Tag Archives: zoom lens

Olympus Stylus 1

A few months ago I joined the Asia-Oceania Olympus Grand Prix photography contest. There were two categories: landscape and camera effects. The latter requires that you use the built-in camera effects in your shot and this is where I won the Stylus 1. You can find the winning entries here.

To be honest, I did not expect much from a point-and-shoot camera. I have read the specifications of the Stylus 1 and among the many features I was most curious about the lens. It has a 28-300mm constant f/2.8 full frame equivalent. This kind of lens is unheard of. You can’t find a lens with this specification anywhere. Not even in the CaNikon world. This feature alone got me really excited. It would be the perfect travel camera if it performed well.

As soon as the camera arrived, I immediately tested it using whatever charge is left in the factory-sealed battery. The first thing that caught my attention was the aperture ring in the lens. This is absolutely awesome. It feels like shooting with my Nikon FM3A film camera with AiS lens again. Heck, this is even better than the overhyped Nikon Df’s very clumsy implementation of the aperture adjustment dial. I was over the moon! Hey, it’s got an electronic viewfinder too that rivals the size and quality of my high-end E-M5. This camera is big in features and it still fits inside my jacket pocket!

It took me a few days to seriously test my camera. My day job was getting in the way of fun LOL! When I finally managed to go out during lunch break I walked around the city to capture some shots. Let’s have a look at how this tiny camera performed …

Note that the images I’m presenting here are all JPEG shots straight from the camera with absolutely no editing done. No cropping even. I just had to rotate the portrait oriented shots in Snapseed though because my iPad (which I’m using to type this) does not recognise the rotation info. They were also shot completely handheld. Click on the images for a larger view.

Low light shooting is the main weakness of P&S cameras due to their small sensors. It made sense for me to try shooting inside the church that was close to my office to see how this thing performs.

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That’s ISO 800 at f/2.8. I really like how it handled the colours, the highlights and shadows. It’s quite sharp too.

After work, I took some evening shots on the way home:

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This camera is the perfect travel companion so I brought it during our recent trip to the Snowy Mountains and Victoria. Here are some of the shots that I took.

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I especially like the way it handled the backlit shots. I could not see any posterisation or nasty abrupt highlight clipping at all. The gradiation is very smooth. Note the absence of flare as well.

Let’s see how it does bokehlicious shots:

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It’s not a bird photographer’s wet dreams but for a casual snap I quite like it.

Overall, it’s a really nice camera. I dare say that if I were to travel for a few months and bring just one camera and one lens, I will seriously consider this over my full frame Nikon or any other camera. The 28-300mm f/2.8 is just too convenient to leave behind. The built in wifi allows me to remotely control the camera and transfer the photos directly to my iphone for easy sharing to social media. It is what a travel camera should be. Good thing that it’s small so I really don’t have to make that decision. I can bring it anytime anywhere together with my other bulky cameras. It’s a no-brainer.

The Stylus 1 isn’t perfect though. Autofocus starts to hunt in low light. Being an electronic zoom lens, it’s not precise. It’s just like any other P&S with jerky , “gappy” zoom movements. Other than that, I can’t fault this camera at all.

Would I recommend that you get one? At $699, you must think hard if you really need that big of a zoom range because this camera is quite sharp even at full zoom and wide open at f/2.8. For that price, you can get a decent m43 camera kit or even an entry level APS-C DSLR. Remember that there is no way you can get a 300mm f/2.8 lens, more so a zoom, at $700. That’s just not possible, at the moment, outside of the Stylus 1. I’m just very lucky to have gotten this camera for FREE.

Tempting? You decide.

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N00bism #1

In the next few blog posts I will try to cover some of the most common newbie mistakes that even a lot of experienced photographers fall into. I expect that not everyone will agree with my observations and opinions but I hope these posts will make you seriously think about what you are doing.

So numero uno (#1) in this list is ULTRA SHALLOW DEPTH OF FIELD.

Most newcomers to DSLR photography have this wild obsession on shallow depth-of- field. It’s quite understandable because point-and-shoot (P&S) cameras have very small sensors such that everything from the foreground to infinity are in focus all the time. They don’t want that anymore. Those everything-is-in-focus shots look very amateurish. They want their subjects to “pop” and look pro. It won’t be long before they learn new terminologies such as “bokeh” and “fast lens”, and start the endless craving for expensive, heavy, wide aperture telephotos.

Those who have the money are the first ones to post portrait shots where only the eyes are in focus, the nose blurry and the ears barely recognizable. Their 85/1.2 lens has made the human subject look like a puppy with ears folded back waiting for a good pat on the head. I mean, come on…why the heck did you even waste your time looking for a “nice location” for the photoshoot when the background in all your shots all look like a big blob of blurry mess?!!! You might as well cut and paste your subject into a pre-made wallpaper image. The conflicting ideas are just too funny: they want a nice location but aim to blur everything except the subject.

Look at how real pros do it. Watch them use the background to complement their subjects. Good backgrounds add context to the image. They shoot at f5.6 or f8 and some even shoot at f16. If they do have to shoot at f2.8 they would normally step all the way back to achieve enough DoF.

And it’s not just with portraiture. Macro n00bs do this as well. The lenses focus very close to their subjects and they shoot at 2.8 such that they can’t even get one eye in focus. Stop down to f16 or f22 for Pete’s sake.

I haven’t stressed this one enough but I have always thought that reliance on ultra shallow DoF is for those who can’t compose a shot.

I’m not saying that portrait shots with nice blurry background don’t look good. They do and that’s why everyone is doing it, n00bs included. Especially if you are an experienced photographer, if most, if not all, of your shots look like this then what’s separating you from all the newbies?

Think about it.

Stranded: a light and lens challenge

How many shots of a stranded boat can you make in 30 minutes?

This was the challenge for me today. I visited Scarborough with no real intention to shoot. I just strolled around trying to finish the roll of Kodak Gold 100 that I loaded in my Nikon FM3A two weeks ago. I also brought my Pentax K5 IIs just in case. It was still too early for a shoot when I arrived but the cloud formations looked like there was a potential for a burst of colours later when the sun sets. And so I went back to the spot where I shot a stranded boat before. That boat’s hull was leaking so there’s no way it’s going anywhere.

I arrived at the spot a bit early. The light was still ugly blue but nevertheless, I fired some test shots using my 10-20 lens. The clouds looked ok so I crouched low and took this frame:

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This is why you never shoot in bad light. It will suck no matter what you do. I was thinking that maybe later I can use the same angle when the sky turns red. I tried landscape orientation to compare:

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The low lying clouds have covered the sun so the light was flat. However, previous experience told me that this could result in sun rays if the clouds would break just a tiny bit. With my ultrawide angle lens, there was no way I’m going to capture both the boat and the sun in such a way that the sun would at least be large enough in the frame to be of significance. So I switched to my trusty, cheap Sigma 17-70mm.

How do you capture a big boat while at the same time make the sun appear larger in the frame? Lens compression. (If you do not understand how lens compression works, please read my article on “Understanding your lens”.) I stepped back about 30 meters away from the boat and zoomed in. By now, the sun was just above the mountains and well below the clouds:

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The shot above was taken at 70mm. At this zoom range, the boat could no longer fit in the frame. How I wish that the boat was turned about 45 degrees and not parallel to the horizon. Not only will the boat fit into the frame but the composition will look a lot better. Anyway, that’s beyond my control so I just shot whatever was available for me at that time. Here I thought that the sun was too bright for this backlit shot. I needed to make it smaller. So I walked towards to boat and shot wide at 17mm:

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So now I’ve got the sun much less intense, I’ve got light falling on the ripples in the sand and I’ve got reflections of the boat as well. But now I was desperate for a different angle. I walked towards the front of the boat for my 45-degree angle and noticed that there were houses and buildings in the background. That will ruin the concept of being stranded so I had to change my angle slightly. I saw the glasshouse mountains very far along the horizon and thought that they can be used as background and so I went for lens compression again but this time making sure that the whole boat fits in the frame. This was what I got after stepping back about 30 meters and zooming in to around 50mm:

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No sun this time but I have mountains for the background. Another advantage of this angle is that I don’t have blown highlights. The light is a bit flat though. Good thing that the clouds added a bit of drama otherwise the shot would have failed miserably. Compare this with the first photo. In the first photo you could barely see the mountains even if you squint. Lens compression does wonders.

Still determined to get the sun in my shot, I tried a weird composition. I positioned the boat to the left of the frame. Still zoomed in from a few meters got me this:

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Now I’ve got the sun plus light reflections on the mud puddle. Not bad, I thought so I tried shooting wider from the same position:

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I have deliberately placed the horizon on the upper thirds to avoid the bright sky that wasn’t covered by the clouds which would otherwise ruin the shot completely. This also allowed me to include more of the ground where rock silhouettes and water reflections add interestingness to the frame. I still find this composition a bit weird because the boat is facing away from the frame.

By now the sun has already dipped below the horizon. I wanted to shoot some more but something different. Who would have thought that mud would look this good?

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With that last shot I decided to call it a day.

A few very important lessons in this experience:

1. Not all landscape shots are wide. Medium telephoto and even telephoto lenses add variety to your shots. You need to understand lens compression to make full use of your (kit) lens.

2. Bad light is bad light.

3. Try backlit shots. They look good.

4. Zoom lenses do not make a lazy photographer. Those who say so are either ignorant or just masochist I-shoot-prime-only-because-they-are-megafast-and-ultra-bokeh pretenders.

There will be a next time…

Understanding Your Lens (Part 2)

This is the second installment of the Understanding Your Lens series of tutorials. If you have not read the  first part I suggest that you go through it otherwise this lesson will be a bit tricky to comprehend.

Part one discussed the effects of varying focal lengths in terms of lens compression; how a wide angle lens seem to make  the background more distant while a telephoto lens brings the background closer. This is a very important concept in understanding this next topic which is crop factor.

Technically, crop factor is not a feature of the lens but of the camera sensor. You are probably familiar with the different digital sensor formats. We have the full frame sensor which has the same size as a 35mm film frame, the APS-C sensor which is approximately 2/3 the size of a full frame and the 4/3rds format which is 1/2 the full frame size.

Full frame cameras include the Nikon D700/D800 and the Canon 5D series and most high end versions from both manufacturers. Sony also has full frame cameras, the A800 and A900. APS-C sensor cameras are the most common. Examples are the Nikon D300/D7000/D5000, Canon 7D/60D/600D, Sony A77/A65/A55 and Pentax K5/K30/K7. Then we have the 4/3rds format like the Olympus E-5/E-P3/OM-D and the Panasonic G/GF series.

Different sensor sizes generally require different types of lenses. In the case of Nikon we have FX for full frame and DX for APS-C. With Canon, EF lenses are for full frame and EF-S are for APS-C. A full frame lens will work with an APS-C sensor but not the other way around (although there are still exceptions).

A common source of confusion is in what photographers call the lens zoom factor. You have probably heard of a normal 50mm full frame lens becoming a mid telephoto (75mm) when attached to an APS-C sensor camera or why you should get a 35mm lens instead if you want a “normal” lens because your camera uses a crop sensor or how a 200mm lens magically becomes a 300mm.

What exactly is this zoom factor?

Zoom is used incorrectly in this context. The lens actually remains the same. A 50mm is still a 50mm no matter which type of sensor it is attached to. What this means is that the effects of lens compression does NOT change. The perceived distance between the foreground and the background remains the same for the same focal length. There is no zoom at all.

Let’s use the same (crappy) shot that I took in part one. This is a full frame shot of Thomas the tank engine:

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If the same scene is captured by the same focal length at the same distance to subject by a crop sensor camera, this is how it will look like:

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At first sight, it seems that you have magically zoomed in. Well not really. Have a closer look at the perceived distance between Thomas and the house. It is exactly the same. The same amount of lens compression is taking place. The “zoom” is purely an illusion. A fake zoom produced by the smaller sensor’s tighter field of view. The “zoom” is a side effect of the cropped sensor.

So again, zoom factor is a misnomer.

A common follow up question is, so which one is better, a full frame or a crop sensor camera?

There are advantages to using a crop sensor camera:

1. Lenses are sharpest at the center and gradually become softer around the edges. Crop sensors utliize only the center of the lens thus producing generally sharper images compared to full frame cameras.

2. Lenses designed for crop sensors are smaller because they only have to cover a smaller image circle.

3. For the same field of view and aperture, crop sensor lenses/cameras have greater depth of field. This is a huge advantage for landscape, low light and macro photography where focus is very important. For example, while a full frame camera might require f5.6 at ISO 6400 to shoot a concert while keeping all the band members in focus, a micro 4/3rds camera can shoot the same scene at f2.8 ISO 1600 thus producing much cleaner images. In macro photography, full frame cameras will stop down to f16 or f22 but a micro 4/3rds can shoot at f8 or f11 respectively for the same depth of field therefore gaining two stops of light advantage.

Of course there are disadvantages for using crop sensor lenses as well. If shallow depth of field is your thing, full frame is the way to go. Full frame cameras also offer bigger, brighter view finders which to me is very very important. Bigger sensors generally produce cleaner images at the same resolution because of the larger sensel dot pitch.

So let me summarize everything:

1. There is no such thing as zoom factor. It does not exist. It is purely an illusion.

2. A 50mm lens is a 50mm lens no matter which camera it is attached to. The same lens compression is produced. The perceived distance between foreground and background remains the same.

3. Full frame and crop sensor cameras have their own advantages and disadvantages. What matters is whether you understand the implications and whether you can fully utilize those in your photography.