Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Olympus PEN-F Review

Image © Olympus America


Background

I love camera gear.  No shame in that, as there has always been a love affair with technology.  Today, lets explore the world of the Olympus PEN-F and see what makes it special, where it is deficient, and my general thoughts about it.

Handling/Weight/Size

The PEN-F is a rangefinder styled camera.   The OMD series is more like the SLR style.  One of the physical characteristics that sets this camera apart from the other PEN cameras is the built in electronic viewfinder.  It is not in the middle, but off to the left top side.

Image © Olympus America
As you can see from the image above, there is a fully articulated screen here.  I'm not going to get into the specifics of that in this review, as it seems to be a very polarizing issue.  After using an articulating screen for some time now, I can say that I do appreciate the ability to move the rear LCD for different camera angles.

While we are viewing the back of the camera, you'll notice the right hand side is home to a few function buttons.  After a while of use, I am happy to report that the bottom right hand buttons have never been accidentally pressed by me during use.

There is a rear wheel as well for controlling camera functions. We'll get into more detail about the dials in a minute when we look at the top of the camera.

You'll notice that there are quite a few functions marked on the d-pad.  I immediately remapped those and the d-pad is now exclusively used for selecting AF points.

The other functions marked on the d-pad I access via the Super Control panel, which is accessed by pressing the "OK" button when in shooting mode.  I've mapped the Fn1 button (see top right of the image above) to the "AF home" button.

I find that the controls and layout feel very natural.

Image © Olympus America
The top gives us a look at the other controls.  One the mode dial you get the aperture/shutter/manual/program modes, iAuto and movie mode.  What is different from other Olympus cameras up until the PEN-F is the inclusion of custom mode slots for 4 different setups.  The mode dial also has a clickable lock/unlock button on it to prevent accidental shifting.

The shutter release button is surrounded by the front control dial and that black dot you see is for a threaded cable release.

Next to that is the movie record button.  It is also surrounded by a hard ridge to prevent accidentally activating the movie mode.

A dedicated exposure compensation dial is also featured to the far right.   The detents on it are very rigid, so you will not be bumping this around accidentally.

The power switch is set to the left and looks much like a dial.   Very quick to go from off to on and back with the left hand.

The PEN-F does not have a grip on the front and a very small indentation on the back.  Some people don't like that, so there are Olympus and third party add on grip options to give your front fingers something to grip on to.

I don't mind it, but I do throw on a small wrist strap just for a little added security.

The PEN-F takes to adapted and manual focus lenses quite well.  I've used it with many Nikon F-mount lenses to native mount manual lenses.  Focus peaking works great.  I set peaking to yellow color with low intensity.  I then map the peaking function to the front "DOF preview" button.

1/2500, f/3.2, ISO 200 Olympus 75mm f/1.8
Below, I'll share with you the setup I shoot with on an everyday basis

The everyday mode for single point AF stuff.
Sharpness -1
Contrast +1
S-AF
i-Natural picture profile
Single Servo
4:3 aspect ratio
Large SuperFine JPG

The settings I use for the MONO section on the front dial:
mono profile 1
monochrome color = none
film grain effect = off
Sharpness -1
Contrast +1
S-AF
Single Servo
1:1 aspect ratio
color filter = none
highlight curve -4
shadow curve -3
midtone curve -3
vignette = 0

Large SuperFine JPG + RAW(so I have the ability to get a color version if I so desire)

Much easier to access than going into a menu and picking a MySet or remapping existing dial options.

While we are on the subject of MySets - those are technically gone.  Instead, you map the C1 through C3 dials; menu options for setting and retrieving are a lot less confusing.  The menu names have been renamed, so you know when you are saving the settings or retrieving them.  You still cannot name the presets, but that is less of an issue since they have their own dedicated place on the dial.

1/125, f/4, ISO 1000 - Nikon 105mm f/2.5 AI Fotodiox adapter


Special PEN-F Feature - The Front Dial

This is the one stand out feature on the PEN-F that has a lot of people talking.  The front dial gives you access to some special features for how you want your JPG images to look.

MONO - black and white mode, with some presets and a customizable slot for you to setup the output how you like.   And when I say customizable, I mean it!  You can control all points of the tone curve, add a color filter to change the B&W conversion characteristics, the level of vignetting as well as the amount of grain that gets applied to the file.  The exposure features are accessed via a switch on the rear of the camera that sits under the mode dial.  The other functions are accessed via the SCP.

COLOR - this mode is similar to the MONO mode, but deals in how the color response is handled.  Again, just about anything can be customized.  You can control the overall color saturation response or isolate it to a specific channel of colors.  The tone curve is customizable here as well.

ART - your art modes that were historically found on the mode dial.  Same here as you'd find on other Olympus cameras.

CRT - is the color creator mode that can be found on older Olympus cameras

Some people have mentioned that the front dial digs into their fingers and is uncomfortable.  The metal dial does have some texture to it, so I can see where that might be an issue.  However, I have large hands and I've never had an issue with rubbing my hand on the dial.  I believe this is an issue with how the camera is being held more than anything.

I ran into this issue when I first bough the Nikon Df.  Because of the body style and the grip (or lack there of on the PEN-F), you need to hold the camera differently.  My thinking is that this different grip style is why I don't have issues with the front dial.

I love having this feature and use the MONO mode with a custom setup quite a bit.  When I do, I have the camera setup to shoot SuperFineJPG+RAW, so I get the best of all world.

1/2500, f/4, ISO 200 - Mitakon Speedmaster 25mm f/0.95

Image Quality

The sensor is of the 20mp Sony variety.  There is no anti aliasing filter.  I'm getting excellent image quality out of this camera.  The previous sensors were 16mp, so not much of a boost.  However, if you look at what you are getting, which is more mp with a boost in IQ, low light performance and dynamic range - you are getting something better.

I've honestly had very little issues with the IQ I got from the older Panasonic/Sony 16mp sensors - so I'm happy.  So long as we keep moving forward, no matter how little and not backward.

1/1600, f/2.8, ISO 200 - Olympus 25mm f/1.8

1/400, f/9, ISO 200 - Panasonic 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6


Auto Focus

Point to point single AF is where this camera is most powerful.  It is quick and fast, everything that you've come to expect and appreciate from the Olympus brand m43 cameras.

You get large and small single points as well as some group points.  I'm shooting with single point small AF.

Continuous AF.  Yeah....if you've done any homework and looked at the Olympus C-AF, you'll already be aware that the contrast detect only cameras are not very well regarded.  If you need tracking, you'll want to get an EM1 Mark I or Mark II that have sensors with PDAF.

My Dog Ren
1/40, f/2.5, ISO 6400 - Nikon 105mm f/2.5 AI  Fotodiox adapter


Battery Life

What you'd expect from the BLN-1 battery.  You can find the standards, which I think list it around 350 shots per charge.  In real life use, you will get more than that if you exercise good mirrorless camera power management.

Keep the camera off until you need it.
Don't chimp unless you need to.
Have the EVF power off after a few seconds.

Those kinds of things will help tremendously.

1/320, f/4, ISO 200 - Nikon 105mm f/2.5 AI  Fotodiox adapter


Video

Nothing really special here.  An adequate 1080p offering from Olympus.  Having the IBIS is nice, but to be honest, the video is here for the spec sheet as I'm guessing that most who want the PEN-F are not getting it for the video features.  There is also no audio input for external microphones, so if that is something you need, use an eternal recorder and sync in post.

Good for grabbing the occasional family videos, but if you want to do something more serious in the m43 ecosystem in video, look to the Olympus OMD EM5.2 or EM1.2 for that.   On the Panasonic side, look to the GH4/GH5.
1/100, f/3.5, ISO 250 - Nikon 55mm f/3.5 Micro  Fotodiox adapter


Other Misc. Items of Note

Shutter Sound:
The shutter sound is quite, plus you get the all electronic shutter modes.  Quite is good.

Size Comparison:
The camera is very thin, candy bar shaped.  If you throw a pancake prime or zoom on there you have something that can fit in a jacket pocket.  Very portable.  I've had people mistake it for a film camera quite a bit, just like the Nikon Df.

High Res Mode:
Also available here, slightly larger with the newer sensor.  50mp RAW files.  You still need to use a tripod with a still subject, but if you have a use case for it, quite a nice feature to have at your disposal.

1/125, f/4, ISO 200 - Mitakon Creator 85mm f/2
Firmware:
The big thing with the newer camera technologies is being able to enhance and upgrade the bodies and lenses via firmware updates.  While I can see the benefits of this, it can also be a curse.  Upgrading from version 1.0 to 1.1 proved to be an uneventful affair.  However, upgrading from version 1.1 to 2.0 has proved to be problematic.  The camera presents issues with the EVF/LCD going black and the camera locking up. The only way of  resolving this is to pull the battery and reinsert.  Olympus acknowledged this and issued another firmware some weeks later, but even version 2.1 did not fully resolve the issue. While the frequency of the lockups was reduced, and when it does lock up, the power switch will reset the condition....there is still an issue there. Once this issue is fully resolved, I will update this post with that information at that time.

Bottom Line:
While this may not be the camera for everyone and the price tag might be off putting - one cannot deny that Olympus has provided a very capable camera body.

In many ways this is the mirrorless equivalent to the Nikon Df for me.  It just feels right, makes me want to get out and shoot pictures with it.  If I did not shoot professionally, I could see me living happily with the Nikon Df and the Olympus PEN-F as my everyday shooters and companions.

1/200, f/8, ISO 200 - Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6 - hi-res mode
There is just something very bonding about a camera with actual dials and performance that lets you shoot and think about subject and composition versus technical details.
This is how I felt about the Fuji X system when I had it years ago.

I'm just glad to see that the camera companies are listening and providing cameras like this.  I understand that this is not the direction they want to go, but there is a market out there for this kind of camera.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 II for Micro Four Thirds - Review

©PanasonicUSA

Background

Sometimes you just fall into multiple good deals and that is what we found here. not only was I able to find a used copy of the Panasonic 12-35, but got a great deal on this Panasonic 35-100 and will be using it on the Olympus EM5 Mark 2 for our review.

I used to own the Olympus 40-150/2.8 PRO and will provide my thoughts on both the lenses and how they compare.

Handling/Size/Weight

When you think about this lens and its equivalent field of view of something like a Nikon FX 70-200/2.8 VR lens, this thing is absolutely tiny!  Even against the Olympus 40-150/2.8 - we are still in the tiny realm.

©camerasize.com (left to right)
Nikon D700 w/ 70-200/2.8 VR
Olympus EM5.2 w/ oly 40-150/2.8 PRO
Olympus EM5.2 w/ Panasonic 35-100/2.8

One of the differences between the Olympus 40-150/2.8 and this lens is the material that covers the lens. Living in an area where the winters here can be quite brutal, having a barrier between your ungloved hand and the metal of a camera lens is often a welcome thing.  The Olympus is an all metal construction, even the zoom/focus rings are metal.  Panasonic went with a rubbery material around the rings.  This will be a great benefit to me in those cold shooting months.  If you remember, the 12-35 Panny also had this benefit.

1/3200, f/2.8, ISO 200 @ 80mm
Focusing rings are different between the Olympus and the Panasonic lenses as well.  The Olympus has a manual override clutch system (which I prefer).  The Panasonic, you must select manual focus or the AF+MF mode within the camera body.   The focus ring on the Panasonic is well dampened and smooth for those that might have need to use it.

The only switch on the lens is the Power OIS switch.  I leave this on OFF as I allow the fantastic Olympus IBIS (in body image stabilization) to handle my stabilization needs.

1/1600, f/2.8, ISO 200 @ 56mm
The lens is weather sealed as well, so has protection against water, snow, dust and extremes of temperature.  Always remember, though that weather sealing is a an all or nothing concept.  Weather sealing is only at its most beneficial when you have both a weather sealed camera body as well.  The EM5.2 is indeed weather sealed, so makes for a good pairing.

The Olympus has a tripod ring, which is removable.  It can take some getting used to if you are trying to hand hold the lens.  Quite a few people either spin the foot to the top of the lens or remove the tripod foot ring all together when they don't need it.  I spun it to the top.

1/320, f/4, ISO 200 @ 44mm
The Panasonic is 50mm focal length shorter than the Olympus on the long end and 5mm wider on the wide end.  In practice, I never notice this difference in the wider end.  I do find that it is taking me some time to get used to not having that extra 50mm with equivalent 300mm field of view.  The Panasonic only gives you a 200mm field of view.   So long as I have good light, that is not much of a concern as I do have the Olympus 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7II to handle the longer stuff.

Image Quality

I cannot honestly see much of a difference between the images I get from this lens against the Olympus equivalent in regards to sharpness.

Straight out of camera, I might give a slight advantage in contrast to the Panasonic.  However, any differences can be made up for if you have a good grasp of your post processing.  This is very similar to what I experienced with the Panny 12-35 and Oly 12-40 characteristics.

1/640, f/2.8, ISO 200 @ 75mm
One thing to note as a "negative" on the Panasonic.  On the EM5.2, I have issues with all Panasonic lenses of the shutter shock variety.  I've had issues with all these lenses that I've owned and reviewed:
14/2.5, 12-32/3.5-5.6, 12-35/2.8 - the 35-100/2.8 is no different.   I would ensure that any Olympus camera you choose to use this lens on should have an anti-shock mode.

Another point that a lot of people will want to discuss is bokeh quality.  First off, I do conceed that this is a subjective topic.
Now, with that out of the way...

A lot of things contribute to the out of focus rendering. Focus distance, background distance, aperture, type of subject in the background, distance to subject and focal length.

I did find some instances where the Panasonic showed some nervous tendencies in some shots, it seemed less intense than when it was experienced with the Olympus 40-150 PRO.    The image of the dog below is one example.  The OOF background is a little nervous, but in similar situations using the Olympus, I feel the rendition would have been a bit more nervous.

I take this as a fact of how a lot of modern lenses do their thing. Since more and more lenses are pushing maximum sharpness, this seems to be a more common phenomenon.

Focusing

Auto focusing is fast and accurate, as you would expect from a micro four thirds camera and lens of this caliber.  I did notice some times, and they were very few that the 35-100 would miss focus from time to time or hunt and give up.  Maybe it did that 2 times out of the 500 some images I've taken with it so far.    If my memory serves, that seems pretty similar to the ratio I remember with the Olympus 40-150/2.8.  This very well might be a focusing system issue.  I'll do some additional test with the PEN-F and this lens to see of it reacts differently.  The lens is still relatively new to me, so I just may need some more time to get used to using it.

1/1000, f/2.8, ISO 200 @ 89mm
Against the Olympus - while I do not have both to test head to head, I can't imagine if one were faster than the other it is most likely negligible.  My gut wants to tell me that the Oly might be a bit faster.  At least that is what my mind wants to tell me.  Again, we are talking a relatively negligible amount for most applications here.  I'm really picking nits.

Bottom Line

Brand new, the pro line m43 lenses are an expensive proposition if you look at them against the other lenses in the m43 lineup.  However, if you look at them against other systems - even brand new they are a bargain.  A new Nikon 70-200/2.8 VR II lens will run you $2100USD, where are the Oly/Panny field of view equivalents are under $1500/1100 new, respectively!  I was able to pick up this Panasonic lens used for a little more than half the price of a new one!   You are not going to touch even a used 70-200/2.8 lens for that price unless you go third party options like Tamron or Sigma.

1/1600, f/2.8, ISO 200 @ 45mm
If you look at other head to head reviews on the Panasonic/Olympus 35-150 range lenses, you'll see that most people couldn't really give one an advantage over the other from a purely "lens only" view.

However, if you look at the other traits, it might make the decision fall more to one over the other.

If you have an m43 camera with no IBIS, then the Panny makes sense.
If you do a lot of manual focusing but don't like to have your camera in AF+MF mode, then the Oly makes more sense.
Shutter shock is a reality on the Olympus EM5.2 for the 12-35, so keep in mind that used on an Olympus body - ensure that you have anti-shock enabled!
You'll need to decide if you really need that extra 50mm on the long end to pick the Oly over the Panny.  Weight and size wise, the Panasonic has a large advantage.

1/1000, f/3.5, ISO 200 @ 47mm

Unlike the wide to medium telephoto PRO lenses, the differences outside of IQ are a lot more vast and may have a larger impact on your purchasing choices.

So, if you are on the fence on which to get, don't worry about AF speed or image quality.   Consider them equal for all intents and purposes in those regards and look more to the other things like size, weight, cost and additional reach.

I plan on shooting with the 35-100 and the 12-35 and will provide more sample images from it in the future.



Thursday, July 20, 2017

Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 for Micro Four Thirds - Review



Background

Sometimes you just fall into some good deals and that is what we found here.  A used copy of the Panasonic 12-35 was available when I picked up a gently used Olympus EM5 Mark 2.

I originally had an Olympus 12-40/2.8 so I will not only show sample images from the Panasonic, but I will do some comparisons between the two.

Handling/Size/Weight

When you think about this lens and its equivalent field of view of something like a Nikon FX 24-70 lens, this thing is absolutely tiny!

©camerasize.com
Nikon D700 w/ 24-70/2.8 and Olympus EM5.2 w/ Panasonic 12-35/2.8

One of the differences between the Olympus 12-40/2.8 and this lens is the material that covers the lens. Living in an area where the winters here can be quite brutal, having a barrier between your ungloved hand and the metal of a camera lens is often a welcome thing.  The Olympus is an all metal construction, even the zoom/focus rings are metal.  Panasonic went with a rubbery material around the rings.  This will be a great benefit to me in those cold shooting months.

Focusing rings are different between the Olympus and the Panasonic lenses as well.  The Olympus has a manual override clutch system (which I prefer).  The Panasonic, you must select manual focus or the AF+MF mode within the camera body.   The focus ring on the Panasonic is well dampened and smooth for those that might have need to use it.

The only switch on the lens is the Power OIS switch.  I leave this on OFF as I allow the fantastic Olympus IBIS (in body image stabilization) to handle my stabilization needs.

1/500, f/4, ISO 200
The lens is weather sealed as well, so has protection against water, snow, dust and extremes of temperature.  Always remember, though that weather sealing is a an all or nothing concept.  Weather sealing is only at its most beneficial when you have both a weather sealed camera body as well.  The EM5.2 is indeed weather sealed, so makes for a good pairing.

1/4000, f/2.8, ISO 200

The Panasonic is 5mm focal length shorter than the Olympus.  In practice, I never notice this difference.  I find that I would notice more of a difference on the wider end than the longer.  For example, I can tell a big field of view disparity between 12mm and 14mm.

Image Quality

I cannot honestly see much of a difference between the images I get from this lens against the Olympus equivalent in regards to sharpness.

Straight out of camera, I might give a slight advantage in contrast to the Panasonic.  However, any differences can be made up for if you have a good grasp of your post processing.

1/1600, f/4, ISO 200
One thing to note as a "negative" on the Panasonic.  On the EM5.2, I have issues with all Panasonic lenses of the shutter shock variety.  I've had issues with all these lenses that I've owned and reviewed:
14/2.5, 12-32/3.5-5.6, and the soon to be reviewed 35-100/2.8.  The 12-35/2.8 is no different.   I would ensure that any Olympus camera you choose to use this lens on should have an anti-shock mode.

Focusing

Auto focusing is fast and accurate, as you would expect from a micro four thirds camera and lens of this caliber.  I noticed no hunting or missed focus issues.

1/500, f/4, ISO 200
Against the Olympus - while I do not have both to test head to head, I can't imagine if one were faster than the other it is most likely negligible.  In use, I never had an issue with AF speed with either lens - so fast to the point that if it couldn't have locked on in time, I probably would have missed the shot anyway.

Bottom Line

Brand new, the pro line m43 lenses are an expensive proposition if you look at them against the other lenses in the m43 lineup.  However, if you look at them against other systems - even brand new they are a bargain.  A new Nikon 24-70/2.8 VR lens will run you $2400USD, where are the Oly/Panny field of view equivalents are under $1000 new!  I was able to pick up this Panasonic lens used for $480!   You are not going to touch even a used 24-70 non-VR lens for that price!

If you look at other head to head reviews on the Panasonic/Olympus 12-40 range lenses, you'll see that most people couldn't really give one an advantage over the other from a purely "lens only" view.

However, if you look at the other traits, it might make the decision fall more to one over the other.

If you have an m43 camera with no IBIS, then the Panny makes sense.
If you do a lot of manual focusing but don't like to have your camera in AF+MF mode, then the Oly makes more sense.
Shutter shock is a reality on the Olympus EM5.2 for the 12-35, so keep in mind that used on an Olympus body - ensure that you haev anti-shock enabled!
That's really the only differences that have any real meaning.

So, if you are on the fence on which to get, don't worry about AF speed or image quality.   Consider them equal for all intents and purposes.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN Art Lens for Micro Four Thirds Review

Image © Sigma


Background

I'm going to be very straight forward from the get go on this one.  I've had some pretty bad experiences with Sigma DSLR lenses in the past.   Hunt focusing issues, back and front focus and if you ready any of the forums - plenty of reports of compatibility issues.

However, this is a new era and the mirrorless cameras use a slightly different focusing system.  So, lets say we give Sigma another chance.  How does it fair now with a Micro Four Thirds System?

All images taken with the Olympus PEN-F.

1/320, f/2.8, ISO 200

Handling/Size/Weight

A medium size lens when compared to other m43 lenses.  The focus ring is large and smooth.  There are minimal markings on the lens as well.  The copy I have is the black version.

There is not much weight to the lens.  

When not attached to a camera and powered on, there is a clunking sound.  This is because Sigma is using a floating elements system to align the glass.  This sound is normal and stops once the camera is powered on.

1/125, f/4, ISO 250
1/250, f/4, ISO 200

Image Quality

Even wide open the optical quality for this lens is superb.  While I will not go out there and say that the lens is just as good as the legendary Olympus 75mm f/1.8 to which it is often compared.

Used, I picked up this lens for $130.  When compared to the Oly 75/1.8, which is up near $600-800, this lens is a bargain performer for sure.

Shooting at f/2.8 is great and usually more than adequate.   Colors are rich and contrasty and flare seems well controlled.

Sigma has had a good modern reputation in optics, being as good or better than the OEM equivalents, so seeing the IQ here being so high is no surprise.

1/1600, f/4, ISO 200

1/500, f/2.8, ISO 200

Focusing

The elephant in the room for me.  So how does it perform?

As many know, the benefit of the mirrorless contrast detect AF systems eliminates a lot of the focusing issues that plagued the Nikon F-mount Sigma lenses I've experienced in the past.  This is a great thing!   I've not even noticed any hunting issues.

Kudos for Sigma making this lens perform to a level that I find acceptable.

1/125, f/2.8, ISO 2500

1/1250, f/3.5, ISO 200

Bottom Line

The only major issue that I see with this lens is the roughly 2 second delay from a cold camera start.  While not a deal breaker, it is definitely an annoyance.
The one minor issue I found was the smooth focus ring can make using manual focus a little difficult sometimes.  A  bit of texture for a more positive feedback would be nice.   Even so, not many would probably use this lens in its manual focus configuration anyway - there is not much need to do so as the auto focus works just as you'd hope it would.

The lens is a bargain and a good longer focal length and field of view (roughly 120mm).   For those looking for an alternative to the Oly 75mm this Sigma is a good first choice if you want a lens that retains auto focus.