Room enough for two

This weekend, the local honeybees were giving some echinacea blooms in our yard a good workover, so I thought I was overdue in documenting their work.

Room enough for two

Normally, the bees seem to prefer working solo.  But even though we’ve got a swath of echinacea for them to work on, sometimes they need to “double up” in order to keep working.  I used an Olympus E-M1 and 60mm macro for this shot, BTW.

Coming to a point

Interesting things, flowering cacti — they give a photographer such a list of contrasts to work with.  Bright vs. muted colors.

Coming to a point

Spiky vs. soft shapes.

Nipple cactus, redux

Angular vs. rounded shapes.

Nipple cactus close-up

These are all shots of a “Nipple cactus” (Coryphantha sulcata, a.k.a. Pineapple cactus), seen at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas. At least, that’s how it was labeled — but all the online information on this species shows it to be both smaller and bearing yellow flowers.  Not sure what’s going on there…

Last (?) shot of winter

We got hit by an odd late-winter storm the other day, and here’s what we woke up to:

Last (?) shot of winter

This was the result of a storm that was supposed to dump a foot or more of snow on us, but wound up leaving us maybe an inch. And since the storm hit town quickly (temperature dropped by 40 degrees F in a matter of a few hours), it landed on warm pavement.

Shot of winter -- big

So for at least a few hours the next morning, I could play with my camera (in super cold temps) with this unusual snow pattern — only surviving over the joints between our patio pavers.

Unwelcome visitor

This is a Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica), in case you’re unfamiliar with them — beautifully colored, with their iridescent shells offset against the flower petals’ colors.  But hell on roses (and grapes, and birch trees, and…).

Unwelcome visitor

Japanese beetles are apparently not a big problem in Japan — they have many predators that help keep their numbers under control.  But since their arrival in the U.S. early in the 20th century, they’ve been expanding their territory from their original “beachhead” in New Jersey.  Courtesy of the warming climate, they made it to Colorado a few years ago.  Luckily beetle traps are available via the internet, since local home and garden stores apparently haven’t taken notice of their arrival.  Yet.

Seen in the War Memorial Rose Garden; Littleton, Colorado.

My little friend

An interesting couple spotted on the beach in Aa’ena Park, Kauai, Hawaii:

My little friend

The rock and bit of coral are shown just as I found them, resting on beach sand. So that should give you an idea of the scale of this scene — the coral piece is a bit over 1 cm across. Image taken using Olympus’ stellar 60mm macro lens for micro-4/3.

Protea

Seen at the Ali’i Gardens in Maui, Hawaii:

Protea

My apologies for the dearth of posts lately, but my computer’s hard drive has been getting flaky (bad enough to cause issues, but not bad enough to make the source of the problem obvious), and finally died yesterday. Its replacement should be online within a few days.

Olympus 60mm Macro for micro 4/3 — an early review

If you have a micro 4/3 camera, and have any interest at all in macro photography, you’ve likely been waiting for the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro lensto appear. It’s been teased on one site or another for months, but was only formally announced at this year’s Photokina in Cologne. So since I’m trying to track Olympus‘ fairly obvious momentum from 4/3 toward micro 4/3 (and have a more-than-passing interest in macro photography), I duly put in my pre-order for one as soon as Adorama would accept it.

Fast forward a few weeks, and my copy of this little gem was delivered to my doorstep.

Well in hand

DId I mention little? In spite of the time I spent looking over the lens’ spec sheet, I’m still blown away by how petite the thing is (my hands are big, but they’re not that big.

Side by side with stock lens

For instance, compare the 60mm on the right with the E-M5’s stock (12-50mm) zoom lens. They’re almost exactly the same length, but the 60mm is a bit skinnier still (sadly, since that means yet another expensive lens hood to buy…).

The focus limiter switch primarily helps speed up focusing when you’re working up close (0.19 – 0.4 meters) — but also lets you set the focus to its closest point (equivalent to 1:1 reproduction) by just flicking the switch to that extreme of its range.  Note that the 1:1 setting is spring-loaded, so you’ll need to have the camera set up for manual focusing to take advantage of it (otherwise the focus will change away from 1:1 when you depress the shutter release).  The lens also gives you a scale on its side, showing what the magnification factor will be given where it’s focused — handy, if you’re either manually focusing or have the camera on a tripod.

Ready for action

Fortunately this lens is perfectly sized to work with OlympusMAL-1 Macro Arm Light that was first released years ago with the early PEN cameras. Together with an E-M5 and grip (the grip is essential for my hands, at any rate), it makes a potent but still compact package.

So let’s put them to work.

Example images

For my first victim subject, I thought I’d pick something colorful and detailed that I had kicking around.  Lacking any interesting postage stamps, I grabbed a “souvenir” 10 Quetzales note.  Lots of art in a bank note that’s only worth about $1.25, so a perfect experimental subject — pay particular attention to the little Maya figure on the left side of the bill (BTW, the graph paper is ruled one line per mm).

Bank note

Here’s a full image of the figure, taken from about as near to the note as I could reliably get (I don’t have an adjustable “stage” for macro photography, so fiddled with my tripod height by hand).  As you can see, at very close to 1:1 the lens gives a nice, detailed image without any obvious distortion or vignetting in the corners.

Little Mayan

For real macro afficionados, here’s a 100% crop of 800×800 pixels roughly centered on the figure’s eye.  You can see lots of detail in the surface of the paper, again a good performance from the lens, camera, and macro lights (but the lights can be a bit fiddly this close to the subject).

Little Mayan crop

Since I’d heard this lens is also a good performer as a telephoto prime, I next left the macro light indoors for a little impromptu photography outdoors with the lens.  As you’d expect, it’s a stellar performer up close.

A rose by any other lens...

Further out, I couldn’t provoke it into displaying any CA, even pointed right at the Sun.  Oly has used a new low-reflection coating on this lens, and it shows — you have to work hard to get anything resembling a lens flare out of this gem.

Look, Ma -- no CA!

All the images I’ve taken to date have been nice and sharp where I want them to be, and the circular aperture results in good, smooth bokeh elsewhere.

Falling reflection

And yes, the lens is great for portraits!

Portrait subject

 

Summary and conclusions

If you’re shooting with micro 4/3, you now have a good range of options for macro photography.

If you’re on a tight budget and don’t do much macro shooting, Olympus’ macro converter (MCON-P01, $50 retail in the U.S.) along with a 14-42mm kit lens is likely all you need.

If you want super-close-up images, and have the money ($500), the Yasuhara Nanoha 5:1 macro lens is a good tool — but only covers a focusing range of 0.43 – 0.78″ (11 – 20mm).  It’s a powerful but very specialized tool.

But if you want a good, flexible macro lens that’s also good for portraiture and other telephoto jobs, the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 can’t be beat. It sells for less than Panasonic’s 45mm f/2.8 macro lens ($750 retail in the U.S.), and is weather-sealed to boot.  And while not quite as optically fast as the venerable Olympus 50mm f/2.0 4/3 macro lens, the 60mm f/2.8 focuses dramatically faster on a micro 4/3 camera.

In summary, what I see as the pluses and minuses of the lens…

Pro:

  • Excellent build quality
  • Weather proof
  • Small and light, balances well on the front of an E-M5; should handle well on other micro 4/3 models with at least a modest grip
  • Not cheap, but reasonably priced at $500 (at retail in the U.S.)
  • Works well with Olympus‘ accessory-mount MAL-1 Macro Arm Light ($50 – $60 retail in the U.S.)
  • Very fast focus; focus limit switch helps out too

Con:

  • Doesn’t come with a hood or carrying pouch, and the hood is a bit pricey
  • Focus limit selector switch is a bit tricky to “grab,” and doesn’t work well with gloves
  • Lack of built-in image stabilization may be an issue for people with non-Olympus cameras