The Olympus OM-D E-M1 VS the rest of the industry by William Rappard

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The Olympus OM-D E-M1 VS the rest of the industry

by William Rappard

Photo gear biography: from Oly to Nikon

I have no real analog background, since I began “serious” photography only in early 2007 with an Olympus E-500 DSLR, Zuiko 14-54/2.8-3.5 (great lens) and a Sigma 55-200/3.5-5.6. Image quality from the sensor (8mp Kodak CCD) was terrible, ISO 400-800 being the sensible limit. But already then, this camera had an unusual ability to bond with its user.

I shot great pictures with this one and it taught me not to rely on super high ISO capabilities, but rather fine tune speed and aperture to get what I wanted. More so, it made me want to master it despite (or maybe thanks to) its limitations. However, when I compared my pics to others shot with Canon or Nikon enthusiast DSLR’s (20D/D70 by the time), high ISO’s were such a pity that my ego couldn’t take it. For the sake of comparison, the E-500 produced more (and uglier) noise at ISO 400 than a D7100 would today at ISO 3200/6400.

At that time, I posted my images on DeviantArt under the nickname “Ouylle” and got some very positive feedback, including a few “daily deviations” for those who know, and even winning a contest once with this picture which became a postcard for a charity cause:

Val d’Aniviers, Switzerland: The Cloud Factory Olympus E-500 @ ISO 100, 27mm, f5.6, 1/4000s

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Of course, as a complete geek, I had to try other cameras to figure out if a better IQ potential in low lights could enhance my photography. I entered the high ISO quest many of us know since the heroic ages of digital photography, but still pulled out nice pictures with my E-500.

I’ve tried other Olympus DSLR’s, such as the E-420 and E-510, which were in a certain way the ancestors of the E-M5 and E-M1 in terms of form factor, except for the vintage design. But neither of them could compete with their APS-C counterparts from the likes of Canon, Nikon, Minolta (already sensor-stabilized) or Pentax, despite Olympus offering some of the best glass around (remember the Zuiko 50mm macro f2 ?).

My father still owns his Nikon F from the 60s and always told me Nikon was the Rolls Royce of photography (I guess he never heard of Leica, but that’s another story). So when I received some amazing Nikkor glass from a cousin as a present (!), I gradually decided to switch from Oly to Nikon and got myself a D70s to play with.

Image quality, while mediocre by today’s standards, was stellar compared to my trustworthy E-500 and it’s Oly fellows. However, the newly announced and highly anticipated D300 became my next dream camera. As I was enjoying shooting my Nikkor primes, I quickly traded my D70s for a D300 and was blown away again by the IQ: ISO 1600 became very clean and ISO 3200 fairly usable. This sort of abilities became my benchmark in terms of IQ. At this stage, digital noise control was already better than with any high sensitivity film.

With a grip, a tripod and some other lenses such as a Sigma 10-20, Nikkor 20/2.8, 24/2.8, 50/1.4, 60 macro /2.8, the incredible 105/2 DC and AF 80-200/2.8 D, I thought I had the PERFECT kit for a semi-professional enthusiast.

At the time, I was shooting everything from paid jobs (weddings, corporate portraits, events) to holidays, club or street photography. I learned a lot (and earned good money) with this heavy, but reliable and high performance Nikon kit, covering everything from eq. 15mm to 300mm with great quality glass.

Switzerland: Fields.
Nikon D300 @ ISO 200, 10mm, f13, 1/250s

Photo 3

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Geneva: Right-before bride. Nikon D300 @ ISO 1600, 50mm, f2, 1/2000s

Photo 4

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Beirut, Achrafieh: View on the mountains from the balcony. – Nikon D300 @ ISO 100, 16mm, f10, 30s.

Photo 5

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Geneva, Usine Club: Happy cluber Nikon D300 @ ISO 250, 16mm, f13, 1/160 with SB800 flashgun

Photo 6

Back then, I was young, still fit, and my back was strong, all of which was required by the amount of glass and metal I had to carry around for my paid jobs and my own personal pleasure. Although the money earned as a semi-pro financed my appetite for new gear, shooting weddings, charity events or corporate portraits for money did not appeal to me enough to become my main job and eventually, I finished my law degree and became… a lawyer.

The photographer I remained: replacing the D300

Still, I LOVE photography and could not live without shooting and sharing my pics ! As a casual photographer, I love all kinds of photography. From portrait to architecture, streets to landscapes, holidays to everyday, there is always something in my sight that screams: “shoot me !!!”. When I hear the call and carry some gear, earth could stop revolving but I wouldn’t care less: I have to get that picture and if possible, get it right and be proud to show it.

Since my pro illusions are gone, I usually share my work on facebook (check me out: facebook.com/william.rappard), which isn’t very sexy and does not require more than a few megapixels. It may not be useless to recall that the D300 was only 12 megapixels, which is low today even by cell phones standards. However, those megapixels allowed me to execute many paid job and personal projects very efficiently.

I even made an exhibition once about an incredible trip in Senegal, and have been happy with the quality delivered by the D300’s 12mp for > 1 meter prints on canvas. Since then, I realized that outright pixel count was no faithful indicator of a camera’s real abilities in the big prints department. Shoot it right and it will look right.

At this time, the D300’s sensor was industry leading for those who wanted the performance and IQ, but not the bulk of a fully fledged full frame DSLR setup (or the cash for a Leica which, at that time, was less than convincing, high ISO wise).

On top of that, the bokeh I could achieve with the 60mm macro, the 105/2 DC and the 80-200/2.8 was fully satisfying and I remember saying I would never need to buy anything else for a very long while.

Here are three pics from my trip in Senegal which I believe are not too bad. The first one has been sold to a company on a 1.2 meter/ 80 centimeter canvas for a fair amount of money (financing an NGO in north-east Senegal) !

 

Senegal: They are into tires Nikon D300 @ ISO 800, 16mm, f5 1/20s

Photo 7

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Senegal: Just another kid Nikon D300 @ ISO 400, 60mm, f3.2, 1/80s

Photo 8

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Senegal: The gang Nikon D300 @ ISO 200, 24mm, f6.3, 1/80s

Photo 9

Quality wise, I remember thinking that for my needs, this kit was all I could ever want and I shot dozens of thousands of pictures with it, killed all the rubber grips and the camera just kept shooting whatever I threw at it. But boy, the whole package including 5-6 lenses was heavy !

The size, weight & IQ have-it-all quest: back to Oly

As a dedicated geek, I have tried MANY cameras since the Nikon D300, from Pentax K5 and it’s famous ltd pancakes (GREAT DSLR combo by the time) to the modern-vintage Fuji’s X-Pro 1 & X100 (superior image quality at the cost of slow general operation and somehow light built quality). As time went on, my priority was to reduce the weight and bulk of my kit in order to carry it with me as much as possible, while not going anything bellow my D300 in terms of IQ.

After trying many compact cameras to complement my Nikon/Pentax kits on the light side, I ended up buying a Ricoh GR which turned out to be the best pocket camera when a pocket is the only compromise you’re ready to make to lightness, but not at the cost of IQ and usability.

This camera is a gem of a compact in use, but you’re still stuck with 28mm and 2.8 max aperture. It will pull out some bokeh if shot close to the subject, but don’t expect too much in this department, given the focal length.

As for my full kit, Nikon and Canon (and to some extent Pentax and Leica) have failed to deliver a crucially lighter and more effective alternative to my “historic” D300 package at a fair price. Pentax’s attempt (K5 + pancakes) was nice, but still not light enough, when packed with lenses covering all my needs.

This was until Olympus, the brand which bonded me to photography with their slow AF/bad ISO/small viewfinder E-500, released the OM-D EM-5 powerhouse, which I brought, immediately loved and equipped with a bunch of nice primes.

It served well, shot right and reliably but yes, the buttons were small and the viewfinder, although great, was still small and not as enjoyable as an optical device such as the D300’s/Pentax K5’s. Despite these relative flaws, I LOVED shooting it as it always delivered what I expected in any given light conditions.

The grip (which secondary horizontal shutter actually broke after heavy use) made it really nice to hold and quite pleasant to look at as well. As with my old E-500 and my fantastic D300 kit, I was finally bonding with another camera system, except for a few niggles on the body side. Best of all, the image quality was clearly on par, if not better than the D300’s and the 5 axis stabilizer and small pin sharp lenses were blessings.

A whole package covering anything from eq. 24mm to eq. 150mm between f1.4 and f2 AND fitting a VERY small Think Tank bag was breathtaking compared to my DSLR’s ! I could finally use quality gear AND walk around with it not worrying about my back !

From landscapes to street photo all around the world, the E-M5 was (nearly) everything I wanted but…

Ireland: Draw-me a coast. Olympus EM-5 @ ISO 200, 12mm, f8, 1/500s

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Basel: layered expectations – Oly EM-5 @ ISO 400, f5 1/10s

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Cambodia: passing by… Oly E-M5 @ ISO 200, 25mm, f3.5, 1/400s

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Bangkok: legs & shapes Oly E-M5 @ISO 2000, 75mm, f4.5 1/160s

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Replacing the EM-5

Its time had come. Until the E-M5, I had never had such a high hit rate, but it was not “ultimate” enough in its handling. It’s niggles couldn’t be forgiven in a long-term relationship with a power user. The buttons and the viewfinder were just not as enjoyable as they should be on an ultimate camera.

The wait has not been too long before many amazing products began to ship from Panasonic, Olympus and Sony all offering nice occasions to spend some cash for the better. All the new releases in the prosumer market out-perform my D300 benchmark in terms of IQ, which ceased to be a crucial criterium of choice. The high ISO quest had ended.

What about full frame ?

One of my very best best friend recently posted a contribution about his switch from Leica to Sony. Didier Godmé, who’s been the instigator of my photographic passion, has always been craving for full frame cameras. He owned a Canon 5DMarkII and a Leica M9, two of the very best full frame cameras released at their times.

Let’s put this straight right away: the full frame rendering is magnificent and no smaller sensors will probably ever equal it. It is incomparable to what a micro four thirds sensor could deliver, due to it’s physical limits. This is particularly true with a fast 35mm (or equivalent) lens. Stick one of those amazing 1.2’s on a Leica M240, Canon 5DMark III, Nikon Df or Sony A7r and you will get the very best potential image quality in the industry for such combo.

Therefore, except for very small details (all of which can be played around in Lightroom and RAW), most of you won’t choose apart from these fabulous full frame cameras based upon sheer IQ, but mostly on their usability, depending on your shooting style and what you will do with your images after you shoot them.

In my opinion, this demonstrates that usability is not only a major argument in favor of a camera over another. It’s probably the ONLY acceptable argument, provided, for my needs, the chosen camera allows a beautiful > 1 meter print at ISO 3200 in color or 6400 in B&W, which settings correspond to more than my most ambitious needs to date.

At the end of the day, all full frame cameras listed above meet this technical requirement more than well, as also do many NON full frame. Conclusion: as much as I adore full frame rendering, I don’t NEED it to be moved by a picture.

If your skills are bad, full frame won’t save the picture. If your skills are good, full frame will enhance the picture’s looks, but will never be the sine qua non condition of your picture’s overall quality, contrary to your eye and your ability to translate what you see in the picture.

On the contrary, when I’m moved by something I observe, I DO NEED to be able to shoot it the best possible way. The camera should NEVER stand in the way because it’s too slow or suffers a sluggish conception or is too noisy. Period.

As of today, in my view, no complete kit based around any full frame camera currently in the market is the best possible tool for my kind of spontaneous and compulsive shooting.

For my needs however, there is now one kit that fits the whole bill. Yes, each and every of my NEEDS are now covered by this equipment. A nice break, if not an end, in my long quest for the best possible complete enthusiasts’ photo kit.

The OM-D E-M1

First, the IQ. As I said, the E-M1 is NOT on par with likes of Fuji APS-C or the latest full frames for potential outright high ISO/narrow DOF/high resolution image quality, solely due to it’s sensor’s size. However, global IQ of an actual image is basically the result of four things:

The sensor;

The lenses;

The light conditions;

The eye of the operator.

On the sensor, the Oly cannot compete due to size. Right. However, it undeniably performs well until ISO 6400 in color and B&W, which is way good enough for me, even when I pixel peep (which I confess I do !). Sensible Lightroom processing (which I use) will greatly improve things if I’m not happy with the OOC images.

On all other factors, as much as the technical side is concerned, it just rules badly over ANY rival on the market. Zuiko prime lenses are notably mind blowing, dare I say next to the likes of Leica or Zeiss if maybe less character-full. Throw in IS, fast AF, size and weight and they become dangerously close to industry leading.

Get a grip and the Zuiko 12/2, 17/ 1.8, Pana-Leica 25/1.4, Zuiko 45/1.8, 75/1.8 along the pro 12-40/2.8 zoom, stuff the whole gently in a smallish Retrospective 7 Think tank bag and stare at what this small and light package represents in terms of photographic opportunities. Very few things you can’t achieve with such a small kit, don’t you think ?

If you think the telephoto range and bokeh are on the weak side, I don’t. Remember my old Nikkor 105/2 DC ? With an adapter, that baby gets me an equivalent 210mm with an f2 aperture and “defocusing” abilities. Feel free to compare this combo to other offerings in terms of size, weight and equivalent speed and you’ll realize this is unique in the industry. Believe me, this piece of glass has character when mounted on the E-M1 ! And guess what: there is enough room in the bag for it too !

I would love to mention the Voigtländer f0.95’s, but I don’t own any… What I can mention, however, is the best image stabilizer money can buy. Bare hands, the Oly IS set behind any of the aforementioned glass makes you feel like you can capture more light than actually available, even in a dark street by night. In my eyes, this unique feature alone more than compensates for the lower high-ISO abilities of the Oly’s sensor.

With such a kit, you can capture light in any conditions with your own two hands. On a tripod, you can use the live time functions to see your image appear while it’s being shot… looking at your cell phone ! This little Oly let’s you tailor craft your image, whatever the light conditions. The following pictures have all been shot in Geneva in various occasions:

Law Firm
Oly E-M1 @ ISO 200, 26mm, f3.2, 1/160s

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From my heart to you Oly E-M1 @ ISO 6400, 75mm, f3.2, 1/50s.

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Wifed
Oly E-M1 @ ISO 5000, 105mm f2 DC f2, R4.

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Omega Seamaster Chrono Diver’s 300m, a.k.a “the Blakexpedition” Oly E-M1 @ ISO 400, 34mm, f6.3, 15s


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Very un-twins !
Oly E-M1 @ ISO 250, 12mm, f2.8 1/40s

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Through there, eye Oly E-M1 @ ISO 5000, 23mm, f11

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Runner under the moon Oly E-M1 @ ISO 1000, 34mm, f1.8, 1/30s

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The Courtyard Oly E-M1 @ ISO 100, 12mm, f16, 1800s

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My love Oly E-M1 @ ISO 6400, 20mm, f2.8, 1/40s

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Geneva Airforce Oly E-M1 @ ISO 100, 105mm, f2, 1/400s

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End of Automn Oly E-M1 @ ISO 200, 105mm, f2, 1/1600s 

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Waiting

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Oly E-M1 @ ISO 3200, 21mm, f3.2

No offense to Sony fans but to tell the truth, I didn’t feel the same willingness to gather light so steadily using Didier’s new A7r, nor… any other camera. For me, the A7r’s shutter sound kills it in terms of discrete shooting and I don’t feel the same urge to shoot in low light. Nikon and Canon’s DX cameras are way too heavy when fully equipped. Fuji’s hit rates are way too low. APS-C DSLR’s are not better in terms of IQ, and despite their optical viewfinder, they are worse at pretty much anything else.

Which brings me to the E-M1’s viewfinder. The Oly’s exceeds all reasonable expectations one would have in this area for a digital device. It’s huge, crisp, doesn’t lag (the Sony does) and although it can provide visual peaking for manual focusing, it’s good enough to do without. 

Is it a better experience than looking through a Df’s full frame optical viewfinder ? No. Is it a worse tool than the Df’s or… the M’s ? Oh no ! It’s not romantic, but it never get’s in the way of pleasure. And let’s face it: previewing the result before triggering is a gorgeous cheat indeed.

Build quality and design, although industrial, is at least as good as Leica’s or professional grade Canonikons, while being, in my opinion more comfortable in hands than any of those when used with the vertical grip. Design is a matter of tastes, but to mine’s, it’s how the ultimate shooting tool should look like today. 70-80’s golden age design and size, plus modern controls, a grip and a tiltable screen. Seriously how was it supposed to be better ? By altering the power switch’s place and that’s pretty much it.

Many have already praised the qualities of Oly’s new flagship. I’ll go a step further and say that, in my opinion, a full kit based on this baby may well be… the best photography kit ever made available for the masses. The whole set costs barely more than Leica, Nikon or Canon’s flagships… body only.

In conclusion…

For full frame lovers already equipped with Leica glass, the Sony A7r is an absolute must, but for the rest of us, it’s Olympus all the way. No other camera than the Oly OM-D E-M1 and it’s stable of fine glass gave me so much pleasure in capturing life around me, day after day since I got them.

Whatever you shoot, any combo based on this baby will nail it just right, provided it’s setup the right way. The keep rate is far superior to my old D300 (past reference), due to this godsend blazingly fast and deadly accurate AF, which will never ever suffer from front/back focus issues (unless I decide to use the DF function of my brave old Nikkor 105).

For manual focusing fans, no problem. It has focus peaking, provided you even need it despite the huge viewfinder… Take it for what it’s worth, but you could shoot Leica glass on this baby and I’d be curious to see how a fast 50mm would performs on it at an equivalent of 100mm.

The OM-D E-M1 gives access to what may be the best system ever conceived for 98% of enthusiast/pro photographers having enough cash to afford it. As a system, it has no competition. Period. In my opinion, as far as the price/quality/weight/size ratio of a whole functional kit is concerned, Olympus has become an industry leader.

If I’d had one request, it would be about the menu system and the looks of the indications in the viewfinder, which I find terrible compared with the A7r. I don’t see any reason not to work this out through a firmware update and actually really look forward to it. Of course, I could use more megapixels to do some crops, but having the menus and viewfinder info fixed is a priority which should not wait the next product release to see the light of day. However, this cosmetic imperfection is by no means a deal breaker.

Unfortunately, Olympus don’t pay me to praise them… 😉 Nevertheless, it is a firm which, like Apple in the end of the nineties, has understood early what most quality-conscious customers really wanted and worked hard to deliver a product that fits the bill.

I know I sound like an Olympus fan boy and that’s probably what I am. However, I must say this company stuns me. When they came out with the 4/3 concept, everyone laughed and indeed, the output could be terrible. Today after every possible technical and financial difficulty, they show the way to the rest of the industry by giving us what we really want at a price that we are ready to pay.

With such a kit as mine, everyone trying hard and having an eye could become a professional, from a purely technical point of view. To my opinion, this is a small revolution in the industry !According to my standards, such a performance is pretty admirable nowadays. Cheers Oly !

Last word: do I shoot better pictures with the OM-D E-M1 than I did with the E-500, D300 or E-M5 ? No. I still believe I shot my best pictures with these cameras. Do I feel I could shoot my best pictures with the OM-D E-M1 in future years ? Oh yeah ! Did I have the same feeling with any other camera I tried ? Nope.

In my humble opinion: Olympus: 1; the rest of the industry: 0.

Cheers ! Thank you for reading !

(Steve’s full Olympus E-M1 review is HERE)

 

194 Comments

  1. Hi William, I see the article is a few years old but I have to say that your article was a really nice read. Very nicely written and still highly relevant.

    I can relate particularly well. I too started with FourThirds (an e-500, then a panasonic L1), then moved to a Pentax K10, then back to FourThirds with an E3, then to Nikon FX (D700) for low-light performance, then to M43 with the EM5 with which I would shoot mainly concerts and street photography, then back to Nikon FX (D800e) for professional wedding and corporate work… and… it’s like I always find myself always going back to Olympus.

    Again and again and again – to the point that for several months now, I’ve been considering ditching Nikon altogether and just complementing my existing M43 system with an EM1 MkII and some more glass.

    Forums, blogs, social media, magazines… everyone loves to compare specs. OK, sure specs can be relevant but it’s hardly just about the specs. A great part of the result of any particular shot is the photographers experience shooting it – and it’s amazing how often that’s overlooked.

    There’s something special about shooting these OMD bodies (and PenF too?), I guess in not too different a way to shooting Leica… to me, it’s like these cameras are art, I don’t know for sure what it is, but the funny thing is that whatever it is, in a strange way, the people you’re photographing feel it too.

    Anyway, thanks a million for posting this. I loved the article. Cheers,

  2. I sold my FX to get the OMD E-M1 with 12-40mm f/2.8. I am not a pro, as I do something elso for living – but I love taking pictures and I use my camera as much as I can. Tomorrow will my M1 arrive and am so happy to start using it – do you, recommend RAW ?I have no experience with Oly, as I was a Nikon user and used to shoot just RAW. Do you shoot Raw or is Jpeg enough in the Oly world ?Thanks for feedback and thank for your articles

  3. Your blog post is supremely readable.. attractive writing style, content, informative, thought provoking. As proven by the high number of comments. So many blogs provoke no comments, so you are doing a lot right. Bravo. I loved the pictures that I recognised from Geneva; I spent 11 years there till 2013. Thanks

  4. I really liked your article as I’ve had a similar gear start and transition. I honestly switched to Olympus again after the D300 because I just felt that Oly SHG glass quality is by far the most competitive, if not the best in the business. Is there a place where there are direct comparisons of the same class/type of glass from Nikon/Canon/Oly? It seems that when people make comparisons it’s always Nikon vs. Canon equivalent lineups but I rarely see a 3-way with Oly. Not that I will only stick to Olympus, but if another manufacturer creates a better lens of the same use and focal length then I would buy a new body just for that lens.

  5. You have a terrific eye. These are some of the most pleasing and original images I’ve seen in awhile. “Cloud Factory” is incredibly creative and original. Thanks for the post.

  6. William,firstly great shots! After starting with a manual camera in 1993, I have shot the canon 20d, 1d, the nikon d700 and a leica m9. Loved that last one to bits but unfortunately was stolen. Recently, after much research I bought the olympus mod em1 and I have to admit, it gives me 95% of the IQ compared to the M9, sometimes even more. The only thing I miss is the rangefinder style of shooting and the beautiful craftmanship and form factor of the m9.

  7. William. I own an EM1 and agree with u 100%. I also own a Sony A7. But I suspect Sonys new A7 series will evolve to a better system in the future matching closer to that of the EM1 performance. Their ability to place a full sized sensor in a body the size of the EM1 is impressive and ethe ventual improvement of focus, image stabilization and performance will not end your gear search at the EM1. In fact I can now sadly see the potential and eventual death of M43rds when other companies start releasing the same full sized sensors in smaller mirror less bodies. My guess is Fuji will be the next. And 2 years from now, many many others. Why then would any serious photographer go for M43rds. Sad to say.but today and for now, it IS a FANTASTIC unit and I love it.

    • On the surface I agree with your comment even more so 2.5 years on. However depth of focus would be one reason to go for the smaller sensor. Shallow DOF I yearned for with my E-M1 until I realised its an Achilles heel. I can employ it with the 25mm f0.95 but more often than not im after greater depth of focus.

  8. The D300 pictures are really good. I think they are even better that the other pictures in the article. Quite surprising from an “old” camera…

  9. I had a D300, fantastic camera as your photos demonstrate. I had an EM5, and though I loved the stabilization , the pics always felt flat and noisy and the camera small and fiddlely even in my small hands. I’ve held and played with the EM1, and I have to say I’m very attracted to it as a piece of kit. It feels and operates fantastic, but again, looking at the output , the pics seem flat to me …. From a pure gear perspective I so much want to love that camera, but to me IQ is the deal breaker.

    • Hi Crinosil. +1. I have just compared quickly my pics from yesterday’s Chrismas party (happy holiday greetings to all !) which were partly made with a Panasonic GM1, 20mm 1.7 Pancake and partly with an A7r with the 55mm 1.8 and the Minolta 50mm 1.4. You don’t need much guessing about which picture originated from which camera. The output from the A7r is just in another league. The GM1 has similar output to GX7 which has similar output to E-M1, I guess? Still I love the GM1 for IQ per size ratio. – just my 5 cents. rgs Christian

      • Well, a 36 megapixel full-frame sensor is going to outperform anything else on the planet outside of a Phase One, or a Hassey, or 4×5, certainly.

        No replacement for displacement, and I’ve made this point myself many times.

        But I would argue that ― for their size ― the top-of-the-line M4/3 cameras perform remarkably well. With a top-notch lens that has the appropriate FOV and DOF for the subject; proper lighting technique; and good shot discipline, M4/3 can provide some truly outstanding results.

        Neil Buchan-Grant’s work with the OM-D E-M1 amply proves that point, I think >> http://buchangrant.com/blog/?p=1679

  10. Great article. Hits home for me. I have had a similar journey. Olympus E300 to Nikon D300 then Fuji, Sony, A7. I agree with everything, but different conclusion. I looked hard at the Olympus EM-1, but I have to say, for the pure IQ, for the kind of photography he is showing — look again at the Nikon Df. After only a week with a Df, the natural light, even dim light images can be amazing. (For size–nothing touches the OMD, but small Nikon primes come close!) I am curious if others have had similar experience. This is a great site!

  11. It’s the image that makes a photo or any piece of art, what it does to the person viewing it, not the IQ, grain, dpi,softness or whatever, the image and what emotions and feelings it invokes, a phone camera, or a scientific electron microscope, the images not what they are shot on is the important issue. Good honest article, unlike some of those that commented.

  12. William. Congratulations to your very well crafted report. It was a joy reading it. I’ve gone for an A7R and a Panasonic GM1 (m43), My needs for ultimate Image Quality and Size are fulfilled through this combo ! I owned the E-M1 for a few days and fully agree that it’s a great overall package with many strengths and no real weaknesses. As it’s a matter of choices and I value more final “image quality” than “final usability” (the A7r is no slouch, but far from being as fast/usable as the E-M1), I sold the E-M1 and bought the A7r. Tonal depth and dynamic range are clearly better with the Sony. Overall the pictures are richter and smoother which is not something you can put your finger easily on. The differences are beyond “DOF”. It’s somehow in between lines. As I can see by your pictures, you are fully capable of creating great shots without “ultimate” image quality gear. When ability, good gear and joy come together, it’s more than enough to create some nice pieces of art. (by the way I love the Panasonic GM1 with a 20mm 1.7 Pancake lens). Greetings from the other side of Switzerland.

    • Many thanks for this kind comment ! I fully agree on the A7r’s IQ: simply unmatchable. Not only for the DOF, but more for the smooth and subtle transition between on and off focus areas.

      Cheers !

  13. I too went to Nikon from Olympus, but I doubt I’ll return. Although I loved the E5 with 50-200, the ability of the Nikon’s to draw detail and quality from the raw images is astounding, I went from D200 to D300 to D600 and each time the quality improved, but not the weight(!). However just recently to get that mythical Olympus colour I have bought an old E-1, so I truly can’t let go.

  14. William, I really enjoyed your article! I too have been looking into other options for my Canon DSLR. It started with a Sony NEX3 (ok, but slow having to dig around in all of the menus). Then I got myself an Oly E-P3 and Panasonic GX-1. Love them, especially the E-P3, but again too slow for anything moving fast. Recently I had the opportunity to pick up the OM-D EM-5 and really love it! I’m still working with it and so far so good, the only thing I have to try is really fast moving objects (airplanes). I’m writing about it on my website – http://www.upatdawnphotography.com if you’re interested. And if you are reading this Steve, thanks for a website, I always find something interesting here!
    Thanks again for a great write-up William!

  15. I started with an F2 with a Nikkor 105 mm in high school. I sold it to get a trumpet (music and photography…ahhh…) I got at OM-1 with the Zuiko 28 and 100 mm lenses in college and kept them for 17 years before going back to Nikon. Now all I can say is that the D700, the Zeiss 100 mm f2 macro, and the Nikkor 80-200 f2.8 AFS are excellent but beasts. I was a bit dismayed at having to buy a bigger Domke bag and still having to pick and choose which lenses to take. And my back…not to mention being rather conspicuous with a D700 and either the Zeiss lens (which I absolutely love and stays on the camera) or especially that huge 80-200 zoom. They make it hard to blend in and not be called “paparazzi” at graduation parties or such.

    I have looked at the NEX series for the last couple of years and thought and thought and thought…but something held me back.

    Now my old friend Olympus has burst in on me with the EM-1 and M. Zuiko lenses, IS, etc. any doubts about sensor size have been dispelled by just looking at the images on this blog. Now all my Nikon equipment is on its way to be traded for an EM-1 and assorted lenses – and I cannot wait. I definitely bonded with that old OM-1, so I have high hopes.

  16. Hi William!
    I just wanted to give you and everyone else who shoots the EM-1 a headsup, Capture One Pro 7.16 is out! I now has support for EM-1 one and the rendering of the RAW-files are marvellous! You really must download the trial version from http://www.phaseone.com/en.aspx? if you own an EM-5 or EM-1. Developing your ORF-files in a superb rawconverter is like upgrading your camera. I have been using LR5.3 since I also have Adobe Creative Cloud but WOW, Capture One Pro blows LR5 out of the water when developing the files! You reallyu owe it to yourselves to at least try it.
    Have a great holiday you all!

  17. Great commentary, and great pics. However, I find that the Oly pics are conspicuously not as clean as the D300. That is normal, but, to me, unacceptable.

    At the same time light (the weight) is key. So, my choice will remain with an APS-C camera as full frame really requires bigger lenses. I am waiting for the replacement for the Sony Nex 7 to be announced soon (I hope), and will decide between it and the Fujifilm X-E2. In the meantime, still slugging it out with a Nikon D7100.

    Best,
    GeorgeP

    • “…I find that the Oly pics are conspicuously not as clean as the D300…”

      I don’t think these images are representative of an accurate technical comparison.

      The difference in size between M4/3 and APS-C is not that great (not nearly as great as the difference between APS-C and full frame). Moreover, the D300 is almost 7 years old now, ancient in sensor technology terms; only sports 12.3 megapixels; and has an anti-aliasing filter.

      The E-M1 sensor has more resolution; eliminates the AA filter; and is much, much newer. I would actually expect it to outperform the D300 in IQ.

      So the differences you’re seeing probably have more to do with the user and image selection than the gear.

  18. Great article and quite impressive photos!

    In general, I agree with you, but it´s always an individual decision, which equipment to use. Instead of buying the EM1, I prefer a combination of OMD-EM5 and Sony Alpha 7R. The reason: I`ve got some old Leica lenses (R and M) – as you say: for those the A7R is a must.
    With these lenses, I did comparisons between Leica M (Type 240) und Sony A7R and found that the M performed better with wide angle lenses, especially M-mount, and especially at the edges and corners of the pictures, but the A7R was better especially with telephoto lenses, especially R-Mount-lenses and especially in the center of the pictures (which is nothing new with reference to public reviews of the Alpha 7R). Since the latter is more important for me than the former, I kept the A7R and returned the M to the dealer. And I kept the EM5 and did not change to the EM1, because I am satisfied with its features, especially its IQ.The EM5 is useful especially as a sort of teleconverter with built-in image stabilizer: with a Leica Vario-Elmar 4/80-200, I got the best results with the EM5 compared to Leica M and Alpha 7R either.

  19. Well, all this sounds familiar! Back in 2005, i got a job on South America for a year (Fabulous Ecuador!). At that time, i was only shooting with a Nikon FM3a along with a 50mm 1.4. I was happy. I was also working (before going to Ecuador) in a big Montréal camera store. I got curious and got sponsored by Olympus and their new E300 with the weird porro finder, which i found interesting and innovative. Having both cameras with me, i ended up using only the E300 all along the trip. End of film for me. When i got back, i made an exhibition of my reportage work i had done with the indigenous people of Ecuador and it travelled a fair bit. The images shown were 18X24 inches printed lambda 400 dpi (2 passes), and even today, i still think they are quite good and clean technically, even if the quality of the sensors back then was not that good. When back, i had to give back the E-300 to Olympus, so i got myself the D70s, thinking that Nikon probably had the better product over Olympus technically, that i did not kept for long. I did not like the built quality and some other issues. I then got the D200, and that was the time i went from Paris to Istanbul by road in 5 months. I made some incredible pictures with rumanians, turks, czech people, with this camera and the Tamron 18-50 2.8. But the color handling was a bit off, especially in the blues, violets and reds. I came back, sold the D200 and got… the D300! My camera for the next 4 years after that, with the Nikon 17-55mm 2.8. Travelling South West USA in the dirt, hiking the mountains of British Columbia, Sea kayaking in the St-Lawrence river and the Atlantic, etc. I work for travel guides publishing houses around the world, so depute being careful and loving with my kit, a camera need to withstand elements. I’ve done everything with this kit… Until it began to stay home. A bit big, on the heavy side, etc. I got a Lumix LX-3. Which i barely used, since i would regret a shot if i had not my real camera… So i made a very difficult decision : I sold it for the X-Pro 1 Fuji. I was not sure, but i liked the design and idea behind it, and it was the closest thing to what i was looking for, so i jumped. I regretted it. It is not that well built, no weather sealing (it prevented me to use it when it rain or while kayaking), but gave very good images… when it wanted. The overall speed and responsiveness was awful, and even if Fuji seemed to have fixed the AF speed in some way, the accuracy was still terrible, despite the camera saying focus was locked on the element you were aiming at. You said in your text that you had a very low keeper rate. The same. The frustration of seeing a good image on the screen, then onto the computer, it looked like focus was locked somewhere in the background, not very far off, but just far enough to be very much ruined. I sold it. Then came along the EM-1, and i could copy paste what you wrote. It can difficultly be more what i was long searching for as a balance between IQ, usability, built quality, handling, no compromise product. I feel quite relieved since i got this camera. It sounds like the search is also over for me for a while… 🙂
    Again and also, a camera does not make a better photographer, but it is still an extension of your senses and you must love this extension so it gets into you, in some ways. I have still to test it extensively, but i am sure the “ombilical cord feeling” i had with the D300 will get back with this beautiful EM-1 too!
    Thank you for your post!
    Ty

    • Dear Thierry

      Besides how amazing are the similarities between both our gear bio’s, there is something I need to say: how do you become a travel guide photographer ? I’d LOVE to do that, at least on a part time basis !

      Given your name, would you by any mean speak french ? I’d like to keep in touch with you ! My facebook contact is : http://www.facebook.com/william.rappard.

      I’d love to see your work !

      Best regards and many many thanks for your through comment !
      Will

  20. Dear Steve,
    You should try comparing these precious little lenses with the original, genuine Olympus Zuiko Digital High Grade Zoom lenses. I did. Shocked.

    PS. Don’t try compare that 17/1.8. Believe me.

  21. Well….I have to agree that the images from the 300D are superb. But that reflects years of ownership and untold numbers of images from which to choose. So in all fairness, given that the E-M1 has only been available for a couple of months (October?) you haven’t really had the same number of opportunities for spectacular image making. By no means and I taking anything away from the E-M1 images, I am just saying that you probably have much fewer images from which to share your best work.

    I really enjoyed your discussion, because when I made my decision to purchase the E-M1, I was drawn into considering a mirrorless system by the announcement of the A7r. But when I started thinking about workflow issues (file sizes), and the sizes/weight of equipment and then ultimately availability of lenses, I found myself looking at the E-M1. I understand all the FF benefits, but for me it is about useability and all the reading I have been doing have confirmed that for those that love photography, and the enjoyment of creating images, this is a great system to get. For me, this is what I get from your article. I will get mine at Christmas when I return home to the US.

    I live at the other end of Lac Leman and your image of the Geneva Air Force resonated with me. Yes, the sky could have had more color and made a better image, but that is the sky we have had since October it seems.

    Thank you.

    Sincerely,
    John

    • Many many thanks for your feedback ! I hope you’re having a nice time in Switzerland !

      Indeed, the sky was awfully white when I shot the Geneva Airforce… Unfortunately, the E-M1 doesn’t let you control the weather ! 😉 But appart from this annoyance, you’ll enjoy it a lot !

      Best regards !

  22. I didnt read the whole article but I really like the images you took with the D300.

    Regarding weight issues…How many lenses do you really need to bring? And is it really that heavy?

    • My complete bag (the sort of equipment I WANT to have i.e. when I go on a trip abroad that I know I won’t have many more occasions to shoot again in the future… or for casual family matters ! 😉

      Nikon: more than 10kilos for the whole set.
      Oly: less than half of this weight.

      Even for trivial airport carrying matters, the difference is precious ! Did I mention I could also fit a Mac Book Air in the Oly kit bag ?

      The amount of glass I needed to cover my needs is detailed in the article, both with Oly & Nikon, but I’d say 5-7 lenses: fast primes for lightweight and unobtrusive specialised walking-around. And one or two 2.8 zooms when I’m not sure about what I’ll need and want to keep it light.

      I hope I answered your question !

      Best regards !

      • William, if you’re still reading comments on this article, outstanding article thanks!!

        I (like many others obviously 🙂 am choosing a next portable system, hoping it can also be my main system as well, do this article is very timely.

        This weight comparison in particular is really helpful.

        It seems like the answer for a portable kit is pretty clear…

        Unfortunately, for me at least, the answer to whether the E-M1 can/will be my main kit for non-travel or customer paid travel is less clear – I do love the look of the FF images I’ve seen… of course, some of that may be down to the lens ‘character’ (as you called it).

        For reference, I’m considering a relatively compact FF such as the Canon 6D (or Nikon 610). Of course the body size doesn’t help with the lens size…

        So here’s my question: Are you able to, and if so would you, compare the character of images with the Nikkor 105/2 DC and the E-M1 vs that lens with your D300?

        I’m thinking that part of my solution might be to use at least some FF capable lenses on the E-M1 for the cases if/when I want the ultimate IQ and can afford the weight…

        Any thoughts / comments / caveats or feedback on that strategy? Other than the potential cost impact of 2 bodies, flashes, etc. of course 🙂

  23. I thoroughly, enjoyed reading about your camera/system experiences over the years. I may be an oddball but I too enjoyed my Olympus E-500. It is extremely rare to see an entry level SLR provide the amount of control the E-500 provided. The camera produced some nice results for me IF I kept the ISO at 100 and managed to capture my subject in focus. I can say the same about the E-30 I acquired afterwards. ISO performance could be pushed to 800 and focusing improved somewhat.

    Olympus efforts over the past 4 years haven’t inspired me and honestly I was considering switching to something like the Sony A7. I bought a Samsung NX300 on a whim, and it really surprised me in a good way peaking my interest in mirrorless systems. With the introduction of true pro glass for the Micro 4/3 cameras, the OMD E-M1, and the ability to take advantage of my excellent 4/3 Zuikio lenses in the interim I now have another Oly under the tree. I hope I enjoy it as much as you have.

    • I’m sure you will ! If, like me, you bonded with the E-500 despite it’s poor low light potential, you will adore the E-M1 ! I’ve been shooting this old beast with lots of pleasure in 2007-2008 !

      Many thanks for your feedback and glad you enjoyed the read !

  24. Very much appreciated reading the writer’s travels on the quest to finding that most comfortable, balanced and satisfyingly responsive photographic tool. This quest clearly resonates with many of us. From my first readings of the new OMD-1 it called out to me…I must get my hands on one of these beasts to try it out.

  25. These EM1 shots are unflattering to me. Both technically and artistically. The subject matter is boring and the images are grainy and soft. But this is just MY opinion. I owned an EM1 and I feel these photos do not do the camera justice.

    To me, the EM1 is 90% as good IQ wise as FF when viewing small prints but once blown up the difference is quite noticeable. Its a fact of life that It will not compete with FF in terms of sheer IQ. Once you get that out of your system however it is just a joy to use. I also own an RX1 and while the IQ is better, the EM1 produced better results for me when shooting my 2 year old. Why? because I can capture any moment of my daughter at any given time where the RX1 would miss at times. The is EM1 is the most usable camera Ive ever used and also the most fun. Eventually I forgot about its technical limitations compare to FF because its so fun to use. And Once you stop comparing it to FF, you realize the IQ is good enough and at times amazing in its own right.

    • I have to agree, but as I mentioned, I still haven’t had the occasions to shoot as many exciting subjects with the E-M1 as I had at the times with the D300…

      I’ll come back with a daily inspiration shot with the E-M1 in a few months… Trip to Rajahstan planned in July !

      A swear the pics from there will be more flattering ! 😉 However, my intent was not to compare image quality but rather global usability of a kit.

  26. Very good read and excellent photos. But I will give a few cons. No – the E-M1 system is not good enough for 98 percent of pros. Those buying a Nikon D4 or a Canon 1DX won’t be satisfied. You won’t see any E-M1 at the Olympics. For me personally – the E-M1 feels great in the hand, but two stops deeper DOF and EVF instead of an OVFs is to much compromise. A final point about the kit you mentioned 12,17,25,45,75. Well, using cropping when you need, you get about the same with a Nikon FF and just a 28 1.8 and a 85 1.8.

  27. I would advise those who consider the E-M1 to have a look a full size samples, not the small ones on this site. I had the E-M1 and two of the best primes with my to Italy for a week. Handling was superb, but handling is not all. IQ could not really kick a… with my old EOS20D from 2004 (!) in my oppinion. If you desire a very portable and light kit, you could be very happy with the Oly, but do not think it will compete with a modern APS-C in IQ. But IQ is not all; I agree.

    • As far as high ISO is concerned, the 20D would eat dirt at ISO 3200, not to mention 6400.

      However, same thing applies than with the D300. Different sensor sizes, different rendering.

  28. Just recently shot my OM-D M5 via a cheap adapter with Leica Summicron 35mm ASPH and the IQ was absolutely amazing. Even noticeably better than the Oly 17mm f1,8, which is itself an amazing lens.
    So, yeah – even on OM-D Leica glass does it’s magic.

  29. great article and images.
    forget the naysayers, they have nothing to show, no images, when degrading others, just empty foolish words.
    keep shooting and enjoy.

    • Well, that’s what I like about photography: it’s all about improving, finding your style, shoot & share ! No matter the criticism and their harshness, there is always room for improvement !

  30. I think what everyone is missing is that ‘Full Frame’ should be regarded in old analogue terms as ‘Medium Format’, that in turn is not as good as ‘Large Format’ (ie. Hasslblad H1 etc.). So Micro 4/3 is the 35mm in analogue terms and all the better for it. I no longer desire to lug a heavy camera and lenses over hill and moorland unless I really needed to.

    The weight and quality of my EM-5 is superb and will print (cropped) to a magazine double page spread and look fantastic, proven. What more does one want; enormous fine detailed prints, ok then use the correct tool – a Hassleblad or its like. And that’s just the point use the tool required for the job and your shooting style. A final point is that no one (?) will tell which camera is used if printed at 6×4.

    Excellent and open minded article, thanks.

    • Interesting point of view ! I hadn’t considered it that way, but at least in terms of sheer resolution and details, it sounds true.

      Many thanks for the feedback !

  31. What a brilliant read! I seriously considered going down the E-M1 route and there is no doubt that it is a superbly versatile system which certainly will deliver more keepers. And you nearly had me there – but every time I look at the FF images from my Rx1 and those from the A7 series I don’t think I could give up that level of image quality – even though the difference is small it’s still there and I know that would always bug me. Thank you for the best read of the day! Cheers, Tony

    • If I were you, I’d keep my Rx1 for the FF+35mm flavour and go Oly for the whole kit. That would be a gorgeous combo !

      I’m looking forward to seeing the Rx1’s successor, hopefully with a nice viewfinder ! If it’s not overtly expensive, I might consider it as a replacement for my GR.

  32. Very interesting and clear post, nice images.
    BTW I find very fun when the only reply the naysayers can think of is “boring and pretentious post” to confute your opinions… 😉

    • Thank you ! BTW, I don’t blame them as I can indeed sound boring and pretentious sometimes ! 😉 It’s good to have some criticism as they show you what could be improved. Cheers !

      • I enjoyed the review. (Anyone can roll out charts and graphs to compare cameras, I am much more interested in what photographers think of a camera.)

        As far as constructive comments, I like your pictures from the D300 a little better than the pictures from the EM1. You mentioned this in your review, and I assume it is because you have thousands more D300 shots to choose from.

        As far as the writing style is concerned, your English is excellent, and the writing style conveys your enthusiasm. Bon travail!

  33. That was by far the best user review article on this blog, and possibly the best article about gear I have ever read. It was technical without being boring, detailed without being verbose, and it felt like a good book with a storyline that made you want to keep reading. The best part was that the images were even more inspiring than the text! I would love to see more stuff written from you, here or anywhere. Thanks!

    BTW, I have an A7+35+55 and I love it, but I was really, really tempted to get the E-M1. Thanks for giving me a little buyer’s remorse 😉

    • Wow ! Many many thanks ! I tried to write what I wanted to read and thought other might be interested in sharing ! Sorry about the remorse ! 😉 I’ve played with the A7 and choosing this one over the E-M1 is really a matter of taste in the end. In any case, it will give you the best files around and if you end up preferring the EM-1’s usability, you’ll still find plenty of buyers to sell your A7 ! 😉

    • Oh, and feel free to join me on facebook as I share all my work there on an open basis. Over 6000 images to look at in more than 100 albums !

      Unfortunately, most of my posts are in French !

  34. I like allot of the shots from all cameras here but sorry the nikon shots to me are the most riveting and best quality I own several cameras and love all them just getting out and using them all is really for me the challenge

    Your photos are great no matter what you seem to be using thanks for sharing them and maybe Santa has a new one under the tree for all of us 🙂

  35. Great , enthusiastic, authentic article. Thanks. I am with a few others, on the fence between OMD and a7r. Like others above, I love FF resolution for large prints 1m+. But the a7r feels like of sterile to me, where as the OMD feels like it has life and a soul I can bond with more easily.

  36. Very detailed and well thought out article, William. There are so many factors to consider in this equation, it starts to boggle the mind after a while.

    All things being equal (meaning current generation sensors), full frame will out-perform M4/3, yes. And so will APS-C. But in the latter case the difference will be so insignificant as to not make much difference. Put a high quality prime lens on the E-M1, and together with its 5-axis image stabilization, you may actually pull out ahead of that APS-C sensor in several key metrics of IQ.

    The only way you’ll see a significant difference is by going to full-frame. But even here, those aforementioned factors can come into play, too … as can technique and shot discipline.

    Again, all things equal, though, something like a Nikon D3s is likely to give you 2 full stops of increased usability in low light.

    As to depth of field, there are solutions for that now, such as Voigtlander’s 42.5mm f/0.95 lens (if you don’t mind focusing manually).

    Enlargements? Well, how large do you print? And how close do you stand to those larger prints? You’d be surprised at how well today’s M4/3 cameras can do if equipped and used properly. Folks were pretty surprised when Olympus did its recent comparison test between the E-M1 and every other make/model/size format in Malaysia. Most folks couldn’t tell the difference even when posters were made.

    After tons of research ― and learning yesterday that Fuji has no plans to bring out a successor to the X-Pro 1 anytime soon ― I bought an Olympus OM-D E-M1 myself today, and plan to sell my X-Pro 1 kit. The Fuji is a fantastic camera in terms of engineering, design, profile, balance in the hand, and of course, image quality (I’ve never understood why some folks find the files “flat”)…but as many have noted, it’s too hit & miss operationally for the sort of shooting I need to do. Also, the lack of proper RAW support that integrates into my existing workflow creates another operational slowdown, in my opinion.

  37. Thanks for sharing, enjoyed the history as well as the photos that went with it. Nice story, so to speak. But your story! I never read this kind of personal review as an attempt to convince anyone else that this is “the one” camera for everything. The OM M-5 and then M-1 both won “camera of the year” awards, as well as votes for best camera, so no one has to rely on one personal review. It won as the best “camera system,” and so it is. The lenses alone and the viewfinder would do it for me. I got it for the range of lens, especially at the long end, because I wanted to try to shoot wildlife/birds with a trip. The (35mm) zoom from 200 to 600 is also not the greatest zoom at that length, but it does not weigh 7 pounds either and so doesn’t require a tripod. You can carry it and a nice 28mm or 50mm fixed lens, or 24-80 or so zoom and you’ve got it all. Macro, it’s there. But what people don’t seem to realize when they’re selling or defending that “one” camera is that most people can eventually have 2 or more cameras, an all purpose one like the OM-M-1, and then one of the street cameras with fixed 28mm or 35mm lenses. Or in my case that breathtaking but seriously limited Sigma DP3 Merrill with the Foveon sensor. At around US $800 you can treat it as another lens purchase that just happens to come with its own little, very little camera attached. When I checked the inflated value of the SLR Pentax I bought around 1970 or $300-$400 (as a student), it came to some $ 2,000 in todays dollar, about the price of the Nikon D800. So as many people point out here, keep your D800 or D700 or whatever maximum DSLR for when you need it and then pick one of these new outstanding small EVF cameras for another $600 to $1300 or so. Two of these new cameras can be carried around your neck more easily than the D800 with a lens attached. It’s a good time to making photographs, and we can only hope the technological competition keeps them coming. But one of the real take-aways from this post is perhaps: become a lawyer or whatever so you can afford these new cameras that are coming out. It you want to see a greater range of images from these cameras to help you decide, I recommend checking out the GetDPI. The problem is, of course, is that the users of all of these cameras are making very good images, leaving you wanting one of each.

    • Of course, there are as many perfect kits as there are photographers ! That’s why mine is perfect… for me ! 😉

  38. Great article and nice to see it’s not just a Oly based POV, but you have tried a number of cameras and come to this ultimate conclusion. It’s very fair and honest and I think I agree on every point made.

    I’ll say I feel similar about my experience with my E-M5 and why I ended up with the E-M1.

    IQ-wise, it’s not leaps and bounds from each other really, though I there’s something just a bit better looking to my E-M1 images and what I feel I’m getting from them vs the E-M5’s.

    It was more about the usability. The E-M5 has great style and design, and it’s nice to have a fairly powerful imaging device in a compact stylish form. But, it was all a bit too compact and small. I’ve realized there’s only so much that maybe one should downsize physically to before it is actually not less convenient to use than something that’s a little larger. Even with the added vertical grip and battery pack, it helped the E-M5’s handling, but I still felt like I didn’t truly hold the camera as securely and comfortably as I’d like.. and I don’t have particularly large hands, either.

    Enter the E-M1. It is just slightly larger enough to hold and fit right with all the controls spaced, sized and located in the right locations… I know, the power switch is controversial, probably would have been better to keep on right side for faster operation, but it’s not so hard to get to that I’ve ever had trouble turning it on. And, really, if you’re going to take a serious picture, use both hands.

    What I wanted, was very enthusiastic about, and I am truly enjoying and meeting all my expectations on was just the improved feel, performance and act of using the E-M1 had over the E-M5. I’ve already discussed the better slightly larger size and hold. I can’t emphasize enough the locations of the highly customizable dials and buttons are more than enough to satisfy my photographic control needs. While the build on the E-M5 was actually pretty good, the feel of the E-M1 is substantially more solid… I think since practically the entire body is composed of metal. The viewfinder is awesome and so much easier on the eyes to look at and compose with. Overall, the camera feels more responsive and snappier to use. The quick and efficient, yet fairly silent, shutter sound is exciting and reassuring to hear when once you’ve captured that moment.

    Coupled with the great inventory of MFT lenses available, the E-M1 is more than capable of delivering professional results.

    The E-M1 and lenses available are just great to use… the package makes me want to use it constantly and I honestly feel deprived when I don’t have the time to use it, even for a bit.

  39. A bit long, but very interesting. I decided to go oly to.
    I had the omd5. I changed for 5diii. But as you say, too big, too heavy……..
    I wanted thé Sony A7, but it’s too young. I surely go on sony FF mirrorless but on thé next generation.
    For now, i’ll pick up the oly EM1 aftershave xmas. Cant’ wait.

  40. Nice article and an impressive “photo equipment journey”. You’re quite fortunate to afford such changes and using your gear in so many and diverse places.
    I like your pictures very much and note your final remarks about IQ, wishing you really take your best ever images in the times ahead…with the E-M1, for now. 🙂

    Just a note: I’d bet that your father already heard of the Leica. Back in the 1960?s rangefinders were not a rarity and even Nikon had a well respected model, used by professionals and sold for many years after that.

  41. I have a fondness for the 4/3 50 f/2 macro and the 150 f/20 for telephoto add to your lens choices. Agree with most of what you have said.

  42. Interesting write-up. I don’t think that the Kodak CCD sensor was terrible (e-1, e-500, e-300) as you mention in your introduction. It certainly had it’s limitations especially at iso’s above 400. However it also had a special color and tonal rendering. I still have an e-1 that I occasionally use exactly because of it’s handling and it’s rendering of colors. Final prints look a lot like prints from film, less digital and more analog.

  43. Thanks for the great write up William. It really provided me with some nice insights into what the owner of an EM1 might experience and value about the camera.

    I have recently struggled with the decision of purchasing the EM1 or Sony A7 and while i’m pretty set on the A7, your article shows me exactly why it was such a tough decision!

    Truly fantastic images across the board to represent your personal adventure with photography! I can’t believe the harsh criticisms of some people on here. Please just ignore the haters and know that your images really blew me away and I only hope to achieve that level of artistic expression one of these days. Thank you for sharing.

    – J

  44. William, nice piece. In the end, however, you suggest that the shots taken with the newer, lighter gear don’t have the ‘soul’ that your earlier work had while using the D300 et. al. Don’t take this the wrong way but I have to agree. You gave up the bulk but in exchange, for the moment, the newer work seems to be missing something. I hope you find it again. You will for sure.

    Peter

    • Well, truth is I had much much more time allowed to photography when I was shooting the D300. My trip in Senegal in 2010 was my last occasion to spend more than one month abroad. I believe that the soul of a picture comes from the subject and I must admit I shot my best subjects in the D300 era.

      However, I don’t think it has anything to do with the camera…

  45. Very interesting article with images to support the point. I can not help but agree on most of the points and things mentioned. I have recently used a similar logic (get what you need, not just what you are able to get) and went with V1 (the E-M1 would have been an overkill). It is getting harder and harder to get a ‘bad’ camera these days 🙂

  46. Very nice William. personally I feel much the same way about the Panny GX7 (I have two of them).

    Perhaps you might ask Steve’s son to correct the typo in the banner. Cheers and excellent article.

  47. Wonderful photo journal. It was a 5 year time capsule to illustrate how this “industry” has improved and is getting smarter, smaller, quicker and better results.
    With your enthusiasm for glass and gear, I am sure that the beautiful EM1 will be just the start of the next 5 years.
    I wonder what will be around come 2018.

    • Looking forward to it too ! Those 5 years have been a perfect time to get serious about digital photography. Many thanks !

  48. Excellent article and pictures, William. Many of us have realized that Micro 4/3 has attained sufficient quality that for most uses, it is more than good enough. Since you’ve shot both the E-M5 and E-M1, would you share a couple of key differences with us? The two things that bother me the most about the E-M5 are:

    1. Viewfinder lag–what you see in the E-M5 viewfinder seems about 1/8 second behind what’s really happening at the default refresh setting. I first noticed this when photographing a very slow game of tennis, and found that if I pressed the shutter just before I saw the ball hit the racquet in the viewfinder, the ball was already out of the actual picture. I’ve actually measured this (crudely) with a metronome, That’s a bit too long for “decisive moment” people photography. Has the E-M1 improved on this?

    2. Shutter shock–at many common hand-held speeds (~1/30-1/125, the closing of the shutter before it opens again for the exposure causes the sensor to vibrate a bit, causing some unsharpness. There is an “anti-shock” option in the menus that solves this by introducing a 1/8 second delay between the shutter closing and opening again, but that adds further delay between what you see and what you get. Is the E-M1 better in that respect?

    • Dear Peter,

      I must say I didn’t notice any lag, but to be honest, I haven’t been in such extensive observation. What I can say is that in my perception, it never gets in the way of the decisive moment.

      Best regards !

    • A couple of great questions you bring up. Not sure if the following is helpful, but if I may…

      I’m not sure the viewfinder lag is worse with the current EVFs. Consider for a moment a DSLR: what happens in the instant before the shutter opens and closes to actually capture the image? The mirror has to flip up, which adds a delay in-between what you see and the instant you capture it. I’m not precisely sure how long it takes the mirror to flip up, but it definitely adds some small fraction of a second. Mirrorless cameras, meanwhile, don’t suffer from that mirror-up delay.

      What I’m saying is that the problem you experienced happens with DSLRs, too, although granted the effect might not have been so pronounced. But remember that at the instant we push the shutter, we’re not getting exactly the image we see, but what happens tiny fractions of a second later.

      As to shutter shock, it seems to be one of those things that’s been reported a fair bit, but many are also claiming it could be FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt); in other words a condition that is difficult to repeat in any meaningful way throughout enough of a cross-section of users so as to be scientifically significant and not attributable to other problems (including user error).

      • Thanks, William. And Robert, I appreciate where you’re coming from. But I’ve done real-world testing of the viewfinder lag with a metronome and the EVF vs. a bright-frame external viewfinder, and of shutter shock with and without the anti-shock delay with the camera on a firm support. I’ve gotten consistent enough results that I am convinced that the issues are real. And I have shot seriously with many different cameras–including film SLRs, DSLRs and rangefinders–over my life, since the late 1960s. So I will trust my own experience and that of other people I respect. Even if it’s not enough to publish statistically significant results in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. We are evaluating a photographic tool here, not trying to find the Higgs boson.

        • I’ll be interested to learn if the OM-D suffers from this malady, given that I just bought one.

          Thus far I haven’t read any reports about this in the myriad reviews … so fingers crossed.

  49. OH Yeah? Let’s see you do that with a Kodak Instamatic 304!

    I bet your photographs would be just as great (minus a little resolution). You have a elegant eye for content and composition. Love the hay bales…very nice detail and depth.

    Thank You for the article.

  50. Really great detailed thorough analysis. Wonderful photos. If you get tired of Law, maybe pro photographer is in your future. 😉

  51. Im splitting my time between the x100s and the e-m1
    I agree with you that for general usage the e-m1 wins, but am I the only one that thinks that with the pro 12-40 mounted the Oly is cumbersome compared to the x100s?
    Streeting using zone focus on the x100s is just intuitive and fluid, and its so small and non intimidating that you can go close without the subjects minding, it also weights just half what the oly does, and that makes a huge difference if you walk tight crowds for many hours

    • “with the pro 12-40 is more cumbersome” well yeah, zoom constant aperture vs fixed lens, apple to apple comparison would be basically the 17 1.8 (or 20mm pancake) and then they are pretty close in size.

    • My Fuji X100s was maybe the best point and shoot ever. It couldn’t take a bad shot. Great for travel. Too bad it can’t be expanded to telephoto or macro — a one trick pony with the fixed lens.

  52. An elephant giving birth to a mouse. A loud, bold writing style not supported by the “meh” photographs. The Oly is a capable tool as are many others in 2013, depending on ones needs, use and preferences.

  53. Regarding E-M1 vs D300. I agree that DoF transitions from blurry to sharp areas is not as soft on the Oly than on the Nikon, due to sensor size.

    However, I must point that shooting people in Senegal, by itself, makes for great pictures which I didn’t have any occasion to equal with the Oly so far.

  54. Oh god, another apologist for m43.

    Why do people have the need to justify their purchases to the entire world? Yes FF is not for you why the need to go over and over about it?

    In my opinion a 16 megapixel shot is close to useless, maybe I should write a report from my high horse telling everyone why the heck it isn’t.

    • I may be wrong, but I thought sharing our experiences with the gear we own was the point of this community. Looking forward to your report, mate !

      • Hi William!

        You’re not wrong. This site is great as it allows us, the community, to comment on things that inspires us and hopefully that sparks inspiration in others. When putting you effort into a post like you did, you have to accept that not everyone will enjoy the post as much. Don’t let that discourage you, keep posting!

    • The utility to readers is not necessarily convince them that they should have the same priorities and reach the same conclusion, but to detail his priorities richly and how they led to his choice…so that, if a reader has the same priorities, reading this article might help them make their own decision.

      And if you wrote up something about how < 16MP is useless to you because you make huge prints and you talk about and illustrate how lower resolution sensors make appreciably inferior large prints, then that would be useful to other folks who also prioritize large printing when they make their camera choices.

    • Troll spotted: if the post is a bout a “sacred cow” as a Leica, it is all chimes in the winds, praises and “Ahhh Ohhh”.
      If it is about a “lesser brand” it is an apology.
      Comment less, shoot more.

  55. Images you shoot with ANY camera would be great. Only starting in 2007? I guess there is no substitute for talent! Great story.

  56. I really like your images, they are very good, but I think that most of the images from your D300 are technically superior to those from the E-M1.

  57. The Olympus EM-1 frustrates the heck out of me. Drives me crazy. I SO want to want one. I really, really wished the IQ was good enough for me.

    The thing is, I totally see where the author is coming from in terms of ease of use, snappy operation and general pleasure to be taken from using the EM-1. But the thing is, the IQ just is not quite there for me. It bothers me because in so many respects I really want to love that camera. But when I see the output ( and I spent a couple of weeks now shooting EM-1 to try and love it ) I see lots of similarities with my little Sony RX100. I guess it is the “feel” of a smaller sensor, I don’t know.

    In every other respect the EM-1 is a KILLER combination. If only the IQ was better.

    But that is just me. All cameras are compromises and the compromise for some people toward ease of use and speed tips the balance in favour of the Oly. For others , like myself, it is not quite enough…

    Right now, for me, the Fuji XE-2 is a compromise I prefer. The AF is nearly as good as the EM-1 now, the feel of the camera is not as nice, but the IQ and the lenses are better IMO.

    But thats personal to me. I can understand why the feel and responsiveness of the EM-1 would swing people the other way. But I can’t get past the sense that the EM-1 isn’t pushing out IQ that satisfies me.

    And the DOF issue bother me too.

    Finally, I agree that the D300 images are nicer in this photo set…

    • Hi!

      I really enjoyed this article! I captured how I felt myself when I found the EM-5.

      It’s really amazing how different we feel about picture quality vs usability a weight etc. I for one dropped my Canongear after getting the OM-D EM-5 as a second camera, only to realize that I brought the camera with me far more often than I used to with the raher bulky 5D MkII. I am now a happy M43-shooter and I don’t miss my fullsensor gear at all.

      The EM-1 is a truly fantastic camera in it’s section of the market and with the 12 – 40 f2,8 lens I was sure I had found my perfect combo for general use and travel. The pictuers that combo spits out is amazing IMHO, and optically the lens is up there with the best of Olympus primes. Unfourtenately the 12 – 40 lensmount broke while inside my camerabag and the lens has been returned to Olympus for evaluation but my trust in that lens got pulverised in the process. Despite that I bought the 75 mm f1.8 as planned and I just love shooting with the EM-1. I see no difference in picture quality compared to EM-5 though so which to choose is just a matter of taste (or size of bank account).
      Would I feel the need for full frame again I would never go back to the large Canon and Nikons again, it would be a Sony A7 for me.

      For me it’s also at tactile thing. It may sound silly but I just love to handle the EM-1 and using it.

      I feel that the important thing for everyone is to find the gear that does the trick for them, Rufus found his combo with the Fuji XE-2 and the EM-1 has put inspiration in Williams photography, as it has in mine. We are all winners, I’d say.

      • Totally agreed ! Except, so far, for the lens break… 🙁

        Hope it gets fixed soon and never breaks up again !

    • Totally agree. The IQ is just not there yet. When I had the EM-5 I wanted so much to love it with the small lenses, weather proofing etc. But the pics were just not as “dimensional” as larger formats.

  58. 2007 – 2013 – you’ve learnt a great deal! Great images.
    As someone who enjoyed using the OM 2& 4 top end film cameras with olympus primes I invested in in Olympus digital E1 and found the ergonomics far superior to the rest of the guys in the band! With the Oly 55 f1.2….
    A more recent purchase has been an Omd E5 and I am getting used to that, but IMO ergonomics don’t match the E1. IQ is much better though! Like many I hoped the Pen EP5 would have had an incorporated viewfinder, but next time? My shoulder and hands are also much improved and appreciate the lack of weight from the old Nikon outfit. Enjoy your olympus and keep up the great images

      • Yes William keep on using and enjoying your OMD system and post another article in the future!!!
        I went through Minolta, Nikon, Contax, Leica and ended up with OMD system and I feel very happy with it. Don’t feel the need to worry about every new camera that comes along now as this one does what I need. And… don’t worry about spelling mistakes in English, it’s great that you prepared and shared this article in your second language. how cool is that!

    • You forgot to express IMHO. Many of us did not fell the same way. You can only speak for yourself.
      Where are your manners? When someone extends themselves, you say thank you, IMHO.

    • IMHO, you are annoying and wasting my time. It was a good article with nice pictures. You may want to get off your high horse, or let us see what remarkable pictures you have taken. Your writing skills are certainly nothing to write home about…

  59. I have seen better photographers who can really make a “Wow” stunning feeling pictures on this site and many other places, but nonoe of those great photograhers ever write as they are so good as this arthor is written here. The arthor sounds like a cocky type while just only be able to make some decent photos. Not to mention, the writing style is quite boring and annoying. In short, the review here left me with the feeling a bit of wasting time reading and could possible be the worst review or article so far here on Stevhuff’s site. Of couse, this is also just an opinion.

  60. My D300 comment was responding to:
    “Really nice shots from the D300. Not so impressed with the quality of the EM5 or M1 shots though – too grainy and harsh even. Just commenting on the camera not the photographer.”

  61. Unfortunately I have to agree. If you are looking just at the technical quality of the images, this post shows that the D300 is superior.
    The photos that William created with it are really tremendous. The ones from the Olympus seem a step down.

    • Once again, there are too many factors at play here to conclusively determine that the Olympus is the culprit. Technique, lighting, and processing probably have more to do with how you’re perceiving these images than the capability of the camera.

      Have a look at the work of Robin Wong, Ming Thein, and Damian McGillicuddy. The E-M1 is exceedingly capable. Is it a panacea? No, certainly not. But it’s probably good enough for 85% of the work of most amateurs and professionals … assuming they’re not selling fine art prints to London/New York galleries. In other words, it’s probably not the right camera for Peter Lik or Nick Brandt.

  62. Love it! Sounds like me at some point. I had a D700 kit and EP2 than E-m5. My D700 took all the workhorse images. Big prints and field work but I never personally bonded with it. Yes the rubber grips fell off and shutter had over 500k clicks… Its been dropped, in the rain and etc and it still ticked. E-m5 I took pictures that conveyed family and close to me. Made it much more special. I never brought my D700 for family gatherings or outings really.

  63. William, you’ve echoed the lot of us. The E-M1, based on dozens of reviews, will capture the hearts of photo geeks everywhere. One important factor in Nikon’s favor…Their stuff are easier to sell on the used market than Olympus.

    • That implies that you are buying cameras to sell, not take pictures with. Are you a market trader or a photographer? Should i go out and buy a Nikon Df just because I can sell it more easily than an OMD? Selling cameras isn’t any kind of priority, just part of the ( expensive ) process of finding the camera that works best for you. Read this article again?

  64. Excellent article.
    One point.. I don’t understand carrying the 5 lenses and the zoom, when the zoom covers 4 of those lenses. I would pack either the primes (my pick) or the zoom if the intention is to take full advantage of a compact, light system.
    Otherwise the advantage of weight/size savings over a FF system is gone, as you can pack a FF camera with a zoom and prime that covers that range for the same size/weight as that full Olympus arsenal.
    p.s. my digital start was with an Olympus 8008 which even though apparently is crap, yielded some excellent prints that made me money! Some of those snaps are still some of my favourite, even though my equipment has moved on.

    Best regards
    Huss

    • You have a point there and I should clarify. When I leave on trip, I like to fit all my gear in a single bag. Once I’m there, I can choose whether I take only the zoom or a set of primes depending on the circumstances. Flexibility is the key !

      Many thanks !

  65. Really nice shots from the D300. Not so impressed with the quality of the EM5 or M1 shots though – too grainy and harsh even. Just commenting on the camera not the photographer.

  66. Very nice article!! Im with you on the em1, I hope Fuji can keep improving there cameras to the overall usability of the Olympus em1.

  67. Great article. I couldn’t agree more with it and actually sold my full frame and crop frame Nikon kit and now shoot with two E-M1 bodies and some of the best lenses made. Hands down, Oly has made a difference in how I view photography…

  68. Excellent article and terrific images. I’m a full frame enthusiast and use the Leica M Monochrom as my primary, and on the very rare occasions when I want to shoot in color, a Canon 6D. The weight with the Canon is definitely annoying, but I’m just not willing to give up the control over depth of field that full frame gives me.

    Clearly you have found equipment that works very well for your style and a style that really get the most from your equipment. For that, I congratulate you.

    • Many thanks ! I wish it were possible to achieve full frame DoF control with a small kit but unfortunately…

      However, you’d be surprised by what is achievable with the Oly lineup !

      • Depending on the focal length you can achieve very similar depth of field with M4/3, if you want to use a Voigtlander f/.095 lens and don’t mind focusing manually.

        Most people don’t want or need shallow depth of field with a wide angle lens, only 50mm and above, so you should be well served here if you ever need it.

  69. Besides the arguments and your excitement – I really do love your pictures. They are unique and inspired and you seem to know how to get them 🙂 they really show your enthusiasm!

    If the EM-1 is your weapon of choice -congratulations!

    I still prefer the full frame look, maybe because I’m not half a good photographer than you are… So I’m tranig to achieve the goal with to cameras.

    Great work and a fantastic read.

    Thanks

    Dirk

  70. Very nice written article. Long, but a compelling and entertaining read that many a photographer can surely relate to. Big question though is if you’ll still be using the same gear in a years time. I know I have said many times I’ve finally settled on my kit only to end up swapping yet again lol

    Cheers

    • Of course, if Oly grants us with an OM-D E-M2 with a 20-22mp range sensor, even better DR and high ISO and a perfect menu system, I might be tempted ! 😉 Not because I need it, but because I’m a nerd ! 😉

  71. Hmm, I like the D300 shots more than the ones from the EM-1. Better, more natural colors + smoother, less gritty look overall. Maybe it’s a processing issue in Lightroom, maybe not…

    Anyway, thanks for the in-depth piece!

    • Exactly my feeling: I find the EM-1 shots lacking depth and a bit too “smooth” for my taste. Not to mention the colors (but this last issue could be depending on post-processing).
      Plus, personally I’d find it hard to get used to 4/3 format, compared to 2/3 (usual ratio in both FF and APS-C field).

      To me, the EM-1 is still a no-go. My quest still stands 😀

  72. What a great review article!! Perfect for what I need right now.

    I also shoot with a D300 Nikon and a small group of lenses. I’ve loved the camera but have also won some awards with it. I’ve shot weddings and other paid events but mostly my photo work is just for my own pleasure.

    I have some mobility issues and the Nikon is just too big. A couple of years ago I also bought a Sony NEX 5n for convenience and travel. It’s a handy camera with a great sensor (mostly the same as the Nikon APS-C). BUT, AF focus speed and the overall user interface push my patience to the limit.

    So I’ve been considering liquidating everything for the Oly EM1. But I’ve been worried about sensor size. I’m not a “peeper” but still . . . .

    Thanks for your help! And thanks, Steve for your blog!

    • @John Williamson: The comparison between a NEX 5n and an E-M1 seems a bit unfair to me. Try a NEX-6 which has a few more buttons/wheels for better access to settings.

      Also, you need to couple the NEX with the best E-mount or 3rd party glass you can buy. Sony’s 10-18, 35 f/1.8, 50 f/1.8 do a very solid job, no complaints and still very portable.

      I’ve also contemplated checking out the E-M1 (who hasn’t yet? 😉 but will remain faithful to my trusty NEX-6 (check out my website for what I shot with the NEX-6).

      • @shutterlust Just a clarification, my mention of my Sony NEX 5n was not a comparison to the EM1, I include it as an example of my first unsatisfactory attempt to reduct size and weight. While the 5n can perform well, it’s also bothersome to use, The UI is not designed well (changing modes, exposure compensation adjustments, white balance adjustments). And I have no complaints for the lenses I have.

        Kudos on your choice of the NEX 6. The “6” could solve many of my Sony concerns (a real viewfinder, physical controls instead of menu-driven commands, faster AF performance). But for me it still seems like an interim fix to my problems instead of a long term solution.

        I’m leaning toward an OMD EM1, 12-40 2.8, 75-300, 45 1.8 prime, a cheap fisheye (and I’ll probably buy ab adapter and reuse my Nikon 105 macro).

        To each his own choice , . .

        • @John Williamson: Yeah, the E-M1 is leagues ahead of any NEX in areas like usability. Also, there’s no NEX equivalent to the Oly 12-40 or Pana 12-35.

          I don’t think there’s a long-term solution in a sector as volatile as the camera market. What if Sony develops an APS-C e-mount semi-pro body with all the bells and whistles? Like a NEX-7 V2?

          Looking back to the last couple of years, the “definite camera solution” has always changed between vendors. By the way, this changing target builds the basis of this site’s business model, that is: showing off the latest gadgets in a mouth-watering way, cashing in on the (small) commissions when someone uses the ordering links.

          Nothing wrong with that, you just need to be aware of this. 😉

    • The APS vs m43 chjp size real estates calculation have been swinging me towards the APS camp. Until the OM-1 and its reviews come along then I decide to give it a try. I must say the AF seed, overall ergonomics and IQ are impressive indeed.

    • +1 for the typo…

      Many thanks, Steve, for publishing the article ! I hope your readers will enjoy it !

      Best regards !

    • Am I the only one who experienced serious shutter shock with the E-M1? I couldn’t use the darn thing at the most used shutter speeds without ruining the shots. A friend of mine had one too and like me he returned it because of the heavy shutter vibrations. Luckily the baby E-M10 is much better in this regard. Saved me some money too. Thank you Olympus.

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