It’s been a month now and I haven’t used my DSLR professionally in four weeks. I’ve shot exclusively with my Olympus OM-D EM-5 camera bodies and micro four thirds lenses.
Here are my impressions.
The Olympus is not a perfect camera. Shock. Of course there is no such thing. But for me, (not necessarily you) it is as close as I’ll come right now. Here’s why.
I am getting old. There. I said it. Carrying tons of gear on excursions used to excite me. Now it tires me out. I have used almost every professional camera system ever made and I have learned one thing. Photographic gear (like photography) is always about trade-offs.
When I started using the Olympus system it was because I wanted a light-weight, low-profile, small, compact camera system that is easy to carry and provides professional-quality images. I believe that is a fine reason to use any camera.
Not only is a compact system easier to carry, it attracts less attention. I am particularly tired of being harassed by people because I have a “professional-looking” camera. Since using the OM-D EM-5 I haven’t been bothered by a single cop-wannabe security guard. In fact, nobody gives me a second glance when I’m shooting the Olympus. Not so when I pull out the Canon 1DX. So on the stealth issue, the Olympus is king. And that’s fine by me. I’m not trying to impress anyone with my gear.
But what about image quality? Can that small sensor deliver professional images? Absolutely! As long as the camera is operated by someone who knows how to properly use it. Do you give something up when you switch from high-end DSLRs to MFT? Yep. But you also gain some things too. I’ll break it down.
I can no longer shoot tethered. This is not a big deal for me. We’re working on an Automator script that will fool the camera and let me shoot something that feels like tethered shooting, but isn’t quite the same.
I can’t shoot in pre-dawn light and expect the same results I got from a Canon 5D MK III. These smaller sensors suffer when there’s low light. So I simply wait for good light or make my own. The biggest difference for me is in the lack of ability to capture moving subjects. The Canon 1DX has the best autofocus in the world. It can track anything in almost any light, going fast or slow, near or far, coming at you or flying by. The Olympus cannot. The OM-D EM-5 is pretty good at panning subjects. It’s amazing at static objects. The AF on a static object is as fast as there is. Once you try to shoot moving objects the Olympus (and all other MFT cameras I’ve tried) stumbles.
Something else that took me a while to get used to is the very limited battery life of an OM-D EM-5 battery. I’m used to shooting all day with DSLRs. You will absolutely need extra batteries to do that with an MFT system.
When it comes to the intangibles like general camera support, accessories, education, repair, spare parts, the Olympus/Panasonic MFT cameras come up short. But not by much. Pros cannot count on anything like CPS or NPS from Panasonic or Olympus. That means repair times might run into weeks or even months. There aren’t as many classes, third-party books, etc. for MFT shooters. Accessories for the MFT cameras aren’t quite as abundant as they are for DSLRs but this is getting to be a horserace. There are more and more MFT accessories becoming available and I am quite happy with the accessories for the OM-D EM-5. I own almost all of them and use them.
One big advantage of the MFT cameras and the Olympus system specifically is the quality of the primes. The very fast, 12mm, 45mm and 75mm Zuiko lenses are spectacular. They are as sharp as anything I’ve used ever. Especially the 75. It may be the sharpest lens I’ve ever tested. With an effective focal length (EFL) of 150mm at f/1.8, it would be an impossible lens to get for a big full-frame DSLR. So here the trade-off is in the plus column. The glass is fast, sharp, contrasty and incredibly reliable.
Using the Zuiko 75-300 (EFL 150-600mm) lens I got reliably sharp, publishable images as long as I worked at lower ISOs (1600 and under – 800 and under even better) and had plenty of light. This is not a problem for me personally. And the lens weighs ounces not pounds and costs 1/13th of what a matching DSLR lens would cost.
So to sum up. . .
The biggest pros to using the MFT system
2. Small size
3. Low weight
4. Easy to pack and carry
5. Amazing glass
6. Lower overall cost
7. Options not available to DSLR users
The biggest cons to using the MFT system
1. Low-light performance isn’t as good as DSLR
2. AF on moving subjects is sub-par
3. Can’t tether
4. Short battery life
5. Minimal support system
If you are a PROFESSIONAL sports shooter, wildlife shooter or other action shooter or if you are a wedding shooter who works in venues that don’t allow flash, you should probably stick with your DSLR. But a vastly overwhelming majority of our readers here at Photofocus don’t fall into either camp. That means if you’re in the market for a new camera, you should take a look at MFT. I see this mirror-less landscape improving and quickly. Soon, some of the trade-offs I mentioned will be mitigated. In the mean time, I am really enjoying not having to break my back every time I pick up a camera to make a photograph.
(NOTE: All photos in this post are from an Olympus OM-D EM-5 camera)