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Neil Buchan-Grant On Shooting Olympus Micro Four Thirds

We talk to Neil Buchan-Grant, professional portrait and travel photographer, on shooting with Olympus Micro Four Thirds.

|  Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II in Professional Interviewed
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Sibiu E-M1 (C) Neil Buchan-Grant | 1/200 sec | f/1.4 | 25.0 mm | ISO 200
Sibiu E-M1 (C) Neil Buchan-Grant | 1/200 sec | f/1.4 | 25.0 mm | ISO 200

Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get into photography?

I got into photography through the gear aspect at first, I was transfixed by the look of SLR cameras and lenses when I was about 18. I devoured many copies of AP before buying my first camera, a basic Cosina SLR. It didn't take long to realise how important photography would become to me. I became hooked on making images, mostly on Kodachrome.

What draws you to travel and portrait photography?

I love travelling, experiencing new cultures and meeting new people. I'd travel anyway even if I didn't have photography but fortunately it adds a huge additional sense of purpose to my journeys and it would be true to say that most of my destinations are now determined and prioritised by photographic potential. Portraiture is something I've always done to an extent, but I've only taken it seriously and tried to develop it in the last few years. I think that people's faces are endlessly fascinating, the subtleties of expression, the mystery, the clues to a person's character and thoughts, the humour, I love it all. When I think of great photographs these days (by masters) they usually feature people.

Sibiu E-M1 (C) Neil Buchan-Grant | 1/60 sec | f/1.8 | 45.0 mm | ISO 3200
Sibiu E-M1 (C) Neil Buchan-Grant | 1/60 sec | f/1.8 | 45.0 mm | ISO 3200

How long have you been shooting with Olympus Micro Four Thirds kit?

I've been using Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras for 4 or 5 years now. 

What were you shooting with before, and why did you switch?

I was using Canon DSLRs since 2000, I sold quite a few travel pictures to Canon which they used in their marketing. Then I got an Olympus PEN E-P2 and some used Leica M manual focus lenses to use with it. I had a 35mm f/1.4 and a 75mm f/2 and they gave me great results. More significantly, I felt completely liberated by the discreet form factor and I felt more engaged with the process of making pictures again. I soon sold all of my Canon equipment, added 2 more lenses, a 50mm f/1.4, a 28mm and a Leica M9. Once the OM-D E-M5 came out, I became a complete convert to the mirror-less cause! That had the first viewfinder that I felt really offered a better shooting experience than an optical viewfinder and was better than a rangefinder, and of course the images were excellent. When the E-M1 came along, everything went up a few notches in terms of the viewfinder and the handling. I've used it constantly since and it has been the most intuitive camera I've ever owned, I just don't have to think about it.

Italy Sony Alpha A7s Leica 50mm f/1.4 (C) Neil Buchan-Grant | 1/160 sec | ISO 1600
Italy Sony Alpha A7s Leica 50mm f/1.4 (C) Neil Buchan-Grant | 1/160 sec | ISO 1600

Do you shoot exclusively with Olympus kit now?

No, I still have my Leica lenses and the 50mm f/1.4, my favourite of those, really needs to be used on a full frame body to get the best from its unique rendering. So when the Sony A7s came out it offered me a form factor and user experience that was not too dissimilar to my E-M1 which I could also use with that lens. The Sony is a bit clunky and slow at times but it does have ridiculously clean high ISO capabilities. If you're shooting moving subjects in very dark conditions there isn't a better combination in the world right now in my view. I also bring it out on the occasional portrait shoot where I have lots of time and the subject is right for that lens. On the E-M1 I mostly use the Panasonic Leica DG 25mm f/1.4 lens for portrait work, and that gives me a 50mm solution that actually comes really close to the Sony/Leica combo in terms of the feel of the image. Of course, I'm referring to one very specific type of headshot here, a personal favourite, but much of my photography makes use of wider and longer lenses where depth of field or rendering are less critical. That's where the Micro Four Thirds system scores heavily for me, it has a lot of great glass and it's all pretty small and easy to carry around.

What would your all time favourite lens be?

I'm surprised to say that at the moment it has to be the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO zoom. Surprised because I've been a prime lens guy for many years now, but this lens is right up there with the best.

Prague E-M5 Mark II (C) Neil Buchan-Grant
Prague E-M5 Mark II (C) Neil Buchan-Grant

What do you think of the new E-M5 Mark II? 

I just came back from testing the E-M5 Mark II in Prague where Olympus laid on a user experience designed to show what it can do. The bottom line is I love it! I'd trade in my E-M1 for it today, and that's not something I ever thought I'd say. Obviously the camera now has better video capabilities but from a purely 'stills' perspective I have to say it's a winner. The main thing that comes across when you use it is the quality. The build quality, design and engineering really shows in its look and how it handles. The more chiselled pentaprism really gives the new model a more retro 'OM' look than any of the other OM-D's. The dials are just sublime to use, they have an expensive dampened action that means they're easy to control but also secure. The shutter release was also a treat, it is significantly quieter than any other OM-D and again has the most delicious and expensive sounding action I've used to date. The Leica M9 was no slouch in that department, it sounded like a heavy spring being released. The E-M5 Mark 2 shutter release sounds like a very expensive Swiss timepiece, the sound is rich, multi-faceted and precise, seriously, it's a joy! I like the fact it can now operate totally silently too though, being an actual Ninja, I can see myself using that for a few things!

Prague E-M5 Mark II (C) Neil Buchan-Grant | 1 sec | f/6.3 | 12.0 mm | ISO 100
Prague E-M5 Mark II (C) Neil Buchan-Grant | 1 sec | f/6.3 | 12.0 mm | ISO 100

Ergonomically it is now more like my E-M1 than the original E-M5 but still manages to be a bit smaller, no bad thing. The high res mode was interesting, it does produce phenomenal details and I'm sure I'll find a use for it in the future, it's certainly a great tool to have in the box. The EVF felt just like my E-M1 so I'm happy with that as I don't think there's a better one on the market and I love the big view and quick response it offers. The fully articulating LCD screen is new to me, I use the EVF 99% of the time and I know this feature is primarily meant to please the video users but I think it could offer me some new flexibility in creating stills as I do a lot of portrait orientation shots. I don't do much video myself but we got the opportunity to shoot some action scenes in a location where they filmed some of the Mission Impossible movie. I was amazed at how smooth the improved stabilisation made the footage. If I do any video work in the future, I no longer have to worry about bothering with some kind of stabilisation rig. I think that will remove a big barrier for lots of people who want to create professional looking footage. On the subject of stabilisation, I have heard that some people have been shooting stills and getting sharp results down to 1 second with this new camera. If that's the case I'll be most impressed. So all in all, I want one!

Prague E-M5 Mark II (C) Neil Buchan-Grant
Prague E-M5 Mark II (C) Neil Buchan-Grant

What do you think of the new lenses?

I've had the opportunity to try the new 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens in the Canary Islands and I think it's the best long zoom I've ever used. I really think it's going to be a classic. Optically it's on a par with the 75mm f/1.8 prime lens. Physically it's tiny compared to most DSLR 70-200's and yet it offers an extra 100mm of focal length to play with. If the other PRO offerings are as good, Olympus will have sealed their reputation as a great lens manufacturer and followed through on the original promise of the Micro Four Thirds system.

Prague E-M1 (C) Neil Buchan-Grant | 1/160 sec | f/1.4 | 25.0 mm | ISO 200
Prague E-M1 (C) Neil Buchan-Grant | 1/160 sec | f/1.4 | 25.0 mm | ISO 200

What do you have planned for the future? 

I'm running a photographic tour of India in November for Kuoni Travel covering the highlights of this amazing country, there are still spaces if anyone's interested but it's selling out fast. I'll be running a 3 day workshop in Berlin in early September with the superb landscape photographer Steve Gosling, details going up on my website soon. I intend to go back to Transylvania in August to shoot backstage at the annual fashion show again and I'm having an exhibition "Behind the Catwalk" showing my coverage of last year's event at Winchester University this spring, part of the Winchester Fashion Week programme.

Do you have any tips for learning photographers? 

Know your equipment so well you don't have to think about it. Study the greats of photography and decide what you want to shoot the most. Try to work with a standard lens more or a 35mm, good pictures are more the result of great light and composition than anything else. Don't worry about getting out everyday with your camera, once you know what you're doing, progression happens with your brain and your eyes, whether you have a camera in your hands or not.

Andalucia E-M1 (C) Neil Buchan-Grant | 1/6400 sec | f/2.8 | 23.0 mm | ISO 200
Andalucia E-M1 (C) Neil Buchan-Grant | 1/6400 sec | f/2.8 | 23.0 mm | ISO 200

With thanks to Neil Buchan-Grant, British Travel Press Photographer of the Year 2013

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Photographs taken using the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

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