In 2012 I did the unthinkable. I cheated on my Nikon cameras by beginning an affair with a svelte retro styled camera that had no mirror. It was the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the system it belonged to was called Micro Four Thirds. That affair is quite well documented on Fotozones.
I had little idea at the time just how seismic this dalliance would be for not only my image making career, but also my relationships with other serious photographers and the industry as a whole. Everyone who was around me at the time I began experimenting with m43 knew me as the devout Nikon guy who had started a forum (Nikongear) dedicated to that brand 6 years earlier, but who was now inexplicably preaching an entirely different kind of sermon on how much more I enjoyed shooting with the Olympus than I did with the Nikon. Things got… shall we say, interesting?
I suppose change is something that brings out different things in different people. While it certainly scares me, it is something that I think everyone who knows me, knows that I thrive on. I’m always changing things up in my world. Nothing from the layout of my desk to website logos and even the 20m2 space I call my office (where almost everything except the desk itself is on wheels) escapes the changes I frequently bring about. I guess that in spite of its associated tension, I like change. Others, not so much. They see change as something to avoid at all costs.
Was It Worth It?
So now, approximately 5 years after I began the affair that resulted in a complete and total divorce from all things Nikon after 18 months of co-existence between the systems in my setup, it is time to reflect on how it has affected my life in photography. Was the change worth it?
Right off the bat I can say earnestly that my output definitely improved once I moved to m43. When I pulled images off the memory cards what came out of the Olympus cameras required hardly any post production, whereas my Nikon images had to have the works applied to them in post before I would send them off to clients. Sharpening, colour correction, dust removal, contrast enhancements… the whole 9 yards. This translated into a lot less work for me on shoots I did with Olympus, so I started using Olympus more often.
I suppose these improvements may have had something to do with the electronic viewfinder and LCD screen giving a much more accurate depiction of what I was going to get as a photo before I even took it. Maybe it was that the CDAF auto focus of the E-M5 on static subjects (99% of my work) was so reliable that the high rate of out of focus shots I had been used to with Nikon’s PDAF over the years became a thing of the past. I didn’t have to calibrate my lenses at all to cope with the idiosyncrasies of PDAF. It might also have been the incredible in body image stabilisation that totally removed my propensity to shake a little with the Nikon DSLR’s.
When I upgraded from the Olympus E-M5 to the E-M1 in late 2013 my confidence as a photographer grew even stronger, especially when it came to difficult shooting situations like low lit venues where slow shutter speeds and high ISO would have gotten me nought with my Nikon D700. Today if you put me in front of an event podium with an E-M1 and a fast lens like the Olympus 75/1.8 I will come away with more usable shots than I ever did before because all those mirrorless camera technologies meld together beautifully to improve my results. My flaws are painted over by a camera that works with me, not against me.
It would be unfair to suggest that Nikon stood completely still while I was making Olympus my primary system. They did bring out some great new cameras and lenses for the F mount since my last model (the D700), but in none of those new cameras did they address any of my reasons for making the switch to Olympus in the first place, which were mostly weight and cost savings. Unfortunately nothing Nikon has produced since the D700 has tempted me to return to the brand, because apart from improvements to the sensors in areas that don’t really apply to the work I do, they are still big, heavy machines that would slow me down for no noticeable improvement in my output.
The Lens Smorgasbord
One of the biggest changes I enjoyed after the move was discovering the wonderful family of lenses available to the m43 system, not only in native form, but also in exploring the charms of lenses that could be adapted and used on the E-M1, including old manual focus glass from the long discontinued Canon FD system. There was also full compatibility with the entire Four Thirds range of glass from Olympus, which if you have ever had the opportunity to shoot with will reveal to you that as lens makers Olympus stand behind nobody. Not even Leica. It’s also possible to adapt some lenses from Canon to work on certain m43 bodies with proper auto-focus and electronic aperture control using a Metabones Speed-booster. I must admit to giving serious consideration to the new Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 II as a potential safari lens. With the 1 stop increase in aperture that would be a seriously versatile optic in the bushveld.
Eventually though, in my zeal I acquired way too many lenses. At one point I think I had 23 of them for my system and deciding what to take with me on a shoot became an exercise in analysis paralysis. Purging myself of around 75% of those lenses last year has turned me into something of a minimalist when it comes to photography jobs these days. I literally only need 4 different lenses to do 95% of the work I get, so they get put into whatever camera bag I decide to take on a job and that’s that. For the curious those lenses are the Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6, 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 (4/3) and 75/1.8. They do almost everything and I have not felt inhibited by them in any way.
Scrambled Eggs All Over My Face?
On the negative side, the thing that I found most challenging about the change to micro four thirds was managing the incredulity of other photographers who were, for the most part, aghast at this change in someone who was so previously welded to the Nikon brand. I have to say this; it probably hurt me more than anything to see people I had come to be friends with on Nikongear over the years turn their backs on me because of my enthusiasm for a different brand. Not dissimilar, I suppose, to what happens when couples get divorced and find their circle of friends changes completely afterwards.
Apart from that, do I have any regrets about dumping Nikon for Olympus? None whatsoever. Genuine. I am still of the opinion that the m43 system is better for what I do than anything else out there right now. It ticks all the boxes that matter to me; weight, price, durability, customisability, lens options, image quality, performance where it is needed and more.
If I was making the move to mirrorless today in 2017 would I still choose m43 over Fujifilm and Sony? Absolutely. I did try the Fuji X-T1 last year and it was OK, but it didn’t shake my world the way the Olympus E-M1 did when it came out. I think the size difference between the two systems is significantly in m43’s favour without any noticeable difference in the image quality as far as sensor size is concerned, so why go for bigger when smaller does just as well? On the subject of Sony’s mirrorless system, they are undoubtedly the sensor kings, but as a company I could never trust them enough to buy into any system they put their name on. I have seen far too many Sony products become paperweights because of their capriciousness when it comes to long term customer support. I’m not a fan of the brand at all. However, I do like the RX-100 as a pocket camera and video tool.
On the subject of video, looking ahead I see myself moving more into that sphere where the m43 Panasonic GH-4 and GH-5 cameras have all but swept aside the really big names in video capabilities for minimal outlay. Adding one of them seems to be my most likely next move and considering the m43 lens family I have it makes perfect sense. I also see a DJI m43 drone which extends the practicality of those lenses even further. All in all m43 is just a winning, very well supported photography and videography system.
Word coming out of the usual analytical sources regarding the camera industry (Thom Hogan) is that DSLR sales are declining rapidly at this time and mirrorless are making some gains. At some point in the very near future the lines on the graph will cross and mirrorless cameras will become the top sellers in the interchangeable lens camera market. For me when that day comes vindication of my move will be savoury. :-)
If any Fotozones readers are considering a move to mirrorless and have questions about the Micro Four Thirds system, please feel free to ask questions in the comments - I will be happy to help you make an informed decision.
If you like this post, please consider incentivising me to write more often by supporting me on Patreon.