It was once thought that professional kit needed to be built like a tank, weigh a ton and be carried around in heavy-duty high-profile cases. Cameras such as those in the Olympus OM-D range have rewritten the rule book, however, and an increasing number of photographers are finding that the ultra compact kit is enabling them to pack everything into a single case.
One of those enjoying this newfound freedom is music photographer Oliver Halfin. Oliver travels the world documenting bands’ tours. His current epic journey has seen him working closely with the super band The Dead Daisies, a musical collective that features some of the best rock musicians on the planet. We caught up with him the night after a gig in Copenhagen.
“I’m increasingly doing these kinds of long-term assignments that see me providing day-to-day coverage of a tour and uploading material on an ongoing basis to a band’s website,” says Oliver. “It’s pretty intense and I might be working every day, even when there are no gigs scheduled, to provide a running commentary on what’s going on.
“I travel with the band not the support crew, and so I’m with them all the time and wherever they go I go. Over the past year this has included locations such as Japan, South America, North America and Europe, and I’m forever getting on planes and heading off somewhere. As with any professional on the road I’m paranoid about my gear, and I always make sure that it travels with me in my carry-on luggage rather than being consigned to the hold, where there is far more risk of it being damaged or lost.”
This approach is only possible, however, if gear is compact enough to be packed in one carry-on sized bag, and this is where the Olympus OM-D kit comes into its own. Oliver has been using Olympus cameras for some years now, along with his favourite optics – a 17mm f/1.8, 25mm f/1.2 and 75mm f/1.8 – and has most recently been using the OM-D E-M1 Mark II. He can pack this plus a couple of spare bodies, along with a decent selection of lenses, a video tripod head, chargers and memory cards, in a Think Tank case that is within carry-on limits.
As the Olympus flagship model, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II has it all. It’s impressively quick to respond, can deliver a jaw-dropping frame rate of up to 60fps, comes equipped with 121 all cross-type on-chip phase-detection focus points to ensure a formidably fast and accurate AF system and, for good measure, it also offers 4K video footage as well, something that Oliver truly values. All this comes in a package that weighs just 500g, making it one of the lightest truly professional-spec cameras currently.
“Video capability is increasingly something that I need,” confirms Oliver. “For the last Dead Daisies tour I was filming with the E-M5 Mark II, and this was all part of the coverage that I was expected to provide. The days are gone when you might be a music photographer and that was all you did: now you have to manage multiple disciplines.
“The time was when most of the material would be for magazine use, and so it had to be high-quality stills. You still need these but because you’re servicing a wide range of social media sites you’re expected to do much more, and to work in a more reportage style, which is what the OM-D system was made for.
“Publications are generally looking to get an angle that no one else can get,” says Oliver. “They like you to show that you’ve got a close relationship to the artist. If I’m the band’s official photographer rather than someone that has a one-off press pass then I will normally have free rein to go where I want, but I need to be able to work with available light and to hand-hold my camera. With the II that is no problem at all, and I set the camera to a top ISO of 3200 and am still confident that I was going to get something that would be up to the requirements of the most discerning of end users.
“If I have access I usually try to get on stage at some point and to get a picture behind the artist. These days many people go to a concert with a decent cameraphone on them, and I want to come away with something that will be distinctly different to what they can get. The other big advantage of being given an open brief is that I’m not restricted to the first three songs. I will know the structure of the set and can sometimes wait for a couple of songs without taking a picture if I know that a good opportunity is coming up. Ultimately I’d rather have one great shot than 50 average ones.”
Ask Oliver about the most photogenic band he’s covered and he’ll go for Coldplay, while his favourite shot to date is of Slash at Download Festival in 2015. “I’d photographed him before and saw he jumped during ‘Paradise City’,” he says, “so I got myself in position between the drum kit and the amps and waited… He jumped as expected and I got him frozen in mid air. He almost looks like he’s floating.”
Music is a hugely exciting business to be involved in and it’s tailor-made for the OM-D system. This kit is the perfect complement to the modern world: feature-packed, lightning fast, robust, flexible, lightweight and compact. For good measure it also looks amazing: the perfect mix of up-to-the-minute functionality and retro chrome-plated charm. No wonder professionals are flocking to the system.
Article featured in Professional Photo Magazine Issue 134