Olympus OM-D E-M5 Voigtlander 35mm lens - reviewing - samples, raw conversion etc.

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This is the Olympus OM-D E-M5 fitted with a Voigtlander 35mm f/1.2 Nokton lens. The combination I was raving about yesterday. So, how best to show you what I'm talking about?

When considering it I was struck by the inherent difficulties of the exercise. Do I post jpgs? Well this isn't going to give an accurate representation of what I see on my screen, as the results I enjoyed so much were achieved using raw conversion. So how do I present the raw files? Do I use the default settings? Again that doesn't achieve what I'm trying to show and if I use my custom settings that pleased me so much, can others then replicate the results without knowing how I set the software up? Then there is the fact that not everybody uses the same software that I do.

For example, here is one of the above pictures that I took of the camera/lens combination using my Oympus E-PL3.

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The top picture was taken using the Camera Raw Defaults that versions of Adobe Camera Raw set for all cameras. The bottom picture is taken using my own custom settings that I use for all my m4/3 cameras. The same file was used for both. If I present just one of these files as a sample of what the camera can do, then both I and you as readers, would be able to draw different conclusions. I could, for example, use the bottom picture and write about how this camera has great dynamic range, omitting the fact that I achieved that by manipulating the image while processing. Assuming that I had a point I wanted to prove, i.e. that m4/3 sensors have better dynamic range than they are given credit for, this would be the example I would use rather than the top. If I wanted to prove the contrary position I would use the top image.

However, as you know, I always strive to indicate what I have done to achieve the results that I have. Firstly because its honest, and secondly because as far as m4/3 is concerned, I feel that it is often necessary to show that common misperceptions can be made to look foolish if ways of overcoming perceived "drawbacks" are explored.

Bearing all this in mind I decided to attempt to illustrate the results I got from the OM-D and Voigtlander 35mm lens by presenting the results of different raw processing.

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The above example is the same as the E-PL3 shots. i.e. The top version is the Camera Raw defaults version, the bottom using my custom settings, which has the highlight areas toned down and the shadow areas lightened.

Below I have taken this a step further and included my own Photoshop editing as a third option.

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Finally, the image below contains these three alternatives plus the out of camera jpg. as well.

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As is my usual practice, I have uploaded these as full-size high-res, versions which you can access by clicking on the image > flickr > Actions > View all sizes > Original.

All of the above examples are useful in that they show how I begin and also what I'm looking to achieve as an end result. There is no notion here of any of these conversions being "right" or "wrong". You may or may not like the final result. However this is both how I like to see my images and this approach has brought me a degree of commercial success over the years.

A regular contributor here once posted on Google+ that my samples were somewhat different to those on a site like Dpreview. And yes that is true. And yes that is the problem with using jpgs. as samples on which to base an opinion. When cameras are announced I strive to get hold of a raw samples to see how a camera will fit into my personal way of doing things, as I've learnt by now that jpgs. don't give me an accurate idea of how the camera will work for me. Raw files pose difficulties though. Firstly they are large, and secondly to get anything useful from them assumes that we have the software to do so. Some new cameras have no 3rd. party support and even existing versions of the native software won't open them up.

Like many others I'm an advocate of a common raw standard. I personally would like to see Adobe's .dng format adopted by everyone. However it seems unlikely that this will ever happen. With regard to the raw samples I occasionally post, I do always make them .dng files. This gives most people a chance of being able to process them. I would like to post more, but this is not always possible. My previous hosting facility, Apples MobileMe, is being closed down and I'm currently looking at the Google Drive facility or even the Adobe cloud to see if that gives me another option.

The serious point I'm trying to make here, is how all samples and reviews should be treated with a degree of skepticism. I do, as you know, try to make any bias I have apparent. Regular readers will know what I like and what I don't, but casual visitors will not. I have written often enough that what I write should be judged in combination with everything else. Certainly I myself will look at a range of opinions on a new product. Most of the time there is a general consensus, but the recent activity around the Fuji X-Pro 1 shows that this is not always the case.

I have also tried to show that there are difficulties in showing "representative" samples. Again, its a personal thing, but when I see a Dpreview review, I take notice of what they write, but only look at a few samples. From previous experience I am aware that how they process images is somewhat different to how I do it. They may claim that they try to be objective and "neutral" and they may well be right, but thats not particularly useful to me. As a general rule I find their samples, soft, noisy and flat but thats just my opinion and I'm looking for different possibilities. I also find that their samples tend to show how all cameras look pretty much the same when jpg. output is presented as indicative of quality. Personally, I treat jpgs. as "notebook" versions of an image, something to check exposure, colour etc. with. For me its the raw file that has all the information and potential that I want.

A recent example was the Nikon D800. Looking at some of the jpgs. presented on the web, you would struggle to see what all the fuss is about. However, there are a few raw files about and then all is revealed. And surely the Leica Monochome M9 is better than the jpg. examples I've seen. At least I'd hope so.

So, finally, this is something I felt I had to make clear. As you will know, I'm very reluctant to make any definitive value judgements on the gear that I use and write about. Much as I enjoy reading Ken Rockwell, that approach is not for me. Plus I like to get to know a piece of equipment over time and am prepared to change my opinion when I discover good or bad things about it.

If you find the above samples useful, then I'm glad, but do understand that they are representative of the way that I do things and should be judged as such. Something that some of my "critics" often fail to understand.

N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) below.
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