Olympus OMD EM-5 and Canon 5D MkIII | Nature Photography Field Tests

You can see the field test images from both systems, taken at the same time, over on my pet and animal photography area by clicking on this link: Olympus OMD and Canon 5D MkIII Field Samples

Before visiting the link do bear in mind that this is not really one of those weird Olympus OMD vs Canon 5D MkIII essays, since the two cameras are very different. But following on from the many big discussions around the web about professional photographers switching to smaller mirrorless systems I thought I’d demonstrate the capabilities of the OMD in the field when shot alongside the awe-inspiring Canon 5D MkIII (a machine which is at times vital to my business). But is the 5D MkIII vital to me all of the time?  No, of course not, the recent inventions in miniaturised camera systems has meant that many tired professionals now have the option to use small lightweight kit for many of their assignments – assignments which don’t necessarily require ultrafast tracking focus or ultra lowlight capability. I will say at this point that the Olympus OMD is no slouch when it comes to either, but there are still some situations where a professional grade DSLR will be “the best tool for the job”. And that is key to anybody running a photography business, what you purchase is not about what you fancy having, it’s about getting the job done properly and investing wisely in your equipment. When professionals make such investments we need to calculate the cost/return point (such as when the equipment will have paid for itself given the number of assignments it will see and the projected income generated). If you’re a hobbyist then those calculations are likely to be less important and you’re more or less free to simply buy whatever you like. But with new developments you may not need to spend quite as much as you did previously, because good compact systems can easily replace a good DSLR in many situations, providing you are able to team it with the right optics.

For me, as a professional portrait photographer, I am more than happy to use my mirrorless systems on many of my assignments (I currently own the Olympus OMD EM-5 and the Fuji XE1 with various lenses) and a couple of days ago I took one of my students into the field to demonstrate that high quality photographs (providing you understand the craft of photography) can be had from small lightweight kit. Why kill yourself lugging around several kilos of equipment when a tiny system will do just as well?

I stress I am not trying to kick off an exhaustive Olympus OMD vs Canon 5D MkIII debate, I’m merely highlighting the benefits I personally will reap from downscaling some of my equipment.


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  • roy - January 4, 2013 - 11:14 am

    I got to your blog – and I’m not alone in this I imagine – via TOP. I’m an OMD user myself although I still own and occasionally use my Nikon FF system.
    But that’s not why I’m writing to you.
    There’s a well-established, cast-iron rule in typography (although maybe that should be a cast-lead rule…) whose provenance extends back as far as the original Gutenberg bible. That rule is that it’s extremely difficult to read text set in a “measure” (ie line-length)greater than about 65 characters, including spaces. Please don’t try claiming that this doesn’t apply to websites: I gave up on your blog before I’d completed reading the first line, and certainly before I counted the number of characters in it.
    You will be a lot more successful if people can easily read it.

  • Lindsay - January 4, 2013 - 11:24 am

    Dear Roy, this is not a complaint I have received before in the many years I have been running my sites, however I do appreciate your comment and I always look into any suggestions my readers make. WordPress is a ubiquitous and well used professional platform with exceptional functionality and I suspect the line length you refer to is a standard in the software/theme. I am sorry you felt unable to read the article.

  • markcotter - January 4, 2013 - 6:03 pm

    You make a very valid point: it’s one I’ve been ruminating over for a couple of months.

    I recently bought the XPro1 and have used it a fair bit. I have been thinking about whether I even need my Canon 7D (I’m semi-pro, by the way), and had reached the decision that when I do a wedding, a big DSLR says ‘I’m the pro, I know what I’m doing’. Later in the year, I get the chance to test that out – I’ll be shooting a wedding with the Fuji as the back-up photographer and wonder if guests will view me differently with a different camera.

  • Lindsay - January 4, 2013 - 6:54 pm

    Hi Mark, certainly the days where a big heavy DSLR was the only professional option are fading and without a doubt the recent mirrorless systems can replace a DSLR in many situations. Where weddings are concerned I would however be inclined to keep a DSLR in the bag, not just as a backup but also there may be occasions where the speed and autofocus of the X camera may be limiting. However I fully expect Fuji to address that.

  • Samuel - January 14, 2013 - 12:51 pm

    Interesting thoughts and quality images too. It’s very significant when a pro uses these smaller cameras and she’s happy with the results. It’s worth more than the average camera review that’s for sure. In a variety of contexts these cameras can deliver excellent results.

    These days I’m comparing my new X-E1, which is similar to the Olympus, to my old 5D. The Fujifilm’s certainly not as snappy as either, but it suits my general style anyway.

    Roy, I’ve been reading the posts here for quite some time and can recommend them. So don’t give up! In my opinion, (if Lindsay doesn’t mind), if the layout irritates try temporarily putting the text into your word processor where it’ll be the way you prefer it — type size, words per line, spaces between paragraphs, etc.

  • Lindsay - January 16, 2013 - 9:59 am

    Hi Samuel, great to hear from you and I hope you’re well. Certainly the change to the OMD has proved extremely fruitful and something of a lifesaver given my inability now to cart the big stuff around as often as I used to. I will say that there are very few similarities between the OMD and the XE1. The OMD behaves very much like a miniaturised DSLR, with almost all the functionality (with the exception of fast tracking focus which I believe may be included in the next version of this camera which is to be released later this year). The OMD also uses CDAF but the key difference is the power under the bonnet, the Fuji engine is weak by comparison and firmware upgrades can only do so much. The XE1 simply cannot compete against the OMD in performance terms and I would say the only area where they are similar would be image quality, which is much closer than many people realise. The Fuji is not in my opinion suited to professional use due to the autofocus and the current lack of mainstream RAW support. Having done one of my usual location portrait shoots as a test the camera proved untenable (very few images which were in focus, despite use of the various techniques which are said to help) and we are about to sell it. It is however ideal for general static, street and travel photography. Many professional photographers have attempted to adopt the Fujis into their pro kit but with very few exceptions have been forced to abandon them due to the shortcomings mentioned. However the good news is that Fuji are now improving the autofocus in the new models (I’ve had the X100s and X20 in my hands for a play) and when the various niggles are ironed out I will certainly reconsider purchasing another Fuji. But for now, it’s going to be OMD all the way. For those of you wanting news on RAW – having had some direct talks with senior management at Fuji I can confirm that Adobe RAW support will be “improved over the coming months”.

  • Samuel - January 17, 2013 - 8:33 am

    Thanks for taking time to explain this. Your insight is valuable. It’s a real plus that the lightweight OMD kit is more comfortable while delivering good results. Heaving all that bigger gear around must literally hurt you.

    To any keen amateur reading your conclusions who’s having doubts about getting the X-E1 I’d say — yes, definitely think it through carefully. I had mine only a matter of hours and realised it could never be a workable shoot-from-the-hip solution. Even a consumer DSLR in the right hands could take us further in that general context.

    But if our style is less active, and if having big-name RAW-editing software isn’t crucial, then we will get really good results from the Fujifilm camera. I’m still experimenting with getting the RAW data basically as I need it quite quickly then opening the TIFFs in a layered format, if necessary.

    But it’s a different world for amateurs, isn’t it, Lindsay!

  • Lindsay - January 17, 2013 - 9:45 am

    Hi Samuel, I’ve just got back from a very large international photographers Convention and it was interesting to see the number of professionals taking a keen interest in the OMD, and the numbers who have already adopted it. None that I met have been able to consider the Fujis, for the practical reasons already discussed. In fact my XE1 is now for sale because I do not have a use for it unfortunately. As you say, a less pressured and less active style is best where these cameras are concerned. And as you rightly point out there are many more options available to amateurs who can enjoy their photography free from the decisions we are forced to make as professionals! But my OMD covers absolutely everything from casual personal work to professional assignments and I continue to be highly impressed by both the image quality and performance. Hopefully Fuji will catch up with some of the current and very exciting developments in technology.

  • Frugal Travel Guy - March 10, 2013 - 8:16 pm

    Great read, but I wonder how you frame a subject in the woods with this EVF? I wrote up my complaints of the OMD on my website. I was first all giddy about the OMD and came more and more to realize its not a tool rather a toy that lacks built quality and true Pro usefulness. If you have to fumble through a maze of menus to get your settings right then its not for the pro. I instead gave up on those “system cameras’ at least for now. Image quality is good for stills indeed, but framing them can be painful vs with a DSLR body where your shortcuts are right there at your fingertips and menues are more organized. Thats my take.

  • Lindsay - March 10, 2013 - 8:37 pm

    This is why it’s so important to choose your kit based on your own needs and preferences, and of course your own personal opinion is vitally important too. I find the OMD’s EVF to be superb, I’m rarely even aware of the differences between it and my DSLR finders. It is also very customizable and I tend to assign shortcuts to various keys according to which settings I use most – it’s this ability which makes it so quick and intuitive to use. But if it’s not for you then you’re doing the right thing and sticking with your DSLR, which in terms of the button size, will not be as fiddly. Small cameras are not for everyone.

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