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Time for change...

Updated: Aug 6, 2022

Considering investing in a mirrorless camera system? Read about how I made the switch from DSLR to micro four thirds and haven't looked back...

(Originally posted July 2020)

For many years I was a loyal Canon user. This began with my first job as a dolphin researcher, back in 1997. Work used Canon SLRs with slide film for photo-identification of our local dolphin population in Port Phillip (we only moved to digital towards the end of my time there, buying a couple of 20D bodies around 2005). I took thousands of photos in my time on the water and it's fair to say that job only deepened my love of photography. It also helped me hone my skills, I got pretty good at tracking dolphins underwater through a 300mm zoom from a boat :-)

Taking photos from the bow of the research boat 1997

When it came to buying a SLR for our first big overseas holiday, we stuck with what we knew and got an EOS300 in 1999. I've still got it and have been having fun playing around with film photography again over the past couple of years #filmisnotdead. I converted to digital in 2008 with a 450D, upgrading to a 70D in 2015. Over that time I also collected quite a few lenses, as you can see below!

Due to this investment over time and familiarity with the system, it's hard to justify changing. That's what manufacturers hope for. Good old brand loyalty. But the idea of mirrorless kept calling to me. I had tried out Canon's gear the previous year, but was not sold on it. To be honest, nothing had really inspired me to change until I had a chat with the very knowledgable staff at Peninsula Camera Centre in Frankston. We used to take our work cameras there for annual servicing (necessary when out in the elements so often) and I started going back recently to get my 35mm films processed. We spent a good hour talking about my upgrade options and I came out knowing that Olympus was what I was looking for. I did some more research, but was pretty sure I'd be happy with the quality and affordability of their system. Canon has been adding more lenses to its mirrorless system, but the costs and weights were both a bit heavy for my liking.

I returned to the shop with the plan of buying the OM-D E-M5 Mark III and one lens for starters. I was in the shop for another hour and a half, going well past their closing time! The staff went through more of the features and I decided to get the M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F4.0-5.6 R to complete my kit. I went with the silver/black body cos I love the retro look. You'd have to agree, it's a pretty good looking camera complemented by my #luckystraps handmade and personalised leather camera strap.

Technical Stuff

I'm not going to do a full tech review here because honestly, I'm not really a tech-head! You can read some good reviews here and here.

It's worth noting though that Olympus (and Panasonic) mirrorless cameras are based on a Micro Four Thirds (MFT) system. The four thirds refers to both the size and aspect ratio (4:3) of the sensor. DSLRs on the other hand, generally have a 3:2 aspect ratio, like that of the traditional 35mm format. As the MFT sensor format is equivalent to a 2.0 crop factor when compared to a full frame 35mm camera, the field of view with a MFT lens is twice the focal length of a full frame lens. This means that my 40-150mm is the equivalent of 80-300mm. So this unassuming little zoom lens packs a real punch!

The features that influenced my choice of this camera included:

  • weather sealed construction (dust, splash and freeze-proof)

  • in-body image stabilisation (not just in the lens)

  • live composite mode and a raft of other cool shooting modes (will be great for long exposures)

  • Wi-Fi capability

  • good range of lenses

  • size and weight

So with new gear in hand, it was off to beautiful Anglesea on the Great Ocean Road in the July school holidays, just before Melbourne went into the long lockdown of 2020. We were pretty busy taking full advantage of the beautiful winter weather - lots of trail running for me, bike rides, beach walks and kayaking on Anglesea River.

I watched a couple of tutorials and was able to figure out the basics, plus the guys at Peninsula Camera Centre had explained a lot too. It's actually quite easy to use once you've got a handle on the main controls. You can see the different shooting modes on the large dial in the pic below. I shoot predominantly in aperture mode (A on the dial) and with the two dials to the right, I can then adjust my settings. In this case, the f-stop with the rear dial and the exposure with the front dial, which is also the shutter button. If I were in shutter mode (S), the rear dial changes my shutter speed. It's pretty nifty that you can customise buttons to particular functions, based on what suit you.

Look, a bit more study would have helped me get more out of the camera that week. I really couldn't remember how to do the live time/composite modes when I was trying to do long exposures at sunrise and I later figured out which drive would be best for action shots at the bike park. However, I still managed to get some pleasing shots...

Favourite things so far?

The size of this camera has made the biggest difference. I can pop it into my smallest shoulder bag and go for a big walk without really noticing it. You can see the size difference between the 70D and the OM-D below (bottom left). The Canon is double the weight at nearly 1.5kg with the 24-105mm lens on it. That leads me to the next thing I love - the lenses. I have an old Canon 75-300mm lens that may be the equivalent in focal range, but certainly not in quality and I rarely (if ever) used it. The 24-105mm is one of my best lenses, but it is bloody heavy. At 700g, it is almost the same weight as the OM-D with lens!

So far, I've been very happy with the 40-150mm. It is a bit tight for landscapes though, which I've overcome by stitching portrait oriented images with good results. There is a 9-18mm landscape lens heading my way for my upcoming birthday though, and I would probably also look at getting the 25mm f1.8 prime (f1.2 would be nice, but that's a fair price jump!). The other standout feature of the camera is its image stability. I've been able to handhold down to ¼ of a second and get lovely sharp images. With the 70D, I could only push it to 1/30 sec with lens IS.

Below are some shots from a foggy winter morning walk. Shooting RAW, I am particularly impressed with the detail I can recover in shadows as can be seen in the photos of the cormorant (the left image is unchanged). There were a few bird subjects around for me to practice on and this cormorant (trying to get dry) let me get quite close.

It's fair to say that I am happy with my results so far and there is still much I can learn to fully unlock the potential of this little camera.

2022 update - 18months of shooting and I'm still loving it. I've come to learn more about features and lenses, watch out for a new blog coming soon!

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