The Relative Merits of the EM-1

A colleague was offering to trade my EM-1 for a small kit (EM5 mk2, 3 lenses).

The trade is tempting as the EM1 is over kill for me and puts pressure on me to service it with better lenses (AF speed mainly). The EM5 would give me the basic upgrade from the old work horse cameras, offing electronic shutter and high res, without changing the basic dynamic of my kit (same batteries even).

I have been hard on the EM-1. It takes a lovely image and offers a point of difference.

One area it always surprises me is the quality of it’s jpegs. I am not yet convinced that it has better jpegs than most or that the camera does a better job of processing it’s files than Lightroom.

Top row, RAW with my basic preset

Bottom row jpeg again with a very gentle pre-set.

The naturalness of the sharpening is appealing. Fuji did a brilliant, almost completely invisible job of sharpening on their jpegs, something I was drawn to, but Olympus generally over sharpened and obviously.
The Pen F has sublime RAW files, full of micro detail and contrast, but the jpegs can be a little too “perfect”, almost plasticky.

What the EM1 seems to have is a very good application of all of the Olympus “good stuff’, I guess making the working day of the professional shooter easier. The RAW files do not do it for me. The Pen runs rings around it for very fine detail and the old EM5’s beat it for perceived “snap”, but the noise is better tamed (probably where the resolution difference lies) and the files are smooth-lush, much like Canon files.

EM-1 75-300

EM-1 75-300

I do have a pre-set for jpegs. It is basically a very mild version of my usual treatment (slightly brightened white channel with tamed highlights, slightly deepened black channel with a corresponding highlight boost).

EM-1 12-40

EM-1 12-40

To my mind, the difference is much like the difference between the 12-40 and 12-100 lenses.

The bigger zoom is “hard” sharp, very punishing of imperfect subjects , but rewarding at pixel level if some peeping is going to be a reality. The sharpness seems to defy you viewing too close until you actually hit the pixels. On the Pen it excites me with it’s potential. Compared to the EM-1 and 12-40 it is like shooting a medium format film camera, a little harder to do, but predictably better results.

The smaller zoom is “nicer” if that makes sense. It has a more forgiving nature, great Bokeh and a pleasing gentleness, ideal for general work. On the EM-1 the pair can produce lovely images, especially at normal (not 100% on a screen) distances.

Ironically, the two lenses swapped roles would probably even things out, but the EM-1 suits hand held use and the Pen is better on a tripod.

On the cameras, I really should not ignore the feel the cameras have.

The delicate Pen F, beautifully, but not ruggedly made, makes me feel like driving a new Land Rover in the wilds. I really do not want to scratch the paint work!

The EM-1 is just asking for a tough life.