Monday, September 17, 2018

Welcoming the Olympus, for macro!

My own Olympus kit arrived mid-week. Thanks to Gaurav (kunwar.g) and Vimal for the wide angle 14-42. Sagar, Ravindra and Sateesh for managing shipping, co-ordination and getting it to Bangalore.

I was hooked onto the Olympus system ever since I tried it during the Agumbe trip, thanks to a very generous friend. The level of customizability, the light weight, Focus peaking, no dim-VF, etc. ensured it didn't take too long before I had my own setup, atleast for macro!

Picked the Olympus OMD EM-10 mark2 to get started with the mirrorless micro-four thirds system. Had all the features from higher bodies, barring the additional button layout, weather sealing and scaling of megapixels available in EM5 and EM1.

Edit: Adding some reasoning for the switch
To me, the added apparent focal length and DoF (almost 1.5x compared to the APSC sensor) was helpful, more so for high magnification macro. The light(er) system, bright EVF (allowing me to shoot fully manual lenses stepped down) plus the in-camera focus stacking, coupled with focus peaking tilted the favor towards the OMD

The lens of choice for macro was the Zuiko 60mm macro, there really was no confusion since I'd seen it's capability during earlier trip(s). The last gear I'd picked was more than 4 years ago. With this switch the mind started racing with several combinations of lenses to help replace the second body (40D)
Picked the 14-42mm to kind of replace the kit lens. Planning for a 40-150mm to replace the Canon 55-250mm focal length. Intend to use the Olympus setup for travel, given how light this is. This has sort of rekindled shooting other genres.

The menu controls are a treat! Almost every button is customizable, the bright EVF and focus peaking makes it a breeze to operate. The option to manually set focal length of the manual lens being mounted (for Stabilization) is brilliant, every lens you mount is automatically stabilized now. The IBIS rocks, very apparent during video shooting!

Tested it out over the weekend. Beginning with the macro lens

Flowers for ID

Mimosa pudica, flower

Coromandel marsh dart

Scorpion-tailed spider, Arachnura  sp

Aphids being tended to by ants


Ricaniidae planthopper nymph

Crab spider on a flower


Common pierrot

Ashok was kind to pass on the Canon-MFT adapter. This helped me mount the Canon tele on the Olympus, increases reach by a factor of 1.5x (almost like shooting with a TC on). The setup is highly unbalanced though, huge lens - tiny body!
The bright EVF and focus peaking helped with the adapted Canon 400mm f5.6, a few bird images

Purple moorhen

Purple moorhen

Pelican amongst Cormorants

The video mode was refreshing to use, the IBIS sure did help

A Purple moorhen looking for food in Lily roots

Spot billed pelican glide and landing

It's fun having something pocket sized with versatility, almost feels like a small toy in my rather large hands. Being used to the gripped 7D, handling this is taking some getting used to. Will add on a grip for better handling very soon.

Battery life is nowhere close to that of a DSLR, guess who is going to be lugging around half  dozen batteries!

Any questions or inputs - please leave a comment :)


Friday, May 11, 2018

Summer rains!

Summer in India has always been about memories. Childhood meant a lot of free time, getting to play with friends for the whole day. Growing up it became synonymous with mangoes.

With Bangalore losing out a lot of green cover and traffic woes the summer rains are always bitter sweet. The showers bring back the freshness, reduce dust in the air and makes everything a little nicer.
An early morning walk post the rain is a treat for all the senses.

Blue skies with high winds spreading the clouds thin

Blooms around!
Colors @ lalbagh


The cicadas after emerging and the cacophony of calling together can seriously ring your ears!
Cicada moults

Mothers preparing to give the best to the progeny
Two tailed spider, with egg clutch

Freshly hatched juveniles/nymphs around make for promising beginnings
Freshly hatched Owlfly larvae

Pentatomidae, fresh from the egg clutch

Green lynx spider - Peucetia viridans, slings

Emerging winged termites provide a feast to many
Oxyopes shweta on a winged termite kill

Juvenile millipedes on tree bark

A huge grass mantis!
Grass mantis

Stick insect
Stick insect

The short burst in abundance of flowers benefits the whole food chain
Crab spider with a common crow butterfly as prey

Jewel bug, being carried by Crazy yellow ants to the nest

Monsoon showers have their own magic but the summer showers hold something up their sleeve too :)

Until next time!


Monday, April 30, 2018

High magnification macro and lighting - Thoughts and tips

Real macro and the fascination of the small world begins at 1:1 and beyond. Various problems arise. The inverse square law governs most of optical physics and becomes evident in high magnification macro. Two things to be considered -
1. Change in effective aperture. This translates to lesser light reaching the sensor. Read more on effective aperture here -
2. Greater DoF fall-off. Of course, dialling down the aperture to larger f-stop would help in getting a thicker DoF slab, but diffraction sets in pretty quick and becomes counterproductive in achieving image sharpness.

In both cases a smaller aperture meant the need for larger amount of light. This meant either
1. Bump up ISO and balance with lowering shutter speed. This needs a camera body that can perform at higher ISO and produce clean images, else sticking to lower ISO will mean reduced shutter speed (and lower shutter speed = more camera shake/movement of the subject due to wind)
2. Use artificial lighting

I chose to focus on the latter given that it also helped me with freezing motion and providing better micro contrast. This brought in a different set of challenges (Like the saying goes - There's a devil for every level) - blown out highlights and lost detail.

Here's the setup with a lot of trial and research, have taken inspiration from a lot of folks who've been kind enough to share their lighting setup
Shooting the bark mantis Thanks to Pradyu for the image :)

I used a C-bracket with a small ballhead to bring the flash as close to the front element as possible (thanks to the inverse square law that quadruples the amount of light when the distance is halved). Layers of diffusion (packing foam sandwiched between tracing paper) were added to reduce the harshness of light.
As with all contraptions - the "effective" lighting zone is limited close to the lens' front element, works best at magnification ranges closer to or greater than 1:1

Based on the amount of lighting I also make use of Flash exposure compensation (FEC) to get the right amount of light on the subject.

Some examples of lighting

Two tailed spider, Hersilia sp. with kill


Scale insect secreting honeydew?

Resting cuckoo bee

Small hoverfly

Weaver ants

Hoping this was helpful in some form.


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Exploring Lakshmanateertha and Cauvery!

Late, as usual but here's a quick narration nonetheless :)

Pradeep picked me up and the first stop was at Kamat for breakfast. Faces both old and new to catch up on, time flew quick as we gulped down the preferred dishes (Mysuru Masala dosa, Idly Vada, Pongal, Plain dosa,etc.)
A group shot to get it rolling!

Reached Mysore in relatively quick time where Deepak and Abhilash guided us onto the next couple of spots along the Lakshmanateertha river.
The humidity had built up but didnt deter us from "casting" our first nets.

Nikhil trying some underwater videos

Spotted quite a few Gambusia

Got some Aplocheilus panchax and Pethia conchonius

Moved on to the next spot, pickings were slim!

Focused my lens on a few of our fellow aquarists

Madan and Pradeep

Preetam doing a Shikari shambu :)

Navneeth doing his take on "net" shading

Deepak not one to be left far behind

Clicking the clicker - Pradeep!

The gang trying to look for various approach routes

Well packed fishing material

Bidding goodbye to Lakshmanateertha

We decided we'll head straight towards Kushalnagar to explore a couple of waterbodies. Lunch stop before we got there!

Path leading to the stream which turned out to be a treat!

I snorkeled around a bit catching some glimpses of some brightly colored Tadpoles and a few super sized Garras. Had to leave behind my phone and the camera. The remaining images are from Vimal's phone, a sneak peak on how beautiful this location on the banks of the Cauvery was!

We were able to spot many Garras, some Aplocheilus panchax, Pseudosphromenus cupanus and a couple of brilliantly patterned Mesonoemacheilus guentheri.

With the sun setting rapidly we went onto another location for one last dip of the nets! Yet another picturesque location! Vimal's pics yet again

A few Giant danios and Barilius gatensis

Happy to have spent good time outdoors we headed back to Bangalore, the traffic along Mysore road proving to be a minor irritation. A final stop for dinner at Ramanagaram marked the end of a wonderful day out with passionate hobbyists in the lap of nature :)

Apologies if I've mixed image credits anywhere, completely unintentional.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Exploring Bangkok's Grand palace / Chatuchak Market - in a hurry!

Visited Bangkok again for work, and this time had a couple of hours (thankfully!) to explore the city. Was a hectic couple of days leading to the day I'd actually have an afternoon free.
Knowing the schedule would be tight I left my DSLR back home, trusting my OnePlus Two for handling the odd snapshot!

View from the Hotel

Caught a taxi to check on Grand Palace, the Taxi hardly moved anywhere. The notorious traffic of Bangkok at work. Was a beautiful day with clear blue skies - but that also meant pure heat!

Reached the Grand Palace with the temperature and humidity high, but a quick glance at the watch put the urgency back in priority. A quick entry ticket and a few scans later we were in the Palace complex - the unique Thai style very evident.

Tourists thronged this place as it was labelled as a must-do when in Bangkok (I was there too, for the same reason :D ).  Hordes of them following a flag/stuffed toy (Tour operators use this technique to keep the group members in-line). The heat made many of them opt for the shadows/covered parts of the pathway, it was sultry for the lack of a better word! The T-shirt soaked in sweat, barely able to see through the Mobile screen to click any images I managed a few frames while doing a round of the complex. A stop at the Refreshment counter for a tender coconut was very refreshing. The taste was different than the ones back in India...a lot sweeter.
Done with the Grand palace we caught a taxi to JJ Mall, near Chatuchak market. A dash for the food court and lunch was done - some energy for the rest of exploration.

Preparation of Pineapple fried rice

I was very keen to visit the Chatuchak market - famous to us aquarists as a haven for wholesale traders of the Aquarium trade. The scale of this is enormous, I was able to sample a few stores. Sorely missed the DSLR here, the lack of light in most tanks resulted in blurry phone-camera images.

The entrance had a few shops selling good quality guppies and goldfish, visitors of all ages selecting their choices.


The whole gamut of species..from Freshwater to Brackish to Saltwater - all on display.

Planted tanks in all shapes and types.

Boy, was I enjoying myself here!

Was pleasantly surprised to see a Channa barca

Future giants ;)

A huge knifefish

Haven't seen a more colorful "Golden" Killi

Pretty large Altums

Koi angels

A few giants!

The multi-colored Crayfish

Multi-storeyed housing

A few shrimps using them as a perch ;)

A nice looking Crab!

Fantastic looking shrimps too


Tubs, Filter media, Koi name anything that is fishy and they had it all

Anyone for some driftwood?

Some lucky soul carrying back a large tub for setting something up

The humidity and lack of fresh air did have me step out to explore other areas. Moving out across the street the scene transformed into an area with a lot of mammals and birds. Kittens, Puppies, Weaver birds in cages, Iguanas, name it, they had it!

Walking on the edge of the street to catch a taxi back I noticed many more shops/footpath vendors with their fishy merchandise.

I really wonder how they manage to keep them alive in those bags for so long!

Shallow trays acting as displays

Superworms and Frogs among the many options for fish which prefer live feed.

The streets were filled with Bettas, all shapes and colors. The tanks to hold them were priced very attractively as well! (1 Baht = ~2 Rupees)

A couple of moving timelapses

Was disheartening to see a lot of dyed and "short body" variants of all fish :( They just don't look pretty, I wonder what drives the demand! Next time you see these in an aquarium store - PLEASE SAY "NO"

Finding a taxi that would get me back to the hotel was a challenge, many would simply refuse while others quoted exorbitant rates. Noticed a Bike Taxi not far and decided I'd try that mode to get back..was fun weaving in and out of car lanes. It took me a full hour or more to navigate through the thick traffic and reach the Hotel back in time. A quick taxi ride back to the Airport and we were all set for the journey back home!

Some sights from around town

You want to become a big laugh? ;)

Locking away relations :P

Adios till the next one :)