For years, I trusted my Nikon D800 kit to produce images for my clients. I knew the system inside and out, and was comfortable with it. But as time wore on, there were some pain points (literally).
I regularly shoot corporate events. Oftentimes, these events require a hefty 70-200mm lens — even with my Peak Design Slide strap, this combo gets tiresome. What’s more, lugging all my camera gear around was tedious and often unrealistic for what I needed. I was also beginning to realize that my D800 was technologically behind, compared to other camera systems from Panasonic, Olympus and Sony.
After spending almost two years debating a switch away from my D800 kit (that’s right…I said years), I finally jumped when I tried the Panasonic Lumix GH5.
So, now a little over a month into my micro four-thirds life, I’ve learned a few things that have helped me make transition as painless as possible.
For me, there were several reasons why I decided to switch away from my trusty Nikon setup. But one reason kept on coming back to me — video.
For years, I had never considered getting into the “video” game. But clients continued to request it more and more — after four requests in the first quarter of this year, I realized that I needed to adapt.
While the D800 could take video, it was cumbersome at best. Past attempts to make a halfway decent video were met with disappointment — I could never get my focusing exactly how I wanted it to be.
Know What You Need
Like I said, it took me almost two years to settle on the GH5. Why? I simply couldn’t find a replacement that met every need of mine.
As I shoot a lot of low-light events, I needed a camera that could keep up, both in autofocus and sharpness. I didn’t want a ton of grain embarking on my photographs.
I wanted was a camera that still felt like a DSLR, without all the weight — dedicated function buttons, custom setting options and a hefty grip. On the software side, I wanted a menu system that was easy to understand, and similar to my Nikon.
But I also wanted lenses that could match my current kit. I had invested in Tamron’s 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8. And they were great for what I needed. For my new camera, I needed a kit that could match (or exceed) this. I initially ended up getting the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 (equivalent to the 24-70mm) and the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 (equivalent to a 80-300mm). So far, both lenses have really exceeded my expectations in terms of performance.
Furthermore, I also needed to keep in mind the accessories I use. My AlienBees needed to work with them, and I needed a speedlight with TTL settings so I could quickly shoot at events. I ended up investing in a new PocketWizard system, as well as a Nissin i60A. For my filters, I decided to keep my Vu filter system and instead invest in filter ring adapters (which ended up working out great).
Things to Keep in Mind
Going into my first shoot, I had no idea what to expect out of the GH5. I did my homework, however, and found out how the event would be organized, and what shots I needed to capture. I know the kit I had would do the job well…I just didn’t know how well. There were a few things I noticed though, during my first few shoots:
One, getting a shallow depth of field requires more work. Using a f/2.8 aperture is more like using a f/5.6 aperture on a full-frame camera if you’re shooting from the same distance. This made me invest almost immediately in the Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2 lens, just to have that option for portraits and other creative needs.
Secondly, while low-light performance is improving, I can still see a slight difference between my D800 and GH5 images. You’re dealing with a much smaller sensor (roughly 1/4 the size of a full-frame sensor), so this makes sense. It’s a small difference, but you’ll see more noise on an image shot at ISO 2500 with a micro four-thirds camera than a modern-day full-frame camera.
Third, if your camera has a touchscreen, it might be an adjustment. For me, I was hitting the touchscreen with my nose, causing me to change focus points. I turned off all of the touchscreen functionality, with the exception of being able to change settings on certain interfaces.
Test and Research
As I mentioned above, it took me almost two years to finally find the right fit for me. I tried the Olympus OM-D E-M1, only to be turned away because of the menu system and button placement. I tried the GH4, which was close, but I was concerned about its low-light capabilities. I even considered the Sony full-frame mirrorless system, only to realize I was going to have to win the lotto in order to fund it.
When I tried out the GH5, I did a lot of research on it. It was a pre-release camera at the time, so I knew I was taking a risk. I held on to all my core Nikon gear for a few weeks before even thinking about selling it, just in case things went south.
Get out and talk to the experts. I knew a few Lumix photographers, so I drove them absolutely crazy with all my questions. But I am so glad I was able to pick their brains, and am happy to pay the favor forward.
If you’re thinking of switching to a micro four-thirds system, I can’t promote it enough. It’s a dynamic system, offering a plethora of options for both photo and video. It’s unleashed my creativity, and re-ignited my passion for photography. It’s much easier to take my camera everywhere now, and I still get great quality images from it!