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Thursday, January 16, 2014

New Year New Gear: Going Mirrorless





So tiny! Left: Olympus OM-D EM-5 Right: Olympus E-1. Both with battery grips.



 On New Year’s  Eve I received what is to be my new main camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 mirrorless interchangeable lens digital camera. What wonderful timing for this new camera to arrive, just in time to kick off the new year.

Once I had made the decision last summer to finally upgrade from my much loved pair of Olympus E-1 cameras I had spent the following months researching my upgrade options. Because Olympus no longer produces DSLR cameras, I had to decide whether to switch to mirrorless or switch brands completely.

I had my choices down to the Olympus E-M5, Pentax’s K50, and Nikon’s D5200. I also seriously considered some of Sony’s, Panasonic’s, and Fuji’s mirrorless options. I have been an Olympus user since 2001, using several of their compact cameras, all in one zoom digicams, and their DSLR offerings. Over the years I have been pleased with their performance and image quality. As a result of my positive  past experiences and my enjoyment & love of my then current kit, I really wanted to stick with Olympus. But the biggest issue I had with mirrorless was the electronic viewfinder (EVF). I love optical viewfinders and was concerned that I would not be pleased with an EVF. I knew I had to handle one in person before considering buying one.

Luckily for me, I was able to able to attend the Photo Plus Epo


which was held last October. Many camera & accessory manufacturers set up there just to display and promote their latest offerings. As most of the companies there aren’t selling, rather just promoting, it is a wonderful way to handle a wide variety of equipment without any sales pressure. My first  stop was straight to the Olympus booth to handle the E-M5. I was instantly in love. The camera felt nice in my hands and the viewfinder was crisp and bright. After handling the E-M5I found it difficult to look through the optical viewfinder cameras that I later handled, which was a surprise to me. Out of all the cameras that I handled from various manufacturers, I was most pleased with the Olympus and knew that the EM5 was going to be the one for me.

After resisting the temptation of various jaw dropping black Friday and Christmas deals, I stuck to my guns and made my purchase of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 in a most fabulous silver body (they are also available in a sleek all black model.) Plus because I had decided I would stretch my budget and buy used, I was able to also get the Olympus HLD-6 battery grip. It’s an optional accessory, but really I find this option more of a necessity. I love the sleek compact style of the EM-5 body, but sometimes you need a little bit more of a firmer grip on the camera, especially when using the longer and heavier regular 4/3 lenses or when working in crowded situations.

Am I happy with my decision to purchase the EM-5? So far, most
definitely. But it’s not my season yet as I’m not a fan of  cold weather. Things don’t start happening for me photowise until around March.  That’s when I’ll really be able to give the camera a good test. But so far I have been enjoying the camera and the test shots I have been shooting. A few of my white geranium flowers that we are overwintering indoors were in bloom when the camera arrived, and I was able to take some test shots of a familiar subject to really get a feel for the camera. I have also been shooting my backyard birds and some winter scenics. Based on these sessions, I feel very excite about working with this camera this year.

Readers of my blog know I’m not big into the latest technology. Many of my most oft used shooting techniques are based on the basics I learned from shooting film. But this little camera has some very advanced features that I look forward to incorporating into my shooting repertoire. I have had lens and accessory purchases influence my shooting style in the past and I very much look forward to seeing what impact this camera will have on my shooting technique and what images I will capture this year.

I won’t be doing a camera review here, there are many excellent written and video reviews online already. Many of them I read and viewed while making my purchase decision. Is mirrorless right for you? Only you can decide. I suggest watching and reading the camera reviews and reading online forums dedicated to the cameras that you are considering purchasing followed by handling the camera in person before purchasing.

If you are considering the Olympus OM-D E-M5, here are a few of the selling points that sold me on going mirrorless with the EM-5. Some won’t apply to you, but some may:

1
Brand reliability and positive past experience.
Realistically, all of the major camera manufacturer’s produce high quality product. Competition is fierce, and camera manufacturers know they need to produce a quality product that is able to compete in the marketplace or face extinction. But build quality and sturdiness do vary greatly among the different price points amongst different manufacturers’ gear. That’s when the user forums come into play. With just a few hours online, you can find out about a specific camera’s flaws or quirks directly from people that  actually own and use those cameras. Sure, you need to realize that not everything you read will be true. But if you see the same issue being mentioned over and over, you can pretty much assume it’s more of just a rare problem. Between my positive past experiences with Olympus and what I learned about the EM-5 online, I knew it would work for me even before getting a chance to handle one.

2
Compatibility with my lenses…sort of.
With the use of an adapter, I can continue to use my favorite old 4/3 lenses albeit with some limitations. The older lenses are slow to focus, but the focus seems to be accurate from my tests so far. Not ideal for action photography while using aotofocus, but more than acceptable for my nature work.  I can also use my E-1’s flashes (FL50, FL36) and my EX25 extension tube. I did just purchase a yet to arrive 14-42mm II R lens to use for my action photography and for when I don’t want to carry around my heavier regular 4/3 Zuiko 14-54mm lens. I do want to get more micro lenses, but it’s nice to know I don’t HAVE to so that I can purchase them later when my budget allows. I don’t have that much money tied up into my 4/3 lenses, having bought consumer level glass. But what I have I love and use. I am very happy that I can continue to use my old favorites.

3
Great lens selection with new ones added often.
It’s one thing to buy a lens because you have to, and another to buy one because you want one. I definitely suffer from “lens lust” and there are many great lenses for me to choose from to satisfy that lust. And there are new ones being added all the time.
Olympus can also use Panasonic’s micro 4/3 lenses, some with limitations. Plus you can also get adapters to use your favorite Nikon, Canon, Olympus OM lenses, along with some other brands as well. Again, use is with some limitations such as lack of auto focus. But they are still usable and if you use a high quality lens you will attain high quality images with them.

4
Small & relatively light weight.
The Olympus EM5’s body along with a small lens is almost pocketable, depending on the size of your pockets. In any case, it’s small enough for me to fit in a standard size handbag so that means I’ll be more likely to carry it around with me everywhere. Last year I had left my camera home often due to not wanting to carry the extra weight and bulk. As a result, I  missed out on several beautiful images. You can’t take a photograph  if you don’t have your camera with you, and it’s nice that with this camera I don’t need to sacrifice high quality just because I want to carry around a smaller camera. This little camera delivers even better image quality than my old E-1 DSLR and comes in a much smaller package, no compromise.

5
The 4/3 sensor renders the kind of images I am accustomed to.
One of the things that I love about Olympus’s 4/3 sensor is the 2x crop factor. 35mm film size sensors, known  full frame sensors, are considered the comparison point when trying to compare focal lengths between different brands’ sensor sizes. Without getting overly technical, 4/3 sensors record an angle of view that is comparable to twice that of a full frame size sensor. So, for example, a 200mm lens will capture a 400mm angle of view with Olympus cameras. What that means in real life terms is that you gain an advantage as a telephoto shooter with Olympus. Long range telephoto lenses are lighter and smaller with Olympus as compared to their full frame equivalents. Wide angle shooters don’t have it so easy though because a 7mm lens renders a 14mm angle of view on 4/3 sensor, so wide angle shooters may prefer to stick with the heavier & more expensive full frame gear.

Another thing that I consider a benefit of the 4/3 sensor is that you gain a little bit of extra depth of field at the same f stop as compared to a full frame sensor. Some consider this a bad thing because it is a bit more difficult to achieve out of focus backgrounds. But for me, I consider it a bonus. I do a lot of macro work where that little bit of extra dept of field is a good thing. I also like that I can use larger apertures and still render a deeper depth of field when handholding so that I can use lower ISO’s and higher shutter speeds.

And there are so many other reasons why I love this little camera, including in camera image stabilization which is something that I have been wanting for the past 2 years. As a handheld shooter, it is one advantage of new camera technology that I can really use. I also love the fun art filters, the tiltable OLED screen with live view, being able to view in the evf the effects of changing exposures, and really just about everything in this little camera. Yes, it’s love. If I have gotten you curious about the Olympus OMD EM5 or mirrorless in general, do a search online and see if this little gem or mirrorless is also right for you. I have been loving mine and look forward to seeing what images I’ll be capturing with it this year. I will be posting my new photos to my Flickr account:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/dorothylee/
And my Fine Art America store:
http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/dorothy-lee.html
Happy New Year!


I took this photo using Olympus' Dramatic Tone art filter to create this image in camera, no computer needed.

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