympus FM-LM3 optional flash is included with the camera package and can be used as an emergency fill-in flash or as a commander unit of a multi external Olympus flashes arrangement. Otherwise you can rely on a more powerful and versatile unit such as the Olympus FL-600R that is powered by its own 4 size AA batteries.

Image Output 
By using the 20MP image captor similar to the OM-D E-M1 Mark II or to the Panasonic Lumix GX8 the image quality has been optimized on the Olympus Pen-F. The extra resolution compared to the previous 16MP sensor will give an additional marge of manoeuvre for post treatment ability with less visible lost of definition. In some case like monochrome picture taken on high ISO setting the difference can be notably appreciated.
If monochrome represents most of your photo projects the Olympus Pen-F (like many Olympus M4/3 format models) will fulfil your tasks very nicely.
The Pen-F offers you a lot of different pre-program color configurations plus the possibility to create your own color bias and record it into its different custom menu. In that sense there are no real limitations for the photographer creativity. The whole M4/3 format digital system has reached a great maturity.

Action photography with the Olympus Pen-F ?
Spontaneous photography as street or urban or travel subjects are well deserved by the Pen-F as everybody seem to agree easily but that perception differs a lot when you are speaking of action or sport photography. Many just points out a restricted ability of the camera to properly autofocus on moving subjects which absolutely true from the beginning. Moving (often erratic) targets present a challenge to all autofocusing system and there are only a very limited camera models that can properly answer that demand like the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. So in the case of the Pen-F action photography is not the ideal situation to use it… but it can be done by setting for example a pre-focus area on manual position. For sure anticipation is fully required to do so but it got the advantage to more carefully plan our final picture composition. To illustrate that I have simply presented two examples of action picture done by an Leica M-4P rangefinder in late eighties and by the Olympus Pen-F at the present time. So with certain restrictions and more skill asked from the photographer part the Pen-F can fulfil the bill. At the end the Olympus Pen-F can be rightly assimilated as a perfect second very compact camera on hand for the sporty photographer.

In brief the Olympus Pen-F may represent the summit of their Pen series evolution simply by the fact that it reunite the slim design with the off axis viewfinder like the ancient rangefinder film cameras. This model is complete in its features and performs very competently with the latest 20MP image captor. Although I did not intent to use the video aspect of the model the Olympus Pen-F is a very competent and compact still digital camera. Because of the compact size of the camera and the lenses that suit this volume (like the 12mm, 17mm, 25mm or 45mm) the Olympus Pen-F is very easy to bring all-time with you and is a good picture generator. It can fulfil many different photo projects on an everyday basis.  Its 20MP image sensor will give very high quality output at the same level of the “Pro” OM-D E-M1 Mark II.

The versatility of the Olympus Pen-F is on the side of its compactness: easy to bring, reach, show, shoot and share.

Post-scriptum on the Olympus Pen-F

Olympus Pen-F with M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II R lens
There are many lens-body combinations available with the Olympus Pen-F.  For sure the best image quality results will be obtained by using the Premium (prime) and Pro series lenses. But you can also explore a more modest approach with small zoom lenses such as the Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II R lens model that is very affordable, compact, versatile and will give very good pictures. It can be a small lens that facilities greatly spontaneous photography practice.

Since my introduction to the M4/3 format with the Olympus EP-3 I have selected the M.Zuiko 14-42mm II R lens as an ever ready “everyday” on hand optic on several occasions without being deceptive by its output. It represents a king of normal trans-standard zoom lens. Its major flaw remains its very small maximum aperture and it is difficult to really extract your subject from its surrounding by using a shallow deep-of-field. But on the other hand it can be a fantastic contextual lens that will allow you to compose beautiful urban scape for example. The same can be told for other optics of the same level from Panasonic.

(If you are looking to buy the Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42mm II R you will often get the best deal when you combine it with the purchase of a camera body.)