Dade Freeman
Photographer & Trainer


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Working with the Olympus OM-D

Even though I cannot afford it right now, I have been in the market for a new camera, something smaller, lighter and more practical. But is there anything that offers the same quality at a fraction of the cost and weight? It seems there is!

While I was shooting Brighton Fashion Week, I saw James Harold there too (a friend I met through the Brighton Photographers Group). I noticed he was shooting on a mirrorless camera and so the conversion started. I wasn't sure what quality he would get from those shots so I was keen to see the results, needless to say he produced great work and it was good to see the 'smaller' camera could hold its own against the 'bigger' cameras.

After telling James about my interest in the Fuji x100s, he said that it would be worthwhile seeing what the Olympus OM-D EM-5 could offer. So, we decided to do a little head-to-head street photography. We both used fixed lenses, I had the 50mm on my 5DMKII, which meant zooming with my feet :(

At present, the streets are a real mess due to a refuse collectors' strike, so rather than endless images of garbage we opted for the back streets and looked for things of interest while James talked me through the features of his camera and we discussed the industry in general.

One key feature in the OM-D is the fact that James was able to select the final effect he wanted in camera. This meant less editing after the fact, while I shot in normal and Monochrome mode, I knew I would still need to edit further in Lightroom once we were finished. The style effects in the OM-D were somewhat akin to Instagram and I wondered if they would limit creativity or open it up, but James showed me how they could be tweaked beyond the standard with an in-built curves option, meaning you could make finite changes, this really helped it feel like you were actually making the image. For me, it would mean coming home, loading the images into Lightroom, applying my chosen action(s) and tweaking the settings to taste. So even though we could produce the same look to an image, with the OM-D you would be doing that in camera, with no need for the additional program or actions. Given Adobe's latest move, this is a big selling point, I think.

I joked that the OM-D had made James a lazy photographer as the flip-screen made life so much easier, he simply placed the camera where he wanted it to be, rather than having to get down and dirty on the floor or getting into weird positions to get the shot. The flip-screen also doubled up with its touch screen capability. I find it crazy that this is hardly used in 'pro' cameras as it makes things simpler and more intuitive. Not to mention it frees up the need for buttons everywhere. Swipe, pinch to zoom and the option to select focus points and shoot by touching the screen makes a big difference to what you could potentially do, no longer would you hold up your DSLR, aim, and hope you had the 'target' in focus, you would actually see it on screen and then touch the screen to take the picture. Also, given those capabilities, shooting from the hip has never been easier!

I mentioned that changing the aspect ration in camera is something I would like as I had been playing with creating cinematic images, only to get home and realise they didn't work as I had filled the frame with the subject and therefore I had to crop the subject to get the required aspect ratio. On the OM-D however, once you select the required aspect ratio you could see what you were getting there and then through the viewfinder and so could compose with the end result in mind.

As we headed down to Brighton's seafront, the thick sea mist played havoc with my focusing, while the OM-D simply locked on to the subject with ease :/

On the basketball court were some youths break-dancing, so I had a go at seeing how good the OM-D was at capturing action. It did very well, although there were a few issues such as the screen going blank once finished shooting, meaning the opportunity to capture a shot a split second later was not there, and for action shots this would be vital. Also the focus tracking was not 100%, but James assured me that Olympus are keen to listen to their users and relish feedback, so I have no doubt they will address these issues.

I would say the OM-D is a great camera and once you get to grips with the differences to the DSLRs it makes sense, it is light, compact and powerful.

To keep things fair and interesting James and I shared and swapped cameras, so some shots are his on my 5DMKII and some are mine on his OM-D. To hear his side of the story and see the OM-D images, go to James' website.

Here is a selection of 5D MKII images taken on that walk. All images have been edited in Lightroom only, using VSCO effects.