Astrophotography with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

Compromise can be a good thing. A couple of years ago, I got interested in astrophotography through looking at NASA’s Astronomy Picture Of the Day, and then I took a photo of a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter on a Canon PowerShot SX120IS digital point-and-shoot that happened to capture two Galilean moons.

Basic, but I was hooked. It wasn’t long before room was being made in the budget for a new digital camera. We decided on a compromise between astrophotographical aspirations and family use; I was pretty keen for a Canon DSLR of some kind, but the size and waterproofing and functions of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II won out. I’m glad, because it’s a fantastic camera. It’s easy to use, but it doesn’t dumb down operation in the way nearly everything is trying to do these days. It’s got a list of functions as long as your arm, but it’s small and light enough for my 3yo niece to hold and use it herself (with supervision). It’s weatherproofed. It takes many styling cues from the Olympus OM-1, which is just a gorgeous camera. And it’s mirrorless, so adapting old/manual focus lenses and maintaining infinity focus is cheap. The picture below has it attached to a Canon FL 200m f3.5 lens and 2x teleconverter, just for kicks.

DSC_1251

I really enjoy shooting with it. It’s an enjoyable camera and it can handle just about anything you throw at it. But its Micro Four Thirds sensor isn’t quite optimal for for astrophotography – a bit on the small and noisy side. I’m still working on getting the settings right to reduce sensor noise for general wide field and deep field astro work, but below are some I’ve managed.

20161002 Milky Way 5
Milky Way from Canberra
Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f1.8 at f2.2
ISO 8000
170 x 1s exposures, stacked in Deep Sky Stacker, processed in Lightroom (I think)

 

Orion nebula
Orion Nebula from Sydney
Canon FL 200mm f3.5 at f3.5
ISO 800
~250 x 1s exposures, stacked in Deep Sky Stacker, processed in Photoshop

 

LMC 1
Large Magellanic Cloud from Canberra
ISO 3200
~50 x 10s exposures, stacked in Deep Sky Stacker, processed in Lightroom and Photoshop

These are all taken on a fixed tripod, hence the low exposure times. However, I’ve recently got a SkyWatcher Star Adventurer tracking mount, so I’m pretty keen to see what I can do with that once I get the hang of using it. Hopefully I can also keep working on overcoming the camera’s noise issues with some magical alignment of the settings. Just need some clear nights…

Tokina SD 28-70mm lens zoom ring repair

I recently bought a camera as parts, and it came with a Tokina SD 28-70mm 1:3.5-4.5 lens. This lens was in a bit of a state, and I already have a Canon 35-70mm FD mount zoom, but I felt like I had to at least try to repair it on principle, you know? The optics of the lens seemed fine, but the focus and zoom rings were both out of action. The focus ring moves the focusing element, but can also slip backward, lose contact with whatever holds the focusing element, and spin freely. The zoom ring was relatively stiff, though the rubber was loose and would easily slide around the ring. I tackled the zoom ring first because it seemed easier.

Prompted by this MFlenses post, I removed the zoom ring rubber and confirmed that the scotch tape holding the rings together was indeed the culprit. I still can’t believe that the fairly critical worky bits of this lens are basically held together with stationery (but this does seem to answer the poster’s question about whether this is how these Tokina lenses came from the factory). The scotch tape’s adhesive had degraded to the point that it was a fairly slimy lubricant and was doing very little to hold things in place. I removed the tape, and then removed its disassociated adhesive with a small amount of isopropyl alcohol on a cotton bud.

Because the zoom ring rubber had also stretched, applying fresh scotch tape wouldn’t have fully fixed the problem. I had been impressed by the stickiness of the self-adhesive craft foam I used to repair the Ricoh 500G, and thought that it might make a decent substitute. Since it came in a multicoloured pack, I also decided to follow this guy’s lead and have some fun. The lens has a red ring around the business end, so I used some red foam cut into a strip of the appropriate width with a rotary cutter. The foam sheets weren’t quite long enough to reach around the circumference, so I cut an extra piece to match and made sure it was on the bottom of the lens barrel when attached. I tested rotation at this point – it stuck well and the ring was easier to move. I then replaced the zoom ring rubber, which fit quite snugly over the top of the foam. I think, despite the colour of the foam not quite matching the red at the end of the lens, it matches the lens’s aesthetic quite well. And it is definitely easier (read: actually possible) to use the zoom ring now.

Tokina SD 28-70mm 1:3.5-4.5 lens - zoom ring repair

I wasn’t able to do the focus ring at the same time because it was night. I need to be able to focus at infinity to line the focus ring up to the front element correctly, and that’s much easier in daylight. The focus ring rubber isn’t as stretched so I doubt it will need the same foam treatment. However, if padding was required, I think I would do it with black foam so that it wouldn’t look too busy.

Ricoh 500G light seal repair

During a trip to Canberra, I dropped in to the Canberra Photographic Market and picked up a Ricoh 500G from a parts bin for $10.

Ricoh 500G

The camera was reportedly in “probably fine” condition, but was half way through a light seal repair.

Ricoh 500G light seals 1

I finished cleaning it up (using lens cleaning fluid – not optimal, but got the job done with some cotton buds and elbow grease) then started to apply some new seals. I followed Phill Allen’s excellent instructions here for the most part. However, I didn’t purchase a kit of seals from the well-renowned Jon Goodman, but forged on with what I could find. The only self-adhesive foam I could readily find in Sydney was about 1.5mm thick, which is about 0.5mm thicker than the kit judging by Phill Allen’s photos, and this did present some difficulties.

Ricoh 500G light seals 2

Ricoh 500G light seals 3

You can see in the photo below that the action of closing the door has caused some issues with the foam at the latch end.

Ricoh 500G light seals 4

With the seals fully in place, the extra half millimetre made the door very difficult to close. The primary culprit was the top section (with the cut-out for the viewfinder) – with this in place, the camera door closure felt dangerously tenuous. Not even some judicious compression would resolve the issue to my satisfaction. So, I opted for another solution.

Ricoh 500G light seals 6

Yes, wool glued to metal with PVA looks rubbish. However, it works. The test roll I shot showed no light leaks at all. After some more use, the foam seals have compressed further and the door is easier to close. So, I think it may be worth replacing the wool seals with strips of foam at some point in the future, if not the full top seal, for neatness if nothing else.

I really like this camera. It is quite small and quiet and discrete, even if the lens is more bulky than an Olympus XA. Shutter priority auto-exposure isn’t my favourite but it’s a handy inclusion. And a 40mm lens feels quite at home after shooting Voigtländer Vito/Vitoret cameras for some years. It has definitely sold me on the idea of looking through parts bins for treasure.

Canon FT QL mirror damper replacement

I thought I’d make my first post about some work done on my favourite camera: my dad’s old Canon FT QL.

20181106 Canon FT mirror damper 3

This fully mechanical SLR was built from 1966-72. It has through-the-lens metering (the only electrical function) and a nifty Quick Load system for film insertion (honestly not sure why it’s not ubiquitous in later cameras – it’s foolproof). A camera like this was a great place to start learning how to use cameras properly, as you have to do everything. Doubly so, as the light meter is getting a little iffy. I just “sunny 16” it up when the light meter gets sketchy and it generally works a treat.

This camera has had some work done on it back in the 70s or 80s – badly. Dad kept the receipt. The workman’s notes can be paraphrased as “Couldn’t fix the issue, you’ll need parts to fix this :O also, I tried cleaning the insides and now your focusing screen’s light meter match circle is gone YOLO kthxbai.”

Somewhere along the line it also lost its mirror damper, though from disintegration or incompetence it’s hard to say. The mirror would whack up against the frame surrounding the focusing screen, which was quite noisy. I think, over the years, it also made the mirror mount slightly loose, as the mirror would sometimes travel outward, as it were, and get stuck against the mirror damper’s baffle plate and not return, causing the viewfinder to be black after a shot. How the mirror never broke I am not sure.

For my first attempt at replacing the mirror damper, I used some 2mm black craft foam bought from a local art store. I cut it to size (about 2.5-3mm wide) with a craft knife (not very well – turns out a rotary cutter is a far better tool for this). I attached it with as small an amount possible of PVA glue. While not a great glue for metal, it adhered the foam to the camera well enough.

20181105 Canon FT mirror damper 1

However, after reattaching the baffle plate and testing, I wasn’t sure this foam was thick enough. It didn’t quite seem to stop contact between the mirror frame and the camera body. I had since found some 1.5mm black craft foam with a self-adhesive backing, so I cut some to size and attached on top of the first strip of foam. This photo makes it look less aligned than it is, and I might well re-do this at some point with two strips of the self-adhesive foam instead.

Canon FT QL mirror damper repair 4

However, it is just thick enough to effectively stop the mirror hitting the camera body both in manual and automatic actuation, but not thick enough to obstruct the light path.

Canon FT QL mirror damper repair 5

It seems to be working well in shooting so far. It is quieter – the Canon FT QL could never be described as a quiet camera, but the shutter sounds less clunky and more deliberate now.

There are still a few things I could do on this camera. As it’s got fairly high sentimental value, I’ve just bought a copy that’s in a bit of a state that I can use to practice tearing it down, and I might salvage its focusing screen to get the match circle back.

Hello world!

This blog is going to detail my adventures with cameras.

I have a few interests in photography:

  • Film photography: I have a bunch of old film cameras, and I enjoy keeping the analogue skills alive. Sometimes I develop my own black and white film, though this is on hiatus until I can move into a house/apartment with a laundry/darkroom.
  • Astrophotography: I love space, and taking photos of space is cool. I’m not great at it but it’s fun.
  • Camera repair: Part of keeping the analogue skills alive is keeping the analogue cameras alive. I’m learning (mostly by trial, error, and Google) how to repair these old and beautiful machines.
  • Photography in general: I’m not great but I love it. It’s a different way to look at and think about the world.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hartacus/

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/

Thanks for reading!