THE NEXT scheduled port was Helsinki, Finland. But first, we had another day at sea. Our ship, the Celebrity Apex, was “new” to us. The second in the “Edge” class (there are now 3 of them, the 3rd being the Celebrity Beyond, with a 4th under construction) line, it was essentially identical to the “Edge” which we had cruised on in the Mediterranean in 2019. The only differences that I could perceive were some of the sculptures and the addition of the Craft Social Bar.
it occurred to me that some of the things around the ship might lend themselves to – well – “playing” with the fisheye lens
WHEN I changed up to the Olympus m4/3 setup, I picked up a third-party, inexpensive manual, 7mm wide-angle lens (14mm 35mm equivalency). I have a similar one for my Sony gear, which I use for extra-wide landscapes and some night shooting. I carried the new Olympus-fitted lens with me in Portugal in June, for some street and architectural shooting. I didn’t do my homework. 🙂 The lens was essentially the same as the Sony-fitted lens, including the manufacturer. So I thought (or perhaps better said: “didn’t think). The m4/3 7mm is a “fisheye” lens. The Sony-fitted one is not (wide lenses that are corrected for distortion are known as “rectilinear.” I have a rectilinear wide-angle lens for the Olympus now 🙂 ). I had a “fisheye” lens years back for my Sony NEX-6, just to play with. The fisheye creates round distortion. Substantial distortion. When I got back from the Portugal trip, I spent a lot of time in perspective correction (more than I think it is worth). I replaced it with a rectilinear wide zoom. Much better. There is still distortion (a completely “flat” rectilinear lens is all but impossible to create, and the engineering and technology makes them very expensive – especially if you are looking for branded and autofocus lenses). But the fisheye was cheap, so I kept it. I thought (I still think so) it might be fun for some “creative” shooting. As I was packing for this cruise, it occurred to me that some of the things around the ship might lend themselves to – well – “playing” with the fisheye lens.
IN THE deck image above, you can see the difference between the perspectives of these two lenses. They are not identical in focal length, but as close as I have. The fisheye is 7.5mm and the rectilinear is shot at 9mm. You can see that just that 1/5mm difference includes a lot more in the photo. But if you don’t like the distortion, by the time you correct it in post-processing it may even show less in the image. I don’t think I would be disappointed in either of these images from a perspective standpoint (as long as you accept that one is clearly distorted from reality). The only thing I am slightly “bothered” by is the sea/horizon. I would probably play around in post and see if I could level that up. Tilting a fisheye lens can either ameliorate or exacerbate the inherent distortion in the lens, depending on circumstances. In the Martini Bar image at the beginning of the post, tilting the camera underplayed the fisheye effect enough that the image is not an unpleasant wide-angle result. But my experience has been that that is unpredictable. Here, I was well back from the subject and that, too, helps.
I TRIED to play around with some other subjects around the ship, but mostly, I am just not “feeling” the results. The image below is kind of reminiscent of those shots you see where the photographer lies down on his back and shoots upward into a tree canopy. interesting. But no “wall-hanger.” Lots of blue space. And check out that horizon on the ocean in this one.
ONE THING I have observed is that this kind of lens is best if it is extremely close up (in the image below, I cropped my feet out of the bottom), or back far enough that the effects of the fisheye are not as pronounced (as in the Martini Bar image). I think there are instances that lend themselves to the fisheye lens – particularly, whimsical subjects – but it is definitely a limited and special purpose lens.
HEW! I got that out of my system. 🙂 Now on to the next port and maybe some better images.
LAST POST, I went into (too much?) detail about my decision to add the Olympus Micro 4/3 (MFT) system to my gear bag. Had I not happened upon an idle and available Olympus OMD-M10 body, I probably would never have even considered this direction. But the very diminutive size of this SLR/DSLR-like camera had me hooked from the first time I picked it up. As readers know, I have been shooting 35mm SLR and DSLR bodies since my college days (a very long time ago). I “grew up” with all manual settings, very slow ISO speeds, and mechanical bodies and lenses. While I have appreciated the lightyears of progress in photographic gear, I still feel most comfortable with an SLR-style body in my hands and an optical viewfinder to my eye. From an ergonomic standpoint, this little unit has been a pleasure to handle.
AFTER SEVERAL thousand images, my take on image quality and digital handling is more mixed, but still generally is positive. Since I first picked up the M10, I “upgraded” to the M10 ver. 2, primarily because of its better IBIS, knowing that 95% of my shooting would be hand-held with this particular gear. Otherwise, there is very little difference between ver. 1 and 2. I carried the ver. 1 on a weeklong cruise to the Caribbean in January, and the ver. 2 for an extended 15-day trip to Portugal in May. In between, I carried the rig as a backup on my week-long trip to Maine in early May, and used it to make a couple of street images in one of the towns we visited. The Portugal trip resulted in well over 2,000 images (which I am in the middle of curating and processing as I write this). I think the sample is now large enough to make some conclusions about image quality, and the usage long enough to make some observations about handling.
AFTER EVERY other single other consideration, in the end, image quality is going to be the litmus test. In terms of color, contrast, and sharpness, I have been well-impressed with the gear combo I am carrying. In the Belize shot below, I am impressed with the fully saturated colors, more or less right out of the camera. The Olympus *.orf raw format renders nicely in Photoshop’s ACR, with lots to work with in post-processing (especially in ACR). So far, with images that have been made in good, if not bright, sunlight, I have been impressed with the colors as-rendered with ACR’s Adobe “standard” profile. Again, this is an Olympus orf raw file (I convert all my raw files to the dng format before further processing), with only very slight additional processing. I used the NIK Viveza 2.0 photoshop plugin to lower the brightness and increase contrast slightly in the foreground. I also tweaked the raw image in ACR very slightly, using the dehaze feature and I think that may shift colors slightly, as you can see some cyan in the cloud edges. But those reds, greens, yellows and blues? WYSIWYG. 🙂 And, as I have gained experience, I have found that often, I am happy with the out of camera result with very minimal adjustments in ACR and no further work other than some output sharpening, cropping, image-sizing. I do think my Sony raw images are cleaner, smoother and overall, are superior. But it is not really a fair comparison, and for what I have in the Olympus, I am very happy with these results.
IT IS notable, I think, that I am reviewing – and using – a first-generation, “entry-level” camera here. There are perhaps some “charged” words here. “Entry-level,” in this case (Olympus) is pretty darn sophisticated. The EM-10 is their entry level, DSLR-style, mirrorless camera. They have the PEN line which could be thought of (incorrectly, in my view) as a “lesser” entry level model. All of the micro 4/3 offerings from Olympus (now OM Holdings) seem pretty full-featured and sophisticated to me. They have all the things any serious photographer would consider must have. The OMD EM-10 version 1 came out in 2014 and was marketed as a “lower” version of their “flagship” OMD E1 and mid-range OMD E5. But the differences were nuanced in my view. Some of great importance to me and some of great importance to others. The OMD E10, for example, has never been “weather-sealed.” The OMD E1 always has. There are a few other bells and whistles that have also been added with newer iterations and “higher” models. Originally, all three models had the same processor and were 16 megapixels. Current models are all 20 megapixels and have a newer processor. These things alone, are not enough for me to consider in my personal shooting style (action shooters, and shooters who may be using the camera as their primary body will see this differently). The big thing for me comes back around again to size. The EM10, version 1 is the smallest of their bodies. Every new iteration creeps slightly larger and heavier. The EM5 is somewhat larger and heavier from the proverbial “get-go,” and the EM1 is larger still (and looks more like the modern DSLR/Mirrorless bodies). While they all still use the same, much smaller lenses, just that incremental change in body size is significant to me. Again, I am comparing it against my Sony RX100. The EM10 compares favorably. As these bodies start to edge ever larger, the attraction loses much of its glitter.
OF COURSE I also wanted to see how the 40-150 performed. Having read many enthusiastic review and seen some sample images, I wasn’t surprised to see that it performs pretty well – for what it is (a consumer grade, f4 – 5.6, plastic body lens). The Mexican Coast Guard Building image shows that it is very acceptably sharp, and renders the same snappy, slightly warm colors as the EZ lens does. To think that you can buy this combination of lenses for $450 (or used, like I did for a total of $225) is pretty amazing.
I WAS interested in seeing how the camera and lenses handled difficult lighting situations. As we left Nassau, the sun was setting behind some variable clouds with a fair amount of intense reflection off the water below. The resulting image, shot with the 40-150 at 40mm and f/11, proved worthy of handling flare, as well as the ability to withstand some deeper post-processing, as I used NIK Viveza 2.0 to adjust brightness and pull shadow areas discretely. I am not displeased with the result.
ANOTHER IMPORTANT test was the low light and night shooting capabilities of the camera. I got that chance on several occasions during the Portugal trip. I signed up for a night photo walk with a local pro in Lisbon. While I found working with a new camera with unfamiliar menus and controls (a cardinal sin) a bit daunting, I was nonetheless generally impressed with the low-light handling. Acknowledging that the sensor used in the OM-D M10 versions was older technology, I expected noise to be a factor. And it is, indeed. However, I found that a gentle application of noise reduction in ACR worked very well, and running suspect images through the NIK Dfine filter, even better. The in-body stabilization (IBIS) capability of the camera is also impressive. The street image below was hand-held.
THE CAMERA seems equally comfortable on a tripod. For these trips I use my ultra small and light Sirui Carbon travel tripod, and with the possible exception of buffeting wind issues, it has proved to provide ample stability as a platform for longer exposure shots. With an L-bracket and wired remote, I felt quite at home with the setup. The fountain image was made at low ISO and small aperture, mounted on a tripod. The lower ISO produced a relatively noise-free image. Noise is, of course, more notable at higher ISOs, as would be expected.
THE NIGHT and low light shooting I have done (and will be doing) with this setup is limited mainly to street shooting and very limited landscape opportunities. By the nature of its use as my “travel setup,” even that will be a small portion of what I use it for. If I were to do serious night shooting like galaxy shooting, star trails, northern lights, or the like, I would use my Sony setup. But for the carry-around, occasional use I have on travel, this seem like it will work very well. Of course, what makes this so attractive is its small size and weight and that is made possible only by the MFT format. The closest would be the APS-C setups that are out there. But even they – with their larger sensor size – spec for larger everything. So, for the foreseeable future, the Olympus looks like the go-to setup for me.
IN GENERAL, physical handling of the camera has been very comfortable for me. The system is pretty adaptable, with several customizable buttons available for shooting styles. I like to have quick access to the ability to change the focus point for AF, and to change ISO settings on the fly. Those are pretty easily customized. I was also able to set a custom setting on the camera’s mode dial, for on-tripod settings (primarily turning off IBIS), making the transition from tripod to handheld shooting pretty much routine. One quirk is that the lens-release button for changing lenses appears to be super-sensitive and just the slightest touch of my fingers triggers a viewfinder/back panel blackout – often at very inconvenient times. I am hoping to find a workaround for it, as it has been really annoying a few times and possibly even has caused me to miss shot opportunities. It forces me to think about where my hands are on the camera body and that is never something you want to have be an ergonomics issue with a camera.
IN TERMS of overall convenience, I have certainly found some “warts.” I have been reading for years about the horrible menu system on Sony Cameras. I personally haven’t experienced it. I have seen how it could be better, and how they have improved over time. I don’t recall enough about the Nikon menu system to make detailed comparisons. I don’t think I ever felt inconvenienced or intimidated by either the Nikon or Sony systems. I have said for some time that it is a matter of a learning curve, and that, once you have the camera set up for your own needs, you don’t really need to resort to it that often. I thought the same about the Olympus menu system. But I have to say that it is far and away the worst of any I have encountered. There is very little logic in the layout and if you forget where a setting is, or inadvertently change one, good luck figuring it out on your own. And Olympus’ documentation is worse than any other I have encountered. Additionally, since it has not been as popular a system as Nikon, Canon or Sony, there are no good aftermarket “how-to” books – especially for the so-called “entry-level” models like these. Fortunately, Olympus has a very dedicated following and there are a couple of on-line groups that can be very helpful with these things. But if you are in the field? Forget about it.
ANOTHER ISSUE that concerns me is how much of the online conversation centers around problems with the Olympus equipment. I have owned many Nikon, Sony, Sigma, and Tamron lenses over the years – most of them AF (and often image-stabilized) lenses. I have had exactly one malfunction. And that was because I dropped it. I keep hearing about ribbon cables in the lens mechanisms failing, and MF clutches having issues. I have also experienced “card error” warnings and have read about some cards just not working in Olympus equipment. Online, I read more stories about camera bodies just spontaneously failing after periods of use. I also hear not-so-good things about official repair facilities (ironically, it appears that the main one is in Portugal), especially since the sale by Olympus to OM products. I get an inkling of overall frailty of the OM system. It may just be that the loudest voices are usually the ones with problems. Time will tell, and I will keep watch. Fortunately for me, I have very little invested in this system. But I would have to think twice about putting real money on the line for some of the newer and “higher end” OM systems gear.
ABSENT A sign, it is difficult to know the right direction sometimes. There is so much going on in the digital photography space these days. I have written about smart phone cameras and computational photography. Digital sensor and processor technology just keeps getting better in all sizes, shapes and designs. And, as technology moves forward, larger sensors are becoming a reality. When I was in Vermont in October 2021, my friend Rich Ennis was shooting a Fujifilm “medium format” (MF) sensor that is housed in a modestly sized, DSLR-like body. I wouldn’t have known it was MF if he hadn’t told me. For reference, “full-frame” in digital refers to 35mm equivalent. “Medium Format,” in film, meant various different sizes and was meant to differentiate from 35mm on the smaller side and the large “view cameras” – as large as 8×10 inches – on the large side, but appears to have only one size in digital sensors. Confused yet? With my 42mp Sony “full-frame” (35mm equivalent) sensor, I have been wowed by image quality and the ability to make significant crops. Even so, as I write this blog post, my basic conclusion is that in the end, the “right stuff,” is going to involve a compromise between image quality and convenience.
the “right stuff,” is going to involve a compromise between image quality and convenience
ON THE convenience side, I got spoiled by my ultra-small, P&S sized Sony Rx100. With its 24-200mm (35mm equivalent), Zeiss designed zoom lens, and very diminutive size, and “pro” features, like raw capture, full manual, aperture and shutter speed priority settings and such, it is a pretty impressive little shooter. But as much as I love its size and convenience for travel and carry, I do have misgivings. Its 1-inch sensor is small (though still measurably larger than a smartphone sensor), and with 20 megapixels crowded onto a 1-inch sensor, there are some serious limitations. I used it in some night shooting recently in London, and while the images were pleasing overall, there was noticeable noise in most of them, that would be non-existent, or very much reduced on my Sony “full frame” sensor. And of course, I do miss the ability to change out a lens for certain situations. It is definitely a tradeoff. I have gotten my long-trip travel baggage down to one carry-on size bag, and whatever “personal” size bag I need to carry my camera and lenses. With the RX100, that means anything from a messenger bag to my pocket. With the A7rii, two fairly large lenses (though they have certainly gotten smaller than my former DSLR and f2.8 lens duo) and other accessories, that means at best, a small photo-backpack, and a check-size bag in order to bring accessories, including a full-sized tripod. And it’s not just the airplane thing, but in Europe and other parts of the world, schlepping the bags on ferries, trains, and walking. To me, it is a pretty big deal.
AT THE same time, as I shoot, process and consider my photography, I am always thinking about image quality and shooting versatility. As much as I love the convenience if the RX100, I am always finding a few instances where I miss my more traditional gear. Having used SLR/DSLR style cameras for most of my life, I am comfortable with the feel of that body style, the controls, and lenses, and the viewfinder (the RX100 has a viewfinder and if it didn’t, that would have been a deal-breaker for me). And as convenient and impressive as its abilities are, my Samsung S21 Smartphone is still not going to do it for me. It just doesn’t “feel” like a camera in my hands. Moreover, the smartphone sensor is really just too small for anything more than a snapshot (in spite of those who would – and have – challenge/ed me on that point). When you start to do anything to “work” the smartphone image in post-processing, it starts to break down rather quickly. The “size matters” phrase is certainly applicable here. As a general rule, the larger the sensor, the more you have to work with and arguably, the better the image quality (of course there are variables, like lens resolving power and the number of pixels on the sensor). So, thinking about sensor size is a serious issue for me. As you can see from the opening illustration, there is a very real difference between a typical smartphone sensor, and even my Sony RX100 (1-inch) sensor. And if that is significant, it is also the case that each larger iteration should be increasingly better.
WHILE I certainly like the convenience of true “pocket” carry, I don’t really need a camera that small. Something between that and the noticeably large and inconvenient 35mm-size gear works admirably. Something that would still fit my long trip travel baggage model. And in 2022, I think I have found that solution. A family member let me use her Olympus OMD E-M10 micro 4/3 (MFT) camera. I began by playing with it locally – just with the original “kit” lens (28-80mm in 35mm equivalent). The MFT sensor (white rectangle above) is larger than the RX100 1-inch sensor (blue rectangle). So, theoretically, it should give me more image quality headroom, and somewhat better noise performance in the shadows. And on paper, and according to test results, it does. I went out to shoot a sunrise with my Sony A7rii and took the OMD along just to “play” a little bit. That experience convinced me that I like the shooting experience of this little camera. I rarely shoot in jpg format, but I include a couple out-of-camera jpgs here, to demonstrate that it handles jpgs admirably – for those who would prefer to shoot in that format. They are impressive, with good contrast and great color (set at “natural” with a slightly warm white balance). Be that as it may, I am decidedly not a jpg shooter. My own bias is: why would anyone go to the expense of acquiring a camera like this and not shoot in its native, raw format? Of course there are some really good photographers who disagree with me.
I HAVE now traveled with the OMD and two lenses on two occasions as my sole setup. The first was a weeklong Caribbean Cruise in January. Having had some success there, I again took only the OMD on an extended trip to Portugal in May, with 2 zooms, and a wide-angle prime as my only gear. In addition to daily carry, I did some night shooting and came home with a pretty good idea of its performance in low light conditions. I did get(and expected) more noise than my Sony “full-frame” produces, but again, everything involves compromise. And the noise was easily tamed with a small adjustment of the noise reduction feature in the details module of ACR/Lightroom for the most part. In a couple instances, I applied an additional round of NIK Define noise reduction utility. I am pleased with the results.
I BEGAN writing this shortly after first acquiring the MFT camera. As I have gained experience, I have come back to the draft numerous times. The post has gotten long (even by my standards, LOL). So I have decided to split it into 2 posts. This first one will compare and justify the acquisition and the second will contain my empirical observations after substantial use. By now, though, the “flirtation” has become a more serious relationship, with the near certainty of becoming my long term travel solution. For justification: with a sensor at least one-third larger than my Sony100rx‘s, the camera body is only a tiny bit larger than the rx100. And, unlike the almost too small, RX100, it handles like a small SLR/DSLR. The viewfinder is bright and easy to see through, and the tilting rear screen works for waist-level type shooting on a tripod. It fits my hands nicely. It is feather-light. The controls are logical to me (I much prefer the way Olympus handles the control for moving the spot AF point around to my Sony setup). With the “pancake” style 14-40mm lens attached, the Olympus body is only slightly deeper than the RX100. The body measures just 1/2-inch wider and is essentially the same from base to top – except that the pentaprism-shaped, EVF (viewfinder) adds nearly 1 inch in height just in that small “bump” on top. Adding the 40-150mm gets me to where (actually better) I was in focal length with the rx100 (35mm equivalent 80-300). And as the photo below illustrates, at very little size cost (3-3/4″ and featherweight). I don’t gain any resolution (in fact, a small loss in quantity of megapixels) but I do get a larger sensor size, which think gets me more “bang for the buck” from those larger pixels.
OLYMPUS offers a nice selection of lenses in this mount (which means interchangeability across the entire Olympus M4/3 lineup), including several zooms, and a few primes. And Olympus has always been known for its quality (m. zuiko) glass. While acquiring (and carrying) additional lenses may seem go against my premise of compact travel gear, it does give room for diversity, if desired at some point. I might, for example, acquire their 45mm (90mm equivalent @35mm) f1.8 lens as an additional tool for closeups where I may wish to create nice blurry backgrounds. Who knows? But the ability is there. All micro 4/3 cameras (even other brands) and lenses share compatibility with mounts. So you can not only choose from Olympus’ own selection (they offer “pro” spec 1.8 and 4.0 aperture lenses, as well as the consumer grade lenses I have mentioned here), but also from other manufacturers (primarily, Panasonic).
RETURNING to my original premise: travel size, quality, versatility and compromise, the MFT format allows for designs of much smaller lenses throughout the line. I have fitted my “rig” out with the pancake-style 14-42EZ (35mm equivalent = 28-84mm), Olympus’ equally economical 40-150 (35mm equivalent = 80-300mm), and more recently, a Rokinon MF 7.5mm (35mm-equivalent =15mm) for travel. The 40-150mm has been referred to by enthusiasts at “The Fantastic Plastic” lens. New, these two lenses together sell for $500 on sites like B&H. Though they are “consumer” lenses (more on that later), that is pretty reasonable. I “upgraded” the borrowed body to the mark II (which has better IS – good for handheld shooting), a slightly better viewfinder, and electronic shutter release capability. If you are willing to take a calculated risk (I have done a lot of this – mostly successfully) you can find them used. I paid less than half the “new” price for my lens lineup, and just over $200 for the new body. In an industry where it is easy to spend thousands of dollars on the latest and greatest, I think that may be one of the best features. I carried this “kit” (camera, 2 lenses, my small travel tripod, and PZ filters) on my Caribbean Cruise in January (the comparative image above, sans the hat 🙂 ). Both lenses appear to be sharp and contrasty. They both render (in combination with the camera) a nice warm, saturated image in Olympus’ .orf raw format. I do see some (expected) distortion at the shorter focal length with the 14-42mm lens, but certainly nothing that cannot be corrected in post-processing. The longer zoom lens is 3-3/4 inches long and weighs significantly less than 1 lb. I have read lots of good user reviews about the sharpness of this inexpensive lens. The other two are – for lack of a better description – comparatively tiny. For travel, this seems like pretty much the ideal combination. While it is not going to go into a shirt pocket, the whole combo will easily fit into the fanny pack size bag I often use when walking around on travel (along with the other two lenses). With the small lens attached, the camera mightpossibly fit a cargo-style pant pocket (though I am not sure I would recommend this style of carry). For all-in-one users, Olympus also offers a 14-150mm lens. For me, the usage will mostly be with the small lens (probably 80-90% of my shooting), so the combo works perfectly.
THE LENSES discussed above are all “consumer” grade f3.5 or f4 – f5.6 lenses. For the kind of travel/”street” shooting I am doing, mostly during daylight hours, with the capability of bumping the ISO up, and the Olympus in-bodyimage stabilization, I find these lenses provide just what I need, 99% of the time. There are -as I have mentioned – numerous pro-style lenses with wide apertures available in the micro 4/3 format. But there is that compromise again. They are bigger, heavier, and certainly a magnitude more expensive. In my own case, it seems like it makes more sense to invest in pro glass for my “full frame” camera. OM Systems (formerly Olympus) has somewhat recently announced a pair of F4 “pro” lenses that would give a range similar to what I have for my Sony a7rii. While there is apparently a market for these, to me they would be overkill for my purposes – as well as bigger and heavier; somewhat defeating my purposes. The single reason for me to use the MFT format is size. I cannot think of another reason why I wouldn’t always carry my Sony system. But as noted above, that is reason enough. I don’t currently see myself going “all in” with this system. The OMD-E10 (version 1) and the EM10 mark II fit my criteria. Why? Like every other manufacturer, each new iteration gets bigger and heavier (another spin on “going the wrong way, in my opinion). The mark II is negligibly larger and includes just a couple improved features that I considered worth upgrading for. Otherwise, the more sophisticated (and larger and more expensive OM options just don’t do it for me). I know there are working pros who will disagree with that and make a good living and some incredible imagery with their m4/3 equipment. And the more I use it the more I “get” that. If m4/3 is the only equipment you are going to own and shoot, you would look at this very differently, and there are lots of great options to choose from in the Olympus family, including the impressive new offering by OM Solutions: the OM-1.
LAST YEAR, I opted to “up” my image quality, upgrading my “full frame” Sony A7 to the Sony a7rii42mp “full frame” sensor, with no AA filter (and it is worth noting here, that it is my understanding that the Olympus 4/3 cameras do not have AA filters on them). I have been very impressed so far. I have no intention of replacing it as my primary, serious camera (though, ironically, I probably make many less images with it than I do my other “more convenient” gear). But having said that, I made a lot of images in both Vermont in October, 2021 and recently in Maine in April, 2022. In spite of my feelings about size, and enthusiasm for the 4/3 gear – for my serious landscape shooting, the larger Sony system is a “keeper.” I have since invested in more powerful computer processing equipment to keep up with not only the new technology and software, but the larger image files. The micro 4/3 move goes (sort of) the opposite direction, with the lowest pixel count (my Sony RX100 is 20, and the OMD is only 16 megapixels) I have had in a few years. But, while still smaller than the 35mm equivalent, “full frame” of my Sony, the 4/3 sensor is significantly larger than the RX100’s 1-inch sensor. And 16 megapixels on a 4/3 sensor should still yield a better-quality image than 20 megapixels on a 1-inch sensor. Size (pixel size and sensor size) does matter – and all other things equal, it should trump numbers. I look forward to additional travel experience with this camera. I know there is a very large and enthusiastic following with the 4/3 imaging group.
My raw images are always blah looking straight out of the camera. It is the nature of the beast. But it also gives you the best platform from which to render the best possible images
WHICH BRINGS me to another point. Since investing in some OM gear, I have joined a couple Facebook Boards dedicated to various Olympus – OM topics. I haven’t ever done likewise on similar Sony or Nikon boards which I am sure exist (at least not since back in the AOL days) 🙂 I am surprised at the amount of angst that is often expressed about post-processing software, image downloading software and editing, and even in-camera software. My own workflow has always been pretty simple. For me, the camera is a capture tool only. I Download my images to my chosen storage/organization media, cull, label, append metadata (copyright) and back up (I add the extra step of converting my raw images to .dng format – a personal preference). I do all this before I do any image editing or processing. I use Photoshop, but Lighroom, OnONE, Capture One, or any of the other programs would work just fine. The point is, I don’t think much about what is happening to the captured digital image until I begin to work on it in post-processing. My organization scheme is also quite simple. I store files by date and year, and use a naming scheme that generally gives me enough information to remember the scene. Any other stuff gets done in my archives (like keywords, categories, etc.). One common thread to all my camera gear is raw format (and it’s raw; not RAW). While I know there is a debate, for any of us who plan to process our photographs for best case presentation, I don’t understand it. I get that certain shooters (e.g., sports, reporting, etc.) have the need for speed (and perhaps size) reason to shoot in jpeg. I also get that some people are just going to take their in-camera results and present them (perhaps most often on media like Instagram or Facebook). And I know some like dual capture (raw + jpeg), to have the jpeg for quick downloading, web use, etc. But I really don’t understand why you would have the capacity to capture raw images and then throw them away at any stage during the process. All my images are first saved as raw files. All the talk I read on these sites about how this or that software renders colors better, etc., during the image ingestion process is perplexing to me. My raw images are always blah looking straight out of the camera. It is the nature of the beast. But it also gives you the best platform from which to render the best possible images. See my blog on “Why You Should Shoot Raw . . . “
THE PROOF is in the results, of course. In the next post, I will document some results and experiences, as well as comment on the overall Olympus system, now that I have accumulated some experience with two of the bodies. You might read my post on “Evaluating Your Gear,” and think “this guy is all over the place” (and you might be right 🙂 ). But the two posts are really not inconsistent. The conclusion I came to is that some of us may have more than one “outfit,” depending on our purpose. And note, my emphasis both here and there on what I will use (hence the less expensive, smaller “consumer” lenses). My own expectation is that the addition of the 4/3 “kit” will enhance both my images and my fun. And that latter piece is perhaps the most important of all.
LAST JULY, in “Do You Really Need Anything Other Than Your Smartphone?“, I opined that, while “smart” phones have moved lightyears beyond their humble beginnings (think from Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone to today’s phones), and that they are very close, smartphone cameras are still not on par with dedicated high-end digital cameras and lenses. I did get some responses that moved my personal “needle” even further, but I am still in the “not yet” camp – they are close and creeping inexorably closer every year. But they are still not “there.” In spite of my own opinion, I have been using my Galaxy s21 phone camera more than I ever have. All the images on this blog post were taken with the Samsung S21.
ON MY Vermont foliage photography trip last October, I resolved to shoot an image or two with the phone camera at each major stop. I wasn’t completely consistent, but I did make a fair number of them. Under the right circumstances, the results were impressive. And more than that, while the earlier post was based on limited experience, I now have a lot more phone-camera examples under my belt with which to make comparisons and observations. My bottom line: I am more impressed than I expected to be. But I am still “not there.”
FOLLOWING MY Vermont experience, I used my phone camera a lot of the time during our trip to London. One area where I find it convenient (and pretty good) is indoors. The “auto” features of the smart phone camera mean generally better results achieved more easily in these low and often artificial light environments. It got to the point where I put the Sony in my pocket when we went indoors and used the smart phone. If I could do things right, with flash, tripod, etc., I would still probably use the dedicated camera. But these are generally tours and move rapidly, without allowing for flash – and certainly not tripods.
LIKE ANY photographic equipment – and I have said this before – you must be familiar with its workings and practice with it before thinking you can just automatically achieve good results. I have a long way to climb up the learning curve with my phone camera. I think, though, that I need to start that slog. After having held SLR/DSLR style cameras in my hands for over 50 years, I do not find the smartphone camera controls “intuitive.” The small, thin body, with a large and sensitive touchscreen is a recipe for frustration for me. I did recently purchase an arca-swiss type mount for the phone. But even that makes it difficult to shoot the way I am accustomed to from a tripod. The clamp covers much of the phone screen, when mounted. I don’t know of any good way to use a remote release with the setup. I still don’t see myself using it for anything serious – probably well into the foreseeable future. I know that the point is not to have to use a tripod, of course, but that is another discussion for another day.
IN SPITE of arguments to the contrary from some very smart, knowledgeable folks, I think the big issue, continues to be quality. Pixels, pixel dimensions, noise, and raw capability are still areas where smartphone cameras have comparative weakness. Apple and Samsung (the industry standards) have both made significant “enhancements” in their software. The iPhone 12 and the top-end Galaxy S22 provide for raw image capture. The Galaxy S22 raw capability is “cobbled,” for lack of a better explanation. From the “get,” the either lack of – or “cobbled” raw image capability is a non-starter for me. A little research suggests that other phones (Google Pixel, Sony) may have raw capability. But as I understand it, the raw capability on all of these is cobbled (for example, on the new multiple-camera phones, raw will only record on the “main” lens). Will they “fix” all this stuff? Undoubtedly. But we aren’t there now.
ADD TO the above concerns the fact that the sensor size on smart phones is as small as they come. I am not the first to point this out, but I still think there are lots of folk out there who don’t appreciate the nuance here. Megapixels are not equal! My Samsung actually has a higher megapixel count than my micro 4/3 Olympus mirrorless camera. The diagram below has shown up here before (and probably will again). It illustrates something very important about image quality (at least currently). The size of the sensor carrying the pixels on the most popular dedicated cameras (4/3, APS-C, and 35mm-equivalent) are all a substantial magnitude larger than the smart phone sensor (the red, 1 2/3″ sensor is typical for smartphones). In order to get the same number (or more) pixels on the smaller sensor, the actual pixel size has to be smaller. With smaller pixels comes less dynamic range, less detail, and usually significantly more noise – especially when packed tight together on the small sensor.
WHEN I downloaded my Samsung S21 images after the London trip, I was surprised at how large the files were. But, as good as they look on my Facebook Page, when I started to look more closely, and to “process” them, they began to deteriorate much more quickly than even my Sony RX100 with the 1″ (purple rectangle) sensor. Imagine the comparison with the “full frame” on my Sony A7rii. The Millenium Bridge image is a good example. It is reasonably pleasing at so-called “web-res” display, at the size shown here. But when you begin to “work” it, its weakness in quality immediately begins to show, especially when compared to images from a “more capable” camera.
Having said all of the above, the photography “cookbook” built into the Samsung and iPhone is pretty impressive
OCCASIONALLY, I just plain old “miss” with the smartphone’s autofocus mechanism (user error, of course, but the reason for the error is important to me). Unlike my other cameras, which have autofocus feedback, again, I find the phone interface unintuitive. The sign for the Kennebunkport Democratic Headquarters is something it should have gotten tack sharp 99/100 times. I just took a quick cell phone snap of this one, while walking by. But I wish I had used my other camera. I liked the irony of this sign, so prominently hanging in “Bush” country. Maybe the Republicans could use my image to accuse the Democrats of “lack of focus” (and, that’s as political as I will get here). 🙂
UT HAVING said all of the above, the photography “cookbook” built into the Samsung and iPhone (the only phones I have experience with – I am sure others are equally good) is pretty impressive. Standing on the rocky ledge south of the Portland Head Lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, I made the opening shot here on my Galaxy s21 smartphone. On that trip, the widest angle lens capability I had was my 24mm Sony. The phone camera image here was made at approximately 15mm. I think the wider angle is pretty compelling, compositionally. But what really blew me away is that this image was made with Samsung’s jpg “recipe,” right out of the camera. Virtually no adjustments have been made. I found that to be the case mostly throughout the trip. I am impressed in terms of color, depth, and sharpness. And it seems to almost always get exposure right.
IF YOU had asked me as little as 3 years ago if there was a phone camera that could make images like the Portland Head shot and the lobster boat shot above, I might have laughed condescendingly at you. But the depth, color and dynamic range of these images are just downright impressive. The world mostly uses these cameras (as well as online technology) to make, display, and “share” their images. For these purposes, we are clearly there (and continuing to move beyond). One of my good photographer friends who is not only a talented photographer, but is very good with Photoshop and post-processing, recently told me that for his “travel” gear (like me, to him that means a non-dedicated photography trip), he is planning to carry only his iPhone 12. He has a small tripod and a tripod mount for the phone, as well as some add-on software designed to accomplish a couple of the things our cameras can do that phone cameras don’t (yet) do. I know I sound like a broken record, but I am not there yet. I have carried at the very least, my Sony RX100 on every trip (stay tuned for a change in that strategy in an upcoming blog). For the present, I still think it depends a little bit on what your goals are. I still harbor the (perhaps naive) thought that I will occasionally sell a large print from my website. I also still like to “work” my images in post-processing. This includes not only (sometimes substantial) cropping and enhancements, but also compositing. I think there may still be some buyers out there who insist on higher “quality” (more and deeper pixels) digital files, too.