I shot a photography assignment with the Olympus 12-100mm and the GH5 yesterday. Here are a few random observations.

A client I'd done work for ten years ago called me a few weeks back and asked if I could do a photo shoot to replace the images on their website that had been there for over a decade (now that's how to get your money's worth out of a photographer!). When we did the original website it was cool just to have a well designed site and basically the photography was little more than a documentation to prove that the staff existed and that the firm actually had physical offices. Nothing fancy to the photography.

Now so much water has flowed beneath the bridges that photography for a website is a different conversation. The firm still has a central office but it's more of a way station. Most of the executives are working from home or from small, single person, satellite offices that are close to their homes. The client's thoughts about websites have changed as well. Rather than have individual headshots against anonymous backgrounds they wanted to do something much more casual and almost conversational with their people photography. Their business is still a "people" business and they want their people to be visible but they want to be seen as approachable, likable and congenial. Also important was to show their cohesiveness as a team.

I like their out of the box thinking. They asked me (as the assignment) to join their six person executive leadership team for lunch at a new restaurant and to shoot  candid images of them at lunch as they talked and laughed and shared a meal together. The client checked with the restaurant and made sure it was okay with them to have me shooting, almost randomly, in their main dining room during a busy lunch. This being Austin, Texas, home of the very idea of laid back, it was no problem.

The restaurant is near downtown and is in a re-purposed power plant facility. It's very cool. There were a couple stories of glass windows and all the furnishings were spare and modern. We wouldn't be lighting anything but I had full license to be as intrusive and
directorial as I needed to be --- at least as far as our group/table was concerned. The close quarters and consideration for the other diners (our table was pretty well separated from everyone else's) meant I needed to pack light and work with a certain social agility and discretion to preserve the general atmosphere. I went back and forth the night before between the Sony A7Rii with a 24-70mm Zeiss lens or the Panasonic GH5 with the new 12-100mm f4.0 Pro zoom on the front. I went with the later. Mostly for the much greater range of focal lengths but also out of sheer curiosity.

Here's what I found after using the camera for a couple of hours and shooting about 500 images:

I worked with the lens wide open at f4.0 for the entire time. The results were wickedly sharp and there was adequate depth of field for every use. When I examined the files in Lightroom I was impressed with the tight, sharp quality to every frame.

While the room was well lit I did need to move people around since the wall of windows created a pretty big difference on faces. People facing the window were never in direct light but the giant wall of indirect light made the people facing it look fabulous while people with their backs to the window were backlit. I worked one side of the table for a while, getting lots of usable shots and then had people switch places. I shot raw and the camera's sensor did a great job of holding detail in the highlights.

In post processing I found that I was easily able to boost shadows to the tremendous degree we have gotten used to getting from Sony sensors. Shooting mostly at 400 ISO I was able to pull up shadows by as much as three stops and not get too much noise in the files.

The lens is interesting. I don't think anyone would every complain about the biting sharpness and effective contrast snap of this lens but the one area I'm still getting used to is overall handling. The zoom ring goes in the opposite direction from what I'm used to and I keep going wide when I wanted to zoom tight, and vice versa. The lens is big and heavy but then so is the GH5 body. They are mostly a good pair when used together.

I played with the mechanically connected manual focusing for a while and it felt existentially good to have access to a "real" manual focus capability but, in all honesty, the camera and lens focus so quickly and with such accuracy that I soon tired of trying to do everything myself and just defaulted to AF.

I was very happy to have made the camera and lens choice I did because I loved using the long half of the focal range to punch in and isolate faces and gestures. Had I chosen the other system I would have wanted to supplement the 24-70mm lens with the much heavier and more cumbersome 70-200mm f4.0 G lens I have.

I can't give you exact measures and I know that Panasonic's dual focus capability doesn't work with non-Panasonic lenses but I was more than happy with the very, very good image stabilization I got from the lens. It really was quite magnificent and, I think that since all Olympus bodies have come with great I.S. for some time the internal I.S. of this lens must have struck engineers as a better method or....they may have wanted to ensure maximum performance even when using bodies that didn't have I.S. Either that or they wanted to ensure maximum flexibility when used with Panasonic cameras. Better to be able to sell well into two markets instead of just one.

Regardless, I was able to handhold non-moving subjects all the way down to 1/15th of a second, even with middling focal lengths. I didn't go further in my exploration as f4.0 usually got me what I needed at 1/100th or 1/125th of a second. If I needed more light I "rode" the ISO us as high as 1,000, if necessary.

Even with the mechanical shutter enabled the camera is nicely quiet and acoustically discreet. The finder is wonderful and the EVF is comforting and crisp.

There is one more problem with the lens that I haven't mentioned yet, but this may affect me more than you. Once I saw just how good the images were both from the camera's sensor and the lens I couldn't help but start looking at more of the Olympus Pro lenses. The one that is currently burrowing into the acquisitive areas of my brain tissue is the 25mm f1.2. For only $1200 US I could be the owner of yet another........normal focal length lens. Ah, the two ends of the spectrum ---- for the $69 7Artisans 25mm f1.7 to the Olympus Pro 25mm in the space of a week. What an odd universe in which I seem to live.

(one bit of relief when considering a $1200 normal lens is to watch my Leica toting friends drop multiples more on Apo Summicrons for their darling little cameras. It's all relative, yes?).

To sum up. I love the performance I've gotten from the lens and sensor combo. I love the camera's handling and feature set. I'm getting comfortable with the lens. From 500+ frames I've edited down to 350 to show the client. Not a bad ratio. My lunch at Boiler 9 (at the Seaholm Power Plant project) was good and fun. I hope this style of assignment catches on. I'll never go hungry.

In other notes: I am currently reading the novel, Prussian Blue, by Philip Kerr and finding it to be a wonderful read. A detective in Hitler's pre-WW2 Bavaria uncovering massive fraud and theft. The parallels are dizzying. If you like history and smart detective stories this one is in the same hallowed pantheon as the novels of Ian Rankin. Can't put it down. It's even slowed me down from going off to "look" at that new Olympus lens that's currently in stock locally...... Summer is for reading novels!


rlh1138 said...

While maybe not written as such, that's the best camera/lens review I've read in a long time. I think you're changing people's thinking about 'acceptable' gear to use on assignments.

As an aside, currently reading Kerr's 'Lady from Zagreb'. Very good also. Do you know J. Kanon's writing? If not, check him out, a series of books on WWII era espionage mostly in the Baltic states. Good reading.

Ray H.

Kirk Tuck said...

Ray, Thanks for the good suggestion on reading material. As to cameras? Any old thing will work for most assignments. We're mostly limited by our imaginations....

Michael Walsh said...

Thanks for the review - not sure it will fit so well on my little PenF -? tho I am looking at the PLeica 12-60
Totally agree on the Kerr been loving his work for years.
BTW when's your next book out ?

Ken said...

Even though you just said "As to cameras? Any old thing will work for most assignments. We're mostly limited by our imaginations...." I'm curious: the over $3000 combo you used versus a previous darling of yours, the RX10.2 at 2.8 and ISO 200ish for the same exposures.

milldave said...

Where did the swimming post go?

Kirk Tuck said...

HI Ken, Curious in what way? The images might have been different or they might have been mostly the same. I may have shot them differently but I'm sure either camera and lens would have worked well. I might say that the GH5 would handle noise better but at 200 to 400 ISO I doubt any but pixel peepers would really note the difference.

Sophia said...

"There is one more problem with the lens that I haven't mentioned yet, but this may affect me more than you. Once I saw just how good the images were both from the camera's sensor and the lens I couldn't help but start looking at more of the Olympus Pro lenses."

Ha! Now that made me smile today!

Mike Rosiak said...

Okay, a hobby photographer question: electronic shutter vs mechanical. I like the camera to be quiet an unobtrusive, no clicks or beeps or mechanical sounds. So, why wouldn't I use the electronic shutter all of the time? What does using the mechanical shutter buy me?

I'll echo an earlier commenter's question: will you be writing a sequel to Lisbon Portfolio?

neopavlik said...

I'm really excited for that super cheap 40mm 2.8 AF lens that will be available for Nikon soon. I seem to use that focal a bunch for environmental portraits.

Gilly said...

Kirk if you get the 25mm 1.2 you will be ruined, it may never leave your camera. I can't prise mine off the EM5 mk2.

hjwulff said...

Thanks for this write up. I use mainly Olympus bodies for my m43 needs, and pre-ordered the 12-100 as soon as I heard about it, hoping it would be close enough in performance to the 12-40/2.8 to be useful. Turns out I've pretty much retired the 12-40 except for when f/2.8 is essential. The new lens is, if anything even better. Image stabilization is just amazing with dual IS enabled. I've shot a couple of hundred fireworks pictures handheld from areas with questionable footing where a tripod would have been difficult at about 17 to 25mm and between 2 and 4 sec., and ALL were sharp. Incredible.

The other Pro lenses are also uniformly excellent. In fact, it's clear to me that for uniform quality over a range of lenses and focal lengths, there are likely no better options. I also shoot Sony A7rII with Sony and Canon lenses and Leica M with a number of their recent lenses, and for overall consistent optical excellence the Olympus Pro lenses are the best.

Chris Beloin said...

Phillip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series is excellent - I checked them out on CD for my travels in the car - Kerr has a legal background and a sharp mind for capturing history.

Alex said...

Now these pictures I would like to see. Any Chance?

David said...

Kirk, its not a pro lens, but if you are looking to stay in the normal, don't forget about the Panasonic Lecia 25mm f1.4. Its really good. I hope Panasonic will do a refresh on it to include an aperture ring and then release a fuji Xt2 like body along side.
That to me would be a dream camera with the 15mm, and 42.5mm aperture ring lenses I already have.

Anonymous said...

Panasonic 42.5mm f1.2 ASPH Leica DG Nocticron OIS.
You need this lens more than a normal 50mm equivalent.

Beautiful for portraits, OIS plays great with your GH5, it even says Leica on it!
But seriously, you only live once....


Joe V said...

I just acquired the 7Artisans 25 f/1.8 and am using it on my older Panasonic G5. It's a sweet little lens, wonderful bokeh wide open and surprisingly sharp stopped down. The build quality is good and it's surprisingly small, about the same size as my old Jupiter 8, 50mm LTM lens. I find the stepless aperture ring well dampened and, being located back near the lens mount, not easily bumped. A great value for the money, and is a perfect size for a smaller camera body, yielding a very film-like shooting experience.

Charlie edwards said...

I don't normally comment, i just enjoy yr musings :) But all of Kerr's Bernie Gunther novels are brilliant,I highly recommend chasing up some of the older ones- they transport you away to a different world for a while, maybe not a good world, but a different world :)