More exciting Micro Four Thirds gear from Panasonic – GX8 camera, 200-800mm eq. pro lens, post-focus technology and more

Written by admin on July 18th, 2015

Micro Four Thirds is going from strength to strength as the two main companies, Olympus and Panasonic take it in turns to announce great new gear and technologies.

This week it was Panasonic’s turn.

The Panasonic Lumix GX-8 camera

camera

image courtesy of http://www.imaging-resource.com

This is a significant upgrade to the GX-7 model and includes many of the features of the new Panasonic G7 including its 4K video features, its Starlight AF mode, Clear Retouch, and its new button which enables the user to toggle functionality of the camera controls in a similar way to the Olympus 2×2 switch.

I am liking very much that Panasonic has finally started adding sensor based image stabilisation (IBIS) to some of their cameras such as is the case with this one and the GX-7 before it. Furthermore, Panasonic is taking it further by allowing it to be used in tandem with their optical IS mechanisms in many of their lenses for even better performance, hence “Dual IS” which is similar to Sony’s approach in their A7R II. Note that and the dual IS is not available in 4K video recording.

Another nice feature is that the GX-8 is now weathersealed and although it is somewhat larger than the GX-7 it does sport a better articulating EVF with higher resolution (2.36m dots) and magnification (1.54x magnification or 0.77x in full frame terms), while the rear screen is now an articulating OLED instead of a tiltable LCD which makes the Touch Pad AF (uise the rear screen to select AF point while viewing through the EVF) and there is an added dedicated exposure compensation dial to further improve ergonomic use.

It is also the 1st Micro Four Thirds camera to boast  a 20mp sensor (up from 16mp), which Panasonic says gives 1/3rd EV more dynamic range and a faster readout, plus it has a few new image processing tricks such as

Unlike the Panasonic GH-4, one cannot use the HDMI out video to simultaneously record uncompressed video as well as record internally,  but you do get a 2.5mm mic jack, and time lapse and intervalometer features, and it uses DFD technology for fast C-AF.

It should also be compatible, via a firmware upgrade, of Panasonic’s new post-focus technology which essentially shoots 4K images at 30fps at a range of different focus points so that the user can later select which focus point they wish. It is meant to be somewhat like the Lyttro camera but we will have to see how useful this function really is.

All in all, it is a camera that ticks most of my boxes – the important ones to me being compact size (but not too small), nice EVF, IBIS, weathersealing, great image quality and fast, accurate AF but at $US1199, I suspect it won’t be exactly cheap for us in Australia.

See my wiki page for more details and links.

The Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 Power OIS ASPH zoom lens

 

lens

image courtesy of 43rumors.com

This lens will be to Leica’s optical standards and thus promises to be a very nice super-telephoto hand-holdable zoom lens giving 200-800mm telephoto reach in 35mm full frame terms.

It will be weathersealed, have Power OIS for effective optical image stabilisation, and fast AF thanks to the 240fps AF signal rate and compatibility with Panasonic’s DFD AF system.

A very exciting lens for the nature photographers which will compete with the forthcoming Olympus mZD 300mm f/4.0 lens for popularity – see my wiki page for more details.

The Panasonic Lumix 25mm f/1.7 lens

This is the third 25mm lens by Panasonic – the 1st was a large, heavy, extremely expensive but optically superb Leica-D 25mm f/1./4 lens for Four Thirds which I really love, and then this was replaced with the much more compact, lighter, more affordable Leica DG 25mm f/1.4 lens.

The new lens however, adds faster AF by offering the 240fps AF signal rate and compatibility with Panasonic’s DFD AF system.

Just a little gripe

One of the main powerful reasons to buy into Micro Four Thirds is that there are multiple companies contributing to the system, each bringing their own ideas and perspectives to design.

I wish they would share their technology more so that minor incompatibilities are eradicated such as Panasonic’s DFD fast C-AF technology only working with Panasonic lenses and the few Panasonic lenses with aperture rings which are only recognised by Panasonic cameras – I do like aperture rings but unfortunately Olympus has decided to ignore them.

 

 

A very brief history of camera design – film sizes, mirrors, manual focus aides, and mirrorless

Written by admin on July 5th, 2015

There are a lot of people taking up photography who are really only aware of the digital age and thus I thought it was opportune to bring them rapidly up to speed on why we have cameras they way we do and thus what the future may hold.

So let’s go back to the 19th century when film based cameras were first being developed – the initial ones are like those seen in Western movies – mounted on a tripod, while the photographer buries himself under a black cloth behind the camera and uses some kind of primitive flash to light the portrait. What was he doing under the black cloth?

These cameras used photographic plates which could be moved out of the back of the camera and replaced with large ground glass screen which would enable him to focus the image – as long as he could make it dark enough to see the faint image. Once the subject was focused, he would remove the glass plate and insert the film plate, and then he could take the shot. Given that the film speed in those days was so “slow” – perhaps ISO 4 or so, and the lenses needed to be used at f/22 or so for the large format film plate, the exposures would be too long without additional light.

Obviously, the above system was not conducive to the take up by consumers – it was a very technical and slow photographic process.

The Kodak Brownie

George Eastman started manufacturing paper film in 1885 then celluloid in 1889 and created his 1st simple camera, The Kodak, in 1888 with a fixed aperture, focus and shutter speed and a single roll of film that the camera needed to be sent back to the factory for processing – not a great option for the masses.

In 1900, Eastman Kodak needed to sell more film so produced the affordable ($1) and quite simple even for children (“you press the button, we do the rest”) revolutionary Kodak Brownie – a simple box which used a roll film of type 117 producing 6cmx6cm square images (what we call “medium format”). It had no viewfinder or focus mechanism, just V sighting lines on the top or an optional add on viewfinder and thus was designed to create the “snapshot”. Only the film roll needed to be sent for processing.

The Brownie series of cameras were popular for children and families into the 1960′s.

6×6 “medium format” film cameras

The Brownie created a large market for 6×6 film and this spurred manufacture of a whole industry of more professional and enthusiast cameras based upon 6×6 film types (including the very popular 120 film).

These camera manufacturers had to solve a few issues though:

  • how can the photographer compose the image?
  • how can the photographer accurately set a focus for the subject?
  • how can the photographer adjust exposure for different light intensities?

Adjusting exposure was a relatively easy technical problem to solve – add an adjustable iris diaphragm in the lens, and an adjustable spring operated shutter within the lens.

Setting focus and composition though was a different matter with various compromise solutions:

  • adding a reflex mirror which directed the view to the top of the camera allowing it to be viewed from above as a waist level finder, and then prior to exposure being made, the large mirror is removed out of the way so the light will hit the film when the shutter opens – this created heavy, big, noisy “SLR” Single Lens Reflex cameras which ideally had the mirror locked up well before the exposure to minimise camera shake and then had to be manually returned to view next image.
  • adding a 2nd synchronised viewing lens which moved in sync with the main lens during focus and usually a fixed mirror for this lens – this created a heavy, big, quiet “TLR” Twin Lens Reflex camera but what you see is not really what you get – there is parallax error for closer subjects which affects composition and requires correction mechanisms, useless for macro work, and you don’t get to see  effects of filters such as polarising filters. Nevertheless, the fact you didn’t need to lock up the mirror made these cameras extremely popular in the 1930′s (thanks to the more compact Rolleiflex in 1928) through to the early 1960′s for tourists and portrait photographers.
  • adding a small fixed viewing lens with a special mechanism to overlay images to show the photographer when the subject is in focus – the quiet, but large and relatively heavy rangefinder camera. This had similar issues to the TLR and in addition only worked with certain focal length lenses to match the rangefinder mechanism.

There was a need for smaller cameras – enter the 35mm “full frame” cameras

The movie industry had been using 70mm wide film for years, and from 1905 onwards various manufacturers were making cameras for 35mm cine roll film which was 70mm cine film cut in half long ways. These cameras started to gain popularity with Leica’s 1st camera in 1925 followed by a Contax in 1932.

But again it was Kodak who leveraged this popularity by creating a much easier to use 135 cartridge film in 1934 and a Kodak Retina I camera to use it with. In the late 1930′s the Japanese manufacturers started to create 135-type cameras. In the 1950′s Asahi Pentax had developed the instant returning reflex mirror which further increased the usability and popularity of the SLR.

Street photography became easier thanks to 35mm rangefinder cameras such as those made by Leica, and later, a multitude of Japanese versions were sold to families in the 1960′s.

Meanwhile professional photojournalists started giving up their large medium format rangefinders for more versatile, compact 35mm SLRs of the 1960′s.

In the 1960′s, Olympus created an even smaller Olympus PEN rangefinder system using half a 35mm frame as the image size – hence called “half frame” cameras.

In 1963, Kodak introduced their 126 instamatic square film cartridges to make loading film even simpler and easy for children to do, spurning a new generation of children taking snapshots.

The 1970′s saw an explosion in the popularity of the 35mm film SLR helped along by Olympus who further re-defined the product by creating their beautiful, compact, quieter OM system with off-the-film TTL flash metering.

Professional wedding and fashion photographers needing to create large prints were generally not comfortable with the large print quality from 35mm film and still used medium format SLRs, while landscape photographers used even larger film cameras such as 6cmx17cm image panoramic cameras.

In the late 1980′s, Canon changed the SLR world, taking an enormous risk in abandoning its popular manual focus FD lens mount system of cameras and lenses, and thereby making them redundant and practically worthless – not great for your fan base, and created a new autofocus SLR system – their EOS system with electronic focus (EF) lenses which were  to dominate the photojournalist, nature and sports professional photographer world for the next two decades while Nikon played catch up and Olympus lost their way, never really creating an autofocus film SLR system.

How did the photographer accurately focus these cameras without autofocus?

Autofocus was not mainstream in cameras until the mid to late 1980′s, yet generations of photographers have always been able to get well focused images, even of fast moving sports – how did they do this?

Part of the reason is that they didn’t have to have accurate focus – the lenses of the day for 35mm cameras were generally sharpest at f/8 hence the adage “f/8 and be there”. If you are shooting at f/8 you do have a reasonable amount of depth of field to play with, so one option is to preset the focus for your subject’s estimated distance – indeed, this is the only way you could do it on most instamatic cameras – set for people or landscapes and depth of field will handle the rest. This technique is called zone focus and users looked at the depth of field scale on their lenses and worked out a good focus to achieve what they wanted.

But what if you wanted to use wider aperture lens with narrow depth of field, you really needed to get more accurate.

Enter the focusing screen.

The focusing screen is the ground glass used on all optical viewing devices including on dSLRs made today.

Before autofocus, most professional SLR cameras allowed one to remove the screen and replace it with another style depending upon your needs and lens being used.

Commonly, these screens used either a central split image (you align the images for focus) or a central microprism (stops shimmering when in focus) as well as the surrounding ground glass for the user to accurately ascertain focus. Unfortunately the split image, microprism and even the ground glass did not work with all lenses, so we had a screen for macro work, another for astro work, etc.

Most modern dSLRs with autofocus now have a fixed screen without split image or microprism aides, and which is optimised for f/2.8 apertures – if you are using a f/1.2 lens, the camera may automatically close the aperture to f/2.5 or so to optimise the view on the screen.

Modern dSLRs are NOT optimised for manual focus although they often do have “AF confirm” – pressing the AF button whilst turning the focus ring in manual focus, the AF confirm light comes on when it detects focus is achieved as determined by the AF mechanism – this requires a CPU chip in the camera lens or lens adapter.

The latest evolution – the mirrorless camera

Now that we are essentially in a digital camera world with cameras having digital sensors instead of film, and electronic viewfinders are now giving very acceptable views and with many possible functions not available to optical viewfinders, there was no longer a need to have a clunky, noisy reflex mirror which added to camera shake.

Enter the mirrorless camera.

The electronic viewfinders continually improve, and now give even larger apparent views than the best optical viewfinders, allow display of far dimmer subjects making it easy to compose on star fields or with extremely dark filters in place such as infrared filters or 10x Big Stopper ND400 filters.

Not only that, they give you real time live histograms, highlight/shadow warnings, compositional grids, real time pre-visualisation of creative picture tonalities or colours, keystoning adjustments or even exposures.

Furthermore, unlike with dSLRs you still can hold the camera to your face for steady camera holding when using Live View such as in video mode, and there is no need to microadjust the AF system for each lens as is the case with dSLRs.

But wait there’s more – you now gain some awesome manual focus aids such as:

  • image stabilised magnified view
  • focus peaking
  • live boost II so you can see really dim subjects such as faint stars

By removing the mirror, the sensor to lens distance can be shortened and thus allow radical new designs of lenses, especially wide angle lenses, and the ability to mount almost any other legacy lens and still attain infinity focus.

And, just as in the days where there was a market for highest quality large heavy cameras and a market for smaller, compact, quieter, versatile take anywhere cameras, these markets are still with us today and thus enthusiasts and professionals can choose from:

  • high resolution, potentially very shallow depth of field full frame image stabilised mirrorless camera such as the newly announced Sony A7R II which has been optimised to autofocus Canon EF lenses
  • compact, light, versatile, high image quality Micro Four Thirds cameras such as the Olympus OM-D family

Why Micro Four Thirds?

  • sensor size is small enough to allow relatively compact, light lenses with excellent edge-to-edge image quality – usually with much sharper edges than full frame lenses
  • sensor size is big enough to allow just the perfect amount of shallow depth of field for your portraiture when using the premium f/1.8 lenses
  • sensor size is big enough to give a good compromise of resolution vs high ISO noise performance – currently 16mp to ISO 3200, although this will further improve as technology improves
  • large range of lenses optimised for sensor size and silent, fast, more accurate autofocus – even AF on the closest eye
  • ability to use almost any lens ever made and have them image stabilised
  • ability to use full frame lenses with focal reducer adapters or tilt-shift adapters
  • optical image quality deteriorates exponentially the further from the centre and thus smaller sensor lens makers will always have the advantage in lens design
  • 99% of users do not print sizes greater than 20″x30″ and Micro Four Thirds can print to this size acceptably well
  • higher resolutions are possible by panoramic stitching or by sensor-shift technologies such as the Olympus 40mp mode which will be further improved to be usable hand held

And this is the dilemma faced by Canon and Nikon who are yet to really invest in mirrorless systems (not including the small 1″ sensor of the Nikon 1 system or the rather pathetic EOS-M system).

PS. Don’t get me wrong, the current Canon and Nikon systems are wonderful, albeit heavy and expensive, and I have well over $20,000 worth of Canon pro gear, and although they probably will still be around in 10-15 years,  I don’t believe that needs to be the way of the future for MOST people, and I far prefer to carry my compact Olympus gear which does not break my back, packs into cabin luggage on airplanes easily,  and is more affordable and fun to use, and it gives me just as good photos, if not better.

 

The Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens is not dead yet – a nice hand held sunset

Written by admin on June 12th, 2015

I am tossing up whether to buy the lovely Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 Micro Four Thirds lens and leave my old favorite, the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD Four Thirds lens for certain niche uses such as 800mm telephoto reach with the EC-20 teleconverter.

So my past 2 bushwalks have been with ONLY the Four Thirds lens mounted on my Olympus OM-D E-M1, to see if I can do without the faster focusing, more compact Micro Four Thirds lens.

The Four Thirds lens gives me more telephoto reach but in low light or poor contrast, the PDAF of the E-M1 still is a bit slow and for these sunset shots when contrast in the distant trees was low, I decided I was better off resorting to manual focus. Now I am not sure if the Micro Four Thirds lens optimised for CDAF will do better but I suspect it does.

The other lovely aspect of the Micro Four Thirds lens is that the lens does not extend on zooming – this aspect makes the Four Thirds lens look very long and intimidating indeed, particularly with the big lens hood attached. However, it does sit reasonably well on my waist belt – although I certainly wouldn’t want anything much heavier than this on my waist while bushwalking.

Here are a couple of hand held low light dusk sunset shots with the Four Thirds lens:

dusk

Olympus E-M1, Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD Four Thirds lens at 112mm f/5, ISO 800, 1/160th sec. I chose f/5 instead of f/3.2 just to give me a bit more background depth of field.

birds

Flock of birds flying home to roost.

Olympus E-M1, Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD Four Thirds lens at 182mm f/5, ISO 800, 1/80th sec – yes that’s right 360mm effective focal length hand held at 1/80th sec, not bad – that’s why I use Olympus gear. If I had the Micro Four Thirds lens, I would have had to add in the 1.4x teleconverter to get this telephoto reach.

So, I am still undecided both lenses have their pros and cons – if I didn’t already have the Four Thirds lens, the Micro Four Thirds lens with 1.4x teleconverter would be a no brainer for me – but can I really justify having both?

Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD
Price at Amazon.com $US1399 $US1199 but perhaps half price used on Ebay
focal length range in 35mm terms 80-300mm 100-400mm
1.4x teleconverter 112-420mm f/4 140-560mm f/4-4.9
2x teleconverter N/A 200-800mm f/5.6-7
length 160mm fixed length, collapsible lens hood 157mm but extends on zooming and bulky bayonet lens hood
diameter 79.4mm 81mm
weight 760g (880g w tripod mount) 995g (1070g w tripod mount)
CDAF optimized Yes, silent dual linear voice coil motors, face detection AF No, requires PDAF (eg. E-M1)
close focus 0.7m giving 0.42x macro 1.2m giving 0.42x macro
filter size 72mm 67mm
diaphragm blades 9 circular 9 circular
optical formula 16 elements in 10 groups (1 aspherical ED lens, 2 aspherical lenses, 1 SED lens, 3 ED lenses, 1 HD lens) 16 elements in 15 groups (3 ED lenses)
 

The new Sony a7R II – finally a full frame mirrorless that almost does it all – a game changer indeed!

Written by admin on June 11th, 2015

In my last post I compared the current Sony full frame mirrorless cameras with the Olympus OM-D cameras, and had to conclude that for most people, the Olympus OM-D’s were probably the way to go given that each Sony camera had significant issues, not least the lack of lens selection.

But today, Sony has really upped the ante with their newly announced Sony a7R II NEX E-mount full frame mirrorless camera which hopefully addresses many of my concerns and in addition adds faster AF for Canon lenses plus internal 4K video!

Now that is pretty cool and Canon and Nikon should be worried – very worried indeed!

The specs beat their new Canon 5DS hands down assuming one is not going to quibble over 50mp vs 42mp, and beats the Nikon D810E dSLRs.

Sony now make 40% of all digital sensors and Canon is falling so far behind in the mirrorless and video race, it will take something special from them to pull back the lead.

Nikon use Sony sensors so potentially this sensor will find its way into their dSLRs, but neither Canon or Nikon have added sensor-based image stabilisation and this is a real issue for them, nor can they offer accurate, fast AF on a person’s eye via Eye Detection AF, let alone 4K video functionality as is implemented on this camera.

This may be THE BEST camera for your Canon lenses (although you do need to buy a AF adapter such as a Metabones adapter) – as long as you don’t need super fast AF for sports, etc.

image courtesy of http://www.eoshd.com

Sony a7R II specs:

  • world 1st back illuminated full frame sensor for improved high ISO sensitivity and faster data processing (3.5x faster than the a7R)
  • 42.4 megapixels gapless design with anti-reflection coating
  • ISO range 100-25600 (extended: 50, up to 102,400)
  • Fast Hybrid AF system
  • AF response time improved by 40% over the a7R
  • Eye-AF now allows C-AF tracking of closest eye with specific face preferenc via registration
  • fast, accurate C-AF at 5fps even with fast moving subjects
  • 399 on-sensor phase detect AF sensor points covering 45% of the frame = 67% coverage in each direction (larger than dSLR AF coverage)
  • 25 on-sensor contrast detect AF points
  • 5fps burst rate for 22 frames
  • 500,000 shot rated shutter – by far the best specs in the industry
  • 50% less shutter vibration than in the a7R
  • electronic front curtain shutter to reduce shutter shake
  • shutter speeds 30sec – 1/8000th sec
  • flash sync 1/250th sec
  • metering to -3EV, exposure compensation -5 EV to +5 EV (in 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps)
  • no optical low pass filter for optimal sharpness and clarity (although this may cause some moire in videos – to be tested)
  • 3″ tilting 1,228.8k dot LCD screen (tilting up 107° and down 41°) and uses WhiteMagic technology which doubles the brightness of the display but still not touch sensitive
  • 4K video
    • internal UHD 4K 3840 x 2160p at 30/24 fps in XAVC S format at 100Mbps and 4:2:0 sampling at 8-bit
    • Super 35 without pixel binning or full frame read-out format
    • customisable picture profiles
    • S-Log2 Gamma – “squeezes up to 1300% more dynamic range into the video signal then traditional REC709, for increased post-production flexibility”
    • S-Gamut
    • time code – standard ‘Record Run” mode that only advances the timecode when recording, as well as “Free Run” timecode that advances the timecode even when not recording
    • clean 4:2:2 uncompressed video HDMI output
    • sensor based IS – hopefully now better optimised for video – but will it compete with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II’s amazing IS in video?
    • 3.5mm microphone input jack
    • compatible with the Sony XLR-K2M XLR Adapter for recording professional balanced XLR audio signals with phantom power and adjustable mic/line inputs
    • 3.5mm headphone jack as well as real time audio levels for a visual reference
  • 1080p video 60fps XAVC S7 codec at 50Mbps
  • 720 120p slo-mo video
  • silent shooting mode
  • 0.78x EVF magnification with 100% view coverage plus 4-lens system with double-sided aspherical elements for comfortable viewing and diopter – 4 to +3 m
  • magnesium alloy body with weathersealing
  • improved ergonomics – larger grip, re-shaped shutter button and moved forward
  • and taking a leaf from Olympus:
    • the same 5-axis image stabilization system found in the Sony a7 II – my dreams are coming true indeed!
    • the ability to assign any of 56 functions to any of the 10 customizable buttons for a more personalized setup
    • the Olympus mode dial locking system
    • Picture Effect modes: Posterization (Color, B&W), Pop Color, Retro Photo, Partial Color (R/G/B/Y), High Contrast Monochrome, Toy Camera, Soft High-Key, Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Rich-Tone Monochrome, Miniature, Watercolor, and Illustration.
    • Creative Style settings: Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Clear, Deep, Light, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Night Scene, Autumn Leaves, Black & White, and Sepia (all with +/- 3 step contrast, saturation, and sharpness adjustment).
    • Face Detection is available to base exposure and focus on up to eight recognized faces. Furthermore, Eye AF can be used for even greater precision by maintaining critical focus on a subject’s eye – I do love this feature on my Olympus cameras
    • sensor dust reduction system as is now standard in most ILC’s
  • sweep panorama
  • WiFi and NFC connectivity
  • PlayMemories Camera Apps are supported via the built-in Wi-Fi connection, and allow you to personalize the camera’s features depending on specific shooting styles. Apps are available to suit creating portraits, detailed close-ups, sports, time lapse, motion shot, and other specific types of imagery.
  • battery: NP-FW50 Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery Pack
  • optional AC-PW20 AC Adapter
  • 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.4″ / 126.9 x 95.7 x 60.3 mm
  • 22.05 oz / 625 g incl. battery, card
  • $US3200
  • availability said to be August 2015

What makes it a better camera for Canon and Nikon lenses than their dSLRs?

  • 4K video
  • sensor based image stabiliser which works on all lenses – much reduced need for a tripod for portraits with the 135mm f/2.0L lens in low light
  • at least as good, if not better image quality – Sony sensors generally have better dynamic range than Canon ones and this sensor should not be an exception
  • far better manual focus functionality thanks to full time Live View with magnification and focus peaking – awesome when using tilt shift lenses – and they become image stabilised
  • more accurate portrait AF with Eye detection AF – although we will have to see if this works on non FE lenses
  • more accurate AF as uses focal plane PDAF sensors
  • no mirror so less camera shake and no need for clunky mirror lock up modes
  • can use the EVF in either stills or video mode and the video hopefully will have excellent sensor based image stabilisation and thereby allow better run and gun video work without need for heavy, expensive stabilisation rigs
  • PDAF covers more of the image frame
  • C-AF tracking still not quite as good as Nikon’s 3D tracking but perhaps better than Canon’s iTR distance priority tracking
  • WiFi control

Compared to Canon 5Ds R

Similar resolution, burst rate, shutter speed range,

Sony a7R II Canon 5Ds R
Price at Amazon.com $US3200 $US3900
ISO range 100-25600 (expandable to 50-102,400) 100-6400 (expandable to 50-12800)
Weight 625g 930g
Size 126.9 x 95.7 x 60.3 mm 152 x 116 x 76 mm
EVF YES NO
LCD screen tilt screen fixed
HD video awesome image stabilisation 50Mbps 1080 50/60/24pp and 100Mbps 4K 30/24p, stereo mic, headphone port 1080HD 30p/24p average implementation and quality, no EVF and thus must use LCD screen; mono mic; no headphone port, no uncompressed HDMI out
sensor based image stabilisation 5-axis 4.5EV IS No
Manual focus support in viewfinder magnified view, focus peaking AF confirm
AF in view finder mode fast, accurate on sensor 399pt PDAF, 25pt CDAF, Eye detection AF fast 61pt PDAF (5 double cross, 41 cross) requires microadjustment for each lens but proven for sports
AF lamp Yes No, need speedlight attached
flash sync 1/250th sec but no PC port? 1/200thsec
Radio TTL flash No Yes
Sweep panorama Yes No
silent electronic shutter Yes No?
shutter rating 500,000 shots 150,000 shots?
battery life 290 shots 700 shots
CF and SD memory card slot No Yes
USB 3.0 No Yes
WiFi and NFC Yes No

What’s missing?

  • LCD screen is not touch sensitive – this is very useful on Micro Four Thirds cameras, and I would miss it
  • radio remote TTL flash
  • lossless RAW files – current 14bit lossy RAW files do show some posterization – firmware update may address this
  • whilst PDAF is more accurate, PDAF capabilities in low light is not as good as on dSLR
  • PDAF initial AF lock not as fast as a dSLR when using very out of focus telephoto lenses
  • timelapse recording? – via PlayMemories App?
  • USB 3.0 (still only 2.0)
  • colour rendition may not be as good as peers – Olympus jpeg engine is renown for its colours
  • none of the nice Olympus long exposure and low light options:
    • timed shutter to 60secs
    • Live BULB
    • Live TIME
    • Live Composite
    • Live Boost I and II for better EVF viewing
  • of course, the dedicated lens selection is currently very limited, but at least now, it promises to give faster AF for Canon lenses
  • not compatible with TTL flash from other systems such as Olympus, Nikon or Canon – perhaps one day they will be universal remote TTL flash capability, but this seems a way off yet

Conclusion:

I still believe that the Olympus OM-D cameras are a better fit for MOST people who just need a high quality, light, compact, versatile weathersealed system.

But for the pros and enthusiasts who don’t mind the extra size, weight and cost (~$US4000 for basic kit)  and are wanting high resolution, image stabilised full frame, or the serious videographers wanting high quality 4K video, then this camera is indeed a game changer given that it has all these capabilities without being absurdly expensive!

It also provides an option as a 2nd system to go along with your everyday Micro Four Thirds system, although an alternative to this role could be the newly announced Leica Q which is a 24mp full frame fixed lens camera with a superb 28mm f/1.7 lens and a very quiet leaf shutter which allows flash sync at 1/500th second – a great combo for street photography as well as shooting groups at weddings outdoors or indoors with flash fill in.

Finally, will it live up to the hype and the specs?

Formal testing and user experiences will be required to answer a few questions such as:

  • how good is the image quality from the sensor?
  • how fast is the AF with Sony FE lenses and with Canon EF lenses?
  • how good is the video quality?
  • how effective is the image stabiliser for video?
  • how good is the ergonomics and handling?
  • are there any gotchas yet to be revealed?

Time will tell if this camera is the gem it appears to be.

 

Which mirrorless in 2015 – Sony full frame or Olympus OM-D?

Written by admin on June 8th, 2015

Mirrorless cameras are fast becoming THE camera type of the future thanks to the removal of the mirror which is holding back dSLR cameras from the many benefits of the new EVF world – in particular, the every increasing technological changes which in nearly all aspects have addressed the benefits of an optical viewfinder while adding in so many other benefits.

But which mirrorless camera system to buy?

I am going to discount the Nikon 1 system as the sensor is really too small for enthusiasts wanting a good compromise in size vs image quality vs shallow DOF.

For simplicity, I am also going to discount the APS-C cropped sensor systems (eg. Sony NEX, Fuji, Samsung) as they generally have larger lenses and very few are well designed for the cropped sensor cameras, and really, if you are going to have the larger lenses, you may as well go the whole hog and get a full frame camera. That said, many may find these cameras give them the compromise they need, particularly, the Fuji X system with their very nice lenses such as their 56mm f/1.2 portrait lens.

That leaves us with compact, light, less expensive, Micro Four Thirds 2x crop sensor cameras (Panasonic, Olympus, Kodak and Black Magic cameras) vs the relatively new Sony NEX FX cameras.

Micro Four Thirds vs Sony FX mirrorless:

The main reasons to consider paying all that extra money and carrying heavier, larger cameras and lenses for a full frame system include:

  • more capabilities of achieving even shallower depth of field – perhaps 1-2 stops more shallow
  • ability to use full frame lenses at their native field of view
  • some niche $2000-$3000 lens options only available in full frame as yet, such as 17mm tilt-shift, 14mm f/2.8 ultra-wide capable of taking filters, 24mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2
  • access to higher resolution sensors to allow even larger prints
  • access to sensors with even better high ISO performance

But these Sony full frame cameras come at a cost:

  • larger and heavier kits
  • more expensive cameras and lenses
  • images are generally less sharp away from the centre
  • very small range of dedicated AF lenses
  • current lenses generally have poor close focus limits and smaller apertures compared to Olympus options
  • shallow depth of field is often your enemy
  • high resolution images will generally require use of a tripod
  • high resolution sensor cameras create much larger RAW file sizes and use up more space on memory cards and your hard drives
  • range of camera options is much narrower
  • less hand holdable telephoto reach
  • equivalent telephoto reach lenses are MUCH bigger, heavier, more expensive and require tripods
  • only one Sony camera has 5 axis in-body image stabilisation and it is not as effective as the Olympus OM-D/PEN implementation
  • none of them can compete with the video image stabilisation of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II
  • none of them will allow 1/3rd sec sharp hand held wide angle shots such as the Olympus cameras – eg. night time or when using ND400 10x filters in bright sun for blurred water effects
  • none will allow hand held night urban shots with adequate depth of field (compared to the Olympus OM-D’s and lenses such as 12mm f/2.0)
  • none of them have the handy functions of the Olympus cameras such as 60sec timed exposures, Live TIME, Live Composite exposures
  • each of the 3 current Sony FX cameras have gotchas which may prevent one from achieving what is hoped for:
    • ergonomics are not quite there
    • shutters are very noisy
    • the LCD screens are not touch sensitive
    • no timelapse recording
    • the Sony a7R 36mp camera has poor image quality at certain shutter speeds as one cannot use an electronic 1st shutter and thus is subject to shutter shake, no in-body IS, and only has 25 CDAF points and no PDAF, while flash sync is a miserable 1/160th sec while burst rate is a slow 4fps but would make a great landscape camera
    • the Sony a7S 12mp “low light”/”video” camera has RAW compression artefact issues, poor dynamic range, low resolution, no in-body IS, and only has 25 CDAF points and no PDAF, while burst rate is only 5fps but does make a great low light video camera
    • the Sony a7II 24mp camera finally has in-body IS, and PDAF with good dynamic range, but noise at high ISO, and only 5fps but does provide a way of image stabilising those Canon and Nikon prime lenses whilst retaining full frame characteristics although you do lose fast AF.

Let’s compare the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II vs Sony a7II:

These are relatively close in functionality, both offering IBIS, WiFi, weathersealing and similar resolution.

Olympus OM-D E-M5II Sony a7II
Price at Amazon.com $US999 $US1698
Weight 417g 600g
Size 124mm x 85mm x 44.5mm 127 x 96 x 60 mm
EVF eye sensor auto switching issues with eye sensor auto switching
LCD screen articulating touch screen not touch sensitive
HD video awesome image stabilisation 50Mbps 1080 50/60p better video quality but IS not as good
Burst rate 11fps 5fps
Top panel dual dial + 2×2 system Yes No
AF fast 81pt CDAF (need E-M1 for PDAF) 25pt CDAF, 117pt PDAF
Hi-Res mode Yes, 40mp No
Live BULB, Live TIME, Live Composite, 60sec timed, Live Boost EVF Yes No
Sweep panorama Individual shots stitched Yes
Auto hand held HDR Yes No
“14-28mm” pro lens 7-14mm (14-28mm) f/2.8, 534g, 106mm long, 0.2m close focus, no filter, MF clutch, $US1299 16-35mm f/4, 518g, 99mm long, 0.28m close focus, 72mm filter, OSS, no MF clutch, less sharp, distortion and CA worse, $US1348
“24-70mm” pro lens 12-40mm (24-80mm) f/2.8, 382g, 84mm long, 0.2m close focus, 62mm filter, MF clutch, $US740 24-70mm f/4, 426g, 95mm long, 0.4m close focus, 67mm filter, OSS, no MF clutch, very soft away from centre, complex distortion, $US925
“70-200mm” pro lens 40-150mm (80-200mm) f/2.8, 760g, 160mm long, 0.7m close focus, 72mm filter, MF clutch, $US1399, opt. 1.4x converter 70-200mm f/4, 840g, 175mm long, 1-1.5m close focus, 72mm filter, OSS, no MF clutch, no teleconverter, soft corners even stopped down, $US1498
“50mm” standard prime lens 25mm (50mm) f/1.8, 136g, 41mm long, 0.24m close focus, 46mm filter, $US349 (also other options such as Leica-D 25mm f/1.4) 55mm f/1.8, 281g, 64mm long, 0.5m close focus, 49mm filter, excellent optics, shallower DOF, but poor close focus and expensive $US998

Just look at those 3 main zoom lenses, the Olympus zooms offer better edge-to-edge sharpness, less distortions, substantially better close focus, and extra stop of light which partly addresses the shallow DOF and high ISO capabilities of the Sony full frame sensor, whilst being less expensive and offering the lovely manual focus clutch, and for the telephoto, the option of a 1.4x teleconverter.

The Sony zoom lenses being f/4 to allow a more compact, lighter and affordfable solution than the usual f/2.8 full frame lenses does not get you into the comfort zone shallow depth of field full frame f/2.8 zoom lenses and thus would miss the mark for portrait, fashion and wedding photographers who really do need the f/2.8 aperture.

Not only that, but Micro Four Thirds offer over 40 dedicated AF lenses in their system, while Sony only have 6 to date, and none of these are fisheye (let alone f/1.8 fisheye as with the Olympus), only 2 primes, and no macro lens. Micro Four Thirds has some lovely, compact lenses optimised for fast CDAF such as:

  • 8mm f/1.8 fisheye
  • 12mm f/2.0
  • 17mm f/1.8
  • 20mm f/1.7 pancake
  • 25mm f/1.4 or f/1.8
  • 42.5mm f/1.2
  • 45mm f/1.8
  • 60mm f/2.8 1:1 macro
  • 75mm f/1.8 (my favorite)

Olympus will also be bringing out their much anticipated 300mm f/4 super telephoto which will give hand holdable 600/840mm telephoto reach impossible to obtain on the Sony system as it would require a 600mm lens and they are big, heavy and expensive, and NONE are optimised for CDAF and face detection AF as the Olympus will be.

In addition, a 0.72x focal reducer on an Olympus OM-D combined with a Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens effectively gives you an image stabilised 200mm f/2.8 lens in full frame field of view and depth  of field characteristics, and it should not be too long before we see these with faster AF.

If you don’t like the video quality of the Olympus cameras, there are always the Panasonic GH-4 4K camera and Black Magic video cameras.

Furthermore, you can carry the Olympus E-M5 camera and a few prime lenses in your jacket pockets!

I think I have just convinced myself not to head down the Sony route even though there is the tantalising prospect of the very shallow depth of field options – I think I can manage this aspect with focal reducer adapters!

HOWEVER, the 36mp Sony a7R may be worth it for landscape photographers wanting to make larger prints and who are willing to carry a tripod for every shot, and avoid those shutter speeds where shutter shake is problematic – so it would be great for waterfalls, blurred water seascapes, etc and much more affordable than a Nikon D810 dSLR or Canon 5DS dSLR.

 

 

A different take on the Great Ocean Road

Written by admin on May 26th, 2015

In my last post I mainly shot waterfalls and rainforests in the west Otways along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia.

This post takes this further and explores a few coastal seascapes using the weatherproof image stabilised Olympus OM-D  Micro Four Thirds cameras.

Please click on the photos to open a larger size view in my Tumblr account.

 

Long exposure hand held shot in bright sunlight as a storm approaches bringing a small rain shower behind the coastal rocks:

Details: Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Olympus mZD 12-40mm PRO lens at 12mm, f/5, Hoya ND400 10x neutral density filter, ISO 200, 1/4 sec:

sun showers

Same location, different view as more rain showers approach the coast:

Details: Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Olympus mZD 12-40mm PRO lens at 12mm, f/5, Hoya ND400 10x neutral density filter, ISO 200, 1/4 sec:

stormy coast

From high up on a hill, a lone lady walking the ocean beach at sunset, and hopefully I have captured the remote serenity ambience that she must be enjoying:

Details: Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Olympus ZD 50-200mm f.28-3.5 SWD lens at 200mm, f/4.5, ISO 800, 1/125th sec (not bad hand held for a 400mm equivalent focal length in 35mm full frame terms!):

beach walk

And driving further west along the Great Ocean Road to the Twelve Apostles region at sunset:

Details: Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Olympus ZD 50-200mm f.28-3.5 SWD lens at 50mm, f/8, ISO 200, 1/200th sec:

sunset rainbow at Twelve Apostles

Tourists having trouble working out which way to shoot – into the sun or away from the sun – so let’s cover both shots:

Details: Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Olympus ZD 50-200mm f.28-3.5 SWD lens at 54mm, f/8, ISO 200, 1/640th sec:

tourists

 

Light, compact, weatherproof camera kit – the Olympus OM-D’s are a blessing for bushwalkers – especially if you fall into a river rock hopping

Written by admin on May 25th, 2015

OK, submerging your OM-D camera is NOT covered by Olympus for warranty repairs, nor do they recommend getting them really wet even if they have made them the more weatherproof than most dSLRs.

You probably have seen some reviewers “testing” this by sitting the camera in pool of water under a shower, or pouring a bottle of water on them, or running them under a tap without any obvious problems.

The Olympus advertisements themselves show off the OM-D’s with water droplets all over them to show you don’t have to fear the rain (as long as the lens is also weatherproof).

Despite the above, see looking after your Olympus camera in my wiki, and there is a link to an Olympus OM-D instruction manual regarding weathersealing of the E-M1.

Last week I had the pleasure of spending a week down in Victoria’s lovely Otway Ranges on the Great Ocean Road, and of course, bushwalking in the rain was on the menu given it is an extensive rainforest with around 2000mm rainfall per annum.

The Micro Four Third camera system has given me the ability to be more mobile, and access more places in less time thanks to its small size and light weight, plus, with its weatherproofing, I can make both my cameras even more accessible by mounting them onto a quick release plate on a waist belt which means no camera swinging dangerously from my neck hitting rocks I need to hands to negotiate, much reduced weight on my neck and back (I hardly need a back pack now for short walks), and best of all it only takes me seconds to access the camera and securely lock it back onto the belt, allowing me free to use my hiking poles when not taking pics.

Furthermore, the incredible image stabilisation system in the Olympus OM-D cameras means I no longer take tripods to waterfalls, or down the hundreds of steps to the beach, as I can get sharp hand held wide angle shots down to around 1/3rd second on my E-M5 and probably longer on the E-M1.

But even better, if I do need longer exposures, there is a lovely little Trail Pix device from kickstarter which converts my hiking poles (plus a 3rd collapse pole) into a tripod with a small ball mount tripod head – see my wiki page on ultralight bushwalking.

Back to my bushwalk and the dunking of my E-M5

I had both cameras on my belt and was attempting to walk upstream to this lovely little waterfall on Elliot River in the west Otways Ranges, when the slippery rock moved and I ended up half in the river – the E-M5 was submerged for a second or so, my E-M1 was on the other side and didn’t get wet, which was a good thing as I had the 75mm f/1.8 lens on it which is NOT weatherproof!

After drying off the water with a cloth, all was well and I continued my venture upstream, albeit, more cautiously and got a few long exposure hand held shots of the pretty little cascade (E-M5, mZD 12-40mm lens, polariser filter, ISO 100, f/7.1, 1/4 second):

Elliot Falls

Not far from here, someone had kicked over a curious purple and orange/brown mushroom which Google has not helped me identify thus far – so if anyone knows, please message me:

mushroom

A stormy dusk over a wild but serene remote beach (still have sore quads after doing a fast uphill hike to get back to the car before darkness – must remember to bring a torch!):

Details: Olympus E-M5, mZD 12-40mm PRO lens, polarising filter, ISO 100, f/8, hand held 1/5th sec to show motion in the pounding winter waves.

wild serenity

Moments earlier, a little of the sunset peaked through the dense clouds to allow this nice pastel effect:

Details: Olympus E-M5, mZD 12-40mm PRO lens, polarising filter, ISO 100, f/8, hand held 1/5th sec to show motion in the water.

sunset

Back up in the tops of the cool temperate rainforest of the Otways is the lovely Hopetoun Falls – quite accessible to tourists in a hurry as long as they don’t mind a hundred steps down and back up:

Details: Olympus E-M5, mZD 12-40mm PRO lens, polarising filter, ISO 200, f/5, hand held 1/10th sec to show motion in the water.


Hopetoun Falls

And, a visit to the Otways can’t not show the awesome ambience of being in the 300 year old Eucalypt Mountain Ash and Myrtle Beech rainforest with a touch of low cloud amongst the trees after rain:

Details: Olympus E-M5, mZD 12-40mm PRO lens at 40mm, polarising filter, ISO 200, f/5, hand held 1/13th sec.

forest

Finally, resting at a remote mouth of a river on a secluded beach is sheer bliss:

Details: Olympus E-M5, mZD 12-40mm PRO lens at 27mm, polarising filter, ISO 200, f/3.5, hand held 1/40th sec.

river mouth

ps… all the current Olympus OM-D’ cameras are weathersealed EXCEPT for the E-M10.

 

Which lens to buy for your Olympus OM-D camera?

Written by admin on May 16th, 2015

This is an extremely hard question to answer given everyone has different photographic needs and styles as well as budgets.

First, the consumer lenses:

Most newbies will tend to end up with one or two of the very good  consumer level “kit” zoom lenses as they are very well priced and affordable, especially when purchased as a kit with a camera.

All camera manufacturers offer such kits to allow the entry level budget compromised photographer an option of getting into the system.

Fortunately for Micro Four Thirds camera users, these consumer kit lenses tend to offer very good performance for the money and historically, the lenses have often outperformed their Canon and Nikon counterparts.

HOWEVER, most enthusiasts will tend to end up purchasing the higher quality “premium” or “pro” lenses and generally will cease to use these consumer grade lenses once they have an improved option.

The main issues with the consumer kit zooms are that their aperture is quite narrow – often f/3.5-6.7 at their widest aperture and this means several compromises:

  • they do not let much light in and thus will have more trouble locking autofocus in dim light and will probably require a flash to be used indoor, and will have very limited use when outdoor light levels fall unless you use a tripod.
  • the aperture is not wide enough to allow really shallow depth of field images for when you want to blur out the background (unless you are shooting macro close up subjects)
  • adding a polariser filter further darkens the already relatively low light intake, again limiting hand held options and AF locking capability in low light
  • given the consumer grade optics, best image quality is often at around f/8 instead of around f/4 with the premium and pro lenses, which further limits your options if you want the best quality shots
  • they generally are not weatherproof (important exceptions are the Olympus mZD 12-50mm lens and the Olympus m.ZD 14-150mm f/4-5.6 II)

Nevertheless, if you are shooting mainly outdoors in bright light and not needing to blur the background, these lenses make great travel companions and there are a LOT of lenses to choose from depending upon your needs.

Some things to consider are:

  • focal length range
  • size
    • in general, the more zoom, the longer and bigger the lens will be, so one has to weigh up what they can fit in their bag with what focal length range they need
    • some lenses also have the option of reducing down to a more compact size when not in use, but these can be a bit clunky to unlock and you can miss shots because you forgot to have it unlocked
  • silent autofocus for movies
  • autofocus speed – the older lenses designed around 2007-2008 tend to have slower autofocus
  • weatherproofing – only a couple of the consumer lenses are weatherproof
  • macro capability – the Olympus mZD 12-50mm lens is not only weatherproof but has very good macro capabilities

The Olympus “premium” lenses:

Olympus has marketed a middle tier of the m Zuiko Digital (mZD) lenses to the enthusiasts who want extra wide apertures either for low light work or for shallower depth of field and better ability to blur the background to emphasise your subject.

Furthermore, these are mainly “prime” lenses in that they only have one focal length and no zoom functionality which makes them easier to design for better bokeh – the aesthetic quality of the blurred background.

These lenses are generally very good optically even wide open at their f/1.8 or f/2.0 maximum apertures and are great for indoors or outdoors and perfect for portraiture, and creative arty work.

My personal favourite of these is the brilliant Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens which is fantastic for single person portraits and for creative shallow depth of field work.

If I only take 2 lenses with me, it will be this one and the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens.

If you can’t afford the 75mm f/1.8 lens and you want a similar look and you can be happy shooting in manual focus only, then try the Rokinon/Samyang 85mm f/1.4 lens.

Other great options are:

  • Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.8 – great for street photography, parties, small group photos, etc (a more compact alternative to this lens is the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens – this lets you get your E-M10 or E-M5 camera into a jacket pocket at social events or for walking the streets at night and doing hand held night urban landscapes)
  • Olympus mZD 45mm f/1.8 – great for portraits of couples or one person, if you have plenty of cash to spare, also take a look at the Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2 lens for even shallower depth of field
  • Olympus mZD 60mm f/2.8 macro – the only “premium” lens that is weatherproofed – a must have lens if you are into macrophotography

My next tier down are:

  • Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens – this is great for hand held night urban landscapes and infrared landscapes, but if you own the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens, you may not use this as much as you think and for my mind, it is over-priced.
  • Olympus mZD 17mm f/1.8 lens – great for street photography and groups at parties, but perhaps not as good as the 25mm f/1.8 lens, although many people absolutely love this lens – I don’t have one

The Olympus “PRO” lenses:

These are the current holy grail for many Olympus users, great lenses, relatively compact for their capabilities, well built, weatherproofed, relatively wide apertures (most are f/2.8).

The most useful of these for most people is the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens.

It could probably replace the need for the 12mm f/2.0 lens (unless you shoot hand held at night), and the 17mm and 25mm f/1.8 lenses (although I would still like my compact Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens to provide a compact, low light option).

The choice of a second lens to match with this lens depends upon your needs and may include one or more of:

And for the nature, wildlife or sports photographer, the much anticipated Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 PRO lens is due perhaps late 2015.

In the meantime, if I am shooting the moon or need super telephoto capability, I use the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens +/- EC-20 2x teleconverter which gives me up to 800mm f/7 capability in full frame terms.

Olympus has also indicated it will be working on even wider aperture prime lenses, so we can expect some f/1.2 and perhaps even f/0.95 lenses with autofocus and ability to AF on the closest eye which is one of the brilliant capabilities of Olympus cameras and much needed when using such shallow DOF cameras, and combine these with the awesome image stabilisation and your creativity can go wild!

Many, many more options:

The beauty of the Micro Four Thirds system is not only its compact, light size, the amazing Olympus image stabilisation which works on ANY lens, but it is extremely adaptable allowing one to use well over 50 lenses designed in Micro Four Thirds mounts as well as those in Four Thirds mount, but also almost any lens ever made via third party adapters which offer the following options:

  • plain adapters for manual focus of nearly any other lens ever made albeit in 2x crop field of view
  • focal reducer adapters for manual focus of nearly any other lens ever made but with a 1.4x crop field of view and a 1 stop wider aperture
    • for example, a Canon EF 135mm f/2.0 lens becomes a 100mm f/1.4 lens giving similar field of view and depth of view as a 200mm f/2.8 lens on a full frame camera
  • autofocus adapters such as the Kipon AF adapter which allows relatively fast AF using Canon EF lenses while providing aperture control
  • tilt-shift adapters which convert nearly any full frame Nikon lens into a tilt-shift lens
 

Olympus officially announces their 2 new pro lenses – 8mm fisheye and 7-14mm f/2.8 super wide angle zoom – my take on these lenses

Written by admin on May 12th, 2015

Back in the days of the Four Thirds dSLR, Olympus created a brilliant but very expensive and heavy super wide angle lens – the Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4 Super High Grade Pro lens.

This lens was so good, I decided to buy it despite it being well over $2000. Compared to anything I could use on my Canon 1D Mark III, this lens just blew them away in terms of optical qualities – perhaps the only full frame lens to match the optical quality is the highly regarded Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G which is so good, many Canon users bought it for their cameras albeit sacrificing AF.

The Olympus had almost no barrel or pincushion distortion, it was weatherproofed and had excellent build quality.

But that was back in 2007 or so, and now Micro Four Thirds rules with good reason.

One of the big benefits of Micro Four Thirds over the Four Thirds system is that having a much shorter sensor to lens flange distance allows a far more efficient, less expensive, lighter, and smaller lens design for wide angle lenses.

Olympus has finally realised this benefit by now announcing a release date of around June 2015 for their new Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens which also trumps the Panasonic offering which is a 7-14mm f/4 lens.

Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens:

This lens is 1 stop faster than the Four Thirds lens – that is – it lets in TWICE as much light thereby allowing lower ISO to be used in low light, but even with this extra stop of aperture it is a welcome compact size, so let’s look at the specs to see what we get in benefits over the Four Thirds lens:

  • shorter: 105.8mm long instead of 120mm
  • smaller: 78.9mm diameter instead of 87mm
  • much lighter: 534g instead of 780g
  • close focus reduced to a working distance of 7.5cm (the close focus of the Four Thirds lens was 25cm from sensor)
  • new ZERO nanocoating to further reduce flare
  • new manual focus clutch to switch into “analog” manual focus mode with distance scale instead of the default focus by wire mechanism
  • new L-Fn button which can be assigned to any of 17 functions on the Olympus OM-D cameras
  • AF is now silent and optimised for CDAF live view and videos
  • new optical design hopefully maintains the excellent optical performance of its predecessor
  • when matched to the Olympus OM-D cameras, the amazing image stabilisation system in these cameras allow such a lens to be hand held down to 1/3rd sec or even slower depending on technique! This opens up amazingly creative options in situations where tripods cannot be used and you want flowing water to be captured such as on beaches or with waterfalls.
  • but perhaps best of all is it is around HALF the price at $US1299

Where does that leave the Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4 Four Thirds lens? Well, one would have to say assuming that its optics are not substantially better than the new f/2.8 lens, which appears to be a reasonable assumption given the preview testing, that it will be greatly devalued HOWEVER, it does have one potential trick up its sleeve that the new lens will not be able to do – add a ND100 or ND400 neutral density inside the Four Thirds adapter so that you can achieve long exposures to blur water in bright sunlight.

  • hopefully some enterprising company will make such an adapter with in-built ND400 filter
  • in the interim, it may be possible to cut a Cokin ND100 P155 filter to fit inside the odd-shaped interior of an Olympus or Panasonic adapter – the Cokin filters are plastic and thus can be cut to shape – see how to do this here
  • it would be great if future Olympus camera bodies could have a ND 400 filter activated within the camera body and then all lenses could use it seamlessly, but this is wishful thinking.

Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens:

Olympus have a Four Thirds fisheye lens – the Olympus ZD 8mm f/3.5 fisheye.

But now with Micro Four Thirds, Olympus has upped the ante on its rivals by producing the world’s widest aperture fisheye lens at f/1.8 aperture!

8mm fishe eye image
Why is the f/1.8 aperture important?

If you wish to take landscape photos at night and include the vast expanses of the Milky Way, you need a really wide angle lens – and the fisheye gives you a full 180deg coverage negating the need for panoramic stitching, but in addition, the f/1.8 aperture allows capture of more stars whilst retaining a low ISO of 800-1600. Another benefit of a fisheye lens for star photos is the shutter can be much longer than the usual 25-30secs (if using a non-fisheye wide angle lens) given the wide field of view, and thankfully, the Olympus cameras not only provide 60sec timed exposures, but the option of Timed exposures which negate the need of holding the shutter release down as in the usual BULB mode, or of LIVE TIMED or even LIVE COMPOSITE modes for further creativity at night!

A 14mm lens on a 35mm full frame camera offers around 114° angle of view and this means one can use a shutter speed up to 25-30secs without star trailing being objectionable. As the Olympus lens is a fisheye, one can’t use the usual shutter speed equation of 400/full frame equivalent focal length, but you can use the field of view to come up with 180 x 30secs / 114 = 50secs, so perhaps 60secs would be a reasonable shutter speed for the fisheye lens for Milky Way shots without tracking – this means you can halve the usual ISO to 800 while the f/1.8 aperture will capture FOUR TIMES as much light as a f/3.5 fisheye lens.

In addition, the f/1.8 aperture will be welcomed by underwater photographers.

This Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens is weatherproofed, has very close focus and is very reasonably priced at $US999 while remaining smaller and lighter than even the 7-14mm f/2.8 lens.

The very close focus allows for creative nature and landscape photography.

Obviously, it will also be image stabilised on Olympus cameras to hand holdable 1/2sec or longer – no fisheye lens on a Canon or Nikon dSLR can be image stabilised nor have such a wide aperture – another reason why the Olympus Micro Four Thirds system means more fun, more creative options, less back ache and less cost.

The optics of the fisheye seem extremely good given the example image of the aurora which shows star shapes are pretty good for such a lens, with only the top right corner stars developing significant aberrations – that to me is a sign this lens should be an awesome lens.
aurora taken with the f/1.8 fisheye

Olympus is well on its way to a full catalogue of weatherproofed PRO level lenses designed for Micro Four Thirds and its face recognition capable CDAF autofocus systems we now have:

  • 8mm f/1.8 fisheye
  • 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO
  • 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO
  • 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO with 1.4x teleconverter
  • and coming soon, the 300mm f/4 PRO (equates to an easily hand holdable 600mm field of view lens)

You might well ask, but where are the tilt-shift lenses which pro systems need?

One of the awesome features of Micro Four Thirds, is that the short lens flange distance allows one the option of using a tilt-shift lens adapter which in effect can turn any Nikon full frame lens into a tilt-shift lens!

Why pay a lot of money for a dedicated tilt-shift lens?

Or, if you already have expensive tilt-shift lenses, you can just use the full frame tilt-shift lenses in 2x crop factor (my Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 effectively becomes a 34mm tilt-shift lens with IS), or used with a 0.72x focal reducer (the 17mm lens becomes 24mm f/2.8 tilt-shift with IS).

Perhaps Olympus may develop a super wide angle tilt shift lens to fill the super wide angle gap such as a 7mm f/2.8 tilt-shift – or this may fall to a 3rd party given it does not need AF.

Just awesome, and unlike the Canon and Nikon lenses, these lenses will have their image stabilisation performances improved with each new version of Olympus camera, not to mention fast AF on the closest eye and other class leading functions.

And if you think the image quality of Micro Four Thirds can’t cut it with the full frame world, check out these side by side image samples comparing a Canon 6D full frame dSLR with a Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L lens compared to an entry level Olympus OM-D E-M10 with the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens – the Olympus just blows the Canon away in image clarity and detail edge-to-edge. Furthermore, buying a 50 megapixel dSLR is not going to get you better image detail or ability to make big prints if your lens can’t deliver the image detail you need or you have camera shake because the image stabiliser is not effective enough.

 

Olympus OM-D E-M1 rear dial issue not always responding – mine is now in for repair under warranty by Olympus Australia

Written by admin on April 19th, 2015

Many and perhaps most cameras have either design or manufacturing build quality issues which do not get noticed until mass production has already occurred.

Such was the case with the professional sports dSLR – the Canon 1D Mark III which I bought in 2007 for over $5000 to compliment my Olympus E510 dSLR which was not capable of fast C-AF tracking of fast moving subjects.

Unfortunately with the Canon 1D III, there was a major design fault with the C-AF system and despite returning it for attempted repair, the problem was not resolved fully, and Canon partly resolved it by releasing a new camera, the Canon 1D Mark IV although this did not compensate the many thousands like me who bought the faulty model.

Nikon had similar serious issues with their Nikon D600 full frame dSLR in which the shutter mechanism was allegedly causing dust and oil to contaminate the sensor causing granular spots on images. After much debate and testing, Nikon finally announced it accepted that it was a design issue and in Feb 2014 announced it would offer free replacement of the shutter mechanism, and allocated $17.7 million to address the issue. It then released an updated model, the D610 to resolve the problem for future buyers.

It seems that Canon may also have a major problem with their sensors on the Canon their latest cropped-sensor dSLRs – see here.

Apart from the Canon 1D Mark III, I have been extremely fortunate with my long run of cameras I have bought since the 1970′s, none of which have needed a warranty repair – these include, the Olympus OM-1n, OM-2n, Olympus C8080, Olympus E510, Olympus E330, Olympus OM-D E-M5.

But just over 2 months after I purchased a new Olympus OM-D E-M1, and well before my trip to South Australia, it started developing the well-documented issues with its rear dial requiring several clicks to change a setting instead of just the click. The camera is still usable but it is an extremely annoying fault, and if it did fail totally, one could always use the touch screen and also re-allocate important control to another dial such is the versatility and customisation capability of this wonderful little camera.

It seems the issue is not isolated to the E-M1 but has affected similar models such as the E-P5. I have also seen the top part of the rear dial just fall off on someone’s new E-M1 so there does seem to be build quality and perhaps design issues with this new dial which differed from the design on the E-M5.

Fortunately, this issue should be an easy fix and presumably just requires replacement of the rear dial, although there is a risk that the problem may return with a new dial if it is a more significant design issue – time will tell on that

Nevertheless, it was time to do the inevitable and take it back to the camera store to have it sent off for repairs to Olympus Australia who do the repairs in Sydney (or Perth), but unfortunately not in Melbourne.

I am thus posting this blog to give Australians a feel for the service provided by Olympus Australia, particularly given that Olympus no longer has world wide warranties, but regional – my understanding is that Olympus Australia only do warranty repairs themselves for cameras purchased in the Australia region which they have distributed to retailers.

Both of the above, on the surface could appear to be show stoppers for professional photographers who need fast turn-around times for servicing, however, this would be partly negated by the fact one could probably buy a spare body and lens and still have a substantial amount of money left over when compared to buying a full frame pro system. In this way a pro could risk manage the issue, although most pros would always have a spare camera body at least anyway.

I will update this post further once I have news on the outcome of my warranty repair, in the meantime it is back to using the E-M5 with the Canon 1D Mark III coming out of retirement.

When sending the camera in for repair via the retailer, all they need is the receipt and the camera body with body cap in place – no battery, no accessory grip, no SD card, no box.

Do NOT send in other accessories which are not needed for the repair, as with any service centre, there is a chance they could be lost amongst all the other repairs!

A quote from a fellow Australian who had the same issue “I sent it to the Olympus offices in Australia (they still do all the repairs in house, and are fantastic to deal with)” – so I am very optimistic the service will be excellent.

UPDATE – ALL FIXED!

The camera store contacted me on 6th May to come and pick up and all looks good – Olympus Australia replaced the rear dial under warranty as expected, gave it a clean and it is working beautifully now.

Turn around time was about 3 weeks which included the postage to and from Sydney via the camera store.