Thoughts after renting the EM-5...

Started Oct 21, 2012 | Discussions thread
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Entropius
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Thoughts after renting the EM-5...
Oct 21, 2012

I rented an EM-5 for a project this weekend, along with 14/2.5 and 45/1.8 lenses, and to see if I want to buy one. Here, in no particular order, are my first impressions of the thing. I'm posting here in the 4/3 forum, incidentally, since I'm a long-time shooter of 4/3 equipment, and my experiences will be through the lens (hah!) of someone used to the behavior of 4/3 bodies and lenses.

*Imaging*: Fantastic. The new sensor really is good. There is a noticeable improvement in midtones and highlights, but the biggest improvement is in the shadows. E-30 files seem to have a haze of grain over anything much darker than middle grey, present even at ISO 200 but much worse at high ISO; the EM-5's got "transparent" shadows, and the grain comes in somewhat gently at high ISO without a color cast (until tremendously high ISO, like 12800) or banding.

Color rendition is distinctly different than the Panasonic sensors, but it's no bad thing. There is a difference mostly in subtle colors -- coppers, yellows, and so on -- especially under non-sunlight WB. I think I like it; it reminds me of the Kodachrome slides I've seen.

*Autofocus*: It doesn't act like a SLR autofocus at all; it acts like a compact camera autofocus, just better. This is fine for speed; the 45/1.8 focuses QUICKLY, faster than Canon USM lenses (I've never used Oly SWD glass). It's better for accuracy: the camera will lock onto what it means to lock onto, exactly. No AF fine tune, no hunting; it just locks and shoots. Very very impressive. (The 14/2.5 is less impressive.) But the Oly SLR autofocus is "center-weighted"; if you put the dot right over a bird's head or a subject's eye, it'll focus on that even if there is something else nearby that's closer to the camera. The EM-5 doesn't do this: it'll grab whatever the closest thing is, even if it's on the outside of the little green square. Imagine shooting a duck on the water at a shallow angle: if you put the duck in the middle of the box and mash the button, it'll lock on the water in front of the duck, at the bottom of the box. No good. This is my biggest complaint about the camera: make the damn autofocus boxes smaller; they're software constructs anyway! Even better, give me a "five-point center-weighted mode", like the E-30's, that gives priority to the thing in the middle, but uses the nearby area for assist. This works fantastically on the E-30.

The only C-AF trial I've done was on some very close, very erratically-moving pigeons chasing bread crumbs. The hit rate was pretty low, in part because the tracking C-AF kept locking onto bird bodies rather than bird heads -- and I was making it worse by shooting them at f/1.8 at four feet away. But this was an absolute torture test, and I doubt any camera could have done that well.

*Video*: The main reason I rented the EM-5 was to shoot video of a choral conductor to use as an audition tape. Video quality is top-notch (but see below); I'm shooting the 45 close to wide open with the shutter speed at 1/30, getting a very smooth and professional, non-camcordery look. Image quality is very good. However, the autofocus is *infuriating*. What I want to do is to set the camera on a tripod and have it record the conductor while I go sing, but the tracking AF (even with face detection AF on) refuses to glom onto her eyes, and instead locks onto her hands. Well, of course she's raising and lowering her hands as she leads a rehearsal, and when they go out of frame it'll grab the background instead, since her face is on the side of the frame. It tracks well, but doesn't track what I want. I could instead turn on C-AF without tracking, but it's not stable enough, and will sometimes decide that the background is more interesting if she gets out from under the selected focus point. There's an option to enable "9-area" AF in movie mode, but not "all-area AF", which would possibly do what I want -- C-AF might not lose tracking unless she goes completely out of the frame.

What I'd like to see is a software focus limiter for stuff like this: "Focus anywhere from ten feet to fifteen feet, tracking stuff in the frame as needed but only in that range". You could set it with the manual focus ring: hold down a button, move the focus ring from minimum to maximum, and let it go. Or even a pattern-remembering tracking, which remembers the first object it locks onto, and will prioritize reacquiring that object (rather than picking a target in the background to stubbornly hold onto if it loses the original target). I know this is sophisticated stuff for a camera to do automatically with nobody sitting there pulling focus, but I imagine "unattended intelligent video AF" is a thing that there's demand for.

Also: what the *hell* is with this max clip size? If a clip goes over the Fat32 filesize limit, then just create a second file. Or, perhaps, Olympus could get with the modern era and use any of the myriad of filesystems these days that don't suck. I have to come down and stop/restart the camera all the time; during the concert I'm going to get someone from the audience to do it. There is no excuse for that.

*Viewfinder: Fine. Not as clear as an OVF, but not bad. In "high refresh rate mode" it is occasionally a little pixelated but very smooth. No real complaints.

*Ergonomics: It's *really* small. I've gotten used to it, though, but I'm a guy with small hands. I'd rather have an E-510 sized camera with a button layout to match -- the grip adds buttons but the stuff on the back is still cramped. There are far fewer direct buttons than on the models I'm used to; get used to using the Super Control Panel more. There's no direct button (or option for making one) for IS, autofocus mode or number of points, etc. The screen on the back is huge and pretty, and takes up a bunch of space. But it's easy to hold despite the size, and easy to change the easy stuff on (ISO/shutter speed/aperture). A very nice touch: there's a fast zoom option to zoom into the chosen AF point to check critical focus. The shutter is almost silent, quiet enough to use in the middle of a concert.

*45mm*: Great little lens, classic portrait prime. Very sharp in a large region of the center of the frame wide open; I don't know about the corners since I've not ever had them in focus at f/1.8. The only real weakness is secondary longitudinal chromatic aberration, giving some color fringes in the bokeh. This is most objectionable with very bright highlights that are just a bit out of focus. This of course gets better as it's stopped down. This really is an excellent lens, and it is tiny.

*14mm*: It's very, very sharp in the center even wide open, but there are obviously some compromises that have been made to get it this small. There is quite a lot of transverse C/A, of the type that can be fixed in post, but that of course is never an optimum thing to have to do. Shooting things like trees against sky will lead to ugly fringing. There is also longitudinal C/A even in the plane of focus, giving some fringing that can't be magicked away in Lightroom. The corners are soft, probably because of the automatic distortion correction. It's such a tiny lens, but I wish Panasonic hadn't sacrificed so much optical performance for that size.

So, what would I change about this little camera:

-- hide signature --

Put more direct buttons (that can be configured to do more things) on the grip. The options available for the grip buttons now are too limited. Get some fellow with big hands and wearing gloves to test it out; if he complains, redesign it.

--Fix the idiot 2GB limit

--Smaller AF point size, with a "center priority" optional behavior like SLR autofocus

--Change the movie C-AF behavior, as discussed above (a minor thing)

--Fix the behavior of "eye sensor keeps camera from sleeping" when you're letting it hang from the strap. Stupid idea: put tension sensors on the strap lugs so the camera knows if it's hanging from someone's neck, and disable the eye sensor if it is.

Olympus E-30 Olympus E-5
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