Friday, 5 February 2016

From Full Frame to Micro Four Thirds – the first weeks… Downsizing from the Canon 5dii to the Olympus OM-D EM-1

Over the last few years I have been procrastinating. I’ve been a Canon shooter since the late 80’s  when I was shooting Canon film SLR in school. I’ve still got a trusty F1 that I acquired last year. It was natural that when Canon digital became available I went there, first the 300d, then the 40d and finally the 5dii. All were good machines for their time with great build quality and reasonable feature set for the money. The trouble is, that’s where it stopped. Nothing has really changed at Canon since the 5dii. Sure they doubled the resolution with the Mk iii but at the expense of sharpness and quality and the noise, oh the noise! Really put me off. Canon like many corporate giants simply don’t listen to their users. Do you think you could ever email someone at Canon and get a response (unless you’re famous then they’ll beat a path to your door). It was time I left the steam era and moved forward.

Recently I looked at the Sony A7r series, they're pretty decent but Sony are crying out for lens diversity and those they do have are very expensive. The Sony can drive the EF lenses I had through an adaptor about half as well as the native EF could. That's not a step up. I did nearly jump when the A7rii came out because it combined the best of two of the a7 series into one great machine that would have
met my needs but still, all that money and poor lens performance. No was the answer.

Over the years I’ve dallied with other smaller format cameras such as the Sony Mavica and Cybershot. Both good point and shoot for their time. A few years ago along came the OM-D EM-5. The functionality that had been packed into that tiny form factor was simply amazing. A lot of my friends took them up, most left their big heavy gear behind. I did play with the EM-5 and quite liked it, but it wasn’t quite for me. Then came the EM-1, now that was a bit of a beast. Resolution not far off the 5dii but with so many more features built in – simple things like wifi sharing, inbuilt bracketing for focus for example. I took an EM-1 out for a play on an Olympus experience photowalk and quite enjoyed the experience for the half an hour I had it.

Image: Olympus.com.au

On the Sunday before Australia Day there was an Olympus sale at DigiDIRECT in Melbourne, that was the final clincher, the EM-1 and the magic M. Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 lens for just $1466. That was simply too amazing a deal to pass up for Aussie stock. The first my partner knew about it was a phone picture of the camera with the caption "It looks lonely all by itself in the bag". The timing was perfect, not only was I becoming jaded of my street photography because the shutter of the 5dii sounded like two bricks being banged together ruining many candid moments but becoming older I was also feeling the pain of carrying that heavy gear with me everywhere. The 5dii has been steadily dropping in price since the 5diii came out and the once $5000 beast was now sub $1000 second hand.

I've now had the EM-1 for just on two weeks and what a difference, I've jumped right back into street photography with a machine that’s very near to silent – even more so when only using the electronic shutter.

Let’s talk about the good things because there are a lot of them. I really am impressed with this machine and so glad that I made the decision - no buyers remorse here.

Operation - everything has been quite intuitive from the default controls (and there IS a button for everything) to the super menu the experience of moving camera families has been pleasant. I've had my disruptive moments trying to figure things out but only once have I reached for the manual.

Macro from a portrait zoom - what?? Yes, macro from a portrait zoom. The 12-40 is a cross between a nice landscape lens and a nice portrait lens. Pretty much just right for both, but macro? It focuses very close and comes off as a good macro player.

Autofocus - simply amazing, quick, easy to manage, easy to direct even on difficult subjects. I have when using the full scene focus had some interesting choices by the camera but once onto focussing on the points I wanted it's been awesome. Another nice feature in this area is face detection, when I'm shooting the family I want to spend most of my time with them without a camera on my face so the fact that the body finds faces and adjusts the depth of field to get them all - awesome. Lazy I know, but a great feature for most consumers.

The autofocus was quick enough to catch this Noisy Minor an Australian native bird and the glass came up with a lovely depth of field and the sensor delivered the beautiful colour.






Weight – what can I say, the EM-1 and 12-40 are so light in the hand that I can carry it around all day on only a wrist strip. Lately I’d been using a Black Rapid shoulder strap with the 5dii and still found it painful after a full day of walking. Not any more. Joy.

Build quality & style – just amazing – a nice heft without being heavy, awesome metal feel, style and looks. The machine looks and feels robust without gaining any ugly in the process. The ugly stick was kept in the drawer when this one was designed.

Instant on from hard off or sleep – this one is always important for me because shooting street sometimes you’ve got to be really quick, there’s usually no time to wait while the beast pokes the monkey that runs in the cage in the backside to get moving.

Tilting screen – this has been a wake-up call for me, while shooting the Pride parade in St Kilda on the weekend I was able to compose actual portraits on the fly while the parade flowed past by holding the camera above the people and actually composing not just shooting blindly as I had to with the 5dii. I still go back to the view finder all the time, a habit I’m trying to break myself of, but while we’re here, what a view finder it is. Simply the best all digital view finder I’ve ever encountered.
Splash and dust proof – I shoot quite a bit by the sea, especially when on my Great Ocean Road project. This was a must have for me in the replacement as it had saved me a number of times with the big beast.

The portrait at left captures the casual colourfulness of the LGBTI+ Pride parade in St Kilda. I really enjoy the moment here. This is SOOC (straight out of camera) with a slight crop to eliminate someone who stuck their head in at the last moment.




Dynamic Range - this is easily as good as the 5dii although in some respects better. Something I've not seen any reviewers pick up on is that while the DR is very similar to the big boys, if the image is particularly dark it will favour shadows, if it is particularly bright it will favour highlights. This effectively uses the sensors DR in the right way - by giving you the most detail in the biggest area of the image.

I've played with this shot a bit, but the source data had to be there to begin with for me to do the post.

Wifi via OI.Share on the phone or tablet with the 5dii I had to hack a wireless router to control it using DSLR Controller on my tablet. Great for those challenging things like time lapse or fireworks. Well, that's all built in to the body but I can control the camera when I want to and quickly dump to socials or news providers via OI.Share right there on the spot. Great!
Image Stabilisation – this in body stabilisation is stunning, hand holding down to 1/10th of a second produced a sharp portrait, hand holding down to 1 second produced a usable but not entirely sharp night scene. Amazing. I really look forward to shooting the next play with the combination of the tilting screen and this strong stabilisation, I suspect the woes of the dark play room won’t be half the issue they’ve been with the big beast.

Features – more than you can poke a stick at, in this two weeks I have been deliberately sticking with the standard aperture priority while I learnt the machine and the lens.
The ability of this little lens to close focus is astounding, you almost don’t need a macro lens (don’t tell the other half that – I’m picking up a macro lens on Sunday!).

There is one negative and that is battery life. This is the same for all mirrorless cameras as they have to drive the screen and keep the sensor running for the viewfinder. There does seem to be room in that body for more battery but hey, they’re not all that expensive (about half the price of the Canon) not to mention they’re very light so having a few extras in the bag is no big deal. It would be nice if the battery came with a plastic protective cap and some kind of charge indicator on board.

Conclusion... for now
Overall this camera has reinvigorated my shooting and a some people have commented they can see something new in my shots, that something new is my arm doesn't hurt and I'm having fun again. Truly having fun.

Two parades in two weeks and plenty of play time in between.

Oh and on top of that I emailed Olympus and they replied. Awesome.