Small cameras, tripods and f16.

Olympus E-P2 14-42 Kit Lens Zoom

In a article I've referred to before - 
http://www.davidclapp.co.uk/blog/reviews/43-panasonic-gf-1-in-the-landscape.html 
one of my favourite UK landscape photgraphers, David Clapp, talks about using a Panasonic GF1 for landscape work. In the article on his website he used this phrase:-
"I began questioning the point of anything but this camera as the weapon of choice for long distance walks and mountain climbs. Its certainly not a compromise. If I was pushing myself to the limits high on a ridge, I am starting to think that the GF-1, 14-45 and a decent tripod system is all I would ever need."


I've been wondering about doing this for some time. Following on from my piece on the Olympus E-P2 and its kit lens
/soundimageplus/2010/08/taking-stock-3.html 
a couple of days ago, I decided to try the Olympus E-P2 with 14-42mm kit lens under similar circumstances to David. While he used the Scottish Highlands, I had a sunny afternoon in the Cotswolds. I certainly wasn't "pushing myself to the limits high on a ridge" though carrying a tripod around for several hours is something I've not done for a long time & I certainly suffered the consequences after doing it, with a complaining back.


Olympus E-P2 14-42 Kit Lens Zoom


Firstly it must be said that, for a tripod-mounted outfit, the whole thing was very compact. The E-P2 plus kit lens is a very light option. Its also very easy to use. The screen worked well even in sunlight and the 2 sec. self timer worked very nicely in the absence of a cable release. I used f16 throughout the day. There were occasions when I could have used a wider aperture, but I was interested to see the results in full landscape, maximum depth of field mode.


As David Clapp found with the 14-45mm kit lens on the GF1, the optimum aperture on the Olympus 14-42 isn't f16. The results were certainly softer than those obtained at f5.6 & f8. Diffraction takes it toll at these narrow apertures. However this doesn't mean that the images were bad by any means. Some sharpening in Photoshop yielded perfectly acceptable results.
I was however slightly disappointed by the following shots. Both were of subjects close to the camera and would normally be expected to produce very sharp results.


Olympus E-P2 14-42 Kit Lens Zoom


Olympus E-P2 14-42 Kit Lens Zoom


At these web sizes its difficult to see the difference, but the 100% version on my screen needed a fair amount of "smart sharpening" in Photoshop to get the images crisp. 


As a comparison I used the camera hand held at wider apertures later in the day.


Olympus E-P2 14-42 Kit Lens Zoom


Olympus E-P2 14-42 Kit Lens Zoom


Olympus E-P2 14-42 Kit Lens Zoom


The three images above are all very sharp and crisp. Apertures varied from f4 to f11.


I had also taken the Leica X1 with me, as a comparison. The results were similar. I used f14 on the Leica as it has a minimum aperture of f16.


The tripod mounted shots were marginally sharper than the Olympus.


Leica X1


Again there was a slightly disappointing result from a close to the camera subject.


Leica X1


Again I tried the camera in hand held mode at wider apertures.


Leica X1


Leica X1


These were excellent. In the shot immediately above the flowers are incredibly sharp and crisp.


So what did I learn from this?


Yes its possible to use a small m4/3 camera in tripod mounted landscape mode at small apertures and gain acceptable results. There would be no problem in printing these images at large sizes or for magazine reproduction up to A3.However I would only ever do this if I had to. Its certainly not a way of working that I would want to be doing a lot. 


Yes you can obtain better results with wider apertures but certainly the kit lens on the Olympus performs well enough at f16 for it to be considered a usable option.


I've always had positive feelings about the 14-42 Olympus zoom. No its not as sharp as the X1 lens, but a small amount of Photoshop sharpening brings it to comparable levels for reproduction.


Cameras like the E-P2 and X1 are designed to be used hand held at wide apertures and that is where they perform best. There is no advantage in using them on a tripod at small apertures. However if thats what you need to do then they will perform satisfactorily. If I was looking to do what David Clapp does, then I would agree with him that a m4/3 camera with kit zoom is perfectly capable of doing the job.


For me, its not something that I would do very often, if at all these days. Yes I've carried medium format film cameras, lenses and a tripod up mountain slopes, but not for many years. These days, with digital cameras and their superb higher ISO performance, its often not necessary, and for me I only use a tripod when light levels are so low that hand holding the camera is impossible.


A useful experience and one that adds to my knowledge of what two of my cameras are capable of. 


Words - D
Images - D & A