Top positive review
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Easy purchase decision if you own the E-5 and Olympus lens
on October 29, 2013
Should you buy this camera?
1. Absolutely YES...if you are a dedicated Olympus guy/gal with a serious investment in Zuiko lenses, then this upgrade is an absolute no-brainer. Buy it now and you will finally be able to compete with your Canon and Nikon buddies in low-light and high resolution. They'll be jealous of the small package and amazing array of features in this camera, and you'll finally get the full performance out of the Zuiko HG and SHG lenses that were always overmatched for the Olympus bodies (more on the performance of the camera below).
2. Almost certainly...if you are looking for your first DSL system and prefer a very lightweight and compact camera system over the bulkier full-size DSLRs YET you still want pro-level control and image quality AND a large selection of medium-to-high grade lenses. If that description fits you, then this camera is the best choice today. The micro four thirds standard is the most diverse system in this category, as Nikon and Canon have yet to really compete in the mirrorless segment beyond a few entries and lenses. Sony is another good option, but their mirrorless lens choices are very thin and overpriced IMO...but I digress.
3. Seriously Consider...if you are Canon/Nikon pro who makes money with your photography and you're looking for a smaller rig on occasion. The EM-1 could be a nice second (or third) rig with image quality that will impress you even in low light. The light weight and small size of the lenses (especially the fast primes) will surprise you. You might find yourself in places and situations where the full-size camera is too imposing or distracting, while the EM-1 is barely even noticeable (and the shutter is nearly silent). I think we're going to see the mirrorless systems showing up more often in professional settings, especially as the bodies improve and the lens choices increase. Right now, this is the best of the breed.
4. Maybe...if you have an aging full-size DSLR from Canon or Nikon and it's time for an upgrade. Depending on how much you have invested in your glass, a switch to this system should give you substantially better image performance, much smaller size and probably less cost when compared to buying a new full-size sensor body with several fast lenses. It's a commitment to a new system, but if your current setup is old and can't cut it any longer, then this might be the right time to switch.
5. Probably not...if you are invested heavily in Canon and Nikon glass and accessories. The quality of this camera is very, very good, but not good enough to justify significant expense in new lenses.
I bought this camera because I fit into category 1 above. I am a long-time Olympus digital SLR owner (which has not been an easy road, frankly). I originally bought into the Olympus four-thirds system because their lenses were so much faster (i.e., brighter) than competitors at a similar price point, and their equipment is very well made. I think the price was a bit steep (even more than I paid for my E-5), but the quality to match the price is there, and let's face it...Olympus owners don't really have a choice if we want to continue using our high-end Olympus glass.
Some background on my perspective...skip the nex paragraph if you don't care.
I started with the E-1, moved to the E-620 and then the E-5. I've been using the E-5 exclusively for the past three years. (I also bought a Panasonic mirrorless micro four thirds body to play with, but I never liked the lack of control it offered, so I stuck with the E-5.) I also have many Olympus lenses, including four of their high-end SHG lenses, and if it hadn't been for my (significant) investment in this glass, I would have abandoned the four-thirds standard long ago. I've long been jealous of my Canon and Nikon friends with much better low-light performance and better resolution. On the other hand, they were jealous of my insanely fast Olympus glass, so I waited to see Olympus' next move before deciding whether to stay or jump ship.
The OM-D EM-1 wasn't exactly the body I was expecting, but now that I have shot with it for a week, I'm sold. Finally, I have a camera that competes nicely (not equally, but close) with full frame sensor bodies. The build quality on this camera is top notch, equal to the E-5 and even better in some respects. The controls will be familiar to anyone who has used (and loved) the unique Olympus body control layouts. Everything on this camera is fast, fast, fast. Contrast focus is great with MFT lenses and the phase-detection is even faster than my E-5 (which was no slouch with SWF lenses).
Now, here are answers to questions I had before I bought the EM-1 (that no else seemed to address). I think they will be particularly helpful for existing Olympus camera owners:
1. Is the EM-1 image quality *finally* competitive with the "big boys?"
In a word, yes. Olympus owners can finally take the bag off their heads! No more making excuses for our low light performance, poor focus speed or low resolution. I'm continually surprised (in a good way) by the image quality of the EM-1. It's visibly better than the E-5, and in low light situations the difference between the EM-1 and previous Olympus bodies is...well...night and day. Noise is all but nonexistent at ISO 6400 or below (and even higher ISOs are very usable). This was always Olympus biggest weakness compared to other cameras, but that difference is mostly erased with this camera. Compared to my friend's full frame Canon, the EM-1 colors look a little over saturated (in the typical Olympus way, especially the reds), but I kinda like the pumped look, and you can always desaturate in post if you prefer the flatter, more neutral Canon look. White balance is outstanding. Olympus bodies typically handled white balance well, but this one nails it every time.
2. Is the camera still easy to configure and control in the typical Olympus way of doing things?
Look up the word "configurable" on wikipedia, and you will find a picture of the EM-1. Virtually every button can be remapped to another purpose. Olympus might as well have labeled every button on the camera with a letter (e.g., A, B, C, etc.) instead of a specific function, because you can change every button to do whatever function you prefer. In fact, you can make multiple buttons do the SAME thing. The manual comes on a CD, but it's not that long and you can print it at home with a laser printer for a few pennies. It's worth it because you'll need it to configure the camera properly. After about an hour, I had the EM-1 buttons remapped to match the configuration on my E-5. Yeah...zero retraining required!
3. Do I need the new Olympus M Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 or should I stick with my four-thirds lenses and the adapter?
How rich are you? If you have the money, replace your four thirds lenses with good M4/3, but it will cost you. The 12-40mm is a cool $1,000. After I got my EM-1 I attached a few of my SHG lenses, and they worked perfectly, but they look ridiculous. I initial intended to stick my big Olympus glass to save money, but after one day with the EM-1, I decided to invest in high-end micro four thirds lenses. It completely ruins the point of a svelte micro four thirds body when mated to oversized lenses. I love the quality of SHG glass, and I certainly won't be dumping those lenses anytime soon, but for everyday photography needs (i.e., with the kids at the amusement park, walking around the tourist spots, a casual moment with the family and pets, etc.) you don't want to mate a small, lightweight camera with a ginormous, heavy lens. My first purchase was the 12-40mm (on the wait list now) and I've already bought a few of the M4/3 primes including the Oly 17mm, Pana/Leica 25mm, Oly 45mm and Oly 75mm (my favorite). I'm told Olympus is working to replicate the fast zooms of the SHG four thirds line in M4/3 versions. Let's hope for it.
4. Can I live with an electronic viewfinder instead of optical?
The electronic viewfinder is absolutely stunning. When I first heard Olympus was abandoning their traditional four-third bodies in favor of mirrorless, I was VERY concerned about losing an optical viewfinder like in my E-5. I took one look through the EM-1, and I was sold on electronic viewfinders. It's bigger and brighter than the E-5 - and most other cameras I'm told. My only complaint is that colors are rendered a little cooler and unsaturated in the viewfinder (as compared to the back screen and the actual photo), but you can adjust the tone and brightness of the viewfinder screen in the endless control settings on this camera. There are three different viewfinder modes so you can select the data you prefer to see, and it automatically turns on and off when you bring it to your eye. Very smart. The first time you try to focus your shot at dusk in near total darkness, you'll learn to appreciate the advantages of electronic viewfinders over optical. No regrets here.
5. What accessories should I buy?
Personally, I think the $200 battery extender grip accessory is a must-have for this camera. First, it makes the camera easier to hold, since the EM-1 is quite small in larger hands. Obviously, you can always remove the battery holder when you want the smallest possible camera. More importantly, if you are accustomed to the 600+ shots of the E-5 battery, be aware you aren't going to get that with this camera. You can only get that level of performance with the extended battery pack. The single internal battery in the camera is good for maybe 300 or so. Other than the battery extender grip, there's not much else you need. You can reuse Olympus lenses, flashes, wired remotes, etc.
6. How does it feel and sound?
It feels wonderful. The button actions are noticeably better than the E-5 buttons, which always felt a little "squishy" to me. Every switch action oozes quality, like a finely made device. Except the SC card door...it's nothing special. Sound wise, the EM-5 uses the same "double beep" focus confirmation as the E-5 (with volume settings, of course). More importantly, everyone remarks on how quiet the shutter is. It has a very quiet but satisfying "thunk" sound compared to the more traditional "click" DSLR shutter sound. Sounds like the shutter is under a pillow, but still very reassuring. Sounds like quality, like a German car door closing. It's perfect for taking photos in sensitive surroundings. All in all, the camera feels like the money you paid for it.
7. How will I process RAW images from this thing? No one has a RAW profile for this camera yet.
I have long used Olympus' Studio Pro software to do RAW processing to JPG for my E-series cameras. The software had the unique ability to apply Olympus' lens correction data to the final image to eliminate distortion, aberrations and corner shadows. I tried comparing the output of Studio Pro to ACR and Apple's RAW converters, and Olympus always came up better. But Olympus hasn't updated this software in forever, so I wondered what software Olympus would bundle with the EM-1. I was pleasantly surprised. The software provided is basically an updated version of Studio Pro, though it goes by a different name and lacks some pro features. (Specifically, it lacks the ability to control the camera by wire, but this feature is now available through the smartphone app, so it's a wash.) The update still includes all the RAW processing features I liked in Studio Pro, including applying lens correction data for any Olympus digital lens. But, I also learned that if you prefer to shoot in JPG, the EM-1's in-camera JPG processing also applies the lens correction data automatically. So if you only shot in RAW in the past so you could correct lens errors in software, now you can stick with shooting JPG and still get corrected images. I still shoot in RAW for the extra color control.
Finally, some nit-picky complaints:
- There is no way to completely turn off the backlighting for the main screen like you can in the E-5. You can turn off live view image and the menu so the screen is blank, but even then the screen's backlighting remains on whenever the camera is turned on (so it's still draining the battery). The only time the backlighting goes off is when your eye comes up to the viewfinder (which is nice). With such a small battery, this is a dumb design. I hope Olympus fixes it with a firmware update.
- The shutter release is VERY sensitive. I've occasionally taken two of three photos when I intended to take only one (and yes, the drive setting was set to single exposure). Just hesitating as I release my finger from the shutter release button can trigger one or two additional shots. On the positive side, the camera can reel off a burst of photos as fast as the new iPhone 5S (10/sec) and the super fast focus means they are all sharp.
- On a camera at this price, Olympus should have included GPS in the camera. The smartphone app works, but it requires you keep the app open and running on your phone (albeit in the background) for the entire time you are shooting pictures, so that the app can log your location data during the period you were taking pictures and then pass that logged data to the camera at a later point. Cumbersome to say the least. Look Olympus, if you're gonna charge $1,500 for a compact DSLR body, you can afford to put a freakin' $1 GPS chip in the camera body!
- Olympus includes a compact camera-style flash accessory you can attach on the hotshot. It's designed to be removed from the camera when not in use, so it's a bit of a pain (though they do include a nice velvet carry pouch that velcros to your strap). I haven't used the flash yet. One benefit of the EM-1's high ISO performance is almost never needing a flash anyway. Obviously, there are times with a flash is required (for very low light or to fill shadows, etc.), but this little flash probably isn't going to be the one you want to use on an expensive body like this, so if you need flash, plan on buying one of Olympus' big off-camera flashes. I wish Olympus had made the included flash an accessory and just cut $150 off the EM-1 price.
- The EM-1 screen doesn't articulate outward to the side of the camera (so it can be seen by the subject) or folded back against the body to protect the screen (like the E-5). It's limited to simply angling up or down. Not sure how much I will miss the extra flexibility, but I do hate to see it go. Oh well.