A quick, in progress review of the second best m4:3 lens I have ever shot with. The Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro.

Jill Blackwood at "Dot" in "Sundays in the Park with George."
Zach Theatre.

I've been photographing the dress rehearsals for plays at Zach Theatre for about 30 years now. In that span of time I've gone from shooting set up shots in black and white, done with medium format cameras, with prints processed in my own darkroom to shooting current plays with a mix of digital cameras. While good cameras are nice to have good lenses are even better.

A few weeks ago I shot the dress rehearsal for "Sundays in the Park with George." It's a good production with one technical caveat; the stage is bare and the background is largely light absorbing black. It's an inherently high contrast collection of scenes.

Recently I've asked the folks at Zach Theatre to let me photograph both the Sunday evening technical rehearsal as well as the Tuesday night dress rehearsals. I only charge them for one but I enjoy theatre and more importantly I like to see the blocking and action at a run through before I shoot the final practice. This let's me know where people stand when and what they are about to do. I like being prepared so I think of the first night as a scouting trip in anticipation of the actual assignment.

It works out well. I no longer get nervous about "getting the shot" and on Sundays, with no audience underfoot, I can use louder cameras and move around a lot more. Actors like Jill (above) are so used to seeing me at their rehearsals that they can ignore me entirely.

I always dress in "show black" and even wear a black cap to hide the bright beacon of platinum (not white or gray) hair that I am sure would be a visual distraction. On Sundays I've started shooting with the Nikon D800e cameras and the Nikon lenses because the shutter noise isn't an issue. On Tues. I shoot with the Panasonic GH5s because noise becomes an issue. We almost always have an invited audience; it helps the actors fine tune... I need to use the mechanical shutters sometimes in order to handle flicker from some of the lights and in those situations I'll wrap a neoprene case around a GH5 which does a good job of quieting an already quiet shutter.

On Tuesdays I'm relegated to center of the house. I don't complain because I have a whole row of seats to myself. But we are half way up the house from the stage so I depend on lenses with reach for most of the best marketing worthy photos. I'm filling out the Nikon lens inventory slowly but in the m4:3 inventory I already have the PERFECT LENS with which to shoot from mid-house. It's the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro.

As far as I am concerned (for theater work) that lens has only one aperture: f2.8. I use it all evening long, all wide open. It returns photographs with lots of great detail, never back or front focuses and never flares. The lens has a tripod mount but I shoot the theater work handheld. I'll go wider than 150mm (300mm FF equiv.) if I want to capture more atmosphere but I think the images that sell plays are mostly shots of two characters together in a dynamic scene or small ensembles of actors. Wide stage shots rarely make it onto promotional websites or into magazine print unless the scenery is just spectacular.

When I compare the files from Sundays and Tuesdays (Nikon vs. Panasonic/Olympus) the advantage of narrow depth of field obviously goes to the Nikon but the other technical qualities are a wash. The files aren't much different in the noise department (f2.8 versus f4.0 or f5.6) and the cameras focus equally fast.

If I had to choose between the two systems the two Olympus Pro lenses I use would tip the balance in favor of the Panasonic GH5. Where I prefer the Nikon is in controlled marketing photographs that we take outside of rehearsals. These are situations where I am able to control the light, use flash and take advantage of the Nikon's superior quality, when used at ISO 100 and with lenses stopped down to optimum apertures. Nice to have both. Even nicer to know why.

I can imagine that if most people bought into the m4:3 system cold and only used the 12/100 and the 40/150 Pro lenses they would never, ever have format envy again. Amazing lenses. Wish Olympus would make one Pro lens for the Nikon. It would be a 24-200mm f4.0 with the quality of the 12-100mm f4.0. I know it would be large and heavy but if the optics were as good it would shift the whole market around. At least that's what I'm conjecturing right now.

Broken Lenses. What to do about them?

Lenses don't fail often; but they do. As of yesterday I have two on the critical list and one on the "too far out of range to AF-Tune correctly" List.

One is an older 55mm f2.8 ais Nikon micro lens. It has an affliction that seems to strike a number of these older lenses; oil or lubricant has seeped from somewhere onto the aperture blades and made them "sticky." As a result the camera doesn't stop down and then over the aperture open back up again. For the most part it's stuck in the wide open position.

I took it in to be repaired but apparently there is a part that breaks 50% of the time and that part is no longer made. The cost of the repair would be about the same as the cost to replace with another used copy. I gave up and decided to buy a nice, older 55mm f3.5. It seems to be a good performer. It was under $100. Less than the projected repair...

The second lens is a Nikon 20mm f2.8 AF that I bought used, hoping it would be all I ever needed for my wide angle stuff on the full frame Nikons. It developed a weird, de-focused, whirligig pattern on the corners and edges; nothing sharp until the center third of the frame. I think I understand the problem. One of the lens elements (or groups) seems to be loose and rattling around. I'm taking it in to see what the repair techs can do but I don't have high hopes.

Finally, there is a Tamron 28-75mm zoom lens for the Nikon that I want to love very much. If I focus it in live view it's sharp, sharp, sharp. If I let my camera take care of business and use the regular auto focus then it back focuses like crazy. I'm on old veteran of AF fine tuning so I set up my target last night and got to work. No dice. Even a minus 20 correction (the max correction on a D800) is nowhere close to budging the focusing plane into compliance. I'm taking that one out to the repair experts to see if there is a way to re-calibrate it into a useful appliance. Again, I'm almost certain that the cost to manually disassemble and fine tune the lens will exceed its used value.

All of which begs the question, "Once the value of a lens has been sucked dry by accident, aging or other decay, what should one do with it?" It seems sacrilege to send it to the landfill and yet who wants to crowd their space with more stuff that doesn't have a function?

This is not a rhetorical musing. I'm very interested. What would you do with non-functional, non-repairable lenses? Thoughts? They are not big enough to turn into interesting lamps.....

Around the web. A micro four thirds revival in full swing? Maybe. Looking to the blog masters for clarification.

My first true love amongst the m4:3 cameras. 
That would be the Olympus EP-2. 
A marvelous photography machine.

Okay. So this is kind of "tongue in cheek" but a quick glance around the web this morning would make the readers of several blogs think that we're in the beginning stages of a backlash against the hyper-perfectionism of full frame cameras and all the attendant hype. I looked at Ming Thein's blog this morning to find that (in a subconscious reaction to all the preciousness of the new H-Blad???) he snapped up an Olympus Pen-F camera body and has been (joyously???) re-learning the unbridled joy of shooting Jpegs straight out of the camera and enjoying the crap out of the process. 

This is an interesting development given all the recent deep dives into medium format and his propensity for ultra-control.... But it's nice to see and the rationale he posits is a good one.

Then, over to Michael Johnston's, TheOnlinePhotographer, to find that after days, weeks, months of torturous research, conjecture, testing and mulling he too has slammed down cash for..... a micro four thirds camera and a matching lens. His choice, based on a large part about camera handling, haptics (and nostalgia for the rangefinders he professes to be disinclined to shoot), is the Panasonic GX8, which I will confess is a camera that looks beautiful to me. Michael paired his camera with the Panasonic 12-35mm, second version, giving as a reason the dual image stabilization. I can't imagine why he declined to try the 12-100mm Olympus lens but it may be he felt he needed the extra stop of speed. I owned the first version of the Panasonic 12-35mm and it's a wonderful lens. Not quite at the level of the Olympus 12/100 but a great lens nonetheless.

You can read the executive summary of Michael's excruciating search for the small sensor Holy Grail here: http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2018/06/never-mind-all-that.html

And Sony blogger/workshop leader and brilliant scientist, Gary Friedman, has taken the whole argument about sensor size one step further and written about his infatuation (long term love affair?) with the even smaller one inch sensor cameras here: http://friedmanarchives.blogspot.com/2017/03/full-frame-vs-small-sensor-dont-laugh.html

It's a fun read and has the lure of big, luscious prints and focus grouping to make his points.

As you know, I am still in the micro four thirds camp with several Panasonic GH5s and a small collection of impressive Olympus Pro lenses. Two big zooms in inventory with several of the pro primes causing serious salivation over here. Pavlov's dog has nothing on me when I look at samples from the Olympus 17 and 45mm Pro high speed optics. Seems a great way to burn through even more money in the pursuit of..........?

A hand held stage image done outdoors at night, handheld 
with an Olympus EP-2 and the ancient Olympus (original) Pen FT 60mm f1.5 lens. 
Marvelous enough to massage your eyes....

We'll see if retro-format-fever strikes more blogs and photo sites in the days to come. Feels like a backlash to me. And a welcome one from the steady drum of the full frame orchestra (or is it a punk band?....).