At the beginning of the learning curve : first impressions of the Olympus OM1D EM1 Mk2.

Above Penrhyncoch, Ceredigion. (1/60th @f11; ISO 200)

In November I wrote that I had taken the plunge and bought into the Olympus micro four-thirds system (see this post). I knew I was at the very beginning of a steep learning curve and I’m probably only a couple of steps further forward four months later! For one thing, while some photographers probably never get past the “testing” phase with their new kit, I seem to be allergic to doing so. I just want to get out and actually use my equipment for real. And secondly, the weather this winter has been almost unrelentingly dull, wet and windy; I just haven’t felt like getting out into the field in those conditions. My em1mk2 / 12 – 100 f4 zoom have been sitting in their bag, together with the Panasonic 100-400 mm zoom lens which I bought during the Black Friday sales for wildlife photography.

However I’ve taken advantage of a couple of short spells of better weather and come back with some decent results. So I feel like I’m making some progress. The top picture was a bit of a grab shot taken from the side of the mountain road a few miles above my house on a morning which just seemed tailor made for landscape photography: bright blue skies and patchy cloud above and below that valley fog drifting inland from the sea.  In fact, although I spent most of the day out with the camera this was the best shot of all, although  I had to crop and clone out the tops of some spindly conifers in the foreground. Later that day I went down to Aberystwyth and managed a few shots of kayakers at sunset. This was a real test for the ISO capabilities of the camera; don’t look too closely, though, because it wasn’t entirely successful…!

 

Aberystwyth sunset (1/60th @ f11; ISO 1600)

In November I had spent a couple of days with friend in north Wales. I spent a few hours among the derelict slate quarries near Nantlle. The following day – a rare sunny one – we headed over to Anglesey and spent a couple of hours around sunset on the west coast near Aberffraw where I was able to take advantage of the em1ii’s amazing image stabilisation capabilities. The picture below was hand-held at 0.6 seconds – and perfectly sharp. Another was equally sharp at 1.6 seconds!

Eglwys-yn-y-mor Sant Cwyfan – 0.6 secs @ f8. (ISO 100)(handheld)

Last week I had my first real opportunity to use the long zoom in earnest. I met up with some birding friends in Pembrokeshire and we headed off to Carew, in the south of the county, where two or three firecrests had been regularly seen over a period of a couple of months. Sure enough one was visible on and off for an hour or so, and what a little beauty it was! Firecrests have been described as ‘little jewels’ and I would certainly go along with that description. I watched it with binoculars at first and saw it raise and spread its stunning little orange crest at close range. Eventually I got the camera out of my bag, attached the Panasonic and managed to catch it as it rested briefly between spells of frantic activity.

Firecrest, Carew Cheriton. (1/1250@ f8 ISO 1250.)

What a stunning little creature! And I was very happy with the technical quality of the picture. While the em1ii / Panasonic 100-400 zoom combo is still pretty chunky it is about half the weight and size of my previous Canon 5d4 / Tamron 150- 600 set-up.  And despite the massive difference in sensor size, on the evidence of this picture, image quality is very similar. Bearing in mind the crop factor of the micro four-thirds format I can cover the entire range of focal lengths from 24 to 800mm with just the two lenses. The handful of outings I’ve had with my new kit this winter have persuaded me that it is worth persevering with the em1ii’s rather frightening manual and the online guide (442 pages long) by Tony Phillips which a fellow user directed me towards.

So watch this space for more pictures and roll on springtime!

 

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Downsizing (including……the trouble with Canon.)

Left : Canon 6d (with L-plate and 24 – 105 mm zoom); Right : Olympus EM1 Mk 2 with 12 – 100 zoom lens.

 

As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m not big on the technical aspects of photography. I’ve always felt that cameras were tools like any other and you learned to work with what you have. The number of equipment posts I’ve written could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand with several fingers missing. So this is an exception. 

You might be surprised to hear that I’ve been receiving my state pension for over a year now, and furthermore I’ve come to the realisation that my days as a  professional photographer are drawing to an end. Despite this I bought a Canon 5dmk4 last October and shortly afterwards sold my mk3. I’ve been a Canon user since going digital in 2006 and have dutifully upgraded my main body every few years. In recent years however it has become apparent how conservative new Canon models have become. That’s not to say that Canon make bad cameras; but there have been rumblings that Canon deliberately “cripple” new models to make sure the latest features only appear on their most expensive bodies. Even the 5d4 seemed to suffer this fate. Reviews suggested that even on introduction it lacked some features that its competitors already had. This was the complete opposite to Nikon, for example, who threw just about every piece of technical wizardry they could find into the d850, and I lusted after one of these for quite a while.

But back to the 5d4. It sat in my camera bag most of the time for the first six months of its life. When I did pick it up the battery was invariable completely flat, which I thought was a bit strange. Come the spring it became clear that the battery drained very rapidly, even when the camera was switched off. It went back for repairs under guarantee, but when it came back it was just as bad. At this point I contacted the technical people at Canon.

For the nth time I was told to make sure the Wifi was switched off. Of course it was. I confirmed that the battery charge drained from 100% to zero in ten days or less. This was getting frustrating. A Canon technician told me that the problem was definitely my batteries so I bought a new one. No change. Then the same guy told me that if I read the manual I would see that the battery should be removed from the camera if it was not likely to be used for an extended period.

Ten days! This was (originally) a £3000+ camera body and he was treating me like an idiot. I was furious. I decided to pull rank (not before time……) and contacted Canon Professional Services, of which I was a Gold member. They agreed to examine the camera for me, but could not repair it themselves because I had bought it from a grey importer ………. so the saga continued. Canon agreed that it was faulty so it came back to me and then back to the original engineers for repairs. It came back a few days later with the same fault. The retailer agreed at this point to send me a replacement.

And this is where down-sizing starts.

I had of course read about the new breed of mirrorless cameras, In fact I had owned a series of them – a Canon g10, Panasonic gx1 and gx7, and still have a Canon m5. Most were little used and I still find the DSLR experience far superior. But I couldn’t help reading the reviews – rave reviews at that – that some models were getting. An award-winning wildlife photographer – Petr Bambousek – is an Olympus em1 mk2 user, and I noted the stunning quality of his images. Another well-known bird photographer – David Tipling – uses Olympus om-d equipment. While on the Isle of Eigg in 2017 I met Dimitri Vasileiou, editor of the online “Landscape Photography” magazine who told me he was using an Olympus em5; in fact he had three of them in his bag, each with a different lens attached!

The Olympus “om-d” range of mirrorless cameras uses a micro 4/3rds sensor, approximately one quarter the size of the full-frame sensors I’m used to. The big advantage is that the cameras themselves and the lenses are much smaller. The disadvantage is that the pixels on the sensor are also much smaller and low light performance is limited. Battery life will be a problem, in comparison to my Canons (most of them, anyway). But bearing in mind that I am no longer fully dependent on my equipment for a living, I became very tempted to downsize. And I suddenly had a brand new, unused, and very saleable Canon 5d mk4 on my hands. So off it went, together with a couple of lenses, and in came an em1 mk2 and the Olympus Pro 12 -100 mm f4 zoom lens. In full frame terms that lens is the equivalent of two of my Canon lenses, the 24 – 105 mm and 70 – 200 mm zoom. If I get back into bird photography, the Panasonic 100 – 400 zoom will on my shopping list.

The photograph above gives some impression of the size difference between my remaining Canon kit (a 6D with 24-105 zoom), and the new Olympus combo. But bear in mind two things –

(a) the size difference is also apparent in the vertical dimension and

(b) for an accurate comparison I would have to include an 8 inch long 70-200 zoom lens (weighing about 800 grams) on the Canon side of the equation.

So there we have it. I took the em1.2 out for a trial on Sunday for the first time. Olympus is renowned for the complexity of its menu system and I spent about half an hour trying to work out how to switch the camera to auto-focus, without success. As a I scrolled and pressed and scrolled again a smiley face frequently appeared, apparently taunting me for my stupidity (but actually denoting a face recognition feature). On returning home and consulting the internet I discovered the autofocus control was a ring around the lens barrel. So I have a steep learning curve ahead of me. Wish me luck……..

 

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