GIVE YOUR BLOG SITE A PAINLESS FACELIFT

Usually when I switch templates I do it because I’m in the mood for change. This time, I had to change after my site went all wonky. The main text font turned pale — nearly invisible — silver and I couldn’t get it back to black. When I realized I couldn’t fix it, I migrated into SUITS. It is similar enough to ZOREN so migration was simple and quick.

Suits

SUITS solved my immediate problem. My text was black again and it looked pretty good. No need for major surgery. But the main column is narrow compared to ZOREN — not photo-friendly — and I decided I didn’t like the way the header image displayed. I returned to ABLE, a theme I used for months before ZOREN.

If you go back to a theme you’ve previously used, it usually remembers your settings and header images. ABLE remembered me, so it was painless. One click and it was a done deal. It picked up all my recent changes too. Like coming home.

A lot of folks go into a tailspin when they decide to change templates. Yet it’s easy. If you understand what elements you use, what elements you need, all you have to do is pick a template that has those same elements, preferably arranged in a similar way.

Able

For example ZOREN is very much like ABLE. It lets you use a full size image in the header and it’s a wide format. It includes a bunch of different post formats and is widget-ready. Flexible and good for photographs, but also attractive for text — until it went bonkers yesterday. I’d have stayed with it otherwise.

ABLE has  the same basic design. I put the sidebar on the left since ABLE lets you put the sidebar left or right. ZOREN, SUITS and ABLE all use the same layout. Only decorative elements and proportions are different.  As soon as a new theme is active, I can customize it: change the header, modify colors and fonts because I have the customization package. But even if you don’t, you can make small adjustments to make it uniquely yours.

I made the initial switch from ZOREN to SUITS in about 2 minutes using a slightly broken laptop while I was in bed. Really. In bed. In my jammies. And I still had time to read before lights out. I switched to ABLE today and it took me literally a single click.

ZorenChanging templates doesn’t need to be scary. Pay attention to what elements comprise your site. Decide what’s important to you and what’s not. Pick a template that has the features you want. Use the preview to see how it will look. Too narrow? Don’t like the way your photos display? Too wide? Don’t like the way text looks?

Preview a different theme. I’ve sometimes tried a dozen or more before I find one I really like. I wasn’t particularly picky last night because I needed an instant fix. Fortunately, SUITS worked.

What elements are important to me?

  1. It must be wide enough to display photographs well. Pictures are important.
  2. The fonts have to be easily readable, with good spaces. Never white or light on black — too hard on the eyes. I’m too old to squint.
  3. The page must show at least 50% white space. White space includes empty margins, line spacing, column spacing, empty areas around the header and pictures. Any space that does not contain graphics or text is white space, no matter what color it is. Without adequate white space, your site will be cluttered, hard to read and many people will find it annoying — but may not know why.
  4. I prefer a header which lets me use a picture, but I’m flexible about that.
  5. I prefer a left-hand sidebar, but can live with one on the right if the main column is wide enough. We read left to right, so I like to have my important stuff on the right side of the page. Note: Right hand pages cost more when you are buying print advertising for this reason.
  6. I want my widgets in a sidebar. Therefore, I can’t use any of the single-column templates, some of which are otherwise very attractive. I also won’t use any of the magazine-style multi-column templates. They are too busy. Clean and easy on the eyes are my goals. Also, multi-column themes don’t display photographs the way I like.
  7. I want a low maintenance format. Intense graphical formats require a lot of tweaking and tuning. They are prone to inexplicable glitches. I don’t have time to diddle with formatting nor do have I enough interest in the technical aspects of blogging to devote myself to the care and maintenance of a fussy design.

You need to know yourself. What you like, what you want, what you need. Keep an image in your mind of how you want your blog to look. Don’t get distracted by every pretty face you see. I’ve found the more complicated the template, the more problems it develops. There are more than enough glitches without adding more.

Following are some of the other templates I’ve used successfully. The differences are fewer than their similarities. Look past colors and decorations to the structure. If you’re tired of your template, not really thrilled with the way your site looks and you’d like a facelift, consider a new template. It needn’t be a difficult process of rebuilding. Pick one that has the same shape and elements you already use — and want to keep. Then do a some previewing and see if you like it. Next? Just do it.

Voila. A whole new look!

Yoko

Twenty Eleven

SnapIt-191

Adelle

crafty

splendio

REVIEWING THE KINDLE FIRE HDX

Amazon launched the new generation of Kindles at the end of September 2013. I spent time perusing these latest greatest Kindles. They are much like the previous generation with the following differences:

  • Higher resolution graphics
  • More memory and memory options
  • Faster processor
  • Longer battery life
  • Easier (more) Amazon cloud storage
  • Simplified (better) support
  • A front-facing camera for Skype and similar applications
  • Different, more intuitive, menu structure
  • New placement of speakers and buttons
  • Even better sound quality
  • Comes with a charger.

There are other difference, but these are the ones that concern me.

When the HDX first came out, my Kindle Fire HD was working fine, but as months passed it began to stutter. Stuff wouldn’t download. Too many audio books and movies. Too much music. I kept finding more ways to use the Kindle and 8 GB of memory was insufficient.

When they dropped the price by $50, it became less expensive than my original Kindle HD Fire. After a dark night of the soul about spending the money, I bought it. It came with 6-month financing at 0% interest … a nice touch.

I depend on my Kindle. It’s not an optional piece of equipment. I have hundreds of books I can read only on Kindle so in the end, there wasn’t much choice. I was going to get the new Kindle.

I’m convinced Kindles are the biggest bargain in tablets. My granddaughter has an iPad which theoretically has more functions. For my purposes, it isn’t as good. Not only does it cost two to three times more than the Kindle, but the sound quality, screen resolution and color are not as good. The difference in sound quality is particularly obvious. I don’t know how Kindles get such great sound from tiny speakers, but listening to anything on the Kindle Fire HDX is a pleasure.

The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX has a new interface for email that’s smoother and easier to use. The calendar is greatly improved. There are plenty of free games from Amazon. If you have a Prime subscription, you can watch a wide selection of movies and TV shows free too. You can also borrow books. Moreover, you can “buy” many books for $0.00. Sometimes these sales run for only a day or too, but there are new deals every day. And finally, you can lend your books to Kindle-using friends and family.

This is an incremental upgrade to the Kindle Fire HD. The HDX is a wonderful tablet, but so is the original Fire HD. You can still buy the Fire HD (new from Amazon) for $139. For many people, it will be more than adequate. The main advantage to the HDX is the faster processor and additional memory. If you use your Kindle a lot, you’ll notice the difference.

This is a remarkably complete, fun entertainment center in a lightweight, purse-sized package. It’s almost too much fun offering a plethora of pleasantly distracting choices. It’s also a better reader. The page color is a softer; adjusting screen brightness is easier.

You can store everything on Amazon’s cloud servers. If you delete a book, you don’t lose it. You can remove items from the device, but they remain accessible as long as you have WiFi. Serious road warriors may want to get a Kindle with 3G.

You can do most things you would want to do on any tablet on the Kindle. You won’t be editing pictures or writing your novel, but I don’t think you’d be doing that on any tablet. Or at least I wouldn’t. For those things, I want more RAM, a hard drive, an application with legs and a full-size keyboard.

Big thumbs up for overall quality, sound, video, and speed.

Buy a cover that offers some protection and keeps dust out. Most let you prop your Kindle like an easel to watch a movie or listen hands free. Many (most) covers turn the Kindle on and off when you open or close it. Covers are affordable.

Fingerprints are a peril of all tablets. Keep a stash of lens wipes handy. Good for the Kindle, cameras, computers and eyeglasses. Don’t bother with a protective screen; it’s a waste of money.

The on/off button is less difficult to reach, though its placement on the back of the unit wouldn’t be my first choice. I’d prefer all the controls in front. And I find the charger connection tricky. The edges of the HDX are beveled, so the plug is not straight, but slightly angled. You have to be very careful when connecting it; it would be easy to damage the connector. They need to find a way to make the connector straight, not angled. It isn’t a deal breaker, but it is annoying.

The Kindle Fire HDX wakes up instantly. Zero boot time.

I got the one with the ads. They only appear on the splash screen before you unlock it. What’s the big deal?

If you own a Kindle, you are in the Amazon universe. Amazon is so integral to my life anyway, that’s fine with me. I’ve been buying books, appliances, music, movies, housewares, coffee, cameras, computers — everything except clothing — from Amazon for years. If you feel you need to spend two or three times as much for a tablet for the privilege of buying exactly the same stuff elsewhere, hey, that’s what Apple is all about.

THROWING THE WORLD AWAY

It’s not about Windows: The repairable PC is dead

… Amazon, who launched their Workspaces offering yesterday, which provides a remote Windows environment that allows you to run all of your business-critical and personal applications in EC2.

Amazon is certainly not the first service provider to do this, but its endorsement of the technology speaks volumes about where we as an industry are going.

You don’t need an expandable, serviceable PC to get to that desktop and the applications that are hosted there. Indeed, Windows still serves a very key role in that scenario, but within the datacenter and public clouds. —  From ZDNet, November 15, 2013

The computer industry has declared me — and everyone like me — obsolete. Irrelevant. We can’t afford subscriptions to “keep us up to date.” Worse, keeping up to date isn’t a major issue in our lives. I don’t mind running a version or two behind as long as the tools I’ve got get the job done. I can go years without repurchasing my software. I guess they don’t make enough money selling new releases to folks like us. Yeah, that’s probably it.

dell14ZIf you — like me — are one of the millions of computer users who live on fixed incomes or are just plain poor , you’re barely able to keep a roof over your head and food on the table. You are NOT subscribing. To anything.

A couple of days ago, I got my “You’ve Been Hacked!” letter from Adobe. This has affected (depending on who you believe) between 38 and 150 million people. All of us have had our personal information stolen and quite probably sold to hackers. Doesn’t anyone but me find this alarming? Where’s the outrage, the demand for better security? I am less than ever interested in storing anything I care about anywhere except on a drive I own and have at home.

Yes, I know the house could burn to the ground and all my backups would be lost. If that, God forbid, should happen I will be otherwise occupied trying to put my life back together. Worrying about lost data is not going to be my primary issue. I’m not a business, you see. I’m a person. (What’s a person, daddy? Is it a new kind of corporation?)

When my PCs stop working, which they don’t do more than once in a deeply cyanotic moon, I call the Guy Who 75-WorkingNIK-CR-87Fixes PCs. He comes to the house.  Replaces the broken bits. Cleans out the virus that bypassed the safeguards and generally tunes it up. I give him a hundred bucks, he gives me a card with his number on it so if the problems come back, he will return and fix’em.

Am I the only one who is in no position to just dump equipment and replace it? No way could I afford that. I’m still in debt for the stuff I have. Moreover, I deplore the throwaway society we are building and the mindset that comes with it.

Disposability it not good. It’s not an improvement. It’s destroying our environment. Polluting landfills. Making an already profligate society more thoughtless and wasteful. It’s the definition of where and how we’ve gone wrong.

Does no one in the computer industry look at business in a wider social context? Realize what a dangerous path we are treading? If one thing is going to doom our world, throwing stuff away rather than fixing it will be our route to damnation.

There was a time when Garry and I were working a ridiculous number of hours and started using paper plates. To avoid washing dishes. After doing this for a while, one day, I found myself washing the paper plates. I couldn’t bear the idea of throwing them out. It seemed wrong. Wasteful. That was when I rediscovered the concept of reusability. I had actual dishes in the cupboard. I could use them, wash them — and use them again! Epiphany!

96-Kitchen-HPCR-1

We are turning into a world of paper plate users. Everything, from your car to your computer, to your kitchen appliances. It’s all junk. When it stops running, dump it. Don’t even think about fixing it. Change your cell phone every six months. Toss the old one. Somewhere on this planet, there is a giant, bottomless hole into which the garbage goes and it will never fill up, right? If you keep believing that, maybe the house brownies will come and clean for you while you sleep.

I’m not expecting answers. I’ll be dead before anyone looks around and says “Whoa … this isn’t so good. What about building things we can repair. You know. Reuse.”

 

SNICK. WHIRR. BEEP. CHIRP. BUZZ. CLICK.

Our cable company changes software frequently. They call these changes upgrades, though nothing seems to improve. The equipment doesn’t work better and isn’t easier to use. If the so-called upgrade includes useful features, no one tells you how to use them or even that they exist. You discover them accidentally while trying to figure out how to do what you did before the menu you used was removed.

Among the useful new features is the ability to adjust recording times to before or after the times posted in the online guide. It’s trendy for shows to begin and end at odd times. I think it’s a network attempt to defeat DVR recorders, though I have no idea why they’d want to do that. It’s usually just a few minutes difference, but if you set up recordings using the default settings, it will always start exactly on an hour or half hour. And finish precisely 30 or 60 minutes later.  Unless you override it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have no idea why software developers don’t design the software to check actual start and end times. I’m sure they could but don’t. Meanwhile, off-hour programming means recorded shows have the last couple of minutes clipped. It annoys everyone except producers who clearly don’t record anything. Probably don’t watch anything either.

With shows starting and ending at random times, despite how they are listed in the “guide,” adjustability ought to help. It would if you could just set start and end time using regular time. Start recording at 8:01 PM. End at 9:03 PM. Simple, right?

My GeekscapeSoftware designers apparently think we are morons so instead of clock time, this function works by “start earlier or later” or “end early or run over.” My husband has no problem with clock time, but gets lost in the “earlier” and “over” thing. He needs numbers. Me, I want the DVR’s internal computer to deal with this so we don’t have to.

Note: Cable companies are tyrannical. We live with whatever company we’re assigned. One day, this will change. The suppressed anger of enraged customers will spill into the streets. Cable customers will form angry mobs and hunt down cable executives. I live for the day.

Meanwhile, to record shows in a sequence when one airs right after another, is byzantine. Kafkaesque. You must start with the final show in the sequence, then work forward. Because it’s a cheap-ass piece of junk equipment with terrible software.

Garry is the Man With The Remote. He has been engaged in combat with the DVR for months. Yesterday, he got so frustrated he was ready to throw the remote against a wall. Drastic for a man serious about his entertainment.

75-bedsideMedia-HP-1

I wouldn’t let him quit. I know a secret. If you let a computer-controlled device defeat you, the news travels and your devices will rebel.

They are planning the overthrow of civilization.

Machine power! Down with meat-based life forms! They are winning, one beep and chirp at a time. Dinging and clicking in the dark, they scheme.

Today, the DVR. Tomorrow, the world. Your toaster won’t toast. Mr. Coffee won’t brew. The contact list on your cell phone will vanish. No one remembers phone numbers or writes anything down, so you won’t be able to contact friends. Your ISP will mark your messages as SPAM.

The All-Knowing Net is gathering strength as I write.

Nothing is safe. Snick, whir, beep. Chirp, buzz, click. Ding!  Can the Zombie Apocalypse be far behind?

Show no fear!

PICKING AND CHEWING

Once upon a time, in a far away land, The Boss assigned me a secretary. Not part of a pool, but a whole person. With a master’s degree from Mt. Holyoke. Pretty daunting, me with my little B.A. from Hofstra. So I said to The Boss:

“What is she supposed to do?”

“You write, she does all the typing.”

English: IBM Selectric II typewriter (dual Lat...

English: IBM Selectric II typewriter (dual Latin/Hebrew typeball and keyboard) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He apparently thought I wrote my drafts in longhand. On paper. Although this was the early 1980s, I had long since given up pen and paper. Initially for an old manual Royal with glass sides, then for a basic electric machine, and eventually for the ubiquitous IBM Selectric, the ultimate achievement in typewriter technology before computers blew them off the scene.

I had been using computers since they became available. I was, as we say, an early adopter. Very early adopter. The moment I touched a computer, I knew I had found My Thing. It went beyond love, beyond passion. I was … An Original Geek. (Dum de dum dum … DUM!)

Now, I had a secretary. Who was supposed to type for me. I cannot think in longhand. I can barely write out a shopping list, much less a book. I doodle like someone demented and wish I could save the mad creations that emerge on the borders of papers on which I’m supposedly taking notes at the meeting. Really, I’m trying to keep awake and look busy. Also, I can’t help myself. Give me a pen and paper. I will doodle.

And there was my secretary. American, like me. Thin. Tall. Blonde. Very very nervous. A bit of what we might call “a twitch.” We discovered we shared a mutual passion for horses and went riding together (no, not on company time). She rode better than me (a lot better) and had her own helmet, crop, jacket … the whole regalia. I had jeans and a pair of battered boots. I’d never worn a helmet. Probably this explains a lot about me. That’s when I discovered that Israel is the largest breeder of Arabian horses anywhere, but they get trans-shipped to Arab countries because you know, they can’t buy Israeli horses. They might turn out to be a Zionists!

One day, I realized my secretary had a little compulsive habit. Maybe not so little. She was a dedicated nose picker. And she ate it. She was fast and sneaky, but when you spend every working day with a person, it’s hard not to realize she’s got one of those long, nervous fingers up her nose all the time.

nose-picking-sign-300x300

Everyone probably picks their nose sometimes, usually to get something that’s blocking air. But this wasn’t like that. She just couldn’t stop. She admitted eventually she’d caused permanent damage to the lining of her nostrils from constantly attacking them with her fingernails. Oy.

Our offices were located on the fourth floor of a warehouse. No elevator, so you got exercise. You didn’t have to go out for lunch. It was catered, delivered daily and we all ate at a long table amidst many prayers. The Boss was an orthodox Jew from Belgium. Other than Judaism, he believed in feeding His People and giving everyone lots of vacation time. It was a good job; he was one of the kindest, most decent men for whom I ever worked.

Two floors below us was a chocolate factory. They made all kinds dark chocolate-covered citrus fruits (my favorite was grapefruit). No milk, so if you were Kosher, you could eat them with meat or dairy. And oh my, they were so good. Around two in the afternoon, they fired up the chocolate vats and the smell would start drifting upward. I sent my secretary to get me chocolate. I didn’t know what else to do with her and watching her ream out her nose was getting to me. By mid afternoon, I not only needed chocolate. I needed a break.

She was such a nice woman. Smart. Well-educated. Over-qualified as a secretary, but she didn’t have qualifications for anything else, either … just a Masters in English Literature. Not the ticket to success in Israel in the early 1980s. Probably not now, either.

She objected to being sent on errands. I sighed. I didn’t really have much else for her to do. The nose-picking was wearing me down. I found myself trying to not look at her lest I catch her digging with a finger in there up to a second knuckle. One day I was sure she’d hit brain matter.

candied-chocolate-covered-orange-peel

Finally, she refused to get me chocolate and I had no work for her. Moreover, she was unable to keep her fingers where they belonged. I went to The Boss. I said I felt my secretary needed to move on, perhaps to someone else in the company who needed her services more than I. He looked at me.

“What is the real problem?”

“It’s embarrassing.”

“Tell me.”

“She picks her nose. And eats it.”

I thought he was going to toss his cookies on the desk. That was the end of the story. In reality, not only did I not need a secretary, no one did. It was a computer development company. We all worked on keyboards. So her departure was inevitable. I just speeded it up by a few weeks.

I was nice about it. I didn’t mention the picking thing, but I suspect she knew. She also had to realize she was underemployed. I’ve been in that position. You always know when you’re redundant and sooner or later, you’re going to have to leave. No one will keep paying you forever if you aren’t doing something worth a paycheck.

Still, if it hadn’t been for the nose picking and her flat refusal to go down to the first floor and get me chocolate, she’d have had a little more time.

GEEKOGRAPHY: DOWN IN FLAMES WITH QUICKSAND AND ALLIGATORS

I’m pretty good with computers. I’m not an engineer, but I’m reasonably competent and not easily daunted. But, there comes a day for humility, when one finds oneself in the high-tech equivalent of quicksand. With grinning alligators on all sides.

PhotoshopIt started, as it so often does, with an update. An Adobe update to CS5. I have CS6, but when I installed it, the guy at Adobe suggested I just leave the earlier version on the computer (bad idea and I shouldn’t have listened). This arrangement was dodgy from the start. My system was never sure to which version it should default … and Adobe kept sending updates for both.

The moment this update downloaded, CS5 started throwing error messages about a missing DLL file and CS6 stopped working. I realized it was a bad download. Not the first bad download of my computer-using life. I didn’t panic, even though I wanted to scream. I calmly did what I usually do: I restored the computer to an earlier point, before the download. That pretty much always fixes the problem.

Not this time.

So I took a deep breath and tried reinstalling CS5, hoping that it would restore the missing DLL and all would be right on heaven and earth.

All of this took place while the Red Sox were whipping the Cardinals and winning the World Series at Fenway Park. A good thing because there isn’t anything more boring than uninstalling, installing, reinstalling and rebooting a computer. Repeatedly. For hours.

Photoshop is a big application, so whatever you are doing, it takes a while. When the reinstall failed, I bit the bullet and uninstalled CS5. Unfortunately, CS6 still wouldn’t load. So I uninstalled CS6. Then I rebooted. And rebooted again. Just to make sure.

Grateful for that I actual own the installation discs, I reinstalled CS5. My version of CS6 is an upgrade and won’t install unless it finds an earlier version of Photoshop (it turns out there’s a way around this, but I didn’t know it).  It installed. I took a deep breath, cheered for the Sox and went to bed.

I repeated the operation on my desktop, after which I decided to adjourn to the living room and relax. I took CS6 with me so I could install it on the laptop where I confidently believed I had already fixed the problem.

When I turned on my laptop, the Adobe updater popped up and without thinking, I clicked okay. At that moment, I knew I was doomed.

Down in flames. Not merely back to ground zero. Underground. Deep underground. I tried uninstalling CS5, but it threw errors up the wazoo. I tried (again) restoring to an earlier point. A much earlier point. Last week. When the world was young and innocent.

This brought back a shadow version of CS6. It looked like the application, except nothing worked. CS6 wouldn’t open. CS5 was dead. I could not uninstall either application. It suggested using the Adobe Cleaning Tool (download it from Adobe’s website). I used it. The situation got much worse.

I threw in the towel. I was in over my head. Far, far over my head. I had to do the thing I most dreaded. I had to call Tech Support.

First call. After 9 prompts, I am told it will be a 9 to 10 minute wait. I try to put the phone on speaker and hit END instead. I look at the dead telephone. Take a deep breath and dial again. Go through all of the prompts.

Second call. I’m told it will be a 4 to 6 minute wait. This time, I carefully find the speaker button and put the phone down and start to check my email. A minute later, I hear the sound of a human voice. Male. Actually, I’ve never gotten a woman at Adobe. Do they employ any? Just asking.

The guy isn’t listening. He’s got a script and he is determined to follow it, no matter what. He’s telling me to uninstall and I’m trying to tell him I can’t. Finally, he says I should wait a moment, he’ll be right back. Forty minutes later, annoying music commences and I realize he’s gone for good.

I reboot my computer and patiently, oh so patiently, call Adobe again.

Third call. The Charm! I get someone who listens (yay). “Did the previous technician do anything with your computer?”

“No,” I reply. “He said he’d be back, but when the music came on, I got the feeling he was gone for good.”

Chuckle. “Okay. I need you to … “

He took over the computer. Eventually, we went deep into the soul of my laptop and extracted — one piece at a time — both versions of Photoshop. Nine gigs and more than 40,000 files. That’s right. 40,000. I didn’t know my recycle bin could hold that much. It took me almost 15 minutes to empty it. That’s a lot of files.

We then reinstalled CS6 and I discovered you don’t need the earlier version, just its serial number.

I hope all of you forgive me for not checking out your sites today. I was busy. Do I know how to have a good time or what?

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Review – ATMTX PHOTO BLOG Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

See comparisons, detailed, analysis, photographs and more on ATMTX PHOTO BLOG.

See on Scoop.itIn and About the News

Olympus OM-D E-M1

MY BACKGROUND

I currently own 4 Olympus micro 4/3 cameras, 2 E-PL1s, an E-P3 and an E-PM2. I also own 7 Olympus and Panasonic micro 4/3 lenses. I’ve shot more than 20,000 frames with my Olympus cameras, so I know these cameras well. I’ve also used the newest Olympus Pen, the E-P5, during a week and half evaluation.

I’m also a Canon DSLR shooter. I started with the Rebel XT 7 years ago and have upgrade over time to the 20D, 7D and currently own the full frame 6D. While I shoot a variety of subjects, I’m most excited about urban landscapes and street photography, especially in the evening and night. For this reason, I’m usually drawn to fast shooting cameras that have great low light (high ISO) performance.

THE 4/3 FORMAT

Before micro 4/3, there was an older format called 4/3. Olympus and Panasonic also shared the original 4/3 standard. This standard was for DSLRs with traditional lenses and a flipping mirror. The goal was to create DSLRs smaller than Canon and Nikon by using a smaller sensor.

The 4/3 DSLRs were in fact smaller but it ultimately didn’t make a big difference — Canon and Nikon continued to dominate sales. Back then the smaller 4/3 sensor didn’t perform as well in low light, which was the main knock against the format. Also the mirror assembly still added considerable bulk so the 4/3 cameras were not “radically” smaller than the bigger APS-C sized DSLRs.

Ultimately, Olympus and Panasonic regrouped to form the now popular micro 4/3 standard. They took out the flipping mirror and further shrank the lenses and, in the process, started the mirrorless interchangeable lens movement.

The jewels in the old 4/3 system are the highly regarded Olympus lenses. Olympus DSLRs focused faster than the original mirrorless offerings and while Olympus released an adapter to use 4/3 lenses on micro 4/3 cameras, they didn’t work as quickly. The 2010 release of the E-5 was the last time Olympus updated their DSLR. Since then, 4/3 lens fans had no modern, high performance cameras to use their glass. This changed with the release of the OM-D E-M1.

BRINGING THE FAMILY BACK TOGETHER

With the release of the OM-D E-M1, Olympus combined the best of the micro 4/3 world with the best of the 4/3 lens world. Though the E-M1 is not an SLR, it has phase detect and contrast detect focusing which allows the older 4/3 lenses to focus quickly. Reports on the web indicate that while some 4/3 lenses don’t focus as fast as on the E-5 DSLR, the E-M1 is significantly faster than previous micro 4/3 cameras. Robin Wong in Malaysia reports that the focus speed with the 4/3 lenses are more than enough and it is a very usable system. It appears that 4/3 lens focusing speed is lens dependent. A reader indicates that SWD lenses focuses even faster. I didn’t have any 4/3 lenses to test but reports on the web indicate positive results indeed.

In one bold stroke, Olympus managed to up its mirrorless focusing capability while supporting the older, loyal Olympus 4/3 owners. It’s a move that brought back the two side of the Olympus household under one roof.

CHALLENGING THE DSLR

While the original 4/3 DSLR never did challenge the Canon / Nikon duopoly, the new mirrorless E-M1 has put together a package that has compelling advantages over the old-fashioned DSLR. Imagine a camera that is as fast as a DSLR, with equal image quality, with superior video in a small package.

It took several years of refinement and ultimately a new Sony 16MP sensor, but the micro 4/3 system currently has the same image quality as an APS-C DSLR. When I tested the Olympus E-PM2 against my Canon 7D, I found the low light image quality to be equal to or superior on the Olympus. Even the newest Canon 70D, which is better than the 7D, appears to be in the same ball park as the E-M1. Looking at the DPReview results, it appears that the Olympus JPEG engine still does better than Canon, pulling out sharp details. High ISO performance seems about the same for JPEG and the new 70D might be a tad better than the E-PM2 in RAW.

At 10 frames per second in continuous focusing mode, the E-M1 is the first micro 4/3 camera that I would recommend for sports. The latest generation of Olympus Pens are quick for normal shooting — it has one of the fastest contrast detect focusing systems. But when it comes to fast action sports, like soccer, the contrast detect can’t keep up. The E-M1 uses phase detect focusing to assist the contrast detect focusing when set in continuous mode with the micro 4/3 lens (on 4/3 lenses, I’m told it uses phase detect full-time) which makes all the difference. I was able to continuously focus more reliably than with my Canon 7D, which by the way, only shoots at 8 frames per second. DSLRs still have the sports advantage in certain ways, which I will explain below however, this is a major step for mirrorless sports photography.

One of the knocks against the DSLR is the size of the camera and even worse, the size of the lenses. Since the E-M1 uses the slightly smaller micro 4/3 sensor, the body and the lenses are noticeably compact. Even though this latest OM-D has the beefiest body so far for an Olympus micro 4/3 camera, it is still a lot smaller than a comparable DSLR. Here is a photograph I took at Precision Camera that compares a Canon 70D with the 24 – 70mm f2.8 vs the Olympus E-M1 with the very similar 24 – 80mm equivalent (Note: technically the Canon 24- 70mm lens on a 70D has a 38mm – 112mm equivalent). Notice a difference?

A GROUND BREAKING LENS

Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 The impact of Olympus’ new lens, the 12 – 40mm f2.8, is hard to overstated. This is the first PRO micro 4/3 lens from Olympus. It has a metal exterior, it’s weather proof and it’s fast. f2.8 is typically what pros like to use. The large aperture and a usable 24 – 80mm equivalent range makes this a do all lens. This type of lens is popular with wedding photographers and photojournalists where fast action and changing light conditions makes it indispensable.

But imagine all this capability in a size not much bigger than a typical DSLR kit lens. That’s what you can get with micro 4/3, a constant 2.8 zoom in a small package. With Canon, for example, their 24 -70mm f2.8 is nearly 3/4″ larger in diameter and over an inch longer. It weighs more than double, coming in at a hefty 1.77 pounds. The Canon lens also runs about $2,300 which is $1,300 more than the Olympus.

Unique to the Olympus lens is a feature where you can pull back on the focus ring, which automatically switches the E-M1 into manual focus mode. Between the focus peaking and digital zoom, this maybe the easiest way to manually focus, at least on a digital camera. This manual focus interface is also available on the Olympus 12mm f2 and the 17mm f1.8. The 12mm and 17mm don’t do automatic focus peaking or digital zoom when the focus ring is pulled backed, however. Unlike the 12-40mm zoom, you need to program a function button to bring up the manual focus aids.

UNBEATABLE PACKAGE

Separately, the E-M1 and 12-40mm lens are excellent in their own way. But together, as a package, the two complement each other perfectly. They’re an unbeatable pair. Of course the E-M1 can be used with any micro 4/3 lens. Conversely, the 12-40mm can be used on any micro 4/3 body. This lens needs the beefy grip of the E-M1 to be comfortable. While the lens is small in DSLR terms, it is one of the bigger micro 4/3 lenses. Perhaps adding the optional grips on the OM-D E-M5 will also do the trick but on a smaller camera like the E-P3 or even the smaller E-PM2, the lens is too heavy.

Mated together, you get a total package that is significantly smaller than the DSLR equivalents. Remember, a smaller sensor may reduce the body size somewhat but it really has benefits in shrinking the lens size. I carried around this high performance, weather sealed, f2.8 zoom camera all day with no strain. It fits in my small Domke bag and it didn’t tire me out. Try that with your DSLR.

LENS OPTIONS

The E-M1 and 12-40mm combo may be the first setup that handles 95% of my needs. That includes my serious photography as well as family vacation snapshots and videos. Action in low light maybe the only time I’ll need a second lens with a big aperture. I like to use the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4. Other choices may include both the Olympus 12mm f2 and the 17mm f1.8, both really good lenses. Finally, the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 is a very popular and compact alternative.

A serious portrait shooter, which I am not, may also want to consider a wide aperture portrait lens to decrease the depth of field. The Olympus 45mm f1.8 is a low-cost and highly rated lens. The Olympus 75mm f1.8 is considered by some to be the highest quality micro 4/3 lens.

THE ERGONOMICS

Olympus E-M1 Details Olympus E-M1 Details The E-M1 is unlike any previous Olympus micro 4/3 camera. The actual size, in person, seems smaller than expected. It doesn’t look “toy like”, which is the reaction I had when I first saw the E-M5. In actual use, it feels more like a DSLR than the typical mirrorless camera, albeit a very small DSLR. It feels very different from the Olympus Pens that I’ve come to know very well.

On first use, I found the camera heavy. It fit well in hand and all the controls are easy to reach — many accessible single-handed. I can change the two control dials with just my right hand which is not possible, for example, with my Canons. I may opt to use my left hand for added stability, but it wasn’t required to change the primary controls.

There is enough direct access buttons on this thing that I rarely need to go into the menus or super control panel. And all the buttons are well place and easily accessible. Between the weight, build and control, it’s a totally different experience than using an Olympus Pen. Compared to this camera, my otherwise excellent E-PM2 feels like a plastic point and shoot. In less than a week, I got used to the weight. It became the new normal. My Pens felt tiny but the DSLRs still seemed a size or two larger.

While the control accessibility of the E-M1 is superior to my Canon 6D, I prefer the larger grip of the Canon for heavier lenses. The 12-40mm works fine on the E-M1 but with heavier lenses (like the legacy 4/3 lenses), I think you should attach the optional HLD-7 Camera grip. The E-M1 is a lot shorter than the DSLR so the grip does not extend down to the pinky, even with my smaller hands. The optional battery grip will add needed support for heavier lenses.

The menu system seems very similar to the other Olympus micro 4/3 cameras however there are some changes. I noticed, for example, the menu options around bracketing and HDR have changed somewhat. There are probably other small differences but I didn’t do a comprehensive check. I like all the options and customizability of the Olympus menus but I know some find it overwhelming. The good news is with all the external, physical controls, you will rarely need to visit the menus.

THE DESIGN

Olympus E-M1 Details Olympus E-M1 Details Olympus E-M1 Details Unlike the other Olympus models, this camera only comes in black. The dark, angular shape with its sharp creases is in direct contrast to the smooth and rounded shapes of DSLRs. It also has a very different aesthetic from the Pen line. While the smaller Pens are cute, retro or in the case of the E-P5, upscale. The E-M1 looks like a purposeful photographic tool and its smaller than DSLR size still makes it accessible and non-threatening. It strikes a good balance. While there is a similarity to the old, film Olympus SLR, to me the design doesn’t look retro, It looks modern and high-tech.

There is enough heft and size, especially with the 12-40mm lens, to come across as a premium product. However, unlike the two toned, Olympus E-P5, it does not look luxurious. The E-M1 is more functional than decorative. My 14-year-old son describes it as cool but not Pro. Meaning, a big DSLR with a large white lens looks more professional and impressive. So if you are getting this camera to impress people, it may not be the ideal choice. But it doesn’t look like a budget plastic DSLR either — you can tell it is something special. This thing has a solid all metal build with nice rubbery grips. The only section that feels a bit lacking is the SD Card door located on the grip, by the palm. It doesn’t seem cheap, I just don’t know how solid it will be after years of use. For the record my Canon 6D also has a similarly placed SD card door, of which I have the same concerns.

Not looking like a typical DSLR but with DSLR performance is why I like the camera. It’s certainly not as stealthy as an Olympus Pen, but I don’t think it will attract attention like a Pro DSLR either. Purely on looks, I prefer the two toned E-P5. It has just the right amount of sparkle and it seemed like a “civilized” travel and street camera. Performance and flexibility wise, the E-M1 is clearly superior. You can shoot sports, take it into country for landscapes (in all kinds of nasty weather) and do almost everything in between. In that sense, E-M1 is Olympus’ most versatile camera.

Where the E-M1 is clearly superior over the E-P5 is with the integrated EVF (Electronic View Finder). I didn’t like that add-on EVF on the E-P5, one of the few things I complained about in an otherwise fine camera. On the E-P5, the EVF is an afterthought. It doesn’t integrate into the design and, for me, get’s in the way. The E-M1 EVF, I believe, has the same technical specifications but it is full incorporated into the body. (Note: A reader reports that the E-M1 EVF has slight improvements over the VF-4 EVF that optionally comes with the E-P5. It has less lag and automated brightness, adjusting to ambient light) It looks good, design wise, and is less fragile. I don’t typically use EVFs, but on the E-M1 I used it more than usual. Perhaps I used the EVF more because, conceptually for me, the E-M1 handles and feels like a DSLR. The Pen cameras, on the other hand, work more like point and shoots.

The EVF quality is the best yet. It is the closest so far to the feel of an optical view finder. It smooth, with great color and it doesn’t get overly bright in dark scenes. It’s the first EVF I don’t mind using, though I still find it comfortable and more flexible using the flip LCD up screen.

I know there’s a lot of people who like the Olympus E-M5 but I never warmed up to that camera. The ergonomics, such as the button placement didn’t work for me. Also, it just looked a bit “toy like” because of its small size. It looks like a retro SLR but not sized like one, which is where the disconnect for me happens, I think. The E-M1 just looks right. It still seems smaller than expected but not to any extreme. There is a balance to it that the E-M5 doesn’t have unless you add the optional grips.

IMAGE QUALITY

There are many aspects to image quality, of course. There is color, dynamic range, contrast, noise levels and sharpness to name a few. Color is probably the most important for me and usually the most visible. The Olympus color, which I really like, is a key reason I use the system. Beyond that, I tend to look at noise levels particularly for high ISOs. I shoot a lot in dark conditions and having great high ISO performance is important. Certainly, I would like better dynamic range but for my serious urban landscapes I often use HDR which increase the apparent dynamic range. This, I find, is a great equalizer between systems.

I rarely do serious ISO tests. I generally look at the results from normal shooting and see what looks acceptable to me. I view the photograph on my 27″ Apple Thunderbolt display so that the image fills the display (not at 100%). If I can’t see any noise or general harshness, I deem the image as acceptable for my purposes. While I may do retouching at 100%, I don’t pixel peep at 100% once I know the limits of a camera.

Compared to other Olympus cameras

For Olympus Pens I’m usually satisfied with the images up to ISO 3200. Keep in mind that noise levels vary by color and exposure so ISO 3200 is a general rule of thumb. The EM-1 uses a new 16MP sensor. I’ve head reports that it might be better at higher ISOs than the previous E-M5 sensor. I decided to run some quick tests to see if I can detect a difference.

I shot the Texas State Capitol on tripod with both the E-M1 with the 12-40mm attached and the E-PM2 with the Panasonic 14mm attached. Both cameras were set to f8 and at 14mm (28mm equivalent). I was testing noise levels, not sharpness so I decided not to use the same lens. I shot 3 photos at -2 stops, 0 and +2 stops exposure compensation. I did this at ISO 200, 1600, 3200, 4000, 5000 and 6400. By varying the exposure compensation, I can judge noise levels with both over and under exposed photographs. I also shot both cameras with RAW + JPEG but did the analysis with JPEG since I don’t have a RAW converter for the E-M1.

My results? In this simple test, the two cameras did about the same. I did not see a noticeable improvement with the E-M1. This is in contrast to Ming Thein’s results where he was getting about 1/2 or so stop better noise performance. Ming is a professional photographer out of Malaysia and I certainly trust his analysis. Keep in mind that noise characteristics change with exposure and color. So even if we are both testing noise performance, our results may vary depending on the subject. Also, Ming was using an OM-D E-M5 and I was using a Pen E-PM2. My understanding is that both cameras use the same sensor and processor but a quick check over at DXO Mark reveals something interesting. According to their tests the E-PM2 does a tad better at high ISO. Could that account for the difference?

That’s not to say I didn’t see any differences. For my state Capitol scene, things looked about the same until ISO 1600. At 3200 and above, I noticed that the E-M1 processed JPEGs differently from the E-PM2. The JPEG noise reduction on the E-M1 seems lighter creating a more detailed but slightly noisier images. I am splitting hairs though, pixel peeping at 100%. At full size on the 27″ monitor, its hard to make out the differences.

That said for the “normal” non-test scenes I shot, I was getting decent, usable image as ISO 4000 and 5000. Even ISO 6400 was okay in terms of noise. Remember that these are JPEGs so the camera adds noise reduction. I usually use RAW where noise is a bigger factor unless I add additional noise reduction. The advantage of RAW is that I can post process the image with more latitude, pulling out details from shadows or bringing back some detail in over exposed areas. I can also manipulate color more in RAW without the image falling apart.

So your mileage will vary. I wouldn’t expect radically better high ISO results with the E-M1 over the current generation micro 4/3s. But this camera’s strength lie in other areas. I’ve also noticed more noise in some over exposed images with the E-M1, which I create when shooting HDR brackets. I don’t see it all the time and it may be related to the way JPEGs are processed. The net effect is that I’ve created a noisier than usual HDR image, the one of the State Capitol displayed above. I needed to apply extra noise reduction via software to get it down to acceptable levels. I would need to run more tests to determine if this was a fluke or a real issue. The image above used the photos I shot at ISO 200. And in case you are wondering, the white specs you see on the pavement are not noise but light reflecting off the pavement.

Compared to DSLRs

The current generation micro 4/3 are surprisingly competitive, image quality wise, with DSLRs with APS-C sensors. The larger APS-C sensors should give it a distinct advantage but in actual usage there seems to be very little difference. I am more familiar with Canon than Nikon so I will talk about the former. I’ve been shooting with micro 4/3 for a while and I was surprised to discover that my small Olympus E-PM2 matched or exceeded the low light performance of the Canon 7D. I’ve talked a lot about this. Basically, Canon have not improved their APS-C sensor for over 3 years. In that time, smaller sensored cameras, like micro 4/3 caught up. Recently Canon released the 70D. This is first Canon APS-C DSLR that noticeably improves low light performance. I would estimate that 70D is about a 1/3 to 2/3 stop better in RAW performance than the E-M1 (that’s assuming the E-M1 RAW performance is similar to the E-PM2). If you compare JPEG performance, it appears that the superior Olympus JPEG engine still matches Canon’s results.

For full frame DSLRs, it’s a very different story. High ISO performance on full frame is clearly better than micro 4/3. The physics of a grossly larger sensor is hard to beat. On my Canon 6D, for example, I get nearly 2 stops better high ISO performance. So ISO 10,000 on my Canon 6D is about on par with ISO 3200 on micro 4/3.

Olympus does have one tangible benefit though. The E-M1 has a very sophisticated 5 axis in-body image stabilizer. This allows you to take clear shots at lower ISOs by reducing your shutter speed. This technique will not help with fast action but for scenes with little or no movement, you can reduce your shutter speed greatly. Couple this with some large aperture prime lenses and you can easily best APS-C sensored DSLRs. And you can almost close the gap on full frame cameras too depending on the circumstance.

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