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Featured: 'Micro Four Thirds for Cyclocross - my journey from full frame (pic heavy)' by ean10775

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by ean10775, Nov 4, 2014.

  1. ean10775

    ean10775 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 31, 2011
    Cleveland, Ohio
    This cyclocross or 'CX' season marks my first without a full frame DLSR, having divested my Canon gear in favor of something lighter and easier to carry on the course. I struggled with this decision, seeing as an equivalent setup for my uses was not available with the m43 system at the time.

    Unlike many who favor a zoom for shooting sports, in the past couple years I have shot local and professional races exclusively with a Canon 5D Mark II and EF 200mm f2.8 lens:

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    KirtlandParkCX-025 by ericarthur, on Flickr

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    Cincy3-035 by ericarthur, on Flickr

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    Cincy3-005 by ericarthur, on Flickr

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    Cincy3-003 by ericarthur, on Flickr

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    Cincy3-014 by ericarthur, on Flickr

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    Cincy3-023 by ericarthur, on Flickr


    Seeing as the sport takes place most often in parks or in fields there is always plenty of room to move around to compose the shot as needed. The obvious options would have been the Panasonic 35mm-100mm f2.8 or the Olympus 75mm f1.8. Both of these lenses are fairly expensive however, more expensive in fact than the EF 200mm f2.8 I had been shooting with. As I wanted a more compact system, and wanted to save some money, in the end I purchased a Sigma 60mm f2.8, conceding quite a bit of reach but gaining a distinct size advantage and keeping some money in my pocket. With the prices the Panasonic G5 was going for at the time, the body was a much easier decision. Here is my kit for shooting CX:

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    Panasonic Lumix DMC G5 + Sigma 60mm F2.8 DN by ericarthur, on Flickr

    Not shown, I keep a Heliopan Jet-Pol linear polarizer mounted to the lens at all times as well as the Sigma hood that shipped with the lens. The small Optech connector loops allow me to attach the camera to the chest strap of a my backpack using a small carabiner (the backpack contains a jacket, gloves, spare batteries and most importantly, beer). The camera is easy enough to remove from the carabiner, but I usually just leave it attached as I can still bring the camera to my eye for most shots, or I simply use the articulating lcd of the G5. We all know the size/weight advantages of mirrorless system cameras over DLSRs so I won't dwell too much on that, but I can certainly say that the advantages of my m43 kit in this regard are a godsend over the course of a full day of shooting CX (after having raced myself in the morning) compared to my Canon gear.


    I should point out that the G5 is not my first m43 camera as I also own an Olympus E-PL1 and have used that to shoot CX on one occasion as well - the UCI Cyclocross world Championships in Louisville, KY several years ago. This was a decision I regretted. The AF of the E-PL1 (with any lens) was simply too slow to keep up with the riders, though I had some success with older manual focus lenses:

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    P2020479 by ericarthur, on Flickr

    This experience (having left the DSLR at home in favor of a smaller kit) left me wondering how the advancements in the AF of the m43 cameras/lenses in recent years could handle the pace of cyclocross, which while fast, is very predictable. Riders do laps on a closed course and the racing line is easy to see and its repeated multiple times over the duration of the race. They slow for obstacles and then accelerate again quickly, but no where near the speeds of road cycling or something like motorcycle racing. Even though neither the G5 nor the Sigma 60mm f2.8 are the fastest in class when it comes to AF, I've been fairly pleased with how quickly the camera/lens combination can focus and find that this quickness in S-AF nearly negates the need for C-AF in most of my shooting:

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    P1030478 by ericarthur, on Flickr

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    P1030309 by ericarthur, on Flickr

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    P1030538 by ericarthur, on Flickr

    Perhaps my favorite AF feature of the Panasonic cameras, including the G5, is the ability to drag your finger over the LCD to set the focus point with the camera to your eye looking through the EVF. Initially I was worried that the resistive touch screen of the G5 would be subpar compared to that of the capacitive screens Olympus and newer Panasonic cameras, but I don't find that to be the case and the bonus is that the screen of the G5 works with gloves on (a huge boon seeing as CX is a Fall/Winter sport).


    One of the advantages that mirrorless cameras offer that is most important to me is live exposure preview. This feature is hugely convenient in a sport like cyclocross where the lighting conditions vary continuously. Riders dart in and out of wooded areas into sunlit fields and the ability to see the exposure rather than needing to rely on the meter and experience just makes the entire shooting process that much easier.

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    P1030395 by ericarthur, on Flickr

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    P1030537 by ericarthur, on Flickr

    I find that since switching to m43 I make far fewer tweaks to exposure in post production and that speeds up my editing workflow by a good margin.

    My only complaint with regard to the G5 and its implementation of live exposure preview is that it does not work with fully manual exposure, which is how I typically have like to shoot in the past. My workaround is that I now shoot using shutter priority and auto ISO and in most cases the lighting conditions mandate that the lens stays wide open at f2.8 to maintain the shutter speed I have set. I then simply mind the histogram and ride the exposure compensation to get the look I want in the EVF.


    I suppose I should just let the results speak for themselves, but for me, while I certainly notice the differences in the look of the files from the 5DII and the m43 gear, I really am just as happy with what I am able to get from my G5/Sigma 60mm and even happier with the ease with which I'm able to get it. When you factor in the difference in cost between to two setups (I paid $2,289.45 for the Canon gear and $467.42 for the m43 gear), I'm simply ecstatic.

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    P1030575 by ericarthur, on Flickr

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    I'm fairly content with my current setup, but am certainly looking forward to the day when a mirrorless system can compete with DSLRs with regard to C-AF. I don't see myself buying another lens or body until that is the case, but I don't think that day is too far off.

    Thanks for allowing me share.
    • Like Like x 45
  2. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Legend Subscribing Member

    Jan 3, 2014
    Wonderful write up and photos. I am planning on shooting some cross this fall/winter (was going to shoot a race Sunday but after all day at the airshow was just to tired). Surprised you are only using a 60mm, guess that is actually 120mm and your results are proof enough. I just got a ZD 50-200 SWD and was going to use that but you have me thinking about using my Oly 60mm macro. Either way I have a setup that is weather sealed, something that is a plus for shooting cross. Do you find weather a problem using non weather sealed gear?
    • Like Like x 1
  3. ean10775

    ean10775 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 31, 2011
    Cleveland, Ohio
    I haven't had any issues yet, but yes I can imagine that weather sealing (or lack thereof in my case) could pose problems down the line. Admittedly I didn't really consider that when selecting my kit though seeing as neither the 5DII nor 200mm lens I had been shooting with were weather sealed.
  4. Atom Ant

    Atom Ant Mu-43 Veteran

    Oct 24, 2012
    Melbourne, OZ
    I've shot a few CX races here and found that the 75/1.8 gives me as much length as I need for a sport where you can be within a metre of the riders, and where, as noted, the location of the action is predictable and repeated. I've also used the 12-40/2.8 on some corners.

    Fortunately our winters are mild, so I've never needed to operate my camera while wearing gloves.

    Just one question - where is the mud? and the water hazards? :evilsmile:
    • Like Like x 2
  5. ean10775

    ean10775 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 31, 2011
    Cleveland, Ohio
    The 75mm f1.8 was my first choice as a lens, but I didn't want to invest that much money right off the bat in the event that the platform didn't end up working out for my purposes (I know I probably could have purchased a used copy and sold it without much of a loss, or rented). I was also worried a bit about not being able to shoot wide open without requiring an ND filter and the need to constantly be putting it on/removing it as lighting conditions changed, but now that I've been shooting the Sigma for a while, I don't imagine it would have been a problem. I'd purchase a copy now, except I've been pretty happy with the Sigma.

    Agreed about the mud - its been a pretty mild CX season so far in the Midwest. The photos from Cincy3 this weekend where its dry and dusty were a distinct change from the morning race I did where we started in 30F degree weather with frost on the ground.
  6. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    That's a freekin' INSANELY BRUTAL sport! I briefly dipped my toe in those waters several years ago but couldn't even begin to hang, so my cross bike just became my mountain and touring bike and had a VERY short career as an actual cross bike.

    Those Canon shots do have something a bit more, but not enough to matter. As you say, this isn't the most difficult sport to shoot, since you can really just about pre-focus on a particular spot on the course and just shoot a series as different riders / groups come through that spot. So really good tracking isn't the most critical thing. And if it is, newer bodies like the GH4 are really closing in on DSLR tracking performance. They aren't there yet, but the gap is soooo much smaller than it used to be.

    • Like Like x 1
  7. ean10775

    ean10775 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 31, 2011
    Cleveland, Ohio
    I think that cross bikes are the most beautiful bikes in the world (a bit less so now that disc brakes are UCI legal). If I could only have one bike (god forbid) it would be a cross bike without a doubt.

    Oh don't get me wrong, it matters and I definitely notice the difference. However, when I weigh that difference against the smaller, lighter kit, the convenience of live exposure preview and the ease of touchscreen AF point selection (not to mention that my current kit cost 80% less than what I was shooting with before, leaving more money for bikes), the difference is far more palatable and something I can certainly live with.

    One thing I didn't mention is that all the m43 shots were single shots - no bursts. With the Canon I would have bursts of 3-6 frames and not all of them would be in focus. I feel like I'm more prudent and precise using the m43 gear, although I would certainly welcome faster EVF refresh rates. I'd also welcome a 100mm f2 prime for the m43 system if Panasonic is listening (since Olympus already has the 75mm f1.8 and because I tend to prefer the rendering of the Panasonic lenses) ;-)
  8. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    Your photos look wonderful with both systems. I'm guessing the Oly 75/1.8 would have looked more similar to the Canon lens you were using, but like you said the Sigma comes in much smaller, lighter, and less expensive. Great work all around!
    • Like Like x 1
  9. ean10775

    ean10775 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 31, 2011
    Cleveland, Ohio
    Thanks Amin, I'm routinely tempted by the 75mm believe me!
  10. RamblinR

    RamblinR Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Aug 16, 2012
    Qld Australia
    I just picked up a G6 which I want to play with for video but be used for stills also.
    I too cannot understand why manual does not show the exposure like A and S do.
    Why they would limit that in M seems very odd.
    In M in video it does work.
    Wish they would update this feature.
  11. Linh

    Linh Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 14, 2009
    Maryland, US
    I think the 75/1.8 would be a good addition. I will go against the grain and say the isolation the 5D gives at 2.8 really helps in some shots. Not to say the Sigma is bad, but you can't turn 2.8 into 1.8 :)  I know, I know, it's significantly cheaper. But I'll still throw in a vote for the 75 when you can swing it.
  12. eteless

    eteless Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 20, 2014
    Yeah, past about 7-10 meters (guestimate on size of people) the sigma really starts to lose the best part of its isolation and you really do notice the difference compared to the canon. I'm unsure if the files are cropped however I do find the framing of the sigma pictures pleasing for shorter ranges (In some shots you can see the ground they're riding on which adds a bit of impact) and conversely I prefer the canon at longer ranges as it's tighter on the subject. You really can't win :) 

    I'll throw in another vote for the 75mm f1.8, it's a really really good lens (however be warned of what many people experience with it: you should only try it if you can afford to buy it). The 35-100mm f2.8 is also fantastic given how compact it is(albeit a more expensive option). Whichever direction you go in, I would love to see more pictures of it.
    • Like Like x 1
  13. vVv

    vVv New to Mu-43

    Nov 8, 2014
    thanks for the pics

    pretty sweet pictures. of course you can see a difference if you look for it, but i think it's really cool when you can simplify your kit to the point where it is just what you need.
    • Like Like x 1
  14. shaolinmonk

    shaolinmonk Mu-43 Veteran

    Aug 31, 2013
    Toronto Canada
    going to go against the grain here as well.. the 200mm f/2.8 pics create much more seperation and look better to me... i would give the 75mm a whirl and see if the extra reach and f-stop will be a bit more similar..
  15. ean10775

    ean10775 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 31, 2011
    Cleveland, Ohio
    I'll be honest, as much as I like what the m43 system has to offer I'm hesitant to invest in a $700 lens when I feel we're on the cusp of the next big advancement in mirrorless (i.e, C-AF that can rival DSLRs). I don't want to be locked into a system. I know no one is going to release the lens I really want, but since I don't require much - just a long, fast telephoto I'm happy to jump to whomever offers the C-AF first.
  16. eteless

    eteless Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 20, 2014
    Grab a Nikon 1 then, you won't have much subject isolation to speak of however it's C-AF and focusing in general is absurdly good :p 
  17. Aniseedvan

    Aniseedvan Mu-43 Regular

    Sep 25, 2011
    Great post, and I think it's quite liberating to take such a small set up. I've taken photos at our local park run a couple of Saturdays ago and my biggest issue with the Oly was as it was so small people didn't really spot "the photographer" and walked in front of me!

    Like yours, you can tell the difference between the shots (they're on flickr too), but not detrimentally so.

    Again, mine were shot on S-AF as C-AF has a way to go but it was great to not get arm ache by the end - and that was only 40 mins. I look forward to the day I could go to an airshow with the (to be saved for) 40-150 (and a gazillion batteries....).
    • Like Like x 1
  18. pellicle

    pellicle Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Feb 10, 2010
    Killarney, OzTrailEYa

    actually I think its us who need to thank you for sharing this.

    fantastic ... well done ... really well presented.

    take a bow
    • Like Like x 2
  19. AlanU

    AlanU Mu-43 Veteran

    May 2, 2012
    The 5dmk2 has a very primitive AF system for a dslr. Infact its really a portrait camera and not really meant for fast action sports. I own two 5dmk2's so i know the limitations. The 200L f/2.8 prime is a decent lens but it still is nowhere close to Canon's latest lenses regards to micro contrast/sharpness. However if the subject is at a far distant you can easily shoot action using a long lens with the 5dmk2. I've used my 5dmk2 to shoot drag cars flying down the 1/4 mile track with very good keeper rates using the center point of the old AF system the 5dmk2 has. My 5dmk3 can tackle virtually everything I throw at it though.

    For a light weight setup i'd probably go with a 35-100mm f2.8 for the M43 if I had to shoot such an event. I still do find on my computer IPS panel that the M43 is lacking in IQ in tonal richness and lush 3d depth compared to a full frame. I'm one of the individuals that even say the same thing when it comes to even FF vs crop sensor dslr's (just my preference to my eyes.)

    I still find the 45 f/1.8 and zuiko 75mm is quite a niche lens to own. Specific applications for certain situations. This is where I'd be using two M43 camera's with different primes on each body to document such an event.....throw on a 35-100mm f2.8 and wing it!! :) 
    • Like Like x 1
  20. Jermonic

    Jermonic Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 14, 2012
    Your thread got featured on the frontpage - although - featured is only the Canon 5D pictures, none from the m43 system. Perhaps admin should correct this?
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