Importance of Ergonomics

The importance of ergonomics was strongly reinforced for me this past weekend when I participated in a ‘one time only’ extended family event. It was one of those occasions when you absolutely want to come away from a gathering with as many good quality photographs as possible. As we all know, many life events have no chance for a re-do.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge. Photographs have been added to serve as visual breaks.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 14-150 mm f/4-5.6 II @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-200

As my wife and I discussed the upcoming event we both agreed that it would be best if I took only one camera and one lens. Since I was quite familiar with the venue, my choice of lens was obvious.

As I had anticipated, the M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8 zoom proved to be the perfect lens for the occasion. I ended up shooting everything at f/2.8 and had sufficient focal length range to adapt to quickly changing situations and the number of subjects in various compositions.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 14-150 mm f/4-5.6 @ 20 mm, efov 40 mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-800

As regular readers know, I also own the M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 mm f/4 zoom. I didn’t give this lens even a moment of consideration for this event. Given the available lighting and the activities that I needed to photograph, the f/4 aperture was simply too slow for my purposes.

My mistake was in my choice of camera body. I put far too much emphasis on the potential advantage of using a smaller, lighter camera, and went to the event with my wife’s E-M1 Mark III. What I had underestimated for this event was the importance of ergonomics and handling.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 14-150 mm f/4-5.6 II @ 14 mm, efov 28 mm, f/5.6, 1/640, ISO-200

After arriving on site, I did some test images prior to the start of the event. I was quickly reminded that smaller size of the E-M1 Mark III is an issue for me. I kept on inadvertently putting pressure on buttons that would change some settings.

This was especially problematic when shooting in portrait orientation as I had to rotate the camera body and then reach over the top of the body to activate the shutter release. When shooting with a smaller sized lens this meant that the thumb joint of my left hand would come into inadvertent contact with some of the controls positioned on the upper left of the E-M1 Mark III body. I also had to waste time looking at the back of the camera to locate buttons to adjust settings.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 14-150 mm f/4-5.6 II @ 36 mm, efov 72 mm, f/6.3, 1/320, ISO-200

During the event I had to divert some of my attention to the position of my left hand, while at the same time trying to compose and capture important moments during the event. The small size and the tighter button positioning of the E-M1 Mark III was definitely getting in the way of me being able to work efficiently. As a result I missed a few image opportunities that are now lost forever.

After shooting with my E-M1X bodies for over four years I’ve become very accustomed to my camera gear never getting in the way. With my E-M1Xs I don’t have to look at the back of the camera to find the correct control button. I can do everything by touch only.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 14-150 mm f/4-5.6 II, 18 mm, efov 36 mm, f/8, 1/3200, ISO-800

Since I was using a small, relatively light zoom lens I did not experience any significant forearm cramps, as I do with the E-M1 Mark III when trying to use heavier zoom lenses like the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 or the 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS.

After capturing over 300 images in a little less than an hour at this weekend’s event, I did have some moderate pain in the middle finger of my right hand. Applying some deep pressure with my thumb to some of the muscles in my right forearm helped release the muscle tension and alleviate the finger pain.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 14-150 mm f/4-5.6 II @ 70 mm, efov 140 mm, f/6.3, 1/1250, ISO-200

I had used my wife’s E-M1 Mark III during a trip to Nova Scotia last year without any issues so I wasn’t expecting to experience any arm or finger pain when using the M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8. I forgot to appreciate that from an ergonomic perspective there is a big difference between casually using a camera over a couple of hours to capture a few dozen images, and very intensive use when hundreds of images are created in a very compressed time frame.

The E-M1 Mark III and E-M1X are both wonderful cameras and the point of this article isn’t to label one ‘good’ and the other ‘bad’. The objective is to reinforce how important ergonomics can be, especially when a camera is put under intensive use. This is true regardless of the camera format, brand or model that one uses.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 14-150 mm f/4-5.6 @ 63 mm, efov 126 mm, f/8, 1/500, ISO-800

As photographers we can get wrapped up in the specifications of a camera and focus on technical comparisons. What we often overlook is the importance of ergonomics. A camera that doesn’t feel good in the hand, and is inefficient to operate in the field, can be problematic. Ergonomics is a personal issue that really comes down to how well a camera physically fits with an individual photographer’s needs. Overall size and weight, grip comfort and button placement can be critical.

When I chose a back-up camera for my client business I opted for a second E-M1X. I knew I would not be happy with an E-M1 Mark III for the intensive work that I do. Ergonomics, handling and comfort are very important to me… and have become increasingly so as I’ve been getting more advanced in age. That’s why a superb camera like the OM-1 will likely never be in my gear bag.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 14-150 mm f/4-5.6 II @ 36 mm, efov 72 mm, f/8, 1/60, ISO-400

Before investing your hard earned money in a new camera body, it can be very beneficial to rent one for a few days and use it intensively to see if it fits your ergonomic needs. Inefficient and uncomfortable cameras tend to collect dust in gear closets. As such they can be wasteful purchases… regardless of the specifications they may offer.

 Technical Note

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. This is the 1,303 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 14-150 mm f/4-5.6 @ 14 mm, efov 28 mm, f/8, 1/640, ISO-800

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7 thoughts on “Importance of Ergonomics”

  1. Tom,
    Great article. At this point, I only own the EM1-X body however the importance of knowing your body is clear.
    In your article, you mentioned that you brought the 12-40. All the shots in the article were taken with the 14-150. Maybe the shots don’t match the trip you took?

    1. Hi David,

      In this article I wanted to feature images captured with the E-M1 Mark III to illustrate that camera’s capability.

      Since the weekend event noted in the article was of a personal nature those images could not be shared on this website. So, I decided to use some travel images captured with the E-M1 Mark III and the M.Zuiko 14-150 mm f/4-5.6. This is the lens that my wife typically uses with her camera.

      Sorry for the confusion…


      1. Great. I would love to see some of your shots with the 12-40 (a lens that I don’t have).
        A future project?

        1. Hi David,

          I’m not much of a ‘review guy’. I have had some thoughts about spending some dedicated time with both the 7-14 PRO f/2.8 and the 12-40 PRO f/2.8 and producing some kind of hands-on article about each of them. The challenge always comes down to making time to do that kind of field work and still keep up with regular postings here, as well as working on several eBooks that I have under development.

          The more mature I get… the faster time seems to move.


  2. Oh you nailed this topic! “Ergonomics” IS/ARE very important! Disclaimer: I’m not a professional photographer; currently retired. And a cancer survivor, so far. The Pentax systems have been my longtime faves, but digital has changed so many paradigms and the industry has changed greatly. So I fell for an Olympus Pen-f D! It ain’t like my old half-frame days! It travels well; handles well; and makes a wonderfully small, efficient travel kit for this old man. However, I struggle a bit with the OM style EM1 styled SLR. The ergonomics, menus, features are not the same as the Pen-f! Back to Pentax: I’m field testing a K3lll Monochrome and climbing the mountain of changes & enhancements new to this camera, compared to the older K3. They’ve (Ricoh) moved buttons; changed menus; added dozens of enhancements and some new features etc. The B&W output is amazing, and my old knowledge is getting a huge replacement! This new, unique camera is a special treat and challenge! However, I’m seriously soul searching and questioning if I’ve reached my limit?

    1. Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with your camera gear over the years. It is always interesting to find out what equipment best suits different individuals. I think we only reach our limits when we don’t come up with new ways to challenge ourselves.


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