Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Review: Macro and Wide Angle Shooting

Important Notes:
1. This is a user experience based review.
2. All images were shot in RAW and converted directly to JPEG (High Quality) via Olympus Viewer 2 
3. General camera settings, Noise Filter = LOW, Contrast/Saturation/sharpness = 0, White Balance = Auto (with an option maintain warm color = OFF), Gradation = Normal
4. Minimal post-processing applied to the images. All images were as good as straight out of camera, with minimal cropping and only minor exposure/contrast correction for better presentation.

This is Part 3 of my review series of Olympus Stylus XZ-2. If you have not read my Part 1 and Part 2 reviews earlier, please do so before proceeding with this blog entry. I have covered tests of image resolution at low ISO settings as well as high ISO noise performance of the Olympus XZ-2 in my previous reviews. 

In this Part 3 of my review saga, I brought the Olympus XZ-2 out for a little bit of macro shooting, and subsequently, doing some wide angle shooting. I figured that most people would buy the camera for a few main reasons: 1) travel compact camera, capturing landscape and scenery, as well as 2) general purpose everyday camera shooting, that is capable of close up shooting.. Now lets be sensible and not expect a small camera like XZ-2 to be able to capture extreme action sports or a ballet dance in a superbly dimly lit hall. It is my belief that a good compact camera should be able to fulfill these above-mentioned two purposes: shooting decent macro/close up and landscape photos. 

Therefore, in an uneventful Sunday afternoon I brought the Olympus XZ-2 to an open park near my place for a quick macro shooting session, capturing whatever tiny creatures (insects and spiders) that I could find, and after that, headed down to the city by train, to capture some urban landscape shots. While shooting macro and landscape, I shall be reviewing the following features/functions of the Olympus XZ-2
Super Macro Mode vs 4x Zoom Macro Shooting
Hybrid Control Ring - Conveniently control multiple important functions
920k dot LCD tillable screen - is the LCD scveen good enough?
HDR Scene mode
Battery Life of XZ-2

Super Macro, ISO320, F/1.8, 1/100sec, equivalent focal length 28mm
I admit depth of field was not enough for this damselfly, but as I stopped down the aperture, it flew away. 

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Review: Nick Davis Live

Important Notes:
1. This is a user experience based review.
2. All images were shot in RAW and converted directly to JPEG (High Quality) via Olympus Viewer 2 
3. General camera settings, Noise Filter = LOW, Contrast/Saturation/sharpness = 0, White Balance = Auto (with an option maintain warm color = OFF), Gradation = Normal
4. Minimal post-processing applied to the images. All images were as good as straight out of camera, with minimal cropping and only minor exposure/contrast correction for better presentation.

This entry is Part 2 of my Olympus Stylus XZ-2 review series. If you have not read Part 1 review and my preview of the Olympus XZ-2, please do so. 

In my previous Part 1, I have brought the XZ-2 out to my usual street shooting session, and found the camera to perform exceedingly well under favorable lighting conditions, delivering amazingly sharp and detailed images at low ISO sensitivities. The amazing resolution captured was due to the high quality Olympus i.Zuiko lens, and also the Trupic 6 image processing engine, producing Olympus signature color and look in the images. 

We all know that ALL cameras perform at their best at lowest ISO settings. So how does the new Olympus Stylus XZ-2 perform when shooting at higher ISO settings? That is the only thing I want to explore in this Part 2 of my review. 

As a reminder, this review will be written from a photography-enthusiast’s point of view, because I am not a professional photographer. This will be a user experience based review, sharing on what I think and feel as I use the XZ-2 in real life shooting situations. Therefore, this is not a technical review as there will not be elaborative technical explanations, which can be easily accessible on many professional review websites such as DPreview and DXOmark. In addition to that, I will not be doing direct side by side image and performance comparisons between XZ-2 and any other cameras. Instead, I will share my opinion on how different the experience was shooting with the new XZ-2. In a nutshell, it is about what I can do with the camera, not what the camera can do by itself.

ISO3200, F/1.8, 1/50sec, Equivalent focal length: 28mm

Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Review: Street Shooting

Important Notes:
1. This is a user experience based review.
2. All images were shot in RAW and converted directly to JPEG (High QUality) via Olympus Viewer 2 
3. General camera settings, Noise Filter = OFF, Contrast/Saturation/sharpness = 0, White Balance = Auto (with an option maintain warm color = OFF), Gradation = Normal
4. Minimal post-processing applied to the images. All images were as good as straight out of camera, with minimal cropping and only minor exposure/contrast correction for better presentation.

When Olympus Malaysia asked me to review their latest flagship high-end compact digital camera, the Olympus Stylus XZ-2, I was unsure how to do so, because I have been shooting mainly with DSLR system, and more recently, micro 4/3 mirrorless system. I do have a budget basic point and shoot camera which I only use daily at work for documentation purposes, nothing artistic, or technically challenging. I have also heard many wonderful things about the predecessor flagship Olympus XZ-1, which I did have great interest in but never had a chance to use the camera extensively. I have just received the loaned unit yesterday, coincidentally today was a public holiday in Malaysia, thus the perfect opportunity for me to test and blog about this new XZ-2. 

This entry shall be the Part 1 of my review for Olympus Stylus XZ-2. In this entry, I shall explore the camera's capability in shooting under generally good lighting condition, with low ISO setting: how much detail can the combination of new 12Megapixels Back-Side Illuminated CMOS image sensor with the i.Zuiko lens capture? How does the camera handle, how good is the autofocus performance, and how does the camera fare for my usual shutter therapy session? I brought the Olympus XZ-2 to my favourite street hunting ground, Pudu, Kuala Lumpur.

If you have not read my mini-preview of the Olympus XZ-2, please do so here (click). 

Fruit Market
ISO100, F/2.5, 1/125sec, Equivalent focal length: 112mm

Coming Soon: Olympus Stylus XZ-2 Review

I have just came home from a meeting with Olympus Malaysia this evening, and I brought home a loaned unit of the new Olympus Stylus XZ-2, the flagship compact digital camera from Olympus, which was announced at the same time alongside the Olympus PEN E-PL5 and PEN E-PM2 during Photokina just last month. The new XZ-2 shall supersede the older XZ-1, which proved to be one of Olympus' success, being highly regarded as one of the best high-end enthusiast's digital compact camera in class at its time. And yes, Olympus Malaysia has requested me to review this XZ-2, and I shall be bringing this camera out for test shoots in the coming few days. This will be my first time reviewing a compact digital camera, but rest assured I come from a strong background of shooting with point and shoot cameras and I have killed a record of 3 compact cameras in a span of 4 years usage (2004-2008). 

Olympus Stylus XZ-2

After taking the shot I realized how dusty the camera was, with grease smears on the smooth camera body. I initially wanted to cleaned it and take another shot, but I thought the "used" look was quite interesting, and added character to the camera. Alright, alright, I was lazy. What? Who said I can't be lazy?

Falling in Love with Olympus All Over Again

It has been about two weeks since I last acquired the Sony DSLR system (A350 body, 2 lenses and a flash) and I have been shooting with the Sony only since then. It was earlier this evening, coming home from work with itchy hands for shutter therapy, I decided to go back to Olympus, which I am missing for a while now. Then that sky threatened to rain, which it did, and it poured like it never poured before, until there was flash flood happening downtown in KL. You know me, if I do not get my shutter therapy, I won't be happy. That forced me to dig out my older shutter therapy sessions with the Olympus and found some unused photographs, and oh my..... what a discovery.. or more appropriately put, re-discovery !!

All images were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko Digital 50mm F2 macro lens

Bear in mind that all the photographs in this entry were sort of recycled from my older collection, that did not make it to my first selection process of usual blogging routine. I have my reasons for not choosing these photographs, so they were perhaps not the best of the bunch to be used. However, having a second look, I do think these images, re-selected from a few sessions, would be sufficient to illustrate what I wanted to describe in this blog entry: Why I love Olympus so much. 

Lets begin with the amazing resolution. Take a look at the image below. 

Wide Enough

So I was at the KLCC Twin Towers after work today, chilling and having a nice drink watching the sun died, and I decided to do some long exposure shooting. Then I realized, that Sony 18-70mm kit lens, at 18mm wide end, was not wide enough to fit even 3/4 of the tower where I was standing. 

So I mounted the camera on the tripod, and did multiple shots to be stitched into panorama image, done by Hugin, a freeware pano-stitching software. 

Sony DSLR Alpha A350 and Kit lens 18-70mm

Manual Exposure, 2sec, F/8, ISO100, 2sec self-timer, camera on tripod, SSS Off
15 photographs taken (5x3 grid) for stitching

New Shooting Location

I think I have recycled my shooting locations around Kuala Lumpur with nothing new for the past 2 years, shooting on the same streets: Chow Kit, Pudu, Jalan Masjid India, Petaling Street and Bukit Bintang area. I always find each street to be unique and different and I always come home with interesting subjects no matter how many times I have gone through the same streets. Perhaps, it was knowing the streets well enough that I have felt comfortable with the streets, I was able to move closer to my subjects and shoot without the fear of the unfamiliarity toward the shooting location. 

Yesterday I was eager to shoot at this new temple that I have discovered on last week, while shooting the Chinese Opera. It was the Nine Emperor Gods Temple in Ampang. I had to take a train that stops about a kilometers away from the temple, and as I was walking toward the temple from the train station, I found that the streets there (in Ampang) was not too bad for street shooting !! It turned out that I spent about 45 minutes shooting along the 1 kilometers stretch of old shops and buildings leading to the temple, and I stopped for breakfast. I have found quite a few good opportunities here !! 

All images were taken with Sony DSLR A350 and DT Lenses 50mm F1.8 and 18-70mm F3.5-5.6

Bare and Exposed

Sony Monochrom

Alright that was a cheesy blog title: Sony Monochrom, but I was presenting everything in black and white today. I have received many comments in my recent blog posts on the color that the Sony A350 produces, mostly saying how much better the Olympus color is, and I do agree mostly on this part, but hey, lets not compare and condemn one system or another. A camera is still a camera, and its job is to take pictures. So lets take all the colors away and make the camera color blind in this entry. The truth is, I am having just as much fun with the Sony, being out there on the streets attacking strangers and any subjects that caught my mind.

All you have to do to turn the Sony A350 into a Sony Monochrom, is change the "creative style" setting from default standard to B&W. I know I know its not the same thing, the results will not be what one would expect from the real deal, but hey, a black and white photograph is still a black and white photograph. And it has a strong place in photography world, and it is not going anywhere. 

The location of shoot was Bukit Bintang, at the heart of Kuala Lumpur. 

All images were taken with Sony DSLR A350 and DT lenses 18-70mm F3.5-5.6 or 50mm F1.8

Higher and Higher

Nine Emperor Gods Festival: A Chinese Opera

Update: I was complaining about a failed Compact Flash memory card by Lexar in my previous entry (click), and guess what? I woke up to an email from Lexar Support, asking me to send in the proof of purchase and the card to see if they can fix it, or replace it for me. Now this is getting freaky, I never knew anyone would be taking my blog entry that seriously. I was overwhelmed, but I thought an apology should be in place, because I did reacted emotionally in that entry, and failure could have happened to ANY cards by ANY manufacturers, there are so many reasons and causes of card failures. I applaud Lexar's initiative and effort in reaching out to me and making sure I got the proper compensation. 

As I was heading home after work today, I was browsing the news feed on my Facebook through my HTC mobile phone, and I saw Luke Chua saying he would be shooting at Ampang Nine Emperor Gods Temple, asking anyone else free to join him for the shoot in the evening. I clicked "like" on his status, and immediately opened up Google Maps to search for the location of the temple, and means to get there via public transport.  Just as I was searching through the phone App, a call came in and it was Luke !! I thought he was reading my mind across town, and somehow he knew I would be coming after clicking "like" on his status. Seriously, I sometimes believe photographers have some sort of telepathy network that we can know and understand each other even if we don't speak!! So Luke asked if I was coming, and I said yes. 

Now I was facing a dilemma. Knowing the temple setup would be really challenging for photography, I would need my Olympus gear (and the wonderful Zuiko lenses). However in the bag I was carrying I had the Sony (because I was still testing and learning how to use this new system) instead, and if I made the trip home to change my equipment, I would be late. I decided to just head to the temple straightaway with what I had in my bag, and I took a train to Ampang LRT train station, and walked about a kilometers to the Temple. 

All images were shot with Sony DSLR A350 and DT lenses 18-70mm F3.5-5.6 or 50mm F1.8

HORROR !!! Memory Card FAILURE !!

UPDATE: Limited Edition Olympus M.Zuiko 12mm F2 Black Kit is available for purchase through online order. Head to the official page here (click) to check out the promotion. There are only 60 units available in Malaysia, and 3000 units worldwide.

My hands got unbearably itchy earlier this evening, probably due to insufficient shutter therapy session in the past weekend since most of my time was dedicated to a paid wedding assignment, leaving me very little time to shoot for myself. It just felt like something was not complete, and I just needed to click the shutter button a little more to satisfy the craving. Partially the reason was to further test the newly acquired Sony Alpha A350 DSLR, which I am still fairly new to. New gear, new inspiration!! I know I can be weird, so I headed out after work to Jalan Masjid India with the Sony hoping to catch the dying sunlight. 

I walked and found some interesting subjects, as I was getting more and more shots, suddenly...... the compact flash memory card started to GIVE UP on me !!! 

How dare you LEXAR 16GB !!!

The error message on the camera backscreen. The images were not displayed in review, and could not be used further without formatting. 

That 50mm Is Not Bad

Now the revelation: most of the photographs I have shown so far taken with the Sony A350 and the 50mm F1.8 were not sharp, there is a strong possibility that they were not in 100% accurate focus. I am starting to suspect there might be front or back-focusing issue. 

When the perfect sweetspot was hit, the level of details the 50mm F1.8 in combination with then class leading 14.2 Megapixels image sensor in the A350 can be quite impressive. 

Take a look at the image below, I clearly remembered I set the focus on the word "D600". This was taken in a series of three photos, and the other two photos were soft, and obviously out of focus. 

Nick Wade willingly became my victim. 

On Photo-Assignment with a Sony

I was shooting a wedding on Sunday, and as planned originally, the main camera system would be Olympus DSLR E-5 and two primary lenses I use on it: ZD 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 that provides me with all my wide angle needs and ZD 50mm F2 macro for close up shooting and medium telephoto range. The Sony DSLR system that I recently acquired as a back-up tagged along in a separate bag, just in case something unexpected happens (I hear horror stories on assignment on all levels, including a Nikon D3 that just wont turn on to a Canon 5Dmk2 that died halfway through the shoot without warning), I have a reliable camera that I can work with. 

Then a thought hit me, why don't I start using two camera bodies? My usual shooting style was quick changing lenses, between two main lenses and that has worked very well for me this far. However, I think sometimes it is good to try something new and different, and see what how that new method or alternative could help or improve the game. I have the 11-22mm fitted on my Olympus E-5 at all times, with FL-50R flash mounted, for most important shots of the wedding day. I then have alongside that, with the Sony A350 and 50mm F1.8 lens attached to it, and I used this combo to capture close up details and expressions (emotions, laughter, smile, hugs, etc). And you know what? I am starting to open up to working with two camera bodies. Not bad at all, and all that trouble of changing lenses, though I am already very efficient with the whole process, still came in handy when I needed to do some macro work, or know that I need the incredible sharpness and superior image quality the ZD50mm F2 macro brings. 

Do take note that the wedding only took place yesterday, and I shall not include any photographs that show faces or people from the event, as I have not delivered the images to my clients. I always made sure I deliver the photographs to the clients first before blogging here, and also seeking their permission in advance. 

Therefore, I can only show details and close up shots, which I have taken with the Sony Alpha 350 and the 50mm lens. 

Nigel Sia, the official videographer of the day. Do check out his amazing work here (click). 

Shutter Therapy with a Sony

In case you have missed my previous entry, I have bought a new camera system, and it is Sony. I am still fairly new to this system, though the camera body itself is more than 4 years old now, the much respected Sony Alpha 350. I am taking my time to get to know the camera better, understand its behaviour and unique characteristics, so that I can make the best out of it. A lot of things about this camera are still unfamiliar to me, and I have a great fun discovering the wonders of this Sony in my shutter therapy session this morning. The location of shoot was Petaling Street, and my companions were Luke Ding and Nick Wade. 

Me and my Sony Alpha. 
Photo Credit: Nick Wade. 
Taken during shutter therapy two nights ago at Bukit Bintang. Cheers Nick. 

SURPRISE!! Something SONY this way comes...

Lets cut to the chase, I bought a new camera system, no, not just a new camera, but a whole set of camera system, and it is SONY. I found this very irresistible deal in a local buy/sell trade forum and immediately contacted the seller. Upon further inspection, the items were in VERY good conditions, looking almost like new, so I made the purchase. 

I got the following items: 
1) Sony Alpha A350 body 
2) Sony 18-70mm F3.5-5.6 kit lens 
3) Sony 50mm F1.8 lens 
4) Original Battery Grip for A350 
5) Sunpak TTL Flash (guide number 42) and 
6) two original Sony batteries. 

I got the whole system for a dirt cheap price, not even sufficient to buy even the cheapest currently available entry level DSLR body on the market, say a Nikon D3200 body. Yes, ALL that system (camera body, 2 lenses, flash, battery grip and batteries) costed me less than the cheapest entry level DSLR body, no joke. 

My new camera, Sony A350, with the 50mm F1.8 lens attached

3 Million Hits and Growing

This humble blog of mine has reached 3 Million visits just a few minutes ago. I remembered it took me many years to accomplish the first million, which happened earlier this year, and in less than one year, this blog has grown with another two million visits !! 

To all you beautiful readers out there, I thank you, from the bottom of my heart for supporting this blog, and staying with me. Life is indeed full of ups and downs, but with this blog and all you beautiful people out there, I find a few more reasons to smile and walk on. 

The World We Live In

Panasonic Lumix LZ8

This photograph somehow represents to a certain extent how I see the world we live in. It is always moving, constantly changing, and us, the citizens being forced out of our own comfortable pace. Sometimes I feel dizzy, sometimes I feel tensed, and there are times I just wish the world would stop for a bit and I can actually rest, and just not worry about anything at all for a bit. It is difficult to put what I have to say into exact words, but this photograph somehow summarizes everything rather fittingly: the contrasty dots on the dress against a moving background created strong tension in the photograph, and that awkward expression to match her awkward action (probably arranging her hair) added the important idea to the photograph: our constant struggle to fit in and conform to our surroundings. 

I do wish life is simpler !!

Shooting on the Street and Being Myself

Most people who shoot on the street do so for certain reasons, and we will somehow discover that the motivations and reasons to shoot are very different from one person to another. Similarly, when the photographers attack the street subjects, the way they approach the subjects, choose and how they work with the given photography opportunity would vary. I am very sure many would have this in mind when they saw something they wanted to shoot: "How would HCB approach this subject? What can I do to make this shot look something close to a good street photograph?" Thank goodness that did not really happen to me because I was never a fan of HCB. Nothing against him, I recognize his great talent and accomplishments as an artist, but his photographs just never spoke to me. 

Now this is where I believe I am different from many street photographers. I am not even sure if I should call myself a street photographer, but whenever I am on the street looking for subjects, I just looked for subjects that speak directly to me. I don't have pre-planning or that template of what street photographs should look like in my mind when I am out there doing what I do. As I take my slow walk on whatever streets of choice in Kuala Lumpur, I just let myself open to any opportunities, as long as the subject attracted my attention, that subject is worth my effort and time working my camera with. I do not have specific theme or "projects" planned out beforehand, or have anything particular I wanted to achieve. I call my street hunting sessions "shutter therapy", which means, the main purpose of me being out there shooting was purely a form of entertainment for myself, a way to enjoy myself, and have fun while doing photography. Hence, anything goes, really, and who freaking cares if anything I photograph would not qualify as street photographs anyway?

All images in this entry were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko Digital 50mm F2 macro lens. Location of shoot: Chow Kit 

Toys in Hands

More KLPF Stuff

UPDATE: Limited Edition M.Zuiko 12mm F2 Black Kit is available for purchase through online order. Head to the official page here (click) to check out the promotion. There are only 60 units available in Malaysia.

So I went to KLPF again for the second time, this time I was with the Jasonmumbles. We went really, really early when the crowd has not started to build up, so we can have our hands on some very popular cameras. 

Just some more photographs and coverage of cameras that I have missed out on the previous visit..

Jason trying that much raved about D600. Though it is a full frame camera but the body does not have that solid reassuring feel, and the handling is not as good as expected. Placement of buttons and shortcuts are odd, a little all around the places, but as the salesperson highlighted actually once we are used to the camera it should not be a problem, which is true. 

Kuala Lumpur Photography Festival 2012

So it was that mini-Photokina that we are having in Malaysia now, over this weekend, at Mid Valley Convention Center where the Kuala Lumpur Photography Festival  (KLPF) is happening. I am not entirely sure what to make of this event, particularly because it does not feel like 100% photography related, and I tell you, honestly, more than 50% of this event has become travel/tourism driven, and almost completely had nothing to do with photography at all. In the future, somehow, due to more and more travel agencies coming in as main sponsors of the event, it could just evolve into Kuala Lumpur Travel and Photography Festival. 

It was the first weekend that I can actually BREATHE some free air, away from my consecutive wedding asssignment and gear review works happening concurrently over the past few weeks. I am still slowly recovering from my bad flu and cough, and just recently finished that fashion shoot which happened few days ago. So that air of freedom was actually spent at this KLPF event, where I met quite a few familiar faces, catching up with old friends, and at the same time making some new ones. Indeed it is the largest photography festival (or also a travel fair of some sort) in town, and surely the place to be. 

I was also very surprised to find three of my photographs being printed and exhibited along a few hundred other photographs, in the theme "CITY" at KLPF !!

Olympus PEN E-PL5 Review: Street Shooting in KL

Important Notes:
1. This is a user experience based review.
2. All images were shot in RAW and converted directly to JPEG (High Quality) via Olympus Viewer 2, 
3. General camera settings, Noise Filter = OFF, Contrast/Saturation/sharpness = 0, White Balance = Auto (with an option maintain warm color = OFF), Gradation = Normal
4. No post-processing applied to the images, except the black and white images. All images were as good as straight out of camera, with minimal cropping for better presentation.

This is a continuation from the Part 1 of my blog review for the new Olympus PEN E-PL5, if you have not read my Part 1 please kindly do so here (click). 

In the previous part of my review, I brought the PEN E-PL5 for a real life paid assignment shoot, which was an actual day wedding coverage for dear friends Nigel Sia and Kel Li at Hotel Maya, Kuala Lumpur. In that entry I have commented on how I was impressed by the little camera's performance for a more serious photography environment, producing excellent image quality (similar to the OM-D E-M5), having almost instantaneous autofocus and very good handling for a small camera, being used for a full day shoot (12 hours duration almost non-stop). That was actually out of the ordinary practice, where I usually would bring the camera for street shooting or more casual situation. I shall be using the beautiful E-PL5 for my own shutter therapy session, which will be the center of discussion for this Part 2 of my E-PL5 review. 

In this particular shooting session, I was accompanied by a long time loyal blog reader and friend, Wan Amirruddin (an E-PL1 user like myself) on a Sunday morning, and we attacked Petaling Street. The main lens of choice was of course my most favourite lenses of all from micro 4/3 lens line-up, the M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8. I also used the 12mm F2 lens for situations where wide angle is a necessity, to capture more into a single frame composition. I only worked with both lenses, and I set the camera to Aperture Priority at all times, shooting mostly at base ISO200 under bright sunny condition, and bumped up the ISO as necessary when I was inside buildings (temples, market) or shade. EXIF information is provided at the bottom of each photograph.