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