Black And White Thoughts.
So, how about 2020, hey? I'm making an assumption here - because clearly i can't have travelled to find out first hand - but I doubt there's anyone on the planet that hasn't had their life impacted by the pandemic, and untold millions have had theirs turned upside down. Or worse.
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Certainly, when I purchased the Em5iii back in January - as related in the opening post of this thread - I never dreamt that that trip to New Zealand would be the only chance to use the camera in its intended role for the best part of 7 months, and counting. There is much about the Em5iii that I am yet to put through its paces, and yet the chances to do so remain slim. So i woke up this morning - Sunday. A cold, wet Sunday in Melbourne. A Melbourne in the grip of a Covid lockdown, bereft of its usual life for at least another three weeks. I've made myself a coffee, flicked on the laptop and decided that it was time. Time to ponder on the Em5iii and perhaps put some definitive thoughts on the forum for you all.
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Its sitting here next to me on the desk, surrounded by a small forest of (or should that be 'forest of small?) prime lenses. Two things strike me. Firstly, It looks resplendent. Timeless. Classic. It looks like a camera, not a digital device. You want to pick it up, turn the dials, press the shutter. That in itself cannot be underestimated. Such things are intensely personal, but for me it looks better than the Em1 series. The Prime lenses add to this. Zooms are practical, but Primes have inherent character and an innate ability to stop the clock.
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When its out of sight, I tend to not think about it. When its on display, it calls to me. Its an interesting phenomenon, and I've decided that its part of the vexing and sometimes contradictory questions that surround this camera. Read other online reviews and you may see that train of thought play out in more general terms, given voice by a general feeling of "its not quite the advancement we were hoping, its not offering anything unique, its a bit bland". Usually, I think they refer to the paper specifications. And it's true, its quite unassuming. Until you look at it and even better, use it. They rarely seem to realise that all of what it does offer, the very things that they feel are underwhelming, are what makes it very very unique indeed. Without doubt, as i sit here looking at it, it is anything but bland. It's whispering to me. Load us up, a small classic bag, and lets go for a walk.
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I resist. For now. Instead, I go and fetch the GX8 and a small tripod. Time for a portrait of the 5iii and its little gathering. Actually, its handy to know the likes and dislikes of any reviewer, it can provide illumination into the corners of opinion bias. Ergo, I like the GX8. I like it very much. Actually, i love it. There, i said it. It is another camera that appeals to me in the hand, and by sight, far far more than its specs would suggest. It's plain black, rectangular, solid. It too is classic and timeless, but more utilitarian perhaps than the angular and hump-equipped 5iii. It is the camera that makes me think I'd also love an X-pro3. These are the types of camera's that appeal to me, just to be clear. It - the GX8- is also larger than the 5iii. Not appreciably, but noticeably. Visually, its a bigger difference than a tape measure would suggest. The heft is different too, when you pick them up.
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Which, photo taken and GX8 returned to shelf, brings us back around to the 2nd thing that strikes me. The size. Or lack of. The 5iii is tiny. Not GM5 tiny, but it treads a delicate line of being just big enough to improve the ergonomics without any extraneous fat showing on the scales. I can prove that. I just put it on the scales. That whole kit from the photo weighs just 1250 grams, including strap. It gives you excellent optical quality all the way from 15mm to 75mm and the light gathering of F/1.8 . In full frame terms, that's 30mm to 150mm. And a couple of those lenses are magically elite, the other two 'merely' (a sacrilegious term in this context) very good. By comparison, the Lumix S1 is 1041 grams. On its own. Yes, you can get smaller full frames than that. Yes, some will argue the Depth of field thing on the lenses. I don't know why. I really don't. For most usage, the aperture is about gathering light, for faster shutter speeds, for keeping ISO down. Do i care that the 25mm has the depth of field of a 50/ 3.5 on FF? No. I don't. I was going to add "usually", but even that isn't true. I don't recall ever wishing for more wafer thin DOF at a given focal length. When you're inside a barely lit cave and shooting wide open, I find i want every bit of focus depth i can get!
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You might. And that's fine. I understand that some want a different DOF for a certain perspective. Its one of the driving factors for some peoples love of Medium Format, as much as any requirement for more resolution. But now we're venturing into the topic of "buying the right tool for the job". Which is apt. And which for the Em5iii promptly returns us back to the starting point. "Because it's small". We could end this review right here. You buy the Em5iii because it weighs very little , is an interchangeable mount and allows a full kit that permits International travel with carry-on luggage. I know it does, we did it. And if we're ever getting out of this interminable lockdown, I'm loading this kit into my motorcycle tanks bag and hitting the road for a few days. I'll barely know its there. So. Done. Buy it. Because its tiny. Its that simple. Lets stop it with that. And i will. But only to go and make a coffee. Feel free to put the kettle on. It's still raining out, a warm brew is just the ticket. Here commenceth a short interlude.
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Ok, we're back. So yes, the ultimate raison d etre for the Em5iii is its compactness. And some of us love its style. But what is it like to use? The major caveat here is the one i stated at the beginning - Covid has thwarted my attempts to heavily use the camera. And thus, there are things that I cannot give a definitive opinion on. But I'll try. Some- most?- of this I've likely covered earlier in the thread.
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The ergonomics are not too bad for me. I have relatively small hands for an adult male of my height. This has stood me in good stead in my profession - as an electrician i can fit my hand through an australian powerpoint cutout. Not all sparkies can do that. Useful. But to put it in a more meaningful context , perhaps, my thumb and forefinger don't quite touch around the focus ring of the 25/1.8 Olympus lens. So, when i hold the Em5iii, my pinky finger hangs of the bottom. I find that i press the inside of the first joint against the bottom of the camera. Its not great, it can be slightly uncomfortable over time but i tend to not notice it. I can get my pinky tip onto the camera but it requires a change in hand angle and doesn't feel natural. My third finger sits perfectly over the front Fn button. This button is tactile-ey (is that a word? methinks not) better than the similar one on the GX8. I have this button set up to return the focus point to centre. I find this very useful indeed. You can set up the AF point off centre - on a third grid line for instance - and toggle back and forth between them. If nothing else, it eliminates having to muck around changing the AF position via the d-pad dance or rear screen trackpad. I still tend to shoot with the LCD closed, fwiw. That's just my thing.
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My thumb falls naturally on the thumb pad. I have good access to the Iso function button. Which no longer controls ISO. I've mapped it to toggle AF/MF. This suits me better. Just yesterday, using the 75mm, i struggled to pick out a close object in a cluttered background of bracken. Quickly moved to MF via the button, dragged the focus back to minimum distance, all good. Incidentally, the EVF and peaking are more than good enough for manual focusing, even if the EVF isnt class leading. And it isn't. But its not poor. Somewhat better than adequate is how I'd class it. Its not G9 or Gx8 standard, which is a shame. But its not GX9/Gx85 standard either, which is more important.
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Move the thumb slightly to the left and it lands effortlessly on the AEL/AFL button. I use back-button-focus to detach it from the metering half press. I think back to how awkward BBF was on the original Em5 and rejoice at how comfortable the 5iii is in comparison. I usually shoot in aperture priority, so the Front dial is assigned to Aperture (or shutter in Shutter priority) and the rear dial is exposure comp. I have the histogram and blinkies turned on in the EVF, so the rear dial is rapid access to highlight protection. This leaves the Exp Comp button free for other duties. Mine is set for Magnify View if using fully manual lenses. I don't use it a lot, but its nice to have for Pentax or Helios lenses. With the AF decoupled from the half press, you can of course also easily just spot meter off one part of the frame rather than dial in the compensation. Incidentally, you can lock the exposure via half press and then AF afterwards. It took me some brain training to not fully depress the shutter when trying to AF though, lol.
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Speaking of AF, its fast in S-AF. Very fast. And accurate. Its better than the Pen-F, for reference. Tracking and Face recognition is still something of a mystery to me. It will pick a face out of a frame without problem, but not over longer distances. If , like me, you've seen video's of the Sony's and new Canons locking onto faces and putting small crosses over eyes at remarkable distances, it won't do that. Particularly Eye focus, you need to fill a substantial portion of the frame before seeing a little box outline an eye. But the face box is pretty reliable. A joystick would be particularly nice to shift between various faces, but alas, you need the Em1 series for that luxury. Incidentally, and happily, Face Detection would often work on profiles. This should be useful for street photography as well as normal portraiture. I did manage to get to a basketball game and also some waterskiing - reports posted previously in this thread - and results are promising. C-af seems better than Tracking so far. But this is one area that Covid has cut down further testing on.
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The IBIS is outstanding. Even without dual-ibis lenses, Its miles better than the Gx8. Not least because the 5iii stabilises the view - which makes framing better - whereas the Gx8 doesn't. It may also be better than the G9 , but this is harder to quantify. If its not better, its certainly no worse. And this is a massive ability for a small camera to have. It makes it so much more powerful - and compelling - as an ideal travel camera. Every inch that you can broaden the shooting envelope helps exponentially. No tripods need be carried, slow shutter exposures for creative idea's, inferior ISO characteristics minimised. Added to outstanding weathersealing, this becomes a camera that encourages you carry it into all sorts of locations and positions that others may not.
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In a similar vein is the High-res function , which could possibly be used to deliver more than just larger files. I need a lot more work on this, but early thoughts are that in the right situation it can extend the effective focal length of the lenses you carry. You'll need a stable rest, yes, and usually a static main subject - unless aiming for a creative look - but the cropping ability of a 40 or 80mp file is substantial.
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Clearly, the camera suits smaller lenses, particularly primes. For me at least, the style , the haptics and how it makes me want to shoot all scream "prime lens". But it didn't feel out of place with the 40-150 Pro. Hold the lens and just use the body for shooting functions. Focus was as fast as anything else i've used. I'm not a video shooter, so i cannot give any guidance on how it performs, nor on how C-AF might transition during a shoot.
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What don't i like? It would be great to have an af joystick, no doubt. A second card slot would be ideal, but the camera is small for a reason. Some will bemoan the smaller battery , and its true that other cameras will give you much better life. But in practice, i've found that the USB charging ability more than offsets this. For the camera's main purpose, I'm perfectly content. Heck, you don't even have to take a charger with you depending on the trip. I can see one area that might be an issue- if i was shooting a wedding then the battery supply would have to be carefully monitored. The lack of an accessory battery grip feeds into this problem. But it could be done, and frankly three or four spare batteries in your pocket won't weigh you down. But my main gripe with the 5iii isn't the camera itself. Its with the lack of small weathersealed primes. I've mentioned it before, no doubt I'll mention it again. The camera is small and rugged, but the most portable primes fail the 2nd part of that equation. It doesnt make sense. I've also had some recent gremlins with the Wifi App, but it seems related to a phone firmware update, not the camera. And i wish it could use the Aperture rings on Panasonic lenses. Another long-held bugbear of mine. The lack of fast access to custom modes has bothered me less than I might have supposed. I think this camera just encourages one to focus on basic shooting and I'm less fussed with small changes. Some of the onboard filters are handy, though.
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And then, most of all, there's the image quality. And no, I'm not really talking about outright high iso performance, or noise, or empirical dynamic range measurements. I'm talking about how the images feel, the warmth, the colours and the sheer mood of the shots. And sometimes I'm just gobsmacked with the output of the 5iii. I'll use the term "rendering" for lack of an ability to really describe what I mean. Some shots just have a mix of clarity and depth that stands out. So far, I've tended to see it in colour shots mainly, and often with the PL15. Every single shot in this review, from memory, is a jpeg. Not straight out of camera jpegs, but just minimal tweaking in snapseed. I recently upgraded my DXO to the latest version, so i now have Raw support for the 5iii, but i havent used it as yet. I intend to for shots that i'm wanting to print big. In the meantime, I've found a delightful clarity to even the standard jpegs with a little bit of sharpening and structure added. Sometimes a vignette, usually a border and watermark and I'm more than pleased. At computer screen size, the files look lovely. I even printed a heavy crop of a Hi-res file and found that it looked great. Sure, high ISO isnt going to be the best on paper, but unless you're shooting indoor sports (where high shutter speed is critical) then the 5iii provides enough tooling to keep ISO low anyway. And i'd urge everyone to print more, you just may be surprised at how tactile your MFT shots can look.
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So, i have two final takeaways on the Em5iii. Firstly, if you bother to use it, its far from bland in either styling or results. It is way more unique than any of the website reviews suggest, because nothing - and I mean literally nothing - else offers the combination of size, weight, weathersealing, USB charging , EVF, IBIS, AF speed, high res, Live composite and sheer range of glass for the system as does the 5iii. Styling is subjective, but to my eye it is very appealing. The images you can get - in almost every area of photography- are more than good enough most of the time. And the aforementioned characteristics make it far more likely that you'll take the camera with you. The ultimate travel camera that also makes you want to travel? I own many camera's. None do everything this one can do. In a field of endeavour that operates under compromises imposed by the laws of physics, the 5iii balances a whole host of abilities against each other like few else. That's it's "thing", paper specs be damned.
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Which leads to the 2nd takeaway. I've learnt that , for me, the sensor size is entirely secondary. Yes, I'd like an X-pro3. Yes, I'd like a Leica M one day. I'm somewhat interested in the new Panasonic S5, but if someone built a FF GX8 i'd buy one with certainty. I'd love to try a GFX-R. But these arent appealing because of the bigger sensor. That's just a nice bonus. They're appealing because of their styling, their layout, how they do things, how they'd make me feel and as a result how they'd make me want to shoot.
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That's the thing with the Em5 Mark III. It's a "greater than the sum of it's parts " camera. When i look at it, i don't see what it cant do. I only know how it urges me to take photographs. All of my camera's fit this criteria. That's why I still have them. And its the only one that matters for a daily shooter.
One thing is certain, whether we are good or bad with photography skills, or have a good or bad 'eye'. We won't get good pictures , nor have fun, with a camera we don't want to use. Everything else is secondary.
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Happy shooting, everyone.
My first participation in this forum must be to thank you so, so much @saladin for your beautiful post. You described exactly what I think it must be the relationship whit our gear. I must say I also feel that way with my recent 5.III. It trascends simple numbers or statistics, it's a whole of sensations that fullfill my photosoul.
I found it very sad when, in Peter Forsgard's last live stream with Robin Wong on YouTube, Robin said that in 'gear videos' audiences boost up while those that are just about photography go unnoticed in comparison.
Please consider writing a blog or something. Fans of the more sentimental side of photography would appreciate it infinitely.
Had to say.