My two new Olympus lenses

I’ve recently purchased two new lenses for my Olympus cameras and I like them very much. Not only are they mignon, but they’re wonderfully sharp, they focus quickly and they offer me something I didn’t think I could get from MFT (Micro Four Thirds) lenses and cameras: bokeh and handheld photography in low light.

Yes, I’ve only just gotten the memo: you can get wonderful bokeh from MFT lenses. Having worked with MFT lenses whose maximum aperture was f/3.5 in the past and present and knowing that MFT sensors had a greater depth of field than larger sensors, I’d become accustomed to not being able to get the kind of bokeh I could get from my other cameras like my Canon 5D. I also didn’t think I could push my aging PEN cameras to take bright, handheld photos in low light. But these new lenses have changed my mind completely!

I love the kind of bokeh I can get from them. Depending on the distance between my subject and the background and the kind of background used, the bokeh is either wonderfully feathered or downright creamy, as you’ll see in the photographs I’ve posted here.

What lenses am I talking about? They’re the M.Zuiko Digital 17mm 1:1.8 and the M.Zuiko Digital 45mm 1:1.8.

Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 45mm 1:1.8 and M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 17mm 1:1.

There are also Pro versions of these lenses available from Olympus, for all the typical, 35mm equivalent focal lengths, and those lenses open up to f/1.2, so it stands to good reason that the bokeh they make is even better. If I were to take my lenses for example, the equivalent Pro versions for them are the M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f1.2 and the M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f1.2. Since both of my current Olympus cameras are PEN cameras and I wanted to test the waters first, I bought the f/1.8 lenses, because (1) they’re less expensive, (2) they’re lighter and (3) they’re smaller (amazingly small, actually). However, were I to have a bigger camera such as the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, I would likely get the Pro lenses. They would be a much better fit for a camera that has a native resolution of 20 megapixels and can produce 50 megapixel images in high-res shot mode.

The 17mm f/1.8 lens has a beautiful metal body and is simply lovely to look at. It also has something that Olympus calls “fast focus switch”; I also remember seeing the term “manual clutch focus” somewhere to describe it. The focus ring slides down to reveal a manual focusing scale and it also puts the lens in full manual focus mode. This is different from the manual focus mode you can set in camera, which is more of a focus-by-wire on Olympus cameras. I can explain this in more depth in another post if you’re interested, but for now, I just want to point out the neat feature of this jewel of a lens.

Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 17mm 1:1.8 Lens
In typical usage, the focus is electronic and set by the camera
Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 17mm 1:1.8 Lens
When you slide the focus ring down, it reveals the manual focusing scale, with markings in both meters and feet, and it puts the lens in manual mode

It’s time for me to show you some photographs, so you can see the bokeh for yourselves. First, let me show you a few images of the lenses themselves, which I took today with a two-flash setup, right on my desk.

Now let me show you images taken with the 17mm f/1.8 lens. When you see my face in these photos, please don’t think I love taking selfies. It’s just that I’m a readily available subject when I need to test something out.

Finally, here are a selection of photographs taken with the 45mm f/1.8 lens. The bokeh is more pronounced here because of the longer focal length, and it is a truly wonderful thing!

I am so glad I bought these lenses. They have opened up a whole new world for my Olympus cameras. Btw, I took the photographs of the lenses with my PEN E-P2 using the M.Zuiko 12-50mm EZ f/3.5-6.3 lens.

Olympus PEN E-P2 Mirrorless Camera
Olympus PEN E-P2 Mirrorless Camera
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm f:3.5-6.3 EZ Lens
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm f:3.5-6.3 EZ Lens

I invite you to visit my profile on the MyOlympus website, where I have posted many more photographs taken with my Olympus cameras over the years.

Winter photos from our garden

It’s been a hum-drum winter, I’ve said it before. It barely snows, and when it does, it melts right away. The temperatures hover between 0-10° Celsius, so it’s neither warm nor cold, just kind of annoying. I don’t know where the winters of my youth went, but I hope they come back at some point. I’m talking about snow that stays on the ground for weeks and months, big, thick, frequent snow that keeps the top layers fresh… Those kinds of winters are now only found in movies and fairy tales.

Fortunately, we humans are endowed with a little something called optimism. We can always call on that spirit and make the best of what we have. So the snow melts quickly. So be it. I’ll photograph the melting snow. The falling water drops make for great macro photographs.

This nifty lens I just bought, the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm, has a Macro button on the side, which locks it in Macro mode and lets me get right up to the things I want to photograph, as you’ll see below. Not only is it a versatile 24-100mm (35mm equivalent) zoom, but it’s also a macro lens when I want it to be.

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm Side View with Buttons
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm side view with buttons

I always shoot in RAW format, on any camera that’s capable of it, but with my E-P2, I forgot how good the JPG engine was. During my early morning outing a couple of days ago, I shot both RAW and JPG together (there’s an in-camera setting for that) and then I compared the photos in Lightroom. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the E-P2’s color reproduction is very good and the noise reduction algorithms built into the camera are actually better than Lightroom’s. Yeah, surprise! I pixel-peeped those images side by side and the JPG files were cleaner and had the colors I wanted, straight out of the camera. Guess what I did next? I switched my camera to JPG-only mode.

The photos you’ll see here are SOOC: JPG files produced by the camera, imported into Lightroom, where I added metadata and exported with no modifications to the colors, exposure, contrast, etc. Other than the metadata, I added nothing. Full disclosure: I bumped up the exposure on three snow photos that came out a little dark, but that’s it. I think you’ll agree with me when I say this little camera is pretty good!

Raoul using the Olympus PEN E-P2
Raoul using the Olympus PEN E-P2. Photographer: Thomas Hawk

Enjoy the photos!


My favorite vantage point for photography

I was invited by the folks at Light, who are working on some pretty interesting camera technology, to write about my favorite vantage point. I explained to them, as I’m explaining to you now, that I don’t have one. I get bored with shooting the same locations and I’m always on the lookout for new things to shoot.

Then I realized that over the past few years, I’ve been working in the exact same location, putting in lots of time and effort, being happy with the challenges offered by that very same spot and enjoying the beautiful results. But you didn’t know about those photos, because I haven’t published them on my website, and it didn’t occur to me earlier that it was a vantage point. I’m talking about my studio work for my wife’s printed books, in other words, about my food photography.

My favorite vantage point over the past few years has been the whitebox (the official name for it is a seamless tabletop background sweep cyclorama). Here’s what it looks like:


That’s where I’ve been spending my time. Lots of my time. Here’s one example of my work:


This is one of my wife’s raw desserts. It’s a raw vegan whipped cream, mint and strawberry cake. You can find the recipe for it in her Raw Desserts book.

And here’s another photo from the same book. I apologize if it leaves you drooling. It’s a raw vegan brownie with a raw chocolate glaze.


Here’s how I work. I don’t have a set position for the camera or for the speedlites. I work handheld and I vary my camera position, angle and lens until I find what I think is a good frame for the photo. Then I’ll shoot a few photos to see how the lights fall on the subject and whether I need to vary their positions as well, in order to bring out the colors and sculpt the dimensionality of the photo with lights and shadows.

I use three independent speedlites triggered by the on-camera flash, which I sometimes choose to also fire or to only have it act as a remote for the other speedlites. For this photograph, I worked with my Canon gear: one of my three Canon cameras, an EOS 60D and three Canon speedlites. I love my EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens and I tend to use that a lot for my studio work. I also use ambient light from within the room itself (I turn on wall and ceiling lights) and I use a mix of warm and cold lights. I know most people say you should use the same temperature lights, but I prefer to mix them in order to get a warmer ambient light. The speedlites overwhelm the subject with their cold light, but there’s a hint of warmer light all around the photo, which I like, and this comes out when I edit the photo as well. I suppose I started doing this when I began to shoot video. People leave a lot of work for post-production, but I do like it when I capture the mood light of the video live, as I shoot it, so I fiddle less with it in post.

I’d like to say I’m the set designer as well, but for my food photography, I leave that to my wife. She’s the award-winning raw chef with seven published books and I’m the photographer. Sometimes we’re inspired and we love the results, and sometimes we’re not happy with what we get. So we re-do the photo shoot at another time. There have also been instances where we’ve re-shot certain recipes for later editions of her books, because we weren’t happy with the photographs and as our skills improved, we knew we could do better.

I wish I could be more helpful than this but for me, every studio photo is a new challenge and I vary my angles and lighting in order to get what I think are the best photos of my subjects. My wife and I then cull through them and pick the ones that’ll go into her books. I then edit each one carefully, add it to the collection designated for that book in my Lightroom catalog and carry on doing this until we’re ready to turn things over to the publishing house.

Camera preview: Nikon CoolPix S570

The Nikon CoolPix S570 digital camera is small — just about the same size as the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS camera — so it invites a comparative look. I looked at it side-by-side with the SD780 recently, and here’s what I think.

The design is good, but not as good as that of the SD780. I like the beveled lines and the metal accents, including the protruding camera strap anchor, but I think the CoolPix logo is badly placed, and ruins the clean look of the camera. Think about it, would you want your brand logo to be smaller than the line logo? It makes no sense, yet that’s what Nikon’s done. They’ve emphasized CoolPix over the trustworthy Nikon name. Canon hasn’t made this mistake. Have a look at the SD780 IS and you’ll see they know how to do this right. Another thing that bugs me is the annoying font chosen for CoolPix. Nikon, please, if you’re going to keep using CoolPix as a line name, then please use a decent font or at least make the writing smaller.

When it comes to features, there are more of them overall than on the Canon SD780 IS, but right off the bat, one can see the S570 lacks HD video capabilities. That may or may not be an important criteria for you, depending on your needs. The S70 certainly offers other wonderful selling points, such as a 5x Zoom and a very nice maximum aperture of f/2.7, not to mention that the price is about $50-75 less than that of the Canon SD780 IS.

  • 12.0 megapixels resolution
  • Ultra Thin and Compact
  • 5x Nikkor Zoom Lens
  • Bright, 2.7″ LCD
  • Scene Auto Selector
  • Smart Portrait System with Advanced Face-Priority Technology, Smile Timer, Blink Proof function, Blink Warning, Active D-lighting and the new Skin Softening function
  • 4-way Image Stabilization with Vibration Reduction, Motion Detection, High ISO (up to 3200) and Best Shot Selector
  • Quick Retouch
  • Standard Definition video recording (640 x 480 @ 30 fps)

Other differences between this camera and the Canon SD780 IS include:

  • The new Skin Softening functionality, which offers three levels of in-camera smoothing, allowing you to diminish age lines or imperfections from your subjects’ faces right in the camera
  • Lack of optical image stabilization, which is compensated by the presence of electronic Vibration Reduction and Best Shot Selector (the SD780 includes the equivalent of Motion Detection and also goes to 3200 ISO)
  • Wider field of view (28 mm equivalent vs. 33 mm equivalent on the SD780 IS)

The Nikon CoolPix S570 digital camera can be purchased from Amazon or B&H Photo.

Photos used courtesy of Nikon.

Lens comparison: EF 50mm f/1.4 Prime vs EF 50mm f/1.8 Prime

This is a short, side-by-side video comparison of the two affordable EF 50mm lenses from Canon: the 50mm f/1.4 and f/1.8 lenses. I had them both, set them on a table, and compared them to each other, looking at their weight, size, lenses, and handling. You might find this interesting if you’re into photography. My conclusion was that both are great, but if you haven’t got the money for the f/1.4 lens (and I’m not even going to mention the f/1.2 lens, because that’s out of my budget), then get the f/1.8 lens, it’s a great bargain for the price.

You can see the video on or on YouTube. Believe it or not, I shot this review back in November of 2007 and only got around to posting it now. I’ve got quite a backlog in terms of processing and editing some of my media…

I used the 50mm f/1.4 lens extensively. I have almost 11,000 photos in my library taken with it. I used it to take landscapes while in the Austrian Alps, and even though I complained about it afterward, it’s still my go-to lens for lots of tasks such as portraits, still life, night shots and more. Here are just a few photos taken with it.


These two 50mm lenses are available for purchase from Amazon or B&H Photo:

Tempered enthusiasm

After getting all excited about my new 24-105mm zoom, I found a strand of thread sticking resolutely to the interior of the front lens. It was definitely inside, and I couldn’t get it to go away. Even if it came loose, it would still be inside, and would probably stick to one of the other interior lenses. It was a factory defect.

I called B&H Photo, who graciously shipped out another lens to me, free of charge, and also paid for the return shipment of my defective lens. While I may be disappointed in Canon’s quality control process, I have only good things to say about B&H. Incidentally, I waited patiently for them to re-open after the Jewish High Holidays (they were closed for over a week) so I could order the lens. It was worth the wait. Things I order from them get here the very next day, because they ship out of New Jersey and I live in Maryland. I pay for Ground and get what is essentially Overnight shipping. It’s an added advantage to their great prices and customer service.

My 580EX II speedlite is another disappointment. It’s been acting strangely since March of this year. Sometimes it refuses to work with the 100mm f/2.8 macro lens. The aperture and shutter settings get completely messed up and the shutter won’t fire. Until now, I had to take it off the camera, take the batteries out, let it rest for a bit, then put it back together and on my 5D, and sometimes it still wouldn’t work.

Yesterday, I finally decided I’d had enough and shipped it to Canon for repairs. I hope they’ll choose to treat it as still under warranty, because I filed the original repair request back when it still had a couple of months of warranty left. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, I got my replacement lens from B&H today, and I have reason to be disappointed with Canon once again. Their QC should be better, especially for L series lenses. This new lens has two tiny specks on the inside of the rear lens. You could almost say they’re not there, except that they are, and it’s really bothering me. Maybe I’m overreacting to this, having been sensitized by the previous defect. I don’t think it’s going to affect the quality of the photos (I hope for that at any rate), but for a lens that costs over $1,000, I expect better build quality.

I leave you with a series of short videos that demonstrate how Canon make their lenses. They’re narrated in Japanese. I saw the English version (in a single video) a while back, but I can’t find it now. For those of you that won’t see the embedded video below (like the feed subscribers), here are the links to each video clip: part 1, part 2, part 3. With all of that emphasis on checking the lenses after they get made, you wouldn’t expect to find strands of thread or specks inside the lenses like I did.

Finally got the EF 24-105mm f/4L zoom

It was introduced by Canon on 8/22/2005. I reviewed it back on 4/19/2007. I compared it with the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens back on 10/5/2007 and deemed it superior. I complained that I didn’t have it on 9/14/2008, after coming back from our trip to Austria. Now I finally bought it, and I am not sorry. At long last, I have a versatile zoom I can use just about anywhere. I am giddy with joy.