Jul 222014
 

My $3 wonder, the classic Ricoh FF-90 Review

By Brandon Huff

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Hey everyone, hope you are all having a great day today! I recently acquired a new to me Ricoh FF-90 film camera. Gotta love the local Goodwill! After buying it I wanted to put it to use so away I went.

I took the Ricoh FF-90 to the river hoping to get some great shots of people and the group I was with, I got a few but noticed some small issues with this camera. This could easily be that it was a Goodwill camera and had some issues from the owner misusing it or just due to age, who knows. However when this camera does focus right and focus well, the camera has pretty well photo quality even though I am using not very good film for this test (just some cheap CVS Kodak film) I may put some Porta 160 in this camera to see how much better it is then update this review with better photos. To me, the lens looks good so far.

My favorite part of this camera over the Contax T2 that I have been using is it is way quicker, though more cheaply made it still feels great in the hand, when I took this on the river I had to keep it in a small waterproof box attached to my belt loop which wasn’t the most comfortable thing ever but good enough to be able to get some good photos. I could easily and quickly grab it out and take a picture then hurry and put it in before the rapids came. When you place film inside this little camera it automatically winds it and tells you the ISO by itself. It’s practically a fully automatic analog camera which is nice for a point in shoot sometimes. So yea, this is indeed a Point and Shoot. Nothing fancy, nothing exotic..just a good old-fashioned P&S film camera.

Kyle, mid day AZ sunshine on the river – Ricoh FF-90

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The colors are actually quite nice even with very cheap film about 8 dollars for 3 rolls, if I was to put Porta 160 in here and the camera focused correctly I bet it would be quite superb..I love Portra!

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Group Photo Ricoh FF-90 – others that were on the river that day..

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This camera has made many of my photos unusable as it did not focus correctly on many occasions.  It either focused really close or behind the subject which is quite…. odd, but when it works well the images do come out nice and I enjoy the images this camera gives! I must say for 3 dollars from Goodwill this camera is terrific even if it is a little sketchy but hey,  you can’t beat that price! I will be keeping this camera as a backup or carry while hiking kind of camera! Id say if you can find one for under 8 dollars go for it! It’s a great cheap alternatives to the higher rated point and shoots and isn’t that bad of quality!

Thank you everyone for reading!

Brandon

http://brandonhuffphotography.com

Jul 162014
 

Epson Perfection V600 scanner

by Brandon Huff

(From Steve: Hey guys! Today I bring you an article by my Son, Brandon who has just started to get into film photography, and he is hooked for sure. He has been saving for a Leica M6 but he asked if he could post this short review of his new film scanner here and of course I said yes! He also started his own little website just for fun where he will talk about film gear, scanning, shooting and all kinds of stuff from time to time, so check it out at http://www.brandonhuffphotography.com. He works for me a few hours per week and liked it so much he wanted to start up his own little space on the web. As I always say, it’s all about the passion..and he has it! Like Father like Son!)

For over a month now I have been wondering…should I get a scanner? Should I spend all of that money and potentially not enjoy this time intensive process at all? Well, I will just tell you the old way I was doing it first. After my first roll of film I realized it would be REALLY expensive to get it all scanned at the pro lab at 10-15 dollars a roll. I decided to look for cheap ways to scan film while keeping good quality for what I was doing. I took my Nikon V1 with 18mm lens and propped it on a tripod. I then took a glass door from a cabinet and a bright LED light under with photo paper on top. I would take a picture of each frame and crop it out, this was working great for black and white and medium format but once I got around to color film and especially 35mm format it all went down hill. The contrast was horrible, the colors I tried to fix myself were horrible and it was all just not going to work. So I finally splurged and paid the $220 on Amazon for the Epson V600 scanner.

I must say WOW! This is without a doubt the best 200 dollars I have spent for film photography since I’ve started.  The V700 does medium format and 35mm plus regular scanning as well. It’s resolution for film scans can be set all the way to 12000 DPI even though I can not use that resolution as the scans come out in TIF format at a whopping 1Gig each!! Yes 1GIG! Insane!

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Here is the Epson open with transparency unit exposed

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Excuse my product shots I have no good way at the moment to do things like this.  The resolution of this scanner is fantastic, it is considered a semi pro model under the Epson V700 which is the professional line but the main reason for not purchasing this is the price jumps and I mean JUMPS this model is only 200-220 dollars while the V700 sky rockets to around 600-700 depending on who you buy it from. Enough talk, lets get to the sample images. I will be showing the old way in which I was doing it (Using my Nikon V1) and the new way as well (with the V600)…

Contax T2 old way with the Nikon V1

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Contax T2 same photo Epson V600 4800 DPI

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Contax T2 old way with the V1

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Contax T2 Epson V600 4800 DPI

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I will now show you some holga shots that are color as well…when I did these color photos they were done in full auto mode with NO retouching WHAT SO EVER non at all!

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Holga old way with V1

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Holga Epson V600 4800 DPI

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The rest of these photos will be from the Mamiya 645. I do not have any color film with it yet but the sharpness if fantastic. Before I do that I would like to say one thing that is wrong with this scanner. The two photos above with the shirts… if you notice the first one is a bigger frame, you can see more shirt to the right and while the one scanned with Epson is WAY better looking it cut off some of the image because it did not see the shirt on the right side. The V600 cropped the frame a bit.

Mamiya 645 Old way with the V1 as the “Scanner”

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Same images but with the Epson v600 9600 DPI

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As you can see these photos are FANTASTIC! WAY better quality out of this scanner so all in all I will be keeping it. I love it!  it’s amazing and I think for all you film shooters that do not have the money to blow $600 on the V700, this is one of the best alternatives I know of. Here are some new photos for you all to enjoy from this great scanner!

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Also if you want too you are all welcome to check out my new photography blog/review site. I mostly do film cameras and film types, I am in the process of getting more equipment to review so I will try to post as much as possible!

http://brandonhuffphotography.com

Jun 162014
 

A classic! A Leica X1 review article

By Adam Grayson

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Greetings!

As long time follower of your site, I am excited at my first opportunity to contribute. I have written an article about the Leica X1, titled “Yesterday’s News: The Leica X1 Review”. Below is the review for your, um, review.  Yesterday’s news: The Leica X1 review!

Released 09/09/09, the Leica X1 is certainly not today’s hot topic (the T is the current title holder now) and has likely been forgotten about as yesterday’s news by most of the photographic community. Heralding in a new era of the digital camera world with its fixed focal length, APS-C sensor in a small body, retro look and manual controls, it was considered to be the first of its kind that started a trend continuing through today. As the Leica T system ushers in a new kind of interface to the photographic world, I thought it would be relevant to share my experiences with this quirky but still very capable camera that was the talk of the town in 2009.

My experience with the X1 started in late 2010, well after its initial release. Not being able to financially justify the hefty price tag of a new X1, I patiently waited until the price in the used market came down to what I considered to be reasonable enough to make the jump. At that time, the camera brought me mixed feelings. The image quality was outstanding when everything came together, but most other times it was maddeningly frustrating. Maybe because I expected it to be as quick and versatile as my trusty old DLUX 4, or as reliable as my M8, but my initial experience left me wanting. After a few months of dedicated use, I decided to sell the X1 and chase photographic glory elsewhere.

So began my search for the ultimate APS-C fixed focal length camera. This journey took me through almost every form of the genre released on the market; from the retro-rific Fuji X100, to the uber-compact powerhouse Ricoh GR. Even the X1′s replacement model the Leica X2 passed through my hands at one point. All of the cameras had their strengths and weaknesses, but none of them really grabbed me, not even the X2 (a whole other story).

The closest camera that came close to staying in my stable was the Ricoh GR; what an amazing camera! It bests the X1 in many ways but it still did not have that feeling; the tactility in my hands, the manual controls, the desire to go out and take pictures with it. Something was always missing with the other cameras. You know, that elusive feeling that comes every so often when you really connect with a camera.

So what brought me back to the X1? It took an epiphany while shooting with the venerable Contax T2 (a fixed lens compact film camera) to see what I have been missing all along; stop trying to use the camera like a modern digital and shoot it like a film camera. Use a slower, more deliberate style of shooting. After coming to this realization, I had only one camera in mind to test my theory out. The X1.

Fast forward to February 2014. Found a great deal on a black X1 and went into the experience with a new mindset; don’t treat the camera like an automatic small-sensor point and shoot, treat it as a film camera like the Contax T2. Guess what? Yep, things went much better. Where blood pressure raising frustration used to kick in, now the zen calm of measured photography took place. Is the camera perfect? No. Will it hit the 100% “keeper” zone, especially with my ever-moving two-year-old? Certainly not. That being said, I find my keeper ratio close to that of my film cameras, even with the toddler in questionable light. I only use a 2 or 4GB card to ensure that I do not get in the digital “shoot, chimp, dump and repeat” mindset.

For those that may want to look at the X1, here are a few tips to get you on your way. First, keep your shutter speed above 1/60. Although you may think that 1/30 would work (as it does for me with Leica rangefinders), it tends to let the image get blurry quick, especially if the light is less than optimal.

Second, shot in DNG, all the time. No, really, all the time. Unfortunately the camera only takes DNG+JPG, and not just DNG (something about the camera’s software that cannot preview DNG files, so it grabs a stinky JPG). Delete the JPG and keep the DNG, even for black and white conversions. The latitude that the X1 DNG files give is pretty amazing. I have taken some photos in the unforgiving Florida sun and have been able to recover most of the blown highlights or deep shadows from most areas. The X1 can be frustrating, and a lot of shots can be missed if the camera is not understood. Used properly the X1 will reward you with some amazing photographs. My first time with the X1 stands testament to that, which is a good part of the reason why I came back.

The hype and fervor surrounding the Leica T is reminiscent of what the X1 went through in 2009. As a photographer, I look for cameras that create a connection with me. While the Leica T will one day end up in my hands, the X1 will still be in my bag bringing me exceptional photos that will last a lifetime for me and my family.

my photo blog can be found at www.uninspired.me

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May 272014
 

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The Sony A6000 Digital Camera Review by Steve Huff

Sony is back once again with a camera that may appear to be just like the previous NEX-6 but takes it to the next level with new branding (No more NEX name or Menu, this is the ALPHA 6000), a new more robust and square body, and a very good price. The new Alpha line came about when Sony released the A7 and A7r and renamed them from NEX to Alpha. With the NEX camera line, Sony always had loads of complaints that the menu..well..sucked. It sort of did. I even complained about it on a few occasions and said “why do they not just use the Alpha menu system”!?!? Well, now they do and it is so much nicer than the old NEX menu system. Much quicker, easier, and laid out better in every way. The last NEX, the NEX-6 was and is a great camera. Nice size, built-in EVF, good speed and finally, some great lenses for the system. The new A6000 kicks it up a notch and the result is Sony’s best APS-C NEX style body to date. This one is a screamer and a sleeper that many will pass up.

Before I get into the review and the images, let me state that I have had this body for 3 weeks, thanks to Sony sending me the review sample. So thank you Sony! If they did not send it I myself may have passed on reviewing it as I originally thought it was just another re-hash of the NEX cameras. While it is a rehash to some extent it is so much better than any NEX camera that if I were to offer an Editors Choice” or “Steve’s Pick”, this would be one of them. In the past I have reviewed all of the NEX cameras (almost) and you can see those reviews HERE at Mirrorless Central in the Sony section, the place where I archive all of my mirrorless reviews. BTW, This review will be of the shorter variety so I AM NOT re-hashing my reviews.

Most of what I felt of the NEX-5, NEX-7 and NEX-6 is the same with the A6000 because at its core and heart, it is still a NEX camera in design, in feel and in use. Basically we are getting the new menus, faster speed and the best IQ in a NEX type of camera to date. We also get the WiFi and camera apps but WiFi is in almost every camera today so it is a must for most companies to throw it in, and it works great here in the A6000. The apps are cool but I never use them as it slows me down too much. Some love them though. For me, the A6000 is a REAL camera that can offer someone wanting to step up from a P&S to professional quality images (with the right lens). It can also offer owners of the NEX cameras the new interface and the super fast speeds.

My biggest bang for the buck system of the year – The A600 and Zeiss Touit 32 1.8 – Under $1400 for the set. This one was shot at f/2.2 and is a JPEG from the camera. Click it to see it MUCH better. This impressed me, especially being a JPEG. 

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The A6000. What are the specs?

The best of the  A6000 specs are below:

24.3MP Exmor APS HD CMOS Sensor and BIONZ X Image Processor – The latest processing power and the latest Sony APS-C sensor. Sony always leads the way in Sensor design IMO.

Fast Hybrid AF System - The Fast Hybrid AF system utilizes both a 179-point phase-detection system and 25-point contrast-detection system to achieve precise focus in as little as 0.06 sec. This system also provides AF tracking when shooting up to 11 fps in continuous high mode and functions seamlessly when recording full HD movies. In real world use, this camera is FAST. One of the most responsive cameras I have ever used. No slowness here. I remember the very 1st NEX-3 and NEX-5. They were so slow when compared to this new A6000. How things have improved.

There is also Eye AF! A detail-oriented focusing function that can prioritize a subject’s pupil and dedicate focusing performance on that for sharply rendered portraits; Lock-on AF is a dedicated focusing method for use with moving subjects and adjusts the target frame size as the subject moves throughout the image frame; AF area settings allow you to prioritize specific regions within the frame for increased accuracy; and AF-A (Automatic AF), AF-S (Single-shot AF), AF-C (Continuous AF), DMF (Direct Manual Focus), and Manual Focus modes can also be chosen.

Full HD Video Recording - Full HD 1080i/p video recording is supported at both 60 and 24 fps frame rates to produce high-resolution movies with a smooth, cinematic look. Full HD videos are recorded using the high-quality AVCHD codec, while 1440 x 1080 and 640 x 480 formats are also supported in the Internet-friendly MP4 format.

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Body Design - The Tru-Finder 0.39″ 1,440k-dot OLED EVF features a refined optical system that integrates four double-sided aspherical elements to provide 100% frame coverage and a wide 33° viewing angle for clear edge-to-edge viewing. The electronic viewfinder’s design offers a true live view image, which is able to simulate the appearance of the finalized image prior to shooting and also avails focusing aids, such as MF Assist and the Peaking function. The 3.0″ 921k-dot rear Xtra Fine monitor is a larger alternative, suitable for making accurate compositions, reviewing imagery, and navigating the menu system. It features a tilting design that can tilt upward approximately 90° or downward 45° to benefit working from high and low angles. Additionally, WhiteMagic technology works to increase the overall brightness of the screen to better support use in bright or sunlit conditions.

Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity

Additionally, PlayMemories Camera Apps are also supported via the built-in Wi-Fi connection, and allow you to personalize the camera’s features depending on specific shooting styles. Apps are available to suit creating portraits, detailed close-ups, sports, time lapse, motion shot, and other specific types of imagery.
Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Retractable Zoom Lens.

The Zeiss 32 1.8 on the A6000 is fantastic though the front bokeh can be a bit odd at times. Still, one of the best lenses i have used on a Sony camera. I was not a HUGE fan of the Touit 32 1.8 on the Fuji system but love it on the Sony. 

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My First thought on the A6000 after it arrived

When the A6000 box arrived I was thinking “Great, a variation of the old NEX-6..not exciting”.  Then I took it out of the box and thought..“Damn! This is the best feeling and looking NEX style body ever”. Sony sent me the silver version and it looked pretty sharp. All I had was a kit zoom so I knew I had to try something better but even so, the kit zoom was doing great. I love the fact that the new 16-50 is so small and sleek when compared to the old long and fat 18-55. Yes, these Sony’s are getting better and better with each release. The best part about the A6000 kit is the price. Coming in at $798 for the camera body AND kit zoom, it makes me feel dirty to recommend other APS-C cameras that cost more because the A6000 is so good in so many ways. It is a little on the lightweight side but feels just as good in build, if not a little better, than the Fuji offerings. So again, good bang for the buck.

I looked the body over and remembered I also had that Mitakon 50 0.95 and it was a native E mount lens! Why not slap it on and give it a try? I did just that and the snapshots I snapped with it are below (all were at f/0.95), as well as a look at the A6000 with the lens attached:

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The combo of A6000 and the Mitakon ROCKED! Not as good as it was with the A7 but it was nice to have that shallow DOF and a super fast WELL MADE lens on the camera. It felt solid, it inspired confidence and for me, was easy to focus just using the EVF. While not a perfect lens (it has some odd Bokeh qualities) at $799 it gives you a taste of those super shallow DOF lenses like the Leica Noctilux that comes in at $11,000. While I feel the Sony 55 1.8 or Zeiss 32 1.8 are overall better choices if you are only going to have one lens, the Mitakon is great if you want to add some artistic flair to your photos. The thing is a beast of a lens and well worth the $799.

With more use of the A6000 I started to realize that this camera was actually pretty special. For under $800 I was seeing the fastest response of any camera in recent memory (mirror less). The response, the AF and even the shutter were fast and gave me an actual sense of speed while using it. Like AIM, FIRE, FIRE – BAM! Done! As I said I have reviewed nearly all Sony NEX cameras and while the A6000 is VERY similar to all of them in many ways, it is the most responsive in all areas without question.

Oops, they did it again! But no biggie. 

After looking through the box more I realized that Oops, Sony did it again. No external dedicated battery charger. This time I will forgive them though as for $798 (yes I keep relating the price because it is such a value) they could not have given it all. If this camera were $1200 I would have been upset at the fact that all we get is a USB cable to charge while the battery sits in the camera. At $798, it is fine. You can buy an external charger for Sony batteries at Amazon for cheap, so no big deal. Look at this crazy deal. For $19.99, and using Amazon prime, you can get a dedicated charger and extra battery. Yes, a battery and charger for under $20. SNAG IT if you have an A6000 or A7 as they use the same battery.

The Kit Zoom is pretty nice. 

Usually I am not too fond of the kit zoom’s that are included with camera kits. They are usually slow, soft and cheap in build. The A6000 includes the better Sony Kit Zoom, which is the 16-50 OSS lens that normally sells for $350 on its own.  Some people are not a fan of it but I happen to think it does great on the A6000. If you have light and need the versatility that a zoom offers, it is a great lens and gets the job done. I used it while walking around rural areas in Southern Illinois with my Mother over Mothers Day and it did great.

These are all OOC JPEGS using the kit zoom and A6000. Click them for larger! 1st two shot by Brandon. 

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So while I am still not a fan of zoom lenses (I prefer primes) the kit zoom is actually a nice and small little lens. Not perfect, not high end, not anything giving a WOW factor but when it is included in a camera of this price it is very nice indeed. The color is very nice right from the camera as well, which is not the case with many of the cameras that are even priced into the thousands.

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The need for MORE speed!

The Sony A6000 is a monster in the speed department. It can shoot 11 frames per second and due to its crazy focus points covering 92% of the sensor, it is uber fast. It has contrast and phase detect AF, which in laymen’s terms means IT IS FAST. When I was shooting with the bundled kit lens the camera was lightning fast. I shot the camera in all kinds of light and never once had an issue with Auto Focus. As i mentioned earlier, I do not remember any other camera being this fast. It is faster than my old fave, the Nikon V1..faster than ANY other Sony to date (much quicker than the A7 flagship) and faster than any Fuji. I think it even edged out my Olympus E-M1 which has been my benchmark for speed and response. While the Sony system does not offer the lenses that Micro 4/3 does, nor does the A6000 offer the build and features of the E-M1…it is up there and maybe faster in the speed department.

Sony also excels here with focus tracking. If you want to shoot sports or action, this is probably the best mirror less to date to do just that. In fact, I know it is. So I will say it clearly: In May of 2014, the A6000 is the best mirror less camera for tracking moving subjects as well as overall speed. 

An APS-C sensor that is super fast, responsive and has amazing AF? Yep, that has finally become a reality in the Sony A6000. Every year cameras get faster and add more features. Sometimes they are not really worth the upgrade and sometimes they are. If you value speed and an APS-C sensor, you MUST try the A6000.

All three images below were shot as JPEG using the Zeiss 32 1.8 Touit lens. The 1st one was converted to B&W using Alien Skin. STILL my fave filters!

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Overall Image Quality

I knew from the get go that the A6000 would have excellent IQ. I mean, would Sony release this camera with anything but at least as good of IQ as the older NEX-6? No. In fact, I feel it surpasses any NEX to date for IQ and I am just talking about JPEGS! The JPEG quality from the A6000 is fantastic. I shot this camera as a JPEG shooter to make it more challenging and to see what kind of color and quality would come out. I was surprised as every JPEG I looked at was sharp (though would be better and cleaner with RAW), clear and with pleasing color. The A6000 has the same color modes as previous NEX cameras so you have the usual Standard, Vivid, Nutral, Clear, Light, etc. While I feel they should drop 75% of those and just concentrate on the core color modes, the Sony’s always offer all  kinds of gimmicks and things to try. Still here is the Sweep Panorama mode, the Intelligent Auto and the Picture Effects, none of which I ever use. For me, just give me Aperture Priority and a good Auto ISO and I am off to the races.

As for JPEG shooting, below are a couple of direct from camera JPEGS. You can right-click on them to open them in a new window and see the full size file. Both were shot with the A6000 and Zeiss Touit 32 1.8. 

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High ISO and low light. Is it any better than previous models?

High ISO on the A600 is excellent as one would expect. Today we should not have to worry about ISO capabilities of modern-day cameras as they give us so much more in this area than film ever did. EVER. We can shoot clean with many cameras right up to ISO 3200, some even 6400. With the new Sony A7s coming soon we can go to levels we would have ever thought possible in our lifetime just a few years ago. So shooting the A6000 in low light with higher ISO is as good as one would expect but below is some ISO crops from 1600 and up.

The A6000 has very good high ISO performance all the way up to 6400 ISO, which is all anyone would really ever need. I mean, how many of you shoot past ISO 1600 on a regular basis? The test image below was shot in my office with natural light coming in through slightly open blinds. Noise Reduction was turned off 100% in camera and what you see below is all OOC JPEG.

Bottom line, the ISO capability rocks on the A6000 but then again, Sony has always been good at this. You can see the detail at 6400 and it gets lost at 12,800 so 6400 is as high as I would want to go.

The Test Image

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The Crops

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A Crazy JPEG Comparison! The A6000 and Zeiss 32 1.8 Touit vs the Leica M and 50 Summicron APO

Ok, here we go. I was not going to do this but I had to! I mean, I have in my possession the A600 and Zeiss Touuit 32 1,8 which gives us a 50mm full frame equivalent. The Zeiss Touit lens and A600 come in at under $1400 TOTAL, FOR BOTH! I also have the Leica M 240 and Leica 50 Summicron APO. This kit comes in at OVER $14,000! 10X the cost of the Sony combo. YES, you read that right. $14,000! So how do they do against each other in pure IMAGE QUALITY results only? Judge for yourself. But before I show you I want to state that shooting these cameras is 100% different as is the build and camera construction quality. As you would expect the Leica is in another stratosphere when it comes to build, feel and quality of the camera itself. It is also a rangefinder. The ONLY digital rangefinder available today. It is a unique experience and it is a Leica. With that said, when looking at Image Quality ONLY, the little Sony A6000 is quite good. ;) Take a look. IMO, IQ alone does not warrant 10X the cost here. Not even close, and I love and adore my Leica system. Yes the Leica is better but $13k better? Nope.

THIS IS AN OOC JPEG COMPARISON! What it shows is that the JPEG out of the Sony is fantastic. It is average out of the Leica. 

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Things I did not like about the A6000?

There are only a couple of things I did not like about the A6000, and they were not major dealbrakers in any way. For the under $800 cost (with lens) of the A6000, I really have ZERO complaints. It is a mature system camera and when you attach a great lens it will reward you with good color, great IQ and detail and uber fast operation. I would have liked it to be a little more solid in feel..maybe even a pro version with waterproofing and a more robust feel. I would have loved to have a better EVF like the one Sony offers externally for the RX1 camera. The problem is that my wishes would have propelled the cost of the camera to $1300 and up. The beauty of the A6000 is the fact that it allows us to get into a mature system camera that has it all. Speed, nice build and design, great lenses, built-in flash and EVF, swivel LCD, good battery life, innovative features such as Eye Af and great face recognition AF. It has the best tracking of any mirrorless to date as well. All for under $800 with a nice (normally $350) kit zoom. I mean, for those looking for a new camera under $1000 the Sony A6000 MUST be looked at! Small size is the key for me.

So at the end of the day I really can not fault the A6000 because for the cost of admission it offers way more than it should.

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Pros and Cons of the Sony A6000

Pros

  1. The price! Under $800 for camera and lens – MASSIVE Bang for the Buck.
  2. The sensor is fantastic with awesome color and detail.
  3. JPEGS are very good. Better than most camera.
  4. Fast AF and Response. Fastest in the mirror less world right now.
  5. Nice design and look to the camera.
  6. Built in EVF is always nice to have, and the A600 has one
  7. Tilt LCD
  8. Great high ISO performance
  9. Kit Lens is quite nice
  10. Small size and light weight
  11. Built in flash for those who like that sort of thing
  12. All new Alpha menu!
  13. Retains the gimmicky modes
  14. Nice control and customization
  15. Can use many lenses via adapters
  16. Good at AF tracking
  17. High ISO Noise Reduction can be turned off 100%! (which is good)

Cons

  1. No weather sealing
  2. No in body Image Stabilization
  3. EVF could be better

So there thou go. For me, 16 pros and 3 cons. This is after 3 weeks of use, which was not daily use but 3-4 times per week.

The OOC color can be gorgeous! Rich, beautiful color and tones. Zeiss 32 1.8 Touit. 

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and B&W is also nice! Once again, the awesome Touit 32 1.8

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My Bottom Line conclusion of the A6000 

To be honest I was not incredibly excited to review this camera. Why? Well, when I review a camera I do not just go through the motions nor do I have any kind of template that I use. Some reviews I do are more detailed, some are more exciting and some are short and sweet. ALL are based in real world use with the camera and never do I get technical or talk nerd talk. I simply use the camera and if it excited me you will know by the way I write (see an example of that here) and if I do not like it, you will know (an example here). Sometimes though I am surprised by what I think will be average or mediocre when it turns out to be much better than I expected. The Sony A6000 is an example of just that. I thought it would just be an average NEX-6 update with new Alpha menus. But as is the case on many occasions, I was once again wrong!

While I am not raving about how it is the best thing since sliced bread, I am very happy with the camera and feel it is indeed the best APS-C NEX type of camera to date and one of the best if not the best APS-C cameras available. I prefer it to most Fuji’s (besides the X-T1, slightly) and prefer it to any other APS-C Sony and almost every other APS-C camera. I have to keep reminding myself that this camera is only $798 with a lens as when you use it seems to perform and feel like a $1200 and up camera.

Sony did good with the A6000. Those who never shot a Sony and those who own something like  NEX-5, NEX-6 or even NEX-7 would be thrilled with the A6000. If I spent even more time with it I may have even fallen harder for it and ordered one. It truly does give outstanding performance and speed all in one small nice looking package. I review and use so many cameras each and every year it is easy to get a little burn out with cameras and new products but the A6000 is one of those cameras that makes os much sense on many levels and is fun to shoot, so it made me want to head out with it every time I took it out.

This is an important price point and Sony knows it, so it will appeal to a much wider audience than the over $1000 enthusiast cameras. I think if the A6000 was shown to a group of 50 people who were in the market for an under $1000 camera system, and they were able to use it for an hour, I feel that 40 would buy it on the spot (if they were in the market and ready to buy).

The only faults are with the smaller EVF, no touchscreen, no in body IS and no weather sealing. But add those and it will add to the price so in reality, when judging the A6000 at the current price point it has no flaws at all.

The Sony A6000 is one small step for camera fan and one giant leap for the masses who really do not follow the camera world or care about sensors and tech. By that I mean that ANYONE who takes pictures would be thrilled with this mid range offering from Sony. It does what it does extremely well and all you have to worry about is what lens you want to attach.

Speaking of lenses, I really enjoyed the Zeiss Touit for its rich color and nice overall rendering. At under $800 it is a fabulous lens that will give you the 50mm focal length equivalent and some nice shallow depth of field effects. If I owned the A6000 I would also own the Zeiss. The Mitakon 50 0.95 is also unique and built like a classic Leica lens in feel and the solidness of it. The Mitakon is manual focus only though so beware of that. At $799 it offers a more artistic approach in use and results. You can read about the Mitakon HERE.  Sony now has many lenses available for the E-Mount. From zooms to primes to expensive to cheap. Take your pic.

Bottom Line? If I offered an “Editor’s Choice” the A6000 would  take that title easily. Highly Recommended for those looking for a quality camera with DSLR quality and speed without the size. Also good to note is that during the review period I never had a mis focused shot or any issues at all with the camera. When I snapped I knew what would come out of the camera would be fantastic.

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Where to Buy?

You can buy the Sony A6000 at my recommended and preferred dealers below. Just click the link to go direct to the A6000 page to check stock status, price and to order if you so desire!

Amazon - Sony A6000 in BLACK or SILVER with Kit Zoom.

Amazon - Sony A600 in BLACK or SIlVER without Kit Zoom.

B&H PhotoAll variations of the A6000 are HERE!

Zeiss Touit 32 1.8 Lens for Sony E-Mount at Amazon or B&H Photo

SMILE!

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

Hello to all! For the past 5 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

To help out it is simple. 

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

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

So all I ask is that if you find the free info on this website useful AND you ever need to make a purchase at B&H Photo or Amazon, just use the links below. You can even bookmark the Amazon link and use it anytime you buy something. It costs you nothing extra but will provide me and this site with a dollar or two to keep on trucking along.

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

B&H PHOTO LINK – (not bookmark able) Can also use my search bar on the right side or links within reviews, anytime.

You can also follow me on Facebook, TwitterGoogle + or YouTube. ;)

One other way to help is by donation. If you want to donate to this site, any amount you choose, even $5, you can do so using the paypal link HERE and enter in your donation amount. All donations help to keep this site going and growing! I do not charge any member fees so your donations go a long way to keeping this site loaded with useful content. Thank you!

A few more images from the A6000! Enjoy and THANK YOU for reading!

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Feb 252014
 

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The Olympus 25 1.8 Lens Review on the E-M1

By Steve Huff

Hello once again to all of you camera crazy readers! Today I am going to talk about the new-ish Olympus 25 1.8 lens as it has recently shipped and is really the only Auto Focus competition to the now legendary Panasonic 25 1.4 lens, which has been known as one of the finest lenses for  the Micro 4/3 system. That lens, on SOME cameras, has been known to have slower focus and a “rattlesnake” sound when just attached to the lens with the camera being powered on. (On the E-M1 I do not hear this effect though). The new Olympus is smaller, sleeker, focuses faster, much shorter with hood attached and comes in at $129 less than the Panasonic counterpart.

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But how does it stack up to the Panasonic? Well, I will tell you right off the bat that while it is not as sharp as the Panasonic, it gets about 99.5% there. It does not have the Micro Contrast of the Panasonic, but gets us about 90% of the way there. It vignettes slightly when wide open where the Panasonic does not but it does focus slightly faster and like I said, it is quite a bit smaller as you will see below in the size comparison.

On the Las Vegas strip at f/2.5 with the Olympus 25 1.8. If you click this image you can see a larger size that is much sharper. In fact, it will show you just how sharp the lens is. I converted this one to B&W. 

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Over the years I have grown fond of certain lenses for the Micro 4/3 system. The Panasonic 25 1.4 is one of them while others like the Olympus 45 1.8, 75 1.8 and even 17 1.8 are up there as well with me. The 60 Macro is astonishing and the 12mm f/2 is one I really enjoy. The new 12-40 Zoom seems pretty versatile and incredible as well. I’d say my #1 most used lens on my E-M1 is the 17 1.8. For me, it has the sharpness, the detail, the color, and the “feel”. I love it but I also have been enjoying the 35mm (equiv) focal length more lately.

Shot at f/1.8 this is close focused and right out of camera. Bold bright color and sharp with a pleasant Bokeh. Click it for larger/sharper!

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The Micro 4/3 Version of a 50mm explained

I go in phases between the 35mm and 50mm being my #1 fave to shoot with and these days it is 35 all the way, so when out shooting with this 25 (50mm equiv) I was once again having to get used to shooting this focal length. After a solid few days of shooting with it daily I remember what it is that makes it my #2 favorite focal length! It has the perfect mix of sharpness and shallow DOF possibilities. While this is indeed a true 25mm lens, and we will get 25mm DOF from the lens, the focal length appears as a 50mm. So imagine the Olympus 25mm as a 50mm with 25mm Depth of Field and “Bokeh”. Due to the shorter focal length we will not get subject isolation as we will get on a real 50mm. It will give us 25mm DOF and isolation and yes, f 1.8 is a true f/1.8. Just on a 25mm lens.

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At the end of the day though, a 25mm acts like a 50mm for focal length/magnification so this is what you are going to see when looking through your viewfinder. It will not be like when you put a 24mm on your full frame camera, but like when you put a 50mm on your full frame camera except for the Depth of Field control. Basically, on Micro 4/3 we are magnifying that 25mm to give us a 50mm field of view.

Other 25mm lenses include the Panasonic 25 1.4, which is one of the highest rated 25mm lenses for Micro 4/3. We also have the amazingly good, and one of my all time manual focus faves, the Voigtlander 25mm f/0.95 which allows you to focus close, get almost full frame quality Depth of Field and Bokeh, and is built like the Voigtlander lenses for the Leica system.

One of our workshop attendees taking a break in the middle of the desert with his Starbucks and Leica M :)

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As always, speed costs and in Micro 4/3 is no exception. The Olympus 25 1.8 costs $399, the Panasonic is $529 and the Voigtlander will run you a cool grand.

You can see my Panasonic review HERE and some Voigtlander shots are HERE.

At the Valley of Fire with Todd Hatakeyama (Master Organizer – foreground) and Pro Photographer Extraordinaire Jay Bartlett (Background)

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Just as with my other Micro 4/3 lens reviews, there is not much to say about the lens. I mean, when a lens is sharp, focuses fast and is small, light and beautiful in design what can you say? It really has no faults so all I can do is write about what I feel when it is compared to the Panasonic 25 1.4, the lens who reigns supreme in this focal length for this format. I already did ONE quick comparison while out on the road (which is why it was quick) so let me go into more detail about this lens VS the mighty Panasonic.

This is an OOC JPEG from the E-m1 and 25 1.8 shot at 2.5

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The Olympus 25 1.8 vs the Panasonic 25 1.4

  • Cost. The Panasonic can be bought HERE for $529. The Olympus can be bought here for $399. So, the Olympus is $129 less expensive than the Panasonic. Makes sense because the Olympus is an f/1.8 lens vs an f/1.4 of the Panasonic. So for cost, and bang for the buck, the Olympus wins.
  • SIZE. The Panasonic is quite a bit larger than the Olympus when the hoods are attached (see below) but the Panasonic is still a very small lens. Only when viewed next to the Olympus does it look large. The Olympus is super small and light where the Panasonic is wider, taller and has more bulk. The Olympus almost appears to be half the size when looking at the image below. So if small size if your thing, the Olympus wins. 

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  • Sharpness. BOTH of these lenses can render a super sharp image. BOTH have slightly different color and contrast signatures though. I would say that the Olympus is just as sharp as the Panasonic..well, 99.5% as sharp when both lenses are shot at 1.8. I’d say the Panasonic has a little bit better Micro Contrast though as when looking at some real world street shooting files on my 27″ display I see it. This is a sign of a very good lens, and is one area where Leica excels with their uber expensive lenses. For example, the Leica 50 Summicron f/2 has amazing micro contrast and one of my all time favorite Leica lenses for the M system (or Sony A7). The Panasonic 25 1.4 is a Leica/Panasonic collaboration so it shares some of that Leica magic. I used to think it did not but it does indeed though not to the level of true Leica glass. The difference is not huge between the Panasonic and Olympus  by any means but you can see it when pixel peeping. So because of this, For overall performance and sharpness, the Panasonic wins.

See the full size files below from each lens at apertures from 1.4 to 1.8 to 5.6..the Panasonic does not appear to be any sharper than the Olympus here:

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Now the Panasonic wide open at 1.4, which the Olympus can not do..

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and both stopped down to f/5.6

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  • AF Speed. When out on the street shooting these lenses I though for sure that the Olympus would smoke the Panasonic with Auto Focus, and that was not the case! Both lenses focused fast on my E-M1, and to be 100% honest, I saw no difference in speed when out in the street at night using both. The Olympus may have a slight edge overall, but it is not a night and day, and for some will not even be noticeable. Remember  though, this is on the E-M1 which may be helping the lenses to focus fast. So I give this one a Tie with a SLIGHT edge going to the Olympus.
  • Bokeh. Well, if Bokeh is what you are after (and many Micro 4/3 shooters are indeed after this) then you will want the Panasonic as it is an f/1.4 lens. While not much of a difference at all, there is indeed a mental difference going on in that head of yours and if speed is what you need then you will not be happy with the f/1.8 of the Olympus. Nope, go for the Panasonic! If speed is not of great concern and you realize that f/1.4 is not a huge step up from f/1.8 then the Olympus may be just the ticket. In reality, when the Panasonic is shot at f/1.4 you will not see much more background blur than the 1.8 of the Olympus. It exists but will you see it? Maybe, maybe not. Both lenses rock this.  Panasonic wins here as it has the ability to create MORE shallow DOF and Bokeh. 

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  • Distortion and CA. The Panasonic has more CA (Purple Fringing) than the Olympus, which is clear and evident. So for this the Olympus wins. See the crop below from each lens. 

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So at the end of the day BOTH of these lenses will deliver the goods. Me, I prefer the Olympus as I am not losing much at all over the Panasonic but I am gaining the small size, the nice price and the overall look that matches my other Olympus primes AS WELL as almost no CA issues. I could live with EITHER lens long-term. It comes down to if you want small size, slightly faster AF, and f 1.8 or if you want larger, faster aperture at 1.4 and slightly slower AF while paying $129 more.

If you own the Panasonic, keep it. If you do not own either, you can save money and be 100% happy with the Olympus. If you want the Olympus you can sell your Panasonic for as much as it costs to buy the new Olympus. In other words, there is no wrong choice here. Both lenses are fantastic. Those who are putting down the Olympus (and I have already seen it on forums and right here on the comments of this website) are just those who own the Panasonic, never tried the Olympus and are sticking up for their brand. BOTH lenses are wonderful and both will give you the tool you need to express your photographic vision. I have to hand it to Olympus for constantly releasing new amazing lenses. This is another one they can add to the premium list of primes that help make the Micro 4/3 system so enjoyable! Keep ‘em coming Olympus AND Panasonic! PLEASE!

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WHERE TO BUY?

You can order the Olympus 25 1.8 at Amazon HERE or at B&H Photo HERE.

PopFlash also sells the lens here.

This lens has a 46mm filter thread so using my favorite ND filter is possible with this one!

A few more shots with the Olympus 25 1.8 Lens 

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

Hello to all! For the past 5 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

To help out it is simple. 

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

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

So all I ask is that if you find the free info on this website useful AND you ever need to make a purchase at B&H Photo or Amazon, just use the links below. You can even bookmark the Amazon link and use it anytime you buy something. It costs you nothing extra but will provide me and this site with a dollar or two to keep on trucking along.

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

B&H PHOTO LINK - Can also use my search bar on the right side or links within reviews, anytime.

You can also follow me on Facebook, TwitterGoogle + or YouTube. ;)

Nov 112013
 

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The Sony RX10 Review – One amazing Superzoom!

NOTE: All images shown here are JPEGS! RAW will be in a future review update.

Yes indeed! The Sony RX10 has been in my hands for review and while I have only had it for a little while it is proving to be quite the versatile camera. When Sony announced the RX10 it was kind of hidden and clouded due to the BIG Sony wham bam announcement, the Sony A7 and A7r full frame cameras. When the A7 was announced and Sony gave many of us exactly what we have been waiting for there was excitement and craziness going around for a while. Those little A7 cameras meant that there was finally a pair of  full frame mirrorless cameras that were not only close to medium format in quality, but also much lower in price than we thought.

Leica lenses, Canon lenses, Nikon lenses and of course Sony lenses..will all work with the A7 and A7r (though some ultra wides will have flaws) via adapters and the EVF is big and beautiful and easy to use and focus with.

So with all of this nuttiness going on, the poor little (or not so little) RX10 got lost in the mix for most media sites and blogs. Until Now :)

First, take a look at my 1st look video for the RX10..in my hands, in my house and ready to rock and roll:

What is the RX10?

The RX10 is a 20 Megapixel 1″ sensor camera that will appeal to many but sadly, also be dismissed by many. It is a perfect choice for the newbie masses who go to stores like Best Buy to pick up a Canon Rebel and cheap kit zoom because it will not only be easier for them to use, it will give them better range in the lens department with a 24-200  f/2.8 constant aperture zoom that even has optical steady shot to eliminate the shakes. What does this mean? It means that shooting in low light will be possible with a super zoom 1″ sensor camera and that most who buy this guy will really want for nothing more.

The camera is full of technology and here at the end of 2013, it has to be. In basic terms, it is a higher end digital super zoom 24-200mm one lens camera with a superb lens and fantastic versatility. 

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While this camera can not compete with the image quality of a full frame camera or even a Micro 4/3 with certain lenses, it does offer one thing that the others can not. ONE BODY..ONE LENS..and no need for anything else to shoot just about anything you need. Most of you here know that I love and adore my fast prime lenses to go with my cameras. I just love shooting an image with a 3 Dimensional pop.

This camera, much like a Nikon V1 or V2, will not really give you that POP but it will give you more realism..more grit..more of what your eye actually sees. Even at f/2.8, it is not really fast enough with this lens to give you those creamy shallow DOF moments.

At 200mm and  f/2.8 you can get a little creaminess but this is not a camera meant for that kind of use. Much like the Sony masterpiece from last year, the RX100 and the RX100II, the RX10 is set and ready to deliver the same image quality performance as it uses the same sensor as the RX100II. To see my review of the small RX100, click HERE. I named it the best pocket camera EVER for a reason :)

The RX10 adds a Zeiss 24-200 super zoom, constant f/2.8 aperture though out the zoom range, fast AF, superb video and audio and a fantastic EVF built-in.

Click ALL images for larger size!

Sony RX10 – ISO 1600

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Sony RX10 – ISO 320 at 2.8

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Yes, the Sony RX10 uses a smaller 20 megapixel 1″ sensor much like the sensor in the Nikon V1 and V2 and Sony’s own RX100. As already stated, the RX100 is a powerhouse pocket cam and the RX10 is what the RX100 would be if it took a weekly dose of steroids for a few months. It is larger, though not too large. It is built nicer, though not fully “pro level” (as in NIkon D4 territory). It is weather sealed and has a built-in ND filter as well that will automatically activate when needed. The sensor in the RX10, while being 1″ in size absolutely gives superb image quality for a camera in this sensor size class. This is a great sensor that beats the Nikon V1 sensor in many areas including low light.

Sony RX10 – ISO 1000

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ISO 500

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When I first reviewed the Nikon V1 I was all set to trash it, dismiss it, and forget about it but that little camera surprised the hell out of me and I ended up owning two of them for nearly two years along with some of the great primes offered with the system. I found it offered great film like sharpness and rendering as well as super fast AF speed and JOY OF USE. So how does the RX10 compare to one of my favorite cameras of all time, the little V1?

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The fact is that the sensor in the RX10 is better, and the RX10 is more advanced and offers an all in one convenience. It may not focus any faster but it is equal to the V1 in this area. For sharpness, detail and color..the RX10 wins it for me though I do prefer the size of the little Nikon V1. 

Color POP! RX10 OOC JPEG – ISO 125

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ISO 500

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The Build of the RX10..it’s a serious weather sealed machine!

The RX10 is solid. It has weather and rain resistance and can be shot out in adverse conditions. It feels great in the hand and while I normally hate DSLR styled designs, this one feels great because the Zeiss Vario Sonnar T* lens on this guy is on the FAT side of lens design, so the camera NEEDS the grip that it has. It’s stout and the grip on the body feels great when in the hand. The battery door feels good as does the side SD card slot door. Not heavy-duty but not cheap either.

Truth be told, it feels better than most starter DSLR’s. It is a serious camera and Sony did not create and build this one to be a quick and easy cheap zoom. They built it very well and intended on this being in the top of its class.

“Take Me Home” – indoor, low light, ISO 1600 – RX10 – JPEG

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At The Zoo

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In other words, it does not feel like a cheap $400 DSLR, it feels like a well thought out and clean design. I like the fact that it has an exposure comp dial on top as well as a top LCD display that lights up when needed. The lens is a thing of beauty, especially if you LOVE your zoom lenses. 24-200 – from wide to telephoto, all while keeping a 2.8 aperture if you desire. The way you control that aperture is with a physical aperture dial on the lens! HOW COOL IS THAT? Much like the RX1, the RX10 keeps that tradition. I wish the A7 lenses were made the same way, would have made much more sense with the camera and would have given a feeling of control. Manual aperture dials are always good!

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It also has a switch under the lens that when activated allows you to turn the aperture dial from a clicked design to click less so if you want to physically change aperture during video shooting, you can do so in silence.

So the build is fantastic as is the user experience with the lens.

The RX10 makes for a cool low light B&W shooter as well. Here is one at ISO 1600.

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So in other words, I really like the build, feel and lens design of the RX10 and if I can be honest, I was really afraid I would hate the camera and not even want to review it. Instead, the opposite has happened! I have been enjoying the hell out of this thing.

I even heard that a certain Sony employee had a tear in his eye when he first held this RX10..he knew it was something special. True story!

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The AF, Usability and overall Feel when shooting the RX10

A camera could have all of the features in the world along with a great build and feel but if it fails in the usability department then it is a big fail in my opinion. By now, Sony knows how to make a great camera and the RX10 ranks high on the usability scale for me.

When using it at night I had no trouble focusing and it always locked on to the correct subject..what I was pointing at with my center point focus box. Even when zooming in or shooting video, the RX10 did very well with focus. It really is no faster than the Nikon V1 or V2 but it is about the same, and that is a good thing as this camera is pretty quick to AF in mostly all situations I have used it in.

So overall the camera was easy to use, fun to use, and quite responsive, even at night! It is also SILENT! Once you turn off the fake shutter sounds (which I think all camera companies should THROW OUT and never use again) the RX10 is silent and stealth.

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The Video performance.. Any good?

Take a look at the video below that I shot at the AZ State Fair. The footage looks great for being shot at night, and AF was quick and fast. 

I loved the quick video footage that came out of the RX10 when I tested it at the fair, at night. I have tested and messed with video from mostly all cameras that offer it. If you go back and look at my past reviews of the NEX-7, Olympus E-P3, Olympus E-M5 and others you will see quick real world video tests. Many times we have the rolling shutter issue and other times we have focus issues. With the RX10 it did amazingly well in all areas, INCLUDING the built-in mic, which is one of the best I have heard built into any $1300-$2000 camera.

Nice full sound comes from the built-in mics in this camera. Much better than the tinny mics of some higher end DSLR’s even. 

Take a look at the video above and you will see some footage I shot at the state fair at night. It did well. The optical steady shot kept things steady and the color stayed rich as well. I could see me using this as my main go to video camera for shooting my new format YouTube videos that will start in 2014.

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Low light and high ISO..how far can you go?

We all crave low light performance in a camera for some reason yet many of us never even need to or dare to use it. Catching a moment using only natural light is a magical thing, especially when it is captured in low but magical light, where many cameras fail. Actually, most cameras today do just fine in low light but it was not always like this. The RX10 does as good as one can expect in low light considering the 1″ sensor, even better than some may think. The days of excessive noise at higher ISO is gone and mostly all cameras today do very good in low light. NO flash required (I never ever use flash and have not done so in 10+ years).

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The RX10 is decent at high ISO. These were shot in my house with indoor light. 

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BELOW: A quick ISO 3200 comparison to the E-M1 at f/2.8, ISO 3200, 1/100s

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Wide to Zoom, all in one killer lens. Do not underestimate it!

I will state right now that I AM NOT a zoom guy. I love my 28, 35 and 50mm 1.4 prime lenses. With that said, the versatility a 24-200 all in one offers is tremendous. NO, it is not a 24-600 but the key with the RX10 is that the quality is stellar at 24 as well as at 200mm. No compromise. The Zeiss Vario Sonnar T* lens is a good one here folks, no question.

24mm

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200mm

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Shallow Depth of Field. Is it possible?

So how creamy can you get? Do not expect full frame or APS-C performance when it comes to shallow DOF. Even the Nikon V1 can get you closer to that 3D pop when using certain lenses like the 32 1.2 or 18.5 1.8. The RX10 is f/2.8 all the way so while you do not get subject isolation and 3D pop, you do get sharpness and clear results. You will never have to worry about getting what you need to be in focus..IN FOCUS.

Having a large DOF has its advantages, that is for sure. If you need some shallow DOF, just go to 200mm and stick to f/2.8.

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Full Size Image Evaluation…

Having a 1″ sensor, the RX10 will not give you that rich and thick image quality that many are used to with APS-C DSLR’s but it will give you performance and files that will easily beat any point and shoot and print very well. Below is a full size image right from the camera (JPEG) shot at ISO 125 and f/2.8. Click it for full size, or see the 100% crop below the image.

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Who should buy the Sony RX10?

The Sony RX10 is aimed at those who want a step up from point and shoots and do not want to mess with DSLR’s and their large, slow, average quality kit lenses. It is for those who love to shoot images AND video and also for those that love versatility. Those who want an all in one zoom to take with them on vacation or business trips or social events.

The RX10 is an all in one powerhouse. Shoot wide, shoot medium or shoot telephoto. No need for lens swaps, dust on the sensor or worrying about focus speed. The camera is also great for Photojournalists who want easy, speed and results. Video and Photo in one.

This camera can do quite a bit and while I usually would have dismissed it due to the built-in zoom and design (DSLR), I am happy to have had a chance to shoot with it as I realized that this camera can indeed serve as a take anywhere camera that will offer great results.

If you have been looking for something like this and want the best in class, the RX10 needs a long hard look. At $1299 it is NOT cheap, especially when you have the new Olympus Stylus 1 at half the price. Will it or can it deliver the performance of the Sony? Not sure, but my guess is the Sony will be the winner for all around quality as well as video AND audio.

It is always all about the lens quality, and this Zeiss is fantastic.

The Pros and Cons of the Sony RX10

Pros

  1. Versatile – 24-200 2.8 all in one slick package
  2. IQ is great for the sensor size and colors are rich, even in low light
  3. Optical Steady Shot
  4. Video quality is fantastic
  5. On board mics sound VERY good..better than any standard camera I have ever tested for audio.
  6. Weather sealed and solid build and feel – Magnesium Alloy
  7. EV dial on top
  8. Very easy menu system
  9. Fast AF, and accurate
  10. EVF is large and easy to use
  11. Area Specific Noise Reduction only applies it where it needs it. 
  12. Macro feature is fantastic to have. 
  13. Built in ND filter activates when needed.

Cons

  1. No real shallow DOF opportunities
  2. Images can get grainy at 100% view due to small sensor
  3. $1300 is a bit steep for an all in one, Olympus Stylus 1 is half the cost
  4. Dynamic Range lacks a little compared to larger sensor cameras

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For $1299, how about the Olympus E-M1 instead? Or the Stylus 1 for 50% of the cost?

Many have stated that one could buy the Olympus E-M1 for $1399 and it would be a better choice than the RX10. While I would say that I prefer the E-M1 over the RX10, the cost of the E-M1 is $100 more, WITHOUT a lens. If you added the two pro zooms to the E-M1 (Oly 12-40 and Panasonic 35-100) the total cost would be nearly $3500, a difference of over $2200. That is quite a bit of cashola!

So let us talk about the Stylus 1 from Olympus…

Many will say that the Olympus Stylus 1 is a better buy but I am going to sat now that the Sony is the better camera all the way around for IQ and VIDEO and BUILD. It is setting the superzoom standard for quality in all areas. The Olympus has a SMALLER P&S sized sensor, a larger zoom that will not be as stellar as the RX10 Zeiss and it will be more of a pocket super zoom with good quality, but not TOP quality. The Olympus has a standard P&S sensor size, so the images will have a P&S signature. The Sony will have better IQ, better video, better low light, better build and weather sealed.

BUT the Olympus, it is half the price and packs a 28-300 f/2.8 lens and to some of you, that is all that matters. Olympus almost seemed to know that the RX10 was coming and countered with their own smaller mini powerhouse zoom. But me, if going with one of these as an all around general use and every use camera, it would be the Sony for the serious IQ capabilities.

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The final word on the Sony RX10

Sometimes with new cameras my reviews can get long. I have had requests to shorten them up a little so this one comes in at less than 3900 words total. Not bad for me :) For a quick comparison, my Leica M 240 review came in at 15,000 words.

In any case, the Sony RX10 came in as a real surprise to me and I suppose it will be to many others as well. Like I said in the beginning of this review, I think much of the thunder was taken away from the RX10 with the huge news of the Sony full frame A7 cameras.

It’s a funny thing but the “MASSES”..as in the general public who buy cameras will be MUCH more attracted to the RX10 than they will the A7 but in internet land where our passions can sometimes take over, the A7 stole the show. The bottom line though is that the Sony RX10 is fantastic if you are into one camera, one lens and simple versatility. The sensor in this camera has already proven itself with the amazing RX100 and RX100II, both which were huge hits for Sony even at the premium $650 price. Why? Because they were amazingly good for the size.

As for the RX10, you can take this ONE camera with you ANYWHERE and never have an issue with any photo you want to take (unless you want really shallow DOF). It even has a great Macro feature that can get you super close up and personal. So Macro, wide-angle, long, photo, video, panorama..you name it, the RX10 will give it to you.

Me, I am more of a fan of fast prime lenses so the RX10 will not be my daily go to camera but I will most certainly use it for video and I can see my son Brandon LOVING it as he is into simplicity and versatility, and he likes having a zoom. I also wish the camera were less DSLR shaped and a little smaller but also understand that to have a lens like the Zeiss 24-200 f/2.8, there needs to be some size and heft to the camera.

There is nothing wrong with this camera as long as you do not expect full frame or APS-C “smooth” file quality. The files at 100% will have some noise and the dynamic range will not be as huge as those from the larger sensor cameras. Only you can decide if the $1299 asking price is worth it for great usability, fantastic build, fast AF and superb colors and IQ. In fact, many prefer the output of 1″ sensors to any other sensor size for  the “realness” they portray.

Sony made the RX10 in a well thought out way and there is really not much that this little dynamo can not do. I have not been able to even hold an Olympus Stylus 1 yet, so have no idea how it compares but I think the Sony is the creme of the crop of all in one cameras just due to the Zeiss lens and the superb photo, video and AF performance.

Sony just keeps on pumping out the quality products!

Where to Buy the Sony RX10?

You can buy the Sony RX10 at B&H Photo HERE or Amazon HERE. Using the links here to do so will help this website to continue on so I thank anyone who uses my links! The Sony RX10 is scheduled to ship on December 1st 2013.

More samples below! Remember, these are all from JPEG so I have yet to even tap the quality of RAW. I will do so in a future update : )

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Oct 122013
 

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The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Full Review. The most versatile Mirrorless Camera ever.

Inspiration: a person or thing that inspires. 

The E-M1 with 17 1.8 at 1.8. Also ran through an Alien Skin Color Fading filter – click it to see it the right way

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Hello to all and once again I thank each and every one of you who have been reading my reviews, my raves, my rants and of course all of the amazing guest articles and posts that have been posted for the past few years. Without YOU, this site would be nothing and would have become one of the thousands that get lost every year in the sea of information we call the internet. I am truly blessed to even have this website doing what I love to do day in and day out.

So again, I thank you all.

It is strange, I have  recently been asked by a few people starting photo blogs how to make a successful blog or website. Well, besides writing an article on this subject HERE like I did quite a while ago I can state that when one writes from the heart, when one is honest, when one sticks to their guns and also injects their personality, emotion and passion into what they do, no matter what it is, then they will have the highest chance of success.

The E-M1 and 17 1.8 Lens at 1.8. Amazing Combo. The kid below was dressed up as a Zombie for the yearly Phx, AZ Zombie Walk :)

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I did not get into this nor am I in it for the money because if that were the case I would have gotten myself into big trouble a long time ago. Nope, this site was born and continues on due to my passion, your passion and the common love of photography, memories… AND cameras :)

The gentle transitions to an out of focus meltdown are beautiful indeed. The E-M1 with Voigtlander 25 0.95 at 1.4. This combo is incredible. 

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So long story short: Live life, love in life, and be kind to all you come in contact with. Enjoy what you do and do not worry about things in life that do not matter but the things that do. :)

WAIT! I thought this was a Camera Review? Yes, yes..the OM-D E-M1…

Lol, me too! Sorry about that but as some of you know, I sometimes get lost in a rant that has nothing to do with the article I am supposed to write so I apologize! So yes..the Olympus OM-D E-M1!

The new hot-shot on the block that promises everything and delivers on just about all of it.

Released in October of 2013 and the follow-up to the highly successful E-M5, the new E-M1 is slightly bigger, quite a bit stronger and subtly faster. After using the camera I thought Olympus must have been injecting the E-M5 with steroids for the past two years to give it some beef and the E-M1 was/is the result.

Don’t mess with this guy! Shot this at a horror convention with the 17 1.8 but did some PP tweaks to the background for more pop, so this one is a just for fun shot. 

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Yes all of my camera gearhead friends, the new Olympus is here and let me tell you this without hesitation (SPOILER ALERT) – This is the best Micro 4/3 camera ever made if Photography is your main use (rather than Video). But I will take it one step further and probably by saying this will irritate some but it is how I feel after extensive use.

The new E-M1 is the fastest, best built, best size, and most versatile mirrorless camera you can buy today as of the moment I am writing this (October 12th 2013). In APS-C land, Fuji can’t touch it, Sony can’t touch, Leica can’t touch it for these things:

Speed, Versatility, Size, Lenses, Features, Viewfinder Experience, in body IS, and so much more. 

My video from Castle Leslie with the E-M1

For Micro 4/3 video, the Panasonic GH series takes the cake. But for Photography, the reason these were made and built, this camera is the real deal and just does not get any better when it comes to Micro 4/3 . I can go on and on and on and on about the features, the history, the reasons why this is THE camera to own for those who want performance in a small package but most of you already know all of this. I wrote about this camera a couple of  times already here on these very pages.

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I was able to be one of the many who tested this camera in Ireland at the huge Castle Leslie Olympus launch event and I was wowed with the camera for sure.

While it is no match IQ wise for a big fat full frame sensor, it easily takes on all APS-C and smaller challengers and beats them in so many ways it is not even funny.

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This E-M1 is destined to be a classic and yes, it is a replacement for the full size E-5 (according to Olympus) and I applaud them for this because we get the speed, IQ, pro build and results all in a body that is smaller than those old 4/3 bodies.

You can see my 1st report of the E-M1 HERE

I added noise to this image during the B&W conversion. Lovely. The E-M1 and 17 1.8

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Remember the E-P1, E-P2, E-P3 and E-M5? 

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I do remember as I owned them and shot them all long-term so I could write about them and compare to competing cameras. Back in the E-P1 and E-P2 days Micro 4/3 had many challenges. The AF speed was awful, the IQ was full of noise and the usability was average. But back then we didn’t care because the technology we have today was not there yet. We were used to these flaws in most cameras and dealt with it and saw it as a challenge in many ways to do the best with what we had. We also only had the 14-42 kit zoom along with the 17 2.8 pancake, which I enjoyed but it was far from being a WOW lens.

Even then, I preferred those little PEN cameras to many others due to their style, charm and full on fun factor. I reviewed them all and by the time we got to the E-P3 things were looking pretty good. When the E-M5 came that is when I knew that this format was here to stay (contrary to what some “experts” have predicted) because with the E-M5 we have a camera that does so many things so well. The E-M5 has been my favorite Micro 4/3 ever but that has now changed with the introduction of the Pro Level E-M1.

Sir Jack Leslie, Ireland 2013 – E-M1 and 45 1.8

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So what has improved in the E-M1 over the E-M5?

When I reviewed the fantastic E-M5 I remember it being a very long 8000 word review. Some said TOO long. I was also recently told by one person that it took him a few days to read it :) So this time I will go lighter on the text and just write about what  you really need to know instead of yapping away about things that I already yapped about in that E-M5 review! So I promise it will not be 8000 words, maybe 5000 at most :)

So what is different? What is better? What is the big deal with this new E-M1?

Well, for me the OM-D E-M1 is THE  mirrorless camera to own right now. Since the beginning of Micro 4/3 there have been bashers and haters who hated for the sake of hating! Calling cameras like the E-M5 and even new E-M1 “Toys” and “Not Serious” and “Silly” and “The format will die” .. these individuals were ones who either never shot with the cameras, and if they did then they went in with that attitude or only used a kit zoom, which is NOT recommended by me at all.

The AF tracked this horse and rider from the water until she passed in front of me. Every shot I took was in focus. 

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In fact, if you are planning on buying any Micro 4/3 body, be sure to get a GOOD lens. The fast primes and new zooms are fantastic. In any case, those who bashed this system really were only bashing it due to the smaller sensor in the camera even though it was just as capable as larger sensors. Since I am not biased and only rave about the cameras or lenses I truly love and feel are worth it, no matter the sensor size, I was telling it like it “was and is” for years now.

Today, Micro 4/3 is as serious of a system as any APS-C format system. While not equalling full frame in image quality it can equal APS-C easily while being built better, while auto focusing faster/more accurate and while having the BEST mirrorless lenses available next to Leica. It’s a win/win and the only ones who dismiss this system in 2013 are those who are living in an alternate universe.

Full size file – click it. E-M1 with 17 1.8

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I have met and spoken with pros who shoot the E-M5 as their main cameras. They earn a nice living doing so. I have met some of the most talented street shooters and many of them use Olympus.

OM-D Users: Check out these two guys who shoot with an E-M5 – Thomas Leuthard and Adde Nakoseda

The facts are plain and simple. There are really are no limits with this system in 2013 . It may lose some in high ISO ranges from 6400 and up and it may not have that last 5% of bite that a Leica M has but it easily matches an APS-C and in many cases, exceeds in beauty of rendering and that is thanks to the lenses. But even if I have said it a million times, usability and joy of use go a long way, and this camera has it.

So fear not my friends. With a camera like the E-M1 or E-M5 you can take images in any situation. You can go for wide and large depth of field or get very shallow DOF. You can shoot with one of the best Macro lenses ever as well as an amazing Fisheye and Ultra Wide Zoom. You can use a fast 2.8 pro zoom or even one of the best portrait lenses made today. You can go as fast as f/0.95 in three focal lengths and get gorgeous results. It is absolutely amazing when you sit and think about it. A few years ago we had a couple of kit zooms and a couple of pancakes.

Today it really is limitless. Amazing.

Again, the lovely 17 1.8. This lens has become my fave lens for the E-M1

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But what has improved?

Oh yea, there I go again! Here is my list of improvements over the E-M5 that I realized while shooting:

  • Better build, pro quality feel and heft
  • NO Anti Alais filter on the E-M1. The E-M5 has one (from what I understand)
  • Faster AF with Dual Fast (contrast and Phase detect)
  • HUGE brilliant EVF (EVF-4) makes MF and composition a breeze!
  • Better control placement and more custom options
  • Shockproof and better Weather Sealing – also freeze proof!
  • Live Time rocks!
  • WiFi implementation is AMAZINGLY simple and app works great
  • Slight improvement to image quality..richer..sharper.
  • New Color Creator is interesting
  • Small improvements to 5-Axis IS
  • Improvements in high ISO over the E-M5 by one stop
  • The E-M1 has a dedicated microphone input jack for better sound quality with your video!

So for me, it is a no brainer. This is an amazing camera because the E-M5 is amazing the way it is. Add these improvements and you have something special that usually only comes around every 2-3 years. I do not know where Olympus can go from here except to make a “Pro PEN E-PX or even better OM-D E-MX” – still not sure what they could improve, though there is always something because no matter what, sensor technology is constantly evolving.

The Voigtlander 25 0.95 on the E-M1. Love this lens as it feels like you are shooting a Leica when using it on the E-M1. It may not always be sharp and perfect but it has character for sure :) 

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The Torture Test. How tough is it?

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I love this camera. :) So much so that I gave it a bath in my kitchen sink when it had some dust on it. You know, water gets dust off quite easily :) Lol. In reality, this camera is made to take a beating and keep on going. Freeze it, spray it down with heavy rain or drop it and Olympus says it will keep in going..and going..and going.

Yep, Olympus has been really pushing the toughness of this guy though and since I had a review sample with me for a couple of weeks I decided to give the camera a test and see if they are for real. But what if I do a torture test and it breaks the camera? Would I have to pay for it? Ahhh, what the hell. Why not. I sprayed it with water for 120 seconds while it was on, no problem. I buried it in ice for 30 minutes. No problem. I did NOT drop it as I did not want to damage a lens. But this camera is as tough as they come in the mirrorless world.

The cool thing though? While it is tough as nails, it is a gentle giant with gorgeous handling of color, highlights and details.

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ISO tests

Below is what you can expect from the camera at higher ISO’s. While I would not shoot it at ISO 12,800, I would go up to ISO 3200 no problem. The good news is that I never go over that with ANY camera and neither does 99% of photographers or enthusiasts. Remember film? ISO 400 is as noisy as what you will get with this camera at ISO 3200.

Looking at 100% crops is deceiving as at 100% you see more noise than you would in a print or resized image. The tests I have done show the E-M1 to match the GX7 and just about match the Fuji X-M1 as well. (you can see the E-M1 vs Fuji ISO HERE). If it can get close to the Fuji, then we know it is pretty damn good at higher ISO. It can not match full frame, no, but for 99% of us who shoot up to ISO 1600 or even 3200 it is just fine.

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ISO 3200 on the E-M1  with a Voigtlander Leica M mount 35 1.4 Single Coated classic

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and one at ISO 6400 in the worst conditions. Low light, indoor at night, normal house lamp in the room, zero NR

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Inspiration

Early on in this review, during the 1st line of text, I put up the definition of the word “Inspire”. Why did I do that? Well, I did that because the E-M1 is one of the few cameras made today that does just that. INSPIRES you to use it. There are not many cameras out there that have been made over the past few years that have inspired me to want to pick it up, to use it, to push it to the envelope, to learn with it and to have it be my constant companion. It used to be my Leica M but with the price of those things as well as them being fragile in the RF department (as in, the focus getting out of whack if you breathe on it wrong) I tend to baby the Leica M more these days. With a 50mm Lux, the M and lens will set you back about $11,000.

So while it was the same situation with the M9 a few years back (high cost), I always had my M9 with me because at that time nothing compared in that small size for usability or IQ. Nothing.

Using a VSCO Film Preset gives me that vintage vibe of color that takes me back a bit. 17 1.8 

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Olympus Colors are always pleasing – this is an OOC JPEG

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Another JPEG in Vivid mode..8mm Panasonic Fsheye at f/3.5

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Well today that is a different story.

While I love, adore and really enjoy the Leica M 240 (as you can read here, and SEE here), today there are cameras that not only compete with it in the small size category, there are cameras that are tougher, faster, and offer overall better performance in use and  “close enough” IQ  for 1/8th the cost. There are also some things right around the corner that may just put a dent in Leicas plans (the rumored Sony FF)  because at the price point of the Leica M there should be nothing to compare to it. With the M9, there wasn’t. With the M, due to technology, there is.

OOC JPEG – My son as we were out exploring in Prescott AZ – I added some B&W grunge via Alien Skin.

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I am not saying the E-M1 can touch the Leica M for IQ but it can get me 80-85% there, and in some cases, match it for beauty depending on lighting and skill.

So when I see a $1800 combo getting close to an $11,000 combo but the $1800 combo is tougher, faster, more responsive and problem free..it makes me think and also makes me look at my wallet and bank account.

*Again, not saying in any way that the E-M1 beats the Leica M for image quality or high ISO. It does not. But how close is close enough?*

For some it does not matter, Leica is their life, their lifestyle and the camera they truly enjoy and bond with. For others, they will go with what gets them close enough and use that extra cash to travel, or save or buy a lens or two. Whatever works for YOU is the direction you should go or stay in. These days, you will never have to worry about the camera as mostly all decent cameras today are fantastic.

But as much as I love Leica (and I own one) I have to say I am not sure I will continue buying new Leica bodies because I just enjoy cameras like the E-M1 so much, while getting beautiful results and saving a ton of cash. Like I said, when the M9 was out there was nothing in its size that could compare. Today there is.

The Voigtlander 25 0.95 up close and personal with a Chameleon. Shot at 1.4 and ISO 640

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So will I leave my M and use the E-M1 as my #1 carry around? Probably not. But the more I think about it, the more I realize something. I do not take pro jobs any longer. I do not have the time to do so. The free time I do get these days I spend with my loved ones so these days, no more tours, no more paid portraits, no more paid weddings, no more paid photo work, period. So why would  a guy like me who gets to use every camera and lens made due to my profession need a $15,000 Leica M setup?

I don’t.

But the problem is that I am “bonded and attached” to the Leica M. I have been shooting with an M for many years starting with the M7. So not so sure I can just leave it, but the money is tempting. I can buy a new car with what I could get for my Leica set (though I would not as I do not need one).

So if I did, this E-M1 would be my daily shooter, or 2nd daily depending on what Sony has in store this month :)

ISO 1000, B&W conversion using Alien Skin Exposure – 17 at 1.8

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So that right there says a lot. The E-M1 is so good, it is making me think of no longer owning a Leica camera body! Me, the Leica “Fanboy”. WOW.

Also think of this..I use ALL cameras that are released. I review many of them but not all. If I could buy into ONE system camera today and start from scratch it would be the Olympus OM-D E-M1.

I would spend $4500 for an E-M1 setup before spending it on Fuji, Samsung, Nikon, Canon and possibly Sony NEX depending on what their full frame move is, and even so, I would just own both most likely, the Sony FF and the E-M1. :) 

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So Micro 4/3 is rocking in 2013. The Panasonic GX7 is fantastic, the OM-D E-M5 is still amazing, and the new E-M1 is the best yet. In fact, I could say that, feature for feature, build and speed and taking all into consideration, it is the best mirrorless camera made today. WOW, did I just say that???

Is Olympus the new Leica? I’d say they are the closest to Leica as you can get in a mirrorless body. 

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Compared to the Leica M. Can you get Shallow DOF? 

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Same lens – 50 Lux ASPH

This next test should be illegal because Leica owners always hate when I do these tests (and remember, I am labeled as a Leica fanboy). I did one once where I pit the E-M5 against the $8000 Leica Monochrom. Of course, two totally different cameras but hey, why not? Sometimes that underdog gets mighty close to big dollar results but we all know it is a totally different experience and state of mind (and results when viewing full size). Now in all reality, the Leica Monochrome is one of the most beautiful and unique cameras made today and it is in another league but again, you CAN get B&W with an E-M1 :) Not all of us have $8k lying around.

With that said, how about an image with the same lens  - one on the Leica M, one with the E-M1. Of course the E-M1 will double the focal length and make that 50 a 100mm but that is OK, we are just looking at color, rendering, bokeh, etc. All with the same Leica 50mm Lens.

COMPARE THE TWO for Depth of Field – Same lens, one on the M and one on the E-M1 – The M image was taken with the NEW firmware that corrected skin tones and it is improved over the previous FW for sure. 

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Yep, the Leica has that full frame creaminess and the E-M1 looks more compressed due to the sensor crop but look at them closely. The color is fantastic from the E-M1 and also looks nice from the Leica though a little warm. The E-M1 file is basically a cropped full frame file due to the 2X crop of the Micro 4/3 sensor. The question: Does this come close enough? Some will say yes, some will say no and some will say the E-M1 is even better when considering the cost but the fact is that when you look at those two images, the E-M1 looks DAMN GOOD next to that $11k combo.

Micro 4/3 today in 2013 is FANTASTIC. It can not match the fine texture of the Leica M file, and it should not be able to, but it can put out a very nice pleasing and beautiful image that goes head on with any APS-C and gets 85% of full frame quality. Not too shabby.

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Other thoughts and tibits. Live Time, no AA filter, and all around awesomeness

No AA Filter on the E-M1

At ISO 1600 the E-M1 retains sharpness, even when shooting with the 17 1.8 wide open. Love that it has NO AA filter!

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Many may not be aware of this but the Olympus OM-D E-M1 sensor does not have an AA filter. I was not fully aware of this early on but it was told to me that indeed it does not where the older E-M5 does have one (supposedly, still not 100% on that). That would explain everything because the Olympus 17 1.8, while a great lens, was a little soft on the E-M5.On the E-M1 it is razor-sharp, even when wide open at 1.8 and at high ISO. THIS lens now is my #1 preferred for this focal length even over the slower focusing Panasonic 20 1.7 II. So without an AA filter we get more sharpness and pop. To me, this is a step in the right direction for sure. At times the output has that crispness that I remember from the Leica M8. Crisp and detailed while remaining very pleasing. To me, this is a BIG deal as I strongly prefer my cameras without an AA filter.

Art Filters

The art filters are still here and better than ever. You are either a fan or not but they only work in JPEG mode for that quick cool looking image. My fave is the grainy B&W mode. Not much has changed from the E-P5 or E-M5 in regards to the filters.

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Live Time

There is also much more about the E-M1 that should be talked about. One thing I did not even touch on in my E-M5 review is “Live Time” which I believe was called “Live Bulb” on the E-M5. To activate live time, just go into Manual mode and twist the exposure dial all the way until you see “LIve Time”. Then you can set your aperture and ISO. For really long exposures of the night sky you could set your aperture to f/22 and ISO to base ISO. Press the shutter and then watch as your exposure develops like magic right in front of your eyes. When the exposure is where you want, press the shutter again. There is nothing like it from any other camera manufacturer. I previously showed some light painting we did in Ireland with the camera and the possibilities are endless:

Live Time in Action

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In camera HDR mode

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I am not a fan of HDR but there is no denying there has been quite an HDR movement in the past few years. MANY love it and while 99% of the time, in camera HDR is lousy, on the E-M1 it is not horrible. I would never use it but for those that like to dabble in HDR, the settings here make it as easy as taking a normal photo. The sample above was shot in HDR1 mode.

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HD Video 1080p

While Olympus themselves say their video could be better, when mixed with the 5-AXIS IS it is amazingly smooth. I used the video on the E-M5 for a few productions and will also use the E-M1. I do not make hollywood or pro movies, so for what I do it is good enough. The 5-Axis is amazing!! I can not stress that enough. So for me, the video is great. The good news is that the E-M1 now includes a dedicated mic input jack so you can record with a better microphone :) This is not a camera one would buy for the video but for occasional or hobbyist or youtube use, no problem.

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Yep, the E-M1 is the whole package in one small compact powerhouse. The following two images were shot with the Voigtlander 25 0.95 wide open

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Focus Peaking for Manual Lenses

Olympus did implement focus peaking in the E-M1 and while I am happy to see it I found the peaking to work better in the Panasonic GX7 I reviewed a week or two ago. For some reason the peaking quality is not up to snuff yet. BUT, the good news is that due to the huge EVF you do not even need peaking and can easily manual focus just by eye, and if that is not enough, one button press and you can magnify the screen and do critical focusing.

I shot a few images with a couple of Leica lenses and did not even need the peaking or the magnification. Still, the peaking could be better. Sony still leads the way in focus peaking IMO.

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My Final conclusion on the OM-D E-M1

Well here we are in 2013 and the choices for all of us crazy enthusiasts are plentiful and excellent. We finally have a definitive Micro 4/3 camera body that is pro level and can do just about anything one needs it to do and do it in any weather. As always, I review cameras from an enthusiasts point of view in a real world way. There are things I do not even get into like Flash, because I have not used a flash in 14 years. I am anti-flash even though I know it is good to have on some occasions. But as an enthusiast and a passionate photographer who has seen it all and used them all, I can say with confidence that the OM-D E-M1 is one of the best cameras “as a whole” that I have ever reviewed. It is superb. Yes, there are others with better overall IQ and others with better high ISO but as a whole, speaking of the whole package, nothing else has come close.

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You have seen me rant and rave about a few different camera models over the year. Leica’s and Sony’s for the most part. Well as of today there is a new camera in town that offers the perfect mix of speed, usability, build, image quality, cost and lenses to place it at the top of the heap in the world of mirrorless cameras. Someone asked me today if I would take a Canon 6D and 85L or an E-M1 and 25 1.4. For me that choice is easy. The E-M1 only because it would go with me everywhere when the 6D would be left behind. It is just too large, too bulky and too heavy and the lenses, while fantastic are just too much weight wise for everyday use.

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The image quality of the E-M1 is an improvement over the E-M5 due to the new processor and lack of an AA filter. The files pop more and I feel they also have slightly different color that I prefer. Crisp. Beautiful. The exposure metering is fantastic, the AWB is fantastic, the out of camera colors are beautiful.

There will always be naysayers no matter what towards this Micro 4/3 system. But those who disregard or trash Micro 4/3 or the E-M1 have no idea what they are doing or saying. There is simply nothing to trash and that is fact.

It will not match full frame like the RX1 or M in all out flat out IQ but it will meet head to head ANY APS-C mirrorless and beat them on build, speed, and every other area usability area with ease. What it boils down to for me is..Olympus E-M1 or Full Frame? The answer for me is BOTH. One all out IQ monster and one usability and IQ monster. :)

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Also, let us not forget the lenses. Micro 4/3 has some of the best lenses made for any system, period. There are many highly recommended jewels in the lineup.  At the end of the day this camera gets my highest recommendation. Buy the E-M1 and a couple of nice fast primes and go out and use it and it will be hard to put it down. The Olympus E-M1 has the charm, the soul and the goods to Be my pick for Camera of the Year 2013. Not sure if it will as I hear Sony has something on the way but as it stands now, the E-M1 is at the top of the list. :) 

As of this writing (October 12th 2013) I can say that for me, the Olympus E-M1 is the best Mirrorless camera on the market today when looking at the “Whole Picture” of cost, size, build, speed, toughness, EVF, performance, features and lenses available. No one else even comes close and I should know, I have used EVERYTHING out there. Well done Olympus, you have indeed created a mirrorless masterpiece!

The E-M1 and 8mm Panasonic Fisheye at f/3.5

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Which would I take?

Panasonic GX7 or E-M1: E-M1 no contest.

E-M1 or Fuji X Body: E-M1 no contest.

E-M1 or new rumored Sony Full Frame: BOTH, one for the Full Frame IQ and look and one for all that I have raved about.

E-M1 or NEX-6: E-M1 due to the lenses and speed and build and IQ.

E-M1 or Fuji X100s: Close, but for me, E-M1

E-M1 or Pentax K3? The new Pentax looks amazing on Paper, but is still a DSLR. I can not say until I test the K3 :)

E-M1 or Leica M: Two different cameras for different audiences. End of story, so BOTH :)

The Exposure, the color, the sharpness, the lenses..wow.

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Where to Buy the E-M1?

If you are interested in the Olympus E-M1 you can buy it at the recommended links below, and THANK YOU for stopping by and spending some of your time to read my thought on this exciting camera:

Buy the E-M1 at Amazon HERE

Buy the E-M1 at B&H Photo HERE

Buy the E-M1 at PopFlash.com HERE

The cool thing is that you can pre-order and your credit card will NOT be charged until the camera ships, ensuring you a place in line. Pre-orders are also easily cancelable. With Amazon it takes one click. So if you want this camera, I suggest pre-ordering from one of the dealers above!

More Samples

I will leave you with a few more samples below. Enjoy!

Some JPEGS, Some from RAW, some High ISO, Some LOW – EXIF is embedded in all. Click them for larger.

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Recommended Lenses for the E-M1:

The Olympus 17 1.8

The Panasonic 25 1.4

The Olympus 12mm f/2

The Olympus 45 1.8

The Olympus 75 1.8

The Olympus Pro Zoom 12-40

The Voigtlander 25 0.95

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MORE TO COME!!

As I use the camera more I will be adding to this review with more samples including video, so stay tuned and check back every week or so to this page. 

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Oct 072013
 

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

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

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

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

Yes, I did just say that!

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

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

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

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

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My Panasonic Micro 4/3 History

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

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

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

Shot with the 20 1.7 II at ISO 400

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Enter the Panasonic GX7 – A true return to form

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My real world experience shooting with the GX7

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

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The Build and Feel

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

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

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

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

OOC JPEG at ISO 2000 WITH in camera NR

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The AF speed

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

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

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

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

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

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The HIGH ISO performance

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

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

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HIGH ISO CROPS

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

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The Usability of the GX7

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

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

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

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The EVF

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

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

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The Lenses

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

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The Silent Shutter Mode

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

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The Video

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

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

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The Value

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

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VS the E-M1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pros and Cons of the GX7

Pros

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

Cons

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

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My final word on the Panasonic GX7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two with the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH on the GX7

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WHERE TO BUY!

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

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

Buy the Panasonic GX7 at Amazon – Body only

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

Buy the Panasonic GX7 body only at B&H HERE

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

ISO 2000 with the Kit Zoom – NO NR

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With a Leica 50 Summilux ASPH at f/2

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and the box..

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HELP ME TO KEEP THIS SITE GOING AND GROWING!! IT’S EASY TO HELP OUT & I CAN USE ALL THE HELP I CAN GET!

PLEASE Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site (and the cost these days to keep it going is pretty damn high), so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

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Dec 212012
 

A Mini user review of Sigma Dp1 & DP2 Merril

I thought it would be interesting for everybody to have a look at some work done with the Sigma DP1 and DP2 Merrill cameras. I also shoot with a Leica M9 and various lenses but at 68 and wearing glasses I find it harder and harder to focus when necessary (i.e., when not using zone/hyper focal technique.) The Sigma DP1 (19 mm lens) and DP2 (30 mm lens) Merrill’s are simple, little black boxes that seem well constructed and sturdy. Autofocus is just about as fast and accurate as a NEX-7. All autofocus systems are problematic including, I’ve read, the Nikon D800E. I use my Sigma’s with optical viewfinders which gives a speed and fluidity similar to using the Leica with a wide-angle lens but a little more assurance in focus. When precise framing is necessary the back LCD serves well enough. The menu/control system of the camera is spare and Leica-like. There is PASM, EV adjustments, iso adjustment in 1/3 stops and not much else. There is a movie mode but I don’t use it so I can’t comment. Definitely more photographer than engineer-oriented. Definitely few features.

Sigma Photo Pro (SPP) is the RAW developer that has to be used as ACR/Lightroom does not (and maybe will not) support Sigma/Foveon. Iridient will be coming out with a raw developer that will develop dp1/2m files in a few weeks but generally I’ve found that using SPP with a few minor adjustments and then batch converting to TIFFs to be completely satisfactory. The TIFFs are then imported into Lightroom 4 which handles them as usual. I see no degradation of image between Lightroom manipulation of the TIFF and straight processing through SPP. Sigma has also been very quick in providing updates: 2 upgrades to SPP and 3 firmware updates between the two cameras since I’ve owned them.

As has been reported elsewhere (see Michael Reichman’s reviews at Luminous Landscape) the image quality produced by the tiny Merrill’s is extraordinary. I’ve never seen detail like this before from any camera and certainly not from the M9 or NEX-7. The color is true, saturated and satisfying. The lenses are good and do not limit the sensor.

As is also well-known, the camera really only functions well at very low iso– 100 or 200. I’ve done a modest amount of work at iso 800 which is passable but things go well at even higher iso if converted to B&W and then “de-noised” in Lightroom or even SPP.

Richard Geltman

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Nov 022012
 

The Leica Monochrom – My final words and samples and comparisons…for now.

So here I am, a few weeks in with my Leica Monochrom and still loving the damn thing. I was hoping I would see it as a camera that is a gimmik..a joke..a camera that is no different from any other Leica M digital but that has not been the case. Yea, I love Leica. Always have. I have also criticized them when it was warranted and when they released sub-par products that was beaten by the competition at a much cheaper price.

The Monochrom is a tricky beast. The price leaves it well out of reach for most yet there are so many photographers who lust for one. Others have the opinion that it is crap..an overpriced camera without features or…COLOR! But I see it as a unique one of a kind tool that does indeed beat the Leica M9 for tonality and high ISO capability.

“Little Man” – Leica Monochrom – 50 F/2 Summitar  - cropped  - Click it for larger version. BTW, this has not had any Photoshop work.

In case you missed them, you can see my previous entries in my ongoing Leica Monochrom review below:

Part 1: Understanding the Camera

Part 2: Low light, High ISO and using Filters on and off the camera

Part 2.5: More thoughts on the camera

GALLERY: The Leica Monochrom Gallery – New images added weekly

 “Zombie Jake” – Monochrom with 35 1.4 – ISO 320 – You must click this to see the detail in the larger version! 

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The Monochrom is a real tool..for real photographers..for those who adore B&W photography

I have said this before but not everyone will understand it. Those who refuse to even think about spending this kind of money will instantly bash the Mono on that alone. Others will bash it because they want it but can not afford it and others will bash it because they will say their camera is just as good. Others will say “NOTHING will ever match film”, which is 100% true but why would I pay $8000 to match film? I personally feel what comes out of the Monochrom beats film in many ways. The ones who bash this camera are the photographers who do not get it, and therefore not the target market Leica was aiming at when they released the Monochrom.

The beautiful Zeiss Sonnar f/1.5 on the MM

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and a $250 Canon 50 1.8 LTM

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I have already stated that I feel the camera is overpriced but the reason for this is because it is indeed a “one of a kind” product. No one else makes a camera such as this and yes, there is a difference in the B&W quality between this camera and a Leica M9 converted file. Is it better? Well, not everyone will agree but I think so. In part 2.5 I posted three images. One from the M9 that was a converted B&W and two from the Mono. I saw the difference in tonality and I will show more below. But is it enough to fork over this kind of cash? No, not really.

What makes this camera worth it to many is because of what it is and that is PURITY. How can a digital camera be pure? By being a simple, old school, B&W only camera. That is how. It is just as pure as film and has capabilities that surpass film. Many film die hards will disagree and I am not bashing film because I also love film, I just do not shoot it these days due to cost and time.

 “In Flight” – Monochrom with 50 1.5 Zeiss Sonnar – ISO 320

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As I walk the street with my Monochrom I sit and think… What am I doing owning a $8000 Leica camera body when I am not in that upper income bracket that Leica is so marketing this camera to? Why should I own this beauty when there are other more deserving photographers who can make better use of it?  Why do I NEED this camera? Then I think some more..and the answer is clear. Because you only live once and if I can say anything about life is that we all need to LIVE IT in a way that makes us happy. We do not get a 2nd chance, life is not a dress rehearsal. We are here and then we are gone and if this camera makes me a happy man then I deserve to have it and use it and adore it.

That is basically the attitude I have with all Leica gear. I certainly should not be spending cash on Leica lenses and cameras but at the same time I do not own anything else extravagant. So why not? :)

The fact is that I love the Monochrom. I have shot it all over the place and what I see coming from it are results in B&W that are “different from any other camera I have shot with and converted. It has a look and a feeling. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and truth be told..when you start shooting the camera it takes some getting used to. The 1st few weeks I always saw shots I wanted to shoot in color. Today when I go out with the Monochrom I do not see color. I see only in black and white.

“Fresh Pie” – Monochrom and 35 1.4 – direct from camera on a harsh bright AZ day

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Compared to the Leica M9 – Tones

Many have wondered why on earth they should buy a Monochrom when they may have a Leica M9 already. Let’s forget about other cameras for the moment because if you shoot an M you want to shoot an M. You want that experience of shooting with a rangefinder, a hand-built work of art. If you love Leica then you want a Leica.

So let us say you have an M9 and you have been itching for a Monochrom but you are not sure if there is even a difference between the files when at the end of the day you can convert a color M9 file to B&W.

I have been shooting with both the M9 and Mono for a couple of weeks and comparing results. What I have noticed is that the main things that set the Monochrom apart from the M9 is the fact that you will get MUCH less noise at higher ISO’s and you have the capability to go up to ISO 10,000 with the Mono when the M9 goes up to 2500. The Mono also gives you the Sapphire screen of course but in regards to noise and B&W tonality, IMO the Mono takes the prize when it comes to B&W photography.

It appears that ISO 2500 on the M9 is pretty close to the Leica Monochrom at ISO 6400. Even ISO 10,000 is usable on the Monochrom. 

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and just for fun, and ISO 10,000 crop on the Mono vs the OM-D in Mono mode – NR off.

It has never been a doubt that the Monochrom is good enough in low light to take images in just about any situation. Since there is no ugly color noise we get a nice looking noise pattern, even with a high ISO setting such as 6400. 10,000 is grainy but some may like this look. Sort of like shooting Delta 3200.

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TONES

How about tonality? Can the Mono deliver results that look better than the M9 when an M9 file is converted? Well, maybe not better but the images are certainly different.

1st shot is from the Monochrom – 35 1.4 – ISO 320 and 1/4000s – this is the full size file so you can click it to see it full size.

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When I focused the M9 shot I realized after I was back home that the focus was off a bit so this is not to compare focus but to compare tones after the B&W conversion. I used Alien Skin exposure. Same camera settings. See a difference?

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One more to check for tones – 1st the Monochrom…BOTH converted using the same preset…

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And the M9 converted…

I’ve noticed the whites with the Monochrom are a bit more grey. The grey tones are darker grey than what you will get from the M9 converted color file. So is it better? Possibly, for some yes. For some no. I think what it all boils down to is if you want to get into the “Monochrom Mindset” and only shoot B&W. If so, the Mono will force you to do it. With an M9 you will sometimes keep the color file and therefore you may not start seeing in B&W as much as you would if you were shooting with a Monochrom.

“Kids 1st Zombie”  - Monochrom with 35 1.4 – noise added via filter in Alien Skin

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“Beat the Drum” – 35 1.4 – filter applied in Alien Skin with grain. EXIF is embedded.

So what is my overall bottom line conclusion on the Monochrom? Well, there is nothing like it. Period. To have a Leica M body in all stealth charcoal black without markings that only shoots in B&W is quite the conversation starter. It is a camera that you really can’t get until you use it…hold it..press the shutter. Is it worth $8000? To me, no. To you? Maybe. The files that come out of this camera when a shot is properly focused with a good lens are mind-blowing. Prints..I can only imagine (coming soon..big prints from the Mono).

There is a richness and tonality to the files that come out of the Mono that are very pleasing but do take some getting used to. You can get results that are very grey and flat but you must have that eye in B&W mode to find the right situation for a good B&W photo. Once you get that down as well as the processing and filter use then you can start to feel comfy with the camera.

The Monochrom is not for everyone but for those who dare step into this territory then I feel you will be happy knowing you have one of the most different cameras on the market. A full frame Monochrom only sensor camera with classic beauty, classic handling and even classic usability. Mixed with the ultra simple controls of focus, aperture and shutter speed and you have a winner for those of us who want to shoot in a pure way. The Leica Monochrom gives us that.

Only you can decide if it is for you. B&W only, Superb ISO performance, Gorgeous files in a Leica M body. $8000.

“Hey Brother can you spare some Brains”? – Mono with 50 Summitar

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Where to Buy the Leica Monochrom?

If you want to buy one of these and are prepared to take the heat from your significant other about it then you can buy from one of the following dealers, all of whom I recommend:

Ken Hansonemail at [email protected]

B&H Photo

Dale Photo

Pop Flash

The Pro Shop  - 561-253-2606

The only problem is that this camera is back ordered and usually dealers have wait lists going on. Be sure to check with all dealers to see where they stand on stock and tell them I sent you!

Zeiss 50 Planar at 2.8

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What else can I say?

After 3 previous parts to this review and several other posts prior to these I feel that everything I could say about the Monochrom has been said. It is what it is and you know if it is something for you or if you would benefit by owning one. All I know is I am in love with mine and will continue to use it during those times where I feel B&W would suit. I may even be inspired to go out and start a new series like I used to do when I had more time. Maybe pick up on my Homeless Project where I left off a few years ago. The Mono motivates :)

Zeiss Sonnar 1.5

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HELP ME TO KEEP THIS SITE GOING AND GROWING!! IT’S EASY TO HELP OUT & I CAN USE ALL THE HELP I CAN GET!

PLEASE Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site (and the cost these days to keep it going is pretty damn high), so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

Even if  you buy baby food, napkins or toothpicks at Amazon it helps this site, and you do not pay anything extra by using the links here. Again, you pay nothing extra by using my links, it is just a way to help support this site, so again, I thank you in advance :) More info is here on how you can help!

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Oct 132012
 

The Leica Monochrom Review Part 2: Low Light, High ISO and Filters

This part of my ongoing Leica Monochrom review will go over Low Light and High ISO shooting as well as using filters on the lens and off the lens. The images here were all shot by me at high ISO or in low light. I will have many more great samples in parts 3 & 4. For now, Enjoy part 2 and feel free to leave your comments about the Leica Monochrom!

Read Part 1 Here which goes over what the camera is all about as well as a quick comparison with 35mm film. I also added some supplemental photos HERE. Part 2.5 is now up as well! Thank you!

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My Monochrom Journey Continues…

After reading part one of my continuing Leica Monochrom Review (you can read it here) you now realize what the Leica Monochrom is all about as well as who it is for and NOT for. You also know it is an $8,000 B&W only camera that does not shoot color. I have been shooting continuously every day with this camera and I have to say that after two weeks I am really connecting with the Monochrom on a level even more so than I did with the M9, which was my camera “soulmate”..or at least I thought. The more I shoot the Mono, the more I think that this one may be “the one” that sticks by my side for as long as it can. I shot the M9 for 3 years and only gave it up to get the Monochrom and I am not in any way disappointed with this decision. In fact, I feel 100% happy with this choice that I made and after daily shooting with this I can say it is a camera that is VERY capable of creating some fine photographs and in the right hands, works of art. Low light, high ISO..yep, the Monochrom is the real deal my friends.

The Leica Monochrom is a serious tool even at night on the street at ISO 2000. I shot this in San Francisco while taking a street walk and was very happy with the results. Please click the image for a larger 1800 pixel wide version.

BTW, I edited this to have the darker gritty feel. I like this high contrast deep black look when shooting late night street and the Mono gave it to me. I could have easily taken the flat grey low contrast look as well. Many Monochrom haters initially said the camera was incapable of producing blacks yet when I compare this to my high contrast film shots on my HD this looks much better to my eyes. 

and one more with a less harsh look

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Vision

With the Leica M9 we all had (or still have) a tool that can deliver mind-blowing results with the right lens and of course the right vision of the person behind the camera. There  are indeed limitations though because the M9 is limited with high ISO. Even shooting the street at night with an M9 and 35 1.4 was a little tough at times because the max ISO is 2500 and at that level it is pretty damn noisy. I have used ISO 2500 on the M9 in B&W to great effect but it was still grainy and noisy and that was it… The ceiling was hit with nowhere else to go in regards to low light. Well, that is not true actually. You could always grab a Noctilux f/0.95 for a cool $11k. :)

When Leica announced the Monochrom they touted it as a camera that will put an end to B&W film. After using it for a while and getting the hang of the processing I almost believe that statement. I still feel B&W film like Tri-X will never fully die due to the film die hards who will refuse to ever give it up and admit that anything digital can beat it but here we are in 2012 and more and more B&W films are fading away and being discontinued. Neopan 1600, T-Max…it’s a sad time for those who love shooting silver B&W. Many faves are dying away and there is nothing to replace them with. They each had their own look and feel and even smell. Can the Leica Monochrom deliver the goods for those who love those films that are now gone?

I think so..if you have the vision to create what your mind sees and wants.

ISO 1600 – I slightly back focused my 35 1.4 but the result is still gorgeous. While other guys were using strobes and flash I went “au natural” with whatever light was in the room and I like the result much better than the deer in the headlights look. Again, I processed this to have more contrast and deeper blacks. I could have went with a lower contrast look. Remember no lighting was used here so the shadow on her face is due to this. 

It Delivers the Goods

The really nice thing about the Monochrom is that it delivers the goods *if you know how to use it and process the files from it*. Many shots from the Monochrom, even from a couple of well-respected shooters and reviewers look a but flat because the files need a little bit of work to make them go from great to WOW. I am not saying that my shots are “WOW” but I have come a long way from my 1st samples in Berlin which showed the flat grey look that many are getting with this camera. I am speaking of the look of the files, the tones..the pop..the beauty. In my opinion, the Leica Monochrom is a box full of hidden potential and it may take me a year to really get the most from it. The one thing I know is that it certainly CAN deliver, and it is the real deal if you take the time to get to learn it and become one with it.

Here is an example I shot on the streets at night at ISO 8000. Yes, 8000. I processed it to give it a high contrast pop and as you can see, it has it. Gone are the dull greys you saw in earlier samples. LIke I said, this camera is VERY versatile and can get any look you desire once you learn how to work with the files. 

When I say it “delivers the goods” what I mean is that it can do just about anything you need it to do in the B&W world. Do you like flat grey shots? No problem. Do you like gritty high contrast? No problem! Do you like a Tri-X look? The Mono can do it all but to help it along it is quite simple. I always shoot RAW for the best quality file and then during RAW processing I tweak the exposure, black level and contrast to where I want it. I then process the RAW and use either an Alien Skin Exposure filter or bring it in to Silver Efex Pro (which comes with the Monochrom) to finish it up.

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Using Software Filters with the Monochrom

You do not have to use any kind of filters with the Monochrom but they can add the look of your old fave film and get pretty damn close to it. You can go for rich blacks, high contrast, low contrast, grit and noise, or anything you desire just by running an image through Silver Efex Pro or Alien Skin Exposure. I love Alien Skin Exposure 4 and have put a sample below as to what it can do for a photo from the Monochrom.

This 1st image is direct from the camera with no adjustments at all. As you can see it is a bit flat and dark…

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I took that image and ran it through Alien Skin Exposure using a simple preset (but I did it without adding grain). This example now pops more and has more contrast. This is just a generic example of a 3 second filter added. You can get as complex as you wish and you can also choose different looks for your photos. The arsenal of film stock filters and customization of these software packages are a must for any Monochrom owner. 

So if you are buying a Monochrom or already own one I highly recommend at least playing with some of these software filters. The camera actually comes with Silver Efex Pro which is the standard by which all others are measured. Alien Skin Exposure 4 can be downloaded here with a 30 day trial.  I highly recommend it not only for the Monochrom files but also for any digital files. Mess with it and get creative..step outside of  the box and see what you like. You may be surprised. I am happy that the Monochrom puts out flat files. Remember, this is a GOOD thing! This gives us the room to process the files to our liking. If the files came out all contrasty and slick then we would have less freedom to create our vision.

The Monochrom is just right and does what it does for a reason. It is not a camera for beginners.

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The software filters also allow you to get as creative as you want by adding frames and more noise..ISO 2500 – I cropped this one and it shows the effects of the filter I applied. 

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Using Actual Filters on your Lenses. Red, Yellow, IR and ND. Old School B&W.

With the Monochrom you are shooting just like your Father or Grandfather (or even you do today) did back in the day. Many B&W film shooters use filters on their lenses to enhance their skies or skin tones and you can also do this with the Monochrom. When shooting just imagine that you are shooting film because what worked when shooting with B&W film will work with the Monochrom. I feel Leica should have included a set of nice filters with the camera for those who want to take it all the way old school and get back to the ultimate B&W frame of mind.

They didn’t include any so I went out and bought a few. I picked up a B+W Red, Yellow and IR filter as well as an ND filter for those bright sunny days when I want to shoot with a wide aperture. With the minimum ISO of the Monochrom being 320 it is impossible to shoot at f/1.4 in full sun or mild sun. Adding an ND filter solves the problem. I bought this one for my 35 Lux FLE.

IR filters

I bought one of these out of curiosity. Here is the description of what it should do:

The B+W 46mm IR Dark Red (092) Filter is used for infrared photography with digital cameras and specialized infrared films. This nearly opaque filter blocks all visible light up to 650nm, lets 50% of radiation pass between 650 and 700nm, and more than 90% of radiation pass between 730 and 2000nm. Infrared film sensitivity is rarely greater than 1000nm, so this filter essentially allows most perceivable infrared radiation to be transmitted. Due to the nature of infrared photography, the filter factor for this filter is highly variable and depends largely on your film sensitivity and lighting conditions.

This was shot with a B+W IR-695 filter. I wanted to expiriment a bit with one. This one was at f/1.4 with the 35 Summilux FLE. 

Red Filter Usage and Example

The Red Filter when used on the Monochrom or with B&W film will add massive contrast. If you use this to shoot clouds in the sky you will get very dramatic results with borderline “Thunderstorm” effects. Unfortunately I live in Phoenix where there is rarely a cloud in the sun filled sky so all I have for this section is a shot that shows an OOC JPEG from the Mono with a red 25A Red filter. In most cases you would not want to use this filter – only for dramatic effects in skies IMO. When I get a nice sky shot using this filter I will post it here. I bought a cheaper red filter as I will rarely use it. 

Yellow Filter Usage and Example

Using a yellow filter will help bring out some contrast and can help skin tones a little as well. It’s a mild filter that can help bring more pop out of the camera to your files from the Monochrom. Using a yellow filter for B&W is pretty standard and is usually the goto filter as it will help your skies from being too bright as well. If you get one filter for your Monochrom, get a yellow. I use a B&W  Medium yellow which is a very high quality filter. The image below was shot with the yellow filter on the camera. Click it for a larger view.

Using filters can be part of the fun and creativity with the Leica Monochrom and will bring you back a bit. Pick a filter for your specific use and go with it. You can also buy other filters but these were the ones I bought for my Mono as they are the most used in B&W film.

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Really High ISO & the Monochrom

With the Leica Monochrom you no longer have to be limited to ISO 2500 because you can shoot up to 10,000 ISO with this camera and get usable results. I have already shown an ISO 8000 shot earlier in this review but below you can see more from ISO 3200 and up. What amazes me about the Monochrom is the detail that is kept even when there is noise and grain. Even when shooting at night which is a torture test for ANY digital camera and high ISO the Monochrom keeps its cool and delivers stunning results in detail, tonality and overall wow factor.

Click the image below to see a larger version. BTW, this was ISO 8000 on a DARK street. The detail that is here is quite amazing. The tones are rich. IMO, this beats film because I was not stuck with one film in my camera. With the Monochrom I have ALL B&W films available at all times. 

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Another ISO 8000 with crop – click it to see full crop embedded

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ISO 6400 with a little more light shining in…and none of these shots have had ANY Noise Reduction of any kind. What you see is what you get.

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Real world ISO 6400 on the street at night…not the best shot but you can get a feel for the noise level when there is no light around..This is direct from camera with no filter applied at all..

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ISO 2500

The bottom line on the high ISO and low light is that this camera is SUPER FANTASTIC! This camera is really  a treat and so nice to shoot at night and in low light because it just does what it should and that is to have every kind of B&W film loaded up and ready at your command. Dial in ISO 320 to 10,000 at any given moment and be surprised by the results you will get. The Mono keeps the detail and sharpness and the noise is like a nice grained film. I was very happy with the results and when combined with a fast Leica lens like a Summilux or even Noctilux you can be king of the nightime B&W world. There is no color camera that can do what this one does with the tones nor the experience. The Monochrom is a different camera than anything on the market right now and many scoff at the idea of a B&W only camera but at the same time many are drooling over the thought of owning one.

Shooting in B&W requires passion and a love of the art of photography. You will get out what you put in and the camera can either reward you with beautiful files or disappoint you with flatness. For all of you getting this camera be sure to work with the files using lightroom or Photoshop as well as filter plug-ins and physical filters. This is when you will start to really appreciate what the Monochrom can do for you. I feel that this camera also inspires and when you tale it out to shoot you know you have something special in your hands. I may not agree with Leica’s pricing on this camera but I have to tell it like it is and the fact is that I adore this camera. End of story.

BTW, I am loving the combo of the 35 Summilux FLE with the camera and is my favorite Leica lens ever. My perfect kit would be a 28 Elmarit, 35 Summilux, 50 cron APO and a 75 of some kind. No way I can ever afford the 50 APO but it is a killer lens on the Monochrom.

For those that want to replace B&W film with a camera that can do it all in the B&W world but were worried about high ISO..well, don’t be. The Monochrom delivers :)

Part 2.5 is up HERE.

To buy the Monochrom you need to get on a list or pre-order. Mine came from Ken Hansen ([email protected]) but you can also buy from Dale Photo, PopFlash, B&H Photo or Amazon!

Look for part three of this ongoing review  in 7-12 days where I will have side by side comparisons (full size samples) with cameras like the M9, Fuji X, OM-D and others :) I also plan to do prints with the files as well so bookmark and check back often!

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May 062012
 

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Digital Camera Review by Steve Huff

Micro 4/3 finally matures..for real.

Well here we are in May of 2012 and Olympus has now released a new line of Micro 4/3 cameras,  fittingly called the “OM-D”, which is actually a homage to the little “OM” of the film world.  The OM series has sort of a cult following and for good reason. Those little film cameras were so good, so small and so solid that even today many are still in use. The original OM series film cameras are highly recommended if you want to get into some low cost film shooting.

My original Olympus OM-1 that belonged to me for many years – was a GREAT camera and the 50 1.4 that I shot with it was also very good..and cheap! I think I paid $125 for the entire set.

But as for today in this digital world the 1st camera in this new OM-D line is called the E-M5, and the specs and details of this camera looked amazing when it was announced by Olympus. Everything that was missing from the already great E-P3 (my review here) was now included in the E-M5. A built in EVF, weather sealing, tillable LCD screen, better video quality without any jello effect, improved high ISO quality, a new button and control layout and even an optional grip that can not only be used as an additional handgrip with extra dials and buttons (which are nice and solid) but you can also add on an extra battery pack to the grip if you want more stamina. It all seemed so perfect… but I was wondering if the camera would live up to the hype, because they rarely do. I mean, this E-M5 has been hyped and marketed like mad so does it live up to all of  the hoopla?

The OM – DIGITAL – Same classic looks with that special old school charm

**NOTE:  for reference you can see my Olympus E-P2 and E-P3 reviews.**

Well…

I have been using the E-M5 for over 3 weeks now and have found the camera to be an absolute joy to use. Micro 4/3 has now really matured and Olympus has answered many of our concerns, needs, and wants and seriously, I am not sure how much better the Micro 4/3 format can get but keep in mind, this is still Micro 4/3 and will not give you the depth of field or richness of an APS-C or full frame sensor.

OM-D TIP! BEFORE YOU SHOOT THE OM-D E-M5 I recommend to TURN OFF the warm color setting in the picture IQ menu! Otherwise your images will all have funky warm colors! Many of the JPEGS in this review were shot with the warm color set to ON. I prefer it set to OFF..

This review will go over the usability, speed, ISO, image quality, lenses and just about everything that has to do with real world use of the E-M5. This is not going to be a tech head scientific review as anyone who knows me will know that I do not test cameras in that fashion. If I did, this would be a rather boring review.  I prefer to focus on the way we use the cameras – the way they handle, the controls, the joy of use. Does it inspire you to get out an take pictures? Will it put a big fat warm smile on your face? Will the image quality be really good and satisfy our needs?

THESE are the things I like to look for.

Also note, 75% of the images in this review, just like my E-P3 review, have been shot as JPEGS. So what you see here are mainly images that came right out of the camera. Olympus has usually been great with JPEGS and at the time I started writing this there was no real RAW support for the OM-D just yet. RAW support did become available after I was 3/4 of the way done with this so you will see some RAW shots here in this review as well. All images are marked either as JPEG or RAW.

So with all of that said..let’s get started!

Olympus E-M5 and the Olympus 12mm f/2  - A man and his wolf – OOC JPEG

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Sexy thing that E-M5 …Weather and Splash proof. It can take rain and cold but do not dunk it in water :)

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Is the E-M5 a Game Changer?

So right up front…is the Olympus OM-D E-M5  a game changer in the world of digital mirror less cameras? Well, not really. Sure it has a great body, great controls, and it has all of the stuff we wanted to see but at the end of the day there is nothing really revolutionary about it. It doesn’t have any magic fairy dust sprinkled inside nor does it have anything amazingly special. The image quality is pretty much on par with other Micro 4/3 cameras.

Basically, it is a souped up and hot rodded E-P3 that beats any Micro 4/3 to date in regards to usability and fun factor. There has been no Micro 4/3 to come before this that I liked better so while it might not be an overall game changer it is a game changer in the M4/3 world!

The PEN series has always been super fun to shoot. I loved and still love the E-P3 though it’s high ISO performance is lacking a bit. ISO 1600 was and is about the max you want to go to when shooting the E-P3. The E-M5 can shoot ISO 3200 and be fine and even 6400 can be used if you need it, even in low light (and yes, this guy can focus fast in almost any light). The ISO improvement in real world scenarios has been improved without any doubt. When you add in the other new features and the new 5-Axis IS then it is a no brainer to go for an E-M5 if you want a M4/3 camera today. It appears Olympus just lowered the price of the E-P3 to $799 which now makes it about $300 less than the E-M5 kit but the E-M5 is well worth the extra $300 just for all of the improvements (EVF, 5-Axis IS, swivel LCD, new sensor and better low light, better video, etc). I have spoken to some OM-D owners who said they would pay double for this camera just because it does so much right. That right there says quite a bit.

In many ways, shooting this little camera has reminded me of the Nikon V1 (see my review of the V1 here). The speed, accuracy, and lack of any problems or quirks was refreshing. The way it should be when we plunk down our hard earned cash for a new camera. What I mean by that is that if I spend $2500 or more on a digital camera setup and it gives me hassles, issues, missed shots or can’t do what I need it to do then to me, it is worthless. If a camera can be responsive, do things it is designed to do without hassles and give me output that I can live with then all is good. The E-M5 is one of these cameras where ALL IS GOOD.

The OM-D E-M5 and Panasonic 25 1.4 – WHAT A COMBO!!

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But it is Micro 4/3, the sensor is too small!

Many have this complaint about the M4/3 format and some shooters always will I guess. I hear it all the time. “The sensor is too small, it limits my depth of field”. Well, that used to be true but not today..well, sort of. With lenses like the newer 25 1.4, 45 1.8, and upcoming 75 1.8 even those who crave shallow DOF will have little to complain about. NO, you will not get the full frame super creamy DOF look but you can get nice results with the right lenses. Even with the new Voigtlander 25 0.95 and 17 0.95 it gets even better (if you are looking for a unique look, more on that below). This camera no longer has all of those limitations many associate with Micro 4/3.

Why? Well, because it has a fantastic sensor and when you add those amazing lenses it does just about anything you need it to do.

The Olympus 17 2.8 is a bit softer on the OM-D than the other lenses, but i is also the cheapest and offers a 35mm view

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The 75 1.8 is sharp and with great color, fast AF and nice video performance – a little pricey at $899 but if this focal length is your thing..a steal.

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The Voigtlander 17 0.95 up close – from RAW

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The new 16MP sensor – It’s good :)

Have no fear! The new 16MP sensor in the E-M5 is a nice improvement over the E-P3 sensor, again, mainly in the area of ISO. The files are nice, the color has the typical Olympus quality and yes, the overall quality is there. The files are also bitingly sharp if need be. I have had no complaints with the new sensor and many suspect it is the same one that is in the Panasonic G3. This has not been confirmed though and there are those who say it is not. Me, I do not know the truth but I do know I really like this sensor and I have mainly been shooting in JEPG for the bulk of this review!

I do know that this new 16MP sensor (new to Olympus) is capable of very large prints and sharp output so in reality, this is as good as most people will need for their everyday photography, actually, even better. I have said it before but it’s all about the lenses and now you can have your choice between many quality lenses.

Check out the amazing detail at f/4 with the 17mm – from RAW – YOU MUST click image for larger view and full crop!

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Check out the following images with 100% crops embedded  - click them for larger views and true crop – from RAW

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This one was at f/4 – from RAW

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With the 25 1.4 from Panasonic

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The Specs of the OM-D E-M5 – What Olympus says and What I say. 

Here are the specs and features of the camera, or at least what Olympus has to say about it…followed by my thoughts

Intuitively Designed Electronic Viewfinder

What Olympus Says: The OLYMPUS E-M5 is the first Olympus interchangeable-lens camera to incorporate a 120fps refresh rate, high definition electronic viewfinder with an eye sensor to seamlessly switch the display between the tilting 3.0″ touch screen OLED and the electronic viewfinder for ease-of-use. It features a 100% field of view, maximum 1.15x magnification, and an eye point of 18mm for fatigue-free viewing. Camera setting information, such as shutter speed, is displayed at the bottom of the viewfinder so photographers can concentrate on framing shots and take full advantage of an EVF’s ability to display the effects of various exposure adjustments and Art Filter effects – all without having to take the eye away from the viewfinder.

What I say: Well, the VF is great. No complaints. It seems to be crisp and clear and when you put your eye to the EVF it automatically switches on. Again, no complaints. In real use it works just fine. It is basically their newer VF-2 but since the camera is better in low light with less noise, the EVF has less noise than you would have found if using the VF-2 on the E-P3. No complaints. The EVF switches formats to whatever you switch to: 3:2, 4:3, 1:1, etc.

Superior Image Quality

What Olympus Says: The Olympus E-M5 uses a 16.1 megapixel High-Speed Live MOS Sensor offering improved performance and exceptional clarity and speed in all aspects of image capture. Olympus’ TruePic VI image-processing engine dramatically improves image quality in low-light environments. The camera’s sensor allows for a maximum ISO of 25,600, and the dynamic range has been expanded for more faithful color reproduction

What I say: WOW, I was impressed by the high ISO performance of this camera. It is a big leap up from the E-P3 so BRAVO to Olympus. The camera will still not give you X-Pro 1 ISO performance but up to 3200 ISO it is VERY usable and actually very close to the X-Pro. I recommend to turn OFF Noise Reduction. Dynamic Range does indeed seem to be better as I have not had any issues with blown highlights. Overall, the image quality of this camera is damn good. Again, the best M 4/3 quality I have seen to date.

Panasonic 8mm Fisheye on the OM-D

Unprecedented 5-Axis Image Stabilization

What Olympus says: The Olympus E-M5 is distinguished by the world’s first 5-axis image-stabilization mechanism capable of reducing the effects of camera motion and image blur from five directions on stills and video, even including motion blur caused by the photographer walking or running. Previous IS mechanisms compensated for camera shake by addressing only two kinds of movement along the vertical and horizontal axis. However, camera shake can actually be caused by five different kinds of movement: horizontal shift, vertical shift, rotary motion, as well as the yaw and pitch. While some technology has attempted to correct for camera blur by building the Image Stabilization mechanism into the lens, the Olympus E-M5 IS mechanism is incorporated into the camera body itself so that all lenses mounted on the body can take advantage of this sophisticated technology, whether shooting stills or HD video.

What I say: I LOVE this 5-Axis IS. Simply put, I have never seen IS in a camera as good as this. Video almost seems “steady cam-ish”. For images it works just as good. Again, BRAVO to Olympus for this as it is another 1st that Olympus brought in. Remember when Olympus designed and created the dust shaker? Now almost everyone uses some form of automated dust remover.

Blazing Speed

What Olympus says: Focus and shoot faster with record-breaking autofocus speed and imaging processing. The Olympus E-M5 employs the FAST (Frequency Acceleration Sensor Technology) AF system, introduced in the PEN E-P3, but with even greater speed. The 16Mp Live MOS chip drives image data off the sensor at a blazing 240 frames-per-second, a 2x speed increase in Continuous Autofocus, with reduced image blackout enabling photographers to track fast action. Maximum frame rates in sequential shooting have also increased more than 2x with a max frame rate of 9fps in Single AF. A new 3D tracking AF system can follow the subject through the X-, Y- and Z-axes to dramatically improve focus on moving subjects.

What I say: The AF is faster than any mirror less camera I have shot with to date…in fact, faster than just about any camera I have shot with.

Creative Freedom

What Olympus says: The Olympus E-M5 features a 3.0″ tilting OLED touch-screen to enable photographers to get up high or down low for any shot. The touchscreen interface offers intuitive focus and release of the shutter and review and enlargement of images in playback with the touch of a finger. The Live Bulb feature updates the Live View image on the OLED screen at pre-set intervals during long exposures and enables the user to preview continually unfolding action such as fireworks or waterfalls and adjust the exposure time accordingly while capturing the image at the desired moment. An innovative new interface, EVF Creative Control, produces a tone curve overlay on the viewfinder screen to enable separate adjustment of highlight and shadow brightness, white balance, magnification and aspect ratio can also be manipulated via the EVF.

What I say: The tilting LCD is very useful. I often wished Olympus would put this onto the PEN series and now they did, but on this OM-D. I have used this much like I would shoot a hasselblad kit, at my waist and looking down at the LCD. Works great. The controls on the OM-D are good but I do have one complaint though. The buttons on the back are way small. For example the play button is so small, those with large fingers may have trouble. My fingers are small and I sometimes have problems with the smaller buttons on the back.

Powerful Portability and Rugged Durability

What Olympus says: The striking, iconic design of the Olympus E-M5 is more than just looks; its magnesium alloy body is rugged enough to stand up to severe environmental conditions like heavy rain and blowing sand. The Olympus E-M5 employs internal seals extensively and, when the optional M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-50 mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ lens is attached, this combination delivers an integrated dustproof and splashproof camera system. The electronic viewfinder section of the body is also made of magnesium alloy to ensure durability, and the FL-LM2 Electronic Flash that ships with the camera features the same dustproof and splashproof construction

What I say: Again, BRAVO to Olympus! The fuji guys are not going to like me for  this one but I tell it like it is…the Olympus build quality is fantastic and with the weather sealing beats the Fuji build. When you add the 1st part of the external grip the camera feels really solid and comfortable. It feels like a camera well worth the $999 price. Then again, adding the grip will add $299 so you do have to add that to the cost if you want that solid comfy feel I speak of.

The OM-D E-M5 and 12mm at f/2

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The OM-D and Voigtlander 17 0.95

Compatible with All Micro Four Thirds-Compliant Lenses

What Olympus says: The Olympus E-M5 is compatible with all Micro Four Thirds-compliant lenses, including two lenses that Olympus will introduce later this year: the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 75mm f/1.8 and the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 60mm f/2.8 macro. The 75mm lens is a high-quality metal design with fast aperture settings for portraits and indoor sports shooting, while the dustproof and splashproof 60mm lens features 1:1 macro and a closest shooting distance of just 7.5 inches

What I say: YES! I am so looking forward to the 75 1.8 as I have heard it is going to be awesome. The metal build and quality construction will make it a popular lens. The 60 macro is also a welcome addition. Yes, Micro 4/3 has matured and it is finally an AWESOME choice if you are looking for a new system that is QUALITY. The 12mm, 25 from Panaosnic, the Voigtlanders, the 45 1.8 and upcoming 60 2.8 macro and 75 1.8 lenses really show that this format is here to stay. Even the cheap zooms such as the Panasonic 45-200 are fantastic, and CHEAP!

Cross Process Art Filter – Olympus 75 1.8 at f/4 – OOC JPEG. Click it for larger!

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The Olympus OM-D and 17 0.95 at f/4

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The Olympus OM-D E-M5 and t he 45 1.8 at 1.8 – OOC JPEG at night.

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My 1st impressions after Delivery of the camera. 

So after all of the hype..after all of the excitement and after all of the waiting for this camera to be released I finally had one come in thanks to Robert Jagitsch (e-mail him here) who managed to get me one the first week after the cameras were shipping, so THANKS Robert! When the package arrived it came along with the 12mm f/2, 45 1.8 and the grip. I am so glad I bought the grip though as it makes the camera feel SO much better as I feel it is a bit on the small side without it.

So with the grip attached and the battery charged I went out to snap a few quick snaps to see how the camera performed. I mean, I was excited to see if it lived up to the hype after all.

When I turned it on in my kitchen I heard a whirling purr..a sound that reminded me of a sea shell humming in my ear. What was this? I assumed it was for the new 5-Axis IS so I turned it off and it was still there! Hmmmm.

The only time it turns off is when you shoot video, and then the camera is silent. You can hear this sound in my 1st look video I posted to youtube…but keep in mind it sounds louder in the video due to it being right up to my microphone.

My 1st look video on the OM-D E-M5

So after I started shooting with the camera the sound disappeared. It is not noticeable when you are out shooting so it is not an issue. I have to say that after my 1st couple of days with the camera it felt like an E-P3 with an improved sensor, an EVF and nice handling. I liked it and after shooting it side by side with a Fuji X-Pro 1, I personally preferred using the OM-D to the Fuji. Why? Because quirky cameras frustrate the hell out of me, especially when you spend well over $2000 on them. So usability was high with the Olympus but I wondered if the IQ would hold up to the Fuji because this is where the Fuji struts it’s stuff’. (See my X-Pro 1 review HERE)

Overall, I was happy with the OM-D E-M5 though I felt it was on the small side without the grip. I also found the buttons on the back were a bit small, especially the playback button. Even my little thumb seemed to big for it.

All in all I was impressed with the OM-D E-M5 when it first arrived. It is pretty much what I expected and my 1st snaps looked really good though I knew that the IQ would not really match the X-Pro 1 I had shot for the few weeks prior. With that said, the IQ is really good and will satisfy most peoples needs very well. In fact, some who shoot this camera will rave about how amazing the image quality is. Now that I think about it again…in the right hands this camera could produce gorgeous results (I have seen it).

In regards to handling, this camera feels really good in the hand but without the grip feels a but too small. Almost like a mini camera. In my opinion, you need the grip for this one to feel good in your hand. With the grip it comes into its own. Also, button placement is really good. The dials on the top are solid and we have one for changing the aperture.shutter speed and one for EV. They are solid, and click into place nicely. The buttons on the back are a little small though, but not a deal breaker.

The OM-D with the fantastic Voigtlander 25 0.95 wide open. Again, this lens is sharp, contrasty and renders beautifully on the OM-D. I prefer it slightly to the new 17 f/0.95. When shooting at a distance the rendering is gorgeous .Up close it can get a bit creamy dreamy but the shot below shows what it can do. This is an OOC JPEG, click it for larger.

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The 25 1.4 from Panasonic/Leica  - The best lens for this camera, period!

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The Voigtlander 17mm  f/4 – OOC JPEG

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The Panasonic 25 1.4 wide open

What Micro 4/3 has going for it..THE GLASS!

Well what is a camera system without GREAT glass? Not much, and even Sony has been getting a bunch of complaints about the lack of good lenses for their NEX system. People used to complain about M4/3 as well, until the last year or so when Panasonic came out with the SUPERB 25 1.4 and Olympus released the 12 ands 45, which I feel are two of the best M4/3 lenses available and they are beautiful to look at as well though I feel they should also be made in black for those of us who do not like black bodies and silver lenses.

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Voigtlander Super Fast Nokton Lenses for Micro 4/3. The 17 and 25mm f/0.95

We also now have others in the M4/3 glass game – Sigma and even Voigtlander are now making lenses for this format and that is a good thing. I picked up the Voigtlander 17 and 25 f/0.95 super fast lenses to test with the OM-D and have sort of mixed feelings on them. They are beautifully made and have the Leica M glass kind of feel. Focusing is smooth, and the lenses are all metal and solid. The only issue is that they are large and heavy! If you got into this system to stay small and light then these lenses throw all of  that out of the window..then again, even with the 25 0.95 on this is still s much smaller setup than a DSLR with fat lens.

After shooting with them for a few days they started to feel really good on the body with the grip attached (I do not have the battery part of the grip on, only the grip) and it looked pretty bad ass..just big. I think I prefer the Panasonic 25 1.4 to the Voigtlander though. It is sharper and has a more “Leica-Like” rendering. The Voigtlanders are nice but render a bit flat, which is how I usually find Voigtlander glass.

Another thing is that these two lenses both have that signature “Voigtlander” look that I just spoke of so if you like that rendering then you will love these lenses. If you dislike this look, you will NOT like these lenses. Also note that these are not coded or chipped so when you shoot with them yo will NOT be able to see what lens you used or for aperture info in the EXIF. Kind of like shooting film so if you want to remember, you have to log it.

Shooting them in manual focus (they are NOT auto focus) is easy and quick and even without peaking I shot the images below without magnification or any help. You can easily manually focus just using the EVF. See some samples below from these two lenses. Yes, the EVF and LCD are good enough to nail focus without any assistance, at least they are for me.

One unique feature of the 17 is that you can configure it to have aperture clicks or set it to be clickless if you want to use it for cine or video. THIS is a nice feature and it is easy to switch using a dial above the aperture dial. VERY nice feature. Gives us a choice.

So bottom line on these lenses? If you don’t mind the size, they are really good for this format and better than plopping on a $6k Leica lens with a shoddy adapter as I feel Leica glass is best used on a Leica M body, period. They are full frame lenses and only when used on a full frame camera will you see the true beauty of the them. So to save some cash, if you want to buy a new fast lens for your M4/3 body, try out one of these Voigtlanders. They provide the build quality, silky feel and weight of Leica glass for a fraction of the cost and on a crop sensor, you really do not miss out on IQ.

The 1st three images are from the 25 f/0.95 Nokton – click for larger – OOC JPEG

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Another OOC JPEG but shot with the “Toy Art Filter” which gave it that old school look

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and one in square format..OOC JPEG

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The next three are from the 17 f/0.95 -1st 2 are  OOC JPEGS, the dog was converted with Alien Skin 4

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The fun little SLR Magic 11mm 1.4 Toy Lens

This little $169 lens is fun. I have not shot it since I did my review of it a while back but it is a blast when shooting in square format. It is not sharp, it vignettes and it has a very dreamy “holga-like” look but this is what makes the lens. I like it and am glad I pulled it back out to shoot on the OM-D E-M5. Again, no issues with focusing this manual focus lens and it could be fun to shoot if you want to do some creative styled portraits even.

All are OOC JPEGS shot in 1:1 mode with the SLR Magic lens

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OMD TIP: Turn off face detection and just focus on what YOU want to focus on. Sometimes it will miss or focus on another part of the face. It can be set to focus on eyes specifically but I suggest turning it off and shooting without it. 

The Olympus 12mm f/2 and 45 1.8 – superb glass

These two lenses are sharp and have no real issues of distortion or vignetting. They give a more “perfect” rendering than the others but have less character as well. If you want a modern look with sharp images, great color and minimal distortions this is where to look. They are also really small and light compared to the Voigtlander beasts. To me, these lenses are some of the best of what the Micro 4/3 world has to offer. The 12mm is a bit on the pricy side but is made form metal and has the manual focus snap feature. It is a GREAT street lens.

The 12mm is great for interior and natural light as the f/2 aperture opens it up nicely – OOC JPEG – My mom making lunch

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The 12mm will give you a wide 24mm equivalent – great for quick grab shots or group portraits – AWB did not nail this but got close!

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Great bite and contrast even at f/2

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The 45 1.8 at night – JPEG

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The Olympus 17 1.8 Lens rocks as well! The Color!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The 5-Axis IS and the  HD video quality of the OM-D E-M5 

When Olympus started marketing the E-M5 they were touting this new revolutionary 5-Axis IS and how it will give you the best results yet for hand holding in low light. What I did not realize is how awesome it would be to use for video when shooting with movie compatible lenses like the 12mm and 45mm. WOW. When shooting with the 12mm it is almost like you have the camera attached to a steadicam!

Not only does the 5-Axis IS compensate for yaw and pitch, but also for horizontal shift, vertical shift and rolling motion. This does wonders for macro shooting.

The video quality is also so much better than it was with the E-P3 and  there is NO jello effect! Check out the video sample I made below to show the quality of the video this camera puts out. Amazing. I also enjoy my NEX-7 for video but it always overheats after 5-6 minutes which frustrates me on many occasions. The OM-D has not overheated on me at all yet. Hope it doesn’t.

Some will notice the OM-D E-M5 does NOT have an Audio Input for an external mic but the camera aid compatible with the Olympus SEMA-1 that attaches to the hotshoe of the camera. This allows you to plug in an external mic with a mini jack (not XLR of course).

The Olympus SEMA-1 external mic adapter is compatible with the OM-D E-M5

Shooting RAW – Better than JPEG? Yep!

As you can see almost every image in this review so far has been shot using standard JPEGS. I did so because RAW support was not available yet and honestly, many people love to see what these cameras can do with standard JPEGS. But after I was about 3/4 of the way done with this review, RAW support was released from Adobe so I suggest anyone shooting the E-M5 to shoot RAW as you will get better and richer file quality than JPEG. No question.

When shooting JPEG you will get nice results, but images may be a little flatter. Shooting RAW allowed you to enhance your image by changing your settings after you shoot. The works well to bring certain things out and make your image pop more.

All images below are converted from RAW with the E-M5

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HIGH ISO Performance of the E-M5

I immediately noticed an improvement over the E-P3 when shooting low light and high ISO. NOW, FINALLY, this is usable in low light. The files stay sharp and what you see below are all samples from ISO 3200-12,800 processed from RAW with ALL NOISE REDUCTION TURNED OFF! So imagine how good these could look with a little NR.

OMD TIP: I suggest turning OFF Noise Reduction wether shooting JPEG or RAW. If RAW just dial it down using the sliders in your RAW processing software. You will get a little more noise but your file will retain the sharpness and detail as well. 

I prefer the NR off to keep sharpness and detail and ISO 3200 is still really good by M4/3 standards.

ISO 3200 – from RAW – No Noise Reduction at all – click image for larger view and full 100% crop

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ISO 6400 – same thing as above

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ISO 12,800 – same settings as the two above

Even ISO 12,800 seems usable if needed. The high ISO capability is superb and is no longer a weakness of this format.

Here are a couple of shots at ISO 3200-6400 in B&W – straight OOC JPEGS with NR turned off 100%! Shooting in this mode could yield impressive results when shooting street or when you want to add some mood to your images. I can’t believe how good ISO 3200 is now with M4/3!

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ISO 6400? No problem

AF Speed

The AF speed is about the same as it is on the E-P3 in real world use, which is really fast. Olympus says it is a bit faster though and I can’t argue as I really have had no delays or hunts at all. What is really cool is using the touch screen to touch and shoot. One touch on the back and you not only get instant focus on what you touch but the camera will then fire and take the shot. I made a video showing a comparison in low light with the Fuji X-Pro 1. If you are a Fuji X-Pro 1 user and are happy with it, I suggest you do NOT watch the video. The bottom line FACT of the matter is that the Olympus focuses MUCH faster than the X-Pro 1, especially in low light where the Fuji does indeed struggle. On the flip side, the OM-D can’t compete with the Fuji in the IQ department.

So overall I have no complaints with the AF speed of the OM-D. I did NOT try shooting fast action or sports so can not really comment on the speed of the tracking. I would guess that it would snot compete with a upper end DSLR though. Still, for M4/3, this is about as fast as it gets and it blazes past the Fuji’s and Sony offerings.

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The Art Filters -Great for fun JPEG shooting

One more thing the Olympus offers is the Art Filters that have been in every camera since the E-P1. Now we get quite a few filters but I still really only enjoy the Grainy B&W, Cross Process and sometimes the Dramatic Tone in B&W (the pic above was shot in this mode). You can access any art filter by pressing the OK button and quickly going to the picture style choices.

The Pinhole Art filter will vignette the image and richen the colors

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Grainy B&W

The included filters include soft focus, pop art, key line, dramatic tone, grainy B&W, sepia, light tone, cross process, pale and light color and pinhole. There is not much to say on these as I have talked about them in the previous pen reviews and they are basically the same.

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Compared To…

Being added May 16th-20th, come back and check!

Olympus E-M5 pros and cons

Pros

  • Small size but great feel and build
  • weather sealed and splash proof
  • Built in EVF
  • Swivel LCD
  • Much improved high ISO performance over previous PEN cameras
  • Super fast AF speed
  • Much improved HD video quality
  • 5-Axis IS works extremely well
  • Price is right at $999 for body only
  • Grip accessory makes the camera feel REALLY good
  • Has all of the same Olympus color, art filters and features
  • Touch screen LCD works amazingly well for shooting
  • There are some amazing TOP NOTCH lenses available for the system
  • Image quality is excellent as is dynamic range
  • Shoot in different aspects and EVF will show these aspects as well
Cons
  • Some buttons on the back are a bit too small
  • Slight hum when camera is on, but only heard when you are in a quiet room
  • camera can feel too small without grip
  • Grip is $299 – wish it was $199
  • Battery life is about 300 shots which is low compared to some other cameras

My Bottom Line Conclusion on the Olympus E-M5. 

So here we are at the end of this 6300 word review. The OM-D has impressed me and met all of my expectations. It seems Olympus has been getting better and better with each new release, so they have been listening to our wish lists. I have loved all of the PEN series cameras even though when I look back at the E-P1 it was seriously crippled in comparison to what we have to choose from today. The E-M5 is a serious camera with serious capabilities. When you shoot it with some of the quality glass you feel like you are shooting with a quality tool, and that is because you actually are.

I like to say that if a camera motivates you to shoot that is a huge step in the right direction. This camera motivates me to want to shoot with it, much like the little but extremely fun and useful Nikon V1 did when I reviewed it. I have not had this much FUN shooting and reviewing a camera since the E-P3 :) Yep, these camera are not only serious but fun as well! Do not confuse that with me calling it a toy as it is not, and anyone who says it is a toy is either a full frame fanatic or has never used the E-M5. Besides, cameras do not make the image, the Photographer does.

If you want something easy to shoot that can grow with you over time, the E-M5 is a great choice. It is amazingly versatile as well and it no longer has limitations of the 1st gen Micro 4/3 cameras as the sensor is now capable of great low light shots using higher ISO. The AF is blazing fast and accurate though I did have a few missed shots using the 45 1.8 where the camera focused BEHIND the subject. To be fair, the NEX-7 does this all the time with the Zeiss 24 and  the Fuji X100 and X-Pro 1 did it as well.

Even so, this camera rocks. No, it will not give you full frame quality. You will not get that Leica look nor will you have the capabilities of a Nikon D800. BUT if you want a small little well made powerhouse that does almost no wrong, the E-M5 is one of my TOP picks right now in the smaller camera/larger sensor market. In fact, I bought mine and am going to keep it to replace my E-P3 that I sold a little while ago. BTW, The handling without the grip is a bit on the small and cramped side, but with the grip it is fantastic.

If you want a small system that offers fast AF, great metering and offers just about everything you could ask for including super HD video, the best IS system of any mirror less camera to date and well, a camera that just plain works, then take a long hard look at the E-M5.

To all of those who feared M4/3 in the past, fear no more. The E-M5 is versatile, capable, fun, serious, well built and offers everything we can ask for in a take anywhere camera. BRAVO OLYMPUS! I highly recommend this one guys as I can not imagine anyone not liking it (as long as you have at least one good lens). Yes, Olympus  has paid tribute to the original OM series with the E-M5 and they did it well.

My recommended lenses for the OM-D E-M5

The Olympus 12mm f/2 – At $799 it is not cheap, but it is quality all the way. Superb lens for this camera system. This is a 24mm equivalent. (see more shots in my E-P3 review)

The Olympus 45 f/1.8 – Great for portraits and shallow depth of field. This will give you a 90mm equivalent. $399 (quick review here)

The Panasonic 14 f/2.5 – Want a less expensive wide angle prime? This one is just about as good as the 12 for MUCH less! (review here)

The Panasonic 25 f/1.4 – A Panasonic/Leica collaboration so it has to be good right? A 25 Summilux for your M4/3. $539 but worth it though the lens is larger and rattles the aperture when you are powered on. (quick review here)

The Panasonic 20 f/1.7 – The original and classic! This is a great lens and if you can find it, buy it! (review here)

The Panasonic 45-200  – (for those who want a good quality tele zoom on the cheap) (see it in use in my G2 review)

The Voigtlander 17 f/0.95 – This one is big, it is heavy, but it gives you the speed you sometimes need!

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More samples

Below you can find more snaps I shot while I was reviewing the camera. They are a mix of JPEG and RAW and with various lenses. This camera was so much fun I found myself snapping shots of almost anything :)

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Nov 082011
 

The Fuji X10 Digital Camera Review. A look at the Baby Brother of the Fuji X100. Real world USE review.

By Steve Huff

This has been the year of the digital camera. Man oh man. 2011 has brought us some amazing new cameras and Fuji in particular seemed to make the biggest splash with their APS-C large sized sensor X100 earlier in the year. That camera is JUST NOW starting to become available as supply finally catches up with demand. But before they were able to get the X100 out into the shops they were already hard at work on the “Mini Me” version of the X100 that they eventually named the X10. We also have the newly announced Panasonic GX1, which is finally the REAL follow up to their wildly successful GF1. Funny. First Sony grew some balls, and now Panasonic is growing them as well. I think Panaosnic realized they screwed the pooch with the GF2 and GF3 (cameras I was not a fan of when compared to the lovely GF1) so they remedied it with an all new line, the X series. Hmm. Fuji X100, X10, Leica X1…and now Panasonic joins in with the GX1. Maybe “X” is the magic letter that magically creates a great camera? 

Anyway, the Fuji X10 is what I am talking about at this moment though and it is VERY similar in many ways to its bigger brother the X100, but also very different. Because of the similarities in the features and handling this review will be shorter and more about the usability, quirks and image quality. My X100 review can be seen HERE.

While the X100 has a larger APS-C sized sensor, best in class high ISO performance, a nice f/2 35mm equivalent prime lens, and a hybrid EVF/OVF that is superb, the X10 has a small sensor, not so great optical viewfinder, and a semi fast f/2-2.8 zoom lens built into the camera that is actually  quite good. It is more of an advanced point and shoot but the design and controls scream PHOTOGRAPHERS CAMERA!

The X10 – f/2/2 – JPEG – CLICK IMAGE FOR LARGER

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Like most small sensor cameras, when Fuji announced the X10 I rolled my eyes! There was just no way I was going to like a smaller sensor body because I love my full frame and APS-C sensors for their ability to shoot in lower light, give shallow depth of field, and have superior Dynamic Range (ability to capture the light and dark areas of the image without blowing or blacking out)! So many smaller sensor digital cameras give you that “small sensor look” which is usually blown out highlights, grainy images, hard looking images, and they usually always have super huge depth of field. Some prefer to have this look to their images and others just take it and accept it because these cameras are small and can be put in a pocket. Usually its about portability but the X10 is not as small as other small sensor cameras so my thinking about the X10 was that it is going to have to be really good in the usability and image quality department to have a reason to buy it.

When B&H Photo sent me the X10 to check out I obliged and decided to just go ahead review it. How could I not? I mean, I LOVED the X100 so maybe this little X10 has some of that Fuji MOJO? I told myself that if this camera was fast, enjoyable to use, and had the Fuji Colors that I may just may be a believer. In the small sensor arena we have many cameras, most of which I am not a fan of. For example, I have never been a fan of the Canon or Nikon point and shoots. Cameras like Canon G12, Nikon P7100, Canon S95 never did it for me for one reason or another. Not that they were bad cameras, just that they either didn’t feel right, or the controls lacked, or the color was off…something always made me stay away from them though I did try them. Maybe because I am an “enthusiast” and appreciate a good looking , feeling, and operating camera in addition to really great image quality. Those kind of cameras never held my attention for very long which is why I never reviewed them here. I write about what excites me and gets my creative juices flowing.

The only point and shoot type cameras that I really enjoyed have been the Panasonic LX and Leica D-Lux series as well as the Ricoh GRD series.. To me, these cameras had great quality in a nice small package. Did you read those two key words? SMALL PACKAGE. See, the Fuji X10 is NOT really small. It will NOT fit in your pocket, it will fit in a jacket pocket if it is a larger sized pocket but in reality, it is almost the same size as an X100 but not as long/wide. So if you want portability, the X10 will not be the camera you would want to go for. A Ricoh GRD III or IV is much more pocketable. A Pentax Q is much more pocketable.

Fuji X10 from the hip, using Auto Focus. JPEG – click image for larger.

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So in this review I am going to talk about the Fuji X10 and basically tell you that it is a new breed of camera. It is not quite a point and shoot as it is much too advanced in the control, build, and feature dept for that. It is not a camera like the micro 4/3′s offerings as the sensor is smaller and does not give you quite the depth of field control that you would get from something like an Olympus E-P3 and decent lens. It is not equal to the X100 just due to the fact that the high ISO capability, sensor, and EVF/OVF of the X100 makes it the better camera. The X10 is kind of in a class by itself for now and at its price point of $599, it is priced JUST right IMO. About half the cost of the X100 but it can still give you the same color and feel as images shot with an X100. The same build and feel but in slick black :) Those who think the X10 is overpriced, look at cameras like the Ricoh GRD’s ($499), the Olympus E-P3 ($899), Nikon V1 ($900), NEX-5n ($600). Yea, the X10 is priced right for what it is and in reality, Fuji probably could have priced it at $699 and sold a ton.

I mean, at $599 you get a great feeling body, all black finish, manual control for aperture, exposure compensation, and optical VF (though it has only 85% coverage), HD video recording, 360 Pano shooting, a fast zoom lens that goes from 28-112 at f/2-f/2.8, a nice metal lens cap, faster AF than the X100 and even a super macro feature that allows you to get SUPER close to your subject. Even the high ISO capability is decent for the smaller sensor and could easily go up to 1600 in almost any situation. There are some extended dynamic range options as well and I found the DR of the X10 to be very good for this type of camera.

So as I said, even thought it is already getting long, this review will be shorter than usual and more to the point and with plenty of samples (ALL JPGS BTW) that have that signature Fuji color. I will state the facts and tell it like it is so I hope you enjoy this real world review of what appears to be a very cool camera. My only concern with the X10 is that at $599 you could get yourself into something like a Panasonic GF1, Olympus E-PL2 or similar micro 4/3 camera. Even a Sony NEX-5n (though with a kit lens that is average). These larger sensor cameras should, in theory, give you better results. What they won’t give you though is those damn gorgeous Fuji colors, classic style, and viewfinder. In these areas, the X10 delivers the goods so it will all come down to what YOU want in a camera.

Things to ask yourself to find out what is most important to you… Portability? Image quality? Control? JPEG Quality? Build quality? Speed? Intended use? Is a VF important to you? Is shallow depth of field mandatory?

The lens on the X10 is fantastic. Sharp and with only a little distortion at the wide end that can be noticeable if shooting straight lines up close. The color…oh boy is it good!

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The Features of the Fuji X10 – What can this little guy do?

The X10 has loads of cool features and below is a list of the best things about the camera:

4x manual optical zoom featuring Fujifilm’s Intelligent Digital Zoom technology that doubles telephoto capabilities and provides up to 8x zoom

Fast power start-up; the X10 is fully ready to shoot in approximately 0.8 seconds using the on/off power switch built into the lens ring (must be in Quick Start mode)

High-contrast and wide viewing-angle 2.8″ 460K dot high contrast LCD screen that provides excellent viewing even outdoors and in bright sunlight

Diverse manual shooting modes that can be selected according to scene type (Program / Aperture Priority / Shutter Speed Priority / Manual)

Four diverse auto bracketing functions for exposure, ISO sensitivity, dynamic range and film simulation

RAW shooting and in-camera RAW processing (SilkyPix RAW conversion software supplied in-box)

Best-in-class 1080p HD movie recording capabilities

Film Simulation Modes (eight setting are available, including Velvia / PROVIA / ASTIA)

Manual pop-up flash with a range of 7 meters (approximately 23 feet)

Electronic horizon leveling gauge to ensure that the camera is being held level, and histogram display to check image gradation

The X10 fully zoomed at 112mm and f/2.8 – straight from camera JPEG using the Velvia preset. The Fuji Greens are here!
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So what makes a point and shoot a point and shoot?

Many of us are calling the Fuji X10 a point and shoot, but to me… as I used the camera I felt that it was much more than a point and shoot. The X10 can be set in full auto and used like a point and shoot. In return you will get accurate and quick Auto Focus, great colors, good exposures and even damn good dynamic range. But the X10 is more than that. Set it into Aperture Priority mode or full manual using the dial on top of the camera and you have a fully featured camera that most photographers will love. The one thing that it has going against it is that it has no real manual focus mode. Much like the X100, the MF is awful on the camera and I would highly suggest to not ever use it. If you absolutely want to use manual focus you do so using a dial much like you do with the Leica X1 (though the X1 is superior in the MF area due to the scale and info it gives you). But you can not expect a great manual focus experience on a camera like this at $599. This is meant to be a camera more for the masses who want a sexy easy to use camera that puts out amazing JPEGS and is super versatile.

But to stress again, if it were me shooting the X10 every day I would only use the AF. I would never use manual. Period. This Fuji is sort of like a mix between a point and shoot and a more advanced camera. It’s a new breed in my opinion and far surpasses the other cameras that many will compare this to. When compared to cameras like the Canon G12 and other advanced P&S cameras, the X10 wins on usability, image quality and build and feel. No contest. But then again, this is MY opinion. Yours may differ.
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Macro and Super Macro – Included free of charge! 

The Fuji X10 has the same macro mode as the X100 but it also adds a new “Super Macro” mode much like the not so well received and lukewarm Olympus XZ-1 . The Super macro mode is pretty damn nice to have though as it allows you to get super close to your subject.

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The lens quality – is the Zoom really any good?

The lens on the X10 is one that I did not want to like as I am not a fan of zoom lenses, especially those on cameras like this. But the Fuji lens intrigued me as it was still fast, even when zoomed out to it’s maximum 112mm. With an aperture that goes from f/2 to 2.8, you have a usable range for lower light. Most cameras I have seen like this end up at f/5.6 at the long end which makes them pretty unusable for indoor use (like the 10-30 zoom included with the Nikon V1). The lens on the X10 does have some barrel distortion at the wide end but you will only see this if you are shooting straight lines up close. Other than that I had no complaints about this lens. I found it quite good actually throughout its range for real-world taking photos use :)

Shoot straight lines at the wide end and you will see some barrel distortion but this will not really be seen in normal every day photos. For example, if you shoot images of your kids this will not be evident. But straight lines up close at 28mm? Yes.

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The lens on the X10 is very good though I found myself using it between 28-40mm most of the time.  I did zoom out all the way to 112 occasionally. As for shallow depth of field junkies, this is NOT your camera. With the super wide lens that is in reality a 7-28mm your depth of field will be huge, even at f/2. If you zoom out to 112mm and keep it at f/2.8 you can get some shallowness but nothing like you will get with a larger sensor camera and longer lens.

At 112mm from my car through my windshield. Had to get a shot of this little dog that escaped its yard and was sitting outside of a restaurant patiently waiting for someone to give him some food. Being a dog it must suck living right across the street from a fried Chicken place.

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Just like it’s bigger brother the X10 can excel in B&W images. This one has a rich film like quality…(click to see the large version)

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Fuji Blues are alway RICH and saturated, especially when in Velvia mode.

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Shallow depth of field? Not too much but that is not what this camera is all about. What it will give you is super sharpness, a great looking file and JPEGS that are some of the best I have seen.

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High ISO? Can the smaller sensor deliver the low light goods?

You would expect a smaller sensor camera to lag behind in high ISO when compared to a larger sensor camera right? Well, not with the X10. First of all, the larger and more expensive Fuji X100 is one of the best low light APS-C sensor cameras to date delivering super low noise and great color even at ISO 6400. Do NOT expect this with the X10, but you can expect superb performance when compared to other smaller sensor cameras and even something like the E-P3! The X10 is REALLY good for what it is. Below are a few samples at higher ISO as well as some crops from super high ISO images with comparisons to other cameras.

ISO 1600 as my sone was inside a fake tree stump. There was not much light inside but the camera made it appear that there was. ISO 1600 looks good here.

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Another at ISO 1600 but in low light indoors – using the “Super Macro” mode again at 28mm

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ISO 1600…

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ISO 2000 – using the Macro Mode 

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ISO Comparisons and 100% Crops

I decided to compare the X10 high ISO JPEG’s to other cameras I had on hand ranging from the Ricoh GRD IV to the Olympus E-P3 and Nikon V1. What surprised me the most is how the X10 and V1 killed the bigger sensor E-P3! All files were JPEGS with default in camera Noise Reduction. The X10 and V1 did much better than I imagined with the GRD and E-P3 lagging behind, especially at ISO 3200. Take a look. The Nikon V1 is looking pretty nice in the ISO test. One thing to note is that if you shoot ISO 6400 and up on the X10 then the resolution goes down to medium size. You can NOT shoot full res at ISO 6400 and up.

First the X10 ISO crops

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Now a comparison at ISO 1600

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Now at ISO 3200…

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What about the AF or the quirks that the X100 has/had? How is the X10?

While shooting with the X10 I soon discovered that the auto focus was a bit FASTER than that of the more expensive X100! This was a welcome change. I also found it a but quicker to start up BUT I also found the same quirk that after you shoot and put your SD card into your computer to get the files off, and then put that card back in the X10…the start up slows down until you format the card. For example lets say you shoot 20 shots on your 16GB SD card and you are using PHOTOSHOP/BRIDGE instead of Lightroom. If you open a file from your SD card into Photoshop and then eject the card and insert it back into the camera you will get a delayed start up, unless you format the card. The Fuji cameras are the only ones that I have ever seen do this. Many times I just use photoshop as I do not save EVERY review file I shoot, so for reviews I usually use bridge and photoshop opening the files I want to keep. This is a no no when using the Fuji X10 or X100.

Other than that scenario, the start up is very fast and I have no complaints. Other quirks pop up like if you are in Aperture Priority mode and trying to shoot wide open in daylight – your max shutter speed is 1/1000 when wide open and there is NOT an ND filter on the X10 so you will have to stop down your lens or move to MANUAL mode where you can choose any shutter speed up to 1.4000. Kind of quirky and I do not understand why it tops out at 1/1000 in A mode but 1/4000 in M mode.

So the bottom line on the AF is that it is speedy, not quite as fast as the Olympus E-P3 but faster than the X100 and about equal to any other camera out there today. No complaints.

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 The Viewfinder on the X10 – Any good?

The viewfinder on the back of the X10 is NOT the same as  the one in the X100! It is an optical finder that is nice and bright but it does not display ANY information. It is basically a window that zooms, and stays in the 4/3 format. It has 85% coverage so it will not cover the entire frame. Still, it is useful and I used it for many of the images here in this review. Just do not expect it to be accurate or an amazing experience.  I used the VF for the image below. The camera focused quickly and the photo came out great. I do use the center focus point only though. I like to know what the camera is focusing on so I always focus and recompose. I did this with the VF because I knew it was using the center point only.

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Compared to? What camera is the best for me?

Well, I always get asked this but can not answer this question for everyone. I have been shooting so many cameras lately and honestly, they have all been wonderful in one way or another. The X10 is no different but it is geared towards those who want a more classic looking advanced point and shoot. The smaller sensor in the X10 is fantastic, possibly the best I have ever seen, but it is still a small sensor with small sensor limitations. The X10 is NOT a pro camera. In other words, I wouldn’t be shooting weddings and portraits with it as there are other cameras that would be much better for these scenarios.

It is also bigger than most point and shoot cameras. It is not really a pocketable solution. If you want something that can slide in to your front pants pocket, look at something like a Ricoh GRD IV (though I prefer the IQ of the X10).

The X10 is also best in good light. It’s a great vacation or travel camera. It looks amazing strapped around you, it feels good in your hand, the build is wonderful and the image quality rocks. The price of $599 is great. If you look at something like a Nikon V1 (which is a more slick and polished camera) with it’s small sensor the X10 seems like a deal. I can say that of all of the small sensor cameras I have shot with, the X10 gave me the best overall IQ I have seen in regards to color, DR and detail with JPEGS. I am impressed and it keeps the feel of the X100, which many photographers adore. I’d go with an X100 before an X10 but if you are on a budget and just love the Fuji’s and X10 would do nicely.

Quick JPEG Comparisons

Below is a quick comparison of full size out of camera JPEG images shot with the X10, E-P3, Nikon V1, Ricoh GRD IV and I there in a Sony NEX-7 file just because even though the NEX-7 has a large APS-C sensor. Why JPEG? Well, 1st of all there is no real support for the RAW files of the X10, V1 or the NEX-7 and most people looking at an X10 will end up shooting JPEG (I would). These are only posted so you can get an idea of the out of camera JPEGS of these cameras. They have not been touched at all, so what you see if what you get from exposure to color, etc. BTW, all were set to VIVID color modes, all taken at the same time (well, took 2 minutes to take them all).

 CLICK ON EACH IMAGE FOR THE FULL SIZE OUT OF CAMERA IMAGE. THESE WERE OPENED IN PHOTOSHOP AND SAVED AS A LEVEL 10 JPEG. The NEX file was saved as a level 8 due to file size issues. 

1st – X10 – f/4 at 28mm – out of camera JPEG

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The Nikon V1 and 10mm prime at f/4 – Out of camera JPEG

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Olympus E-P3 and Panasonic 20 1.7 at f/4 – Out of camera JPEG

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Ricoh GRD IV – Out of camera JPEG – f/4

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The Sony NEX-7 with Zeiss 24 at f/4 – Out of camera JPEG

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So if you look at the full size files above which do you prefer? There are three cameras with smaller sensors, one micro 4/3 sensor and one APS-C sensor. Not a scientific test by any means but hopefully will show you what you can get from each camera when shooting JPEG. One thing you can notice is that even at f/4 the E-P3 and NEX shot shows the shallow depth of field with the branch in the foreground being out of focus. On the other three it is in focus. This is due to the smaller sensor and the fact that wider lenses are really being used on these smaller sensor cameras. Wider lenses = more depth of field but wider lenses are necessary to give you the equivalent focal length due to the smaller sensor.

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Other cool things about the Fuji X10

The X10 also has some other cool features. It shoots 1080 HD video, it has some cool gimmicky modes on the dial like “EXR” which lets you choose between “Resolution Priority”, “High ISO & Low Noise” or “D-Range Priority” so for those who are not really sure what they are doing Fuji makes it foolproof. The EXR DR mode is supposed to give you enhanced Dynamic Range but slimming down your file to 6 megapixels. I did shoot two images, one using the EXR DR mode and one in normal mode and you can clearly see the Dynamic Range advantage. You lose resolution (6mp vs 12mp) but gain DR.

The 1st image is using the EXR mode and if you click on the pic below you will see the full out of camera 6MP file.

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and this one is shot in normal 12MP mode…click it for a resized to 6MP image

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There is also a 360 Panorama mode that will shoot a complete 360 degree pano. It works much like the Sony cameras. Press the shutter button and start spinning around slowly. When you reach a complete 360 the camera will stop and stitch the files together automatically. Not sure I would ever use a 360 pano but maybe some of you would like this feature.

There is also a mode called “Pro Focus” which says it will give pin sharp focus with a soft background. Then we have “Pro Low-Light” which “enhances the clarity of still subjects in low light”. These modes are kind of gimmicks but may be useful to some. There are also a huge variety of Scene modes for beginners. Fuji made sure that the X10 can be used by beginners and advanced users alike. There is also a built in flash, a digital zoom mode (though I wouldn’t use it) and a level gauge to make sure you are shooting level if shooting a landscape.

The Pros and Cons of the Fuji X10

Pros

  • Build is equal to the X100
  • Black color with no writing on the front is good
  • Fuji Color is here in full effect!
  • Fast autofocus, metering is really good as well
  • The film modes are here – Astia, Velvia, and Provia
  • I love the operation and how the camera is turned on and off via the lens barrel
  • Classic metal lens cap included
  • Great sharp files from the lens
  • High ISO very good for being a small sensor camera
  • Nice controls, much like the X100 – a photographers camera
  • Nice classic looks
  • Out of camera JPEGS are very good
  • AWB is very good, no complaints
  • HD Video is decent but not the best
Cons
  • Optical viewfinder is bright but only 85% coverage and not accurate
  • Slow startup at times unless you format your SD card (under certain circumstances)
  • No real shallow DOF control
  • Not really that small, only slightly smaller than the X100
  • Indoors at high ISO images can start to look a bit muddy
  • Max shutter speed of 1000 at f/2 in bright light when in Aperture Priority mode (In manual you can choose up to 1/4000)

The Bottom line conclusion of the Fuji X10

This review was kept semi-short as there is not much more I can say about this camera. It is what it is. Much like its bigger brother, the Fuji X100, the X10 has the same style, the same build, the same gorgeous color output and the same feel. It is a classic looking retro camera that has point and shoot guts but due to it’s control and body style it is more of an advanced point and shoot. It is just as good shooting full auto as it is manual. The auto focus is fast, the files are beautiful for being a small sensor camera and the high ISO is pretty damn good as well for this class of camera beating out my E-P3 in the JPEG test.

The only negative of the X10 may be its viewfinder, which is just a plain old optical finder. It has no info in the VF so you will not be able to see your settings, your exposure, or even get accurate framing. The VF covers 85% of the frame and it is stuck at the 4/3 format. Shoot in any other format and you really can’t use the viewfinder. With that said, I did use it for about half of the shots in this review. I had the X10 set on the center focus point only so I knew where the AF would fire. I am a focus and recompose kind of guy instead of trusting a camera to choose where I want it to focus. So you can use the VF, and I did, so  I am glad Fuji included one. I suspect if they put in the awesome hybrid EVF/OVF of the X100 then it would have been an extra $200.

The X10 is a wonderful little camera with style, function and super image quality. The colors coming out of this little guy are pure Fuji so if you are into that look, you will not be disappointed in the X10. I had no problems with the camera during my time with it and at $599 I think it is priced just right. If you buy an X10 you will get a camera that delivers nice images, especially when you are in good light. Indoors is a different story but I have yet to find a small sensor camera that gives good indoor performance without using flash.

If you want to look cool and have a camera that delivers amazing and surprisingly rich quality in an affordable package then take a good long look at the X10. It’s well worth the money. 

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Where to buy?

You can order the X10 from B&H Photo or Amazon. Two shops I buy from all of the time.

Buy the X10 at B&H Photo

Buy the X10 at Amazon

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More images from the X10…

All of the images in this review were shot as JPEG! Here are a few more:

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Sep 022011
 

Sony NEX-5n Review coming Monday morning!

Hello everyone! Just wanted to let everyone know that my full Sony NEX-5n review will be up on Monday morning. It’s 90% finished and I also will be posting some shots taken with the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH on the NEX. You can see a shot of the setup above and how I have been shooting it this week. I must say that the EVF is wonderful, probably the best I have used to date. Stay tuned and check back Monday morning for the full review of the NEX-5 with 18-55 kit lens, shooting Leica glass with the 5n, the lowdown on the OLED EVF and some high ISO stuff. Have a GREAT weekend!

Steve

May 032011
 

The Fuji X100 Real World Review

Does it live up to the Hype?

By Steve Huff


WooHoo! The Fuji X100 is HERE and my review is EARLY!

The Fuji X100 has been one of the most anticipated camera releases of recent memory, and understandably so. It is so much different than the crop of DSLR’s and tiny DSLR copies that flood the market every month or two and Fuji seemed to have listened to what many photographers, hobbyists, and pros alike wanted in a camera. They also seemed to be going after the Leica X1 from day one, even going as far as naming this camera the X100. Fuji knew what they were doing, and their marketing and hype for this camera has been remarkable. Perfect.

The Fuji X100 has those luscious Fuji colors which I LOVE. Super sharp here, even at f/2

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Fuji says that the X100 was designed by photographers, for photographers. Even Fuji themselves consider the X100 the “professionals choice” and at $1200 it is priced up there with some very good DSLR cameras, but those who are interested in this camera are NOT interested in a big old DSLR. Nope, those who want the X100 are looking for something fresh, new, exciting, small and classic. As I recently found out for myself, the X100 is all of that and more.

There has been insane amounts of hype over the past few months on this unique little guy, and here I am, with my very own X100 sitting on my desk! What you want to know of course is if it is all it is cracked up to be. Well, the answer to that will lie in this review, so read on. In many ways, the X100 is a phenomenal camera, and in others it almost feels like a rushed to the market product. How so? Read on to find out the details and ALL of my findings during my review time with this special breakthrough camera.

It’s all about the photos right?

Just so you know, this review will be heavy on the photos that this little camera can produce in regards to image quality, color depth, character, lens character and ISO performance. Not so much on technical testing and freaking out over every little thing. I’m a laid back reviewer and prefer to talk about the “usability factor” of a camera rather than stress over silly tech things. If a camera works well out in the field AND gives good results AND is a joy to use, then hey, I’ll enjoy the hell out of it. But right off the bat, I knew the Fuji X100 had some serious MOJO going on with its super sexy Rangefinder style design and it’s very cool OVF/EVF Hybrid design. I also knew the image quality would deliver once I loaded up some early images…

The X100 – Love the classic rendering

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The Fuji X100 – This image was shot at F2 and ISO 1250 – where is the noise? What IS there is very pleasant.

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Base ISO – The richness, color and dynamic range is spectacular!

The X100 is Classic in looks, But it is NOT a rangefinder!

I was out with the Fuji this weekend and a guy approached me asking me if that was indeed the X100 I had strapped around my neck. I told him “Yes it is!” and he continued on to say how Leica is now in trouble as the M9 will drop in sales. He asked “Who would buy and M9 for $7000 when you can get an X100 for $1200″? I then went on to explain that the X100 is NOT a rangefinder camera, using manual focus with it (the x100) is slow, cumbersome, and unpleasant…nothing like an M. I also pointed out that it has a different, smaller sensor size, and a fixed lens. It’s also not built as well as the M9 nor does it give the total image quality of an M9. He thought for some reason that the X100 was a rangefinder! Made me wonder how many others out there thought the same thing? Still..an M9 is $7000. A 35 Summicron is $3000. The X100? $1199.

If you are familiar with my reviews, you have seen this shot a few times already :) Driving, and I snap the image in my rear view mirror. Out of all of these shots I have taken, this one with the fuji is my fave.

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True, the X100 has the look, feel and style of a rangefinder camera but this is in looks only. In operation and use it feels like a traditional digicam. In many ways, it feels like the classic Digilux 2 sometimes. It’s on the small side, its shutter is super silent, you can adjust aperture on the lens, and it has that classic look and feel. It wipes the floor with the Digilux 2 though in regards to ISO performance, image quality, and with its great OVF/EVF viewfinder. So just keep in mind that the X100 is more like an Olympus E-P2, a Ricoh GXR or Leica X1 but…and yes, I am saying this…IT BEATS all three of those in almost all areas.

Size wise, it reminds me of the Olympus E-P2, just a bit taller (due to the viewfinder). It feels about as solid as an E-P2 as well, maybe a bit more solid, which is a good thing as the E-P2 is the best “feeling” PEN camera to date IMO. Performance wise, it is up there, if not better than the Leica X1 and Ricoh GXR, both of which surpass the little Olympus PEN and Panasonic micro 4/3 cameras due to the larger APS-C sensor that resides in them.

The X100 has a smooth rich quality when shot at lower ISO’s…

wide open at F2 and ISO 200

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Using the spot meter I was able to accurately expose this shot in the full AZ sunshine. At F4, the X100 is razor sharp. Click image for larger better version. The  greens are rich and deep. Leave it to Fuji for color! TO BE Honest, this file challenges what I get from the M9. IMPRESSIVE.


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The Specs of the X100

  • Large 12.3MP APS-C Size CMOS Sensor
  • FUJINON 23mm (35mm equivalent) Single Focal Length Fixed F2 Lens
  • Switchable Optical/Electronic Viewfinder
  • 2.8″ LCD Monitor W/460K-Dot Resolution
  • JPEG + RAW (Process In-Camera)
  • 100-12800 ISO Capabilities
  • HD 720p Video W/Stereo Sound
  • Classic Design Magnesium Alloy Body
  • High Speed Contrast Autofocus
  • Built-In Flash–Compatible W/Optional EF-20 & EF-42 Shoe-Mount Flashes

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The Shooting Experience – Feel, Menus, OVF/EVF, AF, and Taking Photos with the X100

As I may have mentioned I was VERY excited to receive this camera and the one shop that came through for me in getting the X100 so fast was Precision Camera.They are not a site sponsor nor do I make any money from them but they were fantastic. I dealt with Robert and he was GREAT. Even shipped it out to me for Saturday delivery! Great guy and great shopping experience. B&H Photo who is a site sponsor also sells the X100 HERE.

After charging the tiny battery up I took the X100 outside to my backyard for one of those quick snapshot test sessions. You know the ones, where you go outside and shoot trees, leaves, flowers and even dirt just to see how the camera renders. I do this to see the cameras character because I can tell just by shooting leaves, or trees, or my dog how the camera is going to perform once i get it out and start shooting some real stuff with it. Then over the next couple of days I started taking it with me everywhere. In Phoenix AZ it is pretty boring photography wise. It’s hot, the sun is brutal, there are lots of “browns” due to being in the desert and there really is no cool downtown life here. So my first few days with the X100 were limited to shooting my son, my dog, my feet, and heading out on a solo trip to the Zoo. Fun :)

When I shot with the camera I always shot with JPEG Fine and RAW so I could judge the JPEG’s and the RAW files. When shooting JPEG you can choose between Fuji film stock like Provia, Velvia and Astia but IMO they are not really so accurate. To get the most of the X100, shoot RAW.

ISO 400 – f/2  - Lovely!

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The rendering is almost…shall I say…Leica Like?

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Great portrait  rendering at f/2!

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One of the Giraffe shots in full mid day sun. The built in ND filter on the X100 is a godsend. Leica, are you listening? This was shot at f2.8 and is as sharp as any APS-C file I have seen to date.

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LOVE the way this camera renders portraits

OK Here it goes. I am enjoying the hell out of this camera. Shooting with it was pleasure and the OVF is amazing for this class of camera. I hear people saying the X100 costs too much. Huh? It’s closest competition, the Leica X1 is $1995…$800 more, yet the X100 beats it in just about every conceivable area, and I am a HUGE HUGE HUGE Leica guy! Uh oh! Now I did it. The fact is that I have extensive experience with the Leica X1, and I LOVE the X1. It was my fave compact for a loooong time, but it’s getting old and the Fuji X100 proves that fact.

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The Fuji X100 vs the X1 – from a hardcore Leica guy.

Let’s take a look at the facts…

Resolution

X1 – 12MP – X100 – 12 MP – TIE

Build

To me…the X100 wins here. Just feels a TEENY BIT more solid to me. Both are very good though.

Looks

Both are awesome. Both are classic. This will be personal pref. Me? I like the X100. More classic. At the same time, when holding and looking at them side by side, I also love the X1. The X100 looks a little cheaper in looks, though the design is more classic. The X1 is more classic modern.

AF Speed

X100 wins SLIGHTLY, even with the X1 V2.0 Firmware update. Low light AF speed? About equal which is not the best but not so bad either.

High ISO

X100 gets the nod. ISO 6400 is usable and pretty damn good. X1 max is 3200 though still good at this ISO. Still, X100 is cleaner at 3200.

Lens Quality

TIE but X1 is sharper – Not only is the X100 lens faster at F2 vs 2.8, by 2.8 it is just as sharp by F4 as the  X1 lens and appears to give more shallow DOF for some reason. BUT the X100 lens has more barrel distortion than the X1. It’s a tradeoff. DO you want super crisp lens perfection (Leica) or a more creamy smooth look with more speed but just as sharp, only with some distortion? Hmmmm. X100 = classic low contrast look – X1 = sharp contrasty modern look.

Image Quality/Color

TIE – Personal preference here . The Fuji will give you those Fuji reds, blues and yellows. The X1 is more neutral, which can be good.

Viewfinder

X100 as the X1 doesnt have one. The VF in the X100 is SUPERB. OVF/EVF – brilliant.

Battery Life

TIE – Both seem about the same. 250-300 shots.

Usability

X1 – The X1 wins here as it is just so simple. Nothing difficult at all. Just turn the knobs and shoot. The X100 is also excellent with it’s aperture dial on the lens but it has some issues with usability and buttons. Most can be fixed with a firmware update.

HD Movie Mode

X100 – X1 doesn’t have one.

Price

The X100 is $800 less and honestly is the camera filled with more features. This means that the Leica X2 will have to kick some serious ass to compete.

That just about sums up my thoughts on the two cameras. The X100 surprised me as many were telling me it wasn’t up to the X1 level. I found it to be the opposite so I am telling it as it is. It’s just “different” in its image output.

COMPARISON

I just added a whole post with my comparisons against the Leica X1 and you can see it HERE. For this review, here is a quick comparison made by a reader of the site, Chad Wadsworth (Thanks Chad, his website is HERE) –  Two RAW files, processed exactly the same. One from the X1 and one from the X100. I no longer have an X1 so I could not do a comparison.

The Image that was shot with both the X1 and X100

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and the 100% crops. Processed the same from the RAW files

The X100 Crop

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and the X1 crop


So as you can see from that comparison, the X100 is equal, if not a tad better than the X100 in regards to detail, and IMO, color. How about one more?

and the 100% crop from the Fuji

and the X1

It’s a close call, almost equal even and when printing you would never see a difference. But there is a different color signature to each camera, so which one do you prefer? GIven that the X100 at least matches the X1′s image quality, and it has all of the extra features like the Viewfinder, better high ISO, HD video mode, same classic styling, beefier build, and a faster lens it seems to me that the X100 is the better buy at $800 less.

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The X100 1st look and a more detailed look on video…

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A more detailed video going over the menu system and more…

The X100′s Build & Feel

The camera felt wonderful in my hands. Light enough to not get tiring but heavy enough to know you are shooting with a quality camera. The black grip material that covers the X100 is a bit slick. It doesn’t feel luxurious or anything (but neither does the material Leica uses on the M9 or the X1) but it does its job and provides a grippy feel when your fingers are wrapped around it.  The camera feels like it is built well but it is not a tank like or jewel like build that many associate with Leica or some professional Nikon cameras. It feels much more sturdy than the Leica X1, but not as nice as an M9. Hard to explain but let me say that I thought the camera looked much nicer in person than it does in the photos we all see, even the photos on this page. The camera feels GREAT slung around me with a long strap. I was happy with the build of the X100.

The X100 in action at night!

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USE A FAST SD CARD for fastest performance of the X100!

When I first started using the X100 I was using standard SD cards. Start up time was SLOW ranging from 2-4 seconds! After buying THIS SD card, which is a 45 MBPS card, startup is almost instantaneous, AND write times have improved. I highly recommend THIS card! It’s what I am now using in my X100.

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The X100 Has Serious MOJO- The IQ and Hybrid VF – AWESOME!

Image Quality – Wonderful!


The good news is that the X100 can put out a really nice quality image. The 35mm equivalent lens on the camera is more classic than modern, but it’s VERY nice. At F2 the camera is sharp but classically smooth. By 2.8 it is SHARP and detailed as you could want it to be. There IS barrel distortion with the lens though and if you take a close up portrait you can see it with the effect of someones face or nose being larger than it is. The lens is not perfect, nor is it a masterpiece but it is probably the equivalent of something like a Leica 35 Summarit in the way it renders along with its distortion amount. That alone makes the camera a great buy IMO. The lens is not one of those super sharp corner to corner types when wide open but stop it down and yo will get detail. Generally though it is sharper in the middle and gets a bit softer towards the edges when shot wide open.

Wide open at F2, ISO 1000

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Here is a shot I snapped of a Semi that needed a wash…X100, F2, ND filter ON. Processed from RAW with a filter from Alien Skin Exposure 3 added.

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Up close, macro mode in the mall. A hermit crab rests on a hand. F2, ISO 200, 1/70s – Easy  to get shallow DOF and the Bokeh of the lens is nice.

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When you combine super color, hugh dynamic range and fantastic lens qualities, you get amazing results

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I brought the X100 to lunch with me and snuck a shot of two guys across the way. Sharp, detailed, great color. F2 at 1/125 s.

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On the streets of Tallinn Estonia – X100 wide open

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The Viewfinder – NICE!


The X100′s viewfinder is really the first of its kind and I applaud Fuji for thinking outside the box here. For the first time you can use a camera with it’s LCD, or its EVF (Electronic View Finder) or its OVF (Optical View Finder) and the OVF has an overlay that puts up a frame line for you as well as info on your settings. It’s VERY cool but I found that I was using the EVF the most as it was more accurate for framing and it uses less battery over the OVF. Then I started using the OVF and was blown away by the clarity and the overlay of the data. This is a GREAT idea and I hope to see something like this implemented in the next Leica X.

Just flick the lever on the front of the camera and it will switch in real time. Pretty nifty.

Also, an earlier report on this site that was written by a reader here stated that the viewfinder was small and tiny. NOT true. I found the VF to be just fine. No, it is not going to be like a Nikon D3 but it’s hardly small. I was able to frame my photos just fine using it. The X100 is a camera that one needs to use for a week or two before deciding on its fate. It does take some time to get used to, ESPECIALLY if coming from a speedy DSLR.


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The X100′s AF performance – It’s NOT Perfect!

So you are probably getting the feeling that I am liking this camera! One thing I have not really talked about yet is the Auto Focus performance of the X100. How is it?

The Auto Focus performance. It’s quicker than the Leica X1 but damn, it’s tough to get it to be accurate all of the time. I have had many misses with it when using the center focus point and I just could not get it to focus on what I pointed it at.

UPDATE: When using the OVF, and shooting up close your focus may be off. I found when using the EVF or LCD the AF was spot on.

Overall, the AF of the X100 is very good but not perfect. Doesn’t stop me from loving the camera.

The turtle in the pond. Again, the way the X100 renders the light is superb.

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Using the Macro mode I was able to get semi close to these leaves blowing in the wind. Notice the flare? I like it…

The X100 and High ISO

The latest group of digital APS-C cameras have been getting better and better in regards to High ISO low light shooting. The NEX-5 was the 1st to break the ISO 6400 barrier with USABLE files (in a compact, smaller NON DSLR camera).  The Leica X1 maxes out at 3200 and it has some noise but it has always been a nice kind of noise. The Ricoh GXR with the 28 and 50mm modules also had great low light performance at ISO 3200 and the Pentax K5, which is a killer SMALL DSLR also has silly high ISO capabilities.

So how does the X100 fare against these already good low light performers? Very good. From what I have seen the X100 has some of the best high ISO performance I have seen in a camera this size.

It’s me! Late last night, almost NO light in the bathroom. This image is showing the scene to be brighter than it was. ISO 6400, F2…NOT BAD for ISO 6400. The color is still there as well.

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ISO 6400 – My desk at night. Only light was from my Imac. From RAW with no NR! Click image for the correct size so you can see the 100% crops.

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ISO 1000 – The colors are fantastic and  true to life, even at higher ISO

So, this is where I would normally put a crop from EVERY ISO but why would I do that? If the performance at ISO 1000 and even 6400 is this good, we know that anything UNDER this will be even better. It’s all good.

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The HD Video Quality

The X100 shoots 24FPS, 720P HD video. It is a but limited in this area because there is no manual focus during video and you can not change the aperture during video either. The mic pics up the noise of the lens focusing but from what I have seen so far, the video quality is excellent, mainly due to the lens on the X100. There is no image stabilization either so video can get a little shaky without a tripod.


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The X100′s Panoramic Mode

Much like the Sony NEX-5 and A33, the X100 has a sweep panoramic mode and when I saw it included in the “drive”menu I thought it was a novelty that wouldn’t work so well. I had some luck with the Sony panorama mode so I took ONE shot today with the X100 in Pano mode and that was it.

You can click it to see the full size JPEG. You can not record a Pano in RAW mode, so you only get the JPEG. This is straight from camera using the “Velvia” preset.

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The X100 Detail…

How about a look at some full size files and crops to see if this sensor can give us the detail we crave? (HINT: Yes it can!)

You MUST click on the image to see the larger version and the true 100% crop within the image. Detail? The X100 has it. This one was shot at F4 and as I would do if I were printing, I added some sharpening during the RAW conversion on this one.

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Saw this woman at the Zoo with her kids and snapped one as she fed the Giraffe. 100% crop detail is in the frame, but you must click on the image to see it correctly. F2.8 – NO sharpening was applied to this file.

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f/4 detail  - click it to see what I mean

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Here is a full size image, from RAW and some slight sharpening which is what I would use for print. Saved as a “9″ quality JPEG in Photoshop. Click for full image!


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The Film Presets – Velvia, Provia and Astia

When shooting JPEG you can set the X100 to shoot in one of three color presets. The Standard is Provia, which is supposed to simulate Provia film. For more vivid color, choose Velvia and for a more subdued soft look, Astia. Some early reviews pointed out that the Provia and Astia presets were mixed up…reversed. I also believe this  to be the case because the Astia preset, which is supposed to be more subdued and “soft” is more bold than the Provia preset. So it appears they are reversed…

Here is a sample of Each…

VELVIA PRESET – JPEG

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PROVIA PRESET (Is this one REALLY Astia)? – JPEG

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ASTIA PRESET (is this REALLY the Provia preset)?- JPEG

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Compared To…

  • The Leica X1 - Already touched on this above, sorry for being repetitive. OK…this is the one that will cause X1 lovers to get mad at me if I say the X100 is better, and the Leica haters and X100 lovers to do the same if I say the X1 is better. It’s tough running a site like this because when I praise the BEST cameras I have ever shot with, usually Leica, I get labeled a “fanboy”. Do I care? NO! Because if using the cameras that give me the best results mean I am a fanboy, then so be it! Lol. But let’s get to the real deal. The Leica X1 is almost $2000 and has the same size sensor, is smaller, lighter and has the Leica red dot and great lens. It’s slow to AF, slow in operation and built on the “light side”. The X100 is built better than the X1, has the OVF/EVF that the X1 is lacking, has a faster lens that opens up to F2 (Leica is 2.8), and also has a HD movie mode, stereo mic, and the same manual dials and controls as the Leica with the addition of the Aperture dial on the lens. AF sometimes misses on the X100 but I have seen it miss on the X1 as well.

Winner - Easy really. The X100 due to its $800 lower price, better build, Hybrid Viewfinder, better high ISO performance, faster lens, movie mode and slightly larger size that is easier to hold. Yes, I like the X100 better than the X1 but my guess is there will be an X2 announced THIS YEAR sometime that will surpass the X100. Just a guess. For now  though, I would take an X100 over an X1. My personal opinion, and I am the one that many call a Leica “fanboy”!

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  • Sony NEX-5 – The NEX-5 and kit lens is $699. ALMOST half of the X100 cost. BUT it’s a totally different style of camera. Small, odd menu based system ,and borderline crappy kit lenses. Same size sensor but I’m getting much better image quality from the X100 and it’s easier to shoot with and more enjoyable to use. I love the NEX-5 for what it is though and it is much cheaper.

WINNER – Still, the X100 has my heart here. Better quality IMO. But so much different in use.

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  • Ricoh GXR – This is tough. I LOVE the GXR system though it is very similar in quality to the X100, maybe a tad better. I do like the looks and concept of the X100 over the GXR but I have to give credit where credit is due. The GXR rocks and does great in low light as well, and the focus is faster and more accurate with the GXR. You can pick up a GXR and 28 module for under $1000 and it’s build and controls are top notch as well. My brain says GXR but my heart says X100. TOUGH call. I love both and either will do a great job. The X100 does have the ND filter built in though, which comes in handy since it, just like the GXR is limited to 1/1000s shutter speed wide open. I prefer the X100 color, style and just everything it stands for. AND it has a built in VF.

TIE, but leaning X100 due to VF, color quality, ISO capability, ND filter.

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  • Leica M9No contest. M9 wins. Sorry! :)

Well, I was going to put up a side by side from the M9 and Fuji with crops and all but why? The M9 is a $7000 camera and a 35 Summicron will run you $3000 as well. $10,000! This is not in the same class as the X100. The M9 has it all over the X100 in build, design, feel, image quality, file quality, detail, etc. I can say that in my limited side by side tests, the M9 showed a bit more detail and had smoother files even at low ISO. It also had  the full frame “look” which made the X100 files looked cropped. So we all know the M9 is a better camera, as it should be for the price. It is also a totally different shooting experience, so I wont be doing a comparison. Maybe I will do a “Crazy Comparison” post one day soon.

Just for fun though, here are two shots – one from each. No crops, no full sizes, just some processed and resized images.

Shot with the X100 – f2


and this one with the M9 at 35mm – f2

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PROS and CONS of the X100

PROS

  • Size, Build and Feel are GREAT!
  • Lens has a mix of classic (at f2) and modern (f4 and up) with wonderful Bokeh qualities.
  • Virtually ZERO CA in this lens. Shoot bicycle spokes in the full sun, no purple fringing :)
  • AF in daylight is pretty speedy.
  • Colors, if exposure and light is right can be magical!
  • The Retro design is so cool. Had quite a few ask me if it was a film camera.
  • High ISO is up there with the best – of ANY camera.
  • HD movie mode included!
  • The viewfinder is one of the coolest on ANY camera to date. Optical, Electronic and an LCD on the back.
  • Has a macro mode though not really MACRO, gets closer than the X1 can get.
  • Smooth, rich file quality.
  • All in all, a better camera than the Leica X1 feature wise and the IQ is great though  a little soft at F2, wide open.
  • Has spot metering that works very well
  • The shutter is SILENT and the camera could be put into Silent mode for extra stealthy shooting
  • You can choose between Provia, Velvia and Astia film stocks when shooting JPEGs.

CONS

  • The X100 is a bit slow to AF in low light, though just as good as other compact offerings.
  • Sometimes the AF misses its mark (Update: When using the OVF and shooting up close your focus may be off, use the EVF)
  • Battery design is odd as you can put it in backwards or upside down by mistake
  • Slow to start up at 2.2 seconds – can get annoying (UPDATE – Use a fast 45MBPS card such as THIS ONE and startup is almost instant)
  • Quirky controls in regards to ISO, ND filter, etc. Could use a firmware update.
  • Jog wheel in back is a bit small and can get irritating.
  • Manual focus…I wont be using it. WAY to slow and cumbersome though Zone focusing is possible. You can use the AFL button during MF mode  to AF, so this is good.
  • Should come with the lens hood.
  • There is a “quick start up” option in the menus but it uses more battery life when turned on
  • The RAW button should have been assigned to either the ND filter On/Off or Movie Mode.

Took three shots of this tree trunk in FULL HARSH Az sun. Spot metering saved the day. Shot at F2.8 and 5.6. Click the images for a larger view and see how nice the rendering is from the X100. Makes for superb B&W images.

These images really wowed me in the quality department. They look amazing on my 27″ Imac but YOU MUST CLICK ON THEM TO VIEW THEM IN THEIR HIGHER QUALITY AND LARGER VERSIONS!

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The X100′s Menu System and things that could be improved with usability of the camera.

Many have complained about the X100′s menu system and the (not so) ease of use in the early reviews and for this review I actually read the manual while the battery was charging just because of all of the early griping going around. The menu system is not bad at all IMO. It’s easy, just a couple of screens with options. It’s not as clean or simple as the Leica X1 or M9 menu system but it is also much easier than something like the Pentax K5 menu system. Just something that will take a day or two of getting used to.

As far as the camera in USE, there have been many quirks reported. In my time with this camera to date, I have found a couple of  things to complain about.

These are things that could have/should have been perfected IMO.

UPDATE: MANY of these have been fixed/improved with firmware updates as of May 2012!

  • The X100 is slow to start up. The 1st day I had the camera I thought it was broken as it would start up and the LCD would come on but I couldn’t do anything else! I realized that it just took a couple of seconds to fully power on and be ready to shoot. 2.2 seconds to be exact. UPDATE – USE A FAST SD CARD, such as THIS ONE at 45 MBPS and startup is almost instant. – This has been improved as of May 2012 with new firmware!
  • The camera is also slow to write to the SD card. Not a deal breaker for me as I am used to the slow M9 but for many this may be an issue, especially if you are coming from a speedy DSLR. Im using a 45X Extreme Pro card and it helps but the camera is still somewhat slow by todays standards. UPDATE – Again, a super fast SD card will speed  things up dramatically.
  • ND filter & ISO access could be better. By default the camera ships with its Fn button set up to change ISO. BUT it would be better if Fuji would have put an ISO button along with a ND filter button. I found that I needed the ND filter quite often outside in the full AZ sun and it was a hassle to go through the menu to turn it on. I since changed the Fn button to turn on the ND filter but now have to go to the menu to change ISO. – UPDATE May 2012 – This is now easy and quick as the firmware updates allow you to customize the RAW button as well and the camera now allows you to have a one button press ND filter turn on. PERFECT!
  • No dedicated video button. Again, Fuji should have added a small video button up top to activate the video. As it stands now, you have to click on the “drive” button and change the drive mode to “movie”. Sort of a pain and not quick! – UPDATE 2012: YOU CAN NOW ASSIGN A BUTTON TO BE THE MOVIE RECORD BUTTON!
  • The battery compartment is silly. It lets you insert the battery 4 different ways but only one way will work. On day one I thought the camera died. Nope, I just inserted the battery upside down by mistake!
  • Manual focus is sort of a let down. It’s slow as molasses and is the typical digi cam manual focus implementation. I’ll leave it at this…I will NOT be using manual focus unless it gets improved via firmware. Too slow and hard to use. – UPDATE – again, it’s as if though Fuji read my negatives and fixed them all! This is now improved as well. 

So there are my initial thoughts on some of the quirkiness of the X100. Are any of them big enough issues to where I would not buy this camera? NO, not at all! Why? Well, because I use a camera for a specific reason, and that reason is PHOTOGRAPHY! ALL cameras have their quirks and oddities but if it can give me a great quality file, and I can adapt to those quirks, then I am fine. After a few days of daily shooting with the X100 I started getting comfortable with it and it became second nature to operate it.

So..My Final conclusion on the Fuji X100

It’s so odd to sit here and write this review as a huge Leica fan because I saw THIS POST just today where someone called me a Leica shill over at X100 rumors :) The guy obviously does not know me, he just skimmed my site, saw all the Leica reviews and assumed I was going to trash the X100 and say the X1 is better. Lol. You can also see my reply to them in the comments. I often get called “Too Enthusiastic” which is silly. Just because my excitement shines through in some of my reviews? Please! Thats just me, and always will be!

The truth is I am as honest as they come. If a camera is GREAT and I enjoy it, I will write about it and say so! I can;t help it if almost every Leica I have tried has given me the best photo results out of all of the other camera systems. I just “mesh” with a Leica. It’s my tool of choice. My reviews are MY opinions and I am not a shill for Leica. Leica gives me NOTHING, believe me. I wish they did!

With that said, as much as I love the Leica X1 I have to give credit where credit is due. The Fujifilm X100 ROCKS and it ROCKS HARD. No, it is NOT perfect but neither is the Leica X1, or NEX-5, or E-P2, or Ricoh. What the X100 has is a combination of looks, size, performance and technology all wrapped up into one classic and sexy well built design. $1200? It’s priced right folks. To be honest, this could be my only camera and I would be happy. It’s light enough to take anywhere, it’s a joy to use, and once you get used to how it operates and exposes, the results are up there with the best of the APS-C cameras.

I applaud Fuji for putting out the X100. Maybe this will show other camera companies like Nikon and Canon that DSLR’s and crap point and shoots are not the be all/end all. It WILL send a message to Leica and I am sure their X2 will be the better for it.

So far, this is my favorite camera release of the year. I’m happy I now own one. You can buy the X100 at B&H Here, or Amazon HERE.

UPDATE: I published another article on seven of the X100 quirks…you can read it HERE. Also, you can see how I pimped my X100 HERE. Finally, my JPEG comparison with the Leica X1 can be seen HERE and the RAW comparison HERE.

UPDATE: A big comparison against the $7000 Leica M9 is HERE and wow, the X100 is impressive!

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ACCESSORIES for the Fuji X100

This is an update to my review because I realized I forgot to talk about the accessories that you can buy for your X100! As some of you probably have seen, my X100 is now pimped out with a red strap and red soft release and it looks pretty sexy if I do say so myself. These were just add ons that I thought would look really cool on the camera, and they do but they do bling it out a little. If you are trying to be stealthy, I would skip the red and  go for black. The strap is made by Artisan & Artist and Dale Photo sells the entire A&A line of bags, cases and straps at their online Artisan & Artist store. The silk straps are also very nice. Also available at pop flash.com

In addition to the strap and soft release that you can buy for the X100, Fuji has a few items available for the camera as well, like their leather X100 case and the all metal lens hood.

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JUMPING THE GUN – How about some ideas for a Fuji X200?

Just before publishing this review I received an e-mail from a Mr. Svein Gunnar Kjode at blankscapes.com. He sent along some designs he made for what he feels would be perfect for the next version of the X100, possibly, an X200. Wow, imagine an all black X200! I had  to show these here (with his permission of course) because I would LOVE an all black version of this camera. UPDATE: Fuji did in fact release an all black X100 and you can read about it HERE. It is gorgeous, and yes, I bought one.

UPDATE: Why shooting with a 35mm focal length ONLY can be liberating and help you in your photography skills.

There are so many reviews of the X100 out right now it is getting crazy. This has been, without a doubt, the hottest camera of 2011 so far. Fuji is shipping these cameras out to the shops as soon as they can make them, and they are selling each and every one at $1200 a pop. Still, one reason that many shooters would never bite the bullet on the X100 is due to the fact that it only has a 35mm equivalent lens.

It’s true. You can not add a zoom lens to the X100 nor does its built in lens zoom. When you invest in this camera, you are investing in a 35mm camera. Just like the old days. But I see this as a good thing and is why I also adore the Leica X1 (which also has a 35mm equivalent lens).

It’s all about simplicity and knowing what to expect from the camera. After a couple of weeks shooting with a camera like the X100/X1 you will start to be able to visualize in your head what your image will look like. You will know what angle to get, where to stand and you will get out of the “Zoom Lens” mindset, which IMO, makes you lazy. Now of course, sports shooters and wildlife guys need powerful zooms (or primes) but for most of us, including the hobbyists, it could be a great experience to just shoot with one lens and one lens only for a while.

I do it all the time. I could get by day to day with either a 35 or a 50. My favorite lens in the world is the Leica Noctilux, and right behind that the new 35 Summilux ASPH. I have shot with a 35 for months on end, and did the same with a 50. Did my photography suffer because of it? NO, in fact, it had the opposite effect. It IMPROVED it. Every silly sample image you see here was shot with the X100 and it’s 35mm equivalent lens. None of these images are award winners, but just snapshots I was able to get while reviewing the camera. At no time did I wish for a zoom lens, even when I took this camera to the Zoo.

Shooting ONLY a 35mm lens for say, 3 months, will open up your mind to other possibilities. You will not just aim, zoom and shoot but you will look around, think and ask yourself how you can get the best shot with what you have. Shooting at 35mm seems natural. You can get great environmental portraits and even normal portraits if you step back a bit. 35mm is great for landscape and urban shots. It kind of sucks you in to the image at times and is not too wide like a 24 or 28 might be, nor is it too constricted like a 50 can be in some situations.

In many ways, in my opinion, the 35mm focal length is the perfect focal length for shooting life as it happens. The things around you, the people around you, and the daily grind in general. If you have the chance, put a 35mm (equivalent) on whatever camera you own and shoot it for a few weeks. ONLY using that lens. My guess is that by the end of the few weeks you will have some amazing keepers, and you will also have learned a bit more about composition. You will also have a liberated feeling as the stress of “what lens should I use” will be gone. Just you and your 35…pretty cool :)

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UPDATE: The hot, cool, sexy and gorgeous Black X100 arrives!

June 2012: Here we are 13 months after I reviewed the X100 and Fuji has come a long way with this camera. Yes, I loved it when it was released but the damn thing was full of bugs and quirks that I worked around just due to the camera being so cool and providing such great IQ. Well, with the latest firmware of 1.30 Fuji has taken this camera to the next level. They could have called it an X200 like Leica did the X2 but they seem committed to making this camera THE one to beat in this class.

The AF is much faster. I’d say at least 2X as fast. The AF is more accurate. The AF is no problem in low or almost no light. In fact, at the time of this writing the X100 greatly out performs their X-Pro 1 in the AF, accuracy and overall camera speed categories. I personally would rather have an X100 than an X-Pro 1. But that is just me. The size is perfect, the feel is perfect and in all black this thing is so so beautiful.

The menu system is now smooth and fast, you can assign functions to the RAW button now as well so if you want an instant ND filter, just press the button once. If you want to change ISO then you can assign that as well. JPEG film simulations? No problem? You can even assign it to movies or DR settings. Amazing.

After buying my own black X100 I can safely say I am happy I splurged the little but extra for the black limited kit because I now have the case, the filter, the hood, and a beautiful black X100 that performs fantastic. I have been without one for 6 months or so and I forgot how much fun this camera can be. I will be keeping it along with the Olympus OM-D and in fact, these two make me question wether I even need to have my M9 around anymore. The fact is that these two cameras can rival the M9 at times, and both wipe the floor with the m9 in the high ISO dept. The more i think about it, the more I think my plan will be to sell the M9 and save for the new Leica M Monochrom. This way I will have my dedicated B&W camera and these two awesome cameras for color, video, and anytime I need a HQ smaller camera.

Then again, the X100 does B&W very nicely as well…

So as for today, June 2012 – I can highly recommend the Fuji X100 and if you really want a treat, the Black X100 Limited Edition kit. Just make sure you download the latest FW because it will transform the camera and make it much more responsive. It’s a joy to use and the output is amazingly nice.

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