The build out of our Olympus kit that started 18 months ago is now complete. This article provides details on our gear choices and rationale. The intent of this article is to respond to some reader requests for this type of posting. This is an extensive article… so grab a cup of coffee or make a pot of tea.
Photographers should always choose the camera gear that best meets their individual needs. Sensor format and brand choices are very personal decisions. This article does not suggest that anyone should choose the camera gear that we selected for our needs.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
Our first entry with OM-D camera bodies was with an E-M1X in July 2019. As noted in our E-M1X 6 Month Review and our E-M1X Twelve Month Review, the E-M1X is simply a superb camera. Without question it is the finest camera that I’ve had the pleasure to own and use.
The build quality, ergonomics and handling are ideally suited to intensive use. Dual quad core processors, dual UHS-II card slots, an in-body heat pipe, built-in GPS and a host of other features make the E-M1X a great choice for professionals and enthusiasts who demand a high level of performance from their gear. Tested to IPX 3 standards (rated to IPX 1) the weather-sealing on the E-M1X is second to none.
With up to 7 stops of IBIS performance the E-M1X is ideal for our safety video business. It allows us to do projects handheld with an absolute minimum of gear. This makes productions more efficient, and my back very happy. Towards the end of 2019 we added a second E-M1X as a back-up camera for our client business.
From a photography standpoint I simply love using the E-M1X. The camera feels so natural and comfortable in my hands. It incorporates a wealth of technology including Handheld Hi Res, Live ND, Live Composite, In-Camera Focus Stacking, and a range of Subject Tracking AI modules, including the recently released Bird Detection AI.
The IBIS performance of the E-M1X is outstanding and allows me to shoot still images handheld at multiple second shutter speeds. Regardless of sensor size or price, there is no other camera body that meets my business and personal needs better than the E-M1X.
In the late summer of 2020, as we were doing our final build-out of our Olympus kit, my wife and I investigated a couple of smaller, lighter OM-D bodies. These included the E-M1 Mark III and the E-M5 Mark III. After some deliberation we decided that the E-M1 Mark III would best meet our needs. The feature set was closest to the E-M1X and provided a higher level build. Using the same battery as the E-M1X also simplified our kit.
Our E-M1 Mark III is primarily used by my wife for all of her photography needs. It also serves as a lighter weight, smaller option should we ever need to travel with only one smaller, fully featured camera body in the future.
Having used full frame and APS-C cameras in the past, I find both of these formats not as well suited to my specific needs as OM-D M4/3 bodies.
Client Assignment/Low Light/Indoor Lenses
Our initial purchase of M.Zuiko lenses focused on our needs as they related to client assignments where low light video capability is important. Three PRO f/2.8 zooms were ideally suited to our needs.
M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8
This is a fantastic wide angle zoom lens that provides an equivalent field-of-view (efov) of 14-28 mm. This is our second most used lens for client video work in our Olympus kit. It can be shot wide open and delivers excellent image quality along with the deeper depth-of-field we require.
While many photographers who are skewed to larger sensor cameras often deride M4/3 gear for perceived shortcomings with shallow depth-of-field, they conveniently ignore the significant advantages of using wider angle M4/3 lenses when deeper depth-of-field is desired.
For example, let’s consider using the M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 for a wide angle landscape scene. When used at its widest focal length of 7 mm, a photographer could choose a focus distance of 1.5 metres away. When using this lens wide open at f/2.8 it would deliver nearest acceptable sharpness at 0.63 metres and infinity at the farthest.
Using a full frame lens of 14 mm would provide the same equivalent field-of-view (efov). When shot wide open at f/2.8 with the same focus distance of 1.5 metres, the full frame lens would deliver much shallower depth-of-field. The nearest acceptable sharpness would be at 0.89 meters and the farthest would be at 4.68 metres. Obviously this would not be acceptable when creating a landscape photograph where deep depth-of-field is desired.
To deliver the same deep depth of field as the M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 when used wide open at 7 mm, the full frame 14 mm lens would need to be shot at f/5.6. A loss of 2 stops of light. Depending on the camera and starting ISO value used, this difference could be enough to bump ISO up a couple of stops to levels that could eliminate most of the dynamic range advantage that a full frame sensor would have over a new generation OM-D body like the E-M1X.
The bulbous front element of the M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 makes it difficult to use filters. Fortunately bodies like the E-M1X and E-M1 Mark III have Live ND which eliminates the need to carry neutral density filters.
Since the vast majority of the work that we do is strongly skewed to needing deeper depth-of-field, the M4/3 format is well suited to our needs.
M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8
This is our workhorse lens for video work. It provides a great focal length range with an efov of 24-80 mm. Its constant f/2.8 aperture provides a lot of flexibility. Image quality, like that of all M.Zuiko PRO lenses, is excellent.
The PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8 is small and light, and like the M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8, can easily be used handheld when shooting video. This is also our ‘go to’ lens when photographing a wide variety of general subject matter, especially indoors or in low light conditions. It can easily be handheld for multiple second handheld exposures.
M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8
This is not a lens that we use that much for our client video work, but the added reach at f/2.8 does come in handy from time to time. Delivering an equivalent field-of-view of 80-300 mm at f/2.8 this lens occupies a very unique spot in the photography market.
From a still photography standpoint the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 is one of the most used lenses in our Olympus kit. It is my preferred lens for flower photography and can be used effectively with extension tubes to achieve very shallow depth-of-field given its short minimum focusing distance.
The PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 can also be used with M.Zuiko teleconverters and maintains excellent image quality when used in this manner. When used with the M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter it can be a very competent birding lens.
The M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 is a superb photographic tool delivering exceptional image quality and flexibility.
M.Zuiko PRO 45 mm f/1.2
There are specific situations during client assignments… such as shooting video of machines in operation along a production line… where I sometimes need a very fast prime lens. With my Nikon 1 kit the 32 mm f/1.2 was my go to lens for these situations. We recently added the M.Zuiko PRO 45 mm f/1.2 to our Olympus kit to fill this same need.
The M.Zuiko PRO 45 mm f/1.2 is the least used lens in our Olympus kit, but when we do need it to record low light video clips, this lens performs wonderfully. I don’t do very much portraiture work. When these occasions arise the PRO 45 mm f/1.2 does an excellent job.
I have always preferred using zoom lenses, and I view prime lenses of any sort as ‘speciality’ solutions to address very specific issues. To me, a prime lens is a necessary evil that I only use when I have no other realistic option.
When my wife and I travel we typically take a limited number of lenses, but ones that cover a wide range of focal lengths. We have four M.Zuiko lenses that we view primarily as our birding/nature/travel lenses.
M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS
We recently received this lens after waiting for almost three months for it to arrive. It has quickly supplanted the PRO 40-150 mm f/2,8 with the MC-20 teleconverter as my lens of choice for birding and nature.
The M.Zuiko 100-400 is heavier than the PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8. so there is a bit of a weight penalty (1120 grams vs. 760 grams without tripod collars). The M.Zuiko 100-400 provides better reach with only a 1/3 stop of light loss. The optical formulation in the M.Zuiko 100-400 is quite complex with 8 special elements, creating excellent image quality.
When used with teleconverters the M.Zuiko 100-400 really extends its functionality. With the MC-14 the efov extends to 280-1120 mm with an aperture range of f/7-9. Using the MC-20 further extends the efov to 400-1600 mm with an aperture range of f/10-13. Obviously good light is needed when using the MC-20.
I chose the M.Zuiko 100-400 over the M.Zuiko PRO 150-400 for three reasons. Size, weight and cost. My personal tipping point when using a long telephoto lens is any camera/lens combination that comes close to weighing 3 KG (~6.6 lbs.). I knew from experience that fatigue would begin to set in after approximately 3 hours of continuous shooting with gear that is in the 3 KG weight range.
The M.Zuiko 100-400 when used with an E-M1X weighs about 2.1 KG (~4.6 lbs.) without the tripod collar. Even though I’ve only had this lens for about 10 days or so, I know from first-hand experience that I can use it handheld for at least 6 hours uninterrupted. This is a much better fit for me physically.
The cost of the M.Zuiko PRO 150-400 f/4.5 is 4.55 times more expensive than the M.Zuiko 100-400. There’s no doubt in my mind that the M.Zuiko PRO 150-400 f/4.5 will be an extraordinary lens. In many ways a breakthrough offering. From a business standpoint we just couldn’t justify the investment required for this one lens.
For a smaller overall investment than was required for the M.Zuiko PRO 150-400 we were able to add a range of camera gear to fill out our Olympus kit. These additional items included: OM-D E-M1 Mark III, M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 mm f/4 IS, M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS, M.Zuiko 14-150 mm f/4-5.6 II, and M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II.
The M.Zuiko 100-400 f/5-6.3 IS is a terrific lens that features IPX1 weather-sealing and very solid construction. It is not classified as a ‘PRO’ lens by Olympus and there are some factors that do put it just under ‘PRO’ specifications. It is a variable aperture lens. The switches on the left side of the lens barrel don’t feel quite as solid and robust. There is no focus clutch. The zoom ring is noticeably stiffer and harder to operate when compared to a PRO zoom lens. None of these are deal-breakers of course… just points of differentiation.
The lens mount of my copy of the M.Zuiko 100-400 has some rotational movement which is a bit disconcerting. I checked with the Olympus service folks and they advised that this is not an issue, and will not cause any problems.
At the end of the day I do love using the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS. It has been delivering the excellent image quality that I expected, in a package that is comparatively small and light enough to suit my physical capabilities as an ‘old fogey’.
M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 f/4 IS
We almost bought this lens as part of our initial Olympus gear purchase, but decided against it because of the f/4 aperture. This turned out to be a wise decision as the M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8 is a much better fit for our client video work.
We recently added the M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 f/4 IS as it is an ideal companion for the M.Zuiko 100-400, delivering a combined efov of 24 mm to 800 mm. There is no focal length overlap with this lens pairing. Add the MC-14 and MC-20 teleconverters to the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm and this expands the efov on the long end to 1120 mm and 1600 mm respectively.
When out hiking with the M.Zuiko 100-400, having the PRO 12-100 in my bag is perfect for landscapes and other subject matter. The Sync-IS it also allows me to shoot the PRO 12-100 mm f/4 IS at very slow shutter speeds, or use it for a wide range of handheld video opportunities.
The focal length range is very practical making it an ideal zoom lens for travel. Especially if a photographer is limited to a single lens solution. The constant f/4 aperture and Sync-IS also makes this a great lens for low light situations when long exposures can be used. In some ways the M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 mm f/4 IS is the Swiss Army Knife of our Olympus kit.
M.Zuiko 14-150 mm f/4-5.6 II
This zoom is my wife’s every day lens. She wanted something quite small and light, but also with a lot of flexibility. The M.Zuiko 14-150 mm f/4-5.6 II provides an efov of 28 mm to 300 mm in a small, lightweight, weather-sealed package. When mounted on an E-M1 Mark III it is a very capable, easy-to-handle performer. The lens is very well suited for travel and will be my wife’s primary travel lens on the E-M1 Mark III.
We looked at the Olympus 12-200 f/3.5-6.3 but decided it was simply too big and heavy to be appropriate for my wife’s everyday lens solution. It weighs 455 grams compared to 283 grams for the M.Zuiko 14-150 mm f/4-5.6 II.
M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II
This lens provides a small, lightweight long telephoto solution, and is primarily used by my wife. It provides an efov of 150-600 mm and is affordably priced, costing about 1/3 of the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS.
It weighs 423 grams compared to 1120 grams for the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm. The is the only non weather-sealed lens in our Olympus kit. For M4/3 owners who only occasionally need a long telephoto zoom, this lens is an affordable solution. The image quality is quite good given its affordable price, especially when the lens is shot in RAW and some work is done in post.
Our extended travel kit would include these four lenses as well as the M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8, and both of the M.Zuiko teleconverters.
Our Olympus kit includes the M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro lens. We chose this lens because of its longer focal length, faster aperture, and weather-sealing. I also appreciate the Focus Limit Switch on this lens as it allows for quicker focus acquisition.
The M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 is very small and lightweight, coming in at only 185 grams. Even though it appears dwarfed by an E-M1X body, I love using this combination as it is so easy and comfortable to handle. This is especially true when shooting one-handed in awkward positions.
I’ve had ongoing success using the M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro to create Handheld Hi Res images. The lens has also performed well when used to create in-camera focus-stacked macro images.
We own two Olympus flash units, the STF-8 Twin Macro Flash Set and the FL-700WR Wireless Flash along with the FC-WR Wireless Flash Commander.
We chose these flash units as both are weather-sealed to the same level as our OM-D camera bodies and M.Zuiko lenses.
While I don’t do a lot of work with flashes, I wanted the additional reliability and flexibility of weather-sealed units. We selected the FL-700WR Wireless Flash with FC-WR Wireless Flash Commander for added versatility.
Third Party Gear
You’ll notice that our Olympus kit does not include any third party equipment. Since making the change to interchangeable lens digital cameras I’ve only bought one third party lens. I’ve always preferred using ‘same brand’ cameras and lenses to help ensure compatibility.
As more computational photography technology is incorporated into modern camera bodies, compatibility issues may become more important in the future.
We did not consider any M4/3 equipment from other manufacturers. About five and half years ago we had a less-than-stellar experience with equipment from another brand. After ten days of use, all of it was returned. We gladly paid a small restocking charge to do so.
Since we purchased our first E-M1X we have been using Transcend UHS-II V90 64 GB memory cards. To date we have not had any issues with them. We chose this particular memory card because it provides a good balance of performance and value.
Like most photographers we have a selection of various camera bags, all of which we’ve had for a number of years. Here is a quick summary.
Ruggard Commando 65 Pro
My main bag for quick client video projects is the Ruggard Commando PRO 65. This bag is large enough to fit one or two E-M1X bodies, 4 lenses (M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8, M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f/2.8, M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8, M.Zuiko PRO 45 mm f/1.2) and my 13″ ASUS laptop can just squeeze in. This has been a durable bag. I did have to put some duct tape on the shoulder pad as the strap was starting to cut through it. This is one of the two bags that I often use as carry-on when travelling by air.
Ruggard Legion 65 Messenger Bag (Discontinued)
Another Ruggard bag that I use regularly is the Ruggard Legion 65 Messenger Bag. It is discontinued and no longer available. I use this as my birding/nature bag. It can hold an E-M1X with the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 mounted to it placed face down in the bag, as well as room for two other lenses and two teleconverters. It can also fit my 13″ ASUS laptop. The top flap has a zippered opening which is handy when taking gear out to use.
Ruggard 25 Holster Bag
I used this bag originally to hold a Nikon 1 V3 with the 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 lens attached, and 3 to 4 extra batteries. Now we use it to store the OM-D E-M1 Mark II with the M.Zuiko 14-150 mm f/4-5.6 II attached. It is possible to squeeze in the E-M1 Mark III with the M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6/7… but it is a very tight fit.
Tamrac Pro Avil Slim 15 Backpack
This is a great backpack to use when I need to take a more extensive kit for client video shoots. It can hold a couple of E-M1X bodies and 5-6 lenses, as well as my 13″ ASUS laptop, extra batteries and other peripherals.
Tenba 21 Roadie Roller
This rolling bag can hold a lot of gear. I haven’t used it for any client shoots, or to travel with for quite a while as it is more suitable for larger sensor format equipment. I do store some camera gear like my flashes, mics, etc. in it.
Like many photographers I have an extensive collection of camera supports. I forget how many tripods and heads that I own. Probably a half dozen of each. My collection of camera supports also includes a monopod, slider, skater dolly, camera stabilizer and a jib. I didn’t bother to list any of this equipment in the original version of this article because I don’t use any of it any more. I shoot everything handheld.
One of the biggest reasons that I bought into the Olympus system was the incredible IBIS performance of my E-M1X bodies. When I have a client video project all I have to do now is put my two E-M1X bodies and four M.Zuiko PRO lenses in a medium sized shoulder bag. Everything else stays in my gear closet and collects more dust.
I added this section to the original article after a couple of readers pointed out that I didn’t mention camera supports. It’s sometimes hard to remember things that you don’t use any more!
Olympus Imaging Division Transfer to Japan Industrial Partners (JIP)
We’ve been building out our Olympus kit in spite of all of the angst in the market place about the transfer of the Olympus Imaging Division to JIP. This is scheduled to be completed at the end of December 2020.
I’ve had quite a few readers and associates ask me about the pending transfer, and my feelings about it. To me, it is a non-issue.
I think Olympus products are clearly the most differentiated in the marketplace… and to a significant degree. This gives JIP’s new camera company, OM Digital Solutions Corporation, a great opportunity to reposition the brand strategically and focus in on implementing a niche market differentiation strategy. In short I think that OM-D cameras and M.Zuiko lenses have a solid future.
I think the Olympus name will disappear from camera equipment in the near future. That is one of the reasons that I changed one of the search selections on this website to read ‘M4/3 (OM-D/M.Zuiko)’ a number of months ago.
Many professional photographers have been making the switch to Olympus, as the competitive advantages of its products have been recognized. I believe that this will continue into the future as the value of products like the M.Zuiko PRO 150-400 f/4.5 and Subject Tracking AI become more familiar.
I know there are still a lot of naysayers in the market and folks that are extremely sensor phobic. People are still fixated on sensor size and sensor age. I think this is very outdated thinking. Smartphones did not decimate the camera market because of bigger and newer sensors. They killed off a large portion of the camera market by offering consumers more convenient and creative ways to capture photographs. Computational photography is a major factor in that success. It will also play a huge role with OM Digital Solutions and its future product offerings.
My assumption is that the private investors who put their money into the JIP investment fund that created OM Digital Solutions Corporation have got some brains and investment savvy. They wouldn’t have approved of this purchase unless it made sense strategically, coupled with a well thought out business plan in place.
At my advancing age, our Olympus kit will be the last major camera equipment purchase that we will be making as long as we keep our business in operation. Be that for the next 5 or 10 years, or longer.
The simple fact is that there is no other camera system that meets our needs better than the Olympus equipment we have detailed in this article.
During the past 18 months I have captured countless handheld images that would not have been possible with other camera gear. No other camera gear would allow me the increased efficiency of shooting client video projects completely handheld. There is no logical reason why we would have stopped investing in our Olympus kit. Certainly not because of some ill-informed rumours. My future depends on continuing to create and innovate. We invested in the camera gear that best helps us accomplish that.
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.
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