Have you ever been in pursuit of the perfect photo of a bird or an insect and found yourself wondering: “Why am I carrying all this weight?” The older I get, the more frequently that question arises. Tired of the endless wonder, I sought an alternative. After several months, lots of internet research and consultation with trusted sources I finally found a solution. Olympus to the rescue! Don’t get me wrong–parting with my treasured Nikon D850 was not an easy decision. That camera is the only one ever to get a 100% rating from DxOMark, considered the premiere testing lab for camera bodies and lenses. It does a beautiful job. But here’s the rub–it’s heavy, very heavy. In the photo below the Nikon D850, with the 24-120mm f/4 lens and the 70-200mm f/4 lens, is on the right. Next to it is my replacement choice, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark iii with the 12-100mm f/4 lens. The Olympus setup weighs 2.5 pounds, whereas the Nikon kit tips the scales at 5.5 pounds, more than twice as much. Hike around with that for a couple of hours and you will understand why many folks are switching to Olympus.
But, these can’t possible be equivalent, you say–trading 24-200 for 12-100? No, it’s really a reasonable trade, given that the Olympus camera has a sensor roughly half the size of the Nikon, and is termed a “micro four-thirds” camera. That means lenses in that system have a 2x crop factor. Thus, 12-100 is equivalent to 24-200 on a full frame camera. Both systems are f/4, so that’s comparable as well. Actually, that’s not entirely true, but a discussion of aperture on cameras with smaller sensors would take me beyond this post. Put simply, some folks claim that you can’t get good results for shallow depth of field with a MFT camera. We’ll just have to see about that in later posts.
Another situation where weight can become problematic is in macro photography. Consider this additional comparison.
On the left, the Olympus E-M1 mark iii with the M. Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 macro lens, weighing in at 1.7 pounds. And in the other corner, the Nikon D850 with the Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 VR macro lens, weighing a hefty 3.6 pounds, once again more than twice as much. Try holding that steady while attempting to focus up close on a flitty little bug! Both setups are capable of 1:1 imaging, but remember that the Olympus sensor is roughly half the size of the Nikon sensor. Thus, 1:1 with the Olympus is roughly twice as close as with the Nikon.
Olympus cameras have several other advantages, with some features not found in any other camera systems. For example, if you want to make a photo with stars in it, getting the stars sharply in focus is a real pain. Olympus (if you’re using M. Zuiko lenses with autofocus) solves that problem in a snap of your fingers. Just set autofocus to “Starry Sky Autofocus”, then press the AE/AF button. Done! Since I’m very interested in astrophotography, this feature has come in very handy. Another nice capability is “Live Composite.” For those familiar with PhotoShop, this is similar to applying the lighten mode of overlay for layers, only the camera does it for you. Want a picture of star trails? Just start Live Composite, then watch the monitor as the trails grow longer and longer. Here’s one example, taken with the Venus Laowa 7.5mm f/2 lens. This lens is entirely manual, so no Starry Sky autofocus.
One disadvantage of this method for star trails is that you only have the final image, making it nearly impossible to edit out unwanted artifacts from planes or satellites. However, you can save yourself hours of processing, if you don’t mind the additional streaks.
Stay tuned for more Olympus results, along with some comments about my lingering Nikon gear. Speaking of Nikon gear, I sold the D850, my D500, and several lenses on eBay. End result: I made money in this transition! So far, I’m very, very satisfied with my decision.