When reading about photography, I like to spend time in the DPReview forums, particularly in the Micro Four Thirds forum, as my camera of choice is an Olympus OM-D E-M5. A frequent thread of conversation around there is "what to take to Disney World". I myself started such a thread a few months back.
I spent all of last week there with my wife and daughters (4.5 and 2 years old), and I thought I'd talk about my photographic experience, as it might be interesting for others looking to take a trip. This post is going to be from the point-of-view of a Micro 4/3 (m43) owner, in terms of what I noticed other people using, what I used, and what I think the ideal setup would be.
The entire Flickr set is available here. It's a lot more photos than I would normally post, but I wanted to make sure family and friends could see everything that the girls did, not just the photographic "keepers". And even this is trimmed down from 1700 total shots.
What I Brought
My goal when I purchased the E-M5 was to get a new DSLR-ish camera (upgrading from a Canon XTi), but which is much smaller and lighter than typical Canon or Nikon setups. A prime advantage of the m43 format is that a lens with an equivalent focal length and speed to a given Nikon/Canon lens will typically be much smaller and lighter than the Nikon/Canon lens, and the cameras are much smaller too.
A side-note: Because of the crop factor, a 25mm m43 lens will have a field of view (FOV) equivalent to a 50mm full-frame (35mm) DSLR lens.
The primary equipment I brought to Disney World was:
- Panasonic 25mm/1.4
- Panasonic 14mm/2.5
- Olympus 45mm/1.8
- Olympus 40-150mm R
- Olympus 12-50mm/3.5-6.3
- Olympus FL-600R flash
That's a *lot* of gear, but because everything is so small in the m43 world, I was able to pack it all into a fairly compact camera bag.
I took ~90% of my shots with the 25/1.4. It's a fantastic lens, with a 50mm equivalent FOV. I find that particular FOV great for walking around and getting most shots. Some people prefer a 35mm equivalent, but I've found that to be a bit wider than I like. I didn't carry all of that gear every day. Sometimes I went out with only the 25/1.4. Sometimes I'd bring all the lenses and no flash. And sometimes I'd bring the flash and leave the 12-50mm in the hotel.
The 12-50mm is important because like the E-M5, it's weather sealed. That means it can get wet and splashed without any worry. None of the other lenses I brought were sealed, so I was afraid to try any of them on rides like "Splash Mountain". The only time I ever put the 12-50mm on was during one of those wet rides. If my 25/1.4 was weather sealed, then I wouldn't have brought the 12-50mm to Florida with me.
I used the 40-150mm during the safari in Animal Kingdom, and at the Sanaa Resort restaurant, where giraffes, zebras, and other animals are walking by the windows while you eat dinner. I was also able to snag some butterfly shots with it.
I only used the 14mm/2.5 a few times, when I needed something wider than my 25/1.4, and wasn't carrying the 12-50mm. Luckily the 14mm is microscopically small, so carrying it in my bag added essentially no weight and took no extra space.
Until I bought the 25mm/1.4, the 45mm/1.8 was by far my favourite lens. It's ridiculously sharp and capable of some fantastic bokeh (example shot), and I use it whenever I can. But as a walk-around lens, it's less than ideal, with its 90mm equivalent FOV. I considered using it at dinners, but I had a lot of shots where a Disney character would come by and pose with my girls, and I'd need to move really far back to get them framed properly. Thus, the 25mm stayed on. I'm not even sure if I ended up using the 45mm at all during the trip.
The flash was used almost exclusively for character dining, where various Disney characters would come to our table during dinner and talk to the girls. The restaurants were often dimly lit, and I wanted to make sure I didn't miss a shot. I actually forgot to bring the flash for a few of these situations, and had to shoot at f/1.4, but it generally worked out ok.
A lens I wish I had, but didn't want to spend the money on ($1300 CDN!!!) is the Panasonic 12-35mm/2.8. This is a weather-sealed zoom lens that constantly gets great reviews. It would have covered the 25mm length that I used so much, but also given me some flexibility to go a lot wider and longer. There were definitely a lot of instances where I needed the light-gathering capability of the 25mm/1.4, so I think that if I owned the 12-35mm, I would have brought the 25/1.4 with me anyway.
What others brought
Walking around, I took some mental notes on what other park patrons were carrying.
- It seemed like almost everyone had a consumer-grade Nikon/Canon DSLR with the kit lens
- I noticed a few people with Canon 5D mk2, and Nikon equivalents, but they were few and far between
- I probably noticed 5-6 other people with a m43 camera
- I saw 9-10 people carrying various models of Sony NEX cameras
I didn't see a single other E-M5.
What I should have brought?
Given my week-long experience carrying my gear around, was this the right setup? Should others do the same? It depends.
In an ideal world, I think that if you want to take an m43 camera, the 12-35mm/2.8 + 25mm/1.4 would be a pretty killer combination. If you wore cargo shorts and were able to carry them around without an extra bag, it'd be quite nice.
That's an expensive setup though, between the camera and those two lenses. There are only a few shots that I think I missed because of my setup (where it would take too long to switch from the 25mm to my zoom, or to the 14mm), but it would have been nice not to miss anything.
For someone else doing this trip, with young kids, I think that it'd be smart to forgo an interchangeable lens system, and get a high quality pocketable compact like the Panasonic LX7, or Sony RX100. If you already own a m43, that's different, but don't buy one just for this trip. Maybe go for a super zoom if you want something that can go longer than those compacts, for things like the safari.
I made it work, but it's something of a hassle to carry the camera and the bag, and worry about the occasional lens swap, all while managing two little girls who just want to run around and have fun.
I'm glad I had it, and there were definitely shots I was able to get that a compact couldn't do (thanks to my fast lens), but it's hard to say how that compares to the trade-off of missing some low-light shots while not having to deal with a camera bag and large-ish camera.
If you're going with older kids who can take care of themselves, or if your main reason to go is for photographic opportunities, then an m43 system is highly recommended. But if you're taking little children, pause and think about the main purpose of the photographs.
A neat service that Disney offers is their Disney PhotoPass. They have photographers at key locations around the park, and at all of the character autograph spots. These photographers will shoot pictures for you with their Nikon gear, and then scan a little card that you carry around. When you're done your vacation, you can log in to disneyphotopass.com and see all the pictures they took for you.
Getting individual copies of a picture is expensive. $14.95 per shot. But they have a deal where you can purchase a digital copy of every single picture for $180, and if you choose to pay before the vacation, then it's only $120. They took 208 pictures for us, and I'm still deciding whether to buy them.
It's something to think about. The photographers are of varying skill levels, and they all use a flash for every shot, but they'll definitely capture a lot of key memories for you. You can pay $120, plus buy an LX7 or equivalent camera, for a lot less than an m43 system. You might not get the beautiful captures you'd want if you were to do it yourself, but again, ask yourself what the main point of these photos is.