Admiring Light http://admiringlight.com/blog Photography Reviews, Photos, News and Musings Fri, 24 Apr 2015 13:48:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.1 Waterfall Season http://admiringlight.com/blog/waterfall-season/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/waterfall-season/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 19:52:50 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4928 Spring is in the air, and the world is turning green once again.  Spring is also the time when many waterfalls tend to run at their fullest, so now is an ideal time for photographing waterfalls. I’ve taken advantage of some of the flow already, though a few weeks more will bring brighter and more …

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Spring is in the air, and the world is turning green once again.  Spring is also the time when many waterfalls tend to run at their fullest, so now is an ideal time for photographing waterfalls. I’ve taken advantage of some of the flow already, though a few weeks more will bring brighter and more lush vegetation surrounding these lovely natural features.

If you haven’t tried your hand at shooting waterfalls, or are looking for some help in getting the most out your waterfall photos, here are some important things to keep in mind.

A Tripod is a Must

It may seem obvious, but waterfalls are one of the subjects that really requires a tripod for the best images.  Not only because many waterfalls look best when shot with longer exposures to provide a nice smooth look to the water, but also because the best compositions for waterfalls are very often in positions that are extremely awkward to hand hold.  Having a good tripod is also a necessity.  Often the terrain will be uneven, and often the best compositions come from standing in the stream itself, so being able to precisely place the legs and having a tripod that will keep the camera steady even with the flow of water around the legs is essential.

A solid tripod can get you the angle and stability needed to get the shot

A solid tripod can get you the angle and stability needed to get the shot

One major point: if you’re going to go into the stream, please make sure that it is both safe to do so, and that your actions won’t damage the banks or any vegetation.  You’re there to record the scene, not leave your mark on it. The above shot shows my tripod while I was shooting images at Blue Hen Falls. The stream has a slate rock bed, so I felt comfortable in my waterproof boots shooting down in the stream.  If there are soft banks or fragile plants, please keep to any trails. See the image below that was captured from this position.

Blue Hen Falls - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 15mm, f/16, 20s

Blue Hen Falls – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 15mm, f/16, 20s

Polarizing and Neutral Density Filters

Polarizers and neutral density (ND) filters are the two filters that both truly still have a place in any photographer’s kit in the digital age.  While other filters can have their effects replicated with digital postprocessing tools or multiple exposures, these two filter types can’t be faked, and both come in very handy for shooting waterfalls.

First off, let’s talk about the polarizing filter.  A circular polarizer is something every outdoor photographer should have in their bag.  The filter works by cutting out light of a certain polarization that is reflected off of surfaces.  Rotating the filter allows you to choose which angle of light polarization is cut out.  The result is the ability to remove glare from water, darken blue skies and increase saturation on damp or glossy vegetation.  When shooting around waterfalls, almost all the surfaces will have some moisture on them, and therefore reflecting glare is very common.  While images without a polarizer will look fine, being able to cut that glare can dramatically improve the look of a photograph.

For a prime example of the effect of a polarizer, take a look at the images below.  These images were taken from the exact same location within 20 seconds of each other.  The only difference is that I attached my polarizer between exposures.  The first image shows the scene without a polarizing filter.  It’s a fine shot, but the colors are muted, only green and brown come out, and there is pretty heavy glare off the sides of the rocks and a strong reflection in the pool at the bottom of the image.

Corkscrew Falls - No Polarizer

Corkscrew Falls – No Polarizer

Now, take a look at the result with a polarizing filter.  The processing on the two images is nearly identical (I did some finer color correction on the one below, since it was the one I finalized for print).  The glare on the rocks is gone, showing the texture of the stone. The glare on the water is also gone, allowing the blue color of the water to shine through as well as extra detail in the sandstone gorge bottom.  The overall effect is striking.

Corkscrew Falls - With Polarizer

Corkscrew Falls – With Polarizer

Another filter worth packing for waterfall shooting is a neutral density filter.  Simply put, an ND filter simply lets less light into the lens, without altering color balance.  ND filters are available in a variety of strengths, from 1-2 stop filters useful for cutting back the light a bit, all the way to 10 stops or more that can allow for minutes long exposures in mid-day sunlight.  Using these filters can allow for longer shutter speeds to blur water movement, even when it’s bright outside.  For most shooting of waterfalls, a 3 or 4 stop filter comes in quite handy.  This should allow for exposures of at least 1/2 second in daylight, when stopping down the lens to f/11 to f/16.

Exposure Tips

Since we’re on the subject of lengthening shutter speeds, let’s talk about exposure time.  There’s a few different schools of thought when it comes to how long you should expose a waterfall, with quite a lot of people enjoying the silky look of a long exposure, while others find that look cliché or ugly.  I personally quite enjoy the smooth water look for most waterfalls, but it really depends on what you’re trying to show in your final image.  Freezing the motion of a waterfall can often be rather ugly aesthetically, while in other cases a long exposure will eliminate too much detail. However, in both cases, it’s up to the photographer to judge based on the scene in front of them.  The shot below was shot at 0.4 seconds, which was about the longest I wanted to let the shutter open on this shot.  The falls had extremely heavy water flow, and anything longer just blurred far too much detail out of the image.

Indian Run Falls - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 10mm, f/8, 0.4 sec

Indian Run Falls – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 10mm, f/8, 0.4 sec

For my own shooting, I often end up shooting very early in the morning, especially in areas where there’s a fair amount of tourism, as I don’t have to deal with people walking in and out of my frame.  As a result, I often deal with long exposures by necessity.  For most of the waterfalls in Ohio, which often don’t have a super-high flow, the silky look of a long exposure works best anyway.  I do think, however, that heavy flowing waterfalls demand a shorter shutter speed in most cases.  First off, a shutter speed of 1/2 second or so will still show plenty of motion, but will also help capture some of the power of the falls.  For really huge waterfalls crashing on rocks, very short shutter speeds might be desired to really capture the power of the water. Often, exposures of 1/2 to 2 seconds are great. For a serene or sometimes surreal feel, longer exposures can also be excellent.  Experiment and determine what you like best.

Composition Tips

Here are a few other things to keep in mind when shooting waterfalls.  First of all, shots of the main cascade of a fall can be very nice sometimes, but often they can be sterile or boring if there’s nothing leading your eye into the frame.

Keep an eye out for minor cascades below the main falls.  Often these will switch back and forth, creating far more interesting patterns than the main cascade.  It’s worth exploring lots of different angles, trying to visualize how your eye leads into the frame before setting up and taking the picture.  The shot below, taken this morning, illustrates this perfectly.  I took shots from about 6 different angles in this area today, and then I’d review the image and try new compositions, though most were small refinements on this scene.  I finally managed to find the angle that reached the proper balance, with lots of foreground interest leading your eye into the frame.

Blue Hen Falls - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 12mm, f/18, 15sec

Blue Hen Falls – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 12mm, f/18, 15sec

Second, context for an image can also help set the scene.  Perhaps there’s a bridge nearby, or leading rocks.  Often there may be a stark clifside next to the falls, or ferns or other interesting plants along the stream bank.  Using these elements to help frame the waterfall can add another dimension to the shot. For the shot below, I positioned the camera very low, sitting on the frozen pond below the falls, focusing on the patterns in the ice, helping set the scene of winter despite the lack of snow.  Experiment with different scenes and different looks.  There are times I’ll work a single waterfall for two hours, finding all sorts of different ways to look at a scene.  Don’t forget to have fun!

Ice at the Lower Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, OH - Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 19mm, f/18, 0.8s, ISO 100

Ice at the Lower Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, OH – Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 19mm, f/18, 0.8s, ISO 100

Image Samples

Finally, I thought I’d share a few more waterfall shots of mine from this year so far.  Click an image to enlarge. Happy waterfalling!

Devil's Bathtub, Hocking Hills State Park, OH - Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 16mm, f/11, 15s, ISO 100

Devil’s Bathtub, Hocking Hills State Park, OH – Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 16mm, f/11, 15s, ISO 100

Honey Run Falls - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 55-200mm @ 200mm, f/16, 2.1s

Honey Run Falls – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 55-200mm @ 200mm, f/16, 2.1s

Side Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, OH - Olympus OM-D E-M5 with Panasonic 35-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 35mm, f/11, 1/2s

Side Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, OH – Olympus OM-D E-M5 with Panasonic 35-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 35mm, f/11, 1/2s

Honey Run Falls - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm @ 20mm, f/16, 20s

Honey Run Falls – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm @ 20mm, f/16, 20s

Lower Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, OH - Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 28mm, f/18, 1.3s, ISO 100

Lower Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, OH – Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 28mm, f/18, 1.3s, ISO 100

Middle Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, OH - Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 29mm, f/14, 13s, ISO 100

Middle Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, OH – Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 29mm, f/14, 13s, ISO 100

Honey Run Falls - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 @ 48mm, f/11, 2.6s

Honey Run Falls – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 @ 48mm, f/11, 2.6s

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Review: Panasonic Lumix 35-100mm f/4-5.6 OIS http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-panasonic-lumix-35-100mm-f4-5-6-ois/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-panasonic-lumix-35-100mm-f4-5-6-ois/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 22:22:05 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4892 This past fall, Panasonic made several announcements in advance of Photokina, but one that flew under the radar a bit was the addition of a very compact 35-100mm f/4-5.6 lens. The new 35-100mm is a slower option that sits alongside the excellent 35-100mm f/2.8 from Panasonic. This new lens, which gives the same field of …

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This past fall, Panasonic made several announcements in advance of Photokina, but one that flew under the radar a bit was the addition of a very compact 35-100mm f/4-5.6 lens. The new 35-100mm is a slower option that sits alongside the excellent 35-100mm f/2.8 from Panasonic. This new lens, which gives the same field of view as the classic 70-200mm telephoto zooms on 35mm cameras, is exceptionally small, making it an ideal choice for inclusion in super-lightweight travel kits. If you’re like me, though, such a lens is only really a useful option if the optics are good as well. Let’s find out how good small can be.

Panasonic 35-100mm f/4-5.6 OIS on the Lumix GX1

Panasonic 35-100mm f/4-5.6 OIS on the Lumix GX1

If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool.

Construction and Handling

The first thing that strikes you when you first see the new 35-100mm f/4-5.6 is its size. The lens is almost impossibly small. Most telephoto lenses, by necessity, are relatively long lenses. The smaller 4/3 sensor size has allowed many telephoto options for the Micro 4/3 system to shrink the overall lens size, but none compare to the miniaturization that the 35-100mm achieves.

The lens is a collapsible design, and when collapsed, it’s no larger than the collapsible 14-42mm kit zoom from Olympus. It’s the same diameter as the Micro 4/3 lens mount and only about 1.5 inches in length. As such, the lens works extremely well on any of the Micro 4/3 bodies, and seems geared towards the smaller cameras such as the Panasonic GM1 and GM5 or the Olympus E-PL7. I used the lens on both the OM-D E-M5 and the Panasonic GX1, and it felt great on both bodies.

The 35-100mm is a collapsible design that extends during use

The 35-100mm is a collapsible design that extends during use

The lens isn’t a high-end lens with regards to construction, but it’s fairly well assembled. The 35-100mm has a metal lens mount and lightweight metal exterior. The inner lens barrel, which extends when put into shooting position, and extends further when zooming towards 100mm, is made of plastic. The inner tube can wobble a bit if pressure is applied, but there’s very limited play in general use. The zoom ring opens the lens into shooting position, and is well damped for zooming through the focal range. There is a semi-hard stop at 35mm to let you know you’ve reached the end of the zoom through. Proceeding past this stop will collapse the lens. The focus ring operates smoothly, but is only lightly damped.

The extremely small size makes this lens an ideal travel companion, and it fits in very well with lenses such as the Olympus 9-18mm and the Panasonic pancake zoom 12-32mm. In fact, all three lenses together weigh less than 400g and would cover an incredible range from ultra-wide angle to medium telephoto.

Autofocus and Image Stabilization

The 35-100mm f/4-5.6 focuses very quickly and accurately. The autofocus motor is virtually silent and the lens was sure and confident in focusing on both camera bodies used for testing.

The lens also features Panasonic’s optical image stabilizer, dubbed Mega OIS. The OIS on the 35-100mm is surprisingly effective, especially sing the ‘Mega OIS’ moniker is Panasonic’s standard level IS system. The ‘higher-end’ stabilization is named ‘Power OIS.’ The optical stabilizer allowed me to achieve sharp images consistently at around 1/15s, which equates to a shutter speed around 3.5 stops slower than what normally is needed for sharp shots.  Like many stabilizer systems for Micro 4/3, you do need to watch when using the optical stabilizer at speeds around 1/60s, as it can be prone to some blurring due to shutter shock around that speed.

Continue: Image Quality

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A Mysterious Morning http://admiringlight.com/blog/a-mysterious-morning/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/a-mysterious-morning/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 11:58:08 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4887 Two weeks ago, I got up rather early and went out to take a few photos before work, as I often do.  It was a very dark and somewhat foggy morning, and everything was calm.  The spring greens hadn’t quite sprouted yet, and so I went out knowing I’d be shooting for black and white.  Found …

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Two weeks ago, I got up rather early and went out to take a few photos before work, as I often do.  It was a very dark and somewhat foggy morning, and everything was calm.  The spring greens hadn’t quite sprouted yet, and so I went out knowing I’d be shooting for black and white.  Found this composition near one of the railroad bridges.  If you look carefully, you can see the light from a train crossing the bridge in the distance.  Click to enlarge.

Divergence - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm @ 10mm, f/5.6, 18s, ISO 200

Divergence – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm @ 10mm, f/5.6, 18s, ISO 200

 

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Review: Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-olympus-12-40mm-f2-8-pro/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-olympus-12-40mm-f2-8-pro/#comments Tue, 07 Apr 2015 01:27:14 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4865 In late 2013, Olympus released the M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens.  It was their first foray into the ‘PRO’ line, which has now been joined by the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO and will soon add a 7-14mm and a 300mm f/4.  I didn’t get a chance to review the 12-40mm back when it was released, but …

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In late 2013, Olympus released the M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens.  It was their first foray into the ‘PRO’ line, which has now been joined by the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO and will soon add a 7-14mm and a 300mm f/4.  I didn’t get a chance to review the 12-40mm back when it was released, but seized the opportunity when I had the new OM-D E-M5 Mark II in for review.  The 12-40mm f/2.8 has been highly touted by many in the industry, and I was eager to get my hands on the lens and see if it lived up to the strong reputation.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8

If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool.

Construction and Handling

The 12-40mm f/2.8 is a solidly constructed high-end optic featuring weather sealing against dust and moisture. The lens is bigger than any of the slower standard zooms for Micro 4/3, but quite compact for a wide to telephoto standard zoom with a constant aperture of f/2.8. The lens has a focal range that gives a field of view similar to a 24-80mm lens on a full frame camera, encompassing a versatile range from super-wide angle to short telephoto.

The Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO with hood

The Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO with hood

For the most part, the lens lives up to what you’d expect in this department, with a tightly assembled body with high-quality plastics and a metal shell over most of the lens body. However, I felt that it fell a bit short of what I would generally consider a ‘Pro’ build. The inner lens tube rubbed slightly when turning the zoom ring, and the extending tube has a small amount of play. Overall, it’s a well-built lens, but the sister to this lens, the 40-150mm f/2.8, has a more solid construction in my opinion.

The lens extends during zooming towards the long end of the range, and very slightly at the widest focal lengths, with the lens at its shortest length at 16mm. The zoom ring moves smoothly, though damping is less than on many other lenses. The focus ring is very smooth and precise, and features a manual focus clutch mechanism, allowing for quick switching to manual focus, complete with focusing scale. It’s worth noting that the focus ring still turns when the ring is pushed forward for AF operations, which allows for full-time manual focusing, or manual focus when manual focus is engaged via the camera.

The 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO comes with a reversible lens hood that locks into place and requires pinching two side buttons to release the hood. Frankly, I though the locking mechanism was a bit clunky and unnecessary, and slowed down storing the lens. The 12-40mm also has an Olympus L-Fn button on the side, which adds an additional programmable button for use with any Olympus camera. As not all of my Micro 4/3 lenses have the L-Fn button, I typically don’t use it, as I operate on muscle memory while shooting most of the time, and having a button that’s only there on certain lenses tends to slow me down a bit.

The lens at its shortest length (left) and longest (right).  The manual focus clutch is also pulled back to reveal the focus scale in the right hand image.

The lens at its shortest length (left) and longest (right). The manual focus clutch is also pulled back to reveal the focus scale in the right hand image.

Autofocus Performance

The 12-40mm f/2.8 features a very fast and very quiet focus motor. I tested the lens on the OM-D E-M5 Mark II, and in most situations, the lens was extremely fast to focus and very accurate. I had a few situations in dim light where the camera thought the lens was in focus when it was clearly well out of focus, and I had trouble getting it to sweep through the full range to lock on, but this only happened a few times during my testing. In all other cases, even in lower light, it locked swiftly and surely on my subject.

As I noted in my review of the E-M5 Mark II, the 12-40mm f/2.8 was excellent for continuous autofocus as well, and had a good hit rate while tracking moving subjects.

Unfortunately, the lens, like all Olympus lenses, doesn’t have an optical stabilizer. This is fine if you’re shooting with an Olympus body, as the outstanding in-body image stabilization of any recent Olympus camera negates any need for an optical stabilizer. However, if you own a Panasonic camera other than the GX7, you’ll want to consider the lack of lens-based stabilization in the 12-40mm.

Continue: Image Quality

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Testing the new Fujifilm Firmware Updates http://admiringlight.com/blog/testing-the-new-fujifilm-firmware-updates/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/testing-the-new-fujifilm-firmware-updates/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 00:02:17 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4847 Fujifilm released several firmware updates today.  There are updates for both the X-T1 and the X100T that fix a few issues.  The X-T1 updates focus on fixing flash not firing if the mechanical+electronic shutter setting is on, even with the shutter speed below sync speed, along with a few other remote and tethering fixes.  The X100T …

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Fujifilm released several firmware updates today.  There are updates for both the X-T1 and the X100T that fix a few issues.  The X-T1 updates focus on fixing flash not firing if the mechanical+electronic shutter setting is on, even with the shutter speed below sync speed, along with a few other remote and tethering fixes.  The X100T fixes the flash issue above as well as some viewfinder improvements and settings with the conversion lenses.

The Fuji X-T1 and XF 10-24mm f/4 both received firmware updates today, along with other XF zooms and the X100T

The Fuji X-T1 and XF 10-24mm f/4 both received firmware updates today, along with other XF zooms and the X100T

But for me, the most interesting was the release of new firmware for four OIS lenses, the 10-24mm f/4, the 18-55mm f/2.8-4, the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 and the 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8.  This new firmware promises “improvement of stability of OIS function.” Given the broad range of what that can encompass, I thought I’d do a somewhat informal test before updating my lenses. For this somewhat unscientific test (true results need a much larger sample size and mechanically similar shake for each shot.)  Since I don’t own a calibrated hand shake rig, I had to rely simply on shooting the images myself and seeing where they ended up.

I own three of the four lenses that have updates here, so I took sample images sitting in my chair, but with arms free, using the EVF of my X-T1.  First, I took images at a variety of shutter speeds to determine effective stability under the old firmware, with three shots at each shutter speed setting.  I then updated the firmware (including the X-T1’s firmware), and did the test again.

Results are below.  The number out of three is the number of shots that were sharp at that shutter speed setting under the new and old firmware, to see if there was any marked improvement.  I consider getting 2 of 3 shots sharp being successful at that shutter speed.

Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 OIS @ 10mm:

Firmware v. 1.00 Firmware v. 1.01
1/4s
3 of 3 sharp
3 of 3 sharp
1/2s
3 of 3 sharp
2 of 3 sharp
1s
3 of 3 sharp
3 of 3 sharp
1.8s
None of 3 sharp
1 of 3 sharp

Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 OIS @ 24mm

Firmware v. 1.00 Firmware v. 1.01
1/20s
2 of 3 sharp
3 of 3 sharp
1/10s
2 of 3 sharp
3 of 3 sharp
1/5s
None of 3 sharp
3 of 3 sharp
0.4s
None of 3 sharp
2 of 3 sharp
0.8s
None of 3 sharp
None of 3 sharp

As you can see above, while the firmware update had minimal effect at 10mm (the OIS is already incredible here, with 3/3 shots at 1 full second sharp), there was dramatic improvement at 24mm. With the original firmware, the IS was only effective in this test to approximately 2 stops slower than unstabilized.  Following the firmware update, I’m getting close to 4 stops at 24mm.  I’m very pleased with this improvement.  One thing to note, that doesn’t show up in the chart is that, especially at 10mm, the ones that weren’t sharp at 1.8s with the new firmware were much closer to being sharp than the 1.8s exposures under firmware 1.00.  This, plus the fact that I was able to get 1 out of the 3 sharp at the insanely slow speed of 1.8s, tells me there is still some minor improvement at the 10mm end as well.

Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 OIS @ 55mm

Firmware v. 3.11 Firmware v. 3.12
1/20s
3 of 3 sharp
3 of 3 sharp
1/10s
3 of 3 sharp
3 of 3 sharp
1/5s
2 of 3 sharp
1 of 3 sharp
0.4s
None of 3 sharp
1 of 3 sharp
0.8s
None of 3 sharp
None of 3 sharp

With the 18-55, the improvement is less clear.  I had less success at 1/5s, and more success at 0.4 seconds, but a difference of 1 either way is certainly in the realm of chance with a sample size this small.  The minor improvements here are most apparent with the level of sharpness in the ‘sharp’ shots.  They appear to be much better on the new firmware, with an almost tripod-like crispness.

For an example, below are two crops from the sharpest example of each set at 1/10s.  The v3.11 firmware on the top, and v3.12 firmware on the bottom.  Click to view at 100%.  Note that while there isn’t any notable motion blur, the earlier firmware image is just a very slightly bit soft.  The new firmware keeps that rock solid, and gives the same sort of performance that I am used to when shooting with this lens on a tripod.  The OIS always felt just slightly ‘off’ on the 18-55 (and I’ve actually shot with 3 copies, with similar results)…with the new firmware, that ‘off’ feeling is gone, replaced with very good, solid images.  This was the case for essentially all the shots with the 18-55mm on old vs. new firmware.

100% crops of 1/10s images from 18-55mm @ 55mm, f/4.  Firmware 3.11 on top, Firmware 3.12 on bottom. (Click to Enlarge)

100% crops of 1/10s images from 18-55mm @ 55mm, f/4. Firmware 3.11 on top, Firmware 3.12 on bottom. (Click to Enlarge)

Fujinon XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 OIS @ 100mm

Firmware v. 1.10 Firmware v. 1.12
1/20s
3 of 3 sharp
3 of 3 sharp
1/10s
2 of 3 sharp
3 of 3 sharp
1/5s
1 of 3 sharp
2 of 3 sharp
0.4s
None of 3 sharp
1 of 3 sharp

Fujinon XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 OIS @ 200mm

Firmware v. 1.10 Firmware v. 1.12
1/15s
2 of 3 sharp
3 of 3 sharp
1/8s
1 of 3 sharp
1 of 3 sharp
1/4s
None of 3 sharp
1 of 3 sharp

With the 55-200mm, again, we have minor improvements.  I was able to get one sharp shot more per sequence at 100mm at 1/10, 1/5 and 0.4s, showing some minor improvement, but again, in this small sample size, it’s hard to say too much definitively here.  It certainly doesn’t hurt the quality, and some minor improvements can be seen.

Conclusion

Overall, the firmware updates for the Fuji zoom lenses appear to provide some benefit in all cases.  These can range from fairly minor improvements, in the case of the 55-200mm, to a nice increase in sharpness for the 18-55mm, and a dramatic improvement with the 10-24mm.  Again, this test isn’t perfect, and is somewhat limited by the small sample size, but I think it points to some nice improvements from Fuji with this latest round of updates.

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Review: Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-olympus-om-d-e-m5-mark-ii/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-olympus-om-d-e-m5-mark-ii/#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 23:24:24 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4787 It’s been three years since Olympus first rolled out their highly successful OM-D line of cameras with the E-M5.  That camera redefined what a mirrorless camera could be, and was the first mirrorless camera that truly made a push for the enthusiast photographer.  Since then, the exceptional E-M1 has followed as well as a lower …

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It’s been three years since Olympus first rolled out their highly successful OM-D line of cameras with the E-M5.  That camera redefined what a mirrorless camera could be, and was the first mirrorless camera that truly made a push for the enthusiast photographer.  Since then, the exceptional E-M1 has followed as well as a lower cost E-M10.  This year, Olympus has updated the original, and today I review the E-M5 Mark II.  The E-M5 II is a camera that stays true to its predecessor, but adds a number of key features, including one that breaks serious new ground for Micro 4/3.  Let’s dive in and see what Olympus has managed to do.

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool.  I am not a videographer, so my reviews concentrate on the still imaging capabilities of a camera.

Construction and Handling

The Olympus E-M5 Mark II stays true to the original E-M5 in its design, but features some notable upgrades in construction.  The camera is still made of magnesium alloy, but it feels harder, denser and simply more solidly built.  It’s the same feeling of quality that I got when I picked up the Sony A7 II.  This is a very sturdily built camera with a nice stippled matte finish. The camera is available in both black and silver.  I reviewed the black, but I have to say, I think the silver version of this camera looks downright amazing.

In any case, the solid construction extends to the dials and switches.  The two main dials sit atop the right side of the camera, allowing for easy access with the index finger and thumb.  Both dials are very beautifully knurled and move smoothly and positively, with nice clicks between settings.  The shutter button sits on top of the front dial and is also metal, unlike the original E-M5’s shutter button.  The buttons on the top and rear of the camera are fairly small, but they are notably bigger than the original E-M5’s, though they don’t have quite the polish and solid feel of the rest of the camera.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8

Despite a very similar appearance, Olympus has made some changes to the main grip of the camera, and those changes are a bit of a double-edged sword.  The grip retains the same subtle curve to grip, but instead of the vertical ridge that the original has, the Mark II features a curving edge as it moves up the body, which allows for a small finger hold near the top.  Combined with the new rubberized covering, the E-M5 Mark II’s grip is notably more secure than the original’s.  However, this comes at the expense of comfort. Despite the better purchase, the grip forced my middle and ring fingers down and towards the lens, making the it feel cramped.  The rubber is less slippery than the original mesh weave grip of the E-M5, but it’s also a very hard rubber, so there’s no cushioning to the cramped grip.  The result is a camera that is easier to hold on to, but less comfortable in the hand.

The E-M5 Mark II features the same improved weather sealing that first appeared on the OM-D E-M1.  The camera is sealed against dust and moisture and is freeze-proof to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.  I didn’t get a chance to shoot in the rain during my time with the camera, but knowing the robustness of both the original E-M5, which I’ve owned since it came out, and the E-M1, I have no doubt the camera would hold up very well when used with a weather sealed lens.

Operation and Controls

The top controls of the E-M5 II

The top controls of the E-M5 II

The OM-D E-M5 Mark II features a number of control updates to the original E-M5 that make it a more capable camera in the field.  First, as I mentioned earlier, the two main control dials are positioned perfectly.  The rear thumb operated dial is moved to the same position as on the E-M1, which makes it far easier to reach when the camera is to your eye.  The PASM mode dial is still on the left side of the camera, but it’s gained a push-button lock that allows you to keep the dial from moving if desired. Bizarrely, it also has switched orientation from the original, so that the selected mode is on the far left of the dial rather than the far right as on the E-M5.  The power switch is on the left side of the viewfinder hump, just like on the E-M1.  I’m not a huge fan of this position since it requires two hands to turn the camera on, but it didn’t pose a problem either.

The big adjustments come in the far greater number of controls available to the shooter without going into the menus.  The original E-M5 featured two programmable function keys, plus the four tiny directional buttons of the rear four-way controller.  The E-M5 Mark II retains these controls, but adds two additional programmable function buttons and adds another button in the center of the 2×2 Dual Control switch that sits above the screen. The top of the camera has the Fn2 button and movie record button in the same places as the original E-M5, but the new Fn3 and Fn4 buttons (which default to EVF control and HDR mode) also sit on top, to the left of the main dials.  All of these buttons are easily accessed with your index finger, though the movie record button is the hardest to press.  However, that is very likely intentional, as it makes accidentally pressing it difficult as well.

The rear of the camera features the four-way controller which has larger and easier to press buttons vs. the E-M5.  The E-M5 II’s 2×2 switch is tucked above the screen to the left of the rear dial.  Surrounding the four-way switch are the Menu, Info, Trash and Play buttons. All of the controls, save for one, are easy to access and difficult to press accidentally.  The control that isn’t easy to use is the 2×2 switch.  While the switch is easily moved from position 1 to position 2, flipping it back isn’t as easy.  The lever gets extremely close to the top of the screen, and there’s very limited space to flick the switch upward.  With bare hands, it’s not too bad, but it becomes very difficult to operate while wearing gloves.

The rear controls and screen of the E-M5 Mark II

The rear controls and screen of the E-M5 Mark II

If you haven’t had a chance to use the 2×2 Dual Control system on an Olympus camera before, it’s a very nice method of doubling the easy to access parameters using the main dials.   You can customize the operation of the dials in each position of the switch, but by default, when the switch is in position 1, the two dials control exposure parameters (shutter speed and aperture in manual mode, aperture and exposure compensation in aperture priority mode, etc).  When the switch is moved to position 2, the dials change to controlling ISO and White Balance (by default).

The overall degree of custom controls that can be had with the E-M5 Mark II is impressive, and after setting up the camera to your liking, it minimizes the amount of time you need to dive into menus during regular shooting.

The incredibly detailed main menu

The incredibly detailed main menu

Speaking of menus, there are two main interfaces for detailed settings on the E-M5 Mark II, and they both should be familiar to existing Olympus shooters.  First is the Super Control Panel, which is finally activated by default.  Pressing the OK button in the center of the four-way brings up this handy menu that allows one to change most of the main shooting settings, from In-Body Image Stabilization modes, self-timer, anti-shock, electronic shutter and High Resolution mode, AF point, Face Detection, JPEG settings, drive mode and more.

More detailed customization settings are found in the main menu. This too should be familiar to Olympus shooters and infuriatingly confusing to those new to the camera.  While it’s admirable that Olympus provides the ability to change behavior on an extremely wide variety of option, but despite their best efforts at organization, the sheer volume of options can be overwhelming until you become intimately familiar with the system.  There are five main sections of options, but the Custom Menu (gears) is where the real meat comes in, with a simply staggering number of options.  If this becomes your main camera, however, you’ll eventually become proficient in figuring out where things are.  The biggest reason to not worry too much is that after initial setup, you really don’t need to delve into the menu system that often, due to the customized buttons and the Super Control Panel.

Continue: Viewfinder, Performance and Flash

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Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II – A Quick Test of 40MP Mode http://admiringlight.com/blog/olympus-om-d-e-m5-mark-ii-a-quick-test-of-40mp-mode/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/olympus-om-d-e-m5-mark-ii-a-quick-test-of-40mp-mode/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 01:00:24 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4773 I just received the Olympus E-M5 Mark II in for review today, and I’ve only had a few hours to shoot so far.  However, like anyone interested in this camera, the very first thing I had to test was the 40 megapixel Hi-Res mode.  The E-M5 Mark II has a feature that shifts the sensor …

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I just received the Olympus E-M5 Mark II in for review today, and I’ve only had a few hours to shoot so far.  However, like anyone interested in this camera, the very first thing I had to test was the 40 megapixel Hi-Res mode.  The E-M5 Mark II has a feature that shifts the sensor in 1/2 pixel increments for 8 shots, then assembles a final image that yields a true 40 Megapixel image.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

For this rather informal test, I put the E-M5 II on a tripod and took back to back shots: the first at the native 16 megapixel resolution and the second in the 40 Megapixel Hi-Res Mode.  IS was turned off for the 16MP shot, and triggered with a 2 second self timer to ensure the sharpest shot possible.  Hi-Res mode was triggered with a 1 second delay before the sequence started.

The first test I performed was a simple shot near infinity of the city skyline, with the Scioto River in the foreground.  The 40MP mode requires no movement in the scene (and no movement of the camera), so I was curious how it would fare with the moving water.  The full shot, reduced from the 40MP original, is below:

Test 1: City Skyline - Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II - 40MP High-Res mode

Test 1: City Skyline – Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II – 40MP High-Res mode

I then took the 16MP image and enlarged it to the same pixel dimensions as the 40MP image.  This will allow a direct comparison of the extra level of detail offered by the 40MP mode.  I could show both at 100%, but then discerning the real detail is harder…viewing both at the same magnification (as one would if you were printing both to, say 36″ wide), makes a lot more sense, as I’ve done here.  The 16MP image is on the left, while the 40MP image is on the right.  Click to enlarge the image and see it full size. Verdict?  If you take care and use a sturdy tripod on a static scene, you get a massive increase in true resolution and detail with the 40 Megapixel mode.

100% Crops (Click to Enlarge) - 16MP image to the left, 40MP image to the right

100% Crops (Click to Enlarge) – 16MP image to the left, 40MP image to the right

About that moving water: Indeed, the river shows some artifacts in the 40 megapixel image, as expected.  However, at least in this scene, they are fairly minor.  A 100% crop is seen below.  It’s worth noting that taking the 40 megapixel image and downsampling to 16 megapixels will eliminate the artifacts seen in the crop below.  It also results in an extremely sharp 16MP file that shows more detail than the standard 16MP file from the E-M5…so even if minor motion artifacts appear, a very good image can still be had throughout, though you will lose some of that resolution that you’d gain if the whole image were still.

Artifacts caused by moving water in the 40MP image

Artifacts caused by moving water in the 40MP image

For the next image, I did a closer image of something completely static.  The processed image is below:

Vines and Door - Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II  - 40MP High-Res Mode

Vines and Door – Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II – 40MP High-Res Mode

Again, I took 100% crops of the two images, with the upsampled 16MP image to the left, and the full 40MP image to the right.  Note that the crops below are from the unprocessed image, straight out of the camera. Again, the 40 megapixel image shows a very stark advantage in detail.  Again, click the image to view the crops at full size.

100% Crops - 16 MP Image (left), 40MP image (right) - Click to Enlarge

100% Crops – 16 MP Image (left), 40MP image (right) – Click to Enlarge

Early conclusions?  If care is taken on a truly static scene, the 40 Megapixel high-resolution mode is no gimmick: it really does produce a massively high-resolution file with a very clear advantage in detail.

I’ll be exploring more about the 40MP mode as well as everything else about the new E-M5 Mark II in my upcoming review.  Come back for that shortly!

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Shooting on the California Coast http://admiringlight.com/blog/shooting-on-the-california-coast/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/shooting-on-the-california-coast/#comments Sun, 15 Mar 2015 16:16:26 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4757 I recently went to San Diego, California for a seminar.  The timing was tight, with travel on two of the three days I was there, and attendance at the seminar for large portions of the day.  The only real time to get out and take a few pictures was the afternoon of the day I …

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I recently went to San Diego, California for a seminar.  The timing was tight, with travel on two of the three days I was there, and attendance at the seminar for large portions of the day.  The only real time to get out and take a few pictures was the afternoon of the day I arrived, and early in the morning and one of the evenings.  Still, the inner photographer in me awoke, and I made sure to get out and shoot, getting up early before the sun rose to be in position for pre-dawn shooting, and planning a spot via prior research to snag a nice sunset over the Pacific. That involved climbing down a cliff side to get to the rocks jutting into the sea, but it was well worth it. All told, I’m quite pleased with the results I achieved in the limited time I was there, and I thought I’d share several of my photos from the quick trip.  I hope you enjoy!

Click on an image to enlarge

Rocks Before Dawn - LaJolla Cove Beach, LaJolla, California - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 OIS @ 24mm, f/16, 3 min 30s

Rocks Before Dawn – LaJolla Cove Beach, LaJolla, CA – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 24mm, f/16, 3m 30s, ISO 200

Scripps Pier, La Jolla, CA - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 10mm, f/8, 2m 40s, ISO 200

Scripps Pier, La Jolla, CA – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 10mm, f/8, 2m 40s, ISO 200

Scripps Pier, La Jolla, CA - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 24mm, f/16, 1m 30s, ISO 200

Scripps Pier, La Jolla, CA – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 24mm, f/16, 1m 30s, ISO 200

Pacific Sunset - Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, San Diego, CA - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 21mm, f/11, 1/80s, ISO 200

Pacific Sunset – Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, San Diego, CA – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 21mm, f/11, 1/80s, ISO 200

Sea Lion on the Rocks, La Jolla Cove Beach, La Jolla CA - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 @ 200mm, f/4.8, 0.7s, ISO 1000

Sea Lion on the Rocks, La Jolla Cove Beach, CA – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 @ 200mm, f/4.8, 0.7s, ISO 1000

Scripps Pier, La Jolla, CA - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 @ 55mm, f/8, 2.1s, ISO 200

Scripps Pier, La Jolla, CA – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 @ 55mm, f/8, 2.1s, ISO 200

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, San Diego, CA - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 10mm, f/8, 1/150s, ISO 200

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, San Diego, CA – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm @ 10mm, f/8, 1/150s, ISO 200

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Thoughts on Tripods http://admiringlight.com/blog/thoughts-on-tripods/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/thoughts-on-tripods/#comments Sun, 15 Mar 2015 01:26:59 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4741 Ahh, tripods.  Those stalwart things from times of yore, still fundamentally the same as those used over a hundred years ago.  Of course, the materials have changed, the heads have improved dramatically, and there’s more choice than ever before.  A lot of people, especially newer shooters with small kits, don’t want to carry around a …

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Ahh, tripods.  Those stalwart things from times of yore, still fundamentally the same as those used over a hundred years ago.  Of course, the materials have changed, the heads have improved dramatically, and there’s more choice than ever before.  A lot of people, especially newer shooters with small kits, don’t want to carry around a big tripod, and even fewer want to spend a significant amount of money on one. Today I’m going to discuss both why it’s essential that you have a tripod, and why it’s imperative that you don’t skimp.

Why you need a tripod

If you’re like most shooters nowadays, you do most, if not all, of your shooting handheld.  I also fall into that camp, especially when it comes to candid portraiture and a lot of my city shooting.   It frees you to explore the area you’re in, allows you to be stealthier and more nimble.  There’s definitely a place for handheld shooting.  However, when the light drops, when I’m doing serious architectural shooting and for almost all my landscape shooting, my tripod comes out.  Not only does it enable many techniques that aren’t available when you’re shooting hand-held, but I find I get significantly better shots when I’m shooting with a tripod in these situations.

There are a few key reasons to grab a tripod for shooting scenes, even in good light.

Slow Shutter Speeds

Main Street Bridge - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 @ 16mm, f/8, 1.9s

Main Street Bridge – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 @ 16mm, f/8, 1.9s

Of course, one of the biggest reasons to shoot with a tripod is to allow for shooting with slow shutter speeds.  Whether shooting landscapes and cityscapes at night, long exposures to show movement of people or exposures in conjunction with dark ND filters to show movement during daylight scenes, slow shutter speeds open up a world of shooting that you simply can’t do without a tripod or other stable support system.

If you’ve never shot at night, you’re missing out on a huge world of shooting.  Places look different at night.  Cities light up with streetlights, windows glow and signs blare in rich vivid color.  The motion of headlights and tail lights add interesting trails to your images.  Using a tripod makes capturing these scenes easy, and the rich color of twilight is one of the ideal times to be out shooting.  Sure, with today’s sensors and fast glass, you can capture scenes at night while shooting handheld, but this invariably means very high ISOs and shallower depth of field.  This can be great in the right circumstances, but often you’ll want the added depth of field and sharpness from shooting at f/8 or f/11, combined with the silky smooth images and better tonal and color response of shooting at base ISO instead of ISO 6400 or 12,800.

Fallsville Falls - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 @ 30mm, f/16, 40s, ISO 200 with Polarizer

Fallsville Falls – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 @ 30mm, f/16, 40s, ISO 200 with Polarizer

Another key reason to use slow shutter speeds is to convey movement.  Whether showing the motion of flowing water to obtain that silky look to waterfalls, blurring the movement of people while the background stay sharp or capturing the sweep of clouds over time, long exposures can add a dynamic element to your photos.  This can open a new avenue for creativity that isn’t there when you’re limited to shutter speeds of 1/4 second or faster, even with the very best image stabilizer systems.

Precise Framing

Precise framing can be done handheld, but having a tripod allows you to truly crop in camera, making sure the camera is positioned exactly where you want it.  It also allows you to get shots that are dangerous or uncomfortable to get otherwise.  The image to the right is a key example.

Devil's Bathtub, Hocking Hills State Park, OH - Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 16mm, f/11, 15s, ISO 100

Devil’s Bathtub – Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 16mm, f/11, 15s, ISO 100

I’d taken shots of this little pool in the middle of a waterfall on several occasions, but this angle is nearly impossible to get without a tripod, at least without putting yourself at serious risk for harm.  There’s no easy access to the front of this waterfall, as the water empties into a deep gorge pool before the stream continuous on and thins out.  The ground level area where shooting is available is in a much lower position, and the pool becomes invisible.  There’s a bridge (that forms the top of the image) that allows shots from above, and shots from behind the falls are also easy to get.  But this angle?  There’s no position to get there shooting handheld.

My tripod allows the center column to come out and swivel, providing a boom arm of sorts.  It’s not the most stable in this position, but it works fine if there’s no wind.  I braced two of the tripod legs against the side of the gorge wall, then held the third with my hands against the rock on top.  The camera was then pushed out away from me over the center of the gorge.  Doing this handheld would have put me at extreme risk of falling into the gorge.  Instead, I was able to position the camera perfectly and stably (this is a 15 second exposure).

Position is also important when shooting low to the ground.  It’s very awkward to try to shoot low to the ground without a tripod, but with today’s mirrorless cameras, it’s easy.  Tilt screens add visibility from above, and in the worst cases, remote shooting with your phone allows you to see the scene and position your tripod for the exact composition you desire.  The image below was just such a shot.

Fire and Ice - Samsung NX1 with Samsung 16-50mm f/2-2.8 @ 16mm, f/14, 1/10s, ISO 100

Fire and Ice – Samsung NX1 with Samsung 16-50mm f/2-2.8 @ 16mm, f/14, 1/10s, ISO 100

It slows you down

Slowing yourself down is often a good thing.  You pay more attention to precise composition and you have time to sweep the frame for distracting elements and adjust.  This is something that all photographers should do, and having time to evaluate the image on the rear LCD or in the viewfinder makes a world of difference.  If I go out for an hour shooting handheld, I might come back with 50-60 images.  If I go out with a tripod for an hour, I might only come back with 10-20.  And invariably, I have more keepers in the 20 shots from a tripod, predominantly due to better composition.

One thing I do to save time and that I find improves my shooting: I find the spot and framing before setting up the tripod.  I look for the perspective I want by adjusting my distance to the subject.  Then I move my head up and down, from side to side, refining the alignment of elements in the frame and finding the best angle from which to shoot with the field of view I plan on capturing in the back of my  mind as a consideration.  Then I set my tripod up in that exact position, select the focal length I want to capture the field of view I want, fine tune the composition and take the photo.

So, while shooting with a tripod isn’t always practical or desirable, I find it an essential piece of kit, especially for landscape work, and may other types of shooting benefit greatly when a tripod is added to the mix.

However, there are tons of tripods out there: How do you pick one?

Continue: Choosing the Right Tripod

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Review: Fujifilm Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-fujifilm-fujinon-xf-16-55mm-f2-8-r-lm-wr/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-fujifilm-fujinon-xf-16-55mm-f2-8-r-lm-wr/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 03:20:37 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4705 The past year has seen Fujifilm release several new high-quality lenses.  The latest is the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR.  While the Fuji X-Series has had a relatively fast standard zoom for a few years now, with the 18-55mm f/2.8-4, the 16-55mm fills the need for a constant f/2.8 zoom with a wider 16mm …

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The past year has seen Fujifilm release several new high-quality lenses.  The latest is the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR.  While the Fuji X-Series has had a relatively fast standard zoom for a few years now, with the 18-55mm f/2.8-4, the 16-55mm fills the need for a constant f/2.8 zoom with a wider 16mm starting point.  The 16-55mm f/2.8 lacks optical stabilization like its older brother, but promises to make up for that fact with exceptional optics.  Fuji seems to have gone all out on the optical design of the 16-55, sacrificing a compact size in the process as well.  The XF 50-140mm f/2.8 released at the end of 2014 has already proven to be a top-notch optic.  Can the 16-55mm follow suit?

The Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 Review

The Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 Review

If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool.

Construction and Handling

The XF 16-55mm f/2.8 is Fuji’s top-end professional-grade standard zoom lens.  It’s apparent that Fujifilm wasn’t particularly set on minimizing size with this lens, as it’s quite large in comparison to its only slightly slower brother, the 18-55mm f/2.8-4, and it lacks an optical stabilizer as well.  However, despite the large size, the lens is well constructed and handles decently on a Fuji body with a substantial grip.  This is a lens for the X-T1 or one of the X-E or X-Pro bodies with the additional handgrip. Fuji includes a nice petal lens hood that reverses for storage, though it does add extra width to an already rather fat lens.

The 16-55mm f/2.8 is a large lens for an APS-C standard zoom for mirrorless cameras

The 16-55mm f/2.8 is a large lens for an APS-C standard zoom for mirrorless cameras

The lens is constructed predominantly of metal, with high-grade plastics making up the extending inner tube of the lens. The rubber-gripped zoom ring operates smoothly and evenly, with no stickiness or zoom creep.  I was surprised by the relatively light damping on the zoom ring, which feels similar to that on the 18-55mm.  I would have preferred a bit more resistance here.  Luckily, both the focus ring and aperture ring have just the right amount of resistance.  The Focus ring is well damped and smooth to operate while the aperture ring is almost identical to the one on the 50-140mm f/2.8, which is a good thing.  It’s nice and firm with solid detents at each 1/3 stop, making it easy to move by difficult to accidentally change the f-stop.

The lens is weather-sealed and has the same air exhaust slots on the bottom that the 18-135mm features, but thankfully doesn’t have the spongy feel to the end of the zoom range like the 18-135 did.  Given that it’s the middle of winter here (and we had a particularly cold stretch during my testing of the lens), I didn’t use the lens in rain, though I did shoot quite a bit in moderate snowfall, and the lens performed admirably.  I’m still not a fan of the ‘surrounding’ rubber gasket at the lens mount, and would prefer one that gets sandwiched against the mount plate.  Still, the lens didn’t allow any moisture into the lens body or camera during my shooting, even after thawing with snow on it.

Overall construction of the lens is fairly solid, though it falls a bit short of the very best built lenses for other systems, and even against the 50-140mm.  There is a very small amount of wobble and flex to the extending lens tube that isn’t present on other lenses I’ve recently reviewed (the Samsung 16-50mm and the Sony 16-35mm).  The lens does extend about an inch and a half at the long end, as seen below.

The 16-55mm at 16mm (left) and 55mm (right)

The 16-55mm at 16mm (left) and 55mm (right)

Autofocus performance

The 16-55mm features a linear motor that is quite fast and essentially silent.  In good light, focus locks on nearly instantly, and while it slows down slightly in dimmer light, the lens maintains acceptable speed.  I had excellent focus accuracy with the XF 16-55, in both good and poor light.

This paragraph is where I would normally review the optical stabilizer in a lens, which the 16-55mm controversially lacks.  While many pro-grade DSLR standard zooms lack stabilizers, for systems that rely on optical stabilization, the lack of one in this day and age is somewhat unusual.  Fuji claims they removed the OIS system from the 16-55mm to allow for better image quality while still keeping the size manageable.  This may be true, but I wonder about the size differences.  The lens is considerably larger than the 18-55mm f/2.8-4.  That lens is the same speed at the wide end and one stop slower at the long end, but has an OIS unit.  It’s also half the weight and significantly smaller in both length and width.

I do wish that Fuji had included OIS in the 16-55mm, but to be honest, the situations where I wished for a stabilizer weren’t all that common.  Now let’s see if the lens lives up to the hype with regards to image quality.

Continue: Image Quality

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