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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:

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 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.
  • 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.

 

Tarra Bulga National Park and Aussie wildlife in the wild

Monday, November 28th, 2016

Tarra Bulga National Park is a mountainous region of cool temperate rainforest which once covered most of Gippsland until European settlers cleared most of it in the mid 19th century.

Access is via Traralgon from the north (2.5hr drive from Melbourne)  or via a windy narrow two-way bitumen road from the south along the Tarra Valley which is not suitable for caravans, but which takes you to other picnic areas en route such as Tarra Falls (not an easy photograph) and Cyathea Falls (a short circuit loop walk accesses this small waterfall), the remote Tarra Valley Caravan Park (this is as far north on the Tara Valley road that caravans can access – they can’t go further north to the NP), and then access to coastal Gippsland including historic Port Albert (Gippsland’s first port, established c 1850) and Wilsons Promontory  (The Prom).

If you are coming from the south then a short detour to Victoria’s tallest waterfall, Agnes Falls is well worth it:

Agnes Falls

Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens at 17mm.

Tarra Bulga NP has a nice open picnic ground and nearby tea rooms. The picnic ground has a variety of birds including the very friendly crimson rosellas which you may find end up sitting on your shoulder while you try to eat:

rosella

The flighty wrens and robins are much harder to catch such as this flame robin which was about 10-15m away and required cropping:

wren

and even the Laughing Kookaburra likes you to keep your distance of about 10-15m:

kookaburra

on the road near the picnic ground was this poor wombat who appeared to be coping well despite a limp from past trauma:

wombat

The main attraction though at Tarra Bulga NP is the historic suspension bridge within the majestic Eucalpytus regnans rainforest (the tallest flowering plants in the world) – if you walk the full circuit “scenic track” it is a pleasant largely shaded 2.8km circuit walk with total ascent of 129m (mainly up graded path rather than steps) which will take just under 1hr allowing for time to get a few pics.

suspension bridge

suspension bridge

If you have the time to also visit Wilsons Prom you can complete your Aussie wildlife in the wild experience with a few more such as this cute kangaroo joey feeding at dusk:

joey

or these emus:

emus

and if the prevailing winds have been westerlies, you may find the beaches covered in these small beautiful but painful Blue Bottle Portugese Man’O'War jellyfish which will give you a painful sting if your skin touches the tentacles which can measure some 1m in length:

blue bottle

and nearby, this Sooty Oyster Catcher was taking a bath:

oystercatcher

I hope this has inspired you to get out and go for a drive, or better still stay for a couple of nights or more and explore the region.

We had an amazingly tasty and healthy lunch at the Port Albert Cafe and Wine Bar – the owner is a brilliant chef who obviously loves her cooking, the crispy duck with mango and cashew salad was awesome and the many cake options for dessert (or take with you for your NP walk) make it well worth the visit – unfortunately she has the business up for sale so make sure you get there before she has moved on.

Most of the above photos were taken with the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens, or for the birds, the Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 lens using a Micro Four Thirds Olympus OM-D E-M1 or E-M5 camera.

Road trip to Victoria’s wonderland – the Grampians

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

The Grampians is a group of mountain ranges formed from uplifted resistant Palaeozoic sandstone bed making it one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world and the beautiful sandstone boulders, epic views and with access to native flora and Australian wildlife make it an iconic bushwalking destination for tourists from around the world.

You will see kangaroos, black wallabies, emus,  Australian birds such as tiny robins and wrens, parrot species, New Holland honeyeater, laughing kookaburra, wedge tailed eagles and the really noisy white sulfur crested cockatoos. While walking on a sunny day you are likely to see a range of small to medium sized lizards – mainly skinks (and hopefully not a snake – these are generally very shy and avoid tourist areas but are deadly if you step on one and it bites you – a great reason to stick to the paths where you can see where you are stepping!). If you are lucky you may see an echidna (a  monotreme) looking for ants on the side of the road at dusk. If that is not enough wildlife, or you want to get up close to a snake or other animal, you can visit the nearby Halls Gap Zoo – the largest zoo in Victoria outside of the urban districts around Melbourne.

This Australian National Park is the biggest national park in Victoria and covers 167,219-hectare (413,210-acre) and is situated in western Victoria and to the north of the volcanic plains which formed most of south-western Victoria. The forest is mainly dry sclerophyll eucalypt forest with an understory of tea trees with their white flowers dominating in spring.

The sandstone was laid down from sediments from rivers during the Devonian period 380 million years ago which forms a 7km thick layer of sandstone which then became uplifted, tilted and then eroded. When sea levels rose 40 million years ago, the sea lapped at the north-western area which now has become the Little Desert National Park. The Devonian period was a time of wooded plants, insects and amphibia but before spiders, reptiles, dinosaurs and conifers had evolved.

Aboriginal occupation of Gariwerd (their name for the Grampians) dates back more than 20,000 years and they had six seasons for the region – check out the Brambuk Cultural Centre for more information.

The highest peak is Mount William at 1167 metres creates the Grampian Wave – a weather phenomenon at certain times of the year when strong westerly winds create a large scale standing mountain lee wave enabling glider pilots to reach extreme altitudes above 28,000 ft (8,500 m).

Towards the end of a decade of drought, a massive bushfire in Jan 2006 devastated 50% of the forest, but this allowed Parks Victoria to re-discover places such as Fish Creek Falls and design and create new bush walks such as the Grampians Peak Trail which so far is at Stage 1 and allows for 3 days / 2 nights walk with overnight remote camping.

Major flooding in Jan 2011 and heavy rain events again in Sept 2016, forced parts of the park to close for several months. Before you go, check the park’s website to ascertain which areas and remote camp grounds are closed.

I am pleased to report that the park now looks even better than before the fires and is an absolute pleasure to explore as long as you take the usual precautions of sun protection, wind and rain protection for those sudden late afternoon thunderstorms, plenty of water (2L per person for 2-3hr walks on warmer sunny days), and sturdy shoes. On hotter days, go early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the extreme heat conditions which may prevail.

It is a two and three quarter hour easy drive from Melbourne, mainly along freeway and highways which allow for a nice coffee break half way in the small town of Beaufort. The more adventuresome with time on their hands might like to return via a longer and more interesting route either to the north through winery and historic gold field towns of Avoca, Maryborough, Maldon, and Castlemaine, or to the south to Dunkeld with its highly regarded Royal Mail Hotel restaurant, then the volcanic park of Mt Eccles, then to Port Fairy, the volcanic Tower Hill park and then along the Great Ocean Road and the Twelve Apostles and Otway Ranges.

The main tourist town in the Grampians is Halls Gap which lies in the valley and the shops and main camp ground are within a short walk to the beautiful Wonderland region. There are plenty of accommodation options but these can get booked out in peak seasons. There are dozens of kangaroos and maybe a few emus grazing in the camp ground and at the cricket ground, and as you sit and eat your dinner outside at the Harvest Cafe, you are likely to see a few of them hopping down the road at dusk.

Best time to go is in Oct-Nov when the spring wildflowers are at their best, the weather is not too hot and, to avoid the crowds, avoid school holidays, public holidays and weekends – although your choice of restaurants becomes severely limited, but your accommodation options increase and there are less people on the narrow winding roads and at the walks.

November can also be noisy cicada time – cicadas live most of their life underground (several years) as a nymph in burrows along a tree root from which it feeds on the sap. After spring rains and when the weather warms up, they climb a tree, latch on with their two big front claws,  and emerge from their nymph shell through the dorsum, leaving their dried shell and becoming green with transparent wings as adults. The rest for a while then for a few short weeks they join their mates in the trees, eating and creating a piercingly loud noise and mate before the females lay eggs and then die.

While I was there, a cicada had mistaken my car tyre for a tree and the nymph shell was on one side and the new adult cicada on the other:

cicada

Nymph shell – note the large front claws and the dorsal exit. Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens at 150mm f/5.6.

cicada

The newly emerged adult cicada – Olympus mZD 60mm f/2.8 macro lens at f/7.1 with some mild cropping as I didn’t want to get too close in case it flew away but in retrospect I probably could have got a close up of just its eye!

pinnacles

Perhaps the number one walk to do is the walk to the Pinnacles which gives a great expansive view over Halls Gap and the valley looking eastwards and if, as with this young lady, you wish to partake in some daredevil mindlessness you can sit and enjoy the view from the adjacent protuberant cliff face edge. The actual Pinnacle is a protuberance which has fences to reduce risk taking behaviours.

There are several options to walk to the Pinnacle, all of which require rock hopping, rock steps and sun exposure, but are well worth it, and within the capability of most people – even sedentary ones as long as they can walk up steps and negotiate rocks:

  • a longer ascent from Halls Gap camp ground for the fitter walkers with good knees
  • a shorter ascent from Wonderland Carpark which can optionally include the Grand Canyon loop
  • an easier ascent from the Sundial carpark – 4km return, allow 2hrs, total ascent 180m

pinnacles

On a hot sunny day with cirrus clouds and blue skies, drink plenty of water, wear a hat and sunscreen, but don’t forget to look for contrasty dramatic rock formations such as this one, but make sure you watch where you walk as it is easy to miss a deep ravine, step on a poor skink, or sprain your ankle!

sundial peak

When there is a strong, hot, north wind blowing, a better option may be the walk to Sundial Peak which is more sheltered from the wind and provides more coverage of trees in the event of lightning which tends to come on such days. The Sundial Peak also looks out over Halls Gap but being more south than the Pinnacle, it overlooks Lake Bellfield, although the Pinnacle cannot be seen from this lookout. The walk from Sundial carpark to the lookout is 4km return, allow 1.5-2hrs and ascent is only 115m making it more friendly than the Pinnacle walk.

sundial peak

You do also get lovely views to the south down the valley from the Sundial Peak.

sundial peak walk

The Sundial Peak walk early in the morning when no one was around – but I did get caught in a thunderstorm!

reeds Lookout

After your walks and you have had dinner, head up to Reed’s Lookout and The Balconies for an epic sunset view looking south across Victoria Valley. Be warned though – even mid-week, you will not be alone!

Boroka Lookout

If you are enthusiastic get up well before sunrise, drive the 20 minutes or so in the dark to Boroka lookout which faces east overlooking Halls Gap, for some shots BEFORE the sun comes up – I was lazy and couldn’t be bothered using a tripod and just relied upon the Olympus OM-D E-M1′s awesome image stabiliser plus used a Reverse ND gradient filter to help reduce the contrast at the horizon.

Grand Canyon

The “Grand Canyon” short circuit within the Wonderland on a cloudy day with the Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 lens at 7mm and f/8.

This is a first post on the Grampians and I have only touched the surface – the main tourist attractions – although I didn’t get to go to the Zumsteins and Mackenzie Falls on this trip.

 

 

 

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

Saturday, November 5th, 2016

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

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

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

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

Olympus E-M1 II vs Canon 7D II:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E-M1 II vs Fijifilm XT-2:

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

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

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

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

 

Ouch $A2799 for the new amazing Olympus OM-D E-M1 II is it worth it? Could it beat the new Canon 1DX Mark II for sports and wildlife?

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

Australian Olympus Micro Four Thirds users in unison launched a universal angst and frustration when Olympus Australia finally announced their RRP for the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II mirrorless pro sports camera – $AU2799 for the body only puts it at well over twice the price of its predecessor which may place it beyond the Olympus faithful’s wallet, but given how much it has improved in almost every aspect, it may really be worth the $US2000 RRP and perhaps even the inflated $A2799 price tag.

So let’s do a comparison with the leading sports pro dSLR super telephoto birding kits to see how it fares:

I own the Olympus OM-D E-M1 original version, the Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 and the Canon 1D Mark III pro dSLR sports camera – but thankfully not a 600mm f/4 lens.

So here I am going to compare the E-M1 II with Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 OIS lens with a Canon 1DX II with a Canon EF 600mm f/4 IS II L lens which will give the same telephoto field of view for birding but is 3 times heavier and almost 4 x the price.

One could have chosen a Nikon D5 and Nikkor 600mm f/4 lens but you would come to much the same conclusions.

Birders using full frame dSLRs usually shoot at around 600mm f/5.6-f/8 at ISO 800 and shutter speed around 1/2000th sec with the sun low on the horizon. The Olympus kit offers this telephoto reach and depth of field at 300mm f/4 and thus to achieve a shutter speed of 1/2000th sec in the same light, they only need ISO 200-400 and at this ISO you won’t notice any significant noise difference, even if the Canon was shooting at same ISO, and if you were shooting jpegs only, the Olympus jpeg engine historically has given wider dynamic range.

The photo output in both cases will be 20mp images, low ISO noise, similar depth of field and field of view, and similar lovely bokeh but what a difference in price and weight as well as size!

Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Canon 1DX Mark II
Price at Amazon.com $US2000 body + $US2499 for 300mm lens = $US4500 $US5999+$US11499 = $US17500
sensor 20mp 2x crop 20mp full frame
Weight 574g body + 1270g lens = 1.8kg
1530g + 3.9kg=6.3kg +heavy tripod and Wimberley tripod head!
Size 134 x 91 x 67 mm body + 93mm x 227mm lens
158 x 168 x 83mm body + 168 x 448mm
image stabilisation sensor based 5 axis 5EV + 6.5EV Sync IS lens 4 EV OIS in stills, no sensor IS
Shutter speed range 60sec -1/8000th (1/32,000th electronic)
30sec-1/8000th
Flash x-sync 1/250th sec, slow sync, 19 output levels manual
1/250th, slow sync
radio TTL remote flash No
Canon, Profoto, Bowens, Godox, PocketWizard, etc
Viewfinder 2.35mdot EVF, eye sensor auto switching, 120fps, 6ms reaction time, 21mm eyepoint, 0.74x magnification, minimal blackout in burst mode
optical, 0.76x magnification, 20mm eyepoint, minimal blackout in burst mode; not usable when mirror locked up such as in vibration reduction shooting, Live View, and in video shooting
LCD screen 1mdot articulating touch screen, AF Targeting Pad feature
1.6mdot, fixed touch sensitive, can select AF point
video awesome image stabilisation 4K 24/30p 236Mbps Cinema 4K quality mjpeg; 4:2:2 uncompressed video directly from the HDMI port, lenses optimised for video work
1.34x crop 4K/60P mjpeg video and full frame 1080/120p but HDMI out is only 1080 8bit 4:2:2, lenses not optimised for live view or video work
Burst rate 18fps with C-AF x 77RAW or 60fps with S-AF in electronic mode x 48 RAW; 10fps C-AF mechanical shutter x 148 RAW;
14fps with C-AF, 16fps with S-AF and mirror lock up, max, 81 RAW+jpeg or 170 RAW
Top panel dual dial + 2×2 system Yes No
AF 121pt Dual Pixel cross type CDAF/PDAF, closest eye detection AF, all working video mode including subject tracking
61pt PDAF with only 41 cross type sensors and limited coverage, plus on sensor dual pixel for live view mode, face detect AF only in live view mode and no closest eye detect AF; no subject tracking in live view; 5 central points are dual cross;
Hi-Res mode Yes, 50mp/25mp jpeg, 80mp RAW
No
Live BULB, Live TIME, Live Composite, 60sec timed, Live Boost EVF Yes No
Dual card slots 2 x SD
2 x CF
Auto HDR, Auto focus stacking, Keystone compensation Yes No
 Pro service support  just building infrastructure  Advanced, mature pro service
“14-28mm” pro lens 7-14mm (14-28mm) f/2.8, 534g, 106mm long, 0.2m close focus, no filter, MF clutch, $US1299 EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III does not go as wide, is heavier, does not have image stabilisation, and is more expensive at $US2349
“24-70mm” pro lens 12-40mm (24-80mm) f/2.8, 382g, 84mm long, 0.2m close focus, 62mm filter, MF clutch, $US740 EF 24-70mm f/2.8 IS II L gives 2 stops shallower DOF but no eye detect AF, and IS not as good, plus it is heavier, more expensive at $US1749
“70-200mm” pro lens 40-150mm (80-300mm) f/2.8, 760g, 160mm long, 0.7m close focus, 72mm filter, MF clutch, $US1399, opt. 1.4x converter EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS L II gives 2 stops shallower DOF but not the 300mm reach, and no eye detect AF, and IS not as good, plus it is heavier, more expensive at $US2000
“50mm” standard prime lens Oly 25mm f/1.2 EF 50mm f/1.2L or 1.4 or f/1.8 lenses give up to 2 stops shallower DOF but poorer image quality, not as sharp across the frame, more optical aberrations, and no eye detect AF, and no image stabilisation

The advantages of the Canon are:

  • it is able to achieve perhaps 1 stop better high ISO noise and a shallower depth of field of perhaps 1 – 2 stops depending on lens, HOWEVER, for birding you need f/5.6-8 for adequate DOF at 600mm and this can be achieved at f/4 on the Olympus 300mm which negates any advantage in high ISO performance or DOF of the Canon for this use.
  • there is a reliable worldwide mature Canon pro service infrastructure which Olympus is really only starting to build
  • radio TTL remote flash is supported by Canon and third party lighting companies, none of which have supported Olympus as yet, although PocketWizards have developed a Panasonic solution so surely an Olympus solution is not far off. That said, many pros do not use TTL flash as it gives too variable a result – whether it is Canon, Nikon or Olympus.
  • the Canon 1D X is built like a tank and has a massive battery
  • optical viewfinder – some people love it, but I must say I am very happy with new tech EVFs
  • proven iTR AF tracking technology (although not as good as Nikon 3D tracking) – we will have to see if the Olympus can match or surpass it
  • the target pro audience is likely to already have a large selection of pro dSLR gear and migrating to Olympus is a big step
  • 2x teleconverter available as well as the 1.4x which Olympus also has.
  • greater ultra-wide options such as the 17mm TS-E tilt-shift lens, such wide angle tilt shift is not yet possible on the Olympus, even if use a focal reducer adapter combined with the Canon 17mm TS-E you can get a 24mm TS-E full frame tilt shift equivalent effect on the Olympus, but not a 17mm tilt shift effect.
  • greater extreme shallow DOF options such as 24mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2, 135mm f/2, and 200mm f/2
  • faster mechanical shutter burst rate with AF tracking 14fps vs 10fps on the Olympus – although the Olympus can go to 18fps in electronic mode which the Canon can’t do, and the Olympus can hit 60fps in fixed AF and electronic shutter mode.

The advantages of the Olympus are:

  • far lighter and more compact – 1/3rd the weight, able to take in cabin luggage on flights, will not break your back and neck carrying it, far more versatile when hand held, much more responsive when walking with the big lens, just stop, compose, focus and shoot – no need to worry about getting lens out of carry bag, setting up tripod, etc and subject is gone.
    • the Olympus 300mm and camera kit weigh not much more than the Canon 1DX body alone!!!
  • one quarter the price – wow, even at $AU2700 you are getting a LOT of value for the price, and if you worry about availability of timely service – you can buy 4 of them for almost the same price!
  • built-in sensor based 5-axis 5EV image stabilisation works on EVERY lens you use, even in video
  • no need to do clunky, time consuming mirror lockup to reduce camera shake
  • faster burst rates – even a crazy 60fps in electronic mode!
  • truly silent AF and burst mode – ideal for those classical music events, ballet, weddings, etc – no mirror slap, no shutter noise
  • 3x more crosstype PDAF autofocus points available in viewfinder mode
  • better spread of AF points across the frame in viewfinder mode 80% coverage
  • in-camera AF limiter as well as the lens based focus limiters to speed up focus acquisition
  • AF system more accurate (does not need microcalibration for each lens) and works better with wide aperture lenses
  • closest eye detection AF for sharper focused portraits
  • “Pro Capture” mode which automatically starts taking images before you fully depress shutter to ensure you don’t miss the shot
  • far better image stabilised video quality with 4K uncompressed HDMI out not just 1080 and 4K mode is not a crop of the sensor as with Canon’s 1.34x crop which will impact wide angle shots
  • 50mp HiRes sensor-shift mode for static subjects
  • smaller, less expensive lenses, usually with better optics across the frame – it will be interesting to see how these two super telephoto lenses compare optically – I suspect the Olympus may well win!
  • very handy long exposure modes such as Live Timed, Live Composite, etc
  • automatic focus stacking mode
  • in camera live keystone correction
  • Wifi built in with remote control by smartphones as well as WiFi tethering – WiFi is expensive optional extra on the Canon
  • articulating LCD screen for easier low angle, high angle shots or for video work
  • the lovely benefits of EVF – live histogram, highlight/shadow warnings, live boost, zebra focus, wysiwyg exposure/tones, ability to review images without having to use your reading glasses, magnified view manual focus, can use the EVF during video taking mode – the Canon forces you to do mirror lock up and use the rear screen.
  • can use almost any lens ever made and have them image stabilised – it will even autofocus Canon EF lenses via a Metabones adapter (albeit much slower than Olympus lenses), and you have the option of using a focal reducer adapter for further versatility.
  • far more fun without the weight!

There are questions to be answered though:

  • will the C-AF tracking be as good as the Canon – I suspect it won’t be, but maybe it is good enough
  • how usable will the electronic shutter burst modes be for moving subject – has the faster 1/60th sec electronic shutter duration with its reduced rolling shutter allowed this to avoid artifacts with faster moving subjects? It seems it may be.
  • how will high ISO noise compare at ISO 3200 – although Olympus users rarely need to go this high other than for Milky Way astroscapes and low light action scenes.

We need to wait and see, but the amazing 5 sec hand held shots which Robin Wong has published are just ridiculously good and show this Olympus camera can be used in new ways without having to resort to a tripod.

Hmmm… I think I have documented all the main issues, I have skipped what they have in common such as quality weather sealing, AF customisations, exposure compensation, bracketing, optional battery grips, etc.

Still upset about the price for a flagship pro sports camera you probably don’t need?

Only a small minority of Canon and Nikon owners  have actually bought the flagship sports dSLR, the vast majority settle for budget level models with very minimal feature sets and AF limited to just the central region.

If you don’t need the new features of the Olympus flagship model, then of course there are many great Micro Four Thirds cameras you can buy for less than half this price such as the E-M1, E-M5 mark II, or Panasonic G80/85.

To me though, it will value add to my nice Micro Four Thirds lens collection by providing much improved AF capabilities for moving subjects which has always been an issue for mirrorless cameras.

I hope Olympus will release a more affordable E-M5 Mark III with this sensor in it and the improved PDAF capabilities so those on lower budgets are not locked out of effective PDAF – granted they can get a cut down PDAF experience now with the original E-M1 but presumably at some stage this will be discontinued, and Olympus will need to compete with the likes of the Sony a6300 which does have PDAF at half the price.