Thanks to a very thoughtful Father’s Day gift from my Son, I received an Olympus E-M1 from Borrow Lenses for 3 days.
Disclaimer – this is not a scientific review of the E-M1. There are plenty of those available online. This is rather my personal opinion and experience. Some of the photos posted are untouched and others are worked quite a bit.
I already have an Olympus E-M5 and several M4/3 lenses, and am very happy with them. The E-M1 came as a body only, and that worked out perfectly, allowing me to use my own favorite lenses for this test drive.
In case you’re wondering, here’s a short list of the lenses that I have for my E-M5:
- Olympus 17mm f/1.8
- Olympus 45mm f/1.8
- Panasonic 45-200mm
- Rokinon 7.5mm fisheye
The only problem I had with this wonderful gift was figuring out how to make the best use of it. Since I’m not much of a street scene shooter, I took wandering-around-town-taking-random-shots off of the list. There were no air shows or drag races going on, and with some very ugly, hazy days, there wasn’t much hope of catching a grand landscape (at least in my area).
My solutions were backyard shots of my dogs playing (gotta try some kind of action), and touring a couple of air museums. Neither of these options would press the E-M1 to its limits, but it would allow me to see how well it handled in some everyday situations.
First up, backyard action with the dogs. I have 2 Cairn Terriers, and 1 Chihuahua mix, and they love to play in the water. I set the E-M1 and Panasonic 45-200mm lens up with C-AF (continuous auto focus), but wasn’t having a lot of luck with it. Sometimes it would work and adjust focus as expected, then it would be off, lost and hunting (little dogs move fast). But I did stick with it and got several keepers. It was late afternoon during this time, and the light was bright and harsh. Here are some of the settings I used:
- Aperture Priority
- ISO – 200
- 1/2000 sec.
Next up – Air Museums. There was certainly no action to be had at an air museum, but I thought it would be interesting to see how the E-M1 handled in low light. I purposely did not use a flash and instead put the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 lens on the E-M1. This seemed like a good combination. The 17mm f/1.8 lens is fast enough to work in low light conditions and I’ve been very pleased with quality of images created with it.
Actually, I visited 2 air museums with the E-M1. The first was Yanks Air Museum in Chino California, and the second was the Palm Springs Air Museum. Both are very nice facilities with some fantastic examples of aircraft. Yanks has some great WWII warbirds including an F6F-5 Hellcat with an interesting paint job. It also has some great modern aircraft including an F-14 Tomcat, F-15A Eagle, and an F-18 from the Blue Angels.
The second air museum was the Palm Springs Air Museum. This turned out to be a show case for a nice variety of planes. One of the highlights for me was being able to go inside of the B-17G “Miss Angela”. The Docent was very knowledgable and shared some interesting facts about the B-17 and the men that flew them. I am in awe of what those brave crews went through on a daily basis in order to win the war. As for the E-M1, I bumped up the ISO from 640 to 1250 to handle the very low light inside the B-17 and it worked perfectly!
Here are some of the settings I used for the air museums:
- Aperture Priority
- ISO – 640 to 1250 (depending on location)
- Shutter speed varied from 1/15 to 1/100 sec.
- F-Stop varied from f/2.8 to f/8 depending on location.
Overall my impressions of the E-M1 are good. It’s a little larger than my E-M5, but not so large as to be a burden when carrying it around all day. The controls are laid out nicely and it has a few additional buttons that E-M5 does not.
I noticed in some online forums that the Olympus menu system isn’t a favorite, with claims that it’s not intuitive and is overly complicated. I suppose this is true when you first start trying to figure it out. I didn’t really have a problem with it, but to be fair, I have some experience with the menu system, going back to the Olympus E-P3. It can be a bit confusing but there are some good resources out there to help you through that. Here’s a place to start if you want some help setting up the E-M1 – PhotolisticLife
Just for fun, I tried the canned HDR feature, and didn’t find it to be anything special. It reminded me of a similar feature in my old Sony NEX3. The camera takes several exposures and combines them, then it gives you a .jpeg. Personally I’d rather just bracket the exposures myself and do the HDR work on the computer.
There was one difference between the E-M1 and my E-M5 that I did like, the quality of the electronic viewfinder (EVF). Maybe it’s just my eyes getting old, but the EVF seemed much more clear and bright than the one on my E-M5.
As I get ready to pack the E-M1 back in its box and return it to Borrow Lenses, it was a pleasure to be able to use this camera. Unfortunately, it’s about twice the price of an E-M5 (or the new E-M10). And the bottom line for me is that it wasn’t fantastically advanced enough over my E-M5 to warrant the expense of purchasing one. Yes, I did like it and enjoyed using it, but not enough to buy one outright. If I wanted it bad enough, I’d have to sell off some of my other gear to finance it, and right now I’m not in a hurry to do that.