My Digital Early Days – Part III – Mirrorless Madness

Mirrorless Madness … sounds a bit harsh maybe, but in my case it could be appropriate.  So where do I begin.  First, let me set your mind at ease.  I don’t plan to talk about “every” mirrorless camera I’ve used, but rather I’ll try to just touch on the high points.

It all began in late 2011.  Sony announced the A77 and it looked very interesting with it’s “translucent mirror” technology and a blistering 12fps frame rate (I like speed).  However, coming from a Nikon DSLR, I thought it best to start with a cheaper model first to make sure I liked the EVF before I jumped in with both feet, so I bought the A55.  Sure enough I liked it and got the A77 just a couple of months later.  Then I was enjoying the Sonys so much I decided to go really small and picked up a Nex-5N.

Well, after a couple of months I felt a bit guilty about spending so much that I decided to sell the A77 and buy a cheaper A65.  So far, so good … until the Nex-7 was announced and I just had to have one!  🙂  Now, at this point, you can see how my rationale was working:  Try to start cheap and then spend the money when I was sure I would like the new system.  After blowing the budget, guilt would start weighing on me and I would sell the stuff I could live without … and then with money in the bank, I’d start shopping …… yep, a vicious circle.

For what it’s worth, I really liked the Nex-7 and the whole mirrorless concept of smaller, lighter, and the EVF.  So it should come as no surprise that before long I grabbed a Fuji X100 (very nice camera).  But then Olympus turned my world upside down with the announcement of the OM-D E-M5 and its 5-axis stabilization (IBIS).  I preordered the camera just as soon as it was available and then waited an agonizing two months before it was finally delivered.  Once it was in my hot little hands, I “knew” it was the one for me.

Until fate, or luck, or providence stepped in and I became acquainted with +Gary Friedman.  You know … Gary of where you can pick up great ebooks about cameras (mostly Sony but also some Fuji and Olympus), and he agreed to let me help him by writing the ebook about the new Sony Nex-6 (and 5R/5T).  By now, of course, you can probably see what’s coming next.  Yes you’re right, to write that book I had to buy several Sony cameras, lenses, flashes, etc.

It actually became so easy … buy a camera and a lens (or two), and sell some stuff.  I did this so often, that over the course of about three and a half years I’ve now used no less that 30 different mirrorless cameras, including some from Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, Fuji, and Nikon.  “Most of the time”, I had a fairly good reason like working on a new book or even providing support for someone else’s efforts.  But still, I overdid it and am currently looking for a local support chapter of others who have also been afflicted with G.A.S.  🙂

I was making good progress, too, getting down to only a Sony a6000 and a couple of lenses, just last December.  That short period of time was known as “Temporary Sanity”!  Unfortunately though, I follow a bunch of photography blogs on the internet, some of which deal heavily in the rumor mill, and saw the news of the upcoming Olympus OM-D E-M5II.  Maybe another project in the offing?  Who knows.  But, to be better prepared (just in case), I got an E-M10 to help me get back into the OM-D paradigm, and I plan to order the E-M5II as soon as it’s available.  Good sound thinking … don’t you agree?

But here’s the thing.  With the exception of some Olympus PEN cameras with no EVF, I would like to have been able to keep all of those cameras because I liked them a lot.  I still have nostalgic feelings for the Nex-7, the X100, the OM-D E-M1, Fuji X-T1, and so many more.  My point is they are all great cameras and can (mostly) do what we need them to do which is to take nice photos and be reasonably easy and fun to use.  On the other hand, since I obviously couldn’t keep them all, the other thing is that I could be happy with almost any one of them as a single camera system.

I don’t know what the future holds for me regarding cameras, but I have learned some things about what I like.  I love the small size of mirrorless cameras and lenses (especially micro four thirds and APS-C), and I’m finding I have an increased dependence on good image stabilization … All of the time.  It’s also becoming clear that, while some cameras do have an edge when it comes to ultimate image quality, virtually all of these modern cameras can turn out beautiful photos.  And while the “sensor size wars” rage on, I believe we’ve found a sweet spot right here between 12Mp and 24Mp, a size that can produce files fit for any purpose except maybe very large prints.

How about you?  What are your thoughts on mirrorless cameras, G.A.S., and which one(s) you could live with as a sole companion?


Revisiting the OM-D E-M5

As the highly anticipated release date approaches for the next Olympus OM-D (rumored to be the E-M5II), I thought I’d take some time to revisit some of my favorite images from the original OM-D, the E-M5.

Panasonic 25mm f/1.4

The E-M5 is a wonderful camera and captured my interest from the moment it was announced in early 2012.  It has a great 16Mp sensor that is capable of rendering some terrific images, and the camera is very customizable.  It comes in a nice small package (and the lenses are relatively small, too), and has that excellent 5-axis IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization) system that allows you to use almost any lens made and have it stabilized.  In fact, I don’t think any camera manufacturer has managed to equal the Olympus IBIS system.  Yes, the new Sony A7II has a (sort of) 5-axis IBIS, but it doesn’t quite measure up to Olympus (IMHO) … Plus, the new OM-D is “supposed” to have an Improved IBIS.  We’ll see soon!  🙂

Olympus 12-50mm kit lens
Olympus 45mm f/1.8

Panasonic 25mm f/1.4

Olympus 45mm f/1.8

Storm over the valley

Scotch on the rocks.

Time for that afternoon energy boost!  🙂

Olympus 60mm f/2.8 Macro

Setting Up the Olympus OM-D E-M1 – My Way

This is a rewrite of an earlier post I did months ago about setting up the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

I’ve updated the section on the Arrow Pad settings to reflect how I’ve changed the Lever settings.

The menus of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 provide a deep, but fairly well organized hierarchy of almost all of the functions and settings that can be changed on this camera, and there are many. Some of you may feel that it is too complicated, but I think this complexity is what allows us the ability and freedom to customize this camera to our own personal taste, and that is where much of its power derives.  So while it may take a while to figure out exactly how to set it up to your liking, it’s worth the effort.

I won’t go into all of the available settings, but will cover mainly just the ones that affect the various, customizable buttons that make using the E-M1 a bit easier and faster.  So here are the buttons with my settings and reasoning for it.  It’s been said many times that “opinions are like noses” and everybody has one, so I’d be amazed if any of you set your camera exactly like I set mine … these are just a few of the possibilities.  (Speaking of which, how about one of you math whizzes telling us how many permutations/possibilities there are with six buttons and about 22 available settings for each one.  🙂  Okay, while we wait for the answer to my pop math quiz, let’s get started.

Fn1 Button = [—]HP.  I generally keep my focus set for single target AF since I prefer to choose what I want to focus on instead of letting the camera do it.  Of course, sometimes I need to move this AF point around and this setting gives me an easy way to get it back to center.  (Assuming that Custom Menu A -> [—] Set Home, is set to Single Target AF.)  If I mount an adapted lens that has only MF, then I repurpose this button to Peaking.

Fn2 Button = RAW.  Most of the time, I shoot in RAW.  However, there are some camera settings that require a JPG setting, like Monochrome for instance.  So with this button setting, I can quickly switch from RAW to RAW+JPG and back.

Movie Button = Myset 3.  Okay, this could be any of the Mysets, but #3 just happens to be my HDR preset.  A few of the other HDR settings this will bring up for me are Aperture priority, ISO 200,  RAW, and Continuous H.  I know, it’s so easy to get HDR settings from the front of the dial over the On/Off switch, but it doesn’t automatically change your shooting mode, quality, or ISO from whatever they may be set on.  One very nice thing that you E-M5 shooters will appreciate is that this is a toggle switch so you don’t have to hold it down while taking the shots.

AEL/AFL Button = AEL/AFL.  Imagine that … a button that actually does what it says it will do!  🙂  I like this because in an AF mode, it acts as an AEL button and locks the exposure.  If you’re in MF, pressing it will temporarily turn on S-AF and then revert right back to MF as soon as you release it.  This is commonly known as “Back Button Focus” and can be a very nice way to shoot, even better than S-AF+MF IMHO.

Front Buttons on the right side of the lens:
Top Button = Multi Function.  By pressing and holding this button while turning either the Rear Dial or the Front Dial, you can cycle through four different settings:  Highlight and Shadow Control, Color Creator, Magnify, and Image Aspect.  I like this setting for a couple of reasons.  First, the Highlight and Shadow Control can’t be found anywhere else.  Second, when I mount an adapted MF only lens, this gives me easy access to Magnify as a focusing aid.  The other two settings are nice but are also available on the Super Control Panel.

Bottom Button = Digital Tele-converter.  This setting gives you a 2X magnification of the actual image as long as you have JPG or RAW+JPG set.  With just RAW, you will see the magnification in the display, but the recorded file will be normal.  And while the tele-converter function works pretty well (almost as good as OnOne’s Perfect Resize), I actually prefer to use it as a MF assist function since it only gives 2X instead of the minimum of 5X with normal Focus Assist.

Arrow Pad = Direct Function.  I’ve set the “Arrow Pad” keys to Direct Function. The default setting for these arrow keys is to move the AF point around, but they are “hot” all the time and I kept inadvertently moving them with my thumb.  The Direct Function setting allows me to use the Right Arrow to bring up the Flash Settings menu for quick changes, and the Down Arrow to change the ISO, which I frequently use.  Also in Direct Function, the Left Arrow will activate the AF point selector so you can move the focus point around.  Lastly, the Up Arrow activates the ability to set Exposure Compensation using the arrow keys … but this is a waste for me since I always use the Front Dial for this.  There are only seven settings available for the Arrow Pad keys:  Drive, Flash, Touch Panel Lock, Electric Zoom (for lenses that support it), ISO, WB, and Exposure Compensation.

Update Feb. 19, 2014:  I forgot to talk about using the Arrow Key for ISO.  Yes, I know … this is normally easy to access by putting the Lever to Position 2 and turning the Front Dial.  However, I too often forgot to flip the Lever back up and ended up changing ISO and WB when I was wanting to change Aperture and/or Exp. Comp.  So, in Custom Menu B – Button/Dial/Lever, I’ve set Lever Function to Mode 5, which changes the focus setting between AF and MF as you flip the Lever up and down.

Oh, and one more thing … remember that all six of those buttons have the same settings available (not the Arrow Pad keys), so you can set them up any way you want to.  Lots of flexibility and choice.

There are so many settings on the E-M1 that I could expand this post to several hundred pages, but thankfully, I don’t have to.  Gary Friedman at the has put together a comprehensive manual about every feature and function on the E-M1 with lots of detailed explanations and pretty pictures, too.  If you’re interested, you’ll be able to order the book at his website.

A few photos for your viewing pleasure.  🙂

Olympus OM-D E-M1 is Looking Good

E-M1 with the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 Lens

Today, mOlympus OM-D E-M1 finally arrived, but I’ve had little chance to really get into it.  However, I’m really liking what I’m seeing so far … it’s gorgeous!  Before I go any further, let me make it clear that I’m not affiliated with Olympus in any way and I spent MY money on this camera.  But, I’ll also be the first to admit I’m an OM-D “fan boy” ever since I first laid eyes on the E-M5.  Tonight, I just want to touch on a couple of my very first impressions, the improved AF and default functionality.

First, the AF with Four Thirds lenses is HUGELY improved!  I have the 35mm macro and on the E-M5 it is excruciatingly slow, racking back and forth before finally, sometimes locking focus.  But on the E-M1, it generally snaps right in, only occasionally taking an extra half second to chirp back and forth to refine the accuracy.  This is of course, the Phase Detection AF in action and it just works.

The other thing I noticed is how well the extra buttons and switches are set up to offer superb functionality right out of the box with the default settings.  Here’s what’s available with direct access:

  • HDR settings
  • Drive
  • Metering
  • AF Select
  • Exposure Compensation
  • Aperture, Shutter speed, Program Shift (depends on your shooting mode, of course)
  • ISO
  • WB (White Balance)
  • Shadow/Hi Light Control
  • Set Focus Point (Two different ways – I’ll need to decide whether to use the Fn 1 Button or direct access with left/right/up/down buttons.)
  • AEL
  • One Touch WB
  • DOF (depth of field) Preview
Plus of course there are the other standard Playback, Trash, etc. buttons.  I think I count a total of 23 total exterior camera controls.  But the beauty of it is the layout, and I think with a little time and use (for muscle memory), it will be easy to make all of these changes without ever taking your eye from the gorgeous EVF.  Where by the way, you’ll see each of these changes as you make it so there’s never any doubt what settings you’re using.

The E-M1 is a little bit larger than the E-M5, but not much.  Except for the wonderful grip they’ve added.  One thing I loved about Sony’s Nex cameras was just carrying it, and this new Olympus OM-D E-M1 is just like that.  It’s not very heavy and with the new grip it can just hang off your finger tips with almost no effort. (I ONLY do this when it’s securely strapped to my wrist with a Peak Design wrist strap.)

One more thing:  I’ve read likes and dislikes regarding the new On/Off switch, but I think it’s a big improvement.  I love the way Sony and others place it around the shutter button where it is SO easy to flick on or off as needed.  But the old way it was done on the E-M5 was a constant source of frustration for me and like the new positioning much better.  Sure it still takes two hands, but normally I’m raising the camera to cradle in my left hand anyway, so it’s very convenient.

Yeah, it’s expensive at $1400 for body only, but you get a lot of capabilities and now access to over 60 lenses from Olympus alone.  And that doesn’t count the Panasonic, Sigma, and other M4/3 lenses and a staggering array of lenses that can be added with a small adapter.

There are so many nice things about this new machine, that it is going to take some time to sort it all out, but I will … and I’ll be posting my findings from time to time right here … so come on back.  🙂

Waiting Game – Olympus PEN E-P5 Release Delayed

I ordered the E-P5 the day it was announced from Amazon and have been waiting for almost two months … nothing yet.  Initially, Amazon showed a release date of June 21st, but then on June 21st they informed me the release had been delayed to sometime between late July and late August.  So, what does one do …… Get the E-PL5 and stick the new VF-4 external EVF on it!  🙂

The E-PL5 is a very nice little camera but I miss the control dials that are on my E-M5 and coming on the E-P5.  Image quality is of course pretty much the same as the E-M5 (same sensor) and the menus are nearly identical with just a few differences.

As for the VF-4, it is very nice!  The higher resolution is a bonus and the larger view is wonderful.  I don’t really like the look of the camera with the VF-4 sitting on top, but I much prefer a viewfinder for composing shots instead of using the rear screen, so I’ll make the sacrifice.  It looks a bit fragile and vulnerable up there, but it actually attaches very securely, by plugging into the accessory port and also the hot shoe.  Another nice feature is that it will rotate up 90 degrees, which can be a big help when composing shots with the camera close to the ground.

Hopefully, the E-P5 will show up in the next 3 or 4 weeks at which point I’ll be putting up my first impressions and images from the new camera.

Below are a few of the initial shots with the E-PL5.  The first one is an HDR from 5 images at 2EV spacing and processed in Nik HDR Efex Pro.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 … Yes, I Like it!

I’m still amazed at all that this camera can do and how well it does it. Sure, I have a few little annoyances … okay, maybe a couple … but overall I just like it – a lot! Going forward, I won’t be attempting to do a professional review or any technical tests and comparisons. Almost everything here will be very subjective according to my personal tastes.

Today, I’m just going to post a few of the initial images and maybe a few comments about various features I’ve discovered, so far. Most of these images have had some light processing in Lightroom 4 since they were RAW files and needed a bit of contrast and saturation added.

Just for fun, this first photo was taken using the Key Line filter found in the Art Mode. One really cool thing the Art Mode can do is bracket all of the art filters available. Even if you’re using only RAW, once you’ve selected this and take the photo, the camera does in camera processing to give you a JPG of each art filter, plus you’ll still have the original unedited RAW file. It does take a few seconds to accomplish this so there will be a short “time-out” before you can take another shot.

Olympus 14-42mm II R; ISO 200; Key Line Art Filter

Olympus 14-42mm II R; ISO 200

Olympus 14-42mm II R; ISO 200

 Here, the ISO starts to bump up, 2500, but still very clean at web sizes.

Olympus 14-42mm II R; ISO 2500

This image was taken at ISO 25600 and at this size looks fairly good. When “pixel-peeping” the full sized image, there is a lot of noise and noticeable loss of detail and it is certainly unsuitable for any kind of commercial printing. However, it is still VERY usable and when that once in a lifetime chance comes for a moon light shot of Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster, this could make you famous! 🙂

Olympus 14-42mm II R; ISO 25600

Olympus 14-42mm II R; ISO 6400

Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4; ISO 200

Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4; ISO 200

Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4; ISO 200

Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4; ISO 200

Olympus 45mm f/1.8; ISO 1600

Olympus 45mm f/1.8; ISO 800

Olympus 45mm f/1.8; ISO 8000

Next, I’d like to address a couple of the complaints I’ve read here and there on the internet.

  • Noise: There have been lots of comments about the noise from the IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization). It’s mostly what I would call whisper quiet, a bit like a laptop fan on its lowest setting. Sure, you can hear it, but the only time I “notice” it, is when it stops – i.e. when I turn the camera off or it goes to sleep.
  • I’ve read a couple of complaints about how the right strap post is in the way and very uncomfortable. Maybe I just have the right sized hands, but I’ve never even noticed it.
  • Too Slow to Wake Up: One blogger complained that he missed shots because his E-M5 took too long to wake up. Frankly, I can’t even imagine that happening. From Sleep, it took about a second, maybe 1.5 seconds, for the camera to wake up, focus, and get the shot.
A couple of my favorite things:
  • IBIS – So far I’ve taken sharp photos with the Leica 25mm lens (50mm equiv.) at shutter speeds as low as 1/5 second. I think it is as good a stabilization as I’ve ever experienced and I’ve owned some pretty high end equipment.
  • Autofocus Speed – Olympus claims it is the world’s fastest autofocus (contrast detect I think) and I have no reason to doubt that claim. It is very fast and very accurate even in dim light on dark subjects. I’ve only seen it hunt one time and that was shooting a dark object in low light. Of course, a good Phase Detection AF system like you find on DSLR’s can out do it, but not by much. It’s a huge improvement over what I saw with the NEX-7 and Fuji X100.
Finally, I do have a complaint. I love the size and I’m still amazed at how much they have packed in to this small package. However, that small size does cause one problem for me. With the arrow keys set to move the focus point around, I find that my thumb pad is often inadvertently changing the focus point. Maybe there’s an elegant solution I just haven’t found yet – I hope so.
So, as you can tell, I LOVE this camera. It’s small and fast, looks fantastic, takes excellent images, and is fun! Now, it’s time to get back to taking pictures! 🙂

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

Do you ever get that feeling? You know … the feeling that “someone” is watching over you, like a guardian angel or something. The feeling that someone is, not only protecting you from yourself but keeping you out of harms way, too?

You don’t see anything – or anyone – but, still you feel a presence and wonder if you turned quickly, you just might catch a glimpse of them.

I wouldn’t know how to explain it. I suppose it could be a local ghost, a real angel, or maybe a long-gone ancestor who still walks among us.

Now, I don’t really believe in ghosts, but yet …… sometimes I just get this feeling – you know?
This image was taken with the Olympus PEN E-PL1, using the in-camera feature to do a double exposure and then lightly processed in Lightroom 4.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Update: I’ve been notified to expect delivery on Friday, April 27th … Yay!