Tuesday, January 17, 2017

5 Reasons Why You Need Image Stabilization

Oh dear, so much for a fresh start of a New Year, I have not been updating this blog as frequently as I initially have planned. I did however get plenty of chance to shoot, so I do have fresh images to share, and plenty of ideas to talk about here. Nonetheless, lately there are many things I do need to take care of in real life which negated much of my free time to just sit down and compose a proper blog entry. Even now, a Sunday (at the time of writing), I am currently at a cafe an hour earlier, hoping to squeeze in some time to write before a local favourite band performance starts here.

Right, lets get into the topic, image stabilization.

When it comes to purchasing a new camera, some of the prioritized considerations include the image sensor performance, image quality output (resolution, high ISO, dynamic range, etc), autofocus performance, but not many people will tell you to take a good look at the image stabilization. Some photographers would boldly claim that image stabilization is not a crucial necessity, and for serious photography that requires absolutely steady camera setup, tripods are used instead. However, it has been a long while since image stablization was introduced to consumer photography market, and Olympus has come a long way since the introduction of 5-Axis Image Stabilization in the OM-D E-M5 in 2012. Much improvements have been made, some photographers who have experienced what the image stabibilization offers, never looked back.

Therefore, in this particular blog entry, I want to explore the necessity of a powerful image stabilization system, how relevant is it for non-professional, casual photographers (because, well, I am not a pro photographer myself, just a hobbyst like 95% of other photographers out there) and what you can do maximizing the potential of the image stabilization.

All images were taken with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II with M.Zuiko 12-100mm F4 IS PRO lens. All images were taken hand-held. 

This image was taken hand-held, at 1.3 seconds to achieve the smooth water effect. 

If you are a landscape photographer that uses an ND1000 filter to shoot a 60 seconds exposure of the sky, or a studio photographer that mounts the camera on the tripod at all times regardless of shooting situation, or a night sky chaser, shooting star trails or the milky way, then the tripod is your best friend, and image stabilization is almost useless for you. If you need a tripod to get your shots, then it is important to note that image stabilization is NOT a substitute for tripods and should not be seen as such. 

Heck, even if you do not shoot landscape or studio most of eh time, it is still prudent to have a solid tripod around, you will never know when it will come in handy. 

However, if you are like me, and many other photographers on the go, always moving and using the camera hand-held, then you will find that the image stabilization will make a world of difference for you. There are many ways that the image stabilization can improve your photography, and it is quite a versatile solution in some difficult shooting situations. The best thing about having a reliable image stabilization is the extra boost of confidence that you will nail the shot when you are using your camera. 

DISCLAIMER: Also, since we are at the topic of me being a non-professional photographer, I would like to remind every one that my blog is written for mostly new comers to photography! If you are a pro photographer, I do not think I can add anything valuable to your knowledge. 

1) You Can Use Lower ISO Settings

This is only true if your subject does not move, and or can stay very still. When there is subject movement, even just the slightest bit, you do need to make sure you have sufficiently fast shutter speed to freeze the movement, unless you want to capture the motion blur, which we shall be exploring later in this post. 

Typical rule of thumb when it comes to determining the minimum shutter speed required for hand-held photography is 1 / focal length in 35mm format equivalent. Meaning, if I am using an Olympus 25mm F1.8 lens, which is 50mm in 35mm format, I need to have at least 1/50 second shutter speed to effectively mitigate blur due to camera shake. This is entirely subjective of course, some people may have steadier hands, others, like me, who are gravely addicted to coffee, may need faster shutter speed. 

This is where image stabbilization comes in. Instead of using 1/50sec, you can slow down the shutter speed, and still get away with sharp, shake-free image. Depending on how effective the image stabilization is, you will get varying results. For example, Olympus claims 6 stops advantage, meaning, instead of having to use 1/50sec, you can get away with 2 seconds.  (simple calculation 1/50 --> 1/25 --> 1/12 sec --> 1/5 --> 1/2 --> 1 --> 2)

While shooting at two seconds shutter speed hand-held sounds ridiculous and not very practical in many real life shooting conditions, it is not impossible to achieve, especially with the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. When it comes to practicality, surely it will be foolish to do casual shooting with 2 seconds shutter speed. That is not the point entirely. 

What you can benefit from this, instead of using 1/50 second shutter speed, say in an extremely dark lighting environment that with your widest aperture you still need ISO6400 or beyond (which will result in not so nice, noisy looking images) you can get away with maybe 1/10 second at ISO1000, which will in turn give you a much cleaner result. 

At 100mm full zoom (12-100mm F4 PRO IS lens), the equivalent focal length is 200mm. I shot this at 1/10 second, hand-held. Which means, approximately more than 4 stops advantage  (200 --> 100 --> 50 --> 25 --> 12). 

Crop from previous image. 

Taken at 1/2 second hand-held, at 100mm full zoom. 

2) Confidence In Nailing Your Shot

When I am shooting, there are two biggest technical concerns which are largely dependent on camera capabilities: the autofocus and prevention of camera shake. It would be a great deal of grief when coming home after a long day of shoot, going through the images and finding the critical shots being not 100% sharp, due to camera shake. I can gladly declare that I have not had this issue since the use of OM-D E-M5, and newer released camera since then just got better and better in terms of image stabilization. That extra insurance, when shooting at dangerously slow shutter speed and you know you can still power through without worrying too much, is almost godsent. You have no idea how many situations when I thought to myself, what if I just stretched the shutter speed that bit longer.... and it worked! 

Having one less thing to worry about is a huge burden off the shoulder. That means I can just take care of my autodocus, which was not a big problem since ALL modern cameras these days do have extremely high hit rate, and superbly fast focusing speed. Then I can fully focus my energy into getting the shot, improving maybe on lighting or composition if needed. 

3) Image Stabilization Greatly Helps Telephoto and Macro Shooting

Camera shake is amplified further when longer focal length is being used. The longer the focal length the greater the shake will be. 

Imagine, if you are using a 200mm lens, you will need at least 1/200 sec shutter speed (without image stabilization's help) to get rid of camera shake. If you are shooting a bird under a heady shade (giant tree), sometimes in order to get fast enough shutter speed, you need to bump up the ISO. This is the one of two reasons why bird photographers use those huge and heavy tripods, first and foremost to steady their shots and of course, those 600mm gigantic lenses are just too heavy to hand-hold comfortably. 

Besides general telephoto shooting, macro photography is also an area that image stabilization helps significantly. When shooting so close to the subject, even a tiny movement is like shifting the entire frame around, and the closer you get in macro shooting the more sensitive the movement is. Imaging viewing the LCD screen, or shooting through the viewfinder with super shaky image all the time, while trying very hard to manual focus to achieve critical sharpness. The experience with shaky view can be quite annoying!

I have taken a short, straight to the point video to show the composition of using telephoto 100mm and also a close up macro shot, with and without image stabilization, and you can see the huge difference the image stabilization makes. 


4) Slow Shutter Speed Opens Up Whole New World Of Creative Possibilities

One of the sure and effective ways to accomplish interesting shots, is to use slow shutter speed. And having the confidence of using slower than usual shutter speed without worry, why not take the camera and really push it to see how far we can stretch the slow shutter speed possibilities? That was exactly what I did!

Think of all the cool things that can be done with super slow shutter speed. Light trail photography, capturing the motion of the smoke, or even create smooth flowing waterfall. Using slow shutter speed works so much better for these examples. 

Typically all these shots require use of a tripod, since the slow shutter speed would be at the range of half a second to five seconds. Being able to just hand-hold these shots without a tripod was helpful, as I do not have to carry the tripod with me everywhere. After all, in my everyday carry around bag, I already have too many things to carry with me: either a laptop or a tablet to work with, chargers, powerbanks, notebooks, and several other junks that normal people would carry with them. We all know that the best photography opportunity happens at the most unexpected times, and not having a tripod should not hold you back from getting that shot. 

Hand-held at 1/2 second, to capture the flowing water. 

This was about 50mm, with 1 second shutter speed. 

This was shot at 1/3 second, smoke is a lot more dramatic this way. Also, stopping down the aperture to F13 to have the startburst effect on the sun. 

Zoomed into the joss sticks, also at 1/3 second shutter speed. 

I wanted to do another night cityscape, buildings shot,as well as light trail overlooking the highway from a bridge. Unfortunately it rained cats and dogs in Kuala Lumpur recently, for the past few nights consecutively. 

I guess, I will have to make do with recycled images. 

Light Trail, at whooping 5 seconds shutter speed, hand-held.

Crop from previous shot

5 seconds hand-held. I had to sit down on the floor to get this. Image was first published in my E-M1 Mark II review. 

Crop of the previous image. Sharp. 

Another 5 seconds hand-held shot. 

Crop from previous shot 

5) True Freedom

Imagine, being able to do all the above shots, without tripod. Hey, actually there was no need for imagination, as these shots can be easily done by anyone now. 

Some people have tested their newly acquired E-M1 Mark II and can shoot at incredibly long shutter speed times, some even reaching 15 seconds, which is insane. Like I said, I do not have the steadiest hand to begin with. 

Nevertheless, image stabilization enables the camera to do so much more, inspires confidence when shooting. If you ask me, that is a freedom in photography that I have gained, and will never, ever give up. 

If you have been using camera systems with powerful image stabilization, I am sure you will never look back. 

2 seconds hand-held, in a tunnel, riding a train

So what are your thoughts about image stabilization? Do you think it is purely a gimmick, or have you encountered life saving situations that the image stabilization had performed miracles?

I want to hear your thoughts!

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Thursday, January 05, 2017

Panasonic LX100 + Raynox DCR-250 Macro Converter: An Experiment

I have always heard of the existence of the Raynox DCR-250, an inexpensive, yet superbly high in quality macro converter (basically, a close up lens), but never actually tried one, or found a reason to get one. I have had friends who have shown incredible results using the Raynox, and the macro photographers have highly recommended this converter, even if you are doing serious macro photography.

When I found out that the native screw on thread of the Raynox DCR-250 is 43mm which can be fitted directly into the Panasonic LX100's lens, I went and bought one immediately.

My humble, simple setup for insect macro photography last weekend. Panasonic Lumix LX100 with the supplied add on flash, Raynox DCR-250 Macro Adapter, and a white sheet of paper as a diffuser for the flash. 

Sunday, January 01, 2017

How To Create Drama In Street Photography

Happy New Year 2017 to all of you beautiful blog readers! I wish everything awesome flowing into your lives throughout 2017.

I have had quite a great head start to 2017, and on today's local paper, The Borneo Post, I was featured in an article about creative artists' resolutions for the 2017 year. Special thanks to the amazing Georgette Tan for the interview and featuring me.

It was a long weekend, and when I have some spare time to myself, you know the only thing I would do is to get out and shoot some photographs! My experimentation with the Panasonic Lumix LX100 continues, and this time I had a friend tagging along. Nick Wade (oops, forgot to take a portrait shot of Nick in action this time) was with me shooting on the morning of the New Year's Eve and I could not think of a better way to spend my time.

From what happened to be my last shutter therapy session of 2016, I came home with a few images that looked a little more dramatic than usual, and I thought why not compile the images and write a blog article about that?

If you look at the pool of street photographs (which has become a growingly common genre practiced widely everywhere now), the images that stood out usually have some drama in them. The drama can usually be the split second action of something happening, the creative play of merging visually stunning lines and perspectives or something completely unpredictable and random yet beautifully conceived in a photograph. To have that drama in a street photograph immediately elevated the status of that photograph from the otherwise, ordinary, uninteresting and cliche snapshots which have been done to death. There is no clear defining characteristics of these "dramatic traits" but each photographer can inject his or her own input.

In this blog entry I am sharing what I normally do, what I look for, and how I add drama to my street photography.


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Thursday, December 29, 2016

My Personal Favourite Photographs Taken In 2016

As the year 2016 is coming to an end, it is time for me to look back the entire year worth of photographs I have taken.

Here are a few facts: the year 2016 is the year I have taken the least number of photographs in comparison to each year I have started photography in a more serious-hobbyist level since 2008. This was largely due to my work with Olympus which required me to work on weekends (consumer workshops, walkabout events, touch and try for new products, etc). Consequently, the year 2016 has the least number of posts, having only 70 blog entries in total, in stark contrast of 220 blog entries in 2012. While the number of photographs taken and blog updates have dropped significantly, I have ensured that whenever I was out there shooting (for myself, excluding the product reviews) I would do my best and put in extra effort to get the shot that I really wanted. Shutter therapy may not have happened as often as I liked, but I still managed to find time to shoot for pleasure from time to time.

I think as a hobbyist, and even if you are a professional photographer, you do need to find time to just shoot for the fun of shooting, and not stress out on any specific goals or "project" objectives. I acknowledge that many photography websites and photographer "gurus" would recommend sticking to a vision, having a running theme to adhere to and stick strictly to the rules of how to shoot for a series of photographs (typically with an end goal of publishing book/gallery/exhibition in mind), I beg to differ in opinion. I find there is nothing wrong to just wield the camera and just point it at the things that drew your attention, and shoot the things that you like to shoot. These images may not need to mean anything to anyone, they should mean something to you. If this is true, and you continue to stay true to yourself, after shooting for a while you will realize that you have inserted your own personality, characteristics and identity in your photography. Your images tell stories about yourself. Is it not better to shoot something that you actually love shooting and enjoy yourself thoroughly throughout the whole process, instead of pressuring yourself, stressing out on your final delivery of a "project"?

No I do not have a photography project specifically and I do not intend to start one. I may not have cohesive story-telling when it comes to my street photography, which by itself is a far deviation from the conventional approach. Does this mean I will never achieve the "high level" of photography required for standard gallery exhibitions, or does this disqualify myself from being regarded as a serious photographer? At the end of the day, as long as I come home, happy with my own set of images, I believe that is what truly matters.

Yellow Shirt