I have a confession to make – I’m a pretty boring photographer. Oh, I have a drawer stuffed full of lenses and other photo-related gear just like everybody else, but when it comes to actually taking photos, 90% of the time the lens on my camera is some sort of standard zoom. I started out with a 28-105mm (equivalent) lens, moved to a 24-120mm , went back and forth between a 24-70mm and a 24-135mm, moved back to the 24-120mm and finally last year ended up getting and using a 24-80mm equivalent in the form of Olympus’s recently announced m.ZD 12-40/2.8 Pro lens.
Most product reviews are made shortly after the product is released. The idea is to get the word out while the thing is still new, so people who are considering getting it have some idea of what they’re in for. The disadvantage is of course that some things become apparent only with the passage of time
So with the benefit of 14 month’s hindsight and more than 15,000 images since my original review, would I still choose the E-M5 as my primary camera? Has it lived up to expectations? My answer is below.
After being on a waiting list since mid September, I finally got my hands on Olympus’s new flagship camera, the OM-D E-M1, last Friday. This is not really a review as such, as I only used the camera for a couple of days. Here are my impressions, particular vis a vis my current camera, the E-M5:
Size and Appearance
The E-M1 is bigger than the E-M5, on account of the grip. On the one hand, it’s an ergonomic rubberized grip which makes the camera more comfortable with larger lenses, or for those with larger hands. On the other, it more or less ruins the classic profile of the camera and the increased size can be a nuisance with cases and bags. I wish they’d stuck with the size and styling of the E-M5 and made the bigger grip an optional add-on (like the E-M5).
Overall build quality seems slightly more solid. I gather that underneath there’s a much more extensive magnesive frame than the one the E-M5 had. In any case, it feels nicer in the hand.
As part of my attempt to puzzle out why Adobe Lightroom has been (comparatively) slow with my E-M5, I’ve taken a number of timings of different attributes. Among other things I’ve concluded that:
- There’s no significant difference in speed between versions 1, 2, 3 and 4.
- Import speed scales roughly linearly with image resolution – a file with 2x the megapixels will take approx. 2x the amount of time to import.
- Different RAW file formats generally don’t impact processing speed, with the exception of Fuji’s RAF, Olympus’s ORF and Samsung’s SRW. The Fuji and Olympus files are slower to process (roughly 150% and 60% respectively), and the Samsung slightly faster.
- Correcting for lens flaws – particularly in the case chromatic aberration, does cause some slowdown.
So I’ve been complaining for some time about the speed of Adobe’s Lightroom photo processing software.
I finally got around to doing some comparisons of import times, using files from different cameras. My initial thought was that the auto-correction used by micro 4/3 lenses was slowing things down on my recently acquired E-M5, along with larger files. To test that theory, I took 100 RAW files from a number of different cameras and lenses, and measured how long it took to import them and generate 1:1 previews.
I’ve been using Adobe’s Lightroom image processing software since pretty much the very first beta release to organize and edit my photos. On the whole, it’s a well laid-out application with a number of very useful features and it’s capable of producing excellent quality output. That said, using Lightroom has always been an exercise in patience. It’s simply not a very fast program. For bulk tasks like exporting JPEGs from RAW images, that’s not a problem – you get it started and go off and do something else. But when editing individual images starts to bog down, it’s a lot more frustrating.
The sluggishness has been particularly noticeable since I got my (16MP) Olympus E-M5 this summer. The files aren’t that much bigger than those from my older 12MP cameras, but for whatever reason, editing them has been a lot more painful. So in a fit of frustration, I finally broke down and ordered an SSD (solid state drive) for my main computer.
The biennial Photokina photography trade show is underway this week in Cologne, Germany, so quite naturally there have been a lot of new products being released, including camera lenses.
Or rather, there have been a bunch of announcements of products, many of which will not actually be released for months (or in a few cases, not for a whole year). Take the Schneider Optics for example. They announced 3 new lenses, to ship some time in ‘the fourth quarter’ of 2013. At the show what they displayed were essentially mockups (incapable of actually taking photos, or doing much of anything else for that matter).
Schneider was hardly the only one doing this. Panasonic ‘released’ one lens (official ship date unknown) and announced plans for two more, to be released in 2013-2014. Olympus released one lens, the 60/2.8 macro, that had been first announced in February of this year (projected actual ship date of October).
Timing in the world of electronics is a hard thing to get right. Be too early and your product is liable to be an expensive oddity to most. Be too late and you’re a ‘has been.’ And of course, it’s not as if it’s clear ahead of time where the rest of the world will be when you start working on a product.
This latter problem seems to be quite prominent in the case of the D600, Nikon’s newly announced full-frame digital SLR. On the one hand, it is, almost point for point, the camera many people, myself included, were demanding 2 years ago. 24MP full-frame sensor with good noise control. Check. Near $2k price-tag. Check Smaller, lighter body other full-frame cameras. Check. 100% coverage optical viewfinder. Check. Ability to capture high quality HD video. Check yet again.
So what then is the problem?
So I broke my self-imposed rule on Olympus products (no camera gear over $500 – they depreciate too quickly) in July and ordered the E-M5. My excuse to myself was that I had some trips scheduled where I really didn’t want to lug my 4 lbs+ DSLR on, but wasn’t quite comfortable with the quality and handling of my smaller Olympus Pen. Or something like that.
In any case, when the E-M5 arrived last week, I immediately put it to work, carrying it to a friend’s wedding and then on to Niagara Falls. It’s seen more than 1k shots now, enough at least for preliminary impressions.
The Olympus E-M5 is a very slick little camera. Indeed, the size is deceptive considering the large range of capabilities for the camera. As with most DSLRs and ILCs (Interchangeable Lens Compacts), the body is only half the equation when it comes to making images. The other half is the choice of lens. There are quite a few choices (more than 30 micro 4/3 mount lens models are currently available). That said, when one takes range, size, price and convenience into account, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a suitable option. Note that because of the size of the pixels (3.8 microns roughly), most lenses are sharpest between f/5.6 and f/8.0 and quality drops dramatically past f/11.