12.31.2013

Olympus E-M1 Journal: Entry #7: 12-40mm v. 14-54ii

I have owned the 14-54ii longer than any other digital lens.  I think it was 2008 when I bought my first digital SLR, an Olympus E-520.  Along with it I purchased the 14-54, and have been using it faithfully since then.  It has found itself on the E-520, the E-620, the Panasonic G2 and the Panasonic GH2, the E-M5 and now the E-M1, the timeline sort of in that order.  Of this group, I currently own only the E-M5 and E-M1.  As far as I am concerned the E-M1 is the best of the bunch.

As for lenses, I have always been happy with the 14-54, as far as sharpness is concerned.  It's a bit large on the E-M5 but balances reasonably well on the E-M1 with an accessory base plate from RRS (Really Right Stuff).  This base plate adds about 10mm to the height of the camera and snaps onto an Arca Swiss compatible tripod head. The required FT-to-mFT adapter adds some length and weight (adapter and lens total is 18.4 ounces with lens cap and hood).

But one thing about the 14-54 that has become annoying is the slow focus and focus noise.  Yes, the phase detection pixels on the E-M1 sensor have improved the autofocus of the FT lenses I own, and I presume they are now focusing as fast as they did on the E-520; but my FT lenses are still slow to focus (and noisy) compared with all the slick new native mFT lenses.  After experiencing the speed and quiet operation of several mFT primes and even the "lowly" kit 40-150, it's difficult to go back.

Enter: the 12-40.

The newly minted 12-40mm constant F2.8 zoom arrived last week (see prior post) and in time for some Christmas day antics.

The 12-40 is one sexy lens.  It's metal and without rubber zoom and focus rings.  I am thinking this is good, as the lens should hold its value better.  The rubber always makes a lens appear to be more "used" than it really is.

The 12mm wide angle is something that I have been missing on the 14-54.  On the other hand, I really enjoy that 54mm long end.  I'm thinking the trade off is about equal.  A bonus for owning the 12-40 will likely be that I can sell the oldie but goodie FT 11-22.  We'll see about that.  I did take a couple of 12mm shots indoors with the 12-40 and there seemed to be significant distortion.  I'll have to do some controlled comparisons with the 11-22.  Distortion at that wide an angle may just be the nature of the beast.  See image below:

Flash, 1/60th, F4, ISO 1600, OOC jpg, 12mm wide
Seems like a lot of distortion on the right side but perhaps this is
the nature of the beast.  Regardless, edges are very sharp!
Which lens is better: the new 12-40 or the old 14-54?

Well, I already reported above about the operation of these two lenses.  The 12-40 definitely has the advantage here.  Plus it is smaller and lighter.  Plus it has a nicer manual focus feature.  Plus it has a customizable function button.  Plus it is weatherproof.  And, like my 14-54, it came with a pouch and lens hood.

14-54ii on left with adapter weighs 18.4 ounces if hood is used
12-40mm on right weighs 14.8 ounces if hood is used.


To check out lens sharpness, I took both lenses outdoors to do some brief comparisons.  Nothing too complicated.  Just aiming toward a forest.  I shot both lenses at F4 and F8 at four common focal lengths, 14, 18, 25, 35.  There was a little breeze but I shot at very high shutter speeds.  The old 14-54 definitely held its own.  Using the X:Y comparison tool in Lightroom at 1:1 (100%), I could not tell the difference between these two lenses, both in the center and in the corners.  No difference in CA, either.  I need to find a brick wall somewhere; but regardless of the results of a brick wall test, I doubt there is any real world difference in the image quality coming from these two lenses.

This tentative conclusion on my part is supported by the data on slrgear.com.  Lenses are rated for sharpness from 0 to 12 with "1" being "tack sharp", and anything above "4" being "soft".  Personally, I have found that anything between "0" and "2" represents differences in sharpness that I can not detect with my eye, at least not in normal viewing situations.  Both of these lenses score between "0" and "2" at essentially all focal lengths that I tested, and from center to edges.

One potential difference might be wide open.  It appears from slrgear that the 12-40 is sharper wide open at F2.8 than it is at F4; while the 14-54 is softer wide open than at F4.  Wide open on the 14-54 starts at F2.8 and reaches F3.5 at 54mm.  I feel another test coming along soon!

One nice feature I appreciated with the 14-54 is its closeup feature.  When you don't have a macro with you, it works nicely in a pinch.  The 12-40 does even better.  Both of the images below were shot fully zoomed in.  The working distance doesn't leave much room for light or stinging insects, as it is just an inch or two between the front lens element and the subject.

Close up capability: 14-54 @ 54mm
about 2 1/8" across

Close up capability: 12-40 @ 40mm
about 1 5/8" across

The close up capability of the 14-54 came in handy here.

12.28.2013

Olympus E-M1 Journal: Entry #6:12-40 zoom arrived Dec 24

What a great Christmas gift to myself.  The 12-40 arrived by overnight mail on Dec 24, just in time for Christmas photography!



I had preordered the lens from Adorama in the beginning of December so that I could take advantage of a $200 rebate.  Unexpectedly, it arrived just in time for some Christmas fun. Our celebration presented my first opportunity to use this new zoom.

F4, 1/60th, ISO 1600, flash

Holy moly.  The 12-40 is awesome.  Our grandchildren, at ages 5 and 1.5 are moving faster now, even when indoors around the Christmas tree, so fast focusing is important for "getting the shot".

F2.8, 1/60th, ISO 1600, flash

The focus speed of this mFT lens was highly desirable as I know I caught opportunities I would have missed using my only other Olympus standard zoom, the slower focusing FT 14-54 zoom.

No flash, 1/13th, F2.8, ISO 1600

This was definitely low light focusing and the lens performed effortlessly.  All shots shown here were at ISO 1600 and all but one was with flash.  For the flash images shot at 1/60th, I was focusing in ambient light that would have required ISO 3200 or 6400!  This would challenge almost any focusing system.  I didn't use the LED focusing light.  I also turned off the focus confirmation beep for a bit more stealth... stealth at least until the flash went off.

Two images below at
1/60th, F2.8 ISO1600 with Metz AF-1 50 flash




I love the addition of a function button on the lens.  I have it set right now for one-touch white balance.

The pull-snap focus ring adds some nice functionality to manual focusing. Though the focus ring will work on a fly-by-wire basis like all the other Olympus lenses (I have my menu set for S-AF-M), when the pull-snap is engaged instead, the ring feels like a mechanical focus ring. With the pull-snap engaged, the ring will move over a 90 degree range only, with a hard stop at "0" when the ring is turned all the way one way, and infinity when the ring is turned all the way the other way.

As is the E-M1 this lens is weatherproof.  I can't wait to try this kit outdoors this winter.




12.21.2013

Olympus E-M1 Journal: Entry #5: AF with legacy FT lenses

One of the hopes for the E-M1 is that with the addition of phase detection pixels on the sensor that the camera will be able to focus legacy FT lenses better than the sluggish focusing they are getting with the E-M5.

For legacy FT glass I own the 50mm F2, 11-22mm, 14-54mm and 70-300mm.  I have now tried each of them on the E-M1.  The results didn't excite me.  I think my expectations were too high.  These lenses definitely focus faster than on the E-M5 and the Panasonic GH2.  But I guess I was hoping and expecting a lot more.

All four of my legacy FT lenses are a bit cranky to focus on the new E-M1,
but faster then they are on the E-M5.  On the E-M1 they are probably on a par
with the Olympus dSLRs.  But this is old technology now.
If you own any FT lenses, then by all means use them on the E-M1.
However I wouldn't suggest buying any of these unless the price is unresistable.


I don't think it is the camera's fault, however.  I just think there are limits due to the design of the older lenses.  I think, too, that I have probably become spoiled by the quiet and fast focusing of the 45, 60, 75 and even the 40-150 for mFT.

So when I tried out the FT lenses on the E-M1 I was initially quite disappointed.  I wish I had my old E-520 to compare with.  I even checked out prices on eBay thinking I might be able to pick up an E-520 body for $100, that I would then be able to sell it a few weeks later for the same $100.  There were very few E-520 bodies available when I last looked, and for those that were up for auction, it didn't seem that $100 would be a winning bid.

After the initial disappointment with my FT lenses on the E-M1, I began to realize that these are old lenses, and that they are doing the best they can. I am now prepared to believe the several people on the Internet who feel that the focus speed of these consumer Olympus FT lenses on the E-M1 is similar to what was achieved on bodies like the E-520 and E-620 (both of which I have owned).  It's just that they cannot compete with what has been produced for mFT. As I think hard on it, back to the "old" days of the E-520, I think this is correct.  Then, like now, the 11-22 and 14-54 seem adequately fast for general photography, especially landscapes, but the 50 and 70-300 were annoyingly slow, and the noise of them racking in and out trying to find focus is obnoxious.

I think the 50mm F2 will soon be on my chopping block.  As a macro lens, manual focusing is a fine way to go and it would avoid the noise of the autofocus, but I find the fly-by-wire manual focus ring too fiddly.  Plus the autofocus is so awesome on the 45mm and 60mm macro.  The 50mm just can't compete with the silent and nearly instant focusing of the 45mm and 60mm.  In fact I just spent a morning with the 50mm and 60mm shooting closeup flower pictures at a local botanic garden.  The 60mm was so much more pleasurable.  Yes, it is F2.8 and the 50mm is F2, but I never use F2 for macros. I was shooting at F4 to F8.  There were  many times when the 50mm racked one way and then the other, only to stop with a complete blur of the subject.  It would finally find focus, usually with little studder steps,  after half-pressing the shutter a second time.  Yet, in the same conditions, the 60mm locked focus easily, quickly and quietly.  I like the completely internal focusing, with no lens barrel moving in and out.  Very neat.  And now with the new smaller focus points available on the E-M1, for macro work I think I can use autofocus all the time. The results were fantastic this morning.  I didn't even need to rock back and forth. With the 60mm and smaller focus points I no longer see a need to use manual focusing for macro shooting.

[It's my understanding that the old "super high quality" (SHQ) lenses are performing very nicely on the E-M1. But their performance was always better than the consumer lenses. I am sure those who held onto these "oldy but goody" lenses are happy that they did.]

12.15.2013

Olympus E-M1 Journal: Entry #4: The awesome shutter sound

Well, it's cold and snowy here in New England.  Too cold to go out and shoot real photos (even with a cold proof camera) so I've decided to stay indoors (after a morning of shoveling snow) and make comments about really silly stuff like the sound of the shutter on the new E-M1.

Actually, maybe having an opinion about the shutter sound isn't so silly.  I see that on my  hard drive I have about 5,000 "keepers" so far this year (2013) from the several cameras I use.  I put keepers in quotes because I use that word loosely; let's just say I have 5,000 photos that I have decided to "keep".  My guess is that I actually pushed a shutter on one camera or another about 20,000 times last year.  If I am going to listen to a shutter some 20,000 times a year, shouldn't I prefer that it sounds good?

I don't recall the shutter sounds on the Olympus E series cameras I have owned (E-520 and E-620).  I presume they were neither pleasing nor annoying.  But I do remember the shutter sound (ker-chunk) on the two Panasonic mFT cameras I have owned (G2 and GH2).  The sound they made (your mileage may vary) sounded, well, cheap.

Enter the E-M5.  I really like the sound of its shutter.  It sounds very crisp and precise, like it was made by some Swiss watch maker.

Enter the E-M1.  I really really really like the sound of this shutter. It has a slightly higher tone than the E-M5 and a shorter stroke. It seems quieter.

This video clip was taken with a NEX-6.  I relied on the in-camera stereo mics.

video



12.04.2013

Olympus E-M1 Journal::Entry #3: Adding the RRS grip





Yesterday I posted the above picture of my new E-M1 with the Really Right Stuff base plate and and side bracket attached.  RRS makes beautiful (and expensive, but you get what you pay for) camera accessories, typically tripod related stuff.

Each of the two pieces (the base and the side bracket) cost about $60.  For some cameras, like the E-M5 and the Fuji X-series, they even make a grip attachment which adds another $60.  In fact, I have the three part system on my E-M5.

What I especially like about the RRS design when it comes to the E-M1 is that it adds about 10mm to the height of the camera and in particular the grip.  This allows all four of my fingers to engage the grip.

For assembly, using Allen Wrench machine screws, the side bracket screws into the bottom bracket which in turn screws into the camera's off center tripod mount.  In so doing, you have a new tripod mount built into the base plate, and this mount is nicely aligned with the lens mount.




__________

Especially nice about these RRS plates and brackets is that they are designed to be used with Swiss Arca compatible tripod heads.  Note in the images below the dovetail grooves on the side bracket and the base plate.  Pretty nifty!

"Aerial" view of the side bracket reveals the dovetail design for
Swiss Arca compatible tripod heads.

You can see the dovetail groove along the back of the base plate.
To orient yourself, that's the LCD screen also on the right.

You can see the dovetail groove along the entire front of the bottom plate.

12.03.2013

Olympus E-M1 Journal::Entry #2: The Little Beast Arrives!

Splendid!  The E-M1 arrived within just three days of ordering it, and I have fallen in love.  This is in spite of already being an owner of the superb E-M5.

In my first post (#1 here) about this camera I listed a dozen or so things about it that caused me to press the "order now" button.  I do think that many of the new features have a bit of hype to them; but nevertheless the improvements are so many that this E-M1 is definitely a keeper.

Though I am excited about many of the features, I do need to point out for any new Olympus users that these Olympuses are really complicated machines.  This is my fourth interchangeable lens model from Oly.  Before purchasing the E-M5 when it came out in 2012 I owned an E-620 and before that an E-520.  Even so, when I received the E-M5 nearly two years ago I remember writing on some one's blog that it took me two days to get it set up whereas the equally good image-maker, the Panasonic GH2, took two hours.

What helped this time was that I turned on both the E-M5 and E-M1 and merely duplicated by inputs from the M5 to the M1.  Of course there were a few additional menu items on the M1, but by pushing the "info" button I usually got enough information to figure out what I was doing.  Of course, there is always the manual... which I tend to avoid except as a last resort!

Eye-Candy: Using a Minolta MD mount-to-M4/3 mount adapter ring I have
attached an old Minolta 35-70 F3.5 zoom with hood


Looking at my original list of twelve items, in this post I will comment on the 10th item:  

The Size.

Though in the title of today's post I called this a "little" beast, there are many who question the word "little".  The body alone is 17.5 ounces and it is solid thanks to its magnesium alloy construction.  (By the way, that's heavier than the E-M5 but lighter than the Panasonic GH3.) Plus I have added another 3.5 ounces with the RRS (Really Right Stuff) base and L-plate.  

The RRS base and L-plate arrived the same day as the camera and the first thing I did was to screw it into the camera's off-center tripod mount.  The base plate itself also has a tripod mount, which is centered directly under the lens mount. As a result of the plate, the camera is now 10mm higher in dimension.  I like, like, like this, as it allows my pinkie finger to hold onto the grip rather than being awkwardly curled up under the camera body.  The grip is awesome already, but with the added height from the RRS base plate, I am really smiling.  The haptics and ergonomics of this camera are a step up from the E-M5.

Some would argue that a camera body this large defeats the purpose of the m43 format.  I understand that argument, but when you add in the lenses I think you get a much smaller kit than with the APS-C and FF kits.  (Time will tell about the new Sony A7 FF camera.)

Overall the camera is enough bigger than the E-M5 that it can offer bigger and more buttons, plus more real estate to the right of the LCD.  The result is that I don't feel cramped.  The below size comparison is from www.camerasize.com.  If you haven't checked out their Web site, you should.  It allows you to compare any number of camera bodies, two at a time, side by side, from different angles.



For me, the most important things that come from the larger size are: (1) bigger grip, (2) better ergonomics of the shutter button, slightly forward of the camera and angled slightly downward, (3) more accessible dual dials, (4) more real estate on the back of the camera and to the right of the LCD, and (5) bigger buttons. With regard to the buttons, the four-way controller on the E-M5 had to be pressed with my thumb tip (or fingernail) pointed into the buttons whereas now on the E-M1 I can press with the pad of my thumb... lovely.