It has been a very exciting two weeks here at Paul Amyes Photography Towers. A little note from the Fed-Ex man turned up in the mail box saying he wanted to deliver me something. To say I was perplexed was an understatement as I hadn’t been bashing the plastic in an orgy of online shopping. So I dutifully walked up to the depot (its only 500m) up the road, and collected it. On getting it home I found inside a was a shiny new Olympus OM-D EM-10 (which shall just be referred to as the EM-10 henceforth) and an offer to have for long-term testing and evaluation. Woooohooo! A new toy to play with.
So two weeks later I’m siting down and trying to marshal my thoughts about the experience thus far. I think that I should give a little background. My first 35mm camera was an Olympus XA2 and since then I have owned OM1, 2, 4, 20, and 40’s, an XA4, an AF10, a C720 UZ and more recently an EP-2. I was shooting weddings professionally with my OM4 up until 2005 when one sad day it broke down and the repairman said there were no more parts to fix it. I then had an expensive dalliance with Canon, which no matter how hard I tried I could not turn into fully fledged relationship because the spark just wasn’t there. I’ve used other cameras and I really enjoyed them – Voigtlander Bessas, Pentax 645, Panaonic LX-5 all spring to mind, but I have to confess that the EM-10 is the first camera I’ve ever used that has made me want to hurl it across the room and then jump up and down on the pieces in sheer frustration. My EP-2 is my all time favourite camera to use. I accept its idiosyncrasies and can work round them because the whole process is so enjoyable. I use it as my travel camera and for multimedia projects. The EM-10 I thought would be an ideal replacement.
Well lets talk about the good stuff. The camera looks drop dead gorgeous and it feels just right in the hands. My father always used to say that I had hands like bunches of bananas yet this small camera feels just right. In fact it such a tactile experience I’ve found that I often just pick it up to fondle and just hold. I know, I know it just sounds so wrong, but for me a camera has to actually feel good in the hand. I like cameras that become transparent and don’t get in the way of taking photos.
Olympus when they introduced the 16Mp sensor with the EM-5 were onto a sure-fire winner. Its origins were, and still are hotly debated on internet forums and while most accept that it is from Sony a few diehards are like the Birthers in the US arguing that it comes from Panasonic. Personally I don’t care where it comes from, all I know is that the latest iteration in the EM-10 is very good. The dynamic range and the pixel amount are just about perfect for my needs. If you want more details then DXO or DPReview can shed more light on the technical aspects.
I very much like the EVF. When I bought the C720 UZ in 2002 I was convinced that EVFs were the future. The EVF in the EM-10 is not the same as the one in the flagship EM-1 or in the VF4, but it is better than the VF2 and the one in the EM-5. It is crisp, has a good refresh rate, and I find that I can focus manually quite accurately which is better than I can say for the viewfinders on many dSLRs. Where my EP-2 used to frustrate me was that I could not use the viewfinder and a flash, it had to be either or. I like having the EVF built in to the camera. Speaking of flash the EM-10 is the first in the series to have a pop up flash. I can’t see myself using it as a flash, but it can be used as a remote control for off camera flashguns and in that mode it works excellently and I can see myself using the function a lot when I start photographing orchids in spring. The rear screen is nice, it is the first tilt and touch screen that I’ve used and I like both features. The aspect ratio of the screen is 3:2 rather than 4:3 so you have black bars at the edges when shooting in the native 4:3 format. In the strong Aussie sun the screen is hard to see, I think this to do with it being a LCD rather than an OLED as in the other OMDs.
The 3 axis IBIS is a down grade from the previous models 5, but it works very well and the video below demonstrates that. With my 17mm f2.8 I’m able to get sharp images at 1 second which I find amazing. It works very well in video mode in conjunction with digital image stabilisation and it possible to capture steady video without the need for a rig or monopod. Many have poo pooed the video quality of Olympus cameras as being not suitable for serious work because there is only 30fps and a maximum bit rate of 24Mb/s in 1080p. Well I would have to say that while I do shoot a fair bit of video it is only destined for YouTube or converting to SD for DVDs that my elderly relies can play. So for those purposes it is more than adequate. The video clips below are straight out of the camera, nothing has been done to them apart from adding subtitles and a sound track. I’ve uploaded them to YouTube in 1080 so you can see what the camera actually produces. Any artefacts you may see will be a result of the compression YouTube uses. The only thing about the video function I don’t like is that there is nowhere to plug an external mic or recorder in. Yup no accessory port under the hot shoe and no 3.5mm socket. Bad Olympus, very bad!
Ok as I have just started with a fault I’ll move on to them. I like shooting HDR panoramas. I know many will consider that as a crime against humanity, but I like doing it. The EM-10 has both HDR and panorama modes. Can they be used in conjunction? NO! Ah well back to shooting them manually. I’ve programed the function button on my 12-50mm lens to turn exposure bracketing on. Nice it means I don’t have to delve deeply through the notorious Olympus menus. Not so nice is that the bracketing is still limited to 3 frame at -1, 0, and +1 EV. Come on Olympus it is 2014, your sensor has great dynamic range lets at least have 2 stop intervals.
Focus peaking is a very nice feature and it works very well, but as a default straight out of the box it will only work with native m4/3 lenses that have electronic contacts in the lens mount. I searched the manual and there is no mention of focus peaking with legacy glass. I searched the internet high and low and there seemed to be a great deal of confusion as to whether focus peaking could be activated with old lenses. After some fiddling around I found that if you assign a button to activate it you can use it with adapted lenses. Hoorah! But you can’t use it in video. Boo!
Speaking of the manual it deserves special mention. It should be held up as an example to all consumer manufacturers as an example of how not to write a manual. I wanted to test the new live composite function. I shoot a lot of night photos and this looked like it could really be good and save time faffing around in Photoshop with blending layers. Did the instructions tell you how to use it? No. Did Olympus Australia’s website shed any light on how to use it? No. After searching for ½ a day on the internet I found a photo forum in Singapore where one of its members had posted some shots using the function and enough information for me to work it out. Unfortunately since then the local farmers have been burning off their fields and the Avon Valley is choking to death on the smoke haze which means no clear night skies. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks I’ll be able to see the stars and photograph them.
I won’t say any more at the moment as I want to use the camera some more. However, I find the EM-10 to be a curious beast. Olympus is going after the first time DSLR buyer with this model, you know the people who buy something like a Canon Rebel or the Nikon equivalent because they want to be able take better pictures while on holiday, or photograph the kids sports day etc. Well both Canon and Nikon know that market very well and they sell their cameras by the boat load because they are relatively cheap, easy to use and can still satisfy the user as their skills grow. The EM-10 is a bit more expensive but thanks to the awful menu structure Olympus insists on continuing to use and poor instructions it is not easy to use. I have a feeling that there will be a lot of EM-10s for sale on EBay in six months time with a lot of frustrated buyers being either put off photography as a whole or buying something from Canikon. I think it is a great shame. The EM-10 could have the makings of a great camera, the sensor is terrific, it looks great, it handles well, but the user interface is absolutely appalling. I’m all for giving people the option of custom configuration, but on a camera targeted at the beginner who doesn’t know their f stops from their ISOs it is not as it just adds to confusion with such a frustrating UI. The EM-10 is like the curates egg – good in parts.