Category Archives: DSLR

My Latest Addition

I’ve been gone for awhile, enjoying a family vacation in the motorhome with my wife and 3 little dogs.  It was also a time where I could experiment with my latest addition to the camera family, the Olympus OM-D E-M5!

This camera was 1st introduced last year and received many great reviews.  Here are a couple in case you’re interested:

Steve Huff – OM-D Review
DP Review OM-D Review

The E-M5 is classified as a mirrorless camera, and not a DSLR.  While it does resemble a DSLR with it’s viewfinder, it really is a different camera.  The viewfinder is electronic (EVF), and works extremely well.  I really like this feature and is the one thing I have missed on my other mirrorless cameras.  Each of the others is equipped with a display on the back of the camera, and it can be difficult to use in certain conditions such as very bright sunlight.  The E-M5 also has a nice large display on the back on the camera, and it articulates, making it much more useful!

I’m one of those guys that jumps right in with cameras, spending very limited time with the manual.  It didn’t hurt having owned another Olympus (the E-P3) because the menu system is very similar.  One of the biggest improvements over my E-P3 is all of the external controls.  The E-M5 has a lot of buttons and dials (makes for faster setting changes).

One of the things I’ve been looking for in a mirrorless camera is better performance with fast moving subjects (airplanes, cars, kids).  As much as I love my E-P3, it really is lousy for this kind of photography.  The E-M5 on the other hand is amazing!  I’ve found the autofocus to be very fast, and having 9 frames per second doesn’t hurt either.  Will this replace my Canon 60D for airshows?  Only time will tell.

There is one other thing worth mentioning, and that is low light performance.  This is another area with my E-P3 struggles.  The E-P3 does work, but requires a tripod and careful handling.  The E-M5 is simply amazing in low light.  With the right lens and settings, this little camera can see better in the dark than I can.  I was very impressed with it’s low light performance.  In a real world example, I was standing near the Imperial Beach Pier after sunset.  The light was low, but beautiful and I thought I’d give it a try.  I used the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 lens set at f/2.8 and pressed the shutter.    The ISO was set at 1600 for this handheld shot:

Imperial Beach Pier, Olympus OM-D E-M5

The original image was a RAW file, converted to jpeg and resized, no other adjustments were made.

I was also able to use my recently acquired Rokinon 7.5mm Fisheye lens.  What a find this was!  The Rokinon is a manual focus lens, but that really wasn’t a problem.  For most of my shots, I had it set the aperture to either f/8 or f/5.6 and the focus to infinity.  I rarely had to make any other adjustments with these settings.  Here are a couple of photos from the E-M5 and Rokinon:

OM-D E-M5 and Rokinon Fisheye, Imperial Beach Pier

OM-D E-M5 and Rokinon Fisheye, Imperial Beach Pier

I have a couple of thoughts in closing this post.  The 1st is that there are some very good deals out there on equipment that is about to be superseded by the latest rendition or already has been.  The OM-D may be last years model, and although it has been superseded by the OM-D E-M1 it has proven to me that it’s an extremely capable camera!  There are some that must have the latest and greatest every time it is introduced, but that’s not the way I work.  If you can fight the urge to resist every little change in features, you can have what you want and save some $$$ too!  This really goes for anything (cars, bikes, cameras, phones…..).

And my final thought goes back to the E-M5 replacing my Canon 60D.  So far my testing is saying yes!  There are a couple of things I still want to try before selling the 60D, one of those being a kids baseball game!  If I can get similar results with my E-M5, I might just have to put the 60D up for sale.

That’s it for this post.  Until next time – Happy Shooting!


Eastern Sierra, 2013

I’m back!  My wife, 3 dogs and I have spent the last 3 weeks camped at the Silver Lake RV Resort, right across the street from Silver Lake, on the June Lake Loop in the Eastern Sierra.

Silver Lake and Carson Peak

Although we visit there every year, the experience is never the same.  One year we had late afternoon thunderstorms almost every day.  Last year we had very warm weather for most of the month we were there.  This year we had snow on 3 different occasions!

As for photography, this year was a little different in respect as well.  If you’ve followed this blog at all, you may have noticed that I’m moving towards smaller, lighter cameras and associated accessories.  This year, I really made use of my Olympus E-P3 and Panasonic GX-1.  These are categorized as Micro 4/3rds (M4/3), mirrorless cameras.  Although I did bring my Canon 60D DSLR, I only used it a couple of times.

On one occasion, I brought both my 60D and Oly out at the same time, mostly as a side by side comparison in real world usage.  I took them to Mono Lake’s South Tufa, and carried them and all of their supporting “stuff” down the boardwalk and across the sand to the Tufa.  This isn’t a scientific, pixel peeping review of the results, but rather my opinion of each type camera system in a real life situation.  Here’s my bottom line – if someone would have made me a fair offer for the Canon stuff, I would have sold it then and there!  What a pain in the back it was!  After carrying it around I was really sorry that I brought it.  Yes, the sensor is bigger than the Oly’s.  Yes, it’s better at action photography.  But, I wasn’t shooting action.  And to my eye, the image quality isn’t any better that what I’m getting out of the Oly.

There is one thing I can say about my Oly, it is tough!  I slipped and fell once and smacked it on the ground.  Another time I got fumble fingered and dropped it.  Although it has a couple of nicks and dings, it works perfectly.

If you have a DSLR that you like, keep liking and using it!  I’m not here to talk anyone out of their DSLR.  I’m just sharing my experience in case you are curious about something smaller, but don’t want to drop down to a point and shoot.  There are options!

Rant Warningthe opinion expressed in the following rant are my own, your experience my vary!

One of the other things I noticed this year was the behavior of other photographers.  I’ve met and talked with quite a few over the past few years.  When it’s just one or two out by themselves, they were usually approachable and polite when greeted with a “good morning”.  But when I was unfortunate enough to come across a group of them (workshop) I found them unfriendly, rude, and obnoxious.  What is it that turns people into jerks when they group together?  I would be embarrassed if I were part of one of these groups with people behaving so badly.  It seemed to me – if you were in one of these groups or workshops, you owned all of the view around you.  One jerk in particular was loudly proclaiming to some poor folks, that dared venture near him, that he needed them out of his field of view, which looked to be in excess of 180 degrees (this didn’t happen just once while he was taking a picture, but over and over).  And this isn’t the only example.  I ran across at least 3 of these groups, and didn’t see much difference between them.

While I’ve never been part of a photography workshop or photography group, I wouldn’t want you to give up the idea because of what I’ve experienced.  I’m sure there are some good ones out there, with leaders that would reel in the jerks, I just haven’t seen it happen.  But if you wanted to join one of these groups, go for it, they just aren’t for me.

End of Rant…

Back to photography.  This year I really tried to slow down and take my time composing my shots.  I also tried to focus attention to single elements in the frame and not go for each whole grand scene.  Sometimes I would include an anchor in the foreground, something that would add interest, and help give some depth to a scene.  Other times I would focus on something small, like a leaf.  There are exceptions, such as when the sky was really putting on a show over Mono Lake, but for the most part, I tried to keep my images this year much more intimate.

After 3 weeks of shooting I have a lot of editing to do.  It’s funny, when people see me walking back to the motorhome carrying my gear, they ask if I’ve gotten a lot of great shots.  I usually say, “I hope so”.  That may seem like a funny answer, but until you actually look at what you have on a larger screen, you don’t really have an idea if you “got a lot of great shots”.  Looking at pictures on the little LCD on the camera gives you general idea, but you need to see them on the computer screen to make any real determination if it’s a keeper or gets tossed.

Here are some of the photos that I’ve had time to work on:

Silver Lake Pond

Carson Peak

The Log, Silver Lake

Silver Lake Leaves

That’s it for now.  If you have a different opinion or experience with either DSLR’s vs other options or photography workshops, don’t be bashful, use the comment section.

Until next time – Happy Shooting!

Mono Lake

Mono Lake is a very interesting place.  Not only because of it’s unique ecosystem, but also because it’s one of my “happy places”.  I find myself daydreaming about the many visits I’ve been able to make over the years, and the numerous photo opportunities I’ve been presented.

Big Clouds, Mono Lake

It seems that I’m looking back more and more to those quiet and serene places I’ve visited in the Eastern Sierra.  As my job becomes more demanding and tedious, I look forward to each opportunity to get away and pay another visit to Mono Lake.  Once I’m there, I also try and make it a point to slow down and breath it all in.  This may sound silly to some, but I want to have a clear mind and really attempt to feel the spirit of this wonderful place.

While I consider Mono Lake to be almost sacred ground, there are others that may not share my feelings.  It’s true that if you visit Mono Lake during the middle of the day, you may come away disappointed.  There are no trees to offer shade, and it can get hot.  And there are the flies.  Yes, lots of flies.  These black flies inhabit the shoreline of Mono Lake in uncountable numbers, turning the ground black.  The interesting thing about the flies (called Alkali Fly) is that they are not your typical house fly, and will rarely ever land on people.  And finally, some will be put off by the smell.  Mono Lake is more salty than the ocean, and does have a unique odor.

I don’t want to turn this post into a science lesson.  If you’d like to learn more, click on this link –  Mono Lake.

Getting back to the fluffy stuff, I just love walking along the shoreline of the South Tufa State Reserve.  While I do love getting up in the dark and arriving before sunrise, I was privileged to see some amazing sunsets.  This happened last year, late in September.  The sky kept changing, becoming more colorful with each passing moment.  Just when it seemed like the show was over, the colors changed from various shades of red to a warm golden sheen.

Mono Lake Sunset

For those that can’t get out of bed for sunrise, and for others that may not be able to make the trip for sunset, there are other options.  While mid-day sun doesn’t usually provide the best light, you aren’t completely out of luck.  The trick is to keep an eye on the sky.  I’ve had plenty of mid-day to late afternoon photo ops, but I always wait until there is some sort of action in the sky.

What kind of action?  Storm clouds.  Luckily during the summer months the chances for afternoon thunderstorms increase.  There’s an old saying, “bad weather, great photos”.  I’m not sure who said that, but I find it to be true.  I’m not talking about gray, drab rain clouds that fill the sky and have not character or features.  I’m talking about big, bold, billowing thunderheads, reaching thousands of feet into the air!  The kind of clouds that make you feel small and insignificant in comparison.

One note of caution is advisable here.  It’s one thing to stand in awe and take pictures from a respectable distance.  I’ve done this safely many times from the South Tufa, watching and photographing the storms passing across the middle of the lake and on the far shore.  But you need to pay attention!  If the storm shifts and moves in your direction, you need to seek shelter.  Not only can you get caught in a major downpour with your camera gear, but there can be some pretty severe lightning.

Mono Lake Clouds, black and whiteNext issue – what kind of camera gear do you need?  Good question!  I’d say whatever you have will be ok.  It just depends on what you want to do.  I’ve seen (and used) everything from simple point and shoots to high end DSLR’s to View Cameras.  There’s another old saying, “F8 and be there”.  The  f-stop is up to you, but being there is very important.  You can’t take pictures if you don’t have your camera, and all the camera gear in world will do you no good if you aren’t there!

As I already mentioned, I’ve used everything from my “Precious” (little point and shoot) to a large DSLR and various accessories.  This includes a tripod.  Just remember, large cameras require large lenses and large tripods.  I’ve carried them many times down the boardwalk from the parking lot to the shoreline.  I usually don’t get too tired or sore until after the long walk back to the car.  My point is that this stuff can get heavy, so be prepared!  It may also get dirty, so you’ll need to exercise some caution in and around the sand and water.

No matter which camera (or cameras) you decide to bring, try to mix up your shots.  In addition to those eye level grab shots, don’t be afraid to get down low.  Bring a towel to kneel on, and shoot low to get a unique perspective on this fantastic landscape.  And try to remember to shoot a few vertically.  I’d also suggest that in addition to a wide angle lens that you consider something in a moderate telephoto, say 70-200mm.  You can zoom in on some of the birds that call Mono Lake home, or isolate a unique tufa formation.

Brand, make, or model don’t really matter.  This isn’t the time or place to worry about the specifications of your gear, or wishing you had something else.  Fixed lens or zoom, again it doesn’t matter.  I think this quote from Ansel Adams is appropriate – “A good photograph is knowing where to stand”.  You just need to be there.  Use what you have, and enjoy the show!

Tufa Sunset, Mono Lake

In closing, I hope you are able to pay a visit to Mono Lake.  Be sure to stop by the Visitor Center!  And if you have the time, drive over to the South Tufa and enjoy the view.  I’ll talk about another area of Mono Lake with some very unique and delicate formations called Sand Tufa.

Until next time – Happy Shooting!