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Finally Taking the Plunge Into Mirrorless Cameras

Size comparison between the D700 and the OM-D

November featured blogger, Kristin Repsher.The following is a guest post by November’s featured guest blogger, Kristin Repsher.

As a keen photographer, the answer to the question “Which camera should I take traveling?” had always eluded me. Should I take my dSLR — a full-frame Nikon D700 — and risk frustration at check-in, where I often have to haggle with airline employees to have my heavier-than-7kg carry-on allowed on board? Or should I take a smaller camera — a mirrorless or a superzoom — and risk frustration when it just will not do what I want it to do?

I’ve thought I’ve had the answer to this question through the years. When I was hiking through New Zealand, I took a Canon point-and-shoot and a Panasonic superzoom (the FZ18). The photos I got were great, but they were JPGs (which aren’t as easy to post-process as RAW) and there are many photos — particularly those at night — that I just didn’t bother capturing because I knew they wouldn’t come out.

I upgraded to the Panasonic FZ150 superzoom last year so I could have more manual controls and the ability to shoot in RAW, but I actually found it much more frustrating than the previous incarnation. Because it had the hint of manual controls but didn’t deliver, I found that I could almost do what I wanted…but not quite.

On many trips, I’ve decided that my dSLR is the best camera for the job. I’ve carried it through the snow in the Arctic, into the wetlands in Singapore, and everywhere in between. I know the photo quality is the best it can be and that the camera won’t artificially restrict my options. However, I miss out on photos when a camera that big just isn’t appropriate, and I have to carry a separate bag just for the camera and its accessories.

Now, after four years of flip-flopping and questioning, I think I’ve finally found the answer — the Olympus OM-D EM-5.

The cool retro styling of the OM-D
The cool retro styling of the OM-D.

The name is just about the biggest thing about this tiny but amazing mirrorless camera. Even smaller than my grandfather’s film SLR from the 1980s, this camera fits in my small travel bag — even with the fairly bulky Panasonic 12-35mm lens attached — and weighs less than a third of the weight of my dSLR. I took it as my main camera on my recent trip to Europe and, even on days where I took hundreds of photos, I never got tired of holding it up for yet another shot.

Size comparison between the D700 and the OM-D
Size comparison between the D700 and the OM-D.

There’s plenty of other things going for this camera, including:

  • Image quality. While the micro 4/3 sensor is still much smaller than the one in my dSLR, the image quality constantly amazed me. While this can partly be attributed to the non-kit lens, the detail visible in my photos was leaps and bounds above those taken with the FZ150.
  • High ISO performance. I took quite a few photos between ISO 1600-3200 to compensate for the lack of tripod and the fact that I was always forgetting to bring the flash with me. These photos have noise, but it doesn’t overwhelm the photo and can easily be handled in post-processing.
A high ISO photo taken inside Gaudi's Casa Battlo with no noise reduction applied.
A high ISO photo taken inside Gaudi’s Casa Battlo with no noise reduction applied.
  • Manual controls. You can leave the camera on fully auto or move to manual and change whatever settings you like. I never hit a wall like I did with the FZ150 where I just couldn’t get the camera to work with me.
  • Light interchangeable lenses. There’s an ever-growing selection of lenses for micro 4/3 cameras so you can choose one for exactly your needs. Many travelers would like the 14-150mm lens that covers about a 10x zoom range on a point & shoot. Plus, they are so light that it’s not a pain to carry a few of them.
  • Touch screen. For someone that tends to exclusively use the viewfinder, I used this feature much more often than I thought I would. I still felt more comfortable changing the settings with physical buttons, but the fact that I could tap and instantly focus at that point AND take the photo? Awesome!
  • HD video. I like that I can quickly alternate between photos and videos without having to get out another camera. They look great too!
  • Retro style. I’ve gotten so many comments on the look of this camera since, from the front, many people think it’s a retro film camera. As someone who still shoots film occasionally, I love that, but I also love that it’s less of a target for theft.
A panorama of Girona taken with the OM-D
A panorama of Girona taken with the OM-D.

Of course, there are a few downsides to the OM-D, namely:

  • Price. This is not a cheap camera. It’s currently retailing at about AU$1150 for the body and kit 14-42mm lens. Because it’s over normal travel insurance limits, you’d have to add it as a specified item to any policy you purchase.
  • Ergonomics. The grip on this camera is very slight, which makes the camera feel a bit more precarious in your hands — which I somewhat expected of a camera with such a small form factor. Adding the extra battery grip to remedy this was not an option due to the price of the camera & lens combination, so I decided to grin and bear it. Now I hardly notice it.
  • The initial experience. All I wanted when I turned on my camera was to get live view on the LCD screen instead of the list of settings it gave me. I had to look up online to figure out how to change to the view I wanted (which is, clearly, by pressing the button on the side of the viewfinder).
  • No built-in flash. I know built-in flashes aren’t the best, but they’re usually better than nothing at all. That was usually what I had because I tended to forget to put the small external flash in my bag.

As you can tell, I found almost everything about my experience with the OM-D to be top notch, and I would highly recommend it for your next trip. You won’t be disappointed.

A panorama of Porto taken with the OM-D
A panorama of Porto taken with the OM-D

I bought my OM-D from CameraPro in Australia, but it’s also available on Amazon.

* * * * *
Stay tuned for more featured guest posts from Kristin Repsher, but in the meantime, be sure to check out her travel blog, A Pair of Boots and a Backpack, Twitter, and Facebook.

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