Olympus’s 12-40/2.8 – a lens for all seasons

Wildflowers

I have a confession to make – I’m a pretty boring photographer.  Oh, I have a drawer stuffed full of lenses and other photo-related gear just like everybody else, but when it comes to actually taking photos, 90% of the time the lens on my camera is some sort of standard zoom.  I started out with a 28-105mm (equivalent) lens, moved to a 24-120mm , went back and forth between a 24-70mm and a 24-135mm, moved back to the 24-120mm and finally last year ended up getting and using a 24-80mm equivalent in the form of Olympus’s recently announced m.ZD 12-40/2.8 Pro lens.

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Re-reviewing the Olympus E-M5

Sunset

Most product reviews are made shortly after the product is released.  The idea is to get the word out while the thing is still new, so people who are considering getting it have some idea of what they’re in for.  The disadvantage is of course that some things become apparent only with the passage of time 

So with the benefit of 14 month’s hindsight and more than 15,000 images since my original review, would I still choose the E-M5 as my primary camera?  Has it lived up to expectations?  My answer is below.

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Olympus E-M1 Impressions

Walkway

After being on a waiting list since mid September, I finally got my hands on Olympus’s new flagship camera, the OM-D E-M1, last Friday.  This is not really a review as such, as I only used the camera for a couple of days.  Here are my impressions, particular vis a vis my current camera, the E-M5:

Size and Appearance

The E-M1 is bigger than the E-M5, on account of the grip.  On the one hand, it’s an ergonomic rubberized grip which makes the camera more comfortable with larger lenses, or for those with larger hands.  On the other, it more or less ruins the classic profile of the camera and the increased size can be a nuisance with cases and bags.  I wish they’d stuck with the size and styling of the E-M5 and made the bigger grip an optional add-on (like the E-M5).

Overall build quality seems slightly more solid.  I gather that underneath there’s a much more extensive magnesive frame than the one the E-M5 had.  In any case, it feels nicer in the hand.

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Olympus E-PM2 First Impressions

P1190592

Any color, so long as it’s black.  Note that this is not the kit lens.

I received my Olympus E-PM2 in the mail last week.  Unfortunately I’ve been sick with a nasty cold since.  Combine that with a cold snap, a nonfunctional bike and a car in the repair shop and I just haven’t been in the mood (or the position) to get around and take a lot of photos.  All that said, I did have a chance to set up the camera and play with it around the house.  Here, in no particularly order, are my early impressions:

  1. Image quality is indistinguishable from the E-M5.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise as the cameras use the same sensor, but the output is for all intents and purposes the same.
  2. Lens IS priority works.  On prior Olympus bodies, if you had a Panasonic lens with optical stabilization, but no on/off switch for it, there was no way for you to use OIS.  That’s no longer the case.  I tried with the Panasonic X 14-42 and when you turn Lens IS priority on, and enable IS, you can both see and hear the OIS working.
  3. Small AF point mode is a godsend.  On all Olympus models, the AF box is rather large.  That’s fine if you trust the camera to generally grab the correct point to focus on, but in my experience that’s not always the case.  On earlier models, you could make the AF box smaller, but doing so disabled a lot of other things like the live histogram.  That’s no longer the case – you can have your small AF point, and other display functions are not impacted.  I’ve had markedly fewer out-of-focus shots than I usually did with the E-M5.
  4. There’s an orientation sensor.  I seriously missed this on the E-PM1.  If you shoot a photo holding the camera vertically, your image will come out so-oriented.
  5. More buttons.  This is mostly a good thing, as with the E-PM1 I was always short a button for some special function.  Here I can both have a button for changing the ISO, and one for magnifying the viewfinder.
  6. Build quality isn’t as nice as the E-PM1.  The camera is well made, but there’s a lot more polycarbonate and a lot less metal in the shell of this one.  This also makes it seem a little larger, even if it isn’t really.
  7. Menus are even deeper than the E-PM1.  Another model, another dozen new menu options.  At this point, I don’t really care but it is really kind of ridiculous just how many different settings there are that can be customized.
  8. 16:9 LCD still doesn’t make sense.  This was one of the more baffling decisions they made on the E-PM1/E-PL3 and it’s been retained on the newer model – the LCD uses a 16:9 aspect ratio with is perfect for video but wastes a lot of space for photos.
  9. First thing I did after I found the setup menu was disable the touchscreen. Cool feature, but I’m just not interested.

Overall, I’m pleased. It’s not a perfect camera, but it looks darn good so far, and with the Panasonic X 14-42 it’s a perfectly pocketable combination. For less than $500 with kit lens, this camera can do darned near everything.

An adapter to make lenses wider and better

Metabones is one of a number of companies that specialize in making adapters so that you can use lenses designed for one type of camera on another.  The growing popularity of mirrorless systems, particularly among videographers, has meant that there are now a great many cameras out there that can be made to physically accept lenses built for other cameras.  In late November, Metabones got a good amount of attention when they announced that they’d built an adapter that would let Canon lenses function more or less fully on Sony’s NEX mirrorless cameras – include features such as image stabilization and autofocus.

This week, Metabones had something even grander to show off – the ‘Speed Booster’ adapter that purports to make lenses faster, wider and even in some respects sharper.

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Evolution of Olympus’s Pen cameras

Pens old and new

Above: Olympus Pen FT and E-P1

Beginnings

When Olympus announced their first digital ‘Pen’ model in mid 2009, it caught a lot of press.  At the time, Olympus seemed to be struggling just as other camera manufacturers were seeing a boom in DSLR sales.  With its sleek retro styling and the promise of DSLR-quality images from a camera scarcely larger than a digital compact, the E-P1 seemed like a possible answer.

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Lightroom Performance – part 3

As part of my attempt to puzzle out why Adobe Lightroom has been (comparatively) slow with my E-M5, I’ve taken a number of timings of different attributes.  Among other things I’ve concluded that:

  1. There’s no significant difference in speed between versions 1, 2, 3 and 4.
  2. Import speed scales roughly linearly with image resolution – a file with 2x the megapixels will take approx. 2x the amount of time to import.
  3. Different RAW file formats generally don’t impact processing speed, with the exception of Fuji’s RAF, Olympus’s ORF and Samsung’s SRW.  The Fuji and Olympus files are slower to process (roughly 150% and 60% respectively), and the Samsung slightly faster.
  4. Correcting for lens flaws – particularly in the case chromatic aberration, does cause some slowdown.

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Lightroom performance – part 2

So I’ve been complaining for some time about the speed of Adobe’s Lightroom photo processing software.

I finally got around to doing some comparisons of import times, using files from different cameras.  My initial thought was that the auto-correction used by micro 4/3 lenses was slowing things down on my recently acquired E-M5, along with larger files.  To test that theory, I took 100 RAW files from a number of different cameras and lenses, and measured how long it took to import them and generate 1:1 previews.

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SSDs and Lightroom: Bitten by Amdahl’s Law

Spinning pizza of death

I’ve been using Adobe’s Lightroom image processing software since pretty much the very first beta release to organize and edit my photos.  On the whole, it’s a well laid-out application with a number of very useful features and it’s capable of producing excellent quality output.  That said, using Lightroom has always been an exercise in patience.  It’s simply not a very fast program.  For bulk tasks like exporting JPEGs from RAW images, that’s not a problem – you get it started and go off and do something else.  But when editing individual images starts to bog down, it’s a lot more frustrating.

The sluggishness has been particularly noticeable since I got my (16MP) Olympus E-M5 this summer.  The files aren’t that much bigger than those from my older 12MP cameras, but for whatever reason, editing them has been a lot more painful.  So in a fit of frustration, I finally broke down and ordered an SSD (solid state drive) for my main computer.

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