Olympus E-M1 review
My views and impressions - One year of professional E-M1 use
RELIABILITY AND QUIRKS
Yes. The E-M1 is dust and moisture proof. Africa's harsh conditions would have soon proved otherwise.
Is it not odd how the small things can change the flavour of something?
Overall, the camera has been a paragon of reliability.
It has never thrown a tantrum, locked-up, refused to respond to inputs or exhibited any similar fits of pique.
Where I have had issues is with the smallest of details that, in all honesty, are not the sort of things one expects from a top-end product aimed at the day to day arena of professional use.
The items involved cost pennies but, in order to get them sorted by official means, the average user would need to be without his camera for at least 2 days if in a city with an authorised Olympus repair facility. Up to a week if beyond that and, for me stuck out here at the lower end of Africa where we have an agency in name only, at least 12-14 weeks while the product is shipped to Europe and back!
That is totally unacceptable to anyone earning a living with the product.
OK. Perhaps I have too high an expectation but my old Olympus OM cameras never lost any of their grip material. It never peeled off - and this despite being subjected to 8 hours and more per day for decades in studio use or out at sports fields or in the hurly burly of the low-grade civil war that rent South Africa in the 1980s.
Likewise, my Nikon F5 and the later D200 never decided to let their rubber grip material peel off.
It seems this is a new trend as many YouTube videos attest - rubber grip material seems to fall off everything from Canon 1000Ds to Nikon D5300s.
That is not an issue as those are entry level cameras built to a price.
On a camera marketed as being a professional tool, however, feeling the thumb pad grip area sliding out from under your hand while holding the camera during a wedding or from the open door of a helicopter is not on.
Similarly, the OM-D E-M5 HLD 6 front grip portion also came unstuck after a similar period of use.
Forget about just using adhesive to re-attach them though. They are made of some sort of special substance that does not let glue attach to its surface. I know, I tried.
Eventually I let fly at Olympus UK on Twitter and, to their credit, they understood the issue regarding my having to send my cameras away for anything up to 4 months (the official Olympus SA agent's response) to get these things re-attached.
They sent out a new set of double-sided tape pieces (I am not joking - it's double-sided tape) and a replacement thumb-grip pad for my E-M1 and tape for the HLD6.
Well, after cleaning the rubber pad and the camera body the grip thumb-grip pad area is behaving - for now.
A very good friend in Australia said he simply sorted his with super-glue (which I did not consider until that point for fear of messing up any repair access to screws etc). Sounds logical (and it works by the way) but why should we have to do this on a camera selling at $1 500?
This was an issue on the E-3 and E-M5 as well. The E-M1 eyecup rubber has also split and peeled off. Yes, I managed to repair it (same technique as that used on the E-M5 eyecup described on my photo blog here) but it should not happen on a tool at this level.
The thing about these issues is that the parts involved are probably the cheapest parts of the camera, made by some or other sub-contractor yet they set the quality of the user interface experience every time the camera is raised to take a photograph.
HLD-7 Rear Dial
Many other professionals I know have reported issues on the E-M5 and the E-M1 rear input dials where the dial twirls but does not affect any change to settings. This is a well known issue and Olympus even re-designed the dial on the E-M5 during its production run to deal with the issue.
My camera dial has not exhibited this issue (dare I say yet?) but the dial on the genuine HLD7 grip has. Yet again, this sort of thing may be tolerable on an entry level or mid-range product (at a push) but where you punt a product as a working tool for professionals, it is not.
Remote options: No remote application option from Olympus for Windows Mobile/Surface book.
Dear Olympus software development department: There are other options out there besides just Apple iPhones and Android.
Some of us (an increasing number) like the security and intra-operability with studio desktops offered by Windows mobile - especially the surface book computers (Like an iPad but better...and faster...and less expensive.)
However, there is no app for use on Windows to link to the built-in wi-fi of the E-M1 from Olympus.
Initially, I purchased an Android device simply to facilitate this. However, the device was a newer version of Android than was supported and so it simply refused to load from the Android store. To solve this, I side-loaded the application after downloading the app from an Android store mirror site. So, you get functionality but the app will not auto-update...not that there are many updates so...
For Windows mobile, however, there is a solution but not from Olympus. Search the Windows store for Camera Remote and OI Wireless apps.
These permit remote control operation with live-view and wireless download of the images taken respectively.
It's a clunky way to go about it but at least you can now hide a camera on a tripod ahead of the vicar and bridal couple and, with it set to silent shutter, get great shots throughout the ceremony without having to parade about in front of everyone as much as before.
The remote cable option from the E-3 and E-5 is redundant as the plug has reverted back to the same style as that used on the EXXX series. Come-on Olympus! Let's have some consistency in these accessories please. Luckily, I had a third party option with detachable plugs from Hama...
Traps for the unwary:
These are not manufacturing issues, nor are they design or firmware issues per-se. They are just some aspects of operation that I have repeatedly found to be waiting to catch you out when you are working quickly and do not think things through properly.
Colour Creator Re-Set
If you make use of the colour creator tool, you need to be dedicated to re-set it so that subsequent photos are not tinged by your colour settings made in this mode. In Firmware 3.0 a facility was provided to easily re-set the settings to default but that still left the mode active. Thus, if you had allocated exposure compensation to the front or rear dial, when you next tried to use it, you would throw your colours out of whack instead.
Firmware version 4.0 provided a further re-set option but my advice is to always use the Press-Tap-Twirl and touch method to re-set your colour profile settings, just to be sure.
Flash shutter speed settings with legacy 43 flashes like FL36 and FL50
The E-M1 lets you (and expects you) to set the flash shutter speed envelope. If you do not do this then the FL36 and FL50 flashes will show you they are ready in the viewfinder, they will respond to the power switch on the camera as they did on your E series camera, however, even at the auto/TTL flash setting they will shoot at the shutter speed chosen by the camera for ambient lighting (if on A/S/P) unless you have set the minimum speed in the flash custom menu to 1/125 or 1/250 or 1/320 as may be your preference.
Failure to do this might result in beautifully balanced foreground and ambient background lighting but, due to slower speeds, you will have fuzzy shots. You need to tell the camera what the size of its flash sandbox is.
You can do this in the deep (gears) menu - item F, Flash Custom settings.
Shutter speed settings if using silent shutter
Be aware that you will get a black bar (due to incorrect sync setting) if using the silent shutter with flash unless you set 1/50 second or slower. This is caused by the progressive scan operation over the sensor. And that is it. You cannot do anything about it.
Align the MMF-3 adaptor and lenses properly
Even the smallest mis-alignment when you mount legacy 43 lenses on the MMF-3 adaptors will result in a lack of AF or response to dial inputs. Initially, when mounting lenses in a hurry, this would often lead to a puzzling few seconds until I got into the habit of re-seating the lenses and adaptor. The biggest give-away to this issue is two dashes on the display where you would expect the lens aperture value to appear.
Here endeth the gripes.
The images produced by the E-M1 will satisfy all but the most churlish of forum-potatoes.
They certainly satisfy my clients, be they brides, creative directors, model agency management, Michelin chefs, vehicle dealer principals or magazine and newspaper editors.
So that's all that counts really.
There is no need whatsover to lug around hugely expensive legacy 35mm sized sensor camera bodies and their lenses anymore. Seriously, there isn't - unless your ego insists there is something magical to be gained from a sensor format that has to pre-process every single shot to eliminate vignetting before you can even look at it.
As technology improves, the 43 system will push the boundary of low-light even futher than the current state of the art. I can use the E-M1 at ISO6400 and get smooth, virtually noise-free shots at concerts or in candle-lit shacks. Who really, really needs to get fur detail on a black cat in a coal mine at night?
IN PART FIVE WE CONCLUDE THIS REVIEW