Olympus OM-D E-M5 with Panasonic 20mm f1.7 Lens

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 was one of those cameras that could be labelled “revolutionary”.  A micro 4/3 format mirrorless system that brought the fight squarely to the prosumer level DSLR market. Comparisons to the mid-range Nikon and Canon DSLRs abounded with superb image quality and fast autofocus all in a much lighter and smaller package. Canikon DSLR enthusiasts were ditching their heavy equipment in favour of this little gem in their droves as it also supported a huge range of very good glass too.

One of those lenses is the Panasonic 20mm f1.7. A prime pancake lens which gives a standard field of view with a small footprint and fast aperture making the body/lens combination a very neat package indeed.  Again, I stress that there are lots of technical reviews elsewhere on this lens and I’ll add some relevant links to the bottom of this post. This is my non-technical, non-too detailed opinion of the combination.

 copyright Dave Carter Photography

It’s a very neat package. Not quite small enough to slip into your trouser or shirt pocket but a larger jacket pocket would take it. The effective  FF equivalent 40mm focal length makes this ideal as a general walkaround image capturing tool and extremely good for street photography. One of the cons of smaller sensors is the greater difficulty in achieving a shallow depth of field, especially with standard focal lengths so a large minimum aperture is essential in order to get this with a m4/3 camera. The Panny 20mm, at f1.7 minimum aperture, is a fast lens. It’s small too The lens is constructed of high grade plastic which, let’s face it, is just as good as metal these days. It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall apart and the focusing ring has a very nice smooth dampened glide to it accentuating the quality build.

As for the competition, it’s closest rival will be the Olympus 17mm f1.8. A slightly larger, more expensive lens and made of metal. However, the general concensus of opinion between the online officianados of such equipment seems to be that the Panny gives slightly better image quality but slightly worse AF performance. Panasonic also do the 25mm f1.4, an even faster lens but at an equivalent 50mm focal length, a slightly longer reach. That’s not enough for me to want to swap and this little pearl of a lens will be the one that lives on the OM-D for the foreseeable future.

Links to other reviews on this combo:

Peter Tsai, Ed Dombrowski,

My gallery of OOC jpegs:

Note: This blog is dynamic so I’ll be updating it from time to time.

QuickLook No. 1: Fuji X100s Advanced Filter – Toy Camera

I’ll be doing a series of “QuickLook” posts covering an individual feature of one of the cameras I currently own, showing it’s effect on the images that are produced. To start off, I’m looking at the Advanced filters of the Fuji X100s with the first one in the list – Toy Camera.

Now, I’m pretty sure I’m correct in saying that us “serious” photographers have a tendency to look down on in-camera filter effects as being rather gimmicky and they’re not a feature we’ve had a tendency to use much, if at all, in our day-to-day photography. However, with the increase in popularity of mobile apps like Instagram and the nostalgic 35mm film looks we serious photographers seem to be wanting to achieve more and more of these days, the in-built effects filters are beginning to gain a little more respect. There’s no doubt that they’re quite fun to use on the odd occasion but can they really hold a place in a professional photographer’s workflow?

Let’s take a look at the Toy Camera effect in the Fuji X100s. It describes this filter as being a retro (nostalgic) look giving darkened borders

Standard Shot:

Dave Carter Photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toy Camera:

Dave Carter Photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, we get vignetting (with some pretty heavy banding) and a yellowy tone applied to the photo.

I can’t remember ever having a “toy” camera. All the ones I had were proper ones. What is a toy camera anyway? Surely it would be one of those plastic oversized brightly covered kiddies playthings having a large shutter button that squeaked when thumped but didn’t actually take photos. Anyway, I like effects, I use them a lot in my post-processing but, sadly, this one doesn’t do it for me. I can’t see me using this filter at all (apart from when I’m writing articles about it). Hmmm! Looks like maybe they are just a gimmick after all. We’ll see as this is just the first one.

Rating: 2 / 10

The Retro Fix – Fujifilm X100S

The Retro Fix – Fujifilm X100S
Fujifilm X100s

Classic Is Cool

 

 

My first foray into Digital Photography was back in 2003 when I bought a Fujifilm S602 Zoom Bridge camera. Back then, digital was still very much in its infancy, the “new kid on the block”. I still had my Canon EOS 5 35mm film SLR and, quite frankly, still preferred it. I wasn’t convinced about this digital thing and I wasn’t inspired although the benefits were very clear. It wasn’t until 2006 when I purchased my Nikon D200 that digital began to rock ‘n’ roll.

When the Fujifilm X100 came out in 2010,  I was, like many others, more than a little interested. Here was a camera that was breaking the mould and offering up a gorgeous looking, retro style compact with an APS-C DSLR sized sensor giving equally gorgeous image quality and ground-breaking features such as the hybrid OVF/EVF. It was a camera that took you back to basics with a fixed 24mm lens. Light and unobtrusive it was a walkaround street photographer’s dream come true. Was it too good to be true? Well… sort of, because along with the good came the bad. Slow AF, an almost unusable manual mode, a buggy less than user friendly menu system and a few other quirks meant that the quick-fire performance needed for street photography, for example, just wasn’t there. Well documented issues such as the “sticky aperture blades” that filled discussion forums didn’t help either so the purchase of said camera was put on permanent hold. I was to wait until the release of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 before acquiring my next camera which, in itself, was pretty revolutionary but that’s a different story.

Fuji did address many of the issues related to the X100 with subsequent firmware updates but, by then, other cameras were appearing onto the retro scene and it took a quiet backseat albeit with a firm following and fanbase.

Enter the X100S. Fuji listened to the people with a little more than firmware updates and introduced a “fixed” X100 and then some.  I got excited again and almost pressed the “Buy Now” button last week but didn’t. However, when visiting a friend in Newcastle at the weekend I wandered into a camera shop and there it was sitting very prettily in a glass case. I couldn’t help myself. Terminal GAS set in immediately and I walked out of that shop with my very own X100S.

Fujifilm X100s

S is for “Sorted!”

 

Now, I’m no Steve Huff, Zack Arias or DPReview, all of whom have done far more detailed and knowledgeable reviews on this camera already (along with others) so it’s not going to be my bag to spend a lot of time on this review when you can read theirs (if you’ve not already done so). I’ll include the links to their excellent reviews at the bottom of this post. The objective here and in any “review” that I currently do will be to offer up my personal perspective and thoughts, end of.

So. Why did I buy it? There’s no doubting it’s a camera for a niche market and at £1000 not cheap. I have an Olympus OM-D E-M5 which is a terrific camera and isn’t any larger with the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 lens attached. It has the wonderful tiltable touch screen that offers a high degree of street stealth, superb image stabilisation and lightning fast AF. Why couldn’t I have just been happy with that for gawd’s sake? Well, in an attempt to reconcile with the bank manager in me, there’s something inherently pleasurable about a camera that looks and feels like the ones that fascinated you as a kid with its manual dials and classic black and silver skin. I remember my Zenit E and Canon AE-1 with great affection.  I have longed for the day when Nikon decide to bring out a digital version of their S3 rangefinder (mint condition examples of these are going for the same price as an X100S). Equally appealing is having the option to just pick up a camera that doesn’t burden your mind with lens choices or physical well-being with weight or size and yet gives you superb DSLR comparable image quality. Yes, it’s not that difficult to adjust the aperture, shutter speed or exposure compensation on my Olympus or Nikon but it just seems so much easier to do with an aperture ring and dedicated dials. On one of my first exploratory outings with the camera, I found myself constantly playing around with these settings on almost every shot – something I rarely do on the other cameras. The Optical / Electronic Viewfinder has to be the best in the business. Bright and clear giving you all the info you need or want. Quite simply, this feature is a deal breaker for me. I don’t care what anyone says, an LCD screen just doesn’t cut the mustard at times when you’re a serious photographer. I almost invariably want to put my eye to a viewfinder when taking shots and it will only be under certain circumstances I’ll want to use the LCD screen.

Apart from the looks, the other factor that initially appealed to me about the X100 was the image quality. Steve Huff did some “real world” tests with the X100 and comparison cameras, one of which was a Nikon D7000 and I distinctly remember that I preferred the look of the X100 images even though I’d got a D7000 at the time. The X100s has a different sensor to the X100 – it’s the same one as in the X-Pro 1. I learned this AFTER I’d bought the camera and my initial reaction was one of concern. Would the image quality have the same “pop”? Being honest, my first OOC jpeg shots on standard settings weren’t too inspiring. The images looked a little too clinical and “digital” for my liking and I was getting a weird “smearing effect” not on foliage that some were reporting but on skies but after reading a few other reviews, it became obvious you have to play with the camera settings to achieve the look you prefer. There’s also more than enough discussion going on about excessive Noise Reduction so, Fujifilm, keep up the good work listening to your customers and get a firmware update released that reduces the NR… please!

A clear target market for the X100 was the street photographer but with the slow AF and useless MF it missed the bullseye quite significantly. It’s better now, of course, with the firmware updates but not as good as the X100s with much improved AF and a manual focusing system that includes focus peaking. I went for a walk around my local town equipped with my new toy and you can see the results in the slideshow below.

What about the competition? Are there any cameras currently on the market that do a better job of it than the X100S? Well, I’ve already mentioned my OM-D and, for my money, that’s got to be one of the closest competitors. I will be carrying out a comparison over the next few weeks of these two. The full-frame Sony RX1 springs to mind but this is twice the price and doesn’t have an OVF/EVF (unless you pay for the outrageously priced option). The Leica X1 for a little more money gives you the prestige badge but half the features and performance.

To be honest, it’s difficult to see this camera being a part of my working setup. I think the OM-D provides better features for that and as a backup to my Nikon D800. No, this is a personal walkaround camera, a camera to enjoy the look and feel of and one that brings back fond memories of my early days with 35mm film, it’s not a tradesman’s tool. It has character and it frees the mind of optional choices to concentrate on creativity. It also delivers results that are intensely satisfying once you work on the settings. It’s still not perfect but it’s certainly a camera that you’ll bond with and reach for over others on that casual day out.

Best features of the X100s

  • Gorgeous retro looks and design takes you back to your childhood.
  • “Back to basics” single fixed 23mm lens.
  • Immediate adjustment of Shutter Speed, Aperture and Exposure Compensation via external dials makes for a camera you really want to play with.
  • Superb hybrid OVF/EVF. Got to be one of the best in the business.
  • Light, small and unobtrusive with a totally silent mode now combined with good AF performance makes it an ideal candidate for the “King Of Street”.

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Reviews of the X100s from;

Steve Huff, Zack AriasDavid Hobby, Kevin Mullins, DPReview

There’s a good comparison between the X100 and X100s here at “The Visual Experience”

Here’s my sample gallery:

Winner of the “Four Corners” Travel Photography Competition – Landscape Section

LW-AF_102a

Great News! One of my submissions has won a Travel Photography competition hosted by Emily Luxton’s Travel Blog at http://emilyluxton.co.uk and in cooperation with Zinio publishing. There were four categories; Cities, People, Landscape and “Sense Of Place”. My winning photo in the Landscape category was of the sheer cliff wall of Auyan Tepui in Venezuela as I was flying past in a light aircraft.

Apart from entering a few DPReview challenges, one of which was a runner up, this is my first “proper” participation in a competition and, naturally, I’m quite thrilled at the result. I’ve won a subscription to National Geographic Traveller magazine.

See the article announcing the result here – http://emilyluxton.co.uk/2013/08/01/four-corners-winners-landscape/