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

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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.

See on blog.atmtxphoto.com

Daily Prompt: The Stat Connection – How to make friends and influence people

My most popular all time whiz-bang post was written during a five-minute commercial interruption of the 2012 première episode of Criminal Minds. Over a thousand hits came pouring in for that post plus another few hundred over the next few days and many more in the months since. It remains my highest drawing post. When the season première came around in England, I got 1400 hits in one hour.

shadow me

I always know when the episode is playing somewhere because each time it shows, anywhere on earth, in rerun or as a new series, I get another thousand or so hits. The last time was the middle of June when a rerun of the episode was on cable and I got just under 900 hits in about an hour and another 300 the next day. Sure does goose up those stats, eh?

swan 93

What have I learned from this? If you want to be popular, write about television shows and be lucky. Make sure Google puts you at the top of the search for that thing, whatever it is. Because that’s what drives them to me. Not my brilliant writing, not the extraordinary subject matter. I wrote a little piece quickly, without much thought, published it within a couple of minutes. It accounts for 10,111 total hits. I have no idea what kind of lesson to take from that. Do you? You may read it here: The FBI can’t do a simple Google search?

In second position for all time hits, with a solid showing of 5,043 hits is a joke about cell phones and Albert Einstein. I copied and pasted it from Facebook. It’s funny, but it’s not exactly a cogent, well-written commentary on the human condition. I’ve written shopping lists with deeper meaning. In the name of scientific inquiry, feel free to give this your full attention: The man who saw the future …

Finally in the number three position with 2,645 hits is a reblog of an article comparing two Olympus cameras, the PEN PL-5 and the PEN PM-2. It gets from 20 to 100 hits a day, every day since I published it about a year ago. Apparently if you are shopping for Olympus cameras, you are more likely to find me than the original author. The mystery of Google strikes again. You will enjoy this if you are buying a new mirrorless camera. The information is excellent and if I’d written it myself, I’d be prouder still: Olympus E-PL5 vs. Olympus E-PM2, a surprise. I bought the PM2, by the way. I already owned the PL-1 and P3.

There is no connection between these posts other than they hit the public fancy and placed well on Google’s search engine. One was written by someone else, another is a well-known Internet joke, and third comments about a popular TV show and involves hunting serial killers. What it proves to me? Popularity has little to do with good writing, meaningful subject matter, or even good taste. Taken by themselves, statistics are worse than meaningless: they are deceptive. If you can find another interpretation, I’m all ears.

Rarely are your best efforts your most popular posts. So far, never. The pieces of which I’m the most proud often languish unnoticed while articles written in haste with little thought, but about popular subjects do very well. On the rare occasions when a piece I’m genuinely proud of does well, I glow.

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Meanwhile, by dint of working really hard at finding interesting, entertaining and valuable subjects to write about, I’ve got almost 85,000 hits, more than 400 followers, about 1200 posts and Word Press has never found a single thing I’ve written or photographed worthy of being Freshly Pressed. Not a single picture or post. That boggles my mind too because I’ve read a lot of the freshly pressed material and can’t remember any of it. It was smooth reading and totally forgettable. Maybe I’m trying too hard.

Some days I wonder why I bother? I could just go find stuff on the Internet and reblog it and get fantastic numbers. But then I slap myself on the face and remind me I don’t do it for the numbers or even for the recognition, though I certainly wouldn’t mind positive input.

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I do it because I love it. The writing, the photography, the relationships. I really, truly love it. So until I just wear out and give up from sheer exhaustion, I guess you are all stuck with me.

Other recent top entries, many of which are informational and/or technical should not surprise me because I was a technical writer for 35 years and I write a good reference stuff. After all those years, you’d figure I’d have a grip on that, at least. So here’s a list of my most popular posts (not in order, but overall hit count showing). Within the list are contain some pieces I think are pretty good. Well-written and containing interesting or useful information, or just an opinion I’m glad someone found worth reading.

Why tablets can’t replace computers. And why they shouldn’t. (301 hits)

Amazon Kindle Fire 7-Inch HD: 13-months later (369 hits)

The Felix Castor Series, Mike Carey (359 hits) 

How many states are trying to secede? (843 hits)

Things that go bump in the night (354 hits)

Gazing through to the other side: Hollywood and Moral Character (751 hits)

Where do the swans go? (334 hits) (photo gallery)

Old Coney Island Impressions (306 hits) (photo gallery)

Nothing ties these articles together. Not theme, style, subject matter. The only thing they share is (with two glaring exceptions) the author — me. What should I make of this? You tell me. I don’t like any of the conclusions I draw.

Buying the camera instead of the lens — Updated!

This is the story of how and why I didn’t buy a Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 prime lens for my Olympus PENs and instead bought the Canon PowerShot S100. I got the camera in basic black because I’m a traditionalist. Black goes with everything and it cost $50 less than the identical camera in silver (why?). Not only is this the story of how and why I bought it, but how well it has worked out and how glad I am I bought it. I really don’t know how I did without it. I think if I had to pick just one camera, this would be the one I would choose … and that is saying a lot. Okay, maybe it would be the new Olympus PM2. But maybe not.

Powershot100

It took me a year to work this out. Many people, including myself, have pointed out I have a plenty of cameras and accessories, so why in the world do I need or want another? It’s a valid question. I’ve given it a lot of thought.

Secretly or not-so-secretly, we all want the new camera

To the last man and woman, we are gadget freaks. We love’em, can’t get enough of ‘em.

Too  many? No way. There is no “too many.” No photographer can have too many cameras, even if we have dozens of cameras including ones we never use or haven’t touched in years. It may appear to the non-initiate as if we have excess equipment, but each piece plays a unique role. Like children in a large family, no two are the same. Each has a special destiny, a niche, a purpose. Although a small degree of overlap may exist, it is surprisingly little.

Someday they will make a camera that will do it all … and I will not be able to afford it. Life can be cruel.

The Collection

The foundation of my equipment is a trio of Olympus PEN cameras. The PL-1 was my original camera. It’s a few years old and plays backup for the newer E-P3 and the even newer PM2. I got the Olympus 40-150 zoom when I got the PL-1 as well as one of my two 14-42 Olympus lenses. More recently, I bought the 45mm F/1.8 Oly portrait lens. I love it so much it makes my  heart flutter thinking about it.

OlyPEN EPM-2

Last, but far from least, I added the Panasonic LUMIX 14mm f/2.5. It’s pretty fast, decently wide, an all around excellent landscape lens. Since that’s mostly what  I shoot, this is an extremely useful lens.

Also notice my amazing camera bag. It’s the Opteka Canvas Weatherproof bag that holds every piece of camera equipment I own and can actually also carry the tripod I never use. It has its own raincoat that lives in a hidden pocket at the bottom of the bag. I have the medium and small version of the bag too. I love it in all three sizes and finally feel I have what I need. It sure took long enough.

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Next up, meet the Canon Powershot SX260 HS with its 20X zoom, f/3.5-6.8. Until the s100, it was the go everywhere camera. Light and small, it has a lens that zooms from moderately wide  to very long (about 300 feet). I do more grabbing and going than planning and organizing, so it has gotten a lot of use. It’s also a great camera when you don’t know what you’ll need. That super zoom comes in very useful. As do all the Powershot cameras, it focuses fast, is easy on batteries and small enough to slip into a pocket. It’s a fine  little camera until the sun goes down. Then, its maximum aperture of f/3.5 becomes a problem.

Enter the Canon PowerShot S100 . It can shoot JPG and RAW (as do the PENs, but not the 260). This isn’t always important, but it can be.  The lens is not as long as the 260, but it’s much faster — maximum aperture f/2.0 versus f/3.5. In low light, it’s the difference between getting the shot and not. I carry it everywhere I go and as a result, it is the camera I use the most. It may not be the best camera — that honor goes to the PM2 — but it is the camera that is always at hand. There’s a saying that the best camera is the one you have with you. This is that camera.

In the end, after sifting through all the possible permutations and arguing with myself about “need” versus “want very much,” the decision was between getting the Panasonic LUMIX G 20mm f/1.7 lens ($348) for the PENs, or the Canon PowerShot S100 ($279 minus some coupons I had from Amazon).

The Panny 20 is a fast 40mm lens (in practical terms) that many photographers who work with micro 4/3 cameras use as a normal. It’s ultra compact, ultra light  and renowned for high quality optics. I eventually dissected my reluctance to buy it and came up with a simple answer. I don’t like its 40mm length.

It is a bit on the wide-angle side of normal. This means if I use it to photograph people, they will look a little wider than they really are. No big deal you say? Are you kidding? Whatever other truths exist about photography, there is one global truth: No one wants to look fat in a photograph.

A little bit extra width would go over among the women in my life like the proverbial lead balloon. It’s an unflattering length for any kind of portrait. If I shot a lot night scenes or cityscapes, it might be worth more to me, but we don’t live in a city. It’s rural here. We have a moon, trees, fields, rivers and waterfalls. Cows and horses, too. Our towns go to sleep early and don’t leave the lights on. Our roads are mostly unlit. If if you are from an urban area, driving after dark in this neighborhood can be unsettling. It is very dark.

So I bought the camera

I finally admitted I was never going to buy the lens, even if  the price were to drop. Decision made, I felt better. Indecision concluded, let the buying commence.

First shots with the s100 were the big blizzard ...

First shots with the s100 were of the big blizzard …

And that’s the story.

Rarely do I know exactly why I made a particular decision, but this time I agonized over it for so long that I can — this once — follow my process. That the price of the camera dropped a lot during the last month made the decision easier. When it was around to $400 dollars, it wasn’t so tempting. At $279 with free shipping and a couple of discount coupons? I bought it.

What I use a lot, use occasionally, never use at all, and why

Cameras

  • I use the S100 the most because it is small, light and on hand. It’s fast, adaptable, and takes excellent pictures. It is only a little bigger than my iPhone. I love it. I think it loves me, too.
  • The Olympus PM2 with its 16 megapixel sensor is great. Fast as lightning, small, light and accepts all the micro 4/3 lenses that I use with all my Olympus cameras.
  • I use the Olympus PEN E-P3 often and am always glad when I do. It is fast to focus, recycle, flash, everything. Almost instantaneous. It’s lightweight, compact and a ton of fun to use. Also, the pictures come out well. The auto-focus is important these days since my eyes are not what they were. The speed at which the P3 zeroes in on its target as well as its effective anti-shake (built into the camera, not the lenses) are great for hands that aren’t as steady as one might like.
  • I don’t use the PL-1 much, but I keep it fitted it with a the 40-150 lens. It’s slower than the other PENs but it still takes great pictures and has the best color rendition of any camera I own. It’s always faster to switch cameras than change lenses, so it serves a useful purpose.
  • Garry was using the Canon Powershot 260 a lot, but now uses one of the PENs. He likes the slightly bigger and heavier Olympus cameras better and I may pass this to my son. I haven’t decided yet. I love the lens on it, so I’m hesitant to let it go.

I bet more and more people will be using these high-end point-and-shoots instead of interchangeable lens cameras of any kind. The quality has gone up and the prices are, for the most part, not breathtaking. There’s not much one of these little babies can’t do.

The difference between point-and-shoot and “other” is getting blurry. All cameras, including some super high-priced DSLRs can all be used as point-and-shoot cameras. You might be surprised how many people have never gotten beyond that. They own thousands of dollars of professional equipment and don’t know an f/stop from their Aunt Fanny. I figure eventually they will give up the pretence and get a good point-and-shoot.

Micro 4/3 format Lenses

1) Most used: The 14-42mm kit lenses. In 35mm terms, this is 28mm to 85mm, or slightly wide-angle to portrait. It is — especially for a kit lens — an exceptionally good piece of glass and it’s versatile. At its maximum aperture of f/3.5, it’s fast enough to shoot in most natural light until the sun begins to go down. If I can’t make up my mind what lens I need, this one gets the nod.

2) Close contenders:

(a) Olympus 45mm f/1.8 (90mm per in SLR terms) is a beautiful, fast lens I often use instead of a “normal.” When you are shooting tight, it has a wafer-thin depth of field letting you do portraits anywhere without the background intruding.

(b) The Panasonic LUMIX 14mm f/2.5 (28mm per SLR) is a moderate wide-angle with high quality glass. At 2.5, it’s reasonably fast, even in low light. It’s also compact and weighs close to nothing.

3) Rarely used:

Olympus 40-150 f/4 (widest aperture), translates to an 80 – 300 if it were a 35 mm. Why don’t I use it? Because I often shoot wide, but rarely shoot long. I shoot macro, portraits and landscapes, but things in the distance rarely interest me, at least in part because I can’t see them. The one time this year I needed a long lens, I had the other camera with me. Oh well.

The Olympus XZ-1 Review

Marilyn Armstrong:

- – -

I also love my quality point & shoot cameras though I also have a set of excellent micro 4/3 Olympus cameras and one Panasonic, too, with lenses. Yet as often as not, it’s my Canon S100 that gets the nod because it’s small, light and always at hand. I have heard only good things about the Olympus XZ-1 and if could think of any excuse, I’d probably buy one, too.

 – – -

Originally posted on atmtx photo blog:

The Last of the Victorians - Austin, Texas

The Last of the Victorians – Austin, Texas

A Series of Interrelated Curves - DFW, Texas

A Series of Interrelated Curves – DFW, Texas

Before the passengers, American Airlines - DFW, Texas

Before the passengers, American Airlines – DFW, Texas

The Positives

The XZ-1 is smallish camera that is joy to sling over the shoulder. It’s too big, however, to put in a pants pocket. The camera comes in a black or white. While I generally prefer black, I got the white version because that’s what was on sale. And I’ve come to enjoy the cuter white color, especially since I’ve received numerous compliments about the camera as I traveled through airports. There are two stand out features. A larger 1/1.8 sensor and a f1.8 to f2.5 zoom lens. Combined, these two features allow the camera to create nice quality photographs even in less than ideal lighting. Certainly several notches above typical point and shoots and drastically better than smart phones.

As you may know, I’m…

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Ordinary Things – Waiting for Spring

Marilyn Armstrong – Olympus PEN E-P3, 45 mm F/1.8

Digital Camera reviews – Olympus – Olympus PEN E-PL5 – Fisooloo.com

See on Scoop.itIn and About the News

Compare Olympus cameras: Olympus PEN E-PL5 prices , stores , reviews , specifications and videos at Fisooloo.com.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

This website, set to Olympus if you click over from here, is a useful tool for comparing models of camera equipment in a variety of ways. If you’re thinking of buying, but aren’t sure what model … or for that matter … what manufacturer … to go with, this is a good tool to help you sort it out. The site includes reviews, specs for those of us who like to know exactly what we are getting. And more.

There are other categories: computers, fashion, gaming consoles, other things … but you can use it however it suits your needs.

See on www.fisooloo.com

Old dog, new tricks: My photographic evolution.

I have always preferred photographing landscapes. There are several reasons why, the most prominent being I’m good at it. In the same way that reading and writing came naturally to me, taking picture postcard style photos has been easy. Give me almost any kind of natural environment and someplace to stand, I’ll find pictures and take some good ones. As soon as I developed my first roll of film taken on a real SLR, I knew this was something for which I had natural aptitude.

Dry weeds by the river

But there are other, less obvious reasons:

  1. Everyone loves pretty pictures. Animals, waterfalls, seascapes, sunrise and sunset, trees and leaves … purple mountain’s majesty and fruited plains. There’s nothing controversial about landscapes.
  2. Landscapes (excluding wild animals, a whole different category) have the decency to stay put. They don’t wriggle, make weird faces, or try to stick their noses into the lens.
  3. Shots of nature are usually done in day time or at worst, dawn or dusk, which means no complicated lighting issues. Sunlight,shade, or overcast — daylight is easy. Nobody does lighting like God.

After more than 40 years of taking pictures of nature, I realized I wasn’t getting the same satisfaction from my photos as I had in the past.

Riverside

Part of the problem is that we live in a valley of rare natural beauty. That may not sound like a problem and it isn’t a complaint, but it’s a big change from how I’ve always lived. I was born and raised in New York, moved out to Long Island, then over to Jerusalem. When I came back, I bounced from New York to Boston.

The countryside  was where I went to find pictures to take. Now everything is upside down. It’s the city that’s far away; nature is all around me.

75-barnhp-1.jpg

It’s no challenge to find lovely scenery. I can stand on my back deck to catch a sunrise. It’s less than a mile to my choice of rivers, marshland, half a dozen waterfalls, the big pond where swans live and herons wade by the shore.

If I walk a few hundred yards up my street, Percherons are grazing in the pasture. Down the other way are the old barns and restored Victorian mansions. Anything I might want that’s pretty or illustrative of country life — other than the ocean (that’s a bit of a haul) — is easy, convenient and accessible. No parking problems, no crowds.

Swans

In the autumn, every tree looks as if it’s lit from within. When the snow falls, the world turns into a Currier and Ives drawing. The valley is beautiful in all seasons, stunning in several. Spring is glorious when we get one. Some years we have spring. Other years, we go from winter to summer with a barely enough time between them to buy a bathing suit.

Painted Lady - 2 Marilyn Armstrong

One day, while my granddaughter and I were out shooting, she commented that everything looks the same. I understood what she meant. Not that it isn’t beautiful. I had also begun to notice the same thing. There was nothing to challenge us.

Beautiful, but predictable. Woods are woods and we have plenty of that. We have lots of waterfalls, rivers, ponds and streams but they all look very similar to each other. Assuming normal lighting conditions, you don’t have to take your camera off automatic unless you’re looking for a special effect. We revisit places often enough so that even using all the creativity we can collectively find, we’ve much made our statements and have no more to say.

An office.

A few months ago, my back was bothering me more than usual, but I was in the mood to shoot. I started looking around to see if there was something worth shooting in my house. It turns out you can do a lot with light coming through windows. I became enamored of shadowy scenes of my house transformed by various angles of light. Eventually I ran out of windows.

Morning light in my kitchen as coffee brews ...

I yearned for urban architecture, abstract shapes and forms. I got a bit of a fix from some of the mills, but most of the mills are not architecturally particularly interesting. The very old ones can be, but the newer ones are just big square brick factories and often hard to get close enough — or far enough — to make a picture. I’ve never been good at that kind of photography but I wanted to try. Lacking a city, I began carrying a camera everywhere, even to the grocery store, the mall, the doctor’s office. I have been pleasantly surprised at how much I’ve found.

Symphony Hall Pillar

I’ve shot vegetables and farm stands, parking lots and street scenes and on our annual Christmas excursion into Boston, a fair number of night pictures in and around Boston Common and the Statehouse. I didn’t even have “the good cameras” with me. I shot all of it with the little Canon point and shoot I bought so that I’d have one very compact camera with a super-zoom that I could toss in my bag. The result has been better than I imagined possible. I’ve also gained even more respect for the capabilities of these Canon Powershot cameras.

KK

This is the fourth one I’ve owned. The first got passed to my son when I replaced it with a newer one and it is still working fine. It’s replacement was an amazingly good camera, but somewhere along the line, it was dropped. The culprit has never confessed, but the camera was dead.

Statehouse - Dec Night

In between, I got a relatively inexpensive Canon Powershot 130. I knew I would soon replace it, but I needed a camera in a hurry. It did the job, then moved on to my daughter-in-law.

That was when I got bought the big Canon that now belongs to my granddaughter, discovered the big camera was much too heavy for my aging wrists … and got the Olympus PEN E-PL1, then the Olympus PEN E-P3. Then a long zoom. There’s nothing wrong with that lens. It’s fine. I just never use it. It turns out that I rarely shoot long, but I frequently shoot close. I want — but am not likely to get — a good wide-angle lens.

The ones that are wide enough are slow and those that are fast enough are not wide enough or so expensive it makes my heart stop. So I treated myself to a 45mm 1.8 portrait lens which is delicious and since, next to landscapes, my strong suit is casual portraits, it fits nicely into my lens set.

City Life

Somewhere along the line, I bought the Canon Powershot SX 260 which has a good superzoom. It isn’t fast enough for most night shooting, although if I would actually use my tripod, I could overcome that problem. But if I’m going to haul the tripod, then I’m going to bring the Olympus cameras and lenses, not the point and shoot.

It is ironic that I take more pictures with the  little Canon than the much more expensive and higher quality Olympus cameras because I won’t just toss them into my bag. Compact superzoom is currently trumping higher quality. I’m beginning to think what I really need is one of the new generation of incredibly expensive but really high quality all-in-one cameras … but they are out of my price range. Still, there are a couple of good ones out there that make my heart go pit-a-pat.

75-DFPipes-HP

There’s no moral to this story unless it is that photography has been my hobby since I got my first real SLR in 1970. It’s the world’s best hobby. You never outgrow it. You never are too old to take pictures. It’s fun, very occasionally profitable (but not profitable enough to cover the cost of the equipment!), and there’s always something new to try.

If you have money to spend, there’s always a new generation of cameras and lenses. Giving my granddaughter a camera was the best gift I ever gave her. She has an entire lifetime of discovering the world through a lens ahead of her. No matter what else happens, it will still go with her.

Olympus PEN E-PL1

 

Olympus PEN E-PL1 12.3MP Live MOS Micro Four Thirds Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera with 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Zuiko Digital Zoom Lens 

Even though Olympus has brought out several new cameras since I bought my E-P3 less than a year ago, I still keep one of these as my “spare” and back up camera. I got it a few years ago when my big Canon became too much to handle … and I have never for a minute regretted it.

The pictures I get from it are as good as ever. It isn’t as fast as the newer PENs, but it’s a fine camera and if I had no other camera at all, this one would do the job.

The Olympus PEN E-PL1 is an excellent camera for most purposes. You can purchase one from Adorama, new including the lens for $259, less than many good point and shoot cameras. They are a fine piece of equipment, either as a back-up camera or alternative to a full-size DSLRs, or as a compact, high-quality all around camera for anyone. It’s also the perfect step up for someone who’d like to make the move from a point and shoot to something more flexible and sophisticated.

For me, it was love at first touch. The moment I got my hands on this sweet baby, I knew I’d found my camera. I was sorry I had spent all that money on the BIG Cannon (sic), but the Canon went to my granddaughter who takes great photographs herself, so I guess it all worked out they way it was supposed to.

It is fast. It focuses fast. It recycles quickly. It has a nice speedy multiple-shot burst, though not as fast as the bigger camera. The anti-shake is built into the camera, not the lens. This is an Olympus feature  — all the PEN cameras have it — so any lens that fits the cameras has anti-shake, even if it isn’t an Olympus lens. This is a fine thing for shaky old me. It is lightweight, easy on my wrists. The lens retracts to keep the camera even more compact.

The “kit” lens is as good as any lens I’ve got. Manual or auto focus, it’s just fine. The 2X factor on the camera means the effective lens is 28 – 84, a nice range for normal shooting and portraits. I have a 40 – 140 telephoto too, but I rarely use it. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just seems that most of the pictures I want to take are wide, close, or portrait. I rarely want a long lens.

It packs up almost as small as a point and shoot, but takes better pictures. Great color and you can get a pretty good selections of lenses, prime, telephoto, wide-angle. As a bonus, Panasonic micro 4/3 lenses are interchangeable with Olympus lenses, so you have additional choices.

It shoots RAW, RAW + JPG, and all the variations on a theme of JPG.

The controls are simple. The manual with which it comes is, unfortunately, awful. There is a PL-1 for Dummies book available from Amazon and it is terrific. It explains everything clearly, with pictures, and will help you enormously. I highly recommend it.

English: Olympus PEN E-PL1

Olympus PEN E-PL1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I-Auto is really smart. They all say they are, but this really is. It will literally find a face in the crowd. It is great for photographing my doll collection because it finds all the doll’s faces and performs color correction without any assist from me, even using flash. Amazing. It doesn’t have a built-in viewfinder, but I bought the electronic one that attaches to the hot shoe/utility port.

Surprisingly, I mostly use the LCD screen, which is big and bright. I’m surprised. I thought I’d use the viewfinder but as an eyeglass wearer, it’s just easier to use the screen. I could have save the money and gotten an extra lens if I’d known.

Lots of “scene” modes and art filters to choose from … and everything is easy to access. You don’t have to navigate though layers of menus. Most of the functions you use are on top where you can easily find them. The controls fit in my hands.

The camera feels solid and well-built and biggest shock? The kit lens is great! I did get a longer telephoto, but rarely use it. The prices of the lenses range from quite modest to wow, but that’s true of most good cameras.

In short, this is a great little camera and about the most camera you can get for the money.I’ve had mine for more than two years and it has never failed me.

The “Olympus Pen E-PL1 for Dummies”  is a must if you are new to this kind of camera. I’m not a camera dummy by any means, but a quick look at the info in this book made me realize that if I wanted to get the most from my camera, I needed instructions that made sense. The book has the information I need; the manual doesn’t.

You will need the software that comes with the camera if you plan to shoot RAW. It’s pretty useful for handling batches of photos not only for RAW conversion, but for batch renaming, re-sizing, formatting, and so on. You tell it what you want it to do, and then it does it, whether it’s 1 or 1000 pictures. It doesn’t require monitoring, either. However, there are no instructions on exactly how it works, so it may take you a little fiddling to figure it out. It’s not difficult and once you get the hang of it, it’s surprisingly useful and will work on JPGs from any camera. Only the ORF format for RAW, however, which is Olympus’ unique format. I believe Corel reads it too, but Photoshop so far doesn’t, at least not my version. Maybe newer versions read it.

Overall, it’s a great camera at a great price. Not the fanciest on the market, but for pure ease of use, price for value, convenient size, I think it’s the winner: the most, best camera for your money.