Jump to content
Dallas

Adopting the Olympus OM-D System Pt. 2

Recommended Posts

If you have already invested in a well rounded camera system from any manufacturer, why would you want to look at getting an Olympus mirrorless camera and a bunch of micro four thirds lenses?

It’s a fair question and I think that you need to weigh up your options quite carefully before you go splashing down all your hard earned money, or selling off your old system and then regretting it later. You need to assess the advantages you'll enjoy before you do that. This series of articles is based on my own experiences and if you are looking to do a system change perhaps my needs might intersect with yours.

Size & Weight

The biggest and most attractive aspect of this system is that you’re cutting down the weight and size of your equipment by a considerable margin. If you consider the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 ED lens, the closest lenses to it in terms of light transmission and field of view from the big 135 system cameras are the Canon 200mm f/2.0 and the Nikon 200mm f/2.0.

The Canon lens weighs 2.54kg and is 208mm long. It costs $6,000. The Nikon weighs a little more at 2.93kg and is 203mm long. It costs $5800.

gallery_2_394_85679.jpg

gallery_2_394_31296.jpg

Now these are both incredible high performance lenses from the big names in photo gear and I’m not suggesting for a second that the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 is their optical equal (I think it’s pretty close in terms of sharpness though), but the angle of view from the Olympus lens is very close to what the other two offer. It’s the same as a 150mm lens on the bigger sensor and its aperture is faster than both those other giant lenses. The main difference you may notice between the two big lenses and the Olympus comes down to the depth of field observed. The big lenses are awesome in this regard, completely blurring out the background, but I’ll tell you what, the Olympus 75mm can hold its head up very high too. The really big material difference between these lenses? Well, the Olympus 75mm will cost you $900 (+ $75 with the hood) and it weighs a mere 305g. That is slightly more than 10% of the mass of each of the two other lenses. It is only 69mm long, which if Mens Health is to be believed, is less than half the length of the average male erection.

While you’re mulling over those numbers in your head and looking at your nearest ruler, I want you to think about when you’d use a lens like a fast 200mm or equivalent. As a highly specialised short telephoto lens they’re typically used for indoor sports or stage performances. If you’re shooting live shows you’re probably going to pair this up with something like a full bodied pro DSLR like a Canon 1DX that weighs in the region of 1.5kg. You’re up to almost 5kg in your hands now with just one lens and camera body. Handholding that combo for the length of a 2 hour long live concert is going to result in arm fatigue, even if you’re fairly gym strong. If you’re not handholding you will have to bring along a monopod or tripod with a decent head. More weight. More things to look after. Those of you who have done photography at live shows will already know what a pain it is to have to try and use dedicated camera supports in the places where you have to shoot from.

gallery_2_394_385082.jpg

If you go to a show or indoor sports event with the big system your camera bag is going to be large. You’re going to need a lot of personal space around you to take things in and out of it and as somebody who has tried this before, it’s not always possible, especially if you’re in a theatre where other people who have paid to see the show are now having to put up with your enormous camera presence. Try walking into an arena concert with a DSLR and 200mm fast lens. You won’t get in, simple as that. But with an OM-D and a 75mm f/1.8 you’re looking way less conspicuous. Yes, you could use a different lens, such as a 70-200/2.8, but then you've already lost a stop and a third of light, or you could put an 85mm f/1.8 on an APS-C body, but that's probably as close as you're going to get. How good are the 85mm f/1.8 lenses out there compared to the Oly? In my experience of shooting both Nikon and Canon versions in the past... not even in the same sport, let alone ballpark. You just don't get lenses like this for DSLR's without paying huge money for them and making enormous trade-offs in convenience.

gallery_2_394_19371.jpg

The example of the 75mm f/1.8 lens is just one of many where the physical advantage of a smaller system is obvious. Travel photography is an area where the advantage is huge. Anyone who’s ever had to travel by air with a lot of camera gear knows just how stressful that can become. Over the past few years I have travelled domestically within South Africa for safaris and each time I have had to rationalise my kit just so that I could avoid being detected as a carry-on “over-loader” by the airline ground staff. The thought of having your precious camera gear checked in and falling prey to airport baggage handlers and automated sorting systems is enough to leave you sleepless.

gallery_1_430_1397556685_260.jpg

(this shot was taken in near darkness at very close range in a Himba hut in Namibia)

A system like micro four thirds is physically minuscule when compared to larger DSLR systems like Canon and Nikon, and to a fair degree even the APS-C systems. You are able to pack a lot more gear into a much smaller space without giving up much photographically. I am well known for using the ThinkTank Retrospective bags and I can get 6 lenses plus one of the OM-D bodies (with a battery grip) into the Retrospective 5’s main compartment. If I really want to I can also put a second OM-D body sans lens into the front pouch, or I can slip a couple of flash units in there. If you’ve ever seen the Retro 5 bag you’ll know how small it is.

Electronic View Finder (EVF)

For me another plus of the system is the Electronic View Finder (EVF). It’s a big change to using optical view finders, but it is the way of the future and in my humble opinion it will make you a better photographer if you know how to use it properly.

The EVF found in the Olympus E-M1 is awesome. It really is. Imagine you’re shooting something backlit. You need to increase your exposure by compensating if you want your subject to be properly exposed. Any good camera will have compensation on it, but you’ll have to chimp at your results to see the effects of it when using an optical view finder. With the EVF you’ll see the exact results before you’ve even taken the shot.

The E-M1 has what they call “Adaptive Brightness Technology” built in. So what this does is it adjusts the brightness of the EVF depending on the ambient light, but it does it in a way that doesn’t trick your eyes into believing that the image in the EVF is brighter than it actually is. What you’re looking at in the EVF is fairly representative of the scene in terms of its brightness and contrast.

You will also see what areas of your image are going to be blown out or blocked up detail wise by activating the highlights/shadow warnings. It works just the same way it does in Bridge or Lightroom, red marks the blown highlights and blue marks the blocked shadows. Again, you’ll see your results before you take or potentially mess up your shot. If you’d prefer to not see big blobs of red or blue, you could opt to use the live histogram instead.

Another advantage of the OM-D EVF is that you can activate the level indicator in the EVF to show you when your horizon is going to be skew, or you’re introducing key stoning by tilting the lens upwards or downwards. I find this pretty handy when shooting interiors.

Focus peaking is another very cool EVF feature you’ll find on the E-M1. I have set mine up to be activated with the Fn1 button, which rests just below my right thumb when holding the camera. If I am using a manual focus lens via adapter on my E-M1 I can get it into focus simply by looking for the brightly highlighted edges of my subject as I move the focus ring of the lens. It works very well. If you would prefer more precise control then you’d probably want to use the magnifier feature of the EVF. This takes a small portion of the scene and magnifies it so that you can manually focus more accurately.

Another E-M1 feature I have discovered that lends itself to being helpful is the HDR modes. Wouldn’t it be great to see what your HDR is going to look like before you make the exposures? This is what happens when you select one of these modes - you’ll see an expanded HDR preview in the EVF. As soon as you hit the release the camera will make its exposures, combine them in camera and then give you a single image. Too cool.

Something else that I have found to be an amazing advantage is that if I am outdoors I can look into the EVF to see my shots, zoom into them and also change the displayed information about them. If you've ever tried to see what's on the back of your LCD in daylight, you'll know how tricky that can be.

gallery_2_394_9051.jpg
In Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS)

This feature of the E-M1 is nothing short of remarkable. It was good on the E-M5, but now it’s ridiculously good and it is possible to hand hold exposures up to a couple of seconds and still get perfectly sharp images. For low light work where you don’t have a tripod handy it’s an advantage that can be the difference between a useful shot and something you throw away.

The real beauty of the IBIS is that you get stabilisation with any lens. Yes, even that old Nikkor 105/2.5 from the 60’s I have in my collection of old lenses is stabilised and unlike optical stabilisers where the jiggling of lens elements produces weird artefacts in the out of focus areas of your image (double lines for instance), the IBIS doesn’t seem to exhibit the same behaviour since its the image sensor that does the jiggling. It’s also very effective in video mode.

You can switch off the IBIS but I leave it on all the time. Why risk camera shake when you don’t have to? However, something I recently discovered is that you can also set the IBIS to only work in a certain axis if you want it to. For instance, if you are panning horizontally you can switch off the horizontal stabilisation and use only the vertical stabiliser. I wish I had thought of that when I was making panning shots of fast moving skateboarders recently.

Wifi Camera Control & Sharing

Several years ago when I got my very first iPod Touch I wrote a review of the OnOne app that allowed you to tether your camera to a laptop and control it from your iPod. It actually worked quite well, but the problem was that you had to have the laptop in the vicinity of the camera. It was a bit gimmicky, but seeing your camera’s live view being transmitted to your iPod was pretty darn cool.

Things have evolved a bit since then and one of the features of the E-M1 is the built-in wifi capability that lets you do the exact same thing as the OnOne Camera Control app did, except you no longer need a laptop to create a wifi network for the app to connect to. The camera now creates its own network and when you connect your smart phone or tablet to it, it allows you to not only control the camera, but also send its images to the controlling device for onward transmission to another location, be it a social network, image sharing service, or even Airdrop it to another Apple device. That applies to any images you have stored on the SD card - you can import them to your iPad or iPhone.

How is this useful? Well, here’s a real world example; when I am shooting tabletop product shots in my small home studio and I want my client’s opinion on whether they are happy with the way the products are arranged, I import the shot to my iPad’s Camera Roll via the Olympus Image Share app and I can email them a small version of the shot. I also prefer to see the larger Live View on my iPad than what's on the camera LCD screen.

Now, with the addition of Lightroom for iPad I can even do minor edits to the shot before I send them a sample. This is a real advantage and the screenshot you see below was done in exactly this manner. In the past I would have to copy the file to the computer, add it to the Lightroom catalog , edit it there, create a small version of it and only then could I send it off via email to my client. Bit of a rigmarole.

gallery_2_394_300010.png

Screen grab of Lightroom for iPad - I will be writing a more in-depth assessment of this app soon

The OIS app is still a bit of an infant though and in the future I hope to be able to send files to a service like DropBox or iCloud directly from the app instead of having to import them to the Camera Roll. I’m pretty sure that could be done in future upgrades.

The Tilting & Touch Screen

A lot of people think this is very gimmicky, but it's actually quite a useful thing, especially if you don't want to go crawling on your belly to make exposures of things at that level (think macro, etc). You can tilt the screen upwards to use it as a waist-level finder, then tap the screen like you would an iPhone to make an exposure. This is a nifty trick to use if you want to make candid shots of people who are unaware that they are about to be photographed. Street photographers will be in their element with this feature.

These are just some of the big advantages I have experienced with the OM-D system. In part 3 of this series I will talk about the compromises you will have to contend with if you are considering a switch to OM-D. That will be published next week Monday.


View full article

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you for this series of articles!

 

One of the key drivers for us to leave Canon and move to M43 was the size and weight issue.   I got the wife a Tamron 150-600....she could not lift it on a 5DIII.    With a Panasonic 100-300 on her E-M1 she essentially have the same range and aperture speeds for 1/4 of the size and weight.   Remember, happy wife, happy life.

 

We have a friend who just had shoulder surgery.  He can no longer carry around his Canon kit.  We will see him at a photo club meeting on Tuesday evening.   I told him about the 12-40 lens.  He will be amazed that it can replace his 24-70 brick.  And the Panasonic 100-300 can replace his Canon 100-400, like it did ours.  The best camera and lens you can use.....the ones you can carry.

 

I have not found our M43 kits to hold us back.  Any limitations in our photography is due to our ability, not the capability of the equipment.

Edited by mcasan

Olympus OM-D EM-1 II, 60mm Macro, 7-14mm Pro, 12-40mm Pro, 40-150mm Pro, 300mm Pro

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's articles like this that really make this community stand out. If 99% of the blog-o-sphere were like this, we'd have a really value on our hands.

Thanks, Dallas.

  • Like 1

Nikon D500, D700, Df, 18-140/3.5-5.6 VR, 20/2.8D, 28-105/3.5-4.5D, 50/1.8D, 60/2.8D Macro, 80-200/4.5-5.6, 300/4E PF, 35/2D,  Tamron 70-200/2.8 VC

Manual Focus Lenses:  Nikon 55/3.5 Micro pre-AI, 105/2.5 AI, ZY Mitakon Creator 85/2

Olympus PEN-F, EM5.2, Olympus 9mm f/8 Fisheye, 17/1.8, 75-300/4.8-6.7 II, Panasonic 12-32/3.5-5.6, 12-35/2.8, 35-100/2.8, Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN Art, ZY Mitakon 25/0.95
 

http://www.bestlightphoto.net | http://www.visualohio.com | http://bestlightphoto.blogspot.com | Flickr | SCEENEINWINDOWS Project

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Similar Content

    • By waltonksm
      I am contemplating the purchase of an MFT Olympus 8mm F3.5.  I am thinking about a used one that does not cost and arm and a leg.  Dallas had a few comments to make about the 8mm F1.8.... but I find very little about the 8mm F3.5 beyond the initial Olympus announcement when it was introduced. Also, it appears to no longer be in the Olympus "stable."
       
      Can anyone give me any insights?  Perhaps the fact it is discontinued is the best indicator. BUT, it still demands a fairly high price on eBay (for whatever that is worth.)
    • By Hugh_3170
      This anticipated new model in the Olympus E-M1 line up has been released.
       
      Some links:
       
      https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/olympus-om-d-e-m1-mark-iii-initial-review
       
      https://www.olympus.com.au/product/dslr/em1mk3/index.html
       
      It will be interesting to see how this new comer stacks up against its predecessors, especially in the stills IQ department.
       
      (Meanwhile Nikon have released their new D6 - in good time for the summer Olympics in Tokyo later this year.)
    • By Dallas
      Working With Olympus FL-600R Flashes
      I’ve had two of these small, but fully functional FL-600R flashes pretty much since I started shooting with Olympus full time and have done a fair amount of work with them, including small product photography and portraiture as well as some event coverage. To follow is a basic overview of how the flashes work and also how I use them.
       
      FL-600R Features
      After previously using a couple of Nikon SB-800 and SB-900 speedlights, getting these little things was quite a shock. They are minute compared to standard speedlights from Nikon and Canon. One of them is probably about half (or less) the size of an SB-900. However, in spite of their diminutive size, they offer much the same functionality of the Nikon CLS system.
       
      The heads zoom according to the focal length of the lens you are using, they tilt and swivel too, allowing for bounce flash, plus there is also a wide angle diffraction panel built in along with a very small white bounce card (too small to be meaningful).
       
      On the back of the unit is an LCD panel showing the various settings. This also has a backlight, but it needs to be activated manually - it doesn’t turn on when the flash is activated by the camera, which I think is something they should fix in firmware. There is a rotating selector wheel with directional key pad built in.
       
      The units come in a nice nylon case and included is a plastic stand for remote use. Missing is a clip on diffuser. I’m not sure if you can buy one to fit these small units. Maybe somebody in China is making them?


      The one feature that this flash has which I haven’t encountered on any other portable unit is a built in LED for video. It can be set up to shine at various strengths from 1/1 down to 1/16 of its power. I can tell you that if you have this thing set to shine at 1/1 you are going to blind people. It’s very bright!
       
      The flash has several modes you can set it to:
       
      A mode - auto mode operates much the same as it does on any other portable flash unit. The sensor in the front of the unit reads how much light is being reflected back to it from the subject and when it thinks it has pushed out enough power it cuts itself off. It works pretty well with the OM-D cameras and provided you have it properly set up on your Super Control Panel (as fill-in flash, not Auto) you should get a decent exposure for snapshot type photos.
       
      M mode - the FL-600R has full manual mode which is good news for any strobist. You can adjust the power from 1/1 all the way down to 1/128.
       
      FP-TTL A mode - like most advanced flash units this one has the FP mode, which lets you sync flash up to the maximum shutter speed of the camera (1/8000s in the case of the OM-D range). This mode also passes full control of flash output to the camera, hence the TTL.
       
      TTL - A mode - as per above, except that you are now limiting the flash to the max sync speed of the OM-D.
       
      FP - M mode - full manual control but with the ability to sync at any shutter speed.
       
      RC mode - remote control mode lets you set up the flash so that it is completely controlled by the camera when it is standing free. This is the equivalent of Nikon’s CLS mode where you can have several flashes working in three different groups. I’ll go into more detail on this later in the article.
       
      SL - A mode - this is the slave mode combined with A mode (mentioned above). Not to be confused with RC mode, slave mode is where the unit waits to receive an optical trigger from any other flash unit and then pumps out light based on what it gets back from the sensor in the front of the unit.
       
      SL- M mode - this is your quintessential “strobist” mode where the flash uses its built int optical slave and lets the photographer decide how much power it should dump out with each burst. Nikon users will know this as SU-4 mode on their speedlights.
       
      Flash compensation is possible either from the camera or manually from the flash unit. This has a pretty wide range going from -5.0 all the way up to +5.0 stops.
      The zoom can be set to change automatically or manually from 12mm up to 42mm.
       
      The LED light can be set up to come on automatically to assist with auto focus acquisition in low light, or you can toggle it on or off manually. It’s also possible to set the strength of the light in the custom functions of the FL-600R.
       
      Just on the LED settings; it can be very confusing to set this up to operate as an AF assist light because you have to co-ordinate settings on both the speedlight and the camera. Buried deep in the Olympus menu labyrinth is a setting for AF Illuminat. You have to set this to on. Then you have to go into the FL-600R’s custom settings by holding down the OK button for 2 seconds, find the setting that reads ILL and make sure that says A. Then, once you have done those two things you need to adjust the LED settings on the back panel of the flash to the A setting too. Only then will it automatically shine the LED to assist with auto focus.
       
      And before you do this you really need to make sure that you have turned the power of the LED down to a reasonable level otherwise your subjects are going to be squinting horribly at you. Trust me on this - it’s not pretty! It’s a better idea to use the orange AF assist light of the OM-D than this thing, although that may also frustrate you as it can be distracting. I suppose once you are used to changing these settings in their respective places it isn’t as complicated as it sounds, but I have switched this “feature” off and set the flash to manually turn the LED light on or off. I find that at a lower power setting this is far less distracting to a subject and also provides enough illumination when you’re in a dark room. The downside is that when you turn it on what you’re doing suddenly becomes the centre of attention, just like shining a spotlight on a stage.
       
      Working With On Camera Flash
       
      The FL-600R compliments the OM-D cameras quite nicely. It’s well balanced and once you have decided which mode you want to use, you can get good results on a consistent basis. It’s getting to the comfort level of operation that takes a bit of getting used to. As with anything, practise makes perfect.
       
      Regular readers will know that I was a huge fan of Nikon’s iTTL metering with SB speedlights. Put one of the SB units onto any Nikon camera, stick it in iTTL and your results are going to be spot on, 99% of the time, which takes the stress out of using on-camera flash completely. While the Olympus FL-600R also offers through the lens (TTL-A) metering the results are nowhere near as consistently good as Nikon’s. I find that the exposures in TTL A mode are usually under exposed by at least a stop and they also don’t respond well to bounced flash. I get widely varying results in this mode.
       
      If I am shooting events I opt for M mode and using a bounce card attached to the flash I shoot in full manual mode, using a shutter speed and ISO rating that will allow ambient light to bleed in at a wide(ish) aperture. I’ll set the flash to a power setting that feels right and then I will adjust aperture until I am happy with the balance between subject and the ambient. It’s a little more primitive than using TTL mode, but once you get the hang of it you will feel a lot more like a real photographer. If I’m in a rush and I don’t have time to do any tests I will most likely use A mode with a bounce card and this works fairly well too.
       

      Above is an example of using manual flash settings in manual mode on the camera. Below is an example of using A mode where shutter speed was slowed and ISO boosted to allow more ambient in. Click to enlarge.
       

       
      Working With Off Camera Flash
       
      RC Mode
      Using the FL-600R off camera is where the home strobist will begin to enjoy the flexibility of these little flashes. As with the Nikon CLS system it is possible to set up an unlimited number of flash units that can be controlled from the camera in three groups, A, B & C on a common channel. From the camera you can use the little clip on flashes that come with the OM-D (or the pop-up in the case of E-M10 and certain PEN models) to act as the commander for the FL-600R. Or you can use another FL-600R as a commander.
       
      Each group can be set to fire in any of the TTL, Auto, Manual or FP modes (TTL and M), so you can have a mix of these modes in different groups. For example, if I have a couple of the FL-600R’s on a white background I can set those to be in group A and have them firing in manual mode to keep the power on the background constant. Then I could have another FL-600R set to Auto or TTL mode on my subject in group B or C. The advantage of this is that I can control all the flashes from the Super Control Panel on the OM-D as well as adjust power settings for each group. It’s very cool.
       
      The image below is an example of the outcome of such a set up but using only one FL-600R for the background and another for the subject. Click to enlarge.
       

       
      From a practical stance this setup works quite well indoors in a smallish studio, but in larger environs or outdoors you may battle to get the remote flashes to see the commander pulses as the sensor is in the front of the unit. A workaround is to swivel the heads all the way around so that the sensor is facing the commander. This works fine in TTL and manual modes but will confuse the A mode as the flash will not be getting the proper bounce back from the subject that it uses to determine when to stop sending out power.
       
      Before I invested in a couple of sets of studio strobes I used the two little FL-600R units to produce my usual run-off-the-mill 2 light small product photography setup. If I want to do a very quick basic setup I still use the Olympus flashes in a small light tent cube I have and I am quite happy with the results using manual mode in remote control. It saves me having to set up the big lights with all the stands and softboxes, etc.
       

      Above we see a single FL-600R used to illuminate the edge of the knife. Below a second FL-600R is added to produce the main key light. Click to enlarge.
       

       
      Slave Mode
      Slave mode is different to the RC mode in that you are effectively turning the FL-600R into a dumb unit that fires only in A or M modes and is triggered whenever it sees another flash. This means it can be used in conjunction with any other kind of flash units that are firing simultaneously. Strobist stuff. I sometimes use them on clamps with spigots for setups where I might need another light attached to a part of the set that doesn’t allow for a light stand to be set up. They work well like this.
       

      Above shot shows how I sometimes use an FL-600R to light a white background (or other things) for product photos.
       
      Product Observations
       
      The problems that present themselves with small flashes come down to power. These units are fine for general snapshot type, on-camera photography, but if you are looking to light up an entire room with a single flash you’re going to have to push your ISO up or invest in a fair number of these units to make it all work. Price might be an issue with that idea as these sell for $300 each. Sure, while these units are a bit cheaper than the Nikon and Canon flashes that offer the same degree of flexibility, they are more expensive than equally capable Chinese brand flashes such as the Yongnuo’s. Granted those units will only work in manual mode and don’t offer the RC mode but therein lies most of the fun in strobism - manual mode.
       
      The only thing that these FL-600R units don’t offer is a sync port, so attaching radio triggers that only offer cable connectivity to remote units for outdoor use means you will have to invest in a hot-shoe adapter that has a sync port built in.
       
      Recycle time is pretty good. I use the GP Recycko AA cells in mine and unless I have forgotten to charge them up before a shoot, I get good recycle times. If you have an older Olympus E-series camera you will be happy to learn that this flash is fully compatible with those cameras too. I used it on both the E-3 and E-30 when I had them.
       
      Improvements I would like to see are a simpler interface with the camera and also easier controls to use on the flash itself. The custom settings don’t make a lot of sense unless you have them memorised. Olympus could also provide a much better user manual for such a complex device. Another thing that could be improved is to provide some kind of audible sound to show that the light has recycled when it is off camera. In remote mode the LED blinks when the flash is ready to fire, but this can be distracting so I would prefer to have a beep (that can also be turned off when it isn’t wanted).
       
      As mentioned at the start of this article, the FL-600R compliments the OM-D range quite nicely and gives you a lot of flexibility to get creative with bounce flash and also off-camera flash. They are very small and light so they don’t take up a lot of space in a camera bag either. If you have an OM-D and are looking for something better than the clip on flash (or pop-up in the case of the E-M10) this FL-600R should suit your needs very well. It may take a little getting used to, but once you have the hang of it you wil be able to use it quite creatively. All in all these units show that the Olympus micro four thirds system is very well fleshed out and mature. There is little you can't accomplish with it.
       
    • By Dallas
      Working With Olympus FL-600R Flashes
      I’ve had two of these small, but fully functional FL-600R flashes pretty much since I started shooting with Olympus full time and have done a fair amount of work with them, including small product photography and portraiture as well as some event coverage. To follow is a basic overview of how the flashes work and also how I use them.
       
      FL-600R Features
      After previously using a couple of Nikon SB-800 and SB-900 speedlights, getting these little things was quite a shock. They are minute compared to standard speedlights from Nikon and Canon. One of them is probably about half (or less) the size of an SB-900. However, in spite of their diminutive size, they offer much the same functionality of the Nikon CLS system.
       
      The heads zoom according to the focal length of the lens you are using, they tilt and swivel too, allowing for bounce flash, plus there is also a wide angle diffraction panel built in along with a very small white bounce card (too small to be meaningful).
       
      On the back of the unit is an LCD panel showing the various settings. This also has a backlight, but it needs to be activated manually - it doesn’t turn on when the flash is activated by the camera, which I think is something they should fix in firmware. There is a rotating selector wheel with directional key pad built in.
       
      The units come in a nice nylon case and included is a plastic stand for remote use. Missing is a clip on diffuser. I’m not sure if you can buy one to fit these small units. Maybe somebody in China is making them?


      The one feature that this flash has which I haven’t encountered on any other portable unit is a built in LED for video. It can be set up to shine at various strengths from 1/1 down to 1/16 of its power. I can tell you that if you have this thing set to shine at 1/1 you are going to blind people. It’s very bright!
       
      The flash has several modes you can set it to:
       
      A mode - auto mode operates much the same as it does on any other portable flash unit. The sensor in the front of the unit reads how much light is being reflected back to it from the subject and when it thinks it has pushed out enough power it cuts itself off. It works pretty well with the OM-D cameras and provided you have it properly set up on your Super Control Panel (as fill-in flash, not Auto) you should get a decent exposure for snapshot type photos.
       
      M mode - the FL-600R has full manual mode which is good news for any strobist. You can adjust the power from 1/1 all the way down to 1/128.
       
      FP-TTL A mode - like most advanced flash units this one has the FP mode, which lets you sync flash up to the maximum shutter speed of the camera (1/8000s in the case of the OM-D range). This mode also passes full control of flash output to the camera, hence the TTL.
       
      TTL - A mode - as per above, except that you are now limiting the flash to the max sync speed of the OM-D.
       
      FP - M mode - full manual control but with the ability to sync at any shutter speed.
       
      RC mode - remote control mode lets you set up the flash so that it is completely controlled by the camera when it is standing free. This is the equivalent of Nikon’s CLS mode where you can have several flashes working in three different groups. I’ll go into more detail on this later in the article.
       
      SL - A mode - this is the slave mode combined with A mode (mentioned above). Not to be confused with RC mode, slave mode is where the unit waits to receive an optical trigger from any other flash unit and then pumps out light based on what it gets back from the sensor in the front of the unit.
       
      SL- M mode - this is your quintessential “strobist” mode where the flash uses its built int optical slave and lets the photographer decide how much power it should dump out with each burst. Nikon users will know this as SU-4 mode on their speedlights.
       
      Flash compensation is possible either from the camera or manually from the flash unit. This has a pretty wide range going from -5.0 all the way up to +5.0 stops.
      The zoom can be set to change automatically or manually from 12mm up to 42mm.
       
      The LED light can be set up to come on automatically to assist with auto focus acquisition in low light, or you can toggle it on or off manually. It’s also possible to set the strength of the light in the custom functions of the FL-600R.
       
      Just on the LED settings; it can be very confusing to set this up to operate as an AF assist light because you have to co-ordinate settings on both the speedlight and the camera. Buried deep in the Olympus menu labyrinth is a setting for AF Illuminat. You have to set this to on. Then you have to go into the FL-600R’s custom settings by holding down the OK button for 2 seconds, find the setting that reads ILL and make sure that says A. Then, once you have done those two things you need to adjust the LED settings on the back panel of the flash to the A setting too. Only then will it automatically shine the LED to assist with auto focus.
       
      And before you do this you really need to make sure that you have turned the power of the LED down to a reasonable level otherwise your subjects are going to be squinting horribly at you. Trust me on this - it’s not pretty! It’s a better idea to use the orange AF assist light of the OM-D than this thing, although that may also frustrate you as it can be distracting. I suppose once you are used to changing these settings in their respective places it isn’t as complicated as it sounds, but I have switched this “feature” off and set the flash to manually turn the LED light on or off. I find that at a lower power setting this is far less distracting to a subject and also provides enough illumination when you’re in a dark room. The downside is that when you turn it on what you’re doing suddenly becomes the centre of attention, just like shining a spotlight on a stage.
       
      Working With On Camera Flash
       
      The FL-600R compliments the OM-D cameras quite nicely. It’s well balanced and once you have decided which mode you want to use, you can get good results on a consistent basis. It’s getting to the comfort level of operation that takes a bit of getting used to. As with anything, practise makes perfect.
       
      Regular readers will know that I was a huge fan of Nikon’s iTTL metering with SB speedlights. Put one of the SB units onto any Nikon camera, stick it in iTTL and your results are going to be spot on, 99% of the time, which takes the stress out of using on-camera flash completely. While the Olympus FL-600R also offers through the lens (TTL-A) metering the results are nowhere near as consistently good as Nikon’s. I find that the exposures in TTL A mode are usually under exposed by at least a stop and they also don’t respond well to bounced flash. I get widely varying results in this mode.
       
      If I am shooting events I opt for M mode and using a bounce card attached to the flash I shoot in full manual mode, using a shutter speed and ISO rating that will allow ambient light to bleed in at a wide(ish) aperture. I’ll set the flash to a power setting that feels right and then I will adjust aperture until I am happy with the balance between subject and the ambient. It’s a little more primitive than using TTL mode, but once you get the hang of it you will feel a lot more like a real photographer. If I’m in a rush and I don’t have time to do any tests I will most likely use A mode with a bounce card and this works fairly well too.
       

      Above is an example of using manual flash settings in manual mode on the camera. Below is an example of using A mode where shutter speed was slowed and ISO boosted to allow more ambient in. Click to enlarge.
       

       
      Working With Off Camera Flash
       
      RC Mode
      Using the FL-600R off camera is where the home strobist will begin to enjoy the flexibility of these little flashes. As with the Nikon CLS system it is possible to set up an unlimited number of flash units that can be controlled from the camera in three groups, A, B & C on a common channel. From the camera you can use the little clip on flashes that come with the OM-D (or the pop-up in the case of E-M10 and certain PEN models) to act as the commander for the FL-600R. Or you can use another FL-600R as a commander.
       
      Each group can be set to fire in any of the TTL, Auto, Manual or FP modes (TTL and M), so you can have a mix of these modes in different groups. For example, if I have a couple of the FL-600R’s on a white background I can set those to be in group A and have them firing in manual mode to keep the power on the background constant. Then I could have another FL-600R set to Auto or TTL mode on my subject in group B or C. The advantage of this is that I can control all the flashes from the Super Control Panel on the OM-D as well as adjust power settings for each group. It’s very cool.
       
      The image below is an example of the outcome of such a set up but using only one FL-600R for the background and another for the subject. Click to enlarge.
       

       
      From a practical stance this setup works quite well indoors in a smallish studio, but in larger environs or outdoors you may battle to get the remote flashes to see the commander pulses as the sensor is in the front of the unit. A workaround is to swivel the heads all the way around so that the sensor is facing the commander. This works fine in TTL and manual modes but will confuse the A mode as the flash will not be getting the proper bounce back from the subject that it uses to determine when to stop sending out power.
       
      Before I invested in a couple of sets of studio strobes I used the two little FL-600R units to produce my usual run-off-the-mill 2 light small product photography setup. If I want to do a very quick basic setup I still use the Olympus flashes in a small light tent cube I have and I am quite happy with the results using manual mode in remote control. It saves me having to set up the big lights with all the stands and softboxes, etc.
       

      Above we see a single FL-600R used to illuminate the edge of the knife. Below a second FL-600R is added to produce the main key light. Click to enlarge.
       

       
      Slave Mode
      Slave mode is different to the RC mode in that you are effectively turning the FL-600R into a dumb unit that fires only in A or M modes and is triggered whenever it sees another flash. This means it can be used in conjunction with any other kind of flash units that are firing simultaneously. Strobist stuff. I sometimes use them on clamps with spigots for setups where I might need another light attached to a part of the set that doesn’t allow for a light stand to be set up. They work well like this.
       

      Above shot shows how I sometimes use an FL-600R to light a white background (or other things) for product photos.
       
      Product Observations
       
      The problems that present themselves with small flashes come down to power. These units are fine for general snapshot type, on-camera photography, but if you are looking to light up an entire room with a single flash you’re going to have to push your ISO up or invest in a fair number of these units to make it all work. Price might be an issue with that idea as these sell for $300 each. Sure, while these units are a bit cheaper than the Nikon and Canon flashes that offer the same degree of flexibility, they are more expensive than equally capable Chinese brand flashes such as the Yongnuo’s. Granted those units will only work in manual mode and don’t offer the RC mode but therein lies most of the fun in strobism - manual mode.
       
      The only thing that these FL-600R units don’t offer is a sync port, so attaching radio triggers that only offer cable connectivity to remote units for outdoor use means you will have to invest in a hot-shoe adapter that has a sync port built in.
       
      Recycle time is pretty good. I use the GP Recycko AA cells in mine and unless I have forgotten to charge them up before a shoot, I get good recycle times. If you have an older Olympus E-series camera you will be happy to learn that this flash is fully compatible with those cameras too. I used it on both the E-3 and E-30 when I had them.
       
      Improvements I would like to see are a simpler interface with the camera and also easier controls to use on the flash itself. The custom settings don’t make a lot of sense unless you have them memorised. Olympus could also provide a much better user manual for such a complex device. Another thing that could be improved is to provide some kind of audible sound to show that the light has recycled when it is off camera. In remote mode the LED blinks when the flash is ready to fire, but this can be distracting so I would prefer to have a beep (that can also be turned off when it isn’t wanted).
       
      As mentioned at the start of this article, the FL-600R compliments the OM-D range quite nicely and gives you a lot of flexibility to get creative with bounce flash and also off-camera flash. They are very small and light so they don’t take up a lot of space in a camera bag either. If you have an OM-D and are looking for something better than the clip on flash (or pop-up in the case of the E-M10) this FL-600R should suit your needs very well. It may take a little getting used to, but once you have the hang of it you wil be able to use it quite creatively. All in all these units show that the Olympus micro four thirds system is very well fleshed out and mature. There is little you can't accomplish with it.
       

      View full article
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By visiting this website you are agreeing to our Terms of Use, Privacy Policy & Guidelines.