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Olympus EM1: Learning Yet Another New Camera

Stories + Photographs by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Three Pelicans, One Preening -Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Three Pelicans — One Preening

I'm still not a huge fan of the OM1, as I now prefer to call it (Oly prefers calling it the "Olympus OM-D E-M1," but then they really do like to complicate things.

But lately, I've been using it, even though I'm still having all the old issues with it. I tried to buy a new, cheap Panasonic Lumix G7, but instead of a new one, like I ordered, Adorama sent me a very used one, in a slashed and badly put back into box. By now, I know not to take used when I paid for new. I didn't even open the box any more than it already was. I assumed the Universe was opposed to me owning another cheap Panasonic, and I didn't want to buy an expensive Panasonic, when I'd already bought a fairly expensive Olympus.

A friend has promised to teach me a few things about the camera. He's got one, and he loves it, but then he often uses manual-focus lenses, which I just don't have the eyes for anymore. So I've been practising with the damned thing lately.

 If everybody holds still, I can generally focus - Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

If Everybody Holds Still, I Can Generally Get It In Focus

But not necessarily if they're moving, and even when they're standing still (or floating still, as the case may be) the focus point (a little green square usually flits around where the stupid damned camera thinks it wants to focus, and almost never where I want it to. So I still stay very annoyed at it. Maybe I'd be better off if I manually focused. When I was a staff photographer for a mediocre metropolitan newspaper, back when that newspaper still existed, I almost always manually focused every lens on every camera. But those cameras made it easy by employing a split-image rangefinder in the big middle of every frame. And later on, Nikon and some other single-lens reflex camera makers added a circular microprism filed around that. Contemporary cameras don't have such nicities, because humans are not supposed to get involved in focusing anymore.

Pelican Action In Close - Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Pelican Action In Close — Panasonic 100-300mm zoom lens

My first auto-focus lens was the 180mm f2.8 Nikon. I remember standing on a mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park, pointing it down toward a river and watching it grind back and forth thill it gave up and finally focused on some trees I thought I wanted in focus. Other auto-focus lenses got better over the years, till we now pretty much all depend on them. But that particular lens is still very slow to focus on my contemporary Nikon cameras, FX (full-frame) and DX (APS).

Peeling Out -Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Peeling Out


One Building One Tree -Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

One Building One Tree


Injured Pelican Struggling to Clim a Short Hill -Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Struggling Pelican (Who was later rescued by David The Honker and City Animal Control


Tree Branch with Coots and Gulls - Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Tree Branch with American Coots and Ring-billed Gulls


Splash Surfin' Goose -Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Splash Surfin' Domestic Goose


Five Painted and Carved Wood Birds -Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Five Carved-and-Painted Wood Birds on a Shelf


Then I gave the stupid thing up for about five months

Week 4:      July 10 2015

House sparrow Taking Dust Bath - Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

Sparrow Taking Dust Bath

After not using the fool thing for more than a week, because it's such a climb up the learning ladder, I picked it up this morning and used it for all but one shot on my today's Amateur Birding Journal, and the results were remarkable. The focus here may be a tad this side of the bird, but there's pretty nice focus in a lot of fast action as the bird sticks out all its feathers and shakes them around — called a rouse by birders who know — and me now that I do, too.

I tried the om1 in a performance situation last week and got so frustrated with not being able to quickly work through the menus to change some things that needed changing quick but were not changing at all, that I took my Pany short zoom lens off it and put it on my good old used-to-be Panasonic Lumix G5 whose LCD I thought had died. For awhile I wondered if Adorama would take the camera back, so I could wait another couple months for any problems on the G7 to work themselves out, and I could buy just the body for cheaper than it goes for brand-new now.

But I think I may yet learn to love this booger, even if the LCD doesn't swing or swing away from the body, which is what temporarily killed my G5. I think there's a short in the connection from my once trusted Pany G5's body and that tentative electrical connection to the swing and tilt LCD that seems now fixed, since I blue painter's taped it semi-permanently to the body.

 Same Bird - Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

beautiful little bird i don't yet know who is

I don't mind waiting for Oly's long-rumored 300mm f2.8 tele, which is more than just equivalent to a 600mm lens on my Nikon, even if the sensor is 1/4 the size. I'm sure it'll be significantly lighter than my Nikon 300 2.8, which I use almost every day for birds.

I fell today for the fourth time in four weeks, cramming the om1 into the dirt where I landed on my arm against my side. Still hurts, but the oly works good, so far.

I tried to order John Greengo's Olympus E-M1 Fast Start class, because I've played his free preview on Custom Set-up Menus three times now, and will probably do it again. There was only one negative review of it on their line, and it was because Greengo complained about the complexity of the Oly menu structures, but I don't think I'd trust a teacher who didn't point that out, at length.

When I use my G5, I always marvel at how easy and obvious its menus are, especially the LCD-based Q Menu that's so quick (Q) and obvious and helpful. So I put the om1 down, and didn't think about it for those days, and sorta missed it. Luckily, it's not a race, and my Pany lenses all fit and work just fine.

One Rakish Killdeer -Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.  

one rakish killdeer

Apparently, all today's shots were taken with both the om1's stabilization and the Pany 100-300 (200-600mm) VR on. Actually, it worked well. I must be slowly getting used to holding it, although my fingers still grope for the Pany way of doing things, and I still have to engage mind and memory to accomplish any changes, often failing utterly. I need a video class or series of them. Wonder if Lynda.com, who has all those online classes that used to be $25 a month, has Oly classes. I love the way her classes work, and how well I learn that way.

The Friedman ARchives Press Complete Guide to Olympus' OM-D E-M1 might be good, but their website is so garishly ugly I could never warm to the idea, and the "***NEW! Includes free e-booklet covering Firmware version 2.0***" banner on that page is woefully out of date, since I installed 3.

Nope. No camera-specific classes, alas. I guess I'll just continue clunking my way through error and trial.


Week 2:   June 29 2015

A New Place at the Lake - A Wild, Contained Garden - Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com/birds   All Rights Reserved.

A Wild, Contained Garden with its own Water Supply

This online Summary includes many of the reasons I was so intent on getting the EM1, when I already knew the Panasonic Lumix G series cameras well enough to do everything I've learned how to do on the Em1, so far, without having to think about any of them. But I have a lot more to learn on the Oly. But I can already take the pix I want to with it. Or that I've wanted to, so far. I'm constantly on the watch for "new things" at White Rock Lake, which I visit almost every day looking for birds to photograph. Or, I should say, this is part of a new place there. There's more, including a babbling brook with scattered stones. I'm thinking about how I will present my first New Things featured that will be included on my Amateur Birder's Journal.

I always tell people with a new camera they want to learn to read reviews of it by people they trust to get a sort of preliminary "lay of the land" and maybe even some tricks that camera can perform.


Day3:  June 28 2015

 That Hand Window - Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com. All Rights Reserved.

That Hand Window

So I did what I do when I have a new camera I need to learn how to shoot. I shoot. I shoot what's handy in my home. Windows, walls, places, things, stuff. My windows change every couple years or months or days or centuries.

the dragon window -Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com. All Rights Reserved.

The Dragon Window

I might have to change this one so we can see what that first black object in from the left, that negative space bird running into the glass brick and the horned critter just left of the red vase on the far right. Whatever. We got color, tonality, focus all over the place, shape, texture. Nice little abstract of reality, more or less.

Eggdrops and Vases -Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com. All Rights Reserved.

Eggdrops and Vases

Never thought of it before, but this seems to be my vase collection, and maybe I can gather more that aren't getting enough spotlight wherever they are now. These pix may also open up my mind a little and have it not think just about photographing ordinary birds while trying to learn my new camera.

Bernardo Cantu - untitled mixed media work -Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com. All Rights Reserved.

Bernardo Cantu   untitled   mixed media construction    24 x 24 x 4.3 inches   incomplete image

I didn't know what to think about this piece when I first got it. It might have looked a little like a mistake. I made some photographs of Bernardo's other work to enter in a show, and he 'paid' me with this. His choice. There was something about it I liked from the first. I just didn't know what it was. Took awhile to figure those things out, but now I like it more every time I see it.

Where it is kinda sucks. That wall is just too busy. Too many pieces in too little space. The ceiling over it was damaged when roofers put on my new roof after the big hail storm a few years ago, before I hired a guy my then-insurance person had recommended who obviously had no idea what he was doing, after the roofer guys who screwed up my ceiling in this room and the next one back (the kitchen), then when that guy she recommended ripped me off, she cancelled my Allstate Home Insurance supposedly because the asbestos siding on the outside of my home is damaged and/or missing in a couple places.

The Dam Runaway - Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com. All Rights Reserved.

The Dam Runaway (a Great Blue Heron flying toward the Spillway)

When I first saw this photograph, I only saw that the bird was not really in focus, although pretty much everything that wasn't moving that fast was not in focus. I also hadn't noticed the words somebody had rather neatly put up on the dam. That made the photo. I moved the people on the right, so the composition would make the image less wide, and thus larger here. Gradually, I learned that I don't really have to photograph birds in my every spare moment.

There are other pictures out there waiting for me.

Yellow Flowers - Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com. All Rights Reserved.

Yellow Flowers

These were in a field where I often photograph Scissor-tailed Flycatchers.

Blue Balloon Shaddows - Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com. All Rights Reserved.

Blue Balloon Shadows

These have all either been in and around my home or on the way to or from photographing birds, but maybe I should wander off track more and more to find other stuff out there worth photographing in what gradually might show us — me and you both — what my photographic style is these days. Style being what happens when we make our art. Lotta people try to aim their style or think they can direct it, which is not, generally, a particularly good idea.



So I got three more spaces already laid out just here above and below down to Day 2 to fill with photographs, and I wonder what I'll do. Needs must happen though, so I'm leaving it open for undirected experimentation.








Day 2:  June 25 2015

KD Preening - Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com. All Rights Reserved.

KD Preening   

So I worried and worried about it, then just put the 100-300mm zoom on the Oly, and went out to photograph birds, even if I really had no idea what I was doing. I just did it, and though I didn't do nearly as well as I hoped, neither did I do as bad as I feared. As usual, I wandered around the lake till I saw some birds — and I was a lot less careful about the quality — then I started photographing them. This of KD was perhaps my best composition, exposure (I had to darken it some in Photoshop.), tonality and colors.

The rest of the pix from today's shoot are on my Bird Journal.

 Female Downy Woodpecker in Tree - Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com. All Rights Reserved.

Female Downy Woodpecker

The Mute Swan was far enough away and in great sunlight, that I used a small aperture and got great depth of field and a nice tonal range. Seemed simple till I tried a much smaller and more active bird flitting around in a tree above me. This one looks pretty good but lacks sharpness except behind and around its right eye. The area under its beak is a mush of fine feathers, as are most other areas of the bird, though the tree looks fairly sharp. Not bad for a woodpecker, but with my Nikon D810 and 300mm lens, I would have nailed sharpness and contrast, even as close as I was.

Win some. Lose some. Most people wouldn't notice, but I'm way more picky than most people.

If I'd known how to size and position the focus point or adjust the contrast or tonality, I would have slightly darkened the too-bright whites, snapped up the contrast, and made the woodpecker look a lot sharper. All those things are possible on the em1, but I only know that it's possible. I'm mostly clueless how, although I've seen it demonstrated in online video  three times. I may have to see it a dozen or more times till I grok it fully.

 Apt Stairs - Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com. All Rights Reserved.

Apartment Stairs

One of the earliest photographs I ever made, way back in the early 1960s was a double set of stairs at the end of an otherwise nondescript apartment building somewhere in Irving while I was attending the U of Dallas. That shot was in glorious black & white. I couldn't afford color film or processing, and yes, I said film. I processed my own, usually Tri-X Panchromatic in a dark room called a darkroom. Now color is essentially free.

I drive by this apartment nearly every day, and only today, with my new, still very confusing camera, did I have any need to photograph this busy little part of it, with its blues and greens and ochres and darks. I just thought I could do something with it. In fact, I'd hoped I could do much more than this with it. But it leans to the right, because I photographed it from the right, and I didn't monkey with the tones or colors or straighten it. It could use some of all three, but I didn't want to spend the time on a mediocre texture study.

I might have photographed many more birds, but I really thought the woodpeckers were sharper than they turned out to be, and I was needful of more learning, so I've been reading the manual (tedious, when I have so few ideas what they're talking about or their words for words I probably have known for more than fifty years.

The Meep Cat Stare - Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com. All Rights Reserved.

The Meep Cat Stare

Oh, yeah, late last night, I shot this of the cat Barbara and David gave me a New Years and a half a go. I didn't have to sharpen this hand-held shot any, but I did have to darken it in Photoshop some. I've got to match brightness in the LCD to images as they actually come out, so I can tell what they really look like before I shoot. Same was true about the woodpecker shots.


Day 1:  June 23 2015

The Wildcat Owl Forest - Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com. All Rights Reserved.

The Wildcat Owl Forest at Poppy Drive and East Lawther — I wanted both shadow and highlight details

None of today's photographs have been post-processed, corrected or adjusted.


I just got a new camera, an Olympus EM1. There's other letters and hyphens in its name, but I can never remember all that. It's an EM1. I've just come back from my first outing with it. Unlike my other m43 (micro four-thirds) cameras — the first m43 cam of which was new and new to me, but the second was just a new version — and all my Nikons, each of which has only been an improvement of the previous ones, this one is all new to me, and I have little idea what I'm doing.

I keep realizing, "Oh, I could probably do this or that with it," because all those possibilities are things or actions that digital cameras can do, but I have no idea how to do that. With my Nikons, I've had enough of them that I click from entry to entry in the extended menu and hold down a button that kinda-sorta explains what that selection does or should do or might do.

I don't even know enough about this camera to do that. But I knew enough to turn it on and switch it into AUTO mode, which as someone on one of the sites where I found some, discontinuous info about my new cam, described, "That would be a waste of a good camera." I agree, but I suspect after I learn some more — I ordered a book by Darrell Young called Mastering the Olympus OM-D E-M1 [I think those are all the pertinent letters in its name.] I won't need AUTO for long. I've read one book by Mr. Young before, and it was good enough, but not really great.

I wish there were a book about my new cam by Whom Hogan, who is probably my favorite on-line camera/photo writer, since he writes about both of my two favorite cameras — Nikons and M43s, both of which I have some of. But he's way behind on publishing his already long-promised How To books, and I didn't want to wait half of another forever. When and if he does write one about the EM1, I'd buy it in a flash and park it on my elderly Kindle.

I bought the ink-on-paper v. of Young's book, since both it and the digital version cost the same, and sometimes it's nice to hold them close to each other to figure out what some obtuse phrase really means. I have also accessed but not yet read all of the free samples of John Barbs' Olympus OM-D E-M1 User Guide - Updated online, which I will eventually read and re-read several times. Right now, I need the visual feedback of what happens when I push this button or that, which can only be accomplished by taking pix with it, whether I know what I'm doing or not. Today, mostly not. Yet.

Today's first photograph is of the woods where I have often seen and photographed Barred Owl adults and juveniles, though I have never seen the eggs. Many other people have seen and some have photographed small wild cats there. I don't mean pussy cats or domestic felines, I mean small, fierce, wild cats. I have seen several photographs, so I'm convinced they were really there, usually at some distance from either of the roads.

I have also heard enough tales about those wild cats being seen at intersections of the roads in Sunset Bay very near the lake. I always kinda disbelieve the first report, but when many people tell me the same thing at nearly the same time, it's much more difficult to entirely discount all those stories. I have photographed coyotes in the much larger area across those same streets/roads/accesses, so I know it's certainly possible that something that wild could be there. I really hope I will someday have that opportunity also.

I have found the EV compensation dial, too. And with it and my eyes looking through one or the other of the eye-level or LCD viewfinders, and the exposure graph, I have adjusted each of the tree and landscape pix I shot today till I got the longest exposure curve that renders the image with the most information without blowing out the sky or shadows. That alone was an interesting experience. It seemed obvious, but I don't think I've ever done that on any camera before.

I remember taking photo after photo with the Speed Graphics 4x5-inch camera with a Polaroid back and comparing the results on the camera the U of Dallas provided for me to take people pix for their PR department in maybe 1964, and I have often done most those same things with pic after pic on my big, chunky and little-bitty cameras over the years by viewing the LCD after each attempt. But I've never fiddled with the actual exposure curve while twisting a button in an attempt to take a photograph before I clicked the shutter.

Not that I set out to do that. Not that I even knew that I possibly could. Just that I was, photographing a sometimes babbling brook along DeGoyler Drive, then fooling with buttons and dials to see what I could learn by not having any notion what I was doing, and getting to see the results through the camera and lens' optics before I even took the picture. I must have set off that EV curve by just messing with with dials I had little or no idea what were.

I often learn by just messing with a camera what it might be able to accomplish for me. I have over the years taught others how to use their cameras just because I knew what the probabilities were and it was just a matter of figuring out which buttons or dials did what. This one, however, is a little more complicated and/or sophisticated than a point-and-shoot.

I'm still flying blind with this one, but my nonchalant subject selection scheme seems to be helping.

Two Wads, A Marksalot and some Styrofoam - Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com. All Rights Reserved.

Two Wads of Paper, a Red Marks-A-Lot and Some Styrofoam

This lovely and not at all carefully-selected subject matter is what was immediately in front of me when I was sitting at my computer trying to figure out how to make this new camera give me photographs. It seems to be about texture and color, but so many images are. I didn't move anything in it, I just noticed it was there enough I could take a pic of it, and I can't find the red pen now to tell you its real name. But I know it's around here someplace. I'm beginning to like the pic, but at the time, I was just clicking something.

My first photographed scene - Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com. All Rights Reserved.

My First Art Pic in my Living Room: art by, left to right, on floor Mary Iron Eyes and James Michael Starr, behind which is a stuffed
light cardboard rabbit by Polly Perez; behind the brown pants is a small laminated chair attributed to George Green; on the wall over
the painting is a Roy Cirigliana photo in his steel frame; leaning into the corner is a weather vane repainted by Willard "The Texas Kid" Watson;
and the rusted spray-can on the door was found by Sherry Owens; another few inches left and you could see my TJ Mabrey sculpture; and that
shadow from the top right is by the sculpture called American Peace Initiative by Greg Metz as drawn by his then seven-year-old son, Zachary


This image was just a fluke when I first sat down to see what I could do with it. I was especially anxious to get the colors and tones correct, and already didn't think I could possibly accomplish that, but there's plenty colors and tones in this room, so it would have been a great choice if I had known what I was up to. But, of course, I did not. But there I was with a new camera in my hand, and there was that stuff I see every day of my life at home, so click in AUTO mode and this is what I got. If I'd thought it through, I might have moved the box or small white feather at bottom left, the yellow candle behind the spider sculpture by James Michael Starr with the hangers I just last night removed all the clothes (but one pair of dark pants) drying on, the blue kitty bed Meep refuses to have anything whatsoever to do with and the big trash can I've been slowly filling.

The focus seems to have selected the art and the kitty bed, but not the lovely translucent glass brick at bottom middle. I still do not know how to make the camera focus on what I want it to. So that's a niggling issue close to the top of my growing list. I would like to have had everything in sight in sharp focus. But the pic is not bad at all for being in full automatic mode.

Meep & Almost Everything Else Out of Focus - Photograph Copyright 2015 JRCompton.com. All Rights Reserved.

Meep and Almost Everything Else Out of Focus

Lest you think my learning curve is going straight up, here's a shot of my cat whom I really wanted to get in some sort of focus, but could not figure out how to get the composition I wanted AND get the cat sharp. I would have settled for just his head …

I was, however, able to charge the battery and insert it and the memory card right-side-up, attach a lens (One of the reasons I got this cam is that I already have some mostly compatible m43 lenses.) and push the shutter button when I wanted to take a picture.


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