Olympus FW 4.0. Focus stacking. 60mm macro. F2.8. Interval "2"

I recently downloaded firmware 4.0 onto my Olympus EM-1.  Two of the new features are 1) focus stacking and 2) focus bracketing.

Last Saturday I used the focus stacking feature for the first time, along with the 60mm macro, to photograph plants and flowers at the local botanic garden.

It works like this:

I went to the bracketing menu and set it up for focus stacking.  It will take 8 images and combine them into a final jpg. Fortunately all 8 images are retained as jpg images on the memory card (if you have set up your camera to take jpgs) or as jpg+raw (if, like me, you take your pictures in raw format).  Processing the final image takes quite a few seconds, but the 8 source images are recorded at approximately 8 frames per second.  It is because of this that I felt comfortable hand-holding all of these shots. Unfortunately you can't use a timer; however, when using a tripod, you can use your iPhone or Android as a remote.

You further need to specify in the menu the space between each focused shot, using 1 through 10.  I shot these images at F2.8 using space interval "2".  From what I have read, using F2.8 I might be able to go up to "5" without seeing bands of blurry focus between the eight images.

When it is all said and done, for each composition I had 17 images on the memory card.  Eight jpg and eight raw images, plus the final jpg composite.  I deleted the eight source jpgs.  But the good news is that if you have a potential portfolio image, you can run the raw files yourself through software like Helicon Focus and perhaps obtain a better image than the composite created in-camera.

I suggest being a bit loose in your compositions as the final image is cropped more than you might think.  Some cropping is inevitable since some wiggle room is necessary to account for changes is scale as the focusing distance changes.

I noticed too that the cropped final image is nevertheless a full 16mp, which means it is upsized.  I would prefer it if this did not happen.  Since all of these images, for example, will be viewed small here on the blog (750 pixels wide) or no bigger than HD (1920 pixels wide) or iPad (2048 pixels wide), I see no reason to upsize only to have me downsize for web and computer viewing. There's no need to upsize unless you are making a big print.


The golden hour on the way home from work

I'm sure my iPhone would have done a decent job with this scene, but I'm glad I take a serious camera with a nice zoom with me going back and forth between home and office. This was slightly cropped from the 28mm equivalent wide angle end of my zoom lens... which pretty much is the same as the 30mm equivalent of my iPhone camera.

... I was driving over the Concord River at about 4 p.m. and saw some nice golden light as the sun went below the tree line behind me. Conveniently, and just in time, there was a boat landing with parking off to the side of the road. I say just in time because in less than a minute the light on the trees on the other side of the river was gone. 


I hadn't used the Panasonic 35-100 F2.8 zoom in a year

Last weekend I took the Panasonic 35-100 mm zoom (70-200 mm equivalent on a Panasonic or Olympus digital camera) to the annual Fly Fishing Show in Marlborough, MA. I should use this lens more often. It's relatively small and light for an F2.8 lens (just 12.7 ounces and 3.9" long). Because it has internal zooming, it does not extend or "trombone" like so many lesser lenses. I think this actually makes it easier to hold steady.

Panasonic 35-100 F2.8 attached to an Olympus E-M1

I found in looking at my Lightroom catalog of images that the last time I used this lens was a year ago.  It was at the same event, on the same weekend in January. I guess because I don't do much people photography, this lens is a bit of a niche player for me, and so doesn't get a lot of use.  But I do love it!

While I walked around the show randomly photographing people I could see why this focal length range is so important to wedding photographers. I took all my photos at the maximum  F2.8 aperture so as to isolate the subject (i.e. blur backgrounds and foregrounds), something I could not have done with the kit 40-150 F4-F5.6 zoom.  Not to mention that even at F2.8 I sometimes needed ISO 6400 for a decent exposure. 

[You might wonder why I don't take this lens with me for landscapes and travel. Well, 70% of my travel needs are quite adequately taken care of by the Olympus 12-40 F2.8. For the rest, the kit 40-150 mentioned above is quite satisfactory.  It provides a bit more reach too. As expected, for a slower lens, it is even smaller and lighter than the 35-100.  And because I'm usually shooting at F4 to F8 for depth of field purposes, an expensive, heavier, bigger lens is unnecessary.]  

Here are a few of my favorites from the Fly Fishing Show:

The first four were taken at ISO 6400, F2.8 and shutter equal to 1/equiv. focal length.

The next nine were taken at ISO 3200 to 5000

Taken between ISO 500 and 2500


Why I like my Olympus E-M1 more than my Sony a6000

In 2015 I wrote several posts about why I prefer my Sony a6000 over my EM-1. All that I wrote then remains true, but now it's time to reverse things. There are also reasons why I prefer the EM-1 more than the a6000. That's why I own both!  Because of the three items listed below, it is the EM-1 that is more likely to come along on vacations and excursions.

The Olympus system has three things going for it that trump the Sony a6000 for general all-around use.

In no particular order:

1.  Dual dials on the top plate. I use the front dial easily and nearly continuously to adjust EV compensation. The Sony has just one top dial and it's a thumb dial, with the second dial being the back dial (on the back side of the camera).

2.  A fabulous histogram. The Olympus live histogram is the largest I've used, and is very detailed with a red warning on the right side for all pixels that may be blown out (i.e. white with no detail). As you can see below, the histogram shows in red that a few pixels are "blown", which I presume are specular highlights off the plastic bag in which some of my fishing fly tying materials are stored.  Note too that the histogram sits at the bottom of the middle of the frame. This is where I can see it best. The Sony histogram sits on the bottom right side.  Because I wear glasses (I can't get my eye as close to the EVF as non-wearers) it is difficult for me to see the all-important right side of the histogram on the Sony. No problem on the Olympus. With both cameras the histogram is grey, but the Olympus has a useful "histogram-within-a-histogram": in green it overlays the gray histogram with a "sub-histogram" of what the center focus point is metering.  It's like having spot metering and matrix metering at the same time!

3.  Lenses. The mFT system has beautiful zoom and prime lenses, and there are so many excellent ones to choose from. I only have a few; however, they cover a wide range of needs. The 12-40 "Pro" F2.8 zoom takes care of 70% of my focal length requirements. It is sharp across the frame, and like many Olympus zooms it even has awesome closeup capabilities. Like the EM-1 body, it is weather-proofed. More recent purchases include the Panasonic 35-100 F2.8 and the Panasonic 14-140 "travel" zoom. For primes I have the Olympus 25mm f1.8 for low light situations. Mostly this sits in the bottom of my bag for emergencies, but it weighs just a few ounces. I also have the 60mm f2.8 macro. I love macro!

My two primes:  The 25mm (50mm equivalent) weighs only 4.8 ounces and is 1.4" long.
The 60mm macro (120mm equivalent) weighs only 6.5 ounces and is 3.2" long.

My three zooms.  The Panasonic "travel zoom" on the left is the newest and has not yet seen much
use.  But it will!  The 12-40 "Pro" zoom is in the middle.  The 35-100 F2.8 panasonic
is on the right.  This is the only zoom I own with internal zooming; that is it remains the same
length throughout the zoom range.

4. The Olympus IBIS (in-body image stabilization) isn't necessarily better than the OIS (optical image stabilization) on the Sony, but one advantage of IBIS is that when I use old manual lenses, they are instantly stabilized. This means my 50 year old Nikon 58mm F1.4 lens is fully stabilized when used on the Olympus! There is also an advantage with new third party lenses, like the Sigma 30mm and 60mm both of which I own in E mount for the Sony.  They are not stabilized lenses.  However, if I instead owned the same two lenses in the mFT mount (which is available) they would be stabilized on the Olympus because of the in-body stabilizing system.

Firmware 4.0

I may have to expand the above list.  I recently downloaded the new firmware 4.0. It has some really nice features that appeal to me.  I decided I don't particularly like the new silent shutter option for general use, but there are situations where it will prove helpful. I am excited about the focus stacking and focus bracketing features in particular. But I haven't used either in any serious way...yet. 


A few final (?) fall images.

I took some time on Friday to jump in the car to look for some final fall foliage.  It was a bit cloudy and windy, and leaves were falling fast, but I did at the very least find some spots that might yield good images next fall.

The lack of light was generally a problem because the clouds were thick.  Even bright colored maple leaves need light from the sky to be at their best (generally).

Below are five images I decided keep.


Golden hour images on the coast of Maine

These images go back a couple of weeks to a week my wife and I spent in a cabin on Penobscott Bay in Maine.  We've been there a number of times and it does seem that I take fewer and fewer pictures.  But I still like getting up to see the sunrise with my camera in my lap.

One nice thing about October sunrises is that they are so much later than summer sunrises.  It's so much more civilized to get up and ready for a 6:45 sunrise...nearly an hour later than when we visited the same area in August. Generally, too, the air is cleaner, though this year it was cold enough all week so that many of the cabins in the area (including ours) had active wood stoves emitting smoke that wafted across the cove.

Interestingly, the sky most morning (exceptions below) was so clear of clouds that the sunrises, though absolutely beautiful, were not particular awe-inspiring from a photographic standpoint.  Don't get me wrong.  I enjoyed each of them!

The first and last images were taken during the evening "golden hour". The middle three were taken during the morning "golden hour". All were on different days.

Five of my favorites from the trip: