Friday, 25 November 2011

Macro spacer rings for Four Thirds

There are a lot of accessories you can buy for your camera. Since I have a Four Thirds standard lens, the Olympus Zuiko Digital 50mm f/2 1:2 macro lens, I decided to buy some Four Thirds macro rings to extend the macro range of the lens even further. To use the lens on a Micro Four Thirds camera in the first place, and adapter is needed. The Panasonic DMW-MA1 or Olympus MMF1/MMF2 adapters should do. The macro spacer rings then go between the adapter and the Four Thirds lens.

The rings

These rings cost US$10, including shipment from China, which is very cheap. Upon arrival, I noticed that the quality did appear rather poor, in line with the price. The box is rather anonymous, with a "OM4/3" text and something in Chinese:

In the picture below, they are all screwed together, to give the longest possible extension:

And below, I have unscrewed them into individual components:

From left to right: The ring that goes into the adapter, or into a Four Thirds standard camera, and the first extension ring (1, 7mm), the second extension ring (2, 14mm), the third extension ring (3, 27mm), and finally the ring on which the lens is mounted.

By using these rings in different permutations, extensions of 17mm (just the front and rear ring), 24mm, 31mm, 38mm, 44mm, 58mm and 65mm (all the rings) are possible. The 24mm extension, using only the first extension ring marked with a 1, corresponds pretty much to the Olympus EX-25 Four Thirds extension ring at 25mm.


When using these rings, please note that they have are no electrical contacts at all. This means that the lens is "dead" when mounting it onto the macro extension rings, and you cannot operate the focus or the aperture.

I'm guessing that it is best to first extend the focus of the lens all the way, and then mount it on the extension rings. To do this, you must do a small trick, namely to first manually focus the lens to the minimum focus distance while it is mounted to the camera, and then unmount it without turning off the camera first. That way, you can mount the lens on the extension rings while the focus is already at the closest. Most likely, you'll want to use a smaller aperture than f/2, and again you must do the same trick: Change the aperture and unmount the lens without turning off the camera first. Of course, this process is rather awkward if you are going to experiment with different apertures.

The results

So how do these extension rings affect the close focusing possibility of the ZD50 1:2 macro lens?

First, let's see how close it can focus without any extra extension. Here the lens is mounted to the 4/3 to M4/3 adapter, on the Panasonic GH2 camera:

And the resulting image, at f/8, ISO 160:

24mm extension, 1:1 macro

Using the 24mm extension, corresponding roughly to using the Olympus EX-25 macro extension, the setup looks like this, note that the figure is closer to the front lens element:

With this resulting image, also at f/8 and ISO 160. This corresponds to around 1:1 magnification:

65mm extension, 2:1 macro

Finally, adding all the macro rings for a total of 65mm extension yields this setup:

Note that the figure is now very close to the front lens element. It is not easy to light the figure properly in this position, since the lens casts shadow over the subject. The resulting photo looks like this, at around 2:1 magnification, also written as 2x:


These macro extension rings were cheap, and not very good quality. Further, since they have no electronic contacts, they are very awkward to use. You must stop down the aperture before mounting the lens on the extension rings, which makes focusing harder. Normally, you focus at maximum aperture, and then stop down for taking the picture, which is handled automatically by the camera. But with no communication between the camera and lens, this is no longer possible.

The Olympus EX-25 extension rings allow for changing the aperture, and is probably much easier to use. However, it is also much more expensive.

At full extension, the macro rings allow for roughly 2:1 macro magnification, meaning that you can photograph an object with a diameter of half the diameter of the imaging sensor.

If you want to increase the magnification of a Four Thirds lens, but don't want to shell out the cash for the EX-25 extension ring, I would recommend that you simply crop the center of your images, rather than buy these cheap rings. The rings are not very fun to use, due to the lack of electronic contacts, and the poor quality. Keep in mind that since these rings are for the Four Thirds format, they cannot be used for Micro Four Thirds lenses. They can only be used for Four Thirds lenses.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Olympus 45mm f/1.8 review

The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45mm f/1.8 is a much anticipated lens. When it arrived, it closed one of the major gaps in the Micro Four Thirds lens lineup: The portrait prime lens.


The lens is fairly compact, with a 37mm front lens thread, and is significantly smaller than the other 45mm prime lens, the Panasonic-Leica 45mm f/2.8 1:1 macro lens. They are shown below:

Saturday, 19 November 2011

GH2, ETC mode for macro video

The Panasonic GH2 has a very interesting feature, the ETC, Extra Tele Conversion mode. This is like a digital tele zoom. However, when used with videos, you still get the full resolution, with the centre of the sensor being used. This drawing illustrates the concept:

With this feature, you can record full HD videos with an effective 2.6x tele effect, with 2.6 being the fraction 2800/1080. Using the ETC mode, the Lumix G 100-300mm f/4-5.6 tele zoom lens gets an effective 1560mm maximum tele reach, in 35mm film camera equivalents.

However, this effect can also be used for even more enlargements when using a macro lens. Using the Panasonic Leica Lumix DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8 1:1 macro lens gives you an maximum enlargement of 1:1. Using the ETC mode gives you a maximum of 2.6:1, which is very impressive. Keep in mind, though, that this only makes sense with videos, not with still images.

I have illustrated this effect with a macro video recording of my own eye. The following footage shows the same scene without and with ETC:

It was recorded using the "Manual Movie Mode", 1080p24, f/5.6, 1/25s. To get a sufficient exposure, I used ISO 1600.

As you can see, the depth of focus (DOF) is very thin, and it is difficult to keep my iris in focus. Setting a smaller aperture, e.g., f/8, would help here, but that would require an even higher ISO. And in my experience, there is significantly more noise with ETC mode compared with the ordinary video mode, especially at high ISO.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Focus speed, PL45 vs MZD45

There are two competing 45mm prime lenses in the Micro Four Thirds lineup. The Panasonic Leica 45mm f/2.8 macro lens and the newer Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45mm f/1.8 portrait lens. While one is a macro lens, and the other could be categorized as a portrait prime lens, they can of course be used for a wide variety of other tasks.

I have previously compared the sharpness of the two lenses in various settings. While the comparisons are not always optimal, and could even be a tad bit misleading, I think it is clear that the Panasonic lens is a little bit better in terms of sharpness. This is not really surprising, since a large aperture lens contains more optical compromises, and usually cannot have the very best sharpness. As a general rule, one does not buy a large aperture lens for the optimal sharpness, but for using it wide open or near wide open, in which case sharpness is usually not the main concern.

People generally say that the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45mm f/1.8 features faster focusing. But is it true? The Olympus lens is rated as Movie-Still-Compatible (MSC), which means that the focus speed should be quite good.

I have compared them head-to-head in the same setup. The Panasonic GH2 camera was set up about 60cm from the subject, and I selected centre spot focus. The Olympus lens has a close focus distance of 50cm, and the Panasonic lens has a selectable focus limiter, which cuts off at around 50cm for better focus speed.

When powering on the camera, the lens is focused around infinity. Upon pressing the shutter release button, the camera focuses, and then takes the picture. I measure the time from the camera notes that the shutter release button is pressed, until the camera is ready to expose the image. The first event can be noted by the number of remaining frames being shown in the lower right part of the LCD display, and the latter by the green dot appearing in the upper right corner of the display.

Light background, daylight

Here is the comparison in daylight, the lightning was about EV7.

The focus speeds are rather similar:

PL45, focus delimiter off: 0.32s

PL45, focus delimiter on: 0.32s

MZD45: 0.26s

Dark background, dark room

And another test at EV2, which is very dark:

In this test, the Panasonic-Leica lens focuses faster:

PL45, focus delimiter off: 0.68s

PL45, focus delimiter on: 0.66s

MZD45: 1.12s and 1.08s (two tests)


PL45, limiter off0.32s0.68s
PL45, limiter on0.32s0.66s
MZD450.26s1.08s, 1.12s

As people have been saying, the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45mm f/1.8 lens is indeed faster in terms of autofocus. But only by a small margin. And in dark conditions, to my surprise I found that the Panasonic-Leica 45mm f/2.8 lens focused faster.

This is just some few simple measurement, and in practical use, the experience might be different. During the time I have used both, I have generally found that the autofocus speed is comparable between them for practical, daily use.

Generally, the speed readings here are quite good. I have previously seen that the Panasonic kit zoom lenses achieve focus speeds of around 0.17s to 0.33s under similar conditions. But keep in mind that a much higher degree of focus accuracy is needed for a large aperture lens at f/1.8 than the kit zoom lens at 42mm f/5.6. With this in mind, a speed reading of 0.26s is in fact a very good achievement.

For video use on the Panasonic GH2, it is my opinion so far that the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 is better at keeping the autofocus correct during video capture. With the Panasonic 45mm f/2.8 lens, it generally takes more time before the focus is reached when there is movement in the image frame. But this is just my feeling so far, I haven't examined it in a scientific way.

The Olympus lens also appears to have a more silent autofocus operation.