Thanks to the awesome folks at Looking Glass Photo I had a chance to test out a shiny new Olympus camera this weekend. For free, and you can too! Well, at least if you live in the Bay area.
Here’s a quick review.
If you are familiar with anything in the current PEN or OM lines, there won’t be many surprises when you pick up the newest one. That’s a good thing, since I really bonded with my E-M5 over the last couple years, and changing a great thing is not generally advisable. The handling and photo taking aspects of the EM-10 that differ from it’s older brother are small in number. I won’t dwell on the similarities.
A few changes were immediately noticeable when I picked it up for the first time. It is smaller and lighter, although not by much. I would say this is absolutely as small as you can go and still have a full control set that can be used effectively.
My hands occasionally cramp up after a few hours of shooting with the E-M5 unless I take precautions. The extra grip attachment is a good investment, but I didn’t have one for the little OM. What space there is on the surface of the camera does not go to waste, the controls allowed me either one or two handed use, depending on how I set it up and the choice of lens I was working with.
The version of the camera I got was dressed in shiny black instead of the matte chrome finish I’m more accustomed to. The play button and the AEL button were switched. Yes, this actually works much better, but changing bodies may (and did) lead to some wrong button pushes under stress. I’ll get used to it.
That’s pretty much it on the surface. However, as soon as I started shooting, there were some very nice surprises. The buttons and dials are more solid feeling. There is a nice positive clickiness when turning or pressing.
The bit of tactile mechanical feedback is very welcome. There is none of the mushiness that seems to be a necessary side-effect of environmental sealing (which the EM-10 does not have).
Having a pop-up flash built in as an RC commander is useful. I checked to see if RC works with the FL600R. Actually, I think in terms of triggering the remote flash, the pop-up seems a little less likely to miss at wider angles than the attachable unit that came with the E-M5. The four groups, TTL and super FP controls are all still there, just like the higher end of the product line. It is seriously great that they didn’t dumb this down. Yes, I now want one.
TTL worked pretty much as expected, except I managed to confuse it once or twice when I dialed in what appeared to be a bad combination of manual exposure and flash comp settings. I can’t say this ever happened to me with the older model. The external flash is listed in the remote control panel as having a range of +/-5 eV, but the internal flash only has built-in +/-3 eV settings.
Somehow I managed to get the camera to hang after pressing the shutter button, and then had to cycle the power once, and the other time it came to life after more than a few seconds of blank screen. All the exposure settings reverted back to ones I was using earlier, and the image didn’t show up on the card. This was a bit frustrating, but also, at least during my day of testing, a very rare occurrence. Not sure if it was the combination of manual exposure and higher flash compensations settings or something else that triggered it.
This is probably something that a minor fix through firmware updating will take care of, or someone needs to explain how to avoid incompatible exposure settings in the manual.
Other than a few new options that I didn’t try, like the HDR mode, the biggest change is to the autofocus system. It seemed blazingly fast. The pin-point S-AF with touchscreen activation was right on, the face detection and grouped AF points captured some really quick shots that I just assumed I would miss when I lifted the camera a bit late, and even the tracking AF seems to be a little perkier than in the older model. Great stuff!
After filling up an SD card, I’m accustomed to taking it out to transfer files. While the new Wi-Fi system is not as fast as direct transfer to either a computer or tablet, it is fast enough for getting JPEGs across the room, which is the only file type that will transfer to the O.I. app on the iPad or iPhone. One note, the default setting hidden deep in the iOS app preferences will take your L-SF (large super-fine) image and make it medium sized. It was a while before I figured out how to make it stop.
I also tried remote control using live-view with some success. I guess my remote cable isn’t going to be getting anymore use. The only downside I can see is that you really need to bring back-up batteries if your going to use the Wi-Fi much while on the go. That said, I did get an easy full day out of one battery, but that was just traipsing around the city shooting. Nothing too serious.
All right, so much for handling, exposure, focus, and file transfer. What about the image quality you ask? Easy, it is seemingly identical to the E-M5, and probably the E-M1 as well as the current PEN models.
The sensor is fundamentally the same generation, although there is a newer engine under the hood for processing. I didn’t really see any difference in image quality, but I mostly stuck to raw processing onboard to try JPEG transfer by Wi-Fi.
One thing I wish the engineers would add is an option for having the JPEGs stored on the SD card follow their respective raw images in the list of files. Maybe I’m missing something, but I haven’t found an option for sorting images into groups with their associated originals. I like how the Ricoh GR does this, and it just seems the right way. If I remember correctly, my last Fuji-X also did it that way. With the Oly, I find myself zooming out to thumbnail view and flipping through pages of files after each photo I process.
My favorite Oly filters are the Vivid and Monochrome ones. I use a little tone curve tweaking to pull in the highlights and push down the shadows. This helps keep from blowing out the highs and tends to avoid noise or posterization in the deep shadows. If anything, I would say the highs still tend to get funky if I try some fancy stuff with levels and curves after transferring the files to my iPad. It’s easier to notice this on a bigger screen and avoid it while post-processing at a computer.
With matrix metering (or center weighted for AEL) with the intention of B&W, I tend to use a little positive exposure comp for people pictures during capture, and the shadow adjustment filter to lighten up skin tones a bit afterwards. With colorful objects, I sometimes go the other way and dial down the compensation a notch, especially if I plan to use the shadow adjustment at all.
In short, everything I normally do seemed to require little to no adjustment with the new camera.
I don’t usually stop at OOC JPEGs, but go on to either iPhoto or Snapseed on my iPad when traveling, and Aperture plus CS6 to finalize things at home. However, the quality of the basic JPEG images out-of-camera is enough that it allows me to avoid going back for .ORF import unless I am trying something more creative or am really desperate to use a poor image file that needs a lot of work.
These pics were shot on the mean streets of Oakland, S.F. and Berkeley on an overcast Saturday afternoon. The lenses I used were a loaner M. Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 and my Pana-Leica 35-100mm f/2.8.
If you want to check out the Olympus weekend special yourself, here’s a link. I give it a big thumbs up!
What else can I say, it’s a good little camera. Go try one for free while this deal lasts!