Horses for Courses (or a first world problem set)

Balance is important in all things.

For me, unhappiness in my camera kit (and my other endeavours) comes from two sources.

The first is lack of use. Often a dead of winter or height of summer issue, this allows too much time for thought and speculation, leading often to retrograde, sometimes even plain stupid gear movements. One case of this was the 40-150 Pro. Loved it, relied on it, but felt it was a symbol of pressure to work professionally even when I was not. So what if I had 3 good lenses covering the 75mm focal length? They all had their job to do, were not going anywhere and had all paid their way. When I am happily just taking photos, these thoughts magically go away.

The second is a clear lack of balance or relevance for gear. Canon, with it’s two formats and lack of ideal crop sensor lenses (ones that I liked anyway) gave me a lot of headaches here.

For a long time I had a working balance, but I have managed to get a little out of balance again.

The 3 EM5’s have done me proud. They still produce and my comfort zone when using them them is broad and deep.

The Pen F was purchased with three specific benefits in mind. Firstly a sensor/processor upgrade. Secondly the potential benefits of the high-res mode. Finally and most importantly the electronic shutter. It did as desired, although the e/shutter proved to be more beneficial than the high res mode. The 12-100 was then purchased to complete the landscape picture.

Lately the Em1 has mysteriously turned up, thanks to a great deal, but what is it’s role?

What it does well;

It is fast. Really fast. In every way measurable.

It is clever, adding many new features that I may not ever use, but now have the option of.

It is tough. Tougher than anything previously offered by Olympus. Not a feature set I will need in the foreseeable future, but who would turn down more peace of mind.

It is more powerful. Better battery, two cards, faster functioning, longer lasting.

So again, what is it’s role in the kit of an occasional professional photographer and avid amateur street shooter?

Originally I attached it to the 12-100, mating my most powerful/versatile combination of lens and camera. A lot of this was due to the grip supplied with the camera. It was the only combo that felt right together. Smaller lenses on the EM1 felt under done, the big lens on other cameras felt more or less unbalanced.

This gave me a clutch of proven small and fast primes that are attached to EM5’s or a Pen, but were often ignored because I would gravitate to the Em1 and zoom. Suddenly I am toting a huge, heavy camera and lens, lacking my faster apertures, the cleaner thinking of primes and the smaller bag options I prefer. Added to this, I struggled with the EM1 for landscapes, because I found the camera over laden with options (I could not even find electronic timer release until further exploring at home) and the grip made the whole thing too big for tripod balance. I like my tripods small these days, like my bags and my cameras and my lenses….

Then a interesting thing happened. The grip developed a small but annoying fault (the camera’s shutter button occasionally faulted with the grip on and activated, but worked fine with the grip in the locked position). Olympus has it now and I will get it back in the next two weeks most likely, but the “perfect” dynamic of camera and lens was broken.

This got me thinking differently about the camera.

It was suddenly smaller, lighter, more nimble.

So to recap.

I believe that the Pen F produces the best IQ of all 5 cameras especially at lower ISO’s (the sensor is different to the EM1, probably from not needing to support better AF operation). It has the gentlest and cleanest operation on a tripod, including a threaded cable release socket. It does not offer greatly improved operation over the EM5’s for how I shoot street and travel and no advantage at all for action/event work when compared to the Em1. I actually find it the least comfortable of the 5 to use in hand. It is precious and beautiful, but not weather sealed or something I would be happy “knocking around” in use. The battery life is not as good as the EM1, but it has 6 batteries, exceeding in total the performance of the two for the EM1 and it shares these with it’s backup EM5.

= Landscape camera.

The weather proofing is not a big deal as I can cover it up and have an EM5 as backup, the high res benefits on the eM1 are irrelevant as I do not see that feature being of much practical value and speed of course is irrelevant.

A strong crop of a non high res image. The RAW 20mp performance nearly matches the high res 50mp jpegs and is more natural and way easier to use.

A strong crop of a non high res image. The RAW 20mp performance nearly matches the high res 50mp jpegs and is more natural and way easier to use.

The Em1 on the other hand IS the camera that adds functionality and speed to hand held work. It has the best stabiliser, AF, ISO performance and in-hand feel as well as a beautifully smooth and responsive shutter release. Without the grip it feels perfect with the smaller lenses, with the grip it adds portrait functionality (totally wasted on a tripod). Two batteries can do me for a long day. The dual I.S. with the 12-100 is lost, but to be honest, I would rarely use it, preferring a tripod or added lens/shutter speed. It also upgrades the AF performance of my primes and the travel/event 75-300.

= Street/travel/event/portrait camera.

Image after image after image perfectly in focus with a budget 75-300.

Image after image after image perfectly in focus with a budget 75-300.

Technically the EM1 is the better camera all-round, but not in this specific case. The nifty little street camera (Pen F) turns out to be a great tripod camera, the high res, high speed beast is just better out in the world pulling off the near impossible. The older cameras are reserved for travel, back up and around the house hack work.

If I only had 1 camera? The EM1 would be logical, but I am glad that in this world, right now I have options.