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Apr 192013

bagan nights

From Steve: Today I want to thank Barnaby Robson for these gorgeous images which goes to show what a camera like the Olympus OM-D E-M5 can do when in good hands. Thanks Barnaby!

A journey in gear

For me, it all started in 2010 with a GF1 + 20mm and 7-14mm lenses.

I loved the small size and relative to a P&S, the image quality, ability to control depth of field, and the focus speed. But the low light performance still wasn’t good enough.

In 2012, the Olympus 45mm, E-M5 and Leica 25mm followed (inspired by And they were wonderful. I was a happy photographer: learning, getting technical, becoming more aware more capable and… taking better pictures.

But I was getting full frame IQ lust.

And then… I picked up the Olympus 75mm on my way through Bangkok on route to Yangon. Before purchasing I was worried about:

• The size and weight

• How often I would use the full frame 150mm equivalent focal length

Firstly it feels right at home on the E-M5, and is very similar in proportions to the Panasonic 7-14mm. Compared to all my other lenses the construction is something else, the cool metal feels and looks wonderful in the hand, with the right heft, the focus ring just glides, the lens text is inscribed in the metal… it just feels wonderful. I’ve never had so many complements about a camera-lens combination.


And as to whether I would use the lens, it’s absolutely my favourite by a mile. I had all my other lenses with me in Burma, but the 75mm remained strapped to the E-M5 as I made my way around the streets of Yangon, across the plains of Bagan, over Inle lake and up Mandalay Hill. The focus is ultra fast and true, including handheld in low light with the lens wide open, the IQ is visibly better than through my other m4/3 lenses and it allows you to achieve genuine shallow depth of field. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.


A real journey (in pictures)


Exif: 1/400 sec at f2.5, ISO 200

Taxi E-7959

Notes: One of my first shots in Yangon. Taxi E-7959 stopped at the lights. As I lifted my lens, he looked across. Was so pleased with the accuracy of the focus on this one.

Exif: 1/400 sec at f2.8, ISO 200.

Bettlenut vendors

Post processing: Cropped then edited with an Alien Skin Exposure 4 preset (can’t recall which) to bring out the vibrancy.

Notes: Love the vibrancy, clarity and depth of field from the 75mm in this shot.

Exif: 1/80 sec at f1.8, ISO 3200.


Post processing: Cropped, but otherwise straight from camera,

Notes: Taken on the other side of four-lane Mahabandoola Road (busiest road in Yangon). I could see the opp for a great photo (looks like a scene from a 1970s movie to me), but kept on getting interrupted by traffic passing across the field of view. Finally there was a gap in the traffic and the camera/lens hit the nail on the head first time. Shot handheld.




Exif: 1 1/320 sec at f 2.5, ISO 200.


Post processing: Edited with the Alien Skin Exposure 4, Fuji Provia 100f preset.



Exif: 1/800 sec at f3.5, ISO 200.

Amazing Bagan

Post processing: I spent more time then I care to remember bringing out the colours to the desired taste in Lightroom.

Notes: The Bagan sunsets were absolutely stunning. Easily the highlight of the trip.


Exif: 1/60 sec at f 1.8, ISO 3200.

bagan nights

Post processing: Edited in Alien Skin Exposure 4 to bring out the blue-black haze (the dark areas were brown in the raw file). Finished off with a vignette.

Notes: Shot handheld (as were all these photos). This is probably my favourite shot from the trip. Again, this wouldn’t have been possible on m4/3 pre E-M5.



Exif: 1/640 sec at f 8.0. ISO 200.

Inle Lake Clichég

Post processing: Edited heavily in lightroom to bring out the colours, vibrancy and tones, from a rather flat raw file. It’s brilliant how malleable the E-M5 raw images are.

Notes: Inle Lake fishermen are renowned for practicing this distinctive rowing style, which involves standing at the stern on one leg and wrapping the other leg around the oar. Shot handheld from a moving boat. The light was excessively bright. The 75mm has a lot of glass and suffers from lens flare – I would recommend buying the very expensive but beautifully constructed Olympus hood.


Exif: 1/400 sec at f 6.3. ISO 200.

Rebels without a cause.

Post processing: Edited in Lightroom – played with the vibrancy, temp and tint to bring out the blues & greens to my taste.

Notes: The guy on the left is wearing a ‘Fuck the Police’ T-shirt. Given Myanmar is still a hardcore military state, I think this is so cool.


Exif: 1/100 at f 4.0. ISO 200.


Post processing: Edited in Lightroom – used split toning to bring out the yellow – green colour scheme.

Notes: U Bein bridge was absolutely mystical. I was worried there would be loads of tourists, but there were blissfully few.


Exif: 1/500 sec at f3.2

U Bein's bridge

Post processing: Edited in Lightroom – using colour settings and graduated filters to bring out the mist and greens.



It should come as no surprise that I am in love with this beautiful lens. Something about it has gotten me to take more photos in the last four months than I have in the last two years combined. In fact, this lens is one of the impetuses for a current travel lust that I haven’t felt for many a year — I want an exotic subject on which to use it. The lens is looking for a muse…

If you want to see more from the 75mm (and me) check out:

 myanmar cover image-1

Apr 052013

Journeys with the Fuji X-E1 and Olympus OM-D by Arindam Pal

Hi Steve,

Ever since I started following you, my opinions about photography systems changed. Your articles have inspired me to move to a smaller form factor even after shooting full frame for years.

I will try to be brief with my story. I started shooting a few years back but never improved because of poor lens choices and lack of proper education. Then I purchased my first Full Frame, a Nikon D700. Coupled with a few good pro lenses, the initial IQ motivated me to gain more education in this fascinating hobby. So, even though I work as a Management Consultant, my second career would definitely be in photography where I work for myself and not The Man.

When I started reading your blog and discovered mirror-less cameras and the gorgeous Leica, I was skeptical about migrating to a whole new system. But the constant barrage of mind-blowing photos from fellow enthusiasts ignited a spark and I bought my first compact system – the Fuji X-E1 along with 35 f/1.4, 18 f/2 and a Voigtlander 21 f/4. I thoroughly enjoyed shooting with considerable less load to lug around and the superior IQ that rivaled even my D700 in low light. I used the system on a trip to Maui. As you can see, the monochrome renditions and the shallow DoF when wide open were better than what I had expected from this system. Even the color spectrum looked great. It was my companion for a few months.

But then, the utterly sluggish AF posed a lot of problems in the kinds of shots I was aiming for. After reading a few comparison reports, I decided to sell the system for an OM-D with the Pana-Leica 25 f/1.4 and the Oly 45 f/1.8. Overall, I am happy with the system as I can now get sharp focus without even trying! However, I do miss the Fuji look and in contrast to what many others have said, the low light high ISO of the OM-D still does not compare to what the X-trans sensor could do. But for everyday purposes, this system fits fine and even though I was nervous in moving to the M43 format, I think there is no doubt that from a sensor that small, the IQ and the fun factor shooting with the OM-D just topples every notion of modern-day photography. My dream compact would be an updated full frame X-trans like sensor, OVF/EVF with rangefinder options for MF, Leica quality glass and snappy AF with a hybrid contrast/phase detect. Let us see what the future brings!



Image 1: X-E1 with 35 1.4, ISO 250 f/2.8; 4 wheel drive in Lanai 


Image 2: X-E1 with 35 1.4, ISO 2000 f/1.4; I loved the super shallow DoF of my wife’s eyes


Image 3: X-E1 with 18 f/2, ISO 800 f/5.6; sunset shot but handheld – carried the least amount of gear as possible


Image 4: OM-D with 45 f/1.8, ISO 1600 f/1.8; the rickshaw puller during a recent trip to India was surprised to see why I was shooting him


Image 5: OM-D with 25 f/1.4, ISO 200 f/2.2; Streets of Old Delhi – the pup had decided to take an afternoon siesta on top of a parked car


Image 6: OM-D with 25 f/1.4, ISO 1600 f/1.4; A hand pump (or tube well) that provides fresh water to the neighborhood. I liked the small area of light on this otherwise dark street


Image 7: OM-D with 45 f/1.8, ISO 1600 f/1.8; Dimly lit room but the IQ was quite good unless you pixel peep


Apr 012013

USER REPORT: OMD E-M5 and Panasonic 12-35mm in Cambodia and Vietnam by Richard Nugent

I recently returned from a trip to Cambodia and Vietnam where I had the chance to really give my OMD E-M5 and Panasonic 12-35mm zoom a workout. I have had the camera for less than a year, having down-sized from a Nikon D300 and D5100. However, I had not had the chance to use it extensively until this trip. So it was a learning experience for me that I thought some of your readers might also find worthwhile.

We started at Siem Reap touring the Angkor archaeological sites and then took a cruise down the Mekong River into Vietnam, stopping at villages, marketplaces, schools and temples along the way, ending up in Saigon. The lighting conditions throughout were challenging: very bright sun and deep shade, with many hazy-bright days thrown in. I shot almost everything in aperture priority with automatic white balance and set the ISO myself. I found that I often had to use the exposure compensation dial (which is perfectly located up front), probably mostly because of my inexperience with the camera. Battery life was less than with my Nikons: I had to change out about mid-day, but still easily got by with two batteries each day. I brought three batteries on the trip: one charged overnight and one charged during the day while I was in the field with the other two. . The electric current in both countries is 220 volts, but the outlets in the hotels and on the boat all accepted standard US-style plugs. So I didn’t need an adapter.

I shot hand-held although I brought along a monopod. Moving with a group through the ruins and villages just did not lend itself to using it. Likewise, I stuck with the zoom and didn’t use my prime lenses much because the pace of moving through the ruins with a guide (while trying to get a shot without tourists in it!) made changing lenses problematic. In the villages, I felt very intrusive and shot as quickly as I could. I have to say that I found the Vietnamese and, particularly, the Cambodians incredibly polite, friendly and tolerant of groups of foreigners traipsing through their villages snapping photos of them, their children and their homes. No one was looking for a hand-out, but some (particularly the children) were eager to see their image on my LCD after I took the shot. They are amazing people making a life for themselves under challenging circumstances. By the way, I found that flipping out the LCD and shooting from the waist was very effective in getting to eye level with children and seated adults. It also appeared to be less intimidating for the subjects.

12 to 35mm was a good range for the village and people photos, but a wider lens would have been very useful for capturing the interior of the temples and their exterior extent. I used an Olympus 40-150mm for shots from the boat; it’s a great little lens and quite sharp, even hand-held. In a few instances, I could have used a longer lens.


The 12-35mm yielded some really good images, some of the best I’ve taken (I find I do best with people). There is obvious edge distortion at the wide end (more than I remember with my Tokina 12-24mm) and chromatic aberration is evident in some shots. Overall, I’m very pleased with the color rendition and sharpness of the lens. It is a bit bulky on the OMD, but it gives me a familiar feel and heft reminiscent of my DSRLs.

I processed my RAW files with Lightroom 4, which I am just starting to learn, so I probably fiddled with the sliders more than necessary. I tweaked the shadows and highlights on most images and was able to save a number of badly exposed ones that way. The OMD’s automatic white balance was almost always spot-on, so I rarely had to adjust it. I did have to tinker with the luminescence in some images shot at about ISO 640 and above (in-camera noise reduction and sharpening were set to “off” or “low”). When I get more proficient with LR, I’ll have to go back and see if I can get even more out of the data.

I’ve attached a few of my favorite images. If anyone is interested, they can see a photo chronicle of the trip at The set includes both good shots and just ordinary ones, but they will give the viewer a sense of the experience. I highly recommend the trip, both for the photographic opportunities and the cultural interaction.


Richard Nugent

P.S. Steve, I find your site very useful and informative. It’s one that I check every day!

Image Data: Monks: 1/400, f/4.0, ISO 400. Four Girls: 1/1000, f/4.0, ISO 400. Old Woman: 1/4000, f/5.0, ISO 640. Four Kids: 1/640, f/5.0, ISO 800. Temple: 1/10, f/4.5, ISO 800 (I know you said only three photos, but I couldn’t decide….)

Interior of Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom

Kampong Tralach village, Cambodia

Near Angkor Bahn, Cambodia

Near Kampong Chhnag, Cambodia

Sadec village, Vietnam


Mar 302013

Using the Olympus OM-D and the Leica M-E by Andre Ritchie

My name is André Ritchie and I’m writing from Macau SAR, China. I’m a regular follower of your site, I like to check what’s new and I really enjoy reading your Real Life Reviews and Daily Inspirations!

I’m writing to share my experience using two cameras: the Olympus OMD and the Leica M-E.

My passion for photography started 20 years ago with my father’s Canon AE-1. Eventually I started buying my own stuff and during the film years I embraced the Canon EOS system. So when digital photography arrived it was a natural decision to buy Canon DSLRs and keep using the same lenses. My last DSLR purchase was a 5D Mk I.

But then something happened in 2010 that completely changed my approach to camera gear: my son was born and dragging around his stuff together with a heavy DSLR + lenses became impractical.

Mirrorless was the way forward and I adopted the M4/3 system because it seemed right: decent IQ and nice body and lens proportions. Large lenses on tiny cameras feel strange to me… I went for Olympus and after a foray into the Pen series, I ended up with the OMD. Picture #1 was shot using the Olympus 75mm/f1.8 at f8. It was shot at the Macau Tower at 300+ meters height. (The Macau Tower is, among others, home to the world’s highest bungee jump…). The picture was converted to B&W using Aperture and enhanced by adding contrast. No cropping was made.

I love my OMD as is such a small and light camera, but it’s solidly built with a professional feel. IQ is very good indeed. My everyday lens is the Panasonic 20mm/f1.7. I have the additional grip attached at all times, but only half of it – never felt the need to use the vertical grip. I think Olympus got it right by creating this modular system. Handling is perfect with the grip.

My other camera is a recently purchased Leica M-E. Initially I used it with two Voigtlander M-mount lenses I previously bought for M4/3 (35mm/f1.4 and 50mm/f1.1), but soon after I bought the clinical Leica 35mm/f2 Summicron. What a perfect lens. I mean, I was happy with the results of the Voigtlanders and I think they have soul: pictures #2 and #3 were shot using the 35mm and 50mm, both wide open at f1.4 and f1.1.

But the Summicron introduced me to a different world. The remaining pictures I’m submitting were shot using the Leica M-E with the 35mm Summicron. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Many people criticize Leica – and Leica users – because of the price and lack of features. Not that I agree with their pricing strategy, but I think people who had never owned or shot with a Leica should not criticize because – when the conditions are right – the image quality is outstanding and absolutely jaw dropping.

Pictures coming out of my M-E have this unique look and special ambiance that make them extraordinary. So yes, there really is this thing called the Leica look and I think it’s worth the money.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your photography!

André Ritchie







Mar 192013

The M9 Sensor is more than adequate by George Sutton

This post is a response to the recent DxO report on the Leica M9 sensor. I chose to respond this way because I can include photos. Photos are, after all, the final word in this whole discussion.

The overpriced and under featured M9 body only exists because it has a full frame sensor and mounts Leica M lenses, but that is enough to be one of the best cameras made. The M9’s biggest drawback is a lack of versatility but in circumstances where it performs well it produces some very good images. I am not disputing the DxO results but to me the take away is that there is not a great deal of difference between high end sensors in actual use. I say that after owning and using a M9, Canon 1Ds, 1Ds III and now a 5DIII, and an Olympus OM-D. To me, the telling thing is the big diss DxO gives the 1Ds. When it was first released the 1Ds was probably the best camera made. It was way ahead of anything Nikon offered (they have played leapfrog since) and it even surpassed medium format cameras for detailed image quality (there were no medium format digital cameras at that time). Yes, that was then and now there are better cameras but the 1Ds still produced great photos. What I have learned in the meantime is that the single most important factor in a camera’s quality is the lenses. The biggest drawback to the 1Ds was the soft to unusable corners in many Canon lenses back then. Nothing, in my experience at least, equals the quality of a Leica M lens. The following illustrate this point.

One of the toughest camera tests for me is shooting a city at night.

The shots below are all taken at f8 and the camera’s lowest ISO on a tripod with cable release and are close to 100% enlargements for the Leica and Canon and about a 125% enlargement of the OM-D. I selected f8 because it produces star like effects around lights and is typically the sharpest aperture for any lens. The images are somewhat flat because it was hazy and I was shooting from a few miles away. The shot with the Leica was taken with a Leica 90mm f2.8 that I bought used. My guess is that the lens is 10 to 20 years old. The shot with the Canon 5DIII was taken with a new 24-70mm f2.8 II zoom at 70mm. That lens is generally regarded as the best medium range professional zoom currently made and it is very sharp corner to corner. On the OM-D I used a Lumix 12-35 f2.8 zoom at 35mm (equivalent to 70mm on a full frame camera), which is generally regarded as the best medium range zoom for a 4/3 camera. Detail in the buildings is close for the Leica and Canon. The OM-D is worse but that is mostly due to the smaller sensor. Printed 8×10 these differences would be barely visible. The biggest difference is the lights. Note the clear multi point stars produced by the Leica. The Canon is close but the rays emanating from the lights are slightly less distinct. The OM-D is the worst. The star effect is there but the lines are distorted and broken with what appear to be concentric circles radiating out from the light. The star effect can be eliminated by shooting the lens wide open. Wide open the Leica and Canon both did a great job of capturing the light as it was. The OM-D did not do as well. I tried different lenses on the OM-D including a prime and got a similar effect each time. If I were shooting this for sale, I would shoot it with both the Leica and Canon and pick the best. If I could only shoot one it would be the Leica.

I offer these only to illustrate the point that in use the M9 sensor is quite adequate to get a great shot. I am including one more shot to make this point (the last landscape image). The landscape is cropped from the original by about 30%. It was taken with the M9 on a tripod with a Leica 35mm f2 lens at f11. I don’t know if this can be seen in the image here but I have printed the cropped image at the largest size my printer will do, 17×22, and individual bushes about a foot wide can be clearly seen on the desert floor more than a mile below. I haven’t used every camera and lens made but of those I have used I have never seen this level detail from any other camera. That is mostly due to the lenses but the sensor has to be up to the task as well and in my experience the M9 sensor is more than adequate for the job.








Feb 242013

Vietnam with the Olympus OM-D by Anthony Pearson

Hi Steve,

Thanks for hosting such a great site. I’ve picked up photography again after many years off and I’m rediscovering how I see the world. I recently listened to a documentary on BBC Radio 4 (over here in the UK) where someone was suggesting that by looking through a lens and searching for photographs you fail to experience fully the world around you. I would counter that in taking photographs I have walked down streets I never would have seen and I’ve talked to strangers I never would have talked to. I’ve got up at dawn to capture the light on remote coastlines and experienced the true solitude that only that time of the day can bring. Looking through a lens does make me see the world differently but as someone who tends to live in their head it puts me well and truly in it.

I’d like to share some photographs of a recent visit to Vietnam with what is now becoming my “trusty” Olympus OMD. I bought a new lens especially for the trip – the Olympus 12mm but hardly used it (weirdly) – the panasonic 25mm seemed to be attached to the camera permanently with the occasional switch to the pana 20mm for less bulk and occasionally the Olympus 45mm for portraits.

The Camera

This is the first time I have really pushed the camera. In the space of 2 weeks I shot under lots of different conditions and for the first time ventured from the comfort of Aperture and Shutter Priority modes to fully manual for many shots. Sometimes the light wasn’t the greatest but the Olympus took it all in it’s stride and I’m continually impressed by the huge Dynamic Range the camera is capable of capturing.


Before I went to Vietnam I had notions that I would convert a lot of the photos I took there to black and white. The colour just blew me away though and I didn’t want to lose any of it in the final shots. What surprised me was the rendition of colour closer to the Chinese border. In January the cold winds from China cause fine mist that hangs over the landscape. As a result my photos taken there look like they have been cross processed/bleached. Colours are muted but still pleasing and I love the eery quality that the mist gave to the landscape.


I don’t have huge experience of taking photographs of people but the more I do it the more I enjoy it. I met some amazing characters. The man I shot in the doorway of a charcoal merchants was one such character. He had the charisma of De Niro. He stared at me for some time before a barely noticeable nod acknowledged that I could take his photo.

More of these shots can be viewed at

Thanks for taking the time to look at my photographs!









Do YOU have a User Report to share? Send it to Steve HERE

Feb 182013

My 1st 8 Months with the Olympus OM-D by Michel Mayerle

Dear Steve

I have been following your blog for one year now. One of your first reviews I read back then was the one about the Olympus OM-D E-M5. Until then I was a Nikon shooter. I am not a professional photographer, but photography means a lot to me, it is a great passion. For several years I was using my Nikon D700 and I even bought a Nikon D4 last year. I bought all the fast Nikkor lenses that were available and I spent a fortune on my gear!

But then our little daughter Elena entered our lives and everything started to change. Her birth also affected my photography (not only because I shot at least one picture of her every day in the last 12 months). My DSLR gear started to be annoying, heavy, obtrusive and bulky. If you have to carry around several bags, a baby buggy, diapers and such things there is not much room left four your heavy DSLR bag. I also fount it more and more challenging to pack my camera bag. The lenses were so heavy and big that I could only carry 2 or three lenses along with the big Nikon D4

So I decided to buy the new Olympus OM-D. Your review on this camera encouraged me to invest in some lighter, mirrorless gear. In another review you recommended the superb Zuiko 45mm f1.8 and the Zuiko 12mm f2.0. So I bought these two fine lenses as a starting point. I only wanted to use fast and fine primes, so zoom lenses were no options for me. Later I bought the amazing Zuiko 75mm f1.8 lens, which I am using mainly for portraiture. And just three days ago my new Voigtlander 25mm f0.95 has arrived. So these are my 4 lenses I am using on my OM-D now.

And holy cow was I surprised when I first saw the pictures the OM-D was able to deliver. I experienced sharpness I have never seen before an my Nikon shots. YES, the fine Zuiko lenses are sharper than anything I have ever used on a Nikon FF body (with the best prime and zoom lenses available). What completely caught my attention was the color rendition of the OM-D in combination with these lenses.

After 8 months with the OM-D I have sold most of my Nikon lenses. The OM-D is my primary camera now. I use it on a daily basis. Photography became even more fun. Now I can put all my lenses in one tiny bag. I still use my Nikon SB-910 flashes in SU-4 mode. This way I can trigger them with my OM-D which is great for portrait photography. I use my Nikon D4 only for concerts in very low light. High ISO until 1600 works great on the OM-D. But the D4 works perfectly with ISO 12800 and it focusses in almost total darkness. But for the rest I choose the OM-D without any hesitation. I believe there is the right camera for every job. And the OM-D is such a capable camera that I am using it almost all the time.

Thank you so much for your great work, your reviews and all the effort you put into your website. And mostly thanks a lot for your passion for photography and mirrorless systems. I will keep on visiting your website every day! If you like you can post thiswith a couple of my images. I hope it is a small statement that show how good the OM-D really is.

Best regards from Switzerland

Michel Mayerle

Voigtlander 25 0.95



Olympus 12mm f/2




Olympus 45 1.8




Olympus 75 1.8


lucerne mountains



Jan 272013


The Olympus 17 1.8 Lens Review by Steve Huff

Another home run for Olympus with their 35mm equivalent lens

Hello again to all! It is time once again for me to sit down and write for a few hours as I tell you all about my experience with the Olympus 17 1.8 Lens for the Micro 4/3 system. Once the news hit about this lens I knew I had to try it as this gives us a 35mm equivalent when shooting our beloved Micro 4/3 cameras and let me tell you…it is a PERFECT everyday mate for  the OM-D E-M5.

I have been shooting with the OM-D and 17 along with the Fuji X-E1 and Sony RX1 and getting out and taking photos, not test charts which reminds me of a time about 4 years ago now when I started this site. When I wrote my very 1st review on the Leica M8 I called it a “Real World” review because at that time there were ZERO websites reviewing cameras in a real world way, meaning, using them for what they were designed for..taking photos. Other sites did massive pixel peeping tests and other tests which never meant squat to anyone who really used the camera for what they were designed for. So when I started writing reviews based on the shooting experience, the feeling and real image quality results I was ridiculed and laughed at by many. But here we are in 2013 and the majority of review sites have gone “real world” which I think is FANTASTIC as it tells more about a camera or lens than any scientific tests do.

As for me, I still do things the way I always have and when I use a new camera, a new lens or a new photographic product I actually use it and if I have an issue with it I say so. If it is amazing I say so. I also show the results to back up what I say and I try my best to let you guys know how it is to use the product. I use it just as you would. I unbox it, charge the battery and get out and shoot.

This new Olympus lens is a beauty and when I say it is a perfect mate on the E-M5, I mean it. If you love the 35mm field of view then you will ADORE this lens on your E-M5. Trust me.

The OM-D E-M5 with the 17 1.8 at f/1.8 – WIDE OPEN – Click image for larger 1800 pixel wide version to see the real deal


Olympus has been the only company that has TRULY been ROCKING IT non stop in the mirrorless world with one solid release after another. The E-M5 is my runner-up for camera of the year 2012 and it is still one hell of a camera that can give you beautiful results and when paired with this new 17 1.8 the AF is just about instant. It focused about twice as fast as the Fuji X-E1 and 35 1.4 (this is fact) and just like my RX1, nailed it every time.

Olympus, IMO, makes the best Micro 4/3 lenses available. The 12 f/2 is beautiful, the 17 1.8 is gorgeous, the 45 1.8 is magical and the 75 1.8 is a masterpiece for mirrorless. I also can not forget the 60 Macro, which is the best Macro lens I have ever shot with. With that setup there is nothing else you would need for most photography and the beauty of it all is that this whole system is very compact while delivering top results.


The Lens Arrives

When the 17 1.8 arrived I took it out of the box and smiled. It is SMALL, light, and at the same time, very well made. It reminds me most of the 12 f/2 with its snap manual focus feature where you pull back the focus ring to automatically turn on manual focus. This is a great feature and I love it with the 12mm.

I have to admit, I have not read even one review of this lens because I wanted it to be new and fresh and I wanted to experience it for myself without influence from others. I have had e-mails asking me if I had issues with the lens as others reported but I can happily say I have had NONE. This lens has been phenomenal on the OM-D E-M5 in my use with it but then again I do not critically pixel peep and look at every pixel of the photo at 100%. I look at the photo and if it is pleasing to my eye and if what was captured was what I envisioned then I am happy. I also love character in a lens and this lens has a beautiful character. Not to critically sharp and not overly smooth. It really does provide very pleasing results and reminds me a bit of the Leica 35 Summarit in the way it renders.

UPDATE October 2013: This lens is even better on the new E-M1 and E-P5!


The lens is Sharp, has super fast AF, gives you beautiful Bokeh and a very nice “MOJO FILLED” character. Wide open and at f/2 the bokeh it produces is lovely and smooth. In that regard it almost reminds me of the “Bokeh King” Leica 35mm Summicron V4 which in reality does not have the smoothest bokeh wide open, but more so stopped down. The Olympus has pretty damn smooth Bokeh though, even when wide open.

Wide open Bokeh – click for larger


Build, feel, speed – this baby is built for it all when used on the E-M5

When you buy a new lens, especially one coming in at $499 like this one you expect it to be solid, perform well and focus fast and accurately. Well have no worries here because this lens is pretty slick and feels much like the 12mm f/2, focuses lightening fast and is accurate 99% of the time. I only use the center focus point on the E-M5 and it never seems to fail me.

The feel is nice. It is small, and the manual focus ring is smooth. Again, if you have tried out the 12mm f/2 then this is the same. For me, the $499 price is about right for a lens of this quality.

The next two these shots were taken WIDE OPEN at f/1.8 – click for larger views



Is the Olympus E-M5 still a wise choice in 2013? What about the Fuji X-E1?

I get this question quite often. I see so many people who are buying a new camera and they are stuck between the E-M5, Fuji X-E1 and a NEX-6 or 7. Well, those are all good choices and any will give you nice results but I look at the lenses as the future of any system and I also look at “usability” as that is also very important. Look at Leica, they are known worldwide for  their amazing glass and it is those lenses  that make the magic with their cameras which happen to be the king of amazing “usability”.

To me, Micro 4/3 has some of the best glass in the whole mirrorless world, and the E-M5 is slick as hell in the usability dept. Sony is also kicking some serious tail but they are lacking with good glass for the NEX system and to date they really only have ONE super fantastic offering for the NEX system, the Zeiss 24 1.8. The others are good but not “special”. The premium Olympus primes are all pretty special IMO.



Fuji X has a couple of good lenses and their 35 1.4 can be spectacular, in good light and when it focuses correctly. I took the X-E1 with the 35 1.4 to the same event and again the Fuji left me frustrated and I missed so many shots due to the AF missing the focus point. When the Fuji is indoor in lower light or funky light the results are not usually very pleasing as the AF is slow and the AWB is not up there with the best. It throws out funky color casts if you are in some indoor low lighting. I am hoping and have faith that the X100s delivers on speed and accuracy (and I think it will) and improved AWB. I feel the X bodies are more like beta models being tested by those who buy them. No offense to whoever owns them and loves them, and MANY of you do, it is just not working for me as they are much to quirky and for my tastes, there are better options out there right now in my opinion.

I can say the X-E1 and 35 1.4 taken out in good light or sunlight or studio light will reward you with a super nice image that draws you in to it with nice depth and colors. But side by side indoors low light other cameras do much better. I know, I shot them all.

So for me, I would take the E-M5 and 17 1.8 or 25 1.4 over the X-E1 and 35 1.4. I just do not get along with the Fuji X bodies. The images I get from the E-M5 are more to my liking, and the best part is, I do not miss shots due to slow or dodgy AF. I would also choose it over a NEX right now just due to the masterpiece lenses available for the Micro 4/3 system. The 12mm, the 45 1.8, the 75 1.8 and the 25 1.4 from Panasonic.

Again, I just write what I feel from MY experience and I am always 100% honest about my experiences. The OM-D E-M5 can give you back very rich and glassy images :)


The BIG question: This lens or the Panasonic 20 1.7/25 1.4?

Anyone who has shot Micro 4/3 is very aware of the superb 20 1.7 lens from Panasonic, which I have always loved. It has always been the go to lens for many M4/3 shooters and for good reason. It is priced well and delivered the IQ every time. It was the 1st fast prime lens for M4/3 and was a HUGE seller back a few years ago. Today we have so many more choices and even the newer Panasonic 25 1.4 which I LOVE. But if you do not own either of these and you are looking for a fast lens for your E-M5 I would not hesitate to recommend the 17 1.8 or 25 1.4 (if you want a 50mm equivalent). For me, it is the perfect fit for the E-M5. The build, feel, manual focus and AF speed beat out the other two. AF speed especially. The two Panasonic’s will not AF as fast as this Olympus if shot on an OM-D.

As for IQ..the Panasonic 20 1.7 will give you a cooler color cast and the Olympus a warmer one. The Olympus is a little more “organic” in its rendering (this is good) and the Panasonic a little teeny bit “flatter”. Both are pin sharp and my version of the Olympus is VERY sharp just like the other Olympus premium offerings but the Panasonic 20 may be a tad sharper if clinical is more to your liking. The 25 1.4 is superb and the best of the lot in IQ but is larger and slower in operation and is a 50mm equivalent not a 35.

The 17 1.8 lens is very good when it comes to CA. As for vignetting, when wide open it is mild but not an issue to me. If I am shooting a landscape I would stop it down. By f/2 you do not really see any vignetting (see the shot below of the statue which was shot at f/2)

The 17 1.8 is $499 at Amazon or B&H Photo. The 20 1.7 is $349 at Amazon and the Panasonic 25 1.4 is  at $499.

For a 35mm equivalent my money would go to the Olympus 17 1.8 as I just adore all of these Olympus premium offerings and on the OM-D they work extremely well. With that said, the 20 1.7 and 25 1.4 are also super and you can not go wrong with any of them. It all comes down to what works FOR YOU. Hell, I even like the old 17 2.8 from Olympus even though it’s somewhat “soft”. I feel it has a pleasing rendering.

A quick generic JPEG DOF comparison – Olympus vs Sony RX1

Just a quick JPEG comparison to show the difference between the OM-D with 17 1.8 at f/2 vs the RX1 at f/2 – both 35mm FOV but there will be a difference in DOF. You must click the images to see the larger and better versions of each. The Sony has a full frame sensor, the Olympus a Micro 4/3 sensor which is smaller than full frame or APS-C.

1st shot is with the E-M5 and 17 1.8 at  f/2. Very sharp but pleasing.


The same shot taken with my main shooter, the full frame Sony RX1. The little Olympus has DOF differences but not bad at all! 


While I prefer the RX1 version of this image the OM-D did not do too bad in comparison. I also shot this with the X-E1 using the manual focus SLR Magic 35 1.4 but it was not in focus due to my focusing error (or is it the lens)?

Olympus OM-D – f/2 – iso 320 – JPEG




While this lens is not as razor-sharp when wide open as the 75 1.8 or even the Panasonic 20 1.7, it is still sharp. You can click the image below for a full size from RAW image. Focus was on the statue.


and one more snapshot at 1.8



What I do not like about the 17 1.8 lens

I sat here and thought about it and at the end of the day this lens gave me no issues, was plenty sharp enough, was very good for portraits or available light scenes and was a very well made and performing lens. I am aware some think that this lens is not as good as the other Olympus offerings but in my experience, it absolutely is. It may not be a perfect as the 75 1.8 but it is damn good, and would be my pick for this focal length on the OM-D E-M5. But there is one thing I wish Olympus would do, and that is to include a lens hood in the box. Instead it is a $80 accessory and this is kind of ridiculous (as is the Sony $180 lens hood for  the RX1).

That is really my only complaint about the 17 1.8 lens. That and it should be weather sealed since the E-M5 is.



My final conclusion on the Olympus 17 1.8 Lens

This one is easy. This lens has the build, the speed, the feel, the looks, the design and the performance in IQ that makes it a no brainer for your Olympus Micro 4/3 camera (especially the E-M5). If you shoot a Panasonic camera I can not say how the lens does as I did not test it on a Panasonic body but on the E-M5 it rocks just as much as their other premium lenses.

You will get less “pop” when compared to an APS-C or full frame sensor when it comes to shallow DOF but there is plenty of shallow DOF to be had with this guy. I can not imagine anyone being disappointed with the lens. Some may crave more shallow DOF because with this lens you are getting the Depth of Field of a 17mm lens, as that is what it is. The wider angle the lens the more DOF you will get (less shallow) so you are not going to get the blurred backgrounds of a true 35 f.2 lens like one would get on the Sony RX1. Even so, for Micro 4/3 this lens is pretty damn sweet. I love it.

It may not be critically sharp corner to corner but it doesn’t need to be as it is sharp enough for any photo you may need to take and it has the character that will please you when you actually use it for photo taking :)

Another bravo to Olympus. Just makes me wonder what is to come next from them.

You can buy this lens at Amazon HERE or B&H Photo.






UPDATE: OK, so I read a review or two after I finished writing my own and came across one that sort of trashed the lens but then again, it was from a site that is more scientific and technical, which really does not tell you much about using it for real photos in the correct way. If I did not own the RX1 I would buy this lens in a nanosecond for the E-M5 and that is a fact but the RX1 is taking care of my 35mm needs just fine :)

Again, compared to the 20 1.7 this lens is faster to AF, has better build, warmer color compared to cool color and has features such as the pull back MF implementation and all of the correction on the Olympus bodies. For $150 more than the Panasonic you get this plus a little more “mojo”. If it is just sharpness you are after get the Panasonic as it is a little sharper of a lens.


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Jan 222013


HOW TO: Wide Field Astrophotography With a Camera and Tripod

Shooting with the Sony RX1 and Olympus OM-D

By Chris Malikoff

Hi Steve, I’ve been enjoying your site now for some time. Your reviews helped me change my mind about my heavy DSLRs, and as a consequence, I’ve bought into the Micro Four Thirds system with an OM-D. I couldn’t be happier. Recently, I’ve gone and taken the plunge and bought a Sony RX1 based on your reviews as well. Perfect!

Having now dropped my Canon 5D Mark-II and 40D, I thought that my astrophotography hobby was probably over. It’s pretty-well accepted within the general astro community that if you don’t use a high-end Canon you should forget it. Astrophotography needs cameras with super-sensitive sensors that display great high ISO performance and very low noise characteristics. None of the mirror less cameras are ready, say the pundits. I say, in response, not true.

1) What We’re After

The secret of taking decent wide field photographs of our night sky is TIME, and lots of it. You need to expose your sensor to very feint light coming in through your lens’ aperture and let the sensor wells soak up as many photons as possible before writing the data out to the processor and on to your memory stick as an image. The only way to do this is by employing bulb mode and letting the camera sit there for up to tens of minutes at a time – depending on your intended object or part of the sky. Throwing a spanner in the works, unfortunately, is this little problem we have with the sky at night. It, and everything it contains, seems to revolve around us as the Earth spins underneath it on its 23 degree axis once every 24 hours. This poses a curious problem to the average photographer – how long can I expose an image for before the stars and my brighter objects, such as “emission” nebulae, start to show blurred trails in the photo instead of presenting a nice clear image? This depends on a number of factors.

2) The Problem

First: The quality of your overhead sky really matters, especially down near the horizon if you want to incorporate a foreground in your shots. By this, I mean that the more light pollution there is in your neck of the woods, and as a consequence your contrast ratio is low. This means that in city areas the night sky is so bright from light reflected off the ground due street and other lights, that you’ll have almost no stars in view let alone the lovely wisps and gaseous tendrils of something as beautiful as the Great Orion Nebula or band of the Milky Way. From a location that suffers from a brightly-lit sky, you can’t expose for long periods of time because you’ll only get a washed-out white mess as a result. The tip is to get into your car and drive away from the city – as far as you can. Typically, I use a 100 kilometre (60 mile) rule that says you should be no closer to a city than this to see an “acceptably darkish” night sky in order to obtain a decent result. The further, the better. I’m lucky here in Australia – we have a lot of room. In the southern hemisphere we also have an advantage over our northern cousins in that our position on Earth lets us look in towards the galactic centre of our Milky Way galaxy, rather than seeing out towards the thinner edge. This means that our Milky Way is generally brighter than that which you get to see in the north.

Second: The moon is your enemy. Depending on what part of its cycle it’s at, it can range from nothing at all because it’s below the horizon, a dim sliver of light to a full-blown angry ball of white light. A full moon simply paints the atmosphere in visible white light that, like the previous point, serves to wash you out. Download a moon calendar app for your mobile device or computer which can show you what nights the moon is at its lowest output – and the best is when it’s not around. This is called the “new moon”. This phase lasts for two or three days every month. You really,really need to try astrophotography on these nights to get a good result. The moon is pretty – but it kills your chances of capturing decent photos of the night sky.

Third: The Earth’s rotation. Herein lies a choice you need to make, as you can take two distinctly different types of image of the same night sky.

3) Type of Image – Your Choice

The first, and most common images taken by astrophotographers, are of star trails. All you need is a statically positioned tripod and a camera fitted with a remote release or intervalometer to give you long (one minute) exposures. Simply point the camera towards either the north or south pole, depending what hemisphere you’re in, and watch as long trails of light start to appear in your images as the Earth rotates. Bright stars literally draw circular lines of coloured light on your sensor or film as they move around your local celestial pole within frame. There is freeware available called “StarTrails” that lets you stack these one minute images together which joins the sixty-second trails together into a circular mass of lines. These are great images, but they’re not what I’m after.


I prefer to see a still set of stars that show the bright patches of iridescent gas that burns as nebulae in between. To do this, you need to be able to counter the Earth’s rotation by moving your camera’s lens around the pole at what is termed the “sidereal” rate. By mounting the camera on a device who’s rotating axis is pointed directly at your local celestial pole, and that rotates in the opposite direction to the Earth’s spin at EXACTLY the same rate, you can “hold” the night sky still. This device is known as an “equatorial” mount. Normally, a decent computerised equatorial mount will set you back many hundreds or even tens of thousands of dollars. These are designed to carry a telescope payload that may or may not include a camera mounted at “prime” focus on the telescope. By using an equatorial (EQ) mount to place your camera and lens combination alone on, one can shoot the same patch of sky, literally all night, depending on the quality of the mount and how well it’s been aligned to the celestial pole in your region. There are usually, and necessarily, complex procedures involved in “polar alignment” that would take a few pages to explain. Unless your system is perfectly aligned with the pole, you will never see round stars appear in your long exposure images. Fact of life – nothing you can do except do the work.

Sony RX1 – 518 Seconds – f/4 – ISO 800


4) The Equipment

OK – so I don’t have a gazillion dollars to throw at a full-blown telescope EQ mount, but still want to take photos of the night sky without any star trails in evidence. Answer – purchase a portable EQ mount designed to sit on a common tripod. There are several varieties and brands available, and these are a fairly recent addition to the astrophotographer’s tool kit. They range in price from three hundreds-odd dollars to just over a thousand if you buy all the options. The unit I chose is called the Vixen “Polarie” – made in Japan by Vixen – a long-time supplier of premium telescopes and mounts. The Polarie will set you back around the $400-500 mark, depending on where you are. Others are “AstroTrac (UK) for just a little more, and the new iOptron SkyTracker which will cost you a fair bit less. Quality differs, but they’ll all do the same thing in the end – spin your camera around your polar axis.




Olympus OM-D on the Vixen Polarie


and the RX1…


Once you have attached your chosen device to the top of your tripod using a geared head or very solid ball mount, you need to do two things. You must point it in the right direction relative to the horizon, and then you’ll need to point it up into the sky to the right elevation so that the central rotating axis of the unit is pointing as close to either the north or south celestial pole depending where you live. In the north – you have it easy. All you need to do is find the Pole Star, Polaris. ( This star is easy to find and closely marks the north celestial pole. All you need to do, with the Polarie for example, is use the sight tube built into the casing of the unit to sight this star through it. Lock your ball or geared head. Mount the camera and lens to the front of the unit on a second ball mount and point your camera to where you want to start shooting. Fire away. If you live in the south, as I do, then it’s a little more difficult. There is no star handily pointing out your local pole. You can use the optional “polar scope” to fine-tune which way you’re pointing after you use a compass (set to point to true south, not magnetic) and inclinometer (angle meter) to set the square faces of the unit in the right direction. If you’re in the south, then you have to know what your position’s latitude is, and use this to set the inclinometer so that you point high enough off the horizon to see the pole. I live in Sydney, which has a latitude of 34 degrees south. I set my inclinometer to 34 degrees and then set it against the front face of the Polarie so the it tilts back at 34 degrees. Then use the compass to point the front of the unit to true south. To do this you’ll need to know what the offset from magnetic south is for your area – it differs greatly depending on where you are. Use your smart phone and set it to show true, rather than magnetic south and it’ll work it our for you.

Olympus OM-D


OK – so we’re nearly there. You now have your EQ mount sitting on your tripod and its main axis is pointing at your local pole. You’ve mounted your camera on the rotating front ring and it’s pointed somewhere interesting in the night sky that you’d like to photograph. What next? You need to set up your camera and decide on a field of view. Tip: The shorter the focal length, the wider the image and consequently the less critical your tracking needs to be. The longer the lens, the more critical your tracking is. My ideal length falls in the range 24mm to 50mm. Any longer and it’s starting to be a world of pain. Don’t be tempted to stick a 300mm tele on, because unless you have one of those huge telescope-grade EQ mounts, you’re going to end up with fuzzy, out of round stars. There is a weight limit on these small EQ mounts of around 2.5kg (6-7lb).

Olympus OM-D – 304 Seconds – f/5.6 – ISO 400 – 24mm


5) Set up your Camera

Deep-sky wide field photos require exposure time. A few seconds simply doesn’t do it. You’ll capture a few of the brighter stars, but that’s all. You need to take exposures of two, three, five and even seven or eight minutes to get the “fluffy” stuff. Set, as a starting point, place your camera in full manual mode.

A) Focus: Set your ISO to 1600 or higher if you can. This is only temporary, and is needed to show you stars as bright as you can possibly see them in live view if you have it. Set your lens to manual focus. If you don’t have live view, set your focus to infinity as a starting point. With live view, you should be able to see these stars with your focus set to infinity. Adjust focus with live view’s zoom feature set to as close in as you can get. Canon gives you 10x, if you run an OM-D it’s 14x. You’ll see the star focus to a sharp point, with it becoming a soft disk either side of proper focus. Take it out of live view. Take a 10 second exposure. You should see sharp stars in your image.

B) Set your aperture to around f/2.8 – either via the lens or from a menu if it’s entirely electronic and fly by wire. Fast lenses are good here, as long as you don’t open them right up as you’ll start to see vignetting and/or spherical aberration creeping in. Stop it down a stop or two and just expose for longer. If you have a slower lens then don’t panic – time will fix it. I have an old f/4.5 tele that I use regularly and it works beautifully.

C) Switch on your EQ mount so that it starts moving at sidereal (star) rate – not lunar or any other rate that you may have on the dial.

C) Take a 30 second exposure. If you see round stars and no obvious trailing, then you’re good to go.

D) Now set your ISO value to around 400. Turn on ICNR (In-Camera Noise Reduction). This will help mitigate thermal noise in your image.

E) Set your exposure to 30 seconds and see what you get. If your camera can expose for longer than 30 seconds, like the OM-D at 60 seconds, try that. The OM-D’s brilliant “LiveTime” feature is phenomenal here. It will let you start exposing and you simply watch the image form on-screen in real-time. Brilliant for this job.

F) Now step up your exposures (if you don’t have LiveTime) to 60 seconds and beyond, with a cable or remote electronic intervalometer or release. I’ve managed 15 minute exposures with this setup, but you need REALLY dark skies to pull this off. Otherwise, you’ll start to get white-outs. Speaking of which, if you start to see this, simply decrease your ISO, step down the aperture another stop or two or reduct the exposure time. You’ll find a balance.

6) Final

Once you have a bunch of successive images of the same area, you can use any number of stacking programs, including Photoshop CS4 or newer, to stack them which results in better signal to noise ratio. This means that, by averaging-out the noise between stacked images, that you can push the levels of the image to increase the dynamic range – and suddenly your images will start to pop. That’s an entirely different subject for a different day.

Sony RX1 – 446 Seconds – f/4 – ISO 800


Have fun – and post your images somewhere where we can all see them.


Chris Malikoff

Sydney, Australia

Dec 192012


Gear Acquisition Syndrome…Fighting the addiction by Emil Cobarrubia

Hi Steve,

My name is Emil and like many other readers out there, I’ve been following your blog for a couple of years now and have been using it for camera gear reference and as a window to hear/see other people’s experiences. Photography is not my profession nor are my skills at capturing images are in any way “professional”. I’m actually very new to this medium. However, it is something I’ve grown to love and feel passionate about. It’s allowed me to discover wonders in things I would’ve normally overlooked.

After becoming a little intimate with the process of capturing images, one tends to hit the forums, blogs, and review sites to get a glimpse of other people’s experiences, advices, and of course, their equipment.

While wandering around these places, it’s hard not to come by such catch-phrases as “Bokeh!”, “Leica look!”, “AF speed”, “Retro-Design!”, and “Full Frame”! Boy, what strong adjectives these are. Of course they sparked my curiosity. I found myself saying, “Wow that’d be cool to have!”

Countless threads, forums, blogs, and reviews later….the hunger and temptation grew stronger. Everyone was talking about it…… how could I ever snap another frame without the Leica look and creamy bokeh?! How could I ever capture another image without the fastest AF?!

And so, this short reflection is about how I forgot what made me happy about photography and how I made a spiraling descent into what we’ve all come to know as Gear Acquisition Syndrome :).


Nikon D800


2(Day 1) - DSC_4438



One of the big decisions for me was waiting for the next Nikon full frame camera. I had my eye on the D700 for a while to replace my then-current D90. I loved the high ISO capabilities the D700 showed and hoped that Nikon’s successor would have the same level of ISO capabilities. Then came the announcement of Nikon’s behemoth D800 with talks of even outdoing the D700 in terms of ISO. That was my chance and calling. The preorder was in and I finally had my first full frame camera. I mounted the Nikkor 24-70 and love it dearly…. but man….. is that thing heavy!

 Leica X1




I had a backup camera, or at least a camera to compliment the SLR, since I had my D90. This camera was the Leica X1.

I remember looking at images from the Leica X1 on this site for the first time and was simply floored by the quality. I just couldn’t believe that this little machine was pumping out images similar (and better) to my then-current D90. The lens had great character, files looked amazing in B&W, and to top it off, it physically looked like no other digital camera out there. It was a fun tool to use and more importantly, I was able to freeze memories that were dear to me. And to be honest, the AF didn’t bother me because I wasn’t shooting moving subjects. If anything, it forced me to put a little more thought into the image I was capturing…..something I wasn’t doing with a SLR. Truth be told….. I was happy.

But being happy didn’t stop me from roaming the forums, review sites, and comparison videos to learn more about my new X1.

I wanted to hear other people’s experiences with the camera, see what they thought about it, see what other images the X1 had produced. And in doing so, it’s not unlikely to come across criticisms.

The more I read about how people were unhappy with the X1’s AF, low-res screen, lack of VF, telescoping lens, loose dials, the need to remove the handgrip to replace the SD card or battery, the shutter lag, lack of video recording… the more my brain was conditioned to dislike it. The delight I felt with this camera was replaced with a degree of regret.

“Did I get the right camera?”, “Is there a better one out there that offers better IQ, better AF etc. for less money?” were some of the questions I began asking myself.

And while there ARE valid and practical answers to these questions, the real question should be, “Why ask yourself such questions if you are, indeed, already happy?”.

Unfortunately, it is sometimes not as easy to come to this realization when you’ve become stimulated, curious, and excited.

Excited not about capturing your next image, but excited about capturing your next camera…….

Olympus OMD EM5

8(Day 19) - DSC_5617


The OMD could’ve been the answer to the X1 for me: approximately the same size, Muhammad Ali-like AF and continuous shooting, cirque du soleil-image stabilization, HFR EVF, metal construction, weather sealing, customizable controls, tilt-able touch-screen LCD, kitchen sink, butler, tax accountant etc. It really was a night-and-day difference compared to the X1. Micro 4/3 has also came a long way and started becoming close, if not equaling, to the quality of APS-C sensors. It really is a knockout.

With all the OMD’s positives and breakthrough features over the X1, for some reason, I never got attached to it.

I did end up missing the IQ of the X1. Not to say the IQ of the OMD is bad… it’s very good actually.

IQ became my priority and so, around the Fujifilm corner, word of a new firmware update came rumbling about. An update that actually made the X100 into completely different camera than when it was released. Some have claimed to rarely never miss a shot with the new AF and that the SAB problem was discretely addressed. Well….curiosity got the better of me once again and I was excited about capturing the new camera and not the next image.

The OMD? Returned.

 Fuji X100

10(Day 34 - Sept 3) - DSC_5743



The experience I had with the X100 was sublime. Being a late adopter, I had no experience with the issues some have mentioned (i.e. slow AF, sticky aperture blades etc.). I felt as if this should’ve been the one I got in the first place…. instead of the X1. It had a built-in OVF/EVF which is actually quite fun and gave a very unique shooting experience. The AF, after the firmware update, was much faster than the X1 (yet a little slower than the OMD). It was something I instantly connected to.

The one thing that sold this camera for me…..the colors. I found Fuji’s color rendering to be very pleasing. The skin tones were just wonderful. Another thing I loved with the X100 is how the lens renders lens flare when shooting into the sun. The X100 is a damn good camera and I can understand why people swear by their X100s.

Once again, I was happy and there couldn’t be another camera out there that could sway me from my X100.

But…..………What’s this I hear about some X-Trans sensor with no AA filter and a mighty 35mm f1.4 that gives some Leica glasses a run for their money?

The X100? Returned.

Fuji X-Pro 1


The X-Pro 1 + 35mm combo is beast. IQ was just a big fat “wow”. Another great camera which I adopted later on… post firmware 2.0. I didn’t experience the so-called dreadful AF speeds. One thing I did immediately noticed about the X-Pro 1 which was kind of annoying: While wearing polarizing sunglasses, the VF is black. Close to a deal breaker for me as I have prescription sunglasses and taking them off to see through the viewfinder……..well let’s just say I won’t see anything at all :)

Anyhow, like many others out there, the X100 was my point of reference when looking at the X-Pro 1. The VF on the X-Pro 1 was smaller than the X100, no diopter, OVF frame lines weren’t as accurate as on X100 etc. However, the X-Pro 1 did have some welcome features over the X100 such as the high-res LCD screen and the colors were just as good if not better than the X100. Noise was also a key difference and ISO 6400 is quite usable.

I know there are problems out there with RAW conversion and most will prefer the traditional Bayer pattern sensor for easier processing, but I feel there is some magic to be found in the X-Trans sensor.

So that’s it! I’ve made up my mind! I’m going to keep the X-Pro 1! It does everything the X100 does, and in some areas, better…..I just wish it was a little smaller…. you know….about the size of the X100.

The X-Pro 1? Returned.

Fuji X-E1 (taken with D800) – (from Steve: looks like the strap and button from my “Pimp Your X100 Article)


15DSCF1488 color mod

16DSCF1517 color mod


In the End

So I’ve went on to describe my experiences and how I felt with each camera, reiterating the pros and cons you all probably know by heart. Yet I never commented or mentioned anything about the photographs………..instead I chose to share opinions about the camera I was using. I’ve embodied the consumer and I hope to come back to reality and be thankful I even have something to capture a memory or tell a story with.

A fancier word processor doesn’t make a novelist a better novelist and a Steinway does not make a pianist a better pianist.

Hopefully, by writing this, it can bring light into the whole “gear acquisition syndrome” thing. I feel it all just leads to unhappiness, uncertainty, and money loss. We can enjoy photography without feeling obligated to get the latest & greatest.

With that being said, I’m keeping my X-E1. I love it and it’s helped me freeze the moments I wanted to keep.

Like Steve said, it’s a great time to be into photography and there are some great cameras out there…. Just don’t lose focus and let it take away the passion and energy…… unless of course it’s the new M or RX1……. Just kidding ;) !


Nov 162012

The Crazy Comparison Returns! The $999 Olympus OM-D vs the $7995 Leica Monochrom!

TONALITY TESTS – This is not a comparison of sharpness, detail, or anything else but B&W tones. 

So as I was going through all of my recent e-mails I found more than 10 asking me for a comparison between the Olympus OM-D and Leica Monochrom. Some even asked me to shoot the OM-D in Monochrom mode with the Orange filter applied and to shoot my Monochrom with a real Orange filter applied. So I did just that.

Before anyone freaks out let me say that this is called “Crazy Comparison” for a reason. I am pitting an $8000 camera body against a $1000 camera body and using the KIT ZOOM on the $999 camera and a $5000 35 Lux FLE on the $8000 body. So in reality, this is a $1100 combo vs a $13,000 combo.

Also, almost all of these are just snaps in my horribly barren backyard. NOTHING scientific goes on in my Crazy Comparisons. I just shoot both images using the same ISO and aperture and equivalent focal length and compare. Anyone who has seen one of these before knows they are done mainly for fun, but sometimes they can be eye-opening.


These have all been shot as JPEG to compare out of camera JPEG B&W files. The Olympus has a feature where you can set it to “Monochrome” and apply colored filters in the menu. I chose to use “Orange” because this is my fave filter on the Leica Monochrom. You can not shoot RAW with the Olympus and have these settings applied so these are straight out of camera JPEGS only! There is absolutely NO DOUBT that the Leica would trounce the Olympus here for detail and ability to print huge, but what I wanted to see was if the Olympus, using its own Monochrome mode and filter could match the Leica in tonality and character. Even using a dinky kit zoom!

So before the complaints start keep in mind this is a just for fun comparison as I have ALWAYS done for years now just to see out of camera JPEG results in Monochrome from each camera. One specially made boutique hot rod and one jack of all trades that the masses in the digital photo community can more realistically afford.

Take a look at the images below and click on them for larger views. Can you tell which camera took what image? One of them will be especially easy (set#2).  I can see the differences but it could be only because I know what image came from what camera. Can you? The answers will be at the very bottom of this page as to what image took what.

If you guys MUST see full size images because you are interested in sharpness and detail then be patient. In 2-3 days I will update this page with a couple of full size files from each. I am taking a little photo trip this weekend so I can get some real images :)


SET#1 – One of these is from the Leica, one from the Olympus. Click to look closer and see what you think. Images have been resized to 1500 pixels wide. ALL are OOC JPEGS with no tweaks at all. BOTH are using Orange Filters. The Leica with an actual filter and the Olympus with in camera processing. 


SET#2 – This one is easy so I will give it away. The Leica can not focus as close as the Olympus. Same 35mm focal length equivalent with the Oly but I was closer in.


SET#3 – Which is Which?


SET #4 – The tones look similar to me in this one. Can you spot the Leica?



SET #6 – These were shot at ISO 1250 and 50mm (50 equiv. on OM-D) and f/4


SET#1 – Top Leica MM – Bottom OM-D

SET#2 – Top OM-D  – Bottom Leica MM

SET#3 – Top Leica MM – Bottom OM-D

SET#4 – Top OM-D – Bottom Leica MM

SET#5 – Top OM-D – Bottom Leica MM

SET#6 – Top Leica MM – Bottom OM-D

UPDATED by request:  Shadow Recovery Quick Test – Click each of the recovered images for FULL SIZE files. BOTH were from RAW this time.

NOW both files with the shadow area recovered. BOTH were 35mm Equivalent, BOTH were at f/4, BOTH were at ISO 320 – Shutter speed of Leica was 3000, OM-D 3200


1st one is the Leica – 35 Lux, f/4, ISO 320, 1/3000s

Now the OM-D with Kit Zoom – 35mm equiv, f/4. ISO 320, 1/3200s – This is where you see the weakness of the kit lens with softer edges

Nov 072012

How to tweak your Olympus OM-D E-M5 to shoot sports by Jim Huffman

Dear Steve,

I thought I’d tell you in the first sentence, that i am recommending the E-M5 for sports photography, and providing you a couple of customizations that will help you do so.

I’ve been following your blog for a couple of years now, and LOVE it, because of your non technical approach to reviewing and recommending gear. I am technical (electrical engineer / law -am a patent attorney), but technical reviews of photography equipment don’t tell me much – they cover the basics, but rarely inspire me to buy equipment. What does inspire me is when I see someone enthusiastic about taking pictures, and loving the device that lets them do so.

Sorry for being long-winded, but a little background is necessary for this email. I’ve been shooting for 39 years, since my first camera (minolta SRT 101), soon moved to Nikon – and shot Nikon until last week (D3, with an array of lenses). I also shot Leica. Of the 100k photos in my aperture library – the only ones printed and on the walls around the house came from Leica glass….

At your enthusiasm over m43 cameras, I have purchased several, both Panasonic and Olympus. most recently, the E-M5. (and 12, 25, 45, 75, 12-35, 35-100). It has virtually replaced the leica as my travel camera, particularly fond of the 12 (and can’t wait for the 17!!!). But…. I just felt like it could never do justice to shooting sports, much less indoor sports – both because of focusing delay, high iso needs, the live view lcd blanking out in the eyepiece while writing a burst to the memory card, etc…)

On the other hand – I LOVE the size of the Oly, and…. Nikon just won’t update their primes! I paid over $2k for the 85mm f1.4 – in Tokyo, to shoot my daughters volleyball – in the darkest gym in Colorado. what I have wanted is a 135 1.4 or worst case f2. the 85 is a great lens, but a big piece of glass, and even the latest model is not a fast focuser.

So, on saturday, i left the BIG RIG at home, and walked into the gym with my oly setup. Of course, the local press was their with their canon and Nikon gear. I saw them looking at me like – who is the amateur (I’ve shot for AP in my youth – political events, concerts, etc.) with the little toy camera? Well, with the 75 and 25 as my main tools (b/c of both focal length, and wide aperture), i put the camera in 9fps mode, 6400iso, and blasted away. I came home, loaded the pics, and put my entire Nikon rig up for sale on eBay.

Conclusion? is the E-M5 as good at high iso as the D3? not quite – but close enough. Can it focus fast? actually, with the 25, 45 and 75, it was faster than the nikon – and my hit ratio went up! Is it a replacement for a pro staff sports photographer? of course not. But for a dad photographing his kids teams? unbelievable! for years, parents have walked into our gym with their D40, Rebel, etc. and kit lens, and asked me to change the settings on their camera so they could take action pics of their kids. I frown, shake my head, and say, impossible. Those cameras can’t shoot high iso, and the aperture is so dim, that the best they can hope for in shutter is about 1/8/sec… Then they ask about the cost of my D3 with lens… More than most people’s cars! No more! Get an E-M5 with a 25mm Panasonic (or 45 oly), and they will get better results than anything else in the price range! And for me? one system to use rather than 2. and for travel with sports? I don’t have to lug around my 30lb nikon bag!!!

I am attaching a few pics at 6400 iso, shot in jpeg without any WB fix. thought you might like to see.

Keep up the good work, and know I’m out here reading you every day!


NOTE: The below is a geek tweak to the oly that you can skip, or read if really interested

WRT sports – the E-M5 is a battery drain. i have the pistol grip with 2nd battery – but even the combination can’t shoot an all day tournament. the camera dies after 600+ shots… Plus…. the back lcd screen always comes on unless the camera is at your eye. if you want to use the eyepiece, there is a short latency between putting it to your eye and switching. the latency is not great for sports. plus, when you take the camera away from your eye, the back panel lights for a while, creating battery drain. And, the toggle between the two screens drains the battery. I thought – I’ll call Olympus and see if there is any way to:

1. Turn of the back lcd entirely. This would save on battery life AND eliminate the delay in switching.

2. still allow for back panel adjustment settings, if desired.

Well, 2 days later the Oly support guy called back. Viola! no direct way, but you can accomplish the same thing. Let me know if you want the settings, but essentially, you go to the K gear in options, and then into touch screen settings, and turn them off. then go to D gear, control settings, P/A/S/M, and turn off all live control settings. Then turn ON live scp (super control panel). OK, almost done. Hit the button on the ‘prism’ to the right of the eyepiece, and bring up the super control panel. use the OK button to activate any setting you want to change. When done, hit the info button. The screen goes black!

Now? the camera is essentially an SLR. no rear view at all, UNLESS you hit that button next to the right eyepiece. it becomes the toggle between live view (like before) and a black back screen! I just significantly increased my battery life! if you want to go to settings, just hit the info button. the info button becomes the settings toggle.

I am in heaven with my new longer life sports camera, without the rear lcd getting in the way.

one more geek tweak?

The magnify focus is turned on, and great with the 75mm, but also annoying. when you are moving the focus ring, it magnifies. great. but the SECOND you stop moving the focus ring, magnify turns off. well, my eyes are too slow. My question was, how do I get the magnify to stay on longer.

Answer: go into custom buttons – and assign magnify to any function button (or the record button). now, to enter magnify, hit the control button twice. magnify stays on until you half press the shutter release! and, you will note that the magnify is 10x. rotate the rear control dial and you can change the magnification! You have to do the double punch to activate magnify any time you turn the camera on. after that, one push activates it.

Three cheers to the US Oly support staff for giving me these tidbits of customization! i haven’t seen them anywhere on the web, so thought you might not know about them…

Jim Huffman

UPDATE 11/12/12


Thanks again for posting my email to you – i didn’t expect that – just thought you’d like to see what the oly could do. two things:

1. The girls had an amazing come from behind to win the Colorado State Championship saturday night. Whoop!

2. And the oly? wow! after turning OFF the rear LCD, and making the EVF auto, I got >1200 shots per battery! the spec says 340ish. Some guy commented that the EVF is a bigger battery drain than the rear lcd. Well, that may be true if always on, but the EVF turns off almost immediately when your eye is not next to it, and the lcd won’t. I’d say a 4X improvement in battery life is incredible!

Thanks again for the post!

Oct 282012

Zombie Apocalypse! My weapons of choice? Leica Monochrom, M9 and Olympus OM-D!

Halloween is just about here and what better way to celebrate it than to attend a good old-fashioned Zombie Walk? I went out yesterday in Phoenix AZ strapped with my Leica Monochrom, a borrowed Leica M9 and my Olympus OM-D and a few lenses to see if I could snap any images of the undead without them eating my brains. The images below were all shot with one of those three cameras.  I also had the Panasonic 8mm Fisheye for M4/3 and LOVED using it at this event. I am writing up a review of that lens so will only include a couple of images here from that lens but it is great fun as fisheyes always are, even with their limited use.

This is just a quick Sunday post for fun as well as a quick POLL to see how many of you can spot the Leica M9 image below when mixed with two Monochrom shots. This site is always about the fun and passion in photography over the technical stuff and’s Sunday so I am not going to get to involved and sit at my desk for 5 hours :)

Zombies in Monochrom 

A few of the images in this post are from the Leica Monochrom which made me think of the original “Night of the Living Dead”, which was shot in B&W. Zombies really pop in color but they can also look pretty cool in B&W.

BTW, One of the three images below was shot with the M9 and converted to B&W. Can you spot which one? HINT: The M9 converted to B&W will give off a different look to the Greys/whites than the Monochrom.




Can you spot the M9 image? Vote in the poll below and cast your vote: WHICH IMAGE IS FROM THE M9? 1, 2, or 3?

[polldaddy poll=6644440]

10/29 – ANSWER: The M9 shot is #3!

Be sure to click the images for larger versions! In my upcoming part 3 review on the Mono I will have some full size 100% files for you to check out from the Zombie walk. It was loads of fun shooting with the Mono though I have to say..these walking undead zombies POPPED in color!

Zombies in COLOR

While at the walk I was blown away with some of the make up and effects some of the “walkers” did on themselves. There were zombies everywhere! Teenage zombies, old zombies and even kid zombies :) It is amazing how popular the whole Zombie genre is these days. There were entire families showing up as zombies and it was super cool to see and interact with everyone. The cool thing is that everyone there LOVED getting their photos taken. Take a look at just a few of the shots I snapped below using the various cameras and lenses.

The M9 and 35 1.4

The OM-D and the Panasonic 8mm Fisheye

OM-D and 12mm f/2

Leica M9…this guy wanted to eat the camera and then feast on my brains!

OM-D and Fisheye

The OM-D and 75 1.8..this lady had the hair but no makeup so she resembled a troll doll :)

Leica M9 and 50 Summitar 

The OM-D and 75 1.8

M9 and 50 Summitar

I have to say that if there is a Zombie Walk in your neighborhood  next Halloween then GO! It is loads of fun, there are a gazillion photo opps and everyone is friendly and having a great time, which makes for some great image making possibilities. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!


Oct 182012

Thursday News Updates…Fuji X-E1, Monochrom, Olympus 75 1.8 and more!

Hello to all and happy Thursday! As always it has been a hectic week for me as I have been shooting with an M9, Monochrom, OM-D with 75 1.8 and trying my best to get to most of my e-mail! Just wanted to write a quick post about what is coming over the next couple of weeks as well as share a couple of videos that were posted to my YouTube account over the past two weeks but not here on the site.

Fuji X-E1 Review SOON from Amy Medina

Things have been great on this end. Traffic is up, new cameras are flowing in for review, the weather here in Phx is finally cooling down to the 90’s and there seems to be some excitement in the air lately  – lots of passion pouring in from readers with some really great guest articles and reports (which will all be posted soon). I will soon have a review of the Fuji X-E1 using Leica M glass from Amy Medina. She has been shooting the camera all week and by next week her review should be up with loads of samples from her. If you do not know Amy, she has written quite a few articles here but also has a website of her own here.

There will also be articles coming next week on “The other way to scan your film”, “The Leica Digilux 2: Another Flashback”, “The Monochrom In Madrid: Bullfights”, and a new film article by Ibraar Hussain! PLUS even more than that but I will leave some as a surprise but one post will feature some of the best images I have seen all year from anyone. :) I will also be showing off some new straps from which are AWESOME!


The Olympus 75 1.8 Lens Review – Next Week!

I have had the Olympus 75 1.8 for almost two weeks now and it has been glued to my OM-D. I have been trying to get shooting time in with it and so far I have found that it is a fantastic lens but for my tastes too long of a lens. It is the equivalent of a 150mm lens in focal length and absolutely gorgeous in its build and image quality. If you want a stellar portrait prime for your Micro 4/3 camera this is about as good as it can get. This is a serious hunk of glass my friends and if you do not mind longer lenses then it is a lens that will last you a lifetime. See the video below of the lens on the camera…

I am finding more and more than the OM-D with the 12, 45 and 75 lenses could be just about all anyone really needs. It is fantastic and that Sony sensor inside seriously rocks.

OM-D AND 75 AT 1.8 – click for larger

The Leica Monochrom Review will continue..

I am still shooting the Leica Monochrom and still finding that I have a way to go before I really get to where I want to be with processing the files. There is just so much you can do with them..create any look you want.  I saw some of the best shots from the MM to date from Kristian Dowling. HIs shots can be seen on this facebook Monochrom group.  Kristian is a master photographer and knows his craft. He also happens to be a great guy!

I will be doing my part 3 of the Monochrom review showing some comparison shots between the M9 converted to B&W and the Monochrom. There is indeed a difference but what look one prefers is all personal preference. The pros with the Mono are the much better high ISO, improved Dynamic Range and of course the higher resolution. Shooting at ISO 8000 at night is good where with the M9 2500 is the max you can go and it is noisy.

I do know that when I shoot the Monochrom I feel differently than when I am holding an M9 or even OM-D or Sony NEX. It seems to put you in a “Mono Mood” :) – Part 3 should be up next week as well.

The Monochrom with the 35 1.4 FLE – RED filter on the camera and an OOC shot. The RED filter enhances contrast considerably deepening blacks. 

The old 1940’s 50 Summitar looks delicious in the one quick test shot I snapped in my yard so I will be using it more on the Mono. 

Using an IR filter gets expected results – this is an OOC shot… just to test the filter..

Other reviews on YouTube…Kindle Paperwhite, Grado PS-500 Headphones

I have also posted a couple of non camera related reviews on YouTube so take a look below.

Orange Nikon J2 – Ready for Halloween?

Looks like Nikon released the J2 in ORANGE! How about this for a halloween shooting treat? Lol. At least cars could see you at night! B&H Photo has it in stock with the 10-30 and 30-110 lenses for under $700. Then again, the Sony RX100 has a better sensor and faster zoom lens. In reality the J2 is more like a J1.1.

Be sure to check back later today and all next week for all of the new stuff! Also, if you have not yet done so you can subscribe to my YouTube channel as I sometimes upload videos there and not here so if you are interested in seeing them you can subscribe to my channel HERE. I also will post sample images to my Facebook page from various cameras before I write about them here so if you have not yet “Liked” that page, you can do that HERE! As always, thanks for reading and stopping by! I appreciate each and every one of you who do!


Aug 302012

Olympus OMD 95% – Leica M9 5%

By Neil Buchan-Grant

It’s been about a year since I last sent you anything Steve and a lot has happened in that time. I sailed to New York on the Queen Mary and had christmas in the big apple, just me, the M9 and a Sony NEX5n. I visited B&H for the first time, (what an amazing place) and picked up the last EVF they had for the NEX. Needless to say the M9 didn’t get too much use for the rest of that trip, but I had a great time with the NEX.

In March I finally got hold of an Olympus OMD just in time for a number of European trips I had planned. I liked it so much that the Sony and all of its lenses went straight on eBay! On each trip I religiously packed the M9 into my slingshot with a 50mm and a 35mm. In France, Portugal, Montenegro, Ireland and on 2 trips to Croatia, I carried it everywhere but only used it a handful of times. I had started to wonder why I bothered to carry it everywhere. Then I had the opportunity to shoot a theatrical company visiting my local theatre. Although I used the OMD for most of the shoot, the pictures I took with the M9 really stood out and added a genuine touch of class to the set.

So the numbers in the title of this piece roughly show the usage for each camera over the last 6 months. The main reason for this has been the wonderful Panasonic Leica 25mm Summilux lens which has been almost welded to my OMD for most of that time. Wide open, its has excellent sharpness and micro-contrast and a tiny bit of CA which lightroom disposes of in a click of the mouse. Okay, you don’t get the same level of subject isolation as you would with the 50 lux on an M9, but it’s still a dreamy looking result with a sweet bokeh. I’d say the pictures look just like my 35mm lux ones on an M9, but with a 50mm perspective.

As a system camera for travel photography the OMD has to be the best I’ve used so far. I won’t go over the same ground you and so many others have already covered but its a joy to use. As for the M9, its still the daddy with a great sensor and the best glass on the planet. When you want special results and you have the time, the pictures it makes are quite unique! So I’ll continue to pack it in my bag wherever I go. Hopefully one day there might be a full frame Leica M body with a great EVF and a rangefinder.

The other thing that has changed over the past year is my growing interest in black and white photography. So I’ve been finishing a lot of my work off in Silver Efex Pro 2. I’m afraid I won’t be in the market for an MM though as I love the flexibility the colour channels give me in processing and I’m more than happy with the resolution the M9 or for that matter the OMD give me.

Here are some of the black and white pictures I’ve shot over the past 8 months with all the cameras mentioned above.

NYC with the NEX5n and the Leica 35mm Summilux

NYC NEX5n Leica 35mm Summilux

NYC Leica M9 50mm Summilux

Galway, Ireland OMD PL25mm

Dubrovnik, Croatia  OMD PL25mm

Dubrovnik, Croatia  OMD PL25mm (an Italian tourist, I told him he looked like a bald George Clooney:)

Dubrovnik, Croatia OMD PL25mm

Dubrovnik, Croatia  OMD PL25mm (sorry about this one but I think its just ‘the dogs bollocks!’

Manchique, Portugal OMD PL25

Rovinj, Croatia OMD PL 25mm

Galway, Ireland OMD Olympus 75-300mm @85mm 

Oxfordshire OMD PL25mm

Rovinj, Croatia Leica M9 50mm Summilux

Winchester, Leica M9 50mm Summilux

Winchester Leica M9 50mm Summilux

More can be seen as usual at my website (and click on the ‘Unique’ tab to see my new ‘portraits only’ site)

Thanks again Steve, wish I could join you all on that boat, sounds like a lot of fun, maybe next year!

Kind Regards




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