[ONE FOR THE OFF DAY]

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Today, being the last Thursday in the month, there is no Imaging column and review in the Fairfax publications, including The Age Livewire. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to say on the camera and photography front.

Last Sunday [22 March] I had the new Nikon D5500 to test for review so I toddled off to the annual Melbourne multicultural festival in Federation Square. I assumed that there would be lots of colour and movement and that everyone would be having a happy time. And there was and they were.

The day was not ideal. The weather was perfect autumn weather which meant harsh, high contrast sunshine. The Nikon handled the wide dynamic range brilliantly.

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The review of the camera will come shortly. In the meantime here are a few samples of the photographs taken on the day.

NikonD5500 sample images here…

And here…

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[REVIEW—OLYMPUS OMD E-M5 II]

E-M5MarkII_SLV

 

Price: $1200 body [street price – available April]
Still a thing of beauty

THE LOW-DOWN: This 16mp compact system camera is the evolved upgrade of the E-M5 that was announced two years ago. Since then WiFi has become universal in cameras, so it is one obvious improvement in the mark II. Olympus has listened to the complaints about hiding the Super Control Panel which is now active by default. The 5 axis image stabilisation has been improved with a noticeable effect on video. The included external flash now flips and rotates for bounce. Control layout is more like the E-M1 with attractive use of metal for camera-top controls. The resolution of the electronic viewfinder has been increased and the LCD now swivels out from the camera body, more like a video camera screen.

LIKE: The 40 megapixel high resolution function; in-camera keystone correction; one button HDR; improved image stabilisation and its effect on video; lovely image quality and beautiful aesthetics. The addition of a second microphone input is good for third party mics.

DISLIKE: The articulated LCD is not an improvement on the vertical flip screen for a stills camera.

VERDICT: The original E-M5 was a beautiful camera, evoking memories of the Olympus OM 35mm cameras. The mark II is even more aesthetically pleasing and feels better laid out and balanced in the hand. The 40 megapixel ultra high resolution function, while only working with still subjects, is an eye opener (hIrES SAMPLE). There are now three OMDs in the range and the E-M5 II may even be a worthy rival to the more expensive and slightly better featured E-M1. If you are thinking DSLR but don’t want the bulk and ostentation you should look carefully at the E-M5 II.

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[PHOTOS FOR PHOTOS]

An email came from Apple HQ recently addressed to Dear Aperture User (that’s us) to let us know that Aperture, Apple’s competitor for Adobe Lightroom, is being retired. We can still use the version we have installed, but there will be no more development of the software.

In its place we are being offered Photos, an application built into the next version of the Yosemite operating system due for release in the next few months. Are we really going to get a free replacement for Aperture for which we paid good money a couple of years ago?

Aperture’s attraction is that it is a decent Lightroom competitor at a reasonable price. We were anxious to see if the new Photos app in Yosemite would really be an adequate replacement for Aperture. We may have misread Apple’s intention.

For bold users with nerves of steel Apple offers a beta version of the Yosemite update which we have recklessly installed on our MacBook just to see how Photos measures up.

Photos is not really new because it has been the installed photo editing app on iPhones and iPads for some months. If you have kept your OS8 up to date then you already have Photos. We have been using it for editing iPhone snaps on the run where simple automated routines are generally more useful than attempting precise manual adjustments. Alternative manual adjustment with sliders is there in Photos but we were expecting more from an app that appears to be offered as a replacement for the more sophisticated Aperture. 

Photos is a component in the total integration of Apple programs on all devices, linked through iCloud. Everything done on one iDevice appears on all others sharing an iCloud account. If, like us, you are relying on the basic 5GB of free iCloud you will get a message when Photos opens telling you to buy some more space. 

All the familiar sharing functions of iPhoto are still there, including the excellent slideshow creator, but the interface is changed to conform to the OSX Yosemite style with tabs for Shared, Albums and Projects, rather than the iPhoto tool palette on the left.

Photos will find and load photos from iPhoto and Aperture libraries and is a better-than-basic photo editor but if you want a replacement for Aperture then you will need Lightroom or perhaps DxO Optics Pro 10. Or just hang onto Aperture.

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[REVIEW-SONY a7II compact system camera]

Price: $1980 with 20—70mm lens (street price)
Superb encore

THE LOW-DOWN: Barely a year after Sony stunned the camera world with the a7/a7r full frame mirrorless cameras the company has released a revised a7. It comes with the same 24.3mp sensor and Bionz X image processor but has added 5 axis in-body image stabilisation and improvements to the auto focus functions. The body has been reshaped slightly which has improved the ergonomics – the shutter button now falls more easily under the index finger, and the placement of programmable buttons has been improved. There have been improvements to the video capture by incorporating features from the a7s, the model specifically aimed at videographers.

LIKE:   The in-body image stabilisation is a welcome innovation because there are very few native lenses for the a7 models. Many owners are using legacy lenses with adapters and they will now benefit from the universal anti-shake mechanism. Camera handling, which was already very good, is now even better. 

DISLIKE: It is a pity that Sony didn’t address the one universal complaint about the a7 cameras which is the incredibly noisy shutter. It still goes clack!

VERDICT: This is a brilliant camera and at under $2000 for a full frame compact system camera has no competition. The dearth of lenses and the high price of the few that are available handicaps a potentially excellent system. A cynic might say that the addition of in-body stabilisation is a cheap way of postponing development of new lenses and a cynic might well be right. After all, the kit lens as tested has optical image stabilisation, so in this system we are getting two types of IS. However, future lenses should be cheaper. Whatever, the a7II is a superb encore, and the Australian retail price is less than the US price. Buy locally.

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