Errr… Well not quite a year, more like six months. I purchased the camera the first week of May 2012, after having had a series of tumultuous relationships and torrid affairs with the likes of; the Panasonic GF1, the Fuji X100 and the Sony Nex 7.
A revelation occurred for me with the Panasonic GF1, which I purchased shortly before a trip to Edinburgh and New Castle in the beginning of 2011. I was going to the UK for work, but did not need to bring my ‘main’ camera the Nikon D700. I wanted something light and simple, with good image quality. Not only did the GF1 surprise me, but it restored my enthusiasm for picture making. You see, I had fallen into a terrible slump upon returning from covering the Earthquake in Haiti. I had not made any pictures of personal value since. Seeing the situation in Haiti was deeply saddening, and making pictures of New York street photography seemed mundane and meaningless.
On my trip I began to slowly document my daily experiences in a new place. The GF1 always with me, in my coat pocket, with the Panasonic 20mm lens. The lens created beautiful tack sharp images, with a special look and the camera created nice files with bright colors and good dynamic range. I began to really enjoy framing pictures with the LCD and it restored my love for a kind of; ‘walking street meditation’, which had coaxed me into photography in the first place. I brought to NYC a bunch on nice pictures and a restored love for daily picture making.
From the first day the Fuji x100 was announced I waited with baited breath. I purchased one as soon as it was released. I thought it would be the answer to the digital Leica (the Leica that not even Leica could make) I had always wanted. A small compact camera, with beautiful styling, amazing files and manual controls. All of these turned out to be true. Yet, the camera was riddled with some of the quirkiest operation and bugs, not to mention the single worst AF and MF system I have EVER used. The camera simply would not focus in low light. This combined with a shutter release delay of about 1/4 sec in bright light, made me miss many shots and started to prevent me from wanting to pick up the camera. That said I did use the camera everyday, and after about 6 months the camera began to disintegrate, the EVF stopped working and the buttons became loose.
Next came the Sony Nex 7. Which had one of the most innovative controls system I have used. I loved how the camera was laid out, it’s shape and styling. The EVF was excellent and clear. However, the lenses were large and the available choice was poor. I managed with a Sigma 19mm, which was a nice sharp lens. I found the files from the Nex 7 excessively noisy and huge at 24MP. None of these were deal-breakers. When I found out you could not activate the EVF to always be on, that you had to rely on the automatic eye sensor which has a huge delay, I quickly sold the camera. This combined with no Auto Iso in Manual mode (!!!), and that the sensor would overheat after about 5-10 minutes in movie mode, and would shut the entire camera for 2-3 minutes, made me look for other options.
Olympus OM-D EM-5
So finally I came to Olympus OM-D. When I first saw leaked pictures of the camera, I thought to myself: ‘What an ugly hump!’. I tend to prefer ‘rangefinder’ styled cameras, but I do like the classic look of older SLR’s (i.e.; the Nikon F and FM2, the Pentax K1000, the Olympus OM series), and it seemed to me that they had ruined the refined lines of the OM series with that ugly snoz-of-a-bump. What I did not know at that time was that ‘under the hood’ was the 5-axis image stabilization. Which is the best image stabilization I have ever used. It simply works and gives me the opportunity to shoot pictures, handheld, that I would not have taken before. When recording video, the image stabilization is so effective, it creates a built-in steady-cam for hand-held shots.
When I received the camera, I was surprised at how damn small the thing is. That said, the build quality is excellent. The fit and finish of the camera; including the slightly raised grip, the thumb grip on the back, the solidity of the screen joint, and the top controls are all excellent. I really like the cloth (?) texture they have wrapped the camera with. My prized 20mm Panasonic lens, however, immediately caused banding in my first few test shots. Not to mention, it was a dog to focus. I swapped the 20mm for the 14mm 2.5, which eliminated the banding and sped up the focusing by a huge margin. The response of the camera; the shutter release, screen and EVF refresh rates all feel right. The camera has a nice heft to it, it feels like quality. Someone, somewhere, described the sound of the shutter as like; ‘a Bentley door closing’. I have never been in a Bentley, but I can assure you the sound is sexy.
All is not perfect however. The Olympus does have a few flaws. The controls on the back of the camera are a bit cramped and small. The Fn1 button is very hard to press (!) as it is awkwardly recessed. If you flick the controls too fast, they stop responding. This can be frustrating if you are trying to change settings quickly. I wish there were more movie modes, as you are limited to 30p. I wish you could change the size of the image focus box as it is too large right now (yes I know about the work around). It would be really nice to be able to change the direction of each control wheel independently, right now they are linked. You should be able to set a minimum shutter speed for Auto Iso in AV and TV modes.
The sensor and noise are excellent up to 800 iso. The noise becomes fairly noticeable after that. That said, I regularly shoot at 1600 and 3200 with no problem. The noise has a very special, almost organic or ‘film-like’, quality. I think it looks very beautiful. The roll-off, or ‘transition’ from the highlights to the next value down is very smooth, unlike most digital cameras. Most cameras render the highlight area as a clipped and isolated shape with hard edges. This flattens images, making it look flat, or 2-dimensional. This transition area, between the highlight and the next value, is one of the reasons film image quality is so prized. In my opinion, this is the area which so many prints from digital files fail…
Overall I extremely happy with the Olympus OM-D. I could see myself using the camera for a long time. The camera was bit small for my taste, but once I slapped-on the grip, it felt perfect in the hand. That said, the grip is an extra 300.00 dollars, which seems excessive, and I am not convinced of its quality. The the shutter button on my grip seems to be getting a bit sticky already.
The fold-out LCD has revealed to me a whole new and intuitive ways of shooting, very similar to a Rolleiflex or Hasselblad. The touch screen has also opened up new picture making possibilities. The image quality is excellent. The speed of the AF system outshines or equivalent cameras. I have added the 25mm Panasonic Leica lens as well as the 45mm 1.8 Olympus to my bag, which have both proven some of the best lenses, in their class, that I have ever used. I can not wait to try out the newly released 17mm 1.8 Olympus lens, as 35mm is my favorite focal length, and the snap-focus feature seems interesting.
I have talked plenty and I will let my favorite pictures from the year do the talking…