An E-M1 Review, from the perspective of a GH4 owner

Discussion in 'Olympus Cameras' started by ijm5012, Apr 6, 2016.

  1. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Legend

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    I figured I'd write up a brief analysis of my initial thoughts of an E-M1 I just purchased, as it may be of interest to other Panasonic users who are looking at Olympus cameras. Some items will be E-M1 specific (ergonomics, button placement, etc.), but others are universal to Olympus (menu layout, IBIS, etc.).

    I'll start by giving a bit of background. I currently own two GH4 bodies and a host of native m43 lenses, all of which are Panasonic branded. I enjoy shooting motorsports, as it combines two of my favorite hobbies (racing, and cameras), but was frustrated with the performance of the Panasonic 100-300 in this regard. My main gripe with the lens was that it used an older aperture mechanism that limited the burst rate that's achievable when shooting in C-AF mode at anything other than max aperture. My 35-100 f/2.8 can easily achieve the 7fps that the GH4 is capable of delivering in the "medium" burst mode, yet the 100-300 would only achieve around 2-3fps. So I sold the lens, and figured I'd give manual focusing a try with zone focusing. I bought a 4/3's Olympus 50-200 (non-SWD) at the end of last season and got to use it once, where it performed pretty well. Still, I wanted to have the ability to autofocus the lens when needed, and the only camera that could do so was the E-M1.

    I had been keeping my eye on used E-M1 prices, as they had been falling and were hovering around the $700 mark. However, I was alerted to Olympus' 25% off sale, which brought the price of an E-M1 down to $540. I jumped on it, figuring that if I didn't like the camera I could always return it or sell it for a marginal loss, far less than what it would cost me to rent an E-M1 for even a few days.

    I received my camera yesterday, opened it up and much to my surprise, it literally looked like a brand-new camera. I checked the FW, which was still on 3.0, and I found this a bit odd because I figured that all refurbished cameras, as part of Olympus' "check", would have the FW updated to the most recent version. So I set about updating the FW to 4.1, which was way more hassle than it should have been (I have a whole thread about it, but the issue was that I had my sleep timer on the camera set to 1 minute, which prevented the FW from installing. A silly little issue that I never would have thought of). After updating the FW, I took some test shots and set the camera up to my liking, and then decided to check the shutter count. Much to my surprise, it only had a handful of shutter activations, and even fewer power-on cycles. I'm not certain if Olympus resets this info for refurbished cameras, or if I honestly got what appears to be a brand new camera. Either way, so far, so good (with the exception of the firmware update).

    So, what do I like about the camera:
    • The EVF is very nice. It's bigger than the one in my GH4, which I found more than adequate. I plan on getting the larger eye-cup though, as the one that comes on the camera is quite small.
    • IBIS is very nice. I put it through a "real world" test using my 12-35 f/2.8 with OIS off, and saw 3 stops worth of stabilization. If I really focus on being still I could eek another stop out of it.
    • The size. My god, do people really complain that the E-M1 is "large"? Coming from two GH4's (which aren't really that big in the grand scheme of things), the E-M1 is noticeably smaller in the hands.
    • The button placement is very nice. I particularly like the two buttons on the left hand side of the top plate by the On/Off switch that allow you to select metering, drive mode, etc.
    • The menus. The menus are not as intuitive as the Panasonic menus, but I feel that they get blown completely out of proportion. It took me 15-20 minutes to go through the menus and get the camera set up to my liking. The "info" button is a very handy tool to use when going through the menu, as Olympus' naming structure is a bit confusing, but the info box clearly explains what each item does.
    What I don't like about the camera:
    • The size. I put the size as an advantage, which it certainly is, but it's also a slight disadvantage as well. I have rather normal size hands (for anyone who's ever worn latex/nitrile goves, I wear a size M), and my pinky completely hangs off the bottom of the grip. This is fine when using the camera with small prime lenses (which I'll be doing thanks to IBIS), but for using it with bigger lenses (like the 50-200), it needs something more. I plan to order the RRS bottom plate, which adds about a half inch of height to camera and would give my pinky a place to comfortably sit. The other benefit about the base plate is the integrated Arca Swiss mount, which I'll use when shooting long exposures from a tripod.
    • The grip. Yes, the grip is nice on the E-M1 and certainly better than anything else Olympus has, but I still don't find it as comfortable as the one on my GH4's. I think the biggest "problem" is that it's too narrow when compared to the one on the GH4. Still, it's a minor gripe and not a deal breaker by any stretch of the imagination.
    • The menus. I don't think the menu system is nearly as bad as everyone seemingly makes it out to be. Having said that, it is more convoluted than the Panasonic menu structure, and could make it difficult to find some item that's likely buried on the third page of the "gear K" menu.

    Overall, I'm very happy with the camera so far (having only played with it for about 2-3 hours last night). I really bought the camera for three reasons: to AF my 50-200, to have IBIS for my primes, and for the long exposure modes like Live Time and Live Composite. There's a local auto-x coming up this weekend that I'll try to attend (temperatures are going to be damn cold though, upper 20's / lower 30's in the morning) where I'll be able to put the 50-200 through its paces with the E-M1 to see just how well it really works. I plan to evaluate the E-M1's performance against my GH4 when it comes to C-AF performance with native lenses like the 35-100 and 45-175, so I'll be sure to include an update about that.

    Hopefully this thread can shed some light on what I find as good, and what I find slightly annoying (because I haven't come across anything that's "bad") about the E-M1 after having shot Panasonic cameras for the past ~2 years. I'll be sure to update it as I learn more about the camera.
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  2. robcee

    robcee Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 10, 2016
    New Brunswick, Canada
    Rob Campbell
    Cool! Glad you're liking it overall. They're still fantastic cameras, IMO.

    Good call on the RRS plate. I keep one on mine all the time and it makes a nice difference while adding a bit of extra heft. It makes the camera feel much more like a tank and gives my pinkies a place to hook into.

    Interesting comment about the Panasonic 100-300. I still have one but don't use it nearly as much since I got my 40-150+MC14. I've never had problems shooting bursts on my Oly. I even managed to use it birding in Newfoundland last year and got some nice shots with it.

  3. PakkyT

    PakkyT Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 20, 2015
    New England
    Curious if you tried that lens on the E-M1 using the OIS instead to compare. I have that lens and the E-M1 and when I first got the lens last summer I simply moved the OIS switch to off and promptly forgot about it. But lately I was thinking maybe I should try it out. But since you might have already done so, do you have an opinion of which IS is better for that specific combination (E-M1 + 12-35/2.8)?

    Fortunately most of the day to day setting are fairly easily accessed from the Super Control Panel. But once you get used to the Oly menus, usually the few things you tend to change on a periodic basis you remember where they are. And the ones you don't remember are usually the set once and forget settings.

    Nice write up.
  4. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Legend

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    I didn't test the OIS vs IBIS, but I can certainly do so tonight and offer up my thoughts. Now I just need to remember what menu the "lens priority IS" is in. Hmmm...

    I really find it to be a great little camera, and I use little because I mean it. Much like pixel-peeping and measurebating, I think people get wrapped up in the "But the E-M1 is 3.5mm wider and 1.5mm taller than my current m43, therefore it is HUGE" thing. When I took the camera out of the box I was pretty amazed at just how small it really was.

    I plan to do some more extensive testing with the camera this weekend, though unfortunately the weather looks like it's going to take a turn for the worse come Friday and be pretty cold throughout the weekend. Time to break out the winter hat/gloves/coat again!
  5. PakkyT

    PakkyT Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 20, 2015
    New England
    I came from an Olympus E-3 dSLR to my current E-M1 so to me I would never call it large. To me every OM-D is tiny. To your point, I see people all the time on these groups making recommendations of which camera body and often you have someone saying something like the E-M5whatever or M10whatever might be better because the E-M1 'is so huge'. Really? Sure, those other models are a bit smaller, but it isn't like the OM-D line (so far) are massively different in size from one another, at least not like the old dSLR line where you had models like the E-3/5 vs. the E-4x0 or E-6x0.
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  6. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Legend

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Exactly. The E-M1 is still a very small camera, but it's feature-packed and has a lot of customizable external controls, which makes it a joy to use.

    I've handled an E-M5 II, and while I liked the size (particularly for using with small prime lenses), I don't believe I would be able to use it comfortably with lenses like my 7-14/12-35/35-100 Panasonic zooms, and those are smaller than their Olympus counterparts. As I said in my OP, I actually find the E-M1 a bit too small, as my pinky finger has no place to rest. So to alleviate that issue I plan on buying an RRS bottom plate, as well as the Olympus GS-5 hand strap to use. I believe those two items will really transform the handling and size of the camera and make it "just right" (for me), which is where I think the GH4 is out of the box.

    You can make a camera as small as you want, but if it makes it difficult to or uncomfortable to use, what's the point?
  7. atarijedi

    atarijedi Mu-43 Regular

    Dec 13, 2015
    You can always get the external battery grip to make it a bit bigger. That's what I did, and it lives on the camera.
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  8. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Legend

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    @PakkyT@PakkyT, so I managed to test the the 12-35 f/2.8 @ 35mm with both IBIS and OIS. I started with a base exposure of 1/80s, and worked my way down in full stops. I managed to get 4-stops worth of stabilization out of the IBIS, while getting 4-5 stops out of Power OIS in the lens.

    I think this is pretty reasonable, because if I can get 3-4 stops out of unstabilized lenses, that would be fantastic.
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  9. DoofClenas

    DoofClenas Who needs a Mirror! Subscribing Member

    Nov 9, 2012
    Traverse City, MI
    I really don't like shooting the em1 without the RRS boem-1. It lives on my camera at all times. Perhaps it's being able to attach my peak design anchors to the camera plate too that I like.
  10. eteless

    eteless Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 20, 2014
    From my perspective the E-M1 is really pushing the balance of size vs usability, I think it's a reasonable balance on the whole. (My hands are size L in nitrile gloves)

    I also have a RRS bottom plate to solve the same problem with my pinkie and I think you will be happy with the feel of it, for such a small thickness it makes a world of difference on the handling.
  11. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Legend

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Yeah, having larger hands than mine I could see how how that would happen. I personally find the size/grip of the GH4 just about perfect, as I can fit my entire hand on the grip. The RRS plate is necessary to do so with the E-M1, but I don't really mind having to purchase it, as there are a couple really nice features with it (on top of the added height to improve ergonomics):
    • integrated strap loop for hand straps. I use Joby hand straps with my GH4's, and it makes the camera much more comfortable to use for longer periods of time. I plan on buying the Olympus GS5 hand strap to use with the E-M1
    • The integrated Arca Swiss mount is a really nice feature, because I like to do long exposure work from a tripod, so this makes is that much easier to mount/discount from my ball head
    • Keep access to the battery. I don't know why Olympus didn't think of this when designing their accessory grips, but having access to the battery without removing the plate is a almost a deal-breaker IMO (if it weren't allow access while mounted). Yet with the RRS plate, it's super simple to swap the batteries when needed.
    I had thought about getting the HLD-7 battery grip for its extra size and battery capacity, but I really think the RRS plate will be enough, even when using my largest lenses like the 50-200 or 40-150 PRO.
  12. DaveEP

    DaveEP Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 20, 2014
    Thanks for writing this up. As a dual GH4 / EM1 user I've been meaning to do something similar but just haven't taken the time.

    I agree with most of what you say, though I have found that when shooting stills I'm almost always picking up the EM1, not the GH4, unless I want to shoot with two bodies (short & long lens without changing).

    There is ONE feature that for me the GH4 wins on and I really wish Olympus would do the same. That is the horizon indicator. The GH4 horizon is so intuitive, being a line that floats in the EVF showing both roll (side to side) and tilt (up / down) in one convenient place. Alas the EM1 has dual indicators that are placed outside the image, one below it and the other to the right side. That means taking my eye off the subject to look at them which takes time.

    I like that the GH4 has the popup flash whereas the EM1 is an add-on. I rarely use it, but for emergencies it's nice to have.

    The IBIS on the EM1 is so much better than the OIS in the Lumix lenses on a GH4 body (e.g. 12-35 etc). I can shoot the 40-150 (at 150) down to 1/15 and still get good shots, I don't have a hope in hell of doing that with the GH4.

    GH4 video is obviously better than EM1.

    Focusing is swings and roundabouts. For various reasons I have both sets of Oly & Lumix zooms, being the 7-14 (f2.8 / f4) 12-35 & 12-40 (f2.8) and 35-100 / 40 - 150 so I think I'm pretty well placed to talk about comparisons. I'd give the very slightest of nudges to the GH4 using Lumix glass, but for me there isn't enough difference to even think about. Clearly the OIS on the 12-35 & 35-100 make them more useable on the GH4 than the 12-40 & 40-150, but once you have the EM1 you can pretty much choose which you want and know it's going to do about the same job.

    I got used to the smaller size of the EM1 quicker than I thought. It took a day or so, but now the GH4 actually does feel bigger in the hand ;) These bodies are about as small as I want to go right now.

    I prefer the timelapse functions of the GH4 over the EM1, but the live bulb on the EM1 has also proved to be useful, something the GH4 doesn't have.

    I like the flip out LCD on the GH4 for times when I need it, but the LCD on the EM1 for other times. I'm really torn between which one I prefer!

    The EM1 gives you those extra controls and customisation and just feels right in the hand. All in all I could live with either one.
  13. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Legend

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    @DaveEP@DaveEP, thanks for offering your comments on the E-M1/GH4 as well.

    I agree with you on the horizon indicators. I too just find the Panasonic implementation much better. I also feel that Panasonic's implementation of the histogram is better as well, and I use that a lot when I'm doing tripod work and long exposures.

    Speaking of long exposures, I have yet to do any with the E-M1, but I am definitely looking forward to trying the LiveTime and LiveComposite functions of the Olympus. Being able to monitor the exposure as it develops is super handy when you're doing long exposures with in-camera dark frame subtraction, so that you don't accidentally over/under expose an image.

    I also agree about the pop-up flash. I have an FL-360L that I use when I want to really use a flash, but the built-in unit on the GH4 is actually hand at times. The perfect example was back in February, when I hiked a mountain before sunrise so that I could watch the sun crest over the distant mountain ranges. I had my GH4, 12-35, and a small tripod with me. The built-in flash of the GH4 allowed me to properly expose myself in the foreground, while also exposing the background properly as well. I don't use the flash in the GH4 very often, but when it's needed it can be handy.

    You comment about IBIS is interesting. Just doing some quick tests, I found that the OIS in the 12-35 is actually pretty good. I was taking some shots yesterday @ 35mm with IBIS and then with OIS, and saw that I could get about 4 stops with IBIS, yet I was able to get about 4-5 stops with the OIS. It may have just been situationally dependent, but I found the OIS to be very good. One area where the IBIS is nice to have is on un-stabilized primes. I was able to take sharp, 1" exposures with my PL15, which is 5 stops of stabilization. Either way, like you said, it's nice to know that the stabilization is there if you need it.

    You are correct that the GH4 does feel bigger in the hand, and I don't think that's a bad thing. Without the RRS plate, my pinky finger hangs off the bottom of the grip whereas with the GH4, I can have my pinky on the grip which makes it more comfortable to use. I do plan on getting the RRS plate, which may negate some of the size advantage the E-M1 has, but make it more comfortable to shoot with.

    One thing I was surprised with is the rear LCD. The GH4 has the fully articulating LCD whereas the E-M1 has a tilting LCD. People have complained endlessly about how an articulated LCD is "more difficult to use" or "takes more time". I actually find the exact opposite in use. The tilting mechanism on the E-M1's LCD is so still that it takes a fair amount of effort to move the LCD, whereas with the GH4 I can simply grab the LCD and swing it out. For what I do, the deployment speed of the rear LCD isn't important, but it takes me longer to open the E-M1's LCD compared to the GH4's LCD, which makes me question the whole "speed" issue that others have raised.

    There are certainly features I like about the E-M1, and features I still like about the GH4. I'm still in the "honeymoon" phase with the E-M1 so am holding off on buying the accessories I want until I'm certain that the camera is worth the investment over what I'm able to do with my GH4's. The IBIS is certainly nice, but the two features I need to really play with are the long exposures, and how well the E-M1 can do C-AF for motorsports compared to my GH4 (which IMO does pretty damn well).
  14. DaveEP

    DaveEP Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 20, 2014
    Yes and no. What I like on the EM1 is the histogram mode with the green overlay, so you have two histograms in one. The background / overall scene histogram and the histogram at the focus point. as fas as I can tell the GH4 only has one. I do however like the way we can move the GH4 histogram around.
  15. Angus Gibbins

    Angus Gibbins Mu-43 Veteran Subscribing Member

    Dec 6, 2015
    Brisbane, Australia
    Nice write up here.

    I haven't encountered the firmware update issue but that just sounds like the sort of thing they should come up with during product testing (or fixed in a firmware update at some point)

    I'll just add. The large eyecup is a godsend if you wear glasses or have a ginormous head (both of which I do).

    I love my EM-1 but:
    - the menu system just feels dated. (I haven't played with later cameras so no idea if it's changed)
    - I haven't played too much with the alternate EVF settings but quite often I've misframed or found an unwanted object (usually a sign pole) in the corner of my frame that I missed due to text covering it up
    - I've bought 2 additional batteries so can't really justify the battery grip but my friend has one and it just feels better in the hand. Maybe I have big hands but I find my pinky finger just dangles with nowhere to put it when I hold it.

    Sent from my iPhone using Mu-43 mobile app
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2016
  16. PakkyT

    PakkyT Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 20, 2015
    New England
    Thanks for trying it out. Sounds like the lens's OIS might be slightly more effective than the E-M1's IBIS, so maybe I will enable that option in the menu to give priority to lens stabilization. The 12-35/2.8 is the only Panny I own, so it won't interfere with my other lenses.
  17. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Legend

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Yeah, I think it's really six and one half dozen to the other. They're so close performance wise that I don't think it would make a difference in practical use. The IBIS is nice for primes though, I am able to take 1 second exposures with my PL15 which is pretty crazy IMO, and 5 stops worth of image stabilization.
  18. sesser

    sesser Zen Master Subscribing Member

    Mar 10, 2015
    Portland, OR
    I have the same setup and the RRS style plate is perfect. I never take it off.
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  19. wjiang

    wjiang Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    I made a cross breed of two generic eBay L-brackets for my E-M1, I liked the base of one and the L of the other X-D

    I have small hands and my pinky fits, so don't need it day-to-day. I got it for the secure fit of the Arca design on my tripod (both landscape and portrait) - the supplied plates that come with tripods always come loose and rotate. It's also really good when I'm using a big lens like the 12-40 with flash, where the extra gripping space helps.

    Re: the level indicator - I have switched to EVF view mode 2, which moves the standard indicators to info strips at the top and bottom of the screen. The image is a little smaller but the normal information displays do not obscure the image. The full histogram and level are still overlays but importantly in this view there is a little horizontal level indicator in the info strip that appears on half press of the shutter. With this, I rarely need to use the full level indicator. Unfortunately this only works for the EVF, the main LCD view doesn't support this mode.

    Olympus has a way better histogram IMO - the tiny one that I get on the GM5 is very difficult to read.
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  20. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Legend

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Well, I had the chance to test the camera out at the local auto-x with the 50-200 (the main reason I bought this camera). I created a myset that is built for panning, so vertical IBIS only, burst shooting, C-AF, Back Button AF, etc., and I was really impressed with how well the combo performed. The conditions were pretty dismal (hovering in the upper 20's / lower 30's), so I was more focused on staying warm more so than my technique, but I was able to still get some good shots. Really looking forward to using this combo this spring/summer, and being able to have it auto focus rather than having to manually focus it on the GH4 like I had done last year.

    26289766521_a941739b3d_b.jpg Classic Z by Ian Menego, on Flickr

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    25751138194_96a129bced_b.jpg Red E46 M3 by Ian Menego, on Flickr
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