It’s been 6 months since I shared this article about switching to Olympus cameras and a lot of people have been asking for my thoughts about micro four thirds and if I am happy with the switch or if I regret it in any way. Now that I’ve had more time with the system, I want to share my thoughts with you, let you know what my favorite lenses are, and also tell you what I wish I would have known BEFORE I made the switch.
For those of you that are happy with your full frame or APS-C cameras, I don’t want to waste your time. This isn’t a tutorial and it’s not going to teach you a new photography technique. You may or may not know that just over six months ago, I sold all of my Nikon equipment after 40 plus years as a Nikon shooter and I moved to the micro four thirds sensors and Olympus cameras.
Since I made the switch last November, I have been bombarded with tons of questions about micro four thirds and the differences between shooting with the smaller sensor and a full frame sensor. So I wanted to take a few minutes and try to answer some of the most common questions.
I was not paid to switch to Olympus cameras. I purchased ALL of my Olympus gear. Olympus is not paying me to make this – in fact they don’t know I am making this content. After they found out about my switch, Olympus USA did ask me if I would be wiling to be a speaker at several photography events and teach my fashion portraiture techniques and share with people the reasons why I made the switch. I of course said yes and was paid to speak at those events, but all of my words and opinions are my own.
Did you REALLY get rid of all your Nikon cameras?
This is the question that I get the most. Some people seem convinced that I did all of this for show and still have some Nikons stashed away that I just don’t tell people about. Well, the answer is: I really got rid of all my Nikons. I kept none of them. I would never put myself in a situation where I was using different cameras – especially not different formats and accessories.
I will tell you that making the switch has really put the fun back in my photography. The Olympus cameras are smaller and lighter. They are built every bit as solidly as the bigger DSLRs – they have better ergonomics and more features than most of the competition. And I would be remise if I didn’t point out that these are probably the sharpest lenses that I have ever worked with.
Don’t you miss the file size and having all those extra pixels to work with?
That is a NO and a big NO. Most people ask this question because they wrongly assume that bigger means better quality. Simple fact is bigger files just mean needing more hard drive space for storage, and having more pixels just means that it was taking a LOT more effort and time to properly retouch a beauty or fashion portrait.
The fact is that those 36 megapixels that I was shooting with the Nikon D810 or the 45.7 megapixels that people are now shooting with the Nikon D850s are recording information that we don’t routinely see or notice with our own eyes. I am finding that the 20.4mp sensors give me an image that is still noise free and is still sharper than what my eyes are capable of seeing – but not so sharp that I feel like I am retouching images taken with a microscope.
For the full frame shooters that feel they need the bigger sensor to get the best image, let me point out to you that your full frame sensor is seriously small compared to a medium format sensor – so you might want to go and mortgage your house to buy that Phase One.
As I’ve admitted, I was also guilty of chasing more megapixels and bigger sensors, and I lost track of where we crossed the point of no return and decided as an industry that grain – or let’s call it texture – in an image was bad. I personally like the look and feel of film. Now I am in no hurry to go back and shoot film – I love digital technology – but I do love the look and feel of film.
What about the lack of depth of field?
This is a common misconception that is propagated all over the internet. You frequently hear or read people saying that sensor size affects depth of field and that smaller sensors have more depth of field than full frame sensors. That is just not true. None of it.
The simple fact is that a 50mm lens on a full frame camera generates the same amount of depth of field as a 50mm lens on a micro four thirds camera. Remember, depth of field is an optical effect. It has to do with the focal length of your lens as well as focal distance and aperture. NOT your sensor. The misconception occurs because people make the comparison strictly based upon field of view. That means that with the micro four thirds camera you would have to back up to match the field of view of the same lens on a full frame camera. Backing up creates a longer focal distance and hence, more depth of field.
While the net effect is more depth of field with the same lens at the same aperture – I find that people frequently don’t take the time to actually learn how depth of field works and how to properly control it. You have four elements that impact your ability to control depth of field, so just like we use the exposure triangle to adjust ISO, shutter speed, and aperture to get the proper exposure, a good photographer uses focal length, focal distance, location of the focal point in the scene, and the aperture to control depth of field. In other words, there is more than one way to get a blurry background. So for me, micro four thirds has not presented a problem here at all. If you want more bokeh, move closer to your subject or use a longer lens. How much easier could it be?
Isn’t it weird looking through an electronic viewfinder instead of looking through your lens like you do with a DSLR?
Weird? NO. AWESOME – Oh yeah! But let’s set the record straight – with a mirrorless camera you are still looking through the lens – JUST like you do with a DSLR – the difference is that you are viewing an electronic image, hence EVF instead of an optical image. The biggest benefit is that you are seeing a finished image. No need to chimp to check your exposure when you are shooting in natural light. If you are shooting in the studio, you can turn the exposure setting off in the viewfinder so that it shows you a nice bright image to allow you to work and compose your shot before firing your flash – just like a DSLR. It’s also worth noting that a mirrorless camera never needs to have a mirror mechanism replaced.
What about low light performance?
First of all, let’s remember that photography requires light. So for those of you that want to be able to take images lit by a candle that is 100 yards away – you might want a full frame system or better yet some hi-tech government issue night surveillance gear. For those of us who understand that light is a required part of making a good photo, I am finding that I get great results up to about 5000 ISO and pretty good results up to about 6,400 ISO. Above that is really no different than using ASA 1000 film back in the day or pushing my Tri-X ASA 400 film to an ASA of 1600 – I did that knowing that I was going to get sizable grain in my image.
I find the Olympus grain to actually be very film like and subtle – not that typical digital noise. Also, the color noise is very marginal and not a problem. A little noise reduction in Lightroom or Photoshop handles the extreme ISO issues nicely. But again – if you are a photographer who wants your images to have no sign of noise / grain or texture, then micro four thirds may not be for you. I find that hint of a film feel is very cinematic and pleasing to the eye.
All of that brings me to another way to solve a problem… When you are considering your ISO limits – you also have to remember that Olympus has the 5-axis in body image stabilization. This is not motor driven or part in the lens or part in the body – this is a sensor that floats on magnets and is so fast that you gain an effective 5 stops of additional shutter speeds to work with. Traditionally a photographer would not hand hold a shot with a 50mm lens at a shutter speed of less than 1/60sec or 1/30 of a sec. Check out the photo galleries on the Get Olympus website or join some of the Olympus facebook groups and you’ll routinely see people hand holding shots at 1/2 a second that are tack sharp. I’ve tried it – it works.
How is the autofocus with Olympus?
Let’s just say it’s wicked fast and wicked accurate. The eye tracking features are incredible and – full disclosure – when I am shooting in the studio I almost never worry about placing the focus spot over my subject’s eye – the camera does it for me and with pinpoint accuracy every frame. So I just compose and shoot. Olympus uses BOTH contrast detection and phase detection autofocus in 121 points.
What are my favorite lenses?
My go-to portrait lens is the M.Zuiko 45mm F/1.2 PRO lens. I use this for about 80 percent of my studio work. I absolutely love the 90mm equivalent field of view that I get with this lens. Second to that is the M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 which is my choice for those times when a lighting setup won’t allow me to shoot as close as I would with the 45mm. My favorite carry around lens when I am just shooting for fun or taking pictures of the grandkids is the 7-14mm F/2.8 PRO zoom which is a 14 – 28mm full frame equivalent. I LOVE wide angles when I am out of the studio.
When I released my article about switching to Olympus some people commented that I talked about the Olympus system being more affordable, but then I purchased many of their pro lenses which are the more expensive lenses in their system. YES – I did do that. The PRO lenses have faster apertures and are weather sealed – yet still – the top of the line Olympus Camera and top of the line lenses come in well below the extreme costs of the new Sony and Nikon cameras and lenses.
Are the menus confusing?
While I was researching the Olympus cameras I read several articles from people complaining about the Olympus menus. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see the issue. I find the menus to be easy to understand and intuitive with a little practice and definitely AFTER you read the manual. The Olympus menu system is certainly more intuitive than the Sony menu system, which I have experienced first-hand and continue to hear people complain about all the time. But in defense of all camera manufacturers, these are not really cameras that we are using – certainly not in the traditional sense. They are computers that take pictures, and – YES – there is a learning curve. But the learning curve is simple. Read your manual and practice – two things that you should be doing anyway. And do expect that if you switch brands, you will need to re-learn the menu system.
What I Wish I would have known Before Switching
I could go on but I am not trying to sell you on Olympus – I am simply answering the questions that have been asked of me many times over. Now I mentioned what I wish I would have known BEFORE I made the switch… Even though I tested the EM-1 Mark II several times and did a few shoots with it before I purchased it, they were just tests. I never fully retouched any of the images from those test shoots. I looked at them in Photoshop and evaluated them for sharpness and noise – but I never retouched them.
Working with the smaller file – 20.4mp compared to the 36 megapixels has saved me a ton of time in post production. I am no longer retouching fine details that will likely never be seen in the finished image. I am finding that my post time has been cut by a third to nearly a half on each image that I work on. And it is worth pointing out that I haven’t lost any quality in my work. You can see in these images in the video at the top of the page – all shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and either the 45mm F/1.2 PRO lens or the 75mm F/1.8 lens that there is no lack of sharpness or detail and there is no noise.
Olympus even agreed and had one of my images printed at 8 feet by 6 feet tall on the back of their trade show booth at WPPI in Las Vegas.
So for those of you that have been asking these questions and who may be interested in making the same change that I did – I hope this information helps. If you have more questions, feel free to post them in the comments section or in my social media feeds. I will do my best to get you answers. For those of you that are happy with your bigger sensors or more megapixels – that’s awesome! Hopefully this will at least plant a reminder in your thoughts that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better and that there is more than one brand or piece of gear that can help you make a great image. You don’t have to buy the biggest and most expensive camera to get the job done.
Watch the VIDEO…
I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!