Reviews

A comparison of the Olympus E-3, E-5 and E-M1X flagship cameras

This is a hands-on comparison of three Olympus flagship cameras: the E-3, E-5 and E-M1X, which I made so you could see the progression in the design and the features of these models from 2007 to the present time. I own the E-3 and E-5 along with all of the PEN models. The E-M1X was on loan from Olympus Romania.

You may also want to see this post where I compare the E-M1X, E-M1 Mark III and the PEN-F.

You can watch this video directly here.

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Reviews

My Olympus E-3 DSLR

I bought an Olympus E-3 a couple of days ago. Its full name is the EVOLT E-3, and it was Olympus’ flagship DSLR back in 2007. It was announced on October 17, 2007 and it became available on November 23 of that same year. I realize it’s now 2020, thirteen years later, but I found it online in really good condition, with a low shutter count (only 8000 or so exposures) and at a good price. Other than a small crack in the lower left-hand corner of the LCD, this camera is in great shape and it’s a real joy to use.

I was present at the camera’s launch party in NYC on October 16, 2007. You can see my write-up of the event, with photos and video, in this post. I would have loved to purchase the camera at the time, but I was invested in Canon gear at the time. The E-3 was a great camera for its time, quite ahead of the competition in many ways. The supersonic dust reduction function that’s so common on all of the interchangeable-lens cameras nowadays was then only present on Olympus cameras, because they came up with it. The swiveling LCD, also ubiquitous nowadays, was a novelty only present on this camera and on an older model, the EVOLT E-330 DSLR. The in-body image stabilization, a big selling point on so many expensive cameras nowadays, was yet another feature that Olympus invented and was only present on their latest cameras such as their new flagship and other models launched that year. The E-3 was a dustproof and splashproof camera, and at least two of the lenses also launched with it, the Zuiko 12-60mm SWD f2.8-4 and the Zuiko 50-200mm SWD f2.8-3.5, were also dustproof and splashproof. This was incredible at the time. All these features and capabilities seem normal now, but they were extraordinary back then.

Here is a gallery of photographs of the camera. Please forgive the dust specks. These are real world photographs of equipment that’s actively in use. It’s not a photo shoot. I didn’t airbrush it. I didn’t clean all its nooks and crannies. I simply placed it on a piece of furniture and took these photos.

One of the big concerns with Olympus cameras at that time (around 2007) was their performance in low light (at high ISO settings). Typically there was quite a bit of noise at 800 ISO and above, but not so on the E-3, where low-light performance was much better than that of less expensive cameras such as the E-510, which had been launched earlier that year. The E-3 was a flagship camera after all. As a matter of fact, when I look at low-light photos taken with the E-3 now, they’re just as good as the “gold standard” of the day, the Canon 5D, and this is remarkable given that the E-3 could only gather half the light with its Four Thirds sensor size. Since 2007, the noise reduction capabilities of software such as Lightroom have also improved by leaps and bounds, to the point where high-noise photos from the past can look quite good when developed within the software. I admit that I also like a bit of noise. Sometimes I like a lot of noise (up to a point). It adds character to an image. Granularity, that organic quality of film that’s missing from crisp, clean and clear digital images taken at 100-200 ISO, tends to make a photograph more endearing.

When I began to use the camera in earnest, I looked for the mode dial out of habit. There wasn’t one where I’d typically find it. Believe it or not, I hadn’t noticed this at the camera’s launch event and surprisingly enough, I hadn’t noticed it in press photos of the camera either. Now I began to panic a bit. Where was the damned thing? Did it break off? After all, this was a second-hand camera. Where was it?!

It wasn’t to be found, because there isn’t one. I had to look up the user manual on the Olympus Japan website in order to find out that indeed, it didn’t break off and there isn’t one. You switch the mode by pressing the Mode button on the left-hand top side of the camera and by rotating the dial on the back of the camera. Once you do it, it becomes second-nature and you begin to wonder why other cameras have to have specific mode dials. After all, how often do you switch the mode? Really, how often? My cameras typically stay on Aperture priority virtually all of the time. I switch to Shutter priority when I have to capture high-speed images or when I want to force motion blur, but that’s seldom, and when I do night photography, I stick it in Manual mode, but really, the camera stays in Aperture mode most of the time.

I thought I’d do something now that I couldn’t do at the time of the E-3’s launch, which is to sit the camera side by side with my 5D and see how the two stack up. Which one’s taller? Which one’s wider? How do the grips compare? How do the various buttons compare? I was surprised to find out that the E-3 is just a bit taller than the 5D, and that the 5D is quite a bit wider, about 2 cm wider. You don’t feel this until you take the cameras in your hand. The E-3 sits a little better in the hand while you can feel the 5D’s center of gravity pulling it to the left a bit. I also like the E-3’s many buttons, which make it easier to get to certain features that are otherwise buried in the menus. And that’s another thing: the E-3 is packed with features compared to the 5D. The 5D’s design is simple and curved, while the E-3’s is angled, full of corners and turns and also some curves — like this lovely curve on the left hand side, near the lens release button.

The E-3 may have a more complicated design, but I like it. I liked this camera from the get-go, and I’m glad I could buy it now, almost thirteen years after it was made.

Having just compared the looks of two of the leading cameras of their day, I will also say this: comparing the features of various cameras in an effort to see which one’s better is useless. Yes, I mean that! It’s useless because in the end, what really matters are these two things:

  • Do you like that camera? If yes, buy it.
  • Can you take the photos that you want to take with that camera? If yes, buy it.

Worrying about this and that feature and why it is or it isn’t present on a particular model is a waste of time. Watching camera comparisons and reading reviews ad nauseam is useless. You need to know what you want from a camera, come up with a list of “finalists”, and then you need to go and hold those cameras in your hand and see how they fit you, see how easily you can access the functions that matter to you. Get the one that you like best. That’s it. I know this is a bit of a rant, and it’s as much addressed to me as it is to you, because in spite of knowing these things, I still tend to obsess over some features sometimes.

I got the E-3 with the 40-150mm f3.5-4.5 lens, which was at the time a premium version of the regular (kit) 40-150mm lens, whose aperture range was f4-5.6. This is a wonderful lens. And now that I have a Four Thirds camera, I will likely get other Four Thirds lenses, such as a wide zoom, a large aperture prime, perhaps a macro, a 35-100mm f2.0 SWD zoom, I’ll see…

I’ve been taking quite a few photos with the E-3 since I bought it, and I’ve been carrying everywhere with me. As I say elsewhere on this site and on other sites, I always have a camera with me. I seldom rely on my phone to take photos that I care about, simply because taking photos with a mobile phone is a constant disappointment to me when it comes to the quality of the images. In order to get proper keepsakes, you need a real camera, and the E-3 is a real camera. It’s a flagship camera and it feels like a flagship; it’s solidly made and it has withstood the test of time beautifully. Everything still works on it: all the buttons, all the switches, all the features — and the images I get with it are wonderful. I also love the mechanical sound of the shutter on it. The shutter sound is after all the most prominent sort of feedback one gets from the camera when they use it, and I want my cameras to sound good to my ears. The E-3 definitely sounds good. I’m so glad I had the chance to buy this camera after all these years!

I’ll leave you with a few of the images I’ve taken with it. Enjoy!

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Thoughts

In-camera, optical tilt shift is now achievable

I’m not sure when it clicked for you that tilt shift could be had easily and practically, in camera with some recent models, but that time was today for me.

Tilt–shift photography is the use of camera movements that change the orientation and/or position of the lens with respect to the film or image sensor on cameras.

Sometimes the term is used when the large depth of field is simulated with digital post-processing; the name may derive from a perspective control lens (or tilt–shift lens) normally required when the effect is produced optically.

“Tilt–shift” encompasses two different types of movements: rotation of the lens plane relative to the image plane, called tilt, and movement of the lens parallel to the image plane, called shift.

Tilt is used to control the orientation of the plane of focus (PoF), and hence the part of an image that appears sharp; it makes use of the Scheimpflug principle. Shift is used to adjust the position of the subject in the image area without moving the camera back; this is often helpful in avoiding the convergence of parallel lines, as when photographing tall buildings.

Tilt-shift photography, Wikipedia

The only mainstream lens manufacturer I know of that sells tilt-shift lenses is Canon. While I like Canon cameras and love the capabilities of tilt-shift lenses, I would like to see if there are other ways to handle this issue. It’s somewhat of a niche problem, but it’s one that’s worth addressing.

And then it dawned on me. Some camera models have sophisticated 5-axis image stabilization. That means they effectively tilt and shift the sensor, along with “shake it all about” and so on, in order to keep a longer exposure clear. But what if we were to modify the firmare, to introduce a special section in the camera menus, where the vertical and horizontal angles at which the sensor is kept when facing a scene could be manually adjusted through that special section? We could effectively introduce optical tilt and shift capabilities by manipulating the sensor, while still using the same lenses.

Lightroom offers some options to tilt and shift the image after it’s been taken, but any good photographer will tell you it’s better to capture the image you need directly in camera. Introducing a special menu that lets us tilt and shift the sensor, perhaps using the buttons and dials already built on the camera, would provide this valuable niche capability to those who do not own Canon tilt-shift lenses and do not shoot with Canon cameras. It’d literally be a bonus firmware upgrade that could be pushed out and the new feature should just work. There would be some limitations in the amount of movement, since the IBIS engine wasn’t originally built for this, but it would work, and in future iterations of the IBIS, I’m sure it would work even better.

If you liked this idea and you work in product design and development, you may want to have a look at my consulting website.

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Thoughts

The flip side of digital photography

Should you be old enough, you’ll remember how different photography was before the arrival of digital cameras. Not only was it difficult to get great photos, the kind that were good enough for publication, but it was difficult to develop them and reproduce them. There were real barriers to entry and to success in the field. They weren’t insurmountable, but they were there.

Nowadays, digital cameras make it so easy for us. Even a novice can occasionally get a great photo simply by clicking the shutter button, because modern cameras can pretty much handle all situations. They don’t do everything, you still need to know what you’re doing in some scenarios, but they’ll get you pretty close to your desired result by themselves, most of the time. So not only is it easy to take photos, but it’s also easy to “develop” them using your computer, and you can reproduce them endlessly. The barriers to entry and success in the field are now almost gone.

However, one thing we all learn as we age is that everything comes with pluses and minuses. Just like film photography had certain minuses, digital photography comes with plenty of unpleasantries on its flip side.

Publications that used to hire photographers and pay them good wages are dwindling. How many do you know of that still have on-staff photographers, or hire photographers for their stories? And how do their salaries compare with those of photographers in the past if they’re adjusted for inflation?

Stock agencies are decreasing the payouts to photographers. There is a lot of competition in that market, paired with a real glut of photographs. And when the supply always outnumbers the demand, prices will fall. There are but a few stock agencies left. There are a ton of microstock agencies which sell photos for piddly sums and pay cents on the dollar to photographers, and they’re also getting bought out and merging with each other in order to survive. If it wasn’t clear a few years ago, it’s becoming painfully clear now that a photographer cannot make a living selling microstock. There are a few who manage to do it, but it’s clear that on average, microstock yields a non-livable income.

There are so many photographs being made that people don’t truly appreciate them anymore. Do you remember how we used to admire photographs in the past? We’d stare at them for 5-10 minutes at a time, taking in each detail. We’d cut them out of magazines and paste them in scrapbooks. We’d look at them and look at them and look at them… Now we’re lucky if a photo gets 5 seconds of someone’s time. There are so many of them that people just gloss right over a photo that took days or hundreds of tries to make. Perhaps you’ll understand this better if I compare it to a periodical cicada emergence. In just a few days, animals that would eagerly consume them as they came out, would become so glutted that they’d simply lay on the ground and watch them crawl around and over them, unable to eat a single morsel. That’s what’s going on with photographs now. Each of us has a rhythm, a rate of “ingesting” digital content and we’ve all reached our max, but the photographs just keep coming. They keep coming and their rate of production is actually increasing. We cannot keep up.

Digital photography gear is made to become obsolete, causing you to spend more money every few years. Remember how you could use the same film camera for 10-20 years, even a lifetime, if you took care of it? That’s not the case with digital cameras, which typically last about 4-5 years before something goes bad. Even if you’re willing to pay a repair shop to have it fixed, camera manufacturers stop stocking parts for older cameras after a certain number of years, because they want to force you to buy a new model. I wanted to send my Canon 5D in for repairs last year, but I couldn’t. The repair shop said I shouldn’t bother, because Canon actually doesn’t allow them to work on the 1st gen 5D anymore and they’ve stopped stocking parts. Not that Canon repair experiences were so great to begin with, but at least they got the job done. I also sent in my Olympus PEN E-P2 in for repairs last year, but it didn’t get repaired. It came back just as I sent it, with a message that offered apologies for the inconvenience and explained that they’d stopped stocking parts for that model just a few months back; support had been discontinued by Olympus. I don’t understand it: there’s money to be made with service and repairs, so why stop supporting a model? Why not keep servicing it for as long as the customer is willing to use it? That business model has been proven to work a long time ago by the car industry.

Cameras, lenses and flashes are getting more expensive each year. Manufacturers can call them inflation adjustments all they want, but price hikes still feel very much like price hikes. And when they’re coupled with no real way to make money from your photos anymore, what are you left with? Doing weddings? Yuck. I don’t know how photographers are coping with all of this. I have a nagging feeling that wedding photographers are pretty much the only ones making money from photography these days. They’re certainly the bulk of the paying customers for camera manufacturers. It’s them and the online “experts” that have sprouted like mushrooms after rain, offering “advice” about which camera model to buy on YouTube and other video sites. It’s a new model/brand each week of course, unless they’re getting paid by a manufacturer to promote a certain brand.

There are real costs associated with processing, storing and archiving digital photographs. We’re told that digital photographs are pretty much free and there’s never been a better time to take many, many photos in order to learn the craft, but there are significant costs that come into play when you add the price of a good computer and good software and the storage and backup solutions that you will absolutely need unless you want your photos and your hard work to go up in a puff of virtual smoke. I’d like to challenge you to add up the costs of your camera gear (camera, lenses, flashes, adapters, tripods, etc.) and computer equipment (laptop/desktop, external hard drives, backup equipment/services) and once you have a total, divide it by the number of photographs you’ve taken with your camera so far. That’ll give you a pretty good idea of the cost per image, and you’ll see that digital photographs are not free. Granted, that cost per image will go down the longer you keep your current equipment and the more photos you take with it, although the cost of storage and backup will still be there for your larger collection of photographs. Do you realize you’ll likely need to pay for a backup subscription for the rest of your life? It’s no wonder that more and more people choose to take photos with their smartphones and edit them directly on those devices, forgoing the cost of computer equipment. And when smartphone manufacturers also offer direct and almost instantaneous cloud backup of the images and videos taken with the phones (at somewhat reasonable prices) it becomes a very attractive offer.

It’s so easy to reproduce digital photographs that it’s actually a problem, because anyone can steal and plagiarize them. Theft of online photographs is rampant. It’s one thing for a fan to repost your photos on another site — I’d go so far as to say that’s fine… but it’s quite another thing for someone to download your photos, enlarge them in Photoshop and repost them on a stock site or use them in ad campaigns, and this is happening quite a lot.

There is no consistent way to attribute photographs online, which means a photographer’s name is likely to get lost in the shuffle. Sure, you can use a caption that lists the photographer’s name, but that only works if you’re the primary publication and you’ve worked with the photographer. Most software used to export and compress images for online publication generally strips EXIF and IPTC copyright information. And most online platforms also have no consistent way of keeping that information inside the photographs, instead offering excuses about file size and compression algorithms which sound very empty given how far we’ve come with computer technology. Have you ever tried to find a photographer’s name for a photo reposted on social media? Good luck… Unless they’ve got a tasteful watermark somewhere on the photo, the metadata’s been wiped clean by these sites. Even Flickr still does not keep a photographer’s name in the metadata of a photo. Should you be able to download a photo from a Flickr contact, you’ll get a link to the page where it was found and maybe a caption, but you will not get something as basic as the photographer’s name, much less the rest of the copyright information.

I’m not saying we should go back to film and analog equipment. I love digital cameras and their ease of use. And I love the various advances being made in digital camera gear. Some of the minuses listed above can even be fixed. I’m just not enthusiastic about their flip side. When photographs were harder to make, we appreciated them more and good photographers stood a good chance of making good money with them. Now that photographs are easy to make, we don’t appreciate them and income from photographs has gone down to pennies on the dollar, if at all. Thank goodness I take photographs for the sake of it, as a creative endeavour that relaxes me after working on my various projects, but I wonder how others are coping with these changes. And it’s also not to say that I wouldn’t mind making money from my photographs on my own terms.

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A Guide To A Good Life, How To

How to choose a camera that’s right for you

In this video, I’m going to walk you through a process that will help you choose the right camera for your needs; it’s the same process I use myself as I choose new photo and video gear. Here are the decision-making steps I talk about in the video:

  1. Love what you already have
  2. Learn to use your equipment properly
  3. Don’t stress out about resolution (megapixels)
  4. Don’t get on a tech merry-go-round
  5. You don’t need UHD (4k video) just yet
  6. Be wary of “filler resolution”
  7. Separate the “nice to have” from the “must have”
  8. Get separate photo and video gear in order to obtain the best quality images and video

I hope this helps you!

Released 17-02-2018

It may seem like what I say in this video about camera resolution and about separating the equipment you purchase for photograph and video is contradicting what I say in this post, or in this post, but it isn’t that. I’ve done a lot of research and I’ve given this topic a lot of thought, and I’ve simply become more nuanced in my understanding of many aspects of digital cameras; when I sat down and thought about what kind of advice I wanted to give in this video, the statements I made above rang truest.

Thanks for watching!

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