Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Spring at the Botanic Gardens

In my blog post on Josh getting his Olympus E-M5, I mentioned that we spent a morning at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens shooting flowers and other spring-type subjects. I have only just looked through the photos I took on that morning, and thought I should post a few.

Spring Cherry Blossom. Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkII with Zuiko 40-150mm. f5.6 @ 1/1600th, ISO 200
As I mentioned in the earlier post, Josh was using my Zuiko 12-50mm EZ lens on his E-M5, especially the macro function, so I used my other 'kit' lens, the Zuiko 40-150mm f4.5/5.6. It's not a lens I would normally have used at the gardens, but it was a great exercise in forcing me to 'see' differently. Despite being a 'kit' lens, it's fantastically sharp, even wide open, and can still produce some decent bokeh, as can be seen in the Cherry Blossom image above.

Kayaking on the Avon. OM-D E-M5 MkII with 40-150mm. f5 @ 1/160th, ISO 200
The main issue I had with using the 40-150mm lens was not being able to go wide enough. There were some instances where I wanted to get 'more' in the frame, but couldn't move back. The above image of the family kayaking, for example, was taken standing on a bridge looking down on them as they paddled past. I was at the widest setting I could go (40mm), and while I like the image, ideally I would have given it a little more breathing space if the lens had allowed for it.

Monarch Butterfly. Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkII with 40-150mm. f5.6 @ 1/800th. ISO 200
Of course, the flip side of that is the ability to get very close to your subject at the 150mm (300mm film equivalent) end of the zoom range. The beautiful Monarch butterfly only stayed on this flower for a second or two - long enough to get three or four shots off, before it was gone again. Shooting at 150mm allowed me to maintain a good distance so I didn't scare the butterfly away, and still get a close up shot that shows all the incredible detail on the butterfly's wings.

Pied Shag. Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkII with 40-150mm. f5.6 @ 1/200th. ISO 200
Getting close to other wildlife was also possible with the 40-150mm lens. This Pied Shag was minding its own business by the side of the river, and since it's used to having lots of people around, wasn't too concerned when I got down low on the ground to photograph him. I didn't have to get too close though, and the combination of the long zoom and separation from the background has meant that the bird stands out sharply against the water.

Red Tulip. OM-D E-M5 MkII with 40-150mm. f5.6 @ 1/640th. ISO 200
I also got down low and used the far end of the zoom to isolate some of the flowers. This works really well with the long stemmed flowers like tulips. Even though the flowers were growing closely together, shooting from a distance, at 150mm, and picking out just one flower, has created a decent amount of background blur (bokeh). Even from a lens that stays at f5.6 wide open at the long end. Yes, I'm sure an f2.8 lens would have given even more subject to background separation, but I don't have an f2.8 lens - and this has worked out fine. In fact I'm very happy with the final result.

I had a great time shooting at the Botanic Gardens with the Zuiko 40-150mm f4.5/5.6. It's made me realise that we don't always have to reach for the standard lens we always go for when we find ourselves in a familiar environment. We can (and should) shake things up a bit by using a lens that we wouldn't ordinarily choose. Next time you find yourself reaching for the same lens, stop and consider shooting with something else. It will force you to think slightly differently about the images you can take - and that's never a bad thing.   

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Is 16 megapixels enough?

A few months ago I posted about my all too brief experience using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 on a photo shoot. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, but I couldn't show any images from the shoot since they all belong to the Polytech I took them for (and work for).

Now, however, some of the images are beginning to appear on billboards and other promotional material in the public arena. So I guess I can re-photograph them 'in-situ' and talk about them in the context of public advertising. And the first such appearance is on a billboard outside the front of the Polytechnic.

Tai Poutini Polytechnic billboard. Samsung S3 smartphone camera.
The 'billboard' certainly isn't enormous - it's 2x1 metres in size. But that's still a fairly reasonable sized print. Especially for a camera that some might say has 'only' 16 megapixels, on a small (micro four thirds) sensor.

So how does a 16MP micro four thirds image hold up when enlarged to a metre high? One word - beautifully. In fact it looks so good, I believe it could easily handle doubling again in size, with hardly any effect on image quality!

In these days of 24+MP cameras, those of us with less megapixels (and even worse still, smaller image sensors), are made to feel somewhat inferior if we have anything less. But even if we want to print 'big', do we really need 20+ megapixels and full frame?

Billboard detail. Samsung S3 smartphone camera.
The file for the billboard was created with a resolution of 240dpi and then the image was enlarged to fit the space. It was originally shot as a vertical portrait, so the extra brick wall was added later in Photoshop (cloned from the original photo). Excuse the quality of the photo taken on my smartphone, but even so, you can see that the detail on the billboard is incredibly sharp. There's almost no visible grain or dot structure (unless you put your nose up to the print), which leads to my conclusion that it could easily handle an even more extreme enlargement.

The original images were never intended for billboard use - the brief was for no larger than A4 for an Annual Report. Yet the files from the Olympus 16MP micro four thirds sensor have no problem being enlarged to way beyond standard page layout size. I'm very impressed with the final image quality and have to conclude that for me - and I suspect probably for most of you - a 16MP micro four thirds sensor image is 'more' than enough.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Two EM-5s in the family

My son Josh is 15 and, much to my surprise, has developed a keen interest in photography over the last few months. Now I say "much to my surprise" not because I don't think he has the talent for it - he most certainly does. It's just that he's never expressed much interest in photography before, despite there always being a camera available for him to use on family outings.

It's a matter of timing I guess - and I'm certainly not complaining. It's fantastic that he's getting excited about photography, and not just because it happens to be my passion as well. I think it's very important for everyone to have some form of creative outlet. And in this digital age, photography is an important skill to have.

His older sister is also very creative - taking Visual Art and Photography at Level 2 (6th Form) at High School this year. I've seen some of her photos from earlier in the year and they're fantastic abstract studies. But Em (Emily) is a bit wary of showing Dad too much, and she's always been quite private about her art.

Master and Apprentice? Photo: Joanna Lorimer
Josh, on the other hand, is just like his old man - very interested in the gear/technology side of digital photography; almost as much as the creative side. So he's been keen to chat with me about cameras and techniques. He's been using his mother's Nikon D70 SLR for the last few months, but has also had his eye on my Olympus OM-D EM-5 MkII mirrorless. So we've often talked about the different systems and what he might go with for his own camera.

Both kids have also had part-time jobs for the last year and have managed to save some money. Josh got to the stage where he had enough to start thinking seriously about getting a second-hand camera of his own - and last week (October 2016) we spent a few days in Christchurch while the girls had a trip to Wellington.

Christchurch just happens to have one of the best camera stores in New Zealand (shout out to Matt at Photo and Video in Merivale), and they just happened to have a second-hand Olympus OM-D EM-5 body for sale for a pretty good price. Josh and I went to have a look on our first morning in Christchurch (I said he was keen), and discovered that as well as the Em-5 body, they also had the HLD-6 grip to go with it!

Seagulls. Photo by Joshua Lorimer. OM-D EM-5 MkII with 40-150mm f4-5.6. F5.6 @ 1/250th ISO 200
If not for the price of the body and grip combined, I think Josh would have walked out with them both right there and then. But together they were going to take up a large chunk of his savings, so we left the store to 'think about it' for a day.

Two Dogs. Photo by Joshua Lorimer. OM-D EM-5 MkII with 12-50mm f3.5-6.3. F4.5 @ 1/4000th ISO 400
Josh had never really used my Olympus for very long, so I gave him the opportunity to spend an afternoon shooting with the EM-5 MkII, knowing that it would be similar (yet different) to the EM-5. He used it with and without the extra grip for the whole afternoon and, to cut a long story short, loved using it in both configurations. We went back the next day and purchased the EM-5 body with the HLD-6 Grip. So now there are two EM-5 mirrorless shooters in the family!

 On our third and final day in Christchurch, we went to the Botanic Gardens (it's late Spring and the flowers are still in bloom). Since Josh's EM-5 was sold 'body-only', he didn't have a lens. So I loaned him my 12-50mm EZ kit lens for the day, while I used the 40-150mm f4-5.6. I've never seen a teenage boy more fascinated with flowers - especially after I showed him how to use the macro function on the 12-50mm lens. I had to practically tear him away from the gardens after three hours. Needless to say, he had a great time and is loving his EM-5!

Old Piano. Photo by Joshua Lorimer. OM-D EM-5 MkII with 12-50mm lens. F4 @ 1/500th ISO 200
So yes, I am thrilled that Josh has been bitten by the photography bug. I think it's a fantastic hobby for anyone - but will be even more rewarding for us as something that father and son can do together. And if I'm really lucky, we may even convince big sister to come out shooting with us on the odd occasion too?