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In my casual browsing of the local used camera listings, I found a used Olympus PEN E-PM1 (launched 2011) for the price of only a few cups of coffee! How could I say no to such cute, little thing, which can still perform really well today and deliver fantastic results? I thought this would be a good chance to satisfy my curiosity about the Olympus PEN Mini concept, which I did not have the chance to. I made a video to share my thoughts on the E-PM1 (video here). In summary, the camera is super small and light, the AF is superbly fast and reliable and the image quality is still great today, easily beating any flagship smartphone camera today, which I have proven in video. Here in this truncated blog entry, I just want to share some of my latest shots taken from the streets of Kuala Lumpur, all shot on the E-PM1. 

I found a low priced, great condition Panasonic 15mm F1.7 and I immediately nabbed it. I have been eyeing one for a while, but I could not bring myself to pay for the full price. I am possibly one of the most frugal photographers out there, but hey, it is not like I am swimming in cash right now with so little jobs I get no thanks to the current on-going pandemic situation. I want to talk about the reasons why I added the Panasonic 15mm F1.7 into my camera bag, and of course, share some quick thoughts about using that lens for both my street photography and doing some simple video work. I have made a video as well on this same topic, you can find it here (click). 

Loving the incredibly small size of the lens, yet it delivers great results. 

In case you are not aware, I have owned a Fuji XF10 since early this year, read my review here (click). The reason I bought that XF10 was to force myself to shoot with wide angle in street photography. It did just that, and I thoroughly enjoyed the wider perspective, allowing me to see things differently and compose my shots outside of my usual tighter framing. However that XF10 was unacceptably slow in AF, and it has caused me to miss some critical moments when I needed the camera to react quickly. I cannot understand how a modern camera can have such slow focus (stop talking about snap focus, that is a lousy trick and a poor excuse for the underperforming AF). Therefore, the Panasonic 15mm F1.7 is the perfect lens for me to use for wide angle street shooting on my own Olympus cameras. The equivalent focal length is not exactly 28nm, but it is close enough, and I don't have to sacrifice AF speed. Quite frankly, I don't see anything special about the XF10's image output too. I am perfectly happy with what I am getting from my current Micro Four Thirds setup. 
Back in May just before the total lockdown started, I found a cheap portable printer online while doom scrolling on Lazada (online shopping platform here) and I bought it. The Paperang P2 was a thermal printer, same type of printer for receipts you get after you purchase items at the store with your credit or debit cards. It does not require ink for printing, and the papers are cheap, hence I decided to get one, just for the fun of it. You do need to connect to the smartphone via the official app to print your images. The pairing of printer to smartphone was easy and printing process was relatively fast, just a few seconds. Of course, the print is only in black and white. 

I like how small and portable the printer is

Olympus M.Zuiko 8-25mm F4 PRO lens is perhaps the most exciting product that I look forward to reviewing this year. With the on-going global pandemic happening and not much news from the Micro Four Thirds camp, the launch of an Olympus PRO lens, with unmatched versatile zoom range, and a promise of high optical performance was good enough to get me thrilled, and thankfully I managed to get out of this lockdown situation in Malaysia which lasted for 4 months. Finally, I was out shooting freely and the first thing that I did with that newfound freedom - review this Olympus 8-25mm PRO!

I have also made a video review here (click). 

Another addition to F4 PRO zoom line-up for Olympus M.Zuiko

DISCLAIMER
I am currently still an Olympus Visionary, an ambassador to the Olympus brand. In contrary to that, Olympus, or OM Digital Solutions did not contact me or inform me about any development of this lens, and I was not told about its release either. I was kept in the dark until the launch, and was not provided a sample unit for review. Nevertheless, I have decided to purchase one with my own money, because I needed an ultra wide angle zoom for my arsenal, the missing link, which I have always borrowed from Olympus whenever I needed one in the past,. Since I bought the lens myself, I am free to say whatever I want, and this is as much of an independent review as it can get. As usual, my review is a subjective one, I am sharing my experience using the Olympus 8-25mm PRO as a professional photographer, with plenty of fresh sample photographs to back my findings and claims. This is not a technical analysis, you won't find graphs and charts. All images were shot with either E-M1 Mark III, E-M1 Mark II or E-M5 Mark III in raw and post-processed in Capture One Pro. Only slight adjustments were applied (white balance correction, exposure compensation, no crop, no straightening, no further color enhancement applied). 

LENS OVERVIEW
Olympus M.Zuiko 8-25mm F4 PRO
Weather-sealing rated IPX1 (splash, dust, freeze)
Metal lens body
Lens construction - 16 elements in 10 groups (1 DSA lens, 2 Aspherical ED lenses, 1 Super ED lens, 1 ED lens, 1 Super HR lens, 1 HR lens, 1 HD lens)
Closest focusing distance 0.23m for all zoom range
Maximum magnification 0.42x
Filter size 72mm
Weight 411g lens only. 
For full specifications, go to official product page here (click). 

WHY 8-25MM?
The Olympus 8-25mm offers a massive zoom range starting from 8mm, a true ultra wide angle coverage, all the way to 25mm, a normal perspective focal length. I treasure this versatile zoom range, as I can do a lot more with this lens, and not be stuck with just wide angle coverage. This is the main reason I opted for the 8-25mm versus 7-14mm PRO, the 7-14mm at the longest end 14mm is basically still a wide angle lens, and sometimes I just want to get out of wide angle quickly for a different composition. 

LENS DESIGN & BUILD
The Olympus 8-25mm PRO looks exactly like any other Olympus PRO lenses, the design is consistent. The lens is in all black, body is metallic in build and looks very sleek and professional. There are two controls on the lens, the manual focus clutch, which is a mainstay for all Olympus PRO lenses and the L-Fn (lens function) button, which you can assign a customizable function to. The lens mount is metal, the body construction is solid, there is no creaky or rattling experienced while using the lens, and as expected from a PRO lens, the build is excellent. The lens is also fully weather-sealed, which is something that I truly need as a photographer in Malaysian tropical weather. 

LENS HANDLING
My first impression was that the Olympus 8-25mm could have been a little smaller and lighter. However, after using it extensively, especially on my E-M1 bodies, I did not find it to be too large or too heavy. The size was just nice, it was only slightly larger than the 12-40mm PRO which fits nicely on any Olympus cameras, and the weight balances well. I had no issues carrying the camera and lens combo for hours walking around hot KL streets. I'd rather take this size and weight, with great image output, than making the lens any smaller with some compromises. 

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Superb sharpness and contrast captured

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Super sharp even at 25mm end

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Excellent corner sharpness

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High clarity and realistic rendering

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EXCELLENT OPTICS
The Olympus 8-25mm PRO produces excellent output. The images are incredibly sharp with plenty of fine details and great contrast, rendering super realistic looking results. The sharpness is already optimal at wide open F4, and I did not see any advantage stopping down further, and I would not hesitate shooting wide open F4 at any focal lengths for all my shots using this lens. The sharpness is also very consistent from edge to edge and corner to corner, the images show no traces of corner softness of vignetting, if there was any, they are negligible. I have shot about a thousand image samples with the 8-25mm and I must say, I am impressed with each and every single one of them. 

I suspect that the level of sharpness and contrast captured by the Olympus 8-25mm PRO is higher than the older 7-14mm PRO, based on my experience using both lenses extensively. However, I cannot make final conclusion, this was just an assumption, since I do not have the 7-14mm lens with me at the moment to do a side by side comparison to verify my claims. The take-away is - I am extremely impressed by what this Olympus 8-25mm PRO can do. 

LENS FLAW CONTROL
The technical controls of the lens is also top notch. 

Flare resistance is very good, I have to try very, very hard to get flare in my photograph, and that was shooting without a hood. Yes, lens hood is provided in the box, if you must use one. You should have no issue with flare or ghosting even in very challenging situations (shooting against strong source of light), the lens coating is very resistant of flare, and renders very high contrast images even in these conditions. 

I see no traces of chromatic aberration at all. Even in high contrast areas, both in and out of focus parts of the image, I see zero purple fringing, or any other color fringing at all. I tested most shots at wide open F4, and the chromatic aberration control was already excellent. 

I also did not notice any distortion, all straight lines appeared perfectly straight. Of course, there is some degree of software correction involved here to get rid of barrel distortion and chromatic aberration, to me that does not matter, all I care about is the results, and if I see my images free from any of these lens flaws, I am satisfied and I won't complain. 


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No distortion at 8mm

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25mm provides different framing

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Flare control is very good

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Have to try really hard to get some flare in the shot. This was taken without using a hood. 

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No Chromatic Aberration

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No Purple Fringing

Champagne Colored Round Freshwater Pearls Long Beaded Necklace
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AUTOFOCUS
AF was extremely fast and reliable, and the Olympus 8-25mm PRO performed well in all 3 cameras I have tested it on, the E-M5 Mark III, E-M1 Mark II and E-M1 Mark III. The AF was fast at all focal lengths, and even shooting up close subjects, the AF works really well. 

CLOSE UP SHOOTING
The one huge advantage of using this Olympus 8-25mm PRO against any other ultra wide angle options for Micro Four Thirds - is close up shooting. The lens allows you to go as close as 0.23cm to the subject, irregardless of any focal lengths of the zoom, and at longest end 25mm, you can achieve the maximum magnification of 0.42x (in 35mm format equivalent) which is nothing short of impressive. Of course this is not a macro lens, and should not be treated as such, but being able to go so close, and get such high magnification adds more value to the lens, it can do a lot more and create more framing options. 

TAKES FILTERS DIRECTLY
Another big bonus on the Olympus 8-25mm PRO, especially versus the big brother 7-14mm PRO, is the ability to screw on filters directly onto the lens without additional adapters. The 7-14mm PRO has a bulbous front element that protrudes out significantly which prevented the mounting of filters directly onto it. Of course, many third party manufacturers have come up with accessories to fit on the 7-14mm PRO to adapt filters. These third party attachments are usually unsightly and huge, cumbersome to use, and extremely expensive. I find them impractical for my own photography and video workflow. Now that I am doing a bit more video, especially creating content for YouTube, I do need a wide angle lens from time to time, and being able to use filters directly save me a lot of trouble!

IS F4 ENOUGH?
Let's face it, when using an ultra wide angle lens, you aren't really looking to get much blur background to begin with. If you want to isolate your subject by using shallow depth of field, longer lenses would do better and more efficient job, say the Olympus 45mm F1.8, or 75mm F1.8, both capable of obliterating the background. Whenever I use an ultra wide, I tend to want to see as much in focus as possible, sometimes I want EVERYTHING in focus. F4 is most of the time good enough for that. If you do a lot of low light shooting, and you need an ultra wide for that, perhaps the 7-14mm F2.8 PRO is a better solution. The one stop advantage can mean a lot, doubling the amount of light captured by the lens, and you get to lower your ISO number by one stop. That can make a lot of difference. 

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There is one thing that I do not like about - the retracting locking mechanism. You need to extend the lens before us each and every time, and the camera won't let you take a photo if you don't do that. There is an error/warning message that will only go away after you fully unlock/extend the lens. I don't think this is a dealbreaker, it is a mere annoyance, but I can also see how this can make me miss some shots that I need to react reflexively to capture. I guess I need to use this lens a little more, building some muscle memory on how to quickly extend the lens without even thinking too much when shooting. 

I found myself loving the Olympus 8-25mm PRO lens a lot. It is extremely sharp, produces remarkable image output, focuses super fast and has very versatile zoom range that allows me a wide range of composition options. I also treasure the full weather-sealing, great build quality and respectable close up shooting. If you need a high performing ultra wide angle lens for your Micro Four Thirds system, you will be pleased with this option. 

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I am helping out another friend to set up a budget Micro Four Thirds kit, and I found this Yongnuo 25mm F1.7 selling for about USD100 (actually less, it is RM385, so more closer to USD90). Unlike most other budget 25mm primes for Micro Four Thirds that are manual focus lenses, Yongnuo included AF capability and I think this sets Yongnuo apart, hence I decided to purchase this lens. I was genuinely curious to see how a budget prime 25mm performs, thus I made this quick review! And boy oh boy, it was awesome to be able to go out and shoot again, after almost half a year living in total isolation. 

I have made a video review here too (click to YouTube video). 

I really like the bright 25mm  marking on the lens, making it quite easy to identify, especially in the dark. Olympus/OM Digital Solutions, please learn from this. 
I have had a dramatic encounter the past week due to a new wireless microphone setup and I have decided to not use it after that incident. I shall keep the brand and model of the wireless microphone hidden for now, maybe I had a lemon unit, I don't know, but the experience was quite unpleasant and that I'd rather work with wired setup, no matter how inconvenient it can be. 

The video I made where the wireless microphone failed and I decided to record everything with E-M5 Mark III's internal microphone instead. 

About a few months ago, just before the lockdown, I was given a wireless microphone that includes two transmitters and a receiver by a friend. It was a gift with no strings attached, and the friend was genuinely concerned for my video-making, as dealing with long cables on shooting locations tend to be risky and anything can happen, worst case bring me tripping the cables and cameras falling down, you get the idea. The wireless microphone was kept inside the box for quite a while, because I am one of those people who is quite hesitant to change - if the old method works, why bother doing something different?

In my latest video on Low Light Shooting with Olympus, I was walking around holding the camera and lens with one hand, so surely a cable connecting the camera to a microphone would have been cumbersome. Usually, my typical video setup is having the camera on a tripod, so that is more manageable and safe to manage. Considering the risks, as well as having better convenience using the new wireless microphone for this particular shoot, I decided to give the wireless microphone a go.

I tested the wireless microphone briefly at home and everything worked well. I did not pay close enough attention to the audio recording quality, I just made sure the connection works, and I can hear my own voice from the playback. So I went out with the wireless microphone, arrived on location and filmed an entire video, which took me close to 3 solid hours outdoors. To be fair, the pairing was fast (took less than 2 seconds for the transmitter to connect to receiver after powering on) and everything worked without a hiccup. I reviewed/playback each clip through the E-M5 Mark III's speakers, which were tiny and not good enough to judge sound quality, but good enough to tell if there was sound, and the words that I was speaking. Everything seemed to work fine, and I was indeed happy. 

Until I arrived home and transferred the footage. Oh my goodness, the audio levels were all off. My voice was severely distorted and clipped. I could not figure out what went wrong, until I saw that the volume setting on external microphone (camera setting) was set to +4. I thought that must be it, I have screwed up somehow and the +4 volume caused severe clipping. I even attempted to rescue the sound by cleaning up in post, to no avail. Although I was frustrated, I did not give up. 

The next evening, I went out again. I intend to redo the entire recording, with proper volume settings. And hopefully it works this time. What could possibly go wrong right?

Second night out - the receiver module refused to turn on. I pressed the power button and nothing happened. The wireless receiver decided to act up, and practically died on me even before the shoot began. I tried resetting the wireless module (the reset pin) and nothing worked. It was not running out of battery either, I have charged it the morning earlier. How can a device fail in the field just like that?

The other solution - I plugged in the lavalier microphone (which came together with the wireless microphone) directly into the camera, and guess what? It only recorded one channel (right channel was muted) and for whatever reasons, even through E-M5 Mark III's lousy speakers I can tell the audio sounded really bad. 

My mistake? I did not bring my old microphone setup as a backup. Always, always have a backup. And have backup to that backup. 

What did I do in the end? Still persistent and did not want that evening go to waste, since I was already out and I had what I wanted to say all in my head planned out already, I went ahead and recorded the entire session with the E-M5 Mark III's internal microphone. It did not come out as good as I wanted, but the audio quality was acceptable, and was miles better than the first attempt with the wireless microphone with severe sound clipping. 

The next morning, being curious, I tried to turn on the dead wireless receiver, and surprise, it decided to switch back on. Everything worked fine, but hey, it has failed me once, it may fail me again, and I was not going to risk it further. 

Still curious, I decided to do more extensive tests recording my voice indoor with the wireless microphone setup. Here is the weird part. I have dialed down the camera's volume setting to -5, yet there was still noticeable clipping in the audio. The recording level was low, the volume was soft because of the reduced -5 level, yet when monitoring the volume meter/levels, without peaking or showing the bars reaching the red zone/limits, still within very safe zones, the audio sounded broken, distorted and just plain rubbish. I tried both transmitters, they gave me same results. I tried the microphones on board the receivers, with the included lavaliers, my own lavaliers, they all came out severely distorted, without reaching high volume levels. 

Not only was the audio distorted even when I had the volume set to -10 level (yes I tried), they sounded heavily processed, like there was some bad noise reduction and compression going on, while boosting the mids of my voice unnecessarily. It just sounded really, really bad. 

This was not really a cheap product either, retailing at about USD200, I'd expect it to be more reliable, and give somewhat decent quality recording. I understand proper high quality wireless microphone usually will cost multiple times more, but I just wanted something that works! Is that too much to ask for?

My friend Matti Sulanto has strongly suggested me to use a wireless microphone setup since we last met in person some time 2 years ago, and I wanted to take his advice up badly. But after this trauma, maybe I shall just stick to basics and work with wired connection for a bit longer. 

Yes I have trust issues. Do you really blame me?

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