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Monday, March 30, 2015

EM5 Adventures In NYC

For this image, I combined 2 different RAW edits of this photo. I combined a straight natural version with one developed using the Dramatic Tone art filter. Using layer masks and blend modes, I combined the images in Photoshop to create this striking, but not too unnaturally over the top, version.
This is a  post that I wrote last April but never got around to editing. I have since gotten a lot of experience with my then new Olympus OMD EM5 camera, but this post still remains true. I hope that if you are considering any of the Olympus OMD series of cameras, that you will find this post informative. 

In April, after owning my Olympus OMD EM5 for four months I took my new camera on its first road trip. As I am not much of a winter person, this was the first opportunity to give my camera a real world workout. While I had spent the previous four months shooting a decent variety of subjects, this trip for me was my first real test of this camera in a more pressurized “shoot and go” situation. My winter shooting had consisted of snowy landscapes, birds at my feeder, and indoor florals. All subjects captured at a leisurely pace at home. During those four months I was able to bond with  my new camera and became comfortable with its ergonomics and features. I was feeling pretty confident that I could handle the new camera in a more pressurized situation and was looking forward to my trip.

The first joy came when packing my bag. When going on my New York City trips in the past, my gear consisted of my Olympus E1, 4-54mm lens, and 40-150mm lens (which I would sometimes leave behind.) Also in the bag would be 2 batteries, a couple of optical filters (neutral grad, polarizer) and my ed25 extension tube. That setup just about fit in my small Tamrac bag which I prefer for such travels. The weight, though not objectionable and not as heavy as a full frame camera setup, was still pretty heavy for me. This was a particular problem as I also need to carry other things besides camera gear while commuting at the beginning and end of the trip.

After about a week of packing and repacking my kit for this trip, I decided on bringing the EM5 camera body, the hand grip portion of the battery grip, 40-150mm lens and MM2 adapter, 25mm extension tube (works great with the 40-150mm), 2 close-up filters, polarizing filter, neutral grad filter, 5 batteries, charger, and the tiny flash that came with the camera (because it has no built in flash.) All this fit in my Tamrac bag comfortably. And all this was lighter than my usual E1 kit. What a joy!

My former beloved E1, though smaller than many DSLR cameras, was still bit of a bear to deal with. The E1 and 14-54mm packed some weight and bulk, and most often would be left behind if I wasn’t going out specifically to take photographs. But because my new camera setup is so small and light, I can usually carry the EM5 with a 14-42mm lens around in my purse. This resulted in photos that I would have missed otherwise because I had left my camera behind.

On this trip I wanted to capture photos in the Village and Chelsea areas. I brought the EM5, hand grip, 14-42 lens, 49-150 and adapter on all of my shooting adventures, but ended up leaving the extension tube and filters behind most often due to the fact that I didn’t really use them on the first day. Most of the photos I took were with the 14-42 lens. I don’t particularly like to change lenses in the street (or mess with filters & extension tubes either.) I usually prefer to work with just one lens in urban or crowded shooting situations. I did use the 40-150mm for a few shots though, and it’s so light and small that I didn’t feel like it was a waste of effort to carry. I will mentions some things that I loved and didn’t love about using this camera later on, but long story short – I was pleased with both the experience and the resulting images. I am very happy with my decision to switch to a mirrorless system and glad that I chose the EM5.

If you are considering making the switch to mirrorless and Olympus, here are some thoughts on my experience so far:

Size And Weight
I already touched on this matter at the beginning of this post but want to mention it again. After all,





size and weight are a major attraction of mirrorless cameras. I was completely satisfied here. An added bonus of the small size is that camera thieves don’t really notice you. But that guy with the huge full frame setup and too many lenses precariously balanced in his opened bag hanging off his arm? He has a little more to be concerned about in such situations. I had one shifty looking character look at me at one of my late evening walks on deserted streets, but seeing all I had was a very small bag and a tiny camera he figured I wasn’t worth the effort. 




Right: I used my 70-150mm lens for this closeup of buildings captured from The Highline. With heavier gear, I may have opted to leave the longer lens at home and miss out on this capture.




 



EVF made figuring out the exposure for this image quickly possible.
EVF
I was reluctant to switch to a camera that featured an Electronic Viewfinder instead of an optical one based on my previous experiences with them. But the EVFs of the past are no comparison to the ones of today. While the EVF is not perfect, I am pleased with it and can deal with the minor complaints that I have with it.
Cons:
My main issue with it is that subtle color gradations can be hard to see and it doesn’t display backlit scenes well. The color balance is also slightly off. I find the color on the lcd to be truer to what actually is captured. Of course neither are perfect options nor are expected to be, regardless of brand. Some photographers may find this to be more of a problem for them, but most should not. I also initially found it a little bit harder to focus manually. I does get easier once you get used to viewing through an EVF rather than through an optical one.

Pros:
I saved the pros for last because I want to leave you with the positive aspects. For me, there is only one real pro but it’s a big one. If you set the camera to display the scene in the camera so that the viewfinder shows the effect the exposure changes in live time (or in other words, DON’T set your camera to Live Boost mode) then you can get a fair estimate of the proper exposure settings just by looking through the viewfinder. Change your aperture or shutter settings, and watch the display in the viewfinder lighten and darken accordingly. Granted, the EVF is not a highly accurate way to judge critical exposure. If the exposure is extremely critical to the image, you should use the histogram and/or highlight & shadow warning features while reviewing the image on your lcd and bracket your exposures for safety. But that’s another bonus of the EVF, you can actually set the camera to show a live histogram while shooting if you want it. Pretty cool!  And there is also an option to have the recorded image flash on the screen inside of the viewfinder if you want that, sometimes all you need is a quick confirmation that the image looks OK. There are times that you may not want everyone to know you are doing so or just don’t want to move the camera away from your eye just to review the captured image – now you won’t have to. Those features make it quick and easy to shoot without calling undue attention to yourself – which is something I am very into when shooting in urban and crowded situations.

Live View LCD
A tiltable LCD and  live view made composing this image quick and easy.

To be fair, this is no longer a compact and mirrorless camera feature. Regular DSLR cameras have been offering it for years. But this was my first experience using it with anything other than a compact camera. And it was a positive experience. The EM5 has a tiltable screen, making it ideal to use when trying to shoot high or low angle captures. It was nice to be able to take those shots without having to do much kneeling, bending, or climbing. The EM5 also offers the additional bonus of offering the option to be able to focus and trip the shutter just by touching the LCD screen (like a cell phone.) I’m not a big technology person, but sometimes the engineers really do come out with some pretty neat features. The only thing that annoyed me with that feature was sometimes when I didn’t turn the LCD screen off, I would accidentally fire the camera with my hand while walking with the camera hanging off my arm. There is also a slight difference in color between the EVF and the LCD, which I already mentioned. I believe the LCD to be a little more accurate in that respect, but all serious photographers should judge color on a color calibrated monitor during post processing anyway so not too much of an issue. The LCD has the ability to tilt, making it easy to frame low and high angle shots without much physical effort. The new updated version of the EM5, Olympus OMD EM5 Mark II, features the addition of a swivel function for the LCD which makes it even more versatile and the camera of choice for those photographers that like to do self-portraits. Something to keep in mind if you are considering to make a purchase now.

 

Not from NYC, but a perfect example of shallow DOF with my EM5.
Depth Of Field
Ah, depth of field. You deep focus fans or casual shooters probably won’t  care about this one minor point so much. But for arty types that love shallow depth of field and are addicted to bokeh, the ability to render shallow depth of field is quite a prized feature. Olympus’ DSLR cameras (no longer manufactured) and their mirrorless cameras are known to have a bit more depth of field at any given aperture when compared to full frame models. There is a long, detailed scientific reason for that. But the short reason for it is because of Olympus’ 2x crop factor. You can read more about that by doing a google search for lens crop factor and depth of field:
Lens Crop Factor
So if images with just a sliver of sharp focus is your thing, a full frame camera is your best bet. But I am a lover of shallow depth of field and bokeh, and I do just fine with the EM5. And that’s just with the widest aperture lens in my collection being an f2.8. So don’t get caught up in the naysayer hype, shallow depth of field is possible with Olympus. And even more so if you use one of their 1.8 lenses or one of my favorite lenses, a Lensbaby. Bokelicious!

But on the flip side of that, if you like deep focus you’ll be in for a treat. Sometimes it’s nice to have a little bit more depth of field at a given aperture, especially in low light situations. You’ll also be able to use lower ISOs and/or faster shutter speeds in lowlight conditions because you won’t need to set such a small aperture to render near to far sharpness. I have found Olympus’ little bit of extra depth of field to be a bonus when photographing my backyard birds. 





I used my camera’s Pinhole art filter to add the vignette and enhance the blue tones.
Color
My old Olympus E1 DSLR is a cult favorite, in part because of the colors it produces. I was hoping that the EM5 would produce similar results. But as it is not the same sensor, and not even made by the same sensor manufacturer, I was not expecting it. Yes, the colors are very different from what I was getting from my E1. And I admit, I miss the old colors. I was warned that I would, and sadly they were right. But as much as I loved those E1 colors, the EM5 is no slouch in the color rendering department. And it offers features to help render colors in a unique way, with options for muted colors, vivid, I-Enhance, Natural, and Monochrome (with the option to add virtual color filters and toning!) I especially love working with the pinhole art filter, which offers 3 unique color settings. I learned to really love them during my Great JPEG Experiment Of Summer.
Plus there are other colorful art filters such as pop art, cross processing and more. And all these effects can be done in camera and applied to a jpeg, or later during RAW processing in Olympus’ software (sorry, you lose access to those filters when using Lightroom or another program for RAW processing.)

A high contrast, dramatic tone capture of the arch at Washington Square Park in New York City. I developed the original RAW file in my Olympus software and created this version using Olympus’ Dramatic Tone art filter setting.



Conclusion
This was a particularly pleasant trip photographically speaking. I was pleased beyond my already high expectations while working with this camera and then again when I came home and processed the images. The camera was easy to handle with my small hands. I have heard some users with larger hands find it a bit more difficult to deal with. If you are moving to mirrorless from a large DSLR camera, I do recommend handling the camera in store before purchasing as the ergonomics may surprise you. It did feel weird at first, but now when I try to hold my old DSLR it just feels so bulky and the DSLR just doesn’t feel right now. I chose to shoot all the images in the RAW format, so that I would have the most available options to me later during post processing. I did find however, most of the images were captured correctly at the time of shooting and most didn’t need any changes to be made to settings during RAW processing. I did like that I was able to experiment at my leisure at home with the Art Filters during post processing. I learned a lot about the effects of those filters and which ones work for which subjects that I shoot. I found for the city images, the Dramatic Tone art filter was my favorite. So much so that later in the year, I shot a whole series with that filter WHILE viewing the actual effect in the viewfinder (gotta love that EVF!) See my blog post:
Drama In The City
Long story short: I love this camera! I’ll be sticking with mirrorless and Olympus for many more years to come. If you haven’t checked out Olympus’ mirrorless offerings, now is the time! The lineup has never been better, with cameras ranging from the compact style mirrorless cameras in the PEN series to the more enthusiast/professional style offerings in the OMD lineup. No, I don’t work for them but I have been a longtime fan that has used Olympus cameras almost exclusively for over 10 years. Check them out:



And see more of my New York photos here:

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Captured this one using my camera’s Dramatic Tone art filter, while viewing the effect in the viewfinder/lcd in real time. So surreal!