Olympus OMD goes to Cambodia

(Gary in the railroad village with the locals outside Phnom Penh with OMD and Mamiya 7ii)

So here we are again, back to the glorious backdrop of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, this time bringing a different camera system - The Olympus OMD for a 4 day field test.

This blog post is not an all out review of the camera system, I'm not a techno-phobe, this is a real world usage review and highlights of my thoughts on the camera system in a fast changing environment and for close up street and travel photography...you won't find any MTF charts or detailed lens analysis....just images that I shot and my thoughts on them :-)

The last time I visited Cambodia I shot only the Leica M9, as I had shot here several times with full Canon DSLR systems and wanted a smaller rig to shoot travel photography with, and the Leica was a perfect fit...albeit the seriously expensive option.

The Leica system is hard to beat (some say impossible), so the bar was set very high, I have achieved some fantastic results with my Leica M9, therefore I already had an unfair comparison level in my mind...but I thought if a camera is going to succeed in 2012 and beyond, it needs to raise the bar and match some of the already outstanding options available to us.

With this in mind, I wanted to test some other rigs out to replace my Leica rigs for street photography and lightweight travel photography.  I had tried the Fuji XPro-1 a few months ago, and have written some positive thoughts on that camera system, but after extended use I must admit I found the autofocus to be a little slow and inaccurate at times for my liking, even though the image quality was great.  Therefore that camera was moved on and I was back to using Leica again.

Anyway, the only remaining system that attracted me was the new Olympus OMD, with a selection of the already proven prime lenses available from Olympus and Panasonic.  So the day before we flew to Cambodia I picked up a kit, camera, grip, 12mm f2, 20mm 1.7 and 45mm 1.8.  I figured this should cover most of what I need, and I tend to shoot a lot very close up, so I assumed the 12mm lens (24mm equivalent) would be spending most of its time on the camera.

One of the features that I was initially unsure of with the Olympus OMD was the touchscreen for shooting....At first I thought this was a bit of a gimmick, as I'm a traditional style photographer who likes to look through a viewfinder (I don't care much for EVF either....), so I didn't think I would like the touchscreen feature, especially for shooting.

However, I am a changed man, the touchscreen shooting feature - the ability to compose, focus and shoot almost instantly using only the screen has completely revolutionised the way i shoot with this type of camera.

(using the touchscreen to shoot...image shot below)

I learned the cameras menu systems, and setup it all up how I wanted on the 2 hour flight from Hong Kong to Phnom Penh, without the manual (I never read manuals), so that was easy to do, this helped me warm to the camera once I had it all set up how I wanted, disabling a few features, and programming others to the function buttons to suit my needs.

(First image I took on the OMD, 12mm)

This first shot above was the first time I had tested the touchscreen, which allows you to literally just press wherever in your composition you wish the camera to focus and then shoots....this happens almost instantly, so its a great way to capture a scene or a portrait without having to raise the camera to your eye...its kind of like shooting using zone focussing from the hip...except you take away all the problems that method has (misfocus, composition issues, etc), so in reality this could be the perfect street camera for me.

Because there are very few cameras with this technology currently, I believe that nobody at any stage during my trip there actually had any idea what I was doing when I was shooting in this way....even if I approached them and requested to take a picture, once I was done they would still stand there waiting for me to start....I like that, as then I can capture a more natural image with no barriers.

(local villagers on Silk Island, 45mm) (elderly lady on Silk Island, 45mm)

Using the longer lens (45mm - equivalent to 90mm) was also great fun, as I had the same control as with the wide lenses to capture tight portraits without having to raise the camera.  Another thing that has amazed me, having only used this system for 2 weeks now is how sharp the lenses are.  I am used to Canon gear for work, which is great...and Leica gear for travel/street which can be phenomenal if you get the right lenses....however...in all honesty for the price of these lenses (some as low as only a few hundred US dollars) their performance is amazing...I couldn't ask for sharper images, and that coupled with super fast and super accurate autofocus...i just love this camera more every time I pick it up.

(school kid hiding under a desk, 45mm)

(local school in Phnom Penh, with super friendly staff and kids, 45mm)

However, as mentioned earlier, I am happiest shooting close up with a wide lens (normally a 24 or 25mm lens, so the Olympus 12mm (equivalent to 24mm) was always going to my new best friend on this camera, and to be honest, this lens was the reason I bought the system in the first place...).

Below are a further selection of images I shot there over a 4 day period with the various lenses.  I think as this was the first week I had used the camera, I was more than happy with how it performed and the quality it produced.  The main thing is that I haven't missed using the Leica, despite it being my workhorse camera for the last several months....this tells me something....I'm not saying one is better than the other, as I still think the Leica M can produce amazing photographs, however if you want a system that can give you a lot of the portability and loads more technical gucci features than any Leica....and you don't want to remortgage your house to afford the system....then maybe the OMD is worth a very serious look.

(using touchscreen again and getting nice and close with the 12mm lens)

(on boat roof on way across the Mekong River, 12mm)

(children on Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, 12mm ISO 6400) (sleeping child, railroad slum, 12mm)

(railroad slum, Phnom Penh, 12mm)

(monks at the riverside, 12mm)

(Pagoda Boy, 12mm)

(Rush hour, early morning, 45mm)

(villagers on Silk Island, 20mm)

(102 year old female temple minder, 20mm)

(railroad slum kids, 20mm)

(railroad slum kids, 12mm)

(railroad slum kids, 12mm)

(railroad slum kids, 12mm)

(Our little gang of photographers, L to R: Giles, Steve, myself and Dave, 12mm)

Guest blog posts on this trip from Steve who accompanied us can be read here:

Guest blog posts written by Dave who also came along can be seen here:

Thanks for taking the time to visit our blog, if you like our blog and website, please ‘like’ us on our public Facebook page and share this story with your friends with the Facebook and twitter links below.  You can also subscribe to our blog via the RSS link below.

F8 Photography provides commercial photography and training across Asia, with workshops on Street Photography and other photography and video training courses, more details can be found via the ‘courses and workshops’ link and upcoming events via the front page of our website.

Guest post: Shooting film in Cambodia (Rocco)

Note:  This post is written and all photos by Rocco Paduano who attended both our Street Photography and Cambodia workshop over a period of two weekends.  Rocco is partial to film cameras as well as his digital M9, this trip he took both, this is his story. - Gary Tyson, Director F8 Photography.

(Playful children jump onto our Tuk Tuk, Leica M9, 35mm)

It was with great anticipation that I awaited being able to spend five full days in Phnom Penh along with Gary Tyson from F8 Photography, Ranjit, and Trevor Smith on a travel photography workshop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

(The author, Rocco Paduano in Phnom Penh)

As a veteran of the Hong Kong Street Photography workshop, which Gary organised with Eric Kim, I could not wait to put some of the knowledge gained to test in and around Phnom Penh.  However, I did not want to just document random images of life in such a colorful city.  I wanted to be able to tell a ‘story’, and somehow begin to build some consistency in the types of pictures I was producing therefore I am hopeful that I am moving in the right direction.

(Taking a break from reading lessons at a local Wat for a photo, Leica M9, 35mm)(Giving back pictures was priceless, Leica M9, 35mm)

Cambodia is a daunting place to say the least.  As one of the poorest South East Asian nations, ravaged for the better part of the 20th century by different conflicts, it was witness to one of the single most brutal acts of genocide humans ever inflicted on each other.  One reads about the rule of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1978, and one can only imagine what the Cambodian people had to endure in the name of totalitarian ideologies.

(Pictures of genocide victims at Tuol Sleng S-21, Leica M9, 35mm)(Interrogation room at Tuol Sleng S-21, Leica M9, 35mm)(Confinement cells at Tuol Sleng S-21, Leica M9, 35mm)

However, today the country is young (approximately 50% of the population is below 22 years of age), full of hope, and full of smiles.  As photographers seeking to hone our skills and to explore a life beyond our own, we were always welcomed with a smile and a “hello”, mostly by people living on the fringes of society.

(Young child from a poor neighborhood near Phnom Penh train station, Leica M9, 35mm)

I originally envisioned doing most of my shots in black and white, in good old ‘street photography’ style.  However, I soon realized that ‘street photography’ takes on a whole new meaning in Phnom Penh.  People pose for you.  They want their picture taken, thus making the whole notion of ‘street photography’ much harder to define in the usual context.  We migrated towards a photographic style that was more ‘documentation’ (or as Gary would call it, ‘environmental portraiture’), than candid ‘street photography’.

(Street fruit vendor, Leica M9, 35mm)

Amazingly, while shooting in poor neighborhoods, we all realized that we were inundated with color.  From the shadows cast in tight alleyways, to the color of the unpaved roads, and that of the clothing worn by the people, it did not seem as if we would be doing any justice by capturing these images in black and white.  I shot digital with an M9, and film with an FM3a.  Although I took many shots with the M9, I found that the pictures that talked to me the most came from the FM3a.  Color slide and black and white films have characters of their own and add a unique personality to the image (assuming the exposure is correct).

(Making sarongs the old fashioned way, Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Kodak BW400CN)

(Old villlage woman, Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Kodak BW400CN)(Ferry boat hand, Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Kodak BW400CN)

 Our trip started out just right, as we congregated at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club along the Mekong River; a place that has hosted numerous war photographers as they documented Cambodia’s turbulent history.  There was no shortage of inspiration as the walls of the FCC are covered with past and present images of Cambodia and its people, through war and peace.

(The author Rocco (right) with RJ in the Tuk Tuk out looking for photo opportunities)

(Gary and Ranjit taking a break with the Captain whilst crossing the Mekong, Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Fuji Velvia 50)

With that, we embarked over the next five days into outings that would surround us with a reality somewhat foreign to us.  Between poor city neighborhoods, Wats and Buddhist monks, villagers and farmers on the outskirts of the capital, there was no shortage of smiles, new friendships, and plenty of experiences.  There was, however, a shortage of photo paper and photo ink, which was rectified by a quick visit to the local Canon supplier.  Being able to give an instant print of the pictures we were taking allowed us to give something back to the very same people that gave us so much visual inspiration.  It brought them closer to us, and allowed us to establish a connection with them even through our language barriers.

(Young monk, Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Kodak Elite Chrome 200)(Young village siblings, Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Kodak Elite Chrome 200)(Saffron tunics, Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Fuji Velvia 100F)

 Shooting in Phnom Penh was a totally new experience as to what I have been used to lately.  In Hong Kong people are less likely to pose for you, or even take the time to pay any attention.  Thus, ‘street photography’ takes on a different style; furtive and stealthy, candid and more likely to be black and white.  There are a lot less smiles in Hong Kong, and a lot more chances of a ‘confrontation’ with someone that does not want their picture taken.  It is a stark contrast to what we were faced with in Phnom Penh, where people with relatively little smiled and were happy to share a sliver of their lives with us.

(Old village man, Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Fuji Velvia 100F)(Proud father, Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Fuji Velvia 50) (A great way to end the day! Nikon FM3a, 50mm, Fuji Velvia 50)

As we returned to Hong Kong, I am sure all of us contemplated the past five days.  Phnom Penh and its people certainly left a mark, and gave us a different perspective even on our own reality.

Final note from F8:

Gary, the Director of F8 has also written a blog post about his experience, that can be seen by clicking here.

Another of the workshop attendees, Trevor, has also written a blog post about his experience, you can read that here.

Also, Gary's assistant RJ wrote a blog post about the same trip, that can be found here.

Thanks for taking the time to visit our blog, if you like our blog and website, please ‘like’ us on our public Facebook page and share this story with your friends with the Facebook and twitter links below.  You can also subscribe to our blog via the RSS link below.

F8 Photography provides commercial photography and training across Asia, with workshops on Street Photography and other photography and video training courses, more details can be found via the ‘courses and workshops’ link and upcoming events via the front page of our website.