Focal length and other experiences from a trip to Rome.

Started Jun 20, 2013 | Discussions thread
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Paul De Bra
Paul De Bra Forum Pro • Posts: 12,493
Focal length and other experiences from a trip to Rome.

My recent trip to Rome has answered many questions about what lenses to get or not to get...

Mind you, I took 597 snapshots (actually more, but I only kept 597) none of which would qualify as a "photograph". All pictures were just taken "on the fly", not waiting for the best light or for other tourists to get out of the way. Don't visit It's not worth it except maybe to see how wide 9mm is or isn't.

I used exposureplot to see what focal lengths, apertures, iso values, etc. I used. Here is a brief summary:

- I used the 9-18 for most pictures. 118 shots were taken at 9mm, 72 at 18mm and probably cropped a bit. All focal lengths in between also saw quite a bit of use. I took a few panorama shots. There was one (1) shot where the 7-14 (which I don't have) would have worked without needing a panorama. All other panoramas were way wider than 7mm would have given me. So getting the small but very good 9-18 lens was a good decision. (I also used it occasionally with a polarizer.)

- We visited many churches. The 9-18 was also used quite a bit there to "get it all in" but I also used the 20mm f/1.7 as it is much better in low light. (It is also better in good light.) I have 113 shots taken at 20mm. I believe that over 100 of those were with the 20mm lens. Given the pictures I took I'd say: don't believe anyone who tells you you can be a tourist with just the 20mm lens. The world looks very different when you can zoom in more and zoom out as well!

- I used the 12-50 lens only when I needed to go over 20mm or when I didn't have time to switch back to the 20mm or 9-18. Less than 10% of my shots were between 21 and 50mm. The nice thing about using the 9-18 and 12-50 is that they share hood and filters.

- Only 12 shots out of the 597 were over 50mm, all taken with the 75-300. Long focal lengths are rarely needed when visiting cities. Everything is close. You need wide much much more often than long. Had it not been for taking pictures of the Vatican dome from a distance I could easily have gone without the 75-300. (A few shots with the 75-300 were also of keynote speakers at the conference I attended.)

- Three (3) shots out of 597 used a larger aperture than f/2.8. Given my use of focal length and aperture a 12-40 f/2.8 which I still hope Olympus will make would have seen a lot of use and the 20mm would have seen hardly any use. I could have done almost everything with the 9-18 plus a 12-40 f/2.8 if it existed. No need for the 20mm f/1.7 then.

- I often took 3 pictures of the same scene in low light to increase the likelihood of one coming out without blur from camera shake. This was a waste of effort. Of the around 1.000 shots I started out from 2 or 3 were visibly blurred. The IBIS on the E-M5 is really really good. Just over 10 shots out of 597 were taken at ISO1600 (some by mistake when I forgot to change it back). The IBIS is so good that for static subjects (the ancient ruins and the churches are fairly static) you can get by with ISO 800 as the maximum. I used 800 for 160 shots. Yes there was a lot of indoor shooting. Note that I have 1/8s anti-shock dialed in permanently. It is needed!

- The most important quality of the E-M5 was dynamic range. Most of the time it was sunny, meaning harsh shadows and a serious need to post-process to keep shadows and highlights under control. Also in churches the light coming through the windows was often a real challenge to deal with. Fortunately I took the shots with dark interior and light streaming through the windows with the Olympus lenses so no purple fringing to be seen at all. Olympus lenses are very resistent to PF.

- Every day I started with 2 fully charged batteries. There was not a single day where the first battery ran out. Always still showing full at the end of the day. And I did use the LCD a lot, mainly for choosing a focus point on the touch screen. I have grown quite fond of that feature. And the LCD was surprisingly good even in the brightest sunlight (although the EVF was clearly better there).

- I took one (1) shot with the tiny clip-on flash. I took many more with the Metz 58. The clip-on flash is good to carry as it is so small. But unlike with my previous Canon dslr I hardly want fill-in flash because the dynamic range is so good that I can brighten the subject in post.

Finally a bit of statistics of what other cameras people used. Most popular are of course phones. Then all sorts of small digicams and quite a few ipads. (It looks hideous to use an ipad in the Vatican or the Colosseum but people do it anyway.) The Canon dslrs are by far the most popular, more so than Nikon and that is much more popular than any other dslr. Almost all dslrs were used with the cheapest kit lenses. I saw quite a few Nex-es and fewer Nikon-1's. I saw three other E-M5s: two black, one silver. All three had the 12-50 kit lens mounted. I also saw a few Pens and Panasonic m43 cameras, mostly G models. (Could have been GH as well. No GF models. No GX1 either.) These were all used with kit lenses too except for one with the 20mm f/1.7. We may discuss wonderful lenses in this forum but the reality is that we are a small minority using anything other than the kit lens sold with the camera.

I hope this may help some people who doubt what they would need on a city visit (Rome or other). Of course, YMMV.

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Slowly learning to use the Olympus OM-D E-M5.
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 Paul De Bra's gear list:Paul De Bra's gear list
Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR Olympus OM-D E-M5 Olympus E-M5 II Panasonic Lumix G 20mm F1.7 ASPH Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45mm F1.8 +3 more
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