I wrote an article about the Olympus Firmware v4.0 upgrade last September, and I was totally swooned by Olympus’ upgrade strategy. I waited for the upgrade to rollout, and waited some more to give enough time for early adopters to try it out and serve as guinea pigs.
When you’ve been burnt by software upgrade misfires so many times by Microsoft and Android (no Apple here, I’m not a Mac user, but I’m 100% sure they’re just as guilty) you tend to be more patient and cautious with upgrades. Upgrades aren’t necessarily good things. Just because it’s new doesn’t automatically mean it’s better.
Olympus Firmware v4.0 is packed with features. And it’s available to multiple OM-D models, including Olympus’ flagship Compact System Camera, EM-1. The upgrade actually puts EM-1, the first generation Micro Four Thirds for Olympus, at the top of the product-line in terms of stability and robustness. Like for instance, Focus Bracketing mode in EM-10 freezes the camera, and the only way to fix it is to turn the power off then on. This problem requires a firmware upgrade for EM-10. This is not an issue with EM-1.
This is not to say that the newer models are inferior, I’m sure they have their own merits, but what this highlights is that Olympus users can take comfort in that they made a great investment on a green product – figure it out, it’s not rocket science.
Check the Function Compatibility table below:
Full release announcement, and footnotes to the table above, is available in the Olympus’ site.
After doing a little bit of research online, I decided that it’s now time to upgrade. I uninstalled my existing Olympus Digital Camera Updater and downloaded and installed the one that came with the firmware upgrade, just to play it safe. Having an up-to-date updater is crucial in making sure firmware upgrades goes smoothly. Upgrade instructions, including the updater download, are available in the Olympus site.
I end up upgrading all my lenses after the firmware upgrade as well. I replaced each lense and re-run the upgrade process for each. Just follow the instructions on the site and everything should be okay. It’s well documented. So now my camera’s firmware and lenses are all up-to-date.
Focus Bracketing / Focus Stacking
The functions I was very curious was the Focus Bracketing and Focus Stacking. Olympus released an article about it, featuring professional photographer, Kazuo Unno. They posted it as an instructional guide on the new functions but all it is is an essay of his experience, it’s anything but instructional. He didn’t even wrote clearly how to get to the Focus Stacking/Focus Bracketing functions from the menu! I thought my upgrade didn’t work.
Focus Bracketing – Automatically shoot from 3-999 exposures at different focus points between the min. focusing distance and ∞. Composite later using the software of your choice for one image with incredible depth-of-field.
Focus Stacking – relies on the sophisticated in-camera composite capabilities of the TruePic VII Image Processor to merge the in focus area of eight images into one single photo.*
*Compatible with M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm F2.8 Macro, M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO, M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO. Angle of view becomes slightly smaller.
I was a bit annoying to have all these features without any accompanying documentation on the Olympus site on how to use them – sure, it’s probably in the manual, but they’re not the most intuitive kind of literature. Fortunately, there are others already who wrote reviews or made video instructions and posted YouTube!
That’s why waiting is important, let the others figure it out – unless you have the time, go ahead, knock yourself out. I for one need to know how things are done, and direct to the point, because I don’t have the time!
I found this video, by Mathieu Gasquet, on YouTube about the two functions, and with extra notes on some of the more significant functions included in the upgrade. It’s very good, clear, and direct to the point. And all it took was 11:19 minutes!
I also read some articles about the two functions in other sites, like this good article from Mirrorlessons.com, but the video instruction so far is the best and easiest to follow.
I wanted to see the difference between plain macro, Focus Bracketing, and Focus Stacking. To this end, I used an M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm f2.8 Macro lense. I used my EM-1 M mode because I’m more comfortable manually adjusting the settings I want to use to take the photograph. I used a continuous light using the built-in lamp on my speed light which I mounted on a tripod. The camera settings I used other than that of the functions I’m testing are irrelevant at this point, suffice it to say Focus Stacking requires exactly 8 shots, and for Focus Bracketing I took 10 shots and set the Focus Differential to 5, and for macro I took 1 shot. The distance between the object and my camera was close to the minimum range. My camera was mounted on a tripod.
Result 1: Macro – as you can see only a small area of the object is sharp, the rest is blurry. This shot took only 2 seconds of effort without any post-production retouching, other than the watermark.
Result 2: Focus Stacking - only 8 exposures are allowed and the camera does all the work. It saves all the frames it took, plus the merged image, so I end up with nine images. This took about 7 seconds with no post-production retouching, other than the watermark. As you can see the object is almost sharp in its entirety.
Result 3: Focus Bracketing – I took 10 exposures for this test. All the camera does is take the photos, and it’s up to you to merge the exposures later. This was rushed, and it took 41 minutes to complete. My issue was that Photoshop’s “Auto-Blend Layers” didn’t work, in that, it didn’t prompt me for the image objective – Panoramic or Stacked. It just rendered it as soon as I click the function from the menu. The result was the layer mask for all nine images where all solid black and then one was with solid white. And I thought, “well this is stupid.” I researched online but couldn’t find any documentation or video about this issue, as if everyone was having a great time except me. So I did it by hand, and that’s why it took 41 minutes – including swearing! I still think the result could be better and faster. Anyway, I think this highlights the difference between the three methods, the others are fast but less desirable – well, it depends on what you want to achieve doesn’t it?
I would definitely use Focus Bracketing more, as soon as I can figure out what is wrong with my Photoshop. I’ve tried troubleshooting it for 1.5 days, to no avail. Anyway, the outcome of the “Auto-Blend Layers” tutorial that I’ve seen seems crappy anyway, so I suppose it’s just a matter of perfecting the manual technique to make post-production faster and better. At least “Auto-Align Layers” work, yay! (sarcastic)
So there you have it! Now, let’s hunt some bugs.