A few random early observations, now that I have the Panasonic GX7 and the Olympus OM-D E-M1 in the house:
Mirrorless is growing up
The word is "refinement." Start with a good, innovative new design, get feedback from users individually as well as the market as a whole, and create a new version that maintains the strengths of the original while addressing the consensus shortcomings.
It seems obvious to me that we're dealing with significant refinements here. One reader spoke the other day about how different the Fuji X100s is from the original X100 (I'd link to it, but I can't find the comment). I can't speak to that, having never used the "-s."
Being very familiar with the antecedents of the Panasonic GX7 and the Olympus OM-D E-M1, however, I can say that both of these new cameras are very significant jumps over their predecessors...they amount to transformative refinements.
Together, they take Micro 4/3 to new heights. They're the two best Micro 4/3 cameras to date.
The new status symbol
Dials and switches, switches and dials—are they the new status symbol?
Electronic controls (menus) and the ubiquitous buttons-controlled-by-the-same-dial are cheap, and have proven an easy enough way to add the perception of value to electronic cameras. The downside is "feature creep" and intolerable complexity for users, which end up in practice making cameras slow to use and finicky as users grope their way through a thicket of options. One reason the new Nikon Df is so expensive is that real manual switches and dials are expensive.
They can also be really, really nice.
I admitted that it was my fault that I didn't get along with the Olympus E-M5; it's quite possible, and not unreasonable, to work through its controls and learn how to set it up to use comfortably. Many people have. But it was so paralyzed by featuritis and brainlessly addled by overcomplexity that it just...well...pissed me off. My problem. I used it for a while and then offloaded it.
The E-M1, by contrast, although obviously based on the E-M5, is a delight to use. And the reason is those luxurious, expensive dials and switches, switches and dials. I especially like the fore and aft clickwheels—so nice—and the 1-2 switch, and the locking PASM dial is a nifty (though probably unnecessary) touch.
Back in Panasonic-land, the company has poured everything into the GX7—in direct response, it seems, to its competition. The result is that it deserves six integers between it and the GX1, which was a capable if ultimately limited IL digicam. This is a considerably more ambitious camera. Built-in EVF, check. Tiltable built-in EVF...wow; great. Comfortable handgrip. In-body stabilization, although at a fairly rudimentary level of implementation—but a first for the line. Better sensor than ever, check—one that our friend Carl Weese says gives him noticeably better results in prints.
Like the Olympus, the GX7 seems fast. Very responsive. I love that in a camera. Like the steering in a car, it really determines the device's character at a basic level.
And on top of everything, pretty good value for a dollar, for the luxury end of mirrorless at least—it's the best deal of these three cameras at the moment. And great good looks. The GX7 is the best camera yet in this successful and prolific line of model evolution from Panasonic.
(By the way, if you know one of those he-men who insist that cameras are just tools and they don't give a $#!% how they look, Jorgen Udvang has a camera they wouldn't mind using. It's just a tool—it doesn't matter how it looks, right? So then it stands to reason they wouldn't mind using this. [Cue laff track.])
I haven't really investigated the E-M1 very extensively yet. I had lots of work to do during my three-day break just past, so I didn't get much time for photography. But I'm going to venture one conclusion. One that might not quite be warranted yet.
I have to explain it a bit. Bear with me here.
You know how, in the very old days (before my time, really), interchangeable lenses were considered a way to customize a camera? That is, the fact that you could screw one lens off and screw another on was not something you were necessarily expected to change on the fly, but a way to create a different camera. So old-timey pj's would have two bodies, and one would have a 50mm and one would have a 135mm, and neither lens would ever come off its body.
That's still the way I tend to operate, in essence. I like to get a camera set up the way I like it, and then leave it that way.
I know some people are different. Some people like to switch all the time between all the different options, depending on the individual job at hand and even on the individual shot they're trying to make. So it's manual focus one day, predictive AF the next; Program exposure for one shot, Aperture-priority for the next; and so forth. Get the idea?
So here's my point. I can't predict yet how that sort of photographer will like the E-M1. That is, I'm not sure I know how easy or convenient it will be to switch back and forth and back and forth between all the available modes of everything.
But, what I can say is that I think photographers like me—who tend to like to set up their cameras according to their own tastes and then more or less leave them set up like that—are going to like the E-M1 very much. It seems to me like it's a camera that's going to be very easy to customize according to each photographer's personal tastes, for photographers who like to do it that way.
Once one does that, it's going to be easy to get to really get used to the camera controls until they become second nature. So I suspect this is a camera that its owners will become very comfortable using over time.
Really very nice in that respect. Haptic technology, I believe it's called.
These are just preliminary reactions—and I know, I know, it's worthless to get too excited by new cameras because of their limited arc. It's not like you can keep a digital camera for 40 years like an old film camera. And—this is the reason it's an "arc"—we've all gotten very spoiled by getting treated to the latest and greatest while it's shiny-new and special. (We may have to wean ourselves of that particular addiction eventually.) The latest/greatest from three years ago have already lost most of their gloss. At this end of the arc, though, it's very easy to be impressed.
But I am, indeed, greatly impressed by both the GX7 and the E-M1. These are both really nice, refined, luxurious camera designs with great features. (I haven't even mentioned the best feature of the E-M1 at all.) They seem well thought-through, luxurious, and capable.
All three of these cameras are very expensive. On the other hand, you're getting what you're paying for, and it's good to have that option. You don't need cameras this nice. But it's great that they exist.
It's been fun and interesting watching "the DMD" cameras evolve. I'll be writing a bit more about these two as I get to know them in the weeks to come. (And maybe I can even persuade Carl to share some of his thoughts about the GX7. We'll see.)
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
jay moynihan: "My DSLRs are ancient bodies, in digital market terms. High ISO on them is not really a feature. I recently got the Fuji X100S for my 'daily carry' as it appealed to my old-guy sensibilities. Turns out to be not only fast and good design, but OMG! the high iso performance floored me. The manual focus even works.... As a 'non-professional,' it seriously calls into question any future DSLR upgrades for me."
Will: "This is great, but the Fuji X-E2 really belongs in this conversation. It is similarly a product of refinement, similarly retro-styled, similarly EVF-driven, and is lousy with switches and dials. Probably too late. Regardless, that was a fun article to read."
Jeff1000: With a quiet-as-a-mouse-wearing-sneakers leaf shutter, bokeh-envy-inducing 23 ƒ/2 Fujinon Aspherical lens, a fabulous 16 MP X-Trans APS-C sensor, wickedly fast and accurate auto- and manual-focusing options, it’s the 'DMD' of all DMDs: the Fuji X100S. Brilliant camera, absolutely brilliant. I’m disappointed that the camera scribes at the sprawling TOP Media Complex haven't taken a closer look at the X100S and reported back :-), but I know, there are so many shiny new objects out there it's hard to keep up."
Ruby: "I had to laugh just a little, because although I primarily shoot digital, I have two MX's, one with an 85mm and one with a 50mm, and neither lens ever comes off."
Godfrey: "I've been working with the Oly E-M1 exclusively since it arrived a month ago. Outfitted with the Panasonic 14mm, Panasonic-Leica Summilux 25mm, and Panasonic-Leica Macro-Elmarit 45mm, this may be the best camera ever developed for me. (Ah, there again is the '28-50-90' idiom.)
"The capabilities are great, the ergonomics and customizability is outstanding, the image quality is something to write home about. I feel absolutely confident to sell off everything else I currently use...including if I feel like it the M9...and relying upon the E-M1 for all my photography. It's that good from my perception."
Michael Bearman: "Why can't you keep a digital camera for 40 years?"
Sylvain responds to Michael B.: "From the top of my head:
- OLED technology where it is used—EVF, LCD panels—has a relatively short life expectancy.
- Battery technology: batteries wear out over time and lose their max capacity; at the rate we see manufacturers change battery formats, that will be a real issue. (It was already an issue once in the past with the shift from mercury batteries to 'modern' ones.)
- File format: A RAW of 2013 might be impossible to read in a filesystem of 2053. Although this could hopefully be mitigated in many ways. Adobe DNG is such an attempt.
"And I'm sure there are many other things. Nothing impossible to overcome, but my impression is that mechanical cameras could see some of their parts more easily replaced or remade, I believe, than an electronic circuit/sensor."
Jock Elliott: "Dials and switches and buttons—oh my!
"Mike, there is one downside to those lovely manual controls: inadvertent activation. I was chimping some shots taken with my Canon G12 and muttering 'Why in heck are they so dark?' Then I noticed that the exposure compensation dial was way off of where it should have been. It protrudes slightly from the back edge of the top deck of the camera and had rotated from contact with the bag when I was sliding it out to shoot. That kind of thing generally doesn't happen with software settings."
Mike replies: I'd disagree with that last conclusion to a certain extent—although perhaps I just have a genius for bollixing things up. And at least with a manual control, you can relatively easily see what's gone awry, when it's gone awry—anyone ever had the experience of having something go "off" with the software controls and not be able to figure out quickly what or where? Granted I use too many cameras, each for too short a time, but that's not a good feeling.
I'd also argue that the "inadvertent setting" problem is partially fallout from the rapid pace of development, which prevents designs from being slowly refined and perfected. For example, the SD card door and slot position was perfect on my Panasonic GF1; it's much less than ideal on my current Sony NEX-6, which always has me fumbling and cursing. With slow evolution, little niggling problems evolve out of a design. But when each new camera is too much of a blank slate, that process isn't allowed to occur.
In fact, this is one of my big hopes for the OM-D E-M1. As Olympus's new "pro" body, I'm hoping that its future development will take a more conservative course and retain the basic haptics long enough for the look, feel, and operation to become comfortable and familiar to consistent users. This is something Canikon tries to do with its top pro SLRs, largely with success.