Saturday, June 23, 2012

More about the Olympus OM-D E-M5

People that know me know that for years I have valued smaller/lighter as long as I didn't have to give up much with regards to flexibility and performance (the kinds of performance that I care about, not the types such as FPS that I don't). When I travel I want to keep things reasonably light and small since I spend lots of time each day walking around, often in hot and humid places, and also must keep gear security in mind. At one time I had hoped the NEX 7 might fit the bill, but the more I looked at it and read about it the more I realized that for my uses it was not the one for me. Then the Olympus OM-D E-M5 was announced and even though I was not at all taken by the retro looks the specs looked very interesting. In April I bought a Panasonic Lumix G3 in Tokyo along with 2 lenses to try out m4/3 and then in May I bought the E-M5, 4 more lenses, a flash (ordered the flash in May and still waiting for delivery :( ), several filters, a Minolta MC/MD lens adapter for my old Minolta MC 50mm f1.4, and an A-mount adapter for my old Sigma 90mm f2.8 macro. This is what I have now:

Olympus E-M5 body
Panasonic G3 body
Olympus 14-150mm f4-5.6
Olympus 9-18mm f4-5.6
Panasonic 20mm f1.7
Panasonic 14mm f2.5
Panasonic 45-200mm f4-5.6
Panasonic 14-42mm f3.5-5.6

Although the ergonomics, particularly for me using my left eye, are not ideal and could be improved, other aspects of the camera and system were so attractive that I decided to get the new gear. After a few weeks of light use so far I am coming to terms with the ergonomics and I hope that they will not interfere when I need to shoot fast. I decided against the 2-part extra grip ($300) because although the top part helps some aspects of the ergonomics it actually hurts a bit one other aspect. It also adds size/weight/cost.

Here is an example of my backpack travel camera kit for several trips and it is typical (this is what I used in Egypt for a month in 2009):

Sony A700 + 2 batteries + charger
Sony A100 + battery (backup body)
Sony 18-250mm f3.5-6.3 + UV filter + polarizer filter + lens hood
Sony 11-18mm f4.5-5.6 + UV filter + lens hood
Sigma 24mm f2.8 + UV filter + lens hood
Minolta 50mm f1.7 + UV filter
Sony F36AM flash + 4 AA nimh batteries
Canon A590IS digicam + 2 AA nimh batteries
AA nimh battery charger
several CF and SD memory cards
lens cleaning kit
card reader
netbook + 500gb ehd

This is what I expect to use on my next trip:

Olympus E-M5 + battery + charger
Panasonic G3 + battery + charger (backup body)
Olympus 14-150mm f4-5.6 + UV filter + polarizer filter + lens hood
Olympus 9-18mm f4-5.6 + UV filter + lens hood
Panasonic 14mm f2.5 + UV filter + lens hood
Panasonic 20mm f1.7 + UV filter
Olympus FL-300R flash + 2 nimh AA batteries
Canon S95 digicam + battery + charger
AA nimh battery charger
several SD memory cards
lens cleaning kit
netbook + 500gb ehd

The size/weight is unbelievably less!

The EVF is pretty good. To improve the DR I set it to portrait mode and minimum contrast. When I look at a contrasty scene I can see quite a large difference using these settings compared to using the default settings. I shoot raw so I don't care about the jpeg settings. On dpreview several people who own both the E-M5 and NEX 7 have reported that they prefer the E-M5 EVF. I have never compared the 2 side-by-side so I can't really comment about that.

The IBIS seems to work very well.

I have been impressed by the IQ. Not what I would have expected from m4/3. Down near the bottom in the Output Quality section there is a table that shows the quality of various print sizes/ISOs for the E-M5, Nikon D7000, Canon 7D, etc. The E-M5 matches those two cameras:

I have my fingers crossed that all this new gear will work out okay for my travel. If it does then I really hope that Olympus (or Panasonic) comes out with a new m4/3 body later that has all the good stuff I like, but with better ergonomics.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 poor ergonomics

I have had the E-M5 for a bit over 3 weeks and after using it my overall conclusion is the same as it was when I first examined it in Tokyo on 3/31. So many wonderful points, I really like the size/weight of the lenses/camera compared to all the DSLRs/FSLRs I have been using for many years, quite happy with the IQ, S-AF is fast and accurate, but the ergonomics are rather poor compared to what could have been done even without making the camera larger. Olympus chose to make it look like a very small 40 year old film SLR and then shrunk that to make it even smaller and added a tilt rear screen and lots of controls that the larger film SLR didn't have. The NEX 7 is as small or smaller, but has a larger sensor, tilt screen, and builtin flash yet the controls, grip, and EVF are in better positions and are not so small. I am not saying the NEX 7 ergonomics are ideal, but it shows how much better Olympus could do while keeping the size the same. The following is a post I made 2.5 months ago on a forum. I was in Japan for 6 months and in Tokyo at that time for a few months so I had many opportunities to handle the E-M5.


I am almost reluctant to post this because I know from my years on dpreview that there are always some people who think anything that is not a glowing opinion of the product/company that they happen to currently like is an assault on their manhood, worth as a human being, ethics, morals, religion, mother, wife, or child. :) I have something about the E-M5 that I am not too happy about, but please be assured that this is not meant as a personal insult to any of you. We are just talking about an inanimate object, a tool, albeit one that most of us have some interest in. Let's please all try to remember that. :)

After trying out the E-M5 yesterday and discovering that the ergonomics were less than I had hoped for, particularly since I use my left eye, I decided to go back to Shinjuku today to try it again. I spent a fair amount of time holding it and checking to see how it felt with it up to my eye and using the control dials, tiny top buttons, and the 2 tiny rear buttons at the top while my eye was to the EVF. Hmmm, I guess I will say that it is barely acceptable. Of course, in other ways the E-M5 is the sort of camera with the small lenses that I have really been hoping for so that influences my evaluation. Oh, and I don't have large hands (not small either). If I didn't want something like this so much I might put it on the other side of the acceptability line.

As it is, barring anything important that comes up in reviews or user reports I am still thinking I will get one later. The feel of it in my hand and the usability of controls while up to my eye though is definitely the biggest negative point. One might say that one must expect compromised ergonomics in such a small body (it is small), but that ignores the fact that the Panasonic G3 is as small and it feels better to me and the NEX 7 is smaller and it is wonderful. Of the MILCs that have a built-in EVF I would personally rate the feel and access to my most used controls while looking through the EVF with my left eye in this order:

1. NEX 7, Panasonic Lumix GH2
2. Panasonic Lumix G3
3. Nikon V1
4. Olympus E-M5

Using my right eye I would rate them in the same order. The GH2 is bigger and heavier than the NEX 7 so it isn't really fair to also put it in the #1 spot since it has the advantage of the bigger body for controls.

The E-M5 ergonomics suffer a lot because Olympus tried so hard to make it look retro and look like the old OM-1 film SLR. Yes, I know that many people like this look. Actually, Olympus made it smaller/lighter than the OM-1:

OM-1: 510g, 136 x 83 x 50mm
E-M5: 425g, 122 x 89 x 43mm
NEX 7: 353g, 120 x 67 x 43mm

Then with that reduced size they added all the controls that digital cameras need, but film cameras didn't (LCD, control wheels, buttons). And since they wanted it to look as much as possible like a smaller version of the OM-1 they put the EVF directly above the lens and in the center of the body so that it looked like an old pentaprism OVF. Well, once they put the EVF there in the center rather than offset then that meant they had even less space to cram all the controls. Definitely a form over function design. It has the retro look and that is clearly important and a selling point for many people. No disagreement from me there. Olympus, like all companies, makes products in order to sell them and they are probably right that this compromised, retro design will sell well and maybe better than a less compromised, modern design. I can't fault them for that. All I can do is offer my subjective opinion that they went too far trying to do it all: smaller than OM-1, more controls crammed onto the smaller camera than the OM-1, and putting that big EVF hump right in the middle so that there was even less space for the controls. Oh well, it is what it is.

Although there are reasons why I am not interested in the NEX 7 (big lenses, few lenses, no IBIS, slower AF) I couldn't help but be so impressed holding it right after the E-M5. Smaller size and lighter weight, but the hand hold is great, the EVF is over on the left so that it works well for people using the right eye and for people using their left eye, controls on the right side are not so cramped and small and since people who use their left eye have their face moved over to use the EVF there is no problem with using those controls. Sony still manages to get a bigger sensor (1.5x), a tilt LCD, an EVF, and a flash into the smaller/lighter body. Something more like this body with the E-M5 sensor, IBIS, and m4/3 mount would be fantastic, IMO. Even if the E-M5 EVF hump was moved to the left (even just 5mm would help) it would give more space for the controls, more space for your face, and more space for your thumb. If they did that then make the hump smaller and smooth too like the V1 since the camera would no longer look like an old OM-1 anyway. Sounds like a nice Olympus additional body. :)

By the way, I also tried using my forefinger instead of my thumb to work the rear control dial. You can do it, but then you have to take your finger off the shutter button. That is fine for many people and many types of photography. For me though it would mean missed shots. I often find myself making a quick adjustment using my thumb while at the same time my finger is ready to press the shutter release. For many people who use their left eye though using the index finger will help. Using the thumb isn't impossible though, just sort of uncomfortable and cramped.

I recommend that anyone who has any doubts at all about the ergonomics that you spend time holding it and using it before buying. Some people will be fine with it, but for some they will think Olympus just went too far.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Jamestown Settlement

A blacksmith at Jamestown Settlement.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Colonial Williamsburg

For the last 6 days we have been in Williamsburg, Virginia so I was able to visit Colonial Williamsburg (original capital of Virginia founded in 1632), Jamestown (first English settlement in the New World in 1607), and Yorktown (where the last major battle of the Revolutionary War occurred and English General Lord Cornwallis surrendered to American General George Washington and French General Comte de Rochambeau). Here is a young woman cooking in a traditional Colonial era farm kitchen.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

We visited Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, Virginia today while on our road trip. For those who don't know American history this small country community was where the Civil War (aka War Between the States) ended in 1865.  Union General Ulysses S. Grant accepted the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee here inside the McLean house.

Friday, June 8, 2012