Nov 072012
 

How to tweak your Olympus OM-D E-M5 to shoot sports by Jim Huffman

Dear Steve,

I thought I’d tell you in the first sentence, that i am recommending the E-M5 for sports photography, and providing you a couple of customizations that will help you do so.

I’ve been following your blog for a couple of years now, and LOVE it, because of your non technical approach to reviewing and recommending gear. I am technical (electrical engineer / law -am a patent attorney), but technical reviews of photography equipment don’t tell me much – they cover the basics, but rarely inspire me to buy equipment. What does inspire me is when I see someone enthusiastic about taking pictures, and loving the device that lets them do so.

Sorry for being long-winded, but a little background is necessary for this email. I’ve been shooting for 39 years, since my first camera (minolta SRT 101), soon moved to Nikon – and shot Nikon until last week (D3, with an array of lenses). I also shot Leica. Of the 100k photos in my aperture library – the only ones printed and on the walls around the house came from Leica glass….

At your enthusiasm over m43 cameras, I have purchased several, both Panasonic and Olympus. most recently, the E-M5. (and 12, 25, 45, 75, 12-35, 35-100). It has virtually replaced the leica as my travel camera, particularly fond of the 12 (and can’t wait for the 17!!!). But…. I just felt like it could never do justice to shooting sports, much less indoor sports – both because of focusing delay, high iso needs, the live view lcd blanking out in the eyepiece while writing a burst to the memory card, etc…)

On the other hand – I LOVE the size of the Oly, and…. Nikon just won’t update their primes! I paid over $2k for the 85mm f1.4 – in Tokyo, to shoot my daughters volleyball – in the darkest gym in Colorado. what I have wanted is a 135 1.4 or worst case f2. the 85 is a great lens, but a big piece of glass, and even the latest model is not a fast focuser.

So, on saturday, i left the BIG RIG at home, and walked into the gym with my oly setup. Of course, the local press was their with their canon and Nikon gear. I saw them looking at me like – who is the amateur (I’ve shot for AP in my youth – political events, concerts, etc.) with the little toy camera? Well, with the 75 and 25 as my main tools (b/c of both focal length, and wide aperture), i put the camera in 9fps mode, 6400iso, and blasted away. I came home, loaded the pics, and put my entire Nikon rig up for sale on eBay.

Conclusion? is the E-M5 as good at high iso as the D3? not quite – but close enough. Can it focus fast? actually, with the 25, 45 and 75, it was faster than the nikon – and my hit ratio went up! Is it a replacement for a pro staff sports photographer? of course not. But for a dad photographing his kids teams? unbelievable! for years, parents have walked into our gym with their D40, Rebel, etc. and kit lens, and asked me to change the settings on their camera so they could take action pics of their kids. I frown, shake my head, and say, impossible. Those cameras can’t shoot high iso, and the aperture is so dim, that the best they can hope for in shutter is about 1/8/sec… Then they ask about the cost of my D3 with lens… More than most people’s cars! No more! Get an E-M5 with a 25mm Panasonic (or 45 oly), and they will get better results than anything else in the price range! And for me? one system to use rather than 2. and for travel with sports? I don’t have to lug around my 30lb nikon bag!!!

I am attaching a few pics at 6400 iso, shot in jpeg without any WB fix. thought you might like to see.

Keep up the good work, and know I’m out here reading you every day!

Best…Jim

NOTE: The below is a geek tweak to the oly that you can skip, or read if really interested

WRT sports – the E-M5 is a battery drain. i have the pistol grip with 2nd battery – but even the combination can’t shoot an all day tournament. the camera dies after 600+ shots… Plus…. the back lcd screen always comes on unless the camera is at your eye. if you want to use the eyepiece, there is a short latency between putting it to your eye and switching. the latency is not great for sports. plus, when you take the camera away from your eye, the back panel lights for a while, creating battery drain. And, the toggle between the two screens drains the battery. I thought – I’ll call Olympus and see if there is any way to:

1. Turn of the back lcd entirely. This would save on battery life AND eliminate the delay in switching.

2. still allow for back panel adjustment settings, if desired.

Well, 2 days later the Oly support guy called back. Viola! no direct way, but you can accomplish the same thing. Let me know if you want the settings, but essentially, you go to the K gear in options, and then into touch screen settings, and turn them off. then go to D gear, control settings, P/A/S/M, and turn off all live control settings. Then turn ON live scp (super control panel). OK, almost done. Hit the button on the ‘prism’ to the right of the eyepiece, and bring up the super control panel. use the OK button to activate any setting you want to change. When done, hit the info button. The screen goes black!

Now? the camera is essentially an SLR. no rear view at all, UNLESS you hit that button next to the right eyepiece. it becomes the toggle between live view (like before) and a black back screen! I just significantly increased my battery life! if you want to go to settings, just hit the info button. the info button becomes the settings toggle.

I am in heaven with my new longer life sports camera, without the rear lcd getting in the way.

one more geek tweak?

The magnify focus is turned on, and great with the 75mm, but also annoying. when you are moving the focus ring, it magnifies. great. but the SECOND you stop moving the focus ring, magnify turns off. well, my eyes are too slow. My question was, how do I get the magnify to stay on longer.

Answer: go into custom buttons – and assign magnify to any function button (or the record button). now, to enter magnify, hit the control button twice. magnify stays on until you half press the shutter release! and, you will note that the magnify is 10x. rotate the rear control dial and you can change the magnification! You have to do the double punch to activate magnify any time you turn the camera on. after that, one push activates it.

Three cheers to the US Oly support staff for giving me these tidbits of customization! i haven’t seen them anywhere on the web, so thought you might not know about them…

Jim Huffman

UPDATE 11/12/12

Steve,

Thanks again for posting my email to you – i didn’t expect that – just thought you’d like to see what the oly could do. two things:

1. The girls had an amazing come from behind to win the Colorado State Championship saturday night. Whoop!

2. And the oly? wow! after turning OFF the rear LCD, and making the EVF auto, I got >1200 shots per battery! the spec says 340ish. Some guy commented that the EVF is a bigger battery drain than the rear lcd. Well, that may be true if always on, but the EVF turns off almost immediately when your eye is not next to it, and the lcd won’t. I’d say a 4X improvement in battery life is incredible!

Thanks again for the post!

May 052012
 

Nikon V1 for indoor Sports? by Brad Husick

I tried the V1 system last night to shoot indoor lacrosse and I came away with two impressions: 1) the V1 is a nice camera with the best autofocus of any mirrorless I have tried, and 2) the lenses are so slow that the shutter speeds even at ISO 3200 are in the 1/60 range and every shot was blurred.

Here’s a great example of my results. As you can see the camera nailed the focus (look at the shorts) and the motion blur made for an artistic shot but not very useful as a sports image.

Sadly, the Nikon 1 system is not on my purchase list until they ship some fast lenses. This is a major flaw in my opinion of all the mirrorless camera systems – there simply are no fast zooms. Yes, there are some fast primes, but in many cases a zoom is incredibly useful when you simply can’t use your feet to substitute for a zoom, such as sports.

It is possible to use other systems’ fast zooms on some mirrorless cameras, and I have written an article on one such combination soon to appear here on stevehuffphoto.com.

Apr 302012
 

Sports Photography with the NEX-7:

An exciting, humbling, frustrating, mind-blowing experience.

By Matthew Durr – See his blog HERE

Just to get the formalities out-of-the-way, and to dispel or nail down any pre-conceived notions you may have of my experience, I am what you may call a retro-pioneer in the Sony NEX world. I first really started following Steve Huff’s site back when the first whisperings of the NEX-7 were abuzz, and have been checking back in ever since for all the neat stories, articles, and daily inspirations. Ever since I learned the confirmed specifications for the camera, I was interested in it for my first non-point-and-shoot camera purchase, my past cameras consisting of a borrowed Nikon d40 and d300, among various compacts I had around.

Soon after this, I learned how upon purchasing an adapter, mounting any lens ever made with full metering was possible. Then, I became truly fixated on the camera, as I previously only used manual focus lenses with the two Nikon bodies: a 50mm f/2 AI, and 80-200 AT-X (Tokina). However, using these on the NEX-7 wouldn’t really differentiate me from the crowd of the many that already use a multitude of legacy lenses on their NEX, so why would I call myself a retro pioneer? If the title of this article hasn’t already given it away, as far as I know I’m the only person that uses manual lenses in today’s world for…drum roll please…sports photography! My primary lenses now? The Nikon 300mm f/2.8 AI-s ED, and the Nikon 105mm f/1.8 AI-s, the whole small arsenal seen below in the poorly exposed cell-phone shot:

An air blower is a must for changing lenses so often to help ward off dust.

“Yeah, right, I call your bluff on this one…you can’t do sports with manual focus!” I can hear many people probably thinking this already. So, before I go into much more detail, here are just some pictures to refute that opinion:

So, how are these possible? Focusing on static subjects is easy, but how can I track a moving subject, let alone one who is running and sliding around full speed, without using the crazy fast sonic autofocus motors that drive most pro lenses today?

It’s simple. Practice, practice, practice (and peaking).

It may help to re-iterate that I already used manual focus lenses on a d300. This is a camera that has a very inaccurate single focus confirmation dot, rather than the precise 2 arrows and a dot of the upper-tier DSLRs. Focusing was always a challenge, as not only did I have to combat focus shift of my right eye seeing through the lens (where the eye makes a slightly out of focus image in focus), but even when the focus confirmation dot was lit up, I could still easily be well out of the critical focus range at large apertures.

Okay, so that means that these lenses would be even worse on the NEX-7, right? I’m looking through an EVF—essentially a tiny TV screen—to try to focus my images, and there is no focus confirmation dot, so how is this even doable? Well, besides the fact that the viewfinder image is quite large (with a 1.5 cm size and 1.09x magnification ratio), it provides live exposure feedback (will go into detail on that later), its refresh rate in normal light is real-time, AND that it is of a high 2.4MP resolution, it has focus peaking and magnification. For the uninitiated, focus peaking is a feature found in some of the more recent mirror-less cameras that outlines areas of contrast in real-time in a color of choice (for the NEX system, the choices are red, yellow, or white). Typically the areas of contrast, such as the edges of lettering on a player’s jersey, are indicative of areas that are in focus. Focus magnification, which should be viewed as an accompanying feature, simply zooms in the image wherever I choose to in real-time. On the NEX-7 I can select to see the image at 5.9x or 11.7x magnification, the latter of which each pixel in the EVF corresponds to a pixel on the sensor. Focusing with this method ensures very critically accurate focus—only if the player is relatively still. For the most part, focusing with mainly peaking is the only method I have time for, and generally speaking, is very accurate when used with the high-resolution EVF.

Seen here in a not-so-action-shot, the depth of field markings are outlined in yellow, as well as the edges of the lens, indicating general focus confirmation.

In practical use, by maintaining a colored outline on the players, focus is being tracked. With practice, tracking players moving perpendicular to the focal plane is possible (such as players running towards/from me), and snap-focusing from one point to the next becomes second nature—I just look for the color. Another trick that can help if I am having trouble finding the peaking color on the player is to watch the band of the depth of field move back and forth until it rests directly under the player, essentially zone focusing on the ground. Since I shoot in RAW, I also change the creative style to black and white. The RAW file is left…well…raw…while the peaking color stands out even more against the monochrome image.

Getting this shot was only possible due to following the line of the depth of field under the runner’s feet.

Then there is the live feedback display of the EVF. This is a feature I feel has not been lauded enough as a selling point for mirror-less cameras. When I have this turned on, what I see is what I get. Instead of an optical viewfinder, where no matter what setting I would change on the camera the view is the same, with the EVF, I always have a live depth of field preview, the overall exposure of the image, as well as what my white balance setting is compensating for. It should, however, be noted that in very low light, this becomes less accurate, as the frame rate of the EVF drops to compensate for the difference. In scenarios where there is a great deal of dynamic range, such as shadows under a tree on a sunny day, the shadows are usually quite crushed, and the highlights are usually blown. However, this rarely affects me in my shooting conditions, and this is an EVF-specific issue, as the actual picture, once taken, is unaffected.

So, let’s get onto the sub-heading of this article:

Why is this exciting?

For one, I am “going against the grain” in the modern rules of sports photography. I am being different, and getting results that seem mostly indistinguishable from shots taken with more robust cameras. There is also nothing more satisfying at a game than getting that shot, those one or two moments where I know I have a winner. Capturing such action shots with the challenge of manually controlling all the aspects of my camera, just like photographers did decades ago, is an amazing feeling. Doing so while saving a lot of money, as my 300mm cost me about a 1/10th of its younger autofocus brother, sweetens the deal even further.

Why is this humbling?

Choosing to go this route was a thought process that spanned over a significant timeframe, I pondered many other options with possible autofocus set-ups with Nikon DSLRs. I then realized that when using those tools, my equipment would determine everything for me: the focus, the metering, the entire exposure. Even if I shot in full manual, the camera would still do the autofocus for me, and, as mentioned above, trying to manually focus would be very difficult with only a confirmation dot in the lower corner. I decided that the limiting factor in getting the shot should be ME, NOT my tools. If a shot was blurred or exposed improperly, I was the one who wanted to be held accountable. Gordon Laing made a great point in a recent broadcasted Google+ hangout on using manual focus lenses that I absolutely agree with and speaks to the concept, “It’s actually quite liberating to shoot with old manual focus lenses…there’s none of this slowing down while [the lens] searches back and forth. You just take the picture, if it’s in focus or not, who cares?” I knew after starting out with the NEX-7, applying the lenses and camera this way would be humbling. I had a feeling that even with the peaking, I wouldn’t exactly have a high success rate at first, but…

Frustrating?

…I had no idea just how hard it would be to get consistent results. The first few games, I would fire off about 600 shots, and after some sorting in Lightroom 4, come out with about 50 or so keepers—less than 10%—that ranged from acceptable (pictures that were in focus but had little character) to great (those that embodied the action and spirit of the game). A few times, I doubted myself on my decision. Sure, the NEX-7 would still make a great general camera—which it definitely is—but I wondered if I had chosen the wrong path to get started with sports photography. There were so many shots I had captured that were just barely out of focus enough to render them unusable, and I was so mad at knowing that if I had just nailed focus, a truly amazing shot would have resulted, such as the picture taken below.

Funny enough, the focus point in this shot is actually the tennis ball, you may be able to see the softness in the player’s face.

Mind-blowing?

There is indeed a happy end to this. Keeping the fact out of the equation that my keeper rate has improved (and continues to do so) to about 40% over the course of only ten games, the amazement of how some of the select few pictures turned out is truly beyond me. In most situations, not only does the large effective apertures on my lenses isolate the subject from the background and keep the shutter speed very high, but it also enables me to stay in the sweet spot of the NEX-7’s sensor; the ISO range of 100 to 400. It is within these values that the amount of detail captured from the very high-resolution sensor can honestly make my jaw drop. In post, I can just keep zooming in and in on a picture with no loss in overall image detail, having the very real option to “shoot first, compose later”. In the right situations, specifically when critical focus is nailed and at ISO 100, the image at the pixel level is something to marvel at: standing 50 meters away from baseball and at 100%, making out distinct facial features is common.

Take this series for example:

Here’s the original:

Here’s the cropped final picture:

And here’s a 100% crop of his face:

 

Looking towards the future

So, what I’m getting at here, the NEX-7 is the ideal sports camera for the budget-minded enthusiast (if there is such a thing), right? Not at all. Any DSLR with a good, large aperture, autofocus lens can probably outperform me. If shooting conditions go south, and I have to pump up the ISO to get a decent shutter speed, it shows in my photographs. If it rains, I might as well forget about it, neither the camera nor lens is weather-sealed.

However, going through with this is an adventure, a lesson of sorts in patience and skill. I am forced to get intimate with the limitations of my gear, and to still work through mis-focusing, mis-exposing, and mis-composing to get the shot in the end. As a result of the times of hardship and struggle, when I eventually do get a DSLR with an autofocus lens, the experience I am gaining here and now should ensure I will be a much more effective photographer. Instead of worrying about camera settings and exposure, which will be second nature by then, my mind will be focused on composition and, of course, fast reflexes!

 

http://matthewdurrphotography.wordpress.com

Oct 022010
 

Photographing Sporting Events- by Ashwin Rao

Hello, fellow Steve Huff readers. It’s Ashwin, here again with something completely different than my typical M9 posts. While I have spent the past 4 years developing my love of the “rangefinder way”, I have been quietly enjoying the SLR experience from the sideline…literally. As some of you know, I came to rangefinders from the land of SLR’s and have gradually made the switch to shooting primarily with rangefinders.

However, there are certain genres of photography to which rangefinders are not suited. In particular, Rangefinders are not great when the subject one is trying to capture is moving fast in and out of a potential plane of focus. Further, rangefinders can’t really effectively reach to focal lengths beyond 135 mm (yeah, there is the Visioflex, but that’s a tool of some compromise on the M9 and best used by those very skilled with its eccentricities). It also may be argued that rangefinders are not the best tools to shoot at very high ISO’s. The Leica M9 maxes out at ISO 2,500, while most modern pro SLR’s reach beyond ISO 100,000! In genres of photography where such issues matter (reach, fast focus/autofocus, compressing a far away image, ISO’s high enough to allow one to freeze images in darker, artificially lit conditions), SLR’s reign supreme. In many ways, SLR’s (single lens reflex cameras) do very well at many tasks, and do those tasks easily. Because of these qualities and outstanding image quality, SLR’s are BY FAR the most popular cameras out there.

All of this has no bearing, really, on how I feel about rangefinders. For me, rangefinders are a perfect tool for capturing moments in the street, moments of daily life, and for travel. For me, I can use rangefinders to capture 80-90% of the circumstances I wish to photograph. Once one learns the rangefinder way, one becomes more in tune with one’s own photography. I far prefer this measured style of image capture to the “machine-gun” approach of SLR photography. That being said, I keep my SLR set up for one of a few purposes. Shooting sports is one of those reasons. So, let’s talk about that.

In my career as a l physician in sports medicine, I have had the unique privilege of being around sporting events all of the time. Heck, it’s my job, and over the years, friends close to me have come to realize that I could snag some pretty decent photos. It wasn’t long before I was toting my cameras to the occasional game, and now, I am regularly afforded the opportunity to shoot games along with the Seattle press core. It’s an exciting way to be part of the game, and I get to share my images with fellow staff, players, friends, and family. I only mention this, because it’s pretty easy to find opportunities to shoot sports. Simply get out to your local sporting event (think, high school football), and with the proper access (say, discussing matters with the school’s coach or athletic director), you can start shooting sporting events as well.

That being said, I have had the great opportunity to shoot sports over the past 4 years at an elite NCAA Division I school, the University of Washington. In fact, our current quarterback, Jake Locker, may well be the top pick in this year’s NFL draft. We have been national champions in Crew, Cross Country, Softball, and women’s volleyball in the past 5 years, and our basketball team also routinely gets into the sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. I have had the opportunity to shoot all of these sports. And while I am known to many of you as a rangefinder enthusiasts, many of my colleagues have come to know me as the dude with the big cameras and big white lenses.

Speaking of white lenses, I have owned and continue to own a Canon SLR outfit. I have owned the 5D, 5DII, digital Rebel XT, and a 1D Mark III. I have owned many (? Most) Canon lenses, but currently only own my 1D Mark III a 70-200 mm f/2.8 L IS lens, 50 mm f/1.2 L lens (the most Leica-like rendering that I have come across for a lens in the Canon lineup), and a 135 mm f/2 L lens. I do own a 1.4 x tele-extender as well, to gain me some reach. I have sold off much of my Canon gear to fund the purchase Leica lenses and cameras, but keep my skeleton crew of Canon gear to shoot weddings and sports.

The images that you see here would be very difficult, if not impossible, to capture with rangefinders, but are really easily captured with the 1D Mark III and it’s 10 FPS frame rate and its strong high ISO capacity. When shooting SLR’s, I tend to use center point AF (not all of the 45-50 point focus that Canon and Nikon’s come with these days), because the center point is by far the most sensitive to rapid vertical and lateral movements. I also tend to shoot sports using the AI Servo mode, which adjusts to movements and tracks focus better in these circumstances. I tend to dial up ISO’s (1600 is typically my comfort level for the upper end of the ISO that I shoot), to allow for fast shutter speeds of 1/400 s – 1/1600 s, so that I can freeze action.

As you can tell, we are far out of rangefinder land. The rangefinder experience is far more careful and measured, while using SLR’s can have its own exhileration, particularly when viewing how one can freeze action with these cameras.

So will I keep my SLR set up? Yup. Even when I shoot SLR’s so rarely? Yup….Why? Because rangefinders have their limits. And that’s okay…they are not perfect for everything, and SLR’s are a very nice stop gap. Add to the fact that the 1D Mark III and my lenses are weather-sealed, and I have a kit that I can use for areas where I may not effectively obtain images with the rangefinder….

Hopefully, the images here will prove my point. You may notice that the style that I shoot with SLR’s is quite different than how I obtain images with rangefinders. I believe that this is in part due to my varying level of comfort with these 2 very different tools for photographic capture. Maybe even, the Canons entrust me with a bit of their soul, while Leica’s do the same as I shoot them. I don’t know, but whatever the case is, I will keep both kits to capture moments which rangefinders would otherwise struggle at.

Caveat….Shooting sports with the Leica M9

Okay, okay, so I have spent the past several paragraphs suggesting that SLR’s are far better suited to capturing sports than rangefinders. However, when pressed into service, rangefinders can be up to the task. One has to be careful, and up to the challenge. One cannot rely on 10 FPS, Image stabilization, weather sealing, and 300 mm focal lengths. One might have to pre-focus, and rely on rapid self-focus to achieve the effect. To this end, here are a few pics, taken by the M9 and 135 mm f/4 Tele-elmar (a 40 year old lens that I reviewed here earlier), at a football game this past spring.

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