Looking Back…

As we approach the end of 2018, I’ve been looking back over my photography and also picked a few of my favourite photos from this year.

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Perch Rock – E-M1ii & 12-40mm

I started the year with a couple of Olympus cameras – a Pen-F, and an OMD E-M1ii – both excellent cameras with amazing features.  The E-M1ii was probably the best-handling camera I’ve ever used, and the arsenal of lenses I had acquired over the previous year or so were all excellent. Despite this, somehow the results I was getting didn’t really make me happy.  I tried every which way to get the result I wanted, but there was always something that didn’t quite work for me.

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Loch Lomond – E-M1ii & 12-100mm

I’d tried a Sony A7Rii previously, and although I liked the image quality, I just wasn’t sure about going back to a full frame camera with it’s bigger lenses etc;  one of the things that attracted me to the Olympus had been it’s compact size and much lighter weight. When the new A7iii came out with it’s superb image quality and better handling, auto focus, viewfinder and battery life than the ‘old’ models, a change was inevitable… I realised that convenience was never going to be a match for image quality.

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Ramshaw Rocks – Sony A7iii & 16-35mm

Rather than risk the uncertainties of eBay, I sold all my Olympus gear to mpb.com – not the absolute best prices, but fair enough, and of course a risk free and speedy transaction. This bought me an A7iii body and a couple of decent prime lenses, to which I’ve added the superb 24-105mm ‘everyday’ zoom, and the super wide 16-35mm f4 Zeiss lens. I’m certainly happy with what this camera can do – the RAW files are truly amazing, and there is no significant image degradation even with fairly heavy post-processing. (By contrast, the Olympus files would ‘break up’ under even modest processing, with nasty artefacts and excessive noise.) No such problem with the Sony camera.

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Double Trouble – Sony A7iii & 55mm

To be fair, I haven’t used the camera to it’s full potential – in fact I haven’t used it a lot as yet, but every photo I have taken with it so far has exceeded my expectations. The images (especially those taken with the prime lenses) are razor sharp, and the massive 15 stop dynamic range means that shadows can be recovered in post-processing without creating excessive noise. So much so that I think I’ve only once needed to use my graduated filters – I’m seriously thinking of abandoning them altogether, which is a fair weight saving when walking.

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Lichfield Cathedral – Sony A6300 & 20mm

I did dally with a Sony A6300 for a while – I figured it would give me an additional more portable option than the A7 kit, and at a pinch would do as a backup body, but it just complicated matters.  The image quality, although great, just wasn’t quite as good, and I found myself always wondering which camera to take when I went out, so in the end let it go. Too many complications! Just having one ‘proper’ camera makes life much simpler…

With the improvements over the last few years in the cameras in smartphones, they are at last a viable alternative to a dedicated camera for everyday use (holidays, walking, family occasions etc). So when the A6300 kit went, I got myself a new iPhone XR, and haven’t looked back – for social media posts and general family photos it’s plenty good enough, and of course it’s with me all the time. I’ve just acquired a wide angle lens for it, and that opens up more photo options. Telephoto lens next maybe?

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Plas Power Woods, Wrexham – Sony A7iii & 24-105mm 

So what does 2019 have in store?  Well, I’m certainly planning to get out more with my Sony camera – I’ve already booked to go on a couple of one-day events – not so much photo workshops as ‘opportunity days’ – the chance to shoot subjects that wouldn’t otherwise be as easy to access.  I’ve realised that I don’t really get much from traditional group photo workshops; they tend to be quite expensive, and with up to 12-14 attendees it can be rather limiting – all standing in line to take the same shot. So I’ll mostly be going it alone…

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Peatswood – iPhone XR & Moment w/a lens

I’m also super-excited about using my smartphone for ‘off the cuff’ photography – there are so many photo opportunities in everyday life, and having a half-decent camera with you all the time is definitely the way to go.  This photo was taken on my iPhone while on a family walk, and entirely processed using Lightroom Mobile & Snapseed on the phone itself.   It obviously takes longer to ‘process’ a RAW image from the phone than it does to use the standard JPG file that phones capture by default, but it really does open up some interesting possibilities.

I don’t think I will ever give up having a ‘real’ camera, but who knows!

Pen-F does Keystone Compensation

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Image without correction – note how the room is distorted

Funny isn’t it, how our brain interprets what we see, but a photograph needs some help? When we look upwards at a tall building, the top is further away than the bottom, so appears smaller, but our brain compensates for this, and it all looks ok.  Take a photo of the same scene, with the camera tilted upwards, and in the 2D view we see, the building looks like it is toppling backwards – our brain only sees what is in the photo, not what it ‘wants’ to see.  This is called ‘keystoning’ and even a slight camera angle will show this effect. It’s the same in the horizontal plane too if we take a photo where the right or left of the scene is further away than the other. It’s even more ‘odd’ if the camera is pointing slightly downwards, as shown in this example.

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Image corrected but not cropped

Photo processing software like Lightroom has a tool for ‘correcting’ this keystone effect – it ‘bends’ the image so the verticals appear upright, and all looks natural again. It works pretty well, but you then need to ‘crop’ or trim the image to remove the white space at the corners, and so you lose some of what you photographed at the extreme edges. Specialist lenses have been available for years that can deal with this effect in camera, but they are hugely expensive, and pretty tricky to use.

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Image corrected and cropped in Lightroom

Enter the Pen-F with its ‘keystone compensation’ feature.  Activate this, and you can actually then do the compensation when you take the photo, so ‘what you see is what you get’ afterwards. Hold the camera to get the angle and composition you want, and twiddle the rear control knob until the verticals line up, and press the shutter button.  It takes a second or so to process, but then ‘voila’ – there is the corrected image on the screen. Its a bit easier to do if the camera is on a tripod as you can more readily make fine adjustments, and the camera only produces a keystone-corrected JPG image rather than RAW file.

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JPG image corrected in camera, with minor adjustments in Lightroom

So maybe the image quality isn’t as good as shooting an uncorrected RAW file and correcting it afterwards in Lightroom, but if space is tight, you don’t want to risk losing a critical bit of the photo when processing. Going back and shooting the shot again isn’t always an option. Also, the time saved can be better used to make some final ‘tweaks’ or adjustments to enhance the image.

For shooting architecture etc, this is a ‘killer’ feature, and currently unique to the Olympus OM-D and Pen-F cameras.