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Horsing around with the Olympus E-M1 at the Mustang Magic finals

My daughter Mary and I joined our friends Michelle and Dave last weekend to attend the finals of the Extreme Mustang Magic competition in Fort Worth, at the Will Rogers complex. A few years ago Michelle and Dave entered a horse in the Extreme Mustang Makeover, so they're insiders and great to sit with. Mary is a life-long rider, but me, well, I love horses but prefer to admire them from the ground.


Anyway, here are a few photos from the event — and from the stock show, which Mary and I visited beforehand. Always a treat for a city boy to see where his food comes from. You can click on any one of the photos to view them full screen.)

Rooster in a cage and not very happy about it. (Manually focused, of course, but shot with the wrong lens. I used the Panasonic 20 f1.7; a longer lens would have allowed me to blur the bars of the cage a little more.)

Big fuzzy cow. I wanted to give this honey a hug but managed to resist the urge. (ISO 200. You can count the hairs on Bossie's side, if you have nothing better to do.)

On to the Mustang Magic competition: This was one of the beautiful horses that competed in the finals. (ISO 3200)

Testing out the Olympus E-M1's focus tracking system. This was shot during the warm-ups before the competition started in earnest. (ISO 3200)

Focus tracking worked pretty well, most of the time. Here I am shooting over the hats of the folks in the row in front of me.
Fort Worth native and crowd favorite J-Dub rode to the Ylvis song "What does the fox say?" while wearing a fox outfit. Here the fox was saying "Whoa!"

I've posted these and a few more photos in a set on Flickr.

So how'd the E-M1 do?

I photographed the Extreme Mustang Million finals in September 2013, shooting with the full-frame Sony A99 and an outstanding Sigma 70-200 f2.8 zoom lens. Blogged about it here.

Of course, I'm personally curious — and you may be curious too, if you're a photographer — to know how the photos I took last Saturday with the micro four thirds E-M1 compare to the photos I took five months ago with the full-frame A99. There are more photos in the post linked to immediately above, but for quick reference, here's a shot from last fall of Tom Hagwood and his horse Merv, the winners of the Mustang Million:

Tom Hagwood riding Merv in the Extreme Mustang Million finals in Fort Worth, September 2013. They won first place. (Shot with Sony A99: ISO 3200, f3.2, 1/200th sec.)

And another:

At the Extreme Mustang Million finals in Fort Worth, September 21, 2013.

The compositions of these two photos are, I feel, stronger than the compositions I shot last weekend. But that doesn't say anything about the relative merits of the cameras. The folks in the Mustang Million were competing for a huge amount of prize money: over a million dollars total. The folks last weekend in the Mustang Magic were competing for a total purse of $10,000, which was split among the several finalists. I think the winner got just $3500 for her trouble. The routines this time generally weren't as showy as those in the Mustang Million and, while I enjoyed it thoroughly, the entire show seemed less dramatic. 

Last fall I was also helped a bit by the fact that I was able to shoot with a zoom lens (the Sigma 70-200 f2.8 USM). Shooting last weekend with a single prime — without being able to move — was of course a bit of a challenge. Next time I'll bring a second body with a different lens and (for the most part) eliminate the zoom advantage.

But in terms of basic image quality, the E-M1's images stand up to the A99's remarkably well. The E-M1 nailed the focus almost every time, focus tracking generally worked great, and noise wasn't a significantly bigger problem in the E-M1 images than in the A99 shots.

I do miss the A99 a little, but just a little. I'm very pleased with the E-M1. 

Technical notes

The event gave me a chance to try out the E-M1 in fairly trying circumstances. The lighting inside the arena is always mediocre — on a par with the church lighting for weddings. And unlike wedding ceremonies where the bride and groom tend to be pretty stationary, the subjects (horses and riders) at the Mustang Magic finals moved around constantly, sometimes pretty fast. We sat on the fifty yard line, in the second row, which was perhaps a bit closer than was good for me. I had only three primes (Panasonic 20 f1.7 II pancake, Olympus 45 f1.8, and Sigma 60 f2.8) plus the Olympus 40-150 zoom. The zoom was too slow for the lighting in the room. The Panasonic 20 was too wide and the Sigma 60 a bit too long, so I mostly used the Olympus 45 f1.8, which was as close to "just right" as I could get.

I shot manual, with the aperture not quite wide open; since the riders and horses were usually at least 20 feet away (and often a good bit more than that), I wasn't worried about depth of field: I wanted more light. Generally kept the shutter around 1/350th sec, sometimes a little slower. I was panning a lot with the camera as the riders moved from left to right or right to left. Finally I tried ISO 3200 but found that I could get by with ISO 1600.

The E-M1's focus tracking seemed to work pretty well, as did the (slow) multiple exposure option. But I turned both features off and went back to single exposure, single focus shooting to save batteries.

The images above were processed in Lightroom 5.3; a couple of them had help from the Google/Nik plug-ins.


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