Jan 242014
 

USER REPORT: Olympus OM-D E-M5 for Landscape Astrophotography

by Jensen Chan

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Hi Steve and Brandon. First of all happy 2014 to you (and all the readers out there too)! SteveHuff.com has grown tremendously and as an avid reader I’d like to say big congratulations on how far the website has come and how you’ve been able to truly pursue your passion. It must have been a fantastic journey for you, and it has been a true joy for me reading all the wonderful articles and thoughts. I will surely be frequenting your website for many, many more posts to come!

Much of the recent posts coming through your website feed have been beautifully showcasing lifestyle/portraiture photography and new camera gear. What with the Olympus OM-D E-M1, Sony A7/A7r and Nikon Df taking centre stage, 2013 was an exciting year indeed. Today I’d like to offer a “mini-flashback” to the humble Olympus E-M5 and share my emotions and work from this extraordinary piece. The Olympus OM-D E-M5, while not the newest toy in the neighbourhood anymore, is the first camera that truly inspired me to appreciate beauty around me like never before.

The E-M5 is the first camera that I bought for myself (thanks to your overwhelmingly positive review Steve!), and I have to say that the experience of getting this camera is akin to the classic story of meeting that mesmerizing lady in the bookstore. You see her at the counter through the window of the store. Her beauty catches your eye so you take the step into the store. So enchantingly beautiful, but yet you’re shy that you couldn’t walk up to her. Rather, you walk around the store pretending to do something else and occasionally take a gaze at her, listening to the guys around talking about her. After a good half hour you take a deep breath, suck in your belly and walk up to the store man and see if you could be introduced to her. He happily brings her in front of you, and as you meet eye to eye for the first time, you connect immediately. Your minds click, conversation flows and every thought and emotion she shares with you is mesmerising and out of this world. She clearly has a wild heart. She yearns to see the world and she has you just as captivated as her to do the same.

Long story short I said goodbye to her that day, read Steve’s review that night, and next thing I knew, I now have her with me as a travel companion. I cannot imagine my travels any other way without this little gem.

Having the E-M5 on my desk begging to be taken out for a trip, I spend every weekday at work eagerly waiting for the weekend so I could go out somewhere in the wilderness to take in all the beautiful scenery Australia and beyond had to offer. I yearned to go out. I couldn’t wait to hold the beautiful E-M5, especially when paired with the 12mm f2.0 or the 75mm f1.8 lenses.

What started as daytime scenery photo shooting slowly evolved towards sunrise and sunset sessions as they were the most beautiful times of the day. As I went more towards the extremities of daylight hours, I eventually fell in love with taking night sky shots. Here’s what the camera can do in a dark sky.

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The E-M5, my friends, is a camera as powerful as it is beautiful. Steve has covered a lot of its functions and powers here. Needless to say it is a camera that is capable of doing bucketloads of things. What I think many E-M5 owners have not realised, however, and that many reviewers do not mention, is the sheer amount of detail this sensor can take in when capturing in RAW format. If you were to take these photos in out of camera JPEG you may be disappointed by its capabilities, but the true power is in its RAW files. The sheer number of stars, tiny to the tiniest of pin pricks, can be captured by the sensor, even for stars that may be invisible to the naked eye. It might not show much in its JPEG photos, but with the RAW files given some tickling and massaging in softwares like Lightroom, the results can be astounding, all in shots that last between 15 to 45 seconds!

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Gear-wise, I don’t use much. I mainly use just the camera and a light hand-me-down tripod from my dad. No remote control, no star tracker. A simple combination of gear can be minimal but powerful, and it’s precisely the form factor of the E-M5 that inspires me to explore and not be weighed down by bulk. People who travel a lot with their SLRs, lenses and tripods will know very well! The E-M5 is by no means the best camera to capture night sky shots (which I will explain later). There are cameras with better sensors, better noise control, and with wider and faster lenses. But the best cameras for the job would cost a ton, weigh a ton and would not have inspired me to go to places like the E-M5 did. To go to these secluded places dark enough for night sky shots, you’ll need to fill your bag with food and water supplies, warm clothing, flashlights, your camping gear IN ADDITION TO your regular camera gear. As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you. If I had any of the SLRs instead of a smaller one like the E-M5, it’s not that I won’t have the camera with me in the wilderness. I wouldn’t even BE in the wilderness!

The E-M5 is not without its shortcomings, however. The more I shot the more apparent the weaknesses of the E-M5 became. For one, the noise levels from the sensor gets unbearable at high ISOs, even starting form ISO 640 onwards. Noise grains will start competing with the stars and the photo becomes as busy as a flea market. I have to always keep it below ISO 800, and preferably below ISO 400, which puts the camera at a significant disadvantage. With low ISO you need longer exposure times to compensate, and if exposure times are too long, you start having star trails which is not what I’m after. I can compensate with a star tracker on my tripod, but this will add weight, and the interest at this point is to take both sky and landscape together.

Second problem is that there isn’t a wide enough/fast enough lens available in the micro four thirds category for landscape astrophotography. It’s a niche market I know, but the 12mm f2.0 is the only lens that is wide enough and fast enough for this use. I can’t help but wish for something wider and just as fast, if not faster. This brings us to the third problem, the 12mm f2.0 lens. In manual focus mode when you bring the dial to infinity, IT’S NOT ACTUALLY INFINITY. It actually goes past infinity and you’ll realise that the stars becomes out of focus. You have to bring it back a notch until the red line points between the infinity mark and 3m mark for it to be truly infinity. Moving the camera constantly in pitch darkness makes life a little fiddly having to check the focus ring every single time before I press the shutter.

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But given the current capability of the E-M5, I am extremely happy with it If I had the money to spare, would I get another camera system to take better landscape astrophotography photos? I’m not sure. Beyond imaging capability, a camera also has to give you inspiration, an intangible pull, to go out and do the things you normally don’t have the motivation for. The E-M5 did just that. Sure it may struggle a bit under extreme conditions, but this is the camera that first brought me out to the beautiful world to enjoy. It’s a camera that made me want to trek my way for kilometres to the darkest areas and reach the best views I could find, and spend hours under the stars enjoying how majestic this world (and universe) could be. By giving it the right attention and right conditions, it’s a camera that can undoubtedly thrive and I cannot imagine doing this with another camera.

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Back in September Olympus Australia ran a small competition for OM-D lovers to make videos to show why they love their OM-Ds. Made one myself in my bedroom with nothing but a flashlight for lighting. This video didn’t win me anything but it’s a piece of work that shows my love for this camera. Hope it resonates with some of you too.

Nov 012013
 

USER REPORT: Wedding Photography with the Olympus E-M5 by David Charlwood

This year I switched from photographing weddings with my full-frame Nikon gear to the Olympus EM-5. The response from my clients has been entirely positive. The very first time I used the camera for a couple’s engagement photo shoot, the groom looked pleasantly surprised when I pulled the EM-5 out of the bag and said ‘I’m so glad you didn’t bring one of those massive paparazzi cameras!’ That is the biggest advantage of the EM-5 at weddings: it is so small that people barely notice it, especially on a day when there are so many cameras around.

From a professional perspective there are a few things that could be improved: small buttons mean the camera can feel a bit fiddly in operation and because the base ISO is only 200 and the shutter has a maximum of 1/4000 of a second using a bright lens on a summer day requires a neutral density filter. (Both complaints fixed with the newly released EM-1, I should add.) The reduced battery life takes some getting used to, but overall the EM-5 is wonderfully intuitive and offers so much customization that I have found I can operate the camera completely one-handed. One advantage of that is that I no longer have to carry an extremely heavy camera bag.

The lenses available for the EM-5 are simply superb. I used to shoot with Zeiss prime lenses and to all intents and purposes, the Voigtlander and Olympus primes I now use are just as good, not to mention a quarter of the size! I mostly use the excellent Voigtlander 25mm f/0.95 and the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 and 17mm f/1.8.

Many professional photographers are wary of moving to a smaller sensor, but an f/0.95 lens gives excellent depth of field control, as well as enabling shooting at a lower ISO. Almost all my clients will buy the full size digital files and not a single one has questioned the image quality. In short, the Olympus EM-5 is definitely up to professional use, just take a deep breath and go for it.

Black and white image shot with the Olympus 17 f/1.8 all other images on the Voigtlander 25mm f/0.95.

Many thanks
David Charlwood
Wedding Photographer from Windsor, UK

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Jul 152012
 

 

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Silver with 12-50 IN STOCK now (Normal Price)

The much sought after Silver Olympus OM-D E-M5 with 12-50 weather sealed lens is NOW IN STOCK at Amazon at the normal price of $1299. Even if you only want the body you could sell the 12-50 EASILY for $300 which would bring you to $999 for the body only. The OM-D E-M5 is quickly becoming my “pick of the year” and is one damn good camera capable of just about anything you need to do. This is in stock and actually ships from and is sold from Amazon, not a 3rd party. Click the link below to get to it or to order. Should go quick as these are on backorder everywhere else it seems. If you missed my review you can read it HERE. The cool thing about this camera is that there are some amazingly good lenses available for it, better than for any other mirrorless out there right now (well, besides the other Micro 4/3 cameras).

IN STOCK AND SHIPS FROM AMAZON HERE!

 

May 312012
 

Crazy Comparison! The Olympus OM-D E-M5 vs Nikon D800 vs Leica X2 for High ISO

I know, I know..I have been having way too much fun lately with all of these comparisons, new cameras, new lenses and reviews. So much here to do but I still like to do these “just for fun” side by sides. Stuck at home all morning I thought..”wouldn’t it be amazing if the OM-D E-M5 could even come close to the full frame D800 or APS-C Leica X2 for higher ISO performance”? I have been shooting the OM-D when I can and have been marveling at how far Micro 4/3 have come in regards to higher ISO performance. The PEN models are OK up to 1600 but even then it can get a bit mottled and mushy at times.

The Nikon D800 is a full frame marvel with all of the latest tech and of course, gorgeous IQ. I have not had the time to concentrate fully on the D800 but what I have shot so far with it and the Zeiss 35 1.4 has been some of the nicest and richest files I have had through my computer to date. I will have a short write-up and “my thoughts” of the D800 soon and even though I am not a DSLR shooter anymore, I find the D800 to put out beautiful quality. It’s basically like a medium format camera IMO.

But I will save that for another day. Right now I just wanted to post some high ISO samples from the D800, Leica X2 and OM-D E-M5, with the D800 and Olympus using a 50mm lens (or equiv). The little Olympus does not do better than the D800 of course nor does it even do as well BUT it is not too far off! The X2 is of course using its built in 24 2.8 which is a 35 equiv, but this is not a sharpness, detail or bokeh test – it is a noise test. So let us take a look..

First, the simple image of my vacuum cleaner in my living room

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and the crops are below, each one has the text embedded to tell you what it is but first set up is at ISO 3200

The D800 is smoother and cleaner but the OM-D is not doing so bad here at all for being a much smaller sensor. Lens used on the D800 is the Nikon 50 1.4 and the OM-D has the Panasonic 25 1.4 – all shot at f/2

Here is what gets me scratching my head. In my review of the X2 I have found that anytime you shoot at ISO 3200, even if you convert the RAW and use ZERO Noise Reduction you still get details smearing. This does not happen at ISO 6400 or 12,500, only 3200. You can see the X2 crop below is smeared and blurred from in camera NR that is even applied to the RAW file when you do not want it there.

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now let’s take a look at ISO 6400

These are crops from direct RAW files. No editing, no NR, no enhancements. Just opened the RAW files in Adobe Camera Raw and cropped.

and here is the X2 at 6400 and as you can see, no smearing of details. You can also see the way the Leica renders the yellow differently than the others. The Leica will also have more DOF here so just look at the noise, which is what this test is about.

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How about 12,800?

The OM-D starts to get noisier here but this is 12,800. The D800 is also much noisier here but they aren’t as far off as I would have thought.

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OK, dare I even try ISO 25,600 on the OM-D?

First of all I have to say that this was done as a “just for fun” Crazy Comparison, and it is indeed crazy as the D800 is known as a full frame masterpiece with great low light capabilities (though I believe the 5DIII is better in this area). Still, a full frame technological super force against a little micro 4/3 camera, who in the past had a rep for awful low light performance..well..that is pretty crazy. While the OM-D did not meet or beat the D800 here it came damn close, and to me that is impressive. I have to say that the more I shoot the OM-D E-M5 the more I love it. It really is the BEST Micro 4/3 to come along to date. I have not really heard from anyone who has bought one and disliked it.

As for the X2, it also has a larger sensor than the OM-D but it appears it performed about the same noise wise though you can clearly see the Leica color signature coming through. Again, all were RAW files with ZERO NR added. Not sure what is happening with that X2 ISO 3200 noise but it is smearing at that ISO even though I took away any and all NR. I can state that I really am enjoying the Leica X2 AND the OM-D. The D800 is not for me but if you are a DSLR guy, it is the real deal.

BTW, as I stated in my OM-D review..if you buy one I highly recommend the grip and a decent lens (12mm, 14mm, 20, 25, 45) as the glass makes all the difference in the world.

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