Olympus OMD EM5 cameras, What are they good at?

I have and we all do sometimes dwell too much on what other people/things/circumstances have wrong with them. It is human nature. My wife, who is heavily embedded in wellbeing and personal growth study at the moment, will point this out to me when I stray too far from being happy (as anyone in the first world should be by default) and go down the path of problem hunting.

Using some of this thinking in the most practical way I can apply, I am going to look at what my reliable, faithful and excellent little EM5's do really well. There is always the other side of the coin like the never ending eye cup replacement stream, but I will indulge the good as it is overdue to be indulged.                                                                                                                 

This has ended up being as long as a "thoughts" essay, but oh well.

*

They are sharp. Really sharp. Sharpness that I had rarely had the pleasure of seeing** in digital until M43 and Fuji mirrorless* came along. They are sharp enough to hold their own against cameras with far bigger sensors and more expensive lenses.

The lenses don't let the side down either, even the kit lenses raised the bar. Scratch marks on polished metal, eyes of birds from massive crops, tiny branches on trees hugging the horizon on a sweeping landscape image. Results well within the happiness range of demanding and experienced image makers, even when the cameras only sported a 12mp sensor. Indeed the worst combination in the early period of the format (EP1 with it's heavy anti alias filtering and early, much maligned 17mm f2.8) could match the D700 Nikon full frame and 35mm f2 at similar enlargement sizes. It was (is) a different world of clarity that changed how we see images in the digital world.

Sometimes I smile to myself when people nit pick between two lenses in this format, because all are sharp on a level higher than we had before, so it is largely a pointless exercise in justification of choice. My 14-42 kit and 12-40 pro zooms render differently and have different specs, but I can work professionally with either. I have a pecking order in my mind, but my worst (cheapest) two lenses could get most jobs done and the actual order is not what you would expect.

To see the numbers if you need to, just go onto Lenstip or Photozone and look at the resolution numbers for the EPM1/2 or EM5 with any lens vs similar pixel count full or crop frame cameras and matching lenses. The numbers are telling.

A slightly cropped image taken with the EM5 and a "budget" tele zoom. This image matches a 16mp full frame and "L" series prime image taken a couple of years before of the same subject.

A slightly cropped image taken with the EM5 and a "budget" tele zoom. This image matches a 16mp full frame and "L" series prime image taken a couple of years before of the same subject.

Heavy crop from an image taken with the 14-42 kit lens.

Heavy crop from an image taken with the 14-42 kit lens.

They love and tame strong light. The sensor handles warm and strong light really well, never getting pushed out of their comfort zone. The smooth glow that comes from the sensor is very much like film's handling of hard highlights. Personally I reduce the exposure compensation to deepen the shadows and help control the highlights, but I have never lost a properly exposed image to blow out that was unnatural to the image and shadows recover very easily.

Some sensors add sparkle to the image even when the subject is not represented naturally, but not the EM5's. At first this frustrated me as Fuji in particular could magically make bland or dull look interesting, but this was not natural. It was not the real world. When I got my head around the ideal that the camera should not make bad look good simply by cheating, I really appreciated the controlled reality envelope the Oly's offered, even if I felt a little creatively cornered for a while.  

Running Canon, Fuji Sony and Olympus/Panasonic at the same time, really did not help. I felt I had potentially the perfect camera for any situation, when really I had no chance of getting to know any of them intimately, so I would be doomed to choosing almost at random.

A very contrasty situation that I never fear trying to capture. Very little post required. EM5 17mm

A very contrasty situation that I never fear trying to capture. Very little post required. EM5 17mm

EM5 75mm

EM5 75mm

Speaking of sparkle. When given a metallic subject the sensors ability to control the amount of sparkle and glow is really apparent. The brilliance of the final image is really up to the processing. Those deep and moody shadows, the bright highlight at the top of the pipes and the overall warmth and richness of the colours are the home play ground of the camera and something I would miss if lost. They manage to supply both Kodachrome 64 character and Fuji Velvia colours on the same file, but without some of film's short comings. I think of doing prints often when viewing files like this.

EM5 45mm 

EM5 45mm 

EM5 17mm on a system comparison morning (XE-1 23mm vs EM5 17mm). Initially the highlights were a blinding white flash point, but easily recovered until the right amount of glow was found. The Fuji looked beautiful, but I could not get back the lost highlights from the jpeg (don't ask about RAW at that time).

EM5 17mm on a system comparison morning (XE-1 23mm vs EM5 17mm). Initially the highlights were a blinding white flash point, but easily recovered until the right amount of glow was found. The Fuji looked beautiful, but I could not get back the lost highlights from the jpeg (don't ask about RAW at that time).

They convert to mono really well. Some of the charm of the film like properties the EM5's show is best displayed in their mono conversions. I would have to say, I never really meshed with Canon black and white conversions, Fuji was nice and Sony (Nex 7) was very good at mono, but I did not like other aspects of their images.

Mono with Canon became my destination when an image was beyond salvaging in colour and they always felt a little fake, like colour film images printed in black and white. With the Olympus cameras, I have been genuinely torn between mono and colour versions of so many images. The whole "mono vs colour face off" series is a direct result of this constant tug of war. I could and have contemplated fully switching to mono for my own work, but I love colour too much! I am a colour shooter who has alway respected, but never committed to black and white. I feel that both, for the first time in 30 years, are now even in my creative thinking.

EM5 75-300mm with the M2 "Basic film clean" profile applied. The print is sumptuous.

EM5 75-300mm with the M2 "Basic film clean" profile applied. The print is sumptuous.

Not specific to the EM5 camera, but a part of committing to the format is the depth of field rendering which is (in my opinion) perfect in practical terms. As you will have read here before, boke aji or bokeh is one of my areas of heightened awareness photographically (read; obsession). Bokeh means to many modern exponents "fast lenses, wide open, up close on big sensors", but it is far more than that.

True appreciation of bokeh is to understand that all but a very few fully and equally in focussed images have a component of bokeh transition (from fully focussed to partially or fully unfocussed) present. Even in small amounts, it is important to the viewer's feelings towards the photo.

It is not just how fast or loud music is, it is how it is played at all times that really counts and it is the same in photography. Anyone can max out bokeh to prove it's power, but how does it function in the real world when you need to use practical apertures?

EM5 17mm f2.8 (f5.6 on a full frame). If this image works on any level it is because of the relative clarity of the girl in the background and the dress in the foreground, but the orange case still gently dominates the composition. This is as much a characteristic of the lens used as the format, but it is so much harder with a larger sensor.

EM5 17mm f2.8 (f5.6 on a full frame). If this image works on any level it is because of the relative clarity of the girl in the background and the dress in the foreground, but the orange case still gently dominates the composition. This is as much a characteristic of the lens used as the format, but it is so much harder with a larger sensor.

Want super shallow DOF? Just do what you would do with a larger format only a tiny bit more aggressively. EM5 75mm f2 (not even wide open). Any less focus depth may not be practical.

Want super shallow DOF? Just do what you would do with a larger format only a tiny bit more aggressively. EM5 75mm f2 (not even wide open). Any less focus depth may not be practical.

I feel that every aperture I have is realistically in play. My lens arsenal provides a variety of magnifications and different renderings, which I am only now starting to really understand, but I feel fully equipped to produce the look I want, when I want.

They are clean. One hair, that should have been left alone and my own clumsiness forced a small, spot, sensor clean and one spot on an image very early on are all I have had to deal with in 5 years! No sensor cleans or servicing and 100,000+ images put through them. I am careful granted (I started in digital before sensor cleaning was a thing and have some good habits), but not obsessively so.

Finally, they are fast and stable. Shutter lag, the in camera stabiliser and auto focus are all very good. I do not miss shots because of the cameras, only my own skills. The AF has pulled off some miracle shots and the shutter lag is spot on for my own timing. I get what I see unless I stuff up. I had a bad habit early on of holding down the shutter button as I did with Canon in continuous AF, but when I stopped pushing it down too soon every thing worked brilliantly. It is stunning how often the camera grabbed onto something sharply when in touch AF mode and bumped or just fired off by mistake! Lots of sharp shoe shots.

EM5 17mm "flick of the wrist" shot with AF.

EM5 17mm "flick of the wrist" shot with AF.

The shutter sound and the camera's feel give great feed back when shooting slow shutter speeds. I rarely get surprise blurry images when pushing the camera into difficult stabiliser/shutter speed territory and generally know what feels ok will be ok. The Pen F on the other hand is not as forgiving with it's less defined "slappy" shutter sound. 

Another taken like the one above, but light starved.

Another taken like the one above, but light starved.

*The Fuji cameras are not as pixel peeping sharp when comparing fine details, but have an amazing smooth clarity and glassiness, that in their own way match the results from much bigger sensors.

** The Canon 1Ds mk2, and my best primes could get me there.