Street Photography with Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

a fast and accurate street camera

I've had over a year now with the Olympus O-MD E-M5 Mark II. I acquired it, together with a series of Olympus and Panasonic lenses, on the advice of Ming Thein, during a Photography MasterClass in Prague last year. This article reviews my experiences and some of the images shot on various Street Photography projects during that year.

 Mid Morning Paper Break

Mid Morning Paper Break

Exit Sony A7 and A7s - Enter Olympus O-MD

I had shown up to the MasterClass in Prague with my then latest experiment in lightweight street camera gear; a bevy of Sony A7 and A7s related equipment, having used it in a Street project in Havana a few months earlier. I had been on a quest to find a lightweight but full frame sensor alternative to my Nikon DSLRs. At the time though the Sony A7 series cameras were coming under heavy fire for producing less than ideal images due to file compression artifacts and shutter shock issues, but I had felt the A7 and the A7s might nevertheless still be a good choice for Street work.

For their first outing, in the slow moving pace of the Cuban capital, the Sonys had seemed to work quite well, but in just a few days of using them in the bustle of Prague, I had become increasily frustrated with them - way too slow for rapid Street photography and the long zoom was still as bulky as the equivalent Nikon lens!

Olympus O-MD E-M5 Mark II Micro Four Thirds Camera

During the workshop, Ming advised investing in micro four thirds equipment as an alternative, which was, to him, already proven as a very lightweight, small, fast, responsive format and better suited to my needs. I took his advice and researched the format that evening and the very next day acquired the newly released Olympus O-MD E-M5 Mark II and a set of lenses.

Now, this article is definitely not a deep dive review of either the format or of the camera. There are several really in-depth reviews in the usual places; two of which I can recommend: The DPReview article here, and the CameraLabs review here. There, you will find all the necessary technical details, if you're that way inclined, which of course, I am!

For me, the most important features the E-M5II has to offer a Street Photographer are the following:

  • small, unobtrusive, lightweight camera body
  • fast, very accurate autofocus
  • silent shutter operation for stealth work
  • small, lightweight but excellent quality lenses
  • in-body stabilisation, good for low light interior work
  • fully articulating screen
  • high resolution EVF with focussing aids

There is, however, one thing to remember about this camera; if you have large hands or fingers, you may find the body too small to use comfortably. Not so for me. I bought the optional grip and battery case, which made all the difference to the balance and handling - particularly when using the 40-150mm zoom lens.

olympus e-m5ii images - street photography shoots from around the world

I've used the camera now on several projects in Prague, Chicago, San Fransisco and London and I've found it to be an excellent Street Photography camera. Here are some examples from the Prague shoot:

 Happiness Shared

Happiness Shared

 Metal Men

Metal Men

 Kafka's Shoe

Kafka's Shoe

 The Thinker

The Thinker

In the Chicago MasterClass later that year, I shot some fun images with the E-M5 II:

 Focal Point

Focal Point

 Ups and Downs

Ups and Downs

Even in very, very low light, the E-M5 II does a great job of handling slow shutter speeds and high ISO work

 Midnight Marilyn

Midnight Marilyn

I used the gear extensively in many London Street shoots throughout the last year. Here are some of the highlights:

 Hello Boys

Hello Boys

 Mirror Image

Mirror Image

 Hare Krishna Whisper

Hare Krishna Whisper

 Great Expectations

Great Expectations

 Harmony in Humour

Harmony in Humour

Finally, a few shots from a Street shoot in San Fransisco recently:

 Stylish Glance

Stylish Glance

 Beautiful Minds

Beautiful Minds

 Otterly Proud!

Otterly Proud!

conclusions

All in all, a pretty tough test for a Micro Four Thirds format camera - under a wide range of lighting conditions and situations; almost all requiring speed and responsiveness in order to get the shot. After a solid year of project work I give the Olympus and Panasonic gear a genuine thumbs up. Given it's limitations - in terms of ultimate dynamic range and highlight handling, which can sometimes be a challenge to avoid clipping - the Olympus O-MD E-M5 II and its attendant lenses are a first class Street Photography 'no-brainer'. And, now that we are on the verge of the 2016 Photokina announcements, the expectation of a new O-MD E-M1 Mark II is on the horizon, which will, I'm sure, also prove to be a real winner for those that want to upgrade to this system and its fabulous range of high quality lenses.