Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Phone Photography, Mirorrless Happiness And The OM-D EM-6


Say hello to my new phone. I have been a faithful Samsung Galaxy S owner since the series was first introduced more than three years ago, I owned the original Galaxy S, the Galaxy S II, the Galaxy S III, and now the latest Galaxy S4 (yes, Samsung ditched the Roman numerals). You see, here in Egypt we don't have the concept of carrier locked phones and 2 year contracts, phones are usually (97%) sold unlocked, and you have zero obligation to stay with a single carrier, that's why there is a huge market for buying and selling used phones, and that's what I do, once a new model is announced, I make a deal with someone to buy my phone, and the exchange date is once I have the new phone in my hands. People like to buy from me because I treat my phones really well, and they rarely have a scratch on them, despite never using any screen protectors or covers.

But we're not going to talk about phones all day now, are we? Hit the jump to go back to photography.


PHONE PHOTOGRAPHY
 

So why am I talking about phones? The fact is that phones are available within an arm's reach 99% of the time, and nowadays they have good enough cameras for casual snaps in good light, and even in less than good light in some cases. I have used all sorts of famous camera phones in the past (Nokia N95, N86, N73, Sony Ericsson K750i, K810i, W910i, K850i, C905, etc...) and I used to blog about them, but they rarely produced pictures that impressed me.

Even by today's standards, the previous generation of 8MP phones (Galaxy S3, iPhone 4 & 5, etc...) didn't impress me on a pixel level, they didn't respond well to exposure adjustments in lightroom, and they didn't provide me with enough resolution to crop a tighter composition given their fixed 28mm equivalent lenses. But come see my S4 here, when they announced that it will feature a 13 MP sensor, I thought "ok, here's one more victim of the megapixel race". I didn't think I'd see good quality pixels, and that noise (or noise reduction smearing, depends on the manufacturer's JPEG engine tweaking) would be astronomical.


But when I used my phone's camera on a recent sea-side trip, I was quite impressed, see that picture above? A casual snap of a fish restaurant setup inside a man-made lake. Now look below to see a 100% crop.


What do you think? I am indeed very impressed with the image quality in good light, especially given that this is a 13 MP teeny weeny sensor, and I finally have enough room to get a useful crop when needed. What impressed me even more is the shadow recovery, it is no where near comparable to a RAW file from the RX100 or the OMD, but is quite good compared to all the phones I used before.


One more useful feature is the panorama mode, I tested both the RX100 which has it's own panoramic mode and my phone, and the phone came on top each time, it was way easier to follow up the required movement, and the phone stitched the images much better, click on the picture below to see the full 10,000 x 1,600 pixel wide panorama (it's a 6 MB file).


And on a final note, here's a quick comparison between the dynamic range of my phone and a RAW file shot using the famous sensor of the Sony RX100. The first image is taken with the phone, and was given my best efforts on lightroom, the fake tilt-shift effect was done with the gradient tool.


Now here's the same location, same timing, but shot with the incredibly versatile RX100, it has proven to be a very powerful tool as long as you're not shooting a lot of portraits.



PANALEICA 25MM F/1.4, AGAIN

Remember that shot? You saw it in my "Tale of 7 Cameras, And One Subject" post.


I got a lot of positive feedback on this picture, it was taken using the 5D Mark III, the 50mm f/1.4 and the Canon 600EX flash, to me, a great deal of the appeal of this picture is a result of the colored out of focus areas, the lighting direction of the bounced flash, and the mix ratio between the available light and the bounced flash.

So I went there again with my 50mm equivalent MFT lens, the Panaleica 25mm f/1.4, and decided to try and see if I will get similar looking shots, but unfortunately I forgot to take my flash with me, so I shot available light only (i.e. not that good).




What do you think? All three pictures were shot wide-open, and I quite admire the rendering of that lens, no regrets there, it deserves each of it's 499 dollars.

By the way, see that last picture with the two eggs? My brother took this picture himself, he got some eggs, drew the faces, and then killed one of the eggs as you can see, needless to say, it was a mess.

Before I skip this topic, here's one more Panaleica shot, don't ask me why, but I like it, a lot.



LUMIQUEST GEL HOLDERS




I have been using the LumiQuest gel holders for a long time now, I have one for each of my flashes. I don't take them off even when I'm not using gels. I was taking flash lit photos in full daylight @ 1/2000 sync speed using the RX100, I had one YN-560II flash inside the LumiQuest Softbox III triggered optically using the RX100 popup flash, the flash power was set to full power, since I wanted to kill most of the daylight, and when I finished I saw those burning marks on the gel holder, nothing melted on the gel holder, but now it permanently features those ugly burn marks.


THE OM-D EM-6

Remember my EP-5 announcement post? I said that the EP-5 gave me a very good glimpse on some of the features that will be included in the next OMD iteration, according to 43rumors.com there is more:
  • The new OMD will have the same viewfinder quality as the just announced VF-4.
  • It will have phase detection on sensor.
  • It will probably be announced between August and September.
  • More surprises are coming regarding the EM-6.

Here are the three links I used to get this information, here, here and here. If those rumors are true, I suspect we will have another great hit in our hands soon. I already love my EM-5 and I consider it one of the best cameras I have ever owned, but I am still bugged by some missing stuff, so in the next update I hope/expect to see the following:

  • At least the same sensor quality as the existing OMD.
  • More dynamic range, especially the highlights recovery.
  • Sharper & larger EVF, but that's almost certain.
  • Higher resolution rear LCD.
  • True focus tracking that works, hopefully this will happen with the built-in phase detection.
  • Better video features: touch to focus, 14x magnification, manual audio control, 24p and 60 fps.
  • Higher max. shutter speed 1/8000, almost certain similar to the EP-5.
  • Lower base ISO.
  • WiFi & GPS.

Will they do it? I certainly hope so, we will know in a few months, if not before.

This brings us to the end of this post, I am sorry if it is a long one, but I don't have enough time to sit down in front of my PC, and post regularly, that's why I gathered lots of topics in this post, maybe when the new iPad is announced, I will get one and post more frequently using the brilliant Blogsy client, but you have to ask Apple to hurry up and release it already. :-)