Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Olympus 14-150mm f/4-5.6 II Lens Review


An all in one, affordable, weather sealed lens for micro four thirds?    Interested?
This is the newest iteration of this "kit" lens by Olympus.  The original was not weather sealed, so we have an upgrade there.  Let's take a look at this lens.

1/200, f/6.3, ISO 200 @ 58mm


Relatively, for its range, the lens is just slightly smaller than the Olympus 12-40/2.8 PRO.  It is smaller in diameter as well as length.  It is very similar in size to the budget friendly Olympus 40-150/4-5.6R lens.

It is an f/4-5.6, which helps keep the size down.  The lens does extend when zoomed.  The zoom ring is smooth and responsive, the lens feels solidly built.

This is a great option for those times when only one camera/lens is wanted or the ability to change lenses (high dust environment or raining/inclement weather) is not possible.  The weather sealing is a great thing to have when you need it.

The close focusing of this lens is welcome as well.  You can get very close.  It is not good enough to be a "macro" lens, but the close focusing capability will most likely satisfy a lot of photographers needs.

1/500, f/4, ISO 200 @ 14mm

Image Quality

Let's make no qualms about it...this is not going to rival IQ from lenses such as the PRO line zooms.   It does start at f/4, so you lose some ability to have a shallow depth of field like you would get with an f/2.8 zoom or the f/1.x primes.

What I planned on using this for was an all in one street shooting or every day carry lens.

The image quality did not hold up to what I wanted, just too many compromises for the range you are getting.  I'll stick with the current setup I have which is 2 lenses, the Panasonic 12-32 and the Oly 40-150R.

I found that doing my part as a photographer, that I was able to get some shallow depth of field and that the transition and out of focus areas are quite pleasant.  You can judge for yourself from the sample images, though.
Image quality seems best at wide to medium telephoto and suffers at the long end toward the 150mm mark.

All sample images taken with the Olympus PEN-F.

1/200, f/5.6, ISO 200 @ 54mm

Auto Focus

As to be expected with modern Olympus built micro four thirds lenses, this is a quick focusing lens.  You'll have no complaints from me on its S-AF performance.

1/200, f/7.1, ISO 1250 @ 90mm

1/320, f/5.6, ISO 200 @ 150mm

Bottom Line:
In a kit or at the current $399 price(as of 12-22-2016), this is a great everyday carry option when versatility or weather sealing are needed and budget is a concern.  If you want something faster with better IQ but need the versatility, I'd look more to the 12-100/4 PRO lens.

It suffers most at the longer telephoto end in clarity.  As stated previously, this is not a keeper lens for me and I'll stick with the 2 lens kit of the P12-32 and O40-150R.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II - 4k Video and More Shooting


We've had some more shooting time with the EM1 Mark II stills and some 4k video.

Image Quality

Here are some sample images.  They range from ISO 200 through 6400.

Oly 12-40/2.8 PRO
1/400, f/2.8, ISO 4000 @ 40mm

Oly 12-40/2.8 PRO
1/500, f/2.8, ISO 5000 @ 40mm

Oly 12-40/2.8 PRO
1/80, f/5, ISO 1000 @ 40mm

Oly 12-40/2.8 PRO
1/80, f/2.8, ISO 2500 @ 40mm

Oly 12-40/2.8 PRO
1/80, f/2.8, ISO 500 @ 40mm

Oly 12-40/2.8 PRO
1/60, f/4, ISO 2000 @ 28mm

Oly 75-300/4.8-6.3
1/250, f/6.3, ISO 2000 @ 228mm

Oly 75-300/4.8-6.3
1/80, f/6, ISO 6400 @ 187mm

Oly 75-300/4.8-6.3
1/100, f/6.7, ISO 6400 @ 300mm

Auto Focus Revisited

I tried testing out the different modes shooting model trains.  I'm still learning the way that the AF modes function.   The single point C-AF worked as one would expect and was the most successful tracking method for me.  I believe that C-AF + Tracking might be better than the previous EM1.1.

The Cross Type and 3x3 block of focus points locked quickly, but there was a problem.  Unlike the way that Nikon cameras work with these kinds of groups AF points, you cannot select the main focus point.  The camera decides which AF point is main within the group you selected.  I often had issues with a moving subject not in focus because the camera picked a focus point below or behind the main subject.

What I would have liked to have seen was, a la Nikon, that the points around the main are used to help the C-AF more accurately track your subject.  I'm going to continue to test the AF types, but my guess is  that the issues are partly mine (lack of knowledge and improper technique) and the camera trying to find the most contrasty part of the scene under the focusing grid.

An example can be found in the images above of the green train.  In Cross or 3x3 grid mode, the camera would select an AF point either below the train on the track or the green body, even though the center of the focus groups were on the front of the train at the face.


Did a more serious set of video shoots in the Cinema 4k Mode.  This was for a news blog I do called Visual Ohio.

Settings were 1/30, f/4, ISO 800.  "Flat" profile with post processing done in Premiere Elements 14.
I would lock focus and then record my shots.

I found the camera a pleasure to work with in video mode.  The IBIS and the 12-40/2.8 PRO were a great combination for capturing the subject above.    Panning was smooth and effective.

Bottom Line:
The EM1 Mark II continues to be a pleasure to work with.  The stills and video performance are great.  I will continue to work with the 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Nikon 35-70mm f/2.8 Review


Another lens for the Nikon kit.  This is a midrange option.  This rounds out the every day carry kit.  The Tamron 20-40mm f/2.7-3.5 covers the wide end and the Nikon 80-200mm f/4.5-5.6D covers the telephoto end.

All images taken in this review were with the Nikon Df.


Because this is an f/2.8 lens it is not small....but for an f/2.8 lens it is actually on the smaller side when you compare it to other f/2.8 lenses in the Nikon lineup.

It is a metal lens, so it is sturdy and robust.

This is a push/pull design lens.  It is a little awkward as fully collapsed, the lens is at 70mm and then pushed forward to extend, the lens is at it's widest, 35mm.  You'd think it would be the other way around.

Image Quality

While a little soft wide open, even stopping down a little sharpens the lens up nicely.    The focal lengths and aperture make this a good street photo lens choice.

**** UPDATE ****
2/3/2017 - After shooting with this lens for a few more weeks and running it through a lens calibration on the Df, there was a defect discovered.   Shooting at 70mm and f/5.6 there was an issue with the lens and autofocus where the image quality was always blurry.  Because of this defect, the lens has been removed from service replaced with the Nikon 28-105/3.5-4.5D.

1/125, f/4, ISO 7200 @ 70mm

1/125, f/4, ISO 3200 @ 35mm

1/125, f/4, ISO 4500 @ 70mm

Auto Focus

Pretty good considering the age of the lens, but slow by modern pro grade standards.

Bottom Line:
The lens is great for the price on the used market.  Paired with my Df, it performs very well.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Olympus O-MD EM-1 Mark II Review - First Impressions

Image © Olympus America


Some things just run in your favor.  I was doing some house keeping with my photo gear and I realized that I had a lot of lenses and cameras that I do not use much anymore.

While I have appreciated the excellent image quality of the Olympus prime lenses, I find that I just do not use them enough or need them to justify keeping them sitting in the office.   My purchase of the Olympus OMD EM5 Mk II was an upgrade to the original EM5, but also as a smaller every day carry camera.  Since getting the Olympus PEN-F, the EM5 Mk II has not really been used much either.

Selling off some of the prime lenses (25/45/75 1.8) and the EM5.2 funded the purchase of the Olympus EM1 Mark II.

The video capabilities of the EM1.2 surpass that of the EM5.2, so I'm not losing anything there.  The EM1 series also have PDAF capabilities, so it makes the AF more efficient, especially in C-AF deployments.

Due to some current personal issues, I've not had a lot of time to get out and shoot sample images with the EM1.2.  Once I do, I will publish another post with tons of image samples.

Image © Olympus America


The EM1.2 is slightly larger than the EM1.1.  While the original EM1 fit in the hand well, the EM1.2's larger size makes it a perfect fit in my hands.  It feels much like a DSLR, but without the weight of one.

The buttons feel good and are in good ergonomic locations.

The front and rear dials feel a lot like the EM1.1.  The front dial on the EM1.2 feels a little less "clicky", more smooth but the click is still there.

A new addition is the power switch.  The power switch is still in the same location as the original EM1, but Olympus has added a remapping.  The function 1/2 lever can be remapped to the power switch.  This would then provide the ability for the user to power the camera on/off with one hand it that is desired.  Not something I would probably use, but something that might be of interest to others.  Another note about the 1/2 lever.  It is mounted in the opposite direction.  The EM1.1, the ler is pointing toward the outside of the camera, where as the EM1.2 has the lever facing toward the viewfinder.
I find this a better configuration as I would sometimes accidentally knock the EM1.1 lever into position 2, would not know it until I tried to change the aperture setting and be changing the white balance instead.

The menu button has moved. It is further to the end of the camera and the play button moved down.

The top plate is pretty much the same in regards to button position.

The camera also comes equipped with dual card slots.  You can decide if you want them to be used consecutively or redundantly.

The mode dial has the addition of 3 custom settings.  I set mine up in the following manner

C1 = normal shooting mode.  The everyday mode for single point AF stuff.
Sharpness -1
Contrast +1
i-Natural picture profile
Single Servo
3:2 aspect ratio
Large SuperFine JPG

C2 = sports shooting mode - ready for fast moving subjects
Sharpness -1
Contrast +1
C-AF - group pattern AF (looks like a cross)
i-Natural picture profile
Continuous servo high
3:2 aspect ratio
Large SuperFine JPG

C3 = B&W street shooting
Sharpness -1
Contrast +2
Green filter
Monochrome picture profile
Single Servo
1:1 aspect ratio

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.

Image © Olympus America

Image Quality

I've not done a head to head against the PEN-F sensor, which is also of the 20mp variety.  The EM1.2 sensor is a step up from the EM1.1, which is 16mp.

Reports have stated, as well as Olympus, there are some modest image quality increases.  These increases come in dynamic range, noise performance.  This is good, considering that the mega pixel count has increased.   I'll take any improvements, no matter how little.

1/80, f/4, ISO 1000 @ 40mm
Oly 12-40/2.8 PRO

1/80, f/2.8, ISO 2000 @ 40mm
Oly 12-40/2.8 PRO
1/60, f/2.8, ISO 1000 @ 12mm - in camera monochrome 1:1 crop
Oly 12-40/2.8 PRO

1/60, f/2.8, ISO 1250 @ 12mm
Oly 12-40/2.8 PRO

Auto Focus

Point to point single AF I can see an improvement in low light AF.  The speed is much quicker and seems more confident than in the past.  In good light, just about every m43 camera with most lenses are near instant anyway, so not much is going to be gained there.

At release, there appears to be no way of making the AF points a smaller size.  On the previous camera, there were 2 sizes of AF boxes, selectable by activating the focus point using the direction pad, holding the INFO button and turning a command dial.  This appears to be missing.  Not sure if the new focusing algorithm no longer uses it or if it is something that will be made available in a future firmware update.  I plan on reaching out to Olympus support to request some information.

The focusing modes remind me a bit of how the Nikon D500 functions.  You get the single point AF, then a "group" type AF set of boxes.  Also a square box of 9 AF points, then the full grid which would be similar to 3D or auto selection AF point.   Lastly, the Olympus C-AF + tracking option is also back.

Above is a low light video focusing test.   12-40/2.8 was used, exposure setup at 1/60, f/2.8, ISO 6400.   I engaged the manual focus clutch, turned the ring to infinity, set the clutch back to AF, then pressed the shutter release half way, then repeated the above process, but turned the focus ring to closest focus distance.

Continuous AF is where everyone and me included wanted to know about.  Marketing claims that the AF is, and I'm quoting, "just as good as some flagship DSLRs".   With a claim like that, you better believe that I plan on putting it to the test.

Upon initial testing after first getting the Mark II, you can see that the initial C-AF acquisition is much improved.    One of the issues I've had previously was initially getting the focus lock in C-AF mode.  It lagged a bit, but once locked, did well on predictably moving subjects.

EM1.2 initial lock is almost as fast as S-AF.  Much more usable.

Some people were hoping for a dedicated joystick for electing AF points, similar to the Nikon D500.   Olympus has not done that, but they have included trackpad focusing on the rear screen.  When activated, you can use the touch screen when the viewfinder is active for selecting the AF point.  While not the same as a dedicated joystick, it might satisfy some users looking for an alternative to the legacy direction pad.

One thing missing from the EM1.1 is the smaller AF points.  As seen here from my EM1.1, the smaller, square boxes are not a selectable option on the EM1.2.

the "normal" AF points from the EM1.1 and EM1.2

the smaller, square AF points

I put a support ticket in with Olympus to find out why they are not there and if they will return via a firmware update.
I care about this feature because the AF performance was more accurate with the smaller boxes on the EM1.1.  Perhaps the new AF process does not require the manually added precision of the smaller boxes.

Olympus Support responded and said that at this time there is no plan to have smaller AF points and that since there are more AF points than previously on the EM1.1, this is the configuration for now.

Ok...I've been wordy enough.  Now the moment of truth. How does the AF tracking work.

EVF Blackout and refresh rates.
Normal EVF is better, but there is also a "high" setting for even less blackout.  The manual states that frames per second capture might be reduced if you are using the high EVF setting.

The EVF lag is very minimal and should make for a much easier time when tracking subjects.

Battery Life

Powered by the new BLH-1 battery, I tested the EM1.2 in video capabilities for a project.   I cannot share those videos just yet, but I can share some technical aspects of the shoot in regards to the battery life.

This shoot was outside.  The ambient temperature was 20F.  The camera was continuously on for 2.5 hours, using the rear LCD.  Shooting parameters were 1080p/60fps.  1/60, f/4, ISO 400.  S-AF to get initial focus.  IBIS activated.

Also, the night before this shoot, the camera was used for testing low light AF, Pro Capture mode.

The camera reported 50% battery left.  I consider that very good given mirrorless cameras proclivity to burn through batteries pretty quickly.  The EM1.2 new battery and I'm sure internal efficiency contribute.


4k video capable here.  I'm new to video, did a little bit for a project.  I've mentioned those specs and the battery life up in the battery life section.

Olympus is not usually known for its video capabilities. While adequate for some, most who wanted to do video would go for a Panasonic camera.  The gap has closed since the release of the EM5 Mk II.  It was way better, but not perfect.  The EM1.2 is even better.

The sensor readout speed increase makes the rolling shutter effect minimal for panning and moving subjects.

There are 2 varieties of 4k recording.  Cinema 4k provides up to 30fps and a 237 MBps output, while standard 4k is also out to 30fps but at a lower bit rate of 202 MBps.
1080p video is capable of 60fps with varying bit rates from 52MBps and down depending on the quality setting selected.

The IBIS works great and provides the ability to record smooth hand held videos.

Audio input is a 3.5mm microphone jack, monitoring is provided by a built in headphone jack.

Here is a quick 4k sample video.  Nothing earth shattering, but something to view.
Exposure setup is 1/60, f/4, ISO 400 - camera on tripod.  Standard 4k(so 202MBps, not cinema 4k - 237MBps).  The video is SOOC with the "flat" video profile.  No correction or grading was done to it.

A feature of note that some might appreciate is the ability to pull stills from the 4k feed. From what I can see, this is done in camera during video review.  You go to the frame in the video, select the menu option and it will pull out a still frame from the video.  I have to look and see, but this might be accomplished in the Olympus Viewer software.  That would make sense, but I have not checked this myself yet.

The digital tele-converter works in all modes in video and it does not appear to affect the bitrate at all.

Other Misc. Items of Note

Pro Capture Mode:
I first saw something like this back in the Nikon 1 series cameras,  Not sure if this is something that was done in a camera prior.  I initially thought it a bit gimmicky, but after using it, I can see the benefit of it.

There are 2 modes, a low and a high.
The basic function of it is that you half press to focus and start the capture process.  During half press, the camera automatically starts capturing a pre-determined number of frames.  For example lets say the option is set to capture 10 pre frames.  Once the shutter is pressed all the way down, that frame is captured.  If you look at your captured frames, you'll see that there are 10 previous frames and then your last frame.

Great for times when you are wanting to capture a bird in flight grabbing a fish from the water or the bird leaving a branch.

The one point of concern for some shooters might be that this is done using the electronic shutter.  I've not done enough tests to know if there are any negative effects to image quality using this mode.  Trust that I will test it out more thoroughly and report on my findings in the future.

Shutter Sound:
The shutter seems to be more dampened, and the sound of it is very muted in comparison to the other m43 Olympus cameras.  Quite is good.

PreMF Focus Mode:
EM1.2 includes a feature some might like, especially those who like the Ricoh GR.
Olympus included a focusing mode called PreMF. This is for preset manual focus. You go into the Focus select menu and it is the last option. After pressing the OK button, press INFO to go into setting mode. Use manual focus or AF to set the focusing distance, then OK again. Now, the camera will stay locked in the preset focusing distance and it stays there even after power cycling the camera.

Size Comparison:
For those interested in the cameras size compared to my hand and a pen.  Here you go!  :D

Auto Focus Limiter:
Works with any micro four thirds lens.  I've only ever seen this function built into lenses before.  Now, it is available system wide with this camera body.

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 and tech leading camera body.  It is difficult to get a product to market that stands out, and with all the capabilities Olympus put into the EM1 Mark II - people are talking about it.

If you can, get out there, try one out, and see if the camera is right for you.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Tamron 20-40mm f/2.7-3.5 Review


I'm trying to get a full, yet functional set of lenses for my camera systems.  At the moment, I'm looking at getting a pro use setup as well as an everyday or casual use setup.   To that end, I really did not have a wide angle option for my Nikon kit.     The widest option I have is 24mm.  While wide, sometimes when shooting indoors or large vistas, 24mm may not be enough.  I looked at wider options but cost can be high for a rectilinear option wider than 24mm.

After doing much research I found a great deal online for a Tamron 20-40mm f/2.7-3.5.  Used it was delivered for $99.

Before pulling the trigger, I did quite a lot of research on the lens and while the reviews out there are few, thye are mostly good.

When I looked at that price against, say the price for a used Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 prime, or the Nikon 20-35/2.8 zoom...$99 is an outright steal....if the lens performs.    Let's see if it does.


On the size front, it is not really that big of a lens.  It definitely is heavier than it looks, though.    It is an older design, so there is no manual focus override just by turning the focus ring.   Flip those manual focus switches people!!   lol

The zoom ring is smooth, but is tighter than any of my other f-mount lenses.   Not sure if this is normal for this lens or not as I have no frame of reference.  It is not a deal breaker, but something that you have to be mindful of when using it.

Image Quality

This is the big thing...does the lens deliver enough to make it a keeper?  Yes.  There are caveats, but for the most part, the lens is very good optically.

Wide open at f/2.7 it can be a little fuzzy.  Stopped down to f/4 the blur goes away and from there to f/11 the lens is very, very sharp for its AGE.

*** UPDATE ***
Jan. 7, 2017
I performed an auto us fine tune on this lens at 20mm @ f/2.7 on the Nikon DF.
Turns out a +12 fixed a lot of the haze this lens was exhibiting.  Lesson being, I will always make sure to calibrate all my lenses prior to doing any further reviews on them.

Nikon Df, 1/125, f/11, ISO 4500 @ 40mm

Nikon Df, 1/125, f/11, ISO 2500 @ 20mm

Auto Focus

This is not a blazing fast focuser, but for what I want it doesn't need to be.   It works adequately and is accurate.

Bottom Line:
The lens is definitely worth the price I paid.  It provides the wide angle that I was looking for at a price that was worth the risk.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Nikon 80-200mm f/4.5-5.6D Lens Review

Image Copyright Midwest Photo Exchange (


Another lens in the rounding out of the Nikon kit.  This one fits in the everyday carry line of lenses.  Previously, I wanted something wide, so got the Tamron 20-40mm/2.7-3.5  (review on that lens coming soon)

This one covers the long telephoto end.  I heard about this lens from some online blogs.  Specifically that this lens was used by Galen Rowell when he wanted something longer but weight was a factor.  They state that it is a very specific use type of lens and that it performs well when used to its strengths.  Fair enough.

This find was even cheaper than the Tamron 20-40mm.   At $44, I can't think of a losing scenario other than the optics were damaged or the focus was so off as to not be able to be corrected.   Into the review we go!


This is a very light lens.  The mount is plastic as is the lens body.  The zoom ring is very easy to turn and does so smoothly.  The focus ring is very small and quite fiddly to try and use.  The lens is not really that big either for an FX coverage lens.  This is great as it is almost an afterthought to throw into my every day carry bag.  When carrying the Nikon Df, I usually have the Nikon 35-70mm f/2.8 attached and the 80-200/4.5-5.6 in the bag.

Image Quality

Lots of reports stated that the lens wide open was on the verge of unusable.   While not as sharp as f/8 or f/11, they are definitely usable.  The strength of the lens is definitely in it being stopped down.  In one article I read by Galen Rowell, he stated that the lens provides "publishable" image quality.    For $44, the images I am getting out of this lens are good enough.

This is definitely a lens you want to use in decent light given your aperture range.  However, I found that at 86mm and f/4.8 - the image quality is definitely more than usable.  Check out the leaf image below.

Nikon Df, 1/500, f/4.8, ISO 400 @ 86mm

Nikon Df, 1/500, f/11, ISO 720 @ 200mm

Auto Focus

This is not a fast focusing lens.   Again, we are in the adequate range of speeds here, but for shooting street, landscapes and the like it will do just fine in most situations.

Bottom Line:
This is a decent find and I can see why Galen Rowell appreciated the qualities that this lens provided.  It is a good companion lens to an everyday carry kit where small and light are a priority.