Shooting College Football (in the rain) with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
As you may know, I've been testing out the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. While I had a blast geeking out over getting still photos with the shutter open 6 seconds hand held that's not really useful to me in terms of the type of photography I do, so I needed to test it out in real time at an assignment... first up Cal Football v Stanford!
My game plan:
Warm ups with 300mm F4 - gives me an in-game setting for my first (second if you count the dog park for 5 min) time handling the 300mm except a little cleaner and can anticipate plays because they're doing drills :)
1st Quarter with 40-150mm F2.8- because I'm already familiar with it AND because I know I'll be looking for early tight shots from the sideline not downfield shots where longer glass is necessary... even though Cal opened up their offensive drive with a touchdown
2nd Quarter with the 300mm F4 - real time testing new body AND new lens together
3rd Quarter - 40-150mm F2.8 with 1.4x - this is the 35mm equivalent of 80-300mm with 1.4x it's 112-340mm at f/4
4th Quarter - planned to switch back to 300mm but then thought I'd keep the 40-150mm with 1.4x because I was pretty happy with it and wanted that flexibility for end of game instead of being stuck with long glass
End of game - since it wasn't a close game, with 4 minutes left, I had time to run back to the work room to lose the rain gear and toss the 7-14mm F2.8 for the wide celebration photos.
Full review to come after I get more games under my belt but first thoughts
Auto Focus - Great. It dials in quickly when I move quickly to catch a play. I struggled with it a bit on some plays that came at me. I think because I have a habit of "pumping" my focus so to speak. During a play, I take little breaks to allow focus to reset in case it's off, in my testing I was better served just sticking to the subject as opposed to trying to correct what's already tracking and then losing it to something with more contrast or more in center frame (since I mostly chose single point) in the background.
But it did a great job catching plays that came RIGHT at me and what might have been off in the first frame it easily caught up by the second. And in first frame the center point was clearly not on anything, so that's more on me than on the camera.
ISO - Excellent, I shot most of the 2nd half at 6400, just to test it and also because I was shooting at f/4 and wanted to keep my shutter speed up. I ran a bit of noise reduction in post but nothing extreme or telling. Though tough to tell how clean a file is because there's speckles of drizzle in them :P Below ISO 6400, 1/1000s at f/4
Writing files - I can't waaaaaait for there to be software that can read RAW, I hate editing off jpegs mostly for the lack color control (I shot the whole game on cloudy white balance because I knew auto WB would be thrown off by the sign boards and you can't batch correct auto WB in jpegs. I shot one card jpeg one card RAW a WONDERFUL new feature with the updated slots. On that note, I've already ordered two SanDisk SD 250mb/s cards because my lousy 95mb/s were not cutting it. Would sometimes take half a minute to write a sequence to a card which meant I could not view to tag, but at least I could keep shooting. I also recorded to different folders so my 3rd quarter could easily be ingested with the different IPTC than my 4th quarter.
Review/Chimping - Significantly Improved. Much faster to browse through photos and much easier to tag with have a dedicated protect button in preview mode so I don't have to go into the menu or touch the screen. While trying to chimp through my rain gear, I would lift the plastic a bit to view full monitor and block the sensor which makes the camera think you are holding to your face and reverts to shooting mode, so cleverly, I would instead chimp through the EVF while keeping my head tucked in the rain gear. Something you CANNOT do on an SLR. The EVF is not as crisp as the monitor but it'll get the job done... and it's better to have it not look sharp in EVF and be sharp when ingested on my laptop, than the other way around!
Battery Life - one battery won't get me through a whole game, but with the battery in the grip this wasn't an issue and I got well over 1000 frames on the first battery before it dropped to 10% and started flashing. Their specs suggest 400. I was at 75% at the end of the first quarter so in theory I cooooould have used the camera more sparingly and made it through a game but it was nice to not worry about it, knowing I had a 100% battery ready to go.
It's arguably a terrible idea to change lenses during a rainy game. Even though I changed them in a dry room, there could have still been condensation in the lens that I trapped while swapping. The fact that it held up through that pretty impressive.
I was told by the tech rep that I need not worry about putting rain gear on it, it had been testing through rain, sleet, snow, hail. But I figured I like keeping my hands dry anyway, I have raingear, I might as well toss it on. Could it have handled the rain? I'm sure. Do I want to risk not being able to test out all the specs of this camera during my trial period because I fried it on the first game? Nope!
ThinkTankPhoto hands down makes the best rain gear. I kept the Mark II in a hydrophobia 70-200 (not even designed for mirrorless... but hey maybe they should make one!) and the Mark I in a -will not be named- both protected the camera just fine, but the ease of use of the ThinkTankPhoto one was on another level.
I kept a 2nd body of the original E-M1 on my shoulder that had 40-150mm during the time I had the 300mm on the Mark II and otherwise had a 12-40mm, barely used at all but that's partially because it was rainy so tossing up a wide isn't quite as easy, in terms of getting a grip on it through the rain gear.
The twist lock feels much sturdier on the 300mm than the 40-150mm. Can kind of twist it snug, as opposed to one twist click in.
I kept my Canon 1D-X and a 300mm in my bag just in case this whole thing went awry. I WANT this camera to be everything I believe it can be but I was working this game for USA Today Sports Images and they expect a certain level of quality. When my editor (who knew that I was testing out Olympus this weekend) said "I'm amazed this is the olympus" I thought yay!! then when he said "we gotta have a talk about this tomorrow" I thought uh oh, he's going to tell me 'these are impressive for a mirrorless but you really can't be using them on assignments' and that will be the end of this story, but then he followed up with "cuz I'm buying my kit during the holiday sale"... so I guess Olympus is making quite the impression!
General takeaway: For hobbyists, a resounding 'get this camera immediately', you are silly if you are lugging around an SLR to your kids soccer game or your hiking trip, this is more than you will ever need. As a pro, I think it has the potential to be a real contender against the SLR flagships but I still need some time to work out the kinks.
Oh and congratulations to Stanford for keeping the Axe, definitely deserved. I'm ashamed to say Christian McCaffrey is a pleasure to watch, maybe he'll try to head to the NFL early and Cal will have a chance at the Axe next year...
*For those who want to check out what the un-edited jpgs look like can go here. Can also compare to what Ezra shot for Getty or Marcio Sanchez for AP both on Canon. Please kind about my personal skills but let me know your thoughts about the images the camera can produce. Think it can compete with the big boys?
Keywords: Action, California Golden Bears, College, Football, NCAA, Stanford Cardinal, USA Today Sports Images
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