Olympus OM-D E-M5 User Report
By Floyd K. Takeuchi
I’m a professional documentary-travel photographer who was late to the digital party. It wasn’t until 2009 that I made the move from a Nikon F100 to the D700, which still soldiers on for me. A camera bag full of Nikkors made that decision easy, but so too did my high comfort level with Nikon ergonomics. My first Nikon SLR was a Nikkormat purchased in the early 1970s, so the transition to the D700 was a natural one for me.
Adding the E-M5 to my camera bag wasn’t as easy a move. I initially bought the body to use 1950s Zeiss Contax rangefinder lenses (with an adapter) that don’t get much of a workout these days. But I quickly discovered that while the output was beautiful, the process of manually focusing on an EVF didn’t suit me. So the decision was made to add the Olympus 17 mm f/1.8 M Zuiko and the Panasonic/Leica 25 mm f/1.4 Asph. DG Summilux. And I added the grip, which is the only way I could comfortably hold the camera.
The biggest challenge to adding the Olympus kit was fitting it into my post-production workflow. I use DxO as my RAW processor, and had to wait until both the camera body and lenses were supported by DxO. In fact, the biggest challenge to my using the E-M5 more is the hassles of having a separate RAW format to download – using Nikon’s ViewNX is second nature to me, using the comparable Olympus program is not. I’ve had to resort to YouTube videos on more than once occasion to remember how to use the program.
That said, I’ve been happy with the quality of the files produced by the E-M5 with the Olympus and Panasonic lenses. They are easy to post-process and hold up extremely well as prints (the largest I’ve had printed so far have been 16 x 20s), which is the critical test for me, as most of my work is done for use in either books or exhibitions. The only challenge I’m still dealing with is handling extremely high contrast scenes, since I’m finding that I have a tendency to blow out highlights. This is an issue for me since I do nearly all of my shooting in the tropics, either in Hawaii or closer to the equator in the Micronesia region, where high contrast light is a way of life.
If forum posts are to be believed, like many new users of the E-M5, I found it a real challenge to navigate the Olympus menu system. My solution was to have a quick-print shop print and bind the camera’s PDF manual, and spend about a couple of hours going through it page by page. Then, once I had a better understanding of what the camera could do, simplify things by only worrying about a few software features – ISO, RAW capture, and setting a dial to control EV. I shoot in aperture priority 99 percent of the time, and usually don’t fiddle with the other settings.
What I really like about the E-M5: the light weight makes a huge difference on travel assignments, and I can use a lighter-weight tripod when I need one; the prime lenses I’m using are outstanding, the results are easily comparable to the Nikkors I’m used to using and much smaller and lighter; the files are gorgeous and easy to work with in post-processing.
What I still find frustrating about the E-M5: I’ve come to the conclusion that I prefer an optical viewfinder and am still adjusting to an EVF (albeit a high quality one); and, when I do have to go into the menu, it can be a slow process.
I’ve used the camera for project and personal work in Hawaii, the islands of Pohnpei and Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia, and in Japan. It has only failed me once in the year-plus that I’ve owned the kit. That was on the island of Pohpnei, while shooting the ancient ruins of Nan Madol, a huge Venice-like city of homes and temples built of huge basaltic rock logs on a mangrove swamp. I’ve taken photographs there – film and digital – since 1976 and never had a problem shooting in the area.
The night before going into the Nan Madol area, I had dinner with a friend who has lived been on Ponpei for four decades. She told me and another friend about how her grandchildren had just taken an iPad into the complex, and when they got home and looked at their photos, they saw faces in the rocks. Our friend said she looked and also saw the faces. A few days later, after the grandkids posted the photos to Facebook, our friend went online to show others the faces in the rocks, and discovered that some of the faces had disappeared.
I didn’t find any faces in my photos, but after hiking through the ruins for an hour, as we were walking back to the main island, I decided to get a final few snaps of how the mangrove was overtaking ruins. That’s when I discovered that my camera had died – it wouldn’t take a photograph. I was using two fresh batteries, one in the grip and one in the camera. Both had been recharged the night before. And I had taken few than 50 photos at Nan Madol.
When we got back to our car, I loaded a new battery into the grip. The camera worked fine.
The author is a writer-photographer based in Hawaii. He is a member of the Waka Photos agency.
Hawaii01: Pualani Armstrong, Hawaii.
Hawaii02: Ka Iwi coastline, Oahu, Hawaii.
Hawaii03: Ka Iwi coastline, Oahu, Hawaii.
Japan01: Shidome district, Tokyo, Japan.
Priest, Kita-Kamakura, Japan.
Kepirohi Falls, Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia.