I attended a talk tonight by 3 famous Magnum photographers. I decided to summarize my experience with my first ever attempt at Haiku.
Old Magnum photogs
Fear the future and smart phones
I just got back from a business trip to California where I shot the Fujifilm X100S for several days. I realized that borrowlenses.com was close to SFO (San Francisco International Airport) and I was able to pop into their facility to borrow the X100S before they closed. A nice option which saved the shipping and handling costs. So here is a report on the camera after using it in San Francisco for 4 days, from a perspective of a Olympus micro 4/3 user.
There is a lot of interest and even hype about the X100S and the interchangeable lens Fuji X cameras lately. I’ve observed this from a distance, researching and playing with them at Precision Camera here in Austin. I’ve got some great results with the small Fuji XF1 that I bought recently so my curiosity for the larger Fuji’s was piqued. As you may also recall, the X100S is the only remaining camera on my watch list.
Here is my disclaimer. 4 days is not a lot of time to get to know a camera, especially one as feature rich as the X100S. I’ll need more time to truly become familiar with the camera. For example, I don’t know if high-performance mode was turned on — I didn’t even know about this mode while using the camera. Would this have affected focusing speed? The online boards seems to give conflicting answers. Despite my novice status with the camera, I was able take loads of great images which really satisfied me. As always, I will sprinkle these photos throughout the post.
Most of the photos were taking around Market Street, SOMA, Union Square and Chinatown in San Francisco. You will see similar scenes from my review of the Olympus EP-5. You can compare those E-P5 images (with the 17mm lens) to ones from the Fuji X100S — both cameras have a 35mm equivalent focal length.
Let’s start with focusing speed. Is the Fuji X100S a fast camera? Well, despite the addition of a phase detect focusing system, it’s not. At least compared to the current generation Olympus micro 4/3 cameras. My entry-level Olympus E-PM2 is noticeably faster focusing in all lighting conditions. The newer Olympus E-P5 and OM-D E-M1 are even quicker. I would categorize the X100S focusing speed as mostly adequate. It reminds me a lot of my first Olympus, the E-PL1. In good light the X100S may be faster than the old E-PL1 but certainly not at night.
In darker conditions, the X100S switches from phase detect to contrast detect focusing. Several reviews said that this camera was still marginal in the dark. This was what concerned me the most and why I wanted to test the camera. I often shoot indoors or at night so low light focusing was essential. I’m happy to report that for my urban landscape photos, the low light focusing was good, reliable and accurate, though not particularly fast. It’s going to be tough to do high-speed street photography at night, however, for stationary scenes it did a fine job. As reported, the X100S greatly improves focusing speed over its predecessor. I used my friend’s X100 and in low light. I found it completely frustrating. Not so with the X100S.
Operational speed was fine but not snappy. There are slight delays when hitting the preview button and scrolling through photos. In general, there is certain roughness to the operation. Small delays and behaviors to the interface that doesn’t seem refined like the latest generation Olympus. Overall, the camera speed and interface encourages a slower paced, deliberate approach. This is not necessarily a bad thing and it feels in sync with the type of camera this is. The Olympus micro 4/3 cameras are now challenging DSLRs for speed. This Fuji is meant for a different kind of photography.
I enjoy shooting the Olympus more because of its blazing speed and its compact size however the Fuji X100S was fast enough for me. I had to be more careful and think about the shot. And this deliberate approach could be a positive which might improve my photography. There is more of a meditative quality to using this camera.
The Fuji has a larger APS-C sensor and it certainly shows. ISO 6400 looks great while on the Olympus I shoot at a max of ISO 3200 — so there is a least a 1 stop advantage for the X100S. This however is offset somewhat with the Fuji’s lack of image stabilization. I shot at 1/30 second using the EVF to yield consistently sharp images. If I tried, sometimes 1/15s was possible, but less likely. With the Olympus in-body image stabilization 1/15s, 1/10s or even slower is possible. For non-action shots, this gives the low light advantage to Olympus, despite its smaller sensor.
Dynamic range is becoming more important for me. I shoot in HDR to increase dynamic range, but this is a pain to do. Certainly, I would prefer to capture the bright areas and dark shadows without resorting to HDR. Many of the Fuji cameras have a special dynamic range (DR) function that I find intriguing. It seems to work well on my XF1 and this is something I wanted to test with the X100S. I shot these photos with DR400. While not a huge difference, I find Fuji are better than the Olympus. And the Olympus is no slouch. Believe it or not, I find that my Olympus E-PM2 has more dynamic range than my full frame Canon 6D. So that extra Fuji dynamic range boost is a big deal.
Fujifilm along with Olympus are known for their great color. I prefer them over Canon, Nikon and especially Sony. I haven’t decided which I like better. It’s also fun to play with Fuji’s film simulation modes. I never shot film seriously so I can’t tell you how good these simulations are but they do render a different look. I shot most of these photos in Velvia, which is the most saturated simulation. I wouldn’t use it for portraits but I wanted to amp up the colors of the city at night. I still, however, end up tweaking the images in post anyway, even when I shoot in JPEG. I also think Fuji’s auto white balance is superior to Olympus’, especially in complex mixed light.
The Fuji’s seem to shoot brightly, which I like. I found this similar characteristic with both the XF1 and the X100S. Images are not overexposed but they do generally have less contrast and sort of a slightly washed out appearance. In post, I add a bit of contrast which makes them pop nicely. I prefer this to the Sonys, for example, which are too underexposed. I find the Olympus to be in the middle but I still brighten these images in post. The Fujis might be the first system where I more often darken the photos rather than lighten.
The most amazing thing about Fujifilm is their JPEG engine. I shot these photos in RAW + JPEG. Surprisingly, when I compare the Fuji RAWs vs the Olympus RAWs they look very similar, at least in Aperture 3. The colors are similar and the exposures are similar. Much of the Fuji color, dynamic range expansion and exposure seems to happen in their RAW conversion. And I am hard pressed to duplicate what Fuji does to create their JPEGs, especially how they recover highlights from overexposed areas. With very few exceptions, I prefer the JPEGS over the RAWs. With Olympus as well as Canon and Sony, I prefer to tweak the RAWs.
Many people online as well as my friend Mike have said how they love the Fuji JPEGs and that they didn’t need the RAWs. I admit I was skeptical about this but I’m a believer now. Perhaps you can go through a bunch of rigmarole or use special presets to get better results from RAW. But for me, through Aperture, I’m happy with the JPEGs. About the only weakness I’ve seen so far is in the reds. I found that the Fuji JPEG reds tend to be more orange. The underlying RAW generally captures deeper reds but the JPEG conversion seems to mess this up sometimes.
The photo on the left was the JPEG created by the Fuji. Notice that the Hunan sign is a dull orange. The one on the right is the RAW file. The deep red is what the sign originally looked like. The reds are not always affected this badly as you can see from other JPEG examples. I didn’t get to test this but I’m wondering if the in-camera DR400 setting caused this color shift. I often notice that in post processing, reds particularly seem to be susceptible to color changes.
Is it worth using RAWs for certain cases? Perhaps. I don’t do product photography so accurate color is usually not critical. Color for me is a way to express mood and I manipulate color to what I think looks good, whether or not it’s accurate. However, this example above is particularly egregious.
Believe it or not, the ability to do subtle fill flash is important for me. I would use this most often for my family snapshots where I want to capture background details while still maintaining good exposure on my subjects. Typical flash systems produce that over exposed flash look and the background is rendered dark or almost black. There are ways to counteract this by reducing flash output and doing a slow sync. But these are time-consuming and fiddly. Fuji’s Super Intelligent Flash system does this automatically.
Here you can see that that the fill flash has lit the trumpeter on the photo on the right. Without fill, the person looks dark. Notice that even with the flash, the X100S has maintained detail in the background.
The Olympus has a conventional flash system. Intelligent flash is one of the main reasons I am looking at a Fuji camera. However, I really wish the X100S has face detection, this makes the flash system and exposure setting work even better. The Fuji X-E2 has this so hopefully a future firmware update will add this feature. Face Detection is also important when I hand the camera to a novice. Explaining half-press focus and recompose is a pain.
The photo of the cable card operator above also used fill flash. However, the flash blended with the ambient light so well that you can barely tell. The flash added some light in the foreground to brighten the operator.
Using the X100S is entirely different from Olympus, and it’s not just because of the manual, aperture, shutter and exposure compensation dials. However, because I use Fuji XF1 point and shoot, it’s helped me to more quickly understand the X100S interface.
Apparently, the previous X100 menu system was a mess but I find the X100S’ menu to be decent. Certainly it’s not as bad as Sony’s NEX interface. There are a lot of thoughtful shortcuts with the X100S that make it a usable camera. I prefer more function buttons and ironically the inexpensive XF1 point and shoot’s interface beats the X100S in a couple of places. But with practice, the X100S interface should be easier than my E-PM2, though not as good as the very configurable OM-D E-M1 flagship.
Build Quality and Appearance
There is a chunkiness and heft to the camera, but in a good way. It’s a well made metal camera and most everything has a quality feel except for perhaps the rear jog dial. It has a wonderful retro, old world appearance that I find very attractive. The Olympus E-P5 has a superior build, but I prefer the look of the X100S. The EVF is not an afterthought or an appendage like with the E-P5.
I’ve always like the way the X100 looked. It had enough quirks and slow focus, however, that I knew it would drive me crazy. The X100S fixes many of these quirks. It makes it an acceptable camera for speed, especially if you want something of a deliberate, contemplative camera. Perhaps for me, it’s a poor man’s Leica. A Leica M is wonderfully constructed but I can never fathom spending $10,000 for it. At $1,300 the Fujifilm X100S is more palatable, even for someone like me that already owns too many cameras.
I’m really happy with the image quality I’ve gotten. I think it’s a notch above the Olympus. The X100S is not as versatile as an Olympus E-P5 and certainly something like an OM-D E-M1 would run rings around the faux-range finder X100S. However, it’s fun to play with different kinds of cameras and certainly the X100S is very different. It gives me the illusion of a return to a simpler time, in the past, where things were less busy and you bought well made machines that lasted a long time. I know this is only an illusion and the electronics in the Fuji can break or become obsolete as fast as any modern camera.
I’m going to hit the half century mark next year and I’m already shopping for my special birthday gift. The Fujifilm X100S is still on my watch list. Perhaps it’s a sign that my photography is maturing. DSLRs and speed are no longer the most important. Small, elegant and beautiful are beginning to hold more attraction these days.
Earlier this week, I headed an hour east on US 290 to the small city of Giddings, Texas. I picked this place semi-randomly. I’ve been through this city once, a long time ago, so I didn’t know much about it. Though fifteen years ago, while attending a child-birth class for my older son, I met the Mayor of Giddings and his wife. We were in the same class, in Austin.
It’s that vague connection to Giddings that made me decide to go there while I searched through Google Maps. I wanted a peaceful afternoon of photography for myself in a small Texas town. Quick research also revealed that the City Meat Market was the place to go for some great barbecue. So off I went, exploring daytime photography, which is not my typical thing.
I did have an ulterior motive. I wanted to test my new Fujifilm XF1 against my other high-end point and shoot, the Canon G15. I also had my, previously undisclosed, preproduction camera to play with, the Olympus Stylus 1. So looking like the ultimate tourist, I headed east with 3 premium point and shoots. I probably looked dorky juggling these cameras.
I’ll do separate posts on the results of my tests, but for today, I wanted to showcase a particular building. In the middle of town, on other side of the train tracks, there was a big corrugated metal building that held photographic promise. It looked old, worn and oozed the type character that I seek.
The building wasn’t particularly colorful so I switched to in-camera black and white on the Fujifilm XF1. Its wonderful texture made even better in monochrome. The JPEGs were later minimally processed in Aperture 3 mostly by increasing contrast.
I ran into someone who seemed work there. He said that this place was a peanut shelling factory built in the late 19th century. To me, it’s a relic from the past with wonderful lines. The mishmash of roofs, awnings and distressed metal all stimulated my brain.
The sun broke through the clouds and added a crispness to the lines.
Light shadows cast on to the weathered west wall created my favorite texture. The XF1 with its dynamic range expansion has the ability to tame shadows. The light to dark transitions don’t clip as harshly as other point and shoots.
Finally a sign. Lee County Peanut Co. Evidence of its past function — confirming what the gentlemen told me. Factory activity is long gone. What looks like a aging dilapidated structure was my visual playground.
Yes, my trip to Giddings was successful. Beyond the great barbecue and the camera testing I got to focus, zen like, on unloved structures with the simplicity of black and white. More from Giddings, coming soon.
I’m thankful for so many things in my life. Certainly my family and friends are at the top of the list. But in the context of this blog, I’m thankful for you, the worldwide audience that stops by. Thank you for letting me share my photography and my opinions with you.
I’m lucky that I’m not a professional photographer. I have no restrictions and obligations of what I shoot. I captured this Bull Durham sign a couple of days ago in Giddings, Texas just to indulge my creative side.
I hope my blog has inspired, entertained or motivated you explore your creative side. Thanks again for all your support.
I was on a boat last night on Lady Bird Lake.
It’s not actually a lake, it’s a river that is dammed up that flows through downtown Austin. Because everything for me is a PhotoOp, I brought a camera. Except I didn’t want to look like a total camera dork so I used my new Fujifim XF1 point and shoot. Just one camera, believe it or not. No big DSLR or even a reasonably sized mirrorless.
My main purpose was to take snap shots of my wife and maybe get someone to take a rare photo of my wife and I, together. But of course, the lure of night images and reflecting urban lights was more than I could bear. I had to take cityscape photos like everyone else.
Except everyone else used iPhones. A few actually had real point and shoots. Beyond the stylish looks of the XF1, I had some technology that no one else possessed, a bigger sensor and some trick photography modes hidden away in the retro design. The results I got were surprising.
Before we left dock, I coaxed the Fuji to shoot at ISO 400 and at 1/2 second. The results were quite spectacular as you can see above. Hard to believe this is a point and shoot. The Fuji does some special dynamic range expansion tricks in-camera. I used JPEG for everything and did some light post processing in Aperture 3.
Once we left downtown and headed east, it got dark quickly. ISO 800 was short-lived and I needed ISO 1600 or higher. I switched to in-camera black and white which handles the noise better. Even with a slightly larger 2/3 sensor, ISO 800 is my preferred top end. ISO 1600 works at times, in a pinch.
Shooting from the river gave a vantage point that I’ve never seen.
Photos around the Interstate 35 bridge were the most interesting. The XF1 has a special EXR mode that combines multiple images together to help reduce the noise or increase dynamic range. What resulted was artistic and minimal images. Low fidelity yet surprisingly satisfying.
Even the occasional ISO 3200 was acceptable in a grainy, Lomography kind of way. I’m trying to break out of my strictly low noise, high quality photography. These images are more about mood than anything else.
The boat cruise lasted 2 hours. We sailed east just past I35. Then we went west past the Lamar Street Bridge and docked back next to the 1st street bridge. It was a fun event with drinking, BBQ and some uncharacteristically different point and shoot photographs. I’m not going to give up my regular style but pushing the boundaries of a tool to see what happens is kind of interesting. Heck, if it’s fuzzy and grainy enough, maybe I’ll just call it art.
Note: I noticed that the Black or Red Fuji XF1 is still on sale at Amazon for an amazing $199. I couldn’t resist. I bought another one, black this time. I’m giving it as a gift. I think it’s an excellent point and shoot.
Austin hosted its second annual Formula 1 race this past weekend. I didn’t attend the race itself, but I went downtown to capture scenes from the Austin Fan Festival. Like last year, a section of downtown was blocked off for exhibits, concerts, food and anything else that would vaguely fit into the racing theme. It was a fun time, and for me, another chance to do some street photography which I probably find more interesting than shooting cars going around a track. Plus it was free. Better than spending hundreds of bucks on racing tickets. That’s a good thing since I can save my money and, what else, buy more gear.
Speaking of gear, I mentioned last week that I’m testing two new cameras. I’m still playing with the pre production camera that is on loan to me, but in the mean time, I wanted to talk about the new camera that I just bought, the Fuji XF1. Heck, even its name is perfect for F1 weekend. I went to Fan Fest last year where I shot with my Olympus E-P3. I went even smaller and lighter this year with Fuji’s smallest X branded point and shoot. I’ll do a full review of the XF1 and tell you what makes this guy unique in a future post. For now, lets just say that I’m very happy with the images I got with this point and shoot, even at night. Take a look at the photos and tell me what you think.
I was already downtown on Friday for a party and decided to check out Fan Fest. I snapped an image of a couple of women at the Red Bull – Infiniti display. This simple snapshot actually showcases one of my favorite features of this XF1. It’s something that reviewers rarely talk about. Just as a teaser, I’ll say that it blows away what my other “high end” point and shoot, the Canon G15, can do.
The highlight of the evening was the free concert by Foreigner. The lead singer was still going strong from this 80′s era British-American Rock Band. The photo at the very top was from the concert as well as these two images. The black and white was done in camera and tweaked in post. In fact, I shot all photographs in JPEG and I did minor tweaks with Aperture 3 afterwards.
Fan Fest did an admirable job by including everyone, especially kids. There were simulators and video games and slot car races. This is the closest I got to any kind of race track that weekend.
As expected, there were many fast cars on display.
Talks by actual F1 drivers. Here’s David Coulthard at the AT&T pavilion.
Certainly, there were numerous products being promoted with attractive spokes people.
Infiniti and Ford had displays. I like the style of the current Ford Fusion with its Aston Martin-esque grill. The red model looked nice under the colorful lights.
Austin seems to be in the midst of another building boom. I’m seeing a lot of cranes again.
There were loads of food and alcohol for sale with “slightly” inflated prices. I enjoyed the Chicken on a Stick grilling performance.
This is Austin after all so we had plenty of music. Red Bull had an upbeat club mix going all night, undoubtedly to make our European visitors feel welcome.
We also had street musicians with a more local Tejano feel.
Finally, there were several stages with live concerts. These guys were not as popular as Foreigner but they were great and I could get up close to the stage.
I had a fun night of photography and Fan Fest gave me something different to shoot. The Fujifilm XF1, for the most part, did an admirable job. I’ll talk more about it in upcoming posts.
I recently posted some Halloween portraits from 6th street that people seem to like. I could have gone with my conventional available light images that I usually take down on 6th street — the Canon 6D at high ISO does a surprisingly good job in low light. Available light shots, however, have a moody but soft look to them. Great for shallow depth of field street photography and romantic wedding photos, but I wanted to do something different. I wanted more of a crisp, dynamic look, different from my regular stuff.
I’ve included several new portraits on this post and you can click here to see the rest of them. As promised, here is the way I created these Halloween portraits.
Taking the Picture
Direct flash gets a bad rap but it can be neat when done in the right way. And you don’t necessary need a soft box or umbrella either, especially if you want that crisp look. The trick is to get the light source off axis, meaning you shouldn’t have the flash on top of your camera. This tends to flatten out features and you lose that three-dimensional look.
Your primary light source is no longer going to be the flash on your camera. There are several ways to do off camera flash. First, you need to use a camera with a hot shoe. You also need an external flash that can be triggered wirelessly or connected via a sync cord. Some camera companies have wireless flash triggering features built into their nicer cameras and flashes. You can certainly use this to get TTL metering which dynamically adjusts to the light conditions. These systems are proprietary so a Nikon wireless system will not work with Canon flashes, for example.
I went for the cheaper and more primitive manual route. While you don’t get the fancy TTL metering, manual flash exposure works great when the environment does not change. Since I was shooting at night, this worked great. The benefits of manual flash is that I can use inexpensive flashes and triggers and arguably get more consistent exposures if you do it right. It’s also manufacturer independent, so I can use the same triggering system on any camera that has a hot shoe.
I used the same inexpensive but reliable Cactus V5 triggers that I used for the Haunted House Photo Booth. My flash is a no frills house brand called Quantaray that was sold by the now out of business Ritz Camera. Any flash capable of manual mode should do, even older models. A nice unit that has is popular with the Strobist community is the LumoPro LP180. I have not used this model but it has even more features than my flash. I dialed down my flash to 1/64 power. After a couple of minutes of testing, I settled on ISO 250, 1/160 second shutter and around f3.2 to f4 in manual exposure mode. I also preset manual focus to several feet out. I held the flash in my left hand and shot with my right. If my camera has located in the center of the clock, the flash was held over my head at around the 10 o’clock position and angled towards my subjects which were about 3 – 5 feet away.
Camera wise, I used the Olympus E-PM2. I thought about using the Canon 6D but there were several advantages to using the E-PM2. First, I wanted a wide-angle view since I knew I would need to include groups of people. The only wide-angle I had on the Canon was the 24-105mm zoom, which combined with the 6D will be heavy to hold one handed. On the Olympus, I used my Lumix 14mm f2.5 (28mm equivalent) pancake lens which made for an incredibility light-weight setup, perfect for one handed operation all night. I could have also used the standard 14-42mm Olympus kit lens, which isn’t much heavier.
At ISO 250, image quality was not a factor. But the smaller sensor on the Olympus has an advantage since it has more depth of field. I could shoot at a f3.2 to f4 range and get the entire group in focus. On the 6D, I would need to go at least to f8. Finally, I also was wary of bringing expensive equipment. I heard that 6th Street on Halloween was crowded and a bit crazy. I felt more comfortable using smaller and less expensive gear.
A couple of people commented how nicely the flash had blacked out the background. Well, in fact, shooting in this way does have the advantage of dropping out the ambient light. But it doesn’t always work perfectly and I resorted to a bit of artistic trickery to get the effect that I wanted. Yes, I did some post processing to mask my subjects from the background. Before I go into that, let me explain the shooting environment.
You have to understand that 6th Street was very crowded with wall to wall people. If I were able to direct people to an open area, then this technique would have worked much better, in camera. Or conversely, If I had set up a dark background, that would have been great too. Instead, I asked people for portraits as I walked down the street. I spent perhaps 10 -15 seconds per person and I didn’t have the luxury or desire to move and optimally position my subjects.
If lucky, I got a break from the crowds and I got a fairly clean shot like the vampire couple on the left. However, most of the time, it was more like the situation on the right. Masking and adding a black background was relatively easy — a different color would be a more difficult. I think that the post processing adds a level of simplicity that give sort of a studio feel to these street portraits.
There are many ways to mask away the background but I wanted to experiment with some new software. Topaz Labs makes ReMask which I’ve always wanted to test. It worked great. With some practice, I was able to do some fairly complex masking, certainly better than what I can do with Photoshop. Take a look at the example below. Masking hair can get tricky and her head dress made it even more challenging. You can tell ReMask did a great job with the subtle details.
How easy is ReMask? Well here is a Youtube video of how it works. I never even read the manual. All I did was look at this video and practiced a bit.
So there you have it. This is how I did those Halloween portraits. It was nice to break out of the usual mold and do something different. Perhaps I’ll use the technique again. Thanks for stopping by, I hope you found this informative and interesting.
I’ve been recharging my creative batteries lately by doing a few different things. I watched inspirational design documentaries, went to photography shows and even did a different kind of shooting. Tonight, I attended a lecture organized by ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers). Two noteworthy professional photographs from Texas, Michael O’Brien and Robert Seale, talked and showed their work for night of entertainment and inspiration.
While I might enjoy going to a good photography exhibit, nothing beats a great lecture by top professionals. Both Michael and Robert share similar backgrounds, in many ways. They both started as photojournalists and both became freelance photographers specializing, more or less, on portraits. Of course, they both have their unique styles, which makes it even more interesting.
Robert Seale at ASMP Austin
I’ve attended a talk by Robert Seale before, somewhere, though I can’t recall where. I remember many of his photographs though he presented new work since I last met him. Robert went first, showing vibrant and colorful sports and commercial images. You can see his work here on his website. I realized that, since we last met, I’ve begun to develop my own style of photography. While much of his wonderful work is sports and commercially oriented portraits, it’s his industrial landscapes that resonate. I know this is atypical and a bit odd but his industrial buildings have a parallel to the urban architecture that I like.
Michael O’Brien at ASMP Austin
I’ve never met Michael O’Brien before but I know of him through my friend, Kirk Tuck. Kirk did nice video interview of Michael some time ago. What I didn’t realize until tonight was that Michael did the photography for very influential (for me) issue of the National Geographic — a cover story on Austin, Texas. I move to Austin in the summer of 1991, a year after the National Geographic cover story. Though I decide to move to Austin for many reasons, the writeup in the magazine certainly added. I read that story over and over. Austin just seemed like a really cool place to be, which over the last 20 years has only grown more notable. Here is the website of Michael’s work.
I dug out my copy of the magazine and I might read it again tonight. Paper magazines seem so quaint these days, but they certainly give a sense of permanence. The aging paper gives a level of authenticity that always perfect electronic media lack. You can see my worn copy, above. Ironically, the back cover has an ad for Kodak. Over these 20+ years, the fortunes of Austin have only grown. As for Kodak, you know how that story ended.
Finally, a little equipment talk before I close out this post. I’m currently testing two new cameras, which I’ll talk about soon. One camera I bought and the other is a pre production unit. The grainy black and white shots where taken with my new camera, which I won’t name for now but I’m pretty happy with the way these images came out (If you really want to know the camera I used, you can download the image and look at the EXIF). As a hint, I’ll say that the photos were shot at ISO 1600 as black and white JPEGs, which was pushing its limits.
One of the more popular posts, despite the hundreds of others, is the one I did on a small camera bag for my Sony NEX-5. I may not use my NEX often these days but I still use this bag frequently. It’s perfect for carrying a smaller mirrorless camera such as the Olympus E-P3 or E-PM2. Luckily the LowePro Edit 120 is inexpensive too, usually running around $25.
The bag has one moveable divider. I usually put the camera with attached lens on one side and possibly a small lens in the other (depending on the size of the attached lens). For larger lenses like the Panasonic 45-200mm zoom, I remove the divider. There is a mesh pocket on the inside of the cover and the front zippered pocket works well for accessories. It even fits my favorite table top Manfrotto tripod, which is surprisingly handy. The front area also works well for extra batteries and SD cards. Finally there are velcro covered pockets that flank the bag.
In the photo below, I have the Olympus E-P3 with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 plus lens hood. The 25mm is one of my bigger lenses when I have the lens hood attached. It’s about the same length as the Olympus 40-150mm zoom. The left over space snuggly fits the small Olympus FL-300R Flash.
If you can’t find this bag, look for small camcorder/video bags. These type of bags are less deep and work well for mirrorless cameras. Typical camera bags are scaled more for DSLRs which are too deep. With DSLR bags, you end up with a bulkier bag than you need and small mirrorless cameras get lost at the bottom.
I rarely watch TV anymore.
Between a full-time job, being a father and of course my photography and this blog, I generally don’t have a lot of extra time. But I took a break yesterday and overdosed on design. It’s a way to charge up the creative batteries which, like anything else, drains and needs a boost.
I love the design of stuff. I’m not a designer by trade but I’ve always had an interest — even before photography. Last night I watched 3 documentaries, back to back. Going from the specific and small to the large. All 3 were directed by Gary Hustwit.
All 3 movies were available on Netfix Instant Streaming, for those who have the service. Below are the links to the movie on Amazon.
A story about this ubiquitous typeface and the effect of typography on design and mood. I got really interested in typography when I was in high school and this was Pre-Macintosh — a chance meeting that had an impact for the rest of my life. My father once invited a Graphic Designer to dinner who unlocked the wonderful world of typography. He explained, you can tell how good a company is and how much they spent by how well the typography was laid out in an advertisement. Kerning, the spacing between the letters, is the key and it was all done by hand back then.
Throughout high school, I bought Letraset Press Type sheets in Manhattan to pretty up my reports. Helvetica, Avant Garde and Copperplate Gothic were all familiar to me before computers can do them.
Do you love the design of Apple products or Braun shavers? This movie talks about the design of our consumer products with interviews with Jonathan Ive (Apple) and Dieter Rams (Braun). It even talks about automotive design with the controversial BMW head designer Chris Bangle. I, of course, use many Apple products even back from 1981 when my father got an Apple ][. In fact, not unlike hunters that have their prized kill hung on the wall, I have my first computer, an Apple ][ plus, hanging on my office wall. Sad but true. What can I say, I'm a nerd.
I also have a 20-year-old Braun alarm clock that wakes me up every morning that sounds exactly like the one in the movie, though the design is different.
This third movie talks about the design of cities and our urban environment. Of course it touches on architecture but it’s more about how people live in these dense urban environments, from the slums of third world countries to the glittering first world showcase cities. A long time ago, before I wanted to be an architect, I actually wanted to be a city planner. That was before I knew what a city planner did. As a 10 year old, I didn’t know city planning was more of a governmental function. I wanted to be that guy that designed how entire cities looked.
You can tell by my photography, that my interest for the city and architecture is still alive.
All 3 movies have 4 1/2 star ratings on Amazon. Highly recommended if you are into design and documentaries. Not exactly Bruce Wilis action movies (though I do love The Fifth Element), but again you might learn something from these choices.
For the last several years, I’ve meant to go down to 6th Street on Halloween night. This year I finally made it.
6th Street, Austin’s most famous entertainment district, is busy on regular evenings, particularly on the weekend. Halloween, as you can imagine, was off the charts. It’s the most crowded I’ve ever seen it. I was there from 9pm – 11pm yesterday and it was already wall to wall. As I was leaving, droves of people were converging from other parts of the city.
I wanted to create street portraits, particularly of the more interesting costumes. I also wanted to do it in a different way. I’m really happy with the results. It’s a look that I’ve never done before.
I’ll talk about how I created these in a future post. But for today, I just wanted to showcase a dozen images. I will say that I used my Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic 14mm f2.5 lens. As usual, hover over the images with a mouse to see the EXIF details. Then click on the photographs to see a larger version.
Now sit back-end enjoy the Halloween, 6th street style.
A few days ago I talked about what may be the ultimate haunted house made for an elementary school fundraiser. It was created for a one time, 4 hour-long, autumn festival at my son’s elementary school. The haunted house team asked me if I could shoot candid photos of the kids inside the house, as they get frightened by the wicked witch.
The project is more complicated that you might think but I took it as a challenge and to help a worthy cause. I thought about this for a month or so. I asked several knowledgeable photographers and the hardware guys over at Precision Camera. They all seemed sympathetic and wished me luck but they were clearly relieved that they weren’t on the hook to come up with a working system. So I decided to design a system myself. Well, I pulled it off and wanted to describe how I did it, just in case you might want to do something similar. There are certainly things that could be improved and I’ll talk about them at the end.
I had two large challenges. First, how do I take good photographs in a dark area with a good (frightened) expression on the kid’s faces. Next, how do I quickly transfer these photographs 20 feet away to be previewed and printed. I also wanted to do this as inexpensively as possible and ideally, not buy any new equipment. After all, spending money on gear with reduce profits for the school.
Taking the Picture
It turned out that I had all the gear I needed to take the pictures. I didn’t want to use my newest and most expensive equipment since there was a risk of it being damaged in a dark room with scared and running kids.
Next to the last room, in the witch’s castle, we cut an opening into an interior wall. The camera was setup on the other side and shot through the opening. The haunted house had a Wizard of Oz theme and we planned to have a costumed wicked witch pop up and scare the kids as their photo was snapped. What was difficult was anticipating how the kids would react. Remember, this was a temporary setup that would be used for only 4 hours. We didn’t have much time to test and tweak the design.
I used my old Olympus E-PL1 and it was perfect. It was an old camera that I rarely used and I had two bodies, just in case one broke. I wanted to use an inexpensive kit lens but the 28mm equivalent was not wide enough for the room. I had to use the Panasonic 14mm with the wide-angle adapter instead, which gave me a decent 22mm perspective. You can still get inexpensive, refurbished Olympus cameras for less than $200 at Cameta Camera (you have to check frequently since they go in and out of stock). And if you design the room properly with more depth, the standard kit lens might work for you too.
The E-P1 is not a fast focusing camera but this didn’t matter. I shot everything in manual mode. The camera was set for manual focusing so the shutter fired immediately. The exposure and the flash system was also setup manually. You don’t have to use an Olympus, of course. Any camera that has a hot shoe, and can be preset for manual flash and manual exposure should work. However, many inexpensive point and shoots probably won’t fit the bill. They typically don’t have hot shoes as well as manual settings. Certainly DSLRs will work, as well as many of the mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras.
I had 2 budget flashes that provided light. I set them to manual both at 1/32 power. This allowed the flashes to recycle immediately and save battery power. I triggered them using budget and reliable Cactus V5 transceivers. You need one transceiver per flash and you need to put one on the camera’s hot shoe. I wanted to use another flash to soften the shadows on the walls but the third unit I had powered down in energy saver mode after 5 minutes. Unfortunately, I couldn’t disable that function. I made due with 2 flashes.
I set the camera to ISO 400, f5.6 at 1/125 per second in manual exposure mode. The micro 4/3 sensor on the Olympus has a greater depth of field than a DSLR, so I got away with f5.6. On a DSLR, I would use a smaller aperture (larger f number). I had the camera on a tripod and I used gaffer’s tape to attach it to the wall. The setup was easy enough for child to use. All they needed to do was push the shutter button at the right time.
Here is what the Olympus E-PL1 shot with the two radio triggered flashes. This is what the Witch’s Castle looked like just after it was setup. As you will see below, it was in sad shape 4 hours later.
Transferring the Photograph
The Eye-Fi card has two modes, direct mode from camera to computing device or through an existing Wifi network. This turned out to be the most complicated part of the whole system. I wanted to ideally use direct mode but the range was limited, perhaps to 10 feet and that’s not going through walls. If I had a typical photo booth where the photo was taken only a few feet away from the computer, direct mode should work fine. In my case, I needed to go through several walls and a good distance away so I would need to use the network mode.
At home, on my Wifi network, everything worked great. Transfer speeds were decent and the photos flowed effortlessly from camera to computer. However, at school, it was a nightmare. I wasn’t able to use the school’s WiFi network probably because they had certain network ports blocked and restricted. I improvised by using an old Apple Airport Express Wifi router. I effectively made a wireless LAN (local area network) at home and brought it to the school to get the setup working.
Setting up the wireless LAN was also tough. I’ll spare you the details but here is what I did. To setup the Apple Airport Express and the Eye-FI card you need an active internet connection. I temporarily connected my Airport Express to the cable modem and got everything configured first. Then I disconnected from the internet. This workaround allowed me to have a self-sufficient wireless LAN, not connected to the internet. When I got to the school, I powered everything on and it worked… mostly. I’ll go into the challenges later.
Preview and Printing
The Epson XP-800 is discontinued so it might become hard to find. It was replaced by the XP-810. While I prefer the older Artisan line, the printer did a solid job and printed high quality photos quickly.
I considered bringing my Epson Artisan 810 that I used at home. This all-in-one printer has been very reliable and it prints great looking photos. Unfortunately, it was a little bulky and I no longer had its box. I decided to buy a separate printer for the project that I would pay for. Epson just discontinued that Artisan line and I bought an XP-800 instead, which was also on clearance and was the closest to the older Artisan printers. The XP-800 improves the black text printing over the Artisan but for almost everything else, I prefer the older printer. The image quality is close but the XP-800 has a bunch of annoying features that, while appear fancy, just gets in the way. For this project though, it worked fine.
Note: The Olympus natively shoots in a 3 x 4 aspect ratio like many point and shoots. I set the camera to a 2 x 3 ratio, which is typically used on DSLRs, so that when printed on a 4″ x 6″ paper, I wouldn’t need to crop the image.
The Olympus E-PL1 worked like a charm. It was more than fast enough and the people were in focus. The setup was easy enough and automated for a kid to take a picture reliably.
The low-cost flashes and the flash triggers never missed a beat. I shot about 350 photos and there was never a misfire and to my surprise, we didn’t run out of battery power. I did bring extra AA and AAA batteries.
I did change batteries once on the Olympus, which was expected since the WiFi transfer used additional power. I had 4 fully charged camera batteries so I was prepared.
The printer worked well and printed a 4 x 6 fast in less than 20 seconds.
When the Wifi was speedy, the entire process worked well.
In the dry run, before the kids started, everything worked great. The biggest challenge and the weakest link was the WiFi photo transfer. Sometimes it worked quickly and other times, it would grind to a halt. Definitely not the behavior I saw during testing. The only thing I can figure out is that there must have been signal interference. The haunted house had several computers and other electronics within close proximity of the Apple Airport Express.
Because of the lack of time and to be expedient, I ended up placing the flash units at waist level on tables in front of the camera. For a 2 -3 person group, the flash exposure worked great, for the most part. If I had a large group come though, I sometimes got more shadows than I liked. Depending on how people stood in the room, people at the head of the line would partially block the light for the people at the end.
What I would change
The Apple Airport Express I used was an older model so I would consider getting a more modern Wifi router and units with big antennas. I’m not sure if that would have fixed the problem but it would certainly be worth a try. I did discover in testing that the WiFi performance was the fastest when the Wifi router was closest to the Eye-FI card.
While I reduced the quality of the JPEGs to shrink the file size, (the file was about 2MB), when I had the performance problems, I should have also decreased the JPEG resolution. It doesn’t take much to print a 4″ x 6″ so a much smaller file, at a lower resolution, would have transfered faster.
I would mount the flashes higher up on the walls to reduce shadows.
I would have a barricade to keep a minimum distance from the camera setup to the place where people would walk through. This would ensure a more consistent flash exposure.
Finally, I would work with the designers to create a larger room that is closed off on both sides so we have a self enclosed area to capture the people. This will reduce the speed of people passing through.
Given the constraints in time, equipment and testing, I think the project went well. The haunted house and the photography was new to everyone so we were all learning on the fly and improvising.
I hope you found this setup interesting and perhaps this writeup will give you some ideas, if you are ever asked to do something similar.
It’s been nearly six months since I got my Canon 6D and have “gone full frame”. Has my world changed? Not really. But after a half a year’s use, I feel like I know the 6D well enough to make some comparisons. It may sound odd to compare a full frame DSLR to a smaller, mirrorless 4/3 camera, but stick with me. After all, they are both just cameras and the difference may not be as big as you think.
There are certainly obvious differences comparing a full frame sensor to a much smaller one. You have the potential for a lot shallower depth of field — the bigger the sensor, the shallower the depth of field. The big sensor collects more light so my low-light, high ISO images are a lot better with the Canon 6D compared to the Olympus E-PM2.
How much better is the low light performance? Well on the Olympus E-PM2, my newest Pen camera, I’m generally satisfied up to ISO 3200. On the 6D, I feel fine using ISO 8,000 to ISO 10,000. ISO 12,800 feels a bit grainy, depending on the situation. So I get about 2 stops of additional low-light performance.
I also feel that the color on the 6D is a bit more vibrant. Not significantly so but when compared next to each other, there is a very slight difference. It almost comes down to a feeling more than something qualitative. Seen in isolation, there is nothing lacking in the Pen’s color performance. And comparing HDRs from both cameras, the color difference disappears.
When viewed at 100%, I notice a bit more detail in the 6D. This is mostly likely due to the slightly higher resolution 20MP 6D vs 16MP on the Olympus.
Things that I expected to be better on the 6D, aren’t. That would include the dynamic range. The 6D nicely pulls out shadow detail but the highlights don’t recover very well, at least in Aperture 3. I find that, surprisingly, the E-PM2 does equally well for dynamic range. At times, it almost seems better. What also helps is that the Olympus consistently exposes a scene better that the 6D. I will talk about that in the next section.
One of the biggest annoyances for me on the Canon 6D is its matrix metering. It generally seems to under expose, which I can easily compensate for, however, a small bright area in the frame can really throw off the metering. The exposure gets very dark. I have to add 1 or more stops to compensate. A good example is a photo from the ROT Rally parade. The headlights from the motorcycles really wreaked havoc with exposure. I needed to add + 1 1/3 stops to this image to have it come out reasonably.
The Olympus, on the other hand, handles these conditions a lot better. I rarely need to add more than a 1/3 of a stop possibly 2/3 in these cases. Take a look at the two photos below, taken at the same place. The Canon 6D is on the left and the Olympus E-PM2 on the right. The framing is slightly different since I used a 35mm on the 6D and a 28mm equivalent on the E-PM2. But they illustrate the behavior I get frequently. In fact, the Olympus has a -1/3 exposure compensation while the Canon has compensation upped by +1/3. You can see how dark the Canon is.
And it will be OK if I could just always add +2/3 or so of compensation consistently on the 6D, but that doesn’t work either. For even lighting, that would overexpose. I’m wondering if Canon added this behavior because it knows that the 6D doesn’t handle highlights very well. After all, I guess it’s better to preserve the highlights than get something that’s unrecoverable.
This means, of course, that I constantly have to ride the exposure compensation dial and adjust my settings, sometimes by a large amount. Being a DSLR, where I shoot through an optical view finder, I constantly need to chimp on the back LCD to see if the exposure came out correctly. Compare this to the free-flowing way I can use the Olympus. Since I can shoot off the back LCD, I can see before I shoot, whether the exposure looks good. And usually, it nails the exposure properly. At most I might move my exposure compensation up or down 1/3 of a stop.
The bottom line is that with the Canon 6D, I either have to constantly adjust my shooting and/or I do a lot more post processing to have the images look the way I want. This takes some of the enjoyment away.
While the DSLR still has the edge, in general, over mirrorless in fast action sports shooting, for everything else, it no longer matters. At least on the Olympus, the single shot focusing is so fast that I no longer think that the DSLRs have an advantage. The 6D’s center point focusing sensor is more sensitive to lower light, which works better than the Olympus. However, I need to focus and recompose more often.
There is an obvious size difference between the two cameras. I prefer smaller cameras especially since I like to use small prime (non-zooming) lenses. For people using long telephotos (zooms or primes) the beefier grip on the 6D will work better. So the ergonomics will depend a lot on your hand size and attached lenses.
The entry-level E-PM2 has minimal controls but step up to the E-P5 or better yet the OM-D E-M1 and the available buttons and dials equals or bests the Canon 6D.
Of course for people carrying cameras for a long time, the attraction of mirrorless is the light weight and less bulk. The 4/3 sensor on the Olympus strikes a nice balance between image quality and body / lens size. What people often overlook is that a smaller sensor shrinks the lenses a lot more than the body. So it’s really the smaller lenses that are more significant.
What I enjoy the most, however, which I talked about earlier, is the difference in shooting style. With the old fashion DSLRs, you have to compose and shoot through the optical view finder. Then you need to look at a separate LCD screen to see if the image came out properly. If you are under controlled lighting, it’s less of an issue. Adjust your settings at the beginning and shoot away. However, if you are shooting on the street under changing conditions, the back LCD becomes more important.
With the mirrorless cameras, you compose either with an EVF (Electronic View Finder) or the back LCD. Either way, you get an exposure and color preview before you take the picture. See something you don’t like, you can adjust it before you take the shot. The active preview makes all the difference. This, more than even the light weight of mirrorless, makes me enjoy photography more.
I guess you can say I got spoiled by the mirrorless cameras or perhaps you can say I got lazier. The bottom line, however, is that I enjoy shooting the Olympus a lot more. The Canon 6D, in comparison, really feels primitive and so last century.
Sure the Canon 6D is capable of wonderful photographs, particularly at high ISOs. It’s really fun to do street photography at night, something that is hard to do with many other cameras. For somebody like me that likes the evening and night, this is a fantastic capability. And this is where I think the 6D excels. Given relatively even lighting at night, I can make images that I would be hard pressed to create with the Olympus.
But the Olympus, surprisingly, is no slouch at night, especially if you are shooting things with less action. Freezing active people at night is a challenge but for still-lifes, the modern 4/3 sensor cameras come darn close. How is this possible? Well, the Olympus has in-body image stabilization which the 6D lacks. If I use the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 (a 50mm equivalent) plus the image stabilization at ISO 3200, which can offset the nearly 2 stop advantage of the 6D. Consider too that optically the Panasonic Leica is superior to the Canon 50mm f1.4.
For most situations, I prefer using the E-PM2 or the other Olympus micro 4/3 over the Canon 6D. They’re smaller, lighter, more fun to shoot and gives excellent image quality (up to ISO 3200) with less fiddling during shooting and post production.
So when do I use the Canon 6D?
Whenever I get a new tool, it takes me a while to figure out how to best use it. I have no regrets selling my Canon 7D and replacing it with the 6D. I rarely touched my previous DSLR. The 6D, however, has several district uses. Here are the cases where it comes in handy.
1. Street shooting at night, as I mentioned earlier. With its great, high ISO performance, it allows me to make images that the Olympus won’t be able to match.
2. Portraits. When I want to get the maximum shallow depth of field to blur out distracting backgrounds, I’ll use the 6D. My Canon 70-200mm f4 IS or 85mm f1.8 are my preferred lenses.
3. Ultimate Detail. The 6D is my highest resolution camera. If I need to get the most detail for regular exposures as well as HDRs, the Canon will best the Olympus, though not by a huge margin. I guess I would need the 36MP Nikon D800 to get the ultimate in 35mm DSLR resolution (No, I have no plans of getting this camera, if you were wondering)
4. Sports. I no longer do much sports or fast action shooting, however, when I do, the 6D is what I will take.
5. Looking Pro. When I’m in a situation where “a pro” like camera is required, the 6D and its beefier lenses certainly makes me play the part better. Don’t laugh. People will judge you by your camera.
So that’s about it. For everything else, I would use the Olympus Pens. Which means that 80 – 90% of the time, I’m going mirrorless.
Several months of planning. Several days of building. And several hours of fun.
My kids were lucky to go to a really good public elementary school here in Austin. Every Autumn, just before Halloween, they have their very elaborate and profitable fund-raising carnival called the Hoot. This is not just some random collection of inflatable rides. The school, the PTA and a huge crew of volunteers go all out. One of the most popular attractions is the Haunted House, put on by the 5th grade parents.
We had an architect, interior designers and other creative parents planning this for months. They transformed a portable building, usually the music classroom, in the Haunted House in a matter of days. I helped out too this year, doing the photography inside the attraction. I came up with a fairly elaborate system which I will discuss in an upcoming post. My involvement though pales in comparison to all the hard work that went into this place. Today, I wanted to share the inside of this Wizard of Oz themed Haunted House.
I shot these photos in the short window just after it was completed and before the first kids started going through. This year’s design was particularly sophisticated and, dare I say, artistic in many ways. Keep in mind that this was all built for a 4 hour event. At the end, it would be torn down and converted back into a regular elementary school classroom. The amount of effort put into this project was truly impressive.
As the first photograph shows, we start in Kansas in Dorothy’s house. This is the first room, where the kids enter. Pushing past the working screen door and you get to the tornado room. You are outside in the field with the storm cellar to the right and the twister visible front and center. There are fans blowing in here create that stormy and windy feeling.
This was my favorite room. It had a minimalist, “art installation in a museum” kind of feel. I wish I could have shot this from a higher angle looking downwards instead of the other way around. My main tripod was already pressed into service for my photo project so I had to use this old short tripod that just happened to be in my car. At eye level, the white ceiling fades from view and you see the simple, artistic details in this room.
Incidentally, as you might have guessed, I used HDR, shooting 3 images at 2 stops apart. Most of the rooms were very dark and I needed a tripod to keep everything aligned and steady. I used my usual Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic 14mm and wide-angle adapter.
After going through a dark hallway decorated with corn stalks, you arrive in the land of Oz. You can see the good witch off in the distance. There are several more rooms and hallways until you get to the yellow brick road that leads through the forest. After, you pass through a room where you can see the Emerald City in the distance, projected from the back via a computer controlled projector. Next you get to the witch’s castle.
The castle is where I shot the photo of the kids that passed through. The objective was to get candid shots of them being frightened by the Wicked Witch that pops out of the window. Then, there is a final dark passage that has closing doors on either end, where the zombified Dorothy appears (we took liberties with the original story line).
Hidden from view, and located in the center of the building is the control center where all the technology and actors resided. Throughout the entire experience, there were sounds of screams, dialog and music that added to the mood. The 5th graders, wearing costumes, slipped in and out of hidden passageways to both scare the kids and get to their pre-set positions. Beyond all the designing and building it was a momentous scheduling job as the actors changed shifts every 30 minutes or so.
Once it started, I was too busy to take it all in. I was manning the photography which kept me busy. As usual, the line for the Haunted House was long and wrapped around the corner. The kids and older folks seem to enjoy it. I’m glad I was a part of this creative crew and truly impressed with the teamwork.
Coming soon, a post about how I did the photography in the Haunted House.
At the end of each post, I see an ugly ad placed there automatically by WordPress.com. You see, when I view my posts from my computer and indeed as a WordPress.com user, these ads are hidden. People outside the WordPress community, however, do get these ads from time to time.
I really don’t blame WordPress. They are hosting my blog for free so it just makes sense for them to offset costs or make some money off my content. But, I’ve worked hard to upgrade the look of my site (I hope you have noticed) and I feel that these ads detract.
I’ve decided to pay extra to WordPress.com and get these ads removed. Many websites these days are so cluttered. I’m trying to do my part to reduce the noise.
Go photograph the world from your neighborhood. No plane tickets and passports required. If you have limited time or budget, going to these cultural events allow you to step into another world while staying at home. It’s excellent for photography too. I can practice, make mistakes and hone my street shooting, locally, without any pressure. I can experiment with a new technique or new gear. And it’s wise to do this before you go on that expensive international trip, if the opportunity ever presents itself. About a half-year after I went to this parade in 2011, I got an unexpected chance to go to India and Singapore. Shooting in those foreign lands was much easier because of the experience I gained here in Austin.
The Parade Route
For my first parade in 2011, I used my, then new, Olympus E-PL1 with the 20mm Lumix lens. I just started down the one camera, one lens journey, moving to lighter cameras and less gear. I’ve modified my equipment style slightly but have stayed true, for the most part, to the less is more philosophy. This year, I brought my Canon 6D with the Canon 40mm pancake lens. The 40mm view worked so well last time that I decided to do the same again, although with a different camera. I also packed my Olympus E-PM2, mainly as a video camera, since the 6D doesn’t autofocus adequately when shooting video.
Before the Parade
I shot in and around the parade terminus on 5th street when I realized that I was an hour early. I decide to make the 1 1/2 mile walk to the start of the parade on East 6th street. And it was worth it. I got a behind the scenes look at the preparation. I also ran into some of my photographer friends that I haven’t seen in a while. Austin is still small enough that I constantly bump into people I know.
My week-long trip to Cancun this summer gave me a tiny bit more background on the history of Mexico, from its Pre-Columbian roots, the Aztecs and Mayans to the Spanish influence. I recognized the similar elements at the parade as I did at the tourists spots in Mexico. Though ironically, I probably got to interact more with the true culture here in Austin, compared to the decidedly more isolated resort and tourist experience in Cancun.
Parading Down 6th Street
The parade started exactly at 6pm as we walked westward towards downtown. We travelled along East 6th Street through the traditionally Hispanic and African American parts of town that appear to be gentrifying at a rapid pace. The sun was low and the shadows were long which made it difficult to shoot. I tried to use the shadows as design elements but mostly I did my best to avoid them, opting to, when possible, shoot in the even shade.
Traditional Aztec Dancers, somber, painted Catrinas and colorful costumes blended for an eclectic mix. I’m sure the Segways are not very traditional as well as other elements that are not familiar to me, but it’s a parade and it’s an excuse to have fun. Local Congressman, Lloyd Doggett even made an appearance. As we made it past the bars of 6th street, the fumes of alcohol and the party spirit must have infected the crowd. The level of dancing and rhythmic music seemed to amplify.
As a photographic challenge, using a single 40mm prime lens might be fun. But it definitely made me work harder — I had to get close to make interesting images. I couldn’t just stay on the sidelines and zoom in. I needed to dart into the parade and momentarily join in to capture my desired framing. Having a zoom particularly a 70 – 200mm has its advantages though. Make an easier shot is not the main goal, rather, getting a shallower depth and isolating the subject would be my main objective. I would also be able to compress the distance between the dancers to get an entire different kind of framing. Perhaps next year, I will use a single zoom.
Dancing in the Street
As we turned the corner on to Congress Avenue, the main North – South street in downtown, the parade morphed into a block party. Dancers and the drummers took over and the spectators joined in. Austin sure likes to have fun and the carefree spirit pervaded.
On of those new Capitol Metro double length buses passed by with the skull decorations. A nice touch.
While I shot exclusively with the Canon 6D during the parade, I began to mix in the Olympus E-PM2, initially to shoot video of the party like atmosphere. I also took some still images and, I admit, I really like shooting with the Olympus a lot more than the Canon. It’s not just a matter of size. I find that the exposure metering on the Olympus is superior and since I can compose using the back LCD, it allows me to shoot in a more free form way. This style of shooting also blended better with the mood. Having a big black DSLR to your face seems to remove me from the action. It works for sports shooting, when I need to concentrate on one subject. But here when the people are dancing around, the small light camera felt like a more modern and apropos device to capture the action.
The Olympus E-PM2 video quality is serviceable but ultimately a bit of a let down, especially after using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and E-P5. The E-PM2 video hunts too much and I see more compression artifacts. It still works however to get a quick video of the action.
As the light levels fell, I came into my element. Shooting at dusk and into the night is what I really like. As sunlight is replaced by the man-made urban lighting, the city comes alive for me. The Olympus does a pretty good job but I didn’t bring my f1.4 lens. This is where the Canon 6D shines with its high ISO capability. Even with my f2.8 pancake lens, I was able to shoot in the moderately dim.
Patricia, the woman in the skeleton costume was still dancing. She was a constant source of amazement and I offered to send her photos, if she was interested.
I absolutely love the warm glow on the mother and daughter’s faces as they previewed images from a photo session. It’s one of my favorites.
The Aztec dancers were still at it. I knew the light levels were too dim to get a clear shot. I decided to take the opposite tack and go for maximum (hand-held) motion blur. I switched to the Olympus, which has in-body image stabilization and set the shutter to 1/10 of a second. It took a bunch of tries with this hit or miss technique, but I created an image that I like. With both motion blur and some camera shake, the net effect is one of movement. The lovely purple nicely contrasting against the yellow ambient lighting.
Finally, I snapped a well dressed couple on Congress Avenue as I made my way back to my car. Shot here with the city as the backdrop and the ubiquitous technology in hand, it came out great at ISO 10,000.
I must have walked 4 or more miles and my feet were starting to tire as the cool air finally filtered into Central Texas. My back and shoulders held up though. I was able to carry my 6D with the 40mm lens plus the Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 in my usual compact Domke bag. A nice, really compact setup. Not quite one camera and one lens like two years ago but not that far off either.
Here are all of the photographs I took at the 2013 Austin Dia de los Muertos Parade. There are extras I didn’t include in this post.
During the evening and especially one the weekends, it’s a fun place to people watch and a good place for street photography. Unlike 6th street, which is populated by colorful people (i.e. drunk college kids, the homeless and various people eking out a living), you have more families, tourists and hipsters. You lose a bit of that edgy urban feel but it’s a safer and more friendly for a mainstream audience. You can catch both, if you are so inclined. SoCo closes up early for Austin, usually by 10pm. 6th, on the other hand, doesn’t get going until 10pm.
If eclectic details and colorful lights are more your style, SoCo has that covered too. While I enjoy street photography, my first love is colorful urban landscapes. The place comes alive for this, from the evening into night. There is enough neon and worn, old buildings to add a level of authenticity and interest. The suburbs in the U.S. are boring and many of its city centers are not much better. I think SoCo is interesting, both photographically and for regular people, precisely because it’s different. It is not the homogenized, often duplicated chain store experience.
My friend Dan came in from California. He’s a photographer too so we had a mini photo walk last week. We ate at Hopdoddy, my favorite burger place, which is really an upscale burger restaurant. The only downside to this place is the wait — there’s usually a line out the door. While there are many great restaurants in SoCo, I tend to gravitate towards well executed basics. Hopdoddy gets my burger vote and across the street, Home Slice is one the best New York style Pizzerias in town. Unfortunately, the wait at Home Slice can be equally bad.
I shot the Allens Boots image, for example, at a 34mm equivalent which compressed and narrowed the angle of view more than my usual wide-angle photos. It allowed me to cut most of the non-descript building and concentrate on the interesting neon elements.
I’ve been lucky enough to review some expensive cameras recently, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and the Olympus E-P5. They are fantastic cameras and I enjoyed them immensely but my personal Olympus is still the low-cost E-PM2. It’s easy to get wrapped up in gear talk, I’m certainly guilty of it, but you don’t need fancy cameras to take great pictures. The Olympus E-PM2 with lens now costs about $450. This camera is more than enough for most people. I shot all the photographs, except the first one, with this standard kit lens. I hope you will agree that this camera and lens combo can make excellent images. Of course, the technique had something to do with it too. These photos were all shot on tripod at ISO 200 and I used HDR techniques to blend images together. I use HDR to increase the dynamic range and boost the colors that I like to emphasize.
This is a photoessay of a 2 block stretch of South Congress Avenue. SoCo is not very big. But there are so many interesting details, it’s very dense, photographically. The first photo of South Congress Cafe is located near Monroe Street. The photos follow a northerly progression, ending up at Guerro’s located at the corner at Elizabeth Street. Look at the map and you can tell how close these stores actually are.
I remember Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds from 20 years ago. This vintage clothing store was around before vintage was cool and when the SoCo area was a slum. It’s nice to see the gentrification of this area has not driven out all the old businesses. Believe it or not, there used to be a Nissan Car dear around here too. I forget the exact spot but the area has surely changed.
Many of these stores, including Tesoros, have wonderful window displays.
Crossing over Elizabeth Street, you get to Guero’s, a popular Tex-Mex Restaurant. We got there just as they were cleaning up. Normally, they have outside seating under the awning. The place looks extra clean with the tables and chairs removed. The building is wonderful, with tons of character. The inside is neat too.
On the other side of building, there is an ultra colorful neon sign. I think of it as a SoCo landmark of sorts. Hopdoddy’s is just north of the colorful sign, so we came full circle.
Parking in SoCo can be challenging at times. There is diagonal street parking on Congress Avenue but this fills up quickly during peak hours. There is neighborhood parking but many spots are permit only, so watch out.
We parked in a lot behind Hopdoddy’s. You can get the parking ticket validated for a free hour or so when you eat there. We stayed longer so our fee was $5. Just as we were ready to go, Dan and I saw this beautiful neon sign and its colorful glow. We had to breakout the cameras one last time.
Dan said he was ready to come back again. Next time we’ll cover the area north of Hopdoddy’s. I will most certainly do a followup post if we do. The question is do we get a burger again or go for some pizza?
A new photography exhibit opened recently at the Harry Ransom Center on the University of Texas campus, here in Austin. The show is titled, “Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age”. It chronicles the history of the legendary Magnum photo agency from the start to the present day. There are beautiful black and white prints from noted photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa as well as other lesser known but talented members of Magnum. I was glad to see photographs from Elliott Erwitt and Eli Reed, both of whom I’ve had the honor of meeting in person.
Anyone in Texas interested in classic photography, especially the street and documentary variety should go see the exhibit. While they also show recent works, for me, it’s the old black and whites that really resonate. I spent a quiet contemplative Sunday afternoon studying the masters.
You snake, generally chronologically, through the exhibit and end up at the present day. They display the newest digital media including iPad Apps and a Tumblr blog called “Postcards From America” which you can see here. Call me uneducated (photographically). Call me old school. But these new images don’t do it for me, especially compared to the old black and whites. My reaction, Meh. What do you think?
I originally had an entirely different plan for Sunday, by the way. I was going to the Texas Photo Festival until the much-needed, but violent rainstorm changed my plans. A foot of rain overnight caused some flooding and even cancelled the last day of the Austin City Limits Music Festival. With steady showers forecasted all day for Smithville, I decided to stick closer to home.
I enjoyed the previous exhibit, Arnold Newman Masterclass, more. I really liked the deep dive the Ransom Center did on one man’s career. However, Radical Transformation is interesting in its own right. I spent about 2 hours there and I’ll probably go back again. I have some time, the exhibit runs until January 5, 2014.
Perhaps I will see you there.
About 2 weeks ago, I made the 2 1/2 hour drive to Katy, Texas a suburb of Houston. Some friends of mine where shooting an Equestrian competition and I decided to help out. I’ve never shot something like this so I thought it would be interesting. Something a bit different from the usual urban landscapes and street photography that you see on this site.
My main purpose was the shoot the action — to capture the precise timing of the riders and the jump of the horses in this competition. Jerry is the primary shooter and his wife Suzanne helps in multiple ways. On that Saturday, I acted as a third shooter, filling in where I can. Jerry Mohme Photography is the official photographer for the event. They have a sophisticated setup with a trailer and several computers which helps them organize and sell photos. They process, quickly cull and upload images to an online gallery where people can order prints.
As you can imagine, speed is the name of the game. Ideally, all of the riders in the main competition are photographed multiple times. Everything is shot in JPEG and then quickly made available to potential customers. I shot about 1,200 photos and several times through out the day, I brought my SD card over to be download and entered into their system.
I didn’t know what to expect so I brought my Canon 6D with 3 lenses, the 24 – 105mm f4 IS, the 70 – 200mm f4 IS and a 50mm f1.4. I ended up using the 70 – 200mm exclusively. That focal length is surprisingly good in most cases, though at times perhaps a reach of 300mm would be ideal. I only had a f4, which worked great for the two outdoor arenas. For the one indoor arena, a f2.8 zoom would work better. At 1/500 per second shutter, I needed to shoot at ISO 6,400 or higher with the f4. The 6D at ISO 6400 and 8000 is still adequate but I concentrated on the outdoor events.
While the Canon 6D is far from a sports camera, in actually usage, it performed admirably. The name of the game is timing and not gunning the shutter. Jerry, who’s been doing this a while, shoots with a Nikon D800 and doesn’t use burst mode. He times his shots and shoots one image per jump. I too did the same, more out of necessity rather than skill. The Canon 6D only shoots at 4.5 frames per second so it didn’t shoot quick enough to get a second chance during a jump. The Olympus E-M1, which I reviewed recently, would have worked great here, I was thinking — though Olympus still has not introduced a 40 – 150mm f2.8 zoom, which would have been perfect. At 10 frames per second, perhaps the Olympus would have worked better for a novice like me to get the perfect jump position.
The ideal pose, photographically speaking, is when the front legs of the horse is bent and the rear legs have just left the ground. Shoot too early and the horse doesn’t look right with its rear legs planted. Shoot too late and the rider and horse looks like they are hovering or worse, they have already landed. It took some practice to get it right and towards the end of the day, my timing finally improved. Of course the timing of little kids on Ponies are different from the older folks on the bigger horses. Switching back and forth made it doubly hard.
While the bulk of the shots were of the action, I had an ulterior motive. What I really wanted to shoot were candids of the event — the behind the scenes or unguarded moments between their competition runs. Perhaps, it’s the street photographer in me that seeks these images. And while learning to precisely time shots and capturing the ideal pose is interesting, I would gladly trade that for the perfect candid expression.
Unlike normal street photography where I would shoot with a 50mm or wider, I uncharacteristically continued to use the 70 – 200mm. I wanted to get close to my subjects, as usual but being up close to horses could either be risky or not have the proper angle.
With the assortment of candids, portraits and action shots, I hope you got a feel for the event. You can tell there’s a lot more going on than just the competition. Luckily a big thunderstorm just missed us and caused no interruptions. The people were friendly and my street photography and street portrait experience came in handy.
I did manage to whittle my selects down from 1,200 to 86 images. The vast majority of the shots were of the action, jump variety. I will leave Jerry and Suzanne to deal with those. For me, it’s the behind the scenes photos that I wanted to showcase. I’ll close with just 3 more. You can find all these images on my Events gallery along with a few more I didn’t post.
Thanks for visiting.
Tom, a regular follower of this blog, emailed me this link. It’s to a video by Max Wilson. Any one frame is something I’ll be proud of, imagine combining 100s of thousands of them. Max used a technique called time-lapse photography. He didn’t use a video camera. Every single frame was shot with a still camera and then combined.
This video about the urban night landscape, something that I find most interesting. It’s also about my favorite city for architecture. Back about 25 years ago I lived in Chicago for about a half a year, for work. Everyday brought new discoveries as I walked through downtown.
Did you know this city is the birthplace of the skyscraper?
Someday, I would like to go back and shoot Chicago and capture its wonderful details. Until then, I’ll enjoy this wonderful work from Max Wilson.
One of the slick new places that opened in Austin, that makes us collectively think that we are no longer in a secondary market, is Top Golf. I’ve heard breathless excitement about this new fun place from Dallas. Turns out Houston has one too and the establishment is not even out of Texas. Top Golf is a UK-based company that is building upscale driving ranges with a twist. Combine a night club like bar and a restaurant with an upscale driving range on which you can play games and you begin to understand the premise of this place.
I am not a golfer. That last time I tried was over 25 years ago. Even back then, I played 18 holes with a 5 iron and a putter, so you know how serious I was about the sport. At least to my credit, I tended to whack the ball straight down the course. Except with only a 5 iron, I needed to do a lot of whacking. So why did I got to Top Golf? To take photographs of course.
When invited by friends, they insisted that I needn’t be a golfer. Luckily I wasn’t the only one. I got to socialize, have a few drinks and eat some tasty bites. The key for me, of course, is that I got to take photographs. Photography is up there, high on my fun scale, so I don’t care if I was at St. Andrews in Scotland — I would be capturing images instead of stroking that little white ball.
I took my Olympus E-PM2 with my usual wide-angle and a tiny table top tripod. This was going to be my compact HDR machine. I didn’t bring my usual full size tripod since I wasn’t sure if the Top Golfers were amenable. I also had my Canon G15 as usual for miscellaneous shots that I converted to black and white.
It turned out that a couple of non-golfers also liked photography so we talked shop as I snapped some images. I can’t tell you much about how the golf games worked but I saw some great shots that flew so far that even my photography trained eye lost track. I’ve lived in Austin for 22+ years but get the feeling everyday that I no longer live in that small College town. Top Golf has 3 levels of driving ranges like the kind that I saw in land strapped Tokyo. The only difference? The surrounding area is still mostly nature as opposed to a solid wall of high rises. We are safe from that. It would take untold centuries of development in Austin to reach Mega-Tokyo like densities… I think.
For people in Central Texas, you might be interested in going to the Texas Photo Festival this Sunday, October 13, 2013. It takes place in downtown Smithville, a small town about an hour east of Austin. Here is more information, if you are interested.
I’ve been there 3 times so far and it is pleasant way to spend an afternoon, especially if you like photography. It’s geared towards amateurs though there’s always the enthusiasts that bring out their big guns. There are many sets with staged Photo Ops and models to shoot. There are also seminars and tours of the town. Do you know two Hollywood movies were filmed in Smithville? “Hope Floats” and “Tree of Life”. It’s a bit like a small town carnival but with rides replaced by sets and photographers.
In addition to the official sets, there is the town itself. Smithville has some neat old buildings and I’ve enjoyed going there just to capture the small town architecture. Here are an assortment of images that I’ve taken over the years. People, buildings and details. A great way to train the eye and learn to see. I’ve shot with Canon DSLRs and Olympus Pens. I’ve done straight portraits with long lenses as well as HDRs on tripod.
I find it interesting to rediscover the cameras I used during each of my visits to the festival. My first one in 2009, I brought my Canon Rebel XT and Canon 20D. In 2010, I used my Canon 7D. I skipped a year and went back last year where I used my Olympus E-P3 with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4. My ancient HDRs were shot on the modest 8MP Rebel XT with the 18-55mm kit zoom. As always, hover over the photographs with mouse to see what camera and lens I used.
I haven’t decided if I’m going this year. I’ve covered the event from different perspectives, with different cameras and different techniques. I’ll have to find something that will entice me to get out there again for the 4th time. I always seem to have new cameras which does change, somewhat, what and how I shoot. But, the equipment is ultimately a secondary consideration. The most important thing, of course, is the ideas and creativity behind the image.
Forcing myself to see new things in the same place has both challenged and improved my photography, I believe. Perhaps then, I should go again for some mental (photography) exercise.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 with 12 – 40mm f2.8 lens
I was lucky enough to play with a pre production E-M1 along with the Olympus 12 – 40mm f2.8 lens for about a week. A big thank you to Charles from Olympus for allowing me to review this camera. I used it on every occasion, going out on 5 successive days to put it though its paces. I got a good feel for it but I didn’t get to test every feature. I concentrated on the areas that both interested me as well as things that make this camera unique.
When I recently reviewed the Olympus Pen E-P5, I compared it to other mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras such as the Sony NEX and Fujifilm X line. With the new flagship OM-D E-M1, Olympus has (re)entered the land of the DSLR giants dominated by Canon and Nikon, but with a twist. Imagine the power and image quality of a DSLR in a really compact size. By refining and scaling up the mirrorless camera, Olympus now has a strong offering for the Pros and Prosumers. It’s a modern and sleek entry that makes traditional DSLRs look old and stuck in the past.
This is still a micro 4/3 camera so all the existing lenses and accessories work. That’s a good thing because, between the combined efforts of both Olympus and Panasonic, the micro 4/3 system is the most comprehensive interchangeable mirrorless system. It’s also the most mature with years of fine tuning that has continuously updated every aspect of the camera for the last several years.
As a result, we now have a thoroughly modern camera that goes beyond the SLR technologies made popular 40+ years ago. Olympus started small with the E-P1, back in 2009. They still offer their smaller PEN line which is better than ever. But with the release of the E-M5 last year, Olympus created a second line called the OM-D, that is a nod towards the traditional DSLR folks. With the brand new flagship E-M1, there is no doubt that Olympus is ready to challenge the DSLRs.
I currently own 4 Olympus micro 4/3 cameras, 2 E-PL1s, an E-P3 and an E-PM2. I also own 7 Olympus and Panasonic micro 4/3 lenses. I’ve shot more than 20,000 frames with my Olympus cameras, so I know these cameras well. I’ve also used the newest Olympus Pen, the E-P5, during a week and half evaluation.
I’m also a Canon DSLR shooter. I started with the Rebel XT 7 years ago and have upgrade over time to the 20D, 7D and currently own the full frame 6D. While I shoot a variety of subjects, I’m most excited about urban landscapes and street photography, especially in the evening and night. For this reason, I’m usually drawn to fast shooting cameras that have great low light (high ISO) performance.
The 4/3 Format
Before micro 4/3, there was an older format called 4/3. Olympus and Panasonic also shared the original 4/3 standard. This standard was for DSLRs with traditional lenses and a flipping mirror. The goal was to create DSLRs smaller than Canon and Nikon by using a smaller sensor.
The 4/3 DSLRs were in fact smaller but it ultimately didn’t make a big difference — Canon and Nikon continued to dominate sales. Back then the smaller 4/3 sensor didn’t perform as well in low light, which was the main knock against the format. Also the mirror assembly still added considerable bulk so the 4/3 cameras were not “radically” smaller than the bigger APS-C sized DSLRs.
Ultimately, Olympus and Panasonic regrouped to form the now popular micro 4/3 standard. They took out the flipping mirror and further shrank the lenses and, in the process, started the mirrorless interchangeable lens movement.
The jewels in the old 4/3 system are the highly regarded Olympus lenses. Olympus DSLRs focused faster than the original mirrorless offerings and while Olympus released an adapter to use 4/3 lenses on micro 4/3 cameras, they didn’t work as quickly. The 2010 release of the E-5 was the last time Olympus updated their DSLR. Since then, 4/3 lens fans had no modern, high performance cameras to use their glass. This changed with the release of the OM-D E-M1.
Bringing the Family Back together
With the release of the OM-D E-M1, Olympus combined the best of the micro 4/3 world with the best of the 4/3 lens world. Though the E-M1 is not an SLR, it has phase detect and contrast detect focusing which allows the older 4/3 lenses to focus quickly. Reports on the web indicate that while some 4/3 lenses don’t focus as fast as on the E-5 DSLR, the E-M1 is significantly faster than previous micro 4/3 cameras. Robin Wong in Malaysia reports that the focus speed with the 4/3 lenses are more than enough and it is a very usable system. It appears that 4/3 lens focusing speed is lens dependent. A reader indicates that SWD lenses focuses even faster. I didn’t have any 4/3 lenses to test but reports on the web indicate positive results indeed.
In one bold stroke, Olympus managed to up its mirrorless focusing capability while supporting the older, loyal Olympus 4/3 owners. It’s a move that brought back the two side of the Olympus household under one roof.
Challenging the DSLR
While the original 4/3 DSLR never did challenge the Canon / Nikon duopoly, the new mirrorless E-M1 has put together a package that has compelling advantages over the old fashioned DSLR. Imagine a camera that is as fast as a DSLR, with equal image quality, with superior video in a small package.
It took several years of refinement and ultimately a new Sony 16MP sensor, but the micro 4/3 system currently has the same image quality as an APS-C DSLR. When I tested the Olympus E-PM2 against my Canon 7D, I found the low light image quality to be equal to or superior on the Olympus. Even the newest Canon 70D, which is better than the 7D, appears to be in the same ball park as the E-M1. Looking at the DPReview results, it appears that the Olympus JPEG engine still does better than Canon, pulling out sharp details. High ISO performance seems about the same for JPEG and the new 70D might be a tad better than the E-PM2 in RAW.
At 10 frames per second in continuous focusing mode, the E-M1 is the first micro 4/3 camera that I would recommend for sports. The latest generation of Olympus Pens are quick for normal shooting — it has one of the fastest contrast detect focusing systems. But when it comes to fast action sports, like soccer, the contrast detect can’t keep up. The E-M1 uses phase detect focusing to assist the contrast detect focusing when set in continuous mode with the micro 4/3 lens (on 4/3 lenses, I’m told it uses phase detect full-time) which makes all the difference. I was able to continuously focus more reliably than with my Canon 7D, which by the way, only shoots at 8 frames per second. DSLRs still have the sports advantage in certain ways, which I will explain below however, this is a major step for mirrorless sports photography.
One of the knocks against the DSLR is the size of the camera and even worse, the size of the lenses. Since the E-M1 uses the slightly smaller micro 4/3 sensor, the body and the lenses are noticeably compact. Even though this latest OM-D has the beefiest body so far for an Olympus micro 4/3 camera, it is still a lot smaller than a comparable DSLR. Here is a photograph I took at Precision Camera that compares a Canon 70D with the 24 – 70mm f2.8 vs the Olympus E-M1 with the very similar 24 – 80mm equivalent (Note: technically the Canon 24- 70mm lens on a 70D has a 38mm – 112mm equivalent). Notice a difference?
Canon 70D / Olympus E-M1 Size Comparison
A ground breaking Lens
But imagine all this capability in a size not much bigger than a typical DSLR kit lens. That’s what you can get with micro 4/3, a constant 2.8 zoom in a small package. With Canon, for example, their 24 -70mm f2.8 is nearly 3/4″ larger in diameter and over an inch longer. It weighs more than double, coming in at a hefty 1.77 pounds. The Canon lens also runs about $2,300 which is $1,300 more than the Olympus.
Unique to the Olympus lens is a feature where you can pull back on the focus ring, which automatically switches the E-M1 into manual focus mode. Between the focus peaking and digital zoom, this maybe the easiest way to manually focus, at least on a digital camera. This manual focus interface is also available on the Olympus 12mm f2 and the 17mm f1.8. The 12mm and 17mm don’t do automatic focus peaking or digital zoom when the focus ring is pulled backed, however. Unlike the 12-40mm zoom, you need to program a function button to bring up the manual focus aids.
Separately, the E-M1 and 12-40mm lens are excellent in their own way. But together, as a package, the two complement each other perfectly. They’re an unbeatable pair. Of course the E-M1 can be used with any micro 4/3 lens. Conversely, the 12-40mm can be used on any micro 4/3 body. This lens needs the beefy grip of the E-M1 to be comfortable. While the lens is small in DSLR terms, it is one of the bigger micro 4/3 lenses. Perhaps adding the optional grips on the OM-D E-M5 will also do the trick but on a smaller camera like the E-P3 or even the smaller E-PM2, the lens is too heavy.
Mated together, you get a total package that is significantly smaller than the DSLR equivalents. Remember, a smaller sensor may reduce the body size somewhat but it really has benefits in shrinking the lens size. I carried around this high performance, weather sealed, f2.8 zoom camera all day with no strain. It fits in my small Domke bag and it didn’t tire me out. Try that with your DSLR.
The E-M1 and 12-40mm combo may be the first setup that handles 95% of my needs. That includes my serious photography as well as family vacation snapshots and videos. Action in low light maybe the only time I’ll need a second lens with a big aperture. I like to use the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4. Other choices may include both the Olympus 12mm f2 and the 17mm f1.8, both really good lenses. Finally, the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 is a very popular and compact alternative.
A serious portrait shooter, which I am not, may also want to consider a wide aperture portrait lens to decrease the depth of field. The Olympus 45mm f1.8 is a low-cost and highly rated lens. The Olympus 75mm f1.8 is considered by some to be the highest quality micro 4/3 lens.
On first use, I found the camera heavy. It fit well in hand and all the controls are easy to reach — many accessible single-handed. I can change the two control dials with just my right hand which is not possible, for example, with my Canons. I may opt to use my left hand for added stability, but it wasn’t required to change the primary controls.
There is enough direct access buttons on this thing that I rarely need to go into the menus or super control panel. And all the buttons are well place and easily accessible. Between the weight, build and control, it’s a totally different experience than using an Olympus Pen. Compared to this camera, my otherwise excellent E-PM2 feels like a plastic point and shoot. In less than a week, I got used to the weight. It became the new normal. My Pens felt tiny but the DSLRs still seemed a size or two larger.
While the control accessibly of the E-M1 is superior to my Canon 6D, I prefer the larger grip of the Canon for heavier lenses. The 12-40mm works fine on the E-M1 but with heavier lenses (like the legacy 4/3 lenses), I think you should attach the optional HLD-7 Camera grip. The E-M1 is a lot shorter than the DSLR so the grip does not extend down to the pinky, even with my smaller hands. The optional battery grip will add needed support for heavier lenses.
The menu system seems very similar to the other Olympus micro 4/3 cameras however there are some changes. I noticed, for example, the menu options around bracketing and HDR have changed somewhat. There are probably other small differences but I didn’t do a comprehensive check. I like all the options and customizability of the Olympus menus but I know some find it overwhelming. The good news is with all the external, physical controls, you will rarely need to visit the menus.
There is enough heft and size, especially with the 12-40mm lens, to come across as a premium product. However, unlike the two toned, Olympus E-P5, it does not look luxurious. The E-M1 is more functional than decorative. My 14-year-old son describes it as cool but not Pro. Meaning, a big DSLR with a large white lens looks more professional and impressive. So if you are getting this camera to impress people, it may not be the ideal choice. But it doesn’t look like a budget plastic DSLR either — you can tell it is something special. This thing has a solid all metal build with nice rubbery grips. The only section that feels a bit lacking is the SD Card door located on the grip, by the palm. It doesn’t seem cheap, I just don’t know how solid it will be after years of use. For the record my Canon 6D also has a similarly placed SD card door, of which I have the same concerns.
Not looking like a typical DSLR but with DSLR performance is why I like the camera. It’s certainly not as stealthy as an Olympus Pen, but I don’t think it will attract attention like a Pro DSLR either. Purely on looks, I prefer the two toned E-P5. It has just the right amount of sparkle and it seemed like a “civilized” travel and street camera. Performance and flexibility wise, the E-M1 is clearly superior. You can shoot sports, take it into country for landscapes (in all kinds of nasty weather) and do almost everything in between. In that sense, E-M1 is Olympus’ most versatile camera.
Where the E-M1 is clearly superior over the E-P5 is with the integrated EVF (Electronic View Finder). I didn’t like that add-on EVF on the E-P5, one of the few things I complained about in an otherwise fine camera. On the E-P5, the EVF is an afterthought. It doesn’t integrate into the design and, for me, get’s in the way. The E-M1 EVF, I believe, has the same technical specifications but it is full incorporated into the body. (Note: A reader reports that the E-M1 EVF has slight improvements over the VF-4 EVF that optionally comes with the E-P5. It has less lag and automated brightness, adjusting to ambient light) It looks good, design wise, and is less fragile. I don’t typically use EVFs, but on the E-M1 I used it more than usual. Perhaps I used the EVF more because, conceptually for me, the E-M1 handles and feels like a DSLR. The Pen cameras, on the other hand, work more like point and shoots.
The EVF quality is the best yet. It is the closest so far to the feel of an optical view finder. It smooth, with great color and it doesn’t get overly bright in dark scenes. It’s the first EVF I don’t mind using, though I still find it comfortable and more flexible using the flip LCD up screen.
I know there’s a lot of people who like the Olympus E-M5 but I never warmed up to that camera. The ergonomics, such as the button placement didn’t work for me. Also, it just looked a bit “toy like” because of its small size. It looks like a retro SLR but not sized like one, which is where the disconnect for me happens, I think. The E-M1 just looks right. It still seems smaller than expected but not to any extreme. There is a balance to it that the E-M5 doesn’t have unless you add the optional grips.
There are many aspects to image quality, of course. There is color, dynamic range, contrast, noise levels and sharpness to name a few. Color is probably the most important for me and usually the most visible. The Olympus color, which I really like, is a key reason I use the system. Beyond that, I tend to look at noise levels particularly for high ISOs. I shoot a lot in dark conditions and having great high ISO performance is important. Certainly, I would like better dynamic range but for my serious urban landscapes I often use HDR which increase the apparent dynamic range. This, I find, is a great equalizer between systems.
I rarely do serious ISO tests. I generally look at the results from normal shooting and see what looks acceptable to me. I view the photograph on my 27″ Apple Thunderbolt display so that the image fills the display (not at 100%). If I can’t see any noise or general harshness, I deem the image as acceptable for my purposes. While I may do retouching at 100%, I don’t pixel peep at 100% once I know the limits of a camera.
For Olympus Pens I’m usually satisfied with the images up to ISO 3200. Keep in mind that noise levels vary by color and exposure so ISO 3200 is a general rule of thumb. The EM-1 uses a new 16MP sensor. I’ve head reports that it might be better at higher ISOs than the previous E-M5 sensor. I decided to run some quick tests to see if I can detect a difference.
I shot the Texas State Capitol on tripod with both the E-M1 with the 12-40mm attached and the E-PM2 with the Panasonic 14mm attached. Both cameras were set to f8 and at 14mm (28mm equivalent). I was testing noise levels, not sharpness so I decided not to use the same lens. I shot 3 photos at -2 stops, 0 and +2 stops exposure compensation. I did this at ISO 200, 1600, 3200, 4000, 5000 and 6400. By varying the exposure compensation, I can judge noise levels with both over and under exposed photographs. I also shot both cameras with RAW + JPEG but did the analysis with JPEG since I don’t have a RAW converter for the E-M1.
My results? In this simple test, the two cameras did about the same. I did not see a noticeable improvement with the E-M1. This is in contrast to Ming Thein’s results where he was getting about 1/2 or so stop better noise performance. Ming is a professional photographer out of Malaysia and I certainly trust his analysis. Keep in mind that noise characteristics change with exposure and color. So even if we are both testing noise performance, our results may vary depending on the subject. Also, Ming was using an OM-D E-M5 and I was using a Pen E-PM2. My understanding is that both cameras use the same sensor and processor but a quick check over at DXO Mark reveals something interesting. According to their tests the E-PM2 does a tad better at high ISO. Could that account for the difference?
That’s not to say I didn’t see any differences. For my state Capitol scene, things looked about the same until ISO 1600. At 3200 and above, I noticed that the E-M1 processed JPEGs differently from the E-PM2. The JPEG noise reduction on the E-M1 seems lighter creating a more detailed but slightly noisier images. I am splitting hairs though, pixel peeping at 100%. At full size on the 27″ monitor, its hard to make out the differences.
That said for the “normal” non-test scenes I shot, I was getting decent, usable image as ISO 4000 and 5000. Even ISO 6400 was okay in terms of noise. Remember that these are JPEGs so the camera adds noise reduction. I usually use RAW where noise is a bigger factor unless I add additional noise reduction. The advantage of RAW is that I can post process the image with more latitude, pulling out details from shadows or bringing back some detail in over exposed areas. I can also manipulate color more in RAW without the image falling apart.
So your mileage will vary. I wouldn’t expect radically better high ISO results with the E-M1 over the current generation micro 4/3s. But this camera’s strength lie in other areas. I’ve also noticed more noise in some over exposed images with the E-M1, which I create when shooting HDR brackets. I don’t see it all the time and it may be related to the way JPEGs are processed. The net effect is that I’ve created a noisier than usual HDR image, the one of the State Capitol displayed above. I needed to apply extra noise reduction via software to get it down to acceptable levels. I would need to run more tests to determine if this was a fluke or a real issue. The image above used the photos I shot at ISO 200. And in case you are wondering, the white specs you see on the pavement are not noise but light reflecting off the pavement.
The current generation micro 4/3 are surprisingly competitive, image quality wise, with DSLRs with APS-C sensors. The larger APS-C sensors should give it a distinct advantage but in actual usage there seems to be very little difference. I am more familiar with Canon than Nikon so I will talk about the former. I’ve been shooting with micro 4/3 for a while and I was surprised to discover that my small Olympus E-PM2 matched or exceeded the low light performance of the Canon 7D. I’ve talked a lot about this. Basically, Canon have not improved their APS-C sensor for over 3 years. In that time, smaller sensored cameras, like micro 4/3 caught up. Recently Canon released the 70D. This is first Canon APS-C DSLR that noticeably improves low light performance. I would estimate that 70D is about a 1/3 to 2/3 stop better in RAW performance than the E-M1 (that’s assuming the E-M1 RAW performance is similar to the E-PM2). If you compare JPEG performance, it appears that the superior Olympus JPEG engine still matches Canon’s results.
For full frame DSLRs, it’s a very different story. High ISO performance on full frame is clearly better than micro 4/3. The physics of a grossly larger sensor is hard to beat. On my Canon 6D, for example, I get nearly 2 stops better high ISO performance. So ISO 10,000 on my Canon 6D is about on par with ISO 3200 on micro 4/3.
Olympus does have one tangible benefit though. The E-M1 has a very sophisticated 5 axis in-body image stabilizer. This allows you to take clear shots at lower ISOs by reducing your shutter speed. This technique will not help with fast action but for scenes with little or no movement, you can reduce your shutter speed greatly. Couple this with some large aperture prime lenses and you can easily best APS-C sensored DSLRs. And you can almost close the gap on full frame cameras too depending on the circumstance.
What really sets this camera apart from the previous micro 4/3 cameras and most mirrorless is its focusing performance. With the possible exception of the Nikon 1, the Olympus E-M1 probably has the best focusing system available for any mirrorless camera. Unfortunately for the Nikon 1, while it has a very fast focusing system, it doesn’t keep up in image quality, so it’s really not in the same class.
The Olympus E-M1 is the first mirrorless that rivals DSLRs in performance and image quality. It shoots at up to 10 frames per second and 6.5 fps when continuous focusing and tracking is enabled. It does this by incorporating phase detect focusing in addition to the standard contrast detect focusing. Mirrorless cameras and point and shoots use contrast detect focusing. DSLRs use phase detect. Both have their advantages but for continuous focusing, phase detect is usually superior. Olympus already have one of the fastest contrast detect systems out here but on the E-M1, they added phase detect too.
The phase detect allows the legacy 4/3 lenses to focus fast. It also works for micro 4/3 lenses when the camera is set to continuous focusing. I decided to do a few tests to see how good this system really is.
The ideal situation would have been to shoot a kid’s soccer game. That is where I have the most experience, sports wise. Unlike a sport like tennis or baseball, where you can roughly predict where the player is going. I find the almost random motion of little kids playing soccer to be extremely challenging. Back when I shot soccer, I used a Canon 7D. The 7D was the top of the line prosumer DSLR 3 years ago but is still considered a solid camera. It is not pro level like the 1D but it’s no slouch. For me though, I found AI Servo (Canon’s continuous focusing mode) to be useless. It did not follow and refocus on the action fast enough. I ended up using the standard one shot focusing.
To roughly simulate soccer, I took my 10 year old son our our dog, Lucky, to the park. I got them to run around and run towards me as I set the E-M1 in continuous mode. I tested 2 lenses the Olympus 12 – 40mm f2.8 and the budget Panasonic 45 – 200mm zoom. WIth soccer I need a telephoto to grab the action and the 90mm to 400mm range of the Panasonic would work great. On my Canon 7D, I used the 70 – 200 f4 L lens.
I quickly discovered that the Panasonic 45 – 200mm lens would not focus fast enough. It would start out fine and then lose focus and bog the camera down. Without proper focus lock, the camera could no longer fire at 10 frames a second. Non action shots with this lens worked great but it was basically unusable for this type of action. Perhaps with pre-focusing, it would be capable of shooting tennis but not soccer.
The 12 – 40mm lens worked great. It would acquire focus and shoot continuously at 10 frames per second. The issue is the focal length. At a 80mm maximum, it’s not enough of a telephoto to shoot field sports. I found the continuous focus to be good but not perfect. It might get 70% or so of the images in focus. This is a lot better than the 7D where, if I recall, it was way under 50%. So far so good. But there are issues.
On the E-M1, I can use the back LCD or EVF to compose the shot. However, whenever I start shooting in high-speed continuous mode, the center focusing indicator goes away. The display also flickers very quickly as the frames are shot. The net affect is that I don’t get a clear “view finder” to compose and target my focusing areas. I have to roughly guess the focus point and try to follow the action. The constant flickering of the display is distracting and adds to the difficulty.
This is where the “primitive” optical design of DSLRs works well. Because on a DSLR, the image preview is displayed separately on the LCD, the optical view finder is available to frame your shots. Though there is some image black out when the mirror flips up, I find it less distracting than with the EVF.
So the bottom line is that the E-M1 seems to continuously focus at least as well or better than the Canon 7D and it shoots faster at 10 frames per second instead of 8. But framing the subject is a lot more challenging. The 7D has the ability to group multiple autofocus points. A couple of people have reported and I have confirmed in the manual that the E-M1 can also group focus points together. I didn’t know about this feature so I didn’t use it. That’s something that I would like to test if I get another opportunity. Also the choice of lens will affect performance. A faster focusing lens seems to keep up but the budget 45 – 200mm did not work well for this test.
For some sports, I believe the E-M1 will do a superior job over the 7D. But in other cases, there are some limitations. My guess is that with practice, I would be able to use the E-M1 for shooting soccer. Definitely better than the entry-level DSLR too. So in general, I would say the Olympus will match a mid level prosumer DSLR with a few caveats that I mentioned.
Another aspect of performance is focusing in low light, which matters to someone like me, who lives at night. Most cameras these days focus great in bright light but when the light levels drop, some cameras can struggle. Under normal conditions, the Olympus micro 4/3 locks focus so quickly that it’s no longer an issue. Single shot focus is DSLR fast.
When it gets dark, contrast detect focusing can struggle to see. I found that in certain cases the E-PM2 and the older E-P3 struggle to lock focus. As an aside, the comparably slow focusing old E-PL1 camera back from 2010 seem to do better in lower light. The new E-M1 definitely improves under low light and also strong back lighting. The focus might hunt, really quickly, but then it locks on. Speed of focusing does slow down in darker conditions, but always remains usable and I never felt frustrated by its performance.
The Canon 6D has a special center point sensor that is optimized for really dark conditions. The E-M1 doesn’t quite match the 6D center point sensor but the advantage of the E-M1 is that I can change the focus point to anywhere on the screen. With the 6D, I need to focus in the center and then recompose, which can cause focus issues in really shallow DOF situations.
Street photography, especially in the evening and night is a good way to test the camera’s focusing speed. The light can be marginal and changes unpredictably. Here are some photographs taken at 6th Street, Austin’s most famous entertainment district with a large number of bars and restaurant.
Let me start by saying that my video needs are modest. I want a good video taking device to create home movies or capture little interesting scenes. I’m not looking to create an indie movie. There are cameras that are better for creating those cinematic movies, the Canons and Panasonic come to mind. People talk about 24, 25 or 60ftp shooting which the Olympus can not do. I think it works only at 30 frames per second. For me, that’s adequate. The in-body 5 axis image stabilization works wonders, making the camera steady and floaty, almost like having a steady cam attached.
Every iteration of the Olympus seems to improve on video, which is great because I found previous cameras to be lacking in some way. Actually the E-P5, that I tested recently, seems to satisfy my needs. My E-PM2, for example, picks up focus sounds even for the supposedly quiet MSC lenses. I’m not sure if the phase detect focusing is used in video mode but it seems like the E-M1 does less hunting than the E-P5. Image quality looks great, even in low light. Below I have two videos that I took in dark conditions. There is a tiny bit of focus hunting but looks great overall.
I’ve been searching for that universal vacation camera that takes great family snaps, “serious” artistic images and high quality, autofocusing family videos. I think we are finally there with this camera. Still and video integration is the holy grail for many companies so I’m sure there are other cameras that can now do this too. Olympus may not be a video leader but for my purposes they fit the bill.
I’ve already compared the E-M1 to DSLRs and I hope you understand why. Image quality wise, this camera matches many of the APS-C DSLRs out there. It now continuously focuses and shoots 10 frames per second and can finally used for sports. I’m familiar with Canon and not as much with Nikon but my assumption is that, in general, the two DSLR giants are comparably matched, more or less. What the Olympus brings is DSLR level performance in a smaller, back saving package. When you combine the large micro 4/3 lens selection to the stable of high quality 4/3 lenses, you have a system the rivals the big guys. Canon may have the edge in specialized lenses like tilt shift and super telephoto primes but the Olympus selection is surprisingly good.
I have a friend that went on an African safari recently. He purchased a 10 pound, $13,000 lens, the 800mm f5.6, for his centerpiece Canon 5D Mark III system. His total camera gear weight 28 pounds. He had to buy a separate seat on the plane because of the size and weight of his equipment (He had to fly on one of those small Cessnas). Now consider this. Olympus may not have a 800mm lens, or I couldn’t find one, but I found a 600mm equivalent lens. This top of the line Olympus lens is at f2.8 instead of f5.6, costs $6000 less, weights 3 pounds less and is about 40% shorter. If you were willing to settle for 500mm, there’s a really versatile Olympus Pro zoom that is a 180 – 500mm equivalent at f2.8. Imagine the flexibility of that lens, which is a tad smaller than the 600mm equivalent prime and is even $1000 less expensive.
The point I’m trying to make is that with the combination of micro 4/3 and the 4/3 lens collection and the ability to use them on the OM-D E-M1, this is potentially a game changer. All the E-M1 and the pro grade Olympus lenses are really weather resistant too. I don’t know how water-resistant the Canon 5DM3 is but hopefully it is better than the 7D. I remember when I used my 7D is a medium drizzle and the back cursor control stopped working. Luckily it started working when it dried out! After that, I had doubts of Canon’s definition of weather resistance.
Take a look at what this Olympus does. Here is a photo taken by Ming Thein of his test E-M1 in a hot shower for 10 minutes, sitting in 1 cm of water. Looks like this gear is robust enough for Africa or tropical rain forests.
The E-M1 might not be up to the Pro DSLR levels like the Canon 1D and Nikon D4 but it definitely more than competitive in the prosumer space.
For the reasons outlined throughout this post, the EM-1 breaks new ground that puts this camera in another class, different from most of the mirrorless brethren. The DSLR styled Panasonic GH3 might be close, at least in terms of philosophy and size. The GH3 is a fine camera that is especially admired for its video capability. As a stills cameras, I think the Olympus is superior.
The E-M5 was the first camera Olympus introduced in the OM-D line. It was a ground breaking and popular camera for Olympus. In some ways, if you take the E-M5 and add the optional grips, you get something like the E-M1. Of course, there is more to it than that. You don’t get the phase detect focusing so you don’t get the fast focusing of 4/3 lenses or the fast continuous focusing performance. The EVF on the E-M5 is not at the same level and you don’t have the superior ergonomics of the E-M1.
If you already have the E-M5, don’t fret. You still have an excellent camera. The image quality between the two is not very different. You still have a good EVF and the fine 5 axis image stabilizer. Unless you need to use 4/3 lenses or do fast action sports in continuous mode, I would stick with the E-M5. If you are interested in the 12-40mm f2.8, I would consider getting the optional grips to support the heavier lens.
The E-P5 is the top of the line camera in the Pen line. It is a very stylish camera which I really enjoyed using. If you want most of the advantages of micro 4/3 in a smaller package, you can consider the E-P5 or the less expensive Pen cameras. The E-P5 is not weather sealed and because it lacks a big grip, a lens like the 12-40mm will seem a bit unbalanced. The lens will still work but it won’t be a synergistic package as it is on the E-M1.
The image quality is very similar and I especially like the two toned black and silver model. It has an elegance that surpass the E-M1. Think of this as a great travel and street photography camera. It does not have fast continuous focusing so it is not ideal for fast action sports.
Like the Olympus E-P5 introduced this year, the E-M1 also has built-in WiFi. I think this will be a standard check off item in all future cameras. My Canon 6D also has it and increasingly all the manufactures seem to be jumping on the WiFi band wagon. Makes sense, for a couple of reasons. First, all cameras, not just point and shoots, are competing to some extent with the now ubiquitous smart phone and its rapidly improving camera. Second, it’s nice to WiFi transfer a high quality photo to your social media site, via your smartphone of course.
I you don’t breathlessly need to update your online status, there are other uses for WiFI. For landscape photography for instance, you can use your tablet to remotely change settings and shoot photos. You can also WiFi tether the camera so if you are on a photo shoot and your art director is getting nervous, you can beam your photos to their tablet so they can micro manage you. Seriously though, I think there could be interesting uses for WiFi tethering and I’m glad they included this feature.
To be honest, I didn’t test WiFI on the E-M1, but I did on the E-P5 a month ago. I heard Olympus has added more capability to the E-M1′s WiFi implementation. More manual controls and such. This is something I will play with if I have another chance to use the camera. Below is a quick example of what you can do. I took the photo on a E-P5, I transferred it over WiFi to a iPad Mini where I used the Olympus OI.Share app to add a pin hole effect and paste a logo on the corner. Of course that logo can be your own watermark and you can certainly use the myriad of iOS apps to post process the photo. From there you can upload, email it or just save it on your device.
The E-M5, to my recollection, is the first micro 4/3 to have in-camera HDR processing. The recent Pens, the E-P5, E-PL5 and E-PM2 includes a HDR bracketing mode that does not actually generate HDRs. They take multiple photographs at different exposures so you can generate a HDR on your computer.
As you many know, I’m quite knowledgable about manual HDR processing, so I admit that I’m quite particular about them. I wasn’t overly impressed with the E-M1′s HDR processing but your mileage and tastes may vary. Two of the photos below are auto generated on the Olympus and the other was manually created by me. I have larger versions of the photos on the post Olympus OM-D E-M1: In Camera HDR Processing. There you can see which ones were generated in-camera.
1. Extremely well-built, all metal camera
2. Purposeful and serious styling
3. Well designed controls and placement
4. Integrated EVF almost matches optical, the best available so far
5. Extremely weather resistant design
6. Excellent quality photographs to ISO 3200 and higher
7. That great Olympus color
8. Accurate Exposure
9. Class leading 5 axis in-body image stabilization
10. Fast focus and good continuous focusing
11. 10 frames per second
12 1/8000 per second maximum shutter speed
13. Extensive ability to tweak parameter settings
14. Great lens selection, best in the mirrorless market
15. Built in external mic input
16. Pricing in line with competition
1. No built-in flash
2. Does not have dual SD card slots
3. Video frame rates can not be changed
4. Low light focus can still hunt at times.
5. In-camera HDR processing not realistic / not to my tastes
The E-M1 is unlike any Olympus mirrorless camera to date. Along with the fantastic 12-40mm f2.8, the package feels complete — they were made for each other. Shooting the camera feels more DSLR like but with a much smaller body. You get all the benefits of a DSLR without having that bulk or weight. Also, the 12-40mm may be the only lens you need. The camera is small enough to bring on vacations and you can use it for sports and school recitals. Serious photographers can easily take it on hikes and do serious nature photography in inclement weather.
If you need another lens for a special situation, the micro 4/3 family is the most complete of all mirrorless systems. There is a great selection of high quality primes and compact telephoto zooms. Need that special honking lens for your safari trip to Africa? The 4/3 lenses have that covered and they autofocus too at the speed of the traditional Olympus DSLRs.
I reviewed the Olympus E-P5 a month or so ago. I love that camera but said it was a bit expensive. Certainly a premium product for the discriminating buyer. While the E-M1 is more expensive, I think it’s priced right. You get so much for your $1300. You get a prosumer to pro quality body, all metal and weather sealed but it won’t hurt your back using it all day. It is the what the DSLR should be and probably will be in the future. It doesn’t fell like a 1980s era SLR with a CMOS chip inside. It is a thoroughly modern camera that would not be possible without today’s newest technologies.
If I were asked to shoot downhill skiing at the Olympics or the Superbowl, professionally, would I use this camera? No, probably not. The Canon 1D or Nikon D4 are made for that. If I needed ISO 10,000 images at high quality this is also not the camera. There are still reasons for DSLRs and full frame sensors. But these are edge cases for 99% of the people. For all others, I can highly recommend this camera.
Back in my E-P5 review, I made a car analogy. I said the lower end Pen cameras were Toyotas while the luxurious E-P5 was a Lexus. If I stretch the car comparison some more, I would put it this way. The DSLRs are like 1960s American muscle cars, the E-M1 is a modern Porsche. They are both fast but the muscle cars achieve their performance with brute force and they use older technology. They are fast but not nimble. The E-M1 is a modern high performance machine that is more compact and achieves its performance with higher technology and a smaller engine.
Finally, you may ask, would I buy this camera? If I didn’t already own my Canon 6D, and the stable of Canon lenses then, yes, I would. And anyone looking at a DSLR should seriously consider the E-M1. I think you will be happier with it and probably take better pictures because the exposure and color you see on the LCD or EVF is what you get. DSLRs are a pain in the neck. You shoot and then you have to look at a separate LCD screen to see if the picture came out properly. It takes longer and it’s less interactive. The net effect is that photography is not as fun.
For current satisfied DSLR owners, the decision becomes more difficult. In my case, I use my mirrorless cameras for travel and street photography. I own 8+ cameras so I get to choose the best tool for the situation. However, if I ever wanted to sell all my cameras and simplify to one, the Olympus E-M1 is the camera of choice right now. Given the broad selection of cameras that I have, something smaller and luxurious like the E-P5 is more enticing. However, if I ever add serious landscape photography to my repertoire, I would undoubtedly strongly consider the E-M1, just for the weather sealing alone.
I’m wrapping up this long review with a few more photographs that I shot with the E-M1. Bowing to tradition, I’m adding another photo of Lucky, because he is a valued test subject (and a trusted family companion, of course) and he always helps me during gear evaluations.
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Out with the old and in with the new. This is the last image you will see of the old “black design”.
As you can tell, I’m in the midst of the changeover to the new blog design. It’s going to take a while but I will convert the key posts over time. Here is a fully converted post, so you can see what I’m trying to do. As I mentioned a few days ago, I rethought the design assumptions I originally had when I started this thing over 3 years ago.
Back then, I was planning to write a lot less. I wanted a black background to showcase the photographs, but I also wanted a sidebar for easy navigation. That of course limited the size of my photographs. There were some conflicting goals but I lived within the limitations.
Here are my new design goals:
1. Make the text as readable as possible I’m writing a lot more content and having a white background is easier on the eyes for most people. I’m also increasing the size of the font. I tested this on an iPad mini, and the larger fonts make it easier to read on smaller tablets.
2. Larger Photographs This is a photoblog after all so I wanted to maximize the photo size. This is one of the things that always bugged me about the old layout.
3. Simplify the Design I’m decluttering as much as possible, increasing whitespace. Removing the side bar and simplifying the header helps.
Overall, I’m trying to increase the production value of this site. Have good content, of course, but also make it look better. Perhaps even a bit more magazine like, if I’m ambitious enough.
There are always cons to any new design, the biggest one is the reduced navigation by removing the side bar. The Popular and Recent links are now located at the bottom. The font is smaller than I like but I don’t have much control over that. I do plan to put more related links within the posts to make it easier you.
I have a lot of work ahead of me, but hopefully it is worth the effort. Every photograph needs to be resized to the new larger format. I also need to enlarge all the fonts on every post. Finally there are miscellaneous tweaks to make in color and styling to fit in better with the white background.
I hope you like the new design. Please tell me what you think. And as always, thanks for visiting.