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Jun 02

Olympus E-M5 Sports Shooting Field Report

Rory McIlroy tees off on 18 - 2012 Memorial Tournament Pro-Am

As you can see by looking at the front page (or by looking in the “photos” archive if reading this a few weeks after I write it), I had a chance to shoot the Memorial Tournament Pro-Am and practice rounds using my Olympus OM-D E-M5 this past week.  I thought I’d share a few key observations when using the E-M5 to shoot sports that don’t require focus tracking, such as golf.  I know these sports are few and far between, but Golf and Baseball are two that I think can easily be shot with great effect with the E-M5.

Click on any image to view it larger.

For a much more comprehensive collection of shots from my week at The Memorial Tournament, view the image posts here, here and here.

Battery Life

I was a little worried about battery life when I went out.  The E-M5 is rated for 330 shots on a single charge.  Well, in a full day of golf shooting, I will shoot FAR more than that.  I knew that I’d get more than 330, simply because I was shooting with the 9 fps burst on the whole day, so there wouldn’t be as much time viewing through the viewfinder per image. Still, I had my GX1 and viewfinder in a hip bag ready to fill in when the E-M5 died.

Except, the E-M5 didn’t die.  During Wednesday’s Pro-Am, I took 872 images with the E-M5, and did quite a bit of image review as well.  While I had IS disabled upon burst, I did use IS to stabilize the viewfinder for focusing and framing throughout the day.  The best part?  I still had quite a bit of battery power left too.  Going up the 18th fairway, on my last hole of the day, was the first time I saw the battery meter switch from full to 2/3 full.  Now, that happens at a little more than half actual draining, but still…I was very impressed and pleased.

Bo Hoag exits the sand by the first green - 2012 Memorial Tournament Practice Rounds

EVF

The EVF performed very well.  I shot the whole week with my manual focus Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L.  It’s a wonderful lens, but required precise focus due to the long focal length and relatively fast aperture.   I used the magnified viewfinder (I have magnify mapped to my Fn2 button) to set my focus, and it worked great.  I would frame the shot how I liked, position the focus box over where I needed to focus, then zoom in, hit precise focus when the golfer addressed the ball, and then zoom back out to confirm framing.  The in-body IS in the E-M5 can also stabilize the viewfinder just like when using optical stabilized lenses on other cameras, and it was a wonderful help, making precise framing easy.  Without it, even though I shot with a monopod, getting precise framing at the long end of the zoom (equivalent field of view like that of a 600mm lens on full frame) would have been very difficult.

Performance and Handling

Tiger Woods blasts his approach to within 8 feet of the pin on 17 - 2012 Memorial Tournament Pro-Am

I used the HLD-6 grip, both horizontal and vertical sections, throughout the week.  It was a really nice thing to have the more comfortable grip, especially in portrait orientation.  It made keeping the camera steady easier and less fatiguing.  The camera also was a joy to shoot with.

The 9 frame per second bursts allowed for great capture of action, and the ability to get just the right moment.  While I would fill the buffer on some bursts, it did not take long at all to clear some images and have the camera ready to shoot for additional frames.  This was the key to getting shots like the ones to the left and below.  The shot on the left was taken from in front of Tiger (I positioned my self about 70 feet in front of him, and shot low to the ground.

I framed my shot and hit the shutter immediately after hearing the impact of the club on the ball, rattling off 15 frames in a little more than a second.  I caught a great part of the swing due to the rapid burst.  Then, I noticed him staring intently at the ball’s flight, and I quickly zoomed in, made sure it was in focus, and rattled off six more shots.   The result is the rather nice portrait below.  Many other cameras I’ve shot with become very difficult to use once the buffer is full.  While there is a small pause when you first fill the buffer with RAW files, I continue to be impressed by how quickly the camera is ready to shoot again after a full buffer.  If you take more conservative 5-6 shot bursts, even in succession, it becomes even harder to fill the buffer.  A great performance all around.

Tiger Woods watches his approach to the middle of the 17th green - 2012 Memorial Tournament Pro-Am

Image Quality

I am not going to go to deep into this.  The images speak for themselves, in my opinion, but I wanted to touch base on one key thing.  Shooting outdoor sports provides challenging lighting conditions.  As photographers, we seek out the best light generally, and shoot in the evening or morning to get that softer golden light.  Well, with sports you don’t have that option, and with golf, most of the time you’re shooting with the sun high in the sky.  That means harsh shadows.  Coupled with the bright white hats that many golfers wear, it’s a difficult task for many cameras.  The E-M5 handled this harsh light beautifully, maintaining strong detail in the shadows, even when the subject was backlit, as well as keeping all highlight detail.  It’s the first Micro 4/3 camera to exhibit dynamic range wide enough to fly through these lighting conditions without breaking a sweat.  It was very welcome after clipping highlights a fair bit last year when I shot with the GH2 and GH1.

Final Thoughts

While I would not classify the E-M5 as a sports camera due to its lackluster continuous autofocus and the lack of fast long native lenses for the format, the camera can do a very good job given the right sport.  As I mentioned earlier, sports that allow for a good bit of pre-focusing, like golf and baseball are well suited to the camera.  The continuous drive mode is competitive with even professional grade DSLRs, and the excellent viewfinder and stabilization helps in framing shots with long lenses.  I was impressed that the battery lasted all day, including 872 shots and a bunch of chimping, and still had some juice in the tank.  The image quality was excellent, even given the very difficult lighting conditions. Overall, I really couldn’t ask for more from this tiny wonder.

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad

12 comments

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  1. Geir

    More and more speaks for this camera and for the m4/3 system, Now I’m just waiting to see how it works as a tool with the 12mm for indoor wedding shots and other indoor events. Can it compete with the DOF/boké of the full formats like the D800 (eventually D600) and the 5DMkIII? That will be a deciding issue.

    1. Jordan Steele

      No, it can’t compete with the DOF of a full frame system. And, it’s not designed to. You can definitely get good subject separation on Micro 4/3, but you’re not going to get the type of shallow DOF shots that you can get on FF. In 95% of cases, I’m just fine with that, as I can still get smooth backgrounds, but with sharp features on the face. I can get pretty shallow depth of field by using very fast adapted lenses such as my Konica Hexanon 57mm f/1.2, but the results still aren’t as shallow as what you can get on Full frame with something like an 85mm f/1.2.

      An example with the 57/1.2:
      http://jordansteele.com/2011/chloe_pastel.jpg

      Or, you can use the technique I wrote about here: http://admiringlight.com/blog/large-sensor-look-from-a-small-sensor-camera/
      To yield full frame or larger format looks:
      http://jordansteele.com/2012/carved_love.jpg

  2. GSJUKI

    Golfers are not exactly super quick focus on their body, hit the button at high fps allow the extra DOF from mFT to do its job and voila. This could be done with any camera that can shoot from 4 fps upwards; the only advantage with the O-MD is the fps rate

    1. Jordan Steele

      I believe I addressed the focusing twice in the article. I also don’t believe I ever said the E-M5 was better than a other choice at any point. I noted the things that stood out from using the camera in this situation. Also, if you think these have deep DOF, you’re dreaming. At these distances and focal length and aperture, the difference between in focus and slightly out of focus can be as little as 2mm of rotation of the focus ring. Very precise manual focus is needed here, and when using a manual lens, I will say that a camera with a magnifying EVF will be a lot better than a DSLR. But, yes, a pro DSLR with a 200-400 or a 300/2.8 will be a better choice, though at 8x the cost.

      This isn’t a competition, though…it’s a report to help people who may be wondering how the E-M5 handles in situations like this.

      1. ShadoSide

        Hey Jordan,

        Thanks for going to the trouble of sharing your approach to using this very capable wee camera and your thoughts on the results. I have been an avid shooter for more than 30 years now and have used (and still own) 4×5, MF, 35 film and many other formats and the EM-5 is the most fun I have had shooting in years!

        GSJUKI is nothing more than an inexperienced drive-by antagonist and should be ignored, but I respect you leaving his post for others to chortle at…

        Your site is a great place to spend a few moments lurking about and perusing your thoughts and shots, please, keep it up :)

        Bradley

    2. ronnbot

      “any camera that can shoot from 4 fps upwards; the only advantage with the O-MD is the fps rate”

      Name them then, but first, do they have…
      Effective IS like the 5 axis IBIS
      A built in viewfinder w/ magnification capabilities
      Weather sealed body
      Similar or better resolution, DR, sharpness, noise, etc.
      Quick, accurate AF with no back/front focus issues
      9fps burst rate
      Tilting OLED touchscreen to quickly select AF point and shoot at awkward position
      A lower (list) price

      It’s fine if you don’t like the E-M5 but don’t over look its impressive capabilities

  3. Robert Watcher

    QUOTE : This isn’t a competition, though…it’s a report to help people who may be wondering how the E-M5 handles in situations like this.

    A wonderfully helpful post for me. I do a lot of long reach shooting when travelling in Central America – as well as when shooting my children and grandchildren in sports such as baseball, golf, hockey. It gies mea sense of the capabilities of the E-M5 even for my professional wedding and portrait work. Thank you for your post.

  4. micksh

    I’m sorry, but IMO golf shots should rather be classified as portrait photography, although using telephoto lenses.
    Chess technically can be called a sport too, but IMO the sport photography is usually associated with something faster.
    Why don’t you try soccer or basketball? I did, I shot these with Pen and I’m a beginner photographer. Surely OM-D should handle fast sports better than Pen.
    IMHO such articles create perception that nobody should even try m4/3 for faster sport. But it’s not true, really. See my post at DPR forum.
    Note that I’m a newbie and youth soccer isn’t FIFA world Cup. Sure, I didn’t capture Tiger Woods but IMO m4/3 can be good enough for parent to capture his kid playing fast sport. Some shots aren’t perfectly in focus but all are good enough to print at least 5×7″.
    http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1041&message=41683556
    And here is indoor basketball where I was struggling with ISO 3200 and old E-P3 sensor. Would E-M5 not do better?
    http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1041&message=41683750

    1. Jordan Steele

      If you think Golf photography is simply like shooting portraits, you have never shot golf, at least not well. Yes, the competitors aren’t moving, and the need for fast autofocus isn’t there. However, you need to know the sport just like any other sport, except unlike a lot of other sports (including basketball), the photographer does the moving. I had to run ahead for every shot, find the right angle, position myself in advance and frame the shot I was after, and do this after every swing. Without the experience, you don’t get good shots. You need to have a shot in mind, and react very quickly so you can get to the position to make that shot a reality. If you are late in the decision making process, you won’t get to your location in time (either due to distance or crowd control). Once you’re there, you’ve got a very limited time to get the right framing and shoot. It’s a sort of unique sports shooting exercise in that respect, but it requires quite a bit of knowledge of the sport and how the swing mechanics work and such. I’ve cultivated that over the past four years…my first year I got nowhere near the level of shots I got this year, simply because I didn’t know where to place the focus, where to stand for where the golfer turns, where to frame the shot so the golfer finished his swing with the composition of the final photograph would work. Sure, this doesn’t stress continuous focusing, but that’s the only thing, and only one small part of sports photography. To shoot ANY sport well, you have to know these things about how plays develop, how the subject will be when the enter the frame (or in golf, when the finish or are in the middle of their swing).

      I don’t shoot sports like football or hockey because I don’t have access to get close for excellent results. I’d love to shoot football, but you really need sideline access and the ability to move around for the best photos. In this way, golf photography is very similar…you move for the shot in advance. Would the camera perform like a pro DSLR for action like that? No. It wouldn’t, though I’d love to try, and I’m sure I’d get some keepers.

      I have no desire to shoot basketball or soccer, because I have absolutely no interest in the sports. I’m sure I’ll shoot it if my daughter participates, however.

      I’m not quite sure why certain people are quick to think that I specifically chose this event as a means to evaluate the E-M5 for sports photography…I didn’t. I enjoy shooting the Memorial Tournament each year, and the report is about how the E-M5 fared at this task.

  5. micksh

    Thank you for explanation. You are right, I never shot golf. I didn’t know what is involved in it.

  6. paul

    Hi Jordan. Your blog is extremely useful for me as a recent E-M5 purchaser. I’ve been shooting four-thirds since the E-1, but left the party a couple of years ago. The E-M5 is exactly what I was hoping Olympus would come out with. Loving it and loving photography again. Keep up the good work and the great photos.

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  1. Cool article about OMD for sport shooting - Micro Four Thirds User Forum

    […] guy was able to shoot the pro am of the Memorial golf tournament (where Tiger won) with his OMD… Olympus E-M5 Sports Shooting Field Report @ Admiring Light __________________ Oly E-PL1, Oly 14-42mm II R lens, Panny 14mm f/2.5, Oly OMD-EM5 […]

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