Re-learning curve: Olympus E-410

I really like this camera, but I think it has to go. There’s no problem with using it, there’s just limitations. These start with the choice of only two zoom lenses as I can not afford the longest range one which would probably be excellent for birding. I can’t see well enough for birding now either. The other issues are that the 10MP sensor is fairly low resolution for doing digital zooming with, and the fact the lenses I have for it aren’t that sharp.

This I tested this two ways. First I tried the 40-150mm (the one I use most) on the Canon T100 to check its sharpness on the 18MP sensor that camera has. Looked okay at full (shrunken) frame, but when you crop a 640 x 480 segment out of the full-size image it’s blurry. Even my eyes can see how soft it is.

Olympus lens on Canon body, full image.
Cropped segment of the same image at full size.

Second I tried the E-410 with the Pentax 50mm which I know is sharp and got sharp results. So the image softness on the Olympus is down to the lens. (Side note: in order to use these lenses on the other bodies I had to hand hold them together and move to get focus as no auto or manual functions are available. It was a bit tricky.)

Lorne’s boat using the 50mm Takumar on the E-410. It’s fine.

As far as straight-forward, uncropped pictures are concerned the Olympus does well. It has a lot of nice features too, 90% of which I don’t use. The other quirk is it stores images on either CF or xD cards so transfer to the computer is via cable. Not a problem but something of a nuisance.

Ordinary uncropped photo and the Olympus does just fine with its 10MP and stock lenses.
Even slightly cropped the Olympus does okay.

As you can see it is quite capable of taking very good photos under reasonable circumstances. It’s only when you try to push the limits that it comes up short.

Chipmunk won’t complain about the camera, so neither will I.

Why am I doing this? Because my eyesight is changed and I need to change my camera arsenal to suit. It’s obvious I still do most of my pictures in the telephoto range, and that means I need long lenses and good digital zooming ability to accommodate my style.

And if you think this was bad, wait ’til you see the results from the Pentax K100D Super. Oh boy. That was horrendous.

Meanwhile the fires continue but at the moment the skies are clear here. That probably won’t be the case for long.

Resolution of numbers

Second in the series about megapixel hyperbole.

In researching this post I came across numbers that were so astonishing that I can’t believe I’ve got them right. Even when simplified for comparative and explanatory purposes, it’s so mind-bogglingly off that there simply must be a huge error somewhere. You’ll see what I mean in a bit. First I want to show another comparison set.

In these pictures (taken with the Nikon which has better optics than the Canon) we have a nice spider in its web. The image is displayed “full screen” on my 1366 x 768 display and then I’ve taken screen shots at 50%, 100%, and 200% magnification factors.


Nice detail, eh? You can see the little spider hairs and wisps of the almost invisible web. The spider’s body actually measures about 3/8″ across, so these images are all larger than life size.


At 100% we have maxed out the display’s ability, as well as the camera’s. You can really see the tiny details and they are sharp.


Now at 200% we see the image breaking down. The hairs no longer appear sharp, and pixelation is becoming evident in the body. Keep in mind this would be trying to make the 16MP sensor produce the equivalent of a 32MP sensor, and put it up on a display capable of only 1MP. I can not stress enough that what you view the final image on is as important as what it was taken with: if the two are not the same resolution (and they almost never are) you simply will not see what the original was like. You can’t get a 16MP image off a 1MP screen. No matter how sharp and finely detailed the original file, it is going to show up only as best as the display can manage.

Let’s look at the numbers. I’m going to cheat a lot here because image resolution and lens resolution are far more complex than just a single set of numbers. For one thing there are two axes to consider, and the ratio between them is often different from camera to view (as it so often is with film as well). For another, lens resolution varies with aperture and from center to edge. If we try to look at all of this at once the post will turn into a course in calculus, and none of us want that to happen. What we do want is some relevant relative numbers to help understand why this over-emphasis on megapixels is largely meaningless to the average camera user. So we’re going to skip one axis, and average out lens resolution over apertures and edge-to-center.

To start with, the Canon’s sensor has a horizontal resolution of 5184 pixels and a physical dimension of 22.5mm. Its “kit optics” are somewhat disappointing (hence why I took the spider with the Nikon) and I’m not investing as much as the camera cost in a high quality lens for it, but I do have the 28mm Pentax Super Takumar which has a quite good resolution of 73 lines per millimeter (this is how lens resolution is measured; how many lines can be clearly seen in a millimeter of space. You can look up the particulars).

If we correlate a line to a pixel (as you would obviously need a minimum of one pixel to define a line) and do some fast math we get 73 (l/mm) x 22.5 (mm width of sensor) = 1642 pixels of width. We have 5184 to work with. Conclusion: either it takes about 3 pixels to define a line or the sensor is capable of resolution 3X what the lens can deliver. I’m sure the engineers at any camera company can explain this for us.

Let’s work that backwards just for fun: you’d need a lens capable of resolving 230 l/mm to fill that sensor (at 1 line per mm), or  the lens could display the same result with 1/3 the number of pixels; 6MP. That would still be six times this computer’s display resolution. Unfortunately 6MP is not one of the options on the Canon, so we’ll just have to compromise; adjusting the resolution to come closest to that 73 l/mm rating of the lens (1642mm) which is the “S2” setting of 1920 x 1280 or 2.5MP.

So here are the two “full size” 1920 x 1280 images, taken with the same lens (the Super Takumar 28mm) and exposure settings. Can you tell which is ‘native’ and which is ‘reduced’?



I would be remiss not to point out that there is some advantage in hi resolution images even when reduced to normal viewing size as it gives the computer ‘more to work with’ in deciding which pixels to keep and which to disregard. This is especially important when other processing of the image occurs.

The moral here is: don’t go spending extra money on more pixels if you don’t need them for the end result. Especially do not fall for the myth that those extra dots will somehow magically make your pictures better, because they won’t.

The next part of this series will deal with eyesight, and why hyper-processed images don’t look real. I will get to it as soon as I can figure out how to explain such a complex subject in easy-to-understand terms.

You say you want a resolution?

First in a series; consider yourself warned!

One of the things that Dan James and I (and probably others) are always going on about is how people get caught up in the myth of “more MPs = better pictures”. Yes, I think we can call it a myth. One that’s sold by camera companies who rely on regular “improvements” in such areas to convince people to junk their old cameras and buy new ones. So let’s take a look at megapixels and how they effect what you see on the screen.

The screen is an important aspect of this argument. What is the resolution of the device you are using to look at these pictures? Mine is 1366 x 768, or about 1 MP. That’s one megapixel. My Canon’s sensor is 18 times that. Does it show under ordinary circumstances? No. In fact I shrink my pics down to 640 x 480 (or 427) most of the time because that’s all that’s needed for on-line viewing. Less than one megapixel.

Now let’s look at some shrunken shots. The Canon is capable of several settings from 18MP on down: 18, 8, 4.5, 2.5, and 0.3 MP. Here they are, all reduced to that lowest number at 720 x 480 (which is still larger than I usually use):

Can you tell the difference? No, of course not. They’re all the same size and resolution, right? So the advantage must be in larger renditions, right? Right. Now, how large do you need to see?

If you’re making really big prints higher resolution is preferable of course. Kodak says the minimum resolution for a 16″ x 20″ print is 1600 x 1200. That’s 1,920,000 pixels, or 1.9 MP. Yes, about 1/10 what the Canon is capable of. By that standard a “full size” print could be 56″ x 56″! How big are you going to make your prints, and how much detail do you need in them?

Here’s what happens when you chop a 720 x 480 segment out of the full 18 MP (5184 x 3456) image:


Thus we see that for ordinary viewing purposes the chief advantage of high resolution imaging is the ability to do some post-shoot zooming and still get an acceptable quality smaller image with good detail. By enlarging this segment just a little more we see that the image is not razor sharp, which alas is a failing of the lens it was taken with.

Here is the 18MP picture reduced to “full width” of 1366 pixels for my screen (although it’s longer than the computer can handle at 911 instead of 768):


In the next two segments on this issue we’ll explore lens sharpness vs. resolution and, if I can figure out a way to properly demonstrate it, how our eyesight works with all this (a particularly challenging objective given my eyesight).