Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

A Walk on the Beach

A Walk on the Beach (1214, EM1)

Sometimes when we’re in the Charleston area we stay at a hotel on Folly Beach (about 9 miles to the southeast of the city).  This gets you away from the crowds in Charleston and also provides an opportunity to take long walks on the beach, especially early in the morning.  While I prefer the desert these days, I still love the serenity of the ocean.  Although on this particular morning it wasn’t all that serene.  Even the seagulls were “grounded”.  Lots of rain and lots of wind.

So I amused myself by taking pictures from our 6th floor balcony.  I figured it was a good chance to use my long micro 4/3 lens (under somewhat adverse conditions) and see how it performed.  All in all I’d say not so good.  This image was taken at about 500mm and at an f/stop of about 6.2.  To get a reasonably short exposure, I had to set the ISO at 1600 (yielding a 1/300 sec. exposure).  The original image is reasonably sharp, but there’s a hell of a lot of noise.  Given my experience with other lenses – like the 75mm f/1.8 lens – I figure this lens must be part of the problem.  With the 75mm I can shoot at ISO 1600 and not see much noise.  It’s easily corrected with a small luminance adjustment.  Not so with this Olympus 70 – 300mm lens.  It seems more prone to higher noise even when the tones aren’t this dark.  But who knows.  I’m certainly no expert on lens construction.

So I turned this into B & W and left some of the noise.  And made the guy with the umbrella a silhouette.  It kind of works………

The good news is that it cleared up the same afternoon.  So the 70 – 300 went back in its pouch and we went back into Charleston.  Where I switched to the 75mm lens.


9 Responses to “A Walk on the Beach”

  1. Earl Moore

    Paul, I think this image works very well (both B&W and a little noise) but only the seagulls confirm it as definately being at the beach.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Earl. Actually, I took a number of pictures of this guy walking; some included the ocean in the background and some didn’t. I liked this one simply because it was the only one with the seagulls included. For some reason I liked the birds better than the waves. Why I didn’t try to include both is a bit of a mystery at this point………..

  2. Markus Spring

    First of all: I like that image very much, so it was certainly worth trying and postprocessing.

    Re. the influence of the lens on noise, please allow me to express my doubts – how should the sensor know about the lens … (but then, as this is not a camera any more but a high performance computer that by chance sits in a camera styled enclosing – who knows…) What might have happened however is that this lens/light combination brought you into underexposure with subsequently more noise visible when you normalize brightness afterwards.

    But be it as it might be, the result is good and that is what counts.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks Markus.

      I’m sure you’re right about the noise. If I’d thought about it a little bit I probably would have reached the same conclusion. Although it wasn’t horribly underexposed – I think I only had to increase exposure by about half a stop in Lightroom. Even so, the original signal to noise ratio must have been very low. All of the original tones were gray and muddy; highlights were nonexistent. Not because it was badly underexposed but because that’s how the scene actually looked. Hence, the noise in the shadows.

      I will say, though, that the lens might have played a small part. It is, of course, a very slow lens. In human terms we might be able to say that the lens just didn’t see the scene very well. And where it couldn’t see any real detail I wound up with sensor created noise. Is that possible?

      • Markus Spring

        Paul, that flatness of the raw image you describe in your reply to Tom’s comment might indeed have contributed substantially – what the lens “didn’t see very well” you had to enhance in postprocessing, and here the grain most probably got enhanced. With such sceneries you can’t carefully expose to the right, so if you get the image at all, you have to use the camera as it is set, usually exposing for the middle gray the metering unit assumes all world to be.

        But as I said: this image works, regardless of the grain, or, most probably, with it.

  3. TomDills

    I’m probably reading a lot into this photo, but I’m seeing an interesting contrast between two approaches to rain. The main with the umbrella to guard against the drops, and the gulls carrying on as usual, seemingly oblivious to the rain. The grittiness of the black & white with high contrast works well.

    Here’s my 2-cents worth on the lens/grain/noise question. I have frequently read complaints about how adding a teleconverter degrades the image quality of a lens, but I have had perfectly good results using a 2X converter on a 70-200mm lens. When I have had issues it was when I have been shooting through a lot of haze or sea spray. Any chance that what you are seeing is the effect of shooting through a quarter mile or so of rain? Also, while ISO 1600 is more usable that it used to be, it’s still pretty high. And increasing the exposure even a half stop could increase the shadow noise.

    I don’t have any experience with this lens, but it may just not have the good glass the your primes have.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Tom. Actually, I was having similar thoughts when I took this series. It’s only humans who react to weather, or react strongly. The gulls don’t care. But at least this guy was out there. On this day I had no desire whatsoever to walk the beach!

      Whatever the effect – or lack of effect – this lens has on noise, it definitely doesn’t have the optical quality of the primes (especially the 75mm). It loses sharpness at both the short and long ends of its range. And I don’t think I’d ever try using it at night. It’s just way too slow. Even in this light it had trouble focusing.

      I also agree that ISO 1600 is still higher than I’d like to use. While it’s not horrible, the noise is still clearly visible.

  4. Cedric Canard

    This is a different type of shot from you Paul. I like it a lot. Moody, dark, minimalist, real nice. I am no expert on the technical aspects of lenses but I would not write-off that lens. The rain could be the reason why the picture looked noisy as Tom suggests. An f-stop of 6.2 on your camera would be the 35mm equivalent of f11 or there about so I wouldn’t expect any deterioration of quality even at ISO 1600. But like I said, I’m no expert. Anyway, the picture looks very cool.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Cedric.

      You’re right about the f/stop effect. If you’re looking for shallow depth of field you have to understand what’s going on when using micro 4/3 lenses. You can still get good bokeh (with the primes), but it’s not exactly like what you get with a Canon or Nikon system.


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