Equipment review 2020

jamespetts

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I have used Micro Four Thirds equipment since 2011, starting with an E-P3. I had to replace all of my equipment in late 2013 owing to a burglary; I then bought the original E-M1 new, which I still have. Since then, I have added to what I have, but, aside from replacing a Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 fisheye with the Olympus 8mm f/1.8 fisheye because I wanted autofocus, I have not replaced any equipment.

I think that the time has come for me to carry out a review of current equipment in light of developments in photographic equipment and the deteriorating reliability of my current equipment, especially the camera bodies. I am also considering doing a little video work (although I anticipate using the camera(s) mainly for stills) in connexion with one of my other hobbies of railway modelling, and note that technology has advanced considerably in this area since 2013.

I currently have an E-M1 (with battery grip, which is so comfortable that I wish that I had bought it sooner) and an E-P5 (the latter bought secondhand from a UK equipment hirer as a second camera in 2016; it has been extremely useful as such). The E-M1 has been in for repair once for the rear dial issue, which was successfully fixed. However, now the mode dial is becoming erratic, often defaulting to program mode when set to aperture priority. The "play" button has required pressing especially firmly ever since a trip to an Iclandic glacier in 2016 where the camera was drenched in gritty drizzle for a few hours.

The E-P5 has been more problematic; it, too, has been in for repair for the rear dial issue. It has also separately been repaired after the cover on the shutter release button fell off. In September last year whilst on holiday, the on/off switch snapped off in use, leaving the camera permanently on (although I was able to set it to turn itself off automatically after 2 minutes which mitigated the severity of this problem). I have not yet taken it in for repair of the latter issue.

What prompted me to embark on carrying out this review was a combination of these reliability issues and the release of the E-M1 mk. 3, which interests me. However, before making any final decisions, I need to (1) test one in a shop or at an event for ergonomics; (2) research alternatives; and (3) canvass views here in case there is anything that I have missed (hence this thread).

Testing one for ergonomics I will organise when I have time. Researching alternatives has taken some time. I noticed when I read some of the reviews of the E-M1 mk. 3 that some reviewers suggested that it was lagging behind other cameras in some aspects, so I thought that it would be sensible to review whether to remain with the Micro Four Thirds system at all, switch to another system entirely, or aim for maintaining dual systems.

My provisional view at this stage is to remain with Olympus Micro Four Thirds products (and not look further into a second system), but I should be grateful for the views of others who have recently (within the last ~1 year) been through the same process. In very brief summary, the reasons for the provisional view are:
(1) that I particularly value low weight in equipment, which makes photography vastly more pleasant than when carrying heavy things;
(2) the main disadvantage of Micro Four Thirds equipment compared to other systems are the disadvantages inherent in a smaller sensor, but I do not believe that technology has developed such that the balance of advantages and disadvantages in this respect have significantly altered since I last made this choice in 2013, when I also reconsidered whether to remain with Micro Four Thirds or switch to Fuji or Sony equipment;
(3) some of the inherent disadvantages of smaller sensors are significantly mitigated by the E-M1 mk. 3's hand held high resolution mode at least in the situations where it is appropriate, and the situations where is it not appropriate are probably not numerous enough in my photography to outweigh the size/cost/weight disadvantages of a larger format (this feature is actually very impressive and, for static scenes, appears to bring the benefits of a medium format sensor in a Micro Four Thirds body, which is quite a thing);
(4) the range of lenses for Micro Four Thirds is still more comprehensive and mature than that for other emerging larger mirrorless formats (I am fond of macro lenses, fisheye lenses and like to be able to use long telephoto lenses);
(5) I particularly value image stabilisation (I enjoy low light photography and dislike carrying a tripod; also, being able to take longer exposures (for effect) hand-held is a delight), and Olympus cameras always seem to be ahead in this technology;
(6) already having a good set of Micro Four Thirds lenses and other accessories and nearly 9 years' experience using this sort of equipment, it would not make sense to change to another system unless the advantages of doing so were very clear, which they are not; and
(7) I have been and remain generally satisfied with the results from my now ageing equipment, the output of which is generally enjoyed by the medium of Flickr or printed at up to A3 size, so higher resolution per se is not highly significant (although I should very much value higher dynamic range and low light performance).

My current provisional view is that there would be merit in replacing the E-M1 with the mk. 3 equivalent, and the E-P5 with the E-M5 mk. 3. That latter camera is more similar in terms of handling to the E-M1 mk. 3 than the E-P5 is to the E-M1 mk. 1, I believe, and also shares a number of useful features, including the on-sensor phase detection autofocus. I do value having a smaller second camera which takes less space in my camera bag (and can possibly fit alongside a lens such as the narrow 60mm f/2.8, which the E-M1 with its extended grip cannot do). The E-M1 has excellent ergonomics, but the E-P5 less so (it is a little like taking photographs with a small brick), so I suspect that the E-M5 mk. 3 would be something of an upgrade ergonomically, but I would need to test this.

I note that these two cameras take different sorts of battery, unlike my current pair of cameras; however, this is perhaps less of an issue than I initially envisaged, since both cameras can be charged by USB. Also, on a holiday last year, I found the use of a single charger to charge batteries for two cameras to be inadequate; and in practice, I always ended up using two batteries for one camera and two for the other, so the interchangeability was never of much practical benefit.

The provisional plan is to trade in the E-M1 and give the E-P5 to my father to replace his E-PL5 whose image stabilisation seems to have stopped working entirely.




Whilst this review has focussed so far on camera bodies, I also thought it worthwhile carrying out a review of lenses and accessories. As to lenses, I currently have the following:

* Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8;
* Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro;
* Olympus 8mm f/1.8 fisheye;
* DJI (Panasonic) 15mm f/1.7;
* Olympus 25mm f/1.8;
* Olympus 45mm f/1.8;
* Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6 (four thirds); and
* Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 (four thirds - with 1.4x teleconverter).

I am generally satisfied with the lenses, but there are one or two shortcomings. The 9-18mm is in poor repair; I believe that it is decentred. I did attempt to get this fixed on one occasion when I noticed it in 2016, but the shop were not able to assist (I cannot now recall why; it might be that it was uneconomic to repair rather than not possible, but I no longer remember) beyond tightening a screw on the front ring of the lens, which seemed to help slightly. The results from this lens are generally poor in quality compared to the results from all my other lenses. I am not sure whether I would use an ultra-wide rectilinear enough to justify the cost (and weight) of the 7-14mm f/2.8, as I tend to prefer to use the fisheye: although it has geometric distortion which the rectilinear lens does not have, that distortion enables it to avoid the perspective distortion of the rectilinear lens so as to give a more accurate impression of the space and relative positions of items within the scene; it is, I think, a misconception that fisheye lenses distort more than rectilinear lenses: they simply distort differently. However, it would be good to be able to choose between the two types of distortion without compromising the quality. This is probably not a priority at present.

The other principal shortcoming is in the realm of longer telephoto capability. The 50-200mm lens has good image quality, but does not focus quickly with the original E-M1 (this was the first on-sensor phase detection camera, and the technology for this in 2013 was very basic) and is very heavy to carry. I bought it before the Micro Four Thirds equivalent (the 40-150mm f/2.8) was released. There have been times when I have wanted a smaller, lighter lens, even at the expense of focal length or maximum aperture, although at other times the reach and speed of the 50-200mm have been very useful (but its slowness of focussing with the E-M1 less so).

I suspect that I will eventually replace the 50-200mm lens with more than one lens: a smaller, lighter lens that can fit in my small, three compartment bag and a more serious, capable lens when this is more important than size and weight.

I have long suspected that Olympus will in due course release something similar to the 40-150mm f/2.8 with Dual Sync IS, which would be a very useful feature in such a lens (even with the E-M1's 5 axis image stabilisation, I have often found that night images taken hand-held with the 50-200mm lens are not sharp) and am reluctant to buy the existing 40-150mm lens for this reason. I understand that Olympus is rumoured to be planning to announce some telephoto zooms later this year, so it may be sensible to defer considering what to do in respect of the larger lens until then. This may be workable, since I suspect that the E-M1 mk. 3 would handle focussing on the 50-200mm somewhat better than the mk. 1.

As to the smaller of the lenses, I am not entirely sure whether the main tradeoff against the weight should be maximum aperture (suggesting something like the Panasonic 45-175mm lens) or focal length (suggesting the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens). The latter would, in combination with the 12-40mm f/2.8 give something broadly equivalent to to the popular Olympus 12-100mm f/4 lens, lacking Dual Sync IS but with an extra stop of aperture to make up for it, and, with two camera bodies, there would be no lens changing needed.




As to accessories, the only thing that I think that needs reviewing here is the strap, the bags (one small and one large) and flashes probably being adequate for the present.

For my E-M1, I have an Optech shoulder strap, which is generally satisfactory. However, for my E-P5, I have retained the original neck strap, which I am increasingly finding unsatisfactory, especially since the two straps readily become tangled together when I am using both cameras. I believe that the Optech straps are modular. Is it workable to carry two cameras on one strap using the Optech system, does anyone know, or are they too liable to collide with each other in such a situation? An alternative is to have two straps connected to one another with the Optech "sternum" attachment - has anyone tried that? I should be interested in people's experiences with such a system.

Any suggestions on strap arrangements for carrying multiple cameras (but also being able to carry each individually, and switch quickly and easily between the two configurations) would be welcome.
 

WT21

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Very briefly, my two cents:

I left Oly for Panny, but I think in your case, given what you said above and what you like about the new EM3, I would stay with Oly. Also, in general - I think the Panasonics seem to have fewer issues than the Oly, but are less repairable when they do. Pick your poison.

In terms of vs. other systems. I've looked at this repeatedly the last 6 months because of the falling price of the full frame mirrorless cameras. While the new mirrorless full frame systems are lovely, if you understand the tradeoffs of the sensor size and are comfortable with that trade off, every time I look (and I just did again with the new announcement of the Nikon Z6 firmware improvements), I am always most impressed by the overall size of camera + lens for comparable fields of view. Throw in the mature lens options, and I've yet been moved to switch.
 

Ranger Rick

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If size/weight and IBIS are key factors, I think staying with Olympus would be a good way to go. Maybe not up to the sensor of the Sony A7R IV et al, but not every one must drive a Ferrari. I think the sensor, EVF etc of the Mark III, while not perhaps state-of-the-art, are still very capable. Handheld High Res is a nice feature, you have the lenses etc. Another option would be the Panasonic G9, an excellent camera for price currently almost half the Mark III. In any event, see if you can actually try them out.
On the telephoto end, I'd suggest looking at the Panasonic 45-175 or the Panasonic 50-200. The Olympus 40-150 2.8 is just too big and heavy if weight is a key consideration. The Panasonic lenses have IS and for telephotos, regardless of brand, that seems to be the way to go, given the focal lengths and limits of IBIS.
I suspect :) there will be some disagreement with my thoughts, but there you go.
Best of luck with your quest, whatever you wind up doing.
 

robcee

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It seems like you’ve already talked yourself into the EM1mkIII, or maybe an EM1X based on your experience with the battery grip. Your Olympus lenses will continue to be great assets on either of those cameras. Sure, Panasonic’s an option, but the filter differences with Oly lenses makes that suboptimal, in my experience.

For a telephoto, I wouldn’t be surprised if Olympus came out with a 100-200 or 40-150 F4. They seem to be filling out their range with fast primes and F4 zooms. Something in that medium to long focus range might be a compelling option if the 40-150 f2.8 is too heavy. I admit, I use it less than I’d like to because it bulky.

As for full frame, try to find a comparable 80-300mm f2.8 (or F4) as compact as the 40-150 f2.8 and you’ll begin to feel better about your choices. I’m tempted by the Nikon Z series, but their new lens designs and the mount size make them kind of unappealing. The Panasonic S1R looks like a HELL of a camera, but again, those lenses are huge. Beautiful cameras though.

I find the amount of online invective over the continued use of the 2.36mp EVF on the Olys kind of humorous. They’re fine, and they don’t add an excessive hump to the bodies that the bigger newer EVFs would bring. I will say that playing with a Leica SL at Downtown Camera in Toronto was an interesting experience though. I presume that’s the same EVF that’s used in the Panasonic S1 line and it is gorgeous.

Anyway, good luck!
 

jamespetts

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Thank you all for your replies - that is most helpful.

Does anyone have any view on the strap questions posed at the end of my original post?

Thank you again.
 

robcee

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Thank you all for your replies - that is most helpful.

Does anyone have any view on the strap questions posed at the end of my original post?

Thank you again.

I didn't have a good answer to your strap question because I usually only have one body on me at a time. I've gotten into the sling-strap style, originally a Black Rapid but since upgraded to a Magpul strap I ordered with my RRS base plate. I really like it. I think Black Rapid and Peak Design have dual shoulder straps that might be worth looking into. Or, there's always the tried and true Domke gripper straps that I have loved in the past.

Most of the time if I don't need to be handsfree, I use a Gordie leather wrist strap on my EM1. They're nice and comfortable.
 

JensM

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As to the straps, you dont write anything about how you normally carry them.

Personally, I carry "underslung" so the strap normally goes over the head from right shoulder to underarm on the left side for the primary. If need be I use the same setup for the secondary going from left shoulder to under right arm. Straps are Peak design Slide lite on primary (Panasonic G9) and Peak design Leash on secondary (GX8). Secondary camera goes on first. Rubberised side against my body, on the primary the slick side is against the body. Not much friction to get entangled with there, I have found. :)
 
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If I am carrying two cameras on me, I put the smaller body on Peak Design capture clip attached to my belt. Bigger body on some strap worn across the body, sling style.

Peak Design SlideLite is excellent for m43. But if you have a strap of your liking, you can buy PD anchors and links on their own and attach to that strap. I have attached the links to a very soft cloth strap since I am not a big fan of seat belt material that PD uses.
 

jamespetts

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Thank you all for your strap related replies: I shall have to look into those options in some detail. Looking at the design of the Optech strap more carefully, I do not believe that I could sensibly carry two cameras connected to the same strap, as there would be nothing preventing them from colliding with one another. Instead, I suspect that I might have to use multiple straps of some sort.

Optech seem to have a modular system, although I have not fully worked out all the possible permutations of this. One possibility is a wrist strap that I can use with the secondary camera when not using the main strap, and two larger shoulder straps otherwise, perhaps connected together with the sternum adaptors (although I do not fully understand how these work).

As to how I normally carry my cameras, that depends to an extent on what equipment that I have with me. However, here is a photograph of me carrying the E-M1 and a larger bag:

36305982944_a01cb31d8f_h.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
Me by James Petts, on Flickr

The camera that was used to take the photograph, an E-P5, would then go around my neck using the camera's as supplied neck strap. (The white gloves and the hat are not normal photographic accessories; the gloves were to keep my hands warm in the snow but still allow me to operate the camera and the hat was for general warmth).

As can be seen, I normally carry the camera over a shoulder with it resting next to my hip, with the bag in a similar configuration (although I normally try to have the bag on the opposite shoulder to reduce shoulder strain).

***

In any event, moving on from the world of straps, I had a chance to try the E-M1 mk. 3 in the London Camera Exchange on the Strand yesterday and was most impressed with its ergonomics, responsiveness and the hand-held high resolution mode. The ergonomics were even better than the E-M1 mk. 1, especially with the battery grip, and my existing E-M1 is the most comfortable camera that I have used so far. Even without the battery grip, it was very comfortable to hold, again, more so than the mk. 1.

I was less impressed with the ergonomics of the E-M5 mk. 3. Even with the grip (which, by dint of special offer, currently comes free with the camera), the holding of the camera in the hands was less pleasant and easy than the E-M1 (either old or new), although it was, I think, at least more comfortable than the somewhat brick-like E-P5. However, it was smaller and lighter than the E-M1s and would fit more easily into a small space in my camera bag, which the E-M1s, with their permanently attached handle, do not.

As to the E-M1X, I should prefer the E-M1 mk. 3. I like to be able to use the camera without the grip when using smaller lenses and it also fits much more easily into my camera bag that way.

I am thus very much minded to acquire the E-M1 mk. 3 in due course when that becomes available in the UK (early March, I understand), but am unsure what to do about a second camera. One option would be to retain the existing E-M1 as the second camera, which would cerainly be the most comfortable option, but be less small and lightweight if I wanted to carry only one camera and one or two small lenses in my pocket/on the camera.

Another issue is that the E-M5 mk. 3 has a very similar control scheme to the E-M1 mk. 3 (e.g. a dedicated ISO button, meaning that I could use the 1/2 lever for something different to that for which I currently use it on both E-P5 and E-M1), and the benefits of that similarity would be lost with a different sort of camera, not to mention the benefits of similar video capabilities if I do end up making more videos of my railway modelling activities in the future.

In any event, more thought is required in relation to this, I think. Thank you all again for your input.
 

LilSebastian

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Seems like you are close to your choices on the body, so I re-read your post and stopped at the 9-18mm vs 7-14mm or other wide zoom. In there you said you actually prefer your 8mm f1.8. With the newest E-M1 bodies II or III, you get the ability to do in camera de-fish. If you are hanging on to your 4/3 9-18 and considering other rectilinear wide zooms just to have that result, perhaps the JPEG in camera option for your 8mm f1.8 satisfies both fish and rectilinear for a while.
 

ac12

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I use the EM1 mk1 and mk2 as my primary cameras, with an EM10 as my compact camera for family parties and similar.
Issue: The control layout of the EM1 vs EM10 is just different enough to sometimes cause confusion when I use the EM10. I use the controls on the left deck of the EM1 a lot, and the EM10 does not have those controls. I think the EM5 controls are closer to the EM1.

The EM5 and EM10 do not handle as well as the EM1, but that is the compromise to get a smaller/more compact camera.
In my case, I bought a 3rd party grip for the EM10. I use the camera with the grip, for better hold on the camera, or remove the grip for a more compact kit. In a way, the best of both worlds.

If you shoot teles, THAT is where the benefit of m4/3 over FF shows up. The Olympus 75-300 is a LOT smaller and lighter than the Tamron 150-600.
A couple years ago, I drew a line in the sand, nothing heavier than a 300/5.6 lens for FF. The bigger lenses are just too heavy for this old man, when I am shooting a long 5+ hr gig. Even the 70-200/2.8 is too heavy, I shoot the 70-200/4 at HALF the weight of the f/2.8 lens.

The other thing that I do, is I really have TWO kits.
As I have the EM1 and EM10 cameras, I have both a light/travel and a heavier at home set of lenses.
Yes, there is considerable FL overlap and duplication between the lens kits, but for me it is OK, because while the FL overlaps, the lens do different task.
Example, my travel GP lens is the Panasonic 12-60/3.5-5.6, my home lens is the heavier Olympus 12-40/2.8. The Olympus at f/2.8 is faster, to shoot basketball in a gym, but the Panasonic is smaller and lighter. Each lens has a very different primary task.
So to with my other lenses. For travel, I am willing to compromise on giving up the IQ of the heavy pro lenses, for the lightness and compactness of the consumer grade lenses.
IF I had to reduce to ONE set of lenses, it would be the lighter/smaller consumer lenses. Good enough for the job.
 

bassman

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When I am using two cameras at an event shoot, I use the Spider holsters mounted on a Think Tank Photo belt. This keeps the weight off of my neck and shoulders, and there are no straps to get tangled up. In the past, this has been with an M1 and and M1.2.

I used the OpTech slings and wrist straps for many years, and I have a good friend that uses their two-camera system with great success. But I've now changed over to Peak Design, with a Slide Lite as my shoulder strap and a pair of Cuffs for wrist straps. I more often use the Slide Lite on my small camera bags, the TTP Hubba Hubba Hiney and Mirrorless Mover i30. This is especially useful while traveling, as I take only the one strap with me, and have it either on the camera or the bag as needed.

I just upgraded my camera kit to an E-M1.3 and E-M5.3, replacing an E-M1.2, E-M1 and GX9. The M5.3 replaces both the M1 as a second OM-D camera when I'm shooting with two cameras, and the GX9 when I want a smaller, lighter carry. I find I can easily carry either of the new cameras in my hand for quite a long time using a wrist strap for safety. The M5.3, being light, has an adequate finger and thumb grip, especially when used with a smaller prime. The M1.3 grip is much better of course, and I can carry it even when wearing wool gloves and a zoom.
 

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