Archives For Sony

gear for the revolution

February 3, 2017

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.

A hasty zip through downtown

September 20, 2015

where the bank used to beWeekends are always about running errands. This weekend, for the most part, was no different. Except this time, after running an errand close to down-town Orlando, my wife and I decided to head over to the downtown area around Lake Eola.

One big problem with downtown is parking. It’s only gotten worse of late as new construction has hit the area, such as the Dr. Phillips Center. Other new construction consists almost entirely of expensive townhouses. The whole downtown is rapidly gentrifying.

But Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center is a resource for the whole area, not just the downtown gentry. It’s been good to see what was a pretty rundown area cleaned up and transformed into something that both benefits and beautifies the downtown core.

architecture palm theme
sunday contemplation
dr. phillips main entry
in the raftersTONE/Orlando – Art in Odd Places

I also discovered at the Dr. Phillips Center that I missed four days of visual and performance art. It started the 17th and ended today, the 20th. There were nearly 50 different installations all up and down Magnolia starting at the Dr. Phillips Center and ending at the Orange County Regional History Center. It’s my loss, obviously. I found a tiny bit of it right at the Center; a see-saw that drove a drum that made music, and a field full of mushrooms made from paper bags.

Maybe next year…

ride my see-saw
paper bag shroomsOther Changes

orlando urban bike rentals

I’ve started to see bike racks like this (from other businesses) popping up all over Orlando. I have no idea how good they are, let alone how much it costs to use one. This particular one was next to City Hall, across the street from the Dr. Phillips Center.

On the way home I took the ramp onto the 408. Hiding away under the overpasses were the homeless. Less than a block from all the new pretty buildings. I would have documented it, but I’m more and more afraid these days of providing information that can be used against those who aren’t nearly as fortunate as I am, let alone the newer, younger residents of downtown.

Technical

It has been a very long time since I talked camera equipment used to help create my photographs. For these last three posts I used a Sony NEX 5N with a Sigma 2.8/19mm and 2.8/30mm lenses. The body was purchased nearly two years ago when it was heavily discounted on Amazon. The lenses a year later when they were discounted to $99 each.

Although I use Olympus almost exclusively, I switch to the Sony because the quality of its sensor is fundamentally different from the Olympus, even though Sony made both sensors. What’s interesting is that all my camera sensors are now 16mp, which would seem to be behind the times to the camera gear hardcore.

I don’t care. Both types of cameras are remarkable and produce excellent results. They’re just different, a difference I can see. And different is good.

Hail to the KingI have owned and used cameras since 1963. My first camera was a Kodak Instamatic 104 film camera I got as a Christmas gift that year. It needed 126 film cartridges and special square flash cubes that would flip around 90° after each exposure; four flashes/cube. Back in those days the Instamatic was cheap and the film and flash cubes were relatively cheap. What was expensive was the processing, the developing and printing. That tended to put the brakes on any photography I wanted to do as a kid, as it was my parents who bought all those supplies and paid for all that processing. But I got my dad to pay for it most of the time, as he’d picked up a Yashica J5 35mm SLR. Along with the Yashica he’d also picked up the photo bug himself and managed to pass it along to me. As for his J5, he kept the J5 camera for a long time, even after he bought his first Olympus OM-1 in 1973. As far as I know he may have it still.

As I progressed through high school I wanted a “real” camera like my dad’s, so when I became a junior he found a used Yashica Electro 35 GSN, a 35mm fixed lens rangefinder camera. That camera fully ignited my interest in photography. Three years later, as a college sophomore, I bought my first SLR, a Minolta SRT-MC II from J.C. Penney’s. Soon after I picked up the Minolta XE-7 and again, with my dad’s help, a Mamiya c330 Pro f, my one and only medium format camera. For some number of years after that I tried to make it as a working photographer, but a lack of business acumen combined with bad luck in the Atlanta commercial photography market eventually drove me back to engineering. In the end I sold nearly everything from that period to help get out of debt, got a job as a security guard, went back to college and finished my electrical engineering degree, and then got an engineering job that helped pay the bills and pay for my newer replacement photography gear.

What has attracted me to nearly all my 35mm SLR cameras were their relatively compact body sizes. It didn’t matter if the brand was Minolta, Yashica, Nikon, or Olympus, those makers always produced nice compact jewel-like bodies. But when the SLR went digital, the bodies got fat. More precisely they got deep because the sensor and electronics took the same spot where film used to go. And in the process of getting deeper, the whole body grew proportionately. Here’s an example of what happened with Nikon:

On the left is Nikon’s Df introduced back in November 2013, and the Nikon FM3a film camera on the right, introduced in 2001. The FM3a was the final iteration of the FM film series. You will note that the outline of the FM3a is on the Df’s top deck. The lens mount between the two cameras is still the same. The mirror box is still the same size. But everything about the Df is just bigger. Even the 50mm f/1.8 Nikkor on the Df is bigger than the 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor on the FM3a. Same focal length, but the newer lens is bigger and a half stop slower. I guess that’s progress for you.

As I said I’ve owned at least one camera, and usually more than one, for over 50 years. That’s a half century of handling cameras, first film, then digital. I couldn’t afford to own every brand and model, but I’ve managed to handle enough to have some idea as to the scope of change that’s swept the industry since 1963.

I’ve reached a point in my life where I would much rather stick with μ4:3rds  cameras, primarily those from Olympus. There’s nothing wrong with any other brand or model. It’s a personal decision borne of 50+ years of handling various cameras. And size has a lot to do with my decision. The sensor might be smaller than 35mm film, but the body size of the OM-D series is pretty much in line with the older OM film cameras. And I’ve noticed that the μ4:3rds sensor performance now exceeds the capability of 35mm film. I don’t have the Mamiya anymore, but the article link to the Mamiya has the writer of that post compare the Mamiya’s output with a Sigma DP2 Merrill APS-C digital camera. At pixel level peeping (or at the same sizes used to examine Mamiya negatives/prints) the DP2 walks all over the Mamiya. Similarly the combination of μ4:3rds sensor and OM-D small body pretty much matches the OM film body sizes, starting with 1972’s OM-1. And the output of the μ4:3rds sensor walks all over any of my 35mm prints and negatives taken with the OM film cameras from that era. Digital has trumped film, at all sensor sizes, and has for some number of years now, at least since 2009.

Here’s a family portrait of my small camera collection circa February 2013. When I say small, I don’t mean is in the number of total items, but in size of the cameras themselves.

The CollectionYou’ll note the Olympus E-P2 on the far left, my first μ4:3rds camera that anchored my collection, and one I still have. The most current at the time this portrait was made is the OM-D E-M5 in front of the E-P2. I still have that one too. The other μ4:3rds cameras in the collection include an E-PL2 in the middle back and an E-PL1 on the right back. I got those when they went on sale for around $200 and $140 respectively, body only. I’ve since given the E-PL2 to my youngest and the E-PL1 is used in a diving case by my wife when she goes snorking.

Which leaves the Sony NEX 5N as the odd man out.

NEX-5N with Sigma 30mm and 19mmOnce again, I picked up the APS-C sensor Sony with its 18-55mm kit lens when it was on fire sale, along with the two Sigma lenses, the 19mm and 30mm f/2.8. I picked up those Sigma prime lenses because they’d dropped down to $99 each. Those lenses give an effective field of view of 28.5mm and 45mm if you were using a camera with a 35mm sized sensor. The Sony is special in that it has one of the best Sony digital sensors ever to grace a digital camera.

It’s the same sensor that was in a number of Nikon APS-C cameras, especially the D7000. It may be only 16MP, but its sensor can outperform every μ4:3rds sensor produced by Panasonic, Olympus, and yes, even other Sony sensors in μ4:3rds. The sensor in the E-M5 is a Sony sensor and a later version to the Sony sensor in the 5N. There’s something magical about the 5N sensor and I’ll turn to it when I want to create something interesting and different than what I can with the Olympus cameras. It helps to scratch that “I sure wish I had a different camera” itch when the itch strikes from time to time.

Why not go with the Sony system? Because, unlike the μ4:3rds system, it’s still incomplete and inconsistent. With Olympus and Panasonic I have a complete system in μ4:3rds, especially lenses. For handling and when auto focusing is important, I much prefer the E-M5 (and E-M10) cameras. The images I get out of those bodies, also 16MP, are more than good enough for my needs. That’s why I call my E-M5 and E-M10 my Mary Poppins cameras, because they’re practically (as in the most practical and affordable digital system) perfect in every way.

As for the future, if I can believe some of the E-M5 II reviews about the RAW files (without the 40MP high resolution mode), the E-M5 II may finally have caught up with, and possibly surpassed, the NEX 5N sensor-wise. But that’s still OK. If I break down and get a Mk II, it’ll be as always, towards the end of sales life, when the price drops (like it did for the E-M5 and E-M10) and then maybe I’ll snag a copy. I can truly afford to wait because right now everything in my kit is way better than my skills could ever hope to use.

It’s a funny old world. Today Mike Johnston over at The Online Photographer published two old posts that have pulled me in opposite directions. The first, “Give That Cat the Boot,” annoyed me no end, and I’ve written about that already. Then he redeemed himself in my eyes as it were by re-publishing “On the Sharpness of Lenses.” I’ll let you mosey on over and read this 1999 post. Needless to say I agree with a lot of his points.

Here’s another point about lenses I’ve slowly learned over the years.

I’ve vacillated quite a bit about whether it’s a good idea to use prior generation lenses on digital cameras, specifically Olympus OM lenses on current generation Olympus FourThirds and µFourThirds digital bodies and a Sony E-mount body, a NEX 5N. I’ve used any number of OM lenses on those bodies. Many times I’ve staunchly asserted that the only way to get quality photographs was to use native lenses for a given digital camera system, only to back slide after a time and sneak an old film prime back on one of my digital cameras.

What I have slowly come to appreciate is that the OM film lenses have an almost understated visual beauty I find missing in today’s pure digital lenses. I attribute their “look” to having been designed for film, not digital sensors. In an age when nearly everyone over obsesses with resolution, contrast, and acutance, the OM film lenses dial that back a smidge and deliver images that look like the optics worked with the light, rather than beat it into submission. Images created with the OM lenses on digital bodies seem to have a touch of romanticism.

The post before this used the OM G.Zuiko 50mm f/1.4 with a pair of adapters on an Olympus E-M5 body. I find that using either the back screen or the eyepiece, I can focus just fine with that lens on that body. Unfortunately, they are the only photos from that body using any OM lens, and more’s the pity. What follows is a smattering of some of the photos I’ve taken, usually with the older 12MP bodies such as the E-P2, E-PL1 and E-PL2. There’s even a few with the NEX 5N. I’ll let you dig deeper into those photos if you want.
Plumbago LabDr. Phillips HospitalRosesMandevilla Bokeh Experiment 2OccupupSycamore BokehSeeding purple glassesSeeding Holly. GladiolaBacklit Orchid Tree BloomDowntown Orlando Orange Ave - test shot OM 65-200mmAs I wrote above these photographs were created using a motley collection of digital bodies mated to 30 year old OM film lenses. If you want the details you can click through. Otherwise, just enjoy them for what they are, various OM film lenses on various 12MP and 16MP bodies. Oh, and if you think you can, try to guess which body was responsible for which photo before you look. As a hint, one of those photographs was taken with an Olympus E-1 (5MP sensor) and an OM 300mm telephoto. As Mike says at the end of the article:

Don’t sweat it too much. The search for the perfect lens is a fool’s errand; it’s like searching for the best-tasting coffee. No matter how good it is, it’s just a cuppa. Enjoy it and get on with your morning. (Analogously: get on with your photography.)

arcane – Secret or mysterious, known or understood by only a few people.

The title of my new blog is a gentle poke at another site written by an Austin, Texas-based professional photographer that covers all aspects of photography, from the technical to the artistic to the necessary business side of the profession.

I am not that photographer and this is not that kind of blog.

While I certainly believe I know how to use my camera, that in no way makes me a photographer, professional or otherwise. I am what the camera vendors like to refer to as “an enthusiast”, which translates into an amateur with more money than sense, lustfully desirous of achieving the same levels of notoriety that professional photographers have supposedly achieved, through periodic application of  liberal amounts of cash to purchase unnecessary photographic equipment.

Never mind that all the well known photographers have considerable talent and have devoted their time and energy developing that talent.

The camera makers love us, as we enthusiasts provide a sizable bulk of their income.

To add insult to injury as it were, we enthusiasts buy our gear, then use it as a blunt instrument in many photographic fora in fruitless folly, attempting to prove by every means possible, arcane or otherwise, why our selection of gear makes our work (and by association, ourselves) superior to every other camera toting enthusiast on the planet.

The sad irony being that if we spent as much time practicing the art of photography as we did fruitlessly defending our superior position we might be as good as we’d like to think we are.

Having turned 60 this December, I have over a half century of photography experience stretching back to when I got my first camera, a Kodak Instamatic 104, when I was but a mere lad of seven. Since that time I’ve been a devoté of photography, using a number of film cameras (35mm and 120/220) over the ensuing decades (Minolta, Mamiya, Nikon, and Olympus), going so far as to have been a darkroom rat in both black and white and color darkrooms. In 2006, when it came time to pick a brand for digital photography, I chose Olympus, and purchased an E-300 two lens kit on sale at Newegg. Since that watershed moment I’ve pretty much stuck with Olympus, only straying twice, once to purchase a Sony NEX 5N when it was heavily discounted, and then to purchase a Panasonic GX1 when it, too, was heavily discounted. Therein lies a personal trend.

The photo above (a “selfie”) was taken with an Olympus E-PL2 μFT (Micro Four Thirds) camera and a Panasonic 25mm lens. That body was purchased, on sale, for a fraction of its original MSRP. That’s not to say I haven’t paid full price for a digital camera, I have. But I’ve watched, over time, as the price of my camera bodies have plummeted in short order. It’s tough to drop over a grand on a camera when it’s first released, only to watch it slowly drop to around $200 eighteen months later. Cameras help make good photographs no matter what, and continue to operate just fine no matter at what point in time you purchase them. I’ve taken the position of waiting for them to reach end-of-shelf-life and are sitting in the discount area of the various stores. I’ve learned to wait, and to spend my time waiting on using what I have.

As time goes along I’ll write about my photographic experiences, along with all my other life experiences. I’ll try to write clearly and professionally enough, knowing that I have a number of readers looking over my virtual shoulders. I developed something of a reputation in the past as a ranter (especially about Linux). That part of my on-line personality will be toned down. As they say, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” a rather useless idiom, as the only thing that really attracts flies is dead meat. But I digress…

I write far afield from photography. My interests are broad, and I look on my cameras as tools, a means to an end, not an end unto themselves (although I will admit that there’s nothing more enjoyable than a well designed and well-built camera in your hands). There’s a reason why the blog’s tag line is “commentaries, computers, cameras, and more.” Not just the regular subjects you might read about on other sites, but the arcana of such subjects as well. Stick around, and you’ll discover what I mean by that.

Thanks for dropping by.

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