Michael Rammell

Street Photography Tips (Part 1) & Book Giveaway!

Giveaways & Competitions, Tutorials & Tips, PhotographyMichael RammellComment

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There's a lot going on today! In addition to my own 3 top tips to improve your street photography, I've invited the fantastic Michael Pung to offer a top tip of his own for street portraits too! In addition to all of that, I'm also running the first of my giveaways for 2017!

If you're interested in the street photography tips then just keep reading. If however, you're just here to put your name in the hat to win the book, skip to the bottom for entry information and terms & conditions. Good luck to you all!

Improve your Street photography in 2017 with these top Tips:

Perhaps you've just picked up your first camera for Christmas? Perhaps with some of the spare time you had over the festive period you ventured out into the street for the first time to try your hand at what can at first appear to be a very easy and simplistic photographic discipline - Street Photography.

Whatever the case may be, I've got a few tips to help you to produce stronger, more compelling images when in public spaces.

Now, I'm not suggesting that the tips in this post alone will transform you into a master Street Photographer overnight! There is so much more to Street Photography than can be condensed into 3 tips. In fact, I've got lots to say on the subject. That's why I'm going to actually split this post into 2. This is part 1 of 2. You can check out Part 2 right here

Today I'll start with the practical things; the things that you can practice and implement right now to instantly make stronger and more engaging photographs of life on the streets:

1: Isolate & simplify

I see too many street photographs with no clear subject! It's massively frustrating for me when I look through people's work and all I see are busy streets, without a clear point of focus, intent, story or subject.

Through use of light and shadows this image successfully leads the viewer's eye to the illuminated subject. Note however that the background is illuminated just enough to help tell the story, whilst at the same time is not too bright so that it is a distraction from the main subject.

Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1. Lens: 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO @ Aperture: f/2.8 Focal Length 12mm ISO: 3200 Shutter Speed: 1/160th

Now, of course sometimes the subject in the frame can be the order among chaos, but unless it's easily identifiable or intentional the subject is often lost and the viewer is left confused as to what the intention of the image actually is! As such my first tip is to isolate your subject. By this, I mean make it clear what your subject is. This can be achieved by using contrasting colours; a lady in a bold red coat in a crowd of darker coats perhaps?

If you aren't able to isolate your image using contrast, colour or shadows & light, then go for plan B; simplify the contents of the frame.

This can be achieved by removing elements that are distracting, such as bright spots in the background (bright and bold colours as well bright lights). Text and writing in images can also be very distracting. Signage and shop fronts as shown below can often be distractions. (unless of course they add to the story as I discuss in my second tip). A commonly used method of simplification is to find a plain background to use as a stage for your subjects; brick walls for example can work quite well:

By putting my subject against a plain backdrop, I ensure that my subject is the only thing for my viewer to look at. Simple Framing. 

Camera: Canon 7D Lens: 85mm f/1.8 Aperture: f/4 Focal Length 85mm ISO: 1000 Shutter Speed: 1/400th

Another means to simplify is to use a shallow depth of field to remove or hide or reduce a distracting element of the background from a frame. Here for example you can clearly see the city in the background, however the use of depth ensures that the viewer's is drawn back towards the object in sharp focus; the musician:

Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M5. Lens:  12-40mm f/2.8 PRO @ Aperture: f/2.8 Focal Length: 31mm ISO: 800 Shutter Speed: 1/2000th

Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M5. Lens:  12-40mm f/2.8 PRO @ Aperture: f/2.8 Focal Length: 31mm ISO: 800 Shutter Speed: 1/2000th

2: Tell a story

Before I photograph anything I subconsciously ask myself a few questions: Why are you photographing that scene? What's the point? What is the story? Will someone else see or get the story?

I don't literally stop and ask myself these questions, but over time this thought process has become very much part what happens before I press the shutter. As the photographer, we were present at the moment it all happened and so we have the added context in our mind to aid the story, things like how hot or cold it was, what the street smelled like, what sounds could be heard and what else was happening outside of the frame to inform the action happening inside the frame. All of those extra senses we have add more to the story for us. Instantly, that provides a different and perhaps more informed narrative for us when we view the image back. It makes us biased. So, unless we somehow capture more inside the frame to help put the pieces of the story together for the viewer, what we ourselves often consider to be a great image because of how we feel about it, is nothing more than a snapshot of someone on the street to someone else.

For me, this is why Street Photography in itself is an often-misunderstood genre: It appears easy to walk around and shoot all the interesting things you see on a busy street, but that doesn't necessarily translate into a compelling and engaging or even interesting photograph for someone else to look at.

A dark scene featuring a man smoking (the smoke is obvious) leaning against the front of a betting shop (bookies as we say in the UK). The text reads 'When the Fun Stops, Stop'.

Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1. Lens: 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO @ Aperture: f/2.8 Focal Length 12mm ISO: 3200 Shutter Speed: 1/80th

Now, without all of that additional context provided by our own senses as I mentioned above, the story told within a frame can be left to the interpretation of the viewer, even if you have provided a lot of additional visual stimulus and a clear backdrop to the scene. This is absolutely fine. Often, it can be more interesting for a viewer to look at the image and begin to imagine and write their own story to bring the image to life. Don't be upset if the story that someone invents to surround your image isn't the story you saw at the time you made the image. Just be grateful that someone has taken the time to study your image enough to see a story within it!

3: Get Closer & Be Bold

This is something of an expansion on my point to isolate & simplify what is in your frame, but here I want to suggest that you get closer to your subject to make the image more engaging. This works particularly well when you achieve eye contact with your subject (if your subject is a person or an animal that is). For example:

Note that despite my subjects occupying a large proportion of the frame, I still have composition, isolation and a story being told in the background.

Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1. Lens: 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO @ Aperture: f/2.8 Focal Length 12mm ISO: 3200 Shutter Speed: 1/160th

Standing at a red light waiting to cross the street I took a few side-steps to get closer to this woman. I waited for the lights to turn amber before raising the camera and making a frame. With so much going on around us all my subject could do was to throw me a glance before crossing. This frame would have arguably been too busy had my subject been farther away and occupied a smaller amount of the frame.
Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1. Lens: 25mm f/1.8 @ Aperture: f/1.8 Focal Length 25mm ISO: 320 Shutter Speed: 1/640th

Helping your subject to dominate the frame makes it immediately more obvious exactly what your subject is. Fact.

You will still of course have to keep an eye out for distracting elements, as always.

If you're shooting a street performer, get in closer to them (but be safe and don't invade their space). If you're shooting street, you're typically going to be in an open public space. As such you should have the freedom to move around - so do it! Don't just let life pass you by from one spot - go and get those images! That is of course, unless you're setting a scene and waiting for the subject (more on that part two though)

Don't be scared to raise the camera to your face to make a photograph of someone. Sure, this feeling will be worse if you're in a less densely populated area, but don't fear question or conflict; make the image and congratulate yourself for having done so later, because the alternative is missing the shot and kicking yourself for it later. Raising the camera up to your hip can be fine, but it will dramatically reduce your chances of getting the shot. It's also sneaky! So be intentional, bold and get closer to the subject!

4: Bonus Tip: Michael Pung Shares his thoughts on making strong Street Portraits:

I've got an entire gallery filled with Street Portraits, however, I have to admit that the street portaits made by Michael Pung are on another level. As such, rather than me offering my thoughts on street portraiture, I have instead invited Michael (Pung) to give you his expert opinion on the matter:

I love taking street portraits. There is something exhilarating about making the approach, forming that connection (if even for a brief minute or two) and capturing their photograph.

Image used with permission of Michael Pung. Image Copyright of Michael Pung.

The approach is quite possibly the scariest part of taking street portraits, but once you get past it, you will discover that it really is quite rewarding. I enjoy making that connection with everyone I meet. It really isn’t about what you say, but how you do it. Try not to hesitate and just be upfront with your intentions. I usually just introduce myself in a friendly manner and ask for their photograph. I like to gauge if they’re busy, and if they aren’t then I ask them some questions to get to know them better. Sometimes conversations can go on for 20 minutes or more! But if not, it’s still okay! And even if you don’t get the photograph, making that connection really is something special.

Image used with permission of Michael Pung. Image Copyright of Michael Pung.

As for making the portrait, here are a few of my ingredients! I enjoy shooting at lower apertures to make the backgrounds soft (1.2 to 2.0 aperture on a 56mm on an APS-C sensor). If you find it too soft, it is okay increase it a little to have more of their facial features in focus. In general, try to keep eyes in the top half of the frame and if this means cropping a little off the top of their head, that’s okay! There should be a balance in the shot and this varies from how close or how far you want to crop. The focus here is on the individual and you want to remove as much of the distractions away from the subject. The individual doesn’t need to smile usually and a neutral expression is better than anything forced. Make a connection, and once that is made, the other things come together to make a strong portrait! 

Image used with permission of Michael Pung. Image Copyright of Michael Pung.

For more of Michael's wonderful work, check out his blog at www.michaelpung.com/blog

Part 2 - January 2017

This post runs the risk of becoming way too long if I continue with the other tips I have, but I really do want to offer further advice. For now, I'll leave you with these things to digest and try out. I'll post part 2 of this next week. So you if want to receive part 2 of this post in your inbox, be sure to subscribe. In part 2, I'll talk about:

  1. Hunter & Fisherman approaches
  2. Choosing a cameras & lenses for Street Photography
  3. Times, Locations & Days to shoot
  4. Bonus Tip: Expectations of your own efforts

Part 2 is now available. Check it out right here


Book Giveaway

Okay, so if you're here for the book giveaway, look no further. I'm giving away my own personal copy of The Street Photographers Manual by David Gibson.

I loved this book so much that I felt compelled to write a review here on the blog (you can read that book right here). Coupled with this post, I thought that it would be a great companion for anyone looking to improve their street photograph and so, I'm giving it away for free!

Review Excerpt:

"Whilst the book itself may be called a manual and does offer instruction to help you create more thought-out and intentional street photographs, this is also a very impressive and vast study of street photography. This book looks at both various techniques and elements that contribute towards stronger imagery and makes use of examples by the greatest street photographers of our time such as; Elliott Erwitt, Bruce Gilden, Saul Leiter, Trente Park and more. These examples give the book's instructions conviction and only serve to show that this thorough - yet concise - book is something you can not only read for inspiration, but learn from at the same time. Within each chapter we are introduced to either another master of Street Photography or another technique of shooting on the street, each accompanying a sample of that master's work or an example of that technique in action to best explain and demonstrate the case in point"

To be in with a chance of winning my own, personal copy of The Street Photographer's Manual, subscribe to the blog using the form below and share this post on social media (be sure to include a link back to this post). If you're already a subscriber, just drop a comment below. I'll canvas all new subscriptions and comments and pick the lucky winner from those. 

Good luck everyone!  Thanks for stopping by. 



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Video & Free Downloads - Lightroom Smart Collection Settings

Video, OlympusMichael Rammell2 Comments

[To listen to the audio hit play and then give it a second to buffer. The audio is high quality]

I'm just in the midst of preparing my annual 'Looking Back' post, where I review the images I made during the past year. Its the annual retrospective exercise that we should all be doing as photographers. It helps one to gain some perspective as to where it was we were back in January compared to just how far we've come in those 12 months to December.

This year I plan on doing more than just sharing 10 my favourite images from 2016 though. I'm going to revisit the 5 most popular blog posts as visited by you guys and I'm also going to give a complete break down of the gear I used for the year, including how much use each lens actually got.

In order to achieve this, I'm using Adobe Lightroom's Smart Collection feature to sort my images into folders (effectively) based on an the attributes of an image.

For example, I can set a smart collection to look through all of my images and pick out those that were shot with the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO. I can repeat this for each lens and camera I own. This tells me just how I used each lens by simply showing me the number of images for each smart collection.

Whilst this isn't a hard thing to configure, it can be time consuming. So, I've saved all of my settings into files for you to download and import into your own instance of Lightroom.

This Smart Collection in Adobe Lightroom shows me how many images I shot with the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens from Olympus during 2016

Given that the smart collections I have used look at images made between specific dates, I've gone ahead and made Smart Collections for both 2016 and 2017. Feel free to download them using the links below.

Various Adobe LIghtroom Smart Collection Settings Files available for download

For details on how to import the smart collections into lightroom, just watch the video below. In this I also go into a little detail as to how it is I made these smart collections (if you so wish to make your own for lenses I have not included). Alternatively, skip down past the video for the bulleted version of the instructions if you can't watch video where you are right now. 

 > Download Olympus 2016 Smart Collection Files here

 > Download Olympus 2017 Smart Collection Files here

Importing Smart Collection Settings into Adobe Lightroom (Video)

Importing Smart Collection Settings Into Adobe Lightroom

  1. Download the Smart Collection Settings Files from this post
  2. Save somewhere on your computer
  3. Open Adobe Lightroom
  4. In the Library Module Expand 'Collections' in the left pane
  5. Create a new Collection Set
  6. Name the collection set '2016'
  7. Right Click on the 2016 Collection Set
  8. Choose 'Import Smart Collection Settings
  9. Browse to the files I have made available for you that you saved back in step 2.
  10. Choose the Smart Collection Settings you wish to use
  11. Ta Dah!
  12. (repeat for the Smart Collection Sets applicable to you)

I hope you find these Smart Collection settings useful. I would love to know what your most used lens and camera was for 2016! Please do share a link to your own 2016 Look Back post if you have made one, I'll be sure to stop by and leave a comment on your post!

If you found these Smart Collection Settings useful be sure to share this post and subscribe to the blog today. My own review of 2016 will be out in just a couple of days. Subscribing is the best way to be sure you see that post first!



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Olympus 7-14 f/2.8 PRO Review

Michael Rammell2 Comments

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With the launch of the much-anticipated and long awaited Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark 2, you're now able to find lots of offers and bundles on Olympus PRO lenses too. Most notably a few of the larger and well known camera stores here in the U.K are promoting the E-M1 mark ii bundled with the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO for example. But today, I want to emplore and encourage you to take a serious look at the wonderful Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens.

It's been around for a while now but after including it in a recent post as one of my top three Olympus Micro Four Thirds lenses I've had a couple of emails from subscribers asking me more about the lens and whether it really is as good as I said it was in that post.

There are ofcourse a plethora of technical reviews available on the Internet from the likes of DPReview, but from a practical standpoint I thought that the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO really does deserve it's own post here on the blog. So, here you go...

Just like Olympus with their cameras, this cyclist is breaking the rules! 

I imagine that with the launch of the EM-1 mark 2 and the fact that the PRO lens line up is now what most photographers would consider to be mature, that many more photographers will be re-visiting a move to a mirrorless system. As such let's assume that you're asking yourself where in the lens lineup the 7-14mm f/2.8 sits in terms of quality.

Quite simply: the Olympus PRO range of lenses are Olympus' answer to Canon's L series lenses if you will. As the 'PRO' name suggests they're designed for professional use. They are the top lenses on offer from Olympus. 

Olympus M.Zuiko PRO lenses all feature constant a aperture, covering a complete focal range of 7mm - 300mm (or, 14mm to 600mm in terms of the Micro Four Thirds equivalent field of view). PRO lenses feature the most premium quality optics, superb build quality and are dust, freeze and splash proof.

If you want to know more about how Aperture and Focal Range are affected in the world of Micro Four Thirds then check out this post right here

On the widest end of Olympus' PRO lens offering is this, the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO super wide angle.

Of all of the Olympus lenses I own, the 7-14mm f/2.8 is my most recent addition, purchased back in March 2016. Although I've had it all this time I didn't want to write a review until such a time that I thought I had given it a fair run out and put it through it's paces. So after 16 weddings, a few landscape outings and other various bits and pieces; I think I'm pretty well placed to give you my thoughts on this lens.

Let's start with the stats, specs and highlights: (skip past these if you don't care for details)

Specs & Details

  • 7-14mm focal range provides a 14-28mm, 35mm equivalent field of view
  • Retails here in the UK for around £800 - £900
  • 7 Round Bladed Aperture for circular bokeh
  • 14 elements, 11 Groups
  • Angle of view: 75.4 degrees when zoomed to 14mm and 114.2 degrees at the widest end
  • Splash, Freeze and dust proof the same as the M.Zuiko 12-40 f/2.8 PRO
  • Metal construction, feels even sturdier than the M.Zuiko 12-40 f/2.8 PRO!
  • The lens hood is physically part of the lens and cannot be removed. As with many wide angles the front element is very concave and protrudes outwards. As such use without a lens hood wouldn't be advised anyway. The lens hood offers physical protection to the front element and is there not only for reducing flare and ghosting.
  • The front element does extend when zooming, much like the 12-40 f/2.8 PRO. However, the front element does not extend beyond the end of the body of the lens - the lens remains the same size, albeit the front element simply extends outward (not beyond the lens hood). The physical travel of the front element when zooming is very small.

If you're coming from a DSLR then the Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO pits itself against the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 and the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8. Panasonic also offer their own MFT Mount 7-14mm as well, but it's worth noting that is an f/4 lens. I'll reference these in this review.

Horwood House, Milton Keynes, UK My first outing with the 7-14mm for my first wedding of 2016

Horwood House, Milton Keynes, UK
My first outing with the 7-14mm for my first wedding of 2016

Size and Weight

If you picked up an OM-D as part of a kit you may well already have the brilliant 12-40mm f/2.8. If it's a lens you're familiar with, then you're not far from being able to imagine the size, dimensions and general feel of the 7-14mm f/2.8. The diameter and feel of these two lenses are very familiar with the 7-14mm f/2.8 being a little larger, if anything. So, if you've become well adjusted and comfortable using the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, picking up the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO should give for an immediately familiar feel.

The lens weighs in at 534 grams. Given its' relatively similar size to the 12-40mm f/2.8 therefore you'll be pleasantly surprised by this when you pick one up for the first time - by comparison, the 12-40mm f/2.8 is a shade lighter at 382 grams. For further comparison, the DSLR equivalents from Canon & Nikon are both heavier. Canon's super 16-35mm is just 100 grams heavier at 635 grams and the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 comes in at a comparatively whopping 970 grams. Sticking with the Micro Four Thirds comparisons though, Panasonic's own 7-14mm is rather light at 300grams. So, if weight is an important factor to you, perhaps due to an injury, then the Panasonic may be the way to go. I would however debate Olympus' 7-14mm offering feels beautifully balanced when mounted to an OM-D. Those few hundred extra grams give for a reassuringly premium feeling construction.

My first bride of 2016 photographed with the Olympus M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens

First Impressions

As with all of the lenses so far in the M.Zuiko PRO range, the resistance (or stiffness) of the rings on the lens feels great. In fact, if you own any of the M.Zuiko PRO lenses, such as the 12-40mm or the 40-150mm for example, then then you'll find that the 7-14mm f/2.8 handles very similarly in that respect. That universal and consistent feel and operation that Olympus have given to their PRO lenses is something I can really appreciate. Each time I pick up one of the 'Holy Trinity' of lenses (these being the 7-14mm, the 12-40mm and the 40-150mm) they operate pretty much in the same way. By launching these lenses at around the same time, give or take a year, they've presented them to us in a way that Canon never did. The Canon 24-70mm for example feels nothing like, or even operates anything like the 70-200mm. They don't look the same either.

The 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO feels dense, strong and solid. All features that I'm sure you've come to know from the other lenses in the PRO lineup.

If you've owned a Super Wide Angle Zoom before on a different system, then the lens cap won't be anything new to you. However, if you've found your way (back) into photography through an OM-D and this is your first Wide Angle - then the pinch-style lens cap may at first seem a little odd. The lens cap, unlike other standard zooms and primes, has to take into account the concave and protruding nature of the front element, meaning it therefore cannot sit flush in front of that element. So, as a result it mounts neatly around the lens hood, which is an integral part of the 7-14mm body. You could say it's shaped a little like a hockey puck. It's solid and features the same front panel design of the other PRO lens, lens caps.

Image Quality

When it comes to lenses a good one will often outlast the cameras you own. I'd say this is the case with the 7-14mm for sure. Everything I've said about the image quality of the 12-40mm and the 40-150 is exactly the same for the 7-14mm: It's incredibly sharp both at 7mm and at 14mm, even in the corners which isn't common for a super wide angle. Here are some sample images for you to take a look at to demonstrate (all new images unreleased before now:)

Even though it's an Ultra Wide Angle lens, distortion isn't overly extreme unless you angle the lens at your subject. For example I recently found myself with very little space to shoot a few large formal photographs at a wedding, which called for the 7-14mm in order to fit the group of people in the frame. Ordinarily I would be somewhat concerned about the warping and distortion that tends to take place in the outer edges of the frame, but what I actually found is that if I shot square on at chest height to my subjects I achieve a pretty standard feeling frame . A minor distortion correction in Adobe Lightroom corrected this even further and left no after-effects or extra-wide or oddly-tall family members on the outside edges of the frame.

That said though, with little effort you really can create a distorted and stretched image if that is your intention. All you have to do is simply to exaggerate and change your angle and that result will happen. Check this out:

Who is this Lens for?

Whilst a super wide angle isn't a lens that every photographer will need, Wedding Photographers and Landscape photographers will definitely want one of these in their bag. It's weather sealed - of course - meaning it can stand up to inclement weather. So whether you're in a field or up a mountain, or just outside photographing a couple for their pre-wedding shoot or lifestyle shoot you'll be safe in the knowledge this lens can handle those situations.

As with all of the M.ZUIKO PRO lenses they do come in slightly higher priced than some of the mid-range zooms and prime lenses, but you're investing in quality. Not wanting to repeat myself (but I will) - a good lens will definitely outlast your camera body! So, if you look at it that way - the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO isn't actually that expensive at all. I've had my E-M1 for 2 years now and will likely upgrade to the E-M1ii during 2017. I would imagine I'll own the 7-14mm f/2.8 for the entire duration of that camera too. I wouldn't be surprised if I one day pair it with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark 3!

Like most of the Olympus lenses (with the exception of a few such as relatively new Olympus M.ZUIKO PRO 300mm f/4), the 7-14mm f.2.8 it not stabilised. This is taken care of with the In-Body stabilisation offered by the Olympus OM-D range of cameras. As such if you're a Panasonic shooter and you don't have stabilisation in your camera, this lens could be less appealing to you than Panasonic's own.

With this super short focal range you do find that the stabilisation is even more effective than on lenses with longer focal ranges. Which is always a nice, added bonus.

Criticisms

I've tried very hard to find something wrong with this lens, but in truth I really can't pick fault at it. It stacks up against the DSLR lens offerings from Canon and Nikon in every way with superb optical quality and build.

I mentioned when I wrote a review of my 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO that it suffered a little more than most when it came to chromatic aberration when you shoot toward a light source. The same can be said for the 7-14mm f/2.8 too. But this is as much to do with the distance between the sensor and the camera mounting point of the camera & lens (the flange distance) as much as anything else.

Although, as a wide angle lens, this Is somewhat expected and not completely unsurprising behavior. The shape of the front element being what it is will always contribute to less predictive behavior when it comes to the way that the light 'bounces around' inside the lens between the elements. That, coupled with the very short flange distance (the distance between the very rear element of the lens to the sensor) will contribute to some Chromatic Aberration (CA). That said so far I've only had CA on a couple of photographs I've made using this lens and fortunately it's not apparent in some of the more common CA-causing scenarios (such as portraits with a strong and contrasting rim light, or a cool, blue window light), but if you shoot a branch with the sky as the background, or if you photograph a building, looking upward, you may spot some aberration along the edges. Now, I know what you're thinking: "CA is easily removed in Lightroom" - and you're right. But this does have to be mentioned. So, this does become less of an issue, but I still wanted to point it out.

Conclusion

In short, Olympus have done it again and have produced yet another lens more than able to take on the mantle of being a 'PRO' lens. Superb build quality combined with outstanding optical results mean we have a lens that can take on whatever we choose to throw at it.

The 7-14mm f/2.8 confidently now sits at the widest end of the 'Holy Trinity' of lenses, meaning us Olympus MFT photographers have a trio of lenses covering focal ranges from 7mm to 300mm, all the while maintaining a constant f/2.8 aperture.

No matter what you choose to shoot, if you need a wider field of view then the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO is ready to step in and serve you well.

Feels great, looks great, works great - all in a lens that is reasonably priced. Well done Olympus yet again!

Your views

Do you own the Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO? Have you used this lens before? What do you think? Be sure to drop a comment below and we can chat! Please, as always, be sure to include a link to your website and work too :)



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MeFoto Backpacker Tripod Review

Gear, Product, ReviewMichael Rammell2 Comments

Christmas isn't far away now at all. If you're still thinking of what it is you would like for Christmas then this could well be a perfectly timed post for you. Today I want to tell you about the MeFoto Backpacker Tripod.

I have something of a disclaimer before I continue though...

I am not endorsed or sponsored by any company or product. Everything I ever review, good or bad, is a product I've purchased with my own money. As I have said before I would change brands at the drop of the hat if I genuinely felt that a different product made my work noticeably better and the change was financially sensible. I am well aware that I can often seem to be an Olympus fan-boy, but if I believe a product is a bad product I'll say so.

Don't get me wrong, If Olympus want to come and sponsor me I will welcome it because I believe that Olympus cameras and lenses have elevated and unlocked my creativity. But even if I were sponsored, I don't see that it would change the way I review or talk about products

So, with all that said let's get into the subject of this post: The MeFoto Backpacker Tripod!

The diminutive MeFOTO folded away to it's smallest size. Fits snug inside my small Caselogic backpack

The diminutive MeFOTO folded away to it's smallest size. Fits snug inside my small Caselogic backpack

Small Camera allows for smaller accessories

Since moving to an all-Olympus setup back in January 2015, most of my other gear and accessories have also shrunk in size too: smaller flashes and smaller bags for example. But one thing that I hadn't downsized until recently was my Tripod.

For the longest time I've relied on my trusty Manfrotto Tripod; a heavy-ish and not-so-compact tripod by any means, but it was certainly sturdy most of the time and able to support the weight of my old Canon DSLR's combined with battery grips, a 580EX II Flash and my old favourite Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L II lens (that was possibly the heaviest setup I would ever have had on it back then at about 4Kg's).

I had that tripod for around 4 or 5 years and used it for everything from landscapes to wildlife and sports to weddings. It traveled all over the UK and Europe and the Middle East with me and even went along with me to two Le Mans races where it took a bit of a battering. In addition to being a tripod I've used it as a light stand, a climbing pole and a stick to beat down fern bushes as I waded through forests to photograph Deer and the like. It's been in sand, mud and seawater and still to this day works pretty well. Every now and then when I extend the legs you can hear the 'crunch' of sand between the extending leg sections. Also, those latch-type / lever leg locks become a little loose over time too.

But, 'Ol' reliable' was getting exactly that; Old.

So, naturally when it came time to seek out a replacement I looked for something smaller, lighter and more in-keeping with the size and weight of the Olympus gear I choose to use these days. I made a list of the things I was looking for in a tripod, and this is what I came up with:

  • Small & Compact when folded away (ideally could fit in to my bag)
  • Lightweight
  • Sturdy enough to support my Olympus OM-D E-M1 with a battery grip and my Olympus 40-150 f/2.8 PRO lens
  • Twisting leg mechanisms to lock them in place (instead of levers) both to ave weight and to ensure that sand can't get into those parts and ruin the way it works
  • Arca Swiss style plate* (reasoning explained later)
  • £200 Budget

The MeFOTO Backpacker ticks all the boxes

I did a lot of research and tried out a few tripods at The Photography Show back in March here in the UK and the result was that the MeFOTO BackPacker just seemed to be the best of the bunch. And as a bonus it also came in at the lower end of my budget too which was a pleasant and welcome surprise.

The MeFOTO BackPacker has those twisting locking mechanisms on the legs, it's the smallest of all of the options and is one of the lightest too. At the same time it is able to support the required weight of my Olympus Gear. The included Ball Head is simply something to behold as well (especially at this price point!). In design terms it is relatively similar to the premium products on offer from Really Right Stuff.

One of my favourite things about it though is that the dials and knobs used to adjust the tension and movement are big and chunky, meaning even with gloves on I can make the most of this tripod! 

Chunky Dials on the ball head. Finished in gold to match my iPad and iPhone :) 

Chunky Dials on the ball head. Finished in gold to match my iPad and iPhone :) 

Why The Need for Arca Swiss?

So, it was light, small and within the budget, but why was it I wanted that Arca Swiss plate so much you ask? Here's why: An Arca Swiss style plate offers more options in terms of compatibility with cameras and mounts. All tripods and monopods I know of work in the same way; that being a plate that screws in to your camera (or lens) and then a system of some description on the tripod head will latch onto said plate. Some monopod's so will screw directly into a lens, sure, but if you want to use a ball head you'll need some sort of plate to fix your camera or lens to it. Most manufacturers, such as Manfrotto, have come up with their own unique shaped plate that will then fit only their tripod (or tripod heads). 

This is where Arca Swiss is different: You still have a plate, sure, but this particular plate mounts to whichever ball head is also Arca Swiss compatible, which you can find on offer from a wide variety of manufacturers. Arca Swiss style plates and tripod heads attach to one another using a dovetail approach with (usually) a screw mechanism to then tighten the grip of that dovetail.

Furthermore, because the Arca Swiss is considered a more widely adopted mounting system the plates themselves are usually a little more adjustable in terms of their positioning so that they can work and be better suited to the size and shape of the various cameras they may be used on. 

This was really only apparent to me when I saw this video from David Thorpe over YouTube with his review of the Olympus PEN-F.

In his review David highlights the point that the awkwardness of the threads' position on the PEN-F, which is relatively forward on the camera, affects the possible compatibility of certain plates: When you mount one of the PRO lenses, such as the M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 or the M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 you may find that mounting a plate and therefore tripod of your choosing is a tight fit (or worse, not possible at all). It's for this reason that I wanted the Arca Swiss plate: they offer a little adjustment and movement and being something of a standardized type of plate, as opposed to a brand-specific plate like Manfrotto's, should mean that if the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark 2 (which I will be sure to get when it is released) features the same issue as the PEN-F, I should be able to continue to use the MeFOTO backpacker, or at least find a plate that works from a company such as Really Right Stuff (thanks Martin Bailey).

Now, typically I use a battery grip, so it would give me plenty of clearance no matter which one of my lenses I'm using. But, when investing in a new tripod I just wanted to be sure I wasn't going to encounter any issues at all. After all, as I've found out my Tripod should out-last my camera and so giving thought to this should mean I am future proofing myself (I hope)

So, that said, I've had the MeFOTO Backpacker tripod for a few months now and have had some to get out and use it and am thoroughly enjoying it. As you can see from the sample images here I've gone for the gold option. It may be a bit 'flashy' for some people's tastes, but my Wedding Photography branding is golden & yellow and thought that this matched quite neatly indeed. It also neatly matches my iPad Pro and iPhone too :)

There are also a series of other quite colours available, but I felt the yellow and the red were perhaps too loud and could even possibly get in the way when photographing Deer at Richmond Park and wildlife in general, where subtlety is your friend!

All in all the MeFoto is sturdy, folds up to a wonderfully compact size and comes with a generously high quality ball head with chunky, solid dials and mechanisms. It's build quality gets top marks too.

I've not been this excited and impressed with a tripod...well...ever!

Alternative Tripods to the MeFOTO & what I found

So now let's talk about the competition and why it is I felt the MeFOTO won out over them.

I stumbled across this comparison of lightweight travel tripods from Digital Camera World and found quite quickly that it was down to one of three tripods (and this was generally the consensus from many other comparisons too): The Manfrotto BeFree Aluminium, the Nest Traveller or the MeFoto Backpacker. Each of these most closely met my requirements and often came in among the best rated for travel / lightweight tripods.

Initially of course, being a previous Manfrotto tripod owner I was pleased to see the Manfrotto BeFree making the cut and being mentioned as one of the better Tripods available. Being a Manfrotto user all these years I felt compelled to remain loyal and to stick with a brand I know. But, then I realised it had the lever-type mechanisms to lock the legs in place. I wasn't a fan of that on my old tripod. It only took me about a week to lose the plastic tool that comes with the tripod to allow you to tighten those levers, due to them loosening over time. It also didn't feature the Arca Swiss head I wanted. So, the Manfrotto option was removed from the table, leaving me with the Nest Traveller and the MeFOTO BackPacker.

Nest & MeFOTO - Neck and Neck! 

It really was neck and neck between the two remaining tripods. Both had everything I was looking for; they were nearly identical, even on price!

Both Tripods were available for between £120 - £140 each online. Both featured the Arca Swiss ball head, twist-to-lock legs. Both even featured a recessed hook hidden in the central column so you can hang some weight from it to keep it steady and a bonus in-built bubble to level the tripod. Each came with a padded shoulder bag too. Handy! The only remaining thing to tell them apart was their size and weight.

In terms of weight, the Nest comes in at 1.75Kg (or 3.8lbs). The MeFOTO BackPacker was lighter at 1.18Kg (or 2.6lbs). That's a pretty decent difference in weight.

The size difference when folded away was a similar story: the Nest is a neat 415mm (or 16.3 inches) whereas the MeFOTO was smaller still at 320mm (or 12.6 inches).

In fact, the only thing that the Nest won a point on was it's maximum height when extended. The nest could reach a maximum height of 1500mm or 59 inches, beating the MeFOTO, which can only go to 1300mm or 51.2 inches. 

For these reasons, the MeFOTO better met my brief and it was my new tripod of choice.

Criticisms / Issues

So far, so good. The built quality is superb and the moving parts are expertly machined I have to say, but if there was one thing I would say about the MeFOTO is that when it's extended to it's absolute maximum height (the legs are out and the center column is as tall as it can go) there does seem to be a little bit of wobble going on. The legs slide into one another to hide away. It's the thinnest legs at the very end that seem to have a little bit of flex. Typically speaking when I use a tripod I am shooting with a trigger or using a 2 second delay time to ensure I've not touch the camera when the image is captured, so this isn't too much of an issue, but I would prefer if it were stiffer.

I haven't yet tried to tackle this issue by attaching a weight to the concealed in-built hook, but I'm sure that would go some way to helping reduce or prevent this behavior by centering the weight of the tripod to keep it grounded. 

It could well just be me though and my expectations of a travel tripod are way off the mark. After all I am coming from a massive, heavy and rather clumsy aluminium Manfrotto. 

All that said, the shake in question doesn't appear to have impacted the resulting images at all. They're sharp to me and I'm happy. The fact that it fits inside my backpack is a bonus and one that I don't think I would be willing to lose moving forward. It's a good compromise.  

Conclusion

I'm not shy of spending good money on good accessories in the belief that they'll last longer, but having not looked at tripods in such a long time (not needing to) I was surprised to find that generally I was able to find far more value for money than I was 5 years ago when I picked up my Manfrotto.

I imagine, thanks in part to the growth in popularity of mirrorless cameras, that the tripod market is now far more diverse. Historically purchasing a tripod meant you spent a lot of money or your purchase would involve some sort of compromise of weight, the weight it could support or it's general quality:

  1. A heavy tripod could support a heavy weight and cost less.
  2. A light tripod that could support more weight was typically made of carbon fibre and as such the price would soar too.
  3. Alternatively you could pick up a cheap tripod from eBay and throw it away after just a few uses as plastic components broke and aluminium parts would buckle or dent!

These days though, with my gear weighing less I can focus more on the weight of the tripod and be less concerned about how much weight it can support. As such I've found that Tripods in the £100 - £200 region appear pretty reasonably equipped and very well reviewed indeed!

The MeFoto was my pick of the bunch for a mirrorless-ready tripod and so far I'm very happy with my choice. Time will tell. For now though, The old manfrotto comes along with me to most weddings as a stand for the video light or ends up staying in the boot of the car, with my MeFoto backpacker more often out in the field.



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