Actually, it’s an Olympus OM-D E-M5….sexy name no ?
I’ve taken to calling it the OMG….
Now, I’m not one to do a review about a camera, even less so of a stills camera, but I feel like I need to shout about this one. It’s really changed the way that I take photos on set. And that to me is really interesting. it’s not that it’s a *better* camera as such…It’s just enable me to photograph in a different way.
First, the backstory…
I’ve been using this most uncool camera brand since they first started making digital SLR cameras. In my line of work as a cinematographer, Canon dominates. And if you’re an outsider, maybe you use Nikon. And it’s easy to see why. Canon, with their 5Dmk2 made it easily and affordable to get large sensor video. So it’s an easy choice for a cinematographer.
I think I’m the only DOP in Sydney that DOESN”T have a 5 or 7D canon.
But I use my camera to take photos, not to also shoot video. And that’s a really important distinction to make.
I bought my very first digital stills camera wayyyy back in 2004. It was an Olympus E1. Until then I was a Contax film man. Back then it was the first digital camera I’d used that actually behaved like a *real* camera. There wasn’t a long delay between taking a picture and the picture being taken and it had a fantastic Kodak sensor.
In a time when people didn’t even think to ask where the sensor came from, the Olympus produced magnificent colours and seemed to punch above it’s weight for a 5mp camera.
And it was a tank. I have seriously abused that camera and it never stopped working. I managed to break few bits off it, but I still use the camera today and it still takes some great shots.
In late 2010, I bought another Olympus, the E5. Like the E1, it was a serious tank of a camera. You could easily use it to pound in tent pegs.
I also went mad and bought a lot of expensive Olympus SHG lenses. These lenses are simply optically extraordinary. They are also, like the E series Olympus cameras, pretty much waterproof. At the time it seemed like a good idea. I’d also bought two Panasonic AF100 video cameras for use on the second series of the TV series Offspring. On the first season we’d used the 5Dmk2 and I wasn’t happy with the results we were getting, and so I switched to AF100 cameras.
To go with the AF100, I also bought two m4.3 lenses, the Panasonic Lumix 30mm F1.7 and the Panasonic Lumix 14mm F2.5, both of which work on the OM-D.
The AF100 was a m4/3 camera and I could use my new SHG 4/3 lenses on it, and get a little rental on it so it seemed like a great idea.
So on set I’ve been dragging my huge but magnificent 4/3 camera around. The E5 is a great camera but it started to suddenly be a pain because, the thing is actually not much smaller than a 5D. With an SHG lens and a battery grip, I was suddenly carrying something that was as large as the camera of the on set stills photographer !
Not only that but it was becoming intimidating. I could sense people’s discomfort as I lifted the big 35-100 F2 Olympus zoom to grab a shot. There’s nothing discrete about this rig.
Mainly I try to steal a shot just before we go for a take and I’ll just throw the camera at my assistant as we roll up. But it’s hard to fly under the radar with an E5 and SHG lenses. Despite the original promise of 4/3, they just haven’t ended up that small.
In pre production for a new series with director Glendyn Ivin, I began to realize that I really wanted to have a camera that would be as discrete as his beautiful Leica M9/M8 kit.
Glendyn takes some magnificent photographs and whilst I’m sure the Leica helps, he has a great eye and the M series form factor certainly helps his shooting style. For a crazy moment I thought about just buying an M series. But they are astronomically expensive. I’m not quite ready to spend that kind of outlay, and I also saw some of the limitations of the camera. It certainly isn’t very good in low light or even, dim light.
I’d thought about going for a m4/3 camera like the Panasonic GH2. It would be able to use my 4/3 lenses with an adaptor but the camera hadn’t impressed me much for it’s feel and usability.
I then started hearing rumors about a new Olympus. And while I had looked at a PEN, they had always seemed a little *toy* for me. But a new m4/3 camera was on it’s way.
The OM-D E-M5.
Supposedly the first of a range of new m4/3 cameras discreet from the PEN series Olympus cameras, the OM D is a total joy. It’s almost too small for me to use and I was worried about the size with my big chunky man hands, but as it turns out it’s perfect.
This is also the first camera that I’ve had with an electronic viewfinder. I’ve always been a bit suspicious, which is kind of dumb. As a DOP, I’ve been looking at electronic viewfinders for almost all of my career.
The viewfinder is great and I had a nice “ah ha” moment when I realised I could very easily customise what was actually displayed in the viewfinder. You can have info displayed across the bottom or overlaid over the image itself. I chose the former as I preferred a less cluttered image for composing.
The screen on the back is nice but I’ve been preferring to use the viewfinder. I still like composing in this way. It’s nice to have the live view option, but in truth I rarely use it.
And the other upside to using an EVF is that you get exposure information without having to take a shot. I’m so used to taking a shot, looking at the shot back with a histogram and then adjusting exposure. The exposure info in the viewfinder means I can check BEFORE i take the first shot. A great time saver for me.
The AF is crazy fast. I’ve been mainly using the 45mm 1.8 Olympus I bought with the camera. I’ve also been using the Panasonic 20mm 1.7 and the Panasonic 14mm 2.5 as well, and they aren’t quite as snappy, but they are certainly fast enough.
I have also been using my SHG lenses with the adaptor. Whilst it’s nice to be able to put some of these fine lenses on the body, it’s borderline unusable for AF to me and they don’t seem to focus as accurately. I certainly seem to have more mis-focused shots with the SHG lenses on. I mainly shoot people and the AF is just not reactive enough. For more static subjects it can work OK if you don’t mind the delay and that’s not as important.
After my fist outings with the 4/3 lenses on I realised how high the AF success rate was for the camera when using the m4/3 lenses. Mostly it nails the AF each time and it also seems to pick what I want.
I have been using the face recognition system and was even more perplexed to see you can even specify eyes, and even WHICH eye…right eye or left eye !!
I turned it on, not expecting it to work, but I have to say, I’ve never had a such a high proportion of in focus and with exactly the right bits in focus shots out of any camera.
So now I leave it with face recognition on and eyes selected. What I still haven’t really worked out is how that interacts with the AF pattern as I move it around. So I can move the AF selection area around, but then it still picks up faces as well. I thought for a while it would preference the face if it was close or within the AF target I’d chosen, but now I’m not so sure. Let me know if you know the answer to this.
I actually pre-ordered the HLD-6 grip as well, assuming I’d want it for use with the 4/3 lenses and to bulk the camera up. It took a couple of weeks to show up and I was forced to use the camera without it.
I have to say the grip is now staying off the camera mostly. The thing is so small, I can easily carry it around. I’m taking a lot more shots because I actually have the camera with me. I’m shooting though entire takes with it on my shoulder. It’s no issue at all to have it on my person all the time.
And that’s what’s really exciting about this camera.
it’s a very capable camera image wise, that’s built robustly enough for me to not care too much about it getting a few knocks and it’s fast enough for me to shoot with very quickly and it’s really discrete. I’ve noticed my subjects don’t tend to have the same uneasy reaction as when I pull out the big bertha.
I haven’t turned on my E5 for a few weeks now. I almost started thinking about selling it. I won’t for the moment though because it works so well with the SHG lenses and this is one of the OM D’s few shortcomings.
And while we’re at it…the battery sucks. It doesn’t last me the day at all. It seems to be good for 300-350 shots. I guess i’d be OK with this but I can’t even buy a second battery for it at the moment as Olympus Australia seem to be out of stock of them. I’ve ordered three more !!
One other very very slight issue I’ve noticed as well is that it seems to me there could be a teeny tiny less latency between a button push and a shot being taken. A few times I’ve gone for the *moment* to find I’m a bit late with the shot. I’ve adjusted to try and anticipate a little, but it would be nice if the shutter realise was a little more reactive.
I’ve also been stumped a few times when the eye sensor of the VF seems to mistake my hand on the touch screen as I review images. As I’m scrolling images it suddenly blacks the screen and switches the viewfinder on. Annoying.
Now, the shots….
I’ve been using Lightroom and they often come in looking so good, i really don’t know what else to do in terms of grading. I’ve been shooting RAW and going as high as ISO 3200. They’re pretty useable up to that range and the sensor seems to have a lot more DR than my E5. I haven’t done any empirical testing but it’s able to cope with high contrast scenes very nicely.
I haven’t used any of the art or scene modes. Mostly I actually shoot manual and it’s nice to see those there, but they aren’t my bag. I like simple.
I’ve been mainly leaving the IS switched ON, even though the purist in me worries about the sensor moving while I’m exposing my shot ! It does seem to do a magnificent job and I haven’t noticed any tradeoffs yet.
Even the video is quite good, but as usual, Olympus have crippled it by only offering 30 FPS. HELLO OLYMPUS..the rest of the world shoots 25 FPS and 24 FPS !!
Basically, I’m in love with this camera. It’s bringing me a lot of joy and what’s more, the fact that i’m carrying it with me everywhere means I’m shooting a lot more as well. The AF is fast, the little 45mm lens is super sweet and it’s allowing me to shoot in a way that I wasn’t able to before.
No it’s not a Leica M9 and maybe one day I’ll go there, but I really am enjoying this style of shooting.
Go to FLICKR for high res versions of these shots