Wednesday, 23 November 2016

A Tale of Two Cameras

I'm a very happy Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkII owner - it's simply an amazing piece of kit, and I find it very hard not to sound like a massive Olympus fanboy (which I suppose I am).

But I also have this Jekyl and Hyde aspect to my photography. Having grown up (literally) with SLR cameras, I find the lure of the DSLR sometimes overwhelming. Muscle-memory (and actual memories) kicks-in whenever I pick up a traditional SLR styled camera, and despite myself, I have that feeling of 'coming back home' (even though I am now happily living in the 21st century). Fortunately, I usually have a couple of DSLR's floating around home that I can use to get my 'fix'.

Earlier this week I was hit by one of these 'must use a DLSR' moments, so I headed out with a Nikon D70 to a local walk that ends in a beautiful waterfall. I traveled light, with just the D70 and 18-55 'kit' lens, plus a spare battery. I also had my phone with me (don't we all), and decided to do a comparison between the two. The D70 is 6MP, while my Samsung galaxy has an 8MP sensor (and is a lot newer technology). Should be a good contest?

Samsung S3 8MP phone on left, Nikon D70 6MP DLSR on right
First up it looks pretty close. They are both resolving about the same detail, although there is more dynamic range coming from the D70. I was also able to manually set the White Balance to 'shade' on the D70 to give a truer colour representation. The file from the Samsung S3 is a little too blue/magenta, especially in the foreground.

Samsung S3 Smartphone
Things get a bit more complicated when the dynamic range of the scene exceeds the limits of the small chip on the Samsung. It's done an 'ok' job, but the highlights of the water are totally blown out and unrecoverable. The phone only shoots jpegs, and I had the exposure compensation value dialed as low as it could go to try and get some detail in the water - but to no avail. To be fair,it was a very contrasty scene, and not the ideal time of the day to be shooting - but sometimes we don't get to choose these things - especially if we're traveling. I also tried a HDR shot with an app on the camera, but it was HORRIBLE, so I deleted it :-(

Nikon D70 shooting RAW
In comparison, shooting in RAW with the D70 has allowed much more detail to be retained and extracted out of the file in post-processing (no surprises there). Again, I would reiterate that it was very harsh lighting, and not ideal conditions for a great shot of the waterfall - but the result is far more usable than what came out of my smartphone.

Coal Creek Falls. Nikon D70
Don't ask me why (no, really - don't), but I've decided to get 'real' and shoot in full manual for a while. Usually my default shooting mode is A (Aperture priority) so I can control depth of field - and let the camera worry about the rest. But I enjoyed shooting in manual on the D70 (with a few caveats) and having complete control over all the settings. It really does make you fully aware of the relationship of all the factors in the exposure triangle (Aperture, Shutter and ISO).

If I wanted to shoot at a specific aperture, then I had to decide what the shutter and ISO were going to be to assure that the shot was well exposed. Shooting in the forest, this usually meant trying to keep the shutter speed high enough to hand-hold the camera and still get sharp shots - so the ISO was the control that got changed the most. Of course the higher you go with ISO the more noise you introduce, especially in the shadows, and this is certainly true of 6MP sensor on the D70. Even at ISO 200, when the shadows are lightened in post-processing some noise is evident. But then again, I'd rather have noise than a blurry image :-)

Life lines. Nikon D70
This is one of the things I missed by not using the OM-D E-M5 MkII - better high ISO performance combined with amazing image stabilisation. On several occasions I tried to shoot at 1/30th second with the D70 (at 55mm) and got blurry shots. Wouldn't have been an issue with the OM-D EM5 MkII (or any of the other Oly mirrorless cameras).

Were there other things I missed? Absolutely. How about the electronic viewfinder for one! I can't say it often enough - using an evf like the ones on the O-MD's is a life-changing experience as a photographer! I'm not joking. I used to be an evf snob - spurning this t.v style viewpoint for the more 'pure' optical viewfinder experience. Trouble was, I'd never actually used an electronic viewfinder. Certainly not one as good as the one on the OM-D E-M5 MkII. Once you have, I swear to you, there won't be any going back!

Annoyingly, the D70 doesn't show the ISO in the viewfinder or top lcd display - you only get to see what you've set when you hit the ISO button to change/modify it :-( Bummer. With the OM-D's you get all of that, and more (as much, or as little, info as you want) right in the viewfinder before you take the shot. And if you are shooting in manual and change a setting, then the exposure changes as you watch it  - real time, along with the histogram reading and any other info you have overlaid in the evf. Brilliant. Seriously, seriously brilliant.

Backlit Ferns, Nikon D70 with Nikkor 18-55mm
Did I enjoy shooting with the Nikon D70? Well, yes I did; and no, I didn't (there's that Jekyl and Hyde thing again). I really do enjoy the feel of a DLSR in my hands, and the Nikon D70 with 18-55mm kit lens isn't a heavy camera to carry around. Many people make a big thing about the weight savings when changing to mirrorless, but in terms of size and weight, the D70 with kit lens is about the same as my OM-D E-M5 MkII with battery grip attached. Things change of course if you start lugging around four or five additional lenses with a DLSR and battery grip attached - but with just a body and plastic kit lens, weight doesn't really come into the equation.

Ergonomics aside, that's about where the positives end (for me) :-)  The lack of evf, no IS (on my lens), fixed lcd screen and constant need to take my eye away from the optical viewfinder to 'chimp' the exposure or change ISO, meant that the user experience was less than smooth. I suppose the positive is that it only confirms my enjoyment of using the Olympus OM-D system.

As far as replicating the ergonomics of a DLSR on mirrorless goes, perhaps I should look at getting a Panasonic G series as a second body? It's tempting, but so is an Olympus Pen for an even smaller, carry-around-all-day style camera. It's great to have these kinds of options in the micro four thirds  ecosystem. Kudos to Olympus and Panasonic for building such a great system in such a short time.

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