My loooong thoughts on shooting weddings with an OM-D vs. Full Frame

Discussion in 'Olympus Cameras' started by napilopez, Oct 11, 2013.

  1. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Well, I made such a long reply in DPReview, I figured I should make this its own thread here:

    I have much less experience than it many of you have with weddings, as I'm young and have only shot about a dozen or so smaller ones, so take my advice with a grain of salt. Still, my experience has been that the couple of times I've used a larger-sensor kit I've found myself missing my M4/3 kit more often than I find myself wanting an FF sensor when using my M4/3 gear. In my opinion, and weighted towards my specific shooting style, there are only two things inherently and significantly better about an FF kit for weddings over shooting with an OM-D: battery life and DoF control (particularly in environmental portraits). That's it.

    That being said, I believe wedding photography is more affected by the specific combination of body, lenses, and gear than by the system format you're using. This is true for any type of photography, of course, but seems particularly pertinent for weddings: there are many subtleties involved with these shoots affecting the balance between practicality and image quality.

    Sensor IQ, I believe, should be the least of your concerns for shooting a wedding with modern gear. The fact of the matter is pretty much any ILC system with a sensor size of 4/3 and larger will give you IQ more than good enough for weddings. But let's break it down a bit:

    The E-M5 matches the original FF Canon 5D on DxO, and has less measurable IQ advantages like more malleable RAW files with better shadow noise patterns. Heck, the E-M5 has better dynamic range than even Canon's newest crop of FF sensors (according to DxO, plus my anecdotal experience with a 5D MKII/MKIII).

    Resolution should hardly be a concern. People did splendid with 4 megapixels, 8 megapixels in more than enough, and 16 megapixels definitely is. In fact, I generally choose downsize all my photos to 10 megapixels on export to allow for better apparent pixel-level sharpness, while still printing up to 16x20 with ease. I even made a 16x20 print at ISO 6400 that came out quite nice after a little bit of careful processing--it was the couple's favorite print. When you consider that you rarely do more than a couple of prints at that size per wedding, all you really need is to do is get a few very sharp images at low ISO. Most of your prints will be much smaller, for which resolution will not at all be an issue. It's also worth noting that most M4/3 lenses have are sharper wide open than FF kits become until stopped down significantly.

    Color accuracy, particularly at lower ISOs, should hardly ever be an issue.

    High ISO noise seems to always be the knock-out punch for full frame, and indeed this is one area where M4/3 sensors are about two stops behind... but there are practical considerations that make things more complicated than it seems on paper. First of all, let's consider whether you actually even need to use high ISOs. Certainly people who shot film for weddings would not push their ISOs too high, not to mention old digital sensors. You can just use flash--problem solved. But say you're like me, prefer being discreet, and you absolutely hate using flash at night/in dark venues. Surely FF is better? Well... sort of. Again, it really depends on your specific combination of gear and your familiarity with it. A very typical FF wedding set up is two cameras, one with a 24-70 f2.8, and another with a 70-200 f2.8. On the other hand, a typical M4/3 kit will almost always involve faster primes from f1.4 to f2, or if you like MF, f0.95. I shot a recent event primarily with the 25mm f1.4 and the Voigtlander 42.5mm f0.95. With this set-up, I actually have more light gathering ability than I do with the FF kit, and the 2-3 stop advantage negated the noise differences or even tipped them in favor of my M4/3 kit. Add to this that in my experience the E-M5's stabilization system is better than any I've tried in an FF zoom, and things are tipped even more in favor of M4/3.

    Of course, not every FF wedding photographer uses zooms only. With Canon you have plenty of amazing F1.2 and F1.4 primes... but not a single one of them is stabilized. The closest you've got is the new stabilized 35mm f2 prime. The E-M5's stabilization consistently gets me 3-4 stops in typical use, 5 if I'm really careful and enable anti-shock, so again, any noise difference will disappear. Naturally, you have to monitor your shutter speeds for subject movement, but so far this has seldom been a significant issue for me; people stand still for long enough. You might get some blur if the person is laughing or talking a lot, but it shouldn't be too problematic. In situations where they are moving a lot, like night-time dancing, chances are you'll need a flash regardless of what you're shooting with. With Sony A-Mount shooters the difference is less apparent, but from my observations Sony's current IBIS technology is about 1 or 2 stops behind Olympus'. Additionally, often times when I'm shooting dinners wedding candids at night, I don't want to have my DoF toooo shallow. If you want more than one person in a picture, F1.2 or F1.4 on FF will make it tricky to have decent focus (not to mention PDAF's difficulties with accuracy in low light), and if you stop down, your light gathering advantages over M4/3 are nil. It's doable, but a hindrance worth noting. Also worth noting that this advantage only really applies to Olympus cameras. Only the Panasonic GX7 has IBIS, and its implementation lags way behind Olympus'.

    So obviously, I don't think FF has a very noticeable IQ advantage over M4/3 in most scenarios. The only noticeable advantage is in high ISOs, but my experience has been I'm often shooting at ISO 800 and 1600 where I'd have to shoot at ISO 3200 and 6400 on FF.

    However, there are other things to consider.

    Battery life is better on FF DSLRs. There's no getting around this. Using an OVF as the primary means of composition means that you're not wasting precious electricity before you click the shutter, and I'd assume the larger body means larger batteries. It's not too big of an issue for me, as I always carry spares and a charger and shoot conservatively, but the fact that I need to worry about shooting and switching batteries at all is noticeable, when I've never had to switch batteries on an FF kit within a day of shooting. The E-M5 will just barely get you through a long active day of shooting with a single battery, and the last thing you want is to have your battery die at an important moment.

    DoF control. The "full frame look". Of course, this depends largely on your shooting style. Not everyone is looking to annihilate the background and blur people's noses into oblivion, but the fact is with even the cheapest FF kits, you can, and in no type of photography is this look more common than in weddings. Although a lot of people will default to shooting wide open for wedding portraits, with FF you have the choice. On M4/3 your choices are more limited, and you're much more likely to just shoot everything wide open, especially at wide angles. You cannot get this look conveniently on M4/3 (35mm f1.4 wide open):

    Untitled by David Guimarães, on Flickr

    You can approximate it with the Voitglanders, but shooting at f0.95 in sunlight might mean you'll need an ND Filter:

    Likewise, you just can't get the look of an 85mm f1.2 on M4/3:
    Buckman Flair Promo by conorwithonen, on Flickr

    But the 42.5mm f0.95 doesn't do too bad:
    TVC (159) by napilopez, on Flickr

    And for headshots I doubt you'll need anything more:
    prospect by napilopez, on Flickr

    Those options are MF only, and are substantially heavier and larger than their equivalent DoF (f1.8ish) counterparts on FF. Still, if you're considering the switch in the first place, I'd imagine you're already familiar with these DoF consequences. It's a matter of whether you can live with them. But you can always keep an FF kit as a back-up, or rent one on occasion.

    One other semi-advantage, depending on your shooting style, is that you might have to switch lenses less with FF. As mentioned before, a 24-70 and 70-200 two body kit will cover most of your wedding needs while still providing the option for very shallow DoF. On M4/3 it's a bit trickier. I prefer to shoot with one body because I'm very active and run around every, so I keep my backup in my vehicle and I'm always switching lenses. I don't mind it, and it's never been a problem so far. But if I disliked switching lenses and wanted to absolutely make sure I didn't miss any moment, FF definitely has more versatile potential set up options (at hugely increased weight). Of course, if you're shooting in good light and don't care about super thin DoF, you can get an equivalent, way lighter f2.8 set-up on M4/3.

    Ultimately, it's pretty clear full frame provides more options for crafting images from your camera kit. You can get super shallow DoF, or you can stop down. You have overall better sensors with greater potential image quality, particularly at higher ISOs. But, for me at least, these slight image-crafting advantages are not worth it over the more understated image-capturing advantages you might already know about shooting with M4/3. The most commonly referred to one is that your kit will be much lighter, which will definitely save you some back and foot pain, but it will also allow you to be more nimble in your shooting. I tend to move run around a lot when shooting events, and I just don't have the same mobility with FF kits. It's hard to chase after a couple when you have 5 pound weights jiggling along your body. You also have other features like articulated screens so you don't mess up your suit by lying on the ground and can properly frame overhead shots (null point if you use a modern Sony), and I find a good, fast EVF to be better than an OVF for composing shots in low light.

    Likewise, I've found that when shooting with my one camera M4/3 set-up, guests tend to see me more as another person enjoying the wedding who just happens to be professionally documenting the event. They seem to feel more comfortable having me around than the more intimidating presence of a photographer with a huge camera and lens combo. This isn't just some completely subjectively constructed observation: I've had clients and/or guests specifically tell me something along those lines at at least 3 weddings so far. I'm much less conspicuous. M4/3 allows me to feel closer to the people enjoying the event.

    Take all that as you may; deciding which system's advantages are more important is completely up to you. There are most certainly more differences and advantages for these two formats than those I mentioned, and qualifications will vary from camera to camera and lens to lens. Still, I just hope I was able to help!
    • Like Like x 19
  2. Dduval

    Dduval Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 13, 2013
    Orlando, FL
    This was an informative post, thank you for sharing...
  3. flash

    flash Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 29, 2010
    1 hour from Sydney Australia.
    Grain of salt taken.

    I agree with you 99%. The 1% is that having owned and shot the 85 1.2L and 50 f 1.2L (and before that the 50 1.0L), I think the unique look of those lenses (especially the 85L) is the lenses themselves, not just the f1.2 aperture. The 85L shot at f2 is still unique. The closest I have come on another system is the CV75mm 1.8 on my Leica. Unless these guys are shooting in a pretty narrow band of circumstances, the same shot they're getting can be done on a dozen cameras or lenses.

    I reckon if you were to post process your two shots like the other two you'd be hard pressed to see a real world difference. The first two are heavily processed and much of the character of those lenses has been hidden by photoshop or VSCO. Plus emulating 1 stop of DOF is easy in software. Back in the old days of film there were distinctive differences between the formats and because there were no "perfect" lenses each brand had it's own character. Now all the modern AF systems are blending together into one large lump and character needs to be added there in post because there's very little of it in the out of camera shot 99% of the time.

    Wedding photographers (of which I am one), like the rest of us, enjoy nothing more than a Nikon vs Canon debate. Or if you don't shoot a 35L wide open you're not a pro. Or if you don't shoot "full frame" what ever that is. Or the other 500 favourite ways to prop up an ego. (Us old 6x6 shooters are laughing our asses off at the 35mm guys and their puny format.) The truth is that digital photography is becoming more and more homogenised. It all looks the same straight out of the camera. And as the tools become more powerful and easy to use most photographers rely on that power too much. 1 stop of DOF is nothing compared to what a small change in camera position can do to a background. Making a dark room look like it's daylight just because you can shoot at ISO 10000000 is stupid. Lighting isn't about quantity. It's about quality. Photographers of all types are big on the first. No so much on the second. A gazillion megapickles. Huge ISO's. Off the charts MTF curves and the fastest lenses.

    I say, for the majority, shooting a 35L wide open, that it's a crutch to cover the fact they can't compose or light properly. They're trying to buy quality. You can't buy quality. That bit takes work.

    The DOF and high ISO advantages are real. But after the pushing, prodding and manipulation of post processing their effect on the final output is less and less with every new generation of camera. No wonder all the "cool" wedding photographers are shooting film again.

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  4. MAubrey

    MAubrey Photographer

    Jul 9, 2012
    Bellingham, WA
    Mike Aubrey
    My experience is roughly the same, though my images are far less artistic than yours. I have no plans to get rid of either FF or μ43. I can't afford a AF 85mm f/1.2, but I greatly enjoy my EF-converted FD 85mm f/1.2.

    (Also, I like what Gordon is saying, too)
    • Like Like x 1
  5. dcisive

    dcisive Mu-43 Veteran

    Feb 19, 2010
    Salt Lake City, Utah
    My experience

    When I shot weddings professionally just a few years back. I worked with a pro DSLR (both Canon and Nikon) and 3 lenses. A 24-70 f2.8 did perhaps as much as 70% of the work, I used a 50mm f1.4 for the formal portraits and followed with an occasional shot with a 70-200 f2.8. I rarely used flash. I don't care for the look myself but that's personal taste to some degree. I much preferred natural light and sought it out at every turn. I had a OMD-EM5 since it's coming out and only recently sold it to prepare for the EM1. I no longer have nor use full sized camera gear. A couple of years ago I had both shoulders reconstructed (very painful). Now I seek performance in a small package, in which the OMD's definitely deliver in spades. I wouldn't hesitate to use a EM5 or and EM1 to shoot a wedding. I don't feel there is ANYTHING they could not accomplish that I've done before with the larger bodies and lenses. I have a 600R flash but typically it sits in the bag vegetating. Unless I'm doing an indoor portrait in less than ideal light I don't bother with the flash. The 12-40 f2.8, 45mm f1.8 and 75-300 do all I need for now. That's just my take on it. Not definitive for everyone using camera gear, as everyone has different specific needs. But it sure works for me.
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  6. RamblinR

    RamblinR Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Aug 16, 2012
    Qld Australia
    Interesting review. Thanks
  7. F/Stop

    F/Stop Mu-43 Veteran

    Mar 9, 2013
    West Virginia
    Brian Y.
    I appreciate your time writing this up. If I weren't on my phone id add my thoughts to this as I have used the em5 on two separate weddings.

    Any more 0.95 examples? Not too many out there besides the review websites.
  8. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    Excellent post Gordon. I really appreciate getting opinions from more experienced photographers like you. With my OP, I bring up the matter of DoF because it's such a common and oft-desired look, but I agree with you that it's not in the end of the world if you can a person's whole face in focus. I admit that I absolutely love the shallow DoF look sometimes, but only sometimes. In fact, a lot of my recent professional photography has tended towards the opposite, using narrower apertures, even if what I tend to show off in forums is more "bokehliscious" for the sake of demonstrating what lenses on M4/3 can do. There are times you're tight on space or time and can't get that ideal background where simply eliminating it is useful ;). But that's less often the case than otherwise.

    Another interesting thing to note is that for some reason I find shallow DoF to be much less important in prints than on digital displays. When I first started taking pictures seriously, they'd pretty much only be displayed on a computer monitor. This is very different from many/most of you who started out with film and prints. Once I started printing some my own images for weddings, however, things seemed different. Images that I'd originally wished had shallower DoF actually were surprisingly satisfying.

    I think this may have to do with how prints are generally much more information-dense than digital displays, so transitions between in focus and out of focus areas are smoother but more defined. You can more easily tell what's in focus from what's not, even if there isn't a huge amount of bokeh. On the other hand, looking at typical 800px image on my computer with standard sharpening, focus transitions might not be as apparent unless you have very strong background blurring.
    • Like Like x 1
  9. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    It was my pleasure! Although I probably should've been studying instead of writing a nearly 2000 word forum post hahah.

    I just noticed you follow me on flickr, where I've uploaded a lot of f0.95 photos (pretty much just the ones I've shared in forums, although there are a couple of extras). In any case, you can also check out this forum's archive thread for the 42.5mm f0.95 here:

    They're pretty much just my own images right now :p
    • Like Like x 1
  10. flash

    flash Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 29, 2010
    1 hour from Sydney Australia.
    Again, I agree. And well written as well. I also like a fast, fast lens. My "new" thing is the quality of the blur. When I shot Canon I just accepted what ever a particular lens gave me. I knew the 85L was special. Just didn't know why. But now I actively seek out lenses based on their flaws. Their character. I've tried 6 or 7 50mm lenses, this year alone. Much more fun than a new camera, although most of the people I know can't see any difference.

    • Like Like x 1
  11. DynaSport

    DynaSport Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 5, 2013
    I know a very successful wedding/portrait photographer who uses a Canon APS-C camera and consumer grade (not L) zoom lenses. I have seen her work, in fact I have numerous of her photos hanging in my house, and all I can say is she must be a Photoshop genius. Her work is excellent in my opinion. She has a very artistic eye and I think most people would think she was using a much more expensive camera and lens. Watching her shoot a wedding and then seeing the resulting prints made me much less concerned about gear and more concerned with style, of which I seem to be dreadfully lacking.

    She does make heavy use of flash, though, but her results speak for themselves.
    • Like Like x 1
  12. masberg24

    masberg24 Mu-43 Regular

    Mar 20, 2013
    Do you have a link?

    Sent from my iPhone using Mu-43 mobile app
  13. flash

    flash Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 29, 2010
    1 hour from Sydney Australia.
    I know a few as well. David Ziser is one of the top paid wedding shooters in the US and not only does he shoot with APSC bodies, occasionally he'll use a megazoom (one of those 28-300 things) as well. 5.6 at the long end and definately not PRO. But he still manages to get sensational photos. Whodathunkit?

    • Like Like x 1
  14. Clint

    Clint Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Apr 22, 2013
    San Diego area, CA
    When I started wedding photography, weddings were typically shot with medium format cameras using 120 or 220 film.

    When I shot a wedding with a brand new OM-1 my boss was about ready to send me home forever as far as he was concerned. But after sometime and looking at the contact sheets he told me to print up the proofs and we'd see what he could salvage. By the time everything was all said and done, the 35mm didn't hurt sales one bit and the customer really didn't care what the wedding was shot with.

    By 1974 35mm was an option in his business for everything but the stuio work and was not questioned. Your write-up sounds like a justification to use 4/3s similar to use of 35mm years ago.

    The bottom line is the customer - are they happy enough to tell others about how great their photos came out!

    With low ASA films flash was a prerequisite back in the days. Flash then, as today, is for those with experience and helps set your photographs apart from other photographers.

    If I was to shoot a wedding today, my choice would be FF. Simply for the fact of more control over DoF and the choices of flash equipment that I can use with FF. I'd get a larger variety of images than by using a 4/3s format. But I could easily see using an E-M5 without issue.

    Napilopez makes a very important humongous statement when talking about prints. I wish many would read what he says so they can understand when he implies - Photos in print! The difference between viewing on monitors and prints is significant. Of course you need at least A4 or 8 x 10 to begin to get the concept.
    • Like Like x 1
  15. Jonathan F/2

    Jonathan F/2 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 10, 2011
    Los Angeles, USA
    There's a place for both. That's why I own both full frame DSLRs and Micro Four-Thirds. I prefer using DSLRs for work, but I enjoy photography with M43. Does that make sense?
    • Like Like x 3
  16. DynaSport

    DynaSport Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 5, 2013
    • Like Like x 1
  17. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Napier Lopez
    On the first point, so far I've never had a client complain to me because of the size of my kit, although there's been the occasional guest photographer giving me an odd look or two. On the contrary, it has come in handy a couple of times. As long as they're happy and you're being honest, there's nothing to worry about.

    On the second point, it's so interesting to compare perspectives. You guys that started out on film had to print everything. I've never printed a film photo in my life. Well maybe once for a photography class I took manyyyy years ago for about a month, but I don't even remember. Once I actually started printing my photos, it was a huge revelation, and a lot of my style changed. I noticed a lot of the things I looked for in my digital copies hardly mattered, whereas other things had more impact. Pixel peeing didn't matter, extremely shallow bokeh didn't necessarily make a photo look better (which it didn't before anyway, but it always seems to look fancier on a monitor than in print), but accurate focus and impeccable composition did. The nice thing about print is that, unlike with the variety of incongruously calibrated displays out there, a print will always look the same to every viewer.

    Most definitely does! I'm still not doing weddings consistently (or expensively) enough to justify the actual purchase of a full frame kit, right now I just rent or borrow, but I reckon I'd likely keep two kits as well. Only difference is I think for my personal style, the FF cams would just be backups for when I want a certain look. Then again, maybe I should start shooting film for when I want a couple of shots with super shallow DoF. I'm sure medium format would do the trick!
    • Like Like x 1
  18. HappyFish

    HappyFish Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 8, 2012
    keep the spare body on you :) when it dies and you are in a important position you cant run out to the car say hold the ceremony !
    bad on the industry and yourself if something happens :) you would most likely loose a lawsuit this way and the extra body in a small bag or something is not that much :)
    shooting two bodies two lens is a safer bet anyway once you get the hang of it much quicker depending on how you carry it
    unless this is a hobby ? :) in a sense you do it for folks friends etc..

    I have been at the wedding thing a while ? about 13 years or so ?
    only shoot about 20 a year these days but worth thinking about if you are getting paid :)

    good to hear your thoughts though :) and have fun doing it if you get into it more :) its a great job

    ditto Flash post and I had one burried from last year I shot over 22 weddings last year with my OMD :) along with a FF Nikon and its a great pair each one can play off the others weakness mostly my D600 has a 35 or 85 prime and once the oly super wide is out my nikon super wide will go away and stay just a 35 or 85 when I need that isolation :)

    also best of luck :)
  19. HappyFish

    HappyFish Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 8, 2012
    I used to shoot with mostly a 16-35 and 70-200 and could shoot %95 of a wedding easy with those two about %95 of that site is with those two lens
    I cant wait for the new OLY 35-150 f/2.8 :)

    like others said DOF is often lost and used as a crutch for lack of composition etc.. so true :)

    the way I use the OMD and FF is again its pros cons
    these are from my first wedding this month

    the first one is my D600 and 35 lens the second is my OMD and 12-35 panny
    they are so close you cant tell them apart and wont be able to in print
    I have printed enough to know the OMD can hold its own just fine against other cameras
    shooting two cameras like the OMD and FF can work biggest thing is will the images work together to tell the story :) IMHO YES :)


  20. rparmar

    rparmar Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jun 14, 2011
    Limerick, Ireland
    Good post. This obsession over ultra-thing DOF I find as interesting as any other fetishistic impulse. In fact my next video shoot is going to be all about it. But MFT can deliver enough OOF blurry whatever for most cases.

    Medium format and 35mm have their place, but for the vast majority of shoots MFT, with the right lenses, is more than fine. 99% of the result is down to the photographer. And for weddings, much of that is ability to manage clients and their expectations.

    As other posters mentioned, slight difference in camera systems are obliterated by PP skills anyway. So, unless you need tack-sharp A1 posters or double-sized page spreads (any magazines print these any more?) shoot with whatever you like.

    One advantage of MFT you skirted: You can indeed carry two cameras with lenses easily without slowing down at all. With less weight than one FF camera. This provides a much more fluid shooting experience while saving your body from the wear and tear that becomes more noticeable with age.
    • Like Like x 1
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