From DSLR to Micro Four-Thirds (Part 2)

by Tom Nguyen in ,

In Part 1 of this blog entry, I had mentioned that I began my foray into mirrorless cameras with the Olympus E-PM1.  I picked it up (with kit lens) refurbished for cheap, so that if I didn't like the camera, then it wouldn't be too much of a hit to my finances.  The funny thing is, about 6 months prior I had recommended this camera to my friend Alexis (who became one of my 2 trusty photography assistants during photoshoots) because she wanted to step up from point-n-shoot territory, and didn't need anything too complicated while she was learning manual controls.  Funny how things work out as I also ended up getting the same thing.

While juggling art and photo deadlines, Alexis and I would go out to play with our "toy"  E-PM1s in the outdoors, trying to learn its capabilities.   

E-PM1 + 14-42mm kit lens.  Minneapolis, MN 2012.

E-PM1 + Panasonic 20mm/1.7 lens.  This one was taken in San DIego, California 2012.

The little Olympus even worked well for my bikini shoots.  E-PM1 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7.  

Key light: speedlight in shoot-through umbrella, camera left.  Hair light: Honl-gridded speedlight straight above. 

More and more I wanted to take the little camera with me everywhere and shoot with it. And I did.  Still, it was relegated for mostly "fun" status while my Canons still were used in client shoots where it didn't matter whether I had a big camera (in fact, it's almost to your advantage to have a big looking camera to clients' naive perceptions).  Moreover, I got very familiar with certain settings on my Canons, what output I could expect, and exactly what I could get away with during post-processing.  

A few months later, in late 2012, I came across a Panasonic G3 body at a good price.  Not wanting to shell out a huge chunk of money for the raved-about Olympus OMD-EM5, and wanting an upgrade in performance to my E-PM1, I opted to give the G3 a shot as my second micro four-thirds body despite it being slightly larger than the E-PM1.  I enjoyed the higher megapixels and slight boost in noise performance compared to the E-PM1's aging sensor.  Plus, it had built-in flash (I almost never use this, but it's there just in case) and built-in viewfinder.  Best of all, it had the flip-out, swivel screen which had touch-to-focus/shutter release.  Having a screen like this is awesome for conspicuous street shooting, or whenever you want to slyly capture a more candid matter where it may be happening in relation to you!  Plus, I can imagine that its flexibility would be awesome to those who like to shoot video.


My once-beloved Panasonic G3.

My once-beloved Panasonic G3.

The G3 wasn't without its faults; what bugged me about the G3: 
-The faux-DSLR shape to it (I prefer more of a rangefinder shape for my personal shooting)
-The viewfinder has 2 niggles: 1) it protrudes backwards quite a bit, making it hard to fit in a pocket unless you have huge pockets, and 2) you have to look into the viewfinder square-on in order for the image to be crisp and clear. Shift your eye a few millimeters and the viewfinder image is blurry.  It's not something I've been able to correct via diopter or otherwise.  I have been reading similar cases with Panasonic's GH3 cameras.
-The flip-out lcd's touch-screen capability was of the pressure-sensitive variety, as opposed to capacitative (like smart phones).
-1/160th second max flash sync speed 
-For some stupid reason, the view you get on the screen isn't "live-view" as you adjust the aperture/shutter/ISO settings for exposure.  Instead, you have to enable/press what they call the "Shutter Effect" button to get a choppy preview as a workaround.  Coming from the Canons, I shouldn't care/bitch about this too much, but I've been spoiled by Olympus's excellent implementation of live "pre-chimping."

I should probably tell you that during these months, I have had a love/hate (more hate) relationship with my Canon 7D.  Either I had the worst copy of the 7D in the world, or I must be the dumbest camera operator in the world.  Seeing as how I've been doing this for years, and the feeling that it really shouldn't be hard for someone of my experience to take a basic photo with the 7D, I'm gonna blame it on the camera.   


You're  fired , 7D!

You're fired, 7D!

The 7D had visible noise at base ISO, and kept giving me soft images and some focusing problems among other things.  Never before have I had to fight RAW files so much just to get a semblance to what I was after in the images.

So I made the decision to sell my backup camera and the Panasonic G3 to fund what I've always felt was the camera for me: the Olympus OMD-EM5.  I had molested it a couple times at my local National Camera Exchange store, and it felt good in my hands.   

Selling my 7D and G3 would mean that I wouldn't have a real backup to my paid gigs for at least a couple weeks. Sure I could use the E-PM1 in case my 5D crapped out, but I didn't quite have the lenses I wanted.  My OMD would become the new backup to my 5D. 

When I finally got the funds and bought the OMD, I immediately took it out for many image-quality and focus tests to study.  On top of the familiar Olympus output and menu system, I couldn't believe what I was seeing: it smoked my 7D in almost every image quality aspect I cared about.  Sure, it didn't have 7D's video output (I don't do much video), nor did it have the 7D's focus tracking ability (I don't really shoot sports or fast movement).  But its noise performance, focusing with face/eye!  Plus it was weather-sealed and had a tilting screen for those odd-angle moments.  I was able to push and pull RAW files much better than my E-PM1's old sensor, and the dynamic range was fantastic for this small sensor thanks to Sony technology.

The real trump card, however, was the OMD's revolutionary 5-axis image stabilization. I have been able to take hand-held images at one second shutter speed!   No current stills camera body, other than the recently-announced Olympus E-P5, has this technology. 


1.6 seconds  handheld shutter speed  with the OMD, a personal record for an acceptably sharp image.

1.6 seconds handheld shutter speed with the OMD, a personal record for an acceptably sharp image.

Here's me gushing about the OMD in the MachoCave TV video interview below around the 10:00 mark...please don't mind the beautiful lingerie model Rachelle:

By early this year, I knew the old 5D's days were numbered.  No longer did I care about  upgrading to the newer 5D Mark III; having the OMD made me want to take pictures more than any other camera I ever had.  I finally sold my 5D and my Canon glass, and got myself a weather-sealed battery grip for the OMD--a genius option for when I needed extra juice, shoot a lot in the portrait orientation, or just simply needed the camera to look bigger to clients.  I was also able to complete my lens setup from the funds made from the sale.  I also sold my E-PM1 and upgraded that to the E-PL5, which has the exact sensor as the OMD, but without the built-in viewfinder or weathersealing (it would become my back-up and "pocket" camera--with a kickass sensor!).  

My current rig.  A decent setup, but please don't think I'm rich. :(

Lenses from left to right: P12-35mm/2.8, P14mm/2.5, P20mm/1.7, PL25mm/1.4, O45mm/1.8, O60mm/2.8, O75mm/1.8, P45-200mm, P100-300mm.

OMD and E-PL5 hanging out in the back.  Cheap Ikea light on right. 

Mind you, I made the complete switch while I was still actively shooting gigs for the local modeling agency and whatnot.  So I just had to get over Hump #1: breaking in the new brand into my shoots and try not to sweat the workflow.  Over the next couple months to the end of my tenure with the agency, I shot exclusively with the Olympus setup and have gotten to know its nuances better and better with each shoot.  I'm now 100% comfortable with shooting with this new rig, and it's never been more fun to be able to take my same professional camera out to social gatherings or to the streets and not feel awkward or out of place.   Only once did a client mention something about its size ("Wow, that's a pretty small camera...").  If you're a micro four-thirds (or any compact system camera) user, then I suggest to say something along the lines of what I have said:

"You know how things like laptop computers and cell phones have generally become smaller, thinner, and lighter, yet they keep getting more powerful?  Well, that's the same with cameras nowadays!"

Which isn't far from the truth, really.  Even Canon and Nikon have their own smaller full-frame cameras now, and don't even get me started on Sony's mirrorless full frame RX-1!!! 

OMD + Panasonic 12-35mm/2.8 lens. 
Key light: Photek Softlighter camera right, silver reflector for fill camera left.  Strobes each side aimed at back for white seamless.

Model: Michelle Schroeder
Hair/makeup: Shayla Garner. 

So above I mentioned Hump #1.  What's Hump #2 then?  It was traveling with the smaller gear, without having to rely on the old 5D for serious shooting like I had in the past.  I knew it was all in my head; the ultimate test was this year's trip to Vietnam--my second overall.  As mentioned last blog, last year's trip was all Canon; this year, it was all Olympus (with some Panasonic lenses, of course).  How did it go?  Well, the results are in my Vietnam 2013 gallery here on my site.  I'd say it passed with flying (Oly) colors!

Just snoozing on the job.  OMD + 45mm/1.8 lens in Nha Trang, Vietnam.

Since I made the full switch, I have done about a couple dozen shoots (not including personal/street) with the small rig.   Slowly over time, I'll be showing some of the results here as I mosey my way through the batches and retouch them (if needed).  All in all, I"m very happy with my switch.  This blog isn't about how one system is better than another (although there's no denying that certain features/performance of a given camera can be better than another camera's); for my current needs and interests, micro 4/3rds works.  Besides, on some photos there's so much retouching that you wouldn't be able to tell which camera took what anyways.  ;)  

In the end, I don't need to tell you that as an artist, the camera does not really matter--it's just a means to an end.  Subject matter, composition, and ligthing first.  Hell, I've sold sketches on napkins and notebook paper with a Bic pen; I certainly didn't need expensive brushes and illustration board to create something sellable.  This blog is about what currently works for me.  And that means great quality in a tiny package.

That is, until greater quality in an even smaller package tempts me.  :)