Peter has been a passionate photographer for over thirty years. He is also a 30-year veteran of the teaching profession at the elementary, secondary and post-secondary levels. Peter has been able to combine these two loves with the development of photography and graphic design courses and multi-day workshops.
Disclosure: I am an Olympus Visionary and as such, receive compensation from Olympus America. However, no compensation was paid for this review. I endorse their products because I truly believe in the quality of their gear.
Every photographer looks at a new camera release and asks, "Does this new model come with significant improvements from what I currently own, and does it suit my style and budget?" With the announcement of Olympus' new flagship model, the E-M1X, I was curious as to how well it fit my style as a nature photographer who primarily shoots landscapes and wildlife. Although designed to meet the needs of almost any style of photographer I wanted to provide "a natural perspective". Before I get into any details, I must provide an important qualifier. This is not a technical review. It is a 'first impressions' write-up with some supporting details and a lot of comparison to the E-M1 Mark II.
An Exterior View Time for a tour... It's only natural that comparisons will be made between the E-M1X and the E-M1 Mark II. After all, The Mark II was the flagship model and now the E-M1X is the new boss on the block. It must be stated however that this is not the successor to the Mark II, rather it is a new member of the OMD line-up of cameras, sitting in a new position alongside the previous series; E-M10, E-M5 and E-M1. It's primary target audience is the professional photographer looking to capitalize on the advantages of the m4/3s mirrorless system. Let's start our tour with that comparison.
Size The E-M1X measures 144.4mm wide x 146.8mm high x 75.4mm deep. This makes it approximately 1.9x larger by volume than the E-M1 Mark II. However, for those who regularly use the battery grip on the Mark II, the E-M1X is only 9mm taller and 10mm wider. As far as mass goes, the E-M1X comes in at 997g, approximately 90g more than the E-M1 Mark II with the extra grip. Like many people I wasn't expecting to see an integrated battery grip in the new E-M1X. However, since I spend a lot of time shooting with longer lenses I find the body to be nicely balanced, and, with a beefier grip, I never feel like the unit is going to slip out of my hands, especially since I hate using camera straps.
To summarize, you will definitely notice a size and weight difference between the E-M1X and the E-M1 Mark II. However, if you have been using the HLD-9 battery grip with the Mark II, then the differences are minimal.
Rear One thing that has always impressed me with the Olympus cameras I have owned is the excellent ergonomics. The back of the E-M1X maintains the attention to detail of its predecessors and adds a few other features as well.
For those photographers who have been shooting with the E-M1 Mark II, there is both familiarity in the feature set on the back of the E-M1X as well as some definite differences.
Fully articulating LCD - No surprise here. The articulating LCD has a solid feel to it, snaps into place nicely, yet is easy to pull out, even with thin winter gloves on. It's a 3-inch touch screen with 1 037 000 dots, allowing a fair amount of touch-screen control (Shutter release, Touch AF (AF area selection, AF area size adjustment) AF targeting pad, frame forward/backward, magnified playback, Super Control Panel, Wi-Fi connection, movie controls)
2x2 switch - When the original E-M1 came out, I loved the 2x2 switch. It allowed for quick and easy access to multiple features. With the E-M1 Mark II the switch was reversed which made it more difficult to operate smoothly. I am pleased to see that on the E-M1X it once again toggles on the right side of the Fn button. It is elevated enough to provide a distinct feel while looking through the viewfinder, but has enough tension that it is unlikely you would switch it accidentally. It can also be programmed to become the On-Off switch which will appeal to many photographers. The switch positions are programmable. In Position 1 the front and rear dials will control exposure (in P, A, S, M), while in Position 2, the front dial controls ISO and the rear dial controls white balance (in P, A, S). You can also program it to operate Movie mode in position 2 which appeals to me since I often shoot short video clips.
Multi Selector - This thing is awesome! Olympus calls it a multi selector, but I call it a joystick. It allows for very quick selection of your focus points while shooting. Rather than using the D-pad, just move the joystick. You can even move them diagonally. This is fantastic for bird and wildlife photography. The great thing is that there are two of them so it doesn't matter if you are shooting in landscape or portrait orientation.
Lock and C-Lock switch - Engaging the Lock will prevent accidental setting changes from the dials on the camera's side (i.e. the vertical orientation dials). The side shutter release is also disabled. The custom lock switch allows you to program up to 15 features to lock out including the front and rear dial, OK button, touchscreen, shutter release, and most other buttons.
Card Button - This allows quick control over which card will do the saving or playback.
Menu Button - Compared to previous models the Menu button has now been moved to the left side of the body. This placement is taking some getting used to. I like having the most frequently used buttons in reach of my right thumb, especially if my left hand is balancing one of the longer lenses.
Customization - Almost every dial, switch and button on the back, top and front of the camera can easily be customized. Up to 39 functions can be assigned to buttons with up to 24 functions assigned for movie recording. A new GUI in the menu makes button selection clear and easy.
Top There some notable differences (and improvements, in my opinion) with the E-M1X.
On/Off Switch - The On/Off switch is still on the left, but the switch is now oriented toward the rear which makes access easier. Three buttons top the On/Off switch that allow for quick access to metering modes, AF settings, shooting modes and bracketing.
Mode Dial - The mode dial no longer has an iAuto or Art Filter settings (although the Art Filters are still available through the Super Control Panel). Those two spaces have been replaced with two great additions, a fourth custom setting (C4) and a Bulb mode (B) that allows quick access to Bulb, Live Time, and Live Composite. As a person who regularly uses Live Comp this is a nice change.
ISO Button - I didn't realize how much I wanted this button until it was placed right near the shutter release. I never use Auto ISO so being able to quickly change it while shooting is fantastic. It also has a distinct feel so it is unlikely to be confused with its neighbours.
Embedded Dials - Both front and rear dials have now been embedded which should prevent accidental setting changes.
Right Side The card slots are accessed using a new flip-up-and-turn release that should prevent the cover from opening accidentally. The dual card slots are staggered and both are now UHS-I,II compatible. Within the gear menu there are several ways of recording onto the cards (Standard, Auto Switch, Dual Independent, Dual Same). As well, folders can now be created for saving or copying images. A cable release port is also positioned on the right side just in front of the card slots.
Left Side Two batteries (BLH-1, the same as the E-M1 Mark II) are held in a cartridge that slides out of the bottom left of the body. The cartridge is locked into place with another flip-up-and-turn release latch. Side access means that it is easy to swap out batteries even when the camera is mounted on a tripod. Three port covers can be found on the left - a dedicated 1/8 inch mic port, headphone port, HDMI and USB ports. The batteries can now be charged directly using the supplied USB cable. This means you don't need to bring your charger when travelling - a nice addition.
Viewfinder The layout of the viewfinder is quite different than other OMD models and a pleasant change. No longer is any of the key info placed overtop of the image. Along a narrow strip at the bottom of the viewfinder you will find the battery level indicator, shooting mode (M, S, A, etc.), special settings (C1, C2, etc, Live Time, Live Comp), shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, level gauge, white balance, ISO, card capacity. This provides a clear, unencumbered view of your image. Pressing the Info button once brings up the histogram, which is superimposed over the image. Continued pressing reveals additional information (picture mode, larger level gauges, shooting mode). Unfortunately I haven't been able to figure out how I can take a photograph of the viewfinder in order to share it with you. Trust me, it's a nice improvement.
Menu System At first glance the layout of the menu system looks identical to the E-M1 Mark II. There are several new features added to the camera and therefore new menu items to go with them, but more importantly you can now build your own custom menus. During a meeting in January of 2018 the Olympus Visionaries were asked for suggestions regarding new features we'd like to see. Several of us suggested having a customizable menu that would store our most-used features. Olympus listened and made it better (and easier to use) than I could have imagined.
At the bottom of the main menu is the 'My Menu' item (a star icon). All custom menu selections are stored here in up to 5 separate menus with a maximum of 7 items per menu. As of this writing I have only added 2 separate menus. Adding items is easy. While scrolling through the menu, press the Record button and a prompt pops up asking you which of the 5 available 'My Menus' you'd like it added to. Select 1 through 5, press OK and the custom menu is populated with your choice. Very cool!
The Internals The E-M1X has a 20.4 MP sensor with a new coating and is driven by the Dual TruePic VIII engine. This sensor delivers improved sensitivity especially at higher ISOs. The double TruePic VIII engines increases performance and speed in all areas and allows for the inclusions of the newest features that Olympus has built into the 1X. Start-up and wake-up times are also dramatically improved.
New Features and Improvements
Alright, here comes the fun part! Although I've photographed almost all types of subjects, I really wanted to know, will the E-M1X offer new and innovative additions or improvements that will benefit my landscape, wildlife and astrophotography? The short answer is, yes, but let's have a look at some of those new and/or improved features.
Handheld High Resolution Shooting Yippee! I have to admit that in the 3 years that I've been shooting with the E-M1 Mark II I have probably used the High Res mode only a dozen times or so. Being limited to only using it when mounted on a tripod was indeed a serious limitation for me. Not anymore! There are two high res modes - one for a tripod, and one hand-held. The regular high res mode provides an 80MP RAW image, while the hand-held mode provides a 50MP image.
There is an obvious difference in real estate between the standard shooting mode and the hand-held high res mode.
100% crop of standard image
100% crop of hand-held high resolution image
The real test is "how slow can you go"? The image above was photographed at a shutter speed of 1/100s (ISO400, f/8). I'm very pleased with the results. The image below was shot at 1/3s using a GND filter!
Photographed using the hand-held high resolution mode at an impressively slow shutter speed (M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO, ISO200, 1/3s @ f/7.1)
I did try shooting a hand-held high res image of this scene at 1/2s, but I ended up with some ghosting around the grasses in the foreground. Of course, I'm not the steadiest person around, so I'm quite happy with the clarity I got at 1/3s. There are a few more high res shots in the gallery below.
Live ND One of the reasons that I have stayed with Olympus for so long is the incredible innovations that they have brought into the world of photography (their dust reduction system, Live Composite, focus stacking, etc.). Add one more to the list - Live ND, and it's cool!
Through the magic of compositing, slow shutter speed effects are incorporated without the use of an actual ND filter. Within the menu you have the option of selecting 5 different ND steps from ND2 to ND32. During the process several images are composited to virtually extend the exposure time. Live ND is only available in Manual or Shutter Priority. The resulting image is in RAW.
Without Live ND
With Live ND (ND32)
The results are quite impressive. From within the menu you can also turn on LV Simulation where the slow shutter speed effect can be seen directly in the viewfinder or monitor. The exif data for the Live ND photo reflects the change in shutter speed even if you don't physically change it. For example in the photo below (left) the shutter speed was 1/30s. With Live ND32 the shutter speed automatically dropped 5 steps to 1/2s.
Without Live ND (17mm f/1.2, ISO200, 1/30s @ f/6.3)
With Live ND (ND32, 17mm f/1.2, ISO200, 1/2s @ f/6.3)
Focus Stacking Built-in focus stacking was introduced with the E-M1 Mark II and is now available on all recent OMD models. Based solely on personal observations there appears to be significant performance improvements with regards to focus stacking. The E-M1X appears to process stacked images faster and more accurately than the E-M1 Mark II. As well, you can now select the number of images to be stacked from within the menu, from 3 up to 15, rather than just 8 images as with other OMD models. I regularly use stacking in my landscape images in order to achieve greater depth so I appreciate those improvements.
The front lens element was only a few inches from the closest ice-covered rocks. Focus stacking allowed for clarity throughout the image. (m.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO, ISO200, 1/60s @ f/7.1)
Improved IBIS Olympus developed the best in-body image stabilization in the business and continues to make improvements in this area. A new gyro sensor provides up to 7.0 stops of image stabilization and up to 7.5 stops with the m.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4. This is fantastic in low light conditions for landscape photography or indoors, as well as for shooting wildlife.
Image courtesy of Olympus America
As a simple experiment I photographed our local museum at night using the 12-100 lens. Since it was only faintly illuminated by some distant street lights I needed to set the ISO at 2000 in order to get a decent exposure and then proceeded to try out a variety of longer shutter speeds. The first image was shot hand held at 1 second, then 2", 4", 8", 10" and finally at 15 seconds. Of course, this is only one set of test shots, during which I was wearing thick winter gloves and standing in soft snow.
100% crop, shot are various shutter speeds. At 8 seconds there is a bit of softening and at 15s there is some noticeable motion blur.
In my day-to-day shooting I would never go beyond 2 seconds without the use of a tripod and it would be quite rare to go even that long. A few years ago that would have been practically impossible. Now it's easily achievable. Where I really want rock solid stabilization is while shooting birds from my canoe or kayak. Unfortunately that is not something I can test right now as I am ice bound in a cold Canadian winter. However, I have been able to do a bit of bird shooting with the E-M1X and I have been quite impressed.
Auto Focusing When I'm photographing birds I want fast and accurate auto-focusing. The E-M1X has high-speed-imager AF. And it is definitely high speed. With the 300mm f/4 lens attached the auto-focusing is almost instant. I was pleased with the AF of the E-M1 Mark II, but this is even faster and more accurate, based on my experience with both cameras.
While photographing at the rookery in Venice, Florida the true advantage of the m4/3 system was reaffirmed. Most of the other photographers had their large lenses mounted on solid tripods and were stuck framing only one bird or nesting scene because changing positions quickly was practically impossible. With so much action happening at this location the E-M1X and 300mm f/4 is a combination that allows for quick and easy reframing of a scene, and the fast AF means a very high success rate.
While photographing the egrets, this cormorant landed and was handing off some new nesting material to its partner - a moment that was easy to capture given the size advantage of m4/3s and the speed of the AF system. (ISO400, 1/2500s @ f/7.1)
AF Customization A new feature is AF customization which allows you to set separate focus points in horizontal and vertical shooting orientations. This means that if you switch orientations you don't have to constantly move the focus points. This not only saves time, but will likely save shots that you would have otherwise missed.
Custom AF Target Mode Setting your focus points on an Olympus camera has always been easy. With the new joystick on the E-M1X it's even easier. It maintains the same 121 focus points with both phase and contrast detection. A new 25-point group has been added which can be quite useful when photographing wildlife.
I have a love-hate relationship with winter. I won't get into why I hate winter (too cold, short days, high heating bills, driving sucks... okay, so I got into it a bit). For photography however, I love winter. Once the autumn leaves hit the ground and everything looks dull and grey, I find myself dreaming of winter. There's nothing like a fresh blanket of snow to brighten up a landscape scene. And that same landscape can look quite different from day to day considering how variable the weather and lighting can be during the winter.
Is winter photography really any different from that of other seasons? Yes, and no. The basics of landscape photograph apply regardless of the season, but my approach and preparedness can be different in the winter. Here are some tips that might help you improve your winter compositions;
Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.7-14mm f/2.8, ISO640, 3.2s @ f/3.2
1. Focus in on Winter's Unique Features Winter definitely has elements that no other season has - mainly, ice and snow. Incorporate them as key subjects in your compositions. Sometimes those ice formations may not look all that impressive from the height of a 6'2" photographer like myself. That's when I get in close, shoot low and use an ultra-wide angle lens, making them look larger and more dramatic than they really are. By getting in close you can also take advantage of how nicely some ice features can transmit the light.
The height of this ice arch was just over two feet, but by placing the camera low, angling it upward and using an ultra-wide angle lens I was able to exaggerate the appearance and give it a more dramatic look. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.7-14mm f/2.8, ISO200, 1/200s @ f/6.3)
Only a few, lower branches on this tree were covered with icicles so I opted to focus on a small section rather than the whole tree. This shot was also focus bracketed in order to maintain clarity in the icicles and softness in the background.(Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.12-40mm f/2.8, ISO200, 1/800s @ f/4.5)
These frost-covered shrubs were less than a foot tall so I dug a small hole in the snow and placed the camera in it with the lens angled upwards which allowed the branches to rise above the horizon. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.12-40mm f/2.8, ISO400, 1/40s @ f/9)
2. Play in the Snow I have to admit that I don't like photographing in the rain. My gear can handle it, but I'm not at all thrilled with working in wet weather. But the snow? Bring it on! I love what heavy snow can do to the look of scene, especially when the background fades away due to reduced visibility. No photograph is worth your safety, so only go out in nasty conditions if you are comfortable with it. Use a lens hood and keep the lens cap on until you are ready to shoot to keep unwanted snowflakes off the lens element. If you want to 'freeze' your snowflakes in place select a shutter speed of 1/125s or faster. Slower than that and your flakes will 'streak'.
Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.12-40mm f/2.8, ISO2000, 1/80s @ f/5.6
Olympus E-M10 Mark III, M.17mm f/1.2, ISO800, 1/320s @ f/7.1
Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.7-14mm f/2.8, ISO640, 1/320s @ f/7.1
Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.40-150mm f/2.8, ISO400, 1/320s @ f/6.3
3. Look for Colour Contrasts As much as I like that white blanket covering the landscape, it is rather monotonous. Spice it up by looking for any splash of colour. I always shoot RAW, but when colour is important I will also shoot jpeg using the Vivid colour mode. This can be particularly useful when shooting on an overcast day.
These two red barns stood out quite nicely against the snow covered field. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.40-150mm f/2.8, ISO400, 1/125s @ f/7.1)
These colourful chairs seemed quite out of place on the shore of an ice-covered bay. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.7-14mm f/2.8, ISO200, 1/400s @ f/6.3)
4. Shoot at the Bookends of the Day Speaking of colour, winter sunrises and sunsets can be fantastic and you don't have to get up as early or stay out as late to capture them. Get lots of depth in your photos by including some foreground interest. A good graduated neutral density filter can also help balance your exposure and keep that ice and from looking too dull.
The chunks of ice made for the perfect foreground while a medium GND filter helped control the overall exposure. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.12-40mm f/2.8, ISO200, 1/4s @ f/18)
Ice can provide some interesting textures, but you have to get close in order to capture them. I used focus bracketing to help maintain clarity throughout the image. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.7-14mm f/2.8, ISO200, 1/200s @ f/6.3)
5. Control the Blues Now, I'm not talking about your mood here. Although I have to admit that photography helps keep my winter blues in check. I'm talking about a bright blue sky. Typically I avoid shooting during the midday, but with limited daylight hours and a sun that never climbs too high in the sky I find I get great results long after golden hour. However, a plain blue sky can be just plain boring so add some interest to that sky by using some type of natural frame. Snow-covered branches can be the perfect fix for the blues.
Mild weather followed by a good snowfall will usually lead to a good coating of the white stuff on all surfaces. It's the perfect time to get out and capture the winter wonderland around you. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.7-14mm f/2.8, ISO200, 1/500s @ f/7.1)
Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.7-14mm f/2.8, ISO200, 1/320s @ f/7.1
6. Photograph People There are many landscape photographers that don't like to include people in their images. After all, we try to get away from people and enjoy the natural beauty that exists. That said, there are several reasons why I will include people in my photos;
to help tell a story
to provide a point of interest
to offer a sense of scale
The photos below do all three. The question I always ask however is, does including people add or detract from the overall composition. If adding the human element to an image doesn't improve the overall composition don't include them.
While snowshoeing through the San Juan mountains of Colorado we came across this opening in the trees that provided a nice vantage point. By sending my fellow snowshoers on ahead I was able to include them in the photo thereby providing a key point of interest and a sense of scale for the scene. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.7-14mm f/2.8, ISO200, 1/320s @ f/9)
Without these ice climbers in the image it would be difficult to comprehend the scale of these cliffs. Can you see all 5 climbers? (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.12-100mm f/4, ISO800, 1/250s @ f/6.3)
A fisheye lens was the perfect solution to shooting in this tight space behind a frozen waterfall. Without any other people around I opted to photograph myself. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.8mm f/1.8, ISO400, 1/20s @ f/7.1)
7. Make you own Point of Interest In each of the photos in this article I have tried to include at least one key element that your eye will be drawn to. Sometimes you get to a location and there really isn't anything that jumps out at you and screams, "Photograph me!". In those situations I know I have to work the scene. That might mean manipulating the environment a bit in order to create a point of interest that will draw the viewer into the image.
When I arrived at this shoreline I was greeted with a wonderful palette of colours, but no real point of interest so I flipped this piece of ice up on its edge and used it as my main subject. (Olympus E-M1, M.12-40mm f/2.8, ISO200, 1/125s @ f/11)
My distaste for a plain blue sky came through in this image. I anticipated some nice clouds for the sunset, but as the sun neared the horizon they had drifted off. Not willing to leave empty handed I picked up some chunks of ice and built this Inukshuk. (Olympus E-M10 Mark II, M.8mm f/1.8, ISO400, 1/160s @ f/14)
8. Focus in on the Details This strategy works regardless of the season. Rather than just looking at the big picture spend some time focusing in on the minutiae of the scene. Frost and ice can really make a plain subject pop. Areas with open water, or nights with higher humidity can create some great hoar frost when the thermometer dips below freezing.
In the winter, waterfalls can yield some very interesting ice features, including some very thick frost. After get my fill of waterfall shots I turned my attention to the surrounding trees. (Olympus E-510, 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6, ISO400, 1/60s @ f/11)
Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.7-14mm f/2.8, ISO400, 1/125s @ f/6.3
In order to completely separate this barbed wire from the background I used a fairly large aperture and used focus stacking, since a single image wasn't providing quite enough depth of field. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.40-150mm f/2.8, ISO200, 1/1250s @ f/3.5)
Final Words Within this article my entire focus has been on providing compositional strategies without looking at some of the more technical aspects of winter photography, i.e. camera settings and the like. For that information check out my previous post on Winter Photo Tips. Of course many of these ideas about composition can apply to any season. Perhaps the hardest part is to find the motivation to go exploring during the winter. Based on experience, the opportunities abound. We just have to go find them.
One of the most common questions that I get as a photographer is how to properly shoot the moon. That question seems to pop up quite regularly - once per month in fact, when the moon is full. People love photographing the full moon, but once the event is over there seems to be far less interest in capturing our closest neighbour. I certainly understand this thinking. The full moon, especially when it is rising, can be an impressive (and somewhat challenging) subject to photograph.
Zooming in to photograph a great moonrise can be quite rewarding, but the light of that moon can also be used to capture some great landscape images. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.300mm f/4, ISO800, 1/13s @ f/5.6)
As a landscape photographer I am always looking for interesting ways to present a scene. And like most, I work primarily during the two bookends of the day - the golden hours. But, as someone who also enjoys astrophotography, I have discovered that I can extend my landscape opportunities by shooting under the light of the moon. The following tips might help with your own 'after-hours' landscape photography.
1. Know the Moon Let's start with the obvious. It's difficult to photograph in the moonlight if the moon isn't even up in the sky. As a kid, I would see the phases of the moon printed on calendars and wonder why anyone would really care about that. Well, I care now. Of course, I'm not using a printed calendar anymore. There are far better websites and apps available that will not only identify the phase of the moon, but also moonrise, moonset and the time and direction of each. I tend to use timeanddate.com as my main reference. Anything from half to full will provide ample light for nighttime landscape photography.
2. A Bit of Planning Goes a Long Way Don't be fooled by the images in this post. For most of them it was quite dark. This means that planning a shot is even more important than for daylight shooting. As I prep for a late-night outing I consider the following;
specific location - finding the exact spot that I scouted out earlier in the day can be difficult. Note landmarks, distances and trail markers.
Bring a headlamp and extra batteries
Gas in the Car? If you've headed out to a more remote location there's a good chance that gas stations won't be open in the middle of the night.
Be comfortable. Warm clothes, good footwear, coffee and a snack - your success is often related to your own personal comfort.
3. Go Wide If capturing all the details in the moon is your objective then using a long lens would be the natural choice. But, since the primary goal is to capture a landscape image, stick with your landscape lens. Within my kit there are several great lenses that are perfect for this style of low light photography - the M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO, 8mm f/1.8 PRO, 12mm f/2, 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO and the 17mm f/1.2 PRO. I tend to lean towards the 7-14 for most of my moonlit landscapes. It is fast enough for low light and has the perfect field of view of most situations.
Olympus E-M5 Mark II, M.12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, ISO1250, 6s @ f/6.3
While the three photographers beside me used longer lenses to photograph the moon, I put on my trusty 8mm fisheye lens in order to include as much of the arch as possible. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.8mm f/1.8 PRO, ISO800, 4s @ f/1.8)
4. Turn your Back on the Moon Including the moon in your image can make for a nice point of interest, but by turning your lens away from the moon you can capture a scene with far more even lighting. It's during these exposures that you realize just how much sunlight is being reflected by our moon. Since our eyes are not capable of seeing colour in such dim light it is also a bit surprising to see all the daytime hues pop up on your LCD.
In order to capture more depth in this shot of 'The Courthouse' in Arches National Park, I focus bracketed three shots. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.17mm f/1.2 PRO, ISO640, 5s @ f/1.2)
With a longer exposure, the light of the moon can turn night time into day. While shooting this scene it was dark enough that I didn't even notice the cows lying under the tree. Thankfully they remained still during the exposure. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.7-14mm f.2.8 PRO, ISO800, 30s @ f/2.8)
5. A bit of cloud cover will work in your favour. For my regular astrophotography I definitely try to avoid any type of cloud cover, but for a moonlit landscape, bring it on! Just not too much. As with sunset photography a bit of cloud can make or break the photo and the same applies here. If you are driving to a location, check out a satellite image for cloud cover or use a clear sky chart for the area you are heading to.
Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.7-14mm f.2.8 PRO, ISO1000, 15s @ f/2.8
Even a bit of cloud can add interest to your composition. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.7-14mm f.2.8 PRO, ISO1000, 20s @ f/2.8)
6. Perfect for Winter Winter is the perfect time to photograph some moonlit landscapes. I have three main reasons for this;
the core of the Milky Way is no longer visible in the northern hemisphere, which would normally vie for my attention;
a coating of snow will help reflect a lot of that moonlight and create a nice bright foreground. This usually eliminates the need for light painting;
with the much longer nights I don't have to be out after midnight in order to get the shot. (this photographer really needs his beauty sleep!)
Olympus E-M1, M.12mm f.2, ISO500, 13s @ f/2
7. Use Live Composite For the same reasons given in the previous tip, I like to shoot live composite images during the winter as well. I will take a few test shots first to check for composition and proper exposure and then will initiate the live composite feature on my Olympus camera and watch those star trails build. If you are not familiar with this feature you can check out my step-by-step instructions.
The test shot with the full moon over my left shoulder. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.7-14mm f.2.8 PRO, ISO1000, 20s @ f/2.8)
The camera's shutter remained open for about an hour in order to capture the movement of the stars through the night sky, yet didn't blow out the well-lit foreground.
A bit of moonlight helped create some great foreground illumination in this shot. (Olympus E-M1, M.7-14mm f/2.8 PRO, 15s @ f/2.8)
8. Settings Matter Each situation is different and will require different camera settings, but there are a few generalizations we can make that will apply to most photos of this type;
Use manual mode. You want to control all aspects of the exposure triangle.
Aperture - shoot wide open unless you have a foreground subject that may dictate a smaller aperture. That said, focus bracketing can be a better alternative to using a smaller aperture.
Shutter Speed and ISO - Since the amount of moonlight in the scene can vary greatly depending on the phase of the moon, its position in the sky and the cloud cover, these two settings may require some experimenting with for any given night. For regular astro shooting I would start with an ISO of 1600, but with all that moonlight I can usually get away with a far lower setting - usually between 640 and 1000. I will then adjust the shutter speed based on the exposure value I am looking for.
Manual Focus - the darkness you are shooting in is the enemy of your camera's autofocusing system. Use manual focus and set it to infinity. This can be a challenge at night so I usually point the camera at the moon first (or any other bright object) and use the focus assist features built into the camera (magnification and focus peaking).
Live Time - I don't use Live Time for the actual shooting, but it can really help with composition since it amplifies the scene in the viewfinder allowing me to create a quicker composition. Once I'm happy with the overall composition I will switch it back to Manual.
Your lens choice will also have a major impact on the settings you choose. A faster lens will allow you to use lower ISOs and/or faster shutter speeds.
This photo almost doesn't qualify for this article since for most of this live comp exposure the moon was below the horizon. I timed it such that I would capture the moon just as it was cresting. This also explains why the camera settings are more typical of regular astro shot. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.8mm f/1.8 PRO, ISO1600, 25s @ f/1.8)
Final Word As a landscape photographer I am always looking for ways to expand my repertoire. A location you are quite familiar with can look quite different under a moonlit sky and add a completely different mood to the scene.
This post makes reference to several photography techniques that you might be interested in reading;
The Story Behind the Photo In the back corner of my photographic brain there's a room called the Idea Factory. It's right beside the CEO's office, where ideas are accepted or rejected, and down the hall from Shipping and Receiving, where ideas wait to be executed (that's executed as in 'carried out', not 'shot in front of a firing squad'). The idea for this photograph was born three years ago and just sat on the shelf. The Logistics and Design division needed to fully develop the idea, but the real delay came from the brain cells in the Motivation Department. They sat around working on easier concepts. Lazy bums! About a year before this idea was created I became interested in astrophotography, something that I had no previous experience with. It didn't take long before I developed a real love and comfort level with it. Most people spend very little time looking at the night sky or, because of the urban environment in which they live, can't see much of it anyway. Living in a dark sky region of the country, I have always been fascinated by the night sky. I wanted to create a concept photograph that showed my comfort level, and how much our modern society is oblivious to the natural beauty of the night sky.
Logistics and Design My favourite time for astrophotography is during the months of March, April and May. After a long winter's hiatus, the core of the Milky Way has returned and I'm eager to capture it once again. With night after night of clear skies during the new moon phase, this past May was a particularly fruitful time and I'd had some great nights of shooting. This meant that I'd gotten the easier shots out of my system and it was time to pull this idea off the shelf. In my brain, new ideas float around in the ether created by synaptic sparks and require a great deal of processing before the fog clears and the real vision presents itself. Although this concept had a lot of time to mature, it wasn't until the night before this shot that the pieces came together. I knew that I wanted the image to have a person sitting in a chair, reading something, with an artificial light illuminating the foreground and the Milky Way off in the background. The person would obviously be me, since it can be a bit of a challenge to drag anyone else out of their beds at 1:00 in the morning. The lamp came from my wife's office and the chair from mine. I thought that both had an appealing modern design, but my main reason for choosing these specific furnishings was that they were both light enough and small enough to fit in the back of my SUV. (I have an idea that involves a full-sized couch, but I don't think that one's ever gonna happen.) The next issue was, how to create the light. I have a portable battery with an inverter so I could plug the lamp in directly on location, but without a dimmer it would be far too bright. Instead I opted for a small LED lamp that I use in my tent when I'm camping. It has three settings for intensity and is small enough that I could hang it inside the lamp shade. As for reading material, I grabbed a photography book from my office shelf and the most recent issue of our community newspaper. Choosing the proper location would be critical. I needed a spot where I could face south to capture the Milky Way, preferably a flat area, and one where I could get the car close enough so that I didn't have to carry the furniture too far. Luckily there is a place about a 45-minute drive north of my home that fit these requirements perfectly. I packed everything in the car in the early evening, hopped into bed for a two-hour nap and set the alarm for midnight.
Execution Even when you're anticipating it, an alarm can really rattle you! I slipped out of bed, hoping that I hadn't disturbed my wife too much (thank goodness that she is so supportive), and drove off to my chosen location, a place called Sunshine Alley where local fisherman will often launch their boats because of the natural dolostone pavement. This allowed me to drive right to the water's edge. I pulled the chair, lamp and camera gear out of the vehicle and set it up. In order to check exposure of the night sky, I took a couple of test shots without me in the chair and with the lamp off. The exposure seemed good, but I wasn't happy with the composition. I wanted more water in the shot in order to get better reflections.
The first test shot. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, 12mm f/2.0, ISO3200, 20s @ f/2)
After moving the chair and lamp around slightly, I attached the LED inside the lampshade, flicked it to its lowest setting and reshot. The result was less than impressive. Well actually, it sucked! The light was way too bright, and I'd even dropped the shutter speed down to just two seconds. Plus the composition still wasn't what I wanted.
Test shot 2 - the one that sucked!
Feeling disappointed, I thought, "Okay, so I'll create a composite of two shots. One exposing for the LED light and the second for the Milky Way." "Hold it a second, Peter. You're not a quitter.", said another voice in my head (Insert the cartoon devil and angel on opposite shoulders). "There's got to be a way of diffusing the light." After a quick search of my vehicle all I could come up with was the newspaper that I had brought along. I pulled two sheets of newsprint out from the centre of the paper, crumpled them up a bit and stuffed them into the lamp shade. It worked! The amount of light was so dim now that, to the unadjusted eye, it would have been difficult to see, yet bright enough for a long exposure. With the major hurdle overcome, it was time to get down to some serious shooting.
An Idea Realized Still not quite happy with the composition I switched the chair and light around and tried the composition below. In order to get myself in the image, I used a 12-second delay. I could have triggered the camera with the Olympus O.I.Share app while sitting in the chair, but I didn't want to fumble around with my phone or have any additional light in the image. The tricky part for any type of astro shot involving people is staying perfectly still for the entire exposure. Being seated in a comfortable chair certainly made that task easier.
After looking at this attempt, I thought that I was definitely approaching my initial vision. I decided, however that the current placement of the lamp was still causing too much artificial light to enter the frame. I also found that splitting the viewer's attention between the foreground scene on the left and the core of the Milky Way on the right was breaking some compositional rule. I opted to switch the furniture around again and settled on its final placement.
A Bit of Luck I'm not really fond of the phrase "a lucky shot". They are more a matter of being prepared and knowing what to do when an unusual opportunity presents itself. That being said, I did receive a bit of lucky lighting during the 'keeper' shot. Right after the 12-second delay and the start of the 20-second exposure, a car drove past and created just a bit of illumination on the back of the paper, on my pants and the lamp stem. Since the road was about 60 meters away, it's not likely that the driver saw me, but had they, I can only imagine what he or she was thinking at seeing some weirdo sitting at the water's edge reading a newspaper in the middle of the night.
Final Thoughts One of my biggest fears as a photographer is that the Idea Factory will eventually shut down. I know that the workers have gone on vacation from time to time, but up until now, they have always returned. Let's hope that continues. From start to finish I spent just over an hour on location in order to get the image that I liked. That meant that I still had enough darkness left to create a couple more "creative selfies". I certainly wasn't going to waste the opportunity.
E-M1 Mark II, 12mm f2.0, ISO3200, 15s @ f/2
During this exposure I got another dose of lucky lighting from a vehicle going by. (E-M1 Mark II, 12mm f2.0, ISO3200, 15s @ f/2)
An Amazing Photo Walk As an Olympus Visionary I regularly have the opportunity of meeting like-minded photographers in order to explore new areas as part of a photo walk. Usually the walks last for a couple of hours and are relatively close to the store that is hosting the event. On July 8th I had the pleasure of being part of an incredible event in Banff National Park in Alberta. Sponsored by The Camera Store and Olympus America we departed Calgary at 1 p.m. and visited numerous scenic locations with the 14 participants. Later in the day we also had an amazing meal in the heart of Banff.
Fourteen participants joined the "Discover Banff" event along with representatives from Olympus and The Camera Store. In the early evening we had an amazing meal at the Park Distillery in the town of Banff.
During this jam-packed day we visited a number of stunning locations including Spray Lakes, Lake Minnewanka, Vermillion Lakes and others. I asked participants to send me a few of their favourite shots from the day. Here they are, along with a few of my own.
Outfitted with their Olympus gear, two of the participants photograph Spray Lakes. Credit: Peter Baumgarten (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm f/4 PRO, ISO200, 1/1600 @ f/4)
The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel; Credit: Peter Baumgarten (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm f/4, ISO200, 1/50s @ f/8)
The Bow River - Credit: Peter Baumgarten (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm f/4, ISO400, 1.3s @ f/7.1)
Lake Minnewanka; Credit: Paul Vink (Panasonic DMC-G85, Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, ISO200, 1/1300s @ f/2.8)
Vermillion Lakes - Credit: Trisha Herbert (Olympus OMD EM10 MkII w/ M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm PRO; 1/320sec, f/2.8 and ISO 200)
Two Jack Lake - Credit Trisha Herbert (Olympus OMD EM10 MkII w/ M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm PRO; 1/400sec, f/5.6 and ISO 200)
Detail of Bow River Falls - Credit: Lori McLellan (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm f/4, ISO200, 1/10s @ f/20)
Credit: Lori McLellan (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm f/4, ISO800, 1/1250s @ f/8)
Climber in Canmore - Credit: Colleen Rodgers (Olympus E-M5 Mark II, 300mm f/4, ISO200 1/100 @ f/6.3)
Mount Rundell, Vermillion Lakes - redit: Colleen Rodgers (Olympus E-M5 Mark II, M.Zuiko 14-150mm, ISO250 1/100 @ f/4.5)
Participants at Surprise Corner - Credit: Denise Kitagawa (Olympus E-M5 Mark II, 12-100mm f/4 PRO, ISO400, 1/800s @ f/6.3)
Spray Lake Abstract - Credit: Denise Kitagawa (Olympus E-M5 Mark II, 12-100mm f/4 PRO, ISO400, 1/3200s @ f/4)
TransAlta Power Station - Credit: Denise Kitagawa (Olympus E-M5 Mark II, 8mm f/1.8 PRO fisheye, ISO400, 1/800s @ f/8)
Final Sunshine on Mount Rundle, Vermillion Lakes - Credit: Peter Baumgarten (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO, ISO200, 1/25s @ f/7.1)
Final Words I've had the opportunity to visit the Banff area a number of times over the years, and it never gets old. It is truly a majestic place. I think that most who attended were sorry to see the light fade away for the day. Thanks to The Camera Store, and Glen Gordon and Yannick Michaud from Olympus for organizing the event. And a final thank you goes to all of the participants. I had a blast!
Photo walks can be a great way to explore an area, socialize with other photographers and engage in some two-way learning. On June 22 and 23, I had the opportunity to lead two photo walks sponsored by Olympus and Henry's Cameras. The first was through the historic Distillery District in Downtown Toronto, while the second was at beautiful Riverwood Park in Mississauga. They each had about a dozen photographers in attendance, and one person decided to attend both.
The Distillery District is so named because of the breweries that used to operate in the area. It is now a vibrate tourist and arts centre.
The threat of heavy rain didn't stop these avid photographers from coming out to Riverwood Park. The fresh rain and overcast skies were actually perfect for some nature photography.
The Distillery District During a photo walk I actually find myself taking very few photos. I am focused on assisting others in the group, because I know that if I get in full photographic mode it is very easy to ignore everyone else and just focus on the image. I asked the participants to send me some of their favourite photos to share.
Credit: Leighton Wong (Olympus E-M5 Mark II, ISO400, 1/640s @ f/6.3)
Credit: Leighton Wong (Olympus E-M5 Mark II, ISO400, 1/400 @ f/14)
Credit: Leighton Wong (Olympus E-M5 Mark II, Rokinon 7.5mm, ISO400)
Credit: Mike Reid (Panasonic G85, ISO200, 1/60s @ f/10)
Credit: Mike Reid (Panasonic G85, F7.1, ISO 200, 1/400s @ f/7.1)
I photographed this image a few years ago. The "love locks" are certainly one of the most popular attractions in the district. (Olympus E-M1, 14-150mm f/4-5.6, ISO1000, 1/500s @ f/4)
Riverwood Park Situated along the Credit River in Mississauga, Ontario, Riverwood Park covers approximately 60 acres and is home to 475 species of plants and animals. About 5 minutes before our photo walk was to begin, the heavy rain stopped. It turned out to be a great day for some nature photography.
Credit: Brian Naidu (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, 17mm f/1.2 PRO, ISO200, 1/1600s @ f/1.2)
Credit: Brian Naidu (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, 17mm f/1.2 PRO, ISO2500, 1/250s @ f/8)
Credit: Leighton Wong (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, ISO400, 1/100s f/7.1)
Credit: Leighton Wong (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, ISO1000, 1/30s @ f/7.1)
Credit: Anthony Lee (Olympus E-M5 Mark II, 60mm f/2.8 Macro, 1/60s @ f/8)
Credit: Anthony Lee (Olympus E-M5 Mark II, 60mm f/2.8 Macro, 1/2500s @ f/2.8)
Credit: Anthony Lee (Sony A7iii w/ 28-70mm f3.5-5.6 @70mm, f/10, 1/160sec)
Credit: Andrea Rees (Olympus D E-M1 II, 60mm f/2.8 Macro, ISO200, 1/125s @ f/4)
Credit: Andrea Rees (Olympus D E-M1 II, 60mm f/2.8 Macro, ISO250, 1/125s @ f/7.1)
Credit: Andrea Rees (Olympus D E-M1 II, 60mm f/2.8 Macro, ISO200, 1/125s @ f/4)
Final Words Thanks to all of the people who came out to support these two photo walks, and to those who took the time to share their images. It's wonderful to see what caught the eye of each photographer.
Olympus recently provided a major firmware update to the E-M1 Mark II, their flagship camera. As part of that update they have included built-in fisheye compensation for the m.Zuiko 8mm f/1.8 PRO. I'm a real fan of this lens, using it quite regularly for landscape and astrophotography. Whenever I pick it up I recognize that I am going to have to deal with the obvious distortion that comes with a fisheye lens. Well, now I don't have to. The new compensation feature helps turn the 8mm lens from a typical fisheye lens into a rectilinear one. When engaged, the fisheye compensation generates a full resolution jpeg image that emulates a rectilinear lens. As such, two images are recorded, the corrected jpeg, and the original, uncorrected RAW file.
Accessing the fisheye compensation requires a bit of menu diving, but once engaged it will remain active until you disable the feature. This means that each time you attach the 8mm lens it will recall the previously programmed settings. Once set, a small icon on the rear LCD indicates that the feature is selected and which of the three settings you have enabled.
1. Press the 'Menu' button and toggle down to the 'Gear' menu.
3. Turn fisheye compensation "On" and move into the Settings menu.
2. Cycle through to 'J1' within the Gear menu and then to "Fisheye Compensation".
4. Within the 'Angle' settings three options are available.
The images below illustrate the original, uncorrected image along with the 3 corrected settings. There are significant differences in the field of view between the uncorrected, narrow and wide settings. To make composing the image easier, the corrected image is viewed in real time on the LCD or the EVF.
For the two images below, notice the difference between the hydro lines and fence post.
Uncorrected - ISO200, 1/640s @ f/8
Corrected - Setting 1
8mm Corrected vs. 7mm For many Olympus shooters a natural question might be, how does the corrected version's field of view compare to the 7mm focal length of the m.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO. The two images below help to illustrate the differences.
8mm Corrected - Setting 1
7mm focal length from the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO
Upon careful examination you can clearly see that the corrected image from the 8mm lens has a slightly greater field of view than the 7mm focal length from the 7-14mm lens.
Limitations Overall, I have been pleased with the results I have gotten from the new built-in fisheye correction, particularly when using Setting 1. I really like the fact that I get both a jpeg and RAW image that I can work with. The jpeg image quality defaults to LN, not the higher quality LF setting so you may want to change this. Since the images are digitally corrected some camera features are disabled. This includes the following;
all sequential shooting modes
Art Filters (Although I don't use the Art Filters too often, I am hoping that in a future update these can be used with the fisheye correction.)
Uncorrected - ISO400, f/7.1, 1/8s
Correction Applied - Setting 1
Uncorrected - ISO3200, f/1.8, 25s
Correction Applied - Setting 1
Links For more information about the m.Zuiko 8mm f/1.8 you can check out two other posts that I've written about this lens (told you I was a fan);
Disclosure: I am an Olympus Visionary and as such, receive compensation from Olympus America. However, no compensation was paid for this review. I endorse their products because I truly believe in the quality of their gear.
No matter how many lenses you own, chances are that you have one or two that you end up reaching for more than the others in your bag. As a long time Olympus shooter I own most of the micro 4/3 lenses on the market today, and I use many of them quite regularly depending on the situation. That being said, I am finding that the new m.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 PRO is spending a lot more time attached to my camera than any other lens. It has become my workhorse lens, for a number of important reasons.
Overview The 12-100mm is a constant aperture f/4 lens that measures 116.5mm long by 77.5mm in diameter with a 72mm filter thread. Like all Olympus PRO lenses it has a programmable lens function button, a manual focus clutch and is weather-sealed, meaning it is splash proof, dust proof, and freeze proof. It has 17 elements in 11 groups with high quality construction and the Z nano coating to reduce glare. Perhaps most impressive is the 5-axis Sync image stabilization that works in tandem with the in-body image stabilization of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II to produce up to 6.5 stops of IS.
Focal Range The chief reason why this lens has become a favourite of mine is the incredible focal range - the 35mm equivalent of 24 - 200mm. Presently, it is the only professional high magnification zoom to cover that range. The images below illustrate just what that looks like. One of the biggest selling points of the Olympus mirrorless system is how compact both the camera bodies and lenses are without any sacrifice in image quality. Given the amount of time I spend hiking and paddling I love the fact that this lens allows me to go from wide-angle to mid-range telephoto.
E-M1 Mark II, 12mm, ISO1000, 1/250s @ f/7.1
E-M1 Mark II, 25mm, ISO1000, 1/400s @ f/7.1
E-M1 Mark II, 100mm, ISO1000, 1/400s @ f/7.1
E-M1 Mark II, 17mm, ISO200, 1/500s @ f/9
E-M1 Mark II, 100mm, ISO200, 1/2000s @ f/9
The Perfect Travel Lens The flexibility of this lens makes it an excellent choice for practically any travel situation. You would typically need two professional grade lenses to cover this focal range and at 21 ounces it is light enough to carry all day and have it easily fit into a small camera bag. With excellent optical performance you are definitely not sacrificing image quality. Although the 12-100 makes for an excellent travel lens, it has also become one of my primary landscape lenses, for all of the same reasons. It is light, has great reach, is ruggedly built and has excellent image quality. As an avid kayaker and canoeist I really appreciate the fact that this one lens has so much flexibility for what I shoot. The Sync IS also gives me confidence that my images will be sharp even when bobbing around on the water.
E-M1 Mark II, 21mm, ISO400, 1/1250s @ f/8
E-M1 Mark II, 12mm, ISO200, 1/400s @ f/7.1
E-M1 Mark II, 12mm, ISO200, 1/800s @ f/8
E-M1 Mark II, 66mm, ISO400, 1/20s @ f/7.1
E-M1 Mark II, 100mm, ISO400, 1/800s @ f/8
E-M1 Mark II, 21mm, ISO200, 1/25s @ f/7.1
E-M1 Mark II, 12mm, ISO400, 1.3s @ f/6.3 - Focus bracketing
E-M1 Mark II, 12mm, ISO64, 1s @ f/13
Focusing Distance Another impressive feature of this lens is the remarkably close focusing distance of only 15 cm when shooting at 12mm. When set at 100mm the minimum focusing distance goes to 45cm. Though not designed as a true 1:1 macro lens, it will certainly allow for some excellent macro opportunities.
E-M1 Mark II, 35mm, ISO640, 0.4s @ f/7.1
E-M1 Mark II, 54mm, 0.6s @ f/7.1
Olympus E-M1 Mark II, 12mm, ISO200, 1/100s @ f/7.1
Portraiture Flexibility and versatility are words that clearly describe the appeal of this lens. As such, it can certainly be used as a good portrait lens. Now, it's unlikely that any professional portrait photographer would use the 12-100 as their primary portrait lens, but it can make for a great back-up lens. For other situations, like photographing my grandkids at the beach, it's perfect. With a constant aperture of f/4 the lens produces a pleasant bokeh when shot wide open, but of course, not as soft as you would get with a faster lens.
Low Light So how does the 12-100 handle low light situations? It is only an f/4 lens, after all. Remarkably well, I'd say. I do a lot of night sky photography and I have to admit that this lens has never found its way onto my camera for those situations, but for interior shooting or for capturing the city lights it does a fantastic job. With the Sync IS, that works in conjunction with the IBIS, I have never had any concern with shooting in dimmer light. All of the interior shots below were handheld and because of the fantastic optics and the exceptional image stabilization are incredibly sharp.
Olympus E-M1 Mark II, ISO1600, 12mm, 1/60s @ f/8
Olympus E-M1 Mark II, 21mm, ISO6400, 1/25s @ f/5
Olympus E-M1 Mark II, 61mm, ISO2500, 1/125s @ f/4
E-M1 Mark II, 50mm, ISO640, 1/80s @ f/6.3
E-M1 Mark II, 12mm, ISO800, 0.4s @ f/4.5 using the Multiple Exposure feature to superimpose the moon.
E-M1 Mark II, 25mm, ISO200, 2s @ f/4
Final Thoughts There are a number of lenses in my bag that I would have trouble parting with, but none more than the m.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 PRO. I'm not going to repeat all of its excellent features. Suffice it to say that it has truly become my workhorse lens and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future.
At any time of the year, it is not uncommon to look into a clear night sky and see the occasional meteor streaking through the heavens. However, with each orbit around the sun, our little blue planet passes through several meteoroid streams that can produce upwards of one hundred meteors per hour - a meteor shower. These streams are created by orbiting comets that shed cosmic particles as they approach the sun. Photographing these celestial events can be a challenge, but with a bit of knowledge you can improve your chances of success.
Knowing where and when a meteor shower will occur is the first step to a successful night shoot. These particles generally run parallel to the comet from which they came, and as such will appear to spread out from a single point in the sky. They are named for the nearest constellation or bright star from which they radiate. This 'fixed point' will track across the sky over the course of the night similar to the way that the stars do.
The chart below lists the major meteor showers throughout the year, the best viewing dates, and their location in the sky.
Peak Viewing Dates
Location - Early Evening (Direction / Altitude)
Location - Early Morning (Direction / Altitude)
January 3 - 4
333° / 10°
63° / 60°
April 22 - 23
41° / 1°
143° / 80°
Not good for viewing
100° / 10°
August 9 - 13
21° / 17°
43° / 64°
October 20 - 21
70° / 2°
185° / 63°
66° / 7°
125° / 60°
43° / 1°
265° / 60°
The Perseids and Geminids are considered to be the best meteor showers to view with upwards of 100 or more meteors per hour. Of course, the Perseids will be the most comfortable to watch given the warmer summer temperatures.
Meteor showers generally move south and gain altitude over the course of the night making the pre-dawn hours the best for viewing.
Although most meteors during an event may appear to emanate from a particular fixed point they can be seen all across the sky.
For more detailed information, check out the meteor shower library at dateandtime.com
Olympus EM1 Mark II, 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO, ISO 3200, 25s @ f/2.8
Photographed during the Lyrids (Olympus E-M1, 12mm f/2.0, ISO1250, 20s @ f/2)
Tips for Viewing a Meteor Shower
Stay away from the light - Ambient light from the city or even the moon can put a serious damper on your ability to see meteors so find a dark sky area that will improve your chances.
Check the weather - Before heading out check the forecast and make sure clear skies are predicted for where you are viewing. Typically I will check out an infrared satellite image to ensure that there is no cloud cover approaching for the next few hours. Clear Sky Charts can be very helpful since they predict viewing conditions for hundreds of specific sites across North America.
Get comfortable - The term "meteor shower" might give you the impression that the sky will be inundated with a constant stream of shooting stars. Sorry, not happening! Even the most active meteor showers only produce 1 or 2 meteors per minute so be patient and be prepared to stare into space for a good length of time. Bring along a chair or blanket, and some bug spray (unless it's December) and dress in layers since even summer months can bring a chill once the sun sets.
Don't forget the headlamp - Even a familiar area can be difficult to navigate in the dark. Bring along a headlamp or flashlight and ensure you've got enough battery power. Ideally, use a headlamp with a red light option since this is easier for your eyes to adjust to.
Know your shower - Review the best viewing direction and altitude for the particular meteor shower you are watching, keeping in mind that both will change during the course of the night.
Tips for Photographing a Meteor Shower Okay, so you found a great spot, the conditions are perfect, and the meteors are flying. Let's photograph! Many of these tips apply to most types of night sky photography. If you are new to astrophotography check out my blog post that will get you on your way.
Point your camera in the right direction - We might as well start where we left off in the previous section. Your likelihood of capturing a meteor will increase greatly if you know the area of sky where the meteor shower is emanating from.
Composition counts - It's always exciting to see that you have captured a meteor on your LCD, but the final photograph will always be more impressive if you include an interesting foreground. That may include a few trees, an old building, or some mountains off in the distance.
Use a tripod - Since long exposures are the order of the day (or night) use a solidly built tripod and ensure that all knobs and cranks are well tightened. Even slight movement will create unwanted blur in the final image.
Shoot wide and open - Select a wide-angle lens and the largest aperture possible. My favourite astro lens is the Olympus m.Zuiko 12mm f/2 (equivalent to 24mm in full frame). Keep in mind that the wider the lens the smaller the meteors will appear, however if you move to a narrower field of view you are also capturing a smaller amount of sky and will likely miss many of the meteors.
Get your exposure right - Determine the maximum shutter speed you can use by following the 500 Rule (500 divided by the true focal length of the lens). In the example above with the 12mm lens the math would work like this; 500 / 24 = 20.83s. Therefore the maximum shutter speed I can use before the stars start to blur is 20 seconds. As for ISO, start with 1600 and adjust as necessary.
To NR or not NR? All long exposures will create some digital noise. You can reduce this by enabling your camera's built-in noise reduction. Unfortunately this doubles the amount of time between shots - a 20 second exposure adds a 20 second noise reduction sequence. Any meteors during that time will, of course be missed. If you are comfortable with reducing noise during post-processing with a program like Lightroom then you may want to turn NR off, otherwise leave it on.
Take test shots - With your camera settings locked in and the scene nicely framed take a number of test shots. Check for overall exposure and composition. It is surprisingly difficult to compose a shot in the dark so you may need to adjust the camera position several times before you are happy with it.
Automate your shooting - Once I am happy with the setup I enable the time lapse feature so that I don't have to press the shutter release after every exposure. I will set it up to take several hundred shots with a 1 second delay between each shot. This way I can sit back and watch the show while the camera does all the work. If you are not familiar with time lapse photography check out my blog post. If you prefer to use the shutter release for each shot, enable a time delay of one or two seconds to prevent any camera shake from accidentally blurring the photo. Or use a remote trigger like the O.I.Share app for Olympus cameras.
Photographed during the Geminids in mid-December. (E-M1 Mark II, 17mm f/1.2 PRO, ISO2000, 13s @ f/1.2)
When is a Shooting Star Not a Shooting Star? With the naked eye it's difficult to confuse a meteor with any other activity in the night sky. Meteors move fairly quickly across the sky and usually only last for a second - sometimes more, sometimes less. They also increase in brightness and then fade out. But in a static image it can be difficult to tell what created the streak of light. Planes have strobes that create a characteristic connect-the-dot look in your image so there is usually no trouble identifying that in your photo. Satellites on the other hand reflect light from the sun and therefore create a streak of constant brightness from tip to tail. The photo above clearly shows the light increasing in intensity from left to right and then fading out quickly. Satellites don't do that, with one exception - iridium flares. The Iridium series of satellites have very reflective surfaces that create a brief, buy very noticeable flare as they pass overhead. They move slower than a meteor so are not likely to be mistaken for one to the naked eye, but in an image they can look quite similar.
I didn't see this "meteor", but considering its brightness I suspect that it might be an iridium flare. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, 8mm f/1.8 PRO, ISO 2000, 20s @ f/1.8)
Using Live Composite If you are an Olympus shooter, your first inclination might be to use the Live Composite feature since it will capture all changes in light over the course of many minutes or hours. This will allow you to capture up to 3 hours of night sky activity in a single image. I would actually advise against this since the star trails will overlap any of the meteors that you capture, unless this is the effect you are looking for.
Using Live Composite is great for capturing star trails, but those trails can interfere with the meteors that occur. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO, ISO1600, Base Exposure of 25s over 45 minutes at f/2.8)
Is there a way to photograph a bunch of meteors in one single shot? Sorry, but no. Over the course of a 25-30 second exposure it would be extremely unlikely that you would see more than two shooting stars. Those photos where you have seen a dozen or more meteors are composite images of several shots blended together. The image below is an example of one. This is a blending of 12 images using Photoshop and layer masking.
Final Thoughts With a bit of planning, and a bit of luck it is quite possible to capture numerous meteors over the course of an hour or so of shooting. Just remember to make a wish after each one.
Useful Links Here are all the links referred to in the body of this post, plus a few others;
Impressions of the New Olympus 17mm and 45mm f/1.2 PRO Lenses
Disclosure: I am an Olympus Visionary and as such, receive compensation from Olympus America. However, no compensation was paid for this review. I endorse their products because I truly believe in the quality of their gear.
In late 2016 Olympus announced the 25mm f/1.2 PRO - an incredibly fast and sharp lens with beautiful feathered bokeh. For the past year that lens has been pacing the waiting room anticipating the delivery of two promised siblings - the 17mm and 45mm f/1.2 lenses. The wait is now over.
As an Olympus Visionary I was recently provided the opportunity to work with both the 17 and 45mm lenses at a press event in Charleston, SC alongside respected journalists and reviewers in the industry. After a few days of shooting I walked away (actually flew away) with a thoroughly positive impression of both lenses. They meet or exceed all of the claims made by Olympus. So what are those claims?
Depictive performance that delivers feathered bokeh and outstanding resolution when shooting at f/1.2. This provides a 3-dimensional impression of your main subject, isolating it from the overall softened background due to the smooth transition from the sharp to the defocused areas of the image.
Fast, high precision auto-focusing. Both lenses provide virtually silent and smooth high-speed focusing performance, even when using the maximum aperture of f/1.2 and work incredibly well with the Face Priority or Eye Priority AF modes.
Lightweight, yet rugged construction. Each lens provides dust proof, splash proof and freeze-proof performance.
Excellent close-up shooting. The 17mm f/1.2 PRO has a minimum working distance of 20cm while the 45mm f/1.2 PRO has a minimum working distance of 50mm.
Premium design. All three lenses in the f/1.2 family are designed with the professional photographer in mind with a large focusing ring that allows for easy switching between auto and manual focusing by simply pulling back on the MF clutch. A programmable Lens Function button is also included.
m.Zuiko 45mm f/1.2 PRO, ISO400, 1/1600s, f/1.2
My Impressions Prior to being handed the new lenses in Charleston, I had worked with the 25mm f/1.2 PRO so I had a good sense of how the 17mm and 45mm would feel in my hand since all three lenses have been designed with almost identical dimensions (within a couple of millimetres) and each uses a 62mm filter. It is worth mentioning that all three focal lengths have f/1.8 versions that are considerably smaller, lighter and less expensive. The f/1.2 PRO lenses are about 10 ounces heavier than their f/1.8 cousins and each comes in at $1200 USD while the f/1.8 lenses range in price between $400 and $500 depending on the lens.
Is the extra cost and weight worth it? Naturally, it will depend on the type of photographer you are, but if you are looking for a truly professional portrait, landscape, or street photography lens you should give the f/1.2 lineup some serious consideration. Here's why...
These lenses are incredibly sharp, even wide open. When shooting portraits with any of the three lenses, I was so impressed with the image sharpness achieved. Individual hairs or eyelashes could easily be seen in the final image, even when shooting from two or three meters away. This type of sharpness is usually only achieved by stopping down a lens.
Like all Olympus PRO lenses, these have the manual focusing clutch mechanism, which allows you to quickly switch to MF simply by pulling back on the focusing ring. Manual focusing felt solid and was easily achieved, especially when using the MF Assist functions, such as Magnify and Peaking. The focusing ring has just the right amount of resistance and has full stops at both ends of the focusing spectrum. Even more impressive was the lightning fast and accurate AF when one of the Face Priority options was engaged. I had never really been a strong user of the face detection feature, but I have to admit, it works incredibly well. During much of the time in Charleston we were photographing in dull, overcast conditions or in darker interior settings. The AF remained fast and accurate, and, when shooting at f/1.2 allowed for considerably faster shutter speeds in order to capture the moment.
As for the bokeh, there is a smoothness in the feathered bokeh that creates amazing subject separation, yet doesn't pull attention away from your main subject. It really does create a more 3-dimensional look to the image. Stop down to f/1.8 and you get the more traditional solid bokeh. When shooting wide open there is enough depth of field to achieve critical sharpness from nose to ear with your subject. Of course, the amount of depth of field in an image is directly dependent on your distance from the subject.
When it comes to build quality I have no doubt that all three lenses will be able to hold up to the elements and the rigours of day-to-day use. I have subjected my other PRO lenses to rain, snow, and extreme cold and they have not failed. (I've even had one submerged in salt water and it's still working!) During part of the press event we worked in some light rain and with the excellent weather-sealed body and lenses it never became an issue. The lens hood, included with each lens, also helps to keep rain off the front element. Upon my return from Charleston I had both the 17 and 45 lenses out in -15°C conditions for about two hours and they kept working with no issues.
Now, I have to admit that none of these lenses are likely to become my day-to-day workhorse. I am primarily a landscape and nature photographer, and love the results I get from lenses like the m.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO or the m.Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 PRO. That being said, since returning from Charleston, I have been carrying around the 17mm and have found numerous opportunities to use it, and have been very satisfied with the results. I do a few portrait sessions a year and will now use the 45mm f/1.2 as my goto lens.
Sample Images - m.Zuiko 45mm f/1.2 PRO All of the images below were shot with the Olympus E-M1 Mark II and, in order to show off the bokeh, most of the photographs were taken at f/1.2. The images are also presented straight out of the camera with no editing, unless otherwise stated. For several images I have provided full-sized jpeg and RAW files for download.
M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.2 PRO, ISO200, 1/640s, f/1.2
M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.2 PRO, ISO400, 1/800s, f/1.2
A 100% Crop of the above image.
m.Zuiko 45mm f/1.2 PRO, ISO200, 1/500s, f/1.2
m.Zuiko 45mm f/1.2 PRO, ISO200, 1/1250s, f/1.2
m.Zuiko 45mm f/1.2 PRO, ISO400, 1/250s, f/1.2
m.Zuiko 45mm f/1.2 PRO, ISO400, 1/2000s, f/1.2
M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.2 PRO, ISO400, 1/25s, f/1.2
A 100% crop of the above image (Download full-sized jpeg and RAW files below.)
m.Zuiko 17mm f/1.2 PRO, ISO200, 1/50s, f/9 (This image was post-processed for colour, due to the shaded conditions in which it was shot)
m.Zuiko 17mm f/1.2 PRO, ISO3200, 13s, f/1.2 (This image was post-processed. The foreground was lightened and the WB was adjusted.)
A Few Comparisons The images below demonstrate the noticeable difference in bokeh when shooting at f/1.2 and a smaller aperture.
m.Zuiko 17mm f/1.2 PRO
m.Zuiko 45mm f/1.2 PRO
m.Zuiko 45mm f/1.2 PRO
Final Thoughts What has impressed me the most about all three of the f/1.2 lenses is the excellent low-light performance. I love being able to shoot hand held in dimly lit interiors without having to raise the ISO. Prior to getting the new 17 and 45mm lenses, I had an interior shoot that was incredibly difficult to light - it was done inside a fitness gym. I used the 25mm f/1.2 and it made all the difference. I got shots that I never would have been able to get with a slower lens. There is also something to be said about the feathered bokeh when shooting at f/1.2. There is a distinct smoothness that creates beautiful subject separation.
With three excellent lenses in the f/1.2 family, it will be interesting to see what Olympus produces next.