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OM-D with 17mm Lens and Metal Hood

The Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f1.8 lens ($499 available in silver or black) is one of the most intriguing Micro Four Thirds lenses I've ever shot with.

I purchased it as part of the Olympus Limited Edition OM-D E-M5 Kit with 17mm f1.8 lens, metal lens hood, and metal lens cap ($1,399 in silver). I wanted the metal lens hood, and the engraved metal lens cap is very stylish. Plus it's a great price for items that would sell for $1,599 if purchased separately.

OM-D with 17mm Lens with Metal Cap

Online reviews on the 17mm lens ranged from good to great. Because there wasn't consensus on its performance, I tested the optic a bit more than I normally do a new purchase. And I'm glad I did. The results are fascinating.

Image Sharpness

Optimal performance for 17mm was at f/4. Center sharpness was excellent and edge sharpness was very good with no vignetting. I doubt that I would stop down this lens beyond f/8 because of diminishing returns in optical performance due to diffraction. Overall image quality was best at f/2.8, f/4, and f/5.6.

Olympus 17mm at f-4 Olympus 17mm f/1.8 prime lens at f/4. Photo by Derrick Story

Where things get interesting is shooting at f/1.8. Center sharpness is still quite good, but the edges of the frame soften a bit and there's some vignetting. Different photographers will interpret this result various ways. For me, I'm thinking that this is the aperture I'd use for portraits with the 17mm.

Olympus 17mm at f-1.8 Shooting wide open at f/1.8 softens the corners a bit and introduces mild vignetting.

For everyday shooting, I would use Aperture Priority mode set to f/4, then for portraits, open up to f/1.8. Also if you look closely at the edges of the frame, there is some purple and green color fringing on the fence. I checked this performance against my $1,200 Panasonic Lumix 12-35mm zoom at the same focal length and aperture, and its color fringing was about the same or even a bit more pronounced than the Olympus 17mm. (BTW: I love this fence for color fringing testing!)

Olympus 17mm f/1.8 Top View

Fit and Finish

The physical characteristics of the lens are beautiful. Its all metal construction with "snap focus" mechanism allows me to quickly move from auto focus to manual focusing. Focusing tension is well damped when in snap focus mode. The engraved distance markings are a nice touch.

One feature of this lens that's very important to me is the actual infinity focus setting. Most Micro Four Thirds lenses have a focusing ring that spins forever in either direction. That's fine for autofocusing. But if you are working in the dark, such as photographing a night sky, it's very difficult to get accurate focus. On this lens, you simply rotate the ring all the way to the left until it stops, and you are at infinity. It sounds like a small thing... until you need it.

Bottom Line

I've had a difficult time taking this lens off the silver OM-D. I initially bought this kit as a back-up body for my black OM-D because I don't think we're going to see anything like this camera ever again.

But to be honest, I don't think I've shot with the black OM-D since this purchase. The 17mm f/1.8 lens is addicting. The first picture I published with this lens, Light at the End of the Tunnel on Instagram was a hit with my following.

Personally, I like how the characteristics of the lens change from wide open to f/4. Other photographers who like consistent edge-to-edge sharpness at all apertures won't be as thrilled with this optic. But if you're a creative photographer, a street shooter, or someone who appreciates great design, then I can't imagine you not loving the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 prime lens.


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Samsung Galaxy GC110 Running Android

Is it a camera? Is it an Android device? It's both!

In my TechHive review of the Samsung GC110 Android powered camera, I sum my experience with the device by writing:

The Samsung Galaxy GC110 is an ambitious product. The camera takes good pictures -- with a few nits concerning white balance and focusing -- and has an amazing optical zoom. The LCD is beautiful, especially when using the GC110 as an Android device. But in bright light, it's hard to compose photos. And the touchscreen-only approach still isn't as convenient as well-placed buttons and dials. As a camera, it's definitely more urban than country.

shutter-with-zoom.jpg

Pros and Cons for Samsung Galaxy Camera

Pros

  • Impressive 21X optical zoom
  • WiFi connectivity
  • 8GBs internal storage plus accepts micro SD cards up to 64GBs
  • Capable Android device
  • Easy to use HD video mode with real time zooming
  • 3.7 volt Lithium Ion battery holds up well thanks to conservative power management
  • Compatible with 8 music formats
  • Includes Bluetooth and GPS
  • Big, colorful LCD
  • Surprisingly good camera performance indoors

Cons

  • Auto white balance performs better indoors than outside
  • Autofocusing generally good, but can become confused
  • Difficult to compose shots in bright sunlight
  • Performance can lag at times
  • Strict power management results in quick sleep mode
  • Large size (5.07" wide by 2.79" tall) makes it not really a compact camera
  • Current $449 price tag puts it in the investment category

I think those who come to love the GC110 will think of it as a multifunctional Android device first and an everyday camera second. It's most useful when WiFi is within reach. If you don't want to tote an iPad or Android tablet, but you want the pretty screen and software capabilities, the Galaxy should be a good choice. And when you do need to take pictures, you'll have a 21X optical zoom, 16MP sensor, and plenty of bells and whistles to help you capture the moment.

The Samsung Galaxy is available for $389 on Amazon


PhotoHelpDesk.com is a down-to-earth resource for curious minded photographers. Submit your questions, and we'll post an answer.

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Portrait Retouching with Aperture

You can easily (and quickly!) improve your portraits by learning just a few basic techniques in Aperture 3.4. In this 2-hour training titled, Portrait Retouching with Aperture I apply a subtle hand to my people shots, and Aperture's toolset is just the ticket for performing natural-looking enhancements. People say to me after reviewing the images, "Wow, I really looked great that day!"

Derrick Story on Portrait Retouching with Aperture

In this course, I cover just about everything you need to know, including:

  • Assessing your image
  • Retouching blemishes
  • Enhancing skin texture
  • Adding highlights to the hair
  • Adjusting clothing and backdrop color
  • Brightening and sharpening eyes
  • Converting to black and white

This Welcome Movie (1 min) will provide you with a visual overview of what I'm covering.

I had a blast recording Portrait Retouching with Aperture. I hope you enjoy watching it just as much.


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WiFi SD Card Shoot Out on DP Review

Eye-Fi Mobi Wireless SD Memory Card

Are you debating between Eye-Fi and Transcend to WiFi-enable your camera? If so, you may want to read the DP Review article, Battle of the Wi-Fi Cards: Eye-Fi vs. Transcend. The author explores various capabilities such as transfer rate, flexibility, and maximum range for transmission.

Interestingly enough, however, DP Review focuses on the Eye-Fi 16GB Pro X2 SDHC and not the more modern Eye-Fi Mobi, that for my money is the best WiFi card on the market right now. In my testing, the Eye-Fi Mobi 16 GB SDHC ($72) is second only to having WiFi built in to your camera, and in some cases it's even better than that.

That being said, there's lots of good information in the DP Review article, and it will help you get up to speed on what to consider in a WiFi memory card.


iPad for Digital Photographers

This is the kind of stuff I write about in iPad for Digital Photographers-- now available in print, Kindle, and iBooks format.

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A teaser published on Olympus Europe hints at a new camera that could possibly accept both Micro Four Thirds and Four Thirds mount lenses.

Olympus Europe Teaser

This could be a blessing for photographers with a stock of excellent Four Thirds glass. No details given at this time. But the image points to a new camera and the complete inventory of lenses in both mounts.

You can however, be put on an immediate notification list by completing a simple web form. We'll probably know more about this sooner than later.


iPad for Digital Photographers

If you love mobile photography like I do, then you'll enjoy iPad for Digital Photographers-- now available in print, Kindle, and iBooks versions.

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Sony 16-70mm f-4 E-Mount Lens

Admist a flurry of Sony announcements last night, I think the big news is the release of three new E-Mount lenses. Sony has consistently developed terrific Compact System Camera bodies, but where they've suffered at the hands of the mirrorless competition is with their lens catalog.

Now, with the release of the Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ($998), the 50mm f/1.8 E prime lens ($298), and the 18-105mm f/4 E zoom ($598), Sony has boosted their E-Mount catalog to 17 lenses, with some very sweet optics in the mix.

I have no doubt that Sony will continue to produce compelling NEX camera bodies. But having lens support is the air cover the entire product line needs for success.

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Join me on my Instagram site as I explore the world of mobile photography. And now Instagram features 15-second movies too.

This week on The Digital Story show: Robotic iPhone camera, cheap labor, September will be heaven for tech lovers - All of this and more on today's photography podcast.

Story #1 - Robotic iPhone camera: The Galileo robotic dock for iPhone opens up a new world of photography possibilities. I've been using the device for 24-hour home surveillance and to make killer 360 degree panoramas.

I secured a Galileo early through their Kickstarter fund raising. I've been testing two apps with it: AirBeam - Live HD video surveillance and motion detection ($3.99) and with DMD Panorama ($1.99). You can watch this short video of Galileo in action that I recorded at the TDS Studio. I explain what's going on here in the first segment of the show.

Story #2 - Cheap Labor: In my recent post, How to Capture Flattering Portraits in Harsh Light, I discuss the value of reflectors and diffusers for outdoor photography.

Reflector and Diffuser Can you spot the cheap labor in this shot? Photo by photographer Dennis Adams.

One TDS member commented that you need an extra set of hands to employ these techniques. It's true, you do. I had one such shoot this past weekend, a family portrait that I shot by myself. How did I use a reflector in these circumstances? Well, cheap labor is the answer. I explain in the second segment.

Story #3 - September Will Be Heaven for Tech Lovers: If you're a tech-loving, nimble photographer, then you may want to pay down your credit card balance this month. Because September is shaping up to be heaven (or hell, depending on your POV) for photography and technology.

Listen to the Podcast

In addition to subscribing in iTunes, you can also download the podcast here (27 minutes). You can support this podcast by purchasing the TDS iPhone App for only $2.99 from the Apple App Store.

Monthly Photo Assignment

The August 2013 photo assignment is Street Scene.

More Ways to Participate

Want to share photos and talk with other members in our virtual camera club? Check out our Flickr Public Group. And from those images, I choose the TDS Member Photo of the Day.


iPad for Digital Photographers

If you love mobile photography like I do, then you'll enjoy iPad for Digital Photographers-- now available in print, Kindle, and iBooks versions.

Podcast Sponsors

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Make Your Photos Sizzle with Color! -- SizzlPix is like High Definition TV for your photography.Special Summer Sale! Just add "TDS: in the comments space of your SizzlPix! order, and you will get 20 percent off the entire order. Sale ends Sept. 21. Take advantage now.

Need a New Photo Bag? Check out the Lowepro Specialty Store on The Digital Story and use discount code LP20 to save 20% at check out.

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Galileo Robotic iPhone Stand

Galileo Robotic iPhone Stand

The potential for the Galileo robotic dock for iPhone is only limited by software developers' imaginations. Since Motrr released the SDK for the Galileo, six iOS apps tapping its capabilities have already appeared in the App Store, with another four in the works.

I'm currently using AirBeam - Live HD video surveillance and motion detection ($3.99) and DMD Panorama ($1.99) with my Kickstarter green Galileo. And I plan to test more in the near future.

Impressive 360 Degree Panoramas

With DMD Panorama, I simply inserted my iPhone 4S into the Galileo dock, launched the app, and tapped the Start button. Within a few seconds I had a precise, good looking panorama.

The only flaw in the final product was my fault, using auto exposure instead of locking the exposure down (this option is provided by the app). In the frame where DMD Panorama adjusted for the bright window light, there was some darkish spillover on to my feet in the next frame. You can see for yourself in this short video I made:

Overall, aside from my operator error, a very impressive result. I can't wait to test this device in the big city where I can take advantage of the interesting scenery all around me. The Galileo has a rechargeable battery inside, so I can use it just about anywhere. There's also mounting threads in the bottom of the unit, allowing me to attach it to any of my portable tripods.

Home Security with AirBeam

For my home security project, I inserted an older iPhone 3GS into Galileo and activated the camera function on the AirBeam app. Once enabled, I could monitor that location from anywhere that had Internet access.

AirBeam iOS App

And because AirBeam is Galileo compatible, that remote monitoring includes 360 degree viewing options. Plus I can angle the camera up or down, all using the controls on my iPhone, iPad, or Mac. AirBeam transmits audio too. So even though I may be miles from my home, I can hear, as well as see, what's going on there.

For this use, I plugged the Galileo into a USB charger to keep both its battery and the cell inside the iPhone charged. This provides for unlimited, 24-hour viewing.

AirBeam has plenty of additional functionality too. I can turn on motion detection or video-record any activity the camera can see. It's an impressive demo for friends to pull up a remote location on my iPhone and give them a live, virtual tour.

Bottom Line

Galileo goes on sale this coming October for $149. I think it would be an amazing gift for an iPhone-geek friend. There are a few limitations, however. I have the dock version that works with the iPhone 3GS, 4, and 4S. At the moment, there isn't a Lightning connector version. Motrr did create a Bluetooth Galileo that works with all modern iPhones, including the iPhone 5. But I haven't tested it. So you may want to do some research before investing.

Even after I upgrade to the iPhone 5S, I'm keeping the 4S for a variety of tasks, including remote photography and panoramas with the Galileo. I'm really impressed with this device. It opens up a whole new world of iPhone imaging.


iPad for Digital Photographers

This is the kind of stuff I write about in iPad for Digital Photographers-- now available in print, Kindle, and iBooks format.

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Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 zoom lens

First the bad news: I had the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM zoom lens for only one week before having to send it back. That's how popular it is with reviewers right now. Now, the good news: I understand why it's so popular. What an outstanding value ($799) for a versatile, innovative, and fast optic.

I tested the Canon mount, but Sigma designs this optic for Nikon, Sony Alpha, Pentax, and Sigma APS-C DSLRs. And that's the second thing you should know: this lens is not for full framers. But if you shoot with a cropped sensor, then take a look at these feature highlights.

  • Constant f/1.8 maximum aperture through the entire zooming range.
  • Excellent image quality across the entire zooming range.
  • Nine diaphragm blades that creates a rounded aperture opening.
  • Close focusing capability to less than one foot.
  • Quiet, swift ring-type ultrasonic motor for auto focusing.
  • Well damped manual focusing ring.
  • Internal zooming mechanism with non-rotating front (great for circular polarizers).
  • USB dock compatible (accessory) for firmware updates and personalization.
  • Beautiful design with robust construction.

North of Bodega Bay

So what's missing? First, there's no optical image stabilization. So Canon and Nikon shooters are working without IS. Cameras that have sensor-based IS don't have this issue.


"The Big Rock" photographed by Derrick Story with the Sigma 18-35mm zoom with polarizer during the TDS Sonoma Coast Photography Workshop in Northern CA. Shutter speed 1/250, aperture f/7.1, focal length 19 mm, ISO speed 250, on a Canon 60D.


Did I need image stabilization with the Sigma? Well, no, not the week that I had it. But I could imagine situations where I would appreciate having it. Keep in mind that on my Canon 60D, the equivalent focal length is 28.8 to 56mm. So IS could be useful at the longer end of the zoom.

Also missing, at least to my knowledge, is weather sealing. This is less of a concern to me than image stabilization. Based on my limited use of the zoom outdoors, I don't feel hesitant at all take it out in to the elements.

Sonoma Coast Sigma 18-35mm

It's also worth noting that this is not a light, compact lens. At 28.6 ounces and 4.8" long, the Sigma will require space in your camera bag. When on camera, however, I thought it was well-balanced on the Canon 60D, and comfortable to work with all day.

So what's the bottom line? I like this lens and am considering putting it in my budget for DSLR equipment. It's very sharp, yet has the ability to soften backgrounds when needed. The quality of construction and design is outstanding. Even though it would be an excellent indoor, existing light optic, I would love to have it for shooting Fall color this year.

It's also worth noting that Sigma includes a lens shade and deluxe case with the lens. I wish everyone did that...


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I have many different configurations for the Olympus OM-D. But for street shooting, I often choose the 14-42mm zoom lens and the top half of the Power Battery Holder as my accessories. Combined with a light, discreet, messenger style bag (specific model soon to be announced), I'm ready to record any activity in the city.

Personally, I think the 14-42mm zoom lens is often overlooked by OM-D photographers. It's light, has an effective focal length of 28-84mm (great for street shooting), and is very sharp. I keep a Hoya 37mm filter kit ($59) in my pocket that includes a UV, polarizer, and ND 4X filters.

Jefferson & Jones, SF

For handstrap, I'm currently using the BosStrap G3 Tail/Ultra Light Hand Band ($12). The combination of the BosStrap with the top half of the Power Battery Holder make a very comfortable and secure shooting grip.

Hercules, SF

I used this rig to capture the images posted here. I was in San Francisco yesterday for a few business meetings. In between my appointments, I would hit the streets with my OM-D. And since I have the iPad mini in my bag, there's the option of processing the Jpegs there on location, or waiting to work with the Raw files in Aperture when I return home.


iPad for Digital Photographers

This is the kind of stuff I write about in iPad for Digital Photographers-- now available in print, Kindle, and iBooks format.

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