Winter photos from our garden

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
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
Raoul using the Olympus PEN E-P2. Photographer: Thomas Hawk

Enjoy the photos!

 

A walk through town before daybreak

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).

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!

The best full-frame camera out there right now

I have been doing research lately, because I want to purchase a new camera (maybe a couple of them, not sure yet). Although I have reviewed cameras in the past, I haven’t done so for years and I’m rusty, so I’m not going to pretend that I’m a professional reviewer, although I am (among other things) a professional photographer. Also, 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 here is the best camera out there, right now, 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, skip to the end. The featured image for this post should also be a telltale sign of my conclusion 😉.

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 3.3 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 (it’s over 100 models actually but there’s some overlap plus some scanners are listed as well, so I’ll say 60-70 cameras just to be on the safe side). 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.

From 2008 onward, I have been a Canon guy. 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 EOS 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, in its time.

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? 😍

My 5D after 10 years of use. I still love it!
My 5D after 10 years of use. I still love it!
My 5D after 10 years of use. I still love it!

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 because it’s so beautiful! It has performed just as I expected it to perform all these years: superbly. I only 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!

Indeed
Stefanel asleep on an armchair

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.

Olympus E-3 DSLR
The Olympus E-3 was dustproof

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… 😬 Guess how many more invites to Olympus launch parties I got afterwards? ⛔ When I requested the E-3 for a 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:

  1. Shoots high-resolution images (as high as possible for a full frame sensor) and
  2. Shoots 4K video (proper, high-quality 4K video).

Those are my needs. 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 no longer provides parts for it and has apparently instructed Canon authorized service centers not to service it, not even to clean the sensors 😡. 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, that much is clear. 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 oh so good! I know, 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 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.

Canon 5DS Front
The Canon 5DS
Sony a7S II Front
The Sony a7S II

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! Both are full frame cameras, but since the Sony a7S gives me the same resolution as my current Canon 5D, it’s not useful to me (while I’m sure it’s very useful to others). Now, the frame rate also plays into why some cameras offer lower resolution, 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. It’s plain and simple: I want and need a full frame camera that offers both high resolution and high-quality 4K video.

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 same (and some would say better) image quality. So if it’s possible, why didn’t you do it, Canon? 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)…

Canon 5D Mark IV Front
The Canon 5D Mark IV DSLR

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 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. It goes without saying that I won’t submit photos to them again. 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.

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 a lot 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 $1,000-3,000 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 are when you’re not in the US…

That’s what Canon and all 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.

Nikon D850 Front
The Nikon D850 DSLR

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. It’s so beautiful! 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 whyHere it is, it’s the Sony a7R III.

Sony a7R III Front
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, Canon!) and best of all, Super 35mm 4K oversampled from 5K, which means it’s much higher quality than straight 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, too.

In-body 5-axis image stabilization
In-body 5-axis image stabilization

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).

Metabones Canon EF and EF-S Lens to Sony E Mount T Smart Adapter
The Metabones Canon EF and EF-S Lens to Sony E Mount T Smart Adapter (Mark V)

And if that’s not enough, they also have something called the Canon EF Lens to Sony E Mount T Speed Booster ULTRA 0.71x II (Mark V), which does all of the above, increases the aperture by 1 stop and makes the lens 0.71x wider (see this for the details).

Canon EF Lens to Sony E Mount T Speed Booster ULTRA 0.71x II
Canon EF Lens to Sony E Mount T Speed Booster ULTRA 0.71x II (Mark V)

There is no downside here, is there? 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.

 

 

best-sony-a7r-iii-lenses.jpg
A lens line-up for the Sony a7R III

There are things that the a7R III could do better:

  • There is no built-in GPS. This is a pet peeve of mine. Come on, Sony, really?! 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. Why is it missing on your camera?
  • 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 10-bit 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 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.

This is the Canon EF 70-300 mm lens mounted to the body of an Olympus E-PL1 mirrorless camera
This is the Canon EF 70-300 mm lens mounted to the body of an Olympus E-PL1 mirrorless camera

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 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? This doesn’t add up for me.” 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. The a7R III is a fantastic camera and that’s that.

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).

Canon EOS 5DS R
The Canon EOS 5DS R

If I did a lot of hiking through the mountains and a lot of 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 only offers 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 the user a 50 megapixel photograph, so if you’re using a tripod, it’s great for 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 gift of 4K video at 30p. And it’s so adorable! 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! ✈

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III
The Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III

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.

Panasonic Lumix GH5
The Panasonic Lumix GH5

The differences between the two cameras are eloquently explained in this video put together by the great staff at B&H Photo.

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! 👋

Cameras I’ve used so far

Updated 11/16/12 with new cameras. 

I thought it’d be fun to go through the meta-data for my photos in Lightroom and see what cameras and lenses I’ve been using since 2006, when photography became more than an occasional hobby for me — indeed, it became an obsession, and now it’s my daily occupation.

There are 30 cameras listed below, in reverse chronological order. I’ve provided a photo for each camera. If I’ve written reviews for them, they’re linked.

I’m doing this in order to share my experience with you. Perhaps you’ve used some of the same cameras, or are using one of these cameras now, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. I also believe it’s important to use a variety of cameras, because that expands our photographic horizons and improves our craft.

Canon EOS 7D: this is my current field camera. It truly is a beast: fast frame rate, sturdy, rugged, heavy — a camera I can truly rely on. In addition to photographs, I also record video with it. It’s the secondary studio camera for our web shows.

Canon EOS 60D: this is my current studio camera. I use it as the main video camera for our award-winning web shows (Ligia’s Kitchen, Romania Through Their Eyes and Quilling). I also take photos with it, also mainly in the studio. I like it because it’s lightweight, has the same video quality as the 7D, has a flippable display and because it’s not weather-sealed, it doesn’t tend to overheat when shooting video for long periods of time.

Olympus PEN E-PL1: a very portable mirrorless camera from Olympus with a resolution of 12.2 megapixels. I have two lenses for it, the 14-42mm and the 40-150mm. I carry it with me pretty much everywhere I go, because the whole kit (camera plus two lenses) is so light it’s cinch, even on long hikes in the mountains.

iPhone 4: my current phone. Not sure what I could say about it other than what you already know. It’s a great phone, so I take it everywhere and therefore I also use it to take photographs and record video. If you know its strengths, then you can get pretty good photos. And the key thing to remember about video with the iPhone 4 is that it should definitely be stabilized on a tripod and you should avoid panning with it so that you don’t get the “jellocam” effect.

Olympus PEN E-P2: a superb, small DSLR from Olympus with a resolution of 12.2 megapixels, which followed up on the company’s film PEN series of cameras. I loved using it, loved its small size, loved its low light performance. Reviewed it in March 2010. Took over 900 photos with it.

Canon EOS 5D: this used to be my main camera, a wonderful full frame, 12.8 megapixel DSLR, which I purchased in 2007. More than three years later, and after two repairs, it works. Being a full-frame DSLR, the depth of field and picture quality is amazing, but the downside is that the lenses cost a pretty penny. I’ve taken over 50,000 photos with it, and I still enjoy using it.

Minolta Hi-Matic 9: I got this as a gift from a distant relative (without an instruction book) sometime in 1991-92. It’s a classic rangefinder camera from Minolta that uses 35mm film. Sometime after 1998, I found an instruction book for it on the internet, figured out how to use it, and I love it. The photo quality is wonderful, and it’s got a ton of features for a classic camera, including a built-in self-timer.


Image credit: The Camera Site

Canon PowerShot G10: a prosumer digicam. Is resolution is 14 megapixels, picture quality is pretty good, but the lens is slower (f/2.8) than in the G3 and the bokeh isn’t as pretty. The movie quality (SD) is pretty nice though. I’ve taken over 1,200 photos with it.

Canon EOS 30D: this was the first semi-pro DSLR I used. I was blown away by its image quality — I compared it to digicams at the time — and by its low noise at high ISO settings. I reviewed it in April of 2007, and considered buying it instead of the EOS 5D, which was more than double its price, but settled on the 5D in the end. I don’t regret my decision. The 30D was a good DSLR, and were the market expectations the same today, I’d still recommend it to others. I took over 3,500 photos with it.

Nokia N95: my mobile phone for a few good years. I loved it. It had a 5 megapixel camera with flash, and it recorded SD video. It was small, versatile, I took it with me pretty much anywhere, and I depended on it when I didn’t have my main camera with me. The picture quality was pretty good, even in low light, provided you knew how to handle it. You could even do some in-camera photo and video editing. I’ve taken over 1,900 photos with it, and I must have recorded well over 50 hours of video with it.

Olympus C770UZ: even though it was made in 2004, and its resolution is only 4 megapixels, I still use this digicam because it has a 10x optical zoom, a fast lens (f/2.8), in-camera resolution doubling (turns a 4 megapixel photo into an 8 megapixel photo), quality SD video, and a superb macro mode, which allows me to get photos and video of minuscule things. And oh yeah, it has a microphone input, and a hot shoe. I’ve taken almost 2,500 photos with it.

Canon EOS Rebel XTi: a great beginner DSLR, which I reviewed in November of 2007. It had the same 1.6x crop as the 30D, the picture quality was about the same, but the noise at high ISO seemed to be a little higher than on the 30D. I took over 300 photos with it.

Fuji FinePix S6500fd: a 6.1 megapixel, 10x zoom prosumer digicam from Fuji. The “fd” stands for face detection, which was a new technology at the time. The camera would find a face (or faces) in a photo and focus primarily on them, to make sure the people were always in focus. A friend loaned it to me. I took about 30 photos with it.

Canon PowerShot G3: one of the first prosumer digicams from Canon’s PowerShot G line. It was slow, its resolution was somewhere between 3 and 4 megapixels, but it had a really nice, fast lens (f/2.0), which meant you could get really creamy bokeh if you focused just right. And it shot in RAW. I have over 100 photos taken with it in my photo library.

Fuji FinePix S9100: a similar camera to the S6500fd, but with a resolution of 9.1 megapixels and the same 10x zoom. When I tried it, I didn’t like it because of the high noise and poor performance in low light, but it is otherwise a wonderful and versatile camera. It used AA batteries, which was a plus, it had a manual zoom that didn’t eat into the battery life, a super macro mode, and neat physical controls on the camera body. Since then, I’ve found out that the noise would have been brought down significantly if I had used the Fuji software that came with it instead of using Lightroom to process the photos. I took over 50 photos with it.

Olympus SP560UZ: an 18x, 8 megapixel prosumer digicam from Olympus. While the picture quality suffers somewhat from the combination of the extra long zoom and small sensor, the camera is really well designed, the body has a nice, premium feel to it and as a plus, it uses AA batteries. As long as you stay away from the very long end of the focal range, you’ll get nice, usable photos, and low light performance is decent. I reviewed it in February of 2008, and took over 500 photos with it.

Kodak Z1015 IS: a 10 megapixel, 15x zoom prosumer digicam from Kodak which should have had better photo quality, but sadly, I got mostly soft and fuzzy photos and videos from it, particularly toward the long end of its focal range. It also had 720p HD video capabilities, but the video was not only fuzzy but full of compression artifacts. I had to return it to the store after a few days. I took over 300 photos with it.

Olympus EVOLT E-510: the follow-up prosumer DSLR to the E-500, it had a resolution of 10 megapixels, a smaller, lighter body, a nicer interface, better quality at higher ISO but still not clean enough for low light use. I took over 1,100 photos with it.

Kodak v610 Dual Lens: a neat camera from Kodak with 10x zoom, featuring two lenses, one for 1-5x and one for 5-10x, so to speak. The camera switched between them. Interesting, small, light and versatile, but with its limitations, such as poor low light performance and lack of IS, which made it really hard to get good shots at long focal distances. Battery life was also not so good. Still, I used this camera for quite some time and depended on it, though I’d end up deleting a lot of photos I took with it for the reasons mentioned above. I took over 4,200 photos with it.

Exakta EXA Ia: this beautiful analog camera was given to me by a close friend along with a full kit of viewfinders, lens extension tubes and filters. It’s a fully manual camera made in the 1960s. It was a pleasure to use, and there was a certain three dimensional quality to the photos I got with it that made it worthwhile to use. Still, after I got my 5D, the camera sat unused in the closet, so I gave it to someone who would use it more frequently.

Olympus EVOLT E-1: the first flagship DSLR from Olympus, with a resolution of 5 megapixels. A friend loaned it to me. Picture quality was wonderful, as was to be expected from a pro DSLR. I loved the shutter sound. The ruggedized body also felt great in my hand. The grip was nicely made. Good physical controls. I took 30 photos with it.

Olympus EVOLT E-500: a prosumer DSLR from Olympus, with a resolution of 8 megapixels. I reviewed it in February of 2007. Picture quality was wonderful, noise at high ISO not so wonderful, battery life was pretty nice, loved the self-cleaning sensor. I took over 1,500 photos with it.

Nikon CoolPix L12: a little digicam from Nikon with pretty good picture quality for its diminutive size. The in-camera processing renders some pretty nice colors in the photographs. The resolution is 7.1 megapixels. I’ve taken less than 10 photos with this one.

Nikon CoolPix S210: another little digicam from Nikon with pretty good picture quality. Its resolution is 8 megapixels. It has a nice macro mode. I’ve taken less than 10 photos with this one, but I liked using it.

Panasonic DMC-FZ20: a wonderful 5 megapixel digicam from Panasonic with a 12x Leica zoom lens. Picture quality was superb, handling was great, lens was great, battery life not so great, noise at high ISO not so great. I really enjoyed using it, but sadly the zoom mechanism must have either gotten some dust in it or broken, because it stopped working properly, so I gave it up. I took over 1,800 photographs with it.

Gateway DC-M50: a 5 megapixel digicam from Gateway which I ended up returning. Poor interface, slow, poor picture quality. I’ve taken over 40 photographs with it.

Kodak CD33: I used this 3.1 megapixel camera for a short while before returning it to the store. It just didn’t suit my needs. The resolution was too low, the performance and controls too meager. I took over 70 photos with it.

Olympus C3000Z: this was the first quality digital camera I used. Its resolution was 3.3 megapixels, but compare to the stuff I’d used before (1 megapixel or lower) it was heaven. To this day, I’m amazed by the picture quality when I look at photos taken with it. I’ve taken over 2,500 photos with it.

Canon Elura 40MC: this was the first generation Elura camcorder made by Canon. It was diminutive in size, shot better-than-SD (720×540) video on DV cassettes, had a nice optical zoom and also took 1 megapixel stills, but the photo quality was fairly poor. I used it for years, mainly for video, and I loved it. It was incredibly portable and very useful at a time when all the other camcorders were much bigger and heavier. It still works, but I no longer use it, because the cassette mechanism fails sometimes. I’ve have over 200 photos taken with it in my photo library.

Canon Elph APS: the 1st generation APS film Elph camera from Canon, this little baby was my first real, modern camera. I got it sometime in 1996-97. I loved its diminutive size, its ease of use, the great photos I got with it, and its beautiful design. I used it for a good amount of time. I was still taking photos with it in 2003. Over time, the inside of the lens surface somehow got covered in dust, and this became more and more visible in the photos, so I had to stop using it. One of these days, I’ll open it up and clean it. And if I’ll still be able to buy APS film and find a place to develop it, I might just take some more photos with it.


Image credit: Granger Meador

I have no way of telling (short of approximating) how many photos I took with each of my analog cameras, so I’ll just say that I have about 3,300 scanned photos in my library. I’ve used a few other analog cameras, but I’ve forgotten the model names, so I haven’t listed them here.

The photo totals you saw listed next to each camera above don’t represent the total number of photographs taken with each camera, because I delete about 10-20% of the photographs I take.

Feedback, questions?

Field video test with the Olympus PEN E-P2

Here’s a HD (720p) field video test I recently did with the PEN E-P2, the diminutive DSLR from Olympus. I shot it in South Florida, and it features tropical plants and flowers. No additional equipment beside the camera and the 14-42mm kit lens was used. The sound you hear is from the in-camera microphone. The DSLR was hand-held, and I had motion-stabilization turned off.

When I edited the video, I tweaked the colors just a little bit, but the images are pretty much right out of the camera. No software motion stabilization was used, either. You’ll see that the kit lens is quite capable of macro shots and it gives beautiful bokeh under the right conditions. There’s even a surprise shot at the end. Try to guess what it is.

You can watch the video on YouTube. And if you haven’t yet read my full review of the E-P2, you might want to check it out.

Blendtec blends line-up of Olympus gear

Tom Dickson, host of the popular “Will It Blend” video series, recently blended a full line-up of Olympus gear: a DSLR, a point-and-shoot camera, a lens, a HD camcorder, a digital voice recorder, plus some art. But this video doesn’t finish in typical fashion, with him revealing the blended remains of the unwitting electronics. There’s a great twist, and it makes me think Olympus had their hand in this. The tagline is “The ultimate multimedia blend. What will you create?” It’s highly entertaining but also cringe-inducing — it’s hard to see all that good photo gear go to waste.

Take Two: The Full Olympus Multimedia Blend

The first take for this video ended with a surprising bang…

New Olympus cameras get mixed by Blendtec

Camera review: Olympus PEN E-P2 Micro Four Thirds Mirrorless

The nice folks at Olympus sent me a PEN E-P2 for me to review, and I got to use it for about a month. As I usually do with the cameras I review, the E-P2 became my primary camera. I took it everywhere with me, and I shot both photos and video with it. A succinct description of my thoughts on the camera goes as follows: superb design, diminutivewell-made, clearly thought outreliable and a joy to use.

Details

This camera made me think seriously about switching to it permanently, and using it as my primary camera all the time. I loved it so much I didn’t want to give it back (I did give it back in the end). I loved everything about it. Even its few flaws pale in comparison with the advantages it gives you. I’m not the only one who raves about it. My wife loved it too. Other photographers loved it. People on the street would stop me to ask about it. And it’s no surprise, because it looks really good.

Raoul, using the Olympus PEN E-P2. Photographer: Thomas Hawk.

All that wonderful design and the overall good looks wouldn’t mean much without actual performance, and boy, this camera really delivers! The photos are superb, wonderfully well exposed, details are great at 1:1 (100%), low light performance is beautiful, even with the fairly slow (f/3.5-5.6) kit lens, and auto white balance is right on the money (not too cool in low light, which was the case with earlier Olympus cameras, and not too warm, either).

The PEN E-P2 isn’t perfect. There are a few sticking points. The two you’re likely to notice are battery life and autofocus failure in low light.

I’m used to battery life that hovers around 500-700 shots per charge. Perhaps that’s why I usually take that many photos when I visit a place. Or perhaps it’s just a coincidence, I don’t know. I do carry a spare battery when I shoot with my usual camera, so that means I can usually take 1200-1500 shots before I’m out of juice. The E-P2’s battery runs out around 250-350 shots, and it may run out faster if you take a lot of photos in rapid succession. That was a bit of a surprise to me, and since I didn’t have an extra battery, it did limit the amount of shots I could take. So, my advice to you is to get an extra battery (or two) depending on your shooting habits.

In low light (and I mean fairly low light, with little contrast between lighter and darker colors) the E-P2 will keep searching, trying to focus, and it will finally give up after a few seconds. You can overcome this if you use a faster lens, or if you switch to AF+MF or MF. That way you can choose to focus manually after the camera says it can’t do it, or you can start focusing manually right away.

Expecting the E-P2 to shine all around is a mistake. No camera is going to be perfect. In every camera ever made, some features were taken out, or couldn’t be put in at all. I look at the E-P2 as I look at my MINI Cooper S. It’s diminutive, the design is gorgeous, and the performance is great for my needs. I didn’t buy my MINI expecting it to perform like a Hummer, and by the same token, you don’t buy a PEN E-P2 expecting it to work like a Nikon D3X or a Canon EOS 1D Mark IV. They’re different cameras, designed for different purposes. When you buy an E-P2, you expect it to be light, versatile, stay out of the way, take good photographs (great photographs, actually), and to shoot HD video. It does all those things beautifully, and more.

I thought I’d place some weight on the DxOMark ratings for the E-P2 after I saw them, but in the end, it wasn’t a concern. It’s like the iPad, you see. You don’t get it until you hold it in your hands. Then it clicks. It’s the same with the E-P2. After you begin using it, you get it, and you don’t want to let go of it, because you know you can get great pictures with it, and you love the way it works, and the way it feels.

Even my wife, who doesn’t like taking photos with my Canon 5D, because she thinks it’s too much work to get the camera set up and adjusted, and doesn’t like it even when it’s on full auto, loved the PEN E-P2 and was able to take great photos with it. That showed me that Olympus was able to strike a great balance between a DSLR that will cater to the needs of a pro through its many buttons and manual settings, and will also please the amateur by assisting them unobtrusively as they use it.

We’d do well to remember a few things about Olympus here:

  • First company to come out with a self-cleaning sensor for a DSLR
  • First company to come out with Live View for a DSLR
  • First company to come out with magnified view for TTL MF on a DSLR
  • First company to come out with the idea of capturing video and photos with same DSLR sensor. I call it the “idea”, because what they did was to capture Live View video shown on the camera’s display via the main sensor, and the leap from that to recording video from the sensor is a fairly small one.
  • First company to come out with the smallest DSLR on the market. The E-420 was the first one, and now the PEN picks up Olympus’ famed lineage of analog cameras and takes it digital.

Even though larger companies like Canon and Nikon are reaping the benefits of implementing things like self-cleaning sensors and live view and magnified focus assist, and HD video, it’s really Olympus who did the hard work to bring these features to the market. Their implementation of these features may not be the flashiest or the loudest, but they were first.

I’m going to repeat a few things I wrote in August 2008, in an article entitled “DSLRs and video to converge“, after the Nikon D90, the first DSLR that could also shoot video, had been launched:

As good as the [Nikon] D90 is though, it will soon be eclipsed. Why? Market forces. How long do you think it will be before we’ll have a DSLR that can record 1080p HD video? Or how about an even smaller and thinner DSLR than currently possible? How about a DSLR that looks and weighs about the same as a point-and-shoot, but gives you photo quality that’s equivalent to (or exceeds) today’s DSLRs? It’s all coming.

Keep in mind the time when I wrote those things, and what came afterward. Just a few short months later, the Canon 5D Mark II came on the market, and it could record 1080p video. The floodgates had opened. And now we have a smaller and thinner DSLR than ever thought possible (Olympus PEN), one that looks and weighs about the same as a point-and-shoot camera (Olympus PEN), but gives you photo quality that exceeds that of other DSLRs. And there’s a huge difference in sensor size between that of a typical digicam and that of a PEN camera, as you can see below. (The sensor of the PEN camera is on the right.)

Here’s what else I said back then…

You know where else I’ll be proven wrong? Back when I attended the Olympus E-3 launch party, I talked about the camera’s (somewhat) limited 10 megapixel resolution, and I thought they had reached the limitations of the Four Thirds 2x cropped sensor. I thought the sensor’s surface area was too small to get more resolution out of it. But now that Canon has proven you can get 16 megapixels out of a 1.6x cropped sensor, I don’t see why you can’t get 12 megapixels or more out of a 2x cropped sensor.

I had my doubts about whether or not the Olympus engineers would be able to squeeze proper low light performance out of the four thirds sensor while increasing resolution, given the sensor’s size when compared to a full 35mm sensor, but they’ve done it! The PEN E-P2 goes up to 6400 ISO if you want it to, and the photos taken at 1600 ISO are definitely usable. Even the ones taken at 3200 ISO look pretty good to me. I’d reserve 6400 ISO for daylight use, such as when you want to take a high-speed photograph. Nighttime photos taken at 6400 ISO were fairly grainy, but then again, I was using the slower kit lens, whose aperture stops at f/3.5.

One last quote:

Wait, it gets even better. The current aspect ratio of Four Thirds cameras is 4:3. The aspect ratio of Micro Four Thirds cameras will be 16:9. That’s the same aspect ratio used in movies. Where do you think that’s going? It means your photos and your videos will have the same aspect ratio, and the line between photography and videography will get even more blurred, and it’s quite possible that in the near future, we’ll have 1920×1080p HD video recorded by a tiny little DSLR with a tiny little lens on it.

Okay, I was wrong about that one. Things are even better now. The PEN E-P2 will let you shoot at the following aspect ratios: 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 and 6:6. It shoots 720p HD video at 16:9, and it’s only a (short) matter of time before the PEN will be able to shoot 1080p HD video, as predicted. Keep in mind it will still be the tiniest little DSLR on the market, with a tiny little interchangeable lens on it, and that will make all the difference.

While I’m on the subject of video, do you want to know what else sets the PEN apart from other DSLRs that can shoot HD video? The fact that you can choose between several auto-focus modes, or image stabilization modes, or adjust both aperture and shutter speed, and apply live art filters to the videos, in-camera. I don’t know of another DSLR that lets you do this. As a matter of fact, you can shoot video in P, A, S or M modes, and you can adjust the aperture live, as you’re shooting. You can adjust the zoom, and if you have AF tracking enabled, your subject will continue to stay in focus. And you can see or preview all of the adjustments you’re making, on the screen or in the viewfinder, instantly.

Hands-on Video Review

I put together a hands-on video review of the E-P2, which includes the unboxing, a run-down of the camera’s exterior and its accessories, initial impressions and sample photos and video taken with it.

Olympus PEN E-P2 Hands-on Review

Specifications

While you can find all the specs you’d want and more on the Olympus PEN website, I’ll point out the more important ones here:

  • 12.3 megapixels resolution (4032 x 3024 pixels)
  • SSWF (Super Sonic Wave Filter) dust reduction system
  • Micro four thirds mount (of course)
  • 17.3 mm x 13 mm LCD screen, 3 inches across, 230,000 dots, 100% FOV
  • 11-area AF System: Imager Contrast AF (S-AF, C-AF, S-AF+MF, MF, C-AF+TR)
  • Shutter, 60 – 1/4000 sec or up to 30 min in bulb mode
  • 3 fps drive, up to 10 sequential RAW images or 12 sequential JPG images
  • TTL Image Sensor Metering: 324-area multi-pattern metering, center-weighted or spot-metering, EV 0-18
  • Flash synchronization: 1/30 – 1/180
  • Photo ISO: Auto 200-6400 or Manual 100-6400 in 1/3 or 1 EV Steps
  • Movie ISO: Auto or Manual 160-1600
  • Color Space: sRGB, AdobeRGB
  • RAW, JPEG, RAW+JPEG for photos
  • AVI for videos, 30 fps, limited to 2 GB per file, 720p HD (1280 x 720 pixels), 480p SD (640 x 480 pixels), max recording time 7 min for HD, 14 min for SD video
  • Wave Format Base Stereo PCM/16-bit, 44.1 kHz for sound
  • SDHC memory card recommended (can use older SD cards, but they’re not recommended for HD video)
  • Live View, 100% FOV, 7x or 10x magnification assist for MF
  • Image Stabilizer for photos: 3 modes (2D, Vertical and Horizontal), up to 4EV steps compensation
  • Image Stabilizer for videos: shifting electronic image (aka Digital IS)
  • Aspect ratio: 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 6:6
  • Battery life: up to 300 shots
  • Dimensions: 4.74in (W) x 2.75in. (H) x 1.37 in (D) / 120.5 mm (W) x 70mm (H) x 35mm (D) (excluding protrusions)
  • Weight: 11.1oz/335g (body only), 13.6/385g (body, battery and media)

Sample Photos and Videos

I took the camera with me to the Flagler Museum and The Breakers in Palm Beach, to the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, to the Boardwalk on Hollywood Beach, where I met with Thomas Hawk, and to the Vizcaya Museum in Miami. If I had gotten it sooner, I’d have taken it with me to Las Vegas as well. I also used it heavily inside and outside the house. I shot photos and video with it in all sorts of light conditions — like this video on shaving. After an initial winnowing process, I have 954 photos taken with it in my photo library, and 2½ (149 minutes) of HD video recorded with it.

I didn’t get the chance to edit and publish all of the photos and video clips taken with the camera yet, but I will get to all of them in the near future, and will post them here on my blog, so stay tuned for that. Until then, here’s a good selection of what I’ve already edited.

This first photo shows what you can get right out of the camera. I set the E-P2 on i-Auto, and as you can see, the light is a mix between strong daylight and shadows. With other cameras, you’d get more contrast between the light and dark areas, and you wouldn’t see so much detail on the tree bark, for example. But the E-P2 was able to keep the sky blue and still give me vibrant, light greens and browns in the shadowy areas, which is great.

Notice again how it was able to render great detail in the shadowy areas, even when shooting directly into the sun.

Notice the fine detail and soft bokeh in this macro photograph of a palm frond. This was taken with the 14-42mm kit lens. Even though the lens is said to focus properly only from 0.25 m/0.82 ft to infinity, when the camera was set to Macro mode, it could focus much closer, up to a couple of inches away from the subject. Keep in mind this is not a point-and-shoot digicam that you can set to Macro and be done with it, but a DSLR with an interchangeable lens, which is much more complicated and normally has limitations on what it can do. After all, that’s why these lenses are interchangeable, because they’re built for specific purposes. Yet this kit lens proved to be much more versatile than I thought.

These are colors obtained right out of the camera. If you’d like to see the specifics of a photo, feel free to download it and view the EXIF data, it’s included in each sample photograph.

This next photo is unedited once more. It’s what the camera gave me at 14mm (28mm effective) and 1600 ISO. It was a fairly dark room, and I shot this against a bright window with early afternoon daylight (2 pm) coming right at the camera. Notice the detail and lack of noise in the darker areas.

This was a particularly dark room. It appears well lit only because I shot this at 1/20th of a second and 1600 ISO. Notice once more how vibrant the colors are, and how good the auto white balance is.

This next photo shows that you can get some neat bokeh effects if you play with the manual focus. The photo is unprocessed, as the camera made it.

Another reason to like the PEN E-P2 is that I can take great portraits with it. Yes, you’ve got to love the bokeh you can get with really fast lenses like the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4, but you’ve also got to love the clarity of an Olympus camera. The whole face is in focus, and every minute detail can be seen if you zoom in. It feels like you can almost touch the skin of the person whose portrait you’ve taken. It’s a great characteristic, and I noticed this way back when I was shooting with the Olympus C-3000Z, as you can see in this photo from 2005. The photo you see below is of my wife, Ligia, and once again, it’s right out of the camera. It’s incredible how brilliant the colors are.

Here are a few more portraits I took of her with the PEN E-P2. I love this camera.

Here are a few more sample photos taken at Vizcaya, in Miami.

A few sample videos (shot in 720p HD) are embedded below. There are more on the way, as mentioned above. I used software motion stabilization on a fair number of the clips, as I shot them handheld, without a tripod or any other sort of external stabilization device, and I foolishly forgot to activate the in-camera stabilization.

Tea Ceremony – Morikami Museum

On the Beach at The Breakers

A Tour of the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

Accessories

When you buy the PEN E-P2, I recommend you definitely get the following accessories:

  • Li-Ion battery (PS-BLS1) — get an extra one or even two of these, depending on how many shots you need to take per session
  • MMF-2 Four Thirds to Micro Four Thirds Adapter — this is a must-have accessory, as it lets you mount any four thirds lens onto any PEN camera
  • 16 GB SDHC Card — get whatever brand you like, but make sure it’s SDHC
  • VF-2 Electronic Viewfinder — if you didn’t get this in a kit with your PEN camera, it’s really worth getting, as it will pivot up and act as a WLF (Waist Level Finder); you can see me using the PEN E-P2 with the VF-2 mounted onto it and pivoted upward in the second photo from the top of the article.

These next accessories come down to personal preference. Get these if you like them:

The current selection of micro four thirds lenses is somewhat slim, but it’s growing. And the beauty of having adapters like the MMF-2 I listed above is that you can use any regular four thirds lenses with PEN cameras, so you don’t have to buy extra micro four thirds lenses if you don’t want to.

But what if you’re heavily invested in Canon or Nikon gear, and would love to get a PEN camera? That’s okay too, because there’s a Canon lens to Micro Four Thirds mount adapter. It’s the same if you’re a Nikon shooter. There is an adapter that will let you use Nikon lenses with a PEN camera.

Two companies out there make these kinds of adapters: Novoflex, a German company, and Fotodiox, an American company. Since I’m heavily invested in Canon EF lenses, I called Fotodiox and asked them what they have for me. They have a specific Canon EF lens to Micro Four Thirds mount adapter, but it does not let you control aperture, so you’ll be shooting wide open. They did tell me they’re working on a specific adapter for Canon EF lenses that will let you mount them to PEN cameras and control aperture and auto-focus, just like you would with a normal lens. They said the price for it would be around $300 when it comes out later this year. That would be a very cool adapter, if it indeed delivers on its promise!

Then I called Novoflex and asked them whether they have a Canon EF to Micro Four Thirds adapter, but they don’t. They do have a Canon FD to Micro 4/3 adapter, which if I’m not mistaken will let you mount EF lenses as well, but you’ll be shooting wide open, without the ability control aperture, and of course you’ll be focusing manually.

I also found out that Canon makes a nice, simple metal EF lens to Micro Four Thirds mount adapter, and it’s only $40! So if you don’t mind shooting wide open and using manual focus, then definitely get this adapter, because it looks sturdy and it’s inexpensive.

Summary

It’s time to wrap things up. What can I say, other than what I’ve already said? I’m in love with this camera!

A number of significant design and engineering ideas from Olympus came together beautifully in the digital PEN: diminutive size, great sensor, beautiful design, IS, SSWF, Micro Four Thirds, HD video, light and capable lenses, a whole host of features design to make things easier for the photographer, and beyond the hardware, a tangible sense of soul, a certain something that binds you to the camera as you begin to use it.

Just like the analog PEN revolutionized the way people thought of cameras and of how they took photos, the digital PEN is a wonderful continuation of the PEN legacy, a beautiful leap through time, from film to the digital world of today.

Images of PEN E-P2 used courtesy of Olympus. The PEN E-P2 can be purchased from Amazon or B&H Photo.