Saturday, October 26, 2013

Cheap awesome camera - the EPL1 with manual lens.

The EPL1 was the first cheap micro four-thirds camera from Olympus. At the time, the sensor wasn't new - It was in the e620 DSLR before it, however it was in a much smaller form factor, and decently priced (~$550). I sold my 25mm Leica for the e620 to buy this camera and the 20mm F1.7. While the 25mm four-thirds Leica was a better lens, the e620 did not focus with it that well. I ended up using CDAF focusing in low light, since while slow, it would still focus when regular PDAF would give up.

What the EPL1 gave me, wasn't just a smaller formfactor - but a camera mount that because of the low flange distance, would be able to adapt nearly any other camera's lenses. As a result I've a stash of canon-fd, Nikon-F, Contax Yashica, Konica and c-mount lenses.

Today, the EPL1 can be found for $100 in decent condition. In addition to being able to take cheap old lenses, it can also project it's flash upwards for a nice soft bounce effect. The result is a cheap camera, capable of using cheap manual lenses, and adding light to a subject through bounce.

This isn't going to be an ISO test - there's too many done. Every major EPL1 review would have done that, so instead, here's how you can get nicely lit pictures with a very cheap camera, using the "free" indirect flash bounce. Note the color, the Exposure, and the details - the lens was used at F2, so pretty wide. The toughest part of using a manual lens, is focusing. Learning to focus is crucial, but not too difficult.

Here's a closeup showing details. You can see the hair's around the horse's eye, the stiches around the zipper and the grain of the wood on the car. Note, the wheel is behind focus, the bumper is in the plane.

Here's how the camera looks with the Canon 50mm F1.4 FD. Looks are subjective, but I think it's pretty decent looking ;)

Here's the spring loaded flash being pulled back. This is all that's needed to bounce the flash off the ceiling and get a nice soft diffused lighting on the subject.

EPL1 - $100 used (keh, ebay)
50mm F1.4 - $50 (keh, ebay)
adapter FD-m43 - $20 (
$170 - make it $200 in case you can't find a good deal on the camera, or need batteries/charger after.

Of course you're also getting fair ISO 1600 capability with F1.4 so it's also decent without the flash, and shoots 720p Video. This camera was used in the Coke commercial "One bottle for all" chosen for it's weight, and "good enough" HD video. Link below.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Going cheap with interchangable lens cameras

We're all spoiled today. These days we want the newest fastest and best - but if you're not using features that make the "best" what it is, then it's possible a better option (your personal 'best') was not taken.

Looking at cameras - and by cameras, I'm referring to interchangeable lens cameras - There's a myriad of options old and new, and quite often we neglect other choices because of brand ignorance, plain ignorance, ageism, and a complete misunderstanding of what the hell our needs are.

First off - buying used cameras will generally give you a better return on your investment. Camera tech isn't jumping by leaps and bounds normally each generation. Also, old higher end stuff is pretty damn robust still.

Lets say you want a camera with great quality, and can take a brutal amount of punishment. most start looking at the pro range, and would focus on the Canon 1DX, or Nikon D4 which are current flagships of the professional DSLR duopoly. Whoa, now we're at $5k-$6k and no lenses yet - slow down! What's the purpose? A Pentax K30 can handle crap weather and take a fair beating, and the Olympus E-5 is a tank that would survive a dunking and their EM5 is also weather resistant. Now granted, their image quality chops to compare against a D4 and 1DX would pale, but I'd imagine saving several thousand dollars is important if the level of image quality they deliver meets your needs. Even then, older cameras may suffice - e.g. 1Ds III.

Lots of people want to take pictures of their kids. What they don't understand is they want the impossible. They'll buy the newest general consumer level DSLR, not invest in any lenses and expect to be called a photographer. I have news for you buddy.
There's almost no point to an Interchangeable lens camera if you don't change from the dinky, dark kit lenses that come standard.

If you're shooting indoors, even F2.8 zooms can be slow. You're going to want to move to primes (generally) if you need speed. Olympus SLR users have had some F2.0 zooms available to them (which still won be fast enough for the weak old 12MP sensor they're stuck with at the moment) and Sigma just released the a-bomb of lenses, a F1.8 zoom for APS-C. For the most part though, going with cheap primes can get you better quality photos, cost less and be lighter. It may require you moving around and adjusting your position more, but there's a bit of truth to the statement that primes make you think about your composition more.

If you're indoors, you should be using a flash. $60 can get you a Yongnuo yn-560 ii manual flash. That's a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a higher end camera and lenses. Also the bright burst of light is far more likely to give you a sharp freeze of the kid you're trying to shoot. Manual flash settings of the Yongnuo means you select the power manually - but this is a good thing as well. the consistent output leads to the same brightness of pictures. Bouncing the flash off a wall or ceiling with give wonderful soft lighting.

So how cheap can we get here? has a Canon T1i (15mp) body for $275. It's not new, but that sensor is still decent. A Nikon D90 can be had for about $400 and will deliver better high iso and is also rather sturdy. For lenses, the canon nifty 50 - the 50mm F1.8 can be bought (used) for under $100. That's about as good as it gets for lens deals. For crop sensors, team it with the 28mm F1.8 (~$350 used). Add the $60 flash, and you've spent $785, have two lenses delivering decent quality, better depth of field control than the F2.8 zoom guys, and much much better low light shots.

Ok, how cheap can we go for a fair indoor studio-ish looking pictures setup? REALLY...
- $110 : used epl1
- $50 : 50mm f1.4 (FD, F, M42 mount - manual focus)
- $20 : adapter for above lens
- $40 : Neewer 560 (Yongnuo ODM?)
- $120 : C22525KP - pentax 25mm f1.4 C mount
- $20 : adapter for the c mount

The 50 becomes an effective 100mm lens in this, setup. The 25mm a 50, and a poor one - but use it for it's character. Total spent $360. If all you're doing is portraits, you can just with with the 50mm (100mm effective) and that's just $220 for the setup.

Cheap wide lens for Micro fourthirds cameras would be the kit lens (14-42mm) + wide angle adapter (WCON-P01). I had the kit lens, and got a used adapter for $60. It generally sells for $100, but look for used or combo deals. First hit on ebay right now is a kit lens with this wide angle adapter and a macro adapter for $130. Getting this instead of the 25mm lens above would have you spending $330.

While the epl1 sensor is weak, and past ISO800 can lead to noise, it is workable. It responds very well to flash input and can produce gorgeous pictures.

My favorite bargain is the old 5D classic. it's $500-$600 used, built like a tank, and full frame. You will be able to swap out the focusing screen to better use manual focus lenses, and since it's full frame, it will give amazing depth of field. It's usable all the way up to ISO 3200, though it's better to stick to 1600 and under.

I bought a 55mm F1.2 FD lens and replaced the back with an ED Mika brass adapter to let me mount it. Because the mirror will hit the lens on swinging up, I had to grind down the mirror a bit on the 5d. My favorite pics have been taken with this camera. Of note is I get sharper pics with the micro four thirds when I'm shooting wide open, but saving (i.e. fixing) poorly exposed pictures from the 5d is much easier. The sensor just has way more headroom than my EP3.

More to come later - sample pics and doctoring lenses...

Option 1 : EPL1 + manual 50mm