February, 2017

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Why two memory card slots are better than one in your camera – an important feature of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and the Panasonic GH-5

Friday, February 24th, 2017

Most professional level digital cameras have two memory card slots instead of one – primarily as professionals cannot afford to lose all their money-making and goodwill making images in the unlikely event of a memory card failure.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and its new dual card slots:

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is the first Micro Four Thirds camera to implement dual memory card slots.

As the camera is primarily aimed at still photographers rather than video, unlike the forthcoming Panasonic GH-5, only one of the SD card slots is super fast and compatible with the UHS-II standard.

If you wish to do 4K video or 60fps burst rate in RAW, you will need a compatible fast (“UHS class 3”), high capacity UHS-II SD memory card – not all work – check the compatibility – Olympus recommend Sandisk Extreme Pro SDHC / SDXC UHS-II Card or Toshiba EXCERIA PRO™ UHS-II SDXC/SDHC Card – see their compatibility tables here.

These cards are not cheap, for example a 64Gb UHS-II card will set you back around $AU200 and you can double that for a 128Gb card in early 2017.

The E-M1 Mark II offers various file saving options if you have 2 cards:

  • “Standard” will record to the specified card – allows movies to one card and stills to another card
  • “Automatic Switching” will automatically switch to the second card when the first card becomes full
  • “Dual Independent” will record to both cards according to the specified image quality setting assigned to each
  • “Dual Same” will record identical files to both cards simultaneously

This is set in the Menu under cogs:H1:Card Slot Settings:Save Settings for still and cogs:H1:Card Slot Settings:Movie Save Slot

The Dual options each have a sub option of whether or not you wish to have the ability to keep saving to one card even if the other card is full.

E-M1 Mark II play back options:

This is set in the Menu under cogs:H1:Card Slot Settings:Playback Slot.

Unfortunately this only gives you the option of slot 1 or slot 2 so the camera does not automatically “remember” your last playback slot that you can select by holding down the playback button while rotating the top right dial which could inadvertently lead you to accidentally deleting a RAW file in slot 1 thinking it was the jpeg file in slot 2.

Temporarily viewing images on the card which is not the default playback card:

  • press the playback button while rotating the top right dial and the screen will indicate which card slot it will use to playback
  • unfortunately, as mentioned above, this is not retained once you take another shot, playback reverts to the default playback slot

Advantages of dual slots:

Insurance against card corruption, damage or loss:

The ability to save 2 physical copies of your RAW files simultaneously via the “Dual Same” mode is critical for professionals.

Some insurance against accidental deletion in camera:

If you are using the Dual modes and you delete an image or erase the card or re-format the card, it does not delete the image on the other card – of course, you can change the playback to the second card and then also delete that image but at least that requires effort.

Faster saving of RAW+jpeg rapid burst:

The ability to save RAW files to one card and your jpegs to another card allows faster burst rate buffer clearance and possibly less playback “blackout” after a burst while all your images get saved. The E-M1 II does not have live view visual blackout after a burst but you will have slowed burst rates after a long burst until the buffer clears, and saving to two cards can potentially reduce this issue somewhat.

Ability to automatically save movies to the UHS-II card and stills to the second card:

Just set  saving option to “Standard” and then you can set the save slot for stills vs movie in that same menu area.

More capacity within the camera:

“Automatic Switching” allows the 2nd card to be used when the 1st is filled up (although you do lose the fast UHS-II capability with the second card slot.

Playback zoom when capturing RAW + small jpeg:

One issue with playback on all Olympus cameras to date has been that if you selected RAW+small jpg as your file save option, on playback, when you zoom in, you do not get to see the actual RAW captured detail, only the much less detailed small jpeg which in effect limits your zoom to perhaps 3-5x instead of the 10-14x to really check if your image is sharp.

Having the dual slots overcomes this as you can have RAW saved to slot 1 and small jpeg to slot 2 and when you playback slot 1, you view the full captured detail in all its glory and no longer have to wait until you get it on the computer to ascertain if it is sharp enough.

Ability to backup all images from one card to another in camera:

This is great if you are on holidays traveling the world and don’t have a mechanism to backup your images.

Just buy another SD card of same capacity but can be a slower, cheaper card, then in Playback menu, select Copy All and then choose the copy direction – make sure you get this direction correct – although it will not delete existing images on the destination card so that is a great safeguard!

Disadvantages of Dual mode:

The Olympus delete image option of simultaneously deleting the RAW and JPEG does not work if you are saving each to a different card.

It thus takes more than double the effort to delete an image off both cards or erase the two cards – you need to manually select the second card and then repeat the process, but perhaps this is a good thing!

You may accidentally delete an image from the wrong card if you forget the camera reverts back to the default playback card!

 My firmware suggestions:

  • add a 3rd option, “last viewed” to the cogs:H1:Card Slot Settings:Playback Slot so that one does not have to dig deep into the menu to keep your playback slot preference
  • playback zoom should have an option to view the RAW file rather than a small jpeg if only a single card is used for RAW+jpeg – this should apply to all Olympus cameras whether one or dual slot designs.

 

 

 

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

Saturday, 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   …. or not:

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 (although corruptions and file deletions still occasionally occur so keep an up to date back up!) 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

Wednesday, 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!!!