Wednesday, March 18, 2015

More Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 - Deeper Down The Rabbit Hole

Previously, I wrote about my initial impression with the Olympus 40-150/2.8 PRO lens.  That encounter had some unique challenges, such as having to shoot through glass - but the positive side was that the lighting was great.  This write up will also encompass some of the new EM1 firmware update (3.0) as well.

The Arnold Fitness Expo was in town again March 6-8, so I made the call that I would shoot this years event with my Olympus gear.  I wanted to do this to once and for all satisfy my curiosity on just how well this Olympus gear would function in a high pressure, fast paced shooting environment.

The team sat down and we mapped out what we wanted to cover over the 3 days. 

With schedule in hand we showed up on day 1 bright and early to get a decent place in the media pit area of the main expo stage. Both the EM1 and EM5 worked extremely well with the 40-150/2.8 and various Olympus prime lenses (17/1.8 & 25/1.8) in the adequately lit stage.  We had no problems getting the images we wanted of the arm wrestling, bodybuilders and strongman competitors.  The EM1 had the latest 3.0 firmware installed and you can definitely tell a big difference in the C-AF capabilities of the camera.  The 40-150 was quick and sure and just nailed focus time after time.  We were able to shoot it at f/2.8 for the majority of the time and our ISO was floating between 200 and 640.

There were some instances where we were using C-AF, but most of the activities on stage S-AF was doing a stellar job.

Day 2 was met with venues in light less optimum than day 1.  Our first event covered was fencing.  A hotel ballroom area was converted into rooms with multiple stages for fencing matches.  In these rooms, fluorescent lights predominated and our ISO got pushed up a bit further.  Also, in some of these areas, the 40-150 was too tight of a field of view, so the primes were employed more.  There were instances where the 40-150 was utilized, but they were more supporting shots for the fencing story than the actual action shot.  Still, the 40-150 performed admirably, nailing focus again and again and with great speed.  So far, I'm not missing my Nikon setup.  All appears to be going well with the Olympus gear.  More C-AF was employed due to the erratic nature of the fencing subjects.

We also covered some some stage events on day 2, like MAS wrestling and some martial arts demonstrations.  Lighting was about the same as the ballrooms for fencing.   Performance was still there.

Day 3 takes us off the beaten path and onto the Ohio State Fairgrounds where the kids expo, cheer and dance, and equestrian events took place.

Not much more to be said about the coverage of the kids expo and the cheer and dance areas.  Lighting there was more like the main expo stage, adequate for our needs.  The cheer competitions have a lot more unpredictable movements, which caused me to work harder at keeping the C-AF locked onto a subject.  Single point C-AF did well, but I wasn't able to keep the subjects on that one point as well as I would have liked.  So, I started to employ the 9 point C-AF and started to get a lot more keepers.  The trick is, though, that the initial lock must be good.  I noticed that there were times that the initial lock on the 9 point AF box would not be on what I wanted.  I also tried C-AF with tracking, but it got lost in the sea of similar uniforms.  I noticed thought that the C-AF with tracking might be a good alternative for video as it can track a subject moving around the frame, allowing for smoother camera movements in all directions.

Where we seem to have hit a snag and found the limitations of the EM1 and the 40-150/2.8 was during the equestrian events.  The arena was indoors and lit by old sodium vapor lights.  Those lights were high up in the stadium ceiling and were bouncing off the thick arena dirt floor.  Needless to say, the color pallet was just horrible and muddy, with low contrast.  It made for a noticeable decline in AF speed and really taxed the C-AF tracking ability.  It did it's job and I can tell I still need some more trigger time learning how the EM1 tracks focus.  The real issue I had was needing to push the ISO up into the 5000 ISO range.  This is a situation where the larger sensor of the FX Nikons would probably have been a better fit for the shooting environment.

So bottom line, I only ran into one small snag and it as not something so monumental that I cannot be overcome.  The 40-150 showed that it is a definite work horse of a lens and up there with any of the other makers PRO line of lenses.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Things Change - There Are No Absolutes

A while back,  I wrote a about how we were going back to an all Nikon shop for work we shoot with our business.

As much as I like the Nikon gear,  how it performs and the quality it provides,  I did not take into account one small thing.   One's ability to actually use it.

Early November 2014, I had surgery to repair an injury to my arm.   After discussing the situation of work with my surgeon,  it would be quite a while before I would be able to use my right arm to hold a camera of the size and weight of the Nikon.

In theater,  the show must go on. .. and in business,  the clients that booked jobs with you don't just go away.

I needed to find a suitable kit to handle the workload I had before me, while still being able to do my photo shoots.

After much research,  the Olympus OMD serious cameras were employed to handle the work in place of the Nikon kit. The main reasons?   Image quality,  weight, handling and touch screen were at the top of the list. I mainly needed to support the gear with my left arm,  and then could use the touch screen to actuate the shutter with my right hand.

Since those early shoots,  I've found more and more reasons to use the Olympus gear. Will it completely replace my Nikon?   No,  as I find that they complement each other well and have very specific uses.

It was a bit short sighted of me to proclaim that I would shoot Nikon and Nikon only.   I forgot the true meaning of using the best tool for the job. That is not always one set of tools,  but could be more than one. There are many saws out there to cut wood and metal,  but as convenient as a circular saw might be,  it is not always the right saw.

So bottom line is this...I have to officially retract my statement of being a Nikon only shop and just go back to being a photo studio.   I have to remember that at the end of the day,  my clients don't care what gear I use,  so long as the images they receive are of the high quality they hired me for.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The New Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO Lens Revew

Looks like our work with the Olympus gear keeps increasing!

For those who may not be aware, I had one of my images taken with Olympus gear used in an email advertisement and that same image may potentially be used in print ad campaigns.  Given this, I had some talks with Olympus America (a great crew of people over there) and they gave me a great deal on the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens.

Out of all the zooms for Olympus, this is the one that I had most interest in using.  For the wider to medium focal lengths, the primes seem to fit the bill quite nicely.  

I have coverage of the Arnold Classic coming up soon and this year decided with the acquisition of the Olympus gear that I would try to shoot it Olympus only.

Last year I shot the Arnold with Nikon, using the 24 and 50 primes and the 80-200/2.8 zoom.  We knew we would need a fast longer zoom, so we started looking.  The 40-150/4-5.6 and 75-300/4.8-5.7 we already had would be too slow, so the 40-150/2.8 seemed like the perfect choice.

Here are some sample images that will show the sizes of different 135 lenses versus the m43 40-150/2.8 PRO.  Please forgive the crappy cellphone captures of the images.  :D

Left to right:
Tamron 70-300/4-5.6 VC, Olympus 40-150/2.8 PRO, Nikon 80-200/2.8D
No lens hoods
Tamron 70-300/4-5.6 extends when zoomed.  Olympus does not. The Tamron would not stay extended sitting in this position.
Tamron 70-300 and Olympus with the hood added on.
Before shooting any major events, I always like to test out new equipment.  So first outing, took the lens to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
Remember that I don't do charts and pixel peeping.  I review a lens based on what it is capable of providing me as an end result.  Keep that in mind when reading further.

Some notes:
I did not get the chance to shoot this lens with the newest firmware on the OM-D EM-1.  It was still version 2.2.  A lot of the habitats have glassed in viewing areas.  While better than fences in some instances, they tend to be very dirty and can degrade final image quality.

Image Quality
I can't really find a lot of fault with the IQ at any aperture or any focal length.  You have your normal IQ drop off at f/11 and above due to diffraction, but beyond that, I find it stellar.

The bokeh is also really nice and smooth.

I think you can see from the sample images above, that shot wide open and in the challenging conditions, this lens is fantastic in the IQ department.
Nanuq and Aurora flirting
1/1600, ISO 200, f/2.8 @ 46mm
First impression was that it feels an awful lot like shooting with the Nikon 80-200/2.8, but without the bulk.  

The zoom ring is smooth and dampened.  It is a little stiffer than the 80-200, which I am able to change the focal length with one finger.  The Olympus required a solid grip and turn, but you definitely will not move it accidentally.

The focus ring is smooth and moves from one point to the other very quickly.  I like the AF/MF clutch as well for those times when you want to quickly switch over to MF.  No menu diving and you get the added bonus of snap focusing.  For those curious, the MF ring does have hard stops at either end.

Mexican Wolves playing in the snow
1/2000, ISO 200, f/2.8 @ 64mm
Tripod Ring
The tripod ring is convenient as it can be removed if you don't need it.  What I like is the ability to rotate the ring all the way around the  lens, so you can get it out of the way when you are shooting with it handheld.  It also feels very stable, so should be solid when used on tripods.

Aurora the polar bear
1/1600, ISO 200, f/2.8 @ 150mm
Compared to other m43 lenses, this one is on the heavy side.  Compared to an APS-C or 135 equivalent f/2.8 lens, it is down right small and light.

Humbolt Penguins
1/1250, ISO 200, f/2.8 @ 82mm (cropped)
Auto Focus Speed
Single point AF is lightning fast in all but the poorest of light.  Even in poor light, though it is slow, but tends to hit the mark.  There is some hunting, but only when the lighting is so dark it is hard to see your target with the naked eye.
Continuous AF worked much better than expected, even given shooting through glass, which was our first shooting experience.  With the EM1 firmware at 2.2, a DSLR is still going to out focus it.  Once we get a chance to run it with the 3.0 firmware, we will let you know if there is a definite difference and what those differences are.

As it stands, the AF is so good and quick that you can hit most sport shots with just that.  CF was used without the tracking option and it was adequate for use in non-mission critical uses(again, with the 2.2 firmware).  There were some missed sequences, but given the shooting conditions, I'm not sure if the misses were the lens, my lack of experience using the m43 C-AF systems or the dirty glass I was shooting through.  If there is any deficiency that we find we will report it.

AF capable of keeping up with these running Mexican Wolves
1/3200, f/2.8, ISO 800 @ 150mm(heavily cropped as well)
Lens Hood
I like the fact that the lens hood can be retracted with a twist of the ring.  It stays locked in the deployed position until you use the ring.  I wish it did the same when retracted.  There were times just pulling the lens out of the bag that the hood would deploy.  That is just me being nitpicky, though.

So far, just from this one day of shooting and seeing the results, I am sold on the capability of this lens.  It is sharp, handles well, everything is in a great place and the AF performance is top notch.  I'm not sure if Olympus could have made a better lens.