Olympus E-PL5 First Impressions

I got my Olympus E-PL5 this morning and here’s my first impressions.olympus-PEN-E-PL5-16

First the E-PL5 is way smaller than I expected. it’s smaller than my E-PL2 and is even thinner than my older E-PL1.

The focus is as fast as anything I’ve ever owned including my Nikon D-300. It’s terrific.

The touch screen controls are incredibly sensitive and I shot a whole bunch of photos until I found how to turn it off. Even shot one frame with my nose ๐Ÿ™‚

The controls on the back of the camera seem to be in a better position than on the other two cameras. For example, Olympus has put the instant movie on button higher up in the top right corner of the body no doubt so you don’t accidentally start taking a movie by mistake which happens a lot on the E-PL2.

It appears that the multi-function control has been moved lower on the body and is much smaller than previous models and again I suspect that the idea is to avoid accidentally moving the control.

The E-PL5’s multi-controller also needs to be clicked before it will change exposure composition, flash, exposure points or timer/single/multi shot controls. The E-PL2’s multi-controller is always on and I continue making unexpected changes which is not a good thing. Most causal shooters will never encounter these issues but when I’m shooting special events (especially after dark at an outdoor jazz festival) I am shooting so fast with two camera bodies that the controls on the E-PL2 were always getting knocked around.

I am not certain that the E-PL5 has solved this problem and only taking it out on a job will tell me for sure but this so looks hopeful.olympus-omd-om5

The clip-on external flash doesn’t bother me as I rarely use flash with the Olympus cameras and the promise of higher useable ISO levels is something I am looking forward to playing with when I’m shooting available light.

So why didn’t I cough up another $500 for the Olympus Om-D OM-5? First it’s a little bigger (although tiny compared to my Nikon D-300) but it was the price that did it for me. I got the E-PL5 body for half the price of the OM-5 and yet I got the same sensor which means the same image quality which at 16-megs is amazing.

Second my wife would have killed me!

I am really hoping all the hype around the image quality is true. If it is, I might be inclined to sell all my DX equipment and shoot all my non-paying and vacation shots using the Olympus cameras. For my paying commercial work, I’d go buy either a D-600 or a D-800 with a 35mm f/1.4 lens and the 70-210mm f/2.8 lens. With those two lenses I could easily shoot any of my commercial jobs. Sure I’d like a 14-24mm f/2.8 or a 20mm f/2.8 and maybe a 24-70mm f/2.8 but the body with two lenses will do it. A second body would be a must for some of my commercial work. I’ve got a 105mm f/2.8 macro that’s full-frame and delightful.

I’ve got a couple of none-critical jobs coming up and I’ll use the Olympus cameras and we’ll see how it goes. So far, I’m delighted and I haven’t even played with adding Wi-Fi cards yet ๐Ÿ™‚


Airport Carry On

Remember: If you’re in the Greater Toronto Area checkout the post below this one for information on our beginner’s course focusing on digital photography. This non-technical, plain language course will have you shooting radically better images.


On our trip to Brazil I lugged my entire Nikon system (two bodies, six lenses, two flashes, tripod) on my back (Think Tank ShapeShifter bag) through four airports, three countries and miles and miles of Brazilian mountain jungle. It wasn’t fun.DSC_0147

Now with word that some airlines are reducing the weight of carry on luggage to 10 kg this is going to end our ability to carry as much equipment as I did to Brazil (Think the Brazil bag tipped in around 25+ kg.) Carrying all this equipment and the tripod just about killed my wife (Just kidding. She’s sturdier than that!)

So what to do?

My recommendation for the DSLR crowd is to take one camera with something like an 18mm to 200 or 300mm lens and wear it around your neck plus pocket a 50mm f/1.8 lens in a protective lens bag for shooting in available light. My light Nikon D-90 can handle 64-gig memory cards (not all cameras can handle these big cards if they’re what’s called a “class 10” card) which hold 8,000 JPG images or around 4,000 raws. If you’re afraid of having all your images on one card use 16-gig cards which still hold an enormous number of images and download them to your IPad or WiFi your images to your SmugMug or Flickr site but only if you have a no-cost Internet interface. Add a flash in your checked in luggage and a Gorillia mini-tripod and you’re done.

Want to take more equipment?

Then it’s time to add a vacation camera kit to the mix.

Bahamas-0133For quick trips to the Caribbean I take an Olympus XP-15o. I got it on sale for around $200 and it works just fine. The image quality isn’t up to DSLR standards but it’s more than good enough for shots around the pool or in the pool for that matter. Take it out on the beach with abandon (I’d never take my DSLR onto a sandy beach especially if there’s any wind kicking the sand up.) and don’t worry about somebody spilling a drink on it. There are better rugged cameras out there but I picked this one up due to the price.IMG-0029

But my new favourite system for vacation shots is the Olympus Pens.

I’ve got an older E-PL1 (again bought when the dealer was getting rid of this older model for $250 for the body) and a super nice E-PL2 which shoots just about as good as my D-300. Two camera bodies and six lenses fit into a Think Tank Urban Disguise. All of this, including the bag, comes in at seven kilograms well under the 10 kilogram limit.

Now I’m adding a new Olympus E-PL5 which has the same 16-meg sensor as the fabulous and much lauded OM-D E-MR which some have called the camera of 2012. Some reviewers claim that either of these cameras based on sharing the same sensor can outshoot any DX-format DSLR and only full-frame DSLRs shoot better images. Amazing.

The biggest issues I had with my Olympus Pens were they couldn’t keep up when it came to my style of special event commercial photography where I can shoot hundreds of images an hour and thousands in a day. The cameras didn’t focus fast enough or recycle fast enough. The E-PL5 is said to focus instantly and shoots up to 8 frames per second which used to be unheard of except for the most expensive DSLRs (I’m talking cameras that cost $3-$5 K each.). On vacations, the Pens were perfect as either was easy enough for my wife to shoot on auto and I could make them sing on manual.

With DSLR image quality, quick focusing and recycling between shots I might be able to get away with using the Olympus kit on some of the special event I do. That’s a bonus.Intro-1

But here’s the kicker. I am finding it a tough slog to carry two Nikons (both with extra battery grips) with a couple more lenses (usually the very fast and very heavy 17-55mm f/2.8 and the still fairly large 12-24mm f/4 super wide) plus a flash and side battery pack (needed on dull days to light up my subjects) plus a camera bag. This setup weighs in at 20+ kilos.

I often end up walking around just with two cameras, one flash and battery pack on my belt and that’s still around 10 kilos.

So the Olympus kit is half the weight. Yes the Olympus batteries need to be changed out after 300 shots (the Nikons go all day) and there’s no way the flash will keep up in the same way the Nikon will but at the end of the day the Olympus images are just as good (maybe even better as I’m not as tired) as the Nikon images.

And, again on vacation or casual shooting, there’s nothing better.

How To Take Radically Better Photos

Regardless of what camera you use, you can be creating remarkably better images right now.nikon-coolpix-s500-1

Here’s how: I’ve been a professional photographer since the early 1970s when I started shooting freelance on weekends for the North York Mirror newspaper for a couple bucks an image. So for over 40 years I’ve been shooting photos and for over 40 years I’ve been taking lessons on how to shoot better images.

I’m not kidding. When I first started shooting with a Pentax Spotmatic II, I was learning how to shoot by reading books and magazines like Life, National Geographicย and People and asking other photographers for help – a lot of help and a lot of asking.

When I switched from film cameras to digital about eight years ago I thought my learning days were over. After all I knew everything there was to know about shooting film. Boy was I in for a shock.

After careful consideration of the cameras available at the time and my personal photography budget I bought a Nikon D-300 (which I still have and later I bought a D-90 as a second body) and a bunch of fast lenses plus a big Nikon flash (now have two of them).

About three months later I said to my wife that I may have made a mistake and perhaps I should sell the digital equipment and go back to film. Little did I know at the time that film, as a commercial medium, was dead. Within a few short months digital photography go so technically good so fast that it would totally replace film for all but artistic photography.

So why was I struggling?

I decided to figure out why I was having such a tough time getting as good images with my digital equipment as I used to get with my film cameras. And I discovered the reason! It’s in the nature of the cameras themselves.leica1

Nobody sells a manual camera like my old film camera the Leica M4 anymore. This camera was totally manual and didn’t even have a built-in light meter. So the Leica photographer set the shutter speed and the aperture manually using an external light meter to determine the correct exposure based on the speed of the film in the camera. As a newspaper photographer we shot Kodak Tri-X at either ASA 400 or boosted the speed to ASA 1600 (a two-stop increase in speed) for shooting sports like indoor hockey using special developers. Grainy yes but at least you got an image in a dark arena.

Oh yeah. The focusing on the lens was manual as well.

But guess what? Almost every image I shot with the Leica was properly exposed, properly composed (thanks to its rangefinder focusing method) and properly focused. That’s why just about about every shot of war photographers in places like Viet Nam and Cambodia show the photographer carrying a Leica.

When i started shooting with the digital D-300 Nikon I could not duplicate these results with any consistency. So what was the issue? I discovered it was the automation in the cameras themselves.

Every camera made today from the simplest point-and-shoot to the most expensive full-frame professional camera is crammed full of automation. For new photographers or folks who just want great snapshot pictures of the family on vacation automatic is the way to go.

Just about anybody using just about any camera on automatic can just about get a near perfect snapshot just about every time. Few products in the world produce as consistent results for a majority of people as the simple digital camera. We all own them and use them a lot uploading photos to Facebook and photo-sharing sites.d800_mbd12_front34l

But when it comes to shooting shots that aren’t snapshots, automatic mode and the camera automation itself often isn’t your friend.

So if you want to progress past shooting snapshots and capturing some images just like you see in the magazines, you’re going to need some help.

That’s what I found solved my issues. In the last few years I’ve been teaching photography to thousands of students but at the same time I’ve been taking workshops and courses from some of the best photographers shooting today and the quality of my images has exceeded my expectations.

Even better, now I love digital photography in all its forms. From the camera in your cellphone to point-and-shoot you take on vacation to the DSLR you use to shoot your “serious” images you can learn how to get radically better images by taking a few simple, plain-language, non-technical lessons.

So maybe by now you can guess that I am offering a hands-on course starting Wednesday, January 30 from 7 to 9:30 pm at Paradiso Restaurant (125 Lakeshore Road East, Oakville, Ontario). However, I am not doing this one solo. My buddy and professional photographer Michael Cauterman is partnering with me so every class, which is limited to around 10 participants, will have two instructors to help you learn how to take control of your camera.

Our first session, which is a stand-alone introduction to basic digital photography suitable for all camera users regardless of which digital camera you bring with you (remember this is a hands-on course), will get you shooting radically better images right away. At $75 + HST for the course, it will pay for itself over and over as you continue to shoot way better images than ever before.

But there’s more!

We are offering two additional plain-language, non-technical beginner’s advanced workshops again suitable for users of any sort of digital camera. Now normally every session is $75 ย (plus HST) when purchased separately ($225 + HST) but if you sign up for the three workshops we’re offering a discount so the three-course package is $150 + HST.

Here’s a link to the information to the course and a signup online order form.

If you have any questions you can call Mike at 289-208-5253 or myself at 905-616-5639 and get ready to be shooting radically better images right away.