Monday, 24 July 2017

First landscape shoot with the OM-D E-M1

I have had the Olympus OM-D E-M1 for about a month and hadn’t really used it out in the field yet. I planned to rectify that this past weekend, and fortunately it seemed that we were going to get some clear weather here on the West Coast – even though the rest of the country was experiencing some of the worst (wettest) weather on record!

Despite this predication, the day dawned cloudy and grey. I hadn’t planned on getting up before sunrise anyway, but when I looked out on grey skies I almost flagged the whole idea. Fortunately I decided to go out anyway, although I also decided to not travel very far (only 5 minutes down the road) since it didn’t look very promising.

My local beach (Cobden) has a track that leads up to a lookout over the coast (an area known as Point Elizabeth). You can stop at the lookout and take in a great view of the coastline, or you can continue through to Rapahoe beach on the other side of the Point. It had been a long time since I had visited the lookout on the Cobden beach side, so that’s where I decided to shoot. I figured that even if the images weren’t any good, the walk would be worth it.

Lowepro Sling 100AW
My ‘landscape’ kit has evolved since getting the E-M1. It now consists of the E-M1 body with grip attached (I could get away with not using the grip, but prefer the ergonomics it brings to the camera, as well as the extra battery life), Olympus Zuiko 12-50mm f3.5/6.3 EZ, and Panasonic Lumix G Vario 45-200mm f4/5.6. This is a super light-weight kit, and fits easily into a Lowepro Sling 100AW camera bag (with room to spare). I also carried a Manfrotto tripod with the Vanguard SBH100 ball head. The Vanguard SBH100 is a new edition that I purchased recently (second-hand), simply because I wanted to pass on my previous ball-head (Benro BH-1) to my son Joshua. The Vanguard isn’t necessarily a better ball head, although its recommended capacity (20kgs) is slightly more than the Benro (16kgs). Both, however, are more than I will need for my mirrorless or DLSR set up.

The Zuiko 12-50mm f3.5/5.6 EZ is my main landscape lens (at the moment), given that it starts at a very respectably wide 24mm (my favourite wide angle focal length). Landscapes require a larger depth of field, with smaller apertures (of around f8 to f16), so the relatively ‘slow’ variable aperture of the 12-50mm isn’t a big deal for landscapes. Actually, it’s a bonus, since a micro-four-thirds sensor exhibits a greater depth of field natively. The depth of field achievable at f5.6 with the E-M1 is the same as f11 on a full frame sensor using the same focal length (i.e 24mm). So you can get greater depth of field without having to stop down as much as you would on a full frame system.
Panasonic Limix 45-200mm f4/5.6

Even though when I think of landscape images I automatically think ‘wide’, there is still a place for a telephoto lens in any landscape photographer’s bag. Not long after getting the OM-D E-M1, I also purchased a Panasonic Lumix 45-200mm f4/5.6. This is another ‘slow’ variable aperture lens, which again, doesn’t bother me for landscape photography. It also doesn’t bother me for sports and action, as long as there is a decent amount of light. I don’t imagine it will be a great indoor sports lens, but outside during the day it should cope just fine. Especially if my previous experience using the Olympus 40-150mm f4/5.6 kit lens is anything to go by. That lens is super sharp and worked perfectly when I used it to shoot motor-cycle street racing (see the post here). The Panasonic 45-200mm f4/5.6 isn’t said to be quite as sharp as the Olympus, but it does give the extra reach, which may come in handy for sports.

Given what I’ve already said about only thinking ‘wide’ when I shoot landscapes, means I often don’t even take a telephoto with me on a landscape shoot. But since micro four thirds gear is so small and light, it’s no big deal to carry one with you, even if you don’t end up using it (the same can’t really be said for DSLR gear). I’m so glad that on this occasion I did, because I ended up using it more than the 12-50mm – much to my surprise.

Cobden from Point Elizabeth track. Olympus E-M1 with Lumix G 45-200mm. 1/50th @f5.6, ISO 100 - 200mm
The initial track starts with a very steep gradient up the side of the cliff before you get into the bushwalk itself. The top of this incline offers stunning views looking back to the suburb of Cobden and the distant mountains (one of which in New Zealand’s famous Mt. Cook, Aoraki). I had almost decided not to go and photograph because of the weather, but when I reached the top of the incline and looked back towards Cobden I was greeted with a fantastic view with some decent light. I shot a few wide images with the Zuiko 12-50mm, but it was only when I decided to attach the Panasonic 45-200mm and zoom out all the way to 200mm that I got the image that I wanted. The telephoto lens has compressed the perspective within the scene, making it seem like the mountains, township and coastline are a lot closer to each other than they actually are. They now appear almost ’stacked’ on top of each other, whereas in reality they are obviously separated by a great distance.

Relieved to have captured at least one image I was happy with already, I continued on to the lookout. The sky continued to remain overcast, even though it was trying to clear in the east. The track itself didn’t offer up any photo opportunities, although a dedicated macro photographer would have probably had a wonderful time exploring the numerous flora. My destination, however, was the wide open vista of the Point itself.

Coast from Pt. Elizabeth lookout. Olympus E-M1 with Lumix G Vario 45-200mm. 1/320sec @f6.3, ISO 100 - 45mm
At the lookout I switched back to the Zuiko 12-50mm to capture the wide shot that I had come to take. Yet once again, it wasn’t really working for me. The light wasn’t right for capturing the whole vista. I zoomed the lens to 50mm and in doing so simplified the scene for a more pleasing composition, but I still felt that I could simplify even further. So once again, out came the Panasonic 45-200mm for landscape duty.

Rapahoe from P. Elizabeth. Olympus E-M1 with Lumix G Vario 45-200mm. 1/2000th @ f6.3, ISO 200 - 55mm
Once I isolated the subject and concentrated on the interesting light that was developing in the east, I had a much stronger image. All I had to worry about then was the strong contrast and tricky dynamic range of the early morning light. Presently I don’t have any ND filters for the E-M1, so I decided to bracket my exposures instead. The E-M1 has its own HDR mode, but I decided to do this myself later on in Lightroom. So I took advantage of the bracketing feature built into the camera and shot a series of 5 bracketed images in 1 stop increments (-2, -1, normal, +1, +2). This gave me detail in the shadows and the highlights, and a decent starting point for processing the final HDR image back in Lightroom.

Rapahoe from Pt. Elizabeth B&W. Olympus E-M1 with Lumix G Vario 45-200mm.  Shot 1:1 format
At the beginning of the day, it didn’t look like it was going to amount to much. In fact, I almost didn’t bother going out to take photos. But I was desperate to start using the E-M1, so I went anyway. And I’m very glad that I did. I got some OK images that I am reasonably happy with. I also got some much needed exercise. But finally, and perhaps most importantly, I began to discover the importance of using a telephoto lens for landscape photography. That’s valuable experience that I can take with me to improve my photography in the future. Worth getting out for I reckon!?


  1. Nice post! Olympus Mirrorless takes your photography skills to the next level by its exciting features.

    1. Hi Neha. Yes, I agree. The Olympus OM-D is a truly wonderful system.


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