Moving Toward Mirrorless Camera

It’s inevitable that a mirrorless camera is in my future. I shot with Nikon film cameras for 15 years. Then I moved to Canon for digital SLRs and have been happy for 16 years. Will I make a brand shift when I go to mirrorless?

The nice folks at Olympus were kind enough to send me an OM-D E-M1 Mark II to test. (Thanks to Gary Farber at Hunt’s Camera & Video for your help!) This camera retails at $1,699 with a 20.4 megapixel sensor and 15 frames per second shooting. Check, check, and check on price, file size, and shooting speed.

There were some other features that were intriguing. The camera can shoot 60 frames per second is silent mode which would be amazing for birds. It has in-camera focus stacking and in-camera time lapse. Both of these are important to me.

I’ve used the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II for a week and here are my initial impressions. (Check back tomorrow for more.)

  • Weight — Let’s get that out of the way first. I thought there would be more difference.
    • 4.9 lbs OM-D E-M1 Mark II with 300mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter
    • 4.9 lbs Canon 5D Mark IV with 300mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter
    • 4.7 lbs Canon Rebel T6i with 300mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter
  • Size — Smaller than my DSLR camera by an inch.
    • 5-inches wide by 2.25-inches deep on the Olympus
    • 6-inches wide by 3-inches deep on the Canon 5D Mark IV
    • 5-inches wide by 3.25-inches deep on the Canon Rebel T6i

Set-up — I wasn’t looking forward to this step. I’ve taught photography for 25-years and know Canon and Nikon cameras well. The Canon R was intuitive right out of the box. Sony, Olympus, and Fuji tend to put things in different places and call them by different names.

The OM-D E-M1 forced me to go to the user’s manual. I was able to get the camera set to my liking with the help of the manual. Dials and Fn buttons have to do double duty since the camera body is smaller.

Once I got the camera set-up to my liking, the features I needed were easy to reach and adjust. ISO, exposure adjustment, focus points were at my finger tips and I could shoot.

But — What about the picture quality? So far, I’m impressed.

Check back tomorrow for more about this camera and the OM-D M1X. Once again, thanks to Gary Farber at Hunt’s Photo & Video for your help with this loaner.

Infrared Filter versus Converted Camera

Image made with a Canon 40D converted to infrared. Murrisk Abbey, County Mayo, Ireland

I got a chance to use a friend’s infrared camera on a recent trip to Ireland. One big difference between a modified camera and using an infrared filter stands out.  The modified camera still works like a camera with auto focus, fast shutter speed, etc.

There’s no way I could photograph hand-held with an infrared filter.  The filter is very dense so it’s completely black.  That means a long shutter speed every time with the camera on a tripod.  That also means there’s no auto focus.

To take a photo with an IR filter, we have to pre-focus, screw in the filter, turn off auto focus, shoot and then experiment with the exposure until it’s right. Often the exposure is 4 or 8 minutes!

An advantage of the IR filter, though, is I can use it on any camera I own.   I can also  share the filter with other photographers.  The filter is small so it takes up little weight in my camera bag.  These are all positives.

Yet, the joy of picking up the infrared camera, taking a photo, and moving on was sheer delight. IR photograph was just like regular photography.

The gallery below contains images taken with an infrared filter. All exposures are 8-minutes long.

Compare the above with these images taken in an infrared converted camera. I’m using a Canon 40D converted to infrared.

Notice the difference? What do you think?

Travel Tip — Be Neat

Travel Neat

I’ve learned over the years that airline employees seem to ignore “neat” travelers.  The employees at the check-in counter and gate seem to look right past a passenger with a small backpack and legal-size roller bag.  Every business traveler has that small backpack and roller bag.  For females, sometimes it’s that stylish tote and roller bag.  My camera gear now mimics the business look so I don’t standout during check-in or at the gate.

I carry all my camera gear in a Think Tank Roller Derby camera bag when I travel. The bag is clean and efficient so it gets me on the plane with no hassles.

Several years ago I arrived at the check-in counter and saw four women with all their photography gear spread out on the airport floor.  Their carry-ons were huge, gaudy, plastic grocery shopping bags loaded with individual pieces of camera equipment plus pillows, blankets, candy, etc.  The check-in counter staff had rejected the carry-ons because each was over-weight and didn’t meet size regulations.  Yep, the ladies were going to be part of my group. I slipped past them and waited for them past security at the gate.  When the ladies arrived at the gate their gaudy plastic shopping bags were a bit more under control but the gate staff gave the grief again before boarding the plane.  By the time we reached our destination one lady had already lost a laptop.

After that incident I started noticing that airlines employees notice things out of the ordinary.  Airline employees notice floppy, dangling straps.  They notice a bag that’s too heavy to lift.  They notice a huge backpack.  My strategy is to blend with the crowd of frequent fliers and get on the plane with all my gear.

My travel neat philosophy also applies to my checked bag.  TSA is going to scan and maybe open your checked bag.  That’s just the way it is.  My checked bag has my clothes on the bottom in small travel cubes called Lugs.  Anything hard, like my tripod or toiletry bag is on top of the clothes.  I put all non-essential camera gear in a bag on top of the clothes.  The scanner is going to show my tripod, shutter release, flash, etc., so why not let the inspectors have easy access.  I’d rather show the contents on top versus hide those things under my clothes.  This way the inspectors can get in my bag, see what they need to see, and get out of my bag.

Confusion About Fixed F/stop Lens

A friend emailed: Hi Kathy. I have a question and I can’t find an answer on the Internet. I am looking at a lens with a fixed aperture of f4. What I’m wondering is how do you get more depth of field with a fixed aperture? People are singing praise for this lens and report it is on their camera all the time. But I’m wondering how it would do for landscape where you would want everything in focus. Or if you were focusing on a closer object and had mountains in the background. Any thoughts? Thanks

The Canon 16-35mm f/4 lens has f/stops from f/4 to f/22

My Answer: A fixed f/4 lens might have an aperture range from f/4 to f/22.  You’d use the f/4 to blur backgrounds and the f/22 for landscapes.  The lens has lots of f/stops and not just one.

A “fixed” lens doesn’t change the f/stop as you zoom the lens.  In the Canon 16-35mm lens, zoom back to 16mm and you can use f/4.  Zoom out to 35mm and you can still use f/4.

A “variable f/stop lens” would change the f/stop as you zoom.  In the Canon 18-55mm lens, zoom back to 18mm and you can use f/3.5.  Zoom out to 55mm and you can only go to f/5.6.  The f/3.5 is no longer available. 

Traditionally, “fixed” f/stop lenses give crisper and clearer photos.  Fixed f/stop lenses are usually more expensive and better made.  I think that’s the reason they give a better photo. 

Presets: Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

The photography world is awash with presets. Companies like Luminar and Nik offer great presets. I’m a big fan and use presets from both companies.

Yet, I think photographers need to learn how to use presets.

Just because you can use a preset, doesn’t mean you should use a preset. We used to say the same about the saturation slider, by the way. Just because the slider goes all the way to the right, doesn’t mean you should move it all the way to the right.

What’s a preset? Presets are “pre-made” formulas for processing an image. The various sliders in a software are “pre-set” to give a specific look. Presets are a bit like using the Auto mode on your camera. Auto mode is okay but it’s better when you really learn how to use the camera.

I’ve used presets for years to process HDR image. It was simple to scroll through the presets in Photomatix back in the old days to get the HDR look I wanted. Critics were screaming “HDR looks so fake!” because photographers were overdoing the presets in Photomatix.

HDR looked great, though, if the processing was in moderation. A photo editor once asked me to send “more of those dreamy-looking photos” for a project. Those “dreamy photos” were HDR images with moderate processing.

Today we have presets from big companies, small companies, and individuals. A photographer recently told me that he only uses Pentax presets because that’s how Pentax files are designed to be processed. Turns out someone has made presets and is marketing them to Pentax users.

I recently watched a photographer accept gushing praise for an image that I know was processed with a preset. The processing wasn’t that great. To the uneducated eye, though, the photographer appeared to be on location at the exact right magical moment when the light was perfect. Nope! The magic came from a preset.

Photos entered in a recent contest were passed over by the judges because the presets were so exaggerated. These were possible winning images but the processing was too much. The photographer needs to learn where, when, and how to use presets.

I’m not suggesting that presets go away. I’m suggesting photographers learn how to process. We should understand what’s going on with the software and use it when and where it’s needed. Exaggerate all you want but tone it down when it’s appropriate.

Below I’ll show you my photos that are reasonably processed and then exaggerated with presets.

Yes, I use presets to enhance my creativity. I use presets sometimes to show me the potential of an image. Presets can support our creative vision as well as ruin it.

Below are some images that I processed with presets — and was thankful for the power of presets.

Great companies like Luminar and Nik make presets. Photographers should learn where, when, and how to use use them.

Extreme Macro Photography

Blue Milkweed bloom measuring an inch across with thrips inside.

The image above was captured with a MOVO EXT-C5 Reverse Auto-focus macro lens adapter. The adapter lets you attach your lens to your camera backwards. This turns any lens into a super heavy-duty macro lens.

Here’s the MOVO EXT-C5 with a Canon 24mm lens in the middle. Notice that the part of the 24mm lens that usually connects with the camera is now facing away from the camera.

While the MOVO EXT was fun to play with there are drawbacks. Depth-of-field is extremely narrow even at f/22. Camera shake ruins most images even when the camera is mounted on a sturdy tripod.

An alternative is adding an extension tube and/or close-up filter to your existing lens.

Canon 500D Close-up lens is no longer available unless you buy them used. I’m currently using the Marumi DHG Achromat Macro +3 that gives the same quality. Then add a 24mm Extension Tube or a 12mm Extension Tube for added magnification.

I’ve used the items above for years when I wanted to photograph something up-close. I find the extension tubes, close-up lens, or combination a lot easier to use than the MOVO EXT.

Chrysanthemum reflecting in a small glass bead. Extension tube and close-up lens.
Same set-up with the MOVO EXT. Despite a lot of effort I could not get the main glass bead in focus.

Here’s a link to my old blog with a better explanation about a close-up lens.

Texture Slider in Adobe

In May of this year, Adobe gave us the Texture slider. You can find this in Adobe’s Lightroom Classic or Adobe Camera Raw.

The Texture slider enhances or reduces texture in a photo. Texture would be bird feathers, animal fur, tree bark, alligator skin, stucco, etc. The Texture slider does not enhance details in our nice blurry backgrounds. The Texture slider is a game changer on certain photos.

I’ve been a real champion of the Clarity slider since that tool was introduced by Adobe. Almost all my processing began with Clarity slider to 20, Vibrance to 20, and Saturation to 20. “Go to CVS first” was the line we used in class.

The Clarity slider, though, worked on details and textures throughout the image. Minor details in the blurry background were often enhanced.

Texture slider only works on textures. It’s a pretty smart tool that can really bring out key details in our photos.

The Texture slider is also available under the Adjustment Brush tool. This allows us to enhance or reduce the texture in one area of a photo.

Pretty neat tool. Give it a try. I’m sure you will like it and find many uses for the Texture slider.

Green violetear or Lesser violetear with the Texture slider blown up to 100%
Same photo as above with the Clarity slider blown up to 100%. Notice how the
background at top right has more detail. Not as soft as the image processed with
the Texture slider.
Same as above with no Clarify or Texture slider. Nice soft background thanks to
a shallow f/stop. We don’t want to mess with that background during processing.

Texture on the left image. Clarity on the right image.