11.30.2011

Shooting A Dress Rehearsal with the tiny Nikon and the Pens....

I wanted to see how the two mirrorless systems I've been playing with handle the "real world" of Kirk so I jettisoned the Canon stuff from the camera bag and loaded up with mini-Nikon lenses and Olympus Pen toys and headed to Zachary Scott Theatre to photograph the dress rehearsal of a wonderfully funny play called, The God of Carnage.  Shooting plays can be interesting.  When I arrived at the theater the first thing I noticed is that the floor had been painted a deep, bright, fire engine red.  The stage lighting hit the floor and bounced a juicy red light into every actor's face.  Made white balancing a little more interesting...  My biggest concern was whether or not I'd be able to accurately focus my favorite Pen manual focus lenses under the stage lights and you can tell on a couple of frames that I missed by a mile.  I was worried about whether or not the Nikon V1 would focus under these conditions, given that the lenses are slow (aperture-wise) and I wouldn't be able to use the AF assist light.  

I started out shooting at ISO 1600 with both cameras but quickly determined that I'd be able to use ISO 800 under the kind of stage light the lighting designer had cooked up.  While the play was funny and engaging it's still an hour and twenty minute (sometimes heated) conversation between two couples so there are exciting costumes, not many light changes and not much action..... but that worked for me because I was in the "casual" test mode.

I worked mostly with the 30-110 on the Nikon V1, shooting raw, and I worked with the 40mm 1.4 on the EP-2 (which worked well!!!) and the 25mm 2.8 on the EP3.  The wider angle on the EP3 is what screwed up my focusing....  There's just not enough acuity on the screen given the wider angle of view.

I popped the kit lens on the EP3 just to make a comparison with the Nikon in terms of focusing speed and was pleasantly surprise.  It kept up well.

Usually I shoot this kind of work with a couple of Canon cameras like the 5Dmk2 and the 1dmk2N along with some L series zooms.  The 5Dmk2 has about the same level of noise at 6400 as the Nikon V1 does at 1600 as the EP3 and EP2 do at 800 ISO.  The biggest difference is in apparent sharpness.  The big Canon pixels are in their element at these kinds of sensitivity settings.  To be bitingly honest I'd use the EP3 with no real restrictions at ISO 400 and slower.  The Nikon V1 at ISO 800 and slower and, for comparison's sake, the Canon 60D at 1600 and the 5Dmk2 at 3200.  Working at those settings and nailing exposure would get me into the same ballpark, in terms of "noise" image quality, across the board.

And here it's important to say that all of this is predicated on nailing an optimum exposure.  Sure, you can blow out the highlights and you'll have less noise in the shadows but....blown highlights aren't really acceptable.  Alternately, you can pull good stuff out of dark image files if you don't mind a higher noise floor and, by extension, less sharpness in the middle tones.

I found (happily) that the three micro cameras all have the same gameplan when it comes to noise.  It's a monochrome noise that I've described as a uniform sprinkling of black pepper in the shadows and reaching (with less exposure) into the middle tones.  I had the high ISO noise reduction turned off on the Nikon V1 but I understand that the camera still does some noise reduction and it's hardwired to do so.  I set the Oly cameras to the lowest noise setting as well.  And I stayed away from leaning on noise reduction in Lightroom conversions because I wanted you to see the differences between the files instead of differences in processing.

The Olympus cameras have meatier files with more sense of density and mass in the the lower tones and a more color neutral rendition of the higher tones.  The Nikon is less noisy but I'll chalk some of that up to the in-camera noise reduction.  Neither camera is particularly well suited to this particular kind of work but if I had to choose I would give a nod to the Nikon by 5%.  With the right lenses both would be fun.  For this kind of work I'd love the holy trinity of focal lengths to be the 35mm equivalent of 35mm, 60mm and 90mm.  Longer is fun but if the files are clean enough I don't have bad feelings about cropping in.

Next time I head to the theater the Canons and the fast primes go back into the bag.  Focus and ISO performance aside, the increased resolution of the 5D2 gives you a bit more wiggle room for fast action and aggressive crops.

Does all this mean that my love affair with the small cameras is over?  Hardly.  In good light they are more fun to shoot and more fun to carry than my traditional cameras.  And the files are very, very good.  Just put me in the camp that's waiting for Nikon to make good on their prime lens roadmaps.

The images below are a sampling from all three cameras.  The Nikon's are on the top and the EP3's are on the bottom.  While it's not an authorative test it is the way I tend to use cameras under these conditions.  My base exposures were 1/100 with the zooms, nudging up to 1/200 when the light permitted and 1/320 with the fast prime.  The wide angle fell somewhere in between.  But hey, see for yourselves.....

 Nikon V1, 130-110mm zoom.
 Nikon V1, 30-110mm zoom.
 Nikon V1, 30-110mm zoom.
 Nikon V1, 30-110mm zoom.
 Nikon V1, 10-30mm zoom.
  Nikon V1, 10-30mm zoom.
  Nikon V1, 10-30mm zoom.
  Nikon V1, 10-30mm zoom.
  Nikon V1, 30-110mm zoom.
  Nikon V1, 30-110mm zoom.
  Nikon V1, 30-110mm zoom.
  Nikon V1, 10-30mm zoom.
  Nikon V1, 30-110mm zoom.
 Nikon V1, 30-110mm zoom.
 Nikon V1, 30-110mm zoom.
 Olympus EP-2. 40mm 1.4 PenF
 Olympus EP-2. 40mm 1.4 PenF
 Olympus EP-2. 40mm 1.4 PenF
 Olympus EP-2. 40mm 1.4 PenF
 Olympus EP-2. 40mm 1.4 PenF
 Olympus EP-2. 40mm 1.4 PenF
Olympus EP-2. 25mm 2.8 PenF
 Olympus EP3 and PenF legacy lens
 Olympus EP3 and PenF legacy lens
 Olympus EP3 and PenF legacy lens
Olympus EP3 and PenF legacy lens

9 comments:

Travis said...

Fantastic shots. Reminds me how much I love theatre, and that it's been way too long.

It amazes me how fast these compact systems have come along. As much as I loved my EP-1, I had to finally ditch it due to focusing speed. (I enjoy manual focus, but not with only the poor LCD on that camera.) Now with good bright viewfinders and fast AF, it's whole different story.

I do hope more manufacturers adopt the PDAF approach used in the V1 - seems like the best of both worlds, with no calibration issues.

Bold Photography said...

Hi Kirk,

some of the shots worked... a few did not. Ugh @ slow zooms! It's clear that these cameras have come a LONG way, but they still have a ways to go before I put down my 5DII/primes for this type of photography.

Now for travel...

thequietphotographer said...

I went through all these photos which seems me very good on my (calibrated) monitor. I'm just curious to know how large print can be done from these sensor. The idea to have such a small (size) digital camera beside my film camera is appealing...
robert
PS: thanks for your interesting posts...

kirk tuck said...

I'm thinking you could make really nice 8x12 inch prints from these kinds of files. If you slowed way down and shot at ISO 100 or 200 then you could probably make really nice 12 by 18 inch prints. Beyond that? I wouldn't know because 12 by 18 is as large as I have printed these days (barring client requests).

seoras said...

Seems that there's more contrast in the nikon images than the oly, certainly cleaner blacks. Was there much variation in lighting or is it a tonal variation between the two ?

One other thing that rarely gets mentioned, except by me and reason I use Oly 4/3 is the format.

Certainly impressed by the nikon, despite smaller sensor, maybe oly will up the game if they get a new sensor to play with. Assuming they still exist in a years time.

s

atmtx said...

I viewed the photographs, large, without looking at which camera was used. What struck me most is not the noise characteristics but more the color. I guessed correctly when the images switch from Nikon to Olympus.

The Nikon's performance looks very impressive though the reds seem to be really vibrant. This camera will indeed be very interesting if and when their primes become available.

Wil said...

I honestly didn't notice when the camera changed.

(And this is the first time I noticed the view larger feature on this blog; I clicked on an image by accident and saw the nice black overlay with large images. I wonder if other readers have missed this feature as well?)

kirk tuck said...

I'm amazed no one mentioned the projectile vomiting...

thequietphotographer said...

Thanks Kirk for answer. 8 x 10 is enough, at least for me!
robert