Olympus 25mm lens: the new Normal

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The Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens is the new Normal lens.

 

09-25-2014

When I bought my first single lens reflex (SLR) camera in 1974, it came with a 50mm lens. This lens was often referred to as a “normal” lens because its focal length closely mimics the field of view of the human eye. Lenses with a focal length shorter than 35mm were considered “wide angle” lenses and those with focal lengths longer than 100mm were known as “telephoto” lenses. Zoom lenses were rare, expensive and considered to be inferior quality because of the additional glass elements.

I should also mention this was at a time well before an auto-focus lens was considered viable.

During this same time, Olympus introduced its OM-1 SLR 35mm film camera. This camera was primarily touted for its compact size.

Fast forward to the 21st century and we still try to reconcile the technology of film cameras with digital photography. With the advent of crop-sensor digital SLR cameras, the concept of lens focal length gets more confusing, requiring some quick multiplication with “crop factors” like 1.5 (Nikon) or 1.6 (Canon). As an example, a 50mm lens on a full frame camera is considered a normal lens, but that same lens mounted on a crop-sensor camera would result in a field of view more like a 75-80mm lens.

Adding to the crop-sensor arena, the Micro Four Thirds (M4/3) format was introduced in 2008. The M4/3 sensor is approximately one-half the diagonal measurement of a full frame sensor. Conveniently for the math-challenged, the crop-factor is 2, meaning a 50mm lens would have the field of view of a 100mm lens on a full frame camera.

Olympus entered the M4/3 market with a line of Pen cameras and in 2012 released its OMD E-M5 DSLR camera. This camera has retro designs that harken back to the original OM-1 camera, including the more compact body size. Recently Olympus completed the retro package when it introduced the 25mm f/1.8 lens for M4/3. This 25mm lens is my  new Normal lens.

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The Olympus OM1 (left) and the OMD E-M5 DSLR (right) share a similar design style.

When the E-M5 and 25mm lens are positioned next to the original OM-1 with 50mm lens, it is apparent how retro the E-M5 is. It is also interesting to note how small the OM-1 really was; it is only slightly larger than the E-M5.

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Head to head – the OM-1 camera was a small camera for its time, and is only slightly larger than the current E-M5.

The Olympus 25mm lens is small and light. It balances well when mounted on the E-M5 camera body. With a maximum aperture of f/1.8, it offers some very good low light capabilities. The construction of the lens is very solid. When using manual focus, the focus ring in well-dampened and smooth.

I put the lens on my silver E-M5 camera and headed out for a walk. I immediately felt like I was 17 again, the my brand-spanking-new fancy pants camera. The “normal” field of view was vaguely familiar, having many years of many different lenses since then to cloud my memory.

The lens focuses very quickly and quietly. Even at its widest aperture, the image area from edge to edge is sharp. The depth of field is not as shallow as its ancestors, due to the smaller sensor size. However, the 25mm lens does a great job at softening the background when used in the right conditions.

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The Olympus 50mm lens on an E-M5 body. The metal lens hood doubles as a filter adapter, stepping up from 46mm to 52mm filter size.
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I took a walk through a vintage mall. It seemed like the perfect location to take some retro-themed photos.
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A former fruit-packing facility has been converted into an artist’s haven.

 

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Plenty of soft-focus available at f/1.8.
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This person died 97 years before JFK.
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The normal field of view.
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Making room for new development.
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A new US Bank building stands above Capitol Mall.
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Bird’s eye view.

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Give me three feet or give me death

 

At 40 MPH, three feet is not a lot of room.

09-24-2013

Well, maybe there is no need for such drama.

I took this photo five years ago as a personal assignment. I wanted to illustrate how it feels to ride a bicycle on a busy city street.

The California Bicycle Coalition asked if they could use the photo as part of their campaign to pass a law requiring drivers to give bicyclists three feet of space on a roadway. Of course, I agreed.

This week Governor Jerry Brown just signed the “three-foot” legislation, Assembly Bill 1371. The bill is not heavy-handed; it has a base fine of $35. I’m also guessing that most drivers won’t change much of their behavior because of AB1371. After all, we’ve had laws on the books for decades about stopping at a stop sign, yielding right of way to pedestrians and, more recently, no texting while driving. If you look around, you’ll notice that these laws aren’t always followed by some drivers either.

At least there’s a law now.

If you’re interested in knowing how this photo was taken, it was pretty simple. I modified a shelf bracket to mount a small DSLR camera onto the rear axle of my bicycle. I used a 10-20mm lens for a very wide perspective, set the shutter speed to 1/30 second for some blur effects, and used a small radio remote to fire the camera while I navigated in traffic. After about 250 shots, I found at least one good one (above).

 

I mounted my DSLR camera to the bike frame with a modified shelf bracket and a ball head.

 

I used some safety cables to keep the camera from bouncing down the street. It never came loose.

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Falling back

 

The fall colors have arrived, with a mission.

11-25-2011

After sharing a terrific Thanksgiving meal yesterday, followed by a rousing evening of board games with the family, we took a walk today. It was a beautiful, brisk sunny day so it was a great time to get out and walk off some of the calories from the previous day.

The trees are at their height of beauty this week and it seems everywhere you turn, it hits you head-on.

 

Classic shot of someone’s front yard in the fall

I used to lament the onset of winter, partly because I enjoy doing things outdoors in warm weather. But lately, I’ve come to really appreciate each of the seasons with patience. The autumn season represents transition from the heat and energy of summer toward the cold, gray quiet of winter. Even though winter seems to be the earmark of dying, it is part of the cycle. From this dying, the spring can bring out new life and new abundance in different forms. One season feeds the next, and on and on.

 

These are a few stragglers.

 

Every winter I tell myself I will use the time to finish up some long overdue indoor projects. But it seems I instead find a new, more interesting project to attend to, leaving my best intentions behind like a pile of dry leaves.

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Locke, Calif

Main Street - Locke, CA

03-04-2011

I took a quiet drive along the Sacramento River toward the delta region last week. It’s mostly farmland in this area…pear orchards, new vineyards, grain fields.

Locke is a small historic riverfront town about 20 miles south of Sacramento. In fact, it is very small. The main street (above) runs about one block, and it looks like there are a couple of streets with small houses on them. Locke has an interesting history. It was formed in the early 1900’s by a group of Chinese residents who wanted to form their own community in the farming region.  It has the unique status as the only town in the United States built exclusively by the Chinese for the Chinese. A few small businesses still operate along the main street: a bar called Al the Wop’s, some gift shops and a small market. There is also a small Chinese memorial park monument.

Talk about committed...

I think this is called "knob and tube" wiring. Whatever, it looks like original installation.

Looking between buildings along the main street.
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A few patrons of the local bar, Al the Wop's.

Making good use of an old auto rim.

Reflecting on a memorial...

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The Decisive MOMA

A young patron takes a break at the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition at the SFMOMA.

01-05-2011

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is hosting an exhibition of the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004). The exhibition is very large – it fills the entire third floor of the museum. Yesterday was free admission day, so it was well-attended.

Cartier-Bresson is known as one of the early pioneers of modern photo-journalism. He would carry a small Leica camera with him on the streets and make candid photographs of everyday life. In order to be less obtrusive, he covered the shiny silver parts of the camera with black paint.  One of his books was titled, “The Decisive Moment,” a nod toward his commentary that the photographer must know intuitively when to click the camera.

I really enjoyed the exhibition – his early works are amazing when you consider that his images were made as early as the 1930’s. He captured common people doing common tasks and most images had a sense of activity. Many of the photographs were low contrast, with some blur, either from the subject movement or camera movement. Keep in mind he had to set everything manually and he did not have a little LCD screen to peek at to see how his photos looked. Think: “Pioneer”.

Coincidentally, the SFMOMA also had an exhibit called “Exposed” which illustrated the arena of surveillance, voyeuristic and street photography. The photo below is not meant to be voyeuristic, but it is an interesting perspective on human movement.

Looking up at the 5th floor catwalk over the atrium at the SFMOMA.

On the second floor of the museum was a large portrait display from a previous exhibition at the SFMOMA, called “The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now.” I asked Laura to stand in to replace one of the faces.

She's not mad - I asked her to avoid smiling to match the other faces.

SFMOMA’s exhibition of Cartier-Bresson’s works runs through January.

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