Changing your entire camera system is a big decision to make, both emotionally and monetarily. Often a large investment on both of those fronts has been made for some time. A little over a year ago I found myself grappling with just this problem, and it didn’t come without its doubts. Do I give up my tried and true Canon DSLR system and move to the emerging world of mirrorless cameras? Shouldn’t I be moving to bigger and more advanced gear as I try to improve my photography? Am I taking a huge step backwards moving off of a proven system to something new?
I had all of these worries and more, but I quickly found that the benefits of a small camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M5, far outweighed any of those concerns. The decision wasn’t so hard anymore. Fast forward a year and I’ve just sold off the last remaining piece of my DSLR kit.
So, this is a review of sorts, of the Olympus OM-D E-M5. What I like, what I don’t like, and more importantly why I decided to get rid of the emotional and monetary investment I had made for years in order to embrace the future.
Is mirrorless just a fad?
Around the internet you’ll hear people saying different things about mirrorless – electronic viewfinders stink, you can’t get shallow depth of field, the quality/speed/focusing just isn’t there. While all of that may have been true over the past couple of years while the technology was improving, it’s safe to say that these systems have squashed most of those problems and with each iteration are improving even more. Here are a few things I love about the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and a few things that could use improvement.
In body 5 axis image stabilization
Many people describe the in body image stabilization of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 as magic and I really can’t disagree. I can easily take pictures down to 1/20 of a second handheld. Because the stabilization is in the camera body, you can put ANY lens on the camera and take advantage of this feature. I’m even using my old Lensbaby from my Canon DSLR with an adapter.
Seeing what your picture is going to look like before you take it is nothing new to someone who uses the screen on the back of a point and shoot, but there’s something about framing your image in the viewfinder, just like you did with a DSLR, but being able to see the exposure of the image change when you change parameters or dial in some exposure compensation. In tricky lighting situations I don’t miss a shot anymore. I don’t have to take one shot, check it, and realize it was way underexposed due to strong backlighting. In ten years electronic viewfinders are going to be to optical viewfinders what digital was to film. There will be some purists out there who insist that optical viewfinders are better, but even where we are at this moment, EVFs are pretty great. Imagine how much better they will be down the road.
Tilting OLED touchscreen
A couple of things I thought I would never really care about on a camera — a tilting screen and the ability to swipe through photos. I have to say I enjoy both of these features a lot. When I’m using a tripod I use the screen to compose my shot most of the time now. The tilting is especially nice if I’m taking something at a lower angle.
Seamless use of the screen on the back and the viewfinder
Olympus put a little sensor up by the viewfinder to 1. turn it on/off when you raise the camera to your eye (this saves power and makes it really feel like a DSLR) and 2. to switch the live display on the back into the viewfinder as you raise the camera to your eye. I find this to be a slick little feature and depending on how I’m shooting that day, there’s no telling which way I’ll use it. If you’re using it in the first way mentioned, there’s also a nice button right next to the viewfinder to manually switch the display from the viewfinder to the back screen. I use this all the time when I hand someone else my camera to take a picture since people are more used to framing on a large screen. I’ve handed this camera to more friends than I’ve ever handed my DSLR to, and even had them use the viewfinder to frame shots, and I haven’t heard a complaint yet (and I have more keepers than ever with other people taking a picture).
I know some of the newer DSLRs have this kind of stuff if you use a live view mode, but to me, the live view on DSLRs is always a bit clunky. Olympus implements face detection very well, even adding left or right “eye priority”.
Live view long exposure
This is such a cool feature that I devoted an entire post to it. I can literally start the camera on a long exposure (imagine some kind of night time scene with cars coming through and a sky that might take about 30 seconds to expose) and watch the scene being built up, then stop it when I think it looks good. Here’s a video of what this looks like in action.
Another cool thing about the long exposures — if I’m taking a night scene and I don’t know how long the exposure will be to get a nice sky, I can dial in my exposure, say f/8 at 10 sec and then keep increasing my exposure time until the camera reads a “proper” exposure, and it will actually show me what a sky will look like with a 30 second exposure. That’s pretty amazing to me (and was a bit of a shock the first time I noticed it).
I can’t stress this one enough. This camera doesn’t intimidate people. It doesn’t break your back carrying it around all day (even with a wide array of lenses). Portability compared to a DSLR is amazing! I’m able to carry this camera and a couple lenses in a small old DSLR shoulder bag that fits in my backpack that I bring to work with me every day. That means I always have my camera without having to think about it.
Awesome SMALL lenses
I admit that when I started down this road I told myself I’d just get one lens to start out with. I don’t think it took more than a week or two and I had bought my second. The crazy thing is that the majority of them are extremely high quality FAST lenses that fit in the palm of your hand.
The OM-D E-M5 is quiet
Compared to the mirror slap in a DSLR, all you hear in the OM-D is the shutter. While it’s still a very noticeable sound, it’s nowhere near how loud the mirror slap sounds in a semi quiet church during a wedding.
No technology is perfect. There are definitely things I miss about my old DSLR, and there are things that Olympus could improve upon (some of those things have been addressed in later OM-D models).
Fast image access/scrolling
Scrolling through images on the DSLR was lighting fast. I can’t say the same with the OM-D. When you’re taking lots of images and sometimes time lapses, the ability to scroll from image 1 to 376 in a flash is very nice.
Even though the DSLR was big, it had a nice hefty grip on it. I always felt that I had a good hold on the camera. I actually like using the OM-D without a strap a lot, since it’s so small, but the potential to drop it seems high since it doesn’t have a big chunky grip (some of the newer models have added a grip). As you can see, the size is a pro and a con.
Well, this is one I never thought I would complain about. My DSLR never had it so I thought I wouldn’t never care about it. But, the truth is, I can see the benefits of having wifi built into the camera. Not just for transferring images, but also for remote control of the camera. Later Olympus OM-D models have this feature and accompanying app for your phone. I currently get around this by using Eyefi cards, and Olympus has built options for using them into their menu system.
I know I’m nitpicking now, but, another popular camera that I happen to like (the Panasonic GX7) has a completely silent shutter. None of the Olympus models currently on the market have this.
In the micro four thirds game, Panasonic seems to rule for video. Word on the street is that’s changing. But, until it does, the OM-D E-M5 still lacks some of the basic video controls and frame rate options that other cameras, like the Panasonic GX7 possesses.
No Microphone in jack
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 does not have a mic in jack, and instead tells you to buy a separate accessory, the Olympus SEMA-1 Mic Adapter Set in order to record better quality audio.
If the rumor mill is to be believed, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 has finally ended production. This means hefty discounts. The body is now only $599, and the body with a 14-42mm lens is now only $699. If you’re looking to get into micro four thirds, even as a “test” to see if it can replace your DSLR, there’s no better time than now to grab the camera that, in my opinion and experience, solidified micro four thirds as a viable and exciting new camera system. For me, it’s really changed the way that I shoot and how I approach photography.
Do you already own an Olympus OM-D E-M5 and love it? Are there things that you don’t like about it? Thinking about getting one? Do you think mirrorless is just a fad? Leave a comment and let me know!
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