Portrait on a maintenance bridge. Using small format cameras for big projects. 2018.
Panasonic G9 + Olympus 12-100mm Pro.
I got tired of posting graffiti and buildings and coffee so I'm starting to reach back to recent projects that featured actual people. This from a shoot in North Carolina that we did back in 2018. The client is a large, national infrastructure construction company. They make stuff like dams and lakes. This is from a quiet shoot early in the morning.
On Assignment in North Carolina with a Panasonic G9 and the Olympus 12-100mm. Right place/right time; 2018.
When I come across photos we took on assignment and in Iceland in 2018 I wonder why I ever sold off my first set of G9s. I'm glad I bought another one...
Now, about that lens....
The announcement by Olympus of their divestiture of their camera division seems to have stirred up my appreciation of the M4:3rds format and its gear. This comes at a cost...
Lumix GX8 with the Sigma Contemporary 16mm f1.4 DC DN for m4:3.
I've had an on again, off again love affair with the mirrorless, m4:3 cameras since I bought an Olympus EP-2 with its clever, detachable EVF, back in late 2009. My original rationale for buying that camera was to experiment using vintage Olympus Pen F film lenses on a digital camera. It was, for the most part, a successful and fun adventure. If I was always only a devoted amateur/lover of photography instead of someone splitting my attention between the "pleasure of" and the "business of" photography I'm fairly sure I would have dug into the m4:3 systems only, and stayed there. It's a system that checks nearly all the boxes I'd be interested in if I shot photographs only because of my own passion for the art.
But like most insecure commercial photographers I vacillated between believing the system was enough and wanting to hedge my bets with clients by showing up with bigger format equipment. Over the past twelve years I've bought into m4:3 systems, with the intention of using them for everything, at least five times, only to retreat the instant a goose-y client questioned whether full frame might be...better.
But my appreciation for the jewel-like cameras that Olympus kept introducing, and the sheer usability and wide ranging prowess of Panasonic's cameras, stays with me throughout.
Before the Olympus announcement I was at Precision Camera buying a tilt base for a video head I was putting on top of a big, Benro tripod. Reflexively, I looked through their collection of used gear, concentrating on the m4:3 stuff to see if there was anything that was absolutely irresistible. I found one lens that was interesting but decided the money might be better spent elsewhere. I found the tilt base, bought it and moved on. Until yesterday.
Boredom will bankrupt us all... I finished all my domestic chores and was hesitant to leave the house and studio because of the air quality warnings about the Saharan Dust storm. After lunch I gave in to the relentless ennui, grabbed a handful of face masks, and headed off to take a quick stroll through the camera store. You know, just to see what's new.
In the Olympus/Panasonic used case I came across a couple of the Olympus 25mm f1.2 Pro lenses, one of the 45mm Pros, and one of the 17mms. All in nice condition but none seemed to tweak my desire gland in the moment. I searched around a bit more and came across a lens that was counter-intuitive for me. It's the Sigma Contemporary 16mm f1.4, DC DN with an m4:3 mount. It's a lens that's usually in high demand and sometimes out of stock but I'd never thought of owning it because it's a bit wide and the focal length is also covered by my Leica/Panasonic 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 zoom lens.
This particular lens is in really good condition and I decided to negotiate a bit and see if I could take it off their hands at a better price than what they marked on the attached price tag. I imagined that it might be fun to play with. I might even train myself to like a lens closer to 30-35mm as much as my usual 50mm range. The tipping point spec was the fast max. aperture... and a number of very solid reviews.
I took the lens home with me, put it on my GX8 body and headed to Zilker Park for a lone walk through the trees. I'm trying to be careful to always wear a mask now, even when outdoors and socially distancing because I do want to model ethical behavior for all those other people... But, damn! It's hotter walking in high heat and humidity with your mouth and nose covered. The sacrifices we make to test out new lenses... (being sarcastic as I know the mask is good and walking through the park, testing a lens is not an essential duty!).
I like this lens very much. It focuses closer than I expected and once you find out the sweet spot for the aperture it's insanely sharp and contrasty. Wide open the center is sharp enough and and I don't care about the far edges and corners. F2.8 is the optimum setting for me. It's the point where the center section of the image becomes wildly sharp and contrasty while the far edges have become "good" to "excellent." If your image absolutely MUST be sharp across the frame then the best compromise is probably f5.6 which gives you slightly lower performance in the central quadrant but brings up the edge and corner sharpness and contrast firmly into the excellent zone.
For walking around outside I stuck with f3.5 and found it a perfect combination of overall image quality bundled with enough depth of field for the kind of photographs I'd normally take with a lens with this angle of view. I presume that once you get past f8.0 you'll start seeing more and more sharpness robbing diffraction so I don't even bother to play around with the smaller apertures.
While the lens is big on the GX8 it's not too heavy and doesn't feel like it's out of balance or overly weighted to the front. At $265 for a mint-y example I think it's a nice addition to my little collection of m4:3 cameras and lenses. I'm itching to try it for environmental portraits in lower light. Ah, the promise of the future.
I am impressed by just about every lens from Sigma's Contemporary and Art lines. This one is no different. In a pinch it's competent used wide open and, when you suss out its strengths, it's a very, very nice lens at smaller apertures (up to f5.6). I think I'll keep this one.
Here are some "FIRST DAY SAMPLES!!!!!!!" More to come soon.
I always thought a 50mm equivalent lens would be my favorite on a GX8 or G9 but I'm slowly (very slowly) coming around to the wider perspective. Curious to take a casual poll of VSL readers: What's your favorite single focal length for m4:3? Let me know in the comments.
Have a great and non-dusty day. KT
The city of Austin is limiting attendance to the pools. At Barton Springs Pool you have to make an online reservation days in advance to sign up for a two hour slot during the day. When you arrive for your swim they do the public health questioning (have you been out of the country? Do you know if anyone in your household has tested positive? etc.) and they use a I.R. thermometer to take your temperature. You also need to wear a mask any time you are not in the water....
As a result, there's hardly anyone in the 1/8th mile long pool.
The picnic table where I go to write notes in my little notebook.
Sometimes the notes grow into blog posts. Sometimes into books,
but mostly into pieces of scrap paper with which to wrap up used chewing
gum before tossing into the trash.
No health checks at the spillway just to the N.E. of the Barton Springs Pool.
It's jammed with people, none of whom are masked...
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