Captured with A Panasonic Lumix 100-300mm Lens: Joshua Tree National Park

So the image above was captured just before sundown in Joshua Tree National Park with a Panasonic Lumix 100-300mm Super-Telephoto lens! One thing I don’t mention to people very often is that this is one my most often used Micro Four Thirds lenses as it is completely indispensable in my workflow as a landscape photographer and cannot recommend it enough. It’s very difficult to work with though and you have to have some patience because it’s easy to get motion blur due to camera shake or the photographer not holding still enough. This lens is now a veteran in my kit because some of my best portfolio images came from it. Yes, this lens is highly recommended for an M/43 landscape photographer and this is what I utilize it for 99% of the time.

Other than that – this is the third image that I’ve posted from my Smugmug site in the flow of utilizing SM embedded images from back up rather than resize and re-upload here to WordPress. It seems to have streamlined my blogging work somewhat as I try and form the habit of daily posting to the photoblog. I’ll try to give insight as a photographer, whenever I can.

SLRMagic 26mm F1.4 Toy Lens

SLRMagic 26mm F1.4 Toy Lens

Finding a great lens that’s not perfect but creates the emotional effects using natural blur is one of the most satisfying experiences a photographer can discover. Not only that, if you’ve never tried manual focusing a lens then you are missing out on the hidden power of having complete control over how your images develop. Often, auto-focusing limits the control you maintain and you wind up disappointed with the flawed images. Usually the focusing is off on the subject matter because the auto-focus wasn’t accurate and you didn’t notice the problem until viewing the images on a larger screen. Why let a machine determine how your images turn out? It doesn’t matter how advanced the technology is, cameras are still stupid and over-prone to error. As a creative artist you should take complete control over this step in your art.

Over the years as a photographer, I’ve come to realize that slowing down and maintaining manual control over the photographic process creates better end results that wind up more pleasing. There’s so much effort lost in trial and error; if you’re serious about your photography, a cheap manual lens is a good buy to learn the art of manual focusing and selective focusing. I love the SLRGear 26mm F1.4 manual focus “Toy Lens” for a reason. It’s cheap, inexpensive and yields outstanding results. I’ve been shooting with this lens for about four months now and want to include some thoughts on my experience with the toy lens.

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The Sweetspot of This Lens

Before purchasing the lens for about a hundred dollars I read reviews that questioned the sharpness and quality of the lens. I can assure you that the “sweet spot” of sharpness that I discovered with this glass is nothing short of impressive. To me, the quality of the images were excellent. This is a specialty lens but is in no way a toy. I’ve been very satisfied with the quality. The sweetspot is great but a little unpredictable. With careful manual focusing on a Micro Four Thirds camera, you can expect to get awesome results. The blur is natural and doesn’t have to be photoshopped to create this haunting effect.

The lens feels very similar to a Lensbaby, but much more intuitive and cheaper! The sharpness is great. I’ve got the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 lens, and the sharpness is comparable to that lens but with it’s own sweet spot. The notable flaw in the toy lens is the chromatic abrasion and some purple fringing that is hard to avoid in bright light, along occasional lens flare. It’s a normal lens. The truth is I find myself shooting more with this lens than the Panasonic 20mm pancake lens because it is manual. What you do is focus your subject matter and the natural blur from the lens emphasizes the focal point.

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It’s All About the Unique Blur

After looking at hundreds of shots online, the blur effect from this lens unique and unpredictable; it’s a very circular bokeh… Mix this with some crazy light falloff when the aperture stopped down, and it creates some hauntingly delicious images.

Shooting Wide Open is Essential

To get the most from the toy lens, shooting in broad daylight is not recommended mainly because of chromatic aberration, purple fringing, and a lot of light fall off when using a smaller aperture. Plus, to maximize the unique blur, you have to shoot the lens wide open in lower light. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend stopping down the aperture unless you have no other choice to avoid overexposure. There have been several instances where I was forced to close down the aperture in order to get the shots properly exposed. I tend to be a guy that likes to shoot in sunny daylight. It’s nice to utilize the entire day to capture as many images as possible. It’s preferable though toy lens wide open because the blur, color, and unpredictable effects are most striking wide open. Going through an abandoned house out in the middle of nowhere is a good example of this…

Why I Love the SLR Magic Toy Lens

To put things mildly, I’m madly in love with this lens and it’s effects. Forget about having to manipulate images in Photoshop to achieve similar effects. In fact, I frown on the use of Photoshop to achieve moody blur and other creative effects. It’s nice to have a lens that gives me this extra ability to experiment, goof around and have fun. The lens is cheap, affordable and doesn’t empty the bank account but it gives amazing results. The lens is a little small and awkward to use and makes your camera look funky but the images are overall pleasing and moody. This takes the perfection out of digital imaging and replaces it with intuition. There’s tons of extra creative applications that you cannot do with a traditional lens. This item should be in the camera bag of every photographer that uses a Micro Four Thirds camera.

My vision of photography reflects the moody environments that I explore. When venturing into the desert solo, I want to capture the memories of a time and place. These stories, these feelings are part of a beautiful land. As a tour guide, wilderness guide, and adventurer, I am constantly educating visitors (tourists) about my country and the history of the land. There’s no better way for me to communicate those feelings than with photography. This art has provided me a vessel to communicate deep thoughts and feelings. The SLR Magic 26mm F1.4 lens is a welcome addition to my equipment and it inspired me to write a review.

Final Thoughts

The SLR Magic 26mm F1.4 Toy Lens has won the position of being the first review for Talking Tree Photo. The main reason; It’s an intuitive lens. There’s nothing about it that makes it a toy. Consider this lens a serious tool with good potential. So I give full kudos to SLR Magic for making a greatly inexpensive product while keeping the quality high. If I get more funds coming in, I looking forward to trying out some more products offered by SLR Magic. They deserve some worthy recognition for their efforts.

This lens is essential for those who want the maximum flexibility and get bored easily using traditional equipment. The time spent with this lens makes traditional photography feel more like real art. With the unique blur and bokeh you achieve from an imperfect lens, it’s more like making photographs instead of shooting snapshots. The manual experience will force you to think harder and when photographing the world.

If you like low light, and wide aperture lenses, this investment is pennies on the dollar compared to most other wide-aperture lenses. You can’t go wrong for a hundred bucks. So I encourage you to support SLR Magic and give their 26mm lens a buy. They are available through eBay. Currently, the only store that they have is on eBay, so go here to find out more about them: SLR Magic eBay Store.

All Images by Nathan Cowlishaw.

My Love Affair with the Panasonic Lumix 14mm F2.5 Pancake Lens – Perfect for Landscapes!

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I want to share briefly my experience with the amazing, Panasonic Lumix 14mm F2.5 Pancake lens. It’s beautiful, ultra small and compact and a joy to shoot with. Combine it with the adventurous Olympus OM-D E-M5 and you have quite a professional and pocket-able mini-landscape combo! I’ve shot with this lens both on Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras; the G1, GF1 as well as the E-P2! The lens looks perfect on all these camera bodies and significantly smaller than the legendary Panasonic 20mm F1.7 Pancake.

My first impression of this lens, when I first got it in the mail, was how dinky it was in size and the feeling was somewhat bitter-sweet! However the lens quickly grew on me and I’ve began using it as my primary wide-angle because of the ease of use and it looks very streamlined with the Olympus cameras. I like it better than the Zuiko 17mm F2.8 Pancake that I have. BTW, the old Olympus 17mm got a really bad rap, but I really love the sharpness and quality of that lens. Maybe I’ll post another short review with image examples shot on the E-P2, since that lens has also created some superb landscapes with my talent, of course.

Yes, I did own the legendary super wide-angle Panasonic 7-14mm lens but it was real bulky and unable to accept screw-on filters which left something to be desired… It produced some stunning landscapes for me over a few years time and I loved it but ended up selling it on eBay while keeping the 14mm pancake! As a standard wideangle, it’s not super-wide, but it’s adequate for any landscape or architectural work. It is capable and adequate for professional work as well. I’m not the type of guy that buys into all the marketing hype and I’m definitely not a pixel-peeper either. The photo of my feet, wearing Chacos above the San Juan Goosenecks was captured with the same Pancake. This photo example was good enough to get accepted in a Santa Fe art gallery along with some of my other prints that will be on exhibition soon at the Jezebel Gallery in New Mexico. The great thing about the 14mm lens is that it’s a prime.  I prefer prime fixed focal length lenses versus zooms which is probably another reason why I chose to sell the Panasonic 7-14mm When I was shooting the Panasonic super-wide zoom, I was always shooting at the widest field of view; 7mm and I miss having that capability of course. What would be really cool is if Olympus or Panasonic could engineer a super-wide prime (not a fisheye) that could produce good outstanding results? I would invest money in such a lens especially at the 7mm focal length!

In this short post, I’ve included real world results of my work with this lens to demonstrate it’s characteristics and show you it’s capable of some serious work. I’m very happy with the results I have gotten so far and have taken many photos with it on my OM-D!

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For a pancake lens I was mesmerized by the quality of the glass. This is the San Juan Goose-necks near the Navajo (Diné) Reservation in the Four Corners region. This image was shot with a Panasonic GF1. The rest of the images below were shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M5. All the images were post-processed on an iPhone using Snapseed and Pixlr Express, and Instagram Filters. All photos were shot in JPEG right off the OM-D with minimal processing except for using filters and lightening shadows in the dark areas of some of the photos.

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The following photos were below were during flash flood that took place in Zion National Park in July of 2013. while hiking with my best friend, Omar Hernandez. We got stuck in a massive cloudburst, and water started to come off the cliffs forming instant water falls. Back in 2008, I was stuck in a flood in Havasupai which gave me a lot of experiences under such dire circumstances and this definitely was not the first time I’ve been holed up by flash flooding. It was sure a beautiful day to take pics though out on the Angels Landing Trail.

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In conclusion, I would highly recommend this lens for any dedicated Micro Four Thirds user. It is a wonderful little lens at a dirt cheap price that you cannot beat being that it’s a prime. It’s perfect for adventurers and hikers who want to travel light. I got my lens on eBay, brand new for around $150 dollars. That’s unbeatable! You get excellent image quality in a compact package. It’s a joy to shoot and reinvigirates my excitement to do photography every time I shoot. I love the Micro Four Thirds camera system and the variety of lenses available for the format. I was first introduced to Micro Four Thirds while attending the 2008 PMA convention in Las Vegas, Nevada. It prompted me to sell off my Nikon equipment. Stay tuned for more interesting posts…