Sharing my photos

Dreamliner delivery flight

Dreamliner delivery flight

Going through my twitter feed this morning, I came across a tweet from British Airways suggesting that people upload their “stunning cloud photos taken from a British Airways flight” to the BA Business Life gallery. OK, I thought, I’ve got a couple of good ones, including this shot I took from on board BA’s first Boeing 787 delivery flight, just after leaving Seattle. Going to the Business Life site I clicked on the terms and conditions. The first clause was pretty much as expected:

1. By submitting your photographs you agree to grant Cedar Communications and British Airways a perpetual, royalty-free, irrevocable, non-exclusive, sub-licensable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, create derivative works from, distribute, make available to the public…. etc etc

But then I got to clause 1.2:

1.2. To the extent permitted by law, you waive your moral rights (e.g. the right to be identified as the author or to object to derogatory treatment) in your Content.

WTF? No attribution is already a pretty nasty clause. But waiving my rights to object to derogatory treatment? Well, since British Airways is part of International Airlines Group, my employers, I won’t criticise them. I guess the terms and conditions are spelt out clearly and nobody is obliged to submit their photos if they don’t want to. But it certainly put me off and so I am sharing this photo via my blog, where I don’t have to waive my rights just to share a photo with the world.

And on the off-chance that BA would like to reuse this photo and is prepared to discuss less onerous terms, I think you know where to find me!

Olympus OM-D E-M5 – First Impressions

M5-OM-D Test

Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens at 1/3200s, ISO 200.

I’ve been hearing a lot about the advantages of the micro four thirds system, especially for travel where the size and weight advantages of “going mirrorless” are most clear-cut. Having recently booked a holiday to the Maldives and realised that the sea-plane transfer would come with a 6kg cabin baggage restriction, I started to look into the options with more purpose.

After an enjoyable few days researching gear (always a guilty pleasure), the Olympus OM-D E-M5 stood out as being the best match with what I was looking for, which was a camera system that gave me the weight reduction I was looking for whilst making the fewest compromises on image quality compared to my Canon 5D MkII. I’ll have to admit that having been a proud owner of an Olympus OM-1 as a teenager many years ago, the retro styling was a clincher.

After a few days testing out the camera, my overall impression is very favourable. On the weight front it certainly delivers. The body and lenses are generally around half that of the Canon full frame equivalents. The benefits at the telephoto end are particularly striking, given the 2x crop factor of the smaller sensor. The Olympus 70-300mm has a full frame equivalent focal length of 140-600m, giving it slightly more reach than the 580mm I get with my Canon 400mm DO lens plus 1.4x extender. However, it weighs in at a mere 620g, compared to the Canon combination’s 2.2 kg, 3.5 times heavier.

OM-D vs 5DMkII

Comparing Canon 5D MkII with Olympus OM-D E-M5

It was pretty straightforward to find lenses which covered the range of focal lengths I was looking for, in a mixture of zooms and prime lenses. Generally, the zooms are more versatile but to get the sharpest image quality, best low light performance and shallowest depth of field, you need the fast prime lenses. These have the added benefit of being very small and light. Here are the lenses I selected after a few hours studying the forums (I know it should be fora, but nobody would understand me if I said that).

Olympus lenses

Front to back: 45mm f1.8, 9-18mm f4.0, 12-50mm f3.5-6.3, 40-150mm f4.0-5.6, 75-300mm f4.8-6.7

The only lens that I bought which is not pictured above is the one I used to take the picture, the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 pancake lens. As you can see, it can give you great shallow depth of field shots, although not quite matching what can be achieved with my Canon 50mm f1.4 on a full frame camera.

Overall, the image quality of the body and lens system is excellent. I haven’t really tested low light performance properly but it looks to be not far off what can be achieved with the 5D. In good light, the gap reduces further so on the primary objective of reducing weight with minimal compromise to image quality, the OM-D really delivers everything I was hoping for.

In addition to weight, there are several other ways in which the OM-D improves over the 5D. The fast sequential shooting mode is very impressive at 9 frames per second, compared to only 4 fps on the Canon. Likewise, the exposure bracketing mode seems nearly instantaneous. I love the ability to view a live histogram whilst framing the shot, making exposure issues much easier to avoid “in camera”. Horizontal and vertical level meters are another useful addition. Finally, the art and picture modes are a great source of creative inspiration, enabling you for example to shoot black and white photos and see what you are going to get in the viewfinder. If shooting RAW, you get a jpg with the effect added and an unaltered RAW file, giving you the best of both worlds.

Grainy Film art filter

Testing out the ‘Grainy Film’ art filter

Video is another key area for me. After discovering the beautiful quality of footage that you can get from a DSLR fitted with quality glass, it is really hard to be satisfied with video shot with a consumer camcorder. However, the lack of autofocus in movie mode on the 5D makes shooting video a real challenge. From what I’ve seen so far, the E-M5 can shoot video which comes close to matching that from the 5D, with the added advantage of autofocus. I found the autofocus to be generally good, but it did have a tendency to hunt a bit when presented with a moving subject, especially when shooting with a wide aperture. But overall, great quality and much easier to use. The main shortfalls on the video front are a lack of frame rate options (you are stuck with 29.97 fps if you want 1080p) and the lack of an external mic input. I’ve ordered the SEMA-1 microphone adapter which will rectify this, but at the cost of occupying the hot-shoe, which means you cannot mount an external microphone to the top of the camera.

Other gripes? Remarkably few. The smaller size does present some disadvantages from a handling perspective. I’m considering whether to invest in the battery grip as a result. The electronic viewfinder, whilst good, can still not match the optical viewfinder on a DSLR. The build quality is a bit lower in a few areas, but the price difference is also big of course.

In summary, I’m not going to be selling off my Canon gear just yet, but for the many occasions where size and weight are important considerations, the OM-D E-M5 will be my camera of choice.

Instagram

Hyde Park

Hyde Park

I’ve been having fun taking and sharing photos with Instagram. You can only post photos using the dedicated iPhone app. The low resolution and the creative filters it prompts you to apply really encourage you to concentrate on composition, creativity and interesting subjects. Sharing the results on twitter or facebook is a breeze. Highly recommended.

On safari in my garden

Hover fly

Hover fly

A beautiful sunny morning enticed me out on safari in my garden, armed with my Canon 5D Mk II and 100mm macro lens. This hover fly was particularly cooperative, staying calmly in position whilst I tested how close I could get.

It is incredible the amazing and beautiful things you can find so close to home if you take the time to look closely.

Flash fun

Blue Tit Landing

Blue Tit Landing

I’ve been reading Syl Arena’s recently released book “Speedliter’s Handbook”. This wonderful tome covers everything you could ever want to know about flash photography in general, and about the Canon system in particular.

Full of information about both gear and technique, it is also a great source of inspiration for what can be done with flash. If you don’t know what you are doing and use the flash in the traditional “on camera” position, flash can make photographs which are lifeless and flat. With the improvement in low light performance of cameras today, flash had seemed to me to be something best avoided. I now know better.

I had a great time experimenting with using a remotely triggered flash to photograph birds in the garden. The ambient light was awful, a typical grey February day in England. Not conditions that I would normally think about shooting in. But with a flash, a radio trigger and a little patience, I got some great shots of blue tits and other birds feeding in the garden. This was my favourite shot, which could never have been achieved without flash. A highly recommended book.

Cold

Squirrel in our garden

Squirrel in our garden

On the plus side, it looks like we’re going to get a white Christmas and everything looks very pretty. The downside of course is that the travel plans of millions have been disrupted and families who planned to be together this Christmas may instead spend it apart.

Whether or not the increased incidence of snow and cold temperatures in the UK in recent years is down to climate change is hard to know. But if it is, I want to know who coined the term “Global Warming”.

I would like to have a stern word.

Experiments with water and light

Water drop

Water drop

I thought I’d try my hand at a little macro photography and decided to have a go at capturing water drops. An initially frustrating but ultimately rewarding afternoon followed.

The recipe which worked for me was using a Canon 5D MkII DSLR with 100mm macro lens attached, set at ISO 100, f/13 and 1/200s. Illumination was a Speedlite 580EX flash set on 1/4 power and bounced off a reflector behind the dish of water. Water drops came from a plastic bag filled with water in which I’d made a small hole. Camera triggered manually using a cable release.

An invaluable aid was Lightroom 3’s new ‘tethered shooting’ mode, which allows you to see your shots in close to real time on an attached laptop’s full size screen. Much easier to judge whether the focus is off than peering at the back of the camera.

I also created some more colourful shots, covering the white reflector with different coloured plastic A4 sleeves. A selection of the best images I managed to produce can be found here at my Flickr account.

Eclipse

Eclipse

Eclipse

Had a wonderful week touring Germany, visiting friends and relatives. We were fortunate to be at my brother in law’s house on Saturday evening, during a burst of clear skies, to photograph the lunar eclipse. Apparently it was cloudy and pouring with rain at home. Fantastic… my photos attached.