Bucking the Wisdom of the Web. Can cheap lenses be sharp? Yes, of course. Careful Dave, we're talking about those little sixteen megapixel cameras again...

I've been going back and forth about which cameras to use for a math conference. It's largely a silly self argument because I can rationalize equally well in either direction. But the one thing that was holding me back from enthusiastically embracing the Olympus EM5.2s was the fact that I sold the Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8 that I used with good effect last year and I didn't replace it or get the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8. I looked around at less expensive alternatives but just about everything else has reviews that give me pause. That pull me up short. I wanted the Olympus 40-150mm f4.0-5.6 to be decent because it is affordable, lightweight and downright cute in its silver finish. 

But there were those reviews. "Okay at the lower focal lengths but quickly loses sharpness at the longer focal lengths..." Or, "Too soft at the long end..." Or, mostly, "Meh. What do you expect from a cheap lens?!"

But being a contrarian I bought one of the little zooms for $125 and decided to test it out for myself. I was pretty sure it would be fine at the shorter focal lengths but I wanted to see for myself if it turned to mush as it tromboned out toward its longest length. 

I had time to walk around today so I stuck the 40-150mm f4.0 to 5.6 onto a loitering EM5.2 body and went for a walk through downtown Austin. I stopped and shot whatever caught my eye and, of course, I shot all of it handheld. The camera focused the lens quickly. I used aperture priority to keep the lens wide open all the way through the focal length range. 

These are the images I got. The lens is quick and easy to use and balances well on the EM5 series cameras. The  images are a little flat (low contrast) but there's an easy fix for that in Lightroom. 

I think I'll keep mine. 

Look for a rebate!

Shooting with the new Berlebach wooden monopod. On site at the JW Marriott Hotel.

The uni-directional head on the top of the Berlebach "crutch". 

Right off the bat I'll say that I loved working with new monopod and a Nikon D610 + the Nikon 24-120mm f4 lens. The combination of vibration reduction in the lens and the added stability of the monopod made for a quick shooting day yesterday and no failures due to camera shake. None. The monopod only has two sections so there is only one leg lock, and it's easy to get to and easy to set. There's even a scale on one of the leg sections so you can find your preferred settings and return to them quickly.

The one thing that's always vexed me when using monopods without a head of some sort is trying to take verticals. Of course it's pretty much impossible to do with one's camera screwed directly onto of the monopod but I've always found conventional ballhead to be cumbersome on a stick because I don't really want the all directional capability of the bullhead when I release the lock. Mostly I just need to be able to tilt up and down. If I need to rotate the camera I can just rotate the whole thing. Same with side to side tilts.

The one thing I wasn't sure of with the "pan only" design of the Berlebach was how to handle verticals. It's easy as pie. One loosens the screw enough to turn the camera sideways across the head and then flips the head 90 degrees to one side. Instant vertical orientation. 

I'd forgotten how nice it is to have all the weight of a camera and lens on a support when doing the kind of job that requires moving, waiting, shooting and waiting some more (mostly waiting for show attendees to move along so I could photograph signage and stuff, unpopulated). When standing around waiting you have all the effects of gravity transferred to the "stick" rather than to your shoulder, via a strap; or to your arms and shoulders, via handholding. 

The other nice thing about this particular monopod, in its natural wood finish, was how nicely most of the people I encountered treated me when I carried it or used it. Everyone seemed especially solicitous yesterday. Then, of course, I found out that many people thought the wooden tripod was some sort of crutch! Inference: I had some sort of disability!! Well, other than wanting to be a photographer I am not particularly disabled but I thought the immediate connection of the tripod to a crutch was humorous.

Better for people to think it is some sort of medical device rather than concluding that it is some sort of weapon, as people sometimes do with the black monopod I used to carry around. Collapsed the Leitz monopod did remind law enforcement and security people of a collapsible, tactical baton. Ah well. Symbols, symbols. 

The Freescale FTF show is in full swing. The main session for today just wrapped up. The keynote speaker was Steve Wozniak, one of the two founders of Apple. He was speaking about the future of technology. Very interesting.....  While the show goes on my part is complete and the images I shot Sunday and yesterday have all been retouched and delivered. 

I'm spending most of today packing up for our upcoming math education conference at the AT&T Conference Center at the University of Texas at Austin. I start tomorrow morning and end on Saturday afternoon. It's a quiet, congenial, collegial conference; filled with nice, bright people and lots of discussions about teaching, learning and sharing. The two conferences, one in the commercial/technology world and one in the world of education, are so different in character and feel. Each one is fun. Only one is moderately stressful.

I still haven't decided on which camera system I'll use for the math conference. I used the Nikon on the tech job but I'm leaning toward the smaller cameras for the math people. Charging batteries for both so I guess I'll decide an hour before I head to bed. 

I love the new "wraps" people are using to temporarily brand show venues.
And I love this year's designs for FTF.

Getting ready for technical break out sessions at the JW.

Lobby branding for the technical showcase at Freescale's FTF show.