Bit o' Basketball and Thoughts on the future of Olympus and Sports Photography

As part of the workshop series we run at work, a small group of us attended a local seniors basketball game.

My own efforts, grabbed between talking to other attendees, surprised me. Sport was the primary reason I picked up a camera in the 80’s. This developed into a more mature and measured love of all things wild, but in my younger days, I was drawn to the “thrill of the chase” sports photography offered.

To clarify, the “thrill” back when I started came mostly from getting a sharp, reasonably relevant image “in the can”. Shooting film, often black and white so I had some control of quality in darker winter months, using a camera with no autofocus or motor drive and on film with maybe 3 rolls (108 shots total) to get the job done, sometimes felt like playing Golf with one arm and in the dark!

To say my skills went up a notch because they had to was an understatement. Some other shooters I knew at the time would expect 5-10 keepers per roll. I was happy to just come away with one decent image for the day.

The EM1 has been my work horse for the last couple of weeks in Japan and it is earning my grudging respect. I still prefer the images out of the old EM5’s, but that is as more habit and “success memory” than an actual measure of compared quality.

Most of the images here were shot at ISO 6400, some at 3200 with apertures of f2.8 to 1.8 as available. They are fine I guess, but needing to work at these ISO settings never sits well with me.

The EM1 has better high ISO quality and meters more consistently, but I like the way the EM5 images clean up. The older sensor has little colour noise, meaning what noise there is tends to be sharper and cleans up well. The stronger colour noise in the EM1 images leads to more “mushy” noise reduction (or maybe that is Lightroom). I have to keep in mind also, that I scrutinise these images more closely. I was often surprised by the EM5, I am often demanding to be surprised by the EM1.

The surprise for me on the night was the AF.

No kidding you might say, it is a sports action camera, but the reality is I have never fully trusted AF for most things. I feel that it is too hit and miss and strips the photographers decisive control and intuition away, but using the 12-40 and 75mm (cupboard is a little bare at the moment), I experienced a better than 75% technical success rate, allowing me to concentrate on the action, not just technical things. Some shots happened as quickly as I could spin around and push the shutter. Very few missed entirely.

If this was to be my main photographic focus, a 17mm or 25 f1.2 (for cleaner, low angle back grounds) and 40-150 Pro zoom (more versatile for down the court runs) would be in the bag and maybe the EM1x, but for occasional stuff this works fine.

The area I think Olympus really needs to offer something is in the super fast medium tele area (200 f1.8 or f2). This would make the most of the the other set of advantages the M43 sensor has to offer*, but until then they are fighting a head to head sensor race with full frame cameras that do offer theses lenses, even with their inherent disadvantages (bigger size, higher price, and a 50% reduction in reach).

*More depth of field at the same magnification, allowing the use of faster glass without razor thin focus and/or the 2x reach at the same focal length (200=400 on a FF) it offers. The reality is, it is much easier to make a 200 f2 than a nearly impossible 400mm f2! My 75mm f1.8 that did really well on the night is a full frame 150mm f1.8 equivalent, or in other words the mid point between Canon’s slightly slower, bigger, more expensive 135 f2 and insanely big and expensive 200 f2 IS lenses. All this power in a lens that fits in a coat pocket. Olympus (or Panasonic) needs to go one better and soon, before the Olympics. To add more emphasis to this argument, they already have a history of making these lenses for the recently replaced 43rds range (a 35-100 f2 and 150 f1.8)!

If not why make the EM1x?