Sunday, July 05, 2015

Shooting with Olympus M.Zuiko 14-150mm F4-5.6 II Lens

Special shout-out to Jia Yeen for being such a sport, you were awesome! Thanks for spending time with us noob portrait photographers. 

I have done something rather unusual this weekend. Instead of shooting with my favourite prime lenses, or even the newer PRO lenses, I decided against all my usual preferences and picked up the one lens which I rarely used, the M.Zuiko 14-150mm F4-5.6 II from the office, mounted it on the beautiful OM-D E-M5 Mark II and I went out for a full on shutter therapy weekend. With just ONE lens. 

About General-Purpose Zoom Lenses
I will be very honest here, I normally would not recommend a 10x or more zoom lenses, especially the lenses spanning from wide angle to telephoto zoom range. I believe that in order to fit in such a huge zoom range into a lens, there must be some compromises. Since most cameras are equipped with at least the basic kit lens, it makes much more sense to get a dedicated telephoto zoom lens (such as 40-150mm F4-5.6) to complement the original kit lens, and save a few hundred dollars of hard earned cash. I always had this perception in my head that the basic kit lens and the telephoto zoom lens will both perform considerably better than the all zoom wide to telephoto lens. This statement is valid based on many feedback and experience from many friends who come from all sorts of camera brands. So is this the same case with Olympus? This is what I will find out and discuss in this blog entry. 
Olympus M.Zuiko 14-150mm F4-5.6 II lens looks great on OM-D styled camera

at full 150mm zoom telephoto end, the lens is extended far out from the original retracted position. 

Olympus M.Zuiko 14-150mm F4-5.6 II Highlights

The 14-150mm lens covers a 10.7x zoom range, which is quite versatile for most photography needs, from wide angle to telephoto range. There was already an existing old version of 14-150mm lens, which was optically similar. The new M.Zuiko 14-150mm F4.5.6 II lens has the following improvements:

Fully splash, dust and freeze proof. The old version did not have weather sealing. 

New Lens Design
The outer body of the lens looks completely different now, and the design is modified to match the overall newer OM-D and PEN cameras from Olympus. I must admit the old lens does look old now. 

ZERO coating
Olympus is applying this ZERO (Zuiko Extra-Low Reflective Optical) coating to their newer lenses, and the Mark II version of the 14-150mm lens benefits from this to minimize ghosting and flare issues. 

So what did I do with the Olympus M.Zuiko 14-150mm Mark II?

I went to street shooting with a group of friends on a cloudy, lazy Saturday morning, at Petaling Street. Earlier today, this morning (Sunday), I also did a quick model shoot with beautiful friend, Jia Yeen (who is also a Micro Four Thirds user! See her blog here). Previously, I have shot a live tennis game at BMW Malaysia Open, a Fourth Round (I think) game with Australian tennis star Jarmila Gajdošová. I have added some photos which I have taken (and shown before here) during my review session with the OM-D E-M5 Mark II not too long ago. 

After all, the only way to put a lens through torture, and know how it performs, is have adequate shooting sessions. 

1/1600sec, F5.6, ISO200, 58mm

1/500sec, F5.5, ISO200, 90mm

1/100sec, F5.6, ISO640, 90mm

100% crop from previous photo

1/30sec, F5.6, ISO250, 18mm

100% crop from previous photo

1/60sec, F5.5, ISO640, 90mm

1/25sec, F6.3, ISO200, 34mm

100% crop from the previous image

1/100sec, F6.3, ISO200, 90mm
not my watch

1/5sec, F5.5, ISO800, 70mm
My watch

1) Image Quality Is Very Good For An All Purpose Zoom Lens

After spending many hours shooting with the M.Zuiko 14-150mm F4-5.6 II and scrutinizing at the image output the lens produced, I am quite impressed with what this lens can do. 

Referring to my earlier assumption that general all purpose zoom lens is dissappinting to many people, I am far from being disappointed when I used this 14-150mm II lens. Perhaps I have set my expectations too low, but the image quality is definitely more than usable. The sharpness is good enough for the subjects that I shoot, in fact the amount of fine detail resolved is excellent, if you shoot at the lens' optimal focal length and stop down the aperture a little bit. 

I generally find that the lens does suffer from a little softness when shooting wide, as well as at the longer end. Zooming in to 18mm, the sharpness improved, and staying within 90mm, you get very good image sharpness. Nevertheless, I would not hesiatate to use 14mm wide end as well as zoom in all the way to 150mm at the tele-end, the image may come out a little soft but they were good enough and you should not have to worry much. Stopping down a little bit in aperture helps. 

I do not see any Chromatic Aberration and distortion was well controlled. I believe the camera processing engine Truepic 7 is doing a great job here to produce optimized and corrected final output from the camera. 

It is also worth noting that while I think the sharpness is good, it is nowhere near what the M.Zuiko prime lenses such as 45mm F1.8 and 75mm F1.8 can do. There is no point comparing as well. For a zoom lens, having such a wide coverage and range, I do think this 14-150mm II performs well. 

2) Decent Close Up Shooting

This 14-150mm II lens may not replace a macro lens, and may not have as good close up shooting as many of other Olympus lenses, but it is also sufficient for many situations. Referring to the watches photographs as shown above, you can actually achieve good magnification (0.22x). The trick here is to zoom in to the longest end, 150mm and shoot from a distance to achieve maximum magnification. Even for the watch photographs I only had to zoom in to 70mm and 90mm to get the respective shots. The close up shooting is important, revealing the tiny details, especially seen on the watch faces. 

3) Super Fast Autofocus

Like all other Olympus newer lenses, the AF is blazing fast. In fact, if you use the touch screen AF to shoot immediately where you touch on the LCD screen, the feedback is instantaneous with no traces of lag. The reason why I went to shoot the tennis match (as shown in the images below) was to put the AF to extreme test. The 14-150mm II lens performed remarkably well on the OM-D E-M5 Mark II (I would think the same performance can be achieved with any OM-D bodies as well as PEN cameras) and I can successfully locked my AF on the tennis player and captured many keeper shots. Hit rate was very high. I have tried both Continuous AF with tracking as well as with Single-AF. While the Continuous AF with tracking was not exactly working very well (it is no surprise this is one area where Olympus does need to drastically improve on) the Single AF was fast enough that I can immediately snap and get a sharp, in focus shot. 

I have also tested the lens in low light shooting conditions and the focusing worked just as well, with no sign of slowing down. 

Introducing JIA YEEN

1/13sec, F5, ISO1000, 31mm

1/15sec, F5, ISO640, 31mm

1/13sec, F5.5, ISO640, 56mm

1/8sec, F4.9, ISO640, 20mm

1/50sec, F5.4, ISO200, 42mm

1/40sec, F4, ISO400, 14mm

1/40sec, F4.7, ISO400, 25mm

1/50sec, F5.6, ISO800, 135mm

1/30sec, F4.5, ISO200, 70mm

4) Shooting Portrait with 14-150mm II

Let me start by saying I suck big time when it comes to portrait shooting. I rarely shoot (the more reason for me to do more) models and I think this could be one of the more difficult things in photography. And this was a super quick session, we had less than an hour of shooting time and there were 3 photographers around. Again, the aim of this shoot was 1) to force myself to shoot portraits, in the spirit of moving out of my comfort zone and 2) to test this 14-150mm II lens, obviously!

I actually did not plan for this to happen but since Jackie asked so I thought why not, this could be a good chance to see how the 14-150mm II, not exactly a lens that would first pop up in mind when shooting portraits, do in such environment. I welcome the versatility and convenience of this lens: I did not even have to change lens when I decided to change from shooting a wide angle environmental portrait to a tight close up headshot! Oh how I miss my days of shooting with zoom lenses. Also when working in a tight space (we were in a cafe, so movement was rather limited) zoom is a God-sent feature. Your feet is perhaps the best zoom tool according to many experienced photographers, but what can you do when your feet is not free to move around? It was liberating to just zoom in and out and compose based on whether I want to include or exclude the elements in the frame. 

While the most recommended lenses for portrait shooting would be the amazing M.Zuiko 45mm F1,8 and 75mm F1,8, and heck surely the 40-150mm F2.8 PRO could do an awesome job, I did enjoy using this 14-150mm II. It does have the ability to render shallow depth of field, but you do need to shoot with longer focal lengths and stand back a little. And the lens is not SUPER sharp like the rest of the M.Zuiko lenses, which is sometimes a good thing, especially when it comes to new comer to portrait photography like me!

5) Bokeh Quality and Shallow Depth of Field Rendering

While at F4-5.6, it is not a lens recommended to shoot shallow depth of field results, I do think what can be accomplished with this 14-150mm II lens is decent. As mentioned earlier, you do need to shoot from a distance and then zooming in to the longer end. No, the depth of field will never be better than F1.8 lenses, but you can still create good subject isolation and separation from busy background, if used correctly. The bokeh, like any M.Zuiko lenses is smooth, and creamy. 

6) Shooting Sports (Telephoto Action Photography)

I acknowledge that one of the reasons we need a longer reach for the lens, is for coverages such as sports, stage photography as well as general telephoto needs such as shooting animals in the zoo. 

In good lighting condition (direct sunlight, with slightly overcast day) the 14-150mm II performed well, and I appreciate the far reach of 150mm (which is equivalent of 300mm in 35mm format) which did allow me to go very near. I rarely shoot at full zoom, and I pulled back to 100mm to 135mm which was the sweet spot at where I was sitting (about 4th or 5th row from the front). The zoom coverage was sufficient and I did not wish I had a longer lens. As stated earlier autofocus was super quick and I did not have issues locking focus, and I had very high hit rate in this shooting session. 

I would not recommend this lens for indoor, low light sports photography. The F4-5.6 is just too slow for moving subjects in low light conditions. Take note that even under direct sun I had to boost up the ISO to make sure I had shutter speed faster than 1/1000sec, shooting at wide open aperture. If you need to shoot a lot of indoor action or low light sports, I recommend M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8, or the 40-150mm F2.8 PRO lens. 

Jarmila Gajdošová 
BMW Malaysian Open 2015

1/1600sec, F5.6, ISO640, 135mm

1/1600sec, F5.6, ISO640, 150mm

1/1600sec, F5.6, ISO640, 135mm

1/1600sec, F5.6, ISO640, 150mm

1/1000sec, F5.6, ISO640, 90mm

1/2500sec, F5.6, ISO640, 100mm

1/800sec, F5.6, ISO640, 100mm 
Yikes, she was staring at me directly! My shutter sound was super quiet I swear!

7) Handling of the Lens

I used the HLD-8G grip with the OM-D E-M5 Mark II all the time while using this 14-150mm II lens. Although the lens is small and light, when you extend to the longest zoom, the lens barrel does become rather long, and may feel imbalanced when hand-holding with smaller camera bodies. The balance works well with the E-M1, but with smaller OM-D bodies such as the E-M5 Mark II and E-M10, I highly recommend adding the hand grip (HLD-8G for E-M5 Mark II and ECG-1 for the E-M10). The additional grip added much needed beefier grip for better hand holding, as well as counter balance weight, when the lens is being extended in zoom to telephoto end. 

With the HLD-8G, handling was good, and I was comfortable shooting with the camera and lens almost all day. I felt no strain on my neck or wrists. 

8) Pushing the limits: Using Slower Shutter Speed

In order to optimize the image quality output it is crucial that we do not bump up the ISO numbers too high and unnecessarily. However the biggest issue with the 14-150mm II lens is the wide aperture not being that wide, merely at F4-5.6. Therefore, in many situations the ISO has to be increased to achieve sufficient shutter speed to mitigate blur due to hand shake. 

The great thing about using this 14-150mm II lens on an OM-D body is the great advantage of having 5-Axis Image Stabilization system. If you have not even tried using the 5-Axis Image Stabilization system you have missed out one of the greatest innovation in photography in recent years. 

With the 5-Axis IS, it is safe to lower down the shutter speed, and shooting hand-held with lower ISO settings, getting much better, cleaner image outputs. The 5-Axis IS works well throughout the whole focal zoom range. I have plenty of image samples to show you. To give a sense of how effective the 5-Axis IS truly is, I have been shooting a lot with the Panasonic GM1, which has no IS. Even shooting with wide angle 14mm, with shutter speed of 1/60sec, I still get a small chance of blur output due to hand-shake! I did not realize how powerful and realiable the 5-Axis Image Stabilization system is until I suddenly have to shoot WITHOUT it. 

Do bear in mind that subject movement will become an issue when you shoot at too slow of a shutter speed, and proper camera handling and holding techniques can greatly improve your hit-rate shooting with slower than usual shutter speeds. 

DO NOT HOLD YOUR CAMERA WITH ONE HAND!!! It is a crime really. 

1/2sec, F18, ISO200, 31mm

1/4sec, F5.5, ISO200, 80mm

1/5sec, F5.5, ISO640, 90mm

100% crop from previous image. Completely FREE of blur

1/8sec, F5.6, ISO1250, 150mm

1/6sec, F4.9, ISO400, 29mm

1/20sec, F5.5, ISO200, 52mm

1/8sec, F4.2, ISO200, 18mm

1/13sec, F5.6, ISO200, 25mm

1/13sec, F4, ISO400, 14mm

1/80sec, F5.5, ISO500, 70mm

9) Who Is The M.Zuiko 14-150mm II Lens For?

If you already have all the amazing M.Zuiko lenses such as 25mm F1.8, 45mm F1.8, and even the PRO lenses such as 12-40mm F2.8, 40-150mm F2.8 PRO, you might not like the slightly less than stellar image output the 14-150mm II delivers. After all, it is not a PRO lens, certainly not a prime lens, and we should not expect it to be. 

If you already have a basic kit lens (usually the 14-42mm, either the normal or pancake slim version), then I actually would recommend getting the 40-150mm F4-5.6 zoom tele lens, which is small and delivers great image quality for such a cheap lens. The big question here is, how does the 14-150mm II compare in terms of image quality against the 14-42mm variants as well as the 40-150mm F4-5.6 lenses? Strangely, I do think the image results are VERY SIMILAR. Which is strange, considering that the long zoom range would actually create some compromises. But it is also worth reemphasizing that at the widest and longest ends of the zoom range (14mm and 150mm) the 14-150mm II will not outperform the 14-42mm and 40-150mm lenses. Even so, the difference is rather small and negligible. 

It all comes down to convenience. Do you prefer to carry two lenses and have the trouble to change lens, or have 2 in 1 lens? Many times, convenience wins. Especially for travel, you want to minimize items to be carried around, and just having ONE item with you (lens is mounted on the camera) can make a huge difference. 

For newcomers to Olympus, and you have NO idea what lens to get, and you want a lens that can possibly do as much as possible, go for this M.Zuiko 14-150mm F4-5.6 II lens, you cannot go wrong. This is especially true if you have the lens bundled with newer OM-D bodies such as the E-M5 Mark II, which offers significant amount of saving than buying the lens separately. 

10) Street Photography with 14-150mm II

My final set of images were taken at Petaling Street. The lens is super fast, hence capturing fast moving moments is not an issue. Importantly, the lens has wide focal length range which covers all classic street photography staples such as 28mm, 35mm and 50mm. Yes, image quality is not as good as prime lenses which is the suggested lenses for street, but honestly do you really that high image quality when shooting on the street? The lens is small and light and fits the OM-D perfectly. 

1/100sec, F4, ISO1250, 14mm

1/320sec, F5, ISO800, 31mm

1/30sec, F5.5, ISO200, 47mm

1/100sec, F5.5, ISO640, 75mm

1/2000sec, F5.6, ISO200, 90mm

1/60sec, F5.5, ISO200, 70mm

1/1250sec, F8, ISO200, 16mm

1/25sec, F4.7, ISO1600, 25mm

I was pleasantly surprised by what the M.Zuiko 14-150mm F4-5.6 II lens can do. It has exceeded my expectations (though my initial expectations were low) and it is capable of delivering more than adequately sharp images, with versatility of having two zoom lenses, covering from wide angle 14mm to far telephoto end of 150mm. The lens is small, light, weather-sealed, extremely fast in AF and handles well with the OM-D system. Taking advantage of the 5-Axis Image Stabilization can mitigate the slower F4-5.6 aperture, and allowing hand-held shooting at very low shutter speed, hence lower ISO use is no problem. 

I have shot portraits, food, street, sports and even some close up shots with this lens. It is a general all rounder, all purpose, versatile lens. 

Please support me and this blog by liking my Facebook Page

Friday, July 03, 2015

The Problem with White Balance

One of the things I rarely discussed here is white balance. I personally think that these days, all cameras are equipped with reliable auto white balance engine that negates the need for manual intervention. Most of the time the camera can decide the required white balance settings accurately, or close to what we consider accurate. 

So what is white balance?  Well, according to the experts (and scientists) white balance has something to do with neutralization of colors to a certain percentage of grey, or whatever that means. Why is that so important? Colour is the first thing that our brain processes when we are viewing a photograph, and if we somehow get the colour balance unacceptable to the brain, we might think that there is something wrong with the photograph. (side note: this is also the same reason why by removing colour in the process of shooting black and white photographs, the brain processes the subjects more directly, without the distraction of colours). 

Oh dear, that was a terrible explanation of white balance and if I were to teach photography I think I might just get fired. 

White balance has been a topic that was playing at the back of my mind for some time now. I do not believe white balance can be achieved by simply using some mysterious grey cards. Strangely, I do not even think there is such thing as a perfect white balance. Now bear with me as I explain with some examples. 

1) What our eyes see may not be what we want to have in white balance. Sometimes. 

My final photograph, with corrected white balance in Olympus Viewer 3. This was not what I saw but what I thought looked better in my final output. Compare this with the original image shown below, which was representative of the real colour captured as seen with naked eyes. 

This was the original, untouched image, SOOC. The purple colour skin was as seen with my eyes, and the camera did nothing wrong registering this. I decided this did not look good and I modified to white balance, so that the skin colour looks more believable, and can be accepted by wider viewing audience.