The Olympus OMD EM5…..a year on

It’s nearly a year since I decided to commit to the micro 4/3rds system as my principal camera and I went out and bought a black Olympus OMD EM5. All the reviews were very complimentary although at that time the camera was still in relatively short supply. I managed to track one down and a year on I have no regrets. To the contrary the camera, the lenses and the results have exceeded all my expectations.

Olympus OMD EM5 with Panasonic f1.7 20mm prime lens
Olympus OMD EM5 with Panasonic f1.7 20mm prime lens

I have never written a camera review in my life and I don’t want to start now, but it may be helpful to anyone who reads this entry to know why I have so much enjoyed using this system in the past 12 months.

Firstly it has to be the quality of the results. The 16mb sensor captures so much detail and A3 size prints are excellent. They helped me achieve my LRPS distinction back in December when they were viewed by a well qualified and experienced panel of judges; a seal of approval as far as I am concerned. I have yet to print larger than A3 but will be doing so in the near future, so watch this space. I do not use Auto ISO as I prefer to set this myself and  nearly always use ISO 200. I will push it to ISO 1600 if lighting conditions are poor or I need more depth of field and a faster shutter speed. The quality is still good but I have not used a higher ISO rating.  The fantastic built in 5 axis image stabilisation is worth at least two stops which helps to offset the need to resort to a high ISO anyway. A lower ISO of say 100 would be good but it’s not something I really miss that much.

Olympus OMD EM5
The camera, its great 16mb sensor and Part 1 of the HLD-6 hand grip

Secondly it has to be the range and quality of the lenses from both Olympus and Panasonic. I can only comment on the ones I have in my collection. Having committed to micro 4/3rds and the EM5 in particular, I have been fortunate in the last year to acquire a fine range of optics.

The camera was supplied with a kit lens – 12mm to 60mm f3.5 – f6.3 but I have to say I have hardly ever used it. It is splash and dust proof and does have a macro function but that is not my style of photography.  It came with the camera and if ever I sell or upgrade the EM5 then I assume it will help the sale. It’s a reasonable lens, so no real complaints but it’s no match for the lenses I am about to mention.

One of the main reasons I was drawn to the system was the choice of excellent prime lenses. I now have the Olympus 12mm f2.0, the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 and the Olympus 45mm f1.8. They are all great lenses. They are very sharp, fast to auto focus and with their large aperture openings can be used in low light conditions without having to increase the ISO to a very high setting. They are lightweight and keep the camera and lens combination quite compact. I still can’t decide if I like the silver finish of the Olympus lenses on the black body? It is of course down to personal preference – they do look smart, but they are not so discreet for candid work.

Micro 4/3rds prime lenses
A set of prime lenses
From left to right – Olympus f2 12mm, Panasonic f1.7 20mm and Olympus f1.8 45mm

As much as I enjoyed using all three prime lenses, the 45mm probably being my favourite, I did find there were occasions when a zoom lens would be more flexible in general use. So when Panasonic announced the addition  of the 12mm – 35mm f2.8 and the 35mm – 100mm f2.8 to their range, the temptation was too hard to resist. It was made particularly more difficult when I spotted a second hand (as good as new) 12 -35 in my local camera store at a really attractive price, certainly when compared to the cost of a new one. These two lenses are quite superb in my view. To my untrained eyes they are a match in terms of optical quality to the prime lenses, are just as fast to autofocus and whilst f2.8 may not as wide as the primes, it’s plenty wide enough for most situations. They are splash and dust proof and whilst they do add to the bulk of the camera they sit well on the EM5. Compared to their full frame equivalents they are tiny in both bulk and weight. Do read this blog entry for a comparison.

Panasonic and Olympus micro 4/3rds zoom lenses
Zoom lenses for Micro 4/3rds cameras
From left to right
Olympus 12-60 kit lens, Panasonic f2.8 12-35mm and Panasonic f2.8 35-100mm

Lastly I have the Panasonic 45mm – 200mm lens which I bought second hand from a fellow member of my camera club. The two Panasonic lenses mentioned in the previous paragraph were not available when I bought this lens and frankly it doesn’t get a great deal of use. I rarely have a need for the extra length, but there will be times when the additional range will be useful, so I will keep it for now. It doesn’t share the image quality of the other lenses but it’s still very good, it’s just that the others are superb.

Thirdly the size, weight and feel of the camera is just right. This will not be the same for everyone and there are times when the small size of the buttons can be a nuisance, but I would rather have a relatively compact and lightweight system and just accept there will be times when I hit the wrong button. I can’t recall ever missing a shot as a result and I am sure there are seasoned DSLR users who will have used the wrong control unintentionally. Once you have explored all the camera settings the EM5 is very configurable and I now have it set up just as I like it. It does take a little time but it is worth the investment and a little trial and error.The tilt-able screen is a real bonus and the built in electronic view finder (EVF) is very clear.

The tilt-able screen and some of the controls on the rear of the EM5

As far as accessories are concerned I have not used the detachable flash as I prefer to shoot in available light. I do though have the two part grip (HLD-6) and the first part stays on the camera 90% of the time. There is no question that it improves handling of the camera without adding too much extra weight or bulk. The second part of the grip houses the spare battery and provides extra controls for ‘portrait’ use. I don’t use it a great deal but when it is required it’s an excellent accessory. The spare battery on the other hand is essential, as the battery life is not that great compared to say the Nikon D90 DSLR which was my previous camera.

Olympus OMD EM5 with HLD 6 Hand grip
OMD EM5 with both parts of the HLD – 6 hand grip

Lastly I no longer need a large rucksack to carry all my gear, so I now have a Billingham Hadley shoulder bag which takes all I require for a days shoot, apart from a tripod of course. It’s a pleasure to use and I can happily fit the EM5, two part grip, both f2.8 Panasonic lenses and 2 or even all 3 prime lenses in the bag plus other bits and pieces, including an iPad.

Billingham Hadley shoulder bag and Olympus OMD EM5
Billingham Hadley Pro shoulder bag

Another big advantage is that I used to spend a lot of time reading reviews about the latest equipment. I am pleased to say this does not happen now, which frees up more of my time to take photographs and adding new entries to this blog – both of which give me far more pleasure!

I suppose the only draw back is the price. I do not dare to calculate the total cost but like most things in life you get what you pay for. My late father also told me to buy the best you can afford at the time. I am very fortunate and have been able to follow his advice and invest in a first class system, which is really enjoyable to use.

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