Barcelona with the Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro Lens: A Review

Gothic Cathedral at f/2.8

Lots of doubt had surrounded my taking the new Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro to Barcelona with me. For one, it’s a pretty heavy lens. For two, it’s a pretty large lens.

As such these aren’t problems, but large and heavy is just not part of the Micro Four-Thirds ‘gestalt’ and certainly wasn’t my idea of having a fun time shooting in a hot and humid city.

I had even bought the much smaller and lighter Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6 lens to take along with me, so I could leave the 7-14mm behind and take to the streets with a lighter wide angle zoom.

Now, after four days in Barcelona, I find once again that life is full of ironies: I haven’t used the 9-18mm at all. It’s been sitting in the bag, untouched. And I haven’t used the 7-14mm wide open in the cathedral I most wanted it for, instead stopping it down for more sharpness.

Ok, moving on.

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Packing Photo Gear for Barcelona, Spain, and the French Countryside

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Just when I have the most time for and interest in photography is when I’m most limited with the gear I can take. That’s the quandary facing me now that I’m about to leave for five weeks in Europe.

Part of the trip will be spent with my family in my hometown. The other part will be a road trip from Holland via France to Barcelona, Spain, and back. I’m spending about a week driving, with stops for photography, and a week in Barcelona.

So, it’s a great time to try new gear that doesn’t get much use at home.

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Climates, Countries and Customs of a Fair-Weather Photographer

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Cyprus Life Guard Station – February 2007

It was an amazing day here yesterday. For the first time in months, it felt like spring and summer might actually reappear within our lifetime. The birds were back twittering (or do they tweet now too?), the snow was giving way to grass (remember grass?) and the chill was out of the air.

Not to be too much of a pessimist, but this was just temporary. It’s going to rain like crazy today and then get too cold again for March. But, hey, yesterday showed that spring is not totally off the agenda for this year. I’m holding my hopes up.

What does this have to do with photography, one asks. Everything. With spring comes color, life and temperatures that make holding a metal object not the excruciating ordeal it has been for many weeks now.

I’ve admitted it here before, I’m a fair-weather photographer. Too cold, and my gear and I stay in.

That’s why I sometimes miss living in Cyprus, where we spent three years from 2006 to 2009. It got ridiculously hot in the summer, but you could basically shoot year-round on that Mediterranean island without freezing off any body parts. I looked for some samples of ‘winter’ shots the other day. [Read more…]

Paris with Three Cameras

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What Else? – Olympus OM-D E-M5 with 12mm f2.0 Lens

Ah, Paris in summer. A glass of pastis on a sidewalk terrace, strolling along des Champs-Élysées, lounging at the Seine… queueing at the Eiffel tower, elbowing to the Mona Lisa, sweating through the Versailles palace.

I love Paris, I really do. But like any great city, I like it for its atmosphere on the streets, in the cafes. Its hustle. Its bustle. But a visit after an absence of two decades, meant trodding along the overcrowded tourist paths. In August, the Parisians leave for quieter realms and the tourists take over the city.

So, photographing the city and its – remaining – people while also playing tourist was my calling. Still, I wanted to use this visit to try out various cameras and lenses I had bought in the last couple of months: the Sony RX-1, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the Fujifilm X100S. This was also my first city trip in years without a DSLR.

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Packing Photo Gear for Europe

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Biking in Holland – Olympus OM-D E-M5 with 75mm f/1.8 Lens

We just returned from a month-long trip to Europe, mostly to Holland and Paris, France. As usual, I faced the challenge of picking which camera gear to take before we headed out.

Until earlier this year, the choice was relatively easy. I was basically invested in Canon gear, with an aging, but beloved 5D as my main camera and the 30D as my backup. I also had a Canon G10, but didn’t use it much after I got my iPhone 4s. And I had a Pentax DSLR kit, but my Pentax lens collection wasn’t as practical as my Canon collection. So, I always picked the 5D and at least the 24-105mm f/4 and 70-200mm f/2.8 Canon IS L lenses and sometimes added the Canon 50mm f/1.4mm for low-light work. When we went to the Middle East, I would replace the big white 70-200mm lens with the less conspicuous Canon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS lens. That was it.

While an easy choice, it also limited my actual photography during family trips. I’m not the kind of guy to lug heavy gear around when I’m out with my family. So, I often only took pictures when I had the chance to go for a walk or drive on my own.

What good is a camera you don’t carry?

Then, earlier this year, I developed a really bad case of GAS, aka Gear Acquisition Syndrome. I upgraded the Canon to a 5D Mark III, added some Canon prime lenses, a Sigma 35mm f/1.4 and a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8. In addition, I bought the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and a bunch of lenses; the Fuji X100S and – just before we left – a used Sony RX-1. Oh, and an old Hasselblad. I told you it was bad.

That made the choice of what to pack for Europe a whole new challenge. I knew I would do some landscape shooting by myself in Holland, as well as the regular family portraits. The Canon and some of my new primes were ideal for that. In Paris, on the other hand, I would prefer a small setup, which I would gladly carry all day. Plus, I wanted to try some things for this blog.

Of course, I had to be able to carry it on the plane as well.

And I didn’t want to take things I wouldn’t use. Earlier this summer, we took a short trip to Rhode Island. I loaded all my gear in the car, only to use some of it not at all and most of it very little.

What good is gear you don’t use?

So, thinking the Canon gear is bulky and heavy and would not be used that much, and especially not in Paris, I settled on taking a combination of the mirrorless cameras. I wanted to compare the Fuji and Sony and write about it. Both went into the bag, an older LowePro Trekker backpack.

The Olympus also made the cut, with the Olympus 12mm f/2.0 for Paris street shooting (the 12mm is the equivalent of a 24mm on full-frame; the Sony and Fuji offer 35mm). I added the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 and the 75 f/1.8 for the portraits and to try out the new black versions I had just received. And, secretly, also because I love those lenses, especially the 75mm. I threw in the Olympus 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II lens for landscape work and the splash-proof Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 kit lens in case it rained a lot. I also took the Panasonic-Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens, but largely because I somehow never use it while it’s actually a great lens. I thought maybe Paris would change that. Fortunately, the Micro 4/3 lenses are small and light. Unlike adding a quality DSLR lens to a kit, adding a Micro 4/3 lens doesn’t add much weight.

None of it is as capable all around as the Canon 5d III, but they’re all excellent cameras and good to excellent lenses. In a way, I also wanted to see how it was to not use a DSLR at all, a first for me. And I still had room and weight to spare in my carry-on, a welcome experience.

I’m back now and I’m going through my Lightroom folders and notes. I haven’t culled everything down yet, but I’m sometimes surprised at what worked, what didn’t work and how many keepers I got from which combination.

Those experiences are up next…