Sunday, 31 December 2017

Merry Christmas 2017 - & Happy New 2018!

Christmas has been and gone for another year, and a new year is just around the corner. But it's not here quite yet, so I figure I can sneak in a Christmas post just before 2017 ticks over to 2018!?

Christmas Angel. Olympus OM-D E-M1 with 12-50mm EZ lens. f5.4 @ 1/3rd sec, ISO 200.
Every year, a week out from Christmas, Greymouth holds a Christmas Tree Festival. Local businesses sponsor a tree and decorate it, and then the public give a gold coin donation to come and have a look at all the trees decorated - and to vote on their favourite. It's a local fundraiser and a very popular event. It's also an excuse every year to get the camera out and have a 'play'.

Christmas Light Painting. OM-D E-M1 with 12-50mm EZ lens. f10 @ 1sec, ISO 200.
A very dark room, with very brightly lit trees, is just crying out for some long exposure experimentation. Last year I concentrated on shooting out-of-focus lights (see the post here), whereas this year I decided to go for long(ish) exposures and camera/lens movement. With the Christmas Angel I zoomed the lens out while taking the exposure. For Christmas Light Painting I simply used a 1 second exposure and moved the camera while taking the shot. Both simple, yet effective techniques that I don't do all that often.

Blue Icicle. Olympus OM-D E-M1 with 12-50mm EZ lens in 'macro'. f6 @1/100th, ISO 640
I don't just experiment with long exposures. I also try to shoot some of the lights and decorations as they appear. The macro function on the 12-50mm EZ Zuiko lens is great for this. It allows me to get some very detailed shots - hand-held - with the aid of the amazing IBIS (in built image stabilization) that Olympus is famous for. Even at f6, ISO 640 was giving me a hand-holdable 100th of a second exposure time. Even so, the RAW file was quite dark when I opened it in Light Room. But a quick move to the left of the shadow slider and a fantastic amount of detail appeared in the shadows. And ISO 640 is pretty clean on the E-M1, so no noise reduction was necessary.

Christmas Bell. Olympus OM-D E-M1 with 12-50mm EZ in 'macro'. f6 @ 1/20th sec, ISO 3200 
This ornate Christmas bell also caught my eye, but it was in a very dark corner of the display. I had to go to ISO 3200 to get this image, and even then it was only giving me 1/20th of a second shutter speed! But it's pin sharp (where it should be at the front edge of the bell), thanks again to Olympus's incredible IBIS technology. Image stabilization isn't a cure-all for everything, and is certainly not an excuse for sloppy camera technique. But when you need it, in situations like this bell in low-light, it can be a miracle worker! Hand-holding a camera in low-light, with a 100mm equivalent focal length lens, and shooting pin-sharp images at 1/20th of a second was practically impossible in the film days. IBIS technology not only makes it possible - it almost makes it easy!

Christmas Town. OM-D E-M1 with 12-50mm EZ. f7.1 @ 1/10th sec, ISO 3200
In every town and city up and down the country (and indeed in any country where Christmas is celebrated), decorating your home with Christmas lights is a much loved tradition. And some people go all-out! As well as going to the Christmas Tree Festival, we also drove around to check out some of the more spectacular home displays.

Christmas House. OM-D E-M1 with 12-50mm EZ. f5.9 @ 1/4 sec, ISO 3200 
Here's another great example of Olympus's superior image stabilization in action. At 1/4 of a second, hand-held, everything is still nice and sharp. The E-M1 has 5 axis image stabilisation, while the new E-M1 Mk2 has an even better IBIS system. Apparently people are hand-holding for anywhere up to 10 seconds and still getting sharp images! That's just plain crazy talk!!!

Christmas House ultimate winner. OM-D E-M1 with 12-50mm EZ lens. f5.6 @ 1/15th sec. ISO 3200 
Our final stop for the night was the truly impressive 2017 Christmas House winner. There was a lot of light to shoot by, but even so I was still at ISO 3200. The RAW file needed to be opened up in the shadows to bring out some of the light, and in doing so, there was definitely some noise at ISO 3200. But dialing in some noise reduction in Light Room cleaned everything up very nicely, and I'm very happy with the final images at high ISO's from the E-M1.

Ho Ho Ho! OM-D E-M1 with 12-50mm EZ lens. f5.6 @ 1/15th sec. ISO 3200
Boosting shadows and lowering highlights has given a slight HDR quality to some of the images - especially after adding a little noise reduction and sharpening. I like the effect, since it looks very similar to what my eyes were seeing at the time. Our eyes can take all the detail in, our sensors can't (without a little help later on in software). It's a balancing act to get enough detail in the highlight so that they aren't too burnt out, but still look like points of light - and enough detail in the shadows so you can see what's there, but it still gives a sense of depth and darkness. As much as people worry about dynamic range and noise in the smaller micro four third sensors, I think the E-M1 pretty much nails it!

Santa Clause. OM-D E-M1 with 12-50mm EZ lens. f5.6 @ 1/15th sec. ISO 3200
Would a full frame camera like the Canon 5D Mk3 give a 'cleaner' file at ISO 3200? Of course it would. But so what? It would have also been a lot heavier to lug around for the evening - and I may not even have bothered? Am I unhappy with the files from the E-M1? Absolutely not! In fact, I'm thrilled with them. I've owned a lot of DSLR's in my time, both full frame and cropped sensor (admittedly from a few years ago), and I wouldn't have been comfortable going past ISO 800 with any of them. The E-M1 (and E-M5 MkII I had previously) is the first camera I'd happily shoot at ISO 3200 if I needed to. The results above show why.

I hope that Christmas 2017 was good to you, and I pray that 2018 will be even better! Father Christmas was good to me this year and I managed to get quite a few photographic goodies that I will be testing, using, and blogging about very soon! I also turned 50 at the end of 2017, and my family surprised me with a new monitor for my computer! So I will also be writing about my new office space and using a dual monitor set-up at home. Looks like 2018 is getting off to a good start already! :-)

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