On a recent evening, Philippe and I met up on the banks of the Seine river in Paris to make pictures of Notre Dame. Sounds terribly exotic, doesn’t it? Except it was one of the coldest, wettest, foulest days in living memory and it took all of Philippe’s Patagonian training and my experience of 30+ British summers to muster the courage to get out there and shoot.
The idea was to pitch the little Olympus OM-D against such mighty adversaries as the Sony NEX-7 and the Canon 5DIII in low-light conditions and with a mouth-watering assortment of Zuiko, Leica and Zeiss lenses. We will report on this as soon as our SD cards dry-up. Watch this space, interesting things to come.
With the testing over, we proceeded to dry ourselves in a lovely restaurant, had a great dinner and a interesting talk then went our separate ways back to our respective home and hotel. This post is about this second part of the evening.
It is about using this camera in the situation it was probably designed for : quick, nimble and efficient picture making in all sorts of conditions. While we did our best to protect and dry our lenses as efficiently as we could in the conditions, the Oly stayed 4 hours on a tripod in the pouring rain with absolutely no protection of any form. If you need reassuring that this is a very well built camera, look no further. It’s a trooper !
It’s also a very competent-low light camera (note that I didn’t mention High ISO …) thanks to its built-in IBIS stabilizer and fast Zuiko lenses. The picture above was hand-held in total darkness at ISO800 and 1/100th (the exposure makes the lamp look extremely bright, it wasn’t).
But is it Olympus or is it LightRoom ?
When I tried to import my pictures into LightRoom 4, it recognised some of the JPEGs and none of the RAWs. Half way through the evening, the JPEG import stops. I must have done something, but what?? So all of the pictures on this page were copied into Photoshop Elements (don’t have the full version with me here) with only minimal resizing and edition options. What you are seeing, then, is mostly strait out of camera.
Has anyone else encountered this import problem in LR4 ?
IBIS, although I expressed minor reservations about the non-stabilized hand-holdability of this camera in my previous instalment, is very good indeed.
As are the bubble levels. Maybe my eyes aren’t level, maybe it’s my brain 😉 Fact is my pictures are very rarely strait. Particularly when no convenient reference point such as a horizon is available. Not so with Lill’Ollie. The levels in the viewfinder are absolutely wonderful. Here is an example where I’m pretty sure 5 degrees of slant would have made recropping necessary and would have lost 10% of the image’s pixels. Not so here. Strait out of camera.
The combined effect of a snappy and accurate autofocus, the stabilized image, decent mid-high ISO performance and in-camera levels feels little short of miraculous in situations like these. To the point you actually forget there are actual laws to physics and post-desert hand-tremor that no amount of technology can counter (yet). And the picture above is in fact a tad unsharp. No big deal, but you couldn’t really print this. When all comes together and the after effects of caramelized orange clafouti subside, the results are pretty special. And the colours are just so gorgeous.
You probably wouldn’t notice a slanted picture in these surroundings where not a single wall is strait. The 500 year-old building may have felt like Liberace’s boudoir, but the history was quite a bit grimmer. The enthusiastic waiter entertained us all during the meal with the gorish stories of other ancient houses in the street where child sacrifice and other niceties of the time had been going on and told us all about the ghosts that are supposed to roam the place. Philippe and I didn’t see or feel no ghost, but you may have a different experience, should you ever dine there one damp evening 😉
GHOST UPDATE:Enlarge the picture and take a close look at the right side. Notice the people in the mirror. Just beyond the chandelier in between the curtains. See them ? Now take a look at their table completely at bottom right. See them ? Me neither!! So, it is now official. Ghosts are for real, and Olympus has made the first camera that makes pictures of them. The OM-D E-M5!. How about that for reviewing ? Better than pixel count and high-ISO noise, right ? Like, Share & Subscribe, people ! 😉
I rarely use auto ISO because it scares me to never know what rating is going to be used. But for quick-snapping conditions, it is quite useful. And very well implemented in the OM-D. A quick click on the general menu setting (more about this later) lets you select a fixed ISO setting or Auto ISO. It litterally takes a couple of seconds to change. Ergonomically, this camera is heads and shoulders above my Sony NEX-5n. A deeper peep into the menus lets you select min ISO and max ISO for that Auto setting. The jump from one setting to the next highest one happens when the shutter speed is lower than a preset value which you set in the Flash-synch speed.
This seems a bit weird. I’m no flash expert but I’d be surprised if there weren’t situations in which you’d want a very low sync-speed without compromising image stability.
Still, it works wonders. Olympus’ default settings are 200-1600 which seems perfectly right because, in spite what the test blogs say, things get a bit ugly above that value. But trust me, with IBIS, ISO 1600 and fast lenses there aren’t many street shooting situations you won’t get away with. And if you’re not grabbing quickies, you should be on a tripod at base ISOs anyway. So … sweet !
And talking of sweet, let me throw in a little spoiler before the next lens-testing installment of this review : that Digital Zuiko 45mm lens is a gem. It’s cheap, small, sharp and has the loveliest bokeh. Who said you need full-frame and a Summilux for great out-of-focus effects. I rather like the picture above 🙂
When it comes to technicalities, I’m the laziest man on the planet. I think there is a version of LightRoom that deals with the OM-D’s RAW files. The update search feature in my sample of LR4 tells me no updates are available. I just can’t face the fight to prove it wrong, search the forums for clues and download whatever patch is available.
UPDATE : There is indeed a beta version of LR4.1 available for download here : http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/lightroom4-1/ (see comments).
If someone knows whether some elusive version LR can indeed deal with OM-D raws, in the sake of science and my human right to laziness, please put me out of my misery.
Thankfully for the Pandas, Koalas, Sloths, armadillos and myself, out of camera JPEGs from Lill’Ollie are simply stunning. The JPEG engine is so good I really doubt there would be any point in using the RAW option – in goog light and at low ISOs – unless you’re a pro shooting on assignment with strict orders.
It’s not just the sharpness, white balance and colours. Dynamic range is really special and let’s you recover from some pretty absurd lighting very gracefully. Kudos Olympus. Given the other features on this camera, I think this makes for a very consistent approach to speedy shooting.
One feature that is largely absent from the street photography title is … the street. So here are a few more pictures made on the street that night or the following morning and that again illustrate the OM-D’s assets for fast shooting.
Not being much of a street photographer myself, I have no idea what makes the quality of the genre. All I can say is that all the pictures including people were made without aiming at all. I pointed the camera in the general direction and clicked in full auto everything mode. Then rotated and cropped like mad 😉 Not really my cup of tea, but the camera exposed and focused admirably. Again, cropping aside, images are largely untouched. Grotty weather do not always me tired colours or lack of contrast, it seems 🙂
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