When I bought my Olympus Pen-F, there was a thought dancing around in the back of my mind. A thought born from a couple of busy wedding seasons, and a heck of a lot of Sundays feeling worse for wear. What about using Olympus for some weddings.
The thought was getting stopped pretty quickly, as I really do love shooting my D850 and Nikon kit at weddings, its just so solid and reliable, and provides me with more than enough performance. But, a few things started to intrude on the pleasure. I powered through the 2017/18 wedding season pretty well, despite it being extremely hectic. But most Sundays would be characterised by some nurofen and taking it a little bit slow to let my body recover from lugging 20kg of cameras around all day. But, I soldiered on. Then I had a health issue last year, one that took a toll on my fitness, and made the 2018/19 season much harder work. Even running a roller bag and trying almost every way of carrying my cameras, left me with a very sore back and stiff shoulders (especially my right, which I did some significant damage to at 19 playing Rugby). This year the impact was more frustrating, as I had discovered archery, and club shoots are a Sunday afternoon… but the pain in my right shoulder meant that I couldn’t draw a bow for a couple of days after each wedding. Coupled with my ongoing health issue, it meant nothing stronger than panadol to manage the post wedding soreness (no ibuprofen) and made getting to the gym and doing rehab almost impossible. I was just able to do my work, and that was about it. In fact, for many weddings, I decided to bring a second shooter/assistant, even when I normally wouldn’t have, just to help carry the load and save me some pain. My sudden weakness sent me a message. If I want longevity in this game, I need to make some changes.
Over the last 1/2 dozen weddings of the season, I began to formulate a plan, and when I got the Pen-F, that plan started to gain some momentum. I decided that for about half of my weddings, the all day, 2 photographer gigs, I would keep doing things the same way, and use my second shooter, assistant and a roller bag to help with the load, and keep lugging my beloved Nikons around. But then theres the other 1/2 of my weddings. short coverage, intimate weddings and elopements, where my focus is more photojournalistic and less formal, and I really don’t want to carry heavy gear solo. My mind went back to how I worked with my Fujis. and I decided to look at some lightweight options for the days I run solo, and am working more documentary style. A kit that I could fit entirely in my Think Tank Signature 13 (check out this post for a better idea of what that entails)- I wanted to have 2 bodies, 4 lenses, batteries, cards, odds and ends, snacks and maybe a flash… As with my choice of camera for personal work, I decided to look into the Olympus OMD EM1 mkii. I made a couple of enquiries to see if I could get a contact at Olympus to talk to. I spoke to a couple of Olympus shooters I knew, and some retail guys I am friends with and one of them put me in touch with one of the Professional Photography Managers at Olympus, who offered to send me some equipment to test out. At this point part of me was still wondering about grabbing a couple of Fujis, but there were some hesitations there.. once bitten, twice shy.
Now the other obvious option would have been the Nikon Z series, but I had already decided that if I picked up some mirrorless for a lightweight kit, I wanted as small as possible, not just slightly smaller.
So a few days later, this box arrived at my door.
Opening the box I was greeted with this:
Olympus OMD EM-1ii with grip
M.Zuiko 7-14 2.8 Pro
M.Zuiko 12-40 2.8 Pro
M.Zuiko 40-150 2.8 Pro
M. Zuiko 1.4x Teleconverter
M.Zuiko 25 1.2 Pro
And the Operation guide for Nikon Users.
So, of these pieces of kit, what Interested me the most was the camera (not so much the grip), and the 25 1.2. I was also curious about the 40-150 +TC, as lets face it, 80-300 is a decent range, let alone with the TC pushing it to 420mm in a lens smaller than my 24-70.
But most of all, I really wanted to get a feel for the camera, especially paired with the 25 1.2, because, as mentioned in another post, I really prefer primes. I figured that as this would be my secondary kit, as long as I still have my Nikons and zooms, I probably would rush out and buy any zooms for this kit… it would kind of defeat the purpose, and not really fit how I wanted to work with it. I wanted small and capable, and well, tight kit is definitely small, I just need to see for myself how capable it is.
Straight off, the EM1 with the 25 1.2 was ticking the boxes. The performance was nothing short of mind blowing, with 18 fps in burst mode, lighting fast and accurate AF, and as well as the creative modes mentioned in my Pen- F overview (Live time and Live Comp), it had a mode called Pro-Capture mode. This for a wedding photographer is a serious little option. The moment you half press the shutter button, it starts recording frames via its electronic shutter. It buffers the (up to) 35 most recent frames until you fully fire the shutter, and then retains them.. imagine if your timing was slightly off during the first kiss, or some other important moment of the day… you miss it by a fraction of a second, but no stress, the camera has your back. Now there are limitations on shutter speed, aperture and flash usage with this, but its still something I can see myself using.
There are lots of things this camera does that I am excited about. The 5 stop IBIS, that I have already tested out to 2 second hand held exposures, but I’m sure there are ways to push that further. The Hi res mode (for static images) to create monster sized files using the pixel shift technology…
I was curious about the “fast” primes. I have the 17, 25 and 45 1.8s for my penF, and they are great little lenses, but not razor sharp open wide, and you don’t get that wafer thing DoF that a Canon 50 1.2 will give you on a full frame camera. But, what I discovered (and had been told) was that the 25 1.2 would be sharp wide open at f1.2. And it was. Tack sharp. Yes the DoF isn’t what you would get with that fast prime on a Full Frame, but its still light up there. No complaints here!
On to the zooms. Well, for a start, they are all really really small for what they are. And they are all really nice and live up to the “pro” branding. Would I buy them? Maybe. If I jump into Olympus as my lightweight kit, the zooms are my priority, but I can see the 40-150 being something I would add, and if I for some reason decided to go all in, yes, I would add the other zooms, because well, any pro kit needs that flexibility.
Things that have initially stood out for me are:
Size- especially with a prime, its a small camera, and weights almost nothing.
Battery life- The Bain of a fuji owner, changing batteries as often as a 1990’s photographer changed film… I used to take 8-12 batteries with me to every wedding… I have charged the batteries once in the last 2 weeks of daily useage.
Customizablity… is that a word? .. but if it is, then the EM1 is it.. I have configured this thing for exactly how I like to shoot and it feels intuitive and automatic. The gear should never get in the way. And this doesn’t.
Inbuilt technology. IBIS, Live Comp, Live Time, Hi Res mode, Pro Capture mode, incredible AF, ludicrous frame rate for burst mode… the capabilities that Olympus have stuffed into this are fantastic, and even though some might call them gimmicks, I have already found ways that they can help me get the job done better, and the results I want “in-camera”
The 40-150…. So I don’t like zooms really, but I can see this being a vital piece of kit… IQ is stunning, and the 80-300 equivalent length for wedding ceremonies is a bit of a special thing… and to have the 1.4tc to bump that up even more?? And in such a compact unit!
Build quality. Across the board, everything from the lenses to the body are so exceptionally built, nothing about them feels cheap. In fact, Nikon et al should take a look at the lens caps and hoods. Thats what professional quality is people! There is no doubt that Olympus is serious about proving their gear is totally up to spec for professional use.
I’m, just on 2 weeks in to my 4 week play with this kit, and well, I am definitely enjoying it. I’m doing a few studio shoots over the next week or so, and taking a road trip, so I will be giving it a full and thorough test, side by side with my existing kit, to see where it holds its own, falls behind, or stands above. I will probably throw some specific examples and posts together as I go, so stay tuned for the ongoing story. Do I think I will invest more in some Olympus Gear? At this stage, its a pretty safe bet that I will end up with a body or two, and the three pro primes art least by the time Summer hits… Do I see my Nikons leaving? Not at this stage. I see no reason to change completely. I am brand agnostic, and firmly believe in having the right tool for the job. For me at the moment, at times the right tool has Nikon on it, at others, I can see an Olympus fitting better… we will see…
One quick added note:
Again, this isn’t about me changing my kit, its about adding a lightweight option. Do what I do week in week out, and eventually you realise that sometimes , a small kit would be handy. And as far as brands are concerned, I really don’t care. I have said it before and I will say it again. I’m brand agnostic. Its the right tool for the job, for that particular photographer. I don’t care about the Canon vs Nikon debate. I don’t care about Fuji vs Sony vs Olympus. I don’t care for GFX vs X1D vs Phase One vs Pentax 645z… thats all for people who are more fixated on a tribal sense of belonging than getting the job done. If I was purely a studio photographer I would be looking at something stating with H. If I was purely a Landscape or commercial photographer, there would probably be a Phase 1 on my shopping list. If I shot sports professionally It would most likely be a Canon 1dxii. Yes, I have swapped and changed gear a bit, but to criticise that shows short sightedness and shows that person is gear focussed. I really don’t care about how often I change gear, as long as it suits how I am working at the time. Ive had projects that were best served by using a Mamiya RZ, and I’ve had projects better suited to a Fuji X100s. I’ll buy a different camera tomorrow if its better suited to the way I am working that the ones I have today. I don’t swap brands because I don’t care about brands. Im not wearing anyones brand on my polo shirt, I’m not chasing any ambassadorships. I will always just use what tool suits me at the time. At the moment, for some of my work that is my Nikon D850, for my personal shooting its the PenF and for quick elopements and low key weddings, it could very well be the OMD EM1… or maybe something else…