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).