Monday, 22 July 2013

A Balancing Act

I took my OM-D and the Lumix 100-300mm to the zoo!

They liked the experience very much, and so did I.

(OK, I also took my 16 month old, my sexy lady partner wife - and her mother. They liked it, too. However, for the purposes of kit-talk and this post this is irrelevant, and you won't hear any more about them.)

So, apart from the fact that both the OM-D and the 100-300mm liked the field trip, how did they fare and - more importantly - how did I fare and what the shots were like?

Here, on the right, is one example I'm particularly proud of (you may not be, but I was shooting for me). Do note, this was handheld, in a dark giraffe stable, on a bright sunny day with the light coming more or less entirely from the back and the right of the lady pictured. The photo has been ever so slightly adjusted for light and colour.

Now, for some impressions and advice:

First and foremost: if you plan such an outing yourself do everyone a favour and bring a tripod or at least a monopod. It is not so much that it's impossible to get a clear shot handheld, but it tends to be both difficult and tiring. And, of course, with better support you'll be able to choose more favourable shooting parameters overall. And you'll get clearer shots, too.

Second: if you're taking a toddler with you try to also bring a pushchair! I can vouch that carrying an OM-D with 100-300mm fitted on one shoulder, and a toddler on another is not fun. Juggling the latter from arm to arm in the process - even less so. So, either have a pushchair (for either!) or be very nice to your sexy lady partner wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/mother-in-law and have them take the brunt of the carrying (of either). Seriously.

Above is another nice example of OM-D and 100-300mm in action, this time taking a candid shot of a meerkat in repose. Again, handheld, in somewhat diffused light (haze/part cloud), with some slight light and colour adjsutments.

Oh, and back to the toddler/sexy lady partner wife issue: do not expect to have time and space to plan and frame your shots in any detail. Your best bet is to have visited the target area at least once before and then plan the shots at least two enclosures in advance and gently guide your company and their actions so you actually have at least a fleeting chance of getting the shot you wanted. Like here on the left where said company was craftily sent on their way to the next enclosure so I can get this safari-like shot of a herd of giraffes on the Hampshire grassland. This was fully zoomed in at 300mm, and ever so slight light and colour correction and teeny-weeny touch of unsharp mask. Shame about the distance and the hazy day, though.

Finally, a word about balance and overall handling of the combination...

While, as you can see in the photo at the top, the OM-D and 100-300mm combination does look ever so slightly silly I submit that pretty much any camera, DSLRs included, looks a teeny bit silly with the very long zoom lens (and I'm not even talking about pro wildlife/sports ones which would look teeny-weeny silly on a Sherman tank, too). Yes, it hangs from your shoulder like nobody's business and knocks the living daylights out of your kidneys, hips, elbows - and most passers-by. But, in actual use there is nothing unnatural in holding the camera and the lens and zooming out all the way. It sits there in front of you, if held properly, just like it should and as you can hopefully see above manages to take more than decent images even handheld and in a rush.

For that matter, I have also found it performs surprisingly well as a portrait lens, too! The only trick is you have to be able (or willing) to back out a looong way since the 100-300mm in the 100mm position on an OM-D is effectively a 200mm lens which a) will not focus from less than 1.5 metres, and b) has such a narrow field of view that you need to be much further away for a chance of a decent head and shoulders shot. However, once you've backed out enough (and without falling into a gaping manhole - or a leopard's enclosure) you will get a marvellous portrait of your toddler and/or that sexy lady partner wife. I certainly wouldn't recommend this as standard use, but if you already have this lens mounted and can't be bothered to swap it - or the camera - why not?

As the last few words, and to accompany this decent enough but poorly cropped and marred by the enclosure fence shot of a couple of zebras cooling their arses but tanning their faces, a thought about whether it makes sense to mount the 100-300mm (or Olympus 75-300mm, for that matter) when doing travel/tourist photography (think family holiday)...

The 100-300mm is a heavy lens (and the Nikon counterpart probably too, even if it is a bit smaller and lighter). The first question you want to ask yourself is: when you're spending a (long) day sightseeing (think Paris, for example) do you really want to carry such a monster on your camera or even just in your bag (out of which you'll probably never take out if you're honest with yourself). And then, even if you decide that you absolutely have to have that shot of your sexy lady partner wife peering into middle distance from the top of the Eiffel tower while you are clicking away at the bottom, even if you absolutely have to have such a shot - you'd probably only ever put the 100-300mm on for that one shot. For everything else you'll most likely want the flexibility of wide/zoom combination, something like the Olympus 14-150mm lens. As I discussed before, you may even be better off taking your E-PM1 (or similar) with the Olympus 45mm/1.8 mounted for street/portrait/general fooling around photography, while you put the 14-150mm on your OM-D for everything else. The former will not make a significant bulge in your bag - or weigh you down too much, and the latter will rest happily around your neck and let you capture most everything you want. Heck, you may end up not taking the E-PM1/45mm combination out of your bag unless you end the day in the deepest recesses of some dodgy Parisienne tavern and have absolute need for that 1.8 aperture.

So, in overall conclusion: do get that Panasonic Lumix 100-300mm f/4.0-5.6 lens. It's at least as good (if not better) than the Nikon (and you'll need the Power O.I.S. on any Panasonic body) - and it's almost half the price to boot. However, do also get a good tripod (or at least a monopod), too. And take it out with you. And use it. Just, please, please, please -pretty please - do not create monstrosity like this one:

Do make sure you disable Power O.I.S. on the 100-300mm when mounted on an Olympus body. Olympus bodies have their own image stabilisation and trust me when both are in use at the same time the only thing they do is vigorously fight each other and it is absolutely 100% not possible to get a shot. Any shot. Unless you call a blurry mess with ghost images a shot. I don't.