Tag Archives: micro 4/3

Infrared Photography with Micro 4/3rds Cameras

Surprising results from a tiny system

Late last year, I decided to shop around for a micro 4/3rds mirrorless camera to convert to infrared. Mostly, I wanted to have a camera that was compatible with my OM System OM-1 kit, as it has become my primary camera body. Carrying two systems while traveling is a pain, especially when one of them uses large lenses. My full-spectrum infrared Nikon Z6 is excellent, but the size of the body and compatible lenses makes it prohibitive to pack as a second system for my photography workshops. I like to have a compact infrared camera for traveling, preferably one that I can use with lenses that are either already in my bag or that take up little space.

Infrared Body: Olympus OM-D E-M5ii

After shopping around and consulting my colleagues, I settled on purchasing a second-hand Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark 2 body. While not packed with the features of the newer cameras, it still sports 16 megapixels, has excellent IBIS, and face/eye detection AF. That’s more than I need for my style of infrared photography. The E-M5 is solidly built, has easy to use controls, and IMO happens to look beautiful in silver. Another benefit of the E-M5 is that it uses the older contrast-detection AF system, which isn’t susceptible to the banding artifacts that you can sometimes see with newer mirrorless cameras. I had the camera converted to full-spectrum infrared by Kolari Vision.

Choosing Micro 4/3 Lenses for Infrared Photography

The real test of an infrared camera system isn’t the body, it’s the lenses. You can convert just about any camera to infrared, but if the lenses you use create hotspots, it’s futile. Hotspots are the bane of every infrared photographer, and mitigating them usually requires shooting wide-open and attempting to fix them in post; something that isn’t always easy. A potential advantage of the small M4/3 sensor is that it produces 2x the apparent depth of field as compared to 35mm full-frame. That means, I can shoot an f/4 lens wide-open and have the same DOF as using f/8 on a FF body. Many lenses start to show hotspots at f/8 or higher, so this was something I was curious to see.

Wide-angle lenses are typically the problematic for infrared photography, as much of their power comes from optical coatings that simply aren’t designed for infrared wavelengths. The result can be images with extreme corner shading, and very soft (or even mushy) corner sharpness. My first infrared camera was a Nikon 1 V1, and its 10-30mm zoom lens was so bad at the wide end that it looked like someone had smeared a ring of petroleum jelly on the lens (the lens was fine with visible light).

I’ve tested a large range of Nikon lenses with infrared, and I have now done the same with OM System/Olympus Micro 4/3 lenses. I found a few articles discussing Olympus lens performance with infrared, and some of those lenses are available on the used market at extremely reasonable prices. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the newer “Pro” lenses fared worse in my testing than some of the older designs (probably due to differences in coatings). In the end I settled on a trio of Micro 4/3rds lenses that are absolutely great for digital infrared photography:

  • Olympus 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6 ED MSC: This wide-angle zoom lens is a nearly perfect performer, even when stopped down past f/8. This lens performed better than any of the wide-angle Nikon Z lenses I tested, and offers an 18-36mm FF equivalent range. It uses 52mm front filters, which are modestly priced. This lens is the most expensive of the three I list here, but you can find them used for around $225.
  • Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ power zoom: This is my go-to lens for infrared photography with Micro 4/3 format cameras, as it delivers the 35mm equivalent of a 28-84mm lens. It is absolutely tiny due to its collapsible design, and it is so compact that it can just stay on the camera without taking up additional space. It performs extremely well in infrared up until about f/8, which is well past the normal aperture range I usually need. It uses 37mm front filters, which are fairly inexpensive. If you had only one lens for Micro 4/3 infrared photography, this is the one to get. It’s also available on the used market for under $200.
  • Olympus 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6R: While I don’t shoot a lot of telephoto shots in infrared, this lens is tiny, lightweight, and nearly perfect across the range. It offers an equivalent angle of view to an 80-300mm lens on 35mm format, and is remarkably good. Even better, you can find this lens in excellent condition for under $100 (I got mine for $75).

There are many other Micro 4/3rds lenses that perform well with infrared, including many of the small primes, and the 60mm f/2.8 macro lens. The result is that I have lots of choices for infrared photography with the Micro 4/3 system, and many of the lenses are tiny.

Despite the excellent performance of the OM System Micro 4/3 lenses I tested in infrared, there is one major difference between the M4/3 kit and my Nikon Z6. Unlike with my Nikon I was unable to get a set of clip-in (rear-mounted) filters to use with my E-M5 Mark II body. That means I have to use front filters when using my full-spectrum converted Olympus camera. If you have a fixed conversion, this isn’t an issue, but I like having the option of using a variety of filters, including the Kolari IR Chrome filter. While clip-in filters are a little clumsier to change in the field, they allow you to use any lens with your infrared camera, regardless of filter thread.

Because each of the lenses in my arsenal has a different filter size, my solution was to purchase a set of 58mm filters to use across all three of my primary lenses. I use step rings to mount the filters to the wide-angle and standard zooms. I keep the step rings on the lenses, and I picked up some inexpensive 58mm lens caps to use with them. Fortunately, the 58mm filters aren’t particularly expensive, and they aren’t awkward to use with the lenses in my kit. You can also adapt them to fit the small primes with 46-58mm step up ring.

Pros and Cons of a Micro 4/3 System for Infrared

In a perfect world, I’d love a one-lens infrared solution in the 24-200mm range, but the Olympus/OM System and Nikon Z lenses in that range both produce unacceptable hotspots. Nevertheless, for my style of shooting, I find using a Micro 4/3 camera for infrared to be extremely pleasant. The small form-factor of the body and lenses makes using it as a second body extremely simple. The lens performance is excellent, too, and there are focal length options that allow me far more choices than I had with my Nikon Z infrared kit. For example, I can use the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 portrait lens and 60mm f/2.8 macro lens with my Olympus infrared camera, but their Nikon counterparts produced unacceptable hotspots. Moreover, adding one of the M4/3 primes to my kit is painless, as they take up very little space in my bag.

Benefits of Micro 4/3 Infrared Cameras
  • Small form-factor of cameras and lenses
  • Availability of lenses on the used market at extremely discounted prices
  • 2x effective depth of field makes it easier to avoid hotspots by shooting wide-open
  • Older cameras with contrast-detect AF avoid banding artifacts
Drawbacks of Micro 4/3 Infrared Cameras
  • Requires the use of front-filters and step-rings*
  • Higher-ed PRO lenses (like the 12-45mm f/4) produce hotspots, especially on the wide-end
  • Fewer megapixels than larger format systems
  • Older cameras don’t offer subject-detection autofocus options

*I’ve recently been made aware of a company that produces clip-in infrared filters for M 4/3. I hope to test them soon.

Honey, I Shrunk My Kit!

Going small with an Olympus Micro 4/3rds System

Grizzly bear, Denali National Park | OM-1 with Olympus 100-400mm lens

Many of you know that I purchased an OM Systems OM-1 body and lenses in April of this year. Now that I’ve had some time with the system, I wanted to share my experience using this camera. I’ve now used my OM System kit for travel, portraits, and wildlife photography, and I’ve been astonished by the results. Many of the concerns I had about this small format sensor are simply not issues when using today’s gear and software.

I recently presented a webinar on my personal experience with the Olympus OM-1 kit, and you can watch the replay below.

Here are some of my recommended kits for OM Systems/Olympus Users

Micro 4/3rds Lens Kits for Travel Photography

When it comes to going small and light, there are lots of excellent choices for Micro Four-Thirds shooters

Olympus OM-1 with 12-100mm lens
The OM Systems OM-1 with 12-100mm f/4 PRO lens is an amazing single-lens travel kit!

If you enjoy traveling with your camera, you probably want a kit that offers a fairly wide range of focal lengths, but also something that is fairly lightweight and compact. Recently, I’ve been discussing with a colleague about the dreaded “what to pack” question. He’s going to be in Paris next month, and wants a flexible kit to use with his OM-1 body. The problem isn’t a lack of options; it’s literally quite the opposite. There are so many lenses available for Micro 4/3rds users that sometimes it can feel overwhelming when trying to decide what to pack for a trip!

The Micro 4/3rds system offers photographers a tremendous range of lens choices for travel, as most of the lenses for this system are fairly small and light to begin with. Options range from single all-purpose zoom lenses, two-lens zoom kits, a trio of tiny primes, or a mix of zooms and primes. Most of these lenses are quite good and make few optical compromises, and none of them will make you feel weighed down. In the end, the lenses you choose really depend on how much you’re willing to carry, and the type of subjects that interest you most.

Continue reading Micro 4/3rds Lens Kits for Travel Photography

The Image Doctors #192

Putting together a new kit: OM-System

This week, we’re pleased to be joined on the show by our long-time friend and supporter, Jon Kandel. Jon recently purchased an OM-System kit as a smaller and lighter alternative to his full-frame Nikon Z system. We’ll go through his thought process, and talk about the different options for OM-System (Olympus) lenses across a range of focal lengths, and discuss the rationale for the choices he made.

I Sold My Nikon Z9

Rethinking the trade-offs in sensor size with modern digital cameras

If you follow my YouTube channel or The Image Doctors Podcast, you probably saw that I recently purchased a OM Digital Solutions (formerly Olympus) OM-1 body and an assortment of lenses. This is something I’d been contemplating for quite some time, given that the majority of my photography involves travel and wildlife. The OM-1 is not a perfect camera, but it has some features that make it extremely compelling for photographers who want professional quality in a vastly smaller package. It’s also far less expensive ($2199 USD) than a comparable 35mm format body (think Sony Alpha A1, Nikon Z8/Z9, Canon R5).

Each of these cameras is outstanding. They offer subject-detection based AF systems (including bird and vehicle detection), excellent in-body stabilization (IBIS), and high speed shooting of 20fps or greater for raw images using an electronic shutter and stacked sensor technology. The biggest difference then? Size. The OM-1 is a fairly small (1.3 lb) camera, but the lenses it uses are in some cases downright tiny. That one factor alone is what made me consider the OM System gear for my work.

Continue reading I Sold My Nikon Z9