Trains Trinity

I shall shortly be off on another photo charter to capture some late afternoon and then night time steam engine action. For this I will use two constant aperture pro zooms and a fast pro prime...

Cutting to the chase, the three lenses will be my Olympus 12-100mm f4 IS Pro, Olympus 8-25mm f4 Pro and OM System 20mm f1.4 Pro all used with my MFT format OM System Olympus OM1. Allowing for the 2x crop factor theses lenses have a FF focal length equivalence of 24-200mm, 16-50mm and 40mm respectively.

So why pro lenses? Well, firstly I wanted the weather-sealing capability provided by these optics as I shall be out and about in November in the cold and damp with the potentiality for some very soggy conditions. Secondly, with the zooms I wanted a constant aperture throughout their zoom range so I did not have to fuss with changing exposure values when zooming them. With the prime I wanted decent performance when using it wide open at its fastest aperture in very low light to keep the ISO levels as low as possible.


I also wanted everything to be hand holdable hence the IS in the longer range 12-100mm to sync with the IBIS in the OM1 camera, also the two zooms being a decently fast f4 (f2.8 zooms are too big, too heavy and of too restrictive a zoom range for this sort of work) plus the 8-25mm and the 20mm optics also take advantage of the in camera body IBIS. No tripods for me, they simply get in the way and are just another thing to carry around.

Maybe I should share a few thoughts on what works for me in snapping steam locomotives and indeed full train sets whether they are passenger or freight with these lenses. You may have a different approach which works for you, this is simply mine.


So I prefer to go out on organised Steam Charters where such things as proving line side access, knowledge of good locations, chances to photograph particular locomotives and train sets (passenger or freight), plus safety regimes and administration are all catered for. They keep life simple and safe whilst providing great photo opportunities with the least hassle to myself.

From a technical perspective, I use my OM System Olympus OM-1, with its CAF + Tracking and AI Subject (Trains) detection capability, this ensures I get in focus pictures as trains approach me. I will take bursts of 7 or 8 shots with the camera set to low burst mode, typically using my 12-100mm zoom. I will also zoom the lens from long to short taking bursts of pictures at intermediate zoom settings as I go as well, with the camera staying locked onto the train anywhere in the frame and continuously tracking it and maybe panning the camera at the same time if needs be. If I am in a more confined space like a train yard, for example, where indeed the trains may be stationary and I may need to get close up, or maybe work in a confined space, I will use my 8-25mm zoom. In very low light I will use my fast 20mm prime lens.

For exposure, on trackside with moving trains, I will go to shutter priority mode and typically set 1/250th shutter speed to stop the action. Heritage steam lines are limited to 25mph so anything faster isn't needed and chartered trains, making back and forth passes as they do, rarely reach that sort of speed anyway. Sometimes I might choose to pan and use a slower speed like 1/30th so the train is sharp but the wheels and locomotion are blurred to give an impression of speed. Aperture will, conveniently, be no smaller than f4 (gives you f8 FF dof equivalent) for decent depth of field for the full train set.I store the main settings I use on custom mode C4 so I can dial it in whenever I need it.


After dark, however, I tend to revert to my 20mm f1.4 (the 20mm being equivalent to a FF 40mm) and use faster apertures to keep to the lowest possible ISO's. With static subjects I will turn off tracking, CAF and burst mode and switch exposure to program mode and rely on fast apertures and much slower shutter speeds in combination with the OM1's 7EV of image stabilisation again to keep the ISOs settings as low as possible. I store the these settings on custom mode C1.Thus I can simply switch between C4 and C1 on the camera mode dial as I need to.


The 8-25mm I also use down to f4 but at slower shutter speeds if required relying on the cameras IBIS if needs be when snapping stationary engines in the yard and when photographing details close up for example. For this I use the same custom mode C1 settings as for the 20mm as described above.

Sometimes I like to include people with their machines in my pictures. Drivers, firemen and guards, those dedicated people who devote their time to making it all happen. The 12-100mm is great for doing this.

Finally, I think light. I am always thinking about how the locomotives and their train sets, and indeed people when included, are lit. The quality of the light really matters. Back light, morning light, evening light, flood light, light and shade, half light, twilight, dark light, they all give my subjects and my photographs their own unique feeling, mood and atmosphere.That is why I use great glass to make the best of the available light whatever it throws at me even when it is less than kind.

Thus you have my trinity of trains photography lenses and my approach to using them with the camera technology I have available to use them with.

✧ Jokul Frosti ✧

A space containing the thoughts, experiences, photos and collected curiosities of a walkabout photographer with a snapshot style.