The Olympus E-M1 takes Manhattan!! By Neil Buchan-Grant


Olympus E-M1 takes Manhattan!!

By Neil Buchan-Grant

Just before Christmas I sailed from Southampton to New York on the Queen Mary 2 ocean liner for the 3rd year running. This time I had with me two beautiful models, one was the London-based print model Irina Sosnova and the other was the Olympus OMD-EM1. My objective was to come back with some shots depicting the loose narrative of a beautiful woman crossing the Atlantic alone to be with her man in New York.

Along with the EM1 body I had with me a bag of Olympus lenses including the 12mm, 17mm (f1.8), 45mm, 60mm macro, 75mm and 12-40mm f2.8 Pro. I also had my Leica DG 25mm Summilux and a Leica M 35mm Summilux ASPH (non FLE).

The weather was pretty bad for most of the journey. We managed to get out on the deck for only 15 minutes during the whole trip. During this mini-shoot the winds were so high Irina was convinced her false eyelashes were going to blow right off! As we shot, passengers and crew were forming an audience and were running a book on how long it would take for her flimsy silk dress to do the same! I was using my Olympus FL50 flash on manual but was still managing to wildly overexpose many of the shots. Everything felt so rushed with the winds, we could hardly hear each other talk, it was both frantic and exhilarating! Fortunately I shoot RAW so managed to save the files but I really need to try to get to grips with flash this year:)

The rest of the journey we spent indoors, moving around the ship looking for interesting light and reasonable backdrops. By the end of the week we knew exactly where to go for the best light at any given time of day. Night time shooting was not easy but I did find some wonderful diffuse light in the doorway of the perfume store, thanks to the huge perfume display lighting. But as I keep reading in Gregory Heisler’s new book, things would be so much easier if I could crack the ‘off camera-flash mixed with ambient light’ thing! I will do one day but even on manual, I seem to get big variances! Anyway, I pressed on with my reflector disc and what comes through the window.

We arrived in New York with unusually balmy, warm weather. Within 3 days it dropped about 25 degrees. It started warm and rainy and we had a terrible first day of shooting traipsing around Soho looking for opportunities in the rain along with our NYC based make up artist Gil Aldrin who very wisely as it turned out, wore uber-fashionable Wellington boots!. The next day we awoke to clear blue skies, it was colder than a well-diggers ass, but brilliant sunshine. We were joined by a New York model TJ Fink who does a sideline in stand-up when he’s not smiling for the camera. We shot a few scenes near the Brooklyn bridge where it seemed extra cold by the water. I had remembered from my first year in New York that around 2pm the low winter sun lights up 6th Avenue and creates a monumental drama at around 56th street. So we headed over there and popped out the reflector which Gil kindly wielded for me. I’m not accustomed to shooting more than one person at a time and even newer to shooting peoples’ ‘legs’. Combined with the Christmas traffic and having to dive inside nearby cafe’s and hotels just to warm up it made for a challenging but rewarding day!

I also brought out a Sony A7 to use with my Leica M 50mm Summilux lens. I thought perhaps a full frame option would be useful. It’s a breakthrough camera there’s no doubt but I have to say, I found it slow and unresponsive in actual use. Reviewing images was a drag. The images I was able to capture with the fast AF of the EM1 were turning out more accurately focussed than I could do manually. Of course the A7 with that lens has a little more subject isolation but its not enough of a difference to make me want to pick it up in place of the EM1. I ended up shooting very little on the A7 even though I took it along every day.

The last proper day of shooting was even colder but we lifted the mood with a trip up to the top of the rock which was surprisingly warmer than on the street! We got there about an hour before sundown and it made for some nice reflector shots wide open and closed down. I normally have my standard prime glued to the camera but as I wanted some context, I used wider lenses a great deal. The 17mm was a great performer wide open and still gave me a very pleasing background. The 12-40 zoom was a great lens to use too, sharp, contrasty and handy in its range of immediate focal lengths. But the EM1 body was simply the most intuitive camera I have ever used. Ive been using it since September and it just works. It feels solid and secure to hold without weighing me down and it produces lovely clean files in low light. Adjusting the exposure in real-time in the viewfinder, using exposure compensation is now for me the only way to shoot. No numbers, no calculations, no guessing, just visualising the shot, dialling it in and seeing the end result appear before I even push the release.

So here are my favourites from the shoot. I’ve processed these with Photoshop, Lightroom Silver Efex Pro 2 and Colour Efex 4. Of course as some of you may know, I do have a working relationship with Olympus but I have to say, I’m a very willing evangelist (or ‘fanboy’ as I think is the popular vernacular:) I sold my M9 recently and I have a strong feeling that I’ll be selling my M lenses soon too!

More EM1 pics can be seen at

Queen Mary 2 – Olympus OMD-EM1 Olympus 17mm lens Olympus FL50 flash ISO 200


Queen Mary 2 – Olympus OMD-EM1 Olympus 17mm lens ISO 200


Queen Mary 2 – Olympus OMD-EM1 Olympus 45mm lens ISO 3200


Queen Mary 2 – Olympus OMD-EM1 Olympus 60mm Macro lens ISO 1600


Queen Mary 2 – Olympus OMD-EM1 Leica DG Summilux 25mm lens ISO 200


Queen Mary 2 – Olympus OMD-EM1 Olympus 12-40mm pro lens ISO 200


Queen Mary 2 – Olympus OMD-EM1 Leica DG Summilux 25mm lens ISO 200


Queen Mary 2 – Olympus OMD-EM1 Olympus 45mm lens ISO 200


Queen Mary 2 – Olympus OMD-EM1 Olympus 17mm lens ISO 3200


Queen Mary 2 – Olympus OMD-EM1 Leica DG Summilux 25mm lens ISO 1000


Queen Mary 2 – Olympus OMD-EM1 Olympus 12-40mm Pro lens (31mm) ISO 320


Queen Mary 2 – Olympus OMD-EM1 Leica DG Summilux 25mm lens ISO200



Queen Mary 2 – Olympus OMD-EM1 Leica DG Summilux 25mm lens ISO 640


6th Ave Manhattan – Olympus OMD-EM1 Olympus 12-40mm Pro lens (17mm) ISO 200


Manhattan – Olympus OMD-EM1 Olympus 12-40mm Pro lens (27mm) ISO 320


Manhattan – Olympus OMD-EM1 Olympus 45mm lens ISO 1250


Times Square street portrait, Olympus OMD-EM1 Leica DG Summilux lens ISO 1600 (grain added for effect in post-processing)


Williamsburg Brooklyn – Olympus OMD-EM1 Olympus 12-40 Pro lens (15mm) ISO 200


Manhattan – Olympus OMD-EM1 Olympus 17mm lens ISO 200


Top of the Rock, Olympus OMD-EM1 Leica 25mm ISO 200


Times Square – Olympus OMD-EM1 Olympus 12mm lens ISO 1600


Top of the Rock , Manhattan – Olympus OMD-EM1 Olympus 17mm lens ISO 200


Times Square street portrait – Olympus OMD-EM1 Leica DG Summilux 25mm lens ISO 400


Manhattan – Olympus OMD EM1 Olympus 17mm lens ISO 200


Brooklyn – Olympus OMD-EM1 Olympus 12-40mm Pro lens (27mm) ISO 200


Brooklyn – Olympus OMD-EM1 Leica M 35mm Summilux lens ISO 250


This was shot handheld at 1/5th of a second thanks to the OMD EM1′s in-built stabilisation system. Taken on the very cold open air rooftop bar of the Peninsula Hotel off 5th Avenue (which you can see below filled with last minute Christmas shoppers!)


Top of the Rock,Manhattan – Olympus OMD-EM1 Olympus 17mm lens ISO 200


More EM1 pics can be seen at


  1. hi,
    great shot, help me decide to get E-M1 as me second camera besides the Sony A7, could you tell me what adapter you use for the third party lens, like M mount? is the focus manual works good ? faster than A7? please advice.

  2. Nice work.

    It always helps to have stunningly beautiful and interesting looking folks as your subjects. 🙂

  3. Russian models look best in russian countryside scenery 🙂 And to get it right you should use manual 50mm f/1.5 soviet jupiter-3 lens from 50s. Then it looks fresh and natural 🙂

  4. Just fantastic images. Regardless of the equipment used, it’s you that makes the images pop the way they do.

    Please, please, please come to Los Angeles for a workshop.

  5. WoW! I have so so so much to squeeze out from my em1!!! Grats Neil, those pics all look… Awesome!!!!

  6. I’ll leave it to Neil to address this, but if I’m not mistaken he had a Leica M9 and sold it shortly after acquiring the E-M1 because he found little benefit to shooting the Leica anymore.

    From my own perspective, there are far too many variables that can affect IQ (not the least of which is operator skill), so your generalizations are really just that … generalizations.

    Certainly, there is no way any M4/3 is going to compete in ultimate resolution or tonal gradation with a camera that is pushing into medium format territory (D800 series). That being said, you would think a medium format digital camera — on account of its larger sensor size — would have better high ISO performance and dynamic range than a full frame sensor. Turns out they don’t. Not even close in the case of the former.

    So much for size being the be-all and end-all.

    As to the M-E, great camera, but it’s basically a bare-bones M9. I love Leicas, and am not going to dredge up that debate; suffice to say they have their strengths and their weaknesses (as do all cameras).

    Ironically, it tends to be primarily amateurs who trash the M4/3 format, not professionals. Meanwhile, there are a number of pros who are actively shooting M4/3 for clients, alongside their full frame gear. And those clients aren’t saying, “That looks like crap, you must have shot it with a smaller sensor camera.”

    • Yes I had an M9 for a few years and used most of the Canon pro bodies up to the 1Ds3 and 13 x L lenses.

      IQ arguments do not interest me at all these days, its not far off the analogue/digital debate of 10 years ago! The EM1 is ‘well good enough’ for most purposes, I print at A3+, and the Olympus and Lecia DG glass is the key to making the best of that camera. I’ll keep the A7 with my Leica 50mm Sumillux lens for very rare situations where I need that extra luxurious look that this lens gives me and which I have never seen with any other camera or lens (including all Canon Nikon Hassy Leica S 10×8 or even Noctilux pictures!) and of course when I have heaps of time to play with.

      But for most photos I take, I get more than enough from the EM1 and m43 lenses. Its not about, as some people think, compromising quality for a size and weight benefit, its about using a tool that is fluent and intuitive and leaves you to concentrate on the light, composition and the subject. Shooting with an EVF of this quality and size (EM1) means never having to guess exposure again. I can virtually forget about spot metering or exposure hold these days, my thumb is permanently on that rear wheel (exp. comp on my EM1) and I use it all the time, getting visual confirmation that the element of the scene I want to concentrate on has the amount of exposure I want it to have.

      And as for the general layout of the OMD’s, its easy to see why both Sony A7’s and the Fuji XT1 copy the same basic design elements from the OMD. The compact body, flip up screen, good EVF and customisable control wheels on the top right are just the way a camera should be, they offer you control and information and with the EM1 at least, nothing gets in the way of that, nothing lags or doesn’t quite get there.

      I don’t see the EM1 as ‘falling just short’ of this pro DSLR or that Pro DSLR, I see what it offers as a package (lenses, fluency, speed, feedback) as significantly better than ANY pro DSLR for travel and portraiture, which is what I do.

      • Hi Neil,
        I wonder if the Fuji XT-1 with it’s best in the world evf and manual controls has piqued your interest? What about the Nikon DF?

      • Neil’s comment above is one of the best explanations of the attraction of MFT that I’ve read in a long time. It’s funny that so many pros are quietly working away on paid assignments with EM1s and similar while the anorak-wearing amateurs run around shouting about lack of DR or ability to get a half inch DoF blah blah. I know who I’m listening to….

  7. You get some tough old jobs Neil. Seriously fantastic set of images, looking forward to Photography Show

  8. Honestly, a 35mm-sensor camera would improve the look of your otherwise nice shots. I personally don’t like this fourthirdish look (thin colors, “smeary” bokeh without character, 4/3 size ratio, narrow dynamic range, poor differentiation of details in darker areas which becomes shockingly bad in b&w conversions).

    (I have experience with four Olympus interchangeable lens cameras, including the E5 and the E-M5, and sold all of them. I prefer Leica M-E and Nikon D800E. Try them and I promise you’ll never look back…)

    • I do agree that fullframe looks even better, but there’s more to a camera than just the sensor. He sold his M9 (which is more or less the same as the M-E) and he also had a fullframe Sony A7 with him, so I’m sure he knows the differences. BTW, it’s quite funny that you talk about narrow dynamic range. The E-M1 has a full stop more dynamic range than the Leica M-E that you mention.

      Great work Neil. I’m sure Olympus is happy with your results.

    • I honestly don’t understand what images you are looking at… “narrow dynamic range”? “Shocking bad b&w conversions”? One thing is what you personally prefer as personal choice, but spouting b****cks about other cameras that you don’t like is not fair… And, strange how D800 users have switched to the E-M1 and never looked back… Oh, and they are not soccer moms or kitty shooters, try a little google search and you’ll find their professional paid work done with m4/3 stuff 😉

    • Hi jr and thanks for the comments!
      I used an M9 for a few years, I don’t agree with you at all, I’m glad I sold the M9 and I’m very happy with the files the EM1 is giving me

      • The main thing is the ergonomics……sensor and files second. If you don’t pick the camera up because of ergonomics it’s a waste of your money.

        • It is for this reason that last year I sold my film Leica, worse ergonomic compared to my old Olympus OM-1. Same reason why I switched form the E-M5 to E-M1, the former was good but the latter is simply excellent.

  9. I went to “” to look at more of his pictures. If you have not, you must. The pics in this article do not do justice to what he has captured. He is one of the greatest photographer of our time, imho, after seeing his other pictures on his website.

    I struggled in choosing between the A7 and EM-1, and went with the A7 after talking with people around me. While I am very pleased with what I got, I frequently wonder whether I should have gone with the EM-1, as I shoot mostly my children. Maybe I’ll join the u4/3 crowd with the next-gen-EM-1! “We need one (next-gen-EM-1) to shoot pictures, and one (a7) for video recording the “Happy Birthday” part” is what I will be telling my wife.

    I’d love it if someone comes out w/ a touch screen camera where the user can choose two different focus points, and the camera automatically adjust the aperture and focus accordingly!

  10. Excellent pics proving that the Oly M4/3 sensor is superb and can look totally full frame in quality.
    Great lenses and a great model.
    Nothing more need be said.
    I have an E-M5 and love it with the Leica 25mm.

  11. Depicting a woman travelling to see her lover, the camera is a good point and shoot but lacked the ability to render the isolation and contrast necessary to illustrate the impact of the subject matter in its surrounding environment generating chemistry resulting more like snap shoots of modelling pictures found in a women’s weekly magazine.
    Picture quality wise, you have pushed the camera to its maximum however it truly does not live up to your standards which I’ve seen in your other amazing pictures. Too soft, lacked details and some are out of focus etc..
    Your follower

    • Hi Padaq
      Thanks for your comments, I have to say I don’t thing their quite that lacking in impact but of course they may not be to everyones taste. On the sharpness thing, there are a couple which were soft but the other aspects of those helped them make the cut. The wordpress system does lose some detail in the reduction but if you click on the image you’ll see the original image I exported from lightroom and I think the rest are pretty sharp
      Kind Regards

  12. Pretty cool series of shots. I guess my main question is did you go to all this time and expense just for the fun of it….or do you have some sort of commercial use for these photos?? Is the model your significant other or literally just a girl who got a free trip as a result of your photoshoot??

    I like the street shots in New York the best….

    • Hi Clint
      Thanks for your comments!! The trip was commissioned by Olympus here in the UK who wanted to show the capability of their flagship camera. They are using the shots for advertising and promotional purposes and I will be giving a short talk about this shoot and others at the Photography Show in Birmingham in a few weeks. Irina is happily married! I am happily single!

      • Thanks for the quick reply Neil. Sounds like a pretty good gig and I think you did an excellent job. I like your style of shooting and your taste for processing the photos.



  13. Best Em1 pictures I have seen to date !
    who cares what sensor is inside the em1. Once again it proves that it is the photographer and not just the camera that makes a picture.

  14. A week on a luxury liner with an achingly beautiful model… sounds awful 😉

    Seriously though I’m a big fan of Neil’s work – he can really make a camera sing!

  15. Very nice works as always Neil.
    Did you use a protective filter (UV/Skylight etc) on any of the shots? I ask because the lens flare seems very well controlled, and usually adding a filter like that makes things worse.
    Photo #6 sitting by the window with the strong light coming through is one I am very curious about.


    • Hi Huss
      Thanks for the comments! No I never use UV filters with digital cameras as I used to get both the flare thing and the also those reflections off the back of the filters back onto the sensor that one often gets at night.

      All of the primes I used are good a controlling flare which is just as well as I love shooting into the light, but the big surprise to me is the way the 12-40mm zoom handles flare. If I’d have shot that image you mentioned with the Panasonic 7-14 zoom there would have been big purple blotches all over the shop!..:) The 12-40 is a rock solid performer, I can’t wait to get the 40-150mm pro zoom later this year!

      • Thanks Neil. I gotta pull those filters off my lenses and let them breath! Problem is I live close to the ocean and my gear often feels a bit ‘sticky’ after a day out just from the air.
        But i know flare has messed up some of my images .

        p.s. is the leica Lux 50 any good on the OMD?


        • no, the m lenses are that great on it, the 35mm is okay and has a really retro look but the best m43 lenses have much better more contrasty and sharper as they were designed for it

          im sure the M 75mm f2 would be good but why would i use that with the amazing oly 75mm…;) my cheap 45 mm olly outperforms the 50lux on the OMD

          • “my cheap 45 mm olly outperforms the 50lux on the OMD”

            Absolutely agree there Neil. I now shoot with the MM though before moving away from the EM5 I used both. There is nothing like a native lens in my opinion.

            Fantastic images and great to see to see you loving the Oly’s……So many good cameras around :-)…!!

  16. These are awfully and devastatingly good. Man, oh man, how I wished to be anywhere close as good.
    Really great work.

    • Yeah, to a large degree this really is true with the caliber of today’s equipment.

      IQ aside, it’s more about picking the right tool for the right job, e.g. I probably wouldn’t try to shoot the Superbowl with a pinhole camera. 😉

  17. Wow. Absolutely beautiful set of photos. Your pp is fantastic. For lack of a better way of explaining it, you’ve managed to take the “edge” off of these pictures while still maintaining their sharpness. They have a soft glow about them that I’ve never seen in other m 4/3’s pictures. Great work.

  18. Well the model is totally gorgeous (I wish!…) and the images of her beautifully done. I am impressed by the tonality. Generally I am preferring images from m4/3 Oly to X-trans Fuji. Well done!
    Not sure about the blown out street crowd image though. What happened there? Looks like it is from a different camera.

    • That appears to me to be done intentionally. I would have processed that shot the same way but then again I HATE HATE HATE HDR looking images. The E-M1 has a huge DR. No problems there at all.

  19. Wonderful, inspiring photos. Absolutely beautiful. I think the 3-5 ones are the most stunning. Thank you for sharing and letting me know I chose the right camera and lenses.

  20. Great images Neil; you can always tell when a photographer knows what he’s doing (regardless of the equipment used, but you knew I would say that).

    I’m a finicky kind of guy, so one comment: in some cases the fill flash, for my taste, is a little too obvious. I must add that I never use flash at all, if only because I’m completely clueless on that front… 😉 So take that comment with a spoonful of salt.

    In response to Nicola’s “complaint”: I’m glad you accepted my FB request, and I love following your stuff there!



  21. Thanks Neil! What awesome pictures. It’s amazing the way you bring the lovely model’s eyes out. Are there any secrets you’re willing to divulge as to how you do it or are her eyes just so beautiful? I still love that pic of the little Bogdweller!

  22. Well this post has just inspired me to go back to micro 4/3rd. I fell into the FF hype and thought I was finally happy but I miss actually having fun taking photos. Theres a way that m 4/3 renders that is very alluring and very personal. I try to replicate it on the Sony A7 but I couldn’t (just like one cant replicate FF on M43)

  23. This page has now become my permanent bookmark and guide for what the EM-1 and these lenses can achieve. Absolutely outstanding and incredibly inspiring work! Thank you.

  24. Now what does this series tell us: The Guy knows what he is doing. He did so with the M9, the EP5 and now with the Em-1. Neil`s shots with the DG 25 Summilux always impress me most. The two seem to bond particularly well.

  25. Beautiful images. You used pretty high ISO in some shots. How was the noise, and did you have to use noise reduction in post? I’ve got the E-M5 and love it, but might have to go for the E-M1 instead.

  26. Gorgeous. Gorgeous. Gorgeous.
    Neil you mentioned being able to recover a lot of over exposure in post, do you typically shoot ETTR or normally aim to get the exposure that you want from the get go?

    • Thanks Tom, not sure what ETTR means but it was only because I was using a flash that I overexposed them:) I’d say 99.9% of my EM1 exposures are bang on to be honest, I get a few blurry ones if the subject is moving but the exposures are always great:)

      • Superb work, Neil! FYI, I believe that “ETTR” means Expose To The Right, which basically means exposing for the highlights in order to gain more shadow detail. Thanks again for sharing these images!

      • Great photos Neil – as ever; beautiful! I think you might just manage to persuade me to start photographing things that breathe when we run our workshop together in Venice in June! (ETTR = ‘Expose to the Right’ as in histogram; now you know why my wife refers to me as a ‘photographic anorak’!! 🙂

  27. Very nice photos but I don’t like the blown out highlights, that’s why I ended up selling my OMD-EM5. Olympus sensor just can’t handle bright highlights well.

  28. Wow, fantastic series! Looks like it must have been a pleasure to work with her, so natural, so beautiful in many ways and, with many different expressions. Congratulations….:)

  29. What can I say Neil, except all stunning as per usual!! Really love the macro shot of her lips and the glass, so sharp! Olympus will be delighted with these as promos.

  30. Neil, as usual amazing work.
    Everytime, your subject look just so right, and your PP pulls out a choir of angels from 4/3 sensors.

    But i’m angry, because you have not accepted my friend request on Fb!:-)

    • Yep, this honestly ought to assuage those who think the latest state-of-the art M4/3 sensors aren’t up to the task. Truthfully, the current M4/3 sensors are offering performance as good as an APS-C sensor from just a few years ago (my E-M1 is more-or-less on par with my Nikon D7000 for IQ and noise, and the D7000, even today, is no slouch).

      It won’t be quite as good as the newer D7100 (24 megapixels), and I think the X-Trans sensor is still capable of delivering greater overall acuity, tonal depth, and dynamic range … in certain situations … and when the gods are smiling down on you … but the Olympus is a better, more consistent, more repeatable performer.

      The bigger (and more important by far) part of this equation is the photographer’s skill: understanding of composition, moment, and light … and, of course, post-processing skills/choices.

      All of these higher-end cameras today are now capable of delivering excellent results in skilled hands. It’s only when you get into more specialized or fringe forms of photography where one tool might excel over another. For example, for reportage or street work, the speed and stabilization of the Olympus cameras is going to make that type of shooting much easier with the Olympus OM cameras. On the other hand, if I were going to shoot star trails at night or pre-dawn landscapes, I think I’d opt for the Fujis, as they’ll have better dynamic range and less noise in the darker regions of the frame … particularly as the ISO climbs.

      • +1 x 1000 Robert. A spot-on assessment.; and Neil’s work is slick & Pro as always.
        I have the X-E1 & did own an E-M5. In my time with them I’ve found the E-M5’s images more ‘honest’ & perhaps characterised as ‘clinical’ or ‘drier’; whereas I find Fuji’s rendering to be more glassy & ‘poetic’…. unfortunately I still can’t decide which one I want long term- doh!

      • Robert — one of the best comments ever:

        “The bigger (and more important by far) part of this equation is the photographer’s skill: understanding of composition, moment, and light … and, of course, post-processing skills/choices.

        All of these higher-end cameras today are now capable of delivering excellent results in skilled hands. It’s only when you get into more specialized or fringe forms of photography where one tool might excel over another.”

        Bingo. The world would be a happier place if everyone serious about photography would just get this.

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