Travels with the 24-105G and Batis 135 by Michael J

I thought these two lenses might make a perfect travel pair:  The versatility of the 24-105, combined with the reach and sharpness of the Batis 135. Both are new lenses, and together they also meet several other of my travel requirements: keep it down to two lenses, of which at least one is a prime; find some way to take photos of people without getting in their face; and the entire package must fit in my smallest sling bag for absolute portability.  

So over the past month these two lenses lived in my Thinktank Turnstyle 5 while I traipsed around Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, Bloomington, Vietnam, and Hongkong. Here's what I found:

  • The FE f4/24-105G is indeed the perfect travel lens.  Its combination of reach and "acceptable bokeh" (more on this, further down) is good enough to allow me to need only this one lens. If I had to choose one, that is.
  • The Batis 2.8/135 is a monster, both in terms of its sharpness and its size/weight.  Although smaller and lighter than any other full frame 135 on the market, it's still about the same size as the 24-105 but heavier, and with a far more narrowly defined usage range.
  • The 80/80/80 rule: 80% of my photos were from the 24-105.  And of those, 80% were taken at the two extremes of 24 and 105 and of those, 80% were taken at 24.
  • I liked the zoom so much - and found it so handy - that I had to consciously force myself to put it away and pull out the 135 for very specific situations. Each time I did, I was ecstatic with the results.
  • I would probably prefer to use these two lenses each attached to a separate body so that I could use them both more frequently. When one lens was on the camera, I consistently missed shots that I knew would have been better with the other one. They are both too large for the "one-handed lens change" so it takes a bit of work - and time - to do a switch. And we are all aware of the ease with which the A7/9 series pick up gunk on their sensors. Moral: bring a sensor cleaning kit. Always.

f4/24-105 G

See full 24-105 Gallery here

Let's start first with this lens.  It's sharp, focuses quickly, and offers an ideal range of photographic opportunities.  The f/4 is a trade-off for the lower light and "better bokeh" of the 2.8/24-70 but for a travel lens, I would not even consider the latter.  Here's why.

Greater Reach = Better Bokeh Effect

The 2.8/24-70 might have greater separation for depth of field, but the 24-105 has greater reach so it's quite easy to get good bokeh at the long end.  In other words, 105mm at f/4 compares very well to 70mm at f/2.8.  I don't have a direct comparison but here are a few shots taken at the long end, 105 f/4.

Greater Flexibility

As mentioned in this article,  the 24-240 offers the best flexibility of any lens, but at a price: it's larger, heavier, not quite as sharp, a bit slower to focus, and jumps up to f/6.3 at the tele end.  The f4/24-105G offers reasonable flexibility to take photos at both ends of the zoom spectrum.  These two shots were taken from the same location.

Handheld at Night? No Problem

f/2.8 lenses and primes are touted as must-haves for low light photography. With the A7 and A9 series bodies, f/4 works just fine thanks. 

About that Batis135

View Full Batis 135 gallery here.

I brought along this lens because it's exactly what i was looking for to capture short tele shots of landscapes and of people, without getting in their face. Working with any prime gives up flexibility in exchange for sharpness. It's always good practice to spend some time with a prime lens as a way of learning to move in and out to achieve the desired 'crop' without having to zoom. This is a bit more difficult with a telephoto prime because it's quite impossible to get shots in crowded places. Or is it?

One issue I had with this lens was the speed of focus. Sometimes it would 'hunt' for the focus, causing me to miss shots. Probably due to fifficult lighting situations but I did not notice the same issue with the 24-105.

Ode to Pentax by Michael

Ricoh Pentax (formerly Asahi Pentax) just released a photo chart that shows every camera Pentax released. It reminded me that I used Pentax cameras for over 30 years. I've since moved on, but looking back it's been a great run. Virtually all of my analog photography was shot on Pentax. I still own several of the analog models, and several of my children learned their photography on them as well.  

Pentax camera's I've owned over the years

Olympus E-M5 Mark II: Getting Smarter by Michael


So you may have noticed I write a lot about Olympus cameras.  That's because I use them. I don't review them.  I use them because they are, in my opinion, the best small cameras for still photography on the market. And the competition is fierce: Sony, Fuji, Panasonic, and Pentax are all major players in the field of "mirrorless" cameras. In general, there are some critical differences between "DSLR" and "Mirrorless," and I've  summarized here.

DSLR Advantages

  • More megapixels
  • Generally better low-light capabilities
  • Arguably better depth of color
  • Larger cameras better for larger hands
  • Pro lenses have "better" depth of field
  • Lower cost

Mirrorless Advantages

  • Much smaller camera and lenses
  • Image quality essentially the same (pixel peepers may disagree)
  • In-camera stabilization (at least for Olympus)
  • "WYSIWYG" View (you see the exact exposure results in the viewfinder)
  • Touch screen actions, similar to smart phones

Many of those differences are becoming smaller, or at least  blurred. For example, Sony now has a full-frame mirrorless camera, although you'll have to pay for it. And in my opinion, the size advantage is lost and the larger shutter sounds like a garage door opening.

How to choose a camera

Back to Olympus and why I like their cameras.  They are small, but not the smallest. They have excellent in-camera stabilization (and the new E-M5 MII is said to be 'the best').  And they are very well thought out.  That is important to me as a photographer, and here is why: cameras are just tools. I doubt anyone could look at a photograph and say "wow, that was taken with a Nikon D800." I doubt anyone could even pick two 11x14 prints out of stack and say "This was taken with a full-frame camera, and that one was taken with a mirrorless."  So what makes one camera better than another? The way it feels in the photographer's hands. And the way it performs, according to the photographer's needs. That's it. Well, there are two parts to it.


If it Feels Good...

If a camera initially 'feels good' in my hands, I'll probably take more pictures with it. And I'll probably take better pictures with it. And I'll probably have it on me or around me more, so I'll get some shots that I would otherwise miss, because I'm not carrying around that big camera.

And if it is Good...

Different cameras also provide different "services" for different photographers. For example, some are better at video. Some are weather-sealed. Some have a flip-up or flip-open touch screens.  Each photographer has his or her own needs, and if a camera can meet those needs, then the result will be better pictures.

Back to the Stack

So if I'm pulling prints out of that stack of 11x14" prints, I may not be able to tell which camera a photo was taken with. But I can probably tell which photos are 'better' or, at the very least, which ones speak to me. And chances are, those will be the photos taken with an optimum "camera - photographer match".

So is the E-M5 a Match?

Yeah. For me, definitely. I picked it up and immediately it felt like it was made for my hands. I don't have large hands but I can spread more than an octave on a piano. This camera has a beautifully articulated, minimalist  front grip that doesn't get in the way but still gives you a firm hold on the camera. To me it feels just as nice as the E-M1, which has a much larger hand grip.


The touch screen also pops out and flips, which is both good and bad.  If you are used to flipping the mirror up (like most previous Olympus cameras), you will miss being able to "shoot from the hip" by taking photos while looking down at the screen.  But what you gain is the ability to do selfies (applause, at least amongst some people). You can also flip the screen backwards so that it is protected from scratching, which is great if the camera lives in a bag or purse, and you are constantly putting it and and taking it out.  Also, the flip-out does allow you to take pictures from any angle, including "shoot from the hip" - it just takes a bit more to get it to that position.

And Inside...

Inside the camera, a few really cool features struck me immediately. First of all, the new shutter is both extremely fast and extremely quiet.  Both of these are handy for any kind of street or candid photography, and for theater or other events where photographers are expected to be seen but not heard.  There's even a 'silent' mode so you can take photos completely without a sound.  I tried this out in "High"  sequence mode which peaks out at 10 frames per second - that's almost fast enough to shoot a movie - and I could not hear a single click. I had probably shot 30 frames before I realized what I was doing.

My type of features

This camera is loaded with too many features to list out here. But I will list out the features that are important to me as a photographer who travels a lot, and who does a fair amount of  'street' photography:

  • Weather-sealed
  • Twin control dials
  • Bright, full-size electronic viewfinder
  • 5-axis image stabilization
  • "Live" long exposures (watch as it 'develops)
  • "Pro" video quality
  • Slim body does not attract attention
  • Extremely fast sequential shooting
  • Silent mode
  • HDR as top-level item (use sparingly!)
  • 4 programmable function buttons
  • It's beautiful!

Breakfast of Champions by Michael

Ok I know this is just another 'food selfie' but seriously, how can you compare caphe sữa đá (slow-dripped iced coffee with condensed milk) and Bun Bo Hue (spicy noodles with deep broth, from Hue) with - uhm - Wheaties? Seriously?

Read More

A Week in Saigon by Michael


Truc, the girl in the first photo, is our company cook.  Without her, our team could not do the amazing things they do.  Here are photos from a week of lunches.  We are a happy lot. [smugmug url="" imagecount="18" start="1" num="18" thumbsize="Th" link="lightbox" captions="false" sort="false" window="false" smugmug="false" size="XL"]

Jinjiang by Michael


The hotel complex where Nixon and Mao signed the Shanghai communique in 1972, the Jinjiang was built in the early 1900's in the art deco style and renovated beautifully.  I spent hours just walking around the room itself, as well as the hotel and ground...  

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