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Sony A7II full frame with Canon EF 50mm f/1.8ii vs Olympus OM-D with PanaLeica D 25mm f/1.4 lens – real world comparison images

Monday, May 1st, 2017

These two lenses give a similar field of view – that of the “Standard lens” or 50mm in full frame terms.

I have posted similar DOF and background blurring comparisons for full frame 85mm f/1.8 vs Olympus 45mm f/1.8 and also full frame 85mm f/1.8 vs Olympus 75mm f/1.8 taken twice as far away.

This blog post is to demonstrate the slightly shallower depth of field (DOF) and more background blurring that a full frame camera can attain over a Micro Four Thirds camera – but does it make the image more aesthetic, and is the difference really worth losing all the fantastic benefits of Micro Four Thirds – smaller, lighter, less expensive kit, easier to take traveling, to social events and hiking, better weathersealing, better image stabilisation, touch screen AF, closest eye AF, more fun and versatility, and the list goes on.

Only you can decide if you really need to go shallower DOF – and of course on both cameras you can get even more shallow DOF – the full frame allows use of 50mm f/1.4 lenses (and even a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L), while on the Olympus OM-D, you can use the wonderful superb Olympus micro ZD 25mm f/1.2 lens, and if you want, you can go to f/0.95 lenses but currently only in manual focus.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens is known as the plastic fantastic – perhaps one of the worst build quality of any modern AF lens, and a cheap price to match but it has reasonable optics – although, not the sharpest tool in the shed wide open, and has lots of vignetting on the Sony a7II, plus lots of coma aberration and the bokeh is quite busy and often annoying – but this comparison is just to show DOF and degree of background blurring at f/1.8. When used with the Sigma MC-11 EF-Sony lens adapter, you do get fairly fast AF but no Eye AF, BUT it is very frustrating to use as you must re-mount the lens every time the camera is turned off or goes to sleep, and sometimes AF is a very slow stuttering experience. For some reason, the Sony a7II under-exposes this lens at f/1.8 but not at f/2.8 – very strange indeed!

On a full frame camera such as the Sony A7II mirrorless camera, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 ii provides the user with a further 1.3 stops of shallow depth of field options when compared to an Olympus OM-D E-M1 II with the old, now discontinued, Panasonic leica D 25mm f/1.4 Four Thirds lens but will this really matter for most people and will the many benefits of the Olympus system outweigh the DOF benefits of the full frame system?

Note that this Four Thirds lens is one of the few that is compatible with CDAF, but for some reasons, AF is stutteringly slow on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark I but works fine on the mark II camera. This lens was replaced with a smaller, lighter, less expensive Micro Four Thirds version. Neither are weathersealed but the new Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2 lens is.

Real world lens tests:

Let’s have a look at some jpg images straight from camera (just resized for web viewing) with both lenses wide open as I walked around some gardens yesterday, not really looking for great shots, but shots to show difference in depth of field and image quality between the two systems when taken from the same camera position.

The Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 lens is first then the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens, both taken from same camera position:

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Note that the severe mechanical vignetting of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens on the Sony a7 II is causing much more annoying “cat’s eye” shaped bokeh near the edges – note the sky highlights, as well as much darker corners. In addition, the longer aspect ratio of the full frame system makes it harder to exclude distracting skies in portrait orientation than it is with the wider Micro Four Thirds 4:3 aspect ratio – another reason I prefer Micro Four Thirds for portraiture.

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The greater blurring capability of the full frame is well demonstrated here but the near out of focus leaves on the right are far more annoying with their distracting bokeh compared to the less blurred but less distracting bokeh of the Panasonic image.

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When the focus point is farther away, the difference of the degree of background blurring becomes less between the lenses – as demonstrated with my previous posts.

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For this image, the 25mm lens gives adequate subject isolation and background blurring, and I think it has much nicer bokeh, plus if you look at the highlight area of the statues’ head, the cheap and nasty 50mm lens has much more flare, softer, less contrasty imagery – that’s one of the resons why you may want to pay more for a higher quality lens!

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Again the 25mm gives adequate background blurring and it is less busy – look at the branches of the birch – but this bokeh issue is not a full frame versus MFT issue but a lens design issue.

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The larger out of focus circles of the 50mm are actually much more distracting and annoying – sometimes the more background blurring is actually worse for aesthetics!

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Again the 25mm gives adequate background blurring and it is much less busy with nicer bokeh.

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This closer image of grapes, looks nicer with the 50mm lens to my eye as the much larger out of focus bubbles make it less busy.

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The 50mm lens here is giving too much background blurring making it hard to work out what is in the background which can work against the aesthetics by making the viewer work too hard – of course, the 50mm could have been closed down to f/2.8 to address this.

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The bridge looks busier on the 50mm lens – the 25mm to my eye is giving nicer bokeh and sufficient background blurring.

Moral of the story:

Just buying into a full frame system does not guarantee you nicer looking, shallower depth of field, more aesthetic bokeh – you do need to choose your lens carefully, and lens design is always a trade off between wide open sharpness vs wide open bokeh:

The superbly sharp, big, heavy, expensive, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens has busy, distracting bokeh – sort of defeats the purpose of having a shallow DOF lens.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L lens has buttery smooth bokeh but is soft (not that sharp) wide open with lots of aberrations.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 lens is soft wide open with lots of aberrations and often busy bokeh but at least it is relatively small and inexpensive.

The Sony FE CZ 55mm f/1.8 ZA is sharp across the frame, relatively compact but has busy onion ring bokeh and costs $AU1150.

The Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA has nice bokeh and is sharp in the centre wide open but is soft half way to edges and will set you back $AU2250!

See also my comparison table of the high end 50mm AF lenses for a Sony full frame.

And here we have the full frame conundrum – which is the lens that suits your needs best and can you afford the cost and weight?

If you are going to have stop it down to f/1.8 or more for adequate image quality or depth of field, then perhaps you are not really gaining much over an Olympus 25mm f/1.2  lens which is weathersealed, compact, relatively light, has almost zero aberrations and minimal distortion, probably better edge-to-edge sharpness wide open, can focus twice as close, has a lovely manual focus clutch, and has by far the best image stabilisation of 5EV 5 axis IS when used with Olympus OM-D cameras, which also allow fast, accurate AF almost anywhere in the frame (not just near the middle and which can be activated rapidly by using the touch screen or even the touch of the Live View screen on a wifi tethered smartphone) and with ability to accurately AF on the closest eye – just awesome! And that’s not all – on the E-M1II you get continuous AF at 18fps and silent shutter, not to mention the unique Olympus Live Composite mode for doing star trails, car headlights, etc at night, and for static scenes with tripod, the ability to shoot 50mp Hi Res shots.

ps… I didn’t do this comparison with the Olympus 25mm f/1.2  lens as I don’t own one ….. yet! :)

In the end, do you really need the extra shallow DOF that full frame affords when you are giving up so much to have it?

Sony A7II full frame with Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 vs Olympus OM-D with Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens – real world comparison images

Monday, April 24th, 2017

In an earlier blog post, I compared the Sony A7II full frame with Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 vs Olympus OM-D with Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens in terms of how they render the background wide open at f/1.8 at approximately the SAME subject distance and approximately the same field of view. The full frame kit allows 2 stops more shallow depth of field, but for most situations, the ability to blur the background with the 45mm lens is adequate, and it does so at a much smaller size.

In this post, I tackle the photographic problem slightly differently as I tried to maintain the same subject magnification by shooting the 75mm lens twice as far away from the subject as the Canon EF 85mm lens as the 2x crop factor of Micro Four Thirds means the Olympus 75mm lens actually has the field of view of a 150mm lens in full frame terms.

These are two of the sharpest wide aperture “consumer” lenses from each manufacturer – unfortunately, neither are weather-sealed.

Thus when shooting both lenses wide open at f/1.8 at same subject magnification as outlined, one can expect for the Olympus 75mm lens, the background field of view will be narrower and more compressed (which I prefer as most Australian forest backgrounds tend to be busy, chaotic and distracting, and one can better avoid having distracting bright skies in the frame, so less background for me is better, even though it is not as blurry).

Had I shot with the background at infinity, the DOF calculations indicate that the background would be just as blurry, but when the background is quite close to the subject as in these images, the full frame does give more blurry images – but at times too blurry (although this can be addressed by stopping the aperture down but then may need to increase ISO by 2 EV if you cannot afford to have a slower shutter speed, and then the benefits of full frame are largely lost).

One big difference between the two is the far better close up magnification obtainable with the Olympus mZD 75mm lens as both have close focus of around 0.85m but the Olympus does this with twice the telephoto effect giving twice the macro.

In addition, I feel the Olympus OM-D cameras render the greens in a more pleasing way than the Sony a7II, and of course, the Olympus camera has a 4:3 aspect ratio which I think works better for portraits, while the Sony has the old, historic, narrow 3:2 ratio.

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 lens is a highly regarded “portrait” lens, often regarded as one of the best Canon lenses which is not a Pro L lens. It is sharp but does have some CA issues wide open. When used with the Sigma MC-11 EF-Sony lens adapter, you do get fairly fast AF but no Eye AF.

On a full frame camera such as the Sony A7II mirrorless camera, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 provides the user with shallow depth of field options when compared to the slightly smaller (58mm filter vs 58mm filter), lighter (305g vs 400g) Olympus micro ZD 75mm f/1.8 lens but will this really matter for most people and will the many benefits of the Olympus system outweigh the DOF benefits of the full frame system?

The Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens is regarded as one of the best lenses ever made optically and is one of my all time favorite lenses for people photography and also shallow DOF work on Olympus cameras. Unlike the 85mm lens it is optimised for mirrorless cameras and their CDAF system and thus you can have fairly fast, accurate face detection autofocus on the subject’s closest eye (if they are not moving much), which is an awesome feature indeed – this is not possible with the Canon lens.

The Olympus lens has 5EV image stabilisation thanks to the Olympus OM-D E-M1, while the Canon lens gains around 2-3 EV IS thanks to the Sony a7II (it would have none if used on a Canon dSLR).

Real world lens tests:

Let’s have a look at some images straight from camera (just resized for web viewing) with both lenses at f/1.8 as I walked around an oak forest yesterday, not really looking for great shots, but shots to show difference in depth of field and image quality between the two systems when taken from the same camera position.

The Olympus is first then the Canon, all taken at f/1.8, base ISO, with auto WB unless specified, and none had any filters applied to the lenses – both had lens hoods attached:

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I much prefer the Olympus version of the above two, gives better context and I personally find the bokeh of the Canon one a bit annoying because we have lost the definition of the trees too much leaving distracting vertical lines.

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The above was taken with “Shady” white balance.

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The following two show that if the subject distance is substantially less than the background distance, then the degree of background blurring becomes more similar with the two lenses.

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The following two were taken not with the same imagery, but I have added them anyway.

The Olympus  was with WB set to “Shady” but came out too warm – I should have taken a custom WB with a grey target to get the best rendition here.

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The foreground bokeh of this last Canon EF 85mm lens image is very distracting and busy and in fact is so annoying I would be forced to crop it out.

Each lens renders images differently even though I have tried to control subject magnification – both have nice bokeh in most cases, but you do get quite different images – sometimes in favor of the Olympus (thanks to double the background compression), sometimes in favor of the Canon 85mm (thanks to more blurring of a nearby background).

There is no “RIGHT” camera / lens combination that will suit every image – you as the photography have the decision to make as to which tool is needed – assuming you have the tools with you.

But in the end, if you had not seen the full frame imagery, most would be very happy with the degree of background blurring of the Olympus lens – it has how you use it that will determine the success of your photography.

Here is what the Olympus 75mm lens can achieve in outdoor available light portraiture:

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Sony announces awesome new high end full frame mirrorless camera – the Sony a9 – essentially a full frame version of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II at more than twice the price

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

Today Sony announced details of its new high end full frame E-Mount mirrorless camera – the Sony A9 – and on paper it looks great!

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Check out the specs:

  • 24.2MP Full-Frame Stacked CMOS Sensor giving 20x faster data than the a7 models
  • ISO range of 100 – 51200, expandable to 50 – 204800
  • dust and moisture resistant design
  • Blackout-Free Quad VGA 3.7m-Dot OLED EVF with 23mm eye point from lens (18.5mm from frame)
  • silent electronic shutter to 1/32,000th sec
  • mechanical shutter to 1/8000th sec
  • flash sync 1/250th sec
  • 3.0″ 1.44m-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD
    • touch focusing on the rear LCD screen for easily selecting of and shifting focus towards a desired focus point or subject
  • Internal UHD 4K/30p XAVC S  100Mbps Video Recording with HDMI out
    • uses full pixel readout without pixel binning to collect 6K of information, oversampling it to produce high quality 4K footage
  • full HD 1080 120p at up to 100mbps with AF Tracking
  • stereo mic
  • 20 fps Shooting with AF/AE Tracking for up to 241 RAW/ 362 JPEG images
    • 10fps continuous shootingwith AF/AE tracking even when you use A-mount lenses with a mount adapter (LA-EA3)
  • 693-Point Phase-Detection AF System with 60 AF/AE tracking calculations per second and covering 93% of the image – much better than any dSLR!
    • 25% faster performance when compared with α7R II
    • Eye AF improved 30%
    • AF down to EV -3 at ISO 100
  • “5EV” 5-Axis SteadyShot INSIDE Stabilization
  • Mag. Alloy Body, Dual SD Card Slots (one for UHS-II media), Ethernet port for file transfer, b/g/n 2.4GHz WiFi, Bluetooth, stereo mic jack, stereo headphone jack
  • Sony multi-interface hotshoe
  • all-new Sony battery (model NP-FZ100) giving double the battery life of a7R II – rated at 480 shots EVF or 650 shots LCD
  • 673 g / approx. 1 lb 7.7 oz incl. battery, SD card
  • 126.9mm x 95.6mm x 63.0mm/5 x 3 7/8 x 2 1/2 inches
  • $US4500

93% coverage of PDAF

PDAF points now cover 93% of the image area – far better than dSLRs!

The feature set is very similar to the Olympus OMD E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds camera but with a full frame sensor and more than double the price, and of course, much larger and more expensive lenses with less hand-holdable telephoto reach.

The main advantage of the Sony a9 over the Olympus E-M1 is the better image quality at high ISO, so it will be useful for those shooting sports in low light, but apart from that, and the potential for more shallow depth of field and improved dynamic range, the E-M1 will be far more cost effective, lighter, less burdensome and more fun.

On paper, this camera addresses many of the issues I have with the Sony A7II - but will the many ergonomic quirks be addressed?

Sony a7II issues that have been addressed on the Sony a9:

  • rear LCD is now touch screen and in addition, like the Olympus cameras can be used as touch subject to AF but seems you may not be able to do fast AF lock and shoot as with the Olympus
  • better EVF – now the best in the business?
  • silent shutter at last!
  • dedicated AF-ON button to act as back-button AF instead of having to delve into menu to turn this mode on and off
  • can link spot meter to spot focus
  • improved autoISO – can set lowest shutter speed as well as a lowest ISO
  • internal 4K video
  • 1080HD video now to 120fps instead of 60fps allowing 4-5x slo-mo
  • 20 fps burst rate in electronic shutter mode with AF-C instead of only 5fps which is still the fastest mechanical shutter speed
  • 693 PDAF points spread across 93% of screen instead of only 117 PDAF mainly located in the central region
  • faster more accurate AF-C
  • improved image stabilisation – have to wait and see – Sony suggested the a7II was 4.5 EV but in reality was more 2-3 EV, and it was said part of the issue was the physical diameter of the lens mount limiting range of movement that was possible – this could not be addressed easily one would not think!
  • dual SD card slots at last
  • better battery life – we will have to see if the 2.2x more powerful battery translates into longer life
  • zebra settings seems to have been changed to “brightness from 0-109%, set +10% and -10% range” – hopefully for a more useful zebra functionality
  • PC sync socket

A few gotchas:

  • to realise the 20fps AF-C capability you will need to shoot with dedicated lenses designed and optimised for the Sony – Canon EF lenses won’t cut it, and even Sony Alpha lenses will only achieve 10fps
  • the longest focal length Sony E mount lens capable of 20fps AF-C is the new Sony 100-400mm f/4.6-5.6 and when coupled with the 1.4x converter you get 560mm f/8 so no real advantage over the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II with 300mm f/4 which gets you to 600mm f/4 at 2EV better ISO and with 6.5EV IS at 18fps with AF-C, although you do get to zoom but then it is likely the zoom plus TC will result in less sharp images than the Olympus 300mm prime which is amazingly sharp.
    • the target audience for this camera – pro sports shooters – generally need 3 lenses – 16-35mm, 70-200mm and something around 400mm f/2.8 – they will not be impressed with the 100-400mm at f/5.6, and using a non-native lens means they will lose critical AF-C performance
  • if you want to shoot flash, you must use mechanical shutter and thus restricted to only 5fps burst – half what you can achieve with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II with flash and still have AF-C, but if you don’t need AF-C, the Olympus will shoot mechanical shutter at 15fps
  • the electronic shutter speed of 1/32,000th second is only available in S or M exposure modes
  • IS unlikely to be as effective as in the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • no 60fps burst mode as with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • no Pro-Capture mode as with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • apparently touch AF does not trigger shutter automatically as can be configured on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • Eye AF cannot be configured to select closest eye as on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • no in-camera user configurable focus limiter range to ensure out of range areas are ignored as on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • no long exposure timed modes as on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II such as Live Composite
  • weathersealing unlikely to be as good as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • you will struggle to get this into a jacket pocket
  • Professional Service is unlikely to be anywhere near the level and accessibility of Canon or Nikon for major events – this is also a major factor for Olympus and the pro sports photographers

Concluding remarks:

Could this camera along with the E-M1 Mark II revolutionize pro sports photography by adding silent, faster burst rates of 20fps with continuous AF covering a much wider area of the image and with better image stabilisation?

We will not find out until real world tests are conducted.

Nikon and Canon really need to start worrying – if Sony has already leapfrogged over Nikon in full frame camera sales in the US, this camera will add impetus and could potentially make even bigger in roads in the pro dSLR market, especially now that Sigma have created an adapter which allows fast AF with Canon EF lenses, and Cactus radio TTL triggers now allow almost any flash system to be used with the Sony cameras in radio remote TTL flash mode – the barriers to change are rapidly being broken!

I expect Canikon will respond with hybrid optical/electronic viewfinders in their new dSLRs so they can move into “mirrorless” mode through the viewfinder to then offer similar features as the Sony a9 but with the option of full optical/mirror mode when the situation suits it, after all, there is no real size benefit of mirrorless cameras when in the full frame domain as the full frame lenses are so big that shrinking the camera does not make much difference. But then, they still have the issue that most of their lenses are not optimised for mirrorless shooting.

More details on the Sony main website.

Sony A7II full frame with Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 vs Olympus OM-D with Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens – real world comparison images

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

Similar field of view and both have nice bokeh but are very different sizes and ergonomics.

I have posted similar DOF and background blurring comparisons for full frame 50mm f/1.8 vs Olympus 25mm f/1.4 and also full frame 85mm f/1.8 vs Olympus 75mm f/1.8 taken twice as far away.

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 lens is a highly regarded “portrait” lens, often regarded as one of the best Canon lenses which is not a Pro L lens. It is sharp but does have some CA issues wide open. When used with the Sigma MC-11 EF-Sony lens adapter, you do get fairly fast AF but no Eye AF.

On a full frame camera such as the Sony A7II mirrorless camera, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 provides the user with a further 2 stops of shallow depth of field options when compared to the much smaller (37mm filter vs 58mm filter), lighter (115g vs 400g), and similarly priced Olympus micro ZD 45mm f/1.8 lens but will this really matter for most people and will the many benefits of the Olympus system outweigh the DOF benefits of the full frame system?

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Real world lens tests:

Let’s have a look at some images straight from camera (just resized for web viewing) with both lenses at f/1.8 as I walked around some gardens yesterday, not really looking for great shots, but shots to show difference in depth of field and image quality between the two systems when taken from the same camera position.

The Olympus is first then the Canon:

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The following Olympus image I accidentally shot at f/2.2 instead of f/1.8:

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And I shot this Canon image at f/3.5:

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While this Canon image was shot at f/1.8:

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But what about portraits?

A group of young ladies asked if I could take a photo of them with their iPhone – for some reason this is an incredibly frequent happening for me – perhaps they know they can outrun me if I take off with their phone! One of the ladies became excited when she saw I had her “dream” camera – the Sony a7II in my hands and wanted to see what it can do with a portrait so I did some very rough comparisons of the two cameras (NOT the iPhone!):

Olympus 45mm:

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Canon 85mm from a touch further away.

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I tried to explain the differences, but what really got them excited was when I showed them they I could just touch the rear screen of the Olympus and instantly, it snapped it accurate AF on the subject I touched and took the candid shot:

Olympus image shot using the touch AF on rear of screen:

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Conclusion:

There is far more to photography than the technical aspects – photography should be about fun, affordability and inspiring exploration, and above all not be too cumbersome to carry around, and on these points the Olympus kit wins hands down!

The Sony’s poor ergonomics, lack of touch screen AF, no eye detect AF with the Canon lens, only 2 stops IS vs 5 stops in the Olympus, and its propensity to not turn itself off were also big factors in favor of the Olympus OM-D camera.

And, having just played with an entry level Canon EOS 1300D dSLR, it’s poor ergonomics, lack of features, very poor, dim and small viewfinder – I can’t understand why people would not just buy a much better built, weathersealed, very versatile and good looking second hand Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera for a similar price with similar image quality but much better image stabilisation, AF speed and accuracy as well as better dedicated lenses.

I can easily understand why Sony have jumped to 2nd place on full frame camera sales in the USA – leap frogging over Nikon – this would have been unfathomable even 5 years ago – but Canon and Nikon persist with their dinosaur mentality in camera and lens design – and I can understand why the traditional studio or landscape pro photographers who used their systems are jumping to medium format or to Sony.

I can understand why Canon and Nikon are reluctant to introduce functional mirrorless full frame cameras – it exposes their faithful who own very expensive dSLR lenses to the same fate that Olympus Four Thirds users have suffered when Micro Four Thirds was introduced – the realisation that all their existing AF lenses are no longer suitable for the new age of mirrorless CDAF technology and need to be replaced with CDAF-optimised AF stepping motors which will seriously devalue their lens collection – fortunately for me, most of my Canon pro lenses are manual focus tilt-shift lenses so this won’t impact me much when it happens.

In the meantime, we can buy Sony full frame mirrorless cameras with in camera image stabilisation with Eye AF capability, etc and ability to use Canon lenses and flashes even in remote TTL mode – so why buy a Canon dSLR?

In the end, you have to ask yourself if the full frame imagery is really worth it – and in some situations it may be – but if I am needing shallower DOF with the Olympus, I resort to the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens which is my go to lens in this situation – of course if you have the money you could also go for the Panasonic Leica DG 42.4mm f/1.2 lens.

 

 

 

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

Saturday, March 25th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter the new world of cross-platform utility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Value adding to your lens collection – can a Sony a7 II + Sigma MC-11 bring new life to your Canon lenses without breaking your bank?

Monday, March 20th, 2017

Choosing a new camera can really value add to your existing lenses and give them a new life.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds camera adds extra dimensions to your Micro Four Thirds kit by giving them even better image stabilisation, awesome C-AF at 18 fps burst rates with Pro-Capture option and the option of 50mp HiRes mode (albeit requiring a tripod and static scene).

Many of us have a collection of Canon pro lenses and an old Canon dSLR camera which needs updating to value add to these lenses – but which camera?

Sure, you could adapt them onto your Micro Four Thirds cameras but these Canon lenses are not optimised for CDAF, so you need an expensive Metabones adapter to get reasonable AF – and the capability will vary with each lens – some, such as the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro and one of my favorites, the Canon EF 135mm F2L lens will just not AF with a Metabones adapter – whether a straight adapter or a 0.71x focal reducer adapter.

You could buy a cropped sensor Canon dSLR, but unless you are into sports where the Canon 7D Mark II will be useful, the full frame lenses are just too big and poorly suited to cropped sensor dSLRs and Canon don’t make many pro quality lenses designed especially for their cropped sensor cameras.

If you have the money, the obvious choice are the superb Canon 1DX Mark II or the Canon 5D Mark IV but these are likely to break your bank at around $AU5000.

You see money is everything for most of us, if money was not an issue, we would probably buy a variety of best of breed cameras such as:

  • Hasselblad or Phase One medium format for landscapes and studio work
  • Nikon D5 or Canon 1DX with massive, expensive lenses such as a 600mm f/4 for sports or wildlife
  • Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II for everyday use and compact, light travel

But money is an issue for most of us, and so in the Canon full frame dSLRs at the entry level end we have the outdated Canon 6D or Canon 5D Mark III dSLRs, but although these will get you the full frame shallow depth of field and high ISO capabilities, these are not suited to sports, have an old sensor which has less dynamic range capability at base ISO than even the E-M1 Mark II, and in the case of the 6D in particular, has crippled functionality such as a shutter speed only to 1/4000th sec.

Can we do better at an affordable price? – Enter the Sony a7II

The Sony a7 mark II combined with the relatively new and affordable  Sigma MC-11 Canon EF lens adapter may well be a better option than the similarly priced older canon 6D IF you can live with a few major issues:

  • variable AF functionality depending upon the lens but unlike using the much more expensive Metabones adapter, the Sigma MC-11 adapter works really well with the Canon EF 135mm f/2L, so well, that it has made me consider the Sony a7II as a reasonable option! The Canon 50mm f/1.8 II works, but every time you turn the camera off and then on, the lens freezes, so you have to partly dismount the lens and mount, then turn camera back on to re-gain AF functionality.
  • terrible ergonomics – I am not sure what happened to all those Minolta camera engineers when Sony took them over, but, the Sony cameras are certainly not designed with the photographer in mind – if you think the Olympus menu system is confused and convoluted, Sony is worse, and with sometimes very strange  design options, and worse, the constant need to dig into the menu system for simple things such as switching from back button AF to half shutter AF modes, and unlike the Olympus, navigating the panel display settings is very clunky, plus for some reason, the EVF looks blurry even after adjusting the diopter, and countless other annoyances such as no button to switch from EVF to screen manually – yep, you guessed it – another deep dive into the menu system – if you can remember which screen its on! Plus, unlike Olympus, there is no context-sensitive help on the menus or the Scene modes (you just get a sometimes obscure icon).
  • did I mention terrible ergonomics?
  • did I mention the really loud shutter? – unlike Olympus, there is no silent mode – but at least your subjects can hear you taking the shot from 10m away!
  • cannot yet use Canon flashes in TTL mode – but they work fine in manual mode – thankfully, Sony got rid of the proprietary non-industry standard Minolta hotshoe! PS. the Cactus radio wireless TTL flash system is being updated in 2017 to allow Canon and Olympus flashes to work on Sony cameras and other brand cameras including Olympus cameras with full TTL remote radio wireless flash – but Sony and Pentax cameras currently require brand-specific flashes for HSS mode. AWESOME!
  • is not supplied with an external battery charger – what the??? You charge the battery via USB cable with battery in the camera – not very useful if tyou want to use the camera while the battery is charging! You can apparently buy one with a spare battery for about $100

What benefits does the Sony a7 II have over the similarly priced Canon 6D?

  • mirrorless – camera is smaller and lighter, 600g vs 770g
  • EVF instead of OVF means you can hold the camera to your eye for Live View including movies, plus, if you are like me and require reading glasses, you can get away without them by using the EVF for everything including diving into the menu
  • manual focus magnification with focus peaking in the viewfinder – fantastic for Tilt-Shift lenses which are otherwise difficult to focus
  • ability to use native Sony lenses as well as Leica M lenses – probably not a big deal unless you really want to invest in an essentially flawed design system -in my opinion, Sony made a mistake in designing the E-Mount sensor to lens flange distance so short and the mount diameter so narrow – sure it makes the cameras smaller, but that doesn’t help much on full frame as the lenses are gigantic, and furthermore, it cripples image quality with wide aperture, wide angle lenses and cripples the capabilities of a sensor based image stabilisation system – hence the Sony Steady shot IS is no match for the Olympus system, and according to the laws of physics is unlikely to ever be!
  • 24mp newer sensor with much better dynamic range compared to the old 2012 model 20mp sensor of the 6D
  • shutter speed to 1/8000th sec not just 1/4000th sec
  • 5 axis sensor based image stabiliser that works on all lenses (gives about 2EV benefit but requires compatible OIS lens for greatest benefit) vs NO sensor based IS on the 6D – or any Canon dSLR for that matter!
  • 117 PDAF autofocus points compared to 11 on the 6D which are all crowded in the centre
  • face detection AF even when used with Canon lenses – vs face detection only in Live View mode
  • eye detect AF with compatible lenses (not currently with the Canon lenses unless they are made by Sigma)
  • 1200 zone metering instead of 63 zone dual layer metering
  • flash sync 1/250th sec vs 1/180th sec – although my tests with Canon and Olympus flashes, the Sony a7ii only syncs fully at 1/200th sec – perhaps you need a Sony flash for 1/250th sec sync
  • 1.23m dot tilting LCD vs 1mdot fixed LCD (unfortunately, neither offer touch screen)
  • 1080HD 60p video vs 1080HD 30p
  • more accurate AF and much less need for AF microadjustment as the PDAF sensors are on the main sensor not located elsewhere and hence need calibration

Benefits of the Canon 6D over the Sony a7II:

  • similar interface to other Canon dSLRs, albeit a little crippled compared to its more expensive models
  • optical viewfinder for those who value such things
  • better batter life as no EVF
  • more reliable AF with Canon lenses but you are restricted to those 11 points in the centre, and you don’t get face detect AF through the viewfinder let alone eye detection AF
  • ability to use Canon flashes in TTL mode although the Cactus radio wireless TTL flash system is being updated in 2017 to allow Canon and Olympus flashes to work on Sony cameras with full TTL remote radio wireless flash – but apparently they can’t get HSS mode working at this stage!

Conclusion:

In the end, you need to work out which is best for you and the style of photography you do – both solutions are a long way from being ideal – they are both budget compromises – which compromise works for you – only you can tell!

For me, having an image stabilised Canon 135mm f/2L lens with face detect AF and ability to do Live View manual focus magnification with focus peaking in the viewfinder while using Canon Tilt-Shift lenses on the Sony with a better dynamic range and 1/8000th sec shutter for sunny days makes this a compelling choice for me if I were to purchase one of the two.

 

 

The new Sony RX 1R II 42mp full frame compact fixed lens camera – a lovely but pricey serious photography tool

Sunday, November 1st, 2015

Sony has just announced their upgrade to the 2012 world’s 1st full frame compact fixed lens digital camera – the Sony RX I and the new camera is the Sony RX 1R II and packs some very important improvements, albeit with the same excellent Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2 lens, but the RRP of $US3300 may be just a touch too high for most people!

Firstly, these cameras are fairly unique in packing such a high quality lens and full frame sensor into a small package much the same size as a Micro Four Thirds Olympus OM-D of equivalent field of view.

Leaf shutter:

Not only that but the shutter is a leaf shutter in the lens which gives 2 very important advantages over shutters at the sensor:

  • it is more quiet
  • it allows flash sync at full flash output at shutter speeds up to 1/2000th sec  (ie. no need for power sapping high speed sync modes such as HSS or Super FP)

Fast flash sync:

A fast flash sync is extremely useful in 2 particular circumstances:

  • allowing wide apertures to be used in bright outdoor situations at a distance – eg. wedding groups
  • allowing one to over-power the sun if the strobe is powerful enough and it’s full output flash has a very brief duration such as 1/800th sec or shorter – unfortunately many flashes require 1/300th- 1/500th sec duration for maximum flash output which does limit the benefit of fast flash sync somewhat.

Improvements over the Sony RX 1:

  • 42mp sensor and image processor as for the Sony a7RII E-mount mirrorless interchangeable lens camera
  • a much needed improved AF system now with 399-point hybrid AF system and C-AF capability
  • built-in flash replaced with a superb popup built-in EVF – 2,359,296 dot OLED TRU-finder EVF with 0.74x magnification, a 19mm eyepoint and a -4.0 to +3.0 diopter adjustment
  • rear LCD now tilts but still no touch control
  • new variable optical low-pass filter to allow user to decide upon maximum detail or minimal moire artefacts
  • 5fps burst with AF between each frame
  • shutter now to 1/4000th sec
  • can now define a minimum shutter speed for the Auto ISO sensitivity option
  • 50Mbps XAVC S movie mode at 1080 full HD at 24, 25, 30, 50 or 60fps
  • WiFi, NFC, smartphone remote control

What does it miss out on?

There are a few features missing which really should be available on a camera at this price point such as:

  • weathersealing – this is a pity as I could imagine bushwalkers would love this camera if it was weathersealed
  • image stabiliser – this is a real pity as hand held, the camera shake is likely to waste all those 42mp of data and mean that low light street shooters would not get the maximum out of it
  • shutter speed to 1/8000th sec – another problem means one may need a ND filter to use f/2 in bright sunlight, although an option is to drop ISO to 50 and give up some dynamic range
  • 4K video which is now becoming the video to have
  • touch control of rear LCD screen – given this is such a small camera, touch control would be handy indeed

Why not just use an Olympus OM-D E-M5 II with 20mm Panasonic pancake lens?

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 II kit gives the following advantages at 1/3rd of the price and is only a touch larger and heavier:

  • camera is weathersealed (although this pancake lens is not)
  • can use almost any lens ever made
  • the world’s best image stabiliser which is just magic in video mode as well
  • touch control of rear screen which not only tilts but swivels
  • mechanical shutter speed to 1/8000th sec
  • 40mp HiRes mode without moire for static subjects with camera on tripod
  • 77mbps HD video with incredible image stabiliser
  • PC sync port
  • don’t need to pop up the EVF
  • some great in-built features such as Live Composite mode, etc

BUT the Sony does give a few benefits which may make it worth it for some people:

  • the shallower depth of field and lower high ISO noise of the full frame sensor
  • 42mp detail – although one really needs a tripod, fast shutter speed or flash to realize this detail
  • fast flash sync – but you need a short duration flash unit to make the most of it
  • 399 AF points instead of 81 points may provide some benefits

Or for a similar price, the Sony a7R II camera:

The Sony a7R II is only a little more expensive and substantially bigger and heavier, and lacks the leaf shutter, but gives you the following benefits:

  • camera is weathersealed
  • can use almost any lens ever made
  • a very good image stabiliser
  • mechanical shutter speed to 1/8000th sec
  • 4K video

Note that at present there is no dedicated AF lens for the E-mount which equates with this lens, the nearest are the Sony Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 ($US799) and the new Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 (~$US2000). There is a manual focus Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 lens at $US1250.

Thus the Sony RX 1R II gives you similar image quality in a much smaller package and the benefits of fast flash sync and 35mm f/2 and if these are more important than the other features then it maybe a camera to buy but for most, the Olympus OM-D or Sony a7R II would be better options.

A very brief history of camera design – film sizes, mirrors, manual focus aides, and mirrorless

Sunday, July 5th, 2015

There are a lot of people taking up photography who are really only aware of the digital age and thus I thought it was opportune to bring them rapidly up to speed on why we have cameras they way we do and thus what the future may hold.

So let’s go back to the 19th century when film based cameras were first being developed – the initial ones are like those seen in Western movies – mounted on a tripod, while the photographer buries himself under a black cloth behind the camera and uses some kind of primitive flash to light the portrait. What was he doing under the black cloth?

These cameras used photographic plates which could be moved out of the back of the camera and replaced with large ground glass screen which would enable him to focus the image – as long as he could make it dark enough to see the faint image. Once the subject was focused, he would remove the glass plate and insert the film plate, and then he could take the shot. Given that the film speed in those days was so “slow” – perhaps ISO 4 or so, and the lenses needed to be used at f/22 or so for the large format film plate, the exposures would be too long without additional light.

Obviously, the above system was not conducive to the take up by consumers – it was a very technical and slow photographic process.

The Kodak Brownie

George Eastman started manufacturing paper film in 1885 then celluloid in 1889 and created his 1st simple camera, The Kodak, in 1888 with a fixed aperture, focus and shutter speed and a single roll of film that the camera needed to be sent back to the factory for processing – not a great option for the masses.

In 1900, Eastman Kodak needed to sell more film so produced the affordable ($1) and quite simple even for children (“you press the button, we do the rest”) revolutionary Kodak Brownie – a simple box which used a roll film of type 117 producing 6cmx6cm square images (what we call “medium format”). It had no viewfinder or focus mechanism, just V sighting lines on the top or an optional add on viewfinder and thus was designed to create the “snapshot”. Only the film roll needed to be sent for processing.

The Brownie series of cameras were popular for children and families into the 1960′s.

6×6 “medium format” film cameras

The Brownie created a large market for 6×6 film and this spurred manufacture of a whole industry of more professional and enthusiast cameras based upon 6×6 film types (including the very popular 120 film).

These camera manufacturers had to solve a few issues though:

  • how can the photographer compose the image?
  • how can the photographer accurately set a focus for the subject?
  • how can the photographer adjust exposure for different light intensities?

Adjusting exposure was a relatively easy technical problem to solve – add an adjustable iris diaphragm in the lens, and an adjustable spring operated shutter within the lens.

Setting focus and composition though was a different matter with various compromise solutions:

  • adding a reflex mirror which directed the view to the top of the camera allowing it to be viewed from above as a waist level finder, and then prior to exposure being made, the large mirror is removed out of the way so the light will hit the film when the shutter opens – this created heavy, big, noisy “SLR” Single Lens Reflex cameras which ideally had the mirror locked up well before the exposure to minimise camera shake and then had to be manually returned to view next image.
  • adding a 2nd synchronised viewing lens which moved in sync with the main lens during focus and usually a fixed mirror for this lens – this created a heavy, big, quiet “TLR” Twin Lens Reflex camera but what you see is not really what you get – there is parallax error for closer subjects which affects composition and requires correction mechanisms, useless for macro work, and you don’t get to see  effects of filters such as polarising filters. Nevertheless, the fact you didn’t need to lock up the mirror made these cameras extremely popular in the 1930′s (thanks to the more compact Rolleiflex in 1928) through to the early 1960′s for tourists and portrait photographers.
  • adding a small fixed viewing lens with a special mechanism to overlay images to show the photographer when the subject is in focus – the quiet, but large and relatively heavy rangefinder camera. This had similar issues to the TLR and in addition only worked with certain focal length lenses to match the rangefinder mechanism.

There was a need for smaller cameras – enter the 35mm “full frame” cameras

The movie industry had been using 70mm wide film for years, and from 1905 onwards various manufacturers were making cameras for 35mm cine roll film which was 70mm cine film cut in half long ways. These cameras started to gain popularity with Leica’s 1st camera in 1925 followed by a Contax in 1932.

But again it was Kodak who leveraged this popularity by creating a much easier to use 135 cartridge film in 1934 and a Kodak Retina I camera to use it with. In the late 1930′s the Japanese manufacturers started to create 135-type cameras. In the 1950′s Asahi Pentax had developed the instant returning reflex mirror which further increased the usability and popularity of the SLR.

Street photography became easier thanks to 35mm rangefinder cameras such as those made by Leica, and later, a multitude of Japanese versions were sold to families in the 1960′s.

Meanwhile professional photojournalists started giving up their large medium format rangefinders for more versatile, compact 35mm SLRs of the 1960′s.

In the 1960′s, Olympus created an even smaller Olympus PEN rangefinder system using half a 35mm frame as the image size – hence called “half frame” cameras.

In 1963, Kodak introduced their 126 instamatic square film cartridges to make loading film even simpler and easy for children to do, spurning a new generation of children taking snapshots.

The 1970′s saw an explosion in the popularity of the 35mm film SLR helped along by Olympus who further re-defined the product by creating their beautiful, compact, quieter OM system with off-the-film TTL flash metering.

Professional wedding and fashion photographers needing to create large prints were generally not comfortable with the large print quality from 35mm film and still used medium format SLRs, while landscape photographers used even larger film cameras such as 6cmx17cm image panoramic cameras.

In the late 1980′s, Canon changed the SLR world, taking an enormous risk in abandoning its popular manual focus FD lens mount system of cameras and lenses, and thereby making them redundant and practically worthless – not great for your fan base, and created a new autofocus SLR system – their EOS system with electronic focus (EF) lenses which were  to dominate the photojournalist, nature and sports professional photographer world for the next two decades while Nikon played catch up and Olympus lost their way, never really creating an autofocus film SLR system.

How did the photographer accurately focus these cameras without autofocus?

Autofocus was not mainstream in cameras until the mid to late 1980′s, yet generations of photographers have always been able to get well focused images, even of fast moving sports – how did they do this?

Part of the reason is that they didn’t have to have accurate focus – the lenses of the day for 35mm cameras were generally sharpest at f/8 hence the adage “f/8 and be there”. If you are shooting at f/8 you do have a reasonable amount of depth of field to play with, so one option is to preset the focus for your subject’s estimated distance – indeed, this is the only way you could do it on most instamatic cameras – set for people or landscapes and depth of field will handle the rest. This technique is called zone focus and users looked at the depth of field scale on their lenses and worked out a good focus to achieve what they wanted.

But what if you wanted to use wider aperture lens with narrow depth of field, you really needed to get more accurate.

Enter the focusing screen.

The focusing screen is the ground glass used on all optical viewing devices including on dSLRs made today.

Before autofocus, most professional SLR cameras allowed one to remove the screen and replace it with another style depending upon your needs and lens being used.

Commonly, these screens used either a central split image (you align the images for focus) or a central microprism (stops shimmering when in focus) as well as the surrounding ground glass for the user to accurately ascertain focus. Unfortunately the split image, microprism and even the ground glass did not work with all lenses, so we had a screen for macro work, another for astro work, etc.

Most modern dSLRs with autofocus now have a fixed screen without split image or microprism aides, and which is optimised for f/2.8 apertures – if you are using a f/1.2 lens, the camera may automatically close the aperture to f/2.5 or so to optimise the view on the screen.

Modern dSLRs are NOT optimised for manual focus although they often do have “AF confirm” – pressing the AF button whilst turning the focus ring in manual focus, the AF confirm light comes on when it detects focus is achieved as determined by the AF mechanism – this requires a CPU chip in the camera lens or lens adapter.

The latest evolution – the mirrorless camera

Now that we are essentially in a digital camera world with cameras having digital sensors instead of film, and electronic viewfinders are now giving very acceptable views and with many possible functions not available to optical viewfinders, there was no longer a need to have a clunky, noisy reflex mirror which added to camera shake.

Enter the mirrorless camera.

The electronic viewfinders continually improve, and now give even larger apparent views than the best optical viewfinders, allow display of far dimmer subjects making it easy to compose on star fields or with extremely dark filters in place such as infrared filters or 10x Big Stopper ND400 filters.

Not only that, they give you real time live histograms, highlight/shadow warnings, compositional grids, real time pre-visualisation of creative picture tonalities or colours, keystoning adjustments or even exposures.

Furthermore, unlike with dSLRs you still can hold the camera to your face for steady camera holding when using Live View such as in video mode, and there is no need to microadjust the AF system for each lens as is the case with dSLRs.

But wait there’s more – you now gain some awesome manual focus aids such as:

  • image stabilised magnified view
  • focus peaking
  • live boost II so you can see really dim subjects such as faint stars

By removing the mirror, the sensor to lens distance can be shortened and thus allow radical new designs of lenses, especially wide angle lenses, and the ability to mount almost any other legacy lens and still attain infinity focus.

And, just as in the days where there was a market for highest quality large heavy cameras and a market for smaller, compact, quieter, versatile take anywhere cameras, these markets are still with us today and thus enthusiasts and professionals can choose from:

  • high resolution, potentially very shallow depth of field full frame image stabilised mirrorless camera such as the newly announced Sony A7R II which has been optimised to autofocus Canon EF lenses
  • compact, light, versatile, high image quality Micro Four Thirds cameras such as the Olympus OM-D family

Why Micro Four Thirds?

  • sensor size is small enough to allow relatively compact, light lenses with excellent edge-to-edge image quality – usually with much sharper edges than full frame lenses
  • sensor size is big enough to allow just the perfect amount of shallow depth of field for your portraiture when using the premium f/1.8 lenses
  • sensor size is big enough to give a good compromise of resolution vs high ISO noise performance – currently 16mp to ISO 3200, although this will further improve as technology improves
  • large range of lenses optimised for sensor size and silent, fast, more accurate autofocus – even AF on the closest eye
  • ability to use almost any lens ever made and have them image stabilised
  • ability to use full frame lenses with focal reducer adapters or tilt-shift adapters
  • optical image quality deteriorates exponentially the further from the centre and thus smaller sensor lens makers will always have the advantage in lens design
  • 99% of users do not print sizes greater than 20″x30″ and Micro Four Thirds can print to this size acceptably well
  • higher resolutions are possible by panoramic stitching or by sensor-shift technologies such as the Olympus 40mp mode which will be further improved to be usable hand held

And this is the dilemma faced by Canon and Nikon who are yet to really invest in mirrorless systems (not including the small 1″ sensor of the Nikon 1 system or the rather pathetic EOS-M system).

PS. Don’t get me wrong, the current Canon and Nikon systems are wonderful, albeit heavy and expensive, and I have well over $20,000 worth of Canon pro gear, and although they probably will still be around in 10-15 years,  I don’t believe that needs to be the way of the future for MOST people, and I far prefer to carry my compact Olympus gear which does not break my back, packs into cabin luggage on airplanes easily,  and is more affordable and fun to use, and it gives me just as good photos, if not better.

The new Sony a7R II – finally a full frame mirrorless that almost does it all – a game changer indeed!

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

In my last post I compared the current Sony full frame mirrorless cameras with the Olympus OM-D cameras, and had to conclude that for most people, the Olympus OM-D’s were probably the way to go given that each Sony camera had significant issues, not least the lack of lens selection.

But today, Sony has really upped the ante with their newly announced Sony a7R II NEX E-mount full frame mirrorless camera which hopefully addresses many of my concerns and in addition adds faster AF for Canon lenses plus internal 4K video!

Now that is pretty cool and Canon and Nikon should be worried – very worried indeed!

The specs beat their new Canon 5DS hands down assuming one is not going to quibble over 50mp vs 42mp, and beats the Nikon D810E dSLRs.

Sony now make 40% of all digital sensors and Canon is falling so far behind in the mirrorless and video race, it will take something special from them to pull back the lead.

Nikon use Sony sensors so potentially this sensor will find its way into their dSLRs, but neither Canon or Nikon have added sensor-based image stabilisation and this is a real issue for them, nor can they offer accurate, fast AF on a person’s eye via Eye Detection AF, let alone 4K video functionality as is implemented on this camera.

This may be THE BEST camera for your Canon lenses (although you do need to buy a AF adapter such as a Metabones adapter) – as long as you don’t need super fast AF for sports, etc.

image courtesy of http://www.eoshd.com

Sony a7R II specs:

  • world 1st back illuminated full frame sensor for improved high ISO sensitivity and faster data processing (3.5x faster than the a7R)
  • 42.4 megapixels gapless design with anti-reflection coating
  • ISO range 100-25600 (extended: 50, up to 102,400)
  • Fast Hybrid AF system
  • AF response time improved by 40% over the a7R
  • Eye-AF now allows C-AF tracking of closest eye with specific face preferenc via registration
  • fast, accurate C-AF at 5fps even with fast moving subjects
  • 399 on-sensor phase detect AF sensor points covering 45% of the frame = 67% coverage in each direction (larger than dSLR AF coverage)
  • 25 on-sensor contrast detect AF points
  • 5fps burst rate for 22 frames
  • 500,000 shot rated shutter – by far the best specs in the industry
  • 50% less shutter vibration than in the a7R
  • electronic front curtain shutter to reduce shutter shake
  • shutter speeds 30sec – 1/8000th sec
  • flash sync 1/250th sec
  • metering to -3EV, exposure compensation -5 EV to +5 EV (in 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps)
  • no optical low pass filter for optimal sharpness and clarity (although this may cause some moire in videos – to be tested)
  • 3″ tilting 1,228.8k dot LCD screen (tilting up 107° and down 41°) and uses WhiteMagic technology which doubles the brightness of the display but still not touch sensitive
  • 4K video
    • internal UHD 4K 3840 x 2160p at 30/24 fps in XAVC S format at 100Mbps and 4:2:0 sampling at 8-bit
    • Super 35 without pixel binning or full frame read-out format
    • customisable picture profiles
    • S-Log2 Gamma – “squeezes up to 1300% more dynamic range into the video signal then traditional REC709, for increased post-production flexibility”
    • S-Gamut
    • time code – standard ‘Record Run” mode that only advances the timecode when recording, as well as “Free Run” timecode that advances the timecode even when not recording
    • clean 4:2:2 uncompressed video HDMI output
    • sensor based IS – hopefully now better optimised for video – but will it compete with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II’s amazing IS in video?
    • 3.5mm microphone input jack
    • compatible with the Sony XLR-K2M XLR Adapter for recording professional balanced XLR audio signals with phantom power and adjustable mic/line inputs
    • 3.5mm headphone jack as well as real time audio levels for a visual reference
  • 1080p video 60fps XAVC S7 codec at 50Mbps
  • 720 120p slo-mo video
  • silent shooting mode
  • 0.78x EVF magnification with 100% view coverage plus 4-lens system with double-sided aspherical elements for comfortable viewing and diopter – 4 to +3 m
  • magnesium alloy body with weathersealing
  • improved ergonomics – larger grip, re-shaped shutter button and moved forward
  • and taking a leaf from Olympus:
    • the same 5-axis image stabilization system found in the Sony a7 II – my dreams are coming true indeed!
    • the ability to assign any of 56 functions to any of the 10 customizable buttons for a more personalized setup
    • the Olympus mode dial locking system
    • Picture Effect modes: Posterization (Color, B&W), Pop Color, Retro Photo, Partial Color (R/G/B/Y), High Contrast Monochrome, Toy Camera, Soft High-Key, Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Rich-Tone Monochrome, Miniature, Watercolor, and Illustration.
    • Creative Style settings: Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Clear, Deep, Light, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Night Scene, Autumn Leaves, Black & White, and Sepia (all with +/- 3 step contrast, saturation, and sharpness adjustment).
    • Face Detection is available to base exposure and focus on up to eight recognized faces. Furthermore, Eye AF can be used for even greater precision by maintaining critical focus on a subject’s eye – I do love this feature on my Olympus cameras
    • sensor dust reduction system as is now standard in most ILC’s
  • sweep panorama
  • WiFi and NFC connectivity
  • PlayMemories Camera Apps are supported via the built-in Wi-Fi connection, and allow you to personalize the camera’s features depending on specific shooting styles. Apps are available to suit creating portraits, detailed close-ups, sports, time lapse, motion shot, and other specific types of imagery.
  • battery: NP-FW50 Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery Pack
  • optional AC-PW20 AC Adapter
  • 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.4″ / 126.9 x 95.7 x 60.3 mm
  • 22.05 oz / 625 g incl. battery, card
  • $US3200
  • availability said to be August 2015

What makes it a better camera for Canon and Nikon lenses than their dSLRs?

  • 4K video
  • sensor based image stabiliser which works on all lenses – much reduced need for a tripod for portraits with the 135mm f/2.0L lens in low light
  • at least as good, if not better image quality – Sony sensors generally have better dynamic range than Canon ones and this sensor should not be an exception
  • far better manual focus functionality thanks to full time Live View with magnification and focus peaking – awesome when using tilt shift lenses – and they become image stabilised
  • more accurate portrait AF with Eye detection AF – although we will have to see if this works on non FE lenses
  • more accurate AF as uses focal plane PDAF sensors
  • no mirror so less camera shake and no need for clunky mirror lock up modes
  • can use the EVF in either stills or video mode and the video hopefully will have excellent sensor based image stabilisation and thereby allow better run and gun video work without need for heavy, expensive stabilisation rigs
  • PDAF covers more of the image frame
  • C-AF tracking still not quite as good as Nikon’s 3D tracking but perhaps better than Canon’s iTR distance priority tracking
  • WiFi control

Compared to Canon 5Ds R

Similar resolution, burst rate, shutter speed range,

Sony a7R II Canon 5Ds R
Price at Amazon.com $US3200 $US3900
ISO range 100-25600 (expandable to 50-102,400) 100-6400 (expandable to 50-12800)
Weight 625g 930g
Size 126.9 x 95.7 x 60.3 mm 152 x 116 x 76 mm
EVF YES NO
LCD screen tilt screen fixed
HD video awesome image stabilisation 50Mbps 1080 50/60/24pp and 100Mbps 4K 30/24p, stereo mic, headphone port 1080HD 30p/24p average implementation and quality, no EVF and thus must use LCD screen; mono mic; no headphone port, no uncompressed HDMI out
sensor based image stabilisation 5-axis 4.5EV IS No
Manual focus support in viewfinder magnified view, focus peaking AF confirm
AF in view finder mode fast, accurate on sensor 399pt PDAF, 25pt CDAF, Eye detection AF fast 61pt PDAF (5 double cross, 41 cross) requires microadjustment for each lens but proven for sports
AF lamp Yes No, need speedlight attached
flash sync 1/250th sec but no PC port? 1/200thsec
Radio TTL flash No Yes
Sweep panorama Yes No
silent electronic shutter Yes No?
shutter rating 500,000 shots 150,000 shots?
battery life 290 shots 700 shots
CF and SD memory card slot No Yes
USB 3.0 No Yes
WiFi and NFC Yes No

What’s missing?

  • LCD screen is not touch sensitive – this is very useful on Micro Four Thirds cameras, and I would miss it
  • radio remote TTL flash
  • lossless RAW files – current 14bit lossy RAW files do show some posterization – firmware update may address this
  • whilst PDAF is more accurate, PDAF capabilities in low light is not as good as on dSLR
  • PDAF initial AF lock not as fast as a dSLR when using very out of focus telephoto lenses
  • timelapse recording? – via PlayMemories App?
  • USB 3.0 (still only 2.0)
  • colour rendition may not be as good as peers – Olympus jpeg engine is renown for its colours
  • none of the nice Olympus long exposure and low light options:
    • timed shutter to 60secs
    • Live BULB
    • Live TIME
    • Live Composite
    • Live Boost I and II for better EVF viewing
  • of course, the dedicated lens selection is currently very limited, but at least now, it promises to give faster AF for Canon lenses
  • not compatible with TTL flash from other systems such as Olympus, Nikon or Canon – perhaps one day they will be universal remote TTL flash capability, but this seems a way off yet

Conclusion:

I still believe that the Olympus OM-D cameras are a better fit for MOST people who just need a high quality, light, compact, versatile weathersealed system.

But for the pros and enthusiasts who don’t mind the extra size, weight and cost (~$US4000 for basic kit)  and are wanting high resolution, image stabilised full frame, or the serious videographers wanting high quality 4K video, then this camera is indeed a game changer given that it has all these capabilities without being absurdly expensive!

It also provides an option as a 2nd system to go along with your everyday Micro Four Thirds system, although an alternative to this role could be the newly announced Leica Q which is a 24mp full frame fixed lens camera with a superb 28mm f/1.7 lens and a very quiet leaf shutter which allows flash sync at 1/500th second – a great combo for street photography as well as shooting groups at weddings outdoors or indoors with flash fill in.

Finally, will it live up to the hype and the specs?

Formal testing and user experiences will be required to answer a few questions such as:

  • how good is the image quality from the sensor?
  • how fast is the AF with Sony FE lenses and with Canon EF lenses?
  • how good is the video quality?
  • how effective is the image stabiliser for video?
  • how good is the ergonomics and handling?
  • are there any gotchas yet to be revealed?

Time will tell if this camera is the gem it appears to be.

Which mirrorless in 2015 – Sony full frame or Olympus OM-D?

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Mirrorless cameras are fast becoming THE camera type of the future thanks to the removal of the mirror which is holding back dSLR cameras from the many benefits of the new EVF world – in particular, the every increasing technological changes which in nearly all aspects have addressed the benefits of an optical viewfinder while adding in so many other benefits.

But which mirrorless camera system to buy?

I am going to discount the Nikon 1 system as the sensor is really too small for enthusiasts wanting a good compromise in size vs image quality vs shallow DOF.

For simplicity, I am also going to discount the APS-C cropped sensor systems (eg. Sony NEX, Fuji, Samsung) as they generally have larger lenses and very few are well designed for the cropped sensor cameras, and really, if you are going to have the larger lenses, you may as well go the whole hog and get a full frame camera. That said, many may find these cameras give them the compromise they need, particularly, the Fuji X system with their very nice lenses such as their 56mm f/1.2 portrait lens.

That leaves us with compact, light, less expensive, Micro Four Thirds 2x crop sensor cameras (Panasonic, Olympus, Kodak and Black Magic cameras) vs the relatively new Sony NEX FX cameras.

Micro Four Thirds vs Sony FX mirrorless:

The main reasons to consider paying all that extra money and carrying heavier, larger cameras and lenses for a full frame system include:

  • more capabilities of achieving even shallower depth of field – perhaps 1-2 stops more shallow
  • ability to use full frame lenses at their native field of view
  • some niche $2000-$3000 lens options only available in full frame as yet, such as 17mm tilt-shift, 14mm f/2.8 ultra-wide capable of taking filters, 24mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2
  • access to higher resolution sensors to allow even larger prints
  • access to sensors with even better high ISO performance

But these Sony full frame cameras come at a cost:

  • larger and heavier kits
  • more expensive cameras and lenses
  • images are generally less sharp away from the centre
  • very small range of dedicated AF lenses
  • current lenses generally have poor close focus limits and smaller apertures compared to Olympus options
  • shallow depth of field is often your enemy
  • high resolution images will generally require use of a tripod
  • high resolution sensor cameras create much larger RAW file sizes and use up more space on memory cards and your hard drives
  • range of camera options is much narrower
  • less hand holdable telephoto reach
  • equivalent telephoto reach lenses are MUCH bigger, heavier, more expensive and require tripods
  • only one Sony camera has 5 axis in-body image stabilisation and it is not as effective as the Olympus OM-D/PEN implementation
  • none of them can compete with the video image stabilisation of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II
  • none of them will allow 1/3rd sec sharp hand held wide angle shots such as the Olympus cameras – eg. night time or when using ND400 10x filters in bright sun for blurred water effects
  • none will allow hand held night urban shots with adequate depth of field (compared to the Olympus OM-D’s and lenses such as 12mm f/2.0)
  • none of them have the handy functions of the Olympus cameras such as 60sec timed exposures, Live TIME, Live Composite exposures
  • each of the 3 current Sony FX cameras have gotchas which may prevent one from achieving what is hoped for:
    • ergonomics are not quite there
    • shutters are very noisy
    • the LCD screens are not touch sensitive
    • no timelapse recording
    • the Sony a7R 36mp camera has poor image quality at certain shutter speeds as one cannot use an electronic 1st shutter and thus is subject to shutter shake, no in-body IS, and only has 25 CDAF points and no PDAF, while flash sync is a miserable 1/160th sec while burst rate is a slow 4fps but would make a great landscape camera
    • the Sony a7S 12mp “low light”/”video” camera has RAW compression artefact issues, poor dynamic range, low resolution, no in-body IS, and only has 25 CDAF points and no PDAF, while burst rate is only 5fps but does make a great low light video camera
    • the Sony a7II 24mp camera finally has in-body IS, and PDAF with good dynamic range, but noise at high ISO, and only 5fps but does provide a way of image stabilising those Canon and Nikon prime lenses whilst retaining full frame characteristics although you do lose fast AF.

Let’s compare the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II vs Sony a7II:

These are relatively close in functionality, both offering IBIS, WiFi, weathersealing and similar resolution.

Olympus OM-D E-M5II Sony a7II
Price at Amazon.com $US999 $US1698
Weight 417g 600g
Size 124mm x 85mm x 44.5mm 127 x 96 x 60 mm
EVF eye sensor auto switching issues with eye sensor auto switching
LCD screen articulating touch screen not touch sensitive
HD video awesome image stabilisation 50Mbps 1080 50/60p better video quality but IS not as good
Burst rate 11fps 5fps
Top panel dual dial + 2×2 system Yes No
AF fast 81pt CDAF (need E-M1 for PDAF) 25pt CDAF, 117pt PDAF
Hi-Res mode Yes, 40mp No
Live BULB, Live TIME, Live Composite, 60sec timed, Live Boost EVF Yes No
Sweep panorama Individual shots stitched Yes
Auto hand held HDR Yes No
“14-28mm” pro lens 7-14mm (14-28mm) f/2.8, 534g, 106mm long, 0.2m close focus, no filter, MF clutch, $US1299 16-35mm f/4, 518g, 99mm long, 0.28m close focus, 72mm filter, OSS, no MF clutch, less sharp, distortion and CA worse, $US1348
“24-70mm” pro lens 12-40mm (24-80mm) f/2.8, 382g, 84mm long, 0.2m close focus, 62mm filter, MF clutch, $US740 24-70mm f/4, 426g, 95mm long, 0.4m close focus, 67mm filter, OSS, no MF clutch, very soft away from centre, complex distortion, $US925
“70-200mm” pro lens 40-150mm (80-200mm) f/2.8, 760g, 160mm long, 0.7m close focus, 72mm filter, MF clutch, $US1399, opt. 1.4x converter 70-200mm f/4, 840g, 175mm long, 1-1.5m close focus, 72mm filter, OSS, no MF clutch, no teleconverter, soft corners even stopped down, $US1498
“50mm” standard prime lens 25mm (50mm) f/1.8, 136g, 41mm long, 0.24m close focus, 46mm filter, $US349 (also other options such as Leica-D 25mm f/1.4) 55mm f/1.8, 281g, 64mm long, 0.5m close focus, 49mm filter, excellent optics, shallower DOF, but poor close focus and expensive $US998

Just look at those 3 main zoom lenses, the Olympus zooms offer better edge-to-edge sharpness, less distortions, substantially better close focus, and extra stop of light which partly addresses the shallow DOF and high ISO capabilities of the Sony full frame sensor, whilst being less expensive and offering the lovely manual focus clutch, and for the telephoto, the option of a 1.4x teleconverter.

The Sony zoom lenses being f/4 to allow a more compact, lighter and affordfable solution than the usual f/2.8 full frame lenses does not get you into the comfort zone shallow depth of field full frame f/2.8 zoom lenses and thus would miss the mark for portrait, fashion and wedding photographers who really do need the f/2.8 aperture.

Not only that, but Micro Four Thirds offer over 40 dedicated AF lenses in their system, while Sony only have 6 to date, and none of these are fisheye (let alone f/1.8 fisheye as with the Olympus), only 2 primes, and no macro lens. Micro Four Thirds has some lovely, compact lenses optimised for fast CDAF such as:

  • 8mm f/1.8 fisheye
  • 12mm f/2.0
  • 17mm f/1.8
  • 20mm f/1.7 pancake
  • 25mm f/1.4 or f/1.8
  • 42.5mm f/1.2
  • 45mm f/1.8
  • 60mm f/2.8 1:1 macro
  • 75mm f/1.8 (my favorite)

Olympus will also be bringing out their much anticipated 300mm f/4 super telephoto which will give hand holdable 600/840mm telephoto reach impossible to obtain on the Sony system as it would require a 600mm lens and they are big, heavy and expensive, and NONE are optimised for CDAF and face detection AF as the Olympus will be.

In addition, a 0.72x focal reducer on an Olympus OM-D combined with a Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens effectively gives you an image stabilised 200mm f/2.8 lens in full frame field of view and depth  of field characteristics, and it should not be too long before we see these with faster AF.

If you don’t like the video quality of the Olympus cameras, there are always the Panasonic GH-4 4K camera and Black Magic video cameras.

Furthermore, you can carry the Olympus E-M5 camera and a few prime lenses in your jacket pockets!

I think I have just convinced myself not to head down the Sony route even though there is the tantalising prospect of the very shallow depth of field options – I think I can manage this aspect with focal reducer adapters!

HOWEVER, the 36mp Sony a7R may be worth it for landscape photographers wanting to make larger prints and who are willing to carry a tripod for every shot, and avoid those shutter speeds where shutter shake is problematic – so it would be great for waterfalls, blurred water seascapes, etc and much more affordable than a Nikon D810 dSLR or Canon 5DS dSLR.