Monday, 11 July 2016

Short Shoot with Olympus EM-1

Recently I was asked by the marketing department where I work to do a photo shoot for promotional purposes. I was very excited to do so (and a little nervous since it’s been a while). I work for a Polytechnic, so the shoot was to revolve around student life and the images needed to be generic enough to be used for various marketing material.

The photography planets must have aligned that week, because at almost exactly the same time, my local camera shop offered me the chance to take away an Olympus OMD EM-1 with Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 Pro lens for an afternoon. It’s been sitting on their shelf for about a year now, and I gaze at it longingly every time I’m in the store, so I’m fairly sure they expected me to love it so much that I would buy it and not give it back!?  And it was close – so very close….

Unfortunately I can’t post any images from the actual photo shoot itself, since it was an ‘official’ job for my employer. So really, this is just going to be my impressions from using this set-up. I only had it for a few hours, but in those few hours I used the camera exclusively and intensely for a range of portrait and lifestyle images, with just the 12-40mm f2.8.

Yes, I know, I broke the cardinal rule in photography – never use new/unfamiliar gear for the first time on a ‘real’ shoot. But while the EM-1 was a new camera for me, it is also similar enough to my OMD EM-5 Mk2 that I wasn’t fumbling around looking for buttons or dials that would slow me down. No, it’s not exactly the same – but close enough. I did have a couple of hours with the EM-1 to set it up the way I wanted and to familiarise myself with its layout – which certainly helped. And the menu system is practically identical, which also helped. So using new gear straight away on a job doesn’t really phase me as much as it probably should :-)

What were my impressions of the EM-1? In a word – fantastic! I can certainly see why it’s the top of Olympus’ micro four thirds OMD line. Ergonomically I found it vastly superior to my EM-5 Mk2 – meaning that it fit my hand and balanced with the 12-40mm more comfortably, which is probably not surprising. In fact, going back to the EM-5 Mk2 after using the EM-1 was a bit disappointing, which was something I wasn’t really prepared for. In all honesty, the EM-5 Mk2 felt like a toy after using the EM-1 for the afternoon. It made me realise that the EM-5 could really use the grip attachment for better handling, even though I’ve resisted the temptation (and expense) so far.

In all other respects the EM-1 shoots similarly to the EM-5 Mk2 (and original EM-5 I’m sure). It’s quick to focus, has the same gorgeous EVF, same hi-res lcd screen (although it’s not fully articulated – something that I do prefer on the EM-5 Mk2), and produces the same 16MP files. In short, it was a joy to use and I’d have one in an instant – if I could afford one.

Alas, I had to hand the camera and lens back at the end of the day. And despite their best efforts, I didn’t put any money down on it. If I won lotto things would certainly be different. But until then, the OMD EM-5 Mk2 will (more than) suffice. I could possibly sell my EM-5 Mk2 and get enough for a second-hand EM-1 body. But there are pros and cons for both cameras. I really do prefer a fully articulated lcd screen – if for nothing else than to be able to reverse the screen into the body so as not to use the screen most of the time. That’s not possible with the EM-1, although the rumours are that the upcoming EM-1 Mk2 will have the fully articulated screen. So maybe I will hold off for the Mk2 version?

Finally, a quick word (or two) on the Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 Pro lens. It’s a superbly made lens, and the images that come from it are crisp and gorgeous – even at f2.8. Is it too heavy for a micro four thirds lens? Not really on the EM-1 – but possibly on the other OMD bodies? Especially naked (and by that I mean sans battery grips). The copy I used had a fairly stiff zoom ring – not as smooth as I would have liked, although I assume this would loosen up over time? And while the constant f2.8 aperture is nice to have, in the micro four thirds system this gives an equivalent depth of field as an f5.6 lens on a full frame SLR. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather have a constant f2.8 aperture than not – but when you effectively double it for the purposes of producing bokeh, then the f2.8 starts to be less impressive. That’s when the 45mm f1.8 comes into its own. All that being said, there’s no doubt the 12-40mm f2.8 Pro is an exceptional walk-around lens on the EM-1 body.

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