My most fun camera purchase of the year. The Olympus EM5.2. There

I made most of my income last year shooting with Nikon cameras. One in particular; the D810. But it was not the camera that made me smile most and pushed me to do fun pictures most often. That honor goes to the Olympus OMD EM-5.2. And I'll try to tell you why. 

There is a reason people pay crazy amounts of money for really cool watches. Most of the really cool watches are mechanical. Automatics. Self-winders. We collectively like the idea of precision machining. Of distilling down mechanical engineering to its quintessence. And, apparently we like the same feeling and design aesthetic in our cameras; at least I do. 

The Olympus OMD line of cameras is an interesting milestone in camera development because these cameras, along with cameras like the Nikon 7X00 series, the Pentax K-3s and the Panasonic GH4, represent the point at which most of us will agree cameras became transparently good. To echo a word used by blogger, Ming Thein, all of these cameras have reached and surpassed the point of sufficiency. They are more than adequate for the imaging needs of almost everyone. 

The desire for more megapixels and bigger sensors may have its place in practice for professionals who must, on occasion, be ready to deliver enormous files (while most of the time they will also find 16 megapixels more than adequate....) and for ardent amateurs and artists who have a need to print their images at very, very large sizes. But clearly, for most of us, the sensor and image pipeline development of cameras hit their Honda Accord or Toyota Camry level of sufficiency with the introduction of Sony's low noise 16 and 16+ megapixel sensors, nearly three years ago. The need for the "Bentley" version of a standard camera is largely fiction. 

The one thing my Olympus cameras don't do with my current m4:3 lenses that would make them a match for my full frame cameras is to have an exciting ramp from in focus to out of focus with the lenses I currently own. Friend Frank has consistently shown me that I can get the same effect with faster, higher quality glass on the smaller cameras. I have used his Leica/Panasonic 42.5mm f1.2 lens wide open and I've seen the light (and a wonderfully shallow depth of field portrait rendering).  There are more and more very fast lenses coming onto the market for the smaller cameras which help mitigate this difference between formats. 

But cameras are more than just the sum of their sensors and their lenses. I like the Olympus cameras for several other reasons. I love the tactile feel of the EM5.2 control knobs, as well as their prominence on the top panel of the camera. The size and dimensions of the camera, with the added battery grip are absolutely perfectly sized for my hands. The EVF is great. The image stabilization is one of the wonders of the photographic world. And, counterintuitively, the file size of the raw files is just right for my workflow, and the workflows of nearly everyone I know who is seriously interested in photography. 

Add to all this a sophisticated color rendering, that seems to be a consistent Olympus hallmark, and you've got a great shooting system. Good handling, good color, good viewing, great imaging and metering. It's a powerful system and the camera, currently, brand new, is $899. The EM5.2 ticks every box for me. It's why even though I may stray to other camera systems from time to time, I always come back to the Olympus OMD series for the sheer, exuberant fun of taking photographs. 

I upgraded from the original EM5 cameras to the EM5 version 2 cameras this year. I have two of them. One is black and one is silver. Both are equipped with grips because we shoot video with them and the grips add an input for microphones. I have a fun collection of lenses for these cameras and I'm only sitting on the fence about getting one more lens. I want a serious 70-200mm equivalent and I'm torn between the Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8 (which I have owned and found to be more or less flawless) and the newer, bigger, very well reviewed Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 lens. The Panasonic is smaller and lighter but the Olympus has 50mm of extra reach, which can come in hand. It also has a tripod mount --- desirable for shooting vertical portraits while on a tripod. I'm sure I'll go back and forth until the next project and then make a choice. The only other thing I need to buy is more batteries. Always more batteries. 

But I am comfortable with the cameras and I don't consider the rush to higher megapixel counts in these cameras to be necessary for me. Most client uses for image files haven't changed much since the days of six and twelve megapixel cameras. Yes, used at the bleeding edge of commercial applications, the bigger files are great. But most of us can go through a year or so, professionally, before a project with such stringent and lofty requirements come up.

I'm a bit chicken. Burned by the devastation of the last economic meltdown. I'll use the Nikon D810 not out of necessity but as extra layers of insurance, when I shoot for clients. But when I go out for the joy of taking images and I have no one else that I have to please, except for myself, my choices are much different. It's an important distinction. Work - Play. All the emotion in these kinds of discussions is mostly wrapped up in the artificially binary nature of thinking. Lots of people believe that you MUST make a choice. You must select one system and give it your allegiance at all times. 

I've said time and again that Texans often own a big pick-up truck for hauling crap around and doing work but also own a nice sedan; Honda, BMW or Mercedes --- maybe a Ford Fusion, for those times when parking a dually truck in a downtown parking space just doesn't make sense. 

For my fun camera system of the year I am highly recommending the Olympus OMD cameras. They fill a great niche, are fun to use, and very affordable. 

After almost a year of using them for business and pleasure I am 90% able to navigate their one, non-fatal flaw: the menus. 

Curious to know if you have a dual camera inventory. One for business, another for pleasure. Or am I the outlier here?

A small image gallery of stuff shot commercially last year
with Olympus EM5.2 cameras and M4:3 lenses
(plus an adapted Nikon or two).


Mike said...

I do have two, partly because I read this blog . . .

I have my Nikon full frame cameras that I use for my business, but I have the EM5 for fun. I have what I consider to be a complete set of lenses - the 12, 17 and 45 - but would like to see what I could do professionally with this camera. It feels right shooting. I used it for this portrait of my daughter (https://flic.kr/p/v4MxN5) that is probably one of my favorites that I took this year.

MikeR said...

I threw in the towel on film cameras in 2001, left my 35mm Canon SLR in the drawer, and got a Kodak DC4800 to "learn digital" with what looked to be a "serious" camera. It's now going on 15 years, and about as many cameras, later. Nikon DSLR and some lenses. A series of Canon P&S. First gen M43 stuff, more lenses. Second gen. Third. Adapted lenses. Panasonix LX's.

The light bulb finally went on: I want a camera that I don't have to screw around with, don't have to plan ahead, don't have to haul a bunch of crap in case I need it. Most important, that I don't mind carrying around.

MY answer: Lumix LX100. Fantastic zoom lens, external controls for aperture, speed, format, AF/MF, exposure compensation, compact, feels solid in the hand, and fits in a small belt-mounted Manfrotto pouch. That, plus an LX7 that I keep in my briefcase, and I'm set.

James Pilcher said...

I operate at a level lower than yours, Kirk, primarily because photography is my passion, not my income. My "serious" no-compromise system consists of ยต4/3 Olympus bodies with a mixture of Olympus and Panasonic/Leica lenses. My "play" kit is a Panasonic LX7; a very fine camera for its type. It is with me at all times. The dual-kit concept remains similar, though. I have a serious and a play setup. I also find that I reach for the play setup more than I thought I would.

Regarding that M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens: It's a wonder. Buy it. 'Nuff said.

Gato said...

I don't do much pro photography anymore, but I have a D800 for those times when I really need (or more likely, want) the extra resolution compared to my Panasonic main system.

The D800 was bought used as a reality check, just to see how much I was missing with the m4/3 format. The difference is enough to keep it around for special occasions, but not enough to make a full switch. The image quality is nice, even if only I see it, but I find the limited autofocus area and optical finder a real step back. Given that I only make 20 or 30 prints a year and I can't remember the last time I made a print larger than 16x20, the Nikon is a luxury.

If anything had to go the big guy would be the first camera out the door.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk - I progressed from Nikon Coolpix in 2006 to D2X (and 4 lenses), D7000, D7001, sold, switched to Fuji XPro-1, X-E1, X-T1, then back a bit to the X-T10, two lenses, for Charitable Organization shoots where I cannot zoom with my feet. My all-time favorite "art", walk-around camera is my Fuji X100S, goes everywhere with me. Wishing you a very happy and prosperous 2016.

Dano said...

I use a sony a7ii for 80% of business in writing and photographing restaurant article for magazine and OMD 5Ii for the remainder. When I travel for fun I use an OMD. What lens did you use for the food shot above?

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Sigma DN 60mm f2.8

Dougie Hoser said...

You sold me on the E-M5 II last May, and fortunately, I can just look at heavy beautifully-performing, but oh-so-not-fun DSLR gear in the rear view mirror entirely. I'll be happy to sell off that last of my Nikon gear soon. The most significant revelation to me was the Panasonic/"Leica" 15mm f/1.7. It is the best single lens I've ever owned, and it always makes the cut whether I'm carrying one, two, or three lenses. I never expected to love a camera+lens combination so much, easily replacing my D600+85/1.8G+28/1.8G combination. Three fabulous Olympus primes round out my kit (12/2, 45, and 75), and I couldn't be happier.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a professional photographer but I am passionate about it, so...

When I really want a special shot, I still pull out the Nikon FX and Nikon lenses. This is usually reserved for challenging lighting conditions (i.e., twilight/nighttime landscape, astrophotography, etc.).

For everything else, I've been using "bridge" cameras for years. First was the Panasonic Lumix FZ18, then the FZ150, and now the Sony RX10.


Wolfgang Lonien said...

Here's my "pingback" to this, and to your recent article about the 28mm Nikkor.

Paul said...

Theoretically I use two camera systems, one based on Canon full frame cameras, and the othe based around various Olympus m4/3s bodies. The Olympuses (Olympi?) were bought for travel and fun, but they are now used for virtually everything and I'm trying to work up the courage to sell off the Canon kit.

Wally said...

Nikon D7200 for action and some video- headphone jack for audio!- but use Sigma Merrill DP2 for landscape along with big heavy tripod, delay shutter, shutter release cable, showup at dawn and pray for the wind to stop blowing. For my casual carrying around camera its a Panasonic GX 7 with Vario power zoom and a plastic 45-200 thats pretty sharp!

Mostly the NIkon gathers dust!

Joe said...

For legal documentation requiring the highest possible detail (such as construction claim cases, a Pentax K-3 is used, along with a variety of nice FA full-frame lenses. If the new Pentax full-frame is decent and decently priced, then I'll likely get one a few months after its teething problems are worked out, assuming that the resolution of my lenses is adequate for that 42MP sensor.

However, the E-M5 and E-M5.2 are the cameras that I carry when I want to do any other sort of photography, including 24"x36" prints for solo exhibits. Most of the primes are excellent, but the Sigma 60mm / 2.8 ART ($209!) is excellent, and an excellent value. The Panasonic 35-100/f4 is a very nice, inexpensive (about $350 on sale, $398 list) and light carry-around zoom that makes a good travel telephoto.

Honeybadger said...

I've been using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with the 12-40 and the really beautiful new 40-150 2.8 zooms. The specs on the build are almost out of this world, and you've mentioned the extra reach the lens provides which I find welcome, but the lens has a never before implemented 2 focusing motor system that run independent of each other, for a snap focus like a primary lens. I'm sure you'll find that option important when your chasing a giant anteater around the zoo. I also rely on the easy to access manual focusing ring. And, don't overlook the importance of the tripod foot now that the 4.0 update arrived with the focus stacking option. You'll want to strap that lens/camera down for some earth shaking, drop dead gorgeous pictures.

Unknown said...

Yes I have two systems (and some hangers-on). But neither makes me any money! My Leica set up comes out when I want to do more 'serious' work. I also like the discipline of using only primes, having to look at the scene without the seduction of a wysiwyg viewfinder, and the second-to-none manual focus of the rangefinders. I think I probably get my best pictures using this system. My m4/3 system comes out when I just need a camera, or need the extra flexibility it offers. In my case it's an OM-D E-M5, now getting on for four years old, and the most used camera of my life.

I did have the panasonic 12-35 f2.8, and 35-100 f2.8, and they are superb lenses. However, I bought the Oly 40-150 f2.8, with teleconverter in anticipation of a trip to the Galapagos, at which point I reluctantly sold the 35-100. The Oly is every bit as good as the Pany, but not any better, but I did find its manual focus clutch, and close focus to be very useful. Unfortunately, the zoom ring on the Oly moves in the opposite direction to the Panasonics. I got to the point where this bothered me enough that I had to trade in the Panasonic 12-35 for the Oly 12-40 f2.8. Again it is a superb lens but not noticeably better than the Panasonic. Now I am resisting the urge to get the Panasonic 42.5 f1.2, because I am almost sure Olympus will have their version out sometime soon (hopefully with a manual focus clutch). Might as well just get the Olympus lens in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I have a FX Nikon for when I really need it, or feel up to carrying it around. It handles the larger format rendering that I sometimes want, and the files are insurance for important projects.

But honestly I'm on the E-M5 II wagon as well. I owned the first version but it didn't click for me for whatever reason. I'm in love with the Mk. II. It's perfect for reportage style shooting where I'm not obsessed with image quality and I actually find myself wishing i had more depth of field to work with. The IBIS really is phenomenal, I love the small size and small lenses, and quite frankly I can get busy and just shoot with the damned thing. The menus are horrible but I never go any further than the super control panel now that I've got the body setup how I like it. Great camera.

Oh, speaking of the fun factor, make sure to get the "lousy" pancake/body cap lenses!

Anonymous said...

It's always a pleasure to read your blog, and I always appreciate it when someone praises the lighter weight divisions. My main camera is a Panasonic GX7, and my "sidekick" is the LX100. My last film camera was a medium format system, so even the Canon rep at a trade show said, "You've done your service." Photography should be fun, even if it is your job.

Ron Nabity said...

I tried to straddle two systems, but now I use OMD cameras for both work and fun. I sold off all the Canon full frame gear after using the M43 for about six months. I found that I really needed to enjoy the Work as much as the Play and the Olympus cameras fit the bill for me.

Funny thing - the E-M1 is now my Work body and the E-M5/2 is my Play body. (For video Work and Play I use prosumer video cameras)

One cool feature on the EM5/2 is the articulating screen. My favorite screen position is closed, so everything is done in the EVF. Wish I could completely shut down the LCD screen on the EM1.

Anonymous said...

Yes! I have two very different camera systems. My field and bad weather camera is a Fuji XT-1 with the 10-24, 18-135WR, 55-200. I cut my photo-teeth on 35mm film cameras in the early 60's and felt instantly at home with the XT-1 and its way lighter than my old Canon heavy metal gear. At my age, light is a BIG plus. My other system is a Nikon V3 which I bought exclusively for street photography. The camera has a bad rap which is over exaggerated. If you learn how to handle the files properly (forget Adobe) the results are pretty remarkable. It is fast, fast, fast. quiet, unobtrusive, doesn't scream PROFESSIONAL, the lenses are sharp at any aperture (13x19 prints - no problem) and light (body and 3 lenses covering 15-800 fit into a little bag no bigger than an average purse). In their proper environments both are a joy to work with. And yes, they both suffer from the common flaw of mirrorless - poor battery life; so I have 5 sets for the Fuji and 3 for the Nikon.

A Happy and Prosperous New Year Mr.T and to all of you.

John W

Hugh said...

I tried the OMD EM5 with 17/1.8 and 45/1.8 lenses as a second, lightweight setup.
Lovely camera, great lenses. Didn't suit me.

I use a 5D3 with 35/1.4, 85/1.2 and 135/2.0 lenses for serious stuff.
If I want to travel light, I use the 5D3 with the old light 35/2.0 and the 85/1.8.

.... so you might say I have a two lens sysytem.

Sold everything else - Zen-like calm now.

Dogster said...

Totally Concur. Love my Nikon D750, and like you totally enjoy the OM-D, mine is a E-M10, which I find works really well with fast prime lenses, such as the new Panasonic 25 f1.7. I like the bigger Nikon for the confidence it brings. The Olympus is fun but not so confidence inspiring.
I love your blog, looking everyday. You seldom if ever disappoint me there. You energy seems amazing.

Anders C. Madsen said...

I only use one system, primarily because I really can't justify the expense of keeping two different sets of modern bodies, lenses and flashes in my inventory.

However, when I'm doing client work you'll find me using my Nikon D610 with a battery grip and one of the f/1.8 G series primes 95% of of the time, whereas I'll usually leave the grip at home and mount the do-all-pretty-well Nikon 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 instead of the primes when taking my camera on a hike or just for a walk.

I know that it's still a far cry from a compact system like the Olympus or the Fuji, but it's still manageable and I never have to worry about resolution - the 24 MP provided by the D610 has always been sufficient until now.

And yes, should a client reguest higher resolution I will definitely go get the D810, provided that the project has a sufficiently high price tag to justify the expense.

sbimson said...

I too came to the conclusion that having multiple systems makes sense for me. I have a Canon 5Ds for studio work and when I really need the resolution or the autofocus for a job. For travel, fun and everything else I have a Fuji X-T10 and X100T. The Canon takes a whole backpack full of gear to cover 24-200mm where as I have 35mm-135mm covered with the Fuji in a bag that is less than half the size and weight.

I seriously thought about the Sony A7RII as in theory it could be my one system and be configured with or without the battery grip to be "work" or "play" focused but when you factor in the size and weight of the lenses you aren't gaining much over Canon/Nikon and I already had the Canon glass. Battery life, autofocus differences, and access to a solid flash system all make choosing one system a bit of a mixed bag at the moment as one really needs the right tool for the right job and no manufacturer seems to tick all the boxes for me currently.

I also find that moving back and forth between two systems really helps keep me out of a mental rut and challenges me in a way that kind of breaks free some mental blocks.

John F. Opie said...

For Gigapans, E30 + Leica APO 180 f3.4. For everything else, EM1/EPL2/EPM1 with a slew of lenses from 9 to 600.

My go-to kit is the EM1 with the 12-60 via adapter, the Panny 45-200 and a 14 f2.5 for size. I always toss in the 9mm lenscap (it takes no room) and it all fits in a small shoulder bag for the weekend.

Dream kit: EM1+EM5-II, the three m4/3 Pro lenses and the 300 when it's out. Don't need anything more.

Timelapse work uses the EPM1 or EPL2 for 4k, with whatever fits the need. Don't have much time for that these days, though.

Dave Ringoen said...

Mike, good to hear you like your LX100. Mine is currently at Panasonic having the lens replaced. It had a decentered element, and I've always been disappointed in the sharpness. I was starting to think I needed to sell the camera and buy an EM5 II or something. This encourages me to give it another try. Are you happy with the results you're getting with yours?

Noons said...

Ah well, resistance is futile. Just got my EM5.2 last week.
It's everything I hoped for! And now that I figured out how to get focus confirmation with MF lenses, it's off to take astro photos with the Nikkor 500/8 mirror lens in high res mode - hopefully now I'll be able to focus it precisely.
This thing can even stack photos for wide angle sky shots without need for any additional s/w! And the video is amazing: I might take video on a frequent base again as a result, instead of only once in a blue moon!
It's all your fault, Kirk! ;)

Chris Beloin said...

I added the EM-1 this fall with the 25 and 45mm 1.8 lenses - It's a good all around camera

Still looking for a good small camera solution - Perhaps those new pen cameras may fill the bill when they come out


Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk
Good choice and I agree with you. I sell all my gears (Nikon D800, Fuji X-Pro1, Pentax K-3, Sigma DP2 Quattro) and bought instead second hand Oly E-M5II, with Oly 25/1.8, Oly 45/1.8, Oly 75/1.8, Oly 17/1.8, Oly 12-40/2.8 Pro and Oly 7-14/2.8 Pro!
And I am so impressed about the improvement of handling and image quality since I had the old E-M5 3 years ago!!

The complete Oly-gear I can wear in a bag! And have all ready to hand! And the body and the 2 zoom-Pro lenses are weather-sealed. too! Even real weather-sealed!

And I would never go back to APS-C or FF digicams!

The Oly lenses are very very sharp and these lenses can be used till 40 MP-MFT-Sensor! For the lenses, I do not have to change them, when Oly will come out with the new E-M1 II this year.

I need a second digicam. The E-M10 II is to small and I would like the E-M1! But, I wait of the new E-M1II.

For my next exhibition I am looking easy and enjoying to show print images till 45 inches! This is not en issue for the Oly E-M5 II!!! Not at all..