My apologies in advance for any dropped links, am working on it!
My search for the ideal travel cam over the years has led me down many paths, and if you've read any of my previous posts, you'll know that my short list of prerequisites are mainly "compact and lightweight" hence my fondness for bridge cameras.
Bridge cameras like my old Fuji HS10 are fine for what they are, and as long as you know their weaknesses, they can do some sterling work, not epic, but just dandy for your average amateur point and shoot photographer like me and probably 95% of everybody else (at just a rough guess, so no offence!)
My trip to South Africa last year was a dream come true, and I returned home with many fond memories and rather a lot of pictures, many still need some work in the editing department, but by and large I was happy with them.
An early Sunday morning walk on my day off, was rewarded with this view almost from my lodgings!
I did encounter quite a few occasions where the HS10 couldn't get me the shot I was looking for, mainly in low light situations and astrophotography, the night sky there was amazing, and try as I might, I failed to get even one worthy shot! (admittedly, it was mostly user error!)
Two of my fellow volunteers though (Heather from USA and Katharina from Germany) were sporting Canon dSLR's. (thanks guys, I think you've converted me, in other words.......it's your fault!!)
I got to use them quite a bit and liked the results, though Heather's 7d with 70-300mm lens (Tamron I think) was quite a beast!
This got me thinking of course, I needed to up my sensor size in search of better IQ and low light performance but still in a bridge format, and there was only one camera at the time (in my eyes) that had that sort of package.......the Fujifilm X-S1
I had a little play with one in-store last year, and actually liked what I saw, it is the bigger/heavier brother to the HS range, and many were having good fun with it even though it had a few niggles early on and was getting some bashing on the forums, this made me wait a while before pulling the trigger, and Fuji have done a good job and ironed out most of those niggles, but.............there was another contender that had sparked an interest since it's launch early last year, a camera that intrigued me more than any other to date, but it was way out of my league and not a bridge!
In steps the Olympus OM-D EM-5 (Micro Four Thirds) it caused quite a stir when it was released (and still does) I'm not going to go into too much detail about it here (that's for another post) but needless to say, when I had the opportunity to acquire a good used one with the M Zuiko 40-150mm lens over Xmas, I jumped on it!
I knew there would be no turning back, and even before it arrived in the post I had gotten a serious case of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)
My first "other" lens was a Panasonic Lumix 100-300mm f4.5-6 , a well liked lens that would be ideal for any future Safari and nature watching forays, especially as there is a 2x crop factor with M4/3rds, so every lenses focal length is basically doubled.
Then came the 12-50mm kit lens, that would do for a walkabout lens, good for landscapes, macro and everyday stuff, plus it was splash/dust proof just like the E-M5 body.
There are many great Olympus and Panasonic lenses out there for M4/3rds (and more being added) and as is usually the case, the best ones are also the most expensive, so I curtailed myself from any more native lenses for the time being, as I needed to learn the system first with what I've got before handing out too much cash, then I realized the wonderful world of adapted lenses, where pretty much any lens ever made can be fitted via a cheap adapter and used manually......just like in the old days!
18 lenses later, and I'm now looking to pass a few on, some work well on the E-M5, others not so good or are just too heavy, and before you all say "how many?" let me tell you that the most expensive adapted lens was £67, a Sigma 400mm f5.6 and the cheapest was £7.50 a Prinzflex 35mm f2.8. the rest were all under £30 each.
There is something about old manual lenses that makes you want to caress them, I guess they just don't make them like that anymore, even though modern lenses are far superior (on the whole) due to the latest manufacturing processes and coatings. Still, the oldies but goodies are a hell of a lot of fun!
The E-M5 body is quite compact, my average hands and slender fingers have adapted quite well from the full grip of the HS10, but they hanker for more grip when fitted with the longer lenses, hence this post about my attempt at a DIY grip!
There are quite a few grips available on the market now;
Olympus HLD-6 Power Battery Grip, which holds a second battery but does not allow quick access to the one in camera, it does have 2 shutter releases and more customizable buttons though and all those electronic extras make it quite expensive.
The latest Really Right Stuff grip which I quite like has a Arca-Swiss style dovetail almost the full length of the base and more importantly, easy access to the battery compartment. Also has a removable L bracket on the end for portrait tripod work if you buy that option.
OMD E-M5 grip by John Milich is very interesting, I've been following Johns work and he is not only a very talented machinist and photographer, he also listens to peoples requests and builds his grips accordingly, something not that common these days and lovely to see, keep up the good work John!
OMD E-M5 Original design grip is a new one on the scene, being made in Taiwan if the designer can afford to go ahead with production, I wish them all the best!
Grip Base for Olympus OM-D E-M5 - Made in USA by J.B. Camera Designs is a lightweight (2oz) one piece hand poured and finished unit that so far looks like the best cheap alternative of getting a grip on your Em-5
Right, now down to my DIY attempt!
Being an industrious sort of chap, and with access to quite a few basic power tools (I'm a carpenter) I'm always tinkering with things until they are how I like them, you may well say I'm just a stubborn old git (and you may be right!) but why not if you can?
At this stage I'd like to just say if you attempt anything like this yourself (and I'm not advocating you do) as with working with any power tools, be extra careful as I cannot be liable for your actions or injuries you may receive while doing a project like this, basically, be it on your own head!
The material costs were minimal, time to make was about 5 days, researching and sourcing the bits took a little longer;
Aluminium flat bar 50 x 10 x 150mm, £4.30
Aluminium flat bar 3/4 x 3/8 x 2", 60p
1x captive tripod screw 1/4 x 20, £2.40
2x CSK A2 countersunk socket cap allen bolts, 33p
1x M5 x 35mm Titanium socket cap screw (cone head) £3.51
Self adhesive camera recovering leather, £2
Milliput and paint (already had both from a previous job!)
A grand total of £13.14 plus a little spare time, something I've had a bit of lately!
Ali works quite well with the same tools used for woodwork, so long as you take it easy, and my big old Ryobi Router came in quite handy!
Photos taken with my Galaxy S3
Basic outline, drilling and tapping, plus finger grip in the raw. Notice the captive screw has a slot big enough to tighten with a coin.
Most of the outlines were drilled first to get rid of the bulk, before smoothing them over with the router, holes were drilled and tapped accordingly, the upright part of the finger grip was rounded off and drilled all over so the Milliput gets a good purchase, and later the Arca-Swiss style dovetail was milled.
All machining has been done to the base here, prior to painting. Notice recess for captive screw, plus dovetail groove and milled out semi-circle in center of it, for flipping out the LCD screen.
Battery door opening has a 2mm hole on the right side for locating pin which hold body in place, off center threaded hole for 1/4" captive screw and tripod mounting hole (centered on lens) just in case I may want to attach it to another mounting plate.
Left hand side of above photo shows slot for home made gun sling strap, which will be held in place by a smooth Titanium socket cap screw.
There has obviously been quite a bit of hand filing and sanding here, not having access to modern CNC machines it is a bit crude, but at this stage I was happy, even after a few mistakes!
After painting with a matt Black finish, the upright was fitted and then the leather cut out and stuck.
Ready for the Milliput.
For those who do not have any knowledge of Milliput, it is a 2-part epoxy putty, I have used it on many occasions on various projects and cameras, and like the fact that it air dries overnight.
I covered the camera body with clingfilm to keep it clean during this section, and placed an off-cut of the leather behind the upright part, which will later be stuck on the back of the grip for added protection.
I kneaded the 2 parts of Milliput in my hands for 5 minutes until a uniform colour and covered the bare aluminium upright with enough material until it felt right when in a shooting position, I took some time here to get it right (Milliput doesn't start to go off for a few hours) then when I was satisfied I went over it with a piece of webbing, in a rolling fashion, to impart a slight texture to the surface, otherwise it would just have my fingerprints all over it!
The outcome was quite pleasing and also added a little extra grip.....what do you think?
Of course it may not be to everyone's liking, and does look a bit oversized in this last shot (mainly the camera angle) but it fits my hand like a glove and makes my E-M5 even more of a dream to handle, which was the whole point of the project anyway!
The dovetails fit nicely in my tripod ball head and even the extra weight was barely noticeable.
Was definitely worth the extra care in rounding off the corners and edges, especially where the palm of the hand rests, have heard a few complaints on the forums about this sharp corner on other models. Also adding a layer of leather between the two helps to cushion any knocks and protects the cameras body finish.
My middle finger rests on top of the upright while the lower two curl round for a good grip, the slight finger grooves help here and it is very comfortable.
I made sure the captive screw that attaches the base to the camera has a wide slot so a coin can be used for tightening, something we all have in our pockets most of the time, and negates carrying a screwdriver or allen wrench around.
Wrist strap on the right, gun sling loop on the left, made by doubling some elastic banding and sewing on a triangular D-ring, yes I know, not pretty, but will suffice until I can come up with a better idea...........maybe for Mk2?
Even the battery can be changed when on the tripod!
My adjustable home made gun sling strap is just a simple piece of 1" black webbing with 1x 3bar slider, 1x ladderlock buckle and a snaphook (all readily available from eBay) I've been using a couple of these for years now on my HS10 and several pairs of binoculars, and tested the strength with my own full weight, so I know I can trust them! In use it is just a loop which goes over the head onto one shoulder and down round the body under the arm to the opposite hip where you want the camera to be, the snaphook is free to slide up and down the strap, so the camera comes up easily to eye level to get a quick snapshot!
It actually looks like it belongs here!
The elastic strap acts as a little shock absorber, and might turn out better than expected or looks, we will see?
The triangular D loop is a little larger than I would have liked, but I already had it and didn't have the patience to wait for a smaller one to be delivered.
So, there we have it, a not too difficult project with a satisfying result, I'm pretty sure it will stay permanently on the E-M5 now, sure it will get beat up and loose some paint along the way, much rather that happens to the grip than the camera!
Would have loved to have it anodized but I was too impatient to send it off and get it done (if anyone knows who does a good anodizing job on small projects in the Midlands UK, please let me know?) Maybe I'll get the Mk2 version done, "Mk2" I hear you say...........once a tinkerer, always a tinkerer!!
In no way shape or form am I trying to undermine any of the other grips here, sure, I've borrowed some of the design elements, it's difficult not to, one look at them all and you can see how much they overlap, this is just my (present) take on the matter, and I wish them all the very best.