So a while back I wrote on my Christmas wish list post that I am sticking to the Olympus E System even after using top of the line Canon equipment. I have been wanting to write about the reasons for that particular decision but I have never had enough time to create sufficient test photos let alone design a scientific grade testing scheme. After a while, I just went “to hell with it” and squeezed in a few shots at work today. Here are the results.
So my boss the art director is a full-frame Canon fanboy. He makes fun of my camera and calls it toy – mainly because it has a cropped sensor (let alone a 2x crop sensor not just the regular 1.5 or 1.6 with APS-C sensors). Granted, he liked it better than the Nikon D60 at work (I wonder if it’s because he has a thing against Nikons). For that reason, he wanted me to use my camera for my shots. I was not very happy with it since I do not get paid extra for the use of my own equipment but I kept at it nonetheless probably because he uses his own gear as well. After a while, I started getting agitated because I put in about 3000 actuations per month. My camera Claire is aging fast. Then about two months ago he (or the company) bought a brand new Canon 5DMk2. He started using it but later switched back to his 1Ds Mk2 because he liked the integrated grip better. I don’t blame him. The EF 70-200 f2.8L IS USM felt like it was going to rip the lens mount off the 5D. Anyway, the camera just sat on the shelves so I figured, shit, I’ll use it if he’s not going to. I did. I was extremely frustrated at first because both the strobe/flash power settings and my Adobe Lightroom presets for my camera were not applicable to the 5D AT ALL. I kept at it though since I’m just stoked that I am not exhausting Claire’s shutter anymore. Finally, after about a week or so, I finally managed to set everything up to work for the new camera. I felt a little (note: a little) tingle in my spine that I was about to be a Canon full-frame convert. Nope. Nah. Nein. That didn’t happen. Why? There are plenty of reasons but here are the main ones.
I shot a boxful of scarves and clutches about two weeks ago. It was around 5:05pm and the client had to have the photos by 5:30. That meant finishing the post-processing by around 5:20 to allow for upload time. So I downloaded the files to my computer and found dust on about all 105 or so photos. FML. Fifteen minutes to process the photos and I had to deal with sensor dust? Sure, Canon has that dust delete data program thing going on but I did not have time to learn that process in the little time that I had. It was just baffling to me that I have had my E510 for about two years and I N-E-V-E-R had that problem even after shooting and changing lenses in all sorts of conditions from the studio to the beach to the orchards etc. I even shot in an attic while the greenovation company I was shooting for was spraying pulverized newspaper pulp on the crawl space for insulation (see photo below).
I have only used the 5D for about a month and it pretty much stays indoors in the studio. I exercise the same type of caution when changing lenses as I do with my camera – body facing down and snap the new lens on right away. I guess that was not enough because it still got dust. It still has some to this day even after blowing the sensor with a rocket blower. Hell I don’t know how to clean a sensor cause I never had to on my camera…oh and the E510 is not even sealed against dust and moisture. When you hear Olympus-sponsored pros go gaga on the SSWF system and how it’s effective, they’re saying that because it really is not just because they “have to.” As said…2 years and 45k actuations and I NEVER had the problem of sensor dust. 5DMk2….2 months and dust dust dust.
There are lots and lots of photographers out there who are shallow DoF (depth of field) and bokeh freaks. “OMG look at that kick-ass blurred background thing. That’s such a nice picture!” Nah. Not me. Yeah, although I do appreciate the beauty of perfectly rendered blurred backgrounds, I do not go chasing after them. I like to take environmental shots. I like to portray my human subjects in some sort of environment. Blurring the background to oblivion does not count as environment. Check out the backgrounds in the Blue Collar fashion story on my site. I’m perfectly fine with such depth of field (not that I’ve mentioned it, those were probably shot at f4 of f5.6 between 14(28) and 25(50)mm so plenty of DoF there). If I do need to blur the background a lot, I take my 50-200mm f2.8-3.5 lens, zoom it all the way to 200mm (400mm equiv), and place my subject far away from a suitable background. Bam. Done. Candid of my friend Vito in Seal Beach.
Anyway, one of the criticisms against the Olympus (and 4/3 system) is the increased depth of field. Go read about the technicalities of it elsewhere. But yeah. I guess the DoF equivalent of a 4/3 camera at any given focal length is twice as that of a full-frame camera with every other variable equal. 4/3 DoF at f4 is the same as full-frame DoF at f8 meaning it’s harder to blur the background. What others consider a downside, I consider a bonus. Why? Call it efficiency. Since I am not that particular of overly blurred backgrounds, I can shoot wide open and take advantage of the light gathering benefits of a wide aperture and still get sharp/detailed images because of the increased DoF. I have a scene that I want to be rendered reasonably sharp. Instead of shooting at f8, I can shoot the same scene at f4 and take advantage of the two extra EV stops for other purposes such as increased shutter speed or lower ISO. Yet again, the reallocation of those two exposure values translate to sharper images as well (lower effects of camera shake and more detailed images brought about a by lower ISO). Here’s the DoF equivalent example:
Real-life consequences at work: Since I’m shooting at f16 when I used to shoot at f8, I had to bump the power on the strobes and compensate a bit more by using a higher ISO. The strobes are working harder and my eyes are getting more strain since I’m using blasting the still-life room with a lot more light just so I can get the same amount of detail.
3. Cost vs Image Quality
Honestly speaking, I can’t really see that much of a difference in the image quality between my setup and the 5D Mk2 setup. I haven’t been “wowed” by that 21-megapixel full-frame Canon sensor yet…at least not for my purposes. Yeah, sure you can make bigger prints but I’m not about that anyway. Sure I’d like a bit more resolution than 10 megapixels so I can make 11×14 prints without having to upres the files. 21 megapixels though? It will require a faster more expensive computer to process those gigantic files at a speedy manner. Here are some sample pics:
The red spot is where I focused the cameras. A closer look.
See a difference? Pay attention to the little sliver of hair or thread on the right side of the silver link. I don’t see a lot of difference, if any at all, at this size. Like what I said, I haven’t made huge prints yet to that’s still up in the air. Let me do say that I’m content with the 9.75×13″ prints from my setup. How much cost difference are we talking about here? My setup is probably about $900 while the Canon setup is probably around $2,700.
Foreword: This is not meant to be a scientific test. As said before, I squeezed in a few shots at work.
1. The Olympus ZD 50mm f2 macro is regarded as one of the best lenses out there. I’m not sure about the ratings on the Canon EF 100mm f2.8 macro. I can’t find any for that lens, the reviews out there are for the 100mm f2.8L IS USM or the 100mm f2.8 USM macro lenses.
2. Check the E510 and 5DMk2 images and note that they have some size difference. Reason is I had to move my tripod back when I shot with the Canon since the lens sticks out more and was closer to the bracelet. I am not 100% sure if the distance I moved back produced the same camera-to-subject distance as with the Olympus. I didn’t know how to do that scientifically because the viewfinders of the cameras are different (95% coverage .92x magnification viewfinder on the E510 and a 98% coverage .71x magnification on the 5DMk2).
3. I had to bump the ISO on the 5DMk2 to compensate for the higher f-stop because the lighting setup I currently have at work does not produce enough juice to light a scene at ISO 100 f16. I mean I could have barebulbed it straight to the bracelet but then that changes the light quality from the Olympus setup. Sure, maybe the 5DMk2 produces magical photos at ISO 100 f16 but then we go back to my second point of efficiency and DoF/f-stop/lighting requirement.
So maybe the 5DMk2 annihilate the E510 on a scientific test. That being the case, you probably need to be pixel peeping to see the difference in quality. Sorry to say, but I think there’s more to good photographs than pixel-level impressiveness.
My decision stands. I’m still going to be with Olympus for the three reasons above and perhaps a few more minor ones (color rendition preference, lens selections, in-body IS, the Oly service center being a couple miles down the road, etc). Nothing against Canon and Nikon. I’m sure I’ll get my hands on the 1DsMk3 or the D3x…for special occassions =)