Blue Angel #7, Sunrise

60D vs E-M5 at an Airshow

This post is about a real world comparison between my Canon 60D and Olympus OMD E-M5 at the LA Count Airshow. My little review is not scientific nor is it heavy in the technical specifications of each camera. It is just my experience between these different types of camera and how they performed for me at a fast action event.

I was really looking forward to this airshow.  When I found out they were offering special photographer access (for a price) I jumped at the chance.  Having a very limited crowd of like minded photographers and access to all of the plane on the field for sunrise was not something I was going to pass up.

A couple of days before the event, I started getting my camera gear organized.  I made up my mind that I was going to bring both my Canon 60D DSLR and my Olympus E-M5 Mirrorless to this event.  It was immediately apparent that the 60D with Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 and 200-500mm lenses were going to get heavy.   My E-M5,  45-200mm Panasonic, and 17mm f/1.8 Olympus lenses were beautiful, sleek, and  lightweight in comparison.

There was a good reason to bring my beast of a DSLR and it’s large lenses along.The last airshow I attended, I brought just one camera, the E-M5.  I did manage to get some decent shots, but my keeper rate was low.  Continuous autofocus/tracking performance was poor to say the least.  There is a work around, and for me that was to use just one center focus point, set the camera to single shot autofocus and the full 9 frames per second.  I’d pan along the path of a plane and when the time was right, I’d press the shutter for several frames.  I’d usually get one, maybe two frames clear and in focus if I was lucky.  The E-M5 is lightning fast when locking on with the single point autofocus, so even with a moving target you stand a chance of getting a frame or two in focus.

Cable Airshow, Olympus OM-D E-M5
Cable Airshow, Olympus OM-D E-M5
One of the things that caught my attention for the LA County Airshow was the Blue Angels were going to perform.  For loud, fast paced action in the air I don’t think it gets much better.  In addition to the Blue Angels there were a number of other types of planes including some of my favorite WWII warbirds.  This was going to be a great place to use both cameras.

The morning started off with wandering around the static displays, and my using the E-M5 on a tripod.  I really enjoyed how quick, light, and easy to maneuver this combination was.  Unfortunately I had to carry around my boat anchor of a camera bag (stuffed with the Canon gear).  For this type of shooting (objects that don’t move) the E-M5 was perfectly suited.  I went back and forth between single exposures and multi exposures for HDR.

Blue Angel #7, Sunrise
Olympus E-M5 with Panasonic 45-200mm lens. HDR image.

When the action started, I continued to use my E-M5.  I really wanted to test it and see if everything I had read online about it’s poor tracking autofocus performance was true.  I have to admit that very early on I became discouraged.  Even with some of the slower moving aircraft, the E-M5 would miss, and completely loose focus, hunting back and forth, struggling to find the subject again.

Olympus E-M5, Out of Focus

This is what it looks like when I got my 60D and 200-500mm Tamron lens out.  The 60D was set to AI-Servo (continuous autofocus):

A4 Skyhawks, Canon 60D
Canon 60D, 200-500mm Tamron Lens

As the airshow progressed, I used the E-M5 less and less.  It was just too frustrating to keep missing shots.  The 60D on the other hand would lock on to the planes quickly, and as long as I tracked along smoothly, it would stay locked on.  I think the only real problems were related to my technique, and the wind.  It was very windy that day, and my Tamron 200-500mm lens with lens hood is quite large.   When the wind would gust and I was pointed vertically following a plane, I would actually bet bounced around and pushed off track.  It was annoying but not a show stopper!

There was a time not too long ago that I thought about selling the 60D and related gear.  I really don’t enjoy lugging it around.  There have been times when after a long day of shooting the weight of it starts taking the fun out of what ever event I was participating in.  So far, I’ve been able to use my E-M5 for every other type of photography I’ve attempted.    Unfortunately it isn’t suited to fast action.  Yes, I know this has been discussed on various forums, but I’m a funny guy.  I need to see for myself whether the chatter is legitimate, or folks not really knowing what they are doing and blaming the equipment.  In this case, they were right.

The question is, what am I going to do about it?  For now, nothing.  I did think about selling the Canon gear to fund purchasing the newer Olympus E-M1.  The E-M1 is supposed to have fixed the focusing issue by utilizing a hybrid system including both Contrast Detection and  Phase Detection auto focus.  The reports on the photography forums have been generally favorable.

Maybe I’ll believe them this time!  In the meantime, here are a few more photos from the airshow:

P-51C, Take Off
Red Tail P-51C, Canon 60D & Tamron 200-500mm Lens
B-25 Mitchell
B-25 Mitchell, Canon 60D & Tamron 200-500mm Lens
Blue Angel 5, Take Off
Blue Angel 5, Take Off Canon 60D & Tamron 200-500mm Lens
High Speed Pass, Blue Angels
High Speed Pass, Blue Angels, Canon 60D & Tamron 200-500mm Lens
Blue Angels, Breakaway
Blue Angels, Breakaway Canon 60D & Tamron 200-500mm Lens

Hopefully my dilemma and comparison has helped answer some questions you may have had.  If nothing else, you may want to keep your beast of a DSLR if you enjoy fast action photography.  Or if you don’t want to keep it, you may want to check out the Olympus OMD E-M1.

That’s it for now, until next time – Happy Shooting!