Olympus 75mm f1.8 Field Test on the E-M5 – 2 Weeks in Burma by Barnaby Robson

bagan nights

From Steve: Today I want to thank Barnaby Robson for these gorgeous images which goes to show what a camera like the Olympus OM-D E-M5 can do when in good hands. Thanks Barnaby!

A journey in gear

For me, it all started in 2010 with a GF1 + 20mm and 7-14mm lenses.

I loved the small size and relative to a P&S, the image quality, ability to control depth of field, and the focus speed. But the low light performance still wasn’t good enough.

In 2012, the Olympus 45mm, E-M5 and Leica 25mm followed (inspired by stevehuffphoto.com). And they were wonderful. I was a happy photographer: learning, getting technical, becoming more aware more capable and… taking better pictures.

But I was getting full frame IQ lust.

And then… I picked up the Olympus 75mm on my way through Bangkok on route to Yangon. Before purchasing I was worried about:

• The size and weight

• How often I would use the full frame 150mm equivalent focal length

Firstly it feels right at home on the E-M5, and is very similar in proportions to the Panasonic 7-14mm. Compared to all my other lenses the construction is something else, the cool metal feels and looks wonderful in the hand, with the right heft, the focus ring just glides, the lens text is inscribed in the metal… it just feels wonderful. I’ve never had so many complements about a camera-lens combination.

olympus-75

And as to whether I would use the lens, it’s absolutely my favourite by a mile. I had all my other lenses with me in Burma, but the 75mm remained strapped to the E-M5 as I made my way around the streets of Yangon, across the plains of Bagan, over Inle lake and up Mandalay Hill. The focus is ultra fast and true, including handheld in low light with the lens wide open, the IQ is visibly better than through my other m4/3 lenses and it allows you to achieve genuine shallow depth of field. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

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A real journey (in pictures)

Yangon

Exif: 1/400 sec at f2.5, ISO 200

Taxi E-7959

Notes: One of my first shots in Yangon. Taxi E-7959 stopped at the lights. As I lifted my lens, he looked across. Was so pleased with the accuracy of the focus on this one.

Exif: 1/400 sec at f2.8, ISO 200.

Bettlenut vendors

Post processing: Cropped then edited with an Alien Skin Exposure 4 preset (can’t recall which) to bring out the vibrancy.

Notes: Love the vibrancy, clarity and depth of field from the 75mm in this shot.

Exif: 1/80 sec at f1.8, ISO 3200.

myanmar-3

Post processing: Cropped, but otherwise straight from camera,

Notes: Taken on the other side of four-lane Mahabandoola Road (busiest road in Yangon). I could see the opp for a great photo (looks like a scene from a 1970s movie to me), but kept on getting interrupted by traffic passing across the field of view. Finally there was a gap in the traffic and the camera/lens hit the nail on the head first time. Shot handheld.

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Bagan

 

Exif: 1 1/320 sec at f 2.5, ISO 200.

Bagan

Post processing: Edited with the Alien Skin Exposure 4, Fuji Provia 100f preset.

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Exif: 1/800 sec at f3.5, ISO 200.

Amazing Bagan

Post processing: I spent more time then I care to remember bringing out the colours to the desired taste in Lightroom.

Notes: The Bagan sunsets were absolutely stunning. Easily the highlight of the trip.

 

Exif: 1/60 sec at f 1.8, ISO 3200.

bagan nights

Post processing: Edited in Alien Skin Exposure 4 to bring out the blue-black haze (the dark areas were brown in the raw file). Finished off with a vignette.

Notes: Shot handheld (as were all these photos). This is probably my favourite shot from the trip. Again, this wouldn’t have been possible on m4/3 pre E-M5.

 

INLE LAKE

Exif: 1/640 sec at f 8.0. ISO 200.

Inle Lake Clichég

Post processing: Edited heavily in lightroom to bring out the colours, vibrancy and tones, from a rather flat raw file. It’s brilliant how malleable the E-M5 raw images are.

Notes: Inle Lake fishermen are renowned for practicing this distinctive rowing style, which involves standing at the stern on one leg and wrapping the other leg around the oar. Shot handheld from a moving boat. The light was excessively bright. The 75mm has a lot of glass and suffers from lens flare – I would recommend buying the very expensive but beautifully constructed Olympus hood.

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Exif: 1/400 sec at f 6.3. ISO 200.

Rebels without a cause.

Post processing: Edited in Lightroom – played with the vibrancy, temp and tint to bring out the blues & greens to my taste.

Notes: The guy on the left is wearing a ‘Fuck the Police’ T-shirt. Given Myanmar is still a hardcore military state, I think this is so cool.

MANDALAY

Exif: 1/100 at f 4.0. ISO 200.

Mist-ery

Post processing: Edited in Lightroom – used split toning to bring out the yellow – green colour scheme.

Notes: U Bein bridge was absolutely mystical. I was worried there would be loads of tourists, but there were blissfully few.

 

Exif: 1/500 sec at f3.2

U Bein's bridge

Post processing: Edited in Lightroom – using colour settings and graduated filters to bring out the mist and greens.

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It should come as no surprise that I am in love with this beautiful lens. Something about it has gotten me to take more photos in the last four months than I have in the last two years combined. In fact, this lens is one of the impetuses for a current travel lust that I haven’t felt for many a year — I want an exotic subject on which to use it. The lens is looking for a muse…

If you want to see more from the 75mm (and me) check out: http://www.flickr.com/photos/barnabyrobson

 myanmar cover image-1

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41 Comments

  1. On a different note, but did you pick up this lens in Bangkok? If so, where exactly and are prices better as compared to European ones? I’m travelling to Bangkok soon, and should I be able to get this beauty for a good price, I would gladly procure it 🙂

    • @Bart – ‘MBK’ shopping center – i can’t recall the name of the store but it was on the third or fourth floor. Prices seemed to be cheaper as you went up.

      Camera prices are something like: US < Hong Kong + Singapore + Bangkok < Rest of Asia + EU. (I.e. Bangkok is cheaper than the EU but not the US).

      You should be able to reclaim sales tax at the airport on departure (just tell the store at the time and go to the tax reclaim counter before you check in).

  2. Hi Barnaby,

    Thanks for posting. You have some good shots.

    I think one of the benefits of allowing comments is to get feedback from others. One thing I have tried to do over the years is to watch closely how others react to a photo to get a better sense of what grabs a viewer and what does not. I spent too much time in the past boring people to death with slide shows and now want to get to a point where people actually ask to see shots from a trip.

    Anyway, I recently traveled to Myanmar and visited the same sites. For what it is worth, here is my impression of your shots.

    The shot of Bagan with the couple herding their cows is a classic. I was shooting in the same spot and was also lucky enough to have perhaps that same farmer bring his cows home while I was photographing the temples. It is truly a classic shot and unique in the world. We had a cloudy day so we didn’t get the rich colors and the mist that you did. I am envious. Congrats! (I’ll bet in a short time that spot will be completely jammed with people every day especially when the Japanese tour groups descend on that area. I was glad to have seen it before the crowds ruin it.)

    One thing I have learned is that the subject of a photo makes or breaks it. If the subject is interesting people will stop and study it and be fascinated. Flaws in the shot (bad focus, color, etc) diminish the effect but the shot will still be interesting. Real skill shows in being able to highlight what is interesting and lots of detail and good color enhance the effect. But if the subject is boring no amount of detail and color and dynamic range can save it.

    So what is most interesting about Yangon? A taxi driver? To me it was Swedagon (sp?) Pagoda. It is one of the most spectacular religious sites anywhere and unique in the world. The photos you posted of Yangon had some interesting photographic techniques and showed the 75mm lens well but overall didn’t give me much of a sense of the place. People walking down a city street at night with lights behind them do not reveal much about Yangon. I assume you were going more for a photographic effect.

    The Inlay Lake photos I found way oversaturated. The color was garish and unnatural. Flat color is boring but garish color ruins a shot. I try to get color realistic and if it is boring in way that is distracting then I shift to black and white. Also, the shot of the fisherman would have been more interesting if he faced you. I liked shooting those fisherman when they had a helper in the boat, usually a child. One I saw was a young girl tending a classic teapot wearing a Ferrari hat. Her dad was very serious and was smoking one of those Burmese cigars while he held his oar wrapped behind his leg and worked his nets with both hands.

    There are just my impressions. I hope you find them helpful.

    • Thank you for taking the time to provide some really thoughtful comments.

      I agree that the Inle Fisherman shot is perhaps overly vibrant – (though co-incidently, of the photos shown in this review, it is the most viewed/favourited on Flickr. Off topic, but reliance on Flickr to guide you on photographic direction would seem to lead you down the path of excessive vibrancy and contrast!)

      On the subject of interesting compositions/shots, my opinion differs. I too went to Shwedagon Paya, and though architecturally interesting, photographically it didn’t really excite me. For me, the essence of Yangon was on the street…. past charms, present decay, chaos, pot-holed, friendly people, vibrant, polluted… the 1960s cars and taxis were a part of this impression. For me, the shot of the driver was a creative fraction of a second which captured local life. I find the driver’s look and expression very touching, and the overall scene takes me back.

      The shot you mentioned of the girl with the Ferrari Hat sounds like one I would enjoy. Send a link if you have a moment.

  3. Great shots!!! I love my 75mm. It’s ultra-sharp, even wide open. Between that and the 7-14mm Lumix (also very sharp) one is set.

  4. Hi Barnaby, stunning images. Can you explain to me (complete novice!), the advantages of using this lens as opposed to say a standard landscape lens?. Regards, John.

    • Thanks. Good question.

      The first lens I bought outside of the kit lens was the pana 7 – 14mm, which I thought would be brilliant for landscapes (i.e. to capture wide, sweeping panoramas). The issue with wide angle lenses is that they make nearer objects larger than the background (relative to how we see things with the human eye). This makes the background less dramatic/interesting.

      I bought the Oly 75mm with portraits in mind (has the shallowest depth of field of any m4/3 lens, to date), but it’s actually great for landscapes, as it does the opposite of the wide angle lens – makes the background bigger and more dramatic, and compresses the near and fore ground. A great example of this is the Bagan sunset shots – with a wide angle lens you would have seen a large amount of grass in the foreground, the temples would have been unimpressive, and mountains would have been a tiny sliver near the horizon (I did a actually try this shot with the 7-14mm, which I can try and hook out if you’re really interested.. – they were dull!).

      I typically only use the 7-14mm these days, when I’m photographing in really confined quarters – narrow alleys, cars.

  5. Looks like I will have to go back soon before the tourists start coming. My wife and I went in 1996 for a week. Shot most of photos with a Fuji GS645. Agree that it was a magical place then, and appears to still have the magic.

    • Would be interested to see some of the shots from your 1996 trip. I would definitely recommend going now. It’s on a China style growth trajectory and if the goverment continues with the recent progressive policies, it’ll be unrecognisable in 5 years.

      That said, it’s worth noting that demand has outstripped supply, and tourist amenities (especially hotels) are ridiculously priced, both in nominal and relative terms.

  6. Barnaby, I just visited your website and am blown away by your beautiful photos. Now I want to grab my camera and fly to an exotic place to use it 🙂

  7. Simply stunning, what more is there to say.

    And just like another has said, I also yearn for that 75mm to partner my E-M5, they seem made for each other.

  8. Outstanding pictures! I´m debating with myself whether I should give the 75 1,8 a try. But I find it hard to work with these longe (prime) lenses as my eyes are not the best and I struggle a bit to see a shot in 150mm without looking through the viewfinder all the time.

  9. I can see from your pics you spent some quality time over there! Owing an e-m5 myself, I recognise the pleasure this little guy brings to work. The 75 is on my wishlist as well but first my bankaccount needs to recover… Just one remark Barnaby, to my taste I think some of the postprocessing just went one step too far, bringing too much vibrancy/saturation into the colours, but that’s just my taste… Otherwise your images
    really burst out of my screen because there’s so much life in them. Glorious focussing and framing. To me the pic with the crows (second last) is about perfect, I love to see this coming from a m43! My compliments for bringing a tele to the theatre rather than a wide angle, you have been rewarded.

  10. Hey The Bagan sunsets! i knew i saw it somewhere..flickr! 🙂

    The 75mm are stunning in the right hand. Really nice pictures Barnaby.

  11. Very nice and inspirational. I have “thought” about adding this lens but like your initial concerns thinking it may not get enough use….time to add it I think and try it out.

  12. Thanks for sharing, myanmar is really a place I Want To go and your images just reinforce this Will !! Olympus should get one image for their brochure ; !

  13. May I just say THANK YOU Steve huff, for posting this. Also, I’m very grateful to you all for your kind comments. Burma is a Photographer’s dream and the E-M5-75mm combo is so good, I don’t think I can claim any of the credit. Thanks though.

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