I’m guessing that many of you may visit this blog for my photos and perhaps even for my stories. You probably care less about what camera I use to make the pictures. But, I know a certain subset of you are really into the gear and in particular, are Olympus shooters. You may be wondering what I’m going to do with Olympus with my apparent move to Fuji. Also, why didn’t I just get Olympus Pro lenses to get the shallower depth of field I was looking for. Well, here’s my thinking.
But first, a quick discussion on the purpose of shallow depth of field and if it really matters. Simply put, shallow depth of field allows you to isolate the subject from the background. And, in some cases, it may help with artistic effects or to create a certain mood. The most popular use for shallow depth of field is in portraiture. You’ve probably seen that effect where the background behind your sharply focused person is really blurry. When you use the portrait mode on an iPhone, you are simulating this effect.
Keep in mind, however, that in many types of photography having the opposite — a deep depth of field — is preferred. For nature and urban landscapes, you typically want everything from the foreground to the background in sharp focus. In street photography, you often want much of your frame to be in focus, showing the context and detail of the street.
Even for portraits, you don’t always want extreme blurring of the background. For environmental portraiture, showing the person with the background is important. A modest background blur is fine, but you don’t want to totally isolate your subject. And think snapshots. Imagine you are taking pictures of your kids in front of Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World. It would be silly and pointless to have extreme blurring of the background. The whole purpose of the photo is to show the kids at Disney World.
So with this context, Olympus does quite well for most types of photography. Because of the size of the sensor, however, it’s hard to get extreme background blur. There are ways around this. Using the professional Olympus prime lenses, for example. But I found this to be a non-optimal solution and here’s why.
The Olympus 25mm f1.2 and 45mm f1.2 Pro lenses are fantastic with wonderful image quality. However, they are pretty big. They balance well with the OM-D E-M1 Mark II or the E-M1X, but they are not great on my midsize bodies. Of course, the lenses are compatible on the E-M5 Mark II and PEN-F but I find them too front heavy for my taste. The overall package also gets larger than I want. One of the main reasons I use Olympus is because of its compact size. The pro lens changes the equation.
Compared to full frame, Olympus Pro bodies with the Pro lenses are still compact. And, they’ll probably work fine for around town. But when I travel, I find the Olympus Pro setup larger than I want.
Ironically, the Fuji X-T10 and the associated prime lenses are actually smaller than the Olympus. And, the Fuji has a larger APS-C sensor. I can also create a shallower depth of field, too. Consider the Fujifilm 56 f1.2 lens, which in full frame terms is equivalent to an 84mm f1.8. The Olympus 45mm 1.2 Pro is equivalent to a 90mm f2.4. The Fuji has a larger aperture, and while both lenses weigh about the same, the Fuji lens is considerably shorter creating a better balance.
Consider the Olympus 25mm f1.2 Pro which is slightly faster than my Panasonic 25mm f1.4 but significantly larger. It has a full frame equivalent of 50mm f2.4. The Fuji 35mm f1.4, which is a very compact lens, is equivalent to a 52.5mm f2.1. So yes, the new Olympus pro lenses are quite large with a less shallow depth of field. The main reason I’m exploring Fuji is for a shallower depth of field portraiture. Also, the Olympus Pro lenses are more expensive than the Fuji equivalents.
Olympus does have a significant ace up its sleeve — in-body image stabilization. Most Fuji’s don’t have it. That’s why, for most people, I recommend Olympus over Fuji. They are going to end up making better pictures. The Olympus is more refined and an easier to use system. But, as I mentioned yesterday, I’m also looking to shoot a more challenging camera system. Just because. As an enthusiast, you do these kinds of things, just for the sport.
I’m going to continue shooting Olympus, in addition to my Fuji. While the two systems have similarities, they feel and work differently. Enough so that I can pick one system over another based on my subject and mood. I might still consider the Olympus E-M5 Mark III, whenever that comes out. And, you never know, I might get tired of the Fuji.
At atmtx central, there’s always a Darwinian competition between the cameras. The strongest and most interesting survive and get used. The ones that lose get relegated to the display shelf and even worse, get sold off. It’s hard to tell which system will maintain its leadership position. Only time will tell and I’m sure I’ll write about it.
I have a free monthly newsletter that’s perfect for busy people. Signup for the Newsletter to get the best of my posts, old and new, plus additional content not available anywhere else.