Monday, July 31, 2017

Olympus Em-1 Mark II

My thoughts after using the EM1ii in a serious shoot, and editing the resulting images.

1) It was a lot of fun shooting with this camera:

a) the fully tilt and swing LCD makes shooting vertical images so easy - and one can set the screen at odd angles when needed to stand to one side behind and above or below the camera - all at the same time. As the camera came, screen brightness was inadequate for sunlight shooting but I quickly increased screen brightness and lo - working outdoors on a sunny day is no longer a problem - and unlike increasing brightness in previous cameras which simply gave a washed out light low contrast image - this was simply brighter and better, no image deterioration at all.

b) the camera fits my hands wonderfully, and feels very solid, and the front and back dial controls are superb.

c) the range of focal lengths covered by the 40-150 so matches my preferred focal lengths - so lens swapping is way down..

2) battery life - notwithstanding the increase in lcd brightness, the battery lasts a full shoot of a few hours. I do have a backup battery but so far have not needed it. After the sony 6000, wow...

3) EVS viewfinder.  There were comments on the net about the use of an LCD instead of an OLED - but I have no issues with the accuracy of the viewfinder, or resolution, or responsiveness - all much better than my Fuji G50S.

4) The infamous Olympus Menu system - it's extensive, but actually fairly logical and for the most part I've not had difficulty getting around and doing basic things like formatting a card and setting the camera for Raw etc. You do need to remember to press OK rather than MENU to select something - MENU backs up but doesn't necessarily select a choice.

5) the non customizable visual menu you get by pressing OK makes sense to me -= I can't mess it up by putting things in odd places which was an issue in a previous camera.

6) controls - for the most part they make sense and things respond as you'd expect them to. But not entirely - there are times for example that the front and back dials that should change shutter speed and aperture simply don't, and when the AEL lever in the 2 position should allow me to change ISO and colour balance doesn't. these are documented 'features' and there are reasons for them, but none the less it does confuse a tad. Something to be said for the Fuji controls - one for iso another for shutter and the lens sets aperture.

6) image quality - I have used a mix of high res and normal for my images and while the high res is wonderful - the normal resolution is pretty darn good - enough to produce a very high quality 17X22 with a decent white border (2-3 inches, so really a 13X18 image on 17X22 paper (which is my norm when printing on this size paper (makes framing much easier).

I did run into limits of dynamic range when shooting the Lancaster Bomber - it was indoors, but the shed doors were open so highlights were reflected from outside and much much brighter. I did two things wrong - setting the ISO to low (64) which reduces dynamic range, and for convenience I used the 50 MP jpeg for my high res images since 80 MP is awfully high.

I hope to find some combination of sharpening and size reduction of the 80 megapixel images that I can create a photoshop action for, or even a Lightroom one so that the high res images can be converted to a 50 mp image with full shadow and highlight retention, good sharpness without obvious artifacts. I haven't decided whether to do all the high res images at import, or one at a time as needed (on the assumption that the vast majority of images never get processed anyway, because a better composition, exposure, etc. was found.

7) focus bracketing. It is necessary to remember to NOT select focus stacking - something that generates a jpeg, is done internally within the camera, and is limited to 8 images and only certain Olympus lenses. Focus bracketing simply makes a series of images and you don't need to increment the focus - always a bit tricky - did I turn it far enough, too far, go far enough to focus on the back of the subject as well as the front.

Focus bracketing doesn't work in manual focus - not really surprising, but here's a catch, possibly a big issue - magnified manual focus is limited to the autofocus area, which covers 90% of the viewfinder, but not 100%. You can scroll around the screen, but not right to the edge. Doesn't seem to matter whether you set manual focus internally or using the clutch on the lens.

If you are focusing on a flat field subject - say ice, there doesn't seem to be a way to check focus right to the very bottom of the image (nearest ice). So far, the only work around is to use enough depth of field to cover this nearest part of the subject. The other option is to move the camera to manual focus, focus without magnification and turn the lens a bit further than you think necessary for the near edge, take a single image, then move to auto focus and do the bracketing - this way you'd have the x number of bracketed images plus one or two focused nearer to capture that near edge. A hassle, but at least possible.

It would be awesome  if in the focus bracketing settings you could set the first focus step to be two or three steps closer than what autofocus says you need (based on focusing near but not on the edge), or else give us magified manual focus right to the very edges of the image and have some way of preserving that setting as you switch to autofocus to do the actual blending. It would be an easy firmware upgrade to do the former.

So far, I've not come across a solution to this problem. I'll check with The Camera Store to alert me when an Olympus rep becomes available. If they don't know the answer, perhaps at least they can get in touch with Olympus in Japan to either find the answer or consider the firmware upgrade.

Is this problem limited to Olympus - hardly - a number of cameras don't do magnified manual focus right to the edges and corners. It's just that with the auto focus bracketing, it becomes more crucial.

OK, update.

IF you set the menu to manual focus, turn off magnified focus, turn on focus peaking, then through the viewfinder focus on the very edge and perhaps a bit nearer, then move the focus clutch to auto (remember the menu says you are still in manual focus, but now the BKT symbol is back in the viewfinder and when you press the shutter button, you start the bracket sequence from where you focused using focus peaking. Seems to be quite accurate and def. better than guessing if the edges are in focus and since you set the menu to manual focus, the camera doesn't try to refocus when you press the shutter button.

The next thing to check is if it's possible to set magnified manual focus off, peaking on, etc. though one of the custom settings - then I'd find it easy to move back and forth from high res, magnified focus, and normal res focus bracketing.

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