Photoessay: Street photography with the OM-D and ZD 60/2.8 macro

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From outside looking in

All images in this series shot with the Olympus OM-D and ZD 60/2.8 macro.

There’s nothing that says you can’t use macro lenses for non-macro purposes; the old myth of the optics being poorer at longer distances is just that: a myth. In fact, macro lenses tend to perform better than most standard lenses even at long distances because they are so well corrected in the first place. There are two drawbacks: firstly, the apertures tend to be slower, which isn’t so good for achieving subject separation and is solely a physical property of the focal length and aperture combination of the lens; secondly, the focus throw tends to be shorter.

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Not wanting to be part of the crowd

This is a both good and bad – good because if an autofocus lens, the focusing elements don’t have to move as far since the lens must also be able to provide sufficient effective extension to focus at macro distances, bad because it means that if you have a manual focus lens – like the ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar I use – you have very, very little travel between mid distances – say 2-3m or so – and infinity, which can make precise focusing very difficult. For manual focus lenses, using the camera’s built-in rangefinder/ focus confirmation dot simply isn’t precise enough as the dot stays lit for some not inconsiderable displacement of the focusing barrel*. For autofocus lenses, the camera/ lens combination may not have the ability to consistently move the elements by the precise displacements required for very small changes in focusing distance – this is especially apparent with older screwdriver-focused lenses like the Nikon 60/2.8 D. Newer coreless motor lenses (AFS, EFS, M4/3 lenses etc) generally don’t have problems as there is very little backlash in the focusing system.

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The writing’s on the wall

*Do this simple test to see what I mean: shoot the same subject, at the same distance, with the cameras on a tripod and your desired test lens attached. Using the viewdfinder or EVF, try to focus the lens/ camera manually from both infinity and near limit, stopping just once the focus confirm indicator lights. Do this with the aperture wide open, otherwise other focus errors like backfocusing or mirror misalignment can’t be identified and compensated for. Shoot the same frame again, focusing with live view to use as a comparison image. What you’ll probably see – is that neither image using focus confirm is as sharp as the live view image. This effect is even worse for telephotos, because of the depth of field characteristics of the focal length. The shorter the focus throw, the worse this problem becomes.

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Potential focusing issues notwithstanding, so long as you have enough light for a sufficiently high shutter speed to avoid camera shake, the results are generally excellent. Specifically in the case of the ZD60, (my full review at macro distances is here) I’m pleased to report that the lens’ already excellent optical properties do not change at all at longer distances. In fact, the one niggling flaw I saw at close range is mostly gone – I’m not seeing any bright edges to out of focus highlights. Both foreground and background bokeh is smooth and non-distracting. Subjects fall nicely in planes and are separated in a manner that has plenty of 3D pop; this is characteristic of a lens with excellent microcontrast.

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Focusing is not an issue at all, and is just as fast as the ZD 45/1.8 providing you have the 4-way limiter switch in the right position. The one minor issue I did find was that the lens with hood is not exactly inconspicuous (and nowhere as compact as the 45), being nearly 15cm long with everything in place. Relatively small by DSLR standards, but probably not exactly what M4/3 users have in mind.. Personally, I find this combination of interest not because I’d take it out on dedicated street photography/ travel expeditions, but because I frequently carry the OM-D system either as a backup camera (or as a primary for assignments that don’t require the D800E’s resolution) – and the ability for a lens to do double-duty means one less thing to carry, break, fail or potentially lose. It’s always nice to have options. MT

The Olympus OM-D, 60/2.8 Macro and 45/1.8 are available through Amazon by clicking on their respective links.


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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

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A pick-me-up before the pick up

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Hiding from the dishes

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Guardedly relaxed

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I’m on the way

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Hop to rainbow row

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A surprisingly good soup

Watch photography with the Olympus OM-D, and thoughts on its use as a backup system

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The Maitres du Temps Chapter Two Tonneau China special edition.

For a system to be able to serve as backup, it must fulfill one important function: the ability for me to continue working with it and delivering images if my main system should fail for any reason. And it should be able to cover all genres of what I shoot, without too many workarounds or compromises. The obvious choice would of course be to buy two of the same camera, but a) where’s the fun in that, and b) sometimes it’s also useful to have a different camera system to give you other shooting options not available from your primary.

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For the past couple of months, I’ve been shooting with the Olympus OM-D for most jobs which do not require special purpose lenses (e.g. tilt shifts) or huge resolution; the Nikon D800E of course covers everything else. What I’ve found so far is that from a usability and image quality point of view, the camera has no problems delivering the goods consistently; the only exception being a peculiar lockup problem that only happens if you use the Fn1 button to zoom into an image after shooting, then hit the protect button if you’re in the screen with the zoom toggle slider on one side. Unfortunately that does seem to be part of my workflow, but I’m learning to avoid it.

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The biggest question, in my mind, was whether the system was a viable alternative to the D800E for doing watch work – rather important, given that this is the majority of what I do commercially. I acquired a Panasonic-Leica 45/2.8 Macro Elmarit (yes, a review is in the works) for this purpose. Suffice to say – the lens isn’t the limiting factor at all, it’s pretty darned awesome (and one of the better macro lenses I’ve used, actually).

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Although Olympus does have a wireless flash system (FL36R, FL50R and FL500R) which is IR-triggered like Nikon and Canon’s systems, I wasn’t about to buy another set of speedlights, and certainly not about to carry them around along with the primary system, too. Fortunately the Nikon SB900s I use have a SU4 optical slave trigger mode – with manual flash power, of course. I used this and manually set the output levels. Yes, it’s much slower than using iTTL and dialing in adjustments directly through the camera, but it works.

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All in all, as you can see from the images here, I think the results are pretty darned good – my client didn’t say anything about the file quality, or lack of it; the OM-D’s files interpolated very cleanly to 25MP and their required resolution.

Depending on what I shoot, I’ll carry the OM-D body and 12mm and 45mm macro lenses, or just the 45; the 20/1.7 rides along as a body cap. One nice thing is its ability to use the Zeiss ZF glass I’ll normally carry for my D800E via an adaptor, so I don’t even have to carry the 45 and 20mms if I’ve got the 50/2 Makro-Planar and 21/2.8 Distagon.

One note of caution – during my recent Hong Kong workshop, the camera decided to stop working in a very humid environment (light rain, probably 90-95% humidity) and didn’t come back to life again until being dried out in air conditioning and with a few blasts from a hair dryer for good measure – so they’re probably not as well weather sealed as they claim. It continued to work intermittently for a few days afterwards, with menus self-navigating (as though one of the buttons was shorted out) before working normally thereafter. Odd. MT

The Olympus OM-D in various configurations is available here from B&H and Amazon.


Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Photoessay: Some Hublots (and, how to shoot watches on location with available light…)

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I was recently at a Hublot event – both covering the new Basel 2012 watches for as well as meeting the CEO and marketing people (it never hurts to network in this industry). I didn’t want to bring the lighting equipment, and the photos were for a blog – not commercial use – so I figured that I could get away with a lightweight rig. I used the Olympus OM-D and Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 Macro, and available light. Most of the images were shot at ISO 1600 or above; even at larger sizes, they hold up pretty well. Needless to say, for web use, they’re fine.

But I digress – all I had was whatever lights were set into the roof of the showroom, and a dark watch display tray for use as a background. By tilting the tray and camera to look for the right lighting angles – sometimes to avoid reflections, sometimes to enhance them – I managed to produce a set I was pretty happy with, but yet manages to have a very different feel to what I normally produce in the studio. (They also have zero dust retouching, which you fortunately can’t see at this size – cleaning cloths are your friend!) Enjoy! MT

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The inaugural photography contest closes 31 July 2012 – the more people entering, the larger the cash prize! Enter here

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Extended photoessay: A visit to manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre

For most horological afficionados, visiting their favorite manufacture is a necessary pilgrimage along the path. I’ve had the privilege to visit a few in my time, however living halfway around the world makes this a bit more of an expedition than is convenient. However, on my last assignment to Switzerland, I happened to have a free day, and the folks at Jaeger LeCoultre were extremely accommodating…

Enjoy the photoessay – it’s more of a story of how a watch is made, and a slight deviation from normal programming, but I think you’ll find it interesting all the same.

Images shot with an Olympus OM-D and Panasonic 20/1.7 and 45/2.8 macro lenses. Each image can be clicked on for a larger version.

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I was given this and a lab coat, presumably to keep out street dust (or perhaps add to the authenticity of the experience for some). Sadly, they didn’t issue me with any tools – perhaps for my own good.

That pass, gets you into here:

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Once past the obligatory heavy Eastern Europeans (presumably there to ensure you don’t leave with any watches you didn’t come in with), one is greeted by this sculpture a little further down the hall; signed by all of the thousand employees who work at the Manufacture.

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The old Manufacture, now the reception area and offices.

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Views from this place are incredible. It’s like working in a postcard.

Life of a watch starts in the prototype and R&D department; for understandable reasons, I wasn’t allowed to take photos in here – or even go in, for that matter. From a production standpoint, things begin here – in the parts fabrication department, where things are cut, stamped, shaped, machined, CNC’d, bent…

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The output of which can be seen here – Reverso case blanks, thousands upon thousands of tiny, perfect blued screws, and a whole bunch of spare gears (I believe these are offcuts that didn’t pass QC).

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Those cases marked in red (along with other parts) are then sent to the QC department, where a laser alignment rig checks that the parts are within extremely fine (think micron level) tolerances. You can see that rig at work here:

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Next up is finishing – parts are polished, grinded, striped, anglaged, perlaged, engraved, plated, and generally prettied up in yet another department. Two things surprised me: stripes and perlage are surprisingly fast to apply; polishing a Reverso case is not – in fact, it takes a lot longer than I would have imagined.

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Rotor engraving.

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Setting microscopically small jewels; that pile of what looks like dust off to the top right is actually a pile of unset ruby bearing stones. Needless to say, it takes a microscope and hands of stone.

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Anchor setting room.

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Up some stairs, with a quick pause (note scenery) and through an attic doorway…

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…takes us to the haute horologie department.

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Don’t forget your protection. And those wrapped things at bottom left aren’t sweets, they’re earplugs.

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On a tray for visitors to enjoy as you enter. Sadly, no ‘Please Take One’ sign was to be seen anywhere.

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This part of the workshop is an incredibly quiet, calm environment; you get the feeling you’re in a high precision lab rather than a manufactory – which I suppose is pretty much what it is. You’ll notice that most of the employees are plugged into their iPods; the music and isolation help concentration.

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Assembling a Spherotourbillon.

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Ta-da! Look what I made earlier. This is possibly the only photograph to date with five of them in one place…

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Beginning to case up inside a negative pressure cabinet, so dust gets sucked out.

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Moving over to another bench, we find:

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The red and blue plastic is a protective layer to prevent scratches as the watches are cased, assembled, and final adjustments made.

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There’s also a Repetition Minutes a Rideau present – but not just any one, a blue one!

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It sounded great. I suspect the double case (the movement is actually based on the earlier limited edition series of 500 in pink gold) improves the tonal qualities of the chime significantly. It also looks absolutely stunning, though I’d gladly forgo the outer slide mechanism and just have the inner watch – apparently the inner case is about the same size as a regular Reverso GT, which isn’t very big at all.

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On the way out, we pass a Gyrotourbillon in final stages of regulation. The dial on the left (which actually looks complete) is a work dial, used for adjustment only. I’m told that it takes one watchmaker between 1.5 and 3 months to assemble one of these; the huge time difference is if after assembly, it doesn’t run to spec, then the whole thing has to be taken apart and the cage re-balance and re-adjusted.

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The gemsetting atelier is next.

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I’m not a huge fan of gem set pieces (they showed me bracelet links for a Master Tourbillon, which when completed, would retail for around one million Euros – the entire thing was covered in diamonds, including the dial); however, this particular piece was pretty intriguing – it’s called a ‘chaotic’ setting, and you actually can’t see where the setting ends and the stones begin. They use around 200-240 diamonds of various sizes to cover a ladies’ Reverso case.

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We appear to have found the Atmos division.

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I actually found this portion quite fascinating, as you seldom see so many of these in one place – and more interestingly, so many vintages; there were clocks here dating from easily fifty years go. I suppose it’s one of the few products whose fundamental parts have changed very little over time. Interestingly, they still cure the balance suspension wire; except these days, it’s done with weights and electric current rather than horse urine and time.

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Oh look, a Klimt! In all seriousness, this was an incredibly stunning piece which I think few have been lucky enough to see in person.

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View from the employee canteen.

I did also visit the museum, but wasn’t allowed to take any photos. Suffice to say there are some incredibly rare and very interesting pieces in there. And while all the Atmoses are running, charmingly none of them show the exactly same time 🙂 MT

I would like to say a personal thank you to Marina Shvedova, Janek Deleskiewicz, Cecile Tichant, Alexis Delaporte, Reena Tan, and all the patient employees whom patiently answered my endless barrage of questions.


Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

POTD: A classical portrait

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Nadiah. Olympus OM-D, 45/1.8

Sometimes, everything just comes together serendipitously. In this case, my wife (and muse, but that’s to be the subject of a future post) and I were attending a small function at a rather quirkily-decorated space in downtown Kuala Lumpur. I was going light, so I just carried the OM-D and two lenses; the 45/1.8 and 20/1.7. Just off the space, there was this small room separated by a partition; not only were there some nice details – like the Adams-family-esque hand – but the light was also beautifully directional yet soft. It just happened to be overcast outside, and with the sun at a low angle so the light went all the way into the room; see why I keep saying 99% of photography is light and timing? I grabbed my wife and shot a few frames to create what I think is one of the most satisfying portraits I’ve ever shot. MT