Monday, 30 January 2012

Filtered or Unfiltered?

No, this isn't a blog post on how you prefer your cigarettes  :-)

The more I shoot with the Olympus EP-3, the more I find myself using an Art Filter (or two). My favourite has to be the Dramatic Tone Filter, because the images are, well, so darn dramatic! In fact, I'm so used to shooting with this filter now, that I've begun to use the 'filter bracketing' feature of the EP-3. Long story short - enable 'filter bracketing' in the bracketing menu, choose which filters to include in the bracket sequence (as many as you want!), and then take a 'normal' picture in the mode of your choice (that would be A for me). The camera takes a normal image, and then applies any of the art filters that you've checked to the image to create a new, art filter file. Brilliant!

The 'normal' jpeg image in vs the Dramatic Tone filter shot. Which do you prefer?
Up until now I've been fiddling about with the art filters and applying them whenever I felt like it - or remembered to. But with the ability to 'bracket' the filters so they are applied to each and every shot, I now get the best of both worlds. Because quite often it's not a matter of one or the other - I actually end up liking all of them.

Side by side comparison again. 
I only have the 'dramatic tone' filter added to my bracketing sequence, so I still have to go into the Art Filter mode if I want to apply any others. I could add Grainy Black and White, Pop Art, and Diorama to the bracketing sequence ( the other art filters I use a lot), but this adds time to the processing of the image - each takes a second or two to apply. The great thing about applying the filters as a bracket though, is that you also get an 'original' normal file - something you don't get when you shoot specifically in the Art Filter Mode. So bracketing of art filters, even if it's just your favourite one, is worth it.

The Price we Pay. Olympus EP-3, Dramatic Tone filter.
And finally - above is a shot I've been meaning to get for quite a while. I had heard about this little petrol (gas) station that had a sign up stating that petrol was an 'Arm and a Leg'. It's in a tiny town about 40 minutes drive from where I live, but I don't really get out there all that often. I had also heard that they had taken the sign down, so I presumed I had missed the opportunity.

Fortunately, we had to take a drive out that way last weekend, and I took the camera just on the off chance there would be some good images to be had (all the images from this post were taken on the same day). Couldn't believe my luck when we passed the station and my wife told me the sign was back up! Always great to find someone with the same warped sense of humor as me!?

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Landscapes with the Olympus EP-3

Up until a couple of nights ago, I'd really only use the Pen Ep-3 as a family, snap-shot camera. My 'carry around for fun' compact camera. And it's great for such a purpose. But is that all it's good for? Or can I start using it as my really 'serious' camera for professional work?

Te Kinga Sunset. Olympus EP-3, Dramatic Tone filter
Just before the new year, a friend invited me to go out with him to shoot the sunset. We had been having amazing sunsets, night after night, so I jumped at the chance to go out with him - even though this particular night didn't look that promising.

We headed out to Moana, a town about half an hours travel from Greymouth, that has stunning lake views if the light is right (and we were hoping it would be).

Sunset was late - around 9.30pm, so we travelled around a bit in the early evening, looking to find the right spot to set up and catch the sunset. We finally settled on the tiny settlement of Te Kinga, nestled next to the lake (Lake Brunner), since it offered a range of possibilities for varied shots.

The above image was taken reasonably early on in the evening, around 8.00pm, just as the sun was starting to sink and colour was appearing on the horizon. As soon as we saw this happen, we knew we were going to be lucky enough to witness another stunning sunset - and even more lucky to catch it on camera!

Pink Sky's at Night. Olympus EP-3,  Pop Art filter
At the beginning of the evening I set the camera to the 'Dramatic Tone' filter, hoping that it would really amp up the drama and the colours appearing in the sky. The results were ok, but not really what I was after.

Then I switched to the 'Pop Art' filter, and bingo - success! The colours that were already happening in the sky were intensified 100%, and immediately I knew this was what I was after.

The Pop Art filter has two saturation settings - the first is totally crazy psychedelic, the second a bit more subtle, and it was the second setting that I went for. Enough to make you go 'wow', but not too much to make you go 'aarrghh'.

Funnily enough, the Pop Art filter was one of the filter sets I dismissed as pointless when I initially looked through the menu, but in reality I've started using it quite a bit. And for sunsets, it rocks!

Te Kinga Silhouette. Olympus EP-3, Pop Art filter
Shooting in Art Filter mode allowed me to keep the ISO on 'Auto' and have the camera range from between 200 to 1600 (my specified limits). This, combined with a very good image stabilisation system, allowed me to hand hold the camera for all of these images. Using the attached electronic viewfinder also helps keep things steady with a point of contact when the camera is up to your eye. I was walking from one location to the next when I looked up and saw these two mighty trees silhouetted against the sunset. I 'grabbed' this shot, and moved on to the next location. This 'grab' shot - a single frame - turned out to be one of my favorite shots of the evening.

In the Fiery Glow. Olympus EP-3, Pop Art filter set to mode II
Almost no matter where we pointed our cameras, the view, and the light, was stunning! And even though I was using the slightly more subtle mode of the Pap Art filter, occasionally the colours still over saturated. I have toned down the saturation in the above image (believe it or not) by dialing in -10 saturation in photoshop. I still love the full-on colour, but the yellow was getting a bit too 'hot' straight out of the camera, even for me.

Could I have gotten the same result by switching the colour mode on the camera to 'Vivid' (instead on Neutral)? I don't know, because I didn't try it. I suspect even at 'Vivid', the colours wouldn't be as vibrant as they are when you use the Pop Art filter - but I'll actually have to test that out next time. In fact, for a guy who likes punchy colours (Velvia is my all-time favorite film), what am I doing shooting in 'Nuetral' colour space anyway? Maybe I really should investigate further!?

Te Kinga by Moonlight. EP-3, Pop Art filter, 20sec exposure at f11
Anyway, I digress. Getting back to the evening... as the sun went down almost completely, the moon made an appearance and it was time to break out the tripods.

I love long exposure images, so I was very keen to see how the EP-3 handled under these conditions. To get the best out of the sensor  I switched to ISO 200, to keep the noise as low as possible. But I stayed on 'Pop Art' to keep the intensity in the colours that I was seeing on the lcd screen. With an aperture of f11 to get good depth of field, shutter speeds ranged between 15 to 30 seconds, depending on where I pointed the camera. After the exposure, the camera also applied its own noise reduction process, doubling the exposure time (a 15 second exposure was followed by a 15 second noise-reduction exposure by the camera).

The resulting images are OK - but not completely noise free. To get the above image looking how I wanted, I did have to put the image through Noise Ninja. Having said that though, it cleaned up very well, and these are all jpegs remember. I probably could have gotten an even better result had I switched to RAW? That's an experiment for next time as well.

So what's the verdict? Would I use the Pen EP-3 for 'serious' professional landscape work? Yes, I would. In fact I'm sure that some of these Te Kinga sunset images will appear in future calendars. I wouldn't hesitate to print them up to 8x12 as is - and easily 11x16 with some added noise reduction.

Has it made my Canon gear obsolete? No, of course not. If anything, the limiting factor for me at the moment is lenses. 28mm isn't quite wide enough for me at time on the EP-3. I'd love to go to 24mm, or maybe even 20mm.

Hang on... isn't there a conversion lens that lets you do that to the standard lens on the Pen? Might have to look into that I reckon.

Merry Christmas to all...

Olympus EP-3, Pop Art with Starburst filter
Yes, I know, it's a bit late for 'Merry Christmas', and even too late for 'Happy New Year', but it's the thought that counts - isn't it?

Nevertheless, the holiday season is upon us (here in New Zealand at least), and most people have two weeks off over christmas and new year to recharge the batteries (so to speak) before 2012 starts in earnest again.

Having just bought the EP-3, there's only been one thing on my mind (other than reading some good books), and that's to get out and shoot with it as much as possible.

My first real opportunity came when we decided to head out a few nights before christmas the check out a local christmas tree display, and some houses decked out in lights.

EP-3 with Grainy Black and White filter
The Christmas three display was held in our local theatre, so the lighting was fairly low. I have the EP-3 set to 'Auto' ISO, within a range of 200 to 1600 when I'm using the P, A, S, M modes, and not surprisingly the camera set itself on 1600 and stayed there all night.

The more I use the EP-3, the more I 'play' with the built-in art filters - starting out with 'pop art' to really add some punch to the colours, and then adding a starburst to see what sort of effect this would give me.
There was colour, colour everywhere, so I had fun shooting with the camera set to pop art for a while, until some little voice in the back of my mind (listen to that little voice) told me to try going the exact opposite and shoot in black and white.

EP-3 with Grainy Black and White filter
I really liked the resulting images - the black and white lending itself more to shapes and shadows than the punchy, in-your-face pop art filter. Look closely in the photo above and you can make out me taking the photo with the EP-3 in the gold ball. There's some great bokeh in this image as well, with a nice sharp ball falling away very quickly to some creamy out-of-focus background. Very nice.

Christmas Lights. EP-3 in standard colour mode
When we left the tree display and headed outside to shoot some of the houses, I went for a more 'traditional' approach - switching the camera back to 'standard' colour mode. I've been shooting jpegs straight out of the camera, even though I know the EP-3 shoots in RAW. Most photographers who have used the Pen series (and other Olympus DSLR's) agree that Olympus do an amazing job of nailing jpegs, and I would have to agree. I haven't really had to do amy 'tweaking' of the files so far, especially when you take the art filters into consideration. It's pretty much all done for you in-camera.

I had a blast shooting the christmas light with the EP-3, especially taking it up to ISO1600. The resulting files are pretty clean, even though the lcd screen gives you the feeling that it's going to be pretty noisy.

My only gripe on the night isn't with the camera itself, but with a third-party battery I purchased for it. The Olympus battery died on me not long after taking this image above, but I had prepared for this by bringing along a freshly charged battery I bought off of trademe (a NZ internet auction site). Popped it in the camera, pushed the 'on' button, and nothing happened! Nothing! Bugger. Seems like I got a dud. Very disappointing - and it will be going back to be replaced. Hopefully I'll have more luck with the 'new' one?

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Gordy's Camera Strap

The retro styling of the EP-3 demands a retro strap - not the boring black neck strap that comes bundled with the camera.

A quick search for 'camera straps' on Google comes up with the obvious solution - a leather wrist strap from Gordy's Camera Straps.

Very stylish, very cool, very retro - and most importantly, very well made, I ordered a natural leather strap immediately. The price is also very reasonable ($18.00US) - delivered!

It only took a couple of weeks, and on Christmas Eve, my strap arrived on my doorstep ready for the Christmas holidays. I put it on the EP-3 straight away - and as you can see in the photo - it definitely looks the part! And feels the part too! Very comfortable.

Gordy also makes leather straps for SLR's and medium format TLR's, so I'm sure this won't be my only purchase.

If you care about the look, and security, of your camera - no matter what it is - then I suggest you head on over the Gordy's website and pick up a strap for yourself. Heck, why not pick up two for that price!?