3.29.2015

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