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.