Fun evening tonight playing with a newly introduced camera, over some Texas barbecue. Charles from Olympus was in town and we had dinner. The E-PL7, Olympus’s newest micro 4/3 camera, was announced just yesterday.
We went to Stiles Switch a relatively new BBQ place in the mid-town Austin. There are so many new BBQ places that the competition must be tough. The Brisket and sausage were good but the beef and pork ribs were especially outstanding.
I may do a comprehensive review of this camera in the future but for now let’s say the E-PL7 is an evolutionary upgrade to the Pen line. All of the current Olympus micro 4/3 cameras pretty much use the same sensor and processor. Sure there are some minor differences but the image quality is all very similar. What sets these models apart are their features and ergonomics.
For now the OM-D line has built-in EVFs (Electronic View Finders), the Pen cameras are smaller with optional EVFs. The E-PL7 is currently the entry-level model for Olympus’ 2014 mirrorless lineup. I’m assuming that the E-PM2, which I own, will not be updated.
Much of the features of the E-PL7 are identical to the OM-D E-M10 that I reviewed. The E-M10 is $100 more but gives you an EVF. The E-PL7 adds a couple of new art filter effects and it’s biggest feature is a tiltable screen that make it easy to shoot selfies. This feature is well implemented, making good use of the touch screen LCD which adds a virtual shutter button.
This new camera adds premium touches, a nice looking faux-leather cover and tasteful chrome accents. In some ways, it seems slightly more upscale than the E-M10 but the difference is subtle. The E-PL7 seems more dense that the E-M10 but the Pen is actually 12% lighter. But the Pen is also noticeably smaller so maybe that’s what gave me the impression of a more dense camera.
Aesthetically, the camera seems better than the $599 body only price would indicate. Other mirrorless cameras in this price range, from Sony and Fuji, have plastic bodies which feel cheap but they benefit from a larger APS-C sensor. However, the 3 axis in-body image stabilization in the Olympus somewhat offsets the smaller sensor size in some cases.
If you want the least expensive and smallest 2014 Olympus mirrorless then the E-PL7 is for you. However, for only $100 more, the OM-D E-M10 gives you a lot more features. You get an EVF, a built-in flash, a superior grip and two control dials.
I wasn’t going to the hot air balloon launch last Saturday. I had no desire to wake up at 5 in the morning. But it was 4:30am when I finished processing and writing about the Leica M camera that I shot on 6th Street the night before. What the heck. I took a quick shower and headed towards Mansfield Dam for the 24th Annual Lake Travis Hot Air Balloon Flight.
I was there, in the same place, 3 years ago — that was my first launch. Its gotten a lot more crowded since then. I was concerned when I saw a line of tripods setup at the perimeter. Were they restricting access because of the crowds? Unlike 3 years ago, I didn’t bring a tripod. I was determined to capture the events, “street photography style” with one camera and lens. You guessed it, with the Fuji X100S. In order to do this, I needed to get in close. I didn’t have the luxury of a telephoto lens.
Luckily, as the preparations proceeded, people freely mingled between the balloonists. The defensive line of tripods was self-imposed. I was breaking through to get into the action.
Do you know how they launch these giant vehicles? After everything is hooked up and the material rolled out, they use a stout fan to blow air into the balloon cavity. They hold the mouth open for easy air access.
We’re in Texas, after all.
At a certain point, they turn on the gas burners to fill the balloon with hot air. Since the hot air rises, the balloon begins to float upwards. The reclining basket begins to stand erect. Things get exciting, photographically, when the flames come alive.
They started this process near sunrise so it wasn’t very dark. It would’ve been interesting to capture the glow in the dark.
The balloons take off quickly. This multicolored one was up and away, a lot quicker than expected.
All told there were about a half a dozen that took off that day. A small event compared to the ones in New Mexico but my friend Steven said this one was more accessible. He went to New Mexico to photograph those giant 100+ balloon launchings and he said the traffic was challenging. This small one in Austin was perfect for me. Relatively close to home, I got back by 9am and slept until 1.
From downtown street photography on 6th Street to a balloon launching out in the Hill Country, it was a busy 12 hours of shooting last weekend. Either I’m getting lazier or I’m seeing better but I ended up using one camera and a single 35mm equivalent lens to shoot everything. At least I got to travel light.
The Fujifilm X100S is no slouch.
It doesn’t have the pedigree or the history of the Leica M series cameras but at $1300, you can buy nearly 7 of them for the price of the Leica M and the 28mm f2.8 Elmarit lens. I got to use both cameras at the same time last Friday on 6th Street. A couple of days ago, I wrote about my thoughts on the Leica M with plenty of examples. This time, I’ll do the same for Fuji X100S. All photos in this post are from the X100S.
Keep in mind, this is not going to be a head to head comparison. That won’t be fair. I’ve only shot the Leica M for a couple of hours, with at most, several hundred frames. I’ve had the Fuji since March and have shot close to 20,000 pictures with it. It takes a while to get to know a camera and optimize its usage and image post-processing. That said, I’ve tried to include similar photos, when possible. You can compare these images to the ones I took with the Leica M.
I feel like I’m starting to hit my stride with the X100S — the images are starting to match my expectations. Along the way, I needed to get familiar with the camera and learn how to work around its weaknesses. I also tweaked my post processing to bring out richer colors. The thing with the Leica M is, though, I was able to get rich colors from the beginning. Perhaps the Aperture 3 DNG RAW converter does a good job. The Fuji RAW processing, while getting better, has been a challenge for many people. Since I’m getting the look I want, I’ve just decided to shoot it in JPEG and not worry about RAW.
JPEGs typically have noise reduction at high ISOs. The Fuji does a great job, I shoot it up to ISO 6400 and it looks good. But inevitably the details are softer at higher ISOs, a concequence of noise reduction. It’s not terrible but when compared to the RAW Leica files, there is a noticeable difference.
The Leica’s photos are sharp but gritty. ISO 6400 works but may be too harsh for some and they might want extra noise reduction. I found that once in a while, even at ISO 5000, I saw some banding.
The question is, do you prefer low noise or more detail? I think most people will prefer’s Fuji’s processing — it more closely matches the expected norm. And of course the JPEG processing can be tweaked to your preferences. That’s something I have yet to explore, I’ve shot my JPEGs with the default settings. More stuff to play with in the future.
Many, including me, compare the X100S to Leicas — the Fuji has that retro range finder look. But the Fuji is really just a fancy compact camera with a fixed lens, not a true range finder. And the X100S apes the look of the old Leicas like the M3. The modern digital M, while retaining the general shape is now streamlined, minimalist and larger. It feels like design has trumped ergonomics to some extent. The exposure compensation dial, for example, is placed awkwardly and hard to use.
The Leicas have legendary, uncompromised build quality and the modern M is no different. It’s larger and heavier than expected though still small compared to full frame DSLRs. The X100S by contrast feels small and almost inconsequential. It is not cheap by any means — made of magnesium alloy — but next to the M, the two feel like they are in different leagues.
The M feels like it built for the next 50 years (though I wonder how long the electronics would last). The Fuji is just a solid, well made camera. But for small and compact shooting, the Fuji has the edge.
According to reports, the Leica M has greatly advanced from previous M8 and M9. That said, the electronics still seem behind. The Fuji, while I hardly consider class leading in electronics, is still more responsive.
It’s a totally different experince shooting the two. As I mentioned previously, I pretty much used all manual controls to set exposure and focus on the Leica. It’s time consuming but I’m guessing with practice, it should become a lot easier. Like the X100S, and more so, the M requires a lot of hands on time.
The Fuji works like a compact camera with auto-focus and good automatic exposures. I’ve complained about its lackluster focusing but taking a cue from the Leica, perhaps I should use manual focusing, particularly at night. For some inexplicable reason, the Fuji does a poor job contrast detecting horizontal details.
Compositionally, the biggest difference was the 28mm vs 35mm perspective. I’ve gotton so accustomed to viewing the world at a 35mm Fuji equivalent that the 28mm on the Leica seemed strange. I like 28mm, it’s just after 20,000 snaps, 35mm is burned inside my brain. With the 28, I need to force myself to get in closer. Maybe more than the framing, it’s the working distance to the subject that feels foreign. Of course with the Leica, I can change lenses. The X100S only comes with a 35mm equivalent, though there are now adapters to get a 28mm and 50mm.
East 6th continues to attract me photographically. There is enough grit, details and people to be an ever-changing palette. We usually make a couple of passes along a five block area. After shooting a portrait of Lacey and Brittany earlier, I shot this environmental portrait of Lacey on my subsequent pass.
I also like this portrait of Jeff, another in a circle of local Austin photographers.
As much as liked shooting with the Leica, it took a lot of concentration. I needed a lot of mental processing to create those images. The Fuji is now easy. Ironic since 6 months ago, I complained about a similar thing between the easy Olympus and the then challenging Fuji.
I imagine with enough time, the Leica would also become “automatic” in manually setting its controls. I think it’s part of the fun of using such a camera. You feel like you are intimately involved in the creation of the image.
The Leica M at this point was a fun diversion, thanks again to Mark for letting me use it. The Fuji is now my primary camera, until, inevitably, I get another. For now it’s working great and as you can see, more than capable of creating late night urban photographs.
So it was Friday night and what do a bunch of middle-aged photographers do? Party on 6th Street of course. Except for us, partying meant doing street photography rather than Sake bombs.
I met my friend Steven and new photographer friends Mark and Ann down at the Driskill Hotel. Mark and Ann are relatively new to photography and we did a crash course. Street shooting at night is sort of like jumping into the deep end of the pool, photographically. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but we all had fun. This was more of a social event and not a serious photo walk.
We met up with Jerry and Rosemary Sullivan, owners of Precision Camera as well as a few more photographers along the way. A healthy group of people for such a hot but dry Austin summer night. I’ve met Jeff a few times on 6th Street over the last several months. He had his big Canon camera with him.
As you may recall, last month, I played with a Leica M for the first time at the Drink and Click event. Mark again, very kindly, let me use his camera. Mark also brought his Nikon D800, as did Steven, so they conveniently shot a matched pair of D800s all night. I opted to use a true digital range finder, the Leica M and a faux range finder, my Fujifim X100S. I really got to experience, first hand, the true difference between the two.
Remember back in March when I first got the Fuji X100S, how much I complained about it? It was quirky, slow to focus and found it generally a lot more challenging to use than my Olympus mirrorless cameras. I stuck with it and after 15K shots or so, the camera has become second nature. Muscle memory now, usually, reroutes my actions to ignore its quirky pitfalls.
Well, I’ve discovered the Fuji X100S is a walk in the park compared to the Leica M. For someone like me who never truly shot film with a manual camera, it’s a real eye opener. Consider that, first, I need to manually focus the lens. The exposure metering is center weighted and fairly primitive. Auto ISO did not work as expected. Exposure compensation is ergonomically hard to use. For a person who cut their teeth on digital and auto-everything, the Leica M can be befuddling and frustrating.
Oh, but get everything right and the images look fantastic. Perhaps, because you have to work harder to get the photographs, creating good-looking photos are doubly rewarding.
Using the M inside at a bar was one thing — the light levels were fairly uniform. On the street, changing conditions added an extra level of difficulty. Ultimately, I decided to use full manual exposure, setting the shutter speed and aperture and also changing the ISO too, when required. It was the closest to a film experience I had in a while. But I had one modern aid that really helped, the rear LCD. Since I didn’t trust the exposure meter, I used the LCD to judge exposure and it seemed to work great.
This may be the first camera where the pictures on computer actually look better than what I expected. I went through enough manual gyrations that I didn’t, at least just yet, have confidence in my abilities. It looked good on the rear LCD but you know how often those little screens can be deceiving? Often times, on my other cameras, photos on my large computer display don’t live up to the small camera previews.
Two things really stand out image quality wise. The first is the color. I love the rich vibrancy. Red and purples are usually hard to reproduce, Look how nice it looks at the Bat Bar.
The second is the sharpness. When focused properly the details are magnificent. I’m sure the world-famous Leica glass has something to do with that. However, the lack of an anti-aliasing filter plus the in camera processing also, I believe, is a big factor.
Despite my unease at using the camera, I was still able to capture much of the action at night. I certainly made mistakes. Sometimes I seem to knock the aperture ring when I focused. This shot would have worked better at f2.8 instead of f4.
ISO wise, I would use it up to 6400, which can get a little rough at times, but still generally acceptable. It’s noisier than the X100S at this ISO setting but considerably sharper. There is no JPEG smearing to diminish the details. And yes, I shot the Leica in RAW which produces a DNG file which should work with most RAW converters.
Finally, the Leica M seems to produce images with pop. I know this isn’t a technical term but somehow, it seems to render mundane scenes with an extra bit of panache which make them more exciting. Perhaps it’s the clarity of the optics but when you look the last three photos, they somehow seem different. Maybe backlighting and headlights just look good with the Leica glass.
Of course, I haven’t shot the Leica M enough to give it a thorough review. I have no idea how well it works under other conditions. However, despite the challenges of using the camera, I ultimately feel happy with the results. My thanks again to Mark for letting me use this special and pricy camera.
Best Wurst Man on 6th
Feeding late night partiers
Fills the beer soaked spot