15 décembre 2018

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II: The "more compact" pro camera from Olympus!

Suppose you love compactness and portability but you want a pro level camera model that can withstand an intensive use even under adverse conditions, what would be the more sensitive choice today? The answer is simple: the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. This model is part of an entire eco-system of different optics and accessories that will fulfill almost every specific photo tasks that any photographers "on the run" will ask for.

The Olympus pro range of products is now including two current version of the E-M1 which are the E-M1 Mark II and the E-M1X. The last one and newest model is integrating permanently the vertical power grip compare to the optionality of the one offered for the Mark II previous model. But the two cameras share the same MFT 20MP sensor and most of the function abilities although the E-M1X take advantage of some latest technical novelties or upgrades.

In 2017 the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II was introduced as an significative improvement of the original E-M1 by replacing the 16MP MFT sensor with the newest 20MP one. The autofocus functionality has been also upgraded. The video capability of the model has been enhanced. The LCD has been transformed to the tilted variation to a fully articulated screen.

At the time of the outcome of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, some reviewers have questioned its large size and its higher price tag. But as time past this perception is changing at a fast rate and more and more the size dimension of the Mark II appears now more as an average pro camera model.

The late Nikon F4S: A modern "Pro" 
design back in 1988 of the film era.
Over time professional photographers have always appreciated a camera design that will fall literally in their hand and have equally appreciated a more simple rounded ergonomic device that feels secure, confortable and robust on a long intensive use.  At the time of its introduction the newest autofocus Nikon F4S was representing a similar evolution in term of ergonomics compare the previous F, F2 and F3 series. The modular aspect of the model as for the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II was cleverly designed for a complete integration of the each additional modules.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is the second interpretation issued from the manufacturer of an especially constructed professionally oriented digital ILC (Interchangeable Lens Camera) for the M4/3 format sensor. It incorporate the newest 20MP image captor (sensor) for a finer definition and  higher overall performances. I have never really try to evaluate a camera model on specific statistical characteristics. In place I better prefer to regard it as an whole package. As a photographic tool you need something that will be coherent and flexible for your everyday use.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is not a pocket camera. It can be seen as the antithesis of the Olympus Pen series. It is a more pro oriented compact option and system (coupled with the intended lenses and accessories). It remains a camera made to be hold in your hand on a full time base. In that sense it stays a unique product from the entire M4/3 ILC Olympus line-up. A bit like a beefier Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with a permanent hand grip.

The simplicity of design of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II is considerably emphases by the integrated hand grip that prevent the doublement of controls required with an add-on optional hand grip such as the combo seen on the OM-D E-M5 Mark II. After a general setting of the camera many function buttons can be ignored to facilite the picture shooting. At that point complexity doesn't mean necessarily complication. And this can be said also for the menu versus the direct access to the principal parameters option on the LCD screen. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is a very configurable camera but you dont need to apprenhed every single option offered by the manufacturer.

You can add the optional (vertical) power holder grip HLD-9 that will double the power autonomy of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II and give you a better vertical prehension of the camera for portrait framing type shooting. The Olympus HLD-9  keeps you access to all the essential control dials and functions of the camera. With larger and bigger lenses it can help you to get a better balance and a more secure way of handling the combo. Lastly the Olympus HLD-9 let you manage a three battery pack rotation (one into the camera, one into the grip and one spear) that extend your power autonomy during longer assignment.

The OM-D E-M1 Mark II is a very sturdy model and very well protected against adverse contextual conditions such as rain, snow, freeze. It give a good sense of confidence to use the camera without the normal restrictions and open access to more delicate photo situations. The viewfinder and the LCD black screen are first class devices and even for people wearing glasses, the EVF is fully usable for seing the whole picture and technical information attached. Control buttons and dials are well manner and dont require too much contorsion and can be assimilated intuitively especially for previous Olympus users. The same can be said for the optional grip.

If you  like to adjust your focus point manually, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II electronic viewfinder (EVF) will help you in that task beautifully with its clarity and its definition finesse. Couple with one of the Olympus Pro series lenses and their Clutch Manual Focus mechanism, the combination is a winner. "Defocus" creative experiments are a delight to do with this model.

The left thumb cavity (located on the bottom right side of it) to facilitate the opening of the reverse LCD screen is a real special ergonomic touch. I discovered it simply by touch intuition but it became an instant reflex if I want review a picture without reversing permanently the LCD screen (Open out then folding it!). By the way the massive right thumb grip rest (on the upper right edge of the back of the canera body) is simply very practical and secure. In all the body molding configuration of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II reflect that a deep care has been done for a design and its manufacturing that cover the ergonomic needs of a (pro) photographer.

Getting the OM-D E-M1 Mark II alive (On) is fast and accurate. You can stay pro-active and produce spontaneous imagery at will without bothering long delay of awakening from the camera. The EVF eye detection is efficient even if you are wearing glasses. You will have a good sense of your picture exposure and be able to apply exposure correction factor on the spot be roughly evaluate its effect through the EVF.

The shutter release button is very smooth and the OM-D E-M1 Mark II is a very discrete camera considering the sound level of it. It is perfectly suitable for shooting situations that require almost silence presence from the photographer. You can also operate the camera with the touch screen functionalities which can be practical for more static subjects (reproduction, macro. portraits, etc). The exposure and focus settings can be memorized by pressing with your thumb the appropriate push buttons rightly located on the upper right side of the back of the camera body. The same easiness of use can be said about most of the control dials and push buttons of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II although you have to get use of the Olympus way of actuating the camera (the famous classical On/Off lever).

You wont be deceived by the overwhelming availability to customize the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II to all your specific photographic needs. Many of us will simply scratch a fraction of its whole potential as it is the case for several digital camera today models.

Because the OM-D E-M1 Mark II is a bigger camera than the OM-D E-M5 Mark II for example you will feel more secure when who are manipulating it and particularly when you are holding it with one hand. In that sense Olympus has designed this model for a professional intensive level of use in mind.  And that explain also the "superior" level of selling price of the camera the will be amortized by its everyday tasks performed.

And what about the famous Olympus interface? As usual the menu contain is very rich of different possibilities and will ask to invest a good amount of time on the side of the learning curve especially if you want to configure the camera outside the manufacturer default settings.

For still photography the autofocus system is fast and reliable. Follow-up action photography with greater subjects can be done in confidence for the focus tracking. As I have said in previous posts to properly photograph"on-pick" moving subjects may ask you a certain amount of preparation on your part. Exposure and focus preset are still a good way for doing this kind of task.

Flash system
For flash aid, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II rely on external unit either on-camera mount or completely none-solidaire devices(a small emergency flash unit FL-LM3 is furnished with the camera model). Connectivity can be done through infrared or radio communication or even by using a traditional but obsolete PC cord.  TTL flash option has been part of the Olympus system since the introduction of the analog OM-2 series and so the expertise and reliability are firmly established. Some Olympus flash units (FL-900R, FL-700R WR) are protected from adverse weather conditions and can be used under usually impractical flash photo contexts.

The picture output of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is absolutely impressive. Both colours and Black & White images can be produced flawlessly without compromise. The JPEG rendering is fully usable. The finesse of the details obtained by the combine in-board sensor and immediately post-treatment engine is remarquable if you respect the basic photo techniques required to get first class results. The camera is giving its best when fixed focal lenses and "pro" zooms are coupled with it.

Black and White Photography
The love to produce black and white pictures has been partly revived with the introduction of the electronic viewfinders that are allowing us to appreciate on place (and also with the LCD viewing screen) the B&W picture results. No exception for the OM-D E-M1 Mark II that is offering you the Monochrome option with some more grainy variations (Art filters). In all the quality of the B&W image outputs is a strong asset of the Mark II.

Art Filters are creative!

This is one of the most intriguing feature included into the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II capabilities (as for other Olympus models). There are a great number of these image art bias with variations depending which you are selecting. I gradually discovered some of them (Key Line, Partial Color, Soft Focus, Dramatic Tone, Sepia, etc) and began to use them occasionally with success. Each of these filters is proposing a different palette of colors or tonal effects alongside with specific alterations of the picture rendering. After the initial experimentation, you became able to predict their different bias in different photographic taking situations.

We have to remember that over the history of photography, past and present picture taking and registering techniques had and still have particular bias that are interpreting the subject. You can compare the Art filters option as a modern digital way to do the same today but with a far more versatility and easiest to produce it.

Keystone compensation
The Keystone compensation functionality is another fine in-camera image post-process that allow vertical and horizontal line corrections as we do optically with specialized tilt-and shift lenses. This application can generate pictures for architectural and still-life purposes that withstand the exigences of humain interpretation of the subject (subjective linear mind auto-corrections). The effect of the Keystone compensation can be controlled directly on the camera LCD screen or into the electronic viewfinder (EVF). On an average image magnification scale (X5-X7) its output quality impact seems to be very minimalist.

The more you will play with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, the more you will discover its flexibility to withstand many different shooting situations. Many interesting techniques and in-board functionalities will expand your creativity and offer you better opportunities to try something different.

Final thoughts
On a personal note, I love to work with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II because it is a pro "compact" camera that you can rely on in (almost) every circonstances. If you couple it with an Olympus M.Zuiko Pro lens, you will obtain a perfect combination of quality of construction and image output. As an independent (freelance) or a self-entrepreneur photographer, the Olympus system can be a winning solution. What is the decisive factor for choosing the Olympus OM-D E-M1Mark II as a professional camera model? In many ways it can be resume to its compact portability (enhanced by by the superb Olympus pro lens series). The complete Olympus pro eco-system is perfectly suiting that particular task to be light, versatile, creative and highly competent in photography.

Some additional notes about the MFT system
Choosing the Olympus OM-D E-M1X make no sense in my book except if you intend to use it with larger or longer lenses, and be able to use some kind of handling assistance like a tripod or a monopod for example. So as a sport or nature camera, yes, the OM-D E-M1X can fit the bill but for a mobile photographer it can be also a big weighty burden... 

(First Published in April 2017, Revised in May 2019)

09 décembre 2018

The Olympus M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm F2.8 Pro

The Olympus M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm F2.8 Pro is not a new product but for many photographers, it is still a great favorite zoom lens considering its versatility, its quality image output and even its reduce size compare to its sibling into the 24X36mm sensor format (24-70mm F2.8, I won't argue about the equivalent F-stop and its annoying debate).

True to say it is not a tiny or a pancake lens but for its focal length range it is a good compact optic especially if you combine it with a standard size MFT camera model. We know already many of the big advantages of using aa Olympus Pro series lens. Better construction, larger controls and grip, better quality selected glasses, constant aperture (most of the time), weather resistant (WR) protection, etc. But the Pro lenses are also larger, heavier and... more expensive. Usually their variable focal length latitude is narrowed compare to the standard Olympus zoom series counterparts. I am not a big fan of larger size lenses that can be intimidating for your subject by their lack of discretion. The only added credibility you can expect from other people when using this type (pro) of lenses usually came from persons without real knowledge of photography (especially press credential personal!).


The Olympus M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm F2.8 Pro is in fact an average zoom lens with a weight of 382g and a physical length of 84mm at its smallest setting. Its constant maximum aperture of F/2.8 is an usual standard for this kind of "pro" product.

The Olympus M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm F2.8 Pro is an impressive piece of glasses in particular if you apply the compactness standards of the m4/3 format. To properly use it you may need a camera model with a greater potential handle grip to be able to use it with confidence and comfort. But I must add that the lens is still usable without add-on grip. As a "Pro" design lens its primary destination is without a doubt the Olympus OM-D E-M1 (in both variations). With the OM-D E-M5 (original & Mark II) the optional vertical power grip will help you  in certain situations like in studio or for action shooting assignments. That can be said also when you are using the OM-D E-M10 (original, Mark II & III).

The feeling of the ED 12-40mm F/2.8 lens reveals its high class all weather construction especially if you compare it with the kit zoom lenses such as the M.Zuiko 12-50mm or the diminutive M.Zuiko 14-42mm. Control rings for zooming and focusing are fairly larger and can be easily distinctive by the touch. On the spot manual focusing operation is possible by pulling the focus ring very conveniently (Manual Focus Clutch). We also appreciate that the lens hood is part of the included accessory packaged with the lens.

One of the big advantage of the M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm F/2.8 is surely its focal length variation starting with a real wide setting of 12mm (84 degrees of angle of view) up to an extended narrowed angle of view ( 30 degrees) at 40mm.You can consider as a short telephoto. At that point you get a magnification ratio of 1.5X compare to your naked eye. The Olympus M.Zuiko ED 40-150mm F2.8 Pro should be an excellent complement to the M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm F/2.8.

Like I have said earlier the bigger dimensions of "Pro" lenses can sometimes generating intimidating reactions from spontaneous subjects. It is a price to pay and you may have to earn the confidence of the people you want to photograph prior to the shooting itself. Even the non-initiated person in photography will be aware of the "pro" level of your photo taking device.
The performance of the Olympus M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm lens is on the upper lever flirting with the stellar performances seen on the prime (focal fix) lenses. It is a good substitute product to the 12mm, the 17mm, the 25mm and the 45mm prime lenses although all theses lens models offer a significant larger maximum aperture (F1.2, 1.8, 2.0) which support a better depth of field control.
The extended focal range of the M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm F2.8 Pro qualify it as a good urban and traveler optic to keep at hand more than on your case. And yes, it can be a good action lens.

If you are looking for a basic "pro" zoom lens, the Olympus M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm F2.8 Pro will be a strong contender to fulfill the task. And the image results will speak by themselves.

(First Published in December 2016, Revised in May 2019)

01 décembre 2018

Panasonic Lumix G Vario 45-150mm F4-5.6 Mega OIS : The boy in the box.

Photography isn't cheap these days considering the afflux of new models of cameras and lenses that are indeed more and more expensive. Many manufacturers clame this is the only way to survive with niche products that generate large gross profit marges. In fact many good entry level models in the small mirrorless planet have been phase out and not replaced if you carefully observe the MFT catalogs for example. Fortunately the lens selection remains almost untouched although we didn't see cheaper new optic venues on the shelter lastly.

The Panasonic Lumix G Vario 45-150mm Mega OIS is the king of little beast that is often part of a combination offer with the usual camera body/standard lens duet as a complementary telephoto zoom optic intended for a more infrequent or exceptional use. So accordingly its price point is very very low as  it is for its construction cost.

The Lumix G Vario 45-150mm Mega OIS is in fact a slow speed zoom lens considering its variable maximum aperture of F4-5.6. The compromise in low light situations can be fairly destructive for the quality level in its final imagery output. By using slower shutter speed and higher ISO the lost quality cost may be too strong to get more prestigious results. So this optic need more light and best support to be able to reach an acceptable picture. In that view your rate of success will decrease significantly if you compare it let say to your normal standard lens.

The lens construction seems surprisedly good for this price point. The control zoom and focus rings are smooth to use and offer a acceptable resistance that guaranty a good setting maintaining. The rear mount metal plate is another plus value. The auto-focus is quick and silencious. Manual focusing with the lens can be done accurately without too much control ring travelling.  Very close focusing is not available on this optic although you can work at a starting closest distance of your subject of 3 feet or 1 meter approx. which is good for near face portrait session.

Because the Lumix G Vario 45-150mm OIS is an easy lens to use doesn't mean you will get outstanding pictures in every situations to say the very least. Dont be fool by the "look" of the picture on your camera rear screen after the shoot because in that small magnification all picture seem sharp and saturated. To be sure it is better to use the loupe option and examine fine details of the subject.  Fo moving subjects it is more advise to select first an higher shutter speed to prevent blurry results. Panning your main subject can help to stabilise the main subject and create a blurry background. Choosing an accurate aperture can be also a challenge especially if your main subject need an higher deep of field to be all in focus. The more you are zooming the lens to its telephoto limit the more you have to pay attention to the basic parameters selected (shutter speed, aperture, exposure, stability, etc).

Metal mount a good surprise at this price point.
Many people that are reviewing zoom lenses will say that this type of optics have a general tendency to loose its definition when you set them at their maximum telephoto ability. In fact any zoom lens is an optic compromise between all their focal position. Today with in-board camera auto-corrections it became more difficult to actually "see" the differences. As a personal general rule of thumb I wont invest on an optics that is not able to perform decently all over its focal length which is an absurdity if you pay for the partial use of a product. So what about the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 45-150mm OIS lens? At 150mm focal setting, the lens can deliver average image output but nothing outstanding if you compare it to more professional products such as the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 35-100mm F2.8 OIS. And that is also true that if you are selecting a lower focal lenght setting you will get better results. My modest advice is if you intend to work on a regular base with a telephoto optic you are far better to wait and get a more higher quality level product.

And the end what can we conclude regarding the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 45-150mm F4-5.6 Mega OIS zoom lens?  As a bonus product, this kit telephoto zoom lens can be an interesting part-time entry-level option. The optic is well build and easy to use. But the picture results are on the average-good level depending on the focal length selected. If you are considering to use such a product on a more critical and intensive base, you may look to the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 35-100 F4-5.6 OIS (or the Pro F2.8 version) as a better optically alternative optic.

The Olympus M. Zuiko ED 40-150mm F2.8 Pro

The Olympus M. Zuiko ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO is now part of a very successful Olympus MFT story  especialy considering its extended versatility and its reduce size compare to the DSLR 24X36mm sensor format equivalents. Furthermore the same statement can be proclaimed for many M4/3 format photo equipment products.

For sure there is still a strong resistance to the introduction of the M4/3 format from the so-call professional intelligentsia. The picture quality argument has been served ad nauseam to reject any more compact option. But time is passing by and moreover people are adopting MFT and APS-C formats. The new state regarding photography and its popularity is intimacy related to its fast, versatile and portable ability. Big DSLR dont seem to follow that path so extinction seems not far away for them.

The Olympus ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO stays a massive lens by MFT compact standards. But it replace at least two DSLR Pro lenses, i.e. the traditional 70-200mm zoom and the powerful 300mm telephoto, both with maximum aperture of F2.8. So the trade-off is still at the advantage of the Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 Pro. It prevent also the necessity of changing lenses or to operate with two different camera bodies.

Using big telephoto zoom lenses increase the unbalance tendency between the optic and the camera. That fact can be critical if you need a correct handling especially if you are panning the action not only for the effect but simply to follow the subject. Fatigue can be a highly distractive factor that will affect your ability and motivation to produce pictures. You can enhance your handling by adding an additional grip or vertical power grip on the camera. If you adopt a more static position, a fix support like a monopod or a tripod will be a great help for stabilisation and a more careful picture cropping. In fact the nature and the context of your subject will characterize your working methodology.

With such a Pro lens model with a larger maximum aperture of F2.8 the photograph will select most of the time a fairly large lens opening often between F2.8 and 5.6. Those aperture opening will narrowed the deep-of-field phenomena and privilege the main subject. Focus can be critical at that point and autofocus or prefocus have to be set carefully. Your picture waste may also increase accordingly. That is part of the experiment. Many photojournalists  may prefer to work with DSLR 24X36mm sensor format classic equipment. I am always impressed to see those boxes full of photojournalists with identical equipment in major sports events. They often reproduce the same picture without any search of originality. This is another specie of photographs in danger of obsolescence.

As a Pro lens the Olympus ED 40-150mm F2.8 is getting a superior quality of construction. The zoom and focusing rings are larger and will turn nicely with a simulated friction similar to old-fashioned lenses. The click-on manual option (Clutch Manual Focus) available on the focus ring is a very secure and fast way of selecting between auto or manual possibilities. By selecting the manual focusing only position you over rule the autofocus fonction and get a better focusing ring resistance similar to the previous manual focusing lenses. It replicate what is already present to the Olympus 12-40mm F2.8 Pro lens which is often the companion optic chosen by many. As for all the Olympus other M4/3lenses, no aperture ring are offer on that model assuming that it will done by one of the dials of the camera.

The monumental push-pull lens hood is included with the Olympus ED 40-150mm F2.8 Pro. Operating the mechanism may require some study and practices from your part. I have worked freely with or without the lens hood (if it was possible to do so without compromising my picture quality). The Olympus 40-150mm F2.8 Pro is also doted of an already tripod/monopod accessory mount that can be rotate for horizontal or vertical shooting. The making of this piece appears to be very well designed and constructed. My suggestion is to kept it permanently on the lens and simply rotate it aside when you are handholding the lens. The Olympus 40-150mm F2.8 Pro lens got the weather protection which qualify the optic for an extended use in most adverse conditions. It allows you also to fully clean the lens.

Contrary of the usual mystic regarding the use of those big Pro lenses could require from the photograph an effort in preparation and during their specific manipulation. Shooting at will may expose you to some disappointment in view of the final results. With try and experience you will master the care and the limit of these pro telephoto lenses such as the Olympus ED 40-150mm F2.8 Pro. In-board camera stabilization may partially help you but the fundamentals stay the same such as selecting a higher shutter speed and follow (panning) your subject. If possible an external support such as a monopod or a tripod can help you a lot (and prevent fatigue!).

The Olympus ED 40-150mm F2.8 Pro can be a very fine portrait lens and many beautiful examples presented over the Web illustrate that fact. It can be also an interesting "abstraction" lens that allows many defocusing experimentations. Working with relatives short distances (for this type of lenses) will narrow the deep-of-field for bokey effect. Sport and nature photography appear to be the most spontaneous themes of preference for what the Olympus ED 40-150mm F2.8 Pro has been first designed et manufactured. And many users have already demonstrate the rightful of this perception. As I have already said at the beginning of this post, this telephoto zoom pro lens is in fact more versatile into a smaller package. In many ways it respond to the standards imposed in almost any photojournalistic situations.

Finally here is a short note regarding the high selling prices of many of those "pro" lenses. Usually these professional intended optics are produced in smaller quantity with higher cost material and for a limited distribution. Therefore their price tags are positioned at a selling point more difficult to reach for many of us (including obviously myself!). But if you consider the added durability of these models and their constant value over time, you will often discover that they simply follow the inflation rate over the years and the decades. It is up to you to invest yourself in that kind of higher expense.

The Olympus M. Zuiko ED 40-150mm F2.8 Pro lens is a very fine, constant, versatile, workhorse optic that is reliable into various conditions of uses. It is part of the traditional duo along with the Olympus M. Zuiko ED 12-40mm F2.8 Pro and also with the T(h)ree family if combined with the Olympus ED 7-14mm Pro. All these pro lenses will form a very competent equipment when teamed with OM-D bodies like the E-M1 and E-M5 or even the E-M10 series.

A complete Pro system
Olympus is very serious about its Pro line of lenses involvement and offer a complete line-up of fine, fast and sturdy optics with the M. Zuiko 7-14mm F2.8, 12-40mm F2.8, 12-100mm F4.0 IS, 40-150mm f2.8, Fisheye 8mm F1.8, 25mm F1.2, 45mm F1.2 and 300mm F4.0 IS. Combined with the OM-D E-M1 series, an independent professional photographer will find a very competent and compact eco-system that will sustain most of its need.

(First Published in September 2017, Revised in May 2019)