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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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