Early impressions of the Fujifilm X70 after about a week of use!

The default color profile coming out of the X70 is subtly different from Olympus m4/3s. Not a scientific test now as I’m not a visual person, but the natural lighting colors do look very slightly more natural, though this is finally really personal preferences. The typical pictures at ISO3200 look less noisy than m4/3s equivalents.

The all-round metallic body feels well-built, cool to touch, and dense. In a nice-touch, the eyelet hooks are also removed as factory-shipped too. That’s always the first things I remove when I get a new m4/3s body.

The Exposure Compensation dial sits at the far right corner. It’s slightly recessed though and quite stiff. Quite helpful in avoiding situations where one accidentally brushes against it and dial in unwanted exposure compensations, as it’s happened a few times with the mode dials on Olympus E-PL bodies now.

The metallic lens cap is internally padded, and fits snugly onto the lens. The lens itself doesn’t have a filter thread, so the dedicated 49mm adapter ring is needed to fit a filter and/or 49mm lens cap.

The menu item layout is more visually appealing than Olympus, though I don’t think the organization is really any less confusing for first users of the Fujifilm system.

Silent shutter option. Nice!

In-camera charging via the micro USB port. Super convenient than having to bring a dedicated charger unit. This feature should be a standard inclusion in all cameras.

And lastly, the X70 offers many of the usual amenities we’ve come to expect from modern cameras – including setting a minimum shutter speed, and lower/upper limits of the ISO setting.

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The rear LCD is bright and high-resolution. It’s surrounded by a thick bezel though, so not particularly optimal use of actual possible space.

On the other hand:

AF speed is so-so. It’s not nearly as brisk as Olympus’ m4/3s cameras from the last several years now, and the difference is even more evident in low-light situations.

Non-stabilized lens and no provision for in-body stabilization either. I’ve been spoiled by the Olympus m4/3 camera bodies, and especially the 5-axis in-body stabilization system on my E-M5 and E-M1. Sharp handheld shots of 1/5s are totally possibly on those bodies and just too hard on the X70.

No hot-shoe cover. Had to buy cheapo third party replacements for it.

RAW support isn’t available in Program-Auto mode, while Auto-flash mode is available only in Program-Auto. I figure that’s why it’s called ‘auto’ mode, but it would had been better if these options were available for advanced users as an optional items to enable than to disallow them altogether.

Oddly, image playback takes a bit of time to start-up, though once it’s in playback mode, images do scroll briskly.

The Selector quadrant of buttons don’t offer good key travel and are quite stiff. The E-M5’s selector also had low key travel but buttons weren’t nearly as stiff or mushy.

The Auto mode selector level is close to the master on/off switch. The first couple of days I kept accidentally toggling the auto mode from Aperture priority to full-on auto, instead of powering on/off the camera. That took some getting use to.

The package came with accessories, several of which were high quality original equipment from manufacturer – the lens hood, adapter ring, leather case and strap, and an extra battery. The leather case got put aside as while it provides a better grip hold for the X70, also adds more bulk, and I don’t find its design appealing either. The other four accessories are useful though.

A couple of other accessories are also on order, including a 49mm Hoya Pro 1 Digital filter, which is a few dollars more expensive than the normal Hoya filters but which glass elements are easier to clean. Alongside that, a tempered glass ear LCD protector, and finally also – the Meike MK320 TTL flash gun for the X70, which cost less than half the price for the already bargain bin-priced Nissin i40 I’ve got for m4/3s. A mini-review for the Meike perhaps once I receive the unit in a few weeks.

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The X70’s top panel.

Some pictures of the kids next!

I reckon I’m one of those very lucky hubbies – since I have a wife who chuckles whenever I bring home a new toy! This time round, it’s the Fujifilm X70.

The impetus for this new acquisition started 2 months ago when the Olympus E-PL6 started developing sticky shutter problems. Not sure why since it’s been handled carefully for the almost 3 years I’ve owned it. While the stuck shutter can be rectified by removing the battery and memory card at each occurrence, it’s also caused me to miss key moments where the kids were doing something I wanted to capture.

I’ve previously owned relatively-large sensor compact cameras before. The Panasonic LX7 – which can still take decent pictures in good light; the Panasonic LX100 – which offered a very useful focal length and was fast at the widest angle, but got sold away as I couldn’t live with the odd color casts and also was just too soft around the corners.

For our upcoming Melbourne June 2016 trip, I’ve been eyeing a replacement compact that would accompany the E-M1 and the two f2.8s (12-40mm/40-150mm) coming along for the trip. The compact would need to meet these requirements:

Relatively large sensor of at least 1″.

Bright f2.8 or faster lens.

Flip screen for the family wefie.

Compact, preferably. Pocketable, even better.

Non-interchangeable lens systems. One camera system is enough!

A whole list of models got included – the Sony RX100 series, the Canons G7X and G9X, and a couple of bridge cameras even – the Panasonic FZ1000, Sony RX10 and Canon G3X. The three bridge cameras all start at f2.8 and support up to the minimal focal length I reckon I would shoot at in Melbourne, with the RX10 going way beyond that even. But they are also huge, heavier than the E-M1/12-40mm, and bulkier. The Canon G3X is slightly smaller in body compared to the other two bridge cameras, but misses out on a built-in viewfinder – a key omission that would have made telephoto shots difficult to manage.

The Sony RX100s are compact and fairly pricey, though the oldest of the series still widely sold – the Mark II – is relatively cheap now with in-store discounts. The Canons G7X and G9X are at an affordable price-point and meet most of the basic requirements, but I’ve still have niggling concerns about 1″ sensors using on the Sony RX100s and Canons, and the Canons also reportedly have poor battery life.

A student of mine previously loaned me his Fujifilm X100 some four years ago, and I really liked its amazing colors and center sharpness, though not its general usability and pedestrian AF speeds. The most current version of that series – the Fujifilm X100T – wasn’t in consideration as it was fairly large for a compact, and well-past the price I was prepared to pay for it though a grey import would have saved me a few hundred dollars. And finally, there’s the Sony RX1R II – the full-frame fixed lens compact. A cell group friend owns that, but I would have had to sell my left arm to afford the $4.9K it costs!

So, I was pretty much set on the Canon G7X and was about to pick it up until I stumbled upon the Fujifilm X70 quite by accident while trawling the discussion forums. The key characteristic of the X70 is that it’s, essentially, a shrunk down version of the X100s and going for a lot cheaper than that even. The US street price for the X70 is US$699. The local distributed version here goes for US$800 – which after including GST, shipping charges here, and the bunch of freebies (thrown in for the local bundle, seems priced fairly after all.

The Fujifilm X70!

The Fujifilm X70!

My first impressions of the X70 next!

 

I’m only reminded again how quickly time zooms past when it’s time to do another year-end post summarizing our key purchasing decisions in the year. It only seems last month when I did the 2014 version of this annual post!

Dell XPS 13 – Win: an easy win for this purchase, since it’s become my daily work horse laptop. The laptop still looks as good as it did about a year on with nary a scratch on  the aluminum case. My only two quibbles with the XPS 13 is in the minor light bleed around the edges of its ‘infinity’-styled screen – guess I got a lousy unit upon notebook delivery – and also that I still don’t especially like the carbon fiber palm rests. Would have much preferred if the notebook had used the same aluminum material all round, like in the Macbooks.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 – Win: this was picked up at about the same time as the XPS 13, and I’ve ended up using it a lot more at home than I’d thought – so much so that the exterior casing has gotten quite a few nicks. The tablet-notebook hybrid has accompanied us on two vacation trips now, and I recently picked up the new Surface Pro 4 type cover keyboard for it too – an accessory that provides a better speed typing platform than the older type cover. The machine’s 4GB RAM was initially sufficient when the Surface Pro 3 was running Windows 8.1, but ever since the upgrade to Windows 10, performance is noticeably more sluggish now. Note to self: if I get a replacement, get one with 8GB RAM!

Panasonic DMC-LX100 – Mixed: I never quite took to the LX100 the same way as I’ve liked using the older E-PL6, a similar-sized though also functionally very different compact m4/3 sensor camera. The camera is wonderfully featured, but was also finally quite soft in the corners wide-open, and I routinely found it easier to work to get the colors I wanted using RAW images out of the E-PL6 than the LX100. So, the LX100 got sold off a couple of months ago.

Nission i40 Flashgun for m4/3s – Win: much smaller and also more compact than the flashgun it replaced (the Metz 50AF-1). The flash is sturdily built, recharges quicker, and – aside from that Olympus’ TTL doesn’t quite typically throw up exactly the right amount of light as the Nikon speedlight flashguns did – has worked well otherwise. The only minor annoyance: the left real mode dial markings have almost all but faded off. Poor quality imprinting onto the rear dial I guess.

Mazda 3 – Win. We’ve adapted to our new 2015 ride, and have pretty much adjusted to the limitations of the vehicle compared to our old Nissan Latio – basically reduced leg head room spaces, and the absent footbrake. The car purls along with less effort than the Latio, even though the rated engine horsepower is identical. Though oddly, we ended up not using a lot of the vehicle’s nice features, including the sunroof, the Bluetooth connections, nor the built-in GPS maps (really not necessary with Google Maps).

Epson L550 Printer – Win… for the most part. I’ve printed several hundred A4 and 4R-sized photos for family, Hannah and our photo albums. The ink tanks are still more than half-full. Not unexpectedly, how well the print retains colors is dependent on both the photo paper used (Epson papers have worked much better on the L550 than another manufacturer’s!), and also display conditions, e.g. if the printed surface is exposed without protection. Of issues: the printer started making odd mechanical noises during print runs shortly after purchase, and from the sound of it, the print head its roller mechanism is impacting something in the printer’s innards. Aside from the din that makes, it doesn’t impact the print at all and can be solved by simply lifting the document feeder cover altogether by an inch or so. Still annoying nonetheless though.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 – Win. Lovely phone with a stunning build and design. I’ve not typically used phones as personal audio players yet, but tried it out in the recent Club Med trip, and found that the device churns out audio quality that’s every bit as good as the Sony F886 Walkman I’ve been using for more than a year now. One less device to bring around now – hooray!

Philips Slow Juicer – Win. We’ve significantly cut-down on our usage of the Slow Juicer a month back after Ling read that too much juices was leading to sugar overdoses in our diets. Not through any fault of the Juicer of course.

Olympus E-M1 – Win. Handles quite differently compared to the E-M5, and also a much better camera body to use with the 40-150mm f2.8. Got it at a wonderful price point, and supports WIFI tethering too – which eliminates the need for separate remote controllers.

Olympus 12-40mm and 40-150mm f2.8s – Win. The 12-40mm has been heavily used since its purchase. I never quite expected to put the 40-150mm through similarly heavy use, but the recent Club Med Bintan trip proved that wrong. The lens’ responsiveness and handling, alongside how confidently it locked focus even in difficult lighting conditions, has assured that this lens will see a lot more use than the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 I had for the old Nikon DSLR.

Legoland Malaysia – Win. Of the two short vacations we’ve had this year, neither were entirely free from issues, but the Legoland Malaysia one was far less problematic. The room was passable, trips to the theme park a lot of fun – though the cost of the trip wasn’t exactly low.

Club Med Bintan – Lose. This one was the real disappointment of the year, after reading all the praise heaped on the resort in blogsphere, never mind that the Tripadvisor reviews were clearly less forgiving on the resort’s accommodation challenges. At least Hannah enjoyed the trip, and I really appreciated the opportunity to put the E-M1/40-150mm f2.8 through extended use at the nightly concerts, and think I have a much better appreciation of the difficulties in concert photography now.

2016 here we come! :)

 

Macro photography is hard and requires a lot of practice for one to be any good in it. I’ve over the years dabbled occasionally in it, including the one-stop flower macro photography spot in Singapore i.e. National Orchid Garden @ Botanic Gardens, over a variety of small sea critters during our Telunas Beach Resort stay, and also at the stunning Butterfly Garden @ Museum of Science in Boston. The half-way decent selection of pictures in those posts though are a result more from a couple of occasional hits from a sizable number of misses with cooperative subjects.

There are several ways of taking macro shots. Serious enthusiasts will typically invest in dedicated macro lenses. The Sigma 150mm f2.8 I owned for a couple of years for my Nikon system then cost a decent sum of money and was well-suited to flower photography but IIRC not for insects. I haven’t yet bought a similar dedicated lens for my m4/3 cameras now, though there are several such for the system at typically somewhat lower price points than say for the Nikon system. The Olympus 12-50mm kit lens that came with the E-M5 comes with macro ability though. Not a very good one by any measure, but it’s still useful when I have to take the odd close-up picture.

A second way of taking macro shots is to add extension tubes. These get attached to the camera mount and before the lens. Without glass and optical elements, tubes are simple in design, and essentially reduce the minimum focusing distance of a lens. Depending on supporting electronics in the tubes (e.g. to support aperture control and autofocusing), extension tubes for the m4/3s range from a very low price point of about $20, to branded Kenko tubes that cost about $160 and more. Finally, the third method is to add optical accessories to the front of the lens – e.g. close-up filters.

I was quite interested to get into macro photography again for the m4/3 system but loathed this time to spend money to buy a dedicated lens for it, though the excellent Olympus 60mm f2.8 Macro sure was tempting. The Kenko extension tubes were a real viable alternative and popular among many enthusiasts. Two disadvantages with this solution though: some of the clone copycats of Kenko tubes have, according to some Amazon reviews, damaged the electronic contact points on the camera body. I didn’t read of similar concerns for the Keno-manufactured tubes – they are apparently made to higher quality specifications and in Japan, compared to the cheap knock-offs which I think are made in China. Still, that got me worried. The other disadvantage lied in the very nature of using extension tubes: you have to dismount your lens, mount the tubes, then remount the lens. Not only is it tedious, any such swapping increases the possibility of foreign elements getting into the camera and landing on the sensor. Ugh, the horror.

So, it was to the close-up type optical accessories. There’s a whole bunch of close-up filers/lenses sold at shady camera shops here that seriously degrade or distort the image information that hits the sensor, so I was quite wary about them. The Raynox macro conversion lenses though are a different breed. These are well-regarded, manufactured in Japan, and have been around for a while now and I’ve been keeping my eye on them for several years. There are two particularly popular models in the series. They cost a mere fraction of what one would pay for a dedicated macro lens, and is also cheaper than Kenko tubes. The series is carried in several stores, but I went with an online reseller of it that’s been carrying Raynox products for several years now.

The Raynox DCR-150 is the model more suited for macro photography dabblers, and here’s the unboxing of the package, alongside some quick shots using the Olympus 12-50mm. I primarily intend for this conversion lens to work with the Olympus 45mm f1.8 (hope there’s minimal vignetting!), so will report on that once the cheapo step-up ring necessary to mount the DCR-150 onto a 37mm filter thread arrives from eBay.

Compact box that measures about 3x3x2 inches.

Compact box that measures about 3x3x2 inches.

Box contents I: a plastic carry case, a brochure of Raynox products, and an instruction leaflet.

Box contents I: a plastic carry case, a brochure of Raynox products, and an instruction leaflet.

Box Contents II: clockwise from top left: the box, the carry case with the lens, the stacking ring, universal adapter, and front/back lens caps.

Box Contents II: clockwise from top left: the box, the carry case with the lens, the stacking ring, universal adapter, and front/back lens caps.

Close look at the lens. The filter size is 49mm, but the packaged universal adapter will permit the DCR150 to be mounted on a larger ranger of lens diameters.

Close look at the lens. The filter size is 49mm, but the packaged universal adapter will permit the DCR150 to be mounted on a larger ranger of lens diameters.

The DCR150 attached to the universal adapter.

The DCR150 attached to the universal adapter.

Casual test of the DCR150's magnification ability. This is the Olympus 12-50mm as close as it can get. No cropping here.

Casual test of the DCR150’s magnification ability. This is the Olympus 12-50mm as close as it can get. No cropping here.

With the DCR150 mounted onto the 12-50mm. The lens' front element was perhaps just about 1-2cm away from the box!

With the DCR150 mounted onto the 12-50mm. The lens’ front element was perhaps just about 1-2cm away from the box!

More notes to come soon!

The ‘mysterious’ camera strap I wrote briefly about a month ago here arrived not too long after that post, and I’ve been putting it through the paces since. The strap is from Joby, the California-based company that is perhaps better known for its series of Gorillapods (owned a couple of them). The company has diversified quite a bit over the recent years, and apart from action video gear for (extreme) sports enthusiasts, the company also now has a varied series of camera straps of the sling, neck-hung, and handgrip types.

I’ve tried all three types of straps extensively now. I’ve never got used to the neck-hung ones – even those those claimed to be super-comfy neophrene ones from OP/TECH – and the handgrip straps don’t work well with battery/vertical grips. The sling-type straps remain my preferred choice especially when I’m totting multiple cameras around for the odd event-shoot at work. The Joby Pro comes in several flavors, including one that’s catered for women even, and the ‘Pro’ series I picked up – comes in two sizes (Sm-L, and L-XXL) which as I understand it, is factored based on T-Shirt size. I picked up the L-XXL if nothing else because I can only grow wider now and not slimmer LOL, and ordered it from a South Korean reseller off eBay which offered it at quite a bit lower than direct from the manufacturer itself.

My notes after the first period of use, and especially in comparison against my other two straps: the BlackRapid RS4, and the BosStrap.

The Joby strap is cheaper than the other two straps by quite a bit!

The RS4 remains by far the easiest to set-up. You fasten it to the tripod socket, and you’re done. While the number of parts to the Joby seem about similar to other two, whether it takes less time for it to secure your camera depends pretty much on whether you want to use the secondary system; the camera tether. If you don’t, then – like the RS4 – the Joby strap is secured in about the time it takes you to screw the thumbscrew into the tripod socket, and also way shorter than it takes for you to poke the BosStrap’s tail through the eyelet + do a few more rounds of looping. The Joby’s camera tether though is a different story. It’s easy enough though to unscrew the carabiner and loop the reinforced string through it – just takes a bit of time.

The strap material on the Joby is, apparently, of the same nylon webbing as the the BosStrap, but not quite as velvety smooth or luxurious-feeling. Still far better feeling than the stiff padding on the RS4 though. The camera doesn’t glide (slide?) as naturally too as compared to the BosStrap, but the strap lock helps a lot in limiting the amount of movement the fastened camera has on the strap. Quite a nifty feature, that is sorely absent on the RS4 which makes it all too easy for the shoulder pad to slide off my shoulder when the camera is swinging about.

In all; the Joby’s a good purchase. I don’t find it as comfortable as the BosStrap, but it’s way more usable and the secondary camera tether is a great assurance in case the strap”s thuimbscrew ever gives way!

Pictures of the Joby Pro Strap:

The camera tether is secured via carabiner to the front pivot ring.

Close-up look at the camera tether.

The LockSafe attachment that screws into the camera’s tripod socket.

Strap lock that when pushed down will limit the strap from gliding along the pivot ring.

Nylon webbing for the main strap.

 

It’s been more than two years since I last bought a new lens, having been pretty satisfied with the trio of m4/3 prime lenses – the 17mm, 25mm, and 45mm – that are considered mandatory for serious owners of the system. The two new Olympus lenses picked up this month are labeled ‘Pro’. According to Olympus’ public information of what that descriptor means, their Pro line of lenses are developed for professional use, and provide constant f2.8 apertures. There are currently three such lenses in this line – the 7-14mm, 12-40mm, 40-150mm – and the latter two were the most recent acquisitions.

At this point, I’ve put the 12-40mm through a few weeks of use, but not for the 40-150mm. Even then, these are just the first and early handling impressions of both.

The 12-40mm occupies an odd spot among what the focal lengths of the three great m4/3 primes. The 17mm and 45mm roughly offer a full stop’s benefit over it – i.e. not a significant difference. But in the case of the 25mm, the difference is two stops, which really improves upon the range of conditions one has to take a picture. I’m of two minds about this. I imagine that I’ll continue to use primes when weight of the setup is a concern, or if I have time to properly setup a shot – e.g. if Hannah is doing her homework and is largely not moving off her chair and running about. But for catching our kids in action or when they’re running around the house, the 12-40mm is probably a more versatile option.

The 12-40mm is also a more convenient focal length range when we’re traveling. The only times I shoot wide is when it’s for a family photo with everyone in the extended family, or when I’m taking landscapes on vacation (haven’t done that since the Japan trip!). I wished it had some macro ability – similar to the very basic facility on the 12-50mm, but oh well.

No complaints about the center sharpness too. At similar apertures, it’s sharper in the center than all three primes to varying degrees, according to posted MTF resolutions at Photozone. Anecdotally though and from what my eyes can tell anyway, the 12-40mm is obviously sharper in the center than the 17mm, somewhat less so than the 45mm, and about the same as the 25mm. Moving off the center onto the borders of the image circle, the 12-40mm holds up well with smaller resolution drop-offs than all three primes. Amazing!

The 12-40mm is also much larger and heftier than the three primes. The lens’ build quality though is impressive and confidence-building, and not quite like the more plastic-y feel of the 25mm and 45mm primes. The pre-supplied petal hood also allows it to be reversed onto the lens for storage.

As for the 40-150mm. There’s an option to buy the lens without the Olympus 1.4x MC-14 teleconverter – though that’s honestly isn’t really the best thing to do. The teleconverter costs a whopping USD349 if bought separately! Locally, the price difference between the 40-150mm sans TC versus with the TC is a mere USD142. No brainer duh. The teleconverter though doesn’t work with most lenses – at the moment with just (apparently) the 40-150mm. It’s reported to work with the upcoming Olympus 300mm f4 Pro, but nope, no interest in that lens at all. The 40-150mm with teleconverter will allow focal lengths of up to 210mm or 420mm full-frame equivalent. Not as long as that crazy upper limit on my Olympus 75-300 i.e. 600mm, but you get a stop of light advantage, and also reportedly better sharpness all round.

And surprisingly, the teleconverter is reported to work quite well with the 40-150mm, putting aside the expected light loss. More to say on this later on once I put it through good use!

The supplied hard plastic hood is a design marvel. Unlike most lens hoods that have to be reversed for storing onto the lens, the 40-150mm’s hood uses a clever retractable system that does away with needing to reverse it. Basically, you twist the hood and it can be retracted. Voilà!

The 12-40mm with the E-M5, and the 40-15mm/1.4x teleconverter with the E-M1.

Relative sizes: the 12-40mm with the E-M5, and the 40-15mm/1.4x teleconverter with the E-M1.

The 12-40mm's weight and girth is nicely balanced against the E-M1 already, making the grip non-essential if weight distribution is a concern.

The 12-40mm’s weight and girth is nicely balanced against the E-M1 already, making the grip non-essential if weight distribution is a concern.

The two lenses sans hoods, with the 1.4X Teleconverter in the foreground.

The two lenses sans hoods, with the 1.4X Teleconverter in the foreground.

Hoods on. The 40-150mm's hood adds almost three inches to the length of the lens. Still finally not nearly as long as the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 though!

Hoods on. The 40-150mm’s hood adds almost three inches to the length of the lens. Still finally not nearly as long as the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 though.

Lens hood retracted on the 40-150mm, making for a much more compact set.

Lens hood retracted on the 40-150mm, making for a much more compact set.

The E-M1 with the 40-150mm and teleconverter. Long lens, making the grip an essential item!

The E-M1 with the 40-150mm and teleconverter. Long lens, making the grip an essential item!

The 40-150mm f2.8 and teleconverter will be given its first real exercise this weekend at Hannah’s K2 Graduation Concert. I’ll be bringing that, alongside the 75-300mm for a field comparison. We’ve chosen seats at the Circle – we must have been the only weirdo graduating students’ parents not to sit in the normal floor stall seats closer to the stage – and only because it provides an unobstructed view of the stage for these two crazy long focal length lens to work their mojo. More to say after this weekend! :)

I was looking at my tabulation of camera expenditure since 2008 – I am that obsessed over all things tabular – and it’s interesting to see my spending pattern:

Expensive hobby, but the photos of our kids are priceless!

Expensive hobby, but the photos of our kids are priceless!

Broadly, the spending spikes especially every several years whenever I change a camera system or buy substantial new gear. So:

2008: I didn’t track my camera spending before this point, and had owned a bunch of different digital compact cameras, pro-user cameras, and also my first DSLR: the Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D. I sold that away and in 2008, bought into the Nikon system with the:

D300 – an M1 Abrams Tank-life DSLR, and with a whole bunch of lenses and accessories to follow later including the…

SB600 speedlight

Sigma 10-20mm Ultra Wide Angle

Nikon 50mm f1.8

Hannah and Mommy @ Nikon 50mm f1.8

Sigma AF150mm f2.8 Macro – took some lovely pictures at the Orchid Garden with it

Street cat at Punggol Park @ Sigma 150mm f2.8 Macro

Sigma AF24-60m f2.8 – which is currently with our ang mo bud!

Hannah at three years old @ Sigma 24-60mm f2.8

2009: more lenses and accessories for the D300, which included:

MB-D10 battery grip

Sigma 18-250mm – this was for its time among the first all-in-one travel lenses which could shoot somewhat wide and relatively far along in the focal length too. The lens increasingly faced AF issues, and at this point today, is no longer working reliably.

Hannah @ Sigma 18-250mm

2010: when I bought into a second camera system to accompany the heavy duty Nikon system, starting off with the…

Olympus E-PL1 – which at the end of the year, accompanied us on our Japan trip, and also for my month-long stint in Massachusetts. The camera even survived dunking at Niagara Falls!

2011: no looking back from the m4/3s now! Apart from selling off several Nikon lenses that offset new purchases, the acquisitions that year were:

Olympus E-PL2 – a significant upgrade from the predecessor. The E-PL2 seemed better built, had a bumped up LCD, and the kit lens focused a lot quicker. The camera is a backup-backup m4/3s camera now that I still take out for an occasional spin.

Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 – pancake prime that was extremely sharp in its center image, and capable of lovely pictures. Only issue was that it focused slowly.

Hannah and Mommy in the evening @ Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7

2012: this one was a messy year and also the one where I finally moved away from owning two camera systems. The Nikon D300 was sold away, and in its place:

Nikon D7000 and MB-D11 grip – with hindsight now, a somewhat impulsive buy. The DSLR was a landmark in the Nikon system, offering – at that point – unsurpassed cropped sensor imagery, but it was also at a point where I was seriously considering moving fully onto the m4/3s standard.

Nikon 35mm f1.8 DX – among the most highly rated Nikon primes for the APS-C sensor.

Hannah @ Sigma 35mm f1.8

Sigma APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM – my first ‘pro’ f2.8 zoom lens! This lens was considered a much cheaper alternative to the Nikon equivalent that cost almost twice as much.

Hannah and Mommy @ Sigma 70-200mm f2.8

Olympus E-M5 – the real game changer in the m4/3s standard and also for me. The entire Nikon camera system I owned essentially got sidelined because of this camera.

Metz 50 AF-1 MZ 50312OPL Digital Flash – throws up an incredible amount of light. Worked well enough until the camera battery door broke!

Panasonic 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 – owned this lens briefly, with several of the earlier Minton in construction photos taken with it.

Sigma 30mm f2.8 DN – this prime was longer than the Panasonic Lumix 20mm and weren’t as quick aperture-wise, but it focused a lot faster.

Hannah @ Sigma 30mm f2.8

Panasonic LX7 – highly praised rangefinder-esque camera that I got for dirt-cheap from Amazon. Used it for some of those very nicely wide-angle shots of the Minton.

2013: the prime lens year! Sold away some of the m4/3s gear, picked up the:

Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5G – fun wide-angle prime that’s flat as a pancake. Great for wefie shots.:)

Hannah @ Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5G

Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4 – still the best portrait prime I’ve got for the m4/3s. Picked it up from Amazon JP and had it shipped here. One of the three highly-rated prime lenses for the system, with the other two the next two lenses below.

Hannah @ Panasonic Lumix 25mm f1.4

Olympus 17mm f1.8 – pretty much permanently mounted onto the E-PL6, and color-matched too. This one’s an all-purpose general photography lens.

Hannah @ Olympus 17mm f1.8

Olympus 45mm f1.8 – the longest focal length prime I’ve got at this point. Capable of rendering nifty bokeh, though best used out of home where there’s space to move around.

Peter @ Olympus 45mm f1.8

Olympus 75-300mm II f4.8-6.7 Zoom Lens – an updated and much sleeker-looking version of a consumer-level zoom lens. Never mind that it’s a slow-lens aperture-wise, but this lens is capable of 600mm equivalent shots on the E-M5. All those crazy zoomed-in pictures of the Minton construction were taken on this one.

Workers at The Minton @ Olympus 75-300mm II. This was shot from an opposite block some distance away.

Olympus E-PL6 – one of the two cameras I tot around these days, and largely as a replacement for the old E-PL2. Uses about the same sensor and processing as the E-M5, and capable of producing images as good!

2014: a lull in spending, finally! No major camera purchases that year, and I sold off most of my remaining Nikon gear.

2015: the year’s not up yet, and at this point:

Panasonic DMC-LX100 – my first (relatively) large-sensor compact with a nice 2.8 aperture. The camera isn’t without its issues, but it still has more strengths to it than weaknesses. As a bonus, works well with the m4/3s flashguns I’ve got.

Nissin i40 – as a replacement for the Metz 50AF-1 flashgun. Perfect in every way – except that the rear dial’s mode markings have started fading off from wear/tear, though it’s only been 6 months.

Olympus E-M1 – got it for a great price, and is really as mint as it can be for a used unit.

Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 Pro – from the same seller as the E-M1! A post on the lens to follow soon.

Kids @ Olympus 12-40mm f2.8

Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro – a very recent acquisition, and largely to take pictures of Hannah’s upcoming K2 Graduation concert this weekend. A post to follow on it soon too.:)

Whew – that was a long post. I think I’m pretty much embedded into the m4/3s system at this point, and the only gaps I can think of are:

A macro lens, maybe.

A ultra-wide angle, big maybe – only because I’m not a fan of ultra wide angles.

The stunning Olympus 75mm f1.8, at some point!

 

I did a check on the last time I wrote on sling-type camera straps and realized that it’s been more than 3 years since I last wrote one such, even though these sling straps are a much-needed improvement over the typical shoulder strap that comes supplied with new camera bodies. My previous post on my first sling strap – the BlackRapid RS4 – is right here, and on the Herringbone handgrip here.

The BlackRapid series of straps are widely known and used, and also carried at many local resellers here. Shortly after I picked up the BlackRapid though, our ang mo bud came about visiting us in Singapore, bringing along an interesting strap from a lesser-known supplier: the BosStrap. Now, who wouldn’t like a name like that? :)

Comparing the RapidStrap and the BosStrap.

Comparing the BosStrap with the RapidStrap RS4.

Nylon webbing!

Nylon webbing!

The BosStraps though aren’t available through local resellers as far as I can tell. You either need to get them through online retailers like B&H, Amazon, or on eBay. I picked up the BosStrap Generation 3 Sliding Sling Strap for about S$80 – shipping costs = ouch – through their eBay store, and the strap’s been used for more than 3 years now.

Comparing between the BlackRapid and the BosStrap: both serve the same function – sling your camera on your shoulder and offload from your neck the weight of your camera. The securing mechanism and material used for the straps couldn’t be more different though. The BosStrap uses nylon webbing, similar to the material you find on car seat belts. There are numerous advantages to that: the material is soft, velvety-like and nice to hold and run your fingers along. The strap is also easily flexible and can wrap around your lens for easy storage, something that’s just not possible on the BlackRapid.

Very different camera securing systems.

Very different camera securing systems though.

Unlike the BlackRapid too, there is no shoulder pad. Some photography enthusiasts won’t like it, but I actually prefer a pad-less strap. The BlackRapid pad keeps sliding back, and its presence makes me consciously aware that I’m carrying a camera on my shoulder. The BosStrap’s mostly soft material and minimal use of metallic elements is also a talked about advantage as it reduces the possibility of those elements scratching or damaging the camera body.

Next couple of pictures showing how the BosStrap is secured to the camera.

The untangled Tail featuring a Double Safety Lock Release.

The untangled Tail featuring a Double Safety Lock Release.

The Tail goes through the camera strap lug.

The Tail goes through the camera strap lug.

Loops back into the cam buckle, locked into place, and the safety sleeve slides over to make sure that the lock stays solidly in place.

Loops back into the cam buckle, locked into place, and the safety sleeve slides over to make sure that the lock stays solidly in place.

Excess strap can be looped for neatness.

Excess strap can be looped for neatness.

All done on the E-M1. The strap can be looped around the lens.

All done on the E-M1.

Wraps easily around the camera lens!

Wraps easily around the camera lens!

In short I like the BosStrap. The one difficulty I have with the strap though is incidentally also another much talked about benefit. The BosStrap secures the camera via the body’s strap lug. This frees up the tripod socket that’s routinely used by other straps, including the BlackRapid, and enables the camera to sit properly on flat surfaces. I found the Tail however a chore to remove, and you’ll need to be happy leaving it right there tethered semi-permanently to the strap lug. And fixing up the main strap to the Tail also takes time. Fundamentally, if you want a strap that’s quick to mount and dismount, you might need to look elsewhere – and this is something that might be more important than you’ll realize until you’ve used the strap for a bit!

Neither straps have secondary securing systems. The straps are pretty secure for my use. But for those of us who’re nervous about having several thousand moolas worth of glass, plastic and metal dangling about your hip and the chance of it kissing concrete, there’s apparently other sling straps with redundant camera securing systems built-in. More on that later once this innovative strap comes in!

 

Most of my Nikon gear got sold off last year, leaving behind only the Sigma 18-250mm – fond memories of carting that all in one focal length wonder through several staycations, Japan, Boston, and Hannah’s first years – whose AF is too wonky for normal use, and the Sigma 24-60mm f2.8 that’s with our best bud now. The last 6 years I’ve owned Micro Four Thirds cameras has also resulted in my collecting a whole bunch of accessories for them. It’s been almost two years since I last did a thorough overview of accessories for my m4/3 cameras, so here’s an update!

Third party batteries. The Olympus BLN-1 uses an embedded micro-chip, and I think third party battery manufacturers took a while to re-engineer the chip’s software to deceive the Olympus charger and camera to think that their batteries are the same as the original’s. It’s a pity that the original BLN-1 battery isn’t cheap. So, I bought a couple of ‘DSTE’-branded third party spares for the E-M5 in 2012. While they were purported to hold higher capacity, they typically didn’t hold their charge nearly as well, and also could only be charged using their proprietary device. In any case, both of these DSTE batteries have suffered from bloat, and no longer fit into the E-M5. Into the bin they go.

Flashguns. The very large Metz 50AF-1 worked great for a while – until the battery door broke. !@#!@#!@#. And the gun doesn’t fit smoothly into the E-M5’s horseshoe. And worse of all, the flashgun was a little temperamental in correctly gauging the amount of light needed when it was in bounce mode, requiring frequent flash bracketed shots just so that I can get a picture that’s correctly lighted. I’ve since replaced it with the compact Nissin i40 that’s a cinch to mount/dismount on the E-M1/E-M5/LX100, super wel-accessorised with freebies, and puts out the correct amount of light.

The Nissin i40 vs the Metz 50AF-1.

Remote controllers. The older E-M5 doesn’t have a built-in WIFI module, so it was third party remote controllers. And nope, they didn’t work reliably at all. Getting the attachment unit to work with the remote controller was a constantly iffy thing, and at our annual family reunion photo-taking at least year’s CNY, the damn thing failed again. I nearly tossed it right out of the window then. Thankfully, both the LX100 and E-M1 supports WIFI and smartphone remote control, so this is a thing of the past now.

Leather Wrist-straps. I’ve got three of these now, and all from Andy‘s, and they’re currently in use on the E-M1, E-PL6 and LX100. The oldest one has weathered nicely and wraps comfortably around the wrist.

Eyecups. If there is a design flaw on the E-M5, it’s the way its eyecups are secured in their holder: it’s too easy for the eyecup to get dislodged. If you’re lucky, it drops into your camera bag. Not so lucky and it drops off without your knowledge while you’re traveling with it! I’ve had to replace lost eyecups twice now. My current eyecup is held secure with school glue. Don’t ask LOL.

School glue to the rescue!

Lots of lots of spare front and rear lens caps. Bought an entire bunch of these off eBay for dirt cheap (~S$1 each). All the original caps that come with lenses and bodies are kept in their boxes.

Software. Adobe Photoshop has for a while now changed its licensing model from perpetual license to a subscription-based one. The last version of Photoshop I purchased was CS5, and after Adobe Camera Raw stopped receiving updates for that version, I had to look elsewhere for my go-to RAW photo-editing tool. That tool is now Photoshop Elements, which – nicely – still retains the old licensing model, and also the FastStone Image Viewer, a speedy and simple image browser/editor that I’ve been using for years now. Significantly too; this viewer is capable of reading the embedded JPG images in RAW files.

Next post on the BosStrap sling-strap!

My first impressions of the E-M1 against the E-M5 after several days of use!

The E-M1’s overall ergonomics and handling surpasses the E-M5, easily. The handgrip makes it easier to balance the camera’s weight against mid-length zooms, and the two configurable front and back dials are slightly stiffer and ribbed, and make accidental turns less likely than the E-M5.

Couple of neat functions not present on the E-M5 – including configurable exposure bracketing, built-in HDR, faster top-shutter speed, and WIFI support though its phone-control implementation seems a little more clunky than Panasonic’s on my LX100. Still, I can finally take family pictures using quality prime lens glass and a smartphone remote!

The image processing software in the E-M1 is also supposedly improved from that of the E-M5’s, though I haven’t pixel-peeped to be able to tell where the differences are. Finally, the E-M1 offers better weather-proofing, though I honestly don’t think I’ll ever be bringing this out in rain LOL.

The E-M1’s 0.74x magnification electronic viewfinder makes picture composition much easier than the E-M5’s 0.58x. and with higher EVF resolution to boot too.

Its eye-cup also feels more securely locked in-place in its holder than the E-M5’s. I’m already on my third E-M5 eyecup, with the last two accidentally dislodged and lost. That it’s slightly protruding is both an advantage and disadvantage though: my nose is less likely to come in contact with the rear monitor (transfer of facial oil smudges onto the monitor – eek), but it’s also harder to see the entire viewfinder without having to pan my eyeball about when peering through the viewfinder.

Large and slightly protruding eyecup.

Large and slightly protruding eyecup.

The mode-dial lock is a nice touch – press once to lock, press again to unlock. The mode-dial on the E-M5 is too easy to accidentally turn too. On more than a few occasions, I triggered severely over-exposed shots because the E-M5 dial had without my knowledge switched to Shutter-priority mode.

Mode dial lock - nice!

Mode dial lock – nice!

Much harder to slide the memory card slot cover open!

The On/Off lever is now on the top-left panel, compared to the bottom right on the E-M5’s back. Not a good change since it’s impossible now to fish-out the camera from my bag and flip it on in a single motion.

Different location for the on/off lever now compared to the E-M5. Bad!

Different location for the on/off lever now compared to the E-M5. Bad!

The E-M1 is obviously heavier than the E-M5 though still fairly light for a DSLR-styled camera. Coupled with the 12-40mm f2.8 though is a very different story; the lens and camera is now inching closer to the weight of my last APS-C DSLR with a similar lens – the D7000 with the Sigma 24-60mm f2.8. Coupled with even a light flashgun like the Nissin i40 will make one nervous about hauling the E-M1 about, even with its handgrip. That makes a handstrap or vertical battery grip almost a necessity.

Some casual shots of Peter and Hannah next:

With the 25mm f1.4.

With the 25mm f1.4.

Heading out of home on Saturday morning; with the 25mm f1.4.

Heading out of home on Saturday morning; with the 25mm f1.4.

Using the 12-40mm f2.8. The two kids totally entertained by a collaborative session of Crossy Road. No, there's no such mode of play - but Hannah laughs when her chicken gets run over, and Peter will, watching his sister's reaction, laugh in sync too LOL.

Using the 12-40mm f2.8. The two kids totally entertained by a collaborative session of Crossy Road. No, there’s no such mode of play – but Hannah laughs when her chicken gets run over, and Peter will, watching his sister’s reaction, laugh in sync too LOL.