Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II: ISO 200 night photography, sans tripod

Paris Framed - Las Vegas, Nevada

Paris Framed – Las Vegas, Nevada

There are two significant features on the new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II among a slew of smaller improvements. I’ve talked about the first one, the 40MP high-resolution mode. For most people, the second major feature is probably more significant — 5 stop, 5 axis in-body image stabilization (IBIS). It’s a potential game changer for a low light situations. And more importantly, it makes photography a heck of a lot more fun.

The Cosmopolitan Bridge - Las Vegas, Nevada
Saints Peter and Paul Church at Night - San Francisco, California

I’m no stranger to tripods. When you shoot a lot at night like I do — you need them — if you want to create high quality urban landscapes. On my recent night photography excursions in Las Vegas and San Francisco, however, I opted to shoot sans tripod. What a liberating experience. Olympus’ newest built-in image stabilization is that good. Life is so much better without a tripod.

Walk Towards the Light - Las Vegas, Nevada
Lines of Neon - Las Vegas, Nevada

Ever since the first Olympus micro 4/3 camera, the E-P1, they’ve included In-body image stabilization. That’s been one of my favorite features and a competitive advantage. Every major iteration brings improvements and on the Mark II, Olympus claims up to 5 stops of stabilization. My casual tests confirm that the performance is noticeably better and I get at least 4 stops, regularly.

What does this mean for real life photography? I can shoot at lower ISOs even at night. I shot all of these at ISO 200, the base ISO, which gives the best image quality. Shutter speeds ranged from 1/2 of a second to about 1/8 of a second. Of course I couldn’t shoot all of my night images at 200 but many were in the lower range, typically under ISO 800. You see why I didn’t use a tripod.

Garage with neatly arranged cars - San Francisco, California

In San Francisco, I got the best performance. Here’s an image I shot at 1/2 second at a 36mm equivalent (that’s 4 stops of performance). Tack sharp. A 1/2 second exposure requires me to concentrate, hold my breath and use good techniques. The IBIS does the rest and I can reproduce consistent results.

Motion Blur at the M - Las Vegas, Nevada

In Las Vegas, I used a more comfortable 1/5 of a second and shot a lot faster. I use shutter priority, set the speed depending on the situation and use Auto ISO. That way, I know the camera will optimize for the lowest possible ISO value and I maintain the highest image quality. 1/5 of a second also works well for motion blur, which I like in these situations. It imparts a sense of action which compliments a lively place like Vegas.

Shake Shack at Night - Las Vegas, Nevada

So are tripods dead for me? Well, not really. Though for most people, they may no longer need one. When shooting HDRs, I still prefer to use them since I get rock steady framing between multiple exposures. That neat 40MP high-res mode also requires the stability of a tripod.

Neon Curves at New York New York - Las Vegas, Nevada

Make no mistake, 5 stop image stabilization is significant and it works (to varying degrees) on any lens. It gives me that ability to shoot free form, at night, like I do during the day time. I used the 12-40mm Pro lens which tops out at f2.8. Imagine what you can do when you use a prime lens with an even larger aperture? Well I have. I’ll talk about my results in an upcoming post.

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5 thoughts on “Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II: ISO 200 night photography, sans tripod

  1. I have been shooting the 12-40 at f2.8 and the Pana/Leica 15mm prime at f1.7 in low light – both handheld – and getting great results – I haven’t used the tripod in a couple of months 🙂 (didn’t even bring it on my current trip!) – hope you are well my friend

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