Some of my favorite pictures we’ve taken so far (image samples/lens reviews)

Written by: Grant

For this week, I wanted to spend a bit of time looking back over the last couple years, and put together a collection of my favorite pictures we’ve taken. I deal enough with data analysis, numbers, and graphs at work, so I don’t find myself overly interested in taking that sort of approach here. Instead, I’d prefer to share some of my experiences and thoughts on each lens, along with some of my favorite images that we’ve taken with each.

The first thing that stood out, is that early on, when we were using auto mode, and letting the camera decide on all of the settings, is that the camera often did a pretty poor job of choosing settings… Pictures at f/9-f/11, with very fast shutter speeds, which needed the camera to be bumped up to ISO 2500-5000 for an alarmingly high number of photos… It was a transitional period getting used to the rest of the camera and pick up on some of the basics, and it wasn’t all bad, sometimes it happened to choose quite well! It was nice to go back through and see a much smaller Bashi, and how much better at some of this stuff we’ve gotten. I do need to apologize in advance though, there’s going to be a lot of Penny… Click on the pictures in the galleries to see them larger.

Olympus 14-42 f3.5-5.6 EZ

The kit lens is what lived on the camera almost all the time for quite awhile, but has been on there very rarely since we acquired a few more lenses. The lens is super compact, which is the biggest things it’s got going for it, but it actually can take some excellent and rather sharp images too, as long as you have enough light to make up for the slow aperture. I can’t say I like the electronic zoom, and its often a bit slow to autofocus, but this is a reasonable price to pay for the compactness of the lens. It really is a nice match for the small Olympus camera, and is great for keeping things light and simple (it deserves more use than I give it).

Olympus 40-150mm f4-5.6

The second lens we got initially with the camera, it might not be an amazing lens, but it *is* cheap, and covers a nice telephoto range. It is small and compact, and actually can be fairly sharp. It hasn’t really ever been used all that much, and that probably isn’t going to change, but we have gotten a few nice pictures with it.

Rokinon 12mm f2

One of the two lenses we picked up in ‘wave 2’, a fast wide angle lens that came used, and cheap. It’s all manual, but focusing is very easy at this focal length. This lens really hasn’t seen much use either, as I’ve so far found myself far more interested in telephoto lenses to wide angle ones, but it is nice to have on hand just in case.

Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4

The other half of our second wave of lenses, also picked up used, from a wonderful local used photography store we have in Columbus. I went in hoping to find the Panasonic 25mm f1.7 because its cheaper and a bit more compact and came well reviewed. I got all the way out to the car after buying just the Rokinon before I talked myself into just spending a bit more money and going for it, so I went back in and picked up the fast prime lens. As soon as we got home and put this lens on the camera, I knew I made the right choice.

This. Lens. Is. Awesome.

One of my personal favorites

We were fortunate to have a weird foggy morning right after we picked up the lens, and these were some of the first pictures I took with the camera. The difference between the maximum f3.5 of the kit lens to the f1.4 of this lens absolutely blew me away, and it focus very quickly also. Most of all, I love how crisp and in-focus Bash is, while Kristen and Luka are nicely blurred (this is still very high on my favorites list, and that was an excellent morning for backyard photography).

We had taken some nice pictures with the kit lens, but the experience I have had using this lens, the colors, the ability to make the subject pop out of the background, and the sharpness, it really made me feel like what I was using was some pretty high end camera gear, and that I was actually taking some nice photos, beyond just something to share with family.

One of the big strengths of the micro 4/3 cameras, is the number of lens options you have at most focal lengths (except for long telephoto primes, but we won’t get into that), due to having both Olympus and Panasonic having put out full lens lineups that are fully compatible with each other (except for making lens + camera stabilization team up and work in tandem). Just for the 25mm focal length, assuming you want autofocus, you can choose from the Olympus f1.2 or f1.8, or the Panasonic f1.4 or f1.7. I’ve read wonderful things about the Olympus f1.2 lenses, but I’ve been quite happy with the Panasonic f1.4, which is substantially smaller (and cheaper).

Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8

This is Panasonic’s equivalent of a typical 70-200mm f2.8 full frame zoom lens. I may have said some excellent things about the 25mm lens above, but this lens is the best one we own, and it’s really not much of a contest. Unless I am going to be strictly indoors or in very low light, and I only want to take one lens, I wouldn’t think twice before putting this lens on the camera. The f2.8 aperture at both ends of the zoom (a very versatile and useful focal range) is wonderful for keeping the ISO down. This lens is light and compact (for what it is), it’s zoom mechanism is all internal so it doesn’t get any longer even when you’re all the way zoomed in, plus it is weather sealed and has built in image stabilization (which we kept turned off with the Olympus to let the camera do the work, but with the Panasonic G9, they work together). I honestly don’t see any downsides to this lens, other than that f2.8 on a crop sensor isn’t going to give you all that narrow a depth of field, so if you want a ton of super blurry backgrounds, you’ll want a faster prime in this range (coming up), or maybe you would be happier with a larger sensor camera.

Panasonic 100-400mm f4-6.3

This lens is big, it was expensive, and it’s a bit silly, but it also is what makes the micro4/3 camera 100% worth it for me. It covers the 200-800mm full frame focal range in something that I only think is big or expensive because I’m not actually dealing with full frame lenses. Its nowhere near the aperture of the 35-100, so you need to have a fair bit of light, and while its very sharp at 100mm, I can definitely tell it suffers a bit and is softer zoomed all the way in to 400mm. I can’t zoom in with lightroom and clearly see each strand of fur on Luka or Penny like I can with the 25 or 35-100, but its still pretty good (occasionally very good),

and considering that I’m shooting with an 800mm equivalent focal length lens, and its no big deal to carry around, I’m completely ok with that.

Voigtlander 42.5mm f0.95

Last but not least, or most recent lens is an all manual, exceptionally fast 85mm equivalent lens. This focal length is of course already covered by the excellent 35-100, but I did want a faster prime in the 85mm-ish focal range. The 3 lenses I considered were the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.2 Nocticron (which has a fun name and a cult following), the Olympus 45mm f1.2, or the Voigtlander. The Panasonic has been around longer and is regarded as one of the best lenses available, and the Olympus PRO lenses are by all accounts phenomenal pieces of glass, but there were a few reasons I opted for the Voigtlander…

  1. It was cheaper, especially second hand how I picked it up
  2. It has a faster aperture, this is a focal range I already have covered with the 35-100, so might as well go for the fastest one available
  3. Minimum focus distance. The Voigtlander has a much closer minimum focusing distance than the other options, making it excellent for close-up photography (and keeping me from thinking I need a macro lens)
  4. Manual focus. This feels out of place, but I did want to experiment more with manual focus, and I generally assume that a lens designed to be focused manually will tend to have better control and feel than an autofocus lens

Despite being a redundant focal length, the Voigtlander seemed to offer me the most upsides for me, and do the most to make up for some of the inherent shortcomings of the small sensor with the fast aperture with the narrower depth of field and letting me keep to a lower ISO in low light. It’s easy to just head out with the 35-100 and know that I’ll be well equipped for most things I might want to take a picture of, but sometimes that feels a little bit too easy. Occasionally it is nice to just toss the manual lens on and be forced to slow down a little, and work a bit more to get the shot. Some of them get away because I can’t keep up with the focus, but I find I enjoy the ones that I nail a bit more, either because of some character of the lens, or the shallower depth of field, or because I feel like I was more involved in taking the picture (while the 35-100mm is absolutely our best lens, this one might be my favorite).

How I Decided on Which Camera to Buy(….or The Post You Thought You Were Getting Last Time I Wrote a Post. )

Written By: Grant

A couple years ago, when I asked Kristen if there was anything specific that she wanted, brand or feature-wise, in her ‘fancy camera’, her response was along the lines of “no, get whatever you think is best, you always manage to find great things when it comes to technology”.(Editor’s Note: Its true, because I can be very impatient and Grant is a research wizard.) My first consideration, which I treated as a ‘baseline’, was a Canon Rebel kit that would inevitably be available at Costco. It hits the high points of being reasonably priced, looking the part of a proper DSLR, and, presumably, backing up the performance as its a Canon, and everyone knows Canon. It’s an option, and, probably not a terrible one, I’m sure there are thousands of people with that exact setup and it probably works just fine for them. However, as a bit of a technophile, and someone who doesn’t like throwing money at something without some research and making sure I know what I’m getting into, I couldn’t just stop at that.

I personally like to do a bit of reading up on a subject and collect opinions from a few different sources, preferably none of which who have any stake or interest in me purchasing anything today, tomorrow, or ever; I like to read some information and thoughts/opinions from one source, mull over it in my head, and find another source and see what common themes I find. This is not to say that I don’t like a good brick and mortar store, there are actually a couple different excellent photography stores in Columbus that I really like, but I don’t want to go into somewhere without a pretty good idea of what I’m interested in (at least in terms of features, of not a specific product).

My search began with looking for what some of the best, and best value cameras of the time were. As it turns out, cameras are expensive, so the focus quickly turned to the value end of that searching. One topic that came up was what the best type of camera was, I went in assuming that we wanted a DSLR, but then I read about a ‘mirrorless’ camera, which seemed at the time to not necessarily be “better” than a DSLR, but maybe co-equal with some advantages and disadvantages such as generally being more compact but generally having worse battery life and many electronic viewfinders being worse than their optical equivalents, but importantly using the same sensor, so image quality would be equivalent. Somewhere along the way, I also ran into the quote that “the best camera, is the one you have with you”, which really spoke to me, remembering the giant DSLRs I’d seen hanging around the necks of tourists and enthusiasts. With that in mind, the search for a good mirrorless camera was underway. The one that really jumped out at me was the Olympus OMD E-M10 mark ii, it seemed like Olympus had a different approach than some of the other brands. Instead of offering an entry level camera stripped of most of its features to get you into the door, waiting for you to be ready to upgrade, it seemed like Olympus (focusing on their OMD line, as it looked more the proper SLR or single lens reflex style and having a pretty good EVF or electronic view finder) basically offered 3 cameras, and included some nice features even in the cheapest of them, like in-camera image stabilization, then added weather sealing to the same sensor for the mid camera, and kept a superior higher-resolution sensor for the flagship camera. Instead of an entry level/intermediate/flagship arrangement, it seemed like Olympus just cut out the entry level part, and made the intermediate camera affordable. Other benefits were that Olympus seemed to be well respected for their JPEG engine for those unsure of or afraid of ‘RAW’ files (or just not wanting to have to deal with them), also because of using whatever the micro 4/3 lens mount is (more on this later), it’s a more compact option than most other cameras. On top of all of that, having some solid vintage styling was not a strong deciding factor, but a nice bonus nonetheless, and one got ordered promptly, even springing for the more expensive pancake version of the kit lens to double down on the compact theme, plus the available and cheap (great value!) telephoto zoom lens to have another option.

I was then able to inform Kristen that her “surprise” birthday present had been ordered, and that she could even receive it a few months early if she wanted. Kristen says she likes surprises, but what she likes even more than surprises is instant gratification, so she was quite eager to know just what I had decided on and gotten. Cleverly, the only hint I gave her was that the brand contained an ‘O’ in the name. On a side-note, its surprising how many camera brands have an ‘O’ in their name…. Olympus, Panasonic, Sony, Canon, Nikon, Kodak… Basically it eliminated Fuji and Pentax (although technically they are Ricoh, so an argument could be made there, but, I didn’t know that at the time), in addition to other brands far too expensive and that I didn’t actually know anything about such as Leica and Hasselblad… Somehow Kristen didn’t find this revelation as amusing as I did, but she got over it a few days later when the camera arrived. (Editor’s Note: I think he gets secret enjoyment out of tormenting me with surprises I don’t get to have right away.)

After having and using our camera for awhile, in addition to continued research, reflection, and talking to other folks, I’ve come to the opinion that it is exceptionally difficult to be sufficiently educated when making a decision on what camera to purchase. Cameras are complicated and there are a lot of variables that should be considered, I didn’t even touch on (or, honestly, consider) sensor size, or the implications of it above (turns out that’s where the micro 4/3 part comes in, as it’s a physically smaller sensor, which allows for more compact lenses with the tradeoffs of worse performance in low light, and making it harder to get highly blurred backgrounds in your images). There’s also the question of what you actually want to take pictures of, and the availability/cost of lenses that will work with your camera, and what your options are if/when you want to get more serious and upgrade. To be completely honest, if I *actually* understood all of the things I was reading about, I would have 100% gone with a full frame Sony mirrorless (A7 or A7 ii) for all of the technical superiorities it offers. While I still wouldn’t mind one as a second system for some situations (or more preferably, blow even more money on an even less-needed Fuji medium format mirrorless which somehow is a larger sensor than full frame, because sensor naming has a weird history), this would have absolutely been a mistake, and I am extremely happy with the setup I ignorantly stumbled into.

The point I want to make here isn’t that micro 4/3 is the best camera system, as it isn’t, at least not for everyone. Every system will have strengths and weaknesses, and unless you are already rather familiar with cameras and photography, you likely don’t understand what these are, and how important each is for you. If you do already know what these things mean, and what will be the best fit for you, you are probably already “invested” in a brand or mount, which makes it more difficult to change if what you have isn’t necessarily the best fit for you (I already have some Canon lenses…).

As to the equipment we have (all focal lengths will be listed in full frame equivalent numbers for field of view), after the initial purchase, our next acquisition was a Rokinon manual wide angle lens (24mm) and a Panasonic-Leica ‘nifty-50’ with a fast f1.4 aperture. Later, we got a good price on a Panasonic 70-200 f2.8 zoom lens which is fantastic. After this, I found myself wanting a silly and unnecessary lens, and eventually picked up a super telephoto zoom to cover the 200-800mm range. The last lens that we have acquired is a hefty and all manual Voigtlander 85mm equivalent length lens with a super fast f0.95 aperture which goes a decent way towards addressing the low light and background blur weaknesses of the smaller sensor, as well as being a pleasant to use manual focus lens. We also recently picked up a second body, a Panasonic G9 as a bit larger and more capable option. These lenses were all reasonably priced for what they are (and most purchased second-hand), but the thing I like most about our setup is how compact and flexible it is; it’s no problem to walk around on a hike with an 800mm focal length lens, or load everything into a backpack and have an option on hand, regardless of what we find to take a picture of.

Regardless of what camera I chose, the bottleneck to creating good images would have remained the same: me. The best advice I could give to anyone looking at getting their first camera, would be to start by taking a long time to honestly consider what they actually want to take pictures of, and then work backwards from there, maybe you wind up deciding a pro level Canon or Nikon DSLR or mirrorless is what you will want to grow into, maybe an Olympus/Panasonic micro 4/3 camera would be a nice fit, or maybe a bridge camera or point and shoot would check off all the items on your ‘want’ list, at a lot less cost and/or size. Talk to someone, whether its a friend/coworker with some camera gear, or go to a local camera store when its not busy and try to find a friendly and knowledgeable worker to talk to, but don’t get all of your information from one source, and don’t assume what is best for someone else will be best for you. Finally, whatever you get, use it.