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Homepage of South African photographer, journalist and author Mark D Young

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My photography blog

Mark D. Young's Photography Blog 

This is where I shall be posting (on an irregular basis and as time permits) field reports from assignments, comments on kit (old and new) and general musings related to photography as I experience it.

INDEX
New Gear-itis: Is there a cure? 

Photokina 2016 - Hybrids signal a sea-change in photography

  Olympus E-M1 review

 Time for sensor and lens sense 

    Re-Incarnated favourite 

   The Death of The Shift Lens 

   When your camera eye-cup fails

     Reviewers-Please RTFM. 

       OM-D Focus Tracking is great 

     OM-D E-M1: Taking the plunge

    Why Olympus Weatherproof equipment?


23 March 2017

New Gear-itis: Is there a cure?

One of the greatest gifts to camera manufacturers' bottom lines is a peculiar drive among photographers to get the latest and greatest equipment.

I have termed the malady "New Gear-itis".

It manifests as an incessant trawling of new equipment reviews, peering at specification lists and - more commonly these days - looking at E-Bay and other places to see how much you can get for your existing equipment and, in the digital age, the answer to that is usually "woefully too little". 

The virus then beds down for an extended period of incubation until, all too often, the newest version of the camera family or that wonderfully professional looking, just launched lens is ordered in spite of one's financial management senses screaming as loudly as possible.

All too often, especially considering the many questions I field in this regard, those suffering from the malady expect the new equipment to instantly and magically lift their results into a different league altogether.

The reality, however, is that newer generations of equipment provide incrementally smaller improvements in quality and functionality - if there are any real differences at all. So huge, noticeable differences are not present. Any small improvements which may be made, are often very hard to notice in day to day usage.

Often, I have found, prior to the new equipment being purchased, the user already has highly capable equipment in the bag which is not being used to anywhere near the limits of its abilities.

I shall refer to a recent assignment to illustrate this.

As a preface, however, we must place the launch of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II at center stage.

This camera, so the reviews go, offers vastly improved auto-focus tracking over its predecessor. It boasts a near 50% increase in frame rate. Most crucially for users of legacy Olympus 43 glass like myself, it adds phase-detect sensors over a wider area of the sensor than the original E-M1. Crucially, all of them are cross-type detectors.

The last point is, devoid of any other aspects, sufficient to pique my interest. The use of cross type sensors over the full area of the sensor would, on its own, boost the camera's auto focus performance.

I have had the honour of testing one of these new cameras. My impressions will soon be available in a short video. Yes, it is a great piece of kit but there are some awful blind spots of the design which really jar - especially if you already are very familiar with the E-M1.

Temptation to get infected with NewGear-Itis comes in many forms - in the most recent strain, with the new E-M1 Mark II (left) and the 12-40 PRO lens versus my current E-M1 and the ZD 14-54 with MMF-3 adapter. Are all the new goodies and slightly more compact lens combo able to radically elevate my results?

However, the time spent with the camera was, to be honest, insufficient to fully evaluate all areas of its alleged improved specification to the point that New Gear-itis could sink its claws into my meagre wallet.

So, due to this problem and the aforementioned niggly issues, I was prevented from succumbing to New Gear-itis on the turn.

I was recently honoured to be requested to act as official photographer to a national Touch tournament. I had my trusty original E-M1s available to tackle what is arguably one of the most fast-paced, hard to photograph of ball sports.

Given that the tournament ran over three days, I had plenty of time to fine-tune old and tested methods of using the camera system.

Internet searches prior to the assignment appeared to reveal that the majority wisdom among those using E-M1s for sports and birds in flight suggested forgetting focus tracking altogether and that the following settings are to be used:

Release mode: Continuous Low at 6.5 fps (As, allegedly, the AF is incapable of re-adjusting at a faster rate)

Auto Focus: AF-C.

Focus target: Central single target.

C-AF Lock: Normal or high (This is a deep-menu item on the "gears" menu, tab A)

After getting a mixed bag of results in the preliminary matches - in which teams were not moving at the peak of their speed in order to save themselves for the finals - I ran a few experiments.

The first, and most interesting observation I made was that the focus adjustment performance (and therefore the ability of the camera to re-focus as the subject moved forwards or backwards) was not affected by changing the setting of either AF-C or AF-C+TR nor the camera frame release rate. Neither was it affected by the size of the target selected. 

What I had known previously from countless soccer matches was that a small target was just not big enough to keep a player zig-zagging about between other players sufficiently covered. A larger target was, therefore, a better choice.

The only other setting that affects AF performance is the C-AF lock setting. I found that the magic charm for that was to set that to Low. This made the lens fluidly adjust focus without any delay and keep whatever subject the camera happened to be pointed at in focus. The focus acquisition speed was also almost instantaneous.

There were several occasions where, positioned at the nexus of four different fields of play, I needed to swing from one game to another to catch developing action. With the C-AF lock set to low, the camera would zap right to the focus point covered by the player and I was able to "point and shoot" with a very high keeper rate.

So, from this, I deduce that the meaning of the C-AF lock settings are as follows:

C-AF Lock Low: The camera has a low latency time before commanding the lens to re-acquire focus. This means it will re-adjust focus as fast as it can as you move the target area around.

C-AF Lock: Normal: The camera will allow a period of time to elapse before commanding a re-adjustment to the focus in the selected target area. This might be good for following items that get blocked by other subjects such as birds flying behind trees etc.

C-AF Lock High: The camera allows a much longer period to elapse before commanding re-adjustment.

In my experience, the latter two settings have use if you are photographing subjects which are moving laterally and are likely to be obscured by foreground objects for a split second.

If, however, you have subjects moving erratically and tracking towards the camera such as athletes in a flat race, Touch players jinking between defenders, motor sport machinery, models or birds moving towards you, then C-AF Lock should be on "Low".

It is so fast I can use the Continuous High release rate with a better than 95% keeper rate.

A snap and grab shot - the camera was swung around from another angle and aimed and fired. The AF system reacted instantly and this is the second frame of 4. The others are shown below for reference. Focal length 120mm, 50-200 SWD

 

That said, what about the C-AF+TR?

I have previously found that this works very well if the camera is relatively static and a subject is moving around within the frame. As soon as you move the camera around a lot, the AF target gets confused and wanders-off, usually to the background.

One final aspect which I found affects the keeper rate slightly is that with the IS system set to IS1, a significant number of images taken while panning the camera will be fuzzy. With the setting to IS2 (or IS auto which I have long since set as my default for rapidly variable action or birds in flight) the camera does not try and fight your lateral movement and the number of sharp images when shooting action increases.

So, after all that, my suggested settings for the Olympus E-M1 when shooting fast action/high speed sports or birds in flight are:

Release mode: To requirements. Cont. Low provides more time for AF confirmation but I have found little difference in AF performance between High and Low continuous release rates, the speed of focus acquisition being far more affected by the C-AF lock setting. 

NOTE: If using Cont. H you may find the viefinder appears to stutter a bit. You can change the viewfinder frame rate to Normal to mitigate this but, after some practice, you can follow things quite well at the high refresh rate. It's less of a challenge at normal, however so perhaps better for learning the camera. That said, the newer E-m1 Mk II is almost stutter-free so better in this respect.

Auto Focus: AF-C.

Focus target: Central, large single target. If doing birds in flight against the sky, use a central group.

C-AF Lock: Low (This is a deep-menu item on Menu A)

IS: IS Auto or IS2.

Viewfinder refresh rate: High

Release mode: Cont. H or Cont. L 

So, after all that, I can bag tack-sharp action images at rates of up to 9 frames per second on the mechanical shutter or 11 frames per second on the silent shutter option. I am also able to track erratic subjects with high levels of confidence and a great hit rate on my exisitng equipment.

So, by fully fine-tuning the existing E-M1, I have a tool that is capable of a performance 50% below the newer Mark II - in frame rate only. I will concede that the cross-type sensors and target coverage to the edges of the frame will boost the focus lock speed and be far better in low light or with low contrast subjects. However, for well-lit subjects, the differences - in practice - are not that great.

Using my 4/3 50-200 SWD lens on the MMF3 adapter, the higher frame rate is the only improvement the E-M1 Mark II is likely to provide as the Pro-Capture mode does not work on older 4/3 lenses anyway.

And speaking of the "older lenses" , I compared the new 12-40 pro to my existing ZD 43 14-54 lens and found, much to my surprise, that I actually preferred the results from my current lens! I have a full set of test images at various apertures and focal length settings and the differences, if any, are negligible and the sharpness has nothing in it.

An apparently impossible shot to get on the original E-M1. Really? (mZuiko 40-150 MSC lens)

Furthermore, looking at the latest PRO 40-150 2.8 lens which is lauded as being compact and fast, I found that my current 50-200 SWD is as fast as I need it to be and - when stowed - virtually the same size. Set to 50mm it is the same size as the newer lens at just 16cm in length so I will not gain any packaging advantage save for the lack of the MMF-3 adaptor.

 Zoomed-in, however, the older lens is much longer and looks bulkier than the newer option while the actual difference in outside grip diameter is barely 6mm in favour of the newer item.

The other hook, however, is the newer lens' constant 2.8 aperture. However, at the equivalent maximum focal length (150mm), the 50-200 is at f=3.4 which is one click of the adjustment wheel to raise the ISO to compensate and get the same shutter speed. However, two clicks and full zoom gives me 30% more focal length and an effective 400mm f=2.8 super telephoto equivalent on a legacy 24x36mm sized sensor system but at a fraction of the mass and bulk.

A counter to the nagging of New Gear-itis is the answer to the question: Do I want to spend $1000 to get 30% less reach in a lens the same size and only fractionally lighter and marginally faster?

OK. If I did spend $3000 on the new lens AND a new E-M1 Mark II I would get 7 more frames per second and the ability to do Pro-Capture sequences - as well as fill  up my hard drive with more images per assignment and extend my selection and editing time. 

However, after more than 3 decades doing sport, in real terms, it is not, practically, really much more than I can do with the existing E-M1 and the 50-200 SWD set correctly. Granted, relying on experience to correctly judge the critical moment at a wedding or other shoot, rather than simply blasting away at high frame rates hoping that does the job might be old-fashioned and seem boring but it saves a lot of post-production time and card space.

So, in my case, I have concluded that it is not - at the current prices - worth giving in to New Gear-itis. And perhaps therein lies the lesson. Extend your understanding of your existing gear and you can vaccinate yourself against New Gear-itis.

However, you will not kill the virus totally as I still have this nagging little devil making me trawl E-Bay for the first crop of E-M1 Mark II bodies that get moved-on by those heavily infected with New Gear-itis. There is generally a post-honeymoon period when they grow tired of the toys and go for the next of the latest and greatest releases. 

At bargain rates, I can convince myself the benefits are worth it.

And of course, should Olympus decide, after having been a pro user of their equipment since 1978 that I am worth being given the kit as a brand amabassador, I would not say no.

However, back in the real world, we can treat the symptoms of New Gear-itis, but never the cause.

The virus will always be there.

Whatever it might be, however, just learn to properly use and enjoy your camera gear.

That can, at least, provide a temporary antidote.

And your clients (and wallet) will thank you.

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20 September 2016

Photokina 2016 - Hybrids signal a sea-change in photography

Cologne is a city that has witnessed many changes.

clognebridge 

Koln Dom on a misty morning (Olympus E-M1 ART filter - Grainy Film)

From the devastation of the second world war, to the centre-piece of the post-war German "economic  miracle" in the Rhineland, the city itself has metamorphed and managed to remain current while still retaining it's charms of a bygone era.

For decades, however, the Koeln-Messe (Cologne Exhibition center) over the bridge behind the Koln Dom has seen the latest and greatest innovations from industries as diverse as motorcycing to scaffolding and photography shown to the world.

Photokina is, notwithstanding flashier and younger Johnny-come-lately competitors such as CES and others, the pre-eminent photographic and imaging trade fair on the planet.

It is the trade fair where serious kit is launched. Direction given for the next two or more years...

koelnmesse 

Koelnmesse - which, every two years, becomes the world's biggest photo toyshop.*

2016's fair has, for me, one central theme running through all the product launches so far - "the decisive moment", photographers like myself who have built a career and business on being masters of picking the moment to freeze and bulky, expensive legacy 35mm sized sensor prism-based DSLRs  are all on notice.

It has been looming for some time - ever since Nikon first put video capture into the D90 SLR. Perhaps, when you think of it, it has been heralded since the first compacts permitted video clips - it was just a matter of time until the quality was good enough (with a sensor of reasonable size) to take it seriously as a hybrid tool.

The demise of prism-based cameras has been signalled since Panasonic and Olympus launched m43 six years ago.

Well, that era of fundamental change in equipment and technique is now. Olympus, Panasonic, Sony and Fuji all have mirrorless, 4K capable cameras that also shoot stills. Canon has dedicated 4K video equipment. It is creeping into their SLRs too and they have just launched the EOS M5 mirrorless camera.

On the Olympus E-M1 Mark II, the camera captures the 14 frames ahead of the shot you actually take so, if you have missed the decisive moment, you can go back a few 60ths of a second to find it.

Using the mechanical shutter, the camera can give you 18 frames per second at full resolution or, without focus tracking, 60 frames per second! 

No more need for complicated trigger beams and other equipment to get the splash made by the olive in the glass - hit the button for a second as it drops and you will have it.

At equestrian events, timing, borne of hundreds of hours of practice ensured you got the perfect moment - where the horse and rider were at the correct positionover the jump, the rear hooves were off the ground and the forelegs neatly tucked under the animal's chest. Now, anyone with the 4K or 6K capture equipment will nail the shot - every single time.

4kextract 

Shots like this, previously the preserve of many hours of practice and anticipation, will soon be commonplace with 4, 6 and 8K capture.

In a way this is simply a logical progression from the tools made by the two most famous camera brands that permitted folk to sit on the sidelines of sports events and capture data-streams at 12 frames per second which picture editors sifted-through in order to find a shot for publication. 

However, the complication of ever more finely designed mirror and focus mechanisms that make these cameras cost well over US$6000 is really not needed anymore. I firmly believe we have seen the peak of those product lines - a last splutter of fame and appeal before they are swept from existence.

I state this as, with the advent of 4K photography, images can be picked at will from 60 frames per second sequences at 18 megapixels - more than adequate for any newspaper or magazine illustration. Panasonic is already working on an 8K tool, this will give you 33 megapixel frames.

In an age where 90% or more of the images captured are consumed on screens, this is more than adequate. Possibly over-kill.

Even for the die-hards who insist on large prints - these are increasingly been made on inkjet equipment as coated paper and chemical processing hangs-on by its fingernails - 33 megapixels will be good enough for building-sized shots.

So, stills from image streams is the reality of imaging now and for the future.

Any photographer who has spent a career capturing single frames had better pay attention. Your skills have been superceded by technology, fast buffers and technology creep.

So? What do you do then?

Get yourself up to speed on video, 4K and 8K and save-up for a fast computer because your competitors from the video industry are moving into your patch. If you are not able to adapt to, embrace and creatively apply the new tech, you should rather start finding a comfy beach upon which to retire.

Similarly, any manufacturer that has not seen this light on the horizon (and in fact it's already at the station under the banner of Olympus, Sony, Panasonic, Canon and Fuji), is going to join the ranks of those manufacturers who thought they would always be in the photo business.

Remember Polaroid, Voigtlander, Minolta, Yashica, Kodak and others?

Don't let your name be added to that list.

* Image of Koelnmesse Entrance North (c) Koelnmesse GmbH

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10 June 2016

Olympus E-M1 review

After more than a year using Olympus' top-of-the-line professional digital camera, I have penned a review. 

I have done so in the absence of any useful review being found on YouTube or camera sites. All I have found are first-impressions or material based on early firmware versions which do not come close to imparting what the camera is capable of nor do they provide alerts to some of its pitfalls for the unwary.

Those wishing to view it may do so here.

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02 May 2016

Time for sensor and lens sense

Yet again, almost predictably, a camera website has linked to a video from someone who "was using 4/3 but is now selling this lens..." as the 'reviewer' claims some mythical depth of field restriction is not permitting him to isolate subjects in his theatre photography.

The reviewer then states that he has to go back to legacy 35mm film sized sensor equipment to achieve the shallow depth of field he needs as the 12-40mm zoom he was using cannot deliver the results he wants.

This sort of ill-informed opinion-broadcasting is not only continuing to fuel the myth that legacy 35mm size sensors are the only solution to digital imaging, but it is also proving to me - on a large scale - that many people using cameras professionally nowadays are either not appraised of the mathematics of lenses and depth of field, or they simply swallow the poorly referenced propaganda put out about 4/3 or  APS-C vs 35mm sensors and lenses by the manufacturers of so-called "full frame" sensor cameras who are scrambling to guard an ever-diminishing market share for their clunky prism and mirror equipment.

Firstly, shallow depth of field - or subject isolation from the background - is not a function of the receiver/sensor size. The focal length, camera to subject distance and then, of course, the aperture to focal length ratio (aperture setting), are all integral factors to consider when envisioning a particular depth of field effect.

Let us look more closely at this alleged 'failing' of the 4/3 system (And it's also often claimed for APS-C sized sensor equipment as well). 

In this particular instance, the reviewer was lamenting the fact that he could not isolate the subject on a 40mm f2.8 when shooting a rock concert.

Now, if I imagine placing a 40mm 2.8 lens on any camera, the last thing I would expect would be to isolate the subject from the background if I am shooting someone on stage from either the wings or the foot of the performance area. 

Unless the performer bent down and was within 3-5 feet from the lens and it was set at f=2.8, everything from 5 feet onwards would be equally sharp anyway. This is due to the fact that any 40mm lens will be at or near its hyperfocal point from that distance onward.

What is hyperfocal distance? Well, a commonly accepted definition is thus: The hyperfocal distance is the closest distance at which a lens can be focused while keeping objects at infinity acceptably sharp. When the lens is focused at this distance, all objects at distances from half of the hyperfocal distance out to infinity will be acceptably sharp.

Now, acceptable sharpness depends entirely on the size of the circle of confusion which is acceptable to the viewer or photographer. Discussion of the circle of confusion is meat for many text-books and not applicable here.

For those who are interested, the formula for hyperfocal distance goes as follows: H = f2 /Nc + f . With H being hyperfocal distance, f being focal length of the lens, N being the aperture number setting and c the circle of confusion limit for acceptable sharpness.

Nowhere in the formula (or any other depth of field or focus formula) is there an input for the size of the image receiver - or the sensor or film size.

Fine. If we must get technical, the focal length will effectively make any given aperture value on a longer lens (say a 50mm at f=4.0) a physically larger opening than a 25mm set to f=4.0 (12.5 vs 6.25 mm), but you will do your head-in thinking about all these measurements.

In practice, your lens focal length and  the lens to subject distance plays a far more critical role in what sort of focus effect you will get than any mythically "perfect" format or lens focal length. You need to use whatever the tool is, within its own merits and plan your shots (and equipment choice) beforehand. Understanding what gives shallow depth of field is vital - and it's not any magical lens size. It's where you are and where your subject is that, in practice, plays a far more crucial role. 

Simply put, the closer you are with the lens to your subject, the more you can blur the background with a wide-open aperture - provided you are beyond your normal focal length for the receiver in use.

If you cannot get physically close, then a longer lens will achieve the same sort of optical effect as being physically closer.

So? Why one earth expect any 40mm lens to give you shallow depth of field at distances beyond its hyperfocal point? And the sensor has nothing to do with this - it's an optical phenomenon.

At one point the 'reviewer' states that the lens is actually an equivalent 80mm f=5.6 for purposes of comparison with a legacy 35mm sensor and lens combination.

Yet again, even taking this (flawed) 80mm argument at face value - for rock concerts, that is also not a focal length I would use to shoot images where minimal depth of field is a requirement. One needs at least a 100 - to 135mm lens and you need to wait until the subject is in the first third of the lens' focusing range to ensure you can isolate the subject from the background at a wide-open aperture setting otherwise that sneaky hyperfocal formula will catch you out again and make everything behind the subject sharp anyway.

Even then, there are other factors to consider. You will only isolate your subject if it is itself isolated from objects in the background - at least 3-4 feet from anything else if you are under 10-15 feet away. And that distance between your subject and the background will need to increase as your camera to subject distance increases. Put another way, the amount of isolation you can achieve is directly proportional to the increasing distance between the subjects and your camera to subject distance.

Yes, legacy 35mm film sized sensor cameras may appear as if they can more readily achieve shallow depth of fields in concert situations, but, once this reviewer has bought the heavier equipment, and purchased the longer focal length lenses needed to get in tight on his subjects, he will find he is in the 100mm plus focal length range I mention anyway.

Even then, he will still need to remember that he cannot get subject isolation when the performer is a dozen feet or more away from the front of the lens and fellow performers are standing within 3-4 feet of the subject.

And, at the end of the concert, when his arms are aching and he needs far more fluid replacement than he would have had he kept his E-M1, he can calm down and remember that Olympus make a 40-150mm f=2.8 lens. 

The lens is lighter than any competitor's 70-210 lens (while giving the reach of a 300mm compared to legacy 35mm sized sensors), it is faster and it will provide him the shallow depth of field he so laments as being impossible with 4/3 sensors when using a 12-40mm lens for a task better suited to a longer focal length lens anyway.

Oh, and it's less costly than the closest equivalent 300mm lens from legacy 35mm sensor size camera manufacturers into the bargain.

Oh well...

Rant over.

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24 April 2016

Full Circle - An old friend is re-incarnated

My OM1n, OM2n and OM4T cameras were trusty companions.

They traveled the planet with me. Through their viewfinders I witnessed the best - and the worst - of the human condition. Most often,  it was through the elements of my Zuiko 85mm F2.0 lens.

That lens was the last word - in my opinion - in sharpness, the perfect candid focal length and ruggedness.

It permitted me to work in the null-zone between a human's personal space and the area just inside the 7-10m range which we habitually scan for threats. Between these areas we tend to ignore things.   

I love hunting in that space. It lets me, to all intents and purposes, disappear into the myriad of objects that were not an obvious threat and which have not yet invaded the subject's personal defence zone.

In riots, at news scenes, in informal settlements, on trains, at airports or in schools the 85mm permitted great reportage and documentary work to be undertaken.

In structured environments, such as a portrait studio or at weddings, the 85mm gave a lovely perspective with fine control of depth of field. 

I used that lens so much that the chrome mount had worn through to a brassy colour on the mount flange. The textured rubber of the focus ring had been replaced 8 times prior to its "liberation" during a home invasion in South Africa in 2011.

Recently I have re-discovered the joy of that perspective and control with the arrival of the M-Zuiko 45mm f=1.8 m43 lens in my kit-bag. 

zuiko45

It is the spiritual - and practical - successor to my much-loved and missed 85mm f=2.0 optic.

There is the near-identical field of view as the 45mm lens on m43 gives a 90mm legacy 35mm film format field of view.

It is a featherweight into the bargain so it blends into the overall camera shape and feel of any camera to which it is attached. At f=1.8 the control of focus and depth of field is the same and it has the same colour mood of the original. For all practical purposes, therefore, it has brought me full-circle back to the joy of my analogue outfits. 

In certain situations this could, in reality, lead to more detail than you may wish to capture.

As an example, here is a portrait grabbed on the turn in an unguarded moment. If I had a shorter lens I would have been inside the personal space of my subject and, perhaps, she would have been more self-aware.

A 100% crop of the eye and a portion of the veil shows the relentless detail delivered by this lens. To make the image more flattering to certain tastes, there may be a little work needed in post-production.

Another shot, taken while the artist was working intently, let me play with the dramatic tone filter to achieve a new look for an oft-photographed activity without disturbing my subject.

If you already have your 14-42 and 40-150 kit lenses for your m43 camera - or you have the pro equivalent in the 14-54 or 12-40 and are thinking of buying another lens - I doubt that you will be disappointed with the money you spend on the m-Zuiko 45mm 1.8. 

Personally, I think it is a bargain.

45mmporty1 

45mmcrop 

 

tattooart 

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27 January 2016

THE DEATH OF THE SHIFT LENS?

In the 1970s and beyond, you could recognise a serious architectural photographer by peeping into his gadget bag. If he had a shift lens - technically a 'Perspective control' lens - in there, he was the business. If not, he was a pretender.

The serious architectural photography club (outside of those using view cameras to do the work) was exclusive. The simple reason was that entry costs were enormous. In the days when I purchased my first Olympus OM1n MD, the camera and 50mm lens cost about $400. A shift lens for the system cost about $1 000!

Even today a 17mm shift lens from Canon will whack $2000 from your wallet!

24mmshiftoncamera 

A Zuiko analogue era 24mm shift lens - at maximum shift - on an OM1.

Why a shift lens? It permits you to control the appearance of vertical lines (mostly) in images and correct for convergence of these lines in the final image.

Yes, the poor folk like me had workarounds. When making prints in the darkroom you could use tracing paper with vertical lines placed over the enlarging easel. Tilting the easel this way or that permitted you to effectively adjust for lines that were converging or diverging along walls or tapering to the top of buildings. You then whipped away the paper and slotted in a sheet of printing paper to expose the print.

This was tedious. It was very Heath-Robinson and the results were seldom repeatable to exactly the same standards - unless, like one retentive colleague - you made an adjustment platform to carry the easel that had a vernier rig with annotated screw adjustments which you could lock in place or note down. You still had an issue with focus though as this shifting had very little leeway before blurring of the detail.

So? How did a shift-lens help you?

Well, a shift lens would permit you to mimic the movement of the rise/fall adjustments of a view camera. The lens was, effectively, split in two and connected by a sliding rail mechanism as well as - on the really top-flight ones - having a pivot to permit swinging the lens. You could move the lens along the rail to the left/right (or if you had the camera oriented the right way up/down) and peer through the viewfinder to see how much correction of vertical or other problematic lines you had achieved.

Of course, you were locked-in to whatever focal length the designers of the shift lenses for your system had decided. So, if it was a 24mm, that was the only focal length at which you had correction possible.

Well, the shift lens can now be discarded into the dustbin of history as digital technology has made it, in my view and practical experience, an expensive and redundant item.

I say this not because of the well-known and probably well used process of perspective correction available in manipulation software. This option has been around for ages and solves the issue to some degree (if you know what you are doing) but it does not mitigate for the loss of detail in areas of the image that were further away from the focal plane in the camera than others.

No, I say this as you can now do it in the field with any focal length of lens as if you had $2K plus of lens attached to your camera.

Enter the Olympus E-M1 or E-M5II mirrorless cameras.

On the second camera menu there is a setting which many of my professional colleagues - let alone amateur users - have glossed-over. It is called keystone correction.

keystonemenu1 

OM-D E-M1 or E-M5II: Second camera menu - Third option down saves you at least $2000!

When activated, you can adjust the image in the viewfinder or monitor for swing or tilt to correct perspective for converging or diverging lines in both the vertical and horizontal plane.

keystonemenu2 

The adjustment planes are shown in the viewfinder - Front dial sorts swing and back dial tilt. The keystone alert (window) icon is at top-middle.  Once you have made a swing or tilt adjustment this icon, and the one on the rear of the camera, turns green to warn you keystone adjustment is set and active.

You see what you get before you shoot and the camera processes the image to save a perfectly corrected image to the card.

Absolutely brilliant!

Another aspect of the process is that the image produced is also punchier than the standard JPEG you will yield of the same scene. Something in the processing just whips-up a sharper, punchier result and that is a superb bonus. I have tried processing the RAW files to the same standard but I will admit defeat - it is not worth the time and effort to try and match those amazing chaps in the design and software department with Phds. Their camera does it instantly and to a better standard than us mere mortals are able to achieve.

keystoneshot1 

Standard jpeg shot the lazy way. No adjustment of camera and tripod has been attempted to ensure focal plane is perpendicular to surfaces. Lines converge towards the bottom of the frame.

keystoneshot2 

Identical scene with in-camera keystone adjustment. Much punchier and sharper than standard and lines now straight.

Aperture control is also automatic which is not the case on all shift lenses on the market today and was certainly hardly the case in film days.

Speaking of aperture control, with shift lenses and analogue imaging you needed to carefully select your aperture to minimise vignetting and/or to provide depth of field to correct for the different distances to the subject - such as the top of a tall building. With the OM-D Keystone adjustment, you select all as normal and then activate the Keystone tool. The processing algorithm seems to take up most of the tricky calculations so you can shoot wide open if needs be for reasons I am about to explain.

The keystone option available on data projectors has probably put people off using the setting on their cameras as, on projectors, the amount of pixels is reduced to affect the change in apparent perspective. However, images shot on the E-M1 are still to exactly the same dimensions and pixel number as without it.

This is impressive and tells me two things. Firstly, the image circle of the lenses achieved through the telecentric design philosophy on which Olympus founded the entire 4/3 concept is large enough to permit a lot of manipulation (and growth...?) and that the effect is actually being achieved by using the 5 axis stabiliser drive to physically swing or tilt the sensor.

This approach would explain the impressive edge to edge sharpness achieved with the technique as it effectively replicates the swing or tilt of the view camera's film plate and normalises the focus over the image plane.

I have used this feature extensively on several recent architectural assignments and it has saved huge wads of time both on-site and in post-production. It is yet another feather in the cap of the E-M1 that makes it, in my experience, a brilliant photographic tool without peer on the market.

Caveats and tricks:

  1. You cannot apply exposure or other corrections to the image if the keystone feature has been enabled as the front and back dials are used to adjust for vertical or horizontal shift. Set up your shot, set your exposure settings etc. and then activate the keystone correction option.

  2. If you apply swing, then tilt is not an option and vice-versa. Well, you would hardly need both if you set up your shooting position correctly anyway... (Update Jan 2017: The E-M1 Mark II allows both swing and tilt together)

  3. The option does not automatically re-set so ensure you switch it off (there is a warning on the rear panel and in the viewfinder with a window-like symbol when it is active) otherwise you will not be able to do any adjustments to exposure etc until you do re-set it.

  4. You can allocate the function to the Fn2 or front camera button of the E-M1. I am certain you could do that on an E-M5II as well but as I have not used one I cannot say for certain. However, this makes it a handy option to activate or de-activate the setting without needing to go to the second camera menu page - although that is no longer a hardship after the latest firmware update which memorises the last menu option position.

  5. I normally shoot on Aperture priority when using the Keystone tool and use an aperture of between f=8.0 and f=11.0. This, coupled to the swing/tilt of the actual sensor ensures control over all regions as regards sharpness and yields tack-sharp results all over the frame without vignetting effects. (The removal of which are probably part of the processing algorithm anyway?)

Best of all, if you have older film era lenses and you are using them on your E-M1, you get the same tool to use - so now all your lenses are shift lenses.

How cool is that?

* iMAGE OF ZUIKO 24MM SHIFT LENS CREDIT: 24mmPCleft by Jeff Dean (Jeff dean at en.wikipedia) - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under Attribution via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:24mmPCleft.jpg#/media/File:24mmPCleft.jpg

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26 October 2015

WHEN YOUR CAMERA EYECUP FAILS...(OH AND IT WILL!)

The planet's landscape is, by the volume of internet acocunts, littered with EP-10 eyecups that have jumped-off the viewfinders of countless Olympus E-M5 cameras.

There seems to be a universal consensus that the EP-10 eyecup is a cunning ploy on the part of the manufacturer to make added profit through the sale of thousands of replacement eyecups.

Well, while the issue of departing eyecups is familiar to any Olympus digital camera user (My E-3 power user-guide mentions how to prevent that camera's eyecup from going on lone sight-seeing expeditions), it seems it is the modern norm.

Discussion fora on countless photo web sites have similar tales from owners of cameras as diverse as the Nikon F750 to Canon models. Thus some of the following may have merit no matter which camera you own.

All the eyecups are now made by third-party suppliers and not by the camera manufacturers. In days past, there were metal frames that securely attached the eye-cups to sturdy viewfinder frames. Nowadays the eye-cups are all made from plastic and rely on the "give" in the material to affect their clamping operation around the viewfinder frame.

The rubber surrounds are slotted and grooved but only held in place via little stalks of rubber pulled-through holes.

Tearing these little stalks of rubber is very, very easy. The end result is the detachment of the rubber. Furthermore, the manner in which the EP-10 (or whatever else it may be called in the eye-cup supplier's catalogue) unit is designed, is simply asking for it to break in one particular spot if anything like a small effort is applied to the frame sufficient so as to make it bend. And it does always break in that one spot.

Once that has happened - often from no other action than simply carrying the camera around normally, the rubber surround will tear off fairly quickly thereafter.

So, here is Shutterbug's non-patented guide to repairing and securely attaching the EP-10 eyecup to your Olympus E-M5.

 ep10_1

1: The break-point. If your is not yet snapped here, give it time - often it snaps here after the camera has rubbed-up against your body - then the eye-cup departs into the scenerey so you are not aware it has snapped here!)

ep10_2 

2. How the rubber is attached. You can see the nodules of rubber that were attached to the plastic frame still left behind in the frame. No great effort is required to break these small locating lugs of rubber - a sneeze could do it - so don't feel bad if your rubber surround has detached.

3. NB! PLEASE READ INSTRUCTIONS AND HANDLING PRECAUTIONS FOR SUPER-GLUE! TAKE APPROPRIATE ACTION TO PREVENT PERSONAL INJURY OR UNFORTUNATE CONSEQUENCES. WEAR GLOVES - USE TOOTH PICKS TO APPLY GLUE - NEVER TOUCH THE GLUE WITH NAKED FINGERS/SKIN. IF YOU STICK BITS TO YOURSELF OR CAN'T SEPERATE YOUR FINGERS AFTER TRYING THIS REPAIR THAT IS YOUR PROBLEM AND NO CORRESPONDENCE WILL BE ENTERED-INTO - YOU UNDERTAKE THE FOLLOWING STEPS ENTIRELY AT YOUR OWN RISK AND, FOR THE AVOIDANCE OF DOUBT, IF YOU HAVE NEVER USED SUPERGLUE PROPERLY BEFORE THEN I ADVISE THAT YOU DO NOT ATTEMPT THE REPAIR DESCRIBED HEREUNDER. 

Still want to go ahead? Proceeding entirely at your own risk, superglue the cracked area using the end of a toothpick to apply glue to the area between the cracked parts (one side only). Press the parts together for approx. 10 seconds.

ep10_3 

3a:  Now take a small sliver of plastic from a memory card package (or similar plastic packaging item) and cut a strip the full width of the top of the eye-cup frame and slightly narrower than the frame (Approx 17 x 2.5mm). This is shown resting on top of the frame in the shot above. Glue the plastic re-inforcing strip to the top of the frame using cyano-acrolate glue (Superglue). 

This image shows you where you will have applied superglue after the repair is complete. Please see text for how and when to apply which drop.

4. Place little drops of superglue on the rubber nodules on the back of the frame (LEFT SIDE FIRST) plus a drop into the hollow-recess between the rubber nodules and then slip the rubber surround over the edge of the frame and press home. Hold for about 10 seconds until glue dries (Superglue works in the absence of air so as soon as you press the parts together and exclude air, it sets.)

5. Glue the right hand side now by repeating the process - two drops of superglue in the nodule recesses and in the middle dimple. Slip the rubber into place over the frame and hold in place for 10 seconds.

6 Now lift the extended little flap of rubber on the lower left up and pop some superglue under it with the end of a tooth-pick. press it back into place and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat for the other side lower rubber (this is not as long and flappy as the left side).

7. To secure frame to camera, you have two options. The first, and simplest, is to place two small drops of superglue under the top part of the frame and then clip the eye-piece back on the camera then hold it down for a few seconds. The EP10 will now form part of the camera. Permanently.

8. If you want to have the option of removing the eye-cup or exchanging it for a different type, then use the old E-3 eye-cup securing strategy and resort to gaffer-tape (black). Pull the cover away from the accessory port on the camera and then cut a small strip of tape measuring 8 x 24mm and shaped like the yellow area above to go over the top of the eye-cup frame and up to the edge of the lip below the accessory port. Push it firmly into place then replace the accessory port cover. This stops the eye-cup from coming off from small bumps/abrading against the body when carrying the camera and normally provides warning of the eye-cup being loose. You will need to replace the tape every 6 months or so to keep it looking neat although your mileage may vary...

Once you have this all done, and have saved yourself making another contribution to Olympus' corporate face-regaining fund, perhaps you can hope that they will, one-day, decide to fix this idiotic design and make eye-cups that stay where they should be - on the camera!

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21 July 2015

IF YOU WILL NOT RTFM THEN DO NOT REVIEW CAMERAS!

I seldom use the disparaging epithet "idiot"  to describe fellow humans.

However, in the past few weeks I have been doing some trawling on YouTube to see if there is any additional information which might prove useful on setting, using and owning the E-M1 or other Olympus M43 kit and the temptation to drop this self-imposed linguistic standard is rather strong.

What led to this? Well, in short, there is not much good information on the E-M1 and the 43 system out there. 

Whilst there are hundreds of videos on the subject, very few have gravitas or display a proper understanding of the subject matter. 

In the freely accessible internet domains, one must expect views from all and sundry. When it comes to Olympus equipment, there are a lot of them.

Mostly though they are nothing less than bovine excrement.

In any review worth its salt, there should be facts. An understanding of the subject matter is a minimum. Sadly, even in cases where a full-time review site is involved like DigitalRevTV - where one should reasonably expect a certain quality of preparation from the reporter - this is patently lacking. 

During my tenures as editor at three different photographic publications we insisted on at least a two week evaluation period for any review item. Step one was to sit with the handbook and camera and go through it to the last detail. Then we would use the camera on assignments for the period we had it for review. In this way you get to know its quirks and how it behaves in regular, daily use. Some things that seemed strange at first often mellowed into logical design points as days passed. At the end, we would meet and discuss the various aspects we felt needed to be highlighted in the review.

It is patently obvious that nowadays - with most "reviewers" - not even a perfunctory glance is taken at the instructions. Too much effort folks? 

This is not unique to Olympus equipment as all the reviews have the same "ooh look at this!" cheesy enthusiasm and superficial understanding of the equipment. Perhaps the suppliers do not include the instructions? Just a thought.

If the manuals are supplied, then it seems that the reviewers certainly do not appear to bother with reading the handbook before parading cockily in front of the camera with a beaming face as they tell you what they have in the latest goodie bag. Even if the manuals are not supplied with the toys, then a serious reporter should download and study one anyway - in the internet age its easy (unless you own Canon kit of course...)

My sense of humour (and my tolerance of shoddiness in reporting) was reached as the reviewer from DigitalRevTV took the E-M5 out of the bag and then looked through the camera. After he put it up to his face he mumbled something about settings and then squinted at the screen like a bemused Doormouse while shouting "Aargh! I hate Olympus menus!".

This told me two things and convinced me of a third.

Firstly, he had not bothered to read the manual.

Secondly, he has absolutely no idea how to use an Olympus camera.

Thirdly, unless he is committed to reading the manual before talking about any item in a review, he must stop it now as his opinions cannot possibly carry any weight. As they stand they are obviously just the mis-informed ramblings of a lazy reporter who appears to wish to be important and influential while getting to play with the latest gadgetry.

Frame grab from DigitalRevTV review on Olympus E-M5II. You never read the manual did you?

Part of the problem is, of course, that most photographers (and I use the term loosely) seem not to understand that you can make a photographic tool powerful and useful without festooning the exterior with hundreds of buttons.

In a world where people regularly spend thousands on the latest camera body, then switch off all the computing power they paid for and use manual mode, I suppose this is not surprising.

So, end of rant. Let me tell you something useful about the Olympus Digital camera family.

To use the cameras, or to set things, forget about looking for specific buttons for ISO, Drive mode, Colour or Focus. These are not bits of equipment from Canon and Nikon intended to impress you with the number of buttons they have. They do not need them.

If using an Olympus digital camera, just remember to: Press, direct, twirl and touch.

That's it.

Allow me to elucidate.

On the rear of every Olympus digital camera since the first E-Series models, has been a display called the Super Control Panel or SCP for short. Here are images of a few incarnations. 

   

    

 

If the SCP is not displayed, simply press INFO to make it appear. On the original EM-5 you need to activate it - where? Well, it is a control you want displayed so look in Menu>Display>Control. (Gee Whizz! That's too logical is it not?)

The SCP displays all the most commonly used camera settings in clearly labeled, easily read boxes. The layout has remained the same since the first E-series cameras which is a great idea - no need to re-learn each panel as the model is upgraded.

With the SCP displayed on an E-series camera, press the OK button and a yellow highlight box will appear. On the older cameras it would always be at the top left but later models have a "last position used" memory.

Once the box is highlighted, simply direct it to the setting you wish to adjust using the direction arrows around the OK button. Now twirl the input dial. On single dial cameras its the only dial available and on twin dial cameras it's the front dial. This will scroll through all the possible values for the adjustment you are making and you simply have to stop twirling when you see the value you want. Touch the shutter button and its set.

On the latest OM-D series cameras it is even easier. In this case it is Press, tap, twirl and touch.

Once you press OK, tap the screen icon of the item you wish to change and the yellow box will move there. Twirl the dial to set and touch the shutter to confirm.

Easy

Quick.

So intuitive that Nikon have copied it (sort of) and Canon have adopted a similar approach on their latest products - although there you have fewer options to adjust with the control panel - and on most you have to press OK to confirm each setting.

This short video clip shows you how fast and easy it is to use the system on the older non-touch and the newer touch-screen cameras.

The reviewer in this video obviously had not bothered to learn about this aspect as he constantly tried tapping away at the screen when the box failed to appear and complained that the screen was obviously not sensitive enough. Well buddy, you do not want things to just be called-up and set by the accidental brushing of the screen so it only enters touch mode when you press OK (as detailed in the instructions). RTFM Doffie!

Certainly not the best or most credible review ever. Reading the manual and finding out how to activate the touch screen would have rescued your credibility (slightly) mate.

While watching any review on the web, if the reviewer uses words such as "I think this model has this..." or "I'm not certain if that feature is included..." or similar phrases and fumbles about trying to show you a feature or control, you just know they are not serious, have not read the manuals and have certainly not used the equipment nearly enough to fully understand it.

Knowing the features, understanding every control inside-out is the minimum effort any reporter should make when entrusted with a brand's reputation. Even reviewers as apparently eminent as Darren Miles and Tony Northrup have said "I'm not sure if it's on this model..." or have started a review using old Canon legacy film lenses on the camera and been iffy about the handling!

Note to those gentlemen: Concentrate less on how sunny Naples Florida is and read the books Darren and if you are reviewing a new system camera use its own lenses Tony - the designers made it to perform its best with those.

YouTube appears to be crammed full of reviewers without the faintest clue about the difference between a review and a mis-informed opinion or outdated and clunky methods of using cameras.

It is, therefore, no mystery to me why the few photo retail outlets that are left are still dens of mis-information and out-dated techniques. Retail assistants seem to dislike reading and would rather google a video.

Furthermore, many companies are now using "brand ambassadors" who know even less about the products and their design history than many enthusiasts - but that policy is the grist for another article entirely.

What a mess!

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15 July 2015

OLYMPUS E-M1 FOCUS TRACKING IS CRACKING!

Right. After some time spent between assignments where I tried every possible setting on the E-M1 I reckon we have an understanding of the things we can do in the future.

I am quite expectant - especially in regard to action sequences that need focus tracking.

Birds in flight are regarded as the most challenging of all subjects to follow in the viewfinder.

I reckon that the following in the viewfinder was the easy part.

Technology, however, lagged behind in permitting the focus system to keep the subject correctly focused in all frames of a sequence at 5 frames per second.

Even the long-time alleged king of AF, the Canon series of EOS cameras, struggles with subjects moving obliquely. Most Canon sports shooters I know have told me they use Servo focus with the central point selected and hope that they get at least one or two tack-sharp shots in any given sequence. This holds true only as long as the subject is in a drect line of sight to the camera as any subject that gets interspersed will throw the focus off the main subject.

Those shooting the so-called black gold kit - Nikon, have paraded a subtle air of superiority for some time due to the ability of their cameras to use 3-D focus tracking. Essentially - despite what the promotional blurb says about recognising the size, shape and colour of a moving subject - the focus system follows any subject upon which you have locked the focus and does not re-adjust it until a set time has passed if the subject is obscured.

It was this feature that saw the migration of virtually every football photographer in the world to Nikon in the past few years.

Now we have the E-M1 and its focus tracking system.

You select C-AF+TR.

Then you select focus points or leave it up to the camera. With legacy 4/3 lenses the area in which tracking is possible is shown with a green frame on the electronic viewfinder. If you go outside the area it can use the frame changes colour to warn you.

With Micro-4/3 lenses its the entire frame.

And it rocks!

Nine frame per second sequences, even with similarly coloured items in the scene for a fraction of a second, result in tack-sharp images of subjects moving obliquely through the field.

Birds in flight are easy pickings now.

And tracking footballers will be hum-drum.

Colour me impressed!

egyptiangoose 

Not even the appearance of the tree between the goose and the camera upset the electronic genie inside the E-M1 in this sequence.

owltakeoff 

This was just amazing! Perfect early morning light and a young owl looking for a snack. She was very fast and moved in a line towards the camera away from the stump.

owlinflight 

9th frame in the sequence once I had picked her up again between frames 5 and 8.

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 GOODBYE TO A FRIEND

An inevitable consequence of adding new tools to the gadget bag is that, eventually, reality sets in and you have to realise that you cannot use 5 cameras.

Having the new E-M1 on hand led to my E-3 bodies (the last two new ones available in 2012) seeing little or no service.

Dozing in a gadget bag is no life for a previously active and faithful E-3.

So, the newest one of the pair plus her HLD-4 recently found a new owner - all the way in Melbourne Australia.

The new owner will have a brace of E-3s when she arrives and is planning a trip around Australia with them.

At least she will enjoy the similar weather once they get over the typical Austrlian Bight winter at the moment.

Enoy the adventures mate.

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April 2015

E-M1 - THE PLUNGE TAKEN

Having bumped my head with the Olympus E-M5 body as a potential replacement for my E-3 and E-5 cameras some time ago (the blog entries are below regarding this episode), I took some time before giving the "E-5 successor", the E-M1, a trial.

At first, in the middle of last year, I was less than impressed. The slow multiple release rate and the iffy performance with the existing SWD lenses did much to tilt the balance towards hanging on with the existing kit. It went back into the "close but no cigar" category.

However, in January this year Olympus released firmware version 3.0 for the E-M1 and dispatches from the front lines of press work from colleagues in the UK told me that many of the issues which had troubled me appeared to be either resolved, or at least reduced to niggardly proportions.

However, given that the E-M5 II has made an appearance with the high-res 40MP shot option, as well as the fully articulated rear screen (Vital so that you can fold it out of harm's way when doing news work), I suspect that the E-M1 II (or whatever) boasting both of these features is due shortly.

So, when some suppliers made E-M1 bodies reasonably affordable, my interest was piqued. Then a colleague got new kit and had a 1212 release body going begging for a relative song. No brainer!

After two weeks of toying-about getting to know the unit and its many menu quirks - for example the old, much used light-box image display is now a display option hidden in the custom settings menu and somewhat restricted versus the E-5 - I am coming to terms with the only possible upgrade for the E-5 body and Four Thirds lenses there is.

One aspect confirmed so far is that the handling is very similar to my OM-4 body. The power switch is now in an instinctive place, the size and "heft" is similar although the HLD-7 grip is a must for any sort of ease of use when FT lenses are attached.

The electronic viewfinder irritated me when I tested the camera at a BMX event as the image froze momentarily when tracking riders at high speed. This meant I could not follow the action through the viewfinder. 

The solution to this problem is to switch off the image review mode in the menu. This ensures that the camera does not try and show you each frame in the sequence as it is taken. Another quirk is that with the best viewfinder refresh rate (and thus the best view), the continous shooting experience is likewise interrupted. Setting to normal refresh rate gets you (almost) to the point where viewfinder lag is not such an issue anymore.

bmx1 

However, the focus tracking is a vast improvement on the E-5! Each shot in 9 frame per second sequences of riders coming towards the camera or tracking obliquely was tack-sharp as these two samples demonstrate. So, from a performance point of view, once I get the viewfinder and my brain on the same highway, things should show a good leap forwards.

  bmx2

Another obvious difference is the image quality and noise aspect of the sensor. From 800 ISO upwards there is no contest and the E-5 (and obviously the E-3) are simply left for dead as regards image quality-at any setting and in any conditions.

Two aspects that are delightful are the low mass and bulk and the virtually silent shutter. Not making a noticeable noise has already allowed me to get some candid shots that would not have been possible using the E-5 (or at the very least I have not been rumbled when taking a candid shot and in this past week of craziness in South Africa that is a vital safety aspect!).

I know that a refresh of the EM-1 is just around the corner so will be pensioning off my E-3 body to a good home and running the E-5 alongside the EM-1 for a while until the EM-1 II appears. 

Hopefully by then I will have fully adapted to the "new era" and be happy to step off the prism finder bus completely.

I still hope that some day, just because it's possible, they will make an electronic OM-4. That simplicity would be the ultimate sophistication.

However, back in the real world...

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March 2013

GOOD GEAR PROVES ITS WORTH - AGAIN

There are many so-called "weather sealed" cameras knocking about on the market.

The first D-SLR to offer this vital design feature was the E-1 that launched the E-System.

Like other now commonplace features pioneered in E-System cameras, other brands list this ability to shrug off a bit of inclement weather as a regular selling point of their semi-pro and pro kit.

Time and again, however, I have seen other photographers bagging their gear or begin to speak in tongues as their equipment refused to work after a light drizzle coated the shooting location.

Yesterday a lovely couple with their family flown in from Lithuania and Estonia had their long-awaited dream beach wedding.

The week days up to the big day were typical, idyllic African sunshine fare.

The big day dawned grey, overcast and wet.

The bride and groom, however, were determined. It was planned as a beach wedding and so it would be!

Squalls came and went through the morning and finally a gap seemed to open up at about 3.30 in the afternoon. It stopped raining and the sky brightened from about 5% to 30% grey.

Mother nature was up to something...

Guests were seated and the groom took up his place. The lady of the moment set forth from her room at the resort and all seemed fine until she arrived alongside her husband.

A light mist of fine raindrops began to fall.

The ceremony progressed.

The misty drops became larger drops. As each minute passed the drops grew in size as the wind picked-up and the elements conspired to drench the bridal party and assembled guests.

My camera gear had no choice as the ceremony carried on - in fact, I did not even spare a thought about the weather as I have come to depend on the weather sealing proving its worth again and again - I was able to concentrate on the actions (and reactions) of those pressing on with the wedding in spite of the weather.

Afterwards a dash ensued for cover and the guests toweled-off in the beachfront marquee and Lapa. I took shots of their efforts and then put the cameras down to dry myself off. 

Many comments were made about the fact that I was sure to need new cameras after this and one wag even took a shot of the E-3 I had used where it sat next to the 5 as he expressed his view that it was a "funeral shot" of a camera and he wanted to show his mates back home how I had sacrificed a camera and flash to get the shots.

Well, the rest of the night progressed and the allegedly terminal equipment went on to play its role in documenting the festivities.

After the guests had seen the rushes of selected shots after dinner the positive comments about the photographs taken in the rain were effusive. While the guests agreed it was a memorable event for the conditions and subsequent consequences, there was almost universal appreciation for the fact that the entire ceremony was documented.

                           

The day offered confirmation, yet again, that if you undertake to record an event for a client, you need to be able to deal with anything that happens. Investing in top gear that can work through the conditions - no matter what they may be - is a non-negotiable and worth the extra money. My cameras have soldiered-on through dust, snow, rain, sea-spray and the inevitable bumps and knocks of reportage and sports work.

As far as I have seen the only gear used by colleagues at events that has kept up with the E3/5 bodies so far has been the D3, 4 and the 1D.

So, simply, if you are serious about working as a photographer, get serious kit that can deal with all kinds of conditions and remember that the lenses need to be environmentally sealed as well to get the maximum benefit from the feature. Luckily all pro and super-pro optics from my chosen brand are sealed.

Other brands have them few and far between so choose with care if this is a feature you need.

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February 2013

ROLL ON Q4 2013

I have no illusions that the designers at Olympus have read this blog.

However, as someone who uses their equipment daily I needed to know what was up in the future for my High Grade 4/3 lenses as regards a newer imaging tool I could attach to them.

So, I asked them directly.

They very politely replied and said an "E-5 successor" for all 4/3 lenses would be available before the end of this year.

Domo-Origato!

Now back to work...I have two new cameras to pay for soon.

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August 2012

NEW CHRISTMAS WISH...

OK. So I had a moment of weakness. Like running off with a smaller and younger camera system while my E-3's slept in the cupboard (luckily).

The E-3's are back in harness and I now have one of the OM-Ds on E-Bay and the local smalls. (Will keep one for days when I want to travel light...)

Why has the relationship ended?

Simple - the investment made in high-grade lenses for the E-3 bodies does not deliver value when they are used on the OM-D bodies.

After initial attempts to find work-arounds (There are none) I took one final shot at it.

I spent 4 long days trying to find workarounds for the focus issues while doing a show-jumping derby recently and I eventually tanked the OM-D kit and went back to the E-3s. 

I had to. 

I needed to deliver crisp photos of the horses and riders at the right moment - not ones at the split second after they jumped.

So, my new Christmas wish list to the gentlemen at Olympus please.

The OM-D sensor (Could shoot rock concerts and floodlit sports - if you pre-focused - with no discernable noise), stabiliser and tone curve tool in the E-3 body so I can (a) Have my optical finder back and (b) Have the speed of focus I get with the E-3.

Not a M43 camera please - a proper camera I can hold for hours on end and with which I can shoot more than 9 000 frames in less than four days without repetitive stress injury.

No need to change the layout - no need to change anything on the outside (I do not need a touch screen on the camera to be honest). And, as the tooling and body is virtually paid for already, just toss the OM-D guts into the E-3/5 body please.

Call it what you like...I will call it the E-7

And you can have an order for 2 on announcement.

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February 2012

ALL MY CHRISTMAS CAMERA WISHES GRANTED AT ONCE!

em5

On Wednesday last (8 February 2012) Olympus - the company that was supposed to be down and out/bankrupt/no good at making serious cameras/(add your view here...) - released a camera that has set the lack-luster ordering in-boxes of online, and bricks and mortar retailers, aflame.

The amazing thing is that this activity is not just limited to Japan - but the USA and Europe have had a flood of pre-orders placed for the camera. Out here in South Africa the local agents - I understand on good authority - are still considering if they will even bring in the camera as the "...price may be too high and it may not sell...yadder-yadder!"  

Oh well... At any price this camera has no competitors. At only about R14 000 or so (which is the overseas retail price of $1300 with a weather-sealed lens and portable TTL flashgun x R8 plus VAT and something for the agent's flash metal fund) it is an absolute giveaway. As a serious photographic tool it is the business.

Now, if conventional wisdom is applied (based on repeated comments by alleged boffins on forum after forum on the web) then there must surely be a lot of idiots out there for there to be so many orders flooding in. After all, why buy a camera with a sensor that is too small (compared to what I ask?) and that looks just like the old ones from the 1980s.

Let's appraise the latter comment first. While the mirror-less compact cameras produced by Panasonic, Sony, Nikon and - of course the ones who pioneered the format - Olympus, have until now been interesting, they have been clunky to use fast. This, in fact, may well be why the local agents have a jaundiced view of the Micro Four Thirds marketplace...but then they must also honestly look at themselves and see how much effort they have put into marketing Micro-Four thirds equipment properly...however...

I have done my best to make friends with an E-P2 but time and again I find myself instinctively putting the camera to my eye only to realise there is no viewfinder. In that instant, many opportunities have been lost. Yes, I could buy the EV-F2 but you still have to hit a switch to go from one to the other - more seconds lost waiting for it to happen. And that EV-F2 is like a huge carbuncle atop the camera anyway. Yes, when all things work in one's favour, the image quality and the capabilities are breathtaking. Of course the size is absolutely lovely but you do not find yourself thinking it was a good decision to reach for the E-P2 rather than the E-500 or the E-3 when popping out somewhere and you lose a shot because of the "not there as I expected" missing viewfinder. 

People switching-up from a compact camera, however, would never find this a problem - it is the folk like me who have been using SLR type equipment for decades who have this issue. It is also us who populate the top-end of the camera purchasing population and who can afford the kit in this price range. So, this is another reason why the OM-D series makes so much sense and is proving to be a sales hit just like the original OM models and why previous Micro Four Thirds sales charts need to be tossed-out of the window. Are you listening at Tudor house there guys?

So, by copying a matured design and placing a viewfinder into the camera directly where you expect it to be, Olympus have done - in my view - exactly the right thing. Many decry the look and feel/shape of the OM-D series as too retro (And let's understand this - Like the PEN series and E-Series, this is a new camera series altogether) but this first iteration, the E-M5, is not just a cheesy attempt to milk the nostalgia market for ballies * like me who remember the working tools we used for more than 20 years. The layout of the camera has, like in most serious Olympus working cameras to date (OM-1,2,4 and the E1,3 and 5) been decided  - and I can clearly see the continuity of the thought process instilled in to the design team by Maitani-San - by asking the simple question "Is that button needed? Will it help you take better photographs or will it intrude in the process? 

So, the answer to why it looks like an old SLR is because they worked ! As we reached the 1980s SLR cameras were a very mature technology. Wild and fantastic designs had been tried (Anyone remember the Canon Epoca or the Minolta Vectis series?) and discarded and the layout and design had - largely - been settled. So using this type of layout is not just an exercise in nostalgia - in a very solid manner it is a return to what really matters. Compact, simple, every button for a particular purpose and easy to learn to use with the camera at eye-level.

The fact that one seamlessly goes from large rear screen to instantly available viewfinder as one did in the past is a treat. Olympus say they have made the AF the fastest of any camera and this is something I will take as read - after all, unless you want to be churlish and simply pig-headed - there is little between the E-P3 and any D-SLR you care to pick when it comes to focus acquisition. 

If the E-M5 is as fast (and Olympus say it is faster) then there is nothing to bother about in that department. Certainly, Terada-San is not given to boasting and the confident (but very quick) smile of pride he permitted himself in the press interview when he said it was the world's fastest auto-focus for any camera is convincing enough. What is more, Terada-San is, himself, an accomplished photographer and from a similar generation to myself. The way his fingers danced over the controls as he demonstrated the machine - coupled to his obvious enthusiasm for the camera and what it offers - further convinced me it has been thoroughly thought-through and carefully designed for light artists and not just happy-snappers.

As for the rest, the compact OM size (it is in fact a bit smaller), the simple layout, the correct balance and the ability to add the HLD6 grip make it an obvious choice for those who, like me, were getting more of a slouch as modern D-SLRs got larger and heavier. Aside from the fact that the E-series was the only designed for digital system, the mass of competing kit I would need to carry for the same performance from any other brand was another major reason I went with the E-system when I made my switch from film - and a Nikon F5 - to the brace of E-3s I still use. (Well...a Nikon D200 has crept into the equipment cupboard along with a triplet of lenses and a SB600 flashgun but that is another story unrelated to daily requirements entirely...)

Now, I must admit that, just as I was thinking about the long term possibility of putting a foot in another camp, the new E-M5 has got me sold. I have two on order and fully intend making them earn their keep. I expect to be able to use them for weddings (imagine how mobile one can be without tons of gear to lug around) and sports (up to 9 fps!) and given my location (often raining and misty) being able to use the cameras just like my E-3 bodies (it is, just like them, made from Magnesium and weather sealed) without bothering about the damp will be nothing short of a treat. Oh, and of course I can use my existing pro lenses with a weatherproof adaptor too but then again, there are some tasty - and very fast - Micro Four Third prime lenses on the way from Olympus as well...this is too much happiness!

raftlaunch 

When you are chasing the action in a number of sports, splashing and other issues should be the last of your concerns. In real-world conditions a properly sealed camera like the E-3, E-5 or the new E-M5 and lens is not a flight of fancy - it is a necessity.

As for the issue about the supposedly "useless 4/3 sensor" I read about so often on various fora, I think that argument can now be ignored. The image quality of the Nikon V1 is amazing and that sensor is smaller than the 4/3 one. The latest Canon all-in one has a sensor the same size as the 4/3 (OK, what is 1mm really?) and Canonophiles are hailing its quality...The E-M5 at 16MP has more pixels than you are likely to need if you frame your shots properly and even has enough if you need to rely on the cropping tool to make you look half decent. 

Next, with a performance at ISO3200 that is breathtaking (I have seen pre-production sample shots from friends in the European imaging press who have had sample cameras for a week or so..) there is nothing one could sensibly do in photography that this camera is not more than capable of offering. Let us not forget that this is not wishful thinking - I have had many billboard and interior mural images made from the output from the E-3s and E-5 at "only" 10 and 12MP. Then of course there is the HD video facility which opens up a whole new world of possibilities for new revenue streams...

And we have not even come to what I feel is the greatest (and will probably be the least understood) feature of the E-M5. That the viewfinder or screen will allow me to set the exposure even more accurately via an interactive tone-curve than I could with the multi-spot metering system of the OM-3/4 and it is the cherry on the top of a solid specification. Tone curve? What? 

Listen carefully - Almost as a footnote, Olympus have added a gem of an exposure tool into this camera. You can call up the tone curve on the screen or EVF (allocate the function to one of the 3 function buttons on the camera, give it a press and up it comes). By turning the front input wheel (surrounding the shutter release) you can bias the highlight curve to pull back or whiten highlights! The rear input wheel (looking for all the world like the OM-1 ASA wheel at a quick glance) allows you to sort the shadow curve and handle details or contrast in darker areas. The screen or EVF shows you exactly what the result will be before you hit the shutter! Just think of the time you will save with bounce-boards and in post-production. 

Picture this - start by taking a Spot-Hi reading as the basis to keep a white dress white without blow-out, hit Fn2 and then twirl the back dial to pull up the shadows of the groom's suite...or take a Spot reading from a dramatic moody early morning seascape and then twirl the front dial to get the cloudscape looking as it does to your eye...oh my goodness! A whole new realm of opportunity awaits with this camera.

If there is any wedding photographer out there (and without a noisy mirror bouncing around you can now shoot at virtually any point in the ceremony without getting a scowl from the minister)  - or anyone regularly photographing dark skin tones in sunlight - or doing landscapes - that does not immediately grin from ear to ear about this bit of wizardry then they just do not understand the import of the feature.  Furthermore, they probably do not deserve to use this amazing photographic tool anyway.

Domo Origato Olympus - this is the paintbrush I sent you so many e-mails about. While it is not the simple 3 button system from the OM3/4 which I repeatedly asked you to build into the next serious camera you made, it is easier to use and far more powerful. My wish has been granted.

The last time I had the anticipation of getting just the gift I wanted was before a very distant Christmas when I was about 8. April - when these wonderful tools start shipping out from dealers - is just too far away!

*Ballie - South African colloquialism for a gentleman of more than middle age from whom one may learn about life even though he may be well set in his ways. It is most often a term of endearment and respect - unless you are being an intransigent old codger...

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