Monday, February 27, 2017

Shooting ALYA WTA Malaysian Open 2017 With Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II and M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO Lens

It was a working Saturday for me, with a basic photography workshop conducted by me (if there is any chance the attendee of that workshop is visiting this page, thanks, and welcome!) and I was attending a friend's wedding in the evening, and that effectively left me only Sunday for shutter therapy. I wanted to do something differently, and Van suggested that we shoot an on-going ALYA WTA Malaysian Open at TPC, Kuala Lumpur, which was an official WTA tennis tournament. Being a tennis fan myself, and having the possibilities to try out my own Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II for sports shooting, I thought why not?

The gear on the table

Surely, it was a Sunday, so the gang met up and took it slow, starting with overpriced coffee and filling our stomachs with good food, before we went under the gruesome grilling Malaysia sun for the rest of the afternoon. We went to a nice cafe, The Good Batch suggested by Robert and we had our brunch there, which was not too far from where the tennis tournament was. I had poached eggs and slices of salmon with some fancy dressing and like all ordinary Asians we spent way too much time photographing our food before we ate them.

Flat White

This plate is called Norwegian. 

Sim's big breakfast platter with Robert's sexy looking OM-10

So why use E-M10 Mark II for tennis shooting?

Well, basically all the E-M1 Mark II cameras are out of the office at this moment, loaned to our dealers, photographers and media people. Also, I would like to challenge the popular perception that you need to use high end photography equipment to be able to shoot good sports photographs. You know, like the 1DX Mark II and D5, or at least the 7D Mark II or D500, and anything less, especially most camera options from the mirrorless are less superior and will not be able to sufficiently perform in serious sports photography. The main reason DSLR has an advantage is the use of phase-detect autofocus, which allows much better continuous focusing capabilities than contrast detect AF in most mirrorless cameras. Of course, there are exceptions, higher end mirrorless cameras such as Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, Fujifilm X-T2 and Sony A6500 all have built in phase detect AF system for better continuous AF performance. 

If you are a professional sports photographer, or earning money directly from sports and action photography, you should probably know what you are doing and have your own set of cameras and lenses. You have your own expectations when it comes to gear performance. However, how many of us are actually sports photographers? Like many of the readers who come to this blog, I myself, am a photo-enthusiast, not a professional photographer, and I rarely do shoot sports.Why should I be spending that much money for pure camera performance that I rarely need? Is it true that lower level DSLR or mirrorless cameras will not be able to deliver good enough results, even for the purpose of shooting just for the fun of shooting? How bad can modern cameras be that, after years and years of technological improvement, are there really bad cameras out there these days?

Therefore, I decided not to use E-M1 Mark II (ok ok, it was not available, I was making excuses, heh), or E-M1, and stayed with my humble E-M10 Mark II. E-M10 Mark II, E-M5 Mark II and PEN-F were criticized for not having good enough continuous focusing, and some websites can be cruel in pointing this out. I chose the M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO lens and tested the performance of this combo the whole Sunday afternoon, and I got sun-burnt for that. 

Weapon of choice for the day, Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II and M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO lens

Dalila Jakupović

Anna Kalinskaya

Anna Kalinskaya

Before I write down my thoughts and observations from this shoot, let me clarify that I am not a sports shooter, and I do not have enough experience to give meaningful advice for professional sports photography. I shall not pretend that I can do sports photography, and my conclusion is only based on this short 4 hours shooting session. I am writing from a photography enthusiast's point of view, someone who frequently shoots street photography (and sometimes landscape, portraits and insect macro) but would love to in rare occasions shoot sports, using own, available tools. Therefore, this blog entry is composed to explore the possibilities of using my E-M10 Mark II, as a hobbyist, and show what kind of photographs this camera can take in real life, sports events.

Here are the technical information from this particular tennis shooting session:
Aperture Priority - Set to the widest, F2.8 when using 40-150mm F2.8 lens alone, and F4 when using the MC-14 teleconverter.
ISO 200 when under direct harsh, sunlight, and when it got cloudy much later in the afternoon, ISO400 to maintain fast enough shutter speed.
Single-AF mode, with focusing point fixed at the center.
Burst Sequential continuous shooting, initially I used 11 frames per second (electronic shutter) and after seeing some strange distortion I used 8.5 frames per second (mechanical shutter)
Metering was set to Evaluative/Pattern with exposure compensation dialed down at -0.7 or -1.0 EV
I shot everything in RAW, came home with about 3500 images from a 4 hours shooting
I used the ECG-3 external grip on E-M10 Mark II at all time (MUST HAVE!!!)

I did not use Continuous AF, because, obviously, it will not do well enough to track the fast moving tennis players. However, most people underestimated the blazing speed of Single-AF, and the focusing can be locked on almost instantaneously when you half-press the shutter button. Taking advantage of this blistering speed (you got to use this to understand, just half-press and then quickly shoot), I can still get away with very high hit rate when I was shooting subjects in motion. I am not saying that this is good enough to substitute true potential of Continuous AF, I agree Continuous AF is needed for professionals to get the best possible shot. As I mentioned, I am not a professional, and honestly, that Single AF worked wonderfully well that I am able to show all these photographs taken in this blog entry!

The shooting with the E-M10 Mark II and 40-150mm F2.8 PRO lens was a revelation. People often complained that using the Electronic Viewfinder, there would be some lag between what is seen through EVF and real life. I experienced no such thing. I could effectively followed the actions and movements of the tennis players, quickly composed and executed my shots, with no noticeable delays. The shutter lag was minimal, and the camera reacted to my press of shutter button almost instantaneously. I performed short bursts (I did not hold down the shutter button for too long, maybe just for 2-3 seconds at one time), and everything went well efficiently. The camera operation was speedy and smooth, and I did not observe any issues at all during the shoot.

The biggest drawback of E-M10 Mark II, is probably the limited burst sequential shooting speed of 8.5 frames per second mechanical shutter. I tried using the 11 frames per second electronic shutter but got away with some weird distortions and warping. 8.5 frames per second is just not fast enough, and how I wish I had the 18 frames per second of E-M1 Mark II, or even 60 frames per second when shooting with Single-AF! It was no easy task to capture the tennis ball "sticking" on the tennis racket, or within the same frame as the tennis player. Once the burst of 8.5 frames per second started, I could only pray that one of the frames will successfully capture that perfect pose, or decisive shot.

Another technical limitation of E-M10 Mark II worth mentioning, is the maximum mechanical shutter speed of 1/4000sec. Under bright tropical sun, it was not fast enough to balance the exposure if I want to shoot with the widest aperture at F2.8, and I found that 1/8000sec is just nice. I did get some overexposed image, but still recoverable via RAW processing.

Tereza Martincova

Tereza Martincova

Tereza Martincova

Tereza Martincova

Su Jeong Jang

Su Jeong Jang

Su Jeong Jang

Su Jeong Jang

Tereza Martincova

Tereza Martincova

Tereza Martincova

Su Jeong Jang

Now the big question: Am I happy with these shots I took at the Malaysian Open? Absolutely yes.

In fact the E-M10 Mark II performed above my expectations, and that could probably be also due to the amazing telephoto lens M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO. I managed to shoot many in-focus, perfectly sharp, action shots of the tennis players in action. I acknowledge that E-M10 Mark II is NOT the best camera for sports photography, we have established (in my extensive E-M1 Mark II review) that the new E-M1 Mark II is superior and has greater prowess for sports photography. That does not mean if you use lower level cameras you should feel inadequate or less confident in getting the shots. For hobbysts, you do not have a client and why do you worry or beat yourself up if you do not get the shots? Just go out and shoot and have more faith in your camera! Believe in yourself and you never know, these shots from less powerful cameras can actually be more meaningful to you at the end of the day, because you put more effort in them and you do your best to maximize the camera's potential!

One extremely important factor that ensures the success of sports photography, is to understand the game. I was a tennis player (I stopped playing about 8 years ago) and I followed the ATP and WTA tour updates religiously. Knowing the mechanics of the game can help you strategize your shots better. For example, most of time, before executing a backhand or forehand, the player will take a short pause (footing is extremely important) before taking a swing, and that momentary pause is the cue to lock my single-AF, before machine-gunning my shots subsequently. Predicting the movements of the players will also aid in anticipation on where the framing will be.

Su Jeong Jang

Tereza Martincova
Malaysian sun can be really punishing, if you are not conditioned for extremely humid and hot weather.

Su Jeong Jang

Su Jeong Jang

Tereza Martincova

Van Liguthom, Sim and Me

Are there any Micro Four Thirds shooters out there, using Olympus or Panasonic cameras for sports? Do share your experience, I want to hear from you!

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Brief Encounter With Panasonic Leica 15mm F1.7

Shaun was visiting Kuala Lumpur again last weekend, and he brought with him the Panasonic Leica 15mm F1.7 which he claimed to be his favourite lens at this moment for Micro Four Thirds. Another photography friend, Bjorn has also spoken very highly of this lens. I thought, why not give this lens a go and see what I can shoot with it?

I am not sure why Panasonic likes to create lenses with really unusual focal lengths. 15mm, which in 35mm equivalent format is 30mm, is quite an irregular number, and it would have made much more sense if they just have a standard 14mm (classic 28mm equivalent) lens! Since the closest, "popular" focal length is 28mm equivalent, I shall use the lens as if I was composing with a wide angle, 28mm equivalent perspective. Oh dear, wide angle has never been my first choice when it comes to street photography, and I almost always use longer focal lengths, unless absolutely necessary.

This is not a review of the lens, I will need a lot more time to use the lens before I can write a full review. Using the lens for a few hours was not sufficient for me to form a meaningful conclusion. Also, there are already several reliable reviews available for this Panasonic 15mm F1.7 lens. I will also avoid doing any comparisons with any existing lenses from any brand, the last time I did this I suffered through unnecessary bashing, though I was being completely honest. I have figured out that sometimes people just want to hear what they want to hear, so I am shying away from comparison tests and just focus on creating photographs.

The Panasonic Leica 15mm F1.7 fits the E-M10 Mark II perfectly. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Adventures in Hokkaido With Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II

Edit: I have included more food photographs, just for you, Jason. 

I recently have visited Hokkaido, Japan in an officially organized trip by Olympus. There were rounds of sight-seeing and doing touristy activities, and I had the opportunity to bring with me an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II with several PRO lenses to use throughout the trip. We did not have a lot of time, and most of the trip was already planned out, so I was merely tagging along. As a result, most of my images taken were nothing more than snapshots that any ordinary visiting tourists would have taken, in the eyes of a foreigner visiting an alien land.

The experience was quite surreal, it was my first time seeing so much snow, and being in a place with almost -10 degrees Celcius was both fun and painful in some ways. I have always loved the cold but the trouble to go through, putting on layers and layers of cloths, wearing proper walking boots as well as using gloves, seriously no joy in those. And operating a camera, shooting through the gloves was so difficult!

I did have one final day in Shinjuku, which I had some brief time to myself to explore on my own. I have decided to merge the images from Shinjuku together with Hokkaido series, since I did not have enough images to create a Shinjuku series on its own.

All images were taken with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and M.Zuiko lenses 7-14mm F2.8 PRO, 25mm F1.2 PRO, 45mm F1.8 and 40-150mm F2.8 PRO

The Sapporo TV Tower, with an observation deck at the top. Of course, like any other tourists I went up and had a high viewpoint of Sapporo's beautiful city from up there.  

Japanese cities are so beautiful, many of them are surrounded by high mountains. 

Naked tree branches, in winter. I know some of you are bored of this sight, but to me, this is something quite unusual and never seen in Malaysia. 

Sunday, February 05, 2017

The Panasonic LX100 Is Not A Bad Street Shooting Machine

So I have had the Panasonic LX100 for a while now, despite some shortcomings and my complains of a few key missing features, it is starting to grow on me and I am getting more and more shots that I really like shooting with LX100. It is surely not the love at first sight, this camera takes time to learn and understand, surely takes much longer time to love.

Yesterday, I did a quick catch up session with dear friend and fellow Micro Four Thirds shooter from Melbourne, Australia, Ananda who was home for Chinese New Year holidays. We decided to go to Pudu Wet Market, and it has been a while since my last visit there. Initially I wanted to shoot Pudu with just the new Huawei Mate 9 Pro that I have loaned from Huawei Malaysia (you know, do as much as you can with it before return) but I realized one of the favourite things I want to do in Pudu is portraits of strangers. Therefore, having a versatile zoom lens is crucial to deal with the messy background of a wet market.

I guess I still do have to complain about a few things. While I can now live with the poor JPEG rendering of LX100, and perfectly comfortable post-processing the RAW files, I still cannot let go the issues of the poor image stabilization and not having tilt-screen on the camera. There were a few moments I was shooting at dangerously slow shutter speed, without realizing, because you know, shooting at wide angle with any Olympus cameras at about 1/5 to 1/10 second shutter speed is almost 100% guaranteed to be free of hand/camera shake. That is not the case with the LX100, even at 1/15 seconds, shooting at wide angle, there is about 50% of a chance of camera shake! It is not a huge shake, it is bad enough for the image to look soft, annoyingly soft. The only solution is to increase the ISO sensitivity, which is not an issue since LX100 can handle up to ISO1600 with no serious issues.

I miss the tilt screen so much, I find myself having difficulty doing compositions at low and high angles, and these are IMPORTANT compositions to get the perspective that I want. I seriously also wonder why Fuji did not add tilt screen for their latest X100F camera. I believe tilt screen, or swivel screen is a MUST have feature in all modern cameras.

Morning Karaoke

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

I Recorded Myself Doing Shutter Therapy In Video! Check It out!

Following up my recent camera review of the Huawei Mate 9 Pro smartphone I did few days ago, I have made a video of myself doing shutter therapy in KL streets. The video screenshot feature was particularly useful, so I could capture in video what the camera was seeing!