Camera Confusion Continues. Why use an Olympus OMD EM-5.2 to do still life when you've got a Nikon D810 sitting on the corner of your desk...

Still life set ups get tight. See the Westcott Fastflag behind the camera?
It's the diffusion rimmed in yellow. 

I guess there was big excitement here in Austin this week. Apparently the folks from Olympus chose our fair city in which to launch their new Pen F camera. One reader asked if I was invited to participate and preview the camera ahead of time but, sadly, I was not. I can only imagine the other camera makers remembered my ill-fated decision to work with a progression of Samsung cameras and have never forgiven me. Likely never will. And that's okay because the lessons I learned from those two years was the vital importance, as a person who reviews cameras from time to time, never to have an ongoing relationship with the camera makers. I don't want to have to defend my credibility every time I write something nice about a a camera and conversely I don't want to spend time fending off the accusation that I'm a "shill" if I write something honest, but critical, about a camera from a maker I haven't previously used. For instance, if Nikon sent me cameras to test on a regular basis and then I wrote a blog wondering just what people see in the Fuji system I would get endless Fuji acolyte hate mail that would more or less start with..."I expected no less from a Luddite Nikon user! Don't you understand that the future is mirrorless????!!"

My friend, Andy, was one of the testers and he wrote along and involved initial review of the camera that he posted last night here.  His review is much more in depth and nuanced than are many of the reviews on the web. If you want to read the opinion of someone who owns and uses many Olympus models, as well as cameras from other brands, he's the one to go to today for the Pen F.

I wish I could have played with the new Olympus camera today since I am considering buying one when they come out but.... I've been hard at work the last three days on......work. 

I got back from my Craftsy.com conference very late on Sunday night and was a bit mopey because Ben had headed back to school earlier that day. I hit the ground on Monday with a full schedule of post production. Tues. was meetings all day and an interesting dress rehearsal all evening followed by post processing of 1200 theater images until the wee hours of the morning. But today was wall to wall still life photography. I sequestered myself away in the studio and only came out to drive the mile and a half to Thundercloud Subs to get their famous, Texas Tuna sandwich. It's basically tuna salad, guacamole, sliced jalapeƱos, Thunder Sauce(tm), and (for me) provolone cheese. We top it off with lettuce, tomato and onion. If you get the big one, on fresh, whole wheat bread, it should last you till a late dinner...

At any rate, today was my day to shoot a prototype from a high technology start up. A real product, not software, not vaporware. It was a black, metal box and the front was covered with some of the most heavy duty heat sinks I've seen in a long time. The advertising agency and the client had one brief brief: Shoot as many interesting angles and details as you can on white. 

As most of you are aware I spend most of my time making images of people and it takes some concentration to change gears and get all detail oriented with products. (more below).

A view from the back of the set.

That's not to say that I don't know my way around still life photography. I've shot hundreds of computer products for Dell and IBM, food for magazines and cookbooks, and for two years back in the 1980's I shot an ad a day with books and products for BookStop Bookstores, mostly with 4x5 cameras and sheet film. And buckets of Polaroid. In fact, at this point I think it's safe to say I've logged 10,000 hours just in those pursuits. It's just that I really like the people part.

The RPS CooLED 50. This light can also take a battery pack which takes 
12 double A batteries. Too zany for me right now.

The first thing I have to do when people want still life work is to figure out which camera system I want to use and how I'm planning on lighting stuff. We don't need to get the background perfectly white or shadow free since we'll be making clipping paths so I concentrate on using controllable lights that will help me deal with reflections on reflective surfaces. On the last few still life jobs I've done I've used the EM5.2 cameras because I like the combination of extensive depth of field coupled with the hi-res (40 megapixel) files. The still life stays still and the camera is on a tripod anyway. 

At first glance the Nikon D810 looks like the logical choice because of the full frame sensor and the high resolution but I'm leery of stopping that camera down too far and having to deal with diffraction effects. At some point the files start to get muddier and muddier as you head toward f22....

The Olympus EM5-2 is limited to f8 if you intend to use the hi-res mode. If you need more depth of field beyond what that combo (f8.0 and smaller sensor) gets you it's pretty easy to do some remedial focus stacking. I ended up choosing the Olympus because I think the high-res mode is pretty cool and it gives me a chance to use the Sigma DN 30mm and 60mm lenses. I am rewarded, at f8.0, with amazing sharpness out of a set of $200 a piece lenses. Pretty damn amazing.

Light covers, diffusion sock and a Manfrotto Magic Arm lounge on the floor, waiting their turn in some sort of rotation.

And that brings me to lighting gear. I like to use continuous lighting on product shots because I can see, on the rear screen on in the EVF, exactly what my final shot is going to look like before I trip the shutter and I can tweak it until what I've got is a perfect as I am able to get.  The big fluorescent panels are too diffuse for work like this. Not that I don't want most of the light sources to be diffuse but, I also want to skim some hard light through the shots to gain a greater impression of sharp edges. That's where my cheap RPS CooLED lights come in. I now have two of the bigger models, the 100. They put out a good amount of light and they are the first LEDs I've owned that I can stick into a softbox and not feel like the light loss is is too much. In fact, I used one of these big lights through a small soft box today, over the top of my shooting table for a main light. 

I also have two of the model 50s, which are one stop less powerful. But they are still brighter than most of the panels I've used. The beauty of all of these fixtures is that I can use them just as we used to use traditional tungsten lights. I can put diffusion scrims in front of them, put them into soft boxes or umbrellas and, with the standard 10 inch reflectors, I can even feather them nicely. Two of the reflectors have barn doors so I can created tighter, hard edged beams of light. 

Ah. The Manfrotto Grip Head. We use them for everything. 
In this instance I'm using one to hold the Westcott Fastflag
with a diffuser. Kind of like a highly customizable softbox. 
You control the intensity and diameter of the light flow based on distance. 

Shooting a new product is kind of like being on a first date. You have to make small talk and get to know the geography. Today's featured product would not stand up on its own. The giant heat sink on it made if very front heavy. I finally got it to stand up straight by attaching a nylon string to a bracket on the back of the unit and anchoring the string to a sandbagged C-stand. The product also had beveled edges which meant that it wouldn't sit on its side without some sort of support. The secret is to use enough support but make it concealable....or easy to PhotoShop out. 

The finish on the product was just shiny enough to make my morning and part of my afternoon challenging as I tried to "play pool" with the lights and bounce them into quadrants that would not return unhelpful reflections. Word to the would-be-wise, check your lighting at camera position, the effect is radically different when you move away from the camera but what the camera sees is the only thing that matters. 

Invariably, the client who is sitting ten feet over to one side will mention that he or she seems a big glare from where he or she is and wonders how you intend to fix it. I am always gentle as I guide them to the camera position and beckon them to look once again......

One of my "secret weapons" is a horizontal arm on my Gitzo tripod. 
With that tripod and arm I can arrange the camera to shoot straight down 
on a subject. Here I have the camera tilted back to get a specific angle. 

It's old news, of course, but one of the benefits of the LED lights is the cool working environment. Funny though--- today it was chilly outside and I found myself thinking how nice it would be to work with 3 or 4 thousand watts of tungsten lighting. We would have kept nice and toasty warm without having to turn on the studio heater.

Yes. I will finally admit that the tilt-fllippy screen on the back of the camera does 
have its uses. I was often putting the camera in positions that would have required 
better balance than I think I can muster to get the shots. 

As soon as I came to grips with the idea that I'd shot every conceivable angle and detail of this new, prototype (meaning not totally polished and cosmetically perfect) product I jumped right into post processing the individual files. Since I wasn't looking through a series of different expressions (people) I was able to select the best frame from each set up and just work on those. 

No matter how much I cleaned the product I have surrendered to the realization that some very fine (and very white) dust will end of statically sticking to areas of the product. It's dust that's so fine I can't see it with my naked eyes but it becomes very visible the you blow up 40 megapixel files to 100%. So, after I color correct, exposure correct and use the lens corrections to make things line up I spend about five to ten minutes per file spotting dust with the healing tool in PhotoShop. Once I like what I see I save a full res LZW Tiff file and go on to the next image. Today we did a bunch. At the end of the day I use the script in Photoshop to automate making Jpegs. It's called "Image Processor." 
I generate full size Jpegs with #10 compression and then smaller, web rez Jpegs that are easier for some clients to handle and review. 

I uploaded all of the files to WeTransfer.com and send them to all the involved parties. My hope is that everyone will write back to me and let me know how much they love the files but, being the anxious type, I generally wait on pins and needles, expecting the sky to fall and my career to end at any moment. Tragic. I know. 

So, here's my beauty shot of my favorite Olympus camera of the moment. 
Will I buy the new Pen F? Not after being snubbed!
Just kidding. I'll line up like an Apple iPhone buyer to get 
my hands on the first black one in Austin. Count on it. 

I don't usually do my photography and my processing on the same day. I like to take a walk or a swim after the shoots to let what I've done sink in. But this week is somehow different. We seem to have projects stacking up like serial romances and I'm trying to make sure the "back office" work doesn't stack up and end up biting me on the butt at some inconvenient moment. Tomorrow I photograph the president of one of (maybe "the") biggest real estate company in the country. I'd like to have all the other stuff cleared off my plate because, invariably, the photo session of busy executives if followed by a tense conversation with the administrative assistant in which the words, "We need to have all of these by tomorrow morning!!!!!" get repeated over and over again. It's like a tourist trying to bridge a language barrier by repetition and volume.

The schedule says I get a break next Thurs. I can hardly wait. But what camera will I want on that day to take on a long walk through my home town?

Some panels are here to block window light. 

Bag it. Or knock something over and pay for it....

I'm sure next year I'll be asked along on an Olympus junket. But isn't it nice to know that I wrote this because I found a good use for the camera, not because of a nice dinner and the open bar?


David Farquhar said...

Thanks for a good post and the link to the Pen-F review


ODL Designs said...

Hey Kirk
If you want to shot asset smaller apertures you can use manual primes.
The in 50 3.5 is very good for that type of work.

Noons said...

Yeah, I'm finding the flippy screen quite useful too. I've been exploring the use of the EM5M2 for astro-photography and general night sky photos and it really makes it easier on my neck!
And of course as soon as I get my hands on one of these cameras, Olympus puts out another model that I'm salivating over!
Is there no end to this?
(I hope not!)

Mike Mundy said...

I guess everyone will have to agree to disagree on the utility of that "tilt-flippy" screen.

atmtx said...

Thank you, Kirk.

Kirk Tuck said...

ODL, thanks! Good suggestion. I've got a Nikon 55mm 2.8 in the drawer and itching to be used.

Kirk Tuck said...

Andy, that was quite a detailed and interesting review. Tell me more...

Anonymous said...

Great blog on hardware product shoot using svelte OM-D 5 MkII. And I do not think you will have to wait till 2017 for the next big Olympus junket. Possibly this coming september they plan to introduce the OM-D E-M1 Mk II just prior to Photokina. Maybe a trip to Germany this fall?!

atmtx said...

Thank you, Kirk. It took a while to do the review. We should meet up for lunch, whenever you are available.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi ATMTX, would love to get together for some Tex Mex and hear all the details. I'm heading to Precision tomorrow to hold one and put myself on the pre-order list. You lucky dog you...

Anthony Collins said...

If I don't need silly-big size I fall back on my Canon G12 for product photography. Depth of focus without messing with stacking. (which is now a feature in the latest 4.0 firmware on my OM EM1

Michael Matthews said...

You probably have exotic, high-tech gear for dust removal, but here's a solution that's always worked well in the low tech world of picture framing.

Right down to the last instant of closing up the combination of print, mat(s), glazing, and frame some random, hidden bits of stuff will leap into view -- pulled from nowhere by the changing electrostatic charge induced by handling the components.


Brushed made by this outfit...some with a grounding lead...seem to do a good job of attracting as well as sweeping away small particles. Might work with the fine dust you're describing.