Migrating to E-M1 from FF

Discussion in 'Olympus Cameras' started by colonelpurple, Dec 31, 2013.

  1. colonelpurple

    colonelpurple Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 7, 2013
    I thought I would pen a few notes as a former M9, D800 and 6D user but now a RX1R user who was deciding on a interchangeable lens solution and chose the E-M1.
    Just to note I am strictly amateur and just take pictures for fun!
    Also note that I only shoot RAW. None of the comments below apply to JPG and I refrain from all comment on this file type. I process all RAWs in LR 5x.

    This is not a general review of the E-M1 as the ones I have read here and other places pretty much sum it up.

    Briefly, my ideal interchangeable solution would probably be the Canon 5Diii and 24-70mm II lens. I would pick this over the D800E simply as the Canon zoom lens is probably the best mid range zoom ever made and although the D800E sensor is better, experience has shown me that the lens is slightly more important for the parts of IQ important to me.
    However this Canon combination is far too heavy.
    What I like about it ? Well the professional build quality, speed, detail, DR, functionality and f2.8 across the zoom range.
    Why would I never get it ? Too heavy! My 5D days are over. I used to have one but realised when I couldn't be bothered taking it out of the car in many circumstances, its value as a photo tool was fading away.
    I like to carry a camera every day to work, and having a high quality zoom combination that was light enough would be very appealing.

    I have been using primes for years based on the low detail I have seen from zooms in general. However it seems now that the top end zooms from many companies are starting to have detail that is pretty good. After using a Leica X-Vario for a bit (that is super-sharp across the zoom range and all apertures) I started to appreciate having the FL flexibility on tap. This led me to look at zooms generally, of the right quality of course :wink:

    So coming from FF there are 5 areas I would highlight of interested to the potential migrator:

    1. DOF. This has been done to death. In summary although you can have as thin as you want with lenses like the Oly 75mm (which BTW is probably one of the sharpest lenses out there, approaching the Leica 90mm APO) it is more difficult to have thinner with wider in general.
    OK thats that.

    Gentle DOF effect for 3D isolation (even close to background) is still pretty easy, e.g. at f2.8 with Oly 12-40m

    Party Girl

    2. 4/3s. At first the aspect ratio of 4/3s is quite a change. It reminds me of some old medium format frames. The 3:2 format of most DSLRs is more epic, and in some sense is better for landscapes and people groups, whereas 4/3s IMHO is better for portraits and full body people, urban and architecture. But the truth is they are both fine and 16mp is plenty for cropping

    Road to Corfe Castle

    After a while you get used to it and I would say that in my final verdict that neither is better, but 4/3s does seem more complete for most of the photos I like to take, except for panoramas!

    3. ISO Noise. This is a complicated topic and I am only commenting on what I see. This is the biggest area of compromise when moving from FF. It first struck me that the E-M1 has more noise, even from base ISO. i.e. I see noise at ISO 200, typically in skys or where the colour is uniform. It is also interesting to note that DXOMARK shows that noise is higher in the E-M1 then the E-M5, but detail is better on the E-M1.
    Its fairly obvious why this might be happening in my understanding. It might shock some people but camera companies apply noise reduction even in RAW which you can't switch off. How much and what is different per company. For example Sony have done it traditionally quite heavily for the Nex series, but have turned it very low for the RX1, A7 and A99. Leica normally apply none at all, which explains why the M9 was panned for noise control when it came out but now miraculously people are getting low noise at ISO 2500. Why ? because LR has become so much better, and Leica leave it all to the post editor.
    Olympus have appeared to have done more of this (less filtering) for the E-M1, as well as leaving off the AA filter. This gives you the maximum detail but at the expense of noise, and then you deal with that yourself in PP. Its an approach I like but some people might be taken aback, especially those expecting the more "perfect" plastic like composition of Fuji, say. Moving from the best of FF today I would say that the E-M1 is around two stops worse, but it depends on the exposure of the scene. The other side effect is that lifting shadows, applying clarity or other enhancement effects (which try to extract more detail, but also in the process create more noise) have less traction on the E-M1 then a FF sensor. Although note that in web size pictures this is a non-issue. Note that low light noise effect is uniform with good light so definitely a sensor decision:

    Birds following the Fisherman into the Sunset

    4. AA filter. For all those that are not used to having no AA filter is that the sharpening slider in LR (and other packages no doubt) becomes less useful. As someone who has used the M9, X-pro1, RX1R and D800E I can say that only a small about of sharpening can be applied before the pixel level disintegrates. This might come as a shock to those used to hamming up photos, especially if the E-M1 is their first camera without an AA filter. I would say the sharpening is even less effective due to the size of the 4/3s sensor, although can still be used to a limited extend.

    5. Dynamic Range. I have tried M4/3s in the past but dynamic range has always been the reason I haven't bought. No doubt the Sony sensors in Olympus (I have not used the GX7) have solved that problem. I was amazed when I read in a recent review in the UK magazine "Digital Camera" that the DR curve of the E-M1 is superior to the X-pro1, and higher in many points then the Nex-6. Don't expect RX1 levels of DR improvement but its pretty darnn good, e.g.:

    Shadwell Pier - Original photo

    Shadwell Pier - After Lightroom Love

    or, for example, detail recovery shooting into the sun:

    Thatched Village

    In summary this is a great small & light all purpose tool, and with the right expectations you will be very happy using it after FF. You might want to play with one first if you can rent or borrow one.

    If you have the cash and absolutely want the DOF detailed ding then keep a Sony A7(r) and 55mm or Leica M240 and 50mm Summilux around :biggrin:

    And before I forget, B&W rendering is beautiful, even shot into the sun (again, silly me!):

    The Fox Inn

    Last Day on the Beach 2013

    Best rgds
    • Like Like x 13
  2. dcisive

    dcisive Mu-43 Veteran

    Feb 19, 2010
    Salt Lake City, Utah
    Real Name:
    Much of what you've said is right on. I've been evaluating a Canon 6D full frame camera this last week directly against my EM1/12-40. I would agree with the noise being approximately a 1.5 to 2 stop difference in RAW. However in Jpeg a few different things happen. For one thing the Jpeg processing for noise in the OMD tends to smear detail....and in some cases pretty badly along with adding color artifacts. to my eye this begins to happen around ISO1600 and up, and is quite significant by ISO3200. The 6D will render ISO3200 shots as if they were taken with the EM1 at ISO800.. I've even seen shots done at home with the 6D where ISO 12,800 appears nearly noise free at less than 100% pixel viewing. The EM1 however under the same circumstances will be significantly smeared and loss of color detail and content.

    Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my EM1 and it is going NOWHERE. I'm evaluating the 6D on the basis of having it around just in case I need higher ISO subjects without the issues that tend to come with shooting there. you are right, the sky tends to manifest noise pretty early on on the OMD's just as it reminds me of the bad habit a Nikon D300 had with the same issue. The 6D manages to shoot devoid of this issue. They seem to have managed to utilize processing from their chip for Jpeg that works quite nicely with that. Here is my take however on the whole RAW thing. Irony of Ironies. I prefer the process of Lightroom 5.3 off a RAW file of the EM1 to the 6D. I just get more detail retention and less noise with the EM1 file than the 6D. For Jpeg the 6D rules by a large margin. Also the 6D will copy better with a wider dynamic range of course. Things such as bright white vinyl fencing doesn't blow out on the 6D while the EM1 will tend to lower the exposure in order to preserve the highlights (which it does exceedingly well ) however at the cost of lowering shadow exposure, so one would need to typically up the shadow levels in Lightroom to help make up for this. The 6D exposes as if it has no need to be concerned about blowing highlights and brings those shadows right up from the get go. I have a nice tele (the 70-300L IS) coming today to road test on the 6D. I will be comparing the output of the EM1 and my 70-300 Mk1 mft Zuiko lens to the 6D with the 70-300L IS. Should be interesting. Hope the boss lets me go early today. All in all there is NO question I'm keeping my EM1 and lenses. What is in question is is the difference and usefullness of having the 6D around for those times when I need a bit more dynamic range and shallow depth of field around worth it. It just might not be, in which case it's all going to be returned and I'm just going to work with the EM1 and software. I will no doubt add that amazing 40-150 f2.8 Pro lens we are all waiting for to complete my lens collection :)
    • Like Like x 1
  3. colonelpurple

    colonelpurple Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 7, 2013
    I solved that problem by working from home today :biggrin:

    The 6D is a lovely camera and the Canon 50mm f1.2 is still one of my favourite lenses ever. However I simply wouldn't use it much these days if I had it.

    I do hear you about whether, in the back of your mind, there are any moments when one would need the maximum detail and lowest noise and therefore have a FF around. I am toying with buying an A7 and 55mm just because there is nothing like this for detail at this FL outside Leica, but then I keep thinking that I probably wouldn't use it much as the 12-40mm is 90% of the IQ and the range is so useful and why ever carry two cameras ???

    I'll re-evaluate in a few months ..
  4. lightmonkey

    lightmonkey Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 22, 2013
    For me, the JPG engine makes unpleasant renderings even from base ISO.
    Examples are using natural profile, baseline settings, NR off. 2 of the better lenses (12-40 & 75/1.8) at both ends of ISO (200 - 1600)
    I only shoot RAW so its not a problem but for those who do use JPG it might produce unexpected results.



    A few pennies on FF vs M43, since I'm still keeping an RX1 system:

    optical performance:
    -makes me appreciate the performance of Sony more. top notch acutance across the entire frame. unbelievable sensor. FF still the real deal.
    aspect ratio:
    -didnt think about the 4:3 nearly as much as i expected to. but then again it had been mainly holiday/family shooting. shooting outside i kinda wanted wider framing.
    -AF performance is stunning. previously used EM5+20/1.7 and wasnt wowed. EM1 + all the zuiko lenses, even the 100$ 40-150mm zoom has instantaneous lock.
    -ditto on post-sharpening. barely need to touch it in LR on EM1. normally im running 50-70 on LR sharp Amount and Detail..... interestingly i still need to do this on the LPF-less Fuji X100s ?!?!?
    • Like Like x 1
  5. JamieW

    JamieW Mu-43 Veteran

    Oct 25, 2013
    I can't believe that I'm saying this, but I had a passing thought this morning that I'd sell my 5D II, 6D, E-M1, all of my Oly lenses, flashes, and accessories, and make the move to Sony A7R with a metabones adapter for my Canon lenses. I'm tired of not being able to tether in the studio with the E-M1, but I've grown to love the face detect auto focus for portraits. Sony A7 gives best of both worlds.
  6. mattia

    mattia Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 3, 2012
    The Netherlands
    I think that would work well if you're shooting studio stuff. The reason I'm keeping both the A7r and the E-M1 is that I want reach (long glass is smaller for the Oly) and the AF is really much better. The EM1 is a significantly better all rounder and ideal for travel; it's my zoom platform, and the A7r is mostly for primes.
  7. Ulysses

    Ulysses Mu-43 Regular

    Oct 21, 2013
    I enjoyed this post, colonelpurple. Great personal observations.

    Only a few of the guys here know me and my background as a pro photographer. I have to say that when I developed my earliest opinions about the E-M5, it was largely based upon what I'd examined in the JPEG files you see so much on the various review sites. I was impressed by certain things, but the typical Olympus in-camera noise reduction within the JPEG engine was a bit of a turn-off, so I largely dismissed the camera.

    Some good friends, including "Happyfish" who is a long-time member here, encouraged me to look at the RAW images instead of basing the opinion on just the OOC JPEG. When I did, I realized that I had overlooked an important factor, and now the Olympus series of cameras began to look more appealing to me, particularly from the E-P5 onward.

    Now that Lightroom has improved support for Olympus RAW files, (as does C1), we now have professional tools for integrating Olympus files into our workflow. Although I happily shoot full-frame cameras (primarily Nikon at present, but we also have Canon gear in our arsenal), it's been a very, very pleasant surprise to see what can be squeezed out of the Olympus cameras. I've learned a couple of key things about the camera and about myself as a photographer:
    1. Cameras are tools. If you use a tool for a task to which it is easily suited, it will perform well for you — and sometimes well beyond expectations, as does the E-M1.
    2. Sensor noise is neither the sole qualifier nor the most important factor in what makes a great image. You can make great images even with the high ISO output of the E-M1. If you accept what it gives you and learn how to maximize its potential, you will be greatly rewarded, whether for personal work, travel photos, or for pro work.

    The Olympus gear isn't perfect. But then again, neither have my high-end Canon or Nikon gear been perfect. But they've done what I've asked of them, and I've had years worth of paying clients with no complaints about sensor noise, image quality, or how the images were processed. :)

    BTW, the only point I disagree with in the original post is about RAW data having noise reduction applied. There are plenty of forums of pros and enthusiasts alike that debate this one so I won't argue it. In the end, I treat RAW data for what the camera companies say it is — simple data off the sensor. However, the software such as Lightroom, Capture One, or the camera company's raw converter software might very well apply some default noise reduction upon import. This can usually be turned off. If we're talking about the camera's OOC JPEG engine, that's a different story; sometimes you can turn that off, and some manufacturers don't allow complete OFF of the NR for the JPEG engine.

    In any case, that's a small matter. And either way, none of this takes away from the fact that this is a camera that is a ton of fun to shoot and that can produce some beautiful images. :)

    Thanks again for a great balanced post about enjoying full-frame cameras, as well as the incredible Micro Four Thirds cameras.
    • Like Like x 2
  8. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin .

    Oct 9, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Real Name:
    Nice write-up; very thorough.

    One comment that I would make about the presence of noise in Micro 4/3 files even at base ISO is that it only really becomes noticeable as a result of processing and applying sharpening, clarity, lifting underexposed images, etc. A few ways to reduce these issues from the beginning is to use sharp lenses that require less sharpening, and expose optimally to reduce the need to lift exposures. During processing, the use of a sharpening mask is very useful as well.

    For example, this is a crop of an image where I have sharpened the file (shot at ISO 200) excessively to show how the sharpening is being applied to the noise present in the sky. Of course you would normally not sharpen anywhere near this much; the oversharpening is simply to emphasise a point.


    Applying a sharpening mask (moving the masking slider in Lightroom to 25 in this extreme example) removes virtually all of the noise in the sky and other areas of minimal detail...


    ...because the areas of the image that are being sharpened are shown below and noise in areas of minimal detail is being left untouched.

    • Like Like x 3
  9. jamespetts

    jamespetts Mu-43 Top Veteran

    May 21, 2011
    London, England
    On the issue of sharpening - the OP recommended minimal sharpening for the E-M1. So far, I have tended to sharpen E-M1 files to 25 with a radius usually of 0.8 or 1.0 (in Lightroom 5.3). I had previously used an E-P3, where I had set higher sharpening settings, although in retrospect, I think that these were too high (possibly in light of having used the not very sharp 14-42mm lens to try to calibrate the sharpness levels).

    What sharpening settings does the OP (and do others) recommend for RAW files from this camera?
  10. colonelpurple

    colonelpurple Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 7, 2013
    I think it depends on the type of photo, noise level and shading. As mentioned above, if you PP alot then the noise level increases and so the sharpening needs to come done

    Sometimes I find the 25 default of Lightroom too high when a lot of processing is applied
    Generally I keep the 25, but in a well lit unprocessed scene you can get away with up to 40-50.

    I also used to use sharpness to introduce grain, but I don't find the grain induced by sharpness on sensors without AA filters that appealing, especially on the E-M1, so I will tend to get grain with other techniques.