Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Don't Underestimate The Kit Lens: Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 on PEN E-PL7

In the spirit of the frenzy happenings at Photokina, churning out endless announcements of latest photography products, pushing the advancement and technological barriers, I have chosen to put all the gear measurebating aside today. How did I do that exactly? Simple, for my shutter therapy session, I chose to shoot with one lens only: the Olympus Kit Lens that not many people cared much about, M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6. 

Kit lens is not something most people would want to stay with very long after their first system camera purchase, many looking for options to upgrade to pro zoom lenses (normally with constant bright aperture, eg F2.8), or adding prime lenses. It was not a surprising fact, since most kit lenses bundled with entry level camera (and in a handful of cases, mid-level to even higher level APS-C DSLR cameras) were usually performing less than mediocre, in terms of overall image quality. When setting up with prime lenses or higher grade zoom lenses, the original kit lenses become pale in comparison, generally not as sharp. 

However, let me ask you this. 

Have you used any Olympus kit lenses before? 

From the DSLR days, the Zuiko Digital 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 (Four Thirds version), which I used extensively for 2 years before upgrading to better lenses, to the latest offerings from Olympus Micro Four Thirds line-up, such as the M.Zuiko 12-50mm F3.5-6.3, and even the lowly, often underrated 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 2R. If you have used ANY of the above mentioned kit lenses (like really put them to good use) mostly bundled with Olympus cameras, you will realize that Olympus makes some of the best kit lenses out there, ever. I may sound like I am exaggerating, but I have photographs to show in this blog entry, and believe me this is not the first time I am blogging about the goodness of kit lens. 

Accompanying the kit lens, I used the latest Olympus PEN E-PL7. This time, I had the BLACK version. 


Who says kit lens can't render shallow depth of field?

Who says kit lens can't render shallow depth of field? Take 2


100% crop from previous image, not bad eh for a lowly kit lens?


100% Crop from previous image

IMPORTANT NOTE: I am speaking to the general crowd who are relatively new to photography. So if you are a professional photographer, or if you have had plenty of experience with photography, what I am saying in the coming few paragraphs may not be applicable to you. 

Now to the newcomers to photography, you have got your first camera, and that kit lens that comes with the camera. Then your friends started to tell you how the kit lens suck and they showed you images from their higher grade lenses. They told you how sharp their lenses were, and how they can produce more "3-D" look, which you know that your lousy kit lens cannot. Suddenly you lost interest in using the kit lens at all, and decided to just buy that (insert expensive lens of your choice to upgrade to) new lens, so you can do what your peers can do. If you come and ask me, I will say STOP with the non-sense. Shoot with the kit lens and start making massive amount of photographs with the kit lens first, before considering anything else!

There is a reason why the kit lens is not as great as all other upgrade-able lenses. It is a basic kit, comes together with the camera, and as lowly as it is,the kit lens is the perfect lens to start and learn photography with. Even if you have that amazing super expensive lens, what is the point if you do not even know how to control the exposure and make sure focus was pin point accurate? Photography basics are more important than more capable gear at the point of entry level photography. Build up your foundation, and use the kit lens, the limitations posed by the lens (slow aperture, etc) will actually help you to learn and grow. And yes, the kit lens is capable of delivering great images. And after you have used that kit lens more and more, you will even come to accept that it is not such a bad lens after all. Although I am primarily shooting with prime lenses now (my favourites, 25mm F1.8 and 45mm F1.8) I still hold much respect to kit kens, and I will not hesitate to pick one up if I have to. Yes prime lenses (and other higher level/grade lenses) will be superior, but photography is not always about technical perfection. That is one point that ALL photographers, especially learning photographers, myself included, have to be reminded from time to time. 
There is nothing wrong with using the kit lenses, and I wish many newcomers to photography would start using them more! Please do not give up so easily. With patience, and plenty of effort, the kit lens can produce very good results. Like everything else in life, to learn something, you need time and practise. You need to put in effort and hard-work to improve. Say, you are picking up tennis lessons, in your first few lessons, learning about basic groundstrokes (forehand and backhand), does it really matter if you use that latest most advanced pro racket used by the world number 1 player? Will it make any difference? No. Same goes to kit lenses vs any other lenses. 

Portrait of a Stranger 1

100% crop from previous image. Of course this is not as sharp as 45mm F1.8 or 75mm F1.8, but it is still VERY sharp, and very much useful for large prints, no problem at all. 

Art Filter Diorama Applied

Buds and buds

Art Filter Vintage (Type 1) applied

Art Filter Vintage (Type 1) Applied


Portrait of a Stranger 2

The Twin Towers

About Olympus system and kit lenses. And some tips on using the kit lens. 

1) Olympus Truepic 7 Processing Engine
Inside the latest Olympus cameras, such as E-M1, E-M10 and now the E-PL7, the Truepic 7 processing engine optimizes the image output, based on specific lens profile. The level of sharpening, the technical flaw correction (chromatic aberration, distortion, etc) will be applied differently depending on the lens you mount on the camera, and surely this benefits the kit lens user. The difference may be subtle, but still noticeable, and I see that even the lowly kit lens, under the Truepic 7 produces great images straight out of the camera, without much tweaking needed in post-processing. 

2) Close-up Shooting
Olympus kit lenses (and any other lenses, really) have the advantage of being able to shoot close up images. The minimum focusing distance for the kit lens 14-42mm 2R is 25cm, and zooming in to 42mm telephoto end, I can get really dramatic shots, having large enough subject magnification and at the same time, creating shallower depth of field. (the closer you are to the subject, the shallower the depth of field is). The magic is in the fine details revealed in close up shooting, get as close as you can to show the texture of the subject, which will add impact in the overall image presentation. As the popular saying goes, if your photograph is not good enough, you are not close enough!

3) Modern Cameras Compensate for Whatever the Kit Lens Lacks
We are living at an exciting time, with many cameras being so capable and powerful these days. Technological advancements such as having reliable image stabilization system, ability to push to higher ISO limit help a lot in compensating for any limitations the kit lens has. 

4) Stop down aperture a little for better results
If lighting conditions permits, always stop down a little (hitting the sweetspot of F5.6-7.1) for best results, in terms of minimizing chromatic aberration and obtaining overall better sharpness. The only time I shoot at the widest aperture, was when shallow depth of field was the priority, or in very low light condition. Otherwise I always, always stopped down the aperture. 

Sinful desert

Heavenly Coffee

A break, to catch up on the happenings on my blog

If you are still green in photography, please do not turn away from the kit lens. Use it. Master it. Make many photographs with it. Trust me, you will benefit from the experience gained. 

If you have advanced to much higher level in photography, please do not forget about the kit lens. In fact, it is fun to just leave everything you have behind, and just go out with one basic camera and a kit lens, to shoot. You may have a refreshed perspective, and you might get inspired by some new ideas, because coming back to basics can't go wrong, and works on so many levels in photography. It is a challenge surely, but if you have your vision, if you know what you are doing and photography is already in your veins, kit lens will not stop you from achieving great results. 

Do you still use your kit lens? Or you have a hate-hate relationship with your kit lens? Do share your thoughts. 

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Multiple Olympus Announcements: M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO Lens, OM-D E-M1 Silver and Firmware Upgrade 2.0

It is that exciting time of the year again, with Photokina happening, and all camera manufacturers pushing out new products and making huge announcements. Today, Olympus has officially announced 3 important updates to their Micro Four Thirds system range:

1) The highly anticipated M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO Lens
2) OM-D E-M1 Firmware 2.0 (available for both current E-M1 Black and the new Silver version)
3) OM-D E-M1 Silver

This is perhaps the only image that I have with ALL 3 new items combined: E-M1 Silver (already comes with Version 2.0 Firmware) and the M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 Pro lens

Olympus OM-D cameras have been highly successful, and well received by many professional photographers and photo-enthusiasts (much like myself) alike. Even awarded E-M1 the "Product of the Year 2013", and E-M1 has garnered praises from prominent photography bloggers such as Steve Huff and Michael Johnston (TOP). Since the introduction of the OM-D, Olympus has been targeting more serious photographers, mainly professional photographers and serious hobbyists who shoot in demanding and challenging situations, requiring a reliable camera system that will deliver the results. In this continuous effort, Olympus has placed their focus in developing the PRO range of M.Zuiko lenses, with the release of the M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 lens and now, the newly launched M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO lens, a professionally built telephoto zoom lens to match the earlier standard wide zoom lens. In addition to that, the E-M1 has a major firmware upgrade, adding plenty of useful features, adding value to E-M1 users. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Taking Up The Challenge: Shooting with only M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 on Olympus PEN E-PL7

Note: For those of you Olympus users coming to Kuala Lumpur Photography Festival this coming weekend, there will be free professional camera and lens cleaning services for your Olympus products! Do not miss out. 

I planned to shoot with only the kit lens this weekend, since I have been using mostly prime lenses these days in every photography sessions. The forgetful me after a long week of work did not bring home the M.Zuiko 14-42mm EZ pancake zoom lens, hence I shall be doing the kit lens only shoot some other time. When I asked myself what else I could do differently this time for my shutter therapy session, I looked at the "fringe" lenses that I have. M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 is not exactly a lens which I would use as my first choice, and I will find every excuse to use any other lenses that I have. I have explained before why I am not the classic 35mm shooter, and I will not do so again, but lets just say using the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 is quite a big challenge for me, and I am taking that challenge up today. Nope, no 45mm F1.8, no 25mm F1.8, just sticking to ONE lens for all day. 

The day started with Pudu Wet Market, and it was extra wet today, due to heavy rain during our shoot. I was with Joseph and Nik, both awesome photographers whom I have known from my active days shooting with the Sony gang. We had a coffee break, rather long one actually, until the rain tamed down a little before we continue clicking our shutters away. Thankfully the rain did gave way and we still had plenty of chance to grab some shots. I was armed with the PEN E-PL7, which unfortunately is not weather sealed. I would have worried less if I was using my own OM-D E-M5, which I decided to leave resting at home. 

I did not have any agenda or anything particular I wanted to achieve in this shooting session. Heck, I was not really doing any tests or further review for the E-PL7. This was my weekend, my only time free, and I wanted to do something for myself, and my shutter therapy has only one purpose, to make me happy!

Noodles and Seafood

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Answer Comes to Those Who Seek

A few years ago, a friend bragged about how superior his camera system was, being able to capture by continuously focusing on a flying dragonfly. No one knew how he did it, No one saw how he did it. I did not have the answer.

A few years later, the answer revealed itself to me. If you look at this image, it was not that difficult to guess how I got this Dragonfly in Flight photograph. It was so simple, so easy, that sometimes we seek answers at all the wrong places. Note that I was using Single-AF, not continuous.

Image taken with Olympus PEN E-PL7 and M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 lens. 

Well, I could have said along the lines of "OMG the E-PL7 has improved Continuous AF that it can track flying insects!". That was the exact same thing that the friend did years ago, with his system. 

I guess those who have shot enough dragonflies will know the answer. I shall keep it open for you to guess, if you have not already known it!