Rokinon 12mm F2.0 for NEX just arrived

A couple of really fun things have happened this week.  First, on Monday morning I read a very positive review of the new Rokinon 12mm F2.0 manual lens which comes in a Sony E mount (I've got it on my NEX6) and X mount for Fujifilm.  

I've never had a lens wider than 24mm-e and on the Sony this 12mm lens will give me the equivalent of 18mm.  Anyway, I made a spontaneous purchase from Adorama on Monday, and voila... here it is pictured below in my office at 11 a.m. on Tuesday.  Knowing how fast Adorama is when it comes to delivery to those of us living in New England, I even brought my NEX6 into the office thinking it might be delivered in one day.  And it was!  

So far, the lens feels wonderful.  Solid but less than 6 ounces.  Length of 2 1/4".  Price of $400.  Did I say it had an F2.0 maximum aperture?  That is a couple of stops faster than the zooms out there available for the NEX system and for the Olympus system (I'm a big Oly fan, but still like my NEX6.)

The second incredible thing is that though I am writing this on my office computer, I uploaded the pictures from my iphone.  No big deal for most of you.  But I just got my first smart phone about a week ago.  I took these pictures with it and thought to myself... how do I get them to my blog in the cloud?  Well it was as easy as hitting the App Store icon on the iphone, searching for Blogger, and downloading the App.  AWESOME!

Now that I have gotten over my excitement about getting this new toy (the lens) and getting to love love love my iphone, I hope this lens turns out to be a winner.  I do have 30 days to decide if I will keep or return.

I'll post more of my thoughts on this later.  In particular, my thoughts (and wonderment) as to why I am trying to use my Sony NEX when there are soooo many good (and generally better IMO) lens for the Olympus E-M1 and E-M5, both of which I own (though the older E-M5 might find itself on the chopping block soon.)


Inside at the Botanic Gardens

Over the weekend I needed some shutter-time.  Saturday was gorgeous and near 70F, so I decided to spend a couple of hours at our nearly botanic garden, Tower Hill Botanic Gardens.  I put several lenses in my pack, but decided when I arrived to use an old 90mm Tamron macro lens, with an adapter for my Olympus E-M1. On an Olympus, this gives the lens an effective reach of 180mm, which is very handy, especially outside where you must stay on the garden walkways.

I was having so much fun (challenge?) manually focusing with this mechanically focusing manual lens, that I never switched to any of my other choices.  Even the superb Olympus 60mm macro stayed in my bag.

All of these shots were taken at full open aperture of F2.8.  The result is a very narrow depth of field... some people like that effect, others prefer the larger depth of field obtained by shooting at a narrower aperture.

The camera was hand-held. Focusing was manual, using the magnification and focus peaking features on the E-M1.  I have to say, getting accurate focus was difficult.  I shot at high enough shutter speed to eliminate camera shake; however, with a narrow depth of field many of the images were not focused where I intended.  I discarded a lot.

[Note:  My gut feeling is I get a higher keeper rate, with regard to focus, when using the Olympus 60mm macro mFT lens with autofocus and the small focus points.]


Olympus E-M1 Journal: Entry 14: The useful 4:3 aspect ratio

I realized over the weekend how much I enjoy the native 4:3 aspect ratio found on the Olympus E-M1.

This aspect ratio isn't unique to this Olympus model, as it is the native aspect ratio used in all the interchangeable lens cameras (both dSLRs and mirrorless models) built by Olympus and Panasonic. It is also the most common format in point and shoot cameras. The more frequent aspect ratio found in interchangeable lens cameras is 3:2, which is a bit more rectangular. With some recent exceptions, the 3:2 is what you will find with interchangeable lens cameras from Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm, Samsung, and Pentax.  This is also the aspect ratio of 35mm film and slides.

Both aspect ratios have their followers.  I find the 4:3 is excellent for people pictures. I like 3:2 for most landscapes.

I was thinking about the two aspect ratios this past weekend while taking many pictures indoors at a family gathering. In many ways this post is not a story about my Olympus, because instead of using my E-M1 with the 45mm (90mm-e) lens, I chose to use my Sony NEX6 with a Sigma 60 mm (90mm-e) F2.8 lens.  I love bouncing the little pop-up and pull-back flash of the Sony when all I need is a "hint" of flash.

[If I had been really serious, I would certainly have brought the Olympus with either my FL-36R flash or my Metz 50AF-1 flash.]

The Sony produces 3:2 aspect ratio images.  4:3 has to be cropped from this in post processing.
I decided to keep 55 images. I cropped most of them (40) to 4:3 in lightroom.  To my way of thinking, most of my family pictures can benefit from a bit cropped off the sides.

Like many people, I am often reluctant to crop a picture; after all, it means eliminating data which I had collected.  But when I am done, I find it best to look at a cropped image with a fresh perspective... by pretending it is the original.  I then ask myself, "Is there anything missing in the image".  Almost always the answer is "no".

Below are some examples, before and after.  Your mileage may vary, but I think the squarer 4:3 looks better.  Unfortunately the cropping reduces the 16mp image of the Sony to 14mp.  That's no big deal, especially since none of these will likely ever be printed... and if they were, I doubt the size would be any bigger than 8" x 10".  Nevertheless, if I had used the Olympus I would have a 16mp image with a 4:3 ratio right from the start.


Flowers at the Botanic Garden: Olympus 60mm macro at F2.8

I spent a relaxing hour at our local botanic garden.  These were all taken indoors with the Olympus E-M1 plus 60mm macro set at F2.8.  The first three were done with a touch of flash (about 1 stop). ISOs ranged from 200 to 800.

Most folks around here are absolutely ready for the spring to arrive, and for the blooming that will soon be all around us outside.

Detailed EXIF information can be seen along with larger images on my Web site, here:


Three images for the March "salon"

Every month from September to May I have fun picking a few images for my photo club's monthly "salon". Though I submitted these images, due to a terrible cold last week I was unfortunately unable to attend the critique session.

This month's assigned topic: "reflections"

Penobscot Bay Sunrise

Two images for the "open" category:

Backlit Tulip

"Great Orange Tip" butterfly


Olympus E-M1 Journal: Entry #13: AE bracketing usability improved

I remember being annoyed with the bracketing function on the two Olympus dSLRs I previously owned, the E-520 and E-620.  My E-M5 is just as annoying, but the E-M1 brings a breath of fresh air to AE bracketing.

It is with bracketing that the tremendous feature set and customizability (is that a word?) of Olympus cameras got in the way of my shooting with the 520, 620 and M5.  The reason is that it took two settings to turn on bracketing.  The E-M1 has the same two-settings requirement but gives us a couple of direct or dedicated buttons to quickly turn bracketing off and on.  (BTW, I think I read that there is a direct button for bracketing on the more advanced and discontinued Oly dSLRs, namely the E-30 and E-x series.)

On the E-M5 (and E-M1), to turn on AE bracketing of 3 shots at +/- 1EV requires about 11 clicks into the menu.  This is crazy.  I could never understand why it isn't at least a choice in the Super Control Panel. That would save about 10 clicks.

After those 11 clicks you would think you would then be ready to bracket your shots.  Well, yes and no. If your camera is set for single shot drive, you will need to press the shutter button three times (or, 2, 5 or 7 times, depending on which bracketing choice you picked).  However, if you want sequential shooting (i.e. press the shutter once and get three images), there is more to do.

You need to now go into the menu (slowest choice) or the Super Control Panel (the SCP is the faster choice) and then choose between high speed sequential shooting or low speed sequential shooting.  I always pick high speed on the E-M5; but not on the E-M1 (I'll explain later).

There.  You're done.  Hopefully the scene hasn't changed while you've been activating sequential bracketing!

That's the bad news.  The good news is that there is a workaround.

Want to speed things up?  You can use the camera's "Myset" functionality. I created Myset #1 with all my default settings minus bracketing. Myset #2 was then set up identically to #1 except with bracketing and sequential high speed shooting added.  Voila.

Now enter the E-M1.

Great improvement.

First, let me say that I am happy that I have had experience with several Olympus cameras.  They are very complicated tools.  The E-M1 has added even more features, so I can't even imagine how hard it is for first-timers to set up their new Olympuses.  With AE bracketing with sequential shooting two setting are still required, but implementation in the field has become easier, as there are two new ways of activating your preferences.

Method #1

Assign a function button to bracketing.  I've picked the top function button on the front of the camera.  I assigned the bottom button to HDR.  (I will address the HDR function in a future post.)  The only way I can remember which is which is that the "B" in bracket comes alphabetically before the "H" in HDR, so bracket is at the top.  Makes sense to me.

These are the two programmable buttons in the front of the camera.
As you aim the camera, they are to the right of the lens.

Currently I have the top set to "bracketing" and the bottom
set to "HDR".

One thing to note is that when you activate bracketing with a function button there is no further action available. I am happy with this. What you get is whatever you previously set up as a preference deep (11 clicks) within the menu. Mine is set for 3 images at 1EV increments.  If you want to change, say, to 5 shot bracketing you will need to go back into the menu to make the change.

Ah, but  there is still some bad news. As with the E-M5, you must go into the menu or SCP to pick sequential shooting!

To make this all easier for me, I have come up with a strategy:

When I use bracketing on the E-M1 I am only trying to get the best exposure to work on in post processing.  I'll keep one image and likely delete the others.  Sequential speed is therefore not important, as I am not trying to do HDR with the bracketed images.  For HDR, I will use the new HDR function (subject of a future post).

This is what I have done to make bracketing a one-button operation:

My camera is set for slow sequential shooting at all times, at 3fps.  This is slow enough so in normal shooting I can get one shot off at time if I wish.  So now, if I press the bracket function button I don't bother to change the drive mode....  I just live with 3 bracketed images shot at 3fps.

Method #2

I don't find this second method as easy as method #1; however, it uses a button already dedicated to the bracketing function rather than "wasting" one of the programmable buttons required for method #1.

On the left side of the top plate is a round button that looks like an old film-winding mechanism.  (See first image below.) But in this case it is essentially a round toggle button, to be pressed downward at the front or at the back depending on the desired function. But the function chosen also depends on the 1:2 lever on the right side of the camera. (See second image below.)

To turn on bracketing you must (1) have the lever in the 2nd position and (2) press down on the front half of the round toggle button.  So far, when I try this method I forget to first move the lever, as in most cases it is in the 1st position, where it is needed to use the two control wheels to control exposure.

The round toggle button on the left is reminiscent of the old
film winding mechanism.

I find this a bit awkward.  Even if I remember to first move the lever to the 2nd position to activate bracketing, I then need to move it back to the 1st position to be able to control exposure settings.  Then, when I am ready to turn bracketing off, I need to switch the lever back to the 2nd position, press the front of the round toggle button, and then return the lever once again to the 1st position.

All-in-all, I am enjoying method #1 more.

But either way, I am grateful for these "upgrades" when compared with the prior Olympuses I have owned.


Four nature pictures from the back yard

These are four images I submitted to my photo club for our February "salon".
The first two were taken with the Sony NEX6 camera and an older Tamron 90mm macro.  I just love the feel of this manual lens on the Sony NEX6 because the focus peaking feature on the Sony body is so helpful for focusing.  (Not perfect, but helpful).

The second two were taken with Olympus bodies (E-M5 for the maple leaf with the 75mm F.18; and the E-M1 for the snowy day picture with the 12-40mm zoom).

Not until after I submitted these images did I realize that:

1.  They all were taken in my yard, and
2.  They are nature scenes (no hand of man), and
3.  They represent the four seasons, in order, starting with spring.

larger images can be viewed here:







60mm Olympus macro at F2.8: a few flowers

As it is for most people I imagine, photography for me slows down in winter.  I do take a weatherproof point and shoot camera with me when skiing, and I do like to photograph the family (indoors) during holiday celebrations and family get-togethers.  Other than that, when I feel a need for some "shutter time", I frequently visit the Tower Hill Botanic Garden near Worcester, Massachusetts. Of course, we're talking about indoor photography this time of year.

In the past I have concentrated on using ambient light only and narrow apertures for good depth of field.  More recently (last year) I began adding fill-flash to improve the quality and direction of the light.  And during this recent trip I decided I would use primarily a narrow depth of field approach.  Shooting wide open means F2.8 on the Olympus 60mm macro lens. The reason for this, is that indoor flowers are hard to isolate from the background, and backgrounds indoors are annoyingly distracting.  The narrow depth of field blurs the background, but also causes much of the flower to be blurry as well.

At F2.8, having enough natural light was never a problem.  But the light was pretty harsh, as it was a blue sky day without any clouds to diffuse the light.

I set up my camera as follows:

1. Center weighted metering.

2. Single shot auto focus.

3. Spot focusing using smallest focusing appoints.

4. Aperture priority with aperature set at F2.8.

5. EV compensation set at minus 1.

Then, to determine my exposure I simply adjusted ISO until the shutter speed was 1/200 sec or faster.  I realize with image stabilization I might have been able to hold this lens/camera combination steady at perhaps 1/60th, but in this setting there is moving air indoors due to large fans overhead.  1/200sec is my "safe" shutter speed for this lens.

The purpose of the minus 1 EV compensation was to underexpose the natural light by 1-stop.  Another way to look at this is that I cut the natural light coming into the camera by 1/2.  (The flash was manually to provide the other 1/2.)

All these images were taken at speed of 1/200sec to 1/2,000sec.  ISO ranges from 100 to 800.

Sometimes I should have paid more attention to what I was doing.  One image is 1/800sec and ISO800.  Had I noticed this I would have reset the ISO to 200 thereby dropping the speed to my minum required 1/200sec.  On the other hand, I'm not so sure that I notice a difference in image quality between ISO200 and ISO800 on the Olympus E-M1.

I set up my flash as follows:

1. I used a Metz 50; but at such close quarters 
any flash with a flexible head will do just fine.

2. I tilted the head as much as 90 degrees to the left or right, 
to provide fill-flash from the side. 
(If natural light was coming from above and to the left, 
I would tilt the head to the right and perhaps horizontally 
to provide fill flash into areas with the darkest shadows.)

3. I used the Through The Lens (TTL) setting and HSS (high speed sync).  
Even with TTL, I was making Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC) 
with each flower or  different angles.  
(Another approach would be to use Manual settings.  
The Metz setting range from full power 
all the way down to 1/128th power.)

After taking a picture, I always check the histogram to be sure of the exposure is correct.  Fortunately, flowers don't move much so after reviewing your first shot you can go back to the flash and adjust FEC up or down.

I'm not saying the pictures below are portfolio shots.  Far from it.  But I do like the fact that the exposures are good and there are really no signs of a fill-flash being used.  And that was my objective... other than spending an hour or so in a beautiful place.

Larger images can be found on my Web site, here:

My favorite is #1.