20 SECONDS HANDHELD! My camera is better than yours

20-second handheld exposure at night
(Image credit: James Artaius)

Okay, let me set the scene. I was on vacation in Santorini, Greece, and after posting a selfie on Instagram one of my friends (a noted petrolhead) spotted an old red car in the background. 

He asked me if it was an old Ford Capri, so I replied that I hadn't even noticed it behind me – but that the next time I was out, I'd take a photo for him. As it turns out, the next time turned out to be at night, and my phone camera just wasn't doing the trick. Thankfully, I had my trusty Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III with me – so I set out to take a photo that wasn't a grainy, blurry mess.

• This is the camera I took on my first post-pandemic vacation

You probably can't tell from the photo, but it was dark. The post-sunset sky was gorgeous colors, but there was virtually no ambient light and only limited illumination coming from street and house lights. 

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III + M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro (50mm equiv, 20 secs, ISO200, f/6.3) (Image credit: James Artaius)

Even my f/2.8 trinity lens wasn't fast enough to let the necessary amount of light onto the sensor, and I try not to bump up the ISO on my shots unless I can possibly help it. 

However, because Olympus / OM System has the best in-body image stabilization (IBIS) in the business, I knew that the E-M5 Mark III would enable me to handhold with a slow shutter speed.

What I didn't know, though, was just how slow a shutter speed I could handhold.

One second is okay on just about any camera. I can just about squeeze two or three out of a camera with no IBIS, provided the focal length isn't too long. But I've never gone above ten even, with an Olympus body (and shooting at a comfortable 24mm). 

Bless my phone camera, but it had no chance of getting a decent shot in this little light (Image credit: Alis Volat)

So to hit 20 seconds completely handheld (especially with my shaky hands and lackluster technique) at 50mm felt pretty bloomin' impressive – and if you click to open the full-size version of the image, you'll see that the detail ain't bad. Certainly enough to confirm that this was, in fact, a Ford Escort, not a Capri.

I'm sure plenty of people will have plenty to say. Yes, I know that being able to handhold for a long time doesn't actually make this "the best camera". Yes, I know that the picture itself is nothing to write home about. Yes, I know that it's not totally sharp. And yes, I'm sure other people have shot sharper shots with slower shutter speeds than me.

You know what, though? I've personally never used another camera where I can personally handhold a shot that long. And the next time anyone says that Micro Four Thirds cameras are no good in low light, you can point them at this article and kindly inform them that they have no clue what they're talking about. 

Read more: 

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III review
Best Olympus cameras (OM System)
Best Olympus lenses (OM System)
Best Micro Four Thirds cameras
Best Micro Four Thirds lenses

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James Artaius

The editor of Digital Camera World, James has 21 years experience as a journalist and started working in the photographic industry in 2014 (as an assistant to Damian McGillicuddy, who succeeded David Bailey as Principal Photographer for Olympus). In this time he shot for clients like Aston Martin Racing, Elinchrom and L'Oréal, in addition to shooting campaigns and product testing for Olympus, and providing training for professionals. This has led him to being a go-to expert for camera and lens reviews, photo and lighting tutorials, as well as industry news, rumors and analysis for publications like Digital Camera MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon MagazineN-Photo: The Nikon MagazineDigital Photographer and Professional Imagemaker, as well as hosting workshops and talks at The Photography Show. He also serves as a judge for the Red Bull Illume Photo Contest. An Olympus and Canon shooter, he has a wealth of knowledge on cameras of all makes – and a fondness for vintage lenses and instant cameras.