Friday, January 11, 2013

Olympus OM-D: First Impressions & Comments on DOF

Olympus 45mm f/1.8 wide-open
You probably already know my story with the DSLRs and why I suddenly decided to switch, and start a new life with micro four thirds and Olympus, here's the link if you haven't already read it before.
These are my first impressions on the Olympus OM-D, I have not had a chance to thoroughly use the camera, I only used it 3 times briefly, at home, at work and at a petrol station where the picture above is from. Hit the jump for a quick, fun read.

Can you guess the car? Panleica 25mm f/1.4 wide-open

DISCLAIMER: Excuse the pictures in this post, they are not the best, but this is what I have to show during my very brief time with the OM-D.

  • If you don't already know, the crop factor of m4/3 is 2x, just keep that in mind when reading, multiply any focal length by 2.
  • The system is incredibly tiny, especially the lenses, the 45mm f/1.8 is very minute, it has a 37mm filter thread, that's the same size as a large coin, incredible.
  • The 12-50 kit lens is very nice, it sells alone for $500 and for $250 as a kit with the body, I got it for the following reasons, wide angle, general walk-around zoom (especially for video, it has both mechanical and smooth electrical zoom) and macro which is very useful, 0.72x magnification and a suitable min. working distance of ~ 20cm.
  • Focusing is incredibly quick and accurate, and by quick I mean "high-end DSLR + high-end lens" quick and sometimes even faster, and since it's a contrast detection based focus, it is most accurate, there are no front or back focusing issues. Focus tracking is where DSLRs pull ahead, they say, but I haven't had a chance to test it yet.
  • It can auto-detect faces despite the selected focus point (during normal focusing modes, no need for a special face detect focus mode), and can focus on the nearest eye on it's own, this is incredibly handy and very accurate. I gave the camera to a friend to try it out, and he took the following picture of me, he didn't choose any focus points, he just pointed the camera at me and snapped away.

That's me, Olympus 45 1.8 wide-open
100% crop of the image above

  • That's also one of the benefits of a smaller sensor, you don't have to stop down to get both eyes in focus, and lose shutter speed, there is a biting sharpness with the fast lenses wide-open on m4/3.
  • There are 35 focusing points by default, positioned in a 7x5 matrix filling 90% of the frame apart from the very extreme edges, you can focus anywhere you want without recomposing. And the focus point size can be changed by a single button press, using the smallest size I can move it into one of 1100 positions!!
  • Lenses don't have a manual focusing switch (they are all focus by wire), so I configured it to one of the function buttons, since there is an EVF, you can get a magnified view by up to 14x to help in accurate focusing.
  • I am still not used to the EVF, but it is amazing in displaying all sorts of useful information during shooting, the most useful for me are the live histogram, showing the blown-out higlights and blocked shadows real time, and finally a quick playback of the image after pressing the shutter.

Olympus 45 1.8 wide-open, again auto close-eye detection

  • The camera is incredibly customizable, you can change the functions of a lot of buttons, you can select what each of the dials do in every mode, you can switch the dial rotation direction, and you can even change the focusing ring rotation direction.
  • I can choose how many fps I need for the low speed setting (1-4 fps) and the high speed setting (5-9 fps), the 9 fps is crazy, I don't use it because I can't take a single shot, the fastest shutter press I can manage takes 2 shots at least.
  • It has the best AWB I have ever seen, even under tungsten lighting, a first for me, colors are excellent as well, I hope to see good color tolerance when I mix flash with available light.
  • Noise performance is incredible, people saying it is a match for the 7D are not giving it full credit, the 7D noise performance is no match for the OM-D at all, forget about charts and DXO, from my own experience on lightroom, this camera is much closer to my 5D2 up to 3200 ISO, haven't tried 6400 yet, and even then, the noise is very fine grain that doesn't look obtrusive at all.
  • In body image stabilization is working very well, I find myself shooting at much lower shutter speeds that I was used to on the 5D3.
  • It has abysmal battery lifetime, but I am still breaking it in, still on my first charge, but people who use it as a DSLR (i.e. use EVF only to shoot, and LCD for playback, otherwise both are turned off) claim upwards of 600 shots (some say 1200 shots) per charge, we'll see, anyway I have ordered a couple of 3rd party spare batteries plus a car charger for just $25.
  • My OM-D has a defect, the eye sensor doesn't work properly to switch between the EVF and the LCD, it only works in direct sun light or near strong light sources, but I will not return it since I would disable this functionality anyway, and I don't want to stay without a camera anymore.

Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 wide-open


This is always a much discussed issue, and I have made my own conclusions based on shooting with APS-C and FF for a long time, and now the micro four thirds. I don't care about DOF calculators or any technical measures, I am talking about DOF from my own perception POV.
There is shallow DOF and then there is SHALLOW DOF, you can see from the examples above that you can get significant shallow DOF even with the smaller m4/3 sensor, it looks the same as f/2.8 ~ f/4 on FF, and very similar to what I used to get with APS-C and fast lenses. This is the shallow DOF that I want, and would not sacrifice it by any means.

Now the really shallow DOF advantage of FF shows when using really fast apertures f/1.2 ~ f/2, and on wide angle lenses (35mm or wider) with fast apertures, anything slower than that like f/2.8 can be achieved with smaller sensors and faster lenses. FF look at f1.2 or f/1.4 cannot be matched by any smaller sensor.

Below is an example to illustrate my point, I picked a picture for my daughter shot one year ago using the 5D2 and the 50 1.4 wide-open, then another one shot with the OM-D and the Panleica 25 1.4 wide-open (50mm equivalent). Subject size is almost the same in both, the major difference however is lighting, the 5D2 is well lit with flash, while the OM-D is lit with a mix of available and tungsten light, I still haven't received my Olympus flash.

UPDATED: due to popular request, I updated my daughter's picture to be shot in the same place as the 5D2 picture, so the background is the same distance behind the subject in both shots, the angle is slightly different however (check the mirror on the right in the OM-D picture, this is not captured on the 5D2).
Canon 5D Mark II and 50mm f/1.4 wide-open, with soft lighting
Olympus OM-D and Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 wide-open
The FF picture @ f/1.4 displays crazy thin DOF, not possible at all with m4/3, but do you always want this thin DOF? Do you want the rest of the face to be OOF? If the answer is yes, then you would better use FF and fast lenses.
You can draw your own conclusions, but for me, both pictures have "sufficient" shallow DOF, the advantage of the smaller sensor is having enough of the face in focus, while still maintaining shallow enough DOF, and enough shutter speed and/or low ISO.
I will be testing a lot more and taking lots of pictures before I do the full review. My next post will be about the Yongnuo RF-603 flash trigger.