Shooting professionally with the Olympus OM-D E-M5

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Rice. Olympus OM-D and Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 Macro-Elmarit

I had an interesting food assignment recently, which was challenging for several reasons – not least the location:

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Doesn’t look so bad? Look again:

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Turns out this particular client’s restaurant wasn’t ready; the assignment was concept food for the menu, website and marketing materials for a new local chain. So they borrowed the (primitive) kitchen of another friend, who happened to run a small cafe in an office-building-cum-training-center-cum-community-college. The only place they had for me to shoot that was both close to the kitchen and powered (for the lights) was literally off to the side of a hallway! I’ve never thought of photography as performance art before, but judging by the crowds that stopped by to rubberneck throughout the two days, I should probably have charged admission. To be honest though, I was more worried about people tripping over the cables or moving lights, or worse still, equipment going missing. (Fortunately, none of that happened – thanks in no small part to the wonders of duct tape.)

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Setup shot – Apple iPhone 4

In the past, I would have done this shoot with a Nikon FX body, macro lens, tilt-shift, and a few speedlights and umbrellas. After much experimentation with LED panels for both casual work and teaching – I’ve come to the conclusion they’re a much better option for food photography, both enabling you to see straight away the light effects, plus minimize the effects of heat on food – especially important with things like ice cream or raw fish.

I don’t have any questions about the image quality of the OM-D – at base ISO, it’s better than the D700 – but what did concern me was the client reaction to me using a ‘small’ camera, given their expectations and my rates. I even packed a D700 and full set of lenses just in case. However, so far those concerns have been completely unfounded. I’ve mixed in a number of images from the OM-D with a recent submission to a watch client, and they haven’t said anything negative (the bulk of the job was shot with a D800E; the OM-D images were upsized to 25MP) – however, they didn’t see me shoot as I wasn’t working on location.

Fortunately those fears turned out to be unfounded. There was no negative reaction from the client to the camera or image quality. (Though to be on the safe side, I added the HLD-6 to bulk things out a bit – and give me some more battery life.) In fact, I have to say I’m extremely impressed with the color reproduction of the OM-D – after shooting a WhiBal card under the LED panels to lock in the white balance, the images needed almost zero color correction in ACR – this is something I’ve never experienced before. I think the combination of high CRI LED panels and the OM-D for food photography is a revelation, and not having to do extensive color rebalancing work to achieve perfect color saves a huge amount of processing time afterwards. The extended DOF for a given FOV/ aperture combination helped too; f8 was about as low as I could go with the LED panels and still manage 1/90s or so at base ISO. I did bring a tripod along – my shiny new Gitzo GT1542 Traveller which I haven’t had a chance to use yet – but didn’t need it due to the image stabilization and reasonably high shutter speeds.

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More rice. Olympus OM-D and Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 Macro-Elmarit

A note on the gear used – one OM-D body with HLD-6; the Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 Macro-Elmarit for the majority of the shots, with the Voigtlander 25/0.95 (the near focus ability is extremely useful for food photography, but I’m not so enamored with the wide open performance – review coming soon) for the wider shots; I brought the 12/2 and 45/1.8 just in case, but didn’t land up using either. A D700, 24/1.4, 60/2.8 G Macro and 85/2.8 PCE rode shotgun as backup. In future, I think I’m just going to bring a pair of OM-D bodies and save a lot of space and weight. Battery life on the OM-D was pretty good – not as good as the Nikons (the D700 usually gets me around 700-800 shots per charge with the commander flash firing, or 1000+ with no flash; the D800E is good for 2000+) – but a respectable 650-700 per charge with heavy chimping. One slightly concerning behavior I did see with the OM-D was an occasional lockup – it seems that if I review and zoom in fairly soon after taking the shot, the camera sometimes freezes on zooming out again. Popping the battery from the grip is the only way to solve this. I only see this behavior with the battery grip, and it’s not always repeatable. Hmm. Fortunately, it doesn’t eat shots or corrupt things. I will be following up with Olympus in due course…probably after I’m done processing this assignment, and after next week’s assignment in Geneva.

All in all – a positive experience. I was surprised by how much less fatiguing using the OM-D is for studio work; I always thought I didn’t really notice the weight of a full sized DSLR, but I guess it turns out I do. Even with the HLD-6 and heaviest Voigtlander 25/0.95 – it weighs in at just over 1kg instead of the 1.6kg or so for a D700/D800 and 85 PCE; more if I’m using the vertical grip for those cameras.

Now, time to decide if my second body should be black or silver…MT

A note for all of those complaining my previous images were over sharpened – I think I’ve fixed the problem, but please let me know if they still look off. I can’t do anything about the images already in the system, so there may still be a few that I post in the future that appear a little over sharpened.

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. Dear Ming,

    As always, fantastic pictures and description ditto. I have recently stumbled upon your website, and it is one of the photo-sites I visit regularly now (in addition to nikonrumors, bythom, stevehuff and dpreview). It’s very nice to follow the life of a prof. photographer.

    I have a question for which I hope you can give an advice for: So far I have been shooting with Nikon D70 with 35+50+85 f/1.8 lenses. However, I recently bought the Fuji X100, and have given my D70 to my sister. I want to go full-frame, and I think the D600 should fit my needs. I enjoy shooting with the X100, but miss other focal ranges than the 35 mm. The size of the camera is a big plus, which means that I often bring it, where I wouldn’t have brought the D70 (or another dSLR).

    So my question is: Do you think that the OM-D E5 with a kit lens (or perhaps two primes) is one of the best solutions for a small package? I previously considered the NEX7, but the lack of lenses was a no-go.

    Best regards,
    Ole
    Denmark

    • Thanks Ole! I try to cover a good selection of what I do here, but sometimes one gets so busy with work – shooting, retouching, client handling, creative meetings, pitches…that I don’t get a chance to document the process (or the client doesn’t allow it).

      I think the OM-D is the best compact system out there at the moment. Get the 12/2 (or 14/2.5) and the 45/1.8 and you’re covered for 99% all the shooting situations you’re likely to encounter, assuming you don’t need special purpose lenses like extreme telephoto, super wide or macro. And even those are remedied by the Panasonic 100-300, Panasonic 7-14, and Panasonic-Leica 45/2.8 respectively.

      • I am quite overwhelmed of how much you put into site on such a regularly basis, considering that you also have to make a living.

        Thanks for the advice on the compact camera. I used to own the D-Lux 4 and D-Lux 5, and was not quite satisfied by the IQ. With X100, it’s a total different story. The OM-D is still a bit pricey, so I might wait a while and see what happens. I am in no hurry to rush in and buy it.

        Best regards,
        Ole

        • Thanks Ole. Yes, it’s a lot of work…I’m now trying to figure out how to make it balance with everything else – I suppose once I have the readership that will become obvious (hopefully!). THe D Lux 5 does just fine if you have enough light, but really needs raw and a lot of processing to get the most out of it. You might want to have a look at the E-PM1 Pen Mini, which is great bang for the buck.

    • Hello Ming,

      Great post as usual. two comments: as an architecture, heavy machinery, and food photographer myself, this was a very welcome post.

      One: my OM-D locks up occasionally (and needs the same drop-the-battery-reinsert approach to wake it up; also no shots lost) and I think it’s related to an unintended interaction between the menu-set ‘Sleep’ setting and the ‘Power down’ setting; still trying this out and will report back, and

      Two: After owning all the good mirrorless cameras since µ4/3rds began (not to mention Canon 1Ds, 5D with Leica/Ziess glass, Nikon D700, D3, D3s with Nikon’s best glass, and full Sony A850 kit), I am finally happy with the OM-D as a ‘go anywhere, do anything’ setup. First time ever: I usually run two systems side-by-side and choose body and system depending on the job.

      I definitely want to see your impressions on using appropriate Oly flash systems in the same sort of tabletop setup (nothing against LCD panels; just looking for the smallest-possible setup). I particularly want a corporate portraiture (so three flash units) arrangement.

      Finally, I was delighted to see your comments on OM-D Raw files vs. the D700′s at base ISO: I have been *hoping* that I am not miss-seeing the same impressions! I particularly like the colour out of the OM-D, too (and am using “Sunny” WB for all colour temperatures, just to see how the WB changes as the light changes during the day; I find this much more accurately represents what I actually see during the day.

      And I have settles on the following lenses: 7–14, 12/2, 20/1.7, 25/1.4, 45/1.8 and 45/2.8 macro; all stellar in my view. Very portable, and wonderful quality.

      Cheers and thanks, Kit

      • Thanks Kit. Curious: how does one make a living photographing heavy machinery?

        1. I’ll make sure power down is longer than sleep, and perhaps this might solve the problem.
        2. Me too. The D800E or D700 serves as primary, with OMD as backup. Or Leica M for certain situations.
        3. I don’t want to buy more flashes…they’re very expensive! But I suppose I won’t have any choice at some point.
        4. You might want to check out the 75/1.8 too, the prototype I played with was so impressive I pre-ordered one.

  2. Voight 25? interesting. How would you compare it with the Panny Leica 25?

    • Hard to say since the only A-B testing I did was in the shop. The PL25 is sharper off-axis for a given aperture; perhaps a hair sharper on-axis too (but may be due to lower contrast of the Voigt more than anything else). The Voigt is a much nicer feeling lens, and offers a huge advantage – for me at any rate – close focus is 17cm instead of 30cm. Oh, and it’s also about 1/2-2/3rds of a T stop faster, too.

  3. Wow! You teach us so much! The guy in frame No. 2, who is doing the set-up, I hope that it is not You (want to say this guy has eaten a little bit too much from the delicious foot during the last 5 years or so!)? Take care about not spending to much time in front of your Computers!

    • Haha no, he was the chef – I was taking the shot. I also did the plating and food styling…I think he’s leaving a new dish for me to arrange and garnish there.

  4. wjlonien says:

    Good results Ming – after seeing that first photo, I thought: “Two-light setup”. Turned out to be true, and you counted the same advantages for LEDs like Kirk Tuck would do…

  5. It’s just a bowl of rice. Don’t know how you did it but that looks like the most yummy bowl of plain white rice I’ve ever seen!

  6. 1. The OMD lockup issue seems to be common, and has happened to me. Mine locked up with both Panasonic and Olympus lenses, and in different situations; it doesn’t seem to depend on any particular sequence of events. The good thing is that it doesn’t happen often; for me, twice in one day, once on another day, and never again after about 2000 actuations.

    2. I wouldn’t worry too much about what the client thinks about your equipment. If they ask, tell them the truth: modern technology has allowed high quality equipment to be made smaller. Or buy the biggest, oldest DSLR you can find on eBay, and bring it along for show.

    3. Congratulations on finding a new way to derive income from photography! I will definitely be charging admission for my next shoot.

    • 1. It happened about 10 times during the day. That’s far too frequent for my liking. The only redeeming factor is that it seems to only happen with the grip and on reviewing, and no files are affected.

      2. I’ve got a broken D2H which’d work great for that purpose :)

      3. I think Joe McNally already does that at his workshops.

      • Ouch! Yes, 10 times is too much. For what it’s worth, I don’t have the grip yet (not available in the US) so mine happened without it.
        Hope they find a fix, because other than that the OMD is the first “transparent” M4/3 camera I’ve used. It’s now my go-to camera for walking around photography.

        • ‘Transparent’ is a good word to describe it. The camera just does what you expect of it and doesn’t get in the way. And that’s not something I can say of all cameras – the D800E isn’t like that, you have to think about what you’re doing; the D700 and D3 are both transparent, but they’re also conspicuous (as is the D800E); and the M9 forces you to work its way. Interesting…

  7. Hi~ what do you think about using a Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 25/2.8 instead of Voigtlander 25/0.95 ? They have the same close focus distance, I don’t know the DOF of 25/0.95 because I don’t have one, but my 25/2.8 is not bad. Thank you.

    • The adaptors always seem to introduce a degree of non-planarity induced blur. Corners are not always great, either. Having said that, you’ve raised my curiosity. I think I’ll go back and try my 2/28 on the OM-D. I don’t think any of the ZF lenses have 17cm minimum focus distance though.

      • I played with adapted lenses for a while, had some fun, but have mostly stopped. The results were just not worth the inconvenience, particularly now that there are so many good purpose-built m4/3 lenses.

        Leica M lenses in particular were a disappointment, although it helps to use the next longer lens hood. i.e., a 90mm hood on a 35mm lens.
        That would probably help with any adapted APS-C or full-frame lens. Use a hood that corresponds to the effective focal length; otherwise there’s too much extra light bouncing around.

        The one exception, for me, are the Olympus Pen half-frame lenses, particularly the 40mm/1.4. Best portrait lens I own, almost as sharp as the 45mm/1.8, but loads of “character.” Something about the half-frame lenses seems to click with the 4/3 sensor. Sadly, this isn’t a secret any more, and the used prices are sky-high.

        • I’m finding the same problem as you. The issue is mainly in the corners – I’m pretty sure it has to do with M43′s requirement for tele centricity and most M mount lenses not being designed that way. The M8/9 have offset micro lenses over the sensor to deal with this issue.

          The half frame lenses work well because they don’t have such extreme corner angles, I suspect. In that range, the Zeiss 2/50 ZM Planar is also pretty darned good.

  8. ordinaryimages says:

    Fun post. You sold a lot of OM-D’s today, I’m on the list at my local dealer for [2] w/ 12/2 45/1:8 accordingly, to use on an environmental portrait/landscape book project. Could my D700/D7k kit be on the block? ; ]

    • A lot of my lenses hit the block today for that very reason. I still need the D800E for high resolution product/ architectural work, but I think I’ll be moving to Zeiss glass for that.

  9. Steve Pool says:

    Mr. Thein: Would you give some information on the LED panels used for your food shoots – make, panel size, ability to vary output, etc.? The images are stunning and I can only imagine what they look like on a calibrated monitor

    • They’re Fotodiox AV1000s, about 1.5ft square; not hugely throttleable – they claim 10-100%, but I think it’s more like 30-100%. Spectral range is pretty good, especially if you take care to do a manual WB beforehand.

  10. Patrick says:

    Hi Ming, a question re: color: You said the OM-D’s color reproduction is pretty accurate; do you think it makes sense to profile the camera anyway? And if so, would you use one of those calibration charts (e.g. a ColorChecker) for that purpose? Calibrating my monitor made a huge difference; I’m not so sure if profiling the OM-D is worthwhile, though….

    • The tonal response is good, too. I either use AWB and then eyedropper on something convenient in ACR, or use a gray card if I’m using controlled lighting. Personally I wouldn’t bother.

  11. Michael Bernstein says:

    Wow, you really know how to make ordinary food look very unordinary!

    Regarding the comment about the E-M5 being better than the D700 at base ISO, does this include things like the ability to post-process files? Thanks,

    Mike

    • Thanks Mike. Resolution and color are both better, there’s a hair less useable DR though – probably about half a stop in the shadows and highlights.

  12. I do some watch photography of my own and still haven’t found the perfect macro yet. The closest I’ve gotten is a highly modified Contax G 45mm F2 that can do macro work.

    I’m this close to buying a panny 45mm f2.8 simply from the fact that it has almost no chromatic aberrations of any kind at F4 and up. Thoughts on that?

    http://www.asthewatchturns.com/?p=592

    • I was surprised because the 45/2.8 seems better than my Nikon 60/2.8 G even – so yes, it’s worth buying. And gets to 1:1 natively. I find that lenses that are designed for these mirrorless cameras and their short back flange distances perform much better than adapted legacy lenses.

  13. Now you are tempting me to get one! As is usual, your technique is playing a major role here. Thanks for sharing the knowledge and a behind the scenes look. Your blog is miles ahead in the quality of your writing and technical content compared to some of the other very popular reviewers.

    • Haha, well, if you’re in the market for a CSC you won’t regret it. I still think (so far) it’s the least compromised-feeling one of it’s kind I’ve used. If they’d only find a solution for C-AF…

      Glad you’re enjoying the blog. The output of my previous life depended heavily on copy and communication, and I was contributing editor and later editor in chief of a print photography magazine for five years, so I have some experience :) Unlike a lot of the other ‘popular reviewers’, I’m also a working pro photographer – and that’s my primary income, not blogging or related activities – perhaps that contributes, too.

      Please do me a favor and help me spread the word and share it with your other photography friends!

  14. Hi Ming,

    I am currently using the OM-D for shooting watches and watch events. For the watches, I use the 50 mm Zuiko macro, but for watch events and video interviews, I cannot decide what lens to use. I have the 20 mm f/1.7, but it focuses terribly for video and the 14-42 mm II does not provide the quality I am looking for. If I could only buy one lens for events, with video as a primary concern what would you recommend?

    (As of right now I am thinking about the 12 mm f/2.0, but will consider other lenses too.)

    Best,
    Jason

    • I don’t think there’s a one lens fits all. And none of them AF fast enough for video; I always pull focus manually. The 20/1.7 is great for stills, and if you MF for video it should do fine there also.

  15. In my experience, the 20 mm requires too much effort to manual focus. Using the 20 mm for video just doesn’t work for me. I am leaning heavily toward getting the 12 mm, as it has smooth focus in both AF and MF. Moreover, I prefer the 24 mm equivalent field of view that the 12 mm provides, even if it is at the cost of magnification and working distance. (The 20 mm’s lightness, short barrel, large aperture and decent magnification is great for wristshots – so I should probably keep it.)

  16. Ming, beautiful photos! Would you be able to outline the settings you feel work best for the OM-D? With so many options, it is tough to know what combinations produce the best overall results, and from what I see of your photos, it looks like you may have the found them. Thank you!

    • Thanks Eric. Shoot RAW, watch your white balance, and take care of the rest of the processing in PS – that’s pretty much how I shoot all of my cameras. I use single point S-AF and aperture priority. Matrix metering works fine for most situations. The only thing you have to watch is the exposure changing as your recompose; there doesn’t seem to be a combination of settings that lets you do AE-AF lock on the function button. Oh, and turn off the IS if your shutter speed is high enough (1/2x focal length is sufficient) to avoid double images.

  17. Phukhanh Vu says:

    Just love your pictures of food. Great stuff. Thank you. Would you recommend that Leica 45mm f28 macro lens for my Olympus OM-D E-M5??

  18. I’ve started shooting food photography due to one of my canon lens broken down (I guess it’s the chips)

    Lovin it so far, except that it doesn’t have tether feature, which I mourned on, coz the client needed to see for decision making. Looking thru lcd didn’t look so professional though. What’s your suggestion on the workaround Ming? I haven’t found any solutions so far regarding the ability to show it off to client except Eye-fi to iPad

  19. Hello

    Looking to get the Olympus OM-D E-M1 or Olympus OM-D E-M5 . which one should I get .I want a regular lens and a macro lense for Professional food photograhpy what camera and lens should I get ?

    Thanks in advance.

    Great job on the website.

  20. I’m just shifting from a 2 body Nikon D3s based kit to a 2 body OMD EM-1 based kit. I travel and shoot for my work a lot as a documentary and PJ shooter and 10 weeks this year in SE Asia lugging a camera bag that weighed 17kg was unpleasant. I shot many images on that trip with a GH3 and, aside from very low light locations, the images were indistinguishable from the D3s images except where CAF failed in the GH3 (but then it is hardly 100% in the D3s either – just better).
    The EM-1 with improved CAF is the answer, combined with the 12-40 f2.8 and the 40-150 f2.8, possibly with the 12 f1.8 as a method of keeping ISO down in those dark temples and markets etc!

  21. Hi Ming. Did you have any banding or purple fringing problems with the lumix 20mm f1.7? i am thinking of buying one for my EM5 and just wondered if its much of an issue. Cheers

Trackbacks

  1. [...] has a followup about doing a professional shoot with the E-M5, nicely illustrated like his review. He even mentions in passing that the E-M5 beats his D700 for [...]

  2. [...] I don't have any questions about the image quality of the OM-D – at base ISO, it's better than the D700 – but what did concern me was the client reaction to me using a 'small' camera, given their expectations and my rates.  [...]

  3. [...] And that brings me to the final easily quantifiable distinction: being prepared. Even if something outside the normal course of work happens, the pro is prepared and ready to continue; an example could be as simple as having a spare body, extra lighting equipment if the client changes their mind and wants an outdoor shoot, or even being ready to work under pressure with an audience. [...]

  4. [...] overcome fears using Micro 4/3rds cameras in a professional environment | Small Camera BIG Picture Shooting professionally with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 – Ming Thein | Photographer Zuiko manual lens as in OM lens? I think OM lens (or any manual lens for that matter) for events [...]

  5. [...] I don't have any questions about the image quality of the OM-D – at base ISO, it's better than the D700 – but what did concern me was the client reaction to me using a 'small' camera, given their expectations and my rates.  [...]

  6. […] (EVF), and the first implementations were indeed disappointing. But real photographers like Ming Thein and Kirk Tuck were (and still are) producing very impressive results with their Olympus E-M5 and […]

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