Wait, didn’t I just post about my E-3? Yes, I did. This is about a different camera that I bought recently, the E-330, which was part of the same EVOLT series of digital cameras — which was itself part of the Four Thirds System (the precursor of the Micro Four Thirds System). The E-330 was launched at the start of 2006, so it pre-dates the E-3 by almost two years. I found this one in almost new condition with a really low shutter count (only around 2000 exposures) and the 14-45mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens, at a really good price. I’d wanted to at least see the E-330 up close and use it ever since I reviewed the E-500, but I couldn’t get a hold of it back then. Fast forward to fourteen years later and now I have it.
The E-330 is such an interesting camera. It was the first interchangeable-lens-type AF digital SLR in the world to offer full-time subject framing via a rear-mounted LCD monitor. That’s right — the ubiquitous tilt-screen or articulating screen that’s a normal feature of mirrorless cameras nowadays was first offered on the Olympus E-330. Also a first was Live View, or what you might now call a live through-the-lens (TTL) display of your subject, so you could either use the viewfinder or the screen. I know you’re used to this kind of thing now, but back in 2006, this was amazing new technology.
There were two modes for Live View. In Mode A, you’d close a flap over the viewfinder and the camera would then focus on the subject matter by itself when you pressed the shutter button, and in Mode B, you could focus manually using the live display and a 10x macro view that allowed you to dial in the focus perfectly.
The E-330 also featured another Olympus innovation, SSWF (a dust reduction system) that had been introduced in 2003 with the E1 and then perfected with the E-500 and E-300. Having used the E1, E-500 and the E-510 and E-410 back in 2007, I can tell you this dust reduction system worked flawlessly. I never had to remove dust spots from the photos taken with Olympus cameras, while I was always forced to remove them from photos taken with other cameras. Also, this camera had dual card slots (CF and xD) and keep in mind this was not a top of the line DSLR, which is where you’d typically find this feature. Also, (bonus!) it uses the same batteries (BLM-1) as my E-3.
Another interesting feature of the E-330 was (and still is) MF (Manual Focus) Bracketing. This was in addition to WB, AE and FL Bracketing. MF Bracketing would let you select from options for 5-frame or 7-frame series with 1-step or 2-step focus shifting, and the camera would then take that series of frames, automatically moving the focus point bit by bit. This would allow you to do focus stacking in post production, or simply to select the frame that you felt had the best focus point. Nowadays Olympus cameras such as the OM-D series will not only do MF Bracketing, but also do in-camera focus stacking, combining those frames into a single image with better overall focus. This is great for macro photography, where the focus (or the depth of field) can get quite thin, to the point where it’s impossible to get the whole subject (insect, flower) in focus without focus stacking. This next image is an example of this feature.
The E-330 also has a pleasing and different design. Even though it’s a DSLR with an optical prism, it has no prism bump on top. It was just so different from other DSLRs of the time. It was this cute little camera with rounded edges and this unusual top. It’s a wonderful thing to behold and to hold in your hand. Yes, it has its limitations, but it’s so well-made and for its time, it worked brilliantly well. I also love that it has a remote control receiver that works with a universal Olympus remote (the RM-1), which allows me to control the camera wirelessly even in Bulb mode. I really enjoyed using it during the last week or so that I’ve had it, and I’ll look forward to using it again and again in the future.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the photos in the gallery enclosed here, they were taken with the E-330.
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!
Summer doesn’t officially start until the solstice on June 21, so even though it feels very much like summer outside, we can still call it spring. Here is a gallery of photographs taken recently in our garden (on the 9th) with my PEN E-P2 and the 12-50mm lens, which does double duty as a macro when you need it. I’m so glad I bought this camera. It came out in 2010 and even now, in 2018, I can’t call it outdated when I can take photographs like these with it. Look at the colors, at the details, at the clarity and the bokeh. It’s so good 😍. I know I shouldn’t praise my own photos and I’m not, I just really like this camera. I love all my PEN cameras, they’re awesome little beasts.
I purchased this PEN E-P3 just a few days ago, to add it to my collection of Olympus PEN cameras. As I mentioned in my previous post, I now have all the PEN models except the PEN-F.
I love PEN cameras because they are the smallest full-featured cameras out there. Yes, there are smaller cameras, but they have smaller sensors. And there are small cameras with bigger sensors, but they’re not as small as these cameras, and you have to deal with big, heavy lenses. The PEN cameras are just perfect. The sensor is big enough to allow for great resolution without squeezing pixels too close together and small enough to allow for small, lightweight lenses.
PENs are almost as full-featured as the bigger OM-D cameras (which I also love and which have their own charm, purpose and amazing capabilities), but the PENs are small and light and easy to carry, so they’re perfect for traveling light or for an all-day photo shoot in the studio, when you have to move around and hold the camera at all sorts of angles in order to get that perfect photo. That was and is the Olympus MFT promise: small, lightweight gear and superb image quality. This is why my PEN E-P5 has become my main camera, by the way. I love using it in my studio and I use it everywhere else as well. This is also why I wanted to collect all of the PEN models. I wanted to see their evolution firsthand, from the standard-setting E-P1 to the E-P5 and the PEN-F.
I bought my E-P3 second-hand and there were some scratches to the underside of the camera. I also discovered after the purchase that the IBIS wasn’t working. I talked with the seller about it and it wasn’t malice. The fellow was a beginner and didn’t even know how to adjust the IBIS, much less that it wasn’t working. I guess at some point, the mechanism either broke or got stuck, so I packed it up yesterday and sent it in to one of the Olympus Service Centers in Eastern Europe to have it fixed. I look forward to getting it back in full working order and using from time to time, as I also use my other PEN cameras. They’re not just collectibles to me. They’re also working cameras and it’s important to me that each and every one of them is fully operational.
Before I sent this camera in for service, I mounted the 25mm f1.8 lens on it, plus my newly-arrived MCON-P02 Macro Converter (which I definitely recommend) and went into our garden to take photographs. I wanted to see how the E-P3 had improved upon the E-P2 in image quality. And it definitely has! The color gradation is better and so are the details. It has the same resolution as the E-P2 (12.2 megapixels) but the images are better and there’s less noise.
I do wish I had adopted the PEN system earlier, back in 2010 when I reviewed the E-P2. I think I’d have been pretty happy working with PEN cameras all these years and maybe also getting an OM-D camera. While I can’t change the past, I am working with Olympus gear now and I am very happy with it.
Several days ago, I purchased a PEN E-P1. I’ve been thinking about a number of years of collecting all the digital PEN cameras that Olympus has made. I’m not referring to the PL (Pen Lite) or PM (Pen Mini) camera lines, which were launched alongside the regular PEN cameras in an effort to provide lower-cost alternatives for consumers with lower budgets. I’ve wanted to own all of the regular, full-featured PEN cameras, of which there are five models: E-P1, E-P2, E-P3, E-P5 and PEN-F. So when did my love of PEN cameras start? It was when I reviewed the PEN E-P2 back in 2010. I loved that camera and I wanted to have it right there and then, but I was heavily invested in Canon gear at the time. Fast forward to 2018. When I bought the E-P1, I already had the E-P2 and the E-P5 (I also have the first PL model, the E-PL1). Since then, I’ve also purchased the E-P3, so now the only camera left to get for my collection is the PEN-F.
The E-P1 is an important camera. Launched on June 16, 2009, it was the first digital PEN. Fifty years before it came the original PEN, in 1959. Both cameras were revolutionary in their design and their compact size. What Olympus managed to do with the digital PEN was amazing: they managed to give us the features and quality that only came with larger, heavier cameras, in a tiny and light camera body that could be carried in a pocket or a purse. In its time, the E-P1 was the lightest, smallest and most capable camera on the market. It may not have been the best at everything, but it offered image quality that was higher than or comparable to much larger and more expensive cameras with larger sensors. Even today, almost nine years later, when the E-P1 is coupled with a great lens, such as the M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8, it can produce truly beautiful photographs that match quite well the quality of images made with cameras that have full-frame sensors. You’ll see this in the gallery below, which contains photos I’ve taken in our garden with the E-P1 and the 25mm f1.8.
I am fortunate and happy that I was able to build my PEN collection, and that I get to work every day with such great cameras. The PEN E-P5 is my primary camera now, both in the studio and outdoors. I love it. Enjoy the photographs!
I’ve recently purchased two new lenses for my Olympus cameras and I like them very much. Not only are they mignon, but they’re wonderfully sharp, they focus quickly and they offer me something I didn’t think I could get from MFT (Micro Four Thirds) lenses and cameras: bokeh and handheld photography in low light.
Yes, I’ve only just gotten the memo: you can get wonderful bokeh from MFT lenses. Having worked with MFT lenses whose maximum aperture was f/3.5 in the past and present and knowing that MFT sensors had a greater depth of field than larger sensors, I’d become accustomed to not being able to get the kind of bokeh I could get from my other cameras like my Canon 5D. I also didn’t think I could push my aging PEN cameras to take bright, handheld photos in low light. But these new lenses have changed my mind completely!
I love the kind of bokeh I can get from them. Depending on the distance between my subject and the background and the kind of background used, the bokeh is either wonderfully feathered or downright creamy, as you’ll see in the photographs I’ve posted here.
There are also Pro versions of these lenses available from Olympus, for all the typical, 35mm equivalent focal lengths, and those lenses open up to f/1.2, so it stands to good reason that the bokeh they make is even better. If I were to take my lenses for example, the equivalent Pro versions for them are the M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f1.2 and the M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f1.2. Since both of my current Olympus cameras are PEN cameras and I wanted to test the waters first, I bought the f/1.8 lenses, because (1) they’re less expensive, (2) they’re lighter and (3) they’re smaller (amazingly small, actually). However, were I to have a bigger camera such as the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, I would likely get the Pro lenses. They would be a much better fit for a camera that has a native resolution of 20 megapixels and can produce 50 megapixel images in high-res shot mode.
The 17mm f/1.8 lens has a beautiful metal body and is simply lovely to look at. It also has something that Olympus calls “fast focus switch”; I also remember seeing the term “manual clutch focus” somewhere to describe it. The focus ring slides down to reveal a manual focusing scale and it also puts the lens in full manual focus mode. This is different from the manual focus mode you can set in camera, which is more of a focus-by-wire on Olympus cameras. I can explain this in more depth in another post if you’re interested, but for now, I just want to point out the neat feature of this jewel of a lens.
In typical usage, the focus is electronic and set by the camera
When you slide the focus ring down, it reveals the manual focusing scale, with markings in both meters and feet, and it puts the lens in manual mode
It’s time for me to show you some photographs, so you can see the bokeh for yourselves. First, let me show you a few images of the lenses themselves, which I took today with a two-flash setup, right on my desk.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Now let me show you images taken with the 17mm f/1.8 lens. When you see my face in these photos, please don’t think I love taking selfies. It’s just that I’m a readily available subject when I need to test something out.
The antique bone china cup and saucer are a gift from Ligia
Finally, here are a selection of photographs taken with the 45mm f/1.8 lens. The bokeh is more pronounced here because of the longer focal length, and it is a truly wonderful thing!
From our wooden staircase
I am so glad I bought these lenses. They have opened up a whole new world for my Olympus cameras. Btw, I took the photographs of the lenses with my PEN E-P2 using the M.Zuiko 12-50mm EZ f/3.5-6.3 lens.
Olympus PEN E-P2 Mirrorless Camera
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm f:3.5-6.3 EZ Lens
It’s been a hum-drum winter, I’ve said it before. It barely snows, and when it does, it melts right away. The temperatures hover between 0-10° Celsius, so it’s neither warm nor cold, just kind of annoying. I don’t know where the winters of my youth went, but I hope they come back at some point. I’m talking about snow that stays on the ground for weeks and months, big, thick, frequent snow that keeps the top layers fresh… Those kinds of winters are now only found in movies and fairy tales.
Fortunately, we humans are endowed with a little something called optimism. We can always call on that spirit and make the best of what we have. So the snow melts quickly. So be it. I’ll photograph the melting snow. The falling water drops make for great macro photographs.
This nifty lens I just bought, the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm, has a Macro button on the side, which locks it in Macro mode and lets me get right up to the things I want to photograph, as you’ll see below. Not only is it a versatile 24-100mm (35mm equivalent) zoom, but it’s also a macro lens when I want it to be.
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm side view with buttons
I always shoot in RAW format, on any camera that’s capable of it, but with my E-P2, I forgot how good the JPG engine was. During my early morning outing a couple of days ago, I shot both RAW and JPG together (there’s an in-camera setting for that) and then I compared the photos in Lightroom. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the E-P2’s color reproduction is very good and the noise reduction algorithms built into the camera are actually better than Lightroom’s. Yeah, surprise! I pixel-peeped those images side by side and the JPG files were cleaner and had the colors I wanted, straight out of the camera. Guess what I did next? I switched my camera to JPG-only mode.
The photos you’ll see here are SOOC: JPG files produced by the camera, imported into Lightroom, where I added metadata and exported with no modifications to the colors, exposure, contrast, etc. Other than the metadata, I added nothing. Full disclosure: I bumped up the exposure on three snow photos that came out a little dark, but that’s it. I think you’ll agree with me when I say this little camera is pretty good!
Raoul using the Olympus PEN E-P2. Photographer: Thomas Hawk
To celebrate the acquisition of a new camera (well, the acquisition is new, the camera isn’t), I took a pre-dawn walk through town. It was cold and somewhat rainy. Water got on my lens a couple of times and I’d forgotten to bring a lens cloth, so you’ll see some weird light artifacts on some of the photos. That’s from the partially wiped lens… I was hoping dawn would come soon and I’d get some nice photos of the “blue hour”. As it turned out, my battery ran out of juice and I got pretty cold before that happened. But it was really nice to walk through town with few to no people around me. I am after all an introvert, so the more time I spend alone, the better I feel.
I am quite pleased with my acquisition. It’s a camera I used and reviewed in the past (eight years ago, actually): the Olympus PEN E-P2. I loved that little camera and I should have bought it back then. After quietly pining for it all this time, I found it online a few days ago at an unbeatable price, second-hand, in great condition: about 100 euros for the body, plus another 100 euros for the viewfinder (yes, I got the VF-2!) and about 200 euros for a wonderful little lens for it, the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ (it’s a 2x crop factor so a 24-100mm 35mm equivalent).
Olympus PEN E-P2 Mirrorless Camera
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm f:3.5-6.3 EZ Lens
Now I have the E-P2 and the E-PL1, which I bought several years ago with the two kit lenses offered at the time, the 14-42mm and the 40-150mm. Yay!
I took the photos without a tripod, relying on the camera’s optical image stabilization technology, which shifts the sensor on a 3-way axis in order to keep the shot steady. I shot at 1/10, 1/15 and 1/20, keeping the ISO at 1600 and the aperture wide open. Given that the lens goes from f/3.5 to f/6.3 when it’s at its longest focal length, that means some of the photos are darker. I squeezed every bit of light out of them in post processing, but having shot both RAW and JPG simultaneously, I can tell you the camera’s built-in noise reduction and image processing is so good (for its time), I could have just shot directly in JPG and uploaded them SOOC (straight out of the camera). Enjoy the photos!
I have been doing research lately, because I want to purchase a new camera (maybe a couple of them, not sure yet), so I thought I’d put together my thoughts on full-frame cameras available these days. Before we get started, I need to make it clear from the get-go that there is no absolute best camera out there anywhere. There are however, best cameras for various needs. What I’m going to be talking about in this article is full frame cameras available right now (in 2018), best suited for my needs as a professional photographer and videographer, and I will detail those needs below. Should you not have the patience or the time to read through this entire review, skip to the end for my recommendation.
What I can tell you about me is that I’ve been keenly interested in photography since college (that’s more than 20 years ago). I’ve shot on 35mm film and APS film and when digital cameras arrived on the market, I started buying them and shooting with them, even back when they only offered 3 megapixels and an ISO range of 100-400. If I look in my Lightroom catalogs under the camera metadata, I see over 70 of them listed there. Also, my photographs have been published in 10 printed books (recipe books, health books and other literature) and have also been purchased as prints and licensed for commercial use. I am known commercially as a food photographer 😯. Yeah, go figure! Do you see any food photography in my photo streams or on my social media? Nope. It’s in the printed books though.
If this preface makes what I’m about to write here relevant to you, good, read on. If not, by all means, look elsewhere, there are a ton of websites that review cameras out there, and the market for this kind of subject has grown tremendously in the last several years. As a matter of fact, I feel that there are a little too many websites and people giving their mostly unqualified opinions on cameras these days and they’re muddying the waters.
From 2008 onward, I have used (mostly) Canon cameras. I have three Canon DSLRs (a 5D, a 7D and a 60D) plus a PowerShot G10. I have other cameras (Olympus, Minolta, Kodak), but so far, I’ve shot most of my photographs with Canon. In 2007, I fell in love with the original 5D. It may sound strange to fall in love with a camera, but the 5D was (and still is) a combination of beautiful design and features that made it irresistible to me. I thought this camera was the cream of the crop and it truly was back then.
I wasn’t the only one to think so, seeing as how Canon has not changed the exterior design of the camera through 4 subsequent generations (Mark II, Mark III, 5DS/5DSr and Mark IV). Why mess with a good thing, right? The design is gorgeous, even after all these years. Have a look at a few photos of my 5D taken last night. Isn’t it a beauty?
I still actively use my 5D. I take it out of my equipment cabinet every once in a while to take photos with it, and then I don’t want to put it back. I want to keep it on my desk so I can look at it as I work. It has performed just as I expected it to perform all these years: superbly. I had to send it in for service twice: once to replace the shutter (I had taken somewhere between 75,000 – 100,000 photographs with it at the time) and on another occasion, to fix the hotshoe, because the rails had become loose and my speedlites weren’t making proper contact.
Here’s a photo I took yesterday. I love this camera!
While I’m talking about my love for the 5D, I was once invited to the launch party for the Olympus E-3 flagship DSLR and I brought my 5D along to take photos of the event. The 5D was my best camera at the time and I wanted to make sure I could take quality photographs of the event.
As I was talking with some of the Olympus folks, they asked me what I thought of the E-3. My answer was: “It looked great so far and that I looked forward to reviewing it in the field, given that it was up against some tough competition from my 5D, which I loved.” Yeah, that was a smart thing to say… 😬 To my credit, I had just bought the 5D a few months back and I really did love it. Guess how many more invites to Olympus launch parties I got afterwards? ⛔ When I requested the E-3 for my hands-on review, repeatedly, after I’d already published a preview post, their polite answer was that “there were a limited number of review units and they were all out on loan”. Ouch! 🚪 As the Soup Nazi would say, “No camera for you!” 🙅🏻♂️
However… and I think you expected this “however” after the long setup… after 10 years with my 5D and several years with my other DSLRs, I am now at an impass. I need a new professional digital camera that meets the following two criteria:
Takes high-quality, high-resolution images and
Shoots 4K video (proper, high-quality 4K video)
I’m looking at cameras with sensor sizes up to full frame. I don’t want to move to a medium format sensor just yet, for reasons I can perhaps detail in another post. So I have some tough choices to make. If you’re in the same boat, maybe this post can help you decide.
This impass is also partly caused by Canon. Just this past week, I tried sending my 5D in for a professional sensor cleaning, because it’s got some dust spots that I just can’t clean off with sensor swabs, only to be told that the 5D is no longer being serviced as of September 2015. Canon has stopped providing parts for it and has apparently instructed Canon-authorized service centers not to service it, not even to clean the sensors 😡. I’m willing to pay to service my camera but Canon doesn’t want to service it! The camera still works great, but according to Canon, I can just chuck it away. Should something go wrong with it, it becomes e-waste. Thanks a bunch, Canon! 😠
Given that I love my Canon 5D and I like (not love) my 7D and 60D, which are my workhorses these days, and that I’m heavily invested in Canon gear (EF and EF-S lenses, speedlites and transmitters, extra batteries, extra chargers, cable releases, etc.), I naturally would like to get a Canon camera. The more research I do though, the more I realize that it would not be the best option for me right now.
I want a full frame camera. I love the dimensionality and quality of the photos that I get with it. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that I love about the photographs from a full-frame camera, but they’re good. I know, I’d probably love a medium-frame sensor even more… Maybe at some point in the future…
Let me offer a quick explanation of resolution and sensor size, because it’ll set the stage for some of the choices I have to make. A camera with a full frame sensor can offer more resolution because there’s more surface on the sensor for the pixels. It can also offer a higher ISO range, but there is a trade-off between higher ISO and higher resolution. At the current time, there are limits to both values and it has to do with the surface area of the sensor. If you take a 35mm (full frame) sensor, you can get more resolution from it, but you’ll have to squeeze more pixels in there (hence the term “mega-pixels”). The smaller the area for each pixel, the less light it can see, so that means that you’ll run into limits on the ISO range, because collectively, all those tiny pixels won’t be able to see very well in the dark. You can push the ISO up, but you’ll only get more noise. The algorithms baked into camera processors get better every year and consequently, they can better interpret the signal received from the sensor and you can thus push the ISO range higher, but only so far before you get digital garble. That’s why the Canon 5DS has a 50 megapixel resolution and an ISO limit of 6400, while the Sony a7S II has a 12 megapixel resolution and an ISO limit of 102400.
The Sony can literally see in the dark, that’s how good it is. You can sit out in pitch darkness, put it on manual focus, hold it in your hand, take a photo, and the camera will actually see what’s around you (providing you’re using fast glass)! Both are full frame cameras, but since the Sony a7S gives me the same resolution as my current Canon 5D, it’s not my optimal choice. Now, the frame rate also plays into why the a7S and some other cameras offer lower resolution (and higher frame rates), but let’s not complicate matters. I don’t need a camera with an incredibly fast frame rate, because I have no interest in sports photography.
When the Canon 5DS came out, I was speechless. Here was a camera that offered 50 megapixels from a full frame sensor and the quality of the photographs was not questionable. 50 megapixels is medium-frame territory! But did it shoot 4K video? No. It did not meet my second criteria. So if I got it, I would also have to get a separate camera (or cameras) in order to shoot 4K video for our web shows. I don’t know about you, but not only do I not want to have a large inventory of equipment that needs to be mastered, operated and maintained, I also don’t want to spend a small fortune equipping my studio, given how ephemeral digital equipment can be (see what Canon did to my 5D above, it discontinued support even though a LOT of original 5D cameras are still working). Also, different brands require different lenses (this is an aspect that I’ll address a bit further down the page), so not only would I have to get more cameras, but more lenses and accessories for them, and that means an even greater budget.
Then the 5D Mark IV came out. Here was the answer to my dilemma, or so I thought… But Canon decided to give it 30 megapixels (after they had successfully shown that they could offer 50 megapixels two years prior). I am fully aware that 30 megapixels is quite a lot in and of itself, but there are other full-frame cameras on the market which offer significantly more resolution at the same price and the same (some would say better) image quality. And while the camera offers 4K video, it is encoded in Motion JPEG, which is not an ideal video codec. There’s been a lot of discussion online about this (here’s one example). Remember when Nikon first started to offer HD video on their DSLRs, what seems like ages ago? It was also Motion JPEG and people were groaning and complaining about that to no end, while others were saying we should be happy they’re offering it at all. Well, now it’s my turn to groan and complain about this thing, while others are just happy it’s UHD (4K) video instead of FHD (1080p)…
Also, if someone wants a professional flat color option in video (for proper color grading in post), it is a paid extra. Adding the Canon Log gamma is $100 and if you didn’t buy your camera with it, you have to send it to an authorized Canon service center to get it upgraded. Most camera stores offer you the option of buying it either with Canon Log or without Canon Log. Granted the $100 video upgrade is pocket change when we’re talking about a camera that costs $3,300, but why is it an add-on when other camera manufacturers offer different gamma logs built right into the camera?
And that my dear reader, the price, is the final rub. I get that the DSLR market is shrinking and companies making sophisticated, higher-end cameras end up selling less of them and making less money. It’s logical, isn’t it? Most people now rely on their phones to take photos; they’re sufficient, and in the case of some phones like the iPhone 8, iPhone X, Google Pixel 2 and Samsung S8, the cameras are more than sufficient, they’re outstanding given their tiny sensors and lenses. Most people don’t need a complicated DSLR or mirrorless camera because they don’t need all those myriad options, they’re intimidated by them, they don’t appreciate the quality of a large-surface sensor and they think they’re heavy and expensive. If you’ve just shelled out $700-800 for a new phone, it’d better take good photos, right?
Well… those of us who take photos professionally need more than a mobile phone when we take photos (although I’ll tell you a secret, I managed to sneak in a photo taken with my iPhone 4 into a book 😏) and we also need decent pricing, durability, reliability and top-notch features on the expensive equipment that we we purchase.
We’re also affected by this market crunch, aren’t we? I’ll give you just one example: Adobe Stock. Adobe has been marketing their new stock image service heavily in recent months. I submitted several photos to it last year and sold a few. Do you know how much I made per photo? Around 40-60 cents! Those are microstock profits and they mandate a ridiculously high volume of sales. You can only submit RF (royalty free) and at those payouts it’s not worth my time. I’ve been with Alamy for years and their payouts are much better, plus they offer the option of RM (rights managed) licensing, but they’re killing me with their keywording requirements (¡Ay, caramba!), so I haven’t submitted a lot of photos to them.
I wonder how many of you have sat down to do the math and get a grand total for what it takes to be able to take high-quality photographs. It’s not just the initial costs, it’s the upkeep: the ever-increasing storage needs, the backups, the software, the work involved in managing, editing and keywording the photos and videos, the upgrades to the computers, the displays, the cameras, etc. By the way, if you want to put me in hell, make me keyword photos for a stock photography website. Or make me take wedding and birthday party photos. That’s true torture for me! I’d rather be horse whipped. But the dirty truth is that wedding photography is how the majority of photographers make their money and buy their gear… I digress…
If I’m going to plunk down $3,400 for a brand new camera and maybe $5,000-6,000 more for lenses and speedlites and such, that camera had better be amazing. It had better give me what I need. Actually, since I live in Romania (which is in Eastern Europe), I’m going to pay much more for the camera. Instead of $3,400, I get to pay $4,460 (16.999 lei). Yeah, that’s how things work when you’re not in the US…
That’s what Canon and the other camera manufacturers out there need to understand. Now that the market for their mid to high-end products is shrinking, they need to offer more value to their customers.
You know who’s innovating and who’s trying their hardest? It’s the companies with smaller market shares: Sony, Olympus, Panasonic and Fujifilm. Canon’s sitting on top of the heap with the largest market share and it doesn’t have a fire burning under its derrière, so to speak. It can afford to slow down the whole production cycle. Nikon was in the same situation and it chose to turn things around. People are very excited about the D850 right now, but they were angry with Nikon for some time because it wasn’t innovating.
While I’m on the subject of the Nikon D850, wouldn’t it be the best option for me right now? After all, it’s got a high-resolution sensor that offers 45 megapixels and wonderful 4K video encoded in H.264. I love its design. I have to say, I’ve been tempted to switch to Nikon every now and then, but that lull in their product development cycle that lasted years, while other companies like Sony and Olympus and Panasonic were busy creating amazing cameras, dissuaded me from it. There’s also the not-insurmountable but large obstacle of having to buy all-new glass, speedlites and other such accessories. There are no adapters on the market for Canon EF lenses to Nikon FX lens mounts. Metabones makes the best full-featured adapters for this sort of application (using different brands of lenses on different brands of camera bodies) and if they don’t make one, it’s not available and not worth getting (no, they’re not paying me to say that).
We’re coming to the reveal now, aren’t we? What camera is best for my stated needs right now and why? It’s the Sony a7R III.
It’s got a full-frame sensor that offers a resolution of 42 megapixels and beautiful 4K video encoded in one of two formats, XAVC S or AVCHD, with a choice of two professional ready-to-use gamma profiles, S-Log3 and HLG (at no extra cost) and best of all, Super 35mm 4K oversampled from 5K, which means it’s higher quality video than regular 4K video. It’s also got pixel shift multi shooting, an interesting technique that offers much higher detail at 1:1 view (see this video).
An important feature that sets it apart is its 5-axis optical in-body image stabilization. The Canon 5D Mark IV and the Nikon D850 don’t have it; they rely instead of the optical IS (or in the case of Nikon, optical VR) built into the lenses themselves. In-body IS doesn’t preclude optical IS built into the lenses either, so that’s another plus.
This is important because you have to remember this is a full frame sensor. There’s a lot of data that gets captured with it, every single second, and that data needs to be processed. Camera sensors suffered from something called rolling shutter not so long ago when they recorded video. When Canon first offered 1080p video on its 5D (it was the Mark II), there was pronounced rolling shutter. People called it jellocam and was a lot of discussion online about how to minimize it if you wanted to shoot professional video. You see, the larger the sensor, the more data that needs to be processed when the camera is moving and the more prone the camera is to show the rolling shutter effect. When you stabilize the sensor optically, in-camera, you provide a tremendous amount of help in reducing video shake and rolling shutter from the get-go. You don’t have to fix it so much in post-production.
And there’s another feature that sets it apart: 399 phase-detection AF points covering approx. 68% of image area width and height plus 425 densely positioned contrast-detection AF points, plus something that Sony calls 4D Focus. Compare the sheer number of AF points with the cameras from Nikon and Canon and once again the a7R III stands out.
Another good little thing the Sony a7R III offers (that may be important to some) is a USB 3.1 Gen 1 compatible USB Type-C port. This is good for charging or various accessories that need that sort of connection.
Finally, here’s the deal clincher: I can use my Canon glass on the a7R III! Remember Metabones, the company I mentioned above? They make an adapter that will let me use most of Canon’s EF and EF-S lenses on the Sony camera. It’s called the Canon EF Lens to Sony E Mount T Smart Adapter (Mark V). It supports all of the functions of Canon’s lenses, such as full aperture control, full AF, and IS for both photos and videos (see this for the details).
I can buy the Sony a7R III and the Metabones adapter and get right to work using my Canon lenses. I can always buy Sony lenses later.
There are things that the a7R III could do better:
There is no built-in GPS. This is a pet peeve of mine. Tons of cheaper cameras have built-in GPS. Most cameras made nowadays offer it standard, as a matter of fact. It’s an amazingly useful feature. Canon offers it on the 5D Mark IV. Nikon offers it on the D850.
Another useful feature that’s missing is the built-in intervalometer which lets you shoot timelapses. The 5D Mark IV has it and so does the D850. On the a7R III, you’ll need to purchase an external intervalometer.
Also, it seems that its video quality could improve (see this post) although from what I’ve seen so far online and I’ve looked plenty, the a7R III video is pretty great, with sharp focus, definition and color, even at long focal lengths. Ideally, it could offer interlaced 10-bit 4:2:2 4K video at 60 fps, although I haven’t seen that feature on the other full frame contenders.
So there you have it, the Sony a7R III may not be the best camera out there, but it’s the best full-frame camera for my stated needs, right now.
There are also some additional things I’d like to submit for your consideration. One is the aesthetic of the mirrorless camera sporting a long, bulky lens. It looks something like this.
Mirrorless cameras have their own aesthetic, which has evolved for particular reasons: they’re smaller, lighter, easier to carry, but those very advantages that make them great for travel or simply great for lugging around also make them look prety funny when they’ve got a big lens attached. Imagine a large, full frame, 400mm or 600mm lens attached to a small mirrorless camera and things get even funnier.
While it was Epson who invented mirrorless cameras when they introduced the RD1 (see this post), it was Olympus who made us go, “Oh yeah, I get it now!” when they started making them. A mirrorless camera with a micro four-thirds (MFT) sensor is a tiny thing that takes tiny lenses: they’re smaller in diameter and thus much lighter and they look in proportion when mounted to those cameras.
Years ago, when I heard that Sony had introduced a mirrorless camera with a full frame sensor, my first reaction was, “Huh?” In my mind, it defeated the purpose of a small, easy to carry camera and lens kit. A full frame sensor requires larger diameter glass and even though the camera is small, the lenses are going to be big. In that sense, the a7R III is a strange animal, sort of like a giraffe with a normal head and neck, but a tiny little body. You’re not really holding onto the camera when you use a bigger lens, you’re holding onto the lens and the camera is just sort of there like a lens attachment. Now, be that as it may, I’m not going to argue with results.
I’d also like to take a step back, put the budgetary concerns aside and talk hypothetically about the ideal equipment for those two stated needs of mine (high resolution and great 4K video), because it’s worth talking about. Clearly, it’d be better to separate the two tasks and then focus on the equipment that does each of those two things best. If I were to have a much larger budget to play with, what would I do?
For photography, I’d separate the cameras even further into studio photography (or let’s call it local photography) and travel photography, particularly hikes through nature, for sheer weight considerations.
For studio or local photography, I’d probably go with the Canon EOS 5DSr or the Nikon D850. The 5DSr offers 50 megapixels of resolution while the D850 offers 46 megapixels. It’s the same ballpark and it is medium-format territory (in terms of resolution). Under controlled lighting situations or on a tripod, where I don’t have to push the ISO range to its limits, I would get crisp and clear high-resolution images (the highest resolutions available from full frame sensors today).
If I did a lot of hiking and travel photography, I’d probably go with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II or the OM-D E-M5 Mark II. Even though the E-M1’s regular resolution is 20 megapixels, it has a high resolution shot mode where it takes eight consecutive photos while shifting the sensor and stitches them together in camera to give you a 50 megapixel photograph. You’ll have to use a tripod, but this is great for studio, architectural or landscape photography. It’s the same with the E-M5: it offers 16 megapixels but using the same high res shot mode, it can give you a 40 megapixel photograph.
An even lighter alternative is the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III. It offers 16 megapixel photos, it has no high res shot mode but instead gives us the unexpected gift of 4K video at 30p. And it is adorably small. You can’t realize how cute and lovable that little camera is until you see it in person! 😍 Put it together with a few light MFT lenses and you’re good to go just about anywhere! ✈
Now let’s talk about video. I’ll point out a couple of cameras that offer amazing 4K video, and they are (no surprise here) the Panasonic Lumix GH5 and its newer brother the Lumix GH5s, which is better suited for recording video in low light situations.
The differences between the two cameras are eloquently explained in this video put together by the staff at B&H Photo.
Of course, the best video you can get comes from professional video equipment and one company whose products I like is Blackmagic Design. Check them out, you might be pleasantly surprised by their product offering and their prices.
Well, there you have it! I hope this post of mine has been enlightening 😇, I hope I’ve explained my thought process in a way that helped you understand the challenges involved in choosing the best camera suited for the two needs stated at the start and if you liked this, please share it with your friends who are trying to decide what camera to get. Cheers! 👋
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