Saturday, April 21, 2012

OMD - Week One, Some Further Thoughts

Hey fellow photo travelers and camera junkies, welcome to this short update on my first week with the gorgeous little Olympus OMD. I had the very good fortune to have the last post published on Steve Huff's website and it got some very interesting reaction. I think for the most part it was no more than a lightweight introduction to the camera and I intend to build on that a little now that I am getting more familiar with the it and have had a chance to see how it works for my shooting style. I have also added a low cost accessory that is astonishing me with its benefit, more on that later. As you can see above, I managed to get out and about with the camera this evening and took along the Samyang fisheye and a new acquisition, the Sigma 30mm f2.8 which I bought to fill the gap in my prime range between the 20 and 45 's. More on it later on and a few early shots from it as well.

For some reason I am finding that the Lumix 14 pancake is my favorite on the OMD at the moment though and I see that Steve has the Olympus 12 f2 so it will be interesting to see how it works out in his tests. There is something about that focal length that really works for me though and I find that I get some really nice grab shots with it. The responsiveness of the OMD is first class in this respect, it fires up, focuses and snaps of a short burst perfectly for this kind of shooting. Sorry to the purists out there that didn't like the Snapseed editing in the last post but the 'drama tone' works really well for some of these shots and its so easy to use.

I also took along the 40-150 zoom as I anticipate using it a fair bit on next weeks trip to the Fujian coastline of China where I hope to shoot seaweed harvesting and other fishing activities and landscapes from vantage points. I mentioned in the last post that I am no fan of the build materials of this lens and it doesn't look robust enough for prolonged travel use however it did seem to perform well enough and I got some nice shots of this musician although its a bit weird to see a Singaporean playing a targe !!! I am thinking of taking a M43 only kit on this trip and will also take along the Lumix 45-200 which I find pretty good but like all of these lenses a bit too slow for anything other than good light. I will definitely give it a try on the OMD with its superior looking stabilization and decent high ISO performance. On the subject of using Lumix lenses on the OMD, remember to turn off the stabilization on the lens and allow the OMD to do its stuff. Also, if you are using a tripod like I did for these following shots, turn off all stabilization.

Sigma 30 mm F2.8

I made a bit of an impulse purchase yesterday and, given my love of prime lenses, I bought a Sigma 30mm F2.8 which of course gives a rather handy 60mm equivalent that I thought would be quite nice as a portrait & context lens where I would be able to take close in portraits but still have a little room for the surrounding environment. I really haven't been able to put it through its paces in that respect but its in the bag for tomorrow's China trip and in the meantime I used it for some still life shots and to shoot a few things that I am taking on the trip.

It occurred to me after the last post that, despite my like for Richard Avedon's work, I should really have been associating the Olympus's with one of my other favorite photographers, David Bailey. Bailey is fascinating to me because he sums up the era that I was brought up in and shot iconic images of every major musician or star of the  60's. He was also famed as an Olympus user but how much of that was marketing spin I am not exactly sure, maybe someone out there has a take on that and can let us know...... Anyway, here's a nice contemporary self-portrait of him and I have added a lovely old OM1. For the IQ eager out there, these are out of the camera Jpg's as I don't yet have the Lightroom update. All of the shots are taken with the Sigma 30.

No one that enjoys photography can forget some of Bailey's interpretations of the media personalities of the day and here is the fantastic shot he did of the infamous East End gangsters, the Kray Twins. How Bailey got them to pose like that with snakes I will never know, what a classic shot that says it all.

This is one of the few color shots of his from the era and these can be found in a lovely little, inexpensive book called 'Look'. It's really worth searching out as all of his classic portraits are in it.

I can't leave this topic without including his extraordinary and widely copied portrait of Michael Caine in a shot inspired by his Harry Palmer movie character. By the way, if you get a chance watch 'The Ipcress File' and drink in the outstanding cinematography work of Otto Heller. I wrote a little piece on drawing inspiration from the movie if anyone is interested Photographic Inspiration . I also liked the post on Steve's site by Robert Falconer where he tracked the evolution from the original OM designs, its well worth a look if you like the OM's.

On the Sigma lens itself, I have pretty mixed feelings. It seems sharp, no question, but the first few shots I took with it were into the light at Marina Bay and it flared horribly, the images were very washed out. This may be down to a lack of coating or something but I know I can take similar shots with the Lumix 14 & 20 without the same issues. It is pretty well made though and I personally like the simple, discrete, unobtrusive looks. It is a fair bit bigger than the Lumix pancakes and not as fast, but it does offer a nice range for environmental portraiture. I am going to reserve full judgement on it until I can use it more in the field in realistic travel situations and I look forward to seeing if any of the reviewers have the same issue I did. One real gripe with Sigma is the lack of a lens hood with the camera, I was able to source a nice metal one for S$15 and I would have traded this for the fancy lens case that I will never use. Even although the lens was cheap at S$299, its still not on to miss out this important accessory, especially when the lens flares the way this one did on me. Full marks to Sigma for entering the M43 system with some reasonably priced, good quality optics. I would like to see them bring out some faster glass if they are going to bring something new to the system though.

On to my other impulse purchase and this is something I have been meaning to try a for a long time, a pistol grip for the M43 cams. I was initially a bit skeptical about this until I tried it and the difference is amazing. I have always thought of myself as someone who has good camera handling skills and I can usually hold well at low shutter speeds but this thing brings a new dimension to steady shooting. I can feel the difference when I use it and although it looks a bit naff I am convinced the results will show its worth. Again its going with me to China and I will put it through its paces and report back.

Here is a shot of the grip in action and shot with the Sigma 30 (Snapseed edit) I like the close focusing of the Sigma and it is a useful range for me and I think it looks very nice on the OMD into the bargain.

Well I am off to pack my bags now for Fujian so I will close with some final shots from the OMD. This one of the chairs is taken with the Sigma 30 and looks very sharp and contrasty.

Here by contrast is a shot with the Lumix lens that is similar to the one that I couldn't get with the Sigma. I am going to mess around with this a bit more but I did have a hood on it and was surprised with the extent of the flare. 

That's it for this post folks. Gotta say I am getting on really well with the OMD and am really looking forward to putting it to the test on a trip. The weather forecast for China is not looking so good so I may also get a chance to put the famed weatherproofing to the test as well !!!

Keep a look out for the China post which I will get up as soon as I get back. In the meantime, safe traveling folks.



  1. Hi Colin,
    Personally, I really like the first three shots in particular. I look forward to your post from China as I enjoyed reading your articles on the V1 from Myanmar and Vietnam. I'm particularly interested to hear how you find the Sigma 30mm as it's a prime lens that I'm thinking about adding to my m43 gear - I've read some very positive comments about it online, bearing in mind its price. Have a great trip!

  2. Hi Colin,

    Can you tell us how do you use your OMD ?

    Meaning do you set the aperture manually / auto iso / mode A ? Etc ..

    Thanks and great work !

  3. Hey, sure.

    I almost always use Aperture priority, set auto ISO and limit at 1600. I shoot RAW + best quality Jpeg (the Jpegs are for editing shots in Snapseed on the Ipad while traveling) I use Exposure comp all of the time and have developed intuition for that so I usually don't bother with the histogram unless I am unsure about something. I rarely use a tripod but when I do I take the ISO auto off and go to best quality, I switch to manual exposure control and I take the stabilization off. As I said, this is a rare situation for me and I have a good steady hand and shooting technique and if the light is really poor I will use the two second timer rather than physically press the shutter button, this all helps with stability in low light. The pistol grip I mentioned is worth a stop of light as well I believe.

    I usually use the EVF but find myself using the screen and focus/ shutter release touch on the OMD more than I thought for low/high angles or discreet shooting.

    Only other thing is that I often bracket shots that I think are going to be unique, I bracket by ) 0.7 or 1 on a series of 3 shots. This is an extremely valuable technique that is often overlooked in these days of software adjustment but I find it much better to start an image with the correct exposure.

    Hope this helps, if I have missed anything just ask.



    1. Hi Colin, thank you for the inspirational images. There were discussions elsewhere about how difficult it is to access bracketing. Have you set up your camera in any special way get to the bracketing drive mode?

      Thank you-

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