Saturday, December 29, 2012

High ISO Noise - Olympus E-PM2 Vs Canon EOS 650D

I couldn't resist buying the new Olympus E-PM2 on eBay when I saw the price it was listed at.  I love my E-PM1, but its high ISO performance above 800 ISO is not great.  From various test reports I've read, the E-PM2 is the ideal travel compact camera for me.  It has the same sensor as the OM-D E-M5, so in theory it should have the same image quality and high ISO performance.

After shooting with it for over a week, I can easily say it is a great little camera.  I will now mainly use the E-PM1 for doing time lapse photography and video work.  The E-PM1 is still a great camera, but the E-PM2 is just much better for image quality.  I wanted to know if the noise performance is as good as my Canon EOS 650D.  I set up a simple test in my bed room with a calendar and a suite with fine pattern.  In my experience, noise and morie pattern are worse on men's suites when shot in dark rooms.

Here is the 100% view of the test image.  The bed room was very dark and only lit with one bedside lamp to the left.  Both cameras were mounted on a tripod.  They both had custom white balance set and focused using live view.  Finally, the shutter had a 2s time delay to avoid camera shake.  The lens on the E-PM2 was the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 at F4.  On the Canon, the lens used was the 17-40mm F4 L USM at F5.6.

100% view of test image
The resulting images were processed Olympus Viewer 2 for the E-PM2 and Canon DPP for the 650D.  I then took 100% crops of the calendar and the suite of the images from 800 ISO to 6400 ISO.  Before showing you the test results, I want to say Olympus E-PM2 images were a lot sharper (before applying noise reduction), especially the fine pattern of the suite.  There was far more details from the E-PM2 images.
I had to apply more chroma noise reduction in Canon DPP to get rid of the really bad chroma noise from the 650D images.  However, I did noticed there was a small colour shift from 3200 ISO with the images of E-PM2.  This was very noticeable on the suite.  Click on each image for a larger view.

800 ISO E-PM1 on the left EOS 650D on the right

1600 ISO E-PM1 on the left EOS 650D on the right

3200 ISO E-PM1 on the left EOS 650D on the right

6400 ISO E-PM1 on the left EOS 650D on the right

I am very impressed with the images from the E-PM2 and how well the fine pattern on the suite is preserved at 3200 ISO.  Even at 800 ISO, the fine details on the 650D is already worse than the E-PM2.

After seeing the results, all I can say is Canon is well behind in the sensor development when compared to Olympus (I've heard it is using a Sony sensor).  It will be interesting to see what Canon will release next year.  They really do need a 650D replacement soon with a new sensor, or they will be left behind.

How ever, it does not mean the Canon 650D is a bad camera, it is just not as good as the E-PM2 for image quality.  I still prefer to use the Canon 650D for a lot of work due to handling and the lenses I've for it.  It means I no longer have to compromise image quality when I am traveling light with the E-PM2.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Yongnou YN565EX

Recently I traded in my Canon 550D for the Canon 650D for the built in wireless control.  When I tried out the wireless flash control with my Canon 430EX and Canon 550EX flash guns and I was very impressed.  I love to be able to use ETTL flash and full manual control wirelessly.  After that I wanted a third flash gun with wireless flash control, but do want to pay the high cost of a Canon EX flash gun.  I’ve seen a few reports of an ETTL compatible flash gun from Younnuo called YN565EX.   It is the same physical size and power of the Canon 580EX but similar control interface of the Canon 430EX.  It cannot act as a wireless commander and cannot do high speed flash sync.  After some investigation on various online forums, I decided to order one.

Delivery was quick from an eBay seller.  Inside the package there is the flash gun, a Chinese/English instruction, a pouch and plastic stand for mounting on a tripod.  All I can say is it works perfectly.  I tested it mounted on the camera and off camera as a wireless slave, both in ETTL and manual modes.  When I checked the power, it has a full stop more power than my Canon 550EX flash gun.  I am very happy with this purchase and can’t wait to test it on a photo shoot coming up.

I was able to use the flash on a shoot a few days after receiving it.  The occasion was the celebration of a 50th wedding anniversary family gathering.  It was held at the Ritz Hotel in London.  I was given 30 minutes in an area of the hotel to photography the family.  With the time constrain, I decided against using my Strobeam DL4 and shot wireless TTL using my Canon 650D  as the commander.  As well as the YN565EX, I had a Canon 550EX also in slave mode.  Both flashes were mounted in an umbrella bracket with shoot through umbrellas.  It all went to plan and the results were very good.  Shooting wireless TTL enabled me to work a lot faster.  Overall I am very happy with the results.  Here are a photo from this shoot.

Update 24th April 2013: Recently I had the chance to test my YN-565EX with a Phottix Odin wireless trigger system and can confirm they are not compatible with each other.  When mounted on the receiver, the zoom can be controlled and when the test button is pressed, the flash does fire.  How ever, the flash does not fire, in both ETTL or manual mode, when the shutter button was pressed.  That was a disappointment as I was hoping they will work together as I would like to purchase a set of Odin soon.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Party Images With E-PM1 & Panasonic 20mm F1.7

Just had a Christmas night out with my work mates.  It was at The Roadhouse in Convent Garden in London.  The venue is a bar/night club where we had a meal, some dancing and live band.  The place was very dark.  The camera auto white balance normally work very well, but on this occasion, it just did not work well.  I had to set up a custom white balance and set the ISO to 2000 and lens wide open at F1.7.  I decided not to use flash as it would be difficult to balance the flash with ambient lighting.  The Panasonic 20mm F1.7 lens did struggle to focus sometimes in the dark condition.

Here are some of the shots.  There is noise, but it did remarkably well and  I am very happy.  All images were shot on RAW and converted using Olympus Viewer 2 and then down sized for web.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Olympus FL-50R Vs Metz 44 AF-1

I had the chance to borrow an Olympus FL-50R flash gun so I can compare it against my Metz 44 AF-1.   The comparison is not a fair one as they belong to different segments.  The FL-50R is five times the cost of the Metz 44.  The last time I checked, the FL-50R is £499 at WEX Photographic and I got the 44 AF-1 for £99 from Amazon.  If you've not done so, please read my Metz 44 AF-1 review first.

FL-50R with its' pouch and stofen diffuser

The FL-50R comes with a pouch, a stand and a stofen diffuser.  The FL-50R can be operated in manual, auto, RC and RC manual modes.  It is a substantial unit operated by four AA batteries and is much heavier the the Metz 44.  With twin dials at the back, it is very easy to use.  I was disappointed to find the FL-50R does not have a built in white card reflector.  It is a useful feature found on the Metz 44 and are common place with high end Canon and Nikon flash guns.

The FL-50R compared to the Metz 44 AF-1

The first thing I did was to compare the power of the flash guns.  Just for information, I also compared the power of my Canon 540EZ as it is a flash I use for off camera work a lot.  Since I can not zoom the head of the Metz, I mounted it on my E-PM1 with the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 lens and removed it so I can be sure the zoom position and set the others the same way.  I set them all at full power and zoomed the head as close to 40mm as possible.  Then I fired them off manually and used my Sekonic L-308B flash meter at 1m away to measure the F-Stop to give the correct exposure.  Here are the results:

Olympus FL-50R  - F32.8
Canon 540EZ       - F22.8
Metz 44 AF-1       - F16.7

As you can see, the FL-50R has two stops more power than the Metz.  Interestingly it has a full stop more power than my Canon 540EZ.  I was expecting them to be very similar.

FL-50R on the left, Metz 44 AF-1 on the right

How does it compare to the Metz?  In term of control, there is no comparison, the FL-50R can be set up as you want it.  You can zoom the head manually, which is what I miss the most on the Metz.  In manual mode, the power can be set over a wide range, rather than four power settings.  Most importantly, having two stops more power than the Metz is invaluable when using it for off camera flash work, especially when mounted in a light modifier.  When mounted on a small camera like the E-PM1, it does feel unbalanced.

How does it perform in RC mode?  I found the FL-50R to work well indoor without any problem, same as the Metz.  However, when I was shooting outdoor on a cloudy day, the Metz 44 AF-1 did not consistently picked up the flash signal from the pop up flash of the E-PM1.  I found the FL-50R to have the same problem outdoor.  This is a common problem found with optical triggering systems.

At an event hosted by Olympus UK recently, I was able to try out a few cameras and lenses at a studio with models.  I took the FL-50R along and shot a number of images in RC mode.  I did not have any light modifiers with me at the time, so the lighting was quite hard.  A shoot through umbrella would have made the light a lot softer.  Here are a few examples, all images were shot using an OMD E-5 with Panasonic 20mm F1.7 lens, processed and converted using Olympus Viewer 2.

I really like the FL-50R, except the cost.  It is a power house and will come in very useful in bright condition.    For me, it would be hard to justify the cost.  For off camera location work, I have a Strobeam DL4 portable light which I use in manual mode, it has much higher output then the FL-50R.  Of course the FL-50R is much smaller and portable, but I would consider the Metz 58 AF-2, at half the cost, before the FL-50R.  If you want to stay with Olympus and can justify the cost, then this is a wonderful flash gun for Olympus MFT users, especially if you shoot with flash off camera.  For Panasonic users, it make less sense as they can not make us of the RC flash mode.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Portfolio Shoot with Jono Edmeades

This shoot came about because of a cancellation, but I had enough notice to place a casting call on Model Mayhem.  One of the models that relied was Jono.  I was intrigued, because he already has a good portfolio on his profile and he is on the book of Storm Models, an international model agency.  We arranged to shoot in the streets of City of London.

He wanted images that are different to stuff he has which are editorial and fashion.  I originally wanted to shoot some simple portraits, but Jono is looking for some images that are different for his model book.  We found the back of a bar with empty beer kegs and though that would make some interesting backdrop.

Once we started shooting, I noticed he needed little direction from me and was able to create a lot of poses with little input from me.  He uses his initiative and move that so he can create different looks.  Some models I've worked with before can be very stiff and need a lot of help from the photographer.  Jono is the opposite and suggest a lot of ideas.  He also has good understanding of photography from our conversation during the shoot and asked quite a few questions.  Models I've worked with before do not ask any questions about the equipment and light set up.

After shooting behind the bar, we went to park location near by and shot a few more photos.  The location is very different and we shot some very different images.  We were looking for some images with emotion, in keeping with autumn with the ground covered with yellow leaves.

I was very happy with the photos from this shoot.  It was great to work with an experience model like Jono and I hope these images are useful to him.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Olympus Hands On Event at Murder Mile Studio

I had a fun afternoon trying out a few cameras and lenses at an event held at Murder Mile Studio hosted by Olympus UK.  The cameras there were the OMD E-5 and E-PL5.  I was hoping the E-PM2 would be there as it is the most likely MFT camera I would buy next.  The lenses available were the new 17mm F1.8, 75mm F1.8 and 45mm F1.8.  I wanted to see how good the OMD and E-PL5 were.  They use the same sensor, so the photo quality should be the same.  Olympus also had two models there so we didn't have to photograph each other.  In the end I was happy to us my Panasonic 20mm F1.7 with the OMD and E-PL5 because I was more interested in the cameras.  I already have the 45mm F1.8, but it is too long for the size of the studio.  The 75mm F1.8 would also be difficult to use, but I did try it briefly.

I also had a Olympus FL-50R with me and I used the RC mode to shoot the models when I am not trying out high ISO performance.  It worked flawlessly in the studio and I was very happy with how it performed.

I want to see what the high ISO performance of the cameras were like.  My personal E-PM1 is good up to 800 ISO, but once above that, it started to fall apart and 1600 ISO is the highest I would normally shoot at. Here are a few photos taken at the event.  All photos taken with Panasonic 20mm F1.8, RAW files converted with Olympus Viewer 2 to jpeg and down sized for web use.

OMD @ ISO 200 lit with bare Olympus FL-50R

OMD @ ISO 3200 ambient lighting

My impression of the camera are very good.  I am very impressed with the general quality and high ISO performance.  I would happy to use them right up to 1600 ISO.  Above that, the quality starts to drop off a little.  3200 ISO is very usable, providing the subject if not in shadow, just not for large prints.  I think I will wait and get the little E-PM2 as it is smaller and would be my choice in future.  I feel the flip out screen of of the E-PL5 is not as well implemented as I would have liked and I would prefer a slightly smaller body.

E-PL5 @ ISO 1600 ambient lighting

OMD @ ISO 200 lit with bare Olympus FL-50R

OMD @ ISO 320 lit with continuous light in front and behind model

I would like to mention the Olympus Viewer 2 software used for converting the ORF files from these cameras.  It is very slow and clunky and does not compare well with Canon DPP I've used.  If only it is better, it would make a wonderful package.  Also, when using OV2, when I turn off noise filter, there is still a small amount of noise reduction applied.  When I use Capture One to convert some of the files, noise is much more evident than using OV2.

Finally, I am very grateful for Olympus to hold this event and would like to thank them and the models (Cassie & Sam) for letting me try out the camera and lenses.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Andy and Monica Wedding with Olympus E-PM1

I was invited to my nephew’s wedding a couple of weeks ago.  The wedding was a low key affair at The City of Westminster Registry Office in London.  I went along with my Olympus E-PM1 fitted with Panasonic 20mm F1.7 lens and my Metz 44 AF-1 flash.  There was no official photographer and I was not asked to photograph the event, but I didn’t want the wedding photos to be taken by the other guests using their camera phones L.

I volunteered to take some photos and the Andy and Monica were happy for me to do so.  Since the wedding was a family affair, I will not show any photos other than the ones with the happy couple.  I had a homemade reflector fitted to my Metz 44 at all times bouncing light off the white ceiling.  The ambient light level of the room was reasonable but I still had to use ISO 1000 to get acceptable shutter speed.

The registry office is in a wonderful old building and I was able to get the couple to pose for me in the corridor and stairs of this building and used the Metz off the camera using RC mode.  Again using only the 20mm lens I was able to control the flash power on the camera.  A great function of Olympus cameras.

What can I say about the E-PM1, 20mm F1.7 and Metz 44 combination?  It worked out quite well and the results are quite good.  Where the E-PM1 does not do well is the noise level in the shadow areas at high ISO.  It is a good camera, but it does lag behind APS-C sensors in this respect.  It would not be my camera of choice to cover a wedding.  What it does really well is the auto white balance.  It is amazing and gets it right most of the time and is much better than any Canon DSLR I’ve used.  I am looking forward to the Olympus E-PM2.  With the sensor from the OM-D, it will make a great compact travel camera.

The Panasonic 20mm F1.7 is a great low light lens.  At F1.7 and ISO 1000, I can shoot hand held photos with available light, even at night.  It has to get very dark for me to resort to using a flash.  There are just a couple of problems with this lens:  First is the distortion, especially if you are close to the subject.  Second problem is purple fringing at high contrast areas.  I am told Panasonic cameras will correct these automatically, but since I do not have a Panasonic camera, I can’t comment.  However, if you shoot RAW and use Olympus Viewer 2 to edit the photos, these are also corrected automatically.  I was shooting RAW on this occasion and used OV2 to convert the files.  I found OV2 can convert the photos making them look just like images I saw on the rear LCD of the camera.  The only downside of this process is you need to use OV2!  Talk about clunky software, it is just so slow and user unfriendly.  It is just about bearable to use for small batch but I will be sticking with Capture One for now.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Liverpool City Visit with Olympus E-PM1

I spent the last couple of days in Liverpool and I had my Olympus E-PM1 with me for this trip.  During this trip I managed to visit Tatton Park in Cheshire, Museum of Liverpool and Walker Art Gallery.

It was unfortunate the mansion house at Tatton Park was closed during the low season and I was only able to see the grounds and gardens.  The Gardens are not at its best in November.  If I was to return, I would want to make sure it is in the summer.

Olympus E-PM1 with 40-150mm IIR

Olympus E-PM1 with 45mm F1.8

Museum of Liverpool is a new museum that opened in 2011.  The last time I was in Liverpool was two years ago and the museum was under construction.  Although the museum is open to the public, the outside is still being finished.  It has interesting architecture full of sharp corners.  The company responsible for it is a Danish Company called 3XN.  Sitting on the Liverpool water front next to Albert Dock, if they wanted an eye catching building, they have certainly succeed.

Olympus E-PM1 with Panasonic 20mm F1.7

Olympus E-PM1 with Panasonic 20mm F1.7

The interior of the museum is equally interesting with a large central spiral stairs going up to 2nd and 3rd floors.  The museum contain a lot of history of Liverpool with it people and shipping background.

Olympus E-PM1 with Panasonic 20mm F1.7

Olympus E-PM1 with Panasonic 20mm F1.7

I found the museum very interesting and has a lot of opportunities for photographers to take some interesting photos.  The photos you see here are my first take of this place.  If I had a wide angle or fish eye lens, I am sure I could find more interesting view points.

Olympus E-PM1 with Panasonic 20mm F1.7

Olympus E-PM1 with Panasonic 20mm F1.7
Olympus E-PM1 with Panasonic 20mm F1.7

Walker Art Gallery is an art museum right in the centre of Liverpool near Liverpool Lime Station.  I houses a large collection of traditional art that is very different to Tate Liverpool.  It is definitely worth a visit if you are in Liverpool.

Olympus E-PM1 with Panasonic 20mm F1.7

Olympus E-PM1 with Panasonic 20mm F1.7

I mainly used my Panasonic 20mm F1.7 lens during this trip.  The only time I used other lenses was when I was at Tatton Park and want some shallow DOF images.  Through out the time I was in Liverpool, I used the Panasonic F1.7 lens.  It was refreshing not needing to use flash for the whole trip.  The combination of high ISO up to 1250 with F1.7 lens, I was able not to use flash at all.  The only problem I can see with this lens is the amount of distortion is large for a prime lens.

Olympus E-PM1 with Panasonic 20mm F1.7

Olympus E-PM1 with Panasonic 20mm F1.7