NOVEMBER 2016 – My switch to Olympus
I have come to a decision to change my photography kit. Because I expect that this decision might raise a few eyebrows I am going to write a few words to set things straight as I am used to people reacting to my choices of new photo gear rather emotively. When I sold all of my Nikon equipment 8 years ago and switched to Canon, I received countless emails asking me what happened or if I know anything about Nikon going bankrupt and similar. Now, I am switching from Canon to Olympus. Why? What prompted me to make the switch? Is it forever? Will I regret it?
I have been using Canon for a few years now, and I am still convinced that it is among the best in digital photography. Canon lenses that I carry in my camera bag are all sharp, resistant and really fast. Canon bodies can store an enormous amount of data and offer unprecedented ergonomics. Personally, I haven‘t yet to reach my limit in using Canon for creating engaging and creative photographs. In the past, I used to carry just three lenses. Currently, I have six of them. Personally, I blame my inner craving to shoot animals in more diverse ways using different angles that I have not tried before. By checking the EXIF data on my photographs taken over the past two years, I concluded that I am using more varied focal points than ever before. Naturally therefore, I am totally content with the number of my lenses and their capabilities. Unfortunately, the negative side of this configuration is its weight. Typically, not to limit my creative scope of photography, I am constantly carrying all of my gear on all my expeditions. 14kg may be bearable for a short while, but during the course of a long shooting day, I can feel quite tired from continuously taking my heavy bag off and putting back on again a few minutes later. As a result, weighed down by all this weight, my mind is not always concentrating on taking pictures. Plus, any movement through a rainforest is much more strenuous than in continental forests. Lastly, keeping the weight of my gear aside, a photographer needs to withstand a range of various external hardships such as incessant bugs, unbearably hot and humid weather and often very difficult terrain.
When I shoot, I often take a rather unorthodox approach not typically recommended in photography textbooks. Against all the recommendations, I take a majority of my shots hand holding my camera and not using a tripod. In the case of a tele-zoom on a body with a grip, I am permanently holding about 4 kg. Luckily, when using a macro lens, that drops down to 2 kg. Often, seeking the desired composition for my photographs puts me in rather scabrous positions. So understandably, during long and demanding expeditions I often feel drained just from carrying and holding my heavy gear. So, upon returning from my trips towards the end of 2016 (Amazonia, Borneo), I started to contemplate reducing my gear. However, selling off just a fraction of my gear would significantly reduce my conceptual options, that I am used to thanks to my current lens setup.
I believe that fate calls for its attention to itself. Coincidentally, when I contemplated changing my gear, Olympus came out with a new body E-M1 Mark II. Their line of Mikro 4/3 never appealed to me until then. Suddenly, I saw a new way how to maintain my varied spectrum of focal points and take some load off of my hands and back at the same time. Anyway, to cut a long story short, after long and thorough research and personal experience, I decided to focus on using Olympus technology. For now at least.
I have been applying myself to photography for some years now, and I am fully aware of all the ups and downs of switching to a new system. I am convinced, however, that I will find my own way for bringing new angles in taking bold pictures of animals. Conclusively, those who like my style, will not be disadvantaged in any way. I love exploring new avenues, and therefore I do not see this switch as some compromise but as a fantastic opportunity to make the most of the new possibilities offered by new (to me) generation of technology. True, it is possible that from time to time I may whine about the possibilities offered by my current setup. And it is even possible that I may come back to Canon in some distant time in future.
Why Olympus? Did you forget Sony, Fuji and others?
In all fairness, I didn’t switch to Olympus but to Olympus E-M1 Mark II. It’s this camera and this body only that I was so impressed by its possibilities and ergonomics that I’d even started to consider the switch. Having inspected the current selection of all the other bodies on the market, this was the only one that I felt interested in. In all honesty, should Olympus not come out with this model I’d continue carrying on my back what I currently have. By making the switch, I wasn’t aiming just to reduce the weight of my bag. I was above all, seeking to add real value, albeit in slightly different criteria. Knowing there is a long line of other alternatives, this specific Olympus gave me exactly what I was looking for.
My current photo bag contains: Olympus E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko 9mm/8 Fisheye, M.Zuiko 25mm/1.2 Pro, M.Zuiko 7-14/2.8 Pro, M.Zuiko 12-100/4 IS Pro, M.Zuiko 40-150/2.8 Pro, M.Zuiko 300/4 IS Pro and TC 1.4x.Click right mouse button to better resolution of Macaw below
DECEMBER 2016 – My very first impressions
First things first though, if you are expecting a selling pitch from me along the lines of the E-M1 Mark II being on a par with a full-frame, you are mistaken. It’s not. And it won’t be – probably for a very long time. Regretfully, there are times when the full-frame is irreplaceable. However, at the same time, I believe that Olympus and I will become good mates. When I had debated whether or not to switch to a different system, I’d asked myself if I’d be able to take the same photographs as I had done over the past two years. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I guesstimate that approximately 70% of my photographs would definitely exist. While about 30% would sadly never be conceived, this is mainly due to a combination of full-frame and specific depth of field that with a smaller sensor should not be attempted. On the other hand, I can think of about 30% more photos that I will now be able to take not being limited by a full-frame (FF). The bottom line is, if you are having same thoughts regarding the switch in either direction (from FF to a cropped sensor or the other way around), I’d suggest firstly thinking twice about your approach to shooting your desired objects. Only then should you set your priorities depending on your critical preferences. Alas, everyone must fight their own battles. I know I did. Leaving the introduction behind, I hope you can now understand that I’m writing this from a position of someone who looked down on small sensor cameras for many years. It is quite possible that some of my observations will seem amusing to you as being a mirrorless user they are obvious to you. So, try not to laugh too loud. Also, it’s a given that in the case of a full-frame, you will need to forget about certain indulgences.
Finally, a mirrorless camera (MILC) that has a normal, a bit more rounded and organic body shape. It somewhat eludes me why all the manufacturers started off creating all mirrorless cameras square and are only now slowly making the form more curvaceous. It took them long enough because the ergonomics of most digital cameras are now almost perfect. That’s probably why I used to view all the MILC cameras in a negative light. Anyhow, now I’m holding a camera that despite its size sits comfortably in my hand, which is accented even further thanks to a new battery holder being added. All combined, the whole camera actually feels like a solid DSLR. Personally, I prefer a front grip on Canon 60D/70D the most, especially with an added battery holder. Squarish look and somewhat uncomfortable holding were probably what also put me off from current Fuji and Sony models even though they have better quality outputs. To some, it may sound as petty, but ergonomics are really important to me. On top of that, everyone’s hand is slightly different in size and comfortable in different positions. So to sum up, I reckon, the new Olympus is a huge improvement as despite its size it feels as though you are actually holding a real camera.
Personally, I’ve always found controls on Canon genially arranged and I immediately custom-arranged the functions to be easily controlled by my right thumb on all my cameras. Olympus is one step ahead. Despite being given a camera that has a function already pre-assigned to every button, you have a free reign to totally customise it in the menu. That means that you can customise virtually every button and dial on the camera to what you’d like them to be. For example, you will not find an ISO or WB button on the body. There are, however, many ways how you can assign this function to your preferred button. Factory settings set this function to a Fn-lever 2×2 Operation in the 2nd position. In the 1st position, the front dial is assigned to change the AF drive mode while the back one is set to exposure compensation. I set it up simply to power the camera on and off. The first position will turn the camera on; the second will shut it down. It’s even possible to set it the other way around. Another feature I customised was the ISO/ WB setting that I now change by pressing a front lower button, which I find easily reachable when I hold the camera. Are you starting to feel bewildered? Well, brace yourself, because you either love it or hate it. There are so many ways of customising the menus that for some it may be just a bit too overwhelming and may decide to instead leave it as is. In total, the E-M1 Mark II has 5 customisable buttons and dials. The battery holder adds another two buttons to the equation. Let me say that none of this is compulsory, but it sure is lovely that it’s possible. But, old habits die hard. I guess why I also liked this camera is that all the operation and controls are moved to the right so that you can rest your left hand entirely on your lens. I must admit, that my aim from the very start was to set the camera in a way that I could use it as my Canon DSLRs. And the result is pretty impressive. My Olympus now has almost the same controls as its Canon predecessors. Well, I just love the fact that I don’t have to worry about that.
My camera setting (clik for better resolution)
There are many things, a DSLR owner can only dream of. Here for example, since the viewfinder is electronic, there are many fantastic functions available. Let’s have a closer look:
Your EVF allows you to preview a fast menu without even taking the camera away from your eyes. Thanks to this you can adjust most of your needed settings.
Manual focus assistent
It is possible to activate fine adjustments to the sharpness that will show as red (or white or other) lines of the sharpened edges. You can then see straight away, if the focus is where you want it or elsewhere. I appreciate this, especially when choosing a high zoom ratio on my EVF where I can view the scene in a smaller area and reposition the target focus more precisely. I cannot imagine a better way to manually sharpen the scene.
The real world
Your EVF also allows you to preview online exposure and white-balance impact. Exposure compensation is, therefore, depending on the real scene, not by guessing as it often is.
You can’t have it both ways
Admittedly, an EVF has its disadvantages too. The view is enabled only when the camera is on. Otherwise, it is pitch black and you see nothing. Looking offline for various motives in the grass on a meadow is simply impossible. The camera has at least a classic view mode, which is more real but is stripped of all of the above characteristics. Where the EVF also fails is at times when the light is too strong. As soon as the landscape is filled with direct sunlight and the exposure is around 1/26000s, EVF shows the scene as overexposed, i.e. washed out. Afterwards, however, the scene previews as completely normal. On the contrary even, slightly darker than I expected, as I found at home. The solution that occurred to me later might be to switch to an S-OVF mode (Optical viewfinder Simulation). This function was pre-set to a button close to a viewfinder, to which I hastily reassigned a different function. So apparently, now I will need to set this via my ‘Custom Menu’ settings. To conclude, it is possible that EVF has other cons, but personally, I can’t think of any. The ‘pros’ are certainly stronger.
The camera is equipped with many different art filters. Personally, I turned them all off and kept only natural and BW modes. There is something elusive about BW photography and I would love to start engaging in it one day. However, I lack capacity to view the world in black and white. What better to help a novice than to switch to B&W and experiment with it? True, it is possible to change to monochrome view on most DSLRs when in Live view, however, the viewfinder stays in full colour. Personally, I am ecstatic about this option and am looking forward to using it.
Selecting the AF target mode
You can change the target selection method and target size either by pressing appropriate arrow buttons around the ‘OK’ button or after having activated target selections in the same way as in Canon. You can then swiftly change the AF target by front and back dials at the top of the camera. But that’s not all. Bear in mind that the camera is fairly small. While making a selection by your thumb on the ‘OK’ arrow pad requires a super dexterous thumb, in the fast selection mode you need to bend your thumb, even more, to set the values. However, thanks to a genial on-screen display you can use another option. Look into your viewfinder and it switches off the back display and automatically turns on the EVF. If you need to change a different AF point on the 121 point-grid, you can simply touch the display that is still off, but it activates the whole grid in your viewfinder. By a smooth thumb movement, you can find whichever AF point you wish to select and Bob’s your uncle. I never really liked having so many AF points, but this solution is bordering on brilliant and the fact that it covers 80% of space means that you can enjoy the selective AF points to its maximum. Wow.
AF coverage example
Here is an example of AF coverage having placed the focus object into the outer corner.
(If the image is not loading, please refresh your page. Not sure why this is happening, but I’m working on it.)
Before I go to image quality, I must stress that one of the arguments for this camera was the fact that it can shoot 50MP .jpg and 80MP RAW files in High Res Shot mode. Such an image is so detailed that it can even compare with a superb Canon EOS 5Ds(R). In the case of a 20MP Olympus, this presents certain limitations, though. To start off with, it is not possible to use F-stops above f/8. An image is created by a movement of a stabiliser while 8 individual images are stacked on each other. Understandably, the camera cannot be moved even a tiny bit, and the scene should be absolutely static. Despite it not being a 100% replacement I have tested this on several scenes and will certainly use it when appropriate. Also, when shooting objects in motion (i.e. leaves, running water etc.), one might encounter certain issues. Olympus made a huge improvement from the last version of this camera (same software as in E-M5 Mk II), and when shooting waterfalls, I found the outputs completely satisfactory and packed with tons of details.
Colour coded auxiliary indicators
I find it extremely interesting to personally customise what colour I want as AF selection indicator or even the grid itself. Available are not only some 5 given colours but a whole RGB palette. This camera definitely offers some options that are beyond my understanding.
This option is very intriguing. What it allows you to do is that when you have a feeling that the exposure is constantly under or over exposed, you can set your menu to automatically correct the exposure so that you don’t have to do it manually. I am aware that for example, Canon 1D has this option to a certain degree. Nonetheless, E-M1 Mark II allows you to set this with every metering mode.
Personally, I rarely use spot metering. Mainly because no camera that I ever used had an option to set it at the offset from the selected AF target. Nevertheless, the E-M1 Mark II has exactly that. It measures spot exposure away from the AF centre point and always from the centre of the focus plane. Therefore, the camera offers 121 target points that you can set spot metering to. So simple. Yet, for Canon cameras, a prerogative exclusive to a 1D.
Other exposure settings
I will mention one more feature that I really like. I finally have a camera that can customise the self-timer operation. Personally, I find given settings of 2s (too short to stabilise any quivering) and 10s (too long) very limiting, though I’d say that to program this must be a fairly easy task. At the same time, I appreciate that I can set the shutter speed up to 60s. Usually, 30s is sufficient, but from time to time I wouldn’t mind having the option of e.g. 35s or longer (e.g. to capture more stars with a faster lens). In the same way I am impressed with ability to set the shutter speed over 1/8000s up to 1/32000s.
Most cameras these days allow you to adjust AF accuracy. Olympus is no different, and as you may have guessed, it doesn’t end there. What Olympus added is that you can correct your AF targets either on the whole surface or independently in its 25 different areas with a single or group of 5×5 AF points. In each area, you can manually adjust the AF accuracy to a wide or telephoto end of the lens. Frankly, I cannot imagine changing these settings with every lens and test every area, but I love the idea that it is possible, especially if a certain area would permanently fail to meet my expectations.
Not sure if I’ll ever understand this, but the camera boasts in-body integrated stabilisation system. Thus, every mounted lens is stabilised. Every one! Something I have never seen in a DSLR. Knowing my style of shooting, I can tell that I will be able to handheld my camera even at 4-5s on the wide-angle lens; 1/6s when using a 150mm lens (equivalent to a 300m lens with an FF) and 1/ 15s on a 300mm lens (equivalent to a 600mm with an FF). In addition the in-body image stabilisation co-work with already stabilized lenses 300mm/4 and 12-100/4. I can see it using when shooting stationary objects as well as in motion, landscape or even inside a cave where you can’t use a tripod. All in all, I can think of many new scenes that I used to ignore. I’ll have loads of fun with this, I bet.
Is it all?
Undoubtedly, this small camera is fully packed with so many functions that I could go on and on. There are certain things that as a DSLR user I’ve been utterly astounded by. To name a few, for example, a possibility to internally stack macros or an option to view online the progress of your long exposure shots ( e.g. star trails) and much much more.