THE OLYMPUS OM-D E-M10 — REVIEW

Marilyn Armstrong:

An excellent review of a camera I hope to buy. Superb technology at a fair price. Olympus. My favorite cameras.

Originally posted on atmtx photo blog:

Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 EZ lens

Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 EZ lens

Do you want a more detailed review? Please continue reading.

I like to start by thanking Charles from Olympus for letting me use the camera for an extended period. I shot this camera on many occasions and have even blogged about it couple of times (here and here), several months ago. If you read those early posts, you know that I often shot the E-M10 alongside my Fujifilm X100S that I purchased around the same time.

By almost every measure, the Olympus E-M10 is superior to the Fuji X100S. It focuses faster, the EVF works better, it’s more flexible and it has interchangeable lenses. I’ll give the Fuji the edge for high ISO quality and it’s probably a bit sharper. However, I’m splitting hairs here. For most people, you won’t notice a difference. Color wise, they both have their advantages…

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It’s Not Your Equipment … It’s a Lack of Documentation! – Marilyn Armstrong

Maybe I should just give up, but I spent my career writing material to help folks use complicated equipment and sometimes very obscure software.

I should probably start by mentioning that I’ve fought this battle for long years … and was utterly defeated. About 7 or 8 years ago, high-tech companies, in a money crunch and driven by that bottom line that seems to be the only thing that matters anymore, began to eliminate technical writers. Entire departments were dismantled and eliminated. Jobs disappeared and what remained paid so badly it was insulting.

A decision had been made at the corporate level: YOU don’t need documentation. No matter how complicated or expensive the equipment or software you purchase may be, don’t need documentation. Companies provide the minimum the law requires or they can get away with. Quality is no object nor usability. Information is limited to basic stuff like how to install a battery and if you are lucky, where the compartment is.

I was a technical writer for about 75% of my career, the rest being divided between journalism, editing, promotions and advertising. But mostly, I wrote documentation and I though my work mattered. Probably naive, but I believe that if I documented a system, it should be well written, clear, organized, and useful., When a user needed to find something, it would be in the book and in the online help. It would be easy to find. I carefully avoided using mysterious search parameters that could be deduced via a psychic link to my brain. If you knew what you wanted, I made it easy for you to find it.

I was proud of my work. I still believe the fundamental goal of documentation is to make complicated things simple. Not necessarily easy because sometimes, the product was not easy to use, but that didn’t mean that it had to be hard to understand. My documentation was good for another reason: I used the product and tested what I wrote to make sure it was true. This testing makes the difference between a pile useless gibberish and a manual.

Thus, when you get something that appears to be documentation, stop and read it. Appearances are deceiving. Most “manuals”  are generated, not written, and never checked for accuracy or usability. Such “manuals” are as likely to increase your confusion as provide illumination.

I bought a PEN EP3 camera from Olympus. Seven months and hundreds of photographs later, it remains one of the mysteries of my world. It takes wonderful pictures, and it has hundreds of functions. I haven’t the slightest idea how to find most functions and have no idea what to do with them if I could find them.

I grew up in a pre-digital world. I know F-stop, depth-of-field, shutter speed, aperture and focus, film speed and composition. I have a good eye. I’m no genius, but my pictures are pretty and I enjoy taking them.

He solves the problem the way most do: Automatic everything, then shoot.

New digital cameras have a vast and overwhelming array of functions, most of which you or I will never use or need. I believe they are there entirely to impress us with the super high tech-ness of the equipment. I doubt that even the designers — especially the designers — expects us to actually use them. Which is good, because I don’t know what they are supposed to do anyhow or why I would need them. Ansel Adams didn’t need them. Neither did Edward Weston. Neither do I. But, the more you pay for a camera, the more of these obscure functions you get and I figure that the least they owe me is an explanation of what these setting do and how to find them.

I’m not sure whether to curse or say thank you. Maybe if Olympus provided a manual that explained these options, I’d be grateful, but that is not happening.

I spent half our shooting time trying to find the menu to change the ISO.

This is true of cameras, but the lack of documentation on your computer is actually worse … much worse because most of us depend on our computers. We need them to work and we need to have some control over the environment in which we work. Configuration of our computers to suit our needs is not a minor detail: it’s the difference between having a tool that does what you need and one which is a burden … an enemy with which you do daily battle.

I spent all last night — until dawn — trying to figure out how to turn off the touchscreen functions of my monitor. Before Mac users jump in and point out that it’s because Windows doesn’t work, that’s irrelevant and untrue. Windows works fine. It’s just that the company doesn’t provide any written documentation. There is embedded information in the operating system, but much of it isn’t logically arranged. It’s rather like looking for your car keys after you’ve dropped them someplace you don’t normally put them. You know they’re in the house, but where? It could be years before you find them..

On a new computer, you typically get an “introductory” video and that’s pretty much it. I watched it. It showed me in exquisite detail how to do what I already knew how to do.

Operating systems are designed to be used the way the system’s developers expect you to use it. If you prefer a different setup, trouble starts. The only way to figure out how to do something differently is to keep querying the system and hope you’ll stumble on the right  key word — the word that will bring up the information you need. What is most frustrating is that you are sure it IS there, but whether or not you will ever find it is a different issue.

If you are sufficiently persistent and a bit lucky, you will eventually find a mystery menu after which you fix your problem in a few seconds.

Last night, I searched, searched again and again. It didn’t call Dell because I knew the support person wouldn’t know the answer either. They pretty much never do.

So I tried one word combination after another, recombining them in the hope that it would lead to a menu buried in the system. There had to be a way to deactivate touch input.

Around 5 in the morning, I found it. It took me less than 30 seconds to eliminate the problem that had been driving me nuts since I got the computer. Now, it’s a monitor. A great, high-definition, 23-inch monitor that’s a joy to work on and makes photo editing a pleasure. No more configuration by crawling insect. I am mistress of my virtual world at last!

A technical writers earns less than an entry-level developer. I understand the guys in India who provide telephone tech support work cheap, but I bet a tech writer would cost less than a network of telephone support no matter how cheaply they work.

Assuming you are under warranty and you can get through the voice mail  maze … and further assuming you get someone who understands the problem and don’t get blown off because software is not part of your warranty (Note: If someone can tell me how, without using software, you can determine if you have a hardware problem, I’d like to hear it) … Round and around you go.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Would it blow the budget to hire a competent technical writer to embed online help that will live on even after the warranty period is over? Wouldn’t it be nice to help users avoid needless aggravation and not wind up with angry, frustrated, exhausted, and homicidal customers whose problems remain unsolved?

Granting that many home users have a limited understanding of how their computers work and for them, it wouldn’t much matter what documentation you supply. Most problems result from insufficient understanding of a product or process. If you are talking about a novice user, perhaps more information wouldn’t help. But …

I’m not inexperienced and I still can’t find essential information I need to configure my monitor. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect a menu on the control panel that I could use to configure the monitor’s capabilities, not merely its resolution but any other functions it may have. Functions not available on a particular model could be grayed out. How about that?

There is nothing wrong with my computer that better organized and easier to find information would not solve..

Every issue I’ve had over the last 5 or 6 years was ultimately fixed with a few clicks of the mouse. The problem was never something broken. It was always lack of documentation.

That pisses me off. Because tech writers — even highly experienced ones — work pretty cheap. Users do need documentation, and not just for software and computers. We need documents that let us use our cameras and telephones and DVD players and all those other pricey little devices that we own and often, don’t know how to use. Online FAQs are insufficient.

This is an old battle I’ve already lost. I know it’s hopeless. I find it infuriating that I can barely figure out my telephone without customer support, so rather than spend time on the phone with customer service, I don’t use anything I can’t easily configure.

I had to buy a separate book on how to use Photoshop and another for my first camera. I was able to get some help from a fellow user of my new camera, but that only goes so far. For my PEN P3 camera, there IS no customer support nor any after market book. I depend, as Blanche DuBois said, “… on the kindness of strangers.”.

My camera will remain a mystery until someone writes a “Dummies” book for it. Hopefully I’ll still own the it when the book finally gets published.

It’s not fair. The reason they get away with it is because we let them. Think about it.

So how did I finally figure it out? The “monitor” menu should have been a gateway, but was useless. The only thing you can the “Monitor” menu lets you do is lower your screen’s resolution. That’s useless.

Finally, I typed: Touchscreen.

Up came something that I hadn’t considered. Flicks. Now, for me? That means the movies. Having never used it, I had no idea it had anything to do with the monitor or its touchscreen technology. Once I got to “Flicks,”, I started opening menus and voilà, there were two check boxes allowing me to toggle an option:

  • Enable finger as pointing device.
  • Do not allow finger as pointing device.

I un-checked the first one by checking the second. I clicked “Apply.” As the sun rose in the east, my problem was solved and I went to bed, to sleep, perchance to dream  … of murder, destruction and vengeance.

The Olympus Stylus 1 Review

Marilyn Armstrong:

Another great review from my favorite photographer’s website.

Originally posted on atmtx photo blog:

Olympus Stylus 1 Comparison

Competitive Landscape

Olympus Stylus 1 details
Olympus Stylus 1 details

As we start 2014, The camera industry has become really challenging and the manufactures are doing their best to fill every conceivable niche. On the low-end the ubiquitous and basically free smart phone camera has sucked the air out of the point and shoot market. But they also affect the higher end cameras too. I can tell you from experience that most parents at our elementary school have switched to camera phones, even the parents who previously would have used DSLRs. What can camera companies do to complete?

In the point and shoot market, adding a bigger zoom and increasing image quality has been the response. With the Stylus 1, Olympus have come up with a unique combination of features. They use a bigger 1/1.7″ sensor with a very usable 28 – 300mm (10.7x) equivalent zoom range. Though not a super zoom per say, with a crazy 30x…

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In 2013, mirrorless broke out, the gap will widen

Marilyn Armstrong:

Even the most diehard DSLR users can no longer dismiss mirrorless cameras. Here are 2013′s four top cameras, in brief. I think it’s going to be a great year for photographers with more and better choices top to bottom! Cheers!

Originally posted on atmtx photo blog:

I’m surprised, not because the E-M1 isn’t an excellent camera. It absolutely is. I was fortunate to get pre-production access and wrote an extensive 7,000+ word review of the Olympus E-M1. I’m surprised because there are so many big name cameras that dominated the airwaves towards the end of the year and the Olympus didn’t get lost in the shuffle.

The Sony A7 and A7r made a big splash because it was the first mirrorless full frame camera (excluding Leica of course). But the first does not mean the best. I found the A7 to be unrefined. I can’t help but wonder if the camera was rushed to market.

The Nikon Df intrigued traditional film shooters into thinking that maybe the complexity of digital can be tamed and simplified. What they got, however, was a typical DSLR body with extra analog controls grafted on. Unfortunately, it’s more complex than a…

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WHERE DID IT GO?

It started when, the other day, I reached for my sandwich and discovered a frozen sirloin steak. On my desk. Next to my sandwich. I picked up the solidly frozen beef (it must have been recently taken out of the freezer) and carried it back to the kitchen.  I showed it to Garry.

“Why,” I asked him, “Do your think I might have brought a frozen steak to my office?”

“I have no idea,” he said, “But it sounds like a great post.”

96-MyGear_3

I’m still puzzled about the steak. Usually if I bring something odd to some place even odder, it’s because I meant to grab one thing but instead grabbed the other. However, in this case, I also had brought my drink and my sandwich, so I had brought an extra thing, the frozen sirloin. I put it in the fridge to defrost. The mystery remains unsolved.

Tomorrow, we are going away for a few days to visit friends, a long overdue visit to which we are looking forward. In preparation, I needed to do some sorting. Among the many things I’m taking with us — the gifts I bought for them that needed to be wrapped — I’m giving my buddy my oldest, favorite camera, the Olympus PEN PL-1. It was the first of my mirrorless cameras and I love it. It’s been replaced by newer Olympus PENs — the PM2 and E-P3, both of which are faster but not necessarily better. The PL-1 is the camera on which I took many of my favorite pictures. It came with a great little lens and handles beautifully. It also produces the best color balance of all my cameras.

That’s just background information. Here is where it starts getting complicated. Try to follow along.

On Black Friday or Cyber Monday or maybe during one of the gazillion sales events of the past month, I bought two very fast SD 8 GB memory chips for my cameras, replacing the older slower chips. The camera I’m giving Cherrie has a good, premium chip in it, but when I took the older slower chip out of my camera and put the new one in, I was left with one more chip than I had places or containers to store it.  (Are you still with me? Good.) I thought “Okay, I’ll give the chip to Cherrie as a spare since I don’t need it anyhow. It’s not super fast, but neither is the PL-1.”

96-MyGear_8

I put the chip down on my desk in front of the monitor and proceeded to search my I-don’t-know-how-many camera bags to see if I had any of those little plastic cases to put the chip in. All chips used to come with a little case, but not anymore. Now you have to buy them — talk about a rip-off. I mean really, how much do they save by not giving you a case? Anyhow, at some point, I found a couple of empty chip cases. I turned around to get the chip to put into one of the cases, then realized I needed to take cases out of the bag. I wheeled my chair around again, but couldn’t remember in which bag I’d found the empty cases. I looked where I thought I’d seen them, but they weren’t there. I rotated again. The chip was gone.

During this exercise, my butt never left my desk chair. I never stood up. But I had lost (again) the cases and somehow misplaced the chip too. On one level, it solved a problem. I didn’t need the case anymore because I had no chip to put in it.

Someday, somehow, I’m sure that chip will show up. And maybe so will the cases because they are in one of the bags. But what about the frozen steak?

Olympus E-PL5 vs. Olympus E-PM2, a surprise

Marilyn Armstrong:

Another case of great minds thinking alike, albeit for slightly different reasons.

Update: The price on the E-PM2 dropped today by $75 … so I bought it. I just wish I could have gotten it with a lens I don’t already have twice over. But it cost the same for the camera body without any lens or with the lens, so okay. Now I have three 14-42mm Olympus lenses. Anyone need an extra? Swap?

New Update (December 27, 2013): The price dropped again a couple of days ago, down to an average of $365 on Amazon (body only, no lens) and other places, too … depending (bizarrely) on what color you pick. Weird colors can be $100 cheaper, as little as $275 and honestly, I don’t give a rat’s ass what color the camera is outside as like as it takes gorgeous pictures!!

Originally posted on atmtx photo blog:

Olympus E-PM2

Olympus E-PM2

My blog readers know that I’m in search for yet another Olympus camera (like I didn’t have enough already?) I’m buying another micro 4/3 camera before the end of the year, but which one? In my post In limbo between the Olympus OM-D and E-PL5 I went back and forth between the Pen and the OM-D. I’ve decide to go “lower end” and opt for the E-PL5 — the smaller size and the familiar Pen interface won out over the high-end OM-D. But, when I actually played with the new Pens, I became unsure.

The E-PL5 is better built than the previous E-PL3. It feels like a skinnier version of the high-end E-P3 with a similar build quality. Design wise, however, I still prefer the E-P3. The chunky flip-up LCD screen dominates the back — so much so that I found it uncomfortable to hold. I had a…

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DAILY PROMPT: KEEPING UP WITH MYSELF

Since you asked …

I want the Voigtlander Nokton 42.5mm f/0.95 Micro Four Thirds Lens at a mere $999. It’s never on sale. It would be perfect paired with a new Olympus PEN E-P5. Also, I would very much appreciate the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 Leica DG Summilux. These two lenses in combination would let me shoot in very low light without flash yet get fantastic quality.

96-P3-40mm_2

I don’t know about the Jones’. Are they photographers?

I don’t expect to get either lens or the new camera. I’ll gratefully work with what I’ve got, my latest addition being a long yearned for Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 Lumix II. It has turned out to be as good as advertised and I’m having a blast with it. I’m basically a happy camper, photographically speaking. Of all the things I own, my cameras give me the most joy. Hard to regret them.

But … oh … those lenses. And the new line of Olympus 4/3 cameras are so sweet. I’m allowed to yearn, aren’t I?