Tuesday, July 19, 2016

One year with the Nikon D7200

It's been one year since I bought the Nikon D7200 and Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8.  It has been a very rough journey learning to get the best of it, even though I've used a number of SLRs and dSLRs and other cameras over the last 40 years.

Back in 2004, I made the jump to a digital SLR, looking at Nikon, Canon, and Pentax ahead of buying an Olympus E-1.  I weighed a great many factors and chose an all-digital system without a legacy.  The images that came from it are still quite wonderful and the body worked nearly like an extension of my arms.  I've yet to find another camera body that feels so right.

By 2007, the Nikon D300 arrived and I was re-thinking a lot of things.  I was fairly invested at this point and declined to jump to Nikon.  When Olympus brought forth the E-3, I was unhappy that it was two years late and two years behind the rest of the market.  In late 2011, I bought the Olympus E-5.  By then, the D300 was older and the E-5 used my equipment quite well, with a fairly modern sensor.  Had there been a D400 at the time, I probably would have jumped ship.

Not quite four years later, I bought the D7200, still waiting on a true D300 replacement, with the well-regarded Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens.

I have struggled with the camera body and still struggle with it now.  The last Nikon I used to any larger extent was the F2 film body.  When I recently talked to a Nikon representative, he hinted at the inconsistent nature of the company's interface since they started with dSLRs.

The rear of the body is an ergonomic mess.  The left-side column of five buttons is difficult to use without looking carefully at the buttons.  The button at the bottom, a stylized "i" seems to be for information, but across the rear display is a button marked "info".  Is this confusing?

Sadly, the menus are even more confusing.  They're possibly as bad as the Olympus menus, but at least, Olympus has the interactive Super Control Panel.  Nikon gives me the Informational Panel that is not interactive.  Auto Focus was extremely interesting, due to its reliance on both menu selections and the AF controls to the bottom left of the lens mount.

Thankfully, major functions in the form of four buttons replaced the mode dial on the left shoulder: Quality, Metering, White Balance, and Mode.  The first three are better there than as some sub-functions on those 5 left-hand buttons on the rear of the body.  They can easily be found by position on the D500.

When I first gave up the mode dial with the E-5, I thought that it was the stupidest thing I'd ever seen.  The E-5 relies greatly on the top display, as do the D300 and D500.  Years later, the top display works just fine, thankfully.  Even the top display of the E-1 is still working well.

Well, in a twist, due to my heart defect, I've given away all of the Nikon-related equipment.  Someone else with only Nikon equipment will make the best of the D7200, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8, Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6, and Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8 lenses.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Panasonic GM5 is tiny but quite usable

I'm adapting to the Panasonic GM5 after years of using SLRs and dSLRs.  To say that it is small would be an understatement.  My first photo of the camera was in front of a $1 bill.  The GM5 was smaller.  It's smaller than a smartphone, as well.

25mm, GM5 with 42.5mm, 15mm, and 12-32mm
Smaller than a $1 bill

It seems impressive that internally, it is much the same as the Panasonic GX7.  The big compromise is that the mechanical shutter can't go faster than 1/500th of a second.  If there is any chance you would mistake this for a camera for sports, you'll notice the shutter speed limitations immediately.  For many people, this might not be a problem because the electronic shutter goes to 1/16000th of a second, jello effects included, as necessary.  Thinking back, my first SLR had a top shutter speed of 1/750th of a second when 1/1000th of a second was a premium shutter speed.

The other significant compromise is the battery capacity, at 680 mAh.  I'm not sure whether the GX8 battery is worse for the size or not.  The GH4 is the only micro Four-Thirds body that doesn't seem to have a lower than expected battery capacity, at 1860 mAh.  I joked when I bought the GM5 that I should buy another 14 batteries.  Pressing the DISP button enough times will shut off the rear display for normal use, and you can still press the Play button to display your photos and video.

GX8 isn't huge but the GM5 is tiny

GX8 behind the GM5

GH4 behind the GM5

Olympus E-5 behind the GM5

As you can see from these photos, it is tiny.  All of these camera bodies use the same size (13.0mm x 17.3mm) of sensor, although the dSLR contains the mirror box which makes everything much bigger.

Four-Thirds 35-100mm f/2.0 obscures the GM5
There is no grip on the front of the GM5--the textured surface may help a bit, as does the thumb hold at the rear, beneath the mode dial.

The optional grip on the GM1
I'm not quite sure about the use of the optional grip.  Currently at US$79.99, it isn't horribly expensive but it doesn't do much, providing more clearance for larger lenses so that the combination doesn't fall backward.  There is also a third party grip, made of aluminum, that looks very useful, but doesn't add any extra clearance below the body.

I was quick to order the strap you can see in my photos of the GM5.  US$37 + shipping seems a small price to pay for the security of photographic equipment.  I pay about the same for my phone cases, although I can feel safe dropping my phone.  Nauti Straps are made from cable used in the sailing industry, so they're quite strong.

I've also ordered two batteries and a small case, so that I can carry the miniature kit with me.  The Lowepro Urban Reporter 150 Messenger Bag for Micro-compact DSLR or CSC Cameras is currently US$29.99 at Adorama and seems appropriate for the GM5 and a few lenses and supplies.  Strangely, I've been using the lens bag for the 42.5mm f/1.7 to hold the GM5 + kit zoom lens, and it sits just above my GH4 in my big bag.

I'm still working on taking time to go out with the GM5 and a few lenses to get some photos.  At the moment, I either take everything with me or just the GM5 and one lens.




The 25mm f/1.7 isn't always resistant to flare.




Update 2016.08.10: Trying the GM5 in lower light but not complete darkness is frustrating.  Around sunset, it didn't want to lock focus as quickly as the GX8 or GH4.  Obviously, the small size doesn't allow as much processing power, but smart phones still do well.  The GM5 actually seemed better in the dark, but it might be that I had lower expectations at that time.

It is still a lot of fun.  I have a bag for the GM5 and easy pockets up top for the 15mm f/1.7, 25mm f/1.7, and 42.5mm f/1.7.  There is also room for the Olympus 8mm f/1.8 fisheye, extra cards, and the two extra batteries that are so necessary for a few hours of use.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

More Panasonic equipment--GM5 + 42.5mm f/1.7

The week just past, Mike's Camera had a tent sale at two locations in Northern California.  Sadly, they were rather painful locations for me.  I don't understand why the company avoids the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area.  There is a great deal of money there.

I went to a location between there and the state capital, at Pleasant Hill.  The store is similar in size to the store in Dublin I frequent but is more likely to have equipment, as is the store in the state capital.  Best Buy is ramping up their efforts to sell equipment and have some very useful areas in some stores.  If you were ever in a Circuit City, you know how they really liked to display all of the equipment well, rather than hide it.

Further, the tent sale actually had a tent, but ahead of that they had popcorn and friendly greeters, including someone from the store I visit.  She told me that the salesperson I know was there and pointed that way.

Is a sale better with pleasant feelings?  Do you feel more willing to spend money?

They had a lot of equipment, some of which was very inexpensive.  The Olympus E-M10 (not Mk II) was surprisingly inexpensive, not that I would want it since it is rather redundant.  The Panasonic GM5 was there, for US$399.99.  Compared to the original (still on the Panasonic web site) price, that was US$500.00 off.  I've been wanting the body for a while.  It's a great way to get photos indoors fairly easily without attracting much attention.  I have used my phone but the quality isn't acceptable as the light is insufficient.  Yes, the Four-Thirds sensor isn't huge but it is quite a bit larger than a sensor in a phone and it is larger than the 1 inch sensor of similar sized cameras.  I couldn't care less if there is a GM7 coming to replace it.

They had a lens that I wanted--the 42.5mm f/1.7 Power OIS--with an instant rebate of US$100, rather than the US$50 that Adorama was giving.  Photographing at skate parks, bad light is often an issue.  I prefer to use zoom lenses, but there are few lenses that could fit.  Even the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 doesn't work reliably for me for sports.  It's a very good lens, but it is part of the Art line, not the Sport line.

The lens seems quite good.  The thing that concerns me is that there are no switches for auto focus or the image stabilization.  Each body has an AF control but I've never seen a menu item for OIS.

AF is more than sufficient.  The filter size is smaller than the 25mm f/1.7 lens or the 15mm f/1.7, at 37mm instead of 46mm.  It is the same size as that of the 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens that comes with the GM5.  That is my first kit lens for micro Four-Thirds or Four-Thirds, unless you count the ZD 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5.

No, this isn't the 42.5mm f/1.7

GM5 + SHG ZD 35-100mm f/2.0


I've had a chance to use it a bit.  It's reasonable, especially for the size.

With the 42.5mm f/1.7, 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6, and 15mm f/1.7, it has been good.  I tried it briefly with the Four-Thirds ZD 35-100mm f/2.0, but didn't really give it the full treatment.  It was sufficient, but I wouldn't count on it with Four-Thirds lenses.  The balance between those lenses I have and the GM5 is quite far from good.  However, with the afore mentioned micro Four-Thirds lenses, it is definitely balanced.

GM1 with Four-Thirds Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4

GM1 with Panasonic/Leica 15mm f/1.7
When I first saw the GM1 size comparison, I called it micro micro Four-Thirds.  I've recently started calling a lot of the equipment pico Four-Thirds because it is so tiny as to require huge compromises to get the best image quality.  Forgive my attempt at arrogance, but it isn't for everyone.

25mm f/1.7, GM5 with 42.5mm f/1.7, 15mm f/1.7,  12-32mm

I still like a dSLR and I have three at the moment, plus the Panasonic GH4, GX8, and Olympus E-M1.  The latter feels too small, and the batteries of the last two are low on capacity.  Then again, the E-M1 is much bigger than the GM5.

Why would I buy the GM5?  For certain settings, not drawing attention is a good thing.  A camera that can provide very good image quality in a tiny package is useful.  It can be used for 1080p video clips that I can integrate with the GH4 and GX8 video clips.

Having the mode dial furthest right felt odd.  However, I'm beginning to understand the desire to attain balance through careful placement of controls.  The shutter release being further into the top deck means that my hand has to press against the side of the body more firmly.  Since Panasonic didn't have any legacy of film cameras, design is modern and functional without styling cues that can often cause unusual handling problems.

While the GX8 is fairly similar to the GH4, the GM5 is very different.  The controls are very small but I have been able to work them with fingers and thumbs.  A couple of the buttons are recessed but they work as you would expect.  Considering what I've seen from Sony and FujiFilm, I've been pleasantly surprised at how well Panasonic have made this body work.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Using the Olympus E-5 as an E-M1 substitute

I've been using Olympus equipment since 1990.  It always felt like the best combination of technologies came together.

I bought a couple of the early Olympus digital cameras and wasn't incredibly happy.  They worked but the time just wasn't right.  When I bought the E-1 in April 2004, nothing else felt right or seemed to produce the right photos, especially the Nikon and Canon alternatives in the price range.  I was annoyed about the 4:3 ratio that Olympus chose, but that mimicked 6x4.5 format cameras and I understood that.  It just didn't make sense to people using 3:2 ratio film.  Kodak may have been instrumental in pushing the shape, as they were in shaping Medium Format digital sensors.

I finally added the E-5 in 2011.  It wasn't the quantum leap forward I had hoped.  It seemed more like the Nikon D300 from 2007, instead of a body introduced in 2010.  It was better than the E-1 but not what I was hoping.  It worked better in so many ways but as I've already mentioned, it felt like a body from 2007.

Later, in 2012, I bought a Panasonic GH3 and 35-100mm f/2.8 lens.  It was somewhat better in lower light, with very good AF functionality down to EV -3 and later EV -4.  The ISO sensitivity seemed better but I suspect that the numbers weren't as accurate.

While waiting for the GH4 to replace it, I traded the GH3 for the E-M1.  I'd already used the E-M1 and it was better than okay, but didn't seem a replacement for the E-5, even though Olympus said that it was.

I've tried it with Four-Thirds lenses on occasion and stop fairly quickly.  It is more likely a easy way to re-use current components than to be a replacement for the E-5.  The size and the functionality is not oriented toward Four-Thirds equipment.  Having phase detect pixels was more a patch than a solution.

Yesterday, I wanted to photograph a graduation for a friend.  I brought the ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 which was my most-used lens.  I tried it with the E-M1 and this resulted in a lot of frustration.  It hunted and hunted and hunted.  I'd had more success with the E-M1 previously, and also with the GH4.  I retrieved my E-5 and it worked quite well.  So much for the E-M1's world's fastest AF--that doesn't apply to adapted lenses.  The E-5's predecessor was another with "world's fastest AF", but these things fade quickly, don't they?

75+ yards, not bad but dynamic range could be better

At the graduation, the E-5 was heavier but wonderful.  Sure, the older technology isn't quite as able to provide great photos I've been getting from newer sensors but getting the shot was important, especially from almost the other end of the football field, the 25 yard line.

I'm pleased to use the correct tool for the job.  Using equipment to advantage always helps.  It's just too bad we can't have a 16MP Sony sensor put into the E-5 to get the best of both worlds.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Nikon D7200 vs Panasonic GX8 vs Olympus E-M1 vs GH4

I consider the market for cameras between US$1000.00 and US$1999.99 to be the most active for active photographers.  Sure, there are people who take photos with equipment under US$1000.00 but many of them have one lens--the kit lens.  From my experience, they may take good photos but they don't really work their equipment.  I push my equipment past those limits, such as when I was out photographing in three hurricanes, or when I'm photographing at skate parks.

For many people US$1199.99 is a premium price point.  To me, it's roughly the minimum for a weather-sealed camera body.  True, you can get the Pentax K-50 still, and it is an excellent bargain at around US$400.  Even with the kit lens, it's a capable camera.  For me, the lenses I wanted weren't available for Pentax, and an adapter to use such lenses on micro Four-Thirds bodies wasn't all that capable.  I switched to the Nikon D7200, especially because it has two high ISO (51,200 and 102,400) sensitivities that work in a black & white mode.

Yes, my equipment must work in a variety of ways, especially when I'm photographing sports.

Since I bought my Olympus E-1 in 2004, I've had Four-Thirds equipment and now, those lenses can be used on my micro Four-Thirds bodies, the Olympus E-M1, Panasonic GH4, and now, Panasonic GX8.

That gives me four modern camera bodies:
  • Olympus E-M1
  • Panasonic GH4
  • Nikon D7200
  • Panasonic GX8

For reasons explained in the sections to follow, I rate them in the following order:

  1. Panasonic GH4
  2. Olympus E-M1
  3. Panasonic GX8
  4. Nikon D7200

Sure, you can get any of them to do general photography well, but when pushing the limits, this is how they work out for me:

Stills

For still photography, they're not as different as I had thought or had hoped.

By sheer physics and pixel density, the D7200 should be comfortably better with a larger sensor.  (I've been told for years that I couldn't work without a larger sensor.)  At this point, it isn't working out that way.  I suspect that Nikon needs to fix things with firmware.  e.g., photographing indoors at Woodward West (training camp and skate park), I found that the Panasonic GH4 was setting itself at ISO 200 and 400, while the D7200 was setting itself at ISO 14,400.  Image quality was degraded.  However, this is a very, very new body.  (Strangely, since using the Nikkor 10.5mm fisheye lens on the D7200, it seems to work better with all lenses.  Also, the firmware update didn't change much for me.  ISO 4000 is pretty much my usable limit in contrast to ISO 3200 for micro Four-Thirds with the GH4, E-M1, or GX8.)

In daylight, things are more equal.  The E-M1's face detection is amazing and for portrait work, I'm finding it and the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 amazing, even up against the D7200 and Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 combination.  (Yes, I know that the Sigma and in general, larger lenses have the possibility to be better, but it isn't always so in real life.  I could get better results with the Olympus ZD 14-35mm f/2.0 though.)  In Live View, I believe that the D7200 can use face detection but Live View degrades performance greatly, and since the optical viewfinder is useless in this mode, you sort of have to use the D7200 as a heavy compact camera.  I would suggest a monopod or tripod.  This is the case with almost all dSLRs (the Olympus E-330 is the exception) but never the case with mirror-less bodies since they're always using Live View.

The GH4 could be great but I have trouble with the auto focus and face detection being slow and/or inaccurate.  I occasionally find when photographing people participating in sports that the focus is a bit off.  The GH4, like the GH3, will focus on a wall or fence behind a person, even though only a single focus point is selected, and focus has been locked supposedly with single point focus mode.  With face detection, it tends to work better, if I have time to wait.  The E-M1's face detection is much faster than that of the GH4.  Face detection on the GH4 and GX8 default to splatter mode using all AF points, if it doesn't lock onto a face.

The GX8 has similar auto focus behavior, quite naturally, although it seems somewhat improved and bit quicker.  I haven't noticed any degradation with the increased pixel density, nor is it noticeably better in any way, compared to the GH4 or E-M1.  I'm sure that you can measure the differences in a laboratory, but I don't photograph in a laboratory.

For Auto Focus consistency:
  1. E-M1
  2. D7200
  3. GX8
  4. GH4
However, there is more to photographing sports for me, anyway.  The camera must be responsive, comfortable, and keep up with the action.

The D7200 is a huge improvement over the D7100 in terms of the image buffer depth.  At 6 frames per second, the D7200 does fairly well.  Unfortunately, it's not enough for skate park shooting.  Also, a lot depends on the lenses, more than on micro Four-Thirds bodies, it seems.  I've been reminded that big glass takes time, but I had no problem working with the slower Olympus E-5 and SHG lenses with 77mm filter size.

Keeping up is only slightly easier with the GX8 and its 8 frames per second.  It is more responsive than the GH4 in some ways but overall, it is not quite as able to do the job.

The E-M1 is extremely responsive, and seems to anticipate my needs.  Equally, the GH4 single AF is predictive and looking ahead before I half-press the shutter release.

For overall stills shooting:
  1. E-M1
  2. GH4
  3. GX8
  4. D7200

Street shooting

For casual photographers who want to go out and just photograph street scenes, the E-M1 and GX8 would be great.  The GX8 and Leica/Panasonic 15mm f/1.7 lens are great together.  The in-body image stabilization of the GX8 should make it somewhat more effective than most Panasonic bodies, although I haven't seen much evidence of it yet.  I have also used the 15mm f/1.7 lens on the E-M1 and find it to be very useful.  I'm sure there are people who would prefer the less expensive Olympus 17mm f/1.8 but I believe the 15mm's image quality is excellent and it works well when I'm shooting video.

I've heard a lot of people complain that an articulated rear display, such as what the GX8 and GH4 have, is not very useful, probably because it draws too much attention.  (I question what people are doing that they need to remain hidden.)  The sliding display of the E-M1 is preferred by these people, apparently.  This is where the GX8's tilting EVF shows its advantage.  It's so easy to use and you don't have to have you eye placed so close to actually use it.  I don't use it so much but it can be extremely useful in brightly-lit conditions where the articulated or a sliding display would be engulfed in sunlight.

Obviously, the D7200 is too big to be inconspicuous but also the GH4 even though it isn't terribly big.  People are calling the GX8 huge, so possibly the world is full of small, male hands.

  1. E-M1
  2. GX8
  3. GH4
  4. D7200

Video

When video comes into play, the Panasonic bodies overwhelm the others.

While the D7200 is better than the D7100 is, it's still not as good as the Panasonic GH3 for video, let alone the GH4 or GX8.  The lens mount may count for more than the sensor size here.  There are a lot of lenses for Nikon, even if it you have to choose very carefully.  The lack of an articulated rear display really hampers use of the D7200 but it has more options than the E-M1.  If you're trying to get product shots with the D7200 on a tripod, you're set.  I think you'd do better with the D5500, and save money to use toward a macro lens.  At skate parks on a handle, either Nikon body would do fine but the D5500 has an articulated rear display but is limited to 1/4000th of a second shutter speed.

The E-M1 has been sufficient to record video but is not very good, nor very versatile.  It might as well be a point-and-shoot camera for video, even though the quality is sufficient.  Firmware version 4.0 has added some options making it less unsuitable for video, including image stabilization help.  The sliding rear display is not particularly helpful for video.  It might as well be a fixed display.

Perhaps obviously, with 4K video, the GX8 and the GH4 are good at video.  Panasonic seems to have given the video capabilities more work than those for still photography.   I appreciate that I can use 1080p clips from both and they match very well.  I have yet to make real use of 4K video.  4K TVs have yet to make real use of 4K video--except for the demos they display in stores.  I've had my latest 1080p skate park video displayed on 4K TVs at an electronics store and it looked good.  Sony's upscaling worked the smoothest, over Samsung and LG.  When I've taken 4K video for testing, it tends to overwhelm the TV's processors.

The Panasonic video options are amazing, and cater to the video professional/film maker.  After months with the D7200, I have not even tried Live View mode, so I have not tried video.  It has some updates to help it do video better than the D7100 did.  Since I can't look through the viewfinder to see the video being recorded and I can't tilt the rear display, the D7200 is useless to me for video.  The D5500 would be more useful for video than the D7200, as the display is articulated.  However, these are typical problems with using dSLRs for video, instead of mirrorless models.

  1. GH4
  2. GX8
  3. E-M1
  4. D7200

Battery Life

I would hope that mirror-less models would have more battery capacity than dSLRs but that hasn't been the case for me.  The D7200 has a 1900 mAh battery and the GH4, a 1860 mAh battery.  The GX8 and E-M1 each have batteries around 1200 mAh.  Needless to say, I have 3 batteries each for the GX8 and E-M1, with 2 each for the D7200 and GH4.

For stills, I've shot several hours on the GH4 with one battery, but it doesn't last quite so long with video.  I'm sure that the D7200 should last the longest for stills.  Using the Olympus E-1 during wrestling tournaments, 4 1500 mAh batteries would handle a 14 hour day.  The E-5 uses similar batteries and I've never had a serious problem with battery life.

The E-M1 seems to want to turn on the rear display for almost anything, which is possibly the reason that the battery can be depleted so quickly.  The 5 axis image stabilization probably contributes quite a bit as well, as the loss in converting electrical energy to motion is higher than it should be.  The GX8 hasn't shown me that it is great on battery life, even though the rear display can be hidden.

  1. D7200
  2. GH4
  3. GX8
  4. E-M1

Viewfinder/Rear Display

I love an optical viewfinder.  I never thought I'd be able to use some electronic thingee instead.  When I got the Panasonic GH3, I didn't feel much different about EVFs.  The EVF in the GH3 isn't awful, but the EVF in concert with the eye cup didn't work well for me.  Then, I traded it for the E-M1.

The Olympus E-M1, FujiFilm X-T1, and Panasonic GH4 can all claim the greatest EVF title.  They're big, bright, and useful.  The X-T1's EVF rearranges the information in portrait mode, which could be helpful.  I like the X-T1 a lot, but it isn't right for me, shooting sports and all.  The GX8 has apparently been given the GH4 viewfinder, which is a big step up from the GX7 and the rainbow tearing effect.

For me, the E-M1, GH4, and GX8 have viewfinders that make daytime use great and nighttime use better than an optical viewfinder can provide.  It's also good to have a preview of the photo where you don't have to guess much as to the result.

Even when auto focus doesn't lock to a target, you can see fairly well.  Naturally, refresh time is degraded at night but it works well enough.  Version 4.0 of the E-M1 firmware has a simulated optical viewfinder mode.  I haven't really tested this new mode but I suspect it speeds up processing by not having to represent a realistic preview.

 I suppose being able to get the most out of an optical viewfinder is using your experience to extrapolate from what you see to the final photo.  Using the Olympus E-1 and E-5, I was able to get what I wanted from the photo with only an optical viewfinder.  The D7200's viewfinder is very good and if you really need more, you can switch to Live View using the fixed rear display.  However, you have to be patient with Live View.  Even with the E-5, patience was required and Olympus, along with Panasonic made Live View a big deal.  The E-330 worked better because it had two sensors to keep Live View quick.

As I've mentioned, the GX8 and GH4 have articulated displays, which are very useful in architectural shooting and even when you need to check the image when the camera is on the tripod, as the display can be folded out and completely reversed.  The E-M1's rear display slides down and slides up, making it possible to shoot from low angles or over crowds.

GX8
GH4
E-M1
D7200

Settings

Here is another point where the old ways don't really work.  For a few years, Olympus has been using an interactive settings display called Super Control Panel.  On the E-5 (from 2010), it was an easy way to switch ISO sensitivity, White Balance, Auto Focus, Burst Mode, even the card slot.

The D7200 has an informational display on the rear display.  You can see but you cannot touch--there is no interaction.  For someone unaccustomed to the menu system, forget about making quick adjustments without a well-traveled mentor at your side.

The Super Control Panel on the E-M1 is very useful.  The Quick Menu on the Panasonic bodies is useful but takes some acclimation with the up/down motion to select items to be changed.

I know that people complain about Olympus' (so many little gear selections!) menus, and they have become much more complex since the E-1 but every company seems to have complex and/or confusing menus.  I can say, as a new digital Nikon user, that I have been confused by the menus, even with help from searching the manual.  Had Nikon implemented an interactive settings display, it would have helped greatly to expedite changes.  Looking at the now available D500, things should be sped up by replacing the mode dial with ISO and other buttons, so you don't have to negotiate the multiple, near identical buttons to the left of the rear display.
  1. E-M1
  2. GH4
  3. GX8
  4. D7200

Ease of use

Having used Olympus products since the days of film, it's difficult to believe that I reach for a Panasonic product first.

In my opinion, the GH4 is a better successor to the Olympus E-5 than the E-M1 is.  The controls work the way I expect, for the most part from the start.  Of course, things were set with the GH3.  The GH4 makes a big difference by omitting a top panel display but having a mode dial, a drive dial, and various buttons for settings such as exposure compensation.  This is all rather convenient and works quickly in practice.  Something else that makes the GH4 (and GX8) quick are three physical spots on the command dial for custom settings and the C3 spot includes a total of three settings.  The only problem is that I forget about the drive dial to the left of the EVF.  If they had combined the mode and drive dials in a stack, it would have been useful.

The E-M1 has a mode dial but there are no positions for custom settings.  There are buttons for HDR, drive mode, auto focus, and exposure mode on the top plate.  There is also a button for the exposure curve and another for video recording.  Unfortunately, the E-M1 is never quite that intuitive.  The first time I tried one, I spent a lot of time trying to change exposure compensation back to zero.  The front dial is set to exposure compensation by default, which is totally different than the E-5--not a good thing to do with the replacement.

The GX8 seems sparse on the top panel.  It has a mode dial like that of the GH4 with an extra position for panoramic photos.  There is an extra dial below the command dial for exposure compensation, probably to appeal to FujiFilm users who find the X-T1 so interesting.  The lack of the GH4's rear wheel makes the replacement more point-and-shoot camera like that I would have expected.  The four buttons have separate functions, which is useful.

The D7200 has a mode dial to the left of the viewfinder, along with a drive dial below the command dial.  The command dial has two positions for custom settings.  Strangely, like the other three, there is a full automatic position on the command dial, along with Scene and Effects.  Do the users labeled Enthusiasts use these sorts of modes?  There are also buttons for exposure compensation, exposure mode, and video recording on the top panel, but they are out of the way of the top display.  The auto focus controls are at the bottom of the lens mount collar.

Thankfully, the custom settings positions on the command dial helps switch a lot of settings quickly.  While the E-M1 has no such positions on the command dial, they have a two way switch on the back that allows the buttons to take on different meanings.

While the E-M1 is easiest to make a lot of changes quickly through the Super Control Panel, if I want to change to manual focus with an Olympus lens, I reach for a physical switch that isn't there.  Someone will question this, as many Olympus lenses have the push-pull clutch AF/MF mechanism, but with the 8mm fisheye lens, there is no such physical switch.

The GH4 is the body closest to perfection.  It isn't horribly small and there are plenty of physical buttons and switches.  I get a lot done and it works well with longer lenses, even those not intended for the micro Four-Thirds system.  I've found that I can even work the video recording button while wearing gloves.

The GX8 isn't quite as intuitive, but it shares a lot of great traits with the GH4.  Unfortunately, the video recording button is tiny and difficult, even without gloves.  The most serious problem with using the GX8 is the location of the SD Card slot, next to the battery.  It isn't made for my fingers.  however, the GX8 can take a 128 GB card, rather than the 64 GB card that the GH4 can handle.

I like the D7200 a lot.  It's big enough to balance some very big lenses.  The top panel LCD makes checking settings very easy.  The dual SD Card slots mean that I can keep shooting, rather than scrambling for another card in my bag, although the larger files tend to balance that a bit.  I suspect if I was still photographing high school sports for 14 hours in a day, I would be pleased to use the D7200, especially since the battery has so much capacity.  The D7200 is a wonderful workhorse.  If you have everything set and don't need to make changes often, it is a desirable body.  It is not easy to change settings, but it is made for a lot of work when you're ready

GH4
E-M1
GX8
D7200

Conclusion

If these bodies didn't work for me, I wouldn't have any of them.  Switching between them during a shoot can be interesting.

The D7200 is a great tool for landscape work (compared to micro Four-Thirds) with 14-bit raw files for extra dynamic range and a larger sensor for wider work.  While the body is somewhat big and weather-sealed, the construction does not feel as strong as the others.  I've bought an Easy Cover silicone case to protect the body from bumps, since it doesn't seem as strong as the others.  The body doesn't seem to work as well as the others when there isn't much light.

The GX8 is a great second video body.  It is big enough to be comfortable but could use better battery capacity.  The promise of Dual Image Stabilization will eventually make it formidable.  Having 4K video puts it ahead of other bodies around its price.  Being able to easily mix video with video from the GH4 makes it extremely useful.  The lack of numbers on the function buttons makes setup interesting.

The E-M1 is a very good stills body.  Face detection makes it quick for portraits and sports.  The 5-axis image stabilization makes any lens better at twilight.  If Olympus implements Dual Image Stabilization, it will be even more powerful.  Battery life is a serious problem and the camera's grip isn't comfortable to me.  While it is a stop gap compromise to replace the E-5, to me, it's more compromise than replacement.  If you ignore its ability to work with Four-Thirds lenses, it becomes a much better solution, though I'm still not sure about micro Four-Thirds lenses.

The GH4 is slightly small compared to dSLRs, but still comfortable.  I almost don't have to think to use it.  It's rare that I have to stop to make changes.  I can switch between stills and video quickly, especially with 4K photo mode.  As with the GX8, the video versatility is a lesson to other brands.  Of course, the GH4 exceeds the GX8 by quite a bit in versatility, covering many bit rates.

Alternatives are available, such as the FujiFilm X-T1 and Pentax K-3 Mk II.  For me, the X-T1 is too slow to respond for skate park sports.  I considered the K-3 Mk II but while I had the K-50, I couldn't get the lenses I wanted.  Pentax is working on that.

Update 2016.07.21: I gave away the Nikon D7200 and associated equipment, including four lenses.  It was good equipment but it wasn't for me, even though I used to love using a dSLR.

Right now, if I wanted to replace it with a similar sensor, I'd order the FujiFilm X-T2 and a lens or two.  For the sake of reality, I didn't see enough difference from 24MP and APS-C to make me think that it would be necessary.  Where I limit my micro Four-Thirds photos to ISO 3200, I limited my D7200 photos to ISO 4000.  You might make it to ISO 6400 with the Nikon D500, but I would be skeptical.

The Pentax K-1 might be a useful alternative, but finding lenses that take advantage of the body at this moment is a difficult process.  The K-mount has been around since the late 1970s, when I was selling equipment, but the lenses didn't really distinguish themselves back then.  The standouts were Nikon and Olympus, at least, using 135 Format film.  FujiFilm, as Fujica, had a good showing with screw-mount lenses but switched to the K-mount with the AZ-1.

I'd still like to see a Panasonic body with Olympus' AF, including Face Detection.  I still find the GH4 to be an amazing camera body with so much value in a small package.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Tamron 18-200MM F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC for Nikon, with samples

I'm not one for superzoom lenses.  In fact, I wouldn't normally buy a lens with more than a 4x zoom range.  10x zooms tend to be mushy at both ends with some place decent in the middle of the range.

However, due to the nature of skate parks, I have had some thoughts about the Panasonic 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 Power OIS lens.  Rather than spend US$700 on this lens and be disappointed, I decided to buy a discounted (US$200) Tamron 18-200mm lens.  This Tamron lens just won the "Best Entry DSLR Lens" TIPA award.  (TIPA, like EISA seems to be a group that believes that everyone is a winner, although Tokina didn't win anything.)

Tamron's optical image stabilization has been quite good.  Considering the very small maximum aperture (f/3.5-6.3), it definitely needs OIS.  The Panasonic lens has their best OIS, which doesn't seem completely effective but might be similar, given the focal range.  Considering that the Tamron lens is made for a dSLR, it's surprising that it uses a 62mm filter size while the Panasonic lens uses a 58mm filter size.  That makes the Tamron lens quite compact.

18mm
200mm
VC/OIS seemed to work while I was walking 
Fairly sharp with unusual shapes

These seem very good examples of what the lens can do but these next images seem to show some of the less great attributes.





Purple fringing seems quite noticeable and there are multiple problems with these photos concerning eye-bending distortion.  They're not awful, especially when not viewed close up, but they can be irritating when thoroughly examined.  It is a lens for convenience.

I consider that this is typically a US$250 lens.  That isn't a lot, so no one should expect a lot.  Of course, if you were using a bridge camera, it might correct all of these little issues automagically and you'd never see any real problem.  Imagine a 60x zoom range.  That is difficult to believe with a bigger sensor.  The Sigma 50-500mm lens is the biggest 10x zoom lens I've seen and you don't really need a crew to handle it, but a tripod helps.

Considering that I have:

Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8
Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8 fisheye

this Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 seems an odd fit.  I bought the D7200 for wide angle purposes and it has done well for that, even though it isn't possibly as wide as a 135 Format/FX body would be.  It is sufficient.  The Tamron lens adds a bit of reach without much expense, so that I can use the D7200 on its own, to handle a variety of tasks.

If you're interested, What Digital Camera put together a review of the lens for Canon.  Nothing should surprise you.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8 fisheye lens versus Olympus 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens

I'm doing a quick entry here to start.  I just received a Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8 DX format lens.  It's a used lens that was originally owned by LensRentals.com and sold by their liquidation division.

Buying a Nikon D7200 was mostly an experiment in order to get wider angle landscape shots more easily.  I've done that with the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 and Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lenses.  These are not particularly responsive lenses and from the start, they've made the D7200 feel unresponsive, especially for someone who photographs sports 99% of the time.  As I've slowed down because of my heart defect, I've been able to do more creative shots.  Still, I pick up the Olympus E-M1 and 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens because of the difference in light gathering.

Oh, wait!  APS-C versus micro Four-Thirds can't even be close.  Well, I'm finding that real life is much different than examining a bunch of numbers and graphs.  People who don't shoot much have been telling me how much greater APS-C is.  The big difference I see between my GH4, GX8, E-M1 and the Nikon D7200 is that the Nikon body can record raw files with 14-bit depth rather than 12 bits.  Automagically, that increased the possibility of better dynamic range, color, and more.  Whether there is actually more is the real question.  I assume that there is.  Nikon has been good about wanting to deliver the best image quality.

In any case, I received the Nikkor lens about an hour ago and had lunch first, to give me some time to think.

To a certain extent, the difference in maximum aperture is offset by the higher ISO usability.  So far, I've found a maximum ISO sensitivity of ISO 4000 with the D7200 versus ISO 3200 for micro Four-Thirds.  Yes, you can go much higher and get something but for photographing sports, I have to be more careful.  Once it's fairly dark, neither is going to be okay without extra lighting.  However, auto focus on the D7200 goes down to EV -3 and the GH4 and GX8 goes down to EV -4.  I can't find a figure for the E-M1 but it has been decent in very low light, although it thinks a lot at that point.

Taking the Nikkor lens out of the box and wrapping, I was surprised how utterly small it is for a dSLR lens.  It's not much bigger than the Olympus micro Four-Thirds fisheye lens.  Yes, it's a DX format lens, so it can be smaller.  The best thing is that it can be used on the FX format camera bodies in DX mode.
Olympus 8mm f/1.8 versus Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8 DX

Olympus 8mm f/1.8 versus Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8 DX

As with all Nikkor lenses, I struggle to figure out which lenses are weather-sealed.  At full price of roughly US$775, I would expect that it would be.  That doesn't mean that it is, and from the description in the listing, I would say that it is not.  They mentioned some dust inside the lens--that did not affect image quality.  I've never had such a problem with my Olympus lenses, even though I'd used them out in hurricanes and in dusty conditions, severe circumstances.  Hopefully, the lens won't have a problem in bad weather.  I'm already hiding the lenses I have for the D7200 unless it is completely dry.
E-M1/Olympus 8mm f/1.8 versus D7200/10.5mm f/2.8

It looks a bit small on the D7200.  I suppose the small size was important to get it onto the D3300.

Hopefully, I'll be out shortly to actually shoot with it.

Nikkor 10.5mm on D7200
Olympus 8mm on E-M1
They both do very well.  I had to change the Nikon photo's white balance, probably because I'm still having new user problems.

Speed of operation is about as good as you can get on the D7200.  The E-M1 is just amazingly quick and much faster than the D7200.  It's not just 10 fps versus 6 fps burst mode but the fact that the E-M1 only has to deal with 16 MP, 12-bit files and the D7200 has 24MP, 14-bit files.  I thought that the Expeed 4 class processor would be much faster, though.

Update 2016.04.01: I'm pleased to say that the Nikkor fisheye lens seems to work quite well, even though it was sold as used.

I've found the problem with the white balance control, but geez, what a maze to find it!  Olympus' Super Control Panel is amazingly helpful.  Even Panasonic's Quick Menu is more effective than the D7200's informational panel.  Perhaps, the D500 without a mode dial would be more efficient without looking at the display, but the D7200 way is not working as well as I would like.

As far as I'm concerned, Nikon has technological advantages over Canon, but Nikon is behind everyone else for user interfaces for quick adjustments.  I've heard that Olympus' menus are the worst but my experience is that all brands have crap for menus.

Back to the fisheye lenses, I haven't done extensive testing yet, but it would be a good assumption that I can use the Olympus combination much longer into the dark and still get sharp photos.  I may test the Nikon combination tonight to see if it will actually focus down to EV -3 or thereabouts.   My previous experiences with the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 ended in failure.

Looking a bit closer, there is fringing.


Nikon
Olympus
The Olympus combination shows less fringing, but I wonder if there is software correction affecting the outcome, since micro Four-Thirds bodies fix things too often.  I suppose I'll try to put it in the GH4 or GX8 to see what happens.  I'm usually too busy shooting to test.