If you ever wanted to do image manipulation in Java you will probably know AWT. This ancient toolkit is unfortunately the only way to work with images in Java SE. While Androids Bitmap class is quite up-to-date and offers a nice API, the AWT equivalent is very outdated. Additionally it is super slow: try loading an image taken with any modern phone and you will know what I’m talking about.
For one of my personal projects I needed a way to create thumbnail images for my image gallery. I started using imgscalr which offers a pure java solution to create thumbnails. The problem with imgscalr as well as with libraries like thumbnailator is that they are all based on AWT. This comes with some drawbacks:
not a lot of supported formats
it’s buggy for certain combinations of formats, color spaces etc.
Due to the reasons above I decided to write a wrapper around the convert utility shipped as part of ImageMagick. The advantage of this approach is that it supports virtually every format (even HEIF!), is comparable in speed to pure Java libraries and is updated more regularly than AWT.
My open-source library is available on GitHub and as a Maven dependency. It is a very basic utility that calls convert as an external process and returns the raw output as a byte array.
One of the main advantages of the Micro Four Thirds system is the vast selection of tiny lenses from different manufacturers. This review is for one of those lenses that don’t fall into the compact lens category. It is known under different names depending on where you are looking to buy it, but probably most well known under the name Samyang 135mm f2.0.
I bought a version of this lens aimed more at videographers since the non-clicky aperture ring and the rather uncomfortable rings are designed for follow focus systems. The exact name of my copy is Walimex Pro 135mm t2.2 but as mentioned above the only differences are the non-rubberized rings and the aperture ring being non-clicky.
While being not exactly small :-), the lens is also pretty heavy (weighing in at around 840g) compared to for example the Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 Pro lens. On a body like the E-M5 Mark II the setup becomes front-heavy and I would recommend considering an addon grip. I believe on the Panasonic Lumix GH5 / G9 or the Olympus E-M1 Mark II it would feel more comfortable to use.
The main reason why I bought this lens is that I wanted to have a telephoto lens and I was quite pleased with sample photographs I found on the internet. It provides sharp results wide open and a really shallow depth of field.
The out-of-focus areas are very pleasing being a 270mm equivalent at t2.2. One thing you should definitely try before buying this lens is focusing with it. Keep in mind that this lens is entirely manual and thus it can become really difficult to focus at the widest apertures, especially if your camera does not offer image stabilization. Two other crucial features your body should support are focus peaking and magnification as they vastly improve the focusing experience with this lens. Another thing to keep in mind is that there is absolutely no electronic connection to your camera body and as such the exif data is going to lack the focal length (which is not really an issue) but more importantly the aperture.
Now, why did I opt for the video version of this lens, rather than the more comfortable photo version? Price. There was about a 200€ difference between different versions of this lens. It was quite confusing as different mounts, names and video / photo versions would come in at completely different price points, while they should optically all perform almost identically.
The lens feels very solid and sturdy. It comes with a decent lens cap and a reversible lens hood which also feels nice and solid. Overall I am really happy with both the build and image quality that it offers. A nice but considerably more expensive alternative would be the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro lens, which also comes with auto focus and weather sealing. If you are open to old lenses you might be able to get a pretty good deal on for example the old Olympus OM 135mm f2.8 lens or many other lenses that you can adapt to the MFT system.
To sum it up I will say that this lens proved to be lots of fun to use and it definitely delivers when it comes to sharpness and rendering. Yes, it is heavy but considering that the alternatives are either heavier or come with drastically slower apertures, the weight and size seem to be justified. Also think about what you want to do with this lens. While on full frame bodies it might be nice for portraits it will be a pretty decent telezoom on cropped sensors. If you are looking for a more budget friendly option, definitely check out some film era manual lenses. They might not be as sharp but they come at a fraction of the price and usually boast an impressive build quality.
Olympus announced the E-PL7 in summer of 2014 as a successor to the E-PL6 in their Pen-Lite series. Since then it has gotten a lot of attention from amateur photographers and especially from fashion bloggers all around the world. That was more than three years back but I still believe it to be a viable option for people who are looking for a cheap and beginner-friendly camera to shoot with.
I have owned this camera for almost two years now and I would like to write about my experience with it so far. I will start with a relatively non-technical overview of it and then talk a bit about the technology behind it that ultimately made me choose it as my first camera. Please note that I mainly shoot stills and will not talk about video features in detail.
The first thing that catches your eyes with this camera is definitely the retro look and feel of it. Another thing is the small size of it which I find to be a huge advantage. When combined with a small lens such as the 17mm f1.8 it makes it easier to just put it in your jacket pocket and take it wherever you go.
The body is made out of plastic, yet feels solid in the hand. The touchscreen on the front tilts almost 90° up and 180° down (the latter being very useful for taking selfies). Additionally it can be used to set focus points by simply touching an area on the screen. As mentioned before it does not feature an electronic viewfinder. However, combined with a viewfinder such as the VF-4 it almost makes an E-M10 II with the benefit of being a smaller camera when you don’t need the viewfinder. Under the hood it features a 16 megapixel sensor with the Truepic VII image processor. All this makes it almost identical to it newer sibling, the E-PL8. The sensor resolution of just 16 megapixels may sound not quite up to date but considering both Panasonic and Olympus still use them for their cameras released in 2016/17 it doesn’t sound that bad either. Additionally when compared to the 20 megapixel sensor in the higher end models, there is little difference to be seen in image quality. Another thing you’ll find quite useful in this camera is the built-in 3-axis image stabilization which gives you more flexibility in low-light situations by smoothing unwanted shakes. The fastest shutter speed is 1/4000s and is sufficient for shooting in most lighting conditions. Finally, if you’re not planning to shoot videos with your camera then I believe there is little that you will miss with it.
I bought this camera in a set consisting of the 14-42mm pancake lens and the 45mm f1.8 portrait lens. To be honest, in the beginning I wasn’t quite impressed with the image quality of the camera and I was seriously considering selling it and getting a smartphone with a better camera instead. However, as soon as I started using the 45mm f1.8 my mind quickly changed and I started enjoying using it. Initially I avoided using the kit lens and only took portraits using the 45mm. Soon after I decided to buy the Sigma 19mm f2.8 lens and I had all that I needed for this to be my primary camera. While smartphones are catching up with image quality quickly, they still don’t offer the versatility provided by being able to put on another lens.
These days, the body sells for around 250€ used which I find very attractive for beginners. Add a lens such as the aforementioned Sigma 19mm and you have a quite nice combo for every-day shots. If you feel 19mm isn’t exactly what you’re looking for, no problem! You can use all Olympus and Panasonic lenses but also a lot of third party offerings. The large number of lenses is another big reason why I would recommend it over for example the Sony A6000 as it gives you more freedom when shopping for gear.
The out of camera images generally look quite pleasing and in most cases they are usable without any editing. Of course you can also choose to shoot RAW if you need more control over the look of your pictures. ISO levels of up to 800 when paired with a good lens show very good detail and I find levels of up to ISO 1600 still usable. This is naturally a thing of preference and you may want to look at sample pictures taken at different ISO levels to make up your own mind.
When it comes to autofocus I can’t really complain about anything. All the lenses I have tried on it focused almost instantly and the option to focus on different eyes of your subject makes it perfect for taking portraits. For manual lenses magnifying and focus peaking options are provided.
Let’s talk about things I don’t like about this camera, and there are only a few 🙂
Video: This camera is clearly not made for taking videos. The image quality here is mediocre to say the least and I would suggest you look elsewhere if you plan on shooting video. The only real advantage here when compared to smartphones is the possibility to change lenses. Other than that things I miss on this camera are the possibility to charge it via USB and maybe a second dial for exposure compensation. Something that also could’ve been added is in-camera panoramas. Since the HDR mode is quite useful and delivers good results I see little reason Olympus chose not to include a panorama mode even in their latest cameras.
This pretty much sums up my feelings and thoughts about this camera. I really enjoy taking it with me, using it and the general look and feel of it. I also own the E-M5 II and while it is more comfortable to use, this Pen gives you the majority of the features in a small and low-cost package. Paired with the VF-4 it provides an almost perfect shooting experience.
If you want to find out more about this camera I recommend Robin Wong’s Blog that includes some more sample shots and an in-depth look at it (Part 1, Part 2).