Monday, October 20, 2014

Long Exposure Photography Fun with Oneplus One Camera

One of the stand-out built in default camera app of the Oneplus One (by Cynogenmod) is the ability to do slow shutter speed, up to 8 seconds long. I have explored the capabilities of the Oneplus One camera and found that it performs admirably well in general shooting conditions (please read here if you have not). In this blog entry, I shall explore the camera further by doing long exposure shooting. The choice of camera app this time was the default camera app, instead of Camera FV-5, because the slow shutter speed in the default app can capture full size 13MP images (while the Camera FV-5 is limited to 2MP, which is actually the direct live view feed from the LCD screen). 

I am going to be honest and start off by saying, in order to do long exposure photography you do need to have some fundamental understanding of photography basics. You need to know how to control shutter speed, aperture and ISO, and you need to know about metering and general available light circumstances. I can share all the settings and steps I took to produce the images shown here but they will not be much of a help if you cannot understand why and how I applied them. Please do read up on photography basics if you intend to pursue any kind of photography further, even if it is just mobile phone photography. 

And yes, I do intend to share my techniques and setup. 

Oneplus One in action, image taken by Olympus PEN E-PL5

Kuala Lumpur City Skyline
4sec, ISO79, F2
Just a brief introduction of long exposure photography before we move on further. Long exposure is a technique in photography used to capture slow shutter speed images (typically half a second shutter speed, or longer). There are many reasons why slow shutter speed is needed and employed, first and foremost, to drag the shutter open for a longer period of time, allowing more light to come into the image sensor, which may be necessary in low light conditions so that sufficient light is gathered to accomplish a well-balanced lit image. The long exposure technique may also allow lower ISO setting to be used, lowering the high ISO noise level. On the other hand, slow shutter speed has been used to add creative spin in photography, capturing motion as well as expressing movement which is intended to be shown. Slowing down the shutter speed allows light trails and motion blur to be captured, as shown in many images here in this blog. A simple example would be moving water: a fast shutter speed freezes the water, while slow shutter speed smoothens the water (if it was very slow, the water becomes all silk and "misty"). 

For any kind of slow shutter photography, a use of tripod is a must. Do not even try to attempt shooting long exposure hand-held. Anything with slow shutter speed, you will need a tripod to steady your camera/phone hence no blur due to shake will happen. I bought an RM12 Clip with tripod mount, and attached that to a cheapo RM15 tripod (since the Oneplus One was so small and light in comparison to a real camera I can do away with smaller and lighter tripod). The total cost was RM27 (about USD8) but these tools allow me to do slow shutter speed shots. 

Even by lightly tapping on the LCD screen of the phone, it was enough shake to destabilize the image, causing blur, which will be noticeable in the final image. In order to prevent this, I enabled the 2 seconds timer. 

I actually did not know until I got this phone that the aperture on most mobile phones (not sure if it is ALL) is fixed at a certain value. For the case of Oneplus One, the aperture is constant F2, with no option to stop down like a normal camera. This poses a huge problem, because in situations when you need longer shutter speed to capture motion effects (light trails, for example). sometimes F2 is too wide and may cause overexposure. Therefore, it is necessary to enable the Auto ISO. The lowest ISO setting allowed by the camera to be set manually was ISO100, but at Auto ISO, the camera metering will detect when lower ISO values are needed, and compensated accordingly, down to ISO20 as observed from this session. I left the ISO to Auto but I do inspect the EXIF data after the images were taken to ensure that the ISO value is as low as possible. 

From the default Cynogenmod Camera App, select "Slow Shutter", and do all the above steps. How long the shutter speed you will need, depends on the particular scene that you shoot. I personally needed to experiment and do some trial and error before deciding the best shutter speed. I have used 1/2 second fastest to 4 seconds slowest. I would have used 8 seconds if the aperture value could be stopped down. 

Train Tunnel
4sec, ISO100, F2

4sec, ISO100, F2

4sec, ISO68, F2

4sec, ISO58, F2

1/2sec, ISO73, F2

2sec, ISO50, F2

2sec, ISO93, F2

How did the Oneplus One camera do with slow shutter speed?

The camera worked well, captured the image efficiently with no hiccup. It was easy to use and setup. As I have mentioned before, you do need some photography basics to know what you are doing and get what you want. 

I wish I can say the same thing about the final image output. I should not be having high expectations, but I do have to be honest with my observations. Usually, long exposure photography, even in a compact camera which I have bought in 2004, uses "Dark Frame Subtraction" technique to combat hot pixels due to the image sensor being exposed for a long period of time, resulting in a lot of "color pixels" similar to ugly color noise. I was surprised to find out that the Oneplus One did not use Dark Frame Subtraction method (if it does, the time to capture an image is doubled, read more here). Consequently the only possible way to get rid of the hot pixels was via software processing, which may have undesirable effects in image output. 

As suspected, scutimizing at the images even at very low ISO settings, they appear smudged and smeared, with almost no traces of fine details, and the edges appear sharp due to artifical sharpening (that also introduced ugly JPEG compression artifacts). The long exposure images do not look pretty at all. I am not sure what the reason was for not including the Dark Frame Subtraction method, which could obviously produce images with much higher fine detail intact and solve the hot pixel noise problem. 

Nevertheless, if you do not intend to use the images for anything serious (you do not want to print them large) and just view the images on social media (Facebook, Instagram, website) with reduced resolution display, such as what you are seeing here in this blog entry, then it should not be an issue. 

The up-side, you still get true slow shutter speed shooting, with total control of the shutter speed from 1/2 second, 1 second, 2 seconds, 4 seconds and 8 seconds, allowing creative options if needed. 

I also must note that the purple fringing can be quite obvious in high contrast areas, and the images has high tendency of highlight clipping, both expected as common issues in all cameras (especially mobile phone cameras). 

I am not sure if the Oneplus One (or any other smartphone cameras) uses Electronic Shutter or Mechanical Shutter. If the Oneplus One uses Mechanical Shutter then there is no excuse why Dark Frame Subtraction method should be used. I have a feeling that the shutter is electronic, thus posing some practical issues (in order for Dark Subtraction Method to work, the sensor needs to be exposed while the shutter is fully closed). 

2sec, ISO48, F2

I admit, the Oneplus One is quite a joy to use. If you are not expecting anything serious in the image ouput, and just use the images for online viewing, I am sure the Oneplus One camera's slow shutter speed images are great. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Shutter Therapy Goes On

It felt like it has been centuries since I last did any street photography. The previous few weeks were occupied with the M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 Pro lens, and I had very specific purpose in mind when I went out to shoot. Obviously the long PRO lens was not a suitable street photography lens, so I decided to shoot other subjects, which worked out well for the lens. This weekend, I finally had some room to breathe, and I am glad I can finally do my shutter therapy, doing my own thing and just shoot whatever comes to me on the street without having "objectives" preoccupying my mind all the time. 

It was a solo photowalk, and I do miss the times when I roamed the streets alone. It is not exactly adviceable to do so in streets of KL, since we do have quite a high crime rate here now. Nonetheless, it was refreshing and just the session I needed to clear my head off the dramas and traumas in life. 

All images were taken with Olympus OM-D E-M5 and M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 or PEN E-PL5 and Panasonic 14mm F2,5

Coffee after shoot. 


Monday, October 13, 2014

Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 Pro Lens Review Extension: MC-14 Teleconverter, Continuous AF with Tracking and Quick Comparison with M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 lens

Important Note:
1. I am an Olympus Malaysia employee. 
2. This is a user experience based review, based on my personal opinion which can be subjective.
3. All images were shot in RAW and converted directly to JPEG (High Quality) via Olympus Viewer 3.
4. General camera settings, Noise Filter = OFF, Contrast/Saturation/sharpness = 0, White Balance = Auto (with an option maintain warm color = OFF), Gradation = Normal
5. Minimal post-processing applied to the images, with slight brightness/contrast balance tweak. All images were almost as good as straight out of camera, with minimal cropping for better presentation.

This blog entry serves as a review extension to my original post M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 Pro Lens review, so if you have not read that first part, kindly do so before proceeding to this extension. The reason why this extension exists is because I did not cover three items in my original blog post: 
Shooting with Olympus MC-14 1.4x teleconverter for M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 Pro lens
Continuous AF with Tracking capability of the lens
and comparison with M.Zuiko 75mmm F1.8 the sharpest M.Zuiko prime lens

I intend to cover all the three items in this blog entry. 

Before we start, let's have a look at how fast the focusing speed of the M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 Pro lens is. I mentioned it was very fast and accurate in my previous review, and I also believe seeing is believing. I have recorded a video of the touch AF (shooting by touching on LCD screen of the OM-D) in action, and you will see how blazingly fast the AF of the lens is. That implementation of new Dual VCM (voice coil motor) mechanism works very well!


Olympus has released a teleconverter MC-14, which multiplies the focal length of the M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 Pro lens by 1.4x, and losing the aperture brightness by one stop, from F2.8 widest to F4. Therefore, with the teleconverter MC-14 attached to the lens, you effectively obtain 56-210mm (in 35mm format, it is 112-420mm), at constant aperture of F4, which is still very respectable for a zoom lens. Obviously the purpose of having the tele-converter is to add that extra far reach, and that 40% longer foal length does make a difference when you do need to get a little closer.  Considering that the main gain is the focal length, it is only prudent to use this converter when the 150mm longest reach is insufficient, because if you intend to shoot mostly within 150mm, without the teleconverter you get brighter F2.8 aperture. 
The MC-14 teleconverter is so small and light that it does not add to any significant weight to the lens. It features a protruding element which inserts right into the rear of the 40-150mm F2.8 pro lens, which has a hollow opening. With this specific design, the teleconverter cannot be used with any other lenses, and is tailor made only for the M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 Pro lens. The MC-14 still maintains the weather-sealing properties of the lens and OM-D body combination.  

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Shoot Model Portrait

Just sharing a few more photographs from my recent model photoshoot with Nicole. Honestly, I did not do much, all the posing were done by Nicole. I was a terrible director, and I just told her to be herself and did not force her to do any of the poses she did. If you think the photographs turned out good, it must be all her. I was merely there snapping away with the OM-D E-M1 and M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO lens. 

My part? Just watch how the light fell on her, and compose. The location was a city/urban street with morning light, and most photographs were taken under shade with soft lighting. 

My inspiration for portrait shooting? Kirk Tuck. Though I know I am miles away from what he can do with his portraiture work, and probably my shots look nothing like the ones he could do, but hey, everyone gotta start somewhere.