MICRO FOUR THIRDS PHOTOGRAPHY
Ergonomic evaluation of the Panasonic GH2
Author AndrewS May 2012
This is a user report after several thousand exposures in general photography settings, mostly hand held, mostly outdoors, with a selection of Panasonic and Olympus M43 lenses.
The mission of this blog is to increase consumer awareness of ergonomic issues in camera design, so most of the report is about ergonomics, however I will touch briefly on features, image quality and performance of the GH2.
Description and Features (highlights) This is Panasonic's top M43 body clearly aimed at Level 3 (Expert/Controller, occasional use) and Level 4 (Expert/Controller, frequent use) users. It also has a high level of video capability, not reviewed here, as there are many differences between the still and video user experience. The video button is located in a high priority zone just behind the shutter button and disappointingly, cannot be user tasked to any other function. So if I am not shooting video the button is blocking prime camera real estate which I would like to use for a primary exposure parameter such as ISO.
|Photo 1 GH2 Top Plate|
Some features of the GH2 are worthy of note. The multi aspect ratio sensor has proven more useful and gets more use than I expected. I have allocated AR selection to the fn1 button on the top plate and raised the height of this button by 1.5 mm by adding a little disc of stainless steel fastened by super glue. Now I can locate and operate this button by feel (which I could not do previously) while looking through the EVF.
The AF/AE Lock button can be set to start/lock AF. This separates AF from exposure which is often desirable especially when using the focus and recompose technique.
The top plate has two Set and See dials and two Set and See levers allocated to Prepare Phase camera operation. This represents the best use of Set and See UIM's and works very well in practice. I can see directly and quickly change what shooting mode and drive mode are set and see directly what focus mode and exposure area are set. Photo 1 shows the set and see UIM's.
Some of the UIM's allow user set functions. This is highly desirable as no camera maker can predict all the permutations of UIM function which an individual photographer might prefer. Panasonic and all other makers would do their customers a big favour by extending user configurability to most UIM's, providing a choice of almost all functions of which the camera is capable.
|Photo 2 Blown highlights|
Image Quality I rate IQ as acceptable for the target user group. Matters most needing improvement are (1) Noise, which is present even at ISO 160 in shadows, particularly in the blue channel (2) Dynamic Range which is just acceptable with many subjects but if greater would lead to less (3) Highlight clipping which is a frequent occurrence especially outdoors in Australia where scenes with high subject brightness range abound. Otherwise I have some reservations about this camera's color reproduction with several images not quite rendering the subject as I saw it at the time. Photo 2 illustrates blown highlights on the wheat silo structures.
Performance With one shot still photography performance is very good. AF is sensitive, fast and very consistently accurate, much better than any of the many SLR and DSLR cameras I have used over the years. Manual focus is well implemented, easy to perform with automatically magnified view and very accurate although the absence of distance scales on the lenses is lamented. It is not possible to preset a specified focus distance. Shot to shot times are quick, with good overall responsiveness.
Continuous shooting/AF mode is much less satisfactory. The AF system can keep slowly moving subjects in focus, but EVF blackout after each frame is significant. As a result tracking a moving subject is difficult.
Exposures are generally excellent. The camera regularly makes auto exposure judgements which make best use of the available dynamic range.
Ergonomics The three elements of ergonomics are Holding, Viewing and Operating.
|Photo 3 Relaxed Natural Hand Position|
Holding The GH2 has the shape of a DSLR with a hump on top and a projecting handle, but reduced in size. This camera's existence and identity depend on it being different from a DSLR so why the product development people at Panasonic gave it a DSLR shape is an abiding mystery to me. Whatever the reason, that decision has a big effect on holding and operating characteristics. The projecting handle design works on larger cameras because the right hand is opened up when gripping the handle. But on the GH2 (and G1,G2,GH1) the projecting handle is much smaller so for adults with average sized hands the handle shape and UIM locations are at odds with the natural half closed holding position of the hand. The photos tell the story more clearly than words. One benefit of the projecting handle design is that it makes the camera easy to carry in the right hand, ready to go.
|Photo 4 GH2 Attempted Natural Grip|
Photo 3 Shows the natural, relaxed half closed hand position. Best design practice would shape the camera to fit the hand in this position.
Photo 4 Shows an average sized adult male hand holding the GH2 in the nearest possible approximation to a natural grip. You can see the index finger is looking for a shutter release button somewhere in space and the thumb is nowhere near any of the UIM's.
Photo 5 Shows what the same hand is forced to do in order to place the index finger on the shutter release button and the thumb on the AEL/AFL/AF Start button. The whole palm of the hand has to lift away from the camera leaving only the middle finger actually holding the handle.
|Photo 5 GH2 Forced Grip|
Photo 6 This shows one of the mockups I have built. This one is the same height as the GH2, a little less deep and 20 mm wider. It fits easily into the same compartment in my camera bag as the GH2. It is much more comfortable and secure to hold than the GH2. All primary and secondary exposure and focussing parameters can be adjusted in the Capture Phase of use without shifting grip at all.
|Photo 6 Mockup Designed For Natural Grip|
Viewing Viewing arrangements on the GH2 are generally very effective. The monitor is of the swing out type, which is handy in many situations and protects the screen when closed. The EVF is large, bright and clear, with excellent data under and overlays and plenty of user configuration. There are newer and arguably better EVF's now available but that on the GH2 is still very usable in single shot mode.
Operating For the photographer who makes occasional pictures the GH2 will very likely be quite satisfactory. But for the user who wants to make several hundred photos per day, the GH2's operating systems may become frustrating.
The shutter button is perched top and front on the projecting handle which is not where the index finger wants to find it.
The Main Control Dial (MCD) is incorporated into the thumb rest and is operated by the right thumb. On the G1 and GH1 it was top and front on the handle where it was completely obstructed by the middle finger of the right hand. So they moved it to the back where at least you can now reach and operate it. However this involves derotating the thumb metacarpal and flexing the thumb interphalangeal joint, so as to bring the tip of the thumb to bear on the dial. All this means the user cannot effectively hold the camera with the right hand and operate it at the same time. This means one has to support the weight of the camera and lens with the left hand while operating it with the right hand. While not disastrous this does provide a suboptimal user experience which could easily be improved with better ergonomic design. The MCD has a "Push-Push"operation. Push to change it's function from controlling Aperture or Shutter speed (depending on shooting mode) to Exposure Compensation. Push again to return to the former function. This is clever and it works. However my own experience is an exposure error rate of about 5%, rising to 10% when I am working fast, caused by inadvertently activating Exposure Compensation by pressing slightly too hard on the dial while turning it. This problem can be removed with the Custom Menu, Page 5, Top line, Expo Settings > Switch by pressing the LVF/LCD button.
The rear control panel is very small. In consequence all the buttons are tiny and all but the AF/AEL button are either recessed or smoothly rounded. Despite several month's diligent practice I cannot reliably locate the buttons on the 4 way controller by feel while looking through the EVF. This in turn means I often have to look at the buttons to find and operate them. In the case of the ISO and fn2 (to which I have allocated AF area selection) these initiate Capture Phase tasks which should be easy to complete while looking through the EVF but are often not. The other problem in this part of the camera is that I often bump the WB button by mistake due to it's location very close to the edge of the camera. I tried to raise the tactile profile of the 4 way controller buttons by placing a drop of clear epoxy on each. This has been partly successful but the basic problem persists.
The ON/OFF switch is acceptably accessible. Having used cameras with O/I switches almost everywhere I find those around the shutter release button can be operated by touch, without having to look at the camera to determine whether it is on or off and to switch from one state to the other. The Q Menu is a good idea which could have been much better implemented by allowing the user to choose the items allocated to that button.
Summary As a stand alone item the Panasonic GH2 is a good, but not outstanding, product with acceptable features, image quality, performance and ergonomics for a Level 3 user.
The main appeal of the GH2 is that it provides an entry point into the M43 system with a substantial and growing selection of lenses, a thriving on line community and prospects for future development.
The Way Forward Operation of the GH2 in it's existing form could be somewhat improved with the following minor changes: 1) Make function of the video button and all 4 way controller buttons user assignable from a long list of options, 2) Make contents of the Q Menu screen user assignable, 3) Slightly modify the thumbrest and main control dial for easier access and operation, 4) Replace the 4 way controller buttons with a "rocking saucer" type controller which is much easier to locate and operate with the right thumb by feel.
However if Panasonic wants to become a "First Choice" option for Level 4 users, then I believe major changes are required. It is possible to design a camera about the same box size (w x h x d) as the GH2 but with greatly improved ergonomics. I know this because I have been researching, designing and building camera mockups for the last two years. Details can be found in previous posts on this blog site.
This work has led me inexorably to the realisation that for any given box size (w x h x d) the best ergonomic result is given by the flat top, "Rangefinder Style" design as shown in the photograph. This puts the viewfinder in the optimum position for the 90% of people who use the right eye and is no worse than the "hump" location for left eye users.
It allows a higher, fully contoured anatomical parallel type handle providing full five finger grip. It allows the shutter button to be located where the index finger wants to find it and the main control dial to be located just in front of or behind the shutter button.
All the other controls can be much larger and easier to operate by feel.
There is no functional or ergonomic downside to the "Rangefinder Style" body design for a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera.
MICRO FOUR THIRDS CAMERA PRACTICE
HOW EFFECTIVE IS PANASONIC OIS ?
Author AndrewS May 2012
Introduction I recently conducted a systematic evaluation of Panasonic OIS using a Panasonic GH2 body with Panasonic 14-45 mm, 45-200 mm and 100-300 mm OIS lenses. In standing posture the camera was handheld for all exposures, using the EVF. I held the camera as steady as possible for each exposure using the same holding, breathing and shutter release technique for all shots. I photographed the center section of a test chart at shutter speeds from 1/4 sec to 1/1600 sec with OIS off for the first run then on for the second run. I repeated the whole test twice to check for variable results, which I found.
Limitations of method Before detailing the findings I should say that measuring OIS effectiveness is an inexact process. There is considerable variation in camera shake from one frame to the next and deciding what is sharp and what is not sharp is to some extent subjective. So my second run of tests gave a slightly different result from the first.
Panasonic 14-45 mm OIS lens Tested at 45 mm. I was able to get sharp results handheld down to 1/80 sec with OIS off and 1/30 sec with OIS on. The improvement was 1.3 shutter speed steps.
Panasonic 45-200 mm OIS lens Tested at 200 mm. I got sharp results down to 1/320 sec with OIS off and 1/250 sec with OIS on, an advantage of 0.3 steps. If I would accept slightly soft frames, that grew to 2.6 steps. You can see how the subjective factor comes into the equation. There was a group of frames in the 1/100 sec to 1/200 sec which my notes record as "very slightly blurred".
Panasonic 100-300 mm OIS lens Tested at 300 mm. Results with this lens were variable. On my first run there was a benefit of 1.3 steps. On the second run I got sharp frames down to 1/500 sec with OIS off and 1/320 sec with OIS on, for a benefit of 0.3 steps. However if I would accept a slight amount of softness this increased to 1.0 steps.
On both runs with this lens the OIS produced a markedly bimodal effect. There was a group of quite decently sharp frames from 1/25 sec to 1/50 sec, then a blurred group from 1/60 sec to 1/160 sec with sharpness improving again from 1/200 sec.
1. None of the test runs showed a worse result at any shutter speed, hand held, with OIS on compared to OIS off. The implication is that with these three lenses on this camera body there will be no harm done by leaving OIS on for all handheld shots.
2. The most useful thing about OIS is it's ability to stabilise the viewfinder image when using telephoto lenses especially at the long end. The 100-300 mm lens at 300mm with OIS on is eminently usable hand held in good light, which is remarkable considering the angle of view is only 4.1 degrees.
3. OIS does extend the useful hand holding shutter speed range of each lens by a small amount.
4. The most important factors in achieving sharp photos hand held are, in order of importance as indicated by the results of my trials:
a) Good camera hold and shutter release technique. This includes posture, breathing, holding and finger movement control.
b) Sufficiently fast shutter speed. The old rule which says go no slower than the reciprocal of the focal length (x2 for M43) is still useful.
c) OIS can provide a small but potentially useful downwards extension of the useful hand held shutter speed range, but it is not a panacea for poor handholding technique.
5. I am at a loss to explain the bimodal effect of OIS with the 100-300 mm lens.
MICRO FOUR THIRDS SYSTEM EQUIPMENT
LONG TELEPHOTO ZOOM LENS COMPARISON
Panasonic 100-300mm OIS VS Olympus 75-300 mm
Author AndrewS May 2012
Introduction With the release of new lenses and camera bodies, there has been a recent surge of interest in the Micro 4/3 system.
There are two long telephoto lenses designed specifically for the M43 system, the Panasonic 100-300 mm OIS and the Olympus 75-300 mm without IS. These both offer the real prospect of handheld ultra telephoto photography in a compact, lightweight, moderately priced package.
|Photo 1 |
I bought and have tested both on a Panasonic GH2 body. I will re run some of the tests with and without IBIS on the Olympus EM5 when I can obtain one.
Notes for potential buyers 1) Results reported here are valid for the specific copies which landed in my posession. In my experience of the lens lottery there is considerable sample variation between copies of the same lens. This can be greater than the difference between one model and another. 2) These are both super telephoto lenses, best suited to use on a camera with EVF. They are not, in my view, suitable for hand held photography using monitor view only, as they need to be held very steady, using good technique. 3) while testing these lenses, I encountered the highly unwelcome phenomenon which I have called "Shutter Shock Syndrome" [S.S.S] which you can read about elsewhere on this blog.
|Photo 2 Crop from Photo 1|
S.S.S. is a real and significant problem with the Panasonic GH2. I have not tested any other M43 body.
Tests With both lenses, I photographed distant subjects (100 meters - several kilometers) and test charts at closer distances (8-20 meters). I ran series of exposures on a sturdy tripod, on a monopod and hand held. I used subjects of different types, some with fine detail, some with high contrast, some low contrast, some backlit. This produced several hundred frames from each lens.
Description and specifications You can read all the details elsewhere, but my impression after using both for several weeks is that the Olympus lens feels significantly more compact in operation and in the camera bag than the Panasonic. This could be the most important issue for some users. The Olympus also zooms more smoothly whereas the Panasonic tends to get a bit jerky when zooming slowly. The Panasonic comes with a soft pouch and lens hood, the Olympus has neither. Based on B&H New York prices the Panasonic is considerably less expensive.
|Photo 3 Olympus 75-300 mm lens 200% crop|
Focussing Both achieve AF and MF with about equal speed and accuracy on the GH2.
Image Quality I had to run many tests in different conditions to separate the two, which should tell you they give similar results in most situations. Testing was complicated by the Shutter Shock Syndrome referred to above and also by the finding that the two lenses perform a little differently when comparing closeup with distant subjects. In addition my copy of the Panasonic is slightly decentered, producing some softness on the left edge of the frame at most focal lengths. This softness cleaned up somewhat by stopping down the Panasonic one stop. Apart from that both lenses appeared to perform just as well wide open as stopped down at each focal length. On several test runs I found the Olympus at 300 mm gave better results at f6.7 than any smaller aperture.
With distant subjects the Panasonic produced slightly but consistently better resolution of fine details and better clarity across the frame than the Olympus at all focal lengths and apertures. With subjects, including the test chart, 8-20 meters from the camera the difference between the two was less clear cut although I scored a slight advantage to the Panasonic after much pixel peeping. Neither lens rendered the test chart with as much clarity and resolution as lenses of shorter focal length such as the Panasonic 14-45 mm OIS or the Olympus 40-150 mm.
|Photo 4 Panasonic 100-300 mm lens 200% crop|
Both lenses delivered good contrast. The GH2 corrects for chromatic aberration with the Panasonic lens but not the Olympus lens which showed significant CA towards frame edges which would require correction in post capture processing.
Conclusion Either of these lenses is capable of good to very good results if used with care, handheld, on a monopod or on a tripod.
I would not recommend pairing the Olympus lens (no OIS) with a Panasonic body (none has IBIS at this time). Some form of IS is required for accurate hand held framing and composition at the long end of these superzoom lenses.
The Pansonic lens works just fine on the GH2, with the OIS providing good stabilisation of the viewfinder image. I will discuss the effectiveness of OIS in this and other Panasonic lenses in another post on this blog. It should also be suitable for the Olympus EM5 but I have not been able to test this yet.
Overall the Panasonic costs less and delivers better resolution which I suspect will make it the clear choice for most buyers.
Photo 1 This was made on a windy day, with air turbulence causing atmospheric distortion of the subject which was about 1.5 kilometers from the camera. I rested the camera on a folded towel on the roof of a motor car. This gave much better stability than a tripod in the windy conditions. Panasonic GH2, Panasonic 100-300 mm lens at 197 mm, f 6.3, 1/1600 sec ISO 160.
Photo 2 is a crop of Photo 1 showing detail.
Photos 3 and 4
are 200% crops of a static subject about 400 meters from the tripod mounted camera. Focal length 124/127 mm, 1/640 sec @ f 5.6, ISO 160. Photo 3 is the Olympus, Photo 4 the Panasonic. This illustrates the slightly better resolution delivered by the Panasonic lens.
THE LENS LOTTERY
Author AndrewS May 2012
Introduction I have enjoyed making photographs and working, or just messing around with cameras for almost 60 years. Along the way I have bought and used many cameras and lenses. In the early days I assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that one copy of a particular model lens would be the same as the next copy for all practical purposes. However in recent times I have developed the habit of systematically testing every new lens which comes into my hands. This practice has revealed great variation between copies of many lenses together with a high rate of defects and problems.
Here follows a list of the lenses I have purchased new over the last few years with some comments about each and the cameras which drive them. Yes, I am a confessed cameraholic, but eBay helps to offset the cost of my addiction. So here they are, in vaguely alphabetical order:
Canon EF 70-200 mm f4 L IS This is the nearest thing to a perfect lens I have ever owned. It is optically and mechanically superb, OIS works really well and it's not outrageously expensive for such a fine optic. This one gets a STAR rating from me. Unfortunately the Canon 60D camera which I chose to drive this lens is not up to the same lofty standard. I thought I would use this combination a lot, but don't for two reasons. First, my Panasonic GH2 with Olympus 40-150 mm lens delivers 95% of the image quality at a fraction the size and weight. Second, the 60D is plagued by capriciously inaccurate autofocus to the extent I cannot rely on my photos being in precise focus. Perhaps a more expensive EOS camera body would fix the AF problem, but I am not encouraged by ongoing reports of AF inaccuracy from the EOS 7D and have no interest in going up to full frame. Even if I did the 5D2 has an underwhelming record on AF performance, with many complaints in user forums. By comparison the GH2 nails correct focus with near perfect consistency in single shot operation.
Canon EFS 15-85 mm IS [First copy] This was returned to the vendor, faulty with obvious decentering, producing marked softness on the left side. The [Second copy] was good. When focussed correctly this lens delivers excellent resolution at all focal lengths. Unfortunately focus with the 60D is erratic especially at the wide end in SLR mode with the mirror down. In live view mode the camera uses contrast detect AF which is extremely slow, more accurate but still prone to errors.
Canon EFS 17-55 mm f 2.8 IS This is a good lens with which I made many documentary photos. It would not focus reliably at the wide end on EOS 20D or 40D. The workaround for this was to zoom out to the long end, set AF then zoom back to the wide end. Tedious.
Canon EFS 18-55mm IS kit lens [First copy] This was the Mark1 version which was surprisingly good optically. I got a good copy in the kit lens quality lottery. AF accuracy was unreliable on Canon EOS 450D. The [Second copy] was the mark 2 version which is supposed to be better, but I got the wrong lottery ticket and ended up with a bad copy, soft on one side at the wide end and soft on the other side at the long end.
Canon EFS 55-250 mm IS budget zoom [First copy] This was the Mark 1 version which was surprisingly good and a real bargain. I should have kept it because the [Second copy] the Mark 2 version was not as good, with decentering and marked softness with loss of contrast at the long end.
Olympus 40-150 mm This compact Micro 4/3 lens is a STAR. It delivers most of the performance of more expensive lenses. It lacks IS but that has not been a problem for me on the Panasonic GH2. It should be perfect on the Olympus EM5.
Olympus 75-300 mm This is another M43 lens from Olympus with very compact dimensions for it's focal length range. No problems but the optical quality is not quite up to that of the Panasonic 100-300 mm.
Pansonic 14-45 mm OIS I have used two copies of this M43 standard zoom and both have been STARS with very good to excellent image quality across the focal length and aperture range and no mechanical or optical defects.
Panasonic 14-42 mm OIS kit zoom My copy of this was faulty. Optically it was reasonable but it was unpredictably prone to double imaging for reasons I never determined, maybe a case of Shutter Shock Syndrome (See my post about S.S.S. on this blog) involving the OIS module.
Panasonic 45-200 mm OIS I have used two copies of this both showing the same characteristics. From 45 to about 120 mm focal length the lens delivers very decent results. But at the long end it exhibits loss of contrast and sharpness with a tendency to misfocus even on the GH2 which has an exemplary focussing performance with most M43 lenses.
Panasonic 45-175 mm PZ OIS Presumably this was intended to be Panasonic's upgrade to the somewhat outdated 45-200 mm. I bought one in November 2011 and found it to be totally unserviceable. It was faulty with severe jitter effect (double imaging) in all operating conditions. It went back to the vendor for a refund. Some, but not all, users have reported the same problem. I have not yet seen any acknowlegement from Panasonic that a problem even exists.
Panasonic 100-300 mm OIS This is another super zoom lens for M43, with overall very decent performance. My copy shows a bit of decentering evidenced by softness on the left side at most focal lengths. Ortherwise it is a good lens suitable for hand held use on Panasonic OIS bodies.
Samsung NX 18-55 mm IS My [First copy] of this was a bit soft at the long end but otherwise turned in a very decent performance for a budget kit zoom. The [Second copy] was even better with good sharpness at all focal lengths.
Samsung NX 30 mm f2 This is a STAR lens in Samsung's lineup, with an excellent rating in all aspects of performance. A very small lens with a big performance.
Samsung NX 20 mm f2.8 My [First copy] of this was a poor performer with low resolution and poor resistance to flare. It was retured to the vendor. The [Second copy] was better, delivering good sharpness stopped down a little. But the flare problem remained.
Samsung NX 50-200 mm OIS My [First copy] of this is slightly decentered evidenced by a little softness on the right side at 200 mm. This one also has a slightly sticky zoom action. I tried two further copies to see if I could find a better one. The [Second copy] was faulty with poor sharpness at the long end so it went back to the vendor. The [Third copy] had a nice smooth zoom action but was not quite as sharp as Copy 1 at the long end. So I kept the first one.
Summary Of the 25 lenses listed here, one was completely unserviceable on delivery. This and 3 others were returned to the vendor as fauly. Seven others had faults or defects impacting on image quality. Fourteen had no faults or defects. That is a rate of 56% with no obvious faults and 44% with a fault or problem affecting operation and/or image quality.
Conclusion As you can see from this experience, the bad copy rate in new lenses is disappointingly high. There does appear to be a tendency to less problems in the higher price range but even expensive lenses are not immune from trouble. I see no trend to prefer one manufacturer over another. It would appear from my reading of reviews and reports that all brands have a percentage of bad copies. The further disappointment about this issue is that lens makers rarely acknowlege problems publicly and rarely issue recalls.
Recommendation to buyers My suggestion is to buy from a vendor which guarantees replacement or money back on return. The rate of bad, or at least "not best" copies is so high that any buyer who acquires more than 2-3 lenses is almost guaranteed to encounter a problem. You may find it worth buying from a real shop with a real live sales person who you know by name, and more importantly who knows you and respects your judgement.
I suspect that most retail customers who report a "problem" with a camera or lens are probably not using their equipment correctly. So, when you present yourself to the vendor claiming to have faulty equipment make sure you have in hand
good evidence in the form of hard copy photographs illustrating the problem.
AN ERGONOMIC ANALYSIS OF
MODE DEPENDENT SCROLL WHEELS [MDSW]
Author AndrewS May 2012
Introduction I have spent substantial time over the last two years making camera mockups with the aim of improving the ergonomics of hand held cameras. One strategy I have used is to explore options for the position and design of User Interface Modules (UIM). I do this by physically moving buttons and dials to different places on the mockup. This article deals with the Mode Dependent Scroll Wheel.
Definition There are two main types of control wheels or dials commonly found on cameras. One is the "Set and See" type. Set and See levers are also popular, often incorporated into a dial type control module. Set and See dials have a single function at each set point although some cameras allow user configuration of the details.
|Photo 1 Optimum MDSW Layout|
A Mode Dependent Scroll Wheel [MDSW] has no markings. It's function is dependent on the current operating mode. It is particularly well suited to Capture Phase tasks. Thus in Aperture Priority Mode the Scroll Wheel will change Aperture. In Shutter Priority Mode it will change Shutter Speed.
Rationale of the MDSW Modern electronic cameras suitable for Level 3 users (Expert/Controller, occasional use) or Level 4 (Expert/Controller, frequent use) users, are very complex, requiring the operator to make many adjustments very quickly. In the Capture Phase, these adjustments need to occur while the operator is holding the camera firmly with both hands and looking at the subject through the viewfinder. The mode Dependent Scroll Wheel can, if optimally positioned and designed, meet the requirements of that situation.
|Photo 2, Good MDSW Location|
Job Description for a MDSW In the Capture Phase, a well designed and located Scroll Wheel should be able, if optimally supported by other User Interface Modules (UIM's) to adjust Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO, Program Shift and Exposure Compensation. In addition it provides scrolling functions in Setup, Prepare and Review Phases. It should not be prone to unintended activation. It should be easily located and operated by feel, while the user is framing the subject with the eye level viewfinder. It must be fully operational without the user having to shift grip on the camera with either hand.
Current Practice A review of current camera designs shows that some cameras have none, some have one, others two. Some cameras have three. There is no agreement about location. Some cameras have them on the top plate. Some of those rotate on a horizontal axis others on a vertical axis. Some are on the back but there is no common practice as to where precisely they should be located on the back. Some cameras put a Scroll Wheel on the front.
Compare this to the location and operation of shutter release buttons on cameras about which there does appear to be substantial consensus.
Scroll Wheels are in a state of design flux, with no agreement about the optimum number, position or function having yet been reached.
By way of further comparison we can consider the motor car. Convergent evolution in cars has reached the point where the main controls are located in the same place and operate the same way in all makes and models.
|Photo 3, Poor Front Location|
The same kind of convergent evolution has not yet occurred in cameras.
Functional Anatomy of the Human Hand Camera design is subject to multiple interpretations but the hands which use those cameras do not change at all. They have had the same morphological and functional anatomy for many thousands of years. I have discussed this in detail in my article "Functional Anatomy of the Hand" on this blog in March 2012.
Briefly, the right index finger is the only digit which has no "gripper" role. It only has "controller" functions. It is the only digit which can operate UIM's (provided they are correctly designed and positioned) without affecting the user's grip on the camera.
The Problem with Likes and Preferences It might be thought that a useful way to discover the optimum arrangement of Scroll Wheels would be to ask camera owners about their likes and preferences. But there are serious problems with this approach. Likes and preferences are idiosyncratic, transient and sometimes unformulated. They can only arise out of prior experience and as such may give no useful guide to the way forward. The conclusions reached from that experience may be misconstrued.
|Photo 4, Difficult Rear Location|
Here is an example from personal experience. I bought and used a Pansonic G1 with a Scroll Wheel located upper front on the handle. This was unsatisfactory as the right middle finger lay right across the Control Wheel in normal holding position. So, in order to operate the wheel I had to release the camera with my right hand to allow access to the wheel with my index finger. Thus I could not hold and operate the camera at the same time. Subsequently I bought a Panasonic GH2. This camera has the Scroll Wheel located on the back, upper right where it is operated by the thumb. The GH2 wheel is easier to reach and operate. I might have concluded incorrectly from this experience that rear/thumb operated Scroll Wheels are "better" than front/index finger operated ones. However a full ergonomic task, time and motion analysis revealed that although one is easier to use than the other, neither solution is optimal. The way forward lies in a direction different from either of these arrangements.
Another example: I sometimes read on user forums the idea that a camera operator would "like" or "prefer" to have his or her right index finger resting on the shutter release button "ready-to-make-the-exposure" while the right thumb makes adjustments using various UIM's. A task, time and motion study shows that typical adjustments in the Capture Phase (AF Area position, Exposure Compensation ISO, Aperture, etc) are made sequentially prior to shutter release. The actions do not occur simultaneously. If these tasks are allocated to the thumb then a better ergonomic description of the index finger's role in the process would be "Sitting-idly-doing-nothing-when-it-could-have-been-adjusting-exposure-parameters".
|Photo 5, Poor Rear Location|
My point is that user's likes and preferences do not reliably lead us to optimal ergonomic solutions to problems at the Human Machine Interface (HMI).
Analysis of Scroll wheel locations
1. Rear of camera, thumb operated. Many cameras have these and they get the job done in most cases. However if the Scroll Wheel is located directly under the ball of the thumb in basic hold position it will be constantly at risk of accidental activation. If it is located to the left , right or below the ball of the thumb in rest position then the user must shift grip with the right hand in order to operate the Wheel. The amount of shift may not be great but it still adds two steps to the process which is suboptimal.
2. Front of camera, below the level of the Shutter Release Button. The worst of these require the right hand to shift downwards in order to allow the right index finger access to the Wheel. Better ones allow the grip to remain but require the index finger to move a substantial distance to reach the Wheel.
Best Practice Derived from Ergonomic Study and Mockups An analysis of task, time and motion shows that the best place for a Scroll Wheel is close to, on the same level as and just in front of or behind the shutter release button. If optimally designed this location meets all the requirements of the job description.
My experiments indicate the optimum distance between the center of the shutter button and the center of the Scroll Wheel is 13 mm. The best ergonomic result is given by a cluster of four UIM's all operated by the right index finger. These are Shutter Release Button, Mode Dependent Scroll Wheel, ISO button and Exposure Compensation button. Both these buttons should permit user selectable function from a substantial list of options.
The optimum distance betweeen the center of the Shutter Release Button or Scroll Wheel and the Exposure Compensation or ISO buttons, is 17 mm. Each of those UIM's has to have a precisely calibrated physical profile to ensure swift operation without unintended activation.
|Photo 6 Canon DSLR Style|
How Many Scroll Wheels ? My work indicates that IFthe UIM cluster described above is in place and IF there is a JOG lever correctly positioned for thumb activation then only one Scroll Wheel is required. The Scroll Wheel changes both Aperture and Shutter Speed in Manual Exposure mode. In Manual Mode the function of the Exposure Compensation Button automatically switches to toggle Scroll Wheel action between Aperture and Shutter Speed. If the UIM's are all correctly positioned in three dimensions the process of adjusting Aperture and Shutter Speed is quick and becomes almost instinctive.
Photo 1, Optimum MDSW Layout. This photo shows one of my mockups. The Shutter Release Button and Scroll Wheel are optimally angled and positioned on top of the parallel type handle. ISO and Exposure Compensation buttons (both with user selectable function) are optimally located. It is very easy to locate and operate these four UIM's by feel without shifting grip with either hand. All primary and secondary exposure parameters can be quickly adjusted by the right index finger using this UIM layout.
Photo 2, Good MDSW Location. This a Samsung NX11, showing good Shutter Release Button position, with the Scroll Wheel 13 mm behind and on the same level, where it is easy to find and operate by feel. Unfortunately some of the other buttons are not so well located.
Photo 3, Poor Front Location. The Scroll Wheel on this Canon G12 is obstructed by the third finger of the right hand in normal hold position. Therefore the right hand grip on the camera has to be released in order to get the index finger onto the Scroll Wheel. Good idea, poor implementation.
Photo 4, Difficult Rear Location. The Scroll Wheel on this Panasonic G3 extends from it's housing only about 1 mm. Therefore it must be operated by the very tip of the thumb, just below the nail. You can see the cramped, awkward hand position which results from this constraint. You can also see the right hand has barely any grip on the camera while operating the Scroll Wheel.
Photo 5, Poor Rear Location. The scroll wheel of this Fuji X10 is located right where the thumb wants to be in basic grip position. In this photo the thumb is pressing on the small thumbrest right at the edge of the camera body. This position is cramped and awkward as you can see in the photo. There is a brisk trade in after market thumb rests for this and other cameras with the same problem from the same maker.
Photo 6, Canon DSLR Style.
This is a Canon EOS 60D which has a comfortable, well designed grip and mostly well designed UIM layout. However it could easily have been much better. The Scroll Wheel is not on the same level as the Shutter Release Button and is a little further away than optimal. The ISO button is one of four identically sized buttons behind the Scroll Wheel, identified only by a tiny nipple on top, so it is difficult to find by feel.
There is plenty of room on this camera for a more ergonomically productive arrangement of UIM's near the Shutter Release Button. I would describe this camera as a missed opportunity to achieve excellence.
The Curious Case of Samsung i-Function
If i-Function is the answer, what was the question ?
Author AndrewS June 2012
Background In January 2010, Samsung introduced the company's first compact system camera, the NX10. I used the NX10, then a mild upgrade, the NX11, for the next two years. It is a decent little camera with a user friendly human machine interface (HMI). However the NX10/11 needed an upgrade to image quality, performance and EVF to keep up with it's CSC competitors. Instead, it got Samsung i-Function.
What is it ? i-Function is activated by pressing a button on the barrel of the lens. This brings up a unique interactive window on the monitor or EVF. This consists of a broad ribbon of data across the lower quarter of the frame, completely obscuring the standard display of shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation status beneath the image area. The button may have to be pressed up to 5 times to scroll between functions available. When the desired function has been reached, adjustments are made by turning the focus ring on the lens. A half press on the shutter button confirms the setting and returns the camera to normal shooting mode.
What can it do ? On the NX11, i-Fn can alter several Capture Phase parameters. These are the primary exposure variables (ISO, Shutter Speed, Aperture) and the secondary exposure variables Exposure Compensation and White Balance. Selection of Scene Modes, a Prepare Phase function, can also be allocated to i-Fn.
Note that Samsung cameras with i-Function allow all these imaging parameters to be adjusted in traditional digital camera fashion, using the buttons on the top and rear of the body together with the mode dependent scroll wheel behind the shutter release button. On my NX11, i-Fn cannot be completely disabled although the ability to adjust ISO and White Balance by i-Fn can switched off via the main menu.
|Photo 1, Prepare Phase UIM's|
User and reviewer response Some users reported negative reactions to i-Fn, others said they really liked it. Several reviewers reported positively about i-Fn. I have not seen a published systematic ergonomic analysis of i-Fn, so here it is.
Principles of Lens Based User Interface Modules (UIM) Buttons and levers on the barrel of a lens are appropriate for Prepare Phase adjustments when the user is not taking photos. The camera can be held in one hand while the other hand operates buttons and levers on the lens barrel after locating them visually. Typical parameters for adjustment this way would include Focus Limiter, AF/MF, Stabiliser O/I and Stabiliser Mode. Buttons and levers are difficult to locate by feel and become impossible to find when the camera is rotated to portrait (vertical) orientation. Some users prefer underhand, others overhand grip on the lens. Buttons which might be reasonably accessible with one of these grips become difficult to locate with the other.
|Photo 2 Standard Data Display|
If lens based adjustments are required in Capture Phase the UIM's must be located by feel. In this case, circumferential collars or rings work best. If these have an appropriately tactile surface profile, they can be operated by the fingers of the left hand in landscape or portrait orientation, using "hand under" or "hand over" grip. Typical Capture Phase tasks allocated to lens based modules include manual focus and zoom.
Ergonomic analysis of one task, i-Fn versus Scroll Wheel
First, here is the sequence of actions required to adjust Aperture using the Scroll Wheel. Neither the right or left hand is required to shift grip or move in any way during this brief action sequence.
1. Move the right index finger 13 mm back from the shutter release button to engage with the Scroll Wheel.
2. Turn the Scroll Wheel while watching Aperture and Shutter Speed readouts in the data strip below the image.
|Photo 3, i-Fn Data Display|
3. Return index finger to shutter release button and press to capture.
Now here is the sequence required to adjust Aperture using i-Function.
1. Release the left hand from normal operating position, search by feel for the i-Fn button with the left thumb. Note this button is much more difficult to find in Portrait orientation and requires an awkward position of the left hand.
2. Press the i-Fn button 1-5 times depending on the number of functions allocated to i-Fn and the order in which they appear on the information ribbon.
3. Move the left hand again (some lenses require more movement than others) until the focus ring is located by feel.
4. Move the focus ring while observing the readings on the data ribbon. Note that when changing any parameter by i-Fn the standard data display of Aperture, Shutter Speed and Exposure Compensation status, is obscured, preventing observation of the effect of changing one parameter on the others. Note also the i-Fn display presents a completely different cognitive experience (the appearance of a horizontally moving ribbon) to the standard data readout (Aperture and Shutter Speed readouts stay in one place, changing in value, with a coloured background indicating the currently active parameter). Either arrangement works but switching back and forth between the two is disorienting.
|Photo 4A Normal Hold|
5. Half press the shutter release button to confirm the setting and return to normal operating mode.
Summary of action analysis I could describe the steps required to alter each of the variable parameters able to be changed using i-Function, but there is little to be gained by so doing. The process is very similar for each. Adjustment of ISO and WB the standard way requires a button press before rotating the Scroll Wheel.
|Photo 4B Thumb on i-Fn|
Conclusion In every case, when compared to the standard operating method, adjusting a parameter with i-Function takes longer, requires more steps, requires more finger movements and obscures camera status data during the process.
All of which leads to the obvious question: What was Samsung trying to achieve with i-Function ? As a consumer, I have no idea what Samsung's product development team were thinking. However perhaps we can get a clue from the way i-Function is used in Samsung's promotional and marketing material.
These quotes from Samsung website material on 1 June 2012 are representative: "Touch one button. Change everything". "The i-Function lens just made conventional cameras obsolete". "One step control of Shutter Speed (Aperture, WB ...etc)".
|Photo 4C Rotate Focus Ring|
Clearly the marketing people want you to believe that i-Function is a wonderful new thing which somehow changes everything and makes conventional cameras obsolete.
One of the claims made for i-Fn is incorrect as to fact. That is the "One Step Control" claim. I suppose one could have a futile debate about the precise definition of a "Step", but on my evaluation the minimum required for an i-Fn adjustment is 3 steps, with several requiring more.
|Photo 4D Vertical hold|
My guess is that Samsung marketing wanted a unique selling proposition (USP) for the NX series and somehow came up with the i-Function idea. Unique it may be and selling point it may be but when subjected to ergonomic analysis it becomes very clear that if the camera is used for the purpose of making photographs (as opposed to just experimenting with the controls) then i-Fn adds nothing useful to the user experience.
Photo 1, Prepare Phase UIM's This shows a set of switches on the barrel of a lens. They operate functions required in the Prepare Phase of use. Zoom and Focus in the Capture Phase are operated by wide circumferential rings. This lens is a good example of optimal UIM design and location.
Photo 2, Standard Display This shows the well designed, easy to read, standard Samsung data display. Here Aperture is showing as active. When altered the effect on Shutter Speed is immediately apparent.
Photo 3, i-Fn data display This obscures the standard display and prevents the operator from monitoring Shutter Speed while Aperture is changed. In addition it presents a cognitive experience which is completely different from the standard display and a distraction from the process of making photographs.
Photos 4 A-C This sequence of three photos shows the process of using i-Fn with the 50-200 mm lens. 4A shows the left hand in standard "Hand Under" position. 4B shows that in order to activate i-Fn the left thumb has to move back 40 mm to find the I-Fn button. The button has a low vertical profile to prevent accidental activation but this makes it difficult to locate by feel. 4C shows that in order to change a setting the left hand must now move forward 65 mm to reach the focus ring.
I actually prefer the "Hand Over" grip with this lens which makes using i-Function almost impossible.
Photo 4 D
Shows the camera in portrait orientation with the i-Fn button out of sight, difficult to reach with any finger and therefore almost impossible to use.
Ergonomic evaluation of the Canon EOS 60D
Not bad but not excellent
Author AndrewS June 2012
Introduction For many years my cameras of choice were Pentax SLR's starting with the Spotmatic. But Pentax was slow to embrace autofocus so in 1989 I switched to Canon EOS, starting with the 630. That was followed by the 10, 50E, 1V and 33V. In the digital era, I have owned and used the 20D, 40D, 450D and currently the 60D with a range of zoom lenses.
User level Looking at it's price point, specifications and features I rate the 60D as a camera intended for use by photographers at Level 4 (Expert/Controller, frequent use). This is not an entry level/snapshooter camera. Photo 1 shows the 60D basic hold.
Image Quality and Performance This is an ergonomic review but I will make brief reference to the other two pillars of camera evaluation. Image quality has been exhaustively analysed elsewhere. Suffice to say it is good enough for almost any photographic project. Performance is also very good in all respects except autofocus accuracy. I find that particularly at the wide end of zoom lenses, AF is erratic, sometimes focussing incorrectly even in good light. I have experienced this problem to some degree with every Canon EOS camera which I have owned.
Ergonomics There are four phases of camera use, Setup, Prepare, Capture and Review.
Setup Phasemostly involves selection of menu options. The 60D menus are well laid out and easy to navigate. Submenu options never occupy more than one screen so scrolling down in search of an option is not required. My Menu takes user allocated options for quick access. This is a much better arrangement than some other cameras which automatically shift recently used items to the My Menu screen. Compared to some other cameras, the 60D's menus are a model of clarity.
AF Mode, Drive Mode and Metering Mode are adjusted by the Press Button>Scroll Wheel>View LCD Panel method.
This gets the job done but Set and See Dials/Levers
use fewer actions and can be set without having to switch the camera on. Other parameters are adjusted via the Q Menu. This also gets the job done but a more streamlined interface would be possible if each item in the Q Menu could be user set.
Capture Phase The three main descriptors of ergonomics in this Phase are Holding, Viewing and Operating.
Holding The 60D is a nice camera to hold. It is a good size for average adult human hands. It has a well shaped handle and thumb rest. It conforms to the hand much better than many smaller DSLR's and Compact System Cameras.
Viewing Both the eye level viewfinder and the monitor screen are clear and bright, giving an excellent view of the subject. Camera status indicators are clearly visible in either viewing mode. The only downside of the viewing arrangements on this camera are those inherent in the DSLR concept, namely that eye level viewing and monitor (Live) viewing are separate user interfaces with a different AF system and different presentation of camera status data. This arrangement is not bad. However mirrorless (or Sony SLT) cameras offer a seamless segue from eye level to monitor viewing.
Operating For the Level 4 photographer who wants to take control of camera functions in the Capture Phase, there is a substantial task list to be completed in a few seconds. The specific items on the list will vary somewhat with individual preference, but deliberative practice will typically include the following:
* Hold camera steady with both hands, without changing grip.
* View subject in the viewfinder without interruption, compose, zoom.
* Shift active AF area if required, or center focus and recompose, or AE + AEL, or AF + AFL.
* Adjust Aperture in A Mode, or Shutter Speed in S Mode, or Program Shift in P mode, or Aperture + Shutter Speed in M Mode.
* Adjust ISO.
* Adjust Exposure Compensation if required.
* AF or MF > AE > Capture.
Let us analyse how the 60D goes about completing this task list.
The left hand is busy supporting the mass of the lens plus zooming and manual focussing if required.
The right thumb has to play an important part in gripping the camera but also has carriage of three Capture Phase tasks.
1. Start/lock AF with the AF-ON button. This button is just about perfectly placed on the 60D, making back button AF start/lock a smooth operation. I would prefer the button to be slightly more prominent to make it easier to operate without having to flex the interphalangeal joint, but it works well enough as is.
2. Shift active AF area. This task is allocated to the 8 Way Controller. To engage with the 8 Way Controller the thumb has to drop down 50 mm from base hold position. In order to do this the right hand has to release it's grip on the camera, forcing the left hand to take the full mass of the camera and disrupting the Capture Phase work flow. It is also difficult to reliably hit the exact spot on the controller required to select intermediate AF sensor positions.
3. Exposure Compensation is allocated to the rear/lower scroll wheel, access to which requires the same actions as described above.
These arrangements for shifting active AF area and Exposure Compensation get the job done. Ergonomically the process is not bad but it could be upgraded to excellent with some minor changes to the user interface.
This camera has plenty of space for a JOG Lever, the optimum location for which is indicated by the white X in Photo 2. The existing buttons would have to be slightly relocated. The thumb has only to move 12 mm to the left, by side to side movement at the carpo metacarpal joint to engage with and operate the JOG Lever. This is the ideal user interface for shifting active AF point. The JOG Lever can also make itself useful for scrolling around items in Setup, Prepare and Review Phases of use.
Exposure Compensation can be moved up to the index finger's operational zone, as described below.
Now let us examine the role of the right index finger in Capture Phase.
On the 60D
the index finger operates the Shutter Release Button, the Mode Dependent Scroll Wheel and the ISO button.
The layout is shown in Photo 3.
But there are several ergonomic problems with this arrangement.
* The horizontal distance from the center of the Shutter Release Button to the center of the ISO button is 27 mm. This is a stretch too far for many people whose metacarpo phalangeal joint may have just average flexibility for side to side movement.
* ISO is a Primary Exposure Parameter, which should be easily adjustable in the Capture Phase of use. But the ISO button is in the middle of a row of identically shaped (apart from a tiny little nipple on the ISO button) and sized buttons, the other three of which are allocated to Prepare Phase actions.
* The consequence of these arrangements is that when using this camera I cannot reliably find
the ISO button by touch. My hands are 69 years old, like the rest of me, but they are in good working order, free from arthritis and degenerative disorders. If I can't do it, there will be plenty of other people in the same situation. As a result adjusting ISO goes back to being a Prepare Phase action, requiring the camera to be lowered from the eye and the ISO button located by sight. This is not the end of the world, it just means that the process of making photos has to be interrupted to change ISO. Ergonomically, it's not bad but not optimal either.
This camera has plenty of space to fit a much more efficient layout of User Interface Modules for use by the right index finger. One option is the Quad Module system which could be implemented in any of several different ways, but one which fits the projecting handle design of the 60D is shown in Photo 4. This system allows the index finger to rapidly control the primary exposure parameters (Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO), the secondary exposure parameter (Exposure Compensation), AF if desired, AE and Capture, all with minimal physical movement, without disrupting view or grip. There is a division of labour between the thumb and index finger with the thumb having control of AF if desired and focus area position.
I like to use the sports car analogy when thinking about camera ergonomics. For optimum speed and accuracy of operation without the driver having to think about each separate action, the accelerator, brake and clutch pedals have to be at the same height and close to each other, but not too close.
The UIM's in Photo 4 are placed with a similar concept in mind. They are at the same height so the finger can move directly from one to the other and they are close, but not too close. I spent a lot of time relocating UIM's on mockups to arrive at the disposition shown here. The horizontal distance from the center of the Shutter Release Button to the center of either the ISO or EV Buttons is 21 mm, an easy reach for most people. These two buttons have a different shape and feel so they are easily located by touch. In a working camera their functions should be user selectable from a wide range of options. There are plenty of photographers who would want to use these buttons for different purposes.
Photo 5 shows another version of the Quad Module system on a Sony camera. In this case we see a good idea poorly executed, with excessive distance between the Scroll Wheel and the other Modules which are also at a different height and in a different plane.
shows another version of the Quad Module system on a mockup with Parallel Handle,
with the UIM's laid out in a fashion which suits the handle design.
Summary I have been using Canon's mid range SLR's and DSLR's for many years. Apart from chronic autofocus accuracy problems they have all functioned reasonably well. The thing which I am not seeing is evolving improvements to the user interface, in other words, ergonomics. There are changes, the monitors grow and acquire swivel. The buttons move around, mostly to allow the larger monitors. But the process of controlling the camera in Capture Mode has not improved. In fact, in some respects such as the loss of the JOG lever, it has gone backwards.
If Canon revised the user interface of the 60D in the ways which I have suggested the experience of operating this camera could improve from "Not Bad" to "Excellent". There would be no cost penalty. Good ergonomics costs no more than poor ergonomics. Poorly located UIM's cost just as much as well located ones.
WHAT SHALL WE CALL THEM ?
An opinion piece on naming camera types
Author AndrewS August 2012
Introduction On 12 September 2008, Panasonic announced the Lumix G1. This was the first model of a new type of camera which allowed interchangeable lenses but eliminated the reflex mirror, prism and optical viwefinder of a DSLR.
|Ideal Design ILC Mockup|
As I write this there have been 49 cameras of this type released or announced with all the major camera makers having one or more models.
Despite this major investment and product rollout, there has been no general agreement as to what these new style cameras should be called.
Brief history of camera types and names In the early days of photography a camera was a large device supported by a solid tripod. The operator put a dark cloth over his (it was mosly his, the ladies presumably having more sensible things to do) head and directly viewed a left/right, up/down inverted image of the subject on a ground glass screen. Hence the name "View Camera". Photography was democratised with Kodak's invention of the "Box Camera" thus named for obvious reasons. In due course Leica invented the "Miniature" camera which used perforated 35mm movie film. In due course the Leica acquired a "messsucher" or rangefinder and the Rangefinder Camera was born. Then came the Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) type where you viewed the subject through one lens and exposed film with a second lens. The word "reflex" referred to the angled mirror located in the optical path of the viewing lens. Then came the Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera in which a flipping mirror enabled viewing and image capture through a single, interchangeable lens. In the film era there were many small cameras with a fixed lens usually referred to as "Compact".
In the digital era we still have compact cameras in abundant numbers. Some of these have a long zoom lens and are referred to as "Travel Zoom". Some go one step further by adding an electronic fiewfinder and an even longer zoom, hence the name "Superzoom".
The SLR has become a Digital SLR (DSLR) and Leica still makes it's Messsucherkamera (M type), albeit with a digital sensor.
The new camera type
So now we come to the new camera type, and review some of the names it has been called, in no particular order.
EVIL Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens: Apart from the obvious problem that no maker is going to refer to it's product as "evil" most of these cameras do not have an electronic viewfinder, at least not one you can put to the eye.
MILC Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera: This terminology is frequently used by dpreview.com but written out in full and not abbreviated to MILC. Maybe they think the image of "Milk" does not fit well with an electronic device. The name seeks to describe a device by reference to a feature which it does not posess, namely a reflex mirror. This has probably been useful in the early days of the new type, to distinguish it from the DSLR which was the dominant interchangeable lens camera type in 2008 and still is in 2012, but that is changing. I see two problems with this name as time goes on and the electronic camera market matures. First, cameras which do have a reflex mirror are already identified (TLR, SLR, DSLR , SLT) so it is redundant to keep on referring to those without a mirror as "Mirrorless". Nobody today refers to the motor vehicle as "Horseless". Second, I believe (and if their new product rollout is any guide, so do the camera makers) that in a few years the interchangeable lens camera domain will be dominated numerically by mirrorless devices, which will become the new standard configuration for consumer level cameras.
CSC Compact System Camera: The Technical Image Press Association (TIPA) has been promoting this name with some success and Canon has described it's new EOS-M camera as a CSC. However there are difficulties with the CSC name. First, the term "compact" is already in general use to describe cameras with a fixed, non interchangeable lens. Second, "compactness" is an undefinable concept dependent on individual expectations about camera size. Third, the size of the new style camera is a consequential benefit (or curse, if you don't like very small cameras) of the technology inside the camera, not a fundamental attribute of the concept. Fourth, the idea of a camera "system" is also undefined and subject to differing interpretation.
MSC Mirrorless System Camera: The New York photo vendor B&H uses this terminology, presumably for practical reasons as it helps customers find their way through the extensive catalogue on offer. I can see how this makes sense for the time being but in the longer run MSC has the same problems as MILC and CSC.
DSLM Digital Single Lens Mirrorless: Panasonic has started promoting this name with the introduction of it's Lumix G5 camera in August 2012. To my mind it is the least useful name which I have yet encountered. In a world where 98% (I don't know the exact percentage) of cameras are digital it is pointless referring to this attribute. The "Single Lens" designation was invented over 50 years ago to distinguish the SLR from the TLR, a pointless reference given the absence of TLR's in today's market. My objections to the term "mirrorless" have already been made.
So what name is best ? I think that right now now and anticipating the evolution of camera types, the name which makes most sense to me is, simply, Interchangeable Lens Camera. (ILC).
This acknowleges that there are two main camera types, those with fixed lenses and those with interchangeable lenses. It anticipates continued growth of "mirrorless" types as a percentage of the interchangeable lens category. It incorporates the value of looking forward rather than backwards. It acknowleges that cameras with some type of reflex mirror are already clearly identified. It does not burden the name with redundant, outdated or unecessary descriptors.
Footnote I was looking at the Panasonic USA website recently and noted that Panasonic appears to be having a three way bet on the naming question. As the company was in the process of promoting the DSLM name in Europe, the USA website listed Lumix G cameras as both Compact System Cameras (CSC) and also Interchangeable Lens Cameras (ILC).
Appendix: ILC's released or announced as at 10 August 2012
In alphabetical order:
X-Pro 1; Leica
M8, M9 and variants; Nikon
J1, J2, V1; Olympus
EP1, EP2, EP3, EPL1, EPL2, EPL3, EPM1, OMD-EM5; Panasonic
G1, G2, G3, G10, G5, GH1, GH2, GF1, GF2, GF3, GF5, GX1; Pentax
Q, K-01; Ricoh
GXR with 5 lensor units and one lens mount module; Samsung
NX 10, 5, 11, 20, 200, 210, 1000; Sony
3, C3, F3, 5, 5N, 7.
Panasonic 7-14 mm vs Olympus 9-18 mm Using Panasonic GH2 and Olympus EM5
Author AndrewS August 2012
|Left to right: Panasonic 14-45mm, Panasonic 7-14mm, Olympus 9-18mm, Olympus 12-50mm.|
Introduction The Micro Four Thirds system is growing strongly partly due to the number and quality of lenses available. Panasonic and Olympus have taken a quite different approach to the design brief for a super wide angle zoom leading to an interesting comparison. My experience over many years has been that standard test procedures using charts in controlled conditions only tell half the story about lens performance. So I bought both lenses and both the GH2 and EM5 camera bodies for comparison and testing over a period of two months and many hundreds of photographs in a wide variety of conditions, including test charts and real world situations.
|On the left Olympus EM5 with 9-18mm extended for use. On the right Panasonic GH2 with 7-14mm.|
Panasonic-Olympus lens-body compatibility My understanding of the M43 concept is that in principle all lenses conforming to the standard would be compatible and work properly on all bodies. However in practice this is not entirely the case. To help myself understand this matter more clearly I have somewhat arbitrarily defined three levels of lens/body compatibility:
Level 1 covers the primary exposure parameters of ISO, Shutter Speed and Lens Aperture. This level also includes autofocus performance and reliability.
Level 2 deals with in camera correction of chromatic aberration and possibly other aberrations, corner shading correction and distortion correction. Panasonic cameras correct distortion and CA but not necessarily shading in RAW and JPG files but only with Panasonic lenses. Olympus cameras do not correct CA with either Olympus or Panasonic lenses. They may correct distortion to some extent with some lenses.
Level 3 includes a range of issues such as banding with certain body/lens combinations, electronic lockups and any other unexpected faults, failures or performance issues resulting from mixing maufacturers.
My testing has shown that lens-body compatibility issues are a major factor in the overall performance and functional reliability of each lens. Compatibility issues can, and in my experience do, occur at each of the three levels.
|Treillage, Panasonic 7-14mm on GH2|
Note on sample variation My experience and reading indicates significant sample variation in both lenses and bodies. The findings reported here are valid for the particular samples which landed in my posession and may not be replicated exactly with other samples. However both lenses and bodies tested appear to be good with no obvious faults or defects. The only issue I noted is slight decentering of the Olympus 9-18mm lens as evidenced by slightly more softness in the top corners than the bottom corners in landscape orientation at the wide end.
Design philosophy You can see at a glance that the Panasonic and Olympus designers have taken a completely different approach to the SWA lens concept. The Panasonic goes for the highest possible optical performance while the Olympus achieves an astoundingly compact form. I think both succeed rather brilliantly but their success lies in different aspects of the performance spectrum so they are somewhat difficult to compare directly.
|Strand Arcade Sydney Olympus EM5 with Panasonic 7-14mm|
Specifications You can read all the details elsewhere but in summary the main points are:
Zoom Range: Both are 2x zooms but they have a different focal length range. If you have not used a SWA lens before, you might not think there would be much difference between 7 and 9 mm at the wide end, but in practice the difference is very noticeable indeed, moving the Panasonic 7-14mm lens into Ultra Wide Angle territory, capable of extreme perspectives and requiring considerable care with composition. The other thing to bear in mind is that the 9-18mm range of the Olympus overlaps quite a bit with standard 12-50mm and 14-42mm zooms.
Collapsing Design: The Olympus collapses from 71mm long in operating configuration to 49mm for storage. The Panasonic is 83mm long including the fixed petal hood.
Nominal Cylinder Volume: This is length x Pi x (half max diameter) squared, approximately representing the space which the lens will require in a camera bag. With front and rear caps in place the Panasonic measures 9.3 x 7.2 cm giving a Nominal Cylinder Volume of 380cc. The Olympus, again with front and rear caps in place and in collapsed configuration is 6.2 x 5.5 cm for a volume of 147cc. So the Olympus nominal volume is 38% of the Panasonic. The Panasonic is by no means a big lens, indeed it is diminutive compared to SWA lenses for APS-C and Full Frame sensors. But the Olympus is even smaller when collapsed, a remarkable feat of optical engineering. It can be tucked into an otherwise unused corner of a camera bag or nestled below or on top of another lens, taking up very little space.
Filter: With it's large dome shaped front element partly protected by a built in petal shaped lens hood, the Panasonic cannot accept a filter. I would think carefully about exposing this lens to salt spray or heavy dust. The Olympus somehow manages to enable a standard 52mm filter to be fitted, it doesn't even need an ultra slim type.
Mechanical operation Both lenses zoom smoothly and feel well made. Both change length with zooming but on the Pansonic this occurs inside the fixed lens hood. Presumably the Panasonic/Olympus coordination committee was having a picnic day when someone designed the zoom action because they turn the opposite way !!! When mixing and matching between Olympus and Panasonic lenses I constantly find myself zooming the wrong way as a result.
The collapsing function on the Olympus is easy and smooth to operate, with a lock button.
Autofocus Performance and Reliability I made several hundred photos using a wide variety of subjects and lighting conditions, using each lens on each camera. I kept notes along the way. In summary the rate of focus error was lowest with brand matched lens/body pairing. The Pana 7-14 on EM5 was quite prone to focus errors, especially in conditions with low light level and/or low subject brightness range. Sometimes the camera signalled difficulty finding focus but at other times it indicated focus acquired when that was not the case. Subjects with numerous glowing light sources in frame were a particular problem. This appears to be an issue for contrast detect AF systems as I have encountered it with the Samsung NX10/11 which usually have highly reliable AF, and seen the issue reported with Sony NEX cameras. The photograph of Strand Arcade made with the Pana 7-14 on EM5 produced several misfocussed frames.
Manual Focus (No focus by scale) No problems were experienced with manual focus using AF+MF or MF, both with MF assist. My ongoing complaint with M43 and all mirrorless ILC's to date is they lack any kind of facility for manually setting a chosen distance by scale. I don't understand why this is not provided as an on screen readout since the camera presumably "knows" what is the focussed distance set by the lens at any time. If this facility were available I would use it almost all the time with Wide and Superwide angle lenses which are ideally suited to prefocussing at the hyperfocal distance.
|Olympus 9-18mm on EM5 100% crop from corner|
Resolution: Both lenses deliver very high resolution in the central image area, with little discernible difference between them at any comparable focal length or aperture. In the central area virtually maximum resolution is delivered at the widest aperture available. The story is different at the edges and even more so in the corners. Here the Pana 7-14 shows clearly better resolution at all apertures and focal lengths. Stopping down provides slight benefit for the Oly 9-18 but makes little discernible difference with the Pana 7-14.
|Panasonic 7-14mm on GH2 100% crop from corner|
Contrast: The Pana 7-14 holds local contrast well, right into the corners, but the Oly 9-18 suffers from loss of contrast towards the corners.
Flare, General, Local, purple: As with most super wide lenses, direct sun on the front element of either lens will produce a variety of unwelcome flare patterns. The Oly 9-18 is prone to local flare towards the corners particularly with subjects having a high brightness range. In these conditions there is considerable local image degradation due to light flaring from bright subject areas into dark areas. The Pana7-14 is subject to a curious phenomenon which I have only encountered on the EM5 thus far. This is one or more large areas of soft purple flaring in the vicinity of bright light sources in the frame. This has been reported on the dpreview m43 user forum. I am not aware of a cure for this problem.
Chromatic Aberration: This is clearly present toward the corners with both lenses. It is corrected in camera with the Pana7-14 on Panasonic cameras but not corrected in the other lens/body combinations. It can easily be eliminated in ACR 7.1 or LR4.1.
Purple Fringing: This can be very prominent towards the corners with both lenses and is corrected in camera, sometimes incompletely depending on the subject, with the Pana7-14 on Panasonic camera. Purple fringing can generally be eliminated or at least greatly reduced by judicious use of the control sliders in ACR7.1 or LR4.1.
Drawing (geometric distortion): The Pana 7-14 on Panasonic cameras produces partly corrected barrel distortion at the wide end and incompletely corrected pincushion distortion at the long end. The Oly 9-18 on EM5 shows more obvious barrel distortion at the wide end and just the slightest trace of barrel distortion at the long end. In each case the distortion pattern is evenly circular (not moustache type) and easily corrected in ACR 7.1 or LR 4.1.
Optical Performance Summary In a broad central area of the frame both deliver excellent performance, with little to choose between them. Towards the edges and corners the Pana 7-14 has a clear advantage. So overall the Panasonic has the best optical performance and is a stop faster at the long end as well. The actual level of resolution achievable by both lenses is extremely high, enabling images containg a remarkable amount of fine detail.
Conclusion: Two lenses, Two winners
Each of these lenses has clearly been designed to optimise a different range of characteristics and capabilities and each succeeds resoundingly. Your buying decision will depend on which are most important for your own requirements.
AN ERGONOMIC REVIEW OF THE SAMSUNG NX20 CAMERA
Contender or Pretender ?
Moving forwards or slipping backwards ?
Author AndrewS September 2012
Introduction After many years using SLR's then DSLR's as my main cameras I bought my first (mirrorless) interchangeable lens camera, a Panasonic G1, in 2009. I was not pleased with the G1's ergonomics so in 2010 I bought a Samsung NX10 which provided a nicer handle and a more user friendly control layout. I used the NX10 later followed by the NX11 (a very mild upgrade) for the next 2 years with a variety of Samsung NX prime and zoom lenses. I made thousands of photos with these cameras which proved very reliable and user friendly. However Samsung's image quality, EVF and performance failed to keep up with advances made by Panasonic and Olympus in the Micro Four Thirds group, Sony NEX and other manufacturers. So I switched back to M43 in the form of Panasonic GH2 then Olympus EM5 and a selection of zoom lenses. Then the Samsung NX 20 became available in Australia at a realistic price so I bought one, along with the NX 18-55 mm kit zoom, NX 50-200 mm tele zoom and an NX16 mm f2.4. While testing the NX20 I was able to compare it with my experience of the NX10/11 and side by side with the Panasonic GH2 and Olympus EM5.
Market Position and buyer expectations Samsung is marketing, to the extent the imaging division does any marketing in Australia, the NX20 as their "Premium" interchangeable lens camera. As such I think potential buyers would expect it to have a level of image quality, performance and ergonomics at least equivalent to premium ILC's from other brands.
Target User Group The NX20 has specifications (like the 20 mpx sensor, RAW capture, EVF and swing out monitor) which might appeal to the "Expert/Controller" experienced photographer but also has features (like wi-fi, smart filters and selective color) which might appeal to the broader, snapshooting, smart phone savvy group. The risk for a camera seeking to appeal to many is that it may satisfy none.
This is an ergonomic review so I will concentrate on ergonomics and issues relating to the user experience. However brief comment about image quality is appropriate as this too, affects the user's engagement with the camera.
You can read elsewhere all the details about specifications and features. I have not tested video peformance for this review. Neither did I attempt to use the Wi-Fi feature, although I wonder how useful it would be with the 33-34 MB RAW files which this camera produces.
Resolution is potentially very high, even extremely high according to some reports. But top grade lenses are required for full realisation of that potential. Unfortunately only one of the lenses I tested (the 18-55 mm kit zoom) came close to revealing the sensor's resolution potential and then only in the central area of the frame at some focal lengths.
Noise Uncorrected RAW noise levels (straight off ACR 7.1 at default settings) up to ISO 3200 were slightly less than the GH2 and slightly more than the EM5. At ISO 6400 the NX20 gives you the option of very high noise levels (with hi ISO NR off) or mushy JPEG like images (with Hi ISO NR on). Neither appeals. This camera's characteristic tone curve is relevant to it's noise performance. I shot hundreds of photos of a variety of subjects using the NX20, GH2 and EM5 side by side. The EM5 typically delivers lighter mid tones than the other two cameras. The NX20 files often produce a histogram skewed to the left. These dark tones have to be pulled up with the sliders in ACR/LR. The problem is that most of the noise resides in those dark tones so pulling them to the right increases the overall appearance of noise to the detriment of image quality.
JPG images show signs of overprocessing with smearing of details and watercolor effect at higher ISO levels.
Dynamic Range My somewhat informal but practical method of testing DR is to photograph a set scene with high subject brightness range and check how well detail is revealed in highlights and shadows. This test ranked the EM5 best followed by the GH2 then NX20. I lack the technical expertise to put a number on DR but DXO rates the GH2 at 11.3 stops, so the NX20 appears to deliver less than that.
Note that I am comparing the NX20 which has an APS-C (28mm diagonal) sensor to two M43 cameras each having a 21.5 mm diagonal sensor. One (the GH2) is 2 years old and about to be replaced. The NX20 with it's larger sensor should easily beat the M43 cams on all measures of image quality but does so only for resolution.
Speed: Samsung's very first ILC, the NX10, was slow to write data to the memory card. I coped with this because I wasn't in a hurry most of the time. But I did miss the ability to snap off a series of shots in quick succession or follow focus a moving subject. Several firmware updates improved matters slightly but successive NX cams steadily fell behind M43 in overall operating speed. The NX20 is Samsung's eighth NX camera. One might reasonably expect the world's biggest electronics mega corporation to have fixed this pesky little problem by now. Unfortunately the NX20 runs just like my NX10 with the initial firmware. AF is slower than that on M43. Changing settings such as ISO brings up pretty screens and funky noises but is laggy compared to the M43 cams. But the main problem is writing to the memory card. My tests show that using RAW capture with image review turned off and a Sandisk Extreme Pro 95 MB/sec card the following are the shortest shot to shot times I could achieve, with AF and preview between each shot.
Shot 1>shot 2 = 0.3 sec. Shot 2>shot3 = 3 sec. Shot 3>shot 4 =4 sec. Shot 4>shot 5 =5 sec. It takes 17 seconds to make 6 consecutive shots and for most of those 17 seconds one is staring at a blank screen waiting for the cam to get on with it's job. The processing light continues to blink for a further 6 seconds during which time if you dare to try and adjust anything you will get the dreaded "Processing" message. By way of comparison the GH2 can make 6 shots in 3 seconds.
The NX20 is advertised as being able to make 8 shots per second but that is only possible if you don't want AF or preview between each frame. The camera will make 8 RAW photos this way then put up the "Processing" sign for the next 30 seconds.
Continuous AF with Continuous Drive produces 6 frames in 6 seconds with image quality set to JPG Large Fine. The Olympus EM5 can run at 3.3 frames per second with the same image size and quality and keep focus on moving cars in the process.
Autofocus: In Single Shot drive, Single AF, Selection AF, autofocus is accurate and reliable in a wide range of conditions. My NX10 and 11 went for almost two years and many thousands of exposures with an AF misfocus rate of less than 1%. If the NX20 uses the same technology I imagine it will be equally reliable. It operates at a decent speed although not quite as fast as the latest M43 cams. The active AF area can be easily shifted around the frame. Continuous AF with continuous drive is best forgotten. This cam's overall operating speed is way too slow for continuous AF to operate usefully.
Auto ISO: This is poorly implemented. The camera routinely sets an ISO and therefore shutter speed too slow for the focal length in use. The camera "knows" this because it puts up the shutter shake warning hand but fails to take the obvious next step and shift the ISO up to a higher level. This is particularly frustrating because other cams regularly get it right.
Ergonomics I will review this using my standard headings for the four phases of camera use and the three main tasks of Capture Phase. For further explanation about this please refer to my discussion under multiple headings elsewhere on this blog.
Setup Phase This mainly involves making settings in a main menu. Samsung's menu system is a model of clarity which other makers might do well to copy. It has (almost) enough options to do the job and is clearly laid out with no need ever to scroll down more than one page. Menus and submenus are clearly displayed. The lack of a "My Menu" heading for frequently used items is disappointing.
Prepare Phase Adjustments in this phase are made by a combination of hard modules (buttons, dials, scroll wheels) and the Fn screen. The Mode dial is of standard configuration and works well. The combination 4 way controller with rear dial is one of the best I have encountered. It is of rocking saucer design with a sharply defined circumference making it easy to find and operate by feel, without having to look at the module. It is a vast improvement on the Panasonic "five button" arrangement used on the GH2. There are two buttons on the top plate, just behind the scroll wheel . One goes to Metering Pattern and cannot be reassigned. If you don't change metering pattern often this becomes a wasted button sitting on a high value piece of camera real estate. The same comments apply to the adjacent green button. This is a carry over from the days when Samsung shared a DSLR platform with Pentax. It is a kind of universal reset button the function of which cannot be user reassigned. I use it to recenter the active AF area in Capture Phase but it is difficult to locate by feel so I end up having to take the camera down from my eye to locate the button visually.
The Fn screen is one of the best I have seen on any camera. It is very clear, easy to navigate and use. But OIS is missing from the Fn screen and can only be found in the main menu. When Samsung put their iFn button on the lens barrels, they removed the OIS on/off switch and failed to provide an alternative quick portal of access to this control. The iFn button cannot be configured as a quick OIS on/off control either.
Capture Phase, Viewing Viewing arrangements on the NX20 are generally good. The monitor is of the versatile swing and swivel type and provides a clear, sharp view of the subject. The EVF is big improvement over that on the NX10/11, providing a clear sharp view with good shadow detail. Colors tend to be a little desaturated. Key camera data are displayed clearly beneath the image preview in both the monitor and EVF. The only way to identify blown highlights in preview and review is the histogram, which is not always easy to read clearly. The only real problem with viewing is the excessive (compared to the latest M43 cams) blackout time after each exposure. The EVF eyepiece is reasonably well shaped to fit the anatomical curve of the orbit in landscape or portrait orientation, but a rubber eyecup would make viewing more comfortable.
Capture Phase, Holding The NX 20 has an integral handle of the parallel type which I have found to be optimal for a camera of this size. (please refer to my discussions elsewhere on this blog) There is a thumbrest of adequate size. This is a more natural and comfortable arrangement than the "projecting handle with shutter button perched on the end" which you find on the Panasonic G1/2 GH1/2. So far, so good. However the spatial dynamics of handles and holding are subtle. When Samsung changed from the NX10/11 shape to the NX20 shape they altered several key ergonomic dimensions. The swing monitor takes up more width, leaving less width for the "control panel" area on the right side. In addition the designers chose, for reasons known only to themselves, to lower the shoulder height of the camera body and to alter the contour of the handle. People with small hands might find the new design an improvement, but my average sized adult male hands find the NX20 slightly less comfortable to hold than the NX10. In addition the horizontal distance between the center of the shutter button and the top scroll wheel has gone from 13 to 14 mm. Insignificant, you might think but the sum total of these changes in my hands leads to a slightly more awkward user interface.
Capture Phase, Operating Operation is generally straightforward with no dramatic faults. Both scroll wheels are readily located by feel and work well. Most actions in Capture Phase including change position and size of AF area, can be carried out by touch while viewing through the EVF. There are a few things which could be improved however. There are two buttons which are difficult to operate when you want them but easy to bump accidentally. One is the new red (video) button sitting under the right thumb. This is inset with a raised lip surrounding the button, presumably to prevent accidental activation. But some reviewers (not me) report they did bump it inadvertently yet it requires a firm push with the interphalangeal joint flexed to make it work on demand. The red button does not allow user reassignment of function. I would prefer this button to be moved 10mm to the left so the thumb is not sitting on it in the basic hold position. It could be made slightly more prominent thus easier to activate when required and allow user selected configuration from a wide range of options for those who do not routinely use video. I would use it for AF start/lock. The other problem button is the AEL button situated on the thumbrest. This is in exactly the same place as it was on the NX10 and has the same problems. I find I constantly activate this while carrying the camera in my right hand because my thumb lies right over the button. But when I want to use it in the Capture Phase it can only be reached by releasing grip with the right hand, taking the cam down from the eye and locating the button visually. The camera would be better served if this button were deleted altogether and it's functions made assignable to a button on the top plate. Good ergonomic practice strongly indicates that camera makers should not place buttons in this location.
iFunction: I am entirely underwhelmed by Samsung iFunction which I discuss in detail on another post on this blog.
Review Phase Image review facilities are very good. It is easy to jump from one enlarged image to the next with the rear scroll wheel.
Lenses Over the last two years I have bought and used a total of 12 Samsung NX lenses as follows:
16mm f2.4 (1), 20mm f2.8 (2), 30mm f2 (1), 20-50mm (1), 18-55mm OIS (3), 50-200mm OIS (4). Three of these were purchased new with the NX20, the 16mm, 18-55mm Mk3, and 50-200mm Mk2, all with iFunction. Readers please be advised that there is considerable sample variation between lenses. You may find yourself in posession of one which is better or worse than those which I have tested.
16mm f2.4: My copy of this lens delivered mediocre performance at all apertures with resolution lower than the not very exciting 18-55mm kit zoom.
20mm f2.8: My first copy of this was soft at all apertures with severe flare against the light. The second copy was decently sharp in the frame center but still had the flare problem.
30mm f2: This was the best NX lens I have owned with near perfect performance at all apertures.
20-50mm (non OIS): This came with a NX100 body. My copy was a decent kit lens, quite sharp at the wide end, less so at the long end.
18-55mm OIS: I have had three of these. The first was a Mark 1 with plastic mount, without iFn. It delivered a very decent performance at the wide and middle section of the zoom range, going a bit soft at the long end. The second, a Mark 2 with iFn was the best with good performance across the full range of focal lengths and apertures. The third one was a Mark 3 with metal mount and the worst performance of the three. It had a rough zoom action and a peculiar distribution of resolution. It was sharpest at the wide end but with strange soft sectors in the frame the like of which I have not seen in a lens before. Soft corners. The long end delivered good resolution on the test chart (close up) but gave very soft pix of more distant subjects at all apertures.
50-200mm OIS: I bought and used four of these in an unsuccessful effort to find one with good mechanical and optical performance. The first one (Mark 1) had a sticky zoom but was decent optically especially at the short end where it was excellent. The second and third were Mark2 's with a nice smooth zoom action but mediocre optical performance especially at the long end. Number four, also a Mark2 was the worst. The zoom action felt stiff with flexing of the outer barrel of the lens and excessive free play. Optically it was soft on the right side at 50mm, soft on the left side at 100mm and soft all over at 200mm.
Summary of my experience with NX lenses I think that 12 lenses over two years is a sufficient basis for some conclusions. My experience indicates poor sample consistency since the start of the NX line, with a recent decline in mechanical and optical quality.
Memory Card: The NX10/11, GH2 and EM5 all locate the memory card behind a dedicated flap on the right side of the camera. But with the NX20 Samsung put the card in with the battery. Bad idea. Worse, the card sits very close to the opened battery cover making it awkward to remove. I have dropped the card many times as a result.
Caps: Samsung body and lens caps (the body cap is the worst) have bevelled edges, preventing the fingers from getting a proper grip on them. This makes them awkward to remove from the body, lens or each other.
Shoot without lens: The promotional material for the NX20 makes much of the camera's ability to shoot at 1/8000 of a second (something which I don't recall ever wanting to do) due to the availability of an electronic first shutter. I have "E Shutter" in the menu set to "on" but I can't work out if it operates with the most commonly used shutter speeds because the shutter will not fire without a lens. I do hear four distinct shuter sounds with the slower speeds indicating that E Shutter is probably not active at those speeds. Who cares? There is a phenomenon which I call "Shutter Shock Syndrome" (see my report about it on this blog) which does affect the NX cameras and which might be eliminated if E Shutter were available at all shutter speeds.
Conclusion At the start of this review I put two questions which the NX20 needs to answer.
1. Is the NX20 a contender for serious consideration by the expert/enthusiast photographer seeking high performance from a flagship camera and lens system ? In a word, no. The NX20 cannot match the latest offerings from M43 with regard to image quality, performance, ergonomics, lens selection or lens quality.
2. Does the NX20 move the NX system forwards or backwards, relative to it's competitors ? In my assessment, backwards. Samsung is gradually improving it's camera offerings (but not the lenses at present) but in piecemeal fashion so every time the NX cams move forward, the opposition has moved further.
Comment and opinion
I really don't understand why Samsung bothers with NX series cameras. They make about 200 million !!!!!
smart phones per year. Output of NX cameras last year has been reported at about 100,000 units which is 0.05% of the smartphone production.
Maybe Samsung wants to be
a player in every imaging sector.
The NX line at present is long on attributes which are secondary to the process of making good photos (cute looking bodies, special effects, funky colors, i-function, wi-fi) and short on imaging fundamentals (image quality, performance, lens quality). Samsung's latest camera releases, significantly branded "Galaxy" appear to be hybrid smart tablet/camera devices with an emphasis on connectivity. It would appear this is the way Samsung is headed with it's imaging products.
MICRO 4/3 SHUTTER SHOCK REVISITED
OMD-EM-5 with Olympus 12-50 mm and Olympus 75-300 mm lenses
Introduction In May this year I published on this Blog an article titled "Micro Four Thirds Shutter Shake Syndrome S.S.S." This described the problem with several Panasonic and Olympus lenses on a Panasonic GH2 camera. I subsequently bought and have been testing an Olympus OMD-EM5 camera with Olympus M Zuiko 12-50 mm and Olympus M Zuiko 75-300 mm lenses. I have also had time to consider the issue, which I now prefer to call "Shutter Shock" in more detail. The problem is not specific to the Micro Four Thirds sysyem but can or might be found in any mirrorless interchangeable lens camera if certain conditions are met.
The SLR and mirror slap Single Lens Reflex (SLR) and Digital SLR cameras have a mirror which, when the operator is using the eye level viewfinder, flips up just before each exposure. So the exposure sequence is Press shutter release button >Mirror flips up >Focal plane shutter opens > Sensor is exposed> Shutter closes >Mirror drops down. The flipping up mirror sends a shock wave through the camera which can and does cause blurred pictures. My tests recently with a Canon EOS 60D camera showed that exposures using shutter speeds around 1/4 - 1/8 second are the most affected by mirror slap. These shutter speeds are rarely used in hand held photography but they are often used with the camera on a tripod. The fix for mirror slap is Mirror Lockup. The fact that mirror lockup does fix the problem tells us that the disturbance caused by the shutter opening is generally not sufficient to cause blurred results in (D)SLR cameras.
Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras and Shutter Shock MILC's have no mirror therefore no mirror slap. Unfortunately they have a potentially more troublesome problem which I call Shutter Shock. In the case of a DSLR the focal plane shutter is closed at the start of an exposure sequence. But the shutter of an ILC is open until an exposure is made. The exposure sequence for most ILC's is Press shutter release button >Shutter closes >Shutter opens >Sensor is exposed>Shutter closes > Shutter opens. The first shutter close action, prior to the sensor being exposed, sends a shock wave through the camera and lens which can cause blurred pictures sometimes with double imaging. My tests and many user reports have identified a shutter speed range from 1/20 - 1/200 second as being affected. These shutter speeds are commonly used in hand held photography which is the reason shutter shock is potentially more troublesome than mirror slap. The actual risk of shutter shock and the exact shutter speed range affected vary considerably with camera and lens makes and models. By the way, the second shutter close/open sequence also sends a shockwave through the camera but of course, this happens after the exposure has been made. The actual amount of disturbance produced by an ILC shutter is less than that of a DSLR mirror. I tried to demonstrate the shock produced in a Panasonic GH2 by sticking a thimble containing water onto the hotshoe then firing the shutter. This produced no perturbation in the water at all. But I know this camera (and others) can cause shutter shock with some lenses at some focal lengths and shutter speeds. Why ?
Fast and loose, Focussing
ILC's use contrast detect autofocus. This requires the focus module of the
lens to be racked back and forth several times very quickly to enable confirmation of the point of highest contrast. To improve focussing speed, modern lenses have very lightweight AF modules, designed to be driven back and forth directly (not on a helical mount), quickly and easily with tiny, low power electric motors.
In a word, they are loose
In consequence these focus modules are susceptible to being shaken by any source of vibration or shock including the action of a focal plane shutter.
Fast and loose, Image Stabilisers A key feature of modern cameras is the incorporation of image stabilisers. There are two kinds. Optical Image Stabilisers (OIS), if fitted, are located in the lens and involve compensatory movements of one lens group. In Body Image Stabilisers (IBIS) require compensatory movements of the whole imaging sensor unit. Both types require that the active module, when powered up , is located by electro magnetic forces and not held in place by physical constraints. This technology allows the IS module to respond rapidly to camera movements in the service of reducing the effects of camera shake. But the flip sided is that the IS units are loose and, like AF units are susceptible to being shaken by the action of a focal plane shutter.
Shake and Rattle You can easily confirm if your camera gear contains loose elements by shaking it. When powered off, most of the ILC gear I have used will rattle when shaken. Powering on will stop the rattle. Some lenses, such as Panasonic models with OIS, rattle when shaken side to side. Presumably this is is due to the IS unit which can move side to side but not front to back. Some lenses, including the Olympus Zuiko M 12-50 mm, rattle when shaken front to back. This, presumably is due to unconstrained movement in the AF module. The Olympus EM5 body rattles when shaken side to side (IBIS unit) but not when shaken front to back. The Olympus Zuiko M 40-150 mm lens does not rattle at all but does exhibit blurring from shutter shock at shutter speeds from 1/80 - 1/200 sec when mounted on the Panasonic GH2.
Shutter Shock with Olympus EM5 I tested this camera with two lenses, the Olympus M 75-300 mm and Olympus M 12-50 mm.
Olympus M 75-300 mm I mounted the camera/lens unit on a tripod, set the focal length to 300 mm and made a sequence of exposures from 1/8 sec to 1/400 sec. Settings were IBIS off, Timer delay at 2 seconds. There was clearly apparent blur with double imaging from 1/100 - 1/200 sec. Unfortunately I did not test the effect of Olympus Antishock (A/S) with this combination before selling the lens. The implication from these results is that with A/S off, hand held shutter speeds with this combination should be faster than 1/320 sec and on tripod shutter speeds should be slower than about 1/50 sec or faster than 1/320 sec.
|Photo 1, 12-50 mm lens Antishock off|
Olympus M 12-50 mm With this lens on the EM5 and set to focal length 50 mm, I made four test runs: ( 1) Hand Held, IS1, Antishock off ( 2) Tripod mounted, IS off, Antishock off (3) Hand Held, IS 1, Antishock on [1/8 sec] ( 4) Tripod mounted, IS off, Antishock on [1/8 sec]. Shutter speeds ranged from 1/10 - 1/400 sec. In the first run there was clear evidence of blurring from 1/40 - 1/125 sec with double imaging at 1/80 and 1/100 sec. The second run, on tripod, with IS and A/S both off, produced good but not quite excellent results across the whole shutter speeed range. The most interesting set of results came from the third run, hand held with IS and A/S both on. This run produced good results right from 1/10 sec with no evidence of Shutter Shock and remarkably, no evidence of camera shake either, indicating that the EM5 IBIS is very effective at low shutter speeds. More surprising was that from 1/60 sec and faster, Run 3 results (hand held A/S on) were slightly sharper than the results from Run 2 (tripod A/S off). I should make it clear that I was pixel peeping test chart photos at 200%, thereby discovering small differences in sharpness which would probably not be noticed in general photography. Predictably, all the frames in Run 4 were sharp.
|Photo 2, 12-50 mm lens Antishock on|
The interesting conclusion which I reached is that for all practical purposes and to avoid having to remember which shutter speeds do and which do not produce Shutter Shock, the best course of action is probably to set Antishock [1/8 sec] permanently with this body / lens combination. Antishock delivers obvious improvement with hand held use and shutter speeds in the 1/40 - 1/125 sec range. It also provides a small but useful improvement with tripod mounted use. Of course you also get the unwanted side effect that every shot has a built in 1/8 second shutter lag which does take some gloss off this camera's otherwise excellent performance.
Just for comparison I ran the same test sequence with the Panasonic 14-45 mm lens on Panasonic GH2 camera. Antishock is not available on this camera. I found no convincing evidence of Shutter Shock at all, handheld or tripod mounted, OIS on or off. The most I could say is that at 1/100 sec and 1/125 sec both handheld and tripod mounted there was a slight hint of unsharpness detectable only with obsessive pixel peeping at 200%.
How can Shutter Shock be prevented ?
1. Know thy enemy. Run tests like the ones described above with your present equipment. Discover what if any combinations of camera body / lens produce Shutter Shock. You don't need a fancy test chart for the photographs, a newspaper page with large, small and fine print pinned to a board will do just fine.
2. Avoid the affected shutter speeds. For handheld use choose faster speeds. On the tripod, select either faster or slower speeds depending on the conditions.
3. Use Antishock if you happen to own an Olympus camera with this feature and don't mind the shutter lag.
4. Use e-shutter on the Panasonic G5 (No flash, static subjects preferred).
5. Avoid buying or test carefully on your camera body before keeping lenses reported on user forums to have shutter shock issues. These include the Panasonic PZ 14-42 mm and Panasonic PZ 45-175 mm.
Technology discussion It seems to me that camera designers have or might develop the following strategies to deal with the Shutter Shock problem.
1) Using a mechanical shutter If the camera has a standard ILC four action (close/open/close/open) focal plane shutter then Antishock appears to work quite well. The way Olympus Antishock works is as follows: Press shutter release button >Shutter closes >[Delay period occurs]> Shutter opens > Exposure occurs >Shutter Closes >Shutter opens.
The delay period allows vibrations caused by the first shutter closure to dissipate. Apparently the subsequent shutter opening does not produce sufficient disturbance to blur the photos. I found with the EM5 that the minimum available Antishock [1/8 sec] works just fine. I assume longer delay periods would also work but have not tested them. If you have an EM5 camera you can easily see anti shock working by firing the shutter without a lens attached.
Notes for Olympus EM5 users: To set Antishock, go to the Custom [gears] Menu E [Exp/ISO] > Scroll down to the last item > Antishock >Select a time > Press OK to confirm > exit Menus. This takes 26 button presses. Now press OK to bring up the Super Control Panel (SCP) > Find the Drive Mode sub panel. The standard panel has options for single, continuous, timer etc. Once Antishock is set the options are all duplicated so there is one set with, the other set without, a little diamond shape to the left of the drive mode icon. The little diamond shape indicates Antishock is active. This is how you switch Antishock on and off. Leave it set to "on" permanently in Custom Menu E.
Noteabout Mysets Make sure you have all settings including Antishock exactly as you want them before registering a Myset.
2) Using a hybrid mechanical/electronic shutter a.k.a. Electronic First Shutter Some cameras have this technology. With the shutter open, exposure is commenced electronically then terminated mechanically with the physical shutter. The Canon EOS 60D uses this shutter type in Live View Mode. My tests show it is effective in preventing Shutter Shock, at least on that camera. Other cameras also use this technology but I have not tested them.
3) Fully electronic capture systems with no mechanical shutter I am aware of two types of electronic shutter systems, progressive and global.
Progressivea.k.a. rolling The Panasonic G5 camera (which I have not personally tested) has the option of using a progressive system. If I understand it correctly the mechanical shutter is held open and data is read out from the sensor as you would read the page of a book, line by line. This should eliminate Shutter Shock and early reports from G5 users indicate that is the case. But progressive sensor readout is very much an interim technology. It cannot be used with electronic flash because the flash duration is less than the time it takes the system to scan the sensor. It is also unsuitable when there is movement of the camera relative to the subject. This situation causes bending or other distortion of straight lines or other recognisable shapes in the subject.
The "Global Shutter" This is the holy grail of electronic shutters. All the pixels on the sensor are read out simultaneously. It is silent, eliminates Shutter Shock, works with electronic flash and does not distort subject shapes with movement. I don't know of any actual camera which has this technology yet and even the soon to arrive Panasonic GH3 is rumored not to have it.
The Global Shutter appears to be the ultimate solution to the problem of Shutter Shock and it can't come too soon for me.
Sport / Action with Micro 4/3 Cameras
Author AndrewS August 2012
Introduction Most mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (ILC) including all Micro Four Thirds cameras to date use Contrast Detect (CD) autofocus technology. DSLR's in viewfinder mode use Phase Detect (PD) autofocus. Canon EOS-M, Nikon 1 (and soon Sony NEX) ILC's use both phase detect and contrast detect AF technology. Until recently it has generally been the case that PD systems were best for following focus on moving subjects while CD systems were more accurate with still subjects.
M4/3 and sport/action I wanted to find out if current model M4/3 cameras could be useful for sport/action photography. For the tests I used two camera bodies, Panasonic GH2 and Olympus EM5, both hand held for all shots, viewing through the EVF. Lenses used were Panasonic 100-300 mm and Olympus 75-300 mm, mostly at the long end. For the follow focus tests I made hundreds of photos of three subject types, (1) Motor vehicles driving steadily towards and away from the camera at about 60 Kph, (2) Board riders catching waves, (3) Junior soccer.
Note on M4/3 "Focus Tracking" Focus Tracking refers to a technology by which the camera establishes focus on a particular part of the subject which is then tracked and held in focus even when framing alters. I set focus tracking OFF with the EM5. You can find this in Custom Menu A >AF/MF >AF Mode > C-AF, not [C-AF+TR].
With the GH2, I set the Auto Focus Mode Dial to [1 area focusing], Not [AF Tracking].
Several published reviews of the EM5 have commented adversely about it's "Focus Tracking" performance. The capability we are really looking for here is "Follow Focus" which is not the same thing as focus tracking at all. I would guess that some of those adverse review findings may have been the result of setting focus tracking ON . This forces the camera to make extra calculations on every frame, thus slowing it down.
|High Jump Prefocussed manually on the bar|
Sport/Action technique With respect to focussing there are two separate and distinct approaches to sport/action. The first approach is to prefocus manually on a selected location and wait for the action to reach that spot. This strategy long predated autofocus and is still very useful in many situations. Any camera capable of manual focus can be used. M4/3 is very suitable due to the accuracy of manual focus with MF assist.
The second approach is to engage continuous autofocus (Oly C-AF, Pana AFC) and Sequential (Oly) or Burst Mode (Pana) Drive, then hope the camera can follow focus on the moving subject. The remainder of this article is about follow focus tests and results.
Camera Settings Below are the settings I used for all the tests. The GH2 has several set and see dials and user assignable function buttons so can be set up for action using the hard control modules directly. I find the best way to set up the EM5 is to register a Myset once all the settings are in place.
*Mode Dial >S, shutter speed 1/800s - 1/1000s
*Autofocus: Panasonic>Focus Mode Lever > AFC, Auto Focus Mode Dial >1 Area Focussing. Olympus>C-AF (not C-AF +TR)
*Drive Mode: Panasonic >Rec Menu >BurstRate >M (nominally 3 fps). Olympus >Custom Menu C >Sequential >L, 3.5 fps and, note carefully >Sequential +IS OFF >OFF This double negative is a bit of Olympus obfuscation without which the menu would be easier to comprehend. Anyway set this item to OFF to make IBIS ON with Sequential drive.
If you set the Burst/Sequential rates any higher the cameras will not be able to provide CAF, IS and EVF preview on each shot.
*Image Quality> JPG Large/Fine (not super fine)
*Image Stabiliser ON. I used Panasonic IS1, Olympus IS1.
*AF area. I used single area, center position. Standard size (green square) on the EM5 and second up from the lowest size on the GH2.
*Memory Card: SDHC SanDisk Extreme Pro 95 MB/sec.
|Cars at 60 kph Frame 1 of 11 EM5 Oly 75-300 CAF|
|Cars at 60 kph Frame 9 of 11 All frames between 1 and 9 were sharp|
*It is important to avoid anything which will slow the camera down, for instance a slow memory card, Focus Tracking, RAW capture or copyright data on the EM5.
*Focus Priority vs Release priority. Both cameras allow you to nominate focus or release priority. For the GH2 this is in Custom Menu >Page 2 > Focus priority on/off. Presumably Panasonic focus Priority off is equivalent to Olympus Release Priority on. With the Olympus it is in Custom menu C >Release > Rls priority S(ingle) or Rls Priority C(ontinuous). I was not sure what to set so I did the tests with Focus priority on for the GH2 and for the Olympus [Rls Prio S] >off and [Rls Prio C] >on.
*Image Review. Auto Review, found in Setup Menu >Page 2, is automatically greyed out with the GH2 in burst mode. For the EM5 I set Rec View >off in the setup menu.
*EM5 EVF frame rate. I set this to High in Custom Menu J. The instructions say "Set high to reduce display lag".
*EM5 Vivid Picture Mode. There is a view circulating on user forums that C-AF works best with Vivid Picture Mode set. This may be so but I forgot about it while testing so had picture mode on the default and never got to test the effect of Vivid setting.
*Readers please note, if you are unable to reproduce the follow focus results reported here, go through your Menu settings/button functions/SCP/QMenu settings with meticulous care, item by item. You may have inadvertently set some item which interferes with the follow focus process.
Burst Rate With the settings above and the shutter held down the following actual burst rates were recorded by stop watch using 20 frames per burst:
GH2 with Pana 100-300mm lens: 2.2 frames per second.
GH2 with Oly 75-300mm lens: 2.5 frames per second.
EM5 with Oly 75-300mm lens: 3.5 frames per second.
EM5 with Pana100-300mm lens: 2.3 frames per second.
I noted the shutter cadence was quite lens dependent.
With the Oly 75-300mm lens the EM5 went ...chup-a-chup-a.....(double sound)
Both cameras +Pana100-300mm lens went ......click-a-da-click-a-da....(triple sound)
There is some characteristic, I know not what, about the Pana100-300mm lens which slows both cameras down and produces a different shutter cadence.
Overall the Oly 75-300mm lens on the EM5 body had the best burst rate.
|Cropped frame GH2 Pana100-300 AFC|
|Cropped frame GH2 Pana 100-300 AFC|
Results, detail I made many sequences of shots in each setting and rated each frame as [Sharply in focus] or [Almost, but not quite sharp] or [Out of focus].
Cars driving towards and away, bright sun on subject
GH2 with Pana100-300: Sharp 21%, Almost 75%, Out 7%
EM5 with Oly 75-300: Sharp 58%, Almost 28%, Out 11%
Surfboard riders, some cloudy, some bright sun
GH2 with Pana100-300: Sharp 40%, Almost 51%, Out 8%
EM5 with Oly 75-300: Sharp 60%, Almost 38%, Out 2%
Junior soccer, Dull day, rain threatening
I only tried the EM5 + 75-300 as it performed best in the previous tests. I made 205 shots of which 5 were sharp (2.4%) and 50 Almost (24%). The rest were out of focus.
|Dull day EM5 Oly 75-300 CAF|
Results, summary Clearly the EM5 with Oly 75-300mm lens gave the best results. I was quite surprised to see how well the Olympus held focus on motor vehicles at 60 kph. I made many sequences of 9-11 frames in which all but the last one or two were sharply in focus. I used no special technique at all, simply stood by the roadside, hand held the camera, centered the radiator grille in the frame, half pressed the shutter release button for about half a second to allow the camera to acquire focus then fully pressed the shutter release button and held it down until the vehicle filled the frame or more. The surfboard riders were more distant and much less predictable in lateral movement but quite steady in their speed of approach to the camera. Junior soccer on a dull day was by far the most difficult test. There were constant changes of speed and direction with players running in and out of the frame all the time. No surprise I got few keepers that day.
Some ILC's still lack any useful follow focus capability but M4/3 is starting to close the gap between ILC's and DSLR's, while continuing to provide
more consistently accurate single shot AF.
The Olympus EM5 plus Olympus 75-300mm lens can be used for sport/action photography with the reasonable expectation of a useful
percentage of in focus frames.
Results are best with subjects in direct sunlight travelling at a steady speed towards or away from the camera.
Micro Four Thirds System Equipment
Review and comparison of two mid level standard zoom lenses
Panasonic 14-45 mm OIS vs Olympus 12-50 mm E zoom macro
Photo above On the left, Olympus EM5 with Olympus 12-50 mm lens. On the right Panasonic GH2 with Panasonic 14-45 mm lens.
Introduction I recently bought and have been testing a Panasonic GH2, Olympus EM5 and Samsung NX20 each with a range of zoom lenses. Panasonic and Olympus each make a range of standard zoom lenses. The entry level offerings are the Panasonic 14-42 mm OIS (non collapsing), Panasonic PZ 14-42 mm Power OIS and Olympus 14-42 mm (collapsing). Next up in the price/performance scale we have the Panasonic 14-45 mm OIS and Olympus 12-50 mm with e- zoom and macro features. The Olympus is often bundled with the EM5 body in a kit. At the top of the price/performance tree we have the Pro level Panasonic 12-35 mm f2.8 zoom. There are plenty of rumors circulating on the net that Olympus will also produce a pro standard zoom.
|Marina, Panasonic GH2, Panasonic 14-45 mm zoom at 45 mm|
The photo above illustrates the excellent performance available with M43 and a good standard zoom lens. This rendition will have suffered in it's voyage through the internet but on the original you can see individual leaves on the trees and fine details throughout.
This article reports my tests of the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-45 mm f 3.5-5.6 Asph Mega OIS and Olympus M.Zuiko ED 12-50 mm f 3.5-6.3 EZ. Lenses in this price/performance range are attractive to enthusiast photographers as they deliver most of the performance of pro level optics at a fraction the price.
My experience with many lenses is of significant variation between samples leading to variation in technical test results and user reports. Both lenses reviewed here appeared to be good copies with no sign of decentering, faults or malfunction.
The pair of photos below illustrate typical results obtained with the two lenses on the same scene ( the marina above) at the same focal length and aperture. The information is there in the Olympus version but rendered with greater clarity and definition in the Panasonic version. Both are in focus and not affected by camera shake or shutter shock.
|Marina enlargement Olympus 12-50 mm at 45 mm|
|Marina enlargement Pansonic 14-45 mm at 45 mm|
Test method I find that photographing test charts in controlled conditions provides me with less than half the information I want to know about a lens. So in addition to charts I make many hundreds of photos in a variety of conditions to challenge the camera/lens combination. This includes low contrast, high contrast, closeup and distant shots with many different types of subject. I often find that a lens which performs quite decently well on a test chart can be markedly less well behaved in more difficult conditions.
Testing consistency Part of my test procedure is to make several shots of the same subject, refocussing for each. I do this to determine if the camera/lens combination will give the same image quality every time. With the Panasonic 14-45 mm that was almost always the case. But with the Olympus 12-50 mm I often found a small variation in sharpness from one frame to the next. Some possible reasons for this are discussed below.
Body/lens compatibility As I gain experience with the M43 system I am finding that in many cases Pansonic lenses work best on Panasonic cameras and Olympus lenses work best on Olympus cameras. Autofocus accuracy, stabiliser type and in camera correction of lens aberrations are some of the factors determining compatibility. So for this comparison I used the Panasonic 14-45 mm lens on the GH2 body and the Olympus 12-50 mm lens on the EM5 body.
|Foliage corner Olympus 12-50 mm at 14 mm|
|Foliage corner Panasonic 14-45 mm at 14 mm|
The two photos above illustrate typical results in the corner of the frame with a high contrast subject. Apart from the different color balance which is camera based, you can see more color fringing, local flare and softness in the Olympus image.
Specifications As I have found several times when comparing M43 lenses from Olympus and Panasonic, these two have a different feature set. The Olympus goes for versatility with a 4.2 x zoom range, manual and power zoom operation plus an inbuilt macro facility. The Olympus is a modern design with internal zoom and focus so it's length remains constant. There is no focal length scale on the lens barrel. Instead the current focal length is displayed in the monitor or EVF but only on Olympus cameras. The Panasonic was the first ever M43 lens released with the G1 in 2008 and is still in production. The Panasonic is more conventional in design with 3.2 x zoom range, standard mechanical zoom ring and extending barrel. The Pana 14-45 mm has an optical image stabiliser in the lens. The Oly 12-50 relies on Olympus IBIS.
Both the photos below are crops of a larger frame. They are both in focus but the Olympus one is softer. For some reason unknown to me the difference between the two has been exaggerated by processing the files and bringing them into the blog. Differences like this are not always or even often found but in hundreds of frames of various subjects I never found a matched pair where the Olympus version was sharper than the Panasonic version. I still don't understand the reason for the variable sharpness produced by the Olympus 12-50 mm on the EM5.
|Bush Panasonic 14-45 mm|
|Bush Olympus 12-50 mm|
Mechanical Operation and autofocus The Pana 14-45 zooms smoothly and focusses quickly on the GH2, but not as fast as the 12-50 on the EM5. The Oly 12-50 has a smooth power zoom for video. Manual zoom is faster with a slightly rough feel. The macro facility is very effective allowing the front of the lens to be brought to within a few centimeters of the subject. The 12-50 focusses extremely fast on the EM5 but speed and accuracy do not necessarily travel together. I discovered after many hundreds of test photos in a variety of conditions that there was a significant misfocussing rate with the EM5/12-50 mm combination particularly at the long end in soft light. What is "significant" ? I found that with bright sunlight and good subject contrast the misfocus rate was negligible. But with low subject brightness range, the long end of the zoom and a subject distance over about 20 meters, some frames would be sharp and others slightly soft. I attribute this to slight misfocussing, as it occurs at shutter speeds faster than those affected by shutter shock (see below).
Shutter Shock The Oly 12-50 mm lens can exhibit unsharpness caused by shutter shock in the shutter speed range about 1/40s --1/125s. This specific cause of unsharpness can be eliminated by setting [Anti Shock 1/8sec] in the EM5 Menu. Please see my article "M43 Shutter Shock Revisited (OMD-EM-5)"in a separate post on this blog for more information and discussion about this topic.
Manual focus This works just fine with both lenses using focus assist in each case. I did note however that using the EVF, the image snaps in and out of focus more clearly on the GH2 than the EM5. That is a camera issue of course, not a lens feature but it does affect the user experience. My ongoing complaint with all ILC's including M43 is the absence of any way to manually preset a focus distance by scale.
Resolution The Pana 14-45 mm has been favourably reviewed by users and technical testers over a four year period, building up a solid reputation in the process. I have owned two of these lenses over the last three years and found both to deliver very good resolution at all focal lengths and apertures up to about f 11 after which diffraction effects start to erode resolution.
When the Oly 12-50 mm lens was introduced, numerous reviewers complained that it was a bit soft. Then technical lens test results started to come out with more favourable assessments, mostly from test chart analysis. My own testing leads me to the view that both these evaluations are correct, but they are measuring different parameters of lens capability. When presented to a test chart the lens resolves fine details very well at all focal lengths and apertures up to f 11, with some softness and chromatic aberration in the corners at the shorter focal lengths and loss of contrast at the long end.
|Panasonic Oil refinery|
The photo above was made with the Panasonic 14-45 mm lens on Panasonic GH2 camera held above my head with the lens stuck through a small gap in the perimeter fence of the refinery. The large, intricate structure has been rendered faithfully by the camera and lens combination.
But on side by side testing against the Pana 14-45 mm out in the real world a different picture emerged. Time after time, over hundreds of matched photos I found the Pana 14-45 gave pictures which looked crisper, had more "snap" and overall appeared sharper. I spent considerable time trying to understand the reason for this. I considered AF errors, IS malfunction and eventually decided that in those cases which were definitely in focus and the shutter speed (faster than about 1/160sec) precluded shutter shock, the difference between the two lenses may have been due to higher microcontrast achieved by the Pana14-45 mm.
Aberrations Both lenses are subject to chromatic aberration paticularly towards the corners at the shorter focal lengths. With the Pana 14-45, CA is automatically corrected in Panasonic but not Olympus cameras. CA from the Oly 12-50 is not corrected in Pana or Oly cameras.
Color fringing In addition to chromatic aberration both lenses exhibit purple fringing most marked in the corners with subjects having adjacent bright and dark elements. Purple fringing is more prominent with the Oly12-50 mm. I have read many different explanations for purple fringing in digital cameras and am still not sure I understand why it occurs. Whatever the cause, it can usually be corrected or greatly reduced with the "Defringe" sliders in ACR 7.1/LR 4.1.
Flare I find it useful to identify two kinds of flare. The first is general, affecting the whole or most of the frame and occurs when the sun or other bright light source is in or just outside the frame. The second kind is local, usually revealed by light spilling over from a bright part of the subject to an adjacent dark part. Foliage against a cloudy/bright sky will often reveal this type of flare. The Oly 12-50 mm is more prone to both types of flare than the Pana 14-45.
The combination of lower microcontrast, more uncorrected chromatic aberration and more local flare means that in general photographic use the Oly 12-50 mm lens, even when correctly focussed, will often deliver less satisfying image quality than the Pana 14-45 mm.
Drawing(distortion) Distortion from both lenses may be corrected in camera to some extent. The net result for the Oly 12-50 is mild barrel at the wide end and virtually nil in the mid range and long end. The 14-45 mm produces moderate barrel distortion at the wide end reducing to mild in the middle focal lengths and slight at the long end. The distortion from both lenses is circular in type, easily corrected in Adobe Camera Raw/Lightroom.
I am not a lens designer, just a user. However it is clear enough even to my untutored eye that there must be a technical envelope which constrains lens design. This could be visualised as a hexagon of constant area with six points representing Focal length range, Aperture, Features, Size, Price and Optical quality.
one of these qualities is increased the others must be reduced.
With the 12-50 mm, Olympus has opted to maximise focal length range and features with a consequent reduction in aperture at the long end and real world
image quality. The Pansonic 14-45 has a shorter focal length range and fewer features but is slightly smaller (at 14 mm) and has better image quality.
In addition that quality is more evenly distributed across the frame and focal length range. The Oly 12-50 mm is best in the central region of the frame and the middle of the focal length range.
With reservations about shutter shock and autofocus issues affecting the Oly 12-50mm, each lens does what it appears to have been designed to do.
You pays your money and makes your choice. [And remember to set Anti Shock with the EM-5/12-50mm combination].
OLYMPUS OMD - EM-5 ERGONOMIC REVIEW
A user review of the Olympus EM5 after two months and a few thousand images
Excellent photos, puzzles included
Author AndrewS October 2012
|From the left, Olympus EM5 with HLD-6 handle, Panasonic GH2, Samsung NX20|
Announcement and reaction Olympus announced the EM-5 in February 2012 and quickly generated a very positive response from reviewers and early adopters. It provoked renewed interest in the M43 system and in Olympus cameras at a time when Olympus really needed a good news story. For many months after it's release the camera was difficult to obtain, indicating strong takeup from buyers.
Author's background I have discovered from my photographic experience over the last 50 years that the only way for me to really appreciate the capabilities of a camera is to buy and use it over a period of several months, making many exposures in a wide variety of conditions. Earlier this year I bought a Panasonic GH2 then an Olympus EM5 then a Samsung NX20, each with a selection of lenses, mostly zooms as I prefer their versatility. I have been using them often side by side and often with the same subject matter. The intention was always to keep one and let the others go, as I do not care to clutter up the house with underutilised camera gear and there are budget issues to consider. By the way, I decided to keep the GH2, for reasons which I will discuss in another post on this blog. This article is a review of the EM5, with an emphasis on ergonomic issues, but also referring to image quality and performance which obviously influence the user experience.
Market position, target user group and buyer expectations The EM5 is Olympus' flagship ILC. It has an extensive feature set, a complex user interface and is priced with mid level DSLR's at the upper end of the ILC range. It would be possible for snapshooters to manage the EM5 with the Mode dial set to iAuto. But the expert/enthusiast camera user will make better use of the many features and user interface options available. Such a user will expect very good image quality and performance from the EM5 and in large measure it delivers. It also delivers a few challenges which have made my time with the camera a mixed experience.
Review priorities This review is written for the expert/enthusiast photographer who likes to take control of the photographic process and who uses a camera frequently. I have not reviewed video operation or the touch screen function as I do not use either of these features. You can read about these and a list of the camera's specifications and features in great detail elsewhere. I have nothing to say about scene modes or art filters.
Image Quality IQ is excellent, easily the best of the M43 cameras at the time of this report. You can read all about it in technical reviews. Resolution, Dynamic Range and noise are all very good. JPG and RAW files are both very good. To quote dpreview's assessment.............."moving up to......... full frame is the only way of gaining a significant step up [in image quality] from the EM-5". DXO Mark recently scored the EM5 at 71 with a Dynamic Range of 12.3 which places it in the middle of the APS-C sensor group.
I prefer and use Single Target, as described on Page 44 of the Instruction Manual, usually located in the frame center, but sometimes off center. I never use the "All Targets" or "Group Target" settings as these leave to the camera decisions about focus point which I would prefer to make myself. In most cases I use the default, green square, focus area, sometimes a smaller focus area.
Autofocus, single shot: This is very fast and sensitive, latching onto the slightest hint of texture including brush strokes in paint. The downside is a significant rate of slight misfocussing. The degree of misfocus might not be noticed with many photographs, but can become an issue with big enlargements or prints. Sometimes the camera signals it cannot focus but more often it indicates focus has been achieved when that is not quite the case. Misfocussing appears more frequent in conditions of low light level and/or low subject brightness range, but also when there are many bright light sources in frame. It appears to me more frequent with Panasonic lenses than Olympus lenses, particularly the 7-14mm zoom. It is more frequent at the long end of the 12-50mm, 40-150mm and 75-300mm zooms and more frequent at long distance from the camera, possibly related to the lowered subject contrast inherent in that situation. The actual rate of misfocus varies widely with circumstances. There have been days when all the frames were sharply in focus, but on other days with different lens/light conditions, as many as 50% of frames have been slightly unsharp with no evidence of camera shake (no doubling).
Manual Focus, single shot: With focus assist enabled MF is readily achieved although the EVF's on both the GH2 and NX20 snap in and out of focus more clearly.
Autofocus, Continuous, Sequential drive, moving subject: The EM5 with Olympus M 75-300mm lens will follow focus on a moving subject at 3.3 frames per second with IS operating, AF and live view on each frame even when the subject is a motor vehicle travelling at 60 kph. It has the best performance of any M43 camera to date with sport/action type subjects. It works best in bright sunlight with subjects moving at a steady speed. I discuss this in more detail in another post on this blog.
In normal single shot use the camera will refocus and shoot almost as fast as I can press the shutter button again after each shot even with RAW capture, an excellent performance. With image review off, monitor and EVF blackout is very brief to the point I don't notice it. Shutter lag is virtually nil. In general the camera operates in a very brisk and responsive fashion. Note that if you activate copyright information [Custom Menu >H >Record/Erase >Copyright Settings >Copyright Info>On] the camera slows down markedly.
Image Stabiliser The EM5 has the much advertised "Five Axis" In Body Image Stabiliser, which appears to work very well. I found it possible to get sharp pictures at very slow shutter speeds. There have been numerous questions in user forums online about the reliability of this system. The camera which I bought had no IBIS problems that I could detect. I suspect that some user's experience of image doubling may have been due to shutter shock rather than IBIS problems. Please see my aticles on shutter shock elsewhere on this blog.
Flash I have only used the supplied, detachable unit and then only to a limited extent. I have read elsewhere that the EM5 has sophisticated off camera flash capabilities but I have not tested this aspect of performance.
Ergonomics This discourse follows my usual approach, looking at each of the four phases of use in turn then investigating viewing, holding and operating in Capture Phase.
Setup Phase The main task of this phase is making selections in the Menu. Many modern cameras have a complex menu system which can be hard to follow, even with the instruction manual to hand. The Panasonic GH2 which I tested alongside the EM5 is no paragon of menu clarity. But the EM5 menu system takes complexity to the next level which many people myself included find difficult to negotiate. Experienced Olympophiles on user forums scoff at people like me, insisting the menus are perfectly simple and easy to negotiate.
Button Function The EM5 allows extensive user configuration of button function. It even allows some buttons to be assigned single function or multifunction. This allows the expert user to customise camera operation to personal preference, but, compared with most other cameras, does require more choices to be made at the setup phase.
Dial Function I am a great advocate of user selectable interface module function in electronic cameras but the EM5 takes the concept to extremes. For instance in Custom Menu >B >Button/Dial >Dial Function, you can assign a different function to the dials in each of the P, A, S, M, Menu and Review modes, plus you can choose the dial direction in the same menu. Perhaps I lack the requisite imagination or aptitude for cognitive challenges but I simply don't understand why one would want the dials to change function on switching from one shooting mode to another.
Picture Mode Settings A long list of these appears in Camera 1 Menu >Picture Mode, but there is another not quite identical list in Custom Menu D >Disp/Sound/PC >Picture Mode Settings. Presumably there is a reason for this but I never figured it out.
Mysets Many electronic cameras have positions on the Main Mode Dial usually labelled C1, C2.....etc. This allows groups of settings to be stored and recalled as required to streamline preparation for different photographic tasks. There is room on the EM5 Mode dial for some presets but Olympus does things differently. Mysets can only be accessed via the main menu which requires 9-12 button presses depending on which Myset you want. The active myset is not indicated anywhere at all. When the camera is switched on it will return to the settings in place at switch off but does not inform you which set is active. There is also an option for a "quick myset" which can be allocated to a button but you must hold the button down while pressing the shutter for this to function. While the allocated button is being pressed there is a myset indicator in the lower left corner of the monitor. This is another example of a useful function which other camera makers provide in a reasonably straightforward fashion but which Olympus delivers in a manner which I find more opaque. Once registered and set, the Mysets work just fine.
Flash settings There are five places you can make settings for flash operation, two in the main menu, Camera Menu 2 >flash +/- and Custom Menu >F >Flash, two in the Super Control Panel and one on a scroll wheel if you have preset a wheel to change flash output level. Some of these duplicate each other, some do not. Some of the help guides are difficult to understand. Again we see complex arrangements when more direct ones would have served better. The other problem for flash use on this camera is that it lacks one built in. You have to remove the hotshoe cover then a little plastic cover from the connection port, then take the (supplied) flash out of it's pouch and remove the plastic protective cover, then put the three little bits of plastic in the pouch so they don't get lost, then push the flash unit into the hotshoe and connection port together, lift the flash head up and you are ready to go. Fortunately the camera has good high ISO image quality so the flash is not often required in general photography.
IS Operation There are several different places where settings affecting IS operation can be made. In the Super Control Panel or Camera Menu 2, IS can be set to Off, 1, 2 or 3.
In Custom Menu C > Release/Drive, there are two settings: Halfway Rls with IS, [which I suspect most users will set to On and wonder why the choice was provided] and Sequential+IS Off [which you have to set to Off in order to make the IS On with sequential drive] Go figure.
Then In Custom Menu D >Disp/sound/PC >LV closeup Mode, you can set Mode 1 or Mode 2, which I read on user forums has an influence on IS operation but I have to confess I never figured out how this relationship works.
Some cameras such as the GH2 have several set and see dials and levers on the top plate together with several maker and user configured buttons, for direct user control of Prepare Phase adjustments. But the EM5 has only one set and see dial (the Mode dial). If the 4 way controller buttons are allocated to changing AF area position then Prepare Phase adjustments will involve a trip to the Super Control Panel.
Super Control Panel This is generally well implemented with a few caveats. There are five different sub panel sizes the logic of which escapes me. It's not a big problem but scrolling around the screen is not as quick as it could be if each element was the same size. The panel is approximately divided into a selection of Prepare Phase items on the left side and a few Setup items on the right side. Overall the appearance is somewhat that of a work in progress, with some items which should be on the SCP missing and others included unnecessarily, cluttering the panel. One solution would be to allow the operator to move user selected items from the main menu across to the SCP. That way each owner could have their own preferred items and no others on the SCP. The Fn screen on the Samsung NX20 is better implemented, the Q Menu on the GH2 is worse, with it's non user selectable items arranged around the periphery of the frame.
Auto Exposure Bracketing Some cameras have a drive mode dial, lever or button on which you can select AEB, having previously set up the number, EV step and sequence in a main menu. Easy. But the Olympus is different. There is no drive mode dial, lever or button. No problem you might think, just put AEB on the Super Control Panel. But it's not there. You have to go into Camera Menu 2 >Bracketing >Select an option. This takes 10-21 button presses depending on which option you want. You have to repeat the whole sequence to turn AEB off. Alternatively you can include AEB in a Myset. But you still have to go to the main menu to activate the myset.
|Olympus OM2 front|
Capture Phase, Holding As part of my voyage of exploration into camera ergonomics, I have made several wooden mockup cameras. This has given me some insight into the process of design. Early in that process come basic decisions about dimensions, layout, control systems and style. These early decisions limit the range of options available at later stages of the detail design process. I am just an ordinary consumer with no knowlege of the people who design cameras or their decision making activities. However one can make some inference about these things from the product itself and the maker's promotional material. Olympus makes much of the EM5's homage to their 1980's OM series film SLR's. One Olympus spokesman referred to the EM5 as having "the beautiful shape". I don't care to comment on whether the shape is beautiful or not but it has a substantial effect on the ergonomic capabilities of the device.
|Olympus OM2 rear|
OM series film cameras established the leitmotif for the OM digital cameras, however there are substantial differences in their shape and form with ergonomic consequences. The OM series film cameras (and many similar designs such as the Pentax ME series which I used for many years) were easy to hold and operate with the "no handle" design because they were, compared to the EM5, wider, deeper and devoid of any screen or interface modules on the rear. You could get ahold of them.
|No handle mockup|
This is how the right hand holds a classic film camera like the OM2. The hand and fingers adopt a natural configuration which is comfortable. The thumb is ready to operate the film advance lever. The index finger is on the shutter release button.
This is not the case with the EM5 which in standard configuration provides the user with a tenuous hold on the camera, particularly if a telephoto lens is mounted. It feels much less secure than the GH2 or NX20.
|EM5 held like a no handle camera.|
You cannot hold the EM5 as you would the OM2. The right thumb is across the monitor, the index finger is not over the shutter release button. The EM5 is not a 1980's film SLR but a 21st century ILC with a completely different set of inner workings and external controls. There is no functional or ergonomic reason for it to be shaped like this. There may, or may not, be marketing reasons but that is another story.
|EM5 No handle hold|
The EM5 without accessory handle is held this way. This works but requires a more cramped position of the fingers. The camera is not easy to hold and carry with a telephoto lens mounted.
|EM5 with HLD-6 projecting type accessory handle|
This opens up the fingers providing a more comfortable and secure hold on the camera. But the thumb must still be located on the far right side of the body. This holding position is not bad but could be improved if the body to the right of the monitor were wider.
|Small ILC mockup|
This wooden mockup is about the same width as the EM5 but is lower and has a different design with smaller monitor. The EVF is located on the left side, rangefinder style and there is a built in parallel type handle. This photo is included to show that a camera which is actually smaller than the EM5 but of different design can provide a greatly improved holding and operating experience. You can see the right hand takes on a natural, comfortable and secure position. The buttons and dials are larger and positioned in harmony with the functional anatomy of the fingers and hand. This mockup was not designed to look like any other camera from any era, but to provide the best possible ergonomic experience for a small ILC, without preconceived ideas about appearance or style.
An accessory handle provides a more secure grip. The first part of the Olympus HLD-6 is suitable. There are also several independent makers of accessory handles for the EM5. This arrangement may be a marketing triumph but is an ergonomic kludge. With the grip attached there are two shutter buttons and three scroll wheels on the top plate, cluttering up high priority camera real estate with redundant user interface modules (UIM). Worse, for my average sized adult hands none of the scroll wheels is optimally positioned or angled. My index finger keeps wanting to find a front scroll wheel between the two which are actually there and the same finger wants the axis of rotation of that scroll wheel to be tilted 80 degrees so it matches the natural movement of the finger. The HLD-6 grip costs an extra $300 over the initial price and you have to remove it to change a battery. Oh, yes, and try not to lose the little plastic contact cluster cover piece from the grip, and the little black rubber cover thingy from the contact cluster on the camera base. While I am complaining I note the accessory grip has a sharp corner which digs into the palm of my right hand.
If Olympus had simply incorporated a properly designed handle in the first place, the EM5 could have delivered a more effective ergonomic layout at lower cost.
Capture Phase, Viewing The monitor is very nice, with plenty of user selectable options for content and characteristics of the display. One of the most useful of these options is the orange/blue indication of highlight/shadow clipping, available on preview and review in both the monitor and EVF. The level which activates the clipping indicator is also adjustable, a very sophisticated feature. The monitor is of the swing up/down type which is good for waist level or over the head shooting in landscape (horizontal) format. Some people prefer the swing-out-and-swivel type, which is more versatile in some ways, not least the ability to turn it face in to the camera body. I guess you can't have both. Likewise the EVF is excellent, providing a natural looking view of the subject in all conditions and plenty of options for the display. I have just two ergonomic grumbles about the viewing experience. I like to set up the monitor and EVF to look the same so when I switch from one to the other the cognitive experience is continuous. This is possible on the EM5 but only using "Monitor" style with camera data overlaid on the image area. The EVF will, but the monitor will not allow the "DSLR style" with camera data in a strip beneath the image. The other grumble is about the eyepiece shape. This is short and wide which is comfortable in landscape orientation but in portrait orientation the ends of the eyepiece dig uncomfortably into the the upper and lower margins of the eye socket.
Capture Phase, Operating This camera's operation is highly dependent on user configured setup which determines the function of most of the UIM's. This level of user selectable UIM function is very welcome however the option to select functions is also an imperative which requires a longer familiarisation period than many less sophisticated cameras. In general the camera operates quickly and efficiently in Capture Phase with some exceptions described below.
Autofocus Start Several pro style cameras have a dedicated AF start/lock button on the upper rear of the body. There is no room for such a button but the EM5 enables AF start to be activated by half press on the shutter button and thereby separated from AE and Capture which take place at full press. This works well and represents an efficient use of the shutter button.
Changing AF area position and size: There is a set of features described on Page 45 of the Instruction Manual under the heading "Zoom Frame AF/Zoom AF". This set of features, I have to confess, continues to baffle me completely despite reading the instructions many times, playing with the camera for many hours and trawling through the numerous posts and responses (literally hundreds of them, I am not the only one having trouble with this) about it on multiple user forums and independent blogs. Some contributors to those user forums say they have figured out how to make sense of this set of focus functions. Maybe those people are able to adapt more readily to the Olympus way of doing things.
Auto ISO Is well implemented. The camera will increase ISO up to the preset maximum to ensure the shutter speed does not fall into camera shake territory.
Buttons The Play and Fn1 buttons are very recessed, making them awkward to activate in any Phase of use and almost impossible in Capture Phase with one's eye to the EVF. However if you are going to operate the rear scroll wheel with the thumb, which appears to be the designer's intention, then those buttons must be recessed or they will be pressed inadvertently. The buttons generally are small because the body panels which accommodate them are also small. Panasonic M43 cameras have the same problem. One could be philosophical about this and say small buttons come with the territory of ILC's but I know this is not true because I have designed and built mockups which are even smaller than the EM5 yet have larger body panels with larger buttons, better positioned for ease of operation. The size issue is in play but design decisions are the main determinants of the effectiveness of the user interface.
Review Phase The EM5 has one of the best image review systems I have encountered. One scroll wheel magnifies the review image centered on the AF area used to make that image. The other scroll wheel can advance to the next image at the same level of magnification. Very neat, very convenient, well implemented.
This camera's oficial name, Olympus OM-D- EM-5 sets the theme for the whole package: a convoluted
course to it's realisation when a more straightforward
pathway could have been provided.
This is no "safe",
middle of the
It's best features are very appealing but some aspects of the user interface can be either challenging or baffling depending on your aptitude for puzzles.
I suspect this camera will polarise users with some enjoying it's impressive capabilities while others become frustrated by it's sometimes obtuse user interface.
You pays your money and makes your choice. Good luck.
THE MIRRORLESS INTERCHANGEABLE LENS CAMERA [MILC]
GAP FILLER OR DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION ?
By AndrewS December 2011
Revised with postscript November 2012
|The Panasonic Lumix G5 is a capable Micro 4/3 type MILC|
This article was originally published on the Digital Photography Review website in December 2011, in the section for user created articles, under my DPR user name axlotl.
It is a speculative opinion piece created to explore some issues not often discussed on photography blogs and websites.
Excerpts from Wikipedia 2011, under "Disruptive Innovation"
A ...... disruptive innovationis an innovation that helps create a new market and value network and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology.In contrast to disruptiveinnovation, a sustaining innovation does not create new markets or value networks but rather only evolves existing ones with better value, allowing the firms within to compete against each other's sustaining improvements.Christensen and colleagues have shown .......... that good firms are usually aware of the innovations, but their business environment does not allow them to pursue them when they first arise, because they are not profitable enough at first and because their development can take scarce resources away from that of sustaining innovations (which are needed to compete against current competition). In Christensen's terms, a firm's existing value networks place insufficient value on the disruptive innovation to allow its pursuit by that firm. Meanwhile, upstart firms inhabit different value networks, at least until the day that their disruptive innovation is able to invade the older value network. At that time, the established firm in that network can at best only fend off the market share attack with a me-too entry, for which survival (not thriving) is the only reward.
Here is a brief excerpt from a recent interview with a Canon representative about the company's position on mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras: From Impressjapan magazine, via mirrorlessrumors.com dated 19 December 2011.
Will you be releasing a mirrorless camera?
...... we are challenging ourselves to make DSLRs that are smaller, and compacts that have better image quality. So you have to ask if a mirrorless product is really necessary to fill the narrowing gap. Of course, we are more than capable of making a mirrorless camera, if we decide to.
Canon appears to believe
the Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC)
is a "Gap Filler", something inbetween
In a recent edition of
the Australian magazine ProPhoto the editor, Paul Burrows commented......" we've been seeing a steady dumbing down of CSC's, partly as a result of making them smaller and partly because the idea persists that snap- shooters really hanker after interchangeable lenses, but apparently little else of what comes with an entry level D-SLR".
In the same magazine, Mr Burrows also wrote. "There seems to have been quite a bit of confusion among the manufacturers - or more accurately, the marketers- of compact camera systems about who exactly is the target customer".
I agree with this and would add
that in it's current form the MILC appears to be an answer without a clearly expressed question.
My perception is that there are, in the operational sense, two main types of camera user. The majority are snapshooters
who are too busy enjoying life to bother about changing lenses or wondering what an f stop might be. Many of these people take photos with a phone cam. Some still like to use a compact camera. Some
use a DSLR
set to one of the fully automatic modes.
The other camera user group is the controllers
. These people do like to change lenses, fiddle with shutter speeds, adjust f stops and experiment with all the interesting options available on an advanced camera.
So what does this mean for the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera ?
What follows is my reading of the situation, others will have their own views. In due course the market will decide.
The MILC may look like a "Gap Filler" right now.
But with further development it has the potential to become a genuinely disruptive innovation leading to real change in the market for interchangeable lens cameras.
So, which segments of the market are in line to be disrupted ?
Basically, all those with interchangeable lenses.Medium format DSLR
The larger the sensor, the
potential for size and weight reduction by removing the mirror box, prism, etc..
etc of a DSLR.
So I think that if some maker has enough courage to make the investment and if they get the product right, then mirrorless will become the preferred option for medium format, using a square sensor, live view monitor and touch screen controls for use on a tripod, which is the way these cameras are usually supported. DSLR with full frame sensor, 43 mmdiagonal
Same argument as above. This type of camera would handle even better with a 36 x 36 mm sensor and electronic selection of
landscape/portrait framing, so there is no need to flip the body over for portrait framing. This would be a hand held camera for reasonably still subjects, requiring a high quality EVF and a sufficiency, but not a profusion,
of hard controls.DSLR with 27-28 mm (diagonal) sensor
Most DSLR's have a sensor this size.
At present the MILC offers some things not managed very well by the DSLR,
such as full time live view, the benefits of EVF and accurate contrast detect AF.
But most of them take away other things like predictive AF and the benefits of OVF.
The MILC can be smaller than a DSLR
but the size difference with lens mounted is not compelling and in any event, cameras which are too small usually suffer from compromised handling and control.Compact
I think that if
mirrorless ILC's continue their present attempts to compete with compacts, they will fail.
I think that when snapshooters get over the
newness of the MILC they will revert back to compacts or abandon cameras altogether in favour of phone cams.
Why ? Because, for any given box size (width x height x depth)
a compact with a fixed, collapsing zoom lens can have more zoom range or greater aperture or both, than a body with mounted interchangeable zoom lens and a smart phone trumps most cameras for compact size and "always ready" availability.
I believe the MILC has to tackle the DSLR
head on and win or become a lost cause.
In order to succeed in this task the MILC has to do everything
better than the DSLR.
Image quality, operating speed,
responsiveness, EVF appearance and refresh rate, single frame AF,
handling qualities, controls,
lens selection and more. To really disrupt the market all this has to be available to consumers at an attractive price point.
Responding to the challenge
|This is one of my wooden MILC mockups. The shape, size, handle design and UIM layout have all been designed by working directly with wooden pieces to provide an ergonomically eficient device with compact dimensions. This mockup's box size [Width x Height x Depth] is 605 cc which is actually smaller than the Panasonic G5 shown above [box size 722 cc] Yet the mockup has a larger handle and larger UIM's throughout. I would like to see the makers of MILC's use this camera body shape in preference to the mini DSLR shape for it's greater ergonomic efficiency and ease of holding, viewing and operating.|
To generate interest from the snapshooter crowd seeking better image quality than a phone cam, camera makers could make large sensor compacts with fixed zoom lenses. The Micro Four Thirds or Nikon CX size sensor could form the guts of a category killer advanced compact. Sony has already entered this arena with the RX100 compact, recently voted one of the best 50 inventions of 2012 by Time Magazine.
To keep the controller group happy and push DSLR's off center stage in the interchangeable lens market MILC's
to develop a multi tier product line.
At the bottom are the very compact ILC's without EVF, at the top there are pro style high performance cams with the ergonomics, capabilities and lenses required for professional use.
These have an ergonomic handle, thumb rest and control modules
for users who elect to operate the device with their hands. Oh........right.........that would be all of them........
Canon and Nikon will keep
selling boatloads of
DSLR's, in the process competing with each other within the envelope of sustaining innovation until the day someone delivers to the market an MILC which beats the DSLR at everything, for the same price or a bit less.
At that point the game will change forever.
The problem for the DSLR as a species is that it has
reached the end of it's evolutionary journey. DSLR's
can benefit from sustaining innovation
but the MILC brings the potential for disruptive innovation
. I think that if the makers of MILC's
bring their technology, ergonomics and marketing up to speed, they will prevail.
Postscript, November 2012
The biggest disruptive innovation to hit the camera world turned out to be the phone cam which has encouraged snapshooters to abandon entry level compacts en masse.
I still think there is a role for advanced compacts, superzooms and similar cameras which offer features and/or performance not available from phone cams.
Canon finally released it's MILC in the form of the underwhelming, "me-too" EOS-M.
It looks and operates just like the many "no EVF"
ILC's from Panasonic, Olympus, Sony and Samsung, but
according to many reviews, focusses more slowly than any of them. Canon is promoting the EOS-M to the
customer who is urged
to "Lose yourself in the moment, not the Manual. Be a PLAY- Fessional"
whatever those words might mean.
From my perspective as a consumer it appears Canon still regards the MILC as a gap filler and is slow to fully embrace the MILC as a disruptive innovation.
|This is my large mockup with box volume of 882 cc which is midway between the GH2 [808 cc] and GH3 [1014 cc] It would be suitable for professional use with handling characteristics similar to medium/large DSLR's but in a much more compact package. |
There has been some discussion on blogs and user forums recently about the camera market and in particular the rate at which MILC's are, or are not, encroaching on DSLR sales. It appears MILC sales have flatlined or even declined in 2012. One possible explanation for this might be the recent aggressive discounting of entry and lower mid level DSLR's.
For instance in a popular electronics discount store in Australia today you can buy a Nikon D5100 Twin Lens kit for $847 or Nikon D3100 Twin Lens kit for $746.
But the Olympus EM5 single Lens Kit is
Sony NEX6 Twin Lens Kit sells for $1498. To be fair the DSLR's
are superseded models and the MILC's are the latest and presumably best of the breed.
Do the customers care ? I don't know.
But I can see that it could be difficult for the sales staff to explain why the available mirrorless cams are more expensive than DSLR's with similar specification.
I have read opinions by people who appear to know about such things that a MILC should be less expensive to produce than a DSLR as it contains fewer parts. If that is true perhaps there will come a day when the price difference operates in favour of the MILC.
BANISH IMAGE BLUR DUE TO SHUTTER SHOCK
Panasonic G5 eShutter fixes the problem
Author AndrewS November 2012
Introduction This is the third article I have published on this blog about the effects of shutter shock on image sharpness in mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras and Micro Four Thirds cameras in particular.
In my previous report of the issue, I predicted that the eShutter now available on the Panasonic G5 camera would solve the problem. It does.
Test I repeated the previous test protocol. Panasonic G5 camera, Panasonic 100-300 mm lens at 300 mm, tripod mounted, 2 second timer delay, Shutter Priority mode, AF on each frame, OIS off. Shutter speeds ranged from 1/5 sec to 1/800 sec. I made one series with the mechanical shutter, a second series with eShutter.
Results With the mechanical shutter slight softness began at 1/40 sec, becoming more marked at 1/50 sec. Worst results with blurring and image doubling ocurred at 1/125 and 1/160 sec, just as previously reported with the GH2 and EM5 cameras.
With the eShutter all the frames were sharp. In the range from 1/20 to 1/40 sec the eShutter files were slightly sharper than those made with the mechanical shutter.
Conclusion eShutter works as expected. I recommend use of the eShutter for shutter speeds between 1/20 and 1/200 second. I use the eShutter whenever the camera is on a tripod.
|Mechanical shutter, 1/160 sec|
|eShutter, 1/160 sec|
Disadvantages of the eShutter
The eShutter works by scanning the frame, a process taking 0.1 second. As a result any subject which moves in relation to the camera during the 0.1 sec scan may exhibit shape distortion. For the same reason electronic flash cannot be used. [flash duration is much shorter than scan time]. In addition for reasons unknown to me maximum ISO is limited to 1600 and
the slowest shutter speed available is 1 sec.
PANASONIC G5 CAMERA
An ergonomic review, commentary
and comparison with the Panasonic GH2 and Olympus EM5
Author AndrewS November 2012
|Panasonic G5 with 7-14mm Ultrawide Zoom|
Introduction The G5 is Panasonic's seventh Micro Four Thirds Lumix G-with -EVF camera [the GH3 when released will be the eighth] and the fourth that I have bought and used. My first was the G1, then the G3, GH2 and now G5. This year I also bought and used for several months an Olympus OMD-EM-5. I have posted ergonomic reviews of the GH2 and EM5 on this blog. My main interest in writing about cameras and the purpose of this blog, is to draw attention to ergonomic issues in the design and use of photographic equipment so this report will concentrate on ergonomics with some reference to image quality and performance as these have a substantial influence on the user experience.
The G5 had a low key market release with most of the Micro Four Thirds headlines being grabbed by the Olympus EM5 and the soon to be released Panasonic GH3. However the G5 is a quiet achiever with small but significant improvements in features, image quality, performance and ergonomics compared to previous Panasonic M43 cameras.
Description and Features
The G5 sits in the mid range of Panasonic's M43 lineup with features designed to appeal to both beginner and expert users.
The beginner/snapshooter can push the iA button with it's glowing blue ring and enjoy fully automatic camera operation. But this camera has a great deal more to offer
the photographer prepared to take control of the image capture process.
It is smaller in all dimensions than the GH2 but slightly easier to hold and operate due to improved ergonomic design. The G5 provides much better ergonomics than the
G3, in particular related to holding the camera and operating the scroll wheel.
|Right hand grip on the G5. A comfortable hold without cramping|
Some of the G5's features are worthy of note. The electronic two way level indicator works well and I find myself using it quite frequently, especially with the camera on a tripod. It can be cycled on or off with the [Disp] button so it doesn't clutter up the screen when not wanted. The new electronic shutter provides vibration free and silent image capture when required. It is effective in preventing Shutter Shock which I have written about elsewhere on this blog. The e-shutter takes 0.1 seconds to scan the frame so it cannot be used with flash and may produce distortion in subject elements which move relative to the camera during the scan. It is also, for reasons unknown to me, restricted to a maximum ISO of 1600 and a longest shutter speed of 1 second.
The G5 has a Function Lever just behind the shutter release button. With no PZ lenses to be zoomed so I set the Function Lever to adjust exposure compensation. The rear dial performs all the usual tasks assigned to a mode dependent scroll wheel. A task/time/motion analysis shows that I use the Rear Dial about 50 times as often as the function lever. The camera nails correct exposure almost all the time in general photography so there is infrequent need for exposure compensation. Operational efficiency could be improved if the functions of these two user interface modules (UIM) could be interchanged. How so ? Because the right index finger is the one most suited to operate a main scroll wheel. Why ? Because it is the only finger on either hand which never has to take part in camera holding and support duty. Presumably this improvement could be achieved in firmware.
|G5 Rear. Compact but well designed user interface|
I am unable to say much about video or touch screen controls as I use neither, except that touch screen drag and drop actions are required to configure the Q Menu to personal requirements. The camera has various touch screen functions including [Touch Pad AF] which operates with EVF view. This works as advertised and may be of interest to some people. I found the fingers required to operate the function (literally) got in the way of normal camera operation. In addition right eye viewers have to stop holding the camera with the right hand to get the right thumb across to the monitor screen and left eye viewers have to stop supporting the lens with the left hand to bring the left thumb or other finger around to the rear of the camera and across the monitor screen. I found it much easier and less disruptive to the flow of image capture actions to switch off the [Touch Pad AF] function and just use the 4 way controller in [Direct Focus Area] mode for changing AF area position and size.
Like other Panasonic cameras the G5 has two digital zoom fcilities, [Ex Tele Conv] and [Digital Zoom]. Both work well and deliver decent quality JPG images although the [ExTeleConv] permits normal control of active AF area size and position which is useful. I have nothing to say about Scene Guide Modes or Creative Control Mode.
|Scroll Wheel serrations need more projection and sharpness|
Image Quality G5 RAW files converted in Adobe Camera Raw 7.2 at default settings, show slightly less noise across the ISO spectrum than those from the GH2, with equal sharpness. The difference is most marked in dark tones where close inspection shows that G5 files have more detail and less noise. The same files have a more neutral, less blue shifted color balance. In Multi Area Metering Mode the G5 will often give 1/3 stop more exposure than the GH2, leading to brighter mid tones. There is also with many subjects a different histogram curve shape, that of the GH2 being slightly biassed to the left. This means the GH2 allocates more image content to the dark tones, which inherently contain more noise than light tones. When, as is often required, those dark tones are pulled to the right with the Shadows slider in ACR the result is that more noise becomes evident in in the final image. When used to photograph a standard Kodak Gray Card using Auto WB the G5 typically produces files which average 128 brightness at the frame center in ACR 7.2 with the red, green and blue channels exactly superimposed. The GH2 Gray Card files average 116 in ACR but with the blue channel to the right of the other two. In plain language this means the G5 RAW files have lighter mid tones and more accurate white balance.
DXO Mark rates the G5 as having more Dynamic Range than the GH2 but in test photos of subjects with high brightness range, I could not convince myself of any significant difference in DR between them. Overall, the G5 provides a modest improvement in image quality over the GH2 but is not quite up to the Olympus EM5.
JPG files show loss of fine texture and detail from ISO 160, with color shifts, notably in the blues. Hi ISO JPG's exhibit watercolor effect with loss of color, contrast and detail.
I find RAW files processed to "best result" in ACR to be more appealing. Sharpness and texture are better preserved by leaving a bit of grain in Hi ISO images.
|Surfer. Captured with G5, Panasonic 100-300mm lens at 300mm and 1.4x Ex Tele Conv|
Performance In single shot single AF mode, pressing the shutter for each frame, the G5 will shoot 6 RAW files in 3 seconds, with live view, AF and AE on each frame, using a SanDisk 95 MB/sec card. The frame rate slows markedly at 8 exposures, presumably due to the buffer having filled at this point. At M burst rate, with EVF preview on each frame and Large Good Quality JPG files, with the shutter held down, the G5 will fire 20 frames in 5 seconds [4fps] while the GH2 manages 20 frames in 6 seconds [3.3 fps]. So the G5 does have a slight edge in continuous shooting speed [JPG].
In general I can say that the G5 regularly gets the following important performance markers right:
* Auto ISO: The camera adjusts ISO to prevent shutter speed falling into the camera shake range and allows a slower speed if OIS is on.
* Auto Exposure: In general photography the camera selects an exposure to protect highlights if possible within the camera's dynamic range, while maintaining a well balanced range of middle and dark tones. The user still has to think about exposure compensation with subjects having mostly dark or mostly bright tones, as with any other camera.
* Auto Focus: In single shot, single area mode, G5 AF is fast, sensitive accurate and reliable. AF speed slows a little in low light but is still commendably prompt and accurate. I have the AF assist lamp turned off as it is rarely needed. In continuous drive, burst rate M using continuous AF, the camera can easily follow focus on moving cars in bright light, with a high rate of sharp frames.. Of the lenses which were available to me at the time of testing the Olympus 40-150 mm scored a higher percentage [80%] of sharp frames than the Panasonic 100-300 mm [30%]. I had previously discovered with the GH2 and EM5 that the Olympus 75-300 mm and 40-150 mm lenses are more responsive in follow focus situations with fast moving subjects than the Panasonic 100-300. The Panasonic can keep up with more slowly moving subjects such as board surfers.
I discovered while testing the camera that the active AF area can be set anywhere in the frame including the extreme corners. I tested AF accuracy over the whole frame area. I divided the frame into five horizontal strips (with the camera in landscape orientation). Autofocus anywhere in the top four strips was accurate. But AF anywhere along the lowest strip adjacent to the bottom of the frame, was inaccurate, with blurred results. I did the same test with a Lumix GH2 with the same result. The G5 and GH2 are said to use the same sensor so I may have uncovered a generic problem. I have not seen this reported elsewhere.
Holding The G5 body and handle have more curves than previous G cams to better match the hands and fingers which have to hold and operate the device. The center of the shutter release button is inset 22 mm from the right side of the body, while that of the GH2 is inset only 17 mm. The handle is of hybrid parallel/projecting type with a more overtly sculpted shape to accommodate the fingers. The right shoulder is raised so that even though the G5 is lower overall than the GH2, it's Shutter button is 3 mm higher and is angled forward more. The thumb rest on the G5 allows the right thumb to angle across the camera unlike the GH2 which forces the thumb to sit vertically on the right edge of the control panel. On the G5, this opens up the angle between the thumb and index finger allowing the hand to adopt a more natural posture which can grip the camera with less effort. Any one of these changes in isolation would not amount to much but together they make the G5 more comfortable and secure to hold than any previous G cam or the Olympus EM5. This is a significant ergonomic achievement because all the G cams to date [pre- GH3] are at the lower limit of size compatible with good holding by adult hands. This usually means further size reduction has a deleterious effect but in this case the G5 is smaller in all dimensions than the GH2 but handles a little better. Not dramatically better [the GH2 is not bad] but enough that when both bodies are available to me as is the case right now, I choose the G5.
Viewing The G5 has very pleasant viewing arrangements with an excellent EVF and nice clear swing out and swivel monitor. The rubber eyecup of the G5 is wider and a little more comfortable than that on the GH2. The EVF jitters when panned in low light. The on [or under, depending on Display Style] image data displays are comprehensive and easy to read. Both the EVF and Monitor can be configured to have the same appearance providing a seamless transition from one to the other with auto eye sensor switching.
Setup Phase The menu system is extensive with the function of some options requiring a visit to the operating instructions for explanation. The plethora of options could be daunting at first but study and practice pay dividends. The G5 menus are less convoluted and puzzling than those on the Olympus EM5. As with other modern electronic cameras the function of many user interface modules [buttons, dials etc] can be selected from a long list which means that each user can, in effect, build themselves a camera to suit personal requirements. Here are the settings which I use however others will choose different functions for the UIM's.
* Function Lever: Exposure Compensation.
* Motion Picture Button: Off.
* iA button: I would set this to Off if that were available as I never use iA but to prevent accidental activation I have it set to activate only with press and hold.
* AF/AE Lock/Fn1: Autofocus start/lock.
* LVF/LCD/Fn3 Button: eShutter. Automatic switching between EVF and Monitor with proximity sensor.
* Cursor Buttons [4 Way controller]: Direct AF area. This means the cursor buttons directly move the active AF area. You do need to press any one of the quadrants to activate the function.
* Delete/Return/Fn2: ISO.
* Touch Screen: Off.
Prepare Phase Items in the Q Menu can be user selected/deleted which means each user can configure Q Menu to their own requirements with those items required but no others. Fewer items in the Q Menu means faster location and selection of each. I recommend removing infrequently used items from the Q Menu. They can still be accessed from the Main Menus when needed. The graphical interface of the Q Menu is very nice, with two or three tiers of submenus on a single screen for easy location and selection of options.
I have only four functions on the Q Menu: OIS, Image Quality, Focus Mode, and Drive Mode.
The Mode Dial is of standard type. There are C1 and C2 positions on the Mode Dial for custom presets. This system works well and is useful. It is more user friendly than Olympus EM5 Mysets. The Panasonic system always provides an immediate visual reference to the C position on the Mode Dial whereas the Myset system involves much button pressing and does not indicate the Myset in use by any means at all. When current camera settings are saved to a Custom position on the Mode Dial [C1, C2.1, C2.2 etc] the camera will save ALL current settings of every description. They can be subsequently altered at will of course while using the camera and will revert to the saved settings when the camera is switched off then back on or the Mode Dial is moved to a different setting then back again. I use the Custom sets as below, users can choose any other combination of settings.
* C1: [Sport/Action] Image Size L, Quality Fine JPG, ISO Auto, AF Continuous, Burst Speed M, Shutter priority 1/800 sec [initial setting].
* C2.1: [Tripod, Landscape] Image Quality RAW, Timer 2 sec, eShutter On, ISO 160, AF single, Drive Mode Single, Aperture priority f5.6 [initial setting].
* C2.2: [ExTeleConv] Image Size M, Quality Fine JPG, ISO Auto, AF Continuous, Burst Speed M, , Shutter priority 1/1000 sec [initial setting].
Capture Phase Position and size of the active AF area can be changed quickly and easily with one's eye to the EVF. Current Exposure Mode, ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed and EV+/- are clearly displayed in the EFV or monitor and are easily and quickly changed while viewing through the EVF. The camera permits considerable individual choice of button function allowing it to be configured to individual requirements. The AF/AE Lock button can be set to start/lock autofocus which allows the operator to separate AF from AE and capture. The button itself is well placed for easy operation while eye level viewing with much less [compared to the GH2] flexion of the thumb interphalangeal joint and the metacarpo-phalangeal joint. All this means less derotation of the base of the thumb and better maintenance of grip on the camera. Compared to the GH2, there has been a subtle but ergonomically significant reshaping of the upper rear section of the camera body and a reduction of the amount by which the monitor frame stands proud of the body. One needs to spend time with both cameras [and I mean weeks, not just a few minutes] to appreciate the benefit of these changes. The 4-Way controller is of a modified "Rocking Saucer" design which is a substantial improvement on the "Five Buttons" type found on the GH2 [and other cameras]. It could be further improved if the top, bottom and left edges were raised slightly to make them easier to locate by feel. In general the camera is a pleasure to operate. The user interface modules [UIM, buttons, dials etc] are mostly well located and designed with a few caveats, see below.
Review Phase The G5 has fairly standard arrangements for image review which works well enough. Adoption of the Olympus EM5 system would be an improvement, however. This enlarges the review image centered on the point of focus and allows scrolling between enlarged frames.
Update: 18 November 2012. Reader Brad C has discovered how to scroll between enlarged frames using the GH2 and G5 cameras. Enlarge the review frame and move the desired part of the frame to the center. Then press the scroll wheel until it clicks. A little circle symbol with two arrow markers appears in the lower right corner of the review frame. You can now scroll from one enlarged image to the next with the arrow keys. Thank you Brad.
Grumbles and suggestions for improvement The G5 has, compared to some other cameras I have tested, relatively few ergonomic frustrations but there are some items which could be improved.
* Buttons: For those of us who don't use video it would be nice to have the option to assign some other function to the Motion Picture Button. It is in the right spot for an ISO control. Likewise the [iA] button for those who would prefer to use this for something other than it's manufacturer assigned function.
* 4-Way controller: As already indicated this is much easier to operate by feel than the "Five Buttons" type on other cameras, but I have found I sometimes hit the right side inadvertently while handling the camera. This is a fairly common problem on small cameras with a narrow control panel area.
* Scroll Wheel [Rear Dial]: The rear dial on the G5 is similar to that on the GH2 but moved to the right to allow the larger thumb rest. As with the GH2, the serrations on the dial are quite rounded in profile with a curved, smooth surface. The dial would be easier to turn if it had a sharper serration profile and slightly more prominent exposure outside the body.
* Multi Aspect Ratio Sensor: I found this feature on the GH2 very useful and used it frequently. So I was disappointed to see it missing from the G5 even though the two cameras are rumored to use the same basic sensor.
* Memory Card in Battery Compartment: This is a minor issue but when one is using a camera frequently it is more convenient for the card to have a dedicated compartment on the handle side of the body.
is compact, light and moderately priced, yet delivers good image quality, good performance and decent ergonomics. It is one of the few cameras which I appreciate more with ongoing acquaintance. Considering it's compatibility with
the extensive and growing lineup of lenses suitable for M43 cameras, I rate the G5 an easy camera to recommend. I had
the opportunity to use then chose between the G5, GH2
and EM5 as the basis for my my main camera kit and chose the G5.
I made this decision on the basis of the G5's more use friendly interface and ergonomics even though the EM5 has slightly better image quality.
LENS TEST REPORT
Panasonic Lumix 45-150mm f4.0-5.6 OIS
comparison with Olympus 40-150mm f4.0-5.6
Budget midrange zoom lenses for Micro Four Thirds System
Author AndrewS November 2012
Introduction The 45-150mm is Panasonic's third midrange zoom lens for the Micro Four Thirds System. First came the45-200mm OIS. I bought and used two of these over the years and found both to be very good performers in the 45-100mm focal length range. But towards the 200mm focal length they lost contrast, sharpness and focus accuracy with distant subjects. In addition the 45-200mm is larger and twice the weight of the new 45-150mm. Next up was the 45-175mm power zoom lens which appears to have been intended mainly for video applications. I bought one of these last year and had to return it to the vendor. It produced severe blurring with double imaging in the 1/20-1/200sec shutter speed range with OIS on or off, hand held or tripod mounted. This is the lens which alerted me to the issue of shutter shock blur. I do not know whether Panasonic has rectified the blur problems with this lens.
|Panasonic Lumix 45-150mm f4-5.6 lens on Panasonic G5 camera|
So we come to the 45-150mm. If this lens had appeared a few years ago it might have been hailed as a near miraculous optical, electronic and mechanical achievement. But us consumers get a bit blasé about the march of technology and tend to regard it now as just another budget zoom. I have discovered it to be a very good lens and the fact it is available over the counter retail in a street front camera shop in the Sydney CBD for only $300 seems quite remarkable to me. It comes supplied with a lens hood, which can be reverse bayonet mounted.
Description The 45-150mm is a very compact, light, general purpose midrange zoom which is often bundled in a twin lens kit with the G5 camera. It is smaller than the other two Panasonic mid range zooms, but with less zoom range, and even smaller than the Olympus 40-150mm zoom. It weighs 195 grams bare and 225 grams with front and rear lens caps and 52mm UV filter. Build quality appears to be excellent. The zoom ring operates very smoothly as does the focus ring. The lens mount is metal. The front section which takes a 52mm filter, does not rotate with zoom or focus. Like most, posibly all M43 zooms this one is a varifocal which means it must be refocussed after zooming. There are no distance markings or interface modules on the lens barrel. I find the absence of OIS ON/OFF and AF/MF switches disappointing as I prefer to have these functions on set and seemodules on the lens barrel where I can see and adjust them easily without having to enter the Q menu. I guess their absence helps keep the cost down. My copy is clean with no dust or other foreign body having yet appeared inside the glass. As with other Panasonic lenses with OIS the 45-150 rattles when shaken from side to side when unpowered.
|On the left, Lumix 45-150mm on G5 body, On the right Olympus 40-150mm on GH2 body|
Focus On the G5 body AF single is fast and accurate in a wide variety of conditions. In several hundred test photos which I made for this review, almost all the AF single shots were in focus on the active AF area. My notes do record a slight tendency to misfocussing at 150mm with distant subjects, but even there the great majority of frames were in sharp focus. I also ran several tests with the G5 set to AF Continuous and M Burst Mode [4fps] on moving subjects with the lens at 150mm. About 70% of frames of moving vehicles and board surfers were in sharp focus, given a fairly steady rate of subject progress and good light. In lower light levels follow focus on a moving subject was less reliable. Manual focus with MF assist is easy to achieve.
|Both lenses zoomed out to 150mm|
Optical Image Stabiliser (OIS) I ran several tests of OIS effectiveness, with mixed results. The most unambiguous benefit of OIS is to steady the EVF preview at the long end of the lens. Otherwise I got results which differed from one test run to the next. In fact I found that the effects of camera shake, shutter shock, OIS and eShutter were very difficult to untangle in my test schedules. On some test runs at 150mm I got sharp frames with OIS on at 1/10 and 1/13, blurring at 1/15-1-30 then sharp again from 1/60 up. The runs of the same subject with OIS off produced very blurred frames at 1/10-1/13 as expected but inconsistent results in the range 1/40-1/200. Overall with OIS switched on, there was a modest but inconsistent tendency to sharper frames in the shutter speed range 1-2 stops slower than the inverse of [focal length]x2.
Shutter Shock and eShutter I obtained variable results for image sharpness in the shutter speed range [1/20-1/200sec] previously identified as potentially being affected by shutter shock. When hand held I found occasional but inconsistent advantage to using eShutter in the range 1/20-1/200. On a tripod the picture was clearer with definite advantage to use of the eShutter from 1/30-1/200sec. Does handholding act as a damper for shutter shock ? Perhaps, I'm not sure but it seems possible.
|Waterfront apartments. Lumix 45-150mm at 150mm f5.6, hand held, OIS on, eShutter. The apartments are 500 meters from the camera. The file will have suffered from downsizing and compression for the internet but on the original you can see individual leaves on trees behind the apartments. The out of focus boats and piers are smoothly rendered. |
Sharpness/resolution I checked this at two distances as I have found a lens will often perform better with close than far subjects or vice versa. I used a simple test chart at 40x focal length and a stand of casuarina trees with uniformly fine foliage at 1000x focal length. I tested the Panasonic 45-150mm alongside the Panasonic 14-45mm, Panasonic 100-300mm and Olympus 40-150mm at comparable focal lengths. I was also testing the Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 at the same time so I had that as a benchmark.
To cut a long story short, the Panasonic 45-150mm and Olympus 40-150mm gave virtually identical results across the focal length and aperture range. Both performed well on the test chart and trees. The Panasonic 100-300mm was just detectably better at 100 and 150mm in the casuarina trees but not on the test chart. Results for the 45-150mm were very good across the focal length and aperture range with no weak areas detected on my copy and no decentering. Corners were a little softer than the center but tidied up well with 1/3 or 2/3 stop smaller aperture in most cases. The exception was at 150mm which seemed best wide open at f5.6 on most of my test runs. In fact f5.6 appeared to be the best aperture for the 45-150mm at all focal lengths. Fine detail resolution across the frame with the 45-150mm was less than the 14-45mm which in turn was slightly less than the 12-35mm. Rendition of fine surface textures is good but not up to the standard of the 14-45mm and noticeably less crisp than the 12-35mm.
|House and garden about 50 meters from the camera. Lumix 45-150mm at 45mm. Hand held, OIS and eShutter on. On the original file you can see a wealth of fine detail right across the frame and into the corners.|
Chromatic aberration and purple fringing CA from Pansonic lenses is corrected in Panasonic cameras so CA is not an issue on the G5. Neither did I find evidence of purple fringing. The story might be different on an Olympus camera. Panasonic lenses often prove to have significant CA which is not corrected by Olympus bodies.
Corner Shading is quite apparent at the widest aperture, becoming less apparent as the aperture is reduced 1-1.5 stops.
Drawing There is mild barrel distortion at the wide end and mild pincushion at the long end.
Bokeh Rendition of out of focus subject elements in front of and behind the subject in focus is smooth and unobtrusive.
Contrast/microcontrast This is clearly less than is delivered by the 12-35mm and 14-45mm lenses but responds well to a little Contrast/Clarity tweaking in Adobe Camera Raw.
|Hand held flower shot with a closeup filter |
Flares The lens handles sun in frame well with mild veiling flare. With the sun at frame edge or just out of frame it is easy enough to provoke veiling flare and green spots with or without magenta flares. None of this is a problem unless one is deliberately trying to provoke flares, however regular use of the lens hood would be prudent.
Close up The closest focus distance is 790mm measured to the sensor plane. Image quality is good across the frame at this distance. The Olympus 40-150mm will focus to 670mm but at this distance the frame edges are very blurred so the lens is not really useful. The Panasonic 45-150mm will accept screw on close up filters. I tried a Nikon 3T with the lens at 75mm giving decent quality photos of small subjects such as flowers.
Suggested strategy for sharp results
On tripod This lens is a good match for the Panasonic G5 camera which offers eShutter which is definitely useful with the camera on tripod. Switch OIS off and eShutter on, use remote shutter release or timer delay. eShutter is not available for shutter speeds longer than 1 second.
Hand Held Switch OIS on. Where possible use a shutter speed equal to or faster than the reciprocal of [focal length]x2. This is 1/100sec at the wide end and 1/320sec at the long end. Experiment with eShutter if your camera has it, using your own technique. Do not expect OIS to compensate for unsteady camera holding.
When the Micro Four Thirds System was introduced about four years ago it promised to deliver imaging performance similar to that of
traditional 35mm cameras but in a much more compact package. With lenses like the 45-150mm, M43 delivers on that promise. This lens is small, light and
inexpensive yet is able to deliver very good results with a variety of subjects and conditions. It would make a good companion to the excellent Panasonic 14-45mm standard zoom on a Panasonic body with eShutter.
[only available on the G5 and GH3 as I write] For an Olympus body the Olympus 40-150mm lens might be more suitable.
MIRRORLESS INTERCHANGEABLE LENS CAMERAS
Fourth birthday report: One user's view of progress in the MILC world
Part One [of three]: Design, Size , Quality
Author AndrewS November 2012
In the beginning In 2004, Seiko Epson/Cosina announced the world's first rangefinder digital camera, the Epson R-D1, able to accept interchangeable Leica M and L mount lenses. It was discontinued in 2007 with no successor. In 2006, Leica introduced it's first M series camera with an electronic sensor, the M8, but this still had manual focus and lens operation. The Panasonic G1 was announced for Photokina in September 2008. This was the first all new, electronic MILC with EVF and autofocus. At the time of writing there have since then been 57 new MILC models from 10 manufacturers. In the same period there have been 63 new DSLR's from 6 manufacturers.
Author's perspective I am an enthusiast/expert amateur photographer with over 50 years experience. I used film SLR's then DSLR's for many years but became disenchanted with two aspects of the DSLR experience. One was the size and weight of camera bodies and lenses. The other was persistently erratic and unreliable autofocus with my chosen brand, Canon. So I bought a Panasonic G1 hoping it would solve both my problems, which it did. Unfortunately the G1 was burdened with ergonomic deficiencies. It was, in fact the camera which sparked my interest in camera ergonomics and eventually the creation of this blog.
I originally gathered the material for this essay to plan a way forward with my own camera kit. However I realised that others might be in a similar situation so may be able to glean something useful from my thoughts.
This essay is an opinion piece referenced to my personal requirements. These are, in brief,
* I make photographs of a wide variety of subjects including family, architecture, landscape, street, social documentary, sport/action, workplace documentary and others. So my requirements are for a compact, versatile photographic kit which can tackle just about any task.
* For many years I used single focal length lenses because there were no zooms available for the consumer photography market. Now we have access to a range of zooms with excellent quality so I use them for their convenience.
* I mostly shoot RAW, process images in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR)/Photoshop and I like to make prints. If a camera is not supported or is poorly supported by ACR then it holds no interest for me.
* I do not do video. That's just a personal idiosyncrasy, I am a still photo person.
* I do not use touch screen controls to operate the camera. I have plenty of experience using cameras having a touch screen capability but find this is not in harmony with my style of camera use, which mostly involves viewing through the EVF.
* I live in Sydney Australia where the weather is often fine and sunny so for outdoor photography I regard an eye level viewfinder as essential. The technology of electronic viewfinders [EVF] has improved so much in the last few years that I no longer have any interest in optical viewfinders. I will not buy a camera without a built in EVF. Some people prefer cameras lacking an EVF, some insist on an optical viewfinder. That's fine, nobody can be told what to like.
* I like to engage with my photographic equipment in a harmonious fashion, so for me, good ergonomics is very important. I will not buy a camera which I consider to have inferior ergonomics, and that, unfortunately includes most MILC's on the market today. Please refer to the many articles on this blog for detailed discussion about camera ergonomics.
Why was the MILC invented ? I am just a consumer with no personal knowlege of anybody in the camera manufacturing or marketing business. So this is just my guess, but there appear to be two main drivers of the MILC. First, they did it because they could. Specifically the image quality of EVF and Monitor screens developed to a level which made them viable alternatives to the optical viewfinder. Second, Canon and Nikon had a stranglehold on the DSLR market, so it made sense for Panasonic, Olympus and others to outflank CaNikon with a disruptive innovation. Please refer to my essay about disruptive innovation elsewhere on this blog.
|Panasonic G5 a Micro Four Thirds System Camera, easy to hold and operate showing good ergonomics can be achieved with small ILC's|
Where does the MILC fit into the photographic world ?
This has been a real challenge to designers and manufacturers because at exactly the same time as the MILC was introduced,
phone cams started to make massive inroads into the snapshooter market for compact cameras. My personal experience is that the MILC has been competent
enough to replace the DSLR and compact
enough to replace the advanced compact in my camera kit. My view is that the (D)SLR type camera has reached the end of it's evolutionary course and will gradually be replaced by a range of MILC type cameras which provide greater opportunities for design innovation. I don't think fixed lens cameras [advanced compacts, superzooms etc]
will disappear but they will evolve to provide better image quality and photographic control than a phone cam for discriminating photographers wanting to travel light.
What characteristics of MILC's could make them more appealing than DSLR's ?
* Full time live view in EVF and Monitor with seamless transition from one to the other. Current EVF's still have less highlight and shadow detail compared to the best OVF's but they are improving with each iteration. I would much rather use the big, bright, clear EVF on the Panasonic G5 sitting on my desk than the OVF of any entry level DSLR.
* Full and selectable complement of camera status and other data on and/or under the EVF and Monitor image.
* Fast, sensitive, accurate, reliable autofocus using single AF, single area settings with selected brands. My hands on experience of MILC's is limited to Panasonic, Olympus, Fuji and Samsung. Of these four Panasonic has most reliably delivered simultaneous speed and accuracy.
* Ability to place the active AF area almost anywhere in the frame, with full accuracy and reliability.
* Size and weight. I will discuss this further below.
The concept of Good Enough image quality For many years I chased image quality with increasingly large, unwieldy film cameras. It started with an SLR, then a better one, then better lenses, then a Leica M6, then various medium format kits and eventually 4x5 inch large format. One day after an overnight hike with the 4x5 kit, tent, etc.....etc....which stretched my physical capabilities to the limit and gave me chronic back pain which remains my constant unwelcome companion, I had an epiphany about "Good Enough" image quality. If a camera kit provides good enough image quality for my purposes then I don't need and cannot make use of any more.
Good Enough image quality in the digital era Pinned to the display board next to my desk as I type this essay are some large prints. The largest I can squeeze out of my Epson 4880 printer, in fact. They look pretty darn good to me and I am very critical of print quality. I would have no hesitation in upsizing them to poster prints. The source of these images is a Micro Four Thirds sensor measuring just 13 x 17.3 mm in size. Only a few years ago the proposition that such high quality prints could originate from so small a sensor device would have been in the realm of science fiction.
MILC design When designers of the MILC threw out the flipping mirror, focussing screen, pentaprism and a lot of other stuff essential to a DSLR, they opened the door to the possibility of a revolution in camera shapes, styles, configurations and sizes. The MILC can literally be any shape at all without the constraints of the SLR design. Some MILC designers have started to make use of this freedom to create new camera shapes [Sony NEX], others have reprised a shape [Panasonic and Olympus faux DSLR] or controls [Fuji look-a-Leica] from the past, even if that shape or user interface is not required and may actually inhibit full functional and ergonomic expression of the MILC concept.
MILC sensor sizes MILC's come in a variety of sensor sizes, as below:
* 24x36 mm, Diagonal 43 mm. Crop factor 1.0. Leica M9 and derivatives
* APS-C (Sony) 15.8x23.6 mm, Diagonal 28 mm. Crop factor 1.5. Sony, Pentax, Fuji, Samsung.
* APS-C (Canon) 14.9x22.3 mm, Diagonal 27 mm. Crop factor 1.6. Canon.
* Micro Four Thirds 13x17.3 mm, Diagonal 21.6 mm. Crop factor 2.0. Olympus, Panasonic.
* Nikon CX 8.8 x 13.2 mm, Diagonal 15.86 mm. Crop factor 2.7. Nikon 1 series.
* "1/2.3 inch" 4.55x6.17 mm, Diagonal 7.12 mm. Crop factor 6.0. Pentax Q.
The question of size in MILC
Body Size MILC's were initially and are still being promoted for their small size, compared to DSLR's. Compact dimensions are indeed a potential characteristic of the MILC but smallness can be taken to ergonomically counterproductive extremes. Hands stubbornly remain the same size no matter what camera they are holding. There is therefore a size range below which further reduction just produces a device which is difficult to hold and operate. Still, there is much interest on user forums about the question of camera size. There is even a website, camerasize.com which is devoted to the subject. The best part of this website is the Camera Body Plus Lens section which shows that lenses are the greatest contributors to the bulk of a multi lens kit.
The width of a camera body is determined at the rear by the width of the monitor and the space allocated by the designer to the control panel and thumbrest. At the front, width is influenced by the diameter of the lens mount and the distance of the optical axis from the left (as viewed by the user) side of the camera. The designer's decision about the size and type (parallel or projecting) of the handle, if any, also affects camera width.
Camera height is determined by the height of the monitor and EVF eyepiece, plus flash unit if included.
Camera depth is determined mainly by the handle, if fitted, flangeback distance, monitor type and rear projection of the EVF eyepiece.
Note that nowhere in this list does sensor size appear as a determinant of body size, except as it relates to the lens mount.
Lens Size While body size is determined by a range of factors, lens size is closely related to sensor size. Lens design is highly dependent on the laws of physics and optics which means in essence that bigger sensors need bigger lenses and it will ever be thus. So if some wonderful new optical invention permits lenses to be made smaller then all shall benefit and the larger sensor > larger lenses relationship will remain.
Sensor Size So now the question is "What is the smallest sensor size which will give me Good Enough image quality from cameras in production right now ? "
And the answer for me is: Micro Four Thirds. I refer specifically to the Olympus OMD-EM-5 which I have tested and which I rate the first M43 camera the image quality of which is good enough for all my requirements. I expect that most, possibly all (maybe not the entry level models without EVF) subsequent M43 releases from Olympus and Panasonic will have at least this level of image quality.
What is the best MILC system choice ? Straightforward question, simple answer: For my requirements, Micro Four Thirds.
Why ? Because the sensor is large enough to give me the image quality I want but small enough to allow the designers to make a really high quality lens system which is much more compact than anything from the APS-C group. This choice is also a bet on the future . I expect that we will see further gains in image quality from electronic sensors such that sizes larger than M43 will only be required by professionals who now use "medium format" gear.
Readers with different photographic requirements will very likely come to a different conclusion about their preferred system.
The outlook for DSLR's My view is that the DSLR as a camera type has no future at all for two reasons.
The first is that the DSLR has reached the end of it's evolutionary journey. There is no technological development which will allow the DSLR to match the MILC on seamless transition of live view from monitor to EVF. Note that Sony SLT cams can do this but I think the SLT variant of the DSLR genre is also an evolutionary dead end. It uses the standard DSLR flangeback distance. Neither the standard DSLR nor SLT types adjust focus directly on the image capturing sensor when eye level viewing. And neither can be as compact as the MILC type. On the other hand I expect that ongoing technological developments will allow MILC's to match or exceed the performance of DSLR's in every respect.
The second is production cost. Consider this. A DSLR needs all the stuff in a MILC except the EVF module, PLUS: flipping mirror, sub mirror, phase detect AF module under the mirror, focussing screen, pentaprism or mirror, light meter module near the pentaprism and optical viewfinder. All the optical and focussing elements in this imaging chain have to be mechanically aligned with great precision or they will give incorrectly framed or focussed images. In effect a modern DSLR is two cameras in one, an SLR in OVF mode and a MILC in live view mode. I believe that either now or in the near future EVF modules will be cheaper to fabricate and easier, therefore cheaper, to assemble than the optical/mechanical components of an SLR.
Prospects for MILC's with 27-28 mm sensors Sony NEX, Pentax K-01, Canon EOS M, Fuji X-Pro/X-E1 and Samsung NX use this sensor size. In his April 2012 review of the Olympus EM5 for Digital Photography Review, Richard Butler wrote "........spending twice the money and moving up to the bulk of full frame is the only way of gaining a significant step up [in image quality] from the EM5". Think about it. By moving up from M43 to APS-C you get at best a slight improvement in image quality, or in some cases none, but a very noticeable increase in lens size and therefore kit size, weight and cost. So, do MILC's with 27-28 mm sensors have a future ? Some people will say, yes of course they do. But I am not so sure about that.
However, there could well be a place in the market for a modular MILC with a large sensor, square so the body never has to be flipped over, about 45 mm in diameter, for professional photographers requiring the highest possible level of image quality. This could be the modern equivalent of the original 56 x 56 mm Hasselblad film camera of the 1950's.
What improvements do MILC's need to make ?
* Further improvement to the appearance and refresh rate of EVF's for a more natural viewing experience.
* Eliminating shutter shock as a cause of image degradation. Please see my articles about this subject elsewhere on this blog. The ultimate solution would appear to be the much anticipated but as yet unrealised "global shutter", which refers to a process by which all the data from an imaging sensor is read off simultaneously, so that a mechanical shutter is not required. Until the advent of the global shutter there are some options available for M43 users. The Panasonic G5 and GH3 have an electronic shutter option and the Olympus EM5 has the "AntiShock" feature.
* Follow focus capability. Selected MILC's have extremely fast, sensitive, accurate contrast detect autofocus, which is more effective in single shot mode than the majority of DSLR's which use the inherently less accurate phase detect AF when eye level viewing. But effective follow focus on a moving subject has been beyond the capability of MILC AF systems until recently. This has begun to change. Nikon's V series cams have a composite on chip AF system which can follow focus at very high frame rates in good light. The Olympus EM5 and Panasonic G5 can follow a subject moving at fairly constant speed in good light with decent accuracy, using just the on chip CDAF system with fast refresh rate. MILC makers need to get up to speed on this aspect of AF technology to compete effectively with mid and upper level DSLR's.
* Preset manual focus by scale. Once upon a time, before the electronic technology blizzard struck the camera world, an SLR lens had scales for aperture, focus distance and depth of field engraved on the barrel. If you wanted to preset the focus distance to, say, 3 meters you simply rotated the focus ring, checked what aperture was required for the desired depth of field and set the aperture to suit. Easy. But now that is impossible with most [not all, some can do it] lenses for MILC's. It might be possible to achieve the same thing electronically. I believe most camera bodies probably know the current focussed distance of the attached lens and should therefore be able to display this on an analogue scale on the monitor and EVF.
* Ergonomics I have been surprised and disappointed by the generally poor ergonomic design of MILC's to date, even from corporations which have been making cameras for many decades. Hence the existence of this blog. In my view, all the MILC makers have much work to do in improving the ergonomic function of their products. I discuss this issue further in Parts 2 and 3 of this fourth birthday review and in many camera reviews and articles on this blog.
My choice of camera kit I am currently using Panasonic Micro Four thirds cameras and zoom lenses as they are the best available fit with my requirements. Bodies; G5, GH2, Lenses: 7-14mm, 12-35mm, 14-45mm, 100-300mm and 45-150mm. I plan to upgrade to a GH3 body and add the 35-100mm f2.8 lens when these become available in Australia.
The photographic industry is currently being buffeted by challenges the like of which have never been seen before. These are being driven by new technology, new consumer expectations and
a new world order of commercial dominance. The MILC has an integral role in the industry's response to these challenges.
MIRRORLESS INTERCHANGEABLE LENS CAMERAS [MILC]
Fourth Birthday Report Part Two
Ergonomics, Concept and Implementation
Ergonomic Evaluation This is the second part of my review of current MILC-with-EVF cameras. I have owned and used Samsung NX, Panasonic G/GH and Olympus EM5 cameras and lenses. I have also made, remade and modified numerous camera mockups. I discovered many things about ergonomics from all this and have published my findings about ergonomic principles and the operation of specific cameras in many articles on this blog. It is quite possible to make some observations about the ergonomic operation of a camera using information from product photographs, listed specifications and published user feedback. I have used these sources of information for my comments on some of the cameras referred to in this article. I am not beholden directly or indirectly to any maker or vendor of photographic products.
Personal Bias ? Some readers may think the material which follows is just Andrew taking the opportunity to air personal preferences. Fair enough, that is inevitable with any opinion piece. However the presentation is informed by years of hands on experience which I hope will make it useful or at least interesting for those who read on.
|Photograph courtesy of camerasize.com|
On the left Canon EOS 5D2 [43mm sensor] with 24-70mm f2.8 lens, In the center, Canon EOS 60D [27mm sensor] with 17-55mm f2.8 lens, On the right, Panasonic GH3 [21.5mm sensor] with 12-35mm f2.8 lens. Each of these combinations gives the same field of view range [the 17-55 has slightly less FOV than the others] and aperture.
|Photograph courtesy of camerasize.com|
Same camera bodies as above. On the left, 70-200mm f2.8 lens, In the center 70-200mm f4 lens, On the right 35-100mm f2.8 lens. The 35-100mm on the GH3 matches the 70-200mm on the 5D2 for field of view range and aperture. There is no exact match for the 60D so I included the 70-200mm f4 for an approximate comparison, albeit with smaller FOV and aperture. These two photos show that lens size is the main contributor to total kit size particularly if longer lenses are included.
Concept and Implementation In this essay I will consider each maker's MILC-with-EVF offerings from two perspectives:
* Conceptual Integrity.
* Ergonomically Coherent Implementation.
What do I mean by conceptual integrity ? Perhaps some examples will help explain the idea. Through the 1970's and 80's most 35mm SLR's looked very similar. Many medium format cameras were based on the original Hasselblad shape and also looked quite similar. Then Rollei had the (not so) bright idea to make a 35mm SLR in the form of a medium format camera. This emerged as the SL2000F of 1981, followed by the 3003 in 1985. These cameras flopped in the market place, no doubt for various reasons, but I believe one of those reasons was that the basic concept was wrong. A user interface which worked just fine at medium format size did not downscale to 35mm size at all. The engineers could downsize the components but not the user's hands.
Here is another Rollei themed example. One of the most famous cameras of all time was the Rollieflex 2.8F rollfilm Twin Lens Reflex. This was an excellent, some might say sublime, example of conceptual integrity and well designed implementation. Then someone made a plastic, mini, digital version scaled down to 75mm height. I don't imagine this was ever intended to be more than a conversation piece but apparently it did make pictures. This example is a bit silly but it is a gross example of a product with poor, in this case laughable, conceptual integrity.
For a more recent example let us consider the Panasonic L-1 of 2007 and its twin-under-the-skin Olympus E-330. These were 4/3 system DSLR cameras. Instead of the standard top mounted prism and viewfinder arrangement they had a sideways mounted focussing screen and system of mirrors leading to a viewfinder over towards the left side of the camera (as viewed by the user). Why did Panasonic and Olympus adopt this design ? It did not work any better than a standard shape DSLR and the user interface was not an improvement. Maybe they were trying for a more compact package. Did they want it to look like a rangefinder ? Who knows ? In any event buyers failed to embrace the idea and it was discontinued. I think at least part of the problem was a lack of conceptual integrity. I will return to the ongoing problems [well, I think they are problems] with conceptual integrity being experienced by Panasonic in Part 3 of this review.
Readers will bring their own experience and opinions to this type of discussion so I do not ask the reader to agree or disagree with anything I write but to use this material as an additional source of ideas [if such be desired] about camera design and consumer choices.
Concept: Leica has been making M-rangefinder ["messsucher"] cameras since the M3 of 1954. The current model M9 operates in essentially the same fashion but with an electronic sensor instead of film. These cameras are mirrorless and have interchangeable lenses. I am very familiar with M Leica and SLR film cameras featuring all manual control, having used them for many years. They require regular practice to attain the level of skill required for best results and as a result are satisfying to use. The main controls for primary Exposure [Aperture, Shutter Speed] and Focus [Manual Focus by ring and scale] operate by direct mechanical connection with tactile and kinesthetic feedback to the user. Cameras configured like this made perfect sense in a mechanical world.
Implementation: Mechanical aspects of the Leica user interface work just as they have done for almost 60 years which is no bad thing. However some of the electronic functions are poorly implemented.
In all my years of using film cameras I yearned for one improvement to the way cameras operated. This was the ability to magically change film speed in mid roll. Then along came digital and the magic became real. The ability to change ISO any time moved "film speed" up from Prepare Phase to Capture Phase along with the other primary exposure parameters. Or at least it could if implemented effectively. But some camera makers just don't get it.
To alter ISO on the M9 you have to press and hold the ISO button which is one of 5 identical buttons on the left side of the monitor screen and while so doing rotate the control dial on the right side until the desired value is reached. To do this you must stop taking photos, lower the camera from the eye, shift grip with the left hand from the lens to the left side of the body, shift grip with the right hand to get the thumb onto the dial, find the ISO button, push and hold the button while turning the dial then return your hands and fingers to the capture position. Lest the reader think this ergonomic deficiency might be a Leica problem, check out the recently released Nikon D600, which has almost exactly the same ISO button arrangement.
Fujifilm Fuji's entries in the MILC contest are the X-Pro1 and X-E1. I have some hands on experience with Fuji cameras. I owned an X10 compact for several months and have had the opportunity to use an X100 owned by a family member. Unfortunately some of the design problems which I encountered on those two cameras have been transferred across to Fuji's MILC's.
Concept: Fuji's MILC's are fully electronic but the X-Pro1 in particular is styled and configured to reprise an M Leica. It's a look-a-Leica. However unlike the Leica which still uses mechanical lenses, the Fujis are all electronic devices. For a mechanical camera the lens focus ring, lens aperture ring and shutter speed dial are located where found because of their mechanical connections. The arrangement has conceptual integrity. But an electronic camera can assign any type and location of UIM (user interface module) to operate any function. If the layout of a 1950's era mechanical camera has attained such ergonomic perfection that improvement is not possible then so be it, all cameras should have that design. But improvement is readily possible in the electronic era. So why look backwards ? Of course some camera buyers will declare they consider the retro look and layout really cool, or maybe hot, whatever, but I think it just lacks basic conceptual integrity. The X-E1 with it's all electronic viewfinder is a more versatile proposition [it can accept macro, zoom, very wide angle and telephoto lenses which rangefinders cannot accommodate with an optical viewfinder] but the lens aperture and shutter speed controls are still in the same place.
Implementation: I mention just a few of the many implementation problems with these cameras. The lens axis is inset from the left side of the camera (as viewed by the user) about 75mm. This makes sense on the X-Pro1 [but not the X-E1] to keep the lens out of the OVF field of view. But it also leaves insufficient room on the right side for a proper handle. When the maker gets around to offering telephoto lenses for these cameras the lack of a handle will become a real issue. The rear control dial, which doesn't actually have a function in normal Capture Phase, is located where the right thumb will press on it in normal hold position. Fuji put the rear dial in the same place on the X100 and X10 leading to a brisk trade in aftermarket thumb rests. Simply relocating the dial slightly to the left and ergonomically shaping the thumb rest built into the camera would easily fix all this. The 4 way controller is of the "5 buttons" type. The buttons on this type of UIM are difficult to locate and operate by feel. the "Rocking Saucer" type is much more user friendly. The AF button is the bottom one of three [X-Pro1] or four [X-E1] identical buttons on the left side of the monitor. You have to press this to start the process by which the active AF area can be moved around the frame. But to do so you must go through a task sequence similar to that described above for changing ISO on the M9. It means, in effect, that one of the operational advantages of the mirrorless design has been neutralised by poor and completely unnecessary UIM design.
Sony Sony Corporation has a history of innovation. Their cameras have often been leaders in the technnology race, not always backed up by good implementation.
There are currently two NEX-with-EVF cameras, the NEX 7 and NEX 6.
Concept: I regard the Sony NEX cameras, especially those with EVF as the most unambiguous current expression of the MILC genre. They are not a reprise or pastiche of some other camera type. They are not emulating a DSLR or a classic rangefinder or somebody's favourite 1980's film SLR. Their design directly expresses the unique characteristics of the new camera genre, the MILC. Bravo Sony.
Implementation: Here we find many problems. NEX cams use the 28mm diagonal sensor size. So, while the bodies are miracles of compact engineering the lenses must fit the sensor and thus are about the same size as any other maker's lenses designed for that size sensor and appreciably larger than Micro Four Thirds lenses. If the achievement of smallness was an integral part of the NEX project [and the bodies surely leave one in no doubt about that] then the lenses are a constant impediment to realisation of that goal. Actually I do not see smallness past a certain point to be an inherently virtuous characteristic. Cameras which radically downsize become difficult to handle and create their own design problems. For instance the NEX 6/7 rubber eyecup protrudes beyond the top and left side of the body where it is likely to get snagged every time the camera is placed in or removed from it's carry bag.
There are many issues with the user interface, both hard [buttons, dials etc] and soft [menus]. The first round of NEX-without-EVF models had a user interface stripped of most hard UIM's. This may have been satisfactory for the snapshooter never wishing to leave one of the "All Auto" modes. But Sony and most other MILC makers apear not to have understood initially that many buyers who wanted a camera with interchangeable lenses also wanted the level of user control over camera operation which came as standard with a DSLR. The early models had a user interface which was extremely frustrating for the controller. Later models including the 6 and 7 do acknowlege the requirements of controllers but the user interface of the 6 and 7 has been laid over the top of [in the case of scroll wheels and Mode dial, literally on top of] the original physical and electronic architecture from the 3 and 5 making for a combination lacking coherence. Consider, for example, the function of the AEL AF/MF button. As described in the Digital Photography Review NEX7 report, the behaviour of this button is defined by no fewer than four menu options on three menus, with the resultant function "....not entirely obvious from the manual...." I regard this as completely unacceptable especially given that it is easy to create a user interface in which button functions can be set in direct and simple fashion from a list.
In a recently published review on his SansMirror website, Thom Hogan wrote "To put it simply the the NEX menu system is a mess."
There are also specific issues with the physical user interface. My studies of functional anatomy applied to camera design, which you can read about elsewhere on this blog, indicate that the best finger to operate a scroll wheel is the right index, as it has high tactile and kinesthetic sensitivity and is the only one not required for holding the device. There is enough space on the NEX cams for a scroll wheel in the optimum location just behind and at the same height as the shutter release button. But with the NEX7, Sony's designers chose to allocate no scroll wheel to the index finger but three scroll wheels to the thumb. This makes the user interface ergonomically unbalaced. The thumb must stop gripping the camera while trying to manage three scroll wheels. Meanwhile the index finger sits there doing nothing. With the NEX6, they finally got the message that a Mode Dial is a really good idea for an electronic camera but then stuck it on top of and on the same axis as the thumb operated scroll wheel where it might be bumped off position inadvertently. Then there is the location of the video button about which there have been many complaints on user forums.
Nikon With it's long and proud history of making well regarded cameras one might have expected Nikon's first foray into the mirrorless sector would be with a product which achieved excellence in all ways including ergonomics.
Concept: One might have expected the new MILC to clearly define an upgrade path on the "Nikon Way" with a coherent and familiar user interface from compact to MILC to DSLR. But no, they came up with the 1 series which appeared to have been designed with no connection to other Nikon products at all, apart from the adapter for existing lenses.
Implementation: Then they gave the 1 series truly awful ergonomics making one wonder whether anyone at Nikon actually understands the basic principles of functional anatomy and user interface design. My question is, how could they make cameras, many well regarded, for 75 years yet be unable to transfer (mostly) good ergonomics from the established product line to the new ? I don't pretend to know the answer to this question but I do have a theory about it. The shape and layout of early SLR designs were dictated by the mechanical and optical relationships between the various parts. Thus the lens mount, flipping mirror, focus screen, pentaprism, film pathway, wind on and rewind cranks and shutter release button were all located where they had to be for their mechanical or optical connections to function. The height and depth of the camera body were determined by the need to make room for the film and the flipping mirror. Each new model made small iterative changes to the details without changing the basic SLR architecture. But when confronted with the task of designing a completely new camera from a blank sheet with no set mechanical requirements, the designers appear to have found themselves completely adrift, without a book containing basic principles of ergonomics and guidelines as to how they should proceed.
Canon Canon was the last of the major camera makers to release a MILC, four years after the Panasonic G1. Canon's product development people had abundant opportunity to examine all the competition, identify the strengths and weaknesses of each then deliver a category killer product. What we got was the most underwhelming, derivative, uninspiring new MILC of them all.
Concept: I struggle to identify any clearly expressed concept behind the EOS-M. It looks like they took an EOS 650D, chopped off the useful parts for holding and viewing then priced it the same as the 650D. Is that a concept ???
Implementation: Actually I shouldn't even be commenting about it here as I elected only to deal with the cameras having a built in EVF, which the EOS-M lacks. It lacks almost everything else too, such as a handle, decent thumbrest, any chance of attaching a viewfinder, built in flash, swing out monitor, Shooting Mode Dial, suite of hard UIM's or fast autofocus. Maybe it is just a "toe in the water" exercise for Canon which appears not to have noticed that there are a lot of other toes in that particular water and many of them look, and operate, almost exactly the same as the EOS-M. Presumably Canon has a range of follow up product options on the launching ramp and ready to go, so we shall see what comes next.
Olympus M43 Olympus was a founding adopter of the Micro Four Thirds format but in the first three years produced 7 camera models with not a built in EVF to be seen. Maybe they were trying to protect their existing 4/3 format DSLR line. The OMD-EM-5 may be the product which turns Olympus' camera fortunes around, with a lot of help from Sony, which supplies the sensor and has become a significant investor in Olympus Corporation. The EM-5 is clearly designed to be a highly competent all rounder, able to take on almost any photographic challenge. And it almost succeeds, despite problems with concept and implementation.
Concept: This is a very modern, all electronic digital MILC for the 21st Century yet someone at Olympus thought it would be a good idea to make it look (somewhat) like one of their 1980's OM series SLR film cameras. In my assessment the result is conceptual dissonance between the image and the reality. It is not a 1980's film SLR so why make it look like one ? I bet the majority of potential buyers for the EM5 neither know nor care that it looks somewhat like an OM4ti.
Implementation: The conceptual dissonance inherent in the EM5 has ergonomic consequences. There is no room for an inbuilt flash. The control modules are small and cramped, making several of them awkward to operate. There is no built in handle so you have to buy one as an accessory. Having done so the top deck of the camera is cluttered up with three scroll wheels and two shutter buttons, taking up valuable camera real estate which could have been used more productively. I bought an EM5 earlier this year and was impressed with it's image quality and some of it's advanced features. But I sold it because, despite spending a lot of time and effort trying to learn it's unique characteristics, I could not engage with this camera's user interface. Every time I went to use it, I felt like a student sitting for an exam and repeatedly failing.
Pentax Pentax has two MILC's, the Q/Q10 and K-01, neither with EVF unfortunately. The Q is like a small sensor compact but with interchangeable lenses some of which are designated "Toy" lenses, which might be a clue as to the Q's place in the camera world.
The K-01 appears to be an attempt to produce a MILC but keep faith with the scattered tribes of K mount lens owners. Then they got a guy who does furniture and jewellery to design it. Hmmmmm....
Ricoh Ricoh's entry into the MILC sector is the GXR with it's unique system consisting of base module with handle, controls and monitor, [but without built in EVF] plus interchangeable lensor [lens plus sensor] modules. If you want to buy a new lens you must have the sensor which comes with it in the same module. There has not been a rush of buyers to embrace this concept.
I see camera design as having parallels with politics. Designers and policy developers have to be seen as innovative yet safe, as dramatised in the 1980's British TV programme, "Yes Minister". I suspect that Sir Humphrey Appleby might have described the Pentax K-01 and the Ricoh GXR as "courageous", the kiss of death for any policy thus described.
Samsung I really don't know why Samsung bothers with cameras, the production of which represents a very small fraction of one percent of total corporate product output. I bought a Samsung NX10 soon after it's release in 2010. It had better image quality and better ergonomics than the Panasonic G1. I used this and it's slightly updated successor the NX11 for two years with a variety of lenses, some of which were of good quality. But after boasting it was going to conquer the world of MILC's, Samsung failed to deliver the goods and was soon overtaken by the best of the MILC crowd. These days it's not clear to me as a consumer what Samsung Imaging's intentions might be regarding camera development. Will they persevere with the NX line ? I can't determine this from Samsung's press or product releases and have moved to M43 where there does appear to be a committment to making cameras.
is last on my list and because I have quite a bit to say about Panasonic's adventures in MILC land it gets all of Part 3 of this fourth birthday review.