Monday, 21 December 2009

domain name freed

Dear all,

Thanks to our "other" tasks, we shall not develop this blog/site to what we wanted when we started. Because of this, we do not renew the domain subscription and therefore it will be free as of 29. January 2010. Stay tuned for the opportunity if you are interested! We hope that You can provide better service to the four-thirds community than we could.

We also hope that we can spare some time for actual photography in the time freed up. Nevertheless, as we continue ot use four-thirds cameras in the future, this blog stays up and will hopefully receive new post too.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Plans for the future

Dear All,

Ever wondered why the information flow has stopped on this site? Well, there are many reasons, connected to "other", and to be honest: more binding obligations. But because we still think that four-thirds is a sane option to choose, we are planning to continue our efforts. Due to our access to various new lenses, we are planning to re-shoot the popular "Big gun Test". The long due reviews of the 14-35, the 35-100 will be done and published. And besides the information bits, we are planning to do some system comparisons (say, a Canon 1D + 70-200f4 IS vs. E-3 + 35-100mm f2).

Until then, please enjoy an example of sharpness at 100mm f2 below (which actually surprised us as we have not experienced such sharpness at 100mm on the E-1 when we have done the review):

Turkey head: 100mm f2
[click for full sized jpg available from the photo's page - "All sizes" menu option]

Monday, 22 June 2009

Tuning the Olympus wireless flash system

We all know that the Olympus wireless flash system is great: it can be finely adjusted, can command several flash units, etc. You name it: it's there, on par with other manufacturers' systems. Still, there is room for improvement. Fortunately, we do not have to wait for Olympus in these cases. We have already written about how the ehm, simple FL-BKM03 double flash bracket can be substituted using two gorilla pods and some DIY. If you want to use a TTL cable, Canon comes to the help to replace the reportedly not wo well build FL-CB05 cable with the aptly named and sturdy OC-E3.
With the new features of the off-camera TTL system, we have new problems to solve along with the new features. Because using the small on-camera flash as a commander unit is simple, while implementing and certifying a radio-based system is expensive and difficult, Olympus opted for the "light" solution to remote control the off-camera TTL flashes. To see what problems might arise, we have to think about how TTL works in case of an on and off-camera setup.
Even if not using remote control, digital TTL flash uses one or more brief flash pulses before emitting the main flash light to calculate the required light for the desired exposure. Using the flash unit mounted on the camera and aimed directly at them (which you should not do anyways, but that's another story), people often blink after these initial pulses, no matter how weak they are. Because the main flash pulse comes right after those used for metering, you often end up capturing a person with closed eyes. Fortunately there is no such problem with off-camera flash in general: the flash does fire at least twice, but as the flash unit is not staring into eyes, it causes no problem.

But, as there is always a but, the flash-based commander system introduces additional flash pulses before the one used to measure exposure. Although we do not know how it goes exactly, it must not be very different from this: 1) the commander sends a flash pulse to trigger the remote flash(es) to initiate the flash for measuring exposure. 2) the remote flash(es) fire the pulse used to measure exposure. 3) after the camera has calculated the required amount of light, it sends flash pulses carrying the lighting information that the remote flashes. 4) the remote flashes interpret the command and fire accordingly. As you see, there are probably two additional flash pulses compared to wired TTL flash operation, coming right from the camera. Shooting a portrait for example, your subject will see brief, but kind of blinding lights which can make her go hmmmmm. Even if not, you will have to retouch the image to get rid of the commander lights (if the shutter is open long enough to include that) and have a good chance to have to repeat the photo itself.

Olympus, to my knowledge, does not offer a solution to this problem. Fortunately Nikon has a similar system and does offer a solution, with its SG-3IR unit. The small blocking unit pops right into the hot shoe of the camera and once you open up its built-in flash, it provides a (tiltable) blocking plate to go in front of it. Note that the current unit, the SG-3IR has a black-looking plate (the old one was plastic, mimicing frosted-glass). This is not actually pitch-black, but is made of IR-transmitting plastic. Although the light emitted by the flash is not very rich in infra-red light, it is more than enough in itself to command the remote flashes. But how does it help an Olympus user? Well, in case of the E-3 at least, you can confortably, if not perfectly fit it into the hot-shoe and use as desired. Once you mount it, your subject will not be blinded. You not only spare photoshopping out the light-circly of the flash, but will also be able to capture her eyes as well:

Note the minuscule red light on the blocking plate. Now that is what is commanding the remote flash - behind my back!

Monday, 11 May 2009

Almost no text

Last year I made up my flash holder arms by the end of my "macro season" so I could not test it properly. The following photos were taken last month using two FL-36R flashes.

Zuiko Digital 35mm macro + Olympus EC-20

Zuiko Digital 35mm macro

Zuiko Digital 35mm macro + Olympus EC-20

Zuiko Digital 50-200mm SWD + Olympus EX-25

Zuiko Digital 35mm macro

Larger images are available at here and here.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Our lovely system

Most FourThirds camera owners say: "this is simply the next invention which is being copied from an Olympus product" when Samsung announced its NX system. We are getting used to this, but we have to separate our feelings from facts even though it is trivial what happened.

The most sobering thing in connection with micro FourThirds (mFT) cameras is the lack of autofocus with most of the FourThirds (FT) lenses. Canon or Nikon who have not released any new contrast-AF specific lenses and where lens firmware update is not possible at your home could solve this problem even if they are very slow sometimes. Only FT, the most modern system could not do it.

The first question about Samsung's new cameras was: "will they use the K bayonet"? This question was perfectly pointless because the first announced feature of the NX system was the very small flange distance (similar to mFT). This automatically makes all of K lenses unusable directly on NX bodies because any type of focusing is impossible, so the bayonet type is indifferent. The primary consideration on the systems like this is the size, so they will reduce the bayonet diameter if it is possible.

But what about adaptor? Except SDM type ones, all Pentax AF lenses have mechanically coupled AF driving. If the adaptor contains a micromotor (or an axis which pass the torque to the lens if the motor will be built into the body again), Samsung will be able to eliminate any contrast-AF incompatibility stemming from the mechanical drive. Pentax released some quality DA lenses in the last years, like the pancakes for example, so their adaptability is a very relevant problem.

We have to accept that there are serious reasons behind the lack of AF when FT lenses are mounted on mFT cameras, but very sad to see that more and more parts of the FourThirds's main concept fall to the sand. I think Olympus does not put enough energy into compatibility and consistency. I hope that the announcement of the first Olympus mFT camera will be a pleasant surprise from this point of view.

Monday, 9 March 2009


...ought to be enough for anybody - Many people thought of this famous sentence when they have heared Akira Watanabe's opinion about megapxiel race. The biggest difference between two statement is that Gates told it as a general rule but Wantabe said: "...for covering most applications most customers need."

Is this statement a suicide from a marketing point of view? It really can be dangerous. It is unpredictable how customers will react to the permanent amount of megapixels + increasing image quality while other manufacturers continously increase the resoulution. Everybody knows that megapixels are the most attractive (and most misinterpreted) feature on the market.

Is it really imaginable that one of the most innovative manufacturer who fabricates scanning electron-microscopes suddenly discovers that their system is a dead end? They precisely knew the limits given by optical and phisical laws when they decided to launch the 4/3 system. I think that Wantabe was very honest. He did not say that more than twelve megapixels is simply unnecessary in photography. He talked about most customers and most applications, and I must agree with him. I used an Olympus E-3 during the last 12 months. This camera has some pesky imperfections but my biggest problem is to exploit the ten megapixels. The real-life themes are not test charts, not papers glued onto a flat surface. The perfect AF, ergonomy, camera speed and good noise characteristic worth much more than some extra megapixels over ten, and Olympus wants to focus on these features.

There are a couple of 60cm x 45cm prints on the wall of my living room and anybody who has seen them was pleased with quality. Of course, there are applications where relatively easy to hit the resoulution limits. Panorama-stiching is a solution for most landscapes in this case. I have some panorama photos which were made under 3-5 seconds without a tripod and they are nearly perfect from a technical point of view. By using this technique, and in exchange for some extra work, we can get rid of corner sharpness problems of wide-angle lenses. But such techniques are not panacea. Large group portraits and some professional work require fullframe and medium format cameras, there is nothnig to do.

The launch of the Canon 1D Mark II in 2004 was a milestone in professional digital photography. Many professionals have dropped their stereotypes about dSLR becasue it was the first which was widely used in studios, sports events and could substitute analog cameras in most cases. The announcement had the same effect in the amateur world. I can remember that mere indication of the camera type was enough to get the maximum points at most of photo-sharing sites. The downsized, 8 megapixel image of 4/3 cameras will have reached or exceeded the quality of the 1D Mark II in next 1-2 years, moreover it is happened already from some point of view.

Today, many 10-12 megapixel dSLR are used for professional applications and most of them are the flagships of their strict category. Are they really temporary solutions? Every photographer who bought a Nikon D3 did it because of a necessity until 16-20 megapixel version are announced? Or are the needs of users continously increasing? How can this be reconciled with the legends about the resolution of the films? High resolution films have been overtaken by the Nikon D3 and the Canon 1D Mark III by many years. So where is the logic in worrying around twelve megapixels? I think it is nowhere.

The evolution of highly integrated sensors has just begun so maybe the real number of megapixels will be indifferent in the future. The first two steps were the individual A/D converters for every coloumn to increase speed and precision and reduce noise (Sony Exmor), and on-chip exposure-bracketing to increase the dynamic range (Fuji EXR, Panasonic in the future). The integration drifts in a direction that every pixel or pixel-group will behave like a little computer, and the consequences can be astonishing: colour pixel binning (quasi three layer), sensor aided anti-shake/anti-motion-blur, auto-stich, high-quality upsampling, auxillary data recording for post processing (DOF, noise reduction) etc. The evolution is unforeseeable also for Olympus engineers.

I would write many pros and cons about this resolution limit. The limit in itself is not an advantage. Higher resolution images can be resized down to twelve megapixels anytime. The gaps between pixels or microlenses will exists forever so they will reduce the pixel fill ratio stronger in higher resolution sensors, but maybe the gap will be negligible in the future. Only the harmony of the whole system can be an advantage. The market will have the last word. If Olympus can attain their promises about image quality, reliability and services, and keep the price under that of competitive products, customers will be the winners. But holes in lens-palette must be filled irrespectively of megapixels. Olympus has to rethink its in-camera image processing and AA-filter strategy (not removing) to keep itself in the market. I have niggling opinion about this but it is pointless to talk about it without understanding signal processing basics. I am working on a new website which will help in it by my unique interactive, illustrative method.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

There is truth, after all!

I was so disappointed some months ago by the Panasonic G1 announcement. I predicted that there will be a wider sensor in it to allow switching between aspect ratios without loss of pixels. But G1 got the same dimension sensor like any other 4/3 camera, so the switching translates to simple cropping of the image in this case.

Panasonic has announced the GH1 on the day before yesterday, the new version of the G1 which can record HD movies. The video capability is the most important feature for most of the people, but not for me. There is another very good news. GH1 has been fitted with a sensor similar to what I have predicted. To see the point a little bit better, look at the following figure (the real size of the sensor area is a little bigger than the official size due to technological reasons):

As you can see, the sensor is hardly wider than its conventional 4/3 counterpart but the effect of this difference is very important. Just imagine: You can take portraits with 3:4 aspect ratio in vertical mode, but for landscapes 16:9 is also available without significant loss of quality. Let us calculate the advantage:

There is another very interesting question: Which image size will be recorded in RAW mode? If RAW images will be cut to selected aspect ratio, there is no surprise, but if whole sensor data is recorded, we have to face another possibility and a related problem as well. Most of zoom lenses can project larger image circle than official at longer focal lengths. The difference between the official and the image circle required by wider formats is very small, so these lenses can exploit the whole 14 megapixel (13 megapixels are used) sensor at almost any point of their focal range. The lens hood of conventional 4/3 lenses may cause a little vignetting if they are used with adapter on GH1-like mFT cameras at 16:9, but this is a minor issue and one can take care of it.

I hope that we shall see the same concept in dSLR cameras soon and that Olympus will use the same sensor in mFT bodies!