Category Archives: Olympus

POTD: Ladybug Convention

Our weather has warmed up and the yuccas are starting to bloom. That means ladybugs are in abundance, preying upon the aphids which feed on the yuccas (and are often tended by ants).

For this photo, I used my OM System OM-1 Mark 2 body and the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro lens. This tiny lens is quite sharp, and incredibly lightweight (185 g / 0.4 lb), which makes it super-easy to manage in the field hand-held. A side benefit of Micro 4/3rds format for macro photography is the 2x effective DOF (meaning you can shoot at wider apertures to keep shutter speed up without sacrificing depth of field) and the 2x equivalent magnification factor (1:1 with this format actually frames like 2:1 on full-frame).

For this shot, I was set at 1/1000s f/6.3 ISO 1250, hand-held. The equivalent setting on full-frame (to get the same DOF) would have been 1/1000s f/13, ISO 5000. Sometimes it’s good to go small!

Infrared Photography with Micro 4/3rds Cameras

Surprising results from a tiny system

Late last year, I decided to shop around for a micro 4/3rds mirrorless camera to convert to infrared. Mostly, I wanted to have a camera that was compatible with my OM System OM-1 kit, as it has become my primary camera body. Carrying two systems while traveling is a pain, especially when one of them uses large lenses. My full-spectrum infrared Nikon Z6 is excellent, but the size of the body and compatible lenses makes it prohibitive to pack as a second system for my photography workshops. I like to have a compact infrared camera for traveling, preferably one that I can use with lenses that are either already in my bag or that take up little space.

Infrared Body: Olympus OM-D E-M5ii

After shopping around and consulting my colleagues, I settled on purchasing a second-hand Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark 2 body. While not packed with the features of the newer cameras, it still sports 16 megapixels, has excellent IBIS, and face/eye detection AF. That’s more than I need for my style of infrared photography. The E-M5 is solidly built, has easy to use controls, and IMO happens to look beautiful in silver. Another benefit of the E-M5 is that it uses the older contrast-detection AF system, which isn’t susceptible to the banding artifacts that you can sometimes see with newer mirrorless cameras. I had the camera converted to full-spectrum infrared by Kolari Vision.

Choosing Micro 4/3 Lenses for Infrared Photography

The real test of an infrared camera system isn’t the body, it’s the lenses. You can convert just about any camera to infrared, but if the lenses you use create hotspots, it’s futile. Hotspots are the bane of every infrared photographer, and mitigating them usually requires shooting wide-open and attempting to fix them in post; something that isn’t always easy. A potential advantage of the small M4/3 sensor is that it produces 2x the apparent depth of field as compared to 35mm full-frame. That means, I can shoot an f/4 lens wide-open and have the same DOF as using f/8 on a FF body. Many lenses start to show hotspots at f/8 or higher, so this was something I was curious to see.

Wide-angle lenses are typically the problematic for infrared photography, as much of their power comes from optical coatings that simply aren’t designed for infrared wavelengths. The result can be images with extreme corner shading, and very soft (or even mushy) corner sharpness. My first infrared camera was a Nikon 1 V1, and its 10-30mm zoom lens was so bad at the wide end that it looked like someone had smeared a ring of petroleum jelly on the lens (the lens was fine with visible light).

I’ve tested a large range of Nikon lenses with infrared, and I have now done the same with OM System/Olympus Micro 4/3 lenses. I found a few articles discussing Olympus lens performance with infrared, and some of those lenses are available on the used market at extremely reasonable prices. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the newer “Pro” lenses fared worse in my testing than some of the older designs (probably due to differences in coatings). In the end I settled on a trio of Micro 4/3rds lenses that are absolutely great for digital infrared photography:

  • Olympus 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6 ED MSC: This wide-angle zoom lens is a nearly perfect performer, even when stopped down past f/8. This lens performed better than any of the wide-angle Nikon Z lenses I tested, and offers an 18-36mm FF equivalent range. It uses 52mm front filters, which are modestly priced. This lens is the most expensive of the three I list here, but you can find them used for around $225.
  • Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ power zoom: This is my go-to lens for infrared photography with Micro 4/3 format cameras, as it delivers the 35mm equivalent of a 28-84mm lens. It is absolutely tiny due to its collapsible design, and it is so compact that it can just stay on the camera without taking up additional space. It performs extremely well in infrared up until about f/8, which is well past the normal aperture range I usually need. It uses 37mm front filters, which are fairly inexpensive. If you had only one lens for Micro 4/3 infrared photography, this is the one to get. It’s also available on the used market for under $200.
  • Olympus 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6R: While I don’t shoot a lot of telephoto shots in infrared, this lens is tiny, lightweight, and nearly perfect across the range. It offers an equivalent angle of view to an 80-300mm lens on 35mm format, and is remarkably good. Even better, you can find this lens in excellent condition for under $100 (I got mine for $75).

There are many other Micro 4/3rds lenses that perform well with infrared, including many of the small primes, and the 60mm f/2.8 macro lens. The result is that I have lots of choices for infrared photography with the Micro 4/3 system, and many of the lenses are tiny.

Despite the excellent performance of the OM System Micro 4/3 lenses I tested in infrared, there is one major difference between the M4/3 kit and my Nikon Z6. Unlike with my Nikon I was unable to get a set of clip-in (rear-mounted) filters to use with my E-M5 Mark II body. That means I have to use front filters when using my full-spectrum converted Olympus camera. If you have a fixed conversion, this isn’t an issue, but I like having the option of using a variety of filters, including the Kolari IR Chrome filter. While clip-in filters are a little clumsier to change in the field, they allow you to use any lens with your infrared camera, regardless of filter thread.

Because each of the lenses in my arsenal has a different filter size, my solution was to purchase a set of 58mm filters to use across all three of my primary lenses. I use step rings to mount the filters to the wide-angle and standard zooms. I keep the step rings on the lenses, and I picked up some inexpensive 58mm lens caps to use with them. Fortunately, the 58mm filters aren’t particularly expensive, and they aren’t awkward to use with the lenses in my kit. You can also adapt them to fit the small primes with 46-58mm step up ring.

Pros and Cons of a Micro 4/3 System for Infrared

In a perfect world, I’d love a one-lens infrared solution in the 24-200mm range, but the Olympus/OM System and Nikon Z lenses in that range both produce unacceptable hotspots. Nevertheless, for my style of shooting, I find using a Micro 4/3 camera for infrared to be extremely pleasant. The small form-factor of the body and lenses makes using it as a second body extremely simple. The lens performance is excellent, too, and there are focal length options that allow me far more choices than I had with my Nikon Z infrared kit. For example, I can use the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 portrait lens and 60mm f/2.8 macro lens with my Olympus infrared camera, but their Nikon counterparts produced unacceptable hotspots. Moreover, adding one of the M4/3 primes to my kit is painless, as they take up very little space in my bag.

Benefits of Micro 4/3 Infrared Cameras
  • Small form-factor of cameras and lenses
  • Availability of lenses on the used market at extremely discounted prices
  • 2x effective depth of field makes it easier to avoid hotspots by shooting wide-open
  • Older cameras with contrast-detect AF avoid banding artifacts
Drawbacks of Micro 4/3 Infrared Cameras
  • Requires the use of front-filters and step-rings*
  • Higher-ed PRO lenses (like the 12-45mm f/4) produce hotspots, especially on the wide-end
  • Fewer megapixels than larger format systems
  • Older cameras don’t offer subject-detection autofocus options

*I’ve recently been made aware of a company that produces clip-in infrared filters for M 4/3. I hope to test them soon.

Pushing the envelope

Testing the Olympus 100-400mm with a teleconverter

The Olympus 100-400mm f/5.0-6.3 lens is a surprisingly good performer, especially considering its sub-$1500 price point. It’s not a lens that I’d even consider using with a teleconverter, because you lose quite a bit of light in that scenario. Nevertheless, I figured I’d try it out when I was in San Diego last week leading my birds in flight photo workshop.

I put the Olympus MC-14 1.4x teleconverter on the 100-400mm and happened to encounter a song sparrow at relatively close range. So I gave it a shot. At these extreme magnifications, the lack of a good optical image stabilizer was noticeable (IBIS gives better results with this lens), but I kept the shutter speed high, and hoped for the best. I surprisingly got a couple of keepers, but autofocus accuracy was reduced somewhat (not unexpected).

song sparrow
Song sparrow at 1122mm effective, f/9.0 ISO 20,000 (click for full-size image).

In the past, I might have tossed these images out… ISOs 20,000? But by using DXO Pure Raw 3 to de-noise the raw files and a little Topaz Photo AI sharpening, the results were quite usable!

Skip the Travel Tripod?

Advances in image stabilization systems make shooting hand-held easier than ever

Christmastime in Europe is a magical thing to experience.

In 2023, I went on several trips where travel photography was the predominant style. That meant focusing on outdoor/street scenes, and indoor/ architectural scenes. These subjects are particularly prevalent in Europe, where I took a group of clients to visit Christmas Markets in Austria and Germany, along with a stop in Prague.

As always, I recommended for my clients to bring a lightweight travel tripod, because a primary goal for us was to shoot during the twilight/”blue hour.” Having a tripod in those situations can be really handy, because it allows you to shoot slower shutter speeds and keep your ISO down, which often leads to cleaner images (less noise, and more dynamic range).

I was excited to be using my new OM System OM-1 kit, with a couple of zooms (12-45mm f/4, 40-150 f/4) and two small primes (9mm f/1.7 and 25mm f/1.8). My entire kit only weighed 3.5 lbs.; less than my Nikon Z9 and 24-120mm f/4 combo, which I lugged around Croatia in 2022.

Along with my camera, I packed my trusty Gitzo traveler tripod and a small ball-head, and flew off to meet my clients in Prague, excited to capture photos of these magical cities at Christmastime. That’s when reality set in.

Continue reading Skip the Travel Tripod?

Faroe Islands Photo Safari 2024

Landscape and Nature Photography with Jason Odell & Matt Suess Aug. 8-15, 2024

Join me in the Faroe Islands August 8-15, 2024 for an incredible photography experience!

I’m extremely excited to announce that I’ll be traveling to the Faroe Islands in 2024 as a co-instructor with OM Digital Ambassador Matt Suess for a weeklong photo safari! The Faroe Islands is a legitimate bucket-list destination, as it was named the Faroe Islands the most authentic and unspoiled group of islands in the world by National Geographic.

The Faroe Islands are located 320 kilometres (200 mi) north-northwest of Scotland, and about halfway between Norway (580 kilometres (360 mi) away) and Iceland (430 kilometres (270 mi) away).

From rugged seascapes to fishing villages and puffin colonies, your time in the Faroe Islands will be unforgettable. And with the help of Matt and myself, your photographs will be unforgettable, too!