A Wedding Photographer’s Review of the Olympus E5mkii
I’m an Oly girl. I will admit it. I began my love affair with photography first with an Olympus OM1 film camera and years later with an Olympus digital E-20p (all sexy 5 megapixels!), graduating to an E3 and finally things got hot and heavy when I got a flagship E5. However, in 2012 I made a decision that, at the time, seemed so heart wrenching. I moved over to Canon.
Why? Well, because Olympus had decided to abandon its pro-camera line and focus on the consumer market – and it showed. The E-5 was underpowered compared to its contemporaries. I had such a limited range of available lenses and I found myself largely stuck shooting wide open (even when I didn’t want to) as a way to compensate for the horrific noise which would dominate my images when shooting above ISO2000. Slow shutter speeds and missed moments had become a way of life. I felt betrayed and dismayed when I realized that my investment into lenses would have no new home when the E-5 became – very quickly – too obsolete.
And oh, I didn’t want to go. I loved Oly – I knew Oly – it was my first camera lover and like all heartbreaks, I was left weeping into my pillow. To say that Oly and I have a long and complicated history is an understatement.
So when I was offered a spot at the John Nassari Masterclass at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel – hosted by Olympus – I jumped at the chance. Since Olympus and I parted ways, the market has begun to shift. Mirrorless cameras such as the Olympus E5mkii have come along leaps and bounds and the buzz everywhere has been that mirrorless just might be the future. I needed to see for myself if those tiny Olympus cameras were as good as the rumours.
Before I begin to launch into my review of the Olympus E5mkii I want to give a few important caveats. Firstly, taking photographs at a masterclass is never much like taking photographs “in the field” as a wedding photographer. At times it can be so much more manufactured than I would ever be with my clients – and is really a lot more like a fashion editorial in the way the locations are selected, lit and the generous amounts of time available to get these elements just right. At other times it is much more chaotic. Rarely would I ever find myself competing so directly with other photographers for the “good shot”. Secondly, since I didn’t have a lot of time to look over the cameras before I launched into using them, there may be a lot of untapped potential I just didn’t have time to explore. Thirdly, I did not have my Canon 5dMkiii there to take comparison shots like I would typically do in a kit review. So my review will be in many ways anecdotal based on my “expectations” of performance with my 5dMkiii with no ability to show a side-by-side comparison.
Olympus E5mkii Review
When I found out that the E5mkii body retailed for roughly £700, I felt a little dizzy and overcome with the compulsion to shout “I’ll take 5!”. But then to find out that many of my favourite lenses cost just a few hundred pounds – I had to take a seat. Most of the lenses I trialled were in the £200 range. Yes… that is just like £2000 minus one very important zero.
All in, the average wedding photographer shooting on 2 bodies could get a set of bodies and lenses that would cover the bases for about £3000. And then maybe save up for the very sexy 40-150mm 2.8 Pro series (approx. 80-300 effective) later at a very reasonable £800. You heard me right… all the kit you need for £3000 and the sexiness of a 300mm for under £1K. I think I might have the vapours.
With the announcement of the new Canon 5dmk4 at a price tag of £3400 for the body alone– you have to seriously wonder if you are getting that much extra camera for the price.
The Colour Profile
The native colour profile of the Olympus is one of the features I miss the most. Those gorgeous peach skin tones in natural light are just… well…. Peachy. I know that colour profiles can be tweaked and changed so it might not be a big deal for other photographers. But I do love the idea of just opening the box and getting beautiful colours that so closely match the pastel skin tones of over exposed film.
Do you know how to tell when someone is a professional photographer? Check out their fingers and you will find the tell-tale callous of doom. It is a lump that appears as our bodies try to cushion and defend themselves from the brutal weight of our cameras and lenses. If your lump is like mine (meher…) then it can be accompanied by a fun electrical zapping sensation and referred pain that reaches into the wrists and elbows. When I think about strapping my cameras to my harness, my body literally recoils in fear. Foot problems, ankle problems, knee problems, neck problems – I don’t know a wedding photographer who has been shooting more than 5 years that doesn’t worry about the toll their cameras have on their body and the potential long term impact. Comparative to the hefty 950g of my Canon 5dmkiii, the Olympus E5mkii’s 469g is literally HALF the camera.
I don’t think I need to say anything more about that.
The Slim Profile
Talking to my other pals who are also documentary photographers, I already came pre-sold on the joys of a smaller profile. With less body and lens to intrude into the space, it is easier for people to forget you have a camera in your hand. Additionally, the retro rangefinder design has a fun sense of novelty that makes it difficult for the E5mkii to be intimidating.
The only problem I worry about is that the measure-bators won’t be able to get a sense of satisfaction from having the longest lens in town. Oh well, they might be able to get some extra-long lens hoods or go-faster stripes.
Remember this rule… to ensure sharp images your shutter speed should be twice the focal length of your lens. Yeah, with the Olympus 5 point axis stabilization and super light bodies and lenses, rules like that are so yesterday. I was shooting a 150 (300m effective) at 1/50th of a second.
I never shoot in the live view mode on my Canon. Ever. So when the Olympus rep told me that I was going to love shooting through the rear screen on the E5mkii my mind was like “yeah right…. Look like a total tool AND get slow focusing…. I think not.”
But then I discovered the joys of a fully articulated touchscreen that allows me to SHOOT AND FOCUS FROM THE PLACE I TAP.
Yes, I know I was yelling just then. But sometimes words aren’t enough – you need caps.
When I found that I could just tap and it would focus and shoot with near pin-point accuracy it was like Aladdin’s whole new world. I was rolling around on the floor shooting. Holding the camera over my head and tap, tap, tapping. Leaping in the air, doing ninja kicks and tapping to shoot.
Nothing has ever been so revolutionary in my whole life.
When I finished taking approximately 90 million photographs in 3 minutes from the sheer joy of freedom, I thought, surely these photos are going to be mis-focused. But when I opened my files I was all air-punches. There were nearly no misses. I was more in focus using the E5mkii than I am with my 5dmkiii. How is this a thing?
My life is incomplete without this.
Like many of its contemporaries, the E5mkii has live view exposure meaning I will never again miss a moment due to an “oops” exposure. What’s not to love?
Coming to the table skeptical about the low light performance of Olympus cameras, I was sure to do a little dynamic range test. I have to say I was pleasantly surpised. I underexposed a shot indoors by approximately 3 stops and it came out usable. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t going to make my head explode. But if this was a surprise awesome moment at a wedding – the shot could be included in the set with no apologies.
Olympus E5mkii Review
Arrrghhh…. Oly you are nearly there. I found that the E5mkii had noise performance something akin to Matt’s 5dmkii. It was great at low ISO’s (100-1000) and then “perfectly nice” at the 1000-3000 range and “OK” at 3000-4000 and “usable” at 5000-6400 as long as you don’t push exposure AT ALL in post. However, I wouldn’t go any higher than that. There is something about the quality (rather than just the quantity) of the noise produced by Olympus cameras that is off-putting. It looks something akin to shooting through sand. Yes, you can always apply noise reduction in post but we all know that too much reduction causes plastic-y looking skin and it just isn’t something that fits in with the clean, sharp photos that are synonymous with my brand. Currently with my 5dmkiii I get “perfectly nice” all the way up to ISO5000 and I regularly shoot there and I would feel nervous to get less performance from a new system – particularly as Canon and Nikon cameras are moving to better and better low light performance.
Of course this might need extra testing. It is perhaps a possibility that I was shooting at much higher shutter speeds than the Olympus really needed (settling instead on my “go to” settings as if I was shooting my Canon). If I can shoot at much slower speeds without any ill effects, then the higher ISO issue is moot.
Still… Olympus I would totally love you forever if you could sort this issue out a bit better in the next model.
In Camera Focus
Remember how awesome the focusing was when I tap, tap, tapped the rear screen? Yeah, not so much when using internal focus points and particularly when using focus/recompose.
Too Few Megapixels
I really hate measure-bators and whilst I am a bit of a gadget freak, I always think that real-world performance trumps technical tests. However, when it comes to megapixels – 16 is just too few. With the way I shoot (and this is definitely not going to be true of everyone) I am no stranger to the crop tool. I love to crop. Crop here. Crop there. Crop to straighten. Crop because I can. Crop because it is Tuesday.
Well, with the Oly, I was disappointed to find that the file sizes were just too small to crop the way I liked. Yes, I know in some mythical world I could be perfect every time and never have to crop. And there would be unicorns there and we would all eat ice cream all day and dance under chocolate rainbows with leprechaun bunnies.
But if you like to crop – 16 megapixels is not your friend.
Exposure Control Indoors
This could be down to settings that can be changed, so take it for what it’s worth. However, using the on-screen exposures indoors was not very accurate. The images showed correctly exposed on the screen and came out about 1.5 stops under when in Lightroom. This might be down to a setting in the camera and I would need further testing to confirm.
Woah Nelly. This one is a biggy. I was able to shoot 1 and a half 8 gig SD cards before my battery gave up the ghost and I was doing well. Some of my cohort didn’t even make it through a whole card. Any pro thinking seriously about the Olympus E5mkii needs to strongly consider that they will need to change their battery as often as they change their cards. Not to mention all that charging time….
Dude, Oly… sort it out.
SD Media & Single Media Slot
As a primary shooter, I can’t imagine investing in a primary system that has only a single media slot. I know this is a luxury that has only been standard for the last 4 years or so, but you will have to excuse me for being spoiled. I rest easier at night with dual slots and I love the convenience of using larger cards. If I felt brave enough to regress back to the dark days of single slot – I would be back to 4 gig cards. Then again, with the poor battery performance, I would probably just find the constant game of “open the camera door” to be a way of life.
With a small armoury of CF cards, I am not keen to move over to SD. Not only because of the loss in investment but also because SD cards are little and they are flimsy. In all my years, I have had both CF and SD cards corrupt, but I have never had a CF card “break”. However, I have had numerous SD cards crack, bend, snap or just plain get lost. I prefer the robustness of CF cards and I don’t relish the idea of moving to SD. But it isn’t a dealbreaker.
Olympus E5mkii Review
Not Now, But Soon.
Is mirrorless the future? Absolutely. But for me, for now… it is still the future. The technology is nearly there but it isn’t close enough just yet for the way I shoot. I would need better ISO performance and significantly higher megapixels (at least 22) to make the leap. I was very impressed and I want so badly for it to be as good as I need it to be. I have heard rumours that there will be a new Olympus body on the horizon and I have big hopes that it will address some of the critical issues holding me back. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take as long as the 5dMk4 to show up.
C’mon Oly.. you are looking mighty sexy.
Just a little more performance and we can be back snogging behind the bike shed in no time.
Masterclass Instructor: John Nassari
Camera Demo: Olympus UK
Location: Mandarin Oriental Hotel
Wedding Dress: State of Grace
Hairdresser: Errol Douglas
Makeup: Kylie McMichael
Flowers: Neil Birks