Sunday, 20 September 2015

Sigma 60mm long portrait lens

Both lenses used here are designed for a larger sensor than in the cameras pictured:

The Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN used on the Olympus E-M5 II (left) is designed for mirrorless cameras with an APS-C sized sensor, e.g., Sony E, where it becomes equivalent to 90mm, a classic portrait lens. However, it also comes with a Micro Four Thirds mount, where it becomes a 120mm equivalent lens, i.e., a long portrait lens.

On the right, there is the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G. It is designed for use on fullframe cameras, where it is a, you guessed it, 85mm equivalent lens. However, I have mounted it to a Nikon D3300. As it has an APS-C sized sensor, the lens becomes equivalent to 128mm, also a long portrait lens.

To understand why 85mm is commonly referred to as the portrait lens focal length, please read this article.

LensSigma 60mm f/2.8 DNNikon 85mm f/1.8G
Lens elements/groups8/69/9
Minimum focus0.50m0.80m
Filter thread46mm67mm

How do they compare in terms of image quality? To find out, I took some example images at different apertures find out. These were taken at a focus distance of about 15m, at ISO 200.

I used a tripod, of course, and I used live view for the most precise autofocus. That avoids the potential problems of frontfocusing (FF) and backfocusing, a major concern for some DSLR users. Click for larger images:

Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN @ f/2.8Nikon 85mm f/1.8G @ f/1.8

To make the images easier to compare, here are 100% crops from the centre of the pictures:

And from the lower left corner:

And here is a series taken from a bigger distance:

Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN @ f/2.8Nikon 85mm f/1.8G @ f/1.8

Again, here are 100% crops from the centre of the image, click for a larger view:

And from the lower right hand side:


The Nikon 85mm f/1.8G is the fastest of the two, in terms of aperture, of course. But the test here shows that the Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN is still sharper at f/2.8. The Nikon lens needs to be stopped down to near f/4 to obtain the same sharpness.

On the other hand, there are times when you'd want to trade a faster aperture for less sharpness, and if so, you may still want the larger aperture of the Nikon lens. But if you value compactness and are prepared to use a high ISO, the Sigma lens is the way to go.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Get GH4 V-Log profile for free

Some fans have been angered by the news that Panasonic would charge people to use the new V-Log profile on the Lumix GH4. This is an video profile that allows for higher dynamic range than usual.

However, with a simple trick, you can get this profile for free. Here is how:

  1. Make sure you have the Firmware 2.3 installed.Get it here.
    It seems Panasonic have closed the download, but you can try this alternative source.
  2. Turn on the camera, and enable the Wifi mode. This turns on the blue light on the top of the camera.
  3. Connect the camera to your smartphone with the Panasonic app.
  4. Set the camera in a video mode, e.g., by setting the mode dial to the creative video mode:
  5. Open the Panasonic Image App on your smartphone. Go to the "Remote operation" function:
  6. Inside the Remote operation, tap the "Q.MENU" item:
  7. Tap the first option, "Photo Style":
  8. Select V-Log L:
  9. Look at your camera: It now has the V-Log L mode:
  10. Save this mode for later use. Push the "Menu" button on the camera, and go to "Cust.Set Mem." to store it as one of the custom functions (C1, C2, C3-1, C3-2 or C3-3):

And that is it! Now you can test out the V-Log L mode for free, and see if you think it will improve your videos.

If you want to use the V-Log V profile for several different video modes, e.g., 4k and 1080p, then repeat this process for each mode. For example, start off with 4K before starting the Panasonic App to retrieve the V-Log L profile, and you will get a 4K V-Log L profile that you can save as one of the custom functions.

Note that successfully using the V-Log L profile requires skillful postprocessing in a program like Adobe Premiere Pro. Without this video grading, the V-Log L video will just look flat with boring colours.

Anyone who is not familiar with video grading are better off using the normal video modes. So V-Log L is not a miracle cure that makes your videos look fantastic. Rather, it enables competent users to get the most out of the video stream later.

The GoPro cameras have a similar feature called "ProTune". This creates a video file which is more flat, with less sharpness and less colour saturation. Here is what they write about this mode:

What this means for the every-day user is that Protune footage requires more editing to get that traditional GoPro look. That’s great if you want to spend more time editing your footage to put your own unique spin on it, but if you want to do simple editing and already like the GoPro look and feel that you’re used to, we'd recommend leaving Protune turned off.

Essentially: If you don't know what you are doing, don't use ProTune. Panasonic could say the same about V-Log, and in a way, they do, by charging an extra cost for it.

A new 2.4 firmware is coming on September 17th, which will disable using the V-Log L profile without purchasing it. Also, newer upgrades of the Panasonic Image App will also disable this.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Olympus E-M5 Mark II sensor shift demo

All Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras have had in-body image stabilization (IBIS), however, it was not until the Olympus E-M5 Mark II that this feature became truly useful also for stabilizing video recording. To illustrate how it works, I have mounted the Lumix GH4 facing into the E-M5 II using the Leica 45mm f/2.8 macro lens, both mounted to a dual camera bracket:

Before actually starting the recording, I put some transparent plastic around the lens, between the cameras, to make the lightning more even. Here is the outcome, in an animated GIF:

See also the full movie here, for more details:

This looks very impressive, of course. But does it work? If you use a Panasonic lens, with built in Optical Image Stabilization, you must make sure to set the "Lens I.S. Priority" item to "Off", you'll find it in the C-section of the rather confusion menu.

If your lens has an OIS switch, you need to set that one to off as well. If not, the camera will try to use the lens image stabilization, which is not as effective.

Using the Lumix X 12-35mm f/2.8 lens, I recorded this handheld example video. Even when walking around with the camera, the video is remarkably stable. For even better effect, I could have added some Warp Stabilizer in the Adobe Premiere Pro, but even without additional software stabilization, the video is very smooth:

If I had used the same lens on the Lumix GH4, the results would have been far less stable. See a direct comparison between the two cameras here.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Impact of sensor size

Looking back, we have had "the megapixel race", in which camera makers aimed put more and more resolution into their cameras. And for compact cameras, we have had the "superzoom race", so far culminating in the mindboggling 83x built-in optical zoom in the Nikon Coolpix P900.

In the enthusiast segment, though, there is a very clear trend at the moment: The importance of the sensor size. We have the very successful Sony RX100 large sensor compact camera sporting a "one inch" sensor, while previously cameras from the same segment typically had 1/1.7 inch sensors.

So why, exactly, is the sensor size important? It does lead to larger and more expensive cameras, and larger lenses, so there must be positive aspects as well to balance this out.

One such positive is bokeh: The larger the sensor, the thinner the depth of focus is. Meaning that the foreground and background will be more out of focus, everything else equal. Read more about it here.

Also, the larger the size of each individual photosite, the better the quality. At least in theory. Hence, one would normally expect less noise and better dynamic range from a larger sensor than from a smaller sensor. To illustrate this, I have taken the same pictures using three different sensor sizes:

From left to right: Nikon 1 V3 (one inch sensor size), Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II (Four Thirds sensor size), and Nikon D3300 (APS-C sensor size).

Here is a relative comparison of the sensor sizes:

About the test cameras: Nikon 1 V3 is the "enthusiast" CX size camera from Nikon, with a user optional EVF, and a very deep buffer suited for fast continuous shooting. However, the sensor is already one generation old, and fans are now waiting for the newer sensor, seen in Nikon 1 J5, to appear in an updated Nikon 1 V4. Probably, this camera will be announced early 2016.

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II is a very feature laden and compact camera. It is pretty much state of the art in terms of image quality within Micro Four Thirds.

Even if the Nikon D3300 is the entry level model, it still has the newest 24MP sensor. So while it lacks in terms of autofocus performance and continuous shooting compared with more expensive models, the sensor is as good as it gets currently.

Here is one scene photographed with all the cameras (click for larger images):

Here are some 100% crops from the images at ISO 200 and 1600 to compare the image quality:

Sadly, it appears that the focus was a bit off with the first Nikon D3300 shot, even if I did use live view and CDAF for the best accuracy. But still, we see very clearly here that the Nikon D3300, with the biggest sensor, retains the best clarity at high ISO. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II appears to apply more sharpening, which makes the edges look sharper. But some details are lost in the process.

With the smallest sensor, the Nikon 1 V3 starts losing details at ISO 1600. You should avoid pushing the ISO above 800 with that camera.

Another example:

And 100% crops:

A good test of the noise characteristics, is to lift the shadows. So I did that in Lightroom for all the exposures, by using the RAW file. Here is what they look like with an exposure compensation of +2 (two stops increase):

This comparison was not completely fair, since the exposure with the Nikon D3300 was somewhat lower. This makes the shadows more noisy.

But still, it shows that you have a better chance of recovering shadows with a larger sensor camera, especially at a high ISO.


A larger sensor gives you a thinner depth of focus, popularly called more bokeh, even if that is technically somewhat meaningless.

Also, with a larger sensor, you could expect to get a better high ISO performance. And if you need to increase the exposure in post processing, the image coming from a larger sensor camera is probably going to give you a better result.

On the other hand, a larger sensor also means a larger camera, and a larger lens. I think a nice balance is the Four Thirds sensor size, used in the Micro Four Thirds cameras. The moderate size of the sensor allows the lenses to be smaller and lighter.

The Nikon 1 system, with the even smaller "one inch" sensor, is not there yet in terms of image quality, in my opinion. But give it one-two more generations of sensor development, and I think the image quality should be sufficient for most uses.

On the other hand, there are manufacturers who would like the customers to go for the larger "fullframe" size (36mm by 24mm). Sony has their A7 mirrorless line, and are working hard to complete it with the lenses typically needed by enthusiasts. Nikon also wants to push their DSLR users into their FX ecosystem, where the profit margins are much larger.

Fujifilm are happy with the APS-C sized sensor, though, and are committed to creating the best system around it.

Monday, 17 August 2015

New Lumix 20mm lens: Better focus ring

The Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 pancake is a classic Micro Four Thirds lens. Being the first Panasonic prime lens, it is widely considered to be very well performing. But it has some shortcomings: Due to the old fashioned focus design, where the whole lens assembly moves back and forth during focusing, the autofocus is rather slow. Also, the large focus assembly makes it very noisy when focusing.

In 2013, Panasonic updated the lens. It is well known that the new lens is largely a cosmetic redesign: The optical layout is the same, and the focus method is the same. But is the new lens better? The new lens is available in black and silver, and you can see the silver version to the right below:

Old (left) and new (right) versions of the Lumix G 20mm f/1.7

Design wise, I much prefer the old version, to the left. I don't like glossy lenses. The specifications are very similar, but the new one is lighter, even if it has a thin metal outer body:

LensLumix G 20mm f/1.7Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 II
Lens elements/groups7/57/5
Aperture diaphragm blades77
Minimum focus0.20m0.20m
Filter thread46mm46mm
Hood includedNoNo
Optical image stabilisationNoNo

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Less camera sales, fewer camera models?

A lot has been said recently about the decline in the camera market: The number of sold camera units have decreased dramatically in the recent years. This is mostly due to mobile phones having good enough cameras, and, perhaps even more importantly, that mobile phones are connected, making it easier to share images and videos on social media.

This decline in sales mostly affects the low end of the market, meaning basic compact cameras. These are most easily replaced by the camera phones.

System cameras, with interchangeable lenses, still sell fairly well, even if their numbers also drop. Among these, we see a small increase in the ratio of mirrorless cameras sold. But DSLR cameras still hold a major part of the market.

With this new reality, what should the camera maker's response be? They can try to make even better cameras, to capture a larger share of the cameras actually sold, or they can try to scale down and only produce the kind of models which people buy the most of. So are there fewer camera announcements now?

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

New firmware for Lumix 14-140mm II

Panasonic recently updated the firmware for a number of their lenses (click here). The updates are mostly geared towards the upcoming Lumix GX8, promising to deliver the dual IS feature, using both the lens optical image stabilization, and the camera sensor shift image stabilization at the same time.

One of the lenses affected is the Lumix G 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 superzoom lens (click for my review). Compared with the older version of the lens, I find that it is better in every way: Smaller, lighter, cheaper initial price, better image quality.

There are some who say that the new version of the lens causes "micro jitters" when recording video handheld, which makes it impossible for use with video. As the lens is advertized for video use especially, this sounds like a very bad thing.

To see if there is a problem after the new v1.1 firmware upgrade, I have tested the lens together with the old version, supposedly free from the micro jitters issue. I've mounted them on a pair of Lumix GX7 cameras, and recorded video at 1080p, 50FPS. To avoid motion blur, which might hide the micro jitters, I set a fast shutter speed at 1/250s.

Both cameras were connected to a Desmond mini stereo bracket. The new version of the lens to the right.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Can you make money off your photos with Foap?

There is a demand for pictures for use as illustrations, both online and in the real world. This market is capitalized upon by a number of marketplace services, aiming to be a middleman between the photographer and the publisher.

One such middleman is Foap. From the point of view of the photographer, Foap is an app, where you can upload your photos, and sell them for US$5.

Now, this doesn't sound like a lot, you may say, but let me add that this is the sum you get for a single use of the picture, you retain the copyright, and you can resell it a number of times.

The buyer pays US$10 for each image use, and Foap cashes in on the difference, that is their business idea.

So how does this work? Essentially, Foap tries to be two different things:

  • A marketplace for selling your photos
  • A community for photo interested people

Uploading a photo is much like on social media like Instagram: You will be asked to provide a name, an "story" behind the photo, and tags. Filling out this, especially the tags, is very important, as this is how the buyers find their pictures.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Who are best at firmware upgrades?

When a manufacturer releases a camera, it is not finished. You can still expect to be able to upgrade the firmware, the software inside the camera, to fix bugs, and even to add more features.

For example, it was a firmware upgrade which added the 4K Photo feature into the Lumix GH4, a feature which is now standard in all new Lumix M4/3 cameras. About a year ago, there was a rumour that a firmware upgrade would add 4K video recording to the Olympus OM-D E-M1 (which never materialized), and we are now waiting for a firmware upgrade which will add the V-log video format to the Lumix GH4.

The cynical view to firmware upgrades is that the manufacturers use their customers to do the testing: When they find mistakes in how the camera operates, they issue a firmware upgrade. But the positive view is that being able to upgrade all cameras out there allows the companies to stay competitive, and offer more features.

However your view on firmware updates, there are opinions out there that certain manufacturers are better at keeping their old cameras up to date with new firmware, whereas other companies neglect their older cameras and prefer to sell new ones. Specifically, people often say that smaller manufacturers like Fujifilm and Pentax are good at releasing firmware upgrades for older cameras, while the big two, Canon and Nikon, are not as good.

To put this to the test, I have examined two cameras from each manufacturer. I chose one camera which is about 2-3 years old, and one which is around 5 years old. I kept to fairly expensive models, cameras which are often used by amateur photography enthusiasts.