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A break from the artworks – lets look at the exciting world of cross-platform radio remote TTL flash for Olympus, Panasonic, Fujifilm, Sony, Canon, Nikon, Sigma, Pentax users – our world has changed!

Friday, July 28th, 2017

Until recently if you wanted to do radio remote TTL flash, you needed a Canon dSLR with a Canon-compatible flash and a radio remote system, or a Nikon dSLR with a Nikon-compatible flash and a radio remote system.

Initially these radio remote systems were provided by companies such as PocketWizard or RadioPopper, and then a couple of years ago both Canon then Nikon added their own radio remote TTL flash to their latest cameras and flashes.

The PocketWizard system particularly became very popular with the professional photographers and is renown for its reliability, build quality and the early ground breaking ability to not only provide remote TTL flash and HSS flash and pas-through TTL to a top-mounted hotshoe but also its proprietary HyperSync which allowed full output flash at marginally faster than usual shutter speeds without the power output loss that HSS flash caused.

Unfortunately, Pocket Wizard failed to recognise the ground swell of mirrorless cameras and increasing cross-system ownership that has resulted and although they did create a remote system which supported the Panasonic GH4, in general their receivers would not fire Olympus flashes even in manual mode let alone TTL mode with Olympus cameras, and of course if you owned a couple of camera systems you had to have a different set of Pocket Wizard units (Flex TT5/TT6/MiniTT1)  for each camera system, and there was, and still is, no mix and matching of systems in TTL mode.

But its now mid-2017, and we are in a totally new scene thanks to Cactus V6 II remote system and the Godox remote system – both of which offer cross-platform radio remote TTL flash albeit with different approaches.

If I were to buy a flash unit or studio flash now, I would strongly consider how it would be used for my Olympus, Sony and Canon cameras with either or both of the two new systems – neither of which are perfect but a vast improvement on what we currently have, and far better than the rubbish optical remote RC mode of the Olympus system (yes, I love Olympus but I am not paid by any company including Olympus who have never offered me any freebies or special discounts and so yes, I am able to call them out when I feel it is appropriate – that said perhaps they have done us all a big favour in allowing these new third party solutions to come to the party and solve our problems).

Let’s compare the two cross-platform approaches to radio remote TTL flash:

The Cactus V6 II approach:

This is the more cost effective approach, particularly if you have existing flash units – you just buy 1 transceiver to mount on the camera and another to mount on your digital-TTL capable flash (the flash will need to be either Canon, Nikon or Olympus digital TTL capable – not Pentax unless you are also using a Pentax camera, and not Fujifilm unless you are also using a Fujifilm camera).

These transceivers are able to AUTO-Detect the camera or flash system (although there are a few gotchas and workarounds – see later).

This means IF it all works as the manufacturer suggests it will, you could buy 5 units, place one on your Olympus camera’s hotshoe (which can optionally also mount any digital TTL flash unit as outlined above) and attach one to each of a Canon 580EXII flash, an Olympus FL50R flash, a Godox TT685 flash and a Nikon SB-900 flash and ALL will fire with radio remote TTL exposures with flash exposure compensation in 0.1EV increments and separate for each (if they are assigned to one of the 4 possible radio groups)  and optionally in HSS/FP mode for faster shutter speeds and wider apertures, or one of the two Group Sequence modes, remote manual flash zoom, and even in the Cactus proprietary Power Sync mode which allows a slightly faster than usual shutter speed at full flash output – and yet there is much more it can do including display all flash unit power outputs, Delay mode, AF assist light and remote camera shutter release!

Decide to use your Canon dSLR to shoot instead, cool, just turn the transceiver off, put it on the Canon, let it auto-detect and away you go.

Working in an environment with lots of other photographers using the same system which is causing cross firing – no problem, just set all your transceivers to the same 4 digit RADIO ID value.

If you are running a workshop and want other users to fire your flash set up – no problem – just make sure they are using the same radio ID and turn on Multi-Master mode each photographer can choose their own exposure compensation settings – just try to avoid firing at the same time as someone else!

As an alternative, you can buy a very affordable Cactus RF60X flash unit which already has a remote transceiver built in so this saves you money and complexity.

Some gotchas and workarounds of the Cactus V6 II system:

  • there is a special Sony version of the transceiver (V6 IIs) which is required if you wish to attach to either a Sony camera or a Sony-mount flash, but it can essentially achieve the same as the above.
  • requires firmware upgrade for cross-platform compatibility, the Olympus/Panasonic/Micro Four Thirds compatibility should be available August 2017.
  • as with the Godox system, it operates in the 2.4GHz radio frequency range and this may have issues with interference at times and is generally limited to 100m
  • READ the MANUAL: to auto-detect camera system, half-press the shutter release of camera while switching on the V6 II to TX mode
  • Power Sync may require the user to adjust the sync time in order to eliminate any banding issues (black line across the image).
  • “Power Sync” may not give you much more and there is no option to go less than full power output – but then you usually want full power output in these situations unless you also need short recycle times.
  • Cactus V6 II does not work with Cactus V4, V2s or V2 flash trigger models (but is compatible with V6 but not in HSS mode, and with V5 for basic non-TTL modes only including flash triggering and shutter release triggering)
  • there is a limited range (currently 60 units) of currently available flash units that are automatically usable with this system – others will require you to create your own custom flash profile on your computer and upload it to the transceiver (this can store up to 10 such profiles) and then you will need to manually select which profile to use for the flash.
  • some cameras have a  thicker than usual metal spring plate in the hotshoe which can interfere with the flash contacts and this may need to be removed (easily done) – examples include some Olympus OM-D E-M1 and Fujifilm models – this does not appear to be a problem with my E-M1 mark I or mark II
  • the hotshoe locking pin position is optimised for Canikon and thus there may be some mechanical instability on other systems, when using Olympus flashes, moving it 0.5mm may remedy this, but there may still be issues on the camera and this becomes more risky if you are mounting a flash onto the camera-mounted transceiver as the weight may cause it to fall off – this does not appear to be a problem with my E-M1 mark I or mark II
  • the latest July firmware has issues with TTL passthrough when used with the Olympus E-M1 Mark II (mark I seems to be OK in brief testing)
  • there is limited compatibility with some cameras including:
    • Nikon D600 and Panasonic GX-8 camera are not fully compatible with HSS mode when used with a Cactus RF60 flash (but presumably the RF60X is OK)
    • high-speed sync modes not supported on Fujifilm X-E2 / XE2S, Fujifilm X100T cameras, and, Fujifilm flashes do not support HSS capabilities.

The Godox X1 approach:

Godox have really taken massive strides towards world domination of enthusiast and pro lighting (and their sudden rise in popularity perhaps may be part of the reason for Bowens lighting company apparently going out of business – although the Bowens name will live on thanks to the Bowens S mount which is one of the more universal lighting accessory mounts – including for the Godox studio style lights).

In the first instance they brought to the market their lovely, powerful and versatile portable flash units with lithium ion batteries and battery packs which have made strobists all over the world jump for joy.

Next, they upped the ante substantially this year when they announced cross-platform support.

Unlike the Cactus system (other than the dedicated Cactus V6 II Sony module), the Godox remote transceivers require a system dedicated transceiver attached to the camera hotshoe such as:

  • for Olympus or Panasonic cameras either:
  • for Canon cameras, X1C TTL Wireless Flash Trigger
  • for Nikon cameras, X1N TTL Wireless Flash Trigger
  • for Sony cameras, the X1S TTL Wireless Flash Trigger
  • for Fuji cameras, the X1T-F TTL Wireless Flash Trigger

Each of these camera mounted X1 triggers have a TTL-pass-through top hotshoe.

Like the Cactus system with their Cactus RX60X, there are Godox flash units with inbuilt receivers and a very nice range of units there are such as:

  • Godox Wistro AD600 portable 600Ws lithium ion battery studio flash with ability to be used with either a 600Ws or incredible 1200Ws flash head (this requires two AD600′s to power it), and optional lithium ion battery pack and Bowens or Godox mount studio lighting accessories such as softboxes
  • Godox Wistro AD360II - a more portable option but it is regarded as too heavy to mount on a camera, usually used with hand grip and power pack and strobists accessories
  • Godox Wistro AD200 pocket flash
  • Godox Wistro AR400 ring flash
  • Godox V860II-O - similar to an Olympus FL-50R in that it can use the Olympus optical RC system as master or slave, but in addition it can be used as a slave (and perhaps as a master according to web page specs) for the Godox  X1 system, and it uses a 2000mAh lithium ion battery pack for 650 full power shots per full battery charge

Unlike the Cactus system, if you wish to fire a non-Godox flash unit in remote TTL mode, you will need a different Receiver unit and specifically, one that matches the flash system, thus, for a Canon flash you will need the X1R-C receiver to attach the the Canon flash.

A brief side-by-side comparison:

 

Cactus V6 II Godox X1
Price $US95 per transceiver
$US46 for transceiver
types of units needed only 1 type BUT need a different one for a Sony camera or flash need a different one for each camera system, and a different receiver for each system of non-Godox X1 flash, for example, a XTR-16, XTR-16S receiver
radio frequency 2.4GHz, range up to 100m
2.4GHz, range up to 100m
radio groups 4
5
radio channels 16 32
Radio ID 4 digit
No
HSS / FP mode most cameras (except Fujifilm flashes)
most cameras except Fujifilm?
front/rear curtain sync Yes
Yes
Multi-flash strobe mode Yes
Yes
flash exposure compensation Yes, +/- 3EV in 0.1EV increments
Yes, +/- 3EV in 1/3rd EV increments
remote manual zoom control Yes
Yes
AF assist lamp Yes 1W LED
Yes manual open
Multi-Master mode Yes, up to 20 photographers
?
Power sync mode Yes but needs user to configure
Can sync E-M1 to 1/320th in PC-Sync non-TTL mode
Flash delay mode Yes 1msec to 999 secs
0-10msec for synch delay adjustment
hotshoe locks into Olympus cameras to avoid slippage Maybe (lock pin slightly out as optimised for Canikon) Yes (X1T-O)
PC sync socket Yes
Yes
USB firmware upgradeable Yes Yes
Can remotely trigger camera shutter release via cable Yes “Relay mode” – also available is a laser motion detection trigger to radio remotely act on the V6 II ?
power supply 2 x AA batteries 2 x AA batteries
size 72x72x42mm, 96g
72x75x52mm, 90g
ease of use must set to auto detect when starting, but otherwise fairly universal plug and play
camera-dedicated transceivers do not need to auto detect
low power output for short flash exposures 1/256th output
1/128th output only?
lock flash exposures Yes ?
display power of each flash unit Yes displays exp. compensation or power output fraction only
compatible flash units 60 plus ability to store 10 custom profiles which user can create, or Cactus V6 II specific units such as RF60X
system-specific flashes for the receiver, or Godox X1 compatible flashes including Wistro studio flashes
flash system for TTL mode when mounted on the transceiver on camera any compatible flash – should Auto-detect?? no passthrough TTL – single pin hotshoe only

 

Which system should you buy?

If you need to purchase new flash units, and in particular, the awesome units such as the Wistro AD600 or AD360II, then it makes sense to go with the Godox system as you just need the flash units and the system specific transmitter for each camera system you own.

If you already have a mix of flashes, or you wish to use the special features of the cactus system such as Power Sync, then the Cactus V6II transceivers would be the way to go, although you may be wise until Cactus finalises all their TTL firmware and it is found to work as advertised.

It would not be entirely crazy to have BOTH systems for different needs.

It does alter which flash units I would invest in though, and perhaps the 3rd party flashes may be the best approach although there is always a risk the camera manufacturers introduce incompatibilities, but it is likely that Cactus and Godox will be able to address these through firmware updates.

Many pros will stay with their tried and true Pocket Wizards which do use a different bandwidth and are system specific with no cross-platform TTL or HSS capabilities – and there is no Olympus version as yet – ah yes, I have been waiting nearly 10 long years for an Olympus version and still there is no word.

For more information on remote TTL flash, see my wikipedia pages.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 II vs peer PDAF capable cropped sensor cameras for sports and wildlife

Saturday, November 5th, 2016

This blog post is an on-paper comparison of the feature sets of these cropped sensor cameras, particularly looking at sports/wildlife capabilities but also the range of lenses.

When comparing a smaller 2x crop sensor such as the Olympus has with these APS-C 1.5x or 1.6x crop sensors, you can expect high ISO noise to be perhaps 0.5 EV better on the APS-C, while shallow depth of field potential is likely to be 1 stop better with the APS-C size sensor assuming similar aperture lenses of similar field of view.

On the other hand, the Olympus sensor size allows for shorter lenses and greater telephoto reach for similar size lens, and the laws of physics means there should be opportunity for less optical aberrations from edge to edge as aberrations generally increase exponentially from distance from the centre.

Taking all this into account, the image quality of these cameras should be reasonably comparable and largely dependent upon which lens is being used, accuracy of focus and how much camera shake there is – and on all these point, Olympus tends to be a winner, and Olympus is a clear winner when it comes to the availability of an enormous range of dedicated fast CDAF optimised, silent lenses designed for the sensor.

Olympus E-M1 II vs Canon 7D II:

First, let’s look out how well the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds camera compares with Canon’s flagship APS-C 1.6x cropped sensor sports dSLR, their Canon 7D Mark II.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Canon 7D Mark II
Price at Amazon.com $US2000 body + $US2499 for 300mm f/4 IS lens = $US4500 $US1499+$US1999 for 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens = $US3499 but it is only f/5.6 at 400mm and images will not be as sharp and you only get 4EV not 6.5EV of IS
sensor 20mp 2x crop 20mp APS-C 1.6x crop
Weight 574g body + 1270g lens = 1.8kg
910g + 1.64kg for 100-400mm lens =2.55kg
Size 134 x 91 x 67 mm body + 93mm x 227mm lens
149 x 112 x 78 mm body + 193mm long lens which extends on zooming
image stabilisation sensor based 5 axis 5EV + 6.5EV Sync IS lens 4 EV OIS in stills, no sensor IS
Shutter speed range 60sec -1/8000th (1/32,000th electronic)
30sec-1/8000th
Flash x-sync 1/250th sec, slow sync, 19 output levels manual
1/250th, slow sync
radio TTL remote flash No
Canon, Profoto, Bowens, Godox, PocketWizard, etc
Viewfinder 2.35mdot EVF, eye sensor auto switching, 120fps, 6ms reaction time, 21mm eyepoint, 0.74x magnification, minimal blackout in burst mode
optical, 0.63x magnification, mm eyepoint, minimal blackout in burst mode; not usable when mirror locked up such as in vibration reduction shooting, Live View, and in video shooting
LCD screen 1mdot articulating touch screen, AF Targeting Pad feature
1mdot, fixed NOT touch sensitive
video awesome image stabilisation 4K 24/30p 236Mbps Cinema 4K quality mjpeg; 4:2:2 uncompressed video directly from the HDMI port, lenses optimised for video work
no 4K video; 1080/60p but HDMI out is only 1080 8bit, lenses not optimised for live view or video work
Burst rate 18fps with C-AF x 77RAW or 60fps with S-AF in electronic mode x 48 RAW; 10fps C-AF mechanical shutter x 148 RAW;
10fps with C-AF, max 31 RAW
Top panel dual dial + 2×2 system Yes No
AF 121pt Dual Pixel cross type CDAF/PDAF, closest eye detection AF, all working video mode including subject tracking
65 cross type PDAF with limited coverage, plus on sensor dual pixel for live view mode, face detect AF only in live view mode and no closest eye detect AF; no subject tracking in live view; 1 central point is dual cross;
Hi-Res mode Yes, 50mp/25mp jpeg, 80mp RAW
No
Live BULB, Live TIME, Live Composite, 60sec timed, Live Boost EVF Yes No
Dual card slots 2 x SD (1 is UHS-II)
1 x CF, 1 x SD, no UHS-II
Auto HDR, Auto focus stacking, Keystone compensation Yes No
Pro service support just building infrastructure Advanced, mature pro service
AF fisheye lenses several including the unique Olympus mZD f/1.8 fisheye NONE – only full frame or 3rd party MF lenses
“14-28mm” pro lens 7-14mm (14-28mm) f/2.8, 534g, 106mm long, 0.2m close focus, no filter, MF clutch, $US1299  EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 not a pro lens, no STM, no IS and only 16mm at wide end
“24-70mm” pro lens 12-40mm (24-80mm) f/2.8, 382g, 84mm long, 0.2m close focus, 62mm filter, MF clutch, $US740 or 12-100mm (24-200mm) f/4 IS PRO
 EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS but not STM
“70-200mm” pro lens 40-150mm (80-300mm) f/2.8, 760g, 160mm long, 0.7m close focus, 72mm filter, MF clutch, $US1399, opt. 1.4x converter  EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM but this is not a pro lens
“50mm” pro standard prime lens Oly 25mm f/1.2  EF 35mm f/1.4L, EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM but this is really a 38mm eq. lens and not a pro lens
cropped sensor dedicated AF lenses more than 40  mainly consumer type EF-S lenses
CDAF and video optimised lenses more than 40  4 EF-S STM lenses
cropped sensor dedicated AF super telephoto lenses at least 300mm in full frame terms 300mm f/2.8, 300mm f/4 OIS, 90-250mm f/2.8, 40-150mm f/2.8, 150mm f/2.0, 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5, Pan. 100-400mm, numerous 300mm zooms (note 2x crop factor) EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM
full frame fast AF super telephoto lenses at least 300mm in full frame terms nil EF 70-200mm f/2.8 or f/4 IS, EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6; EF 200mm f/2.8, EF 200mm f/2, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II, EF 200-400mm f/4 IS with extender, EF 300mm f/4 IS, EF 300mm f/2.8 IS, EF 400mm f/5.6, EF 400mm f/4 DO IS, EF 400mm f/2.8 IS, EF 500mm f/4 IS, EF 600mm f/4 IS, EF 800mm f/5.6 IS

The lack of pro quality compact EF-S dedicated lenses for the Canon is partly made up thanks to access to the large range of pro EF full frame lenses, but these are unnecessarily large, heavy and expensive for a cropped sensor dSLR, but if you also own a full frame Canon dSLR then you will accept this compromise.

The Canon EF 400mm f/4L DO IS lens is heavy, expensive, not quite as sharp as the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 but much more compact and less expensive, and given it has IS and the bigger, cheaper Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L doesn’t, this is the lens I initially chose to compare with the Olympus 300mm f/4 to get IS and the 600mm equivalent field of view. The Canon lens is very sharp wide open, although a little softer at f/5.6-8 and does give the Canon 7D II combo perhaps 0.5 EV ISO advantage over the Olympus but at a big cost in money and weight. The Canon lens uses drop in filters and has close focus to 3.3m and perhaps 4EV OIS whereas the Olympus lens is at least as sharp, just over half the weight, much lower price, less intrusive, has silent AF optimised for video and CDAF, uses normal 77mm filters, has close focus of just 1.4m and 6.5 EV of Dual IS so you know which combo I would prefer!

The cheaper Canon alternative is the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L which lists at $US1179 on Amazon and weighs the same as the Olympus lens at 1.25kg, but is substantially longer at 257mm and of course it has no image stabilisation at all.

Perhaps a more exciting Canon alternative is the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens which lists at $US1999 which does have a 4EV OIS and weighs 1.64kg and focuses as close as 1m, but is a little soft at 400mm wide open at f/5.6 and needs to be stopped down to f/8 to get anywhere near the level of sharpness as the Olympus wide open at f/4.

Unless you need radio TTL remote flash or you have a stack of pro Canon lenses, the Olympus E-M1 II easily beats the aging Canon 7D II on nearly every parameter – although C-AF Tracking may still beat the Olympus.

E-M1 II vs Fijifilm XT-2:

Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Fujifilm XT-2
Price at Amazon.com $US2000 body + $US2499 for 300mm f/4 IS lens = $US4500 $US1899+$US1699 for Fujinon XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 OIS WR lens, but optically will not be anywhere near as good as the Olympus prime as it is much softer at the telephoto ends even stopped down and no close focus limiter switch = $US3599 
sensor 20mp 2x crop 24mp APS-C 1.5x crop
Weight 574g body + 1270g lens = 1.8kg
507g + 1375g for lens =1.9kg
Size 134 x 91 x 67 mm body + 93mm x 227mm lens
133 x 92 x 49 mm body + 95mm x 211mm lens
image stabilisation sensor based 5 axis 5EV + 6.5EV Sync IS lens 4 EV OIS in stills, no sensor IS
Shutter speed range 60sec -1/8000th (1/32,000th electronic)
30sec-1/8000th, (1/32,000th electronic)
Flash x-sync 1/250th sec, slow sync, 19 output levels manual
1/250th, slow sync
radio TTL remote flash No
No
Viewfinder 2.35mdot EVF, eye sensor auto switching, refresh 120fps, 6ms reaction time, 21mm eyepoint, 0.74x magnification, minimal blackout in burst mode
2.35mdot EVF, 0.77x magnification, significant viewfinder blackout in burst mode above 5fps, refresh 60fps (100fps with battery grip)
LCD screen 1mdot articulating touch screen, AF Targeting Pad feature
1mdot, 3-way tilting NOT touch sensitive
video awesome image stabilisation 4K 24/30p 236Mbps Cinema 4K quality mjpeg; 4:2:2 uncompressed video directly from the HDMI port, lenses optimised for video work
4K video; 1080; F-Log Gamma
Burst rate 18fps with C-AF x 77RAW or 60fps with S-AF in electronic mode x 48 RAW; 10fps C-AF mechanical shutter x 148 RAW;
14fps electronic but rolling shutter may be problematic; 8fps mechanical (11fps with battery grip), max  30 compressed RAW at 8fps
Top panel dual dial + 2×2 system Yes No
AF 121pt Dual Pixel cross type CDAF/PDAF, closest eye detection AF, all working video mode including subject tracking
 325 pt Hybrid PDAF but C-AF may not be up to pro sports yet
Hi-Res mode Yes, 50mp/25mp jpeg, 80mp RAW
No
Live BULB, Live TIME, Live Composite, 60sec timed, Live Boost EVF Yes No
Dual card slots 2 x SD (1 is UHS-II)
Two UHS-II SD Slots
Auto HDR, Auto focus stacking, Keystone compensation Yes No
Pro service support just building infrastructure minimal
AF fisheye lenses several including the unique Olympus mZD f/1.8 fisheye NONE – only 3rd party MF lenses
“14-28mm” pro lens 7-14mm (14-28mm) f/2.8, 534g, 106mm long, 0.2m close focus, no filter, MF clutch, $US1299 XF 10-24mm f4 no IS and only 15mm at wide end
“24-70mm” pro lens 12-40mm (24-80mm) f/2.8, 382g, 84mm long, 0.2m close focus, 62mm filter, MF clutch, $US740 or 12-100mm (24-200mm) f/4 IS PRO
Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R OIS WR
“70-200mm” pro lens 40-150mm (80-300mm) f/2.8, 760g, 160mm long, 0.7m close focus, 72mm filter, MF clutch, $US1399, opt. 1.4x converter Fujinon XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR
“50mm” pro standard prime lens Oly 25mm f/1.2 XF 35mm f/1.4 or  f2 (NB. also the lovely XF 56mm f1.2)
cropped sensor dedicated AF lenses more than 40 about 15
CDAF and video optimised lenses more than 40 about 15
cropped sensor dedicated AF super telephoto lenses at least 300mm in full frame terms 300mm f/2.8, 300mm f/4 OIS, 90-250mm f/2.8, 40-150mm f/2.8, 150mm f/2.0, 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 , Pan. 100-400mm, numerous 300mm zooms, (note 2x crop factor)
 Fujinon XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 OIS WR
other AE bracketing only ±2 not ±5; need to buy and use the battery grip to get faster burst, and faster AF as well as faster EVF refresh rate which is half that of the Olympus by default.

It will be interesting to see how the high ISO and C-AF performance compares with these cameras, I suspect Fuji will win the high ISO and the Olympus will win the sports shooting capabilities.

The sharpness at 600mm equivalent focal length (ie. 400mm at f/5.6) on the Fujifilm XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR is very soft compared to the Olympus 300mm f/4, ePhotozine’s tests show the Fuji’s centre is about 2100LW/PH and edge is 1400LW/PH compared to the Olympus which is around 2700LW/PH at centre and at edge, and these both hit around 3100LW/PH stopping down to f/5.6 while the Fuji lens struggles to get to 2500 by f/11 and the edge is still only around 1700! The Fuji lens is optically more comparable to the Panasonic 100-400mm lens but the Panasonic lens gives even more telephoto reach of 800m on the E-M1 II.

Another peer camera is the Sony a6500 which is a APS-C 1.5x crop mirrorless camera which like the E-M1 II has fast on sensor PDAF autofocus, 5 axis image stabilisation (although allegedly not as effective as on the Olympus), 4K video, nice EVF, and touch screen, is smaller but not as weatherproof, lacks the ergonomics and pro features of the E-M1 II for example, shutter only goes to 1/4000th sec, only one SD card slot and, like the small battery is on the bottom, at max burst of 11fps, live view is disabled (as with the Fuji) . The a6500 size and smaller grip will make holding larger lenses much more uncomfortable than with the E-M1 II.

 

5 awesome cameras for 2014 – E-M1, E-M10, GM-1, GH-4 and Fuji X-T1

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Following on from the footsteps of the brilliant camera of 2012 – the Olympus E-M5, we now have a range of amazing cameras to build on it’s success to address nearly every need.

Firstly the Panasonic GM-1.

I am not a fan of cameras without viewfinders but the GM-1 has changed the face of the shirt pocket camera genre – previously ruled by the excellent Sony RX 100 II.

The GM-1 is a Micro Four Thirds camera and thus not only does it have interchangeable lenses unlike the fixed lens on the Sony, but it’s sensor is MUCH larger meaning higher quality images and more shallow depth of field is possible for when you want to blur the background.

It came with a new very compact 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH MegaOIS kit lens and a silent electronic shutter and certainly has the compact size to suit most people who just want a camera for their purse or pocket to take anywhere.

EOSHD.com placed it 2nd to the Canon 5D Mark III for HD video in its league 3 category of cameras for HD video work!

Like any tiny camera it has its compromises, in particular, no viewfinder, poor flash capabilities and ergonomic issues due to small size – but they are the price you pay for tiny size.

Then came the photographic product of the year for 2013 – the superb Olympus E-M1.

E-m1

Image courtesy of dpreview.com.

This built upon the E-M5 and improved almost every aspect including the EVF and the world’s best image stabiliser, and added phase detect AF to provide much improved AF tracking of moving subjects and much needed fast AF support for the superb range of Four Thirds lenses.

Not only that but it became one of the 1st cameras of its type to have WiFi with NFC and allow smartphones to not only have images transferred easily but remotely control the camera, view the live image on the phone and even select an AF subject. Very handy indeed.

The image stabiliser is so good that eoshd.com voted it as the BEST camera for hand held video without resorting to a large image stabilisation rig.

Olympus then followed this up with the “entry level” Olympus E-M10.

It may be entry level in price but what a great camera – even better than the E-M5 with loads of new features including many on the E-M1 but also a built-in flash which will please many. The missing features will not be of great importance to the buyers of this camera – lack of weathersealing, only 3 axis IS instead of 5 axis IS, and a few other features.

Not to be outdone, Fuji stepped up to the plate with their well received Fuji X-T1.

The Fuji X-T1 is in many ways similar to the Olympus E-M1. It does have a larger sensor so can give marginally better image quality and potentially 1 stop shallower depth of field, plus you get to see the main camera settings by looking at the dials. But critically it lacks the great image stabiliser, the range of lenses and flash sync, shutter speed range, BULB modes are not as good while the lenses are much bigger and heavier.

Today, we have the announcement of the Panasonic GH-4.

This is an incredible camera in that it has the most amazing video features for a camera in the price range, plus it has high end still photography features although unfortunately there is no sensor-based image stabiliser.

At an expected price of under $2000, you get 4K HD video, uncompressed video out, up to 96fps 1080p slo-mo variable rate  video with very high image quality (200Mbps) and an optional accessory port add on which takes it to another level altogether.

As a stills camera, it is weathersealed, has awesome EVF, shutter to 1/8000th sec, Bulb to 60 minutes,  12fps burst (7fps with AF tracking), silent shutter mode, flash sync to 1/250th sec even for external flashes, eye detect AF as with Olympus cameras, smartphone WiFi remote control, and more!

GH-4 with YAGHE video accessory

Sony has started something big too.

Sony is threatening to change the photographic world with their full frame mirrorless cameras which they introduced in 2013.

Unfortunately, the 36mp model, the Sony A7R has not lived up to expectations as it is plagued with shutter issues and one really needs to use it on a tripod to make the most of it.

The 24mp Sony A7 on the other hand seems to be a much more useful camera, although both lack built-in image stabiliser which would make use of legacy lenses much more attractive while dedicated new AF lenses are rolled out.

I would really like to see Olympus bring out a full frame mirrorless with their 5-axis image stabiliser and given their collaborations with Sony it may eventuate.

But what has happened to Canon and Nikon?

Both Canon and Nikon were conspicuously absent in dpreview.com’s readers’ votes for cameras of the year for 2013 – even Pentax K-3 won the dSLR section which Canon and Nikon practically own!

Canon and Nikon must be planning something big because they have not been producing any exciting cameras for a while.

Their dSLRs are just conservative evolutions of their usual dSLRs not able to take advantage of the technologic advantages and functions available with mirrorless systems.

Nikon tried to go retro to piggyback on the retro success of the Olympus OMD cameras but came up with an expensive, dysfunctional camera – the Nikon Df dSLR.

Canon’s top of the range APS-C dSLR is still their ageing Canon 7D, although they did introduce a 70D with dual AF for live view.

Both Canon and Nikon are sitting on their 2012 technology full frame dSLRs – the Nikon D800/D600/D4 and Canon 5D Mark III / 1D X (other than the Nikon D610 which is just a fix of the problematic D600).

Canon’s mirrorless system, the EOS-M does not appear to be going anywhere – given the autofocus of the EOS-M was so terrible. Why haven’t they brought out a more capable camera? The answer may well be that they don’t care because Americans love BIG cameras so they are just going to sell cheap dinosaur dSLR products to Americans and bide their time until they come up with a killer product.

Meanwhile the rest of us have realised we can get practically the same results with more fun, better image stabilisation, better hand held video, less backache, and more space in our travel bags by buying Micro Four Thirds.

In search for the holy grail of 85mm wide aperture portrait lenses – 2 new premium lenses announced this week – Panasonic and Fuji

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

For many 35mm full frame photographers, a wide aperture 85mm lens is the preferred tool for portraiture as the focal length allows a natural perspective without distorting facial features whilst still allowing the photographer to be close enough to interact well with the subject. Furthermore, the wider the aperture of the portrait lens means there are more options for creating shallow depth of field to ensure the subject is emphasized whilst the background is thrown into a nice blur – hopefully with nice bokeh qualities.

When it comes to shallow depth of field capabilities, Canon dSLR users reign supreme as they have access to the very expensive and heavy Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II lens – the only f/1.2 85mm lens currently manufactured.

However, all is not what it seems.

As superb as this lens is, there is one huge draw back – the autofocus is very slow and combined with the extremely shallow depth of field, this lens can be very challenging to use well wide open.

Canon users then are at a quandary, as their only other Canon autofocus 85mm lens is the excellent consumer grade Canon EF 85mm f/1.8, but this lens suffers from significant purple fringing wide open.

Nikon users don’t have access to a 85mm f/1.2 lens but they do have a good Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G lens (the 1995 D version lens was designed for film cameras and was not great on digital cameras), so perhaps they have a better compromise than Canon users.

Sony full frame dSLR users are in a similar situation to Nikon users as they have the Sony Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T* lens but AF can be slow and at $1700 it is not cheap.

All dSLR lenses using phase detect AF need microcalibration of AF and this is particularly important with shallow depth of field images.

In addition, the above users have access to 3rd party lenses such as the excellent Sigma 85mm f/1.4 lens although AF speed and accuracy can be an issue. For those on a budget, the Samyang/Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 manual focus lens may fit their needs.

Cropped sensor dSLR users can resort to their 50mm prime lenses although they will have less ability to gain shallow depth of field.

What do we really need?

Extreme shallow depth of field is not usually the prime requirement, and most portraits can be shot at 85mm f/2.4-2.8 on a full frame camera and get potentially even better results wide open as most portraits are best if at least the area from the subject’s ear to tip of nose is in focus.

Indeed, if one is shooting low light portraits, or using fill in flash with a slowish shutter speed without a tripod, then image stabilisation becomes very important and none of the Canon or Nikon options offer image stabilisation.

Furthermore, the most critical technical part of taking the shot is often ensuring that the closest eye of the subject is the sharpest part of the image. This can be very difficult to achieve with dSLRs using shallow depth of field.

This is where mirrorless cameras can be the BEST tool for portraiture as they can offer:

  • sufficiently shallow depth of field
  • sufficiently out of focus backgrounds with lovely bokeh quality of the blurring
  • more depth of field wide open so you can use a faster shutter speed or lower ISO in low light if needed
  • image stabilisation to ensure excellent sharpness (Olympus cameras)
  • face detection autofocus with closest eye detection (Olympus cameras)
  • small camera and lenses to reduce the subject being intimidated and allow them to be more relaxed
  • high optical quality portrait lenses which are sharp edge to edge even wide open (full frame lenses generally lack sharpness just where you want the subject’s eyes)
  • consistently accurate autofocus (no need for microcalibrations)

This week, Panasonic and Fuji have officially announced 2 new premium portrait lenses for their mirrorless cameras.

The Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R lens:

Designed for the 1.5x crop Fuji X mirrorless system and gives an equivalent to a 85mm f/1.8 lens in field of view and depth of field terms on a full frame camera.

This lens is well built, relatively affordable at $US999, and it should be a very popular option for Fuji users.

However, there is no image stabilisation, AF of Fuji cameras still lags behind Micro Four Thirds cameras, and closest focus is 0.7m which may be limiting for some uses.

The Panasonic Leica DG 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron lens:

A very expensive lens designed for Micro Four Thirds (which are 2x crop cameras) and thus gives an equivalent to a 85mm f/2.4 lens in field of view and depth of field terms on a full frame camera.

It has “Power OIS” optical stabilisation built-in, and Olympus users also have the option of using sensor-based image stabilisation.

Close focus is 0.5m.

Surprisingly it is a touch bigger, and heavier than the Fujinon lens, but perhaps it will have less vignetting.

This lens should be available from march 2014 at £1,399.

Summary:

Given the advantages of image stabilisation, edge-to-edge sharpness, closest eye detection AF and generally quieter, smaller, less intrusive gear, my personal preference is for an Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 or E-M5 combined with either the 42.5mm f/1.2 lens if you can afford it, or the much smaller, less expensive Olympus mZD 45mm f/1.8 lens. Having said that, I do most of my portraits with the superb Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens but this may be too long a focal length for many people.

For group shots at parties, you can’t go past a Micro Four Thirds camera with Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens and a bounce flash – see my recent post.

If you don’t believe me that great portraiture is possible on these cameras, check out Sean Archer’s work with Micro Four Thirds cameras – see this post, and Edmondo Senatore’s work – see this post.

Olympus announce their exciting new mirrorless camera – the OM-D E-M5 – at last an Olympus mirrorless with built-in EVF – how does it compare to the Panasonic GH-2 and Fuji Pro X-1?

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

See Olympus website and the press release pdf and for a nice preview, see pekkapotka

This is indeed a very exciting camera!

Please also check out the preview on dpreview.com where this image is located:
dpreview.com

To me, it brings the mirrorless camera genre into real contention as a serious, versatile camera system designed with photographers in mind whilst still offering what appears to be high enough movie mode specs for most of us.

This camera for the 1st time introduces a weatherproofed robust body to the mirrorless genre and the 1st to offer such a highly effective image stabilisation system which has been re-designed to allow use during movie mode, and will be of great benefit in use of those excellent prime lenses now available as well as legacy lenses such as using a Canon 135mm f/2.0L lens on it - this will be absolutely awesome!

I am very happy they have added the tilt out OLED touch screen which will be indispensible, and you can even add the PEN external electronic viewfinders if you want to look down through a viewfinder.

The flash capabilities far exceed anything Panasonic make with remote TTL flash, flash sync of 1/250th sec for the new flash, and full range of manual flash outputs, plus I presume the TTL flash will work well with legacy lenses which is certainly not the case with my Panasonic GH-1.

The high ISO quality seems usable for web sized images up to ISO 6400 and perhaps ISO 12,800 according to these images, but I suspect I would not use it past ISO 800-1600 – see these images, and as usual with Olympus cameras, I would turn the in camera NR down and use software NR instead. We will have to wait until Olympus finishes tweaking firmware to see how good image quality really is at higher ISO levels. As long as the image quality is as good as my GH-1 I will be happy – and there is good reason to expect it will be significantly better.

95% of my shots I do at ISO 400 or less (even on my Canon 1D Mark III) so I don’t care much for high ISO as if I need high ISO, the lighting is usually lousy anyway and I would use my own lighting to remedy the quality as well as quantity of light – an exception of course is astrophotography or sports under lights. If high ISO quality is very important to you, get a full frame dSLR such as a Canon 1D X or Nikon D4 (not the 36mp D800!).

What is missing from the E-M5 – nothing that would be a show stopper!

  • wireless remote control – must use cabled remote (RM-UC1)
  • intervalometer ???
  • GPS
  • USB 3.0
  • flip out and swivel screen as with the GH-2 – but then the tilt screen may be more functional for enthusiasts
  • oversized sensor as with GH-2 appears not to be in this model
  • built-in flash but it is bundled with a small weatherproof flash
  • AVCHD video and 24fps filmic mode but the 20Mbps .MOV video will be adequate for most – if you want the best video, get the GH-2 or wait for the GH-3
  • uncompressed live video out
  • flash sync only 1/180th sec for older flashes
  • peaking functionality for manual focus confirmation
  • in-camera HDR
  • AE bracketing may be a little limiting for some
  • 1/8000th sec shutter speed – but then only pro dSLRs have this
  • ISO 100 – oh well, guess I will be using ND filters or polarising filters in bright sunlight with those fast primes
  • 40fps 4Mp mode – not sure I would use this but the GH-2 has this
  • C-AF with Four Thirds lenses – maybe this will come with a phase contrast adapter
  • 100mm f/2.0, 150mm f/2.8, and 200mm f/4 lenses – I’m sure Olympus are working on these!

I loved my Olympus E-510 and this camera is smaller, faster, better image quality, weatherproofed and far more feature-laden, so I for one will not be complaining of lack of the above features – this camera is aimed at the enthusiast photographer who wants fun without being over-burdened with large heavy lenses or big tripods – and that is me! I am just worried my daughters will try to take it off me!

There is so much to love about this extremely well thought out camera – mark my words, I will be buying one – I just hope Olympus Australia do not do the usual sting and charge us Australians a ridiculously over-priced amount! The landscape grip seems essential but the portrait one I can do without. And those new lenses (75mm f/1.8 and 60mm macro) to match the 12mm f/2.0 and 45mm f/1.8 have me salivating!!!!

The new Fuji Pro X-1 as nice as the sensor may be, and as nice as the aperture and shutter speed controls and hybrid OVF/EVF are, seems sadly compromised by only having 3 prime lenses, no IS, no remote TTL flash, no dust sensor, minimal movie mode control, and minimal manual focus support.

The Nikon D800 with its 36mp, 70Mb+ files is sure to give great images but it is not going to be a fun camera like the E-M5, and I like to have fun with my photography!

First a comparison with the GH-2 and Fuji Pro X1:

Panasonic
GH-2
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Fuji Pro X1
Price at Amazon.com $US999 with 14-42mm lens $US995 body only, $1299 with 12-50mm lens; HLD-6 external battery grips $299; FL-600 flash $299; MMF-3 FT adapter $179.
Weight 442g, plastic  373g (425g incl. battery) weathersealed, magnesium
Size 124 x 90 x 76mm  122 x 89 x 43 mm  140mm x 82mm x 43mm
EVF eye sensor auto switching  1.44m dots, eye sensor auto switching  hybrid OVF/EVF eye sensor auto switching
LCD articulating LCD touch screen
 tilt – out 610K dot 3:2 OLED touch screen  no touch,
HD video 1080p 24fps 23Mbps quality and
1080i 60fps; 1/16000th shutter, AVCHD or motion jpeg
 1080i 60fps 20Mbps or 720p, manual audio levels, .MOV or motion jpeg, built-in IS works!!! Stereo mic  1080p 24fps or 720 24fps, limited manual control;
Over-sized sensor for native,
uncropped 16:9
Yes, 18.3mp giving max. 16.1mp  No, 16mp
Burst rate 5fps; 40fps at 4mp electronic
shutter
 3.5 with AF/IS; 4.2 with AF no IS; 9fps with AF only on 1st shot x 17 frames RAW;  3fps or 6fps
Top panel mode switches AF mode switch; Drive/self-timer
switch
 Exposure mode dial top left; main dial; subdial;  shutter speed selector dial (aperture on lens)
External mic socket Yes  Yes but requires adapter SEMA-1 via the Pen port
Rear AF-lock button Yes  Fn button
Subject tracking AF in HD video No  Yes
AF mode reasonably fast AF for stationary subjects  fastest AF of all cameras for stationary subjects plus 3D tracking and AF can detect subject’s eye (you can choose which eye – nearest, R/L), 800 AF points;
Max.ISO 12,800  25,600  25,600 but only 6400 in RAW
Max. bulb duration 4min  timed BULB available up to 30min; Live Bulb viewable on screen up to 13sec!  up to 60min but not timed past 30sec
Hotshoe Yes  Yes  Yes
White balance presets 5  12
Built-in flash GN 15.6m, sync 1/160th sec, no remote TTL, no TTL with legacy lenses
 No, bundled weatherproof flash with sync 1/250th sec, remote TTL, manual output down to 1/64th, Super FP HSS mode  No, no remote TTL flash, no HSS flash, flash sync 1/180th
Exposure compensation +/- 5EV +/- 5EV  only +/- 2EV!!
AE bracketing +/- 3EV +/- 2EV; 2,3,5 frames up to 1EV; 7 frames up to 0.7 EV?
 no remote TTL flash, poor TTL flash with legacy lenses, limited manual flash output control  Super FP flash, remote TTL flash, full manual flash output control to 1/64th?  limited movie or manual focus functionality, no focus distance visible on lenses!! Cumbersome MF magnified view
 optical IS only; film presets;  5 axis 5 EV built-in IS which also functions in movies and half-press shutter can activate IS to enable accurate manual focus! Level guage, 11 Art filters, Scene modes, iAuto,  only 3 prime lenses to choose from; no IS; 10 film presets;
 can also use external EVF as with Pen cameras; Multiple exposures; shutter quieter than even the electronic quiet mode of the Sony NEX7!  2 image multi-exposure mode; no sensor dust removal!
 optional grips, ext. battery pack/vertical grip, underwater kit, FL-600R flash with movie light  panoramic stitching

And,  the 3rd generation Olympus Pen cameras:

Olympus
E-P3
Olympus
E-PL3 “Lite”
Olympus
E-PM3 “Mini”
Price at Amazon.com $US945 with 14-42mm lens
Weight 369g 313g 263g
Size 122 x 69 x 34mm 110 x 64 x 37mm 110 x 64 x 34mm
EVF optional via hot shoe optional via hot shoe optional via hot shoe
LCD OLED, 614K dot 3:2 fixed, touch. Usable even in bright sun. 460K dot 16:9 tilting, not touch 460K fixed, not touch
HD video 1080i 60fps; 720p 30/60fps; 17 or 13mbps quality; as for E-P3 1080i 60fps; 720p 30/60fps
Over-sized sensor for native,
uncropped 16:9
No; 13.1mp giving 12.1mp No; 13.1mp giving 12.1mp No; 13.1mp giving 12.1mp
Burst rate 3fps 5.5fps with IS turned off
4.1fps or 5.5fps with IS turned off
Top panel mode switches No No No, and no exposure mode dial
External mic socket No
Rear AF-lock button 5 customisable buttons
Subject tracking AF in HD video Yes Yes ?
Pinpoint AF mode No, but has 35 AF zones, eye-detect AF and front AF lamp as for E-P3 except 11 points only No
Max.ISO 12,800 12,800 12,800
Max. bulb duration 4min 2min
Hotshoe Yes, 1/180th sync Yes, 1/160th sync Yes, 1/160th sync
White balance presets 12 8 8
Built-in flash GN 10m at ISO 200; remote TTL master; manual down to 1/64th output; None, clip on FL-LM1 included None,
Exposure compensation +/- 3EV +/- 3EV +/- 3EV
AE bracketing +/- 3EV +/- 3EV +/- 3EV
level gauge no level gauge no level gauge
10 art filters 6 art filters 6 art filters

more links relating to the E-M5: