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A Rationalised Working Kit For Micro Four Thirds


DFZ

Warning! On Fotozones we’re more interested in what we do with our camera gear, but it is also interesting to readers to know what gear works for us professional photographers and how we use it in the field. This is one of those types of posts.

 

Looking back over the past 4 years of my dabbling with the micro four thirds system, I have used many different lenses from at least 4 different manufacturers, as well as no fewer than 8 different bodies for the system (Olympus PEN models E-P1, E-P2, E-PM2, Panasonic GF-1, Olympus OM-D models E-M5, E-M1, E-M10, E-M5 Mk II). I had a system burgeoning with different lenses and bodies, but at the beginning of this year I rationalised and got rid of a LOT of stuff. Here’s what I kept and what I have found works best for me as a professional photographer.

 

Bodies

 

Undoubtedly the very best body for m43 that I have had the opportunity to use so far has been the Olympus OM-D E-M1. It just seems to be able to do everything I throw at it and it produces amazing files that I have yet to find wanting in any way. I’ve shot with it up to 12,800 ISO in barely lit rooms and have been quite happy with the quality of the shots I got. Other photographers might disagree, but I don’t shoot for other photographers so their validation of what I use in my job is superfluous to my output.

 

Apart from an issue with the rear command dial not making proper contact when adjustments are made I have had no other problems with my E-M1. The recent firmware upgrade to version 4.0 brought some new features that have improved the E-M1 in many respects, including the silent shutter and the 4K time lapse video mode. It’s a great photographic tool and the Mk II that we are all looking forward to perhaps later this year or in early 2017 has very big shoes to fill.

 

Panasonic bodies remain a problem for me to get hold of in South Africa mainly because they are no longer officially represented here, so I haven’t tried too many of them. We have to import them ourselves and that comes with a lot of risk, particularly since there is no product support. If your camera needs fixing you have to send it back to where you got it from and that could be very expensive. I have recently been working with a videographer who has a GH-4 body and it certainly looks like a very capable camera, especially for 4K video. It has a lot of features for video that the Olympus E-M1 doesn’t have, most notable being the ability to use focus peaking while filming. When you’re shooting video professionally manual focus is a must, so that feature alone is worth the sticker price for a GH-4. I don’t know that I would buy one for stills, but I am sure it is a decent performer there too.

 

Lenses

 

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My Wide Angle Lens

 

Of all the wide angle lenses I have tried for the m43 system the one that I have kept and still continue to use is the Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6. This tiny collapsible lens is the same size as the early 14-42mm kit lenses found on many m43 combo deals but it’s got a better build. There is also one of those funky rectangular lens hoods available for it (LH-55B). I bought one but I seldom use it because most of the time I am using this lens indoors for property photography. When I am using it outdoors for landscape photography I would probably have a drop in filter kit on the lens (LEE Seven5 or Cokin) which means the lens hood doesn’t fit into the system. Another thing is that the hood can’t be reversed on the lens because of its shape, so while it may look cool it isn’t very practical. That said it’s small enough to slip into a camera bag pocket without causing a storage issue. I keep it handy, just in case.

 

The other wide angle lenses I’ve used include the new Olympus 7-14/2.8 PRO, the older Olympus 7-14/4.0 (4/3 mount) and very briefly the Panasonic 7-14/4.0. All of them are too big for m43 and in my opinion they don’t bring that significant an improvement in image quality to be worth carrying around. The 9-18mm is tiny in comparison and offers a decently wide enough angle of view to work for me. I’d rather carry less weight than have an extra few degrees of viewing angle offered by the 7-14mm options. I also find the exaggerated perspective of the 7mm focal length to be unnatural on m43. It’s very hard to compose a scene with it.

 

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My favourite little wide angle lens is still the amazing Samyang 7.5/3.5 fisheye. I always have this lens in my camera bag. It’s about the same size as the 9-18mm, purely manual focus, but very, very sharp and contrasty, not to mention well built. Used on a mirrorless camera in A mode I haven’t had any issues with exposure at all - the cameras always seems to be able to get it right. I set the aperture ring to about 5.6 or 8.0, set the focus to infinity and everything from about 20cm to the end of the world is in focus. It opens up a lot of creative options for me. On a recent wedding I put it on an E-M1, put that on a tripod, folded it up to use like a monopod and circled the wedding dance floor while filming. I didn’t have to focus it and the footage turned out great.

 

I did try the new Olympus 8/1.8 PRO lens, and while it is an amazing piece of glass it is very expensive compared to the $300 Samyang (I think it comes in at about $1k). It’s also much bigger and heavier than the Samyang.

 

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My General Purpose Lens

 

There is only one lens that fits for me and its the Olympus 12-40/2.8 PRO. I can’t extoll the benefits of this lens enough. It’s ridiculously fast to auto focus, is sharp as scalpels when used wide open, has great bokeh and is also weatherproof. What more could I want?

 

I use this guy for a lot of stuff I do, including events, PJ, portraits, interior and product work too (it focuses really close and has better bokeh than the Panasonic/Leica 45/2.8 Macro I used to own). I love this lens! It actually stopped me from getting the Olympus 12/2.0 because at 12mm it’s just as good as that Olympus premium prime lens. I don’t need more aperture for wide angle work, so while the 12/2.0 is very good indeed, it is also very expensive and doesn’t do anything else besides 12mm. My money was better spent on this lens.

 

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Telephoto Lenses

 

The best lens in my bag that is classed as a tele is the Olympus 75/1.8 ED. Nothing is better than this lens for low light work where I have some distance between me and my subject. I use it a lot for podium speakers at events and where I want to isolate a subject from the background. I don’t use it a lot at 1.8 because the depth of field is too shallow, but at 2.0 it shines. While I haven’t used it a lot for portrait work, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t work. I would just need to get further away from the subject for framing given the narrow angle of view. The perspective is closer to the classic 85mm portrait lens used on 35mm systems, but it has the angle of view of a 150mm lens on that system.

 

My other telephoto lens is one that has been sitting in my cupboard unused for over 18 months, but which I hauled out recently and put back into service.

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I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. It’s the Olympus 50-200/2.8-3.5 SWD (4/3 mount). It’s got the same angle of view as a Canon 100-400 lens, but it has the benefit of a larger aperture than the Canon and it is much smaller too. Without the lens hood and tripod mount it is just as nimble as the new 40-150/2.8 PRO. Upside is you can pick it up really cheap on the used market; downside is that it can only be used on the E-M1 with the PDAF sensors driving it. The SWD version works very nicely on an E-M1. I’ve been very happy with the results from this lens and will be using it much more from now on. The big plus is that it offers a wonderful range in a small package. It has excellent bokeh, much better than the sharp but nervous 40-150/2.8 PRO.

 

Flash

 

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The Olympus FL-600R has all the remote, bounce, tilt capability of a top of the line Nikon or Canon flash unit but comes in a much smaller package. I have 2 of them that I take with me on event shoots. I use a bounce card with them in manual mode and I have had good results. I don’t use the Olympus TTL modes because they can produce quite erratic exposures when the flash is bounced. One really good feature of this unit is that it has a built-in LED light for video. It’s pretty powerful too. Working with the FL-600R can be a bit tricky if you aren’t familiar with the setup, but I suppose that’s true for any system speed light, isn’t it?

 

And that is all I use on any shoots these days. 5 lenses, two E-M1 bodies. I get coverage all the way from fisheye up to what 35mm system users call a 400mm lens. The best part for me is that all of this gear, including the 2 flash units fits into my ThinkTank Retrospective 7 messenger bag and isn’t all that heavy.

Edited by DDFZ


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Great article. "Here's what I shoot and why" is almost always at least interesting and often helpful. Thanks!

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Interesting indeed, Dallas.

 

Photography is, and always has been about finding a niche and exploiting that in a primary business role, but I find it is the ancillary work that crops up from time-to-time that involves the purchase of ultimately rarely used and expensive stuff (not such a problem if you're in an area where renting is possible, but that doesn't apply to me).

 

My primary income involves just a copy and lighting stand (largely custom/home-made around an old Polaroid MP4 stand) that I've had since 1983, and a Fuji X-T1 with a Zeiss 50/2.8M Makro lens, some polarising light gels and lens filter, and a computer with enough horsepower to cause the local electricity sub-station to have a meltdown (not really, but it is a monster nonetheless).

 

The rest of my gear - the "seldom used but expensive" stuff was largely accumulated with covering the forest campaign that I've been involved with since 2006 in mind, but that has now ended and left me at another one of those infernal crossroads in this "niche" thing that seem to happen regularly in this game.

 

Thankfully the copy & restoration field is enjoying a resurgence at the moment, but the "Where to from here?" question has well and truly crept up again.

 

At the moment I'm dismantling my gallery (another of those hot/cold running niche things) and re-inventing it as a studio oriented towards people photography (so big 1000W/s studio flash units, full-length backdrops etc - and also another of those hot-and-cold running niche things, but I have the space and ceiling height with a perfect-for-bouncing vaulted ceiling with 45° returns to the lower vertical walls, so I may as well use it). The investment has been far less than filling that gallery was, and I'm really unsure of what to do with all those stretched canvasses and framed photographs now! I have the storage space, but that seems rather a waste, and fire-sales don't appeal much.

 

It's all rather fun (I keep telling myself).

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I'm really happy with the gear I'm using now and it will take a change in my working requirements to force a change in my gear (or an outright gear failure).

 

The E-M1 is such a sophisticated camera that improving it will be difficult. The only two areas that might tempt me to upgrade will be the possibility of a dual card slot for use as a backup for wedding photography (which I am branching out into this year) and maybe the ability to do hand held sensor shift high res shots when required. On the resolution side 16MP has been more than enough resolution for me and my customers the past few years, so any increase in this element of my output would be for personal gains and maybe cropping if I don't have enough reach (which seldom happens, even on safari since we get so close to the animals). 

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I'm just an amateur, but I'm glad I made the jump to Fuji.

 

My setup is: Fuji XT-1; 10-24mm f./4; 18-55mm f./2.8; 50-140mm f./2.8; TC 1.4x; 35mm f./2; 56mm f./1.2.

 

Plus a couple of flash units.

Edited by vivionm

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Similar to Vivion my new Fuji system is as follows

My setup is: Fuji XT-1; 10-24mm f./4; 18-55mm f./2.8; 50-140mm f./2.8; TC 1.4x; 18-135mm f3.5/f5.6; 60mm f2.4 macro.

Plus the freebie? Flash unit.

 

Still have some Nikon stuff to divest myself of, slowly getting there

Edited by Mike G

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Helpful as always Dallas, thank you.

 

Just a quick question on your choice of telephoto lens: would you say that the primary reason for choosing the 50-200 over the 40-150 is price?

 

I am also wondering if you can say a few words about the picture quality of both lenses and how they compare?

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Thanks especially for the discussion about the 9-18.  I'm still thinking about future lenses for my E-M5 (and E-M5 II).  So far I've been working with 3 f/1.8 primes -- 17, 25, 45.  I rented a 12 -40 last year and loved it, so that's my next lens.  I can see that the primes will get little use when that one shows up.  I think I'll end up with the 9-18, 12-40, 40-150 and 75 in addition to my other primes.  It'll take a while though as I've only been getting these when a really good deal shows up.

 

I'm also interested in see what Olympus can do with the high-resolution mode.  The ability to do this hand held would make the m4/3 system even more flexible.  Guess we'll have to wait for the E-M1 Mk2 for that...

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Dallas, the EM1 is excellent.  We recently took a trip to Rajasthan and my wife and son both shot their EM1's.  It was super easy to work out their kit :) .  The two bodies, 12-40 2.8, 40-150 2.8 (and tc1.4), 9-18 4-5.6, 60 2.8 macro, 17 1.8 , 75 1.8 and the 600R.  Nice tidy package for hand carry .   I only was able to shoot the EM1, 40-150 w/tc for about 10 shots :( since the cameras were inconstant use by their owners. 

 

I was in a quandary as to what lenses to take for the Sony a7II and Df.  Actually made the final selection an hour before heading for the airport and still did not get it right :( .  Longest lens I had for the two systems was the DC105 f2D have left the 75-150 3.5(or 70-200 f4 vr) out at the last minute.

 

We were very lucky to come across interesting wildlife on one of our side trips and my son's images with the 40-150 , TC proved that it will make an excellent wildlife lens.

 

We do not print, at home, larger than A3+.  Given an image from the EM1 that is properly exposed and fills most of the frame the results are excellent.   

I will be watching the eventual EM1 mk 2 very closely.

Cheers,

Tom

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Helpful as always Dallas, thank you.

 

Just a quick question on your choice of telephoto lens: would you say that the primary reason for choosing the 50-200 over the 40-150 is price?

 

I am also wondering if you can say a few words about the picture quality of both lenses and how they compare?

 

Robert, I would definitely like a 40-150/2.8 PRO at some point, but having used it extensively on safari and in other situations last year, I think you have to be mindful of a few of its characteristics, especially if they don't gel with your expectations.

 

It is a very sharp lens and it can focus really close, so it is an excellent option for near field subjects. It's lighter and thinner than the 50-200 SWD, plus it has internal zooming, which the older lens doesn't have, so it scores well in that department. Auto-focus is extraordinarily fast with all the PRO lenses, the 40-150 PRO being no exception.

 

However, there are two things about it that are not as good as the 50-200 SWD; it doesn't have bokeh anywhere near as nice as the 50-200 and as a wildlife lens (for our safaris) it is only good for close subjects. I found on safari last year that anything further than about 30m tended to get a little fuzzy, whereas the previous year when I was shooting with the 50-200/SWD I got much better results. 

 

Something else to consider is that you have an extra 50mm on the long end of the older lens and while it is at f/3.5, that is still faster than you get with the 40-150/2.8 and a 1.4x TC at f/4. And of course there's no hassle with having to slap on the TC, you have that extra range available all the time. 

 

So, the 50-200mm may be an ugly duckling when compared to the 40-150/2.8, but it certainly does shine where it matters. I used it again on Friday at a job I did and it was great - although I did switch to the 75/1.8 for indoors because the light was horrible and the 50-200 wasn't locking on as quickly as the 75 does in that situation. 

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