Micro 4/3 is without doubt a very useful format. Just recently we headed south and it coincided with the time when figs in the south-west ripen and the parrots and Correllas gather around for a feast. I like to travel with a few different camera options. The ideal focal length for taking these photographs would have been between seven and 800 mm. Have you priced an 800 mm lens recently? Have you tried to lift an 800 mm lens recently? You know what I’m talking about. They are horrendously expensive and unbelievably heavy. It is a good idea to spend a bit of time in the gym building up some muscle mass before trying to use a lens like that.
And you know what is also amazing? A fixed focal length means that you don’t always get to frame your shot very well and even then you often crop from the image so that you lose quite a few megapixels. What you really need is something like a zoom lens with a 200 to 800 mm range.
A 200 to 800 mm range will give you a lot of flexibility and also allow you to zoom in very close.
My solution is simply to shoot with micro 4/3 with a 100 to 400 mm lens which effectively means that you are shooting with 200 to 800 mm. Thankfully there is an excellent Panasonic Leica variant available that fits perfectly into the Micro 4/3 system. For this shoot we attached it to the new Olympus M1X camera and decided to see how it would go with tracking and focusing these interesting squabbles that were going on around the figs. In actual fact the birds were gorging themselves on the figs and so were very heavy and looked rather relaxed.
Regardless, the birds don’t allow you to get too close and so you needed to be able to stand well back so that you were nonthreatening. The Olympus M1X camera performed perfectly and we came away with about 1000 keepers. Some of these I’ve posted to the Instagram site.
During the trip we got the opportunity to see quite a bit more wildlife and the 100 to 400 mm lens on the micro 4/3 system performed perfectly.
Here are some examples illustrate the value of this rig. And just to make the point. This is a really light rig for any photographer to carry about and you are shooting with 20 megapixels and exceptional clear glass. Don’t underestimate the Micro 4/3 system. It really is awesome.
We have come a long way since 2008 in terms of cameras and what they can do. But there is often a forgotten part of the photography Eco-system. We talk about cameras and lenses but we forget the very important part of the overall picture.
Four Key Areas
There are four aspects that have a huge impact on your photography and each of these four components make up and contribute towards the results. Consider all four when you are thinking about improving photography. Number one is the skill level that you possess as a photographer. Number two is the camera that you use. Number three are the lenses that you invest in which should be optically bright and cover ranges that are appropriate to your style of photography. However number four, and one that really needs to be thought about carefully, is the imaging software that you use for either raw conversion or enhancement.
Lets Compare 2008 – 2019
Take a look at the following photo. It was taken in October 2008.
Lets take a closer look into the image and see what is in there. Canon 24-105mm F4 lens.
Lets take another look but this time lets take the same image and process it using modern software. That’s right – the fourth and vital part of photography.
Photography results are dependent on the photographers skill and his tools. The four tools he has are his skill, cameras, lenses and his software.
When you compare the photograph above with the photograph below it is obvious that there is significantly more detail and a lot more shadow information that has been recovered with today’s software.
In the photograph above, Adobe software has been used to develop the raw image. Over the years a significant number of developments and a significant number of releases have provided us with much better tools to extract the information locked into those raw files. In the image below we suddenly see foliage as well as the details in the rock. It was a very windy and windswept day and now the detail within the waves and on the sand comes into focus. The two figures in the photograph are very tiny but they have a much more real feel when we develop them with today’s software. There is a warning sign in the rocks and whereas it almost blends into the background in the first photograph you can see it’s clear yellow colour and shape much more forcibly in the second development below.
Software, back in 2008 was certainly able to extract shadow detail however, in the process it often revealed noise that tended to slightly pixelate the image and detract from the overall look of the finished photograph. The scene itself is a remarkable rock coastline and having the two figures walking towards the sea in the bottom of the photograph made it pretty much a no-brainier when it came to use in tourism photography. For that reason, despite the absence of too much detail, the photograph was well received and well used.
Investing In Software Is Well Worth The Exercise
An experience that some photographers have commented on has been purchasing a more up-to-date camera, something that all photographers are very likely to do in any case, and then discovering that the work that they are producing is pretty much on a par with what they were producing with an older camera and then discovering, as a result of investing in raw conversion software, that both cameras had similar latitudes in terms of what could be extracted from the images.
The Canon camera that was used to take these photographs produced excellent images up to ISO 400. Personally today I would never be satisfied with the camera that didn’t work well virtually noise free up to around ISO 1600. So I am not advocating that people don’t update their cameras. Instead, the point we are making in this particular article is that it is important to remember that essentially there are four sides to the picture in terms of what you can get out of your images. Number one is the skill level that you possess as a photographer. Number two is the camera that you use. Number three are the lenses that you invest in which should be optically bright and cover ranges that are appropriate to your style of photography. However number four, and one that really needs to be thought about carefully, is the imaging software that you use for either raw conversion or enhancement.
There is a Substantial Difference In Results Obtainable From The Same Raw Files
There is a substantial difference in the performance of the various raw converters. Personally I have available to me at any time five different raw converters. That is a significant investment but I have discovered that some raw converters are more effective than others with various files. There is an argument that you can get there with just about any raw converter to which I would reply that some of them make it incredibly tough to get to the end result if they are not tuned to suit your camera and style. It’s also worth noting that some imaging software really doesn’t extract anything like the level of detail that is available and also some imaging software seems to get lost when it comes to dealing with noise. With noise you don’t want the noise reduction to make areas of the photograph look messy or blurred or muddy, you want to retain detail. Not all imaging software can handle this issue well.
What is the moral of this little experiment? Before you consider upgrading your camera or lenses, consider your software and your skill level. It could be that poor camera technique is resulting in poor quality images or else it could be that your raw converter is simply not able to extract the detail and style that you are aiming at. It takes time to really get to know a camera well so moving onto a new camera too soon can be quite a wasteful exercise. Worth thinking about.
You read through the magazine or the review on the site and immediately you start thinking about how your photography would improve if you had that camera or lens. But is it true? Do you really need all that gear and all those innovations? Will all those extra, often incremental improvements, really show up in the finished shot?
Initially, when you first get involved in photography you might genuinely believe that you need all the gear that you could possibly get your hands on. Or you might feel that you must have one particular camera or lens and it will make all the difference. Photography experience however provides insight into the overall craft. Camera craft is something that you acquire as you get involved in photography. Genuine photography assignments provide insight into photography that you might never experience in the casual setting. Whether you get involved in actual professional or semi-professional photography or you join a camera club and put your work against others so that you can improve your skill, you quickly realise that it isn’t all about the gear. In fact, you might realise that the photography market is sometimes overly influenced by the emphasis placed on certain innovations as opposed to what is really important in photography.
Cameras have been very good for quite a while now.
To illustrate this I have several hundred thousand images available on my hard drives and I’m still getting very good sale from images that were taken by cameras that were available in 2008. Ask any professional photographer who’s been around for the last decade and don’t be surprised to find the same story. You will often run into professional photographers using photography equipment that is six or eight years old and getting excellent results. They will read the reviews and look at the innovations with genuine interest but with an experienced eye that helps them to sort the difference between what is needed and what isn’t. Genuine photography experience provides that extra insight.
Don’t Get Me Wrong – Gear is Important!
There is however an important distinction to make in this discussion. There is an old story about the person who goes out and buys a top of the range tennis racket, which makes the point that, they don’t automatically become a better tennis player just because they own a better racket. However, it’s also true that a better tennis player will often use a better tennis racket for the simple reason that a better player is able to get and use the benefit of a more balanced racket that is strung in a particular way.
Practice Makes You Better!
The same is true with cameras. Buying a better camera will not make you a better photographer. However, a better photographer will probably use a better camera for the simple reason that they now know how to get the best out of the camera and they see the benefit of having a better dynamic range or a faster focus or a better colour gamut overall.
My brother once put the point bluntly when we were talking about the old saying that a workman doesn’t blame his tools. He replied that the good workman wouldn’t let himself be found with useless tools. The same is true with a photographer. You do need good tools.
It Has To Perform
However, in the field the photographer needs the camera gear to perform. He isn’t thinking about how many megapixels the camera has or what it can do in different areas of performance when he’s in the field. Regardless of the style of photography you are focussed on, there are just so many other things that you need to think about. Composition is the key. Whether you’re shooting nature and you need to grab a specific moment or action where the same is true or if you’re photographing a group when you’re trying to organise everybody in the group into something that doesn’t look like a dog’s breakfast, you’ve got so many more things to think about other than how many megapixels your camera has or how many frames per second it can do in the field.
There are always Compromises
You choose the right tool for the job and then you get on with photography. If you need something with high frames per second you are perfectly happy to accept a lower megapixel because you recognise that you can’t have both. And for that matter a 24-megapixel camera that can shoot at 12-20 frames per second is pretty much going to be able to do just about everything that you as a photographer will want.
You can have too much emphasis on gear, and you can have misplaced priorities when it comes to what is important. The problem with this is that it can also stifle your photography. Using just the gear that you need and that is appropriate to the style of photography that you’re doing at that point is just so important.
Perspective Means That Often Photographers See Cameras Differently
I read a letter just recently about how a group of camera reviewers rated a group of 10 cameras and how another group of photographers rated the same group of cameras. The reviewers placed the cameras in one specific order using megapixels and frames per second as the priority whereas the photographers put the cameras in a completely different order based on how they perform in the field and how quickly they acquire focus. There were points of overlap such as the placement of buttons and tools and the comfortable feeling of the camera system in the hand. However whereas the reviewers were focusing on the number of lenses that were available in each system, the photographers knew that as long as they had the principal lenses available that were appropriate to their own application, it didn’t really mean an awful lot to them that the given camera didn’t have quite the range of lenses that another camera manufacture offered. This just illustrates how the difference in view can occur.
Acquire the Craft
So, there is a difference between the perspective of a photographer when it comes to looking at photographic equipment. If you understand the different perspective that you will acquire as a photographer when you have a deadline to meet and performance in the field is absolutely essential, then you will acquire camera craft. Photography experience provides insight into the overall craft of photography. When you put yourself in photographic competitions against other photographers you will quickly realise that having 10 cameras in the closet will not make you a better photographer. Two photographers with identical equipment will produce very different results. There is a divergence between perception and reality in photography and it’s important to capture this difference and understand what is really important.
There has been a lot of hype about the Nikon Z series. Image quality is great. Focus speed isn’t usable for our photography. Even flowers blowing in the wind are problematic. . Landscapes and stills are a strength. But if it moves.. well don’t expect to track it well. And yes we’ve updated and will still update. It’s just how it is. Most Nikon fans are hesitant to acknowledge this and the fans just blame poor technique but the reality is that even close shots of flowers blowing in the wind are a challenge for this camera. We averaged less than a 32% hit rate with the Z7. With the D850 closer to 90% in the same conditions.
We’ve used the Z7 for 5000+ clicks but until some improvements come along it is reserved for landscape and studio work. Although it hunted in a product tent. That’s right. We were shooting items for display on the web and the focus was hunting on a tripod in fixed conditions.
In contrast the Sony focusing with mirrorless is amazing. And now with the new firmware for the Sony A9 and the a7r3 the tracking is phenomenal. Birds, planes, cars, boats, goodness… The A9 tracks beautifully. Its amazing. And the hit rate is in a different class. The update to the A7r3 is also sensational.
Additionally Sony have improved the quality of JPEG out of camera to within a smidgen of perfect on the majority of occasions.
With Nikon our recommendation is the D850. Sure it isn’t mirrorless but the focus and tracking are excellent and the image quality it on the top podium. In DSLR terms the D850 is right there.
Remember. If it isn’t in focus well…what was the auto focus there for?
50mm gives an excellent field of view and is generally free of distortion. In a recent post we looked closely at using a 50mm primes for most of the shooting. We were looking at a 50mm Sigma 1.4 which is super sharp and the Mikaton 50mm 0.95 which can be sharp but well stopped down.
There was virtually 100% preference for the 0.95mm lens images. Not clinical – simply gorgeous!
The images above were taken at the beach in Geraldton. I really like the sensor on the Sony A9 and the fact that using the electronic silent shutter we can shoot at up to 1/32,000 of a second. This makes it possible to use the Speedmaster Mikaton 0.95 50mm lens without the need for ND filters in bright light conditions such as these. Less messing around and more photographs.
Its wonderful to play with light using such an amazing lens
Even at Night… Photography is easy
We fancied a bite so we nipped to this Dome cafe on the coast at Geraldton. Most of the Domes are pretty good. It was very dark but with the 50mm Mikaton 0.95 50mm lens it was easy to get some atmosphere in the shots. The good thing about shooting with such a large aperture is the fact that you can minimize noise. there was virtually no noise in these images and they have that same large aperture 50 mm STYLE.
I visited the Denmark river and the old boat ramp. In the past I’ve sold images from this area. But now I could isolate key features with the 50mm. The day was relatively overcast but there’s a certain brightness about these 50 mm images. As you can see the area of focus is easy to define.
Great isolation of subjects is easy when using this particular Mikaton Lens.
The shots were taken near the residency building in Albany. Apart from the artificial lighting it was actually quite dark. While we were shooting the car park lighting came on which is quite bright and that changed the feel of the images.
It was quite windy and stormy on the coast and I took a lot of images with a telephoto lens. However these images were taken at 50 mm and are very complimentary and detailed. The tonal balance and detail is excellent with this lens.
Another feature of shooting with the Mikaton lens is the ability to isolate the subject. As this lily image illustrates, you can achieve a soft and shallow depth of field with precise focus when combining the benefits of a large aperture lens with a mirror less camera.
And finally here is a mixed selection of images that show the character of this lens. I really like shooting with 50 mm and I can see its appeal. More and more a 50 mm lens is finding its way into my constant kit.
Many of the finest lenses available today are manual focus. So while we live in a world where autofocus is extremely important in a number of situations, there are many photographers who use manual focus lenses consistently. In fact if you look at some of the most highly regarded lenses available today, there are a significant number of manual focus lenses among them. Some would say that the best lenses available are manual focus. So learning to pre-focus is an extremely interesting skill. And one well worth learning.
It makes you slow down and think about what you are doing.
It really slows you down makes you think about what you’re doing with your photography. You have already set the shutter speed and aperture and focus point for the most part prior to walking into the situation. What you want is the rendition that the lens will give you so you have to set it up in advance. You have to become familiar with the focal length of your camera and what will and what will not be in focus at any given amateur.
You really have to learn your lens
Give it a try. It really is an important skill.
The following series of images were taken using the Mikaton manual focus 50 mm 0.95 aperture lens. Being manual focus and with such a precise focus point you really have to think very carefully about where to focus on what you want to achieve before walking into the situation.
I had a wonderful collection of roses in the rose garden from the Julia roses which provides a sort of coppery colour. Lovely plant.
There’s no need to let action put you off
I had taken some photographs using autofocus super sharp lenses and camera combinations before but I really wanted to challenge myself to see what I could take if I wish to pre-focus and set up the shutter speed and aperture in advance. I did use automatic ISO. But this was within a predefined limit because I’m not really a fan of noise. In any event it was a lot of fun. As you can see.