Premiere and review: The Olympus PEN F

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After being limited to 16MP for nearly four years, we now have a marginal increase in resolution – to 20MP, matching the Panasonic GX8 announced last year (and quite possibly sharing the same sensor, too). The PEN F is another retro-tastic design clearly inspired by the original film half-frame PEN F, right down to the knob on the front vertical face of the camera. It is also yet another subdivision of a niche by Olympus of its EVF cameras – we have the photo-centric E-M1, the video-centric E-M5II, the budget-centric E-M10II, and now the PEN F. One thing that struck me throughout the test period was that the camera really feels as though it’s geared towards the JPEG shooter (or, more likely, the social media crowd). It’s the first all-new ‘serious’ camera from Olympus in a couple of years – so how does it perform?

Thank you to Olympus Malaysia for the loan. Note that all images were processed in Olympus Raw Viewer 3, and then run through my usual photoshop workflow; as such it’s difficult for me to make objective and comparative statements about image quality as this is not my normal workflow and one cannot compare it to other cameras easily. What I can do for now is assess how this particular workflow performs, and that’s what I’ll be doing later. Additional images will be posted to this flickr gallery.

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Review: The Olympus E-M5 Mark II

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 My usual deployment: handheld video, with HLD-8 battery grip, Zeiss ZM 1.4/35 Distagon rin an adaptor, and a Zoom H5 audio recorder. I am working on fixing the hard/sharp/uncomfortable edges of the battery grip with a silicone putty compound called Sugru, and will post the results in a future post.

Better late than never (or, I finally get around to trying out the second coming): the Olympus’ E-M5 Mark II. Many of the long-suffering readers of this site will know that I had a period of enthusiasm for M4/3 gear (and specifically the original E-M5) before that abruptly came to a halt in early 2014. The reasons were simple: firstly, camera technology has moved on; what was an impressive size/quality ratio in 2012 is not in 2015. Secondly, my output requirements have changed; the cameras have never had sufficient resolution to make a meaningfully-sized Ultraprint. Thirdly, there was no real solution to the shutter shock problem of the E-M1, which produced unusable images under basically every shooting condition – from 1/90s to 1/350s*. We were amongst the first to use the original E-M5 for video because of its stabiliser, and continued to use the E-M1s for video (including all of the workshop videos after The Fundamentals), Olympus and I then parted ways, and it appears they found new champions less demanding of their equipment. But, why the change of heart for me?

*I demand critically sharp pixels and can achieve them with the same camera under other conditions. Different users may have different thresholds of acceptability and different levels of shot discipline and not see any problems. On top of that, I tested >80 E-M1 bodies including >70 at Olympus Malaysia HQ, all of which exhibited the problem. The initial review unit did not, because it was a preproduction unit with a shutter module from a different batch. A firmware update was subsequently released with EFC, but it only works in single shot mode.

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OpEd: resolution, output, collector or photographer?

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The Internets have been alive with the noises of high resolution (if that isn’t a messed up metaphor, I’m not sure what is) cameras. “Finally, my photos will be better!” Let’s pause for a moment here. There are a lot of assumptions being made, and a lot which is not obvious. And I’m writing this article to address the flood of email I’ve been getting asking for an opinion.

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Opinion-review: the Panasonic LX100/ Leica D-Lux 109

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Sony has the RX100 series. Canon has their G Powershots. Nikon…never mind. But Panasonic has the ooseX series, and the accompanying Leica D Lux redesign; I reviewed its predecessor, the LX7/ D Lux 6 some time back, and owned an LX3 back when it was pretty much the only choice for a serious compact – variable aspect ratios and all. In the intervening years since the last generation, sensors have grown – even in compacts – and the bar has been raised. I’ve spent a few days with the LX100/D Lux 109 twins and have some rather polarising thoughts…

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New Olympus E-M1 firmware

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I don’t normally post about firmware updates, but this is a) quite a major one, and b) there are a lot of E-M1 users amongst the reader pool. Amongst other fixes to audio recording, the shutter mechanism is affected. Some cameras – mine included – are affected by a resonant shutter vibration specifically at 1/180s that causes a slight double image; higher and lower speeds are fine. The new firmware adds an option that switches “the first shutter curtain from mechanical to electronic to reduce blur caused by shutter impact”. In our initial testing, it appears to make a significant difference on two of the three cameras we have here (all of the workshop videos are filmed with them, we have a spare, and I shoot one myself).

I first raised this issue to Olympus back in December; it’s highly commendable that they’ve listened, been in regular contact, and given us not only a solution, but a highly innovative one that doesn’t require sending the camera in. Kudos.

The firmware update can be downloaded here. You will need the original (proprietary) USB cable that came with the camera to upload it, though. MT

Photoessay: Avril Lavigne, live in Kuala Lumpur

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Here’s something you probably weren’t expecting from me. Though I’ve shot concerts on assignment before (here, for instance) I don’t tend to go very often as a fan, simply because I don’t have the time, and even if I did, most of the acts I’d want to listen to don’t come to Kuala Lumpur.

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Now available: Making Outstanding Images Episode 4&5: Exploring Style!

I’m pleased to announce the final two videos in the Making Outstanding Images workshop series: Exploring Style and Processing for Style are now available for instant download!

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Review: The Panasonic Lumix GM1

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If ever there was a convincing argument for Micro Four Thirds, this camera and the Olympus E-M1 would form the vanguard. One lets you shoot under incredibly demanding conditions and extends the shooting envelope significantly over the competition; the other is so darn small that it puts most compact cameras to shame. In fact, the body is no larger than it needs to be to accommodate a 3″ touch-sensitive LCD, and a tiny bit of real estate to accommodate a few buttons and a vestigial thumb grip. To put things into perspective: the body is the same size as the ultra-compact Canon Ixus I used to have; the one so compact that it doesn’t even have a d-pad. Size does of course carry some compromises. But I admit that I was curious to find out just what they were; there are times when I need a bit more flexibility than the fixed 28mm of the excellent Ricoh GR, and this seemed like just the ticket…

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Photoessay: Universal Studios Singapore

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A continuation of the previous article on tourist location photographability.

Perhaps as a reflection of personal interest, I was certainly more drawn to the urban scenery element of the place rather than the rides or the fantasy areas; none of the people really fit the scene – i.e. looked ‘in place’, so I left them out (think 1940s New York or 1960s Hollywood being full of Asians in tank tops and shorts). The results are a slightly surreal and empty environment; I think it reflects my recent and increasing fascination with form and light over action. We all go through subject and stylistic shifts in our photographic journey as we explore new things; having shot a lot of street, cinematic and reportage work in recent years, perhaps it’s time for a change.

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 review updated with thoughts on RAW quality

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Now that ACR has preliminary support for E-M1 raw files – amongst a whole load of other cameras – in ACR 8.2 (available here for Mac and Windows), I’ve gone through and reprocessed a few to assess the RAW quality of the E-M1’s sensor; I expect to have more thoughts on this in the longer term after I have a chance to put the camera through a greater variety of scenarios. Sadly, my loaner went back yesterday, so further updates after this one will have to wait until my own cameras arrive in October.

The full updated review is here. MT

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