As much as I like my Olympus OMD EM1 and its inherent benefits (lightweight, flexible, weather resistant, less expensive lenses, etc.), it does have one serious drawback, I think, for anyone who takes a lot of landscape type photographs. Its aspect ratio is 4:3. The images are damn near square. For a lot of things, that’s fine. It works as well as or better than other “native” aspect ratios. For landscapes, however, not so well. It’s like taking a movie made in a 16:9 format and watching it on an old nearly square TV. It just doesn’t look right. At least not to me. Some things are just meant to be viewed “wide”.
Case in point: a single image I took last week at the Lower Falls in Letchworth SP:
It’s not bad, I guess, but to me it feels overly compressed, like you’re looking through one of those old spyglasses or something. Or like looking through a tunnel. Even if I’d never been to this particular spot it feels like there’s something missing. You’ve got the bridge and the river and the falls in the background, but what’s off to the sides?
For me, this one works much better (a 4-frame stitched panorama):
Not a mind-blowing image by any stretch, but the sensation of looking through a tunnel is no longer there (at least not for me). There’s more perspective and more context. There’s a long leading line emanating from the lower left corner of the frame that for me provides context for the bridge. The stone bridge is the only place in the park that allows hikers to go from the west side of the park to the east side (or the other way around) without having to drive. The path coming towards you leads to some stone stairs that climb up a fairly steep gorge wall. And of course you get a much better feel for the gorge wall itself. You get a better sense of the textured wet shale that is so characteristic of New York’s Finger Lakes region. It’s not so easy to see on a video monitor, but it’s very apparent on a large print.
The only drawback is that you have to know something about shooting panoramas, even if it’s only 4 frames wide. For one thing, you really should use a tripod. In my opinion, handheld just won’t work. Yeah, I know. I’ve seen panoramas shot with iphones, too. It can be done. But I really don’t think they’re very good. Only a tripod – if set up correctly – can insure that the system is absolutely level. If your camera isn’t level, the best you can hope for is minimal cropping in post. And only the tripod will allow you absolute control over the degree of frame overlap and focus continuity.
But you’re not there yet. Even if you’ve got the whole system level you still have to worry about parallax and the nodal point.
Say what? Parallax? Nodal Point? Sounds like a couple of places up on the Maine coast……….
Well, to be extremely brief, parallax has to do with how we (or cameras) see things. How we see a tree, for example, depends on where we’re standing (our angle of view). If we move, or if the camera moves, our point of view changes. It’s not hard to figure out that this might have an effect on a panorama, since the camera’s position – its “point of view” – changes with each frame. This is especially true if there’s a foreground subject included. If that’s the case, you get something like this:
This was taken (as a kind of “practice” shot) on the Lake Ontario shoreline. It covers roughly 180 degrees of view from west to east. If you know this spot you’ll see the problem immediately. The foreground sidewalk makes a V-shape as it passes the location of the camera. In reality, the sidewalk is a straight line. There is no”V”. That’s photographic parallax.
The reason you don’t see that effect in the first panorama is because there is no foreground subject. There’s nothing in the frame that’s close to the camera. Which means that one way to avoid the parallax effect is to keep foreground objects out of the picture.
If you want a panorama with a foreground subject in it then you need to know what a nodal point is (and how to calculate it). The nodal point is found where the optical center of the lens is directly above the axis of rotation. In other words, if the axis of rotation is at the center of the tripod’s head, then the optical center of the lens – not the weighted center – must be, and remain, directly above that point. If you do this, parallax becomes a non-problem.
Who said photography was easy. In any case, it’s worth learning, I think, if you own a micro 4/3 camera and like to take landscapes. I honestly think that this format is not well suited for landscape photography. Unless, of course, you’re willing and able to create panoramas. For me, it makes all the difference.
One last point. It’s now possible to stitch panoramas (or create HDR images) inside of LightRoom. Previously, you needed to take the individual images into Photoshop (or some other application) to do the work. That usually meant creating a TIF file before returning to LightRoom. Now you can do it all in one place. And it creates a dng file in the process, which means that you still have a full-fledged RAW image. That’s really neat.