Finally Olympus enticed me to buy the Olympus OM-D E-M1 – thanks to some unbelievable post-Xmas price reductions

Written by Gary on December 30th, 2014

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera is the flagship of the Olympus camera line up – but until now, I have resisted buying it and have been happy with my awesome OM-D E-M5 camera.

I had not been that excited by the E-M1 for a number of reasons:

  • it is too big for MY liking
    • the E-M5 was the perfect size for me – able to fit in a jacket pocket with a pancake lens, and able to handle larger lenses well with the 1st stage of the HLD-6 grip.
    • the E-M1 is wider and much the same otherwise as the E-M5 with the HLD-6 grip in place which makes it too big to get into most pockets, plus it is a touch heavier.
  • unlike the E-M5, one handed operation is more difficult – it is really a 2 hands camera
    • you need your left hand to turn it ON and OFF as that switch is now located to the left side of the top panel – impossible to reach with your right thumb
    • the AFL/AEL button is now further from your right hand so if you are using it one-handed, your thumb needs to stretch more – and I use this button a LOT
  • it was too expensive at $US1599 for the body
  • the button positions were very different to my E-M5 which makes using both concurrently annoyingly confusing
  • long exposure thermal noise is substantially worse than with the E-M5
  • most of my photography is with still subjects so I really did not need the C-AF and PDAF – although it would be nice to get AF back with my many Four Thirds lenses
  • most of the other improvements do not really make my photography better except for niche areas – although there are quite a few

Likewise, as nice as the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens is, it was not really exciting me as:

  • the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens is rather big and heavy for Micro Four Thirds (although much smaller and lighter than a dSLR or Sony equivalent)
    • it is the same length (84mm) but lighter (382g  vs  460g) than the Panasonic 14-140mm lens
  • 62mm filter thread is larger than most other MFT lenses – but at least is the same as my Panasonic Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 and my Panasonic 14-140mm lens
    • to use my Metz ring flash, I will need a step down ring 62-58mm and this will cause a little vignetting in the corners
  • it is known to break at the mount if dropped -perhaps that is a sacrificial  design feature to allow easy repairs
  • I already have 12mm f/2.0, 20mm f/1.7, and 45mm f/1.8 lenses – all of which are individually smaller and lighter, with better low light performance than the zoom lens and perhaps better optical image quality – but none are weathersealed!

But then DigiDirect changed my mind overnight!

But when DigiDirect advertised the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens for a ridiculously low $AU1373 when the $AU is worth only 81 US cents, and the usual price for the combination is well over $AU2000, I just had to buy it as I was getting the camera for $AU800 (they were selling the E-M1 body only for a low $AU878 and the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens by itself reduced from $AU899 to $AU719), and the lens for only $AU537.

ps. they are selling the E-M5 for a ridiculously cheap $AU449 – that is one awesome camera and at that price is amazing value – assuming you don’t need PDAF, C-AF, WiFi.

Some other reasons to buy:

At this price I was willing to overlook the flaws with both the camera and the lens, and there were some other almost compelling reasons for the purchase:

  • the rumours of the features of the forthcoming E-M5 replacement camera due in Feb 2015 were not exciting me as I don’t really need 40mp capability, but I would like PDAF for my Four Thirds lenses which have been relegated to my cupboard for too long – and alas it is looking as though the E-M5 mark II will not be getting PDAF.
  • it is unlikely an E-M1 mark II will be coming in the next 12 months
  • with the poor $AU, future imports are likely to be priced substantially higher
  • I really do want PDAF and C-AF tracking that sort of works
  • I love using flash outdoors so the boost in flash sync to 1/250th sec with external flashes and the built-in PC sync outlet will make my life easier
  • the Live Composite mode sounds like something I would like to experiment with, and as I do not use Photoshop, I can’t readily achieve this effect myself in software with only Lightroom
  • the sensor based image stabiliser is even better than on my E-M5 and I do like to push hand held limits of shutter speed
  • the improved EVF allows one to see down to magnitude 6 stars instead of only magnitude 3-4 stars (with a 25mm f/1.4 lens and Live Boost = ON) which makes astrophotography and low light work that much easier
  • the WiFi smartphone control and image transfer could be quite useful
  • as I shoot a lot of manual focus with legacy lenses, the addition of focus peaking will make a great addition to magnified view mode
  • I discovered on my snow trip last year, and in the Xmas party photo booth shoot I did last week that I really do need a quality zoom lens, and better still that it is weatherproof
  • I get an extra BLN-1 battery and charger and these sell for a silly $AU90-100 for each of these  – so I figure I am paying only $600 for the camera 🙂

 What about other cameras instead?

Well, I did look at a few.

Canon 7D Mark II:

  • nice dSLR and would work well with my Canon L lenses
  • but I don’t do much sports photography and I do have the Canon 1D Mark III
  • and I need reading glasses to operate it just as with any other dSLR – with mirrorless cameras I don’t need to take my eye from the camera for the far majority of functions – unless I need to delve into the menu system which is rare during a shoot.
  • the future is mirrorless
  • it can’t do closest eye AF – and I have grown to love this accurate AF without need from AF microadjustments which plague all dSLRs
  • I have had enough of carrying around those heavy lenses

Sony A7ii:

  • now this does interest me as it is not only full frame mirrorless but has sensor based IS, albeit not as effective as the E-M1
  • it is not yet available and when it does come, it is likely to be $AU1798 body only, then I would have to buy Sony lenses or resort to using my heavy Canon lenses in slow AF or MF mode – neither excite me – great pics perhaps but not much fun

Sony A7R:

  • full frame 36mp mirrorless
  • but really need to use this on a tripod otherwise one is wasting all those megapixels and just clogging up your hard drive
  • and again, I would have to buy Sony lenses or resort to using my heavy Canon lenses in slow AF or MF mode – neither excite me – great pics perhaps but not much fun

Sony A7S:

  • full frame 12mp mirrorless
  • no sensor based IS so not interested
  • would give me perhaps 2 stops better high ISO but has its own issues and again, I would have to buy Sony lenses or resort to using my heavy Canon lenses in slow AF or MF mode – neither excite me – great pics perhaps but not much fun
  • I would get better resolution images from the E-M1 and have much more fun
  • might be great for videographers or those really serious about astro scapes (night landscapes with the Milky Way – although I am growing a touch tired of seeing these)

Fuji XT-1:

  • a nice cropped sensor mirrorless and expensive but no sensor based IS and I would have to buy Fuji lenses so not interested

Panasonic LX-100:

  • Micro Four Thirds sized sensor in a petite camera with some awesome features:
    • lovely 3x zoom 24-75mm (in 35mm full frame equivalent) f/1.8-2.8 OIS zoom with 3cm close focus is perfect for most travel needs
    • built-in EVF
    • nice dials for aperture, shutter speed, etc
    • multi-aspect sensor
    • flash sync at all speeds thanks to leaf shutter
    • 40fps electronic shutter mode (to 1/16,000th sec)  and 11.9fps mechanical shutter
    • 4K video
    • fast AF, focus peaking, eye detection AF, etc
    • WiFi smartphone control
  • but for me it was a touch too small and had no tilt LCD and no touch screen and at around ~$AU900 was a touch expensive, although maybe worth it for many given its great feature set

So now I have an E-M1:

  • first step was to update firmware as this will rest most of your settings, so you may as well get in done first
  • next set date and time
  • then to configure it the way I like it:
    • cogs A:
      • AEL/AFL set to S1:C2:M3
        MF assist = OFF
        AF illuminator = OFF
    • cogs B: buttons/dial/lever:
      • Fn1 = peaking
      • Fn2 = magnify (to keep similar settings with E-M5)
      • REC = keystone
      • right button = ISO (to keep similar settings with E-M5)
      • down button = WB (to keep similar settings with E-M5)
      • rear buttons = direct mode so I reduce the chance I accidentally change the AF region position
    • cogs D: display:
      • Control Settings: PASM = Live SCP on, Live Control = OFF (I love the Super Control Panel)
      • Info Settings: Playback Info: histogram and highlight/shadow ON
      • Info Settings: LV Info: histogram, level gauge and highlight/shadow ON
      • histogram settings: Highlight = 245 (to avoid blown highlights when shooting ETTR metering)
    • cogs E: exposure:
      • Noise Filter = LOW (or OFF)
      • Antishock = 0 sec to enable electronic 1st shutter
    • cogs G: color/WB:
      • Keep warm color = OFF
      • Flash WB = OFF
  • this means that the other functions are accessible via:
    • front buttons:
      • one-touch custom WB
      • depth of field preview
    • 2×2 switch = 1:
      • top left control, front button drive/self timer/ HDR modes
      • top left control, rear button – exposure meter modes / focus modes
      • front dial: exposure compensation (or aperture if in Manual mode and no action in iAuto)
      • rear dial: aperture or shutter depending on exposure mode (no action in iAuto)
    • 2×2 switch = 2:
      • top left control, front button bracketing modes / bracket actions
      • top left control, rear button – flash exposure compensation / flash modes
      • front dial: ISO
      • rear dial: WB
  • more here

In conclusion…

Despite the above, I have been extremely impressed with the capabilities of the E-M1 thus far – the C-AF tracking actually works fairly well in good light and with a contrasty subject, while I can do hand held photos of stars with my 25mm f/1.4 lens at ISO 3200, 1/4 sec and get lots of stars – I doubt any other camera could achieve that without a tripod.

The focus peaking, 2×2 switch, extra buttons (such as custom WB, DOF preview) and remote control via iPhone is fantastic.

Furthermore, my old Olympus FL-50 flash which would only sync at 1/160th sec on my E-M5 now can sync at 1/250th second – very handy indeed when you need every bit of power and shutter speed for those outdoor shots.

Better still, when used with external “manual” flashes such as with my Canon 580 EX II, I get FULL SYNC without need for FSS or Super FP modes with full frame coverage of flash up to 1/500thsec, and can even push it to 1/840th sec with only ~20% of the top of frame not lit by the flash – now that is incredible for outdoor flash – better than my Canon 1D Mark III even with HiSync using PocketWizard technology!!

I have 2 little disappointments:

  • when using a Four Thirds lens with CDAF optimisation such as my lovely Panasonic Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 lens, the E-M1 insists on using PDAF and not CDAF (CDAF worked quite well on my E-M5 with this lens).
  • whilst the camera allows +/- 5EV exposure compensation, in manual exposure mode, it only displays +/- 3EV exposure metering – this is annoying when using spot metering on a white or black target.

Overall, I am very happy indeed!!!

If high quality video is more important to you:

Andrew Reid of chose his 5 best video cams of 2014 which are:

  • Used Canon 1D C
  • Sony A7S & Atomos Shogun combo
  • Panasonic GH4
  • Samsung NX1
  • Nikon D750
  • honorable mentions:
    • Panasonic LX100



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