Blog Keywords

Popular Posts for the Month

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Zuiko and E-5: In Retrospective


It has been close to two weeks now since I laid my hands on the E-5. The three-day ordeal was not enough to satisfy my insatiable inkling to it. The good thing was that during this period, I managed to spend more time with the E-3. This gave me time to reflect on the performance of the E-5 compared to the E-3. In retrospect, it did give me an alternate insight to the true capabilities of the E-5. To be fair, during the 3-day test, my opinion might be biased based on the many enhancements that the E-5 supposed to do, as was briefed by the Olympus representative. Now, I believe I am more clear and objective about what the E-5 can do.

A bit of a struggle to get the right focus with the strong backlight,
Zuiko Digital ED14-35mm F2.0

To start with, my type of photography mostly revolve on things and events that happen around me. I tend to shoot people and events that cover a wide range of photography from portraits, candid and photojournalism. My style is casual with being the third-party observer rather than involve in the photographic experience. This is the area where the need for the E-5 is required. As for other types, I have the inkling to shoot the mundane things around me and try to make it interesting. In this aspect I don't think the E-5 will do much difference than the Canon S90 as the image composition and parameters are more controlled, and rather the lens choice is the main factor for fresher perspectives.

The ESP metering saved the background with the foreground underexposed a stop,
this is recoverable in post-process using Contrast Mask technique

So, to satisfy my need to cover fast moving events, does the E-5 able to cope and deliver the goods? Well, in one aspect I would say that it's excellent, and in another aspect, it's still lacking behind king Nikon. (I have various experience shooting the Nikon cameras ranging from the D3000 to D3 part being a teacher to photography classes, where the Nikons are very common).

Let's look into event shooting, and the real needs of the clients. (Clients can be your family members, too).

Loads of depth-of-field to cover sharpness across the frame

Bottom line, the clients want properly exposed crisp images with great colors. They don't care about the artistic value of your pictures, well it may add to the aesthetics of your presentation, but what they care about is the priceless moments of the events. Pictures must be accurately metered and exposed. The focus must be tack accurate and sharp. They don't care what lens you use. What they care is the head must not look much bigger than the feet, for example. This is the real challenge for the photographer and the gear.

Frontlighting with dark background didn't fool the meter, but I still see white clippings
lower shutter speed used to invoke motion into the composition

Looking at how the E-5 delivered the pictures in the two events that I managed to cover, I would say that it definitely advanced much from the E-3. For a start, the exposure is better. Though still using the same 49-zone ESP metering system, the handling of strong backlight has shown significant improvement. This was attested by one of my Nikon buddy (he's an active wedding photographer) who saw one of the samples and acknowledged how the E-5 properly controlled the bright sunlit window of an interior shot. Not an easy thing, he said. Well, that's good to hear from a quite neutral observer. This is so important feature for me. I am an ESP shooter, and when it comes to fast moving events, this is the real deal. There's no time to tinker with the features to play with the spot meters.

One person in the shadows, one person in the highlights
I like how the exposure turned up

In high contrast scenes, specifically with strong highlight and shadows in 9 zones, the ESP meter tends to over expose up to 0.7ev. I don't get it with Olympus. Why do they care so much for the shadows that the highlights get clipped? In the end, the smaller 4/3 sensor tends to show more noise in the shadows. I prefer the shadows are blackened, i.e. a supposedly Zone II shouldn't be exposed to Zone III where the details actually are noisy. No matter, though, as the E-5 have a preset exposure bias module, similar to the E-30. Just remember to set it to -0.3ev or -0.7ev once I get the E-5 in November (hopefully, somehow I haven't pre-ordered it yet).

Following the kids' fast movement was a bit of a challenge,
the hit rate wasn't very good but it delivered where it matters

As for the auto focusing, the feature that deals with crisp and clear pictures, I have a slight reservation on its overall performance. Please be reminded that the E-5 is a pre-production unit with the AF module still in debugging stage. Being a user of the E-3 and E-30, I don't find much difference in performance from the E-5, with regards to all lenses that I have (7-14mm/f4, 14-35mm/f2, 35-100mm/f2 and 50mm/f2). I can only hope that the production E-5 will have this solved and bring to life the 14-35mm SWD speed as it's supposed to do.

Kids don't sit still for long, they are always in action
The quick AF was crucial to get this snapshot as he's about to jump off the chair

In the two events that I covered, I focused on my two main workhorses, the 14-35mm f2 and 35-100mm f2 lenses. All I can say was that the 35-100mm was superb in AF control, partially due to the lens focus limiter that lowered the AF tracking range. I might say that there's some improvement to the E-5. Alas, for the 14-35mm f2 lens, I can only say that the E-5 is on par with the E-30. For strong backlight, the E-5 can't cope with the erratic 14-35mm AF jitter. My hit rate was about 80%, which was quite disappointing. In events, the hit rate should be in the high 95%. Well, I might be hoping too much on the E-5 that I forgot to apply the tricks I used with the E-3/E-30 to get the higher hit rate.

Hit rate was on and off for this shot with the 14-35m f2.0
I got it quite okay out of 3 shots

One thing that I really applaud about Olympus is the great JPEG engine. Out of camera images have always been superb, without much to postprocess. The colors are blended to appear pleasing to the visual acuity, without focusing too much on color accuracy. I was told that Sony has the best color accuracy (possibly meaning that the six primary and secondary colors are the most accurate), but I still find Olympus JPEG pleasing (partly due to the tonal transitions of the colors interweaved within the shadows and highlights).

The colors looked great in this shot even though it's ISO1600,
accurate AWB also played the role to ensure the color tint was correct

As for the E-5, this has been further enhanced mainly due to the more accurate Auto White Balance sensor. Another appeal to the E-5 for an event shooter like me is the that the AWB is much improved. After comparing with the E-3, the E-5 is the clear winner. In tricky lighting like cloudy mornings, mixed tungsten and incandescent interiors, the E-5 just delivers accurately. Even when I tinkered the RAW images to compare the pre-sets WB and the AWB shots, there's not much difference that's easily visible. To my eyes, the E-5 is the king in AWB! And imagine the time saved in the workflow to process the images for clients with high anxiety disorder!

At last a usable ISO1600 with the F2.0,
a shutter speed above 1/60s was achievable for this shot to freeze motion

The ISO has improved by 1 stop; though I think Olympus should have made it to 2 stops. Nonetheless, I managed to get high quality ISO1600 pictures, which was not the case for both E-3 and E-30 (the E-3 was simply horrendous, and I limit it to ISO1250).

It didn't take much to look cool and appealing - shades and a guitar,
maybe Olympus need to realign their strategy to make the E-5 more appealing

In summary, for an event shooter, will the E-5 be good enough? In my opinion it is. However, when we look outside and compare with king Nikon, there are still areas that the E-5 need severe improvements. Firstly the auto focus needs to be more responsive for fast action (E-5 is quick, but not smooth), secondly the frame rates should be higher at 8fps (not that it really matters with social events), and thirdly the sensor should have at least a stop higher ISO at 12800 (ISO expansion starts at 3200, in which I thought Olympus is being too conservative).

Notably, the E-5 is still the best overall for the fast and lazy event shooter. It's completely weather-sealed along with many of the Digital Zuiko lenses (I wouldn't care less on the environment being wet or dusty), the tank-like built meant that it can be used ruggedly without much care (my E-30 body was crushed and broken by the 14-35mm and 35-100mm lenses in the ThinkTank bag!), the JPEG and AWB is class leading (I would imagine the Sony or Nikon coming very close, but I still prefer E-5) that comprehensively eliminates color related post-processing time wasting, and somehow the resolution oozes pixels (this was clearly shown in my past blogs, and the SHG lenses were mainly to blame) that eliminates E-30 to the relegation zone.

One point to note. I actually have to commend Olympus for being bold to ditch the xD format. Now with E-5 sporting the SD-CF combination, it has opened up the flexibility to a new level. What I had experience in the event shoot was an eye opener. The client asked me when can the images be available, and my quick answer was "do you have an SD card in disposal?". It was a cinch, SD cards are too common, and it took me less than five minutes to transfer all the files from the CF to the SD. Coupled with the E-5 awesome out-of-camera JPEGs, I bet the client wouldn't be disappointed.

Great colors, tack sharp.
All you need is "F4 and be there" with the 4/3 system

In fact, the E-5 doesn't look so bad. It could have been better, but I can manage with its limitations. Come on Olympus, be bold for a change (and I don't mean the innovations, but in terms of competing with the big boys). The OM system was a well kept secret, don't let the E-system be another OM. In the 21st century, the market has changed, having well-kept secrets are not good for business. Olympus needs to be more like Apple ~ Innovative and loud!!

Come on Olympus!

No comments: