Size Comparison: Olympus OM-D E-M5 vs. Canon 5D Mark II

My last several posts, except for the CowParade Austin cows, have shown photographs that I have taken with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera that I acquired in late May, right before Barb and I went to Ruidoso, NM for a week vacation.

This past Saturday morning I went to the Austin Shutterbug Club workshop on macro photography, and we were told to bring a camera, tripod, flash, and a macro lens (if you had one). I decided to bring my new little Olympus system with me.

Right before the workshop was to start, one of the other members, Jane, walked over and asked me if that was the Olympus camera that I had written about in my blog. I said well yes it was, and I took the camera off of my tripod and handed it to her to look at.

Jane had previously commented on Facebook how sharp the images from this camera had been, and she asked about that. I said that the amount of sharpening that I had done in post processing was basically just the default amount that Adobe Lightroom gives to this camera model.

Other than the sharpening, Jane was completely taken by surprise by the size of this camera. It was much, much smaller than she had anticipated, and I believe that she said “but it’s so small” at least three times during our brief conversation.

That’s when it hit me that most Nikon and Canon DSLR shooters hadn’t yet realized what these new mirrorless interchangeble cameras were all about. I know that I personally hadn’t given them even a glancing look before I had read Kirk Tuck’s blog about a year ago, when he made me aware of the Olympus PEN cameras, but he also stressed that the Electronic View Finder (EVF) was a big part of the “magic” that these cameras provided.

I have been firmly entrenched in the Canon 5D system for 6 years now (first the 5D, then the 5D Mark II). I have slowly acquired a collection of 8 lenses, 5 Speedlites, and all sorts of other accessories that go along with it. I have always liked these full-frame cameras in every respect, except for when Barb and I travel on vacation. Taking the camera, just a couple of lenses, and a tripod was still a significant amount of gear to pack and haul around.

In an effort to “lighten up”, I bought a Canon PowerShot G11 in the spring of 2010, and was going to see how well it could deliver on a vacation to Niagara Falls. Unfortunately, that camera never made it to Niagara Falls. It was stolen at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Good thing that I had also brought my Canon 5D Mark II, three zoom lenses, and my tripod.

We later went to a friend’s 50th birthday party in Las Vegas in November 2010, and I knew that the casinos wouldn’t allow a big DSLR inside (even if I promised that I wasn’t going to take any photos), so I went without any camera at all. I saw so many fascinating photographic subjects while I was there that I vowed never to leave town without a camera again. When I got home, I ordered a replacement for the stolen camera; a Canon PowerShot G12.

I never have liked that camera. I don’t really know why. There are several reasons, but they all seem to distill down to the fact that it is inferior in every respect to the 5D Mark II. I used it only when I went somewhere that I didn’t think a big DSLR would be allowed (like on the tour of the Monrcrief-Neuhaus  Athletic Center).

Anyway, I finally solved my travel camera problem this past May, when I bought my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, four lenses, an external flash, and a small Gitzo GT1542T Traveller tripod.

Now here’s the big surprise – to me, anyway. This little camera system has quickly become my camera of choice. It’s because of the size and weight. The Canon 5D Mark II takes a slightly better photo, but you could never tell that by the size (resolution) of the photos that I post here on the web.

I do still use the Canon 5D Mark II for all of my commercial work. (But admittedly that is only about once a month). But for everything else, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is “good enough” in image quality at 16 Megapixels. It is smaller, lighter weight, and quite frankly, more fun to use.

Now I have deviated somewhat from my original purpose of writing this blog post. Like Jane, and myself until recently, I don’t think a lot of “serious amateur” photographers, fully realize what’s going on with these physically small, mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras popping up everywhere.

I am not going to try to convince anyone of anything in this post, but I do want to clearly show the difference in size between a full-frame DSLR camera and lenses to a “functionally equivalent” mirrorless interchangebale lens camera, specifically my Olympus OM-D E-M5.

Before anyone leaves flaming comments, yes I realize the DSLR can produce a higher resolution photo – but not by a huge margin. And yes, the full-frame Canon can produce a shallower depth-of-field at the same aperture setting. But if you’ve looked at the photos in my previous blog posts, you will clearly see that the Olympus can easily blur the background due to depth-of-field.

Other than that, the lens comparisons that I will show are indeed very, very close to each other. All that I am trying to show is the difference in the physical size, and you can infer the weight difference.

I have already written way too many words about this! Here are a few more photos that show the difference in size between the camera bodies themselves.

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

Note that in the next photo that I placed the Olympus slightly in front of the Canon, which make it appear larger, due to the perspective of the lens on the camera taking this photo.

In the next photo you can see the buttons on the back of the camera. Many reviewers on the internet feel that they are too small and too close together. I don’t feel that way at all. It is a bit awkward to get my thumb to hit the Play button, to the left of the Fn1 button, but I don’t need to press it very often. I do think that the buttons have a squishy or spongy feel, that I am not crazy about, but I do not have any trouble using any of them.

You can see just how much thinner the little Olympus is.

And here’s a nice feature that the Olympus has over the Canon – the OLED screen on the back tilts up about 75 degrees, as shown here, and it can also be tilted 45 degrees downward (handy when you want to hold the camera way above your head to shoot over the crowd).

In the next photo, I show the two “kit lenses”. For all practical purposes, they give me equivalent results. The Olympus lens is a 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3, which is equivalent to a 24-100mm f/3.5-6.3 on a full-frame camera. The Canon lens is a 24-105mm f/4.0, and of course I use it on a full-frame 5D Mark II. The Olympus has a wider aperture when the lens is zoomed to wide-angle, but it has a smaller aperture (f/6.3) when zoomed out to 50mm. I prefer the Canon’s constant aperture, but have always wished it were f/2.8 instead of f/4.0 – but to do that, the lens would have an even larger diameter!

And here you can see the difference in length and diameter between these two functionally equivalent lenses.

Here are the same two lenses mounted onto the cameras.

Remember that the object in front will appear larger than the object behind it in the photo.

And finally, here they are as I normally would use them: complete with lens hoods, and plates attached to the cameras for mounting them on tripods. The Canon has an L-plate, so that I can mount it in either landscape or portrait orientation without having to reposition my tripod ball head. The Olympus just has a base plate that runs the entire length of the camera. I like the ones made by a company named Really Right Stuff.

Here are a couple of prime (non-zoom) wide-angle lenses. The Canon lens is a 24mm f/1.4, while the Olympus is a 12mm f/2.0 (which is 24mm equivalent on full-frame).

Here I just stand them up, with the camera mount end facing up.

Put on the lens hoods, and mount them on the cameras.

By the way, here is my Behind the Scenes (BTS) photo. I used the Olympus with the 12-50mm lens to take this photo of the Canon G12 camera that I used to take all of the other photos in this post. I was using all natural light coming in from a large window to my right. I did use the G12 in Manual mode, and used my Sekonic light meter to tell me what to set the aperture, shutter, and ISO to on the little G12. I still had to add +1 stop of exposure to ALL of the photos in Lightroom for this post. Just another reason why that G12 and I don’t get along very well…

Now here are a couple of “identical” lenses. The Canon is a 50mm f/1.4, while the Panasonic is a 25mm f/1.4 (which is exactly equivalent). Yes, the Panasonic and Olympus Micro-Four Thirds lenses are completely interchangeable between their cameras. Both of these lenses are very sharp and produce excellent photos. Canon does have a 50mm f/1.2 lens, but it costs a fortune, and this one leaves nothing for me to desire!

Here they are with lens hoods and mounted on the camera bodies.

Now if I have ever taken your portrait, there is a very good chance that I used the lens on the left in this next photo. It is the Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens. On the right is the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens (which is equivalent to 90mm f/1.8). Like the previous two lenses, these lenses are extremely sharp and give great results!

Here they are mounted to the cameras. Note that I have removed the Really Right Stuff plates from the two cameras.

Let’s add the lens hoods.

Speaking of lens hoods, this is an area where Canon is definitely better than either Olympus or Panasonic. The Canon lens hoods are much deeper, so they function better. The Canon lens hoods can all be “reverse mounted” (turned around), while none of the Olympus or Panasonic lens hoods can do that. This makes them much easier to store in your camera bag. Finally, Canon provides the lens hood with the L-series of lenses (those with the red ring around them near the end), but even on the non-L lenses they are not terrible expensive. Panasonic did include the lens hood with the 25mm f/1.4 lens. But Olympus doesn’t include a lens hood with any of the 3 lenses of theirs that I have, and they are very expensive. On top of that, I ordered two of my lens hoods directly from Olympus, and they took 9 weeks to deliver them to me.

While I had those two lens hoods, that could keep the camera supported upright, I added the external flash units to both cameras.

Neither of these two cameras have a built-in pop-up flash, although the Olympus does come with a very weak removable “pop-up equivalent”. The Canon 580 EX II flash unit is significantly more powerful, in terms of the amount of light that it can produce, over the Olympus FL-600R flash unit. In all other respects, they both seem to have pretty much the same amount of functionality and features.

In the next photo, I show the macro lenses that I have. The Canon is a 100mm f/2.8, while the Olympus is the same 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 that I showed earlier. Huh? What’s up with that?

Well, the Olympus lens also includes a very ingenious mechanism, where you push the button on the side of the lens, and then slide the zoom ring forward until it “clicks”. That puts it into a 43mm macro (86mm equivalent). The Canon is capable of capturing a life size, 1x magnification image, while the Olympus only states that it can then focus down to 0.66 foot (7.92 inches, or 20.1 cm), and does not state its maximum magnification capability.

I thought it interesting that the Canon 100mm macro lens seemed to be about equal in three dimensional volume as the Olympus lens WITH the camera attached.

And here are both macro lenses, with lens hoods and cameras attached.

Here are 6 of the 9 lenses that I have shown earlier (I forgot to include the 45mm Olympus and the 85mm Canon – I never intended to put the Canon 100 macro in). The Micro-Four Thirds lenses are in the front, while the Canon EF lenses are in the back.

It is pretty easy to see that when you drop in 3 or 4 lenses into a camera bag, and carry it around on your shoulder for several hours, the difference in weight quickly becomes significant. It forces you to pare down the full size lenses, while there is very little penalty to “bring the whole set” of the Micro-Four Thirds lenses…

And also worth noting is that I usually also carry a tripod when I go out shooting. Now that I have a smaller, lighter camera, with lighter lenses, I can use a much lighter tripod too!

Here the Canon 5D Mark II, with 24-105mm f/4.0 lens is perched atop a Gitzo G1327 Studex carbon fiber tripod, with a Really Right Stuff BH-55 ball head with B2-AS II lever release clamp holding the B5D2-L plate screwed into the base of the camera.

The Olympus OM-D E-M5, with 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens is perched atop a Gitzo GT1542T Series 1 carbon fiber tripod, with a Really Right Stuff BH-30 ball head with LR clamp holding the BOEM5 plate screwed into the base of the camera.

This little Gitzo GT1542T tripod is sturdy enough to comfortably hold the Canon camera and lens, it folds up to only 16.7 inches (42.4 cm), and only weighs 2.2 lb (1 kg). Now THAT will easily fit into my suitcase.

So it took me a few years to come up with my “travel camera system”, but as you can see, I finally found something that I am very happy with!

Thank you for reading my blog.

Macro Photography of My Neighbor’s Flowers

Last Saturday morning, August 18, 2012, before I had finished typing in my way-too-long part 3 post about my first photo walk in downtown Austin, I went out and took some more photos. I went for my usual Saturday morning walk around my neighborhood, and brought my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera with me.

The weatherman was predicting “a very good chance for rain showers”, and when they say anything that bold in Austin in August, you will take notice, as we rarely get any worthwhile rain in Austin during the month of August. There were a thin veil of clouds, but they didn’t look like rain clouds yet, so I put on my weatherproof 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens with circular polarizer, and headed out about 9:15 AM.

The photo above, and the photo directly below are of some strange (to me), yet beautiful flowered plants that are in the front shrub bed right outside of our front door.

I put on the circular polarizer mainly to cut down on glare, if it did happen to shower. It would also decrease the amount of light coming through the lens, so it would force me to use a more wide open aperture. This 12-50mm lens doesn’t have a very wide open aperture, and you will never hear or read about anyone praising the “beautiful bokeh” that this lens can produce. (Bokeh is the “blurriness” of the out-of-focus areas behind the main subject in the photo.)

I got more than I bargained for. The first 3 photos that I’ve already shown had a shutter speed of 1/60 of a second or slower. It was also somewhat windy. Flowers wagging in the wind and slow shutter speeds don’t work together to make sharp photos. When I put the lens into macro mode to photograph a flower moving around, I always took at least 3 photos, and would later decide which one of the three was the sharpest when I was post processing them on my computer. Some of the flowers at the end of this post I took 6 or 7 photos – hoping to get one good one out of the bunch.

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

Now when I left the house, I had the intention of shooting anything with a pattern or color that would catch my intention. I did take several photos of the usual neighborhood stuff: cars, a U-Haul trailer, yard decorations, playground equipment, street signs, fire hydrants, trees, cactus, and of course, flowers.

It wasn’t until I post processed the RAW files on my computer this evening that I realized just how many macro photos that I had taken of flowers, and I decided to put together this post where all of the photos are macro photos of flowers.

The 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens is very easy to put into the macro mode, but when you do, the focal length is fixed at 43mm, which is equivalent to 86mm on a full-frame camera. Every photo in this post was taken with the lens in macro mode, and the largest aperture opening in ANY of these photos is f/6.0. The aperture of this next photo was f/8.0.

When shooting macro photography, and focusing on very close objects, there isn’t much depth of field in the photograph. To attempt to get the maximum amount of front-to-back in focus, the photographer will use a small aperture (high f-stop number). That causes the shutter to stay open longer to get an equivalent exposure. That’s not a problem if the camera is on a tripod.

The photo above is the blossom on a prickly-pear cactus.

Now, I was not set-up to do it “correctly”.  I was handholding my camera, as I didn’t bring a tripod on this walk. I couldn’t keep the shutter open very long without causing motion blur in the photo. Besides, the flowers were swaying around in the wind, and that alone doesn’t allow for slow shutter speeds. Faster shutter speeds make the aperture open up wider, and this lens doesn’t open up wide.

Also, I had put on a circular polarizer onto the front of my lens. That cuts down the amount of light coming into the lens by about 1 and 1/3 stops, which again makes the shutter to stay open longer and/or the aperture to be opened up wider.

So, I pretty much had a “dark” lens opened up about as wide as its aperture could open, the shutter speed was still pretty slow (for most of these photos), I was hand-holding the camera, and the flowers were wagging around in the wind.

The photo above was taken when I was on a sidewalk on a high ledge and I could see over the wooden fence around someone’s yard. The blue behind the flower in that photo is their swimming pool.

What I did have working in my favor is the excellent in-body image stabilization of this Olympus camera. In addition, the size of the sensor is much smaller than a full-frame camera, so at the same aperture settings, this little camera will produce a deeper depth-of-field than a full-frame camera such as my Canon 5D Mark II.

It never did rain on me. I never even felt a sprinkle. But less than an hour after I got back to our house, it did start to rain. We got a little more than 0.75” (2cm) in about 2 hours. It rained again that night, as we had a total of 1.25” in less than 12 hours. Very unusual, and very welcome. I’m sure that all of these flowers enjoyed every single drop that came their way!

My First Photo Walk in Downtown Austin – Part 3

This is the 3rd and final portion of my story of my first time to visit downtown Austin, with my camera, with the intention of simply walking around and taking photos of whatever seemed to catch my eye.  I had no agenda, no time requirement, and no plan.

I was walking with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, my four lenses, and a flash in my little Domke camera bag, but I had left my small Gitzo GT1542T Traveller tripod back at the car. In parts 1 and 2, I had used the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 zoom lens with a circular polarizer.

You can find Part 1 here, and you can find Part 2 here.

At the end of Part 2, I was on Lamar Blvd. at Whole Foods Market and I had just sat down to change my lens.

Here is the map for the route back to my car at Willie Nelson Blvd. (East 2nd Street) and San Jacinto near the Austin Convention Center.

I had 12mm, 25mm, and 45mm prime lenses in my bag (24mm, 50mm, and 90mm equivalents on a full-frame camera). Based upon my experiences over the previous 75 minutes, I thought the 12mm would be too wide-angle for the majority of the shots. I also knew that I would be walking towards the east, into the morning sun, and I was probably going to encounter lots of backlit subjects. I thought that I would not be shooting as many buildings, but rather architectural features (portions) of buildings and try not to include the sky in the frame, so I opted for the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens.

Here is the top of the 41-story Spring Condos , which was 2 and a half blocks away.

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

At the corner of Lamar Blvd. and West 5th, sits this old Chevrolet farm truck and the Whole Foods Market signage. I had backed up as far as I could without going over the curb and into this very busy intersection.

I would have liked to include more of the truck and its surroundings, but I was not going to risk going out into the traffic, and this 45mm lens does not zoom.

A block east of Lamar, on the south side of 5th Street is the 29-story Monarch Apartments.

I exposed for the building, and let the sky overexpose, which I somewhat corrected later when I postprocessed the RAW file in Lightroom (using the Adjustment Brush with -0.66 Exposure and +50 Saturation on the sky).

I walked about a half block before coming up on this sheltered bus stop. I set my little Domke camera bag on the bench, next to an empty Coke bottle (where in the heck to you even buy Coke in a bottle anymore? – I assumed Whole Foods Market). My intention was to get a photo of the artwork on the wall that also had some “lovely” graffiti on it.

Once again, I couldn’t seem to get everything into the frame, and I really didn’t want to back into the busy street traffic. I never could get any angle that would have the reflection go away from the front of the artwork.

I decided right then and there that the 45mm lens wasn’t helping me to get the photos that I wanted to get. It was simply too much telephoto for me right now. I changed to the Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens, and then went back to the exact same spot where I had taken the photo of the Monarch Apartments with the 45mm lens, and took this photo.

It definitely included much more into the frame. I wasn’t certain that I liked this better yet or not, but I was going to work with it for a while.

Here’s a photo of the back side of the Whole Foods Market headquarters office building.

Moving east on West 5th Street, just before the bridge over Shoal Creek, these wildflowers were growing where the street crews had not mowed. I set the aperture to f/1.8, which was almost as open as this lens can get, just to see how the shallow depth-of-field would look.

Just past West Ave, this “Old and New” caught my eye.

That is the 360 Building, located between 3rd and 4th Streets, towering over the old-style building on 5th Street.

Walking past Rio Grande and Nueces, and looking back over my right shoulder I saw this interesting view of the 360 Building.

In the next block, across from the U.S. Post Office, in the Republic Square Park, the Farmers Market that I told about in Part 1 of this too-long story was in full swing, and it appeared that they had a very good turn-out of customers. It looked like it would be more difficult to photograph now than when I had walked through there just 50 minutes ago. Note to self: get there when they open at 9:00 AM for the best light, and the fewest people.

Nearing Guadalupe Street, I came upon this view of the Frost Bank Tower, that seemed to have the reflection of another building in it, near its base.

Also note the lack of people on the sidewalks. This had pretty much been the case my entire walk, except in the Farmers Market and near the front of Whole Foods Market. I never really encountered any people at all. Maybe this town parties late into the night, and doesn’t get out and about until noon on the next day?

At the corner of 5th and Guadalupe, this caught my eye. I’m not sure why, but for some reason I like this photo.

Lavaca is the name of the next street after Guadalupe, and that building occupied the entire block along 5th Street.

Before coming to Lavaca, looking across 5th Street, I thought this view of the 56-story Austonian towering over Rebels Honky Tonk might make a nice “old and new” photo.

On the southeast corner of West 5th Street and Lavaca sits Antone’s, which is a famous blues club here in Austin.

Here’s a view of The Austonian from Colorado and 5th Street.

I was approaching Congress Avenue, and the Frost Bank Tower sits between 4th and 5th Streets on the west side of Congress Avenue.

The sun was shining on the other side of the building, so I thought that I would walk over there and see how it would look from that side. To get there, I had to cross Congress Avenue. Half way across, I stopped for just a couple of seconds and took this snapshot of the Texas State Capitol Building, which was 7 blocks north of me. (Remember that I had the 25 mm lens on.)

On the southeast corner of 5th and Congress, at the base of the Frost Bank Tower is the Mexic-Arte Museum.

Along 5th Street, they have this painted on the side of their building.

Just a little bit east of that painting, was this “til death do us part”.

With all of the white wall in the scene, I did add +2/3 stop of exposure compensation to the exposure. The electronic view finder on the mirrorless Olympus camera makes it very easy to “pre-chimp” a settings change like that. I’m still not sure what to think about lipstick on a skull…

Looking up, here’s a view of the northeast corner of the Frost Bank Tower. It looked much better on the sunny side of the building.

Another half block east on 5th Street, between Brazos Street and San Jacinto Blvd, I walked into the Bank of America parking lot, very near the drive-through tellers, and took this photo (also shown as the first photo in this posting).

That’s the 56-story Austonian on the left. It is 683 feet (208 m) tall, and is located on the other side (west) of Congress Avenue, and north of Willie Nelson Blvd (2nd Street). In comparison, the Frost Bank Tower 515 feet (157 m) tall with 33 floors.

OK, so I had satisfied my curiosity of what the Frost Bank Tower would look like on the sunny side, so it was time to head south of San Jacinto Blvd, and back to the CR-V.

Just north of 4th Street, I passed by this threaded stud protruding out of a brick wall. After 10 steps or so, I stopped, turned around, and went back to it.

Just to make it somewhat interesting, I opened the aperture all the way to f/1.4 to get the shallowest depth of field that I could with this lens.

At 4th Street, I looked to the southeast, and took this photo. I’m not sure if they are businesses or residences.

There is a new building being constructed on the east side of San Jacinto Blvd, between 3rd and 4th Streets. I do not know what the building will be when it is finished.

Looking back over my right shoulder, this caught my eye.

Just a bit more south along San Jacinto Blvd, I snapped this “two in one” kind of photo (left and right).

At the corner of 3rd Street and San Jacinto Blvd, I stopped next to a group of construction workers who decided that they needed to all stop talking and watch me. I figured I had better do something to justify carrying this camera and camera bag, so I simply looked up, snapped this photo, and proceeded to walk away from them.

On the south side of 3rd street, I thought this looked kind of cool, with the base of the crane in front of The Austonian.

Half way between 3rd and 2nd Streets, on the east side of San Jacinto Blvd. was this big succulent plant with some pretty flowers beneath it. Even though it was all in direct sunlight, which is usually the worst light for flowers, I thought I’d at least try to see if I could get a decent photo of it.

These flowers were in the parking lot on the north side of P.F. Chang’s restaurant.

The Honda CR-V was parked around the opposite side of P. F. Chang’s on Willie Nelson Blvd (2ns Street).  But before I went to the car, I took this final “architectural” shot looking east on Willie Nelson Blvd, just so I could later compare the differences in the lighting from when I had started my walk 2 hours and 15 minutes earlier.

And finall, my trusty Honda CR-V.

So what did I learn from my first experience of a downtown photo walk?

1. That walking towards buildings, with the sun to your back yields a higher percentage of nice photographs.

2. There are very few people on the streets in the downtown Austin area on a Saturday morning.

3. The 45mm lens (90 mm equivalent) had too much telephoto reach for me to deal with on this initial excursion.

4. While this walk took considerably longer than my normal Saturday morning walk, I would say that the perceived amount of exercise was much less. I did so much starting and stopping, hovering around looking for the best angle to photograph from, that I never felt like I got my heart rate and breathing up to an aerobic level.

5. That it takes 3 times as long to write about a photo walk than it takes to do a photo walk.

I can easily see myself returning multiple more times to downtown Austin to wander around with my camera. I’ll probably zig-zag around, making an effort to walk a different route each time. I highly doubt that I will write about any of those future walks to the level that I documented this one.

For anyone who actually read all of the words that I wrote, I thank you for doing so, and I ask that you write a quick comment letting me know what you think I could do better (including my photography).

I promise that I will never, ever make another post this long again.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

My First Photo Walk in Downtown Austin – Part 2

This is the continuation of my story of my first time to visit downtown Austin, with my camera, with the intention of simply walking around and taking photos of whatever seemed to catch my eye.  I had no agenda, no time requirement, and no plan.

I was walking with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, my four lenses, and a flash in my little Domke camera bag, but I had left my small Gitzo Traveller tripod back at the car. I had the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 zoom lens with a circular polarizer on. This was my first time at this game, and I wanted the versatility that the zoom lens would offer.

During Part 1 of my story, which you can read here, I had travelled the route shown here:

I had just made it through the Farmers Market in the park between 4th and 5th streets, just west of Guadalupe, and was heading toward the corner of San Antonio and West 6th Street. This entire post is only going to take me west on 6th Street to Lamar Blvd., as shown on this map:

It was still before 9:00 AM, but the sun had been up for 2 and ½ hours already. The summer haziness in the air was still keeping a “warm glow” to the morning sunlight – but I knew that would quickly end.

Now moving west, I had the sun coming up from behind me. Just a half a block east of San Antonio St, I passed  the Austin Wine Merchant store.

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

Across the street, looking to the south, you can see the 44 story 360 Building with the 360 Condominiums.

At the next corner, which is Nueces Street, sits the Star Bar.

While standing in the exact same location, I turned around to look back toward the buildings that I had walked beneath earlier (in Part 1). That’s the 56 story Austonian on the left.

Moving just 100 feet or so west past Nueces St, and looking toward the southwest, I zoomed my 12-50mm lens all the way out to 50mm (100mm equivalent on a full-frame camera) to compress this view of the 29 story tall Monarch Apartments above Walton’s and The Hoffbrau steak house.

The next intersection would be Rio Grande Street, on the northeast corner, sits Katz’s Deli, whose slogan is Katz’s Never Kloses. The only problem is that they went out of business a couple of years ago! That’s too bad, as it was a very popular place to go after the bars on East 6th Street had closed. I believe a lot of people got sober enough to drive home after eating some great New York style deli food at 3:00 AM.

From that same intersection, I crossed 6th Street to walk on the south side of the street, and as soon as I got across the street, I saw this unusual scene.

That is the Monarch Apartment building towering over Gatti’s Pizza. I wanted to get the tennis shoes in the previous photo, but I liked the composition of the next photo much more, so here it is, too.

Now, just behind Gatti’s Pizza on 6th Street, I came upon this faded set of stairs, complete with graffiti, a ripped poster, and littered with plastic drinking bottles. I intentionally put my shadow right where you see it in this next photo.

No, that’s not a cowboy hat. It’s an Australian Barmah Canvas Drover hat, which I bought from a street vendor at The Pecan Street Festival way back in May of 2007. It has served me very well, and I could tell lots of photography-related stories about that hat, but not in this blog post!

Standing in virtually the very same spot, I simply turned around to see this magnificent little mural on a concrete wall that is only about 6 feet tall (2m).

I don’t believe that I had ever seen that piece of art before, simply because the traffic on 6th Street is one-way going west, and you have to look to the east to see it.

Just a half a block ahead is West Avenue, and one lot south of 6th Street on West Avenue is Frank & Angie’s Pizzeria. I’ve never eaten there, but I liked the way the still early sunlight was illuminating the colorful sign, and the shadows of the non-lit neon tubes.

Back onto 6th Street, a half block ahead, just before Shoal Creek is the historic Hut’s Hamburgers. I’ve heard about this place for decades, but I’ve never been there….  and probably won’t for quite some time, given that Barb and I rarely eat red meat anymore.

It was now 9:00 AM. Every photo in this post so far had been taken in 11 and ½ minutes (and I had been walking for exactly one hour now). I am not bringing this up to impress anyone, other than to reveal just how much there is to see in this crazy town in just 3 and ½ blocks on one street – and not even in the heart of the city. I have shown 12 of the 24 photos that I had taken in that brief time, and 17 of them are worth keeping.

It is worth mentioning right here that this is not “art photography”. At least I don’t consider it that. If I was attempting to create art, I would not be buzzing about like a bee, jumping from one flower to the next in rapid succession. The vast majority of the time, I use a sturdy, bulky tripod when I photograph. I use it not just to keep the camera rock steady, but by using it, it forces me to slow down and be much more deliberate in my approach. This handheld flitting-about was something relatively new to me, but I was having a very fun time doing it!

Even though I wasn’t thinking of “creating art”, I was trying to create somewhat pleasing compositions, and proper exposures. My real goal was just to get a feel for what it’s like to shoot in an urban setting, and get to know the lay of the land. I was definitely a tourist in my own town!

Just past Shoal Creek and the next intersection, which is Wood Street, is GSD&M. This is a local Advertising and Marketing firm which is known internationally.

Checking out the GSD&M web site reveals a very impressive array of clients!

And here’s their front entrance.

Directly across 6th Street from GSD&M, on the south side of the street is the world headquarters of Whole Food Market.

Whole Food Market occupies and entire city block, bounded between 5th and 6th streets, Bowie Street on the east, and Lamar Blvd on the west.

Barb and I have only bought our weekly groceries here one time. It was quite an experience! We came on a Saturday morning, and parked under ground in their parking lot. It was very enjoyable, and the food is great, but this is a 25 minute drive from our house, and there is another one of their stores up in “our neck of the woods” in northwest Austin. Even so, we only shop there for very special occasions, like when we have a dinner party.

Walking a half block west, toward Lamar Blvd, I came to these stairs which take you up to the front surface parking lot. I thought the ironwork was interesting, so I tried to make an interesting composition that included it.

And just before 6th Street and Lamar Blvd, at the northwest corner of the entire block that Whole Foods Market sits on, there was this beautiful Pride of Barbados plant (thanks Diane!). Even though it was in direct sun, and I knew that would “wash out” some of the color of its very vivid flowers, I still thought it was worth photographing.

Across the street is one of Barb’s favorite stores, although she rarely makes it to this downtown location. (For the very same reason why we don’t come to this Whole Foods Market.)

Standing at the corner of 6th and Lamar, and looking northwest, there are two other businesses that are iconic to Austin: Waterloo Records and Amy’s Ice Cream.

Yes, we have an honest-to-god record store here in Austin, although I’m sure that they sell many more CDs than they do vinyl records. Everyone who lives in Austin has heard of Amy’s Ice Cream, and it is very highly regarded by all proper citizens. 🙂

Walking about 50 feet south on Lamar Blvd, and looking to the southeast, you get a very nice view of the 41 story Spring Condos building. It’s nice to see the construction cranes rising into the Austin sky again.

This was as far from my car as I knew that I was going to get. I had been walking for only 1 hour and 10 minutes. I had been using the same 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens, with a circular polarizer, for the entire walk so far. I had been carrying my small bag with 3 other lenses in it, and there was a reason that I had brought them with me. So it was here that I sat on a little bench and put on a different lens.

To be continued…

My First Photo Walk in Downtown Austin – Part 1

I thought that things were supposed to slow down during the summer months. That’s definitely not the case for me. Things at work have really gotten pretty busy for me. And in the evenings, I’ve been watching the Olympics. They’ve been exciting, but I’m glad that tonight is the closing ceremony.

At any rate, I hadn’t been out with my camera in well over a week, and I was really getting the desire to go out and shoot something – anything. For quite a while I’ve been wanting to go wander around downtown Austin and just photograph whatever caught my attention. So this Saturday morning, that is exactly what I did.

Now I’ve lived in Austin for 40 years (and 2 weeks!), but I’ve never just wandered around downtown with a camera. I’ve been downtown with my camera and tripod several times before, but I always had a specific reason for doing so. In 2007, Dad and photographed all of the GuitarTown 10 foot tall painted guitars spread around downtown Austin (and out at the airport). Just last year, in August and September of 2011, during the hottest summer ever on record here in Austin, we hunted down and shot every single cow on location for CowParade Austin. You can see all of the guitars and cows here on my web site, by clicking on the “Photo Gallery” tab under the banner at the top of my web page.

This time there would be no map to tell me where the items that I needed to photograph would be located. No agenda, no time requirement, no plan.

Even though we have an Austin address, and reside in the City of Austin, it still takes 25 minutes to drive to downtown Austin – and that’s on a Saturday morning with virtually no traffic to slow you down. (During a Friday afternoon rush-hour can easily be an hour drive.) Living in Austin has a lot of very nice attributes, but traffic is definitely not one of them….

Anyway, I left the house at exactly 7:33 AM yesterday morning, and got to 1st and Congress a couple of minutes before 8:00. Due to road construction, I couldn’t park where I thought I would – just east of Congress Avenue and 2nd Street. I had to detour around that and ended up parking my blue Honda CR-V about 2 blocks east of there – at P. F. Chang’s at 2nd and San Jacinto Blvd.

About two years ago, the Austin City Council renamed 2nd Street in the downtown area to become Willie Nelson Blvd, for one of our celebrity citizens. If you look carefully, you can see that on the street sign in the photo above.

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to Gregg’s story.

I had brought my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, my four lenses, and a flash in my little Domke camera bag (just in case I ran into Kirk Tuck; I didn’t want to be caught with a Lowepro bag…..).  I also had my lightweight Gitzo tripod in a nice, compact bag that you carry on your shoulder, the same way an archer would carry his quiver of arrows. But once I got out of my car, put the camera strap around my neck, my Domke camera bag over my shoulder, and my tripod bag over my other shoulder, I felt rather ridiculous, and certainly not very nimble. No, the tripod was going to have to stay in the car on this initial downtown visit.

I started walking west, as the morning sunlight was doing a beautiful job of softly lighting the east side of the buildings. Just a block east of where I started, at Brazos Street (and Willie Nelson Blvd.) I came to one of Austin’s iconic office buildings.

All of these photos were taken with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera with the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-5.3 zoom lens and a circular polarizer on it. I certainly had better quality lenses in my camera bag, but since this was my first time at this game, I wanted the versatility that the zoom lens would offer. My thought process had me put on the circular polarizer (sunglasses) on the lens would be to minimize the reflections in all of the windows that I envisioned I would be dealing with.

The photo above had the zoom lens adjusted to as wide-angle as it could go, which is 12mm (24mm equivalent on a full-frame camera). One problem with a wide angle lens is that when it is not parallel to the surface that you are photographing, you get some very noticeable distortion – which you can see in the photo above. Just look at the edge of the office building on the left side. Heck, look at the right side of that photo and the building appears to be leaning at a very significant angle from vertical!  (I do have a 24mm tilt-shift lens for my Canon camera which eliminates this “falling over” effect, but I am not aware of any such lens for this Olympus Micro Four Thirds format camera.)

I kept the center peak of the building in the center of my viewfinder, so at least the center of the building wouldn’t be leaning to one side.

Up ahead another block, just across Congress Avenue is the current tallest building in Austin. It is named The Austonian, which is 683 feet (208 m) tall with 56 floors.

Another block west on Willie Nelson Blvd. is the Austin Children’s Museum, and along the wall on the outside is this wavey, curvey handrail that is only about 30 inches above the sidewalk.

I am not used to being around tall buildings, so they definitely had my attention.

I had to almost force myself to look down, as I was sure that there would be all sorts of interesting things to see, if I would just pay attention.

Another block west, and you come to Lavaca Avenue. On the southwest corner is the Austin City Hall. Just north of that, across Willie Nelson Blvd. is the W Hotel, and connected to that is The Moody Theater, where they film the Austin City Limits TV show.

At the base of the stairs that take you up to The Moody Theater, sits the statue of Willie Nelson himself.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the Austin City Limits TV show:

 Austin City Limits (often abbreviated as ACL) is an American public television music program recorded live in Austin, Texas by Public Broadcast Service(PBS) Public television member station KLRU, and broadcast on many PBS stations around the United States. The show helped Austin to become widely known as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” and is the only television show to receive the National Medal of Arts, which it was awarded in 2003.

You can read more here.

They show Austin City Limits on TV in Austin at 7:00 PM on Saturday evenings, and I record most of them, so that I can play them when we have guests over for dinner parties.

Moving on, and trying to look somewhere else but at the buildings in the sky. Here are some chairs and tables stacked up on the sidewalk for an outdoor cafe.

I thought this sign was cool, but I don’t know anything about the establishment. I took 2 shots of that sign, as the shutter speed was 1/5th of a second, and I was hoping at least one of them would not be blurry. As it turns out they were both OK. The in-body image stabilization of this little Olympus camera continues to amaze me! 

I turned north onto Guadalupe and quickly came upon this 3D sign.

And this window washer, busy doing his job before it got hot on this Saturday morning.

This is the view looking west of Guadalupe, between 3rd and 4th Streets.

Between 4th and 5th Streets, in an empty block, there is a Farmers Market every Saturday morning. (This is a different one from the one at Lakeline Mall that I recently posted on.)  This Farmers Market appeared to be MUCH larger and organized, too.

It was 8:38 AM, so the sunlight was still rather soft, and it seemed to make some of the vegetables glow.

I would definitely have to tell Barb about this Farmers Market!  I could easily see myself spending a couple of hours photographing all sorts of stuff here, but that was not on my agenda for today.

I thought I’d take a just a couple of photos, like this local honey vendor.

No, my mission was to figure out how far of a walk it was to Lamar Blvd., so I turned around to take this photo of the Farmers Market between 4th and 5th on Guadalupe before I headed further west.

To be continued….!