Gear Talk: Olympus - An Uncommon Choice For Aviation Photography
Updated: Sep 19
Recently, there have been much talk about which camera brands is the best for spotting, and today, I shall stir the pot of discussion by throwing in my camera gear - the Olympus OM-D series. This humble Japanese brand is not one of the more common gears we have seen in planespotting, with the likes of Nikon, Sony and Canon taking the dominant place. However, I feel that this simple and versatile gear offers a lot more to the table than meets the eye. So let's take a look at the camera I have been using since day 1 of my journey as a aviation spotter.
A Beginner's Camera
As an Olympus user, I have used my trusty OM-D EM10 Mark I for the last 8 years, having gotten my lens as a gift. In fact this camera has seen a lot of action and rough moments even before I began planespotting in 2020, from getting rain soaked in Barcelona, to enduring the thrall of activities in a university orientation camp (including an unfortunate incident when someone threw a balloon filled with flour at me - and I spent an entire day picking out flour specs from the lens), to getting irradiated by the scorching afternoon sun in a graduation photoshoot.
Of course back then, I was no camera pro (and I'm still not), so the camera was rather under utilised as I shot it mostly in JPEG and Auto mode. But even then, some of the shots did turn out stunning!
The EM10 series (from Mark I to the current Mark IV) is a reliable mirrorless camera that is lightweight and very user friendly, so it’s a very good stepping tool for those who are just starting out in photography, and by extension, a good camera to start off for early spotters looking to get decent shots.
During my early months of spotting, when I had yet to understand light angles, approach directions or the existence of RAW files, the EM10 managed to grab some pretty stunning shots. As I grew more experienced, and with some advice from fellow spotters, I shifted to shooting in raw format, and began using photo-editing programs like Lightroom and Photoshop to enhance my images.
Aside from the body, the lens have been an instrumental tool in developing my portfolio as an aviation spotter. In the next section, I will be sharing about what lens I use and for what purpose.
For me, I use a set of three lens for various purposes. Do note that one major perk of Olympus lens is that the OM-D series has a x2 magnifier, meaning your focal lengths of all the lenses are effectively doubled.
For starters, I use the 14-42mm M.ZUIKO macro lens for wide angle shots, which is especially useful for shooting at Terminal 1 Viewing Mall or or underbelly shots of aircraft passing directly above at Changi Beach. Additionally, I employ this lens to capture stunning panoramic shots, utilised fits wide-angle properties to its fullest, such as this shot taken at the Singapore Air Show.
I also use this lens to great effect for aircraft diecast model shots. For this I use full manual setting, and tuning the aperture to its maximum to grab as much detail, while decreasing the shutter to 1/2.5 sec to get decent amounts of light for the shot.
The 15-150mm lens was my go-to lens for spotting all the way since it’s early days till Jun 2022. With the x2 magnifier, it has an effective focal length of 300mm, giving it a very versatile capability of capturing aircraft at the viewing mall at gates D34 and C15 outwards, while capturing great angles of aircraft coming in from Changi Beach, Changi Business Park and East Coast Park. This beauty had also seen action at the Singapore Air Show, taking hundreds of spectacular aircraft shots from static displays to the flight displays. However it’s limit range means that fighter aircraft shots are greatly restricted.
The 75-300 mm lens is the newest addition to my lens kit, and many thanks to my sponsor for financing half the cost of the lens, otherwise I wouldn’t have even bothered to purchase it. This lens has opened up a new spectrum of shots, such as captures from the carparks at Terminals 2 and 4, and stunning 3/4 angle shots at more shallow angles from Changi Beach. However it has restricted usage at Changi Business Park due to its close proximity to aircraft in flight, and at the Viewing Mall for the same reason. Nevertheless, the 75-300mm lens has found itself to be an integral part of my spotting kit, and it is especially useful when capturing long distance shots at overseas airports, like that from my recent trip to Zurich.
One big drawback for the EM10 series (and the Olympus cameras in general) is that they have a rather small sensor, so nightspotting and night-panning can be challenge. Nevertheless, with the help of a tripod, and some cover, I am able to get some stunning night orb shots at Terminal 1 Viewing Mall.
Some folks may ask, which camera is better? Some may say Nikon, some would contest Canon, other would say Sony or many others. To put forward a quote from a movie that maybe avgeeks watch: “It’s not the plane, it’s the pilot”. Likewise, the camera is often tied to the skill of the photographer and his creativity in his editing. Therefore, no camera is better than another, but it truly depends what purpose it was designed for. And as a photographer, we need to harness the best out of our cameras, no matter the model, make or brand, and with the help of Lightroom and/or Photoshop, to turn a shot into something spectacular.