Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time


Snow Canyon 1

During our most recent trip west I was carrying two cameras: my “old” Canon 5D MK II and the more recently acquired Olympus OMD EM5.  At the time, I was absolutely convinced that the Canon would be my primary camera.  The EM5 would simply be the backup, except for those occasions when it would become the “primary” because of its light weight.  That was the case. of course, when I hiked into the Narrows in Zion NP.  The Canon stayed in the hotel.  As I’ve said before, that was an eye-opener.  Prior to that little excursion, I was certain that the 5D MK II was the better camera.  It’s a full frame camera, has a much larger sensor, and theoretically has more resolution (just in case I wanted to make some really big prints).  It should also produce less noise – especially at ISO’s at or above 1600.  The only downside is its size and weight.  Put a big lens on it (like the 70 – 200mm f/2.8 IS) and it gets really cumbersome. Strangely, it seems to get heavier and heavier as I get older (and maybe weaker?).  Maybe gravity is getting stronger……….. or something?

When I finally saw the Narrows photographs on a large screen I was astounded.  Most were as sharp and clear as anything from the 5D MK II, and most were taken at shutter speeds slower than 1/25 sec.  Some were at or below 1/10 sec.  Without a tripod.  I was using a monopod, but the camera wasn’t exactly immobilized.  I’d read that the EM5’s in-camera stabilization was very, very good, but I really didn’t believe it.  I half expected to come out of the Narrows with a bunch of not-so-good images.

Again, as I’ve said before, all those assumptions were incorrect.  The EM5 performed much better than I’d expected.  It was at least as good, I thought, as anything I could have done with the 5D MK II.  And it was so damn easy to carry.  So now I had a dilemma.  Which camera would be my “primary”?  More specifically, should I even keep the Canon?  Should I get rid of the camera and the lenses and all of the other Canon stuff?  The problem is I’ve been a “Canon guy” for quite a few years.  I’m comfortable with Canons.  And I understand all the menus!  I can do mirror lock-up in my sleep.  All of which resulted in me not being able to pull the trigger.  I just couldn’t sell all that stuff.  I figured that at heart I was just a status quo kind of guy, not likely to head off in any new directions anytime soon.

But just when I thought the dust had finally settled, Olympus stirred it all up again. By introducing the OMD EM1.  My indecisiveness crumbled.  I took delivery on one just last week.

And yes, the Canon stuff is being sold (I’m spending a lot of time these days on eBay and at the post office).  I’m no longer a DSLR person.  I’m a Micro 4/3 person.  For me, it’s still a scary transition.  Like moving to a new state. Or like having to get a new car when the old one hits 150,000 miles or so.  You’re saying goodbye to familiarity.

Well yeah, that’s overstating it just a bit.  It’s just a new camera.  A different way of looking at photographs (I’m still not used to the change in aspect ratio, for example).  But I do think there’s a bigger picture here (no pun intended).  I’m probably a little biased at this point but I think that the big full-framed DSLR is going to start to disappear.  I think cameras like the EM1 are going to gradually eat into the consumer market and push the DSLR’s out.  Especially with respect to us “old” guys.  Why carry a big heavy camera and multiple heavy lenses if you don’t have to?  If there’s no real advantage, what’s the point?  I just read, for example, that when testing dynamic range both DXO Mark and DP Review found that the sensor on the EM1 was as good or better than the sensor on the Canon 5D MK III.  Image quality was indistinguishable.  It was only at very high ISO’s that the MK III looked better, but it wasn’t a huge thing.  If you’re not a die-hard pixel peeper, you ain’t going to see it.

For me, it’s all about the weight.  And the incredible in-camera stabilization.  And the weather proof body.  No more worrying about the weather forecast.  Heck, I’ve seen videos that show this thing sitting in a running shower and then still working fine.  Most DSLR’s can’t make that claim.

In case you’re wondering, the image above came from the Canon.  We’d found a short slot canyon near St. George, Utah and decided to explore it.  Turned out to be a dead-end.  It was also very dark in there (much darker than the picture).  I took quite a few pictures like this one (handheld) at a high ISO (1600?) with a shutter speed in the 1/10 of a second range.  Most wound up too fuzzy.  This one’s OK.  This was prior to going into the Narrows with the EM5, by the way.  So I wonder: Would I have had better luck with the EM5 on a monopod?  I think so.  As time goes on, however, I’m certainly going to find out.

7 Responses to “Transition”

  1. Earl Moore

    Wow, Paul. I have to admit I was a little surprised to be reading your committing fully to 4/3’s, but I know you’ve done your research and my own experience with the E-M5 says for normal day-to-day photography, which makes up 99.9% of what I do, there’s virtually no difference in quality.

    Olympus is going to sell a mint of the E-M1’s. Your the third person (Andreas Manessinger, Paul Lester)I followed that have recently purchased one.

    So here I sit with two “obsolete” cameras…a Nikon D600 made obsolete by Nikon with the new D610 and the Olympus E-M5 made obsolete by the E-M1. I may catch the bug at some point but for now these “old” cameras still take great photos…in my case it’s the photographer that needs a little improvement! 🙂

    Enjoy the new camera and please share you insights about it as you learn more.

    • Paul Maxim

      Hey, we’re all in the “needs improvement” category, Earl. Absolutely no question about that!

      Yes, I’ve been following Andreas’ (and Paul’s) experiences with the EM1 closely. I haven’t used my EM1 all that much yet, but it’s at least as good as my old Canon. And it focuses much faster than the EM5 does, in my opinion. I’ll keep the EM5, by the way. You gotta have some kind of backup, right? It’s a long way from being “obsolete”…………

      In any case, I wouldn’t have been able to get the EM1 without selling the Canon stuff. My rule is that new gear has to be cost neutral. I’ll actually come out ahead. I had no idea that the secondary market for used Canon stuff was so big.

  2. John Linn

    Your story sounds pretty familiar… I have not used my Canon DSLR for months and find the image quality and convenience of my OMD to be just fine. I will be curious to hear your thoughts on your new OMD EM1 vs. the EM5.

    • Paul Maxim

      Boy, I can relate to that sentiment, John. After returning from the southwest in October the only thing my Canon was doing was gathering dust. I didn’t use it again until I started taking pictures of Canon lenses for eBay (I don’t have a good flash for either Olympus yet).

  3. Cedric Canard

    All these stories of people ditching their SLRs for smaller (and seemingly better) cameras has me quite fascinated. After reading about Andreas and Paul Lester’s move to the E-M1, I did think of you Paul and wondered what you would do. I knew you like the Canon and I did wonder if you would get rid of it. Well, I think good for you for pulling that trigger. I am quite sure there you will have no regrets.
    I very much want to try an E-M1. As yet the opportunity hasn’t presented itself (we don’t have places that rent out camera gear). As you know, I didn’t like the handling of the E-M5 but the grip on the E-M1 looks good and I already know from my daughter’s PEN that Olympus cameras are fun to use so I suspect that I would find the E-M1 just about perfect.
    I’ll look forward to your impressions of the E-M1. I must say, I’m starting to feel a little envious of all you Olympus owners 🙂

    • Paul Maxim

      I had the same problem – there’s really no place in this area where you can rent or even handle the EM1. So I bought it based on what I’d read. I never found a single comment indicating that someone didn’t like the “feel” of the camera. Fortunately they were right. I think the EM1 is a big improvement over the EM5 in terms of feel. It’s just a little bigger and has a nice “handle” on the right side. It’s a very solid camera. Also, the EVF is amazingly good – better than the EM5’s.

      If it ever warms up around here (and stops snowing!) maybe I’ll get a chance to use it a little more. Damn, I hate winter…….


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