The never ending saga of photo image management workflows – how to best organise and manage your photos

Written by admin on February 18th, 2017

I have been battling this issue for years and it is not an easy one on many fronts:

  • First there is the issue of organising your photos so that you can find them again
  • Secondly is making sure you have your images backed up – preferably in at least two physically separate environments (and preferably on another location in case your house gets burnt down or you are burgled and your computer disks are stolen)
  • Thirdly is a workflow mechanism to generate the highest quality images you can extract from your camera
  • Fourth, is a workflow mechanism to post-process the images to your desired taste
  • Fifth, is a workflow mechanism to output an appropriately sharpened and resized image to your target, be it web or a printer

On this blog post, I will be looking only at the first 3 issues and will be discussing what I have found on my Windows machines – I don’t use MacBooks and these have their own issue with hiding where they keep your photos and the Time Machine backup process becoming corrupt – when was the last time you backed up your Time Machine onto new drives kept elsewhere and how old are the drives in your Time Machine? I prefer manual back up methods so I know it is done and where they all are.

Digital photography has made many aspects much easier BUT it is also much easier to lose lots of your photos if you are not careful and take steps to back them up safely and securely – remember too that hard drives and USB sticks and memory cards all have a finite life – you do need to constantly create new backups on new drives!

We are often our own worst enemy in backing up – a few years ago I had thought that I had backed up several month’s worth of photos from my computer before I replaced it only to discover a year later there are no backups and the originals were all deleted and the computer and drives sent to the rubbish. OUCH!!! YOU MUST KEEP AT LEAST TWO COPIES ON DIFFERENT DRIVES!

I have heard of people backing up their RAW files to the Cloud and that is all and good as an additional measure if you have fast internet and you don’t mind paying an ongoing subscription to store them there.

Disclaimer: There are many options for your workflow, this is just one that is sort of working for me but it may well be too complicated for your needs and you may wish to  simplify it or use something totally different – either way it may highlight a few issues of which you may not be aware.

If you don’t really care about your image quality, just shoot jpegs, copy them to your phone, then upload them into Instagram, apply some image degrading “filter” and post online like most other people – if the content is interesting, the 1 second that people look at your small web image, they hopefully won’t notice the poor post-processing.

The Adobe Lightroom approach:

I have used Lightroom for a few years having given up on Adobe Photoshop when Adobe decided you must have an ongoing monthly subscription payment to use it, and I figured that as I try to get everything as best I can in the camera and I am not a “digital artist”, I can get by without the extra benefits of Photoshop such as layers, etc.

For newbies, Lightroom is a weird beast – unlike most software packages where you can just open a file, view it and edit it, Lightroom forces you to:

  1. create a “Lightroom Catalogue” – a folder system in which is stored your edits and previews
  2. “import” your photos into the catalogue – doesn’t actually store your photos in there, just thumbnail previews and any edits
  3. make a local copy of your photos during import if your folder from which you are importing your photos is a “removable medium” such as a memory card (whether it is external or internal), external USB stick. Lightroom will actually also automatically copy all the photos into a new folder on your computer, by default, in your Pictures folder under the year of import – this is a massive pain if you are using a laptop with minimal free hard disk space! Wouldn’t it be great if Adobe would just put an option in there as to whether or not you want to copy files during import?
  4. use the LR Library folder directory to view you photos inside Lightroom at a later date, you must go to the “Library” section, find the original drive and folder where it was imported from (or to). If Windows has renamed the drive for an external drive, or you have copied the photos to a different folder, you need to right click on the now disabled Library folder highlighted with a ? and select Find Missing Folder and then re-allocate it the new folder location.

The advantages of this process in Lightroom is that for users who have plenty of space on their computer’s hard drive, they can consolidate all their photos in one place and have them catalogued and easily searched using keywords, etc.

The disadvantage is that the catalogue itself can quickly become huge and risk corruption (hence LR reminds you to back it up via its own backup system) or running out of memory. For users who use external hard drives to store their photos, they may have to constantly go through the Find Missing folder process.

A disadvantage of Lightroom for Olympus users is that the RAW conversion within Adobe products requires a lot of sophisticated tweaking to get a similar output as the Olympus camera or Olympus Viewer software in terms of the much lauded “Olympus colours”.

If you are using a new camera such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, you may need LR6 or LR CC to be able to read and edit the RAW files, or you can download the free Adobe DNG Converter and convert them to DNG RAW files which LR5 will read, or you can use Olympus Viewer 3 to convert them to TIFF files.

A solution to getting “Olympus colors” in LR is to initially use Olympus Viewer 3 (a free download) to edit your RAW images (ORF files) and then export them into 16 bit TIFF files which can then be further processed in Lightroom. BUT Olympus Viewer is slow and has a few issues you need to beware of (see below), and the TIFF files are HUGE 88Mb for 16mp shots and 118Mb for 20Mp shots.

A virtual drive to the rescue:

A solution to this last issue which I have come up with, is to create a virtual folder using Truecrypt (this is no longer supported but you can download Veracrypt for free to access the Truecrypt files or create Veracrypt versions).

There are two advantages to using Truecrypt/Veracrypt:

  • you gain control over which drive letter gets assigned when you mount the file as a virtual drive
  • by default, the files are encrypted so thieves won’t easily get access to all your family pics

A recent problem I have ran into is that Windows 10 Anniversary Edition – yes that lovely new version Microsoft forced upon us – does not play well with these virtual drives – even when you nicely close them down (dismount) before closing Windows – I was getting regular file corruptions, even without Windows closing, but just on dismounting the drive, and running Windows chkdsk just deleted these files and all my photos (lucky I keep back ups elsewhere!).

I seem to have remedied this corruption issue by selecting the “Mount as Removable Medium” in the Veracrypt mount options BUT now if I import photos from within these virtual drives into Lightroom, it insists on creating copies of every photo onto my laptop hard drive with minimal free space.

My laptop does have a microSD slot in which I have a microSD card to provide additional “hard drive” memory but as it only has one USB port, to get my photos from my camera’s SD card onto a Truecrypt virtual drive which resides on a USB external hard drive, I must first copy them to the microSD card, then remove the SD card reader and attach the USB hard drive, mount the virtual Truecrypt drive but this time not as removable medium (keep my fingers crossed it won’t be corrupted by Windows 10 on this episode), copy the photos from the microSD card to the virtual drive, then run Lightroom and create a new Catalogue saved to the virtual drive, and then import the photos from the virtual drive. Close Lightroom, dismount the virtual drive, then remount it with the Removable Medium option checked and then all should be well.

Now, of course, I could have opened Lightroom after attaching the SD card reader and SD card, Lightroom would have detected the card and offered to import the photos and possibly I could have changed the destination folder for the copies to be the microSD card – but 1. I don’t trust LR to do this and not miss copying some files, and 2. after I copied the microSD card photos to the virtual drive, I would have to do the Find Missing Folder process again.

Once I am happy that I have all the photos securely copied, I then make a copy of the dismounted Truecrypt file onto another hard drive – but these files can be quite large depending on how large you want them to be – for example if I shoot 200 RAW shots with large jpegs and I need space for processed TIFFs etc, then I may select 20-25Gb as a FAT32 encrypted file. Don’t forget your password to mount the file!!

One disadvantage of this is that you fragment your “library” into multiple smaller catalogues but to me the advantage of keeping your LR catalogue data together with your photos on the one drive and your catalogue remains small and manageable, outweighs this.

The Olympus Viewer 3 approach:

Olympus Viewer 3 is free to download for registered purchasers of Olympus cameras.

When I first used it to convert my RAW photos to TIFF I was shocked at the poor quality – lots of smudged image details on pixel peeping which I was not used to seeing in my Adobe RAW conversions.

I then discovered something which had not occurred to me – the TIFF export process in Olympus Viewer 3, although it has a few basic options in the dialog box, doesn’t warn you that, by default, the TIFF file it is going to create will be based upon the camera settings when the RAW file was shot – so essentially it is going to make a TIFF file version of your jpeg settings – and if you are like me who uses Vivid Picture Style or other styles to gain faster AF, these will, by default be applied to your TIFF file.

Thankfully, OV3 allows one to change all of these settings and then even save them as a settings file which can then later be applied to a batch export.

So, I set Picture Style to Natural (or you can choose Portrait for perhaps a little more dynamic range and less contrast), turned OFF the noise filter, Gradation normal, Contrast 0, Saturation 0, and set Sharpening to minus 2.

In addition to the saved My settings file, you can create a Batch Processing Settings File with your preferred parameters:

  • in the main OV window click on a RAW file and INSTEAD of clicking on the RAW icon, click on the EDIT icon
  • this will take you to a different RAW edit window – ensure your processing settings are as you would like them
  • select from the menu, [Edit] then [Save batch Editing File] and then you can save this file for later use in the Export dialog under Advanced Settings

My lovely TIFFs were back again without any over-processed digitized artefacts, and all ready for me to play with them in Lightroom.

You can also use the OV Export function to create resized jpegs with your Olympus colors – just change the Export dialog settings accordingly, but in this case you may want to create a special batch processing file that applies some sharpening, etc.

Olympus Viewer also copies versions of your images to a cache folder on your hard drive – so if you are space challenged like me, make sure you clear the cache every so often! See Tools:Database:Clear Cache.

Summary workflow:

  • Copy RAW files to computer drive (if you don’t wish to take the SD card out of your camera, you could use a USB cable and OV or LR will copy them across to the hard drive for you but this will be a slower option if your camera or computer is only using USB 2.0 instead of USB 3.0)
  • Open Olympus Viewer and select the folder, then press Ctrl-A to Select ALL
  • Click on RAW icon this will open the RAW Development module
  • If you have already saved your favorite development settings in a file, use the My Settings to select that file and the settings will be applied to all of your RAW files you have selected.
  • Click on the Export button and set destination, 16 bit TIFF, etc in the subsequent dialog box then press Save to export the files – this will take some time.
  • Then the 16 bit TIFF files can be imported into Lightroom or whatever software you wish to use.

Other RAW conversion options:

There are a number of software packages available which you can use to convert your RAW photo files into TIFFs or jpegs.

Perhaps the best for Olympus users is Capture One Pro but this will cost you 279EUR + VAT if you live in Europe. It is said to give colours close to the “Olympus colors” and is faster and has more editing tools than are available in Olympus Viewer.

Photographers will all have their own personal likes and dislikes with each of these packages.

See my wiki page for more info on these for Olympus users.

 

Canon announce a new mirrorless camera – the Canon EOS M6 – essentially an M5 without EVF

Written by admin on February 15th, 2017

Canon have just announced a curiously named budget mirrorless camera – the M6 which is a cut down version of the M5 as there is no viewfinder built-in – but at least it is optional (a non-tilting 2.36Mdot EVF-DC2) – in a similar manner to the Olympus PEN series.

It is similar to the Canon EOS M5 but without the EVF, and instead offers flip up self LCD screen, and an additional dial on the top plate to make it more ergonomic.

Like the M5, it offers an “electronic version of 5 axis image stabilisation in combination with lens OIS” – BUT this only works in video mode and should not be confused with the sensor shift 5 axis image stabilisation offered by Olympus, Panasonic, Sony, and Pentax.

It will be available April 2017.

Specs:

  • 24mp APS-C sensor
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF with Phase-detection on sensor
  • 7fps (9fps with AF lock)
  • shutter speeds 30sec to 1/4000th sec
  • flash sync 1/200th sec
  • exposure compensation limited to ±3 EV
  • AE bracketing limited to ±2 EV
  • built in flash GN 5m at ISO 100
  • DIGIC 7 Image Processor
  • 5 axis electronic IS which will work with lens based optical IS – “Combination IS system” BUT only works in video mode
  • 1080HD 60p video 35mbps (24mbps at 24p)
  • stereo mic
  • 3″ 1mDot TFT touch screen tilts up 180deg and down 45deg
  • smartphone remote control via Bluetooth
  • WiFi, NFC
  • USB 2.0
  • SD card slot
  • NOT weathersealed
  • Canon EF-M lens mount
  • 343 g (0.76 lb / 12.10 oz)
  • 112 x 68 x 45 mm (4.41 x 2.68 x 1.77″)
  • RRP $US780 body only

They are then offering this with either a EF-M 15-45mm F3.5-6.3 IS STM lens or a EF-M 18-150mm F3.5-6.3 IS STM lens – both disappointingly f/6.3 lenses but presumably designed to be as compact as possible for an APS-C camera.

It seems Canon is still struggling to catch up with the technology offered by its peers such as the far more affordable Panasonic GX850/GX800 which also has a selfie mode with flip up screen and in addition has 4K video not just 1080HD video, or the Panasonic GX85/80 with built-in EVF, 5 axis IS, 4K video and weathersealing.

More information on the Canon EOS-M mirrorless cameras and lenses on my wiki page.

Canon, I am still waiting for true sensor-based 5 axis image stabilisation, and preferably in a mirrorless full frame camera!!!

 

Could the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II be the most versatile and accomplished camera ever made?

Written by admin on January 31st, 2017

Now that is a big claim, but after having a considerable hands on with this flagship Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera from Olympus, I am starting to think it may well be.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II may not be the best in class of every single feature, but, it sure has so many features in a compact, light camera that the overall capabilities will address nearly every need with adequate service, and it has some amazing features which allow unprecedented tools to allow you to capture moments of time with accurate focus and incredible speed.

The original Olympus OM-D E-M5 revolutionised the mirrorless camera world by bring all the main pieces together in a compact, light package – nice EVF, excellent IS, good image quality, good retro looks but it had one great deficit – inability to AF on fast moving subjects. The E-M1 mark I was a step in the right direction at addressing this with the introduction of sensor based PDAF, but it is really the E-M1 mark II that finally addresses this shortcoming and builds upon it in many ways – birds in flight are now within the reach of those carrying small, light kits.

Let’s have a look at the feature set.

Take anywhere camera and great for airline travel

A camera is of little use to you if you don’t take it with you.

The compact, light size of the camera and lenses mean you can take a camera and flash in jacket pockets or even a larger hand bag to social events, and the size won’t draw too much attention, and won’t be as intimidating as a larger dSLR.

You can carry a couple E-M1 cameras and a few lenses on cabin luggage and still be well under the usual 7.5kg cabin limit.

A friend of mine last week was boarding an international flight with business class ticket and the airline refused to allow his camera bag as cabin luggage as it was too heavy, and forced him to put it through check in luggage – that was the last he saw of his $20,000 full frame camera gear – and not covered by his travel insurance!

The small size of the Olympus also means you can have lighter and less expensive tripod heads – if you need a tripod!

Unobtrusive and silent

The lack of a mirror means the camera is far less noisy than a dSLR, and in its default mode is very quiet, but can be made silent by choosing the electronic silent shutter mode. In addition, most of the lenses are near silent during focus. This means they are great at classical music concerts, the ballet, weddings, etc.

Silent mode can automatically turn off AF beep, AF illuminator and flash mode.

A dSLR needs to be put into cumbersome mirror lock up mode to have any chance of getting as quiet as this, but then you are forced to use a bright rear annoying LCD screen instead of the viewfinder.

Even heavy rain will not stop you

With perhaps the best weathersealing in the business, one can be confident shooting with it in the rain – as long as the lens is also weathersealed as well!

Although Olympus do not recommend getting it wet unnecessarily, it will survive a bottle of water being poured over it – although one should protect the hotshoe pins and ensure all seals are in place.

Image quality

Smaller sensor cameras such as the Olympus will not match the latest full frame sensor image quality in terms of high ISO image noise and dynamic range, but the E-M1 II is sufficiently high in image quality for most purposes and at low ISO levels, where it will mainly be used, surpasses the full frame dSLRs such as the Canon 6D and Canon 5D Mark III in terms of dynamic range.

If one needs depth of field then the E-M1 II can potentially match these full frame dSLRs by being able to use 2 stops wider aperture and thus shoot 2 stops lower ISO which negates the advantage of the full frame cameras.

Furthermore, the superb, class leading image stabilisation combined with wide aperture lenses mean it is rare to need high ISO levels, and allows much longer shutter speeds hand held than any other camera currently available.

Image quality is not just dynamic range and sensor noise, optics are a critical component, and the smaller sensor allows more affordable high quality lenses with better edge-to-edge image quality, and less softening away from the centre than many full frame lenses.

When one needs high resolution 50mp images, the E-M1 II has a sensor shift multiple image technology which allows 50mp images to be obtained – this does require use of a tripod and is only for static scenes. An alternative approach to high resolution images is by use of panoramic stitches.

Camera shake is a critical element which impairs image quality and comes from 3 main sources:

  • hand held camera shake – here the E-M1 II is class leading in preventing this – one can carefully hand hold a wide angle lens down to more than 2 seconds with acceptable results!
  • mirror slap – this only occurs with dSLRs, and not with mirrorless cameras such as the E-M1. For best results on a dSLR, you need to use a tripod and mirror lock up – very cumbersome and clunky indeed
  • mechanical shutter shake – most modern cameras including the E-M1 II allow 1st shutter to be electronic to avoid this issue (these are the diamond “AntiShock” or silent heart shaped settings on the E-M1′s drive modes)

Bottom line – the E-M1 II will give better image quality than your old 35mm film, and be competitive with some full frame dSLRs, and easily beat the image quality of my $5000 Canon 1D mark III pro dSLR of 2007 which was at that time Canon’s flagship sports dSLR. For most uses this is plenty image quality – for those that need more then a a heavy, super expensive medium format digital system will be even better than the big, heavy Sony a7R II or Nikon D810 full frame dSLRs – its just a matter of how big, heavy and expensive you can manage.

Ask yourself, are all those wonderful, famous images over the past 50 years taken with manual focus 35mm film cameras at f/8 with nearly everything in focus, no longer great photos because their “image quality” is not as good as a modern full frame dSLR or E-M1 Mark II – of course not!

Don’t get too hung up on pixel quality – there is far more to a photograph than just pixels!

Capturing the moment

No matter how good the camera’s image quality, it is useless if it gets in the way of you capturing the image or does not have the tools to allow you to capture the more difficult shots.

The E-M1 II has these tools a plenty.

Mechanical shutter speed to 1/8000th sec.

Electronic shutter speed to 1/32,000th sec!

Burst rates to 18fps with continuous autofocus and up to 60fps with AF only on 1st shot.

Shooting an unpredictable fast moving scene such as a bullet passing through balloons, or a lizard’s tongue capturing an insect – no problem – just use pro-Capture mode!

Pro-Capture mode allows you to capture a set number of images at a user predetermine frame rate from the moment you half press the shutter to the moment you press the shutter, and then continue capturing a user determined number of images after the shutter is pressed. This can be achieved in full electronic silent shutter mode.

This addresses the issue of human error due to human reflex response times and eradicates any shutter lag issues – of course it helps if you have focus locked already.

Now you could fill up your memory card by shooting at 60fps and save up to the last 14 frames prior to full shutter release and then a set amount up to 99 or an unlimited amount after the shutter is fully pressed.

Depending upon your subject and needs you may prefer to shoot at 15fps and capture only 5 frames prior and 10 frames after – it is very customisable and unlike most other cameras with this new feature – you can shoot in full RAW file type not just 4K jpeg with images extracted from a 4K video stream.

Even if this was introduced on a dSLR, I just couldn’t imagine the dSLR mirror flopping up and down at rates faster than 15fps – and it would sure be noisy!

Unprecedented high image quality hand holdable telephoto reach

Matched with the brilliant Olympus mZD micro Zuiko 300mm f/4 OIS lens and Dual IS giving 6.5EV image stabilisation and superb image quality with incredible resolving power, the possibilities are endless – the lighter weight, weathersealed kit will allow you to carry it further into the jungle and you can get away with not bringing a big heavy tripod along.

This is just impossible with a full frame dSLR and if you wanted 600mm telephoto reach you are paying a lot more money and carrying a lot of heavy gear – unlike the Olympus kit, you won’t get that on cabin luggage!

Fast, accurate focus with many tools to assist in focus of difficult subjects

This topic deserves a lot of in depth analysis so I will do this in a future blog post.

In short though:

Ever since the Olympus OM-D E-M5 was introduced, Olympus took the lead over dSLRs for fast, accurate autofocus on static contrasty subjects, and the E-M1 Mark II has extended this. Unlike dSLRs, there is no need to calibrate each lens for accuracy. To see how fast and accurate these Olympus cameras are, you can resort to the rear touch screen mode  where you can touch a subject on the screen and almost instantly, the camera will AF lock on that subject no matter where they are in the frame then immediately take the photo – and this speed is capable with many Micro Four Thirds lenses.

The Olympus cameras also have featured a very handy, accurate closest eye autodetection autofocus feature which allows you to capture the subject’s closest eye in focus no matter where in the frame it is – as long as you give sufficient time (usually much less than 1 sec) and the subject’s face is visible to the camera and not moving too much. Great for static portraits! This is not possible with most other cameras, and the only dSLR that can do this, the Nikon D750, only allows it for when the eye is near the centre of the frame where the AF points are located.

These mirrorless cameras have AF sensors spread across most of the image area unlike dSLRs which tend to only have AF points near the center, means you have more versatility, and speed in locking AF when the subject is off-center – and who really wants their subject in the center?

Release priority settings allow user to set camera so that one can hold the shutter pressed but it will only take the shot when a AF lock is acquired  – a very handy technique.

In situations where AF can be difficult, one can set the camera to use rear-button autofocus lock and disable the half-press shutter AF lock – this allows you to obtain AF by pressing the rear button and then just wait until the moment you want to capture occurs.

If one has to resort to manual focus, these OM-D cameras also allow image stabilised magnified view through the viewfinder or on the LCD screen as well as focus peaking option which highlights the area in focus. In addition, even in magnified view mode, the shutter can be allowed to half-press to AF lock on the magnified view area! (“LV Close Up Settings” under D2 menu). The MF assist functions of magnified view and focus peaking can be set to automatically temporarily activate when MF ring is turned. I person prefer to manually activate the magnified view by allocating it to a function button.

If you have ever tried manually focusing a tilt-shift lens in an optical viewfinder of a dSLR, you will appreciate how useful these tools are!

In addition, most of the higher end lenses have a MF clutch mechanism which not only allows rapid selection of MF instead of AF, but gives a better MF ring experience with end stops and MF distance scale. Many of these lenses also have a Lens Function Button which can be programmed to do various jobs such as halt AF temporarily when the subject goes out of the frame.

Furthermore, there are instances where you want even more depth of field – the latest OM-D cameras, including this one, have both manual focus bracketing and automatic in-camera focus stacking modes to allow a series of shots with user customised focus settings to combine photos of a close subject, mid subject and distant subject to give an overall sharp in focus image – this is particularly useful for macro work to get the whole subject in focus, and also for close up wide angle landscapes.

In addition, the E-M1 Mark II takes the photographer far beyond this capability with the following tools:

  • PDAF sensors for faster moving subjects – although not quite as fast and reliable as the latest Nikon sports dSLR, but impressive indeed for a mirrorless camera and adequate for most users and even birds in flight which is notoriously difficult. Birds in flight is now “easy” see comments on this blog.
  • User customisable in-camera focus range limiter - this is an awesome unique tool – user can set the closest focus and the most distant focus which the AF system will range through trying to find a subjevt to lock onto. Not only does this speed up AF lock acquisition, but can be used to ignore distracting foregrounds or backgrounds such as wire fences, windows, foreground foliage, etc. It will work with all Micro Four Thirds AF lenses and on my testing, works with both Panasonic and Olympus Four Thirds lenses but not with Canon EF lenses using the Metabones adapter. Current dSLRs have to settle for the much less useful lens based focus limiters which only have 2 or 3 set ranges.
  • C-AF tracking algorithm parameters can be customised in a similar manner to sports dSLRs eg. AF scanner mode, C-AF lock sensitivity setting
  • Preset MF allows one to be in MF mode with focus set to a user set distance (easily set by using AF or magnified MF beforehand), and then potentially, use the rear button to AF on another part of the scene, then quickly reset back to the preset MF distance ala focus pulling method of video work – this could be very handy indeed!
  • AF targeting pad – the rear LCD can be swiveled out and used as a touch screen to select the AF point while viewing the image through the viewfinder – awesome for off-centered subjects, and as the screen can swivel out, your nose wont accidentally move the AF point. One can set Fn1 button to reset the AF point to the center point.

Exposure and previsualisation tuning tools

Modern cameras are amazingly sophisticated in getting exposures what they think is optimum for a given scene – they access a massive database of similar scenes to determine the best way to set exposure. If they detect a face, they will tend to expose for the face and ignore the background.

The OM-D cameras take this further thanks to their electronic viewfinder which, unlike the optical viewfinders on dSLRs, allows:

  • WYSIWYG view – if you adjust exposure compensation to under-expose, the view will change to be darker to reflect this change
  • exposure aids such as Live Histogram and Highlight/Shadow warnings which are extremely useful in determining where in the image the image will end uo featureless and blown out unless you adjust exposure. If you use spot metering, this area displays on the histogram in green.
  • pre-visualisation aids such as WYSIWYG monotone or picture styles, image aspect ratio, Colour Creator, white balance, ART filter effects, keystone adjustment as well as visually compose your 2 frame multiple exposure which would be very difficult with an optical viewfinder!
  • Live Boost for darker scenes or when using flash as a main light source
  • “optical viewfinder mode” – attempts to give a more natural view without the WYSIWYG feature or Art Filters or picture style effects
  • grid overlays such as rule of thirds
  • dual electronic level overlays
  • keystone compensation

High level of customisation

For better or worse, the Olympus cameras have an incredible amount of customisation possible which can be very confusing to the newbie (the newbie can always resort to iAUTO mode).

Nearly every control can be allocated different functions depending on the user’s needs, and with the E-M1 Mark II, these can now be stored in one of the 3 custom settings and selected on the top right PASM dial as well as saved to a PC and reloaded from a PC.

An example – the “2×2″ lever which normally allows the twin dials to gain different functions, can be re-allocated to be the POWER ON-OFF switch while the named power switch is disabled – very handy indeed for those wanting just right handed operation of the camera.

No need for your reading glasses!!!

Us older guys who need reading glasses to operate dSLRs can survive very well without them using the OM-D cameras.

You can see all the main settings at a glance in the EVF by pressing the OK button and then can adjust any of them.

You can visualise a playback image through the EVF and even magnify it.

You can visualise the full menu system in the EVF and adjust any parameters.

When using my Canon 1D mark III dSLR, I have to take my reading glasses off to take the shot looking through the viewfinder, and then put them back on to playback the image, change the menu, or view the top LCD screen – and this constant swapping is extremely frustrating and risks breaking the glasses and losing the shot and losing your interaction with your subject who then thinks you are inept.

High resolution “scans” of film

Gone are the days where you need to buy an expensive, slow film scanner to digitize your negatives and slides.

Set the camera up on a tripod with a macro lens, and a light source beneath your film (eg. an iPad with a diffuser).

The articulating rear screen makes ergonomics of macro work so much easier and the magnified view makes accurate manual or auto focus a breeze.

If you want high resolution 50mp jpegs / 64Mb RAW files, just turn on the High Resolution mode.

Very nice hand held “run and gun” video

In addition to the now standard 1080HD video, the E-M1 Mark II sports high quality 4K 24/30p video, but perhaps more importantly, the class leading image stabilisation works extremely well in video mode so that you can get away without having big, heavy tripods or stabilisation rigs.

The forthcoming Panasonic GH5 will provide even better 4K video quality, but for most people, the E-M1 Mark II’s video will suffice.

Easy to use flash:

PC sync port as well as a flash hotshoe.

Olympus flash units are generally more simple to use than Canon or Nikon flashes, and of course there is remote optical TTL flash (“RC mode”) as well as high speed sync modes (“Super FP”) and flash sync is a nice fast 1/250th sec – better than most full frame dSLRs.

In the studio setting, or darker indoors when using flash as you main light source, you can use Manual exposure mode (but still with automatic TTL flash if desired) and have the viewfinder automatically change from a the usual WYSIWYG ambient light mode (which will appear too dark if your manual exposure is set to grossly underexpose the ambient light) to a more useful optimised view mode.

Unfortunately, Olympus in their wisdom has added a 5th hotshoe pin in the last few models to accommodate a power supply to certain flash units. This means one can no longer safely just attach a Canon style flash unit as I suspect the flash unit may not appreciate the power supply. HOWEVER, by using the PC sync and manual flash exposure, one can achieve fairly even scene coverage at shutter speed of even 1/500th sec which will be very handy for outdoor sunlit shooting.

Smartphone WiFi wireless remote control

This is very cool indeed – the ability to remotely see the live camera image on the smartphone, change camera settings remotely, and then select the AF area by touching the desired subject on the smartphone resulting in AF lock on the subject anywhere in the frame and immediate shutter release and image transferred back to the smartphone.

Just awesome – next time you are in a lightning storm, have the camera set up on the tripod in the rain with a lens hood on to prevent rain hitting front lens glass, then remotely control the camera from the safety and comfort of your car.

Obviously this is also very cool when traveling without a PC – just transfer images wirelessly to your iPad or iPhone and then upload to internet.

Night photography features

The E-M1 Mark II has dramatically improved long exposure thermal noise to such an extent that one may be able to avoid using the “Noise Reduction” automatic dark frame noise subtraction technology which effectively doubles the length of your long exposures.

It has improved high ISO noise compared to previous models but still 1-2EV worse than current full frame cameras, but you can still get good image quality of Milky Way astroscapes using a wide angle f/2 lens at ISO 1600 or 3200 at 20sec exposures if that is what you are into.

The EVF can also be set to a Live Boost mode to allow better visualisation and manual focus of dim objects such as stars and, optionally, boosted even further to Live Boost 2 mode to assist in composition of very dark scenes – although the frame rate of the EVF is very slow and not great for focus, and really only suitable for tripod work.

AF on relatively bright stars is easy with a lens f/4 or brighter – just choose a single AF point instead of a block of points – if your lens is not as wide an aperture or the star dimmer, consider using AFL with the in-camera focus limiter to stop the focus hunting so much. If you really get stuck, use magnified MF mode – and even try AFL whilst magnified!

Preset MF mode – just in case you accidentally turn the MF ring – you may as well lock it in as a preset MF so you can quickly return to sharp focus!

In addition it has the interesting and very cool unique long exposure modes of the previous Olympus models:

  • Live Time and Live BULB – unlike dSLRs which don’t get past 30secs for long exposure timed shots, the Olympus cameras can get to 60secs and in addition, visually display the progress of the image “development” so you can assess the exposure. If you want longer timed BULB, just use normal BULB and set the maximum duration for 1,2,4 or 8 minutes, but in this mode there is no visual update of the image on screen.
  • Live Composite – allows an initial scene exposure shot then a user customisable number of further images, but with only the brighter areas added to the original image which prevents the original scene becoming over-exposed. Great for car light trails, fireworks, star trails, etc.

Other features:

  • automatic eye sensor EVF switching
  • fully articulated, swivel touch screen
  • dual SD card slots including one UHS-II compatible slot
  • in-camera automatic HDR as well as manual HDR modes
  • Timelapse mode up to 999 frames
  • Timelapse movies at 4K 5fps, 1080HD 5/10/15fps
  • Multi-exposure mode to automatically combine 2 photos with optional auto-gain (the original one can be one on the memory card or a previous multi-exposure RAW file which thus allows unlimited multi-exposures)
  • keystone compensation
  • Automatic flicker reduction with flourescent lighting (or you can choose 50Hz or 60Hz, or turn it off)
  • AF illuminator built-in (no flash required)
  • ART filters to help previsualise images as well as create special effects
  • Colour Creator image toning and colour control
  • in-camera RAW processing to create new jpegs in playback mode
  • Selfie assist mode – automatically reverses the image on the swivel screen when facing the subject
  • USB 3.0 port
  • stereo mic, mic port, headphone port, audio level controls
  • optional battery portrait grip
  • optional underwater housing

What’s missing?

Like all cameras, there are necessary compromises, some of these relate to the sensor size such as:

  • ability to achieve ultra shallow depth of field with wide angle lenses or with most zoom lenses (for most purposes you can achieve an adequate level of shallow depth of field using the E-M1 Mark II with wide aperture prime lenses or a f/2.8 telephoto zoom). Of course, it won’t be long before cameras will have the new iPhone 7 portrait feature of intelligent software blurring of the background which you can do now in computer software but is time consuming and difficult to get the same effect that the lens paints on a full frame camera with a 35mm f/1.4 lens or 85mm f/1.2 lens.
  • high ISO performance for low light action subjects, although the noise levels at ISO 1600-3200 should suffice for most uses, and made up for with its other advantages such as hand holdable telephoto reach, and wide aperture telephoto lenses giving more depth of field and allowing lower ISO by using a wider aperture.
  • single shot high resolution 50mp capability

Other features that are missing and issues:

  • no Scene modes to assist newbies in photographing sunsets, fireworks, etc. – all other Olympus digital cameras have these, but it seems Olympus has taken a leaf out of the Canon and Nikon books and left this beginner’s easy presets out of their pro camera – presumably as no space on the PASM dial after they added the 3 custom settings
    • this means no Panorama mode at all! – you need to manually ensure WB, exposure and focus are all locked then take your shots and then stitch them on a computer software package such as Lightroom
  • no built-in GPS – not really needed but some may like it, the rest of us can use the smartphone app to achieve the image tagging
  • no built-in popup flash – but comes with a small bundled flash unit which can act as a master remote TTL flash controller
  • not able to use shutter speeds faster than 1/50th sec in silent electronic shutter mode as top of frame not illuminated – the GH-5 can sync to 1/2000th sec in electronic shutter mode – presumably thanks to a faster or different designed readout.
  • unable to use the older BLN style batteries – new, larger batteries are needed
  • no sweep panorama mode – I must admit this mode on some cameras doesn’t make sense to me – if you want good quality images you should not be moving the camera during the shot – I won’t be missing this.
  • in-camera panorama stitching – you will need software to do this and you need to manually lock settings for each image so they look similar
  • radio TTL remote wireless flash control – PocketWizards have created a third party option for Panasonic GH4 so hopefully they will produce an OM-D version, and Nissin have just announced a Micro Four Thirds version of their Nissin Air System which works on 2.4Ghz radio frequency for remote TTL flash.
  • Lightroom 5 will not open the RAW ORF files – you will need to upgrade to Lightroom 6, or use Adobe Raw converter to convert RAW to DNG (does not currently read the 64Mb HiRes RAW files), or use Olympus Viewer 3 to slowly convert to 100mb TIFF files as Lightroom 5 will read the DNG or TIFF files
  • Windows File Explorer or photo app does not display these ORF files yet – needs an updated codec to be installed but it seems this is not available as yet
  • you may need to update firmware for some lenses – eg. Sigma has just released an update for the 30mm f/1.4 MFT lens
  • unanswered questions – does the EVF fog up in high humidity as occurs with my E-M1 mark I and E-M5 mark I?

There are some firmware improvements I would like to see:

  • INTRODUCE AN OPTIONAL ARTIFICIAL LOUD SHUTTER SOUND – the shutter is so silent, subject’s don’t know when you have taken the shot and they can move
  • ability to set the auto ISO default slowest shutter speed to (image stabilisation effectiveness in EV / focal length) x user EV setting
    • the Olympus default is 1/focal length which doesn’t allow the user to utilise the image stabilisation capabilities to its full effect and doesn’t even take into account the 2x crop factor effect
    • having a user EV setting as a user variable allows the user to take control of how much they trust the IS and their hand holding skills
  • ability to toggle AF targeting pad ON/OFF via a button – currently cannot allocate this function to a button
  • Release Priority S = OFF is not honored when AF mode is S3 thus cannot have AF locked and press shutter and wait until subject enters focus distance before shutter fires, admittedly honoring this could create problems for users who use back button AFL then recompose as shutter would not release at all and would confuse them – maybe there needs to be an additional setting?
  • AF with Four Thirds lenses is still too slow – perhaps even slower than when using Canon EF lenses with a Metabones adapter!
  • add a Panorama mode to make this easier than manually locking all the settings for each shot
  • ability to select AF sensor mode: hybrid vs PDAF vs CDAF
    • this would potentially give the photographer even more control, but perhaps more importantly, allow companies like Metabones to get certain Canon lenses to autofocus fast and accurately on the camera (for example the Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens just won’t autofocus properly – and even on a Sony a7RII, one must select PDAF mode not CDAF mode for it to work, most other Canon lenses will AF fine on both these cameras with a Metabones adapter, although not as fast as a Micro Four Thirds lens on the E-M1 II).
  • option to have spot meter coincide with the current single AF point – the Mark II as with prior OM-D models always keeps spot meter in the centre
  • firmware bug causing issues with Panasonic Leica 100-400mm lens focal limiter – PS.. Panasonic has issued a firmware update for the lens to fix this.
  • ability to use the aperture ring on some Panasonic lenses
    • there are not that many lenses with aperture rings but it shouldn’t be that hard to add that fuctionality and make it useful
  • ability to use Dual IS with Panasonic OIS lenses
    • if Panasonic and Olympus want to continue the paradigm of a unified Micro Four Thirds system, they need to work a bit closer together to improve compatibilities – Panasonic cameras will not do Dual IS with Olympus OIS lenses either, while panasonic cameras don’t have the lens database data to allow Panasonic’s DFD AF technology to work with Olympus lenses or Panasonic Four Thirds lenses for that matter.
    • in the interim, probably best to turn the lens IS off when using Panasonic lenses
    • on a similar vein, the ProCapture mode is said to only work with Olympus M.Zuiko lenses.

Firmware updates Olympus are allegedly working on:

  • Adding ‘Auto ISO’ capability to manual video shooting
  • Allowing for control of autofocus racking speed while shooting video
  • Clarifying and enhancing customizability of continuous autofocus behavior beyond the current -2 to +2 ‘tight to loose’ scale
  • Working on the AF algorithm to improve tracking performance
  • Enable the ability to enter playback and menus while the buffer is clearing

Final word:

This is one hell of a photographer’s tool but so feature laden and customisable that one really needs a good grounding in photography and a preparedness to learn how to use these features to avoid being frustrated with its complexity.

That said, beginners can resort to just using iAUTO mode and even using the rear LCD screen to touch a subject to focus and take the shot.

It is indeed a camera to grow into, but having come from the E-M1 it does feel very natural in the hands with similar ergonomics – although the menu system has been revamped for the better.

Finally, the camera is only part of the equation – the great range of high quality dedicated lenses for the camera is probably the biggest reason to choose this system, and it seems Olympus is preparing to announce even more nice lenses soon – the rumour is wide aperture telephoto prime lenses – here’s hoping for a 100mm f/1.4 and a 200mm f/2.8.

 

Can’t afford a mirrorless camera? Here is a brief guide to the budget dSLRs in Jan 2017.

Written by admin on January 27th, 2017

In 2017, the mirrorless interchangeable cameras such as Micro Four Thirds (eg. Olympus or Panasonic – see my previous post on budget mirrorless cameras) are probably the best suited for most people in terms of size of camera and lenses, weatherproofing, image stabilisation, hand held video capabilities, versatility, image quality, more fun and value for money.

However, the most affordable versions of these tend to be too compact and lack too many features, and for those on a strict budget who need better ergonomics and can do without weathersealing and the many features that mirrorless offer (eg magnified manual focus in viewfinder, image review in viewfinder without need for reading glasses, live histograms, focus peaking, etc.), they may have to resort to entry level cropped sensor dSLRs with their cut down features.

The sad fact is that both Canon and Nikon have largely failed to offer high quality dedicated lenses for these dSLRs so that users can grow into the system without having to resort to large, heavy, expensive full frame lenses to address their growth needs. Enthusiast photographers will generally quickly migrate to more expensive full frame dSLRs to make the most of these full frame lenses – but this is a path to financial pain as well as backache, and they will not be able to use their cropped sensor lenses on these full frame cameras without having to resort to a cropped view mode.

Unlike mirrorless cameras, if you want to shoot video, you have to put the mirror up and use the rear LCD screen – you won’t be able to see anything through the viewfinder. In addition, very few lenses for dSLRs are optimised for video work – exceptions are those with stepping autofocus motors (marked as “STM” on Canon lenses).

Canon cropped sensor dSLRs can use dedicated cropped sensor lenses (“EF-S”) or larger full frame lenses (“EF”).

Nikon cropped sensor dSLRs can use dedicated cropped sensor lenses (“DX”) or larger full frame Nikon F mount lenses.

All have rather dark, cropped view Pentamirror viewfinders rather than the brighter, 100% coverage of the more expensive dSLR pentaprisms.

Canon budget dSLRs:

All have 1.6x cropped sensors, optical viewfinder with 95% image coverage, 1080HD 24/25/30p video, flash sync 1/200th sec, longest timed shutter speed of 30sec, built-in flash, scene modes including Scene Intelligent Auto, ±5 exposure compensation, 3frames AE bracketing up to ±2EV, Face Detection AF but only fast in Live View with mirror up,  USB 2.0, single SD card slot, limited spread of AF points across the frame and minimal button customisations.

None have weathersealing, built-in sensor based image stabilisation or 4K video.

The older models up to and including the 700D (rebel T5i), and the smaller cheaper models all have similar outdated 18mp sensors 1st introduced with the Canon EOS 550D (rebel T2i) – ie. the sensors are old 2010 level technologies – a lot has happened since then!

The newer 24mp sensor is still not as good for high ISO and dynamic range as the Sony sensors found in Nikon, Pentax, Olympus and Sony bodies.

Canon EOS 1300D (Rebel T6):

  • this is the older, 2013, basic model with 18mp sensor, Digic 4+ image processor, 9 AF points, 3″ fixed 920Kdot LCD screen, shutter to 1/4000th sec, mono mic, no mic port
  • popup flash has GN of 9.2m at ISO 100
  • burst rate 3fps
  • AF is very slow in Live View or movie mode
  • 485 g (1.07 lb / 17.11 oz)), 129 x 101 x 78 mm (5.08 x 3.98 x 3.07″)
  • remote control via optional RC-6 cable or WiFi
  • built-in WiFi + NFC but compatible with Eye-Fi SD cards to transfer images wirelessly
  • in Jan 2017, body with basic 3x zoom kit lens will cost $AU433 after cash back from Canon

Canon EOS 100D (Rebel SL1):

  • this is the compact 2016 model with 18mp sensor, Digic 5 image processor, 9 AF points, 3″ fixed 1mdot LCD touch screen, shutter to 1/4000th sec, mono mic and a mic port
  • popup flash has GN of 9.4m at ISO 100
  • burst rate 4fps
  • basic 63 zone metering system
  • AF is very slow in Live View or movie mode
  • 407 g (0.90 lb / 14.36 oz), 117 x 91 x 69 mm (4.61 x 3.58 x 2.72″)
  • remote control via optional RC-6 cable
  • no built-in WiFi but compatible with Eye-Fi SD cards to transfer images wirelessly
  • in Jan 2017, body only will cost $AU399 after cash back from Canon, perhaps a good option is the kit with the EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens for $490 after cash back

Canon EOS 750D (Rebel T6i /Kiss X6i):

  • this is the larger 2015 model with 24mp sensor, Digic 6 image processor, 19 AF all cross type points (same as 70D), 3″ articulated 1mdot LCD touch screen, shutter to 1/4000th sec, stereo mic and a mic port
  • popup flash has GN of 12m at ISO 100
  • burst rate 5fps
  • new 7560 pixel RGB + IR metering sensor for more accurate metering
  • new Hybrid CMOS AF III uses sensor-based phase detection points for increased focus speed and accuracy in live view (this is different to the Dual Pixel AF sensor found on the more expensive 70D and 7D II)
  • Eye sensor for use with optical viewfinder
  • Flicker detection
  • 555 g (1.22 lb / 19.58 oz) / 132 x 101 x 78 mm (5.2 x 3.98 x 3.07″)
  • remote control via optional RC-6 cable or smartphone via WiFi
  • built-in WiFi + NFC
  • issues include:
    • poor subject tracking and face detection AF unless you use Live View
    • limited AF point coverage across the frame (mainly just in the centre – so problematic for portraits, etc away from the centre)
    • limited dynamic range
    • no exposure compensation in manual mode with auto ISO
    • auto ISO uses the 1/focal length as longest shutter speed to use, cannot program this
    • poor battery life compared with more expensive dSLRs
    • no ability to microadjust AF for each lens leading to possible inaccurate AF in all shots
  • in Jan 2017, body only will cost $AU755 after cash back from Canon

Canon EOS 760D (Rebel T6s /Kiss X6s):

  • as for 750D but $30 dearer and adds:
    • LCD information display on top plate
    • Quick control dial on rear but awkward to use for some
    • Servo AF in live view, which lets you track moving subjects when shooting in live view
  • competes with the Nikon D5500

Nikon budget dSLRs:

All have 1.5x cropped sensors, optical viewfinder with 95% image coverage, 1080HD 24/25/30/60p video, flash sync 1/200th sec, longest timed shutter speed of 30sec, built-in flash, ±5 exposure compensation, 3frames AE bracketing up to ±2EV, Face Detection AF but only fast in Live View with mirror up,  USB 2.0, single SD card slot, limited spread of AF points across the frame and minimal button customisations.

None have weathersealing, built-in sensor based image stabilisation, PDAF in Live View, or 4K video.

Nikon D3400:

  • this is the compact 2016 model with 24mp sensor, Expeed 4 image processor, 11 AF points, 3″ fixed 920Kdot LCD screen, shutter to 1/4000th sec, mono mic but no mic port and no timelapse recording
  • popup flash has GN of 12m at ISO 100
  • burst rate 5fps
  • AF is very slow in Live View or movie mode
  • battery life 3x longer than the above Canon models
  • 395 g (0.87 lb / 13.93 oz) / 124 x 98 x 76 mm (4.88 x 3.86 x 2.99″)
  • remote control via optional  cable or smartphone via Bluetooth
  • Bluetooth Snapbridge only no built-in WiFi
  • in Jan 2017, body only will cost $AU535

Nikon D5500:

  • this is the compact 2016 model with 24mp sensor, Expeed 4 image processor, 39 AF points incl. 9 cross-type, 3.2″ articulated 1mdot LCD touch screen, shutter to 1/4000th sec, stereo mic, mic port
  • popup flash has GN of 12m at ISO 100
  • 17 mm eyepoint
  • burst rate 5fps
  • Multi-CAM 4800DX autofocus sensor module with TTL phase detection
  • 3D color matrix metering II (type G, E, and D lenses)
  • 3D subject tracking
  • no anti-alias filter and thus can give marginally more image detail than the above Canon models
  • no AE bracketing
  • AF is very slow in Live View or movie mode
  • battery life 2x longer than the above Canon models
  • Optional GP-1/GP-1A GPS module
  • 465 g (1.03 lb / 16.40 oz) / 124 x 97 x 70 mm (4.88 x 3.82 x 2.76″)
  • remote control via optional  MC-DC2 cable or WiFi via WR-1/WR-R10
  • Wifi
  • in Jan 2017, body only will cost $AU825

Nikon D5600:

  • as for D5500 but $70 dearer, half the battery life,  AE bracketing, Bluetooth,  NFC, timelapse recording, exposure metering using 2016-pixel RGB sensor

Conclusion:

The Nikon dSLRs have better sensors than the Canon in terms of dynamic range and perhaps more detail without the anti-alias filter, plus they have better subject tracking, better battery life and the video mode can capture 60 frames per second not just 24/25/30p.

The Canon dSLRs with sensor-based phase detection points have better Live View AF and all the Canons can use a much wider range of legacy lenses (eg. you can adapt a Nikon lens in manual focus only onto a Canon dSLR but you cannot use a Canon lens on a Nikon dSLR due to its long sensor to lens mount distance).

There are more expensive versions of these dSLRs which add weathersealing and improved autofocus as well as pentaprisms instead of the dark pentamirrors, but then, you probably would be better off buying a mirrorless camera such as an Olympus OM-D E-M1 or Panasonic GX85/80.

 

Affordable compact mirrorless cameras for the parent wanting to capture their child or pet

Written by admin on January 22nd, 2017

Most parents, even if they are not photographers, want a camera that is easy to use and will capture high quality photos of their kids as they grow up – and as good as smartphones are, they can really suck with poor image quality in low light, and often have trouble capturing the moment, not to mention, lack the option of having a bounce flash for nice light.

A cheap digital SLR camera will do a good job of moving subjects but these cameras and lenses are too big for hand bags and are not able to automatically autofocus on a child’s face and lack the many features we now take for granted in mirrorless cameras. Nevertheless they could be a cheaper option for some. For example, Canon 100D with 40mm f/2.8 STM lens will cost around $AU490 after cash back and then you can throw it away and get a mirrorless when you can afford it.

Mirrorless cameras offer smaller size and are quierter, less intrusive while allowing a range of features not available on dSLRs – unfortunately they do tend to struggle with focusing on moving subjects unless they have PDAF technology (the larger OM-D E-M1 or Sony mirrorless) or DFD technology such as the latest Panasonic cameras.

All cameras will struggle to focus on strongly backlit subjects (sunny window behind your subject) or low contrast subjects such as black cats in dim lighting.

The falling Australian dollar has made camera gear more expensive in Australia which makes finding a good camera and good low light lens for under $AU1000 challenging – don’t forget to consider buying second hand on Ebay!

The main requirements:

  • affordable – around $AU1000 for camera and lens
  • compact – should fit in a ladies hand bag
  • high quality images – thus a reasonably big sensor is needed – Micro Four Thirds gives this while still allowing compact camera and lens
  • fast, accurate autofocus on the child’s face – now this is where things can get difficult in low light and with a moving child
  • ability to touch the rear screen and rapidly have the camera focus on that area and take the photo
  • smartphone WiFi connectivity to allow instant uploads to the net via the smartphone
  • image stabilised 1080HD video capability
  • a low light lens to allow better images indoors with or without a flash

The Olympus options:

I love Olympus cameras, particularly the OM-D series (as I prefer to use a viewfinder rather than the rear screen), but the Pen series may be very adequate and more compact for the casual parent photographer who is happy to just use the rear screen and not have a view finder.

None of the Olympus models at this price point have PDAF capabilities so will not be able to track a subject with autofocus, but their autofocus is so fast you can usually get away without this as long as the subject is not moving too quickly.

Then you would need to select a nice low light lens which will allow better images in low light indoors, and for this, I would look at the Olympus m.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8 ($AU431) (or Olympus m.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 ($AU509) if you want a wide view or Olympus m.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 ($AU382) if you want a closer view). If you have lots of money then the Olympus m.Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 lens will be even better but this will set you back around $AU1600 for the lens alone!

The Panasonic options:

The latest Panasonic cameras are very nice as they have Panasonics DFD autofocus technology which should allow faster autofocus on moving subjects.

  • Panasonic Lumix DC-GX850 $AU649 with kit zoom lens – coming in Feb 2017, has 4K video, selfie mode with flip up screen and hands free modes (face shutter, buddy shutter, Jump snap) as well as Background Control features makes it a nicer camera for the parent than the Olympus options but you do lose the viewfinder, hotshoe for a flash and the built-in image stabiliser.
  • Panasonic Lumix GX85 $AU 980 with kit zoom lens – awesome camera, similar to the GX850 but you also get the viewfinder, flash hotshoe and image stabilisation built in.
  • Panasonic GF8 – $AU579 with kit zoom lens -  older model with similar capabilities to the GX850 but no 4K video

You will then need a Panasonic low light lens such as the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 II pancake lens ($AU378)Panasonic 25mm f/1.7 lens ($AU288) or Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 lens ($AU790) if you just want one zoom lens and don’t mind it being a bit bigger. The autofocus is not quite as fast on the pancake lens but its compact size makes carrying in a handbag easier.

The high end mirrorless options:

For those where size and money are not an issue, here are a few options which will allow even faster autofocus and shallower depth of field with a range of other benefits:

Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark I ($AU1150) or the much more expensive, new E-M1 mark II version ($AU2750) coupled with the Olympus m.Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 lens ($AU1600).

Sony a7II full frame mirrorless ($AU1900) with Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA lens ($AU1150), but this route will take you down a path of financial pain – their full frame mirrorless lenses are very expensive!

Conclusion:

If you have the money and don’t mind the larger size and lack of selfie features, go for the Panasonic GX85 and buy a low light lens and a bounce flash to sit on the camera for when the light is dim and not so nice.

If the GX85 is too expensive, and you want to use bounce flash, go for the Olympus OM-D E-M10 mark II with an Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens.

If you can’t see yourself using a bounce flash, the lighter, smaller, cheaper, Panasonic GX850 with its selfie features combined with a Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 II pancake lens  or for faster AF but larger size, Panasonic 25mm f/1.7 lens, the would make a great compact combination.

 

 

DxOMark releases sensor tests of the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II – comparable to Canon 6D and 5D Mark III

Written by admin on January 21st, 2017

DxOMark has just announced the results of their sensor tests of the new Micro Four Thirds flagship camera – the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and for a cropped sensor it performs superbly and remarkably, the overall sensor image quality score is comparable to the new Nikon D500 cropped sensor dSLR and the Canon 6D and Canon 5D Mark III full frame dSLRs!

Now that is a pretty good achievement indeed and further lessens the need for a big, heavy, expensive dSLR kit, especially when there is far more to the camera than just the sensor – it’s feature set just blows the Canon 6D and 5D Mark III dSLRs away with its in-built 5.5EV image stabiliser that works on all lenses and even becomes 6.5EV effectiveness with the Olympus OIS lenses, its 50mp sensor shift HiRes mode, ability to accurately focus on the subject’s closest eye no matter where they are in the frame, up to 60fps burst rate, up to 1/32,000th sec shutter, Live Composite mode for night imagery, 4K video with awesome image stabilisation, and much more.

How did it score?

Overall score of 80 beats the E-M1 mark I’s score of 73, and almost matches the Nikon D500′s score of 84 (wins on dynamic range but similar image noise), and is comparable to the Canon 6D score of 82 and the Canon 5D Mark III’s score of 81 – the Canons winning on image noise but losing significantly on dynamic range – see side by side comparisons on DxOMark here.

First the bad news – the ISO issue.

For some reason, perhaps a marketing con, Olympus appears to have incorrectly assigned the ISO levels as the measured ISO as per DxOMark tests is consistently just over 1EV lower than stated.

For most people this will not be an issue, but if one is using manual exposure settings from another camera, or from an external light meter, then users may need to make an adjustment, and if one is comparing image quality at same ISO settings between brands, this needs to be factored in – as they have on DxOMark’s analysis which take this issue into account.

Strangely, the LOW extended ISO setting of ISO 64 was measured at ISO 83 which was the same measurement for the base ISO setting of 200!! This suggests there is NO real benefit of using the LOW setting at all!

This has tended to be an issue with most Olympus digital cameras including the E-M1 mark I but to a lesser extent.

But there is a lot of good news!

Image noise:

Image noise is significantly improved over the mark I with an almost 1EV improvement, and other tests of the mark II also show an incredible result with thermal sensor noise at long exposures.

That said, predictably, image noise still falls 1-1.5EV short of the image noise on contemporary full frame cameras, but for most of us, the level of image noise is not really an issue unless we need to shoot above ISO 1600 which is quite rare (>90% of my shooting is at ISO 200-400).

Shooting at high ISO levels even on full frame cameras is not a great idea unless you really need to as not only do you get increased image noise but, more importantly, you lose dynamic range – for the Canon 6D and 5D Mark III you lose 1 EV dynamic range at ISO 1600 compared to ISO 200, and these cameras have limited dynamic range to start with.

The only time the full frame image noise really has a substantial advantage is in some types of shooting moving subjects in low light or in Milky Way astroscapes.

If you need a certain amount of depth of field in your low light images, then, the full frame noise advantage may be nullified as the E-M1 can resort to 2 stops wider aperture to achieve that depth of field and this means 2 stops lower ISO.

If your subject is static, the E-M1 Mark II wins again thanks to its far better image stabilisation and electronic shutter capabilities.

Dynamic range:

Dynamic range is the ability to capture are large range of scene brightness levels, the greater the dynamic range, the less likely you will get blown highlights in which you lose image detail totally and which cannot be readily addressed in post processing.

In many respects, dynamic range is more important than high ISO image noise because it will affect every image you take no matter what ISO.

At ISO settings of 200-400, the E-M1 mark I had better dynamic range than the Canon 6D and Canon 5D Mark III, and now the E-M1 Mark II extends that gap a little so that it is 1EV better than the 5D Mark III and 0.6EV better than the Canon 6D and 0.4EV better than the newer, and very expensive, Canon 5DS / 5DSR full frame dSLRs!

New full frame cameras such as the Canon 5D Mark IV and Nikon D750 generally have a better dynamic range than E-M1 Mark II.

Conclusion:

Keep your ISO at 200-400 and be happy that your sensor image quality will surpass even a Canon 6D, 5D Mark III, and in HiRes mode will presumably better the 50mp Canon 5DS / 5DSR.

 

 

 

 

Panasonic GH5 announced – specs for 4K video appear awesome and 5 axis image stabilisation at last

Written by admin on January 5th, 2017

Whilst Panasonic has given some specs of its next flagship Micro Four Thirds camera, the Panasonic GH-5, the company formally announced the final specs this am at CES 2017, and impressive specs they are if you are into videography!

Panasonic has for some years now been focusing primarily on video capabilities rather than flash or still photography for their mirrorless cameras, and particularly with their GH series which have been very popular amongst videographers despite the 2x crop factor of the sensor.

Their current model, the Panasonic GH4 was one of the first to incorporate 4K video.

Panasonic retained the same GH4 battery for the GH5, and say the GH5 will be shipped in March-April 2017 and have priced it at $US1995 body only which is the same as the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II.

Now the GH5 raises the bar to a completely new level by adding in:

  • 20mp sensor without low pass filter for greater image detail
  • new Venus 10 engine which is said to give 2 stops better high ISO image quality thanks to new High Precision Multi Process NR and even better DFD AF tracking thanks to 480 fps drive speed and the time for measuring the distance to the subject is 6x faster, while factoring the distance into in-plane or in-depth is 2x faster
    • ultra-high-speed AF of approximately 0.05 sec
    • By analyzing every single frame precisely, it achieves a maximum 200% higher precision frame detection with minimum motion detection error for higher tracking tolerance against moving subjects
    • “Multi-pixel Luminance Generation renders clear, sharp images by referring to a 9x larger area of pixel information during the de-mosaic process for precise detail reproduction”
  • a lovely new electronic viewfinder with 3.68 million dots
  • 2 SD card slots, each capable of using UHS-II cards and supporting U3 class cards as well as V60 class cards for 60mb/s read/write
  • SD cards are hot swappable – if recording video, one fills then can automatically keep recording to the 2nd card and while that is happening, eject and replace the 1st card so recording can then continue unlimited when the 2nd card is full!
  • on sensor CDAF  autofocus points substantially increased to 225 points but still no PDAF points as they are relying upon their DFD technology
  • at last a 5 axis sensor based image stabilisation system similar to Olympus, and more recently Sony and Pentax, and this will work in Dual IS 2.0 with lenses with optical image stabilisation which includes most Panasonic lenses (Dual IS is presumably not compatible with Olympus lenses – you only get the sensor IS).
  • mechanical shutter burst mode increased to 9fps with continuous AF or 12 fps without C-AF
  • USB 3.1 USB-C type port
  • full sized type A HDMI port
  • 5Ghz 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2 for smartphone remote control and transfer of GPS data, etc
  • new XLR audio hotshoe adapter powered through the hotshoe to give Phantom power to external mics and manual audio level controls
  • the GH4′s 4K 30fps Photo mode has been taken up a notch to 4K 8mp 60fps or 6K 18mp 30fps photo modes (upscaled 6000×3000 pixel 2:1 aspect ratio)
  • the 4K video has been given an enormous boost in quality options as well as features:
    • uses the full sensor so no longer a further crop
    • movie length is now unlimited
    • no longer requires external HDMI output – the GH5 will record internally ( although the really high end 4K modes will require HDMI output)
    • internal recording 4K 4:2:0 8bit 150mbps 60p/50p
    • internal recording 4K 4:2:2 10bit 150mbps 30p/24p
    • internal recording 4K 8bit 100mbps 30p/24p
    • firmware updates will provide even higher HDMI modes such as 400Mbit ALL-I codec for 4K (10bit 4:2:2)
    • Anamorphic 4K mode
  • 1080HD can now do up to 180fps to give 7.5x slow-mo effect if desired
    • firmware updates will provide 10bit in 1080p mode and 200Mbit ALL-I codec for 1080p (10bit 4:2:2)
  • choose between MOV, MP4, AVCHD Progressive and AVCHD formats at a variety of frame rates
  • ‘Cinelike D’ and ‘Cinelike V’ as well as ‘Like 709’ for compatibility with HDTV
  • control over the highlight response rolloff (Knee point and Knee Slope)
  • unlike Sony, Panasonic requires that if you want V-LOGL and VLogL View Assist Function, you need to purchase this as an additional option for $US99
  • embeds SMPTE-compliant Time Code either in Rec Run or Free Run count-up method
  • dramatically reduced rolling shutter skew
  • display now also shows Gain and Shutter Angles, waveform or vectorscope monitor display and luminance level settings for 10-bit video
  • new rear AF point toggle
  • new rear dial
  • new built-in microphone that helps cancel out camera noise
  • can now use autoISO in manual exposure mode with exposure compensation set, and can assign slowest shutter speed for use in other modes
  • Post Focus enables users to select the specific focus point even after shooting – particularly helpful in situations like macro shooting where severe focusing is required. In addition
  • Focus Stacking

Compared to the similarly priced Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II:

Pros

  • far better video capabilities, especially now that it also has the sensor based image stabilisation and the high end 4K modes (but then it also beats current Sony, Nikon and Canon cameras for video features as well and at much lower price points)
  • far better electronic viewfinder
  • GH5 can do flash sync to 1/2000th sec  with electronic 1st curtain shutter which might be very handy!!
  • Post Focus mode – user can select focus point after the shots were taken
  • similar sensor
  • both the SD card slots are UHS-II whereas the Olympus only has one which can use UHS-II
  • both weathersealed and freeze proof

Cons:

  • no PDAF points as it relies on DFD technology although this only works with Panasonic Micro Four thirds lenses
  • the Olympus is far better looking aesthetically with its retro styling
  • no Dual IS with Olympus OIS lenses such as the brilliant Olympus 300mm f/4  (but then the Olympus does not have Dual IS with Panasonic lenses)
  • still photography features generally not as good as the Olympus, for example:
    • 20mp RAW burst rate is only 9fps with C-AF and 12fps without C-AF (Olympus can do 18fps with C-AF and 60fps without C-AF) – although the GH5 can do 8mp 60fps and 18mp 30fps in the 4K and 6K Photo Modes respectively
    • the Olympus PDAF points allow faster AF of moving subjects with both Olympus and Panasonic lenses whereas the GH5 only works with Panasonic lenses
    • Olympus has a range of still photo techniques eg. HiRes 50mp mode, Live Composite mode for night shots, 20mp RAW Pro Capture mode (GH5 can do this pre-capture burst but only in the 18mp 6K jpeg Photo Mode), etc
    • Olympus has arguably better jpeg colours
    • although it has face detect AF, it doesn’t do closest eye detect AF as does the Olympus
    • electronic shutter only goes to 1/16000th sec not 1/32000th sec

For more information on the GH5 and updates as well as links to reviews see my wiki page.

 

Texture and bokeh imagery from the Grampians

Written by admin on December 27th, 2016

Here are a selection of mainly texture and bokeh studies from Victoria’s Grampians mountain range in Spring taken with the Olympus OM-D Micro Four Thirds cameras.

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

For more pics from the Grampians, see my earlier blog post.

 

Can Micro Four Thirds cameras do portraiture well?

Written by admin on December 26th, 2016

I often get asked this question as many people are told that you need a full frame camera to do portraiture to get adequately shallow depth of field and nice bokeh blurred backgrounds.

This might apply if you are shooting wide angle lenses but once you hit standard focal lengths and longer, Micro Four Thirds cameras are very adequate indeed – IF you are using a wide aperture lens such as the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7, Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2, Olympus 25mm f/1.8, Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2, Olympus 45mm f/1.8, Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 or even the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 when used at 135-150mm.

A world famous portrait photographer, Sean Archer started off with Micro Four Thirds, and was encouraged to migrate to full frame dSLR which he did, but he is now back using Micro Four Thirds and the Olympus 45mm and 75mm f/1.8 lenses.

I have blogged before of Sean’s beautiful work here.

The Olympus OM-D cameras offer a few major advantages over full frame dSLRs for portraiture:

  • image stabilisation with prime lenses allowing you to shoot at slower shutter speeds such as in low light or with fill in flash
  • more compact and light – you are more likely to take it with you and not intimidate your subjects
  • near silent – great for ceremonies, concerts, and anywhere else where a noisy dSLR is not welcome
  • closest eye detection AF for superbly sharp autofocus on the closest eye one of the most desirable features of a portrait (although not 100% reliable but much better than a dSLR, and your subject’s eye does not need to be near the centre of the image as with a dSLR AF point)

There are some downsides compared with a full frame dSLR:

  • AF is not so good for moving subjects unless you get a Panasonic G85 or Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II
  • the near silent shutter can work against you if shooting models – they can’t hear when you have got the shot
  • the cameras don’t look as big and heavy to be “professional” – never-mind, just carry a few with battery grips attached and external flashes
  • less able to gain shallow DOF with wide angle lenses
  • less able to gain super shallow “arty” DOF – don’t worry, most professionals won’t use this for  portraiture as you don’t get the ear to nose in focus which is what is desirable for most portraits
  • ability to use standard f/2.8 zoom lenses for adequate shallow DOF portraits (the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 won’t give you the shallow DOF you want)

My favourite lens for portraiture is the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8:

Here are some examples from a workshop I ran on a sunny day outdoors without reflectors or flashes to show that you don’t need a full frame dSLR to get beautiful imagery.
75mm

75mm

75mm

75mm

please say yes

You can see more outdoor sunny day portraits of mine using this lens at this blog post.

One can use the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8:

Olympus lens

The Olympus mZD 45mm f/1.8 makes for a nice light, compact portrait lens:

Zombies shot outdoor with an off-camera Orbis Ring Flash attached to an Olympus flash with a orange filter on:

zombie guy

retro zombie

For social events, I love the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake:

Camera, lens and bounce flash kit all fit in a couple of coat pockets!

Here the camera automatically focused on the closest face which is well to the left of what the AF points on most dSLRs would be able to detect, but not an issue with a mirrorless camera!

For Olympus users, they may prefer the larger and newer Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens with faster AF, or, if you have the money, the very expensive but superb Olympus 25mm f/1.2 lens.

DOF
see more of these here.

With Micro Four Thirds, there is a large range of lenses, but if you want shallow depth of field, you do need to choose a wide aperture lens such as f/1.2 – f/1.8 or f/2.8 if focal length is longer than 135mm.

 

 

Tips to help you choose a camera for a Christmas present for 2016

Written by admin on December 11th, 2016

Choosing a camera is a paradox – on the one hand, nearly every camera with a sensor as big as Micro Four Thirds or larger made in the last 5 years will give you great image quality and loads of functionality, but on the other hand, the devil can be in the details and choice of a camera does need a lot of consideration – and don’t just get sucked in by the salesman.

To narrow things down, I am only going to consider cameras where you can change the lens “interchangeable lens camera” or “ILC”.

Here are the things you need to consider:

  1. does the person already own a camera which can change lenses?
    • if they do, you probably should be getting the same system (ie, same manufacturer), unless they are wanting to change systems – best to ask them!
    • if they don’t, and they are new to photography, then by all means, follow the tips, but again, maybe best to ask their preference for manufacturer and what they really want to use it for!
  2. what is your budget and perhaps more importantly, what is their budget for future lens purchases?
    • unless you have loads of spare cash, you should avoid paying too much for a camera system, and be aware that digital cameras will become technologically outdated within 3-5 years, and probably stop functioning after 7-10 years, so there is no point paying a lot for a camera unless either you are going to make a lot of money from it, or you will be using it every week or so – buying a $1000 camera and have it sit in a drawer only to be taken out a couple of times a year waiting for it to become obsolete is a waste of your money.
    • that said, buying a budget dSLR because its a cheap entry point may well end up being false economy as it almost forces one to stay with an old school system that you may not want to continue with, and prefer mirrorless for its compact size and technological prowess. A budget dSLR does though allow a cheap access to shallow depth of field portraiture and for many this is a good reason to buy one with a 50mm f/1.8 lens, and it does allow upgrade later – just not to mirrorless at this stage. Beware, some of these cheap dSLRs, particularly the Nikon are not compatible with the AF in some of the lenses, and they all have rather crappy viewfinders, feature sets, and build quality in comparison to better dSLRs or mirrorless cameras, and generally have no weathersealing and minimal AF sensor placement so your subject needs to be in the centre of frame to AF.
  3. be aware there are always trade offs – there is no perfect camera for every use!
    • Micro Four Thirds will be great for most people as they are small, light, affordable and give great image quality and versatility in most conditions and at the end of the day, if the camera is too big or heavy to carry, you won’t have it with you and what’s the point of that? I use Olympus OM-D cameras for this reason.
    • the best sensor quality will be full frame cameras but these will be big, heavy and very expensive and may be much noisier and slower to use, and certainly more complex.
    • cropped sensor dSLRs may seem to give a good compromise but for many reasons may end up being the worst of both worlds.
  4. do you understand what the person would like to use it for as this will determine the type of camera and its feature set?
    • if they are into sports or wildlife with moving subjects, this will require a high end camera to ensure autofocus
      • heavy, super expensive, pro full frame dSLR cameras which require expensive, big, heavy pro lenses:
        • Nikon D5 – the best autofocus of moving subjects out there; $US6500 body only but limited video
        • Canon 1DX mark II - $US5999 almost as good as the Nikon for AF perhaps has a better sensor image quality but falls down in many areas in comparison
      • compact, light, great telephoto reach with great feature set but high ISO and AF not quite as good as the above, but much better hand held video, burst speed, night mode features and image stabilisation:
      • cropped sensor dSLR for reasonable telephoto reach and good all round performance but no built-in image stabilisation and the dedicated lenses are not great so you will need to buy expensive, large full frame lenses for best quality:
    • if they are into surf photography or underwater, they will need a weathersealed system with option for an underwater housing
    • if they are into night photography, they will need a system suited to this:
      • best high ISO performance – Sony a7S mark II – but $US2999 body only
      • budget full frame mirrorless with image stabilisation – Sony a7 mark II -
      • best compact, walkaround  with great image stabilisation and hand held videoOlympus OM-D E-M5 mark II or Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II or Panasonic G80/85
      • most full frame dSLRs will also do a great job at this, but are expensive, big and heavy especially when including the good lenses:
        •  if autofocus, burst rates, flash sync, IS, video quality, touch screen and weathersealing are not important, you may consider a budget level full frame dSLR such as:
          • Canon 6D - $US2099 when released, 2012 technology due for replacement!
          • Nikon D610 – $US1999 when released, 2013 technology
        • if you want more features and weathersealing, and can pay a lot more:
    • if they like to do hand held video (eg. for family or holidays), they will need the best video image stabilisation system so their videos don’t jump around and seriously annoy the viewer – consider the Olympus OM-D E-M5 mark II for standard video quality,  or, for 4K video super quality, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II or the more affordable Panasonic G80/85
    • do they want to look cool and don’t care about the price or ability to AF on fast subjects?
    • if they want ultimate high resolution sensor image quality and are prepared to pay for it in cost, weight, slow burst rates, large file sizes, need for high end expensive lenses and need to use tripods (pro landscape or studio work):

 Some features explained:

  1. megapixels
    • for most people, 5-8mp is enough, 16mp beats the old 35mm film and will produce great large prints
    • some people want even more but having more generally requires use of a tripod
    • Olympus E-M5 mark II and E-M1 mark II also have a Hi-Res mode which allows really high resolution images of static subjects with camera on a tripod – great for product imagery, architecture and “scanning” your old film negatives and slides – much faster and less complex than a film scanner and with better imagery!
  2. mirrorless vs dSLR
    • the traditional film SLR and the dSLR (digital SLR) both required a large, noisy mirror which deflects the actual image into a large pentaprism optical viewfinder at the top of the camera. During the shot, this mirror must move out of the way so the image can hit the film or sensor.
    • mirrorless camera do not have an optical viewfinder (can use either an electronic viewfinder (EVF) or the rear LCD screen) and thus do not have the mirror and thus are quieter, smaller, lighter, less subject to camera shake from the mirror, and the viewfinder can be used in video movie mode, as well as being able to display how the image will appear when taken (even in B&W or with art filter picture styles applied, as well as the exposure), and can apply a range of exposure and focus aides in real time which can be incredibly valuable. In addition, the AF sensors reside on the main sensor itself instead of reading off a mirror and thus are more accurate and do not need microcalibration as do dSLR cameras. Furthermore, you can generally see the image even in the dark or if using a 10x ND filter or IR filter which would normally make an image impossible to see through an optical viewfinder.
    • dSLRs do have an advantage in that you do not need to turn the camera on to look through the viewfinder, and the battery lasts longer, and you have a cleaner, natural view of the scene. In addition, they all have PDAF (see below) by default, so AF on moving subjects is generally better than mirrorless cameras if those do not have sensor based PDAF. They generally cannot AF on subjects near the edges, cannot focus on the closest eye automatically, and you have to resort to the clunky Live View mode on the rear of the camera for video movie mode.
  3. sensor size
    • sensor size is an important consideration as the larger the sensor is, the better the sensor image quality, especially at high ISO for low light work, and better ability to achieve shallow depth of field (ie. blur out the back ground) with wide angle or standard lenses, but the compromise is higher cost, larger and heavier cameras and lenses
    • the aesthetic appeal of most images though is independent of sensor size (as long as sensor is Micro Four Thirds or larger) or megapixels, but is dependent far more upon a visually appealing subject and composition  and this often means more accurate focus, timely capture, no camera shake and of course, lighting and the photographer’s eye.
    • Micro Four Thirds (MFT)  is the name given to a camera sensor size and lens mount system made by Olympus and Panasonic primarily, in which the sensor size is a quarter of 35mm full frame film size which gives a crop factor of 2 meaning that a 25mm f/1.2 MFT lens will give similar field of view and DOF as a 50mm f/2.4 lens on a full frame camera, In addition, the aspect ratio (shape of the sensor) is fatter than the other sensors being 4:3 in dimensions rather than 3:2, and thus they fit better with most print sizes and are better for portraits, but perhaps not as good for environmental portraits or landscapes where the length of the long dimension is more valued.
    • cropped sensor dSLRs and mirrorless cameras have a sensor crop factor of 1.5x for Nikon and Sony, and 1.6x for Canon
  4. depth of field (DOF)
    • depth of field is a term used to quantify how much of the scene will appear in focus in front of and behind the spot where the lens is actually focused.
    • a shallow DOF is often used to separate your subject from the background and provide greater visual impact, although other techniques can be used as well
    • for wide angle lenses and zoom lenses it is much easier to gain a shallow DOF with a large sensor camera (eg. full frame) than it is with a smaller sensor camera such as Micro Four Thirds
    • if you want shallow DOF on a Micro Four Thirds camera and you are shooting a subject 1-3m away, you really need a lens with:
      • aperture of f/1.2-f/1.4 for lenses with actual focal length < 30mm (and even then you will not achieve a full frame shallow DOF achievable with a 24mm f/1.4 lens or even a 50mm f/1.4 lens but you get other advantages) for example Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2 lens – although if you are shooting a group of people at a party you probably need it stopped down to f/2.8 to gain enough DOF so everyone in a small group is in adequate focus – hence the fallacy of full frame cameras for such events – you need to be shooting a full frame at f/5.6. Just don’t expect to gain really shallow DOF with a Micro Four Thirds zoom lens in this standard zoom range.
      • aperture of f/1.4-f/2 for lenses with actual focal length of 30-100mm (this will achieve similar DOF as a big, heavy, expensive pro 70-200mm f/2.8 lens on a full frame camera) – for example Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2, Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lenses (the latter is perfect for most single person shots, while the 42.5mm is great for environmental portraits or shots of couples) – indeed having a shallower DOF whilst it may allow some creative imagery, will not give a portrait with ear to nose in focus
      • aperture of f/2-2.8 on a telephoto lens > 100mm – for example the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 will give nice portraits at 135-150mm at f/2.8
    • if you want shallow DOF on a Micro Four Thirds camera at > 5m away, you will need to be using a longer telephoto lens or a really wide aperture lens such as f/0.95 – in this scenario, the full frame camera will have much greater capacity to attain shallow DOF eg. full frame 35mm f/1.4 lens
  5. weathersealing
    • cheap cameras are very susceptible to dust, water, most enthusiast level cameras have some weathersealing to address this, but the best are the Olympus OM-D cameras – you can pour a bottle of water over them they are that good – so inclement weather is not an obstacle!
  6. shutter speed 1/8000th sec or just 1/4000th sec?
    • budget cameras are restricted to a fast shutter speed of 1/4000th sec which can be problematic when trying to shoot a wide aperture for shallow depth of field in bright sunlight – you are forced to use a neutral density filter to avoid over -exposure
    • better cameras will go to 1/8000th sec, and rare cameras such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II will even shoot at 1/32,000th second to really freeze moving subjects in bright light, plus it can do this at an amazing 60 fps in full sized RAW mode – incredible if you need this functionality!
  7. autofocus points and coverage
    • the more AF points and the more the cover the image area, the easier you will be able to focus on subjects that are not in the centre of your image – after all, having your subject in the centre is not that aesthetic!
    • dSLRs tend to have their excellent AF poits all crammed in the middle which is problematic
    • mirrorless cameras, particularly, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II and Sony cameras have a wide spread of AF points so you have a better chance of AF on a face well away from the centre
  8. ability to detect closest eye for autofocus
    • a critical aspect of portraiture is the needt o focus sharply and accurately on the subject’s closest eye – very few cameras can do this automatically – the Olympus OM-D, Olympus Pen, Sony mirrorlesss and the Nikon D750 dSLR, although the Nikon’s ability is restricted so the face must be within the smaller AF area.
  9. high ISO noise argument
    • as a general rule the unwanted image noise is at similar levels on a full frame camera as a Micro Four Thirds camera when the ISO of the full frame camera is 1-2 stops higher which theoretically gives the full frame camera an advantage in low light, but this advantage is lost if gaining adequate depth of field or image quality means you have to use a smaller aperture (for instance if you need to use f/4 on a full frame camera to have sufficient DOF, you can achieve this at f/2 on a MFT camera and use an ISO 2 stops lower thus negating any high ISO noise advantage of the full frame camera).
    • the full frame advantage is primarily realised in astronomy, astroscapes, and low light sports/wildlife where you are happy to have shallow DOF.
    • the better image stabilisation and wider DOF at wide open apertures allows MFT camera users to use lower ISO – it is rarely needed to go above ISO 800 on a MFT camera.
  10. burst speed
    • for action work it is useful to have a rapid fire so you can select the exact pose or expression on a sports person’s face or the position of the ball
    • basic cameras or even the high end, high megapixel, full frame dSLRs have restricted burst rates of only 5fps or slower
    • sports dSLRs are generally around 10-16fps but are very noisy due to the mirror, although they are generally the best for AF accuracy and high ISO work in low light
    • the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II can do 18fps with continuous AF and 60fps with AF on the first frame and do this SILENTLY – great for weddings or classical music concerts or the ballet!
  11. CDAF vs PDAF
    • some mirrorless cameras only have CDAF autofocus technology which is accurate but not good for moving subjects – if you need to shoot moving subjects with AF, a camera with PDAF as well (or a latest model Panasonic with their new DFD CDAF technology) will be needed. Of the Olympus OM-D cameras, only the E-M1 mark I and mark II have PDAF.
  12. 4K video vs 1080HD video
    • 1080HD is standard DVD quality video
    • 4K is much higher quality video – if I was shooting something important to me such as my children in this day and age, I would shoot hand held in 4K and to get the best image stabilisation for minimal shaky video the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II or the more affordable Panasonic G80/85 is the way to go.

     

Examples of great general purpose Micro Four Thirds camera kits:

PS. the first batch of Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II cameras have now been delivered but all sold on pre-orders, so you will have to wait until until after Xmas to acquire one.

Drones:

  • drones are an exciting new technology and you can get fantastic drones even with Micro Four Thirds cameras mounted and these can even go to incredible 5K video quality, but before you embark on a drone for Xmas, check out these warnings