OM-D initial impressions

•Sunday, 29 April, 2012 • 3 Comments

Spot the OM-D

Keeping my main blog “rashbre central” running requires a fairly steady stream of pictures.

The pictures that make it to that blog are from a mixture of sources from fancy DSLRs, an occasional film shot, some iPhone (the London shots this week are from the iPhone) and various point and shoot clickers.

I suppose my real preference is still cameras with viewfinders, having learned to take pictures using an Olympus film camera and even to develop the snaps in a dark room with smelly chemicals and contact strips.

So when the renaissance of the Olympus OM series was announced a short time ago, I thought I’d better take a look. It’s obviously not as highly specified as the latest Nikons and Canons, with its smaller sensor and so on, but for a lot of purposes that misses the point.

What is great about it is that it provides a small form factor DSLR like experience, even if it doesn’t have a proper mirror system inside – instead using electronics to create the viewfinder image.

I’ve not had time to have a proper play yet, but I’m already intrigued with the possibilities. It comes with a pretty reasonable 12-50mm lens (which is 24-100mm in 35mm speak). The lens is also light weight but well built, achieved by keeping the aperture in the range f3.5-f6.3).

I haven’t even set up the ‘RAW’ mode yet, so here’s a quick ‘through the window’ shot as a test.


The fun is also to be able to use my other micro 4/3 lenses with it – which are from my Lumix camera and give me some tiny but wide aperture primes – a 14mm f2.5 and a 20mm f1.8.

And then there’s the little adapter I have which lets me clip old-school Olympus OM Zuiko lenses onto the camera as well.

Because of the 2:1 ratio of their focal length on a 4/3, I wondered if this would be very useful, but I can already say it is. The old lenses are generally quite small (thats the Olympus way) but open up some interesting options, like my old 55mm f1.2 and my £10 50mm f1.8. I have quite a few of these lenses and the camera breathes new life into them.


A quick few tests with some of them has shown some interesting factors.

Firstly, they each look good through the viewfinder. The aperture controls work, but instead of the view getting darker as I stop down, the electronic viewfinder compensates, so the brightness of the view is maintained – its so good I initially thought the stop down aperture was broken.


Then the focal lengths of these old lenses could create wobble. However, they all get an instant upgrade when used on the OM-D, because it has in-camera stabilisation. I’m sure a tripod could help, but it’s fun to use these old lenses at wide apertures and let the camera’s ‘insane for film’ type ASA take some of the strain.

And there’s a sort of ‘look’ with the pictures from some of the lenses, which is still somehow analogue in the world of high definition electronically operated lenses. They are still manual focus and manual aperture, but it somehow brings the camera back to the basics.


But don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of technology in the little OM-D. It’s one of the few occasions where I’ve thought I might actually need to read the manual. I’ve even downloaded it, because the one in the box is only the starter guide.

So that might be my suggestion to Olympus for the next model. Perhaps they should have an ‘analogue shooter’ mode that is very simple alongside all of the fancy touch screen spot focusing stuff?


I know this camera isn’t as well specified as the new D800 from Nikon, for example, but it certainly has the potential to be a lot of fun.

I’ll try it out properly next week when I’m on the road.

A visit to A and R Photographic, Liverpool

•Friday, 14 October, 2011 • Leave a Comment

During the week I was able to visit my good friend the photographer Imran Ali. He runs his studio from Liverpool Bluecoat and along with the excited conversation of catching up with one anothers’ exploits, we were able to tinker with the range of goodies in his studio.

I’ll confess he was impressed/amused at the bag of camera bits I took along for the session, but no-where near as impressed as I was with all of the lighting gear, reflectors and general electronica he had available for our photo-fest.

And as a delightful addition, we also had blogger friend Debra join us and add Vlad the Hasselblad into the equation.

“So How would you set up this lighting?” asked Imran, as my mind swam into a vortex of unease at the sheer range of options on offer.

“Er, something at the front?” I ventured, “And maybe something ELSE at the side?”

It was clearly too much for me and I was having trouble remembering the different between a grid, a snoot and a sparkling water.

“Reflector” I clung to. “Reflectors…We’ll need to use some reflectors”

Because Debra and I arrived at different times I was able to witness the same effect when she was asked similar questions. We both did that sharp intake of breath when we first noticed all the gantries and swivelly things.

There’s a clear need for vocabulary and a way to overlay structure onto what could otherwise look like chaos.

My compliments to Imran though. A combination of patience, indulgence and some basic disciplines shepherded both of us through the initial stages of using the lights.

Here’s the basic build we used.

1) A ‘beauty bowl’ front light comprising a bowl containing two diffusers.

2) A grid rim light to provide side highlights

3) A snoot projected backwards onto a black background to provide background colour via a gel

I can make it all sound glib here, but trust me, it took time for me to get this set up and balanced. By comparison watching Imran work was a revelation as he would change the degree of feather on a light with one hand and be simultaneously correcting the power output with the other hand.

Debra and I both experimented with the build up of lights one at a time. It was useful to see the effect of one item such as the side light and what it did to the subject. There are plenty of shadowy pictures of each of us now as we trialled the various combinations.

Another thing that was interesting was that we were shooting at ASA50, with quite stopped down apertures (f7.1) and 1/125 shutter. The available light in the room was negligible compared with the power of a thousand suns as the main strobes/flash units fired.

Anyway, I think it worked.

It was incredible how quickly the time passed and we’d planned a grand finale with Debra’s Hasselblad film camera (Vlad). ‘He’ was proving a little moody in this digital world and had to be coaxed to play with the strobe lights. We had a combination of a bulb and an electronic flash firer which Debra had to press simultaneously for her self portrait.

We created a few black Polaroid pictures along the way because the co-ordination required was to the nearest 125th of a second. Gulp. Anyway, the snap above is of the modelling light setup for the shot which we tried several times. I await Debra’s development of the film with bated breath. In the meantime, here’s a lovely square mono picture from the Canon.

The time ended all too soon but we were all quite pleased with the picture taking and progress. I learned a fantastic amount and it was fascinating working with Imran who mainly shot great pictures SOOC (Straight Out Of Camera) and just used colour correction, minor RAW exposure correction and minimalistic cropping.

I’m already thinking about a return visit!

Street Photography Experiments

•Tuesday, 23 August, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I’m trying a few attempts at street photography (beyond simply snapping ‘the street’) and am trying to build up a few simple learning points from the experience.

1) Coffee-cam = No: At one time I tried using a ‘coffee cam’ which was a camera I’d put into a coffee cup. It was really a bit of whimsy, but illustrated the need for something with greater precision. 

2) Smaller camera works best: It also occurs to me that a smaller camera works better for what would be candid shots, compared with an SLR with a zoom lens. 

Part of the challenge is to be able to include other folk in the shot, without them ‘striking a pose’ or glaring. 

3) Go busy: I have decided at the moment it is easier to take these type of pictures in busy and touristy areas. There’s more people around with cameras, so most people are already inured to the thought of being snapped.

4) Blend in: Having also returned from holiday, I realized it is easier to look a bit touristy as part of blending in. 

5) Look like a snapper: Then its good to establish that the way of taking photographs is to point the camera at a big landmark and fiddle using the viewfinder to get the shot. It is also useful to keep the process lengthy to establish the theatre of shot-taking.

6)Switch off all the bleeps: The other thing to do is switch off all the tell-tale LCDs and clicks and beeps. I’ll call that ‘stealth mode’. And remove the lens cap (!) – I use a filter instead.

7)Go Hyper focal : What!? Beam me up Scotty. For daytime, it seems to be better to set a focal length and aperture size that creates a reasonable depth of field – somewhere between 2-5 metres gives quite a range in focus. I’m playing around with 35mm lens, f11(sunny) or f8(shady), ASA800 (quite high) and then expecting the shutter to be at least 1/150. I’m sure this could be more fancy based upon autofocus, but (especially with small cameras) I’m not convinced the autofocus is fast enough.

8)Being static: I can’t help noticing that anything I take whilst moving is more accident prone that when stationary (camera shake, motion blur, bad framing). I have not really explored this properly yet, but the act of walking, moving the camera and trying to frame all contribute to art over precision. Next step will be to find some static points.

Having started to experiment with this form of picture taking I can now start to work out the simpler shots. Silhouettes, back views, aerial shots, shots when with others, shots through glass are all somewhat easier than ‘alone to roam’.

We shall see.

Bridge Camera on the Road

•Friday, 12 August, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Fuji HS20
I decided to experiment with taking a single so-called ‘Bridge’ camera for my recent trip, instead of the usual DSLR and lenses. It was partly a space compromise, to keep the backpack reasonably light.
So what worked and what didn’t?
First, the camera I used…It was a Fuji Finepix HS20 EXR, which is a modern 2011 device, which would compete with the (e.g.) Nikon P500 and the Canon HS30.

I expect the camera buffs will talk about sensor size, chromatic aberration and megapixels, but I simply preferred that the Fuji has a (non exchangeable) manual twist zoom instead of the generally slow electric zooms on the Nikon and Canon models. At a non technical detail level they are all very similar, with (in my opinion) a slightly more robust apparent build quality on the Fuji.
And as a comparison, I’d usually take a Nikon DSLR, probably a D300 and maybe a couple of extra lenses, which would be 2-3 times the bulk of the Fuji.

So what happened?
Firstly, the camera does take pleasant pictures. The colour looks good and there’s enough pixels to mean some cropping is viable. I know, with a good SLR the cropping might not be needed, but its still a matter of balance.

The Fuji also had an automatic mode with a sort of dynamic range enhancer called EXR, which was supposed to stop sky highlight blowout and to improve detail in shadows. I didn’t find this setting to my liking, it seemed to slightly over-expose, so instead I used the ‘P’ mode and set the exposure down by 2/3 of a stop. This kept detail in the sky and although darkening the whole picture it ultimately gave more data to work with.

The camera also has a viewfinder, which was one of the other things I wanted; some of the bridge cameras have removed this, but it is still useful for framing, although the electronic viewfinder on the Fuji had a slow refresh and would go blank at the moment the shutter was pressed.

This leads me to the main drawback of this type of camera. I’d sort of forgotten about ‘shutter lag’ because of using DSLRs and other mechanical shuttered digital cameras. I once had a very smart looking Nikon compact that had a discernible ‘and one and two’ between pushing the button and the picture. This camera has a similar drawback.

What about the defining moment?
Digital photography misses the point if the defining moment of a shot can’t be captured. Cartier Bresson showed this in his work and there’s plenty of other famous examples.

To illustrate a basic challenge. Driving along the Camino Real it would be fun to take a photo of one of those bell markers that showed the route of the old Mission road. They are about every mile or two and can be seen from a long way away. I’d slow the car to make it easy for my co-pilot to ‘grab’ a shot, but it was surprisingly difficult with this camera. Firstly, it would power down and take 3 seconds to awake. Secondly, it would confuse itself about whether to display the image on the back screen or in the viewfinder. It would then take too long to work out the focus. And blank at the moment of picture. The end results were some ‘near misses’ taking these pictures. And this from a camera which includes ‘dog’ and ‘cat’ modes…

In general use
For general use in cityscapes, landscapes and general coverage the camera works fine. The built-in flash is also subtle for fill in and the ISO range is quite forgiving and can be set to an auto maximum, which will drop to the lowest sensible setting most of the time.

It could take regular AA batteries which meant not having to worry about running out of power anywhere.

In bright sunlight the back screen wouldn’t show anything clearly and the viewfinder images would be dark if I used the -2/3 setting which I needed to get the best exposure.

So did it work?
Mostly, yes. It handled the main travel pictures well. I learned to handle its peculiarities to get good pictures most of the time. The usual ‘halfway down’ button pressing worked to help the shutter lag, by effectively pre-loading the focus and exposure – although I suspect a lot of people wouldn’t know to do this type of thing.

Would I do it again?
Probably not. I have no regrets about the pictures I’ve taken – most of which have come out fine, but I do feel that the camera presented more of an obstacle than I’d expected. I don’t think I’m ‘blaming the tools’ here or particularly picking on the Fuji; I know I’ve had similar experiences with an equivalent Nikon in the past.

The camera’s strengths are a lens that runs from 24mm to 720mm with image stabilisation and pretty good colour on plenty of pixels. The best way to use it is to prepare for the shot (I know, I know).

That’s OK in theory, but not always possible. I know that when we used a pocketable Lumix for a few around town shots there was a sigh of relief that its fixed ‘28mm’ lens gave us shots at the exact moment we wanted them.

Viewfinder for Lumix Compact Camera

•Thursday, 10 December, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Helios Viewfinder
Something I’ve wondered about for a while, but haven’t wanted to spend lots of money on, was the effect of adding a small direct viewfinder to a compact camera.

Sometimes I’ll use big SLR cameras with bulky lenses, but its also good to have something more portable. I typically use a little Lumix camera (LX3 or GF1), which can be unobtrusive, but both only have a rear screen for taking pictures. Its OK, but sometimes a more ‘to the eye’ style seems more natural.

I’ve just received the little Helios clip on viewfinder from an inexpensive eBay auction and added it to one of the little cameras.

Its amazing.

It won’t give me the exact view through the lens, but is a good way to frame a shot like a using a traditional camera. It even has markings for three different lens lengths, 35mm, 85mm and 135mm.

It’s a great match for the Lumix 20mm f1.7 (40mm equivalent lens) and surprisingly accurate for framing.

I’m hooked.

Stoppees’ guide to Photography and Light

•Saturday, 21 March, 2009 • 1 Comment

See how the light falls across the cover of the book in the picture? And how the window by which this picture was taken is hinted about? How the title of the book is in shadow so that it stands out? And the authors’ names and the publisher are visible with just a little more inspection – but less than if it were a blatent product shot?

Yes, I received a book about ‘Light’ through the post a couple of days ago – With all my evening and night shots at this time of year, perhaps its also a hint to me to take more care in the way view Light?

This Brian and Janet Stoppee Guide to Photography and Light covers an aspect fundamental to photography, but as I read and thought about it I realised how much I didn’t know.

Quite often when I obtain reference books on varied topics, its a quick flick through to find some new points, or to help solve a particular problem. This was different because I could gain new information from most chapters.

As well as covering the theory of light and colour spaces, it moves into ways to manipulate or take advantage of light to handle different situations.

Its a heavy book to carry at some 500 pages, but its well divided into sections and has comprehensive areas around lighting, reflectors, tripods, stands, flash, post-production and indoor and outdoor work. Even the little section on light incidence at times of day and in different seasons is useful.

I guess a more experienced photographer may have most of this knowledge, but for a more casual snap-shotter like me its a strong reference by professional people who have obviously learned by experience.

The authors have film camera heritage but work digitally now, and in addition to the sections on post-production with Adobe and similar, there’s a strong emphasis on getting it right in the camera.

SOOC as I call it (Straight Out Of Camera).

The second part of the book takes many topics across a simple two page spread format, which is a handy way to browse, whilst also keeping related topics together as a narrative.

If I have a criticism, its of some of the actual photographs that make it into the book. My guess is that the book was quite a long time in production and may have been two books pushed together or has had some sort of makeover. There’s some signs of this with a few early pictures that suffer from heavily jagged edges – presumably from small originals. There’s also sections that are quite polarized towards a particular product set around Nikon cameras and Matthews Stands and Lighting equipment. I happen to use Nikon so its no big deal and the points made are applicable to pretty much any dSLR combination. My guess is that perhaps the book was originally destined with a different title or similar.

For me, the sections around light placement, metering and colour temperature all had good ‘Ahah’ moments and thats just scratching the (shiny) surface of what for me is a good reference volume.

Photography and Light – Brian and Janet Stoppee – Focal Press 2009 – well worth a look.

Photography Classics

•Friday, 2 January, 2009 • 4 Comments

balakov's set - worth checking out
Whatever the source, its worth studying some of the pictures where people have ‘got it right’. Some of the pictures become so iconic they spawn their own complementary work.

WIth it being New Year and all, here’s a link to balakov, where a few well known pictures have been rendered in Lego and also includes the ‘setup’ shots showing how they were made.