All the nominees again:
Nikon Coolpix A
Olympus OM-D E-M1
(Play this now) And the winner....
The Olympus OM-D E-M1, TOP Camera of the Year 2013
I was sorely, sorely tempted to give the nod here to the Sony A7r with its Zeiss 35mm ƒ/2.8. That one's got the buzz—it's the camera that people are coveting this year, the one that offers all that promise. The stuff gear dreams are made of. I love what I've seen of that 35mm lens, and I'll bet I could write a very good defense of a camera that has the right lens instead of a lot of lenses.
But I've got two full-frame (FF) cameras in the house, and I hate to say it, but I think I'm kinda getting over FF. When all is said and done I just don't think it gives me enough extra to warrant all the fuss. This isn't some big decision; it's just the way my feelings about it have evolved. It's a little like all those people in the old days who argued that 4x5 was so very superior to 6x6. Well, yeah, kinda, a little, maybe—but I can make do.
Nothing against people who prefer FF; I can see the sense in that, too.
The Achilles heel in the end is that the A7 system has, um, three lenses. And with Sony's spotty record of filling in lens lines...I just can't bring myself to call it the CoY. Quite. Try as I might.
...And yeah, it is awkward, at the very least, to give the palm to the E-M1 when the E-M5 was our CoY a year ago. That is just unBALANCED. And opens me to charges of being an Oly fanboy, which I'm not. But that's an accident of the sequence of events...rather than not give our CoY award to the E-M1 this year for the sake of evenhandedness, what I ought to do is go back in time (sorry, Ctein) and yank the award away from the E-M5 for last year! There were so many deserving contenders, and now the E-M5 is eclipsed (sorry, E-M5 owners, but it is. Don't think I'm not sympathetic; I bought one too.) I wish I could change the past and give CoY 2012 to the Fuji X-Pro1. That would restore the proper balance of nature, not to mention brand impartiality. But of course I can't do that. It's a little too late to be revising CoY '12.
It galls me not to give a pat on the back to Nikon, for listening to its customers and thinking of those who want a camera with more old-fashioned controls. It pains me not to give the award to Sony, which deserves a big fat sloppy kiss for all the fun stuff it's given us lately and for how hard they're trying. (If anything, at the moment, I'm a Sony fanboy. And that Zeiss? Hit me where I live why doncha, pluck at my heartstrings—I went through photo school with a Zeiss C/Y 35mm ƒ/2.8.)
The GX7 is near and dear to my heart for being a Great Leap Forward from a series of cameras I've owned and loved, and for being more Leica-like than any current Leica. (Sorry again, but it is. Although maybe it's not quite as Leica-like as the X-Pro1.) In fact, the only thing wrong with the GX7 is the E-M1, in the same way that the only thing wrong with the Coolpix A is the GR.
The E-M1 wins the old-fashioned way: by being so good. If this were a footrace, the E-M1 would be Usain Bolt. No matter how admirable the other guys, you just can't deny the freaky fast dude who flies across the finish line half a second earlier than everyone else.
The E-M1 is what I wanted the E-M5 to be...and reluctantly concluded was not. A few brief points:
• It's really nice to hold. Ergonomically this is the best camera I've used in many years. The size and weight are just right—not too big, not too small; not too heavy, not too light. The handgrip is really great to grip (never mind how it looks). I love the way the two main dials fall to thumb and forefinger (if Olympus ever changes this, the responsible party should be boiled in lens lubricating oil). That funky little thumb lever that switches to ISO/WB is a fantastic solution.
• The image quality is really special. Pixel-by-pixel comparisons be hanged, the pictures just look great to me. They nourish my enthusiasm for lovely-looking photographic images. 'Nuff said. (Well, a little more needs to be said: I don't think it's better than the E-M5. But it's as good, which is enough. YMMV.)
• With a weatherproof lens, you can hold the whole shebang under the kitchen faucet. No, I haven't done that yet—I make it a policy not to tempt fate. But I'm also not going to worry if I get caught out in the rain.
• Love the way a flip-up viewing screen makes the camera into a mini-Rolleiflex. Yeah, other cameras do this, but it happens to be something I really want my camera to do.
• The camera controls are very customizable. There seem to be just enough buttons, and there are so many ways you can set them up that I almost can't imagine any photographer not being able to configure this camera exactly to his or her tastes and preferences. I never felt in control of the E-M5. I always feel in control of the E-M1. Big difference there.
• Awesome image stabilization. I have the GX7 here as well, and while the GX7 is competitive in many respects, where the IS of the two cameras is concerned it's like a footrace between Usain B. and Drunk Uncle.
• The viewfinder is excellent. No, it's not as good a view as a large glass pentaprism viewfinder. But it's the first EVF I actually like looking at the world through.
I could quibble. I don't like the positioning of the on-off switch or the review button. How picky is it reasonable to be? Oh, and by the way: the E-M1 is NOT too expensive. On the contrary, you should feel grateful they put as much expensive goodness into this camera's build as they did. It's great that they put so much money into this. You can tell.
But forget all the above: the main, overriding gestalt of the E-M1 is how complete it is. It does everything right and nothing wrong. The best thing about it is how solid it is, how well it falls to hand, how well everything works, and how well it all works together.
Is it better than any other camera? Of course not; cameras are a matter of taste. Does it warrant upgrading from the E-M5? Probably not; depends how well you get along with the E-M5. Best image quality? No, just really good, and good enough. I think it does have the best IBIS, and might have the best EVF, and it's possible it has the best ergonomics. It's not the best toy, though, so if playing with gee-whizzery is your thing (not that there's anything wrong with that) then this one probably won't distract you for very long.
And recall that I'm not big on video.
So if you just want to take pictures....
I'm sorry, but our hands are tied. Gotta do what we gotta do. This was a great year for cameras, and there are a lot of fine choices out there. However, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 ticks every box and raises Micro 4/3's whole game. Acclaim and applause: it's the Camera of 2013.
Original contents copyright 2013 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Morgan: "It's interesting you mention all of the lens options with Micro 4/3. One of the things that keeps me from considering Micro 4/3 is the wide-angle lens choice below 24mm. The Panasonic 7–14mm has the purple blob issue, the Olympus 9–18mm is completely uninteresting, and there are no rectilinear primes below 24mm. This is one area Fuji seems to have Micro 4/3 beat and may eventually get me away from using a DSLR."
Mike replies: You make a very good point, one I'm always trying to remind people of: evaluate the lenses in any system first, and evaluate only the lenses that exist, not lenses you have to wait for. It's a personal matter, so you're very right to evaluate it for yourself. It's really the first step in considering any camera: can I get the lenses I need for my own uses? Just because I might like Micro 4/3 and 4/3 lens choices doesn't necessarily mean you will.
Amin Sabet: "Really well said, Mike. I feel as you do about all the nominees. I'd add this about the Sony A7 and A7r: As bodies, they are relatively unrefined compared to the E-M1. For example, the shutter release button placement is awkward, and of course there's no image stabilization. What the A7 and A7r give you, however, is the ability to have fun with a virtually limitless number of adapted manual focus lenses. For example, there is now a run on Leica R and Canon FD L glass like never before. That plus the fact that the new Sony FE 35mm ƒ/2.8 and 55mm ƒ/1.8 are both really excellent."
Speed: "An embarrassment of riches."
Oskar Ojala (partial comment): "Simply put, it's a user's camera: just works in the field, takes great pictures, but won't be the best in a spec sheet comparison. I hope that cameras like this would be the norm."
Dave Karp: "My wife and I went to Samy's Saturday. I thought we would probably come home with a Pentax K-3 or a Panasonic GX7. We came home with an Olympus E-M1 and 17mm ƒ/1.8. It just feels right. The electronic viewfinder is delightful. When we got home I pulled out my Dad's beloved Pentax MX and put it on the table next to the E-M1. They are nearly the same size. The E-M1 is lighter. The grip on the Olympus makes it easier to hold. This is the digital camera I have been waiting for."
Jim: "I would probably agree that the E-M1 is the better camera...but I love the jewel-like feel of the Panasonic GX7. It is Leica-like, as you say. I took a quick trip to Rome with the GX7 and the new, tiny 12–32mm from the GM1...perfect combo. Here are some of the results."
Photo by Jim Tardio using the GX7 and Panasonic 12–32mm pancake zoom lens
Mike replies: Jim, that second picture at your link has some serious distortion on the right-hand side, and the colors look off. I admire the flashy way those Italians dress, though.