#446. All the way to M43

By Paul Perton | Opinion

Jan 14

Author, Steve Mallett lives in a tiny coastal village in west Wales. He’s had his difficulties with mainstream FF DSLRs and in a few words and pictures describes his (very satisfying) journey to M43…


Serendipity, luck and happenstance have determined the arc of my digital journey. In early 2006 my great pal and contributor to this site; PP, made a brief visit to my home in Pembrokeshire. With him came my introduction to DSLRs in the form of a Nikon D70, which handed to me and said, “Have a play with this.”


The D70 was a revelation. To be able to shoot, look at the image, adjust settings if necessary and reshoot was thrilling. Within weeks I owned a D70 and I was on my way. I should stress I in no way thought of myself as a “photographer”, I was just a snapper who was perennially dissatisfied with most of what I shot but was wanting to improve. While living there, spending time in the African bush had really begun the process of actively striving to take better pictures. The D70 allowed me to accelerate the process and I made some progress.


Jenny, my daughter-in-law teaches photography at university. In summer 2009 she showed up at a family wedding with a Nikon D90 (unusual for her as she is a committed Canon user) and I was taken by the bigger LCD and the increased light in the viewfinder. Within weeks I owned a D90. I loved that camera and my images continued to improve.


In early 2013 I moved to full frame with a Nikon D600 and was again in love with a new camera. Then the wheels came off. Like many others I suffered with lubricant being sprayed over the sensor and hundreds of images ruined. Nikon seemed unable to fix it, despite multiple returns and shutter replacements. I eventually ended up with a D610 but my trust was badly damaged.


My decision to jettison full frame and embrace m43 was largely an emotional one borne out of my intense frustration with my D600/D610 experience.  I was visiting the local Nikon dealer to get the sensor of the D610 cleaned (again) and just happened to be in the right (or wrong, depending on how you look at it) frame of mind and there was the recently released Olympus E-M1. It was a typical West Wales grey day and taking the camera out on the street I was amazed by the quality and brightness of the EVF – and the magnification when manually focusing, and the focus peaking, and the size and weight, and the in-built image stabilisation. I could go on but basically I was smitten and asked what the dealer (who I’d bought all my Nikon kit from) what he’d give me for my D610 and 300mm zoom as a trade in for an E-M1 with the pro 12-40 f2.8 weatherproof lens. It was going to cost me £300 to change. He didn’t get my business and I’ve not been back to the shop since.


Instead, using e-Bay, I sold my Nikon gear and bought the Olympus kit I wanted, slightly used (a few hundred activations, the seller wanted to buy a Leica) and made a gain of £300! With the extra cash I bought a new Olympus 40-150mm f4-5.6 zoom for £107 on Amazon when they were changing hands second-hand on e-Bay for £130-ish.  This is the only new lens I’ve bought. It’s a plastic bodied lens but produces amazingly good images.


This was taken from just above my house and the mountain on the right is Mount Leinster; 96 miles away across the Irish Sea on the border between Counties Wexford and Carlow.  Something happened with the atmosphere that evening as in 16 years I’d never before seen those mountains from there – nor since. (Olympus 40-150 1/250 f5.6 150mm ISO 200)


Platform in the Sun - Newport Bay Sunset

Platform in the Sun – Newport Bay Sunset


Here’s another, again taken just above Treffynnon. The sea mist rolled in and I waited for the few minutes that the sun came through. I’m astonished by the level of detail in it.  Bottom right there are  a couple of piebald horses. I’ve printed this 20×16 and there are enough pixels to print it twice the size! Oh yes, and I’ve sold two copies. (1/320 f9 92mm ISO 250)


Evening Sea Mist rolls in over Dinas Isalnd., Pembrokeshire

Evening Sea Mist rolls in over Dinas Isalnd., Pembrokeshire


On the beach taken with the 12-40 f2.8 Pro lens + ND grads. This is a fantastic zoom lens but big compared to all the others, on a tripod though it is wonderful. (1 sec f14 12mm ISO 200)


Traeth Mawr Sunset

Traeth Mawr Sunset


So those were my first two lenses. I subsequently added a second-hand Lumix G 14mm f2.5 pancake which is so inconspicuous when wandering around the street or at social events and I love it. It also does stuff like this. (1/320 f8 14mm ISO 100)


Rong-Y-Cider - The Wrong Cider?

Rong-Y-Cider – The Wrong Cider?


Then began my discovery of the Olympus m43 primes! I started with the 60mm f2.8 Macro which is just gorgeous. Again I bought on e-Bay, second-hand. (top image – 1/160 f3.2 60mm ISO 400 bottom image – 1/80 f4 60mm ISO 400)








Then came the 45mm f1.8. Currently my favourite lens. I particularly like it for gigs in low light, hand-held and no flash. (top image – 1/6 f4 45mm ISO 1600 bottom image – 0.4 f8 45mm ISO 200)


Check-In - Social Media, The Wren Songbook at Ffwrn, Fishguard

Check-In – Social Media, The Wren Songbook at Ffwrn, Fishguard


Teignmouth Harbour

Teignmouth Harbour


I’ve since added an Olympus 25mm f1.8 that is pin sharp. As it’s been raining more or less constantly since I got it I’ve not used it extensively but I’ll keep you posted. I almost bought the 25mm Leica but it’s much larger, twice the price and several reviewers reckon the Oly is better!


The latest addition to arrive, two days ago, is the Olympus 17mm f1.8 with its pull-back manual focus ring. I look forward to trying out in the street but in the meantime here’s a couple of the first images I shot with it. (top image – 1/125 f11 ISO 200 bottom image – 1/13 f4 ISO 200)


The Parrot. Winter light, The Parrog, Newport, Pembrokeshire

The Parrot. Winter light, The Parrog, Newport, Pembrokeshire


Brynberian Ford

Brynberian Ford


So, I’m happy with my decision to commit to m43. I love the size and weight that the m43 ecosystem offers, the glass available is terrific and it’s affordable; the difference in the cost of high quality glass means I now have a bagful of great lenses.


Most importantly it has inspired me to take more and more photos and I have undoubtedly become better at it. I don’t have to decide what to take out with me; I just pick up the bag with everything in it and walk out the door. As a regular hacker up the hills this a major bonus.


Are there any downsides? Only one that I’ve discovered so far. Low light performance is obviously not as good as a full frame sensor but it’s perfectly acceptable to me. For now, at least.


I think if I was having to make the decision now the Fujis would definitely be there but at the time the E-M1 was the right choice. I’d really like a second body and a fully articulated screen as on the E-M5 Mk 2. There must be an E-M1 Mk 2 soon, mustn’t there?


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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Steve – I don’t think you would have found a warning in the box your 60 f 2.8 macro came in – but once you get hooked on macro, you have to describe yourself officially as an “addict”. Best wishes, and I hope you have a loving wife – your life will never be the same again. Further down the track, perhaps you and I can get together to discuss tripods – specifically in connection with life view.

    • Steve says:

      Jean Pierre – yep the macro lens is addictive! I became obsessed with flowers for a while. The problem living on the side of a mountain overlooking the sea is the air is almost never still and trying to get a flower to sit still is next to impossible. I’ve deliberately avoided the “indoor studio” route with macros. My camera is my mechanism/excuse to get outside and see my world and taking photos indoors is a Rubicon I don’t want to cross – until I have to at least. Discussing tripods – sounds riveting;-)


      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Steve, I had probs with ‘pods – tried several – no good. My macro work is often rather fiddly and I need live view to focus. But that was a problem, because as I tried to rotate the focus ring, the whole set-up shook. Very slightly, but quite enough to make it difficult to get a tack sharp focus point.

        When I sought advice from cam shops, they all suggested carbon fibre, on the grounds that there’s nothing like carbon fibre to absorb vibrations. I found we weren’t communicating – I wanted something that didn’t HAVE vibrations, they wanted to sell something that did, but got rid of them quicker than cheaper pods. And the conversation rocketed up to the really expensive Gitzos etc.

        In the end I found myself chatting to an old pro – English – very sensible chap. He had been through something similar in a different field and swore by an old, heavy aluminium ‘pod. I mentioned I’d seen a second hand Linhof pro ‘pod, about 15 years old and with plenty of scars on it – he encouraged me to try it.

        And I must say, it’s hit the target. The pod itself is very basic, and the spirit level bubble has long since dried out. It cost peanuts (the condition was actually rather poor, and I had to do a bit of straightening out), but it does the job. Because there is NO vibration from the ‘pod. It was built like a brick outhouse, and stands rigid, waiting for the next job. (Hope that’s not too vulgar!)
        The rest of it isn’t that simple – nothing ever is! I use an ARCA SWISS d4 head and, for stackshots, a Cognisys StackShot (using Zerene to translate the results to the final photo). That of course is mostly studio stuff.

        Outdoors, I generally try for a single shot and often it’s hand held. Which is tricky, because I use mostly manual focus lenses, and without the traditional split focus rangefinder of the SLRs I’ve grown up with, focusing then becomes the hard part. So often it’s back to the ‘pod, with just the ARCA head and the cam. OK for flowers – tricky for insects – tough, even, with subjects like geckos.

        But it’s a challenge and all good fun.

  • pascaljappy says:

    Hi Steve (and Paul 🙂 ), thanks for the great article and superb photographs.

    I’m fascinated by what you describe about Mt Leinster. Sounds like the sort of mirage they call Fata Morgana in the polar circle. Something similar occurs in France where Mt Canigou can theoretically be viewed twice a year against the setting sun inspite of the direct line of sight being well below sea level. Look at the images here: https://www.google.fr/search?q=canigou+from+marseille. Some of my friends in research labs calculate the dates and locations and take photographs but none are remotely as interesting as yours. Congrats, that’s a rare photo.

    Also very interested in the route to M43 as it mirrors mine and my fave lens was also the 45/1.8 (although I only had two 😉 ) I sold mine for a D800e, lured by the full frame ability, which then led to the Sony range, which seemed like it could combine the best of both world. It didn’t with the quircky A7r but the A7rII comes a lot closer. Still, I often miss my OM-D E-M5. A lovely lovely camera that can still teach Sony a thing or two about IBIS and colours.

    I look forward to meeting you in a few weeks 🙂 Thanks, twice, then.

    • Steve says:

      Pascal – Mt Leinster is 790m high and 150ks away and I was at about 180m above sea level. I have no idea about the theoretical visibility above the horizon with these numbers – but doubtless someone out there does. That evening though the atmosphere suddenly became very clear as the sun dropped behind the cloud bank and the mountains sprang into view. I probably wouldn’t have noticed them with the naked eye or just assumed it was the usual clouds on the horizon. My initial shots were with a much wider angle lens but when I drilled into the images there seemed to be mountains where mountains shouldn’t be. A quick swap to the zoom and there they were in all their glory. It was a magic moment!

      I was so puzzled though that the next morning I went back to the spot with a compass and took bearing which I then plotted to find out what I’d been looking at.

      Likewise, look forward to meeting you in Paris.

  • Rudi says:

    Really a pleasure to share the raw joy and enthusiasm of a photographer and his evolving journey. The images are inspiring,
    thank you for sharing, a very good way to begin my day.

  • Jeff says:

    I enjoyed your enthusiasm. You mention low light. I use both Olympus and Panasonic. Whilst similar on paper, Panasonic are significantly better in low light. Indeed I had to get the G7 as backup to the GH4 because the E-M5ii could not do the job I needed. Having a high ISO is one thing, the ability to use it is something else.

  • Mike Annunziata says:

    Well written but I think in case of Olympus is different, because is fascination or “number” of brand glory. No other word but, agian, ancestral fascination. I’m photographer since Olympus 4/3 E-1 the Mythical flangship forever.

    Best Regards


  • Mikko says:

    Good article and great photos!

    I’m afraid you will find the 17mm f/1.8 not so great for the price. It is noticeably soft towards the edges, only the center is OK but not spectacular. The 12-40mm f/2.8 easily beats it in every possible way even if you stop down the 17mm to f/2.8. Another downside is that the manual focus clutch on the 17mm does not properly activate peaking or magnification on the E-M1, seems like the lens lacks the contacts for that.

    After trying the various semi wide angle primes for m4/3, my conclusion is that the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 is the best overall for IQ, price and size. The only downside is the slow autofocus, it can be quite frustrating in poor light. Next is the Panasonic 15mm f/1.7. It has noticeably better IQ than the 17mm, especially when stopped down to around f/2.8, has similar AF speed and is the same size. The price is quite high, though.

  • Jerry Friedman says:

    Recently spent a few weeks with the EM5 mkii and the 40-150mm 2.8 – What a combo!
    That hi-res shooting is pretty serious, used it with the 60mm and the shots where simply amazing.
    I have a deep investment in Nikon, but that EM5 mkii really makes me question the worth.

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