alan frost photography

in monochrome with occasional colour lapses

Posts from the ‘Panasonic’ category

The Olympus OMD EM5…..a year on

It’s nearly a year since I decided to commit to the micro 4/3rds system as my principal camera and I went out and bought a black Olympus OMD EM5. All the reviews were very complimentary although at that time the camera was still in relatively short supply. I managed to track one down and a year on I have no regrets. To the contrary the camera, the lenses and the results have exceeded all my expectations.

Olympus OMD EM5 with Panasonic f1.7 20mm prime lens
Olympus OMD EM5 with Panasonic f1.7 20mm prime lens

I have never written a camera review in my life and I don’t want to start now, but it may be helpful to anyone who reads this entry to know why I have so much enjoyed using this system in the past 12 months.

Firstly it has to be the quality of the results. The 16mb sensor captures so much detail and A3 size prints are excellent. They helped me achieve my LRPS distinction back in December when they were viewed by a well qualified and experienced panel of judges; a seal of approval as far as I am concerned. I have yet to print larger than A3 but will be doing so in the near future, so watch this space. I do not use Auto ISO as I prefer to set this myself and  nearly always use ISO 200. I will push it to ISO 1600 if lighting conditions are poor or I need more depth of field and a faster shutter speed. The quality is still good but I have not used a higher ISO rating.  The fantastic built in 5 axis image stabilisation is worth at least two stops which helps to offset the need to resort to a high ISO anyway. A lower ISO of say 100 would be good but it’s not something I really miss that much.

Olympus OMD EM5
The camera, its great 16mb sensor and Part 1 of the HLD-6 hand grip

Secondly it has to be the range and quality of the lenses from both Olympus and Panasonic. I can only comment on the ones I have in my collection. Having committed to micro 4/3rds and the EM5 in particular, I have been fortunate in the last year to acquire a fine range of optics.

The camera was supplied with a kit lens – 12mm to 60mm f3.5 – f6.3 but I have to say I have hardly ever used it. It is splash and dust proof and does have a macro function but that is not my style of photography.  It came with the camera and if ever I sell or upgrade the EM5 then I assume it will help the sale. It’s a reasonable lens, so no real complaints but it’s no match for the lenses I am about to mention.

One of the main reasons I was drawn to the system was the choice of excellent prime lenses. I now have the Olympus 12mm f2.0, the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 and the Olympus 45mm f1.8. They are all great lenses. They are very sharp, fast to auto focus and with their large aperture openings can be used in low light conditions without having to increase the ISO to a very high setting. They are lightweight and keep the camera and lens combination quite compact. I still can’t decide if I like the silver finish of the Olympus lenses on the black body? It is of course down to personal preference – they do look smart, but they are not so discreet for candid work.

Micro 4/3rds prime lenses
A set of prime lenses
From left to right – Olympus f2 12mm, Panasonic f1.7 20mm and Olympus f1.8 45mm

As much as I enjoyed using all three prime lenses, the 45mm probably being my favourite, I did find there were occasions when a zoom lens would be more flexible in general use. So when Panasonic announced the addition  of the 12mm – 35mm f2.8 and the 35mm – 100mm f2.8 to their range, the temptation was too hard to resist. It was made particularly more difficult when I spotted a second hand (as good as new) 12 -35 in my local camera store at a really attractive price, certainly when compared to the cost of a new one. These two lenses are quite superb in my view. To my untrained eyes they are a match in terms of optical quality to the prime lenses, are just as fast to autofocus and whilst f2.8 may not as wide as the primes, it’s plenty wide enough for most situations. They are splash and dust proof and whilst they do add to the bulk of the camera they sit well on the EM5. Compared to their full frame equivalents they are tiny in both bulk and weight. Do read this blog entry for a comparison.

Panasonic and Olympus micro 4/3rds zoom lenses
Zoom lenses for Micro 4/3rds cameras
From left to right
Olympus 12-60 kit lens, Panasonic f2.8 12-35mm and Panasonic f2.8 35-100mm

Lastly I have the Panasonic 45mm – 200mm lens which I bought second hand from a fellow member of my camera club. The two Panasonic lenses mentioned in the previous paragraph were not available when I bought this lens and frankly it doesn’t get a great deal of use. I rarely have a need for the extra length, but there will be times when the additional range will be useful, so I will keep it for now. It doesn’t share the image quality of the other lenses but it’s still very good, it’s just that the others are superb.

Thirdly the size, weight and feel of the camera is just right. This will not be the same for everyone and there are times when the small size of the buttons can be a nuisance, but I would rather have a relatively compact and lightweight system and just accept there will be times when I hit the wrong button. I can’t recall ever missing a shot as a result and I am sure there are seasoned DSLR users who will have used the wrong control unintentionally. Once you have explored all the camera settings the EM5 is very configurable and I now have it set up just as I like it. It does take a little time but it is worth the investment and a little trial and error.The tilt-able screen is a real bonus and the built in electronic view finder (EVF) is very clear.

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The tilt-able screen and some of the controls on the rear of the EM5

As far as accessories are concerned I have not used the detachable flash as I prefer to shoot in available light. I do though have the two part grip (HLD-6) and the first part stays on the camera 90% of the time. There is no question that it improves handling of the camera without adding too much extra weight or bulk. The second part of the grip houses the spare battery and provides extra controls for ‘portrait’ use. I don’t use it a great deal but when it is required it’s an excellent accessory. The spare battery on the other hand is essential, as the battery life is not that great compared to say the Nikon D90 DSLR which was my previous camera.

Olympus OMD EM5 with HLD 6 Hand grip
OMD EM5 with both parts of the HLD – 6 hand grip

Lastly I no longer need a large rucksack to carry all my gear, so I now have a Billingham Hadley shoulder bag which takes all I require for a days shoot, apart from a tripod of course. It’s a pleasure to use and I can happily fit the EM5, two part grip, both f2.8 Panasonic lenses and 2 or even all 3 prime lenses in the bag plus other bits and pieces, including an iPad.

Billingham Hadley shoulder bag and Olympus OMD EM5
Billingham Hadley Pro shoulder bag

Another big advantage is that I used to spend a lot of time reading reviews about the latest equipment. I am pleased to say this does not happen now, which frees up more of my time to take photographs and adding new entries to this blog – both of which give me far more pleasure!

I suppose the only draw back is the price. I do not dare to calculate the total cost but like most things in life you get what you pay for. My late father also told me to buy the best you can afford at the time. I am very fortunate and have been able to follow his advice and invest in a first class system, which is really enjoyable to use.

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A walk from East Lavant to The Trundle

It was such a beautiful morning on Sunday that I decided to take a circular walk from the West Sussex village of East Lavant to the Trundle at Goodwood and then return to the village via Chalk Pit Lane. Whilst I did not go out specifically for photography, I fully expected to stop and take one or two images in the lovely downland countryside to the north of Chichester.

I wanted to ‘travel light’ so I simply took the Olympus EM5 and two Panasonic zoom lenses – the 12-35mm and the 35-100mm, both of which have a constant f2.8 aperture. Packed away in my Billingham Hadley bag with a bottle of water and an OS Map (just in case), I had everything I would need to enjoy the walk.

The only other essential was my iPhone; not so that I could make or receive calls or emails but to use an App called Walkmeter. This great exercise App would plot my route on a map, tell me how far I had walked, my pace and also ascent and decent distances. Yes, I admit to liking gadgets but this particular App is going to be an important tool in the weeks and months ahead, as I have decided to walk the length of the South Downs Way later in the year. The Way is approximately 100 miles long, and walking West to East, it starts in Winchester and finishes in Eastbourne. Whilst I enjoy walking I don’t consider myself to be that fit, so expect some more blog entries in the future about walking in the South Downs National Park coupled with photographs of my travels. It should be fun!

Hayes Down looking West
Looking west from Hayes Down
Hayes Down post
An old post alongside the footpath which runs across Hayes Down
between the River Lavant to The Trundle
Chalk Pit Lane
A chalk path leading to The Trundle from East Lavant – aptly named Chalk Pit Lane
Hayes Down from Chalk Pit Lane
A view over fields from Chalk Pit Lane 
Church of St Mary East Lavant
The Church of St Mary in East Lavant, close to the start of the walk.

For the record this circular walk is 4.75 miles long and in actual walking time it took about one hour and thirty five minutes. In reality it took quite a bit longer as I did stop from time to time to take some photographs!

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Losing weight with the Olympus OMD EM5

A few weeks ago I made the decision not to invest in a full frame DSLR and associated lenses and to stick with my Olympus OMD (which I love) and various Olympus prime lenses or fast Panasonic zoom lenses.

I don’t need to justify my decision but for a bit of fun I thought I would make one comparison  between the two systems – and that’s one of weight. Many will argue that I am comparing apples with pears and I will be the first to agree that both sets of camera gear have their pros and cons. However the weight of any set up has to be taken into consideration if you intend carrying your equipment any distance or for long periods of time.

It’s not very often that I need to use the kitchen scales(!) but out they came…. and now for the results –

Losing weight with the Olympus OMD EM5

The Olympus OMD EM5 with two part battery grip plus Panasonic 12 – 35 and 35 – 100 lenses with constant f2.8 aperture = 1,440g

….and for the full frame equivalent.

Canon 5D MKIII, with battery grip and 24 – 70 and 70 – 200 f2.8 L lenses = 3,555g

So the Canon system is very nearly 2.5x heavier, not to mention bulkier, and far more expensive.

Both sets of lenses cover the same focal length and  are weather sealed. Yes, I know the Canon set up will produce bigger files and therefore give better results, but for my needs and in real world use I’ll save my back and my bank balance thank you! :o)

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Full frame or not full frame?

The new year is now well and truly with us and as I have already looked back on 2012, its now time to look forward to 2013 and make some decisions and plans about what I would like to try and do and achieve in the next twelve months. I will elaborate on my future objectives in another post but for now I want to write about my choice of camera equipment.

As far ‘camera gear’ is concerned the first decision to make is whether or not to go full frame. This has been playing on my mind for some time, really ever since some very capable full frame DSLRs came to the market superseding older models. Last year Nikon introduced two new full frame cameras, the D800 (and 800E) and the D600. Whilst Canon upgraded their 5D Mark II and introduced the 5D Mark III, as well as releasing the 6D. Since their launch the prices have started to fall, so I know I made the right choice not to do anything the day they first hit the streets. Besides it was only back in the Spring when my high regard for the Olympus Micro 4/3rds system became a reality and I bought the E-PL3, shortly to be followed by the Olympus OMD EM5. For me both cameras, but particularly the EM5, produce great results and given that I do not want to print larger than A3 or possibly A2, why would I need a full frame camera and all that extra weight, not to mention the added expense? Providing you couple the best lenses for the Micro 4/3rds system with the EM5, then for a humble amateur who only shoots for pleasure and not for profit, I am very happy. I ought to add that there are some stunningly good lenses for this system and I am confident that more will be released by both Olympus and Panasonic in the future.

On the subject of new lenses, Panasonic did release two new zoom lenses during 2012, both aimed at the top end of the Micro 4/3rds market. The 12 – 35 f2.8 and the 35 – 100 f2.8. Both are beautifully constructed, dust and splash proof and replicate their ‘classic’ full frame equivalents of 24 -70 and 70 – 200 with a wide aperture opening of f2.8. Whilst prime lenses are fast, small and very sharp they do require the user to switch lenses on a regular basis to achieve the required focal length. This is fine when you have time on your hands, but a fast zoom lens covering the range of focal lengths offered by these two lenses can’t be beaten in certain photographic situations. Yes, the kit lenses are good but they are nothing like as sharp nor as fast. Unfortunately both these lenses come at a price.

20130113-P1131392.jpg
The 12 -35 lens with lens hood attached
20130113-P1131387.jpg
Mounted on the Olympus OMD EM5

Fortuitously luck was at hand when I spotted the Panasonic12 -35 lens in the window of my local camera store. I don’t know if it was an unwanted Christmas gift or being sold for some other reason, but it was virtually brand new, and the price heavily discounted compared with the cost of a new one. I took a few test shots outside the shop using my EM5, negotiated down the price a little more, traded in a Nikkor lens that I no longer wanted and the rest is history.

20130113-P1130001.jpg
Panasonic 12 – 35 lens compared to Olympus 12 -50 kit lens

First impressions – well its a great lens, much faster and nicer to use than the 12 -50 kit lens, plus it is much sharper across the whole range of focal lengths.. It does suffer from chromatic aberration at 12mm (but I have read this is fairly typical of any zoom lens). With one click in Lightroom it can be removed and as I shoot mainly in black and white its really not an issue. I can’t wait to get out and about in the weeks to come and put it to the test.

Of course this purchase has finally put the final nail in the coffin as to whether or not to go full frame. I couldn’t wish for a better selection of lenses for my Olympus Micro 4/3rds system. The quality of the results is now down to me taking good pictures, good post processing and not down to the equipment I use. Great images have been taken on old, inexpensive cameras  and I realise how fortunate I am to have what is in my camera bag. So full frame is off the agenda, at least until I win the lottery or I turn professional, neither of which are very likely! So I’m off to take some photographs with my fantastic, lightweight, Micro 4/3rds system which is a joy to use.

Happy New Year!

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