New Arrival

The EM-10 fitted with the Olympus m4/3 Zuiko 12-50 f3.5-6.3 lens. A good walk around combination for stills and video.

It has been a very exciting two weeks here at Paul Amyes Photography Towers. A little note from the Fed-Ex man turned up in the mail box saying he wanted to deliver me something. To say I was perplexed was an understatement as I hadn’t been bashing the plastic in an orgy of online shopping. So I dutifully walked up to the depot (its only 500m) up the road, and collected it. On getting it home I found inside a was a shiny new Olympus OM-D EM-10 (which shall just be referred to as the EM-10 henceforth) and an offer to have for long-term testing and evaluation. Woooohooo! A new toy to play with.

The EM-10 is smaller than the EP-2 with the VF2 viewfinder attached.

So two weeks later I’m siting down and trying to marshal my thoughts about the experience thus far. I think that I should give a little background. My first 35mm camera was an Olympus XA2 and since then I have owned OM1, 2, 4, 20, and 40’s, an XA4, an AF10, a C720 UZ and more recently an EP-2. I was shooting weddings professionally with my OM4 up until 2005 when one sad day it broke down and the repairman said there were no more parts to fix it. I then had an expensive dalliance with Canon, which no matter how hard I tried I could not turn into fully fledged relationship because the spark just wasn’t there. I’ve used other cameras and I really enjoyed them – Voigtlander Bessas, Pentax 645, Panaonic LX-5 all spring to mind, but I have to confess that the EM-10 is the first camera I’ve ever used that has made me want to hurl it across the room and then jump up and down on the pieces in sheer frustration. My EP-2 is my all time favourite camera to use. I accept its idiosyncrasies and can work round them because the whole process is so enjoyable. I use it as my travel camera and for multimedia projects. The EM-10 I thought would be an ideal replacement.

 

The pop up flash can also act as a remote control for off camera speedlites.

Well lets talk about the good stuff. The camera looks drop dead gorgeous and it feels just right in the hands. My father always used to say that I had hands like bunches of bananas yet this small camera feels just right. In fact it such a tactile experience I’ve found that I often just pick it up to fondle and just hold. I know, I know it just sounds so wrong, but for me a camera has to actually feel good in the hand. I like cameras that become transparent and don’t get in the way of taking photos.

Portrait of my bully, Frida, using m4/3 Olympus 17mm f2.8 on the Olympus EM-10. Exposure 1/100 sec, f2.8 ISO 1600.

Olympus when they introduced the 16Mp sensor with the EM-5 were onto a sure-fire winner. Its origins were, and still are hotly debated on internet forums and while most accept that it is from Sony a few diehards are like the Birthers in the US arguing that it comes from Panasonic. Personally I don’t care where it comes from, all I know is that the latest iteration in the EM-10 is very good. The dynamic range and the pixel amount are just about perfect for my needs. If you want more details then DXO or DPReview can shed more light on the technical aspects.

Using the built in pop up flash as in RC mode to controll a Metz 44AF1 speedlite.

I very much like the EVF. When I bought the C720 UZ in 2002 I was convinced that EVFs were the future. The EVF in the EM-10 is not the same as the one in the flagship EM-1 or in the VF4, but it is better than the VF2 and the one in the EM-5. It is crisp, has a good refresh rate, and I find that I can focus manually quite accurately which is better than I can say for the viewfinders on many dSLRs. Where my EP-2 used to frustrate me was that I could not use the viewfinder and a flash, it had to be either or. I like having the EVF built in to the camera. Speaking of flash the EM-10 is the first in the series to have a pop up flash. I can’t see myself using it as a flash, but it can be used as a remote control for off camera flashguns and in that mode it works excellently and I can see myself using the function a lot when I start photographing orchids in spring. The rear screen is nice, it is the first tilt and touch screen that I’ve used and I like both features. The aspect ratio of the screen is 3:2 rather than 4:3 so you have black bars at the edges when shooting in the native 4:3 format. In the strong Aussie sun the screen is hard to see, I think this to do with it being a LCD rather than an OLED as in the other OMDs.

The 3 axis IBIS is a down grade from the previous models 5, but it works very well and the video below demonstrates that. With my 17mm f2.8 I’m able to get sharp images at 1 second which I find amazing. It works very well in video mode in conjunction with digital image stabilisation and it possible to capture steady video without the need for a rig or monopod. Many have poo pooed the video quality of Olympus cameras as being not suitable for serious work because there is only 30fps and a maximum bit rate of 24Mb/s in 1080p. Well I would have to say that while I do shoot a fair bit of video it is only destined for YouTube or converting to SD for DVDs that my elderly relies can play. So for those purposes it is more than adequate. The video clips below are straight out of the camera, nothing has been done to them apart from adding subtitles and a sound track. I’ve uploaded them to YouTube in 1080 so you can see what the camera actually produces. Any artefacts you may see will be a result of the compression YouTube uses. The only thing about the video function I don’t like is that there is nowhere to plug an external mic or recorder in. Yup no accessory port under the hot shoe and no 3.5mm socket. Bad Olympus, very bad!

 

Ok as I have just started with a fault I’ll move on to them. I like shooting HDR panoramas. I know many will consider that as a crime against humanity, but I like doing it. The EM-10 has both HDR and panorama modes. Can they be used in conjunction? NO! Ah well back to shooting them manually. I’ve programed the function button on my 12-50mm lens to turn exposure bracketing on. Nice it means I don’t have to delve deeply through the notorious Olympus menus. Not so nice is that the bracketing is still limited to 3 frame at -1, 0, and +1 EV. Come on Olympus it is 2014, your sensor has great dynamic range lets at least have 2 stop intervals.

While the EM-10 has both a HDR mode and panoramic function they cannot be used together. This handheld panorama is made up of 12 frames put together in CS5 and HDR Efex Pro 2. The 3 axis stabilisation works very well and makes this sort of work a doddle.

Focus peaking is a very nice feature and it works very well, but as a default straight out of the box it will only work with native m4/3 lenses that have electronic contacts in the lens mount. I searched the manual and there is no mention of focus peaking with legacy glass. I searched the internet high and low and there seemed to be a great deal of confusion as to whether focus peaking could be activated with old lenses. After some fiddling around I found that if you assign a button to activate it you can use it with adapted lenses. Hoorah! But you can’t use it in video. Boo!

 

Nodding Jesus. Using legacy glass on the EM-10 is a breeze with the new focus peaking function. Shot wide open on an Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.4 lens.

Speaking of the manual it deserves special mention. It should be held up as an example to all consumer manufacturers as an example of how not to write a manual. I wanted to test the new live composite function. I shoot a lot of night photos and this looked like it could really be good and save time faffing around in Photoshop with blending layers. Did the instructions tell you how to use it? No. Did Olympus Australia’s website shed any light on how to use it? No. After searching for ½ a day on the internet I found a photo forum in Singapore where one of its members had posted some shots using the function and enough information for me to work it out. Unfortunately since then the local farmers have been burning off their fields and the Avon Valley is choking to death on the smoke haze which means no clear night skies. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks I’ll be able to see the stars and photograph them.

I won’t say any more at the moment as I want to use the camera some more. However, I find the EM-10 to be a curious beast. Olympus is going after the first time DSLR buyer with this model, you know the people who buy something like a Canon Rebel or the Nikon equivalent because they want to be able take better pictures while on holiday, or photograph the kids sports day etc. Well both Canon and Nikon know that market very well and they sell their cameras by the boat load because they are relatively cheap, easy to use and can still satisfy the user as their skills grow. The EM-10 is a bit more expensive but thanks to the awful menu structure Olympus insists on continuing to use and poor instructions it is not easy to use. I have a feeling that there will be a lot of EM-10s for sale on EBay in six months time with a lot of frustrated buyers being either put off photography as a whole or buying something from Canikon. I think it is a great shame. The EM-10 could have the makings of a great camera, the sensor is terrific, it looks great, it handles well, but the user interface is absolutely appalling. I’m all for giving people the option of custom configuration, but on a camera targeted at the beginner who doesn’t know their f stops from their ISOs it is not as it just adds to confusion with such a frustrating UI. The EM-10 is like the curates egg – good in parts.

 

Lens Sharpness

Yoshinkan Aikido sacrifice throw, taken on Olympus C-720 Ultra Zoom with slow sync flash edited using Photoshop Elements 2 and Genuine Fractuals

Currently in photography there are several sacred cows and you’d think that from the amount of chatter these subjects generated that they were the be all and end all of photography. Thankfully for the actual art form of photography they are mostly irrelevant. These sacred cows are:

  • megapixels
  • dynamic range
  • sensor size
  • lens sharpness

My feeling is that these topics are so hotly debated is because now in this digital age it is easy to quantify these values numerically and the bigger the number the better. There is no doubt about it a great big  spreadsheet of impressive looking numbers must be right after all. This is why the website http://www.dxomark.com has become a sacred text among the denizens of the internet fora and its proclamations and pronouncements can lift a camera or lens to photographic nirvana or condemn it to the lowest reaches of hell. Well having ruffled a few feathers with the piece on sensor size and depth of field this weeks entry is going to cause the DXO fundamentalists to really froth at the mouth in holy indignation.

Ura Tai Otoshi, a Yoshinkan Aikido technique. Shot using an Olympus C-720 Ultra using slow sync flash. Edited using Photoshop Elements 2 and Genuine Fractuals

Lens sharpness  is something to be coveted. After all Leica, Zeiss, Schneider, Rodenstock, Canon and Nikon have made an art form of it. Those who worship at the high altar of lens sharpness are prepared to spend the equivalent of the GDP of a small African nation on the lenses that have the highest DXO score. The Carl Zeiss Distagon T* Otus 1.4/55 ZF.2 Nikon has a DXO score of 45 while the lowly Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II only has a rating of 25.  So the Otus is nearly twice as good as the plastic fantastic Canon. Phwoaaaaarrrrr forum domination and photographic greatness here I come,  I’ll go out and buy one straight away. The Australian list price for the Zeiss is $4474 while the Canon is $135, so the Zeiss must be 33 times better. Er no. To quote DXO “The DxOMark Score shows the performance of a lens, mounted on a given camera body, for its optimal focal length/aperture combination and for defined exposure conditions.” So the lens has been mounted to a camera on an optical bench shooting a 2D lens chart at an aperture that is guaranteed to give the best results in carefully controlled lighting. So in other words it does not reflect real world usage unless your photographic interests lie in shooting charts or brick walls with a camera on a heavy tripod so you can orgasm over how sharp the image is at the edges. Shoot a complex 3D object in rapidly changing light conditions at sub optimal aperture settings and these ratings really don’t mean anything.

A sacrifice throw from Yoshinkan Aikido. Taken using an Olympus OM 4 with a Zuiko 35-105 lens on Fujichrome 400 pushed to 800 ISO. Scanned using an Olympus ES-10 scanner and edited using Adobe Photoshop Elements 2 and Genuine Fractuals.

There is no doubt that lenses have become a lot sharper over recent years, but I find it amusing to see that they have become so sharp that they are now unflattering for portraiture as they show every blemish and pore. So much so that photographers are now spending time and money on lessening the sharpness (blurring if you will) on portraits. Don’t you think that is ironic? I’ll spend a fortune on a very sharp lens that is so clinically sharp that no-one likes the results so I’ll spend some more money on a Photoshop plugin to blur it.

 “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

A famous quote and often mis-quoted as nobody can really tell you the context in which Cartier-Bresson said it.  If we forget the Marxist definition of bourgeois and just concentrate on the dictionary definition we get:

 “belonging to or characteristic of the middle class, typically with reference to its perceived materialistic values or conventional attitudes: a rich, bored, bourgeois family | these views will shock the bourgeois critics.”

I would hazard a guess that dear old Henri was string a bit when he said it and meant something along the lines that sharpness in a photograph is a very conventional and staid way of judging it and doesn’t look at its other qualities. How can I be sure, well I can’t but he also said:

 “It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera, they are made with the eye, heart & head.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

 So I think it is more than likely to assume that Cartier-Bresson felt that there is a lot more to photography than technical perfection.

The Japanese art of sword drawing. Taken with an Olympus OM 4 with a Tamron 28 mm lens, using Ifford Delta 3200. Scanned using an Olypus ES-10 scanner and edited using Adobe Photoshop Elements 2 and Genuine Fractuals.

So by now you’ll have read this and seen some photos I made years ago of some people practicing Aikido and Iado, both Japanese martial arts. You’ll also have noticed that there is a lot of blurred movement and very little sharpness. The reason why is that I wanted to capture the beauty of the flowing energy that is involved in them and I felt that while static shots might capture the technical aspects of the techniques being demonstrated they don’t capture the nature of the philosophy behind them nor the dynamism. I like to feel that these are photos “made with the eye, heart & head” rather than the clinical gaze of the optically perfect lens. This is for me where the beauty of any art lies, not in technique but in the expression of ideas and emotions. None of the equipment used in the making of those photographs warrants a mention on DXOMark so I guess that gives them a score of zero. The equipment HCB used also isn’t on the DXO charts, and guess what quite a few of his pictures are blurred because he often relied on zone focusing and didn’t get it right, but I’d sooner have one of his pictures on my wall than a lens test chart any day.

Behind the Gare St. Lazare. By Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris 1932. © 2014 Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos, courtesy Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

If you are not familiar with work of Cartier-Bresson try this:

If those video clips have whetted your appetite then might I recommend Henri Cartier-Bresson  – the man, the image & the world. A retrospective. Published by Thames & Hudson.