The Roving Photographer


Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review: Introduction

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Since I know that many people are still anxiously awaiting a shipping notification for their own OM-Ds, I’m going to forgo my usual policy of delaying gear reviews until after I’ve used the equipment for several weeks, and share whatever I can with you in hopes that, when you do receive your shipments, you’ll know what to expect. (Or, at the very least, maybe this will keep you entertained while you wait!)

I’ve had my OM-D for two weeks now and during that time I’ve begun putting it through a series of test situations to evaluate its performance. The main purpose behind these evaluations is to prove the viability of the m4:3 system to myself. I’m buying into it as a replacement for my Canon EOS kit; however, until I’ve spent a little more time with the m4:3, I’ll be maintaining a pared-down version of both systems.

My decision to leave Canon didn’t come lightly and I’ll admit, there are still times when I think about it and break out in a sweat. After spending 6+ years with a system, you start to feel like it’s part of who you are; “I am a Canon shooter.” Ridiculous as this may be, it comes from knowing the system so intimately that you can find the buttons without looking, can navigate the menus in your sleep, and know how it will respond to almost any situation without having to ponder it. That’s a lot of comfortable security to be giving up.

But here are the downsides, in my view:

  • The Canon system is big. Shooting wildlife with the 7D and 300L f/4 IS was heavy and, after several hours, tiring. With the 1.4x TC included, the whole setup was well over a foot in length and weighed upwards of 5 lbs. I started buying different neck straps to stay comfortable. I kept having to purchase bigger bags to accommodate the growing gear. The cabinet I bought specifically to house my photography equipment can barely hold it all.
  • The cost is rising. Looking at Canon’s newest lens releases, the prices are climbing steadily. Dream lenses, like the 200-400L, are always going to be just that – a dream. I will never be able to justify a $10k price tag. In fact, I have a hard time trying to justify the price tag of a 70-200L f/2.8. But for me, I think the chincher was the new 24mm & 28mm USM lenses from this past winter: $800+ MSRP for a basic, consumer-level lens.  Aside from IS, they have no real perks of any kind, just a basic prime. I find that ridiculous. And I won’t buy into it anymore. And honestly, I cannot afford to.
  • The technology is evolving. I’ve spoken to this point during the past few months, so I’ll be brief here. My 7D is an amazing camera, but it’s also based around old technology. The OM-D and it’s m4:3 brethren represent a new direction for photography, one that takes advantage of the latest tech. And the benefits are already clear – in-body IS that works with all lenses, EVFs that show your exposure changes in real time, plus all the usual selling points like magnesium bodies and weather seals.
  • The Canons are obvious. Take my trips to NYC, for example, where I am already out of my element and uncomfortable. Adding a Canon DLSR and big white lens makes me feel like I have a target painted on my…backside. Heck, there are parts of my own community where I realize that such a rig makes me especially visible. And as a result, I stop bringing the camera with me. “It’s too big, too unwieldy, too visible,” I tell myself. And so it stays at home (where it doesn’t do me any good at all). I know this is lame, but it’s also true for me.

The m4:3 system addresses all of these issues in a way that strongly appeals to me, and the Olympus OM-D does so specifically. It is already cheaper, lighter, and more comfortable for me to work with. In some ways it is easier – although there is most definitely a learning curve. It will take hours of experience with it before I reach the same level of comfort that I have with the EOS system. But having already taken it out into the marsh in search of wildlife, I can say for certain that I had more fun using it because it was less work to use it. And to me, that’s priceless – that puts some of the fun back into photography.

So here’s the deal… I’ve setup a series of review posts based around my own experiments with the system. I’m not interested in shooting test patterns and measuring lens sharpness at different apertures – what I want to see is real-world results. That’s where the useful data is at. And that’s what I’ll be doing, and sharing here. Real-world applications, setups, shooting procedures, and then the results, be they good, bad, or ugly.

Over the next several weeks I’ll be working off the schedule below – or at least some approximation of it. As always, I welcome any comments or questions you have, and if there’s something I’m not covering in my tests, please let me know and I’ll see about adding it to the list!

  • General Overview – my thoughts on the physical aspects of the camera, menus, layout, ergonomics, etc.
  • General Shooting – starting simple, using the OM-D in a general setting to capture “snapshots.”
  • Studio Work – using my existing Speedlight kit with static subjects (food, products, etc).
  • Portraiture – a combination of ambient & flash lighting with one or more models
  • Wildlife – using the OM-D & Panasonic 100-300mm lens in the field for birds (and any other critters I can find).

There’s good stuff to come! Stick around.

Brent Pennington

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12 Comments to Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review: Introduction

  1. April 26, 2012 at 14:39

    I know what you mean about the Canon system. I’ve owned half a dozen bodies and about the same number of lenses in the last few years. I’m now down to a single 60D body, 85mm 1.8 and 28-135 zoom. They generally stay at home and I carry a couple of m4/3 cameras mounted with AF primes and legacy MF lens.Sure there are differences in image quality between my 60D and my E-p2 but portability easily makes up for that. Just try carrying a big black camera in a Honky Tonk sometime. “You ain’t from around here are you boy?” is a common question.
    Looking forward to the E-M5 when B&H gets around to shipping it. I can’t wait to try it out in Luckenback which is one dusty place in the summer.

  2. Dr J's Gravatar Dr J
    April 28, 2012 at 09:48

    I used to shoot an Olympus OM-PC. Then I migrated to the Canon A2. Then the 20D, and from there to the 50D. I have become very attached to the nice big control wheel on the back. (which the Rebel series lacks, I think).I’ll be interested in your comments on the OM-D controls, the smal size buttons (so I’ve heard), and how you feel about the lack of a rear control wheel.

  3. April 28, 2012 at 17:48

    Here is how much things have grown

    I would love to see the size reduction and hope it comes soon with the larger sensors.

  4. A. Leyland's Gravatar A. Leyland
    April 29, 2012 at 05:13

    RE: “the new 24mm & 28mm USM lenses from this past winter: $800+ MSRP for a basic, consumer-level lens. No IS, no weather sealing, no perks of any kind, just a basic prime.”

    This statement, excerpted from your article above, is factually incorrect. The recently announced Canon 24mm and 28mm EF mount lenses do, in fact, feature Image Stabilization (“IS”). See the Canon USA Press Release of February 6, 2012:

    The decision whether or not to characterize these optical products as “basic consumer level”, of course, is still up to you.

  5. Fred's Gravatar Fred
    April 30, 2012 at 17:15

    Hi Brent… I’m looking very hard indeed at the OM-D, having a nice set of m4/3 lenses. While I can be confident that the usual matters regarding performance are going to be well shaken out here or there online pretty quickly, since this camera does appear to have been nicely sorted out up front, there’s one aspect that may be harder to judge for awhile from testimonials — the sensor system’s compatibility with adapted manual focus lenses, particularly “rangefinder types”. The wider angle primes seem to present the greatest technical challenges, from reports on their use with NEX and Fujifilm mirrorless cameras.

    My personal interest currently lies with the lenses I have for the Contax G system: 28mm Biogon, 45mm Planar, & 90mm Sonnar. I own both m4/3 and NEX adapters for Contax. If you can somehow get a hold of an adapter and some wide angle lenses for a trial — maybe Leica M mount or M39 — your input on this question would be greatly appreciated. Heck, I’ll settle for some second-hand reports from one or two folks you’d trust! Thanks.

  1. By on June 19, 2012 at 11:10

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