On the road with the Olympus OM-D
by Colin Steel – See his blog HERE
China, Part 1
Hey fellow photo travelers and camera addicts, welcome to the first of a three-part set of posts on my first trip to the Fujian coast of Southern China. This first post has two distinct themes; firstly, it focuses on my experiences on the road with the Olympus OMD, which has been very interesting, and secondly I am going to have a look at shooting pattern which is the primary reason to visit this part of China. I have had the OMD for two weeks now but this was the first chance I have had to travel with it to get to know it better in some diverse shooting situations. In some ways this was the perfect trip to try it out on as it poured of rain every day except the first and I got a chance to use it with a variety of lenses from my fave 14mm f2.5 to the 45-200 mm zoom. I also took along the new Sigma 30mm f2.8 and have a few shots and some thoughts on it as a newcomer to the M43 range.
Fujian and Pattern
The Fujian coastline is famous for its shellfish, fishing and seaweed harvesting, and all along the coast there are intricate layouts of channels and bamboo poles along the beaches and estuaries. It’s these channels, sandbanks and poles that create the much sought after patterns and all it takes is the right vantage point, some half decent light and you have hours of interesting shooting on your hands. This leads me to my first observation on the OMD and that is that I found battery life not to be so great in extended use and I reckon it would take two to three batteries to get me through a full day of travel shooting. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to source spares in time for this trip so had to stop shooting on a few occasions when the juice ran out. I don’t see the OMD as any worse than similar cameras in this class but I did use the rear screen more than I thought and had several dawn to dusk days of shooting. Just pointing this out and I will be better prepared next time. As ever on a trip like this its always wise to have a back-up, particularly if you are using a small cam system like M43 and I took along a G3 and also a little Fuji F600 P&S.
Like many coastal areas, the weather in Fujian can be unpredictable and unfortunately for most of the trip we got caught in some really wet, misty weather. This is far from a show-stopper though, it just creates a different shooting environment and you have to get on with it. I think the second shot above is a very good example of this where the misty light forced a hi-key look and I think it worked rather well.
Before we look at how the OMD and M43 lenses worked in this environment a quick word about shooting these patterns from a technique and style perspective. Photography is hugely popular in China and there is a kind of style that is expected when shooting these scenes. For example, to the Chinese mind the landscape and nature should be large and any humans small by comparison. The conventional idea is to shoot down from on high, frame your subject entering from the bottom left and work to get the pattern interesting through either using the poles, sandbanks or waves. As I have written before in a previous blog, I think these location cliche shots are incredibly important but you should try to put your own unique take on it whether that be by varying the rules a little or using the light differently. Because of the poor weather I was forced to use a high key look and its worth mentioning here that its very easy to underexpose these so keep the exposures up to the right and don’t be afraid to use a stop or more of positive compensation. On the shooting technique for these I didn’t use a tripod but instead used the pistol grip I showed in the last post and this gave me an incredibly stable hold on the OMD which was mounted with the Lumix 45-200mm. I found this to be a really neat, stable shooting set-up for this kind of landscape photography and can highly recommend it. All you have to do is remember to switch off the Lumix stabilization on the lens and let the OMD’s marvelous in-camera stabilization do its stuff. It goes without saying that you should try to stay at sensible shutter speeds for what is a pretty healthy 400mm equivalent max zoom but I had few problems at 1/250 and lower if I was careful. I can’t recommend this set up highly enough, the zoom is a cracker and I enjoyed watching my travel companions lug there pro bodies, 70-200’s and tripods up to the vantage points while I had the tough little OMD and the small M43 lenses to carry 🙂
Here is the OMD looking rather splendid with the pistol grip and my favorite lens the 14mm F2.5 Lumix. This shot was taken with the Lumix G3 and Sigma 30mm which I took as a back-up camera and I have to say that I found its overall performance to be not in the same league as the OMD, but more on that comparison in the next post. The Sigma lens is an ok performer and pretty sharp but I didn’t find it as useful overall as I thought it would be. At f2.8 it sits a bit uncomfortably between the much more able 20mm F1.7 and lovely 45mm F1.8 Olympus.
Going back to technique for a moment, it’s also desirable to make sure your subject doesn’t overlap the darker background areas and try to show the full reflection if possible, just good compositional basics. Incidentally, I managed to download the new Adobe Lightroom4-1 beta release which has the OMD RAW converter so I had a go at the RAW files and I have to say they looked good and stood up well to the Hi-key work although the sunset shot above didn’t need so much because the light was the best we had on the trip and I set the OMD to shade white balance for that nice glow. Here’s a slightly different angle so that you can get a better idea of the overall scene from the vantage point.
One thing to watch out for when shooting late in the day is to milk the scene to its last as just when the light was going I thought the shooting was over but I noticed the fisherman going to spread the nets and managed to get a nice pattern as he moved into the arrangement. This is pretty low light stuff at a long zoom and the OMD 45-200 combo handled it with ease.
Returning to the flat, diffuse light issue for a moment, I see a lot of comments about M43 that criticizes the lack of DoF. I have to say that I am totally bemused by this and have found that I have ‘lost’ more shots (creatively) through having too little DoF than too much. I have many shots taken with my D3 and 50 f1.4 where I have nailed the closest eye but don’t like how quickly the focus falls off on the rest of the subject. Narrow DoF is without doubt a useful technique but I find that for travel use in particular there is more advantage in the M43 sensors DoF range, so far from being a drawback, and in this lower light, it is without doubt a very distinct benefit.
In any case the shallow DoF is there anyway if your technique is right as this G3 shot with the Sigma 30mm at f 2.8 shows. This isn’t even that fast a lens but any more shallow DoF and the photo would have completely lost its sense.
I don’t want to labour the DoF topic too much, but it is my personal view that this is simply not an issue with the OMD, a good lens and decent compositional technique will give you shallow DoF if you desire it for creative effect.
I noticed that my travel companions didn’t shoot vertically very often and it was evident in many of the local images that I looked at that horizontal view was predominant. I think you have to be careful when shooting these natural patterns that you don’t get stuck in the conventional horizontal landscape view as many of the more interesting patterns actually emerge in the vertical. As always, it’s simply good camera craft to change your angle and view frequently and I developed a reverse shooting technique for vertical shooting with the OMD and pistol grip. I found that by holding the pistol grip in my right hand I could get a very solid hold and trip the shutter button with my left index finger. It sounds a bit awkward but if you are using a pistol grip give it a try to see if it works for you.
I personally really like this compressed vertical look that you get when using very long telephotos. It seems to look more elegant and interesting to my eye. You can compare these two vertical shots with the ones from the same scenes in shots two and three for contrast. I don’t think either view is better but I do think they are nice variations.
Finally on the subject of view and framing, don’t forget to try a different crop if it fits the subject, sometimes a 16×9 crop will enhance a scene for example.
Oh, and its also worth trying some variation on the editing technique, this is very de-saturated but somehow I like it.
Pattern is Everywhere
Since we are on the theme of shooting pattern, it’s not only during the location shooting that you need to be aware and its worth keeping a camera with you always on these trips. This is a real benefit of the OMD, its small, discrete, fast and easy to work with in use. The only real issues I had with it were a couple of physical niggles and I will summarize those at the end. I saw the following shot while we were waiting for our driver and caught the subject passing through the shadow pattern.
I really like this kind of shot and in many ways find this more interesting than the vantage point formula takes. Incidentally, if you are using the Lightroom release I mentioned, it doesn’t complete the conversion to allow the use of plug-ins so I couldn’t get this shot out to Silvereffex pro where I think it would have looked great. I ended up using a Lightroom plug in downloaded free and it gives a rather nice de-saturated look. I liked the scene so much that I had our driver take a portrait of me which is intended to reflect my frustration with the Chinese internet censorship that prevented me from getting to my own blog or any of the other photo blogs that give me my daily fix 🙂
Anyway, the OMD handled all of the contrasty scenes I threw at it with aplomb and there is no doubt in my mind that the sensor is a cut above the G3, it handles higher ISO better to my eyes and the RAW files seem to have more to them. There is no science to this from me but if you want to look at the detailed testing then I guess the DP Review one will satisfy you, personally I think it might be better to try one yourself or wait for more ‘real world’ takes from Steve and others who are more interested in how the camera works in use.
OMD For Travel Summary
Lets cut to the chase, this is an absolutely outstanding travel camera, it’s weatherproofing and sealing makes it ideal for the beach, rain and humid mist that is often encountered in Asian travel situations. It is very versatile and when coupled with the excellent Lumix and Olympus lenses can cover off everything from environmental portraiture to the long-range pattern shots shown in this post. I just love the above portrait of Mr Zhang Han Zhong, who is chairman of the Hui An photographic Society and an extremely nice guy.
The OMD is also very robust and well put together, the only minor niggles I have were picked up by Robin Wong and others in early use and relate to the misting up of the EVF in damp conditions. I don’t really see that there is much Olympus could do about this and don’t consider it a design flaw as such, just try to keep water off it if you can and when it goes you obviously have to default to the rear screen. I found it helped to use a ziplock bag which I had to use in the rain as I didn’t have the weather-sealed kit lens. It also clears pretty quickly when it gets dry. On the subject of the viewfinder, be very careful with the rubber eyecup which comes loose easily and I nearly lost it a few times. I might pop a tiny spot of glue on the corner to hold it. I also took a S$7 small 7eleven umbrella with me and the OMD handles so well that I was able to hold the brolly against my shoulder and shoot at the same time. Take a white one and it can double as a diffuser or you can even shoot a flash into or through it.
I mentioned the battery life previously and it also takes a long time to charge the battery so I fully intend to get three as soon as they are available, just be aware of this if you are intending to travel with one.
In case you are thinking of making this kind of trip, the beaches shown are at Xiao Hao, Dong Bi, Sa Jiang and Qu Di. The trip I went on was with an old friend Vicky Yeow who runs her own photo travel company vickyphotographyworkshops and I can highly recommend her. Unless you are very familiar with the area you will never find the proper vantage points or interesting shooting sites, and its also critical to go at the right time for tides and so on. On the equipment front, a long zoom is essential and you may want to consider a tripod although I found my pistol grip set up and the superb stabilization in the OMD was just fine. I would suggest that the OMD Lumix 14 & 20 primes along with the 45-200 zoom and Olympus 45 make a state of the art travel set up that can take on anything.
Well that’s about it for this first post folks, I will be covering off more people orientated shots at different locations including the fascinating ‘Earth buildings’ in the upcoming posts and will also look more closely at the Sigma lens and some shots from the G3.
I feel I have been a bit lightweight on discussing the OMD here but I think that is simply down to the fact that it is such a good travel camera that there is really nothing to comment on other than how well it does the job when coupled with the right lenses.
I hope the somewhat unusual shooting of the pattern scenes with it have been of some interest and as ever I look forward to any comments or questions that you may have.
Until next time, safe traveling.
You can order the Olympus OM-D E-M5 at B&H Photo HERE
Sublime images, your photos are magic.
i LOVE your photos. thanks for the review for travelling and landscape lens recommendation — that is, the panasonic lumix g 14mm. i just bought the olympus 45mm f/1.8 for daily shots and i have the panasonic 45-200mm. i am new to the om-d but got it specifically because of travel photography. can you tell me more about the grip? thanks!!
When I clicked to read this, I thought it would be about the OM-D. You are really far too modest though and it stands in its own right as testement to the quality of your work. I shall surely be looking out for more of your ‘camera’ reports.
What it does say about the Olympus to me is; if it is good enough for you, then it should certainly be good for me (as my first proper digital camera) – though I may still go for the new Fuji.
Can someone please e-mail me the model of pistol grip that Colin is using?
coreyvickery [at] gmail [dot] com
i was wondering what lens you used for the Mr Zhang Han Zhong shot.
What you have accomplished here, is a new area for PHOTOGRAPHIC CREATIVITY.
This is a mind opener, and I thank you…
Mr Zhang Han Zhong, just ( takes us there ) with you. He is the personalization of this trip.
Your demonstration of (depth of field) ability of the OMD 4/3 system is refreshing,
and I too feel more images are lessened by too little.
I remind ( all of you ) to purchase through Steves’ site; or risk losing such rich and
varied looks at what we all love so much.
Thank you Colin, and Steve for seeing farther . . .
(( Where did you get the strap )) ?
Firstly, i am full of admiration for your beautiful photographs – not just here but on your blogs, too.
Could you tell me who makes or sells the leather and nylon (?) camera stap shown in the photo of your Olympus OMD EM5 with the pistol grip and the tray of tea cups. Many thanks.
The following time I learn a weblog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as a lot as this one. I mean, I know it was my option to learn, but I truly thought youd have something fascinating to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about one thing that you would repair in case you werent too busy on the lookout for attention.
I’d need to test with you here. Which isn’t one thing I normally do! I get pleasure from reading a publish that can make people think. Additionally, thanks for permitting me to comment!
Thanks for this folks, it gives me great encouragement to receive such nice comments.
Colin, the photos you took -especially the first one- are absolutely phenomenal!
Thanks for the write up. I also like the picture of Mr Zhang Han Zhong the best. I enjoyed your comments about the travel aspects of the camera. It is real life details like that which are often lost in reviews you read online.
Inspirational… Exquisite… Amazing shots Collin … China has some amazing landscapes to offer. Thank you so much for sharing.
I think I may just put the G.A.S aside and spend the money on a travel ticket instead.
Thanks for your superb and inspiring blog!
I am a wheelchair traveller, so highly value small size of camera, I had a lovely gf1 which I traded in for a gh2, because the articulated screen makes a big difference as to what I can shoot/ where I can hold the camera. The OMD looks like a massive step up from the Gh2. I don’t use video much, but I do love the articulated screen – can you use the tilt screen at enough of an angle to not miss the full articulation?
I want to ipgrade because i love low light work, specially with family and friends! should I wait for the gh3, or go for the OMD now??
And pistol grip or http://www.edelkrone.com/the-pocket-rig/ ?
Many thanks again for such inspiring pictures!
This is an interesting one. I found the G3 screen to have ultimately more flexibility but preferred using the OMD’s which I didn’t find limiting. I also found it more stable when using the touch screen focus/fire. I suspect it would be best to try it, the resolution on the OMD is hard to beat as well.
On the stability front, I think the product you linked to would win hands down, that would be a much more stable brace. It is however a lot more expensive but that flexibility looks worth it.
Just my views though, I really think you should try the camera if you can.
Great shots !!!
excellent post and review!
You call this a review? Where are the brick wall pictures???
J/K, and thanks for the insight and inspiration. I love my Pentax DSLR, and have about $3000 in K-mount lenses, but with the Q and now the K-01 both being disappointments, I’m considering jumping ship for the OM-D.
My first DSLR was an e-510, which I absolutely loved….except for when I went above ISO 800. Now that Olympus has figured out how to do high ISO, maybe it’s time for me to come back to the fold…
You have a great eye for composition and detail. Love the lighting and atmosphere, and also the colours the Olympus is recording.
I have heard about this oriental proverb saying “A good Kung Fu master can use fallen leaves and flower petals to injure his enemy ….. “. Seeing this guy’s photos I must say I agree …..
Wow…great use of repeating patterns. You have a real eye for compositions, nicely done.
Amazing photographs, Colin. The second to last one is platinum…just stunning. I am glad the Oly is a good tool for you, though I am convinced the camera between your ears is really what’s responsible for these wonderful shots.
Superb Album !!!
Regarding horizontal vs. vertical, I know that I find myself framing things horizontal most of the time, even when I think vertical might produce a better result, due to the fact that I am only viewing my images on screen. Horizontal fits better on screen, of course, and so I find myself saying, “Which would I rather have: a pretty good horizontal shot that fills my monitor, or a perhaps better vertical shot that either gets scaled way down or requires scrolling to view?” And quite often these days, my answer is to go for the horizontal shot. Maybe not the best choice from an artistic perspective, but unless I’m going to start printing my shots, the horizontal view is generally more pleasing to look at on screen. In no way am I saying these pics would have been better all horizontal – I just expressing my preference to fill the screen.
Great writeup, and more importantly, terrific photos! Thanks for sharing those with us. As others have said, it’s all about your eye and your skill, not the camera. But it’s clear that that OMD is a capable tool. Nice work!
Awesome set of photos. Also a fan of the cheap, light, sharp Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 lens.
Wonderfull work. Thanks for sharing.
Very nice portfolio, the right tool in the right hands. Especially like the tea drinker smoking a cigarette. Great feel.
Thanks everyone, and I will say it again Dan, that’s my fave in this set as well, it has something that is missing from the others.
Colin – I am impressed, to say the least. Your pictures are amazing and they reveal a stunning eye.
For me the best photos I have ever seen on this web page, regarding IQ and motiv!
If the photographer in good, the camera is not important.
Congratulations for your work.
Come visit the Philippines, Colin. 😉 #itsmorefuninthephilippines
I am impressed…. I am super excited since I just received my OM-D tonight! Can’t wait to try it out.
Damn! Now I had to go and buy an OM-D, I really tried not to because I didn’t really need yet another camera…I blame you and Steve 🙂
Nice write up and lovely photos! I’m looking forward to taking my on my weekend trip to Paris.
Fantastic shots Colin. Very inspiring.
I read your review but I felt no desire for the OM-D after I’m done as you have proven again that it is not the camera, it is the photographer. What I’m gonna do instead is to shoot with my current gear more and focus on the results. Thanks for the inspiration!
You got it. Although I mess around with loads of different gear its just because its my passion and main interest in life. I always spend a lot of time learning the camera I am using though and if I can’t get to grips with it I get poor shots. I simply love the GF1 because I know it so well for example. I am getting there with the OMD as well as it has the kind of controls I like for aperture and compensation in particular. These cameras stick with me because I know how they react and how to use them without thinking. That will invariably lead to better results than buying the fanciest or best sensor fashion cameras.
beautiful perspective and vision..
Colin.. thank you for such joy to see…
I wish one day I could shoot the way you see your surrounding
Thanks you so much, I really don’t know what to say about many of these comments, I am a bit taken aback. One thing I would say though is that many of these shots are about being there and the first rule of travel photography I guess is that you have to find places that interest you and then go there!!! Nearly everyone who commented here could have gotten similar shots in their own style at these locations. That’s why I value the portraits and the shadow pattern shots more.
“Nearly everyone who commented here could have gotten similar shots in their own style at these locations. ”
I couldn’t disagree more…here you are just being humble eheh
If it really was like you said there would be not so many cases of us being forced to look at poor travel photos from parents and friends eheh Your shots are very good! don’t be humble!
You don’t need the new Oly.
You barely need a camera.
That’s your talent.
Thanks Felipe, that’s real nice of you to say.
Thanks for the post Colin. I love those shots and you’ve really piqued my interest in the area; very Nat Geo!
The camera seems pretty good too. I look forward to more stories and ideas. What’s the next camera I wonder?
Thanks, you wont be disappointed but just watch the timing for the tides and seasons.
great read and excellent images Colin…..your work is inspirational.
having had the OMD for a couple of days…and being my first M43, i am more than impressed…this and my X100 may tip the scales in ridding myself of my DSLR system.
Fantastic set! Great stuff! Great photographer with a Great camera = a real fireworks display!
Great work very informative thank you very much I think I just found my travel camera as I have m9 travel fear walking around with 10000 bucks strapped around my neck
Man, you know what… The first shot is a PRETTY good one, we know this is nothing but artistic view. You guys are crazy good, I hope to do this with my m9!
stunning photographs. I love the “patterns” photo project. Well done!
Great shots. Now if only Amazon would ship my OM-D….
your photography is simply breathtaking ! wow !
It is totally counterproductive, Colin! One is carried away by your magnificent pictures. With what equipment they were made, who cares?
Thanks Jean-louis, thats very kind praise indeed, I really appreciate it.
amazing shots, interesting point about shooting vertical, many chinese landscape paintings are done in vertical.
I really love the photo of Mr Zhang Han Zhong. Thanks for a very interesting post.
Thanks Nghi, its my fave by a long way as well. I know the pattern shots have visual impact but I think there is more humanity in these kind of portraits. He is a very nice guy and talented photographer as well.
Nice report and pretty nice pictures. I’m also on the road with my OMD most of the time during the week and I have to say I like it. I had the X100 before but was limited because of the fixed lens. now I have the flexibility from the slr system back but still have a small light camera for traveling. great job olympus.
More pictures taken with a OMD in france this week: http://www.eike-loge.com/category/blog/
Hey Elke, many thanks and I like your pics, you certainly have a very graphic eye.
SUPERB Colin, congratulations! Those are some very well composed, high quality images any photographer would aspire to.
The OMD is VERY tempting, I’m even considering selling my M9 as it gets little use compared to my M3 and M6 (film buff). The OMD would easily complement my Leica gear. Why can’t Leica come up with something like this? That would be fantastic and allow us Leica lens owners to use the amazing glass with a smaller, weather sealed version of a Leica 4/3… M4/3 anyone?
My oh my, Colin. this is a superb collection of images….really shows what you can do with this system, but I think also,what a talented photographer that you are, where the gear is of little to no importance. I would love to see more close up, people, street images to see what that’s like with the OMD, as it clearly is a tool for creative inspiration in your case (I am finding much the same with my XPro-1).
Wow, many thanks for such kind comments.
Close ups and street stuff on the way in the next post. I also stuck some fun stuff on the blog today that is closer up but a bit ‘artsy fartsy’
Thanks again, are you going to post anything on the Xpro 1 soon?
There are some really superb images here, congratulations! I’m still waiting on my OMD, seeing shots like these is NOT making it any easier, please stop!
I think your pistol grip looks somewhat less than ‘splendid’ but too each his own:)
Ha, can’t disagree with you there Neil !!! It’s certainly not a beauty enhancement…..it did work though and I was watching some old film stuff and saw that many of the street photographers had them on their film cameras. It doesn’t look good or cool but it works.
I hope you get the camera soon, they are freely available in Asia now and I look forward to seeing how you get on with it, really liked your last post on here.
Thanks for sharing, really beautiful shots. I’m hoping Olympus will start selling the spare battery soon!
I love my OM-D, but I haven’t taken it on long road trips. I find after a day’s shooting the battery drains quickly and to be caught out without a spare battery would suck.
Yep, if you are traveling take a back up, it wont make it through the day. I see some after market ones appearing now, might be worth buying 3 or 4.
Yes, these shots make your thoughts all the more authorative, since you clearly know what you’re doing! Interesting thoughts on the depth of field control. This has been my main issue with m4/3’s – image quality and sensitivity-wise, the cameras have clearly matured enough. I’m still on the fence on that, and enjoy the 3D look from a sharp f/1,4-1,8 lens on a full-frame body, especially with the subject not in the photographer’s face. Hmm… On the other hand: a tasty m4/3 f/0,95 lens on one of these cameras should take care of the two (?) f-stops of DoF “lost” due to the smaller sensor…?
Many thanks. Good as it is you are never going to match the ultimate imagery and quality of a FF with good fast glass with a M43 camera. For my purposes and travel in particular they are unbeatable though and they certainly have the bases covered with the nice lenses and improved sensor ISO quality.
i have been fooling around with the old Zuiko 50 MM F1.8 which is a fast 100 on the OMD and the results are better than I thought. Post on that on the way.
Thank you for sharing these wonderful images and story!
All the credit to you as a photographer, although the camera seems awesome as well. Very inspirational shots.
Great shots! I currently have the OM-D with the 12-50 lens. I haven’t had time to compare how well I like the pictures in comparison to my NEX-7 but I definitely like the functionality, touch EVF, and size better.
Two great cameras Gage, like you I found the touchscreen focus/shoot much more usable than I expected. Do you share any lenses across the two systems?
Thanks for looking at the post,
Good shots Colin. Up to your usual high standards. I did get delivery of my OMD a week ago as well. I completely agree with you. It is very well put together. One more thing I enjoy with the OMD is the extra ability to crop. The nearly-double pixel count when used with a good lens lets me crop and salvage many shots.
Thanks for the review. It is an outstanding camera. I initially felt that it is too small. It kind of gradually grows up on you.
It took me a few shoots to get to grips with it as well. I know it looks weird but I have really gotten used to the pistol grip and use it a lot as well.
Hope you enjoy the OMD
Stunning…….you have a real talent.
Checked out your blog and love the Ibanez guitar shots.
Why no FB page ?
Really glad you liked the blog, I am also very interested that you liked the Ibanez shoot, it got almost no reaction and I liked it a lot personally.
I am not great lover of FB and am trying to get to grips with Google + which seems more photo friendly.
Anyway, thanks again for looking, I am working on part 2 just now.
Some beautiful images really well presented, inspirational photography 🙂
didn’t read the review, BUT THOSE SHOTS!!!! You really haven’t waste your time and money on trip