Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Dilemma

A picture comparison between Sony and Olympus. Crazy: the same size, both with a 35mm equivalent! Now one is a FF 24x36, the other a half frame. And yet prices are not  v. different with lenses, perhaps a 2-300 € difference.

This picture in a way begged the question of why I should stay with my precious m4/3.
Yes Sony FF lenses are bigger but not in this case. Yes they cost about the double, but perhaps I could get this Zeiss, and then use legacy lenses, my Zeiss Jena 50mm and the Jupiter 85mm. Note that they would both be stabilised by the new Sony A7II.

Check these early reviews:
- the Photoblog
- this serious Ming Thein's review

My problem however with mirrorless FF is that it is almost impossible to find an old UWA that does not make a colour shift and/or a resolution loss, due to the short register of the Sony, that causes steep angles of the light rays falling on the sensor.
This while I still have my 4/3 9-18 which is truly excellent, with none of the above defects.
Some will say get yourself a native Sony UWA, but then I expect to break the bank with a 1000 $ lens!
So why don't give a chance to the E-M5 II with its sensor shifted 40 Mpx instead? Much depends on how practical and fast is the process, and we can't say at the moment.
One thing is likely however: at low ISO,  FF 24x36 doesn't give you a resolution advantage.
Just check this review- comparison between aSony A7 and an a6000, that is between a FF and and APS-C, both 24 Mpx, at Admiring Light
and especially its magnified samples: no resolution difference! Between a FF, and an APS-C shot, that is. Same should apply to an Olympus, which is APS rated in resolution.

Photo of falls.

 A7II on the left, a6000 on the right, 24 Mpx for both, 100 ISO each (Courtesy Admiring Light)

The result perhaps would have been different at higher ISO or with the A7r 36 Mpx, but then it is a more difficult to handle camera, which has no IBIS yet.
So why don't give a chance to the coming Olympus 40 Mpx? Contrary to many young customers I can't care less for the FF's DOF. Just the opposite. For instant shooting, snaps if you prefer, I prefer to have everything in focus: more visual information, more theatre!

Financially by sticking with Olympus I'd have no need to change for a new series of lenses.
In fact as I get older I am on a gear-reducing trip. My worry is rather to keep or recover the faculty of seeing which I had lost lately. I might write about it in the following months, because that's all a photog. might ever need. Meanwhile you can consult this interesting article at diyphotography on gear avoidance, and its positive effects on photography.

I tell myself: don't squander your money. You don't need a studio camera, just a good enough one :) You might think differently, having more money than me... I do have some lovely lenses, among the best the inexpensive 19 and 30 Sigmas, and from my 4/3 past the 40-150 and the 9-18, both supersharp, At the most the Sony would be a nice *addition* with one or two lenses, and my legacy ones, back to the original focal.


I must go back to Hospital for  bladder surgery. I suspect that full recovery will take a month. That is when  we'll know for sure how the sensor shift works. So be patient, and I'll write again about 'the Dilemma' Those to me are the most interesting mirrorless cameras, so worth a follow on.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

This is the strangest Christmas card...

 ....I ever received in my life. But since I got it from my lifelong friend and videographer  Daniel Jouanisson, I am not surprised by his whacky humour:  
It's a photo of a photo, by Jacques-Andre' Boiffard, a surrealist photographer
who has his first exhibition at Centre Pompidou in Paris, where Daniel just went. Check the link!

Here is another couple of shots:

Sensor shift in the New Olympus EM5 Mk.2.

The refresh of this v. successful model by Olympus will be introduced in February, so all I have is some rumors. Movie rate, EVF, many of the features introduced by the latest Olympus models will be there, but the killer feature will be sensor shift (SS).

So far we know v. little: that it takes 8 pictures byf the sensor by 1/2 pixel, and achieves an image of 40 Mpx. We also know that IBIS stabilisation works in a bracket of 5 pixels . Since  1/2x8 = 4 pixels, so my bet is that sensor shift will happen as part of IBIS, with no need of a tripod.

By my early experience with a superresolution program called 'PhotoAcute' I know that you must slightly shift an image after the first so the program can compare pixels, and increase the information as a result. The program, created by a Russian mathematician,  was v. processing intensive, since each pixel of the preceding picture had to be compared with each of the following one.

Thankfully camera processing power doubles each year, so presumably each 8 pictures can be compared in a reasonable time, seconds instead of minutes.

We also know that the 'old' E-M5 could shoot at 10 fps, so again 8 frames can well be taken  within just one second.

The old E-M5 'Its going to be redesigned anyway.

I assume that stotal shutterspeed of the 8 frames shouldn' be more than one second: shutterspeed defines how fast the objects in front of you can move, fluttering leaves in a windy day being the typical problem for the landscapist. The other problem is people moving through the landscape, but freezing that  should be well within the capacity of the new system, provided one operates in fair weather.

What is the rationale for SS? First you don't need to change system anymore to have v. high definition. You don't even need to change lenses with more resolving ones, since the process is sequential.

At any rate the feature is excellent news for landscapists, portrait and macro users, down to PJ. An Editor is always happy to crop pictures (and a noob too).

People are asking if there will be less noise and better colours. Going by PhotoAcute, I'd say that the colours stay the same, but noise is filtered, while the sofware compares pictures.
A user also advocated more Dynamic Range a' La HDR.
But I'd rather bet that exposure is determined by the first shot and doesn't change for the following 7. The opposite would be a loss of time. So HDR will stay a separate feature, like it was in Photoacute.

BTW the E-M5 already has 12 bits of DR, so it's more than enough. Introducing more would mean to lessen the contrast and having flat pictures. Same goes for colour, it probably stays the same of the first picture, so what you earn with SS is really more detail and less noise.

All this was based on a pure deduction a la Sherlock Holmes, (!) but it might be v. different of what Olympus' engineers have concocted. Then wait for February and check how much of this set of assumptions is wrong :)

To me staying with one system only, and only one set of lenses is a remarkable advantage, and SS has stopped me in my tracks while taking an interest in Sony's A7 and having a fit of GAS. So well done, Olympus, with your 40 Mpx! My wallet is grateful...

When you are able to dabble with single pixels, small sensors still have the advantage. Less processing to do, quicker reactions of the camera.
Olympus' genius is to have designed a superresolution device working within IBIS, and therefore avoiding the need for a tripod like the Sony A7r is reported to need.

Now to recap: Sensor shift must work within IBIS.  IBIS shift works within 5 pixels. If so 1/2 px x 8 frames = 4 px, well within IBIS.

EM5 also has a fast 10 fps so all could happen within a second. With a new double speed processor integrating the eight shots shouldn't take more than a handful of seconds, like an Art Filter.The result is more than twice the resolution and less noise.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

About the difference between Oriental and Western Perspective

A Picture of Mount Fuji by Karel van Wolferen

I use here the word Oriental, instead of Asian, because Atmospheric Perspective, as against the Linear Perspective of the West, belongs to the history of China and Japan. Nowadays in Asia they use a camera with built in linear perspective like everybody else on the planet!
Differently from Linear Perspecive that relies on the diminishing size of objects towards the horizon along converging lines Atmospheric Perspective conveys the impression of depth through a colour shift to blue in the distance, and the use of atmospheric haze. You can still observe in Leonardo's portraits, but it is still a factor in more modern painting like Turner's. The fact is that Asians didn't use Linear Perpective until the arrival of the Westerners, notably the Dutch in Japan, which might have imported their camera obscura and the first lenses.

As an introduction I will post a seminal article from Luminous Landscape: The Synthesis of Chinese Landscape Painting and Photography  By George DeWolfe & Lydia Goetze, and their first diagram here:

3 plane diagram. Please check also Lydia Goetze lovely pictures in China.

By comparison this is the well known linear perspective, that we obtain from cameras:

So, three planes, or stages,  instead of lines converging at the infinite distance. One must remember that the Camera Obscura, was originally invented as an optical help after Giotto, in order to help the painter to dispose objects at a distance in a logical, hierarchical order. Before that, even in Europe all objects (saints, their churches, the countryside) were either on the same plane, or two. Therefore they looked very flat.
China being a Confucian country, kept traditionalist views much longer, and transmitted them from the Ming Court to Japan, by the way of trade.

A Japanese view by Ten-Yu Shokei, 15th CE.

George DeWolfe & Lydia Goetze also insist on the role of Negative Space in Chinese Imagery. I have a theory that this is related to the Taoist and Buddhist views of creative emptiness. How could things simply be if they had no empty space and time in which to flow? And since they are so fleeting, what sort of reality do they have? Thus we are introduced to the world of Samsara, appearance, from which the hermit struggles to reach enlightnment, through the intermediate stage of emptiness, distancing from the ego and from there going to the permanent Self, which is Nirvana. Thus the origin of Negative Space.

I find corroboration of this in the Chinese travelogues of John Blofeld, a Western Buddhist who visited most of the ten sacred mountains of China in the 1930s. Look at Amazon for the Wheel of Life, or Journey in Mystic  China.
Blofeld makes landscape descriptions from the mountains which are almost exact equivalents of the hermit view. They are usually plunging views from a mountain shrine offering the colours of dawn, a rainbow of pure saturated colours, from peach coloured to deep purple, before the retreating shadows,For the fasting hermit nature beauty is already a foreboding of Nirvana.
This plunging perspective on coloured peaks which dominates the foreest, above mists rising from the valley (negative space) while human activity awakes in the foreground is almost exactly the theme of many landscape Chinese and Japanese watercolours

Fisherman by Hirosige

Pilgrim by Kumi Yoshi

The lightness of the paintbrush can evoke a contour with just a line, and use colour patches to suggest the material world. The light touch of the watercolour is not going against the subtle perception of meditation. 
In some landscapes you will also see a tiny line of men in the distance climbing steep passes: they are the pilgrims nearing a sanctuary. While the diagonal line conveys a sense of movement and depth it also shows the pious effort the pilgrims to ascend and reach the steep sancuary of their faith. Note that personal effort is the key of buddhism, where it is also known as 'accumulation of merit'.
Can modern photography even catch such subdued and spiritual feelings? Curiously the photographer I find nearest is Andreas Gurtsky, because he uses masterly the dual aspect of material reality and illusion which is specific of Photography. 

Andreas Gurtsky, Engadine

 Thus I contend that there is a lot to learn in Oriental painting even for a modern photographer. There are also some young Chinese photographers that I follow on flickr, which seem to still use traditional iconography. Let those forgive me if I use some of their pics for didactic use.

Chinese Landscape by  五味雑陳

by  五味雑陳 flickr

In both you will notice the importance of Negative Space.
I do suspect that the mists they make use for Atmospheric Perspective, might be in some cases simply be heavy pollution. Never mind it is still part of reality. :) But enormous rivers like the Yang Tse can also contribute, with their evaporation to plunge the plains in mists.
Let me end here by some other striking difference between our worldviews.
Linear Perspective has emphasized the separation between objects, which are disposed like troops for a review in front of a general.
In so doing it has reinforced our modern sense o duality between subject and object and between matter and spirit (or soul) which is the exact opposite of the Asian concept of Wu Wei: let things be, let them flow, be part of them. 

In Taoism the observer is always part of what he sees. The only Western equivalent that comes to my mind are some descriptions of solitude in the wild in Walden, by Thoreau.
But  he too had to become a hermit, and restrict consumption, to enjoy fusion with nature.
This 'being part of the whole' also helps other photographic genres. It's only when you stop feeling separate from things and beings that you begin perceiving  what is happening. Seeing situations instead  of mere objects.
Because of this fusion with the flowing reality you will soon be able to predict in advance how the flow will progress. Blofeld explained very well how hermits found clairvoyance a very minor consequence of their years of meditation. 
It is not a coincidence then if HCB quoted the book the Zen and the Art of the Archery, to explain his extraordinary awareness. It really has to do little with intellectual perception, the body is involved too in total perception of the whole.
HCB's was Magnum emissary to Asia, and he made good his encounters there. The decisive moment is nothing else than a Zen moment, he discovered. And Negative Space in photography is the canvas of illusion on which you project an image. Thus there is a lot to learn from Oriental painting, especially because it relies on a different worldview from the West.

Henri Cartier-Bresson - Women of Srinagar

Just to make an example, in some languages, Chinese I suspect, one  would never say that one 'shoots' a person or a landscape. It would seem a very unlucky thing to say. And yet Buddhist believe in the instant nature of reality, so meditation is no restriction to the instantaneousness of Photography. One must feel connected.

If one does not feel connected to the landscape one is facing, perhaps a moment or two of meditation might obviate the separation. There is really no separation between Self and landscape if one can suspend exploitative, aggressive attitudes, and concentrate on vision only.
 That might be the teaching of Oriental Art to a mechanical world that got caught in the dualism between subject and object.

To conclude, don't miss this fascinating feature about Nature in Chinese Culture, from the Department of Asian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, here:


 American Postmodern photographer Jeff Wall makes a peculiar use of a 19th century Japanese print by Hokusai, patiently rebuilding  a windy day  for a photograph, as discussed in my article on Postmodernism

A fleeting world really, which took ONE year to re-compose by computer, by placing each leaflet in a consistent way! Quite a different concept from the original Wu Wei!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The GM5 or the Personal Jewelry trend

Am I being unfair in treating such a powerhouse as the GM5 as a  Personal Jewelry item? 
Perhaps, but admit that at $ 999 (€ 800)  with the 12-32 it needs to be not a camera only but something you can display proudly. BTW if you buy it with the Leica 15/1.7 it will make even a bigger hole in your pocket. But it is a match made in heaven, which will bring you even bigger kudos.
I found the orange version even more gay and attractive, but here I am stopped by other considerations. Won't it attract too much attention in the street? Compare to the black GM5 :

Or the silver one with with the 15/1.7 (€ 1100)

The GM5 is v. similar to the GM1 I reviewed time ago, and which has not been discontinued:
There was an interesting comparison with a Canon dSLR:

The GM5 is slightly bigger than the GM1, probably because it now sports an EVF, but it is still a whole different proposition than an ordinary camera. It is the smallest ILS (EVIL) camera to do so. It has also some additional new features in its v. powerful engine, i.e.:

"The casual snap mode creates video snapshots of 2, 4, 6 or 8 seconds. Several different effects are included, including several fade in/out: black, white and color fades. We found the most interesting effect mode to be the rack focus feature, which allows you to select two spots using the touchscreen, then rack the focus from one to the other smoothly. The efect was pretty neat." Imaging Resource says.

The GM5 has also an enhanced panorama mode, integrated time lapse and some 20 ways to personalize Jpegs, what Oly calls Art Modes, so it is really a full blown art tool, despite the size. No need to go RAW, you modify the Jpegs in camera and see the effect in the EVF, even before shooting.

BTW I haven't found many reviews. You can try those:

Photography Blog, which is a full review

Imaging Resource here, which is a pre-review:

ePhotozine, a short review, here:

Plus you will find various interesting user reviews at the DPR's m4/3 forum. Owners are usually quite happy with the GM5, if not starry eyed.
Only complaint I heard was short lived battery (210 shots officially), slippery shape, slow flash synchro (1/50). I would probably keep it as a second camera anyway., and batteries are cheap and small, so hardly a problem. 

The beauty of m4/3 is being 'scalable', meaning you can use the same sensor size through different body sizes, so why not take advantage? I have a small equivalent, the E-PM2, that I bought for a song as a display unit. 

I use basically in Program and with either the P17/2.8 or the P14/2.5, without even looking at the screen since I have learned to frame by heart, and I don't want to attract undue attention in the street, by raising the camera to my eye.
By knowing my frame, and trusting the camera exposure I can approach a subject down to one meter, without him/her noticing.

The advantage the GM5 has is a real EVF, although some complained that it does tunnel vision. Never mind in the Summer it is probably a godsend , or when you want to frame exactly a landscape (with the E-PM2 I have my add on VF-2 for that).

Now to return to the initial concept let me show you some sylish variations of a German design studio of the GM1. I suppose they'll do the same with the GM5, if people enjoy them. Do you? Despite what some say a camera is not only a tool, but an object of enjoyment, and in fact the GM5 is both. So why not have some fun?

This is a concept by  WertelOberfell and 3D printing company Materialise .

Finally, if I had a stroke of luck I would buy the GM5 in kit with the Leica 17/1.7, which is a lens with a lovable rendering that I could use on both the diminutive GM5 and, say, my E-M5, for more serious shooting. 
That is where scalable comes into play again. the E-M5, contrary to the GM5 has a 5 axis IBIS, and that in landscape counts a lot. No need of a tripod. Just stop down and use shutter speeds down to 1/8!
No IBIS means that you'll need a v. firm hand with the GM5, and either add a rubber grip or use a tripod. Please notice however that the 12-32/3.5-5.6 kit lens is stabilized.

Nevertheless  I am a firm believer in v. small cameras. If Leica seize was the standard for small rangefinder in the 1950s, 60 years later electronics allows half the size for the same IQ. 
Watch out not to drop the GM5 on the floor, it is nowhere as sturdy as its ancestor. But it is pocketable, where the Leica never was. And you can still get a Leica lens in kit with it :)