The Olympus E-M1II and backyard astrophotography

A lot of people are still waiting for their pre-ordered Olympus OM-D E-M1II cameras to arrive — in the meantime, a number of them asked to see some high-ISO photographs to judge the camera’s abilities in the realm of astrophotography.  After days of waiting, I finally got clear night skies where I live, so took some shots of the constellation Orion.  Please bear in mind that I live in the south Denver metro area, so have to deal with light pollution — here’s the view looking south toward Orion from my house (enough sky glow to silhouette bits of a telephone pole and two trees):

Orion at ISO 1600

For the above image, the EXIF is E-M1II,  12-40mm Pro lens @ 17mm, f/5.6, ISO 1600, 8.0 seconds.  This is a SOOC image, by the way — all I’ve done to it is RAW conversion and scaling (to fit my blog’s template) in Lightroom.

But I didn’t only take this one image — I took a series of them, all unguided (i.e., on a still tripod): Continue reading

The Olympus E-M1 Mark II and back button focusing

Note to readers: I’m keeping this post alive for its useful comment threads, but the post’s content has really been superseded by material in a newer post.


I recently received an Olympus  E-M1 Mark II — the idea being that it’ll shortly replace my trusty original E-M1 I purchased a few years back.  While I’ve still got both, I’ll be shooting and posting some comparison shots between the two models — but first will be writing a few posts on upgrades and changes in the new model.

First up — setting up back button focusing.

What is back button focusing?

For those unfamiliar with the term, back button focusing refers to separating the focus and expose functions that normally occur sequentially when you depress the camera’s shutter button (focus on half-press, exposure on full-press).  If you “move” the focus function off the shutter button, and assign it elsewhere, life is easier when photographing a fast-moving subject (like wildlife) — you can focus once, then concentrate on your timing / composition / exposure.  Assuming, of course, that your subject doesn’t change its distance from you significantly as it flits about.

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The Olympus E-M1 and long exposures

I stumbled across something interesting on micro-4/3 camera forums, and thought it worth pursuing.  It’s been said (here, and here, and here) that the Olympus E-M1 has a problem with long exposures.  I’d noticed what looked like grain in my E-M1 images, so thought maybe it had a similar cause.

Since I’ve got an E-M1 and an E-M5 camera, and a bit of history with debugging, I thought I was well-placed to do some characterization testing.  To get a fair comparison, I first ran pixel mapping on my E-M5 and E-M1 bodies (to take care of any obviously “hot” pixels on the sensors), then took dark images (with the lens cap on) under the same conditions with both bodies:

  • ISO 200
  • 60 second exposure
  • Noise Filter set to Standard

I did this twice for each camera body — once with Noise Reduction off, and once with it on.  I took all 4 RAW images, converted them to JPG using Olympus Viewer 3, then grabbed a 400×400 pixel crop out of the center of each.

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Honest Abe

This is a pretty simple, staple shot inside the Lincoln Memorial at night. That said, it’s a surprisingly tough shot to get…

Honest Abe

You’re not allowed to use a tripod inside the Memorial (some say it’s because the tripod legs damage the floor, others that tripods are a tripping hazard when the place is crowded). Meanwhile, the lighting is… subdued, to say the least.

I took this shot at ISO 1000 with an aperture of f/2.0 — and still, it required a one second exposure (and some noise cleanup with Topaz Denoise afterwards). Curious how to take a decent one second exposure without a tripod? It turns out that while tripods are banned in most Washington D.C. museums, monopods aren’t — not even ones with little pop-out tripod feet.

Go figure…

Sculptural

Another geological abstract shot from lower Antelope Canyon in Arizona:

Sculptural

If you’re planning a trip to Antelope Canyon and you’re taking a DSLR, you should give some thought in advance to just what lens(es) you should put on your camera body(ies). Fortunately, you’ve got a strong ally in this effort — namely, Flickr.

Before the trip, scan through Antelope Canyon shots that other people have posted to Flickr to find ones you particularly like. Then, when EXIF data is available for the shots, take note of the focal lengths used for the images — this will give you a very good idea of what you want to be taking along on your trip.

In my case, the images I liked best seemed to be taken with focal lengths around 20-30mm (35mm equiv.). So since I have Olympus four-thirds camera bodies (2x crop factor), I aimed for 10-20mm focal lengths in my lenses. So I had a 7-14mm lens on my E-3 body (primary camera) and 14-54mm lens on my E-520 body (backup). Whichever camera wasn’t being used at the time rested in a padded torso pack (ThinkTank Change Up) to protect it from accidental dings. Meanwhile, both camera bodies were outfitted with quick-release plates for my tripod so I could switch back and forth quickly.

Oh, and both camera bodies have lanyards — so whichever one was in use was tethered to my wrist at all times. Particularly important when there’s nothing soft for a camera to land on if you drop it.