Friday, June 26, 2015

Olympus M. Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8

Definitely an interesting, pretty monumental day for this little bit of kit to come in. I feel like I'm drawing away from points that should be more spotlight by posting about it, but since so few issues of the lens seem to have been distributed for evaluation in this production phase of its release... well, why not?

I pre-ordered the M. Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 almost 2 months ago and have been waiting in eager anticipation for its arrival ever since. My primary working genre of photography is real estate, and the 12mm f/2.0 and 12-40mm f/2.8 have only been able to get me so far in that industry. With the expansion of my focal range in the 7-11mm region, it was an obvious call. Many could argue that I should've sprung for the 7-14mm f/4 Lumix lens prior, and they might be right, but I am something of a brand-name loyalist, for better or for worse, in my gear acquisitions, and it just felt weird to pick up an older, differently branded lens to complement my kit.

So, how does the Olympus ultra-ultra-wide hold up in test?

Let me begin.

I met up with my friend Rob at the local gay bar of choice today. With the Supreme Court's ruling this morning, fast as it came, it seemed like an obvious stop, but being in Maryland, a State where marriage has been a right to same-sex couples for some time, there was remarkably little fanfare. We chatted for a bit over beer, and eventually, I asked the bartender at the time if it was alright if I whipped out the tripod and put the lens to proper practice. It was still quiet in the bar, low traffic, and he didn't seem to mind. I quite readily stopped the lens down to f/11, ISO 200, and tried to pick within focal lengths in the middle of the zoom range, 9-11mm specifically, and see how the lens rendered the indoor scene.

The few samples I rendered to JPG speak for themselves.

The lens is wickedly sharp. Which isn't a huge surprise given the sharpness of Olympus' other pro-zoom offerings in my possession, the 12-40mm f/2.8 and 40-150mm f/2.8. Coming from the perspective of a photographer who only ever used prime lenses for just shy of a decade, the results left me stunned. Very little fringing, less so than what I'd grown accustomed to dealing with on my 12mm f/2.0 prime lens, and with a sort of micro-contrast clarity I wasn't used to seeing at all. And at f/11, such amazing starbursts... the likes of which I never saw on my primes nor my 12-40mm f/2.8. Tight, concentric balls of light, with sharp, pointed stems bursting forth. The nearest I'd seen prior came from Voigtlander's Nokton series of lenses, and they were a welcome sight to see on an auto-focusing pro kit zoom.

Subject isolation was also remarkable given the limitations of such efforts on wide angle lenses in such a cropped format. While not necessarily ground breaking, the lens focused close enough to throw backgrounds decently out of focus with a generally acceptable level of bokeh wide open, which was not an expectation from the onset of acquisition. I bought the lens to render rooms and design-heavy spaces with broad, in-focus point of view, certainly not thinking it could be used to capture smaller details with the stylistic isolation such elements of interior design demand. Needless to say, I'm excited to put the lens through its paces in a working environment, which will very well likely be tomorrow.

For regard to its current weaknesses in the widely unsupported post-processing environment, it does present some clear barrel distortion at the very far edges, but it is of a basic barrel type that is easily corrected in Lightroom or DXO with manual, built-in tools. Truthfully, this was entirely expected, given the lens has only now hit the market with pre-order deliveries. For my purposes, once DXO develops a proper module for the lens (which they have frequently done well before Adobe has managed to patch for new lens corrections in my experience), I expect to manage slightly wider than what JPG product out-of-camera produces based on the extra .5-1mm of wide-end focal range DXO's lens corrections seem able to provide. In the the mean time, I'll either settle just fine with JPG results or tweak images in Lightroom for proper results (admittedly slower for real estate work compared to DXO, but no less capable).

When the sun went down this evening I tested the lens for night shooting on my porch to determine viability of the lens' use for astral photography. Going by the good old rule of 500 is did just fine, even stopped down tremendously (granted, it's pretty bright in my area), but I did uncover another quirk to the lens in the form of strong flare at f/11. I've never owner nor used an ultra-ultra-wide angle lens before, so this may very well be a normal limitation to the design of such lenses, but the flare was certainly something I'd never seen before in other lenses, especially with the hood affixed. It may very well have been an instance of strong foreground light, however, so I'll have to try using the lens in a less point-lighted environment tomorrow to see how it functions. I get the impression that it was an anomaly I'll simply need to get used to in working with such an enormously wide focal length.

I did shoot a bit with the lens handheld outdoors, but its implementation, so far as I see, makes the most sense indoors, capturing architectural elements at their finest. Then again, it is a new focal length for me, so it will require some experimentation to fully understand the best uses of its focal range. In any case, I'm enormously pleased with the results so far, and expect to enjoy a second wind of glee once DXO releases a proper module for the optic. Theoretically, this is the next step in real estate shooting I've been biting my tongue over for 3 years, so it should keep me wholly satisfied for some time.

Next up, Olympus... would love to see that patented 25mm f/1.0.  :)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Publishing Paradigms

I've been rolling through a long standing flux in my content publishing paradigms lately, and it doesn't really appear to be easing back at all. Or settling, in any way, shape or form, on a single effective solution. In general, I've come to the conclusion that while publishing content on the web is ultimately necessary, it is also the most inefficient method by which to garner attention to your work, and is absolutely the least likely source of new paying clientele (ones with actual budgets as opposed to bastardized "TFP" deals with companies who could pay but choose not to).

Most recently I've posted a couple blogs regarding mobile development and publishing of photography using the now de facto standard of WiFi connectivity for immediate content transfer and subsequent posting to the likes of Twitter, Instagram, what have you. For the purposes of most content publishing, I feel fairly comfortable adopting it as my new primary avenue of content publishing. Because I'm not often producing works of art. More often than not I'm having dinner with friends and snapping pictures of food and beer. Arguably my motivations are no different than any other foodie Instagrammer, only I choose to use a dedicated camera vice my cell phone for cliche captures. I am fine with this. And rendered JPGs out of the Olympus E-M1 look phenomenal even at ridiculous ISO values for this sort of content publishing. Hell, they look great in general, good enough to run to print in a magazine. (Amazing how far we've come, when my old APS-C Nikon D40X couldn't even shoot ISO 800 without becoming unusable)

Perhaps I am simply burned out of the numbers game of Flickr. To its merit, Instagram does not track "likes" or "favs" in a charted layout of metrics to quantify how much of a clickhole your online gallery may or may not be (though content can, of course, be "fav'ed" or "reblogged"). More of interest to me in regards to Instagram, however, is the rather immediate connections that can be made with appropriate hashtags. As I understand it, tagging brands is just as viable with Flickr or 500px, but the environments fostered by those photo publishing sites is more geared toward the fine arts, not commercialism and pandering. Which is fine, and fantastic, really, and I will continue to indulge the likes of Flickr with my fine art as it comes. In the mean time, when I'm at Ruby Tuesday with my boyfriend taking pictures of beer and bacon covered cheesy fries, I'm going to post snippets to Instagram, #SamAdams, #CheesyFries, #RubyTuesday.

Actually, my propensity for going out to eat lately, and insistence on bringing a camera along in the process, comes down to a neat bit of realization that should have been obvious. I really like to photograph food. I mean, I absolutely love it. Odd because I process and post very little in the way of food photography on the likes of my Flickr gallery, but again, mentally I file it under "commercial work" and feel it is less appropriate for that forum (perhaps, though, I need to re-evaluate that mental allocation). My Instagram is slowly filling with food and beer related content, and I'm absolutely thrilled about it.

I enjoy design, I enjoy still-life work, I enjoy the commercially viable image. And, genuinely, it is a kind of work I have done remarkably little of, and prompts a rethinking of my current business plan. For the longest time, I envisioned corporate portrait work as a desired next step element of my business after entrenching in real estate, however that segway hasn't metastasized, and after a battery of weddings in the last year I am rediscovering an old rationale for the avoidance of other people in my work. Real estate and the stylized photographic presentation of design and architecture is still a dominant love, however, and it makes all too much sense that the stylized photographic presentation of the design and flourish of food should appeal to me just the same. The trick, of course, is developing a competent portfolio to use as a tool encouraging adoption of my technique formally in the commercial world, and subsequent marketing. Trickier, in this instance, given that with real estate I've always had my "in" with contract work for Airbnb. Commercial food photography would involve building from the ground up, marketing myself directly, which has never been a strong suit for my part.

Another important element I rediscovered is the power of the print.

The norm of the digital age has always been viewing images on uncalibrated, 72ppi, compressed, low resolution JPGs. Today it is only slightly better with the higher pixel density displays boasted by many new smartphones which are quickly becoming the next standard photography viewing apparatus. For the youngest generations of human beings on this planet, viewing photographs on a screen is the only thing they've ever known.

Some time ago I volunteered to be the staff photographer for the photo suite of the Fur the 'More convention held in VA the last weekend in May. It was a straightforward job - set up studio gear, lights, backdrop, stands, and provide high grade portraits for donations to the convention's annual charity (for Friskys Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary, which is a stellar organization). Very straightforward. But convention staff surprised me with the provision of a printer, some glossy 4x6 photo paper and a couple spare ink cartridges. I was under no instruction to charge for prints or obligation to provide them, but in the high energy spirit of the convention I decided to go whole hog and print absolutely everything I could.

Attendees gushed over the prints. And I mean GUSHED. The response was of universal bewilderment, with a camp of those who lived during at least the tail end of the film era fondly nostalgic to have a physical artifact in-hand from the convention, and another camp of those so young they never handled prints before and were all too giddy to show and share a print in their hands as opposed to an image on their phone. Simple 4x6 prints elicited such an enormous response it has me determined to employ provision of prints henceforth to clients and potential clients alike, to friends, to family, hell, I want to print everything. It is a lost magic in the digital age and absolutely deserves to be capitalized upon.

A sister convention to Fur the 'More, Anthrocon, is taking place the second weekend of next month and I intend to attend. I won't be working this convention, and have no reasonably portable printing solution available at current, but have decided that, to recapture some of that magic of the physical artifact, I may pick up an Instax camera just before heading out to provide that little enjoyment to others in the party-minded atmosphere. I'd juggled the ideas of portable printers or printing in the hotel room and tracking down subjects after the fact, but immediacy seems ultimately necessary in the case of wandering a several thousand attendees strong venue. Frankly, I can't wait.

Meanwhile, it's been very hot and excessively stormy for the month of June. It has had me in a functional coma of sorts, barely managing photo work while leaving me too exhausted to care about personally motivated photographic pursuits in general. I did have dinner and coffee with my Dad for Father's Day this past weekend, however, and we had fun getting caught in the rain, forced to shutter in a Starbucks.

I forget how fun the toyful "Art" modes on Olympus cameras are. Letting go of the "GOTTA SHOOT RAW" thought process is another critical paradigm shift that needs to happen. Photography is meant to be fun, so it's okay to not be tied down to "what ifs" in each and every single exposure. Just shoot. Just have fun. Not every single image you record is meant to win a Pulitzer.