Two new full frame mirrorless cameras – Sigma FP and the Sony a7R IV

Written by Gary on July 17th, 2019

The full frame mirrorless market place is becoming increasing difficult to decide upon which system to jump into as each offers something different but none offer everything you need – see my previous post on this.

We have Nikon’s Z system which only has entry level enthusiasts cameras at present without some of the features pros need and with a Eye detect AF that is still very immature compared to Sony as it seems to detect eyelashes instead of the iris, and a strange initial line up of lenses. A potential big advantage of the Nikon mount is that it can use almost any lens ever made including Sony FE and potentially, Canon RF – the question will be – how well will the AF work with these lenses. We now just have to wait and see what Nikon can do with their cameras and what native lenses they decide to bring out and whether they will be affordable.

Canon with their new RF mount has been introducing some ground breaking lenses which will be far more functional and optically better than their dSLR versions (in particular, the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2) but it has only introduced uninspiring entry level cameras and none have in-camera sensor shift image stabilisation which is now an expected feature in cameras.

Add to this the new medium format mirrorless camera with image stabilisation, the Fujifilm GFX100S with its “relatively” affordable 100mp medium format image quality and one can see there is pressure on the full frame camera manufacturers.

The new Sigma FP L mount camera

Last week Sigma, which has joined the L-mount alliance with Panasonic and Leica, announced a camera from left field – their pocketable Sigma FP full frame mirrorless camera which is designed to be the heart of a powerful, modular videography kit and allows Cinema RAW video output. You can read more about this interesting camera on my wikipedia page.

In addition, it is likely Sigma will be bringing out other interesting cameras in this mount such as a Foveon sensor for those Foveon fans.

Now that 3 companies are making cameras and lenses (and Sigma has a substantial arsenal of lens designs ready to go), the L-mount may become quite competitive – especially for videographers.

The new Sony a7R IV

Yesterday, Sony announced their 4th generation of the Sony a7R series, the Sony a7R IV which obviously targets professional photographers who need the highest resolution possible to allow their images to be utilised in a variety of ways by their clients through cropping of different parts for different output purposes.

The main differences over the Sony a7RIII are:

  • 61mp sensor instead of 45mp – this takes the pixel density and pixel size to that approaching Micro Four Thirds, but somehow Sony have maintained a high dynamic range of 15 stops for stills.
  • a new 5.76mdot EVF with 60 or 120fps refresh rate (the latter has lower resolution) – presumably the same as on the Panasonic S1/S1R
  • sensor pixel shift HiRes mode now produces 16 shot 240mp output images
  • improved shutter, grip and weathersealing around battery and card doors which have been an Achilles heel for the previous models
  • slightly greater PDAF coverage of 74% of the frame instead of 68%
  • advanced Real-time Tracking plus Real-time Eye AF for still image recording
  • new ‘Focus Priority’ mode allows camera to acquire AF at wide open aperture at a cost of increased shutter lag
  • Real-time Eye AF and Touch AF Tracking functionality for movie recording
  • anti-flicker mode
  • new Multi Interface Shoe™ with new digital audio interface delivers the high-quality sound recording with Sony’s new microphone and XLR microphone adapter
  • USB-C now has double transfer speed
  • both SD card slots are now UHS-II
  • 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi for improved tethering

Issues with the Sony a7R IV:

  • very large file sizes means storage issues and slower and more frustrating post-processing and one would be hard pressed to see the difference between a 45mp image and a 61mp image – you generally need to double resolution to be able to see a substantive difference.
  • what will high ISO performance be like if pixel size is now approaching that of Micro Four Thirds? 60-100mp makes sense on a medium format camera with its larger sensor – but what will be the image quality costs of such high pixel density on a full frame sensor size – we will have to await testing.
  • no option for lower resolution full frame files with lossless compression – but you can use their lossy compression files or use a 26mp APS-C cropped sensor mode
  • video features lag well behind peers and are little changed from the a7RIII with only 8bit output, the Super35mm modes are cropped more than one would like (1.6x in 24p and 1.8x in 30p) while the full width mode uses binned pixels, and no 4K 60p mode, plus rolling shutter is likely to be a major issue.
  • menu system apparently unchanged and this is in need of a change
  • seems you still can’t get your 5th finger to hold the camera which makes adding a grip more of an ergonomic necessity with larger, heavier lenses.
  • LCD is still only a tilting LCD not swivel and no good for vlogging
  • no electronic shutter faster burst modes – presumably due to slow sensor read out time as the sensor is full frame with 61mp and unlike the Sony a9 it is not a stacked sensor.

Sony has certainly upped the ante on Canon and Nikon and especially at the price point of $US3499 it will be challenging them head on and at the same time the 61mp and the 240mp HiRes mode will likely decrease the move of pros to 100mp medium format cameras.

Sony has obviously decided to leave the video capabilities to minimalistic levels given the slow sensor read out to allow for a new version of their Sony a7S series which targets videographers – but they will be having to compete with Panasonic and Sigma now for this market.

This camera will be popular for pros and gear-heads but the far majority of us do not need that resolution for all our photos and having to store all those files and have the fun taken out of your photography with the slow and frustrating post-processing experience will be a cost you have to factor in – most of us would probably be better off with a 20-24mp camera for most uses, but some without budget issues would perhaps like this camera for special uses.

As usual, I have a wiki page for the Sony a7RIV which I will update with links and resources as they arrive.

 

Upgrading to an Olympus OM-D E-M1 II from an E-M5 or E-M10

Written by Gary on July 10th, 2019

While the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds camera is getting a bit old having been announced way back in Sept 2016, the recent firmware upgrade that Olympus has kindly offered has breathed new life into it and makes it a very attractive option for those with an E-M5 Mark II or E-M10 series camera, especially if one can get it at discounted prices.

What are the main differences compared to the E-M5 series?

  • grip is built in making it bigger and with better ergonomics and build than when using an add on grip as was needed with the E-M5
  • new bigger and much longer life battery – sorry the old ones can’t be used.
  • better image quality – 20mp vs 16mp, 1 EV better high ISO noise and improved dynamic range and no low-pass filter for more detail
  • further improved image stabiliser now to 6.5EV with OIS lenses
  • much faster image processor Truepic VIII with double quad core is 3.5x faster than the Truepic VII in the E-M1 which also helps to reduce the start up time (the E-M5 II uses Truepic VII)
  • two SD card slots one of which is UHS-II compatible for even faster saving of images and video allowing faster burst rates and 4K 30p video
  • improved silent shutter – to 1/32,000th sec and 18fps or 60fps burst with much less rolling shutter and a flash sync of 1/50th sec in silent shutter mode
  • much improved AutoISO – can now use exposure compensation with it in Manual exposure mode and you can set the slowest shutter speed to use in A or P exposure modes
  • can now use the 2×2 switch as the Power On/Off switch for one handed use
  • new electronic viewfinder with faster refresh rate
  • Frame Rate Priority added to Live View Boost/On2 display
  • PASM dial now has 3 custom modes you can use BUT you no longer have Scene modes given this is meant for people who shouldn’t need to resort to these
  • automatically saves your settings to computer and restores them during firmware upgrades – and you do this manually too if you have a range of settings
  • improved HiRes mode – processor tries to reduce blur from moving subjects and now produces 50mp jpegs not 40mp
  • improved menu system
  • new AF Scan will allow users to adjust the lens scan operation settings in low-contrast environments to prevent unnecessary hunting
  • much improved video – 4K 24/30p, Cinema 4K at 237Mbps quality , much better continuous AF and image stabilisation during movies, Log profiles for better grading during editing
  • anti-flicker mode to prevent unstable exposures when shooting indoors.
  • improved Focus Stacking – from 3 to 15 shots can be selected in Focus Stacking and guide lines have been added to the shooting area
  • Support for Olympus Workspace new USB RAW Data Edit

BUT, the real benefits are in shooting moving subjects

The E-M5 series of cameras were not designed for tracking moving subjects and indeed had trouble focusing on them if they were moving too fast.

Not so with the E-M1 II, it has a multitude of features which helps the photographer capture wildlife, sports or any other moving subject much more reliably and faster than ever before in an Olympus camera, and currently is only bettered by the much bigger and much more expensive new Olympus OM-D E-M1X.

Let’s look at shutter and EVF improvements that are not on the E-M5 II:

  • EVF has faster refresh giving 60% faster response rate and virtually no blackout when following a moving subject
  • silent shutter mode allows 18fps with C-AF or an incredible 60fps with focus locked on first image (EM5II could only do 11fps) and does this with much reduced rolling shutter artefacts (see my previous blog)
  • mechanical shutter allows C-AF to 10fps and can do 15fps with focus locked on first image (E-M5 II could do 5fps with some C-AF and 11fps with locked focus)
  • much faster card writing speed and the buffer is much larger
  • you can get to 1/32,000th sec in silent mode instead of 1/16,000th sec which might be useful for freezing some subjects
  • camera does not freeze up during writing files after a burst

But the real deal is the massive AF improvements:

The biggest difference is the E-M1 series have PDAF detectors on the sensor not just CDAF detectors and these PDAF detectors work far better for moving subjects than do CDAF detectors – the E-M1 II has 121 cross-type PDAF detectors which cover 80% of each axis of the image to ensure that you have a better chance of locking onto your subject no matter where it is in the frame.

The PDAF detectors also mean far better AF performance when used with lenses from other dSLR systems such as Four Thirds (via Olympus MMF-3 adapter) or Canon EF (via AF-compatible adapters such as the Metabones adapter).

These PDAF detectors are supported by some very useful AF features, some of which are unique to the Olympus E-M1 series:

  • improved AF region options including the new 25 point region which makes birds in flight easier
  • better AF in low light – now works down to -6EV
  • new “AF Cluster Display” can display the AF points being used to track the subject in real time
  • C-AF Center Priority delivers high-precision tracking of moving subjects and sudden subject movement whereby the centre is prioritised in the Group AF target settings but if the centre cannot lock on, the surrounding points will be used
  • AF algorithms for much better subject tracking (same as the E-M1X but no AI tracking of trains, motorbikes, etc)
  • customizable C-AF tracking sensitivity allows users to choose the best setting for their subject to optimize C-AF tracking performance
  • new, unique, in-camera AF limiter to achieve faster focusing by limiting the focus range of ANY compatible lens, thus preventing time-consuming focus hunting and much more versatile than the AF limiter which is found on some lenses. You can turn this on or off easily by assigning it to one of the buttons. This is great for shooting at sports grounds where you can set it to ignore focus ranges such as the crowd on the opposite side of the ground – no other camera system can do this!
  • in-camera Preset MF lets users quickly set a focus distance when using manual focus and allows one to change rapidly from AF back to this preset MF distance – this can be turned on or off easily by assigning it to one of the buttons.
  • new “PRO Capture” can start capturing images as soon as you start to depress shutter and up to you depress shutter fully allowing lag free pre-capture of 14 RAW frames to reduce chance of missing a precise moment – this is great if you are waiting for a bird to take flight, or you are shooting someone coming over the jump but you can’t see them coming until the last second.
  • C-AF+MF1 which allows users to instantly switch to MF by turning the focus ring while in C-AF for fine tuning the focus. This requires an additional firmware update to most of the PRO lenses.
  • Once you have worked out what settings work best for your subject, you can assign these to a custom setting which is rapidly accessible from the PASM dial.

Summary

Upgrading gives you an amazing new level of capabilities, particularly for shooting moving subjects and tracking them, but learning how to use these will take some time and practice.

There are a few minor downsides to upgrading:

  • it is bigger and a little heavier – but to me this is much more ergonomic when using larger lenses such as the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 which I love as my main walk-around lens.
  • it is not compatible with your old batteries or their charger so you need to buy a new spare.
  • there are no Scene modes – you will have to learn how to do these yourself!
  • you will have to get used to the new control layout and menu layout

But, these are all very minor compared to the fantastic improvements you are gaining and the E-M1 II will take your photography learning experience to new levels and provide a far more versatile tool.

Of course, you could wait for the Olympus E-M1 Mark III but that could be 2020 and is likely to be much more expensive than the current discounts one can get on the Mark II, and if you don’t need any of these features, don’t waste your money and stick with what you have got.

 

Understanding why silent shutter mode is great on some cameras but is problematic on most full frame cameras

Written by Gary on July 4th, 2019

Silent shutter mode refers to a full electronic shutter being used to take the photo on a digital camera and the mechanical shutter mechanism being disabled.

Why use silent shutter mode?

  • this mode is required for shooting movies on digital cameras
  • it allows silent shooting which may be critical in low noise environments such as a classical music concert, or wedding reception.
  • it allows faster burst rates (eg. 18fps with C-AF and 60fps with S-AF on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II)
  • it avoids excessive use of the mechanical shutter which has a limited life – most are rated at around 150,000 shots
  • it avoids shutter shock which blurs all images at shutter speeds 1/4 sec to 1/200th sec unless you use electronic first curtain shutter mode (EFCS) which is a partial electronic shutter and available on most new cameras

What are the problems with using a silent shutter mode?

  • your subject can’t hear when you take the shot
  • you may get banding when shooting in artificial light at faster shutter speeds
  • you may get distorted / slanted lines on moving subjects or if you are panning the camera – this is called rolling shutter.
  • you may have to use very slow shutter speeds when using flash otherwise only part of the image will be illuminated by the flash

Most of the problems are related to slow sensor readouts

How does a slow sensor readout cause rolling shutter?

  • a digital camera sensor must read data from each row of photosites on the sensor sequentially up or down the sensor and thus each row “sees” a potentially different scene in time
  • thus if one shoots a bus moving across the scene, the top of the bus will be imaged to one side of the image while the bottom of the bus will be imaged towards the other side of the image creating a slanting line of all the vertical lines of the bus.
  • the faster the sensor read out occurs, the more vertical is the final line in the image and the less “rolling shutter”
  • dpreview has a nice explanation here.

What are the determinants of sensor readout speed?

  • sensor readout time is determined by:
    • photosite size – larger photosites take longer to read hence a 20mp full frame sensor will be slower and with more rolling shutter than a 20mp cropped sensor camera such as Micro Four Thirds, all else being equal.
    • bit rates – a 14 bit read out takes longer than 12 bit as there is more data to collect hence some cameras revert to 12bit mode in silent shooting
    • number of megapixels – the more rows to read out, the longer it will take, this is part of the reason why high resolution full frame cameras (eg. 45mp or more) do not make great video cameras – everything is a compromise
    • engineering – some cameras (eg. Panasonic GH5) are designed to slow down the read out rate at higher ISOs to improve image noise
    • sensor design – stacked sensors generally have faster read out rates (eg. Sony a9), but these are much more complex and expensive to make

Which cameras have moderately fast sensor readouts and minimal rolling shutter?

To put this in perspective analog film movie cameras which have a rotating shutter mechanism have the equivalent of sensor readout of 5msec or 1/200th shutter speed, and this is also a similar amount when shooting with film or digital cameras in mechanical shutter mode.

Digital cameras with similar rolling shutter capabilities in electronic mode include the Arri Alexa Mini video camera, the Canon C300 II video camera, and uniquely in the still camera market, the Sony a9 with its stacked sensor design.

Cropped sensor cameras such as the Fuji XT-3, Panasonic GH-5, Olympus OM-D E-M1X and Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II all have minimal rolling shutter thanks to a sensor read out of 20msec or faster (note the GH5 has a much slower sensor read out if shot above ISO 800).

Which cameras have slow sensor readouts and thus problematic rolling shutter?

Apart from the Sony a9, ALL full frame and medium format cameras have relatively SLOW sensor readout times of around 30msec or slower, with the Fujifilm GXF 50S medium format camera coming in at a whopping 250msec or incredibly slow 1/4 sec, the Sony a7RIII at 70msec or 1/15thsec, the Nikon Z7 and Nikon D850 at 64msec or 1/15thsec (although it can get to 1/40th sec in cropped mode), Nikon Z6 at 44msec or 1/22nd sec, Sony a7III at around 1/15th-1/30th sec.

Older cameras have slower read outs such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark I which had a read out time of 77msec or 1/13th sec.

I would avoid using silent shutter mode on these cameras for sports!

How can you measure your camera’s sensor read out time?

There are several ways of measuring this and perhaps this creates the variances on the measurements people quote on the internet for each camera.

The easy way is to set the camera in silent shutter mode and ensure the camera is set to allow flash in silent mode (this may be a menu setting), then take shots at different shutter speeds and the fastest shutter speed that has the full image illuminated by the flash is the read out.

Some people measure the degree of distortion of rotating vertical lines, and others use oscilloscopes.

How will this issue be fixed in the future?

In the short term, perhaps stacked sensor technologies will be more utilised as with the Sony a9 but this is complex and expensive.

In the medium term (perhaps 5-10 years), we will see sensors with “global read outs” (ie. sensor read out time difference from top to bottom of sensor will be zero) developed which address the current problems of complexity, image noise and cost. These will be game changers as these will not only eradicate rolling shutter, artificial light banding but allow flash sync at any shutter speed and be far more effective than the very limiting current high speed shutter (HSS or Super FP) modes on current cameras.

For more details, see my wiki page for links and more resources.

 

Pros and cons of using teleconverters

Written by Gary on June 29th, 2019

Most camera systems have at least two teleconverters (“TC”) – a 1.4x and a 2x power (new camera systems such as Canon R and Nikon Z are yet to develop these).

These little devices are designed to sit between the camera and the lens and contain optical lenses which magnify your image according to which strength you have.

These are also called tele-extenders – not to be confused with a macro extension tubes which have a different function – that of allowing more magnification by allowing you to focus more closely.

Benefits of teleconverters

These are light, small and relatively inexpensive (although high quality ones may set you back $500-$1000 – but this may still be cheaper than buying a more powerful lens and certainly lighter and more compact than carrying two lenses).

A 1.4x teleconverter will give you a bit more “zoom” effect, so your 200mm lens effectively becomes 1.4 x 200 = 280mm in focal length.

A 2.0x teleconverter will give you a lot more “zoom” effect, so your 200mm lens effectively becomes 2 x 200 = 400mm in focal length.

This increased magnification can also be very handy for close up macrophotography work where magnification may be important, for instance the Olympus 300mm f/4 lens when used with the Olympus MC-20 2x TC can give almost 1:1 macro in full frame terms at its close focus of just under 1.5m which is great for shooting insects without scaring them too much!

It can prevent dust entering your sensor in adverse conditions if you have two telephoto lenses which you interchange but leave the teleconverter in place.

Some teleconverters are designed so that they can be “stacked” to multiply the effect but this also multiplies the cons. Most modern ones can’t be stacked as they are designed to be used only with certain lenses and they have a protuberant inner component which prevents stacking being possible.

Cons of teleconverters

As I repeatedly state on my blog posts, EVERYTHING in photography is a compromise, in this case you get extra magnification with minimal weight and size, but there are MANY downsides to this.

  1. your aperture is reduced
    • a 1.4x TC reduced your aperture by 1.4x (ie. 1 f stop) so that your f/2.8 lens becomes f/4
    • a 2x TC reduced your aperture by 2x (ie. 2 f stops) so that your f/2.8 lens becomes f/5.6
    • this mans that you may need to increase your ISO (and lose image quality) and / or, slow down your shutter speed (and increase camera shake or subject movement blur)
  2. your image quality is reduced
    • adding extra optical elements is almost certain to degrade your image quality although the high performance modern TCs keep this to a minimum (perhaps a reduction of 5-15% with prime lenses and 15-25% with zoom lenses), but you still may in effect lose half a stop or so of sharpness, requiring you to stop your aperture down to obtain optimum sharpness at the expense of ISO or shutter speed.
    • TC’s are prone to increasing distortion, coma, astigmatism, spherical aberration and chromatic aberration, especially when mated with complex zoom lenses
    • TCs lower contrast due to adding reflective surfaces.
    • if your aperture is f/8 or smaller, diffraction issues may further reduce sharpness.
  3. your autofocus speed is likely to be reduced, especially in low light
    • the reduction in light transmission means the AF sensors will have a more difficult time, especially in low light levels
    • many dSLR PDAF cross-points either cease to function or lose their cross-point capability at f/5.6 or smaller meaning you may have to resort to only using the centre point.
  4. you may actually lose AF capability
    • some cameras (especially dSLRs) are not able to AF if the wide open aperture is smaller than f/8 and some will only be able to AF using the centre point at f/8 – this issue has largely been eradicated with mirrorless cameras
  5. its another element that may cause failure
    • the extra element may cause failure of weathersealing, failure of electronic communication between camera and lens, and extra wobble which may contribute to the above as well as causing optical misalignment issues.
  6. you may only be able to use it with certain lenses
    • most modern TC’s can only be used with certain telephoto lenses – usually the expensive “pro” lenses
  7. it may alter the biomechanical ergonomics
    • the extra distance from camera to lens may make a heavy lens feel even more heavy due to the physics of levers.

What are the alternatives?

Essentially you only have two alternatives if you need the extra magnification.

Crop your image:

Cropping your image has MANY benefits over TCs – you get to have your normal AF capability, your normal ISO and shutter speed to optimise image quality (no point using a TC to get extra magnification if the image is blurred from longer shutter speed, you couldn’t lock focus or the higher ISO impacted image quality too much).

To gain the same effect as a 1.4x TC, you will lose half of your pixels so that your 20 megapixel image becomes 10 megapixels – still plenty for most purposes. This is my preferred approach.

To gain the same effect as a 2x TC, you need to lose 75% of your pixels so that your 20 megapixel image becomes 5 megapixels – perhaps enough for some purposes – but you would probably better having a 20mp 2x cropped sensor camera in the first place instead of carrying a heavy, expensive full frame lens around and only using 25% of its image capabilities and those 25% of pixels are probably not going to be as sharp as a dedicated Micro Four Thirds lens which is optimised for such cropping.

Buy a more powerful lens:

This may actually be more cost effective than an expensive 2x teleconverter and provide at least as good a result even if the lens is not a “pro” lens.

A good example is when you try to mate a very good zoom lens such as the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 with an excellent 2x TC and you get similar results as a more powerful but lower aperture zoom lens such as the Panasonic 100-300mm f/4-5.6II lens and you may get better AF in the process. You may find that you will prefer to have both lenses rather than buy the 2x TC.

Unfortunately, buying a more powerful lens may not be possible – if you are already using the biggest, most expensive lens you can afford – then using a TC or cropping is the only options you have left, but if your big lens is a prime lens with wide aperture then you may still get superb results with a TC specifically designed to be mated with that lens.

I have a wikipedia page dedicated to teleconverters with links to teleconverters from the main camera systems HERE.

UPDATE:

Since writing this post, I discovered a great YouTube discussion by Steve Perry based on his experiences with Nikon dSLRs and super-telephotos.

He concludes that using a 20mp 1.5x cropped sensor dSLR will give better results than a 20mp full frame dSLR with a 1.4x TC when using the same lens wide open. The TC not only degrades sharpness by 5-15%, but you lose contrast, lose any ISO advantage of full frame due to the loss of 1 stop aperture, and you may lose most of your PDAF AF cross-points at f/5.6 making your AF more problematic. If you try to get sharper images by stopping down then you run into image degradation by high ISO and potentially diffraction aberrations.

There is no logical reason to assume that the above does not also extend to using a 20mp Micro Four Thirds camera vs a 20mp full frame camera with a 2x TC and a similar focal length and aperture lens.

 

The saga of lens flange distance and lens adaptability is coming to a head – an AF Sony FE lens to Nikon Z adapter – the ring to rule them all?

Written by Gary on June 21st, 2019

When Micro Four Thirds became the first mirrorless camera system, its very short 20mm sensor to lens mount distance (“lens flange distance”) allowed it to became THE MOST ADAPTABLE camera system out there.

You could get adapters for nearly any lens ever made including those made for Leica M rangefinder cameras which could not be fitted to any dSLR.

Enter Sony NEX system

Then along came Sony with their NEX / E mount cameras with a lens flange distance of 18mm which could match the Micro Four Thirds system for lens adaptability. Sigma produced their Canon EF lens MC-11 adapters with AF capability which was not really realised until the version III Sony a7’s were developed to optimally utilise the AF capabilities with this adapter.

This Canon EF adapter helped Sony in that it made up for its deficient native FE lens mount line up which takes a few years to mature from inception and which is still quite incomplete.

BUT now we have the adapter for Nikon Z system

Last year Canon, Nikon and Panasonic announced their full frame mirrorless systems and whilst Canon, Leica SL and Panasonic went for a 20mm lens flange distance (the same as Micro Four Thirds), Nikon went for an extremely short lens flange distance of 16mm.

While one would expect lens adapters for dSLR lenses to be made for both systems, this week, Techart took a lot of us by surprise in producing an ultra-thin 2mm lens adapter which will allow Sony FE lenses to work on Nikon Z cameras and provide C-AF and Eye AF functionality!

The ramifications of this adapter are considerable, especially for Nikon users who want to get into the Nikon Z system but are frustrated by the lack of native lenses.

Now they can use almost any lens ever made via adapters to the Sony FE mount added onto the new Techart TZE-01 adapter – although using multiple adapters does risk inaccuracies of lens alignment and AF due to slight degrees of mount wobble.

Obviously such an adapter is impossible for the Canon R system – these users will have to rely upon the Canon EF lens adapters which Canon have made available from the start – although there are very few Canon EF lenses optimised for mirrorless cameras.

We can expect a Canon RF lens to Nikon Z camera lens adapter in the near future too which would bring the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 and 85mm f/1.2 lenses to the Nikon Z world. We could also expect a Leica SL / Panasonic S lens to Nikon Z camera adapter.

One could even imagine Nikon making a higher resolution 60-100 megapixel Nikon Z camera and then by using a Micro Four Thirds lens to Nikon Z adapter, it could be used in 1.5-2x crop mode to utilise the superb optics of the Olympus and PanaLeica MFT lenses.

Perhaps Olympus might even consider making a Nikon Z mount style full frame camera to keep compatibility with their Micro Four Thirds lenses.

Who would have thought a year ago that the LEAST adaptable dSLR full frame camera system – the Nikon F, would be replaced by the MOST adaptable full frame mirrorless system – The Nikon Z.

As improvements in photography technology are mainly concentrating on AF performance, especially specific subject tracking and AI tracking technologies, it will be interesting indeed to see how well these will translate across platforms.

We already have cross-platform system-independent flash systems thanks to Godox and Cactus, now perhaps we are heading to a truly cross-platform lens world – and the Nikon Z camera system would be able to take the most advantage of this.

Fascinating times indeed – but it does make choice of camera system and lenses to buy into that much more complex to make sure you get the system that meets your current and future needs.

 

Portrait photographer kits compared – Fujifilm medium format vs Sony vs Canon RF

Written by Gary on June 21st, 2019

This short little blog post is a quick comparison of camera-lens kits for under $AU10,000 for the professional portrait photographer wanting a 85mm field of view lens and lots of megapixels.

Fujifilm GF 50R with 110mm f/2 lens

For THE BEST image quality under $AU10,000, this is the combo for you!

This 50mp weathersealed medium format rangefinder with a 0.79x crop factor that is not too heavy in itself mated with a very nice albeit heavy portrait lens with lovely bokeh and sharp wide open.

You can pick this kit up at the moment in Australia discounted to $AU9,850 and it will weigh 775g for the camera plus 1010g for the lens giving a total of 1.8kg. The lens gives the equivalent 35mm full frame effect of a 86mm f/1.6 lens which is perfect for portraiture.

The main downsides apart from cost and weight are that the closest focus is 0.9m, flash sync is only 1/125th sec, mechanical shutter only gets to 1/4000th sec, and the camera does not have PDAF or image stabilisation. The AF can be a bit slow and noisy compared to full frame peers and will not track the eye as well as the others in this post.

Sony a7RIII with Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM

This 45mp 35mm full frame camera is the smallest of the group and has the best Eye tracking AF and the best image stabilisation of the full frame cameras. This is the most popular combination for pros using mirrorless kits for the portraiture or fashion work.

You can pick this kit up in Australia at the moment for $AU5,290 and it will weigh 657g for the camera and 820g for the lens making it 1.5kg although for a lens of that weight you will probably need to add a camera grip as this camera is too small (see my earlier blog).

This will give you slightly narrower DOF than the Fuji 110mm and slightly closer focus at 0.85m and of course you get the IBIS, more silent and faster AF.

If you don’t need 45mp, you could save around $AU750 and get the 24mp Sony a7III instead. You could buy 3rd party lenses instead but Eye AF tracking may not be as effective.

For the budget minded, one could resort to the much older 24mp Sony a7II for $AU1450 which has image stabilisation but the Eye AF is no where as good as the version III cameras, and mate that with a Sony 85mm f/1.8 at $AU880, making the kit $AU2330.

Panasonic S full frame cameras

At present Panasonic do not have a wide aperture portrait prime lens, and you would need to resort to the Leica 90mm f/2 or Sigma ART 85mm f/1.4 and there may be compatibility issues that still need addressing as it is early days.

There are no budget level cameras as yet.

Nikon Z7 full frame camera

Nikon are yet to produce a native wide aperture portrait prime lens although a 85mm f/1.8 is due to be announced this year, but professionals will be waiting eagerly for a f/1.4 or f/1.2 pro lens.

Reports suggest that when used with the 105mm f/1.4 dSLR lens, the Eye AF focuses on the eye lashes instead of the iris – but I am sure Nikon will sort this out soon as they are early days in their technology.

There are no budget level cameras as yet.

Canon R with Canon RF 85mm f/1.2 lens

For those after the narrowest DOF, this could eventually be the killer combo when Canon releases a pro full frame mirrorless camera and by all accounts this lens is far better than the old Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 lenses for dSLRs.

This combo will be available for around $AU5,000 (lens is not yet available) and will weigh 580g for camera and 1200g for lens making it 1.6kg, and again it would benefit from a camera grip. Close focus is 0.85m.

The Canon R has reasonable Eye tracking AF but unfortunately no image stabilisation in camera or in the lens, the camera is not weathersealed and is only 30mp and does not feature the functions pros would want – hence they will be hanging out for a higher resolution professional camera, and preferably one with IBIS.

The budget entry level alternative is the Canon RP with EF adapter for $AU1775 and a legacy Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 lens for $AU500 making the budget kit $AU2225 but no weathersealing, no image stabilisation, and only 5fps burst.

Olympus OM-D E-M1II with Olympus 45mm f/1.2 lens

I have added this in here, because many will value lower cost, lower size, lower weight, better weathersealing, better image stabilisation, and faster burst rates and smaller file sizes than any of the above while the DOF is perfect for most portraiture but won’t get you quite as narrow a DOF as it equates to 90mm f/2.4 and this may not suffice for the pros for full length body shots.

This kit can be bought in Australia at present for $AU2,700 and will weigh 574g for the camera and 410g for the lens making it a nicely balanced kit at just under 1kg. The lens will also focus much closer than the above at 0.5m.

The downsides are up to 1-2EV less narrow DOF, 1-2EV worse image noise at higher ISO (although most pros prefer to shoot portraits at f/2.4 with their 85mm lenses to ensure they get nose to ear in focus, and as this is achieved at f/1.2 on the Olympus, the Olympus can shoot 2 stops lower ISO which negates much of the full frame advantage), and only 20mp 12 bit file sizes, and the Eye tracking is not quite as good as the Sony.

A Panasonic Micro Four Thirds alternative to this kit is the Panasonic G9 + Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2 lens.

A budget entry level kit into this system with image stabilisation and Eye detect AF would be the Olympus OM-D E-M10 III with tiny, light Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens which would come in well under $AU1000 but you don’t get weathersealing, AF with moving subjects and the DOF equates to 90mm f/3.6 which is a reasonable compromise for the price

A nice APS-C cropped sensor alternative is the 26mp Fujifilm X-T3 camera with a Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 R APD which gives 84mm f/1.8 equivalence and has an apodization filter to produce nicer bokeh but at a cost of 1EV light transmission. Unfortunately this kit requires an optional hand grip and will not give you image stabilisation (you would need the Fuji X-H1 camera for this but the AF is not as good and only covers 37% of the image area and it is 140g heavier). The XT-3 kit will cost you around $AU3000 on discount and will weigh 489g for the camera and 405g for the lens totaling 0.9kg.

  Fuji 50R Sony a7RIII Canon R Fuji XT-3 Olympus E-M1 II
megapixels and sensor crop 50mp, 0.79x 45mp, 1x 30mp, 1x 26mp, 1.5x 20mp, 2x
portrait lens Fuji GFX 110mm f/2 Sony FE 85mm f/1.4GM Canon RF 85mm f/1.2 Fuji 56mm f/1.2 APD Olympus 45mm f/1.2
lens DOF equivalence 35mm full frame 86mm f/1.6 85mm f/1.4 85mm f/1.2 84mm f/1.8 90mm f/2.4
kit price $AU discounted June 2019 $AU9850 $AU5290 $AU5000 $AU3000 $AU2700
kit weight 1.8kg 1.5kg+grip 1.6kg+grip 0.9kg+grip 1kg
kit weight balance camera:lens 775g:1050g 657g:820g 580g:1200g 489g:405g 574g:410g
lens length (cm)     117mm 70mm 85mm
weather sealing very good very good only lens very good excellent
image stabilisation none 4-5EV none none 5EV
closest focus 0.9m 0.85m 0.85m 0.7m 0.5m
low light image noise at f/2.4 in 35mm DOF terms better than FF FF standard FF standard but no IS FF standard as can use ISO 1 EV lower but no IS FF standard as can use ISO 2 EV lower
low light image noise at f/1.4 in 35mm DOF terms only f/1.6 possible but better than FF FF standard FF standard but no IS FF standard as ISO 1 EV lower but no IS 85mm f/1.4 DOF not possible unless focus closer
ergonomic grip ? optional extra optional extra optional extra built-in
Eye AF tracking only for stationary subjects class leading good reasonable reasonable
AF point image coverage only 117pts 68% nearly 100% 91% x 94% 80%?
Flash x-sync 1/125th sec 1/250th sec 1/200th sec 1/250th sec 1/250th sec
Burst rate with C-AF 3fps 10fps 5fps (3fps tracking!) 11fps mech; 20fps electronic 10fps mech; 18fps electronic
Swivel screen No Tilt only Yes 3 axis tilt only Yes
pro 70-200mm f/2.8 lens No Yes Coming f/4 eq. lens only f/4 eq. lens only (Four Thirds)
80-300mm travel lens No 24-240mm f/3.5-6.5 24-240mm f/4-6.3 IS coming 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 Yes compact 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro
Budget entry level options none Sony a7II, Sony 85mm f/1.8 $AU2330 Canon RP, EF 85mm f/1.8 $AU2225 none with Eye AF but Fuji XE-3 has Face Detect and with Fuji 50mm f/2 comes to $AU1300 discounted E-M10III with Oly 45mm f/1.8 under $AU1000, jacket pocketable
Other features rangefinder style, 16bit large high quality files; USB-C charging; Bluetooth; 100mp camera option; mech. shutter only to 1/4000th sec; poor flash sync USB-C charging; Bluetooth; 1080 60p video; USB-C charging; Bluetooth 4K 60p video but cropped; USB-C charging; Bluetooth MF clutch, HiRes mode, unique night modes, excellent sports C-AF, in-camera focus range limiter, 3yr old model – oldest in the comparison, due for upgrade

As mentioned in previous blog posts, choice of camera is always a compromise between price, weight, size, image quality and feature set – there are no perfect cameras to suit all needs perfectly.

Oh, and here is a challenge – can you work out which camera took which portrait image – Fuji Medium Format vs Full Frame vs Fuji APS-C vs Micro Four Thirds – see here. These all have the same field of view and DOF – so the viewer can concentrate on dynamic range, etc – I must say I find it very difficult to tell them all apart. The results of viewer polls also showed that viewers were not able to consistently tell them apart either!

 

Olympus announce firmware update for OM-D E-M1 Mark II

Written by Gary on June 20th, 2019

Olympus has just announced new firmware (v3.0) for the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Micro Four Thirds camera which endows it with many of the new features introduced in the very expensive Olympus OM-D E-M1X.

This will be a much loved firmware update for sports, action and wildlife photographers in particular, but it also adds some videography features – namely the OM-Log400 video profile and better AF performance during video through actively using data from the On-chip Phase Detection AF sensor .

It is great to see Olympus making such improvements to a camera which is now almost 3 years old since it was announced in Sept 2016, which came 3 years after the Olympus OM-D E-M1 original version which was announced in Oct 2013.

The official news release details can be found in THIS PDF.

New improvements from the E-M1X:

  • enhanced AF algorithms
  • adds Group 25 to AF Target which will be fantastic for many subjects such as birds in flight – this is a feature I have been wanting for a long time – thank you Olympus!
  • adds C-AF Center Priority delivers high-precision tracking of moving subjects and sudden subject movement whereby the centre is prioritised in the Group AF target settings but if the centre cannot lock on, the surrounding points will be used
  • adds C-AF+MF1 which allows users to instantly switch to MF by turning the focus ring while in C-AF for fine tuning the focus. This requires an additional firmware update to most of the PRO lenses.
  • AF low light limit now down to a very low light level of -6EV with f/1.2 lenses
  • anti-flicker mode has been added to prevent unstable exposures when shooting indoors.
  • improved Focus Stacking – from 3 to 15 shots can be selected in Focus Stacking and guide lines have been added to the shooting area
  • improved burst mode – setting changes and playback display while writing to card now possible
  • new Art Filter – Instant Film
  • Quick image selection added
  • Frame Rate Priority added to Live View Boost/On2 display
  • Improved jpeg quality – 1/3rd EV better image noise
  • adds Low ISO Processing (Detail Priority) and Low 64 and Low 100
  • Support for Olympus Workspace new USB RAW Data Edit

E-M1X features you don’t get in the update:

The E-M1X obviously has some hardware features that the E-M1II does not have such as the in-built vertical grip with extra battery storage, dual UHS-II card slots, Bluetooth, GPS/Field sensor system, multi-selector tool, improved sensor cleaning system, USB-C port with in-camera battery charging, higher rated shutter mechanism, new EVF features, and the 2x faster engine processing capability which affects many aspects of the functionality such as the AI Intelligent AF Subject Tracking mode, 120p video mode, the improved 7.5EV IBIS which makes hand held HiRes mode and Live ND mode possible.

There are some features that one would think could have made it to the E-M1 II from the E-M1 but which didn’t such as:

  • Custom AF target
  • the new customizable ‘My Menu’ tab

How to get the firmware update:

The Olympus firmware update website is HERE.

You must first install the Olympus Digital Camera Updater software from the above link.

Make sure your camera has a full battery and connect camera to computer using the USB cable and choosing USB Storage mode on the camera options.

Run the Olympus Digital Camera Updater software and follow the instructions ensuring you don’t turn off the camera before it is complete.

Run the process for each PRO lens you have by attaching the lens to the camera (you should turn off the camera before changing the lens) and follow the above but this time it should only display the lens firmware update option.

What next for Olympus?

It was 3 years from the original version to the mark II, and 3 years from the mark II will be Sept-Oct 2019, so we could see the E-M1 III this year. In which case, this firmware update is a good marketing policy as it will allow the E-M1 II to still be produced relatively competitively for perhaps another year at a lower price point than the E-M1 III.

Perhaps a bigger question is what will Olympus put into their E-M1 mark III?

I would hope it does get the new 2x faster image processing engine of the E-M1X so it can get a range of the features of the E-M1X outlined above but is there sufficient room for this chip?

I would think it would get the E-M1X’s dual UHS-II card slots, Bluetooth, GPS/Field sensor system, improved sensor cleaning system, and USB-C port with in-camera battery charging.

But for it to be competitive in the market with very capable cameras such as the Fujifilm XT-3 and Sony a7III, all these features would need to be added but the price kept around the price of the current E-M1 II.

It will be interesting to see if they use a new generation sensor such as the newly developed multi-layered sensor for much improved image quality capabilities.

 

Which full frame mirrorless camera system to buy into? A goldilocks conundrum but none are just right … yet.

Written by Gary on June 16th, 2019

2018 was the year the major camera manufacturers got serious about full frame mirrorless cameras, and yes, they are the future of photography instead of dSLRs because that is where the greatest technological improvements can be made thanks to the full time use of the sensor and the electronic viewfinder.

But which camera system should one buy into?

This is not an easy choice because buying into a system will make it expensive to swap systems later if you find it doesn’t suit your needs, and none of the current offerings are ideal tools.

The camera needs to become a seamless extension of the photographer’s “performance” and provide a comfortable, ergonomic and efficient mechanism to achieve their goals.

The camera system needs to have all the lenses and capabilities that the photographer is likely to need – although this will vary for individual photographers.

Sony has the most mature native system at present thanks to their head start of some years over Canon and Nikon with Canikon users needing to rely upon legacy dSLR lenses to address current needs. Panasonic is the new boy on the block for full frame and although there are some expensive Leica lenses available and Sigma will be joining their lens mount system, users will have to wait some time before this system matures.

Can I love the Sony system?

I come from decades of using Olympus gear and a Canon 1D Mark III pro sports dSLR, and when I bought a Sony a7II camera a year or so ago because it was cheap and I could use my Canon EF lenses on it, I have had quite some time to play with it and try to like it.

Frankly I hate using the Sony a7II – but perhaps the Sony a7III has addressed all my issues – but it seems it has only addressed some of them.

Sony seems to have accidentally created their full frame system, they created the APS-C cropped sensor NEX camera system and then realised that they could actually squeeze a full frame sensor into the same lens mount and camera size – a pretty cool feat indeed!

BUT, the lens mount system is not really optimised for full frame sensors as it is a touch too small which may cause some future lens design and sensor IS issues, and at present they have persisted with the same camera size for their a7 series which is TOO SMALL to comfortably hold the required larger, heavier full frame lenses.

I can get past the poorly conceived Sony menu system, but not the poor camera ergonomics.

Even with my small hands, my 5th finger falls uncomfortably below the bottom of the grip which is also not as deep as it could be, while the thumb on the rear feels unstable and it is actually difficult to rotate the quite stiff rear dial with your thumb holding the camera one handed.

Sony needs to take a leaf out of the Olympus camera designs

Now Olympus have not always had the best designs for ergonomics.

The revolutionary OM film cameras were amazingly small and light when compared to the behemoths of the day, but they had no ergonomic grip built in as these cameras did not have image stabilisation nor autofocus so the user was expected to use a two hand approach to address this and as such a grip was not needed.

Enter the digital SLR world and Olympus experimented with many grip designs over the years, including the downright ugly E330 which I owned and then the much improved E510.

Then Olympus changed the mirrorless world with their fantastic compact OM-D E-M5 which was beautifully designed for using with the initial compact lenses but did require an extra grip for the larger lenses and this extra grip proved to be a weak point.

But now they have evolved to the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II which for me gets close to the perfect feel of a camera in the hand, even with larger lenses.

Why can’t Sony make their a7 range a touch taller with a deeper grip and a thumb and dial control similar to the E-M1 II, plus throw in a swivel LCD and I think I would actually love their system – for one can’t fault their class leading sensor image quality nor their class leading AF tracking capabilities in their version III cameras.

That said, they should not follow the Olympus On-Off switch position veing placed on the left side which requires two-handed operation (this harks back to their OM film SLR designs but is not ideal now) – this is one area where Sony has probably got it right – put it on the shutter release button.

What about the new Canon R series?

This is a difficult one for me because I have lots of pro Canon EF mount lenses and would love to use them on a Canon mirrorless full frame camera.

The current cameras (both are consumer level quality only even the Canon RP) do not address my needs – in particular, they are now the only full frame mirrorless cameras without sensor based IS. Canon has introduced some controversial user interface controls which we will have to wait and see how they pan out, and they are not weathersealed, nor do they have dual card slots, nor do they have a fast burst rate or silent electronic shutter mode, and the video capability is crippled. They even crippled their USB-C port to only USB 2.0 speeds – really Canon?

I do like the new RF f/1.2 prime lenses as these bring for the first time to full frame, fast, accurate AF with very high image quality wide open for lenses such as these – but they are very expensive indeed!

Their list of native lenses is very much early days so we will need to wait and see how this matures and if Canon decides to add IBIS in to their cameras.

The Nikon Z series?

These look very promising although their AF tracking is not quite up there with Sony yet, and perhaps more troubling is their initial native lens line up decisions. The burst rate with Live View update, AE and AF is limited to 5.5fps and the buffer is very limiting for sports or wildlife.

For me they are not on my plans given my Canon EF lenses would unlikely to be able to be used well on them even if an adapter came out.

That just leaves the Panasonic S system.

This looks like it will be a fantastic system, but it will be big, heavy and expensive – everything that I try to avoid.

Where does that leave me?

Waiting for Canon to add IBIS and add some proper features, or Sony to fix their camera ergonomics and add in a swivel LCD screen and make them as comfortable, as weathersealed, and as capable as my E-M1 II.

Or perhaps Olympus will show them all how to design a full frame mirrorless camera properly – but I doubt they will waste money venturing into that competitive world with a falling market.

For my needs at present, the Micro Four Thirds system is the most optimal in terms of weight, size, image quality and cost – I wont be taking my Sony a7II and large, heavy Canon EF lenses on my overseas holidays.

Perhaps I will skip full frame and supplement my Micro Four Thirds go anywhere system with a medium format mirrorless system such as the Fujifilm GF system – although I really can’t see myself getting much benefit from it.

 

What camera to buy? Most people ask the wrong questions and buy the wrong gear.

Written by Gary on May 28th, 2019

It is 2019 and the photography world has been changed for ever – the profit margins and ability to make a living from photography has taken a massive hit thanks to the devaluation of the photograph and the photographer as a result of super saturation with digital images.

Making money from photography is becoming so difficult, many pro photographers have resorted to relying upon advertising income from YouTube photography tutorials and gear reviews to make ends meet.

Clients often do not understand how time consuming the post-processing and image management phase is (see this little blog post on event photography) and thus the total hourly rate a photographer is paid may fall below the minimum wage, and this doesn’t even factor in their equipment and business costs such as public liability insurance, equipment insurance, car costs, office rental, etc.

According to CareerCast’s 2018 Jobs Rated Report , photography made it into the WORST 25 jobs in the US with median income less than the US median income for all jobs while photography jobs are expected to decline over the next few years (see Petapixel’s post)! Perhaps it is NOT the best career choice! See my wiki post on photography as a career.

According to Domo’s Data Never Sleeps 5.0 report,  on average, every MINUTE Snapchat users share 527,760 photos, Facebook users post 200,000 photos and Instagram users post 46,740 photos – most of these are taken smartphones. That equates to 400 million photos uploaded just in Facebook and Instagram EVERY DAY!

People take 1.2 trillion photos each year! Mainly with smartphones.

Global camera sales have markedly fallen due to the rise of smartphones, and possibly that most people already have a digital camera that is adequate for their needs and see no reason to upgrade.

Why do you need a camera instead of just a smartphone?

For most people the image quality of a smartphone is adequate for their needs, and with AI / computational photography which is improving image noise and even background blurring in smartphones, the need for a digital camera is becoming less.

Reasons you may want a digital camera:

  • better image quality especially in low light or high dynamic range scenes
  • better image stabilisation for hand held long exposure shots
  • ability to take wider field of view shots rather than rely to panoramic stitching
  • ability to shoot high quality telephoto images
  • ability to shoot higher magnification macrophotography with focus stacking for greater depth of field
  • ability to have greater control over the image taking process – better subject tracking AF, better exposure control and bracketing, longer shutter speeds for blurring water, etc
  • ability to shoot fast moving subjects – AF locking on moving subjects, faster burst rates, better image quality at lower light levels
  • improved ability to work with electronic flash / strobes including high speed sync, etc.
  • to help you see the world in a different light, to be more mindful of every moment you live and seek out beauty and weirdness in the world around you which most people take for granted or do not notice
  • for professional work if your clients are not going to respect you if you turn up with just a smartphone
  • as a status symbol – yes, a Leica or Hasselblad camera will probably still convey that you are probably wealthy

What camera gear will suit YOUR needs the best?

Choice of camera gear is always a compromise between:

  • price
  • feature set of the camera
  • ergonomics
  • sensor image quality
  • file size, image storage size and post-processing speed
  • size and weight of the lenses to match the camera system
  • optical quality and capabilities of the lenses
  • the need for a large, heavy tripod (the bigger the camera and lens, the bigger the tripod and tripod head required)

Perhaps the first issue you need to consider is the sensor size:

For the same technical quality of the sensor, the larger the camera’s sensor, the better the sensor image quality in terms of ability to capture high contrast scenes and have less image noise in low light situations, while offering greater versatility and control over how much you can blur the background.

BUT larger sensor cameras come at massive costs!

Larger sensor cameras are generally much more expensive, have much more expensive and far larger and heavier lenses which means greater issues for traveling and hiking and a greater opportunity cost – you might be better off spending the money on a holiday which might give you better images.

Cameras and lenses depreciate in value quickly – digital cameras lose nearly all their value after 5 years so as general advice is don’t spend too much on a camera if you are not going to be using it enough to warrant that cost.

Most people these days are quite happy with the image quality of the very tiny sensor in their smartphones, and so a substantially larger sensor cameras such as Micro Four Thirds will provide nearly all the feature sets and image quality they will need – and particularly as AI and computational photography combined with new multi-layered sensors are introduced over the next few years to dramatically further improve image quality.

I personally shoot 90% of my photos on Micro Four Thirds as they are far more fun to use and give me adequate image quality for less weight and cost than a full frame camera system. The other 10% is made up with smartphone shots and full frame camera shots (yes I do have full frame as well for special situations but I hate using it).

If you really think you need the higher image quality of larger sensors then there are a few sensor sizes to consider in increasing size and sensor image quality:

  • APS-C cropped sensors such as the excellent but expensive Fujifilm X mirrorless system with their lovely lenses (I would not recommend Canon or Nikon cropped sensor cameras at present as their dedicated lenses are not that great and they are both in the progress on moving to mirrorless systems – Canon’s EOS-M mirrorless cameras has lens compatibility issues with their new Canon R full frame mirrorless system, so I would avoid the Canon EOS-M system personally).
  • Full frame sensor cameras starting at $US2000 (excl. lenses) such as Sony a7III, Canon RP or Nikon Z6 (or you could buy the older dSLR technology realising that you will not be getting the latest AI technology which mirrorless allows such as the latest AF tracking and your lenses will not be optimised if you later transition to the mirrorless world)
  • Medium format sensor cameras such as Fujifilm GFX which will set you back $10000-$30000 depending on camera and lenses

What about the megapixel count?

For most of us, all current cameras give adequate numbers of pixels – smartphones give around 8mp, video-optimised cameras can be around 12mp, the older Micro Four Thirds cameras are at 16mp, while most cameras are at 20-24mp – it really doesn’t matter they will all be fine for internet display of images as well as printing high quality prints to about 20″ x 30″ which suffices for 99% of users.

Some people may want more for very large highly detailed images of landscapes or architectural works or if they are in the habit of severely cropping their images and for this there are several options:

  • buy an expensive high resolution camera eg. 40-50mp such as a Sony a7RIII or Nikon Z7 or even the new Fujifilm GFX 100S 100mp camera!
  • take multiple images and do a panoramic stitch
  • for static scenes, use a camera with sensor-shift HiRes mode to take multiple shots of the same image to create a high resolution 50-80mp image

Features to consider in your camera:

Can it detect the closest eye and track it to keep it in focus?

  • Most of us take photos of people, and the aim is usually to get the sharpest focus on the subject’s closest eye – failure to do so will generally detract from your portrait.
  • Olympus was the first to develop a closest eye AF detection and locking capability, but now Sony have taken this even further with their Real AF system. Panasonic, Fuji, Canon and Nikon are catching up.

Can it track moving subjects well and can the user optimise this for their needs?

  • traditionally the expensive sports pro dSLRs such as the Canon 1DX and Nikon D5 were the best at this but the new mirrorless cameras with the help of AI and their faster burst rates are changing the game.
  • the Olympus E-M1X has AI to track moving trains, motorbikes, etc and will add more as time goes on.
  • Sony can detect and track animal eyes.
  • Olympus E-M1 II and E-M1X can allow the user to set a focus range so the camera’s AF will ignore anything closer or more distant than that range – great for avoiding AF locks on the background instead of the player!

How fast can it shoot to capture sports?

  • an issue with the higher resolution cameras is that the file sizes are extremely large and thus the burst rate is much slower – usually only 5 frames per second instead of closer to 10 fps for most sports cameras when using mechanical shutters.
  • some Olympus and Sony cameras allow full AF tracking with silent electronic shutters at 18-20fps – but fast moving subjects such as soccer balls may become distorted due to the otherwise well controlled rolling shutter that is a problem with all current electronic shutters until we get a global electronic shutter.

Can it take high quality images BEFORE you get to press the shutter so you don’t miss a critical action shot?

  • a major problem in capturing unpredictable actions shots such as a bird suddenly deciding to take flight or an unseen motorcyclist coming over a jump, is the human reaction time – some cameras such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1II and E-M1X have a “Pro-Capture” mode which automatically saves a number of shots BEFORE you press the shutter so you don’t miss that time critical shot – a very valuable feature for some people.

Can it take high quality images of moving subjects in low light?

  • a great image stabiliser in the camera (the Olympus E-M1X has the best out there) is fantastic for low images where you can resort to a longer shutter speed but this will result in blurring of any moving subject – great if you want moving water blurred but not so helpful when shooting sports or wildlife in low life – in these situations, a full frame sensor with a wide aperture expensive lens may be required to get the image quality you want – and this may mean $10,000+ and 5-10kg of gear to carry – there is no free lunch here!
  • if Milky Way astroscapes are your thing (although they are getting a bit passé these days thanks to super saturation of the internet with these images), a full frame sensor with a wide aperture wide angle lens and tripod is probably the best way to go.

Can you get the look you want with the camera?

  • most cameras will be able to give you the look you need but can they do it within the price and weight you are willing to pay?
  • Micro Four Thirds can give lovely portraits with blurred backgrounds if you use a suitable lens such as 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens, a 25mm f/1.2, a 45mm f/1.2 or f/1.8, or 75mm f/1.8
  • I love to carry my Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens traveling as it is relatively compact for such a long range high quality weathersealed lens, that it supplements my smartphone perfectly and allows me to capture images most other people cannot capture.
  • BUT if you really need that ultra-shallow depth of field and extreme background blurring then you may just have to pay up for a full frame to get that degree of control and that is perhaps why the first lenses Canon have made for their Canon EOS RP mirrorless camera is a 50mm f/1.2 and 85mm f/1.2 – both very expensive but excellent lenses.

Is it weathersealed and how reliable is it?

  • One of the reasons I chose Olympus OM-D E-M1 cameras is that they probably have the best weathersealing out there – so good that users confidently wash their cameras under running tap water. You may even escape a transient dunking in a river without harm although this is not recommended!
  • This gives one much confidence when shooting in inclement conditions or even in the event your water bottle leaks in your backpack carrying your camera gear.
  • Unfortunately, most other cameras have weaknesses in their sealing which may let you down when you most need it.

How easy is it to carry and use?

  • lens weight is a major issue – anything more than about 800g starts to get tiring to carry and even worse if the camera does not have a comfortable grip – this is a problem with the Sony full frame mirrorless cameras and one of the reasons I much prefer to use my Olympus OM-D E-M1II
  • camera design ergonomics have a big impact on user experience – where are the buttons and dials placed and how easy are they to use? Is the rear screen able to be swiveled out and what features can be activated when used as a touch screen?
  • how user friendly is the menu system? – the Sony system is not great, Olympus is marginally better. If you only use one system you can get use to that system’s menu but it becomes problematic when you have two different camera brands and you have to remember how each menu works.
  • a great in-camera image stabiliser may be more forgiving with one handed shots and may allow you to leave your tripod at home more often.
  • can you flip out the LCD screen to do a selfie?

How good is it for video?

  • I am not a videographer and pro videographers have special expectations from a camera for swivel out LCD screens for selfie vlogging to rolling shutter minimization, slo-mo options, 4K 60p, etc.
  • For me, I just need an easy to use video without needing a tripod or heavy expensive stabilisation rig to prevent annoyingly shaky videos, and that means great in camera image stabilisation and the Olympus is great in that regard.

Conclusion

Everyone has different needs and priorities.

If you are making a living out of photography then you have paying clients and your choice of camera will be determined by how best you can meet their needs.

For the rest of us, the camera should be a fun tool, which is not burdensome, not going to financially stress us, and which can keep us in the learning process throughout our life while allowing us to appreciate the present moment and motivate us to get out there to enjoy life, and perhaps even as a tool to help us connect with others – just don’t rely on social media Likes to determine your happiness – the happiness should come from you living life not on what other people think of your images – for that is the road to frustration, disillusionment and unhappiness.

Photography for most of us should be about the journey and enhancing our life experience, and not about the end goal.

 

The color blind photographer – almost 10% are color blind – here’s how you might be able to manage it

Written by Gary on April 4th, 2019

Colour visual impairment is very common affecting around 8% of males and 1% of females of those with European ancestry, and those affected see the world differently to non-affected people and have a significantly reduced color vision palette.

Most people probably will not know they are color blind but one can easily test yourself via this online test that Enchroma provides.

How does color blindness occur?

There are 3 types of cone cells in the retina each of which detect a different range of colours, blue “S” cones, red “L” cones and green “M” cones (S, L, M refer to short, medium and long wavelengths of light).

The OPN1LW and OPN1MW genes (responsible for red and green cones respectively) are located on the X chromosome, whereas the OPN1SW for blue cones is on a different autosomal chromosome.

The far majority of color blind people have Deutan blindness (6% of all males and 0.4% of females of European descent have a partial form called Deuteranomaly ) which is inherited from the X chromosome, so any male with this gene will be affected, but females generally require both X chromosomes with the defective gene to have color impairment. If a mother has only one chromosome affected, 50% of her sons will be affected and 50% of her daughters will be carriers. If a father has the gene, he will not pass it to his sons but ALL of his daughters will be carriers.

In addition, 1% of males have no green receptors which is called Deuteranopia in which greens look like dark purples , while 1% of males and 0.01% of females have the milder red receptor deficiency called Protanomaly and another 1% of males have no red receptors which is called Protanopia in which reds look like dark greens. Extremely rarely (1 in 100,000 people) have an inherited blue cone deficiency called Tritanopia which may also be acquired due to various eye conditions and can cause confusion between blue versus green and red from purple.
There are other extremely rare forms of severe color blindness such as blue cone monochromatism in which both red and green cones are defective, and Achromatopsia in which there is no color vision but only shades of grey.

If one has an extreme form of colour blindness, this will usually prevent you passing your driver’s license testing and you should give up on most commercial photography other than B&W photography.

How does Deuteranomaly affect you as a photographer?

Those with Deuteranomaly will usually have most difficulty seeing certain shades of pinks (which may look grey) and purples (which may look blue) while other hues in the reds, yellows, oranges and brown range may look similar especially in low light.

This means that when one is editing photos, they may over-emphasize certain hues such as pinks which can be problematic when editing skin tones, and when styling a fashion shoot, the colours may well be not as complimentary to each other as they perceive.

How can a Deutan mitigate these issues?

Some companies sell expensive glasses designed to “improve color vision” in those with milder forms such as Deutans. An example is Enchroma who makes glasses that filter out certain wavelengths to “reduce confusion” and reduce the overlap of colour detection between the red and green cones.

Unfortunately, whilst these glasses may provide a more colorfully vivid experience of sunsets by allowing one to see more pink and purple hues, a study has shown they do not provide a more “normal” visual perception, nor do they correct your vision to pass color blindness tests.

However, there is help at hand for those photographers editing their photos or viewing digital images in the form of software correction.

Windows 10 seems to do an excellent job of correcting color vision for digital displays – just go to Settings:Ease of Access: Color Filters and turn on Color Filters and select the deficiency, for a deutan this would be the deuteranopia setting. Once this is set you may even pass the online test that Enchroma provides and be given “normal vision”.

Apple iOS devices have a similar setting but in my experience is doesn’t seem to work as it makes the reds appear pink when they should be red despite of which intensity you set and when re-running the online Enchroma test I now get a Protan result irrespective of intensity suggesting there is a problem. The setting is found at Settings:General:Accessibility:Display Accommodations:Colour Filters then you can turn this on and then select which type and the intensity whilst viewing a color palette.

More information on my wikipedia.