The Olympus E-M1 Mark II and back button focusing

Note to readers: I’m keeping this post alive for its useful comment threads, but the post’s content has really been superseded by material in a newer post.


I recently received an Olympus  E-M1 Mark II — the idea being that it’ll shortly replace my trusty original E-M1 I purchased a few years back.  While I’ve still got both, I’ll be shooting and posting some comparison shots between the two models — but first will be writing a few posts on upgrades and changes in the new model.

First up — setting up back button focusing.

What is back button focusing?

For those unfamiliar with the term, back button focusing refers to separating the focus and expose functions that normally occur sequentially when you depress the camera’s shutter button (focus on half-press, exposure on full-press).  If you “move” the focus function off the shutter button, and assign it elsewhere, life is easier when photographing a fast-moving subject (like wildlife) — you can focus once, then concentrate on your timing / composition / exposure.  Assuming, of course, that your subject doesn’t change its distance from you significantly as it flits about.

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The Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens for butterfly photography — a user experience review

Some months back I purchased an Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens (officially, the M. Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 Pro lens) and MC-14 1.4x teleconverter for my E-M1 body.  I’d given them some exercise on a road trip previously, but when an opportunity came up for a “Tripod Session” at a local butterfly pavilion, I thought I could give them a real workout on the facility’s residents.

Paper Kite

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Aspen turning — some post processing experimentation

Recently, Topaz Software released the latest in their line of plugin and post processing software — Impression. The idea is that this software (which you can run stand-alone, or as a Photoshop plugin) can turn a photograph into something resembling a painting. And you can choose from approximations to any of a number of painting styles, with lots of things to tweak.  It’s available at a discount through the end of the month, so I thought I should download it and a trial code and give it a spin.

Aspen turning (original)

My raw material was this shot of aspen trees turning — I took it last weekend down in the San Juan mountains thinking it’d make nice wallpaper for my various gadgets.  Starting off with one of Impression’s “Van Gogh” presets and tweaking a bit, I rendered the original into this:

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The Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ lens — a user experience review

I recently picked up Olympus‘ new pancake kit zoom lens (formally, the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ lens) and its automatic lens cap. Rather than boring you with test charts and such, I thought taking it out on a walk would be more interesting (and help give everybody a better idea of its benefits and limitations).

OM-D compared

For starters, the lens’ big benefit is size (naturally, for a pancake) — at least for the time being, it’s the shortest pancake zoom for the micro-4/3 system, extending just 22.5mm from its mounting flange. Above, you see my E-M1 with an Oly 12-40mm f/2.8 lens mounted, next to my E-M5 hosting the 14-42mm EZ lens.  Even with the grip attached, the E-M5 is pocketable (well, in a decent-sized coat pocket) in this configuration.  The automatic lens cap isn’t exactly cheap, but that extra $30 buys you an impressive bit of engineering in a small slice of plastic — and makes this combo a potent and quick-to-use street shooter.

But on to the walk…

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Wide zooms (for micro 4/3 cameras) compared

For a brief period of time, I owned three wide zooms that worked well on my Olympus E-M1 body — so I thought I should take the opportunity to compare their performance on a quick walk around a neighborhood park.  Actually writing up this review took a bit of time, and was prompted by an excellent comparison of two of these lenses over on Small Camera Big Picture.

A warning to pixel peepers: what follows is a real-life experiential comparison.

Wide zooms compared

The lenses, as you can see, were the Olympus 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 (4/3 system) lens on an MMF-3 adapter, the new Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens, and the Panasonic Lumix 12-35mm f/2.8 lens.  The 12-60 I’ve had for years, the 12-35 was a “gap-filler” purchase (for use while waiting for the 12-40mm to ship), and the 12-40mm my planned go-to lens going forward.

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The Olympus E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8 lens on the road

I recently returned from a trip to the Yucatán peninsula — fortunately I’d received my pre-ordered Olympus E-M1 body and 12-40mm f/2.8 lens before we left for the trip (the lens’ arrival preceding my departure by all of two days), so thought I’d write up some quick thoughts on how the combination behaved for me in real-world travel.

The E-M1, de-blinged
The E-M1, de-blinged in Belize

First off, I like to take the shine off my camera gear before travel in the 3rd world (on the assumption that this will make it a bit less attractive to the average petty thief). Both the E-M1 and 12-40mm lens have quite a bit of flashy trim and lettering on them, so it took me longer than usual to “de-bling” them for travel. Still, at least they both have a black finish, so a 3rd party lens cap and about 20 minutes’ work with black gaffer tape did the trick.

You’ll also notice in the above image that I’ve set up my E-M1 with a Peak Design “Cuff” — I’ll write up a full review of this item later, but it proved to be a very helpful ally as well.

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The Olympus E-M1 — a preview of coming attractions

If you follow the camera gear press at all, you’ve likely heard that Olympus has announced their new flagship digital camera: the OMD E-M1.  If you’re a dedicated Canon or Nikon or Sony or Pentax (etc.) shooter, this likely won’t matter much to you.

E-M1 top view

But for those of us that have been users of the 4/3 system cameras, or of the newer micro-4/3 system gear — it’s a very big deal.

It’s basically been a foregone conclusion of late that Olympus had decided to abandon the now 10-year-old 4/3 system.  There wasn’t any official announcement to that effect, but the last 4/3 camera (the E-5) was released late in 2010, and available 4/3 lenses are solid performers but not exactly spring chickens either.

So Olympus has now officially stated that the E-M1 will sit at the top of their line-up, replacing the 4/3 system E-5.  The E-M5 carries on one rung below the E-M1 (hopefully the now-confusing numbering will get cleaned up with the next release cycles), and the Pen series digital cameras hanging on below that.

All well and good, but what’s the new camera got to offer?  The E-M1 is in many ways an improved E-M5, so on a pure specification basis, here are the big differences I see:

  • Better ergonomics (check out the grip, much like what the E-M5 only offers with an accessory purchase)
  • Improved sensor and image processor — anti-aliasing moves from a filter on the sensor to software in the processor, better overall low-light response, built-in phase detection pixels on the sensor (giving it good handling of 4/3 lenses), smaller autofocus target points
  • Improved viewfinder (essentially the same as what’s in the VF-4 accessory unit released with the E-P5)
  • WiFi and remote operation
  • Focus peaking (a godsend for manual focusing of lenses from the pre-digital days)
  • Improved weather sealing, more-rugged body frame

I’d love to be able to give you a first-person report of this unit’s handling, and show you pictures I’ve taken with it — but unfortunately I’m not one of the lucky few that received a review unit before the release.  I’m waiting along with everybody else that placed a pre-order, and is now waiting for their prize to arrive in the mail (hopefully in October).

But for now, I’ll do what I can do — and that’s compare the E-M1 user manual to the E-M5 user manual to sort out some less-publicized differences and commonalities between the two cameras.

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