Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Tropical Undergrowth World Through E-5

Part 4: Night Macro

Another long delay was inevitable as something unexpected happened to my family.

I have been doing macro both daytime and at night for some years. There are several reasons why night macro is preferred- nocturnal animals go out at night and they are less sensitive to human presence. Some more it is cool, atmosphere wise of course. The not-so-good thing is, of course, the lack of available light. This means focusing will require assistance from a light source such as a torch light. Unless you have a DIY torchlight holder like what my friend Benten has created, you will need the left hand to hold one. This leaves only your right hand to hold the camera.

By holding with one hand we have several issues- weight and stability. E-5 is a heavy camera by Olympus standard, almost double my E-500. For someone like me, I cannot hold it with one hand long especially with a flash unit mounted. Especially the STF twin flash. What saved me was the fabulous ergonomics of the camera and the built-in stabilizer which I supposed helped to compensate hand shake. While we might not be dealing much with image blur due to shake, getting the focus shifted is a major problem.

The great thing about E-5 for night macro is its autofocus system functions very well, both S-AF and C-AF even under low light. Even with the dreaded Zuiko Digital 50mm f2.0. It tracks better with ZD 50/2 compared to E-500 with ZD 35/3.5. This allows great macro opportunity when we are dealing in very tricky situations whereby older cameras tend to cause the lens go hunting.

Due to limited time I only tested the E-5 at night twice. Here are some of the better photos taken when the MyChiaroscuro Olympus-user club had a night macro safari.

Some kind of treehopper only found at night. See how well the highlight was controlled even when obviously flash was used.

A pholcid spider with eggs. Again we see the reflective-prone eggs have sufficient dynamic range while the leaf at the back is well illuminated.

 A very small crab spider (Thomisidae) with rich texture on its body and legs. The textures are well rendered with amazing clarity.

An excellent case study of how the E-5 controls the dynamic range to avoid blown highlights. Even in this low-res 600 pixel photo you can see the hairy texture of this poltys spider's abdomen and legs.

 Some kind of lizard I saw. Not my favourite subject but the scaly skin is a good test for finding excessive moire.

Hersiliid a.k.a. two-tailed spider. Can't say much on this photo but I think people would agree that if a camera can take this kind of photo, it is definitely a really good one.

OK. I find myself boring because I have been doing nothing but praising the E-5 since the beginning. No, the company didn't pay me. All I got from them was a few A4 papers with some marketing points. Frankly I am was very skeptical when the specs of this camera were released as it was the most lackluster model other than the E-450. What impressed me later was the immense improvement of image quality and AF system. Not saying the other models have low IQ, they are all good but this is a huge leap altogether. The AF performance in E-system cameras have been badly ridiculed for ages especially in low light. I hate them when shooting indoor. Now E-5 provided the answer needed.

Bad thing? Haaa... now we get things more interesting. Other than weight, I didn't have much time to find other weaknesses. Probably size is a bit of a problem to me since I cannot reach some of the buttons with my right thumb as easily as I did with E-500. But you see, I am a small person weight 50kg.

For a hobbyist, you cannot go wrong with this camera provided money is not an issue. It allows you access to the exotic Zuiko Digital lenses which are known to provide extremely high resolution and very impressive MTF behaviour. You can use the only two f2.0 zooms in existence with this camera. If your concern is about available lenses, just check out the Olympus website for the line up. Note that the company recently announced that they are not looking at developing new 4/3 lenses at this time so stop hoping for new ones to be released. This disappoints me as it means the planned (since 2007) 100mm macro lens will not see the light of day as of now.

Is this camera good for newbies? If you got the money, yes. It is not so complicated to use and definitely more than capable of producing great photographs. By now there are a lot of E-5 owners sharing their works on the web. Go google up and judge for yourself.

For E-5xx users, this is a very useful upgrade from your dinosaurs. You will love the new features (not really that much) and the excellent AF. The 12.3MP is reasonably high although not the best in the market. Most of the improvements are very helpful in making great photographs easier to take. If your AF tracks better, the image is sharper, the dynamic range higher, then this is pretty much settled. For those who are considering jumping to D300s or 7D, give a shot at E-5 and then only decide. Don't be a sensor size paranoid.

For E-3 and E-30 users, the upgrade is still very substantial. In fact most people I know who ordered the E-5 belong to this group! Ok, financial muscles aside I give the benefit of the doubt that they find the improvement to be worth the upgrade rather than jumping to another boat. I have been using E-30 for the past 1 week, courtesy of my friend Khairul, and would say the AF performance in E-5 is noticeably better. Even the IQ is better although both are using the same sensor.

For potential ship jumpers coming to Olympus, do study the E-system closely before fire selling your gears and buy the E-5. If you do that and still jump, you will appreciate this beast better. You will get to play with Zuikos but will lose great HD video (E-5 runs on 720 HD with noisy AF motor) and 5-figure ISO. I cannot comment much on the usage of other systems but one thing I take note is the colour. You can't beat Olympus' colour.