Olympus

...now browsing by tag

 
 

Alpine hiking and camping at Victoria’s remote Macalister Springs – The Crosscut Saw and The Terrible Hollow – part III

Monday, March 27th, 2017

See Part I for an introduction to Macalister Springs region.

See Part II for Mt Howitt in the clouds.

ps. click on images to see a larger view.

Friday morning, it was clear skies overhead with the valleys and The Terrible Hollow below filled with low cloud.

Although my sleeping bag discouraged me from waking for sunrise, I did manage to scramble up to the lookout area soon thereafter and enjoyed the magical views:


The Crosscut Saw

The Crosscut Saw and to far right, Mt Buggary, with the cloud hiding the depths of The Terrible Hollow.

After breakfast we decided to head up to The Crosscut Saw before we head home.


The Crosscut Saw

Cloud still hiding The Terrible Hollow with The Crosscut Saw on the left.


The Crosscut Saw


The Crosscut Saw

Yep, no back pack for this short trip, my light rain jacket had pockets large enough for a water bottle, and my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera with 12mm lens, while I was also able to borrow my friend’s 75mm lens.


The Crosscut Saw


The Crosscut Saw

Hikers walking the start of the Crosscut Saw – Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens.


The Crosscut Saw

Looking back eastwards towards The Devil’s Staircase – Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens.


Mt Spec

East aspect of Mt Speculation with Mt Buffalo in the background – Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens.


Mt Howitt

Looking south east to Mt Howitt on the left and Mt Buller on the right – Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 lens.

What a difference a day makes with the sun out:

  • everlasting daisies and other flowers opened
  • insects buzzing around – including small butterflies and those flies
  • the aggressive alpine ants were active
  • it became hot walking even in tee shirt and shorts with sun hat on
  • eyes became sunburnt – so busy taking photos I forgot about my sunglasses – at end of the day my eyes were red!
  • you have to drink more – that means carry more water
  • the copperhead snakes are out – we almost stepped on two basking in the sun on the walking path near Mac Springs

Another nail in the coffin of Canon/Nikon relative duopoly – Cactus introduces cross-platform radio remote TTL flash system

Saturday, March 25th, 2017

Since the 1960′s, Canon and Nikon have enjoyed a relative duopoly in the world of system cameras, especially amongst professional photographers.

In the late 1980′s, Canon took the lead with their totally redesigned lens mount system allowing fast AF, and it is only in the last decade or so that Nikon has again taken the lead with their even better AF tracking and metering technologies.

But as Olympus has shown with their Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II camera, the advantages of the Canon and Nikon dSLR systems are rapidly being lost to ever improving technological advances, especially with sensors, AF and mirrorless systems which, particularly in the case of Micro Four Thirds, offer adequate image quality (often better edge to edge image sharpness) , smaller, lighter, less expensive kits more suited to our travel and hiking needs, more accurate and often faster AF, faster burst speeds with accurate continuous AF, much better image stabilisation, hand holdable super telephoto reach as well as better run and gun hand holdable 4K video.

Part of the successful marketing strategy of Canon and Nikon is keeping their users loyal to their brand – once they have invested into their system, much like Apple users, they are generally too heavily invested to swap brands or even to use other brands with different user interfaces or incompatibilities.

If you had, or wanted to use Canon lenses to their full capability, you had to buy Canon dSLRs, likewise for Nikon.

If you had a Canon system, you had to buy Canon-specific flash systems if you want TTL or remote radio TTL flash – likewise for Nikon.

Canon dSLR owners could use other lenses, even Nikon lenses but with sacrifice of fast AF.

Nikon dSLR owners could not use non-Nikon mount lenses due to a physical design issue – the distance from sensor to lens mount is too long.

Enter the new world of cross-platform utility

My last blog post espoused the potential utility of using Sony full frame mirrorless cameras with a Sigma MC-11 adapter which at last provides fast AF with most Canon EF mount lenses on Sony cameras, but in particular, the Sigma branded ones.

This allows photographers increased choice – they could get a mirrorless full frame camera with a different sensor characteristics plus sensor based image stabilisation and face AF for their Canon lenses with better feature sets at the same price as the entry level Canon 6D dSLR- seeing that Canon has not shown interest in creating such a camera.

Now, Cactus has massively increased cross-platform utility by announcing a free firmware upgrade to their Cactus V6 II radio remote control flash system, which allows Canon, Nikon or Olympus flashes to be used with most other brand cameras with either on-camera TTL or remote radio cross-TTL capability!

This is awesome, but wait, there’s more, the Cactus V6 II x-TTL also allows:

  • remote control of flash unit output, even below 1/128th level for ultra short, motion-stopping shots
  • automatic zoom level control of flashes
  • Super FP or HSS mode (but Pentax and Sony cameras need a brand-specific flash for this to work)
  • Power Sync mode to allow a faster flash sync without losing flash output as occurs in Super FP/HSS mode
  • two unique new flash exposure modes:
    • Flash Compensate – store a desired flash exposure that will automatically adjust according to changes in camera settings.
    • Flash Power Lock – lock flash power output after a desired TTL exposure is achieved, for consistency in repeat shooting.

See my wikipedia page for more information of remote control of flashes.

 And, of course, this also also fantastic news for Micro Four Thirds users who can now have radio TTL flash on their Olympus and Panasonic cameras – even with Canon flashes!

It seems Olympus has finally ditched manufacture of Four Thirds lenses to concentrate on Micro Four Thirds

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

According to Four-Thirds.org and highlighted by dpreview.com, unsurprisingly, it seems Olympus has decided to discontinue manufacture of their superb range of Four Thirds lenses designed for Four Thirds dSLRs – which they stopped making several years ago.

The Four Thirds dSLR system was introduced 14 years ago and introduced many innovations such as telecentric lens design to optimise digital sensors, Live View, sensor based image stabilisation, and sensor cleaning, but it was their High Grade and Super High Grade Four Thirds lenses which drew many like myself to this system – these lenses were amongst the best optically corrected lenses ever made – for example, nothing that Canon had made came close to the Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4 lens, and the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 was more compact, optically better and with closer focus than what Canon or Nikon provided in the focal length range of 100-400mm for a full frame.

Alas, these lenses were often no smaller than full frame lenses and often not that much cheaper which meant most professionals quite rightly could not see the value in the system, while in the mirrorless world, these lenses were not optimised for CDAF which is the main AF technology used in most mirrorless cameras.

With the removal of the mirror, and the development of the far more popular and more compact Micro Four Thirds system, Olympus and Panasonic have a winner in their hands, and as could be expected, are putting all their R&D into this system – both having now given up on the ill-fated Four Thirds system.

New in-camera optical distortion correction technologies and the shorter sensor to lens flange distance has given the Olympus engineers more freedom to create smaller, lighter, more affordable lenses than their Four Thirds counterparts could ever be – albeit sacrificing optical distortion as a priority in lens design.

Olympus and Panasonic have already created a great range of Micro Four Thirds lenses, and Olympus has said it will now concentrate on developing new wide aperture prime lenses – to continue on from their 1st digital f/1.2 lens,  the superb Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2 lens and the amazing Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 OIS lens.

There is a lot to look forward to, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with – perhaps a 9mm or 12mm f/1.2 for Milky Way astrophotography (Panasonic already have their superb 12mm f/1.4 and Olympus have a great ground breaking f/1.8 fisheye lens), perhaps a 100mm f/1.4 and a 200mm f/2.4?

 

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

Friday, February 24th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E-M1 Mark II play back options:

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

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

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

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

Advantages of dual slots:

Insurance against card corruption, damage or loss:

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

Some insurance against accidental deletion in camera:

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

Faster saving of RAW+jpeg rapid burst:

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

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

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

More capacity within the camera:

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

Playback zoom when capturing RAW + small jpeg:

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

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

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

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

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

Disadvantages of Dual mode:

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

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

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

 My firmware suggestions:

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

 

 

 

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

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

I have been battling this issue for years and it is not an easy one on many fronts:

  • First there is the issue of organising your photos so that you can find them again
  • Secondly is making sure you have your images backed up – preferably in at least two physically separate environments (and preferably on another location in case your house gets burnt down or you are burgled and your computer disks are stolen)
  • Thirdly is a workflow mechanism to generate the highest quality images you can extract from your camera
  • Fourth, is a workflow mechanism to post-process the images to your desired taste
  • Fifth, is a workflow mechanism to output an appropriately sharpened and resized image to your target, be it web or a printer

On this blog post, I will be looking only at the first 3 issues and will be discussing what I have found on my Windows machines – I don’t use MacBooks and these have their own issue with hiding where they keep your photos and the Time Machine backup process becoming corrupt – when was the last time you backed up your Time Machine onto new drives kept elsewhere and how old are the drives in your Time Machine? I prefer manual back up methods so I know it is done and where they all are.

Digital photography has made many aspects much easier BUT it is also much easier to lose lots of your photos if you are not careful and take steps to back them up safely and securely – remember too that hard drives and USB sticks and memory cards all have a finite life – you do need to constantly create new backups on new drives!

We are often our own worst enemy in backing up – a few years ago I had thought that I had backed up several month’s worth of photos from my computer before I replaced it only to discover a year later there are no backups and the originals were all deleted and the computer and drives sent to the rubbish. OUCH!!! YOU MUST KEEP AT LEAST TWO COPIES ON DIFFERENT DRIVES!

I have heard of people backing up their RAW files to the Cloud and that is all and good as an additional measure if you have fast internet and you don’t mind paying an ongoing subscription to store them there.

Disclaimer: There are many options for your workflow, this is just one that is sort of working for me but it may well be too complicated for your needs and you may wish to  simplify it or use something totally different – either way it may highlight a few issues of which you may not be aware.

If you don’t really care about your image quality, just shoot jpegs, copy them to your phone, then upload them into Instagram, apply some image degrading “filter” and post online like most other people – if the content is interesting, the 1 second that people look at your small web image, they hopefully won’t notice the poor post-processing.

The Adobe Lightroom approach:

I have used Lightroom for a few years having given up on Adobe Photoshop when Adobe decided you must have an ongoing monthly subscription payment to use it, and I figured that as I try to get everything as best I can in the camera and I am not a “digital artist”, I can get by without the extra benefits of Photoshop such as layers, etc.

For newbies, Lightroom is a weird beast – unlike most software packages where you can just open a file, view it and edit it, Lightroom forces you to:

  1. create a “Lightroom Catalogue” – a folder system in which is stored your edits and previews
  2. “import” your photos into the catalogue – doesn’t actually store your photos in there, just thumbnail previews and any edits
  3. make a local copy of your photos during import if your folder from which you are importing your photos is a “removable medium” such as a memory card (whether it is external or internal), external USB stick. Lightroom will actually also automatically copy all the photos into a new folder on your computer, by default, in your Pictures folder under the year of import – this is a massive pain if you are using a laptop with minimal free hard disk space! Wouldn’t it be great if Adobe would just put an option in there as to whether or not you want to copy files during import?
  4. use the LR Library folder directory to view you photos inside Lightroom at a later date, you must go to the “Library” section, find the original drive and folder where it was imported from (or to). If Windows has renamed the drive for an external drive, or you have copied the photos to a different folder, you need to right click on the now disabled Library folder highlighted with a ? and select Find Missing Folder and then re-allocate it the new folder location.

The advantages of this process in Lightroom is that for users who have plenty of space on their computer’s hard drive, they can consolidate all their photos in one place and have them catalogued and easily searched using keywords, etc.

The disadvantage is that the catalogue itself can quickly become huge and risk corruption (hence LR reminds you to back it up via its own backup system) or running out of memory. For users who use external hard drives to store their photos, they may have to constantly go through the Find Missing folder process.

A disadvantage of Lightroom for Olympus users is that the RAW conversion within Adobe products requires a lot of sophisticated tweaking to get a similar output as the Olympus camera or Olympus Viewer software in terms of the much lauded “Olympus colours”.

If you are using a new camera such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, you may need LR6 or LR CC to be able to read and edit the RAW files, or you can download the free Adobe DNG Converter and convert them to DNG RAW files which LR5 will read, or you can use Olympus Viewer 3 to convert them to TIFF files.

A solution to getting “Olympus colors” in LR is to initially use Olympus Viewer 3 (a free download) to edit your RAW images (ORF files) and then export them into 16 bit TIFF files which can then be further processed in Lightroom. BUT Olympus Viewer is slow and has a few issues you need to beware of (see below), and the TIFF files are HUGE 88Mb for 16mp shots and 118Mb for 20Mp shots.

A virtual drive to the rescue   …. or not:

A solution to this last issue which I have come up with, is to create a virtual folder using Truecrypt (this is no longer supported but you can download Veracrypt for free to access the Truecrypt files or create Veracrypt versions).

There are two advantages to using Truecrypt/Veracrypt:

  • you gain control over which drive letter gets assigned when you mount the file as a virtual drive
  • by default, the files are encrypted so thieves won’t easily get access to all your family pics

A recent problem I have ran into is that Windows 10 Anniversary Edition – yes that lovely new version Microsoft forced upon us – does not play well with these virtual drives – even when you nicely close them down (dismount) before closing Windows – I was getting regular file corruptions, even without Windows closing, but just on dismounting the drive, and running Windows chkdsk just deleted these files and all my photos (lucky I keep back ups elsewhere!).

I seem to have remedied this corruption issue by selecting the “Mount as Removable Medium” in the Veracrypt mount options (although corruptions and file deletions still occasionally occur so keep an up to date back up!) BUT now if I import photos from within these virtual drives into Lightroom, it insists on creating copies of every photo onto my laptop hard drive with minimal free space.

My laptop does have a microSD slot in which I have a microSD card to provide additional “hard drive” memory but as it only has one USB port, to get my photos from my camera’s SD card onto a Truecrypt virtual drive which resides on a USB external hard drive, I must first copy them to the microSD card, then remove the SD card reader and attach the USB hard drive, mount the virtual Truecrypt drive but this time not as removable medium (keep my fingers crossed it won’t be corrupted by Windows 10 on this episode), copy the photos from the microSD card to the virtual drive, then run Lightroom and create a new Catalogue saved to the virtual drive, and then import the photos from the virtual drive. Close Lightroom, dismount the virtual drive, then remount it with the Removable Medium option checked and then all should be well.

Now, of course, I could have opened Lightroom after attaching the SD card reader and SD card, Lightroom would have detected the card and offered to import the photos and possibly I could have changed the destination folder for the copies to be the microSD card – but 1. I don’t trust LR to do this and not miss copying some files, and 2. after I copied the microSD card photos to the virtual drive, I would have to do the Find Missing Folder process again.

Once I am happy that I have all the photos securely copied, I then make a copy of the dismounted Truecrypt file onto another hard drive – but these files can be quite large depending on how large you want them to be – for example if I shoot 200 RAW shots with large jpegs and I need space for processed TIFFs etc, then I may select 20-25Gb as a FAT32 encrypted file. Don’t forget your password to mount the file!!

One disadvantage of this is that you fragment your “library” into multiple smaller catalogues but to me the advantage of keeping your LR catalogue data together with your photos on the one drive and your catalogue remains small and manageable, outweighs this.

The Olympus Viewer 3 approach:

Olympus Viewer 3 is free to download for registered purchasers of Olympus cameras.

When I first used it to convert my RAW photos to TIFF I was shocked at the poor quality – lots of smudged image details on pixel peeping which I was not used to seeing in my Adobe RAW conversions.

I then discovered something which had not occurred to me – the TIFF export process in Olympus Viewer 3, although it has a few basic options in the dialog box, doesn’t warn you that, by default, the TIFF file it is going to create will be based upon the camera settings when the RAW file was shot – so essentially it is going to make a TIFF file version of your jpeg settings – and if you are like me who uses Vivid Picture Style or other styles to gain faster AF, these will, by default be applied to your TIFF file.

Thankfully, OV3 allows one to change all of these settings and then even save them as a settings file which can then later be applied to a batch export.

So, I set Picture Style to Natural (or you can choose Portrait for perhaps a little more dynamic range and less contrast), turned OFF the noise filter, Gradation normal, Contrast 0, Saturation 0, and set Sharpening to minus 2.

In addition to the saved My settings file, you can create a Batch Processing Settings File with your preferred parameters:

  • in the main OV window click on a RAW file and INSTEAD of clicking on the RAW icon, click on the EDIT icon
  • this will take you to a different RAW edit window – ensure your processing settings are as you would like them
  • select from the menu, [Edit] then [Save batch Editing File] and then you can save this file for later use in the Export dialog under Advanced Settings

My lovely TIFFs were back again without any over-processed digitized artefacts, and all ready for me to play with them in Lightroom.

You can also use the OV Export function to create resized jpegs with your Olympus colors – just change the Export dialog settings accordingly, but in this case you may want to create a special batch processing file that applies some sharpening, etc.

Olympus Viewer also copies versions of your images to a cache folder on your hard drive – so if you are space challenged like me, make sure you clear the cache every so often! See Tools:Database:Clear Cache.

Summary workflow:

  • Copy RAW files to computer drive (if you don’t wish to take the SD card out of your camera, you could use a USB cable and OV or LR will copy them across to the hard drive for you but this will be a slower option if your camera or computer is only using USB 2.0 instead of USB 3.0)
  • Open Olympus Viewer and select the folder, then press Ctrl-A to Select ALL
  • Click on RAW icon this will open the RAW Development module
  • If you have already saved your favorite development settings in a file, use the My Settings to select that file and the settings will be applied to all of your RAW files you have selected.
  • Click on the Export button and set destination, 16 bit TIFF, etc in the subsequent dialog box then press Save to export the files – this will take some time.
  • Then the 16 bit TIFF files can be imported into Lightroom or whatever software you wish to use.

Other RAW conversion options:

There are a number of software packages available which you can use to convert your RAW photo files into TIFFs or jpegs.

Perhaps the best for Olympus users is Capture One Pro but this will cost you 279EUR + VAT if you live in Europe. It is said to give colours close to the “Olympus colors” and is faster and has more editing tools than are available in Olympus Viewer.

Photographers will all have their own personal likes and dislikes with each of these packages.

See my wiki page for more info on these for Olympus users.

Could the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II be the most versatile and accomplished camera ever made?

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Now that is a big claim, but after having a considerable hands on with this flagship Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera from Olympus, I am starting to think it may well be.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II may not be the best in class of every single feature, but, it sure has so many features in a compact, light camera that the overall capabilities will address nearly every need with adequate service, and it has some amazing features which allow unprecedented tools to allow you to capture moments of time with accurate focus and incredible speed.

The original Olympus OM-D E-M5 revolutionised the mirrorless camera world by bring all the main pieces together in a compact, light package – nice EVF, excellent IS, good image quality, good retro looks but it had one great deficit – inability to AF on fast moving subjects. The E-M1 mark I was a step in the right direction at addressing this with the introduction of sensor based PDAF, but it is really the E-M1 mark II that finally addresses this shortcoming and builds upon it in many ways – birds in flight are now within the reach of those carrying small, light kits.

Let’s have a look at the feature set.

Take anywhere camera and great for airline travel

A camera is of little use to you if you don’t take it with you.

The compact, light size of the camera and lenses mean you can take a camera and flash in jacket pockets or even a larger hand bag to social events, and the size won’t draw too much attention, and won’t be as intimidating as a larger dSLR.

You can carry a couple E-M1 cameras and a few lenses on cabin luggage and still be well under the usual 7.5kg cabin limit.

A friend of mine last week was boarding an international flight with business class ticket and the airline refused to allow his camera bag as cabin luggage as it was too heavy, and forced him to put it through check in luggage – that was the last he saw of his $20,000 full frame camera gear – and not covered by his travel insurance!

The small size of the Olympus also means you can have lighter and less expensive tripod heads – if you need a tripod!

Unobtrusive and silent

The lack of a mirror means the camera is far less noisy than a dSLR, and in its default mode is very quiet, but can be made silent by choosing the electronic silent shutter mode. In addition, most of the lenses are near silent during focus. This means they are great at classical music concerts, the ballet, weddings, etc.

Silent mode can automatically turn off AF beep, AF illuminator and flash mode.

A dSLR needs to be put into cumbersome mirror lock up mode to have any chance of getting as quiet as this, but then you are forced to use a bright rear annoying LCD screen instead of the viewfinder.

Even heavy rain will not stop you

With perhaps the best weathersealing in the business, one can be confident shooting with it in the rain – as long as the lens is also weathersealed as well!

Although Olympus do not recommend getting it wet unnecessarily, it will survive a bottle of water being poured over it – although one should protect the hotshoe pins and ensure all seals are in place.

Image quality

Smaller sensor cameras such as the Olympus will not match the latest full frame sensor image quality in terms of high ISO image noise and dynamic range, but the E-M1 II is sufficiently high in image quality for most purposes and at low ISO levels, where it will mainly be used, surpasses the full frame dSLRs such as the Canon 6D and Canon 5D Mark III in terms of dynamic range.

If one needs depth of field then the E-M1 II can potentially match these full frame dSLRs by being able to use 2 stops wider aperture and thus shoot 2 stops lower ISO which negates the advantage of the full frame cameras.

Furthermore, the superb, class leading image stabilisation combined with wide aperture lenses mean it is rare to need high ISO levels, and allows much longer shutter speeds hand held than any other camera currently available.

Image quality is not just dynamic range and sensor noise, optics are a critical component, and the smaller sensor allows more affordable high quality lenses with better edge-to-edge image quality, and less softening away from the centre than many full frame lenses.

When one needs high resolution 50mp images, the E-M1 II has a sensor shift multiple image technology which allows 50mp images to be obtained – this does require use of a tripod and is only for static scenes. An alternative approach to high resolution images is by use of panoramic stitches.

Camera shake is a critical element which impairs image quality and comes from 3 main sources:

  • hand held camera shake – here the E-M1 II is class leading in preventing this – one can carefully hand hold a wide angle lens down to more than 2 seconds with acceptable results!
  • mirror slap – this only occurs with dSLRs, and not with mirrorless cameras such as the E-M1. For best results on a dSLR, you need to use a tripod and mirror lock up – very cumbersome and clunky indeed
  • mechanical shutter shake – most modern cameras including the E-M1 II allow 1st shutter to be electronic to avoid this issue (these are the diamond “AntiShock” or silent heart shaped settings on the E-M1′s drive modes)

Bottom line – the E-M1 II will give better image quality than your old 35mm film, and be competitive with some full frame dSLRs, and easily beat the image quality of my $5000 Canon 1D mark III pro dSLR of 2007 which was at that time Canon’s flagship sports dSLR. For most uses this is plenty image quality – for those that need more then a a heavy, super expensive medium format digital system will be even better than the big, heavy Sony a7R II or Nikon D810 full frame dSLRs – its just a matter of how big, heavy and expensive you can manage.

Ask yourself, are all those wonderful, famous images over the past 50 years taken with manual focus 35mm film cameras at f/8 with nearly everything in focus, no longer great photos because their “image quality” is not as good as a modern full frame dSLR or E-M1 Mark II – of course not!

Don’t get too hung up on pixel quality – there is far more to a photograph than just pixels!

Capturing the moment

No matter how good the camera’s image quality, it is useless if it gets in the way of you capturing the image or does not have the tools to allow you to capture the more difficult shots.

The E-M1 II has these tools a plenty.

Mechanical shutter speed to 1/8000th sec.

Electronic shutter speed to 1/32,000th sec!

Burst rates to 18fps with continuous autofocus and up to 60fps with AF only on 1st shot.

Shooting an unpredictable fast moving scene such as a bullet passing through balloons, or a lizard’s tongue capturing an insect – no problem – just use pro-Capture mode!

Pro-Capture mode allows you to capture a set number of images at a user predetermine frame rate from the moment you half press the shutter to the moment you press the shutter, and then continue capturing a user determined number of images after the shutter is pressed. This can be achieved in full electronic silent shutter mode.

This addresses the issue of human error due to human reflex response times and eradicates any shutter lag issues – of course it helps if you have focus locked already.

Now you could fill up your memory card by shooting at 60fps and save up to the last 14 frames prior to full shutter release and then a set amount up to 99 or an unlimited amount after the shutter is fully pressed.

Depending upon your subject and needs you may prefer to shoot at 15fps and capture only 5 frames prior and 10 frames after – it is very customisable and unlike most other cameras with this new feature – you can shoot in full RAW file type not just 4K jpeg with images extracted from a 4K video stream.

Even if this was introduced on a dSLR, I just couldn’t imagine the dSLR mirror flopping up and down at rates faster than 15fps – and it would sure be noisy!

Unprecedented high image quality hand holdable telephoto reach

Matched with the brilliant Olympus mZD micro Zuiko 300mm f/4 OIS lens and Dual IS giving 6.5EV image stabilisation and superb image quality with incredible resolving power, the possibilities are endless – the lighter weight, weathersealed kit will allow you to carry it further into the jungle and you can get away with not bringing a big heavy tripod along.

This is just impossible with a full frame dSLR and if you wanted 600mm telephoto reach you are paying a lot more money and carrying a lot of heavy gear – unlike the Olympus kit, you won’t get that on cabin luggage!

Fast, accurate focus with many tools to assist in focus of difficult subjects

This topic deserves a lot of in depth analysis so I will do this in a future blog post.

In short though:

Ever since the Olympus OM-D E-M5 was introduced, Olympus took the lead over dSLRs for fast, accurate autofocus on static contrasty subjects, and the E-M1 Mark II has extended this. Unlike dSLRs, there is no need to calibrate each lens for accuracy. To see how fast and accurate these Olympus cameras are, you can resort to the rear touch screen mode  where you can touch a subject on the screen and almost instantly, the camera will AF lock on that subject no matter where they are in the frame then immediately take the photo – and this speed is capable with many Micro Four Thirds lenses.

The Olympus cameras also have featured a very handy, accurate closest eye autodetection autofocus feature which allows you to capture the subject’s closest eye in focus no matter where in the frame it is – as long as you give sufficient time (usually much less than 1 sec) and the subject’s face is visible to the camera and not moving too much. Great for static portraits! This is not possible with most other cameras, and the only dSLR that can do this, the Nikon D750, only allows it for when the eye is near the centre of the frame where the AF points are located.

These mirrorless cameras have AF sensors spread across most of the image area unlike dSLRs which tend to only have AF points near the center, means you have more versatility, and speed in locking AF when the subject is off-center – and who really wants their subject in the center?

Release priority settings allow user to set camera so that one can hold the shutter pressed but it will only take the shot when a AF lock is acquired  – a very handy technique.

In situations where AF can be difficult, one can set the camera to use rear-button autofocus lock and disable the half-press shutter AF lock – this allows you to obtain AF by pressing the rear button and then just wait until the moment you want to capture occurs.

If one has to resort to manual focus, these OM-D cameras also allow image stabilised magnified view through the viewfinder or on the LCD screen as well as focus peaking option which highlights the area in focus. In addition, even in magnified view mode, the shutter can be allowed to half-press to AF lock on the magnified view area! (“LV Close Up Settings” under D2 menu). The MF assist functions of magnified view and focus peaking can be set to automatically temporarily activate when MF ring is turned. I person prefer to manually activate the magnified view by allocating it to a function button.

If you have ever tried manually focusing a tilt-shift lens in an optical viewfinder of a dSLR, you will appreciate how useful these tools are!

In addition, most of the higher end lenses have a MF clutch mechanism which not only allows rapid selection of MF instead of AF, but gives a better MF ring experience with end stops and MF distance scale. Many of these lenses also have a Lens Function Button which can be programmed to do various jobs such as halt AF temporarily when the subject goes out of the frame.

Furthermore, there are instances where you want even more depth of field – the latest OM-D cameras, including this one, have both manual focus bracketing and automatic in-camera focus stacking modes to allow a series of shots with user customised focus settings to combine photos of a close subject, mid subject and distant subject to give an overall sharp in focus image – this is particularly useful for macro work to get the whole subject in focus, and also for close up wide angle landscapes.

In addition, the E-M1 Mark II takes the photographer far beyond this capability with the following tools:

  • PDAF sensors for faster moving subjects – although not quite as fast and reliable as the latest Nikon sports dSLR, but impressive indeed for a mirrorless camera and adequate for most users and even birds in flight which is notoriously difficult. Birds in flight is now “easy” see comments on this blog.
  • User customisable in-camera focus range limiter - this is an awesome unique tool – user can set the closest focus and the most distant focus which the AF system will range through trying to find a subjevt to lock onto. Not only does this speed up AF lock acquisition, but can be used to ignore distracting foregrounds or backgrounds such as wire fences, windows, foreground foliage, etc. It will work with all Micro Four Thirds AF lenses and on my testing, works with both Panasonic and Olympus Four Thirds lenses but not with Canon EF lenses using the Metabones adapter. Current dSLRs have to settle for the much less useful lens based focus limiters which only have 2 or 3 set ranges.
  • C-AF tracking algorithm parameters can be customised in a similar manner to sports dSLRs eg. AF scanner mode, C-AF lock sensitivity setting
  • Preset MF allows one to be in MF mode with focus set to a user set distance (easily set by using AF or magnified MF beforehand), and then potentially, use the rear button to AF on another part of the scene, then quickly reset back to the preset MF distance ala focus pulling method of video work – this could be very handy indeed!
  • AF targeting pad – the rear LCD can be swiveled out and used as a touch screen to select the AF point while viewing the image through the viewfinder – awesome for off-centered subjects, and as the screen can swivel out, your nose wont accidentally move the AF point. One can set Fn1 button to reset the AF point to the center point.

Exposure and previsualisation tuning tools

Modern cameras are amazingly sophisticated in getting exposures what they think is optimum for a given scene – they access a massive database of similar scenes to determine the best way to set exposure. If they detect a face, they will tend to expose for the face and ignore the background.

The OM-D cameras take this further thanks to their electronic viewfinder which, unlike the optical viewfinders on dSLRs, allows:

  • WYSIWYG view – if you adjust exposure compensation to under-expose, the view will change to be darker to reflect this change
  • exposure aids such as Live Histogram and Highlight/Shadow warnings which are extremely useful in determining where in the image the image will end uo featureless and blown out unless you adjust exposure. If you use spot metering, this area displays on the histogram in green.
  • pre-visualisation aids such as WYSIWYG monotone or picture styles, image aspect ratio, Colour Creator, white balance, ART filter effects, keystone adjustment as well as visually compose your 2 frame multiple exposure which would be very difficult with an optical viewfinder!
  • Live Boost for darker scenes or when using flash as a main light source
  • “optical viewfinder mode” – attempts to give a more natural view without the WYSIWYG feature or Art Filters or picture style effects
  • grid overlays such as rule of thirds
  • dual electronic level overlays
  • keystone compensation

High level of customisation

For better or worse, the Olympus cameras have an incredible amount of customisation possible which can be very confusing to the newbie (the newbie can always resort to iAUTO mode).

Nearly every control can be allocated different functions depending on the user’s needs, and with the E-M1 Mark II, these can now be stored in one of the 3 custom settings and selected on the top right PASM dial as well as saved to a PC and reloaded from a PC.

An example – the “2×2″ lever which normally allows the twin dials to gain different functions, can be re-allocated to be the POWER ON-OFF switch while the named power switch is disabled – very handy indeed for those wanting just right handed operation of the camera.

No need for your reading glasses!!!

Us older guys who need reading glasses to operate dSLRs can survive very well without them using the OM-D cameras.

You can see all the main settings at a glance in the EVF by pressing the OK button and then can adjust any of them.

You can visualise a playback image through the EVF and even magnify it.

You can visualise the full menu system in the EVF and adjust any parameters.

When using my Canon 1D mark III dSLR, I have to take my reading glasses off to take the shot looking through the viewfinder, and then put them back on to playback the image, change the menu, or view the top LCD screen – and this constant swapping is extremely frustrating and risks breaking the glasses and losing the shot and losing your interaction with your subject who then thinks you are inept.

High resolution “scans” of film

Gone are the days where you need to buy an expensive, slow film scanner to digitize your negatives and slides.

Set the camera up on a tripod with a macro lens, and a light source beneath your film (eg. an iPad with a diffuser).

The articulating rear screen makes ergonomics of macro work so much easier and the magnified view makes accurate manual or auto focus a breeze.

If you want high resolution 50mp jpegs / 64Mb RAW files, just turn on the High Resolution mode.

Very nice hand held “run and gun” video

In addition to the now standard 1080HD video, the E-M1 Mark II sports high quality 4K 24/30p video, but perhaps more importantly, the class leading image stabilisation works extremely well in video mode so that you can get away without having big, heavy tripods or stabilisation rigs.

The forthcoming Panasonic GH5 will provide even better 4K video quality, but for most people, the E-M1 Mark II’s video will suffice.

Easy to use flash:

PC sync port as well as a flash hotshoe.

Olympus flash units are generally more simple to use than Canon or Nikon flashes, and of course there is remote optical TTL flash (“RC mode”) as well as high speed sync modes (“Super FP”) and flash sync is a nice fast 1/250th sec – better than most full frame dSLRs.

In the studio setting, or darker indoors when using flash as you main light source, you can use Manual exposure mode (but still with automatic TTL flash if desired) and have the viewfinder automatically change from a the usual WYSIWYG ambient light mode (which will appear too dark if your manual exposure is set to grossly underexpose the ambient light) to a more useful optimised view mode.

Unfortunately, Olympus in their wisdom has added a 5th hotshoe pin in the last few models to accommodate a power supply to certain flash units. This means one can no longer safely just attach a Canon style flash unit as I suspect the flash unit may not appreciate the power supply. HOWEVER, by using the PC sync and manual flash exposure, one can achieve fairly even scene coverage at shutter speed of even 1/500th sec which will be very handy for outdoor sunlit shooting.

Smartphone WiFi wireless remote control

This is very cool indeed – the ability to remotely see the live camera image on the smartphone, change camera settings remotely, and then select the AF area by touching the desired subject on the smartphone resulting in AF lock on the subject anywhere in the frame and immediate shutter release and image transferred back to the smartphone.

Just awesome – next time you are in a lightning storm, have the camera set up on the tripod in the rain with a lens hood on to prevent rain hitting front lens glass, then remotely control the camera from the safety and comfort of your car.

Obviously this is also very cool when traveling without a PC – just transfer images wirelessly to your iPad or iPhone and then upload to internet.

Night photography features

The E-M1 Mark II has dramatically improved long exposure thermal noise to such an extent that one may be able to avoid using the “Noise Reduction” automatic dark frame noise subtraction technology which effectively doubles the length of your long exposures.

It has improved high ISO noise compared to previous models but still 1-2EV worse than current full frame cameras, but you can still get good image quality of Milky Way astroscapes using a wide angle f/2 lens at ISO 1600 or 3200 at 20sec exposures if that is what you are into.

The EVF can also be set to a Live Boost mode to allow better visualisation and manual focus of dim objects such as stars and, optionally, boosted even further to Live Boost 2 mode to assist in composition of very dark scenes – although the frame rate of the EVF is very slow and not great for focus, and really only suitable for tripod work.

AF on relatively bright stars is easy with a lens f/4 or brighter – just choose a single AF point instead of a block of points – if your lens is not as wide an aperture or the star dimmer, consider using AFL with the in-camera focus limiter to stop the focus hunting so much. If you really get stuck, use magnified MF mode – and even try AFL whilst magnified!

Preset MF mode – just in case you accidentally turn the MF ring – you may as well lock it in as a preset MF so you can quickly return to sharp focus!

In addition it has the interesting and very cool unique long exposure modes of the previous Olympus models:

  • Live Time and Live BULB – unlike dSLRs which don’t get past 30secs for long exposure timed shots, the Olympus cameras can get to 60secs and in addition, visually display the progress of the image “development” so you can assess the exposure. If you want longer timed BULB, just use normal BULB and set the maximum duration for 1,2,4 or 8 minutes, but in this mode there is no visual update of the image on screen.
  • Live Composite – allows an initial scene exposure shot then a user customisable number of further images, but with only the brighter areas added to the original image which prevents the original scene becoming over-exposed. Great for car light trails, fireworks, star trails, etc.

Other features:

  • automatic eye sensor EVF switching
  • fully articulated, swivel touch screen
  • dual SD card slots including one UHS-II compatible slot
  • in-camera automatic HDR as well as manual HDR modes
  • Timelapse mode up to 999 frames
  • Timelapse movies at 4K 5fps, 1080HD 5/10/15fps
  • Multi-exposure mode to automatically combine 2 photos with optional auto-gain (the original one can be one on the memory card or a previous multi-exposure RAW file which thus allows unlimited multi-exposures)
  • keystone compensation
  • Automatic flicker reduction with flourescent lighting (or you can choose 50Hz or 60Hz, or turn it off)
  • AF illuminator built-in (no flash required)
  • ART filters to help previsualise images as well as create special effects
  • Colour Creator image toning and colour control
  • in-camera RAW processing to create new jpegs in playback mode
  • Selfie assist mode – automatically reverses the image on the swivel screen when facing the subject
  • USB 3.0 port
  • stereo mic, mic port, headphone port, audio level controls
  • optional battery portrait grip
  • optional underwater housing

What’s missing?

Like all cameras, there are necessary compromises, some of these relate to the sensor size such as:

  • ability to achieve ultra shallow depth of field with wide angle lenses or with most zoom lenses (for most purposes you can achieve an adequate level of shallow depth of field using the E-M1 Mark II with wide aperture prime lenses or a f/2.8 telephoto zoom). Of course, it won’t be long before cameras will have the new iPhone 7 portrait feature of intelligent software blurring of the background which you can do now in computer software but is time consuming and difficult to get the same effect that the lens paints on a full frame camera with a 35mm f/1.4 lens or 85mm f/1.2 lens.
  • high ISO performance for low light action subjects, although the noise levels at ISO 1600-3200 should suffice for most uses, and made up for with its other advantages such as hand holdable telephoto reach, and wide aperture telephoto lenses giving more depth of field and allowing lower ISO by using a wider aperture.
  • single shot high resolution 50mp capability

Other features that are missing and issues:

  • no Scene modes to assist newbies in photographing sunsets, fireworks, etc. – all other Olympus digital cameras have these, but it seems Olympus has taken a leaf out of the Canon and Nikon books and left this beginner’s easy presets out of their pro camera – presumably as no space on the PASM dial after they added the 3 custom settings
    • this means no Panorama mode at all! – you need to manually ensure WB, exposure and focus are all locked then take your shots and then stitch them on a computer software package such as Lightroom
  • no built-in GPS – not really needed but some may like it, the rest of us can use the smartphone app to achieve the image tagging
  • no built-in popup flash – but comes with a small bundled flash unit which can act as a master remote TTL flash controller
  • not able to use shutter speeds faster than 1/50th sec in silent electronic shutter mode as top of frame not illuminated – the GH-5 can sync to 1/2000th sec in electronic shutter mode – presumably thanks to a faster or different designed readout.
  • unable to use the older BLN style batteries – new, larger batteries are needed
  • no sweep panorama mode – I must admit this mode on some cameras doesn’t make sense to me – if you want good quality images you should not be moving the camera during the shot – I won’t be missing this.
  • in-camera panorama stitching – you will need software to do this and you need to manually lock settings for each image so they look similar
  • radio TTL remote wireless flash control – PocketWizards have created a third party option for Panasonic GH4 so hopefully they will produce an OM-D version, and Nissin have just announced a Micro Four Thirds version of their Nissin Air System which works on 2.4Ghz radio frequency for remote TTL flash. See my wiki page on radio flash options.
  • Lightroom 5 will not open the RAW ORF files – you will need to upgrade to Lightroom 6, or use Adobe Raw converter to convert RAW to DNG (does not currently read the 64Mb HiRes RAW files), or use Olympus Viewer 3 to slowly convert to 100mb TIFF files as Lightroom 5 will read the DNG or TIFF files
  • Windows File Explorer or photo app does not display these ORF files yet – needs an updated codec to be installed but it seems this is not available as yet
  • you may need to update firmware for some lenses – eg. Sigma has just released an update for the 30mm f/1.4 MFT lens
  • unanswered questions – does the EVF fog up in high humidity as occurs with my E-M1 mark I and E-M5 mark I?

There are some firmware improvements I would like to see:

  • INTRODUCE AN OPTIONAL ARTIFICIAL LOUD SHUTTER SOUND – the shutter is so silent, subject’s don’t know when you have taken the shot and they can move
  • ability to set the auto ISO default slowest shutter speed to (image stabilisation effectiveness in EV / focal length) x user EV setting
    • the Olympus default is 1/focal length which doesn’t allow the user to utilise the image stabilisation capabilities to its full effect and doesn’t even take into account the 2x crop factor effect
    • having a user EV setting as a user variable allows the user to take control of how much they trust the IS and their hand holding skills
  • ability to toggle AF targeting pad ON/OFF via a button – currently cannot allocate this function to a button
  • Release Priority S = OFF is not honored when AF mode is S3 thus cannot have AF locked and press shutter and wait until subject enters focus distance before shutter fires, admittedly honoring this could create problems for users who use back button AFL then recompose as shutter would not release at all and would confuse them – maybe there needs to be an additional setting?
  • AF with Four Thirds lenses is still too slow – perhaps even slower than when using Canon EF lenses with a Metabones adapter!
  • add a Panorama mode to make this easier than manually locking all the settings for each shot
  • ability to select AF sensor mode: hybrid vs PDAF vs CDAF
    • this would potentially give the photographer even more control, but perhaps more importantly, allow companies like Metabones to get certain Canon lenses to autofocus fast and accurately on the camera (for example the Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens just won’t autofocus properly – and even on a Sony a7RII, one must select PDAF mode not CDAF mode for it to work, most other Canon lenses will AF fine on both these cameras with a Metabones adapter, although not as fast as a Micro Four Thirds lens on the E-M1 II).
  • option to have spot meter coincide with the current single AF point – the Mark II as with prior OM-D models always keeps spot meter in the centre
  • firmware bug causing issues with Panasonic Leica 100-400mm lens focal limiter – PS.. Panasonic has issued a firmware update for the lens to fix this.
  • ability to use the aperture ring on some Panasonic lenses
    • there are not that many lenses with aperture rings but it shouldn’t be that hard to add that fuctionality and make it useful
  • ability to use Dual IS with Panasonic OIS lenses
    • if Panasonic and Olympus want to continue the paradigm of a unified Micro Four Thirds system, they need to work a bit closer together to improve compatibilities – Panasonic cameras will not do Dual IS with Olympus OIS lenses either, while panasonic cameras don’t have the lens database data to allow Panasonic’s DFD AF technology to work with Olympus lenses or Panasonic Four Thirds lenses for that matter.
    • in the interim, probably best to turn the lens IS off when using Panasonic lenses
    • on a similar vein, the ProCapture mode is said to only work with Olympus M.Zuiko lenses.

Firmware updates Olympus are allegedly working on:

  • Adding ‘Auto ISO’ capability to manual video shooting
  • Allowing for control of autofocus racking speed while shooting video
  • Clarifying and enhancing customizability of continuous autofocus behavior beyond the current -2 to +2 ‘tight to loose’ scale
  • Working on the AF algorithm to improve tracking performance
  • Enable the ability to enter playback and menus while the buffer is clearing

Final word:

This is one hell of a photographer’s tool but so feature laden and customisable that one really needs a good grounding in photography and a preparedness to learn how to use these features to avoid being frustrated with its complexity.

That said, beginners can resort to just using iAUTO mode and even using the rear LCD screen to touch a subject to focus and take the shot.

It is indeed a camera to grow into, but having come from the E-M1 it does feel very natural in the hands with similar ergonomics – although the menu system has been revamped for the better.

Finally, the camera is only part of the equation – the great range of high quality dedicated lenses for the camera is probably the biggest reason to choose this system, and it seems Olympus is preparing to announce even more nice lenses soon – the rumour is wide aperture telephoto prime lenses – here’s hoping for a 100mm f/1.4 and a 200mm f/2.8.

Affordable compact mirrorless cameras for the parent wanting to capture their child or pet

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

Most parents, even if they are not photographers, want a camera that is easy to use and will capture high quality photos of their kids as they grow up – and as good as smartphones are, they can really suck with poor image quality in low light, and often have trouble capturing the moment, not to mention, lack the option of having a bounce flash for nice light.

A cheap digital SLR camera will do a good job of moving subjects but these cameras and lenses are too big for hand bags and are not able to automatically autofocus on a child’s face and lack the many features we now take for granted in mirrorless cameras. Nevertheless they could be a cheaper option for some. For example, Canon 100D with 40mm f/2.8 STM lens will cost around $AU490 after cash back and then you can throw it away and get a mirrorless when you can afford it.

Mirrorless cameras offer smaller size and are quierter, less intrusive while allowing a range of features not available on dSLRs – unfortunately they do tend to struggle with focusing on moving subjects unless they have PDAF technology (the larger OM-D E-M1 or Sony mirrorless) or DFD technology such as the latest Panasonic cameras.

All cameras will struggle to focus on strongly backlit subjects (sunny window behind your subject) or low contrast subjects such as black cats in dim lighting.

The falling Australian dollar has made camera gear more expensive in Australia which makes finding a good camera and good low light lens for under $AU1000 challenging – don’t forget to consider buying second hand on Ebay!

The main requirements:

  • affordable – around $AU1000 for camera and lens
  • compact – should fit in a ladies hand bag
  • high quality images – thus a reasonably big sensor is needed – Micro Four Thirds gives this while still allowing compact camera and lens
  • fast, accurate autofocus on the child’s face – now this is where things can get difficult in low light and with a moving child
  • ability to touch the rear screen and rapidly have the camera focus on that area and take the photo
  • smartphone WiFi connectivity to allow instant uploads to the net via the smartphone
  • image stabilised 1080HD video capability
  • a low light lens to allow better images indoors with or without a flash

The Olympus options:

I love Olympus cameras, particularly the OM-D series (as I prefer to use a viewfinder rather than the rear screen), but the Pen series may be very adequate and more compact for the casual parent photographer who is happy to just use the rear screen and not have a view finder.

None of the Olympus models at this price point have PDAF capabilities so will not be able to track a subject with autofocus, but their autofocus is so fast you can usually get away without this as long as the subject is not moving too quickly.

Then you would need to select a nice low light lens which will allow better images in low light indoors, and for this, I would look at the Olympus m.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8 ($AU431) (or Olympus m.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 ($AU509) if you want a wide view or Olympus m.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 ($AU382) if you want a closer view). If you have lots of money then the Olympus m.Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 lens will be even better but this will set you back around $AU1600 for the lens alone!

The Panasonic options:

The latest Panasonic cameras are very nice as they have Panasonics DFD autofocus technology which should allow faster autofocus on moving subjects.

  • Panasonic Lumix DC-GX850 $AU649 with kit zoom lens – coming in Feb 2017, has 4K video, selfie mode with flip up screen and hands free modes (face shutter, buddy shutter, Jump snap) as well as Background Control features makes it a nicer camera for the parent than the Olympus options but you do lose the viewfinder, hotshoe for a flash and the built-in image stabiliser.
  • Panasonic Lumix GX85 $AU 980 with kit zoom lens – awesome camera, similar to the GX850 but you also get the viewfinder, flash hotshoe and image stabilisation built in.
  • Panasonic GF8 – $AU579 with kit zoom lens -  older model with similar capabilities to the GX850 but no 4K video

You will then need a Panasonic low light lens such as the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 II pancake lens ($AU378)Panasonic 25mm f/1.7 lens ($AU288) or Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 lens ($AU790) if you just want one zoom lens and don’t mind it being a bit bigger. The autofocus is not quite as fast on the pancake lens but its compact size makes carrying in a handbag easier.

The high end mirrorless options:

For those where size and money are not an issue, here are a few options which will allow even faster autofocus and shallower depth of field with a range of other benefits:

Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark I ($AU1150) or the much more expensive, new E-M1 mark II version ($AU2750) coupled with the Olympus m.Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 lens ($AU1600).

Sony a7II full frame mirrorless ($AU1900) with Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA lens ($AU1150), but this route will take you down a path of financial pain – their full frame mirrorless lenses are very expensive!

Conclusion:

If you have the money and don’t mind the larger size and lack of selfie features, go for the Panasonic GX85 and buy a low light lens and a bounce flash to sit on the camera for when the light is dim and not so nice.

If the GX85 is too expensive, and you want to use bounce flash, go for the Olympus OM-D E-M10 mark II with an Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens.

If you can’t see yourself using a bounce flash, the lighter, smaller, cheaper, Panasonic GX850 with its selfie features combined with a Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 II pancake lens  or for faster AF but larger size, Panasonic 25mm f/1.7 lens, the would make a great compact combination.

 

DxOMark releases sensor tests of the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II – comparable to Canon 6D and 5D Mark III

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

DxOMark has just announced the results of their sensor tests of the new Micro Four Thirds flagship camera – the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and for a cropped sensor it performs superbly and remarkably, the overall sensor image quality score is comparable to the new Nikon D500 cropped sensor dSLR and the Canon 6D and Canon 5D Mark III full frame dSLRs!

Now that is a pretty good achievement indeed and further lessens the need for a big, heavy, expensive dSLR kit, especially when there is far more to the camera than just the sensor – it’s feature set just blows the Canon 6D and 5D Mark III dSLRs away with its in-built 5.5EV image stabiliser that works on all lenses and even becomes 6.5EV effectiveness with the Olympus OIS lenses, its 50mp sensor shift HiRes mode, ability to accurately focus on the subject’s closest eye no matter where they are in the frame, up to 60fps burst rate, up to 1/32,000th sec shutter, Live Composite mode for night imagery, 4K video with awesome image stabilisation, and much more.

How did it score?

Overall score of 80 beats the E-M1 mark I’s score of 73, and almost matches the Nikon D500′s score of 84 (wins on dynamic range but similar image noise), and is comparable to the Canon 6D score of 82 and the Canon 5D Mark III’s score of 81 – the Canons winning on image noise but losing significantly on dynamic range – see side by side comparisons on DxOMark here.

First the bad news – the ISO issue.

For some reason, perhaps a marketing con, Olympus appears to have incorrectly assigned the ISO levels as the measured ISO as per DxOMark tests is consistently just over 1EV lower than stated.

For most people this will not be an issue, but if one is using manual exposure settings from another camera, or from an external light meter, then users may need to make an adjustment, and if one is comparing image quality at same ISO settings between brands, this needs to be factored in – as they have on DxOMark’s analysis which take this issue into account.

Strangely, the LOW extended ISO setting of ISO 64 was measured at ISO 83 which was the same measurement for the base ISO setting of 200!! This suggests there is NO real benefit of using the LOW setting at all!

This has tended to be an issue with most Olympus digital cameras including the E-M1 mark I but to a lesser extent.

But there is a lot of good news!

Image noise:

Image noise is significantly improved over the mark I with an almost 1EV improvement, and other tests of the mark II also show an incredible result with thermal sensor noise at long exposures.

That said, predictably, image noise still falls 1-1.5EV short of the image noise on contemporary full frame cameras, but for most of us, the level of image noise is not really an issue unless we need to shoot above ISO 1600 which is quite rare (>90% of my shooting is at ISO 200-400).

Shooting at high ISO levels even on full frame cameras is not a great idea unless you really need to as not only do you get increased image noise but, more importantly, you lose dynamic range – for the Canon 6D and 5D Mark III you lose 1 EV dynamic range at ISO 1600 compared to ISO 200, and these cameras have limited dynamic range to start with.

The only time the full frame image noise really has a substantial advantage is in some types of shooting moving subjects in low light or in Milky Way astroscapes.

If you need a certain amount of depth of field in your low light images, then, the full frame noise advantage may be nullified as the E-M1 can resort to 2 stops wider aperture to achieve that depth of field and this means 2 stops lower ISO.

If your subject is static, the E-M1 Mark II wins again thanks to its far better image stabilisation and electronic shutter capabilities.

Dynamic range:

Dynamic range is the ability to capture are large range of scene brightness levels, the greater the dynamic range, the less likely you will get blown highlights in which you lose image detail totally and which cannot be readily addressed in post processing.

In many respects, dynamic range is more important than high ISO image noise because it will affect every image you take no matter what ISO.

At ISO settings of 200-400, the E-M1 mark I had better dynamic range than the Canon 6D and Canon 5D Mark III, and now the E-M1 Mark II extends that gap a little so that it is 1EV better than the 5D Mark III and 0.6EV better than the Canon 6D and 0.4EV better than the newer, and very expensive, Canon 5DS / 5DSR full frame dSLRs!

New full frame cameras such as the Canon 5D Mark IV and Nikon D750 generally have a better dynamic range than E-M1 Mark II.

Conclusion:

Keep your ISO at 200-400 and be happy that your sensor image quality will surpass even a Canon 6D, 5D Mark III, and in HiRes mode will presumably better the 50mp Canon 5DS / 5DSR.

 

 

 

Texture and bokeh imagery from the Grampians

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

Here are a selection of mainly texture and bokeh studies from Victoria’s Grampians mountain range in Spring taken with the Olympus OM-D Micro Four Thirds cameras.

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

For more pics from the Grampians, see my earlier blog post.

Can Micro Four Thirds cameras do portraiture well?

Monday, December 26th, 2016

I often get asked this question as many people are told that you need a full frame camera to do portraiture to get adequately shallow depth of field and nice bokeh blurred backgrounds.

This might apply if you are shooting wide angle lenses but once you hit standard focal lengths and longer, Micro Four Thirds cameras are very adequate indeed – IF you are using a wide aperture lens such as the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7, Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2, Olympus 25mm f/1.8, Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2, Olympus 45mm f/1.8, Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 or even the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 when used at 135-150mm.

A world famous portrait photographer, Sean Archer started off with Micro Four Thirds, and was encouraged to migrate to full frame dSLR which he did, but he is now back using Micro Four Thirds and the Olympus 45mm and 75mm f/1.8 lenses.

I have blogged before of Sean’s beautiful work here.

The Olympus OM-D cameras offer a few major advantages over full frame dSLRs for portraiture:

  • image stabilisation with prime lenses allowing you to shoot at slower shutter speeds such as in low light or with fill in flash
  • more compact and light – you are more likely to take it with you and not intimidate your subjects
  • near silent – great for ceremonies, concerts, and anywhere else where a noisy dSLR is not welcome
  • closest eye detection AF for superbly sharp autofocus on the closest eye one of the most desirable features of a portrait (although not 100% reliable but much better than a dSLR, and your subject’s eye does not need to be near the centre of the image as with a dSLR AF point)

There are some downsides compared with a full frame dSLR:

  • AF is not so good for moving subjects unless you get a Panasonic G85 or Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II
  • the near silent shutter can work against you if shooting models – they can’t hear when you have got the shot
  • the cameras don’t look as big and heavy to be “professional” – never-mind, just carry a few with battery grips attached and external flashes
  • less able to gain shallow DOF with wide angle lenses
  • less able to gain super shallow “arty” DOF – don’t worry, most professionals won’t use this for  portraiture as you don’t get the ear to nose in focus which is what is desirable for most portraits
  • ability to use standard f/2.8 zoom lenses for adequate shallow DOF portraits (the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 won’t give you the shallow DOF you want)

My favourite lens for portraiture is the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8:

Here are some examples from a workshop I ran on a sunny day outdoors without reflectors or flashes to show that you don’t need a full frame dSLR to get beautiful imagery.
75mm

75mm

75mm

75mm

please say yes

You can see more outdoor sunny day portraits of mine using this lens at this blog post.

One can use the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8:

Olympus lens

The Olympus mZD 45mm f/1.8 makes for a nice light, compact portrait lens:

Zombies shot outdoor with an off-camera Orbis Ring Flash attached to an Olympus flash with a orange filter on:

zombie guy

retro zombie

For social events, I love the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake:

Camera, lens and bounce flash kit all fit in a couple of coat pockets!

Here the camera automatically focused on the closest face which is well to the left of what the AF points on most dSLRs would be able to detect, but not an issue with a mirrorless camera!

For Olympus users, they may prefer the larger and newer Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens with faster AF, or, if you have the money, the very expensive but superb Olympus 25mm f/1.2 lens.

DOF
see more of these here.

With Micro Four Thirds, there is a large range of lenses, but if you want shallow depth of field, you do need to choose a wide aperture lens such as f/1.2 – f/1.8 or f/2.8 if focal length is longer than 135mm.