Olympus detractors continue to lose ground, and the Olympus m.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO isn’t helping them one bit. But for those of us out there who love Olympus, is the $1500 price tag worth it, and how does it fare in regard to the Olympus hallmarks of image quality and portability?
Olympus m.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO: PRObably Worth It
Let me level with you right now, folks: I am not a huge fan of telephoto lenses, because I no longer do a lot of distanced work. An 80mm lens is an extreme for me nowadays, as most of my stuff is shot on the street, a few yards (tops) away from my subjects. That being said, a few years ago when I lived out in the country (North Central Pennsylvania aka Coal Country), I used to loooove telephoto lenses. Well, if I knew then what I knew now…it probably wouldn’t have helped all that much because I would still have had to wait five years to get my hands on this lens. Because I would wait for this lens. Why? Because it’s that kind of lens. It works well – so, so well – with the OM-D E-M1, to the point where it feels as though the two of melded together to form some sort of super camera.
The Olympus m.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO is built like a PROverbial brick house. A quality build all-around, you can feel it almost instantly when you pick up the lens. That metal body and all that glass inside give the lens some weight, though, and definitely detracts from the portability that so many people associate with Micro Four Thirds cameras. That being said, it is best to view this lens as a truly professional piece of equipment on par with an equivalently long lens from Nikon or Canon: it ain’t built for convenience, but for durability and performance. Included with the lens is a nice tripod color, but the real nifty amenity to this lens is the inclusion of a kind of shotgunning lens hood. You simply lock it onto the lens like any other lens hood, but then there’s this rubber grip around the hood. Twist and pull towards the camera and the hood slides back on it’s circular mount, allowing for easier stowing inside your camera bag or lens case. Twist the rubber the same way and push away from the camera, and the hood springs back out, protecting you from pesky flare. I know, I know: totally badass.
Well, the heaviness is a down side. But, the heft does help stabilize for handheld shooting. This characteristic, coupled with that f/2.8 constant aperture, makes shooting in sub-optimal conditions easy as pie. For instance, most of the images in this review were shot on a windy, cloudy day while the camera was handheld. Some images were shot at a higher ISO and faster shutter speed, but I did end up pushing the camera to a shutter speed of 1/200th. What I got was fantastic, considering.
Here, the Olympus m.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO really PROves itslef worthy – not only of the price tag, but also of your adoration. Like every other top-of-the-line offering from Olympus, this lens yields excellent results. It handles portraits, it handles nature, it handles action. It does everything you need it to do, with no PROblems whatsoever. Chromatic aberration/color fringing is non existent on this baby. And once you pop on that no-hassle lens hood, flares are rendered moot. So are there any real down sides to the Olympus m.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens? No, not really. Even though my test was brief, the samples will speak for themselves.
Need telephoto zoom? Need PRO telephoto zoom? Shoot with a Micro Four Thirds camera? If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, give the 40-150mm PRO a look-see. Hold it in your hands. Gaze into its depths. Seriously, though, consider this lens if you do a lot of distance work, especially if doing so in low light or where faster shutter speeds are needed. Sports photographers, I am looking at you.
Sample images below. Click on any image to see full resolution.
Fresh on the heels of the Fujifilm X30 comes the announcement of the Olympus PEN E-PL7, the next incarnation of the stripped-down, ultra-compact PEN Lite series. But how stripped-down is the new camera? In true Olympus fashion, the insides command more than just a passing glance, and one just-under-the-hood feature may wind up raising some eyebrows.
Olympus PEN E-PL7: Selfie Machine or E-M10 Lite?
With Olympus boasting about the best autofocus system yet, and the inclusion of a 180-degree rotating LCD (flipping below the camera to face the user from beneath the camera), the big application of the Olympus PEN E-PL7 seems to be a selfie camera. That is, until you get to the guts of the camera, where some nice E-M10-esque specs shine through coupled with two things sorely missed on that particularly excellent machine.
Sporting the same sensor, image processor, image stabilization (with the same effectiveness), LCD screen size and resolution, built-in WiFi, shutter speed, x-sync speed, and video recording capabilities as the E-M10, the Olympus PEN E-PL7 clearly promises much in terms of image quality. For those holdouts who didn’t purchase an E-M10, the idea of joining the growing number of Olympus photographers is still an enticing proposition.
Add to this the not-so-touted features of an accessory port (allowing a microphone, an external flash, or an electronic viewfinder) and environmental sealing. ENVIRONMENTAL SEALING!
Sporting a battery with a longer life per charge – the finishing touch, if you will – the total package seems less like the PEN Lite cameras of the past, and more of a stand-alone offering in the Olympus Lineup.
The Olympus PEN E-PL7 is expected to hit stores late next month, in silver and black kits as well as body-only in black. The silver body-only camera will arrive in early October. Pricing has been set at $699 for the camera and lens kit (which includes the 14-42mm retractable kit zoom, but not the pancake version) and $599 for the body alone.
The first impression you might have pulling the Olympus SH-1 out of the box is how much this camera looks like a Pen Camera. For better or for worse, it isn’t. Instead, the SH-1 is decidedly a point and shoot camera with a large zoom range and excellent video. But what else does the Olympus SH-1 boast? And is the camera’s price tag a fair indicator of image quality?
Shooting with the Olympus SH-1
So it isn’t a digital Pen, but is it still worth buying? For some, the Olympus SH-1 will make a big difference in terms of what can be captured, and when it can be captured. The biggest feature on this small camera is, without a doubt, the 5-axis image stabilization, which is being implemented in compact FULL HD video for the first time (so Olympus says, at least).
At any rate, that IS is really helping out video and Image Quality and long ranges, so it’s safe to say that those looking for a compact megazoom – or a pocketable camera that also delivers excellent video – will find this little runt appealing.
Like most compacts, especially Olympus compacts, the controls and their layout are minimalist but functional. Missing are any dials for shutter and aperture, and between the mode dial on top and the concise menu layout, it’s plain to see that the Olympus SH-1 is an easy-to-use camera streamlined for a more automatic shooting experience.
Built in WiFi is easy enough to sync to your smartphone or tablet, and the relative ease with which one can change shooting modes (set the mode dial, then press the “ok” button to select different options), gives this camera a certain appeal not readily found in other brands.
What can I say, the reach on this sucker is fantastic. From a 25mm equivalent at it’s widest, to a whopping 600mm equivalent at it’s furthest in, the lens is great. That 5-axis image stabilization only bolsters the performance.
Manual Mode on the Olympus SH-1 is a bit of a pain. Like most compacts, here you’re working with a D-Pad to adjust your settings – from Shutter Speed and Aperture, to ISO. If you’re working in a location with constantly-changing lighting, it may not be the easiest way to use this camera, but if you can set it and run with it, you won’t be disappointed.
As usual, Olympus throws in some nifty art filters for certain effects. While most might seem gimmicky, I personally like the Grainy Black And White effect, which tends to offer extreme contrast for a love-it-or-hate-it feel.
Panorama mode allows wider images with decent stitching. It works best with still subjects, and if you wanted a panoramic shot of architecture or landscapes, this feature would prove itself useful. If you’re looking to capture busy scenes with lots of movement, you may want to look elsewhere, as the stitching software still seems to mar some difficult, moving subjects.
Image quality is the big bust on the SH-1, and while it might not be perfect, it certainly isn’t abysmal. As with most small-sensor cameras, the big point one should keep in mind when considering this camera is that you’ll want to get the image right while in-camera. TRYING TO SAVE A SHOT IN POST IS VERY DIFFICULT.
That being said, I’m still surprised at how this little puppy held up. I especially enjoyed setting up the WiFi and using my old iPhone as a remote LCD while I held the camera nonchalantly, taking some pretty nice candid shots of people walking by.
It’s no RX-100ii, but the Olympus SH-1 may be the compact to look at. Generally, it strikes you on paper as being a go to workhorse for stable handheld video, and long-distance lens performance. With the added WiFi and some minimalist design, however, it could lend itself to almost anyone who wants a basic camera with some decent output. In general, I would say it performs about as well as – if not better than – Fuji’s X20. You might lose a viewfinder and a lot of manual controls, but a more portable design will have many right in the Olympus Brand pocket.
Today I got my hands on an m. Zuiko Olympus 25mm f/1.8 for a hands on review, ahead of the high-rollers over at DPReview. I know my puny blog can’t really compare, but it ain’t conceited if it’s true, folks.
So without further ado…
Olympus 25mm f/1.8 Review and Samples!
When the Olympus 25mm f/1.8 was announced, it was met with some decent reception among Olympus fans, who have largely done without a 50mm equivalent so close to the “nifty fifties” we’ve all had some run-in with, whether it was back in the heydays of analog photography, or more recently in the digital field.
However, before the arrival of this lens, Olympus shooters have had to make do with the 25mm f/2.8 pancake. Truly, pancake lenses are nice (and in regard to my own personal taste, preferred), but f/2.8 is a little dim for my spoiled self. So, enter the Olympus 25mm f/1.8: a 50mm equivalent we can not only live with, but excel with.
Of course, having always shot with a 50mm on a sensor with a 1.5x crop, my 50mm lenses were always used to shoot portraits.
But now, with a lens and sensor combo that gives me the actual field of view of a 50 on a full frame, I set out to do some slightly-distanced street photography.
Before I got started, I had to decide on a camera body to shoot with. The other half of my street photography equation? The rugged if not a little minimalist E-PL1, now dated by its successors, but still offering quite the shooting experience at a very affordable price indeed.
As such, there are two facets to this review: what the Olympus 25mm f/1.8 is capable of in terms of bokeh, sharpness, accuracy, and ease of use…and why cheaper models like the E-PL1 are a great way to get into the Olympus camera system without going bankrupt on newer models like the E-M line, or the newer Olympus Pens.
All of these images are straight from the camera, shot in Large/Fine JPEG, with no retouching whatsoever. Please excuse any over- or under-exposure, which I tried to keep to a minimum.
Five stars here: excellent at 1.8, sharp where it needs to be in the center of the frame with only marginal falloff at the extreme edges. Bringing your aperture down to f/5.6 or f/8 only makes things better, and given the focal length of 50mm, this lens is almost perfect for street photography – especially if you are a beginner or want to work with subjects at a distance. Couple this with one of the OM-D cameras and you’ve got a DSLR-quality setup, offering crisp, quality captures with a low aperture to boot.
Well, it ain’t no E-M1, but the Pen E-PL1 gives you some decent performance despite its inherent drawbacks. First and foremost, there are no thumbwheels or control dials on this camera, except the mode dial on top. That being said, the buttons aren’t bad, though adjusting while “in the moment” to capture a fleeting shot is a challenge and a half for any photographer. The older Pens still give you some amazing image quality, and if you’re the kind of photographer to find a spot and wait for “the moment” to appear or unfold, you won’t regret buying one of these over the more expensive models. The good think about the older models like the E-PL1 or even the E-PM1 is that you can set all the variables to whatever you prefer, and get back to looking for shots (instead of moving dials around constantly). Like the other pens surrounding it, you’re getting a 14 megapixel sensor, but an older generation of the TruePic image processor. The LCD screen on the back is fixed, recessed, and ugly – and only about half the resolution of the LCD screens on the latest Pens. Obviously, you might want to shell out extra money for a more updated model. The E-PM1 or the E-PL3 would be an optimal choice then, for those who want a lightweight but capable street photography platform with some of the newer features, including more recent image processors and higher ISO ranges.
So, overall thoughts on this adventure? A blast to shoot with the lens, and moderately awesome to use the Pen E-PL1 as well, despite its age. Given the fact that these cameras are still capable of attaining such amazing results, I would recommend the setup for anyone on a budget. It might not be the best looking piece of machinery out there, but with a slick lens like the 25mm f/1.8, you might still win some compliments…and the results you’ll get from these two beauties are going to speak for themselves.
Today (tonight?), I took the Olympus E-M10 out for a spin around Midtown. Actually, I took around Times Square for a little bit, before getting depressed at how garish and commercial that place is. But I digress. Here’s my working review of the Olympus E-M10, with specific regards to how well this camera works on the street and in low light. So if your an urban shooter, or a night shooter, this review is for you.
Olympus E-M10: a Proper Camera in its Own Right
A lot of reviews and commentary on this camera are going on about where it sits in the Olympus lineup. Depending on who you are (and in some cases, whether or not you already purchased an E-M5), this camera is either the camera that has replaced the E-M5, or a lacking upstart.
The Olympus E-M10 has a similar overall design to that of the 5, the big points of interest being a loss of weather sealing and accessory port, but the added features of a pop-up flash and built in WiFi. I didn’t test either of these features this time around, because we all know how they work, and the big question for this camera, more than any other, is who should buy it.
Should you buy it? What is it good for? How does it perform in real world scenarios? Is it on-par with other similarly-priced cameras out there?
Here are your answers.
So what reasons would compel someone to buy this camera, or, why should anyone anywhere buy it? Do not be mistaken – despite the fact that it’s a decent little camera, it certainly isn’t for everyone. While the E-M5 began the OM-D series, and the E-M1 offered numerous advantages, the E-M10 is that entry-level model for those who want to go Micro Four-Thirds, but haven’t yet. It’s a camera aimed at people who want something along the lines of a DSLR, but in a slightly more stylish and a little bit more expensive body.
Image quality is alright, with moderate but permissible grain around 3200, but getting worse from there – to the point of marring your images. Considering that most people who will buy this price-conscious camera are going to be uploading to Facebook and Flickr, and probably not doing large prints, this camera could work for a certain demographic. Is image quality on par with an entry level DSLR from Canon or Nikon? No, but it doesn’t have to be, either.
For street shooting, like all other Olympus cameras, it’s a decent little shooter, with the strongest selling point being its portability. Travel photographers will also appreciate this characteristic, and for those who want something marginally more robust than a Stylus or compact or even a Pen camera, the Olympus E-M10 would be the route to go.
This year, a lot of folks are buying the E-M1, but I’ve encountered even more people asking about the E-M5. And even though it’s already over a year old, the camera is still a worthwhile investment for many photographers. But why? To be sure, I too was somewhat skeptical when I first picked up the E-M5. Soon, though, I realized that what so many reviewers had pointed out as shortcomings or deficiencies are in fact selling points for this robust and versatile camera system.
Testing the E-M5
The E-M5 is incredibly light. With no grip, there’s room to spare for those with big hands. The slim body is more reminiscent of film cameras than any other retro-looking digital bodies, and this really improves the portability. Even without a pronounced grip, a rubber thumb pad on the back of the camera offers enough control to avoid dropping it. The EVF is excellent as well, offering 100% coverage and a slight magnification of 1.15x.
The user interface works for beginners and pros alike. A touch screen LCD and intuitive menu lend themselves to novices, while two control dials and three customizable function buttons reel in the pros. Shooting with the E-M5 was more fun that any of the Pens or even the E-M1. While having to delve into the menus to change white balance and ISO, there’s no confusing switches that change the function of the dials, like the haphazard “2×2” setup on the E-M1.
The only drawback I could find in the design of this camera was the position of the tripod mount, which was just a little off-center, and could prove bothersome to panoramic shooters. Otherwise, I was generally impressed with the layout and construction of the camera.
Another high point for this camera is the image quality, no doubt stemming from the pairing of its 16 megapixel sensor with the TruePic IV processor. The max resolution one gets from this combo is 4608×3456. Image quality is further secured with 12 white balance presets, 5-axis image stabilization, and an ISO range of 200-25600. I have yet to print anything shot by the E-M5, but even at larger magnification the image quality holds up. Finally, the ISO range is excellent, only showing true noise around ISO 1600. I found I could live with it, as I could with most of the images shot at higher ISO settings (the only exception here being 25600, which reminds me of grainy film).
Should you still desire it, you can use one of the art filters to give your photos a certain look, like this black and white shot of pigeons.
Here we have perhaps the most pronounced shortcoming for pros and serious amateurs – the lack of focus peaking, which is available in both the E-P5 and the E-M1. Although I found manual focus easy enough, I can see where some users would have difficulties. With 37 points of focus, though, relying on the camera’s contrast-detect auto focus isn’t necessarily a bad idea.
The E-M5 kit includes the 12-50mm f/3.5-5.6. And while I generally poke fun at most kit lenses, I strongly urge the use of the 12-50. Besides having the focal length equivalency of a 24-100mm lens on a full frame or 35mm camera (a range that covers wide angle to medium-length telephoto ), the lens is weather resistant, and offers the photographer a third customizable function button. The lens mode ring is another key factor in why I suggest it – featuring both manual and electric-assisted zoom, the whole setup is richly rewarded by a third, close-focusing macro mode at 43mm.
Video recording is easy and straightforward – exactly what you’ve come to expect in most top-shelf cameras. While resolution probably suffers from the Micro Four Thirds Sensor, there’s no difficulty in shooting video with the OM-D E-M5, since it has a dedicated button allowing near-instant video capture, regardless of current camera settings or scene modes.
In conclusion, the E-M5 is a well-rounded camera offering a cost-effective alternative to the pricier E-M1. Additionally, analog photographers desiring to make the move to digital may find the shape and size of the E-M5 to be more comfortable than other models. Finally, I recommend getting your hands on one of these so you can try it out yourself, considering its merits with your own needs in mind.
The Olympus Stylus 1 shipped today, and I managed to get my hands on one for review purposes. So I took out for a some street photography to see if could suit some practical needs.
Olympus Stylus 1: Pro Potential in a Portable Package
Just getting my hands around this camera impressed me on the outward emphasis Olympus has come to put on its cameras’ controls. Not unlike picking up the E-M1, the first thing that struck me was the ability to fine-tune the camera to my needs right away. Buttons do what they should, and diving into the menus has become less irksome and eye-straining than it used to be.
The big draw on controls here is the innovative control ring on the front of the camera, which feels like a smooth-stopping aperture ring you’d find on vintage film lenses. In manual mode, this same ring changes from a setting modifier to smooth-as-silk focusing ring.
A huge improvement to manual focus, the EVF can give you digital zoom to ensure crisp manual focus. Coupled with the f/2.8 aperture (available through the entire zoom range!), you get some amazing precision here. Not to mention the fact that you’re using the same sensor and “guts” of the penultimate E-M5.
Offered the chance to test drive this brand new camera, I immediately strolled around the block in Midtown, taking some snaps to see just what this camera could offer.
While I didn’t have a chance to try landscape or macro, or any closeup portraits, I have to say that for my street-shooting purposes, it’s spot on the money. Assets here include the small, discrete presence, coupled with a near-silent shutter. When I take a photograph, the sound seems to be just inside my ear, but not so much part of the surrounding ambiance. I can’t say how useful this is when photographing people unawares. Better still is the amount of detail you’re getting for a Micro Four Thirds Sensor. Zoom capabilities (equivalent to 28-300mm on a full frame) effectively extend this camera’s comfort zone to sports, macro, and wildlife.
ISO was fine, with minimal grain at 800, though time constraints did not allow for a full test of the range.
My only real qualm in testing this baby was the EVF which for all it’s progress still leaves something to be desired. I still prefer and EVF to viewfinder whatsoever, but it’s not like an optical, and my preference for the latter places this complaint squarely in the realm of nitpicking. Still, if I must say one negative thing after ten minutes of easy shooting, there is still a minimal lag of a split second. Taking time to bring the camera to my eye a little earlier than I did might have easily solved this problem, but you can’t teach an old photographer new tricks, right?
Anyway, here are the images.
With the Holiday Season under way, and visions of sugarplums cameras dancing in my head, I’ve gotten my hands on an Olympus OM-D E-M1 for review purposes.
Olympus OM-D E-M1: the Mirrorless We’ve Been Waiting For
If you’re like me, you probably had your doubts when Mirrorless cameras first started showing up. Certainly, it looked like another gimmicky bridge camera. Almost like a DSLR! Hold something that feels like a toy! Or maybe it was when we started testing those mirrorless marvels, and realizing the guts of the camera left certain things to be desired. Undoubtedly, there were those of us who kept holding them to our faces, only to realize at the last moment, that there was in fact no viewfinder.
And even with the introduction of certain features – WiFi, “improved ergonomics”, and EVFs – many of us were still holdouts.
Folks, if you want to remain a holdout on the mirrorless mania sweeping the camera clique, do not – I repeat, DO NOT – try out the OM-D E-M1.
The idea that this camera is revolutionary is not quite accurate. The E-M1 is more of a culmination of the best parts of the mirrorless industry, crystalized into a smooth, cold, photographing machine. And that feels like a revolution in and of itself.
Out of the box, I was impressed by the overall design, but once I powered this beauty on and started navigating the menus and controls, I realized that she was more than just a mirrorless camera. The E-M1 is the mirrorless camera I (WE!) have been waiting for.
When I first started playing around with mirrorless cameras, it was hard to understand controls aimed at beginners. I was going from a Nikon D2Xs to a Pen [insert letters and numbers here]. And despite the okay performance of the Pen cameras or even their Fujifilm counterparts, I was still seeing red when I tried to be more manual with them.
The E-M1 delivers, though. Like a pro body somehow reduced to an ultra-portable package, with all the Olympus features I both love and hate, it’s hard not to go out right now and rob a bank just so I can own one of these suckers (it isn’t really that expensive). I mean, seriously…it’s just a WOW camera. My lens cap is off to you, Olympus.
But now, on to the review…
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 features a 16.3 megapixel sensor, AF out the wazoo (phase- and contrast-based, able to magnify AF area from 800 points, eye- and face-detection, 81- or 37-point AF, etc.), a max shutter speed of 1/8000 of a second, 6.5 frames per second, this camera is packing serious innards.
One of the notable things about the camera design in terms of control is the 2×2 dial configuration – one dial controls shutter speed and one dial controls aperture. Flip the ae/af lock and now the same dials control white balance and ISO. Some reviewers have cringed at this, stating you may get frustrated when you miss shots because you’re too busy going from one set of controls to another. For the first five minutes or so, you may experience some slip-ups, but just tinkering with the camera in manual mode for a little while will let you get the hang of it.
Another feature I’ve heard some beef about is the WiFi Connectability and how difficult it can be. I consider myself moderately inclined to electronics, but even if you aren’t, the setup is fairly easy. Here are the 10 steps involved.
- download the OI.Share app from Olympus
- open the app on your phone and select Easy Setup
- now go to your camera
- go to the camera menu
- go to the playback menu
- select “Connect to Smartphone”
- a QR code comes up
- scan the QR code with your smartphone
While the live view on your smartphone doesn’t do justice to the images your E-M1 will take, the app does offer you the ability to change settings, select area of focus, and trigger the shutter without having to physically go to the camera. Unfortunately, because the design is similar to an SLR and not a rangefinder, you won’t be able to take a picture of you taking a picture of you taking a picture, as my failsy photos will show.
The EVF is definitely above average. It works well, it’s bright, and it turns on relatively fast. I am not a live view shooter, nor will I ever be. Compound this with a tendency to raise the camera to my eye only when I absolutely know that I want to take a photo AT THAT PRECISE MOMENT, this EVF still has a split second of lag between my eye being raised to the viewfinder, and actually being able to see the scene in front of me.
I know this might seem like a minor point, but it still irks me. I don’t think it should get in the way of purchasing one of these bad boys, but if you’re in doubt, head out to your local camera store and see if someone will let test it out for yourself.
Manual mode was surprisingly fun for a mirrorless camera. Manual focusing is incredibly easy – even with the bottom-of-the-line 17mm f/2.8, focusing was slick, and in-focus stops were hard and defined. All those years of practically ruining my eyesight to gain exceptional manual focusing skills were pretty much rendered useless by whatever magic Olympus has put into this camera. I can only imagine how much fun this camera would be in manual and sporting the 17mm f/1.8 with its improved focusing abilities.
ISO performance on the OM-D E-M1 is also top-notch. Most of my time with the camera was spent shooting at 800 ISO (something I can’t do on my old Nikon without bucket-loads of grain), but I stopped it down to 200 and pushed it up to 6400 and 25600 just to see what was what.
The camera performs with no to low grain up to 800 or even 1000. Kicking it up to 6400 will give you some noise, and 25600 should only be reserved if you want that gritty film look for some of your images.
It may not be the ideal camera for every type of photography, but as an all-around shooter, it performs above and beyond what you would expect, and that’s coming from a brainwashed DSLR owner. Another thing I would like to highlight about this camera, is its application for street photography. People don’t even notice this camera, really, despite its size. When you take into account the all black body, a basic pancake lens, and a near-silent shutter, it’s no a mystery why I don’t see more people shooting on the streets with this.
All in all, it’s a great camera, with stunning image quality, excellent autofocus (and manual focus), perfect ergonomics, and intuitive controls. It’s easy to use, fun to learn, and it really is a pro body for the mirrorless system.
Going forward, I may continue to test the E-M1 for different kinds of shooting, from street photography to portraiture to architecture to macro. If there’s something specific you want me to test on this camera, contact me and I’ll see what I can do!
The Olympus E-PM2 has been described by the manufacturer as DSLR image quality in a compact body. But does it live up to this claim? I take this tiny incarnation of the revived Pen series around Manhattan and tell you what’s what.
Olympus E-PM2 Overview
The E-PM2 is the second mini-Pen, and features some changes over it’s predecessor, the E-PM1. Boiled down, these changes amount to greater max resolution, 16 megapixels instead of the older model’s 12, a greater ISO range up to 25600, and a greater number of Frames Per Second (now 8). In addition to these improvements, Olympus has also included a bundled flash with the camera, the ability to establish Wifi connections (with an Eye-fi or Flash Air Media card) and touchscreen technology. These last three perks definitely bolster ease-of-use, but can it still deliver DSLR performance?
Straight out of the box, the E-PM2 performs well. It definitely fills its intended role as an upgrade from a compact. Despite missing the articulating screen of some other Pen models, I don’t seem to miss anything. The thumb grip and extremely lightweight body can easily be held in one hand, and the kit lens seems to fit perfectly in the other.
Using the landscape scene, with decent auto-exposure.
The menus are still a bit clunky, but with this model they seem somehow easier to navigate – about as easy, I would say, as the menus on my first DSLR. The flash is decent, sometimes shadowed by the lens, but better than a compact. It doesn’t seem to be as powerful as a popup on a DSLR, but I would recommend purchasing the VF-4 viewfinder from Olympus and swapping it with the flash anyway. But that’s just my take.
Movie mode is all right. It’s nothing spectacular, nor is it absolutely terrible. Built-in stereo mics pick up sound and wind booming; if you want to go a better route, Olympus does offer a mic that will attach to the hot shoe on top of the camera.
One of those “I wish I could do more with this” shots. Given the short 42mm kit lens, the small Micro Four Thirds sensor, and limited editing options, don’t expect to crop very much.
Actual image quality is what I’ve come to expect. It’s great at face value, but if you’re looking to do more with the images, you really are in for a disappointment. Shooting in RAW offers you a minimal advantage in that you can take richer photographs. But editing them is dang near impossible unless you have the latest version of Adobe Camera RAW (which only works with the latest versions of Photoshop and Lightroom). So, um, yeah. Good luck with that.
For the price – and price is something to consider since you may have to purchase Photoshop just to edit your RAW files – the camera isn’t bad. I’ve seen them going for around five hundred bucks and what you get is essentially a DSLR, albeit a more compact one that doesn’t have a viewfinder.
Admittedly, the macro scene mode is GORGEOUS.
It certainly doesn’t live up to established DSLRs in terms of image output because, lets face it, most DSLRs now offer bigger sensors and greater image resolution than the E-PM2, and whatever advantage you might get from less sensor heat just isn’t there. Your output is relegated to fine JPEG unless you have the latest software, or possess the funds necessary to acquire it. However, it does offer a relatively inexpensive option for those who want to play photographer and shoot with Olympus’s wide range of art filters and scene modes, eradicating the need for anyone owning this camera to even bother studying the basic elements of photography.
The Pinhole and other art filters are an easy pro to shooting with the camera.
All in all, you could probably buy this camera and create some great work with it. It’s fun to use, easy to operate, and its got the image quality (if you have the necessary software) to hold up under some scrutiny. What it lacks for now, in my own opinion, is a real value factor. The only real selling point that holds up across the spectrum of potential buyers is the portability factor. If you really can’t lift a DSLR, this is probably the camera for you. But if you don’t have the software to use it at its full potential, and you want bona fide performance, you might as well go with an older Canon DSLR at a similar price.
The first impression I get from using the Olympus Pen E-P5 is that it feels like it belongs in my hands. This is a departure from previous run-ins with mirrorless cameras, like Fuji’s X Series.
I took the camera out for a walk around midtown and tested a couple of lenses.
Working with the Pen E-P5
First off, the user interface is a toss up. On one hand you get the great outer design that seems to fit your grip, but as you use the camera more and more, you realize that headache you’ve been feeling came from trying to navigate the menus.
One neat feature is the ability of the user to customize the camera to his or her own shooting style. When I couldn’t find where the heck Olympus had placed the mechanism to switch to manual focusing, I simply reassigned a button to do just that.
The screen’s nice, with a good resolution, a nice angle of tilt, and the touch-point autofocus makes it great if you’re tired of using the directional pad. It also comes in handy when the cameras AF detect goes crazy and bounces all over the place between shots. The af points can be made smaller, increasing efficiency when you need to focus on tiny areas.
The two dials and switch work well together. When pushed in on direction, the switch allows you control over shutter and aperture. When moved in the opposite direction, it allows you control over white balance and ISO. One universal problem with this setup is that the photographer can easily forget in which direction he or she has thrown the switch, and thus running the risk of missing crucial shots when bumbling through the controls trying to adjust the Pen E-P5.
In regards to the flash, it needs to go. It’s small, weak, and takes up some great real estate that would be better spent on some kind of viewfinder. At high ISO, you get the grain you would expect, but even then it still works in those situations where there just isn’t enough light.
This image shows the Pen E-P5’s impressive ISO range, with images taken at 3200 (top) and 25600 (bottom).
Video was misleadingly smooth on-camera. Here the anti-vibration features really get noticed; handheld camera work seems as smooth as professional panning. Only later, at a larger size, can you see how grainy this stuff looks. The Micro Four Thirds system impresses me when it comes to stills, but it was not meant to capture video.
Filters! This camera, like the other mirrorless systems I’ve played around with, is jammed with them. To give Olympus credit, the grainy black and white is a slam dunk. And while I’m sure there are people out there who want to use cross processing and toy camera filters all day every day, I imagine most of us are going to get tired of it pretty quick. It does seem pretty odd that you can choose between shooting in monochrome or the grainy black and white art filter. In fact, it’s very easy for someone to get lost in the long list of filters and picture modes, and when you add the complicated menu to this equation, it only makes things worse.
Okay, so the grainy black and white filter is pretty freakin’ cool.
The pinhole filter offers some vignetting on the edges.
The ability to connect with a smartphone may be a big selling point to this camera for some new Olympus shooters. It seems pretty straightforward as far as setup goes, maybe taking about fifteen or twenty minutes. And using the camera as a remote has its perks. The downside is, older phones (like my iPhone 4s) just show a pixilated, clunky image when viewed through the app. I guess it will work great if you do all of your editing in camera, but to old hands it’s going to seem a bit superfluous.
So all in all, how good is it? The Pen E-P5 is a nice camera. It feels comfortable, handles okay when photographing, and it’s got a great output in terms of image quality and shooting efficiency.
With the extra fluff shoved into this camera, from burdensome menus to three times the in-camera effects a normal photographer should need, it’s not going to appeal to everyone.
The Olympus M. Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 vs the Olympus M. Zuiko 17mm f/2.8
I didn’t think there would be that great of a difference between these two lenses, but there really is. The f/1.8 wins hands down – from overall sharper images to the snap-focusing ring, this lens blew the f/2.8 out of the water. Using it is a joy, especially with the hard focus stops, eliminating the need for cheats like focus peaking. Even given the fact the f/2.8 is tinier and more compact (something I generally like in a lens), performance-wise it just can’t hold up.
The 17mm f1/1.8 delivers an image so sharp, you can cut yourself on it.
The Olympus M. Zuiko 75mm f/1.8
This lens is a joy to use. I don’t go in for much telephoto shooting because I’ve always been burdened with the low apertures. I took this baby to a memorial garden and spent some time photographing birds and flowers and signs, and hot damn, am I impressed. Even in the shade, with wind blowing all about and the cold causing me to shiver, the low aperture, coupled with the Pen E-P5’s vibration reduction, allowed me to take some crisp, clean, and bright shots. I’m still not over the shock.
One downside to the 75mm f/1.8 is just using it with a Micro Four Thirds sensor. Imagine the results if you couple blow it up without losing resolution…
Shot at ISO 200 f/1.8 – LOOK AT THAT BOKEH!!!
The Bottom Line
Coupled with the 17mm f/1.8 or the 75mm f/1.8, you will have a ball shooting with the Pen E-P5. Hell, you can even produce some amazing results with it. It handles and operates better than the mirrorless cameras I’ve seen from Fuji, and I doubt the EOS M can match the technology. It’s also got the ability (with the use of an adapter) to fit any lens made for the Four Thirds System, as well as some other brands to boot, making it great choice for those who have already invested in interchangeable lenses.