Olympus OM-D E-M5 ... It is not the Best Camera, but it is good enough

Is the Olympus OM-D E-M5 good enough to be my camera system for personal / family photography?  

I have a Canon S100 point and shoot camera that I use when I need to be able to put my camera in my pant pocket, but the quality of the images, even at its base 80 ISO, just aren't that good.  My professional DSLRs, Nikon D4, Nikon D800E, and the Nikon D3S are the best cameras on the planet, but they are heavy and cumbersome when on vacation or when I'm taking a few photos for personal use at Christmas or birthday party.  

So I decided to test my OMD on the streets of Washington, DC.  I don't consider myself a "Street Photographer,", but I thought I would take my Olympus OM-D E-M5 out for a test drive.  So I took the Metro down to around the Tidal Basin where I thought the tourists, hoping to see the Cherry Blossoms, would be out in force.  The Cherry Blossoms are late this year because of the cold weather, so there weren't as many tourists as normal, but there still was quite a few.  I wasn't quite sure what I was going to take pictures of. The first thing you notice is the tourists are taking photos with iPhones, point and shoot camera, SLRs, and a surprising number of people using iPads as their primary camera.  Family members stand there all proud as they get their photo taken in front of the monuments. 

I started at the Jefferson Memorial and walked around to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.  I then walked over to the Washington Monument (which is being repaired) and then over to the White House. 

I used two lenses, the Panasonic 25MM F1.4, and the Panasonic 100MM-300MM.  I typically shoot with wide-angle lenses, but I wanted to change it up and shoot with a long telephoto lens.  The 100-300 becomes a 200-600 (35MM equivalent lens) on the OMD.  I found myself having to constantly back up vs. getting closer as I normally do with my wide-angle lenses.  I found the 100-300 to be surprisingly sharp.  I had one strange thing happen that I am not sure is a result of the lens or the OMD Sensor.  If you look at the columns of the Lincoln Memorial you can see how jagged they are.  I shot JPG + RAW and they were both the same (I was thinking maybe that Lightroom was having a problem decoding the RAW).  This was shot at about 188MM.

Other than that, the Olympus and my two Panasonic lenses performed well.  Almost all of the photographs were shot at the camera's base ISO of 200, so I didn't stress the low ISO capabilities of this camera, expect for a few shots in the Metro which were shot at ISO 4000.

The lightness of the Olympus OM-D is so nice.  I walked about four miles over a three hour period and the camera and lenses were barley noticeable.  So is the excellent image quality that comes from a DSLR like my Nikon D800E and the associated size and weight worth the bother for personal use vs. taking something like the Olympus OMD which is super light and convenient.  If I want to put the camera in my coat pocket (not pants) I can put my Panasonic 14MM F2.5 pancake lens on my OMD.  It is a bit bulky, but it fits.  Try that with a DSLR.  The lenses that are being developed by Panasonic and Olympus for the Micro Four Thirds platform is very impressive.  

THE VERDICT:  We are planning a family vacation to Seattle this summer.  There should be some great photo opportunities.  I have decided to take my OMD and leave the Nikon DSLRs at home.  It is funny that I don't even notice the weight and size of my Nikon D4 with lenses like the Nikon 70-200 F2.8 when I am on the job as a professional photographer, but when I am on vacation or taking photos for personal use, it makes a big difference.  Don't get me wrong, the OMD is no match for the Nikon D4 or D800E for image quality, autofocus speed and accuracy, and dynamic range, but for personal use it is close enough.  I am a big believer that as a professional photographer I should be using the best equipment money can buy to deliver to my clients the best quality images.  For personal use, I am the customer and I choose to compromise quality for convenience. 

 Cherry Blossom Photography Olympus OM-D OMD Review


Cherry Blossom Photography Olympus OM-D OMD Review


Cherry Blossom Photography Olympus OM-D OMD Review

 

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Nikon D4, Nikon WT-5A, ShutterSnitch, and the iPad ... Winner!!!

Many of my clients like to be able to see the results from a shoot real time, which is great by me because I can get real time feedback on the shoot.  I used to have to take my laptop and a long 25 foot USB cord to hook my camera to the laptop.  Between the cord and the laptop it was kind of clumsy.  I like to move around on a shoot and being tethered doesn't help.  I often shoot outside, and here again, the cord and laptop just got in the way and the laptop was hard to see in bright light without some kind of cover.

I read an article about an iPad app called ShutterSnitch that allowed a photographer to easily acquire images from his/her camera over WiFi.  Many photographers use the Eye-Fi card, but it only comes in SD format and my Nikon D4 doesn't support that.  You could use an SD to CF card adapter but I read about a lot of problems with weak signals and slow transmission.  Then there was the Nikon WT-5A Wireless Transmitter which is designed for use with the Nikon D4 D-SLR camera.  At $553 dollars at B&H it was a major investment vs. a $69 SD Eye-Fi card.  As I always tell my kids, when you GO CHEAP you PAY MORE. 

How many times have you bought something that was cheap and supposedly just as good as the best solution, only to have to deal with all the frustration and lost time, and at the end of the day you finally end up buying the best solution anyway.  And when I am with a client I don't want to be fumbling with unreliable equipment.

The WT-5A fits like a glove on my Nikon D4.  It was fairly easy to configure, and the connection to my iPad was fast and reliable.  The ShutterSnitch app is very intuitive.  It acquires the photos quickly, it allows you to rate and sort the files quickly.  Customers love to flick through all the photos and rate them real time.  

On a portrait shoot I use to put the proofs from the shoot on my website and have my client pick their favorites when they got back to their office.  Because the iPad is so easy to use and setup, I find myself using it on portrait shoots and I allow my client to pick their favorites before they leave and I can go right to retouching without the intermediate step of putting the proofs online.   This saves time, disk space, and my clients get their images faster.  The $553 for the Nikon WT-5A was money well spent!

 

Nikon D4, Nikon D3S, Nikon D800E, and the Olympus OM-D E-M5 in Action

I spent two days photographing the IDEA Personal Trainer Institute in Alexandria, VA.  I really enjoy shooting this event, but the lighting in the hotel meeting rooms is horrible. Some of the the sessions are presentations, but most of the sessions involve a large amount of movement and activity with trainers jumping, running, stretching, etc.

So here you are with poorly lit rooms and the need to stop action.  I get about 10 to 20 minutes per session and I have to move onto the next session.  There is no time to setup lighting, and in most cases there is no room to setup lighting and you can't risk a trainer tripping over a light stand.  About half the time I use my on camera flash with a CTO filter and bounce some light off the ceiling and walls to up the lighting about a stop in the room.  Most of the time I am shooting at ISO 3200 when I am using a flash in this manner, and if I don't use a flash I am between ISO 3200 and 12,800.

I brought four cameras: the Nikon D4, Nikon D3S, Nikon D800E, and the Olympus OM-D E-M5.  The D4 and D3S are the BEST low light camera on the planet and are my go to cameras to capture action in low light.  I have three prime lenses, the 24mm F1.4, the 50mm F1.4, and the 85mm F1.4.  I also use three zoom lenses, the 14-24mm F2.8, the 24-70mm F2.8, and the 70-200mm F2.8.  I wasn't sure how I would use the D800E. It has too many megapixels for what the client needs.  I take a few thousand photographs over these two days and I don't need a ton of 36MB files to process.  

I found myself using the Nikon D800E in DX crop mode with the Nikon 85mm F1.4 lens.  This gave me an effective 127mm lens at F1.4.  The D800E is about one stop less sensitive than the D3S or D4.  After a couple of days with a couple of heavy cameras around my neck, the D800E with an 85mm is a lot lighter than the D4 with my 70-200.  And the big benefits is that the DX RAW files are only 16mb vs 36mb.  The other thing I love about this combination is that the 51 focus points cover the entire frame.   I tend to put a focus point right on my subject's eye and this gives me the ability to frame my subject how I want and still have a focus point over the the eye. 

I also brought my Olympus OM-D EM-5 camera with three lenses: the Olympus 14 F2.5 pancake lens, the Panasonic 25mm F1.4 lens, and the Panasonic 100MM - 300MM lens.  I tried to use the Olympus for some of the low light, action situations but it wasn't up to it.  Because of the action I need great auto focus, though the Olympus is good, it can't focus like the Nikons when it comes to action photography.  I also need to be comfortable taking photos with an ISO of 3200 plus.  The Olympus is  a good two stops worse in low light than the Nikons.  I did find one thing that the Olympus did that the Nikons couldn't, I put the 100-300 on my Olympus which gave me an effective 200mm to 600mm range.  I found that the rooms in which there were just presentations were better lit, and little action (primarily just a speaker, and the attendees sitting at a table). I could pull out my Olympus with my effective 600MM lens I could get so close shooting from afar.  The other thing that was surprising is that when you marry the image stabilization of the Panasonic 100-300mm lens with the built-in images stabilization of the Olympus OM-D you can hand hold a 600mm lens at 1/125 with no problem.  

Here is a sample photo shot with my Olympus OM-D, 600mm, ISO 6400, 1/125, F5.6 - not bad considering:

 

I tried to take some action shots with the Olympus at ISO 6400 with no flash.  It was slightly underexposed and I got a very noisy image.

 

As expected, the Nikon D3S (and D4) were amazing in low light. The next image was shot at 1/250, with a Nikon 24mm F1.4 at F1.8 using ISO 6400, very clean!  

The next image was shot with a Nkon D4 at 1/250, with a Nikon 24-70mm F2.8 at F2.8 using ISO 9,000, very impressive!

And here is the Nikon D800E with my Nikon 85MM F1.4 shot at ISO 4000, F2.0, 1/320.  I shoot the Nikon D800E in DX crop mode, making my D800E about at 16MB camera vs the mega 36MB native full frame FX format.  It gives me better reach and a more usable file size.  Not as clean at the Nikon D4 or D3S, it is about a stop worse in terms of noise.  



FUJI X100 Review

I have had the Fuji X100 for about a month.  After reading about the image quality of this nostalgic looking camera, I had to see for myself if it was as good as advertised.  

The image quality is excellent, comparable to my Nikon D3S.  For doing street photography of static subjects the camera works great and is sufficiently responsive.  The X100 can sync a flash at 1/2000 of a second.  This is great when doing flash photography outside in bright sunlight.

Unfortunately, I have found a lot about this camera that make it difficult to use in many situations.  Here is my list of gripes:

  • I like to pick my focus point on my Nikon DSLR bodies.  I don't like to focus and recompose with the center focus point because that slight amount of movement can make a sharp eyelash a bit soft.  Selecting a new focus point on the X100 is very cumbersome, especially if you are using the optical viewfinder because the button you have to push to turn on the focus point selection is right next to your eye and hard to reach when looking through the viewfinder.
  • Manual focusing is useless.  It takes so many turns of the lens ring to move the focus that it becomes very tiresome.
  • The X100 has a macro capability but you have to push a button on the back of the camera and then toggle to macro mode to focus on subjects within two feet or so.  Why not just automatically switch to macro mode when the camera sees that you are trying to focus on something close by.  
  • There is a Command Button on the upper right side of the back of the camera.  The button is totally underutilized.  Why not push that button to go right into playback mode?
  • I shoot in RAW mode and it takes quite a long time to write to the SD card.  
  • The camera has a fixed 23mm lens (35mm equivelant).  There are times I wish the lens was a bit wider and a bit longer.  You can't complain about the lens quality, but when you just want to take one camera, having a fixed length lens can be limiting. 
  • All of the above problems make it very difficult to use this camera if you are trying to capture the moment. 
  • Video focusing is hit or miss.  The focus just seemed to wander everywhere.

Conclusion ... the image quality of a camera of this size is the best on the market and is the ONLY reason why I may keep the FUJI X100.  Fuji could do some things in micro code to fix many of the usability problems. They just came out with an update and made a few things better, but they still have a ways to go to where this camera is responsive enough to use to capture those priceless moments that will be lost while you are fiddling with the X100's controls.