The Roving Photographer


Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review: Studio Work (static)

Although the majority of my personal work takes place outdoors, my professional ventures are split about 70/30, with the smaller portion taking place in an indoor studio setting, be it with models, products, stock, etc. Although I’m really dying to get a model in front of the E-M5, I’m taking this one step at a time and starting with static subjects. (Who am I trying to kid – I just haven’t gotten around to booking a model yet!)

This is a simple series of test shots, but it proves several important points and has gone a long way to furthering my respect for this little camera and what it’s capable of. Since we’re working with small items here, in a static setup, what better to use than the last of my Canon gear? Not only do I get the test shots I’m looking for, but I’ve also got pics for my sale ads online now.

Here’s the first thing about the E-M5 and lights – it works with the YN-602 radio slaves. This was one of the first things I tested with the E-M5 and it was one of the biggest reliefs. There’s no reason why the radio slaves shouldn’t have worked, but with a brand new system, and no information available online, you never know for sure until you try it for yourself.

But there’s a flip side: the maximum sync speed is slower than the Canons. According to the manual, the E-M5 is capable of a max sync speed of 1/250, but I’m assuming this is only with Olympus flashes. With my YN-460 IIs via the RF-602s, 1/250 loses about ⅓ of the frame to the shutter and even at 1/200, the top edge shows a dark, graduated band from the shutter. Pure sync speed isn’t achieved until 1/160.

Click to view larger

This isn’t an issue with static subjects in a controlled setting, but that 2/3 stop in shutter speed could be an issue when you’re shooting outdoors with flash and trying to keep the lens as wide open as possible.  (I say 2/3 figuring that it’s easy enough to shoot a little bit wider at 1/200 and crop out the top edge.)

This is the kind of situation where a continuous light source would really play to the camera’s strengths. With flash, the EVF can’t accurately preview the exposure the way it can with a continuous source. I suppose that in this regard, flash lighting is “old” tech, just like optical viewfinders are “old.” (I’ve been hearing a fair amount about LED lights lately, and suppose they’re either a fad or the “wave of the future,” although I haven’t dipped my toes in that pond.)

What I found most surprising was the AF accuracy. My studio in this case was my living room, and the only ambient light came from the TV on one side, and a table lamp in the corner – so it was dark, by photography standards.  As in, not much faster than a full second exposure and certainly out of range of hand-holding, even with the new IBIS system.  Shooting black lenses, I know for a fact that my Canon 7D would have hunted for focus and, in the end, I would have had to either turn on more lights or use a flashlight to lock focus. Not so with the E-M5, which was able to lock focus on the first try, each time.

I’m going to throw out here that the E-M5’s autofocus system has impressed me every step of the way, from the day I got it. After all the online hoopla about contrast-detect vs. phase-detect, I had my worries over how well the AF would perform. And while it may not (yet) be perfect, it is very damn good. The AF is fast and thus far, I have never had a lens hunt. It just locks focus on the target, or if it misses that, then it may lock on the fore or background, but there is no more hunting. (Thank goodness.)

Even the 14-45mm kit lens impressed me in this test. Since I’m shooting relatively large objects at close-range, I set the aperture for f/5.6. DOF is deeper on the m4:3s cameras, and at it’s longest, this is the lens’ maximum aperture, so it seemed a logical point for good DOF and balance of flash power requirements. Now, lacking one of the primes at this point, I haven’t had a chance to test of the DOF and bokeh capabilities of the camera yet, but I was amazed to see that even in this application, there was noticeable (and pleasing) focus fall-off in the images. In fact, I probably could have (should have?) shot at f/8, just to keep the items in better focus from front to back.

But the real point here is that there is good focus fall-off, especially in situations where the physics play to it (camera → short distance → subject → long distance → background). Having seen this with the kit lens, I no longer have any concern about the ability of m4:3 to capture a sharp subject with a great OOF background, which is usually what I’m aiming for with my portraiture work.

Notice the shallow DOF and quick focus fall-off from the lens hood back.

On a final note, I changed the Picture Modes setting for this shoot. The camera arrived with the Neutral setting applied, but I switched to the i-Enhance mode. The manual is wonderfully vague about what this actually means, saying only, “Produces more impressive-looking results suited to the scene.” Who knows what that actually means, but the resulting JPG files were more “impressive looking” I suppose, so I guess it worked. (Note that the Picture Modes only apply to JPG files, not RAW images.)

UPDATE: I wrote this post last week, before the ACR update was released, so the photos were shot as JPEGs, with limited editing done to them (hence the backgrounds not being completely white).  With the ACR update, we can now shoot and edit RAWs, which is the best way to do it.

Conclusion?  The EM-5 is a joy to work with in a static studio setting.  While flashes don’t play to it’s EVF strength, I can only imagine that shooting natural light, with reflectors or a constant source, would be a piece of cake.  Especially when combined with the camera’s excellent mid-range ISO performance.

Next time – shooting wildlife with the EM-5.

Brent Pennington

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10 Comments to Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review: Studio Work (static)

  1. Max Young's Gravatar Max Young
    May 9, 2012 at 19:01

    Great article Brent. I can’t say that I have tried pairing my OM-D with cactus triggers yet, simply because my new Olympus hasn’t arrived yet!!

    1/160 max sync speed is indeed what I use with aforementioned triggers and my E-PL2.

    As for my Canon gear, it is just about gone too. Only 1 5Dii body to go and it’s EVIL gear all the way!

    Keep the reviews coming. They’re excellent.


  2. Max Young's Gravatar Max Young
    May 15, 2012 at 22:39

    Brent, my Canon stuff is all gone now. Sadly, there’s not an OM-D in Australia for love or money, although there’s plenty of lens in stock eg 45mm and 12mm.

    Still waiting, learning to be patient.


  3. Max Young's Gravatar Max Young
    May 23, 2012 at 01:41

    Brent, you will be pleased to know that I picked up a nice silver/14-42 kit in Brisbane last week. I already have that lens so I will sell the new one on ebay.

    I have only taken a couple of quick snaps thus far because of my work schedule, but with the 45mm and the 14-42 it looks the goods. I also purchased the grip, which makes for a sensational shooting experience.

    90% of what I shoot is portraits, so I’m looking to being home next week and putting the little Olympus through it’s paces. I have save up for the 12mm, but that will be the next acquisition. (I am hoping they will come down in price, but I’m not holding my breath for that! It doesn’t matter really, because the harder a lens is to find/buy, the better investment it seems to be.)

    Kind regards. Max.

  4. David Farquhar's Gravatar David Farquhar
    June 16, 2012 at 06:31

    Hi Brent
    Enjoying your blog which I have just discovered. Can I ask were your RF-602s the Canon version? I’m feeling a bit paranoid about putting my RF-602s that I got for my Canon into my OM-D. Although I’ve read elsewhere that it should work fine it would be nice to check with someone who has actually done it. The Nikon RF-602s have a different pattern of pins on them so I wanted to check

  5. June 19, 2012 at 08:56

    On the RF 602’s, the difference between the brand versions (Canon, Nikon, etc) is the wired tether. This matters when you are using them as remote triggers for the camera, or plugging them into lights. The hot shoe will work across brands as they only have the center contact and do 1 thing – fire.

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