Olympus 5-Axis Image Stabilization Explained

Olympus rocked the camera world with the original E-M5 in 2012, setting up a benchmark of how a mirrorless camera should be made, and breaking expectations of mirrorless and Micro Four Thirds system performance. An important feature introduced in E-M5 was 5-Axis Image Stabilization. Olympus shouted to the world how incredible their 5-Axis IS can be but not much explanation is made and not many people discuss or explain what it is, how it works, and why it is so important in practical shooting scenarios. So I made a video to cover all those points! 



This is one perfect example that video actually works better to demonstrate how a feature works, in comparison to a written article. There are no easy ways to explain in a simplified manner how all the different 5-Axis movements are. I shall not repeat those points here, and I did my best to make the video as short as possible for easy consumption. 

I do want to say that, having experienced the 5-Axis IS for so many years now, using it for both commercial shoots and personal projects, it is one critical feature in a camera that I cannot live without. If I were to migrate to another system (hey, anything is possible) a feature sitting high in the consideration list would be reliable image stabilization. The 5-Axis IS is not just a gimmick, as some would lead others to believe, it is an actual shooting feature that makes a world of difference in a plethora of environment. 

You may think that it is not a crucial thing to have in a camera at first (because some people keep shouting Megapixels and High ISO an Dynamic Range all over again) but what is the point of having that many Megapixels if you can't fully optimize each and every one of them?

Let me know what you think! 

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Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ Camera Review by a Photographer

It has been a while since I last did a review of anything, so here comes a new smartphone camera review, this time the much hyped Samsung Galaxy Note 10+. In this article I will be emphasizing solely on the Note 10+'s camera performance, reviewing it from a photographer's perspective. There are many fantastic reviews of Samsung Note 10+ out there, but when it comes to the camera review I find most of them unsatisfactory - not enough meaningful sample images to show what the camera is capable of, and sometimes, the tech reviewers do not even know what they were talking about. So here I am, having a Samsung Note 10+ in hand for almost a week, shooting daily with it, I am sharing my experience using the camera on the smartphone, and some images that I have taken with it. 


The Samsung Note 10+ unit I had was on loan from Samsung Malaysia for reviewing purpose only and will be returned shortly after. I am not associated with Samsung Malaysia, and I was not paid or asked to do any part of this review. This is a user experience based review, and I am sharing my opinion from an active practicing photographer's view, hence bear in mind my findings will be subjective. I will not review anything else from the Note 10+ apart from the camera's performance and capabilities. All images were shot in JPEG and minor post-processing was performed (brightness, contrast, minor crop). 

The Samsung Note 10+ has 3 camera modules at the back of the smartphone:

ULTRA WIDE ANGLE CAMERA
16MP, F2.2, equivalent focal length of 12mm

MAIN CAMERA - WIDE ANGLE
12MP, F1.5 or F2.4, equivalent focal length of 26mm, with OIS

MEDIUM TELEPHOTO CAMERA
12MP, F2.1, equivalent focal length of 52mm, with OIS

Other notable features of the camera:
LIVE FOCUS - for fake bokeh rendering
PRO MODE - for full exposure control of shutter speed, ISO, etc
PHASE DETECT AF
DEDICATED NIGHT MODE

For full specification, please visit official product page here. 

I have been using the Note 10+ as my daily driver for the past several days, and I have taken some  shots with the camera during my daily commute. I also did a short shutter therapy session around downtown Kuala  Lumpur city area, testing it in various shooting conditions. 

Three camera modules, from top to bottom - Ultra Wide Angle 12mm, Standard Wide Angle 26mm and Medium telephoto 52m

Note 10+ is one sleek, gorgeous, sexy looking phone. The edge to edge screen coverage is insanely beautiful. 

There are additional depth sensors, but let's not get too technical. Sorry about the dusts in the photo, this was not a paid product shot.

WHAT I REALLY LIKED ABOUT NOTE 10+

1) INTERCHANGEABLE FOCAL LENGTHS 

I really like that there are three different cameras with individual lenses built in the Note 10+. I especially treasure the medium telephoto lens 52mm which has become my favourite go to focal length for most of my personal shoots, and those of you who know me will know how I love 50mm equivalent focal lengths for general photography. Shooting with the 52mm equivalent medium tele lens, the images came out proportionate with minimal distortion, and this will result in more flattering looking portrait shots. 

I personally am not a fan of ultra wide angle lens, but I admit the importance of having one, and how in certain situations, having one can make all the difference in the world. Shooting in tight spaces, or going low angle to create dramatic effect, the ultra wide angle was a huge welcome.  I would use the main camera 26mm more, and that itself is already wide enough for most of my day to day shooting needs. 

The incredible fact is that I could switch easily between cameras/lenses, with minimal effort, and yes, the different focal lengths can acquire different image outcome.  However, for best/optimal image quality, I highly recommend staying with the main 26mm wide angle camera, since this camera has F1.5 wide aperture option which will allow better photographs in dim lighting conditions. Also, the 12mm ultra wide angle lens exhibits soft corners and some noticeable chromatic aberration issue shooting in high contrast scenario. 

2) VERY GOOD IMAGE QUALITY

I generally am quite impressed with the image output from the Samsung Note 10+. Image come out crisp and detailed, with sufficient contrast, looking life-like and beautiful. The JPEG engine does a good job in preserving good amount of details. The white balance engine nails the color balance very efficiently, even in some challenging scenario, producing some very realistic looking color rendering. Skin tones look pleasing without being too washed out like what most smartphones tend to do, and generally the colors never looked too fake or "overcooked", which was a surprise coming from Samsung, and I must say, well done!

If you do pixel peep, there are traces of over-sharpening, and aggressive noise reduction when higher ISO (ISO200 and above) are used, but those are typical problems with most smartphones out there, so nothing to care too much about. I'd say Note 10+ produces some of the best looking images from a smartphone camera I have ever seen. 

Dynamic range is more of a hit and miss situation. The HDR kicks in to save the day, but often being too aggressive, pulling out too much details from highlight and shadow region, defeating the overall natural look that the JPEG engine was trying to maintain all along. I'd take a slightly less aggressive approach and just not use the HDR in most cases. But hey, if you are not in a rush, it may be wise to try to turn the HDR on and off, especially dealing with the sky, sometimes HDR works like a mircale rescuing the blown highlights. 

52mm lens, ISO50

52mm lens, ISO50

12mm lens, ISO50

52mm lens with live focus, ISO40


26mm, ISO200

52mm lens with Live Focus, ISO640

52mm, ISO50


3) FAST & RELIABLE AUTOFOCUS

Perhaps another surprise was how well the AF on Note 10+ performed. When I was on the street, with the smartphone being on standby, as I saw something was happening, I switched on the camera, framed my subject immediately, made a quick tap on the screen for AF point selection, and BOOM. I nailed the shot, again and again! This was truly something impressive coming from a smartphone camera, as I have tested many smartphone cameras before (even some flagships) the AF was always lagging behind, sometimes taking a second or more to lock focus. Of course I am not expecting similar performance in low light condition, but even in very dim light, I could still find the AF locking on target quite effectively, and the slight delay was tolerable. If you are a street photographer and you intend to do some street shooting, the Note 10+ is a good consideration. 

4) GOOD LOW LIGHT SHOOTING

The Samsung Note 10+ does perform admirably when it comes to less than favorable lighting environment. Two important features that helped in low light shooting - image stabilization and also F1.5 wide aperture. Having image stabilization helps greatly in reducing camera shake and the F1.5 aperture, perhaps one of the brightest in the market helps in gathering as much light as possible without boosting the ISO numbers unnecessarily high. 

I find the images from low light shooting to be good, but I must also admit that high ISO noise reduction kicked in and there is smearing of details if we pixel-peep. Not a big issue, as general consumers would prefer working with smooth, non-noisy looking image, and that is fine, as this is what the Note 10+ is targeted toward. 

Note 10+ has a night mode, which I am less thrilled to talk about. The night mode, on paper, does extremely well in capturing bright, well exposed, and almost HDR looking images for dark scenes. However, the camera also selects dangerously low shutter speeds (as low as 1/3 second in some situation) and this was almost impossible to hand-hold. I also suspect that the Night mode takes multiple images successively to be composited into a single image to reduce noise, having slow shutter, to hold the camera steady for a duration of time, that combination is not very practical. 

Bear in mind that image stabilization is not available for ultra wide angle camera, the 12mm, so extra care is to be taken when shooting with ultra wide angle in extremely dark lighting. 

Having said that, I did come  home with a lot of night street images of KL that I really like. 

5) PRO MODE & LIVE FOCUS
I like the fact that I have full access to manual controls over the advanced settings such as shutter speed, ISO, white balance, etc in the Note 10+, though I have not used them much at this point. Having control is important to any photographer, and there will be situations when the automatic mode will fail, and the smartphone is not smart enough, and intervention from the photographer is necessary to get the shots. 

The Live Focus does a very convincing job in creating artifical bokeh, simulating blurred background that look somewhat real. It may be able to fool most average smartphone users who are non photographers, or have not used prime lenses or dealing with shallow depth of field on a daily basis, but hey, I like where this computational photography thing is going. I can clearly see this feature being added into a dedicated camera soon. And at the pace of the advancement, maybe one day we don't even need to shoot with large image sensors to achieve completely realistic looking bokeh. 



26mm lens, ISO800

26mm lens, ISO200

26mm lens, ISO500

52mm lens, ISO250

26mm lens, ISO320

26mm lens, ISO100, NIGHT MODE

26mm, ISO500


WHAT I HOPE NOTE 10+ WAS BETTER AT

Before I dive into my minor complains about the Note 10+'s camera, I must say that I am nick picking here and most of these complains may not even apply to average smartphone users. However, these issues, as tiny and harmless as they may sound, have affected my overall shooting experience and some even caused me to miss crucial shots. I am commenting using the photogapher's voice in me. 

1) LIVE VIEW NOT SMOOTH

This may come as a surprise to many - how can this be, Samsung is the largest manufacturer in the world! Their super AMOLED screen is the best in class! No really, the screen is fabulous, I have no beef with that. However, when the camera is activated, the live view is not smooth. First of all, there is a slight delay, not big enough delay to be annoying, but it is there and noticeable when shooting. I have been dealing with professional level photography equipment that has delay as little as 5 milliseconds, that is almost instantaneous. The lag on the Note 10+'s screen was probably like 0.1 or 0.2 second, but it was bad enough as if you are watching a YouTube video with slightly off-sync audio. It may not affect 95% of shooting scenarios, dealing with non moving objects, but for very quick action shots, this can be a problem. This is counter-intuitive to the blazing fast AF and shot to shot performance of Note 10+. 

Furthermore, the refresh rate of the screen during camera's live view is also poorer than expected. By default during normal smartphone operations, the refresh rate was something at 60Hz, that is not the case with the camera's live view. Quickly panning the screen around or moving the camera facing left to right, the live view appeared jerky and looked a little blurred. This is difficult for me to explain here, but you may find the example of this issue demonstrated in the video on YouTube. Note 10+ is a flagship level smartphone, featuring high end powerful processor chip, and I would expect the display to be crystal clear, lag free, and perfectly smooth.

2) SHUTTER LAG

I know I have just mentioned  how fast the AF and general shot to shot performance of the camera is, but there is a noticeable shutter lag. Shutter lag is the short delay between the press of the shutter button to the capture of the image. The shorter the delay, the better the response of the camera, and the higher chance of hitting the critical split second moment shot will be. AF was spot on fast, Note 10+ acquires focus very rapidly, but as the shutter button is touched, you can see about a bit less than half a second delay (0.3 second maybe) until the shot is captured. This should not be an issue if we are used to the timing of the shutter lag and can predict before hand how the camera will capture the image at each release of the shutter, but it would still be great to have almost instantaneous response from Note 10+. I know I may sound a bit ridiculous for expecting this level of performance from a smartphone, but we can always dream for better performing camera right? To me, nothing matters more than being able to nail the shot, so shutter lag is a crucial factor to improve on.

3) LIMITATIONS ON PRO MODE

I have praised Note 10+  for having extensive manual controls, but there are limitations to those controls which I wish could have been better.

Firstly, the ISO was limited at 800 at the highest setting.  For any camera in 2019, I would expect at least ISO3200 or 6400. I understand perfectly the conservative approach in restricting the high ISO  numbers, so that we don't get noisy looking image. Here is the truth - I'd rather get a noisy image, but free from camera shake or motion blur than having a clean, no noise image but blurred because shutter speed is not fast enough. You can clean up a high ISO image, it may look bad, but the content is there, the subject is there, the story is there, it is still a photograph. If the image is blurred beyond salvation without the help of high ISO, it cannot be rescued no matter what we do with too much blurring! Give us the high ISO!

Secondly, the shutter speed was limited to 10 second longest. I wish it stretches to about 30 seconds or beyond, maybe 60 seconds to allow us more creative control and freedom. Since the 26mm wide angle lens has bright aperture of F1.5, I'd imagine this would be perfect to shoot the night sky, maybe a milky way shot! I need the shutter speed to be at 20-30 seconds, and maybe ISO at 1600 to 3200! Unfortunately the ISO was stuck at 800 and shutter speed at 10 seconds now.

I also believe these limitations are software imposed, and can be made available!

12mm, ISO50

52mm, ISO50

52mm, ISO50

12mm, ISO50

26mm, ISO50

12mm, ISO400

26mm, ISO160


I strongly believe that smartphone photography is not the future, it is NOW. Smartphone camera is overtaking the popularity of traditional, dedicated camera use, and for most cases, the performance and quality for smartphone cameras today are more than adequate for average day to day use. I am glad to see the large manufacturers pushing the boundaries of smartphone imaging and I am sure more exciting things will come very soon.

Where does the Samsung Note 10+ sit in the world of photography in general? I'd place it at the spot of an advanced compact camera level. The ability to switch camera/lenses was a huge plus, multiplying the use and capability of the smartphone camera several folds. The camera's fast and reliable AF are already so good that I can trust the smartphone to do some serious street photography. I only wish it was not somewhat crippled by a live view that was not exactly smooth and lag-free, but that was just me nick-picking and on the whole the performance of the Note 10+ camera is commendable. Image quality was respectable, with great out of the camera results, good JPEG files with pleasing white balance and overall color reproduction. Combining all these factors with advanced control features like PRO mode, and ability to simulate fake bokeh background, in the hands of a capable photographer, he can fulfill most of the general shooting needs with just the Samsung Note 10+.

How then can the smartphone camera match a true professional camera? The image sensor size and lens used need to be larger, much larger. I know the overall design concept of smartphones is going to be slimmer, smaller, more compact.  I am also certain, if someone fits a much larger sensor size and high quality optics in a thicker, heavier smartphone body, yet somehow make it compact enough to carry around, that would be a killer camera phone. Who knows, maybe some day that will happen. At this moment, the only limiting factor to improve the smartphone camera further is the tiny image sensor size. There is only so much you can do with a small sensor, you cannot beat the laws of physics.

Having said that, I am also a photographer, and my wishes may not be representative of the general public. For most people, the Samsung Note 10+ has camera capabilities that may not even be fully utilized.

26mm, ISO320

26mm, ISOI00, NIGHT MODE

12mm, ISO320


My conclusion? The Samsung Note 10+ did better than my initial expectations, and I enjoyed myself tremendously using the camera and doing shutter therapy with it. To me, a photographer, I would be happy using it as my daily driver, and the camera fits my go to quick snapshot camera that can cover a wide variety of situations.

Do you have a Samsung Note 10 or Note 10+? Do share your experience using the camera. I would love to hear from you!

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43 Possible Reasons Why Your Micro 4/3 Images Are Not Sharp

This started as a joke, because one of the most popularly asked question to me was- why are my images not sharp? There are so many factors that could affect the sharpness of your images, and I have said numerous times that there are possibly 43 reasons! Little did I know, after I actually listed them down, yes, there are indeed 43 reasons (and probably more) why you are not getting sharp images from your Micro Four Thirds camera. This list has been sitting with me for a while now, and I thought it would be fun to make it into a video!


Here is the list:
1) Image Stabilization was OFF
2) Manual Focus switched accidentally
3) AF target area at the wrong spot
4) Diffraction
5) Flare/Backlit
6) Fingerprint on lens front element
7) Fingerprint on image sensor (yikes!)
8) Shutter speed too slow (camera shake)
9) Weird excessive hand movements when clicking the shutter (see video for better explanation)
10) Art filter used, especially soft filter
11) Noise Reduction filter set too high
12) Image resolution setting set to JPEG Small 
13) Subject motion
14) Too much coffee
15) Shutter shock 
16) Fungus growing inside the lens
17) Water inside the lens
18) Air pollution/haze - legit problem in Malaysia recently. 
19) Flat, dull lighting
20) Not close enough, subject appearing too small 
21) Full time AF on, screwing up focus lock
22) Face Detect AF failures
23) Front or back focusing due to lens inaccuracy
24) Cheap filters on lens
25) Image Stabilization unit faulty
26) Lens faulty - cannot focus on infinity
27) Focus limiter switch
28) Too high expectation from the kit lenses
29) Differing definition of sharpness
30) Shooting discipline not applied on the field
31) Sharpness is a bourgeois concept
32) Shooting through glass or any other material
33) Shooting single-handedly, handling large camera + body combo
34) Using cheap tripod - wobbly, rattly, non-steady
35) Wrong Image Stabilization mode
36) Outdated center focus and recompose method
37) Shooting close up, high magnification shot
38) Poor post-processing techniques
39) Using lens converters (tele converter, macro converter, wide angle converter, etc)
40) Burst sequential shooting H setting with C-AF (does not work)
41) Digital teleconverter is ON
42) Firmware not updated (AF & IS compatibility issues can happen with newer products)
43) Ground movement 

That is one long, exhaustive list! Of course I am not expecting anyone to remember everything, the list is not supposed to be a reference or guide, but hey, you gotta admit those are real, possible reasons and I have seen all of them happen in real life before. 

We just do the best we can and put in extra effort to ensure to get the best result while shooting, that is enough! No need to stress over every single one of the list, but hey, I am not kidding when I mentioned it would be difficult for me to pin-point what went wrong if you asked me why your image is not sharp!

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How To Shoot The Moon Simplified

I have been asked quite often on shooting the moon techniques, and that if I have used the tripod. When  I said I shot the moon hand-held with no additional support, some were surprised and did not believe me. You see, if you have a non-cloudy sky, the moon is bright enough to shoot without the aid of a tripod. So I am making this super short video + article to explain how I do it, and hopefully can save me trouble in the future whenever this topic comes up, I will redirect those asking similar questions here! 


What you need?
A telephoto lens is crucial. I'd say you need at least the Olympus 40-150mm PRO with MC-14 attached. It would be great if you have the 75-300mm lens, or the 300mm PRO lens, and bonus if you have MC-14 or MC-20 teleconverters attached on your 300mm PRO lens. The longer the reach, the better, and Olympus has power image stabilization to help with shooting hand-held using these long lenses on OM-D cameras. 

Cropped image of the moon, E-M1 Mark II + 40-150mm PRO (with MC-14).
ISO200, F5.6, 1/80sec

The following list shows how to shoot the moon, in simple steps:
1) Shoot in Aperture Priority, set F number to F4-5.6
2) Set ISO to 200, for best dynamic range and overall image quality
3) Make sure your image stabilization is turned on. 
4) Set the White Balance to "Shade" for more intense color of the moon. 
5) Use Spot Metering, make sure the moon is within the spotting area (usually center of frame)
6) Slightly underexpose the moon to preserve the highlight, to reveal more crater details. I usually adjust down my exposure compensation to -1.0EV or more. 
7) Take the shot!

Yes, it is that easy! If you have not shot the moon before, and you have the necessary equipment, why don't you give it a try?

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A Mini Milestone Achieved - 10,000 Subs on YouTube!

We have just hit 10,000 subscribers count on YouTube! Hurray!

Special thanks to all you beautiful people for the support. I started hitting YouTube more seriously back in July when I decided to post 2 videos per week, and was aiming to hit 10,000 subs by end of 2019. However, little did I expect, that goal happened much earlier, we are in September and it is now 10,150 subs and counting! I know for many 10k subs is not a big deal, especially when we live in a world where a 2 minutes video of a cat eating a corn can generate a million views. It may be a small step, but to me, this is a positive encouragement to drive me further and to strive to improve myself in the alien world of YouTube! Of course, all thanks to you guys for the likes, comments, shares and subscribing. 



Why YouTube?

I never intended to start or get serious in YouTube. However, I do admit that the world has moved on, photography blogs are losing popularity. Blogging or no blogging, I am still an active photographer, shooting both commercially and working on personal projects. YouTube seems like a great platform to reach out to an audience, and to continue to share my passion in photography. It is a place I can showcase my work, rant some ideas and share my skills and experience as a photographer. It is also evident that some techniques or explanation are better executed in a video format, than writing. It is easier to show how to take a portrait of a stranger through a behind the scenes video in 30 seconds, than writing a 2000 words article. 

Why did I not start sooner?

Blogging and doing a video are so different. In the blogging world, I don't have to show my face, and I don't have to speak. Writing is also easier to edit. I don't have to care about how I sound like, or if there is something in my hair, or if my face is in focus when I deliver a speech. I can write a blog entry anywhere, anytime, without worrying about lighting or camera battery levels. I was never comfortable speaking in front of a camera.

Furthermore, I am a complete noob when it comes to video shooting. I know not about the 180 degrees rule (slowly picking this up now) or how to create cinematic looking footage. Photography and videography are so different, now I need to think of a story-board, a script and B-rolls? Oh and also audio recording, because nobody likes to listen to poorly recorded voice speaking for 10 minutes long. There is a whole new world for me to learn, and I was just not ready to jump in yet. 

Image credit: Robert Evangelista

I released a video about the Olympus E-M1 Mark II and Firmware 3.0 in June, and it did really well. I made the video because it was easier to show the new features in video, than writing them. The response was quite positive, and after making an actual video and putting it up, I thought to myself, I can actually do this! I did everything myself, setting up a camera on a tripod, recorded my own voice separately (to be sync-ed up later) and you know what really baked the cookie? I edited that entire video in Windows Movie Maker. Yeap, the noob in me cannot be more obvious. 

Seeing that it was possible for me to handle everything alone, with careful planning and much consideration, some time in early July I decided to pursue YouTube more seriously. I knew I was not ready but if I kept telling myself that I will never be ready. So I decided to just jump in and do it!
I decided to upload two videos per week, every Mondays and Thursdays. I have been consistent ever since until today. There were a lot of stumbling blocks, I made a few mistakes there and here, but hey, I guess those were necessary. And in about more than 2 months later, now, we are at 10,000 subs! I did not see this coming at all. 

It was not easy, trust me! At least not for me. 

I am a terrible multitasker. I have to take care of the camera that is filming myself speaking or demonstrating something. The first camera to shoot video of me stays on a tripod, usually at a public location, so the fear of someone snatching the tripod with a camera and lens on it was always present. For every single shot I need to reframe, re-focus, and adjust the exposure settings. Then I have to also think about what I am shooting, or doing while being recorded in video. This is the tricky part, normally when I shoot, I gave 100% concentration to get my shots, either street shots, portraits, macro or anything else, I do not have to worry about anything else. Now that I am doing video, all by myself, I have to care about camera settings on two separate cameras! 

Besides the camera on hand, and on tripod (recording video), I also need to record audio, and that was done on a lavalier mic attached to my shirt (quite obvious if you have seen any of my videos) and that mic goes to a voice recorder in my pocket. The audio track was recorded separately and I sync them up with video in post. Oh speaking of post-production, I have absolutely zero knowledge jumping  into this. I decided to use Da Vinci Resolve (since it is free) and I have to learn everything from scratch!

I have so much more to learn, it is a long, long way, but hey, I am able to reach an audience and share meaningful content through the YouTube platform, that itself is true, and is enough reason for me to keep going. I know not where this will lead me, but not knowing keeps it both exciting and fun!

Again, thanks all for making the 10,000 subs possible. Shutter therapy goes on!

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Dealing with High ISO Shooting on Olympus OM-D Cameras

One of the most frustrating things to see at online forums or any other photography discussions is how poor the high ISO performance is for Micro Four Thirds system. I do not challenge the physics that larger image sensor size will yield cleaner and better results when it comes to high ISO scenario, but I have never encountered a situation in both my professional and personal shooting environment where the low light capability of my OM-D camera is insufficient. Therefore, I thought it would be great to share some of the tips on dealing with high ISO shooting, some dos and don'ts when using the Olympus OM-D camera system. 


Before we dive too deep, let me remind you that we should not obsess with high ISO shooting, especially when it comes to personal shooting.  I can totally understand if you shoot commercially and you have to deliver shots to clients. For personal projects, don't let high ISO noise get in the way of your photography process. Noise or no noise, a great image is still a great image. Good photography has no correlation to high ISO noise. Focus more on the idea or emotion you are expressing in your photographs, the visual story-telling component. 

With that out of the way, let's begin!


DO NOT USE SILENT SHUTTER

When shooting at high ISO, silent shutter will amplify the visible noise in the images. I am not entirely sure why this is the case, but when silent shutter, or electronic shutter is engaged, the resulting image suffers more  degradation, with higher amount of noise grains and artifacts in comparison to normal mechanical shutter use. Furthermore,  in the shadow area of the image, there are ugly green color cast that appear as patches and blotches which are very difficult to correct or remove in post-processing. These ugly green blotches are not present when normal mechanical shutter is being used. I'd only advice to use the silent shutter when absolutely necessary - shooting a piano recital for example. In other cases when shutter sound is not a concern, using the normal mechanical  shutter will ensure you better high ISO results. 

ISO6400 image, intentionally underexposed to exaggerate noise bahaviour

Crops from previous image.
Left: Normal Shutter, Right: Silent Shutter

ISO6400, intentionally underexposed to exaggerate noise pattern

Crops from previous image.
Left: Normal Shutter, Right:Silent Shutter. Notice the ugly green cast/patches in the shadow area.

HAND-HELD STARLIGHT SCENE  MODE

For JPEG shooters, there is an interesting multi-shot noise reduction mode built into the camera that can be used to help reduce high ISO noise significantly. You can find this feature "Hand-Held Starlight" under scene mode.Unfortunately, E-M1X and E-M1 Mark II do not have scene modes, Olympus decided to exclude them in these cameras. For all other OM-D cameras, such as E-M10 Mark III, E-M1, E-M5 Mark II, you can make use of this mode to get much cleaner results. Once engaged, the hand-held starlight mode will capture 8 separate images consecutively and then merge them all into one composite image to significantly reduce the noise in the image. This works because high ISO noise pattern is random,  and same noise grain does not exist in the same pixel location in every image captured. Sampling 8 different images, there is a high chance to selectively merge areas with clean pixels, hence resulting in a better image. Do take note that this method, like any other in camera composite modes, only works with static subjects. 

ISO3200, underexposed 

ISO3200,normal shot

ISO3200 crop, Hand-Held Starlight mode


DO NOT UNDEREXPOSE

This is a general rule of thumb when it comes  to low light shooting, not just for Olympus cameras, but also applicable for all cameras. Underexposure leads to less information captured in the shadow region, lifting the shadows in post-processing will amplify the noise in the image. It is very crucial to get the exposure right during shooting especially when shooting high ISO.  It is also recommended to slightly overexpose the image to get cleaner shadows, but do be careful not to clip the highlights, as highlights may be difficult to recover at high ISO shooting as well. Shooting discipline is crucial. 

SHOOT IN RAW

If you do not shoot RAW, you should definitely start considering RAW if you have to deal with a lot of low light situations. Shooting in RAW allows the camera to capture as much information as possible in a single image, and these data can be stretched and recovered in post-processing. JPEG information is limited, and camera does internal noise reduction process which does a good job at minimizing noise, but at the expense of useful detail as well, resulting in often painterly, mushy look. Another important aspect of shooting in RAW is the ability to correct the white balance with no consequence to the image noise. Shooting JPEG with the wrong white balance setting will be disastrous when correcting the colors, introducing ugly noise in the mage.  Shooting RAW and doing effective post-processing will almost guarantee better high ISO images. 

GRADATION NORMAL

I generally recommend setting the camera's gradation setting to normal, because the "auto" setting will lift shadow areas, and this is not really helpful when our goal is to minimize noise in the image. I did suggest using "Auto" gradation in my optimizing dynamic range article/video lately, and that is strictly applicable when shooting at ISO200 and for the sole reason of boosting dynamic range shooting in JPEG only. When shooting at higher ISO numbers, 800 or beyond, using gradation auto will severely affect the noise in the image. 

I hope you have found these tips useful! If you have more to share, leave them in the comments below, sharing is caring!


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Olympus M.Zuiko 12-200mm F3.5-6.3 at KL Bird Park

Olympus released a lens with the longest zoom range for Micro Four Thirds earlier this year, the M.Zuiko 12-200mm F3.5-6.3. I have written an article about that on Ming Thein's site (click) and I won't repeat my findings here in this particular blog entry. Instead, I made a video of me discussing the important points from that article, and of course, showcasing an entirely new set of photographs. In short, the Olympus 12-200mm may not excel in any departments (certainly not a low light lens, not the sharpest, longest or widest) but it does own the title of the most versatile Olympus lens up to date!


Kuala Lumpur is currently blanketed by thick haze, as a result of forest and plantation burning in a neighbor country. The haze pollution got so bad that I could not shoot a building across the road without looking somewhat a bit out of focus. This is not the best scenario to test a lens, or take sample photographs for the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-200mm lens, hence the lack of wide angle shots. However, I did have a lot more wide angle sample in my article on Ming Thein's site, so in this particular session I emphasized more on getting longer shots. KL Bird Park was a good choice, as it was a small garden/park setting, and all subjects were shot within a near distance, negating the need to deal with hazy air.

My verdict on Olympus 12-200mm stays the same, image quality is on par with all other standard zoom Olympus lenses (14-42mm, 40-150mm R, 14-150mm) but longer range of zoom from 100mm and further does suffer a little loss of sharpness, which was to be expected from a super zoom lens. The images are still perfectly acceptable and usable, just manage your expectation and not expect a PRO grade lens sharpness (eg 40-150mm PRO or 12-100mm PRO).

All images were shot in RAW and post-processed in Capture One Pro.















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