Tuesday, 6 September 2016

DIYing Better Ergonomics for the Olympus EM5 Mk 2

Now just in case some of you get a little concerned about people defacing their cameras and reducing the value of their gear from a resale perspective, I couldn't really care less.  It's simple really, I almost never sell my gear, it gets flogged to death and if it gets replaced by something else it finds a home as a photography class tool, so a little defacing is not going to worry me one iota.

What I do care about is having a camera that works as well as possible for my needs and usually that means I have to DIY some accessories, modify controls and customise the menu items and probably do a few other things that might offend purists.

Normally I don't initially change anything on a new camera, and that includes the custom menu options, I just use the gear for a little while to get an idea of what the deficiencies might be, some issues show up really quickly but often what might appear to be an issue at first turns out to be nothing more than a lack of familiarisation, hence the delay period.

I must also make it clear I am not a chimper, for me the whole idea of using a mirrorless camera is to get a preview "on screen" that tells the truth of the image before the shutter is pressed, thus removing the need for constant replaying of the image to check that it was Ok.   Above all I like to shoot fluidly and by touch, I rarely take the camera from my eye to adjust settings whilst shooting, at least if I can possibly avoid it.

Most of the changes to the EM5 Mk 2 are very minor and in fact many people probably wouldn't realise the camera had been modded in any way unless they looked closely, and whilst some of the mods may not look super pro in execution, they all make for a far better ergonomic package that can be confidently used without me taking the camera from my eye or fiddling to find some lost button.

Lets start by identifying what were/are the ergonomic issues with the Em5 Mark 2, from my perspective at least.

1) I tend to use my right eye to focus and I find that the sun shines in on the right hand side of the camera making it hard to see the screen at certain times of the day. I also find the standard eyeshade a tad hard to the touch.

2) The shutter button is too flush with the control dial and I also found myself often pushing the Fn2 button instead and vice versa.

3) The replay button and the delete button can be easily confused when working via touch.

4) The display button and menu button can easily be confused when working via touch.

5)  The OK button in the middle of the four way controller is too flush and a little hard to find by thumb touch.

6) That Fn1 button is really rather hard to nail if you have the camera up to your eye.

6) The front grip is inadequate.

7) The inner front right hand surface of the body is a little slippery.

8)  The thumb grip is nice but again it could be a bit grippier.

Lenses come into the equation as well and my EM5 mark 2 is used as a travel camera in conjunction with the rather nice Panasonic 14-42 version 2 kit lens and the equally nice Panasonic 35-100 f4-5.6, plus a couple of other lenses for good measure, the lens hoods that come with the Panasonics are stupidly big for compact "manbag" usage. An additional prerequisite is that I like to be able to manually focus with one finger, which is only possible by the way as I use custom made hand grip with all my cameras, we will come to that a little later.

So lets go through the camera body mods I have made:

1)  I have made an alloy eye shield that slides into the hotshoe, this stops light on the right hand side of the camera from sneaking past the side of my face and spoiling the view, the soft cup is made from 3 layers of self adhesive neoprene which is shaped to perfectly match the curve of my face around the eye area.  I don't need to worry about the left side of the viewfinder as my nose gets in the way of the light there.

2)  I have super glued a small "O" ring to the shutter button which now sits well clear of the surrounding knob and nicely locates the tip of my shutter finger in the middle and also gives a softer release, this simple mod feels and works much better than you might expect.

3) Both the display and replay button have had tiny bits of rubber attached to them to make them easier to locate and press and also differentiate them from their adjacent partners,  The rubber bits attached to each button are also different, the replay button is a small round knob but the display button is a ribbed item.  This difference means they cannot be easily confused with one another, I guess it's kind of like Braille for your camera.

4) The OK button has had a small round translucent piece of plastic glued to it, this was cut off scrap sprue from a model car kit which I then machined down on some sandpaper, it is only about 1mm thick and the edges are deliberately sharp so that its obvious I am pressing the OK and not something else.

5) The Fn2 button has a tiny rubber knob on it which makes it easier to press and this completely differentiates it from the video button.

6)  I have created a custom grip for the camera but to work in conjunction with that grip a small rubber "O" ring is glued to the front of the camera just above and to the right of the depth of field preview button, this locates the very tip of my middle finger and makes for a subtly more secure grip when used in conjunction with the custom hand grip, even without the handgrip it helps.

7)  The Fn1 button has a very small "O' ring glued to it that it's just slightly larger than the diameter of the original button, this puts the outer surface just proud of the adjacent lever and makes it possible to press the button reliably for back focus tasks with the camera still to my eye.

8) The final body mod is the addition of another "O" to the middle of the thumb grip on the back of the camera, this properly locates the ball of my thumb and works well in conjunction with the custom grip.

And now for the lenses:

I actually have four lenses and each one is treated in the same way.

1) Both the focus ring and the zoom controller have raised half round alloy rods on them, they are the same width as the rings. These extensions mean I can lock my middle finger on either side of the rod and push or pull the focus and zoom controller rings around whilst keeping my hand in position on the front grip and the shutter release finger hovering above the shutter release button.

2) I removed the outside black coating of some small black alloy lens hoods polished them  and modified them so they don't vignette the image at the wider focal length settings, I like the look of the hoods and they take up less room in the man bag.

And Finally The Grip

I have made several custom grips for my cameras over the years, it makes them much more pleasant to use and also help me shoot reliably at slower shutter speeds.  This particular grip weighs in at about 145 grams, the baseplate is made out of 2.5mm aluminium sandwiched between two pieces of Australian Huon Pine, the grips profile is a perfect match for the shape of the cameras base plate, the front finger grip that goes below the shutter area is also alloy with a Huon Pine cap and rubber glued to the surface to provide a secure grip in conjunction with the thumb grip and that little "O: ring on the front of the camera.

The plate kicks slightly forward to the point where the alloy handgrip screws in, this is very deliberate, it subtly improves the balance point of the combined camera/lens/grip combo.  I firmly believe you can get shaper results at slower speeds if everything is perfectly balanced and the camera is not wanting to tip forward microscopically as you shoot, the grip also allows you to offset the pressure used triggering the shutter.

The alloy hand grip part is a standard item that can be bought on eBay but it has been capped by a round 50g weight which gives it a much nicer balance and also ensures your hand feels nicely located.

Additionally, though not shown here the hand grip itself can be screwed off the plate then screwed into the tripod socket for a compact but secure grip for shooting when desired, this works nicely for video.

So thats it, the sum total of all these little things is a camera that is now truly lovely to use, it just feels natural in the hand in my opinion that provides an enhanced sense of confidence.  I may yet make some further changes, Ill keep you posted on that.

NOTE:  I have also spent quite some time sorting out the optimal menu settings and button allocations, but that is worth a whole extra post and will be forthcoming in a few weeks time, so stay tuned.  Additionally I have also built a custom panorama rig and few other small items that I will be touched in in seperate posts.

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