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 www.FriedmanArchives.com 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?

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Wireless Flash with Your Sony Nex-7 – using the Pop-Up!

The Sony Nex cameras are known for their excellent wireless flash capability.  But did you know you could make it work with the built-in Pop-Up flash?

The “normal” way to do wireless is to use at least two external Sony flashes like the older HVL-F20AM ($128) as a trigger and the new HVL-F43M ($398) as a slave. (I still haven’t seen anything to indicate that the new HVL-F20M can function as a wireless trigger.)  So there you are $526 into it … a bit expensive for my blood.

Well, I just discovered that the Nissin Di466 ($138.50 on Amazon) can function as a remote flash while using the Nex-7’s pop-up flash.  Very cool!  I actually got this flash to use with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and it is advertised to be compatible with Olympus and Panasonic Four Thirds cameras.  On those cameras it will also work “on camera” whereas with the Sony it will not.  Still, $140 for a wireless flash “system” sure sounds better than almost $530!  🙂

One caveat:  The Nissin will not work in TTL mode like this so you must shoot in manual flash.  The camera can be in any mode that will fire the pop-up flash, but you may need to adjust the Nissin’s output.

It’s so easy, too.  Just pop-up the camera’s flash, set the Nissin appropriately and fire away.  You don’t even need to change the flash mode to wireless (actually, it’s not even available).

I’ve had the Nissin Di466 for a few months and it has worked great.  It has simple controls and excellent recharge times with good batteries (4 AAs required).  There only four buttons and three indicator lights so it’s a piece of cake to use.  There’s an On/Off Button and the Pilot Button/Light which shows its “ready to fire” status and also doubles as a test flash button.  Then there’s an exposure compensation Rocker Switch which you use to either compensate exposure or set the manual exposure value.  The other tiny button lets you switch between Auto, Manual, and Slave (two modes, S1 and S2).  With the Nex-7, I use S1 so it knows to fire when it sees a flash and doesn’t try to communicate with the camera.

There is another advantage to using this flash for wireless … it fires almost instantaneously when you press the shutter button.  As good as Sony’s system is, there is one slight problem.  When using Sony flashes in a remote operation, there is a delay of approximately 1/2 to 1 full second from the time you press the shutter until the photo is actually taken.

Good results on a budget just aren’t all that hard to accomplish if you just look around a little bit and see what’s available.

Note:  This flash will probably fire wirelessly with just about any camera and flash.  I got it to fire by just using another flash (off camera) and doing a test fire and … boom … it fired!

As always, your comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated and please feel free to “Fav”, “Tweet”, and “+1 or share” on Google+ or anywhere else.
     Thanks,
          Mike

Setting Up the NEX-7 – Revisited

I recently read somewhere, “Photography is a disease for which there is no known cure.” ( – Author Unknown)  I know I’m afflicted by it and I sure hope it isn’t fatal . . . . . aside from my wife wanting to kill me for exceeding my photography budget! 🙂 

A couple of days ago I “reacquired” the Sony NEX-7. There’s a lot to love there:  A beautiful, black, metal body; 24 Megapixel APS-C sensor; 10 frames-per-second; Terrific EVF (Electronic ViewFinder); and the Tri-Navi control system to give you almost instant access to many of the camera’s functions.  This camera is very customizable with several buttons that can be re-configured to setup this camera to work the way you work.

Many of you may not want your camera setup exactly like I do and that’s okay. We’re all individuals and approach photography with different goals and techniques.  In fact, my settings change from time to time as my current photographic emphasis changes.  But, if you’re new to the NEX-7 or maybe just struggling with the overwhelming customization options, maybe this will help. Here’s how I have mine setup, at least for now.

First, in the Main Menu, go to Setup and about halfway down you’ll find the Function Settings. These are the settings that are accessible using the Function Button (next to the shutter button) and adjustable with the two top Control Dials and the Control Wheel (Tri-Navi Controls).
  • Function Settings 1 > Focus Settings
  • Function Settings 2 > White Balance Settings
  • Function Settings 3 > Creative Style Settings
  • Function Settings 4 > Custom Settings
  • Custom Settings 1  > DRO/Auto HDR (Having Auto HDR and Quality in Custom Settings means they are both accessible at the same place. And since I often shoot in RAW, this makes it easy to quick change to JPEG when I want to use Auto HDR.)
  • Custom Settings 2  > Quality
  • Custom Settings 3  > Picture Effect
  • Function Settings Start > Previous (this just takes me back to whatever I had last changed)
Next, with Soft Key A, go back into the Setup Menu, and select Custom Key Settings. These will change the function of several of the buttons on the back of the camera.
  • AF/MF Button > AF/MF control
  • Right Key Setting > Flash Mode
  • Soft Key B Setting > Focus Settings
  • Soft Key C Setting > Shoot Mode
  • Custom Settings > N/A unless you set Soft Key C to Custom Settings, then you will have several choice to add, here.
With this configuration, I almost never need to go into the camera’s extensive menu system to make a change while I’m shooting, which is a big deal for me since I do tend to change settings quite often.  The possibilities are so varied, that you’ll probably need to do some experimenting with different combinations to find what works best for you, but maybe this guide can give you a place to start.

Please comment and share with us how you have your NEX-7 setup – and why – so we all have the chance to learn another way of doing things.

In a recent blog post, I mentioned that I worked with Gary Friedman (www.friedmanarchives.com) to produce a comprehensive manual about the new Sony NEX-5R and NEX-6.  You can find that eBook about the Nex-6 / 5R at www.FriedmanArchives.com , plus other books about all of the Nex models including the Nex-7, the RX100/M2 and most of the Sony Alpha models.

For Me … It’s the Olympus OM-D E-M5

Okay, the votes are all in (okay – “the” vote is in – mine) and I’ve decided on the Olympus E-M5.


I’ve read and studied and pixel-peeped every online source I could find and the E-M5 will be my next camera. The reasons are several and varied and no indication of which camera might be better for you or someone else. The perfect camera has yet to be built, so every camera includes a series of compromises in one area or another.


Here are some of the main reasons I’ve decided to go with Olympus:

  • Size: The size of these newer ILC (Interchangeable Lens Cameras) appeals to my sense of carry-ability. With a smaller lens, the camera will literally fit in my coat pocket.
  • Resolution: At 16 Megapixels, it’s no where near the top that is available, today, but still produces images that can be printed very large.
  • Image Quality: This has yet to be completely tested, but DPReview.com released their “Studio Scene” images which allow you to compare various ISO images against other cameras. In the DPReview tests, the E-M5 appears to compete very favorably with the Sony NEX-5N and Fuji X100 – two cameras that we know produce excellent images. Plus, it looks like it just edges out the NEX-7 at higher ISOs.
  • IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization): As I’ve grown older, I find that my hands just aren’t as steady as they used to be, thus the need for a little help from my camera. With IBIS, “every” lens can be stabilized if needed.
  • Lens Selection: Between Olympus, Panasonic, and now even Sigma, there is a substantial and growing selection  of Micro Four Thirds lenses available. Plus, a small adapter, the MMF-3, allows Four Thirds lenses to be used.
  • Weather/Dust Sealing: I don’t shoot in the rain much, however, a sealed camera is still a good thing – you never know when that next great shot may require you to get wet!
  • Customization: The E-M5’s menu system looks like it is very extensive, allowing the operator to set many camera functions the way they desire, not how the manufacturer thought it should be. Also, it has 4 User Memories for storing frequently or preferred settings.
  • Price: I’d love to have a Nikon D800, Canon 1DX, and the Fujifilm X-Pro1 (and others) but, like many, I have a budget. 😦 And while this camera is NOT cheap, it does work for me … after I sell a few things! 🙂
Of course, there are so many features and they’ve been discussed in depth across the internet, so I won’t go into all of them. My list includes just the “Biggies” that affected my decision process and, frankly, the IBIS stabilization system is probably one of the bigger factors … for me.
As always, I invite you to share your thoughts, pro or con, and let me know which way you’re going and why.
Be sure and check out my page Olympus E-M5 Info – it’s loaded with links to many reviews and other websites with pertinent information about this camera.

UPDATE – Olympus E-M5 or Sony NEX-7 ?

I’ve been out of town for a few days and a lot has been happening with regard to the E-M5.


The biggest development has been the release of “Studio Scene” images on DPReview.com. There, we can finally compare the E-M5 head-to-head with all of the other cameras that DPReview has tested.
I compared it to the NEX-7, Fujifilm X100, and Sony NEX-5N … three cameras that I have also used personally. What surprised, and pleased, me was the fact that (to my eye) the E-M5 beat the NEX-7 and compared very favorably to the other two. So, go look for yourself, compare it to your favorite cameras, and let me know how you see it.
On another note, I’ve added a page to my blog where I am trying to put together an up-to-date list of links to other websites with good information and reviews about the Olympus OM-D E-M5. You can see that here at Thru Mikes Viewfinder.
——————— Original Post Below ———————
*Images from manufacturers websites are not to scale
So, what do you think – the Sony NEX-7 or the Olympus E-M5.
One problem is the lack of images from a production E-M5 camera, making it hard to directly compare image quality, especially at higher ISOs. That means, most of my information will be based on specs and available reviews of the E-M5 and my hands on experience with the NEX-7.
COST [+ E-M5]
For the camera bodies, the price is similar with the NEX-7 being slightly higher at $1200 compared to $1000 for the E-M5.
SIZE [same]
They are almost identical in size except, of course, for the “viewfinder hump” on the E-M5.
LENS AVAILABILITY [E-M5]
As close as I can tell, the Olympus has 13 “native” lenses available while Sony only has 9, so far. Of course, they both can use a much wider range with the use of various adapters. Still, any adapter adds a bit of bulk so I’m going with the E-M5, here.
RESOLUTION [NEX-7]
The NEX-7 wins this one, hands down, with 24 Mp compared to only 16 Mp for the E-M5. A true test of image quality should wait until the production E-M5 is out and there are more images for us to view. However, that being said, I’m expecting the Sony to be slightly better – we’ll see.
FRAME RATE [same]
This is so close as to not be a factor with Olympus claiming 9 fps versus Sony’s 10 fps. One review I read, actually clocked the E-M5 at 10 fps, so they are very close.
IMAGE STABILIZATION [E-M5]
For me, this is important. As I’ve aged, I’ve found I have a slight tremor in my “shooting” hand, so I will take all the help I can get. Sony does have some IS lenses for the NEX-7, but with the E-M5, every lens is stabilized.
MENU OPTIONS AND CUSTOMIZABILITY [E-M5]
It appears to me that the Olympus has significantly more options to customize various settings. Of course, by necessity, this probably means their menu system may be a bit more complicated but I like being able to decide how I want certain things to work.

WEATHER SEALING [E-M5]
NEX-7 doesn’t have it … E-M5 does.
VIEWFINDER [? E-M5 ?]
While I’ve found the NEX-7 viewfinder to be excellent, there is one thing that bothers me about it … high noise levels in very low light levels, like shooting stars, for instance. There is almost too much noise to even bother looking through the EVF. What makes me think the E-M5 EVF could be better is its lower resolution. The reason I think this, is that has been my experience using the Fujifilm X100.
COMPLAINTS [E-M5 – maybe]
The Tri-Navi control system on the NEX-7 is wonderful … except … the top knobs are just too easy to turn accidentally, especially the right one. I find I am often shooting with some “unintended” exposure compensation. The “click stops” just need to be a little bit stiffer.
My other BIG complaint is with the position of the Video button on the NEX-7. I probably average at least one unintentional movie a day, sometimes more. I try to turn the camera off when I’m not getting ready to take a shot, but that is not an optimal solution. These complaints have been loud and numerous around the internet and should be easily fixable with a firmware update, but so far … Sony has not responded.
There may be some serious design flaws in the E-M5, but I haven’t read about them, yet.


CONCLUSION
In this completely biased and unscientific examination, the Olympus E-M5 is the clear winner, even if the unknowns happen to fall to Sony, later.
There are, of course, many other areas of comparison, but these are the ones that caught my interest. I’m sure you all have different needs and wants in a camera, so please feel free to chime in … I suspect I’ll learn something if you do. 🙂

NEX-7: Anti Motion Blur or Hand-Held Twilight

Anti Motion Blur, ISO 6400, 1/125 second

At first glance, the Sony NEX-7 has two almost identical modes: Anti Motion Blur and Hand-Held Twilight. After reading the manufacturer’s handbook (not much help, there), and using both modes a few times, I still couldn’t see much difference. Mainly, I suppose, because the differences while important are also very subtle.
I finally talked to the Sony rep at my local camera store and he explained it this way:
  • The Anti Motion Blur (AMB) mode is for when your subject could move during the exposure. The camera tries to use a higher shutter speed (and possibly a higher ISO) to try and freeze that motion. Then, the in-camera processing attempts to also negate that motion as it combines the 6 exposures, reducing noise in the process.
  • Hand-Held Twilight (HHT), on the other hand, doesn’t care about subject motion. It just tries to choose an ISO / shutter speed combination that will allow the shot to be taken such that any camera movement will be offset, and, of course, noise also reduced during the in-camera processing.
The “rep” also said that, in general, HHT will produce better, cleaner images.
So, I did a very informal test and according to my results, he was right … but I’m still not sure of the exact reason. The HHT image is definitely cleaner with less noise and a bit more detail than the AMB image, but it also chose a lower ISO – 4000 as opposed to 6400 with the AMB shot.
What is a striking difference, though, is the differences between both of those modes and a normal Program AE shot at ISO 6400 or even 3200.
The top photo was done using AMB, ISO 6400 and 1/125th second. It produced a very nice, low noise image.
The next image was shot in Program AE, ISO 6400, and then a Noise Reduction setting of 50 in Lightroom 4. (I did this because the Program shots were done in RAW and thus had zero camera processing.)
Program AE, ISO 6400, Noise Reduction setting of 50 in Lightroom 4


Below are the 100% crops of all 4 images. I think you will find it obvious that Hand-Held Twilight will be your preferred mode when you need a higher ISO and your subject will remain stationary.

Program AE, ISO 6400, Noise Reduction setting of 50 in Lightroom 4

Program AE, ISO 3200, Noise Reduction setting of 50 in Lightroom 4

Anti Motion Blur, ISO 6400, 1/125 second

Hand-Held Twilight, ISO 4000, 1/60 second

Auto HDR with the Sony NEX-7

Sony’s newer cameras have been offering an in-camera HDR (high dynamic range) function.

When you select this “auto HDR” mode, you can also set the EV (exposure value) range from 1 to 6. This is a total range and not the spacing between each of the 3 images it will shoot. So far, I’ve just been using the 6 EV range and been quite happy with the results.

When this mode is selected, the camera takes 3 quick images with the proper over/under exposure values and then combines them, automatically, to produce an HDR image. One nice thing it also does is to save the normal exposed image in addition to the HDR. This allows you to have at least the normal exposure in  case you’re not pleased with the HDR.

At first, I was skeptical and then not particularly impressed with the output. The images had a flat look that seemed to lack contrast and color saturation. However, as I began to work with the HDR images, I found that just a bit of post processing could correct that. And, in retrospect, it actually makes sense. The HDR image was doing what it was supposed to do … i.e. save the highlights and shadows for you, such that the detail information was preserved.

In this sunrise image, the auto HDR worked great. It preserved the detail in the brighter clouds, didn’t allow the sun to be completely blown out, and also saved the shadow detail in the trees.

It seems, the more I use it … well, the more I use it. 🙂 What I mean by that is that as I become more adept at working with the HDR image it produces, I find I am more likely to use that feature. There’s really not much to lose – if the auto HDR doesn’t produce for me, I always have the normally exposed image to work with.

So, if you have an NEX-7, give it a whirl – I think you’ll like what you see!

Sony NEX-7 w/Sony 18-200mm OSS; auto HDR
Lightroom 4 (beta)