Backroads Indiana

The road less traveled is almost always more interesting, especially for photography. And sometimes we're traveling real light, without even a full-on camera, just the iPhone. That's the theme of this story. 

Near Richland

Near Richland

At the very least, driving such routes is usually much slower than the highways, giving us travelers a chance avoid a possibly frenetic pace and may even reflect. At best, for us photographers, we'll have a chance to find some interesting compositions. 

Such was the case on a recent drive from Cincinatti, Ohio to Indianapolis, Indiana. I had the choice of a major interstate highway (72) or a country highway (52) running parallel to the interstate.   I chose the country. 

I think this was near Rushville

I think this was near Rushville

The wide angle view of the iPhone lends itself to the broad, big farm, countryside vistas in the U.S. Midwest. It nicely mimics the sweeping views the human eye perceives, at least my eye.

Near Rushville

Near Rushville

After a while, some of these panoramas begin to look the same. It's at these times, I wish I had my 'real camera', an Olympus OM-D E-M5, with me to better capture the nuanced differences from one scene to another. 

On Rte 46 over the Whitewater River in West Harrison

On Rte 46 over the Whitewater River in West Harrison

But iPhoneography it is for this trip and the idea is to see what interesting scenes the camera phone is able to capture.

Faraway farm Near Arlington

Faraway farm Near Arlington

Color iPhone shots convert nicely to B&W. I like to use Snapseed for post processing and the B&W conversion in this editor gives some pretty good results. 

Near Posey

Near Posey

Try it sometime. Travel with only your mobile phone camera. Use it as a self challenge to see what you can create. You might just be surprised. 



#iPhoneography #B&W #midwest #travel #travelogue #snapseed

Key New Features of Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

Olympus just announced the updated E-M5 and it seems packed with new features.  Let's distill the highlights of the announcement and new spec sheet.

EM-5 Mark II image from

EM-5 Mark II image from

Olympus is strongly headlining the updated stabilization technology - apparently updated even beyond the tech in the E-M1; "The powerful 5-axis VCM image stabilization is even more advanced than ever before." 

With this tech, Olympus is advertising a full 5 shutter speed steps of compensation.  I'm kind of enjoying how they're actually get a little 'chippy' when describing the benefits of in-camera stabilization vs. the in-lens stabilization other vendors offer.  I'm loving this head-to-head competition, which they specifically call out in this press release;  "It powerfully compensates for camera roll, which cannot be corrected with in-lens stabilization..."  

Yes, Olympus includes the perhaps most highly anticipated feature, 40M Hi-Res Mode.   Strangely, it's listed under the 'other' category of their press release.  The press release describes it this way, but actually there's more.

"8 images are captured with 16-megapixel image information while moving the sensor by 0.5 pixel steps between each shot. The data from the 8 shots are then combined to produce a single, super-high resolution image, equivalent to the one captured with a 40-megapixel image sensor. This feature is perfect for capturing fine arts and landscapes, and other scenes where high-resolution photos are required. It maximizes the resolution of Zuiko PRO and Premium lenses, making image quality possible that surpasses that of full-frame DSLR cameras."

What's more?  While the press release advertises 40megapixels, it turns out this is only for JPEGs.  RAW files (Olympus ORFs) are actually captured at 64 megapixels.

The press release devotes the most space to describing new or updated movie capture features, touting "cinema-quality movies in hand-held shooting."  If the image stabilization is as good as claimed, and it's already good on my original EM-5, then it makes sense that it could dramatically improve hand-held movie making.  Imagine riding a bike and filming as you ride or shooting movies from a moving vehicle.  I'll be eager to see some clips from the new EM-5.  Here again, it does seem Olympus is calling out Panasonic, the vendor about which we've heard white a lot in the movie area for the last several years.  Is this an attempt by Oly to one-up Panny's capabilities in the m4/3 movie making arena?

EM-5 Mark II image from

EM-5 Mark II image from

Additional features and improvements --

WiFi is also included in the E-M5 and provides a number of features. It syncs with mobile phones for geo-tagging via the phone GPS, photo sharing and for remote control.  Wireless shooting allows control of both movie and still modes with, what seems to be, a pretty full range of control; shutter speed, aperture, exposure, ISO, white balance, art & scene modes, countdown timer, shutter release and so forth.  One of the best parts of image sharing appears to be the ability to simultaneously sync up to 4 remote devices.  So now when my wife asks to have a copy of the shot, I can simply link her mobile phone to the camera and she'll get a copy of the pic instantly.

For shooting sports or wildlife, sequential shooting in RAW format works 5 fps and is touted to work until the card is full. Olympus claims the number of capture frames won't drop, so apparently they've improved or increased the size of some buffers. 

The shutter is now faster at 1/8000 sec, but it gets even better.  In a node to the silent shooter desires of street photographers, the E-M5 II show offers a silent shutter mode, which apparently turns off all sounds in the camera, yet still shoots as fast as 1/6000s.  An anti-shock mode, which reduces shutter shock, is compatible with both the sequential shooting, and silent modes.

There seem to be no less then 6 customizable function buttons.  I've pretty much customized all of them on my original E-M5, so I'm eager to see this on the new model.  The LCD has been updated as well, with a vary-angle model, allowing the screen to be seen when holding the camera at odd angles, even selfies.

Overall, it looks like Olympus really provides a massive upgrade to the original EM-5.  As a user of that camera, I'll be eager to try this new one.

Below the Ice

Photographing objects within the ice using the E-M5 and Voigtlander - the what, where and how

Photographing what

None of these photos show objects or bubbles on top of the ice, instead all photographic subjects of all pics shown here are several inches below the surface.  The ice itself was clear enough to provide sort of a lens into the subsurface formations, though it also reflected light and was tricky to deal with.

Photographing where

We finally had a couple of nights with temps in the low double digits here in New Hampshire, the thermometer hovering around 10 or 11°F.  Add that to the nights which had already been under 32° and the river has begun to freeze over. 

Horizontal bubbles are pierced by blades of grass growing up from the bed of the river. The small bright circle is not a reflection, but another air bubble a couple of inches  above  the large one.

Horizontal bubbles are pierced by blades of grass growing up from the bed of the river. The small bright circle is not a reflection, but another air bubble a couple of inches above the large one.

This afternoon I walked down to the river and found ice 2 - 3 inches thick. I know, because it froze almost completely clear and I was able to see air bubbles and debris right through the ice by which to judge the thickness. A few inches is plenty thick to support the weight of an adult. The Army Corps of Engineers says just 2" of ice are adequate to support the weight of a person.

The shadow of my camera lens darkens the area around these bubbles a couple inches below the surface. The silhouetted reflection of the camera on a small tripod is visible in the smallest bubble, as are the colors of dusk settling in over the river. 

The shadow of my camera lens darkens the area around these bubbles a couple inches below the surface. The silhouetted reflection of the camera on a small tripod is visible in the smallest bubble, as are the colors of dusk settling in over the river. 

One of the many unique properties of water is that ice becomes exponentially stronger with thickness. For example, if 2" of ice supports a 200 lb. person, 3" doesn't just support a 300 pounder. In fact, The Corps says 3" is enough to hold the weight of a snowmobile and 10" enough for an 8 ton truck. 

A horizontal bubble a couple of inches below the ice surface with vertically rising air bubbles trapped on their journey upwards.

A horizontal bubble a couple of inches below the ice surface with vertically rising air bubbles trapped on their journey upwards.

When I bent down to examine the ice and saw several inches of thickness, I was not worried about falling in. What I did see though was clear, black ice with bubbles and bits of grass and other river debris deeper down.

One common 'scene' was horizontal bubbles which had formed a couple of inches below the surface and vertical bubbles consisting of tiny spiral needles. These spiral bubbles seem to have frozen in time & place as they rose toward the surface and provided an incredible sense of perspective to these mini-scenes.

It pays to look closely, from different angles & perspectives. Unless I had bent down to examine the thickness of the ice, I would have never noticed these formations.  As with all photography, which recommends we get closer to our subject (zoom with your feet), my zooming was done by getting down on my knees to examine the ice closeup.

Photographing how

Since I went down to the river in the late afternoon and the winter light was low, I thought I'd try the Voigtlander with the .95 aperture.  These shots were all taken with that lens on an Olympus OM-D E-M5 in this gloaming light. Sunset was at about 16:15 and the river lies beneath a large embankment, which gives a large area of indirect light.

As with many of us, I use various tripods, depending on the situation.  Two of them are very small travel units with fixed, not telescoping legs. One of those is genuinely tiny - it actually a plastic fold-out unit, small enough to fit in almost any pocket. Given it's light weight, it only supports the E-M5 with a very small lens, such as the Oly 17 or Panny 20.

As you can see in the setup shown here, I used my other small tripod which provides quite a bit of heft & weight and nicely counteracts the weight of the beefy Voigtlander. In fact, even with the weight of this full metal lens, I didn't need any weights on the tripod.

The nice thing about this setup, is how it places the lens perpendicular to the ground / ice and the lens just an inch or so from the surface if the ice itself.  And since the subjects, the air bubbles, were themselves 2 to 3 inches under the surface, this effectively placed the lens 3+ inches away.  I'm impressed the lens was able to focus on subjects so very close; I'll have to check what the closest focus distance is for this lens.

The close placement of the lens to the surface also minimized extraneous light from disturbing the shots and let me easily position the camera over any desired subjects. For some of the shots, I even had to tip the back leg of the tripod up to get the correct angle.

One minor problem was the shadow created by the lens, as it's pretty wide and obstructs quite a bit of light.  This results in a large dark circle over the ice, as seen in the second ice pic in this post.  I've cropped most of the much brighter, area outside of the lends shadow, away.

This was only an issue on some of the shots, depending on lens angle, amount of light in that area of the river, etc...  In fact for some of the shots, since I used the self timer to activate the shutter, my hands were free and I could position myself to completely block the brighter light with my body.  Crude but effective.

Another minor issue was the cold.  Usually when I use the E-M5 in the cold, it's on a strap around my neck and warmly secured underneath  my jacket until I pull it out for a shot.  This was different as the camera was out in the cold for the entire 30 minute shoot.  I did only use a single battery, but the camera registered a flashing red battery icon.  

I did have charged batteries in my pants pocket to keep them as close as possible to my body and hence the warmest possible.  However, I didn't need them, the red flashing battery lasted 30 minutes and that was good enough.


Given the close focusing nature of the Voigtlander, it should be possible to use it for other sorts of close ups and the wide aperture should let in plenty of light, even with the lens physically blocking some of it at close proximity.

I'd like to try these same shots with a macro lens to see if that changes the perspective. Perhaps it's possible to get closer to the formations in the ice with a macro?


Autumn Through the Small Lens

I usually travel with my 'real' camera, an  Olympus OM-D.  Not today. 

I prefer to travel ultra lite, especially on short overnight business trips. Typically I bring my Oly with a small, lightweight lens. Usually this is the sweet little Oly 17. Not quite wide angle, but wide enough to capture enough of a scene for compositional context. ...and the 35mm equivalency of that lens is sort of a classic length anyhow. 


Today I decided to really travel light and forgo the 'real' camera, instead depending on my new iPhone 6. This thing is a really great camera.

 These foggy, early morning, grapevines caught my eye as I passed a vineyard on the way to the airport this morning. Sure, I edited this shot with Snapseed on my first flight. But the image the iPhone 6 captured was good to begin with; it shows nice detail and clarity.

With each new iPhone, I keep saying how much the camera has been improved over the previous model. ...and each time I ended up quitting that camera and moving back to the 'real' one. 

This time might be different. The sheer quality Apple is squeezing out of this tiny little sensor is phenomenal. I'm so  grateful the Apple product team did not succumb to the megapixel race. With the processing and hardware tech around this sensor, the images it produces are better than many real cameras were just a few years ago. 

This encourages me, and I'm sure many others, to use this as a first shooter. In fact on this trip, it's my only one. 

While we're at it, here's another autumn shot from the iPhone, also tuned a little by Snapseed. Look at the rich color and detail. That's not Snapseed making those attributes, merely enhancing them. It's just good image quality from a good camera. 


As you can tell, I'm thrilled with the IQ this produces.

But what do you think? Tried the iPhone 6 yet?