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Thursday, 10 December 2009

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"There definitely are types of photographs that gain meaningful artistic power from increasing technical perfection, but many, many, many pictures do not, or at least not much. The things I'm interested in making pictures of fall mostly into the latter category, and I simply don't care about 1 or 2% differences in distortion or 50 line pairs of resolution this way or that."

Really well said, and not repeated nearly often enough. There are dozens of famous slightly-blurry, slightly-grainy photographs in the world that would not be improved one iota by increased technical perfection, and, in fact, would be less good. The Robert Capa Normandy landing photo comes to mind -- the blurriness of it emphasized the danger and the action, and also generalized from a specific person to the idea of "soldier." Good review...but if you get the camera, get the Panasonic 20 to go with it. 8-)

JC

"There definitely are types of photographs that gain meaningful artistic power from increasing technical perfection, but many, many, many pictures do not, or at least not much. The things I'm interested in making pictures of fall mostly into the latter category, and I simply don't care about 1 or 2% differences in distortion or 50 line pairs of resolution this way or that."

Yes very well said. Your quote reminds me of a quote by Robert Roaldi, which I now use as my forum signature: "I often take pictures at less than optimum apertures and shutter speeds. At 1-to-1 on my monitor I can often see the blur that is the result of too low a shutter speed and too much coffee. But I can often fix those pictures by just reducing the magnification and printing them anyway and pretending that I never saw them at 100%. It seems to eliminate the problem."

Concerning portability: in my limited experience, the XA series of cameras represents the gold standard in that arena. It slips into the pocket of a blazer; it turns on instantly; it's unobtrusive; apart from some sacrifices it is consistent with "large sensor" 35mm quality.

Seems like it will be a while yet before a digital camera with actual large-sensor quality will be built in a similar package, though. Something for Olympus to keep on the back burner, perhaps...?

Eamon,

As far as framing with the rear LCD screen and holding the camera steady, I've been using the following technique with my GF1 with great success.

With the neck strap around your neck extend the camera until there is tension on the strap/camera. Obviously you need to have the neck strap length short enough to create the tension with the your arms less than fully extended. I find the neck strap tension on the camera enables me to hold the camera more steady than when I have my DSLR pressed against my face and use the optical VF.

Your dream camera may very well exist in the new Canon S90. After getting mine I sold my Olympus E420. Now I have f/2.0-4.9 with 28.mm-105mm all for about 7oz. I have also discovered that I can optical sync to strobe system with the on camera flash at 1/3 power and have a 1/500sec sych speed.

What's not to like?

David

I appreciate your use of the word sufficient. With so much focus on new, better, faster, etc., it's nice to be reminded that many cameras will do a good enough job. And if it actually does increase your happiness quotient, then that's a terrific endorsement.

I think this is a really excellent piece (or three piece) you have written about this camera. Although I have made it fairly obvious that I prefer the GF-1, I could easily live with the E-P1. I think the technology will improve over time, but is already "good enough," or as you might say, "very sufficient."

Eamon -

I do carry the E-P1 or GF-1 everywhere I go. I take an average of 100 photos a day, every day. I have been doing that for about 10 years with various cameras. These two cameras offer the best combination of image quality and portability ever.

It is a challenge to get my photos every day. I end up mostly with snapshots, but at least I can look back and see where I was and what I was doing every day.

I am digressing, but I have also started looking at photographs in groups rather than individually. I may have no decent photographs of an event, but when I look at all the pictures taken together, I see a story that yields the real essence of what took place.

Again, great job on this hands on review.

Ed

Interested in your comment about the Pentax *ist DS + 21mm limited pancake. I don't have the 21mm yet, but when I'm not using it on one of my larger bodies, I keep the Pentax 40 limited on my *ist DS as a nearly perfect carry-everywhere tool. 6 MP is sufficient resolution. And the pancake lens doesn't obstruct the pop-up flash if I need to use it.

Will

Finally a real life opinion on the E-P1 camera. Bought it for same reasons, use it for same reasons and don't care about "pixel peeping" for same reasons. Great article!

That'll do, Eamon, that'll do.

I'm very fond of initially strange units like happiness-minutes. When choosing a car I used "cubic feet per mile per gallon," and got a Scion Xb. Likewise, when trying to figure out the camera system to get I used "gram-$ per normalized focal length," and ended up with Olympus. Nowadays my photography happiness-minutes are supplied by an OM-1 and a Contaflex I. There's just something about fully mechanical cameras that connects me to the subject.


I've only had my GF1 for a week, and already I know that it's not good for one of my street photography projects. For that project I shoot "from the hip," usually while walking, and very often at night or indoors. I'm able to pull it off with my LX3 thanks to its ability to zone focus, its image stabilization, and the deeper DOF at f2.0.

To wit:

Metro Namur: headphones and ponytails

That doesn't mean the LX3 images aren't fuzzy, but they're sharp enough at Web resolution, and as you say, IQ isn't everything. (Some of my favorite images of this project are the fuzziest ones.) But I can't even come close with the GF1, at least not when it's dark. (That's also a function of the GF1/20mm being 40mm equivalent, vs. the LX3's 24mm equivalent.) For this fairly specialized use, the GF1 will give me more missed images than hit ones.

Things might change once the Panasonic 14mm f2.8 lens comes out, but that's still a stop slower than the LX3 and it likely won't have image stabilization.

So I'm keeping my LX3 for my From the Hip work, and keeping the GF1 for everything else. :-)

Eamon, you seem to like zone focusing a lot. Have you tried the Sigma DP2? It has a dedicated focus wheel with marks and a focus lock button. And it is half the weight of the Olympus EP1/2.

Eamon,

Great review. Sometimes good is good enough.

Regarding a lighter, plastic version: if 4/3rds or larger sensor is what's required for "sufficient" image quality, I doubt you'll see a plastic bodied version. The larger sensor, plus LCD, plus processor generate a lot of heat, and I think the camera manufacturers use the metal body as a heat sink. Oherwise, the large sensor compact would be only a dream.

Ted Johnson

Dear Eamon,

I'll add my voice to the chorus of "hear-hear"s!

I'll repeat what I've said many times; as someone who's wringed the last gram of data out of technical tests for a living, tech specs are overrated!

As for the 17mm lens, in my VERY limited testing, with ACR (which seems to correct aberrations in both the 17mm and Panasonic 20mm lenses automatically), I didn't see a lot of difference between the two. Both have visible and comparable light falloff and astigmatism/coma at the corners wide open. They clean up considerably half a stop down, look decent at 1 stop down, and are near optimum at 1.5 stops down.

The notable difference is that when you get to optimum, the 20mm's at f/2.8, while the 17mm's at f/4.5! Makes a huge difference in image quality for available light work. But...

In circumstances where light gathering isn't the ultimate concern, I'd be typically stopping down to around f/4.5 just to get a decent depth of field. So, for on-the-fly photography, I don't think I'd see a lot of difference between the lenses.

I did get the 20mm because available-darkness photography matters to me. A stop and a half is nothing to sneeze at! Just saying that for your kind of work, I'm not surprised the 17mm is doing just fine. And it does give you a slightly wider field of view, if that floats your boat.

pax / Ctein

You have a really nice blog!! I loved to visit it and will come back often.

Portability is simply a matter of picking what is necessary to properly capture the images you want (from what is currently available, and you can afford), and then carrying it.

I carry a Pentax K20 with the 21mm prime, along with a spare battery and card (rarely needed) and often one or both the 15mm and 40mm lenses. The camera goes with me everywhere: gas station, grocery store, on walks, and trips abroad...even when I am quite certain that I won't use the camera, I carry it.

Tyler

Different strokes for different folks. After decades with Leica Ms, street shooting is seamless...pre-focus and bring to eye for a second and shoot. Done. It's usually with me. More than sufficient quality.

I bought a Dlux 4, just to try a smaller camera, with zoom and LCD. Sold it in a couple of months.

Do you still have the phone number for your former sidekick? Like her sense of humor.

Fuzzines is sometimes almost unavoidable.

E-P1, the other day. 1/25s in a moving and shaking tram. Forget about the stabilisation. Particularly since I was holding the camera just above my lap.

And I still wish that she was completely sharp... :)

Dear Erlik,

If the blur isn't more than 3-4 pixels, a program called Focus Magic will usually fix it up nicely. Unfortunately, the code is very long in the tooth, and it's on the verge of becoming obsolete (as in, may not run under the most current OS's), but it's avalable in both Mac and Windows versions, and it's the only software I know of that will actually deconvolute motion blur (forget Photoshop's Smart Sharpen-- it's crap for this purpose).

I think there's a trial download, so give it a look.

pax / Ctein

Ctein,
FixerLabs' Focus Fixer V2 is similar to Focus Magic and is (I believe) kept updated. It's what I use.

Mike

Dear Mike,

I use FocusFixer 2 for eliminating symmetric blurs, such as out of focus images. It's very good for that. It doesn't work at all well on motion blur.

pax / Ctein

Thanks Eamon - a very practical review aimed at the photographers, rather than the pixel peepers / gear buffs.

I also believe in "near enough is good enough" on the technical side, and really enjoy using my compact camera (Canon SD880) for landscape & street photography. In fact, it's my only camera nowadays.

But having said this, I still like to post-process the images to improve image quality (distortion, noise, sharpness). I have my own humble workflow but I'd be interested if Mike / Ctein / others could put together an article on a "reasonably best-practices" work-flow for compact camera photogs.

@ John C.

..but if you get the camera, get the Panasonic 20 to go with it. 8-)

Gave me the grin of self-recognition, John :-)

@ Ben

Concerning portability: in my limited experience, the XA series of cameras represents the gold standard in that arena.

Yes, wonderful little cameras. I had the original XA. It's just a tad more limited in controllability than my ideal carry-everywhere camera would be. But I would love to see its equivalent in digital, and I'm sure that Olympus has played with the idea. The XA was very successful for them for a time.

@ Archer

"gram-$ per normalized focal length"

Beautiful.

@ Ted

The larger sensor, plus LCD, plus processor generate a lot of heat, and I think the camera manufacturers use the metal body as a heat sink.

Hadn't thought of that. Does the GF-1 have a substantial amount of metal in its chassis/body? I dunno. But ultimately, I don't care how they shave 4-5 oz. off the camera's weight; I'd just like to see them do it.

@ Ctein

... for your kind of work, I'm not surprised the 17mm is doing just fine. And it does give you a slightly wider field of view, if that floats your boat.

I do indeed think the extra stop-and-a-half of the Panasonic 20 would be great. But I also do indeed prefer the modestly wider field of view of the 17. Whence comes the event of me making an actual purchase, I'll think on it carefully.

@ Tyler

Tyler, I like the Zen of this ...

Portability is simply a matter of picking what is necessary to properly capture the images you want (from what is currently available, and you can afford), and then carrying it.

... but nevertheless, my mind is not strong enough to bear the weight of this:

I carry a Pentax K20 with the 21mm prime, along with a spare battery and card (rarely needed) and often one or both the 15mm and 40mm lenses.

@ Jeff

Do you still have the phone number for your former sidekick? Like her sense of humor.

Happily re-married. Her again, as we stood in a supermarket checkout line looking at a tabloid headline exclaiming that Christy Brinkley, Billy Joel's wife at the time, was pregnant!: "What are the odds it'll look like Billy and sing like Christy?"

Thank you guys, I'll give it a whirl. I have to rework the photo anyway because I don't like how that hand on the chin became a flat surface in conversion.

I don't like Photoshop sharpen tools, except to sharpen for the web. Smart Sharpen used to have problems with 16-bit files, which is what my files become immediately after RAW.

Plus, if you play with contrast, you get something quite similar to sharpening in Photoshop. I tried Nik Sharpener, but it also works on the perceptual contrast thingy, only a bit more sophisticated than Photoshop.

Ctein,

that actually suprises me. "solving" motion blur is not actually all that hard mathematically. I used to have a bunch of matlab code I'd written do it for me.
(and we got the math discussed quite elaborately at uni, so it is not like it is a secret thing).
The only thing I could guess that would stop it being included in Photoshop and the like is that it is 1) _slow_ and 2) not all that great. (Would work ok up to 3-4 pixels of blur after that the result would still be blurry).
Of course taking a small image with 60-ish pictures of blur and cleaning that up to something recognizable was much more impressive. *

cheers,

Herman

*) Almost impossible, the math depends on the blur being from a simple movement. With 3-4 pixels of blur it usually is and you can experiment and clean it up fairly ok.
(find small-ish streak, assume it should be a point ... etc.)

re: Pentax DS as small DSLR. I work as a semi-pro wedding and event photographer and I've been using my DS as my low light camera of choice for the last 4 years. Loved it but it finally died about 2 months ago. I replaced with a new Pentax K-X and I am absolutely blown away. It is definitely slightly smaller than the DS but the sensor is just absolutely killer, especially at high ISO. I've been using in auto ISO with the top end set to 4500 in the most horrible light with absolutely no fear whatsoever. It really is a little gem of a camera... Autofocus is much faster and more positive than the pentax norm even in really low light and the images speak for themselves.

I've always liked small cameras and it just totally fits how I work doing candid and reportage style photos. It's so tiny and unthreatening but the images just speak for themselves. The kind of people that test such things believe it to be the best APS-C sensor available at the mo. If you wanna geek out a bit go to imaging resource and do the compare camera tool with the D700 at iso 4500 and 6400 - the results are much closer than you would imagine! Love it love it love it... It's about the same price as the Pen and you can get the 50mm 1.4 or 40mm 2.8 pancake for about the same price as the Panasonic 20mm. It's deffo in the size above the Pen and GF1 and it's deffo an SLR rather than a DMD but it's still a really freaking small SLR which produces absolutely stunning reaults with all the speed of performance and focusing you'd expect from a DSLR.

I'm seriously considering getting a second and using them both as my main camera's rather than the supposedly more pro K20D which seems to be increasing in size and complication everyday! I'm really into the slightly perverse idea of using supposedly entry level cameras for pro level work... That's how I got into Pentax and SLR's in the first place with my lovely, tiny and simply old MX...

If interested you can see a gig I shot here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/edwaring/sets/72157622810945440/

every shot above 3200. Also this one at ISO 4500 where the girl's phone is the brightest light in the room is quite amazing really from a technical perspective. Only default Lightroom noise reduction used.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/edwaring/4106278339/

Oh and +1 on Focus Magic... works fine for me in vista and is one of the only reasons I ever open photoshop. Has 'saved' me from my own incompetence a number of times.

ed x

PS cheers for the review!

Forgot I could embed images!

Top one is iso 6400, bottom one iso 4500 Just default Lightroom NR.

ed x

It was interesting to read your description of the pictures you missed in New York because you didn't have a camera. The fact is you didn't miss them because they are indelibly etched in your memory. We probably all have thousands of such images in our own mental galleries each one available for instant recall and all having the exquisite sharpness and tonal contrast that no man made medium can emulate. Sometime we just don't need a camera....

Long ago I tried a whole string of pocketable film cameras. The one I liked best was a Rollei 35S. But I was constantly pushing against the angle of view of its 40mm lens, while I was usually comfortable with the view of the 35mm lens on my other cameras. This was consistently true throughout the many years I used both focal lengths, so it was a very long term comparison.

Of course others may have different preferences. But the point is that for some kinds of work there is actually a significant difference between 40mm and 35mm perspective. Just reading specs one is tempted to consider them as interchangeable, but in practice they may not seem so close.

I would love to have an f1.7 lens on my EP-1 instead of the f2.8 Olympus lens, but to me the modest viewing angle and perspective difference is still more important. It may be worthwhile for prospective buyers to make the effort to compare them on a camera and see which they prefer in practice.

Eamon,

I moved from the exact same combination of Pentax *ist DS and the 21 Limited to the GF1 (albeit with the zoom because the pancake was out of stock), but I echo many of your sentiments.

One thing I do love is being able to exploit new angles of view. Typically with a viewfinder, we're used to just shooting at eye level. Next time you are in a crowd, try holding the camera above your head or out to the side...

Pak

I loved the review and the comments—it changed my armchair opinion of the EP-1 and I'm quite keen to give it a spin.

Another recommendation here for the FocusFixer bundle to correct motion blur caused by linear camera motion. You play with the controls for direction and magnitude and when the pixels line up just right, a whole new photograph just pops out. My jaw dropped the first time I put it to work.

Correcting myself: it was Focus Magic, not FocusFixer, that I used to correct motion blur. I got it to address some out-of-focus images of the sort I'd regularly get from a certain lens/camera combination but found its motion-blur routines incredibly useful for a couple of shots that I'd previously thought beyond rescue. (For what it's worth, I didn't have much luck with the deconvolution functionality but I think my stuff was too far out of focus.)

@Ed Waring, those shots are amazing. With high ISO images that good, I'm starting to think we no longer need light for photography.

Eamon:

Does Olympus allow users to rollover their EP-1 happiness minutes? If so, maybe they can take market share from all those iPhone shooters.

Sorry...couldn't resist.

Dear Herman (& Bahi),

I'm not sure why there isn't more software out there to correct short and simple motion blurs. As you said, the mathematics isn't hard. And with three or four code modules out there that are doing deconvolutions (including Smart Sharpen in Photoshop), I am surprised that something this useful hasn't been well implemented except in Focus Magic.

Personally, what I've been clamoring for for 15 years (I am too lazy to sit down and write the code) is a Photoshop plug-in that lets you DRAW the motion blur that you want to correct and builds the filter. It's straightforward math. Treat that short little curve (it wouldn't have to be straight in this case) as the point blur function you're trying to restore to a point, and run from there. Straightforward Fourier transform an inverse transform. I have so many nighttime photographs where there is just a little bit of a glitch and point-like light sources come out as little squiggles.

OK, maybe I'm missing something here; like I said, I haven't sat down and tried to write the code. Maybe there's a major difficulty. But I don't think so.

Surely one of TOP's brilliant readers could write this and thereby achieve great fame and fortune!

Bahi, thanks for correcting your earlier post. I was just about to go back and start digging into these routines to see what I had missed in FocusFixer.
~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
======================================
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 
======================================

Well, that does it. I am not buying any of these cameras. I simply cannot believe that they couldn’t squeeze the same AF and IQ as my FF D700 out of these systems. I shoot at ISO3200 all the time to avoid the “yips” and ISO25,600 looks great at 8x10. 8-D

Maybe the GF10 will satisfy?

Ctein, Herman, Bahi,

If motion blur correction is that straightforward, why not on-camera? Rather than drawing or specifying the blur shape, the camera could precisely read data from a motion sensor (or the anti-shake image sensor).

If the horsepower is not there now, it soon will be. Until then, maybe the data could be written compactly enough to fit in a custom EXIF field (or several), to be read by a PS plugin. Heck, why shouldn't camera movement be standard EXIF data?

Who wants to be a millionaire?

Eamon

Thanks for your very helpful review. I think that I have followed your path. In the early nineties I was schlepping a backpack full of Canon L glass with a tripod, ballhead, and spotmeter around Yellowstone at dawn trying to capture the golden light. Now size and weight are everything to me. If I can't carry it easily I won't carry it, and won't buy it.

I am intrigued by micro 4/3 but so far do not see any great advantage over the Oly 620 which has an optical finder and is sufficiently light as you would say. I am not steady enough to hold a camera at arms length and I think if you add the EVF to these cameras they are about as big as the e620.

Thanks again for the review.

Steve

"I've missed a lot of amazing photographs because I didn't have a camera with me"

I once missed one despite having the cam with me, I didn't pull it out fast enough. My favorite lunch place then, a pub called "The Brass Cat", had a new sign put up. A worker was standing on a ladder, blocking two letters of the sign with his be-hind, so the sign said "The Ass Catt".

He climbed down too soon, and damn my bollocks, that day I didn't have the guts to ask him to climb up again for me.

Thanks for the very informative real world review. I recently purchased an EP2, and was slightly concerned about the AF speed, or lackthereof. As it turned out, it wasn't bad at all for most of the uses I had for the EP2. Only issue I had with the AF was taking photos of my four year old nephew. But zone focusing and separating the AF function from the shutter button as you described certainly helped in that department. Having used the G1, the AF speed on the Panasonic m4/3's are indeed much better than the EP1/2. One can only hope that Oly will catch up in its next m4/3 camera. Meanwhile, I will enjoy the EP2, which is the most fun camera I've ever owned.

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