Almost three years ago, I bought a new Olympus E-PL2 camera. It was a big step up for me, after years of using various compact cameras.
At the time it was a good camera for me. It gave me many of the advantages of a DSLR in a smaller package. It also gave me a lot of the manual control that other cameras had never given me. Unfortunately I didn’t really understand a lot of the theory behind photography at the time so probably didn’t take the best photos that I could but I did learn a lot.
Ready for a new camera
Eventually the downsides of the E-PL2 caught up with me. The quality of the Micro Four Thirds sensors has improved hugely in the time since the E-PL2, especially in terms of low light performance. I had found that there wasn’t much point in pushing the ISO past about 800 and ISO 1600 was rather unusable. Other issues that I had found were slow and unreliable autofocus performance, lack of buttons and dials for quick adjustments and the lack of a viewfinder. The lack of viewfinder I obviously knew about when I bought the camera but all the other issues slowly started to grate on me.
I was keen to get an upgrade to me existing camera and was still pretty keen on the Micro Four Thirds system. I needed something smaller than a standard DSLR but just a capable. There were a number of other options to look at but I think that an Olypmus or Panasonic mirrorless camera was the way to go for me.
Other options might have been a high quality compact camera (Fuji X100S or Sony RX1). These both seem to be great cameras and I get one at some point but I was looking for something with the flexibility of interchangeable lenses.
Or there was always a Fuji mirrorless camera (X-E2 or similar). Or the new Sony (expensive!) A7. These both look pretty good but they don’t appear to have the depth of lenses available and aren’t quite as small as the E-PL2 that I had.
New MFT options
There have been a number new Micro Four Thirds cameras released in the past few months. Olympus came out with the E-P5 and the OM-D E-M1. Panasonic has come out with the GX7. All looked like great cameras that would meet my needs. The E-P5 could be bought with an external viewfinder and the other two came with a built-in viewfinder. All had a front and rear dial to allow aperture and exposure to be adjusted easily as well.
I managed to play with the E-P5, GX7 and the older OM-D E-M5 in a camera shop and decided to pre-order a OM-D E-M1 which was expected shortly. I knew from reviews that it was likely to be a little larger than I really wanted but was still small enough to take with me everywhere (although I wouldn’t really know until I got my hands on it).
Amazingly, I ordered the E-M1 on a Monday and got a call the following day to say that it had arrived. I had expected it to be at least a couple of weeks rather than barely 24 hours!
I’ve now had the camera for about a week and have been pretty happy with it. Before buying I had read quite a number of reviews and other articles so I knew what I was getting in for…. and it was a big step up from my E-PL2.
It has met or exceeded all my expectations around autofocus and low light performance. I’m not as excited by the 5-axis image stabilisation but it’s still pretty decent and probably better than what I had. I’m also very happy with the 12-40mm PRO lens that I got with it. It’s a fast and high-quality zoom lens that has barely been off my camera for the past week. I’m also amazed by the 10fps shooting, a big step up from 3 frames per second on the old camera.
Also amazing is the viewfinder. It’s at the point where I’ve almost thought that I’m looking directly through the lens rather than at an electronic viewfinder. One issue that I picked up straight away with the Panasonic GX7 was colour banding when moving your eye because of the sequential LCD in the viewfinder. Not a major problem but still pretty obvious to me.
About the only think I’m not happy with is the size of the camera. It’s big enough that I do think twice about taking the camera out with me. Not enormous but especially with the 12-40mm PRO lens it’s quite a bit bigger. It also has a few more corners than the E-PL2 so it’s a little less comfortable when slinging it over my shoulder than it’s boxier cousin. You can see the difference here. It doesn’t look like much but when I’m carrying it around it makes a big difference. I’m even vaguely considering buying a small MFT camera (such as the Olympus E-PM2 or the Panasonic GM1) to use as an alternative smaller camera. It probably won’t happen any time soon but it might happen.
I haven’t had a chance to really get out and take any photos with the new camera. I’ve taken a lot of shots just around the house to see how the camera works and to get used to its controls but haven’t had much of a chance to use it in my usual photo-taking situations. I will have to report back in a few weeks when I’ve used it a bit more.
I’m not really a camera reviewer so won’t include any pixel-peeping shots or anything at this stage. Writing this post has given me an insight into how hard it is to write a camera review though!
Apart from the features mentioned above that I was looking for, the feature that I am most excited by is the focus peaking. On the E-PL2 the screen wasn’t good enough to even be able to focus accurately. The screen and viewfinder on the E-M1 are a huge improvement and it is possible to focus directly using either the screen of the EVF. Focus peaking, which gives a white or black outline to areas in sharp focus, makes the task of manual focus even easier. It shows up automatically (if enabled) as soon as the focus dial is touched on most lenses and for fully-manual lenses a button can be assigned to enable it.
On the downside, the video is supposedly rather limited, with only 30fps available and with a rather poor bit-rate. Fortunately I’ve barely done any video work so it’s not much of a problem for me. The image stabilisation should make video much more steady and watchable when taken hand-held.
Overall I’m pretty happy with the camera and it was definitely money well spent. All the controls are at my fingertips and it’s much easier to adjust everything while keeping my eye on the viewfinder.
Now, I just need to get out and take more photos with it!