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Affordable compact mirrorless cameras for the parent wanting to capture their crawling 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.

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 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.

Olympus Australia announce “summer rewards” – up to $329 value

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

Olympus Australia has just announced a “summer reward” for purchasers of certain Olympus camera kits from now until end of Jan 2017.

If your purchase is eligible, you can get a $150-200 prepaid visa card plus an Olympus travel accessories kit valued at $129.

Cameras include Olympus Pen F, E-M5 Mark II and E-M10 Mark II, but unfortunately no mention of the much anticipated E-M1 Mark II which should be becoming available in Dec 2016, at hopefully a reasonable price point, although the just announced $US2000 for the body may make it too expensive in Australia for the potential target audience who could get a full frame mirrorless or dSLR for a lower price – although these won’t have the functionality that the E-M1 II provides, they do have radio TTL remote flash, shallower DOF options and proven pro support levels – none of which the Olympus can deliver for the pro photographers.

post script: Olympus Australia have just announced the E-M1 Mark II will be $AU2799 for the body only – this will be too high for most Micro Four Thirds users I suspect.

In search of shallow depth of field normal “50mm” lens performance – the new Olympus 25mm f/1.2 lens

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

Once upon a time, in a different photography universe, before digital cameras, and before there were computers to design good zoom lenses, in the 1970s, nearly every camera user with a reasonably good 35mm camera bought, as a base kit, the full frame 35mm film SLR with a “standard” 50mm lens – if one was on a budget, it would be f/1.8, if one had a significant more cash flow, it would be f/1.4 and if one was rich, then a f/1.2 lens.

They then added to this kit with a wide angle lens (usually a 28mm f/2.8 or f/3.5, or if they had the money, a 24mm f/2.8) and a prime telephoto lens (usually 135mm f/3.5 or if they had the extra money, f/2.8).

All of these were manual focus only lenses, and some of the SLRs such as the Olympus OM-1 actually worked without batteries (although the meter would not work).

So common was the 50mm f/1.8 lens that experienced photographers often shunned using it because everyone had that look and so they migrated to other focal lengths such as 21mm, 35mm, 40mm, and 85mm.

But what these entry level cameras gave their owners was shallow depth of field at 50mm (albeit with rather soft images wide open) which Micro Four Thirds users find impossible to achieve with AF lenses even with the new expensive and awesome Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2 lens – as this lens gives depth of field similar to a 50mm f/2.4 lens on a 35mm film camera, but it does so far better than any legacy lens could ever do, it is so well engineered optically.

Should you buy the new Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2 lens?

In short, if you use Micro Four Thirds, have the money and the use for it then by all means BUY it – it is such a brilliant weathersealed fast, silent, fast and accurate AF lens and will give beautiful portraits especially of kids and environmental portraits, scenery, strong backlit performance, great low light performance and seems great for some astrophotography with its f/1.2 aperture and almost zero aberrations!

Note for some reason, Olympus Australia, is selling it at $A1899 which is substantially higher than the $US1199 RRP even taking into account the exchange rate.

BUT, if you are just searching for shallow depth of field at around this field of view and image quality is not a high priority – are there better less expensive options?

Option 1: buy a film SLR and 50mm f/1.4 lens

  • this will be cheap – get a second hand kit for around $200-$300 camera and lens
  • it will give you 1.5 stops shallower depth of field
  • BUT you will have to deal with film, you will get far less image quality – optically as well as the sensor vs film issues, you will not get image stabilisation, nor the many features of digital such as face detection AF, incredibly fast and accurate AF, etc.

Option 2: buy a 2012 model full frame digital camera preferably under $A2000 to use specifically for this purpose

Examples:

  • Sony RX1 fixed lens camera
    • the original version released in 2012 now sells at $A2700 and doesn’t have IS or an EVF, and you can’t change lenses and its fixed lens is a 35mm f/2 lens BUT it does have a leaf shutter with flash sync to 1/2000th sec so this may make outdoor fill in flash or flash to overpower the sun so much easier, but it won’t give shallower DOF as it is a substantially wider field of view lens.
  • Sony a7 Mark II mirrorless with 50mm lens
    • 2014 model 24mp full frame mirrorless with image stabilisation and hybrid AF, 1/8000th sec shutter, flash sync 1/250th sec will cost you $A2000 then you need to add in a 50mm lens such as entry level budget Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 for $A440 or the superb Sony FE Carl Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 lens at $A1200
  • Canon 6D with a 50mm lens
    • the 2012 entry level Canon 20mp full frame dSLR can be bought now at $A1800 then you just need to choose which 50mm lens to buy of which there are many and you can even pay around $A1900 for the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 but it is not a great lens optically wide open
    • this will give you around 1 stop better high ISO than the Olympus, radio TTL remote flash and shallower DOF BUT you lose out on image stabilisation, edge-to-edge sharpness, the wonderful optical capabilities of the Olympus lens, the fast, accurate AF and the eye detection AF, far better weathersealing,  faster flash sync, far greater spread of AF points, faster burst rate, etc which comes with the Olympus cameras, and even with the Canon lenses used at f/2.4 for same DOF, the Olympus will still give better edge-to-edge image quality at ISO 200 which you are most likely be shooting at unless it is very low light such as astrophotography, so the noise difference is inconsequential.

Option 3: Buy an AF 25mm f/1.4 lens instead:

  • OK you are not going to get quite as shallow a DOF as the Olympus 25mm f/1.2 lens and it won’t be as good optically, and certainly won’t be as fast to focus, but if you can live with these, the money saved may be worth it, or it could be false economy
  • The original Panasonic Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 in Four Thirds mount initially cost as much as the Olympus lens, but second hand the price should be lower – a great lens, but heavy, AF is much noisier and slower, even though it is CDAF compatible, AF is often a stuttering experience
  • The Micro Four Thirds version – the Panasonic Leica-DG 25mm f/1.4 lens but optically not as good and operation is noiser and AF not as fast.

Option 4: Buy a really fast 25mm f/0.95 manual focus lens:

  • this will give you full frame level of shallow depth of field, but also full frame level of soft, ghostly imagery wide open and you will need to shoot in manual focus

In the end, you will have to decide which compromise you prefer.

As you can see, every option is a compromise – and that should not surprise any photographer as usually every camera-lens combination does have a compromise – you have to decide which compromise you will accept.

In this case, forego a touch of shallow depth of field and money for an awesome lens, or go for more shallow depth of field but worse overall image quality, or decide against shooting shallow depth of field at the focal length and stick with your f/2.8 zoom lens or perhaps the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens or, perhaps resort to the 45mm f/1.8 and 75mm f/1.8 which make more shallow DOF shots with less busy, more compressed backgrounds.