Taking a sharp picture in low light often requires the same shooting technique that a rifle marksman uses to hit a target. Brace yourself, breath out slowly, and press the trigger (or in our case, the shutter button). This technique works with both compact cameras and DSLRs, but doesn’t help that much when shooting outdoor macro photographs of flowers (one of my favorite subjects this time of year). Why?
It's often not practical to get close enough to a ground-level flower while maintaining a steady, braced pose. That’s why a tripod is a required tool for most macro photographers. However, when shooting flowers I invariably find one that’s set back in a garden just within reach but in a spot where I can’t set up a tripod. Also, I’m always trying to get better photos of the butterflies that stop by for a bit of nectar. However, I swear I hear them laughing when I try to set up a tripod to take their pictures. (Why can’t those little critters stay still for more than a few seconds?)
So this week I took to the flower garden with a new 10MP E-510 DSLR, one of the latest digital cameras to come down from Mount Olympus. It’s claim to fame: the only DSLR to include both a sensor-based image stabilization system and a Live View mode. This camera should be hitting the stores this summer, and it will be reviewed in Pop’s August 2007 issue. But since I had just finished testing it in the lab, I was also curious as to whether or not I could get decent hand held shots outdoors using the built in IS system instead of a clunky tripod.
At the garden, outdoor lighting conditions were less than perfect, with overcast skies that forced me to dial up the ISO a bit to 400 just to get a 1/60 sec shutter speed at f/4 on the lens I was using. Pop Photo Lab tests that showed how well the E-510 keeps noise levels down at ISO 400 (especially when shooting in RAW mode), so I felt confident that I wasn’t dialing up ISO at the expense of dialing down image detail.
The first thing I noticed, even before turning on the IS or the Live Preview, was how the lens I was using (Zuiko 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5, $430 street price) was able to focus as close as 8.7 inches away even at the 35mm equivalent of 108mm (Olympus DSLRs have a 2X 35mm lens factor). Pretty good for a wide-to-tele zoom. With the IS turned on and the Live View active, I was able to reach into the garden and get closer than I ever could (without risking damage to other flowers with a tripod) and capture some great, and sharp, photos.
Now, I was also impressed with the camera’s AF system, image quality and color accuracy (note that purple is really purple in these flowers, and not some off shade of blue as would be recorded by a film camera). Combine those features with the camera’s IS and Live View, and you’ve got an extraordinary system for shooting close-ups. Maybe those butterflies will stop laughing at me and let me get closer next time.