Moving Toward Mirrorless — Hummingbirds

Thanks to the nice folks at Olympus and Hunt’s Photo & Video I got to test the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and a 300mm lens with a 1.4x extender. My regular camera is a Canon 1DX with the Canon 300mm f/4 and a 1.4x extender.

So what would happen if I shot the cameras side-by-side?

I went to my friend Lee Hoy‘s house in Ft. Davis Texas. Lee had some hummingbird feeders that were pretty active thanks to fall migration. Hummingbirds were buzzing the feeders like crazy.

My test was to set both cameras on the most fancy fast focusing settings. Lee knows Olympus so he double-checked all my setting on that camera. I know Canon so had everything set on that camera.

Both cameras were set to f/7.1, aperture priority, at ISO 500, continuous auto-focus, and rapid release.

I picked-up one camera and fired. Then I put it down and picked-up the next camera. This went on for a little over an hour. Canon then Olympus then Canon then Olympus until I was exhausted.

In the end, I took 267 photos with the Olympus and 159 with the Canon. The Olympus has a higher frames-per-second rate so there will be more photos to edit. More opportunities to capture the precise moment of action, too. That’s the plan anyway.

Both cameras held and maintained focus on the hummingbirds. I was pleased to see that the Olympus kept-up with the Canon. Both cameras also failed to focus on a hummingbird about the same rate usually thanks to operator error.

Winner? Not one over the other. They Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II held in there against the Canon 1D X Mark II. That should be good news for any bird photographers looking to buy the Olympus system.

Moving Toward Mirrorless — Magnification Factor

Rufous hummingbird photographed with Olympus EM1 Mark ii with a four-thirds sensor.

A full-frame sensor camera has a sensor that is 35mm on the longest side. A cropped sensor camera (APS-C) has a sensor that is smaller. A four-thirds sensor is even smaller at 17.5mm on the longest side.

Those smaller sensors give us what is called a crop factor. An image on a full-frame camera looks the same as if the image was taken with a film camera. Take the same photo with a APS-C camera and the image would appear to be cropped. Take the same photos with a four-thirds sensor and the image would appear more cropped.

That cropping is 1.5x on a Nikon and 1.6x on a Canon camera. The cropping is 2x on an Olympus or other four-thirds sensor camera.

Using that 2x magnification, a 300mm lens is now a 600mm lens. Add a teleconverter on that 300mm lens and you have a 420mm lens. Put that lens on a four-thirds camera and it is now equal to 840mm on a full-frame sensor camera.

Below are three different cameras all with a 300mm lens with 1.4x extender for 420mm from the same location.

The full frame is photographed with 420mm. The cropped is photographed with the same lens but because the sensor is smaller the lens is equal to a 672mm lens. The four-thirds sensor is magnified even more for a lens equal to an 840mm lens. (As was pointed out in an earlier post, all the camera set-ups weigh roughly 4.9 pounds but the view with the four-thirds is equal to a much heavier camera with lens.)

So the advantage of a four-thirds sensor camera is our subject appears bigger when using a telephoto lens with a lighter camera.

I was curious if the quality would be acceptable since the sensor was smaller.

Above is a photo of a female rufous hummingbird perched outside my kitchen window. This was photographed under horrible conditions. I’m shooting through a dirty window. I’m hand-holding the camera at ISO4000 and the image was shot in jpg versus raw. (I was cooking dinner at the time so give me a break.)
Same image as above and cropped to 100%. Notice the fine details in the feathers. No smooth, blotchy colors but actual fine details.

“Expert” opinion has been that the smaller the sensor the worse the quality. I think the fine engineering put into APS-C cameras like the Canon 7D Mark II and Nikon 500 really put an end to that thinking. My brief tests with the Olympus OM-D EM1 Mark ii shows this four-thirds sensor can stand up with the best.

As usual, give me your thoughts. It’s always fun to read your experiences. Thanks again to Hunt’s Photo and Video and the folks at Olympus for making this test possible.

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.