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Sunday, December 27, 2009

S90 at the Playground

Shooting with P&S has its advantages.

Rather than having to lug around 1kg or more of gear, a mere 165g was all I needed for some action shots. And, the capability to sync flash at higher speed also meant that I did not have to scratch my head to get the flash to work to freeze motion. Think 1/500s. With a DSLR, I definitely need to get the external flash to work in FP mode. That's additional weight and size on the already heavy camera & lens setup.

6mm, f/7.1, 1/500s, ISO80, -0.7ev

It was about 10.10 am, and the sun was still low to get some shadow effects. I got the camera at higher angle, which was easy with live view (DSLR live view still can't beat P&S, except for the E-330) and focus on the shadow positioning. The sun was strong, and I needed to reduce the contrast. I simply set the fill flash to Auto with -2/3ev flash exposure compensation to get the balance right. As for focusing, all I needed was to pre-focus on the location of the subject, and just wait for her to move just the right moment for the composition.

Oh, yeah.. to get similar results with the 135 format the focal length would be 28mm with f/32 aperture. Or with the 4/3 format, it would be 14mm with f/16. To get 1/500s, the ISO would higher, too.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Zuiko and a Talent Contest

I was asked to cover a talent contest, and it would be in a very dark and small auditorium.

Immediately I assessed the situation:
  1. Fast lens with high ISO and high shutter speed setting was a must
  2. Working in compressed and limited area was inevitable
  3. Lighting and white balance would be very difficult
Wow, this was going to be tough! And since I was using the Olympus E-system - a system that anyone would say won't cut it for such an event. I took this as a challenge, it's good to see how it would fare in those situations.

Show some 'ttitude, bro!
35mm, f2.5, 1/80s, ISO1000, -0.3ev

And at the same time, I had the E-P2 on loan from Olympus Malaysia for me to test out and write a short field review. Thus, I knew that I had to limit my E-system setup so that I would not bog up my gears. The E-30 was chosen for its better high ISO performance than the E-3, and I paired it with the Zuiko Digital ED14-35mm F2.0 SWD and ED35-100mm F2.0 PRO lenses. I also had the FL-50R flash for any flash situations.

Being a corporate event, it wouldn't start until the CEO arrived. Not much protocol, just a handshake between the organizer and him sufficed.

14mm, f2.0, 1/60s, ISO640

The house was immediately set rocking with the Heavy Metal performance of Linkin' Park's New Divide. Throughout the contest, there were variations of musical genres that encompassed Rock & Roll, Bollywood, Local, Latin, and even Hip Hop!

E-P2 with the 14-42mm 3.5-5.6 did a great job here capturing the energy of the event.

I got the main spot at the front stage, just a few feet away from the performers. And just mere 3 feet back was the auditorium's seating area. It was very cramped! The vantage point was mostly shooting upwards, and during in-between performances, I quickly snapped candid shots of the VIPs attending the show.

No doubt shooting was tough. Fast action performance with audience provided the same level of energy, it was electric. Fast pace, low compromise shooting was a definite challenge!

I nearly messed up this job! Half way through, my batteries both in the HLD-4 extension pack were dying out, and very fast!!!! I told the client, and she panicked!! I assured her, there's enough juice, but may not be enough to cover the prize giving ceremony. To reduce power consumption, I flipped the LCD screen inwards and I used the top panel to check my camera settings. (I couldn't believe I shot without chimping for most of the time!!)

Latin number with classical guitar accompaniment was just immaculate!
100mm, f2.0, 1/60s, ISO2000

In between shots, I sometimes swap the 14-35mm with the 35-100mm lens for those long range shots. But most of the time, the 14-35mm f2.0 lens was the workhorse. The E-30 managed to tame the 14-35mm erratic AF, and I did get a high hit ratio.

Overall, I believed I did a good job. I did a bit of post-processing, mostly on the tone curves correction and USM sharpening. The final image was resized to 3200 x 2400 for the client. The images turned out alright, and the client was pleased.

Shallow depth-of-field with low shutter speed, a challenge to get sharp shots
f2.0. 1/80s, ISO1250, -0.3ev

Her husky voice and pro-like performance lived up to her snazzy jazz number!

Throw white balance down the drain when everyone's turned green!!

I messed up this shot with low shutter speed, luckily I realized it!
14mm, f/2.2, 1/13s, ISO200

Rock and Roll was alive in this beautiful rendition.

Thank you for the music! This was a great show!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

E-P2 and the Diorama Art Filter

Based on Wikipedia, the term "diorama" denotes a partially three-dimensional, full-size replica or scale model of a landscape typically showing historical events, nature scenes or cityscapes, for purposes of education or entertainment.

42mm, f/8.0, 1/200s, ISO100

As far as my short excursion with the E-P2, diorama to me was more towards entertainment. I found it amusing at least. The idea to shoot cute looking scenery which was actually real-life was just fun!

With the E-P2, there are 2 additional Art Filters which total to 8. The other new filter is the Cross Processing effect.

Interesting observation was that the filter used a masking layer with Gaussian blur at the peripheral section, with the sharp center gradually getting blur in an oval shape along the horizon. The top and bottom third parts of the frame were blurred to convey a shallow depth-of-field that created an illusion of a miniature model or scene. As observed, the row of houses are at the center of the frame and are sharp in focus. The foreground represented by the highway with vehicles speeding along were blurred, so was the background with sweeping scene of Klang Valley and the Titiwangsa mountain range.

Somehow, shooting vertically won't really work that well. I think due to the orientation of the processing that only traverse along the horizontal plane would not blend well with vertical shots.

40mm, f/9, 1/200s, ISO100

As can be observed, the effect did not look convincing as the road's white broken lines did not adhere to the depth-of-field effect and were in focus at the bottom 3rd of the frame. I thought the processor was intelligent enough to detect a flag in the orientation sensor, and did the proper processing for a vertical composition. I was wrong!

Ah well, I won't delve seriously into this little niggle, as I had said earlier in this post; this Diorama effect was supposed to be FUN!!!!

And it definitely was a joy to use!

E-P2 with the OM Zuiko 200mm F4.0

The last time I tried to use the E-P1 with this long lens turned out to be a disaster. This is simply because of the ergonomics that was totally insane for any photographer to hold and stabilize for shooting. This time around with the E-P2, it was made possible with the addition of the new electronic viewfinder, the VF-2.

The VF-2 significantly provided the stability of shooting as the eye was the third point of leverage to keep the camera steady; with the right hand holding the camera, and the left hand cradling the 200mm lens. A bit of practice, especially with a rather large focusing turn angle, the 2oomm seemed to be tamed quite easily as it still had a very smooth ring action. The operation was very tactile, and there's not much need for the eye to leave the VF-2. Don't forget to manually input the IS information via the +/- button and rotate the dial. Then again, without it the framing will be very shaky and it should be very noticeable. Somehow, the E-P2 had a maximum of 200mm stabilization, so did not actually tested with the EC-14 on it.

The lens was only in a very good condition, with a bit of mold cleaned. It may had an impact on the VF-2 resolution, but I did not really notice much degradation. To me the details were adequate for framing, with very good contrast.

The sharpness was very good, with the E-P2's 12MP delivering the details. The contrast was a bit lacking, and I was using the Normal colors default setting. Manual focusing was very good in outdoors and also in shaded areas. Only shooting indoors with lower than EV6 lighting would pose a problem. As there's no electrical contacts between the lens and E-P2, the auto manual focus assist function won't work. So, this is not really good for low light shooting.

Overall, I was very impressed with the OM 200mm F4.0 performance. It might not trump my Zuiko Digital ED35-100mm F2.0 lens, but boy, the telephoto range simply was the winner! It may not be the birders' choice, but it sure packed in some punch for discreet long range shooting!

Some images I managed to make with this lens:

A neighbor's house under renovation. It was about 70 feet away.

A condominium under construction, 20 storeys up.

The sublime bokeh.

The closest focus distance was quite good!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

E-P2 with the Leica Lumix 25mm F1.4 ASPH

I had a short meet with my friend, as he wanted to check out whether there's something wrong with his E-P1 and Leica 25mm F1.4 lens. There seemed to be some noises coming out of the lens arbitrarily.

After a short check, I confirmed his observation that the lens when attached to the E-P1 or E-P2 via the MMF-1 adapter, will automatically stop down to a smaller aperture. Why this happened? We didn't know actually. Though we theorized that the LCD would be overexposed if the lens did not stop down. I was estimating at about F2.8-4, as the iris automatically changed constantly everytime the camera detected changes in scene exposures. The thing was during composition, the aperture was stopped down; once the shutter button was pressed the aperture would change to the desired setting. In the case of F1.4, the iris opened up.

Another point was that everytime the iris changed size, there would be a soft mechanical sound of the blades moving. This could be a nuisance during video shooting.

Focusing with such a shallow depth-of-field was tough as focus lock was a bit dodgy as the CDAF was not really accurate. Why? This was simply because the AF area point was larger than the DoF the lens was getting!

So, will Olympus come up with a firmware upgrade to fix this? Or was it a mechanical problem that require more than just a simple download? Only time will tell.

Some images made by this superb optic on the E-P2:

Friday, December 11, 2009

E-P2 Review: VF-2 Field Test at a Talent Contest

I would not be writing a full review of the E-P2 this time around. The upgrade from E-P1 was minimal and mostly focused on the EVF support; to challenge the Panasonic GF1.

Knowing that I was to cover a Talent Contest Thursday, this was to be the best test I could do to the E-P2 attached with the VF-2. In stark contrast, the main camera I was using to cover the event was the E-30 with the twin kit 14-35mm f2.0 and 35-100mm f2.0 lenses.

Comparatively, the limitations on the E-P2 were apparent; slower AF speed, slower lens speed, and a lack of a practically usable flash for the event (It was obvious that my intention was to use the VF-2; thus, occupying the hotshoe). My aim was to see how the VF-2, the latest addition to the Pen stable, fared in near darkness (I am talking about EV range as low as 2 or 3).

In general, the VF-2 was of high quality construction. The round shaped eye-cup along with the sliding diopter adjust lever convey Olympus' commitment in providing the best accessories into the Pen series.

The AF is quite snappy in good light, i.e. EV9
14mm, f/3.5, 1/30s, ISO800, -0.3ev

A quick scan at the specs, I noticed that the VF-2 refresh rate was at 60Hz or 1/60s with a resolution of 1.44MP. What this means was that in order for me to use the VF-2 without noticeable movement bleed, the motion should not be in excess of 1/60s. Somehow, I already sensed that this will be a challenge. In typical human motion, to freeze action takes shutter speeds in excess of 1/125s. It would be an interesting observation, definitely.

With the E-P2 permanently slung around my neck, and the E-30 with either attached 14-35 or 35-100 permanently held, I got the show covered. Sitting just mere feet from the stage, I had a close view of the contestants. Somehow, I found the working space was ultimately cramped, with only about 3 feet of space for me to work around from the front of the stage to the barrier at my back. Just imagine sitting there for 3 hours to get the shots that matters for the client. And there were 2 other photographers and another videographer jostling for real estate mere 20 feet in length. Talk about claustrophobia!!

The typical Exposure Value (EV) on the stage was at 4 or 5, and this proved to be a problem with the f3.5-5.6 lens opening. Shutter speed was hovering between 1/30s and 1/60s at ISO800 or more. The AF sluggishness did not help, too. Although adequate for general photography, it was not the tool of choice for this type of event. I noticed that the contrast detection performance was at par with E-P1, if my memory was correct. In all, this was definitely a handicap, and could not match what the E-30 was capable of doing.

14mm, f3.5, 1/40s, ISO1600, -0.3ev

Overall, I found that the VF-2 was capable (just, actually) to cope with the low light shooting at high human form movement; in this case an all out choreographed dance moves. The high resolution coupled with high contrast helped at lessening the motion bleed, such that it did not appear to be visibly very apparent. The magnification was also good, too. I believe this could be better in the near future as the electronics display technology improves.

I am in the midst of trying to record the VF-2 screen using my Canon S90 camera to enable you to see for yourself the experience of shooting with the VF-2. It is very tricky to ensure high quality reproduction, with the need to constantly ensure the S90 lens is permanently attached to the VF-2 during filming. Let see what can I do tomorrow...

Next entry will be on the usage of OM lenses, particularly the longer 135mm f2.8 and 200mm f4.0 with the VF-2 assisting in lens usage and shooting ergonomics.

So, please stay tuned...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Olympus E-P2 is in the works...

A handsome shot of the Olympus E-P2 with the OM Zuiko 35-105mm f3.5-4.5 lens. Attached with the MMF-1 and MF-1 adapters, the lens grew about 30% longer!

22.5mm, f/4.9, 1/60s, ISO320, +0.3ev

This shot was made possible with the Canon S90, with the little dinky flash activating the Olympus FL-50R flash in slave mode. The source lighting for this shot was from 30% to the front side (S90 dinky flash) and directly from the rear (FL-50R 3 feet away @ f2.8 ISO400). The Canon S90 was mounted on top of a Manfrotto Table-top tripod.

Oh yes. The E-P2 is in the works now. My focus will be more with the EVF usage and OM lenses. I believe the OM200mm f4.0 lens will be more manageable with the EVF.

I am starting a gallery for E-P2 now, but so far the samples have little substance. I will replenish with better shots when I have more time to get things rolling.

Stay tuned.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Zuiko and Boulevard Putrajaya

A shot of the Boulevard just in front of the Palace of Justice. At the end of the boulevard stands tall the Prime Minister's Office, if not so small thanks to the ultra-wide effect on the background.

E-3 with Zuiko Digital ED7-14mm F4.0

7mm, f/9.0, 1/250s, ISO100

Friday, December 4, 2009

The E-P2 Review is Coming, Stay Tuned!

Canon S90, 6mm, f2.0, 1/60s, ISO800

I ventured to the Pikom PC Fair this afternoon, and I met with the Olympus Executive Mr Leo.

Testing out the E-P2 Diorama Art Filter

The E-P2 was on show, albeit a pre-production unit. Upon testing for a few while I kindly asked for a unit for review.

So, one pre-production unit for review is coming next week. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Panasonic DMC-GF1 MicroFourthirds Camera

I managed to test out the GF1 with the 14-45mm f3.5-5.6 G lens a couple of hours ago.

The delicious Panasonic DMC-GF1 served on a plate!

Comparing it with E-P1, it doesn't have the X-Factor, but at least it has a dinky flash that might work out well for me whenever it is required. Comparing it with my Canon S90, it makes the GF1 look like a behemoth!

Other than that, the GF1 just oozed goodness! The lens was sharp, but I find the interface was not as friendly as the E-P1. Maybe for Panny users, it's OK, though.

There's one that really got me annoyed on the ergonomics, though! I simply cannot find the Exposure Compensation (+/-) button anywhere. Maybe the Fn button is programmable for it, but the lack of a dedicated button for such an important photographic control is unacceptable!!!

Since I only tested it out for a couple of hours, I can only take some sample shots. Let the image do the talking.

Click image to activate gallery.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Zuiko: Using the 7-14mm Ultra-wide

I made a point to myself to use the Zuiko Digital ED7-14mm F4.0 more.

The morning was actually quite rainy, so I chose to use the Olympus E-3 as it was weather-sealed should rain to come during the middle of the shoot. The 7-14mm was weather-sealed, too.

Palace of Justice, cropped in 16:9
7mm, f/9, 1/200s, ISO100

Initially I did not know I would end up here at Putrajaya, but thinking logically that the 7-14mm would be more useful for many architectural and landscape shots, the national capital was the perfect location.

I was driving along the main road, and the Palace of Justice struck me. Since the town was virtually empty due to the long Eid Adha holiday weekend, only a couple of tourists and keen photographers were there. This was good for architectural shots! And a bonus; the sun suddenly appeared amongst the clouds to render the buildings with good light.

Shooting with an ultra-wide lens was very tricky. One thing that could really could screw things up were the perspective. It could easily be a nightmare if not done properly. For that shot, to keep the perspective in check, I used the E-3's focus markers and put the horizon along the 5 points. And I checked the 3 vertical markers with the building's pillars to ensure the perspective was correct. And all was done handheld, without any tripods or supporting gizmos. To get it right the first time, I held my breath to freeze my framing and quickly but calmly clicked the shutter.

The composition was heavy bottom, with half of the frame being the road. Well, I just cropped off the bottom.

Another thing, to get all in focus, it was very easy as the depth-of-field for such a wide lens with the 4/3 format was very huge. I just dialed in F/9.0 and it was more than enough.

Palace of Justice framed in the Putrajaya Holdings HQ main entrance
7mm, f/8.0, 1/1000s, ISO100

For both images, the sun was directly in the frame. This posed a problem in the Dynamic Range department. And, I chose not to use RAW, instead opted for the Superfine JPEG (which means the JPEG file is ultra huge, but not as huge as TIFF). The original file showed much shadows in the buildings' details; thus, I had to post-process the images using my trusty GIMP software.

Using tone mapping with Overlay settings at 40%, I used 3 layers duplicated on top of each other and merged them one-by-one. A bit of S-curve to enhance the shadows and highlights, and increased the saturation by 40 points did the trick (during the tone mapping, the colors faded).

One thing that ticked me off during the shoot. I was actually chased away by the security, claiming that this place was not for public shooting. I was aghast, and immediately responded that I am taxpayer, and these buildings were built using the people's money. I was not even inside the building, just outside within the corridors!

I was shocked, and immediately left the place. I managed to get a couple of great shots, but those were it!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Zuiko and A Boy

A simple telephoto shot from about 20 feet. Using the maximum aperture and maximum zoom, I was able to have a shallow Depth-of-Field for a full body shot.

E-3 with Digital Zuiko ED35-100mm F2.0
100mm, f/2.0, 1/4000s, ISO200

The sunlight was on the left, and was quite high up around 11am. Nonetheless, the boy's subtle posture caught my eye. The pose was good for a composition. I just needed to wait for the boy to shift his head a bit to the right and endsured that his hair on the left did not cover the metal railing.

The story was simple, I tried to invoke a sense of loneliness using the optical isolation to accentuate the boy's body language.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Canon S90 Image Gallery

This will be the small gallery for my S90 shots, and the contents will updated as the images come in.

Click the small picture to see a slideshow of the Canon S90 Gallery.


A typical scene at KL Sentral, with the landmark being the Hilton. Security is quite tight here, maybe not as secure as KLCC, but it's definitely above average compared to other high profile areas in Kuala Lumpur.

It's quite common to see a squad car patrolling the area. And the foot patrols are also around every 50 yards or so.


I found that the Auto-focus system is fast enough to capture that "moment". Not bad for a pocket P&S!


There's a cool feature in this camera, aptly named the "Color Accent" mode. What it does is it allows the photographer to choose a color in a scene using a color spot meter, and any other than the selected color will be rendered as monotone.

All I did in postprocessing is to crop it to 6:6 ratio.


This is a close-up shot at 6mm and f2.0. The ISO800 is still clean, that I had to add more film grain. A bit of Dodging & Burning and adding the lens flare effect with a square crop seemed to accentuate the mood.


10.7mm (25mm equiv.), f/3.2, 1/125s, ISO1600, -0.3ev

One of the greatest assets of a pocketable camera is its unobtrusiveness. Especially when casually shooting children in close proximity, the petite size of the camera and lens really help. Coupled with a great lens, fast AF and close-focusing ability, I can actually be in direct contact to interact with the children and at the same time make meaningful candid shots.

Why I like this image? It is due to the purity of children expressions. The eyes say a lot about their innocence. The spontaneity is captured with subtleness.

Originally in color, I wanted to infuse more persona into the image. In this instance, monotone with grainy, high-contrast effect is the perfect projection of my vision. Please take note that I added film grain in post-process, which means that at ISO1600 it's still too clean for my liking!!

I love it!!!!

This is another shot from the same series. This is a simple shot to catch the cheery baby eyes. Due to the lack of shallow Depth-of-field to blur the foreground, I opted for selective monotone to emphasize more on the baby.

6mm (14mm equiv.), f/2.0, 1/200s, ISO1600, -0.3ev

There are more to come... stay tuned!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Olympus E-P2, and Why I Ended Up with the S90

A lot of buzz has been happening this week regarding the launch of E-P2. Well, it turned out to be a minor tweak to the E-P1. Looking at the specs, I strongly suspect this was what the E-P1 should be. And, knowing that being the fastest to market is key in this new "compact-size, big-sensor" segment, I believe Oly rushed the E-P1 out of the oven. Nothing wrong there, but it may anger a few E-P1 owners especially it's only five months back.

I am for now still not satisfied with what Olympus is putting on the plate. For one, I somehow still want a built-in flash on it, a-la Panasonic's offering with the GF-1! Simply because I want my E-P1/2 to have a wireless-flash commander on it. I have two FL-s, and it's a waste not being able to use it with any E-P1/2 camera!

Enter the Canon S90.

Well, actually to be frank, I did not know about this camera's existence until yesterday. I was merely talking to my regular camera shop guy about the Panasonic LX-3 and it's cool retro looks. You see, I was looking for a photographer's camera that fits in a pocket. And the E-P2 was also in the list until I saw it still lacked the flash!!

He pulled out another LX-3 competitor, the Canon S90. I was not impressed, actually. I am quite hesitant with any Canon's offering except for calculators, printers, scanners and copiers. Then, he showed me the ultra-cool retro aspect of the S90; there's a Control Ring at the lens!!


This little contraption allows many functions that include Zoom steps of 28-35-50-85-105mm (in ancient 135 terms), Manual Focus, ISO selection, Exposure Compensation, and many other stuff. It literally won me over!!! The ease of use, akin to my E-3 and E-30 ability to allow quick access to key photographic controls meant that this the compact that I have been looking for! For many years now I have been dreaming of such a camera.

To top it off, the lens is an F2.0 at least at the wide end!!... And you guys know how am I a sucker for F2.0 lenses. I already have two F2.0 zoom lenses in my Digital Zuiko stable: the pro grades 14-35mm F2.0 and 35-100mm F2.0! With the S90's classic 28-105mm (again in ancient 135 terms) coverage, it is just perfect for nearly 80% of my typical shooting range!

And, the flash is so cool, too!!.... It's tucked nicely hidden to left of the body, which is perfect for some wireless flash action!!! (albeit only with Auto mode slave setting). Then again, the beauty of using compact P&S is the modern leaf shutter design. This means that I can sync up to maximum 1/1600s for outdoor fill-flash; not like the ancient DSLR's focal plane shutter that usually stuck at 1/250s!!!

And here it is, from Canon; which I didn't expect it to be! (pun intended, ;p) That explained why I didn't know about S90's existence until yesterday. Bummer!!!

A few haggles, and the deal was done. I am now a proud owner of a legend-in-the-making camera, similar to the E-P1!!

Here are a couple of shots with it.

Canon S90 with 6-22.5mm f2.0-4.9 lens
6mm (14mm equiv.), f/8.0, 1/1600s, ISO80, -2ev

Canon S90 with 6-22.5mm f2.0-4.9 lens
6mm (14mm equiv.), f/2.0, 1/25s, ISO800

Canon S90 with 6-22.5mm f2.0-4.9 lens
6mm (14mm equiv.), f/2.0, 1/60s, ISO200

These three pictures show the high quality of the images the S90 produce; flare control is good in strong sunlight, high ISO noise at 800 is acceptable, and the wide open bokeh just melts with goodness!

This is one camera that really elevated the standards of pocketable compacts to come.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Zuiko and DSLR 101 Class

My first batch of students...

And they hinted for more stuff....

E-30 with Zuiko Digital ED14-35mm f2.0 SWD + FL-50R
14mm, f/4.0, 1/60s, ISO800

More to be told after I conclude the next session.....