Five years ago Olympus introduced the first OM-D E-M1

With the new official entries of Nikon and forcoming Canon into the professional mirrorless world  in the next months (end of 2018 or beginning of 2019), many reviewers were anticipating the apparition of big camera body assorted with mammouth lenses which will contradicte the very essence of the mirrorless camera evolution. In fact the newest rumors feed by the concerned Nikon and Canon confirm this very fact.

When I have learned that Mike Johnston of the famous « The Online Photographer » web site have decided to renew with the Panasonic GX8 model I was not overlay surprised. The present « plateau » of the mirrorless evolution seem to temperate most of the recent past enthusiasm of the photo passionates on the web.  In fact the excitement is shifting from the equipment mania to the pleasure to do photography with always exciting products.

Why speaking of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 (original version) in 2018? Five years after its official introduction in 2013, the OM-D E-M1 has been surpassed technically in many ways by more recent models such as the E-M5 Mark II and others Mark II versions of the E-M10 and E-M1. But productivity (or creativity) has not a direct link with the technical performances of the camera model. Proof of that has been demonstrated over times by many renowned photographers. The fact is you are better to master the use of your camera instead to exchange it for a more recent model because the learning curve of the novelty can differ you to produce satisfactory and repetitive image output.

The evolution of hardware is not a guaranty of evolution of the essence of photography as a visual art of expression. And we are not speaking of a « coming back » (like saying « things were better in the past ») but more likely a choice between devices, techniques and outputs that suit our expectations. In saying that last remark I don’t want to prevent also the manufacturers to poursuit their research to innovation which is always a good thing to do in my sense as long they can preserve in their line-up the models that are still in demand (that is another debate…).

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 first version was a great effort from Olympus to seduce the professional market  (or part of it) to migrate to the M4/3 or MFT image captor format. The success of their OM-D E-M5 model was so good that some very serious photographers already start to use it on a professional level  for studio purpose, wedding and photo-reportages. Sure the E-M5 was not a camera model that was initially designed to sustain the intensive work pression in those fields and Olympus wisely extended its line up to offer a more rugged device. When I saw first the E-M1 I was impress by the solid feel of the model compare to my OM-D E-M5 that I was using at that time. It remind me the same feeling I have experimented with previous film professional models such as Nikon F3 HP or Leica R4 or even Olympus OM-2.

By the MFT standards of the moment (circa 2013-2014) the Olympus OM-D E-M1 was a bigger camera compare to the previous Pen series and the original E-M5. Sure everybody has understood the technical constraints to built a « Pro » oriented model with weather seal and stronger dials and others operational mechanisms needed to do so. But the fact remains that it was a bigger photo device in dimension and heavier to hold. However direct comparaison with APS-C competitor equivalents such as the Nikon D7100 prove the compactness of the Olympus package (OM-D E-M1 body + HLD-7 vertical grip). Moreover it appears more equilibrated when you combine the E-M1 with the M.Zuiko Pro lenses as for the 12-40mm & 40-150mm F2.8 for example. On a long term it create two design tendencies between the Premium lenses and the « Pro » series which were obviously bigger by design nature. Later in 2014 Olympus has completed its OM-D offer by adding the amateur E-M10 model into its line-up (entry level – intermediate – pro).

The original E-M1 camera was an impressive step ahead from the first E-M5. Better ergonomics were certainly a good part of it as for a clearer electronic viewfinder (EVF) with more eye relief. Because of its permanent right hand grip (oppose to the optional OM-D E-M5 one) the camera body stay firmly on hand in a very confortable and secure way plus the fact you are gaining more space for the different control buttons and dials of the device. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 interface is very complete and it can be personalized at will if you care to do so. Many specific direct functionalities are already configured into the E-M1 but permutations are possible if you invest time and interest to learn from the camera. Tutorials are available over the Web to help you to master the model. No serious photo gear reviewers have really contested the ability of Olympus to design and produce a « pro » camera. Since the venue of the OM camera series back in the nineteen-seventies they had developed a more compact signature alongside with electronic innovations and the actual OM-D series inherit a lot of that thinking.

The original Olympus OM-D E-M1 won’t surprise the new user with its pseudo SLR architecture positioning the EVF at the same axis of the optical taking lens.So it gives you a very predictable camera especially when you are doing action photography including news, travel, urban or even sport. If you are working with a small Premium lens or a regular M.Zuiko one you may find that the Olympus OM-D E-M1 is a fairly compact camera assuming you don’t add the optional HLD-7 vertical grip (even if it is still more compact that many D-SLRs with vertical grip). But it is not as discrete compare to a « rangefinder » style model like those offered into the Pen series and it won’t definitively fit in your pocket even the largest one.

Many features were imported from the original OM-D E-M5 to accommodate the E-M1 users. If you are familiar with the Olympus complex interface way you should be able to mastermind most of the critical operations in a rapid pace. Newcomers to Olympus OM-D products have to invest time and intellect to learn the multiple options of the camera. At first don’t be confuse and rely on the short OK menu option to get to the principal parameters of the E-M1.

If you stay in the comparaison with the first Olympus OM-D E-M5 it is easy to notice the added robustness of construction of the « pro » E-M1 including, the body, the function buttons or dials. You feel more confident to use the E-M1 in adverse conditions alongside with a lens that got the same feature of resistance. On still photographic point of view, the original Olympus OM-D E-M1 can stand even today high quality standard image results. Video is another story but as usual I am not really concern since I don’t produce any.

The electronic viewfinder (EVF) can be qualified within the good average of today (2018) standard. It is not outstanding compare to the replacement version of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II. The eye relief is good also but on the limit for eyeglasses wearers like me to be able to see the entire picture at glance. There is a subtle light greenish viewing cast that can be detected but other than that you can rely on the EVF to get a good appreciation of your final result registered on the native picture file.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is very fast to wake up after the camera put itself on standby which preserve your battery pack. You won’t be able to totally shut down the LCD viewing screen on the back if you want to use only the EVF (with the eye detection on) because it remains a kind of very dark blue screen. Since you cannot pivot back the LCD screen like the Mark II the battery pack endurance will be affected in some way. The tilting back screen stay a nice option for retro-macro-waist level-crowd level work.

The optional HLD-7 vertical grip is an intelligent add-on for the Olympus OM-D E-M1. For people that are producing critical vertical framing like in portrait, sport, nature the accessory will give a better handling and an extended battery life (along the possibility to change the exhausted one on the grip first in a 3-pack rotation). (Small trick: by removing the battery pack from the HLD-7 grip the combo will be a bit less heavier). Finally you have to be aware that the function buttons and dials as the shutter release button may be activated inadvertently if you don’t lock the grip controls.

Flash system rely on the Olympus ou dedicated third-party flashlight devices beginning with the very diminutive unit furnished with the camera that can serves as an emergency unit for fill flash or command   unit in a multi-flash arrangement. I am not really fund to use a direct flash on camera that literally kill the light ambiance and is often unpredictable. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 can deliver you very decent image results up to ISO 1600 which in my sense is mostly sufficient in many low-light situations.  For sure in that case a faster lens (with a larger maximum aperture such as F1.8-1.7-1.4-1.2) will be strongly appreciated. Since the beginning of the M4/3 format, many independent flash manufacturers have decided to extend their flash system possibilities offered for the Olympus and Panasonic cameras.

A standard lens or a transtandard zoom lens for the E-M1 is a very personal choice. On many publication you will see most of the time the combination of the E-M1 coupled with the M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 Pro which is mimicking the Pro D-SLR usual kit (Body + 24-70mm F2.8 lens for the 24X36mm image sensor format. Since the M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 Pro is a bigger and relatively heavier zoom lens the HLD-7 vertical grip may be required to get a better balance between the camera body and the lens. Some reviewers have proposed more modest lenses such as the M.Zuiko 14-42mm (basic) or 12-50mm (Splash-proof) zoom lenses or a Premium lens such as a 25mm or 17mm F1.8. These optics are smaller and lighter than the Pro ones but often in a less quality construction and sometimes with less optical quality. At the end it remains that the combination of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera body with the M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 Pro lens appears to be the most appropriate one except for the compactness factor.

Five years ago the Olympus OM-D E-M1 introduction confirmed the serious of Olympus into its involvement in MFT format. Moreover the forwarding presentation of their M.Zuiko Pro lenses has offered a complete new alternative for professionals that are looking for a serious MFT system available.

Doing film photography with the Olympus OM-2n / En argentique avec l’Olympus OM-2n

A personal tribute for the 100th anniversary of Olympus / Un hommage personnel pour le 100ième anniversaire d’Olympus

(Le texte français est présenté à la suite de la version anglaise)

Once upon a time there is a fondamental uncertainty of doing photography because you never have been guaranty to get good picture results at the end. It was part of a technology that was involving in fact many different sciences such as optical physic and specific chemistry. Over that you can add the influences of external factor like temperature, humidity and time of conservation. So doing film photography was a kind of gambling even if you know most of the rules involved. Repetitive results were hard to reach and require deep experience of the medium and strong discipline of application.

But it was fun, creative and rewarding for the most persistent and talented photographers. Moreover the still film cameras used at that time were very distinctive between the manufacturers and their different models. Each combination of photograph-equipment-technique observed during that era was offering its original signature. Today the limitless of the digital age have erased most of the bias of the film era.

I don’t like to go back on something most of the time since I have discoverer in many cases it conduct you to reproduce flatly the past without no new true personal advancement. So bring back the film era to my agenda was asking me a different reflexion. Instead of redo the past simply I have decided to address this challenge like a complete new venture like a new photographic technique. For sure I cannot simply ignore all my past amateur and professionnel experiences working with traditional film. But I concentrate myself to the picture taking aspect of doing film photography. All negative once developed were  scanned and then digitally post-treated. In fact I didn’t want to reintroduce myself to darkroom work since I can easily reproduce many of the traditional manipulations through an actual image post-treatment software with a much lower cost, less time involved and a far more ecologic way of doing.

Choosing a still camera was another challenge. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money with some classical cameras of my past like the Leica M4P or M6 or the Nikon F3 HP. So I have selected an Olympus OM-2N equipped with a standard Zuiko 50mm F1.8 lens which represent a very compact 35mm model for that time doted with a good internal exposure meter. The OM-2N give you the choice to work fully manual à la OM-1 or in a semi-automatic aperture priority mode. Focus should be done manually in every circonstances so prefocus or using hyperfocal aperture setting can be a good help.

Using a film camera will ask you a strong sense of anticipation in many ways. Selecting and positioning the subject, analyzing the light, adjusting the exposure parameters like shutter speed and aperture and knowing their respective effect like the deep of field or the panning of the action without not forgetting the choice of the film (Type, ISO, Processing) and further choices have to be done in film photography. With time some decision reflexes can help you to mastermind these technical tasks with more ease.

Slow down the pace
This is may be the best advice that you can follow in traditional film photography. Since most of the operations are done manually, it is easy to get foul by a missing or wrong technical choice without knowing it until the the film processing (when it is too late!). With film you are becoming a technical decision maker on photographic aspects that are automatically treated with digital cameras. That safety doesn’t exist anymore. A bit like a painter who select its canevas, its brushes, its colors, etc.

Analyse your subject
Its position (posture), its relative distance from you and its perspective, its color or its gray tonal distribution and contrast, its deep (using the deep of field phenomena), its context and attitude if necessary. The subject is the purpose of your creative expression through photography. So it needs to be properly explored and experimented. And be persistent to redo your subject as long it is possible to refine your photographic research.

Evaluate your results
You have to progress since film photography is asking you a stronger learning curve to be mastermind. The only sure way to do this is by evaluating your picture results and be critical. Is the final image correspond to your expectation? That can be hard sometime to comprehend and move ahead again with a proper attitude. Technical errors will be on your own responds. So you have to understand and manage them.

Do some prints
The final act of film photography is producing a print of your final image. That is the classical essence of the medium since its very fondation. Doing prints and especially larger one can be the most rewarding fact about doing film photography. Don’t prevent yourself to print in anyway your pictures … and showing it. At the end and on a much longer run photographic prints may be the last living témoignage of the subject because most of the digital forms of archives tend be obsolete in a fast rate. Over the past two centuries photographic print proof to be more reliable than any other image representation.

Film photography will never be a substitute of the modern digital photography that supplement it in a world of instant and multilateral communication. But film photography stay a art creative technique that deserve to be preserved and cultivated.

All film pictures presented here were taken on Ilford XP2 Super 400 film (C41 Process) with an Olympus OM-2n camera & a Zuiko 50mm F1.8 lens. The Olympus OM-2n is a fairly primitive camera by today photographic standards and has been technicaly surpassed in every senses by even basic ILC models. Its approximated exposure metering system reveals some basic propension to falsely interpret a more critical lightning situation. Manual focusing is accurate although it requires a good eye appreciation through the excellent optical reflex viewfinder but with a limited eye relief. Film advance is classical performed with a smooth wind lever and motorization is only offer as an option. Front shutter speed ring is a particularity of the Olympus OM system and can be at first a bit misleading. The grip (without optional winder) is simply non existant compare to the modern design. If you are familiar with digital photography you may need to train yourself to work with this type of camera before really get use to have satisfactory results.

Here are some advantages to use the Olympus OM-2n film camera. First the OM-2n is doted of a very good and luminous optical viewfinder that it is a real pleasure to do focusing with and to appreciate your deep of field. Secondly it is very easy possibility to select your exposure fully manually or to choose the automatic option. That way you don’t omit to check your selected parameters (aperture and shutter speed). The film advance is very smooth to operate and the lever can be positioned beside your thumb for fast operating. Indications inside the viewfinder are minimalist giving you a plus/minus signs for exposure control in manual mode and s shutter speed scale with a pointing needle in the aperture priority mode. A flash confirmation light is also part of the info available.

Shutter speed and aperture (on lens) control rings are located surrounding the taking lens. You have to get the habit to check these parameters visually prior to look into the viewfinder. After a certain time you may memorize the value associated to the position of those control rings. In a whole the Olympus OM-2n is a very simple camera to operate once you have assimilated the fondamental of its use.

Working for several years with electronic products I am amaze to find a photo device like the Olympus OM-2n that is still able to fulfill the bill and delivers very decent results surely at the level of many more modern digital products. Sure the technical limitations are obvious in particular in regard with the exposure latitude and the very narrow capacity of color adaptation if any (Sorry but no automatic white balance). But using a black and white film such as the Ilford XP2 will help to exploit many interesting possibilities.

En argentique avec l’Olympus OM-2n

Parler du film traditionnel (et argentique) relève maintenant d’un faux débat qui tente d’établir une comparaison dépassée des vertus réciproques du support argentique versus le numérique. Car ce débat est inexistant puisque dans la vie de tous les jours le numérique a supplanté largement l’argentique par ses avantages inhérents au monde actuel de la communication multilatérale et instantanée. La photographie numérique est maintenant une norme universelle médiatique qui rappelle l’évolution rapide de notre technologie d’expression et de diffusion.

Alors qu’en est-il de cette vague à caractère nostalgique qui prône un retour à la photo argentique? Deux éléments surtout: un souvenir tenace évoquant une époque révolue qui a culminé il y a maintenant plus de trois ou quatre décennies déjà mais aussi une curiosité légitime de découverte de ce médium d’expression si à contresens de la photographie numérique actuelle. Par une sorte de déni de l’automatisation et de l’intelligence artificielle d’interprétation technique, la maitrise de l’argentique est une forme de ré-appropriation de la sélectivité créatrice de l’image fixée.

Cependant il ne s’agit pas d’un exercice facile particulièrement sur le plan technique. Son apprentissage peut être difficile surtout si l’on recherche une latitude similaire  celle de la technique numérique. Car l’argentique impose de limites frustrantes en particulier pour ses nouveaux adeptes. Elles peuvent s’apparenter à celles imposées par d’autres média artistique comme la peinture ou la sculpture. Enfin il y a une certaine forme de credo concernant la maitrise de l’argentique qui renvoie à des recettes de certains anciens photographes reconnus et qui regroupent des cercles d’adeptes qui peuvent restreindre la pratique plus créatrice de l’argentique.

Notre point de départ reste le support argentique d’enregistrement de l’image initiale. Ce support assimilé fréquemment au film (acétate) possède des caractéristiques uniques et non modifiables de sensibilité et de palette de couleur ou de tons (noir et blanc). Il est donc invariable ou quasi-inflexible. Sa manipulation implique des préventions d’exposition accidentelle à la lumière ou à d’autres types de rayonnements, aux températures et aux niveaux d’humidité extrêmes. Enfin si l’on exclut le cas du film inversible pour diapositive, le résultat final du traitement du film propose un négatif de l’image fixée. Il y a donc un processus d’inversion nécessaire à la permutation de ce négatif en version positive similaire à celle de notre vision habituelle.

Tout ceci indique bien les caractéristiques inhérentes du support argentique et son relative manque de latitude surtout en comparaison avec les capteurs numériques modernes. Mais toutes ces contraintes contribuent fortement à créer une signature typique du photographe qui l’emploie. Car aux choix initiaux du sujet, de sa position, de sa profondeur, de son expression s’ajoutent la sélection du point de focalisation, du temps de pose et de l’ouverture du diaphragme de l’objectif qui sont autant d’éléments discriminants de l’image finale fixée sur pellicule. L’improvisation et le hasard occupent une part moins grande dans leur contribution du résultat enregistré.

Aujourd’hui la photographie argentique prend toute sa place à titre de technique particulière de création et d’expression artistique. Ce n’est donc pas un retour vers un passé révolu mais la continuité d’un art visuel bicentenaire.

(Source: Ilford Photo)

Toutes les photos argentiques présentées dans ce texte ont été réalisées sur film Ilford XP2 Super 400 (Développement C41) avec un appareil Olympus OM-2n et l’objectif Zuiko 50mm F1.8. Étant un utilisateur régulier d’appareils photo numériques à objectifs interchangeables de la marque Olympus comme les OM-D de différentes versions il est facile de réaliser tout le chemin parcourue entre la série OM argentique d’il y a trois ou quatre décennies et la production numérique actuelle. Les différences sont énormes et déterminantes pour l’efficacité et le facteur réussite entre ces deux types d’appareils. L’Olympus OM-2n reste un appareil photo assez primitif dans son mode d’opération malgré la présence de certaines innovations pour l’époque comme la lecture de l’exposition OTF en mode priorité ouverture et la lecture TTL en mode flash électronique. Sa visée optique réflexe est très lumineuse mais le manque de relief oculaire est un peu handicapant pour l’appréciation complète de l’image captée.

Au début des années 1970 l’apparition de l’Olympus OM-1, d’abord appelé M-1, a causé une commotion en proposant un véritable appareil photo 35mm à visée réflexe et objectif interchangeable plus compact et plus léger doté d’un viseur plus lumineux. À peine deux ans plus tard l’OM-2 fait son entrée en proposant un mode automatique (priorité ouverture) et un système flash TTL dans un même volume réduit. Les concurrents ne pourront réagir qu’avec un certain retard à cette nouvelle tendance à la diminution des boitiers. À l’époque le tarif nord-américain d’un modèle Olympus OM-2n dépassait les $500CAN qu’on peut traduire en dollars de 2018 à $2375. Il s’agissait donc d’un équipement de très haut de gamme. Aujourd’hui on peut se procurer le même appareil en bonne condition pour environ $150CAN y incluant l’objectif F.Zuiko 50mm F1.8

Une check list bien commode:
Ton film est-il bien amorcé dans la bobine de réception de l’appareil? (Y a-t-il un film dans l’appareil incidemment?!)
Ton indice ISO (ASA/DIN) est-il bien réglé?
Quelle est ta vitesse d’obturation?… et ton ouverture sur l’objectif? … et surtout ta mesure d’exposition confirme-t-elle la pertinence de ces choix?
Ta mise au point est-elle bien choisie pour ton sujet? … et ta profondeur de champs, est-elle suffisante ou trop grande?
Ton appareil est-il tenu de façon stable à la main ou sur trépied? Ou bien ton mouvement de suivi du sujet est-il suffisamment fluide?
Ton déclenchement s’effectue-t-il en douceur?
Enfin n’oublies pas d’avancer ton film à la pose suivante après ta prise de vue!!!

En guise de conclusion
Certains lecteurs pourront se demander si l’Olympus OM-2n aurait pu être mon choix professionnel sachant que j’utilisais les appareils Nikon F2/3/4 ou les Leica M4P/6 à cette époque du film argentique. Rétrospectivement peut-être car même aujourd’hui je reste impressionné par la qualité du design et de construction des boitiers et des objectifs Olympus OM, l’étendu du système OM et la finesse des résultats obtenues. Malheureusement la norme professionnelle de cette époque pour la gamme Nikon prévenait une plus grande disponibilité du système Olympus.

Shallower deep of field does it mean more creativity in photography?

The deepness of … ignorance

You can ask because it is part of a great controversy between the users or defenders of the different sizes of image sensor on the digital market. Am I doing better photography because I have a shallower deep of field ? What is that folly’s argument regarding creativity in photography? I can no more stand the endless discussions about that specific feature into numerous photo internet forums. At a point I am asking myself if somebody there is doing actual pictures at all!

So no fantasy for my part talent will surpass technological limitations or characteristics of the photo equipment. Better than that technology bias will create ultimately specific author signatures as it have been observed in the past. Please do your classical and learn from that. I am so tired by false debate regarding shelled deep of field as the nec of ultra in photography productivity.

Please behave yourself and leave to manufacturers the task to defend their product. Simple like that. And as I repeat every time « Full Frame » is a photo technique available in every size format. If you are not able to produce good picture with a smaller image sensor size I doubt you will be capable to do so in a larger mini format such as 24 X 36mm or even with a medium format.

Stereotype pictures or subjects have always be part of our world of photography. It doesn’t give you the ability to be an outstanding photographer. That is part of your own capacity to produce original picture without a particular relation of the photo equipment used to do so.  Stop the non-sense about digital image sensor. Speak about your subject and expel the technical excuses. Pseudo finest photo equipment will not save your incapacity to create original provocative image. Simple like that.

Yes I am tired of pixel peppers and photo trolls that are literally polluting our Internet universe. Please stay home and leave the fragile real creators to experiment and to expand the photo medium. That is real photography is about.