It's kinda hard to photograph wind.
So my son and his girlfriend made an interesting discovery on the observation deck of the Lake Express Ferry yesterday. The Lake Express (picture here) is a high-speed catamaran with three levels: cars and motorcycles go on the first level; people go on the second, in a spacious lounge with seats resembling those on a commercial airliner; and the third level, the observation deck, is essentially the roof with a railing. It's a fast boat for its size (top speed 34 knots, which is 40 mph), and the onshore westerly breeze can be mighty brisk out on Lake Michigan. The two together add up to a stiff wind.
So Kirsten was standing on the deck leaning into the wind, not holding on to anything, and Zander walked in front of her—which made her stumble forward. This amused them for a while once they'd discovered it.
Meanwhile, over on the rail, I noticed that the wind was making the camera almost hard to hold on to. I think it's the first time I've ever had a wind whip the camera strap off from around my neck—more than once. It seemed to come from all directions. So naturally I decided it would make an excellent torture test of the camera's IS, and I spent ten minutes snapping pictures of passing sailboats at longer focal lengths. Result: about one in three are sharp. The wind was really knocking the camera around, though, so that was pretty good.
So that's my first reaction to the camera: it really is nice to have IS back again. I'd been missing it with the GF1.
Second reaction: Any camera that's too complicated for me to figure out is too complicated. Sorry to be so self-centered, but really, I actually know a little bit about this stuff, and I've used a few cameras in my time. When a camera confuses me as much as this one does, sorry, but that's just a fail on the designers' part. Granted that not everybody can be Jonathan Ives and Steve Jobs trying to make a device with just one single button*, but this camera gives me the feeling that lots of smart people worked really hard trying to complexificate it as much as humanly possible.
Thanks go out to dpreview's Richard Butler and Timur Born for their guide to "Getting the Most Out of the Olympus E-M5." I intend to use that. I'd figure the camera out myself—I could do it, I'm sure, even though I've gotten very jaded and lazy with cameras lately—but I'm 55 now, and that means I don't really have enough time left. Bah-dum-pah.
I hope that in the future it will become standard practice for companies to issue two versions of every camera: the main one, with the 40,000 features and the menus carefully engineered to turn peoples' hair gray, and a second "Lite" version that simply has all the features people need to take pictures**. That's all some people want to do with cameras, strange as it may sound.
Last first impression: the image quality of this thing rocks. It ranges from good to fantastic, depending on which properties you're looking at. The GF1 was an admitted step back from my DSLRs, which makes the up-to-the-minute IQ of the OM-D seem just leaps and bounds better. Tons and tons of highlight recovery especially (in ACR).
In fact, I might go so far as to say that the OM-D is the very first digital camera I've ever used that has truly natural highlights—as good as that of some films. I reserve the right to modify that opinion after the honeymoon's over, but that's my impression now.
An example. Pardon the somewhat inappropriate subject matter of this illustration (I was going around taking some record shots of the lake house), but it happens to show what I want to show. This c. 1912 tub is under a skylight, so this is bright sun on white porcelain—and the scene is more extreme to the eye than it looks in the pic. And the highlight gradation in the original file is very subtle. You can see the edge of the white bathmat against the white tub all the way along, and the camera has recorded the subtle tonal difference of the bottom and the sides of the tub without issues. Really nice; very natural. Most digital cameras just wouldn't be able to make this look this natural. I wish I could have done a comparison here with the OM-D, the A900, and Portra color neg film. I'll bet that would be interesting.
I really have high hopes about the Olympus in this respect, especially since I'm very sensitive to highlight gradation and it's been something I've been critical of with digital cameras in general for a long time now.
Enough for now, anyhow. Bottom line: this camera might be tough to get sorted, but I have the feeling it's going to be worth it.
*I finally bonded with my iPad 2 on this trip.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
**Featured Comment by Ed Hawco: "I received my OM-D last week and I had the same reaction with regard to it being complicated. Holy smokes that thing is a cluster*%&# of confusion! Even the name of the camera is confusing, as if someone just tipped over a Scrabble board and grabbed six random letters.
"With the help of the DPReview article you mentioned and some persistence I have managed to disable or ignore most of it, and seem to be finding a reasonably straightforward way to work with it. Still haven't figured out a few things though (like WB).
"I've said it before and I'll say it again. What we need is firmware that you can edit on your computer, in a nice, well-designed graphical interface where you just drag and drop items to disable things and/or set up the buttons and the menus the way you like. Then you just upload your changes to the camera and bingo, your own camera settings and menus as simple or as complicated as you want them to be. [From your lips to the ears of the PTB —Mike.]
"But for now we're stuck with the malformed offspring of a drunken fling between an engineer and a marketing hack."
Featured Comment by Kevin Schoenmakers: "Could I just say I really, really love that second photo."
Mike replies: Thanks Kevin. That's the end of the outer breakwater at Muskegon, Michigan, and it really is a fair hike out from the shore, just as it looks to be:
Featured Comment by Barb: "I sold my entire Canon kit, including the 5D classic, for the OM-D. No regrets at all. I love it, I love the lenses, I love the small size of the camera. And I love the price."
Featured Comment by Henning: "At the moment I have three camera systems. Canon, Leica and Micro 4/3 which includes GH2 and OM-D. The Leicas took me about 10 minutes to figure out and set up, and I've never looked at the manual. The Canons took me about an hour to set up and I had to look at the manual about six or eight times; the GH2 about the same.
"The OM-D took a day, and I'm still occasionally frustrated about something it does/doesn't do that I thought I had fixed. I carry the PDF manual with me on my iPhone.
"I have a couple of degrees in physics, have been a beta tester for software including complex CAD stuff, and done computer training and IT management for some firms.
"If it didn't produce such nice files for the size I would have given up on it already. When people ask me whether they should get one, I first make an assessment as to their technical button pushing skills."