It’s been a while since I’ve done a photography post. Apparently it’s been a year, since the last photography post on my blog appears to have been from November of last year. Man it’s crazy how fast time flies. It’s not that I haven’t been taking any pictures. I’ve just been too lazy to write lately. Last year I made a point out of trying to post at least once a week, but most months this year I barely even managed to crank out one post. So yeah, I’ve been lazy, but I will try to be more consistent in writing for the rest of the year.
Anyways, a lot has changed since my last photography post. I ended up selling all my Pentax camera gear. It was a pretty tough decision. I’ve used Pentax SLR’s for over a half dozen years. I started with a Pentax K100d, then moved to a K20d, then finally a K-5. And I had a fairly decent collection of Pentax lenses too, covering from ultra wide to fairly long telephoto. I sold the entire collection on eBay.
I had thought about selling my Pentax collection a couple of years back, when I bought a full frame Nikon D600 during a holiday sale. On paper that Nikon was superior to my Pentax in just about every way that a camera could be superior, but I ended up sticking with Pentax that time. Strangely enough, the camera that got me to sell all my Pentax gear, the Olympus OM-D is actually quite worse on paper than the Pentax camera that I had.
Although the specs are worse, the Olympus OM-D is a much smaller camera. Since most of my pictures are taken when I’m traveling or hiking I felt that having a smaller camera was worth the small tradeoff in performance.
The size difference is especially noticeable when you’re looking at the camera from above with a lens attached. Because the OM-D is a mirrorless camera, the lens can sit very close to the sensor since there’s no need for space to clear a hinged mirror. And since the camera has a smaller sensor, the lenses can be designed smaller since they don’t need to cover as large an area. All this basically means is that there’s less weight on my shoulders when I hike and less space taken up in my bags when I travel.
I’ve been using the camera for my last few trips and have found that I really don’t notice a difference in image quality, especially in good light. I was mostly worried about losing the ability to shoot in darker situations, but have found that it’s really not that much worse than my previous camera at the high ISO’s needed for those dark situations. ISO 1600 and even 3200 is still pretty usable, which is more or less where I was at with my old camera. The Nikon that I briefly owned was better of course, shooting at 6400 fairly cleanly, but for my purposes 3200 is plenty.
These are a couple of shots I’ve taken in dark situations in the last few months. There’s some noise visible in the images, but for my purposes the noise is not too bad. Part of the reason why the camera’s so usable in low light is the amazing image stabilization system in the OM-D. The shot on the right was taken with a shutter speed of an entire second. That definitely would’ve been a blurry mess with my shaky hands on my old camera. With my old camera at a similar focal length of around 24mm equivalent the best I could do is maybe 1/6 of a second, and even then most of my shots at that shutter speed were too blurry to use. Now 1/6 of a second seems like no problem. This ability to use slow shutter speeds is good for dark situations, but it’ll also come in handy for stuff like waterfalls where I’d deliberately use slow shutter speeds to make the water look smoother. I might be able to get away without a tripod in more situations, which again means less weight on my shoulder and less space taken up by camera gear in my bag.
When hiking I often find myself in situations where I have a light foreground and dark background or vice versa, so it’s nice to have a camera with very good dynamic range. I was pretty spoiled with my old camera, it had amazing dynamic range, according to DxoMark it was among the best in this regard. The new camera is not quite as good, according to DxoMark it gives up almost two stops of range, and this is one of those areas where I actually notice a difference in the pictures. On my trusty old Pentax I bet I could’ve gotten more detail in both the bright areas and the shadows of both of these photos. But I’m happy enough with the pictures I got, and these sorts of photo situations seem to happen when the hiking is the hardest, in deep canyons or in forests, so I guess having a smaller and lighter camera is a fair trade.
One unexpected bonus is the touchscreen. I honestly didn’t expect to use it much, but it actually comes in handy in a couple of situations. First, when I’m hiking I often hand off my camera to a stranger to have them take a picture for me. It’s much easier to explain to them to just touch on my face to take a picture than to explain that they should try and get the focus point in the viewfinder onto my face. So far since I’ve started using the OM-D I haven’t gotten an out of focus shot when handing off the camera to someone else. The second unexpected bonus is that the camera is still usable when your right hand is busted. With the cast I was wearing when I broke my hand I couldn’t wrap my finger around the shutter button of a traditional camera but I could tap the screen with my thumb to take pictures on my OM-D.
The touchscreen was a great bonus, but I’m not yet fully sold on all the tech on this camera. The OM-D has an electronic viewfinder rather than an optical one, which is nice when shooting directly into the sun. I can take my time to expose and frame carefully without worrying about burning my retina. And it’s nice to see exposure and depth of field in the viewfinder. But the electronic viewfinder is completely worthless in darkness. The first time I took my camera out backpacking the stars were pretty bright, so I wanted to get a picture of the big dipper over my sleeping bag. I found that I couldn’t see anything in the viewfinder, so I couldn’t focus and I couldn’t frame the shot. To make matters worse, you can’t focus when you can’t see since the couple of lenses that I have, since they’re all focus by wire lenses. It was only after an hour of guessing and testing, moving my camera slightly and moving the focus slightly that I was able to get a picture of the dipper.
So yeah, there are times when I really miss having an optical viewfinder and mechanical manual focus lenses. I think with the OM-D I can get halfway there, I can buy a manual focus lens with distance markers, so I would at least be able to focus, but I still wouldn’t be able to see what I’m shooting at. I guess if I bought a really wide manual focus lens, I can just set the focus and point the camera in the general direction of what I’m shooting at and then crop to get the shot I want. But it’d be nice to not have to jump through all those hoops to get star shots.
Aside from the star photography issues, I’m pretty happy with my OM-D and I don’t really have much regret in selling all my Pentax gear. Most of my Pentax gear was weather sealed, and I often shot in the rain or underneath waterfalls without worry. Supposedly the OM-D and the kit lens I’m using is sealed, so I guess time will tell if it holds up as well as my Pentax gear did in inclement weather.
Over the years I became kind of a Pentax fanboy, I would always read up on all the latest Pentax news (it was actually easy cuz there really wasn’t much news, haha) and I was at times an avid contributor to Pentax forums. I can’t say that I’m a fanboy of Olympus or the OM-D series, I’m not OMG in love with the camera or the brand but it’s been good so far and I’m looking forward to a lot of travel and adventures with the camera. Who knows maybe I will someday be OMG in love with it.