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April 23, 2017

Just posted: E-M1 Mk.II Lens Fest, Part 2, with more Mark II image samples, taken with seven MZD lenses.

While Part 1 used my traditional lakeside scene, this one was shot indoors, in a controlled environment, and presents a bookshelf. As this subject contains less of fine detail, it is easier on non-premium lenses, while still delivering lots of information, some of it quite unexpected.

As before, the main article contains links to pages with samples for individual lenses. These are still missing textual contents; I expect to have that done within another day or two.

Olympus E-M1 Mk.II, MZD 12-40/2.8 PRO at 40 mm
Aperture Priority (0 EV): 1/5 s at F/2.8, ISO 200, Auto WB

Yet another sample collection: Real-life E-M1 Image Samples using MZD 75-300/4.8-6.7 is the source of this prairie dog picture.

Olympus E-M1, 75-300/4.8-6.7 at 300 mm
Aperture Priority (-.3 EV): 1/1600 s at F/6.7, ISO 200

My Olympus OM-D page was becoming quite messy; I had to rearrange the sections and links, especially image sample ones. I hope it is better now.

Panasonic has announced a new μFT lens: Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18/2.8-4.0 wide zoom.

In addition to expected optical quality, what makes it so attractive is accepting front filters. Weight is also important: just 315 g.

Full specifications can be found in my μFT Lens List. The lens should be available in the US late May at about $1100.

April 17, 2017

A new, small Gallery page: The Devil's Tower, shows pictures taken with the E-M1 and two lenses: the 12-40/2.8 PRO and the 75-300/4.8-6.7 (original, not Version II).

The former turned out to be a great landscape lens of superior quality; the latter — an affordable and carryable long telephoto, good enough (at least!) for what I'm doing.

The picture was shot handheld from a distance estimated as about 470 m (1500 ft).

This was computed as D = HF/PS. where

  • H is the assumed height of the climber (1.8 m),
  • P — his height in pixels in full-scale image (307),
  • F — the focal length (300 mm),
  • S — the pixel pitch: .00375 mm or .00334 mm for μFT, 16 or 20 MP (the former used here).

The result will be in the same units in which H is given.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 with MZD 75-300/4.8-6.7 at 300 mm
Aperture Priority (-.3 EV): 1/500 s at F/8.0, ISO 200
Postprocessed in Paint Shop Pro X9: equalization, perspective correction, slight crop and sharpening

April 14, 2017

Greetings from Poland! Baltimore to London, then Helsinki, then Warsaw, and finally a car ride to my old home town of Łódź — rather too much for one day.

Having brought along the E-M1 with the 12-100/4.0 PRO and 75/1.8, now I clearly see this camera is a bit heavy for me, for travel at least. A good pretext to get the Pen F when it gets updated. I tried the Pen recently and I really like it. It does 99% of things I need, and has the best controls I've seen on a digital camera yet.

Picture of the Week: Bread. The only thing I'm missing in the U.S. The first day after arrival I got some at a food artisan market.

The E-M1 in Infrared article got an update: noise removal using Neat Image. While the plugin does a very nice job, I still prefer my IR pictures with some noise, the way I get them from the Mk.II at ISO 6400 or even higher.

EM-1 Mk.II, MZD 12-100/4.0 at 75 mm
Aperture priority (-1.0 EV): 1/125 s at F/5.6, ISO 6400, Auto WB
Postprocessing in Paint Shop Pro X9

April 10, 2017

In a few hours I'm leaving for Poland (again!), where I'll be staying a full month. I decided to take the E-M1 Mk.II along. At first I was planning to go with just one lens, the 12-100 mm PRO, but I am very tempted to bring the 75/1.8, too, even if I never use it.

Instead of packing, I've spent most of Sunday play-working on the E-M1 Mk.II Infrared report. Yes, it's done. No surprises: the camera needs about 1000× (or 10 EV) more exposure in IR than in visible light. The results can be, however, very nice. And with the new sensor/engine combo, the amount of noise in IR images at ISO 6400 is just about right.

With a good Internet access, I will be able to keep adding stuff to these pages, so stay tuned.

EM-1 Mk.II, 12-40/2.8 PRO lens at 12 mm, Hoya R72 filter
Aperture priority (0 EV): 1/6 s at F/8, ISO 6400

April 4, 2017

Picture of the Week: No, it's not the Crofton Lake; it is somewhere in Yellowstone, almost as pretty.

Olympus E-M5 with the MZD 12-50/3.5-6.3 lens at 12 mm
Aperture Priority (-.3 EV): 1/1250 s at F/8.0, ISO 200
Some equalization and slight cropping in Corel Photo-Paint

The E-M1 Mk.II Lens Image Samples article was expanded. I've added three more lenses, each with its own sample page: MZD 12-50/3.5-6.3 EZ, MZD 40-150/4.0-5.6, and ZD 50/2.0 Macro.

The last one is not a μFT lens, but I treat is as such. Its AF system works just fine with both E-M1 bodies, and the resolution is one of the best around.

The main piece got a number of new side-by-side comparisons, plus some other additions and corrections.

April 1, 2017

Yes, that's the Crofton Lake again. And you know what it means: every time it shows up, I have a bunch of comparative image samples to share with my fellow pixel-peepers!

While I'm not a pixel-peeper myself, some of my best friends are, and if I had a daughter, I wouldn't mind her bringing one for dinner, well, maybe even marrying him (well, this was easy, I don't have a daughter).

I've shot all these samples with one camera, the E-M1 Mk.II, using five different MZD lenses, all in one session. For every lens used three or four focal lengths (if it was a zoom) and a sequence of aperture values up to F/11 (higher values are rather useless because of diffraction).

The house in the middle was the principal subject, and the fence to the left of the tree trunk was the AF target, about 105 meters (just below 350 ft) away from the camera.

Olympus E-M1, MZD 12-40/3.8 PRO at 40 mm
Aperture Priority (0 EV): 1/640 s at F/8, ISO 200, Sunny WB

Here is the main article: E-M1 Mk.II Lens Image Samples — a brief summary, comments, some comparisons, but no image samples for individual lenses. These have been packaged into five individual pages: MZD 12-40/2.8 PRO, MZD 12-100/4.0 IS PRO, MZD 14-42/3.5-5.6 EZ (Pancake), MZD 75/1.8 and MZD 75-300/4.8-6.7. You do not really have to look at these sample pages (unless you need to check a particular sample or really have nothing better to do), but the top-level piece may be a useful reading.

March 28, 2017

The image at the right is a full-scale (1:1) fragment of an HR Mode frame from the Olympus E-M1 Mk.2 camera.

I just posted a full report on the subject: Olympus E-M1 Mk.II: High Resolution Mode, so have a look. It took me a week to write it, and to shoot the image samples. Importantly, it includes some information on how this technique works.

The sample here links to the full 50-MP image. One night I spent a whole hour just looking at it, mesmerized, enjoying the detail, ink texture, half-tones in the near-white paper and more. This time Olympus impressed me for real.

The whole image, viewed in the same scale, would be 4.25 times wider than your HD monitor, which makes the detail you see just astounding.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk.II, legacy ZD 50/2.0 Macro lens
HR Mode, Aperture Priority (0 EV): 1/15 s at F/8, ISO 200

This is not a technique for everyday photography. It requires a lens with great resolution, a static subject, a firm tripod and some patience. But when it works, the experience can be very rewarding, even if the results are hard to see in a print or screen display under normal conditions.

March 17, 2017

MZD 75-300/4.8-6.7 is one of the very few long telephoto lenses for Micro Four Thirds and, in proper hands, it will deliver most enjoyable results.

To make a point, here is a new report: E-M5 Real-Life Image Samples Using the MZD 75-300.

True, you can get better results with the 300 mm F/4 IS PRO — at three times the weight, twice the size, and five times the price. This makes the 75-300 "the long tele for the rest of us".

The Panasonic 100-300/4.0-5.6 G (now in Version II) seems also attractive, with a half-stop advantage in aperture, but I believe is a tad behind optically. Still, worth a try.

Some of the same images, after post-processing, ended up in a new Gallery page: Maryland Renaissance Festival II. Have a look.

Olympus EM-5 with MZD 75-300/4.8-6.7 at 300 mm
Aperture Priority (-.7 EV): 1/800 s at F/6.7, ISO 800
Postprocessing in Paint Shop Pro X9

March 14, 2017

Isn't this March? In Maryland? So why do I have this view from my bedroom window? And why isn't all this melting? Something is very wrong here.

My patio gate is frozen shut, so I won't be going out much the next two days or so. I am stocked, though: half a pizza, two cans of chili, five sixpacks from Duclaw. Not bad.

Olympus E-M1 Mk.II with 12-100/4.0 IS PRO lens at 75 mm
Aperture Priority (0 EV): 1/3200 s at F/7.1, ISO 1600, Auto WB
Minor crop and equalization in Fast Stone

It turned out that the Noise Filtering and Sharpness... report, posted just yesterday, was very slow loading from the server, with all those images embedded. Splitting it into four parts helped.

March 13, 2017

A major effort, Noise Filtering and Sharpness in the E-M1 Mk.II is done. At last. 480 image samples and tens of hours of scrutinizing them, to find the combination of these parameters providing "best" in-camera JPEGs — from the angle of detail loss, image noise and sharpening artifacts. As your "best" may be different than mine, the samples are packaged for download, so you may inspect them and reach your own conclusions.

Picture of the Week: a morning street scene in Paris, 1981.

Camera: Minolta XD-5 with a 50/1.7 Rokkor

Kodachrome 64, scanned by ScanCafe after 33 years in storage, slightly cropped, equalized and sharpened in FastStone.

Only going through scans of my old slides and negatives, I realize how much easier is it to get technically good results with digital than it was with film.

March 11, 2017

This is Olympus Capture, running on my Windows 10 laptop, hooked to a TV. This program is very handy for tethered studio sessions; fixing a few, relatively minor, design issues would make it a champ. It is certainly way better-behaved than OI Share.

I am using Capture now for huge sets of image samples with various combinations of image parameters in the E-M1 Mk.II. (The other two cameras it works with are the older E-M1 and E-M5 Mk.II; sorry, Pen F users!)

Olympus E-M1 Mk.II with 12-100/4.0 IS PRO lens at 24 mm
Aperture Priority (0 EV): 1/5 s at F/5.6, ISO 200, Auto WB
Minor crop and equalization in Fast Stone
(Shot using Olympus Capture)

Old news: The site (sorry, one of the worst Web sites I've seen in a long time; navigating around it is a nightmare!) just posted the 2017 Lens Catalog. While it includes mostly Micro Four Thirds lenses, it also has a (non-Micro) Four Thirds page, with a finest-print line saying "Production of all ZUIKO DIGITAL Four Thirds lenses has been discontinued". Well, thanks for the heads-up, how else would we know?

My μFT Lens List has been updated: it now lists (separately) MF lenses. In addition to four F/.95 Nocton lenses by Voigtländer (really: Cosina), it includes four by Kowa, a well-established Japanese company, virtually unknown outside of the industrial and medical market. Kowa lenses are not yet available at U.S. retailers.

    There are also two new AF lenses on the list, both from a Chinese company called Yi (better known as a maker of action cams). These lenses are offered with Yi's entry-level μFT camera, the M1, released a few months ago. Time will show if the μFT camera market will get a third player, which would be nice.

March 8, 2017

The end of an era. Sad news: the Popular Photography magazine just announced that their most recent (March/April) issue was the last one. Ever. Three days after I got it in the mail.

Some signs were there for the last dozen years or so: penmanship and expertise levels declining, critical opinions suppressed, and catering to the widest, mass-market audience. Everything so lukewarm, so routine. (All this in addition to general decline of printed media, of course.)

Popular Photography was born in 1937, the same year as its major competitor, Modern Photography (originally Minicam). The latter, catering to more literate and demanding audience, was a better publication (under leadership of Herbert Keppler) — I know, subscribing to both since 1981. As it often happens in a mass market, the better magazine went out of business, merging (?) into Pop Photo in 1989.

For years, the remaining bright spot was the witty, informed and educational SLR column by Mr. Keppler, who joined Popular in the merger. Unfortunately, Mr. Keppler passed away in 2008, and there was no one to fill his shoes.

Facing problems after the digital revolution, the owners found a cure: changing the name to Popular Photography & Imaging, only to revert to the original a couple of years later.

Still, Pop Photo continued to be an institution, and I enjoyed spending an evening with a new issue every month. I'm sure I am not the only one feeling sad about its demise.

Here is the shot of the last cover (home delivery version; retail runs had different covers, usually a camera). You may still be able to find this issue on a newsstand, as a keepsake.

By chance, the last issue includes a Lab Test of the Olympus E-M1 Mark II (the other featured camera is the full-frame Sony α99 II).

The E-M1 Mk.II scores very high in the Pop Photo report, earning an Excellent image quality rating (whatever that means) at ISO 64 to 800.


The last cover: shot from hand by a patio door, diffused daylight
Camera/Lens: E-M1 Mk.II with MZD 12-100/4.0 IS PRO at 34 mm
Aperture priority (0 EV ): 1/40 s at F/11, ISO 1600
Open Shade WB, Natural Picture mode, no adjustments, IS Auto
Equalization, cropping and sharpening in Fast Stone.

March 7, 2017

After a month spent, almost full-time, with E-M1 Mk.II, I'm — at last! — done with the first cut of its first write-up: Olympus E-M1: What's New in Mk.II. Working on it, I've learned a lot about this camera and its predecessor.

I'm afraid the full, in-depth report will take even longer, but you will see it here when it is done, or even earlier.

Picture of the Week: Eroded walls of an ancient fort in Tajikistan, not far from Afghan border (mid-Seventies)

Camera: Russian Start SLR

Lens: 58/2.0 Helios-44

Film: East-German ORWOChrom UT21 slide film, scanned by ScanCafe to 6 MP

Postprocessing: slight curve adjustment and sharpening in FastStone

March 5, 2017

Updated E-M1 Mk.II Image Detail and Noise at Various ISO — re-shot the Pencil Box sample series with default parameter settings, added more analysis and some conclusions. Now it is done (?).

Added a companion piece to the above: E-M1 Mk.II and Mk.I Compared at High ISO, and the results are not quite what I expected!

March 1, 2017

Picture of the Week: Devil's Tower, Wyoming

Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1

Lens: MZD 12-40/2.8 ED PRO at 21 mm

Exposure: Aperture Priority (-.7 EV): 1/200 s at F/6.3, ISO 200, Auto WB

Postprocessing: cropping to 16:9 and level adjustment in Fast Stone

Two more MZD lenses added to the E-M1 Mk.II IS Report: 75/1.8 and 75-300/4.8-6.7 (at 300 mm). With the latter lens, the IS performance is by 1 EV better on Mark II than on the original.

February 28, 2017

I've checked the IS effects of the MZD 12-40/2.8 PRO lens at 40 mm on the E-M1 Mk.II. Surprisingly, the results are very close to those for the 12-100/4.o IS PRO at 35 mm, dual IS of the latter notwithstanding. See the updated article.

I also updated the original E-M1 IS report, adding the 12-100/4.0 IS PRO at 100 mm. Yes, the in-lens IS seems to be helping on the older camera, but less than on the new one.

Actually, I'm quite amazed how attractive the original E-M1 still is three year after release. If you have this camera and are itching about Mark II — don't (unless you badly need one of the new features, but think twice). Instead, spend this money on one (or better two) of those wonderful, new lenses.

February 27, 2017

Today I'm posting Image Stabilization in Olympus E-M1 Mk.II, done with the MZD 12-100/4.0 IS PRO lens. No, I don't see the touted 6.5 EV handholding benefit of the dual IS system, but I do see the still most impressive IS effect of 4.3 EV.

February 26, 2017

I'm still having quality time with the E-M1 Mk.II, lately trying to find some use for the Fn lever, about which I have very mixed feeling. It goes again so many user interface design principles, that it could be used in a handbook case study. Oh, well, I'll have to learn how to live with it.

Have a look then at my Micro Four Thirds Lenses article; it may come handy as a reference — or just a conversation item.

Shown: cross-section of the new MZD 8 mm F/1.8 Fisheye, the next lens I want to play with. Can you imagine that just 60 years ago optics was designed (computed) by hand?
(Image by Olympus)

Interestingly, the two most expensive lenses on the old Four Thirds list were $8000 (300-800/5.6 Sigma) and $7000 (300/2.8 Olympus ZD). The μFT community seems frugal in comparison: top two prices are $2500 (Olympus MZD 300/4.0) and $1800 (Panasonic/Leica Vario-Elmar 100-400/4.0-6.3).

The good news for those who invested in that costly FT glass is that those lenses will autofocus on the E-M1 (original or Mark II) exactly like they used to on FT (phase-detection) cameras, not worse (used with the FT->μFT adapter, of course).

February 23, 2017

A neat feature of the E-M1, which I never found time to play with, is Live Monitor allowing you to check the progress of exposure being under way and stop it when you think the image is ready (i.e. got enough light). Now I want to try this out on the Mark II. To work confidently with long exposures, however, I need to know more about camera's dark noise.

This is why I spent the last two days collecting dark noise samples, scrutinizing them, preparing for presentation, and writing the report: Dark Noise in the E-M1 Mk.II. You're welcome.

While this may be of interest only to those who do (or want to do) long-exposure photography, especially at higher ISO settings, I'm happy to report that Mark II improves quite a lot in this area compared to the original E-M1 (which was not a push-over, either). Have a look.

Picture of the Week: Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. Shot from about 3.3 km (2 mi) away.

Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1
Lens: ZD 75-300/4.8-6.7 at 300 mm
Exposure: Aperture Priority (-.7EV); 1/2500 s at F/8.0, ISO 400
Postprocessed in Corel Photo-Paint: 90% crop, curve adjustment, sharpening.

February 21, 2017

Well, I'm back. For some time at least. I'm retired now, so now I hope to have enough time to bring these pages back up to speed.

Last time I came back from a hiatus, the direct reason was the arrival of perhaps the best camera I have used so far — the mirror-less OM-D E-M1 by Olympus. I've been using it since, enjoying the experience and results.

Last December the E-M1 Mark II was released. I've been using and learning it for the last two weeks. Another good reason to emerge from inactivity.

I am now extensively testing the camera (or rather checking it up, not having any lab facilities), so expect a number of related write-ups. In the meantime, however, a quick note.

The E-M1 Mark II, shown with the new
MZD 8 mm, F/1.8 (!) full-frame fisheye lens
(Image by Olympus)

The new model looks, feels, and behaves very much like the original (which is a good thing). It could be easily dismissed as a minor upgrade of its predecessor. A closer check, however, will show that many things have been changed, and most of the changes (at least those I'm aware of) are for the better. (The others are a matter of personal taste.)

While preserving the control layout, Olympus re-sculpted the whole body (it also became a bit larger and heavier). On the other extreme, the firmware, and the new TruePic VIII imaging engine in particular, has been strongly reworked. Olympus claims significant improvements in autofocus (especially tracking), image stabilization, serial rate, and noise control at high ISO. Some of these claims I was able to verify; for others, I have to take manufacturer's word.

There are also dozens of smaller (but also appreciated) quality-of-life improvements. The mode dial, after years of my bitching, got three custom preset positions, and the menu system has been somewhat improved (even if it is still quite bad).

Some of the performance and image-processing progress was made possible, as Olympus says, by more computing power aboard. Mark II runs on two processors, four cores each. Its processing capability has increased 3.5 times compared to the older model. (We don't know how this was measured, or how it compares with other cameras.)

While I am still writing a piece comparing Mark II with the original, I already went through all of camera's settings, so I'm posting the first version of my E-M1 Mk.II Setup Cheat Sheet as a possible starting point for your own custom setup. The full article, with discussion of specific parameters and rationale behind suggested values should, hopefully, follow soon.

To decide on image processing choices, I had to run a number of series of image samples, some of which may be worth showing here. The first of sample-based articles is done: E-M1 Mk.II Image Detail and Noise at Various ISO.

Here is one of sample images, shot at ISO 25,600. Click on the thumbnail to see the unaltered off-camera JPEG. Not too shabby; for conclusions see the article.

Note the shallow depth of field provided by this lens at F/1.8. Only the two pencil tips in the center are in focus. I like this lens.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk.II with MZD 75/1.8 ED lens
Aperture Priority: 1/800 s at F/1.8, Auto WB

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Posted 2006/01/30; last updated 2017/04/17 Copyright © 2006-2017 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak