Mirrorless cameras look set to continue their rise in popularity over the festive season, and it's a safe bet that just a few of them will figure on Christmas present wishlists.
Here at Digital Camera, we're always keen to know what keeps people pressing their shutter buttons, so thought we'd invite some DSLR-toting photographers to shoot some street scenes using a compact mirrorless camera with a big reputation: the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk II.
In a festive take on our established Scavenger Hunt formula, we based the afternoon around Bath’s Christmas market and included the Bath Abbey Tower Tour – a climb up 212 steps – so the participants could shoot some awesome aerial views. (Sadly, the Bath Christmas Market has now finished, but here's a list of markets that are still open.)
This short film gives a flavour of the festive photo walk, but for the definitive lowdown about the event, keep on reading.
For the Great Festive Photo Walk, our nine readers used an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk II (opens in new tab) with an M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12‑40mm 1:2.8 PRO lens. They were quickly able to get to grips with controls they weren't used to and take compelling, creative shots. They also appreciated the electronic viewfinder and the cameras' compact size.
That's what Olympus's OM-D range of cameras is all about. Each is built to deliver brilliant image quality, high speed, pinpoint precision and a host of creative options. OM-D cameras are smaller and lighter than equivalent SLR models, helping to make your photography more spontaneous. This is married with a timeless design aesthetic that makes an OM-D camera easy to use.
Our readers weren't the only ones who had the chance to use an OM-D E-M1 Mk II - you can try one too! Visit www.bit.ly/OMDTestDrive (opens in new tab) to arrange a loan camera and discover the benefits of the Olympus OM-D system for yourself!
Fast and furious frame rate
With focus and exposure locked, the OM-D can shoot at 60fps. Switch on AF and AE to track your the subject, and you can still shoot the action at an incredible 18fps.
For still subjects and video, use the hybrid autofocus system; its 121 AF points stretch 75% across the frame. With C-AF, on-chip phase detection means you won't miss a shot.
Impressive lens choice
Using the Micro Four Thirds lens mount, there are 24 M.ZUIKO zooms and primes to choose from to cover every subject – plus options from other manufacturers.
What is a festive photo walk?
We based the Great Olympus Festive Photo Walk on our popular Scavenger Hunt (opens in new tab). This works a lot like a regular treasure hunt, but instead of finding objects, each person is given a list of things to photograph.
The participant to produce the most consistent series of images in terms of creativity, composition and exposure would be judged the winner.
Nine lucky DSLR users were picked to take part in the festive photo walk. Each person was issued with an OM-D E-M1 Mk II, a 12-40mm f/2.8 lens and the same four photo challenges. Before heading out, the participants were given a 30-minute briefing and Q&A session from Olympus imaging specialists.
Contestants and cameras at the ready, it's time to get shooting…
- Shoot the most festive shopping display
- Shoot an aerial view of the market
- Shoot your favourite example of festive food
- Shoot an abstract image of the Christmas lights
- Lives in: Branston, Lincolnshire, UK
- Current Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mk III and Canon M5
What are you looking to achieve? "I own a Canon EOS 5D and think the E-M1 will be lighter and easier to use. I've been talking to some pros who now use Olympus for their work, so I want to see if I can cope with it."
And how did you get on? "The day was a challenge, trying to work out the subjects to shoot, but I think I've achieved something. I'm very impressed with the camera. I'm seriously thinking about buying one - I don't want to lug all my DSLR stuff around forever."
- Lives in: Bath, Avon, UK
- Current Camera: EOS 80D, plus various Canon and Tamron lenses
What are you looking to achieve? "I shoot architecture and landscapes and have never used a mirrorless camera before, so where better to learn than at the Christmas market?"
And how did you get on? "It was enjoyable, if not a little bit daunting! The camera is very good, and I loved using something other than my DSLR. It usually takes a while to get into a new menu system but we had expert advice on hand."
- Lives in: Bath, Avon, UK
- Current camera: Canon EOS 60D, plus assorted Canon and Sigma lenses
What are you looking to achieve? "I'm looking to try out a mirrorless camera, to see how it feels in the hand and try a new menu interface. I've lived in Bath for a year, so I have some local knowledge!"
And how did you get on? "The digital viewfinder was very interesting, and getting a feel for the different settings. There were challenges with the light levels, lots of great views and interesting little details. Feeling the weight of the camera and getting used to it was good"
- Lives in: Dean, Wiltshire, UK
- Current camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
What are you looking to achieve? "I'm looking for some more experience of low-light photography, and to challenge myself to use a different camera system.”
And how did you get on? "It was great to get to know another camera, and the E-M1 was easy to get used to. I was very impressed by the speed at which I got to know it and play around with the settings. I might well be tempted to become a convert: I find my DSLR heavy to carry around."
- Lives in: Chippenham, Wiltshire, UK
- Current camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III and selected Canon lenses
What are you looking to achieve? "I'm looking to get used to a mirrorless camera, and test the mirrorless waters – if it goes well, who knows?"
And how did you get on? "It was great to see how other photographers reacted to an unfamiliar camera. I really enjoyed the E-M1, and I will miss many of its nifty features when I go back to my DSLR. It was great to try a mirrorless camera for the first time in an environment where there was help available and people around to answer my more technical questions."
Natasja van der Woude
- Lives in: Winscombe, Somerset, UK
- Current camera: Canon EOS 400D and Canon lenses
What are you looking to achieve? "I'm just hoping to have a bit of fun, to learn something new and hopefully get some nice images."
And how did you get on? "It was a lot of fun, and there was a lot to learn. The camera is quick, and the settings are a lot different to my own camera, but it's probably easy to get used to. Have I been converted? Who knows..."
- Lives in: Newport, Wales, UK
- Current camera: Nikon D800 and various Nikkor lenses
What are you looking to achieve? "It's going to be good to play with a new camera and see what else is on the market. I'm looking to find some new inspiration, and there’s no better place to do that than in Bath."
And how did you get on? "It was a fantastic afternoon and I liked the camera – it was a nice weight, user-friendly and well-made. The viewfinder is outstanding, and the Wi-Fi connection to download images straight to a phone is really good. The light was lovely, and so was the abbey tour"
- Lives in: Street, Somerset, UK
- Current camera: Nikon D750, plus various Nikkor and Sigma lenses
What are you looking to achieve? "I've never shot on a mirrorless camera before, or on a Micro Four Thirds sensor. I’ve used crop sensors before and shoot full-frame now, so I’m looking for a lighter camera."
And how did you get on? "I had a fantastic time this afternoon, and the E-M1 is a brilliant camera. It's so powerful to be able to see what you're doing in the viewfinder, and I love the fact the camera is so compact: I couldn’t quite get over how small the lens is."
And the winner is... Natasha Boorman
- Lives in: Southampton, Hampshire, UK
- Current camera: Nikon D90 and various Nikkor, Sigma, Tamron and Vivitar lenses
What are you looking to achieve? "I'm looking to possibly upgrade my DSLR and am considering mirrorless options because of the light weight."
And how did you get on? "It's been brilliant, and I've really fallen in love with the camera. I got to go up to the roof of the abbey, which was great – there were lots of interesting angles as it got darker. I've never been to Bath before, so it was a great little expedition for me. It was definitely worth bringing my lens ball, especially for the Christmas Lights challenge."
See Natasha Boorman's winning images
The judges' verdict: "All six of our readers really stepped up to our challenge," writes Niall Hampton. "They produced some great shots, and inventive interpretations to the four tasks. But there can only be one winner.
"Natasha's images were well-composed and well-exposed across the board. Despite having little time to familiarise herself with the new-to-her surroundings, her photos were also very creative, and she used the lens ball she brought with her to good effect on more than one of the challenges. Great shooting, Natasha!"