Moving Toward Mirrorless — Camera Features

It’s a great time to be a photographer! Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Olympus, Fuji, and Sony are pushing the engineering envelope. Each company gives us something new to keep ahead of their competition. We benefit, as photographers, with great new gadgets and features.

Problem is, though, there is no camera with every amazing feature. We have to settle on the features that are important to our shooting. My important features are not going to be the same as your important features. We each have to find the machine that works for us.

I’m testing the Olympus OM-D E-M1 ii and OM-D M1X for a month.

Each of these camera bodies has interesting features that I might use in regular shooting.

Here’s my opinion and some test results:

Focus stacking – This is nice! I’ve done focus stacking with software and love the results. Focus stacking in the camera, though, is something I’ve wanted to try for a long time.

Both the OM-D E-M1 ii and OM-D M1X gave amazing results.

Below are the individual pieces of the stacked morning glory.

Below are the individual pieces of the stacked dayflower shown above.

Lessons learned when working with both cameras. (1) Be sure to click OK to each option in the set-up process. There are several steps. (2) Confirm you’re in Focus Stacking by looking for the BRKT icon at the top of the view finder. (3) Turn off RAW/Jpg since this causes the camera to work extra and takes longer to process the finished picture. (4) The finished picture is a large Jpg. (5) In-camera focus stacking is lens dependent. Doesn’t work with every lens.

Below is a photo of a gemstone loaned to me by a friend.

This image had to be stacked in Photoshop because I used a lens that was not compatible with in-camera lens stacking.

The individual photos that made up the above image are show below.

There’s a bit to learn with Olympus focus stacking but it’s pretty easy. The camera settings include how many photos to take and focus differential. A large subject like the ruby needs a wider differential.

Silent shooting – This is a nice feature and on the Olympus it’s really silent.  I’ve used this at two weddings during the vow exchange. There’s no sound from the camera. Beware though — This is a great way to fire off 50 shots without knowing it.  Heck of a time deleting those buggers.

HDR – The cameras do this. In-camera HDR has become standard these days.

Handheld High Res – use f/2.8 to f/8 and fire off 16 shots.  Gives tons of DOF.  I tried in the office and worked well.  I’ll post more results once I get out in a grand landscape. Stay tuned!

Keystone Composition – like using a tilt-shift lens.  Adjust the foreground or background to move forward or backward.  Straighten the sides from left to right.  Worked well in the office but I need to test on a grand landscape. Watch this space.

Thank for reading and subscribe so you’ll see my next post. Feel free to ask questions or make comments below.

My thanks once again to the folks at Olympus and Hunt’s Photo & Video for letting me borrow this equipment.

Moving Toward Mirrorless — Electronic View Finder

I love the view through a DSLR viewfinder. There’s something about the ground-glass screen that makes me happy. Glass and mirrors reflect a glorious image to my eye and my brain gets excited.

The view through an electronic viewfinder is less thrilling. It reminds me of putting one eye up to a tiny, tiny television. That’s a poor quality television, too.

I’m testing the Olympus M1X and OM-D E-M1ii. Both have electronic viewfinders as well as viewing on the back LCD panel.

The Canon R mirrorless has the best electronic viewfinder I’ve seen. Thanks to the folks at Canon and Hunt’s Photo & Video I got to use that camera for a month. I had no complaints about Canon’s electronic viewfinder. But, I didn’t get a chance to test this camera on action so my experience is somewhat limited.

When I got a chance to test the Olympus cameras, I adjusted the diopter for my eye prescription. The view was good but not as good as the Canon or as good as the image on the back LCD panel.

In bright sun, the electronic viewfinder is the best option. Outside in bright sun the view on the LCD panel is okay but not optimal. I also have to wear my reading classes to see the LCD so that’s a bit awkward.

Looking through the electronic view finder, there’s a moment between shots when the screen goes black. I know this happens in a DSLR also but it’s never bothered me. The screen going black in the electronic viewfinder is a bit irritating.

Rapid shooting brings a new issue. The Olympus M1X fires 18 to 60 frames per second and the OM-D E-M1ii can do the same. That’s fast and a nice reason to own one of these cameras. Yet, the view through the viewfinder is herky-jerky. The wings of the bird are up, the wings are down, the wings are up, the wings are down. There’s no view of the wings going up and down like I get through a DSLR viewfinder.

I photographed some kids running down a hill with the E-M1ii. My finger was down on the shutter button and the camera was firing like crazy. The electronic viewfinder wasn’t keeping up so I had no idea where the kids were in the frame.

I lost track of these kids through the electronic viewfinder. A different setting would have fixed the problem.

To fix this, there’s a setting called Viewfinder Display Rate. Set this to “high” and the dark between frames is minimized.

The viewfinders on both cameras display a nice set of information. Several options on each camera body allow you to display different information through the electronic viewfinder including histogram. Nice tools to have as a photographer.

UPDATE TO THE ORIGINAL POST: I see that the Sony a9 advertises a “black-out free” electronic viewfinder. Pretty neat!

Moving Toward Mirrorless — Battery Life

Olympus OM-D E-Mii and battery

A lady in class mentioned that she was taking eight camera batteries on her next vacation. Eight batteries! That’s unheard of. I own two batteries for my Canon 5D Mark IV and one for my Canon 1DX. Why would this lady need eight for one camera?!

I’ve been testing the Olympus OM-D E-Mii and the OM-D E-M1X. Thanks to my testing I understood her statement wasn’t so crazy.

The battery life on these cameras is not great. A battery gets 2-3 hours of life. That’s turning the camera off and on, looking at photos on the back, taking a group of photos, putting the camera down, picking it back up, taking some more photos, setting it down, turning it off, turning it on, taking some photos, reviewing photos, etc. Two or three hours of this type of activity and the battery warning light is flashing.

For comparison, I can use a Canon 5D Mark IV battery all day without worrying. The Canon 1DX battery will last three or four days even with heavy shooting.

The E-Mii uses one battery. The more powerful E-M1X has a battery holder that uses two batteries. Luckily, both cameras use the same battery. That’s a great move, Olympus!

Each battery charges in a little over an hour. That’s not unusual for a camera battery. I charged three Olympus batteries in an evening with no problem but I was watching the charger and switching the batteries.

In real life, though, I’m dragging in at 10:00pm after a hard day of shooting and everything needs to be charged and ready to go by 5:00am. I’d find it hard to charge three batteries while sleeping.

Luckily, the batteries for these cameras are reasonably priced. A battery is $54 so it’s possible to buy some extras. The battery recharger is $59 so a photographer could have one or two more. There’s an after-market charger that claims to charge two batteries at a time. (I’ll let someone else test that item.)

Yes, there is a power grip for the OM-D E-Mii. That add weight and bulk — a reason many are using for switching to mirrorless.

Once again, thanks to Gary Farber at Hunt’s Photo & Video for making this test possible. Check out the entire Olympus line of cameras.

Moving Toward Mirrorless — Sensor Size

Thanks to the folks at Olympus, I get to test the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and OM-D E-M1X.

Both are called “micro four-third” sensor cameras. That means the sensor is 17.4 mm on the long side by 13.0 mm on the short side. Contrast this with a “full sensor camera” that has a sensor that is 35mm on the long side by 24mm on the short side. (Notice the sensor is the same size as a 35mm piece of film.)

The advantage of a “micro four-thirds” sensor is things appear closer.

The Canon Rebel T6i has a “cropped” sensor, or 22.3 mm by 14.9 mm, so the same object appears farther away.

The Canon 5D Mark IV is a “full frame” camera with a sensor 35mm x 24mm. Objects appear much farther away.

I took each photo above from the same place. Each camera had a 300mm lens with a 1.4x tele-extender. That means I was using a 420mm lens for each photo but the subject was more or less magnified based on the sensor size.

The Olympus “four-thirds” sensor would mean a bird would be larger in my photo. The “four-thirds” sensor would mean I might not have to crop as much since the subject would already be bigger in the photo.

Once again, thanks to Gary Farber at Hunt’s Photo & Video for making this test possible.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post as I continue to explore these cameras.

Moving Toward Mirrorless Camera

It’s inevitable that a mirrorless camera is in my future. I shot with Nikon film cameras for 15 years. Then I moved to Canon for digital SLRs and have been happy for 16 years. Will I make a brand shift when I go to mirrorless?

The nice folks at Olympus were kind enough to send me an OM-D E-M1 Mark II to test. (Thanks to Gary Farber at Hunt’s Camera & Video for your help!) This camera retails at $1,699 with a 20.4 megapixel sensor and 15 frames per second shooting. Check, check, and check on price, file size, and shooting speed.

There were some other features that were intriguing. The camera can shoot 60 frames per second is silent mode which would be amazing for birds. It has in-camera focus stacking and in-camera time lapse. Both of these are important to me.

I’ve used the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II for a week and here are my initial impressions. (Check back tomorrow for more.)

  • Weight — Let’s get that out of the way first. I thought there would be more difference.
    • 4.9 lbs OM-D E-M1 Mark II with 300mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter
    • 4.9 lbs Canon 5D Mark IV with 300mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter
    • 4.7 lbs Canon Rebel T6i with 300mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter
  • Size — Smaller than my DSLR camera by an inch.
    • 5-inches wide by 2.25-inches deep on the Olympus
    • 6-inches wide by 3-inches deep on the Canon 5D Mark IV
    • 5-inches wide by 3.25-inches deep on the Canon Rebel T6i

Set-up — I wasn’t looking forward to this step. I’ve taught photography for 25-years and know Canon and Nikon cameras well. The Canon R was intuitive right out of the box. Sony, Olympus, and Fuji tend to put things in different places and call them by different names.

The OM-D E-M1 forced me to go to the user’s manual. I was able to get the camera set to my liking with the help of the manual. Dials and Fn buttons have to do double duty since the camera body is smaller.

Once I got the camera set-up to my liking, the features I needed were easy to reach and adjust. ISO, exposure adjustment, focus points were at my finger tips and I could shoot.

But — What about the picture quality? So far, I’m impressed.

Check back tomorrow for more about this camera and the OM-D M1X. Once again, thanks to Gary Farber at Hunt’s Photo & Video for your help with this loaner.

Infrared Filter versus Converted Camera

Image made with a Canon 40D converted to infrared. Murrisk Abbey, County Mayo, Ireland

I got a chance to use a friend’s infrared camera on a recent trip to Ireland. One big difference between a modified camera and using an infrared filter stands out.  The modified camera still works like a camera with auto focus, fast shutter speed, etc.

There’s no way I could photograph hand-held with an infrared filter.  The filter is very dense so it’s completely black.  That means a long shutter speed every time with the camera on a tripod.  That also means there’s no auto focus.

To take a photo with an IR filter, we have to pre-focus, screw in the filter, turn off auto focus, shoot and then experiment with the exposure until it’s right. Often the exposure is 4 or 8 minutes!

An advantage of the IR filter, though, is I can use it on any camera I own.   I can also  share the filter with other photographers.  The filter is small so it takes up little weight in my camera bag.  These are all positives.

Yet, the joy of picking up the infrared camera, taking a photo, and moving on was sheer delight. IR photograph was just like regular photography.

The gallery below contains images taken with an infrared filter. All exposures are 8-minutes long.

Compare the above with these images taken in an infrared converted camera. I’m using a Canon 40D converted to infrared.

Notice the difference? What do you think?

Confusion About Fixed F/stop Lens

A friend emailed: Hi Kathy. I have a question and I can’t find an answer on the Internet. I am looking at a lens with a fixed aperture of f4. What I’m wondering is how do you get more depth of field with a fixed aperture? People are singing praise for this lens and report it is on their camera all the time. But I’m wondering how it would do for landscape where you would want everything in focus. Or if you were focusing on a closer object and had mountains in the background. Any thoughts? Thanks

The Canon 16-35mm f/4 lens has f/stops from f/4 to f/22

My Answer: A fixed f/4 lens might have an aperture range from f/4 to f/22.  You’d use the f/4 to blur backgrounds and the f/22 for landscapes.  The lens has lots of f/stops and not just one.

A “fixed” lens doesn’t change the f/stop as you zoom the lens.  In the Canon 16-35mm lens, zoom back to 16mm and you can use f/4.  Zoom out to 35mm and you can still use f/4.

A “variable f/stop lens” would change the f/stop as you zoom.  In the Canon 18-55mm lens, zoom back to 18mm and you can use f/3.5.  Zoom out to 55mm and you can only go to f/5.6.  The f/3.5 is no longer available. 

Traditionally, “fixed” f/stop lenses give crisper and clearer photos.  Fixed f/stop lenses are usually more expensive and better made.  I think that’s the reason they give a better photo. 

Presets: Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

The photography world is awash with presets. Companies like Luminar and Nik offer great presets. I’m a big fan and use presets from both companies.

Yet, I think photographers need to learn how to use presets.

Just because you can use a preset, doesn’t mean you should use a preset. We used to say the same about the saturation slider, by the way. Just because the slider goes all the way to the right, doesn’t mean you should move it all the way to the right.

What’s a preset? Presets are “pre-made” formulas for processing an image. The various sliders in a software are “pre-set” to give a specific look. Presets are a bit like using the Auto mode on your camera. Auto mode is okay but it’s better when you really learn how to use the camera.

I’ve used presets for years to process HDR image. It was simple to scroll through the presets in Photomatix back in the old days to get the HDR look I wanted. Critics were screaming “HDR looks so fake!” because photographers were overdoing the presets in Photomatix.

HDR looked great, though, if the processing was in moderation. A photo editor once asked me to send “more of those dreamy-looking photos” for a project. Those “dreamy photos” were HDR images with moderate processing.

Today we have presets from big companies, small companies, and individuals. A photographer recently told me that he only uses Pentax presets because that’s how Pentax files are designed to be processed. Turns out someone has made presets and is marketing them to Pentax users.

I recently watched a photographer accept gushing praise for an image that I know was processed with a preset. The processing wasn’t that great. To the uneducated eye, though, the photographer appeared to be on location at the exact right magical moment when the light was perfect. Nope! The magic came from a preset.

Photos entered in a recent contest were passed over by the judges because the presets were so exaggerated. These were possible winning images but the processing was too much. The photographer needs to learn where, when, and how to use presets.

I’m not suggesting that presets go away. I’m suggesting photographers learn how to process. We should understand what’s going on with the software and use it when and where it’s needed. Exaggerate all you want but tone it down when it’s appropriate.

Below I’ll show you my photos that are reasonably processed and then exaggerated with presets.

Yes, I use presets to enhance my creativity. I use presets sometimes to show me the potential of an image. Presets can support our creative vision as well as ruin it.

Below are some images that I processed with presets — and was thankful for the power of presets.

Great companies like Luminar and Nik make presets. Photographers should learn where, when, and how to use use them.

Texture Slider in Adobe

In May of this year, Adobe gave us the Texture slider. You can find this in Adobe’s Lightroom Classic or Adobe Camera Raw.

The Texture slider enhances or reduces texture in a photo. Texture would be bird feathers, animal fur, tree bark, alligator skin, stucco, etc. The Texture slider does not enhance details in our nice blurry backgrounds. The Texture slider is a game changer on certain photos.

I’ve been a real champion of the Clarity slider since that tool was introduced by Adobe. Almost all my processing began with Clarity slider to 20, Vibrance to 20, and Saturation to 20. “Go to CVS first” was the line we used in class.

The Clarity slider, though, worked on details and textures throughout the image. Minor details in the blurry background were often enhanced.

Texture slider only works on textures. It’s a pretty smart tool that can really bring out key details in our photos.

The Texture slider is also available under the Adjustment Brush tool. This allows us to enhance or reduce the texture in one area of a photo.

Pretty neat tool. Give it a try. I’m sure you will like it and find many uses for the Texture slider.

Green violetear or Lesser violetear with the Texture slider blown up to 100%
Same photo as above with the Clarity slider blown up to 100%. Notice how the
background at top right has more detail. Not as soft as the image processed with
the Texture slider.
Same as above with no Clarify or Texture slider. Nice soft background thanks to
a shallow f/stop. We don’t want to mess with that background during processing.

Texture on the left image. Clarity on the right image.