Low Light Shooting With Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III

One of the few complains I received about my recent Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III was me not having low light shooting samples in my image gallery. The main reason I did not do any low light shooting tests was because the E-M1 Mark III basically has the same image sensor as E-M1 Mark II and E-M5 Mark III, both cameras I have done full reviews here in this blog, my YouTube channel and I have been using these two cameras extensively over time that I thought I already have shown more than sufficient samples of what that 20.4MP Live MOS Image Sensor can do. Olympus did not claim any improvements in the latest E-M1 Mark III and based on my own experience during review I also did not see any difference worth writing about. 

I guess it gets increasingly difficult to make people happy, and even so I have received quite a loud nagging on how I made some mistakes here, and my quality of presentation/review is not up to standard as an Olympus Visionary. Seriously, guys, I have done the best I can and I am doing all this out of my own time, resource and I cover any expenditures incurred out of my own pocket. Olympus Malaysia did not ask me to do any of these articles or videos, I made them because I thought they would genuinely benefit the community. I do it because I enjoy doing it. I am human, I make mistakes, to expect absolute perfection from me and beat me down so harshly when I made some mistakes, that is a stretch too far don't you think?

Anyway, venting my frustration aside, here, a blog entry and a video dedicated to those who are interested to see how the E-M1 Mark III performs in low light shooting, torturing both the image stabilization capabilities of the camera and also the high ISO shooting.

All images were shot with Olympus M.Zuiko 12-45mm F4 PRO (F4 requires higher ISO in low light) and I kept the aperture wide open at F4 throughout all the shoot. All images were shot in RAW and post-processed in Olympus Workspace with only minor correction (white balance tweak, contrast, exposure compensation). Noise filter was set to "Standard", sharpness to "0". 

Spoiler - there are no surprises. The camera performed exactly as expected. Same image quality from the predecessors E-M1 Mark II and E-M1 Mark III when it comes to high ISO shooting, with perhaps improvements in 5-Axis IS, but I shall let the images speak.


Olympus M.Zuiko 12-45mm F4 PRO vs 12-40mm F2.8 PRO

In my recent review video of Olympus M.Zuiko 12-45mm F4 PRO, I asked if there was an interest of me doing a side by side extensive comparison between the 12-45mm F4 versus the older yet much revered 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lenses. Looking at the comment section of that video I received overwhelmingly "yes" response to that question, so here it is, I am doing both a blog article and a video comparison for the two mentioned lenses. I did make a bold claim previously based on my early observations the 12-45mm F4 PRO seems a little sharper than the 12-40mm F2.8 PRO, but I made that claim without an extensive side by side comparison, so this article and video will be a continuation from the previous review. This comparison tests took a lot more time and effort than usual, I did have a tonne more samples but I am only showing the best few selected ones in this blog entry and of course, my video. 

On specifications, both lenses exhibit many similarities and some obvious key differences. 

SIMILARITIES between 12-45mm F4 and 12-40mm F2.8 PRO
1) Full weather-sealing, splash, dust and freezeproof down to minus 10 degrees Celcius
2) Metal body construction
3) Internal focusing mechanism, the front element does not rotate when zooming
4) No internal zooming, the lens extends out when zooming in

DIFFERENCES between 12-45mm F4 and 12-40mm F2.8 PRO
1) F4 constant aperture on 12-45mm versus F2.8 on 12-40mm, allowing 12-40mm to render shallower depth of field and is better in low light scenarios
2) 12-45mm F4 is smaller and lighter, better suited for smaller cameras
3) 12-45mm F4 does not have manual focusing clutch and L-Fn button, both features available on the 12-40mm F2.8

Here is my testing methodology and its limitations: 
1) The test camera is my own Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III. This camera is representative of the best image quality achievable by current Olympus OM-D system, having similar image sensor with E-M1 Mark III and E-M1X. 
2) All images were shot hand-held, with approximate matching framing. Even if tripod is used I cannot 100% match the composition between each images, there will be slight variance, and in real life shooting scenario, where I do need to move to many locations, having a tripod is not practical and is cumbersome. Hence there is a slight mis-match when it comes to composition but this should not affect the overall outcome significantly. 
3) All camera settings are controlled and maintained the same for both lenses used in each scenario. I shot at aperture priority as I fixed the aperture at F4 and ISO200 (except for the bokeh test). Shutter speed is fast enough to be inconsequential for all tests. 
4) All images were shot in available light, in late afternoon, either outdoor or with sufficient window side light (except the bokeh test which was shot at night). There is a possibility of light shifting from one frame to another as I cannot control the cloud movements in the sky. I have shot many samples to have large enough data pool to minimize lighting inconsistencies. 
5) I am not comparing distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting as these technical lens flaws are effectively corrected via in camera software.
6) All images were straight out of camera RAW, previewed via Olympus Workspace with zero adjustment performed. Noise Filter were set to "0" and sharpness setting was at default "0", both in camera settings. 
7) There is also the possibility of sample variance. My 12-45mm PRO lens is a sample review unit from Olympus, which they claimed to be similar to mass production quality. Having said that, even there is sample variance between mass production units, so your 12-45mm lens may be slightly better or worse than the one I was using for this test. 

I am human. I do not claim to be perfect. Recently someone bombarded me for some of the few mistakes I made in my recent articles and videos. I can only do my best. If my best is not enough for you, feel free to go to other review websites and channels.  I am already spending too much time doing this, and if you do not appreciate it, there is nothing I can do. 

For easy reference - image on the LEFT 12-45mm F4, image on the RIGHT 12-40mm F2.8. Click the images to enlarge. 

First test, both lenses were set to the widest focal length 12mm and the sharpness at the center of the frame and corners are inspected. Both lenses were set at F4 for consistency in comparison. 

For this wide angle shoot-out, at center sharpness, the image quality in terms of sharpness and fine detail rendering are extremely close between the two lenses, but the 12-45mm F4 does show a slight advantage in resolving a little more fine detail, contrast and better defined lines. You do need to pixel peep very closely to notice the differences, but the 12-45mm F4 is a better performer.

However, when it comes to corner sharpness, there is no denying that the older 12-40mm PRO holds the upper hand, but the corners of 12-45mm F4 is still very good. 

LEFT 12-45mm F4, RIGHT 12-40mm F2.8

Olympus M.Zuiko 12-45mm F4 PRO Lens Review

Olympus launched a new PRO lens, the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-45mm F4 PRO together with their new flagship camera, OM-D E-M1 Mark III. The new 12-45mm PRO is the smallest lens in the Olympus M.Zuiko PRO lens line-up, has a constant aperture opening of F4 and is fully weather-sealed. I have had this lens for over a week, and have been shooting with the lens in various photography scenarios. I personally believe the new 12-45mm PRO being a compact PRO lens reflects the true ideologies of Micro Four Thirds system. I am sharing my experience using the lens with a new series of fresh photographs in this review article. 

For those of you who prefer to watch a video instead of reading a 1500 words article, here is a YouTube video I have made for this lens review. 

Here are some important disclaimers first. I am an Olympus Visionary, an ambassador to the Olympus brand. I do not own this lens, the 12-45mm PRO was a loaner from Olympus Malaysia and will be returned to them after review purposes. My review is subjective and there will be no technical tests, data or charts/graphs shown in this article. Instead this is a user experience based review, I am sharing my thoughts and opinion based on my shooting experience using the 12-45mm PRO lens. All images were shot with either the new E-M1 Mark III or my own E-M5 Mark III. All images were post-processed with minor corrections (straightening, minor crop, exposure and white balance adjustments) using either Olympus Workspace for E-M1 Mark III images, and Capture One Pro 20 for E-M5 Mark III. 

For full resolution images, you may go to the online album here (click), all with full EXIF data intact.

Let's get the obvious question out of the way - why did Olympus make another standard zoom lens when they already have the amazing existing standard zoom PRO lenses such as the 12-40mm F2.8 PRO and 12-100mm F4 IS PRO? The redundancy is obvious and a lot of people are questioning the overlap when it comes to focal lengths coverage, do we need another standard zoom lens? Outside of the Olympus family, we also have some good alternatives from the Panasonic camp. 

I personally think having more choices is not a bad thing. While the existing 12-40mm and 12-100mm PRO lenses are not monstrously huge in size, they are not exactly small and truly compact either. To match smaller Olympus camera bodies such as E-M10 Mark III and E-M5 Mark III, the new smaller, lighter and more compact design of 12-45mm F4 PRO is a better suited lens. If the goal is to truly keep the footprint as minimal as possible, the 12-45mm surely accomplishes this goal. Does the optical performance live up to expectation of a true PRO lens? This is what I want to find out in this review article. 

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III Review

For those in Malaysia, you can pre-order Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III directly from Olympus Malaysia here (click). 

Edit 12/2/20 - 6.15pm: Correction on specification of EVF - EVF has 0.74x magnification, not 0.83x as previously mentioned. 

Olympus has just announced the much anticipated OM-D E-M1 Mark III, a direct successor to their E-M1 Mark II which was released in 2016. The new E-M1 Mark III has a new Truepic IX image processing engine, porting over useful shooting features from the E-M1X such as hand-held high res shot 50MP and Live ND shooting, while also featuring a few new features such as starry sky AF and reworked eye/face tracking AF. I have been shooting with a review unit loaned from Olympus Malaysia for about 2 weeks and I am sharing my full review of E-M1 Mark III with plenty of image samples in this blog entry. I have also made a video review, for those who prefer to watch than read. 

Before we go further, here are some important disclaimers.  I am an Olympus Visionary, an ambassador to the Olympus brand. The E-M1 Mark III camera was loaned from Olympus Malaysia, and will be returned after this review. This is a non-technical review, there will be no graphs, charts or numerical comparisons. This is a user-experienced based review, and I am sharing my experience using the E-M1 Mark III, subjecting it to various shooting environment. The images were all shot in RAW and post-processed in Olympus Workspace with minor adjustments. 

You may find all the FULL RESOLUTION images with full EXIF data intact shown in this blog as well as the video in my Google Photos online album here (click)

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III shares a lot of similarities with both E-M1X and E-M1 mark II. The E-M1 Mark III has many features ported over from E-M1X but packed into the smaller body closely resembling the E-M1 Mark II. The E-M1 Mark III is essentially a mini E-M1X and more. 

The body design of E-M1 Mark III is almost identical to the E-M1 Mark II, and here are the similarities shared between the two cameras:

1) Battery holder grip, HLD-9. 
Those who already own the HLD-9 for E-M1 Mark II can share the battery holder grip with the new E-M1 Mark III. 

2) 20MP Live Mos Micro Four Thirds image sensor
The new E-M1 Mark III shares the exact same image sensor used in E-M1 Mark II, E-M1X and E-M5 Mark III. I can foresee this as the main point being attacked by ALL photography reviewers. I shall comment on this in my later part of this review. 

3) Battery BLH-1
The BLH-1 is quite a high capacity battery, and was a joy to use on E-M1 Mark II. Glad that the E-M Mark III shares the same one. 

4) Full Weather-sealing 
Splash, dust and freeze proof (down to -10 degrees Celcius)

5) Magnesium alloy body construction
The body design looks 99% identical, I am not surprised if the E-M1 Mark III used the exact same mold of E-M1 Mark II, with some minor tweaks.

6) Same Electronic Viewfinder
Exact same EVF panel from E-M1 Mark II is used - same resolution 2.36M dot, same magnification 0.74x and same refresh rate. 

7) Dual SD card slots 
Slot 1 is UHS-II compatible, slot 2 is UHS-I, and this will be another point that is attacked by reviewers. I do wish Olympus has included both UHS-II capable slots. 

8) Shooting  speeds and buffering
Silent Shutter burst sequential shooting 60FPS, mechanical shutter burst sequential shooting 15FPS. While I initially wished for faster speeds, the 60FPS is still the fastest in market today, with 15FPS being almost on par with even the fastest cameras. 

Some Unusual SD Card Tips - Leave Your Contact Information Inside!

SD cards are important, without them there is no way for the camera to work - you can press the shutter button but no image is recorded. It is important to get compatible, optimized cards for best camera speed and performance, and also take care of the card so it does not get damaged too easily. Some of the tips I am sharing in this blog entry are applicable to any memory cards used on any camera bodies. However, since I am a monogamist Olympus shooter, I will be speaking from my experience shooting with OM-D cameras using specifically SD cards only. 

Olympus OM-D cameras (as well as any new, modern, not too low tiered camera) are extremely fast - the camera can capture up to 60 frames per second in full RAW file using silent shutter, and 15 frames per second in mechanical shutter. Olympus E-M1X, E-M1 Mark II and E-M5 Mark III support UHS-II (ultra high speed II) SD cards up to 250MB/s read and write, allowing the camera buffer to clear almost instantaneously, even when shooting in high burst mode.  Refer to the video comparison between a UHS-1 slow SD card and a high speed UHS-II card. The speed difference is night and day. Be sure to check the maximum speed that your camera can support, there is no point buying UHS-II card for an older camera that does not support the speed, say an Olympus E-M5 original. Nevertheless, a faster card enables the camera to perform optimally, not just for faster burst sequential shooting but also general shot to shot response and overall smoothness of camera operation. Why get one of the fastest cameras in the market if you are doing to cripple it with a slow SD card?

SD card is not expensive. Photography can be an expensive hobby, and there are ways to save some precious cash but you definitely should not cheap out on SD cards. SD card is such a thin, small, fragile piece of plastic that can break easily by usual wear and tear. For someone as clumsy as myself (I am not the worst I believe) a little mishandling can destroy the SD card unintentionally. It is wise to have more back up than necessary. Also, it is common to hear SD cards being corrupted for no apparent reason, and if you have enough spares, you have less to worry about. 

All cameras generally have two options to delete the images - erase all or format card. Formatting a card will wipe the entire card empty, leaving it fresh and at a clean slate. On the other hand, erase all option will only delete the image and video files specifically, and leaving any other non-related files, if stored inside the card, intact. We will explore why this is important in TIP 4. For common practice, if you use the same SD card for the same device consistently, without switching the card to other devices, it is safe to perform erase all. However, if you always use one SD card in multiple devices, especially using different brand and model cameras, the different devices will write different file formats and folders into the same card, increasing risk of bugs, corrupted files and ultimately card failure. Therefore, if you switch SD cards often between devices, it is advisable to format the card each and every time you insert into a new device to prevent corruption or file clashes. 

If you choose the erase all option, this tip is applicable. I am sure you have heard of many wonderful stories about lost gear and how the camera and precious SD cards with important images found their way back to the owner, thanks to the good Samaritans. In case of gear being lost, it is a lot easier to track the owner if contact information is provided, and one way to do that is to insert a text file into the SD card with name and contact details (if you are uncomfortable with leaving your address or phone number for privacy reasons, I am sure a PO Box or email would suffice). This could save the other party some serious CSI grunt work to find you. 

SD cards are fragile little things, so protection is crucial. Do not use a hard case that is too rigid even from the inside, I have friends who use both metal and plastic hard cases that crushed the SD cards stored inside due to too much pressure applied. Also, do not opt for soft pouches or carrying cases that offer no protection at all, the SD cards can be easily bent and broken (refer to video). I would recommend a hard case from the outside with good soft padding for impact absorption from the inside to prevent crushing under pressure.

We cannot prevent ourselves from forgetting, it has happened to me, to my professional photographer friends and the best of us - we are only human. It is not about trying not to forget, that is a bad way to prepare for an emergency, instead we should find a viable, fail proof alternative solution. I propose carrying an SD card inside your wallet at all times, as your wallet is something that you carry with you everywhere. Also, there are wallet designs with slots to store SD cards, it is commonly available (at least here in departmental stores of KL, Malaysia). 

I must thank Tobias and some other blog readers who suggested this - leaving the SD card door on the camera open when the card is taken out is a good move. When we see the door is still open, we are reminded that the SD card is not inserted, hence minimizing the chance of not bringing  SD cards out. A simple, and useful hack indeed. 

Do you have other tips on SD cards to share? I am sure you do, and I would love to hear them!

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