Olympus XZ-1 Review . Part 1

XZ-1. (Shot with E-PL2, SOOC)

XZ-1. (Shot with E-PL2, SOOC)

XZ-1. (Shot with E-PL2, SOOC)

IMPT: THIS REVIEW IS BASED ON A PRE-PRODUCTION UNIT. ALL IMAGES ARE FROM A PRE-PRODUCTION UNIT.

I am reviewing the XZ-1 compact point and shoot digital camera from a professional photographer point of view. All my opinions are entirely personal. I always do my best to be fair, to point out the weaknesses I find. I may not be the fussiest person on earth to nick pick on each camera’s weaknesses cause I am a strong believer in “Overcoming the Limitations of your Camera”. I am NOT writing this review in the most technical engineering way like dpreview.com

I’m writing this as a user, with a background of using various formats film cameras, various brands of DSLRs, mirrorless digital cameras and digital compacts. My first DSLR was the 6MP Canon D60. (NOT the current 60D in case you got it mixed up). My first camera was the Canon A-1.

I believe Images SOOC (straight-out-of-camera) is the BEST way to show.

Even before going into details… I CAN’T WAIT to TELL YOU that: “Finally I have found a compact digital which can give me ABSOLUTELY CLEAN ISO1600 file, and at F1.8, focusing at night IS FASTER than the Olympus PEN E-PL2 with it’s NEW 14-42mm mk2 lens! In fact, there were situations when the PEN could not achieve focus and the XZ-1 DID at the snap of fingers!!!”

shot in lowlight mode, ISO320, F1.8, 1/30sec

Aperture Priority, ISO1600, F1.8, 1/30sec.

Aperture Priority, ISO1600, F2.5 at 112mm, 1/1600sec.

100% Crop from the above image, I can't find any noise!

Amazing Image Stabilization!!! Shot is Shutter Priority Mode, 1/2sec, ISO100, F4.5.

Pinhole Art Filter

Genting Highlands, iAuto Mode, ISO100, F2.5, 1/200sec.

I assure you, ALL images are SOOC. The only thing I did was adding watermark. I have selected a few images to put here. There are MORE in my flickr site in High Resolution for pixel-peepers! However, due to restrictions from Olympus to post original resolution pre-production images online, you will need to have a Flickr Account, ADD me, SEND me a message, and I’ll make sure you can see them.

CLICK HERE!

Sneak Peek: Olympus E-PL2 and XZ-1

I am very fortunate to be selected to help Olympus Malaysia launch the Olympus PEN E-PL2 and Professional Compact Digital XZ-1. Today, at 1100hrs local Malaysia time, these 2 NEW cameras are launched worldwide. Having tested the cameras over a 10 day period, I have quite a number of shots taken around Malaysia and I must say this: Olympus is gonna have an exciting 2011! This is a sneak peek. I shall be posting more detailed reviews of the two cameras very soon.

Olympus PEN E-PL2, image shot with XZ-1, converted B&W.

Olympus XZ-1, image taken with E-PL2, converted to B&W.

SOOC image by E-PL2, Dramatic Tone Art Filter.

Taken with XZ-1, ISO1600, F2.5, at 112mm, mind you... It's a COMPACT Point and Shoot!!!

Olympus PEN E-P2 Review

Basically, the new added features on the PEN E-P2 are quite minimal. The main differences of the E-P2 vs the E-P1 are:

1. Two NEW ART FILTERS: Cross Process and Diorama,

2. A hot shoe for the highest quality Electronic External Viewfinder currently in the market, in which the same hotshoe is used for the Olympus external mic to collect the best quality sounds during HD video recording,

3. Focus-tracking (it locks the focus on a moving subject. Unfortunately, I tried engaging the continuous-shot/sequential-shot mode but it failed. Focus-tracking can only be used on single-shot mode.),

4. I-enhance mode (if you are a MAC user, it’s like the “enhance” button in “IPhoto”. It does improve the colors.),

5. You can now use remote control to control your slideshow-viewing when the camera is connected to the HDTV via HDMI cable.

Below are some shots I did with the new Art Filters. To show the effects of Cross Process, I did an extreme comparison with the Pop Art filter to show the differences in color rendition. To me, Pop Art gives a “Leica-like” or color slides kind of saturation. Traditionally, if you print a color slide on a photographic print, you get real saturated colors. “Cross Process” brings the colors to another extreme.

Comparison between Pop Art Filter and Cross-Process Filter

Comparison between Pop Art Filter and Cross Process Filter

Cross Process Effects:

Uncleared mess from a torn-down building with apartment flats in the background

Uncleared mess from a torn-down building with apartment flats in the background

Reflection on the ground

Reflection on the ground

My Reflection

My Reflection

Now I know some helicopters have 5 propellers

Now I know some helicopters have 5 propellers

A Corridor View of a Typical HDB Flat in Singapore

A Corridor View of a Typical HDB Flat in Singapore

Malaysia LRT

Malaysia LRT

View from Overhead Bridge, Malaysia LRT

View from Overhead Bridge, Malaysia LRT

Boy waiting on staircase

Boy waiting on staircase

In film days, cross-processing is done by either shooting color slides and processing them using color negative chemicals OR the other way round. Today, this is still very much loved by the lomographers and myself.

Below are some shots done with Diorama Art Filter. It mimics the effects of a tilt and shift lens. If you shoot subjects from a distance, the images give you a miniature effect, like the name “Diorama” describes. I also wrote about a friend purchasing the tilt and shift lens HERE before. To show the difference between Diorama and ordinary images, see below.

Image with No Diorama Art Filter applied

Image shot in Natural Mode with No Diorama Art Filter applied, somehow I found that the E-P2's Natural Mode does not produce as rich colors as the E-P1, this is probably due to me using a pre-production E-P2 with firmware not upgraded yet.

Image with Diorama Art Filter applied

Image with Diorama Art Filter applied

Here are some other images shot in Diorama Art Filter Mode:

Singapore HDB Flats

Singapore HDB Flats

Singapore HDB Playground and Recreational Park

Singapore HDB Playground and Recreational Park
Children playing soccer

Children playing soccer

Another view of the HDB Recreational Park, Singapore HDB Flats are like condominiums!

Another view of the HDB Recreational Park, Singapore HDB Flats are like condominiums!

Just for comparison, here are also some samples of similar effects created with a 5Dmk2 and a 45mm tilt and shift lens shot by Mr Peh:

pehcw1

pehcw2

pehcw3

Summary:

1. I find the two new Art Filters very interesting and useful especially the Cross Process Art Filter, since I love the cross-processed look. The Diorama effect also can freshen up perspectives and inject new inspiration into shooting.

2. The Electronic External Viewfinder is like looking at Live View through a peep hole. It is of very high quality 100% viewing but to me, it does not make much of a difference since I hardly shoot in extreme sunlight glare conditions and so I’d rather use Live View. I have found that using Live View freshens up my perspectives in shooting by offering a whole new range of possibilities and angles achievable! I have no complaints at all on the high quality LCD Live View offered on both the E-P1 and E-P2. Don’t you forget, Olympus pioneered Live View among all other brands! And of course, now they created the highest quality external electronic viewfinder you can ever find in the market. For all those who have this thing about using viewfinder to shoot and “hate” Live Views, the E-P2 is a good option.

3. For video lovers, the E-P2 will be a much better choice since you can get much better sound quality using external mic and also have the option of using the 2 extra Art Filters plus Manual-exposure mode in the video mode for creativity. Almost all the Art Filters are useable in the HD Video Mode except the Pin-Hole Art Filter which does not produce a smooth quality video (video-recording is stunted) and also the Diorama Art Filter which records in 2 frames per second but playback in 15 frames per second. However, the Diorama Art Filter Video gives you another creative option to record a “Charlie Chaplin” kind of comical effect, but in color and creative blur. Even videos shot using Pin Hole Art Filter can appear artistic. It depends on your creativity.

4. Focus-tracking is great but I will love to have it more functional in sequential/continuous-shot mode as it’s better to shoot a few more frames for moving subjects. It’s a pity that when I use it in sequential-shot mode, the frames slow down quite a bit, in which I find it not useable.

5. And as for the i-enhance mode, it’s another great option for nicer colors (actually I find that Olympus’s colors are already very nice by default). The HDMI remote feature frees you from sitting inches-near to a HDTV if you often do on-the-spot presentations. Nice option for family get-togethers if you are often the family photographer.

Olympus is selling the E-P1 alongside with the E-P2 together, so I don’t think E-P2 is a replacement model. At about RM1k more (RRP: RM3799), it’s worth the difference if you are fanatic over the two new Art Filters OR you are a creative video person who would want to use the new Art Filters for Video and get better sound quality OR if you “MUST SHOOT WITH VIEWFINDER”. I believe the E-P1 still caters for the majority in terms of pricing.

Lastly, if RM1k is no big deal to you, BLACK IS NICE! I love BLACK! Cheers!

The Launch of Olympus PEN E-P2

I am extremely honored to be invited by Olympus to speak of my experience with the PEN on 5 Nov at the launch of the Olympus E-P2, and also not-to-forget, experiencing the E-P2 over the past 1 week on it’s new features. I must say the PEN, being the 1st micro four thirds system in the world, is gonna rock the world just like it did with it’s half-frames (72 shots) in the 1960-70s.

NEW OLYMPUS PEN E-P2, image from dpreview.com

NEW OLYMPUS PEN E-P2, image from dpreview.com

Image by Leo from Olympus Malaysia.

Image by Leo from Olympus Malaysia

I was actually busy photographing the big group of media photographers photographing us during the photo session. I should be getting those images back from them soon. The PEN is such a joy to use! You should try it.

Below are some pretty girls’ shots of the Olympus PEN E-P2 ambassadors of the day taken backstage. I am so-not-used-to dressing up formally without carrying my PEN E-P1 in my camera pouch strapped to my waist, that I only managed to steal some shots of the day intermittently whenever I can get my E-P1 out of my bag. All the PEN E-P1’s images shown in this post below are straight out of camera. No touch-ups at all.

model1

model2

model3

model4

model5

model6

It has been a truly enjoyable day meeting new friends, chatting with the Olympus Team about up and coming exciting developments, and sharing my experience with the PEN to the crowd. I must say, somehow I find the Olympus Team different. They are truly passionate about the Olympus Brand!

To them, it’s not just about selling cameras. It’s about high quality photographic instruments and human-to-human connection. Olympus is about high quality photography made available at ease to everyone and anyone.

Let me remind you, I am not paid to shoe-shine for Olympus just like I’ve earlier mentioned HERE. They just want a truly passionate genuine PEN user to share something at their meetings, and here I am.

I also have the priviledge to meet the veteran photojournalist who uploaded the first Tsunami shots online during the 2004 Tsunami. He’s none other than John W. Ishii.

Me and John

Me and John

And a photo with Hugo from Olympus Japan and Mr Tan, the managing director.

me2

Below shows the high quality huge enlargements frames of the Olympus PEN E-P1 and E-P2’s images at the launch, largest being 30 by 53 inches. Mind you, the enlargements are made from “Normal JPEG” straight out of the cameras. Not even “Fine JPEG”!

With such high quality, I absolutely don’t see the need to shoot RAW with my PEN E-P1 at all, unlike my Canon and Nikon DSLRs I used to own. I have since sold both my D700s and now back to shooting lots and lots of film (still my 1st Love), accompanied by my PEN E-P1!

mini-exhibition

mini-exhibition

mini-exhibition

mini-exhibition

Thank you Olympus Malaysia for giving me the honor to speak of my joy in photography using the PEN!

Coming soon… I will be blogging more about the PEN, both the E-P1 and E-P2.

Event Shootout with Olympus PEN E-P1

It’s great joy and excitement to shoot with my friend Louis for a Big Nokia Event recently that I just can’t help, but to share some of the images from the Olympus E-P1 I was using.

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04

02

The following are telephoto shots taken with a Leica 90mm F2.8 lens fitted on the E-P1 via an adaptor, and due to the 2x crop factor, it achieves a fantastic whooping 180mm! Due to that, I didn’t have to fight with the professional journalists using Huge Canon and Nikon bodies and lenses (also don’t have to fight with Louis who was using a powerful Canon 70-200mm F2.8 Lens), and still reasonably achieved close-up shots of the speakers on stage! The manual focusing on the sharp E-P1 screen made things possible.

Big Nokia Boss

Nokia Boss

Chief Designer of Nokia

Chief Designer of Nokia

Close-up during a coffee table dialogue session

Close-up during a coffee table dialogue session

Chief Designer giving a talk

Chief Designer giving a talk

Oh man… I was being twittered! I should really start twitting soon!

A Large 60-in LCD Screen connected to a laptop on twitter

A Large 60-in LCD Screen connected to a laptop on twitter

Some new products… …

05

06

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12

Heaven

My Favorite Favourite Favourite Song of All Times!!! Click Here and view the images at the same time.

When you are in love, you are in heaven. You forget all unhappy things. There’s no way anyone or anything can take that feeling away. Oh… how deeply I still love my wife after more than 12 years of marriage. Thank You, Lord!

Clouds 4Clouds 5Clouds 1Clouds 2Clouds 3Clouds 6

Olympus E-P1, A Class of It’s Own.

Olympus PEN E-P1, image taken from dpreview.com

Olympus PEN E-P1, image taken from dpreview.com

I’ve been a professional photographer for more than 12 years, specializing mainly in portraits, weddings, people photography, whether choreographed or on-the-move. I have been a fervent Canon and Nikon user for years. But never have I encountered a small camera like the Olympus E-P1 that produces such quality in it’s size with such user-friendly features.

Talking about “Making Photography Easy”. For years, since the camera was invented, the world has been wanting to make photography easy. A view-camera needs about 11 adjustments in order to take a picture. Then came the Nikons and Canons that only require THREE adjustments: Aperture, Shutter Speed and Focus in order to take a picture. And if this wasn’t easy enough, cameras that came later began to even do all THREE adjustments for us – the Program Autofocus SLRs!

To read a detailed article on the above, click here.

Olympus E-P1, shot through car windscreen in a rain, B&W art filter

Olympus E-P1, shot through car windscreen in a rain, B&W art filter, 16:9 format.

Olympus E-P1 set to manual focus, b&w art filter.

Olympus E-P1 set to manual focus, b&w art filter, 16:9 format.

This shot shows that E-P1 is quick enough to capture action. My son did this action in a split-second. Tough not as fast as a DSLR, it is not that bad afterall.

This shot shows that E-P1 is quick enough to capture action. My son did this action in a split-second. Though not as fast as a DSLR, it is not that bad after all.

I often ask myself, “Why do camera-designers always want to make things easier for us?”

Especially as a earning professional photographer, doesn’t it seem obvious that as photography gets easier and easier, our commanding prices go lower and lower since more and more people think that they can “do-it-yourself” anyway?

But if I think as an artist, I just want to focus on my feelings, my imaginations, my visions and indulge in all my five senses when I go out and create images with my camera.

Isn’t it so much easier to have a camera that doesn’t interfere with my thoughts, by introducing questions like what aperture to use and what shutter speed to set or whether the image is in focus?

Okay, you may disagree with me on this cause deciding how blur the background we want it to be or whether to use a slower shutter speed to depict movement, or whether to set it off-focus in order to create some abstractness do play a part in our creativity process.

But my point is, sometimes it really helps if you just indulge in all your five senses without being distracted by technical functionalities, and shoot what you feel!

 

Olympus E-P1, B&W art filter. I pre-focused the camera to infinity before reaching out to shoot the birds returning to their home using the grainy black and white art filter mode.

Olympus E-P1, B&W art filter, 6:6 format. I pre-focused the camera to infinity before reaching out to shoot the birds returning to their home using the grainy black and white art filter mode.

Who says you can't see beautiful sunset downtown KL? Shot using "Sunset" Mode in Olympus E-P1

Who says you can't see beautiful sunset downtown KL? Shot using "Sunset" Mode in Olympus E-P1, 16:9 format.

Shot using "Pop Art" art filter, Olympus E-P1. This is a spontaneous shot, again done within seconds spotting the chef's head covered by a bunch of roast pork

Shot using "Pop Art" art filter, Olympus E-P1, 16:9 format. This is a spontaneous shot, again done within seconds spotting the chef's head covered by a bunch of roast pork

Olympus E-P1, shot using "landscape" mode. It really does make the sky much nicer.

Olympus E-P1, shot using "landscape" mode. It really does make the sky much nicer., 6:6 format

In today’s digital professional photographer’s context, things have just gone a lot worse! Our modern DSLRs contains at least 100 menu and function options! It throws you questions like “D-Lighting Off, Default, Auto, On, Normal?”, followed by trick questions like “Compression: Lossy or Lossless?”… etc. and etc.

Today, many professional digital photographers began to take pride in “setting their camera professionally” rather than concentrate on creating excellent images. Photography seems to have “developed more professionally” in recent digital days, cause to operate a DSLR is 100 times more difficult than an old film SLR!

And so we started thinking, maybe we can charge our clients more, since photography has gone so “difficult”! We started to tell our clients how high-end our equipments are, how difficult to use them, how expensive they cost, in order to justify and convince our clients to buy our services. I always thought as a proficient photographer, shouldn’t we be confident that our clients engage us because our works are good, not because of what equipment we own?

 

Olympus E-P1, B&W art filter

Olympus E-P1, B&W art filter 6:6 format

Olympus E-P1, B&W art filter

Olympus E-P1, B&W art filter, 4:3 format

The Olympus E-P1 is a camera so small that it fits into your bag easily. I have been carrying it and using it almost everyday since I bought it about 2 months ago. I use it for shooting “nonsense” in my daily life, use it for casual street shooting, and even use it for my professionally-paid wedding jobs!

I was caught previewing on the E-P1. DON'T SPEND TIME ON PREVIEWS! CONCENTRATE ON GETTING YOUR SHOTS!

I was caught previewing on the E-P1. DON'T SPEND TIME ON PREVIEWS! CONCENTRATE ON GETTING YOUR SHOTS!

FOR THE GEEKS:

The ISO is absolutely usable up to 3200. The default setting already produces fantastic images. It’s Auto ISO is also pretty reliable (I hardly have to switch it about). It’s IS (image stabilization) is most impressive! I ever use it down to 1/2 sec and still get a reasonably sharp picture.

You can choose to set “Graduation” to “Normal” instead of “Auto” to get deeper blacks but personally I prefer “Auto” as I prefer to increase contrast in Adobe Lightroom when necessary. I find that images can get too contrasty sometimes if I set it to “Normal”.

Olympus E-P1, Pin-hole effect art filter

Olympus E-P1, Pin-hole effect art filter, 4:3 format

Olympus E-P1, Pin-hole effect art filter, 6:6 format

Olympus E-P1, Pin-hole effect art filter, 6:6 format

Olympus is amazing in it’s in-camera processing! It produces such good Jpegs that you almost have no necessity to shoot in RAW for easy post-processing. It’s absolutely a camera for people who just want to concentrate on ARTS and have minimal worries on camera settings or post-processing.

Also, you can choose to shoot in 4:3 format (default), 16:9 format, 3:2 format or 6:6 format for your creativity.

I fell in love with E-P1 files once I laid my eyes on it in a camera store downtown and immediately ordered one for myself. I find that Olympus’s digital files are processed in such a way, closest to what film achieves comparing to other brands. Being a fervent film shooter, I can easily appreciate Olympus’s efforts in processing their digital files closest to what film achieves. (But if you really like film, shoot film! Digital still has it’s digital characteristics in it.)

I have used the Canon 5D, the Nikon D700 (owned 2 of each at my craziest times). I have gone through post-processing my images since “Adobe Photoshop 5″ days. I would say this digital route for me since the Canon D60 (if anyone still remembers what it is) has been crazy! (I plan to write about my crazy path of switching from film to digital in a later post, so keep me bookmarked if you are interested).

What I can say is that after comparing the Canon files, the Nikon files and the Olympus files, I love the Olympus files the most! (Olympus is not paying me to say this)

I love the noise (It’s different from the Canon or Nikon’s noise), I love the skin tones, I love the contrast, I love the blacks (Nikon and Canon somehow captures blacks as grays), I love the colors and I love it’s Grainy Black and White and Pin-hole Art Filters!

Shot by my wife using "sunset mode". She's not a photographer, if you know what I mean.

Shot by my wife using "sunset mode". She's not a photographer, if you know what I mean.

Then, I love it’s handsome looks and it’s size too.

The best camera is the camera you can easily grab and use when opportunity arises. If you are looking for a camera that can boost your creativity, and it’s light and easy to carry around, with quiet and unobtrusive shutter sound, achieves jpeg files that require minimum post-processing, plus an added convenience of HD video recording (get an adaptor for leica m-mount lenses and you can easily achieve cinematic effects with F1.4 blur)… … … …

THIS CAMERA IS FOR YOU!

Wedding in 16:9 Wide Format by Olympus E-P1

Recently, I really enjoyed photographing a wedding and just couldn’t help posting it here. This is the first time I shot with my Olympus E-P1 with kit lens and entirely on 16:9 format, similar to your wide-screen Plasma/LCD TV, and adding short and exciting HD video clips of the games and church ceremony(not posted here).

It was truly exciting to have completed a slideshow with HD video clips in it on the day itself! It was fun! I shall be writing more about the Olympus E-P1 later, so stay tuned.

To my Bintulu Friends and my assistant Louis, many many heartfelt thanks deep from my heart to you all!