Thursday, April 16, 2015

Overexposed

People say, Olympus Micro Four Thirds image sensor is small, hence has limited capabilities when it comes to overall dynamic range captured in a photograph. We have been told that larger image sensors such as full frame sensors can retain more details in the extreme highlight and shadow regions, preventing from highlight and shadow clippings. While we do not defy the rules of science and physics, my question here remains valid, how much more dynamic range do you really need?

I have to admit I am not one of those technical freaks who would scream out loud when I spot a tiny bit of highlight burns in my photograph. I am very forgiving and may tolerate a lot more loss  of dynamic range in my photographs than many others. However, I have also rarely encountered an issue whereby the dynamic range of the Olympus Micro Four Thirds system is not sufficient. 

E-M5 and 25mm F1.8 lens




I did a mistake in the above photograph. It was noon. I wanted to slow down the shutter speed to capture motion blur of the coming school bus. School bus with school children in school uniform crossing the road near a school after school hours, the idea seem to work as a good photograph. All I wanted to add was that motion blur for the extra "ooomph" in the image. I turned the mode dial to "shutter priority" and quickly dialed down the shutter speed to 1/4sec. ISO was at 200. Unfortunately the day was just being too bright, without lower ISO settings (ISO200 is native) or an aid of ND filter (even if I had one it would be not in time to shoot this frame, bus was coming fast), I captured an over exposed frame. Like, super seriously over-exposed. 

Like this,


At first I wanted to just delete the photograph, but thankfully it was shot in RAW. I opened up the Olympus viewer 3 and toned down the exposure to the lowest possible, and managed to recover a useable image. Nope, I could not recover all the highlights at such severe burn (yes yes, bigger sensor may be able to) but in all honesty, I was happy with the image I was able to recover. For a street photograph, it was good enough. 

I do not encourage sloppy techniques, I still strongly emphasize on proper exposure control during shooting to obtain best possible well exposed image. The insurance of being able to recover so much after an extreme over-exposure, was a plus.

23 comments :

  1. I often wonder about the dynamic range of various equipment. I also wonder about the ability of the noisiest of photographers. I often see the "Full Frame" fanatics as spending all their time on slow motion tricks, never having done anything that needed a big sensor.

    I try to save a memory of an instant, and try to re-create the emotion. Does the equipment record enough information? What do our eyes see? What dynamic range do they have? What color depth can they interpret?

    I suspect in 300 years' worth of development of digital photography, that we'll still not re-create what our eyes can do.

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    1. You see, that is the problem with reality vs what we want in a photograph. Many consumers do not want to record reality, they want exaggerated perspective of reality. They want shallow depth of field (which our eyes cannot render), they want HDR-resque images (more dynamic range than our eyes) and even more sharpness to reveal details our eyes cannot see.

      Strangely, photography is more of a fiction. Oh dear, I think this qualifies as another blog entry!

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    2. Yes, you're correct.

      I've seen far too many photos where the slim depth of field does not provide desirable effects but the photographer thought that he was being clever. Oh, well. I guess I'll never be anyone because I'm happy with recording reality. They're welcome to enjoy their fiction.

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  2. I believe the Olympus sensor manages highlights better than it manages shadows so I try to expose to the right as much as I can. I also make conscious decision on what to overexpose. Its dynamic range will fall flat during backlit situations (any time the strong lightsource is BEHIND the subject) but any front or sidelight will do fine against it.

    It will be up to the photographer to find the appropriate light to expose the content according to the sensor. Photographers have done that with films and various digital cameras in the past. When I shoot with my em10, I look for content according to light. Unless I face a situation where there's no way to make a interesting "backlit" photograph, I won't need a heavier format to cover more exposure challenge.

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    1. DPReview agrees with you with "exposing to the right"! This new article shows, that this is the best way, how to record the less noisier images, and according to them this is not because of camera noise, but because of shot noise (noise that the light includes itself). Unpleasant for us is, that smaller sensors (like MFT are besides APS-C and FF) produces more shot noise because of its smaller size (=they capture less light).

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    2. Right focused exposures definitely help a large majority of sensors. Sonys do react better when mid or left exposed. I don't have much problems on the native noise of oly. It's mostly my annoyance of shadow detail behavior. Just to confirm this, I went to download two RAW files (one from the 1inch Canon G7x, the other from the em10) from Imaging ressource at ISO 200 and pushed them +4, the oly could just do +3 before going all magenta noise, the Canon could go beyond and reach +5 without noise despite being of a smaller sensor...

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  3. Robin, the E-M5's latest firmware has LOW option, approximately ISO100 according to Olympus.

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    1. The ISO Low is an expansion from the native ISO200. You will not be able to recover anything more than what you can from ISO200.

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  4. Looks like it worked out to me, Robin. Thanks.

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  5. Nice shot, Robin, nothing wrong with it in my opinion. I've been in same situation and find the highlights I can recover from Raw E- M1 files usually more than adequate!

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  6. Some great points Robin - in the end *most* CSC bodies can handle most situations if the photographer behind the lens knows what they are doing - whilst taking the photo, and in post. From my time with the EM5 it is much like a Canon sensor, it is more adept at recovering highlight data than recovering shadow detail. Seem's as if the sensor was designed in such a way. What is coming apparent is the speed in which technology is simply blazing past us - whilst the high resolution mode they employed is certainly nifty in some scenario's it is just a bandage fix to a surfacing issue - will M43 ever shift past 16mp? We can argue that we don't *need* the extra resolution, but it is nice to have that extra resolution to play with. The Sony A6000 is remarkable camera, at a ridiculously remarkable price. The dynamic range and low light ability is indeed a tangible and noticeable step up from what is offered my Panasonic / Olympus to day. Cross shoppers who know their stuff will surely look at this and debate the merits of both sytems. Dynamic range *is* important, and always will be, especially for specific genre's of photographers. There are landscape photographers who are utilising D810's and D750s now, forgoing their filters (save for their ND's) and simply utilising almost 15 stops of pure dynamic range for their landscapes. No more lugging and setting up filters - one or two exposures maximum and the camera records a ridiculous amount of data. It's something Olympus / Panasonic have to address to compete with the influx of CSC competitors - Samsung is a sleeping giant, their BSI sensor is very solid indeed, and the D7200 has a dynamic range nipping at the heels of the D810. It's going to be a case of catch up, or get caught behind. Whilst the best camera is the one you have on you - potential buyers who do their research will have a hard time denying that APS-C and Full frame still provide a tangible and noticeable leap in image quality (dynamic range, low light grain structure, detail retention, colour accuracy, colour depth and tonal range)

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    1. One could argue the optical quality per weight/size of the current m43 lineup that is still shining above the APSC-FF alternatives but they are definitely making us wish we had the 13-15 stops that a sony-enhanced nikon sensor is giving. I have no problems shooting the m43 at mid-day or night since d-range of artificial light doesn't exceed 11 stops at many occasions. When travelling, the 13-15 stops issue only shows up on backlit scenes so far (that classical sunset silhouette issue during golden hours or bright overcast sky), making me reposition myself to try to fill up my 11 stops but I am surely thinking about that Nikon D750 I left at home that could have done the job in a click. I've bought my 16-85VR and I'm just waiting for loose cash to get the d5500.

      Blowing highlights and burning shadows are definitely an aesthetic choice to remove information in the frame in order to showcase the subject. Too many just use the d-range as a technical showcase yet d-range pushing is a necessary phase in evolving the technical knowledge of a photographer.

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    2. Hey,

      What you write is true. BUT. I own Olympus E-P5 and Sony A7 camera as well. I can tell you there is almost no difference between these 2 cameras when comparing high ISO noise or even base ISO noise. Yes Sony has a little bit higher DR. But again I was quite disappointed with that 4 times larger sensor noise perfrormance. Sony produces very ugly none organic noise structure. For example shooting at ISO 1600 with both cameras I can swear that I prefer Olympus files more !! That's just how it is. The only reason I own FF camera is an ever growing line of my old legacy lenses. Those lenses are absolutly stunning performers on a FF camera. They produce vintage bokeh that no new m43 lens will ever bring to us. Anyway I hugely prefer shooting Nikkor Micro 55mm lens on my m43 camera since macro is so good on 2x crop that you even do not have to think about it. Cheers

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    3. I'm totally with you on the oly noise/grain structure vs. what bionz creates for sony. Thus why I held up getting the a7 for so long and stuck with Nikon. What is your list of legacy lenses? :D I have the Nikkor Ai 50 1.8, Ais 135mm 2.8, Helios 44-2 58 f2. I'll be looking for that micro55 you love :D

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    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. I don't think I need a DR better than the human eye. Most of the HDR images I don't like too much. About your example, normally, in your position I would try another image not such over-exposed. The life is full of opportunities if you are looking well...

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    1. Not entirely true. The moment may happen in the next half an hour, or the next day. I do not have such patience.

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  8. A bad background is just that and no amount of shallow DoF or bokeh is going to change that. One area where a lack of dynamic range is a great benefit is when a fill flash and very underexposed background makes a great technique for subject isolation.

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  9. Comparing to Canon's DSLRs, OM-D are not standing too bad. Check DXOMARK tests: http://www.dxomark.com/Cameras/Compare/Side-by-side/Olympus-OM-D-E-M10-versus-Canon-EOS-700D-versus-Canon-EOS-6D___937_870_836
    The same DR as EOS 6D. Interesting is, that Olympus gets more from smaller sensor - that's why I added EOS 700D with APS-C sensor that is still larger than MFT in OM-Ds. I understand, that 6D is possible to brighten dark parts of photos because of better ISO score and has much, much more resolution. But imagine the prise and weighted difference between my E-M10 and fullframe 6D! Nikon is much more better in this technical issue (with Sony sensors I guess)... We can discus a lot, but OM-Ds are overall not too bad according to its sensor size. Am I right?

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  10. As this article correctly illustrates, the main advantage of better-than-2015-m43 sensor technology is to make up for poor technique and blunders in framing and exposing an image. The thoughtful and learned photographer will get complete satisfaction from today's sensors, and will take responsibility for irrecoverable failures.

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