Monday, July 28, 2014

Midnight Portraits at ISO 25,600

Since I've been using Olympus digital equipment, I haven't been a fan of their auto focus or their low light capabilities.  The E-5 dSLR fixed some of that and the E-M1 mirror-less camera body fixed a lot more.

Last night, I was asked to a skate park around midnight.  It's not a good time for action shots no matter which camera you're using.  Please, don't blah blah blah Canon blah blah blah Nikon because I know that without lights, it's not going to work well.  Yes, there are a few models with increased sensitivity, but they're not perfect either and you'll still need lights to get great photos.

I got a few shots the way I used to do when I was using ASA 400/DIN 27 film.  I just don't care for most of what action shots I got.  Besides, at ISO 25,600, everything is better at 4x6 and not much bigger.  It reminded me of using ASA 1000 or 1600 film when ASA 400 was typically high.

I decided not to make any corrections to the shots because they often make the shots look fake.  Extreme conditions cause extreme problems.  It's the same with winter photography and snow.  I can make minor adjustments to improve the look but I generally leave them as is to enhance the feeling of cold.

Last night, I tried to use the E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8 lens.  I didn't think that it would work, so I also had my 14-35mm f/2.0 with me, and the Leica/Panasonic Four-Thirds mount 25mm f/1.4 lens is always in my bag on the adapter.  It's been very good, especially in these drought conditions to get near dark photos and in this case, it worked reasonably well to get photos at midnight.  I would consider the Voigtländer 17.5 f/0.95 lens but I really have to think about that at US$1199.99 for such a special purpose lens that isn't sharp until, say, f/1.4.  Having portable, battery-powered lighting would probably make more sense and allow me to work with video.  The Leica 15mm f/1.7 from Panasonic looks like a good idea.  I think they wasted too much making it too compact when it should have been greater for the US$599.99.  It's obvious that they took plenty of space for the focusing mechanism, as the 46mm filter size covers much more than the lens elements.

You can see the results below.  I was mostly pleased.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Is Yelp's new tactic to "close" non-advertisers?

I've moved to California, and I see a lot more, because Yelp's business information supplier covers many more businesses.  Yelp also seems to be more responsive to advertising in reviews and 5 star "reviews" written by the owners.

However, I noticed something about a week ago--a Closed business that was actually open.  Later in the week, I found another one.

I'm wondering if the businesses refused to advertise and were suddenly "Closed" by Yelp, rather than being deleted entirely.  I really don't believe the banner that "Yelpers report this location has closed" actually comes from people using Yelp.  It seems that it's coming from employees of Yelp.

I've done business with both of them and found them to be quite good.

Once again, I get that Yelp needs to make money to stay in business, and I fully support that.  Trying to make money from people barely surviving, and then, trying to hurt their business when they can't afford advertising is just cruel.

Besides, we'll end up with a bunch of vapid, trendy places serving lousy products for too much money.

Yelp, if you're reading this, find a better way.  If you drive businesses out of business, you should receive the same treatment.

Update 2014.10.13: I've seen both businesses "re-opened" and the phone number of one of them was changed to what I suggested.  It bothers me that I continue to hear reports of forcibly Closed businesses on Yelp that are open and functional.

It is their business, though, not mine.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Olympus E-M1 vs Panasonic GH3, part 2

Having used the GH3 extensively, and traded it recently while the trade-in value was still good, and now, having the E-M1, I've been making mental notes about things that work and don't work.

I'm warming up to the E-M1, having taken 2300+ shots on Saturday.  It is both a great and annoying camera body.

Auto Focus and Burst Mode

The auto focus is fast.  I have found in single auto focus mode that it can almost always keep up.  Of course, as the light is diminished, every auto focus system loses.  It has surpassed the AF of the GH3, although I have noticed a huge difference in burst mode and/or AF with the Panasonic 35-100mm lens.  It works significantly more slowly than the 12-40mm.

This lens is able to be focused very quickly on the GH3 and works at the full 6 fps in burst mode.  On the E-M1, something is not working correctly, as there is a noticeable difference in frame rate.  Perhaps, the lens is only able to work at 6 fps with OIS off?  I'll check again when I get my GH4.

However, it focuses very well with the Leica/Panasonic Four-Thirds 25mm f/1.4--the 62mm filter size lens, not the tiny micro Four-Thirds version.  I still have yet to use my other Four-Thirds lenses with it.  I should really see how the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 performs, as this is my go-to lens for outdoor sports.

Black out with sunglasses

My Oakley sunglasses and the EVF combine to give me black-out conditions in bright sunlight, as with the GH3.  I should try my free Jack in the Box sunglasses to see if those change the situation.  I've saved a number of photos by simply using muscle memory.  I've even got to the point where I don't have the camera to my face at times.

Battery life

The battery life is horrible.  Who thinks a small battery is a good idea with a powerful EVF, and with an uncovered rear display that wants to show you everything much of the time?  Of course, it's better if you don't use the rear display at all, and I've found ways to minimize my use of it but the EVF still drains the battery quickly, along with the 5-axis stabilization.  It's my mistake to think that the E-M1 will go as long as the GH3, but it seems to end just as the GH3 is warming up.


The grip is still uncomfortable.  The GH3 is probably the camera body with the most comfortable grip on the market right now, for me, anyway.  It's right up there with the Nikon D800 and the Olympus E-5.  I suspect that Olympus wanted to save money by using an existing battery, and designed the grip around it--to be too small.  I've heard from a number of people that it's just fine.  Maybe, they have fatter fingers than I have.  Someone suggested that I buy the battery grip, but it will be difficult to use its bigger grip in landscape orientation.

Accidental changes

Accidental control changes are too easy.  Coming from the E-1 and E-5, the front and rear dials change aperture and shutter speed, depending on the mode, of course.  The front dial of the E-M1 changes exposure compensation, by default.  Sure, it's a new user error, but considering that the E-M1 was meant to be the replacement for the E-5, they should have left the functionality as it was (with the E-1, E-3, and E-5), and allowed an optional change for those who wanted it.  It's also far too easy to switch the auto focus point.  Yes, I've been using a single point because I don't like the typical scatter pattern.  I will accidentally tap the OK button (enabling the Super Control Panel) and arrow keys when I'm not shooting, and then, I miss shots, and have to return to reset it, missing more shots.  If the rear display was on a fully-articulated panel that could be closed, this wouldn't happen.

Super Control Panel

The Super Control Panel really is a great way to display and change controls.  The Quick Menu from Panasonic really doesn't work well for me, and I spend more time trying to figure out how to get to what I want and to change it (not just view it and think that I've changed it)--than to actually change it and get back to shooting on an Olympus body.  Does the Olympus menu system suck?  YES.  Does the Panasonic menu system suck?  YES.  People claim that Nikon, Canon, Sony, etc. have a better system.  They don't.  They all suck.  It's the Super Control Panel/Quick Menu kind of interface that helps you get work done more quickly when the body lacks physical controls.

Rear Display

This bugs me the most.  Why didn't Olympus use a fully-articulated display, as with the E-5?  Having used the GH3 to get very low architectural photos with the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens, I can only guess in doing this with the E-M1.  The display doesn't flip out.  It goes up or down.  Having the panel out in the open all the time leads to all sorts of possible dangers.  It's also responsible for accidental control changes and reduced battery life.

Four-Thirds lenses

I have not used my Four-Thirds lenses extensively with the E-M1.  I have used the Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 lens--the one with the 62mm filter size with the E-M1.  As with the GH3, it focuses well.  From what I understand, it was meant to be compatible with Contrast Detect AF, as the Leica Digilux 3 was designed for Live View, as well as the typical dSLR optical viewfinder experience.  Thankfully, for this lens, we're in drought conditions.  I would hate to have a downpour and find that a US$1000+ lens is ruined by rain.  I have probably used it fewer than 10 times outdoors.

I'd really like to see if the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 works well with it, as I use it for cross country meets.  Olympus' micro Four-Thirds 40-150mm f/2.8 will become available later this year, but it doesn't reach nearly as far.  Sure, I can carry a load and run the course,, I only do that occasionally when I cannot see past the corn fields.

Olympus has done a good job creating a top end model for micro Four-Thirds.  It's not what I'd hoped that it could be, to replace my E-5.  Yes, the performance is good.  No, it's not quite right.  Panasonic thought more about what the photographer wanted and put that into the design of the GH3 and GH4.  In fact, the GH3 felt like the true successor to the E-5.  It's the kind of design where you don't have to think how to use it--you know how to use it.  On the other hand, the E-M1 is fiddly, unlike the E-5 or E-1.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Olympus E-M1 auto focus tracking for sports

I've been an Olympus equipment user since the 1990s.  I've gone through various bodies since my initial OM-1N.  When Olympus showed that they were ready for dSLRs, I bought an E-1, 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 and 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5--all weather-resistant equipment, which was good since I was in Florida where the hurricanes, daily summer rains, and the construction dust would damage most equipment easily.

I used the equipment out in three hurricanes and it's still functioning beautifully.

Since then, I bought an E-5 body.  The odd, less ergonomic design was bigger, more Nikon-like and made it easier to balance the 35-100mm and other SHG lenses.

I recently, and somewhat temporarily traded my Panasonic GH3 for an Olympus E-M1.  I'd been using the GH3 for indoor sports where flash was a serious problem and where lighting was as advanced as the 1950s.  It worked reasonably well.  The E-M1 is a bit more useful with the 5-axis image stabilization, but is uncomfortable in my hand.  They should have created a new, bigger battery and used it to create a bigger, better grip like that of the E-1, E-5, or GH3.

In any case, I've taken some good photos with it, but I had not put it to the test with sports.  Between moving cross country and schools being out, I didn't have much of a chance to photograph sports.

The other day, the Lathrop, California Generations Center had its grand opening celebration and I was able to photograph some skaters.  I think the E-M1 acquitted itself quite nicely, as you'll see.  I still can't wait for my Panasonic GH4 but I must.

Update 2014.07.05: I used the E-M1 with my Four-Thirds Leica 25mm f/1.4--the big, heavy one made for the Leica Digilux 3 body.  It worked pretty well with auto focus in low light.  Perfect it wasn't, but conditions were far from perfect.

Update 2014.07.25: I've noticed in the last few days that the E-M1 will suddenly not focus properly.  I assume that it's still busy writing to the card but that's not always the case.  Perhaps, it's cleaning up after itself.

Update 2014.10.29: The other day, I tried the full area (what I call splatter) auto focus pattern and got plenty of photos where nothing was in focus.  This seems as good as it was on the E-5, prior to switching to a single point for AF.

I'm planning to try the 5 area AF to see how it works, but I don't have much hope.

Update 2014.12.03: Geez, the 5 area AF made sure that I didn't get any in-focus photos.  Everything was crap.

About a week ago, I bought a Panasonic GH4.  I've been able to use it in varying conditions, and in darkness around sunset, it wasn't great, as expected.  However, indoors, photographing skaters on a half pipe, it was amazingly good, and more responsive than the E-M1 was.  I took many video clips, and they all looked surprisingly bright.

Update 2015.02.20: Any moment now, there should be a firmware update, version 3.0, that will increase the tracking speed frames per second rate from 6.5 to 9.0 fps.  They apparently came up with a better algorithm to use the 37 phase detect pixels.

Update 2015.03.13: I tried the C-AF + Tracking option and while it works, it seems to lag.  It could be the circumstances--artificially-lit skate park during the evening but I suspect it would still be laggy in good light, just better.

Regardless, I find the auto focus, especially with face detection, quite good and better than the GH4 for stills.  The GH4 auto focus is quite capable for video.  Panasonic really needs to update the firmware for a few small things.

Update 2015.12.19: I'm still amazed how good the single AF is, especially with face detection enabled.  I've got a lot of photos--so many that I had to have the shutter replaced.  The shutter is rated at 150,000 actuations.  At 10 frames per second, you can get there quickly.

I bought a Nikon D7200, mostly for wide angle shots.  I tried to use it at skate parks and it's adequate.  It's a good substitute for the Olympus E-5 that I was using for high school sports.  Just like the E-5, the continuous AF is great.  However, working at skate parks, nothing I have can beat 10 or 12 frames per second that the E-M1 and GH4 can do for capturing the whole sequence.  Sure, the Samsung NX1 could do it at 15 fps but who knows whether it's going to be available or not.

I also bought a Panasonic GX8 and the behavior of the AF is similar to the GH4.  Even with face detection enabled, it may detect a fence behind the person.  That all changes when it's recording video, as with the GH4.  I really appreciate having the GX8 and I've been using it since I sent the E-M1 for repair.