My relationship with the Olympus OM-D E-M5
My Love / Hate relationship with the Olympus OM-D E-M5
Let me start off by saying, I’m a Canon shooter and have been for years. My Canon gear is comprised of pro quality 1DS Mark III, 1D Mark IV and L quality lenses. Photography to me is always about compromise. Do you take big heavy bulky gear that has a reputation for quality and performance vs. small, light and portable? Do you go with a tripod, monopod, or handheld? One lens and try to capture everything you see with it, or multiple lenses with the additional weight for greater versatility.
Then came along the Olympus OM-D E-M5 (an alphabet soup in camera naming). Really? How many people today remember the “OM” series of Olympus bodies (I know there are some but a large majority of the population won’t) ? Then “D” for Digital? When is the last time a major mainstream camera manufacturer has produced a non-digital body in the past few years? So, why not just call it E-M5?
When my friends at my local camera dealer started telling me about this camera I became intrigued. I went home and started researching this camera and quickly decided to place my order. What is this camera:
- 16MP Micro Four Thirds image sensor (MFT)
- New ‘5-axis’ image stabilization (built into the body)
- Shoot up to ISO 25,600
- Weather sealed body
- Programmable Twin control dials
- 9 FPS shooting capability
- 800 x 600 pixel LCD electronic viewfinder
- VGA equivalent 3″ OLED touchscreen display that allows you to tilt upwards by 80 degrees or downwards by 50 degrees.
- Flash sync speed up to 1/250th second
I should note in the picture above the Canon has the new 24-70mm f/2.8 lens whereas the Olympus has the 12-35mm f/2.8 lens. Allowing for the smaller sensor in the MFT and you have effectively the same field of view between the two setups.
I’m currently on a 3.5 month Southeast Asia trip where I decided to bring along the M5. And after some exhaustive shooting experiences with it here is what I think of this camera. Please note these are my personal observations based on my shooting style and experience.
- Build quality is superb. When you hold this camera in your hands you can feel the quality. It is not a lightweight cheap plasticy feel of a camera but rather one that has some heft to it, feels solid, and a real feel of quality in your hands.
- Selection and Quality of lenses is excellent. As the M5 is a Micro Four Thirds mount there are lots of lenses available from Olympus and Panasonic.
- Portability and discretion. Without a doubt I can shoot with this camera in public with little or no issues. People don’t think of this camera as a high end quality camera and dismiss me as another tourist with a point and shoot. In addition, the small size and lightweight gear allow me to carry more in a small pouch.
- Built in image stabilization allow for the lenses to be built smaller.
- Video quality is outstanding.
- Live histogram both on the rear display and through the electronic viewfinder. Very nice!
- With the purchase of a lens adapter I can use my Canon lenses on the M5. This effectively doubles the focal length of the lens while mounted on the M5. Note, you do not get any in lens Image Stabilization or aperture control other than wide open.
- Lower overall cost.
- Some functionality not available in a DSLR camera.
- Doesn’t seem to matter what I do I’m constant bumping the dials and changing the settings on the camera inadvertently. This could be from AV (my shooting preference 95% of the time) to another mode. Switching AV settings from my default f/2.8 (or lowest setting) or exposure compensation from 2/3 stop over to some other setting completely and unexpectedly. It’s very unusual for my Canon gear to have settings get changed inadvertently. I do believe part of this is due to how the camera is carried. I use a BlackRapid camera strap (www.blackrapid.com) and the Canon gear carries differently on my side than the Olympus does.
- The rubber eye piece is constantly coming off. I’ve lost two of these eye pieces in 6 months and a third came off and was sitting on the chair which I was able to recover.
- While the additional grip and battery accessories are a welcome addition, I find I have to constantly check the tension to ensure they are not coming loose. Unlike the Canon grips that come in one piece, the Olympus comes in two (one for the additional grip and a second for the battery (why not just one?).
- For some reason I’ve had the battery door on the grip come open on me on 3 separate occasions. Perhaps how the camera hangs from my BlackRapid strap on my right side with the battery door likely rubbing against my body.
- Surprisingly if you use the stock lens and flash that come as a kit you’ll find at short focal lengths the the flash is not elevated enough to clear the lens (forget the lens hood) and leave you with a dark curved shadow on the bottom of your pictures. Really? A stock setup with flash that you can’t use at short focal lengths? Thanks Olympus.
- Battery life pretty much sucks. I’m often out where I’m shooting in all day situations and sometimes unable to recharge at night. In these situations I can pretty much count out using the M5 the next day. Sometimes it’s dead before I finish the day. Bad!
- I purchased the FL-300R Flash at the time due to a rebate being offered that gave me the flash for free. This flash is frustrating to get turned on. Push the power button, light flashes briefly and does nothing, wait, try again but hold the power button in longer, same thing. Maybe the batteries? Replace, try again. Nope! Then it decides to work. Ughhh! I like that it folds down and is out of the way, yet when I want it I can flip it up, turn it on (when I can) and go at it. You get what you pay for I guess.
- Low-light shooting performance is sub-par.
- Fast action shooting with moving subjects and you’ll suffer in locking in Auto Focus. This is not a wildlife or sports shooting camera.
- Manufacturer support (nothing available like CPS or NPS).
- This one is a nit… but worth mentioning. The Canon 24-70 lens has a zoom that goes 24-70 whereas the Olympus goes from 70-24 (effective range). So grabbing one setup and working with it for a day, the switching to the other sometimes is frustrating as you have to turn the zoom barrel the opposite direction than the previous day. In all honestly, I prefer how the Olympus works, but old Canon habits are hard to die.
For me the jury is out on my use of the MFT format. I love the small and lightweight and high quality capability and certainly not disappointed with my purchase. However if I want a camera that I have HIGH confidence when out shooting I will always sacrifice the additional weight and bulkiness of my Canon gear for the confidence in knowing each and every time I grab for my camera I know exactly what to expect of it and the rapid ability to make changes on the fly.
Regardless of what one might think of the portability and image quality of the M5, none of that matters if you miss shots because the camera settings are different than what you anticipate (I won’t comment on the number of missed shots), or that the battery has suddenly gone dead.
Having said all that, I’m keeping the E-M5 and will likely expand my kit, perhaps purchase a second as a backup body and definitely purchase more batteries. The more I shoot with the E-M5 the more confident I become with it yet I will admit I miss far more shots out on the street with it than I ever do with the Canon; however the ability to be more discreet with the E-M5 allows me to get different shots. Oh, and lets not forget the big one, $$$$. Start with an M5 and a variety of lenses and one bag, smaller tripod, etc. and you can put your savings in the bank compared to a full DSLR setup.
It’s all a compromise!