A Year with the OM-D E-M5

Started May 18, 2013 | Discussions thread
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Portola
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A Year with the OM-D E-M5
May 18, 2013

I've clicked my E-M5's shutter quite a bit in the past twelve months, but I am still uncertain whether I really like the camera or not.  I'm hoping that if I write this down the process will clarify my thoughts.

I came to the micro four-thirds world from Canon SLR's, but I worked with Leica gear for many years before that. I yearned for a smaller camera and, especially, smaller lenses.  The E-M5 was compact, full of high-tech promise, and I could use my Leica lenses!  Its nostalgic appearance reminded everyone of the days when cameras were well-crafted metal.  I bought.

Initial photographs were highly satisfactory, but I soon tripped over a bunch of annoyances that greatly reduced my respect for Olympus.  To wit:

*  The tiny attachable flash works fine, but it would be much easer to have one built-in.  The protective covers on the hot shoe and accessory jack (as well as another on the little flash) are a giant pain.  The fact that Olympus includes them implies that the connectors are vulnerable to dust and/or moisture so they should be kept in place--at least if you want to retain the splash and dust-resistance advertised.  Good luck.

*  The battery charger is awful.  It is twice the size and weight of my Canon charger--mostly because it requires a power cord.  Moreover it offers extremely poor indication of the state of charge.  Just a light that goes out when the battery is charged…just like it does if the charger is not getting power.

*  Olympus made the batteries unobtainable.  My retailer couldn't get them, so I ordered a second battery from B&H when I got the camera.  After monthly email apologies from B&H, it finally arrived four months later.  Lack of a second battery is unacceptable, so I ordered one of the off-brand kits offered.  You get two batteries and another charger for less than the price of one Olympus battery, but, apparently because Olympus is keeping the battery chip specs secret, the batteries don't last as long and can't be charged in the Olympus charger.  At least the off-brand charger is a reasonable size and has slightly better indicator LEDs.

*  When I loaded my images into Lightroom, I discovered that Olympus was automatically pre-filling the caption metadata on every picture with "Olympus Digital Imaging" or something like that.  Easy enough to override that in Lightroom, but still off-putting.

*  On my Canon SLR I use "back-button" focus.  I much prefer focusing that way, and I do it by habit now.  I was pleased to find that the E-M5 could be easily set up with back-button focus on the F2 button.  I used it for while, but found the button so awkward to press that I eventually gave up and went back to shutter-release focus.  I know I'm not alone in complaining about these buttons, but it is especially annoying if you use it for something as frequent as focus.

*  Olympus doesn't include lens shades for their lenses.  Okay, many other producers also skimp this way.  But Olympus takes the additional step of making their lens shades impossible to obtain.  I ordered an off-brand at half the price of the Olympus shade.  I was impressed with the quality.

These foibles are all pretty easy to work around, but they do suggest a degree of sloppiness in the Olympus world that you don't see with Canon or Nikon.

The things that really count are harder to evaluate, but here goes.

The small size is wonderful.  I can carry a great camera with me, one that allows easy and extensive control, much more frequently.  I love that.

The small size is harder to use.  This is mostly an issue with the little buttons, I guess, but I find I have to look at the camera a lot.  With my Canon SLRs (and my Leica) I could do it all by feel.  The body is pretty, but I don't think it is that well designed.  I end up using more automation.

As an old-school photographer, I rely on the viewfinder first and the screen second.  It is incredibly frustrating for me to pick up the camera and look through the eyepiece to see…black.  If the camera isn't on, you see nothing.  It still happens to me and I hate it.  On the other hand, the EVF is quite satisfactory when it is on.  I can see a lot of data (too much really) and the magnification for manual focus is a treasure.  The highlight/shadow preview mode is wonderful.  You don't get that stuff in an optical viewfinder.

The kit lens is very good from a usability point of view.  The only problem is accidentally slipping the zoom ring into motor-mode which happens a lot and slows me down.  It has a great range of focal length and operates smoothly.  It is slow, of course, but then it is just a kit zoom.

I was recently hiking in Death Valley when I pulled the camera out of my bag and the rear adjustment wheel caught on the edge of the bag.  It popped off.  The camera still worked as long as I didn't want to use the wheel.  After returning home I took the camera in for warranty repair which was, of course, free of charge.  I did have to wait five weeks to get my camera back, though.  I've never had to return a camera for repair before, and this minor issue made real to me the fragility of this little camera.  While the OM-D was in the shop, I was back using my Canon exclusively.  It felt great to use such an intuitive camera again.  We re-bonded.  But I have to admit that the wonderful, intuitive, comfortable camera was heavy as lead and too large to carry in many cases.

When I need flash, I use the Canon.  When I need a tripod, I use the Canon.  I love the Canon.  The Olympus E-M5 is seductive, beautiful, modern, small, and takes the bulk of my photographs now.  But I just can't give it the bulk of my love.  When I think back, though, the Canon SLR's never got the love I held for my Leica.  I feel like cameras are getting better in most dimensions, but the elements that brings gut satisfaction are fading.

Or maybe I'm just an old photographer.

Olympus OM-D E-M5
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