The Best Camera — The Everyday, Can Do No Wrong Camera Kit

One of the most common questions we hear from all of you is, “What is your everyday kit?” Our digital cinema guru, Erik, wanted to take a minute to chat gear with you and answer that question from his perspective. Please give him another warm welcome… This post is another installment of a series that our staff is doing about the gear that we consider essential for our work…the stuff we don’t leave home without. -Chase

Thanks Chase. As I sit here on my couch writing this blog post, I’m surrounded by no less than 22 cameras in my living room alone.  Some are decorations, some are used on occasion, some are only used for video shoots, and one gets used every. damn. day. I’m a collector [read: junkie] and I can’t get enough cameras, so when one becomes a regular fixture of my daily creative arsenal, it’s worth taking a moment to recognize its greatness.  Right now that camera is the Olympus OMD E-M5.  I picked mine up last may, and have since taken it around the world and shot the hell out of it.  My kit consists of the E-M5 camera body, an Olympus 14-150mm f/4-5.6 lens and a Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens, all wrapped up in a Think Tank Retrospective 30 shoulder bag. It’s a simple setup, but it’s yielded results good enough for me to keep bringing it out of the house while my bigass DSLR kit stays on the shelf.

There’s a lot to love about the E-M5.  It’s weather sealed, it’s got a slick retro design, and the image stabilization is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  But for me, the camera really shines in two categories: speed, and low light capability.  Everything about this camera is fast, from the startup time to the autofocus to the frames per second it can fire.  Even the layout of the buttons and dials make for a brisk shooting pace.  In regards to low light, the image quality holds up quite nicely at high ISO’s.  I don’t like to use a flash, so this is a huge bonus for me.  ISO 3200 on the E-M5 looks like ISO 1000 on my Canon 7D, it’s crazy, and everything shot at ISO 1000 or lower looks the same, so grain and noise are rarely a concern.  Throw the cameras insane 5 axis image stabilization into the mix [which allows for shooting at slower shutter speeds] and you can shoot in the dark with results like this [click to enlarge]:

This picture was shot at ISO 3200, f/1.7 at 1/13th of a second. If you can't do the photo math on that, trust me, it was dark.

Now let’s talk lenses.  Keeping my kit lightweight is important to me, so I’ve paired it down to just two lenses; the 14-150mm zoom, and the 20mm pancake lens.  The zoom lens keeps me covered for just about everything I want to shoot as long as there’s enough light.  With the 2x crop factor on the E-M5′s sensor, it’s effective focal length is 28-300mm.  That’s some range.  Check out these shots from our recent trip to Villefranche for an example.  They’re shot from the same spot using the same lens zoomed all the way out on the left, and all the way in on the right.

The only drawback to this lens is that its aperture is a little “slow”. The widest aperture on the lens is f/4, and f/5.6 when zoomed to 150mm.  While that’s fine and good for bright landscapes, it doesn’t lend itself well for indoor or night photography.  This is when I switch to the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens.  This was the first lens I picked up when I started using a micro four thirds camera 2 years ago [the Panasonic GF1], and it might be my favorite lens of all time.  It’s super sharp, it’s tiny, and it can see in the dark [as shown in the above photo of Mike Horn holding the giant wine bottle].  Its focal length is a sweet spot in my opinion.  At 20mm, or 40mm equivalent with the crop factor, you can take a few steps closer to your subject and take a portrait with no weird lens distortion, or take a few steps back and get a wide shot with no lens compression.  Here’s a portrait of Norton looking like a baller on Fancy Friday, shot with the 20mm:

And here’s a landscape from the Guardian Peak Winery in Stellenbosch South Africa, also shot with the 20mm:

The final component of this camera kit that I think is worth mentioning is the oh-so-classy Think Tank Retrospective 30 shoulder bag.  Think Tank nailed the design of this bag with one simple characteristic that ALL other camera bag manufacturers need to take note of; it doesn’t look like a camera bag.  There are no bigass logos anywhere to found, no hideous bright green interior, no giant awkward straps for securing tripods or trekking poles or whatever else you wanna weigh yourself down with.  This bag looks like something your cool grandpa handed down to you after he retired from chasing his secretary around.  The bag is smart too.  I love the deployable “Sound Silencers” that cover up the velcro so you’re not the noisy photographer swapping gear in and out of their bag.  The Retrospective 30 is my preference since it holds my camera body, lenses, batteries, and the occasional iPad with room to spare, but they make them in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, so check out their website to see if they have what’s right for you.

I hope you found something useful from this minimalist approach to photography.  If you’d like to try any of this photo gear out, it’s all available to rent from BorrowLenses.com.  Feel free to tell us about your walkaround kit in the comments section and, as always, keep snapping.

 

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52 Responses to The Best Camera — The Everyday, Can Do No Wrong Camera Kit

  1. Elaine January 14, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    I have the Fuji X-E1 with kit zoom lens. I almost bought the Olympus, but wanted a bigger sensor. Olympus is a lovely camera, but I’m not into the 4/3rd sensor size. The lenses are nice though. Nowadays, I can put an adapter on my Fuji X-E1 or Sony NEX 5 and shoot Leica lenses, Canon or Nikon, Minolta, Olympus and more; using the peak focus on the cameras. I say go to the camera shop and try them all out. The Olympus has a faster AF than the Fuji or Sony, but the sensor is decidedly smaller. If that doesn’t matter, then go for it. I guess it all depends on if you’re blowing up the files into huge prints too. Me, I’d like that option. It all comes down to what camera you will carry everyday. So far, my iPhone wins that category. (I’m getting lazier in my old age. LOL!)

    • T N Args April 16, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

      Thom Hogan on his Sans Mirror website says the EM-5 sensor outperforms the Fuji X sensors — he says the only area the Fuji sensor can beat the E-M5 is in B&W. And he also says the rest of the camera outperforms the Fuji handily. And the lenses available are equal or better in quality, and far better in choice. Then there is the IS and — it’s a slam dunk. He says you would only pick the Fuji if you like its looks, and you are a niche specialist B&W photographer.

  2. G Allard January 14, 2013 at 11:04 am #

    Great stuff, Erik. Since picking up my Lumix GX1 I rarely look to my DSLR rig for anything but pro shoots. To me the GX1 has been the ultimate travel buddy. It’s small, light and, dare I say stylish when wrapped in the retro brown leather case. Makes me feel like Cartier-Bresson walking around. Thanks for the run down on the lenses. Since Panasonic and Olympus share the micro 4:3 lens mount I’m Looking to get some Olympus glass to compliment the 14mm and the 14-42mm kit lens.

  3. Matt January 14, 2013 at 11:06 am #

    My thoughts exactly, traded up from a D7000, filled a Temba mini satchel and haven’t looked back. Absolutely loving mine.

  4. runbei January 14, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    Agree! Agree! Agree! Few likely realize how useful a 20mm is. It’s incredible – anything indoors, especially tight crowds, intimate vignettes, etc. My (very) former kit was a Nikon F4, 20mm, 24-70/2.8 – used the amazingly sharp 180mm/2.8 for occasionaly portraiture, an 80-200/2.8 for concerts. Let’s not forget – in the days before stabilization, a Bogen automatic monopod was a lifesaver – think 200mm @ 1/30 sec. Probably still very useful.

    • runbei January 14, 2013 at 11:53 am #

      p.s. The monopod will get you in the door at many venues where tripods are verboten. And with the little extendable tripody-like brace, just as effective (wonderful at floor level).

  5. Eileen January 14, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

    Thanks, Erik. How would you feel about using this camera on the ski slopes? I have a trip for fun coming up to Whistler and would love to avoid lugging around my D4, but still want high quality landscape and action images.

    • Erik Hecht January 14, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

      I think it’d be great for skiing.

  6. Shelley January 14, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

    nice set. I use Kelly Moore camera bags. The one thing I look for in a camera bag is that it does NOT look anything like a camera bag!

  7. Harry Guinness January 14, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    I carry my 650D with me. At the moment It has the 50mm 1.8 on it though in the next few weeks I’m planning to replace that with the 40mm 2.8. It’s a little bit big but I don’t have any real issue with that. I generally have my man bag with me which is more than capable of containing it and whatever else I need. If space is really an issue, I leave it at home and just use my 4S.

  8. ep2002 January 14, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    Eric, just a quick questions on the topic of your everyday setup. Do you shoot in jpeg or RAW?
    Thanks in advance.

    • Erik Hecht January 14, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

      Always RAW

      • ep2002 January 14, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

        Erik, Thanks for the quick response (and I just realized I misspelled your name previously).
        Just got into reading the articles on this site. Its’ really great stuff. Thanks for sharing with us on the internet.

  9. Kim Olson January 14, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    Love your take on this, Erik. I’m a huge proponent of less is better and it sounds like at least when you’re out shooting, you’ve been able to get down to the bare minimum and still take fabulous images (22 camera at home seems like another matter :) .

    I’ve yet to venture into a world outside of my DSLR gear, but micro four thirds cameras definitely sound like they’re worthy of a closer look.

  10. Timo Toivonen January 14, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    This is THE kit. Just like mine! :)

    ps. Sometimes I swap my 14-150 mm for 7.5 mm f/3.5 fisheye and 45 mm f/1.8.

    • Timo Toivonen January 14, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

      I am actually considering getting rid of my Canon 7D and hefty weight of all lenses. Finnish photographer Pekka Potka has actually moved more or less only to OM-D E-M5. OM-G what a camera it really is!

  11. MJ January 14, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    What’s the strap your using there on the Olympus?

  12. Dwight Atterholt January 14, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    My grab-and-go kit for personal use is a 5DMkII with 24-105 f/4L and the 50mm f1.8. I can do that and backup memory cards, batteries, etc. with coat pockets. If I want to add another lens or flash, I can get it all in the Think Tank Change Up bag. It works great for urban travel and I can tote it around on foot all day without fatigue.

  13. Michael Rasmussen (@MichaelRpdx) January 14, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

    You said you don’t like flash but … does the EM-5 still do burst mode with a flash attached? (a pet peeve about my GX1)

  14. Sean Sullivan January 14, 2013 at 10:23 pm #

    Erik, you have me seriously looking at this camera now. I was just curious though, what is in your bigass DSLR kit?

  15. Lawrence January 14, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    Good stuff chase. I’ve also become a die hard om-d fan. One of the other big benefits is that you can shoot pretty much any legacy lens on m43rds bodies too. My favorite is the hard-to-find 26mm f1.1. c mount – unparalleled in its awesome bokeh rendering and portraits. I also have the voigtlandër 25mm f0.95 and 17mm f0.95 primes which give v shallow depth of field. Let me know if you ever want to try out as I’m in Seattle!

  16. EddieBaba January 15, 2013 at 12:14 am #

    I’m not a fan of the M4/3 format… Yet. I agree with the Nex7 & X-E1 comment, as I have dumped ALL DSLR gear for the Nex7 and I’m considering the X-E1 because it pairs nicely with the X-Pro 1. Remember, the M4/3 uses a 1:33/1 aspect ratio or 645 equivalent and the file sizes are smaller, I shoot FF and don’t like the format. But I will be testing the E-5M soon to make the comparison. After all, size does not matter, it’s what you make with the camera.

  17. Kevin January 15, 2013 at 5:49 am #

    Funny we were just talking about this in our studio My daily grinder is my D7000 with 18-200 and 12-24 and more often than that it is simply my little P7000

  18. Bert January 15, 2013 at 7:43 am #

    I am a big fan of the 4/3 – M4/3 format. Sensor size is not nearly as big a deal as in the past with the new chips. You just need great lenses. Edge to edge is sharpness seems better than any other format I have tried. Sony has done a bang up (great) job on the sensor used in the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and E-PL5, I dare say even better than thier own Nex7 expecially when you consider it is an APS-C with more surface area. The Olympus lenses and some Panasonic as well are way sharper than they have any right to be for the price. At the end of the day the camera it only the tool. Great tools are nice but greatness still rests in the hands of the craftsman.

  19. Jane Quigley January 15, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    Eric –

    Great post – I LOVE my Olympus E-P3 – I have my Nikon D7000 and D90 but my Olympus has changed the way I create. So simple and portable. I also love the 14-150mm lens, but am crazy about the 12mm and 45mm. So sharp and great to play with on the street.

    Just ordered my ThinkTank bag – thanks for that and this post!

    Jane

  20. faisal January 15, 2013 at 9:54 am #

    Renting kits, is a nice idea.

  21. Mark Hall January 15, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    Good post, Chase. My walkaround kit includes the 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3, FL-600R flash and either the 45 f/1.8 or 40-150mm f4.0-5.6, depending on where I’m going and what I plan to shoot. I recently went on a photo walk where most everyone had big cameras & lenses, so it was blast telling about the features and the good quality.

  22. Anurag Sharma January 15, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    I will tell you how good a camera this is.

    I am a full time professional wedding and portrait photographer.

    It has changed how I photograph completely.

    I shoot with 3 OMD bodies and 3 prime lenses.

    Unfortunately, some people cannot go beyond that big measure of camera greatness…..sensor.

    A camera is a lot more than a sensor….and this is, I can tell you with personal experience, much, much, much more than your average camera.

  23. Michael S January 15, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    Great post! I’m interested to know why you went with the Retrospective 30 with such a small gear setup. Do you feel it’s a little overkill and the 10 would have been better? I ask because I’m in market for a new shoulder bag to hold my canon gear but I want to make the switch to 4/3 or the Fujifilm X-E1. Either of those two bodies with three lenses wouldn’t need a bag that big unless a spot for the iPad is necessary.

    • Eric S. January 16, 2013 at 9:49 pm #

      Yep, a Retrospective 7 would be smaller / cheaper and hold an iPad too. A Retrospective 5 would be smaller / cheaper still if the iPad didn’t need to ride along.

  24. David January 17, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    I second this. The omd and panasonic 20mm combo is just stunning.
    The ergonomics are not the best but this is just a small thing.
    Great camera for sure.

  25. Anthony Camilletti, Sr. January 25, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    I’ve been around for a long time (83 years), I shot photographs with every size of film available from 35mm to 4×5. I find all the comments very interesting, BUT, I believe the person BEHIND the lens is much more important than the lens. I’m retired now, My camera is a Kodak Easyshare C813 digital camera. I always have it within an arm’s of me, just in case. I’ve owned Olympus, Cannon, Nikon, Speed Graphics, etc. My little Kodak does every thing I ask it to do. If the subject is a little too far away, I use my bipods (my Legs) to get closer. Simple as that.

  26. Jason February 1, 2013 at 6:35 am #

    This kind of exceeds your usual camera. Think I may trade in my Canon 7D

  27. Aaron February 13, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

    I got a good chuckle out of the Grandpa comment.

  28. the walking dead season three March 2, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    I only watch the talking non scary parts of “The Walking Dead” in regular mode. If there is going to be a zombie fight I watch in fast forward. Afterwards I go to the main page of IMDB website and read the plot summary for any details I missed.

  29. Jeff Colburn April 17, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more about having a small kit for daily use. A few months ago I bought a Lowepro messenger bag for daily use. It’s gray (or grey) and carries my Canon Rebel XSi and 2 kit lenses, a small video camera and a few other bits and pieces. It’s small and light and easy to take everywhere. It’s a great addition to my shoulder bag and backpack. You don’t need to carry everything and the kitchen sink when you go someplace. With one body and one or two lenses, a good photographer can take great photographs of anything.

    Have Fun,
    Jeff

  30. Stan Olszewski April 17, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    My daily kit is a Canon 5D3, 28mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.4, and 85mm f/1.8. Quick, versatile, and relatively lightweight (compared to my daily outfit of zoom lenses and big white lenses). I prefer the shooting experience of the DSLR over a compact camera light the Olympus E-M5 or Fujifilm X cameras.

  31. Pedro Santos April 17, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    My everyday camera kit – Chinese shoulder bag, Canon 5DII, 40/2.8 85/1.8, Pentax Q 8.5/1.9

  32. Danny Tucker April 17, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    Erik, I have the same body and agree it is amazing, especially at high ISO. Have you any experience of the Panasonic 12-35 f2.8? The 24-70 f2.8L lives on my 5D3 and I’m wondering if it’s worth the outlay because it’s not a cheap micro 4/3 lens!

    Thanks
    Danny

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