Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

Since I have a couple of nice Olympus lenses for the BMPCC (and GM1) I’ve been interested in the new Olympus OM-D EM5 Mark II.   I love a large, light-sopping sensor, so find if difficult to trust MFT reviewers who believe full-frame sensors are over-rated.  Kirk Tuck, at The Visual Science Lab shoots with the Nikon D800, so if he loves the EM5 what might I be missing?

One of the features that really intrigued me is the “Hi Res” mode, where it take 8 frames and interpolates them into one 40mp high res image.  With a 16mp chip, I wasn’t interested in the “resolution” issue as much as the full-color information available to each pixel (light ray).   Could the EM5 shoot super color-clean images like the Sigma?  I figured I’d test (more on that later).

Unfortunately, I’m having trouble getting past my initial qualms about the MFT format.  Certainly, outdoors, the EM5 takes very nice photos. It’s small and quiet.  Built solidly.  Moving indoors, however, the low resolution and light sensitivity hobble it.   I found some old Nikon lenses at Goodwill a few days ago, so gave them a spin.  I put the 105/2.5 on a speedbooster and took this.

Olympus OM-D EM5 Mark II with Nikon 105/2.8 on Speebooster
Olympus OM-D EM5 Mark II with Nikon 105/2.8 on Speebooster

In PS, I could not recover enough detail in the blown-out cheek.  She was standing next to a window, in even, not especially bright light.   If I had been shooting with an Olympus 45 I’m certain the photo would have been tack-sharp.  If I had been shooting with a Nikon I could have saved the blown-out parts of the image.  Okay, the camera isn’t a studio or portrait shooter, that isn’t news to anyone.

If I didn’t have, and love, the Ricoh GR I’d want this camera as my take-anywhere camera.  However, I wouldn’t be able to put the EM5 in my side jacket pocket (unless I put a pancake on it).  Once I have to put a camera in a bag it must compete with every other non-pocket camera.  Yes, the EM5 is very small, but not significantly smaller than my current favorite, the Sony A6000.

There’s nothing like using a camera to see if what should work in theory, works in practice.  I expected the in-camera stabilization to be as cool and useful as many people have reported.  I found the opposite.  If I take the camera outside and photograph a building at 1/8th of a second, I can get a nice sharp image, as good at an APS-C sized sensor at 1/60th, say.  In real life, people are in my shots and PEOPLE MOVE!  They will be less blurry in the APS-C size camera, shooting at 1/60th) than the sensor-stabilized camera, shooting at 1/8th.   If I am going to take photos of buildings, I’m going to put the camera on a tripod or I won’t mind carrying a bigger camera.  So why would I want to shoot with a 16mp, small sensor camera, when I could get a 24mp, larger sensor camera for less money?  Or I’d use the Sigma DP1M.

Then there is video.  Factoring out ISO and DOF issues, the Panasonic GM1 shoots beautiful video.  Perhaps because of the odd video aspect-ratio issues, according to Gordon Laing at CameraLabs (which makes sense to me),  the video from the EM5 is, as Andrew Reid at EOSHD points out, not very good (I paraphrase).  The camera stabilization is good if you’re shooting with manual glass and standing fairly still.   It doesn’t give the nice POV look of a camera on a stabilizer, like the Sony A6000 on the Nebula 4000.

If I had to have one camera with two prime lenses (say the 17 and 45), and I wanted the setup as small as possible (and rugged) the EM5 is THE camera to have.  For me, having other cameras, the EM5 trades off too much photo dynamic range and resolution (using the MFT sensor) in comparison.  If I take it with me, and I take a photo in sub-par light, I’ll kick myself for not bringing a bigger camera.

Again, in no way am I trying to talk anyone out of getting this camera.  If one’s interest in manual-mode shooting, portability and composition than this is beautiful camera.  If I had to take one camera on a European vacation this camera would be on my short-list.  I can see how Kirk Tuck loves this camera.  After lugging around big cameras in his day job it must be nice to grab the EM5 and hit the sunny streets of Austin.   It’s the camera equivalent of riding free on a motor-bike.

Because the EM5 takes 1 second to create a Hi Res image, I had already given up on the idea of comparing it to the Sigma DP1.  I forced myself for you few readers of Maxotics 😉  I picked a scene with a fence because I find bright lines (steel wires) are perfect to show aliasing/color issues.  They should be neutral.

First, the two shots.  I cropped the DP1M to match the EM5

OMD EM5 Mark II HiRes
OMD EM5 Mark II HiRes

As you can see, though shot at 1/400th of second, Pepper is blurry from moving during the 8-shot sequence.  Now the Sigma DP1M.

Sigma DP1M
Sigma DP1M

I l’ll leave you to judge the two images.  It’s no contest for me.

Next I looked closeup at the pixels through PS.

Olympus EM5 HiRes
Olympus EM5 HiRes

Next the Sigma

Sigma DP1M closeup
Sigma DP1M closeup

Even though the Olympus EM5 removed a lot of color aberrations common to bayer sensors, it still succumbs to it.  I believe the problem is that it is trying to create a high-resolution 40mp photo instead of a color-pure 16mp image (which is what I want).  My 2 cents is that Olympus should work on getting 16 million perfect color pixels and faster exposure times.  If can do that, THEN is might compete with the Sigma.

The Sigma image, as usual, doesn’t exhibit color distortions.  Of course, the Sigma struggles with red, and high-ISO shots, but in good light it approached medium format clarity.  With the Sigma, neutral colors stay neutral.  The sky in the Olympus is a bit over-saturated, like most bayer cameras.  Although the Sigma has limited dynamic range between 6 and 8 stops according to Bill Claff (not much compared to Nikon’s 12 stops), when the exposure is within that range the color is perfect–as good, I would argue–as the tank-sized D810.  Sigma cameras are proof to me that dynamic range is not a be-all, end-all.

I want to give another plug for FastRawViewer.  I’m no longer shooting RAW+JPG in the Ricoh GR or Sony.  The viewer is fast enough that I can scan through the images and open them in PS easily when I want to bring them to fruition.




Sigma X3F TIFF Conversion Issues For Blown-out Skies

The Sigma Photo Pro (SPP) software, which must be used to open X3F files, has trouble exporting to TIFF, clipped or blown-out parts of an image, like a cloudy sky, unless you manually adjust exposure and fill.  If you let SPP export in “auto” mode, there is a high risk that you will not be able to recover highlights, from the TIFF, in Photoshop(PS) or other editing software.

A long-time Sigma user pointed out that Foveon sensor files are more diifficult to work with because “They (Sigma) have two problems. (1) The layers have strongly overlapping color response that is not matched to the color theories used for RGB color management. (2) the third layer is very noisy.”

At this writing, there is no X3F to DNG converter and I doubt, for long-winded technical reasons, there ever will be.

If you must have details in the blown-out areas of the image, you must export for that (adjust exposure in SPP for the clouds), then, in PS, bring up the exposure in the part of the image that had it’s exposure reduced to bring out the sky.

Adobe Camera Raw does a significantly better job with bayer sensor images, good enough that one can often use the “raw” TIFF (many even work with JPGs) to post process with little loss of image information.  However, if one can, only usually loads the image into Photoshop through Adobe Camera Raw (ACR)

The root problem is that you can open RAW files in Photoshop from just about any camera but the Sigma.  This means that you have to convert Sigma X3F RAW files to TIFF files first, if you’re going to use other image editing software.  Or put another way, you have to adjust exposure and fill twice.  First in SPP, then in PS.  For Sigma images, the TIFF becomes the “RAW” file for PS.

Although a Bayer / Photoshop workflow is much easier than working with Sigma images, I still prefer Foveon. As nice as the D600 is, there is a 3-dimensional look to Sigma images that, IMHO, it just can’t replicate.  That said, the dp1m is not the best choice for low-light or fast photography.

Here are some images that I hope illustrate these issues.

First, a Sigma DP1M photo.  This is a JPG copy of a TIFF created by Sigma Photo Pro, at its default setting (that is, no auto or manual adjustment)


Second, a photo from a Nikon d600.  A TIFF was created by Photoshop’s Camera RAW filter, again, no adjustments


Here I reduce the exposure on the dp1m image by 1 in PS.  


Yes, doesn’t seem bad. Now I do the same for the Nikon version (I’m quickly selecting using a wand, so excuse the jaggy nature)


Dropping the exposure doesn’t give me an image I want, for either camera.

Now, here is the Sigma where I have tried to adjust the sky using a curve, to suit my taste.


Doesn’t get me where I want to go.  Now here I do the same thing with the Nikon TIFF


As you can see, I am able to recover the sky pretty well in Adobe’s default TIFF creation.  The bottom line is the Adobe camera RAW created a much better TIFF in default mode than Sigma Photo Pro did with the X3F file.

What if I try to do this with the X3F generated TIFF?


No matter what I try, I can’t get the clouds to look healthy.

However, I can get a good image from the dp1m image, by adjusting the X3F’s exposure in SPP to favor the sky then bringing up the houses with curves in PS (reverse selection to sky).  In the end, I can get to where I want to go, but I can’t sleep-walk through RAW processing with Foveon images like I can do with bayers.  Probably for the best because I should pay attention anyway!


Here is what the TIFF looked like


I believe I may be able create better “default” TIFFs by generating two sets from SPP, a normal, and one with the exposure set down 2 stops.  I can then let Photoshop merge the images and get the best of both worlds.  For another day…

In the meantime, here is Ted’s workflow, as explained on a DPReview forum:

I use SPP to produce a neutral image adjusting only the exposure comp. slider to get the histogram as wide as possible, checking each color in turn. Some might leave a little space each end, others might not. Very important, IMHO, to use ProPhoto working space for the review image. Some back off SPP’s sharpening as it does sharpen at zero setting, particularly visible at sharp edges. I also back off the saturation slider a smidgeon. The aim here is produce a neutral image, not one that pleases the eye! Then save as a 16-bit TIFF, still in ProPhoto color space.

So, for me (SD9, SD10, SD14, SD1), all SPP 3.5 sliders at zero, except:

Exposure comp: as required

Saturation: -0.3

Sharpness: -0.7

Any proper editor has much better tools for tone curves, color adjustments, sharpening, re-sampling and conversion to color spaces other than ProPhoto.

If you don’t already, you might want to try editing in PS, but staying in 16-bit ProPhoto, until the time comes to ‘save as’ (for me) sRGB JPEG. A 16-bit neutral TIFF in ProPhoto color space is the best for flexibility, IMHO.

Sigma DP2s Vs Sony Nex5 with 18-55mm

I’m about to do more video, so I bought a Sony NEX 5N with the 18-55mm kit lens.  I was going to buy the Canon G1X, but many have said the Sony does better video. In any case, when the Sony kit went on sale for $500 I sold my Canon 5D (cry-sob) and Canon VIXIA HFS20 (hardly knew ye) and bought it.

At first I didn’t like the NEX.  Couldn’t understand why I felt that way.  Images are great. Powerful features.  Then it hit me.  Sony cameras are not camera-ee.  They feel more like clever gadgets then photographic equipment.  Can I hold that against them?  I told myself, ‘get over it’.

The last Sony camcorder I had I returned because the touch screen wasn’t always responsive (same problem with Canon VIXIA by the way).  I haven’t had that problem with the NEX.  So far, the controls have been very responsive and you can assign quick settings to a few of the buttons.

I went out to compare the Sony with the Sigma.  I found that the NEX is much closer to the DP2s than my G12.  No surprise there, with its larger sensor.   I don’t know how the NEX would perform with a prime lens.  In any case, it’s close enough that I’m going to sell the DP2s, only to free up time to focus on video.  If I have the DP2s I’ll keep using it.  I still have the DP1, which I’ve been using more lately anyway (oddly enough).

Here are my quick and dirty comparison shots. No processing.

Sharpness, both cameras seem the same to me.  What is different, and I’ve noticed this from the first Sigma I bought, is it nails the color, as I saw it, perfectly.  However, the NEX isn’t unpleasing.  If I didn’t have the Sigma to compare to I doubt I would notice or care.

Sigma DP2s

Sony NEX 5N

They’re different.  I can’t say which is better to me.


These photos show another difference between Sigma cameras and others.  The Sigma colors are richer.  The NEX colors are more washed out.  Yes, you can boost them in post-processing, but they never attain exactly the right color (to me).


DP2s, actually, there is more detail in the grilling pattern on the sign.  More dynamic range, and subtlety.



NEX 5N.  Sorry, I always feel Bayer sensors are a bit washed out and the colors bleed a bit.

This photo is where the Sigma camera is strongest.  Whenever there is light bouncing off an object, almost glaring, the Sigma gets the 3-d feeling better.  I took this shot purposely for its glare.


See how the NEX 5n’s colors are washed out.  It just doesn’t have that pop.

Here I tried to make the Sony look closer to the Sigma.  It actually gets close enough for my tastes (if I didn’t have the DP2s to compare it to).

The bottom line is that I think I can have my video, and get the NEX to get close enough to the DP2s for my needs.  Though again, if it was absolute photo IQ I was after, the Sigma DP2s still remains the best camera I’ve used at that focal length.