News flash for people interested in mirror-free SLR cameras that happen to be 4K video cameras!

..... the Samsung NX1, introduced in limited supply just before the Christmas Holiday in 2014 is already price-diving and now available on Amazon.com for only $1299.00. Just last week the camera was priced at its entry price of $1499. 

We have the camera in hand and are reviewing it mostly as a video camera because it shoots (according to all reviews) a very nice, 4K video file, albeit in a codec that can be troublesome for computers that are less than state of the art. For $1299 and the price of an inexpensive adapter for Nikon, Canon or other legacy-type lenses, it's cheap enough to try out and see for yourself if it does what your inner cinematographer needs. If it doesn't then you can probably send it back to whomever you purchased if from (within certain time limits) and get your money back.

I've shot stills with it. It's good. Is it for you? Can't say. Yet. But I thought you'd be interested (on several levels) about the quick price drop.

That's all I've got.

Working with the #Olympus EM-5-2 on a commercial job today. How did it all work?

This photograph of the Bob Bullock Museum was taken with a 
Sony RX10, not the Olympus OMD EM-5 covered in this
blog post.

Today's assignment was to go to a nearby city, to a business that refurbishes equipment associated with the production of semiconductors, and to make images of people working with computer controlled lathes, CNC mills, custom parts design and manufacture and a bit of old fashion machining. As I expected the working area was large, loud, productive and well illuminated by fluorescent light banks located up in the high ceiling but comprised of many different kinds and brands of fluorescent tubes. 

The people were wonderful and to a tech geek like me the processes and resulting products were interesting and visually compelling. I tried my best to translate them to the intended audience by making sure my shots were well composed, interesting and technically proficient. 

I arrived on site at 7 am in the morning, after a 42 minute drive through the pre-rush hour rush hour traffic and got right to work. The advertising agency involved had given me a shot list and I used it as a starting point. Once I covered their "must have" images I started to look for fun and interesting people, machines and details to make the project even more fun for me. I mean, I'm a guy who can get excited about a well implemented wiring harness so a building full of drill bits and grinders is like Disney Land. 

For the first part of the day I used a Nikon D610. I had the D810 in the case but today I considered it nothing but back-up. There was no reason to shoot the larger raw files and, in any case, the D610 is a better available light file generator. I leaned heavily on the Nikon 80-200mm f2.8 lens ( amazingly sharp!!) along with the 85mm f1.8 G, the 60mm f2.8 macro, and the 24-85mm f3.5-4.5 G lens. I shot building exteriors with the 25-50mm f4 ais lens and I shot super wide shots of the manufacturing floor with the Rokinon 14mm f2.8. (I may not even correct for the curvature since the images look so cool...). 

But after my first lunch ever at an In and Out Burger I came back and changed direction entirely. I'd done the list. Now I was out to over deliver and get creative. I stuck the Nikon stuff back into the Think Tank Airport Security case (original version) and grabbed the brand new, bright silver, Olympus EM-5.2 off the front seat of my car. I never intended to shoot with the power pixie camera, it wasn't part of the pre-production list but it looked so damn cute and competent at 6am this morning that it practically begged to come along for the ride today. You know, in case I saw something really cool on the way to the shoot or on the way back.

I didn't pack any paraphernalia to go along with the the second EM-5.2 body I've bought and paid for this week. I had the battery grip attached but no extra, extra batteries in my pocket and the only lens I had for the camera was the wonderful, Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 I've been using on the black EM-5.2 body this past week. Only that equipment and a 16 gigabyte SD card. 

After having used the Nikon camera all morning I was immediately reminded of just how much more fun it is to use an EVF enabled photographic tool. I love the constant, instant, beautifully rendered feedback that EVF gives me. Before I even click the shutter button I am confident about the color and the exposure of the image I'm about to take. I was bolstered today with the knowledge that I can process the raw files in PhotoShop CC.

I used the camera on the side arm set-up of my Gitzo G2220 tripod so I could take photographs of clumps and piles and pyramids of tiny, fabricated parts from directly overhead. 

When I write these columns there's generally one thing that jumps out at me during the course of a shooting session that I want to share. Today's take-away is the multi-shot, high res image feature of the camera. I figured that the parts weren't moving around (or at least they shouldn't be), the camera was on a secure tripod and my interest level was pretty high so I went for it instead of breaking out the heavy Nikon iron. 

Setting the control is really easy. You go into the same menu area as the drive speed setting and the self-timer settings. At the very end of the list is a box with a bunch of small squares in it. That's the high-res mode. There are further sub-menus that allow one to set delays to the process if using electronic flash but today we were all LED and we didn't need no stinkin' delays. I looked at the perfect pre-chimped image and fired away. 

At first I didn't get sharp results. I got a bit of double image but I know instantly it was because I was triggering the camera with my huge, shaky fingers and there is no provision to set a delay between the button push and the initiation of the eight shot process. I wish there was. But I quickly decided that it was a mechanical issue and that the only good resolution might be to download the dreaded wi-fi software. Which I did. And it worked. I could trigger the camera with my phone instead of physically touching it. From that point on every shot was perfectly rendered. But I will say that I hedged in one regard; I used the Jpeg setting instead of the raw setting because I knew for a fact that I could do conversions in the Adobe Raw Converter or in PhotoShop CC but I wasn't sure that extended to special features and I wanted to be able to deliver these images along with the normal images to my client. 

Does the multi-shot function work? Yes. Very much so. The image are exceptionally sharp and the color is perfect. It's a really 40 megapixel file. And the Panasonic lens seems to be ready to bring it. 
I didn't test it on the same targets with the Nikon D810 but I've shot enough with that camera to know that the Olympus files, in this shooting situation, were at least equal to the bigger camera, if not just a bit better. 

The Panasonic lens did not prove to be a weak point in the equation. It focuses down to 25 cm ( which is about, what, ten inches?) and I was able to fill the frame with little piles of small, random parts. The images, with the lens stopped down to between f7.1 and f11 are detailed and sharp from edge to edge. 

I was remembering shooting raw with the Sony R1 today. The buffer was TWO raw files. Once you hit the buffer (depending on which CF card you were using) the wait time to the next frame was about seven to ten seconds. Today the EM-5.2 would shoot all the eight impressions in about a second and then compile and blend them in another two seconds. The camera was ready to shoot again before I even started to review the files. 

I am so happy with the two new Olympi. The black one is so Ninja-esque while the silver version is wonderfully machine-y. But the thing that delights (at least for me) is the blend of pre-chimp EVF capability with really nice through the finder images and the ability to carry a couple of these cameras along with my favorite lenses in one small back along with the assurance that, with the exception of the high-res mode, the tripod is not longer needed because the new image stabilization is magic. 

Should you buy an Olympus EM5.2 ??? Only you can say but I will tell you that the camera feels great, the IS is astounding and the high-res mode actually works. Could anything be improved? Well, the movie mode could be less soft but on a high def (non 4K TV) television in the living room it looks just about as good as anything else. The pixel peeping part of video is that one is constantly seeing it on screens (computers) that outstrip our home TVs. Nothing ever really looks sharp when you judge it at over 100%. 

I'm looking at the files right now on a 27 inch, hardware corrected monitor and the still images I took today in both the 40 meg and the 16 meg modes are both really nice. Both the color, the detail and the overall tonality. The Nikon stuff looks great too. It's just not as much fun to shoot. 

I drove home happy with what I saw and what I learned. It's okay to have different cameras. Some are brute force and some are poetry. 

on Another Note: I wrote earlier in the week that I had received the Samsung NX-1 camera for testing. I've been swamped on a corporate video project that's now going into its third week, along with random photographic jobs like the one I wrote about above. I was uncertain that I'd have time to do the exhaustive tests on the NX-1 I wanted to do. But in my mind the still cameras are all good and the real reason to own an NX-1 would be for its reputedly great, 4K video capabilities. 

With that in mind I've lent the cameras to a good friend of mine who's spent the last twenty years shooting video for companies like Ralston-Purina, Motorola, Dell and AMD. He's a consummate pro and really wants to put the camera though its paces. Once he tortures the hell out of it I'll have some preliminary reports. I can already tell you that the still jpegs from the camera are good and the overall feel, the quality of the EVF, and the menus are really good. We'll stop there until we have more hands on experience. 

on Another, another Note.  After years of hearing my California friends gush about In and Out Burgers I have tried them and they come up wanting. If you are an Austinite and have had burgers at Hopdoddy's, Huts, P. Terry's, or even Sullivan's you've already had vastly superior hamburgers and in most cases better French fries. Try to explain to me what I obviously missed about their charms (other than price) and if you make a compelling argument I'll try to give them another shot but for right now they are not much more than a McDonald's with fresh lettuce, decent tomatoes and a better special sauce. If this is your high water mark for a burger you need to make it to Austin and go just about anywhere except a big chain for a burger. Really. 

I haven't plugged it in a while but think about buying my Novel from the Kindle Books section of Amazon.com. The story is fun, the book is fun and it makes me feel good when people go from the VSL blog and plop down a whopping $5.99 for the experience. It may not be for everyone but it is aimed squarely at our brilliant demographic... Just read it. 


A walk through modern paradise with the Olympus EM5/2 and an ancient, classic, amazing lens.

Lately I've been slagging the Olympus EM5-2. Talking trash about it's feeble video performance. But that's kind of silly given how good the camera is as a day-to-day shooter. I worked in the studio this morning, both shooting new EM5-2 video tests but also working on editing a video project we shot earlier in the year on a GH4. After I hit the point where I was uninterested and antsy I grabbed the new EM-5/2 and carefully placed a venerable classic lens on the front of it. The lens I wanted to shoot with today is the 60mm f1.5 Pen FT lens that was made by Olympus for their series of half frame cameras back in the early 1970's. 

I went into the I.S. menu and dialed in the nearest focal length (65) so I could take advantage of the 5 axis image stabilization and then I set the camera for focus peaking. Parked the car at one side of downtown and walked all the way east and then came back all the way west. After a week of photographic people in close quarters it was a nice change to take a stab at shooting buildings. With the 60mm f1.5 hanging in around f4 and f5.6 I was amazed (as usual) at the amount of detail that this optic delivers. It's really amazing to realize how good optics could be back then.

The camera is delightful to shoot with. Every control is exactly where I would have designed it to be. The exposure, for the most part, is right on the money and the look of the files is gratifying. 

At some point I decided to try the HDR function as it was sitting right there in the middle of the menu. It works well and I am happy with the results. They aren't garish as so much HDR can be (is). At one point I called HDR "technicolor vomit" but the Olympus implementation makes me re-think the whole subject. It's more subtle and more mature.

As for the camera....I like it so much that I'm planning to take all four of my EM5's to my favorite camera store for consignment at which time I'll pick up a second EM5-2 body. Cameras are like rattlesnakes; they always like to travel in pairs...

When I got home from shooting in the downtown area we got phone call from our son, Ben. He's a freshman at Skidmore College in N.Y. It was great to talk to him. Last semester he made the Dean's List with a 4.0. I didn't think he would hit us with another piece of good news in such short order but he's been hired by the college to be a peer mentor in the philosophy department for his sophomore year. I think it's rather rare for a freshman to be asked and I couldn't be prouder of him. That good news certainly takes the sting out of my recent camera video tests.... :-)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; The ongoing story of Olympus's video implementation in the OMD cameras. revised 3/29.

the wall with Olympus EM-5-2 from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

Go see the 1080p version: https://vimeo.com/123524213

I had this dream. In my dream I would find a small black camera and it would have a port for an external microphone and another port for set of headphones. The camera would be beautifully designed and as fast as agile as a cheetah. While its primary function would be taking beautiful still photographs it would be a new, "universal" camera that would also make wonderful video content.

This miracle camera would have a built in image stabilization that would make tripods, sliders and other rigs in the video world obsolete. The audio would be surprisingly clear and crisp; easy to use.
Working with it in the field would be a breeze because its perfect EVF would show focus peaking while recording along with a live histogram. It would be so amazing. Perhaps the perfect news gathering and art video video camera.

But then I got the footage back to the studio and that's when the dream started to fall apart....

The first clip I opened was a wide scenic with moving leaves in the distance. The frame was not particularly sharp. Oh yes, it was in focus, but the things in focus just weren't crispy sharp in the way that the video from better cameras like the GH4 is. It looked over sharpened and the victim of some amount of noise reduction even though we were shooting, for the most part, at ISO 200.

I know the fault doesn't lie with the lens because I have terabytes of images from the Panasonic 12-35mm X f2.8 that say otherwise.

The camera is not unusable for video but I have to say that Andrew Reid's rant about the camera's video codec is pretty much right on the money. In other words, buy this camera is you want a micro four thirds camera that takes amazingly good photographs but don't buy this camera as your primary video production camera or you will be crying tears of disappointment and frustration.

Can it be saved via a firmware upgrade? Good lord I hope so.

I gave the camera every chance I could. Lowest ISO. A bright, sunny day. A tack sharp lens. A day without coffee. A mindfulness toward exposure and color balance. The highest quality, All-I codec and much more.

The audio is clean enough, especially given the uncontrolled audio on that location. The colors are perfect. But the whole sharpness thing is just not convincing me. At all. But I did go to all this trouble to piece together a video from the footage so you can see for yourself.

I must say that the big Nikon runs circles around the video capability (at least in terms of video quality) of the EM5-2. And the GH4 makes the Nikon grovel by comparison.

I hope someone will figure out what settings we can use to optimize the camera for shooting much better video because the one thing the video should show is just how good that stabilization is. But it doesn't really matter if the client ends up asking me why the video doesn't look sharp. Right?

They swung. They missed. Hey! Olympus!!! Get working on that firmware. We deserve better looking video than this. Next step? See how the uncompressed video looks via a digital recorder sucking data from the HDMI plug. That's all I have for now.

Added notes: I thought about the material I shot yesterday and I decided to try a few more tests this morning in the studio. I've read a number of different articles and looked again at John Brawley's nice  project, shot with the EM5-2.  I re-tested the camera with all new settings. I've ditched the All-I codec in favor of the highest quality setting ACVHD codec at 60p. I went into the profile settings and created a custom profile that drops the sharpness to minus two, the contrast to minus two and the saturation to minus one.

I turned off the image stabilization, turned off the noise filter and the noise reduction and carefully manually focused the lens with the camera sitting on a stout tripod.

The files were better but not "head and shoulders" better. The drop in contrast and sharpness is definitely helpful and a small bit of post production sharpening in Final Cut Pro X adds back some snap. I also brought the black levels down in post which adds back some contrast but not in the destructive way that in camera contrast control seems to work.

I think I am closing in on a more workable set of parameters for shooting video on this camera. I am hopeful that I'll get it into the ballpark to work as a competent B-roll camera and as a quick, mini-ENG camera for run and gun stuff that's not destined for bigger productions.

If you have suggestions for improving the look of the footage from the Olympus EM5-2 I'd love to hear it. Put it in the comments and we'll share. The camera is a wonderfully fun photography camera. Perhaps we can pound it into shape (with the help of a firmware update or two....) in the near future.
Thanks for staying tuned.

Forget the new cameras. Buy a nice book:

Added notes v2.0: I tested the camera with different settings in the studio today. See video here: https://vimeo.com/123557879


Just a program note. Samsung sent me one of their NX-1 cameras. I will shoot with it and see if it matches the marketing speak.

I resigned from Samsung's beta tester/user program in the middle of last year because I got tired of waiting for a camera that felt like it was aimed at my particular market. I may (or may not) have been premature in my resignation because their new flagship camera, the NX-1, was announced shortly afterward. While I am happy with my current set of cameras I was, initially, very interested in the video capabilities of the new camera. The control set seemed good and I was intrigued by the availability of 4K video and the very fast processor set of the camera.

My initial interest was diminished when I learned about the new codec (H.265) Samsung used in the camera because it's highly compressed in camera and must be converted to an editable file for use in Final Cut Pro X. The resulting converted files can be enormous and the process time consuming. I've since read glowing reports about the image quality and I'd like to see for myself.

As to the still imaging capabilities of the camera-----I think all the cameras on the market are fine for my use. Some menus are better than others and some sensors (like the one in the Nikon D810) are standouts. But most advancements in the still field will be less spectacular than the big jumps in capabilities we saw five and ten years ago.

I am not a sports shooter but if I was I couldn't really test the performance of this camera and it's 15 fps because I only have a handful of lenses for the system and if I was shooting something like the USMS Swimming Nationals in San Antonio next month I would want lenses like the fast tele zoom or the equivalent of a 300mm f2.8 to use in order to really frame tightly while having the lens speed to give me fast shutter speeds as all that work would be handheld.

It's interesting to have three relatively new products in house at the same time. And three such different permutations of photographic tools. I have the EM5/2 with its very nice image quality and color, coupled with the world's best image stabilization. I have the Nikon D810 with its incredibly detailed sensor and massive dynamic range. And I have the NX-1 which shoots fast and offers up the promise of excellent 4K video.

I wish Samsung had sent along two things to help me make a better evaluation of this camera. The first would be their fast, longer zoom. The 50-150mm f2.8. If the camera is going to shine then this lens would go a long way to unveiling that shine. And secondly, on a much more pedestrian note, there was no charge of any kind in the box Samsung sent. I ended up having to buy a USB cable and charging the camera battery, in body, with an old Apple USB phone charger. Hmmmm..... In addition I think every camera maker should supply reviewers with two batteries...

I am waiting for the battery to charge before I begin going through the camera menus and setting it up the way I want it.

It's always a bit awkward to get a review camera within a week or two of having bought a new model camera for one's own system that also wants reviewing. The Olympus got here first so it gets priority in the next few weeks.

Lots of good cameras out there. I guess we'll see which ones are the most FUN to shoot....