In case you have not heard, Malaysia is on another semi-lockdown, or what the government preferred to call it "Movement Control Order" (MCO for short). I am not going to dive much into details, but it is what it is, a miserable, no social activity, no meeting your friends kind of situation. Thankfully, I managed to catch up with quite a few people before this round of semi-lockdown happened. Special thanks to the amazing Jon Low, I was invited to his mini dinner party. He cooked some awesome food and we laughed too much over conversations that spanned past midnight. 

Of course I brought along my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III, and my favourite lens M.Zuiko 25mm F1.2 PRO to capture some snapshots. Camera and food goes well together. 

One plate of heartful meal. I am impressed, Jon!

I loaned the Olympus M.Zuiko 100-400mm F5-6.3 IS lens from OMD World Imaging (sole distributor for Olympus products in Malaysia) to revisit the lens performance, this time in better lighting conditions. I have done a full review for Olympus 100-400mm lens before (click here) but the sample shots were taken in cloudy weather, and high ISO numbers. I thought that did not do justice to show off what the lens is truly capable of, so this time, I was determined to shoot with only low ISO and in ideal lighting to see just how sharp this Olympus 100-400mm can be! And boy oh boy, spoilers alert - the lens is incredibly sharp.

I have made a video for this same topic, so if you prefer to watch, go to my YouTube here (click). 

Lens and OM-D body combination is still perfectly hand-holdable, and handling was quite good. Lens feels balanced, I had no issue using this combination for about 3 hours shooting duration non-stop. 
Olympus released E-M10 Mark IIIs, a minor refresh to the E-M10 Mark III some time late last year. The E-M10 Mark IIIs is positioned below the E-M10 Mark IV, but it is almost the same camera as the previous E-M10 Mark III, with only 2 improvements: Silent mode while shooting in P, A, S and M modes, and new Art Filter Instant Film. Since the E-M10 Mark IIIs is practically the same camera as E-M10 Mark III, I shall not be doing a double review here, I have reviewed it before, you can read it here (click). However, I do want to prove something - that the Olympus OM-D E-M10 series camera are capable and can perform in professionally challenging shooting environment. I brought the E-M10 Mark IIIs to actual real life shooting scenario - live music stage performance, and also I did some night shooting in low light. Spoilers alert - the E-M10 Mark IIIs aced all these sessions and delivered fantastic results. 

For those of you who prefer to watch a video version of this article, here it is (YouTube Link). 

Recently, there is a rumor flying around hinting the potential partnership between Samsung and Olympus. Olympus is rumored to be making the camera module for Samsung's next flagship smartphone camera. While generally I don't comment on rumors, but I find this to be quite exciting, and I do hope it comes true. After all, I am currently an Olympus Visionary, having reviewed Olympus' latest cameras and lenses (except that elusive M.Zuiko 150-400mm F4 PRO lens), and I am quite involved with Samsung as well, you can find my reviews of S21 Ultra and Note20 Ultra. I am in quite a unique position to say something, and boy oh boy, do I have a lot to say. I personally think Samsung can gain a lot from this partnership if it falls through, and I want to explore the benefits that Olympus can bring to Samsung's future flagship smartphone cameras. 

I have made a video discussing this topic, you can watch it here (click). 


DISCLAIMER
I do not represent Olympus or Samsung in sharing my opinion in this article. None of these companies have contacted me and I have not heard of any official information regarding the rumored partnership. 

SMARTPHONE LIMITATIONS
Smartphone camera development has come a long way, and any smartphone camera today is more than satisfactory for average consumer use. There is no denying that smartphone camera is the most used camera today, due to convenience, you have the camera with you everywhere you go to. The image quality and performance of smartphone camera has progressed so far that it is sufficient to replace traditional cameras for casual, day to day, non professional environment shooting. I admit I have been shooting more and more with my Samsung S21 Ultra lately too. Nevertheless, there are still many issues that the smartphone cameras need to address, and boundaries to push. There are still some crippling limitations when it comes to smartphone cameras, even the most expensive, top of the line, high end flagship smartphones (from any brand, including the fruity one). 

One obvious limitation is responsiveness. There are all kinds of lag - display lag, Autofocus lag, shutter lag, shot to shot delay, the smartphone camera is almost useless to capture fast moving action, or to nail that critical moment. The job of the camera is to capture important moments, and the lags, even in the most powerful smartphone with the most advanced processor and a million GB of RAM cannot beat a true, professional camera from 10 years ago in terms of speed and reliability in getting the shot. The confidence in shooting is important, and I just can't understand how no smartphone manufacturers can solve this. Maybe it was never the priority to begin with.

Other limitations include optics design, image processing and color science. You can clearly see how poor the lens quality is in smartphone cameras with distortion, chromatic aberration, poor sharpness and contrast rendering, corner softness, the list of optical flaw continues. Many will be quick to point out that smartphones have revolutionize photography by introducing advanced computational processing or AI to enhance the images. I agree to a certain extent, but the smart HDR of merging multiple images to increase dynamic range, or night mode to have that clean noise free shot, can produce images that look good at the first glance. Once you scrutinize the images, they look awful! Smearing of details, lack of definition, and overall everything looks so bad, overly processed, with aggressive noise reduction and over-sharpening artifacts. I acknowledge most people don't care about these issues, except photographers.

Smartphone cameras are too reliant on software to get results - finally it is time to push through the hardware limitations, and take smartphone photography to the next level. I believe partnering with Olympus can open up these opportunities. 

1. LENS DESIGN & QUALITY
Most people underestimate the importance of high quality optics when it comes to photography. There is overemphasis on image sensor, or smart computational photography to achieve desired results. However, lens is the first point that light enters the camera, if you have poor lens in your camera module, no matter how amazing your image sensor and processing, you still get poor results. It is simple, really, as the saying goes, "garbage in, garbage out". A high quality lens ensures light is sufficiently, and efficiently captured, producing images with adequate sharpness, resolving fine details and rendering good contrast - all these are important to add the sense of realism to the image that is captured. Also, good optics have sufficient flaw management - minimizing distortion, purple fringing, flare, etc, which could lead to improved clarity and overall image quality. 

It is no surprise that the most important benefit Samsung will gain from this partnership with Olympus, is the lens expertise. Olympus is the leading optics specialist, not just in designing highly capable lenses for cameras, but also having the know how in mass-manufacturing them. Aki Murata (COO of OM Digital Solutions) in his recent interview with DPReview claimed that the current M.Zuiko PRO lens line-up from Olympus is ready to resolve up to 100MP resolution easily, yet the current Olympus cameras have only 20MP maximum resolution, they have over-engineered their lenses! Having superior lenses will immediately guarantee drastic improvement in Samsung's smartphone camera. After all, what is the point of having hundreds of Megapixels if your lens cannot even effectively resolve half of them? 

2. PROFESSIONAL GRADE IMAGE PROCESSING
In my reviews of Samsung S21 Ultra and Note20 Ultra, I have repeatedly complained about two things: the overly baked color rendition and over-processed images. 

The colors from Samsung smartphone cameras are usually a tad too high in saturation and contrast, looking consumer-friendly, having the punchy, vivid and bold look, as if the colors are screaming out of the screen. While most consumers appreciate the super bright and strong colors, these do not represent real photography. The job of the camera is to capture and represent colors as faithfully as possible. The colors should recreate reality, as seen in real life. Olympus color science is very good, with natural looking skin tone and overall true to life colors, and Samsung can clearly learn a thing or two about making their images look a bit more real, than cartoonish. 

I can see the necessity of HDR processing and aggressive sharpening with noise reduction, but they were all over-done. The HDR created images that look flat, with no depth and definition, while the night mode just destroyed all useful details and made the images look soft, fuzzy and plainly, looking ugly. Professionally processed images will just apply sufficient sharpening without going over-board, enough noise reduction to get rid of the noise without smearing useful details, and overall still maintaining the balance of images looking realistic. Olympus has one of the best JPEG engine out there, even DPReview and many large photoraphy review sites have consistently praised Olympus for having excellent straight out of camera images. Maybe Olympus will share their recipe for that amazing Truepic 9 image processing with Samsung through this partnership. 

3. IMPROVED RESPONSIVENESS
I don't know why but there is just too much lag in any smartphone cameras today, even the flagship, high end smartphones. 

Comparing to Olympus OM-D cameras, there is virtually no lag in the Electronic Viewfinder or LCD screen, with only 0.005s delay for E-M1X. With Samsung's latest flagship, even the S21 Ultra, there is a noticeable half a second lag, what you see on screen is already delayed! The AF is generally quite ok, but is also almost useless when shooting very fast moving subjects, or if you want the smartphone to respond immediately. Olympus OM-D AF is professional level and I have used the OM-D cameras for many years for my commercial shoots, including weddings and events where I need to move fast and capture fleeting moments. I seriously hope Samsung, or any other smartphone manufacturers pay attention to the serious lag issue and fix it! If they can't do it themselves, then get someone who can do it, like Olympus!

4. 5-AXIS IMAGE STABILIZATION
It is no secret that Olympus has the most powerful and effective image stabilization system in the market. No one else comes close. 

Having powerful image stabilization changes the game of photography altogether. Instead of using high ISO which will degrade the image quality drastically, you can use lower ISO numbers in low light with slow shutter speeds, as the image stabilization will steady the shot and get sharp, clean, noise-free results. Generally, image stabilization also increases the chance of getting shake-free shot multiple fold, and this is even more critical for high megapixel count cameras. What is the point of having so many Megapixels if each of your pixels are not optimized? The 5-Axis IS can ensure high per-pixel sharpness, increasing overall image quality output. 

The benefits of image stabilization also extends to video shooting. We have very good digital/electronic stabilization, with smooth, gimbal-like footage, but they also come with some compromises. Digital stabilization will introduce significant crop (20-30%), and the video sharpness will also be decreased. Having powerful mechanical image stabilization will effectively improve video quality, relying less on digital stabilization, much like how a gimbal/steadycam works. Olympus already has this technology - and porting it over to Samsung's smartphone camera will put them ahead of competition, no doubt!

There was another rumor about Olympus making a 200MP image sensor for Samsung, but we all know that Olympus does not make image sensors, and Samsung is more than capable in manufacturing their own image sensors, so I think that rumor does not carry much weight. Maybe they sought after Olympus' consultation in designing or optimizing the image sensor, and I hope the image sensor will be at least 1 inch in size, or even bigger. No point making smaller image sensors now, 1 inch image sensor, or if they can fit in anything bigger, will be beneficial, and show a dramatic improvement in overall image quality. 

Do take note that at this point, everything is still purely rumor and whatever I have shared in this blog entry were my own opinion and speculations. 

Do you think there is any truth to the rumor about Samsung getting Olympus to help them improve their cameras? Do you see any other benefit in engaging Olympus' expertise for Samsung's future smartphones? Do share your thoughts!

Please support me & keep this site going:
Jason, a close friend asked for lunch and requested to have some quick portrait shots of him taken. We had a quick session downtown in Kuala Lumpur in the morning, walked around the city streets a little, got some shots taken to work out an appetite. We then had a glorious lunch feast - chicken rice with sides of pork balls soup and char siew. After lunch we stuffed ourselves with sinfully sweet desserts. All evidence photographed, and you will see them shared abundantly here! Although the lockdown is partially lifted with plenty of restrictions for business and movements (we still can't cross to another state, or travel too far), generally most things are slowly returning back to normal. Being able to catch up and hang out with important friends, having a meal together, means a whole world to me. 

What a beautiful combination - E-M5 Mark III + 75mm F1.8, Silver for the win
I have owned the Olympus 17mm F2.8 pancake lens before, you will find my old blog articles if you run some quick search. I have sold it off some time ago since I rarely used it, and I did also have the newer 17mm F1.8, which I gave up (did not like that lens very much) to fund for 25mm F1.8, that I have used for many, many years extensively. Not having a 17mm prime lens (dedicated 35mm focal length) in my camera bag somehow made me feel a little empty, since I am a street photographer and I do believe 35mm is an important focal length. I recently found a used unit at a low price that I just could not refuse, so I finally required one. I am well aware of the lens flaws and issues of the original 17mm pancake lens, but I decided to get it any way, so the question here is - is it worth getting one now in 2021?

For those who prefer to watch me in action in video, you can go here (click).