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Olympus EM-5 First Tests

The typical camera setup I use at weddings is pretty massive. Two full sized camera bodies, several big f/2.8 pro zooms, a couple super fast prime lenses, two flashes and a big bracket plus accouterments like spare batteries and memory cards. In all, it’s a pretty heavy kit to lug around for eight to ten hours on a wedding day.

Less is more, especially when I need to stay light on my feet to get creative shots from a lot of different angles. So, I’ve recently started testing the new Olympus EM-5 camera for professional wedding photography as a potential replacement for my big system. I move carefully, using it along side my big system until I know it can do what I need it to do, then I’ll start phasing in the new and out the old.

Super sharp and rich colors really make the Olympus EM-5 stand out.

 

So far, I’ve been very impressed. Blown away, is actually more like it. I used it last week on an engagement shoot and I’ve really come to love the sharpness and colors it gives me right out of the camera. In fact, with the exceptional 45mm f/1.8 portrait lens it’s so small I almost don’t notice it’s there at all.

What a perfect portrait combination! The Olympus OM-D EM-5 and the exceptional 45mm f/1.8 lens.

So, for the tech-minded out there, here are the pros and cons from a wedding photographer’s point of view:

  • Small and light so it’s easy to use even as hour ten comes along. It helps me stay light on my feet and energetic so I can look for creative angles.
  • Un-intrusive and un-intimidating. Let’s face it, a big camera with a big flash bracket and a big lens can be pretty intimidating to wedding couples and guests alike. It’s almost like having a bazooka pointed at you. But the little EM-5 is so small it’s completely non-threatening.
  • Exceptional image quality, even in low light.
  • Quality prime lenses. I consider myself a prime lens shooter first and foremost, although I do find f/2.8 zooms get more use at weddings for their flexibility.
  • Image stabilization on every lens.
  • See the result first. Okay, this is a big difference between the new EM-5 and any other big SLR I’ve ever used. It uses an electronic viewfinder which let’s me actually see the result before I take the shot. Is it too dark? Too bright? Too orange? Too blue? With real-time highlight and shadow warnings it lets me fine-tune in the camera better than I could with a traditional optical viewfinder.
  • The lack of high-end zooms currently available is certainly a negative. The primes are amazing, and cover more than enough range for a wedding, but at the moment there simply are no fast f/2.8 pro zooms available. There are prototypes out there, and the rumor mill tells me they should be available by the summer, but there is nothing concrete at the moment. Changing lenses is certainly a viable option, but it does result in a delay that could cost shots.
  • Continuous auto-focus is not the camera’s strength at all. I don’t use it all the time, but it’s good for capturing a bride walking down the aisle… which is a pretty important moment to capture!
  • It’s harder to throw the background out of focus. It’s optical physics at work with a smaller sensor and shorter focal length lenses. Yes, I can render a soft background but it takes a bit more work to get a little less of a result.
  • Is it too small? I know, there’s no pleasing me, right? I want a small setup, but then I whine if it’s not big enough. The real problem comes in the perception that equipment gives. While I personally believe that the finished photos should be how my work is judged, the fact is that family and guests (potential future clients) judge my professionalism by what they see at the wedding without ever seeing the finished result. They judge me based on my behavior, how I dress, how I interact, and in no small part by the perceived quality of the gear I use. Big and heavy = professional. Light and small = amateur.

We’ll just have to see how it performs under fire. So far it’s making me want to ditch my big SLRs entirely, but that would be a bit hasty, wouldn’t it?

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