Wednesday, May 29, 2013

10 OMD EM5 Tips I Wished I'd Known Earlier

My Olympus OM-D E-M5, with John Milich grip, simple strap, and oversized shutter button.
The Olympus OMD EM5 is one of the best loved micro four thirds cameras to date.  It's retro form, compact and weatherproof body, and a wide selection of high quality lenses have contributed to its popularity.  The camera is certain capable of exquisite image quality, but to tell you the truth, handling and using the camera have been a bit of a mixed bag for me.  I've learned some things along the way, and have come to terms with the camera.  Here are 10 handling tips I wished I'd known from the get go:
A wide selection of high quality lenses are available.  Olympus OMD EM5, 20mm, F/1.7, 1/3200, ISO 200.
Autofocus
This is my biggest performance issue with this camera.  Unlike DSLRs which use distance information, called Phase Detection, to assist AF, the autofocus of the OMD EM5 works only by comparing contrast of adjacent pixels, called, er... Contrast Detection.

As a default setting, I leave my DSLRs in a mode whereby the camera, using all of the autofocus points which cover the screen would seek out the closest subject, and focus on it.  This won't work on the EM5, because without using distance information, it won't know what is closest.  The camera focuses fastest and most accurately if I select a specific AF Point for it, and it's usually the center one.
If it ain't moving, the AF is spot on.  I focused the center AF point on the eyes, recomposed and shot this Monitor lizard in my backyard. Olympus OMD EM5, 100-300mm at 162mm, 1/320, F/4.6, ISO 320.
#1. I use a Specific or Center AF Point, not Multi-Area Autofocus.

Continuous Autofocus, by inference, doesn't work well either.  What happens with the EM5 is that the focus pulls in and out, until it gets something sharp on the selected AF point, then pulls in and out until it is sharp again, and so on.  A camera using Phase Detect AF can more accurately predict and track the subject, leading to more shots in focus. 
Single Shot Focus is fast, accurate, and at 9 frames per second, allows you capture the decisive moment.  Olympus OMD EM5, 100-300mm at 100mm, F/4.0, 1/200, ISO 1000.
#2.  I don't use Continuous Autofocus with the EM5, only Single Shot Focus.
One of the best tips I got was from a guy by the name of Bryce Bradford, who seems to be an Olympus Sponsored shooter.  He's set up his camera as follows:

Fn1 - Magnify
Fn2 - MF
Rec. - AEL/AFL
AEL/AFL Modes: S2/C2/M3

This allows him to separate the autofocus from his shutter button.  In other words, I can prefocus by pressing the shutter button as usual, then turn off the autofocus by pressing Fn2, wait for my subject to enter the field of focus, then fire away at 9 frames per second.  It's kind of an old school sports shooting technique, but it can work.
A little tougher to get the shot if it's moving.  I pre-focus on a spot before the action, then fired away when Sandy Maxwell entered my focus zone. Olympus OMD EM5, 7-14mm at 7mm, 1/200, F/4.0, ISO 200.
#3. Find a way to separate the Autofocus function from the Shutter Release.

The same applies to autofocus in video mode.  If you leave autofocus on, the camera will drift in and out of focus.  I prefer to leave mine in manual focus and set the Fn2 button to autofocus.  That way, I'll press Fn2 to focus, then press the shutter button to start shooting.  If I need to refocus, I either do it manually, or press the Fn2 button again.

#4. Separate the Autofocus function from the Shutter button in Video Mode.
I used single shot AF at 9FPS to capture slower moving subjects.  OMD EM5, 7-14mm at 7mm, 1/2000, F/4.0, ISO 200.
Video
Ok, so I'm a newbie at video, and I thought by reading the specs that the camera shoots at 60 FPS (frames per second) at 720p (a reduced resolution).  It doesn't.  It only shoots at 30FPS, even at 720p.  Shooting 60FPS is useful for the times you want to do a slow motion effect in the edit.  At 720p, the video just doesn't look good, probably because of the low bit rate.   I struggled with video until I finally figured this out (doh!) and have come to terms with this limitation.

#5.  Shoot video only at the highest resolution, ie.1080i, but note that it only shoots 30FPS.

Ergonomics
The power switch is badly located.  It normally takes two hands to turn it on.   Climbing and biking are my main sports and I sometimes need to turn on the camera, shoot, and return the camera to its case with one hand.  There is a way to turn it on with one hand, and you need to hold the camera against the tension of the strap, and flick the power switch on and off with your thumb.  With an add-on grip, this is much easier to do.

#6. Learn how to turn on the EM5 with one hand.

Another neat trick: At 9 FPS, you can do a 'hand-held' HDR.  Olympus OMD EM5, 7-14mm, F/4.0, ISO 200, HDR with Photomatix Pro.
The rubber eyecup comes off too easily, and the replacements are not easy to come by.  I'm on my second one.  Either use a little epoxy (which will probably void your warranty) to keep it in place or keep a very close watch on that eyecup.

#7. Watch that rubber eyecup.

A grip improves the handling of the EM5.  There are at least four different grips for the EM5 on the market.  The original Olympus HLD-6 Grip, which comes in 2 parts, and is the most expensive, but probably the best in terms of feel, but blocks the battery compartment; the J.B. Grip, which is the cheapest, lightest and offers decent grip; and the grips from John Milich and Really Right Stuff.  At the time I got mine, the RRS grip was not yet available and I bought the grip from John Milich and am really happy with it.  Both of these grips have built-in quick release plates, which is a must for me.  The only time the grip comes off is if I'm not carrying a tripod with a quick release, and if I need to go really light.
John Milich Grips for the OMD Em5.  The Basic Grip is the lightest and is the one I use.  It's the one on the top.
#8. Get a grip.

Built-In Timelapse Function
The EM5 will do timelapse without any other equipment.  Well, nearly.  With a couple of rubber bands to hold down the shutter button while the 'anti-shock' function is engaged, you have timelapse function with a limited set of time intervals.  The Anti-Shock function is really a delayed shutter release function and is hidden away in the menu under Custom Function E.  I can use regular rubber bands to hold down the shutter button, which allows the camera to fire one delayed shot after another.  I can use regular rubber bands which grip my oversized shutter release button, but you can make a fat rubber band out of on old bicycle inner tube if regular rubber bands won't work.  I store my rubber band by wrapping it around my 7-14mm lens, which is what I use to shoot most of my time-lapses with.

#9. Stick a couple of Rubber Bands in your camera bag for a lightweight Timelapse Solution.


The start and ending timelapse sequences in the above video were shot using the rubber band technique.

Image Stabilization
The 5-axis image stabilization in the OMD EM5 is alien technology.  It's game changing and there's nothing else like it on the market.  But if you think it works great for still, for video, its amazeballs!  I can attach the camera to my GorillaPod Focus, splay out the two lower legs, curl the top leg over the top of the camera to make a handle and, voila!... A steadycam!  Well, not quite, but quite good, and for no extra weight or complexity of setting up a steadycam.  For a go 'fast and light' videographer, this is a big plus.  If I'm out without the Gorillapod, I can squat down, lock my elbows on my knees, and get away with 'tripod-ish' looking clips.  It's that good.

#10.  Image Stabilization Rocks!  It's the main reason I'm still with this camera!
New Year's Eve, Phuket, Thailand. OMD EM5, 20mm, F/1.7, 1/400, ISO 3200
In Closing...
I think if you're happy with the AF, which excels for still subjects, this is an awesome stills camera for photographers.  For video, it's mixed bag.  On the one hand, it's got that amazing stabilization, and on the other hand, it's let down by no choice of frame rates.

For me, a great camera is one which 'disappears' when I'm taking photos, and handling is instinctive.  With the OMD EM5, I have to think a lot about setting up the camera for the shot.  For now though, the ability to go 'fast and light' is invaluable, and I've come to terms with the OMD EM5 because at the end of the day, I still come back with great clips and shots.

13 comments:

Kenneth Koh said...

I had a comment here earlier regarding where I got the oversized shutter button, but now it seems to have disappeared. In case you are still wondering, it's a Gariz Soft Button that I ordered from online store Qoo10. It might be available on eBay.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the excellent review!
A quick tip to not void the warranty with epoxy: use SUGRU. It glues enough, has a rubber finish and you can scratch out with your nails without leaving any marks.

Leandro Fonseca - franco.fonseca@yahoo.com.br

Kenneth Koh said...

Thanks. I've given up on the rubber eyecup. I've just lost the second one despite epoxying the thing in place. The rubber bit came off, and the plastic bit that I epoxied in is still there. I'm just going to leave the plastic bit there to prevent the viewfinder from scratching my glasses.

Denton Zhou said...

Thanks for the tips, Kenneth. I've never heard of the rubber band trick before to pan smoothly before--need to give that a shot!

Kenneth Koh said...

Hey Denton, the rubber band is just to hold down the shutter button. The anti-shock function is really a delayed shutter release, and what the rubber band does is simply allow the camera to keep firing, one delayed shot after another. It's a ghetto or McGyvered timelapse solution. Sorry if that wasn't clear. I'll look at my text again to see if I can reword it to make it more clear.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kenneth for those tips. I'm using the same camera and wish I can utilize it to the fullest with the standard kit lens 12-50mm. Can you give tips using this lens? As I can't afford to buy other lens yet. Also, what would you recommend as other lense or prime lense to OMD? Thanks!

Kenneth Koh said...

Great lens. The best recommendation I can give is just to keep shooting and play around with the aperture and shutter speed. For the next lens, see what else you would like to do. Take note of the focal lengths you shoot at most often (a good editing program like Lightroom will be able to show you this). If you are shooting at the 12mm range more frequently, you might benefit from buying a wider lens like the 9-18mm. If you are always zooming in to 50mm, then maybe a lens with more reach. Similarly, if you are always shooting low shutter speeds or looking to blur out the background, then a faster lens (a lens with a bigger aperture, perhaps a prime lens) like the 20mm f/1.7 or 45mm f/1.8 might do the job.

JL Huls said...

RE: Eyecup
Someone has figured out that the Nikon DK-23 eyecup fits on there nice and snug. The only problem is that you have to open the LCD from the bottom instead of the top because the eyecup is a wee bit too long. I'd rather have to do that than damage the viewfinder (or your glasses if you wear them). The best part is they can be ordered on eBay for as little as 99 cents (if you don't mind waiting on shipping from China).

Kenneth Koh said...

Thanks JL, that's a great tip!

Walton Stinson said...

I agree completely with you assessment. And, after a year of shooting, this camera still is not intuitive. No single setup works for me all the time, so I can never seem to memorize the function buttons since I have to keep changing them. But, I have some great images.

Photography said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)

AJ said...

Hi Kenneth,
I'm pretty new to digital photography and recently got the Olympus OMD E-M5 as a gift.
I have two lenses:
1)Olympus M Zuiko 12-50mm 1:3.5-6.3 (it came with the camera)
2)and the Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 40-150 mm f 4.0-5.6R
I'm going to be traveling abroad and am looking for a smaller lens so I can take discreet photos of people in the streets, etc. while I travel. Is M.Zuiko ED 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ a good pick in your opinion? I saw the one in your picture on the blog (a Panasonic Lumix G 20mm F1.7 ASPH) and noticed it came out in 2009. What I am wondering is if you could recommend a smaller (physical size) and lighter yet powerful lens that will provide me with flexibility? Thanks

Kenneth Koh said...

Hi AJ,

Lens selection is a combination of what kind of shot you are trying to make, plus what kind of focal length you like using. Both of those are fine lenses, but I would add a small prime as well, like the 20mm you mentioned. There is a new 20mm lens, which is an update to the lens I used in my blog post. I'd get that one which would be a good addition to the lenses you already have. It's small, bright and very sharp!