gear for the revolution

You’re looking at an Olympus E-P2 with a 15mm body cap lens and a 14-42mm EZ pancake lens. That small round item with the hole in the middle is the Olympus LC-37C auto open lens cap which screws onto the front of the pancake zoom. The E-P2 was introduced November 2009, five months after the E-P1, Olympus’ first µ4:3rds camera. I paid full price for the complete kit which included the original M.Zuiko 14-42mm collapsible kit lens and the VF-2 electronic viewfinder, which slid into the hot shoe at the top of the camera. The key advance of the E-P2 over the E-P1 is that an expansion port was built into the back side of the hot shoe, which allowed for additional capabilities like the VF-2 to be added to the camera. The camera is now so old it qualifies in some corners as a vintage camera. The only up-to-date part of the kit is the pancake zoom which was introduced January 2014 along with the OM-D E-M10 Mark 1.

The question is why go back to something retro? Price and availability. The cost of new contemporary interchangeable digital camera are skyrocketing. While I would love to own a new Olympus OM-D E-M1, the eye watering high cost of US$2,000 is more than my budget can bear. To put that cost in perspective, I can either have the E-M1 Mark 2, or I can remodel one of my bathrooms. Throw in one of those new zooms, such as the M.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 PRO, and I’ve now got enough money to remodel both bathrooms.

Other reasons for turning back to this camera (and a Sony NEX 5N I also own, but picked up when it was heavily discounted a few years back) is that it still works, it’s compact, and looks like a lot of point-and-shoot cameras that are still be used extensively around the world. As used gear it’s dirt cheap. The large 13 x 17mm sensor in the body doesn’t hurt either, since it is considerably larger than the sensor in every cellphone being made. The final, most important reason for using a camera like this, is that it’s capable of documenting this strange dark world we’ve moved into since Trump was elected. Loosing it or having it get busted won’t set me back an inordinate amount of money. It’s simple and rugged enough to meed my needs for a set of tools that I can use to document who knows what over the next four years (at a minimum).

What can this camera do? With the body cap lens, a 15mm (e30mm) at f/8, I can literally point and shoot and get everything in focus from 3 ft/1m out to infinity. Or with the pancake zoom, I can zoom into the equivalent of 84mm on a 35mm camera for that short zoom effect if I need to keep back and avoid a confrontation.

Or pop the 15mm on the body and just document the world around you without drawing undo attention.

Even at f/8, in low light, the E-P2 is capable of grabbing something decent at ISO 1600 (it can go higher) that can be used, especially on the web. And if you want, you can set the 15mm to closeup (0.3m) and get down a bit close to your subject.

Olympus’ digital Pen’s aren’t the only game in town. Sony’s older NEX series of cameras, especially the 5 series, are an excellent little carry around camera, especially if matched with an inexpensive prime like the older Sigma lenses.

I picked up the NEX 5N when it was on closeout a few years back, and I happened to pick up a Sigma two lens set, the 19mm and the 30mm, for $99 each at about the same time. To give you an idea of relative sizes, the Apple SDHC to Lightening adapter is in front with the 5N’s SDHC card plugged into it. Which brings up an interesting point. I use an iPhone for just about everything now related to photography, from taking the photograph to processing it and then pushing it out to various social channels such as Smugmug and Instagram. The Apple adapter allows me to move images off the card and into the phone for post processing.

What is significant now is that iOS 10.2.1 is capable of knowing when you’ve taken your camera photos in RAW and can actually show you what you have directly on the cell phone once they’ve been imported into your camera roll. In the past I couldn’t process RAW anything unless I had a personal computer and software, such as Lightroom, that knew about how to interpret those RAW files. I discovered today that my iPhone with iOS 10.2.1 can read raw files from both the Olympus E-P2 as well as the Sony NEX 5N. How it handles newer cameras I can’t say. But for what I need, I don’t need the latest and greatest, just something from the last 8 or so years that still works. Here’s two examples from the same RAW file produced by the Sony. The first is post processed by VSCO, the second by Snapseed.

While both VSCO and Snapseed knew they were dealing with RAW files, it was Snapseed that post processed the photo as it was shot. I’d set the Sony to shoot 16:9 aspect ratio. The VSCO app didn’t honor that aspect ratio, choosing to revert to the full 3:2 aspect ratio. Furthermore, mirrorless cameras embed metadata in every file that allows the post processing software to correct for lens flaws, such as barrel distortion in the 19mm. If you look closely at the VSCO image you can see it. It’s properly corrected in the Snapseed. Whether the second is better than the first is entirely up to the viewer. I personally prefer the brighter color from the VSCO processing (which was what I was going after), but if I had to make sure it was “more correct” then I’d probably run it through Snapseed. By the way I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary with Snapseed. I just accepted its defaults when it first read it in, and then immediately saved the JPEG back out again.

In the past I put together several mirrorless kits, with multiple bodies and lenses. Today, I’ve narrowed that down to a single body and one or two lenses. Furthermore, I’m doing everything on my iPhone because it’s now powerful enough and the iOS apps are sophisticated enough. For the citizen journalist who wants a bit more on a budget than just the camera on the phone, the latest iOS release coupled with a reasonably up-to-date iPhone (SE through 6 and on up) can help you build a powerful documentation system without the need of a notebook or even a tablet to handle the output from any mirrorless camera made in the last eight or so years.

with distinction #2 – vsco

Received an email from VSCO today declaring this photo as “With Distinction.” The text of the email as follows:

WILLIAM BEEBE — Millions of images are shared on VSCO every day. Today, your image has been recognized by our Curation team.

Thank you for sharing and contributing to VSCO, your community for expression.

The first VSCO WD was taken with the iPhone. This photo was taken with the Olympus E-P2 and the 14-42mm EZ, with the JPEG moved to my iPhone with an SDHC to Lightening adapter. The E-P2 was announced November 2009, and is now old enough to be considered vintage. Which means if I want to shoot vintage all I have to do is reach up to my shelf. I picked mine up in December 2009, paying full price for the kit that included the VF-2 EVF.

After working with the OM-Ds (E-M5 and E-M10) it’s a bit of a shock to go back to this body, primarily because of its slow autofocus, even with the latest lenses. But it took me very little time to get back into the E-P2’s groove as it were, and I’m also using the body with the 15mm body lens. More in the next post.

cats and µ4:3rds and iphone and wordpress – oh my

I’m doing this because I’ve got all this camera gear lying around, yet I still find myself lusting after something newer and very expensive, like the Pen F, E-M1 Mk II, and the GH5. I’ve got digital camera equipment that goes back to 2009 and the Olympus 4:3rds system, and film equipment that goes back even further to the early 1980s. For this work I took a very “classic” 4:3rds system Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens and mounted it on an E-M10 Mark 1 via a Panasonic 4:3rds to µ4:3rds adapter (DMW-MA1), then went around trying to produce some “interesting” photos of the kittehs with the 30mm nearly wide open for that “pleasing bokeh” effect. That’s Ellipses at top followed by Luke the Gingersnap.

All focusing was manual because the 30mm Sigma lens, already glacially slow to begin with on 4:3rd systems, is a joke when it comes to auto focus on any of my µ4:3rds Olympus bodies, starting with my E-P2. I put the lens in manual focus mode and used the E-M10’s back screen to carefully focus. The camera was set to a custom color mode (Muted picture mode, contrast -1, sharpness 0, saturation -1, and high key) that provided a more pastel-like color palette and character than the heavily saturated overly sharp look I tend towards. I then set the lens to f/1.8 and went out stalking the cats. Well, more like following and cajoling. They, of course, cooperated only on their own terms…

Once something was duly captured, I used the Olympus OI.Share app to move the JPEGs over from the E-M10 to my iPhone. Just a little bit of trimming in Snapseed, then I opened a new post in the WordPress app and selected the three images to go into the post. Then I closed the post as a draft and re-opened it in my MBP using the web-based WordPress editor.

A bit complicated, especially that last part, but once you get into the flow it flows pretty quickly. It keeps my cellphone as my “creative center”. I’m thinking I’m going to give both Scrivener and Ulysses an opportunity Real Soon Now to write and post to my blog.

My complaints against the WordPress iOS app on the iPhone are growing. I’ve noticed that you can’t set the size or the location of the photo when you import the photo. When I check the photos using the web-based editor they’re full size and not centered at all. I have to do some cleanup to get the images how I want them on the page. This might work if all you do is write for, and read from, smartphones exclusively, but I also check to see how my blogging looks on tablets (iPads and Android) as well as regular PC browsers.

But hey, that’s why we’re doing this. It’s a “learning experience.”

computational photography example – iphone 7 plus vs olympus e-m5 + 12-40mm pro zoom

Computational photography or computational imaging refers to digital image capture and processing techniques that use digital computation instead of optical processes.


owl_iphone7p_noblur owl_iphone7p_blur

You’re looking at two versions of a photograph taken with an iPhone 7 Plus using the Portrait mode of the built-in camera app. The iPhone 7 camera app creates two versions of the same image, one without the effect, and one with. The one with is obviously the one on the right. These are straight out of the phone, with no other post processing. The iPhone photo was taken using the second 56mm equivalent lens and sensor that comes with the iPhone 7 Plus. The bokeh background blur in the second image was achieved with the iPhone 7 Plus’ computational photographic capabilities.

This bottom photo was taken with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the M.Zuiko 12-40mm PRO zoom lens at 32 mm, giving an equivalent focal length of 64mm, at an aperture of f/3.2. Not exact, but close enough.

My biggest take away from this comparison is how well the iPhone Portrait effect computes bokeh compared to my Olympus. If I stick my nose in close enough and really pixel-peep I’m sure I could find issues with the iPhone’s Portrait effect. But then, I’d be ignoring the real point of this, and that’s how a Version 1.0 release of this software is creating an effect that up to this point was achievable only with an optical system. Whether it’s good or not is irrelevant at this point. That fact that a smart phone can achieve an out-of-focus effect very equivalent, if not identical, to what my Olympus can achieve is astounding to me. And here’s the important point to remember; the iPhone’s effect will only get better over time as new releases of the software, with better algorithms, are released. With the Olympus system, I’m “stuck” with what the lens can deliver (which, frankly, I’m quite happy with). And what the iPhone is currently achieving bodes both good and bad for standard photography cameras. This will only ramp up the competition by smart phones against cameras, especially the fixed lens cameras. Perhaps it’s time for general camera makers to wake up and add an equivalent capability to their existing camera lines, especially when using the lower-cost kit zooms.

And while we’re on the subject of computational photography, let’s also mention that micro four thirds has used a very limited version of this since its inception, primarily in distortion (pincushion and barrel) correction. It’s the iPhone which has stepped up the game a few notches with this Portrait effect.

Does this mean the iPhone can replace a camera such as the OM-D? That depends on a case-by-case analysis. It can certainly complement the use of such a camera in overall terms. In an environment with reasonable lighting there’s no reason why you can’t reach for an iPhone 7 Plus as much as you might the E-M5. But when it comes to shooting fast action, or needing low-light capabilities, or faster focusing (and the E-M5 with the 12-40mm is quite fast), or a more fluid shooting situation, then I’d probably reach for my E-M5, assuming it’s within reach at the time.

My iPhone 7 Plus has reached a level of quality and sophistication that I can consider it my backup camera to my Olympus. When I think of a total camera package that allows for immediate post processing as well as immediate sharing, the iPhone 7 Plus with all its integrated capabilities is a better solution than my E-M5. While I do have an SDHC adapter that allows me to read my E-M5 files directly onto my iPhone and iPad, that’s an extra step that can get tiresome, especially if a lot of images are involved. And that adapter is just one more item to loose track of.

I like what I can achieve with the iPhone 7, just like I like what I can achieve with the Olympus E-M5 and the 12-40mm zoom. The iPhone 7 Plus has greatly expanded my technical choices. Now if only my artistic capabilities would grow to match.