I get a lot of questions about the camera that I use at concerts, so instead of continuing my slightly silly existing process of answering each question individually, I’m typing up an official response:
Now for the long list of caveats that I feel obligated to share anytime I tell anyone that I use this camera:
Caveat 1: I shoot all my pictures in manual mode and edit all pictures individually in Lightroom. I have never used this camera in automatic mode, so I can’t recommend it one way or the other if you plan to shoot automatic. Camera and sensor technology being what it is these days, I suspect this camera will function perfectly nicely in automatic mode in standard environments. If your interest is concert photography, though, my recommendation would be to hold off on buying a camera and spend your money on a photography class. Concert lighting is so insane that while you certainly might get lucky every now and then, you’ll never take consistently good concert shots shooting automatic with any camera.
Caveat 2: This camera is an interchangeable lens camera, which means it’s technically prohibited in most concert venues. The body and 45mm f/1.8 lens are no larger than some of the bigger point-and-shoots, so I’ve never had an issue getting it in anywhere, but the possibility exists that if you run into a super-strict venue or a security guard who knows camera technology, you might get turned away. A couple other caveats accompany this one:
Caveat 2a: Because this camera body is so small, there are some serious sacrifices in functionality: There’s no viewfinder (i.e., you have to use the LCD screen to frame pictures), and shutter speed, aperture, etc., are all in menus (i.e., versus physical dials on the camera). I chose this camera because at the time when I purchased it, it was the best combination of size and sensor technology; however, I don’t know that I would have bought it had I not already owned the bigger, more functional Olympus OMD E-M5. The cameras use the same lenses, so I use the E-PL5 for concerts, but the E-M5 for all other photography that I do.
Caveat 2b: Cameras with interchangeable lenses get very expensive very quickly. The 45mm f/1.8 lens that I use at concerts is a prime lens — the focal length is fixed at 45mm (35mm equiv. = 90mm), and there is no zoom functionality. Zoom lenses exist for this camera, but the smaller, less expensive ones are very slow, and the faster lenses are bigger and more expensive. I wouldn’t bother with an interchangeable lens camera unless you had a bit more money to drop on a few lenses — minimally, one zoom and 2-3 primes. (I also wouldn’t start spending money on lenses until you’re pretty well educated about photography because I speak from experience: You will regret some of your purchases if you start buying stuff before you really know what you’re doing.)
Caveat 2c: If your goal is concert photography, I wouldn’t bother with this camera unless you’ve also got some time/money to drop on concert tickets. The 45mm lens is a bit of a zoom compared to what the eye sees, but I often leave my camera at home if I won’t be within the first 10 rows of the stage. For reference, these Linkin Park pics are from the 4th row, these Motley Crue pics are from the 5th row, and these Jay-Z pics are from the 9th row (and in some cases, a bit cropped).
Caveat 3: There’s no built-in flash on this camera. This is fine for concert photography because at best, tiny camera flashes are useless at concerts and at worst, they can ruin your pictures. (Seriously, turn them off!) But if you plan to take a lot of pictures in otherwise dark environments (in bars/clubs, outside at night), you’ll need to use an external flash. This camera might actually come with some little hot shoe flash, but I’ve never used it, so I have no idea how it works.
Conclusion: This is an excellent camera for a very specific purpose. It’s great at concerts if you know how to shoot manual, you’ve got some Lightroom/Photoshop skills, and you can consistently get close enough to the stage that a 45mm lens will get the job done. It’s also probably great for the standard kind of pictures that most people take — I suspect you could throw the kit zoom lens on it, set it to automatic, and turn back some very nice pictures from sightseeing, vacations, barbecues, etc. However, the camera does have a lot of … downsides is too strong a word, but if size isn’t a very significant concern, there are a lot of cameras I’d recommend over it; and if you’re new to photography, you can get a lot of excellent point-and-shoot cameras that will render beautifully in automatic mode, have zooms and flashes and everything else you might need, and will fit in your purse. Buy one of those, and if you find yourself getting really into it, take some photography lessons and see if it makes sense to invest in an m4/3 or DSLR camera.
Happy to answer any questions anyone might have — just shoot ‘em my way!
(Source: Flickr / imsiobhan)