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Note to readers: I’m keeping this post alive for its useful comment threads, but the post’s content has really been superseded by material in a newer post.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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The Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 10 — a pictorial review

I own some fairly roomy camera bags — but some trips just don’t allow me space for much photography gear.  For situations like that, and for trips when I need a protected way to carry a second camera body (with a lens or two), I purchased a Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 10 camera bag.

The Mirrorless Mover 10 is advertised to hold one medium size mirrorless body (e.g., the Olympus OM-D EM-5) along with one to two lenses and additional accessories. So since my photo gear is increasingly EM-5 based, I thought I might as well put one of these bags to the test, and let you come along for the ride.

Mirrorless Mover 10

To get the specs out of the way, the Mirrorless Mover 10 measures 5.3″ (13.5 cm) wide, 6.1″ (15.5 cm) high, and 4.5″ (11.5 cm) deep on the outside; 4.9″ (12.5 m) wide, 5.3″ (13.5 cm) high, and 3.7″ (9.5 cm) deep on the inside. It comes in two color combinations — I bought the black / charcoal one, you can also get it in black / taupe. As is usual for these folks, the bag is sturdily made and while being water resistant, also comes with its own rain cover.

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eBook Review — Craft and Vision’s Timelapse: An Introduction to Still Photographs in Motion

Anybody who’s followed this blog for long knows I’m a big fan of the eBooks published by Craft And Vision. They’ve just released another one, so I’m giving it a quick review here — hopefully it’ll be a useful addition to your library.

Timelapse cover

This particular eBook is written by Dave Delnea, and is titled Timelapse: An Introduction to Still Photographs in Motion. $5 will get you 43 tabloid-sized pages/sheets, with links to example video on the internet (on Vimeo, to be precise). Here’s a quick summary of what’s in the eBook:

  • Introduction — why do time lapse photography, what you can do with it
  • Demystifying Time Lapse — a simple overview of the work involved
  • Getting Geared Up — a fairly detailed discussion of the equipment you’ll need (or at least, want) to use for time lapse photography. This comes in four parts — Essential Equipment (cameras, lenses, tripod), Essential Extras (intervalometer, power, etc.), Not-so-essential Extras (collapsible seat, smartphone with essential apps), and Computers / Software.
  • Getting Ready — what to do before you get to your site, and what setup you need to do once there (setting up your tripod, framing, focus, camera menu settings, etc.)
  • Flicker — causes and fixes
  • Post-Production Workflow — Ingesting images, editing, deflickering, converting the images to video.
  • Advanced Techniques — motion control, bulb ramping, etc.
  • Case Studies — 5 examples, with explanation of the challenges involved in each, and links to helpful time lapse video clips hosted on Vimeo
  • Conclusion

All-in-all, Timelapse is a very solid introduction to time lapse photography if you’re (relatively) new to it. Even if you’ve done time lapse work before, you’ll likely pick up some good tips from the eBook. Dave uses Nikon gear, but his discussions of camera settings translate pretty easily to other makes. His post-processing discussions are focused on the use of Lightroom and a bit of software called LRTimelapse. This section doesn’t seem to me to translate as well, and LRTimelapse isn’t exactly cheap (a free version with limited capabilities is available; a license for non-commercial video costs 89 euros, one for commercial video costs 249 euros).

Timelapse Horizontal

So depending on whether you want to make time lapse videos for fun, or for potential sale, and depending on what software you already own, the eBook’s software section (taking up a bit under 1/4 of the book) will be more or less useful to you. Even without it, there is quite a bit of good material in the rest of the eBook.

Olympus 60mm Macro for micro 4/3 — an early review

If you have a micro 4/3 camera, and have any interest at all in macro photography, you’ve likely been waiting for the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro lensto appear. It’s been teased on one site or another for months, but was only formally announced at this year’s Photokina in Cologne. So since I’m trying to track Olympus‘ fairly obvious momentum from 4/3 toward micro 4/3 (and have a more-than-passing interest in macro photography), I duly put in my pre-order for one as soon as Adorama would accept it.

Fast forward a few weeks, and my copy of this little gem was delivered to my doorstep.

Well in hand

DId I mention little? In spite of the time I spent looking over the lens’ spec sheet, I’m still blown away by how petite the thing is (my hands are big, but they’re not that big.

Side by side with stock lens

For instance, compare the 60mm on the right with the E-M5’s stock (12-50mm) zoom lens. They’re almost exactly the same length, but the 60mm is a bit skinnier still (sadly, since that means yet another expensive lens hood to buy…).

The focus limiter switch primarily helps speed up focusing when you’re working up close (0.19 – 0.4 meters) — but also lets you set the focus to its closest point (equivalent to 1:1 reproduction) by just flicking the switch to that extreme of its range.  Note that the 1:1 setting is spring-loaded, so you’ll need to have the camera set up for manual focusing to take advantage of it (otherwise the focus will change away from 1:1 when you depress the shutter release).  The lens also gives you a scale on its side, showing what the magnification factor will be given where it’s focused — handy, if you’re either manually focusing or have the camera on a tripod.

Ready for action

Fortunately this lens is perfectly sized to work with OlympusMAL-1 Macro Arm Light that was first released years ago with the early PEN cameras. Together with an E-M5 and grip (the grip is essential for my hands, at any rate), it makes a potent but still compact package.

So let’s put them to work.

Example images

For my first victim subject, I thought I’d pick something colorful and detailed that I had kicking around.  Lacking any interesting postage stamps, I grabbed a “souvenir” 10 Quetzales note.  Lots of art in a bank note that’s only worth about $1.25, so a perfect experimental subject — pay particular attention to the little Maya figure on the left side of the bill (BTW, the graph paper is ruled one line per mm).

Bank note

Here’s a full image of the figure, taken from about as near to the note as I could reliably get (I don’t have an adjustable “stage” for macro photography, so fiddled with my tripod height by hand).  As you can see, at very close to 1:1 the lens gives a nice, detailed image without any obvious distortion or vignetting in the corners.

Little Mayan

For real macro afficionados, here’s a 100% crop of 800×800 pixels roughly centered on the figure’s eye.  You can see lots of detail in the surface of the paper, again a good performance from the lens, camera, and macro lights (but the lights can be a bit fiddly this close to the subject).

Little Mayan crop

Since I’d heard this lens is also a good performer as a telephoto prime, I next left the macro light indoors for a little impromptu photography outdoors with the lens.  As you’d expect, it’s a stellar performer up close.

A rose by any other lens...

Further out, I couldn’t provoke it into displaying any CA, even pointed right at the Sun.  Oly has used a new low-reflection coating on this lens, and it shows — you have to work hard to get anything resembling a lens flare out of this gem.

Look, Ma -- no CA!

All the images I’ve taken to date have been nice and sharp where I want them to be, and the circular aperture results in good, smooth bokeh elsewhere.

Falling reflection

And yes, the lens is great for portraits!

Portrait subject


Summary and conclusions

If you’re shooting with micro 4/3, you now have a good range of options for macro photography.

If you’re on a tight budget and don’t do much macro shooting, Olympus’ macro converter (MCON-P01, $50 retail in the U.S.) along with a 14-42mm kit lens is likely all you need.

If you want super-close-up images, and have the money ($500), the Yasuhara Nanoha 5:1 macro lens is a good tool — but only covers a focusing range of 0.43 – 0.78″ (11 – 20mm).  It’s a powerful but very specialized tool.

But if you want a good, flexible macro lens that’s also good for portraiture and other telephoto jobs, the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 can’t be beat. It sells for less than Panasonic’s 45mm f/2.8 macro lens ($750 retail in the U.S.), and is weather-sealed to boot.  And while not quite as optically fast as the venerable Olympus 50mm f/2.0 4/3 macro lens, the 60mm f/2.8 focuses dramatically faster on a micro 4/3 camera.

In summary, what I see as the pluses and minuses of the lens…


  • Excellent build quality
  • Weather proof
  • Small and light, balances well on the front of an E-M5; should handle well on other micro 4/3 models with at least a modest grip
  • Not cheap, but reasonably priced at $500 (at retail in the U.S.)
  • Works well with Olympus‘ accessory-mount MAL-1 Macro Arm Light ($50 – $60 retail in the U.S.)
  • Very fast focus; focus limit switch helps out too


  • Doesn’t come with a hood or carrying pouch, and the hood is a bit pricey
  • Focus limit selector switch is a bit tricky to “grab,” and doesn’t work well with gloves
  • Lack of built-in image stabilization may be an issue for people with non-Olympus cameras