Olympus OMD Update
Since the post Perfect Travel Camera I have had time to become more acquainted with the new Olympus OMD camera, both in the countryside and cities of Vietnam. I learned first that I am not one who can jump easily between cameras, it has taken me a while to become accustomed to a new camera and I do not in envisage changing cameras for a long time now for two good reasons. A: I realise now how familiar I was with the GF1’s handling and it has been a longer process than expected to feel the same way with the Olympus, and B: Now I am feeling more and more at home with the Olympus OMD I cannot imagine a better travel camera.
The little Oly is just great in every respect. The buttons and wheels are all fully programable meaning that I now have it set up just as I want. My right hand can control everything I need it to without moving the camera away from my eye; one wheel, thumb operated, takes care of aperture, another wheel that rotates around the shutter release button takes care of exposure compensation, move my shutter release finger a small distance and two more buttons take care of switching between auto and manual focus whilst the other allows me to quickly change the ISO. Another button a little lower locks the auto exposure and auto focus is locked as usual by half depression of the shutter release. So I really have full control over the camera right at my finger and thumb tips. I experimented for some time with just what set up suited me best and this at the time detracted from the job in hand, taking pictures on the streets of Hanoi. For more info and another idea of how to set up an OMD EM-5 Pekka Potka has an excellent article here.
I think I also detracted from the photography in hand by using a new lens, the Lumix/Leica 25mm f1.4. Although undoubtedly a fine lens I soon refitted my ever faithful and trusty Lumix 20mm f1.7 and instantly realised why this lens is the micro 4/3 classic. It is simply perfect for street photography and to my untrained eye and mind any advantage the 25mm has is too small to warrant its extra bulk, and as a result mine will soon be up for sale.
The Olympus camera has many nifty features, a swivel touch screen with one touch focus and shoot – meaning point the camera at you subject, touch the screen where you want to focus, and the oh so fast auto focus does its work, the shutter releases and you have your image shot perfectly from waist height. There are many great features such as this but perhaps the biggest jump forward for me is the built in digital viewfinder. After several years away from a DSLR I thought I was well trained in using the screen on the back of the camera to frame my shots, but now I have the built in viewfinder I find I use it 95% of the time or more, reverting to the screen only for those candid from the hip street shots. Compared to the optional extra viewfinder for the Lumix GF1 the image quality of the Olympus viewfinder is in another universe.
So far as lenses are concerned I have faffed a lot since April. I tried the Olympus 12mm, a lens which became an instant classic. It is a fine lens but my skill with a camera could not justify the cost and I returned it to Amazon. In its stead I bought a Lumix 14mm for £100. Wide angle is perhaps not my bag but weighing next to nothing and priced so low I thought it worth carrying for landscape shots. The Lumix/Leica 25mm f1.4 is a lovely lens. I was hoping for the beautiful bokeh (the out of focus part of a photograph) of the Oly 45mm f1.8 but that wonderful quality is, to my mind, just not there, and so I have reverted to the diminutive but wonderful 20mm f1.7 Lumix lens as the lens that lives on my camera. I know where I stand with this lens, quite literally. I know pretty much where to position myself for the shot I want even before I put the camera to my eye, and for fine adjustment I move back and forth. So for general use this is still my favourite lens, but for beautiful bokeh, colour, and a quality that I cannot quite put my finger on it seems to me that there is no getting close to the Olympus 45mm f1.8.
So there it is, my perfect travel set up; the Olympus OMD EM-5, a camera that I think I will be with for some years to come teamed with the Lumix’s 20mm and 14mm pancake lenses and the lovely Olympus 45mm f1.8. Add a neutral density filter and a polarising filter and you have a fantastic set up that all together comes in at pretty much the same weight and volume as a Canon 24-70mm L series lens. Oh, and there in is perhaps a final lens I need to try, the new Lumix 12/35 X lens, with a focal length equal to 24/70* in full frame standard and image quality reportedly equal to that L series Canon it could just be the perfect companion to a perfect travel camera. Time will tell.
*As the sensor in a micro4/3 system camera is half the size of a full frame 35mm SLR camera the focal length of the 4/3 lens is equal to a lens of twice the focal length on the SLR. EG, 12mm 4/3 = 24mm full frame SLR and 35mm = 70mm. Therefore the 3 lenses I carry, 14mm, 20mm, and 45mm equal 28, 40 and 90mm respectively.