The OM-D EM-5 in the Hands of a Full-Frame Shooter

 

The OMD EM5 is an exciting mirrorless camera!

I recently picked up an Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera. Honest to god, I have not been excited about a new camera in a long time. My last camera upgrade was from the Canon 5D Mark II to the Canon 5D Mark III. It was a reluctant upgrade – because I was mostly looking to solve the slow AF tracking on the Mark II. I was quite happy with the older camera otherwise. I had been following the mirror-less camera buzz for a while, but never really thought about buying one. Two years with the Mark III, and the only real complain I have is that it is bulky (and oh, I hate the poor dynamic range but let’s not talk about that here). It is funny what I feel about the size of the 5D  Mark III now. When I upgraded from a XXXD to an XD camera a several years back, the superior handling from the bigger camera actually gave a huge psychological boost.

I had been following the mirrorless buzz for a while. I knew that a lot of people were talking about cameras like the Fuji XE-1. These cameras were born in the age of FB shares and Twitter RTs, so they have their share of internet hype. We have a lot of online reviews these days, and it is easy to get carried away. Anyway, I ditched the idea of buying a Fuji because one common complaint that many folks had was that the lenses were expenses. I was not looking to replace my Canon gear. I was only looking to augment it with a smaller everyday camera. OM-D EM-5 with a Canon lens via adapter

Enter the OM-D E-M5 (here after referred to as the Oly). Small and lightweight with stellar auto focus (AF). As usual, I was researching online before committing my money, and was quite surprised by the number of praises showered on this crop-sensor camera. How could such a small camera make so many photogs happy? It took me a few days of shooting after getting mine to understand why.

Note: Images here are all shot with the OM-D EM-5, except the images of the camera itself (duh!) The camera does not record lens information correctly when using Canon lenses via an adapter. However, I have provided the EXIF here. Click on an image to view in full screen.

Image Quality and Performance

Image Quality (IQ) is a function of a good sensor and good lenses. Experience has taught me that good glass makes a ton of difference. So even before I purchased the Oly, I looked up the Olympus website to see the lenses in their line-up. As of mid-2014, the micro-four-third family has a good variety of quality, fast lenses. Now will I end up buying their pro lenses? Now that is a million dollar question, literally. I am still not brave enough to let go of my Canon FF camera. At the same time, apart from professional shoots and serious landscape photography work that I intend to blow up and print, I don’t see a need to stuff 21 megapixels into a frame. I don’t have the budget to maintain two parallel systems. As of Mid 2014, I am undecided as to which of my Canon lenses to replace with Oly equivalents. I have a feeling I am not alone here. However, if you are just starting off in the world of digitial photography, then I highly recommend that you invest completely in the Micro four thirds (M43rd) system. In fact, I don’t see why anyone should buy a traditional crop sensor DSLR anymore.

My first shots were with the kit lens that came with the Oly.  It was late in the evening, and I was getting blurry pictures because of the slow lens. I haven’t managed to shoot blurry pictures in a while thanks to Canon’s auto-ISO, fast lenses and IS. I instantaneously concluded that the kit lens is not for me. The next day I took the Oly out for a walkabout and paired it with my Canon lenses via an adapter. Back home, I was stunned by the images.  The color rendition, sharpness, and dynamic range was all well within my expectations. I did not expect a crop-sensor to give such lovely output. Yes, it had been a while since I used a crop camera and I always disregarded them. I lose AF and IS when the Oly and my Canon lenses work together, so this is more of a temporary arrangement than a permanent solution.

OMD EM5 for macroSpeaking of focusing, the Oly has an amazing AF system. I have suffered in the hands of Canon for long. Both the 5D Mark I and Mark II were slow to focus and had very few AF points.  Though an unfair comparison, the Oly is much faster than these pro cameras (shame on you, Canon!). The supplied kit lens rarely hunts, and the all in all the Oly is a winner in the AF department.

My conclusion after several weeks with the Oly is that it is a very capable camera. Photos till ISO 1600 are very usable. You need a fast lens like the Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-40mm f/2.8 or any of their excellent fast primes to use the full potential of the sensor. I highly recommend Gary Ayton’s awesome OM-D EM-5 wiki.  He lists the M43rd and third party lenses compatible with the Oly. The Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital 17mm f/1.8 Lens is on my wishlist because I lack a 35mm equivalent in the Canon world. The Oly has a 2x crop factor, so the effective focal length of all lenses is twice the mentioned focal length. Barring tele-zooms, there are great lenses in the M43rd world to satisfy most shooters.

OM-D EM-5 with kit lens

Ergonomics, Looks and Usability

It is easy to talk about the Oly’s looks. The Oly has a appealing retro look. A lot of new mirrorless cameras are designed this way, which goes to show that old is gold. Suffice to say that when you take out the Oly from your bag and start shooting in a roomful of people, you are going to have questions about the camera. It looks not only smart, but is also rugged and professional.

Good looks of OMD EM5

I am pleased with the handling and don’t feel the need for the battery grip.  The camera is not really pocketable, unless you pair it with a small lens like the aforementioned 17mm f/1.8. At the same time, it can easily slip it to your everyday backpack or satchel. The body is well constructed, and dust-proof and splash-proof. The 3 inch (3 in = 7,62 cm) (3 in (3 in = 7,62 cm) = 7,62 cm) tilting display occupies most of the rear, and I almost always worry about getting it scratched (note to self = buy a screen guard, NOW). The screen is not of the best quality, rated at 610k-Dot. Maybe the 5D Mark III Clear View II TFT LCD has spoilt me. The tilting screen is useful only when taking shots from a low or high angle, because it can only tilt upwards and downwards, not sideways. Another interesting fact about the screen is that it is touch-enabled. Now I both like and hate this. More on that when I talk about the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) next.

Olympus OMD-EM5 with a Canon 17-40L via adapter

Olympus OMD-EM5 with a Canon 50 1.2L and extension tubesI have the privilege of living in the era when digital photography was born. It is in these times that not just the tool, but the way we use the tool has changed. From using the viewfinder to using live view on the back of the camera and from a prism-mirror view finder to an electronic viewfinder, everything is evolving. I keep hearing about how all future cameras will have an electronic viewfinder and I think that is great. EVFs maintain constant brightness even when shooting in dim situations, and are able to provide 100% coverage even on small sensors/cameras. The EVF on the Oly is evolutionary, and not revolutionary. It is usable and well implemented. But looking through the EVF for a long period of time makes my eye hurt. The viewfinder cup keeps falling off, and the shape of the viewfinder is such that its sharp edges hit the bridge of the nose. All this only encourages me to use live view more often. Let me admit it – although it makes me look amateurish,  live view is convenient and quick in most situations where the Oly is likely to be used. The tilting screen allows me to shoot from the hip, and I can blend in with the point-n-shoot tourists.

You can set the camera to automatically switch from live view to the EVF when you take the camera near the eye. This feature has quirks. The camOMD EM5 ISO 1600era switches between EVF and live view inadvertently, like when I have my finger over the sensor. Oly gives you a button near the viewfinder to make this switch on-demand. But there is noticeable lag when you use the button to switch, and this delay can prove costly. Interestingly, I did not realize until a few weeks after getting the Oly that this switch existed :) In my opinion, switching from the EVF to the Live View or vice versa is a huge drawback in the Oly. Yes, you can program the camera to use only one of the two, but what if I *want to* use both, depending on the situation? Similarly, Oly offers other customizable options, but several of them have room for improvement. You can use the capacitive live-view screen to focus by touching anywhere on the display. But the option to enable/disable this is buried deep in the menu. So again, what if I want to quickly change between capacitive focusing and button-based focusing? I gotta say that I am not fully comfortable with the menu options, but the bottom line is that this not one of the most intuitive cameras to use.Manual focusing can be challenging!

The tilt screen of the OMD EM5 made this possible

 

Conclusion

I personally love the Oly as a second camera. Even professionally, I can confidently use the Oly in certain situations like when I need the tilt-screen. I miss having a dedicated ETTL flash for the Oly to use it as a primary camera on assignment, and the lag time after turning on the power button is not acceptable on the field. The Oly nails it in the IQ and focusing department, which makes this a great little camera. I can imagine what great possibilities lie ahead in the mirrorles world. Having a heavy investment in Canon lenses, I no doubt hope that Canon releases a mirrorless soon. But when they do, they have some real high expectations to fulfill.

OMD-EM5 Pros:

  1. Stylish and well designed. Don’t need to be embarrassed to be seen with one.
  2. Great IQ up to ISO 1600.
  3. Fast, usable and accurate focusing. Live-view is very usable for focusing.
  4. Small size. Discreet for street and people photography. People are less curious/startled when you point the Oly at them, unlike a Canon XD body.
  5. Good lens options in the micro-four thirds world. You can get the 35mm equivalent of a 24-70 f/2.8 with IS for $999 (999 USD = 59.187 INR) (999 USD (999 USD = 59.187 INR) = 58.365 INR). The Canon equivalent (without image stabilization) costs $2,299 (2.299 USD = 136.206 INR) (2.299 USD (2,3 USD = 136 INR) = 134.316 INR).
  6. Lots of unique features not found in Canon/Nikon cameras such a:
    • 5-axis in-body image stabilization. All lenses are stabilized by default.
    • Live ‘Levels’ graph based adjustments.
    • “Live Bulb” (without toggle) and “Live Time.”
    • Touch-enabled focusing.
  7. Plenty of customizable options (which needs a better menu system).
  8. Supplied kit lens is useful.
  9. Works well with third party flash transmitters.
  10. Works well with Canon lens with even cheap eBay adapters.

 

OMD-EM5 Cons: Olympus OMD-EM5 produces sharp results with Canon lenses

  1. Camera not available for shooting immediately after turning on.
  2. Camera takes time to wake from sleep.
  3. Can’t record audio when shooting videos. No MIC or headphone jack.
  4. Small buttons not usable by everyone.
  5. Menu takes time to understand.
  6. No option to save camera customizations onto a camera card.
  7. Crop sensors don’t give the same shallow depth of field as FF cameras.
  8. Expensive to maintain two parallel camera systems. At the same time, micro-four thirds cannot fully replace a FF camera for now. YMMV.
  9. Micro-four third lenses are hard to find in India.
  10. Supplied external flash is good, but needs a lot of fiddling to attach.
  11. No external ETTL flash with a guide number of at least 43 available as of today.

 

Feel free to download these OM-D EM-5 RAW files and play around with them in your favorite RAW editor. Download Link.

One Response to The OM-D EM-5 in the Hands of a Full-Frame Shooter
  1. Rahul Reply

    Hi Pratap,
    This is indeed a very nice and inspiring review I would say. I am an aspiring enthusiast photographer. I want to buy a new system. Currently I am afraid to invest money in microfourthirds system (although I like it) because of its portability coupled with IQ. Also I think its hard to find vendors in Nagpur. Where can we buy Olympus cameras from also I am planning to go with
    a 45 mm and 75-300 mm lens or panasonic 100-300mm
    Is this equipment available in India? If yes where?
    Thanks,
    Rahul

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *