5.21.2015

Now writing my hands on, definitive (for me) review of the Olympus OMD EM-5.2 camera. It's a well mannered and mature product. It's photography in 2015.


I'll start with the typical disclaimer: I am not an Olympus employee. I have never been an Olympus employee. I have never received free or discounted equipment from Olympus. I have never written a review of an Olympus product in exchange for money or equipment. I currently own two Olympus OMD EM-5.2 cameras and a smattering of lenses, all of which were purchased at Precision Camera for the same retail prices everyone else pays. If I link any of the products I review to Amazon.com, and you click through and buy, it a small amount of money, based on the item and pricing, will be paid to me from Amazon.com.  It's not enough money to cover the cost of a review or to make a dent in the ever declining college fund for the boy. Don't worry, I can guarantee you that your purchases are not making me wealthy. But it's nice to get enough in affiliate fees from my writing to be able to buy premium coffee instead of the older, surplus stuff we were getting from the ship channel salvage company in Houston.... 

My Review of the Olympus EM-5.2 cameras


Chrome EM5.2 sitting on the Manfrotto Hybrid Fluid Head.

A bit of history. The first Olympus product I owned was a used, black Olympus Pen FT, half frame film camera. I still have it along with four other copies, one black and three chrome, that I collected over the years; usually for less than $100 per body. I also have an almost complete set of the jewel-like half frame lenses that were made specifically for that system. The lenses, with the right adapters, work remarkably well with the current micro four thirds systems and this makes me very happy. It's wonderful when a new product can bring renewed usefulness to an older product line.

The original Olympus Pen FT. This is the one that started it all for me.
Smaller and lighter than the full frame cameras of the day it featured an 
optical view finder, a vertical film frame and a titanium rotary shutter
that sync'd at all speeds from 1 second to 1/500th of sec. 
72 half frame images on a roll...

At any rate I bought my first Olympus micro four thirds format camera, an Olympus Pen EP-2, in 2010 specifically with the intention of using with the older Pen FT lenses. That experience started my off again, on again relationship with the Olympus mirror-free system.

Apples and tangerines. One thing you need to know if you are on the fence about buying an interchangeable lens camera in 2015 is that they are all good enough for most of what most people do but there are reasons; good reasons, for such a wide range of cameras to be offered on the market. While the Olympus EM5.2 is a very, very good camera there are some things that bigger, more expensive cameras can do better. Conversely, most of the time people will be much happier with the smaller, lighter and more entertaining OMD system than they will be toting around a big, full frame camera like the Nikon D810 and the assorted lenses that allow it to shine.

Trying to compare the OMDs and a camera like the D810 is just a bit odd in that they have totally different strengths and weaknesses. One is the ultimate resolution machine (at the moment) while the other is the ultimate, take everywhere, shoot everything and don't break a sweat over the amount of freight you are toting camera. Any comparison that doesn't take the photographer's use and goals for the camera into consideration is like car nut trying to tell a mother of five that she should buy a Porsche 911 or telling a needy, divorced industrialist that he could really do well driving a nice Chrysler mini-van while hitting the dating scene.

I think we'll do this review in a straightforward way and just make comparisons with cameras in a similar niche rather than making sweeping comparisons. If we do make comparisons with full frame cameras we'll also note the disadvantages of the bigger cameras.  While I may be spoiled by having two different systems I think it does help me write, objectively, about valid differences between them, and in a way that also looks at the strengths of each camera type.

One of the improvements on the new version of the EM5 is the inclusion 
of nicely machined, big fat dials that move well.


What's it all about? The OMD EM5-2 is the fifth generation of interchangeable lens, micro four thirds, mirror-free cameras from Olympus. The first being the EP-1 launched back in 2009. That first camera was a disaster for me and I never would buy one. The issue? It didn't have an eye level viewfinder or even the option to add one via a camera port and accessory finder. No matter how good the camera might have been at the time that lack of usability made it the ultimate non-starter for me. If you have to hold your picture taking machine out in front of you, grab for your reading glasses and use one hand to shield a rear mounted screen image from the sun ( and any manner of intruding light )you might as well use your iPhone to take your shots. The EP-1 set the first body style (based on the original half frame Pen) and introduced a decent, but not great, 12 megapixel sensor that stayed in the Olympus camera line-up for three generations.

5.20.2015

And the 60th review of "The Lisbon Portfolio" is....? Yes! Five Stars.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2015
This is a book for photographers. Non photographers are not apt to appreciate the descriptive text which is 
emphasizes the quality of light and color much more than history, mood and ambience. Nor are they apt to 
appreciate the improvisation of the photography equipment to miraculously escape life-threatening encounters. 
Kirk Tuck is a professional photographer and this book draws upon his experience as a photographer and 
husband and father. Photographers will enjoy reading a thriller written by a photographer.
Was this review helpful to you?YesNo



(for those of you who are new readers of the blog: Kirk Tuck wrote a novel about a photographer who has 
adventures during an assignment in Lisbon, Portugal. The novel was launched on Amazon.com last June
and is available as a Kindle book or in paperback. All purchases of the book go to support his
lavish lifestyle...).

5.18.2015

Want: 4K video. Great still imaging. DFD AF. Small and light. Floppy screen. Cool body design. Perfect price. G7


The new Panasonic G7. My next 4K video camera.

(please, please, please have a headphone jack)

Here's the U.K. customer page for the new camera: http://www.panasonic.com/uk/consumer/cameras-camcorders/lumix-g-compact-system-cameras/dmc-g7.html

I have owned and extensively used a number of the Panasonic cameras, including the GH3, GH4 and the G6. The G6, while it used an older sensor (GH2 vintage), was a remarkably good little camera---especially for 1080p video. The G7 looks to be a very nice update to the G6 and provides 4K video in the camera. The package of the body and the 14-42 lens is priced under $900.  I can only imagine that some traditional video makers get a bit nervous about stuff like this because at that price these things are almost expendables for production companies.

If the sensor is the same one the GH4 is using I'm sold. It would make a nice video brother to the Olympus EM5.2 cameras. All in the extended family....

I'll circle back when I've got more information.

Another image:


5.17.2015

TOP GEAR for Sunday Morning!!! The "must have" accessory for the new weather in Austin, Texas. One Photographer's incredible find!!!



RIGID Tool Shop Vacuum. Suck it up!

I don't know if you've been paying attention to the weather in Austin, Texas, but we seem to have traded weather profiles with Seattle or some sort of sub-tropic rain forest. It's been raining every day for the last ten days and when I looked at the weather reports this morning over breakfast the forecasts called for at least another week of thunderstorms and other assorted rain phenomena. 

But this morning it got personal. I woke up around five a.m. which is not my usual schedule. The cause of my abrupt transition to full consciousness was a weather system that was dumping rain like crazy, accompanied with 360 degree lighting and enough booming thunder to make my dog hide, shaking, in the deepest reaches of my closet. 

After weeks of rain the ground was saturated and, after coffee, a warm chocolate croissant and a plate of scrambled eggs with my favorite hot sauce slathered on top, I went out to the studio to work on a video rig I've been customizing. I walked into the studio, flicked on the lights and immediately saw that half the space had standing water on the concrete floor. Drat. We need water in central Texas, just not on my studio floor...

The culprit was an overwhelmed French drain. The gravel over the top had become covered with a week's worth of eroded top soil and that created a slippery pathway for the water to slide right into the masonry of my small building. It's happened before----that's why we have the French drain. Who knew continual maintenance would be required?

Having been down this road before my office is equipped with a large and boisterous shop vacuum that is wonderful for sucking up water like a champ. In twenty minutes the standing water was gone and I started lifting the foam floor tiles to capture moisture hiding beneath. Now, an hour and a half later the floor is almost completely dry and the air conditioning system is doing a yeoman's job of getting the humidity under control. Go air conditioning!!!

My very first studio space was on the second floor of an older warehouse building in east Austin which had a roof that leaked like an unnamed media source. It was so bad at one point that we constructed internal gutters to channel the intruding water. We bitched about it---a lot---but the rent was so ridiculously cheap that we didn't have much leverage over our landlord. I did learn a lot of valuable lessons

5.15.2015

Walking around with a favorite camera and lens. Museum hopping with the Olympus EM5.2 and the Sigma 60mm f2.8 dn.


First there is a break in the work. By some marvel of diligence and happenstance you find that on this particular afternoon all of your obligations have been met and the new projects aren't scheduled to get underway until next week at the earliest. Then the stormy, wet weather abates for a few hours and a handful of delicate sun rays bounce around and entice you out of your safe and isolating office. You realize that it's Thursday and that admission is free at the Blanton Museum and, just down the road, admission is always free at the Humanities Research Center, on the UT campus.

Everyone has choices to make. Do you mow the grass? Do you head to some car care center to get your oil changed? Watch soap operas on TV? Navigate your way from website to website doing vital research on which camera has the fastest shut down time? Or maybe, just maybe you decide to go someplace and look at things that aren't part of your everyday circuit. I vote that I get up from my comfy seat, exit the chilled and quiet studio and actually go someplace. Yesterday it was to the Blanton Museum and beyond. 

If you were going museum hopping what camera and lens would you take? I decided to take the Olympus EM-5.2 and the Sigma 60mm f2.8 dn lens. I thought it would be the perfect combination with which to shoot in those clean spaces and even more perfect a focal length if I chose to crop all of the images into little squares. In camera. 

I love handling the EM-5.2 when I have it properly configured. The HLD-8 grip is pretty much mandatory. I bought the grip because I thought I would get a lot of use out of the headphone jack that's designed into the section that attaches directly to the camera. In reality the combination of both parts of the grip makes the whole unit fit nicely in my medium sized hands and spreads out the area that contacts my hands which in turn makes the buttons feel perfectly positioned. I've put HLD-8 grips on both of the cameras. It makes the feel of the cameras just right.

The added benefit of the grip is the addition of the second battery. Since the battery in the actual camera body is harder to get to when the grip pieces are used I've gone into the menu and asked the camera to "please use the battery in the grip first!" This means I can go through grip batteries, replacing them as necessary, for a long time before I have to deal with disassembling the whole melange and fiddling with the camera's battery. 

The 60mm Sigma feels solid and the hood doesn't have a tendency to fall off so I usually stick the lens cap in my pocket when I start out my shooting sessions and leave it in my pocket until I get back in the car to go home. 

While the camera is rugged and lightweight I've developed an psychological need to let the camera dangle from its conventional strap in a configuration that most of us would consider backwards. On most cameras I would let the machine dangle over my left shoulder with the eyepiece side or backside of the camera next to my lower torso or upper hip (depending on the length of the strap). But with the Olympus cameras I generally positioned them so that the lens faces inward instead. 

I do this because I've found the rubber surround for the eyepiece to be a bit delicate and to have no scruples about falling off or being bumped off the camera. It doesn't sound like a big thing but you really would be amazed at how that little bit of rubber around the top and sides of the finder window changes the feel and handling of the camera when you bring it up to your eye.  I think Olympus should give each owner half a dozen eyepiece surrounds with each camera. That way the owners can see just how tenuous the connection between eyepiece cup and camera really is before they need to start spending their own cash on an endless stream of replacements. 

When I'm heading into the museum spaces to make images I tend to use the lens at its wide open aperture, or close to it. In the case of the 60mm that's f2.8. Sometimes I'll get conservative and go all the way down to f4.0 but it's rare. I set the camera for aperture priority exposure and I use the auto-ISO. All of this allows me to shoot quickly when I feel I can depend on the camera's automation---which is most of the time. When the camera shows me a finder image that's too light or too dark in the EVF I can quickly and handily use the front dial (which feels luxurious) to dial in a more accurate exposure compensation. 

I regard the Olympus EM5.2 as the perfect museum camera because the shutter is quiet and has a very nice sonic profile. The combination of the small, non-intimidating size and the gentle noise of the shutter activation makes the system generally welcome in quiet areas. 

The one thing I think that spoils EM5-2 users the most is the almost magical image stabilization. It's hard to go backward once you've gotten a good taste of just how effectively the camera can remediate the effects of over-caffeine-izaton of the user. Most of the interior images I am showing here were shot handheld at around 1/15th of a second. I've gone slower and gotten good results but I just didn't feel like showing off yesterday. 



I started off at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum but truthfully, I just stepped in to use their restroom on the second floor. It's very nice and always spotless. The museum was setting up the atrium for some sort of big gala so I hurried along and headed across the street to the Blanton Museum. Last month I saw an incredible show there wrapped around the subject of the civil rights movement in the U.S.A. in the 1960's. I would have liked to see the show again but I missed it by a week. 

I concentrated on looking for gems among the permanent collection and some of the smaller, temporary exhibits on the second floor. Still loving the exhibit: Wild and Strange: the Photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, which are on loan from the enormous collection of photographs at the HRC. I saw the show a few weeks ago and it's reminded me how wonderful smaller, more accessible black and white prints could be. There's a photograph of the installation, just above.


When visiting the Blanton I always try to do one nice image of the Battle Collection of 
Sculpture casts. I like the intersection of the profile and the soft blue, just above.
The 60mm seemed perfect for this kind of spatial compression.

The photograph above and the one below really do show just how well corrected 
the Sigma 60mm f2.8 dn lens is. The images are filled with parallel lines that do a 
great job of staying straight and true. It's really a nice performance for an
inexpensive lens used at its widest f-stop.


I left the Blanton galleries and went across the courtyard to the little museum café to get a pre-made ham and swiss cheese sandwich before soldiering on to the Humanities Research Center a few blocks away. I'd been hearing about the Alice in Wonderland show and wanted to see it. There were a number of really great images from the second half of the 1800's and the show laid out an interesting progression of re-interpretations on a 150 year time line. Below is one of Lewis Carroll's notebooks. I particularly like the last passage on the page...

One of Lewis Carroll's notebooks. The Humanities Research Center.
Austin, Texas.



I think the Alice in Wonderland show is fun for art buffs as there are lots of very interesting materials, across media, that I was surprised to discover. My favorites were a series of comic book covers featuring Alice, and also a series of illustrations done by Salvador Dali for a unique edition of an Alice in Wonderland book. Those surrealist illustrations alone are worth getting out and seeing the show...

I know we're all jaded about what cameras can do these days but the comic book cover and lantern slide box, just above, still amaze me in terms of how well stabilized the frames were and how perfectly rendered the details are from a camera handheld at ridiculously slow shutter speeds. And that's why I grab the Olympus stuff when I go out to shoot for fun.

Oh, and by the way, these are Jpegs from the camera...small exposure tweaks, that's all.