Wednesday, 31 May 2023

Late Spring Updates

OM System OM-1, 12-40 PROmII, 6 stop LiveND

 Well, it’s been a hot minute since I posted here. What’s been happening? Both a lot and not very much. I spent most of the winter and early spring cooped up for various reasons. Not much photography happened until recently, although I did get one good outing mid-spring. I also started an RC-related YouTube channel which has been eating a lot of time. That’s somewhat relevant to this blog as I’m shooting those videos on my OM-1, which has proven to work very well for my needs for video. 

Overall I’ve been very happy with the OM-1, I’m up around 2300 exposures on it, limited mostly by the lack of outings. At this point I have very few complaints about it. The handling is great, the IQ is up to par, even coming from the outstanding A7RIV, I don’t find myself going ‘I wish I had the Sony instead’ when I look at the files from the OM-1. Is it a match for the Sony in IQ? No for resolution and Dynamic range, yes for colour. But with the computation capabilities, i rarely find myself in a situation where I can’t get the IQ I need while also getting the shot. I had more issues with the Sony due to the need for ND filters, poor LCD articulation for low-angle shooting and lower-quality LCD resulting in worse viewing angles in sunlight. The LiveND feature is probably the biggest win for me, I can carry one filter, a polarizer, and almost always get the shot I need. I do carry a 10 stop ND just in case, but rarely ever fit it, 6 stops is enough for most of my uses. 

On the handling side, the OM-1 beats the pants off the A7RIV. I just really like shooting with this camera, it feels right, the controls are better laid out, not cramped and I have full confidence in the camera in every condition. The A7RIV was good enough at handling, but just not as good as the OM-1. 

On the lens front, I have the 12-40/2.8 Pro mII, the 40-150/4 Pro and the 17/1.8, I haven’t used the 17  much at all yet (I’ve owned it a couple times before, so I know what I’m getting). My only complaint with any of them is the close focus on the 40-150/4, it’s a little restrictive. 

There’s surprisingly been more cases where I wished I had longer lenses than wider. I was expecting to miss not having an UWA more, and not having a longer telephoto (>300mm-e) less, but it’s actually been the opposite. Regardless I do see adding lenses at both ends of the spectrum over time. The 8-25/4 Pro and 40-150/2.8 Pro would make a good working pair, sharing a 72mm filter thread (and I already have a polarizer that fits), and the 40-150/2.8 is TC-compatible and known to work vey well with the Oly/OM TC’s. That way I’d have the current pair of zooms for minimalist carry and the bigger set plus a TC or two for wider-ranged carry. Stretch setup would add the 100-400 and 60 or 90 Macro. 

I have been somewhat interested in adding a second body, more as a B cam for YouTube than anything else. No idea where I’d go there, there’s so many decent options so long as all I need is decent 1080p60 with manual focus. I honestly will probably add an action camera first.

On the pure photography side, getting up north has been a big win for me. I love the geography of the Canadian Shield and getting up there to shoot has just been good for the soul, and also for the bank of images to process. I suspect there’s going to be more overnight and short weekend trips north in my future. While I have concentrated on the Muskoka’s and Ontario Highlands since getting into Landscape Photography, it’s the North that is where my true passion for the subject lies.

Monday, 23 January 2023

Second Outing with the OM-1

OM-1, 40-150 f4 Pro

It took long enough, but I finally managed to get out and shooting last week after being essentially stuck around home since early November for various reasons.

I got a little greedy with my plans, intending to chase a sunrise and sunset as well as do some hiking. I got the sunrise and half the planned hiking before realizing I was too tired to continue without a nap, and was not properly equipped to be napping in the truck in the winter. 

I got up along Highway 522 before dawn and chased the sunrise from a little before Loring to Golden Valley, then some golden hour shots on 522 east then 534 until I made it to Callander mid-morning where I stopped for an easy hike of a decent distance, ~5km on the Cranberry Trail. After that I drove up to North Bay for lunch, then east to Corbeil and started south. Somewhere south of Corbeil I decided that the right choice was to head homewards rather than stopping and napping before another hike and/or a sunset attempt. I've simply been so inactive since the summer for various reasons that I need to build back up to these long days if I'm going to be hiking and trying for sunrise/sunset on the same trip.

Photographically, I came home with a ton of images, 951 to be exact. That is in large part because I encountered Chickadees and feeding stations on the Cranberry Trail and decided to try out a few OM-1 features I'd never played with, namely ProCapture, the SH2 drive mode and Bird Tracking AF.

ProCapture is a pre-shooting experience, it starts recording images when you half-press the shutter and writes the current buffer when you full press. This allows you to control the end of the burst instead of the beginning and therefore force a write the moment after the moment you wanted to capture, and still get the shot. It's also a guaranteed way to come home with a full card.

SH2 drive mode is the fastest full-AF/AE drive mode on the OM-1 (SH1 is twice as fast, but AF/AE lock on half-press). With my 40-150 f4, SH2 operates at 25fps, but it can go to 50fps with a supported lens. Between those two features, I managed to shoot around 700 shots alone. 

Bird Tracking AF is exactly what it sounds like, an automated subject recognition mode for birds. The OM-1 has several such modes, although confusingly eye detect AF for people is a completely different AF tracking mode. OMDS does need to sort out the control system for these modes, they're too time consuming to switch between unless you put them on a Custom menu slot. 

Being a newbie to bird photography I also made one big mistake, I left the camera in Aperture Priority mode, which meant my shutter speed stayed WAY too low for small, fast moving birds, at 1/320 vs the 1/2000 or so I actually needed. I have a bunch of nicely focused blurs from whenever the birds took off. I did figure out my mistake afterwards and now C4 on my mode dial is Bird mode. Maybe next time I'll get 700+ usable shots instead of a lot of motion blur.

In terms of landscape, I definitely did better, although my route wasn't as scenic as I'd hoped. Just a lot of tree-lined rural highway with a handful of really nice winter morning views. I'm pretty happy with what I came home with, but also want some more soon. Might have to go up east of Algonquin, I haven't done that in the winter in a couple years.


Friday, 6 January 2023

2022 Wrap Up and 2023 Goals


OM-1, m.Zuiko Pro 12-40mm f2.8 II

2022 was a bit of a study in opposites for  me. While I didn't take that many photos, at 4093 for the year, I think I produced some of my best work ever, most notably the work from my trip to Algonquin Park in February and from Eastern Ontario in early November. The image above is from the latter trip. and the one below from the former.

A7RIV, SLR Magic 18mm f2.8

In terms of photographic outings, I really struggled. Not so much with motivation as with life getting in the way of any real excursions. Simply put, I had a lot going on this year between work and health (both mine and my partner's) and I either simply didn't have the time for a proper photography outing, didn't have the energy or couldn't be far from the city. That meant a lot of RC flying and not much photography.

Photography in and around my home struggled for different reasons. Simply put, I do a lot of macro and near macro work when shooting like this and Sony's lenses don't match up well to how I do that, with poor MFD on pretty much all the zoom options. It's the same basic issue I had with Nikon Z for that work, although I at least had the Laowa 15mm f4 Macro to partially make up for it. 

This leads to an interesting observation. Going back to m43 from Sony is the second time I have switched systems because of the 12-40 Pro. My experience with that lens, it's excellent optics and remarkable close focus performance was a big reason why I went all-in on m43 in 2021 and sold the Z5. My memories of that lens and struggles with close focus work on Sony was a major reason why I went back to m43 in October 2022. I found the FE28-60 to be a remarkable little lens, but I missed the close focus of the 12-40 and most importantly, across all the Sony system there simply wasn't a comparable mid-range zoom for close focus work. The takeaway here? Unless I have a direct replacement for the 12-40 in terms of optical performance and close-focus, I shouldn't even look at alternate systems. I'll just end up going back to m43. 

To be honest, I never was unhappy with the A7RIV, if I'd been able to find an acceptable and full replacement for the 12-40, ie small, sharp and great close focus, I would still be shooting the A7RIV. It actually got a ton of use, but as a webcam, not a stills camera. 

I had a couple minor annoyances with it, mostly the LCD articulation, and I never really trusted it in tough weather conditions, but that really was it. The challenge here is the classic FF one, the good normal zooms are big or short-ranged and MFD on zooms sucks compared to m43. 

In terms of my goals, it was 3 misses and a strike out in 2022.

Goal 1 - 10,000 images on one camera. Hard fail, I broke 3k on the A7RIV and that was over 3/4 of my shooting for the year. I think if I had been shooting more, I would have hit the bar. I simply shot 1/3 as much in 2022 as I did in 2021.

Goal 2 - Go out to do photography in some way every week. I'd failed this pretty much in a month from setting the goal. WAY too much hermiting up in 2022, for good reasons but it did cause a fail here.

Goal 3 - Get my Like to Post ratio up to 70% on Fred Miranda - Also failed, although I have steadily improved the ratio, it's currently 55.8%, up from under 52% when I set the goal. This was way too high a bar for the math to work unless I produced a ridiculous amount of work.

For 2023, my goals will be as follows.

Goal 1 - 10,000 images on one camera. This is a good goal, I just need to actually shoot 10,000 frames as my system shifting has slowed down. In 2021 I bought 5 cameras, mostly via trade-ins, in 2022 I bought 2. I'm hoping that will be 1 in 2023 (a backup camera for my OM-1)

Goal 2 - At least two major photographic outings every quarter. I think this is more realistic than the 'shoot something every week' in case I hermit up again. This also accounts better for the two big dead zones for me (spring from melt to first bloom and fall from leaf fall to first snow).

Goal 3 - Get my Like to Post ratio up to 60% on Fred Miranda. Same basic goal, but a more realistic bar. Given that the m43 forum is much less watched than the Sony one I need to be more realistic, I get more Sony likes than m43 simply because people are actually reading the image threads.

Sunday, 30 October 2022

First Real Outing with the OM-1


OM-1, 12-40 f2.8 Pro mkII

First off, I didn’t realize that I actually bought my OM-1 on OM System Day, OMDS’s apparently annual celebration of the OM System on October 27th. Just a neat coincidence.

One of the things that made me seriously reconsider sticking with Sony was Nick Page’s recent musings about his experience with his A7RIV’s robustness in difficult conditions, as well as quality of life items. He’s currently testing out an EOS R5 system as his A7RIV is pretty much dead from sealing-related failures and he doesn’t see a major upgrade on this aspect for the A7RV. Given I never quite trusted the Sony body in this aspect, I tend to agree with him here and I also wonder if in the back of my mind a lack of trust in the robustness of the body was been an inhibitor for me in getting out more with the A7RIV. Nick noted that for all the pre-release content for the A7RV, there was a serious lack of Landscape shooters involved in the launch and postulated that this group had increasingly left the A7R series behind because of a lack of robustness in the field.

Getting back to my actual shooting, I shot around 350 shots yesterday with the OM-1, all over Eastern Ontario. Got both a sunrise and sunset, I do like fall and winter for making that practical without noon naps. Sunrise was in Cobourg and Sunset near Portland, ON on Big Rideau Lake. The shot above was on Highway 2A east of Cobourg as I made my way towards the Bay of Quinte and the Loyalist Parkway. 

I tested out LiveND mode, got High-Res (regular, not Hand-Held), HDR and AE bracketing all sorted the way I wanted and just played with the camera a fair bit. Overall the first impressions were decidedly positive, with minimal fighting of the camera once I figured out that LiveND mode required the camera to be set to M mode (in true Olympus fashion, it told me clearly I was in the wrong Shooting Mode, but skipped the ‘set to M mode’ info I needed). I do wish that bracketing modes could stack with computational modes though, especially High-Res, as I do want to bracket those when possible.

LiveND works very well on a tripod, but is not really a handheld mode right now unless you have a 12-100IS, because you NEED SyncIS to be able to viably handhold these exposures. The IBIS is really good on the OM-1, but it’s not ‘reliable 2S exposure’ good without SyncIS. Note SyncIS is the linked IBIS+Lens IS mode available on mostOlympus IS lenses (pretty much any Oly/OMDS IS lens except the 100-400), however there’s only one wider lens with IS, the 12-100, all the others currently are long telephotos. The other thing I found with LiveND is the results don’t HDR stack well, although I suspect that’s a Lightroom limitation more than anything else, it’s not handling in-frame blur well.

The other modes worked as expected. I was happy to figure out that AE bracketing was burst by default (what I prefer), which makes bracketing wildly easier than on the A7RIV. Push a button, get the burst. Hold down the button to change settings. That beats the already good Sony experience of selecting a drive mode (from the approximately 672 drive modes available, on Sony practically everything is a drive mode), drilling down if you want to change the settings, then confirming and shooting. The Sony experience is better than it sounds, the OM-1 is literally press a button and shoot, allowing me to switch back and forth instantly. I had no idea life could be this good (I don’t think that was possibly on my older bodies, aside from maybe the E-M1.2 which I had only briefly). The E-M5.2 let me select HDR this way, but not AE IIRC, although I could just have never figured it out.

I’ve actually assigned specific buttons to each of the 4 main functions I use (AE bracketing, HDR, High-Res and LiveND). Two are on the front (HDR and LiveND) and two on the top (AE Bracketing on the +/- button, as I put Exposure Comp on a dial for AE modes, HR on the Movie button which I essentially never use). 

The much hyped Menu update both is and isn’t a big deal. It’s cleaner for sure and super easy to navigate, but the excessive use of obtuse iconography to reduce the need to localize, the often lousy descriptions and the lack of any real touch integration all rankle a bit. I haven’t found the 1 fish/3 fish setting yet…. It’s pretty, but some language improvements and adding real touch integration would be nice. On the flip side the command dials are really well integrated, which makes using the menu extremely fast once you figure out that the front dial pages though categories and the back dial between tabs in each category.

Otherwise I really do like the camera overall. I would have swapped Delete/Play and Menu/Monitor though, the left side of the body is over-supplied with buttons that I’d like the option of triggering one-handed. 

Card performance is excellent, I was never waiting unlike on the A7RIV, although file sizes are also about 1/4 of the A7RIV sizes which simplifies things and makes my high-end UHS-1 cards more viable and largely eliminates the need for UHS-II cards unless you are shooting high-end video or action/wildlife. There probably will be a 128GB UHS-II V90 card in my future at some point though, just to make 4K video and 50fps continuous modes viable.

The OM-1 EVF is remarkably better than the A7RIV, despite the specs being almost identical. Chalk that up to Sony’s generally poor EVF implementations, they almost always end up with the worst results from a given panel. However it’s not blackout free unless you are using the high-speed drive modes (20+fps), even with electronic shutter enabled there’s blackout at low drive speeds.

Other little things: The grip is a nicer shape than the A7RIV, I still prefer the left-side lens release of Nikon/Canon/m43 over the right lower release of E, X and K mounts. The selectable lock for the mode dial is nice, I still don’t like the left-side power switch that dates back to the film OM’s, but Quick Sleep makes up for that, I just don’t have to flip the power switch anywhere near as much on the OM-1 as I did on older bodies (aside from the E-M1.2 which had Quick Sleep too). Battery is huge (both physically and in capacity) and charges fast on USB-C PD so long as your adapter does 27+W, that almost makes up for no included charger. It’s  nice to have flip/twist back. I still need to sort my focus assist setup. Probably going to drop the HDR mode for peaking on a button. I still don’t know why OMDS just doesn’t allow you to have Peaking always on when in MF mode rather than tying it to a button or focus ring movement.

Thursday, 27 October 2022

And I’m Back, with a switch

Olympus OM-1, m.Zuiko 12-40 Pro f2.8 II

This year has been pretty dead for me in terms of shooting, not because of a lack of desire, but a combo of too busy with work (I was pretty much flat out from May onwards), high gas prices, actively RC flying in my rare free time (the field is close, good landscapes are not) and just a general desire to hole up at home rather than go out. 

That said, I did get out a couple times and got a small selection of good shots. 

I’ve got my brain going off on gear again as well. I do miss a lot from the m43 system, especially the 12-40 Pro, the IBIS and the automation, LiveND especially. I do really like the A7RIV, but the two real gaps in the Sony lens lineup are a compact and close focusing 24-xx zoom and a good 70-200/4 options. There are alternative solutions though, the Tamron 70-180/2.8 can mostly replace a 70-200/4 in terms of size, weight and cost. But there’s only one small 24-xx option and that’s the thoroughly mediocre and ancient ZA 24-70/4.

Sony just launched the A7RV and Oly the OM-5. Both are fairly minor updates on paper, mostly processing and firmware improvements. Both kind of interest me, but one is WAY too expensive and the other really could only be a second body for me. 

The other aspect is something I touched on in my last post some months ago. Most of my best work has been on the Oly kit. The exception really is that one set of shots from Algonquin last February, and I could have done that with an OM-1. I simply don't really take advantage of the A7RIV's true power beyond the Dynamic Range, and I miss the OM systems quality of life features. 

In looking over my work over the last few years, and especially since February, I'm just not taking advantage of the A7RIV's insane megapixels, and while the AF is really nice, otherwise it's merely good.

So it went into the store, along with 3 of my lenses (18/2.8, 28-60 and 70-300) and an OM-1/12.40II kit came home instead. I really regretted selling off the E-M1.2 in March 2021 and this gets me back to where I was then, just with a lot more capable body and a mildly improved lens (the Mk2 12-40 has better sealing, better coatings and 50fps AF support). 

The initial take is the ergonomics are something I missed as well. The A7RIV was the best Sony I've shot with, but the OM-1 is significantly nicer in the hand. The EVF is better as well, somewhat surprising since it's the same basic hardware. AF is something I'll need to get a handle on as it works differently from either the A7RIV or the older Oly's I've used. IQ is very good, not FF good, but the files are way less crunchy than the E-M1.2, let alone the G9 or the 16MP m43 bodies.

Oh, and I have the 12-40 back. That alone is worth it, I've missed this lens a shocking amount over the last 8 months. The combination of compact, well built and crazy good close focus make it the single best normal zoom I've used over the years. 


Monday, 11 July 2022

Gear Musings

E-M1 Classic, m.Zuiko 75/1.8

Looking at shots like the above makes me second-guess my choice to go all-in on Sony.

The reality is that I would probably be completely happy with the results from a modern 20MP Oly body and 2-3 Pro lenses. IE the setup I had almost put together before I got the A7RIV.

I'd probably also be perfectly happy with a Z7 and a 14-30/4 S, 24-70/4S and 70-300E

The real challenge remains finding a paired light carry body and setup that I was happy with. The first option gives me the E-M5.3 or upcoming OM-5 as the obvious choice. It's an easy one. 

The Nikon gives me the Z50/Z fc/Z30 options. Limited lenses and of course 2 sensor sizes, but the lenses would be fine on a Z7 in DX mode.

Sony gives me the A6x00 line. Same basic problems in terms of sizing as the DX options, but WAY more lens selection. Worse EVF's and ergonomics though. 

This is a frustration to me. Especially because my brain starts pulling me in various directions even though I'm perfectly happy with the A7RIV itself and my lenses too. It's times like these I wish my brain would let me go dual-system and be happy, I'd get another X-T2 and use that as a light carry camera, shooting Fuji in the city and Sony elsewhere. 

Monday, 4 July 2022

800Km and 229 Images


A7RIV, Tamron FE 70-300
Chickory Flower along the road at Snake Creek

Yesterday was a good day. I left just after 7AM and headed eastwards on the 401. Jumped off the 401 onto the backroads midway between Belleville and Napanee, headed to Buttermilk Falls, which is a neat little spot, quite pretty, then went north on 41 to Denbigh, west on 28 to Hardwood Lake, then peeled off onto backroads and went north by north east to Killaloe on 60. West to Barry's Bay , southwest on Siberia Rd and Panineau Lake road until I met up with 62, crossed and went down Boulter Rd to McArthur's Mills where I met up with 28 again and headed west through Bancroft to Paudash, where I turned onto 118 and drove up to Tory Hill, then south on 503 to Kinmount with a brief stop at Furnace Falls, West on 45 to Hwy 35, south through Coboconk to the turnoff for 8, west to 12, south to 48 and home. Got home a little after 9pm, for a 14 hour day.

All in all, about 800Km though some of the prettiest country southeast of Algonquin Park. 

I stopped regularly for photography, with the last stop at McArthur's Mills. Furnace Falls was a washout as there were folks picnicking right where I wanted to setup and rather than bother them, I just had a break then headed onwards. Ended up with 229 shots, although most were 3 shot brackets (my standard when shooting landscape).

I also stopped to assist some stranded motorists on 503, they had a blowout and didn't know how to change a tire. Got them sorted and on their way and headed onwards. That does remind me that I do need to start putting together a recovery kit for the BWT, their situation could easily have required a pull (they were on the soft shoulder, luckily not soft enough for their car to get stuck and need a pull out).

Driving like this is a major stress relief for me, at least once I get off the major highways. There's nothing like the calm of an open road to carry my troubles away. Yesterday was mostly about this, although Photography was also part of it. I deliberately didn't do any hiking though, that's for another time.

In terms of photography, I came home with a bunch of river/wetlands shots. I do love shooting these subjects and they do well in regular daylight, at least before noon and after 3-4pm. 

I'm still thoroughly enjoying the A7RIV, the more I shoot it, the more I find it just fits. It really doesn't get in my way and aside from the LCD articulation and function lockouts when writing files, there's just not much wrong with it. And the files are amazing. I'm closing in on 3k shots on it, and it's just doing the job without complaint. 

I need to get out more, especially for golden hour shooting. The work from that Algonquin outing last February remains the absolute best work I've shot. If I want to produce more work of that level, I need to be there when the light is that good.