1.13.2013

What is it about the Olympus OM-D that makes it such a game changer?

The Olympus OM-D. Everyone's Camera of the Year in the 2012 Round-ups.

It's nearly unanimous across the web. Everyone's choice for camera of the year in 2012 was the elfen pro, the OMD. But why? It's not the most comfortable to hold (in its native configuration) nor is it invested with the highest image quality on the market. It's not part of the biggest contiguous system of lenses or accessories on the market nor is it the cheapest high performance camera on the market. So why all the gushing and glorification?

I postulate that the market was ready for three critical technologies to come together in one nearly perfect package at a price that was almost universally acceptable to working photographers and artists.

What are the three critical technologies:  At the top of the list I would place equivalent performance to established DSLRs at a fraction of the size and bulk, made possible by the maturing of the mirrorless technology and attendant advances in the autofocus capabilities of this class.  

Secondly, I would state that this camera, even more that Sony's (on paper) technically superior versions, made real world use of electronic viewfinders acceptable. And as soon as they were accepted and put into widespread use an enormous swath of the market came, almost instantaneously, to understand the real value of seeing the image as the camera would record it instead of being steps removed and requiring a level of pre-visualization that comes with only years of practice; as with a conventional optical finder.

The third critical technology or product feature was, without a doubt, the fast growing number of lenses optimized and created for this format. From the Leica/Panasonic 25mm Summilux to the cost effective and brilliant 45mm Olympus 1.8 lens to the 12mm f2 lens, everything in the system started to gel in a way that directly appeared to experienced users.  This third category will only accelerate with the two new professional zoom lenses introduced by Panasonic which cover both the 24-70mm and 70-200mm focal lengths with f2.8 constant aperture lenses. I've had the pleasure to handle and shoot with both and they are really great.

On top of all these features is the idea of interchangeability between brands a la open standards. One can now buy marvelous optics from Olympus, Leica, Panasonic, Sigma and a growing number of suppliers and use them interchangeably on any m4:3 standard camera, across any system.  If you are an OMD user and discover your love for video you can acquire the GH3 from Panasonic as a second camera for back up and video with the assurance that all your investment in glass is protected. Imagine how powerful it would have been, when Canon introduced the 5Dmk2 if all Nikon glass also fit and worked on that camera. If you had been able to cherry pick cameras between systems without worrying about obsoleting a big and costly selection of lenses.

The thing that tipped the point was the fact that Olympus produced the camera perfectly. It exudes precision, good materials and great workmanship.  That it currently has the best, in body, image stabilization system in the world is the cherry on top of the whipped creme.

When I played with one VSL member's OMD last week I was once again impressed by the system. More so after putting the Panasonic lenses on the camera. I went back to the studio and looked up the current price. It is now an insanely good value in addition to being the top of the 2012 pile. Well done Olympus!



34 comments:

Bob Dein said...

Everyone seems to love this. My interest is street portraiture, and getting real close. With the Nikon DSLR, the 85mm f1.4 is the dream combo for sharp eyes and bokeh. Do you think that similar results can be achieved with the OM-D and some compatible lens? Thanks.
Bob

Kirk Tuck said...

Are you using a full frame camera with your 85mm? Are you shooting the optic wide open? While there's never exact correspondence between formats for optical and physics reasons I would be that the OMD with the 45mm, near wide open, would definitely get you into the ballpark. I use a 60mm f1.4 lens on my Nex 6 and 7 and get wonderful effects in the out of focus areas.

Kirk Tuck said...

I'm sure there are some out there that have made the transition. Let's ask them. Anybody?

Robert Roaldi said...

SInce you have experience with 4/3s and Sony mirrorless systems, are there signs out there that mirrorless cameras will "wear out" their sensors faster than mirrored cameras, given that their sensors are "on" for longer periods of time, as they're providing the image for the EVF/LCD for framing?

Kirk Tuck said...

None that I've ever heard. There are many point and shoot cameras that have had this capability for many years and they don't seem affected, nor do the sensors used in professional video cameras that see hundreds of thousands of hours of full on time use over years. I think semiconductors mimic the useful lives of LEDs (which themselves are semiconductors). As long as you don't run them outside of their design parameters they seem to have long MTBFs.

Bob Dein said...

Now I'm using the D90 with the 1/5X crop factor: considering D600, full frame. I have shot as wide as f2. Wider, I can't keep both eyes in focus. :-)

Bill Beebe said...

It took me forever, what with all my little disasters, the incessant hang-wringing and second-guessing, but I finally have my own copy. I have to say it's absolutely the best camera I've every bought, film or digital.

Craig Yuill said...

I think you answered your own question quite effectively. The OM-D is, finally, the camera that delivers image quality comparable to an APS-C or even FF camera in a package that is compact and very well made. I handled one of these OM-Ds before Christmas, and was very impressed by the build quality and handling. I handled it because I wanted to see how the EVF of the severely-discounted Nikon V1 compared to a camera with a reputedly-good EVF. My verdict - the OM-D EVF seems to be a bit sharper when held still, but definitely smears more when panning the camera. The OM-D, even with discounts, was well out of my price range, and I have been very pleased with what my V1 produces in the way of images and video clips. But I can definitely see why buyers ooh and ahh over the OM-D.

Like others who commented on a recent blog post you made, I am getting the impression you are seriously considering a move back to the m43 system. I was rather impressed by your rationale for getting rid of your Canon and m43 gear and moving to the Sony NEX and Alpha systems - simplification along with a series of cameras with features you find indispensable, like EVFs. Good reasoning! Are you sure you want to complicate your gear set up again? You've shown that your current cameras allow you to produce superb photos. I'm wondering if you wouldn't be better off sticking with your current set up, at least until you see what the rumored-to-be-coming "pro" OM-D model has to offer when it is finally introduced, and what the lens offerings for the two systems are at that time. That might be the better point to reevaluate your gear set up and contemplate another full system switch over. Just my $0.02.

Claire said...

I used to shoot a 5D and a D700, and also had a GX-1 that I loved dearly. Well, I dumped m4/3 after 7 months because as much as I LOVE the Panny, and whatever m4/3 fanboys will tell you, the DOF control of the m4/3 sensor is badly and fundamentaly crippled, even compared to APS-C. Switching back to NEX the much better backgrounds were the first thing that really jumped at me. And though I was using both the 25/1.4 and 45/1.8 on m4/3. A smaller sensor will always be handicapped for portrait lovers. Now street I doubt that you'd shoot wide apertures so much, so the fast AF of the m4/3 offerings would be a big plus.

Anonymous said...

Bob, an OM-D with the Olympus 75mm f1.8 will blow your socks off. The OM-D will outperform the D90 for the most part, and the 75 f1.8 is one of the highest rated lenses ever for any system (See all its reviews, specially Ming Thein's). The slightly greater depth of field offered by m43 will work to your advantage because you can shoot at 1.8 and get more of the face in focus, while using a lower ISO, and/or faster shutter speed, all without sacrificing sharpness. The 45 1.8 will be much shorter reach since your using the 85 on a crop body. BTW, there are some nice $150 per lens rebates with the OMD.

The D600 is a great deal for FF, but your camera bag will only get heavier and the "2 eyes in focus thing" will get more difficult. LOL.

Gordon Cahill said...

Crippled? I don't think so. f1.8 on a m4/3 sensor corresponds to f3.6 on 35mm. As fashionable as it may be for some photographers to shoot wide open on 35mm cameras, the vast majority are either stopping down or shooting with zooms anyway. Personally I (as a 35mm shooter) find that f3.5-f4 on a 35mm sized sensor is actually a sweet spot for portraits with both eyes sharp and focus falling off at the shoulders rather than the nose. Is 35mm crippled to medium format. We really should all be shooting that if shallow DOF is vital, shouldn't we.

Secondly why don't we compare m4/3 offerings to those of other mirrorless systems. NEX? I loved the NEX7 I had for a year but Sony just don't seem interested in making lenses for it. The 50mm 1.8 give 2/3 of a stop less DOF than the 45mm 1.8 on m4/3 but the m4/3 lens has more compressions due to the longer focal length. And the 45 is better wide open. Other than that, at every focal length m4/3 allows shallower DOF with its native lenses. Hah! you say. There's the Zeiss? Compare that to the 17mm Voigtlander at f0.95.

Fuji? There's only one (and a half) lens in the range that has a shallower DOF than m4/3. That's the 35mm 1.4 with just under a stop difference to the 25mm Leica/Panasonic. The 60mm Fuji has nearly identical DOF to the Olympus 45mm, but lesser focusing speed and "grab". The half is to the variable aperture zoom compared to the 12-35mm Panasonic.

In the real world, if you want shallower DOF then you need to go to a DSLR with the appropriately sized lenses. You'll get 2/3-1 stop with APSC. Hardly a diffference good technique ca't get around and you'll be carrying 35mm sized lenses bacause that's all there is. And if you are prepared to pay for and carry a 35mm sensored DSLR all well and good. But the medium format guys are laughing at your puny little sensor and massive DOF.

APSC mirrorless has the "potential" to allow shallower DOF than m4/3. But in the real world, that's actually not the case, except fot the mostly ignored Samsung.

I actually applaud your decision to follow your own path. Just don't think that there's only one path.

Gordon

Anonymous said...

Kirk likes cameras. We benefit from his interrogation of any piece of hardware he's found interesting.

I can't deal with more than a couple of same model cameras when working as I need to know them well enough to not think about them. It takes me a year or so to learn a camera/sensor really well - to sift through 100+ menu items quickly without thinking much or getting lost. I also work with film - using many of the same lenses at times. I like simple when dealing with hardware. High end digital cameras are not simple (for me). I need total control of cameras,lighting and my noodle - quickly. Coffee helps sometimes.

- salty

Kirk Tuck said...

Over-clocked was the word I was looking for there. Run out of optimum spec.

Kirk Tuck said...

Actually, I have no current plans to change. I've got my mind wrapped around the Nex menus and I'm just waiting for them to fill in the blanks where lenses are concerned. If they are listening I'd like for Sony to introduce a 60mm 1.8 portrait lens just for me...

The Alpha cameras are totally there for corporate tools. I'll keep them around and keep my fingers crossed that they come out with a "baby" a99 that I can bring into the system as a back up.

Bill Beebe said...

That's what I thought. When you invest that much "institutional knowledge" into learning how to operate a complex system that it gives you the consistent and reliable results you like, then it costs far more than just the up-front purchase price to change. You have to start all over again learning how to effectively use the "new" tools, especially if you have a unique look to your work: you have to learn how to produce that particular look with the new camera.

Semilog said...

The only things that will inevitably kill a sensor are dust and cosmic rays (which, over time, generate hot or dead pixels).

Anonymous said...

It is so nice to see Olympus (the uderdog), receiving so much acclaim for the OMD E-5.They have come full circle since the OM-1 and back to their original concept of of small yet powerful SLR to replace the mainstream top tier models and make it easier to shlep around our gear.
I am still using the E-3 I purchased in 2007, and just added a used E-5 to my stable.
I have a very complete assortment of SHG and HG Zuikos, and as much as I'd love to meld them with the EM-5, I cannot bring myself to using them with such a small body at less than desirable functioning, and the brass at Oly has admitted to these drawbacks. The latest statements leaking out of the 'rumor mill' about a OMD Pro body coming later this year has me salivating already. I'm very anxious to see what the new partnership OLy-Sony is going to bring to the table!.
I have a very stong feeling Oly is going to knock everyones socks off with this upcoming model!

Noons said...

One more factor that everyone seems to ignore and is of capital importance for me at least: IBIS.
I can now pick my medium format CZ 180/2.8 or any of my old Nikkors or any modern m4/3 lens and have full image stabilization with ALL of them!
And yes, IS *is* important and useful!
There is simply no other system, short of Sony's SLT - but not for the same range of lenses - that can match the OMD for that. Well done, Olympus!

Kirk Tuck said...

I didn't ignore IS. Not in the least. Here's what I said, "That it currently has the best, in body, image stabilization system in the world is the cherry on top of the whipped creme."

Love the IS. Use it all the time. Makes me into a non-coffee drinker....

ODL Designs said...

It is a very nice camera, with excellent file quality and a slew of small digital lenses... The cream for me will be when my 12-60 works as well on my m43rds bodies as it did on my E-3 :)

Claire said...

And here we go... "In the real world", that's all what my comment was about. In real conditions and after 7 months of m4/3 shooting (with 25/1.4 and 45/1.8), shooting the NEX for the first time the better DOF control just jumped at my throat. YMMV.

Dave said...

I fell in love with the Pen cameras at first sight and enjoyed a wonderful fling for several years as Oly's flight path emerged. But I got impatient, delved into the GH1 & GH2 and finally back to Nikon, which oddly turned out to be my best "bang for the buck". I'm consistently amazed at the end product I can get from the meager little D3200 and the auto-focus from the D7000. That being said the OMD may be a harbinger of things to come. It toughly parallels the ISO and overall performance of my D90 of a couple years ago, and though some will scoff that's a pretty good place to be. Of the mirrorless producers Sony seems the most innovative but Panasonic & Oly "get it" when it comes to lens choices. Canon seems way out to breakfast and Nikon only seems to grudgingly put lipstick on yesterday's pig as their marketing department tells them to. Oly is sort of like the middle bowl of porridge in Goldilocks, neither too hot nor too cold so I can see why you might flirt with the thought.

Kirk Tuck said...

Whichever manufacturer doesn't get the marketing power (and working potential) of the EVF will eventually lose everything. At least right now I'm fishing in the end of the pond that's fully stocked...

Anonymous said...

I shot my first corporate conference using the E-M5 back in September -- that experience made a complete believer of me. I have since picked up a second E-M5 and have both of the Pany f/2.8 zooms on the way. As much as I love my 4/3 ZD glass, I'm not not as enthused as some about mounting brick-sized lenses on the front of my E-M5's -- I'm far too enamored by the light weight of my m4/3 camera bag.

Yesterday, I did a few self-portraits testing out a lighting set up for a couple head and shoulder shoots I have this week. I put my E-M5 in 'iface detect' focus mode -- the one that picks the closest eye. Using the Oly m40-150mm lens (yea, the one that is selling right now for $99), the camera instantly focused on my right eye and fired every time. At 100% I can see dust particles on my eyelashes.

Olympus deserves 'Camera of the Year' for this baby.

Dave said...

I picked up the OMD a little over a week ago. I have my Canon gear out to CPS for a clean and check before I sell it all.
The files from the OMD look great, and it's one third the weight, more or less.
It's a little slower process than the DSLR, but that's ok by me.
I love shooting raw and jpeg, shooting the jpegs real time by my eye-fi wi-fi card to my iPhone and being able to edit and send them into the universe, almost real time. I got the technique from smallcamerabigpicture.com

Jim Tardio said...

You know...it's just a good camera. The lenses are stellar and they are small & light. It works well and it's dependable. The files are excellent.

It's the camera of the year because it's extremely difficult to find a fault with it. It's what most of us have been asking for for years.

They got it right.

Rick Markovich said...

And ... if the Oly or Panasonic lenses don't quite do it, the manual focus capability and image stabilization of the E-M5 are stellar. I have the following FD mount (manual focus) Canon lenses: 85mm f1.2L, 135mm f2.0 and 200mm f2.8. They are all much more compact than the newer autofocus EF mount lenses and are a joy to use. They are also quite a bargain for what you get and you can really feel the quality of their manufacture. The DOF of both the 85mm and the 135mm are just about perfect for keeping both eyes in focus for portrait use, and the bokeh is superb. They are a bit long on m43, but that just requires a longer subject working distance. One can also look at the slightly more esoteric Voigtlander optics with f 0.95 max apertures.

Anonymous said...

Kirk, I may be nuts but I have to buck the trend here. I sold my Canon gear last year (5Dii, 70-200ii etc) and moved lock, stock and 5 smkoing lenses to OMD-land. I purchased 14-42, 40-150, 45, 75 and 14 Olympus lenses. I even shot a wedding recently with the OM-D. The images are great, the touch screen superb but I have it all up for sale and am jumping OFF the bandwagon and back onto Canon's FF/APS-C range. Why you may ask?

The EM-5 is superb camera. The shiny primes are also top notch. However, the body + grip + 75 lens is by no means light. It is sort of compact but heavy, which in my mind defeats the purpose of the whole thing. I just cannot get used to the tiny, squishy, unresponsive (weather sealed I know) buttons. I don't like EVFs. Maybe I'm a dinosaur? Probably. I just like the heft of a DLSR, the OVF and the range of Canon lenses available.

Do I like the EM-5? For sure. It's a paradigm changer and superb. It's just not me. Do I like the Olympus lens system? They're superb, but very, expensive. Like Canon.

By the way, my go-to travel camera is the Fuji X10. For $379 brand new it's unbelievable and goes with me everywhere.

Regards from Down Under.

Max

Gordon Cahill said...

Hi Claire,

And here we go? It's just a response. That's all.

What lenses are you using on a NEX that have this "better DOF" control" you speak of? I had a NEX7 with the Zeiss and the 50mm, plus a couple of the zooms. The NEX7 is a great little camera. And as someone who prefers the 3:2 ratio to 4:3 I'm genuinely curious because I just don't see any native lenses in NEX that do what you claim. And I'd probably buy back in if they did. If Sony actually made a 35mm 1.4 or a 60mm 1.8 then fine (let alone an equivalent for the 75mm or 12mm). But they don't, yet, that i have seen. And the zooms?

Please advise on the lenses where you are getting this better DOF control than the current choices for m4/3?

Regards. Gordon

Noons said...

1000% agreed! They so did.

Anonymous said...

The other shoe dropped in the Nikon world at least when Thom Hogan publicly announced that he had switched to an OMD for his wilderness work, formerly assigned to his D7000, for nearly the same reasons that you've cited, Kirk. So now the only Nikon products the head Nikonian shoots with are their FX gear, and only when he can wheel a handcart to the shoot. If Nikon doesn't come out with an empty-mirror-box version of the D3200 soon, it's going to lose all those new shooters to Oly and Panny and Sony. For all the love that the OMD has deservedly received from us knob-and-button enthusiasts, the real kick in the teeth to flippy-mirror is that the E-PL5 does just as well as the OMD in the IQ department. I don't hold out much hope that u4/3 is going to get much better than the D90 in its IQ - after all, Oly had to use NEX-7 sensor technology and pixel density to compensate for the physical limits of the smaller sensor, and that technology is pretty close to fundamental limits in its DR respects. So there's still room for NEX in this game, but probably less than a stop. What's holding me back? low-light capable integrated PDAF, and some better, a bit faster travel zooms. I don't shoot primes, and I'd really like something more equivalent to the 24-120(FF) than the Oly 12-50.

Bob Dein said...

Thanks, everyone. Your thoughtful comments are very helpful.

Anonymous said...

So many choices! I'm still using my Olympus E-1, a couple of Oly zooms, and several Minolta Rokkors (especially the 50 and 100mm macros). I bulk it up with the battery grip -- shoots forever between charges. 5 mp and stunning still life, landscape, and nature shots. Should I upgrade to the E-5 or the OM-D? Either way when I have funds available, I can still use my lenses!

90% of my digital photography is with the Canon Powershot S95 (had the S70 before). Can't even tell its in your pocket. I don't pretend to get shallow DOF with it. But I bought it for our trip to China a couple of years ago and brought back shots I'd never have gotten with a DSLR (sharp images out of a moving tour bus). Didn't even take the E-1 along.

leex said...

I shoot portraits and the 45mm does not cripple the results, sorry but the one eyelash in focus DOF so many Fool Frame afficiandos clamour for is nonsense, if you print such an image to any reasonable size you end up with a mush and maybe one eye in focus (everything looks sharper small) which then begs the question why bother having all those megapixels.

I have worked as a pro for many years and used Medium format (more full frame than Fool Frame), and you wanted more DOF but of course if you are using flash that means more watts, now I can get the shallow DOF with a 45 or 75 that is not so ridiculously extreme and the flash used less poet and recycles quick; Sorry but this is the real world, also go take a look at the great photos from the masters and see how many obsess about such knife edge DOF, its just Kool Aid.