How to tweak your Olympus OM-D E-M5 to shoot sports by Jim Huffman
I thought I’d tell you in the first sentence, that i am recommending the E-M5 for sports photography, and providing you a couple of customizations that will help you do so.
I’ve been following your blog for a couple of years now, and LOVE it, because of your non technical approach to reviewing and recommending gear. I am technical (electrical engineer / law -am a patent attorney), but technical reviews of photography equipment don’t tell me much – they cover the basics, but rarely inspire me to buy equipment. What does inspire me is when I see someone enthusiastic about taking pictures, and loving the device that lets them do so.
Sorry for being long-winded, but a little background is necessary for this email. I’ve been shooting for 39 years, since my first camera (minolta SRT 101), soon moved to Nikon – and shot Nikon until last week (D3, with an array of lenses). I also shot Leica. Of the 100k photos in my aperture library – the only ones printed and on the walls around the house came from Leica glass….
At your enthusiasm over m43 cameras, I have purchased several, both Panasonic and Olympus. most recently, the E-M5. (and 12, 25, 45, 75, 12-35, 35-100). It has virtually replaced the leica as my travel camera, particularly fond of the 12 (and can’t wait for the 17!!!). But…. I just felt like it could never do justice to shooting sports, much less indoor sports – both because of focusing delay, high iso needs, the live view lcd blanking out in the eyepiece while writing a burst to the memory card, etc…)
On the other hand – I LOVE the size of the Oly, and…. Nikon just won’t update their primes! I paid over $2k for the 85mm f1.4 – in Tokyo, to shoot my daughters volleyball – in the darkest gym in Colorado. what I have wanted is a 135 1.4 or worst case f2. the 85 is a great lens, but a big piece of glass, and even the latest model is not a fast focuser.
So, on saturday, i left the BIG RIG at home, and walked into the gym with my oly setup. Of course, the local press was their with their canon and Nikon gear. I saw them looking at me like – who is the amateur (I’ve shot for AP in my youth – political events, concerts, etc.) with the little toy camera? Well, with the 75 and 25 as my main tools (b/c of both focal length, and wide aperture), i put the camera in 9fps mode, 6400iso, and blasted away. I came home, loaded the pics, and put my entire Nikon rig up for sale on eBay.
Conclusion? is the E-M5 as good at high iso as the D3? not quite – but close enough. Can it focus fast? actually, with the 25, 45 and 75, it was faster than the nikon – and my hit ratio went up! Is it a replacement for a pro staff sports photographer? of course not. But for a dad photographing his kids teams? unbelievable! for years, parents have walked into our gym with their D40, Rebel, etc. and kit lens, and asked me to change the settings on their camera so they could take action pics of their kids. I frown, shake my head, and say, impossible. Those cameras can’t shoot high iso, and the aperture is so dim, that the best they can hope for in shutter is about 1/8/sec… Then they ask about the cost of my D3 with lens… More than most people’s cars! No more! Get an E-M5 with a 25mm Panasonic (or 45 oly), and they will get better results than anything else in the price range! And for me? one system to use rather than 2. and for travel with sports? I don’t have to lug around my 30lb nikon bag!!!
I am attaching a few pics at 6400 iso, shot in jpeg without any WB fix. thought you might like to see.
Keep up the good work, and know I’m out here reading you every day!
NOTE: The below is a geek tweak to the oly that you can skip, or read if really interested
WRT sports – the E-M5 is a battery drain. i have the pistol grip with 2nd battery – but even the combination can’t shoot an all day tournament. the camera dies after 600+ shots… Plus…. the back lcd screen always comes on unless the camera is at your eye. if you want to use the eyepiece, there is a short latency between putting it to your eye and switching. the latency is not great for sports. plus, when you take the camera away from your eye, the back panel lights for a while, creating battery drain. And, the toggle between the two screens drains the battery. I thought – I’ll call Olympus and see if there is any way to:
1. Turn of the back lcd entirely. This would save on battery life AND eliminate the delay in switching.
2. still allow for back panel adjustment settings, if desired.
Well, 2 days later the Oly support guy called back. Viola! no direct way, but you can accomplish the same thing. Let me know if you want the settings, but essentially, you go to the K gear in options, and then into touch screen settings, and turn them off. then go to D gear, control settings, P/A/S/M, and turn off all live control settings. Then turn ON live scp (super control panel). OK, almost done. Hit the button on the ‘prism’ to the right of the eyepiece, and bring up the super control panel. use the OK button to activate any setting you want to change. When done, hit the info button. The screen goes black!
Now? the camera is essentially an SLR. no rear view at all, UNLESS you hit that button next to the right eyepiece. it becomes the toggle between live view (like before) and a black back screen! I just significantly increased my battery life! if you want to go to settings, just hit the info button. the info button becomes the settings toggle.
I am in heaven with my new longer life sports camera, without the rear lcd getting in the way.
one more geek tweak?
The magnify focus is turned on, and great with the 75mm, but also annoying. when you are moving the focus ring, it magnifies. great. but the SECOND you stop moving the focus ring, magnify turns off. well, my eyes are too slow. My question was, how do I get the magnify to stay on longer.
Answer: go into custom buttons – and assign magnify to any function button (or the record button). now, to enter magnify, hit the control button twice. magnify stays on until you half press the shutter release! and, you will note that the magnify is 10x. rotate the rear control dial and you can change the magnification! You have to do the double punch to activate magnify any time you turn the camera on. after that, one push activates it.
Three cheers to the US Oly support staff for giving me these tidbits of customization! i haven’t seen them anywhere on the web, so thought you might not know about them…
Thanks again for posting my email to you – i didn’t expect that – just thought you’d like to see what the oly could do. two things:
1. The girls had an amazing come from behind to win the Colorado State Championship saturday night. Whoop!
2. And the oly? wow! after turning OFF the rear LCD, and making the EVF auto, I got >1200 shots per battery! the spec says 340ish. Some guy commented that the EVF is a bigger battery drain than the rear lcd. Well, that may be true if always on, but the EVF turns off almost immediately when your eye is not next to it, and the lcd won’t. I’d say a 4X improvement in battery life is incredible!
Thanks again for the post!