How to focus on a theme

Have you recognised that, if several photographers do together a photo walk, everyone brings different images back home? This is due to the different experience everybody has and therefore do recognise different things. Means photography has something to do with seeing, which can be learned with different methods. For example by using a theme when you are going onto a photo walk. This will sensibilities you and you will come back with different results than without.

Another option would be so called picture cards like the “Inspiracles” or “See the bigger picture”. This helps in case you don’t have ideas or you need inspiration.

Last but not least you could deal with a topic for a longer time this will change your perception.

Photo walk with a theme

Choosing a theme helps you to focus on a special topic and you will recognise motifs, which you otherwise missed. I do this from time to time and recognise after 2-3 hours, that I suddenly see only things fitting to the topic. For example with the photo walk “reflections”. In the beginning, it was hard to find motifs but was improving the longer the photo walk lasted. As we finished the photo walk suddenly I only saw reflections, even though that I was already on the way home.

Mirrored man
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Picture cards

The principle of picture cards is pretty simple. On the one side, you find information about the topic and a short description of how to realise it. On the other side examples, which should inspire you. You have two options in case you take images. Either you look through the cards and decide which one you are using, or, in my opinion, the more exciting, you just draw a card and just use the topic you get. In both cases, you will recognise, that it works to focus on one topic.

Deal with a topic

Especially in the last half-year, I recognise, that my way of seeing and how I take images has changed a lot. Due to the Covid pandemic, I have to work home a lot and therefore I went out during lunchtime to go through the park. Always a camera and a lens with focal length with me. The goal was to photograph local birds. In the first days, I heard the birds but was not able to see them. The more I deal with them, the more I saw the birds and was able to take images in the environment without feeding them. The highlight was, as I recognise a little bird while running on a small branch. Keen to know what it is I stopped and recognised that it was a nuthatch, which was flying to its nest.

Taking a coffee cup at home

Even if you have no studio equipment and have to stay at home, it is possible with simple tools to shoot beautiful images. Windows are perfect light sources and with some creativity, you can even handle to hard light. But first about my image. I had the plan to shoot an espresso cup with fresh, steaming coffee. Here my result.

First I looked for a suitable window that had enough light and set up my image. A wooden board from the kitchen served as background. A piece of fabric as a black background that I found in the closet. In theory, a t-shirt, duvet, or something similar would probably work as well. Since the light through the window was too hard, I had to think of something. Since I had no alternative, I cut up sandwich bags and stuck them to the window with adhesive tape. You can see this quite well in the next picture.

On the other side, you can see a brightener that I still had at home. If you don’t have something like this at home, you can alternatively use a simple piece of white paper. Coffee is made quickly and the cup, like it, is quickly put into the image. But I quickly discovered that the steam after the fresh brewing was not strong enough to be visible in the picture. So a creative solution was needed. First I tried a match, but unfortunately, the smoke was too strong. It looked unnatural. Then my son had the idea to light a coffee bean and let it burn until it glowed. This worked very well. The advantage is that you could put the bean in peace behind the cup and the smoke lasted long enough to take a picture.

Four influencing image quality factors of digital cameras

Introduction

In marketing, it is popular to have short and easy messages. Those short messages allow reaching a big target group, as nobody has to study the topic in depth. In the case of photography is this message “the bigger the sensor, the better the image quality.

At the time the first 35mm sensors, with the size of 36x24mm2, arrived in the market the manufactures called this format full-frame sensor. This name suggests to the end-user that this is the biggest available sensor and a clear statement, that the user buys the best available quality. In this communication, it is not mentioned that the sensor is only one of in total of four components, which are relevant for image quality

Beside the sensor three additional components are essentially important for the image quality. Lens, image stabilisation and image processor. How those components influence the image quality I will show with simple examples. I hope my thoughts demonstrate, that in photography sensor size is not the only value which the user should monitor to make the correct decision, if they plan to buy a camera.

The lens

Factors influenced by lens

  • Sharpness
  • Resolution
  • Contrast

The lens is the first element of the image quality chain and therefore the most important. In case your lens is not able to deliver details to the sensor, it is impossible that the result can show the details in the result. Due to the sensor specification, the lens requirements in digital photography are much higher than in analog times. Light rays, for example, should reach the sensor straight. Otherwise light rays which should reach i.e. the red pixel could reach the blue or green pixel. This would cause issues in colour processing, which should be avoided.
In analog time i.e. a 50mm F1.2 lens had 7 lens elements (Minolta Rokkor), today a modern 50mm F1.4 lens (Sony Planar T*FE 50mm F1.4 ZA) has 12 lens elements nearly twice as many. This value shows how big the development in lens technology has been since digital times started. As the lens is the most important element for image quality that some of the photographers invest most of their money in an expensive camera and not in the lens. In case the budget makes this decision necessary personally I would make it vice versa. In the end, you would keep the lens much longer as the camera.

The sensor

Factors influenced by the sensor

  • Sharpness
  • Image noise
  • dynamic range
  • resolution

After the lens, the sensor is the second element in the image quality chain. It has an influence on noise performance, dynamic range, and resolution, which means it influences the sharpness of an image. The sensor size influences the image noise and dynamic range only indirectly, but more in detail now.

Image noise / Dynamic range

If you want to look at the influence of the sensor size on the image noise you first have to make sure that technology improvements do not affect the result. Fortunately, I had a Sony Alpha 6000 and a Sony A7II available. Both cameras were introduced in 2014, so it can be assumed that the sensor manufacturing technology is the same. Also, both cameras have an identical number of pixels with 6000×4000 pixels. To find out how the results differ, I took a picture with both cameras, with the same lens and the same settings. The result looks like this.

Alpha 6000, ISO 25600
A7 II, ISO 25600

Even in the preview, you can see that the A7 II has a larger dynamic range than the Alpha 6000. This is especially noticeable in the mouth. If you look at an enlarged section, it quickly becomes clear that the A7 II is less noisy.

Alpha 6000, ISO 25600
A7 II, ISO 25600

It seems that the connection between sensor size and lower noise is confirmed and therefore most of the testers stop at this point with the comparison. But is really the truth? As the A7II as a function with which you can switch the area from 35mm format to APS-C format. In case the sensor size would have an effect this should be visible in images taken in this way. Let’s take a look at the comparison pictures.

A7 II APS-C setting, ISO 25600
A7 II 35mm format, ISO 25600

As you can see the dynamic range is identical in both images, but what is the image noise.

A7 II APS-C setting, ISO 25600
A7 II 35mm format, ISO 25600

Also, the noise is identical. Sensor size could not be the reason, that the noise performance of the Alpha 6000 higher is than the one of the A7 II.
The reason is the pixel size itself. As the Sony Alpha 6000 has the same pixel count on a smaller sensor area, the pixel itself is smaller, or in other words: the pixel density is higher. It isn’t as easy as it looks. The sensor size is no parameter for more or less noise performance, this has to be seen in conjunction with the pixel count.
The pixel size of an APS-C camera with 24 million pixels is equal to the pixel size of a 35mm format camera with 54 million pixels. Would I compare those cameras the noise performance would be identical.

M.Zuiko Digital ED 100-400mm F5-6.3 IS

In summer Olympus introduced the M.Zuiko Digital ED 100-400mm F5-6.3 IS and I had the opportunity to use it. After I made the first images, I have been very impressed by the image quality. Even though it is “only” a standard lens and not out of the Pro category image quality is on a very high level. Autofocus speed and accuracy is superb. Technical Details you can find on many websites, therefore I would like to skip them here. I intend to share the experiences I made with the lens.

Speed

With a starting F value of 5-6.3, the lens is not the fastest and in case of bad light, you have to increase sensitivity in the camera. I used the E-M1 Mark III together with the lens and used sensitivities up to 6400 ISO and satisfied with all my results. In case you don’t have to shoot fast-moving objects in bad light conditions the lens is more than usable. Compared to faster lenses, which are more expensive and heavier, you will have only disadvantages in case of bad light conditions.

Focal length range

With a focal length range of 100-400mm, it is ideal for wildlife photography and especially bird photography. The angle of view is equivalent to a 200-800mm lens for the 35mm format. Also, the MC-14 and MC-20 teleconverter are compatible. In case you combine it with the MC-20 the equivalent field of view is up to 1600mm. That supports you in shooting images from long distances, which is especially helpful when you are shooting shy animals. Sharpness and resolution in conjunction with the MC-20 and MC-14 are very high. The only disadvantage is that you lose 1 (in case of MC-14) or 2 (in case of MC-20) f-stops light sensitivity when you are using the converters, therefore even more light is needed or you have to increase sensitivity in-camera even more than without converters.

Macro capabilities

Besides the outstanding tele lens performance, the lens has also a very short minimum focus distance. Due to that function, the lens can be used also for macro photography. As the shallow depth of field depends also on focus distance this enables you also to separate your objects from the background with nice bokeh. Here some images I made with a short focusing distance.

Image stabilisation

The lens has. a built-in image stabilization, but in opposite to the M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm F4 IS PRO it doesn’t support Sync-IS, which enables the system to use lens and camera stabilization together. Therefore the stabilization effect is not as big. However, In case you are using the lens in conjunction with an Olympus camera you get a better image quality when you are using lens and camera stabilization. Then the lens compensates for yaw and pitch movements and the camera is taking care of rotation, which is caused mainly when you are pressing the shutter release.

Conclusion

In case you are looking for a long focal length for a fair price the M.Zuiko Digital ED 100-400mm F5-6.3 IS is a perfect fit. The additional macro capabilities and compatibility with the teleconverters the lens offers additional benefit and makes the lens very universal. The only drop of bitterness is the speed of the lens, which makes it difficult to use the lens in bad light conditions. On the other hand, a fast lens is much more expensive.

Correct use of AF limiter

As the adjustment spindle could be quite long in lenses with long focal length, focusing speed is slower than with shorter focal length lenses. Therefore those lenses do have often the possibility to limit the area in which the lens should focus on. In most cases, you can choose between total range, close distance, and far distance. This limits the adjustment spindle and makes focusing faster. Are you shooting for example wildlife, which you are not able to approach close, you can choose only the far distance setting. The lens is then able to focus faster. This possibility is, as already mentioned, only available for long focal length lenses and is limited to three settings.
OM-D cameras have the possibility to set the AF limit via software, which can be used for any lens. You can save three different settings, which you can use at any time. How to use this function I would like to show you as follows.

1 The settings for AF limiter are located in the Menü A (in case of E-M1X it is A3, in case of E-M1 Mark II/III it is A1) Here you can make your basic settings.

2 To make the basic settings press the arrow keys three-time right. Then select one of the three settings and press the arrow key right again.

3 Use the arrow keys to adjust the close and far limit. As soon as you have finished press “OK” to confirm the settings.

* Please keep in mind those values are not exact values. Therefore you can ignore the value behind the comma.

Here you also can change your settings while you are shooting. However, this is quite complicated and is not fast enough. Therefore it makes more sense to program a function key. Then you have direct access to the limiter. I personally use the L-Fn button of the Pro lenses. In case you don’t have Pro lenses or the F-Ln button is already used for something else you also can use another function button.

4 The fastest way to reach the button settings is the Super Control Panel. Just press “OK” and choose the gear wheel.

5 Here you can directly program the function keys. Choose your favorite function key and select AF limiter.

6 Pressing the selected function key allows you to switch the AF limiter on/off. To switch between your three basic settings just press and hold the function key. The selection Menü opens and you can select one of your basic settings.

I hope this tip helps you to make better images. I’m happy when you leave a comment.

My first experiences with the Olympus 150-400mm F4.5 Objektiv

With the M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25x IS PRO Olympus released a unique lens, which is not available from other manufacturers. Its focal length area covers the equivalent field of view of a 35mm lens with 300-800mm and weights only a bit more than 1800g. Therefore the lens is very mobile and you can shoot handheld without a tripod. With 35mm lenses is this for sure not possible, as those are much bigger and heavier. As you don’t need a tripod you save also the weight of this in case you are on location.
In addition, the lens has the best image stabilization on the market, which works in conjunction with the image stabilization of the camera. This ensures that you can shoot also with a long focal length with our blurring the image.

I’m lucky and had already the opportunity to test the lens and would like to share my experience with you. My very first impression at the moment I touched the lens the first time was, wow that lens is light. Sure it is heavier than lenses with shorter focal length. It is the biggest lens in the Micro Four Thirds family. In case you take it into your hands the first time you will be surprised how light the lens despite its size is. To achieve this Olympus decided to use Aluminum Alloy only on the parts, which are responsible for stability. All other areas are made out of carbon reinforces polycarbonate. Anyhow the lens feels very solid. In addition, the lens hoof is also made out of carbon, this ensures a very good balance between lens and camera body (in my case the E-M1X) also when the lens hood is used.

Handling

As already written above is the balance between lens and camera body excellent. Regarding the handling, there is a lot more. The lens offers a bunch of switches to adjust the focusing area, image stabilization, focus method, and the behaviour of the L-Fn buttons. Those switches are very good to reach and you find them also when you are looking through the viewfinder. The switch to activate the built-in 1.25x teleconverter is placed in the perfect location and can be easily reached in portrait as well as landscape shooting. Focusing and zooming are easy and very precise and without big efforts usable. Very useful are the L-Fn buttons which can be used to focus to a predefined distance or you can activate a predefined function. The predefined focusing distance can be set with a small button close to the switch for the built-in teleconverter. This is a very helpful function, in case you would like to come back to a certain focusing distance when disturbing objects are between you and the subject you would like to focus on. An example would be in case you would like to shot animals behind tries and the branches are in the way.
In opposite to 35mm lenses Micro Four Third lenses do have a very short closest focusing distance. In the case of the M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25x IS PRO it is 1.3m, also when you are using the built-in or external teleconverter. This makes the lens also a mark lens, which is very useful to shoot butterflies or dragonflies. The long focal length enables you not only to keep the needed distance to shy animals but also gives you a nice unsharp background.

Image quality

As you expect from such kind of lens the lens is in each area top. Sharpness full-fills all professional needs. Even when the built-in teleconverter is used there are no complaints, which also is the case when using MC-14 or MC-20. In case you are using the MC-20 the lens reaches an unbelievable focal length of 1000mm, which is equivalent to 2000mm in 35mm cameras. As the image stabilization is so good also in this configuration shooting handheld is not an issue at all. The tripod you can leave at home. This makes not only your travel luggage lighter but you could also shoot more agile as you can react to changes much faster.
Autofocus is working in all configuration fast and precise, which is also very helpful when you are shooting fast-moving objects. Issues like distortion, vignetting, or chromatic aberration are not present.

Comparison with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 100-400mm F5-6.3 IS

I know this comparison is unfair as the 100-400mm is far less expensive than the 150-400mm lens. The 150-400mm lens is bigger, but delivers also much more speed and is in all-optical areas at least one class better. Also, usage is more flexible as it has a built-in 1.25x teleconverter, which can be switch on / off without releasing the lens. Therefore you can react much faster in case you need a bit more focal length, which is a real benefit especially when you are shooting wildlife or sports. Besides, the AF speed is much faster and more precise. Don’t misunderstand me, the 100-400mm lens is, having the price in mind, a brilliant lens, but the 150-400mm in comparison is much better.

Results

Enough written. It is better to show you images taken with this lens. In case you have questions write a comment I’m more than happy to answer.

Links to other experiences

Andy Rouseused the lens in UK and shares his thoughts here.
Petr Bambousekshot with the lens in Costa Rica and share experience here.
Scott Bourneshows his first experiences with the lens and nice images here.
Imaging Resourcenice background information about the technical details of the lens here.