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A new present for the dinosaur

Sometimes trying out a new toy adds a bit of incentive to go out with the camera, and this weekend was rather exciting in that it marked the arrival of a “new-to-me” Zuiko 11-22 lens in absolutely unmarked mint condition.  After using it for a day I can already see why some people weld it to the front of their E-1s – hardly any distortion for a comparatively wide angle lens (and no software trickery to get that result either), excellent image quality (especially when stopped down a bit, as with most lenses) and lovely colours.  It just feels so nicely-made too.  So far it’s only been on a couple of dog walks so here are a few quick snaps from my local area – Dulwich and Herne Hill in SE London.  I’m looking forward to putting in some work to use it properly soon.

The telephone box above is outside Dulwich Picture Gallery (there is a reason why) and here is the phone inside – not so different from the one we had at home when I grew up in the ’70s (my parents didn’t like the new “trimphones”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd here is the back of Dulwich Picture Gallery – the oldest public art gallery in the country, with a lovely collection.  The building that is sticking out is a mausoleum that the gallery architect Sir John Soane designed for the original owners of the collection.  Look closely at the roof of the mausoleum, and imagine it without the urns:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the 1920’s the Royal Fine Art Commission launched a competition to design the British telephone box, and this was won by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who happened to be Sir John Soane’s nephew, was a trustee of his museum, and was influenced by the roof of the mausoleum at the gallery (also replicated at Sir John Soane’s tomb, which can be visited at St Pancras Church in London) – so next time you see the iconic British telephone box, you know where part of the design originated from.  The museum is opposite the rather grand victorian Dulwich Park – here’s an image from the walk through there; unfortunately the park is full of additional fencing protecting various bits of new turf at the moment – not great with a very wide angle lens!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd a couple more grabbed shots from my walk home – it was such a lovely day yesterday.  If you’re out in the middle of the day in harsh light perhaps sometimes it’s best to try and make the most of the shadows?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe E-1 really does colour:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s been years since I used the 18-180 but that one came out to play this weekend too – here’s what we saw in the little park at the bottom of our road – not exactly an obvious lens to use with the non image-stabilised E-1 but not too shabby:

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s hoping for some more spring weather – I could get used to this….

Jon

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Sometime you can’t avoid flower shots

It’s a cliche but after months of England’s grey season, the flowers and blossoms beg to be noticed and it’s been fabulous to get some warm weather and blue skies over the past few days too.  These blossoms are from trees on our road in SE London, and generally only last a few days until the next load of wind and rain – forecast for tomorrow, which makes sense because it’ll be the weekend!  Another occasion when I can’t decide whether things look better in colour or monochrome: the E-1 is renowned for its colour, but you can get some great black and white images from it too, and I rather like the high key version below.  I think it has a slightly oriental look, which feels quite appropriate for a cherry blossom:

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Cheers,

Jon

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Never done this before!

On my way home after a visit to my parents, and I’ve just been processing raws to JPEGs in camera, and then using the image app supplied with the D Lux to load on to my iPad – and here’s the proof…so far removed from waiting for film to be developed and returned in my youth….

I enjoyed some nice weather in the North West yesterday, and the trees are still almost skeletal up there – leaves are yet to come – which I think makes them more interesting.  I’m also enjoying the 1:1 aspect ratio – the antithesis of the modern widescreen and panoramic view.

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imageIt was nice to see some blossom – everything here is a couple of weeks behind London where I live – when I get home later I expect most of our blossom will be well past its best:

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Cheers,

Jon

PS – having now seen these on my screen at home I don’t think I’d make a habit of processing from raw to JPEG in camera – they’ve turned out more vibrant and contrasty than I expected, which hasn’t done the gentle scenes I saw in reality any favours.  Lesson learned…..

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I hate Mondays…..

All thrilled to be on the way to work on the Bakerloo Line this morning!

A quick snap using my PanaLeica LX100/D Lux which goes with me most places unless I want to take an interchangeable lens camera.  My version is the D Lux which I figured was worth an extra £25 over the Panasonic. It’s as close as I’m ever going to get to owning a Leica and I think it’s only right to post some monochrome images from it.  It’s a shame I was squashed by the window on the tube – if I’d been on the other half of my seat the framing of this image would have been better (no hand pole) but it was still a fun short distraction on the way to work.

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Spring colour and cold nights

A nice dog-walk in Brockwell Park near home this morning (SE London).

I took advantage of the mild weather and blue skies whilst they were there – the weekend doesn’t look so good sadly.  I think both of these images are helped by the fact that the trees aren’t in leaf yet – especially the first.  They’re both from the X100 (original) with TCL – 50mm equivalent focal length.

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I also listened to a TWiP podcast with Valerie Jardin this afternoon, extolling the virtues of gear avoidance syndrome and wandering around with one camera, one lens (prime), and pushing yourself to make the most of it. I suspect the results are all the better for making you think that bit harder.  In some ways, I think I get that kind of discipline with my E-1 – in that instance I know I only have 5MP to play with, so I work hard to get the framing right first time because I really don’t have much ability to crop afterwards.

The Photographers Block--13I’m also often surprised when I see (and hear) people “run and gun” with continuous shooting, presumably hoping that at least one of their images will turn out as they hoped.  I can understand it for sports or some wildlife photography and it can be quite helpful with very long lenses.  But the discipline of making one image at a time, slowing down, being careful with framing and pressing the shutter when you’re ready appeals so much more.  However, here’s an image which does come from a burst of a few frames – it really increases the success rate when at the longest end of my Lumix 100-300 zoom.  It’s going to be a cold night tonight….

The Photographers Block--11Have a good weekend!

Jon

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South Bank snapshots

I planned a couple of hours out to go to Borough Market near London Bridge today and then found my daughter was able to join me too.  An opportunity not to be missed, but the photography took a back seat not least because she finds it embarrassing (well at least unless it’s her taking snaps with her ‘phone).  Still, I managed to sneak a few in when I think she wasn’t looking, mostly between Borough Market and Blackfriars.  Once again, I reached for the E-1 today (aka digital dinosaur) – the weather was decidedly changeable which made it an obvious choice, but it also just seems to fit with me at the moment – I think I may be feeling old as I head towards a “significant” birthday later this year……

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I wish I could go with a shopping list to Borough Market…. but it would bankrupt most of us!  Going to have to stick with Sainsbury’s although I did come back with rather more cheese than I’d planned.

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It’s been a while since I set foot in the Tate Modern, and once again the space and scale of the building ended up being more interesting to me than some of the art that was on display.  This huge piece by Frank Tuttle was eye-catching and astonishing because of its sheer size.  The warm colours of the Indian fabric were lovely too.  It certainly filled this end of the turbine hall.  But I’m not sure I have an awful lot more to say about it…

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And actually the size of the turbine hall is almost more impressive when it’s nearly empty.  I must admit I think the E-1 with its ancient sensor did a pretty good job here – the dynamic range is quite impressive and the noise isn’t too bad as long as you stick to base ISO:

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These guys are South Bank fixtures and often found around Blackfriars/Waterloo.  I rather like the fact that this really doesn’t look anything like Central London, and somehow they seemed to be enjoying themselves a little more from their new temporary busking ground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACheers,

Jon

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A rose, times two

A couple of dog-walk photos from our local park last weekend.  I can’t decide which one I prefer.

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The colour version probably has the better (or at least more conventional) composition, but the imperfections on the leaves draw my attention from the flower.  The monochrome version (below) appeals to me more because it draws attention to the bloom – even though it doesn’t adhere to the rule of thirds.  Well, we know what they say about rules….

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Both courtesy of Olympus E-1.

Cheers,

Jon

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Adriaan Van Heerden

If you’re interested in some occasionally quirky and often beautiful award winning landscape and wildlife photography, check out my friend Adriaan’s site.  Unlike me, he has successfully extracted himself from health service bureaucracy and followed his dream and passion – I think we’ll hear more about him:

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Landscape Photography Magazine

Link to free issue of LPM….

I don’t generally buy photography magazines any more.

At least in the UK they seem to go through the same annual cycle: something about black and white photography, a wedding special, an article about why you should always use ND filters to turn water into milk in a cliche long exposure, and a load of reviews of gear I can’t afford that aren’t as informative as the best sites on the web in any case.  Add into the mix a load of over-saturated and over-sharpened images, and I’ve decided that with a few notable exceptions ( eg occasional issues of the BJP), I have better things to do with my money.

That said, I suspect there are quite a few electronic magazines out there which I’ve never seen, and there are some great articles in the free downloadable annual edition of Landscape Photography Magazine.  The focus is definitely more on the photography and less on the gear, which is rare and welcome, and I’d highly recommend a look.  Link here:

http://r.a.d.mailin.fr/19gqqo9p5pkzd.html

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The digital dinosaur (part ii)

I’m not sure there is such a thing as a “classic” digital camera – resale values certainly seem to suggest otherwise for all but a few exceptions generally sold by a well-known German manufacturer.  But the Olympus E-1 which began the Four Thirds system must surely come close.  I remember the first time I handled an Olympus E-1 in 2007.  Many fans of the camera probably still do.  OK, it’s not quite a “where were you when…” moment, but not so far off for me in terms of photographic kit.

After dipping a toe in the waters of digicams with an Olympus Camedia 3MP camera (which I recall was surprisingly capable at smaller print sizes), I had rekindled a photography interest after a lull since my student days, but the results simply weren’t up to what I was used to from film.  The E-1, dating back to 2003, had become quite a venerable old beast by the time I could afford one – with the last few “SE” kits including the less than stellar 14-45 3.5/5.6 lens selling for less than £300; a small proportion of the original cost of a camera that had been aimed much more at the professional end of the market, rather than the entry level 6MP plastic dSLRs it was now matched against.

I was hooked within moments, and although I’ve tried to wean myself off the E-1 on more than one occasion since, I’m afraid I’ve failed miserably – one look through the old photographs on my computer has been enough to send me back to EBay to atone from my sin of ever being so daft as to sell one in the first place!  It’s as close as I’m ever going to get to understand what it must be like to give up smoking.

Eight years on and after owning more “capable” gear, the E-1 is the only dSLR I’ve still got.  My most recent example is in mint condition with only around 3,000 shutter releases from new – an absolute bargain for around £100.  It pairs very nicely with the 14-54ii f2.8/3.5 lens I already had, as well as a mark i Olympus 40-150 f3.5/4.5 purchased in great condition for the princely sum of £50.

By now, if you’re still with me, you’ll get the picture that this isn’t going to be a terribly balanced viewpoint of the camera – and I realise it’s sort of the digital photographic equivalent of driving something like a Morgan – but I’m hoping that this camera is going to last at least another eight years, and then some….

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Perhaps it would be a good idea to get some of the negatives out of the way first…. The E-1 is certainly no speed-demon, and you have to wait a while for it to wake up after you switch it on.  It’s a noise-box too, and best kept below ISO, erm, around 400 – perhaps 800 at a pinch if you’re feeling lucky.  Oh, and don’t expect to spend much time chimping on the rear screen – it’s tiny (1.8″) and useless for anything other than confirming the framing of the image you’ve just made.  You can only zoom in 4X so it’s hopeless for checking focus, and the brightness and colours are only a vague approximation of what your image will look like when you upload to your computer.  Better to just ignore it and trust the camera…. Talking of focus, this camera is best for people who like to use the central focus point, focus and recompose.  You do have a choice of three whole AF points, but barely worth the bother.  And although it struggles to do so in low light, this camera is really best for autofocus only – the viewfinder is not great for manual focus lenses, and you’d notice the difference compared to APSC or modern mirrorless cameras.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou’ll find a lot of reviews of the E-1 tend to get the negatives out of the way first.  Because despite all of them, it’s a wonderfully fun camera to use, and the results can so often far outperform your expectations from a sensor which is out-resolved by the average mobile ‘phone nowadays.  So, what’s good?

The build and handling

This is like making photographs with a Rolex!  The size, weight (some heft but not too heavy) and shape are perfect.  The build quality is outstanding – better than any other camera I have used, although if you imagine something like a scaled-down Pentax 645Z you’d get the idea – and the thing feels bomb-proof.  The top LCD is nicely angled towards the photographer, the chunky rubberised grip is perfect.  Nice latches keep the waterproof doors for the memory card and battery compartments firmly closed.

There are dedicated buttons for just about everything too – they’re spread around a bit, but easy enough to get the hang of. It’s easy to see your settings from the top LCD and (thankfully given the awfulness of the rear screen) I honestly can’t remember the last time I used the menu system to do anything other than format the memory card.

In short, I know that a lot of Olympus users really wish that they’d updated this body rather than move towards the rather larger E3/5 – ironic that when Olympus were touting the benefits of using a slightly smaller sensor, Pentax were managing to cram their Shake Reduction and APSC sensor into the smaller K-7/5 body – I often thought that camera was a closer spiritual successor to the E-1 than anything Olympus made, at least until the EM-1 more recently.

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The shutter

Until the most recent mirrorless cameras with their electronic shutters, the E-1 simply had the quietest and best damped shutter of any system camera I’ve used – it works with such audible precision and contributes to the feeling that you are using a proper camera, rather than a clever miniature computer that is capable of taking great photographs.

The sensor

At the lowest ISOs, the colours, tones and dynamic range from this old Kodak CCD sensor are superb.  Ever had a camera that regularly blew the red channel?  You’d have to try pretty hard to do that with the E-1.  And compared to any of my more recent cameras, the ISO100 images from this camera simply look more natural, less “digital”.  There’s a slight grain even at ISO100, but actually that gives the images a slightly more filmic quality, and to be honest sometimes a bit of texture can give an impression of sharpness and resolution that is rather lacking with a 5MP sensor.  The camera is also wonderful for skin tones and portraits; alongside the quiet shutter and fabulous top-grade lenses that Olympus made, it is hardly a wonder that the E-1 was a favourite of many a wedding photographer.

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Post processing

After taking the E-1 out for a couple of spins this weekend, the other thing I’ve realised is that these files need hardly any work when they come out of the camera.  Modern software has actually given the E-1 a new lease of life with better noise processing and improved sharpening algorithms but what was interesting last night when I played on the computer was that time after time, if I checked what it would do with “Auto Colour”, OnOne made no changes at all – it simply couldn’t improve on what had already come out of the camera.  Lightroom made it worse.  Quite simply, I spend less time to get better results from the E-1 than any of my other cameras.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the way, all of these images – and the ones posted in the part i post yesterday – were made with the lowly 40-150 lens: a very respectable performer but not one that is going to really show the maximum capabilities of the camera.

So, in conclusion, this venerable camera is completely outclassed by anything you can buy today.  Yet somehow I still return to it on a regular basis – there is a quality to the images I get from it that is unmatched by my other cameras, and it is simply far more enjoyable to use.  With no “modes” or “art effects” its appeal is probably restricted to those of us who grew up with manual and semi-automatic film cameras.  And It’s certainly not an obvious choice for rapid action sports or wildlife photography (especially the latter when you only have 5MP to play with and really want to preserve them at all costs).  But it is wonderful in many other situations, and with the right processing it’s perfectly possible to get decent sized (up to A3) prints out of it; I have one in my kitchen which is placed next to a similar-sized print from a 14MP camera; they compare very favourably.  If you see a good one, I’d urge you to give it a go – you might just remember exactly when you first picked it up…

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By the way, don’t just take my word for it!  Check out the links below:

Revisiting the past: the 2003 Olympus E-1

http://robinwong.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/olympus-e-1-taking-step-back-in-time.html

Cheers,

Jon