Four M43 cameras in 10 years

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Englishman in France Senior Member • Posts: 1,479
Four M43 cameras in 10 years
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I have been using M43 cameras for over 10 years now, starting with a GF1, then an EM5 mki, an EM10 mki, and finally a EM5 mkii. Choosing my first mirrorless camera was a no brainer back then, because there was so little choice. I don’t know what camera I would choose in 2020, there are so many good options. I am very tempted by the image quality and shallow depth of field of a full frame system, even though I know it is cumbersome for me. I also like the direct access controls and retro look of Fuji’s cameras, and there are some good lens options. I need a camera system that is practical for carrying around town, in and out of shops and cafés, taking on travelling holidays and the odd hike in the mountain. Something that is small, discrete, dare I say it, stylish, and leaves lots of space in my messenger bag for other things. That sounds a lot like the M43 sysem, so perhaps I made the right choice for me back in 2010.

It was my daughter’s birthday party the other week, and I was using my E-M5 mk ii to take pictures of her opening her presents and eating birthday cake. I like my camera, and it reminded me just how much I enjoy using it. I don’t think it’s perfect, not by a long shot, but I know what I like and I’ll take the good with the bad. So, I thought I would write a post about the M43 cameras I have owned, and how camera features and design has improved over the models.

The Panasonic GF1, which got me into the M43 system

When I bought the GF1, there were 5 mirrorless cameras on the market; the Panasonic G1 and GF1, the Olympus Pen 1, the Sony Nex 3 and Nex 5. The G1 was probably the best of the bunch, but I really liked the compact design and rangefinder style of the GF1. It seemed like a much better design than the others, with a big screen, built in flash, good control points and nice looks. I think Panasonic’s 14-45mm zoom and the 20mm pancake lenses were also very good. What was not to like? For me, it turned out to be the lack of EVF and a rear screen that was unusable in bright sunlight.The release of the E-M5 mki was perfect timing for me and was quite an upgrade over the GF1. There were still a few things about the GF1 that I preferred though:

  • C1 & C2 positions on the mode dial – The equivalent “mysets” could only be assigned to buttons on the EM5 mki, which I found limiting
  • Drive switch with High speed bracketing mode – On the EM5 mki you need to put the camera into bracketing mode (by delving into the menu) and then put the camera into high speed burst mode (from the super control panel) to do something equivalent. Ha-ha-ha, and that was in the early days when Olympus didn’t have hearts and diamonds against their options.

I was quite smitten with my EM5 mki at the time, despite the hefty price tag and the faulty shutter that Olympus took 2 attempts to repair. I remember unboxing it and thinking wow, that’s a beautiful looking camera. I loved the EVF, the tilt screen, the touch screen, the twin control dials, the image stabilisation, the luxurious feel of the magnesium alloy body, the soft sounding shutter, super control panel, the quantum leap in IQ and that gorgeous retro look. There were a few negatives compared to the GF1, but all in all I thought it was fantastic. It probably was for its time, but I tried using it again last year and didn’t enjoy it. Olympus have made so many improvements to their OMD cameras over the years that I found it difficult to go back to this early model.

E-M5 mki. The first OMD was very nice for its time, but not nearly as refined as the later models

The size of the EM5 was an important factor in my choice, to take on hikes, bicycle rides and travelling. In my dreams, what was I thinking, I had 2 young children. Still, it was nice to have a camera that didn’t take much space in the bag, leaving lots of room for nappies, wipes, compotes, biscuits, water and all the other stuff you have to carry with young children. Ironically, it was a mountain bike ride that eventually saw the end of my poor EM5 mk1…shaken to death. And this is how I came to own an EM10 mki, a supposedly cheaper model that somehow felt much more polished and refined. The EM5 mki might have had 5 axis image stabilisation and weather sealing, but the EM10 mk I had a whole host of other improvements.

The improvements on the outside are quite subtle.

  • The rear screen has a better aspect ratio, freeing up more space for the buttons on the right.
  • The extra space to the right of the screen has also allowed a bigger and better thumb rest.
  • The FN1 and play buttons have been reworked making them less fiddly and easier to access.
  • The twin dials have been raised and protrude more from the body, making them even nicer to use.
  • The accessory port with plastic cover has been removed, allowing a built-in flash. (The EM5 mki had 3 plastic covers that you had to store somewhere if you wanted to use the supplied flash).
  • And the buttons have a much more responsive feel to them.

But there were huge improvements to the inside

  • Electronic first curtain for reduced shutter shock.
  • WIFI and connection to smartphone
  • Live time, Live Bulb, Live Composite
  • CA correction for Panasonic lenses
  • Ability to overwrite positions on the mode dial with mysets (still a bit of a fudge, but a step in the right direction)
  • The multi-function button (shame you couldn’t choose which functions to assign)
  • 1-2 toggle for the twin dials
  • 81 focus points (35 on the EM5 mki)
  • Focus peaking
  • In camera HDR
  • Exposure compensation replaced by spirit level in the EVF when shutter half pressed.

E-M10 mki - It was supposed to sit below the E-M5, but was better in almost every way

I was glad that Olympus kept the magnesium alloy body, it felt every bit as luxurious as the EM5 mki. There was no visible improvement in image quality, but it was an all-round nicer camera to use. The perfect replacement and one that I would happily use today if the shutter still worked. Alas, the shutter went after about 2-3 years of intensive use. But this camera did go on adventures; wild camping in the Pyrenees, travelling abroad and a 2 year assignment in England, but no mountain biking. The extra space in the camera bag was now taken up with travel games and emergency biscuits and water for the kids.

I was rather sad when my E-M10 mki broke, but the E-M5 mk ii could now be picked up for 500 Euros body only, which was some consolation. The image quality of the EM5 mk ii is pretty much the same as the EM10 mki, but it is definitely a much nicer camera, and here’s why:

  • It has a much bigger EVF than on the previous EM5 or EM10. In fact, for a small camera body, the EVF is unusually large.
  • The position of the twin control dials have been tweaked and they are bigger and nicer to use.
  • The size of the thumb rest has been increased, making it nicer to hold. I think Olympus achieved this by moving the position of the ON/OFF and reoptimizing the area underneath.
  • There are even more buttons, including a function button on the front face, the EVF button has been repositioned so it can be reprogrammed as a function button, and a 1-2 lever has been added. The 1-2 lever is hard to action, which I first thought was bad design, but now realise is perfect to avoid it accidentally changing position in the camera bag.
  • The rear screen is fully articulated, which is very impressive, even though I personally prefer a simple flip up/down screen.
  • And it looks even nicer that the previous models

There were some improvements to the inside too:

  • A fully electronic shutter that gives decent results. Absolutely brilliant for sneaky shots of my children, but it also increases the lifespan of the mechanical shutter, which is a must after the shutter failure on my EM10 mk i. But best of all, no shutter shock at low shutter speeds!
  • Even better image stabilisation, which allows crazy low shutter speeds when used with the electronic shutter.
  • Super control panel enabled (SCP) as default, yippee! I think the SCP is one of the saving graces of Olympus’s user interface, and I always found it strange that Olympus hide it away in some obscure menu on previous models.
  • Pixel Shift high resolution mode, which I am not sure I will ever use.
  • Improved video capability, which I am not sure I will ever use either.

E-M5 mkii.  A beautify camera that will hopefully last me a long time

My EM-5 mk ii has so far led a sheltered life, but I am hoping that one day things will return to normal (the old normal) and I will be able to take it travelling. It has been to Paris and London, but Edinburgh, Madrid, and, er, Blackpool, got cancelled.

Much as I like my EM5 mkii, I don’t think it is perfect:

  • Moving the ON/OFF switch to the top left makes it impossible hold and turn on the camera with just one hand. But it also created another problem.  If you lend your EM5 mk ii to someone who isn’t used to the camera, they will inevitably set the mode dial position based on the big black ON/OFF switch instead of the tiny black line, and photograph an entire event in the wrong mode. Look where the mode dial has now been moved to on the EM5 mk iii and E-M10 mkiv to solve the problem.
  • The mode dial still hasn’t got C1 and C2 custom positions like my old GF1. Well, the EM5 mk iii now has a C1 custom position…. a small step in the right direction.
  • Setting the camera to do high speed bracketing is still a convoluted, because there isn’t a dedicated high-speed bracketing mode. The drive switch on the E-M5 mkiii, similar to the E-M1 might improve the situation (?).
  • I don’t like the camera’s menu system; I think it is a let-down compared to all the effort put into designing the camera body.
  • Face detection is unusable for me because my children never stay still long enough for me to delve into the menus/SCP to enable it. Face detection ON/OFF can be programmed to a function button on the E-M5 mkiii, making it infinitely more useable.
  • Apart from the SCP, I don’t particularly like Olympus’ user interface. But Olympus have made some subtle improvements on the EM5 mk iii, like moving the livetime, livebulb and livecomposite into a special bulb (B) mode position and have added a customisable menu tab.

I started this post by stating that I don’t know what camera system I would choose if I was starting out in 2020. But would I recommend the M43 system to others in 2020? Yes, I would. If their interest was in travelling and hiking, there are some great small cameras and lenses in the M43 system. As for me, my E-M10 mki is now packed up waiting to be sent back to Olympus for repair.

I am locked into the M43 due to accessories, but I am also happy where I am. It is one of the things stopping me from making an impulse purchase of a full frame system. (Is that mid life crisis syndrome?). Something that doesn’t suite my needs, but sounds oh so tempting. Never say never.

There are rumours of another lockdown in France, but l remain positive that things will eventually return to normal and I will be able to take my E-M5 mkii travelling again…..

Olympus E-M1 Olympus OM-D E-M10 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
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