Monday, July 30, 2012

Surf's Up: Hands on with the Olympus OM-D E-M5


You would think that living in Southern California during the summer, I wouldn't need much reason to head out to the beach and  enjoy all that it has to offer. The weather combined with the energy of the crowds can make for a great time outdoors, especially for the photographer. 

The reality is that I've not hit the shores, much less the water this season, which is why I was excited about an invitation from Olympus to use some their latest cameras during the Surf City competition in Huntington Beach. 

I had about three hours to go out shooting with the OM-D E-M5 as well as  the TG-1 iHS, their waterproof compact camera. So, this isn't an exhaustive and detailed review. That's something for another day if and when I can use the camera for a longer period of time. But for those curious about this model, I thought it would be interesting to share my experience with it and some of the images that I produced that day. 

Now, I have been a big fan of the Olympus Pen-series of camera, particularly the Olympus PEN EP-3, which is the first digital camera in my experience with fast enough autofocus to make it viable as a definitive street photography camera. The shutter lag/ focus delay in many cameras even the highest end DSLR made spontaneous and instantaneous street shooting a challenge, if not frustrating. So, when I heard that the the OM-D E-M5 had improved on that autofocus system, but in a design more in line with a DSLR, my curiosity was peaked. 
Within moments of getting the camera in my hand, I knew that the autofocus response that I had come to enjoy with the EP-3 was being delivered here. My ability to recognize the potential of a scene, compose my shot and make the photograph was not hampered in the least by the camera hunting for focus or even the slightest lag. I didn't have to slightly depress the shutter button halfway to detect focus before hand as I often have to do with many other cameras in order to ensure I capture that critical moment and produce a sharp, in-focus photograph. 

Unlike many of the current breed of mirror-less cameras, the OM-D E-M5 features an OLED viewfinder as well a LCD display. Now, I'm never been a fan of these, having a been so accustomed to a traditional optical viewfinder. But I have to admit, I really liked that image I saw looking through the viewfinder. It's as close to the "real thing" as anything I've seen thus far in the form of an EVF. 

After a short time getting familiar with the controls of the camera including how to toggle back and forth between the EVF and the LCD, I got to shooting, focusing on a variety of subject primarily the people that were enjoying the venues at the Surf City event. For me, it was opportunity to shoot street, but with a lot more sand and less clothing that I am usually accustomed to seeing on the streets of Los Angeles. 

The compact size of the camera particularly with the Olympus 12mm f/2 lens (24mm equivalent) made it a stealthy and compact alternative to the what now seems like a beast of a DSLR. This afforded me the ability to get in closer to my subject than I normally would feel comfortable when using a bigger camera, but which is especially important when using a wide angle. 

I found myself quickly winding through the crowds capturing the ever-changing scenes around me. Despite the high contrast lighting , the camera's metering handled exposure well, which was particularly important because I was recording jpegs rather than raw files to get a real sense of what this camera was capable of. 

The camera also delivered when it came to capturing action in the form of skateboarders doing acrobatics that made my body ache just watching it. It was also the right tool when it came time to make a portrait. In each shooting situation, I didn't find myself wanting for my DSLR with respect to certain features or controls. 



The camera features a set of art filters, which some people find gimmicky, but which I have come to really enjoy, particularly the Dramatic Tone filter which provides a grungy HDR look. But when I was shown that I  could now combine filters, I quickly discovered the Pinhole and the Dramatic Tone filter in combination produced some wonderfully unexpected results. 

You have to know that when it comes to Photoshop, I am not the kind of photographer who works on achieving this look using software. I'm often pretty conservative with the degree of image manipulation I use. So, the use of these filters allowed me the opportunity to play and experiment in a way that I don't think I'd ever consider in front of my computer. So, I actively shot with the Art Filter bracketing feature enabled which allowed me to not only capture my "straight" image, but also images that received the benefit of these special looks. 

Though I wish I'd had more time to spend the day shooting, I found that the OM-D E-M5 was a mirror-less camera that really delivered on the promise of a compact, stylish design that didn't sacrifice in terms of performance. Though I'm sure that a more exhaustive review might reveal some things that I might dislike, none such issues were immediately revealed to me as I was shooting and producing these images. 

When reading other reviews, there is such a focus on what feature or control a camera doesn't have in comparison to another and while I can understand the importance of that for certain types of photography or a photographer, I am primarily concerned with whether camera will allow me to make the kinds of images I'm striving to get. I'm pleased to say that not only did the OM-D E-M5 allow me to do that, but that the resulting images were shots that I was very pleased with. It certainly made my photography that morning very, very fun. 





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