E-M1 as E-5 successor - first week experience

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E-M1 as E-5 successor - first week experience
9 months ago

This is my attempt to summarize my 1 week experience with E-M1 as an E-5 successor - not a camera review but only thoughts on how it stacks up as new flagship for 4/3 lenses and how it feels for an E-5 transplant. In each part I'll try to describe where I am coming from with regards to previous experience and preferences, so you will see easily whether my experience relates to you.

1. Ergonomics. This was first big concern because my bottom line is this: out of E-510, E-30 and E-5, the latter was the most comfortable camera for me. As no other, E-5 became a natural extension of my arm, sitting in my hand as it it were glued to it. Every time I tried to pick up E-620, it gave me cramps and very tired fingers after a few minutes. So, as you can imagine, seeing how E-M1 is close to E-620 in size, I was quite apprehensive about how comfortable it was going to be for me. Well, I don't know how they did it but it felt very natural after first 5-10 minutes. Maybe nuances of buttons and dials location, maybe sculpturing of the grip play role, but it works. With all my lenses (will list them and describe experience later on) but 50-200/EC-14 combo camera feels absolutely comfortable and none of them feels duct-taped to it or in any way foreign. MMF-3 adapter doesn't have any disturbing notes to it, it just became a part of the camera so I change the lenses on it as I would without it. All the controls lie very conveniently under the fingers and changing parameters is very intuitive without taking your eye from the viewfinder.

2. Electronic viewfinder. As you can easily imagine, that was second biggest concern. Or first. One of two, in any case. My bottom line was, I hated each and every EVF I encountered to date (to be fair, I haven't had a chance to look into VF-4, so exclude it from that statement). None of them ever felt even close to OVF in each and every regard; as much as an idea of WYSIWYG viewfinder appealed to me, and having live histogram or blinkies was attractive, all those niceties couldn't compensate the old-TV like viewing experience. Image just never left natural and I couldn't in any way relatre it to the final result, so that WYSIWYG remained elusive theoretical advantage. Well, first look in the E-M1 viewfinder proved to be a surprize of immense proportions - looking at the sunlit backyard of mine I haven't realized at once that it was not an OVF. It was this natural. Not until I started changing parameters and moved to much darker environment did I start seeing differences. And guess what - that ability to shape up the image as I want it to come out sprang to life for the first time, and proved to be as useful as I imagined it would. More on that later.

3. AF and handling of 4/3 lenses.

- 50 f/2 macro. Being a small lens, it fits E-M1 perfectly. Just as bitingly sharp as on E-5. Pleasant surprise - it focuses on E-M1 better and faster than on any DSLR I used it before. Good light, low light - doesn't matter, it just focuses faster. Its manner to zigzag through the whole range before finding (or not finding) the target has all but gone.

- 12-60. Size/weight wise, perfect fit - doesn't fit unnatural in any way. No problem carrying it with wrist strap, hanging down from my fingers hooked by the grip. Sharp as heck, maybe slighter sharper than on E-5, or just focuses a bit more precise (not that I ever had any reason to complain about it on E-5, but feels like it's a little bit more on target with E-M1; nothing scientific here, just a feel after a few days of shooting). AF is perfect in good light; in low light it's less consistent - sometimes it snaps into focus very well, sometimes it doesn't. Thankfully, manual focus with enlarged view proves to be very effective and easy.

- 7-14. This is where I expected some sense of mismatch to start appearing, but it hasn't. Still feels excellent. Just as with 12-60, carrying it hanging by the grip and secured by wrist strap is easy and feels batural and safe. Now, here is a noticeable and significant improvement in the IQ with it: remember those slightly blurry details in the far corners, and some purple fringing in the vorners when a branch or leaf or edge of the building appears against the sky? Well, it's all gone. No purple fringing (and I specifically shot frames where it was guaranteed to appear with E-5), no blurry pieces in the corner. Very much appreciated, and I am sure not a small feat to achieve with such UWA.

- 50-200 by itself (MK1). Finally first sense of unease started appearing... and gone in a few minutes. Probably purely instinctive sense of combo being a bit front heavy, thus not very safe to handle, but as soon as I focused on shooting itself, it dissipated and never returned. AF is very confident, not in any way worse than on E-5. Instances where it starts buzzing back and forth not finding a focus are still there, in cases of a very cluttered and contrasty background and relatively small target against it, but they seem to be more rare than with E-5. Low light focusing feels about the same as on E-5. Just as sharp, no surprises there.

- 50-200 with EC-14. OK, this is finally the combo where I still haven't overcome the instinctive feeling of unease - it's fine during shooting, it's fine during carrying, but when I start raising it from carrying position to shooting, I try to grab the lens fron beneath with my left hand much earlier than I would with E-5. I don't know how substantiated this feeling is, but it's hard to overcome thus far (it has been just one week though). Combo doesn't feel in any way shaky or unsafe; in fact, it projects a sense of being as monolithic as on DSLR without adapter. It's only feeling of being very front-heavy during reaising it to the eye level that has some uneasy undertone. Remembering how Olympus advised against using EC-14 with MMF-3 on E-M5, I e-mailed them asking whether it's still the case with E-M1. Suppport has answered that they see no problem with it and use this combo themselves. Focusing and sharpness are no different from 50-200 without converter.

Overall, on lenses. This of course was the most important point, so important that I don't even list it among those that determine whether I like the camera or not. It's kind of understood by default that if it doesn't handle our 4/3 lenses competently, there is no point in evaluating the rest. To sum up my experience: this part is resolved, and it doesn't feel in any way like a "bone thrown to 4/3 shooters." All the work put into correcting particular lens flaws, like in case with 7-14, is not an afterthought at all; it's an honest, large and successful effort.

4. IQ. Not even trying to do any kind of analysis - that's job for labs with their scenes. Aside of my own evaluation which of course confirmed for me everything E-M5 owners claimed for a year and a half, I also took both cameras to the location where I will shooting for an assignment for the local tourist agency in 2 weeks. Having shot a lot of double images, I picked 12 most closely resembling the assignment ones, brought them to a client in two versions and asked to evaluate and pick what he liked more. 6 out of 12 were in E-M1 favor, 1 in E-5's, and 5 were a draw.

5. Controls and general interacting with the camera. Fantastic job there. My bottom line is this: E-510 felt somewhat like something to handle, a thing standing between me and an image. E-30 with its double wheels was less intrusive, and E-5 was a very fluid thing, almost disappearing so to speak - not in any way preventing me from interacting with scene in front of me, very intuitive, very quick to adjust. I thought the button - wheel way of E-5 is impossible to beat... well, 2x2 control made me change my mind. Your control wheels work with shutter speed and aperture (in M mode of course), then flick of the level located right under your thumb and they control WB and ISO now. Stroke of genius. And a lot of buttons that can be set to do whatever you want.

Other than having the habits not completely changed over yet, this camera provides even more fluid experience and helps control the appearance of the final image in the ways E-5 simply doesn't have. This is where I have to get back to that WYSIWYG viewfinder use. At some point I switched it from showith a historgram to highlights/shadows, and started making an image as I want it to come out, relying on blinkies to tell me when I get out of the safe range. It worked wonders - what I got was so close to the final image that my postrprocesing has all but disappeared. Quite amazing really. Or, when I wanted to get a silhouettes against the sunset sky, I simply threw them in blue blinking zone - again, no guessing, just get the image as you want it right in the camera. Another instance of new technologies (well, new for us DSLR users) being extremely useful was a shooting with family and a small child - he'd run around, sometimes on the sun, sometimes in the shadows, making it difficult to adjust things quickly. Well, I did what I haven't done in ages - switched camera to the Program mode and let Face Recognition do its thing. It tracked focus and adjusted exposure so that the face was always perfectly exposed. Percentage of keepers was ridiculously high, technically (not to confuse with face expressions or general composition). Also, chimping went to zero - I know what I am going to get before I press the shutter. This is an unusual (for pure DSLR shooter with no previous mirrorless) and very appreciated feeling.

I am not really enamored with art filters and story collage being put on the command dial, but thankfully they can be devoted to custom presets, and that's how I intend to use them. No harm there.

Haven't had a chance to test Highlighs/Shadows control and HDR modes yet other than 5-6 quick shots. In one of them second HDR mode took me very close to a final image but this is more of a chance than serious testing. Color Creator though didn't impress me as useful as I hoped it would - somehow I had an imression that it would let me regulate separate hues separately, as in boost yellow and orange in sunset scene for instance... kind of selective color control. Instead, it controls a tint on the whole image. I am sure I will find situations where it can be useful, with Raw as back up.

6. Beefs? Battery life of course. Can't say confidently what it is yet, since first shooting sessions were full of testing, chimping, configuring, thus don't resemble real shooting energy usage wise. Will know more in a week or so.

I've decided to postpone getting HLD-7 for now, giving myself a chance to get used to smaller camera without additional grip, to get it later if and when I can try it in the store and feel it will improve the handling. So far so good without it.

If I forgot something, I'll add it later. Hope this overview helps those who weigh their options.

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