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View Full Version : Yes, Virginia, You Really Can Get Bokeh from a Small Sensor Compact...


NickTrop
04-07-2015, 08:29
The case for the small sensor high-end compact...

So -- went "monumenting" in DC over the weekend. Decisions, decisions. Film? Digital? Do I bring the big camera(s) with a bunch of lenses? Lots of architecture, but I'll be walking a lot -- and taking bunches of pics. Decided to go with a recently acquired (on a whim) "new to me" Olympus XZ-1. Glad I did.

Lots of folks walking around with lots of camers -- digital, film (always nice to see...) Canon SLRs, Nikon SLRs, 4/3rd's, the Fuji XPro... And the one thing I always said about these 4/3rd's cameras in particular -- by the time you slap a lens on them, you're really not saving much weight/space/bulkiness (unless it's a pancake lens...) Sling this diminutive 10oz compact around your shoulder you won't even know its there. Every focal lenght lens you want is built-in and performs exceedingly well.

As far as small sensor compacts, I always thought that you might as well use a cell phone given the sensor size, and that the higher-end ones were too expensive -- might as well get an entry 4/3 or compact DSLR for the money. Plus? No bokeh. Not that you want it in every shot but gotta be able to throw the background at least a little out of focus when you want to.

Long story short (impossible at this point), this Oly is really changing my mind. The lens on this thing is fantastic. It's fast (1.8 to 2.5) and the range is perfect - 28mm to 112mm. Other manufactures lure you in with "f1.4" and a "24mm" on the wide end, but the focal lenght on the tele end is too short to give you any practical DOF play with a small sensor. It is absolutely sharp at all aps, corner to corner. It's a jewel. And because of the small sensor, it is tiny and light -- even when fully extended. It's like having a bag of excellent primes but you don't have to change lenses and it weighs ounces.

I also love the Oly processing engine. They just nail it. I like it so much I shoot jpeg and haven't seen the need to futz with anything. Color reminds me of Kodak Ultra, which I just love. I also like its black and white mode and its lower contrast settings. Again, Oly just nailed it. It has built-in (firmware, of course) "filters" -- ND, and yellow, green, orange, and red for BW. It uses a CCD -- which imo is simply a "must" for video (a main reason I bought it...) I can. not. stand. rolling shutter. artifacts. in. video.

As far as noise? Yes -- noisy at anything over ISO 800 (800 is usable) BUT in typical ambient light situations -- that is "real" shooting situations, perfectly fine. The firmware prioritizes keeping the ISO as low as possible, leveraging the camera's excellent IS and lens speed. It rarely shoots over 200. If you want to get a higher ISO because of motion blur, shoot shutter priority. If you want to shoot in available darkness -- use a flash or that's when you bring a camera with a larger sensor. But in general ambient light? Camera in "real shooting situations" -- not "internet camera review tests", it performs like a champ.

Oly got this one right. Perhaps these cameras were overlooked. "*** ***'d" -- like I did. But I have found my digital "rangefiner" and its name is the Olympus XZ-1. The XZ-2 is also purportedly excellent, Oly switched to a backlit CMOS and that buys you an extra stop, noise-wise, and it has a flexible LCD. I'll stick with the first version's CCD for video.

And -- finally, "bokeh" in a small sensor compact.

http://img02.deviantart.net/0b73/i/2015/097/b/9/untitled_by_nicktrop-d8osivl.jpg

NickTrop
04-07-2015, 08:30
More bokeh...
http://img08.deviantart.net/ca28/i/2015/097/0/e/untitled_by_nicktrop-d8osk4l.jpg

NickTrop
04-07-2015, 08:34
Great colors -- natural skin tone while giving punchy but not unnatural colors. This reminds me of Kodak Ultra. Also good in ambient light (restaurant, at night -- no flash), auto white balance... All the photos on this thread by the way, are straight out of the camera (a few with in-camera processing...) No LR, not RAW processor, no PS
http://img08.deviantart.net/076f/i/2015/097/0/8/untitled_by_nicktrop-d8osikx.jpg

NickTrop
04-07-2015, 08:36
Great choice of focal length... Usable for photographers, no "trying to win the spec wars" marketeering nonsense. Just a great lens. 28mm -- maybe not "the best" for architecture shots like this, but "wide enough" for most practical applications.
http://img06.deviantart.net/7563/i/2015/097/5/2/untitled_by_nicktrop-d8osj7z.jpg

NickTrop
04-07-2015, 08:40
28-112 1.8-2.5 lens is sharp corner to corner even wide open at all apertures. No need to stop down. Shoot wide open all day long. Lens has no bad habits -- minimal barrel/pincushion at the ends. Haven't seen any obtrusive fringing. It is a gem and it's tiny, even zoomed out. It even handles flare well. I've used many a lens, and know from lenses... the good, the bad, the ugly. This is the first compact camera lens Olympus saw fit to designate with "Zuiko" by the way. Glad to see such designation still means something to at least "one" manufacturer, anyway.

http://img15.deviantart.net/b959/i/2015/097/6/f/untitled_by_nicktrop-d8osjgl.jpg

NickTrop
04-07-2015, 08:45
Good in-camera black and white. Handles noise well by keeping ISO low in auto ISO mode. Minimal shutter lag
http://img12.deviantart.net/aa51/i/2015/097/7/7/untitled_by_nicktrop-d8oskpi.jpg

NickTrop
04-07-2015, 08:48
Ten ounces... Get yourself an inexpensive "leatherette" 1/2 case, sling it around your neck, will travel (literally). Best $95 I ever spent on a "new to me" camera.

The Olympus XZ-1... the overlooked digital "rangefinder". "Old" by digital standards, it's a used market bargain and a fantastic camera.

https://encrypted-tbn2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSQV6iDvzjOWewJPxMYKHKAuDZLyZ5lN 6W76pkaYGIh-DLRX7gU

raid
04-07-2015, 08:55
Hi Nick,
I recently got a Panasonic LUMIX LC1. It is 5MP camera with a great lens (Vario Summicron 7-22.5 or 29-90 equivalent)

NickTrop
04-07-2015, 09:15
Raid -- I have to be honest with you. I love the "look" of that camera. I "was" tempted by its lure many times. The big Leica lens, the optical VF, its sexy looks. However, I wouldn't, these days, use any small sensor digital pre-2010 unless it's a compact ultra zoom. I think that from the early-2000's and for the next 10 years, digital was emerging tech. Low resolution sensors, slow write times, frustrating AF, so-so dynamic range, limited ISO due to noise. This is why I stuck with film (and still use it...) Since (I'd say) 2010-ish, like PCs, the innovation is levelling off in terms of the aforementioned. In the case of the camera you mentioned, I also think that "L" moniker inflates its price.

I hope you enjoy your camera... just my opinion. If you're looking for a "great" cheap digital camera, I'd take a hard look at this Oly, personally. You, of course, can take great pictures with a potato. Me? I need all the help I can get.

Here's another in-camera processed using portrait mode.

The key with this camera is that the focal length is "just" long enough, and the ap "just" fast enough, and the sensor "just" big enough to squeeze a little bokeh out of it. "Finally".

http://img14.deviantart.net/1f84/i/2015/097/1/1/untitled_by_nicktrop-d8osj25.jpg

raid
04-07-2015, 10:23
Hi Nick,
I have experienced already situations in which the LC1 did not do well and it is more a fun camera to use here and there, when suitable. We live in sunny Florida, so a slow camera is fine for beach photos.

I love my Olympus E-P2 and E-PL1 cameras. The M4/3 cameras are very useful overall.
If needed, I put on an AF small lens, and I have an AF camera, and when possible, I use a vintage lens for a sharp and fast lens.

This may sound crazy, but I am considering using this summer the M9 with 35/1.4 plus E-P2 with 85/1.4 (showing me a 170mm perspective). So I have 35mm and 175mm.

It may actually work out well.

NickTrop
04-07-2015, 10:30
Hi Nick,
I have experienced already situations in which the LC1 did not do well and it is more a fun camera to use here and there, when suitable. We live in sunny Florida, so a slow camera is fine for beach photos.

I love my Olympus E-P2 and E-PL1 cameras. The M4/3 cameras are very useful overall.
If needed, I put on an AF small lens, and I have an AF camera, and when possible, I use a vintage lens for a sharp and fast lens.

This may sound crazy, but I am considering using this summer the M9 with 35/1.4 plus E-P2 with 85/1.4 (showing me a 170mm perspective). So I have 35mm and 175mm.

It may actually work out well.

Sounds like a plan, Raid. In your hands I'm sure it will work out well! Like I said, you can take great pics with a potato.

raid
04-07-2015, 10:40
Thank you for such words. Now I need to "find that potato"!

NickTrop
04-07-2015, 12:42
Thank you for such words. Now I need to "find that potato"!

At long last, I have found my potato. Its name is the Olympus XZ-1. Good luck in your potato quest, Raid.

Sparrow
04-07-2015, 13:19
... so who is Virginia then?

Bingley
04-07-2015, 14:18
... so who is Virginia then?


It's an American pop culture thing... allusion to an 1897 New York Sun editorial w/ the line: "Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus..."

You Brits wouldn't understand....:rolleyes::)

NickTrop
04-07-2015, 21:37
It's an American pop culture thing... allusion to an 1897 New York Sun editorial w/ the line: "Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus..."

You Brits wouldn't understand....:rolleyes::)

Bingo, Bingley...

NickTrop
04-07-2015, 21:50
So... in summary, "the case for the small sensor compact"... at least as far as this particular Oly model is concerned.

1. Small zoom lenses can capable of sharp results across the frame at all apertures -- no losting stops because you stop down. Shoot wide open.

2. Because the sensor is small, the lens is small.

Thus, you have a zoom lens that gives you all the "prime" focal lengths 28, 35, 50, 85, 112 that is an outstanding performer in a diminutive size. No need to change lenses. These "primes" are also fast with an f1.8-2.5 range.

3. A major downside is that "you can't get bokeh from a small sensor". These particular models from Olympus (XZ-1, XZ-2) prove this not to be the case.

4. The fast lens and image stabilization enables you to shoot fine in ambient/normal room light. While you won't get super high ISOs like a DSLR it's not really necessary due to the aforementioned.

5. The quality of the output is excellent. There is ample resolution for larger prints.

6. A bargain on the used market.

Basically, if you want a very discreet camera that is highly versatile whose zoom lens is, literally, as good as a bag of primes (in many ways better) don't discount these cameras.

Personally? I think they're the solution.

lynnb
04-07-2015, 21:53
Nick, I find the LX3 fills a similar niche - very small compact with manual control, excellent IQ, good DOF separation and bokeh. I upgraded to a Nikon V1 for a silly price on closeout, but the V1 is physically bigger and the ergonomics are not as good, although it does have an EVF.

Nice results from the XZ-1. Thanks for sharing.

btgc
04-07-2015, 22:51
Question is - at which focal lengths and camera to object distances small sensor blurs background. At tele position, decade ago small 1/1.8" sensors did it already.

Rodchenko
05-18-2015, 07:16
I love my XZ-1. It has its quirks, and manual focussing is annoying, but it creates beautiful images. I mostly use it with my VF-2 viewfinder that normally sits on my EPL1

ellisson
12-07-2015, 16:25
Just picked up one of these XZ-1 cameras and I'm finding it loads of fun in a pocketable package. Its easy to use (I like how they organized the menus and buttons), fast to operate, and the lens is sweet. On those days when I can't or don't want to carry around more expensive, finer stuff and camera bags, this Oly fills the niche quite well.

I'm guessing the minimum aperture of f8 is about all I'll need, but wonder if this limit is just a function of small lens design when the maximum aperture is f1.8. When I look in the lens from the front, I don't even see the aperture change, yet the field of focus definitely changes as expected.

rbelyell
12-08-2015, 04:14
i echo all the positive comments on this oly. i also had the xz2 which produced similarly. for me personally, the absence of a vf, and thus my having to use an external one, ruined the user experience for me. obviously that is very subjective, but for many it is a real issue.

i still wanted a small big producing compact, and solved the vf problem with the fuji x10. it has the same fl range coupled w a slightly higher aperture range of 2-2.8. ive found i can shoot it in low light to 1600. sharpness, color, b&w nuance and 'bokeh' are very pleasing. i tried the x20 but really didnt like the results from the xtrans sensor 'upgrade', so i reaquired an x10 for a tad over $100! anyway, not my intention to in any way hijack the thread. the oly is a great camera, but for those who want a vf, take a look at the x10.
tony

NickTrop
12-14-2015, 16:30
i echo all the positive comments on this oly. i also had the xz2 which produced similarly. for me personally, the absence of a vf, and thus my having to use an external one, ruined the user experience for me. obviously that is very subjective, but for many it is a real issue.

i still wanted a small big producing compact, and solved the vf problem with the fuji x10. it has the same fl range coupled w a slightly higher aperture range of 2-2.8. ive found i can shoot it in low light to 1600. sharpness, color, b&w nuance and 'bokeh' are very pleasing. i tried the x20 but really didnt like the results from the xtrans sensor 'upgrade', so i reaquired an x10 for a tad over $100! anyway, not my intention to in any way hijack the thread. the oly is a great camera, but for those who want a vf, take a look at the x10.
tony

Not hijacking the thread at all... Appreciate the input. Yes, the external vf is a concession. I'd prefer one. However, it's a concession I'm willing to make for size and cost. I've contemplated getting one, but ultimately decided against it.

The Fuji you cite is excellent, but I don't consider it in the same class of camera as the Oly. I posted this thread to point out an overlooked budget camera that, for the money on the used market, (for me less than $100 US) is pretty hard to beat.

rbelyell
12-15-2015, 07:13
yes nick i agree. as an fyi i did pay about $100 as well for my used x10. but take nothing from the oly, it is a great performer, is wholly overlooked, and can be had very cheaply.

Trius
01-02-2016, 18:31
I just read through this thread ... dammit!