Why I switched to the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
I did it. I said goodbye to Nikon. I switched to Olympus. That’s right — micro four-thirds and I couldn’t be happier. My only disappointment is that I didn’t do it much sooner.
My Camera History
I purchased my first Nikon camera — used in 1975 and I’ve shot with Nikon cameras for my entire professional career except for a brief stint a few years ago when I gave Sony a try, but quickly realized I wasn’t comfortable with the company or their gear and went back to my trusty Nikon’s.
I’ve stuck with Nikon through thick and thin. My first – The workhorse Nikon F. I went digital in 1999 with the groundbreaking Nikon D1 for a mere $5,000 per body and an output of a whopping 2.7 megapixels. BTW – here is a shot done with the Nikon D1 and an early 70-200mm f/2.8 Nikkor lens. During those early digital years, I upgraded to a D1X in 2001 with all 5.6 megapixels and then in late 2004 the D2X with a price drop to three thousand dollars and an incredible 12 megapixels. Along the way I used the D200 and the D300 which are APS-C cameras with 10 and 12 megapixels and then moved on to the D700 and D800 and my last two Nikons, the full frame D810 at 36 megapixels with a $3,300 price tag for the body and a D500 APS-C body with 20 megapixels for $2,000.
As a loyal Nikon user, I survived the early two thousands and Nikon’s second generation digital cameras while Canon just ran right by Nikon with better glass and better cameras. I stayed loyal to Nikon because they were familiar and comfortable and I liked the ergonomics.
Sony entered the race with its mirrorless cameras but when I tried the A7R with its 36 megapixels there were very few lenses available and the idea of buying a camera that needs adapters to put lenses on it is just ridiculous in my opinion. Plus, given Sony’s history with things like Beta Max and proprietary accessories – I was gun-shy about their long-term commitment to photographers.
Earlier this year I purchased the Panasonic GH5 for video. I shoot all of my videos and my livestreams on Panasonic gear – for now. When I got the GH5 and it’s 20.3mp micro four-thirds sensor, I decided to shoot some stills with it, and I was really surprised at the quality. So, I took it into the studio and shot some portraits and was blown away by how well it performed. Like a lot of photographers, I had discounted micro four-thirds and simply went along with the bigger is better philosophy. I just accepted that cameras had to be big and heavy and I reluctantly accepted the price of cameras growing seriously out of control – which is making it harder and harder for people to afford photography as a hobby or turn it into a profession.
I had forgotten that I had produced images like this with a 2.7 megapixel Nikon D1
Or like this with a 10.2 megapixel D200.
Both of those images were shot as JPEGs by the way – not RAW. Please don’t tell Tony or Fro.
It’s no secret that Nikon and Canon are way behind Sony with mirrorless technology and it is understandable – they face bigger obstacles because they have much more legacy with their gear. The closer we get to a Nikon mirrorless camera the more it looks like it will be full frame – which is nice – but if the rumors are to be believed it also looks like it will have a new lens system with an adapter to attach the legacy lenses. In other words, it’s likely to have a price tag that rivals the high-end Sony cameras and the need for an expensive adapter to use my existing lenses.
All of this delay from Nikon has become more and more frustrating because I like mirrorless. I love EVF viewfinders. Being able to see a finished photo before you press the shutter is amazing! Not to mention – why have a mirror that makes noise, causes vibration and potentially needs repair – when you don’t have to.
So, I started doing research. A lot of research. My original thought was to move to Panasonic for both stills and video. But the more I researched – the Olympus name kept popping up – especially when it comes to still photography with micro four-thirds.
The History behind Micro four-thirds
Olympus is the company that developed the four-thirds standard and then later paired with Panasonic to share technology and the micro four-thirds standard evolved. The consortium formed by these two companies now includes companies like Zeiss, BlackMagic Design, Fujifilm, Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, Schneider, Iowa and a bunch of others – all with the goal of producing cameras and lenses that conform to the four-thirds standard.
In other words, they share technology. Just imagine for a moment what the equipment landscape would look like if companies like Canon, Nikon and Sony would get together and set standards and share basic technology. Think of all the amazing cameras we would have and how much more affordable they would be because of the shared research and development costs.
But – they don’t work together. Sony is doing its own thing – and doing a great job of it while Canon and Nikon seem to be swimming upstream to move forward with mirrorless technology.
My Gear Then and Now
Here is the Nikon kit that I worked with for the last few years. A D810, a D500, and the D7100 that I bought for video and quickly put it on the shelf because better 4K options quickly became available from other companies. Let’s face it – Nikon isn’t really the company most people turn to if they are serious about video.
For lenses, I had a 20mm f/2.8 – probably my most favorite non portrait lens – a 24mm f/2.8 – my favorite lens from my days as a photojournalist – a 35mm f/2.8 – a 50mm f/1.8 – an 85mm f/1.8 – a Tokina 100mm f/2.8 and a 180mm f/2.8 my second favorite lens from my days as a photojournalist.
Notice there are no zooms – all primes. I have nothing against zooms – it was a financial decision I made after losing money on the switch back and forth with Sony.
A little background on Micro Four-Thirds
This design of format wasn’t based on the 35mm format like APS-C and full frame sensors. It’s the first and only digital system that is not based on the film era. The sensor has a ratio of 4:3 which means is an aspect ratio similar to most printing sizes like 4×5 – 8×10 – 16×20.
My new kit – 2 OM-D E-M1 Mark II bodies which are 20.4 megapixel cameras.
I have three zoom lenses and four primes. The zooms are all Zuiko Pro Series lenses – the 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro wide angle, the 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro and the 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro. And if you are wondering about the 35mm equivalents of these lenses – double the numbers – the 7-14 is the equivalent of a 14-28mm full frame lens. The 12-40 is equivalent to a 24-80mm full frame lens and the 40-150mm is equivalent to an 80-300mm full frame lens.
My new kit also includes four Prime lenses… the new 25mm f1.2 Pro lens and the just released 45mm f/1.2 Pro lens. Both of these lenses feature what Olympus refers to as feathered bokeh that rivals and even surpasses the bokeh created by some full frame cameras and lenses. I also have a 30mm f/3.5 macro lens and a 300mm f/4 Pro lens which is a 600mm equivalent and great for shooting sports – if I add the 1.4 teleconverter this becomes an 840mm equivalent lens.
Why the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
It would take a series of videos to tell you everything about this camera – and that’s already been done. Aside from the great reputation for quality craftsmanship that Olympus has always had, this camera weighs in at 1.09lb (0.49 kg) compared to the Nikon D810’s 1.94lb (0.88 kg). That is practically half the weight.
The EM-1 Mark II features 5-axis in body image stabilization and it is dust, splash and freeze proof which makes this an amazing camera for location work of all kinds.
It will shoot up to 15fps with the mechanical shutter and 60fps with the electronic shutter. Autofocus is split second fast with 121 points of on-chip phase detection and contrast detection. There is also an in-body autofocus limiter that will shorten the autofocus drive time based on up to three customizable ranges.
I can tell you that from my personal testing – the eye tracking autofocus is wickedly fast and accurate.
There are also features like focus bracketing and stacking, a 50-megapixel hi-res shot mode and 4k video. And the list goes on…
Why did I do this?
Why now – at this point in my career after using Nikon for so long and right before they are hopefully going to come out with a mirrorless camera???
I did it because for the last two years while I have been making these YouTube videos and traveling the country teaching and talking with photographers of all different skill levels from all around the world – my head has been filled with the anxiety from photographers worrying about Full Frame Is Better – More Megapixels are Better – More Dynamic Range is Better – Sony is Better – Nikon is Better. I hear this stuff day in and day out in the very next sentence I hear the complaints about the cost of equipment and size and weight all while these same photographers are struggling to improve their craft.
I hear photographer after photographer trying to shoot the way somebody else shoots with the same gear that somebody else uses because they think that’s the secret to improving.
The only helpful advice that I can offer to these folks is to ignore what everybody else is doing and remember why they picked up their very first camera. 99 percent of the time – it was NOT because they cared about how somebody else took pictures or about megapixels or dynamic range or any of that stuff.
I remind them when they first picked up a camera it was FUN and that’s why they picked it up again and again and got hooked. The more I tried to persuade photographers to get back to having fun – mainly because it’s easier to learn and improve when you are having fun – the more I realized I was making the same mistake. My advantage though was that I did the bulk of my learning long before we had megapixels to worry about or an internet full of photographers to compare myself to. When I learned photography, the focus wasn’t on gear – sure you wanted to have the right gear for the job – but you also had to learn to solve problems. You focused on the image and what was in front of your camera.
So, in short – I decided to take my own advice. It’s time to have fun again. Why spend so much money? The OM-D Mark II body from Olympus is a pro level camera body that sells for under two thousand dollars. Why carry such heavy gear that really just discouraged me from picking up a camera and instead encouraged me to use my iPhone because it was easier. Why keep waiting for a company that I’ve been loyal to for decades to get their act together when every other month there’s a press release that they are losing money or laying off people or closing factories.
As part of my research – I talked to a LOT of micro four-thirds photographers. Professionals and amateurs. I spent a lot of time at PhotoPlus looking over the Olympus gear. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with the very awesome Gavin Hoey who is a fellow photographer and YouTuber from the UK and an Olympus Ambassador.
I left PhotoPlus leaning towards the change, but my next step – I rented an E-M1 Mark II and the 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens – just like you hear me advise so many of you to do if you are considering a camera change. Never buy a camera based on the specs or a YouTube video – try it out first.
Now full disclosure – I actually live about 12 minutes from the US headquarters for Olympus. I reached out to their marketing team because I wanted to test the camera a bit more, hopefully without having to pay to rent it for a few weeks. Olympus was very gracious and lent me a body and three lenses to test. The Mark II met or exceeded all of my expectations. So here I am – an excited Olympus Owner.
And just in case there is any confusion – I purchased the Olympus system, It wasn’t given to me. Olympus has been running awesome Black Friday and Holiday sales on most of their gear including the EM1 Mark II.
And before some of you start getting defensive about your full frame cameras or aps-c cameras – please note – I have not said it’s wrong to use them or that you should switch. I am just telling you why I switched, because I’ve had literally hundreds of people ask for an explanation on the various social media platforms where I post my photos. So please don’t accuse me of saying one brand is better than another. I am just telling you what is best for me.
I will tell you that I haven’t had this much fun or enjoyed my gear as much in years. The cameras perform wonderfully regardless if I am shooting my grandson for fun or professionally on location or in the studio. I am able to shoot tethered in the studio with my Tether Tools gear and the features of Olympus E-MI MarkII actually makes my workflow easier, and I am not sacrificing quality.
So, there you have the reason for my switch. I didn’t sell out, I don’t hate Nikon – I wish them the best of luck – I simply wanted to make photography fun again and get back to the things that really matter to me.
In the two weeks that I have owned my own Olympus gear, I have shot two jobs for commercial clients, and they didn’t look at my cameras and think I was an amateur – they were thrilled with the images and have committed to booking me again – life is good.
I’ll be doing the same kind of videos that I always do – shooting the same kinds of images that I always shoot. Sure – you will learn more about micro four-thirds if you keep watching and I hope you will but just like before – I am committed to sharing with you as much as I can about the hows and whys behind making great photographs.
And for those of you that are interested, be sure to follow me on social media because I will gladly share every bit of my micro four-thirds journey with you.
Until next time, go pick up that camera and shoot something, because your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!