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.


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.


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.]


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.


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.


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. 


Olympus E-M1 Journal :: Entry #1: I just punched the "add to cart" button

I'm not quite sure why I did it, but when I saw that the newly announced Olympus E-M1 was available on Amazon, I hit the "add to cart" button followed by the "check out" button.  I ordered the Olympus FL 300R flash too, as there is a full rebate on this little GN20 flash when bought at the same time as the E-M1. And I love little under-powered flashes (seriously) because they do a fine job balancing flash and ambient light, albeit with a higher ISO than some folks like. (But the high ISO is needed to get the ambient light working!)

It's a bit crazy for me to order another camera, as I am already a happy camper with the Olympus E-M5 and Sony NEX-6. Until this month, I had actually been hopeful of slowing my Olympus equipment acquisitions, and instead adding lenses to the NEX-6.  In fact, in October I had my eye on the new Sony Zeiss 16-70mm F4 zoom, and I ordered and received a copy.

When mounted on the 1.5x cropped NEX-6, the 16-70 gives an effective field of view of 24-105mm.  This is a lovely range and would take care of 80% of my travel and landscape needs.  But alas, when I gave it a trial, and I compared results versus my Olympus 14-54mm zoom, with its effective field of view of 28-108mm, I was disappointed in the Sony product. I reported my findings (the Sony was far softer in the corners than the Olympus) here on this blog and then returned the lens. In my opinion, it is a good lens but not worth the $1000 asking price.

The refund allowed me to look at the E-M1.  Fortunately very thorough reviews have been popping up on the Internet.  I read them all and got really fired up about this camera body.  After reading each review I would get excited but then calm myself down by telling myself that a new camera wouldn't make my photography better.  I think that is true.  At this point the cameras I own are quite sufficient.  BUT...

One night while watching a few cop dramas on TV, I began to make a list of features I was attracted to that would differentiate the E-M1 from the E-M5 (new stuff and improvements to old stuff).  This process ultimately convinced me that this new Oly was what I "needed".  (Note that quotes around "needed"!)

I'm not sure I can read this list either!

Below are most of the items on the list, but in readable form.  All these are based on what I have read on the Internet.  The camera has not yet arrived.  I can't wait to confirm these features (hopefully) and to find a few more that will advance this camera over the other Olympus' I have owned.

1.  One Touch White Balance - I used to use this a lot on the E-520 but lost track of it on the E-M5.  On the E-M5 only the Fn1 button can be programmed for one-touch WB and I really need to use the Fn1 button for AEL/AFL because that is where the exposure lock button should be.  From what I understand and see pictured on the Web, there are two buttons on the front of the E-M1, either of which can be programmed for One Touch WB.  On the other hand, auto WB works pretty well I am sure, so maybe I will never use the One Touch WB after all. I shoot RAW or RAW+JPEG.  I never shoot JPEG alone, which is when accurate WB is most important.

2. Larger Viewfinder -  I think this may actually improve my photography.  I hope it does well for glasses wearers.  I like the fact that this viewfinder supposedly allows for more control of its dynamic range.  Not the dynamic range of the ultimate image, but that of the viewfinder itself.  The E-M5 is pretty good at this already as I can see into the dark areas of the composition much better than I can with the viewfinder on the NEX-6, which has too much contrast and shows dark areas as black.  I have old eyes which don't see as well in the dark, so I need all the help I can get.

3. Depth of Field Preview - The E-M5 has this but I can barely see in the viewfinder what's going on, so I've never bothered to program this to one of the function buttons.  With the E-M1 I am guessing this might make sense to program to one of the two buttons on the front of the body.

4. Lens Optimization - Supposedly the new in-camera software will handle specific lens issues.  I am hoping it will take care of the chromatic aberrations from my 14-54 zoom.  I read it is also supposed to apply some smart sharpening to certain lenses and various focal lengths where there is otherwise sub-optimal (soft?) sharpness.

5. Faster autofocus for FT lenses - This is a BIG deal for me.  I have four lenses designed for Olympus dSLRs (FT bodies).  They focus very slowly on MFT bodies.  With the addition of PDAF pixels on the sensor, apparently focus is much faster for these old lenses. The first thing I am going to do when I get this camera is try out my 11-22, 14-54, 50, and 70-300.

6. Better Continuous Autofocus - This too has supposedly been improved with the PDAF pixels.  My grandchildren don't yet move fast, but I am looking forward to using continuous focusing (maybe even try tracking!) as a better way to get sharp images.

7.  Small Focus Points - Yippee.  You can get magnified (i.e. small) focus points on the E-M5 but it's a bit awkward and requires customizing one of the function buttons to magnify.  You also lose the histogram which is unfortunate.  I am hoping the E-M1 will give me smaller points and the histogram overlay at the same time.

8.  Focus Peaking - This works very nicely (most of the time) on my Sony.  I hope the Olympus implementation is just a good but I have heard grumblings otherwise.  I have a bunch of old MF lenses I still like to use.  The Sony works fine with them, but the Olympus has the bonus of in-body image stabilization.

9. 2x2 Switch - This allows you to use the two top plate dials for four things.  In manual mode, for example, the two dials will default to aperture and shutter speed. Then flip the 2x2 switch (I think it's a little lever, like the on/off switch on the E-M5) and get ISO and WB using the same two dials. On the E-M5 you can get ISO on the front dial too, by customizing one of the top plate buttons or the up or down button on the four-way controller.  But, after you take a picture on the E-M5, the ISO adjustment on the dial is not available again until you press the function button again.  What I like about the E-M1 implementation is that I think I will be using manual mode more frequently, as the front dial can adjust ISO just like it adjusts EV compensation in other modes. For example, I can shoot landscapes at, say, F8 and 1/125th and simply rotate the front dial to get the ISO that gives me the desired exposure.  The setting will "stick" until I move the 2x2 switch again.

10. Size - There is definitely more real estate on the right side of the back of the camera, and for this I am thankful.  I think the buttons are bigger too.  I hope they feel more solid than the squishy ones on the E-M5.  The grip on the E-M1 looks awesome, but I always wish the small cameras I favor were a wee bit taller so my pinkie finger can grip onto something and not be curled up under the body.  On the E-M5 I had to purchase an auxiliary grip.  I had the Oly battery grip but sold it.  I prefer the Really Right Stuff three-piece set: grip, bottom plate, and L-component.

11.  Weather Proof  - I don't know how helpful this feature will be, but I keep thinking I might like to do some winter photography. I live in New England so there are lots of cold months.  Of course, I'll probably "need" to buy the new 12-40 F2.8. It'a weather proof, too!

12. Presets on the Mode Dial - Apparently each click (P, A, S, M, etc.) on the mode dial can be programmed with with a "preset".  This provides an alternate mode, not a replacement mode.  I think you move from primary mode to alternate mode by using the 2x2 switch.  With Olympus, a preset is like a custom setting.  However, in the past you had to dive into the menus to find your presets, or assign a function button to it.  I like having them on the E-M1 mode dial, assuming I can remember which clicks were programmed to which preset. I think I might easily forget whether I am in the primary mode or the alternate mode. I think I'd prefer having the more traditional C1, C2, etc.  That way there'd be no mistake.

In a few days the E-M1 will arrive.  I can't wait.


Outdoor Photographer magazine: Contest Still Open

I get Outdoor Photographer magazine and have never really thought about participating in one of their contests.  My guess is that there are so many participants that feedback or critique is unfortunately not likely.

But for some reason over the weekend I thought I might participate.  The contest is open for entries until tomorrow, Nov. 25th.  Just google the magazine and you will find your way to the contest details.

This is the 6th annual Nature's Colors contest, and the Web site reads: "Show us your most colorful shots".  I found these eight images; I think each is relatively "colorful" and represents a slice on "nature".  I think the contest allows for five entries.  I'll have to pick five from this group before tomorrow's closing date.


Boston: The Old State House

I just pulled this one out of my achieves for the December photo club salon for the category "old and new".  It was taken during a beautiful and warm October weekend in 2012 as my wife and I walked down to the Boston waterfront.

This was taken with a pocket camera.  This is not an HDR, but I did make ample use of the highlight, whites, and shadows sliders in Lightroom.

The Old State House was once the tallest building in Boston.  I would have loved to have seen Boston in colonial times.  For some reason I am intrigued with what the infrastructure must have been to be able to get food into Boston on a daily basis.  I have this vision of a long stream of ox-pulled carts hauling food into the city every day from farms everywhere.  The waterfront activity must have been extraordinary.

Built between 1712-1713, this old brick building is now 300 years old. According to the Freedom Trail Web site it is "one of the most beautiful and important public buildings still standing from the original 13 colonies."

The building is now maintained as an historic site and museum.  


Close ups: Autumn on a Rocky Maine Beach

This afternoon I perused my image catalog looking for a "nature" scene to submit to Walter at my photo club, for next month's photo club competition.  The two images below popped out at me.  They were taken in October of 2012 and it seems I had basically ignored them, until now.  There have no keywords, no color labels, no stars.  I am glad I hadn't binned them, because seeing them now, nearly 14 months later, I kind of liked them.

In our photo club nature category images need to "tell a story".  At first I didn't think there was much of a story here.  No fox eating a squirrel or two grizzly bears fighting over a female. But then I realized it is the story that most attracts me to the images.  Fallen autumn leaves are all part of nature's story and the annual cycle of seasons.  And when nature mixes in a few seashells and seaweed and pebbles... hey, maybe this is a good story after all.

At any rate, I like these and have submitted the first one.  I think the red maple has a bit too much glare on it.  I think the orange birch leaf is sharper.  I had very little depth of field to work with, so the fact that the birch leaf was flat helped get it pretty sharp around all the edges.

I like this one better than the red maple leaf image below, as this yellow
birch leaf is entirely in focus.  
I am wondering if a vertical orientation would be more appealing (?)

A polarizer would have helped here due to the glare off the wet leaf.
Also the shallow depth of field left some of the leaf "soft".


Sony E 16-70 F4: Part 3: Not as sharp as Olympus 14-54ii

See also:
Part 1
Part 2

Using the 'ol brick wall technique, in this post (Part 3) I am comparing the sharpness of the Sony E 16-70 on a NEX6 and the Olympus 14-54ii on the E-M5. Due to the crop factor differences (1.5x for Sony and 2x of Olympus) the effective field of view of these two lenses is actually very similar:  24-105 for the Sony and 28-108 for the Olympus.

I shot a brick wall at five different focal lengths using F4, F5.6, F8, F11, and F16 at each focal length. That's five f-stops and five focal lengths. That's a total of 25 tests with each lens, and a overall total of 50 images.  All of these can be viewed larger and downloaded in full size here.

I used a single center focus point and aimed at the same spot in all images. They were all hand held, but all shutter speeds were "safe" speeds of at least 1/ focal length.  Image stabilization was "on".

Below is what the brick wall scene looked like at five focal lengths.  The ones shown here are the Olympus version, as is obvious by the 4:3 aspect ratio.  The Sony images are a bit wider and less tall due to the 3:2 aspect ratio. Remember, the field of view is defined by the diagonal dimension.

28mm equivalent

35mm equivalent

50mm equivalent

70-75mm equivalent

105-108mm equivalent

All images were shot in RAW and processed at default Adobe settings in Lightroom 5.  I viewed all the images in Lightroom using the X:Y comparison tool, and at 200% (2:1) on my 24" HD monitor. I compared center sharpness and then corner sharpness.

What I found:

Center Sharpness:

Both lenses were similar in the center, and I believe sharp enough for any situation.  In 23 tests I found the two lens to be identical.  In two tests, I thought the Sony was slightly better.  But remember, this is while examining at 200% and even then the center sharpness difference in those two instances was barely noticeable.

Edge Sharpness:

The Olympus is clearly sharper.  In 21 tests the Olympus was sharper, having at least three corners sharper than the Sony corners.  In one test the Sony corners were sharper. In three tests the two lenses were equal.


Here's a sample comparison with both combinations  taken at 50mm-equiv, F5.6, aperture priority, base ISO.

Below are 1:1 crops from the center. Both lenses are sharp in the center.

Olympus.  100% center crop. Very sharp.

Sony. 100%  center crop.  Very sharp.

Below are 1:1 crops from the upper right corner.  (1:1 crops are a lot kinder to the Sony than the 2:1 crops I viewed on my monitor.) Though both cameras are 16mp cameras, the compositions are a bit different due to the different aspect ratios.  At 4:3, the Olympus gets a bit taller image; at 3:2 the Sony gets a bit wider image.  

The Olympus is quite obviously sharper.  

Olympus.  100% crop from upper right corner.  Sharp.
(But more distortion than Sony... easily fixed in Lightroom)

Sony.  100% crop from upper right.  Not sharp. 

Other considerations:

I was testing for sharpness.  The Olympus was superior.  On the other hand, the Olympus has some old technology in it.  It focuses slowly on micro 43 bodies and is noisy.  It also suffers from more chromatic aberration and distortion than does the Sony.  The 14-54ii weighs nearly 16 ounces (17.5 ounces with the necessary adapter), while the Sony is smaller and weighs under 11 ounces.

It is also important not to forget about the 24mm-equiv. wide angle of the Sony. My own experience in the field is that with a lens like this one, 25%-33% of my shots would be at 24mm-equiv.

Perhaps the biggest consideration is price.  The Sony costs $1,000 while the Olympus 14-54ii can be bought on eBay for under $300.

The Sony is a "good enough" lens.  Even though it is softer in the corners than the Olympus, the corners are nevertheless sharper than what I am getting on the Sony 16-50 kit lens and on my Panasonic LX5, both of which are sufficiently sharp for 95% of my needs. I also think that you are getting a lot of lens from its 11 ounce body.  Its ergonomics on the NEX 6 body is wonderful in my opinion. And again, don't forget about that 24mm wide angle.

However, for myself, I am seriously considering returning the lens.  Yes, it is "good enough".  I love the feel of the NEX body and this is my only option for a mid-range zoom with beyond-kit quality.  The question for me is if it is worth $1,000... in light of what I already own in Olympus gear.


Sony E 16-70 F4: Part 2: Compared to Olympus 14-54ii

Also see:
Part 1
Part 3

With the new Sony E 16-70 attached to my NEX 6 (see prior post), I walked out the door with two camera-lens combinations to test against each other. The other combination was an Olympus E-M5 with my oldest digital lens, the well-respected 14-54ii designed for 4/3 cameras.  I used it with the Olympus adapter to fit the 4/3 lens onto the m4/3 mount.

The Olympus is on the left.  With the 4/3-to-m4/3 adapter the Olympus 14-54ii zoom
 weighs 17.7 ounces and is larger than the Sony lens.
The Sony lens weighs 11 ounces.

The 14-54ii has been my favorite zoom for many years, having been with me previously on an Olympus E-520 and E-620, and a Panasonic G2 and GH2.  With an effective focal length of 28-108mm it's been (almost) perfect for me for travel, landscapes and people pictures. However, the Sony is equivalent to 24-105mm, and it is the 24mm-equiv. wide angle that attracts me to it. Also, it focuses much faster and far quieter than does the Olympus combination. I didn't test either one for video.

For me to keep this lens it must be at least as sharp as the 14-54ii, both in the center and in the corners. (Otherwise, it is going back.)

Tonight I will evaluate the results of my little "shoot-out" and publish my thoughts in a follow up post (hopefully, tomorrow).


Sony E 16-70 F4: Part 1: Just arrived!

Also See:
Part 2
Part 3

I just received the fine looking and newly announced Sony E 16-70mm F4 lens.   It commands a hefty price so I am hopeful that the image quality will be excellent.  I must say it comes in a pretty box, and a pouch and lens hood are included.

The lens looks good and feels well balanced on the NEX 6. The zoom ring and focusing ring operate very smoothly, making this feel like a really high quality product.  Just aiming at things around the house, it seems to focus very quickly and quietly.

I am surprised how small and light this lens is for something that boasts a constant F4 aperture.  It weighs under 11 ounces and when fully retracted it is less than 3" long. Because the NEX sensor is 2/3rds the size (the diagonal dimension) of a full frame sensor, this zoom will give an effective focal range of 24-105mm.  In my opinion, this is a perfect all-around lens for landscapes, travel and portraits.  That being said I do wish they had made it an F2.8 to help reduce depth of field when taking "people pictures".  This would have been acceptable to me even if it increased the weight to, say, 16 ounces.  But my guess is that the price tag would have increased dramatically, and this lens already costs a pretty penny ($999 makes it the most expensive lens I have ever bought).

I will follow up with additional posts about how this lens performs.  My main interest is sharpness at the edges as I have read some concerns about this on the Internet.  I am expecting chromatic aberations and distortion to be well controlled.


Seeking Sunrises on the Maine Coast (Mornings 4, 5 and 6)

As a follow up to my post yesterday showing sunrises from mornings 1, 2 and 3, I have uploaded here three more images.  These are from mornings 4, 5 and 6.  It makes me tired just looking at all these sunrises!

For those interested in those sort of things, the first two were taken with an Olympus E-M1 with 14-54mm zoom lens, and the third image was taken with a Sony NEX-6 with a 30-year old 35-70mm manual Minolta zoom lens.

Morning 4

Morning 5

Morning 6


Seeking Sunrises on the Maine Coast (Mornings 1, 2 and 3)

We were recently up in Maine for a few days along the coast near Blue Hill.  The weather was beautiful.  Though technically autumn, except for the leaves changing colors it felt like summer.  Shorts and sandals were the order of the day.

I like pursuing sunrises in autumn because the sunrise actually comes at a reasonable hour.  In the summer, sunrise on the Maine coast (when we've been there) is about 5:30.  And because some of the best color comes at twilight, I like to get to my "spot" 30 minutes before sunrise.  Argh, that's hard to do.  But in late September sunrise is at 6:30.  This is great news for me.  The biggest problem turned out to be the mosquitoes, even though temperatures were in the 40s and 50's at that hour.

Below is my favorite shot from morning #1.  Not exactly a sunrise shot, as this was taken about 7 a.m.  The actual sunrise, though beautiful, was rather lackluster for a photograph.  But as I returned to our cabin I spotted this.  The sun was still low in the east and gave some nice color on the starboard side of this lobster boat.  I like the overall soft colors of the background.

Morning #2 was just to opposite.  Instead of an uninteresting cloudless horizon, there was a thick layer of clouds which resulted in now sunrise.  However, again around 7 a.m.  the sun did rise above the cloudy horizon and provided this shot looking south.

A Touch of Autumn

Morning #3 was totally awesome.  I took a lot of pictures over a 10 minute period and don't at this point know which one is best.  But the following is representative.  The scene was absolutely gorgeous.

[Photos from mornings 4, 5 and 6 will follow, in tomorrow's blog post... I'm still deciding which ones I like best.]