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Olympus E-M1 review

My views and impressions - One year of professional E-M1 use

PART TWO

PART ONE   PART THREE   PART FOUR   PART FIVE

POWER, OPERATION AND SETTINGS

6. Day to day operational matters 

HLD-7 Grip and MMF-3

If, like me, you upgrade to a mirrorless camera after using the original Four Thirds system and intend to use your lenses from older cameras on the E-M1, then you will need the Four Thirds to Micro-Four Thirds adapter MMF3. This lets you mount any FT lens to the E-M1. There is also a cheaper MMF-2 and several clones from about $40 on E-Bay but these are not, for the most part, weather sealed.

MMF-3 is the weather-sealed version of the FT to mFT adaptor. I suggest getting one for each FT lens you use if you work with most of your lenses every day. Otherwise, a single adaptor can do duty.

As I now have a combination of FT and mFT lenses, I have added an MMF3 to the three FT lenses I use most often. This prevents me having to hunt about for the lens with the MMF3 or to take it off the camera body when deciding to mount a mFT lens. I now regard the three FT lenses as mFT lenses as they each have an MMF-3 attached and I can remove the entire lens with its adaptor or mount it as needed without fiddling about with moving adaptors and body caps about between various bits of kit..

Next, if an exisiting FT user you may find the camera body and the lens combinations unwieldy - especially if using 14-54 or 12-60 FT Zuiko lenses.

The relatively diminutive E-M1 seems dwarfed by lenses like those and the 50-200SWD and it is for this, and one further reason, that I suggest that the HLD-7 be an automatic option to add when ordering your E-M1.

Without the HLD-7 grip the small E-M1 body is a bit too small for my taste on legacy FT lenses like the 50-200 SWD

Not only does the HLD-7 offer full control when shooting vertically through a duplicate set of input dials and buttons, but it provides an added balance and "heft" to using the camera with exisiting FT lenses. The combination feels like a FT body in the hands and that makes the transition even easier

.

Pop the HLD-7 on the camera and it is a better balanced outfit - plus you get a workable battery reserve.

If you have micro Four Thirds lenses then you can always take the grip off if seeking a smaller, lighter package to sling over your shoulder when out for a stroll with a mFT lens attached..

However, the single greatest reason for ordering the HLD-7 is to extend the rather meagre battery life of roughly 300 shots per charge (if you use power judiciously)  which I have found to be the norm for the BLN-1 battery on a good day. My E-5 will run to 700 shots plus on a single battery and well over 1400 with the HLD-4 grip.

Further to batteries, I cannot fathom why Olympus changed from the BLM-1 that owners of previous top-end Olympus cameras had used on their E-1, E-3 and E-5 bodies. There could surely have been space in the E-M1 grip for that? At least such a move would have provided more continuity as well as a healthy boost to 1500 m/ah (per original spec) or even up to 1800 m/ah on the later versions over the 1220 m/ah of the BLN-1 battery. 

To my (acknowledged) amateur designer eye there could have been place for a beefier battery in that extended E-M1 grip. Here is the older BLM-1 next to the grip - unless that is where the secret photo genie lives? In my view the camera is seriously under-powered in the battery life department for professional use - even with the HLD-7 serving as backup.

Just by doing that the camera would go to at least around 550 shots per charge on a single battery and closer to 850 if using a 1800 m/ah version of the BLM-1. I think 1000 shots plus could have been within reach on the grip/camera combo before exchanging batteries which takes it into the acceptable range for a wedding shoot or sports event.

If, for some reason unknown to an electromechanical design novice such as myself, that power option was unworkable, then why on earth put just one battery into the HLD-7? I am sure the HLD-7 could easily have taken 2 added batteries rather than the single one it does carry. Looking at the grip, there does seem to be an awful lot of empty space inside the moulding. I certainly hope this is something they will address with the forthcoming Mk II version of the E-M1 and what will probably be called the HLD-9 if the current numbering system is followed.

More than enough space in here for two batteries in my estimation. Hopefully the EM-1 II will fix this with the HLD-9 (or whatever it gets called...)

As a working professional, I can attest that the lifespan of the batteries is a bother. Yes, I get around it by keeping 6 additional batteries charged up and ready to roll in addition to the two in the grip/camera set up but really, that sort of defeats the purpose of a smaller camera system now doesn't it?

Finally, on the subject of the HLD-7, why the huge mark-up? I have two E-M1s and one has the "genuine" HLD-7 ordered with the camera from Olympus at $200 and the other an HLD-7 from a supplier in the UK called Expro at $50. Other than a raised "Olympus" moulding in the base of one, they are identical in materials, construction, functionality and mass (so arguments about "inferior" materials make little sense.) Removing the top plate shows an identical circuit board and components. To add insult to injury, the 'non-genuine' grip has weathered use far better than the genuine one which shed its rubber thumb-grip padding within two months of purchase. Furthermore, the "non-genuine" grip has not exhibited the refusal to relay inputs from the control wheels which, reading web reports, seems to plague some of these items from time to time. (More on that later in Reliability)

I shall finish this section on a positive note, however. The switching between the battery in the grip and the internal camera battery is seamless and done without interruption of any kind. In the deep menu (my phrase-others call it the gears menu) there is an option to dictate the sequence of use of the batteries. Mine is set to deplete the HLD-7 battery first then the one inside the camera.

When the battery in the grip is being used, the camera shows a HLD logo under the battery power meter at the top left of the rear display or in the viewfinder. When that power meter turns red and flashes do not panic. If you have a charged battery in the camera, the display will revert to a green power meter without the HLD logo as soon as the camera has changed its power source. You can then take out the depleted battery in the HLD-7 and replace it. The camera will then switch back to the battery in the grip.

I have had this happen many times while doing video footage and after a long burst of high-speed stills when the camera was still writing to the card. In my usage, there is no stuttering of the video or loss of any data during the change over so that is a bit of impressive programming right there which, in my opinion, slightly mitigates the lack of two batteries in the grip and the use of a low capacity battery.

It mitigates it - but does not excuse it.

SD Card slot

I have no issue with the placement of the SD card slot. It is under the palm grip area on the right of the camera just as the CF slot used to be on earlier Olympus cameras.

Single SD card slot a mystery - I trust successor has two.

What is an issue, however, is the fact that there is only one slot. Nikon had dual SD slots on the D7000 which was released before the E-M1. When shooting video this is a vital facility and, even with stills it permits you the freedom to have additional capacity, a backup of the images or a set of ready to view JPEGS while keeping RAW files for detailed post production work. Or, you can store video on one card and stills on the other.

A dual SD card slot is, in my view, a must for the E-M1 II.

Headphone jack

I have no comment to make about the headphone jack on the E-M1. There isn't one. Having a dedicated mic input is great but not being able to monitor with headphones is a liability if doing video work. Yes, there is now a level display for recording input after firmware version 4.0 but a headphone socket is, in my view, a must for the  E-M1 MkII or they can put it in the HLD-9 (or whatever it gets called...)

7. Display screen

Articulation

Olympus has already addressed my major dissapointment in the OM-D series regarding the rear display screen with the release of the E-M5 II. This has a fully articulated screen.

My E3 and E-5 cameras had a fully articulated rear screen which you could use from any angle or, if required, fold away completely to protect it. This is vital for use in news work where you can sometimes only get shots from odd angles, around corners or when you need to run for cover without worrying about keeping the camera from scratching or damaging the rear screen against buckles and the like.

Being used to it on my E series cameras, I really miss this feature every single day as the E-M1 only permits the rear screen to be tilted upwards to almost 90 degrees and downwards to 45 degrees. That is, of course, if the camera is not mounted on a tripod without the HLD-7 as the screen fouls on the tripod base-plate if only the camera is mounted.

Some would point out that the camera has proper built-in Wi-Fi and the OI application on smartphones offers another option for capturing images from odd angles. Well, yes but it is a bit time-consuming to activate and hardly a useful way to go about doing on-the-spot breaking news in the middle of a riot. Also, if you have a Windows mobile device like I do, Olympus simply do not offer the application for your device. There is, however a work-around which I discuss in Remote Options later on.

It should, however, be a no brainer for Olympus to re-instate the fully articulated screen on the top-end camera family. They can simply cut and paste the one from the E-M5 II on to the E-M1 II.

Legibility for reviewing results

Being a film-era shooter I seldom, as a matter of course, review images taken after shooting. That is perhaps well and good as, in bright sunlight, the rear display is, like any other OLED/LCD display, next to useless for image evaluation. When shooting in bright sunlight and I need to review images on the rear display, I set the playback information to flash highlights and shadows. These areas are easy to see even in the brightest light and the camera marks these in orange and blue.

That said, in shaded conditions, indoors or the studio, the screen is a joy to use. It is highly detailed and provides a very accurate rendition of the colours and tones of your photograph.

However, on the EM-1 you can also display your images on the internal viewfinder. In bright sunlight this provides a shaded and easily visible display so you can always see the actual results without pretending to be a nesting stork. You can alter the EVF playback to show shooting data, highlight/shadow extremes or even use the light-box display to compare two images side-by side. I have found that using the viewfinder as a playback medium also increases battery life. I think this is simply due to the lower power demands of the EVF versus the larger rear screen - whatever. If I need to be miserly on power, I review images/footage as sparingly as possible and then only through the viewfinder.

Super Control Panel and touch screen options

The Super Control Panel (SCP) coupled to the touch control facility is a great time-saver. During playback you can flick between images as you would do on any smartphone. Zooming, however, is not the pinch/slide movement used on other displays but via a slider on the right of the screen. Once you know its there its easy enough but it could possibly be confusing to some users on first acquaintance.

The heart of the user interface on any Olympus camera - the Super Control Panel. Press OK and a yellow highlight appears, tap any box to move the highlight there and then simply twirl the front dial to set the value in that box as you wish. Touch the shutter and its set. Logical, fast and efficient. No need to dive into menus. So good, that one of the usual suspects has copied it via their recent "Q" feature but I do not hear testers complaining that is "complicated".

I really do enjoy the total, fast and easy adjustments available via the touch screen. 

To set virtually any camera control used in shooting you simply follow what I call my Press, Tap, Twirl and Touch method. With the SCP displayed (press the INFO button as often as needed to get it up if it is not displayed) press the OK button. A yellow highlight box will appear somewhere on the SCP (usually the last position you moved it) Now, tap the box for the setting you want to adjust and then Twirl the front dial. When you see the setting you want displayed, touch the shutter button and you are done. 

It is the easiest and simplest adjustment interface I have ever used save for the Press, Direct, Twirl and Touch of the original E-Series. (See my 30 second video on this simple process here.)

I have read numerous opinions on the lack of a touch-pad focus target placement facility on the E-M1. This is something available on other Olympus products like the Pen-F. Personally, I do not see the need for that as by pressing the Fn1 button in its standard assignment, you can call up your focus target display in the viewfinder. Turning the input dials changes the position of the target vertically or horizontally faster and more accurately - in my tests of the two systems -than the touch pad option. 

I personally find this far more convenient, rapid and instinctive than stretching my thumb over to the edge of the display screen. I accept, however, that some may wish to have this option but, in day to day use, the ability to move or set anything via the input dials while holding the camera to my eye is now instinctive. I do not think that the lack of touch-pad target movement is a negative point at all. I am happy to concede that, like the EVF, it might be a feature that grows on me if and when I have a camera with it. At the moment, however, it is not something that would add any significant functiuonality in my day to day use of the camera. Anyhow, I am sure it will be on the E-M1 II.

There is one aspect of the touch pad interface that could be an improvement and that would be to extended the touch interface to the actual deep menu settings and, in addition, also allow the display of these deep menu pages in the EVF. This would permit full operation of the camera in all its facets to be accomplished without removing the eye from the viewfinder. 

I would hope such refinements will be included in the forthcoming, revamped model.

8. Control options and adjustments

Menus

This is an area where the majority of reviews and opinions I have read seem to have one thing in common. The consensus appears to be that Olympus menu options are overly complicated.

Personally, I have never found them any more involved than those of the many Canon, Nikon, Pentax or Sony cameras used by students at the academy where I am a tutor. Indeed, the newer Canon cameras have almost as many sub-menu options for each main menu selection as does the E-M1. Nikon Menus have, for a long time, had a myriad of settings and sub-menus.

As camera capabilities expand, I cannot see any method whereby menu options can be reduced. So, you will simply have to break out the instruction manual and read about the settings and their uses.

As to the alleged complication on Olympus menus, as I have said, I have always found them to be logical and rationally planned.

For example, reading down the left of the main screen, there are two tabs with a camera logo. These are used to set everything that has to do with actually taking a photograph. Essentially, all shooting related adjustments like release mode, image quality, HDR, interval timer settings, card formatting and selecting which of the pre-stored user preferences memories to use.

Then you find a playback tab that permits adjustment of settings affecting images after they are taken such as the number displayed, rotation of the images, protection of images and the like.

Finally there is a deep settings tab ("gears" menu) where you can customise the camera. This is further broken down into logically named and collated  sub-groups that affect release mode, flash operations, light metering, control button assignments, colour, viewfinder and other options.

The final tab is the one where basic items like language, the internal clock, copyright and other less frequently adjusted features live.

If you read, and go through the menu with the handbook, it is all easily understood and - to my mind - logical.

Perhaps the main issue is that, from the start of the E-series, Olympus digital cameras have permitted a wide range of customised settings which were not shared by other brands. Now that other brands have started offering similar levels of customization, the difference in menu pages and sub-menus is marginal. My guess is that it will continue to be so as designers cram ever more features into the equipment.

Proceed to PART THREE

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