This is a translation from a popular post on my main blog (in french) that was written in January 2013.
That was four months after I bought the OM-D E-M5 and the honeymoon was still going. Why did I buy this thing first? At the end of the wedding season, I was tired of carrying 40 pounds of gear on my shoulders. On family day trips, I was usually bringing my Canon 5D Mark II, my 35mm f/1.4 and my 70-200 f/2.8 (or the 85mm f/1.8). That was my "lightweight" bag but my back didn't like it either. I was tired of it and didn't want to bring that stuff on my honeymoon, especially in the hiking part.
I was looking at smaller cameras for some time already. The Fuji X-100 was tempting but at the time, the auto-focus was bad. I never was interested in the Nikon J1 and V1 because of the sensor size. I didn't like the Sony Nex design. When I saw the Olympus, I was thunderstruck. I began to read everything I could find on the net and I finally bought it in September 2012.
This is a list of the gear I had at the time I wrote this post in 2013:
- Olympus OM-D E-M5
- Olympus E-PM2
- Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3
- Panasonic 20mm f/1.7
- Olympus 45mm f/1.8
- FL-600R Flash
The lenses are very sharp and well contrasted, especially the primes. The 20mm is my favorite lens for family fun or street/lifestyle photography. The 12-50mm, with its weather-sealing was tested with salt water on my honeymoon and it is still working fine. There is also a macro mode on that lens that offer a 0.72X ratio which isn't bad at all. The 45mm is the perfect portrait lens with a nice creamy bokeh.
The 5-axis in-body image stabilization (IBIS) introduced in the OM-D E-M5 is a revolution. It's available with every lenses since it's in the body of the camera. I was able to take pictures with a 1 second exposure handheld. This thing is awesome.
The JPEG from the camera are great with nice skin color. Even the automatic white balance is usually spot on. There is no WiFi on the E-M5 but you can use an EyeFi card and transfer the photos directly on your phone, tablet or computer as you take the shots. It allows me to shoot and publish on the spot wherever I am.
The flash system is very well done. The OM-D comes with a small add-on flash that can also work as a controller to setup off-camera flash. You can use it in TTL mode or manually set the intensity of the off-camera flash straight from the camera screen. It can control up to 3 groups (plus the flash on the camera) on 4 channels. The only drawback is that it uses infrared instead of radio signal to talk to the external flash so you need direct line of sight.
In Real Life
I have small hands so the camera feels right in them even if the grip is small. There is a battery grip available that should help those with bigger hands. The buttons are small though and can be tough to reach. Almost all buttons can be customized to different functions. The tiltable screen is handy when you try to take photos near the ground or overhead. The EVF is good but I had to set the refresh rate to a faster speed to prevent lag.
There is no perfect camera but the OM-D E-M5 was what was the closest I could get to it at the time: lightweight, silent, good image quality, low light performance. fast and accurate auto-focus, ... I love it. I used it for two trips in 2012: my honeymoon and a trip to Jay Peak Pump House Inside Waterpark.
I already talked about my first trip here and for Jay Peak, I liked it a lot too. I would not have brought the 5D Mark II in a waterpark. That would have drawn way too much attention and could even have landed me in some trouble with security. With the OM-D? Nobody even looked at me while I was taking pictures and vidoes of my kids having fun in the water. The weather sealing was very nice to have in that damp environment. I used mostly the 20mm and 45mm and even if I worked a lot against the light, the auto-focus was always spot-on and fast. I used an EyeFi card to transfer the pictures to my Nexus 7 tablet when the kids were asleep so I was able to edit the files and post some of them.
With the family
Once again, the small size is the key. I like to take pictures in restaurants or when we go to playgrounds with the kids (or pretty much everywhere we go with the kids). The IBIS helps a lot when the light is not great. You can't always be seated near a big window. Since I love food photography, I have a habit to capture what I order at the restaurant. The OM-D is a lot more stealthy than the 5D Mark II for that. The tiltable screen helps a lot too. The low light performance is good: thiis picture was taken with my youngest son in an IMax theater.
Most of the time, I shoot in aperture priority with auto-ISO. You can set the maximum ISO you want to use. With the kids, I often switch to shutter priority or manual mode since they move fast and I don't want blurry pictures. Since what you see on the screen or in the EVF is what you get, it's very easy, even for someone just starting, to use the manual mode or to play with the exposure compensation. The fact that you can display the histogram is so useful to setup the perfect exposure. When the available light is not constant (partly cloudy for example), I suggest using a semi-automatic mode like aperture or shutter priority. It helps keeping your attention on the subject so you don't miss that perfect cartwheel of your oldest kid.
The tracking auto-focus is not great but it does not make a big difference coming from the 5D Mark II. It is not the best camera for action sports or wildlife photography.
The first commercial gig I did with only the OM-D was for Café Dépôt. I had to photograph different kinds of coffee and hot beverage. While I was working, the client and the art director of the advertising agency were siting comfortably on the couch, checking in real time the resulting photos on an Android Tablet. I had the 5D Mark II on a table close just in case there was some comments on the size of the camera I was using. But all went well and they never had anything to see about my gear: They knew that I knew what I was doing. They loved the workflow we were using though.
A couple of weeks after getting the camera, I used it as a second camera in a wedding. At the time, I was still afraid of the clients or the guests reactions to such small gear. I know it's ridiculous but the wedding business is still a peculiar one. There are often guests taking pictures in the middle of the aisle and seeing you with a big camera and a big lens helps convincing them to clear the way. So I don't know how they would react to someone shooting with two OM-D. For the end result, I don't have any worry. I know what I can get out of those cameras and anyway, the vision is far more important than the camera you use.
In studio, I use either camera. In continuous lighting, I prefer the OM-D because it is less imposing so the client is less intimidated. It's easier to keep the contact with the client especially since you don't spend your time peaking on the screen after you took the photograph. I prefer an optical viewfinder while working with flash though but I'm getting used to the EVF under studio flash. The problem is if I'm using small external flash unit in a very dark environment, it's really dark in the EVF until I hit the shutter.
In natural light, I now prefer the electronic viewfinder because it eliminates the need for chimping. With the live histogram, I know my photo will be correctly expose before I even take it. I can also switch from photo to video by just pressing a button. I still need to explore hybrid photography. The old photographer habits are hard to break.
I love food photography (and love to eat). The OM-D is my favorite camera for this type of work. It's also great for macro photography for the extended depth of field (DoF) you can get. The closer you get to a subject, the thinner the DoF gets. Although a razor thin DoF could be useful sometimes, it is not in food or macro photography. A good part of the plate I am shooting needs to be in focus. That's a benefit of micro 4/3 over the full frame format for this kind of work. The other big benefit is the live histogram. You can't rely on the internal light meter in food photography because you often work with really bright dish over white background or sometimes you use really dark backgrounds. The live histogram helps you to nail the exposure properly. Spend some time to learn how to read an histogram. It helps a lot.
Like I said earlier, I love this camera
What's to like:
- Image quality
- Feeling in my hands
- Light weight
- In-body image stabilization
- Quality of the micro 4/3 lenses
- Good low-light performances
- Flash system
- Small buttons
- Menu system
- Short battery duration
- IR Flash communications instead of RF
What I like the most is the removal of a barrier between the client and me. No more chimping. Each time you stop to look at your camera screen, you lose the contact with the client. With the OM-D, I can pre-chimp (see the result before hiting the shutter) so I can concentrate on the person in front of the lens.
When I wrote this post one and a half year ago, I was still wondering if I was ready to sell all my Canon gear to shoot only with the OM-D. I was afraid of the perception of the clients and of my peers. Two months ago, I sold my remaining full frame gear and I'm only using micro 4/3 now (but that is a story for another post). I still think the mentality of Bigger is Better is still out there. But more and more photographers turn to mirrorless camera every day. Fuji, Panasonic, Olympus and Sony have been the true innovators in the last 2 or 3 years while Nikon and Canon sit on their reputation to sell cameras. If they keep at it, they will miss the boat completely.
Having a camera that feels good in your hand and is fun to use is far more important than the size of the sensor in it. It's the photographer's vision and the knowledge to deliver this vision that are important, not the brand of the gear you use.