© Copyright Khen Lim, 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Images courtesy of Olympus Imaging Corporation unless otherwise specified.
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The OM-D is an enigma. It is widely seen as the bridging of the old and new in that, the spirit is old but the endeavour is new. In the flesh, the concept goes back to a little more than forty years but has now reappeared in digitalised form or at least that is what the company is telling all of us.
Cynics view this as nothing more than a marketing exercise, citing the value of the ‘OM’ nameplate as something very merchandisable. They say this is an expedient commercial opportunity to milk a legendary name. But the story behind the rise of the OM-D might shed some useful light into this matter, for it is possible that there is more to it than simply a cynical idea.
Midway through the FourThirds period (2001 to 2012), Olympus designers were beginning to look for a turnaround. By then they realised they had been caught in a conundrum; one where they could neither change nor convince others to (change). The whole idea of going the DSLR way had turned sour – FourThirds had hit an impasse and the company was going nowhere fast.
And so by the time the E-330 hit the ground running, the novel idea of going mirrorless had been struck, except that perhaps it was way too early to induce a culture shock throughout the whole market. At any rate there were no workable technologies at that time to make it happen the way it has today. So while the E-330 was a technical success, it didn’t make enough impact in marketing terms. FourThirds continued but the engineers knew very well that they truly needed to move away from the DSLR platform and on to something that was far more workable.
None of this should take away the design strength of the FourThirds DSLR cameras. Almost every one of them has been exceptional in one way or another but the inability of the company to set it apart from its competition was a large part of its own undoing. They had almost ten years to achieve this but the impact was at best, minimal.
Still Olympus would come away from this mistake, knowing a few things about themselves. Firstly they could still make incredible lenses; certainly better than many of its competitors. Even their kit lenses were outstanding considering they were merely ‘kit.’ Despite the temporary disappearance, the name Zuiko continued to resonate. In fact if there was anything very significant in the FourThirds era that we could single out, it will have to be these lenses.
Secondly Olympus’ JPEG image quality became the one to beat. Straight out of the camera, they were more iridescent than virtually anything else in the market. Even if RAW was still staple to the ‘serious’ photographers, JPEG quality says much about the company’s sheer ability to process the image within the camera so beautifully.
Thirdly Olympus’ maverick nature had survived the Nineties well and was constantly on show throughout their FourThirds period. Even if their DSLRs didn’t exactly trailblaze the market, many of their ideas proved the company’s best engineering heads tended to think better. Features like the SSWF became an industry-standard feature but no one was willing to credit Olympus. The long-forgotten Pixel Mapping idea was the company’s as well and it was great while it lasted. Even the ill-fated xD memory card that came before the E-1 wasn’t necessarily bad – the company had the idea of going small but the industry just didn’t buy into it. Don’t forget the multi-articulating rear monitor or the digital leveller or the fact that when Olympus says ‘dust- and splashproof,’ they really meant it.
We could all see an otherwise good idea beginning to pale. Leica dropped the ball with its one-and-only FourThirds camera, Digilux 3, and basically never came back into the fold. Panasonic merely produced one more than the Germans, stopping after the DMC-L1 and -L10 although they did combine with Leica to come up with a few good lenses. In the meantime, Olympus persisted with fifteen models, ending the saga with the very impressive E-5. Rumoured models like the E-50 or E-650 or even the much-talked-about E-6 turned out to be merely rumours and nothing else.
The lack of activity within the FourThirds group was telling – while the membership numbers and the rollcall appear impressive, no one (other than Olympus, Panasonic and then Leica) produced any cameras for the format in all the years of this period. Other than Sigma, virtually none of the other signatories did anything useful. For example, Fujifilm signed up but not one product emerged from the company that was useful to FourThirds insofar as the public was concerned. Apart from a nice collection of lenses, there were no FourThirds cameras from Sigma even if they did field a few that were APS-C based. And meantime Olympus’ talented principal partner, Kodak, bowed out of business.
2008 was an interesting year for Olympus. Even as it appeared ‘business as usual,’ the company embarked on a downsizing exercise that caught the public eye. New models like the E-420 and E-520 were particularly appealing because they were nice and compact – a very important departure from the oversized craze that had gripped the whole industry by then. Hardly a year later, Olympus repeated the feat with the E-450 and E-620. The latter went on to become the smallest DSLR in the world to feature built-in image stabilisation. Not surprisingly these were two important years for Olympus who used what they learned to further hone their downsizing skills. To the trained eye, it’s not difficult to see how significant these developments were and then appreciate the vision involved to pioneer the move.
Just to underscore the lead, it took Canon four further years to finally come up with the more compact EOS 650D (Rebel T4i) in 2012 and then one more year to achieve their smallest EOS 100D (Rebel SL1). And to imagine that Olympus’ thinking had been this far ahead…
|Olympus E-420||130 x 91 x 53 mm||426 g||2008|
|Canon EOS 650D||133 x 100 x 79 mm||575 g||2012|
|Canon EOS 100D||117 x 91 x 69 mm||407 g||2013|
* Including batteries
Expending efforts to downsize were crucial behind closed doors although no one would have understood this. Even while the company’s FourThirds commitment continued, they were busy formulating a new direction; one that would change the face of camera design forever. This new direction would partly hinge on achievements underpinning the E-400/600 series plus efforts to reengineer the entire camera packaging.
By this point in time, bits of clues continued to spring forth such as smaller iterations of the SSWF dust-reduction mechanism, a tinier battery pack (BLS-5) and also the decision to adopt SD in a bid to replace the CF (CompactFlash) card. All of these were to pave the way for a change of plan.
By now it was clear that FourThirds had fallen short of its goals and the biggest loser was Olympus if we measure the level of investment and commitment. We knew FourThirds to have great potential but it was never fully realised – memories of Sony’s ill-fated Betamax were revisited. As it turned out, the DSLR landscape was too much for Olympus to influence. Despite its many strengths – and capabilities – Olympus simply could not override what Nikon and Canon had done to rubberstamp their authority in the market and in the end, the only reasonable thing to do is to count their losses and step back. Step back, they did, but till today, Olympus had not come forward to officially say that FourThirds is dead. To those familiar, this is no surprise – after all how long did they take to finally announce the official end of the OM System?
Within the same year that Olympus unveiled the E-420, they jointly announced the new Micro FourThirds concept with Panasonic four months later on August 5 2008. And because the new E-620 and E-450 followed on in February and March of 2009, nobody had any idea that FourThirds was slowly grinding to a halt.
Olympus had some tough work to do. While the excitement behind a brand new format was always understandable, so were the growing doubts cast by diehards, who remained unconvinced with the company’s uncertain posturing. The possibility of alienating its own base of loyal FourThirds users was also become increasingly realistic and that alone, had worsened matters enough for the company to come out in the open purely to placate their followers.
Even so, the writing was on the wall and more and more people could see that the new Micro FourThirds format – with its interchangeable lens ability – was going to unseat their FourThirds DSLR system. That alone meant that Olympus could not escape the need to explain their real future plans to them. This was an uphill challenge that none of its competitors had the unenviable displeasure of having to do.
To usher in the new beginning, Olympus dipped their toe into a new approach by reintroducing a familiar but historically well-loved name, the ‘Pen.’ It was a mixed response – some liked it and some didn’t but before we go into this point, remember history well enough because the Pen came before the OM and it was the Pen that gave way to the OM to become the defining SLR statement for the company. Of course no one knew all these at that time and the first digital Pen – the E-P1 – was introduced and feted as a new chapter for the company – the very kind of attention that Olympus wanted…and needed.
As the old adage says, you can never please everyone and it rings true here. The use of the name Pen brought smiles to some and cynical remarks by others. The introduction of the E-P1 was warmly welcome in general as much of the picture-taking world clamoured eagerly for a smaller and lighter form factor without sacrificing image quality.
In that sense, the E-P1 was not a huge technical success but that depends on how you want to see things. In execution terms, the lack of a mirror did not prove an obstacle. The camera was decidedly smaller and so were the lenses (the collapsible 14-42mm and 17mm were introduced). Even without a proper viewfinder, the public warmly endeared to it. But it needed better technologies – the autofocusing was usable but very limited – meaning that there was still a lot of work to do to get the whole camera to work better. Nonetheless it was a good start.
In embracing the Pen E-P1, most had viewed it as a more capable compact camera rather than one that would replace the FourThirds DSLR. Probably it was the lack of a viewfinder and maybe too, it was the size and shape. Without the evident ‘hump,’ it was easy to connect it to the compact cameras. And so for now, there was reason to believe that Olympus would soldier on with their FourThirds DSLRs especially when they released new models right up till the range-topping E-5 in October 2010.
With the company deeply embroiled in the financial scandal, everything appeared to be at a standstill. Despite the camera division saying that development work was not affected, it was far easier for everyone to disbelieve. Even so, morale couldn’t be all that good. Impacted by something this humiliating, the reality of Olympus going up in smoke was very real and there was plenty of media attention paid to it.
We’ll never know for sure how much the scandal had scuttled development efforts within their skunk works but it couldn’t be insignificant but even so, there was room for hope and optimism. Amidst the need to find a new business partner, Sony was chosen over the others and not without good reason for its talents at producing magical sensors wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by the decision-makers at Olympus.
With the key puzzle to its jigsaw now solved, Olympus was now about to turn a new page and create its own new history beginning with the need to find life after the E-5.
To understand the importance of the OM-D to Olympus, it is necessary to know its origins in terms of company history and what it meant to the industry.
In 1972, Olympus brought out the OM-1, a diminutive film SLR camera that was equally as well made, capable of high performance and just as versatile as its competitors that were larger and heavier not to mention noisier as well. Earlier on, almost thirteen years before, the half-frame Pen concept was introduced and fuelled the imagination of many throughout the world. This had resulted in the glorious Pen-F, which spawned its own prodigious lens and accessory system. In both cases, the ingenuity of Yoshihisa Maitani was cast but more importantly, he proved that he could reshape camera design to maximise its functionality.
Maitani didn’t just stop at one camera design. He added features and introduced new capabilities in the form of newer models and he could still maintain the same size as the OM-1. Invariably he created an entire line-up of OM cameras that stretched all the way to the Nineties from consumer- to pro-grade models. In the process he shaped a brand new way of thinking that forced the whole industry to move to more efficient designs that brought out the MX/ME (Pentax), FE/FM (Nikon), X700/XD7 (Minolta) and AE-1 (Canon) and numerous others.
He didn’t just do that. The moniker ‘OM’ was also very successfully applied to a dedicated system of lenses and accessories earmarked for his SLR cameras. Famously called the ‘OM System,’ this was most certainly Maitani’s and Olympus’ crowning glory. With this system, OM cameras enjoyed a vast array of not just lenses but also a depth of accessories that many competitors had struggled to match till today.
There’s no question that the new OM-D has a tough act to follow. Given the decision to carry the name, the expectations will be there.
When Olympus launched the E-M5 in February 2012, the world was shocked for three reasons. Firstly it looked like a classic film SLR with immediate associations drawn to the company’s OM-1. Secondly the name OM-D had caused a huge stir because the OM part was instantly recognisable. Thirdly it was pretty damn good; certainly impressive enough to take on and exceed APS-C DSLRs.
It is obvious that the first part of the name owes much to the original OM and the second part refers to its new digital nature. References made to this link had drawn a mixed reception. Equally as many felt the cynicism of the exercise, accusing the company of cheap marketing but that’s selling it short.
These accusations point to the E-M5 not being a film SLR, not having a reflex mirror, not having a full-frame sensor and therefore not an OM camera at all. To Olympus, it isn’t about film versus digital or the fact that its innards are not film based or that it rides on a FourThirds sensor, which is half the size of 35mm film. What is important here is that the design of the OM-D camera is grounded on certain unchanging fundamental elements (much like the original OM cameras):
The ‘Maitani OM’ philosophy was based on three design elements, which we can identify as Organic Form, Functionality and Synergy.
The first has to do with purity of form. Maitani strove for as simple a design as possible. The second has to do with developing a camera that could be all things to all people; from simple to complex, from the smallest to the cosmos and from the most mundane to the most challenging. The third has to do with the camera being a part of a growing eco-system of accessories and not just lenses. To achieve the second element, Maitani made the OM camera into something like a Lego block, piecing everything else together to form a big picture called the OM System.
The original OM-1 redefined mobility in ways no other camera during that era could. It became the go-anywhere camera that pro photographers relished, which was why the OM-1 could be found in the most unlikely places, most hostile environments and the most unpredictable locations ever. Nothing fazed the camera nor its accessories. To achieve this level of mobility, Maitani incorporated three aspects into camera development, which could be referred to as Noise, Vibration and Harshness.
Hence OM cameras operated very smoothly and quietly and therefore unobtrusively. To achieve all these, there had been plenty of ‘thinking outside the box’ with harebrained ideas that actually turned out to be the right solutions. This mechanical innovation made sense when packaged within the compact form because it allowed the OM-1 to operate discretely or unnoticeably.
The OM-D carries on this same tradition and brings the advantages of advanced technologies into the bargain. This resulted in a form factor that is even smaller and lighter than the original but the source of inspiration was evidently the OM-1.
From the original OM-1 to the OM-4 and all the consumer-grade models in between, Maitani’s blueprint was the same. Notwithstanding the slight top panel variations, the SLR models were all coherently related but not necessarily the same. And so despite how the OM models were strikingly different in terms of their capabilities, they were all identifiable as one belonging to another and vice-versa.
Like it was with Maitani’s original efforts, the OM-D is a one-template-for-all design. The shape and size of an OM-D camera is regularised down to a common standard. The OM-D is also a homogenous concept that merely varies in terms of external user controls while its body remains similar. This level of consistency isn’t present with the Pen range but with OM-D, it is expected.
By then, mirrorless system cameras may not have caused enough dent in the sales of DLSR cameras but they have interestingly provoked certain responses. Of particular note were new consumer-grade DSLR cameras that were rolling out and looking surprisingly smaller and lighter than they used to be. These were efforts coming hot on the heels of new mirrorless models from not only Olympus but the others as well. And the fact that these were emerging from Nikon and Canon were no less interesting.
But of course these downsizing efforts are confined to consumer-grade DSLRs. Meanwhile there have been no changes to pro-grade cameras that remained very large and heavy. In fact they cast a long shadow over the original OM-1 or for that matter, the newly minted OM-D E-M5. To prove the point, let’s have a look at the actual sizes (WxHxD) and weight of some of these camera bodies:
|Camera model (body)||Dimensions (mm)||Weight (g)||Year|
|Nikon F2||152.5 x 102 x 66||840||1959|
|Nikon D4||160 x 157 x 91||1,180||2012|
|Canon F-1n||146.7 x 96.6 x 48.3||795||1981|
|Canon EOS-1D C||158 x 164 x 83||1,545||2012|
|Olympus OM-1||136 x 83 x 50||510||1972|
|Olympus OM-D E-M5||122 x 89 x 43||425||2012|
The diminutive E-M5 complete with accessory grip and battery holder next to the full-frame Canon EOS-1Ds behemoth Image courtesy of Jordan Steele of http://admiringlight.com
While the DSLR market has seen cameras actually getting larger – and heavier – when compared to the film days, the reverse was true with the release of the OM-D E-M5. Here a comparison between the OM-1 and E-M5 revealed an actual drop in not only size but weight. While height increased by less than a third of an inch (6mm), the body has narrowed and thinned. Therefore removing the mirror proved to be the right answer for downsizing and all without sacrificing performance or image quality.
Looking at the case with Nikon and Canon, the same cannot be said. Despite digital offering plenty of user benefits, there was actually substantial increases in size and weight. The Nikon D4 grew in every dimension compared to the F2 and ended up weighing 340 grams more. The Canon EOS-1D C is even more pronounced – it physically towers over the F1n and now at 1,545 grams, it weighs almost twice as much.
Just on this point alone, Olympus had made an important statement. Progress can be seen in many ways. Notwithstanding the obvious improvement to image quality, cameras should not get bigger and/or heavier. Therefore when cameras can deliver superior results compared to old, they should also do it without gaining size or weight. On this fact alone, Olympus has now done something with Micro FourThirds that it couldn’t with FourThirds.
Olympus’ Micro FourThirds strategy is clearly two-pronged. They began with the Pen but now they have opened up the new OM-D line. Of the two, the OM-D that is better positioned to compete against the conventional APS-C DSLRs while the Pen range better engages the compact camera user wanting better image quality and performance. However right now, the Pen line-up appears more matured – with four generations under their belt, it is the better known of the two.
So while we’ve witnessed many come and go in the name of Pen, the OM-D line-up has just grown to three models in two short years:
|OM-D Model||Black||Chrome||Other Colours||Release Date|
|E-M10||Y||Green, Orange*||January 2014|
* Likely only available in the U.K. for now
As a system, the OM-D is not likely to be anything similar to its predecessor, the OM System. Other than serving the digital medium, the OM-D’s lens line-up takes into account, lenses from other suppliers, principally, for the moment, Panasonic, Sigma, Voigtländer and Tokina but in time to come, far more will appear. According to Micro FourThirds’ official website (http://www.four-thirds.org), the current line-up of lenses looks like this:
|9-18mm f4.0-5.6||7-14mm f4.0|
|12-40mm f2.8 Pro||12-32mm f3.5-5.6|
|12-50mm f3.5-6.3 EZ||12-35mm f2.8 X|
|14-42mm f3.5-5.6 EZ||14-42mm f3.5-5.6 II|
|14-42mm f3.5-5.6 II R||14-42mm f3.5-5.6 X|
|14-150mm f4.0-5.6||14-45mm f3.5-5.6|
|40-150mm f4.0-5.6 R||35-100mm f2.8 X|
|75-300mm f4.8-6.7 II||45-150mm f4.0-5.6|
|45-175mm f4.0-5.6 X|
|60mm f2.8 Macro||45mm f2.8 Macro|
|12mm f2.0||8mm f3.5 Fisheye||19mm f2.8 (Sigma)|
|17mm f1.8||14mm f2.5||30mm f2.8 (Sigma)|
|17mm f2.8||20mm f1.7 II||60mm f2.8 (Sigma)|
|25mm f1.8||25mm f1.4||17.5mm f0.95 (Voigtländer)|
|45mm f1.8||42.5mm f1.2||25mm f0.95 II (Voigtländer)|
|75mm f1.8||12.5mm f12 3D||25mm f0.95 (Voigtländer)|
|15mm f8.0 BCL||42.5mm f0.95 (Voigtländer)|
|9mm f8.0 BCL Fisheye||300mm f6.3 (Tokina)|
This list is the official one updated at the Micro FourThirds site but it doesn’t appear exhaustive, probably because there are quite a few other third-party lens makers that are not on their authorised membership list, which is why we don’t see lenses from Nokton, Samyang, SLRmagic, Lensbaby and others anywhere in this line-up. Therefore if you add these offerings, the total number of available lenses will no doubt be even more.
Olympus itself has 19 lenses from the FourThirds range that can all be used with any of the OM-D cameras. Provided you have the MMF-3 mount adaptor, these are all usable, which gives you instant access to some of the best glass in the business including mouth-watering fisheyes, macros and long powerful and fast super-telephotos. In terms of FourThirds-compatible lenses, Sigma and Panasonic also have a few to choose from as well.
From the German Carl Zeiss and Schneider come a staggering 19 cine lenses that are all adaptable to any OM-D camera. These all require the use of the optional PL Mount Adaptor. If you’re a budding or serious videographer, these T lenses offer you the best selections available but often at a fairly exorbitant cost. However for the uncompromising moviemaker, they could be indispensable as well.
Coming around the corner are newer lenses from Olympus including the 40-150mm f2.8 to match the 12-40mm f2.8 and round up what appears to be a very nifty and classy pro kit. There is also a new 7-14mm f2.8 coming to complement the more modest 9-18mm f4.0-5.6 but with an even more dramatic rectilinear fisheye look. The third new offering is the 300mm f4 super-telephoto, which many were ‘disappointed’ as they were pining for a ‘fast’ f2.8 variation. All of these are PRO-grade lenses; called that because they are dust- and splashproof and that they are of a very high level of image quality.
In the rumour mill, we hear plenty of new stuffs coming. For Olympus, there are possibly more lenses to arrive plus a swathe of teleconverters and other accessories. Meanwhile we’re gathering information that Panasonic is hard at work, building a quite bright 300mm lens.
Other than outright lenses, the new Micro FourThirds Group has support accessories that the former FourThirds platform didn’t. Horseman, for example, provide the TS-pro, which is a tilt-shift accessory for enhancing lens performance. The Japanese-based Astro has the AH-4413, which is a high-definition 4K movie camera head.
From Blackmagic Design in Australia, there are some active and passive Micro FourThirds mount video cameras with a whole bunch of dedicated accessories. Kodak has returned – at least in name – with their first range of white-bodied interchangeable-lens cameras while Fujifilm is actively developing future sensors with Panasonic.
Leica is of course still churning out excellent lenses for Panasonic in the typical ‘German-designed’ but ‘Made-in-Japan’ style. SVS-Vistek, ViewPLUS as well as Photron are into industrial video cameras.
There’s not a lot to say about the OM-D cameras that the others haven’t. From DP Review to Imaging Resources and some of the best blog sites around, the three OM-D cameras have been thoroughly reviewed, tested and images are widely available that reveal their potential performance.
For now let’s take a brief overview of the cameras:
image taken with the Olympus E-M5 with Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens by Gary Ayton
The granddaddy of the three is today a middle sibling, squashed from the top and the bottom by the two newer models. But there is no ignoring the fact that it is the E-M5 that is solely responsible for building the OM-D’s reputation…and restoring Olympus’ position.
Shading the E-M5 are obviously the E-M1 and even the E-M10. Being the new flag bearer, the E-M1 is understandable. The E-M10 is a different matter – here, new technology has endowed the baby newcomer with firepower that instantly dated the E-M5 but all the same, it is not thoroughly outdone for there are still other places for it in the line-up that demands respect.
Settling down at 16MP, all three OM-D cameras are basically the same in terms of the sensor although technically, there are still minor differences between the two, like which one has or hasn’t retained the Low-Pass Filter (Ant-Aliasing Filter). And like the other two, performance and image quality are not in doubt. Even though it is by comparison the oldest, the E-M5 does not lose out in this area.
Despite the overwhelming potential of the E-M1, serious users can and still see the E-M5 as a formidable proposition. Its weather-resistant body makes for a compelling case provided, of course, you use a lens that is equally as resilient in tough weathers. The EVF is still good even if the E-M10 offers a marginally larger minimum image magnification. There is a little bit of video lag but only because we saw a better one in the E-M1.
The E-M5’s five-axis image stabilisation was a prime highlight back in 2012 and it still works like magic today. Compared to the E-M10, it remains superior but against the E-M1, there have been some minor advances. Still, not to be sneezed at. Despite its OLED design, the rear monitor now loses out in clarity even to the E-M10. While both share the same resolution, dot density is different – the E-M10 is at 1,037,000 while the E-M5 scores only 610,000.
Focusing is where the E-M5 is now showing its age. It is no doubt still plenty fast enough but it’s in the area of usability (or user enhancements) that the E-M10 is better. The number of AF points total 35 segments while the E-M10 has more than twice that. As for manual focusing, it lacks focus peaking and for whatever inexplicable reason, Olympus has chosen not to offer a firmware upgrade for it.
Usability range for the E-M5 can be seen from two perspectives. With a range of ISO 200 to 25600 coupled to a metering sensitivity that stretches from EV -2 to 20, the sensor has great latitude to match its metering capabilities. From these, experiences reveal that you can easily get excellent image quality all the way to ISO 3200 especially when working under very low EV conditions. It’s the sort of stuff that diehard FourThirds users have long pined for but hardly ever enjoyed.
The rest of the camera is equally as compelling. Sequential shooting maxes out at 9 fps sans autofocusing. With continuous autofocusing working, it drops to 4.2 fps, which is still impressive. The E-M5’s faster shutter setting is 1/4000 second, which is fairly normal these days but all in all, more than good enough. Although it doesn’t come with a built-in flash, Olympus bundles the miniscule FL-LM2 flash unit rated at GN7 (ISO 200) – not exactly a powerhouse but for most middling bust-size group shots in a usual party, it’s okay. A consolation is that it can work as a slave unit for the E-M5’s wireless flash control.
Video performance is all about convenience – a simple red button does it all without sounding like rocket science. It’s simple and straightforward and for most of us, it does the job without much fuss but just don’t compare it with the high-powered Lumix models. It’s never been an Olympus strong suit but that may change soon now that the company is beginning to look seriously at tying up some loose ends here. But as it stands, it’s not much better than other OM-D and Pen cameras.
For Pen owners looking at stepping up to the E-M5, the AP-2 slot could be useful because accessories like the MAL-2 can continue to be useful. More serious users with heavy power demands will likely go for the HLD-6 battery grip to go along with the E-M5. Altogether then, there are three batteries all ready to do service for hours on end. And with the HLD-6 attached, you can also use the E-M5 with the optional AC-3 adaptor for access to household power, making it useful for indoor studio use.
Now if we put all these together, we have two ways to look at the E-M5. You can either see it as a camera that can still empower you or one that is getting a little long in the tooth. People say that a camera is only as good as you want it to be. In that sense, the E-M5 will still have plenty to offer – there’s a possibility that you won’t even be able to make full use of everything it has. On the other hand, it’s been two years since its first release and that’s a fairly long time in camera age.
In that time, two new OM-Ds have graced the limelight; one becoming the new range-topper while the other is supposedly a basement model except that it has quite a number of capabilities that the E-M5 lacks. All these are a way of saying that the E-M5 is due for a replacement, which we think will come sometime in 2015.
(Left) The E-M1’s top panel layout and (right) the top view of the E-M5
The instant success earned by the E-M1 is no less partly the work of the E-M5 before. That it couldn’t have done even more is also because reviewers had by now come to know what to expect because of the E-M5. Had it appeared before the E-M5, the story could well have been completely different. Put plainly, here is what appears increasingly to be the most important camera in the development of mirrorless system cameras.
There was no shortage of drama and confusion when the E-M1 appeared for the first time. Firstly many assumed that it was the E-M5’s successor, which doesn’t make a lot of sense since it’s been in the market for no more than a year. But it does indicate the frenzied level of expectation from the market and how much people were pining for an even more impressive model.
At this high level of offering, it is sometimes difficult to discern one model from the next. With the E-M5 out on its own and very much in its own element, the E-M1 to some came across as ‘more of the same’ only because the E-M5 was able to match it to some extent but on closer scrutiny, it’s a very different but powerful beast. Therefore if the E-M5 has been very convincing, the E-M1 takes everything to the next level in a very believable way.
Of the many impressive numbers that the E-M1 carries, the most convincing one was a near-perfect answer that Olympus provided all of its FourThirds users – it is the camera’s sheer ability to exploit the company’s FourThirds lenses, delivering fast enough autofocusing to quell whatever criticisms that may have been levelled at them. For its DSLR users, that alone is worth every sweet penny.
Olympus’ autofocusing issues have long been to produce lenses that were meant for one system or the other. Never have they been able to do anything else. During the FourThirds era, the emergence of LiveView forced the company to think hard about how they could design lenses that could well equally as well with the camera’s native PDAF mode as it is when LiveView is engaged.
Now that cameras like the E-M5 and E-M1 were all entirely based on Contrast-Detection AF, building great lenses isn’t so difficult anymore but to be able to tap into their legendary FourThirds lenses, Olympus now inserted 37 phase-difference detectors into the E-M1’s 16MP sensor so that no one with huge investments in the company’s previous Zuiko Digital collection had to feel left out. By bringing back these lenses to life, hardened FourThirds users now have a compelling reason to convert, upgrade and migrate.
This new lease of life has other uses also because we’re really talking about some of the most exceptional lenses the industry has seen. So many of these lenses are still plugging gaps that Olympus have not filled for their mirrorless range. Seeing that the company has just begun to look at the sharp end of its Micro FourThirds lens offerings, a lot of these lenses are still extremely useful and now that fast autofocusing has returned, they have become very important.
Here’s a quick look at the FourThirds’ Zuiko Digital lens range:
|7-14mm f4.0*||9-18mm f4.0-5.6*||11-22mm f2.8-3.5|
|12-60mm f2.8-4.0 SWD*||14-35mm f2.0||14-42mm f3.5-5.6 II*|
|14-54mm f2.8.3-5 II*||18-180mm f3.5-6.3||35-100mm f2.0 SWD|
|40-150mm f4.0-5.6 R*||50-200mm f2.8-3.5 SWD||70-300mm f4.0-5.6*|
|90-250mm f2.8||35mm f3.5 Macro||50mm f2.0 Macro*|
|8mm f3.5 Fisheye||25mm f2.8*||150mm f2.0|
|300mm f2.8*||EC-14 1.4X teleconverter||EC-20 2.0X teleconverter|
|EX-25 25mm extension tube|
* Listings marked with an asterisk each can be considered to be “broadly” available in Micro FourThirds format. The 12-60mm and 14-54mm can be loosely regarded to be replaced by the 12-40mm and 12-50mm EZ. The 50mm f2 Macro has an approximate equivalent in the 60mm f2.8 Macro. The 25mm f2.8 is available in Micro FourThirds as the faster 25mm f1.8. As for the 7-14mm f4, 300mm f2.8 and 40-150mm, new f2.8, f4.0 and f2.8 versions respectively are coming soon.
The E-M1’s native autofocusing capabilities are an improvement over the E-M5. With more AF segments it performs even better. I think the speed is still about the same as with the E-M5. Where I believe there might be some marginal improvements is in terms of focusing accuracy. When used with fast manual-focusing lenses (check out the Voigtländer lenses), Olympus added the long-overdue focus peaking feature to work like a modern-day split-image microprism finder.
The view through the E-M1’s EVF is beautiful. It’s large – almost as large as the best full-frame optical viewfinders today – and the magnification allows for crisp and clear images. The added resolution doesn’t hurt either. The same can also be said of its rear LED monitor – it improved resolution takes it one step ahead of the E-M5.
Like the E-M5, the E-M1 is crafted beautifully. The revelation of holding one in your hand is a memorable experience unless you’ve held the equally as exquisitely built E-M5 before. With the E-M1, there is the added sense of quality again, perhaps because there is a more substantive feel to it or maybe because of the built-in handgrip. There can be a number of different possible factors behind it but all the same, the feeling of clockwork precision hewn from a very measured body that is fashioned by a long-standing tradition at Olympus is all too evident.
In a word that describes the E-M1; that will have to be ‘professional’ as in professional in every sense of its execution. Everything about it was developed to meet the sharp end of the stick – if the E-M5 exudes confidence, the E-M1 is boundlessly ever so again for there are reasons for every function that it has and why each control is shaped the way it is.
In that sense, the E-M1’s unique ‘2×2’ dual-stepped feature is not just one of a kind but also a stroke of ingenuity because it enables the same available set of buttons to have doubled-up functions. By flicking the switch from ‘1’ to ‘2’ or back, you move from one set of functions to the next, offering you twice the productivity. For a camera of this compact size, such an idea is priceless.
Compared to the E-M5, seven further areas differentiate the E-M1. In summing up, here’s what I can say about them:
There is no doubt that the E-M1 is a slightly different beast than the E-M5. It is after all larger in every way but not in any way comparable to any DSLR. Weight has also gone up but again, not a huge deal. All the same, an E-M1 in the hand is something you definitely feel and even if you are accustomed to the E-M5, you’ll still discern that difference. But again, this is a camera with a different proposition, a different agenda and most assuredly a different target in mind.
While the E-M5 heralded the ‘arrival’ of Olympus and had convincingly taken the fight to the APS-C DSLRs, it was the E-M1 that encouraged the company to finally announce a fitting successor to the excellent E-5. While there was no mention of the end of FourThirds, one might as well think it’s just the other side of the same coin.
Image courtesy of Olympus.com
A consumer-grade OM-D camera was not if but a matter of when. We all knew the day would come but we just weren’t too sure exactly when. When the bell chimed and Olympus announced the E-M10, it was more a case of, “there it is!” and not “are you sure?”
Historians would look back and recall that the third OM camera to come online was also the company’s first consumer-grade model. The OM10 (1979) arrived not long after Olympus upgraded the OM-1 and -2 to become the OM-1N and OM-2N. That might even lead you to believe that the company’s decision to name it the E-M10 had something to do with the OM10 sharing the same number. If that’s what you’re thinking, you aren’t wrong either. Whatever it is, it is confusing because Olympus appears to have many consumer-oriented solutions on hand. Other than the E-M10, there are models from the Pen family as well, which include the E-P5, E-PL6 and the E-PM2, all of which are Micro FourThirds compatible.
If we regard the Pen range as addressing the needs of those from compact camera origins, it appears that the E-P5 is premium enough to closely match what the E-M10 has. This degree of confusion was why Olympus recently announced that they would be ‘reviewing’ the whole Pen line-up and make the appropriate changes to their product strategy in order that the E-M10 has its own ‘territory.’ This may result in the company wielding the axe on one if not two of the three existing Pen sub-lines.
Of late we’ve also been hearing that the next-generation E-PL7 is in fact no different to the E-M10 sans the built-in EVF. That alone tells us that the relative lack of product differentiation may come back to bite Olympus again.
Of the many sweet spots that the E-M10 hits, price will be one of them. Relative to how much the E-M5 and E-M1 cost, the E-M10 sounds like a great deal particularly given that its capabilities are quite formidable. As the newest addition to the OM-D range, Olympus has positioned it as a ‘base’ model and so any lower than the E-M10, we should find ourselves in the Pen range, which is where rumours have it that a new E-PL7 will be released.
If we’re talking about ‘genetic material,’ the E-M10 draws much closer to the E-M1 than the E-M5. A quick check of the paper specs will convince anyone of that. Even so, it remains quite difficult to tell the difference among the three OM-D cameras because specs can also tell us how closely they are all inter-related. In such a comparison, only the E-M1 emerges convincingly clear of the other two but the E-M10 and E-M5 are mutually competitive. For me, it took a real wedding event to uncover a few truths for me.
In terms of ‘lesser’ specs, one main highlight is the 3-axis image stabiliser, which is two less than what the other two has. How much of an impact this has on you will depend on whether you do a lot of lowlight work or not. And if you’re into more serious movie making, perhaps you might prefer the E-M5’s 5-axis version.
And despite being a ‘lowly’ OM-D model, it also sports a magnesium alloy body though one that lacks the weather resistance that the others have. This omission shouldn’t worry a typical E-M10 user – most will likely run for shelter and cover up the camera when the rain comes, anyway.
The E-M10’s sequential shooting is slower and maximum burst rate is lesser for either RAW or JPEG. On paper this might sound significant but in daily use, it hardly warrants attention. The AP2 slot, so common in Olympus’ other mirrorless cameras, is also missing, which is surprising considering that Pen users could be looking at the E-M10 to upgrade to the OM-D range. There is also no HLD option and hence no additional battery power for added field endurance. However there is the ECG-1 grip to help out if you plan to use heavier and longer lenses.
If you can set aside these and instead look at what the E-M10 has gained, one can’t help but be impressed. In the two years that separated the E-M10 and the E-M5, Olympus could capitalise on newer technologies to provide it with some very interesting advantages such as the following:
While all of these raise its profile, they can be confusing mainly because the E-M5 – being allegedly a higher-end model – lacks them. There’s no denying that there is some serious firepower regardless of its modest status and as a result, the stakes have been upped. In the right hands, the E-M10 can be as outstanding as either the E-M5 or E-M1.
With these three OM-D models being so closely linked, there reigns enough confusion to cause any potential shopper to stumble. Any newcomer to the OM-D line-up will have a tough time figuring out on their own how a cheaper E-M10 can be technically better than the more premium E-M5.
With that in mind, here is a simplified list where we can check out where the three OM-D models stand in certain areas (at least on paper):
|Sensor technology with SSWF||Similar|
|Latest processor||E-M1 / E-M10||E-M5|
|Body construction quality||E-M1||E-M5||E-M10|
|Rear monitor performance||E-M1||E-M10||E-M5|
|Focusing technologies||E-M1||E-M5 / E-M10|
|Number of AF points||E-M1||E-M10||E-M5|
|Manual focusing assistance||E-M1 / E-M10||E-M5|
|Predictive metering technologies||Similar|
|Meter sensitivity range||E-M1 / E-M10||E-M5|
|ISO sensitivity range||E-M1||E-M5 / E-M10|
|Shutter speed range||E-M1||E-M5 / E-M10|
|Bulb mode performance||Similar|
|Built-in flash provision||E-M10||E-M5 / E-M1|
|Flash sync performance||E-M1||E-M5 / E-M10|
|Connectivity to AP2 accessories||E-M1 / E-M5||E-M10|
|Wireless flash connectivity||Similar|
|Maximum burst rate||E-M1||E-M5 / E-M10|
|Wireless connectivity||E-M1 / E-M10||E-M5|
|DC input capability||E-M1 / E-M5||E-M10|
|Battery pack compatibility||E-M1 / E-M5||E-M10|
|Battery grip options||E-M1 / E-M5||E-M10|
|Max frames per full battery||E-M5||E-M1||E-M10|
You’ll notice a number of interesting and revealing issues.
Not surprisingly, the E-M1 does better than the other two in many areas but largely those where one can measure performance by such as shooting efficiency, precision metering, access to exposure controls and management and useability on the trot. In all of these, the E-M1 doesn’t just gets the job done but is clearly the choice for those who are looking for the penultimate experience. You’ll notice that there are far less compromises in its design as well.
The E-M10, on the other hand, is fortuitous in being a recipient of the latest technologies and by doing so, it inherits some middle ground, which means the E-M5’s position is being undermined to some extent. Even so, the E-M5 remains a better option for those who rough it. Physical attributes like a weatherproof body are always good tell-tale signs of its breeding and in this sense, it is a more ‘senior’ model than the E-M10 and one that is better designed to be used robustly.
As mentioned earlier, the OM-D product strategy is defined by a base template design. This is the common ground shared by all three models. Future generations may shift a little from the original template but should stay faithful to a large extent. Each generation will see a common ‘fabric’ of base features that are shared equally. In this instance we see that all three have 16MP sensors as well as similar levels of video performance and the ability to remotely manage flash units wirelessly. All offer near-identical extraneous features like Live Time, Digital Leveller and various Art filters.
If we consider the three models from the template perspective, it is obvious that the E-M5, being the oddball here, will be replaced soon so that the pecking order can be restored.
Until a few weeks ago, I was familiar mainly with the E-M5 and E-M1. A new E-M10 came into possession courtesy of the school I work for. We purchased one, upon my recommendation, complete with the new pancake-sized 14-42mm EZ and a cheesy little third-rate camera bag. Though not my favourite lens, it was bought on a strict budget and nothing else. The funding was so tight that I could not even procure a spare battery or memory card. And an external flash will have to come at the next opportunity.
It’s hard to understand what kind of optical engineering had gone into the 14-42mm lens. At 22.5 mm, it’s as thin as a wafer in the tradition of the other anorexic lens in the range, the 17mm f2.8 but in this case, this is a zoom and not prime lens. In that tiny little space, Olympus could squeeze in 8 elements, some of which are aspheric and at least one ED and Super HR lens. Not just that; there is a built-in silent electronic zoom mechanism, making it ideal for movie making.
Up till this point, the E-M10 was used with the 14-42mm EZ lens primarily for straightforward tripod-style video shooting. In other words, it hasn’t been stretched before. However I had a wedding dinner event coming up where I could ‘risk’ it by using the E-M10. And with the sumptuous 12-40mm f2.8 at my disposal, I conveniently sidestepped the pancake zoom lens.
The event was fairly low key with at the most, 100 guests invited. Lighting condition was never the best and space was not generous for me to move around easily but it wasn’t too tight and inaccessible either. Lighting was on the warm side to which I set my WB setting to Tungsten and fixed my ISO at 1600 in order to bump up my minimum shutter speeds.
The room was fairly evenly lit but there were pockets around that required me to shift the Exp Comp a little every now and then but not by much. I found setting it at +0.7EV to be perfect throughout the night. The idea was to shoot under ambient conditions. In other words, no flash was to be used.
Here are my quick and dirty notes made as a result of using the E-M10:
If you came from a FourThirds DSLR culture, any OM-D camera, much less the E-M10, will be slightly intimidating at the beginning because the overall body form is so different and with that, the control placements are not quite what you’re used to. It takes a little time to understand and getting used to in order to instinctively find the button positions using finger memory. The latter is a matter of going out and shooting as frequently as it takes to condition yourself to the camera. It’s definitely not a difficult camera to come to grips with – most unlike the D4 or 1D – but you still want to test drive it a few times before consigning the camera to serious events.
But all in all, the E-M10 is a typical OM-D camera. The feeling is if you’ve used one, you’d know the E-M10 like revisiting an old friend. The capabilities of the E-M10 are formidable and usable but in a very challenging real-world scenario – and given that I have a choice – I might still pump for the E-M1. Here’s why:
You’ll notice that all my reasons have nothing to do with the E-M10’s ability to create great images. And one should be mindful that these reasons are mine alone – they tell you more about how I use my camera and less about the E-M10’s real talents.
Many have the penchant of saying, “horses for courses.” It’s almost a given and in this case, it is appropriate. The three OM-D models are as similar as they are different. It depends on how you want to view them and in what light you make your comparisons.
I don’t know if it’s such a good thing to have all the three OM-D models being so close to one another when it comes to delivering results. It can be somewhat confusing – after all, how do you really tell if your smart money is working for you or not? But on the other hand, you could find yourself striking up a bargain you can’t refuse simply because you no longer have to pay top dollar to find it.
So here’s how I see the three OM-D models stacking up:
|Processor||TruePic VI||TruePic VII||TruePic VII|
|Body construction||Magnesium alloy, dust/splash resistant||Magnesium alloy, dust/splash/freeze resistant||Magnesium alloy|
|IBIS||5-axis (IS1 mode for video)||5-axis (M.IS mode for video)||3-axis|
|EVF type||0.92X to 1.15X, 1.44M dots||1.3X to 1.48X, 2.36M dots 1.01X to 1.15X, 1.44M dots|
|Rear monitor type||OLED, 3” adjustable, 610K dots (1.44MP), touch control||LED, 3” adjustable, 1,037K dots (2.3MP), touch control||LED, 3” adjustable, 1,037K dots (1.44MP), touch control|
|Focusing||Contrast-detection||Contrast-detection / Phase difference||Contrast-detection|
|AF Points||35 segments multi-AF||81 segments CDAF, 37 segments PDAF||81 segments multi-AF|
|Manual focus assist||LiveView magnified||LiveView magnified with peaking function||LiveView magnified with peaking function|
|Predictive metering||324-area multi-pattern|
|Meter sensitivity range (with 17mm f2.8, ISO 100)||EV 0 to 20||EV -2 to 20||EV -2 to 20|
|ISO sensitivity range||ISO 100 to 25600||ISO 100 to 25600||ISO 100 to 25600|
|Shutter speed range||60 to 1/4000 sec||60 to 1/8000 sec||60 to 1/4000 sec|
|Bulb maximum setting||8 to 30 mins|
|Built-in flash||No but bundled with FL-LM2 (GN7)||No but bundled with FL-LM2 (GN7)||Yes, GN 8.2 (ISO 200)|
|Flash sync speed (standard)||1/250 sec||1/320 sec||1/250 sec|
|Flash sync speed (Super FP)||1/125 to 1/4000 sec||1/125 to 1/8000 sec||1/125 to 1/4000 sec|
|Accessory port||Yes, AP2||Yes, AP2||No|
|Wireless flash operability||Yes, via Olympus Wireless RC Flash system|
|Sequential shooting (AF/no AF)||4.2/9 fps||5/10 fps||3.5/8 fps|
|Maximum burst rate (RAW)||20 frames at 4 fps||50 frames at 6.5 fps||20 frames at 3.5 fps|
|15 frames at 9 fps||95 frames at 10 fps||16 frames at 8 fps|
|Maximum burst rate (JPEG)||70 frames at 4 fps||Unlimited frame, up to card capacity||Unlimited frames, up to card capacity|
|19 frames at 9 fps|
|Max video footage (MOV)||29 mins (Full HD Normal), 22 mins (Full HD Fine)|
|Max video footage (AVI, MPEG)||7 mins (HD), 14 mins (SD)|
|Maximum video resolution||1920 x 1080 (Full HD, MOV)|
|Maximum file sizes||4GB (MOV), 2GB (MPEG)|
|Wireless connectivity||None||WiFi using smartphone GPS (IEEE 802.11b/g/n)|
|DC input socket||Yes, with HLD-6 attached, compatible with AC-3||Yes, with HLD-7 attached, compatible with AC-3||No|
|Battery pack type||BLN-1||BLN-1||BLS-5|
|Optional grip||Yes, HLD-6 (battery powered)||Yes, HLD-7 (battery powered)||Yes, ECG-1 (not battery powered)|
|Max frames per full charge||Approx 360||Approx 350||Approx 320|
|Dimensions||121 x 89.6 x 41.9 mm||130.4 x 93.5 x 63.1 mm||119.1 x 82.3 x 45.9 mm|
|Weight (body only)||373 g||443 g||350 g|
NOTE: Information culled from Olympus Imaging Corporation and DP Review
Those who have the patience to wait it out may enjoy knowing that the E-M5’s successor could be around the corner. From the way the E-M10 has surpassed it in some areas, we all know the replacement is already overdue. While we have no idea as to its real launch date, the likelihood is sometime in 2015, perhaps within the first two quarters of the year. Mind you, this is but a guess.
Apart from the E-M5 successor, we may also hear a little more about the long-rumoured E-M2 appearing. By next year, the E-M1 will have been in the market for two years and so many believe that it’s time for another ‘change of guard.’ However my opinion is there will be no ‘change of guard’ but instead a pairing of two flag bearers in a similar tradition to the OM-1 (1972) and OM-2 (1975).
With the opportunities courtesy of the ‘new world order’ in the camera business, Olympus is looking for as many ways as possible to extend its lead. Sales numbers are looking better (although actual profitability still needs improving) but given the declining compact camera segment, they must now strengthen their hand via the mirrorless camera business.
In view of this, we could be seeing Olympus fleshing out the OM-D range and accessories even more and fairly soon too. So more cameras, more lenses and generally a lot of more activities planned. Indeed then, 2015 certainly looks to be shaping up as an exciting year to build up some much-needed OM-D muscle. Here’s an overview (but don’t hold your breath though…):
|2014-2015||E-M5 successor||Possibly called E-M6|
|New co-flagship model||Possibly called E-M2|
|Pro fisheye zoom||Most likely 7-14mm f2.8 Pro|
|Pro super-tele prime||Most likely 300mm f4.0 Pro|
|Pro telephoto zoom||Most likely 40-150mm f2.8 Pro|
|Pro wide-angle prime||Possibly 14mm f2.0 or 17mm f1.8|
|New flash unit(s)||No further information|
Author’s Notes: Comparisons of affordability particularly between the E-M10 and E-M5 are based on their in-store retail prices in Malaysia and therefore may or may not apply elsewhere. In other words in Malaysia, the E-M5 is consistently higher priced than the E-M10. Kit packages may also differ. For example the E-M10 is only available with the 14-42mm EZ lens but the lens itself is not sold separately. Some of these are similar in other parts of the world but variations will definitely occur.
Warranties for Olympus cameras in Malaysia can also be different compared to many other parts of the world. Here, we have a one-year international warranty but extended warranty programmes are not applicable. Needless to say, buying online can be a risk in terms of what you are getting in terms of kit as well as warranties. So be cautioned.
At any rate when purchasing an Olympus OM-D camera, you expect – other than the correct camera body (and specified colour), the following components: (1x) battery pack, (1x) battery charger and (1x) power cord, (1x) shoulder strap, (1x) installable CD media, (1x) user’s manual, (1x) Olympus warranty card, (1x) Olympus authorised worldwide service centre list, (1x) FL-LM2 flash unit in its own case (not provided with E-M10) and (1x) kit lens. If you’re purchasing the E-M1 in body only configuration, the kit lens will not be available.
If unsure, always check at Olympus’ official website for your region to confirm.