Why I switched to Olympus Micro Four Thirds...

As you can probably guess from the title of this post I am an Olympus M43 user..... there, I have said it and I am a huge fan of the system!

First let me give you a little background on myself and what I shot with previously – The first ‘serious’ camera I owned was the APS-C format Nikon D40x, a 10.1 megapixel monster, which had excellent low light capabilities with a ‘huge’ 1600 ISO available and 3 (yes, 3!) focus points! I purchased it 2nd hand with an 18 – 105mm VR lens for the bargain sum of £195 and all joking aside it was actually a great little camera & I got some great shots from it. I then moved on to the classic Nikon D90 (which was also the first DSLR to boast HD video capabilities at 720p) and this camera will always have found memories for me.... I shot my first paid wedding with it, I used it for the first ever photos of my Son and images taken with it won me/placed me in a couple of national photography competitions. It was these couple of wins that actually landed me a nice little sponsorship deal for a camera store which in return for feedback/reviews/teaching workshops I could have any Nikon gear I wanted...... sweet!!!

I went on to 35mm DSLR’s (FX, Full Frame, 35mm digital or whatever you choose to call it) and over the next 3’ish years used the D700, D3S, D3X & D4 and I have to say the results were always excellent – along with pro glass & primes I was always more than happy with my images. Now you may ask yourself, if I was so happy, why the swap? I suffer from chronic back problems from an accident – my discs are basically flattened and I am in a lot of pain more or less daily – so the weight of the cameras was always a problem, a D4 with a 24 – 70 f2.8 is HEAVY and regularly using 2 at a time (one with a 70 – 200mm f2.8), it was even worse.... I also realised that I was not going to want to carry my D3S to the park to photograph my Son as it was just too big so I decided to look for an advanced compact which would give me decent images and capture those all important moments.

This is when I discovered the Micro Four Thirds System. Whilst browsing in Jessops I noticed a little brick of camera, not the best looking, but with its charm - the Olympus E-PL1. I was intrigued by the smaller size (compared to my DSLR), the ability to have interchangeable lens and it having a larger sensor size so decided to look at some reviews before jumping the gun and making the purchase. After a bit of research I found that the reviews were very favourable ‘best JPEGS ever seen’, ‘good ISO up to 1600’, ‘easy to use’ and ‘built in I.S.’ so I decided to buy a 2 lens kit which included the 14 – 42mm & TINY 40 – 150mm which gave me a focal range of 28 – 300mm due to the 2x crop factor of the sensor and as I am a huge prime fan opted to purchase the 17mm f2.8 pancake lens as well! I think it cost me around £450 for all of it and of course I looked forward to putting it to use!

I started using the camera for days out, day to day photos and even during the 2012 Olympics – one thing I noticed was that due to the smaller size I was able to ‘sneak’ it into venues! First impressions were good – JPEG'S were truly excellent, easily matching my Nikons JPEG output at low ISO's, I found the camera quite intuitive and I was now enjoying photography more whereas the size of the Nikon's sometimes made it a chore and the huge zoom in a small size was a massive bonus. There were a few downsides though.... focus was not too quick, there was definitely a slight delay.... the prime lens was not that fast to focus either.... the ISO was not great over 800 (despite the review) and the battery life was not great – I definitely needed 2 batteries! The camera also lacked a viewfinder, but to be honest it did not bother me that much as most point and shoots did not have one either and if I really wanted one I could buy an optional viewfinder attachment.

All in all though I was very happy with what I wanted to use it for and carried on using my Nikons for pro use without really giving the M43 system a second thought...... until Olympus announced the OM-D EM-5 with a brand new 16mp sensor, 5 axis stabilisation, built in viewfinder, touchscreen, weather sealed body and 9 fps – GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) was definitely on the horizon!!! The reviews were excellent with the camera winning the coveted ‘camera of the year’ award and it definitely grabbed my attention. I decided not to pull the trigger and purchase though.... why?.... because Olympus also released the EM-5’s baby brother the E-PL5 – with the same sensor and a touchscreen but lacking 5 axis I.S., weather sealing and viewfinder but it was half the price so a no brainer for me. Once I received my Black E-PL5 I put it to the test and was AMAZED at the quality of the images, speed of focus and the ISO capabilities up to 3200 – for the first time since I started using DSLR’s I sensed that M43 was going to become a game changer for me. I started using my E-PL5 for my street photography and getting excellent (award winning!) results and started to sneak the camera into my Wedding shoots, helping me grab moments that a DSLR would grab too much attention.... it actually got to the point where I was using my D3s/D4 just for the ceremony and the tiny EPL-5 for everything else!!!

A few months later I decided to make the obvious purchase and put in my order for the Olympus OM-D E-M5 with battery grip and 12 – 50mm power zoom and whilst at it I purchased the 45mm f1.8 lens and the 75 – 300mm for good measure! It was then that I decided to make possibly the boldest move a pro photographer can make..... I used the Olympus M43 system EXCLUSIVELY for a Wedding!!!!!! I HAVE NOW NOT LOOKED BACK.... I more or less immediately sold off/gave back my Nikon gear (as I felt I could not promote something I was not using and unfortunately the company I worked for exclusively sold Nikon DSLR’s), I purchased another 3 EM-5’s with grips and have now shot exclusively with Olympus ever since.

I havebeen fortunate enough to win various awards/jobs using the system and am currently the proud owner of 6 Olympus OM-D E-M1’s with grips, the 12 – 40 f2.8 PRO, 40 – 150mm F2.8 PRO, 17mm f1.8, 45mm f1.8, Samyang 7.5mm fisheye, 9 – 18mm f4 – 5.6 and quite a few flash guns (FL-36r’s & FL-50’s) I feel that I have a very versatile kit that I now use on every job AND for my street photographer AND for fun :)

I absolutely love the WiFi of the newer models as it enables me to remotely control my cameras and easily share them with my clients quickly. I have also managed to inspire 14 of my photographer students to switch to the Olympus M43 system and NOT ONE of them regrets it!

Now the things I hear most often when it comes to the switch are – high ISO is bad, it’s ‘only’ 16mp, slow focus in low light, does not look ‘pro’, shallow dof is not achievable as its not ‘full frame’ blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.... One thing I need to make clear is ALL systems have faults, there is no such thing as a perfect camera and everyone’s use is different. I very rarely go above ISO 3200 (as I am a strobist – I use off camera flash!) and I am more than happy with this level of output from my cameras, 16mp is MORE than enough – are all the pros that still regularly use the Nikon D3s with its ‘pathetic’ 12mp output idiots??? Hardly anyone prints larger than A2 and 16mp is more than enough if processed correctly.

The system is slightly slower to focus in darker conditions but is blisteringly fast in good light (though this has changed with the release of the OM-D E-M1 MK2), Shallow dof is achievable you just need the right conditions/lens - it’s the user that needs to develop themselves and not blame the equipment! For me the biggest bonus is the size/weight of the system – I can now take EVERYTHING with me in my Lowepro backpack and not have to worry about it punishing my back like my DSLR’s used to.

I have NEVER, not ONCE had a client enquire about my equipment, they hire ME, not my camera..... If anything guests usually ask about my smaller cameras, some thinking its film, others wondering how I can get great results from a ‘toy’ – in which I always reply ‘check out my website’ and they are soon asking where they can buy one and more often than not hiring me for another job! My students at the colleges I teach in are always surprised when they see what I use because the salesman at (insert shop!) told them the best thing is Full Frame, megapixels, CaNikon or whatever is the most expensive without doing proper research...

All interchangeable lens cameras will give excellent results, whether it be a traditional DSLR or Mirrorless system - I feel that the most important aspect is how you feel using the equipment – does it feel comfortable in your hand, do you enjoy using it and most importantly does it put a smile on your face.... if your Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony (who also have an excellent Full Frame mirrorless camera in the A7 series – the reason I have personally not bought into this system is because the lenses are still HUGE so feel unbalanced to me in the hand) etc does that then brilliant.

I have found the system that does all this for me and I am proud to say that I am an Olympus professional user... and plan to remain one!

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