Image stabilisation on the Olympus OM-D EM-5

I have been starting to take the image stabilisation for granted. It is a recent invention for on sensor stabilisation and it is easy to get addicted.

Coming from cameras that don't have stabilisation, it can seem like a gimmick or maybe a useful feature that one wouldn't feel that is overly critical. Now, I can't choose another camera unless it has this magical aid.

To really illustrate how powerful the 5 axis image stabiliser is in the EM-5 I attached my Canon 200mm f2.8 fd and did a quick test. They general rule for a steady image is a shutter speed that is similar to the focal length which would be 1/400 second in this case. I shot the following images at 1/30 second just to see how well the stabiliser works:

ISO 400, f8.0, 1/30 IS off

ISO 400, f8.0, 1/30 IS on

Pretty impressive huh? 1/30 second is pushing it for even normal primes on cameras like the Sony A7. With the Panasonic 25mm, I've been able to get steady shots right down to 1/2 of a second and 1 full second with no tripod, no patience, just snap and shoot. It seems crazy that only Olympus and Pentax make cameras with in built stabilisation and why Panasonic even bothered putting it in its lenses.

Olympus 35rc vs Fuji X100

A question on the minds of everyone recently has been wether they should buy the Olympus 35rc or the Fuji X100, and I understand their dilemnas. As I have both, I think I can help these indecisive buyers out.

Both cameras resemble a similar form factor and use. They are both compact, metal bodied with black leather and have similar focal lengths. Operation for the two of them is similar too.

While the Olympus 35RC is smaller, it is not much so and both cameras are about the same weight.

In use:
Both cameras have dials for aperture and shutter, facilitating easy use of full manual mode. Both cameras have aperture dials around their lenses but the X100 has tabs to make operation easier. I find it difficult to move the aperture dial on the 35RC and it is impossible to do so without moving the focus ring so always refocus after you change aperture.

The focus ring on the 35RC is very light, it feels like it isn't even attached to anything. This makes it very easy to go from one end of the focus range to the other. The X100, however, has a terrible focus ring. It is connected to an electronic thingymajig and it takes several full turns for it to slugishly focus from near to far and it can not be easily controlled in small increments.

Focus speed on the 35RC and X100 are comparable as they are both quick in daylight with the X100 generally having a slight upper hand and both cameras are frustrating in low light. A short lesson on focussing with both cameras is to find a point of high contrast to focus on and then recompose.

The 35RC also has the uper hand in that it has a focus distance indicator so you can pre set your focus without looking through the viewfinder and this also helps in dim situations.

Both cameras feature corner viewfinders with real time views of the world which is a true asset. The X100 has a larger and brighter viewfinder and the framelines are parallax adjusted, depending on where you are focussed. The framelines on my 35RC are very dim and the rangefinder patch is almost non-existant but it is from 1972 and it will be interesting to see how the X100 runs in 2053. Woah, that seems a lot further in the future than 1972 seems in the past, but I digress.

Durability wise, I would be more ok with banging the 35RC against a building or taking it out on the water than the X100. It is made of a thicker steel and has a more solid, brick-like feel to it. The X100 is metal too but it is a lot thinner and there is far more plastic that makes cheap sounding noises when you push against it. I also don't trust electronics.

The 35RC's next win is that it can be used without batteries. Want to go trekking through Mongolia with no access to a wall plug for 3 months? Take a brick of film and the 35RC. Batteries are cheap for the X100 but they only last a few days in the camera. The 35RC keeps on truckin' without any batteries but if you need shutter priority, the batteries that it needs aren't too hard to come by (unless you live in New Zealand, sorry bro!)

The cameras both carry a similar lens: the Olympus 35RC has a zuiko 45mm f2.8 lens, while the Fuji X100 has a Fujinon 23mm f2 (which is 35mm in film terms). I don't find 45mm and 35mm all that different and both work well as an everyday focal length for anything from landscapes to portraits. The 35RC can stop down to f22 for longer exposures during the day, the X100 only goes to f16 but it has a built in 3 stop ND filter which is a life saver when you are trying to get your blur on in the middle of the day. I would say that the Fuji X100 has a "better" lens attached to it but the 35RC is spectacular in the right situations: stop down to f8 or f11, put it on a tripod and thread in a cable release and you have a serious camera in your hands. The X100 is capable of this too and I have been using it as my primary landscape and infrared camera but it is limited in its inherent digitalness in that it has 16mp and it will always have 16mp, the 35rc can take Velvia, Provia, Ilford Pan... and there are no limits to how you can scan the film as scanners are always getting better.

Olympus 35RC

Olympus 35RC

Olympus 35RC

Olympus 35RC

In regards to colours, the X100 stocks what it calls 'film simulation' modes. These are: Provia, Velvia and Astia. It also has black and white which would be Neopan or something similar. The Olympus 35RC also has film modes but these aint no simulations. I have shot Provia and Velvia on it but also Kodacolor, Kodak Gold, Portra, Ilford Pan, Ilford HP5, Ilford Delta and Kodak Tri-X and there are so many more films available. The one thing the X100 has up it's sleeve is that it can shoot Velvia at iso 6400 which I haven't been able to find in the stores...

Fuji X100

Fuji X100

Fuji X100

Fuji X100

Fuji X100

For people in a hurry, the X100 is a better choice. It has a 2ish second review time from shot to screen while the Olympus 35RC is roughly 7-10 days. Loading the X100 takes 5 seconds to pop a memory card in and out, it is a bit of a longer process on the 35RC.

Fuji X100

Overall I would say that both cameras are excellent choices but it is up to you as a photographer to decide what is more important to you- pixels or chemicals? Considering that you can buy 12 Olympus 35RCs for the price of 1 second hand Fuji X100 and load those 12 35RCs up with 12 different rolls of film and carry them around your neck and look like a complete baller, I think the decision has been made for you.

Fuji x100 infrared photography

There are some days where I struggle to feel motivated with my photography but when I go out with my little Fuji X100 and screw on my Infrared filter, that is not one of those days. 

For the uninitiated, infrared photography is special as it capture parts of the infrared spectrum of light, not the visible spectrum that our eyes see. It is like entering another world where trees glow, grass turns white and skies take on a whole new clarity.

Take the low light gathering attributes of an infrared filter and add in the built in ND filter of the fuji x100 and you have some seriously long exposure times in broad daylight.

I was messing around on the river in Aarhus and seeing what contrast I could get with the shadows and light. It seems that it is possible to capture reflected infrared light off foliage in direct sunlight but water and shade are the antithesis to that.

The skies that day weren't particularly special but the infrared filter brought out a unique clarity and depth to the blues and the clouds.

The original file from the image that I opened with just not turned into black and white. It is helpful to use the OFV or the EVF of the x100 to compose but neither will really give you the true feeling of what you will be able to come up with unless you are really experience. The first few times I tried infrared I was a little disappointed how orange my photos were no matter how much I fiddled with the white balance. I expected the image to come out at magazine quality with little effort.

I'm looking forward to the next sunny day with my pocket powerhouse: the Fuji X100.

Additional images:

3 in 1

My camera has multiple personalities. This morning I slipped the 14mm pancake on, threw it in my pocket and went out roaming the city, in the evening I mounted the battery grip and my two larger lenses and went out hunting the countryside looking like a formula 1 press photog.

The Olympus EM-1 can't do that.

Neither can your DSLR.

My camera has multiple personalities, it can be a tiny little fiend that deceives the masses into thinking it is an old film camera, it can be a medium sized camera and balance large lenses or it can be a power hungry monster with the vertical grip mounted.

Just sayin'.

Why I don't need to buy the Fuji xt1

It seems that there is the next best thing in technology announced every 6 months, usurp the previous generation and raging war with our pockets and landfills with planned obsolescence. This seems particularly prevalent for digital cameras. The Canon xxxd line gets updated every year without fail, even when there doesn't seem to be the technology to support an upgrade.
But with micro 4/3 I feel that the technologies being developed are racing ahead faster than ever: electronic viewfinders can always be bigger, sensors can always be tweaked and body shapes and ergonomics will always change.

When I bought my Olympus em-5, it had been out for 8 months already, long enough for there to be enough reviews out there on the web and my best mate Grant had already bought one so it was a well informed decision. I love that camera. It brings a smile to my face when I pick it up and I forget how small it is until I see it sitting somewhere next my phone or a book. My girlfriend doesn't want me to ever sell it, she wants to keep it as a family heirloom, we have had so many memorable experiences with it and it has captured these without a hitch. But the problem with having an internet connection is that when the next shiny new tool comes along, it's hard not to want it...

First is was the Fuji xe1.  Gorgeous image quality with external controls and an evf. But it wasn't weather sealed and I had only just bought my em5. I keep finding stellar deals on used xe1s online though so maybe in 6 months when the hit $300 I might have to try one... So I didn't buy an xe1.

Then it was the Olympus ep5. Sexy and uber cool but it required an external evf and it wasn't weather sealed but it had a 1/8000th shutter and a switch for 2 user settings which I really want. I would set both for manual mode and one for sunny and one for shady settings: no more fumbling with aperture and shutter speed trying to get a shot because I'm bow standing in the shade of a building. I didn't get one because it had too few upgrades and I would lose some of my coveted traits from my em5, namely weather sealing and the built in evf. So I didn't buy an ep5

A few months later came the Panasonic gx7. This seemed to be the camera that had everything from my em5 along with all the things that I wanted plus some improvements. I went into camera stores every week to hold one, to get a feel for it but I held off. Because in have an em5. The gx7 had a better evf, higher shutter speed, silent mode, better video, better ergonomics, WiFi and improved image quality. But it's not weather sealed and it only represents a slight upgrade. Not that I own any weather sealed lenses but I like to hold my em5 lens down in the rain so the camera acts as an umbrella for my lenses. It works, trust me. So I didn't buy a gx7.

The em5 was such a success it was bound to have a follow which was the em1 late last year. Everyone online seems to love this camera. Everyone. It has every upgrade possible that they have lying around at Olympus hq. Better evf, higher shutter, better weather sealing, better autofocus, better ergonomics, better buttons, user custom settings, improved image quality... A lot of improvements over the em5. But it has this big built in grip which I couldn't live with. I love using the add on grip on my em5 but it is so liberating to just use a little pancake with a bare em5 and no strap. It's tiny and discreet. So I didn't buy an em1.

Now we have the Sony a7. Full frame and full frame. It seems that it's only redeeming feature is the size of its sensor as everything else on the camera seems mediocre: poor auto focus, average button layout and it's hard to tell if the image quality is any better than my em5 as every photo I can find online is 90% bokeh... Oh and there are only 3 1/2 lenses available for it. So I didn't buy an a7.

But the camera that has gotten me really excited is the Fuji xt1. Fuji has taken all of their strengths as a camera manufacturer and built a stunner of a camera. I own an x100 and I love the external controls and file quality but they have one upped themselves buy adding an external iso knob! Now everything that needs to be changed can be done without turning the camera on. I dislike having to look at the evf on my em5 to figure out of I'm at the right shutter speed or iso. It takes a while to scroll from 1/2000th to 1/200th too. It is way easier to change settings with my x100 and the xt1 is even better with the iso knob. Below I have started a pro's and con's table for the xt1 against the em5:

- way bigger evf. Usability is a huge part in photography and this evf looks amazing
- external iso, shutter and aperture, plus 2 more customisable dials.
- Fuji lenses, while expensive are sweet as.
- weather sealed to a higher standard.
- larger sensor with that awesome Fuji image quality.

- no Olympus 75mm lens. This is my favourite lens and it is the main reason why I won't be leaving m4/3 any time soon.
- no cheap 45mm lens. Gotta have those cheap but good primes and Fuji lenses ain't cheap.
- no image stabilisation. Its something i have come to rely upon for video and low light shots.
- average video. Not that the em5 is amazing but it is still better.
- I already own an Olympus em5

So while the xt1 may be the best thing for camera since sliced bread, my Olympus em5 still can do more than I can get  out of it. That is to say that my photos would only benefit from upgrade in a small way. It's not like going from a 2001 dslr to the latest generation. The main thing that is making me hanker for the xt1 is the usability: the eternal controls and the huge evf. But I love my em5 and my Olympus and Panasonic lenses and it is still producing images that far exceed the quality of what I can pull out of it. Improving my editing technique and investing in some more cokin filters and getting out into unique places more is going to improve my photography much more than buying a new camera.

Olympus vs Olympus: 50mm f1.8 vs 45mm 1.8: old vs new

This is a comparison between one old lens from the 1970's that nearly every film photography will have used at some point in their life and a lens that carries a similar focal length with vastly different image qualities. I have used both of these lenses for a few years, the OM 50mm has been on my OM-1n for many years, and I wanted to try and explain the quality and character that old lenses have compared to their newer counterparts.

There once was a time when SLR cameras came kitted with a truly decent lens, not some rubbish 18-55 fslow-fpitchblack. This was a time when cameras were still made of metal and people shot organic film. The lens was the 50mm f1.8 and is one of the cheapest and most useful second hand manual focus lenses that you can find, for nearly any lens mount.

Canon make a modern AF 50mm f1.8 that is dirt cheap and handy, but it doesn't come as a kit with any of their cameras which I think is a shame. I think it has something to do with the fact that 50mm in 35mm terms is just so easy to make. In the 'normal' range of lenses ie; 40mm-85mm, f1.8 is a pretty standard lens speed. It is kind of fast but not fast enough to command a huge price or need a ridiculously sized filter. But with different sized sensors now available, these normal focal lengths take on a different character and are harder to make.

In the m4/3 line up, to get a 40-85mm lens, a manufacturer has to make a lens that is between 20mm and 45mm. We have these lenses but because they are quite unique in that they would be inherently wide on other systems, their prices are a little dear. The closest lens to the über cheap and ubiquitous 50mm f1.8 is the Olympus 45mm f1.8, which I consider to be a typification of modern photography in general. Read on and I may stop rambling.

Size wise, the 45mm is very small and light, the adapter on the 50mm nearly doubles the size of the lens.

On a m4/3 camera like the Olympus OM-D EM-5, a 50mm becomes a 100mm lens due to the 2x crop factor of the smaller sensor. This is fine. With a 50mm f1.8 OM Zuiko, we now have an image stabilised 100mm f1.8 lens. But how does this older lens compare against it's younger relative?

From using a few older manual focus lenses adapted to digital cameras, I have noticed that these older film lenses just can't hack focus on targets further away and that contrast is lost. Like in the scene below, I focussed on the ugly apartment building and the differences are immense right off the bat.

(the OM 50mm is on the left, the 45mm on the right)


So I focussed on the ugly apartment building but the clock tower is out of focus in the 50mm f1.8 images even though they are a similar distance away... weird... But notice how the 45mm is perfectly sharp and in focus? Even at 100% there is no fault nor flaw in the 45mm images. The 50mm on the other hand... softer at every stop but at ƒ5.6 it is sharp enough.

Now for medium distances:


Again, the 50mm is softer than the 45mm but notice how the colours are different? These are all RAW images that I then matched the white balance and tint but still the older lens has a softer and less digital look.

Now for subject isolation with a working distance of 1.5m to the bottles, focussed on the sauce label:


Here, as before, the 45mm is sharper, more clinical BUT, the out of focus areas are also smoother and there is more saturation and punch. The 50mm is softer, more muted in it's colours and the camera also slightly over exposed the images as opposed to the 45mm. The bokeh characters are different between the 2 lenses, the 45mm is smoother which I quite like but take the 50mm to an area with leafs or grass as a background and you get an awesome vintage swirl of bokeh.

And now even closer. These were taken at the 2 lenses closest focusing distances which turned out to be roughly the same! So about 500mm to the target. I focussed on the aperture indicator on the front of the lens barrel. Didn't have anything too interesting lying around so some gratuitous camera porn will have to do.


So depth of field is similar between the lenses but again, the 45mm is sharper but has a different colour and tone to the images. I prefer the muted tones of the 50mm to be honest and this is one of the reasons why I love using this old lens on my OM-D.

Olympus 45mm f1.8

+Auto focus, super quick and accurate for capturing the moment.
+Sharp across the frame from f1.8
+1/3 aperture stops for accurate exposure
-Moderately priced but not too expensive
-Looks silly when on the camera, I get space saving but why does it have to taper?
-Manual focus ring lags a little and is annoying for minute focus changes
-Mini filters are a worry, I haven't lost any yet but...
-Plastic plastic plastic
-Silly plastic lens hood

Olympus 50mm f1.8

+Manual focus, makes me slow down and think about the shot
+Smooth manual focus ring
+External aperture ring
+Good size to hold and play with
+Natural colour rendition
+Metal body
-Not very usable at f1.8, better on film than digital.
-Softer images
-Hard to get good images at longer distance from the lens
-No EXIF data on files, mildly annoying but not critical.

So why do I have both lenses? Well both have their uses. The 45mm delivers consistently great images and I can rely on it to lock focus and bring out punchy, digital colours. But that is why I have the 50mm too. I rarely use it at f1.8 unless it is dark so it is relegated to a 50mm f2.8 which is fine. I still get good subject isolation and the images are still sharp enough but have a nice and natural softness and colour to them which I think is very important. I think that this is where the grandfather and the young relative analogy comes into play:

Digital is so predictable, there is no such thing as a bad camera any more and most digital images look clinical, too precise. That is fine, it is a look that I try push for in my digital images to distinguish from my film photography. But there are times where I get sick of my camera and lens nailing every shot. Sure I put work into carefully manually exposing and framing a shot but the camera and lens is getting everything too in focus some times, too sharp, too digital. And that is why I love using the old OM Zuiko 50mm f1.8 as well as the new 45mm f1.8.

You cannot fault the 45mm and that is one of it's problems, it doesn't have a lot of character or soul.

ps; on a side note, I was looking through some of my old Canon 1ds files and I miss the almost film like quality of those old big pixels. Why can't they make some new cameras with less megapixels? Like a revived 11mp full frame or a 6mp m4/3 sensor? Fat pixels are bad ass.