Olympus OM-D E-M1 Touch and Try Session, Kuala Lumpur (21 and 22 September 2013)
If you happen to be in Kuala Lumpur, you have a chance to touch and try the Olympus OM-D E-M1 in a coming event on 21st and 22nd September!! Three out of four sessions are now FULL. Hurry up and register now! I will be there, and hope to see some of you beautiful people there!
Registration here: http://home.olympusimage.com.my/eventlist.phpMore information on Micro Four Thirds system here: http://www.olympusimage.com.my/products/dslr/em1/
1) I am an employee of Olympus Malaysia. I am reviewing the Olympus OM-D E-M1 from a photography enthusaist’s point of view. I was given the liberty to perform the gear review as usual.
2) This is a user experience based review.
3) The insect macro images were shot in RAW and converted directly to JPEG Large Fine via Olympus Viewer 3 (provided by Olympus Malaysia). The Continuous AF test images were shot directly with JPEG Large Fine, and presented straight out of camera.
4) General camera settings, Noise Filter = OFF, Contrast/Saturation/sharpness = 0, White Balance = Auto (with an option maintain warm color = OFF), Gradation = Normal
5) No post-processing applied to the images. All images were as good as straight out of camera, with minimal cropping for better presentation.
This is Part 3 of my Olympus OM-D E-M1 review. If you have not done so, please go to Part 1 here (click) and Part 2 here (click)
When Olympus first stepped into the world of Digital SLR, Olympus designed a whole new set of digital lenses for their Four Thirds system, and have produced some of the most respectable lenses, most notably the bright zoom lenses. Olympus has a family of amazing Zuiko Digital lenses, all high performing with great optics. However, as Olympus moved into the Micro Four Thirds world, one major drawback was the inability to utilize the older Four Thirds lenses to their maximum potential, most notably with painfully slow autofocus. This has been a huge complain from many users, and many Four Thirds users have kept their beloved Zuiko Digital lenses, waiting patiently for the day to come that they can finally use them on newer, updated camera body from Olympus. I am one of the group, waiting all this while. And the wait is finally over!
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 has new on-chip Phase Detect AF system that enabled efficient focusing with older Four Thirds lenses. It does seem like Olympus has finally solved the problem and optimized the use with older Four Thirds lenses, consequently bridging the gap between the two family systems, Micro Four Thirds and Four Thirds system. Olympus has been rather smart with their lens roadmap planning and release. The Four Thirds lenses designed for earlier DSLR range cover most zoom needs, having professional lenses (High Grade and Super High Grade) such as bright zooms Zuiko Digital lenses 14-35mm F2 SWD, 35-100mm F2, 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 SWD and 90-250mm F2.8. Knowing this, and realizing the fact that sooner or later Olympus can successfully allow full use of these lenses on Micro Four Thirds system one day (without problems with focusing speed), they have not released bright zooms for their Micro Four Thirds line (until the recent M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO), and have specifically been producing bright prime lenses instead, such as M.Zuiko lenses 12mm F2, 45mm F1.8 and 75mm F1.8. The Micro Four Thirds newer lenses releases did not overlap the offerings from the older Four Thirds lens line, instead, they both complement each other very well. One lacked bright zoom, and the other lacked fast primes. It does not take a genius to discover what the E-M1 can do: bringing together the best of both worlds. Now Olympus has quite a large base of lenses to offer, and the original Four Thirds lenses (both High Grade and Super High Grade) were all rated professional lenses, and fully weather-sealed.
Me out shooting with friends, and showing off the E-M1.
Photo credit: Nick Wade
E-M1 surrounded by Zuiko Digital Four Thirds lenses. I am sure you know what lens is what lens.
We know Olympus has claimed the new technology of on-chip Phase Detect AF system built onto the image sensor, but how well does it perform? In this particular blog review of the E-M1, I will explore exactly just that: autofocus performance of Four Thirds lenses on E-M1. To do so, I shall carry out tests with the following lenses:
1) ZD 7-14mm F4
2) ZD 14-35mm F2 SWD
3) ZD 14-54mm F2.8-3.5 II
4) ZD 50mm F2 macro
5) ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 SWD
6) ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 (non-SWD)
I know it is extremely difficult to put down in words now to describe the autofocus performance of the lenses, especially different lens has different characteristics, and obviously would focus with different speed and efficiency. Some would hunt more than the other, and some are more silent (SWD lenses). To demonstrate the focusing speed of the selected tested lenses, I have recorded short video clips of each lenses while AF was in action. For zoom lenses, I recorded both at wide end and telephoto end to show the difference in speed at varying focal lengths. Do bear in mind the lighting condition in the room was not ideal, and can be considered dim.
View the following video to roughly gauge the performance of single-click Autofocus for the selected lenses.
FOUR THIRDS LENSES AF SPEED TESTS
EXPECTATIONS VS REALITY
When Olympus announced that E-M1 will enable faster focusing speed with older Four Thirds lenses, I am very sure many reacted with varying expectations. Everyone expected the focusing to be faster. The question is, how fast?
Those who have familiarized themselves with the superb AF speed (fastest in the world) of Micro Four Thirds system and may not have a history of using the Four Thirds DSLR system previously, may expect the new E-M1 to be able to bring the focusing speed with older Four Thirds DSLR system as close as possible to what they are currently experiencing with the Micro Four Thirds system. This is quite a fair expectation, but with one problem: the older Four Thirds DSLR lenses were running on a completely different system (Phase Detect AF), and even at their fastest and most efficient focusing, being mounted on the DSLR E-5 (which I am very familiar with), still falls behind the Micro Four Thirds' focusing speed. No Four Thirds lens previously had anything that can focus as fast as whatever the newer Micro Four Thirds lenses can do! I personally would love to have the older lenses miraculously perform as well as the Micro Four Thirds lenses in terms of AF speed, but let's face the reality: I have just established that it is not practical in any logical sense.
Now that we have established that the Four Thirds lenses, even at their most efficient state, will not outdo the faster, newer and more technologically advanced AF system in the Micro Four Thirds lenses, what should we really be expecting?
For me, I personally, desperately WANT the focusing speed of the Four Thirds lenses, especially my beloved ZD 50mm F2 macro lens to be just as fast as my DSLR E-5. I would not ask for more, because honestly, the focusing speed with the DSLR E-5 was very reliable, fast and accurate. I have little to complain about the focusing system and it has served me well for over three years now.
Looking at Olympus DSLR E-5, it has 11 point AF, and each point has TWIN CROSS sensor, meaning FOUR lines of phase detect sensor were installed in each point to maximize the focusing potential. Looking at the specifications of the new Phase Detect in E-M1, it was not the same, and rather completely different. It has 37 selectable points, which covered quite a large area of the frame. Now here is the main difference, the AF points are NOT Twin Cross, in fact, they were not Cross points at all. Again, knowing these facts, to expect the autofocusing performance to match DSLR E-5, was starting to look more and more difficult to happen. Like all of you, I still want to believe in the best.
You see, before I go on and report my findings on the focusing speed, it is extremely crucial for me to establish this set of understanding: set realistic expectations. Yes we want the fastest speed possible, and we already have amazing Micro Four Thirds lenses for that. The older Four Thirds lenses are here and Olympus has created a new autofocus system to make them work more efficiently.
Oh and a few people made some noise saying they do not see any low ISO shooting image samples in my blog reviews. I was only at my Part 2 of 5 in my past entry, I can only guess patience are rare these days. I had to TEST multiple lenses, with different shooting sessions, so this blog entry took a lot MORE effort and time than usual. You may find quite a number of low ISO images in this entry, and for full resolution, please go to the download section at the end of this blog entry.
OLYMPUS ZUIKO DIGITAL 50mm F2 MACRO
(my super FAVOURITE lens)
ZD 50mm F2 Macro, 1/1600sec, F2, ISO200
ZD 50mm F2 Macro, 1/100sec, F2, ISO200
ZD 50mm F2 Macro, 1/500sec, F2, ISO200
100% crop from previous image
ZD 50mm F2 Macro, 1/160sec, F2, ISO200
ZD 50mm F2 Macro, 1/250sec, F2.8, ISO200
ZD 50mm F2 Macro, 1/250sec, F2, ISO200
ACTUAL FOCUSING SPEED WITH FOUR THIRDS LENSES
I am not going to lie, and I will be honest here, the focusing speed of Four Thirds lenses on the E-M1 is NOT as fast as how they are on DSLR E-5, E-3 or E-30. It may not have fulfilled my expectations, but in all seriousness, the focusing speed was FAR from disappointing. In comparison to previous focusing on any micro Four Thirds camera, the focusing speed on E-M1 has increased by quite a far leap, and is now very fast and reliable. For some lenses, the focusing speed was very close to the DSLR E-5.
The fastest focusing lens out of the series tested was undoubtedly the ZD 14-35mm f2 SWD lens. At both 14mm wide and at 35mm end, shooting wide open at F2, the lens delivered fast focusing, almost instantaneously, responding well to the touch AF mechanism. Focusing was not only fast, but very accurate. In fact, the ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 SWD also focuses very fast, and noticeably faster than ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 non-SWD. For some reasons, I do believe the SWD silent wave drive motor worked more effectively with the new AF system. The non-SWD lenses, such as the ZD 14-54mm F2.8-3.5 and 50mm F2 lenses were still performing very well, but lacks the smooth, silent and quick focusing of the SWD lenses.
The in room test with controlled setup was one way to determine the performance of the lenses on E-M1, but real world testing on the field may be a completely different thing altogether. Controlled results may give us some comparison and indicative values to judge and make initial evaluations, but ultimately it was how well the lenses or cameras do in real life shooting circumstances that truly matter. Therefore, I have brought the Four Thirds lenses out for multiple shooting sessions to adequately test the AF speed under real shooting strains and tortures.
I started with my favourite ZD 50mm F2 macro lens. I brought this lens to my favourite street hunting ground in Pudu Wet Market. This favourite lens of mine did not disappoint, in fact it performed adequately fast shot after shot, and the accuracy was not an issue. You have no idea how happy I was being able to use the 50mm f2 macro lens on the E-M1, with such fast focusing speed, and making my usual images I always do with the lens, for the blog review here. There is just something different about the image rendering from this lens, the bokeh a bit more beautiful, and the micro contrast appearing more "real" and images just "popped". Now the E-M1 has breathed life to the lens, and the 50mm F2's unique characteristics can be brought into the the latest camera with upgraded imaging capabilities: results = AWESOMENESS!
OLYMPUS ZUIKO DIGITAL 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 non-SWD
ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 at 76mm, 1/500sec, F2.8, ISO2000
ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 at 50mm, 1/500sec, F2.8, ISO200
ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 at 200mm, 1/500sec, F3.5, ISO640
ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 at 104mm, 1/200sec, F2.9, ISO1000
ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 at 104mm, 1/500sec, F2.9, ISO1250
ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 at 158mm, 1/400sec, F3.2, ISO1600
ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 at 200mm, 1/400sec, F3.5, ISO320
ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 at 88mm, 1/400sec, F2.8, ISO4000
Micro Four Thirds have some of the finest prime lenses, and this has won the hearts of many micro Four Thirds system user. However, the demand for fast zoom lenses is always there, especially for professional use where the convenience of zoom can make or break the shot, and having a high quality, bright zoom lens will allow the use of zoom lens without much compromise in quality in comparison to prime lenses, and still allowing some flexibility when it comes depth of field control and shooting in low light conditions. Yes, Panasonic did release the 35-100mm f2.8 lens, but that was hardly a long enough lens. How about longer reach, a bright telephoto zoom lens, such as the High Grade Olympus ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 comes in mind. Oh wait, we can use that lens on the E-M1 now! Just because of the improved autofocus system inside the E-M1, the usable range of lenses has expanded, and now conveniently we have a powerful bright long zoom lens.
To test the aotofocus performance of the ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 (non SWD, my own lens), I went to the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park. At the time of shooting, my left wrist was hurting (strained from carrying grocery bags) hence I just used fast shutter speed to freeze my own hand shaking, in case you wonder why the shutter speed were all set so high.
The focusing for ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 at the Bird Park worked very well. Initially I could feel that it was not as fast as it was on the E-5, maybe because I did make a mental note to compare. After 15 minutes or longer shooting time kicked in, I actually forgot about the difference in speed, and shooting away, getting shots after shots, and I realized that the focusing speed was fast enough for what I needed to shoot. I have never wished the speed was faster. Another point worth noting, is that the lens focused THROUGH the grills and cages very well. It did not hesitate and ran to the nearest subject, in fact the AF point which was set to the bird nailed it down, almost all the time. There was small occasion when the AF hit the grill/cage, but as I quickly recomposed, it went to the correct subject immediately.
You have no idea how amazing it felt being able to shoot with a long, bright zoom lens with a Micro Four Thirds system! This was one VERY important lens missing from the Micro Four Thirds line, and having this lens opened a whole level of possibilities. Of course the SWD version will focus faster, but I am happy with what the E-M1 can do with my own non-SWD version of the ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5
I intended to test out the Continuous AF with my ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 lens, unfortunately it rained cats and dogs just before the bird show at 3pm (they have flying eagles making rounds at the amphitheatre). It rained so long that after waiting for an hour for the rain to stop I gave up waiting. The weekend shoot has been cruel to me, it rained at almost every outing I had.
OLYMPUS ZUIKO DIGITAL 14-35mm F2 SWD
ZD 14-35mm F2 SWD at 29mm, 1/1600sec, F2, ISO200
me in action, shooting the next photo.
Photo Credit: John Ragai
ZD 14-35mm F2 at 35mm SWD, 1/160sec, F2, ISO200
ZD 14-35mm F2 SWD at 28mm, 1/200sec, F4, ISO200
ZD 14-35mm F2 SWD at 35mm, 1/320sec, F3.5, ISO200
100% crop from previous image
ZD 14-35mm F2 SWD at 30mm, 1/100sec, F6.3, ISO200
ZD 14-35mm F2 SWD at 27mm, 1/60sec, F4, ISO400
ZD 14-35mm F2 SWD at 35mm, 1/200sec, F2, ISO200
ZD 14-35mm F2 SWD at 35mm, 1/100sec, F2, ISO200
I admit, I have never used the ZD 14-35mm F2 SWD lens before, not even on my DSLR E-5, hence I shall not make any conclusions regarding speed comparison with E-5. It is easy to just compare side by side but only with extensive shooting, knowing both the lens and how the lens work with a camera, can I give a proper evaluation.
The ZD 14-35mm F2 SWD was the best amongst all lenses tested. In fact, it performed very well even when used for Continuous AF shooting. It was not as efficient as the new M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lens, but as you can see from the following set of samples, it tracked the guy in red walking towards me.
This ZD 14-35mm F2 is quite a beast on its own. The image sharpness was out of the world! If there was a lens sharper than the ZD 50mm F2 macro lens, this ZD 14-35mm F2 lens was it.
I received quite a criticism regarding my continuous focusing tests, since my images appeared sharp "throughout the entire screen". So in the following set, the subject is in focus and you can CLEARLY see the background was out of focus. For better viewing, as usual, go to the download section for large resolution files.
CONTINUOUS AF TEST WITH ZD 14-35mm F2 SWD LENS
USAGE OF THE BATTERY GRIP HLD-7
The E-M1 itself can handle ALL Micro Four Thirds lenses on its own without the additional grip, but for my shooting with Four Thirds lenses, I have put on the HLD-7 battery grip at all times. Knowing the lenses I was handling were extra large in size, and being on the heavier side of things, I knew they will not balance the camera very well, and may cause discomfort when shooting for longer hours. That was when the HLD-7 came to rescue. The extra weight and balance was much welcomed to counter-balance larger and heavier lenses such as the ZD 14-35mm F2 SWD and ZD 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 lenses. The grip itself comes with dual dials and two function shortcut buttons, which were fully customizable for quick access to important controls (I set mine to ISO setting and AE lock). If you use the E-M1 for only Micro Four Thirds lenses, then the HLD-7 battery grip is not really necessary. If you are using the older Four Thirds lenses, I strongly recommend having the HLD-7 for added balance and comfort of handling.
For my final tests, I have decided to bring the ZD 7-14mm F4 lens for shooting around KL and the KLCC Twin Towers (as seen in Part 1 of my review, and I shall not repeat the images here). In addition to that, I have also went to shoot the Fireworks Competition at Putrajaya, and made some wide angle shots. AGAIN, it was RAINING heavily. I am starting to think the photography god (if there is such a thing) is starting to punish me for some sins I have committed. The rain happens so frequently and coincided with my shooting sessions again, and again, it was starting to get depressing. The camera and lenses may be weather sealed but I am clearly not!
OLYMPUS ZUIKO DIGITAL 7-14mm F4 lens
ZD 7-14mm F4 at 7mm, 15sec, F11, ISO200 (needed the umbrella to shield the lens from being blotched by rain water!)
ZD 7-14mm F4 at 12mm, 20sec, F13, ISO200
ZD 7-14mm F4 at 12mm, 20sec, F13, ISO200
ZD 7-14mm F4 at 12mm, 20sec, F13, ISO200
I understand that some of you may not trust the images being displayed here, since they have been reduced in resolution, and obviously compressed to a certain degree. It is difficult to judge the image quality with so much size reduction, hence as usual, for your pixel-peeping pleasures, I have compiled selected images in high resolution (full resolution for street images only, obviously the compilation of images grid would be insanely huge for full resolution) for your download as follows:
E-M1 HIGH RESOLUTION SAMPLE IMAGES HERE
This review series is far from over, and I have still quite a huge ground to cover. Coming up next would be comparison between the new E-M1 against the highly sucessful E-M5. What has been improved, and by how much? Has the disadvantages and issues with the E-M5 been addressed and fixed in the E-M1? Are the improvements and new features on the E-M1 worth upgrading over the E-M5? In fact, this particular direct comparison between the two cameras was the highest voted camera review item priority based on the quick poll conducted on my Facebook Page. That will come in the next blog review entry!
For those of you in Malaysia, you can PRE-ORDER the new amazing Olympus OM-D E-M1 from Olympus' Online Store here (click).
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You may also read my FULL user experience review blog entries of other Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses at Gear Review Page here (click).