Monday, 10 August 2015

First outing with the Olympus OMD EM5 Mk2

My brand spanking new OMD EM5 Mk2 (EM5 2 from now on) arrived late last week and I had a few days of digging into the (extensive) menu to set the camera up before taking it on its first outing.

You certainly do need a few days to familiarise yourself with the incredible amount of personalisation that this camera offers. It has five customisable buttons, and you can set them up to do just about anything you like. Add to this the fact that the two control wheels also do double-duty at the flick of a switch, and you have an impressive (or should that be intimidating?) number of buttons tool at your disposal. Many think that Olympus have gone overboard with the customisation available on the OMD cameras, and complain about the complex menu system. Yes it’s comprehensive. But it’s only there if you need it. Mostly, you can set it once and forget it forever. And it is great to know that if you don’t like the way a button works, chances are you can change it. Kudos to Olympus I say.

Olympus OMD EM5 Mk2 with 12-50mm. First Image
For myself, I’ve largely left the pre-configured function buttons alone – save for two crucial changes. I shoot in aperture priority mode for 99% of my photography, and by default, the EM5 2 has the front wheel change the exposure compensation and the back wheel change the aperture. To my way of working this is the wrong way around. I prefer to change the aperture with the front dial, and then use the rear to increase/decrease exposure compensation if needed. So guess what – I can change it! Yay.

The only other change I’ve made to the programmable function buttons it to change Fn2 (which is right next to the shutter button) from the default highlight/shadow control, to the ‘home’ setting for the autofocus. So now, if I’m moving the autofocus point around the screen to where I want to focus, I simply tap the function button next to the shutter to centre the focus point for my next composition. Excellent.

Other settings? I have auto ISO set within the 200 to 1600 range, single shot focusing (with face detection and nearest eye focusing also enabled for portraiture), RAW file format (more on that later), neutral colour mode, evaluative metering and auto white balance. That should now have the camera is set up for 90% of my shooting style. I have also turned the fully articulating rear lcd screen in towards the camera. This not only protects the lcd screen, but improves battery life (I presume) since the rear lcd is now turned off. This is the first time I’ve been able to shoot with a digital camera this way (all my other digital cameras have had fixed rear lcd screens) and I have to say I’m sold! This alone makes the EM5 2 an absolute joy to use.

So I would have to say that the one feature that I’m the most excited about on the EM5 2 is the electronic viewfinder. Which is crazy to me, since I’ve put off moving to an electronic viewfinder - in preference for an optical one - for such a long time. I was, in fact, probably an ‘optical’ snob! But now, having used the EM5 2’s EVF for just one afternoon, I can’t for the life of me figure out what my problem was?!

Ironically, using the EM5 2 with its retro design, is one of the most film-like shooting experiences I’ve ever had with a digital camera. And it’s all due to the EVF. With the rear lcd screen flipped inwards, the camera has a definite film look to it. When I put the viewfinder up to my eye I compose, set exposure and focus, check the live histogram in real-time, with visible shadow and highlight warnings on-screen, and take the shot. One shot. Nailed it. Move on. There’s no chimping. No checking of the rear lcd screen. No compose, shoot, check, change, recompose, shoot, check, change…. digital dance of a DLSR. That’s all gone now with the EM5 2. Now it’s just compose, check, change in real-time, and shoot. Done. How cool is that?

Art Filter - Grainy B&W Mode II
I loved my first outing with the EM5 2. Absolutely loved it. I didn’t get amazingly incredible images. But that wasn’t really what it was all about. This was a first date. And as such, it was just the OMD EM5 Mk2 and me, getting to know each other. Fortunately, it was a great first date (no, I’m not going to push this analogy much more), and I’m looking forward to many more.

Is everything perfect? Of course not. Is it ever? For a start, the camera is a ‘touch’ on the small side – even for someone like me with medium to small sized hands. But hey, that’s what the optional grip is for – right? In fact, the OMD EM5’s ability to accept an optional grip is one of its huge selling points for me. So physical handling gets a 7 out of 10 at the moment, although I fully expect that to go up to 9.5 when I get the grip in a few weeks.

And then there’s the RAW issue. I’m a RAW shooter. Always have been. So that’s what I’ve got the EM5 2 set up to shoot on. But – my version of Lightroom (Lr4) doesn’t support the EM5 2’s RAW files! I have to upgrade to Lr6! Aaarrgghhhh!!!!!! Not going to happen I’m afraid – not for quite a while anyway. So that leaves me with two options. First, use the supplied RAW conversion software that comes with the camera from Olympus. It’s basic, it’s slow, and it’s clunky. But it does get the job done. It ain’t no Lightroom though. And then there’s the second option (and here’s where many photographers start to sweat and tremble). I shoot jpegs and forget RAW for the time being.

With the EM5 2, this doesn’t fill me with the kind of dread it would if I was considering doing the same on a DLSR. The jpeg processing engine built into the Olympus cameras is said to be one of the best in the business (in the same league as Fuji and Pentax), so jpegs out of the camera look amazing. And the other confidence booster for shooting jpegs has to do with that EVF again. What you see is what you’re gonna get. So blown highlights or black shadows are visible in the viewfinder before you click the shutter. Fix it in the viewfinder before you take the shot and hey-presto, great jpegs straight out of the camera. Almost no post processing required. And my version of Lightroom will work perfectly with jpegs J  Plus, I now get twice as many images on a card. So, as my 15 year old daughter would say, “It’s all G”.

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