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Olympus OMD EM5 Mk II Review and Thoughts


Andrew L (gryphon1911)

I was recently the proud recipient of a brand spanking new silver Olympus OMD EM5 Mk II.

Got the green light to get it as a birthday present to upgrade my original EM5 to the new Mk II

As always, I shoot to the real world usage and to what I prefer and not to charts, or spec tests. None of that means anything to me if the overall experience of the camera doesn't work for what I want.

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Olympus 25/1.8 1/60, f/1.8, ISO 400

Handling

First thing I noticed - build quality. As with the other OMD bodies, it is top notch. Feels very solid and has a good weight to it without feeling heavy. The grip on the right hand side is a bit more prominent than the previous EM5. The texture of the outer casing feels more grippy as well.

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Olympus 12-40/2.8 PRO 1/80, f/5, ISO 800 @ 40mm

The extra buttons and placement of said buttons on the body are pleasing for me as well. The jury is still out on the fully articulating screen - some people like them some don't. I'm kind of liking the ability to spin it completely around and protect it - it just takes time to get used to in comparison to the tilt only of the previous OMD cameras.

If you just need to tilt it, it can get a bit fiddly, but having the ability to articulate the screen is better than not having any articulation at all.

Overall, I find the handling changes an improvement.

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Olympus 40-150/4-5.6R 1/200, f/5.2, ISO 800 @ 111mm

The front and rear dials are thicker, which makes turning them easier. The shutter release feels more solid to me than the original EM5. It is remeniscent of my old film Yashica Electro rangefinder camera.

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Olympus 12-40/2.8 PRO 1/200, f/5.6, ISO 200 @ 40mm

Image Quality

The sensor has not really changed from the other iterations of the OMD, so if you liked what you saw from the previous OMD cameras, you'll be getting that again. IBIS works great and is very smooth in operation.

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Olympus 75-300/4.8-6.7 II 1/2000, f/5.7, ISO 250 @156mm

I've modified my JPG engine settings with a -1 sharpness and noise reduction on low. I found even the basic sharpness settings can be too aggressive for me, which could cause higher base ISO noise and artifacts. Adding a little extra sharpening and noise reduction in post works wonders on the files.

AF Speed

Olympus has kept the same contrast detect only AF for the Mk II, which works fast and sure in most situations shooting with S-AF. Still not the best option for C-AF, but I have not had a lot of use shooting continuous, except the surfer shots below. There are many more keepers than what I was getting with the Mk I. If you want good C-AF performance and stay within the m43 family, you'll want to look at the EM1/GH4 with phase detect AF or a DSLR.

With that being said, action is possible even with use of S-AF mode and a little planning, as seen below.

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Olympus 75-300/4.8-6.7 II 1/2000, f/7.1, ISO 500 @ 300mm

Hi Res Mode

You will need to use this mode on a tripod and with a scene that has no movement in it to prevent artifacts from showing themselves in the final stacked image. You get the options to pull a 64MP RAW or 40MP jpg file. This provides you with enhanced resolution and truer color rendering. There are plenty of other places that have done extensive head to head images of a standard 16MP capture versus the hi res mode equivalent. There are even reviews that stacked the D800 series against the EM5 Mk II, showing some benefits of the EM5 Mk II method over the larger MP/sensor of the Nikon.

As with anything, there are specific use cases for this kind of feature, and used accordingly can be beneficial.

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Olympus 75-300/4.8-6.7 II 1/2000, f/5.6, ISO 200 @ 124mm

I can see this being of use to product and still life photographers as well as urban exploration or cityscape captures.

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Olympus 12-40/2.8 PRO Hi-Res Mode 1/400, f/5.6, ISO 200 @ 40mm

Video Recording

Not being a heavy video user, I am actually just now exploring it's use in my business use. There are better options out there for video, however, right now, the options are adequate for me to use as a learning tool.

Other Misc. Items Of Note

The EM5 Mk I had a top shutter speed of 1/4000. Mark II gives you 1/8000 mechanical shutter and electronic (silent) shutter mode up to 1/16000 shutter speed. You not only gain an increase in top shutter speed, but you also get the benefits of silent operation. Limitations of electronic shutter can be rolling shutter effects present themselves in fast moving subjects as well as issues with fluorescent lights or monitor refresh rates. You also lose the ability to use flash with the electronic shutter.

Shutter shock mode, electronic shutter and hi res mode are available as options in the drive mode, so no menu diving to activate it. Even continuous silent modes are available.

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Olympus 75-300/4.8-6.7 1/1000, f/7.1, ISO 800 @ 300mm

The mechanical shutter is noticeably more quiet than the EM1/EM5. Those shutters were by no means loud, but the Mark II is a definite improvement. Put in context, not loud is in comparison to the cameras like Nikon D300/D700, which sound like pistol fire in comparison(exaggeration for proving a point).

The EVF is the same as what you'll find on the EM1, so definitely some visual goodness. Also present is the built in Wifi that can be used with the OI Share app.

Again, like in the EM1/EM5, you get the weather sealing and touch screen operations.

The new, detachable flash unit is another surprise upgrade. Differing from the flashes that came with the original EM5 and EM1, this flash has a fully articulating head, allowing it to be more easily deployed as a bounce flash. It has a low guide number of 9, but if you need/want that little pop for fill, this gives you more creative options and not just the pop of a in line with the lens built in flash.

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Olympus 75-300/4.8-6.7 II 1/2000, f/5.7, ISO 250 @ 156mm

Is it worth the upgrade?

The Mark II brings a bunch of upgrades to the table, and I'm still experimenting with the viability of the hi res mode. I appreciate all the improvements that the new body offers and having as much fun shooting it as I did the original EM5 - maybe more so. It just feels more refined and polished to me.

I'd say if you are pressed for cash or on the fence, get or stick with the original EM5. Otherwise, take the plunge and pick up a Mark II - it is a great functioning camera.

Another thing that this camera reminds me - the feeling I get when I shoot with the Nikon Df. The feel, the look, the responsiveness - especially when shooting with prime lenses just makes me want to keep shooting with it. While the Df still is the supreme stills shooter for me, the EM5 Mk II has solidified itself to the #2 spot.

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Olympus 75-300/4.8-6.7 II 1/2000, f/6.5, ISO 400 @ 258mm

The EM1, while a fantastic camera, feels more like a professional tool I would and do use for paying jobs. It is in the same line of thought I have using the Nikon D300/D700. They are tools with a purpose for making money or doing work. The Df and EM5 Mk II feel like tools I use to create art and express myself, have some fun with. It may not make a lot of sense on an analytical front, but from an emotional level, it makes all the sense in the world to me.

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Thanks Andrew. I have the E-M5/2 on loan for a couple of weeks again and this time I need to get out and use it some more. 

 

I agree with you that the build quality is really good and I really like the new front and rear command dials. Button placement is also better, but one of my Olympus shooting buddies has complained that there is no easy way of using a rear AF-on button like there is on the E-M1. I don't focus that way so it's not an issue for me. 

 

However... that flip out screen is a deal breaker for me. Can't stand it. That said, the LCD quality seems to be a step up on the E-M1. Photos viewed on it look amazing. 

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Andrew, good to know you like the camera.  Actually EM5 MkII is the first Olympus m4/3 camera I have ever looked at seriously.

 

One suggestion for correction: Panasonic GH4 doesn't have PDAF sensor.  In fact, no Panasonic m4/3 camera has PDAF sensor.  All Panasonic m4/3 cameras are CDAF only.

 

One thing I always wonder is that Olympus doesn't disclose the lowest light value at which the AF (of any type) works.  All the current Panasonic cameras are rated to be able to AF down to -4EV.

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Andrew, good to know you like the camera.  Actually EM5 MkII is the first Olympus m4/3 camera I have ever looked at seriously.

 

One suggestion for correction: Panasonic GH4 doesn't have PDAF sensor.  In fact, no Panasonic m4/3 camera has PDAF sensor.  All Panasonic m4/3 cameras are CDAF only.

 

One thing I always wonder is that Olympus doesn't disclose the lowest light value at which the AF (of any type) works.  All the current Panasonic cameras are rated to be able to AF down to -4EV.

 

You are absolutely correct.  I do not know why I had it in my head that it did.  It uses the DFD technology.

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Andrew,

 

I just found this review. I like what you have to say about this camera. I have a Df that is my main camera but I've been looking for another camera that's a smaller camera and doesn't cost me too much in functionality. I would use it when I want a more portable solution for family/street/events/travel. I've got a substantial kit sitting in a cart using the XT1. However I just can't get past the X-trans sensor and the fact that Fuji is lens size doesn't represent that much size/bulk savings over a FX camera. So I've started looking at m43 again. I use a X100 and Ricoh GR a great deal but I do need the flexibility of a zoom on many occasions.

 

If you start off for a shoot with this camera, are there times you feel you need more camera to get the results you want? At what point do you think you really need the Df to get what you need.\?

 

Thanks,

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Options, options.  A smaller DX Nikon body with a few well chosen DX lenses should also be considered as a lighter weight option.

 

I have a D40X, but then are there again I also have an E-M1 with a 12-40mm lens as my main walkabout camera.

 

Andrew,

 

I just found this review. I like what you have to say about this camera. I have a Df that is my main camera but I've been looking for another camera that's a smaller camera and doesn't cost me too much in functionality. I would use it when I want a more portable solution for family/street/events/travel. I've got a substantial kit sitting in a cart using the XT1. However I just can't get past the X-trans sensor and the fact that Fuji is lens size doesn't represent that much size/bulk savings over a FX camera. So I've started looking at m43 again. I use a X100 and Ricoh GR a great deal but I do need the flexibility of a zoom on many occasions.

 

If you start off for a shoot with this camera, are there times you feel you need more camera to get the results you want? At what point do you think you really need the Df to get what you need.\?

 

Thanks,

 

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Options, options.  A smaller DX Nikon body with a few well chosen DX lenses should also be considered as a lighter weight option.

 

 

Hugh, certainly options, options. I've used Nikon DX and it's come a long way from my D2Hs :-). That camera was used with the 17-55mm f/2.8 DX and not quite a lightweight option - I know apples and APPLES/oranges. I was on a tour a couple of years ago when the D7000 was new and one of my tourmates used it with the 18-200. It was a nice kit and at the time I was using a X100. I love that camera and still have it, but I miss the functionality of a zoom in those situations. I'll keep a D7200 in mind, maybe with a 16-85mm f/2.8-4. 

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Andrew,

 

I just found this review. I like what you have to say about this camera. I have a Df that is my main camera but I've been looking for another camera that's a smaller camera and doesn't cost me too much in functionality. I would use it when I want a more portable solution for family/street/events/travel. I've got a substantial kit sitting in a cart using the XT1. However I just can't get past the X-trans sensor and the fact that Fuji is lens size doesn't represent that much size/bulk savings over a FX camera. So I've started looking at m43 again. I use a X100 and Ricoh GR a great deal but I do need the flexibility of a zoom on many occasions.

 

If you start off for a shoot with this camera, are there times you feel you need more camera to get the results you want? At what point do you think you really need the Df to get what you need.\?

 

Thanks,

 

Need is absolutely a subjective thing here, just to set that.

 

For me, I find that the Nikon Df is as near a perfect general shooting camera.  There are times when I need to shoot a lot in really low light without the aid of supplemental lighting.  In those instances, I tend to favor the Nikon FX cameras in my kit.  I also tend to favor the Nikon cameras where shooting sports with erratic movement is involved.

 

I've been working with the m43 gear to the point that I can get just about anything that I want from it that I can get from my Nikon gear.  I've yet to run into too many situations where I wished I had brought another kit.

 

A few big benefits of the m43 kit are that I can bring all my lenses in relatively the same space, size and weight as a Nikon FX camera and 2-3 lenses.

I also get excellent image quality from comparable lenses in a fraction of the cost.  I also get a lot more reach.   I have the Olympus 75-300mm lens that gets me out to a 600mm field of view.  You could take that lens, which cost me $475 new and get a used EM5 for under $500.  for that money I cannot even tough the lens cost of a Nikon 600mm.

 

Even comparing a Nikon 24-70/2.8 versus the Oly 12-40/2.8 - having similar fields of view, the Oly is only going to run you $1000 new without any deals.  I have a friend who just picked up the 12-40 for $800.  Then you look at the size and weight of the 2 and you still get more of a benefit with the Oly kit where that is concerned.

 

Right now, bang for the buck, getting an EM5 is probably one of the best deals out there in an MILC.

 

As far as fixed lens cameras go, I really like my X100T.

 

Depending on your needs, you might like the original X100 - since XTrans is not something you are looking forward to using.  The X100 can be found used.  It is a bit slow on the AF and in overall operation, but talk about gorgeous files and a Bayer sensor to boot.  You also have the Nikon Coolpix A, which on a good day can be found pn sale for $300 new.  The Ricoh GR is considered by many a very underrated performer and a favorite by many street shooters.  I've not really had a chance to really dig into one, so I only have other peoples information to go on.

 

After all that,  I would seriously consider looking at Olympus or even Panasonic in m43 mount.

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...................... fact that Fuji is lens size doesn't represent that much size/bulk savings over a FX camera.

 

This is yet another fallacious Internet beat-up that appears to have begun with people reading specs and making assumptions without directly comparing actual hardware.

 

Here is a photo of my old bag (at left) in which I carried a D3s, A D2x, 80-200/2.8 AF-D, 35-75/2.8 AF-D, 105/2.8 AF-S VR Micro, 16/2.8 AF-D fish, 50/1.8 AF-D, 17-35 AF-S and SB-800, plus spare batteries and ancillaries. This bag was big, heavy and pretty much full with that load. The camera bodies took up the full height of the two end compartments.

 

In front of it is my current bag, with X-T1 & 10-24/4, 8/2.8 fish, 18-55/2.8-4, Zeiss 50/2.8 Makro, 56/1.2, 90/2, 50-140/2.8 plus a Sigma DP1 Merrill and a DP3 Merrill, plus batteries x3 for each camera. Losing one of the Merrills means space for carrying an EF42 flash. Losing the other Merrill means space for my Fuji X-Pro1.

 

This bag is full, but nowhere near the weight the the Nikon bag was, nor is it anywhere near the size and awkwardness of carrying, and I have even more optical versatility. So it's entirely fair to say that I can carry a similar functionality in a bag almost half the internal size that I did with my Nikon outfit. There is another factor here - the Fuji bag is completely carry-on compliant. The old Tamrac Pro12 bag for the Nikon would be borderline at best these days, and probably be too heavy anyway for many airlines.

Feg08vJ.jpg

 

My point is that it is beyond plain to see that the claim that Fuji lenses save little over the 135 DSLR lenses just nowhere near correct. They are substantially smaller and lighter, even the 50-140/2.8 zoom is only marginally longer but narrower than the Nikon 24-70/2.8 (I've physically held the two side by side to ascertain this) and a similar weight, but it is most definitely smaller and much lighter than its "equivalent" in the Nikon line, the 70-200/2.8 (even on paper this is evident, 82mmx175mm, 995gm, compared to 87mmx215mm, 1,470gm).

 

The reduction in size and weight comparing Fuji to M4/3 is not proportionally as much as is the Fuji is from the Nikon, either. In fact the X-T1 is about the same size as an OM-D EM1. It's the mirror and associated DSLR design factors that make the size difference, not so much the sensor size. In fact the Oly 35-100 f/2.0 is bigger, and heavier, than the Nikkor 70-200/2.8, while the Panasonic 30-100/2.8 is far lighter - but then the Pana isn't much different to the Fuji 55-200/3.5-4.8, so choices are there. Point is that both the Fuji and the Oly/Pana M4/3 are substantially more compact and lighter than are their DSLR 135 counterparts, and the Fuji gear is much closer to M4/3 than it is to DSLR..

 

The only way to confirm these truths is to compare side-by-side, but my photo should be a reasonably accurate starting point - rest assured I would not have willingly chosen a bag the size of the Tamrac Pro12 to lug around full of Nikon equipment at events and weddings if I could have got away with something smaller, and equally I got the little KATA shoulder bag for the Fuji/Sigma gear because it was plain silly hauling that massive Tamrac around with more empty space than gear inside it after I switched over to mirrorless. These days it is just a convenient storage for lenses and gear that I'm not actually using at the time.

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The only way to confirm these truths is to compare side-by-side, but my photo should be a reasonably accurate starting point - rest assured I would not have willingly chosen a bag the size of the Tamrac Pro12 to lug around full of Nikon equipment at events and weddings if I could have got away with something smaller...

 

That is the issue, though - most people don't have access to the systems to compare, which is why posts like yours are very helpful.

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OK, I'm guilty of stating perceptions over fact.

 

Trying not to be defensive here :-). We don't use the same lenses. My Df kit usually contains a 24mm f/2.8 AIS, 50mm f/1.8 AFS and 105mm f/2.5 AIS and more often only a 35mm f/1.4 AIS.  A couple of weeks ago, I set that Df kit alongside a XT1 kit with 16mm, 35mm and 56mm. My reaction was one of disappointment. For me to go to that Fuji kit, there were a few things that colored my judgement: price of abandoning a good kit for what I didn't perceive to be the size differential I was anticipating for a mirrorless body; disappointed at Fuji for IMO wasting an engineering opportunity to scale down lenses to meet my desire for smaller lenses (e.g. where are those f/2 WR lenses); and my having to deal with a non LR workflow.

 

The X100 is the reason I'm looking at Fuji, it set a lot of expectations and I love that size, flexibility and maneuverability. But I suffered through SAB (so call it my D600 experience). The shutter went out about midway through a 14 day trip of Italy. I continued to use it when I could at f/2 (including stretching that with internal ND) and fortunately had an X10 that my wife was carrying for the rest. Not the quality I was wanting. The final firmware updates a year after release finally brought the camera up to where it should have been at release. The hassle of getting SAB fixed was way beyond any reasonable consumer experience, especially after having been accused of mishandling the camera, getting it wet, subjecting it to airline vibration and "did I read the operating manual?". After two months of hassle and two trips to the repair station it was finally repaired properly. So I have an edgy background with Fuji and it embitters me (not even somewhat). However, I respect their optics, the fact that they have photographers in their design group and keep pushing forward on product and industry pressure. I'm just not fully in their mainstream. So I'll try to do better in my commentary in the future.

 

While I use other zooms, primarily the f/4 Nikkors and 70-200mm f/2.8 AFS, that's not what my comment was about. It was really about my most compact kit, the one that I choose to tote. The wonderful Fuji lenses in my comparable focal lengths are often f/1.2 lenses and I would rather they be f/2 for my use. 

 

Thanks for bringing the other side into this. I still use my X100 (and Ricoh GR) because I don't think you can get smaller and still have that quality - I'm willing to listen to other suggestions.

 

I have done the side by side with the X-T1 but there are no stores that I frequent that handle Olympus. Camerasize.com does help somewhat.

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Need is absolutely a subjective thing here, just to set that.

.......

 

I've been working with the m43 gear to the point that I can get just about anything that I want from it that I can get from my Nikon gear.  I've yet to run into too many situations where I wished I had brought another kit.

 

............

 

After all that,  I would seriously consider looking at Olympus or even Panasonic in m43 mount.

 

Andrew,

 

Thank you for your views. They add a lot of weight to my decision. You, Alan and many others on this group can get just about anything out a camera and know very much why it works.

 

I'm going to have to make a change for the smaller, it will be about travel and the people I'm traveling with. It's not all about photography, some of it is about my not letting my photography and/or equipment dominate the social situation of the travel. 

 

It's encouraging that you like your X100T. Perhaps I should just refresh my X100 (which is starting to have some intermittent problems) and use that as an intro to the Xtrans. I could be making too much of that situation. I do know that a family outing with all the grandchildren can generate several hundred to thousand images and the LR process of getting them to a manageable number seems to me to be quite reasonable. Perhaps only a few need an alternative RAW converter, but I just don't have any feeling for what's really needed to make that a permanent or integral part of my photography.

 

I reviewed and enjoyed your website - I'm especially drawn the the B&W images.

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LR is not great at processing the X-Trans, so if you intend to use LR I would not recommend X-Trans.  Photo Ninja does a great job.

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Given that there were zero Fuji FX lenses five years ago, and given the quality (mostly) of the lenses that have been produced since, it is fair to say that Fuji have been reasonably good at filling general needs. They obviously had a sales-driven growth model by producing lenses that most people would be interested in at a price that most people would be interested in paying with specifications that would match most of the competitive lenses on the market. Hence the original 35/1.4, 60/2.4 "macro", and 18/2 "pancake" wide (and which to be honest, I had zero need for any of).

 

In fact it wasn't until the 14/2.8 that I actually bought a lens I really could use (after the Samyang 8/2.8 fish, of course), and really it wasn't until the recent run of lenses starting with the Zeiss 50/2.8M and the 56/1.2 that lenses appeared that I actually wanted. It is now four and a half years after I bought my x-Pro1 - but the wait was worth it.

Fuji as a company is at least one that listens to its customers and the clamour for small, slower lenses is one I doubt is being ignored. I can certainly see that others have no need for lenses I prefer and a very definite need for lenses I have no need for, as does Fuji, most probably. It's simply a matter of designing and building as income from past successes provides the bean counters with the figures above the red line to provide the OK to do so.

Keep an eye out for the next lens road map - one is probably due out shortly as the predicted lenses on the last one are nearly all a reality now. My guess is that the lenses you (and thousands of others) have asked for will be on it.

 

I'm waiting on only one thing now, the 1.4x TC to take my tank-buster 50-140 into "proper" tele regions to enable me to sell off the excellent and small but fragile 55-200/3.5-4.8. The difference in build quality and feel is palpable in the WR Pro lenses, along with the confidence in longevity their ruggedness brings.

 

Whether or not I actually need the 100-400 to follow that and which is slated for early next year is open to conjecture - I never had anything longer than 300mm for my FX Nikons (short of the totally inadequate Samyang 500/6.3 mirror lens), so to be frank and following a similar path I might just be as well off in the long term to settle for the FX-fit but probably totally inadequate Samyang 350/6.3 instead. This lens is tiny and weighs next to nothing, and will probably be worth the $400-odd it'll cost me for the total amount of use it will get. I have also converted the 500/6.3 to FX mount using a trashed cheap converter, and while it is even worse than inadequate the once-a-year use it gets certainly brings things up close and personal with the X-T1. PP can kill a lot of the flaws, and with my new resolution to return to B&W it might even become passably usable in that role.
 

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Andrew,

 

Thank you for your views. They add a lot of weight to my decision. You, Alan and many others on this group can get just about anything out a camera and know very much why it works.

 

I'm going to have to make a change for the smaller, it will be about travel and the people I'm traveling with. It's not all about photography, some of it is about my not letting my photography and/or equipment dominate the social situation of the travel. 

 

It's encouraging that you like your X100T. Perhaps I should just refresh my X100 (which is starting to have some intermittent problems) and use that as an intro to the Xtrans. I could be making too much of that situation. I do know that a family outing with all the grandchildren can generate several hundred to thousand images and the LR process of getting them to a manageable number seems to me to be quite reasonable. Perhaps only a few need an alternative RAW converter, but I just don't have any feeling for what's really needed to make that a permanent or integral part of my photography.

 

I reviewed and enjoyed your website - I'm especially drawn the the B&W images.

 

I find that even shooting JPG from the Fuji cameras give you a lot to work with.  So, using Lightroom in that respect is really not a whole lot different than anything else.  When you do find the need to shoot RAW, you can just use an alternate process for those special use cases.

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I always hammer on about raw and processing because my final use depends on it. If you're not going to print your files large as an intended end use, then there's little point in sweating beyond a jpeg, whether OOC or modified afterwards. In that case, as Andrew points out, there is no impediment to sticking with LR if that's what works for you.

 

If you're going to shoot for B&W, however, then an 8-bit jpeg will definitely sell you short. 256 shades of grey is absolutely marginal in recording smooth tonal transitions, and if edited afterwards there is a very definite chance of smooth mid-tones like blue skies being visibly affected by posterisation, even on an 8-bit monitor. On a wide-gamut monitor the images so affected will look downright horrible.

 

I tend to set my processing bar high by default because I'm never sure of just how big or how detailed I might have to print something in the future. Granted that a lot of the effort so expended is wasted, but there's the assurance that even a decade or more down the track there's a good chance the file will print well even on the newest tech printers as a result.

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My advice to anyone wanting to find out how m43 performs is to get one in your hands by either renting one for a couple of days, or try and find an Olympus dealer who offers demo days (I do this in my home country and I know they do them in the UK too). 

 

Honestly, the only areas where larger systems might have a slight advantage over m43 are in extreme high ISO (anything over ISO 6400 is extreme in my book) and tracking of some subjects, as Andrew mentioned. Everything else considered it's a brilliant system with brilliant lens choices. I'm using the 40-150/2.8 PRO on this safari and so far I have been quite impressed with near field subject image quality. It's such a pity the 300mm f/4 has been delayed because that lens on this birding safari we have just done in the Chobe would have been awesome to have on one of those photography boat gimbals. 

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      Another "non-technical review."  Yes, the zoom range is fantastic. But if you start enlarging the images, I find they are not particularly sharp. I am talking about landscape shots.  I have not done any macro shots with this yet. Frankly, had I spent more time with the lens after purchasing, I think I would have sent this one back.  Perhaps I got a "dud?"
    • By Dallas
      Durban recently hosted its 10th annual Durban International Blues Festival at the lively Zack’s Wilson’s Wharf venue on the Bay. I’ve been fortunate enough to photograph the Fender evening on a few occasions, but this year it was extra special because my son and his Rock Academy band were one of the acts. They played 2 numbers on the night, namely “House Of The Rising Sun” by the Animals and “Before You Accuse Me” by Eric Clapton (I think he wrote it?). Very proud moment for me. Sometimes I find myself living vicariously… not such a bad thing coz I sure as hell wouldn’t ever have the nerve to get up on a stage in front of a lot of people and entertain them. No sir. I gots me some issues with stage confidence.
       
      I love photographing bands and performers though. Over the years I have accumulated quite a few images of artists who played on various stages. I’d love to put on an exhibition of these works someday. Photographing live music is not easy, but I have managed to perfect my own method which sort of comes naturally to me. A lot of photographers struggle with things like metering methods, colour balance, auto focus and whatever else the camera battles with when left to its own devices. I’ve come to know my cameras over the years, wringing the best out of them wherever possible and recently with my move to the Olympus micro four thirds system I find I am just getting better and better shots as the technology improves. The things I lean on are the new fast lenses that the smaller m43 format has brought us, in particular the Olympus 75mm f/1.8, the ability to shoot at high ISO and get a usable image and image stabilisation. Without those three elements you’re going to be in for a lot of disappointment as far as shot quality goes (and I’m seeing that evident in the work of others who cover the same events I do).
       
      That said, there’s also a lot to be said for personal experience. I recently discovered something that the Olympus cameras do that kind of makes low light photography a lot easier. On the Olympus bodies you’ll find this thing called a Shadow Spot Meter. I accidentally activated this while on safari recently while we were photographing this pack of stinky hyenas at Sabi Sabi. It was night time and the only lights we had on the scene were the spotlights that the trackers use. I usually auto float my ISO values between 100 and 8000 on the Olympus E-M1 but I couldn’t understand why I was getting decent exposures at low ISO values of 400 and sometimes even 200 in such dim conditions. It didn’t make sense to me, yet there I was looking at these great shots on the back of the camera and zoomed in at pixel level I had hardly any noise. So I tried using that metering method on the stage at this years festival and it worked well there too. Yes, the rest of the scene goes quite dark, but your subject gets just the right amount of exposure if you’re looking for that low key, moody look. Just so happens that I like that. A lot. See if you can pick out which of these shots got the shadow spot treatment.
       

      My boy playing a Fender Telecaster (he usually plays a Charvel, but with it being a Fender evening he was handed this job and got on with it.
       

      Their lead guitarist, Rorke.
       

      16-year-old Cyndi didn't get the memo about it being a Fender evening (nice Guild though)
       

      My buddy Reg (also a photographer) and Roland
       

      Sadly I do not know what this fellas name is. But he sure could sing them blues.
       

      Eloise, awesome vocalist and vocals tutor.
       

      My good friend and all round good guy, John.
       

      From Chicago, USA Mr. Charlie Rose, singer of the blues.
       

       

      Reg's very talented son, Rowan Stuart. Look him up on iTunes.
       

      Another multi-talented guy, Andy Turrell (former drummer for Dan Patlansky).

      View full article
    • By Dallas
      Durban recently hosted its 10th annual Durban International Blues Festival at the lively Zack’s Wilson’s Wharf venue on the Bay. I’ve been fortunate enough to photograph the Fender evening on a few occasions, but this year it was extra special because my son and his Rock Academy band were one of the acts. They played 2 numbers on the night, namely “House Of The Rising Sun” by the Animals and “Before You Accuse Me” by Eric Clapton (I think he wrote it?). Very proud moment for me. Sometimes I find myself living vicariously… not such a bad thing coz I sure as hell wouldn’t ever have the nerve to get up on a stage in front of a lot of people and entertain them. No sir. I gots me some issues with stage confidence.
       
      I love photographing bands and performers though. Over the years I have accumulated quite a few images of artists who played on various stages. I’d love to put on an exhibition of these works someday. Photographing live music is not easy, but I have managed to perfect my own method which sort of comes naturally to me. A lot of photographers struggle with things like metering methods, colour balance, auto focus and whatever else the camera battles with when left to its own devices. I’ve come to know my cameras over the years, wringing the best out of them wherever possible and recently with my move to the Olympus micro four thirds system I find I am just getting better and better shots as the technology improves. The things I lean on are the new fast lenses that the smaller m43 format has brought us, in particular the Olympus 75mm f/1.8, the ability to shoot at high ISO and get a usable image and image stabilisation. Without those three elements you’re going to be in for a lot of disappointment as far as shot quality goes (and I’m seeing that evident in the work of others who cover the same events I do).
       
      That said, there’s also a lot to be said for personal experience. I recently discovered something that the Olympus cameras do that kind of makes low light photography a lot easier. On the Olympus bodies you’ll find this thing called a Shadow Spot Meter. I accidentally activated this while on safari recently while we were photographing this pack of stinky hyenas at Sabi Sabi. It was night time and the only lights we had on the scene were the spotlights that the trackers use. I usually auto float my ISO values between 100 and 8000 on the Olympus E-M1 but I couldn’t understand why I was getting decent exposures at low ISO values of 400 and sometimes even 200 in such dim conditions. It didn’t make sense to me, yet there I was looking at these great shots on the back of the camera and zoomed in at pixel level I had hardly any noise. So I tried using that metering method on the stage at this years festival and it worked well there too. Yes, the rest of the scene goes quite dark, but your subject gets just the right amount of exposure if you’re looking for that low key, moody look. Just so happens that I like that. A lot. See if you can pick out which of these shots got the shadow spot treatment.
       

      My boy playing a Fender Telecaster (he usually plays a Charvel, but with it being a Fender evening he was handed this job and got on with it.
       

      Their lead guitarist, Rorke.
       

      16-year-old Cyndi didn't get the memo about it being a Fender evening (nice Guild though)
       

      My buddy Reg (also a photographer) and Roland
       

      Sadly I do not know what this fellas name is. But he sure could sing them blues.
       

      Eloise, awesome vocalist and vocals tutor.
       

      My good friend and all round good guy, John.
       

      From Chicago, USA Mr. Charlie Rose, singer of the blues.
       

       

      Reg's very talented son, Rowan Stuart. Look him up on iTunes.
       

      Another multi-talented guy, Andy Turrell (former drummer for Dan Patlansky).
    • By Hugh_3170
      This anticipated new model in the Olympus E-M1 line up has been released.
       
      Some links:
       
      https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/olympus-om-d-e-m1-mark-iii-initial-review
       
      https://www.olympus.com.au/product/dslr/em1mk3/index.html
       
      It will be interesting to see how this new comer stacks up against its predecessors, especially in the stills IQ department.
       
      (Meanwhile Nikon have released their new D6 - in good time for the summer Olympics in Tokyo later this year.)
    • By Dallas
      Working With Olympus FL-600R Flashes
      I’ve had two of these small, but fully functional FL-600R flashes pretty much since I started shooting with Olympus full time and have done a fair amount of work with them, including small product photography and portraiture as well as some event coverage. To follow is a basic overview of how the flashes work and also how I use them.
       
      FL-600R Features
      After previously using a couple of Nikon SB-800 and SB-900 speedlights, getting these little things was quite a shock. They are minute compared to standard speedlights from Nikon and Canon. One of them is probably about half (or less) the size of an SB-900. However, in spite of their diminutive size, they offer much the same functionality of the Nikon CLS system.
       
      The heads zoom according to the focal length of the lens you are using, they tilt and swivel too, allowing for bounce flash, plus there is also a wide angle diffraction panel built in along with a very small white bounce card (too small to be meaningful).
       
      On the back of the unit is an LCD panel showing the various settings. This also has a backlight, but it needs to be activated manually - it doesn’t turn on when the flash is activated by the camera, which I think is something they should fix in firmware. There is a rotating selector wheel with directional key pad built in.
       
      The units come in a nice nylon case and included is a plastic stand for remote use. Missing is a clip on diffuser. I’m not sure if you can buy one to fit these small units. Maybe somebody in China is making them?


      The one feature that this flash has which I haven’t encountered on any other portable unit is a built in LED for video. It can be set up to shine at various strengths from 1/1 down to 1/16 of its power. I can tell you that if you have this thing set to shine at 1/1 you are going to blind people. It’s very bright!
       
      The flash has several modes you can set it to:
       
      A mode - auto mode operates much the same as it does on any other portable flash unit. The sensor in the front of the unit reads how much light is being reflected back to it from the subject and when it thinks it has pushed out enough power it cuts itself off. It works pretty well with the OM-D cameras and provided you have it properly set up on your Super Control Panel (as fill-in flash, not Auto) you should get a decent exposure for snapshot type photos.
       
      M mode - the FL-600R has full manual mode which is good news for any strobist. You can adjust the power from 1/1 all the way down to 1/128.
       
      FP-TTL A mode - like most advanced flash units this one has the FP mode, which lets you sync flash up to the maximum shutter speed of the camera (1/8000s in the case of the OM-D range). This mode also passes full control of flash output to the camera, hence the TTL.
       
      TTL - A mode - as per above, except that you are now limiting the flash to the max sync speed of the OM-D.
       
      FP - M mode - full manual control but with the ability to sync at any shutter speed.
       
      RC mode - remote control mode lets you set up the flash so that it is completely controlled by the camera when it is standing free. This is the equivalent of Nikon’s CLS mode where you can have several flashes working in three different groups. I’ll go into more detail on this later in the article.
       
      SL - A mode - this is the slave mode combined with A mode (mentioned above). Not to be confused with RC mode, slave mode is where the unit waits to receive an optical trigger from any other flash unit and then pumps out light based on what it gets back from the sensor in the front of the unit.
       
      SL- M mode - this is your quintessential “strobist” mode where the flash uses its built int optical slave and lets the photographer decide how much power it should dump out with each burst. Nikon users will know this as SU-4 mode on their speedlights.
       
      Flash compensation is possible either from the camera or manually from the flash unit. This has a pretty wide range going from -5.0 all the way up to +5.0 stops.
      The zoom can be set to change automatically or manually from 12mm up to 42mm.
       
      The LED light can be set up to come on automatically to assist with auto focus acquisition in low light, or you can toggle it on or off manually. It’s also possible to set the strength of the light in the custom functions of the FL-600R.
       
      Just on the LED settings; it can be very confusing to set this up to operate as an AF assist light because you have to co-ordinate settings on both the speedlight and the camera. Buried deep in the Olympus menu labyrinth is a setting for AF Illuminat. You have to set this to on. Then you have to go into the FL-600R’s custom settings by holding down the OK button for 2 seconds, find the setting that reads ILL and make sure that says A. Then, once you have done those two things you need to adjust the LED settings on the back panel of the flash to the A setting too. Only then will it automatically shine the LED to assist with auto focus.
       
      And before you do this you really need to make sure that you have turned the power of the LED down to a reasonable level otherwise your subjects are going to be squinting horribly at you. Trust me on this - it’s not pretty! It’s a better idea to use the orange AF assist light of the OM-D than this thing, although that may also frustrate you as it can be distracting. I suppose once you are used to changing these settings in their respective places it isn’t as complicated as it sounds, but I have switched this “feature” off and set the flash to manually turn the LED light on or off. I find that at a lower power setting this is far less distracting to a subject and also provides enough illumination when you’re in a dark room. The downside is that when you turn it on what you’re doing suddenly becomes the centre of attention, just like shining a spotlight on a stage.
       
      Working With On Camera Flash
       
      The FL-600R compliments the OM-D cameras quite nicely. It’s well balanced and once you have decided which mode you want to use, you can get good results on a consistent basis. It’s getting to the comfort level of operation that takes a bit of getting used to. As with anything, practise makes perfect.
       
      Regular readers will know that I was a huge fan of Nikon’s iTTL metering with SB speedlights. Put one of the SB units onto any Nikon camera, stick it in iTTL and your results are going to be spot on, 99% of the time, which takes the stress out of using on-camera flash completely. While the Olympus FL-600R also offers through the lens (TTL-A) metering the results are nowhere near as consistently good as Nikon’s. I find that the exposures in TTL A mode are usually under exposed by at least a stop and they also don’t respond well to bounced flash. I get widely varying results in this mode.
       
      If I am shooting events I opt for M mode and using a bounce card attached to the flash I shoot in full manual mode, using a shutter speed and ISO rating that will allow ambient light to bleed in at a wide(ish) aperture. I’ll set the flash to a power setting that feels right and then I will adjust aperture until I am happy with the balance between subject and the ambient. It’s a little more primitive than using TTL mode, but once you get the hang of it you will feel a lot more like a real photographer. If I’m in a rush and I don’t have time to do any tests I will most likely use A mode with a bounce card and this works fairly well too.
       

      Above is an example of using manual flash settings in manual mode on the camera. Below is an example of using A mode where shutter speed was slowed and ISO boosted to allow more ambient in. Click to enlarge.
       

       
      Working With Off Camera Flash
       
      RC Mode
      Using the FL-600R off camera is where the home strobist will begin to enjoy the flexibility of these little flashes. As with the Nikon CLS system it is possible to set up an unlimited number of flash units that can be controlled from the camera in three groups, A, B & C on a common channel. From the camera you can use the little clip on flashes that come with the OM-D (or the pop-up in the case of E-M10 and certain PEN models) to act as the commander for the FL-600R. Or you can use another FL-600R as a commander.
       
      Each group can be set to fire in any of the TTL, Auto, Manual or FP modes (TTL and M), so you can have a mix of these modes in different groups. For example, if I have a couple of the FL-600R’s on a white background I can set those to be in group A and have them firing in manual mode to keep the power on the background constant. Then I could have another FL-600R set to Auto or TTL mode on my subject in group B or C. The advantage of this is that I can control all the flashes from the Super Control Panel on the OM-D as well as adjust power settings for each group. It’s very cool.
       
      The image below is an example of the outcome of such a set up but using only one FL-600R for the background and another for the subject. Click to enlarge.
       

       
      From a practical stance this setup works quite well indoors in a smallish studio, but in larger environs or outdoors you may battle to get the remote flashes to see the commander pulses as the sensor is in the front of the unit. A workaround is to swivel the heads all the way around so that the sensor is facing the commander. This works fine in TTL and manual modes but will confuse the A mode as the flash will not be getting the proper bounce back from the subject that it uses to determine when to stop sending out power.
       
      Before I invested in a couple of sets of studio strobes I used the two little FL-600R units to produce my usual run-off-the-mill 2 light small product photography setup. If I want to do a very quick basic setup I still use the Olympus flashes in a small light tent cube I have and I am quite happy with the results using manual mode in remote control. It saves me having to set up the big lights with all the stands and softboxes, etc.
       

      Above we see a single FL-600R used to illuminate the edge of the knife. Below a second FL-600R is added to produce the main key light. Click to enlarge.
       

       
      Slave Mode
      Slave mode is different to the RC mode in that you are effectively turning the FL-600R into a dumb unit that fires only in A or M modes and is triggered whenever it sees another flash. This means it can be used in conjunction with any other kind of flash units that are firing simultaneously. Strobist stuff. I sometimes use them on clamps with spigots for setups where I might need another light attached to a part of the set that doesn’t allow for a light stand to be set up. They work well like this.
       

      Above shot shows how I sometimes use an FL-600R to light a white background (or other things) for product photos.
       
      Product Observations
       
      The problems that present themselves with small flashes come down to power. These units are fine for general snapshot type, on-camera photography, but if you are looking to light up an entire room with a single flash you’re going to have to push your ISO up or invest in a fair number of these units to make it all work. Price might be an issue with that idea as these sell for $300 each. Sure, while these units are a bit cheaper than the Nikon and Canon flashes that offer the same degree of flexibility, they are more expensive than equally capable Chinese brand flashes such as the Yongnuo’s. Granted those units will only work in manual mode and don’t offer the RC mode but therein lies most of the fun in strobism - manual mode.
       
      The only thing that these FL-600R units don’t offer is a sync port, so attaching radio triggers that only offer cable connectivity to remote units for outdoor use means you will have to invest in a hot-shoe adapter that has a sync port built in.
       
      Recycle time is pretty good. I use the GP Recycko AA cells in mine and unless I have forgotten to charge them up before a shoot, I get good recycle times. If you have an older Olympus E-series camera you will be happy to learn that this flash is fully compatible with those cameras too. I used it on both the E-3 and E-30 when I had them.
       
      Improvements I would like to see are a simpler interface with the camera and also easier controls to use on the flash itself. The custom settings don’t make a lot of sense unless you have them memorised. Olympus could also provide a much better user manual for such a complex device. Another thing that could be improved is to provide some kind of audible sound to show that the light has recycled when it is off camera. In remote mode the LED blinks when the flash is ready to fire, but this can be distracting so I would prefer to have a beep (that can also be turned off when it isn’t wanted).
       
      As mentioned at the start of this article, the FL-600R compliments the OM-D range quite nicely and gives you a lot of flexibility to get creative with bounce flash and also off-camera flash. They are very small and light so they don’t take up a lot of space in a camera bag either. If you have an OM-D and are looking for something better than the clip on flash (or pop-up in the case of the E-M10) this FL-600R should suit your needs very well. It may take a little getting used to, but once you have the hang of it you wil be able to use it quite creatively. All in all these units show that the Olympus micro four thirds system is very well fleshed out and mature. There is little you can't accomplish with it.
       

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