Sunday, 28 May 2017

Six months in - the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk ii

About a year and a half ago I left behind the world of the big DSLR and went mirrorless. My initial beast was the E-M1 and while it was very good and I had no regrets there were some aspects that I had hoped were better. Six months ago along came the E-M1 Mk ii and my desires were answered.

I've had the EM-1 Mk ii for six months now so I thought it was time to write about it now that I have had a chance to properly experience the machine. I shoot in many widely varied situations from Urbex (Urban Exploration) to People (both indoor studio, indoor natural and outdoor) to Performing Arts (usually within poorly lit environments) to Railways to Fire and Light Painting. This means I need a machine which is general purpose and good in many lighting situations from very low light to very strong light and wide dynamic range.


At times I found the viewfinder in the Mk i a little slow, it was noticeably behind the action and I had to learn the look over the camera method when shooting dance and movement to ensure I got the moment. The Mk ii has an amazingly fast amazingly bright viewfinder - it is so quick that I have gone back to using the viewfinder instead of looking over the camera when shooting fast movement. Obviously it doesn't work at the speed of light like a DSLR mirror path does but it is fast enough that the human eye cannot see any time lag.

Tuck Away Foldable Screen

The new screen is awesome, it's bright, faithful and just right resolution give you everything you need for image review but my main love of this screen is the fact you can tuck it away facing the camera. This means you stop the bad practice of chimping and concentrate on composure up front. You don't need to wear your glasses (I need them to look at the screen but not the viewfinder as it has a diopter). You don't need a screen protector because it's not exposed and not having it on is fantastic for Street photography because no-one knows what you just shot - keeps 'em guessing.


The Mk i had woeful battery performance. I used to carry five batteries when on a photowalk and would generally get into the fifth one by the end of a ten hour session. The Mk ii battery performance is so good I rarely change batteries during the long sessions now unless I've been doing a lot of long exposure, lots of moving focus tracking or 4K video. I only own three batteries now and I only bought a third one because I like to go into the bush on camping trips and need four or five days worth of battery.


The most common need I have is to be able to focus on things in near darkness and be confident that the focus is going to be what I need. The EM-1 Mk ii is superb at focusing in any light conditions even nearly total darkness. Where previous machines have hunted and hunted and hunted the E-M1 Mk ii locks on and is ready to go. That gives me the confidence I need in the environments in which I shoot.

There is a very good video that explains the focus capabilities on YouTube from Olympus - yes its marketing hype but as it happens to be true I link to it here.

When I'm out in the street I like to shoot from the hip or quickly point, shoot and move on. I know the EM-1 Mk ii is up for the challenge and rarely misses the mark.

Low Light

Lets talk about what everyone seems to think is an elephant in the room - low light performance. So many times I read that its low light is no good and this simply means that the person hasn't actually ever seriously tried the E-M1 Mk ii and is probably basing their opinion on information on someone else's misinformed musings.


To give you an idea, this is a SOOC jpeg from a model shoot with Mellz in a very low light situation ISO 1600 1/20th f/2.8 using the Oly 12-40 f/2.8 glass. I have no qualms using this machine in low light. It's predecessor wasn't as successful but the new sensor combined with the new processing in this machine give you amazing abilities. The reader should also take into account that the Olympus stabilisation lets you hand hold many shutter speeds that others simply cannot (e.g. I can reliably hand hold 1 second and if I try hard enough 2) which means you don't actually need to use high ISO at all. I rarely go above 1600.

Flexibility to be an all-rounder

Because my patterns and styles of shooting are incredibly wide I ask a lot from my machine. I don't want to carry multiple bodies and I want to minimise the glass I carry. The EM-1 Mk ii simply copes with everything I throw at it and most of the time I'm happy with the shot. Those times when I've not been it's because I tried to break the laws of physics and we all know how well that goes.

The dynamic range of the machine is quite amazing - yes there are DSLR that cost two to three times as much that will do better, of course they will that's why they cost that much but this machine is more than good enough for me.

Steamy Morning - Example of Lights and Darks

Beautiful Bokeh / Smooth Background

I keep hearing this crap over and over - mirrorless can't do bokeh - those jokers think they know everything don't they? Well you can so I'm going to throw them a bone to prove it.

f/2.8 and oh look, bokeh ;)

The other thing I keep reading is that mirrorless can't do nice shots with a wide open lens - I don't know where that comes from - here is Emily shot at f/1.8

Emily f/1.8 50% crop
I did a 50% crop on this one because I wanted to keep this particular article family friendly. The treatment is solely done in Lightroom and was predominantly a removal of saturation and a slight contrast boost.

In Camera Multi Exposure Time Lapse / Live Composite / Live Time

Your camera can't do this? Oh I'm sorry for you. This feature was introduced in other OM-D models, but the Mk ii really excells at it. It is simply awesome for things like fireworks where you open up the exposure and close if down while you're watching it develop on screen. The camera can either capture only changes in light (Live Composite) or be visible development with up to 24 previews of the image as it happens (Live Time).

Live Composite Fireworks

Here is a 7 second exposure SOOC using Live Composite for Fireworks. In this mode the camera shoots a base image which you set the exposure for then it adds in new light. This means that if you expose your highlights properly in the first place they will not blow out. The building windows, street lights, and signs stay coloured and readable. There are multiple bursts from multiple fireworks in this image.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Review: Tall Dark & Art - An Art Nude Shoot Opportunity

Earlier this week I went to a "workshop" run by Tall Dark & Art  which I found via their group.

I've been wanting to extend by nude art shooting for some time, the big challenge is that amateur nude models are hard to find and a bit fickle and professional nude models are usually expensive. Getting studio space on top of that is prohibitive.

The setting

Model: Emily
The Tall Dark & Art shoot was held in a commercial hire studio in the midst of industrial Moorabbin and came with two models and assorted props. The two models were Emily who was a bubbly happy girl (seen in this shot) who worked well with or without direction and strikes up an easy relationship. The second girl Kiko was from a dance background and for the most part simply did her own thing except when specifically asked to do something by one of the six photographers.

It wasn't really a workshop, although anyone who needed help certainly got plenty of it from host Peter and the studio owner - all you needed to do was ask.

Two main sets were provided and lit at the start and the photographers had freedom to use those sets and the girls within their boundaries. Emily had strict boundaries, Kiko didn't really mind anything and did most things that were requested of her.

Set one was a simple stool lit with a octagon photoflash where you could choose to use the flash trigger or utilise just the modelling lamp. While the lamp required use of ISO around 3200 this was the approach I took most of the time because it suits my shooting style of darkness and high contrast with significant softness to the shots. The image on this post is SOOC (Oly high contrast b&w mode) and gives you an idea of where I work with nudes when inside.

Set two had various options and was lit with blue, red and white stage lighting. I have to say the Oly sensor easily blew out on the blue and had to be constrained - fortunately the OM-D E-M1 Mk ii abounds with colour settings to tone down the hideous blue. The options included a bench like a small picnic table that lent itself to all sorts of things (used in this image), a small 1x1x1 cage,  a large cross, a small cross, a coffin and a chain post.

The operation

Model: Emily
The studio was unlocked about 6.30pm and people came in to familiarise themselves with the sets and lighting. The girls arrived, introduced themselves and nuded up at 7pm and were available until 10pm with a couple of breaks in the middle. The six photographers worked across the two girls taking turns to direct (something I admit I'm awful at) and moving around the sets. I was happy because most of the time they concentrated on the more exotic Kiko which meant that I had Emily to myself for a lot of the shoot. Emily fits my shoot ideal much better than Kiko because I like to shoot the normal girl not the dance model. Spending a couple of hours with Emily nearly 1 on 1 was great as she helped me extend my direction abilities as we talked through the shoot. Emily had a good idea of what would look good and what would not and a simple routine was quickly developed.

The shooting environment was cordial and friendly. The studio owner and Peter set some rules up front regarding respect and treatment of the models. Each of the girls had the opportunity to express her boundaries.

Coffee was available for the asking and there were a selection of other drinks available at a cost if you wanted them.

Cost and wrap

Model: Kiko
The session cost $149 and included the models and studio hire. I consider this to be very well worth the cost and enjoyed the session quite a lot. The low lighting is challenging so you'll want your low light fast shutter skills up to par before you try this. You could use a tripod or monopod if you want to but I prefer the flexibility of position and movement that high ISO brings.

By the end of the session I had around 1,200 images to look back on to think about what did and did not work to help me improve later.  I'm fortunate that I've done a number or semi nude and nude shoots with both males and females so my skills are developing to my satisfaction.

I definitely recommend trying out one of these sessions (they run quite often) and give nude shooting a go if you have any interest.