Good moves by Olympus to flesh out offerings for an advanced market...

Noellia as hippy. Shades of Donovan.
Samsung Galaxy NX 85mm 1.4
Backyard Photography.

I've been following three camera companies with much interest and mostly for three different reasons. The first is Olympus. While I didn't like the feel of the OMD EM-5 I am the first to admit that the files from the camera are beautiful and that the five axis image stabilization is little short of amazing. My many friends who dumped fat cameras to go smaller are pretty much uniformly delighted with the cameras. I kept picking up the EM-5 and trying to like it by I think there is a point at which a camera becomes too small for some people. Maybe it's decades of hand training and maybe it's just individualized haptics but there it is.  

When Olympus rolled out their announcement of the OMD EM-1 I immediately thought that they'd gone a long way to fixing the niggling problems I had with the "5."  The body is a bit bigger and the controls are placed in more convenient places. The finder, if it's the same one used in the Fujifilm x100s, will be remarkably good, and the view massive. There's one addition/improvement that was a complete surprise to a me and a quick shorthand signal to all the older photographers that the camera is intended for a sophisticated audience. That was the addition of a PC sync socket. Wow. Shades of the last century.... but oh so nice for triggering stuff when you've got a microphone or some other accessory in the hot shoe.

The second, most welcome, improvement over all the previous Pen and OMD offerings is the addition of a dedicated microphone input. If they get around to implementing a headphone monitor jack in the next rev they will finally be able to compete in the digital video department. 

When you add in the new 12-40mm f2.8 zoom you've got a pretty awesome picture making package in a nice, compact package with lots of potential.  Final point: Olympus! get to work on the batteries...

While it's a step in the right direction for Oly to admit that people routinely use external microphones the line of thought always brings me to Panasonic. While their previous designs seem less polished than the Olympus offerings they are kicking butt in the video department. I've been over every video specification of the GH3 and I've got to say that when I'm tooling around shooting video with my Sony a99 I'm always experiencing a deep seated lust for the GH3 instead. Whatever Panasonic doesn't get about marketing they more than make up for in their understanding of production video. For less than $1500 it kicks a stock Canon 5D3 right in the shins. And with the addition of the two professional, constant aperture zooms it's a tidy package. 

The synergy between those two companies is what will ensure their viability in the future. It's entirely practical and logical for anyone entering the professional market now to consider a hybrid approach (photos and videos, mixed) to the business and to do so within one ecosystem. The logical way to build a great, economical system is to pick and choose between the Panasonic and Olympus lines, knowing that they will intersect flawlessly. The smart way to make a system would be to pick up a couple of the new EM1 bodies for still shooting and a GH3 body for video production. Both use the same lenses interchangeably and make great back ups for each other. And all the Panasonic users should appreciate that Panasonic finally replaced the dumb 2.5mm microphone input of the GH2 with a 3.5mm input on the GH3. Little favors.

If more and more professionals and advanced amateurs picked up these cameras and tested them in the U.S. and the EU I think the shift toward mirrorless technologies would proceed at an accelerating pace. But who knows? Maybe generations become enamored of tradition and resist any change, regardless of its advantages. Small, light, good and inter-usable seems like a good argument to me. 

But if you are a hard core traditionalist you might be interested to know about my other new fascination. I picked up a Pentax K-01 recently because I loved the weird design and the price was too good to believe. When I got around to shooting the camera I was very impressed with the lens and the imaging done by the sensor. Really nice files. So I started researching the Pentax cameras. They had been off my radar for a long time. I walked into Precision Camera (why does that sound so familiar when I write it?) and asked to see the Pentax Kr-5ii. It's a traditionalist's camera. Nice (but still small) optical finder. Traditional hold and feel. Very solidly built and fairly compact. I brought the camera up to my eye and clicked the shutter. It sounds so good. Much like the priceless shutter on the old Olympus e-1 camera. I almost bought a body and some groovy lens on the spot. I may still.

I've been immersed in a new camera for the last three weeks. But that doesn't mean my mind's gone dark to the rest of the camera universe. I'm more and more convinced that hybrid content creation will drive the professional markets in the near future. The one thing that stopped me from buying a Pentax body was the poor video implementation. 

So, where am I on cameras right now?  Using the Sony Alpha line for just about everything and waiting to see what they bring to market later this fall. If they lose the mirror altogether and keep bolstering their head start in video I'm there for the foreseeable future. I like the full frame video. I like the headphone jack. I like the front multi-control.  If they stumble hard and become a Nex-only company I'll start considering options.

I'm also testing the Samsung Galaxy NX and while I'm loving the images I can get out of the camera and lenses I'm weeks away from writing any sort of review because the camera is still a work in progress. I'm waiting for one or two firmware tweaks before I can evaluate the camera fairly.  It's interesting to shoot two (Sony and Samsung) such different types of cameras nearly side by side. My brain had to relax a little bit to make room for two totally diverse menu structures and my hands vacillate between having a button and dial for nearly everything and having a touch screen and i-function controls for the same stuff.

It's an interesting time for the camera industry. On one hand you have Pentax steadfastly embracing the traditionalist ethos. Almost like an aristocrat in a private club. On the other hand you have Samsung trying to re-invent the way we shoot and share images. That nerdy programmer kid you knew in college. And every other camera company is somewhere in the vast middle ground.

Have I left anyone out? Oh yeah, Canon and Nikon. Inertia is a powerful marketing tool. I think they'll be surfing the cultural memories of Life Magazine and National Geographic for years to come. And, like Windows, they have the first in the market advantages. When the waves break I'm equally sure that they'll look over the landscape of imaging populated by truly innovative companies and cherry pick all the stuff that's working and jettison all the stuff that failed in the market. A strategy of letting the other guys hang ten on the bleeding edge of the board.  Hey, it's a strategy that worked for Dell Computer for nearly two decades....


Charles said...

I've been following your blog for years now. I followed your move to Olympus and than to Sony with some interest. I don't get your recent purchase of the Samsung and now the Pentax while also going back and praising the new E-M1. I've always respected your ability to create great photos with any camera. Well, now I know it's the photographer, not the equipment. Right now, any camera you go out and buy produces amazing photos. It's not like film where a TRL or an MF/LF camera gave you quite a different experience from your typical 35mm SLR. Why all the different systems? Sony seems seems to give you such a great variety of capabilities in both stills/movies and size/weight.

Kirk Tuck said...

I have not purchased any Samsung cameras. I've been asked by that company to use and evaluate two of their cameras. I am currently evaluating the Galaxy NX camera and lenses. They are compensating me for my evaluations. They sponsored my trip to Berlin. But testing a camera and using it as my primary camera in my business are two different things. I tried to make sure I added that disclosure when I started writing about the NX and the Galaxy NX.

At this point the Samsung cameras don't have the features I need for the kind of video I do. They are good imagers. I have not switched to shooting them for my commercial work.

I switched from Olympus to Sony back when the only sensors Olympus offered were 12 megapixels. I have advertising and commercial clients who wanted (demanded?) bigger, more detailed files than the Olympus cameras could deliver at that time. I switched systems for two reasons: to make clients happy/comfortable and to get the kind of video interfaces and controls I needed for my paying work. That doesn't mean that personally I turned against what I thought were the strengths of the Olympus Pen cameras.

Some cameras are good to shoot in the studio. The Sony stuff is great. The ability to shoot controlled video and monitor everything is wonderful. But the cameras and lenses are big and heavy. I'd hate to carry them around Tokyo for 10 hours a day in a shoulder bag. That's where another camera system would make a lot more sense. Either the Nex cameras or the Olympus or something like that. No one camera seems to be fabulous for everything. Sadly, I shoot bigger production stuff for work and eccentric uncontrolled stuff for my personal work and the two ends of the spectrum don't always coincide.

I wrote the stuff above because I truly believe the market is in major flux. There are things I like about many different cameras. The feel and shutter of the Pentax K-5ii, the EVFs of the new Olympus and the big Sonys, the lightweight of the m4:3rd cameras, the full frame of the Sony a99, the big, high quality video files of the Panasonic. If I could put all the best parts of these cameras in a blender and come out with the perfect mix I would.

But Charles, if you've followed the blog for years you know I've been on a ill considered quest to find the "right" camera for some time now. Why stop now?

Oh, and to be clear, I only purchased the Pentax K-01 because it was cute, nearly free and very yellow. It's the only pentax digital camera I've owned (that I can remember...).

So, to re-cap: No purchase of Samsung cameras. Happy with parts of the Sony. Wish it had the less compressed video files of a GH3. Less than happy with the weight of the good lenses for the Sony Alpha, wish they were as small and light as the Oly's. Searching for a compromise that doesn't exist. Musing about tradition and innovation and the battle for the consumer.

No big camera purchases in months and months. None on the horizon. Kudos to Olympus and Panasonic for a good direction. Thanks.

ajcarr said...

You can further magnify the Pentax K-5 viewfinder by replacing the standard eyecup with the 1.2x Viewfinder Loupe 0-ME53. I use this on my K-5 and used it on my old K10D, without any problems.

Dwight Parker said...

Being a gearhead, and not really a photographer, I LUST after the OMD E-M1 but will just keep the E-M5 and maybe invest in more tutorials and training videos instead.... but the temptation is just so hard to resist....

aurèle said...

May i suggest to have a look at the Pentax following glass as they are small and light (thanks Pancake design) : DA 15 / 21 / 40 (the one provided with the K-01 :) / 70.

About the article i find very interesting your analysis between Pentax and the traditionalist moto (OVF / lightweight / simple menu interface (info button)) and Oly / sony / Pana : let's try new things in new package (EVF / lightweight / video). I always enjoy this kind of point of view as it change for the usual Canikon duel in discussions :)

Cheers !

Michael Matthews said...

Spot on regarding the market in major flux. It is absolutely boiling.

My lust for the E-M1 is placed in restraints because of my inability to afford it. As a stop gap, I grabbed a closeout price on the Panasonic G5: 16mp vs 12mp in the Olympus E-PL1, a different approach to image stabilization, built-in EVF, a good measure of Panasonic's enhanced video capability, fully compatible with the two longer Olympus lenses I own (both of which would be used on a tripod anyway), and a good place to rest while this explosion of new product development settles out.

If micro 4/3rds dies an untimely death in the face of larger sensor competition I haven't lost that much -- and the camera(s)still take good pictures. If Olympus and Sony continue to play nice there may be a whole new level of tech evolution which will make sensor size and format completely irrelevant.

Win-win? Won one. I think.

Corwin Black said...

Small typo, its most likely just Pentax K-5 II (not Kr). Its ok camera, they make variant without AA for increased moiré.. ehm details, which is called Pentax K-5 IIs (that "s" is important..maybe stands for "sharp"). It surely is sharp with some of good Pentax primes from the past. Problem with Pentax is that its sorta company of past, especially lens part of it. Plus today its actually Ricoh, Pentax doesnt exist anymore, only name on dSLRs will stay. And they fired most of their engineers (well those which made optics).

Overall, K-5 and K-5 II are nice cams, just I dont like colors from them and apart from that, its nice for legacy lens, only issue is that apart from Sigma lens (which are now really improving), you dont have much worthy putting on it. At least nothing recent..

Anonymous said...

"Pentax doesnt exist anymore, only name on dSLRs will stay."

Nikon is owned by the Mitsubishi Group. Does that mean Nikon does not exist anymore?

"And they fired most of their engineers (well those which made optics)."

Please provide a source for this comment.

"Problem with Pentax is that its sorta company of past, especially lens part of it."

Are you not aware of the Pentax Q/Q10/Q7 system and the fact that it is the sales leader in its class in Japan? Also, it's well documented that the K5II and K5IIs rate at the top of their class, as well.

Just sayin'... Cheers...

Anonymous said...

So what if you are using different systems! Use and write about as many as you can! I bounce around some and, yeah!,gear stability is not a point of personal pride with me. I lose a few hundred bucks selling and trading stuff off as I have a good time. Cameras are my only weak point when it comes to financial responsibility. Heck, You can blow a few hundred bucks during a night on the town...........And have nothing to show for it afterwards.

Following your great review of the EP5 I bought it. And love it. Who knows what I will love tomorrow. Keep up the great blog.

That K5ii is getting to be a pretty old model. Maybe I should drop in, like a vulture, and check it out. There should be some great deals on it by now. I don't own a DSLR.

ODL Designs said...

I enjoy your exploration Kirk, it saves me a bit of money :D

I always half expect you to return to the m43rds fold, especially with all this compatibility and cross platform amazingness... I mean GH3, EM1, Blackmagic... Lenses coming out of our ears and all shapes and sizes of adapter...

I was talking to a friend at the local camera store, selling him on the benefits of the tone control curve in the EM5 combined with the EYEFI card and an android phone. He shoots events, and I was asking him what is the first thing almost everyone does to their files once on the computer? Well add a bit more contrast. Well, I asked him... How much would your clients like to get great images from the front lines of these events as the events happen. Shoot, transfer to phone and fire them off... If they need a little snapseed so be it. One is so connected today, to not make good use of that as a sales tool is to be missing out.

I am looking forward to your Galaxy NX review, I was very excited to see the incorporation of Android into these devices. It is only a matter of time before a smart company offers an APP to edit marginally compressed RAW files for those who want it.


ginsbu said...

I've been urging you to try a Pentax K-5 with 70mm Limited lens in the comments here for years. I really think you'll love that combination for your walks around Austin. Too bad Pentax lens pricing (in the US) is bonkers.

It's definitely an exciting time in the camera market. m4/3 is shaping up nicely, and I like a lot of what I'm seeing from Fuji, Sony, and Ricoh too. You're making a good case for Samsung here as well. For now I'm enjoying my E-M5 and lenses and trying to be patient as developments play out.

Anonymous said...

"Using the Sony Alpha line for just about everything and waiting to see what they bring to market later this fall. If they lose the mirror altogether and keep bolstering their head start in video I'm there for the foreseeable future. I like the full frame video. I like the headphone jack. I like the front multi-control. If they stumble hard and become a Nex-only company I'll start considering options."
afaik the rumours say that we get FF NEX this fall, new A-mount bodies next year.

Frank Grygier said...

I couldn't help myself. I pushed the pre-order button on the EM-1. Abstained from the new fast zoom though. So proud of myself.

Kirk Tuck said...

Well done Frank. You are a paragon of discipline. :-)

Frank Grygier said...

Yes my discipline has no bounds...I just had to have the new battery grip too!

Corwin Black said...

I hate to argue, but get your facts.

Whats left from Pentax is name on current dSLR and perhaps future ones. There was for brief moment company named Ricoh-Pentax. Now its just Ricoh.

As you noticed, Nikon as company exists and their name too (ownership in this case doesnt matter).

Source? Try google.

Pentax Q is nice toy.

K-5 II and K-5 IIs are nice toys too. Toys without any usable up-to-date lens. And output that crumbles apart if you push it too hard in post-processing. There are samples on web, try lifting shadows on K-5 II/s, you will see what I mean. Plus they software smooth output at higher ISOs (sure Canon does same, but they dont do it at ISO 1600).

And colors, mostly off and bit "wierd" (thats perceptive thing, I agree).

And their best FA lenses of past? Best use I saw was either on Canon or modified on Sony A99. That is really shame..

Only thing really interesting from Pentax is 645D. That is "something". Rest is pretty much close to nothing.. Unless you like sturdy camera - with kit lens.

Ron Nabity said...

I like the Olympus EM-5, and look forward to using it more and more. But right now I'm still trying to get a body that doesn't have the "black-frame" shutter problem. This problem has shown up on two new bodies, fresh out of the box. Today's UPS delivery will either produce a working body or a third return. Waiting to see...

The Olympus customer service is so hapless that Amazon's 30-day return policy has become my "Obi-Wan Kenobe," my only hope.

It's hard to get excited about Olympus' new model, the EM-1, after this experience.

Just sayin'. Sorry to be a Downer.

Jim Simmons said...

"Have I left anyone out?" you're kidding me, right? You are doing a survey of interesting developments and pushes by camera companies and you don't mention Fuji(film)? Maybe they don't carry them at Precision Camera? Traditionalists love them. After 40 years of rangefinder photography, my Fuji is my first digital that really feels right in may hands. Big enough. Viewfinder in the right location. Sensible controls scheme. Check 'em out Kirk!

Kirk Tuck said...

Precision Camera is a full stocking Fuji dealer. I did a review of the original X100 when it came out. I handled the EX, hated it and decided not to review. The Pro was a non-starter for me since it's the only quasi pro camera in the world without a diopter adjustment for the eyepiece. I know people love them but aside from the cool styling and what many people describe as a wonderful sensor there have been so many operational issues, ranging from raw file accessibility to focusing to goofy early firmware issues that I just can't go there. Yes, I know the lenses are fantastic. When they finish with the cameras and have final product I'll happily test one.

Frank Grygier said...

Bad Karma most likely

Unknown said...

"...output that crumbles apart if you push it too hard in post-processing" you have no idea...

I own a Pentax K5, and shoot with it regularly using FA and DA Limiteds. It's a photographers' camera, its output is on top of the APS-C chain. I am a real photographer, talking about real photos, not an armchair reviewer. Believe me, you really have no idea...

Ron Nabity said...

Um, yeah, that must be it. Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

It's funny how bad experiences with reliability from a brand can completely take them off the table.

I've done it myself, having had terrible problems with the last 2 Fuji cameras I bought there's no way I'd look to buy one again. They both took great photos, but had quirks with battery life and reliability which in the end rendered them unusable.

In contrast my Olympus pen has been flawless since day 1 and it'll be the first brand I look to when I come to upgrade.

Quality assurance in this sector is very, very important.

Claire said...

Kirk I not only handled the XE-1, a Fuji fan close friend of mine was kind enough to let me borrow his, along with the 35/1.4 for a full week !! I put hundreds of shots on that thing. And like you, I didn't like it. Sure, Fuji makes pretty cameras, which look cool retro and come with bragging rights. I'm over 40 so a bit past that ;) I found the aperture ring on the lens was accidentally turned way too often, and the shutter speed dial was actually only halfway usefull since if you want intermediary values, you still have to push a button, the digital way. To me Fuji's analog marketing is just that... shrewd marketing. Despite being much touted I found WB to be a hurdle, and I couldn't get single film simulation mode to render colors completely faithfully. I went back scurrying to my NEX 7 that looks beautifully austere, doesn't pretend to be from the past, and delivers quick@ss IQ. Don't get me wrong I still feel the X10 is the best fixed lens camera out there, I just bought one for a friend, it's an amazing little camera for the price. But Fuji's ILC aren't there yet, and I'm not even mentioning AF speed (ok maybe now I am) that's even worse than on the NEX, far from a speed demon itself...

Frank Grygier said...

I own two EM-5 and other Oly's. Never experienced anything like you describe. Service has been good as well. The camera is a computer after all and can make the wrong exposure decision from time to time.
Good Karma.

Charles said...

Kirk, my mistake. I thought you had picked up the Samsung. My mistake there. I've been following you ever since you started and were using Nikon. I bought a Olympus SLR before you started your switch and I followed it with a lot of interest. I bought more lenses at time when by, but I didn't get into the SHG lenses that you got to use. I was a little jealous. I remember your switch to Sony with some disappointment, but I had or was transitioning to film at that time for a couple years for a school I was going to. That experience has really changed how I approach my photography and I've gone from a total gear head, to not caring nearly as much. As such I haven't been following your adventures with Samsung as closely as I would have. Like your friends I'm quite satisfied with the E-M5. I'm still tempted by the improvements in the E-M1, but I don't need them for my 'work'. The ergonomics seem like such an improvement over the E-M5 though.

Sony has seemed like a good match for your work with higher resolution and decent video I was surprised to see you playing around with other cameras, but if you get them to try out I can understand. I always found the Pentax system pretty appealing, but the K-01 does seem like a quirky camera. The new Canon seems to have some nice video AF improvements, and the D800 still the best resolution (if you have the lenses), but Sony has a good mix.

I laughed when I read your comment about Tokyo though. I live in Tokyo now and have for a few years. I can say that the weight of an SLR and the crazy summer heat is one thing that drove me to try film and eventually to m43s. A person's style (how many lenses they carry), life style (how much they walk or use a car, how active), where they live.. etc can play a much bigger role in camera than people in the forums would like to admit. If you come to Tokyo I'd love to show you around or at least take you to one of the great underground restaurants around. There are so many treasures in this city you don't know about until you've lived here a while.

Thank you for the longer and kinder answer than I deserved. I didn't mean it as a criticism. I've always admired your photography and writing and I hope I can enjoy it for a while. If you get someone to loan you a E-M1 and a couple recent lenses I will look forward to your comments.

Ron Nabity said...

I have two EM-5's - one works, the others (all returned) didn't. It happens in Manual mode, so it's not an exposure decision issue. I sent the camera to Olympus for warranty repair, two weeks later they sent it to back me saying it was repaired, it wasn't.

It's pretty easy to test (best done outside on a sunny day):
1) In Manual mode, set the shutter speed to 1/4000.
2) Set the aperture and ISO to get a good exposure.
3) Turn off the camera for a few minutes.
4) Turn on the camera and take 3 shots of the same scene.
If all three shots look the same, then you're in good shape. If the first frame is black, the second one is dark, and the third one starts to look right, then you have a model with a bad shutter. Hopefully you are still under warranty. If you never need to shoot under these conditions, then you may not need to worry.

I discovered this while taking photos with a 1.8 lens outdoors and wanted shallow DOF, pushed the shutter speed up high.

Corwin Black said...

Ah, again one of those "limited to one brandname" Pentax fanboys. Go out, try something else (who knows, maybe even full frame, you know thats for what those FA lens were made). Then go back to K-5 and try to be honest with yourself.

Most of these (and similar) opinions usually came from people that never tried anything else than what they bought as first camera system.

And about K-5 II, its rather simple. You lift shadows and noise without details shows its head. If you shoot over ISO 1600, you will get reduced details and close to non-removable noise (courtesy of permanent NR in RAW). Thanks but no thanks.

Truth is that Pentax shot themselves into both legs moment they decided to go with APS-C only. To they comfort, they werent only one great brand from film days that acted stupid in digital age.

I have idea about Pentax. And that idea is rather simple. There are better things out there..

Unknown said...

So you are comparing APS-C against FF? That's your metric? The K-5 does one of the better implementations of they now very common Sony 16mp APS-C sensor, found in many cameras -I can't think of any other current APS-C sensor that shows the balance between dynamic range (yes, shadows included),resolution and color that this Sony sensor has. Again, if you are going to compare different watermelons and kiwis, why stop with FF, go ahead and compare against MF...

PS: I use Nikon as my other system, doesn't stop me from admiring good cameras...

John Wilson said...

I borrowed the K-01 as a backup camera in a pinch for a job I did recently.

In some conditions I was constantly fighting the autofocus. I missed lots of shots because of this.

But when it got everything right, oh! the pictures are fantastic.

I mean, the raw files are amazing and have a ton of latitude. Which is good, because you are going to need the latitude because the exposure metering blows. Seriously, it's so wide ranging and weird and at times makes absolutely no sense. Fortunately you can frequently make 1.5 to 2 stop adjustments in Lightroom without even noticing a quality loss. Yeah. Try that with your Canon.

Ultimately it drove me a little too crazy. I still kinda want one though. (But no EVF! Not even a tiltable screen!)

Robert Bruce said...

Hi I am still shooting film and have quite a few rolls and reels of both C41, E6 (that I have to send to the US for processing, like in the old Kodachrome days) and TMY and TMX. However, there is an Olympus camera that I would love to see called the EP5. When will you review it?