Olympus OM-D E-M1 Touch and Try Session, Kuala Lumpur (21 and 22 September 2013)
If you happen to be in Kuala Lumpur, you have a chance to touch and try the Olympus OM-D E-M1 in a coming event on 21st and 22nd September!! First come first serve basis, so hurry up and register. I will be there, and hope to see some of you beautiful people there!
Registration here: http://home.olympusimage.com.my/eventlist.phpMore information on Micro Four Thirds system here: http://www.olympusimage.com.my/products/dslr/em1/
1) I am an employee of Olympus Malaysia. I am reviewing the Olympus OM-D E-M1 from a photography enthusaist’s point of view. I was given the liberty to perform the gear review as usual.
2) This is a user experience based review.
3) The insect macro images were shot in RAW and converted directly to JPEG Large Fine via Olympus Viewer 3 (provided by Olympus Malaysia). The Continuous AF test images were shot directly with JPEG Large Fine, and presented straight out of camera.
4) General camera settings, Noise Filter = OFF, Contrast/Saturation/sharpness = 0, White Balance = Auto (with an option maintain warm color = OFF), Gradation = Normal
5) No post-processing applied to the images. All images were as good as straight out of camera, with minimal cropping for better presentation.
This is Part 2 of my Olympus OM-D E-M1 review. If you have not done so, please go to Part 1 here (click).
In the previous blog review I have tested the E-M1 by pushing its limit in high ISO shooting, and the NEW 16MP Live MOS image sensor performed above my expectations. Image quality is not only crucial when it comes to low light performance, and I believe low ISO shooting is equally, if not more important. Now that Olympus has removed the anti-aliasing filter, we are expecting the image to show some improvements, especially in fine details capture with their new "fine detail processing 2".
In order to test the image sharpness of the new image sensor, I have decided to do something that I have always done: insect macro shooting. Concurrently, I shall also discuss the handling of the camera, since macro shooting poses great challenge to handle and balance the camera, steadying the shots with extreme magnification.
Right after macro shooting, we shall explore the capabilities of the Continuous Autofocus with Tracking of the E-M1.
INSECT MACRO SHOOTING: IMAGE SHARPNESS TEST
Photo credit: Carmen Hong (http://causeitisonlyonceinalifetime.blogspot.com/)
MACRO GEAR SETUP
Before we go on further, allow me to explain the techniques on how I shot some of the extreme magnification images. For general shooting where extreme magnification is not required, I used standard AutoFocus to lock my subjects. Do bear in mind that the following technique is only employed for high magnification images more than 0.5x magnification on the Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro lens.
Body: Olympus OM-D E-M1, with the bundled flash attached, and switched ON all the time
Lens: Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro lens
Flash: Olympus FL-50R flash
Flash: Olympus FL-50R flash
My execution on macro shooting:
1) Olympus E-M1 with 60mm macro lens was held single-handedly by my right hand
2) External flash, FL-50R was held by my left hand, with wireless TTL mode activated and ready to fire.
3) I used the DIY made "Shoebox Flash Bouncer (click for more details)" on the flash head all the time. The direction of the bounced flash was aimed at the subject mostly from the side, slightly above their head level.
4) General camera settings: Shutter Speed from 1/80sec to 1/125 sec (to capture a little bit of ambient light, if possible for a more natural look), Aperture from F/5.6-F/14 (to control and maximize depth of field required), ISO 200-400
5) Manual Focus, with the lens set to the amount of magnification required (for magnification of 0.5x or higher). I rocked myself back and forth until the zone of focus-interest was seen clear/sharp on my viewfinder, and I fired the shutter button.
Enough technicalities, lets see some results!
M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro: ISO320, 1/60sec, F8,
100% Crop from previous image
M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro lens, ISO200, 1/100sec, F7.1
M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro, ISO200, 1/80sec, F7.1
M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro, ISO200, 1/60sec, F4,
Looking at the 100% crop of the dragonfly's eye (first and second images), there is a significant improvement in terms of overall per pixel sharpness captured. I was blown away by the sheer amount of fine details captured, especially the revelation of the magnified compound eye. Older cameras like Olympus E-5 and E-M5 can both produce excellent macro images, as I have demonstrated many times in my previous reviews with those cameras, but even by looking at the photographs shown in this entry the image sharpness on the E-M1 has shown improvement by quite a far margin. The E-M1 images just appear richer and more full of fine details.
There is something about the Truepic 7 image processing engine that comes with the Fine Detail Processing 2 technology (that was quite a mouthful) that did some optimization to the images. Olympus JPEG files are known to have plenty of sharpening artefacts, appearing like coarse noise which can get rather intrusive of the image was viewed at larger magnifications. DPReview has recommended the best setting to either set the noise filter to "Low" or "Off" and turn down the sharpness setting to "-2" in order to minimize the sharpening artefacts caused by the JPEG compression. As you can see in all the photographs in this blog entry, they are all almost virtually free of sharpening artefacts, and surely this was a good news. My settings were set to default sharpness "0" and noise filter OFF. It is great to see finally Olympus has solved one of the issues highlighted by the users.
The Fine Detail Processing 2 allows compensation of image sharpness independently with different lenses mounted on E-M1. Some lenses will surely be sharper than others, eg the M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro lens is known to be much sharper than the M.Zuiko 14-42mm kit lens. Therefore, applying a universal sharpening level (on conventional JPEG processing) on all images will render the already sharp image produced by the super sharp M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro lens to be over-sharpened, thus the sharpening artefacts. Now with the new Fine Detail Processing 2 that takes into consideration which lens was being used, it will recognize each lens individually and apply sharpening levels accordingly, which was quite a neat trick if you ask me. It was surely all on software and programming level, but the result you get from Olympus JPEG engine, is an optimized output.
The lens profile correction is not only limited to adaptive sharpening for different lenses, but it also corrects chromatic aberration, compensates for loss of resolution due to diffraction (shooting at higher F-number) and correction of distortion. As you can observe from all the images shown here, they were all almost virtually all corrected from any lens imperfections. This auto-correction capability only works for Olympus Zuiko and M.Zuiko digital lenses.
Another important item worth discussing is Moiré pattern suppression. The E-M1 has excluded the anti-aliasing filter, resulting in extremely sharp images but also caused high susceptibility to Moiré pattern issues, especially in textured subjects. Olympus applies correction on the Moiré pattern issues at the software level, via their new Truepic 7 image processing engine. Interestingly I have not encountered any Moire pattern in any of my photographs taken with E-M1 until now. I shall do further testing to verify this.
M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro, ISO200, 1/80sec, F5.6,
M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro, ISO 200, 1/80sec, F6.3, wireless flash fired
100% crop from previous image
M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro, ISO400, 1/80sec, F8
M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro, ISO 200, 1/40sec, F5.6
Shooting macro is extremely challenging for me, especially with the method of using one hand holding the camera with lens, and another holding the external flash unit, which I used throughout the whole macro shooting session. I was also provided with the Olympus HLD-7 battery grip, which I decided not to use for this shoot, as I prioritized the smaller size and less weight setup. I shall discuss the handling and use of the HLD-7 battery grip in the next review entry, when I use larger and heavier Zuiko Digital Four Thirds lenses, such as the 50-200mm F2.8-3.5.
I particularly like the beefier hand grip that provided substantially much steadier and reassuring right hand holding on the camera. As I hold the camera it felt very solid, and confident. This is expected from Olympus professional build quality, similar even to E-5. The camera has significant weight on itself, so coupling with larger lenses such as M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 is no longer a problem, unlike the previous E-M5 that I have recommended to be used with a landscape/horizontal grip for better stability. The E-M1 appeared, and felt on hand to be better built, and tankier than the E-M5.
Handling with M.Zuiko lenses, the combination felt balanced, and comfortable to use. For many people E-M5 may be too small, especially for men with larger hands. I do not have large hands, but I do appreciate the extra space to grip the camera more comfortably. The largest lens I have used on the E-M1 without the aid of the HLD-7 battery grip was the Zuiko Digital 7-14mm F4 lens, and if you can kindly refer to my Part 1 review, I have no problem with this combination and managed to even pull off some very slow shutter speed shooting, down to 2 seconds, successfully again, and again. I have full size image samples to back-up my claim!
I shot the whole session at the Butterfly Park Kuala Lumpur for about 3 hours, and I did not feel any strain on my wrists or arms. The balanced handling and comfort of use allowed me to hold the camera and lens single-handedly for long hours. The camera by itself, though is larger and heavier than E-M5, is still rather manageable. But I did get cramps and sores on my legs and even my butt due to crouching and bending my body in awkward positions to get to some of the insects hiding in the most inauspicious locations.
When you need to use larger and heavier lenses, the addition of HLD-7 will add much needed counter-weight and balance.
One of the few complains about E-M5 was the tiny buttons, with placements being too cramped on the camera. Now that the new E-M1 is slightly larger, the extra space has allowed the buttons to be made larger, and being placed not too closely to each other. Some have also complained about the rubbery feel, and difficult to press (requires more force to push down) buttons on the previous E-M5. The reason for this was due to the weather sealing mechanism, and the E-M1 has the same difficult to press buttons characteristics. Since there is more space between buttons, and the size of the buttons is bigger, I find it a lot easier to use the buttons now.
M.Zuiko 60mm f2.8 macro, ISO 200, 1/100sec, F5.6
M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro, ISO200, 1/100sec, F7.1
M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro, ISO320, 1/80sec, F5.6
M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro, ISO200, 1/80sec, F6.3
100% crop from previous image.
CONTINUOUS AUTOFOCUS WITH 3D TRACKING
I was the first person in the world to provide the feedback during the E-M5 review that the E-M5 did not perform very well in continuous autofocus, and subsequently many other reviewers have come to the similar conclusion. Now, I am sure there are many E-M1 reviews being published out there already, but I hope I am among the first few to tell you that the E-M1 now has much better continuous AF and can track fast moving subjects with ease, with very high success rates. I know, I know, it is a little difficult to believe, just like my claim on 1-2 seconds slow shutter speed hand-holding claims for the 5-Axis IS effectiveness but I do have lots of photographs to prove this point.
We all know that Phase Detect AF system performs better than Contrast Detect AF when it comes to continuous AF shooting. For single AF shooting, Olympus Micro Four Thirds system has accomplished and still maintained the record for having the world's fastest autofocus. Anyone who has tried Olympus newer cameras such as OM-D E-M5 and the PEN E-P5 would surely agree with the incredible single AF speed, even professional photographers who use top of line DSLRs such as Nikon D4 or Canon 1Dx can testify to this. However, when it comes to continuous focusing the Contrast Detect AF falls far behind the capabilities of Phase Detect AF system.
Focusing areas layout: Left using Phase Detect AF for Four Thirds DSLR Lenses
Right using Contrast Detect AF for Micro Four Thirds DSLR Lenses
For continuous focusing with Micro Four Thirds (M.Zuiko) lenses, BOTH Phase Detect AF and Contrast Detect AF are used to optimized object tracking.
The Phase Detect AF pixels were built on chip directly onto the image sensor itself, alongside photo-pixels, allocated discretely in the form of zigzag lines to ensure accurate distance measurement. Note the arrangement of left and right channels.
For the missing photo pixels, data was interpolated by extracting adjacent surrounding pixels.
One of the practical solution to address this shortcoming of continuous AF in Micro Four Thirds system was to include Phase Detect AF system in it. Olympus has come up with their own solution of building the Phase Detect AF onto the image sensor itself. This solution actually kills two birds with one stone: it allows faster focusing with the older Four Thirds DSLR lenses that all relied on Phase Detect AF system to work optimally, and as expected, the inclusion of Phase Detect AF will significantly improve the continuous AF ability of the camera. To make this happen, while shooting in Continuous AF mode, the Phase Detect AF will work hand in hand together with Contrast Detect AF to optimize subject tracking while in motion, and we will see how well this performs in real life shooting conditions.
To test the Continuous AF, for this session I used the new Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lens, testing from the wide end (12mm) all the way to the telephoto end (40mm). I set the camera to burst mode, and the camera can accomplish 6.5 frames per second when used with Continuous AF shooting mode. I then set the camera to Shutter Priority, taking control of the shutter speed. For panning subjects, I used shutter speed of 1/20-1/40sec, and to completely freeze the moving object, I used higher shutter speed of 1/400-1/500sec. Please note that the 5 Axis Image Stabilization was turned off automatically when the burst sequential shooting was engaged (you can disable this setting within the menu).
Before I make any claims, please take note that I seldom make use of Continuous autofocus function, and have always relied on single autofocus shooting only. Most of my photography subjects do not require me to use continuous focusing. I may not be the best person to give you recommendations and conclusions, and my tests were done based on my own limited knowledge and experience in executing continuous shooting on the field.
CONTINUOUS AUTOFOCUS TEST SET 1
I have displayed a full set of my burst shooting of this motorcycle rider and his daughter passing by. I understand that the image size has been reduced and may not be useful to judge if the images were in perfect focus or not, thus I provided larger image size for download at the end of this blog entry. The reason why I chose this set was obvious, the focus was locked on the little girl's face. As the motorcycle passed me by, the girl's face was temporarily blocked by the motorcycle's side mirror. As this happened, the Continuous Autofocus on the E-M1 still managed to accurately tracked the girl's face, when it was blocked, and followed through after that. This is a series of more than 20 images but I cut it down to 18 for ease of display, and I was shooting in burst mode for about 4 seconds.
Not only was the tracking of motion moving from right to left of the frame, but the motorcycle was physically further away from me at the first frame and came closer and closer toward me, and moved away from me again exiting the left of the frame. The tracking worked effective in all these tested directions.
I have never successfully achieved this with any Micro Four Thirds cameras before, and even when I was using my own DSLR E-5, it would struggle especially when something came in front of the subject and blocked the line of sight.
I have a few more sets to show, and yes, I also provide larger size of the image set compilations for you to download in the later part of this blog.
CONTINUOUS AUTOFOCUS TEST SET 2
The Continuous Autofocus works very, very efficiently and managed to track the subject in motion. I do have some failures, I admit I seldom shoot with Continuous Autofocus, and I do make mistakes which should be taken into account for the failures. The reason for my failed shots was my inability to lock focus properly on the subject at the first frame, consequently resulting in failed tracking on all subsequent shots.
What if I shoot more than 40 shots all at one go? The beautiful thing about this new professional grade OM-D E-M1 is the extra large sized buffer built into the camera for longer duration of continuous burst shooting. It is rated that with a sufficiently fast memory card, you can get away with at least 41 RAW shotson Single AF (10 Frames per second burst) and 50 RAW shots on Continuous AF (6.5 frames per second burst) with the in camera buffer before the camera slows down. This is a crucial for professional photographers who needed the extra safe margin to have more shots when shooting in burst mode.
CONTINUOUS AUTOFOCUS TEST SET 3
I have taken a set of more than 50 shots for this particular series which corresponded to about 7-8 seconds long shooting and I got almost all images sharp. There were a few misses in the series, but overall the hit rate was still very impressive. Please download the larger files at the download section and see ALL the 36 shots shown here individually, they were all in focus! Note that all these images were taken with the M.Zuiko 12-40mm lens, at 40mm (zoomed to the tele-photo end), at widest aperture F2.8. If you magnify the images, you can evidently notice that the background was soft (out of focus) and the rollerblader was in focus, shot after shot.
I understand that some of you may not trust the images being displayed here, since they have been reduced in resolution, and obviously compressed to a certain degree. It is difficult to judge the image quality with so much size reduction, hence as usual, for your pixel-peeping pleasures, I have compiled selected images in high resolution (full resolution for insect macro images only, obviously the compilation of 9 images grid would be insanely huge for full resolution) for your download as follows:
E-M1 HIGH RESOLUTION SAMPLE IMAGES HERE
Coming up next, Part 3: Shooting with Four Thirds Zuiko Digital Lenses
In my coming Part 3 review, I make use of the highly admired Zuiko Digital lenses from the DSLR E-System. Now Olympus has Dual Fast AF and on-chip Phase Detect AF, we are expecting improvements in the autofocusing with Zuiko Digital lenses. I am still shooting and compiling sufficient content, and please do give me a bit more time because I am testing quite a few lenses for this blog entry.
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