Getting Sharp Images With Olympus OM-D Cameras

The most asked question thrown at me over the years has got to be "Robin, how did you get such sharp results from your Olympus gear?" It was as if I had some secrets or special techniques (some said sauces) to create magically sharp results from shooting with my Olympus Micro Four Thirds system. I have blogged about this topic before, addressing the question head-on several years ago. However, since I am venturing into the YouTube world, I thought it would be apt to revisit this most frequently asked question and share my "secrets" on getting tack sharp images in a video format!



Nothing new was added to what was already shared here in this blog previously, I was merely reiterating the important steps in ensuring pin sharp results. Shooting discipline is crucial, as always, painstakingly moving the focusing point to exactly where you want the area in the frame to be in perfect focus. I explained in depth with demonstration why I don't trust shooting with center focus and recompose metthod, which is flawed and can cause soft results (slight out of focus) when shooting with wide open aperture. Though Micro Four Thirds may have almost "infinite" depth of field (*cough cough) we still have to exercise extra caution and not be sloppy when shooting. Slight miss-focus means loss of important fine detail, and overall sharpness.

The most common mistake I observe is not using fast enough shutter speed. Yes, the Olympus 5-Axis IS is super effective in mitigating hand or camera shake, but if your subject is moving and you are dealing with dangerously slow shutter speeds, you may still get blurry images (unless the subject motion blur is intended). Dealing with longer telephoto lenses (eg 300mm) also require the use of faster shutter speeds to compensate for lens movements. The longer the focal length the more sensitive the image is to shake.

Image below shot with Olympus PEN-F and M.Zuiko 25mm F1.2 PRO



The other tips I have shared in the video include using Anti-Shock "0-sec" to reduce shutter vibration, stopping down lens aperture to optimize optical performance and finally, for JPEG shooters, don't use noise filter high to preserve fine details and overall sharpness.

I think some people will be surprised to find out that I did not mention upgrading to better lenses to get better sharpness. I cannot deny that getting higher grade Olympus lenses will guarantee you sharper results, as better optics can produce superior images, that is not the point of this article. I want to remind everyone that nothing replaces proper shooting discipline, getting the images right in camera while shooting and doing everything in your power to ensure we get the best out of what we have on hand. What is the point of having the sharpest lens, if we did not even care about proper focusing technique to ensure critically sharp focus, or watching the shutter speeds to mitigate hand/camera shake? Shooting discipline first, getting better lens later!

I know this is not a new article, but I hope it will benefit those who have just discovered this blog, and found me through YouTube. Olympus Micro Four Thirds system is a lot more capable than what most people believe, and I am doing my best to share the best I can on how to get the best out of the system. I shall continue to do so in this blog, and now alongside my YouTube channel.

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How Much Better Is E-M1 Mark II's Image Stabilization Vs E-M1 Original?

I have always had this question in mind, but never put it to real life side by side test - E-M1 Mark II vs E-M1 Image Stabilization. From the paper specifications, E-M1 Mark II has about 5.5 stops IS effectiveness vs 5 stops on E-M1, official nuumbers claimed by Olympus. However, I always felt that the E-M1 Mark II has at least 2 stops or more advantage over E-M1, which I had no way to prove, only making crude assumptions from my extensive shooting experience with both cameras. One fine evening, I thought it would be interesting and fun to finally have both cameras side by side shooting long exposure shots, and see the gap of image stabilization  capabilities between the two cameras.


I took out both cameras, E-M1 and E-M1 Mark II to a pedestrian bridge adjoining an LRT station. From there I had a marvelous view of the highway traffic, which was perfect for me to do some long exposure light trail photography. I have always had fascination toward long exposure shooting, especially capturing trail lights. Now with the capable built in Image Stabilization in Olympus camera bodies, it is so much easier to do so. Not having the necessity to use a tripod opens up a lot more possibilities, and the freedom to move around without carrying too much is a huge plus.

My testing method is very simple - hand-holding the camera and M.Zuiko 12mm F2 combo and see how far I can stretch the long exposure. My experience using these cameras still holds true - I can hand-hold E-M1 original for about 1 second (sometimes 2 seconds but barely) and for E-M1 Mark II, I can go 5 seconds confidently, and getting 8 seconds exposure shots with about 50% chance of shake free. That is a big difference.

As expected from my original "hypothesis", the E-M1 Mark II has a lot more stops of IS effectiveness margin than the E-M1 original. That also begs the question on how manufacturer's make their claims. Were Olympus over-promising the 5-Axis IS capability of the original E-M1? Surely the test conditions were different, and my testing methods was also a very simplistic approach, but it was sufficient to gauge the difference between both cameras. I'd say Olympus 5-Axis IS in body works best at the wider end of the focal range, and the advantage diminishes the longer the focal length is at the telephoto end (thus, Olympus included lens based IS in 300mm PRO and 12-100mm PRO).



What am I trying to prove with this brief exercise? Nothing more than satisfying my own personal curiosity. Either way, image stabilization works well in both cameras, and if I were to shoot any commercial jobs using such dangerously low shutter speeds, I will surely bring along a sturdy tripod. A photographer should have a tripod, there is no excuse otherwise. However, for shutter therapy and other non-serious excursions, a tripod can be a hassle, the 5-Axis IS was good enough for me to leave the tripod behind and get amazingly crisp results.

I am glad to see Olympus continuing to push the boundaries of what they can do with their image stabilization, especially with the newer E-M1X, adding another full step of EV effectiveness. I really wonder how much further they can stretch the envelope, we will find out sooner or later.

I do treasure the extra boost of confidence the 5-Axis IS provides for ordinary shots, that I will nail the shot without worrying about camera shake. Usual shutter speeds that I shoot at normal focal lengths, say about 1/20-1/100 second, I normally did without worrying on the E-M1 Mark II as the camera can successfully get rid of any trace of hand-shake (with good hand-holding techniques of course, this takes experience to develop). This became a problem when I had to handle other non-stabilized camera, or camera with less powerful image stabilization - the 1/60 second shutter speed for, say 50mm equivalent focal length is quite susceptible to slight softness due to camera shake!

What say you? What are your experience and stories you can share from having 5-Axis IS on Olympus bodies? I would love to hear from you!

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Shooting Wedding Photography With Olympus OM-D System

This is not a new topic here, I have written about doing weddings with Olympus OM-D several times, and the most recent one was on Ming Thein's  site (article here).  I shared my techniques and experience in shooting weddings previously. This time, with an accompanying video, I want to tackle the sufficiency of Micro Four Thirds system, especially the Olympus OM-D when it comes to weddings. Typical technical limitations brought up in popular discussions include dynamic range, high ISO noise and AF reliability. I personally have seen some amazing work by other photographers who shoot weddings with OM-D system, and I have been dabbling with wedding photography for several years now.



The popular complain is definitely about not having sufficient shallow depth of field effect. Those comparing to full frame system will be quick to point out that the smaller sensor size used in OM-D cameras will achieve twice as much depth of field. While this statement is true, I also must say that having too much blur is not necessarily a good thing. Though Olympus OM-D can't blur the background as easily as full frame system, I have found myself stopping down the aperture and not shoot wide open to get more depth of field. Sometimes you just need more in focus (eg group shots, or images with more than one person). There should not be an issue with getting shallow depth of field now, with Olympus having the trio F1.2 PRO prime lenses, an assortment of fast F1.8 primes. Even shooting with the 40-150mm F2.8 PRO, zooming into telephoto range can give you amazing subject isolation. I have found the F1.8, and especially the F1.2 lenses to provide more than sufficient background bluring that I need.

Also high in the list of concerns are high ISO noise and dynamic range of the image output from Olympus OM-D. It is true that much physically larger sensor can result in wider dynamic range and better high ISO noise ceiling, I have not found the OM-D inadequate in any situation. In fact, with the availability of F1.8 and F1.2 lenses, in combination with the powerful image stabilization built in, I rarely find myself shooting anything above ISO1600. Yes, in very rare occasions I do need to bump up to maybe ISO3200 or 6400, even so, if I am careful with my exposure and not do crazy things (like underexposing intentionally) I can get away with very usable results. Clean high ISO images is not everything, having massive dynamic range won't being  your photography to the next level. When it comes  to wedding photography, even if there are traces of high ISO noise, even if there is blownouts in the highlights, as long as the precious moment is elegantly captured, that is still a great photograph. It is the story, the emotion and the expression in the photograph that matter more.


I particularly love the fact that my gear that I am carrying with me weighs so little. Weddings in Malaysia can be gruesome to photographers, they start as early as 5am and end close to midnight sometimes. It is practically a full day shoot, carrying much lighter and smaller system is a godsent. Also, having smaller shoulder bag that I use helps me maneuver and run around more effectively. I may need to dash over to the next room when something is happening there, would be troublesome to do so with larger and heavier setup. The ability to move around freely and react better guarantee me higher keepers. Everything in the bag, including the bag itself weigh less than 5Kg. 

I can fit the following items:
E-M1 Mark II (main body)
E-M1 (backup body)
7-14mm F2.8 PRO
12-40mm F2.8 PRO
25mm F1.2 PRO
45mm F1.8
FL-50R
FL-36R
Plethora of SD cards, spare batteries both for cameras and flashes.
Situational items:
40-150mm F2.8 PRO
(Even if I add on another lens, say the 40-150mm F2.8 PRO, the bag would still about 5kg or slightly more.)
Tripod


Are you a wedding photographer? Do you use Micro Four Thirds system? I want to hear your story!


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Don't Give Up On Your Kit Lens, It Is Awesome!

I have talked about this topic before - reasons to love your kit lens and use it first before considering to upgrade to better lenses too quickly. Therefore I shall keep this blog entry short. The reason I am bringing this topic up again, is to add a video I have just made about the said topic, I guess this would probably reach the different online crowd that prefer to watch rather than read lengthy articles. Of course, I shall port over some images shown in the video to this entry as well. This video is targeted towards newcomers to photography of course, those first time camera buyers, or the step ups from smartphone camera to interchange-able system camera (regardless of what camera brands you use).


Basically the kit lens that comes with your camera, specifically Olympus kit lens M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ pancake is quite a good all-round performer. It has a versatile zoom range from wide angle 14mm all the way to medium telephoto at 42mm, surely good enough for general day to day shooting, covering a wide range of subjects. Yet the lens design is so small and light, the compactness used together with smaller Olympus bodies such as the PEN E-PL7 camera as shown in the video will not weigh you down, the smaller footprint encourages you to bring out the camera and lens to shoot more. The more you go out and shoot, the faster you learn about the fundamentals of photography and how the camera works. That will enable you to grow faster and be a better photographer.

The kit lens is sharp! Of course it will not be as sharp as high grade PRO lenses, or more  expensive set of prime lenses, but the kit lens can pull its own weight. If we pixel peep too much we will never be happy with whatever equipment we use. Honestly, the reputation of lousy it lens started during the early days of DSLR, certain "manufacturers" did include inferior and underperforming kit lenses (I shall not name the brands). But it is 2019 now, more than a decade later, everyone has learned a thing or two from past mistakes and the imaging business has become extremely competitive. No one can slack around anymore, there are not really any more bad lenses out there. It does not matter which lens is better than which, the main point here is - there are NO bad lenses. The kit lens may not be the best lens of the lot, but it is sure more than sufficient to fulfill your shooting needs, if you have just bought the camera and starting to get your feet wet in the photography world!

All images were shot with Olympus PEN E-PL7 and M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ Pancake lens








One of the things that got me crazy when I started shooting with my first DSLR with kit lens, was doing close up shooting. The kit lens can go super close to the subjects. It is no macro level but good enough to do something different and more creative. This reveals a lot of hidden details, which can be visually quite dramatic.

Finally, do not give up just because the kit lens has some limitations. Being restricted in terms of focal length range and aperture width may not be all bad. I must remind you that there is NO shortcut when it comes to photography. Buying that better lens will not solve all your problems. It may allow you to do certain things better, but if you did not sit down and figure out what went wrong or how to work around a problem, you will never grow as a photographer. Hence, having restrictions posed by the kit lens will help you to think outside the box, be more creative in finding different solutions around the problem to achieve what you want. Not enough zoom? You have to force yourself to move your feet and get closer to the subject. Not wide enough? Consider to do panorama shot! Not enough lighting? Not having bright lens is not an excuse, use a reflector, or adopt the flash and find ways to diffuse the light to make it look natural. You will grow and be stronger from overcoming the obstacles presented by the kit lens. It is not necessarily a bad thing. Trust me on this, I have been there.

Facing the challenges is part of learning and growth. Don't just dump the kit lens, give it a chance, and more importantly, give YOURSELF a chance.








I know a huge majority of you are now shooting with high grade OM-D and an assortment of high grade M.Zuiko lenses. If you have friends or relatives who have just started shooting, and exploring the deep, treacherous world of photography, do share this article and video with them! Encourage them to shoot and have fun, not to obsess with the gear lust which won't necessarily help much when you don't even know what the ISO button does.

Ultimately, as a new photographer, I would encourage focusing on these items:
Composition
Lighting
The Art of Seeing
Visual Story telling 
Decisive Moment

These are the things that will improve your results and help you be better photographer! I am not saying you should not upgrade your lens, don't just give up immediately! Have you fully utilized what the lens and the camera can do before upgrading? At least ask yourself this!


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Revisiting An Old Friend - Olympus DSLR E-520 - This Was Where It All Began!

Let's unwind the clock and go right back to the beginning when it all started - the moment I got my first DSLR, the Olympus E-520! I have had the E-520 since 2008, I discovered photography with this small, entry level DSLR, and even did some commercial shoots with it. It has been a long way since E-520, I have upgraded to different cameras ever since, but the significance of that camera in my life is incredible. I want to relive some moments using Olympus E-520, and I want to discuss several items - my early photography journey, the growth of this site and of course - how I have come  to  love and stayed loyal to Olympus.

My E-520 is still alive and doing well, so I brought it out for shutter therapy! I was using a 2008 camera in 2019, and it was indeed an awesome  experience.


The main reason I chose Olympus entry level DSLR over any other options, was because it was significantly cheaper. I remember the E-520 with kit lens was retailing at RM2,599 in 2008. Alternatives such as Canon 450D was selling at RM3,899 with kit lens only, and a Nikon D60 was at about RM2,999 with kit lens (or was it RM3,299?). After doing much research, Olympus offers a lot more bang for the buck - built in image stabilization which was quite effective, live view that was somewhat functional, amazing kit lens being sharp and compact, wireless flash capabilities built in, and a decent optical viewfinder, which was bigger and brighter than the peers at that time. I acknowledged that when it came to Megapixel count, the high ISO numbers, dynamic range and AF performance, either Canon or Nikon easily won the race, but I was also a graduate engineer earning peanuts from a local consultant firm, and it took me a while to save up for my first camera. Budget was a big concern, and it was my very first camera, I did not think it was wise to go all out, especially when I did not even know how to properly control the basic exposure settings!

So I settled with the E-520. I simply loved it! I loved it so much I went out shooting almost all day on the weekends that I was not working. I would shoot anything and everything I could find - any free fashion shows at the malls, insect macro photography, random street outings, trips to the local zoo, bird parks, butterfly parks, flower gardens, anywhere that I can have an excuse to use my camera, I would definitely say yes. I was obsessed with photography, not so much on sharing my work or wanting people to notice me, heck I did not have a Facebook account until  much later. I just wanted to shoot and shoot and shoot and it has become and addiction - I was happy when the camera was in my hand and I was out shooting. 

Here are some shots from recent shutter therapy session in 2019 using the E-520! I was using the Zuiko 50mm F2 Macro, my kit lens was faulty. 







As I used the E-520, my blog also started to evolve. The original form was random daily musings, or sharing on what happened in my life - sort of like an online journal which I shared with family and friends. I started blogging when I was in Perth, Australia studying and it was a way to communicate and share my adventures with everyone else at home. However, I bought the E-520 when I have returned to Malaysia, and the blog then mutated into something else entirely. I started to share my weekly shooting adventures, new photographs and also my thoughts, experience and notes on my journey in photography. My experiments, trials and errors, what I have learned. It slowly grew steadily over the years, like any other blogs back then, but nothing spectacular happened. I was blogging for several years, until in the year 2010, when Olympus Malaysia took notice of me and invited me to test/review their then newly launched Olympus DSLR E-5, the new flagship!

That was the turning point of this blog, and also my so called "career" as a photography blogger, as I gained world-wide audience from that singular review of the Olympus E-5. I did not see any of this coming. I did not know what to expect, or how widely my review would spread out. I remember clearly when the E-5 came to me, I asked myself what can I do with it so that I will not be redundant or repeat what every other reviewers were doing? I did not want to "copy" or do the same things all over again. The typical comparison, charts and graphs, shooting at brickwalls, etc. I decided it would be best for me to just do what I have been doing all along, bring the camera and go out to shoot! Take as many good photos as I can, and share the photos, and I can write based on my experience shooting those photos. Thus, the final result of my Olympus E-5 review was me sharing my images and user-experience from a photography-enthusiast using the camera.

The review was received positively, and it was totally unanticipated. I guess I came in at a very awkward time, everyone else was spelling gloom and doom for Olympus E-System DSLR - people have been losing faith and jumping systems. Then came along this random dude from Malaysia who said the E-5 was actually a good camera? And I had photographs to back up my words! People may question what I have said,  or disqualify my opinions, but the sample photographs were real, and they did not lie. 





You see, all this would not have happened if I have used any other camera brands, because there were so many people writing and talking about Canon, Nikon or Sony cameras. I was probably one of the very few people  in the world, and the ONLY person in Malaysia actively blogging about Olympus camera, week after week, consistently for years, without fail. It was all with the Olympus E-520, a small, humble entry level camera from Olympus and because of that, I was able to connect with all you beautiful people and continue to do what I love doing, sharing my passion in photography!

The E-520 is a 10 Megapixels camera, something of a norm back then. To me, 10MP is still plentiful today, looking at the images I have captured, I did not wish I had more pixels. Looking at Full HD screen, the images still can hold its weight and they came out beautifully sharp. Shooting with the Zuiko 50mm f2 Macro, I got some very sharp results, that was an incredible lens from Olympus which was my favourite. I love what Olympus was doing with their color science, and the white balance engine was spot-on. The skin tones were pleasing, and overall I have always said the Olympus colors were true to life, and vibrant. The same signature colors can be found in newer cameras from Olympus.

ISO was limited to 1600, and if anyone has restriction today they would go crazy. But I did have an Olympus flash for my low light shooting, so it was all good. There were only AF points, and truthfully only the center one was fully functional as it features cross type AF with better sensitivity, hence I had no choice but to use center focus and recompose method. I had no issue nailing shots under good lighting condition, and even some quick action shots. I initially thought I would miss more shots using the E-520, but the AF proved to be more capable than I have expected.

Perhaps the most notable difference in shooting with E-520, was because it was a DSLR - hence I had to use the Optical Viewfinder. It was quite a refreshing experience, shooting with mirrored view, and looking through a small window into the world. I had no issues using an optical viewfinder, but I have moved on and definitely prefer the versatility of shooting through an Electronic Viewfinder. I treasure the ability to see live preview in real time, and being able to "pre-chimp"  (a term invented by Kirk Tuck) my images before I click the shutter button. I understand how some people may not like using EVF, it is like looking at a tiny TV screen, which is unnatural. I guess this is a situation where I chose to adopt and favor function - I just work more efficiently with EVF.




I can clearly see the Olympus DNA in the newer OM-D cameras in the E-520. The super control panel was already there. Olympus was quite adamant about in body image stabilization, unlike certain camera company that started with IBIS then abandoned it halfway then came back again much later in the game. I can see the signature Olympus look, sharp and detailed images from high quality lenses - this is perhaps their greatest strength, producing excellent optics and knowing how to manufacture them. Though it was a DSLR, the E-520 was really small and light, yet Olympus did not sacrifice the handling aspect, the beefy hand-grip area and overall very good ergonomics, you can clearly still see these traits in their newer cameras. In fact, Olympus was the first to introduce Live View in DSLR cameras, and in professional shooting environment. When they launched the E-330, with live view, many scoffed at Olympus and claimed that professional photographers won't shoot with the screen and only use the viewfinder. Yet today, Live View is in EVERY single DSLR and system cameras (mirrorless).

It is not difficult to put together how much I love Olympus products, I have always admitted this openly, it is not secret, and it all began with the E-520. The camera is special to me, it has brought me far, and it was my first love. I fell deeply in love both in photography and with Olympus through E-520. The E-520 will always have a special place in my heart.




I know some of you have been with me right from the beginning, for that I thank you for still staying here, it is indeed an honor being able to share and write here. For the newcomers to this site, I welcome you, and I hope you have found this "history lesson"  interesting, and you get to understand where I was coming from better.

If you have owned an Olympus E-system camera before, I would love to hear from you! Share your experience and your tales with your camera. I used E-520 and E-5 extensively before I switched over completely to Micro Four Thirds system.

It has been super fun reliving the nostalgia of shooting with my first DSLR - I hope you have enjoyed my sharing too. Do let me know what you think of the YouTube video I have posted, I am extremely new to video making, so any feedback is most welcomed.


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