Feb 222014
 

My Budget m4/3 Eurotrip 2013 with the Olympus E-PL1

By Igor Kolonic

Last summer, after years of postponing, two friends and I finally decided to go on a trip across Europe. With the amazing Interrail train ticket it was possible to see a lot of amazing places in short amount of time. We went for 10 days and started in Austria and went all the way to Frankfurt, Bruxelles, Amsterdam, Berlin and Prag.

I developed my interest in photography a few years back, and started with lomography and polaroid pictures but soon moved to the Olympus m4/3 system. I was never a fan of huge DSLRs so the PEN series was a real refreshment. Two years ago I bought an E-PL1 with the kit lens (14-42mm) and soon after that the amazing Oly 45mm1.8 lens. I wanted to travel as light as possible and give myself an additional challenge so I decided to take only the 45mm lens with me. At first it was quite strange shooting at this focal length all the time but after a couple of hours shooting with it I started being comfortable with it. Although there were a few missed shots due to the camera which is rather outdated compared to everything else on the current market, I was still really satisfied with the results from a combination which is now available for less than 300 euros ( cca. 400 USD )

The whole trip was an amazing experience and I can really recommend everyone to try it at least once. The Interrail tickets are really affordable and the trains in central Europe are extremely comfortable and fast way to travel, besides, you get to see all the beautiful landscapes when travelling by train. So here are some of my favorite shots from the trip:

 

1 & 2 Since I’m an architecture student I really enjoyed all the amazing architecture in Amsterdam and loved taking detail shots of the buildings.

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3 & 4 Amsterdam really is a city of bicycles, it’s hard to imagine how much bicycles there’s in the city until you see it yourself.

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5 One of my favorite shots from the trip, we were enjoying a break in the park when this guy decided to take a break from the everyday struggles. He sat nearby, lit up his cigarette and started reading his comic book.

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6 Vintage cars and motorcycles are also a quite common thing to see while walking around Amsterdam.

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7 Couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a picture of these tourists.

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8 When you’re in Amsterdam don’t miss the opportunity to rent a bike and take a ride through the city!

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9 Loved how surreal the scene looked – an artificial “hill” next to the amazing “Stedelijk Museum” in front of some historical buildings.

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10&11 M. Enjoying the ride through the city.

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12 Some typical Amsterdam architecture.

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13 I was actually pleasantly surprised that E-PL1 could handle moments like this.

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14 I. sitting at the amazing Holocaust Memorial in Berlin by Peter Eisenman. 

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15 Street musician at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin.

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16 Visiting the New National Gallery by Mies van der Rohe was a must! At the time we were there it was hosting an sculpture exhibition.

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17 M. and I. enjoying a beer in the Kreuzberg area in Berlin 

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18 M. writing “Ich bin ein Berliner” in his sketchbook.

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19 M. waiting for the late night train to Prag in Cottbus (Germany)

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I hope you enjoyed the photos, I didn’t bother putting any technical details about them since there isn’t anything new about the camera or lens I was using. For me photography is about telling a story so the “tool” I’m using has to be simple and intuitive as possible, otherwise you could forget that you’re the part of the story you’re taking the photo of. For the next trip I really hope I’ll manage to get the Fuji x100s since I realized that I don’t really have the need to have multiple lenses and really could use a viewfinder.

Thank you for your time!

Igor Kolonic

Feb 192014
 

The Olympus 25 1.8 Lens is in hand, review in about a week!

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Hey hey hey! Just a heads up that I have been shooting the now shipping Olympus 25 1.8 lens and it is a beauty on the Olympus E-M1. Many have been wondering how it stacks up against the Panasonic 25 1.4 and all I can go from is memory right now as I do not have a Panasonic here with me now. I feel the Panasonic may be a TEENY BIT sharper when wide open but do not think most would notice. The Panasonic may be a little more contrasty out of camera. Other than that the Olympus is smaller, focuses faster, is silent and looks sweet on the camera. and is VERY sharp as it is.

Oh, and it is also cheaper than the Panasonic at $399! Amazon has it in stock HERE in black. if you own the Panasonic already I see no need to switch but if you have not picked up a fast 50mm equiv for your Micro 4/3 yet, this is the best bet. It even comes with a lens hood for a change!

The signature of the 25 1.8 is identical to the 45 1.8 from Olympus and they share the same formula. I will be shooting it this weekend at the Valley of Fire workshop so will have my full review up next week sometime. I have a feeling it will be a highly recommended lens though as I already love it. There really is nothing to dislike with this one! Below are a few snaps I shot in the past couple of days. As you can see, it retains the look of the high quality Olympus primes. Oh, and it has a nice close focus distance!

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Feb 122014
 

New Olympus 7-14 2.8 PRO and 300 f/4 PRO Announced!

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It seems that at least every week or two we hear of something new in the camera world. The funny thing is I only report on a small percent of it! I talk about those products that are interesting to me and the readers here and there is still an endless stream of products to report on.

Olympus is once again paving the way and providing those who invested in the amazing E-M1 with a couple of rewards :) TWO new pro lenses. The 7-14 Wide Angle F/2.8 Zoom and the 300mm f/4 prime (600mm equivalent). These are both PRO lenses and will be dust and weatherproof with all of the good stuff that normally comes along with these great Olympus lenses (Image quality, pristine build and feel..oh and probably a big price tag).

Olympus promised new pro glass, and they seem to be delivering. These new lenses are expected to ship in 2015 so we have a while to go but at least we know what is on the way! The new 12-40 is already out and gaining rave reviews (my review is coming soon) so with these two lenses one would have a nice pro 3 lens kit. 7-14, 12-40 and 300 offering a 14-28, 24-80 and 600mm equivalent. There is also the 40-150 2.8 PRO scheduled to be released THIS year giving an 80-300 Equivalent.

Oly knows how to make fantastic lenses. Now I wonder what they have in store for us in 2015 in regards to a new pro body? Will they have an E-M1 successor already or will they wait a while?

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From Olympus…

“The first interchangeable lens of this series, the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-40mm 1:2.8 PRO is already available while its successor, the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 40-150mm 1:2.8 PRO, is scheduled to go on sale in the second half of 2014. The final two Olympus system lenses in the M.ZUIKO PRO quartet, covering everything from super wide angle to super telephoto, are currently under development. Both new lenses are scheduled to be released from 2015 onwards. More details will be announced prior to the launch.”

Feb 052014
 

Quiet Light

By Mark Seawell

Hi Steve! My name is Mark Seawell. I live in Germany and work on Ramstein Air Force base, HQ for the U.S Air Force in Europe. Though I’m retired from the Air Force, I now work as a civilian employee for Ramstein. This area has the largest concentration of Americans outside of the United States, over 25,000. We arrived in Germany in Aug 2005 and I quickly fell in love with the land while taking long walks with my wife. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Germany but when the rain is not coming down (think Seattle) this is some of the most beautiful land in the world.

My fate was sealed when I decided to “bring a camera along” for our walks. Soon I was taking pictures and I haven’t stopped for 5 years! I’ve shot Lumix the entire time moving form the Panasonic G1 to the GH2 and in November of last year the GH3.

http://msphotoworld.com is my Zenfolio site.

I took the first picture on the 18th of January with my GH3. Something was there that moved me. I loved the quiet solitude of the tree standing alone. . This picture was taken close to Steinwenden and is typical for this area. I call it “Quiet Light”.

18 Jan 2014 Panasonic GH3 Lumix 45-200mm F/9.0 ISO 250 1/125 Adobe LR 5.3 SilverEfex Pro

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The next picture is from my village of Rehweiler, Germany. The morning was misty and I found myself alone close to the tracks. What I found inspirational about this was the mood of mystery. Where are the tracks going? What is around the bend? What is the destination? View to Eternity.

8 Jun 2013 Panasonic GH2 Lumix 45-200mm F/7.1 ISO 160 1/800 Adobe LR 5.3 SilverEfex Pro

View to Eternity

The last picture was taken on the back roads between Reuschbach and Obermohr, Germany. It had rained the entire month in Novermber 2011. It would not stop. Finally, on the last day of November there was no rain and that was enough reason to take my camera as I drove in. The mist was everywhere, covering the land. I had taken a few pictures above Reuschbach and was happy and drove the road to Obermohr where we lived for nearly 6 years but had recently moved. As I came around the bend I was struck by this site. The mist totally dominated my former village but rising majestically through it all was the church tower. I nearly ran into a ditch and the cars behind me were none to happy as I positioned myself, eager to capture this fleeting moment before it all went away. There could be only one name for this image that had inspired me so…”Heaven’s Gate”.

30 November 2011 Panasonic G1 Lumix 45-200mm ISO 100 72mm LR 3.2 SilverEfex

Gateway to Heaven

Jan 282014
 

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The OM-D E-M10 and 25 1.8 Lens! New Olympus Firecrackers!!

Sweetness! It must be new camera week as just now Olympus officially announced the much talked about and rumored “baby” E-M5, the E-M10 (right after Fuji dropped the HOT X-T1)! This is IMO a $699 firecracker that will allow anyone to get a taste of the fantastic E-M5 at a great price point. The E-M10 is an all metal body full of features and is pretty much the full IQ of the E-M5 and E-M1 in more affordable body that any enthusiast can afford. The OM-D E-M10 will NOT replace the E-M5. Instead the lineup will remain as it is for now - the starter E-M10, the middle of the road E-M5 and the rock n rolling pro, the E-M1. I feel this is a great move as it gives a more affordable option to those wanting the OM-D experience. Same IQ, same solid build, same experience! 

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If anyone has shown that the Olympus M 4/3 offerings can hang with the big boys it is this very website. Guest post after guest post has shown the power of these little Olympus bodies and IMO they can do anything an APS-C can do besides a little bit less performance at high ISO. They are faster, more accurate in the AF, have better lenses, more lenses and better build than just about any comparable mirrorless body. I am a HUGE HUGE fan of the E-M5 and E-M1 and I expect the E-M10 to be just as wonderful with a few dumbed down features such as 3-Axis IS to the 5-Axis of the more expensive brothers.

To see some wonderful examples of what these Micro 4/3 Olympus bodies can do click HERE, HERE and HERE

You can pre-order the new OM-D E-M10 body only in BLACK HERE or SILVER HERE at B&H Photo.

You can also buy them in kit form – BLACK or SILVER. 

Amazon also has the E-M10 for pre-order HERE!

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Below are the quick notes I took at last weeks briefing on the camera:

New 3 Axis IS

8 FPS shooting

Built in WiFi and Flash (first time for flash)

$699 body 0nly

$799 body and kit 14-42 II kit

New Grip – very cool design!

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The New 25 1.8 Lens

I am also VERY excited about the new Olympus 25 1.8 lens even though we already have the amazing Panasonic 25 1.4. I will tell you why: The design is small, high quality and uses the same optical formula as the super sweet 45 1.8, which is a stellar lens. It will be available in black or silver and for $399. It will focus FAST, be silent in Autofocus and I have no doubt it will be an amazing lens. I have my pre-order in! At $399 this is the biggest no brainer for any Micro 4/3 user who has not yet jumped to the Panasonic 25 1.4. I can not tell a lie..I prefer Olympus lenses to Panasonic lenses as I love the design, feel, silence and speed, oh, and the IQ. The lens below is on the silver OM-D E-M10. NICE. For $1100 you can get the E_M10 and the new 25 1.8 (50mm equivalent) so you have your camera and fast 50, all in a small but high performing package.

Of course I will be reviewing the new OM-D E-M10 as soon as I can get one!

You can pre-order the new 25 1.8 Lens at B&H Photo in Black HERE or in Silver HERE. 

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Other new Olympus Cameras and Lenses announced…

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Olympus has also announced a new super zoom, the SP-100 (A 50X $399 camera with EVF) as well as a new TOUGH camera, the TG-850 for $279 with swivel LCD and drop proof, freeze proof, water proof and crush proof all the way (I will review this one). There is a new fisheye lens cap lens and a new pancake version of the 14-42 Kit zoom (that will NOT be the included lens with the E-M10..OLD ONE IS BUNDLED). The new zoom is actually smaller than the older 17 2.8 Pancake!

The new 9mm fisheye lens cap!

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You can read all about the SP-100 HERE and the TOUGH HERE.

The new Kit Zoom is HERE.

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MORE INFO ON THE NEW E-M10!

OLYMPUS EXPANDS OM-D® CAMERA LINE-UP WITH NEW, EXTREMELY COMPACT E-M10 — THE OM-D FOR ALL

The Image Quality and Power of the E-M1 and E-M5 are now Packed into a More Affordable OM-D Body; Two New Lenses Broaden Olympus’s Micro Four Thirds® System

CENTER VALLEY, Pa., January 29, 2014 — Olympus adds to its award-winning OM-D family with the new E-M10, an interchangeable lens camera that combines the outstanding image quality, speed and power of the flagship Olympus® OM-D E-M1 and the Olympus OM-D E-M5 into an extremely compact and stylish all-metal body. Featuring the new TruePic VII image processor, the same found in the OM-D E-M1, 16 megapixel Live MOS sensor, Wi-Fi® technology, a large, high-speed electronic viewfinder, 3-axis image stabilization, ultrafast autofocus and a built-in flash, it’s the OM-D for photographers looking for an affordable, yet powerful, system camera they can use every day. The new, super-slim M.ZUIKO® DIGITAL 14-42mm f 3.5-5.6 EZ pancake zoom lens and the super-bright M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 25mm f1.8 expands Olympus Micro Four Thirds line-up to 15 lenses.

Best-In-Class Image Quality
The Olympus OM-D E-M10’s 16-megapixel Live MOS sensor, combined with the TruePic VII image processor and M.ZUIKO lenses, delivers beautiful image quality with high resolution, superior color reproduction and high sensitivity that exceeds other cameras in its class. A maximum sensitivity of ISO 25600 is perfect for shooting dark scenes and indoor shooting locations, and ISO LOW mode (100 equivalent) expands the low-sensitivity end. The sensor’s rich dynamic range makes smooth gradations possible and beautifully depicts high-contrast highlights and shadows. Fine Detail Processing II technology configures the appropriate sharpness processing for each individual lens resulting in natural, high-quality resolution.

The Olympus OM-D E-M10’s in-body 3-axis image stabilization system is derived from the world’s first 5-axis system in the E-M5 and E-M1. The 3-axis version effectively counteracts yaw, roll and pitch with both still shots and HD movies, regardless of the lens attached to the camera yielding great results even in poor lighting conditions or when using an exposure time of 1/15 second or less.

Speed

The on-board FAST AF is Olympus’ fastest-ever AF system and uses 81 target areas that cover the whole image. Small AF Target and Super Spot AF modes make it possible to zoom in and focus accurately on minute sections of the frame. The E-M10 is also capable of capturing high-speed action with 8fps sequential shooting, the fast processor supports continuous capture of up to 20 RAW frames or an unlimited number of JPEG frames*, and the Continuous Auto Focus with Tracking mode accurately tracks and captures moving subject as fast as 3.5 fps.

Beautiful OM-D Design

The ultra-slim, compact and lightweight Olympus OM-D E-M10 body is built with precision-machined metal parts and a premium feel that inspires the user. Two easy-to-reach metal dials give excellent operability and improved control, and the grip is designed to rest comfortably in the user’s hand. Despite its size, the E-M10 is the first OM-D with a built-in flash that is optimized for 1/250 second synchronization, a benefit for daytime flash photography.

High-Speed Creative EVF

The large, 1,440,000-dot electronic high resolution viewfinder (EVF) located on the optical axis of the E-M10 features a 120-fps refresh rate, a 100 percent field of view and maximum 1.15x magnification to help accurately frame shots. An eye sensor seamlessly switches the display between the tilting, 3.0-inch touch-screen monitor and the electronic viewfinder. Camera setting information, such as shutter speed, is displayed at the bottom of the viewfinder and photographers can take full advantage of the EVF’s ability to display the effects of various exposure adjustments, Art Filter effects and Creative Controls like Color Creator, Image Aspect control, Highlight/Shadow control, Live Histogram, Display of five different grid patterns and even a Level Gauge — all without having to remove your eye from the viewfinder.

In-Camera Creativity

New features, including Live Composite Mode and Photo & Movie Capture, expand the user’s creative potential. Live Composite Mode is a tool that offers previews of long exposures in the EVF, a perfect tool for anyone looking to easily capture light trails when shooting a star-filled sky. Photo & Movie Capture lets users shoot high-quality still images without interrupting the video recording. 12 Art Filters, three HDR capture modes and Photo Story support your photographic imagination.

Built-In Wi-Fi

The Olympus OM-D E-M10 includes built-in Wi-Fi, and the setup is simple. By quickly scanning the QR code displayed on the camera’s LCD with a smart device, it syncs with the Wi-Fi network created by the camera. The free Olympus Image Share smartphone app synchronizes a user’s smartphone and E-M10 so the camera’s Live View is effectively displayed on the phone. In this way, the camera can be controlled by touching the smartphone display as if it were the camera itself, and users can send selected images directly to websites and social media.

Two New Micro Four Thirds Lenses

Olympus has also introduced two new Micro Four Thirds lenses to its line-up. The super-slim M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 14-42mm* f3.5-5.6 EZ pancake zoom lens measures just .9 inches thick, making it the world’s slimmest standard zoom lens.** It has a smooth electric zoom that is suitable for shooting movies, and can also be zoomed in and out remotely using compatible smartphones through the updated Olympus Image Share app. The super-bright, lightweight, high-performance M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 25mm* f1.8 lens has a fixed focal length and is ideal for capturing portraits or close-ups from as little as 9.8 inches away. Both new lenses are sold separately.

New Micro Four Thirds Accessories

A host of new Micro Four Thirds accessories join the Olympus Micro Four Thirds line-up, including the fixed-aperture F8.0 Fish Eye Body Cap lens with a focal length of 9mm (35mm equivalent: 18mm). It’s an ultra-slim accessory for creative wide-angle shooting through its 5-element, 4-group lens construction. The multi-use lens barrier MF lever switches from pan focus shooting to close up 8-inch shooting with a single press of the lever. The ECG-1 matching ergonomic grip is a removable grip exclusively for use with the E-M10. Designed for absolute comfort, the grip is the perfect thickness for resting the ring finger and pinky when holding the camera. A single press of the lever on the bottom of the grip easily removes it, making replacing batteries and memory cards seamless. The MCON-PO2 macro converter is compatible with six Olympus Micro Four Thirds lenses and adapts them for close-up shooting. Finally, the Automatic Opening Lens Cap LC-37C is available exclusively for use with the new M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ. When the camera is turned off, this accessory protects the lens from dust and scratches, and when the camera is powered on the lens cap instantly opens for snapshots and quick shooting.

*35mm Equivalent

**As of January 29, 2014. Shortest distance between the mount and the front end of the lens, when retracted. 

Jan 202014
 

Rendering Comparison: Olympus E-P5 vs Sony A7

by Michael Van den Bergh

First of all I’d like to thank Steve for his great website. I absolutely love his reviews, and his photos are an inspiration.

In this user report I will post comparison shots of the Olympus PEN E-P5 to the Sony A7 at the classical focal lengths: 35, 50 and 85mm.

The Sony A7

Inspired by Steve’s blog, I believe that a great camera is a camera that gets out of your way: convenient to carry, quick to access the right settings, and easy to get the shot you want.

My Nikon D7000 DSLR ticked none of those boxes. That’s how I tumbled into the world of micro four thirds. I currently use a PEN E-P5 as my main camera, and I cannot stress enough how great this camera is.

However, as a micro four thirds shooter there is always that itchy feeling that a full frame camera might produce superior images. With the new Sony cameras the itch got stronger, and on top of that I stumbled upon a crazy deal that I couldn’t refuse: $1,400 for the A7.

This pushed me into selling my Nikon gear and becoming the owner of an E-P5 and A7 side by side. I’m happy I made this jump. Rather than indefinitely debating which system is better for what, I’d rather just get it over with and own BOTH.

Right off the bat, the Sony A7 is fantastic. The controls feel right, everything is easy to access, and that EVF! I actually think the Sony EVF is better than the Olympus VF-4. They are very similar when you compare them side by side: about the same size and resolution, but the deeper blacks of the Sony make me forget that it’s an EVF. For me, that’s a milestone achievement right there: when you stop realizing that it is electronic and it all feels natural. Manual focus is easy through the viewfinder. There is no need for magnification or focus peaking.

The following comparisons are shown as a quick and dirty test, and are in no way scientific. My intention is to show what one might gain by moving from micro four thirds to full frame. This test compares 35, 50 and 85mm equivalent lenses, plus some outliers that might be used in similar situations (the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 and the Olympus 75mm f/1.8).

35mm Lens Comparison

I find it really interesting to see how the A7 compares to the PEN with the 20mm f/1.7 and 17mm f/1.8 lenses. It is hard to compare focal lengths because of the different aspect ratios, but both of these lenses can be considered as 35-ish.

I don’t have the FE 35mm f/2.8, so I used my Nikon 17-55m f/2.8 for this test. When set to 35mm this actually works and covers the full frame. The Nikon is not a bad lens and should give us an idea of the type of images you can expect from a 35mm f/2.8 lens on full frame.

PEN E-P5 – Olympus 17mm f/1.8 – ISO 200

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Sony A7 – Nikon 17-55mm set to 35mm f/2.8 – ISO 200

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PEN E-P5 – Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 – ISO 200

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As expected, there are no huge differences between these images. The full frame image has a tiny bit more background blur. I’m sure the Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 resolves an incredible amount of detail, but these Olympus and Panasonic lenses are already plenty sharp.

The Olympus 17mm f/1.8 is often discarded as inferior. I’ve never had any issues with sharpness, and I love the way it renders…

PEN E-P5 – Olympus 17mm f/1.8 – ISO 200

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The Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 is my favorite lens on micro four thirds. It has been my go to lens for the past year or so. On the other hand I’m happy I never sold my Nikon 50mm f/1.4 G (which I never liked on my D7000), because this lens works beautifully on the A7.

PEN E-P5 – Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 – ISO 200

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Sony A7 – Nikon 50mm f/1.4 G – ISO 100

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In this comparison there is an obvious difference in background blur. If bokeh is your thing, full frame really wins here.

I can show some real-world samples as well. I really like the colors from the A7, like the following example. It is with this type of shot that full frame really shines: a comfortable 50mm field of view and great subject separation.

 Sony A7 – Nikon 50mm f/1.4 G – ISO 200

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The Panasonic Leica is no slouch either though, and the following photo really highlights its lovely rendering.

PEN E-P5 – Pansonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 – ISO 200

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85mm Lens Comparison

The Nikon 85mm f/1.8 G as my favorite lens on my DSLR. It performs really well on the A7 and I will probably keep it for a while. I am comparing it to the two typical portrait lenses one might use on micro four thirds: the equivalent 45mm f/1.8 and the longer 75mm f/1.8.

For this example the background is only 4 meters away. These are the typical portraits distances where it is more difficult to blow out the background because it is quite near.

PEN E-P5 – Olympus 45mm f/1.8 – ISO 200

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Sony A7 – Nikon 85mm f/1.8 G – ISO 200

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PEN E-P5 – Olympus 75mm f/1.8 – ISO 400

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The Nikon 85mm has quite a bit more background blur than the Olympus 45mm. However, if you look closely the 45mm renders a cleaner bokeh while the Nikon suffers from cat eyes in the corners. Though a different field of view, the 75mm Olympus renders roughly the same amount of background blur as the 85mm Nikon on full frame.

Here’s one last example shot with the A7 and the 85mm. This setup makes it really easy to make spontaneous people shots. This would be much harder on micro four thirds.

Sony A7 – Nikon 85mm f/1.8 G – ISO 1250

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So is full frame really better? I think it really depends. For extremely shallow depth-of-field a full frame camera is unbeatable. The photos are creamy and sometimes the gradients seem less harsh, more natural. I assume this is a result of better dynamic range.

Either way, the differences are subtle, and micro four thirds offers an incredible selection of small lenses. It is the system you want to carry with you on your travels. Both cameras (E-P5 and A7) make photography such a pleasure.

I hope this comparison was helpful to everyone out there on the fence between these two systems, or thinking about upgrading!

Dec 192013
 

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The Olympus OM-D E-M1 VS the rest of the industry

by William Rappard

Photo gear biography: from Oly to Nikon

I have no real analog background, since I began “serious” photography only in early 2007 with an Olympus E-500 DSLR, Zuiko 14-54/2.8-3.5 (great lens) and a Sigma 55-200/3.5-5.6. Image quality from the sensor (8mp Kodak CCD) was terrible, ISO 400-800 being the sensible limit. But already then, this camera had an unusual ability to bond with its user.

I shot great pictures with this one and it taught me not to rely on super high ISO capabilities, but rather fine tune speed and aperture to get what I wanted. More so, it made me want to master it despite (or maybe thanks to) its limitations. However, when I compared my pics to others shot with Canon or Nikon enthusiast DSLR’s (20D/D70 by the time), high ISO’s were such a pity that my ego couldn’t take it. For the sake of comparison, the E-500 produced more (and uglier) noise at ISO 400 than a D7100 would today at ISO 3200/6400.

At that time, I posted my images on DeviantArt under the nickname “Ouylle” and got some very positive feedback, including a few “daily deviations” for those who know, and even winning a contest once with this picture which became a postcard for a charity cause:

Val d’Aniviers, Switzerland: The Cloud Factory Olympus E-500 @ ISO 100, 27mm, f5.6, 1/4000s

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Of course, as a complete geek, I had to try other cameras to figure out if a better IQ potential in low lights could enhance my photography. I entered the high ISO quest many of us know since the heroic ages of digital photography, but still pulled out nice pictures with my E-500.

I’ve tried other Olympus DSLR’s, such as the E-420 and E-510, which were in a certain way the ancestors of the E-M5 and E-M1 in terms of form factor, except for the vintage design. But neither of them could compete with their APS-C counterparts from the likes of Canon, Nikon, Minolta (already sensor-stabilized) or Pentax, despite Olympus offering some of the best glass around (remember the Zuiko 50mm macro f2 ?).

My father still owns his Nikon F from the 60s and always told me Nikon was the Rolls Royce of photography (I guess he never heard of Leica, but that’s another story). So when I received some amazing Nikkor glass from a cousin as a present (!), I gradually decided to switch from Oly to Nikon and got myself a D70s to play with.

Image quality, while mediocre by today’s standards, was stellar compared to my trustworthy E-500 and it’s Oly fellows. However, the newly announced and highly anticipated D300 became my next dream camera. As I was enjoying shooting my Nikkor primes, I quickly traded my D70s for a D300 and was blown away again by the IQ: ISO 1600 became very clean and ISO 3200 fairly usable. This sort of abilities became my benchmark in terms of IQ. At this stage, digital noise control was already better than with any high sensitivity film.

With a grip, a tripod and some other lenses such as a Sigma 10-20, Nikkor 20/2.8, 24/2.8, 50/1.4, 60 macro /2.8, the incredible 105/2 DC and AF 80-200/2.8 D, I thought I had the PERFECT kit for a semi-professional enthusiast.

At the time, I was shooting everything from paid jobs (weddings, corporate portraits, events) to holidays, club or street photography. I learned a lot (and earned good money) with this heavy, but reliable and high performance Nikon kit, covering everything from eq. 15mm to 300mm with great quality glass.

Switzerland: Fields.
Nikon D300 @ ISO 200, 10mm, f13, 1/250s

Photo 3

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Geneva: Right-before bride. Nikon D300 @ ISO 1600, 50mm, f2, 1/2000s

Photo 4

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Beirut, Achrafieh: View on the mountains from the balcony. - Nikon D300 @ ISO 100, 16mm, f10, 30s.

Photo 5

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Geneva, Usine Club: Happy cluber Nikon D300 @ ISO 250, 16mm, f13, 1/160 with SB800 flashgun

Photo 6

Back then, I was young, still fit, and my back was strong, all of which was required by the amount of glass and metal I had to carry around for my paid jobs and my own personal pleasure. Although the money earned as a semi-pro financed my appetite for new gear, shooting weddings, charity events or corporate portraits for money did not appeal to me enough to become my main job and eventually, I finished my law degree and became… a lawyer.

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The photographer I remained: replacing the D300

Still, I LOVE photography and could not live without shooting and sharing my pics ! As a casual photographer, I love all kinds of photography. From portrait to architecture, streets to landscapes, holidays to everyday, there is always something in my sight that screams: “shoot me !!!”. When I hear the call and carry some gear, earth could stop revolving but I wouldn’t care less: I have to get that picture and if possible, get it right and be proud to show it.

Since my pro illusions are gone, I usually share my work on facebook (check me out: facebook.com/william.rappard), which isn’t very sexy and does not require more than a few megapixels. It may not be useless to recall that the D300 was only 12 megapixels, which is low today even by cell phones standards. However, those megapixels allowed me to execute many paid job and personal projects very efficiently.

I even made an exhibition once about an incredible trip in Senegal, and have been happy with the quality delivered by the D300′s 12mp for > 1 meter prints on canvas. Since then, I realized that outright pixel count was no faithful indicator of a camera’s real abilities in the big prints department. Shoot it right and it will look right.

At this time, the D300′s sensor was industry leading for those who wanted the performance and IQ, but not the bulk of a fully fledged full frame DSLR setup (or the cash for a Leica which, at that time, was less than convincing, high ISO wise).

On top of that, the bokeh I could achieve with the 60mm macro, the 105/2 DC and the 80-200/2.8 was fully satisfying and I remember saying I would never need to buy anything else for a very long while.

Here are three pics from my trip in Senegal which I believe are not too bad. The first one has been sold to a company on a 1.2 meter/ 80 centimeter canvas for a fair amount of money (financing an NGO in north-east Senegal) !

 

Senegal: They are into tires Nikon D300 @ ISO 800, 16mm, f5 1/20s

Photo 7

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Senegal: Just another kid Nikon D300 @ ISO 400, 60mm, f3.2, 1/80s

Photo 8

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Senegal: The gang Nikon D300 @ ISO 200, 24mm, f6.3, 1/80s

Photo 9

Quality wise, I remember thinking that for my needs, this kit was all I could ever want and I shot dozens of thousands of pictures with it, killed all the rubber grips and the camera just kept shooting whatever I threw at it. But boy, the whole package including 5-6 lenses was heavy !

The size, weight & IQ have-it-all quest: back to Oly

As a dedicated geek, I have tried MANY cameras since the Nikon D300, from Pentax K5 and it’s famous ltd pancakes (GREAT DSLR combo by the time) to the modern-vintage Fuji’s X-Pro 1 & X100 (superior image quality at the cost of slow general operation and somehow light built quality). As time went on, my priority was to reduce the weight and bulk of my kit in order to carry it with me as much as possible, while not going anything bellow my D300 in terms of IQ.

After trying many compact cameras to complement my Nikon/Pentax kits on the light side, I ended up buying a Ricoh GR which turned out to be the best pocket camera when a pocket is the only compromise you’re ready to make to lightness, but not at the cost of IQ and usability.

This camera is a gem of a compact in use, but you’re still stuck with 28mm and 2.8 max aperture. It will pull out some bokeh if shot close to the subject, but don’t expect too much in this department, given the focal length.

As for my full kit, Nikon and Canon (and to some extent Pentax and Leica) have failed to deliver a crucially lighter and more effective alternative to my “historic” D300 package at a fair price. Pentax’s attempt (K5 + pancakes) was nice, but still not light enough, when packed with lenses covering all my needs.

This was until Olympus, the brand which bonded me to photography with their slow AF/bad ISO/small viewfinder E-500, released the OM-D EM-5 powerhouse, which I brought, immediately loved and equipped with a bunch of nice primes.

It served well, shot right and reliably but yes, the buttons were small and the viewfinder, although great, was still small and not as enjoyable as an optical device such as the D300′s/Pentax K5′s. Despite these relative flaws, I LOVED shooting it as it always delivered what I expected in any given light conditions.

The grip (which secondary horizontal shutter actually broke after heavy use) made it really nice to hold and quite pleasant to look at as well. As with my old E-500 and my fantastic D300 kit, I was finally bonding with another camera system, except for a few niggles on the body side. Best of all, the image quality was clearly on par, if not better than the D300′s and the 5 axis stabilizer and small pin sharp lenses were blessings.

A whole package covering anything from eq. 24mm to eq. 150mm between f1.4 and f2 AND fitting a VERY small Think Tank bag was breathtaking compared to my DSLR’s ! I could finally use quality gear AND walk around with it not worrying about my back !

From landscapes to street photo all around the world, the E-M5 was (nearly) everything I wanted but…

Ireland: Draw-me a coast. Olympus EM-5 @ ISO 200, 12mm, f8, 1/500s

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Basel: layered expectations - Oly EM-5 @ ISO 400, f5 1/10s

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Cambodia: passing by… Oly E-M5 @ ISO 200, 25mm, f3.5, 1/400s

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Bangkok: legs & shapes Oly E-M5 @ISO 2000, 75mm, f4.5 1/160s

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Replacing the EM-5

Its time had come. Until the E-M5, I had never had such a high hit rate, but it was not “ultimate” enough in its handling. It’s niggles couldn’t be forgiven in a long-term relationship with a power user. The buttons and the viewfinder were just not as enjoyable as they should be on an ultimate camera.

The wait has not been too long before many amazing products began to ship from Panasonic, Olympus and Sony all offering nice occasions to spend some cash for the better. All the new releases in the prosumer market out-perform my D300 benchmark in terms of IQ, which ceased to be a crucial criterium of choice. The high ISO quest had ended.

What about full frame ?

One of my very best best friend recently posted a contribution about his switch from Leica to Sony. Didier Godmé, who’s been the instigator of my photographic passion, has always been craving for full frame cameras. He owned a Canon 5DMarkII and a Leica M9, two of the very best full frame cameras released at their times.

Let’s put this straight right away: the full frame rendering is magnificent and no smaller sensors will probably ever equal it. It is incomparable to what a micro four thirds sensor could deliver, due to it’s physical limits. This is particularly true with a fast 35mm (or equivalent) lens. Stick one of those amazing 1.2′s on a Leica M240, Canon 5DMark III, Nikon Df or Sony A7r and you will get the very best potential image quality in the industry for such combo.

Therefore, except for very small details (all of which can be played around in Lightroom and RAW), most of you won’t choose apart from these fabulous full frame cameras based upon sheer IQ, but mostly on their usability, depending on your shooting style and what you will do with your images after you shoot them.

In my opinion, this demonstrates that usability is not only a major argument in favor of a camera over another. It’s probably the ONLY acceptable argument, provided, for my needs, the chosen camera allows a beautiful > 1 meter print at ISO 3200 in color or 6400 in B&W, which settings correspond to more than my most ambitious needs to date.

At the end of the day, all full frame cameras listed above meet this technical requirement more than well, as also do many NON full frame. Conclusion: as much as I adore full frame rendering, I don’t NEED it to be moved by a picture.

If your skills are bad, full frame won’t save the picture. If your skills are good, full frame will enhance the picture’s looks, but will never be the sine qua non condition of your picture’s overall quality, contrary to your eye and your ability to translate what you see in the picture.

On the contrary, when I’m moved by something I observe, I DO NEED to be able to shoot it the best possible way. The camera should NEVER stand in the way because it’s too slow or suffers a sluggish conception or is too noisy. Period.

As of today, in my view, no complete kit based around any full frame camera currently in the market is the best possible tool for my kind of spontaneous and compulsive shooting.

For my needs however, there is now one kit that fits the whole bill. Yes, each and every of my NEEDS are now covered by this equipment. A nice break, if not an end, in my long quest for the best possible complete enthusiasts’ photo kit.

The OM-D E-M1

First, the IQ. As I said, the E-M1 is NOT on par with likes of Fuji APS-C or the latest full frames for potential outright high ISO/narrow DOF/high resolution image quality, solely due to it’s sensor’s size. However, global IQ of an actual image is basically the result of four things:

The sensor;

The lenses;

The light conditions;

The eye of the operator.

On the sensor, the Oly cannot compete due to size. Right. However, it undeniably performs well until ISO 6400 in color and B&W, which is way good enough for me, even when I pixel peep (which I confess I do !). Sensible Lightroom processing (which I use) will greatly improve things if I’m not happy with the OOC images.

On all other factors, as much as the technical side is concerned, it just rules badly over ANY rival on the market. Zuiko prime lenses are notably mind blowing, dare I say next to the likes of Leica or Zeiss if maybe less character-full. Throw in IS, fast AF, size and weight and they become dangerously close to industry leading.

Get a grip and the Zuiko 12/2, 17/ 1.8, Pana-Leica 25/1.4, Zuiko 45/1.8, 75/1.8 along the pro 12-40/2.8 zoom, stuff the whole gently in a smallish Retrospective 7 Think tank bag and stare at what this small and light package represents in terms of photographic opportunities. Very few things you can’t achieve with such a small kit, don’t you think ?

If you think the telephoto range and bokeh are on the weak side, I don’t. Remember my old Nikkor 105/2 DC ? With an adapter, that baby gets me an equivalent 210mm with an f2 aperture and “defocusing” abilities. Feel free to compare this combo to other offerings in terms of size, weight and equivalent speed and you’ll realize this is unique in the industry. Believe me, this piece of glass has character when mounted on the E-M1 ! And guess what: there is enough room in the bag for it too !

I would love to mention the Voigtländer f0.95′s, but I don’t own any… What I can mention, however, is the best image stabilizer money can buy. Bare hands, the Oly IS set behind any of the aforementioned glass makes you feel like you can capture more light than actually available, even in a dark street by night. In my eyes, this unique feature alone more than compensates for the lower high-ISO abilities of the Oly’s sensor.

With such a kit, you can capture light in any conditions with your own two hands. On a tripod, you can use the live time functions to see your image appear while it’s being shot… looking at your cell phone ! This little Oly let’s you tailor craft your image, whatever the light conditions. The following pictures have all been shot in Geneva in various occasions:

Law Firm
Oly E-M1 @ ISO 200, 26mm, f3.2, 1/160s

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From my heart to you Oly E-M1 @ ISO 6400, 75mm, f3.2, 1/50s.

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Wifed
Oly E-M1 @ ISO 5000, 105mm f2 DC f2, R4.

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Omega Seamaster Chrono Diver’s 300m, a.k.a “the Blakexpedition” Oly E-M1 @ ISO 400, 34mm, f6.3, 15s


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Very un-twins !
Oly E-M1 @ ISO 250, 12mm, f2.8 1/40s

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Through there, eye Oly E-M1 @ ISO 5000, 23mm, f11

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Runner under the moon Oly E-M1 @ ISO 1000, 34mm, f1.8, 1/30s

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The Courtyard Oly E-M1 @ ISO 100, 12mm, f16, 1800s

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My love Oly E-M1 @ ISO 6400, 20mm, f2.8, 1/40s

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Geneva Airforce Oly E-M1 @ ISO 100, 105mm, f2, 1/400s

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End of Automn Oly E-M1 @ ISO 200, 105mm, f2, 1/1600s 

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Waiting

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Oly E-M1 @ ISO 3200, 21mm, f3.2

No offense to Sony fans but to tell the truth, I didn’t feel the same willingness to gather light so steadily using Didier’s new A7r, nor… any other camera. For me, the A7r’s shutter sound kills it in terms of discrete shooting and I don’t feel the same urge to shoot in low light. Nikon and Canon’s DX cameras are way too heavy when fully equipped. Fuji’s hit rates are way too low. APS-C DSLR’s are not better in terms of IQ, and despite their optical viewfinder, they are worse at pretty much anything else.

Which brings me to the E-M1′s viewfinder. The Oly’s exceeds all reasonable expectations one would have in this area for a digital device. It’s huge, crisp, doesn’t lag (the Sony does) and although it can provide visual peaking for manual focusing, it’s good enough to do without. 

Is it a better experience than looking through a Df’s full frame optical viewfinder ? No. Is it a worse tool than the Df’s or… the M’s ? Oh no ! It’s not romantic, but it never get’s in the way of pleasure. And let’s face it: previewing the result before triggering is a gorgeous cheat indeed.

Build quality and design, although industrial, is at least as good as Leica’s or professional grade Canonikons, while being, in my opinion more comfortable in hands than any of those when used with the vertical grip. Design is a matter of tastes, but to mine’s, it’s how the ultimate shooting tool should look like today. 70-80′s golden age design and size, plus modern controls, a grip and a tiltable screen. Seriously how was it supposed to be better ? By altering the power switch’s place and that’s pretty much it.

Many have already praised the qualities of Oly’s new flagship. I’ll go a step further and say that, in my opinion, a full kit based on this baby may well be… the best photography kit ever made available for the masses. The whole set costs barely more than Leica, Nikon or Canon’s flagships… body only.

In conclusion…

For full frame lovers already equipped with Leica glass, the Sony A7r is an absolute must, but for the rest of us, it’s Olympus all the way. No other camera than the Oly OM-D E-M1 and it’s stable of fine glass gave me so much pleasure in capturing life around me, day after day since I got them.

Whatever you shoot, any combo based on this baby will nail it just right, provided it’s setup the right way. The keep rate is far superior to my old D300 (past reference), due to this godsend blazingly fast and deadly accurate AF, which will never ever suffer from front/back focus issues (unless I decide to use the DF function of my brave old Nikkor 105).

For manual focusing fans, no problem. It has focus peaking, provided you even need it despite the huge viewfinder… Take it for what it’s worth, but you could shoot Leica glass on this baby and I’d be curious to see how a fast 50mm would performs on it at an equivalent of 100mm.

The OM-D E-M1 gives access to what may be the best system ever conceived for 98% of enthusiast/pro photographers having enough cash to afford it. As a system, it has no competition. Period. In my opinion, as far as the price/quality/weight/size ratio of a whole functional kit is concerned, Olympus has become an industry leader.

If I’d had one request, it would be about the menu system and the looks of the indications in the viewfinder, which I find terrible compared with the A7r. I don’t see any reason not to work this out through a firmware update and actually really look forward to it. Of course, I could use more megapixels to do some crops, but having the menus and viewfinder info fixed is a priority which should not wait the next product release to see the light of day. However, this cosmetic imperfection is by no means a deal breaker.

Unfortunately, Olympus don’t pay me to praise them… ;) Nevertheless, it is a firm which, like Apple in the end of the nineties, has understood early what most quality-conscious customers really wanted and worked hard to deliver a product that fits the bill.

I know I sound like an Olympus fan boy and that’s probably what I am. However, I must say this company stuns me. When they came out with the 4/3 concept, everyone laughed and indeed, the output could be terrible. Today after every possible technical and financial difficulty, they show the way to the rest of the industry by giving us what we really want at a price that we are ready to pay.

With such a kit as mine, everyone trying hard and having an eye could become a professional, from a purely technical point of view. To my opinion, this is a small revolution in the industry !According to my standards, such a performance is pretty admirable nowadays. Cheers Oly !

Last word: do I shoot better pictures with the OM-D E-M1 than I did with the E-500, D300 or E-M5 ? No. I still believe I shot my best pictures with these cameras. Do I feel I could shoot my best pictures with the OM-D E-M1 in future years ? Oh yeah ! Did I have the same feeling with any other camera I tried ? Nope.

In my humble opinion: Olympus: 1; the rest of the industry: 0.

Cheers ! Thank you for reading !

(Steve’s full Olympus E-M1 review is HERE)

 

Dec 142013
 

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PRESS RELEASE

NEW: The SLR Magic 17mm T1.6

SLR Magic expands its micro four thirds lineup with new wide angle lens

Hong Kong, China (December 13, 2013) – SLR Magic expands the micro four thirds lens lineup with the new SLR Magic 17mm T1.6 wide angle lens. With this latest addition, the portfolio of lenses for the micro four thirds system is now comprised of seven focal lengths.

The field of view of this new lens corresponds to a 34mm lens in 35mm format and this fast wide angle of view opens up many new creative composition opportunities, particularly in the fields of interior, architectural and landscape cinematography and photography. Additionally, a fast max aperture of T1.6 makes the SLR Magic 17mm T1.6 ideal for available-light photography.

We place our highest priority in the development on our lenses to fulfill the demands of professional cinematographers and photographers. The design and build of the SLR Magic 17mm T1.6 is solid and reliable.

The SLR Magic 17mm T1.6 will be available from authorized SLR Magic dealers starting end of December 2013.

I have this lens in hand and will be doing a full review in the next week or two! Stay tuned, so far so good!

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Technical Data

SLR Magic 17mm T1.6

Lens Type:

Fast wide-angle lens

Compatible Cameras:

All micro four thirds mount cameras

Optical Design:

12 elements in 10 groups

Distance Settings:

Distance range: 0.17m to ∞, combined scale meter/feet

Aperture:

Manually controlled diaphragm, 10 aperture blades , Lowest value 16

Bayonet:

micro four thirds

Filter Mount:

Internal thread for 52mm filter; filter mount does not rotate.

Surface Finish:

Black anodized

Dimensions:

Length to bayonet mount:

approx. 78.65mm (approx. 3.10in)

Largest diameter:

approx. 56.3mm (approx. 2.21in)

Weight:

approx. 340g (approx. 12oz)

Andrew Chan

Product Manager

 

Oct 072013
 

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The Panasonic GX7 Review. Micro 4/3 Hits Hard in 2013!

NOTE: I am and was well aware that the lens cap is on in the above image. This was done purposely to show the LUMIX lens cap for the GX7 review. Image was taken with the Leica M and 50 Lux, NOT the camera I am holding of course. 

WHAT A YEAR IT HAS BEEN! Wow! It seems like this year has FLOWN by as it was about one year ago when I was talking about the new Sony RX1 and freaking out at how far tech has come in the digital camera world. One full year and I have been so busy with this site it seems like it was just a few weeks ago when I was shooting the Zombie walk last October using the OM-D E-M5.

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Micro 4/3 has been one of the solid offerings in the mirrorless camera world and I have NOT been shy about professing some love for this system. When I sit back and think about it, today in 2013, Micro 4/3 is kicking some serious behind. With the new OMD E-M1 and the GX7, we have two jaw droppingly good mirrorless cameras that can take advantage of some of the best small prime lenses on the market next to Leica.

Yes, I did just say that!

In the world of small high quality lenses, Leica is #1 but these fast primes that are coming from Panasonic and Olympus are real jewels in the photography world and are some of the best I have shot with from any system. You have everything from fisheye to super wides to fast 35, 50 and 75mm to superfast tough as nails f/0.95 uber fast lenses. Shallow DOF is easy today with Micro 4/3 and the DOF naysayers can no longer say that this system can not deliver shallow depth of field. It can easily do so with the following lenses  - the 25 1.4, the 25 0.95, the 42.5 0.95, the 45 1.860 Macro and 75 1.8, just a few of the Bokeh monsters of Micro 4/3. Coming soon is a new Panasonic lens called the “Nocticron” which takes the Leica names and blends them into a Noctilux/Summicron hybrid with an 85mm portrait equavilent F/ 1.2 lens. This lens should be a masterpiece. I hope so. It will also be quite expensive.

Wide open at f/0.95 with close focus, something a Leica could never do. The 25 0.95

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It has taken a few years but in 2013 there are not too many negative things one can say about the Micro 4/3 system. These new breed of cameras deliver in all areas, and for me, surpass other mirrorless cameras with APS-C sensors due to speed, dependability, usability, blazing AF, and very good ISO performance. Micro 4/3 is sort of “sweet spot” because due to the smaller sensor we get that faster and more accurate AF performance. It seems that the larger the sensor, the slower the AF. So todays Micro 4/3 is not yesterdays Micro 4/3. When compared to a Fuji X Trans APS-C sensor, these new breed Micro 4/3 sensors GET MIGHTY CLOSE, some would say, easily meet them in quality.

Panasonic GX7 – Voigtlander 25 0.95 at 1.4 – Alien Skin film filter applied. When using these fast 0.95 lenses with Micro 4/3, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. 

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My Panasonic Micro 4/3 History

About 4-5 years ago Panasonic released the GF1, the 1st Micro 4/3 mirrorless offering coming in just before the Olympus PEN E-P1. Even today, years later, there are MANY shooters using that same GF1 without fail or problems. That camera was and still is wonderful though the performance is getting a little “old” with ISO noise and slower AF performance when compared to what we have today. I reviewed that GF1 back in the day and loved it. Sadly, that review is long gone as it was on Version 1 of this site back on an old Apple iWeb server but it is easy to sum up. I loved it back then, it was a real jewel and the 1st in what was to become the “Mirrorless Movement”

The original Panasonic GF1. While a great camera for its time, the new GX7 is a huge improvement in every way. 

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To make a long story short, Panasonic started something really good with that GF1 and Olympus soon followed with the PEN E-P1. Back in those days we had a couple of slow kit zooms and one faster prime, the Panasonic 20 1.7 lens. I did review that lens HERE and it has been somewhat of a legend in the Micro 4/3 world. Small, fast, sharp, and with a very pleasing image quality it is hard to fault the little 20 1.7. Now it comes in a Version II with build improvements as well (my review of version II is HERE) and is still one of my all time recommended lenses for Micro 4/2, no matter if you shoot Panasonic or Olympus.

Shot with the 20 1.7 II at ISO 400

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In fact,  it is my belief that ANYONE shooting Micro 4/3 should own this 20 1.7 lens. The size, weight and performance exceed the cost though the AF is a little on the slower side when compared to other Micro 4/3 lenses. (Amazon sells it HERE).

The 20 1.7 II wide open on the GX7 – ISO 3200 in a normally lit hotel convention center. ISO 3200! Micro 4/3 has never looked this good at high ISO.

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After the success of the GF1, Panasonic rolled on and released camera after camera including the DSLR styled G and GH series, which ended up becoming more tuned in for video work. I reviewed and enjoyed the Panasonic G2 (can see that HERE) but sadly, that was the last Panasonic camera that I felt was worthy to review or talk about. I have shot with them ALL of course but the GF3 and all of those silly little “micro GF” cameras were not very good IMO. To me it seemed like Panasonic lost their way and started trying to appeal to the masses with cute little dumbed down cameras. Too bad, because they did not sell well and ended up being cleared out at stores like Target and Best buy for $199 with kit lens. While Olympus rolled on with their premium PEN series Panasonic was releasing stinker after stinker and at the time, it appeared they abandoned the enthusiast market for Micro 4/3 in regards to a good solid body solution.

The 20 1.7II with the GX7, up close and personal – shot at f/1.7

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I often wondered why-oh-why did Panasonic release the amazing GF1, which was a real “Photographers Camera” and then choose to follow it up with silly micro sized releases. A couple of years rolled by and Panasonic seemed to make a come back with the much talked about and touted GX1. Yep, this was to be a return to form for Panasonic and was the REAL follow up to the GF1. When one came my way to review I was also reviewing the Olympus E-P3 at the same time (which I adored) and after doing some side by sides I realized that even the GX1 fell short for my tastes. Soon, this was yet another camera being cleared out on Amazon. It had its fans, but I knew Panasonic had more, and I made it clear that I felt the E-P3 was better, because to me, it clearly was..again, for my own tastes. The GX1 sold well, but not amazingly well.

So Panasonic went on releasing cameras like the G3 and GH3, which were nice, but we were still missing that little square “rangefinder-esque” GF1 style camera and man oh man was I rooting for them to release something special, and if it had a built in EVF, even the better.

The GX7 with Voigtlander 25 1.4 at f/2.8 – click it for larger. 

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Enter the Panasonic GX7 – A true return to form

So finally in 2013 we all heard about the new Panasonic GX7 and rumor was that it has a built-in EVF, GF1 styling and all new and improved sensor and performance, including in body image stabilisation and fast Auto Focus. Wooooo Hoooo I thought! FINALLY, A sexy beast of a Micro 4/3! Sure, we had the new and exciting Olympus OM-D E-M5 which was taking the Micro 4/3 world by storm (and rightfully so) but this was the mighty comeback of the “Photographers Camera”, the new GX7.

So of course as soon as it was official, I placed my pre-order for one just so I could get one as soon as I could for review. Some camera companies will send me review samples but Panasonic has never sent me a review sample directly. In fact, Panasonic is the only camera company that I do not have a contact at for review samples. Not sure why, but that is just how it has been, so I just had to order one for myself (which isn’t so bad, is it)?

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So the moment it arrived I unboxed it and took a look. Pretty snazzy huh? It has an EVF, sweet style and design, superb feel in the hand and is the best looking, feeling and performing Panasonic Micro 4/3 to date.

But just as the Panasonic was being shipped Olympus was making huge noise with the release of their all new Pro series E-M1 micro 4/3 camera that had all kinds of features that this new Panasonic lacked. A pro build, weatherproof, shockproof and freezeproof, In body class leading 5-Axis IS, Dual Fast AF with Phase and Contrast detect as well as a HUGE built-in EVF that puts all other mirrorless EVF’s to shame.  The Olympus also had a new sensor, live time feature, the ability to use legacy 4/3 glass with fast AF and all kinds of amazing things. A truly revolutionary product for Micro 4/3. The GX7 is evolutionary no question but Olympus decided to go for it with the E-M1.

While the Panasonic lacks many of the E-M1 features, for many of us, this is for the best. Let me explain.

Not everyone needs all of these fancy features and to many, simplicity is what it is all about. All one needs to take a photo is a camera, lens and a shutter button. Do we really needs a million bells and whistles? I admit, I have BOTH of these cameras in my house right now, the GX7 and E-M1 and after extensive use, I would 100% go for the E-M1..FOR ME. I love the feel, the build, the 5-Axis and even Live Time feature. I also feel the IQ is a little more “refined” in color and rendering not to mention the flawless and amazing WiFi implementation.

But this comes at a price. The E-M1 is $500 more than the GX7.

For that difference one could buy the awesome 25 1.4 Panasonic lens.  So this is not a decision to make lightly. In the real world, the GX7 is just as capable in IQ and image taking as the E-M1 so what you choose should depend on what you need and want. If you do not need all of those snazzy features of the E-M1, the GX7 is the next best in the Micro 4/3 world.

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My real world experience shooting with the GX7

After shooting with this camera for a while I have grown to really enjoy shooting with it. Below is a list of the things one should know about the GX7, because it is one hell of a camera and at $899 for the body or $999 for the body and kit lens, it is a GREAT buy and well worth the cost.

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The Build and Feel

The Panasonic GX7 did not disappoint when it came to the feel of the camera. In my hand it felt fantastic. The grip is just large enough to fit around my fingers and rest in my palm comfortably. When holding the camera I can easily use the built in EVF to frame and shoot. In regards to the build quality, the GX7, in my opinion, is very good. If I compare it to the classic GF1, GX1 or even Olympus E-P3 the build is equal to those cameras.

It is solid and my only complaints about the build would be that some of the dials and buttons feel a little bit on the cheaper side. Plastic.

If I compare the build and feel side by side with the Olympus E-M1 or E-P5, the E-M1 and E-P5 wins easily. They feels more solid, heftier, and the dials and buttons are smooth and solid. No plasticky feel with the E-M1/E-P5. But again, $500 more for the Olympus E-M1, so it should feel a bit better made and there is no built in EVF with the snazzy E-P5, so there are always trade offs.

Overall, the GX7 gets a B for Build because when comparing to all Micro 4/3 cameras or even other mirrorless system cameras it is about equal, 2nd only to the new and top of the line E-M1 .

OOC JPEG at ISO 2000 WITH in camera NR

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The AF speed

The AF speed in the new GX7 has been touted by Panasonic as being blazing fast and I have to say, I have no disappointments with the AF of the camera. When using it with the kit zoom, it is lightning quick. When using it with the 20 1.7II it was slow to AF indoors. Sometimes taking a second to lock or longer. In comparison, the E-M1 with the 17 1.8 was lightning quick in the same indoor lighting and the E-M1 with the 20 1.7II was quicker than the GX7 by a small margin.

But with the right lens it is fast, accurate and never once in my use did it miss AF or fail to lock. Even in low light it found the focus and nailed it. Compared to the E-M1, it is a tad slower in general. Compared to the E-M5, it is equal or slightly faster. At this level it is plenty fast enough.

When I say the AF is fast, it is for static subjects. For moving or tracking, this may not cut it for you. So sports shooters who want to head to M 4/3, I would suggest the E-M1 but even so, Micro 4/3 is not the format for pro sports shooters as DSLRs still have the edge in THIS area.

This camera will AF faster than any Fuji body, any Sony body and any other APS-C mirrorless body. But each lens will give you a different AF performance level. The 20 1.7 is one of the slower lenses but it is still a beautiful lens to use and own. Slap on a 12-35 and you will be amazed at the speed.

The 20 1.7II may not be the fastest to AF but it has amazing IQ :) 

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The HIGH ISO performance

As for high ISO the GX7 is as good as the new E-M1 when it comes to bumping up the ISO and dimming the lights for some night shooting. With any Micro 4/3 camera you will have more noise than any APS-C sensor but in reality, not much more. These new sensors are better than ever (for Micro 4/3) when it comes to high ISO and ISO 3200 is usable and actually not so bad. Below see some ISO samples and comparison with the E-M1. The  WB of the E-M1 is a bit better than the GX7 in these samples. Zero noise reduction here, zero.

As you can see, ISO 3200 as an OOC file does not look that bad resized. But pixel peepers who view their images at 100% on a computer screen will see the noise :) 

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HIGH ISO CROPS

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To me the high ISO capabilities are similar between the two cameras and any differences that are there would not show up in print.

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The Usability of the GX7

Micro 4/3 cameras have usually been good for usability. The very 1st cameras, the E-P1 and GF1 were not so good by todays standards but today..it is an all new story. These cameras are fast, responsive and mean business. In fact, I recently shot with a Canon 6D and a couple of fast primes. The GX7 can focus faster than that 6D did when using the 85L and 35 1.4. The GX7 is also just as responsive.

Menus are easy to navigate and settings are simple. Large easy to read text and a simple navigation mean JOY of use :) 

The GX7 also now has IN BODY Image Satbilsation. This is welcome as previous bodies only had IS in the lenses. The only bummer is that manual lenses/3rd party lenses are not compatible with the IS when shooting video. With the Olympus bodies, you can use the in body IS with all lenses. I am hoping Panasonic fixes this in future FW updates.

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The EVF

The EVF on the GX7 is good, but far from perfect. I am thrilled that there is an EVF but after shooting the E-M1, it is obvious there is a quality difference between the two. Still, its a good EVF though in the GX7 I have been shooting the white balance in the EVF is WAY OFF when compared to the LCD screen. Looking through the EVF I sometimes see off color and orangy color but when I review on the LCD it looks perfect. Not sure why this is the case but it is annoying when using because you think you are way off with your white balance or exposure only to find out it is just what  you are seeing through the EVF. I prefer a what you see is what you get experience.

I love love love the fact that the EVF swivels up as I have used it numerous times now in this fashion. Looking down into the EVF while holding the camera lower is a nice way to shoot sometimes. With the GX7 you can do this. When you are done it flips right down and the camera retains the clean lines. I love the fact that you can do this and there is no other camera made where this is possible.

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The Lenses

As I have stated many times on this blog, Micro 4/3 lenses are superb. Take a look at my faves HERE.

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The Silent Shutter Mode

The GX7 has an electronic Shutter mode for those times when you want to be silent. The Nikon V1 had this years ago and am happy to see it in the GX7. For those times when you want or need 100% silence, you can activate the electronic shutter and be as stealthy as a ninja :)

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The Video

The GX7 does indeed have full HD video capabilities. 1080p at 24 or 60 frames per second. From my quick tests, the video looks great. I have some sample videos shot with the camera in the video I posted a little ways up. I am not a huge video guy but Panasonic always does a good job in this area. If I were shooting pro video I would not be using a GX7 but the video I see is plenty good enough for personal use, youtube or fun projects.

One thing that I did not like is that in body IS does not work with manual lenses like Leica or 3rd party manual focus lenses.

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The Value

For $999 with a kit zoom lens, the GX7 is a best buy for Micro 4/3 bodies if you want something on the higher end of Micro 4/3. Along with the older Olympus E-M5 it is highly recommended in the $1000 price range. But what about the older E-M5? What camera would I take between the GX7 and that older Olympus? Well, between those two, it is a draw for me. I prefer the feel of the GX7 but the E-M5 is wonderful. I would probably lean GX7 if buying fresh today between those two but both are great. Still, to be fair, if starting fresh in Micro 4/3 today I would buy the E-M1 and call it a day. Bottom line? You can not make a WRONG decision here. Go with your gut :)

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VS the E-M1

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While the GX7 is the best Panasonic Micro 4/3 to date for taking photos, the E-M1 is the best Olympus to date for Micro 4/3 in general. Which is better? Well, my opinion is that the E-M1 is better but both can take an amazing photo. It’s all up to you, the photographer. Your eye, your mind, your style. Looking at the image above, which camera tugs at your soul the most..just by looks alone?

Some will choose the E-M1, others the GX7. But looks are not the whole story. While I prefer the sexy clean lines of the GX7, in the real world I find the E-M1 to be one incredible camera. My full review will be here soon for it but to put things into perspective, what makes it for me is the incredible 5-Axis IS, weather seal, huge and beautiful EVF and the ergonomics and control. It is one advanced camera and even the WiFi rocks. I also prefer the color from the Olympus.

But at the end of the day, as I said earlier in this review, it all comes down to your wants and needs. You may not care or need 5-Axis, weather sealing or the other features of the E-M1. If  that is the case, saving some cash on the GX7 would be the thing to do. Both are excellent. For $500 more the E-M1 is indeed the better camera technically but the GX7 is no slouch, not at all.

Some may wonder why I keep comparing this to the E-M1. Well, I have to do this. The E-M1 is the other brand new micro 4/3 body and it is a better body, though at $500 more. I want the readers to be aware of this in case the Olympus is more to their liking. I would hate to read a review, buy a camera, then find out the next day there is something that I may have liked better.

Even so, some will prefer the GX7 as it is also a superb tool. It comes down to features, and that is all.

The E-M1 can be seen here for $1399 and the GX7 here for $998 with lens

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Pros and Cons of the GX7

Pros

  1. Nice size and feel
  2. LOVE the new EVF, kudos to Panasonic for putting it in
  3. AF is fast, almost as fast as the E-M1. Same as E-M5
  4. Camera design is awesomely cool
  5. Swivel touch screen LCD is nice
  6. High ISO VERY usable to 3200 ISO
  7. Multitude of lenses available
  8. Price is right at $899 for the body only, $99 extra for kit lens
  9. Finally, the worthy follow up to the GF1
  10. FOCUS PEAKING!
  11. The GX7 has a silent electronic shutter mode ala Nikon V1

Cons

  1. Some dials and buttons feel cheap
  2. No in body IS during video with manual lenses
  3. In body IS is nice, but not as good as 5-Axis in the E-M1 or E-M5
  4. Not available in all black in the USA
  5. White Balance and Color is off in the EVF at times when it is perfect on the LCD

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My final word on the Panasonic GX7

After shooting the GX7 and E-M1 side by side for a while I can honestly say that I fell in love with one of them, and that was the E-M1, but I also loved shooting the GX7.

As always, it’s personal preference. IQ wise they are neck and neck so go with what you LIKE. I found the GX7 to be the best Panasonic Micro 4/3 made to date. Nice build, nice size, nice weight, great EVF that tilts up and down for more versatility and the touch screen LCD with all of the modern speed you can ask for.

The Auto Focus is fast on the GX7 but not any faster than the Olympus E-M5 or E-P5. The Battery life is good, had no issues with battery drain and shot a whole weekend on one charge. When mated with the lovely 20 1.7 II this makes for a nice compact lean mean sexy shooting machine. The Lumix GX7 is up there with the best of Micro 4/3.

At $998 for the body and Kit Zoom, it is well worth the cost if you want to get into Micro 4/3 while getting superb quality while spending under a grand.

Not much else I can say on the GX7, I like it.

Some have asked me about the GX7 vs the E-P5. Well, the E-P5 is beautiful, in and out. It is built to a nice standard, very hefty and solid with a gorgeous retro design, stellar LCD, amazing 5-Axis IS and features as well as having that PEN Mojo. My only issue with the PEN E-P5 is there is no integrated EVF! If Olympus would have put one in, it would be no contest..E-P5. Its a better made camera, feels better in my hand and I prefer the design as well. I just can not excuse Olympus for leaving it without an EVF in 2013. The PEN needs an EVF.

Panasonic listened to the demands of the enthusiast (something Sony has been doing for 2 years now) and made the camera we wanted to see made for Micro 4/3 at a decent price point. While there are many things I prefer on the E-P5, I have to say that I would probably choose the GX7 over it as I find it more enjoyable to shoot with. Still, I do like the E-P5 very much as I have always been a huge PEN fan. I am hoping that in 2014 or 2015 we will see one with a VF4 embedded in the body :)

With that said, look for my Olympus E-M1 review in about a week :)

Two with the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH on the GX7

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WHERE TO BUY!

You can buy the Panasonic GX7 at Amazom or B&H Photo, my two favorite big time shops. Direct links are below:

Buy the Panasonic GX7 at Amazon with the 14-42 Kit Zoom HERE

Buy the Panasonic GX7 at Amazon – Body only

Buy the Panasonic GX7 at B&H Photo with Kit Lens HERE

Buy the Panasonic GX7 body only at B&H HERE

Buy the Voigtlander 25 0.95 Lens HERE – (LOVE this lens)!

ISO 2000 with the Kit Zoom – NO NR

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With a Leica 50 Summilux ASPH at f/2

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and the box..

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Sep 292013
 

Panasonic GX7 in stock at Amazon for $999 with Kit Zoom!

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The new Panasonic GX7 has started to ship as of a few days ago and Amazon not only has them in stock, but they have lowered the price by $100 to $999 with kit zoom.

I just received one and will be doing a full review of the camera but at $999 its is a decent price/deal if you are one who prefers the Panasonic over Olympus when it comes to Micro 4/3. You can see the Amazon deal HERE. 

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B&H PHOTO also has the deal but are not showing it as in stock as of this writing. Looks like the $100 off is through October 12th and is an obvious answer to the E-M1 because at $1399 the E-M1 was $300 more than the $1099 GX7 and for $300 more, you get quite a bit extra in that OM-D (weather sealing, 5 Axis IS, The HUGE new EVF, Pro Build, Live Time, etc). Now the E-M1 is $400 more than the GX7 Kit lens setup and $500 more than the GX7 body only.  Not sure why Panasonic did not release the GX7 in all black for the USA though it is one sexy looking camera, and the AF seems pretty fast in my initial dim lighting test BUT..

In the hand the GX7 feels quite a bit less “robust” in the build quality department. It is good, feels equal to the OM-D E_M5, Fuji X-E1, etc but it is not up there in build or feel as the E-M1 is. The in body IS of the GX7 appears to be pretty nice as well, but I have only fired off a few test shots so far. The dials, knobs and buttons have a cheaper feel than the E-M1 as well, but again, just as good as 95% of other mirrorless cameras. Where Panasonic excels with the GX7 is the tilting EVF (which is VERY cool) and the rangefinder type of design that has become quite popular as of late. It closely resembles the Samsung NX300 but with an EVF added.

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I will say that the fit and finish of the Samsung NX300 is a little nicer than the GX7 in the “feel” department but the GX7 is, like I said, VERY sexy. It seems like a highly capable Micro 4/3 and between this and the new E-M1, I feel they are the best of what Micro 4/3 has to offer in a body for shooting stills. If video is your main thing, go to the GH3.

Again, the GX7 is now available and in stock/shipping with Kit Zoom for $999 at Amazon right HERE. The E-M1 should be shipping anytime now as well, my guess is within 5 days.

 

Sep 262013
 

Olympus OM-D E-M1  - 1st Quick test JPEG’s!

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Hey guys! I am in Dublin Ireland at Castle Leslie and having an AMAZING time shooting the Olympus OM-D E-M1. Weather has been dreary and rainy but can’t complain. I have only 5 minutes before I have to get back down to the group for a pre-dinner meet so I am throwing up a few out of camera JPEGS shot today. I will follow this with many more thoughts, a video, and more images of course. So for now, just four quick JPEGS (all I have time for right now). Much more to come!

The 12-40 Lens at 2.8, ISO 400

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17 1.8 at 1/20s

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JUST ADDED:

Same shot as above but from RAW

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The 12-40 using Live Time – LONG exposure with light painting and yes, that is me as an Angel

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The 75 1.8 at 1.8

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Sep 162013
 

USER REPORT: The Jackar Snapshooter 34 1.8 Lens for Micro 4/3

Melt your images away for $175

By Nathan Wyss – His website is HERE

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I’d never heard of Jackar before seeing the name on some list of manufacturers of Micro Four Thirds lenses. I rarely see this 34mm lens mentioned on forums or blogs, but the photos I take with it are interesting enough that it seems worth the trouble to do a real world style review on it. After using it for a few months, I’ve found it to be an artistic oddball good for breaking up my usual photographic routine. Priced and purchased for around $175, I have no regrets.

It’s a quirky piece of optics. I want to put down some pros and cons, but these two lists would be almost interchangeable. For a solid metal build it’s fairly light. Stepless aperture ring and focus ring are both firm and smooth. The focus markings on the ring seem to be approximate, not exact, so they are pretty useless. When shooting wide open, the DOF is so narrow and center weighted that I need to focus by eye with the view finder anyway….assuming I have time to do that. Annoyingly, it’s possible to focus past the infinity mark.

What I find to be the most fun aspects of this lens might be undesirable to others. It has chunky, asymmetrical, psychedelic bokeh that sometimes looks to be swirling and other times looks like it’s melting. Wide open, all parts of the frame but the very center blend into the bokeh for a very surreal effect.

The photos below are of the same scene, shot with the Jackar 34 and Oly 45, both wide open at 1.8 and at, or near, the closest focal distance.

Jackar 34mm – ISO 200 – 1.8

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Olympus 45mm – ISO 200 – 1.8

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This shot, below, really illustrates how crazy the bokeh can get at 1.8.

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I’m not sure how many elements and coatings are involved with this lens, but it must be minimal. It is in no way a sharp lens like we’re used to with the Panny 20mm or Oly 45mm. Fortunately the hood is deep because what would be stylish lens flare on the Oly 45mm can wash out the entire image using the Jackar. But the way it handles blown out areas of the frame, the inherent overall softness, and the fuzzy corners (at any aperture) give the images a warm analog feel. It reminds me of the lenses I used on the old wind-up Bolex 16mm movie cameras. More than any lens I’ve shot with, I’m able to process the images from the Jackar 34mm to have a unique, old school look.

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Most of the shots used for this review have DxO film filters applied to them. There’s a lot of processing applications and film filters out there, which is wonderful. I haven’t tried them all but I really like DxO’s software and filters (more than the Nik Collection). DxO does not have presets for the Jackar lens.

ISO 200 – 5.6 – DxO Fuji Film Filter (Can’t recall wich one)

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If I had only a couple of M43 lenses, the Jackar 34mm would not be one of them.  But I have a handful of M43 lenses, I got a little bored with them, and found this character of a lens.  It’s fun to shoot with, but it also makes me appreciate the precision that goes into the nicer M43 lenses.  Below are some of my favorite shots I’ve taken with it so far.  I’m looking forward to using it for video and with this new generation of cameras that have focus peaking.

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1.8 Notice how his elbow is in perfect focus while his head begins to get fuzzy. Wide open only the dead center is sharp.

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You can buy the Jackar 34 1.8 for Micro 4/3, NEX, or Fuji X for $175

Sep 142013
 

What lenses I would buy with the new Olympus E-M1

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With the new (now a #1 best seller on Amazon) E-M1 scheduled to hit the shops in about 2-3 weeks I have been getting asked repeatedly “what lenses should I buy with it”. Well, buying a lens is almost like buying underwear. It’s all personal preference, lol. But even so, there are some superb lenses for this system and in case you did not know it, yes, you can use Panasonic lenses made for Micro 4/3 on a Olympus Micro 4/3 body and vice versa.

In the mirrorless world some of my favorite lenses come from Micro 4/3. Below is a list (and some alternatives) of what I would buy if I were diving fresh into Micro 4/3 with the new E-M1 camera, which I predict will be the best Micro 4/3 to date in all areas but looks (GX7 or a PEN  takes that prize).

The Camera

The new Olympus E-M1 is a big deal in the Micro 4/3 world as it is the 1st “Pro” body that is weather proof and freeze proof. It is blazing fast, has the worlds best Image Stabilization IN BODY and has eliminated the AA filter. The build, feel and performance are quite amazing. You can order the camera at Amazon or B&H Photo or PopFlash.com and I expect this one to be a big seller because even while pricey at $1399, it is much cheaper than other alternatives. In other words, this is priced right for what you are getting in my opinion.

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Wide Angle

My fave: The fast aperture of f/2 allows the Olympus 12mm f/2 to shoot in lower light while getting sharp and colorful images. The 12mm is a premium lens for the Micro 4/3 system giving you a 24mm equivalent.

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There are a few GREAt wide-angle choices but depending on how wide and how fast you want to go will decide what to get.

**The best bang for the buck will be in blue bold text!**

**My favorite will be in RED text!**

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Olympus 12mm f/2A beautiful little lens and a favorite of mine even though I find it a little on the pricey side today with so much competition. GORGEOUS in the all black edition (which is no longer sold) this lens offers AF speed that is FAST, focus accuracy and a fast f/2 aperture along with close focusing and nice manual focusing features. It is small, light and looks the part. The key word is SMALL. :) A 24mm equivalent t in focal length.

Panasonic 14 f/2.5 - Smaller and flatter than the 12mm and just about as good image quality wise. It is not as fast to AF (but still super fast) and it is not as slick as the 12mm but it is MUCH cheaper at $340 or so. Almost $400 less than the Olympus. You lose a half of a stop going from f/2 to f/2.5 as well as 2mm but you save cash while getting a fantastic lens. A 28mm equivalent. 

Olympus 9-18 Zoom - This is a wide-angle little jewel. I have not yet reviewed it (but will be VERY soon on the E-M1) but have tried it and if you want versatility with an effective focal range of 18-36 this is your guy. Sharp, great color and while slow in the aperture department many of us will not need a fast aperture for this focal length. This lens sells for $699. Review SOON.

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Standard Angle

My Fave: The Voigtlander 25 f/0.95 is a large, heavy and powerful lens on Micro 4/3. If you love your shallow DOF but want sharpness and great color, this is it. Just be prepared for manual focus only! Should do very well on the E-M1 with the huge EVF. 

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New Olympus 12-40 – The new super pro zoom by Olympus could end up being my new fave. No, I am not usually a zoom guy but this one is special. Superb quality, superfast AF and a semi fast f/2.8 aperture. Expensive but should be worth it to those who like zooms with a constant f/2.8 aperture. Weather proof as well and will kick the 12-50 to the curb. $999. Review SOON.

Panasonic 20 1.7 IIA powerhouse pancake with a small design. Not the fastest to AF but it has become a legend for its size, price and output. You can not go wrong with this lens, period. Review is HERE.

Panasonic 25 1.4 - Another legendary favorite for Micro 4/3. This one is deliciously good but around $500 or so and it is larger and noisier to AF than the 20. Gives you a little more magic over the 20 so up to you if the expense and size is worth it. This is also a fave of mine but the “bang for the buck” goes to the 20 1.7II. My review is HERE.

Voigtlander 17 or 25 0.95These are beasts. Heavy, Large and of HIGH quality build. All manual and much like shooting an old (or new) Leica lens in feel. Sharp at 0.95 and with a fantastic character and Bokeh. I love the 17.5 and 25 but if pressed with only owing one 25 (50mm equiv) I would go for the 25 f/0.95 or the 25 1.4 from Panasonic. These are around $1000 so they are the most expensive. When you hold one you will wonder why they are not $1500 :)

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Want Some reach?

The Voigtlander 42.5 at f/0.95 is beautiful. :) 

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Olympus 45 1.8This is almost a MUST own. A 90mm equivalent and coming it at around $349 this lens is so worth it that if you own a nice Micro 4/3 camera and do not own this lens you should really reconsider that thought. Fantastic in every way. For me, limited use as I am not a 90mm guy but for those who are, this one rocks. Priced right. My review of this lens is HERE.

Voigtlander 42.5Another Voigtlander masterpiece! The 42.5 gives us an 85mm f/0.95 equivalent. Amazing sharp lens and you can see my review HERE. Not cheap but fills out the Voigtlander trinity of lenses for Micro 4/3 which gives us a 35, 50 and now 85mm, all f/0.95! Top quality here guys. You can buy this from CameraQuest HERE.

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More? How about a Telephoto!

The 75 1.8 will give you a 150mm equivalent so if you are shy, and want to keep some distance, this lens will let you do it.

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Olympus 75 1.8 – Ahhhhhh, one of the best pieces of glass in the Micro 4/3 lineup, period. This lens is a masterpiece but long at 150mm (equivalent). Still, this is one of those special lenses and it feels, looks and performs like a million bucks. In black it is super sexy as well. Not very large or heavy but just right with fast AF as well. Bravo Olympus. My review is HERE.

Panasonic 35-100 This is in the high quality premo line for Panasonic and it does not come cheap but from what I hear, it is a great high quality tele option. $1500!

Panasonic 100-300The budget telephoto with some serious power and high quality. Many swear by this guy, and if you want REACH…as in 600mm equivalent, this is the best $600 you can spend on your Micro 4/3 for a native lens. 

Olympus 40-150This $149 lens can not be beat for the price. It is a bit lightweight in the build but delivers good performance across the 40-150 range giving you an 80-300 equivalent. $149 at B&H Photo. 

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Specialty Lenses – Macro and Fisheye

The E-M5 and Panasonic 8mm Fisheye – GREAT special effect lens. But make sure to GET CLOSE!

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Panasonic 8mm Fisheye – I have shot with the cheap manual focus Rokinon fisheye and the quality Panasonic 8mm fisheye and I LOVED the 8mm from Panasonic the most. It feels nice, build is superb as is performance. This is a great special effect lens for occasional up close use. I love it. You can see my review HERE. Amazon sells this beauty via PRIME.

The Olympus 60 Macro is AMAZING. Highly recommended for Macro lovers. 

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The Olympus 60mm Macro - Probably the best Macro lens I have personally used or tested. Superb lens. $499 at Amazon. My full review is HERE.

 

Aug 282013
 

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The Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95  Micro 4/3 Lens Review

By Steve Huff

Thanks to Camera Quest for sending me this lens one day before it was even released so I could review it. 

Ahhhh, super fast 0.95 aperture glass. You gotta love them even if they are built like a tank and heavier than you really want to go with a mirrorless system that is supposed to be all about high quality in a compact package. Yep, Voigtlander has done it again completing a trio of uber fast 0.95 aperture lenses with this new 42.5mm f/0.95 lens. It is large. It is heavy. It is beautiful. Lenses with a fast aperture of f/0.95 used to be unheard of until Leica designed and released their masterpiece Noctilux f/0.95 a few years ago. Ever since there have been a slew of fast f/0.95 and faster lenses released by other manufacturers showing that yes, it can be done and yes, it can be done for less. They may not be 100% of a Leica lens but they are at least 80%, and that right there is a great feat of engineering by these companies.

Voigtlander is one of these who boldly went for it after seeing there was a market for ultra fast glass, especially in the Micro 4/3 format. With the depth of field of a Micro 4/3 sensor being greater than what we get on a full frame sensor, one way to combat that is by using ultra fast aperture lenses. This way, if you like that smooth and creamy “background blown out of focus” look, or “Subject Isolation”, then this lens, and a few others can easily give it to you while still giving you superb quality all the way around.

But today I am speaking of the 42.5mm f/0.95 Micro 4/3 lens from Voigtlander and this lens is not for the faint hearted due to the size, weight and $999 price tag that comes with it.

When I say it is large and heavy, I mean it is large and heavy in comparison to normal Micro 4/3 prime lenses. Lenses like the Olympus 12mm f/2 or 45 1.8. Lenses like the Panasonic 20 1.7II or the 25 1.4 .Yes Ladies and Gentleman, Voigtlander lenses are built-in the style of good old-fashioned Leica Rangefinder lenses. In my book, this is a good thing. No, a GREAT thing. Why? Well, this means you will have a serious thrill when you open that box and see the quality of the build, the feel of the focus ring and solid click of the aperture dial. It is like you went back in time to the 1950′s..a time when lens construction was top-notch. Quality all the way.

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So as a warning to anyone who is thinking of this lens, or the 17.5 f/0.95 or the 25 f/0.95..just know you are getting a seriously built lens for your money :)

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The Image Quality

With that out-of-the-way, how is the image quality of this lens? Many would think at f/0.95, which is wide open, that the lens may be soft at such a wide open aperture. All I know is that my 1st tests with the lens on an Olympus E-P5 shooting at f/0.95 yielded incredibly sharp results at my focus point.

Speaking of focusing, the E-P5 with the focus peaking and VF-4 made it EASY to focus this beast of a lens and speaking of beasts…my 1st test shots were of the local cows :) All wide open at 0.95. Keep in mind I shoot every day, 5-6 days a week reviewing cameras. So to me, finding a bunch of cows who posed for me was exciting..different. Lol. Moooooooo!

YOU MUST click them to see the larger size and to see how sharp this lens can be at the widest aperture. Quite amazing for Micro 4/3.

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If you noticed any noise or grain in the images above it is because I ran them through a VSCO Agfa Scala filter, which added some fine grain. AGFA Scala is a B&W slide film. Even so, if you click on the image above you will see how sharp this lens is when used with the E-P5. Not far off from the LOOK I GET with the Leica M 240 with a Voigtlander 50 1.5 Nokton even though that is a full frame camera.

The reality is that the cameras made for enthusiasts today are quite exceptional and offer amazing IQ possibilities depending on the lens used. We have DSLR’s, we have small mirrorless solutions like Micro 4/3, we have amazing cameras like the Sony RX1 and many other options (many reviews can be found on these in my “Mirrorless Central” section). It can boggle the brain if you sit and try to figure out what to buy and why to buy and when to buy. Ten years ago the pickings were slim if you wanted amazing quality and when you found it, you had to pay dearly for it. Today, a camera like the $999 Olympus E-P5 performs better than a camera I paid $10,000 for with a couple of lenses back in 2003, the Canon 1Ds (1st version). A camera that was considered a “Holy Grail” by so many back then..yet today..the $999 Olympus E-P5 beats it when used with lenses like these from Voigtlander. The little Olympus beats it in high ISO, speed, and of course, weight. Makes me wonder what we will have in 10 more years. Will it all be phones with high tec cameras and artificial depth of field? Will it be cameras like the Lytro? No one knows but I think some brands will die out and there will still be some around supplying the latest and greatest to the enthusiasts and pros.

Cameras like the Nikon D800E, RX1R, Canon 5D series..are all exceptional when it comes to image quality. They compete head to head with mid scale medium format backs so where do we go from here? Only time will tell but today in August of 2013 what we have to choose from is pretty damn nice.

Wide open, f/0.95 – click it for larger. 

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Walking the Line

As for today..for now..and for right here and right now I am sitting here looking at snapshots I took with this $999 lens and $999 camera body. A $2000 combo and I have to say it is walking a line that used to be reserved for megabuck systems.

The image below was e-mailed to 8 people I know well who are enthusiasts like you and me. The version I emailed had the EXIF stripped and I asked my camera buddies..“what camera took this snapshot? Take a guess”.

Walking the Line – 42.5 at 0.95 – E-P5

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6 of the 8 said “Leica M 240″.  One said “Leica M9″ and one said “OM-D and 45 1.8″

SIX thought I took this image, this basic snapshot of a stray cat walking across a fence with a $7000 Leica body. In the past, even as early as 2009 there was a clearer line between such cameras..today the line is getting rubbed out a bit. Kind of crazy when you think about it because I could spend $4500 on an E-P5 (or new GX7) along with these three amazing super speed Voigtlander lenses:

The 17.5 f/0.95 – This will give you a 35mm equivalent field of view, the preference of many street shooters. The lens is built to a high standard, well above most lenses made for Micro 4/3 or any system besides Leica M. It is heavy, but even at 0.95 it is pretty sharp. Great bokeh, a great look and feel and above all works fantastic on the newer bodies with focus peaking. Just beware of the weight as this will make your Micro 4/3 system larger and heavier. The Olympus 17 1.8 is good but will not give you the same look as this lens so all depends on what you like. I have samples with this lens in my OM-D E-M5 Review.

25 f/0.95 – A classic 50mm field of view. While it will not give you the same depth of field as a 50mm 0.95 on full frame, it will give you the DOF of a 25mm f/0.95 lens because that is exactly what it is. Most importantly you will get that light sucking ability that only a fast 0.95 lens can give you. This one is smaller than the 17.5 and feels pretty nice on the OM-D series or E-P series. Easy to focus with the new VF-4. This is probably my fave of the three due to the 50mm focal length, which is where I am most comfortable. Again, samples can be seen in my original OM-D E-M5 review. 

42.5 f/0.95 – This is the lens that every image on this page was shot with and it will give you the classic 85mm focal length and even more shallow DOF because this is close to a 50mm lens so you will get closer to a 50mm 0.95 Bokeh effect (can anyone say Noctilux)? Beautiful build and feel and for $999, it is a great buy if you like shooting at 85mm/90mm. But it is especially for  those who like BOKEH..and lots of it.

So if you buy or own a Micro 4/3 camera and want lenses that will give your images this effect..in other words,  results that give a “Leica Like” vibe (though it will be a CLASSIC Leica Vibe),  then this is as close as you can get on Micro 4/3.

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Of course I know that just by saying you can get close to the “look and feel” of a Leica M 240 using an E-P5 and these Voigtlander lenses I will probably suffer an attack or two by hardcore Leica users who will mistake what I said for something else. I did not say this was better than any Leica setup with Leica glass. I said you can get close to the look and feel (though some will say equal it and others will say beat it) of a Leica M 240 and certain lenses. :) In fact, these Voigtlander lenses perform much like older classic Leica lenses and is one reason they work so well for B&W.

The Lens comes complete with metal lens hood

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In fact, in the past year alone I have test and used just about EVERY major camera that has been released. The Sony’s, the Fuji’s, the Samsung’s, the Nikon’s, the Ricoh, the Pentax’s, etc. I am in a position to where I get to try it all, and the cool thing is I  tell the truth even when it upsets some readers. I just tell it how it is..MY own experience. I compare cameras and know what I like and what I do not. Contrary to what some believe, no manufacturer “pays me off” to say anything. Camera makers pay no one-off in the blogging/review world because if they did it could hurt them. I pride myself on always telling MY OWN TRUE FEELINGS. That is all. Take it or leave it :)

What I can say is that the newest crop of Micro 4/3 cameras and lenses have been extraordinary. Superb. As good as most will ever need for everything but super fast focus tracking (which some of us need, and some us will never use). So depending on your needs, this system is rocking in 2013. When you add these lenses it takes it up a notch.

Trio

Let us see what happens when we have a Micro 4/3 image, a Leica M 240 image and a Fuji X-E1 and Zeiss image. This is NOT in any way, shape or form anything scientific. In fact, these images were taken on different days, months apart. Same subject. What I want to show here is not sharpness, not detail, not much of anything besides depth of field and color and “pleasing to the eye” results. Of the three, which one suits YOUR tastes the most when it comes to how this scene was rendered? Of course the Olympus has a 2X crop sensor, the Leica is full frame and the Fuji is APS-C, so 1.5 crop.

The Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95 – wide open.

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The Leica M 240 – 50 Voigtlander Nokton at 1.5

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The Fuji X-E1 with Zeiss Touit 32 1.8 – wide open

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Now of course we have the difference of focal length. With the E-P5 we have the Bokeh of a 42.5mm lens at 0.95 but the field of view of an 85mm lens. With the Leica we have the Bokeh of a 50mm 1.5 lens as it is full frame and what you see is what you get. With the Fuji and Zeiss, we have the Bokeh of a 32mm 1.8 lens and the field of view of around 50mm. To my eyes the most pleasing result was with the Leica and Olympus. I love the Leica as it gives me that 50mm FOV I love. If I had the Voigtlander 25 0.95 it would have been a better comparison but you can not fault that Voigtlander. Smooth, rich and creamy all the way with great out of focus background. The Fuji and Zeiss have a pretty busy background and it really shows what a 0.95 aperture can do for you (with the 2X crop of the E-P5). Yep, Micro 4/3 is no longer crippled by that crop factor.

Subject Separation, 3 Dimensional, Bokeh, Background Blur, Depth of Field…

It’s all about subject separation. Something many Micro 4/3 naysayers used to say was not possible but it is indeed possible with these Voigtlander lenses (and many others) and I am very happy that these options are here for those of us who love these little powerhouse cameras.

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There is a downside though. While you can get a nice 3D feel and subject separation with these lenses on a Micro 4/3body, as I stated earlier they are HEAVY and LARGE. Over time they can get cumbersome and remember, these lenses are manual focus only. No blazing auto focus here :)

If you want small, light and fast AF I highly suggest other lenses like the Panasonic 25 1.4 or the Olympus 45 1.8 or 75 1.8. All fantastic pieces of glass that will give you sharp results and the conveniences of the system. So not everyone will enjoy a lens like this 42.5 0.95.

So who will like this lens? Who will not?

If you come from a Leica background you will love this lens. If you enjoy finely crafted lenses, you will adore this lens. If you love that 0.95 look and want it for your Micro 4/3 system..you will  love this lens and appreciate it. If  you are “old school” you may enjoy this lens. If you like ultra modern crisp renderings with huge depth of field, you will NOT like this lens. If you hate heavy and large, you will NOT like this lens. If you hate manual focus, you will NOT like this lens. If you expect a lens like this to be $300, you are not meant for this lens :)

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The Bottom Line

At the end of the day this lens is a firecracker. Extreme build, heavy weight and able to suck in enough light to your sensor while giving you that 3D feel that many of us crave. It’s sharp wide open and sharp throughout the aperture range. It is a lens that will deliver a different look and if it is what you seek, you will not be disappointed with this lovely lens.

That is about all I can say. These days when I review a lens it is tough because most lenses today are superb. That is why I talk mostly about the character and talk about comparisons with gear that is sometimes much more costly. The truth is that we have never had such a choice and selection in cameras and lenses. I am talking QUALITY choices. The upside is that it seems to be gaining more and more steam, so I expect much more to come.

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Where to Buy the Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95

Since CameraQuest sent this out to me before it was even released so I could review it, at no cost to me AND they are the main USA distributor for Voigtlander I would say GO CHECK THEM OUT and if you want this lens, show them some love. Stephen Gandy runs it and he ships FAST. YHe has full stock of this lens and the other Nokton lenses for Micro 4/3.

You can see or buy all of the Micro 4/3 choices HERE. 

Specs of the 42.5:

  • f/.095 to f16 aperture range
  • 11 lens elements in 8 optical groups
  • 10 aperture blades
  • Filter size 58mm
  • Close focus .23 meter
  • Size: length 74.6mm, diameter 64.3mm
  • Lens hood included with lens

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Aug 232013
 

The Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95 Lens for Micro 4/3 is here! Review SOON!

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Hey guys! Happy Friday! Just a note to let you all know that the Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95 Lens has arrived for Micro 4/3 and it has been with me since yesterday :) GREAT lens, solid build and feel, HEFT as the 17 and 25 0.95 lenses and insane sharpness, even at 0.95. This lens is gorgeous and one of the nicest I have come across for Micro 4/3 to date. Up there with the other two 0.95 Micro 4/3 offerings, the 17.5 and 25 Nokton lenses. This trio would be astounding with the new Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.

I will have a full review of the 42.5 Nokton within 7-10 days!

Thanks to CameraQuest.com for sending it along to me so fast so I could review it. This one may be a keeper. :) You can check it out HERE but stay tuned for the full review!

Quick Specs:

  • f/.095 to f16 aperture range
  • 11 lens elements in 8 optical groups
  • 10 aperture blades
  • Filter size 58mm
  • Close focus .23 meter
  • Size: length 74.6mm, diameter 64.3mm
  • Metal Lens hood included with lens

1st shot, wide open at 0.95 on the E-P5. Click it for an 1800 pixel wide version. This one was converted with the VSCO Slide Pack.  The grain you see was added by the AGFA Scala preset. When I post the full review I will have plenty of full size out of camera shots. 

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and the gorgeous out of camera JPEG color. This is an untouched OOC JPEG, just resized. Click for larger. WIDE OPEN.

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