Olympus

Revenge of the EM5

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The Lake District. Olympus EM5 with 12-40 lens, 0.6 ND Grad filter.
The Lake District. Olympus EM5 with 12-40 lens, 0.6 ND Grad filter.

Over the last few months I have been noticing an increase in the image noise from my EM5. Some areas which you would expect to be free from noise, such as clouds and blue sky, are starting to display faint traces of noise. These then become quite exaggerated when processed hard with Nik filters. In addition, I was beginning to feel that the greens and blues in the EM5 images just weren’t quite right, but it was difficult to put my finger on the problem.

It’s hard to say when this started but it may be that I was becoming increasingly fussy about quality as the Sony A7r was generally producing much cleaner images. A further factor may be that where I had begun to process old RAW files from the Canon 300D I was also seeing a very clean image, surprisingly so. All these factors started to suggest to me that it might be time to upgrade the EM5 or perhaps even switch to another camera manufacturer.

My intention had been to hold out and get the new EM1 when Olympus gets around to launching but I don’t know what the timeline is. In any case, I didn’t feel that happy with the Olympus colour handling and it certainly wasn’t as good as the Sony. These perceived problems together with my impatience lead to me trying a Fuji X-T1. The Fuji line up would also give me a great ultra-wide angle lens in the 10-24mm that would also accept filters. This was a failing of the Micro 43 ultra wides with only the Olympus 9-18mm taking filters but which suffers from edge distortion at 9mm (at least that’s what I was telling myself).

Hopefully this gives you an idea why last week I purchased a used Fuji X-T1 together with 2 lenses. Now the EM5 has taken revenge by making me regret this decision.

At the weekend I collected the new camera from the post office and headed off to the Peak District to try it out (between the heavy showers). Later with the images on my computer, what I saw shocked me. I called my wife in to get her opinion of the images and the first words out of her mouth was that the Fuji image “looked like a watercolour painting”, and that’s without zooming in on the detail. You can see this image below.

Fuji Sample
Fuji Sample

When you zoom in to the detail you don’t see much at all other than blur. Take a look at this 100% crop from the point of focus. You may need to click the image below to appreciate it fully.

Section of Fuji at 100%
Section of Fuji at 100% – click the image to enlarge

Now let’s compare this with an image shot on the EM5 from a couple of weeks earlier.

Olympus EM5 sample
Olympus EM5 sample

And again, here is a 100% crop from the point of focus.

EM5 section at 100% - click to enlarge image
EM5 section at 100% – click to enlarge image

Both images have been sharpened only slightly in Lightroom as part of the conversion from RAW. I found I couldn’t sharpen the Fuji very much without causing artefacts. Both images have noise reduction turned off. Both sections are from the point of focus.

I can also tell you that this effect has occurred on all the Fuji images using both lenses and across different apertures. Fine details just vanish and become smudged.

I find this unusual as a friend who has the same Fuji shared a RAW file with me before I bought the camera so I could check the image quality and it was much better than I seem to be able to achieve. Another friend has also just shared a link with me which confirms the “watercolour” effect is a known problem with the Fuji XTrans sensor when using Adobe RAW converters.

I will need to investigate this further but if I can’t find an easy solution the camera will need to go back. This would be a shame as it’s a really great camera to use. Perhaps I should have waited for the EM1 MKII after all.

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Processing Friday Image No.92

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Soft hazy light and subtle colours. The conditions weren't what I wanted but I can now see they work.
Soft hazy light and subtle colours. The conditions weren’t what I wanted but I can now see they work.

Last week I posted Friday Image No.92 and made comment about my having some kind of image blindness. In this particular case I think it was down to the conditions I was shooting in and the expectations I had in my mind. I often go out hoping for wonderful light and clean air, only to find the conditions are dull or hazy. Below you can see the starting shot for Image No.92. before any adjustments were made.

Starting image prior to any adjustment. This is the straight RAW file.
Starting image prior to any adjustment. This is the straight RAW file.

The light was quite nice now looking at this but it certainly wasn’t sharp light which is what I guess I wanted. I still took the shot but it’s only now that I recognise it’s potential. In case you’re wondering why I included all the sky, there is actually a hill in the foreground that prevented me from framing the shot any lower.

For the processing of this image I decided to crop the image to a more panoramic format which would remove the distracting sky and focus attention on the two halves of the image. There is the left half with the path and the right half with the mountain which is almost the inverse of this.

My initial thought was to produce a soft image with subtle colours that would make more of the hazy conditions. Often when you try to fight against and counter the conditions you end up with an image that doesn’t achieve what you want. It’s usually much better to work with the conditions and emphasise them even more. In the following screenshot you can see the conversion settings used in Lightroom – the colour temperature used is quite a bit warmer than the capture setting (originally around 5200).

Lightroom Adjustments
Lightroom Adjustments

The other key change was to use some negative Dehaze, which was set to -7. This was sufficient to lighten the image and emphasise the haze. I also added some selective adjustment to the shadows on the hillside to the right. This was intended to open the shadows so that they appeared to have texture rather than be a mass of black. The resulting image can be seen below.

For the final conversion to Black and white I used On One Photo Effects 10.5 with a Tonal adjustment to highlight the detail together with a black and white conversion. This is the same adjustment that I tend to use with my “Views from the Moors” collection of work.

Olympus EM5 + Panasonic 14-45 lens. ISO200, 1/200" at f/8.0
Olympus EM5 + Panasonic 14-45 lens. ISO200, 1/200″ at f/8.0

I personally can’t make my mind up which I prefer most, colour or black and white. I think I’m favouring the colour version.

Friday Image No.92

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Olympus EM5 + Panasonic 14-45 lens. ISO200, 1/200" at f/8.0
Olympus EM5 + Panasonic 14-45 lens. ISO200, 1/200″ at f/8.0

Last week I shared Friday No.91 which was taken on my first outing with the Olympus EM5. Later the same day I shot this image with the EM5. At the time I liked the scene but the conditions were very poor. It’s only now that I recognise I captured the image I wanted to. I definitely have some kind of block which prevents me from seeing a good image until sometime later (usually many months).

I will share some further thoughts about this next week.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Friday Image No.91

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Haweswater. 4 image series on the Olympus EM5 with 14mm prime. ISO200, 1/160" at f/8.0
Haweswater. 4 image series on the Olympus EM5 with 14mm prime. ISO200, 1/160″ at f/8.0

I shot this image almost 3 years ago in June 2013. It was my first outing with the Olympus EM5, a camera that I feel has changed my photography. This is actually 4 images merged in Lightroom. I shot a lot of these panoramic series back then as I found the EM5 was so easy to use. But until the new Lightroom merge feature was introduced, I have left many of these to sit on my hard drive.

The location is Haweswater in the Lake District. It’s actually a reservoir that’s been engineered to look like a lake. There’s even a very pretty manmade island. It’s a shame they had to flood a village to do this. If you have never visited this area, it’s well worth a look. It’s much quieter than the rest of the lakes and the Haweswater hotel makes a great place to stay.

Hope you like the shot and have a great weekend.

The Olympus 12-40 Sweet Spot

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Olympus Em5 with 12-40 lens. See blog text for settings.
Olympus Em5 with 12-40 lens. See blog text for settings.

I have noticed that when shooting with the Olympus EM5 I have become very lazy about setting the aperture. I have fallen into the habit of shooting at f/7.1 when using the 12-40mm lens. Unless there is something that’s very close to the camera I find that I can get away with using this aperture almost all the time. With this lens and aperture combination I find that it gives me an excellent depth of field for Landscapes but also produces sharp images that are well focussed from corner to corner.

But this isn’t to say that it’s the best aperture for the lens.

I have actually found that my lens tends to perform at its best when stopped down to around f/5.6. There is less depth of field at this aperture but you can still achieve a hell of a lot when used with the 12mm wide angle end of the lens. You just have to take care where you place the focus point – but more on that in another blog post.

You might also find a similar setting are also good with other Micro 43 lenses in this focal range. I also used to use a Panasonic 14-45 and this seem to match the performance characteristics of the 12-40.

The image above was taken inside an old kiln in the Royal Mint in Bolivia. It was shot at f/3.5 so that I could keep the ISO low (in this case ISO400) together with reasonably fast shutter speed as I was shooting hand held. Actually the shutter speed was 1/15” but it was sufficiently fast. I had the camera in burst mode and fired of a few shots one after the other to ensure one of these was sharp.

This lens seems to perform very well across most of the aperture range. Take a look at the enlargement of the top left of the image, shown below. This has minimal capture sharpening applied as part of the RAW conversion in Lightroom.

Corner sharpness at f/3.5
Corner sharpness at f/3.5

So whilst I am always keen to use my lenses at the optimum aperture, I don’t mind deviating if it means that I can capture the image.

Another EM5 Posting

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Taken with a Panasonic GX1 converted to shoot infrared. Post processing in Alien Skin Exposure 7.
Taken with a Panasonic GX1 converted to shoot infrared. Post processing in Alien Skin Exposure 7.

I’m excited. I have bought a second EM5 body given the recent drop in prices. It’s second hand but has a low shutter count. In fact I didn’t want a new EM5 as I am going to get this one converted to Infrared.

When I had the GX1 converted I used a company called ACS. They did a good job but took an age to do the conversion. This time I have spoken to a company called ProTech who a friend has used for a few conversions.

I hope to take delivery of the camera this weekend and then it’s off for the conversion. I hope to be able to report back in a few weeks time and make some comparisons regarding image quality.

An Important Decision

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Ullswater Boat Jetty, The Lake District, England
Ullswater Boat Jetty, The Lake District, England

It was an early start yesterday. Up at 4:30 in the morning in order to make the 2 hour journey to Ullswater in the Lake District for a dawn shoot. Despite the early morning start it was without question one of the most enjoyable days photography that I have ever had.

Overnight the temperature had dropped like a stone and there was a thick haw frost on the ground. Most waters in the Lakes had a thin layer of ice starting to form around their edges but because the temperature had dropped rapidly the deeper water was still cooling. Instead of ice covering their surface they had a wonderful mist and the conditions just got better as the day went on. The image you see above is of the boat jetty near Pooley Bridge, at dawn. Captured on the Olympus OMD EM5 with Olympus 12-40mm lens and a 0.3 ND Grad on the sky. Aperture was f/9.0 (a mistake as I would have shot this at f/7.1 usually). ISO200 and shutter speed 1/125″.

So you might ask, what is the important decision? The answer is, that I have decided to sell the Nikon D800; but I want to explain and share my reasoning.

Firstly, this is the third trip I have made where I can’t bring myself to carry the extra weight. When I returned from Bolivia I suffered a prolapsed disk at the base of my neck and for a while it looked like I might need major surgery. Fortunately, this is looking less likely now but the pain over the past couple of months has been unbearable at times – and pain killers just didn’t have an effect on it. I was finding that even trying to lift and support the heavier equipment was aggravating the pain.

OK, so this might be a temporary condition (I certainly hope it is) but other things are more permanent and important. One of the reasons I bought the D800 was that a lot of people were claiming how the image quality is exceptional with the right lenses and I would agree, yes it is. The camera would perform very well even with lesser quality lenses but needed a little more adjustment to really bring this out. But the important point is, the image performance is no better at low ISO (which I use almost exclusively) than the EM5. In fact, the corner and edge sharpness of the EM5 images beats the D800 even with high quality lenses.

All I really get with the D800 is an image file that produces a 24.5″ inch image rather than 15.36″ at 300dpi. Does this additional image size matter? Well, unless I am going to be making a print larger than 30″ and look at this with my nose pressed against it. You really need to be doubling the print size to notice the difference in output quality due to the way inkjet printers work. If you print on Matt paper then you might even need to go larger than this. As for output to the Internet, there is no benefit to having more pixels and then throwing most of these away by downsizing the image.

Where the D800 does score well over the EM5 is in the RAW files. I seem to be able to push these all over the place in editing and see almost no noise, even in shadow areas. This is very nice but again it comes with a downside. The RAW files from the D800 do seem to need much more processing in comparison to the EM5 RAW files. It’s almost as if the D800 RAW files are a little flat, possibly to the additional dynamic range the camera has. Whatever the reason, it feels like I am having to relearn how to get the most out of the camera and I don’t really have time for that at the moment.

The final and most important problem is that the D800 really doesn’t suit my style of shooting. What I don’t like to do is pop the camera on a tripod, spend a lot of time getting into position, check everything and then make one or two good exposures. This just doesn’t work for me. My approach is to move around and into the subject, taking lots of pictures and checking them regularly. As I work I find images that I like or things I like about an image that I work with to incorporate. The shots gradually get better until I arrive at the image I want. This style of working isn’t for everyone but if it’s your style, you will find it hard working with a large DSLR.

I do have to admit though that I didn’t always recognise this. It was only when I moved to the EM5 that my shooting style really started to develop in this way and that I started to feel free. Now when I try to go back it’s as though I am constrained and I have lost that feeling of freedom and spontaneity.

So, this is my reasoning but I will caveat it with a final thought. I reserve the right to change my mind. As I was writing this I was looking back at some of my RAW files from the D800 and they do have a quality that I really like. I’m just not sure it’s enough to make me want to keep the camera.