A number of people have asked me why I'm planning to buy the Olympus E-M5, which is just beginning to enter the sales pipeline. Of course, it really doesn't matter what I buy; I'm not a guru, and I don't work as a photographer (here's what kind of photographer I am: I'm a writer).
And, anyway, you should buy what's best for you. My friend Dan Schley, for instance, recently asked me for advice about a camera for an upcoming trip to Italy. He wanted to "buy local," so I sent him to Mike Crivello's Camera Center, the best camera store that I know of in Southeastern Wisconsin, and suggested he just consider whatever they showed him. I saw him at dinner last night, and he reports he got fine service at Crivello's and excellent advice from Ron Baumeister, an experienced salesman who, like all the people there, actually knows his stuff (unlike the kid at the department-store electronics counter who told me a certain camera "has really good megapixel"). Ron steered Dan to a Canon T3i and a Tamron 17–50mm, and I couldn't have picked better myself. I confiscated and monopolized it for a brief time at dinner, and it's sweet. Great camera, great lens, great-handling combo.
But anyway, here's why I'm going to get the so-far only OM-D:
1. It allows me to use my favorite lens, the Panasonic 20mm ƒ/1.7. (And, I already own lenses for it—the 20mm as well as the Oly 45mm.)
2. Although I also have a Pentax K-5 and a Sony A900, the Panasonic GF1 is my main camera. I have to admit I'm fond of the GF1 and even just a little fond of its sensor weirdnesses. But it does have sensor weirdnesses. Here's just one example: I was correcting a picture with a blown-out sky, and I happened to slip with the mouse and push the brightness slider too far down.
What in the...?
So I pushed it further...and found this:
This doesn't show on a well-corrected picture. Most of the GF1's sensor mysteries don't. But cosmic barcodes, slight color casts, the hint of interference patterns, strange color artifacts at the threshold of perception—all seem to be part of the GF1 experience. (As is its practical ISO 800 limit.) So reason #2 is that I'm hoping the OM-D sensor is a little more...buttoned down. As in, better. If it is, great; if it isn't...meh. I can live with a sensor no better than the GF1's. Have been, in fact.
3. Built-in viewfinder. There's an add-on one for the GF1, which I never bought. But these cameras need eye-level finders. There are just times while shooting when the viewing screen is unviewable.
4. ...I really like the flip-up viewing screen. I've always liked looking down on a finder image—harkening back to a long stint with an antediluvian Exakta 66 Mod. 2. And then proceeding to a nifty Sony F-707 that had a swing-up body.
5. Narcissistic armchair nostalgia. I used the OM-4T during what probably counts as the heyday of my personal photography (I forced myself to use it for three years as a way of backing off from gearhead obsessions, and ended up using it for more like five). Really came to love that camera. The E-M5 seems like a distant descendant.
6. If Oly's going to the great hall of makers in the sky—who can know?—might as well use one while I can. (Previous marques of choice have included Contax and Minolta.)
Oddly enough, one thing that I find doesn't particularly appeal to me is the retro styling. I like retro in general, I like the OM look in particular, and the styling of the E-M5 doesn't bother me at all as it apparently does some people. But I don't feel covetous of the camera for that reason.
The one thing I can't figure out: silver or black? I go back and forth. That, I really can't decide.
ADDENDUM: I always forget one thing in any listing or litany. (When I was teaching, I learned never to go around the room naming the kids, because no matter what, I'd forget one name, even when it was a kid I knew well—to the mortification of the affected student.) I knew I'd leave one item out on this list. So let's insert this at about #1.5: body-integral, a.k.a. in-body, image stabilization (IBIS). As we know, I generally like this feature (cf. my posts about coffee!), and I'm curious to see what Olympus has wrought with their claimed improvements in this area.
IBIS is actually too important to have forgotten...it's the one thing that the GF1 doesn't have that I really want, and is actually one of the main reasons I intend to switch.
Okay; sorry. Discussion can resume now.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Mark Cotter: "Black. All are my cameras are black and, thus, I have come to the decision that all cameras must be black.
"Actually, having just written that, I have a pinhole camera that's brass and mahogany. So, if I were you, I'd hold off until Olympus bring out a camera made of wood. ;-)"
Mike replies: You wink, but Sigma did it...
Featured Comment by Maggie Osterberg: "Silver, because the original OM-1 was mostly made in silver and dammit, I used a silver OM-2 at the paper. And it's all about me. Or you. Either is good. As long as it's silver. Black is too Wünderplastik."
Featured Comment by Andreas Manessinger: "Got my black one last Friday and already love it. Do yourself the favor and either take both, silver for the 45/1.8 and black for the 20/1.7, or else black only. The Panasonic pancakes look gorgeous on the black and entirely crappy on the silver."
Featured Comment by Hugh Crawford: "Those negative green stripes (because magenta is an imaginary color!) look more like a bug in the Raw converting software , like someone is using signed integers and someone else is using unsigned integers. Also, it's interesting how the magenta corresponds to how much white there is in a particular column and how much magenta is in the column to its left. If there were a little noise, you wouldn't see this happening , but of course when the image is blown out, there is by definition no noise. It's a good illustration of how recovering detail in the shadows and in the highlights are not at all the same problem, and sometimes noise is your friend.
"Oh, and I'd vote for a Keith Haring or plaid finish on my camera."
Mike adds: Hugh is perhaps the only person on the planet who owns an actual camera, a Pentax K1000, decorated by his friend the late artist Keith Haring.
Featured Comment by Lucy: "I also have a GF1 and the two (very sweet) lenses, and although I've never experienced the sensor weirdness you describe, I am thinking seriously about purchasing the OM-D in the next few months (providing my husband keeps his mitts off it). Like most over 40s, the silver one would remind me of my first SLR, but I reckon the 45mm with its blue tinge would look weird on both. Fortunately, I'm more interested in image quality than the aesthetics of the camera itself!"