Heresy and sacrilege: MT and SOOC experiments

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Due to an idle browser, more idle hands and pre-Raya* specials, the un-camera is no more. I traded in the GX85 for an Olympus PEN-F (previously reviewed here), available now at just half of its original launch price (at least in Malaysia) and with bonus goodies of grip with built in Arca rail and extra battery. For a modest supplement, it seemed like a good deal. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself: firstly, why? Well, a couple of things: if I’m going to shoot something serious, then I’ll break out one of the ‘Blads. If I’m not, then managing a three year old and the associated peripherals means that you don’t really have a lot of payload left over for hardware, let alone time to use it. But there are still opportunities to be had, and often single interesting grabs that require something quick**. On top of that, I admit the un-camera had a couple of serious deficiencies: firstly, the body was plastic and felt like it – grip it with moderate force and you’d be rewarded with a squeak or three. The back control dial was a bit recessed to access easily, and turned stiffly. Default color needed serious help (more on this later) – and lastly, I just didn’t like the fact that despite having a very comprehensive feature set (4K, dual IS etc) it felt like an appliance and had nigh on zero emotional value to shoot.

*end of Ramadan
**I’ll be the first to admit this does not describe the current generation of Hasselblads; but we
are working on it.

I suppose any one of those things alone would normally be enough to trigger a preemptive GAS attack and a trip to one’s dealer, but it was really the haptics and tactility (or rather lack of it) that did it for me. That, and after more than two years of medium format as my primary system, I’ve come to shoot ‘seriously’ only – there’s no such thing as packing your H6D-100c just in case. The ‘serious’ shoots have gotten increasingly serious, and the rest…well, I have to admit that of the last six months or so – between feeling like needing a creative break and subsequently being busy with the horological business, I haven’t really bothered much creative/casual photography.

This needed to change, because without the casual, somewhat unscripted experimentation of the past, there would be no serious work of today. Thus the unserious is necessary to one’s creative development on a broader scale. But when your personal bar is set ever higher (with commensurate effort required) – it’s rarer and rarer you actually have the time, inclination and impetus to do anything. Put simply: there are times you want something more than your phone, but something less than the full rig. And not feel the back penalty in case you decide not to use it (FF unfortunately still falls into this category because of the lenses). And when at the same time, you’ve been spoilt by the materials and build of much higher end cameras.

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Turns out there are not a lot of options – and I admit to having dismissed the PEN-F at the time of launch simply because of cost relative to performance, and some ergonomic issues. The former is much less of an issue now, and the latter was subsequently solved by the handgrip-cum-Arca-rail – which now came bundled. What I do remember is a lot of said creative experimentation with the E-M5 in the early days, both through some degree of adapted lenses and also through a lightness of foot and not feeling overly burdened by one’s hardware. Bonus: for a slightly more serious two-body setup, the PEN-F and X1D can share lenses thanks to adaptors – Leica 50 Summilux ASPH or XCD45 on the X1D, and something like the Contax-Yashica 85/2.8 MMG on the PEN-F for equivalents of 38, 65, 100 and 170mm or thereabouts. If you feel something lacking, then chuck the Panasonic 15/1.7 M4/3 in for AF, wide, and low light scenarios. That’s a lot of potential in just three lenses.

You can probably tell at this point I’m prevaricating a bit, so I’ll just come out with it straight. The real crux of this post is that I’m experimenting with shooting SOOC JPEG and not doing any postprocessing unless the image really merits it: I think of it as a visual scrapbook or sketchbook of experimentation. I want to spend more time shooting and doing other things instead of being stuck in front of PS. As files keep ballooning, this processing time is ever-increasing no matter how fast the computer or how efficient the workflow. Before somebody takes this the wrong way, there are some (a lot) of caveats:

  1. Up to this point, I’ve always been shooting RAW+JPEG both for easy sorting/editing after the shoot, and also for ease of sending client rushes. What’s fundamentally changed is that I’m putting a little more effort upfront into the previews.
  2. For I keep the raw files and work them later if the shot turns out to be something of merit;
  3. There are compromises here: expose to the right no longer works, because you’re exposing with the JPEG as the final intent. However, specifically with the PEN-F, this can be offset somewhat by the curve applied in camera – it turns out what appears to be ‘correct’ as JPEG is fairly close to ETTR, too.
  4. Not all cameras are created equal in the JPEG department. Whilst Canikon have been steadily improving and no longer produce Barbie-plastic or jellybean noise, and MF is starting to produce JPEGs (though with limited or no adjustability), Olympus and Fuji have been the kings of SOOC for some time now – going from good to truly quite surprising if you bother putting in the time to experiment and set up. You could probably also change settings on the fly, but it’s not unified in one place yet (there’s a group of settings for curve, vignetting and HSL color filters, but contrast, tone, sharpening and saturation are set elsewhere) so both somewhat fiddly and not at all spontaneous.
  5. It takes some getting used to the differences between EVF (a bit dim), monitor (a bit bright) and actual file – basically, if it appears a bit too bright on the EVF and a bit too contrasty on the monitor, it seems perfect on the computer.
  6. There are no local adjustments possible – no dodging and burning, no gradients, no selective desaturation. If a shot is good enough to merit that much work, then I still have the raw file.

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Beyond the need to output a top-flight JPEG and offer some flexibility whilst doing it, I’m going to close with a little rationale on why the PEN-F, and of course, some results. I’m particular about haptics and tactility and the object-ness of my camera; if I’m going to be handling it a lot, it has to feel good and I have to want to use it. Plastic bodies are therefore out. It’s also got to be unobtrusive and small, which eliminates anything larger than APS-C. Image quality has to be sufficient, too – both to give it an adequate shooting envelope and both so you don’t suffer from the ‘darn, if only…’ factor that accompanies an unrepeatable opportunity and a small sensor with inadequate optics. On top of that, experimentation necessitates some degree of flexibility in composition and style – which means I need interchangeable lenses, ruling out another GR (that, and it’s fundamentally an expensive five-plus year old camera at this point). I’ve dabbled with various things in this category as long as I can remember, but this is the first time where the camera’s JPEG ability has been the deciding factor (sorry Panasonic and Sony, I don’t want Disneyland). My experience with the Fujis is that the JPEGs look great – and it’s much down to personal taste as to whether you prefer warmer Olympus or cooler Fuji biases, both doing really good monochromes – but the files lack shadow recoverability, so all you’ve got pretty much is the same as in the JPEG.

So far, it’s early days yet – less than a week, but I do feel my ‘swing’ improving and the cobwebs blowing away. Every image in this post is SOOC, bar the automated resizing and watermarking action; images were opportunistic rather than set up or planned, and I didn’t go out of my way to acquire them. The 50 Summilux ASPH seems to be (again) a rather spectacular lens on the 20MP sensor; some of you may recall me using it extensively on an E-M5 back in the day for cinematic work, but until now I’ve not had a chance to try it on the new sensor. If anything, it seems to have fewer lateral CA issues – probably due to redesigned micro lenses on the newer sensor. It doesn’t hurt either that the haptics are rather enjoyable, too. More images to come; perhaps a new category of ‘visual diary’ photoessay, too. Bottom line, and especially true for anybody not doing it for a living: if it’s not feeling fun and/or spontaneous, then you might need to revisit how you’re doing it – and I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes the answers are both counterintuitive and antithetical to one’s beliefs…MT

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  1. Very thought provoking and informative thread. Long time silent admirer of the web site and work done therein.
    Noticed the proverbial shots at the Nikon Df, which seem to be de rigueur to almost all photo blogs in our saturated world of
    opinions on all things tech. I confess to being one of the many critics of the camera when it came out. Overpriced and lacking features. Several years ago I bought a used Df as prices fell. I don’t really like the shape of the camera when holding it for long periods, I don’t like the single SD card slot inside the battery door, low light autofocus is not the best, etc., etc.,. BUT I love
    what comes out of the camera, both .jpegs and raw files. Its very forgiving with my collection of AI and non AI legacy Nikkor lenses and its been a constant travel companion. High ISO performance is outstanding. Battery life is fantastic. The camera has a wonderful sensor, I love using it. It will likely be the last DSLR I ever get rid of and I have never regretted buying the Df now that I actually own it and use it- in photography. In my eyes it will never be obsolete, just like many of the beautiful older lenses I use on it.

    • Thanks, but if a camera (read: something meant to be a tool to an end, not an end in itself) is physically uncomfortable and made so for reasons that aren’t functional (e.g. something is heavy due to robustness or battery capacity) but popular vanity…that doesn’t work for me. The files are nice, but the sensor is also shared with the D4 – which is ergonomically far superior, and does just as well with legacy lenses (and has even better battery life)…there isn’t even that much difference in price on the used market now.

      • Yes, except, with the Df grip the ergonomics are different and better (I bought one of those used too), the controls are different (ISO etc…a matter of personal taste) and one of the reasons I wanted the Df (nothing to do with vanity – gag me) was the lever that one flips up and down to use non -AI lenses like the 20mm f3.5 UD that I love. Also, I certainly won’t want to travel with a D4, even introducing one in some public places brings a far, far different reaction than my much smaller and silver Df. Let alone the weight, bulk, and charger size etc when one travels. For these reasons I see the Df as a tool in the end, exactly, and NOT an end in itself. That is precisely why I love my Df, you put it well. But we all have our own preferences and requirements, and certainly the D4 and D4S etc., are better in certain realms than a camera like the Df, Having shot pro and college sports in harsh environments I know these things first hand.. Thanks again for your great web site.

  2. Ming, I was wondering what soft release you use on the Pen F. I’ve read that the threads are “non-standard” and some didn’t fit.

    • I wish I could tell you – it’s an unbranded one I picked up somewhere in London a long time ago for my Leica M8 at the time…must have been 2008/9 or so.

  3. In the end it’s entirely irrelevant if someone compliments your photography gear, but no camera that I’ve ever had has received the quantity of good comments regarding looks as the Pen-f. One of the reasons I enjoy shooting with it is that if you take it to social events, people want pictures to be taken with it instead of avoiding you if you had an SLR.
    That non-threatening look is also very convenient in places where “pro” cameras are not allowed.
    Love your articles and your pictures.

  4. I had the Pen-F for a year. I very much liked its size, and especially the smaller lenses available for M4/3. However, I bought a Fuji X100F, then sold the Pen-F and bought an XPro-2. The Fuji jpegs give much more latitude than Olympus, and once you figure out when and how to use them, they make SOOC shots much easier. I still shoot raw just in case, and, depending on what I shoot, sometimes don’t use the jpegs, but Fuji’s jpegs are probably the nicest for a camera that size. Also, the X100F is so compact, and so easy to use, that I forget I have a camera in my hands.

  5. Curious, have you gotten used to doing the different jpeg adjustments in-camera? And do you have a routine or workflow for doing them? Personally I found all those options to eventually get in the way of shooting. Since switching to Fuji I have realised how much quicker and less of a hassle it is to just switch film simulations as the situation calls instead of all the tweaking that comes with Pen-F.

    Still, one of the best looking and feeling cameras I’ve ever used 😉

    • I have three preconfigured settings that sit on their own positions on the dial – the neutral/unmarked position is a flat, lowest contrast/saturation/sharpening for a representation of the raw file for when I know I have to PP (high DR situations or strange color temps). The ‘color’ position matches my preferred color JPEG output, and ditto MONO for B&W – I don’t actually change the subsettings now I’ve found a combination that comes reasonably close to what I’d post process to anyway.

  6. Can I say I loved the watch macro. I was thinking why this looks so damn good! Finally I noticed that there is motion blur on few gears. In a very subtle way, this conveys motions and the picture is not static.

    Beautiful piece of work.

    • Thanks – could be the motion blur, could be because I almost never present watches in monochrome (nor do we tend to see them in monochrome as color is important for product presentation and may often make the difference in subtle details…)

  7. Since we’re talking about grips here in the comments – yesterday the DMW-HGR2, the Panasonic’s external grip for the GX9, arrived at my home.

    Since Panasonic was never much clear about it, I can say that it is totally compatible with the GX85 / GX80 too (it is even stated on the box). Handling improves a lot – using heavy lenses (like my adapted Contax-Zeiss 135mm 2.8) is much easier now. If you work with heavy lenses in your GX9/GX85/GX80 (and like me don’t like the JB Desgin grip for the camera), it is very recommended.

    But it is all good news: the thing is VERY overpriced, since it is all plastic – even the screw to attach it on the camera. It looks solid, but kind of cheap – Olympuses grips (I had two, for the E-M10 and for the E-M5 MKII) are much better, with metal parts. Of course, no Arca plate like the Pen F grip that Ming got with its camera. And no opening to change batteries / card – you have to screw out the grip to change (no quick release method like the E-M10 grip, too).

    Liked it, will use it a lot, but the thing is WAY overpriced.

    • Looks like it solves the grip problem, but yes – having to remove it all the time to change batteries would get annoying. The PEN-F grip is solid metal and has a hole for the battery door; unfortunately the hole isn’t that big, so removing the battery (and moreso, the card) is still a bit of a pain because the door no longer swings open all the way. But still…better than nothing. (And makes me wonder why so few manufacturers pay sufficient attention to ergonomics so as to not require accessory grips in the first place, but perhaps they are profitable…)

      • One reason could be that (based on what I saw in a lot of comments / blog posts) is that a lot of people always think that m4/3 cameras must be small and that is the sole reason for their existence – hence with a grip you could have a compact camera to use with primes and with the grip you could use it with heavier lenses. The choice is yours. I think that it is a good compromise (personally, I’m always towards a better grip – even with the pancake lenses, the grip handle in all m4/3 models that have it, fixed or not, never exceeds the lens height).

        But seeing these external grip prices, I think that the profitable reason is probably the correct one… (Meike makes a cheaper grip for the Pen-F, in fact).

        • Being involved in manufacturing myself…I know that the margins on accessories and non-electronic components is enormous, especially the they’re made in large quantities. I don’t think it’s a size thing; you can design a very ergonomic grip that isn’t large (Franiec’s grip for the RX100 series, for instance).

          • I suspect it’s a styling thing. A lot of today’s ‘flat’ bodied ILC’s (like all of the Pen series) are styled on the early compact 35mm RF’s, none of which had significant grips.

            A grip might be ergonomically pracatical, but it doesn’t fit the look. Hence the abundance of add-ons in today’s market.

  8. I still not sure why SOOC is important (unless you are sharing directly from the camera). In my workflow, I import the pictures in my LR catalog as first step and then share. During import, I apply default profile (my own) while importing and it applies to the entire import. There is no individual PP needed (unless I decide to for chosen ones). The jpg exports from this batch are “default processed” by LR engine.

    Having said that, I remember speaking to a sport photographer (shooting surfing pics to sell to newbie surfers in Hawaii) and he said that shooting RAW doesn’t make sense for him since he doesn’t want to spend any extra time (time is money) between shoot and giving the pics to his clients (newbie surfers). In fact he deleted the pics from his camera immediately after sharing.

  9. Cool dude

  10. I must admit I’ve not shot with the intent of using the JPEG for more than a year now. Why? Because raw is near effortless, these days, and Adobe’s Sensei AI is surprisingly good*. Yet I’ve had some superb JPEGs from Olympus over the years. The black and whites (with colour filter simulation) are especially good. Super photos as always. You’ve inspired me to plan a JPEG only walkabout.

    *Albeit often reflecting the fashion for fairly flat photos – annoying for my winter city photography where I was after deep shadows and sharp highlights.

  11. Larry Kincaid says:

    Great discussion. Your non-serious photographs look like our serious ones! Lots of great tips here for many kinds of shooting.

  12. Jonathan Hodder says:

    Lovely. Have you used the Summilux on the M10 yet? In terms of haptics and enjoyability, it’s wonderful. Though ridiculously costly, and perhaps irrational if used as a backup only. Having said that it would probably last 10-15 years so…

    • Not that combination, but didn’t much enjoy the M10 the last time I used it – I wanted to like it, but some things didn’t quite feel right. I can’t put my finger on why exactly though…

      • Jonathan Hodder says:

        Had the same feeling with the M9 and M240 when used briefly. But the M10 felt as comfortable film Ms – so much so that every now and then my thumb will still try and reach for the non existent film advance lever!

  13. “This needed to change, because without the casual, somewhat unscripted experimentation of the past, there would be no serious work of today. Thus the unserious is necessary to one’s creative development on a broader scale. But when your personal bar is set ever higher (with commensurate effort required) – it’s rarer and rarer you actually have the time, inclination and impetus to do anything.”

    This is so true. And yet, also a problem that a number of professional photographers probably WISH they had.

  14. Bruce McL says:

    In this post and in the format equivalence post there are echoes of Daniel Kahneman’s work on happiness. Are you familiar with it? It postdates his Nobel Prize winning work, which was summarized in “Thinking,Fast and Slow.”

    Kahneman would say that feeling happy about owning a camera is a different emotion than feeling happy while using a camera. His research states that people tend to make decisions based on the remembering (in this case, owning) kind of happiness while ignoring the experiencing kind.

    Both of your posts contain reminders to people to consider the (positive or negative) experienced happiness of using the camera when making buying decisions.

    • Honestly, must plead ignorance there…I am neither aware of nor have read the work. But I will look it up now…

      I’ve long said though that the hardware is close enough inn quality and good enough now that the individual/ relative haptics matter most.

      • Junaid Rahim says:

        Interesting work – but I think you’ll get the ideas relatively quickly. I did read part of the book – the first third of it was ok, gets a bit laboured and boring later on and you kind of get the point as well by then.

      • Bruce McL says:

        Kahneman gave a TED talk that gives a good introduction.

        His work on happiness postdates his Nobel winning work on perception and decision making, which started the field of Behavioral Economics.

        • Bruce McL says:

          I want to keep going on this. One of the first things I learned in photography is that “Am I moved by what I’m seeing?” and “Will this make a good photo?” are two different questions that are not directly related. I learned to turn down my immediate emotions in order to look for a good photo.

          Now what you are saying, and I agree with this, is that the question “How do I feel about my camera while I am using it?” is an important question. In order to answer that question I have to put more attention on some of my immediate emotions while I am photographing, which involves turning down other immediate emotions. It can get tricky! 🙂

          • Actually, I started off reacting instinctively, then trained myself and stopped to think, and now I’m back to instinct again. Perhaps the change is because what counts as ‘instinct’ is now different; perhaps it’s because I’m better at the post-filtration part, or maybe a mix of the two.

            The camera part is easy: if it doesn’t make you want to pick it up and use it, then it’s probably the wrong camera 🙂

        • Thanks!

  15. Michael T Tam says:

    If looking at JPEG color alone (and especially monochrome), I prefer Fuji over Olympus, but there’s a big caveat. The Fuji film profiles aren’t a very neutral interpretation. However, they tend to get skin tones fine in most challenging circumstances if white balance is set correctly. Also I’ve noticed less color shift with increasing ISO on the recent Fuji cameras, which is a big plus.

    It’s not really possible to get a flat, normal looking image out of a Fuji camera for me, since you must use a film profile for JPEG. All the film profiles seem to have parameters for different color shifts under changing circumstances–that film look that the name itself obviously specifies in ‘Film Simulation’. It definitely gives a slightly artsy post processed vibe I can’t get out of any Olympus camera I’ve used. But since it aligns close to my own preferences when editing (minus the cooler color), I feel a good connection with them.

    I do find that Olympus has a natural setting that looks much more natural for better or worse. Unfortunately the other settings seem sort of ho-hum to me; they feel like a reworked alternate of the same basic parameters.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on Fuji if you’ve used any of their 24MP models. The Film Simulations certainly have a lot of character.

    • Not personally a fan of the Fuji interpretations. They’re too far from accurate for me, and moreover you land up with a tonal signature that not only doesn’t have much latitude for personal adaptation but also looks like everybody else’s. I also do far less people work than most, so the significant blue to cyan shift is a no go for me.

  16. Here’s another idea that borrows from the video world: a camera that can load a 3D LUT to use on its JPEG output. You can use Photoshop to make layers of effects — curves, color shifts, etc. — and generate a LUT from all of that to load onto the camera to create its OOC JPEG output. Probably a bit too techy for average users, but it may make JPEG more palatable to people used to RAW.

  17. Darrell Broadwell says:

    So would this camera be your current recommendation for a DSLR FF shooter looking to lighten their load for casual outings or is it too soon to give it a full recommendation?

    • Depends on your objectives – is it an opportunist camera, a full-envelope camera, or something to slow you down to encourage thinking? An X1D and one lens is also lighter than a DSLR…and a PEN-F and several of the Olympus pro zooms isn’t. 🙂

      • Michiel953 says:

        no one needs zoom lenses.

        • No one really needs any of the hardware we discuss here, but zooms are definitely useful. Not to mention minimise lens changes in hostile environments…

          • Michiel953 says:

            Anyway. I just handled the Pen F again in my local shop, and was again attracted to it immediately. But again and predictably, the ergonomics stink (and the EVF as atrocious as I remembered it).

            The body is just too small. It grabs fine (the grip would help though; are you using the Olympus one?), my thumb falls handily onto the inbuilt thumbgrip. But the controls just cannot be adjusted without taking the camera from your eye. Quite unlike my twice as big 850, where my thumb can handle AF point, AF lock and exposure compensation all without taking the camera from my eye. Invaluable in my experience, and it comes as the biggest benefit of a larger body.

            So with the Pen F everything has to be set in advance, and then it becomes (just) a very attractive point and shoot. Regrettable, particularly with the recent discounts, and the camera I handled was a used one at that. Anyway, I’d have to sell my F2AS(a bit the worse for wear and the recently acquired F100 -why???- to find a Pen F, and then what? How would my phtography, particularly my portraiture, evolve?

            Questions, questions…

            • Grip – yes, it was bundled with the camera. Ergonomically useful and you get a bonus Arca rail built in. The D-pad is a disaster, and yes, you need to pinch the dials to turn them – but fortunately the main ones fall under my thumb and forefinger, so it’s not too bad. Larger hands might have problems though, one are fairly small.

              It isn’t a solution for everybody. If you have to ask yourself what it would bring to the table, then the answer is probably nothing, and be content 🙂

              • Michiel953 says:

                Yes, being content is my ideal. So stop putiing alluring pics of the Pen F in front of me! Then there’s the Df a photographer friend uses…

                I’m content. 😉

                • I have to admit I never ‘got’ the Df – the ergonomics were really poor for me, and it seems as though there were a lot of completely unnecessary dials for things that didn’t require it (mode dial, for instance). We each have our poisons, I guess…

                  • Michiel953 says:

                    In essence, the Df “just” is a camera that for me is still seductive from a distance (as is the Pen F). Once in the hand, the D850 is so much better and more pleasurable than these two, it’s almost embarrassing. On a side note, I may, from time to time, sway from my dedication to the Gordy’s leather wrist strap I’ve had for ages and used on all my DSLR’s. Just keep the camer in my right hand, no neck ache, no dent in my breast bone.

                    I’ve ordered from Enzo Patagonean (you’ll find him on FB, he’s based in Santiago, Chile) a leather neck strap for the D850, after he made me a really excellent leather half body for my F2. And he’s a great guy as well!

                    • Yes, the D850 is an ergonomic masterpiece – it just doesn’t do very much emotionally. Can’t put my finger on why exactly; there isn’t anything really wrong with it, but somehow it’s just lacking in character. A design thing perhaps?

                  • Kitty Murray says:

                    I know this is long after the initial discussion, but I never fell for the DF either. Keeping a couple of Nikon’s 35mm film cameras on hand to shoot casually, the DF felt and looked like a strange rip-off.

                    • It’s simply too big, and has too many dials for the sake of having dials. Too bad as it housed one of Nikon’s really great sensors…

  18. Nice always to make a real decision. PenF has probably the bets JPEG engine I have seen (combined with the sensor) in m43rds land. I have had a serious love / hate relationship because I find it a bit slow, AF not dependable and I am sick of the Olympus usability that it has become. So trying out a GX9 which has the same sensor pretty much (or variant).

    I find the GX9 vastly more dependable than the PenF, and in B&W, the JPEGS are quite good. But color the PenF reigns supreme. If you like it, enjoy, the colors out of the JPEG engine are really outstanding and I called it the “Fuji envy cure” (not to put down Fuji, they are fantastic- but had to forego because the telephoto options are huge).

    • Curious, in what way do you find it slow/ under what situations is AF not reliable? Can’t say I’ve had either problem thus far…

      • In good light the PenF focuses well. In lower light the PenF starts to become rather undependable. A few more things-
        – It can’t focus the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 (MK1 or MK2) lens prime in a single actuation (no Olympus seems for that matter, but PenF is a tad worse)
        – CDAF on the PenF is virtually a joke, though I don’t use CDAF.
        – When doing CDAF you don’t get a dynamic update of what points the camera is focusing on, like the GX80/85 or GX9 (or other recent cameras).
        – The workflow to do the equivalent pin point autofocus of Panasonic in spot focus of Olympus has no comparison- Olympus feels slow, cumbersome outdated
        – If you want to focus on a single square by touching the area, the Olympus touch-AF point is unfortunately modal and mutually exclusive with bringing up the super control panel- or turning the camera on/OFF. No such thing on the Panasonic models.
        – General operation of changing aperture/shutter/modes/touch screen are notably slower than GX85/GX80/GX9, etc. At the asking price, the PenF should have responded to settings changes like the EM1.2 or better.

        My GM5 (!) can focus better, faster and more accurately the Olympus F1.8 75mm lens than the PenF, particularly as light starts to go down.

        In more lower light (dark), the GM5, the GX9, the GX80/85 go into an extra low light mode where they sample the image slower but grab focus. The PenF simply gives up. Panasonic rates their cameras to be able to focus down to -4 EV. I don’t know if this marketing claim is accurate but it sure beats what I see the PenF can do when focusing in dark.

        This may seem like a non issue until you want to pre-focus on areas for the focal plane, in darker scenes doing street photography at night. In daylight the PenF does single AF well.

        So in short, it’s not only that the AF is slower and less dependable but also the options and their workflow are worse. I have been able to grab a shot at night that surprised me here and then with the PenF in being in good focus in a hard situation- but it’s the repeatability of that a part of the issue.

        If in doubt, just try for the workflow in general or for the AF in more difficult light both side to side.

        • Thanks for the detailed thoughts. Personally, I swapped a GX85 for the PEN-F, so my observations that follow are based on this:

          1. Both GX85 and PEN-F used CDAF – there is no way to choose between CDAF and PDAF. It sounds like you mean continuous AF, in which case I agree with you: the PEN F doesn’t track as well as the E-M1.2 or Panasonics (different AF system).

          2. There is spot focus, which you can enable by default.

          3. Touch AF is not modal. It brings up a different green box that moves in continuous steps instead of incremental steps (AF selection point) – you need to enable this though (small icon on left hand side that either looks like no entry, finger over shutter or a green box).

          4. I don’t agree on operation speed vs GX85. It might be a firmware version issue, though – they’re now on 3.1 for the PEN.

          5. Low light: my GX85 would report a lot of false positives that were nearly in focus; I suspect it switches over to DFD mode and guesses somewhat. The PEN is binary – it will either focus or it won’t – but yes, appears gives up sooner (but also does not report false positives).

          • 1 Yes, by CDAF I meant Continuous AF, sorry.

            2 Spot focus- yes, there is Spot focus on the PenF, but the issue is how cumbersome it is to use vs Panasonic’s pin point. On the PenF you have to tap tap in/out. On the Panasonics you set pin point and you focus here/there with a nice little magnify in the middle that you can set the speed of preview of.

            3 Yes, Touch AF is modal – what I mean by that is when you touch and it brings up the box in continous steps, if you want to bring the super control panel, you basically have to “kick out” of this mode. If you decided to use this touch green square as your main AF mode, upon turning the PENF OFF and back ON, you have to touch the screen to engage again. This is what I mean by modal.

            4 I have the very latest firmware for the PenF, I stand by my assessment. Just set both cameras to shutter priority and do a quick twirl on the dial. See which camera feels like it needs to catch up or skips movement on the dial vs its response.

            5 Try to focus the Penf with the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 lens, and do so in a single actuation (press the shutter fully so it goes AF and captures the shot). See how many misses you get. But moreover, I am afraid my experience is different there. This is not to say the GX85 (or GX9) is perfect, but I find it notably more dependent than PenF. On good light, the PenF is pretty good though for single AF.

            The PenF only has contrast detect, and nothing like DFD. You can see this even in daylight when acquiring focus in both cameras using lenses, where the Panasonic goes to a more certain location while the PenF may have to scan back more often.

            • Just one more addition on operational speed- on startup the PenF is notably slower than GX85, GM5 or Gx9 to start up. This may affect or not affect much depending how the camera is used. I often turn it off/on to conserve battery, so it’s pretty notable to me.

            • I think we’ve got confused terminology again. Spot focus to you = single area magnification. I thought you meant pinpoint sized AF boxes, which you can enable permanently…

              SCP can be activated at any time by pressing the middle of the D Pad.

              Not surprised re. 20/1.7 – it’s always been slow, even on much earlier Olympuses. I no longer have one to try, unfortunately.

              • – SCP can be activated at any time by pressing the middle of the D Pad.

                Yes, but if you where tapping to enable the tap-to focus rectangle, that mode of focusing *is* mutually exclusive with the super control panel.

                Pin-point AF is a term panasonic uses for the smallest AF point you can use. Yes we got the terminology confused again- on the PenF I call that small squares, which yes, you can enable permanently, but that’s not what I meant. You can have bigger AF squares, you can have small AF squares. These can be enabled permanently.

                Tap to focus with a single variable AF square on the screen which has more locations than either of the other two square grids, is the AF mode that is modal and mutually exclusive with the super control panel- if you want to bring the super control panel you have to tap OK / MENU once to take that mode out, then tap again to bring it. At that point you lost your positional single tap square which you have to tap again on the screen to bring again. If you turn the camera on/off you also lose it.

                None of this on Panasonic, or Fuji for that matter.

            • David Babsky says:

              I have a PEN-F (..Firmware 3.00..) and a Panasonic 20mm f1.7 (..Firmware 1.00). I’ve put the lens on the camera, and every shot is in perfect focus, first and every time. Shots of this webpage (..displayed on a MacBook Air..), shots of flowers on the table in front of me, of myself in a mirror, of a plant in a bidet in the bathroom. All perfectly sharp at first press (..or as sharp as this lens goes, anyway).

              I’m using these menu settings – Still Picture: ‘S-AF+MF’, Full-time AF: ‘Off’ or ‘On’, small central spot focusing ‘[ ▪︎ ]s’, AF Area Pointer ‘On’ (to display in green when focus is achieved).

              I always use small central spot for focus/autofocus, because I want to specify what I want the camera to focus on, and not just leave it to the camera to decide for itself (..and it’s also a left-over from manually focusing with split-image microprism SLRs).

              But you must give the camera a moment to achieve focus. You say “ so in a single actuation (press the shutter fully so it goes AF and captures the shot)..” ..but the 20mm f1.7 focuses slower than most Olympus lenses, and so it takes a moment or two to focus. Just squeezing the shutter button all the way down in a single fast squeeze – without waiting for the lens-and-camera combination to achieve focus – doesn’t work ..for me, anyway.. even with Olympus own fast and lightweight lenses like the 45mm f1.8. You – well, I anyway – always need to squeeze halfway down to focus BEFORE squeezing the rest of the way to shoot. Even with the much faster E-M1 [..I now swap 45mm lens from PEN-F to E-M1..] just jabbing straight down on the shutter button doesn’t give the camera a chance to focus before it takess the shot ..all cameras need a fraction of a second to achieve focus ..and just jabbing the shutter button doesn’t assure correct focus.

              The 20mm f1.7 also focuses – for me – first time every time when I use it on the E-M1 (..not that I often do, but I’ve just tried it to see, for your info).

              I haven’t noticed that the “..PenF may have to scan back more often..” when focusing. It works right for me every time, with every micro4/3 lens I’ve ever used, both Panasonic and Olympus. Could it be that your focusing technique needs a bit of adjustment?

              • “But you must give the camera a moment to achieve focus. You say “ so in a single actuation (press the shutter fully so it goes AF and captures the shot)..” ..but the 20mm f1.7 focuses slower than most Olympus lenses, and so it takes a moment or two to focus. Just squeezing the shutter button all the way down in a single fast squeeze – without waiting for the lens-and-camera combination to achieve focus – doesn’t work ..for me, anyway.. even with Olympus own fast and lightweight lenses like the 45mm f1.8″

                On Panasonic you don’t have to half press first and then press the shutter again. The issue is not waiting on the lens to achieve focus- you can hold the camera still in a single actuation. The issue is how often the PenF misses the focus with this lens when doing that. Panasonic doesn’t have that problem.

                If you always half press for every shot and that works for you- great! Nothing wrong with that per se, but doesn’t fix what I said for the other workflow.

                ” just jabbing straight down on the shutter button doesn’t give the camera a chance to focus before it takess the shot ..all cameras need a fraction of a second to achieve focus ..and just jabbing the shutter button doesn’t assure correct focus.”

                Again, not a problem with Panasonic. This “doesn’t give a chance to focus” is actually the camera simply can’t do it right. You don’t see people shooting sports with a D850/Sony A9 half pressing first, waiting for focus and then finally pressing again. This is a PenF issue with this panasonic lens pure and simple. I don’t experience that with the Olympus 45 or 25mm F1.8 lenses. Olympus needs to simply support this lens right.

                “I haven’t noticed that the “..PenF may have to scan back more often..” when focusing. It works right for me every time, with every micro4/3 lens I’ve ever used, both Panasonic and Olympus. Could it be that your focusing technique needs a bit of adjustment?”

                No, there’s no adjustment needed here. Why does the Panasonic doesn’t have the issue I mentioned as often? Because it has DFD technology which the PenF doesn’t. Why you don’t see it on an EM1? Because it has phase detection out of focus. And what does DFD gives the Panasonic? Phase-detection- like focus over simple contrast AF. The explanation here is pretty simple.

                Whenever Olympus releases a PenF Mark II with phase detection AF this will change. The scanning I described is not every time- simply that Panasonic does it lens (thanks to its DFD).

                • David Babsky says:

                  OK, you like Panasonic’s DFD, and you don’t like the “slow” PEN-F.

                  • ot in by itself. If dfd did nothing useful theb whats fhe point? I think I have 💭 ut lined a great deal of detail what I like and dont operation and performance wise above to simply teduce it to an engineering mRketing term. 😉

  19. Jeff Smith says:

    Interesting to read about you switching to a Pen F. I had also GX85 for awhile and then went to the OMD EM10 Mark 2 and then to the Pen F. I preferred the build quality, viewfinders and jpegs from the Olympus bodies more than the Pansonic but did miss the ability to use the aperture ting on my all time favorite M4/3 lens the Panny/Leica 15mm f1.7. I think that lens is a gem for native M4/3 mount. Anyhow in what may ultimately be a point of regret i recently sold the PenF and all most all M4/3 lenes and switched over to Fuji. Fuji lenses are generally pretty good but i already miss IBIS and of course the smaller size of M4/3 glass. The overall image quality from the Fuji is better than Olympus but not by leaps and bounds. Plus I found the Olympus bodies to be more rugged than the Fuji. It doesn’t help that only a month into the switch, my X-E3 is acting up and will have to be sent in for repair. Glad i did not sell two lens from M4/3 kit: my favourite the 15mm f1.7 and the ultra small panasonic 35-100mm zoom. With those two lens I had most situations covered, all in two jacket pockets if need be. With the recent Fuji camera body issues I am having I may find myself back into M4/3. I am going to hang onto those two lens for awhile yet and hope that my to be repaired Fuji holds up. If it doesn’t I am back into M4/3 and selling the four new Fuji lenses I recently bought. I look forward to future updates on how going back M4/3 for less serious shooting is going for you.

    • Another fan of the 35-100 collapsible zoom here. I also have the 15 but pair it with a 45 for an available light/ cinematic pair; the 35-100 goes with the 12-32 when I have enough light. This isn’t my first foray into M4/3, by a long shot – I had the original Pen Mini (E-PM1), shot only with E-M5s for a year or so and have used the E-M1/1.2 for handheld video since they were launched.

  20. Torsten says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts (and beautiful images). This resonates a lot with me as I find myself in a somewhat similar situation. Not with a MF but with my Nikon FX system – sometimes I just want something pocketable that’s more fun to shoot/better than the RX100. I am currently leaning towards the X-T100, due to design, great kit lens (at least according to initial reviews), good sensor and availability of good primes (I think I could be happy just with the 23mm F/2). And, not to forget, price – even though it has only just been released it is only £619 with kit lens in the UK against £999 for the PEN-F without lens. Anyway, in this context I was intrigued by your comment on how Fuji cameras lack shadow recoverability. In your view, is that only for the x-trans sensors or also the standard ones, like in the X-T100? Related to that: if the X-T100 had been available for a decent price at the time you made your decision, would it have made a difference? Ultimately I think I need to hold both cameras in my hands for a while and that will probably decide it, but I am curious about your views.

    • Unfortunately the PEN-F isn’t pocketable by any means; I really think with few exceptions (GR) pocketable size means ergonomic discomfort. The RX100-series buttons are really too cramped, and the finder makes it worse since everything is bunched in front of your face.

      Fuji: lack of shadow recoverability applies to X Trans; I have not used their standard sensors enough to comment. I don’t personally like their ergonomics, control interface or default color (blues shift cyan), and I would have to buy lenses all over again – so it makes no sense for me even if £300 cheaper.

      • Torsten says:

        Thanks, Ming. I guess I should have qualified that: ‘coat pocketable’ – I realise shirt or trouser pocketable wouldn’t be working here. I understand the concern about lenses, but as I wouldn’t be looking for more than a standard zoom and 35mm equivalent this doesn’t really factor in for me. I guess I will just have to try both bodies and see which one I ‘click’ with.

  21. This is certainly an interesting development Ming! I remember you’ve had reservations with m43’s thick cover glass and adapted lenses in the past: how are you finding the actual performance? For my video work with the GH5, I’ve not found any adapted lenses (Speedboosted or otherwise) that I’ve been as happy with as the native primes for image quality, including high quality optics like the Otus 55 or the very popular Sigma 18-35 zoom, when compared to the modest 1.7 primes.

    • The 20MP sensor seems to be somewhat less susceptible to lateral blooming/glow than the old 16MP one; my guess is it’s because of reduced crosstalk between pixels. The big lenses don’t make ergonomic sense, so I don’t even bother. For me it’s just the Leica 50/1.4 ASPH at the moment, or the Ricoh GR 28/2.8 LTM (screw mount lens from the original GR, if you don’t care about the corners).

  22. I really enjoyed this article, including the photos. I too would like what you call an un-camera for all the same reasons, even if I don’t earn any money from my DSLRs. As they are discretionary cameras, haptics are arguably more important.

    Photographing to keep the JPEG is very different. One needs to expose differently and compose differently. I’m so used to raising shadows ‘ protecting highlights that I would find it really difficult. I might give it a try as a creative challenge.

    I love the look and idea of the Pen F, but not the ergonomics. The right strap lug is in the wrong place for my hand. Maybe the new XT100 with the Zeiss 32mm could be my un-camera.

    • “…I’m so used to raising shadows ‘ protecting highlights that I would find it really difficult. “

      This is precisely why the PEN-F works: you can apply a curve in-camera which does exactly that. Without that control, I agree – it’s nigh on impossible unless your subject matter just happens to have the right dynamic range.

      The PEN-F is much more comfortable with the grip – I agree, Olympus never seems to get strap lug placement correct…

      • I have the grip and while it’s OK for larger lenses I find it works loose after a while meaning you have to carry the Allen key in your kit to tighten it now and again.
        I now have an inexpensive leather half case and find it even better at improving the handling. The naked camera is also fine with the small primes.

  23. Hey Ming, great thoughts – made me think about the lenses I carry around. I also have the X1D with 45 & 90mm and a Pen-F. Did you seem to suggest that the XCD lenses can be adapted to m4/3. I think I can get the V lenses on m4/3 but could be interesting to use XCD that way too (I love the 90mm XCD).

    Probably wrong place for this question but don’t suppose you have any idea when the V adaptor to XCD will pop out H and if it will use the XCD shutter ?

    • The XCD lenses have more than enough image circle for M4/3, but are fully electronic so there’d be no aperture control. The size and weight…doesn’t make sense on M4/3.

      V-X adaptor is coming soon. It does not have a shutter – given the exit pupil diameter of the V lenses, it would have to be enormous (and expensive, etc). Using the V lens internal shutter would require the same complex synchronisation mechanics as on the H-V adaptor, which again drives cost up. V-X is a simple tube; you use the e-shutter.

  24. SilverFox says:

    I switched from Canon dSLR to Pen-F digital mirrorless almost two years ago and I have not been dissapointed. The camera feels great in my hand and I feel I can take it anywhere with me. Very happy with the images and yes the SOOC JPEGs can be great. I’ve used vintage and modern lenses on it and all perform very well. My only issue is that the MFT crop factor makes getting wider lenses (particularly vintage) more difficult as availability is more limited.

    • That, and vintage lenses were designed for much larger formats, so you’re limited to the modern stuff. Fortunately the modern stuff is much better optically (and designed to work with the thick sensor cover glass of M4/3…)

  25. Nice article and pictures. One simple Question, what strap is on the camera at the first image? It looks very nice. Thanks a lot.

  26. I’m in this kind of conundrum myself – m4/3 user (my shooting proficiency level: enthusiast at best), satisfied with my GX85 for video, but wanting a 20mp body for stills. Thought about the GX9 to replace it, liked the comeback of the AF switch and, placed button for back-button AF-ON, and tilting EVF (loved it on the GX7), but lack of newer features and larger video crop sort of bummed me out.

    Loved the styling of the Pen F when saw it (it is one of the most attractive cameras in the market – and agree with you that haptics and feelings matters), but the price was too high (and in the USA, still is). And (as far as I know) still have the biggest gripe that I have with Oly cameras: to engage magnified view AND focus peaking (a necessity when using adapted lens – which I do a lot) you need to assign two buttons, one to engage peaking and another to engage magnified view. In Panasonic, you have one button to engage both (in the GX85, is assigned to pressing the back dial, which is the best location in my opinion). How do you use adapted lens in the Pen F, this behaviour continues?

    (my other grip was that the spot metering was always on center, instead of following the AF spot target, but in some newer other Oly models, this was menu enabled – don’t remember if the Pen F was one of them).

    My other concern is about the image quality x age; in Panasonic camp, the image quality was improved on both sensor families (16mp and 20mp); maybe not so much on stills (never had a GH4 to compare, but the GX85 files are better than the GX7 ones), but in video the improvements were massive (GX85 files are MUCH better than GH4 ones). GH5 line have better image than the GX8 (the 1st Panasonic 20mp camera), and some people report that G9 have much better still color science than the newer GHs also. Do you have compared how the Pen F files stack against the E-M1 II files?

    I was really waiting for a E-M5 III, but looks like there is no launch on the horizon…

    • David Babsky says:

      ‘Magnify’ button at the back to engage magnification. Little ‘Iris’ button at lower front, beside lens (..under third finger..) to engage peaking.

      • Thanks for the reply, David. This is the default configuration of the camera?

        Although I still wish that Olympus put an option in menu to engage both with one touch…and probably I would assign the Magnifiy button as AF-ON (looks like it is more acessible than the Fn1 for this purpose).

        • David Babsky says:

          No; that isn’t the complete default: the ‘Magnify’ button has the default action of – naturally! – magnifying, and falls nicely under your (..well, my..) thumb.

          The default action of the ‘Iris’ button at the front of the camera, just where your, or my, third finger fits, is to shut down the lens’ iris to your chosen aperture to show depth of field (..if you’re using anything other than the widest aperture). However, it’s easily programmed – using the ‘Button’ menu – to do pretty much anything else it’s easily set to show peaking. Thumb to Magnify, third finger for Peaking ..without having to move your right hand at all; just squeeze and squeeze.

    • In the panasonic camp – color and lack of consistency between bodies was problematic for me, unless you shoot raw. Agree on video improvements. Olympus sorted their color out much earlier, but has not had the same relative improvement in image quality; E-M1.2 and Pen F raw files look pretty much the same (the E-M1.2 lacks the front profile dial).

      Peaking – you can set magnification and peaking to automatically engage when you turn the MF ring.

      • Thanks for the info about the IQ, Ming. About peaking: yeah, it works this way (in Panasonic too) with native lenses, but I was talking when using adapted lenses; but you already said how you use it in the reply for David, above.

        You use the AF coupled to the shutter release or use a programmed AF back button (I use the latter)?

        • I use AF coupled to shutter – no point using MF for M4/3 as AF/ speed of acquisition was definitely one of the plus points for the system…

  27. I tried out the pen-f being open to adapting the jpeg-centric controls. Unfortunately I found that using the monochrome preview slows down the EVF frame rate, and that as the only jpeg setting and of course the one I would be using the most. I though of you, Ming, as these are the detail oversights you would usually notice 🙂

    • Not if you set the frame rate to boosted (one of the EVF settings). I don’t find it too slow personally, but I also don’t shoot fast moving things…

  28. John MOTZI says:

    Nice Article! One thing I find fascinating is that at the same time camera manufacturers improve the quality & adjustability of camera JPEGS, the software manufacturers are giving us default settings in raw processors that resemble back of the camera previews. To get a raw file that is somewhat raw (not hyped up contrast & color saturation) requires a bit of work – but fortunately it still can be done, which is important for those of us that like to start with a more neutral file for PP.

    Second thought – To make an imperfect comparison to B&W film, SOOC JPEG is a bit like shooting roll film (all shots same developing) whereas doing PP with RAW is a bit like sheet film (each image custom developing).

    • Sadly neutral I think is still far off. It’s improving, but not consistent – there’s too much behind the screens politicking between Adobe and the rest to have something 100% objective (because then it might be obvious there aren’t really major differences between the same sensor from different manufacturers after all, which is of course the objective of neutral PP).

      Agreed on the film analogy.

  29. Thanks Ming for this! I believe almost everyone is shooting jpeg+RAW and processing the RAW if necessary. However to put more effort into SOOC is a great idea and I look forward to the dedicated section in the future. I’ve never bothered much with any of the camera settings and used the jpegs more as a preview rather than final result. But then the post processing and amount of time needed ends up the files not getting much attention.

    My un-camera is the Sony RX1r. It’s slow, AF is so so at best but the SOOC output can be great. I bought it used so the performance/cost ratio was acceptable. I’ll have to go back and see what kind of adjustments are possible to increase that keep rate without going to PS.

    • I don’t mind doing the PP if the files are worthwhile, but experiments by definition tend to be very low yield. A more accurate preview (perhaps ‘sufficiently accurate’ is a good description) is what we’ve got here…

  30. The E-M5 II is also floating around the half price mark and the E-M1 II is now 500 off and dropping. No doubt the effects of being able to get FF IQ and all the mirrorless goodies we’ve come to love- none the least of which being off the charts IBIS, at the original E-M1 II price point…the A7 Mark III has indeed caused a disturbance in the Force IMO. What strikes me more than anything though, is just how strong the IQ is coming from these m43 beauties, especially at today’s pricing. Oly m43 would still be my choice for SOOC casuals at least until and if Sony figures out how to match Oly SOOC colors…probably never happen…pity. Great set – enjoyed the read. Any chance we’ll ever see a Blad A7 Mark III competitor?

    • I think it’s age and normal product lifecycle as much as anything – them E-M1.2 is now two years old; the 5.2, older still, with an even older sensor.

      Blad = MF, at least in my mind (and my strong advice).

      • “I think it’s age and normal product lifecycle as much as anything” -I’m sure your right. That said, the drops in lifecyles past tended to have more slope over longer periods at about a hundred a clip. What we saw here in the states was a several hundred dollar chunk within a few days perhaps a couple of weeks from the A7 III launch…Suddenly the E-M1 II was 1499 instead of 1999 at list.

  31. It’s funny – I’ve also had idle browser time and been thinking about JPEGs – the reason being I’m going on a long winded backpacking tour and won’t be having time to process as well as needing something light – weight is premium. I wanted a light 50mm solution – which took me to M 4/3s but funnily enough I haven’t found anything suitable for what I wanted.

    In the end I’ve concluded that I’ll be going with just the GR – life in 28mm will be interesting and I can live with it. JPEG is not ideal and I’ll shoot in RAW too and process the ‘best’ later. I guess you could call it a form of extreme curation…..

  32. Said AZIZI says:

    Ok this is a perfect read for a monday morning : Ming thein post, Gear talk ( about the Pen F) and with a coffee because this is past Ramadan ! Just perfect and haven’t read it yet !

  33. Nice experiment, I agree that Olympus JPEG is quite pleasing to look at. A little care needs to be taken so that highlights are not blown, but luckily PEN-F and E-M1mk2 are not as sensitive to that as the older 16mpx sensors. Saving RAW+JPEG also allows you to use the in-camera RAW converter to fine-tune the JPEG output, if it didn’t turn out correctly the first time. The converter has its own presets so you can have a separate profile there for shadow recovery etc.

    • As with all highlights – it’s not the blowing that looks visually jarring; it’s an abrupt rolloff. +1 on the highlight curve helps, as does using the live shadow/highlight warning…

      • Craig Soars says:

        Hello Ming,

        This comment struck me at first as a bit odd, but I think I understand the rationale. Are you suggesting that boosting the highlight curve (rather than pulling it down) produces a more natural roll-off to pure white than trying to use a negative value to pull it down? That is, pulling the curve imposes an abrupt ceiling which can make the transition a bit jarring?

        I’ve been shooting RAW + jpg on my E-M5 II (different sensor, I know), and had been using +1, +1, -3 as the shadow/mid/highlight curve on the jpegs. Maybe it was a misguided attempt at emulating the negative films I used to shoot, or the fact that I thought it’d be easier to boost whites on a jpeg in post than try and recover them. I may have to try your suggestions.

        I do use, and love, the live shadow/highlight warning – one of the best aspects of using an EVF (along with previewing white balance and general exposure). I’ve set the highlight down to 250, and then try to expose so only specular highlights or non-critical background elements are blown.

        • “Are you suggesting that boosting the highlight curve (rather than pulling it down) produces a more natural roll-off to pure white than trying to use a negative value to pull it down?”
          Exactly, and you lower overall exposure a fraction to compensate so that global brightness remains where you intend it.

          • Craig Soars says:

            Awesome – preliminary test shots look promising.

            One small issue I’ve noticed is that if you generate a in-camera jpeg from the RAW, anything other than “current” will revert to the linear tone curve. So you can’t go from colour to B&W or vice-versa and retain your custom jpeg curve.

            You also can’t seem to assign different curves to different picture modes (unlike sharpness, contrast, saturation and gradation). I could probably work around this with mysets, but I wish Olympus had swapped their handling of gradation and curves to make the former ‘universal’, and the latter associated with a specific picture mode. It’d be very nice to be able to assign separate curves for colour & B&W. Ah well, maybe this has been addressed in the 20 MP bodies.

            Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and taking the time to engage with your readers.

            • It would also be nice if all of the parameters were in the same place/menu/accessible from one physical control (sharpening and contrast for example are separate to the curve, as is tonal gradation – surely these are all related, but Olympus doesn’t make it clear exactly how.)

  34. Pen-F let me down. The small sensor mostly.

  35. Hello Ming,
    Thanks for this foray into the land of mere mortals’ cameras 🙂
    I just upgraded my old Fuji X100 to the X100F, but I am a bit underwhelmed by both the haptics and the responsiveness (especially wake up time, which is still a couple of sec and requires a careful half press – a straight, quicker full press won’t do). Are you satisfied by these these aspects in the Pen-F?

    • Yep, the PEN-F is fast enough – and it’s not because I’m used to MF; there’s a D850 in the garage too for some (mainly longer lens) tasks…

  36. David Babsky says:

    I found it difficult to navigate around the buttons on the back by feel, so I put just one drop of quick-set resin on the ‘Magnify’ button and can now instantly find it.

    “..You could probably also change settings on the fly, but it’s not unified in one place yet (there’s a group of settings for curve, vignetting and HSL color filters, but contrast, tone, sharpening and saturation are set elsewhere) so both somewhat fiddly and not at all spontaneous..” ..but isn’t that what the C1, C2, C3, C4 settings are for? ..And the 3-each versions of the ‘Colour’ and ‘Monochrome’ profiles on the little dial on the front?

    One real advantage – for me, anyway – of the PEN-F over the generally faster E-M1 is that the full Auto-ISO range can be used on the PEN along with the silent electronic shutter, whereas the E-M1 v1 stops at 3200 ISO when used with the electronic shutter, and the E-M1 v2 stops at 6400 ISO. ALL sensitivities are available with the silent shutter in the PEN.

    One UNfortunate aspect, though, is that turning on ‘Keystone Correction’ on the PEN slows down the saving of pics to the memory card ..even if you don’t actually apply any correction! (There is no speed penalty on the E-M1.)

    Finally, the main switch of my PEN unaccountably failed just a month after its guarantee ran out, leaving a completely dead camera – but, having registered it online with Olympus, that extended guarantee covered its free replacement.

    Oh, and FINALLY, finally ..what really appealed about the PEN-F was that it’s the only camera which I know of which has an electronic BLUE filter (..besides the usual red, orange, yellow, green..) so that I can fake, emulate.. the old ‘ortho’ blue-sensitive films of the early days of photography, of Atget & Co, to deliver an overall whitewash to the distance ..reminiscent of Utrillo, Lowry, etc. I really like that: olde-worlde photography from a camera which doesn’t even have any film inside!

    • Good idea on the transparent resin dot – I’ll try that. Agreed some of the buttons are really not where you’d expect them to be.

      Front dial and profiles: yes and no. The dial only controls the curve, color filters and vignetting. Sharpening, contrast and saturation are independent and not linked to the dial position. And then the dial set is not linked to C1/2/3/4, either…hence the mess.

      Can’t think of any reason why the e-shutter is limited to some ISOs only – the E-M1.2 has the same sensor, so theoretically it should have the same range. I wouldn’t go over 6400 on this sensor anyway – too many jellybeans…

      I’m partial to the red filter myself for mono 🙂

      • You can save a particular colour set to the C1/2/3 setting, but you also have to turn the creative dial to the Color position as well as choosing the C1/2/3 option. Just choosing the latter activates all the other saved settings, then setting the creative dial activates the saved colour profile. So yo can have 5 different profiles, 1 default and 4 on the C setting

        • I must be doing something wrong – the creative dial gives me the same settings regardless of C1/2/3; i.e. if I change something on the mono group in C1, the changes ‘stick’ in C2. I wonder if they changed something in FW v3…

          • I’m running v3 and I just checked and I can save different colour settings to each of C1/2/3/4. They did all clear when I updated to v3 so had to be redone. And as I said they aren’t active unless the creative dial is also set to Color.

            • Ah, I see – you need to set the dial to color, change settings, then save to C modes, then repeat. Not intuitive, but makes sense. I use C1/2/3/4 for shooting parameters, but want to keep the image output modes consistent so this is not so useful personally…

              • I found it useful in Venice as I liked the effect of emphasising the blue and de-emphasising the reds for some shots. I could just switch to the C2 profile for those and back to a normal or other profile with a twist of the dial. I could even stay in the C2 mode and get “normal” colours by just changing the creative dial position. And I had the RAWs as well!

      • Do the PEN-F and EM1.2 definitely use the same sensor? I thought they would be different, given the presence of PDAF pixels on one but not the other.

        Thank you for sharing your inspiring images, thoughts, and discoveries from your experiments with the PEN-F. It’s given me a few things to try with my EM5.2. I remember the choice between it and the PEN-F a few months ago myself, but with the PEN-F running at £950 and the EM5.2 at £650 (and now dropped a bit more with the summer cashback), cost, ergonomics, and weather sealing won over megapixels. And the EM5.2 has plenty of the ‘just pick me up and go shoot’ feeling for me. 🙂

  37. Egmont Bonomi says:

    I agree with you 110% that more often than not, the “unserious” work that we do in our lives comes to shape the way we see the world and above all else shapes our individuality, without which photography would be an exercise in futility….

  38. Great! I have missed seeing new images from you. The last one is wonderful. I picked up a Fuji XE-3 not long ago for much the same reason you mentioned. It’s liberating to drop all the scuba gear and simply free dive the reef occasionally. It’s good to see “Mr. Test Bear” is back on the job!

  39. Nice rendering Ming. And thanks for the efforts on “accelerating” the Hasselblad product usability……. eagerly awaited.

    Maybe the Pen-F also feels right due to the 4×3 aspect ratio as a bookmark to the Hassy equipment?

    Best Regards,


    • All in all, I agree that 4:3 definitely feels a lot more usable than 3:2…which is usually either too tall for portrait orientation, and sometimes not wide enough for landscape orientation…

  40. Nice idea to experiment with the settings “putting in the time to experiment and set up. You could probably also change settings on the fly, but it’s not unified in one place yet (there’s a group of settings for curve, vignetting and HSL color filters, but contrast, tone, sharpening and saturation are set elsewhere) so both somewhat fiddly and not at all spontaneous.” would you be kind enough to tell us what settings you are using so we have a starting point for our own experiments?

    • Note that these settings are only as useful as your typical subject matter, preferred contrast level/ quality of light etc…

      Neutral color/ RAW-representative
      Sharpening +1
      Contrast -2
      Saturation -1
      Gradation normal
      Curve: Shadow +1 Highlight -1 Midtone +1

      Finished color
      Sharpening +1
      Contrast 0
      Saturation 0
      Gradation normal
      Curve: Shadow +2 Highlight +1 Midtone +1
      Color wheel: vivid+1 except yellow (-1) orange (-1) red (0)

      Sharpening +1
      Contrast 0
      Saturation 0
      Gradation normal
      Curve: Shadow +2 Highlight +1 Midtone +4
      Filter: Red +2

      • Many Thanks !

      • Thank you for the settings. I was going to ask and, presto!

      • Wow, I am surprised to see you using Sharpening +1 on Olympus. I have the Em10 II (and formerly the EP5), and after testing I set Sharpening to -1 for colour and -2 for monochrome. I found that Olympus Sharpening is already very aggressive, causing an extra slight but noticeable breakdown of the pixels when viewed 100%. Overall effect could be described as ‘dandruff’ or a slight ‘painterly’ look to the pixels, especially as the ISO increases. M43 lenses are already sharp enough without needing more Olympus sharpening. In particular, I find that using -2 for monochrome gives it a more organic, less digital look. I also set my monochrome setting to Low Key, and after these adjustments am very impressed with the B&W jpg output. You might want to try these settings to see what you think.


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