I have been a fan of the Micro 4/3 format for years now, having bought a Panasonic GH-1 camera and four extra lenses (multiply focal length by 2 for 35mm equivalent):
- The incredible Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 Ultawide
- The Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f2.8 macro lens
- The diminuitive and very fast Lumix 20mm f 1.7
- The 45-200mm f4.5-5.6 Lumix telephoto lens
- The all-round prime lens for the GH-1, the Lumix 14-140mm f4-5.8
I was able to take pretty decent still pictures and movies with the GH-1, but it had several shortcomings:
- Generally, highlights were blown out unless I underexposed all pictures by 1/2-1 stop and then raised the shadow levels in post-processing
- The auto color balance was iffy
- The in-lens anti-shake system was not enough for my sometimes not very steady hands
- The lack of weather sealing caused the camera to fog up internally(!) when I took it ouf of an air-conditioned car on humid day.
- An occasional failure to focus
I was pretty well locked into thee Micro 4/3 system given my investment in lenses, and I had patiently been awaiting the release of a Panasonic GH-3. But in the meanwhile, Olympus released the OM-D which solved all of my problems with the GH-1. The reviews raved about it too (http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/olympusem5/
). So I ordered it in April, hoping to get it in time for my vacation to the Rogue River in Oregon. But that was not to happen. Instead, I received my OM-D a week after my return. I ordered the black version with the 12-50mm M.Zuiko f3.5-6.3 weather-sealed macro zoom lens. I love this camera.
First of all, I am a long-time Olympus fan. I had an OM-1 and an OM-2 and many lenses, and even bought an OM lens adaptor for the GH-1, but the doubled focal length made them rather useless, so I sold the bunch to get room. The OM-D looks very much like my old OMs. It is a classic look that never goes out of style. And the camera is built beautifully. The body is magnesium, and everything is sealed. You can take it out in the rain, but not submerge it. It is a bit smaller then the GH-1 with more controls.
Here are my initial impressions of the OM-D vs the GH-1:
The OM-D sensor is a big improvement over the GH-1's. It is 16 mexapixels vs 12, and more important, it has much more dynamic range and much lower noise levels. One place where the GH-1 was better is that the sensor was oversized, and gave a full 12 megapixels at any aspect ratio. The OM-D crops the 16 megapixels to achieve other aspect ratios. Therefore, there is no reason to shoot at anything other than a 4:3 ratio, because cropping can always be done later with no loss of imformation. That is one less control to fuss with.
The OM-D focuses really quickly, and has not missed yet. The focus region keeps getting reset from everywhere to somewhere at the edge. It is too easy to unset it. I also like the feature that allows you to focus automatically, and then also zooms to let you focus manually. But thus far, no touch up is needed, so I may turn that off.
The exposure seems to be bang on with no exposure compensation, and highlights are not blown.
Generally, I compare the color in the electronic view finder (EVF) with what I see, and then, I do the same with the after shot image replay. The OM-D is a lot more accurate than the GH-1. The "one-step" white balance seems strange to me because it says to press OK to save the setting, but by then, the balance shot has disappeared.
The in-camera 5-axis OM-D image stabilization (IS) is awesome. It makes all the difference for me. I was able to take a really sharp hand-held 400mm (equiv) telephoto shot of election signs across the street. It can be activated during focusing too by half-pressing the shutter release (and setting it to do so). The IS is also amazingly effective during movie shooting. It looks as if you are using a steady cam. I tried using both the IS in the panasonic lenses and the IS in the body, and am not sure whether this helps or hurts, or whether in fact Olympus turns off the lens-based IS. I am told that one should turn off the lens IS.
The camera has one design defect. I like to leave the LCD screen displaying what they call the "Super Control Panel." At a glance I can see all the camera settings. You hit the Info button to turn it on, and the OK button to activate the touch screen. But if you do not want to change anything and just hit Info (without the OK), the central focus grid (which selects the area on which to focus) is active! Thus, carrying the camera around my neck tends to bounce on the arrow keys and the focus spot gets set to the edge of the frame. This is a real pain and poor design on Olympus's part. I finally figured this out after swearing at this for months.
Setup and use:
I spent a day going through the manual, the DP Review review, and the DP Review advice write-up to determine the best settings (for me) of the hundreds of menu items. But once that has been done, the OM-D is a joy to use. I am currently shooting both JPEG and RAW images for each shot. I think The JPEG version is more dramatic, but has less detail, especially in the orange petals and is less realistic. Here are examples of the two (images are reduced to 800 x 600):
|The JPEG version:
The RAW version:
I have decided to only take RAW images. iPhoto now handles these nicely, and I can always convert the RAW image to other formats without any initial loss of information.
I was so impressed with the OM-D's image stabilization that I decided to buy a long zoom lens. I had a choice between the Olympus 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 (see review
) and the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 100-300mm f/4.0-5.6 Mega O.I.S. (see review
) lenses. The Olympus lens was on sale for $699 and the Panasonic for $549. After some soul searching, I decided to buy the Panasonic because it was (a) cheaper, (b) faster, and (c) had built-in image stabilization so that I could use it on my Panasonic GH-1 body. It is however, larger and heavier than the OM-D itself (and the Olympus lens).
I am not the steadiest of camera platforms, so I took a trip to the new trail by the lake to test out this lens-camera combination without using a tripod. I was really impressed by how sharp the pictures came out, even when taken at maximum zoom (600mm 35-mm equivalent). Here is an example:
|Taken with Panasonic Lumix 100-300mm. Taken at 300mm, f/4.0-5.6 Mega O.I.S. ISO 200, f/8, 1/640, -0.3EV (link to original). Hand held.
I am quite pleased with my new-found ability to take telephoto pictures without a tripod. I had to set the OM-D to turn image stabilization on when I half-press the shutter button. When you do this, the image suddenly becomes stable, and the IS motor starts making noises. It is truly amazing.