Watch photography with the Olympus OM-D, and thoughts on its use as a backup system

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The Maitres du Temps Chapter Two Tonneau China special edition.

For a system to be able to serve as backup, it must fulfill one important function: the ability for me to continue working with it and delivering images if my main system should fail for any reason. And it should be able to cover all genres of what I shoot, without too many workarounds or compromises. The obvious choice would of course be to buy two of the same camera, but a) where’s the fun in that, and b) sometimes it’s also useful to have a different camera system to give you other shooting options not available from your primary.

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For the past couple of months, I’ve been shooting with the Olympus OM-D for most jobs which do not require special purpose lenses (e.g. tilt shifts) or huge resolution; the Nikon D800E of course covers everything else. What I’ve found so far is that from a usability and image quality point of view, the camera has no problems delivering the goods consistently; the only exception being a peculiar lockup problem that only happens if you use the Fn1 button to zoom into an image after shooting, then hit the protect button if you’re in the screen with the zoom toggle slider on one side. Unfortunately that does seem to be part of my workflow, but I’m learning to avoid it.

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The biggest question, in my mind, was whether the system was a viable alternative to the D800E for doing watch work – rather important, given that this is the majority of what I do commercially. I acquired a Panasonic-Leica 45/2.8 Macro Elmarit (yes, a review is in the works) for this purpose. Suffice to say – the lens isn’t the limiting factor at all, it’s pretty darned awesome (and one of the better macro lenses I’ve used, actually).

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Although Olympus does have a wireless flash system (FL36R, FL50R and FL500R) which is IR-triggered like Nikon and Canon’s systems, I wasn’t about to buy another set of speedlights, and certainly not about to carry them around along with the primary system, too. Fortunately the Nikon SB900s I use have a SU4 optical slave trigger mode – with manual flash power, of course. I used this and manually set the output levels. Yes, it’s much slower than using iTTL and dialing in adjustments directly through the camera, but it works.

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All in all, as you can see from the images here, I think the results are pretty darned good – my client didn’t say anything about the file quality, or lack of it; the OM-D’s files interpolated very cleanly to 25MP and their required resolution.

Depending on what I shoot, I’ll carry the OM-D body and 12mm and 45mm macro lenses, or just the 45; the 20/1.7 rides along as a body cap. One nice thing is its ability to use the Zeiss ZF glass I’ll normally carry for my D800E via an adaptor, so I don’t even have to carry the 45 and 20mms if I’ve got the 50/2 Makro-Planar and 21/2.8 Distagon.

One note of caution – during my recent Hong Kong workshop, the camera decided to stop working in a very humid environment (light rain, probably 90-95% humidity) and didn’t come back to life again until being dried out in air conditioning and with a few blasts from a hair dryer for good measure – so they’re probably not as well weather sealed as they claim. It continued to work intermittently for a few days afterwards, with menus self-navigating (as though one of the buttons was shorted out) before working normally thereafter. Odd. MT

The Olympus OM-D in various configurations is available here from B&H and Amazon.


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  1. Great series of watch articles, Ming. Thank you. I have a Panasonic G3 and the Pana/Leica 45mm 2.8 macro lens. What flash/diffuser system do you recommend for watch photos?

  2. A bit of a blog catch up – you mentioned tilt shift – no way of trying this on the OM-D?

  3. Kevin Chau says:

    2 weeks ago, I used OM-D on boat with sea water splashed on it ! It works perfectly. I live in HK, I do not babysit my OM-D, I uses it on raining day. No Dehumidifier box storage. It works perfectly in Hong Kong weather. I suggest you send the OM-D to the customer service to check. It is humid it HK, but OM-D shall works under this kind of weather. I love your posts of OM-D especially the product shot. It is always good to give a new perspective of M43 camera which is capable of pro-work.

  4. Ming- Nice shoot. FYI- Based on your Macau part 1 series- I am renting a OMD E5 for the long labor day weekend to try out & until after Photokina final announcements (like Fuji ex1)-getting today with Pana 22-35 MM & Pana 20 mm 1.7- Appreciate your great insight & images.

  5. On the humidity issue – surely of the combinations you used, in no case is the lens weathersealed ? In that case it doesn’t help a lot to have a weathersealed body. Unless you use the kit lens or the MMF3 with a weathersealed 43 lens, then that particular OM-D feature is about as much use as a chocolate teapot…

    • Chocolate teapot it is. The 12-50 isn’t very good optically, and I don’t have a 12-35. I wouldn’t use the MMF-3 and 4/3 lenses – defeats the point of a small body. I might as well use my Nikons.

    • Good observation David. You might want to note that in the post Ming. I also assumed you where using a WR lens. If not, then we can’t expect the camera to be moisture resistant without a lens to match.

      Maybe the 60mm macro will match the PL45 in IQ, then you can have a weather resistant macro m43 setup.

      • I’m more interested in a weather resistant PJ/ landscape setup, but then again all of my macro work is done indoors under vey controlled conditions.

  6. I’m looking forward to your RX100 holiday pics……

  7. Ming, You commented about flashes. What did you use for a lighting set up on these wonderful pictures.

    Peter F.

  8. Awesome review. Answers my question whether the E-M5 system and its successors will have a permanent position in my camera bag for future jobs. This just conclusively proves it.

    In the hands of a technically competent and aesthetically capable photographer, the D800E and E-M5 is an unbeatable combination! Good job again, Ming.

    ps. Now the only question left is whether the upcoming Olympus 60mm will match or surpass the optical quality of Nikon and Zeiss Macros?!

  9. Beautiful set! OM-D seems very viable. I’m still waiting for my D800e to arrive though.

    • Thanks Bob. It is – what I haven’t had a chance to do is shoot with the native flashes for it yet, so I don’t know if its wireless TTL system can match that of the Nikons.

  10. Do find the 25 (50 equivalent) long enough for your macro work? Looks good from your photos but do you wish for a longer macro for m4/3?


  1. […] date, when using the OM-D for macro work, I’ve either been using my large LED panels (and hence continuous lighting) or the SU-4 […]

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