Feb 272015
 

The Moose That Got Away

by R.Luther

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(From Steve: This is a cool little post from Site Sponsor, rluther.com. He makes amazing little buttons to add to your mirrorless cameras for improved tactile feel and control. I have a set on my Sony A7s and A7II, love them. You can see more at his website HERE.)

Okay, it really wasn’t a Moose! It’s just that when you grow-up in a large city, (in this case Pittsburgh) ya think of all large four-legged animals with antlers pokin’ out of their heads as a “Moose”. It was probably a large elk. A really, really big Elk. We’ll get back to this mammoth mammal in a moment. But… Here’s how this true story really begins.

Sometime in February, 2012 I spotted in a photo magazine what I’ve been dreaming of my entire photographic life. Sony, in their divine, creative engineering wisdom, was offering a camera that I was sure I could not live without. A very small, twenty-four megapixel, Tri-nav….yada, yada The “Sony NEX-7 24.3 MP Compact Interchangeable Lens Camera”.

The links below compelled me to lose touch with my normally prudent senses.

http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2011/10/23/the-sony-nex-7-digital-camera-review-by-steve-huff/
http://www.cnet.com/products/sony-alpha-nex-7/

The Cactus

Next, came the very unpleasant task of convincing “the wife” that there’s a big difference between our definition of “need” and “want”. I would surely rather sit naked on a cactus! Persistence is key in these matters! After creating a solid week of sound arguments (mostly bullshit), I could tell that she was tiring. Persistence! Finally she gave in, but made it quite clear that all of my Nikon gear had to be “sacrificed” on Craigslist ASAP! What could I do? That’s right, I offered my Nikon D300 and all lenses on the www. I guess I under priced this equipment, because within a week or so I had more than enough funds for my new “dream camera”.

Then the floods came

http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2011/10/20/sony-nex-7-majorly-delayed-due-to-flood/

The wrath of Mother Nature decided to super-soak Thailand and brought the Sony NEX production to an unexpected screeching halt. My disappointment was painful. Sometimes “bad” news can be good news in disguise and this delay actually turned out to be “a good thing”. While anxiously awaiting Amazon’s pre-order announcement, I began reading everything I could about Sony’s new offering. It soon became very obvious that they (Sony) weren’t thinking very hard or clearly when it came to the placement of the “Record” button. This “flaw” was reported by everyone everywhere.

An opportunity was revealed

This nuisance button placement needed a solution and re-ignited my dormant entrepreneurial spirit. It took a few drinks, a few days, and dozens of sketches, but voila, I felt good enough about my design/solution to begin production. “The Guard” was born! It was/is a success! Luck counts too. http://www.rluther.com/

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Finally

On Monday Sept 12, 2012 Amazon notifies me that they have a few NEX-7 bodies available and within two minutes my finger was pressing the “Buy Now With 1-Click” button. (Prime/No Shipping) for $1199.99. Now I’ll be happy! Within a few long days I ordered 3 “E” lenses. Even my wife thought that it was the coolest little camera she had ever seen. It’s all good.

I love that truck!

We live on an acre of high plains property in New Mexico and our neighbors are sparse. I mention this because it helps explain how the faint sound of a strangely colored truck could be heard miles away. To be fair, you need to know that the “Track Package” feature at the “Your Orders” page at Amazon gave me a “heads/ears-up”. Ya just gotta love that Jeff Bezos!
Robert, my UPS driver was grinning as broadly as I was when he pulled his beautiful “Toy Truck” (my wife calls it “Rick’s Toy Truck”) on to our property. I think they may be on to me. It was like Christmas morning! It was here!

Getting acquainted

It didn’t take long to not read the manual and installing the “Guard” was just as easy as I had been telling our customers. (note: I borrowed a NEX from a friend of mine that worked at Best Buy to develop the Guard). Before the sun settled on the horizon, I managed to take the obligatory 150+ pics of our four cats, 55 lawn furniture pics, & 88 sunsets. I believed I was ready.

Vacation time

On Sunday 6-24-12, after loading-up our Jeep Liberty with probably 72% of everything we own, (I’m not sure why, but my wife has this “disorder” that results in her thinking that when we take a vacation, we are permanently relocating. Very peculiar!) we headed North. Our destination was a time-share resort in Estes Park, Colorado. Very nice! We settled in and rested-up for the hiking we would do the next day.

 

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The beast and the buttons

It’s just my opinion, but I think that cameras & hiking get along better than most any married couple that I’ve ever met. I’m just sayin’! The forest trails in Estes Park were almost as beautiful as my new NEX-7 but much more challenging. We hiked for hours when I heard something that sounded like it might be a lot larger than us and I quickly, but cautiously turned to see a monster of a Moose (Elk). It really was very probably the largest animal I ever made eye-contact with. Regaining my composure, I reached for the almost new camera and decided to use the attached lens, a 55mm f3.5-5.6. As I was getting the camera ready for the “shot of a lifetime”, I realized the “flush” setting buttons didn’t allow the quick access I needed for “the perfect shot”. The f@#$* setting buttons were “hiding” from me! The big beast patiently looked at me as if he knew he would have to pose a bit longer, but as I struggled with the “invisible” buttons he decided that he had lost patience with me and my new NEX, and wandered off leaving me with only an unbelievable mega-Moose (Elk) story to tell. Without the photographic evidence, no one was ever going to believe me. Damn!

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We hiked awhile as I cursed the stupid buttons.

On the way back to the condo I decided that subtle modifications could be made to my “baby” that would very likely preclude ever missing “the Moose shot of a lifetime”.

Goodwill, a manicure set & some toothpaste

Since we were staying in CO. for another week or so, I thought I’d put on my designer/entrepreneur hat once again and started drinking, thinking and sketching. I’m a big fan of all the used stuff at Goodwill and decided that would be the best place to begin. It was just down the road. Rummaging through a bunch of small junk, raw materials appeared that could be “whittled on” to produce my first, second, and third prototype. A bit of toothpaste and a hairdryer and Voila the four not so shiny buttons came to life. They looked like crap but added the tactile feel that I was looking for and needed to “find” the buttons. YES! My “missing the Moose” days were over and another simple but clever product began its infancy.

Home sweet home
Time to go to work. Taking some of the “Guard” profits, I ordered some materials for final button prototypes. After considering every conceivable material, I decided CRES (stainless-steel) would be the best choice. The production of these flawless buttons wasn’t as easy as you might think and I won’t bore you with details, but here are a few photos to illustrate some of the difficulties:

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See the finished product at http://www.rluther.com

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I love that Moose! …. The End

Feb 272015
 

Back to Sony after 30 years away and why the RX10 works for me

By Chris Lamle

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What? I hear you cry… but Sony didn’t make cameras 30 years ago! It’s true, they didn’t, but way back when I was an graphic design student I had 2nd hand Minolta XG-7 (see the Sony connection?), upon which I cut my photographic teeth and learned the basics of taking photographs as well as processing and printing the images.

Fast forward a few years and there’s marriage and kids. The Minolta has long since died and I ditch my wifes’s Canon AE-1 for a Pentax compact (what was I thinking!). Sacriledge I know, but I was looking for something easier and simpler to use and that had autofocus and a zoom. I guess I was a lazy photographer.

Fast forward a few more years and a succession of film compacts, an early Minolta Dimage bridge camera (Sony again!!!), various other digital compacts and a Fuji bridge camera. All were pretty convenient and took, to my eyes at the time, pretty ok snapshots.

I had always enjoyed taking photographs but never considered myself an enthusiast and had only minimal knowledge of such basics as ISO, noise, sensor size and suchlike. I just stuck the camera in ‘P’ and hoped for the best.

It was only after briefly using a friend’s Nikon D90 that I realised that I was missing something. Well a lot really… like rich colours, image detail, bokeh, low light performance, a decent viewfinder. You name it.

So I decided that I would take my photography more seriously and started reading up. And boy did I read… magazines, websites, online reviews, offline reviews, watched video reviews and became immersed in everything to do with photography and cameras, to understand what I was missing.

So what was I looking for in a camera (in no particular order)?

Image quality
Convenience
Versatility
Usability
Quality
Shooting experience

What I didn’t want:

Bulk
Weight
Faffing about

After what seemed like months of research I came within a hairs breadth of getting a E-M5. And probably would not have regretted buying it. Then a friend mentioned the RX10. This, he said, was the Holy Grail for what I was looking for.

So I read up all I could on the RX10, including Steve’s review here. And took the plunge. A big deal for me, especially as I paid launch price for it. That was 4 times more than I’d EVER spent on a camera in my life.

The Basics:

I won’t detail full specs here as there are plenty of online reviews that go into much greater detail. For those unfamiliar with the RX10, it is basically the RX100’s big brother. The headline features are the same 1” 20Mp sensor as the RX100, but paired with a constant F2.8 Zeiss 24-200 equivalent zoom.

So why does the RX10 work for me?
Convenience.
Just 1 camera for stills and video. 1 fixed lens for pretty much all the situations that I like to shoot, whether it be portraits, street photography, landscapes, architecture. It’s reasonably compact, especially given the extra lenses you’d need to bring along from a comparable ILC system. And then there’d be the tiresome bother of changing lenses. Some people argue that the electronic zoom is slow. And it is, compared to a manual zoom. But people forget that while you’re changing out your 24-70mm for a 70-200mm, you’ve just missed the shot that I just got. And the zoom, in video mode, is pretty much silent.

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Versatility.

It’s the Swiss Army Knife or Gerber Multitool of cameras. Excellent at lots of things and just really handy to have around… need more reach and better quality than a compact? Yep. Want better video than an E-M5? Yep. Full manual controls like a full sized DSLR? Yep. Good EVF so you can shoot in bright sunshine, or because your eyesight is so poor you can’t see an LCD screen without glasses? Yep. It can’t take stones out of horses hooves, but there’s not much it isn’t capable of tackling… high speed sports and wildlife excepted.

Usability.

The RX10 scores really well here. Buttons and controls are numerous and customisable. I particularly like the aperture ring on the lens and the dedicated exposure compensation dial. Combine these with the function buttons and dials and I can easily change camera parameters without taking my eye from the viewfinder or delving into menus. And the camera isn’t overloaded with buttons.

The Sony menus seem intuitive and easy to navigate. Plus there is a Fn button that brings up a customisable view of functions that you can change quickly – like metering, drive mode, special effect, ISO, ND filter on/off. Nice.

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Quality.

I’ll divide this into build quality and image quality. Build quality is superb, as to be expected from a camera at this launch price. But it’s a really great feeling piece of kit. It features a magnesium body overlaid with high grade plastics. The Panasonic GH series cameras and entry level DSLRs are like plastic toys in comparison. The lens is a precision engineered chunk of glass and metal befitting its Zeiss badge, with the electronic zoom and aperture ring feeling very slick. The peripheral dials and buttons have that ‘hewn from solid’ feel that you know will last.

Image quality.

The pairing of Sony’s excellent 1” sensor and 24-200 Zeiss lens make a winning combination. The lens is sharp and produces punchy images. I shoot a mix of Raw and JPEG. I find the JPEG processing, although a little mushy when you’re pixel peeping, is more than adequate if I’m taking photos at a social event where the images are only going on Facebook. For landscape shoots or when I want to control the final image more, I’ll shoot RAW. There’s more noise than you would get from a bigger sensor, obviously, but at the A3 sizes I print it’s fine for me. I reckon I can recover plenty of shadow detail from Raw images – see sample of the Cabo Sao Vicente – Europe’s most south westerly point.

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I’ve also included (shock horror on Steve Huff Photo) images of a brick wall!!! I know this isn’t meant to be a hugely technical review and my comparison isn’t hugely scientific or methodical, but shows how how the RX10 stacks up against an APSC camera (in the shape of an EOS M) at ISO 200 and ISO 1600, all SOOC JPEGs. There’s a smidge more noise at 1600, but damn this 1” sensor stacks up well given it’s half the size. The image from the RX10 is actually punchier and more contrasty to boot.

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Shooting Experience

So it may have all these great features, but what’s it like to shoot with? The size is more traditional DSLR than an M4/3 system, but then it does come with a 24-200 F2.8 lens built-in. To to add that range onto a DSLR or even an M4/3 body will add more weight combined, than the RX10 alone. At around 800 grams it feels comfortable to use all day. It doesn’t drag on my neck and neither does it feel heavy to hold for long periods. The grip is a good size and feels nice and comfortable in the hand. Well my hand anyway. The dials and buttons all feel ‘right’ and in the right place. The buttons actuate precisely without any sponginess, ditto the dials which I’ve never had accidentally shift to another setting.

Being a mirrorless camera it has an EVF. Not as bright as an OVF, but good enough for me, and even better than an OVF in low light. The live view is brilliant for getting a more realistic idea of what your image will turn out. Subtle adjustments to aperture and the EV compensation and you can instantly see changes to exposure and/or depth of field. All without taking your eye away from the scene in the viewfinder.

Autofocus speed is good. Maybe it’s not as snappy as an E M5 or an A6000, but it’s good. I rarely find myself thinking ‘just bloody focus will you’. The only times have been at the tele end in low light and low contrast.

There’s also the option of the excellent manual focusing, which you can use with focus enlargement or focus peaking. I haven’t really got the hang of focus peaking yet, either that or it doesn’t work for stills. It never seems to be in quite in focus using this method. Maybe there’s a technique I’ve missed.

Tracking focus is another story. But then this camera is not really aimed at sports or wildlife, which probably includes kids and dogs. You need to take a different approach to this type of shooting, either using zone focusing or presetting a focus point, which I used in the pool shot.

So what do I think it’s good for?
Landscapes. Good dynamic range and an excellent focal length range means it’s great for anything from stunning wide vistas to detail shots, both inside and out.

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Street shooting: the near silent shutter is a bonus, but the fact it looks more like a DSLR and the size make it a little more obvious and intrusive. But, again, the focal range means you can be switching between views and grabbing open street scenes or more intimate moments

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Portraits: subject isolation is possible at its widest aperture and a longer focal length.

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Events and social gatherings: the zoom range and wide aperture makes it great for capturing people at social events. Again the near silent shutter is great here.

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What it’s not so great for:

Basically anything requiring 200mm+ reach is out.
Fast moving subjects using tracking focus
Fitting in your pocket. This is strictly a bag only cam.
If you want ultimate low noise high ISO image quality

A few more images..

All the images have all been taken over the last year and have mainly been taken in Spain, in and around a small town in Andalucia called Olvera. Others are from my home in West Yorkshire and from a short trip to Portugal. It’s a mixed bag as you can see, with a bit of everything from food photography for a local bar, to friends and family, people and places. Sharp eyed Game of Thrones fans may even spot Missandei (actress Nathalie Emmanuel) when we did a spot of papparazzi as the show was being filmed in our neck of the woods in Spain.

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Downsides

OK, so there are some. It’s size does mean it’s not at all pocketable. So maybe I’ll get an RX100 one day as a companion. Ideal for simply popping in a shirt pocket. Battery life is barely a day. Typical for a mirrorless camera I guess. But batteries are cheap enough that it’s not an issue. The switch that alternates the clicky/clickless option on the aperture ring is prone to be activated accidentally. Again, it’s a nitpick really. You need to remember to pull the LCD screen away from the camera before mounting on a tripod, as it won’t slide out otherwise. Not sure if the focus peaking actually works properly, or whether it’s just me. The screen isn’t fully articulated, where I guess most videomeisters would prefer it was.

Conclusions

A great travel and family camera in a moderately compact form. It offers a real step up in quality from a standard P&S, and is not that far behind M4/3 and APSc. For many people it’s literally all the camera they could ever need. No need to bother with lens swapping, no need for a separate video camera. Just get it out and start taking great pictures. Yet it also enables advanced users the option to get fully creative with the manual controls, which are all to hand like a ‘proper’ camera. It’s great for both stills and video.

Talking of video… why no mention of it. Well (cough, shuffles feet), I’ve barely done any. The few clips I’ve done look excellent to me, but I’ve hardly scratched the surface of what it does video-wise. But it’s nice to know it’s very capable, should I get the urge to create a movie sometime. Despite the lack of 4K video it offers serious pro-level features, like a clickless aperture ring. silent zoom, headphone socket, no line skipping full sensor readout.

At the price I paid I thought it was a great all-in-one camera. At its current price of around £650 in the UK, it’s a positive steal.

Hope you enjoyed the review, and the pics.

Thanks Steve.

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B&H Photo has the RX10 for $999 – See Steve’s original RX10 Review HERE.

Feb 262015
 

Using Sony NEX cameras as a digital back for 4×5″ Sinar

By Dierk Topp

What do you get:

The possibility of the use of most of the movements of a large format 4×5″ camera!
And to get very high resolution images (300 MPixel or more) for very large prints. I printed up to 2m wide, I love to “walk” around with my eyes on high res prints :-)

Where and for what can it be used?

for any static object, ideal for studio work and stills
the weight of my set up with tripod is about 10kg, not usable for hiking (the gear of Ansel Adams was 20kg and more, as far as I know)
Therefor for landscapes I use the normal technique shooting hand held or with a tripod and just shift the whole camera.

but:

you should have some experiences with large format and/or want to learn more about it
you have to invest some time for set up and camera alignment
you want to slow down for taking pictures

How do you use it?

set up the camera on a tripod
set the camera on all manual and RAW
use the ground glass of the Rhinocam for rough positioning (the normal ground glass of the Sinar is useless, it is not at the position of the sensor)
move the NEX into position
use the display of the NEX for first focusing
move the camera to the outer edges of the Rhinocam and control the framing of the whole image
use the shift and tilt mechanics of the camera for the desired plane of focus
control the framing again
use the focus lope for exact and final focusing
stop down the lens and do a test shot of an important area for exposure control
adjust flash and or aperture or exposure time for outdoor shots
if necessary, do a test shot with gray card or Colorchecker for color management

You may just shoot the 6 or 8 images by using the movements of the camera within the Rhinocam and get a high res image. If you want or need higher resolution, you move the camera closer to the object. In order to cover the same scene you have to shoot extra rows and columns by shifting the camera rear standard in x and y direction and will end up with 20 or 30 images. The parallax is no problem, as all the images are coming out of the same image circle! Using large format you will know, that the lenses have a huge image circle, in which you may shift the film or today the digital camera.
For example the image circle of the Rodenstock Sironar-N 150mm is 214mm at f/22! (more here: http://www.prograf.ru/rodenstock/largeformat_en.html )
More on Schneider Symmar lenses is here: http://www.schneiderkreuznach.com/en/photo-imaging/product-field/photo-lenses/products/large-format-lenses/analog-lenses/apo-symmar-l/

Sorry, if this is not clear enough, but I tried my very best (and sorry for any strange English :-) ).
The different image sizes of the following images below depend of the use of this shift technique and multi row shooting.

What gear do I use?

a Sony NEX camera (I use the NEX-6)
a 4×5 Sinar P (or Gandolfi Variant) with standard back mount
I prefer the Sinar P, as all movements are geared and can be controlled perfectly
a Rhinocam adapter (there are other adapters, that could be used as well, but I only know and use the Rhinocam today)
a large format lens with 150mm or more for infinity shots,
for studio or close up shots 120mm or less is possible
a good tripod with a good head (Manfroto 055 with Arca Swiss Monoball P0)
two soft boxes for studio work and a remote flash trigger
the X-rite Colorchekcker or gray card for perfect color management
a software for stitching images (ICE from MS for Windows, PTGui, PS or many others)

How much does it cost?
Here are my “investments”:

the price of a APS-C NEX depends on the model and condition
the Sinar P was about 650€ used in perfect condition
the price of the Rhinocam depends on where you buy it
the price of my Schneider Makro-Symmar HM MC 120mm/5.6 was 350€ (like new)
the price of a tripod and head depends on many factors (if you don’t have a tripod)

you may find more images in my Sinar album at flickr:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/dierktopp/sets/72157641670093123/
and the Gandolfi album:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/dierktopp/sets/72157641081324295/

There is not much more to say. Here are some of my results:
all images are multi row and multi columns stitches images. That is the reason, why the image sizes vary.

Table Top Examples

This is about my standard set up. Only the flash trigger is not mounted. With flash trigger you can only use the camera in landscape orientation as the trigger will hit the ground glass, when you try to rotate the camera into portrait orientation.

in this case the rear standard of the camera is tilted by about 15°, as you can see it on the scale at the bottom of the image

lens used: Schneider Makro-Symmar HM MC 120mm/5.6

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This is the result
Sinar 4×5″ with Rhinocam adapter and Sony NEX-6, Schneider Makro-Symmar HM MC 120mm/5.6@ f/11
stitch of 20 images, 15.000×10.000 pixel  = 150 Mpixel

Sinar tilted, f/22

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NEX-6 with Rhinocam on Sinar P 4×5″ with Schneider Makro-Symmar HM MC 5,6/120mm @f/11,
13.000×8.500 pixel = 110 MPixel

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a 1:1 crop

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NEX-6 with Rhinocam on Sinar P 4×5″ with Schneider Makro-Symmar HM MC 5,6/120mm @f/16,
12.000×7.000 pixel = 91 Mpixel

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NEX-6 with Rhinocam on Sinar P 4×5″ with Schneider Makro-Symmar HM MC 5,6/120mm @f/11,
10.000×7.700 pixel = 77 MPixel

80 MPix, stitch of 9 images

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NEX-6 with Rhinocam on Sinar P 4×5″ with  Rodenstock Sironar-N 150mm/3.5 MC@f/13,
13.200×7.500 pixel = 99 MPixel

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NEX-6 with Rhinocam on Sinar P 4×5″ with Schneider APO-SYMMAR MC 5.6/210 @f/16,
13.200×6.000 pixel = 80 MPixel

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This is a test image for the ultimate control of the focus plane by tilting the front and/or rear standard, the focus is exactly parallel to the surface of the book and it looks like the apple was “photoshopped” into the image, but the apple really lies on the book!

Besides control of exposure and contrast this is, what comes out of the camera after stitching the images!

NEX-6 with Rhinocam on Sinar P 4×5″ with Schneider APO-SYMMAR MC 5.6/210 @f/8,
11.500×7.800 pixel = 90 MPixel

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NEX-6 with Rhinocam on Sinar P 4×5″ with Schneider APO-SYMMAR MC 5.6/210 @f/8,
13.300×7.600 pixel = 100 MPixel

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NEX-6 with Rhinocam on Sinar P 4×5″ with Schneider APO-SYMMAR MC 5.6/210 @f/16,
19.000×8.000 pixel = 150 MPixel

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another set up for the following picture

making of

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NEX-6 on Rhinocam adapter on Sinar P with Schneider Makro-Symmar HM MC 120mm@f/11
stitch of 15 images, 13.400×11.500 pixel = 154 MPixel (I would like to print it in 2x2m :-) )

f/22, stitch of 15 images, 150 MPix

and a 1:1 crop

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this is one of a few outdoor imagesthe set up

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the result, tilted for the focus plane on the ground
NEX-6 on Rhinocam adapter on Sinar P with  Schneider APO-Symmar 210/5.6
13.600×7.800 = 106 MPixel (printed 1,80m wide)

stitch of 2x4 images

this is a comparison of two different tilt settings, where you can see, how easy it is to control the focus with focus peaking
while you tilt the camera, the focus is moving till you see the whole desired plane in focus peaking color
compare this with a dark cloth over your head and a magnifying glass on the ground glass.

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and just for fun, if you want to take your 4×5″ camera into the field, there is a nice “little” box for all that stuff :-)
you may find the tiny NEX somewhere on this picture

my "new" camera bag, very handy for my nex hicking tour :-)

and an explanation, how to use this box for shooting :-)

my "new" camera bag, very handy for my nex hicking tour :-)

and last but not least my little large format camera collection
left the Sinar P, in the middle an old wooden camera and on the right the Gandolfi Variant field camera

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I hope, you enjoyed it and thanks for looking

dierk

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dierktopp/

Feb 252015
 

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Low light photography with the Nikon V3

By Aspen Z

Hi Steve and Brandon, it’s great to be here again! The last time I posted was when I took the V2 to South Africa where it did the entirety of the trip. Since then, I’ve done many more excursions with it and from the tone of that post it shouldn’t be a surprise that I upgraded to the V3 as soon as it was out.

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Most recently, I embarked on a solo trip to Norway with the primary intention of seeing (weather/solar activity permitting) the auroras- a phenomenon I’ve always been fascinated with since young and somewhat sceptical of. Dancing lights of varying colours? Hmm…

There was just a single snowy day spent in Stockholm mainly for ease of flights, but it turned out to be very interesting a place and I’m definitely gonna give it a proper visit someday. For some reason, none of the locals knew where the Nobel Museum was and I found it in a square after crossing a secluded alleyway in Gamla Stan.

Arriving in Tromsø, with skies deep blue, I was abruptly reminded of the possible challenges ahead; polar night just ended and there was no true day to speak of. It meant working with ISOs I’m not usually comfortable with on the V3. I’d admit that there were at least two occasions before the trip I hesitated getting another camera (namely D750) so that I wouldn’t need to fret about noise. Besides, I’ve never photographed the auroras before and common advice online suggested full-frame cameras, fast lenses and possible weather-proofing. There was no telling if the V3 would fail me on multiple levels.

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I did learn a few things, some are tips from the perspective of a first-time aurora shooter, others just discoveries in general.

1) Unofficially, the V3 handles up to -16°C or heavy snow with no problem. I frankly believe most modern cameras can perform in conditions beyond their ‘limits’, much like how the Galaxy S5 can go underwater but isn’t given a special mention for it likely due to unnecessary warranty claims.

2) Test run a shot, i.e. do the highest ISO possible on your camera with a shorter shutter speed and adjust as needed. Suggestions of ISOs, exposure times and other aspects vary wildly from site to site and there’s no telling what light conditions were present or lens they used for such settings. Unfortunately for the V3, the sightings were during the new moon so the landscapes were very dark. Worse still, there’s not a fast ultra-wide lens for the N1 and it meant working with a relatively slow f/3.5. 90% of my shots warranted 15-30 seconds shutter speed with ISOs 1600/3200. These settings are typically not recommended due to noise (and they’re referring to full-frame!) but I knew trying ISO 800 and pushing up exposure was much worse in the V3. My focus was manually adjusted to infinity dialled back a notch. Be sure to check beforehand how long a shutter speed you can pull off before star trails become a problem.

2) The V3’s virtual level was immensely helpful (note: not the same as grid lines!). Except for the occasional compositional advantage, I couldn’t afford to crop with such light conditions/settings and wasting it on straightening horizons is entirely avoidable! Also, the tiltable touchscreen meant easy adjustments and no need for remote shutter.

3) The batteries drain faster but no faster than constantly using AF-C for motorsports/birding (in terms of duration). Warming up a frigid battery did restore some of its charge. I got through a night with two batteries, each left with the final bar of charge.

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Autofocus, as with its predecessors, was a joy to use and very swift even in poor light. At no point did the V3 falter and the magical twilight colours of Tromsø were captured accurately. The N1 lenses in general have stunningly good stabilization (rivalling IBIS?) and typically give you 5 stops of advantage (with the infrequent 6-7 stops from time to time on telephoto lenses). Viewing Tromsø after a cable car ride, I decided to settle with the 32 prime for composition, forcing ISO 6400 due to no stabilization, and it was then I really missed the lenses with VR. Reine was my last destination and I was greeted with much milder weather. The days were just a bit longer and the bright red Rorbu cabins with seaweed sprawling along the intertidal zone lent contrast to the dull light and snowy mountains.

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The auroras were indescribably amazing, with many colours in every form and shape, and they would disappear, capriciously, at times, only to reappear with greater intensity than before. They renewed in me a sense of awe so rarely experienced after childhood. My photos might have been better with a full-frame camera but I’m pleased with the V3’s output and glad that it shared such an experience with me.

More photos to be found here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/aspenz/sets/

BUY: The Nikon V3 is available at Amazon.

Feb 242015
 

Zeiss35mm14distagonZMSonyA7s

The new Zeiss 35 1.4 Zm Distagon on the Sony A7s

by Sean Cook

Hello Steve!

My name is Sean, and I’m a wedding photographer in Detroit.

I just picked up the new Zeiss Distagon 35mm 1.4 ZM from Popflash Photo in California, and I wanted to drop you a line to give you some first impressions of it and how it works on the Sony A7s.

One sentence summary: It’s sharp all over and beautiful with no color cast, but vignettes a lot and can create some strange artifacts in the out of focus areas.

Quick notice: I have had the lens for a day, and it’s cold in Detroit, so these aren’t exactly exhibition-worthy. I also was mostly shooting to test some of the qualities of the lens, and less just out to make great photos.

Dumpster_Zeiss35mm14zm_01

To start, the lens is built beautifully, and if you’ve ever held an all-metal Zeiss lens, you know that feeling. It’s also surprisingly heavy. Including the Voigtlander Close-Focus Adapter, it easily heavier than my big Sony/Zeiss 50mm 1.4 ZA, so while it’s compact, don’t expect it to be lightweight — it’s like a condensed Canon 35mm 1.4L.

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Below: 100% crop of above image, wide open at 1.4

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The aperture ring is really perfectly damped, though because there is no EXIF data to know through the viewfinder where you’re f-stop is, it would be nice if there were deeper detents for the full stops (1.4, 2.0, 2.8…) like you would find on most Leica lenses. The focus is also damped really well. I hate a MF lens that takes a lot of push or pull to focus, and fortunately, even for a brand new lens it focuses quickly smoothly and quickly (though shooting outside in the cold gums of the works a bit). It’s also a very short focus throw (about a quarter or a turn or so), making focusing all that much quicker.

Not surprisingly, the lens cap is terrible and hardly feels like it even fits, and for the price of a used car, a lens hood would be nice also, but probably not anything to get too worked up about.

Candid_Zeiss35mm14zm_01

I’ve only had the lens for a day now, so I have still quite a bit to learn about it and how it performs in different situations, but so far, it really is a joy to use. It is sharp and crisp, resistant to flare, easy to focus, has great character, and makes me want to go outside and shoot! Which, readers of this site will know, is maybe the most important characteristic. I have included a few photos to hopefully show some of those traits — especially the photo of the alarmingly hip older couple.

Portrait_Zeiss35mm14zm_02

However, it is not without its flaws. So far there are two that really worry me. 1. Vignetting and 2. Ghost/double-image.

Vignetting:
Now, certainly vignetting is easy enough to fix in Lightroom or Photoshop, but the amount that it darkens the image at 1.4 makes it difficult to get the correct exposure at times, and does add a little frustration to shooting. Anyone who’s ever shot video using Slog understands the difficulty in having to imagine later what your image will look like — I would LOVE if I could program in an amount of vignette correction for the camera to apply to allow me to really see what I’m working with.

To give you an idea of the amount of darkening that happens, I’ve included some real-world examples before and after correcting it in Lightroom. For reference, I find the amount I need to move the slider in the manual vignette correction for a 1.4 shot is 100! Literally, the amount is all the way, and the midpoint is all the way in the other direction, meaning the whole shot gets much brighter, and I find I need to then bring the exposure slider back about -0.5, which is a ton. But, while it is irritating, and might be a little bothersome in high-ISO situations, ultimately, it is a fixable problem.

Wide Open Vignetting – Before and After correction.

Vignette_Zeiss35mm14zm_02

Double-Image/ghost:
This one is kind of odd. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I can only assume it’s being caused by the thick sensor and close flange distance, but in the areas that are toward the edge and not in focus, a sort of double-image is created. I don’t know that I can describe it anymore than by just saying to look at the photos.

I tested it a few times after noticing it, because it looks like motion blur, but only in the areas that aren’t on the focal plane. In fact, to prove it isn’t some motion blur, you can see that one of the photos where it appears is shot at 1.4 into the sun, meaning the shutter speed was around 1/4000 of a second.

Honestly, I don’t know what to make of this, or how much it will actually show up or bother me, but it’s worth noting that this lens does not work perfectly on the A7s.

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DoubleImageSign_Zeiss35mm14zm_Closeup_02

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Beyond those two concerns, the lens is a delight. I shot into the sun, and got only minor CA, and minor flare, and the flare wasn’t especially distracting or ugly — it mostly just gives you a nice glow when backlighting is present.

Flare_CA_wideopen

Pros:
– Incredibly well-built
– Wonderful character
– Great bokeh
– Zeiss pop
– Great sharpness at 1.4 across the image, as long as the subject is in the somewhat curved focal plane (I shoot people, so I don’t especially need tack sharp at 1.4)
– Combined with the Voigtlander VM-E, allows very close focus
– Very well damped aperture ring and focus ring
– Like all Zeiss and Leica lenses, the value doesn’t drop much over the life of the lens

Cons:
– Expensive
– Heavy
– Strange double-image artifacts towards the edges of the A7s
– Very strong vignette at 1.4

Wide Open Sharpness Test – 1st image, then the 100% crop

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WideOpenSharpness_Zeiss35mm14zm_02_Closeup

I am going on a quick vacation this weekend to Texas, and I will send in a follow-up set of photos that will hopefully show more of the lens’ character, and help me determine if its shortcomings outweigh its beauty. I would hate to have to use the upcoming and huge Sony/Zeiss 35mm 1.4 FE! So we’ll see!

Thanks,

Sean

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Sean Cook Wedding Photography
Chicago & Detroit

http://seancookweddings.com

[email protected]

Feb 232015
 

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MIRRORLESS BATTLE! Micro 4/3 vs APS-C vs Full Frame!

E-M1, X-T1, A7s – 8 side by side tests

This was a blast to do, and shows the STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES of Micro 4/3, APS-C and Full Frame cameras, specifically the E-M1, X-T1 and A7s. Even I was surprised at some of these results and I did each test fair and square according to my rules below, which have been my comparison rules for seven years because it shows REAL WORLD shooting (not nonsense that no one does when shooting an not pro studio or lit images from a shooter who is sponsored by a camera company). This is as close as I will ever get to a “scientific test” while keeping it “real world”, and yes, it is what it is. Even so, whatever camera “loses” this test will have the fans of that brand attacking me, no matter which one loses. Should be entertaining in that regard as well. :)

Images and test descriptions will speak for themselves. Just how much difference is there between Micro 4/3,  APS-C and Full Frame when using the same or equivalent focal length? Sharpness, IS, color, detail, B&W conversions and more are tested here. 

  • I let each camera choose exposure. 
  • I am using the E-M1, X-T1 and A7s for this test so take it as just that. 
  • I set the aperture on each camera to match DOF of the smaller sensors the best I could for some tests.
  • For one test I will use each lens wide open to show DOF differences.
  • I shot each camera in the same way for each test, either hand-held or tripod.
  • ALL images are converted straight from RAW, WYSIWYG
  • Used the 25 1.4 on the E-M1, 35 1.4 on the Fuji and 55 1.8 on the Sony
  • I will pick my personal preference winner after each test based on the test itself. Score will be tallied at the end. These will be my preferences and may not be yours, which is OK. 
  • I used Adobe Camera RAW for ALL conversions which is what 95% of us use for our RAW files. No jumping through hoops to help any brand.
  • Was going to use A7II but it has many more MP and I had loaned it out to a friend for a few days so I did not have it. The A7s is the Sony Flagship in the A7 line, and is closest in MP to the Olympus and Fuji.
  • As this is a test of cameras in real world use, I let cameras choose exposure and used AWB so we can see what to expect in the real world. When we go out to shoot these cameras 95% of us use them in this way..auto exposure and auto white balance. So what you see here is what you can expect to get from each systems flagship camera. For detail shots all cameras were set to same ISO and Aperture. 

With all of that out-of-the-way, remember that the tests here are all dependent on lenses used. Some lenses on some systems will render differently when it comes to sharpness, color, bokeh, etc. I used a well-regarded lens for each system, lenses that have had rave reviews. OLY: 25 1.4 Panaleica. FUJI – 35 1.4 Fuji. SONY – 55 1.8 Zeiss.

Hand held test at 1/60th s. and basic overall IQ.

My pick for best IQ here at 1/60th is the Olympus E-M1 for sharpness and color. Right click on each image and open in a new tab or window for full size files.

The reason the E-M1 did so well and WON the 1st test below? The 5 Axis IS kept it steady letting me shoot in lower light at a minimal ISO. The other two bumped ISO but also were stopped down a little more. ALL were at 1/60th S. If each image was sharp, it would almost be a wash here and would have to go by color preferences. I still prefer the E-M1 color here as well but what is important is it shows how useful the 5 Axis can be, even for 1/60th s.

YOU MUST CLICK IMAGES FOR LARGER AND CORRECT VERSIONS

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Tripod Test Stopped Down for DETAIL – Same aperture on each camera.

The winner to my eyes is Olympus yet again.

Here I stopped down each lens to F/4. NO, I did not stop down the larger sensors more as this is in no way a DOF test, it is a detail test and each lens should be at the same aperture to be 100% fair. So the Olympus E-M1 and 25 1.4 was set to F/4, the Fuji X-T1 and 35 1.4 was set to f/4 and the Sony A7s and 55 1.8 was set to f/4. All were ISO 200, all were shot from a tripod that was in the same exact position for each camera.

YOU MUST CLICK THE IMAGES TO SEE THE LARGER VERSIONS AS  TRUE 100% LARGE CROPS

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SMALLER CROPS 

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Each Lens Wide Open – A Shallow DOF Test

For me, there is no substitute for Full Frame if you want shallow DOF, but some will prefer a little bit of a larger DOF that you get from Micro 4/3 or APS-C. The reason being is that with the Olympus, you can still get some shallow DOF but you image will be sharper with more detail in most cases, if using a good lens. Same with APS-C in most cases. With full frame you can miss focus easily due to the shallow DOF. BUT if you nail it with FF the results are indisputable. For this reason, I choose the SONY as the winner here as it has the most capability for SHALLOW DOF or LARGE DOF and  this is a shallow DOF test :)

 BTW, the most detail at 100% came from the E-M1 but for shallow DOF, nothing beats full frame. The differences you see are from the lens focal length, not the sensor. The wider the less the larger the DOF (less blur), the longer the lens the more shallow DOF (more blur). Olympus used a 25mm, Fuji a 35mm and the Sony a 55mm. All give the same equivalent field of view but each lens has an effect on Depth of Field which is why you see a more shallow DOF on the Sony. As you can see, the difference between the DOF with the APS-C Fuji and Olympus are actually slight. Nothing to stress over.

YOU MUST CLICK IMAGES FOR LARGER AND CORRECT VERSIONS

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B&W Conversion Test

I did a crazy comparison test once showing how the E-M1 could replicate the Leica Monochrom to some extent, when it came to tonality (not detail) so how will this test go for B&W conversion between these three powerhouse cameras? For this test I shot in color and then converted to B&W using the same exact Alien Skin B&W filter for each file. Many claim Fuji has an amazing capability for B&W conversion, above other standard cameras. I never noticed this at all, so  let’s see how that holds up…

CLICK EACH IMAGE TO SEE IT CORRECTLY! 

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FUJI1

SONY3

For me, and my tastes, I prefer the Olympus rendering the most. To me, it resembles the Leica Monochrom more than the others, and that is a camera I consider to be the best B&W camera ever made (next to film of course). In fact, this E-M1 file looks eerily similar to a Monochom file. There seems to be more grayish tones and more black details which is preferred, especially for post processing. The Fuji is 2nd place for my tastes and the Sony 3rd but they look the same as any camera B&W conversion. For the most grey tones, the Olympus somehow gets it.  You can see more details when clicking on the images for larger sizes (as long as you are not viewing on a phone).

But let us see another B&W example…CLICK THEM TO SEE THEM CORRECTLY!

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FUJI2

SONY2

Again, here I slightly prefer the Olympus but ALL are great. I see none here that are a huge step above the others though the Olympus has the most detail yet again. Interesting huh?

SCORE SO FAR: So far we have Olympus with 2, Sony with 1 and Fuji with 0. Let’s keep on moving.

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Color Test

Just to show how each camera renders colors. These are all from RAW so any in camera color choice will not come into play.  Shot outdoors in natural direct light to give all cameras the best chance at showing their stuff. This will be 100% personal preference as what I like in color you may not. I did three color shots and chose three different winners, so this one is a draw as color can be quite good from all of these cameras.

The 1st sample is for color accuracy only. After looking at the crayons with my own eyes and looking at these images I feel the Sony comes closest to reality, with Olympus being 2nd and Fuji 3rd. 100% crops are embedded when you click on the image for a larger view. 

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Another color test and this one was between the Fuji and Olympus with the edge for me going to the Fuji. I feel Olympus is equally as good but the Fuji shot has a teeny bit more something that I like. Either are superb. The sony has a yellow cast here so it gets last place. 

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Finally another color shot in beautiful morning light. My grass, up close. ;) This time I much preferred the Olympus shot with the color, the light and the highlights all working for me. Then the Fuji. The Sony here is a bit dull but that is only in direct comparison. Many may prefer the Fuji or Sony here.  All from RAW. There is no “winner” – just preference. 

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Portrait Test

Many of us love portraits, so how will each camera do with a basic portrait? Let us see which YOU prefer. I prefer the Olympus as the Sony AWB really screwed the pooch creating a much too cool image. The Fuji is a bit overdone with color and INCORRECT color IMO while the Olympus strikes a balance that is most pleasing to me. This was just a simple indoor natural light test shot and nothing more. I am not a huge fan of the rendering of any of these to be honest as it was a quick indoor portrait with no good light, but it had to do.

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Here they are converted to B&W using the VSCO T-Max Preset. Click them for larger 1800 pixel wide versions to see the detail and rendering better. The Fuji has the most contrast here,but it looks better than the color version. The Olympus stays nice and neutral and the Sony looks much nicer in B&W due  to the color being off in the original. But one is Micro 4/3, one is APS-C and one is full frame. NOT that huge of a difference. 

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DR Test

Dynamic Range is good from all three of these cameras, and the Olympus E-M1, contrary to popular belief has is about equal in DR to the Fuji X-T1 with 12.7 stops of DR. The Fuji, in RAW (it is less in JPEG) can do between 9 and 13 stops of DR and the Sony has 13.2. So all are similar but the Sony has the most (as you can see below). The Olympus is quite amazing for its smaller sensor to have 12.7 stops but in the real world, the full frame sensor shows its stuff. Here is a shot that was blown out. I recovered the highlights the best I could for each file.

Below is the Sony file AFTER I brought back the highlights that were blown to shreds. The SONY has the most DR hands down, which is what I figured due to the full frame sensor and big fat pixels. 

fullsonyafter

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Low Light HIGH ISO Test 

Sony Wins ISO, no contest. ;) What is interesting is that Olympus had the most detailed file at high ISO. For some reason the Fuji, even though tripod mounted and focus point selected manually, looks very soft (and yes, this is the sharpest part of the Fuji image) and that may be due to the NR Fuji applies that you can not turn off. The Sony looks softer but this is due to DOF even though I stopped down the Sony. It also appears that the Fuji RAW files are also doing some sort of Noise reduction even when turned off, which also loses detail. Me, I much prefer detail which is why I turn NR off on all cameras that allow it. (Fuji does not).

It seems here that the Fuji is even or slightly better than the A7s, but remember, the A7s allows you to go above and beyond most cameras with 102,000 ISO capability. Shooting at ISO 32,000 on the Sony provides usable and nice files. Not possible on the Fuji  or Olympus.

The Fuji, as I said, is applying NR to the RAW file and the Sony and Olympus are not. So not a fair test as the Fuji does not allow removing all NR. You can see the noise is smeared. The TRUE winner for high ISO is the Sony A7s. The winner for most detail at high ISO is the Olympus E-M1. The CA in the OLy shot is a result of using a Panasonic 25 1.4 which is an awful performer for CA.

FULL

ISO 3200

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sony3200

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Now ISO 6400

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Again, (many do not read what is written above the tests) the Fuji has NR as it can not be turned off, which is why you see the noise is actually smoothed and smeared. So in the above examples the Fuji has NR and the others do not. The Fuji is also the softest (which some has to do with NR as it robs details) – a shame you can not turn it off on the Fuji. It is even applied to RAW files.

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My Final Thoughts and which camera I prefer out of all of these..and WHY.

Moral of this story? Anyone who tells you Micro 4/3 cannot hang with larger sensors is 100% incorrect, as I have said for years.  Also, what was not mentioned yet is the fact that the best made and designed body here is the Olympus E-M1. It is built to a higher standard the the Fuji X-T1 from solidity, quality of dials and buttons, and unlike the Fuji  – ZERO hollowness and zero cheap feeling parts without much extra weight at all.

In other words, I found the Fuji’s build quality to be the lowest of the three from body to dials and switches to the D-Pad, etc. This is not just talk, it is fact.

The E-M1 feels and operates like a pro camera, the Fuji *feels* more toy like (though it is NOT a toy, at all). The Sony is solid and hefty without any cheap feeling parts but again, the E-M1 slightly beats it in build quality and feel and control. The new Sony A7II stepped it up and is now about equal to or better the E-M1 in build.

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Of these three cameras my money would be spent on the Olympus 1st and Sony 2nd (and it was). I would skip the Fuji for my tastes. Just not my cup of tea from feel, focus, usability, speed and IQ in most lighting scenarios. For me the E-M1 has it all from build, speed, looks, feel, features, In body IS, lens selection, IQ and capabilities. The Sony A7s is a low light champ and works great with 3rd party and Leica glass but overall, the best all around general use every day and pro camera *of this lot* is the E-M1 by Olympus, and I say that without hesitation.

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So take this for what it is, a few tests with a few cameras using one lens each, all 50mm or so equivalent. Any IQ discrepancies there may be with Micro 4/3 (and there really are none besides shallow DOF possibilities of full frame) are easily over ridden by the amazing tech in the body and the features, usability, and overall quality of the images. It’s not only a superb camera to use, but it is a very FUN and enjoyable one to use. Many times the Fuji, again, frustrated me (dials would move too easily so settings were changed just from placing the camera in my bag, the way to change the drive mode is odd, with a cheap lever that also switches way too easily…overexposure on many occasions…etc). The Sony was fine besides a few AWB issues that I never noticed until doing these side by sides. So seeing the files next to each other and handling each body one after the other told me a lot.

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At  the end of the day these cameras can all do a great job, but it will be personal preference as to which one is best for you. Do some PP and the images can go to the next level, so remember that as well.

So for me, I love these two plus the Leica M, which will always have a place in my heart.

At the end of the test, here is the score with my eyes on all of the tests: Olympus with 6 wins, Sony with 4 wins and Fuji with 1 win. Your score may be different of course, as this is not a cut and dry thing. It is personal preference. So for you, Fuji may win or Sony may win. That is the beauty of it. It is not about WINNING or LOSING it is about WHAT YOU PREFER. 

Even though this test is what it is..some owners will come here to defend their choices, which is fine. But it doesn’t change reality. Also, no need to say ‘Fuji needs Capture 1, Fuji needs EV comp set at -1, Fuji needs sharpening, Fuji is light and hollow feeling  because of weight, Fuji needs a special technique for AF, etc etc”. To me, these are all excuses and we should not have to fly through hoops to get the best quality from our cameras. It should NEVER be “work”. All cameras were tested the same with no special treatment to any of them, that was important. Enjoy ;)

REFERENCE: See my Olympus E-M1 Review HERE, my Fuji X-T1 Review HERE and my Sony A7s Review HERE.  For the record over the past seven years I have been called a Leica, Fuji, Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, Ricoh, Nikon and Pentax fanboy. Lol. Why? Because I love many cameras from all of these manufacturers. 

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Hello to all! For the past 7 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast dedicated web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

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Feb 202015
 

28 images from the A7s, A7II, E-M1, E-M5II, Fuji X-T1, Fuji X100T, and M 240

Hello to all and HAPPY FRIDAY! After I posted my recent E-M5II Camera review (see it HERE) many have been asking me THIS question:

“NOW I AM CONFUSED! What camera do I buy? The E-M1, E-M5Ii, A7II, M 240 or Fuji?!?!

Yes, I get these questions daily and I never give a definite answer as this choice is personal. That would be like asking “what car should I buy” or “which house should I get”? A camera is a personal choice and the reason these reviews are written is so all of you can read and make an informed decision. I understand how hard it is, believe me. But just know that any of these cameras mentioned are truly fantastic and can get the job done. If you are in love with PHOTOGRAPHY and the art of making memories and making art, ANY of these will do.

If you are a pixel peeper it is best to go for something super high res like a Sony A7r as that will give you something to zoom in on and measurbate to. Me, I prefer real photography and making memories as I go on this long journey that we call life. A camera, to me, is made to capture those moments we lose and those memories that in 10-20 years will be very foggy for our aging brains. Looking back at images remind us of the many good times, the family, the friends, the sad times and the exciting times. THIS is what it is all about for ME. I do not pixel peep, I am against it. I occasionally will post crops just to show those who love that sort of thing how much detail we can get but overall it does not matter. At all.

Any of the cameras below can make LARGE prints (I have a 20X30 from E-m1, it is gorgeous. I have larger from my A7II, beautiful). So remember, ANY camera will get you the memories you want to capture but the main difference between them is HOW YOU GET there!

Yes, some cameras make it a joy to get your memories while others make it a pain. Some will get you there with amazing technology and others with their simplistic charm. Some will offer you bold looking files and others a more natural looking file. Some will offer you tools to help you (such as 5 Axis IS or a nice large EVF) while others make it a challenge (Leica M RF).

Below I have chosen 7 images from the A7 and A7II, Olympus E-M1 and Em5II, Fuji X-T1/X100t and the Leica M 240 so you guys can see in one place, the differences between full frame, APS-C and Micro 4/3. Depth of field will be different, color will be different and the overall vibe will be manufacture specific. I have no secrets here on this blog and I always tell it like it is..FOR ME and MY tastes. Not everyone will agree. But enjoy as I share my thoughts on these different mirrorless systems.

SONY A7s and A7II

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The Sony A7 series appeared with a bang when the A7 and A7r were announced. Full frame small mirrorless cameras that performed amazingly well with rich files, rich color and decent usability. While slow in Auto focus and a bit clunky with the early models, the newer A7s and A7II improved things such as AF speed and accuracy, high ISO capability and in the case of the A7s, amazing capabilities with Leica M glass. I love the A7s and A7II with a preference to the new A7II for its better build, 5 Axis IS, and gorgeous IQ (for me, the best of the A7 series IQ). If you want that full frame creamy look with massive shallow depth of field, Full Frame is where it is at. APS-C or Micro 4/3 can not do it to the level of full frame.

If you want the most dynamic range, usually a full frame sensor will give it to you as well. On the other hand, shooting fast lenses on full frame can be difficult as the Depth of Field can be so slim and narrow many times people misfocus. But when you nail it, it can be gorgeous.

The Sony system is still somewhat new, less than 2 years old yet there are many lenses out for the system already, and me, I like to use Leica M glass and old exotic lenses with my Sony’s.

CLICK all images for larger and much better view

The A7II and Leica Noctilux at 0.95

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ISO 32,000 with the A7s – Mitakon 50 0.95

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The A7s – click the images for moire detailed versions! What you see here is NOT the best way to view them. You must click them!

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The Sony A7s and 55 1.8

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A7s again..

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A7II and Noctilux..and amazing combo

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An OOC JPEG at ISO 8000 using the 35 2.8 Zeiss lens

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The Sony A7II represents the best of the Sony A7 line for me. It has all you need to create beautiful rich files. Wether you use native lenses or Leica M glass or old vintage rangefinder lenses, this is the camera that can handle it. The A7s is the king of the night, with amazing low light and high ISO abilities. The A7II can not come close to this ISO performance but IMO beats the A7s in overall IQ. The A7 series is doing VERY well for Sony, above expectations so this is good and can not wait to see what they come out with next.

Fuji X-T1 and X100T

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Ahhh, Fuji. Many love Fuji and they have some hardcore fans, that is for sure! Me, I like Fuji. I used to LOVE Fuji back in the days of the S5 pro and original X100. Today I feel they went a bit backwards with the X Trans sensor. I just do not like it as much as the original sensor from the X100. When I look at any Fuji images (not just mine) they have a look to them from the X Trans that while nice, is not my preferred look. In fact, its at the bottom of the heap for me. There is something un-natural about the files for my tastes but even with that said, this is a personal thing and what I may dislike, someone else may love to death.

Many love Fuji and that can not be denied. They sell well and they do “Fuji Color” very well. Where it falls flat for me is true low light ability. The files get “dirty” and “mushy” in low light and this is why all of the really great Fuji images in recent years were shot in amazing light. Give the X Trans amazing light and it will reward you. Give it dull or low light and it will not. For me, the Sony files and the Olympus and Leica files below beat the Fuji when it comes to overall IQ.

Body wise, the X-T1 is fantastic. Its a wonderful body but still compared to the A7II, E-M1, and M 240 it feels the lowest quality of build. It is not bad in build, but when you compare side by side with the competition, it feels a bit lacking and hollow. Much better than previous Fuji bodies though. Fuji has come a long way since the X-Pro 1. Now they have much faster AF, world class EVF (best there is), nice external controls for all of your needs and great usability. If Fuji still used the old X100 sensor I would own an X-T1 :) That X-T1 above looks AMAZING doesn’t it?

Typical Fuji look in normal light..

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I always have issues with the X-Trans blowing highlight, even if using the extended DR modes (which make the image look very flat imo) – Here the bird is exposed correctly but the highlights have blown. There are many examples of this and i never have this issue with my other cameras. Nothing I did could save the blown out highlights here or in other X-T1 images. 

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The good thing about Fuji is they support their cameras NON STOP. Firmware releases are regular and they fix bugs that pop up, improve AF speed and do good things AFTER you buy the camera. They are improving their bodies non stop as well, and the X-T1 is a winning body without question and I am sure they will keep coming out with better and better cameras. One of these days I will buy myself a Fuji :)

Olympus E-M1 and E-M5II

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To me, this system is so mature and so well executed today that these are some of the best cameras you can buy today, regardless of mirrorless or DSLR. There are a thousand reasons for this from size, build, pro level features, freeze, shock, weatherproof…huge EVF, super fast AF, amazing 5 Axis (best in the world), awesome video in the new 5II as well as the rich files with superb color richness as well. Some of my favorite images of my life were shot on 4/3 and Micro 4/3 systems and I place this just behind the Sony A7II and Leica M for IQ.

Today, the E-M5II and E-M1 meet or exceed nearly all APS-C cameras for build, speed, features, capabilities, color and yes IQ. It can not beat a full frame model for Dynamic Range, Details or high ISO but it holds its own and then some for APS-C and for me, the E-M1 is probably the best camera body I have used, ever. I am talking about the whole package… build, features, speed, controls, versatility, what is possible with them, etc. As I said, IQ is just behind the full frame models. It really is.

Even so, Olympus is doing great things and they are the inventors of Live View, Dust Cleaning in camera, 5 Axis IS, and more. Good to see them still innovating. I also feel the best lenses next to Leica M are right here for Micro 4/3, from the Nocticron to the 75 1.8 to the 40-150 to the 12mm f/2 to the f/0.95 Voigtlanders. So many choices.

Shot with the 17 1.8 at 1.8. Amazing lens with just the right amount of detail and tones.

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The 40-150 – the color here is WOW. JPEG. The way I brought this out is by using SPOT metering. 

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The 12-40 f/2.8 pro zoom. One of the best standard zooms I have used. 

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The 17 1.8 again, smooth, sharp and wonderful bokeh.

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Nocticron goodness…f/1.2

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The Voigtlander 25 0.95 at 0.95 – THIS is a special lens. 

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Olympus have created quite the tool for the PHOTOGRAPHER who puts his priorities at capturing the image, the moment, the memories. The Af doesn’t let you down, the controls are spot on and the build is the best of the lot. Lens choice is plentiful and its only weakness is that it will not give you full frame shallow depth of field (but neither will APS-C). For me, the E-M1 and E-M5II beats most APS-C camera as a whole, without hesitation, even factoring in size. Now there are some great bodies by Panasonic as well but for me, they do not have what it takes to take on Olympus’s E-M1 and E-M5II.

Leica M 240

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Ahhh, the system I loved and used for many years, ever since the film M7. I have had an M ever since from the M8 to M9 to MP (film) to M9P to M-P 240 to Monochrom. I have had them all and loved them all. For me, this is the pinnacle of simplicity. Real photography. Not much in the way of features but this is how it should be with an M. Just you, the camera, and the subject. Nothing to worry about  – just focus, set your aperture/exposure and shoot.

The Leica M is an all time favorite of mine, hands down. The only issues today is with cost. Buying an M 240 and 50 APO will set you back $15,000. Buy a used M and used Voigtlander lens and it will still set you back $6k. You have to be majorly dedicated and have a nice padded bank account to jump in today,  so not everyone can.

Today with cameras like the Sony A7II leica seems to be losing some ground. Back in the M9 days they ruled the roost as there was nothing quite like the M9 in use or in age quality. Today, there are  a 1-2 mirrorless cameras that meet or exceed the M 240 image quality and color and for much less money. While you will never get the experience of the M from a Sony, Fuji or Olympus and you will never get that true pride of ownership with anything else (once you feel and shoot with an M it is tough to go to anything else) you will get IQ that can beat it from other cameras. Today Leica is not “the best” in IQ but they are “the best” in lenses, experience, build, and feel AND simplicity. The M lenses are the best in the world IMO and they are SMALL and built like mini tanks.

I love Leica, and I love the M 240. Period. It’s has some magic in the bloodlines but today it is getting harder to justify unless you REALLY only love RF shooting and have a big fat bank account.

The M with the 50 APO

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The M with a Voigtlander 50 1.5

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The M with a 90 Elmarit

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50 APO again

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As I look back at these random images I chose for this article I study them and not only am I looking at the file quality and character but I am remembering the times I had shooting those images and according to my memory, the most fun I had shooting was with the Leica M, hands down. Then it would be the E-M1 and E-M5II, then the Sony A7II and A7s and then the Fuji. All have the capability to capture your frames in high quality but the one you choose will be part of your personal journey. The one that speaks to YOU, not ME. So next time you get ready to send an email asking “What should I buy” – ask yourself this question and go with you 1st gut instinct. That is usually the correct choice :)

You can see my full reviews of the cameras listed above:

Sony A7IISony A7s - Fuji X-T1Fuji X100T - Olympus E-M1Olympus E-M5IILeica M 240

Feb 192015
 

Crazy Comparison!

Olympus E-M1 with 40-150 f/2.8 vs Sony A7s with 70-200 f/4

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Many have asked for this as well as a Olympus/Sony/Fuji crazy comparison so I will start this one off with a Olympus vs Sony JUST FOR FUN Crazy Comparison! I will be using the E-M1 and the Sony A7s because the E-M1 is the flagship from Olympus and the Sony A7s is closest to the Megapixel count of the E-M1 as well as Sony’s “flagship” A7 series product. If I used the A7II it would have been an 8MP difference vs the 4 MP difference of the A7s and E-M1.

The two lenses used will be the Pro Olympus 40-150 f/2.8 which is a fantastic lens that gives an equivalent of 80-300mm with the light gathering of an f/2.8 lens. The Sony 70-200 f/4 has a constant f/4 aperture yet it is the larger lens with the Olympus being a bit smaller. They are the same price coming in at a cool $1500. The Olympus is weather sealed and has a great integrated slide out hood included.

Next week I will do another more involved comparison, probably my most extensive to date using the Fuji X-T1, Olympus E-M1 and Sony A7s or A7II.

For now, I will keep it simple with two shots. What i am looking for is sharpness, color performance, and overall pop of the shot. Just how much difference will there be using a flagship Micro 4/3 camera and lens vs a killer full frame A7s and premium telephoto?

1st up, a simple shot for detail and color and bokeh…

A simple tree shot to show detail, color and bokeh. 1st up, the Olympus shot. If you right-click and choose “open in new window” you will see the full size image where you can pixel peep to you hearts content. I love the color, sharpness and pop. The bokeh is quite nice as well. Used the 40-150 f/2.8 Zoom at 2.8. On my 27″ screen this image has some real POP and detail.

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Same shot as above but resized with a full 100% crop embedded. To those who can’t see the full size shot for some reason, you can see the crop here. 

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Now the Sony A7s, same shot. 70-200 Lens at f/4. The color is a bit dull in comparison to the Olympus as is the pop. Bokeh is a tad smoother though neither is bad. I love both in this regard. The Olympus is sharper and the edges are sharper as well with the E-M1 file. A tad more shallow DOF due to focal length differences. (True vs Equiv)

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For those who can not see the full size shot above see the same image below resized with a full 100% crop embedded..

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So from what I see here, the Olympus lens and E-M1 combo produce a more exciting image here. More pop, more detail and more OOMPH! You can see the color differences here easily. As for Bokeh/DOF, f/2.8 on the E-M1 is about the same as the f/4 – f/5.6 on the full frame Sony with a tad more blur going to the Sony (for DOF only). This is a true 40mm vs an 80mm here, so this is why. With the Olympus you are getting a TRUE 40mm f/2.8 and with the Sony a TRUE 80mm f/4. Longer focal length = less (more shallow) DOF.  With the Olympus you are indeed getting TRUE f/2.8 light gathering and 40mm (not 80mm) f/2.8 DOF with an 80mm FIELD OF VIEW.

Let’s try one more image …here you can see the DOF differences with the A7s giving you a more shallow DOF at f/4 than the Olympus will give you at f/2.8. For many, they would take the sharper image and larger DOF of the E-M1 over the less detailed and more shallow DOF of the Sony. The same goes for the other way around..many would choose the creamier Sony version over the more sharp Olympus version.

Interesting to see that at 40mm (80 Equivalent on full frame) and at f/2.8 the Olympus E-M1 is bitingly sharp with more depth of field than the Sony file at 80mm and f/4. This is because the Olympus is actually shooting at 40mm, which will always give you more depth of field (less blur) as it is a wider lens. If I plopped the amazing 75 1.8 on the E-M1 and shot at f/4 we would get the same Bokeh as we do from the Sony at f/4 but we would have a 150mm equivalent focal length. It’s all about the lens focal length so even though we are testing a 40mm vs a 80mm, the Olympus 40mm turns into a 80mm for magnification but retains the Bokeh of a 40mm lens. So this is indeed a true 40mm f/2.8 shot for light gathering and bokeh. But we have an 80mm magnification. Understand? Hope so because many do not and get this so wrong. 

The E-M1

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The Sony A7s image at 80mm and f/4 gives us a more shallow DOF as we are truly shooting an 80mm lens. So more blur and a more “organic” looking image. If I shot the Olympus image with the 42 1.2 Nocticron it would offer even more shallow DOF than the Sony image below and be sharper. So again, it all comes down to lens and what we see here is a 40mm f/2.8 lens vs an 80mm f/4 lens and while the magnification appears similar (because it is) the DOF will always be different. For some, shooting full frame is more of a challenge due to the shallow DOF. 

UPDATE: This is the CORRECT Sony image with CORRECT focus. Thank you.

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So at the end of the day I own both of these cameras. My Sony comes out when I want ultra creamy shallow DOF or when I want to shoot with Leica M glass. The Olympus comes out when I want to do video (love my 8mm and 12mm primes with 5 axis video) and use a telephoto or use a special prime such as the Nocticron or Voigtlander 25 0.95 or my 8mm Fisheye..or when I want to do night long exposures or will shoot in adverse weather.

There is no winner here, but there can be a “preference”. What is yours?

More Sharpness with more depth of field (Olympus) or a more creamy shallow DOF look (Sony)? BOTH lenses are around $1500 and having both here side by side I can say with confidence that the Olympus 40-150 f/2.87 is technically the better lens. It is better built, weather sealed, has an amazing pull out hood attached and is probably the best lens made for Micro 4/3 (though my fave is still the Nocticron) as well as giving you the light gathering of an f/2.8 lens, fast and accurate focusing and amazing IQ. The Sony is larger, white for some reason, and f/4 but made for full frame and has OIS built in. Both are $1500. Same price. I own both systems..if I were to buy a lens of this type it would hands down be the Olympus 40-150 over the Sony.

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See the Sony 70-200 at B&H Photo HERE. 

See the Olympus 40-150 at B&H Photo HERE.

Also, For those who say the E-M1 can’t do high ISO, here is a quick snap at night using the Nocticron at 1.2 – ISO 6400 with no noise reduction at all. Click it for larger. Usually 6400 is my max with the E-M1 though I have used 10k ISO images. With the A7s, my cut off is 80K ISO ;) Yes, the A7s is the king of high ISO without question and the Micro 4/3 system can not even get close to what it can do at ultra high ISO.

But at 6400, the E-M1 retains color, sharpness and the files look great. Its all about exposure and NOT using noise reduction…

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…and an ISO 10,000 shot from the E-M1 without any NR..stays sharp as can be, even at f/1.2…

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…and just for fun, a bokeh shot with the 12mm f/2  – Olympus

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Feb 182015
 

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The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II Review. Olympus continues to innovate.

By Steve Huff

Below is my 1st look video on the E-M5 II, take a look!

February 18th 2015. I have reviewed almost all major Olympus mirrorless releases here since the original E-P1 that started it all. Ever since there have been cameras like the E-P2, E-P3, E-P5, E-Pl1, E-PL2 and so on. Then came the OM-D series and the E-M5 and then the “Pro” OM-D, the fantastic E-M1 (which I still own and use). I have loved all of the Olympus mirrorless cameras I have reviewed but WOW have they come a LONG way since the original E-P1 PEN! That camera was revolutionary for its time but looking back it was slow as molasses, had horrible high ISO performance and lacked in so many ways in comparison to todays Olympus cameras. Again, for the time it was great..for today, those old 1st PEN cameras are nothing like what we have today from Olympus, and what we do have today is quite amazing when you really dig into the cameras like the new E-M5II.

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Olympus has continued to innovate and create new technology in cameras while keeping the cameras small, fast, great looking, AS WELL as keeping them performing in Image Quality to the level of an APS-C sensor camera. Yes, there is nothing at all lacking when it comes to image quality, color, or pop when using good lenses. It also does not hurt to have the most amazing lens selection available as well as exclusive features such as Live Time, Live Composite, Advanced 5 Axis IS, and more. I have always said, the LENSES are the heart of ANY system, and for this system there is NO shortage of amazing glass.

The E-M5 II is fast, discreet, quiet, and provides fantastic IQ. The image below is an out of camera JPEG shot with the Panasonic Nocticron (my fave M 4/3 lens ever) under mixed indoor lighting. Sharp, creamy, and perfect color and AWB.

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I have written hundreds of reviews for cameras, lenses, bags, straps, accessories and all things photographic. For the life of this website, now going on seven years (Geez, where has the time gone), I have talked a ton about Olympus, Leica, Sony, Ricoh, Zeiss, Voigtlander and many others. I sometimes look back at reviews and remember which cameras were special to me, and which ones I had the best experiences with. Cameras like the Leica M 240, the Sony A7s and A7II, the Olympus E-M1 and E-P5, the Fuji X100..so many great cameras over the years and each year I ask myself…“How can it get better”? Seriously people, today we have so many cameras capable of jaw dropping quality. If we went back in time to 1984 with an E-M5 II or E-M1, photographers back then would FREAK OUT at what can be done.

With image quality peaking, camera companies are starting to look into other improvements such as improved high ISO quality, better video, better image stabilization, and a better usability experience. No other company leads this INNOVATION better than Olympus, and right behind them are Sony.

But remember! Olympus has created some of the best tech in cameras ever. EVER!

Olympus were the 1st ones ever with DUST SHAKING tech to clean sensors of dust automatically. They were 1st with 5 Axis IS and have just improved it to an incredible level in the new E-M5II. They were the 1st with LIVE VIEW in the Evolt E-330 back in the day! Yes, the 1st with LIVE VIEW and they were 1st and are still the only ones with “Live Composite”, an amazing feature that takes all guesswork out of astrophotography and long exposure work. Olympus keeps pushing new technology and for this reason they may be my overall favorite camera company. They are like the “Apple” of cameras.

Some would think that Sony or Leica is my favorite camera company but they are just behind Olympus. Anytime I shoot with a new Olympus camera I am wowed again and again. I mean, the lenses are stellar, 2nd only to Leica M glass IMO. Small, built well, and performance that exceeds the price point, Olympus has it going in in the Micro 4/3 lens world with so many fast primes that focus fast, look great and feel great. They are also small (with the exception of the new 40-150 2.8 pro, which is larger). Hand held low light shooting is a breeze with the latest Olympus cameras due to the amazing Image Stabilization inside. There really is NOTHING like it, not even in pro DSLR land.

The 12-40 f/2.8 Pro Zoom in the Crystal Caves – click image for larger.

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The SUPERB Olympus 17 1.8, at 1.8. I prefer this lens to the Panasonic/Leica 15 1.7 for color, pop and overall rendering. Click image for larger!

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In the early days of Micro 4/3 there were so many naysayers..“the sensor size is too small” – “you can not get shallow depth of field” – “noise levels are too high” – “can’t compete with APS-C” – yada yada yada. All of these statements had some truth to them in the very early days..E-P1, E-P2..yea, they were slow, had awful low light ability and were crippled when compared to something like a Nikon D300 of the day, but today it is an entirely different story, big time. 

Today, just as I said with the E-M1 launch, the E-M1 and now E-M5II, for me, beat ANY APS-C camera made today for usability, build, speed, features, lenses, color and IQ. There is not one APS-C camera made today that I would take over an E-M1 or E-M5II. None. No Fuji, no Sony, no Leica. When I shoot with the E-M1 I have nothing but joy and happiness as it just works. It does the job and it always delivers the results I love. In many ways, it beats some full frame cameras as well because it is consistent and reliable with almost ANY of the lenses you mount.

Now with super lenses like the Panasonic Nocticron, the Olympus 40-150 2.8 and the Olympus 75 1.8 this is a SERIOUS system capable of beautiful results.

So how has the new E-M5II upped the game over the original E-M5? In MANY ways, but the real question is…“Is it now better than the flagship E-M1″? I own both and have used both extensively so I will tell you my opinion in this review about that! Keep reading!

The E-M5 II with the 40-150 Pro Zoom at 2.8 – this lens is a masterpiece. JPEG. The colors, the bokeh and the detail this lens provides is just incredible. 

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The Panasonic Nocticron at f/1.2 – This is a GORGEOUS lens and has no faults. 

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The new E-M5 II vs the old E-M5..what’s the story?

I loved the original E-M5 and owned it until the E-M1 arrived. I have owned the E-M1 ever since launch and even bought the silver model when it was released and let go of my black one. It’s a gorgeous camera I love and adore for the reasons I already explained. Extremely tough and well made, extremely fast, extremely capable with the 5 Axis and beautiful lens selections…so much to like. But what about those who have the original E-M5..and still love it? Should they upgrade to the new Mark II version?

The new Mark II E-M5 has a more advanced top panel with metal dials instead of plastic. 

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Well, all I can do is tell you my opinion, and my opinion is that YES, the Mark II is a very worthy upgrade in almost all areas!

Here are the top 11 improvements off the top of my head, the ones that I really noticed from the Mark I…

1. Better build and feel. Grip is nicer and controls are more solid. Metal dials and a very nice and somewhat retro look. (Not to the level of the E-M1)

2. Still weather sealed. (though not to the level of the E-M1)

3. New side out swivel LCD makes shooting much more enjoyable IMO. (I prefer this to the E-M1)

4. The new 5 Axis IS is SPECTACULAR! Not sure how they did it, but they did it. It really excels with video. (Beats the E-M1 5 Axis)

5. New video options including 24, 30, 60 FPS. The video looks so good. (Better video than the E-M1)

6. The EVF is now the same large size as the E-M1. (which means an E-M1 MKII should be even larger when that one comes out)

7. Auto Focus is faster and FPS is faster as well. Overall, a much quicker camera. (Faster than the E-M1 in all but continuous AF)

8. Low light ability is now equal to the E-M1 which was slightly better than the E-M5I..high ISO up to 25,600.

9. It has Live composite and Live time that the E-M1 and E-M10 have. These are amazing features. 

10. Silent shutter option for total silence with 1/16,000 shutter speed. (E-M1 does not and will not have the Silent Shutter)

11. New High Res 40 Megapixel shot mode (Tripod is needed with NOTHING moving in the frame, E-M1 will not have this nor does it)

So for $1099, this camera will come as a body only and will NOT come with a Kit Lens. I think Olympus realizes that Kit Lenses are lackluster and do not really show what the cameras are capable of. When you throw a nice prime or pro zoom on these cameras they SHINE and give you APS-C or greater quality. Just browse through the images in this review or my E-M1 review or my E-M5 Mark I review and you will see that just because these cameras uses a smaller sensor than the APS-C and Full Frame cameras, the rendering of the images is spectacular from color to sharpness to pop (due to the sharpness).

ALL images here? OOC JPEGS. NO Raws yet as I am waiting for Adobe to release the update with this camera.The JPEGS from the E-M5II are fantastic. 

Panasonic 15 1.7 on the E-M5II – click any image for larger and better view

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Olympus 17 1.8 on the E-M5II

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Panasonic Nocticron 45.2 f/1.2 at 1.2

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So with all of that out-of-the-way, it is obvious when using the new Mark II that the camera has matured since the Mark I, which is now three years old. My review of the original Mark I is HERE and as you can see, I loved it then..but I love it even more now in Mark II form, and I have been used to the E-M1 flagship for 1 1/2 years now. Many have been e-mailing me “what camera should I get? The E-M1 or the E-M5II”? That is a tough one, and I will tell you why…

The E-M5 II and the 40-150 f/2.8 – tweaked this JPEG by lowering the brightness to make the color pop

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The E-M5 II or the Pro E-M1?

This is a tough question but when I was in Bermuda with Olympus I was using the new Mark II and thinking “why would anyone want the E-M1 with the E-M5 II having newer tech and features”? The more I used the 5 Mark II I was asking this question. Here, in a small well-built package I had amazing performance and speed, a great image stabilization system..best in the world, the larger EVF of the E-M1, a swivel out to the left LCD, better video capabilities and even a silent shutter and new 40MP High Res shot mode. When I came back home and pulled out my E-M1 I shot both side by side and then I realized why I still slightly prefer my E-M1.

The E-M1 is built better, feels better and I prefer the control layout. 

The E-M1 has a sturdier pro level shutter, will last longer.

The E-M1 is freeze proof and shock proof, better weather sealing than the EM5 Mark II. 

The E-M1 is slightly larger, fitting into my hand perfectly without adding a grip.

The E-M1, for me, provides slightly better IQ with sharper and richer files. Not sure why, but this is the case. It’s slight but there.

A video showing the E-M1 and E-M5Ii side by side…

For me, I just enjoyed using the E-M1 a bit more, but I have a feeling a new E-M1 Mark II will be out within a year and I will bet you that it will not only have the new features of the 5 Mark II, but newer features exclusive to the new model. Just a guess but Olympus will HAVE To do this as the new E-M5 II will start eating into the E-M1 sales because of what it offers for less money. For most, the E-M5 Mark II, at $300 less cost than the E-M1 while offering more, will be the favorite choice. Truth be told, if buying from scratch I would choose the E-M5 II over the E-M1. Having the E-M1, I would not sell to go to the 5II. For me, owning both is the answer. ;) The 5II makes a perfect complement to the E-M1 as a 2nd body as you get the best of both worlds.

An E-M1 shot with the 12mm f/2 Olympus prime

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At the end of the day, for those who are just now jumping to Micro 4/3 I will 100% recommend the E-M5 II as the camera to go for over any other Olympus or Panasonic. It’s a no brainer really. For those asking me if they should sell their E-M1 for the E-M5II, no, I would wait for the E-M1 Mark II. For those wanting to sell the E-M5 Mark I for the II, I would say GO FOR IT. It’s a definite upgrade. You can quote me on that ;)

LIVE COMPOSITE and LIVE TIME = GENIUS!

The Olympus E-M1, E-M10, E-M5 II and the E-P5 Pen have features called “Live Time”, “Live Bulb” and “Live Composite” and I feel many owners of these cameras NEVER use these features or even know they exist. If you have one of these cameras and have not yet used these features, I urge you to give it a try as amazing things can be shot using them, and, the best part…it is a blast to use and shoot using these modes.

Last week a buddy of mine, Alex McClure who is also an Olympus trailblazer, took me out to the AZ Desert to shoot some long exposures and do some light painting with the new E-M5 II and my E-M1. He went over his preferred setting and gave me a tutorial on how to shoot star trails..and it was a blast.

STAR TRAILS, LONG EXPOSURES..LIVE COMPOSITE

For long exposures, Live Composite is phenomenal. We set up our cameras to shoot on a tripod and I plopped on my Panasonic 8mm Fisheye to the E-M5II and set the camera for Live Composite (set it to Manual mode by choosing M on the control dial and turn to the left until you see LIVE COMPOSITE). I set the camera to ISO 1000 and we set it for 20 second exposures. When you take the 1st shot, it will expose for your subject and nail the exposure. The camera will then tell you it is ready to take the composite shot. Press the shutter again and in our case, it started taking 20 second exposures and stacking them automatically IN the camera until we stopped, which was around 40 minutes later. The camera shows you the progress in real-time on the LCD, so no more guessing when you need to stop the exposure! This is HUGE for astro shooters!

Because the 1st shot exposed the scene and our cactus, the 2nd press of the shutter allowed the camera to ONLY LOOK for NEW LIGHT, which in this case were the stars in the black sky. So even with 40 minutes of exposure, the cactus never overexposed and the camera only saw the star trails, and recorded that to the final image.

E-M5 II, 40 minutes of 20 second exposures stacked in camera to create this 100% out of camera JPEG. Amazing, foolproof and the best part? The camera shows you the updates in real time on the camera LCD so you know when you want to shut it off..when you shot is exactly how you want it. No more guessing games. Panasonic 8mm fisheye was used (review here)

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LIVE TIME – Real time exposure allows you TOTAL control over your long exposures

Live Time is similar to Live Composite except that it does not take an initial image with perfect exposure. Live  Time allows you to do long exposures or light painting while viewing in real time what your images is turning out to be. Sort of like when you used to develop actually film prints in the darkroom..you see it exposing in real time. Set it up on a tripod, press the shutter and start the exposure..when it looks perfect, press the shutter again to close down the shutter.

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The image above was taken with the E-M1 as my E-M5 II was on the tripod for 40 minutes taking the Cactus shot above. Still works the same way on both cameras. I stood there and Alex McClure pressed the shutter, ran over to me with some lights and “drew” the light behind me. He ran back to the camera and shut off the exposure. Was VERY cool. This is an OOC JPEG. How amazing is this? No other camera can do what the Olympus does in this regard. It is built into the camera and is basically a one button press and done. What you see is what you get.

Below: Spinning Steel Wool with Live Time – E-M1

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E-M5 II Live Time on the Beach in Bermuda

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Sony has an app or two that can do similar things, but A: It’s an app that must be added to the camera and B: It is a bit clunky in use and C: It is not as easily implemented nor does it work quite the same way. Other than that, no one else does this. With Olympus it is as EASY as pressing the button and watching the exposure come to life right before your eyes.

Many buy the E-M1, E-M10 or E-M5II just for this feature alone as it works so well and is very easy to use.

The Speed of the E-M5 II

The new E-M5II is faster than the old Mark I for sure, and is up there with the E-M1 when it comes to AF speed. In fact, I was told the only area where the E-M1 excels with AF speed is in continuous AF, which the E-M1 has the edge with. Still, I had no issues with the C-Af of the E-M5 II as you can see in this Dolphin shot..click it for larger.

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Overall, in my 2-3 weeks of shooting with the camera I have not had ANY Af issues, whatsoever. In low light it focused and was accurate and in good light it was instant. Olympus also claims to  have the least shutter lag of any mirrorless camera made today in the new E-M5 II.

It’s fast, it is smooth and it is quiet. The physical shutter is damped and smooth but it also has the ability to shoot in SILENT mode when you want 100% stealth. I still prefer the physical shutter but many will enjoy the total silence which also allows you to bump the shutter to 1/16,000 s.

The 40-150 Pro Zoom..

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The Panasonic Nocticron at f/1.2

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The Panasonic Nocticron at f/1.2

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Five Axis Improved yet AGAIN! 

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The new E-M5II has a new improved 5 Axis Image Stabilization that must be used and seen to be appreciated. It beats the 5 Axis in the original MK I E-M5, it beats the even better 5 Axis in the E-M1 and beats the 5 Axis in the Sony A7II handily. I have never seen anything like it. I have tested the limits and found it is easy to take 1 second handheld shots if you wanted to. I pushed it to 2 seconds and while the shot was not usable, it was not nearly as bad as you would think. It was taken in the DARK, and is a TWO SECOND hand held exposure..take a look! TWO SECONDS!

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My favorite way to appreciate the new 5 Axis though is for VIDEO. Attach any lens to the E-M5 II and your video will look silky smooth and professional, like it was shot on a massive rig with stabilization. Hand Held video will never be the same. In fact, I will be using the E-M5 II for video production in 2015 due to the superb video quality I can get out of it. It’s quite special.

40 Megapixel High Res Shot Mode

Another new feature of the E-M5 II is the new High Res Shot mode. It is VERY limited though and when I first heard about it I was excited, but as I used it I was less excited because before you can use this mode and get good results with it, you need to have the camera mounted on a secure tripod, you need your subject to be 100% motion free as ANY movement, even from wind, will mess up the photo..and YOU NEED A PRO lens. I shot some side by side with the 12mm f/2 prime at f/4 and was disappointed. I then used the 40-150 Pro 2.8 Zoom and saw the difference better, but again, where and when you can use this mode will be VERY limited.

At the end of the day though, it works and will indeed give you a 104 Megabyte RAW file and a 40 MP image from the 16 MP sensor. The E-M5II does this all in camera without any work needed in post. There is even a RAW converter plug in for lightrroom and photoshop that will process the massive RAW files (which is what I used for the test shots).

Below are two examples. Click the image below  to see a larger size and true 100% crops from each file. 1st on the left, the standard 16MP out of camera shot from the E-M5II. On the right, the high res shot from the E-M5 II. You will see differences if you click on the image and look closer. Lens used? The Olympus 12mm f/2.

Right click the images and “open in a new tab or window” to see larger size and 100% crops. 

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If you opened up the above image and looked at the 100% crops you will indeed see more detail in the 40MP high res mode. This shot was taken with a brand new Olympus 12mm f/2 lens, stopped down to f/4. This was shot with a tripod and is one scene in which you can take advantage of this new feature. The E-M1 will NOT be getting this feature but I expect it will make it to the E-M2 or E-M1 Mark II, whenever they camera comes out (I expect a year).

Here is one more where I used the sharpest Olympus lens I know of, the 40-150 f/2.8 zoom. It is on another level in sharpness and color from the 12mm f/2, and is probably the best lens of this type I have ever used in my life. Smaller than the Nikon and Canon 70-200 2.8 lenses, but sharper, crisper, more pop, better bokeh and better made. If I were a telephoto guy THIS WOULD be mine.

So using a great Olympus lens… let us see if there is a larger difference between standard and high res mode…

Click image for larger view and 100% crops. 

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How about one with a shot with the E-M5II in standard 16mp mode, one in 40Mp High Res and one from the E-M1 in Standard mode with the same lens? The high res shot is the only one from RAW. 

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To me, the most detail is coming from the E-M1 in standard mode! I have been finding the IQ from my E-M1 to be slightly more detailed and sharper than what is coming from the E-M5II. One reason why the E-M1 is still the “Pro Flagship”.

For me, this mode is something I would rarely use. If I were a daytime landscape guy I can see this being used but for most of what I shoot, this would not be needed. The cool thing is that it is here if you want it and it will end up being on the next version of the E-M1..of course.

All of the other stuff. High ISO, Art Filters, Etc

Because the E-M5 II is not a brand new model line, and is a continuation of the OMD itself, much of what I have written in the past about the previous models would be repeated here if I wrote about them again. So just to be clear, this E-M5 II has all of the art filter effects and extra features that the previous models have. It also has the same high ISO performance as the E-M1, so look to that review for my ISO tests.  This E-M5II does NOT have an AA filter so it is like the E-M1 in this regard (The Mark I had an AA filter).

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The Pros and Cons of the E-M5 II

Pros:

  1. Small size, solid build. Improves on the build of the E-M5 Mark I
  2. Faster AF than the Mark I
  3. Better 5 Axis than the Mark I and E-M1! Best in the world.
  4. New metal control dials feel better in use
  5. Slight redesign feels better in the hand
  6. New swivel to the left LCD is great in use
  7. New video modes make this the best OM-D for video yet.
  8. High Res 40MP Mode will be useful for some
  9. EVF now E-M1 sized!
  10. Literally no lag
  11. All of the art modes are still here and better than ever!
  12. Live Time and Live Composite modes are incredibly good.
  13. Lens selection is the best in the mirrorless world.
  14. Improved high ISO from the Mark I, now equals the E-M1
  15. Overall, best mirrorless camera around for versatility and usability and features.
  16. Meets or exceeds APS-C cameras.
  17. Buttons are assignable to however you want them
  18. Price is only $1099 and you get A LOT for your money here!
  19. Has a mic input for video use.
  20. Silent shutter with 1/16,000 second capability.
  21. In camera KEYSTONE correction (works so good, and easy to use – like tilt shift, but in camera controllable)

Cons:

  1. I am getting slightly better IQ (sharpness) from my E-M1 using the same lenses
  2. Camera seems small, may be too small for some hands
  3. High ISO still can’t compete with full frame and some APS-C
  4. Menu may be getting too packed with features, making it confusing for some new users.
  5. As always, Micro 4/3 will not offer you the shallow DOF control of a full frame sensor.

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My conclusion on the Olympus E-M5 II

First of all, if you have not seen my E-M5 Mark I review or the Olympus E-M1 review, I urge you to take a a look. Those reviews go over more of the older features of the camera and I did not want to rehash things such as art filters, etc.

The new E-M5II is the latest camera in the Olympus Micro 4/3 lineup and it is quite a powerhouse. Olympus has “done it again” and not sure how they keep innovating but they do. No other camera company thinks of new ideas quite like Olympus. From the Live Time features to the 5 Axis IS to the speed and build, the E-M5II is revolutionary in many ways. For me, no DSLR could take the place of the E-M5 II or my E-M1. None. With todays technology these little cameras offer MORE for LESS and in the case of the E-M5 II and E-M1, also offer superb build and feel and speed.

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Olympus has been committed to their system for years and they show no signs of slowing down. The new 40-150 f/2.8 Pro lens is a masterpiece in design, build and quality. The 12-40 f/2.8 zoom is the best of its kind and all of the fast primes are jewels in the world of lenses. Today, Micro 4/3 lacks in nothing besides ultimate low light high ISO work and super shallow DOF. If you want full frame .95 DOF you will not get it in a Micro 4/3 camera but at the same time, you will get detail and pop all day long and with lenses like the 40-150 and Nocticron, there is plenty of creamy Bokeh to go around.

The next two shots were with the 40-150 f/2.8 wide open…

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I have owned the E-M5 and E-M1 and still own the E-M1. It is one of my favorite cameras of all time, and still performs just as well today as it did when it was released. Did the E-M5 II overtake my E-M1? Well, no. I still love my E-M1 a bit more due to the body design, feel, and extra pro build. I also seem to get a bit more snap from my E-M1 images. Other than that the E-M5 II is a powerhouse of features and function. Video, 5 Axis, High Res mode, the new Swivel out LCD, the larger EVF (same as E-M1), Live Exposure modes, the colors and fast AF make it one heck of a bargain in the mirrorless world. Today no one can say Micro 4/3 lacks when compared to other mirrorless cameras because they do not. Anyone who says they do, well, they never gave an E-M1 or E-M5II a serious shot with some great lenses. Once you really use one of these, learn it and shoot with some of the glass that is already legendary, you will fall in love. They are not only powerful, intuitive and beautiful but they put out pro level image quality.

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Most of you here know I love Olympus and Micro 4/3. They just feel “right”, especially the Olympus creations. For me, my fave cameras these days are from Sony and Olympus and I see no signs of that changing anytime soon. I have used so many cameras and lenses over the years you can say that I am jaded. I use the favorites that I have tested over the years and one thing has remained constant for me..there has always been an Olympus Micro 4/3 camera on hand at my house. Started with the original 4/3 E-1, then E-3, the the Micro 4/3 E-P1, then E-P2, then E-P3, E-P5, E-M5, E-M1 and now the E-M5II.

With each release they get better and better and while the sensor performance has sort of peaked (for now), they are now doing things that make using the cameras so much more fun and BETTER. Features no one else has. Shoot a video on the new E-M5II and you will be amazed at the new 5 Axis. Shoot a night long exposure with Live Composite and be blown away. Shoot exotic lenses like the Nocticron or 75 1.8 or 40-150 2.8 and look at the detail, color and richness. When I look at images in this review I see amazing color, fantastic details and an organic quality to the files that tell me YES, this is a fantastic camera that should please ANYONE. When I go back to my Fuji X-T1 review the images look..well..like they lack “life”. When I go back to my recent A7II review I see rich files and gorgeous IQ, but in a different way from the E-M5Ii images. That is the difference between full frame and Micro 4/3, a certain creamy richness with plenty of shallow DOF.

What the E-M5II offers is some serious snap, crackle and pop. By that I mean crisp files (snap), bold gorgeous color (crackle) and great edge definition of your subject (pop). Just as beautiful as full frame but in its own way. Two different styles which is why I own a full frame and Micro 4/3 system.

1st two shots below, Nocticron at 1.2. Third shot was with the Olympus 17 1.8 at 1.8

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So once again I will say BRAVO to Olympus for pushing the envelope yet again. Offering us a fantastic and highly capable camera at a good price.

I HIGHLY recommend the new E-M5 II without hesitation and if you want to see what lenses I like, read THIS article which I just updated. 

Two shots below were with the Olympus 17 1.8

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WHERE TO BUY?

You can order the new Olympus E-M5 II from the highly recommended and trusted vendors below. They get my best ratings! Use my links below and you will AUTOMATICALLY help this website move on and grow AND you will get the best deal! 

1. B&H Photo – Olympus E-M5 Mark II Pages (Black or Silver)

2. Amazon – Olympus E-M5 Mark II Page (Black or Silver)

3. PopFlash.com – Olympus E-M5 Mark II page.

Buy the new 40-150 f/2.8 Pro Zoom Lens – Amazon, B&H, PopFlash

Two more with the Olympus 17 1.8 (my review of that lens is HERE)

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PLEASE! I NEED YOUR HELP TO KEEP THIS WEBSITE RUNNING, IT IS SO EASY AND FREEE for you to HELP OUT!

Hello to all! For the past 7 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast dedicated web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

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If you ever decide to make a purchase from B&H Photo or Amazon, for ANYTHING, even diapers..you can help me without spending a penny to do so. If you use my links to make your purchase (when you click a link here and it takes you to B&H or Amazon, that is using my links as once there you can buy anything and I will get a teeny small credit) you will in turn be helping this site to keep on going and keep on growing.

Not only do I spend money on fast hosting but I also spend it on cameras to buy to review, lenses to review, bags to review, gas and travel, and a slew of other things. You would be amazed at what it costs me just to maintain this website, in money and time. Many times I give away these items in contests to help give back you all of YOU.

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Feb 162015
 

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Testing the Zeiss Loxia 2/35 Biogon: the future of manual focusing

By Dirk De Paepe

Loxia. The name that enthused me the most during the last year. It’s the lens line that my life long favorite manufacturer, Zeiss, dedicates to my favorite camera, the Sony A7R. I love Sony for daring to explore new paths, resulting in the launch of the A7 family, the full frame/compact size bodies that finally offered a worthy alternative for the Leica M, and… at a reasonable price! I love Zeiss for believing in Sony’s boldness, and supporting them with excellent glass, Loxia being the most recent in the line.

From the moment they were launched, I knew this was it for me. That’s why I ordered them right away, both A7r and Loxia, and up till now, I didn’t regret it for one moment.
For this article, I did some shooting with the second and latest addition to the still young Loxia line, the 2/35 Biogon. And of course I shot it with my Sony A7r. The pictures that go with this review are all shot at the Antwerp Central Station (more info in the last paragraph of this article), and are available at a larger resolution on my flickr pages

(https://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/).  I gathered them in a dedicated album, named “Loxia 2/35 Biogon at the Antwerp Central Station”. Quite some of those pics are in full resolution, i.e. as a full 36MP file. Please check them out for image details and exif data, if you want, by clicking here.https://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/sets/72157650231351238/

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The importance of Loxia
Loxia is Zeiss’s lens line, dedicated to mirrorless camera bodies, like ZE/ZF.2 is a line for classic DSLRs and ZM is for rangefinders. When first announced, I read that some publishers doubted if it really was going to happen, if Zeiss was going to push through with it, creating a whole line for “yet another” new Sony development. In other words, they adviced their readers to be cautious and not buy a system that was not fully deployed yet. I have never shared their opinion. From the start, I was absolutely convinced that fullframe E mount was going to be very important and therefore that the Loxia line was going to be thé way to go for me. I’ll explain why.

It all begins with the most important evolution in photography of the last decades: the digital sensor and its dramatic progression in two domains: resolution and ISO. Although ISO has the most impact on the IQ, resolution has the biggest commercial impact and is responsible for the decline of the film camera. Nevertheless, many masterly pictures have been made with a lot less MPs than today’s average, which causes the reaction amongst many serious photographers that you’d better go for ISO than for MP – or, regarding the A7 line, that you’d better go for the A7s than for the A7r. (I’m not referring to the A7II here because this is just the next evolution of the hardware, with indeed some significant improvements, but eventually we will see those in all A7 models. At this point, I’m purely referring to ISO versus MP.) Personally, I want them both, ISO and MP. So I bought the A7r. And I still would buy it today, because it kind of offers me both. How so? Well, when shooting at high ISO, one càn apply some noise reduction (I prefer to do it in post production), when shooting with the A7r. This is often being contested, because NR reduces the detail of your picture. But this occurs at pixel level, which means that you will partly loose the benefit of your extra MPs. Correct. When shooting for instance at 3200 ISO, after some carefully dosed NR, I reduce the picture size to 66%, and get a pretty clean image, significantly diminishing the gap with the A7s in this regard and ending up with a 16MP file, which is still more than the resolution the A7s offers.

As a matter of fact, the higher the ISO, the smaller my files will get, if I want them to be pretty clean, but that counts for every sensor, also the A7s’s. So I prefer the A7r, because at least it gives me the opportunity to also go for a large, detailed 36MP file, when there is sufficient light, which mostly is the case. So in the A7 family, I prefer the higher resolution. And let’s not kid ourselves, this increase of MPs will not stop! Yes, it asks for more processing power, but the processing speed of computers will further improve as well. Anyway, with my iMac, I experience not the slightest problem, when processing the A7r’s files. I’m sure my next computer won’t have problems with my next sensor neither…

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The increase of MPs is a fact. Even the “low MP” A7s offers a multitude of the pixels, of what we had a few years back. Let’s not deny this any further. We will all shoot at higher MPs ten years from now. But this has consequences regarding focusing. The more pixels in our frame, the more critical the focusing gets. If you wanna focus very precisely at high MP, you need to do this manually. Although the AF systems will further improve, critical focusing also means selective focusing, and there will always be photographers that want to keep things 100% under control and perform the focusing themselves, not relying on whatever sophisticated system. To perform this kind of critical focusing, an optical viewfinder simply doesn’t do the job. That’s why the EVF is mandatory. There has been a lot of criticism, with many photographers rejecting the EVF. I believe they’re wrong. Already today, the EVF outclasses the OVF, regarding focusing precision. And the EVF quality will only further improve. The gap with the OVF will further increase and eventually the OVF will become totally obsolete. Is that a bad thing? I don’t see why. We’re talking about digital images anyway. One can argue that the OVF is closer to reality, but the EVF is surely closer to the final picture. And photography is all about creating a picture. So I see only advantages here.

Let’s resume. MPs will further increase and this will make the OVF obsolete. This means that the mirror is no longer needed in the camera body. Or in other words: mirrorless is the future! IMO this is ineluctable. And I believe that Zeiss nows this as well. And Sony is leading the pack in this department. Well, guys. That’s why I firmly believe in the Sony E mount, and that’s why I’m absolutely sure that Zeiss will further develop the Loxia range to become a very comprehensive product line. BTW, from what I read, the sales numbers of both the A7 family and the Loxias significantly surpass the initial  expectations, (hense the backorders for Loxia), which further confirms my point.
The importance of Loxia is that it will be thė MF lens line for the camera system of the future: mirrorless.

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Classic lenses versus Loxia
For many manual A7x shooters, M-mount lenses seem to be the preferred choice, because their compact size matches the compact A7x bodies very well. But we all now about the “issues” that arise with most wide angle M-mount lenses on the A7x, especially the A7r: corner color shift and smearing. At the Photokina Zeiss booth, I was told that the ZM line was, as a matter of fact, developed for film camera’s, not for sensors, and that they are therefore not intended to be used with modern sensors. I guess this also counts for (most of the) Leica M-lenses, because the digital Leica M-bodies correct their lenses with dedicated profiles. Loxia is completely issue free in this regard. But besides offering issue free lenses for modern mirrorless fullframe bodies, Zeiss announced from the start that the Loxia lenses would render state-of-the-art IQ. And I have to say: as far as now, they deliver! The 2/50 Planar is a clear step forward from the very familiar ZM Planar – what I didn’t expect, as you can read in my formar post. (http://www.stevehuffphoto. com/2014/12/10/ten-weeks-with- the-zeiss-loxia-planar-250- and-the-sony-a7r-by-dirk-de- paepe/) This Loxia 2/50 Planar made me think of Otus more than once. And how the 2/35 Biogon performs, is what I’m about to report here. But I can already tell you that this one surprised me even more!

Besides M-mounts, there are so many other lenses to be used with the A7x. All that beautiful classic glass, with so many different characters, that now can be shot on modern sensors, isn’t it wonderful?! For me too, this is a very important motivation to go for mirrorless bodies: thanks to their short FFD (flange focal distance), virtually all classic lenses can be mounted, with the right adapter. Those lenses often have a unique character, which I guess we all can quite appreciate and would like to exploit. However, most of the time, when used on modern hi-res sensors, those “classics” fall short in the IQ department. I own a few very nice vintage Jupiter lenses, with lovely signature, but it really makes no sense to go for the full 36MP resolution with them, since you simply can’t get a detailed image, when looking at full size. Luckily, most of the time, we don’t really need that much pixels, so I keep on using them from time to time. Classic glass on the A7x is absolutely a go!

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However, with Loxia, I experience something else. This is modern glass, completely up to date, regarding functionality ànd performance. To me, this is a joy of shooting beyond compare and with a fantastic image quality, at par with the modern hi-res sensors. IMO their IQ is only topped by Otus (although Loxia makes me think of Otus more than once). Add to that their compact size and a weight of roughly 1/3 of Otus and you can image that nowadays I prefer to put my Loxia 2/50 in my bag, rather than my Otus 55. So I use the Otus a lot less these days: really only when I have a very specific project at hand, where  the highest possible IQ is mandatory and gear transportation is no issue. Loxia is thàt good that I have even considered selling my Otus. But as far as now, it still feels good owning it, for those very special occasions.

Of course, Otus typically is a DSLR lens. But why not using SLR lenses on the A7X?! Think of old Leica R glass for instance. Makes a lot of sense, although of course we have to take the extra size and weight for granted with those SLR lenses.
What counts for all those classic lenses, is that they lack the data communication, which means that they can’t allow the “modern manual focusing” features that contribute to the joy of shooting with Loxia.

Loxia offers advanced functionality (top level in manual focusing) in a pretty compact package (only slightly outdone by M-mount) with excellent IQ (IMO only slightly surpassed by Otus). All in all, Loxia is undoubtably the best choice for MF shooting with fullframe E-mount camera’s, by combining in a unique way great performance in functionality, size and IQ. Nothing else comes close.

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General Loxia features
Of course many of the features of the new 2/35 Biogon are common with the Loxia 2/50 Planar, that was the subject of my latest article, published on this website. Since I already talked about general Loxia features in formar posts, I’ll confine myself to resuming the most important general Loxia features here.
The Loxia lenses are intended for manual shooting. They have no Auto Focus, and even don’t offer Auto Aperture. So you have to shoot in Aperture Priority mode or in Manual. No Shutter Priority available. If you’re not feeling happy with this, there’s only one simple conclusion to make: don’t buy Loxia. But if you want to have 100% control about everything, those Loxias are a dream come thru.

The Loxias not only match the A7x style perfectly, from an aesthetical point of view, they also bring manual shooting ergonomics to a height, never known before. This is thanks to the automatic “VF-zooming” feature, when moving the focus ring (a function that you can turn on/off in the menu), and also thanks to the perfectly designed and smoothly operating focus and aperture rings. They allow almost simultaneous “one finger” ajustment, thus featuring the fastest thinkable way of manual focusing and DOF determining. (Again, read my 2/50 article for more details, please.) The de-click option of the aperture ring (normally in 1/3 stop steps) will in certain ultra-critical situations allow for hyper precise determining of the dof  – of course besides it’s applications for filming, but that’s not my thing. The data exchange between lens and body, necessary to perform the automatic VF zooming, at the same time enables full exif data transmission.
When shooting with a hi-res sensor, like the 36MP one of the A7r, manual shooting is the way to go for critical focusing and, as I said, as well is the electronic viewfinder. The automatic zooming in the VF and the focus peaking add to that and together they make for very precise focusing. When you wanna shoot full frame in this way, with a pretty compact system, there is only one combination today: the A7x and Loxia.

Last advantage of the Loxias, compared to there ZM sisters, is their closer minimal focus distance. For the 2/35 Biogon, this is 30cm, compared to 70cm for the ZM. Big difference!
As a critical remark, again in comparison with ZM, I need to say that the Loxias are bigger (thicker, that is) ànd heavier. This makes your total system less compact than when using ZMs. In my smallest bag, I used to cary three ZM lenses plus body. With Loxia, that’s only two. A bit less compact indeed, but offering a better feeling. I guess this size must be about the ideal compromise between size, weight and ergonomics.

BTW the A7x/Loxia system still has a very big advantage, compared to a DSLR system, in this regard. The handling is still typically that of a handy, compact camera. Compared to a clumsy DSLR with big, heavy lenses, this is heaven on earth to me.

The Loxia 2/35 Biogon performance
Like the 2/50 Planar, this Loxia 2/35 Biogon was derived from its M-mount counterpart, the Biogon 2/35 ZM. But this doesn’t mean at all that it’s just an “adaption” of this lens. No way! Although those two Loxia lenses are admittedly familiar with the ZMs, they are thoroughly reworked. I don’t own the ZM 2/35 Biogon, so I couldn’t make a direct comparison, but I do own both 2/50 Planars (ZM and Loxia) and although there were no optical issues with the ZM Planar on the A7x, I could clearly see the difference in IQ and even in view angle. (Again, read my 2/50 article for details.) The ZM Biogons on the other hand unmistakably pose problems with the A7r: the known corner color shift and smearing. One could work around them and correct a great deal in post production, but franckly, this  was not to be preferred, as I experienced with my ZM 2.8/28 Biogon. So I was very anxious about the Loxia 2/35, when I read, just before its launch at Photokina, that it was going to be a Biogon design. So I went to Photokina, to do a few quick shots – just to see if there was going to be corner problems. In “Testing the Zeiss Loxia, ZM 35 1.4 and Otus lenses on the A7R” (click here to read this article on this website http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2014/10/03/testing-the-zeiss-loxia-zm-35-1-4-and-otus-lenses-on-the-a7r-by-dirk-de-paepe/) I reported that there was no question of color shift, nor smearing with the 2/35. A great relief that made me order both Loxias right away. But of course, I couldn’t be absolutely conclusive after only a few quick shots. Owning the new 2/35 Biogon for some weeks now, I can report with a bit more background. So let’s go a bit more in detail.

Color shift. There is no color shift what so ever. Never, at no matter what aperture. I can be very conclusive about this. I never noticed the slightest corner color shift in any picture I took. None of my pics in this review were corrected for color shift, not even in the slightest way. So no color shift. Period.

Distortion. There’s no distortion – well, nothing that matters. I add quite some pictures here for this report, with straight lines at the borders. In none of my pics, I performed any compensation for barrel distortion. Zero. So to me, in this regard, the performance is simply perfect. Look for yourself. I have to say that I did as a matter of fact perform quite some test shots with grids, to check for distortion. Well, indeed a few times I noticed a minimum of inverse distortion, barely noticeable though. I think I push it over the edge, to even mention it here. In real life pictures, even the very demanding once like the Station’s front view from behind the window, nobody can or will speak of even the slightest distortion. This is an excellent performance IMO. It makes this lens very suitable for shooting buildings and the like.

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Fringing. OK, there is some fringing, mainly at larger apertures. But it’s very limited and very controllable, should you want to correct it. IMO fringing mainly matters when shooting with large DOF, because then, you want a lot of cleanness and detail on all plans. You’ll find quite some pictures here, that I shot hyperfocally. On my flickr page, you can look at some at full size. I think in this regard, this Biogon’s performance is really amazing. Look for instance at the “Swirl” picture (placed first after the “Detail” paragraph), go to the right upper side to see a zone with great contrasts, very sensitive for fringing. I think the lens’s performance is astonishing here. In another picture, Left Arm (first image after the “Bokeh” paragraph), you can see about the maximum of fringing I got (green fringing here). Of course this was shot at f/2, with very close focusing, so that the out of focus effect was about maximal. It was still pretty easily correctable, but in a bokeh shot, I feel no need to correct any fringing, so what you see is what you get here. And in a third shot, Coffee Addiction (pictured hereunder), also shot at f/2 you get some magenta fringing around the lamps. Well, I don’t feel the need to correct this neither, but again, this can very easily be done, should you want it. So IMO the fringing with this Biogon is very limited, always easily correctable if you’d want, and at larger DOF non-existing or only very slightly visible, and only when looking at 100%. I think this is an excellent performance in this department.

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Color signature and nuances. This 2/35 Biogon clearly has its own color signature. There’s a kind of slight silky softness in the colors, which goes together with very subtile nuances. An absolute joy to watch, IMO. It’s different than the Planar, that is more cool and strict, always correct and neutral. But I honestly can’t say that the Biogon is incorrect in any way. Of course performing “laboratory test shots”, with the necessary measurements could give more precise information. In real life though, I can only say, those “somewhat silky” colors please me a lot. And, BTW, with very little input, you can correct or change or enhance those colors in any direction you like. Everything you need is there, to be processed in any way you want. In every picture, I could easily get the final look, that I had in mind. One consideration though, when a lens has a specific signature, probably it will be disliked by some – the more by those who are stuck to the signature of another lens that they already own. With every new lens, I’m trying to keep an open mind and see what this lens can do for me. With every picture that I take with this Biogon, I enjoy the aesthetics of the colors, I feel inspired by them and I quickly get the exact image that I want. The words that pop into my mind, thinking about this Biogon’s color signature are: pictorial, subtle, versatile, silky. All are very positive. The latter involves personal taste. I like it very much.

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Detail. In a former article, published on this site, I reported about this lens, after some quick shots at Photokina. I wrote that the 2/35 renders a somewhat softer detail than the Planar. Well, I have to correct this. I guess I was misled by its silkier color signature and because one always get less detail, when shooting out of hand (all shots at Photokina were OOH). I invite you to look in detail to some pics, shot with tripod. Go to my flickr page and select the full size image. You’ll find a “36MP file” indication at the full size pictures. Again, I didn’t perform measurements, but I have the strong impression that this Biogon produces as much detail as the Planar. And (!) it performs even better in the corners – there’s a bit more softening in the very deep corners with the Planar IMO. This was a big surprise to me. Maybe it is a small fraction softer all over, but really, with the bare eye and in normal pictures, like published here, I really couldn’t tell. Maybe it even renders a fraction more. But I càn tell you about the better performance in the corners, although the Planar was already outstanding there. To me it’s clear, detail is no issue at all –  not in the slightest way. Incredible detail, when using a tripod, but also OOH, when taking care, the detail is still pretty amazing. The first picture in this post was shot OOH – you can get a 36MP from my flickr account. BTW, with its closest focusing distance of 30 cm, the minimal FOV can even be smaller than with the Planar, revealing even more detail of a certain object for sure! Regarding detail, this Loxia 2/35 is high class! As good as it gets!

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Aperture range. We often think about a lens having a sweet spot, i.e. the aperture at which the performance is at its best. The designated way to determine the sweet spot is by performing specific test shots to measure, which I didn’t do. I just took “normal” shots throughout the whole aperture range. But I looked in detail and the results were pretty remarkable. Concerning detail, the 2/35 definitely renders a softer image wide open, at f/2. But already when closing one click (f/2.2), you can see a clear increase of detail. At f/4, you get as much detail as you’ll ever get (looking at 100%). Regarding detail, this stays that way up till f/16. Closing further towards f/22, the diffraction gradually occurs, with some loss of detail. Also the color dynamic range gets a bit poorer. I’d say the dynamic range is virtually optimal as from f/14 and wider. Regarding vignetting, there indeed is some at wide apertures. By f/3.5 I’d say it’s negligible and past f/4 it’s completely gone. As from f/2.8 you can completely correct the vignetting in the Adobe raw-converter, if you’d want. I’d say, the vignetting is never a problem. So what is the sweet spot of this Loxia 2/35? Well, I couldn’t tell. I’d rather speak about a “sweet zone”, that I’d place from f/4 to f/13, with this regard that the outer zones still produce very acceptable IQ, performing ever better than many “classic” lenses. The wideness of this sweet zone really surprised me. This means that I can use this lens at whatever DOF (at f/13 you can have acceptable focus from about 1,5m to infinite) and never have to worry about lesser IQ. Wow!

Large DOF shooting. This lens is really at its best, IMO, when zone focusing or even hyperfocusing. I thank Zeiss for continuing to put a DOF scale on their MF lenses – a great tool for zone and hyperfocusing! With its focal length and speed range, this lens is about ideal for street shooting, IMO. Again, I invite you to look in detail to some of the pictures here, that I shot with large DOF. On my flickr page is indicated which ones are shot with tripod and have a full 36MP resolution. Some of them, like the station front from behind the window (called “Dirty windows”) is a remarkable illustration hereof. This picture was shot a few hours after a melting snow storm. When looking at full size, you can clearly see the dirt that the storm left on the windows in the front plan and at the same time, you get tremendous detail from the station’s facade in the hind plan.
This lens’s ability to render amazing detail with constant clearness from front to hind plan is incredible. Again, I was quite astonished here. I can say it outclasses anything I saw up till now. (Again, I didn’t try every lens on the market, of course.) But what’s remarkable here is that one often (rightfully) speaks about acceptable focus, when talking about hyperfocusing and that some photographers even doubt that hyperfocusing is still possible anyway with a 36MP image, because “acceptible focus” becomes trickier as resolution increases – something I experienced clearly when upgrading from a 24 to a 36MP sensor. But this Biogon surprised me again! Indeed, I could realize pictures that showed clear detail all over – with no visible loss in IQ throughout the plans, even when looking at 100%. Simply jawdropping!

Smearing.This is really non existing. When I’m absolutely critical, I think I can see a very, ever so slight softening in the deepest corners, and only when looking at full size, like I mentioned above. I feel almost ashamed to mention this. Either way, I now of no lens that performs better in this department (of course I didn’t try all possible lenses). But smearing, I just don’t see any, up till the very tip of the corners. IMO, this performance is no less than Otus level. A big, very pleasant surprise to me, after what we’ve seen from the ZM Biogons. Also the Leica 2/35 Summicron, that I owned for a while, performed really not good in this department (on my A7r, that is) – that’s why I sold it.

Bokeh. Let’s be clear. This is no bokeh monster. It’s just not that kind of lens. Wide angle and f/2, what do you expect?! If you really want to create and explicit bokeh with this 2/35, you need to focus very close (or very far with very close OOF objects). But when you really go for it, like in the “Left Arm” and “Coffee Addiction” pictures, you get a really beautiful and soft bokeh IMO, both in front and hind. I believe it’s even softer than the Planar’s. But again, you really need to go looking for the right circumstances to achieve this. And in my kind of shooting, the bokeh is always a result, not a goal. BTW, even at f/2, the detail is not bad at all, as you can see, when looking at the next two pictures in full size, via my flickr account.

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Low light and artificial light shots. I wanna talk about this for two reasons. First, low light almost automatically means artificial light. And artificial light implies specific white balance. When it gets dark, the Antwerp Central Station is illuminated by many different kinds of light, each requiring a specific white balance. Some of the shots combine different light sources in one picture. Colors created by artificial light are different from daylight colors, but still they require a correct white balance to make them look right. Therefore a specific post processing was mandatory for those picture, and to perform this, the basic material, provided by the raw-file, must be of good quality. Well, the files that the Biogon/A7r provided me, gave me the impression that I could do whatever I wanted. What a joy to work with! Oh, and another thing that I wanted to do, was showing the high ISO capabilities of the A7r. I’d like to illustrate this with “Evening Hall” (next picture). This was shot at 4000 ISO. After some processing, I reduced the file to 66%, ending up with a 16MP file (still 4MP more than what the A7s delivers!) and I must say that I’m very pleased with the result – cleanness, detail and overall rendering. I hope you understand why I prefer the A7r above the A7s, offering me the best of both worlds. On my flickr page, you can see this picture in full 16MP format.

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Black and White. Concerning black and white shooting, let me first tell you that I deliberately had to decide to add some B&W pictures here, because in every shot, I loved the colors that much, that I just wanted to keep them. Of course, when you intentionally go shooting for B&W pictures, this is another matter, but I didn’t do that for this review – I was just trying out my newest lens. :-) Anyway, IMO, when shooting for B&W with a color sensor, you first need to get a good color balance, before converting the picture to B&W. The files you get from this Loxia 2/35 are a pleasure to work with, also in this regard.

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The figures

The Zeiss online lens shop announces this Loxia 2/35 Biogon for €1149,- which is considerably more than the €849,- for the Loxia 2/50 Planar. But this difference is well justified, because the Biogon features 9 elements in 6 groups, whereas the Planar 6 elements in 4 groups. Nevertheless, the Biogon weighs a bit less: 320gr instead of 340gr for the Planar. This is probably due to the lens elements being a lot smaller in diameter and probably also in thickness. I don’t know if the lens shade, obviously being shorter for a wider angle lens, place a roll herein a well. Measurements are the same: 66x62mm, caps included.

Conclusion

Like with the Loxia 2/50 Planar (and I’m sure this will count for all future Loxias), it’s a tremendous joy to shoot with this Loxia 2/35 Biogon. Thanks to its great ergonomics and advanced features, it really accomplishes what I call “modern manual focusing”. In combination with the A7x, this is a wonderful and very powerful performance machine for so many different kinds of shooting. But I’m convinced that Zeiss mainly had the kind of photographer in mind, that takes profit from a compact camera. The OOH street shooter is probably the stereotype hereof. Although I wouldn’t be surprised when the wonderful colors would convert quite some B&W shooters.  :-) Thanks to its compact size, out of hand street shooting is a great joy, as I said. This is probably the most handy combination on the market today for this kind of shooting, but at the same time it offers a remarkable IQ, at a surprisingly wide aperture range. So this is also a great choice for tripod work. This Biogon reveals itself in that case as a very precise tool with a very beautiful color palette and a personal signature, that I love.
I am so very glad that I immediately ordered this Loxia 2/35 Biogon!

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Shooting at the Antwerp Central Station

For this article, I gave myself an assignment: making a kind of pictural essay of the Antwerp Central Train Station. So all shots were taken of or in the station building. I like working at assignments and thought this was a nice one. Indeed, Antwerp Central is one of greatest stations in the world.
The original building of the Antwerp Central Station was constructed between 1895 and 1905 as a terminal train station. The hall is 75m (246 ft) high, while the tracks and platforms are covered by a vast iron and glass trainshed of 185m (607 ft) long and 44m (144 ft) high. The complex has for more than a century been regarded as one of the finest examples of railway architecture in Europe. Between 1998 and 2007, large scale reconstruction works converted the station from a terminus to a through station, allowing high-speed trains to frequent Antwerp Central without the need to turn around. To accomplish this goal, a tunnel has been excavated under the station and a good part of the city, with added platforms on two underground levels. A central pit under the glass roof brings daylight to the underground platforms. Since the reconstruction, the station has 14 tracks and 4 levels. Today the Antwerp Central Station is an even more impressive infrastructure than it has been in the last century. In 2009 the American magazine Newsweek judged it the world’s fourth greatest train station and, according to the Brittish/American newssite Mashable, it’s even the most beautiful train station in the world. That aside, to me it’s as impressive as it is beautiful and a real “feel-good” place. If you ever can spare some time in Belgium, I advice you to make a train trip from Antwerp to Liege, to visit two exceptional stations.

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Feb 132015
 

Fujifilm XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR Lens Quick Review

by Brad Husick

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I have been a pro sports photographer for years and I always rely on the big hardware to get the job done right. For me that has been the Canon EOS series and the Nikon D3 and D4. I have switched between them several times looking for the next advancement in IQ or speed.

When the Fuji X-T1 was announced I was intrigued by the compactness and the manual controls of the camera so I bought one and tried it out on indoor sports. The early firmware wasn’t allowing the camera to keep up and the Fuji 55-200 f/3.5-4.8 lens wasn’t fast enough to keep pace with the Nikon D4. I wrote a review here on SteveHuffPhoto at that time.

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A lot has changed since then. The newest firmware gives the camera an electronic shutter option that’s silent and super-fast (up to 1/32,000 sec). Just as important, the new 50-140mm (76-213mm equivalent) f/2.8 lens with OIS is certainly up to the task. The focusing is lightning quick and the OIS is working extremely well. I have included some samples taking indoors in very poor light. The camera was set to ISO 6400 and the distance to the subject was 11 feet, shot handheld. The zoom was set to 140mm. As you can see, everything is tack sharp even at f/11 and 1/9 second exposure – handheld. I have also included an f/22 at 0.5 second exposure and there is some motion blur, but it’s surprisingly good for a half-second shot not on a tripod or resting on a bean bag.

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I have yet to try it in a challenging indoor sports arena, but my initial tests bode quite well for this setup.
Physically, the lens is very good to hold with smooth and surprisingly short throws for the zoom and the focus. The all-metal construction looks like it would withstand the rigors of shooting and it’s weather sealed as well with 20 seals. It’s also rated for low temperature environments down to 14 degrees F. I won’t go into a lot of the specs because it’s easy to look those up.

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Compared to the Fuji 55-200 f/3.5-4.8 lens, this is a major step up. The new lens doesn’t grow larger when you zoom – the 55-200 gets to be just as long as the 50-140 when fully zoomed. The new lens is weather sealed and to me the OIS works better. The new lens has a full marked aperture ring with the A setting at the end. The old lens has a separate switch for A mode and an unlabeled aperture ring. Most importantly, the new lens is much faster to focus and it’s an f/2.8 after all. The 55-200 is $699, so it’s considerably less expensive than the 50-140 ($1599). If the 70-200mm focal length is important to you I suggest you save your pennies and buy the 50-140mm lens.

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Compared to my Nikon 70-200 f/4 VR lens, it’s almost the same size and weight (both about 2.5 pounds). The Fuji of course is giving us a full stop more light albeit in the APS-C format. To get a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens in the full frame world, count on a much bigger and heavier (3.4 lbs) lens. I have included comparison photos of the Fuji and Nikon f/4 lenses side by side.

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The lens hood on the Fuji has an interesting feature – a small removable door on the bottom that allows you to stick your finger inside and rotate a polarizing filter if you use one. It’s a clever idea and the door is held in with enough force that it’s unlikely you will lose it when attached to the hood. I do think the hood is a bit large, but I don’t know what design tradeoffs Fuji made with it. The lens cap fits tightly and has nice large grips for removing it.

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When the lens is mounted to the X-T1 and the hood is used it’s almost comically large compared to the camera but the handling is still very good and the light weight of the setup compared to a full-frame DSLR is greatly appreciated. The case on my X-T1 is the Gariz which I do recommend. It extends the bottom of the camera just enough, and if this is not sufficient then you can attach the battery grip instead.

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I must thank my good friend Tony Rose at Popflash Photo (www.popflash.com) for loaning me this new lens for this test and review. Tony earned my business long ago when Leica had some defective sensors and Tony replaced my camera long before Leica even acknowledged a problem. This is a perfect example of the difference between a great dealer and a box-shipper.

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Feb 112015
 

The Power of the Olympus E-M5 II – Long Exposures

By Steve Huff

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Remember when I said that Olympus is a company that INNOVATES? They seem to surprise the hell out of me with every camera release. After the amazing E-M5 Mk I I thought…what else can they do? Then they released the E-M1 which is a POWERHOUSE, and I have owned one since release and now own a beautiful silver version. The system, the lenses, the capabilities..are pretty much unrivaled by ANYONE, even the Big C and N.

Now with the E-M5 MkII they did it again. Updated and upgraded the 5 Axis IS to a 5 Stop Performance increase, added a side swivel LCD, put in the large EVF of the E-M1, and added the High Res 40Mp shot mode (creates 107MB RAW files) and the camera also has the Live Time and Live Composite features of the E-M1 and other Olympus Micro 4/3 Cameras.

My review will be coming soon for the E-M5II but just wanted to share an image from last night. I was out with Alex McClure, a friend of mine who lives not too far from me who happens to be an Olympus Visionary. We headed out to a spot in the Desert that he knew of and set out to shoot star trails. With Alex giving me some tips (I have never done this before) it took literally 3 minutes to be off and running.

A video I did showing the E-M5II and E-M1 side by side

The Lens I used was the wonderful Panasonic 8mm Fisheye. The total exposure time? Just around 40 MINUTES! This was using LIVE COMPOSITE which NO OTHER camera system has. Basically you set it to Live Composite…then take ONE image. The camera exposes the scene perfectly so your subject (in my case below, the cacti) is perfectly exposed. You then press the shutter again and it stays open while giving you LIVE Updates on your LCD showing real time exposure. What it was doing was taking 20 second exposures and stacking them in camera. We shot for around 40 minutes at ISO 1000.

After closing the shutter, the finished image popped up on my LCD in about 10 seconds. What you see below is direct from camera, JPEG.

Super easy, super simple. All I needed was the camera, a tripod and a lens. Pretty amazing for 40 minutes of 20 second exposures. Never again will I have to stack images in photoshop. Never again will I have to worry about exposure or over exposure. Normally, just leaving the shutter open would have overexposed the cactus but with Live Composite, no worries. It is genius.

LIVE COMPOSITE MODE  – E-M5 II – Around 40 minutes of 20 second exposures, automatically done in camera. The camera does ALL the work. ISO 1000. The E-M1 also does this. This makes these tools my personal pref for night time long exposure work. It’s just SO easy and foolproof. 

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PRE-ORDER the Olympus E-M5II – Ships in less than 2 weeks!

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Two more images but these were shot with my E-M1 and were much shorter, using LIVE TIME not LIVE COMPOSITE 

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Feb 112015
 

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Nature Photography with Olympus OM-D E-M1

By Albert Lowe

Hi Steve, thanks for this opportunity!! Love your website, very informative camera and lens reviews. Keep up the good work.

I started photography when I’m in junior high school, at first I was just shooting for families, friends, and events. Yeah, those kinds of stuff. But then a professional photographer inspired me to do more and teaches me the basics of photography. From an ordinary student that pretty much play games everyday now loves to viewing pictures, I found a passion that changed my life completely, it’s called PHOTOGRAPHY.

My first camera given by my dad is an Olympus PEN E-P2. It’s simple to use and perfect for starters. I spent 1 year with it, learning, practicing. Love this camera. Had good memories, and bad ones too. In 2012, Olympus announced a new mirrorless camera called the Olympus OM-D E-M5. I bought it and wohoooo!!!! An awesome camera!! Yeah!! Small, awesome IQ, fast AF, well worth the money. I love the kit lens, not because of the quality, but because of the macro feature. Because of that lens I can do macro photography and quickly I fell in love with macro. Spent 1 year too with the E-M5, then comes the Olympus OM-D E-M1. After some thought and conversation with my parents… JUST SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!!!! I sold my Olympus PEN E-P2, OM-D E-M5, my dad’s old Canon EOS 50D to get the E-M1 and the awesome kit lens, the 12-40mm f/2.8.

The day before I buy this camera, I was very excited. So excited that I smiled almost every time at school, even my teachers and friends thought I’m crazy. The next day, I have the E-M1 on my hands. I don’t think I have to tell my feelings, I’m pretty much sure you guys know already…. Anyway, it’s been 1 year I shoot with the E-M1 and I’m going to share my thoughts, experiences with the camera, what I like and dislike, suggestions for the new E-M1 MKII. Oh and yeah, I’m also gonna compare the E-M1 with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, I had the chance of using it with the 24-70 f/2.8 , 70-200 f/2.8, and 100mm macro L lenses. I usually shoot with RAW files as it gives me the extra quality and the extra editing capabilities for post-processing.

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What are my thoughts? (In general)

The E-M1 is simply a fantastic camera. An improvement from the E-M5 in many ways.

Here are the improvements I noticed from the E-M5:

1. The grip is very comfortable
2. Although it’s larger and heavier than the E-M5, it’s still small
3. The AF is improved and quicker, especially with the 12-40mm lens
4. 5-axis IS is updated!!! Yeah well… Let’s just be honest, it’s an overpowered feature
5. FOCUS PEAKING!!!!
6. FPS is quicker, making continuous shots more better
7. Timelapse, although i don’t use that feature a lot but it’s nice
8. EVF is much more enjoyable and more durable
9. And so on
10. Still, the E-M5 is a fantastic camera.

I’m pretty much a guy that loves nature, so i really like photography that has something to do with nature (Wildlife, landscape, etc.)

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So, what’s it like to shoot wild life with the E-M1?

Most of my wildlife shots are with the Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 Macro lens & the Olympus FL-600R flash , some uses
the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens. (Seriously, can’t wait to try the Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens)

Here are my thoughts:

1) The camera is small, so carrying it for photo shoot is very comfortable. I never feel tired of carrying that camera
2) The AF rocks, but in macro photography sometimes i prefer to use manual focus because sometimes the AF hunts
for seconds. But still, AF is usable in macro photography. As for other wildlife shots i use AF and it’s a 99% chance of
always getting the right focus.
3) The IS helps a lot, it stabilise the Live View for a much convenient shot and helps reduce the shake
4) Weather shield helps a lot, you’ll wish every camera and lens has it
5) I usually don’t exceed ISO more than 400, but sometimes I did surpass to ISO 1000 or even higher. The IQ is still good.
As long as the light is supportive.
6) Focus peaking helps a lot. Making manual focus much more easier.
7) I find that the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO can actually take close-up shots pretty well too. Perfect lens all
around for the E-M1

I have an experience in wildlife photography. I was going on a trip to the Thousand Island in Indonesia. Most of my shots are from my GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition because the main activity is snorkling. But somehow on that island, there is a goat. Yeah, a goat. And it’s a crazy one. Always running and trying to ram someone like a bull. I wanted to get a shot of it with the E-M1 but it flee already. I decided to track it down but my friends tell me to just give up. But I didn’t mind their comments and headed for the goat with or without my friends help. After 2 minutes of searching, I found it. But when it sees me he fled slowly so i follow it. After a while, it finally settles down and started to get curious of what I am. And then what happened? It walks slowly toward me. I also went closer to the goat so I can shoot closer. I quickly take my E-M1 and shoot it. Most of the shots are close-up because it really is close to me, I could even touch it. The results are wonderful and very rewarding. From that day, I believe that patience, will, and the guts to shoot the animal from a close distance will create outstanding pictures.

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Suggestions for wildlife photography with the E-M1?

1) For macro, a flash such as the Olympus FL-600R is a MUST. A flash ring is even better. Flash can make a really huge
difference as it produces more light to increase the aperture number, reveal more details, pop those hidden colours, and that’s what macro photography needs.

2) Gather some guts and shoot closer to the animal. I find that shooting closer to animals produces better result almost all
the time. The E-M1 size is also an advantage for shooting closely as it’s appearance is not as bulky as DSLRs that can
scare animals easily when get closely.

3) Maximize the usage of the tilt flip screen. You might have to shoot at low angle when photograph an animal and that
feature helps a lot especially in macro photography

4) Don’t forget to customise those Fn buttons. I set Fn1 button for ISO setting and Fn2 button of magnification. It’s a really
handy feature and you can quick changes without having to press the OK button

5) When taking pictures of an animal(s), don’t just take one photo but dozens. You don’t know what that animal will do later
after you take several shots. I usually find that my 10th picture is better than the first one because i constantly change
the focal length, composition, and angles. The expression of the animal can also change and make the shots completely
different.

6) Try do macro shots after raining. You’ll feel the magic of water droplets on the insects or spider web as you shoot it with
a macro lens and a flash.

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And now, for landscape photography. My thoughts with the E-M1? (My combo: E-M1 w/ M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO

Lens, polariser filter, Grad ND filter, SLIK travel tripod)

1) The size of the E-M1 is small and carrying it is very easy. I’ll explain more later with my experience.
2) The IQ is good for landscape photography
3) Focus peaking really does help when I’m shooting in manual focus for landscapes
4) Weather shield makes the E-M1 very durable and I’m not afraid of getting the camera wet from the rain
5) The dynamic range of the E-M1 is great actually for a four thirds sensor. I can recover lots of highlighted/shadowed
details
6) Sometimes, I shoot stars and milky way with the E-M1. Which means the usage of high ISOs (1000-2000). I kinda feel
the lack of quality compared to the other cameras, but it’s still good though. A couple of smart noise reduction can do the
trick or do the image stacking technique.
7) I find that the usage of the Olympus Imaging App can be useful as a remote shutter. I like it. The connection is fast too.
8) Live Time is the most overpowered BULB mode ever!!!! So as Live composite. You can see the process of the image
while on BULB mode. As far as I know, only Olympus cameras can do this.

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Suggestions for landscape photography with the E-M1?

1) LIGHT. M4/3 cameras can produce FF quality images if the light conditions are favourable. Pick the right time for the
shot you want. It’s not surprising for a landscape photographer to wake up at 04:00 a.m just to get the right shot with
the right light.

2) I suggest to use the E-M1 w/ the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens for landscape because of it’s light size and
outstanding IQ. The focal length is also very useful not just for landscapes but for human interest too. But, if you really
want something more light and comfortable with the usage of prime lens, then go for the Olympus M.Zuiko 12mm f/2.0 or Leica Summilux 15mm f1.7 or Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8. The size of these prime lenses are very very small that you
can even fit it with the E-M1 with a waist bag. But keep in mind that those lenses are not weather shield so be careful
when shooting.

3) Your E-M1 is very sturdy thanks to that weather shield. Take advantage of it. You don’t have to worry about taking a shot
when it’s raining.

4) Always have more than 2 E-M1 batteries with you. Due to the low temperature, batteries tend to drop faster at the top
of the mountain. Use silica gel or warm cloth to protect your batteries.

5) Always don’t forget to bring your camera and lens cleaning kit, a lens pen might do at least. You don’t want your shots to
be dirty just because you forgot to clean the lens. Beware of dirty sensors too. It’s a pain in the ass to see pictures with
slight black dots because there’s a huge dust on the sensor. Because the E-M1 don’t have a mirror on the front of the
sensor, the chance of a dust to enter the sensor is larger than DSLRs.

6) Hiking with a fellow M4/3 user is always a good idea as you can learn much more stuff and tips to get awesome photos
with an Olympus or Panasonic cameras.

7) Take advantage of the Olympus Image App, use it as a remote shutter so you don’t have to touch your camera for
changing the settings.

8) If you’re going to hike a tall mountain, I suggest you to hire a porter (Supportmen that helps you carry your supplies).
Ask for their help to carry your other supplies such as tent, food, etc. so you can focus to carry your own camera or
maybe grab a snapshot without have to worry you might get tired because of carrying the other heavy equipments.

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This is an important experience that changed my photography life forever:

I had once an experience in landscape shooting. In May 2013, I took a flight from Jakarta, my hometown, to Lombok, an
island near Bali, to climb Mount Rinjani (3625 dpl i think. It’s the second tallest active volcano in Indonesia). The mountain is known for its beauty scenery. The sky is awesome, the lake is awesome, the hot spring is awesome (If you’re going to Rinjani, I suggest to try the hot springs, it’s very very relaxing and worth your time.)

The camera of choice? Canon EOS 5D Mark II w/ 16-35mm f/2.8, 24-70mm, and 135mm f/2.0. I also bring the Manfrotto tripod 484RC2, several filters, additional batteries, and so on. All carried in a Lowepro Flipside Sport 15L AW. The total weight of all of them when i checked at the airport? 8kg!!!! That’s even heavier than my friends normal carrier. Back then, I believe that the 16-35mm would be awesome for the ultra wide shoot, 24-70mm for standard shots, and 135mm for human interest photography.

Sounds cool right? 3 L lens with a full frame body. But in reality, IT’S NOT!!! My camera bag is so so so heavy that I become too tired of carrying my carrier (Main backpack for hiking) and my camera bag. When I reach the campsite, I didn’t take my camera out. Why? Because I’m so tired. My will to shoot has gone. All i wanted is to sleep. ZZZZzzz I immediately regret my decision. I should have just bring the E-M5 w/ the 12-50mm (I still didn’t bought the E-M1 yet). Instead of cool landscape shots, I only shoot human interests back when I’m on the mountain. But I did create some good shots though after I decent from the mountain and went to a local beach.

In June 2014, I’m back to that mountain and this time I bring the E-M1 with the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO and the SLIK travel tripod. It’s so light that I can move much faster, my will to shoot is raging and burns to get those beautiful shots, and I feel like a boss. Because I feel more energetic and not tired, my shots are better too. The conditions are better to actually The tripod is also very light compared to my heavy Manfrotto for the 5D Mark II. Oh and by the way, the E-M1 is so small that I didn’t bring my big Lowepro bag instead i put in my waist bag, and it fits!!

Once when I was in junior high, I was a Canon fanboy that pretty much say “Nikon sucks!!” to my friends (I’m trying to be honest here). I believe that Canon is the most superior camera system in the world. However, due to the Mount Rinjani incident, somewhat I kinda “hate” my 5D Mark II and started to realise that all cameras are actually good and the act of being a fanboy is omg… so embarrassing. I realised that those type of acts are the ones that destroyed the photography community, newcomers will feel very uncomfortable with these kinds of act. Nowadays, I never dislike camera brands. I like all of them. Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, Fuji, Panasonic, etc… They created wonderful cameras. Remember, it’s the one that behind the camera that matters, the PHOTOGRAPHERS.

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So, here’s what I like about the Olympus OM-D E-M1 in general:

1) Great build quality

2) So many awesome features

3) Menu system (Now the Olympus OM-D menu system is considered by many as hard. I admit when using it the first time I was confused. But after a month using it and learned the menu, I think that the menu is actually functional and awesome)

4) 5-axis IS is great. And over powered also. Why? Think of it. Every single lens attached to the E-M1 has an IS although it
actually don’t have one. Because of the in-body IS, Olympus can create awesome lens with much cheaper price because
all of their lenses don’t need IS, the iS is in the body. In my country, the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 OIS is more expensive than the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens just because the Panny have an IS that increased the price.

5) Outstanding overall image quality and dynamic range

6) AF is fast, really fast even

7) Awesome EVF, feels more comfortable than an OVF in my opinion

8) The fps is fast

9) The camera is very responsive

10) The one thing that make me love this camera so much: The SIZE. IT’S SMALL!!!

11) Small sensor. Now this is actually what I like and dislike. Due to the smaller sensor, the body can be smaller and so the
lens too. Which means more convenience for shooting.

12) Many customisable buttons

13) The buttons are big and very comfortable

14) Weather shield is a beast

15) Live bulb and Live Time (Live composite can be upgraded to the E-M1 with firmware update) is no damn nice!!!

16) All Olympus lenses are full-time MF lenses

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Here’s what I don’t like about the Olympus OM-D E-M1 in general:

1) Battery is kinda not that strong, I know it’s a general problem for a mirrorless camera but still, it’s kinda annoying.

2) I don’t know if you guys have this issue or not, if you playback an image, sometimes the image is pixelated when zoomed
in on the camera’s LCD. But when imported to the computer, the image is normal, no pixelated problem.

3) Low light. I feel that the biggest weakness of M4/3 cameras compared to APS-C cameras is the low light capability. I’m
not saying that the E-M1’s low light is awful but it’s just lacking. They should focus on improving the sensor’s low light
performance.

4) Small sensor. Now this is actually what I like and dislike. Due to the smaller sensor, I get less DoF. But that’s not much
of a problem for me, I can bear with it. The issue is that smaller sensors can’t handle high ISO very well compared to
APS-Cs and Full Frame cameras.

5) Video mode. I know it has nothing to do with photography, but nowadays, many photographers are interested in
videography. One of those interested in videography is me. It’s kinda sucks that for a $1500 camera you get only
1080p 30fps. I really wish that they give RAW video mode and 24fps. 4K is not necessary yet but it’ll be awesome.
But at least they improved the video in the E-M5 Mark II. I’m very happy about that.

6) The price.. I think it’s kinda too high or maybe that’s just my country. Inflation is so high. Gotta move to USA as fast as I
can.

7) So mmmm…. Yeah i think that’s the only thing I found problematic about this camera

And now, it’s time for E-M1 Vs 5D Mark II based on my experience using it (M4/3 Vs Full frame):

1) Build quality: Both of them are great

2) Size: Without doubt the E-M1 is much smaller and I like it. The 5D Mark II is just a big beast that can cause my arms to
feel tired after 1 week of using it.

3) Handling: The E-M1 is smaller and I like it better than the 5D Mark II. But it depends on people though, because some
actually prefer larger cameras because it has larger grip that fits with their hands.

4) AF: Easy. E-M1 wins, the 5D Mark II isn’t designed for fast AF, it’s more about getting that superb IQ for it’s class back
when it’s released. But the 5D Mark II’s AF is still usable especially put in some high quality L series lenses such as the
24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 L. I also find that the AF system in DSLRs are better for shooting sports so I
actually use the 5D Mark II for sports instead of the E-M1 (REMEMBER: I haven’t tried the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens yet.
maybe that lens can transform my E-M1 into a better sport camera than my Canon). But if your gonna go sport
photography, don’t use 5D cameras, use 7D or 1D cameras.

5) Low light: The 5D is better in my opinion due to the larger sensor. I even once shoot with ISO 25600 on a concert.
Although the low light performance isn’t that great nowadays but it’s good actually back in 2008 when it’s first released.

6) IQ: Actually I see almost no difference but it’s just that the 5D has higher resolution so yeah the 5D wins but seriously,
the E-M1 can catch up and even better than the 5D Mark II as long as the light is enough.

7) Features: The E-M1 wins because the controls are better and besides, it’s a newer camera than the 5D Mark II.

8) DoF control: The 5D obviously wins due to the full frame sensor so creating bokeh pictures is easier with the 5D. But still
the E-M1 can create bokeh pictures too. Give it a fast lens and you can still create a bokeh picture with the E-M1.

9) VF: I find EVF (E-M1) to be more useful compared to OVF (5D Mark II), the EVF of the E-M1 is very responsive and
overall I prefer the EVF rather than the OVF. But OVFs are still very responsive and more natural looking.

10) Video: 5D wins. 1080p with 24fps is available. Olympus only has 30fps. The only thing that I like about the Olympus
for video is the 5-axis IS. It’s very well stabilised, and not all Canon lenses have OIS. But in the end… When you shoot
a film, gimbals are much more useful and create better results in terms of quality and stabilisation than normal IS.

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Suggestions for a new E-M1 MKII camera:

1) Video update please: 1080p that can do 24, 25, 30, 50, 60 or even 120 fps. RAW video. 2.7K can also be a nice upgrade

2) More Fn buttons please. Loved them

3) I’m really interest with the High-Res shot of the E-M5 Mark II. Try improve it and put it to the new E-M1

4) 5-axis IS improved please, make it 6-stop if possible :D Pretty much sure almost every photographer will be astonished with that.

5) AF system that can actually shoot better in sports, would really appreciate that.

6) Improve the battery life

7) Low light performance must be improved and make a big difference than the first E-M1. With that, I’m pretty much sure everyone will be interested with the new E-M1

8) Focus peaking can be actually used while recording on video

So yeah that’s it. Thanks for reading!!! The Olympus OM-D E-M1 will always be my main camera unless there’s an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II coming out :)

You can buy the E-M1 at B&H Photo HERE, or Amazon HERE

Pre Order the new E-M5II at Amazon HERE or B&H Photo HERE

Feb 112015
 

Having fun with incandescent light bulbs

By Dirk Dom

Hi!

Because they’re phasing out incandescent light bulbs, I thought I’d better get a few to show to eventual grandchildren.

Over a few months I obtained 14 1,000 W light bulbs, and now I’ve made a piece in which eight bulbs are connected in series.

Olympus PEN EP-5, macro lens.

Enjoy!

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