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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: