Olympus OM-D E-M1 – A Very Short Review

Posted May. 29th, 2014 by Daniel J. Cox

Update 5/26/2014

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 – A Very Short Review is in fact, very short and in all honesty barley a review at all. It’s really more of just an opinion piece and for good reason. I had a very hard time forcing myself to even use this camera after coming to grips with how painfully difficult it was to set up. I took it out in the streets of Havana, Cuba and shot it for three days, but I had to force myself to do so. Why?

The Olympus OM-D E-M1. Beautiful to look at, Difficult to use.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1. Beautiful to look at, Difficult to use.

One plain and simple fact. There are too many options that a photographer uses every time you push the button, that were reinvented for the sake of reinvention. The new way didn’t make things easier to accomplish a goal, like changing the +/-EV, WB or ISO settings, it made it far more difficult. It was a nightmare to configure and equally as bad trying to recall the unidentified button or lever that was customized. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement and I have no clue why this camera gets so many positive reviews. I will admit, it looks fabulous, it feels fantastic, and it produces wonderful quality RAW files, but it’s a nightmare to operate. Who knows, maybe it’s just me.

Finally, I put off posting this review for several weeks. Most of my comparisons in this piece revolve around my experience with the Lumix GH3. Since this was written I’ve now been shooting the new Lumix GH4 and many of the issues that bothered me about the E-M1, in comparison to the GH3, are even more problematic when matched against the GH4. So that’s my preface; the following is the rest of the story.

3/23/2014 Havana, Cuba

A few weeks ago I contacted my local camera shop, F11 Photo in Bozeman, Montana, requesting their help in in getting me get THE hot new Micro 4/3 camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M1. I’ve been a big fan of the Micro Four Thirds consortium since first trying the Panasonic Lumix GF1. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 has received RAVE reviews since it was first released and I wanted to see if there was something I was missing. Marsha from F11 Photo got the ball rolling and just before I left for a week’s shoot in Cuba, I received a loaner OM-D E-M1. I was thrilled but my enthusiasm was short lived.

I have to say that I almost decided not to write this review. My reason was something my mother taught me long ago which was,  “if you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all”. Ok, that’s the high road to take if people aren’t depending on you for helping find what is good and not so good in the world of photography. Additionally, although I was very frustrated using this camera, it obviously must have some very positive attributes since there are lots and lots of people who love the E-M1. I mentioned to a couple of my Explorer companions my thoughts of not writing this review. I told them I was feeling badly about not being happy with my Olympus experience and I would most likely not write anything either positive or negative.  That didn’t go over so well with those I shared my thoughts with. They felt I should document my findings whether good or bad. So here it is, my short term experience with the wildly popular Olympus OM-D E-M1.

In all fairness, there are several things I do like about the E-M1. Keep in mind that I’m comparing the E-M1 with my current favorite Micro Four Thirds, the Panasonic Lumix GH3. All the cons of the E-M1 are things the GH3 does very well. After using the E-M1 I’m very surprised the GH3 doesn’t’ get more positive press, especially when compared to this particular Olympus. I found the two cameras light years apart in how they handled and ease of use but nearly identical in quality of lenses and overall image quality. To keep this relatively short and to the point I’ve created a bullet list of the pluses and minuses. For those that want more details you can find them later in the post.

Pros of Em-1

  • Solid feel, extremely sturdy construction
  • Fabulously sharp and easy to view EVF
  • Excellent manual focus with the 12-40mm zoom
  • Excellent lens shade on 12-40mm zoom
  • Decent high ISO capabilities
  • Super fast 10 FPS continues frame rate
  • Decent predictive AF though I never had the chace to run my Speeding Pooch Test
  • 5 Axis on sensor image stabilization – I love this feature

Cons of E-M1

  • Confusing ergonomics relating to how the camera operates – virtually no dedicated, easily identifiable buttons such as WB, ISO and +/- Exposure Compensation
  • Confusing menu system to change and manage settings
  • Lengthy lag when pushing the dedicated button to review an image
  • Short battery life
  • No built in flash
  • No GPS

Solid, Sturdy Construction

This little camera is much heavier than you would first expect. It feels very sturdy and extremely well built, very much like you would imagine from a truly professional camera. I shot mostly the new 12-40mm zoom which is also fairly heavy. When I handed this package to fellow photographers they all remarked at the weight of such a small package. With both GH3 and E-M1 in hand, the E-M1 seems heavier but the specs on B&H’s web page show them almost identical in weight. Here’s the break down:

  • E-M1 body= 17.44 ounces / 497 grams with battery and memory card.
    12-40mm F/2.8 =13.47 ounces 382 grams
    Total= 1.937 lbs 30.99 ounces
  • GH3 body= 19.4 ounces / 550 g with battery and memory card.
    12-35mm F/2.8= 10.76 ounces 305 g
    Total= 1.884lbs 30.144 ounces

I don’t know why there seems to be such a different feel in weight but I wasn’t the only one to notice it. The numbers say different however.

Fabulous EVF

Electronic Viewfinders have been frowned upon by virtually every photographer who has ever put their eye to one. I’ve experienced it myself, but I’ve been willing to except a less than perfect EVF experience in exchange for all the other positives Micro Four Thirds cameras bring to the table. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 has improved the EVF experience dramatically. It’s not perfect but it’s much better than the GH3. The electronic EVF was probably the most positive thing about the E-M1.

Excellent Manual Focus on 12-40mm F/2.8

Olympus has chosen to use a push/pull, locking clutch, type, manual focus system on the 12-40mm F/2.8 lens. I’ve seen this option on other lenses made by third party manufacturers. What used to seem like a gimmick is now legitimized on this beautiful, silky smooth lens. I liked the feel and accuracy, no slop or play whatsoever. The 12-40mm F/2.8 is superbly crafted and very sharp.

Excellent Lens Shade

This seems like a minor thing but Panasonic could take a lesson in this department. The Olympus 12-40mm has an excellent lens shade. It’s best attribute is the locking mechanism that holds it in place. My Lumix lens attaches with a quarter spin that snaps into place. When I first bought it, it worked fine. However, over time the locking click stop that helps hold the hood in alignment has worn out and now the lens shade spins rather freely. I’ve lost many images due to vignetting at the edges from a misaligned lens shade.

Decent ISO Capabilities

The E-M1 shoots beautiful files all the way up to 1600 ISO. Similar to my GH3, once above 1600, I start to see the disadvantages of the smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor. I’m confident this will improve over time and for now it’s plenty for most situations. All the smaller sensor cameras are at a disadvantage to the larger full frame Nikon’s and Canon’s but the gap is closing and I predict in less than three years all Micro Four Thirds sensors will be at least as good as what we currently get out of our larger full frame bodies. Yes, the full frame sensors will progress as well but where is the line on what is perfectly fine for 95% of all images we produce? Time will tell.

Super Fast 10 FPS Shooting

At ten Frames Per Second, the E-M1 shoots images like an out of control Gatling gun. It seriously flies. However, those 10 FPS are for a stationary subject or I should say one that stays within the image plane. In other words, if the subject is moving towards you, the first frame is focused and the rest are not. That could still give you some amazing pictures of a gymnast on a balance beam that is parallel to the camera, but a bird flying straight at you is another story. A subject coming straight at you is the test we use for what is called Predictive AF. My Speeding Pooch Test would be equal to or possibly better than a flying bird test but unfortunately I didn’t have the camera long enough to give it a try. Maybe Olympus will send me another E-M1 to run the Speeding Pooch Test with. I would be excited to see it’s true Predictive AF capabilities.

5 Axis on Sensor Image Stabilization

This is a fantastic feature and one that Olympus has really seemed to have nailed down. They’ve obviously spent a lot of R&D on this technology and it works extremely well. In use, I don’t see any advantages to this type of IS over the in-lens version other than the fact you can use any lens that attaches to the camera. I have to say, adding Olympus lenses to my camera bag, with no way to stabilize them, is not something I’m willing to do. I just can’t imagine using any of today’s systems with out some sort of IS.  The Panasonic Lumix GX7 has a remedial version of in-body IS but from other reviews I’ve read, the in-lens version in the Lumix system is far superior. With Panasonic and Olympus each choosing their own preferred way of implementing this technology, they booth lose out on one of the Micro Four Thirds advantages of compatibility. Being able to switch lenses between Micro Four Thirds systems is one of the major plusses of a Micro Four Thirds camera  system and having lenses without the IS is a deal breaker for me.

Those were some of the positives, and now for the disappointments of the E-M1.

Confusing Ergonomics

When I first started looking at Olympus I picked up the OM-D E-M5. I didn’t get a chance to really test it other than across the counter of my local camera shop. But I did notice it was lacking many of the buttons I appreciated on my GH3’s, Nikon’s, and other cameras. Gone was the White Balance, the ISO and +/- buttons. Unfortunately, the E-M1 was identical in the missing button department. I thought, “there must be a good reason and I’ll just get used to it.” Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

It seems the reason for removing these very common and necessary buttons was obviously intentional. One of the claims to fame of the E-M1 is the unimaginable number of ways you can configure this camera. You can set almost any button to do almost anything. But unfortunately, figuring out how to do that is nearly impossible. Remembering what you’ve done is equally difficult. I spent three hours over three different days trying to understand how to make the Custom Function buttons do something similar to what the GH3 and my Nikon cameras have. I never accomplished that goal. I lost numerous photo opportunities during my Cuba shoot, fumbling for the proper lever/button combination that I never did catch on to.

Confusing Menu System

The confusing and infinite options available for custom settings is compounded by the more than confusing menu system. Combine an almost unlimited number of options with a less than intuitive way to make changes and you have near photographic chaos. The icing on the cake is the nearly illegible font size and color Olympus uses for their menu text. Many folks who are moving to the smaller lighter systems are baby boomers. That’s code for we’re getting old! I’ve had better than 20/20 vision all my life but in the last five years, like many others, my close vision has badly deteriorated. The tiny fonts of light gray text are really difficult to read, even with my cheaters in place.

No Built-in Flash

Nikon and Canon have gone the route of not having a built-in flash on their professional cameras, and Olympus seems to be taking the same path. For me this would very likely be a deal breaker. I use my wireless strobes with my Nikons constantly. By having the built-in flash on the D800 or D600, I don’t have to carry Nikon’s wireless device that sits in the hot shoe to fire the wireless, off-camera strobes. To go wireless I just pop the onboard flash up, set it to Commander Mode and I’ve got some of the most breathtaking wireless lighting you can image. Amazingly, my Lumix GH3 is virtually identical in its wireless capabilities and I’m thrilled to have that advantage. The E-M1 has wireless capabilities, but only by attaching a commander flash in the hotshot. Additionally, though a small pop-up flash will never come close to lighting a dark room, I use it constantly for fill flash when photographing people during my travels. I’ve even used it in a pinch on monkeys in Costa Rica, birds in Brazil, and other situations too numerous to mention. It never puts out a huge amount of light but if the subject is within 10-15 feet it can be the difference between brightening the shadows or not. Of my Nikon gear, I have only one so-called Pro camera. The main reason I don’t buy other Pro models is due to the missing in-camera strobe. Maybe some pros don’t want it, but I’m not one of them.

Conclusion

I’ve probably said too much but I’ve done so due to encouragement I received from a couple of our Explorers. I really wanted to love this camera but it just wasn’t meant to be. I’m not happy I had to write as much as I did but I’ve made a commitment to those who travel with us, not to the camera and equipment manufacturers that might lend or give me gear. As you all know, everybody has an opinion and I’m the same as anyone else. Some have even claimed I have more opinions than I need 🙂

Though I was very unhappy with my experience, others seem to be thrilled. That said, I‘ve spent over 30 years making a living shooting pictures, earning a livelihood by no other method. That doesn’t mean I know it all, but I do understand how important it is to master your camera as quickly as possible, to comprehend it inside and out. When your camera is like an extension of your hand, your mind, you’re able to capture those fleeting moments that so often make dramatic imagery. This is where I think Olympus has gone astray. They have reinvented the wheel in so many ways on this camera that years of instincts are completely useless. Believe me, I’m all for newer, better ways of doing things, if it makes sense. But adding so many Custom Functions without a few of the everyday, WB, ISO and +/- buttons, front and center, is a serious mistake. There are just some things that work extremely well and should be left alone. This is where the GH3 excels brilliantly. It is useable on a progressional level straight out of the box. As I mentioned in my lengthy review on the GH3, I think Panasonic is building the most intuitive, superbly ergonomic cameras of ANY manufacturer right now. Ergonomics is what this issue is all about and it’s the biggest difference between the Olympus E-M1 and the Lumix GH3. Obviously all who are reading this will want to make up their own mind, but do yourself a favor. Go to your local camera store, pick each camera up and make three changes without asking the sales clerk to help you out. Change the ISO, change the WB and change the EV settings on both cameras. See which one you can do without any outside help.

Add Your Voice!
There are 34 comments on this post…
  1. dcsorrellOn Sep. 30th, 2016

    I’m trying out an EM1 after several years of shooting with Panasonics I have loved (G1, GH1, GH3). The one and only reason: I have some lovely Zuiko manual lenses to use, and I want the in-camera stabilization.

    It’s just barely large enough for my hands (EM5 was too small); the aperture and shutter speed dials are well-positioned.

    Images are very, very sharp. Yes, visibly a little sharper than my GH3.

    However…

    This camera is supposed to be aimed at the pro market. WHERE are the preset buttons for iso and white balance???? Yes, I found a way to customize a button for the full range of iso choices. I also customized another button for changing the white balance, and then tried it. It only lets me choose custom white balance by holding the button and aiming at a white sheet of paper. Then I have to keep holding the button while framing and focusing the shot. ARE THEY KIDDING???

    But I really want to shoot with those lenses hand held. So, while I’m waiting for B and H to reopen after the holiday, I’ll try and learn to love it. It will not be easy.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Oct. 2nd, 2016

      dcsorrell, you have run into the exact same difficulties as I did when I first tried to use the Olympus EM-1. I wanted to love it myself but the lack of ANY dedicated buttons for ISO, WB and +/- Exposure Compensation drove me nuts. Yes, it’s possible to customize any button to do almost anything but trying to recall which button does what, with the added confusion of the rear lever changing what those buttons do, depending on whether it’s up or down, leads to mass confusion in fast moving situations. Olympus is very proud of this design and there are many photographers equally proud of how the EM-1 is setup. But for me it was a deal breaker.

      As far as your White Balance difficulties, I do think you’re missing something fairly easy. It sounds like you’re in some sort of Custom WB mode. You should be able to change the WB via the Super Control Menu which gives you the normal WB options other cameras have such as Auto, Cloudy, Shade, etc. It’s easy to get confused since there are many things about the Olympus bodies that are very difficult to change so it’s easy to think EVERYTHING is difficult to change. But if you dig into the manual I’m confident you’ll find the WB is not as complicated as you’re finding.

      I also agree with your concern the size of the camera being too small. I think you are dead on and I believe this concern is exactly why we’ve seen Panasonic adding a little more bulk and size to their bodies in the past year. The GX8 is a perfect example of a camera that grew from the smaller size of the GX7. There’s such a thing as too small to handle properly. Lumix has figured this out and is designing accordingly.

      Finally, the sharpness comparison you make between the GH3 and the EM-1 is a bit unfair. I’ve done the same comparison with the Lumix GH4–a much more current model than the GH3–to the EM-1 and I see no differences in sharpness of the final image.

      Keep in mind, there are lots of new options coming in the next several months, most notably the Lumix G85 and GH5 as well as the Olympus EM-2-ll. Each of these cameras are going to be far superior to the cameras you mention you’ve been looking at and comparing. The G85 will be released in the coming weeks, the GH5 is not until next year. If it were me, I would definitely give the newer cameras a look. So much technology has happened since the GH3 and the EM-1. Hope this helps and no you are not crazy for wanting dedicated buttons for ISO, WB and EV compensation. And don’t get me started on the Olympus menu system!

  2. Greg HallOn Jun. 28th, 2016

    i love THE OMD EM1.

    The size
    The ergonomics
    The tiny primes
    The IBIS
    The add’l grip
    Feels fantastic in my larger hands
    etc

    ’nuff said…

  3. MikeOn Jul. 10th, 2015

    A good article, Daniel and I think fairly balanced, though too much of the ‘guilt trip’ – never feel sorry about posting negative reviews if you explain why it is negative and I think you have gone out of your way to explain yourself. Even if we ignore the fanboy stuff, the ‘if you have nothing nice to say don’t say it’ leaves us with a situation where people do not get a balanced view of a piece of equipment.

    Anyway, moving on.
    I have the GX7 and the E-M5 and my feeling echo yours – if I could have the ergonomics and menus of the GX7 with the IBIS of the E-M5 then I would be as happy as a pig in clover. I do agree that the Super Control Panel on the E-M5 helps a lot in this regard but if you want to do something different once in a while the lack of intuitivity (is that a word?) is a pain in the neck. Recently I could not remember how to turn off Long-exposure noise reduction and lost some good opportunities – only to find it was in the White Balance menu. White Balance…..?

    You ask why the GH3 does not get anywhere near the reviews of the E-M1 and I think that comes down to the history of the E-M line. The E-M5 was a true game-changer and developed a cult status that the E-M1 is feeding off. And when Panasonic did get something comparable their play to the video market, IMO, meant it was not viewed in the same light as the E-M series.

    As someone who likes to shoot wildlife, the one downer for me at the moment is the lack of high quality Panasonic tele lenses (zoom or prime) though that may be about to change. The only high quality offering is the 50-150mm f2.8 but it has no in-lens IS which would be really inconvenient on the GH series.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 10th, 2015

      Thanks for your insight Mike. Your desire for a new lens on the Lumix side is coming sooner rather than later.

  4. Wladek SkorkoOn Jun. 15th, 2015

    Coming to this discussion with a year-long delay… found it trying to see if other people had the same level of anxiety as me trying out the OMD M-E1… As so many people, I had enough of dragging pounds of Canon gear everywhere I go. Got an excellent Sony RX100 for one trip to Afghanistan and that was a game changer. Canon stayed back home more often but I kept missing lenses (Sony goes 28-100 equivalent only). So, decided to give an Oly a try to see if it works for me. Spent three days with a loan one going from “what the f…?” to “Oh, sh…”, wondering how these guys could get it so wrong and have such stellar opinions on the net… Something inside me refused to throw it to the dust bin, however and I persevered with menus and buttons… Day and a half later I finally had it set, mastered and enchanting… WOW, what a difference it made…and the EVF experience where I could instantly see alternations made to parameters… Yes, you can make adjustments with camera to your eye but it takes some steep learning curve if you come from Canon and that different concepts. It definitely is a camera one needs to learn and adjust to. But it is worth the time…

  5. FlemmingSOn Jan. 4th, 2015

    One more comment from me:
    Regarding this statement
    “It made a big improvement in handling but still nowhere near the connivance of having WB, ISO and +/- buttons right at your finger tips as is the case on on the GH4. These three options are things I change constantly while I’m shooting. Being forced to pull the EM-1 down from my eye, to look at the back panel LCD, to make these changes, is a HUGE impediment. I missed dozens of beautiful images, maybe hundreds, during the test of the EM-1 on My Trip to Cuba”
    I hope that you are aware that pressing the OK button while looking in the EVF brings up the Super Control Panel in the viewfinder?
    Also the (in)famous lever by default allows you to change the WB using rear Wheel and ISO using front Wheel. just remember to click it back into position after you have adjusted,
    This can be modified to your own tast, but default settings allow a very fast operation that requries very little practise.
    But Ialso agree that this camera has incredible customisation options, and can be very dauting.
    And I hope you will give it another try, it is really good when you use it regaulary.
    Personally I have experienced first hand, that some otherwise highly recommended cameras just dosen’t appeal to me (Nikons are better suited for my taste than Sony and Cannon cameras in general).
    I guess it is a question of individual taste and style.
    Keep up the good Work1

    P.S.
    Pardon me for my English, I am from Scandinavia.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 4th, 2015

      Thanks for the update. Your english is terrific and input is appreciated. I didn’t think of using the OK button with the camera to my eye. I’ll keep that in mind. I do agree with you that some cameras are more appealing than others depending on your own tastes. Your appreciation of Nikon ergonomics over Canon and Sony are spot on. I feel the same. In fact this is one of the main reasons I personally prefer the Lumix cameras, menus and buttons, they are very similar to Nikon. I often think that many manufacturers are regularly trying to reinvent the wheel when the wheel is working just fine. Sometimes that’s a benefit and sometimes a nightmare. I think Nikon and Panasoinc’s Lumix have hit a great compromise in building new technology in to cameras but keeping the things that work well and are easy to keep track of. Thanks again for adding your voice. Stop by anytime to be a part of our community.

  6. FlemmingSOn Jan. 3rd, 2015

    Thank you for a very interesting mini review of the Olympus EM-1.
    I use the EM-1 mostly and I have to respectfully disagree about most of the cons put forward against this camera.
    The ergonomics (especially with the battery grip attached) are absolutely splendid for me, and they have also received positive comments from Nikon and Canon Full frames shooter from my local Photo Club.

    The menu and customisation can seem daunting and overly complex, but once you use the super control panel, it is a dream to use in daily shooting,.

    The autofocus using M43 lenses is the best I have experienced from a small camera especially single AF.
    Continous AF is still somewhat behind good DSLR though, but usefull enough for my use.
    Using legacy 43 glasses is a different situation though: my EM-1 is able to focus my heavy HG
    (50-200 mm F2.8-3.5) and SHG (35-100 mm F2) just quick enough in single AF, but CF becomes too erratic.
    Regarind Hi-ISO: I can confidently use ISO 3200 when shooting RAW and even push to 5000-6400 if I am willing to use a lot of time post processing in Lightroom.
    Video is very average but the 5 axis stabilisation is incredible !
    I guess this review only proves that we are all very different photographers and not all camera’s are for everybody.
    The important thing is to find the proper system that Works for you.
    I also have an Olympus EP-3 (travel) and a Panasonic GF3 for causual use.
    And I am really really disapointed with the GF3 regarding the OOC JPEG’s, the operation and the menu, so this camera is laying still on the shelf.
    It came with a splendid 14 mm prime however, so the I have bought an Olympus EPM2 as my P&S camera and I love it.
    If I ever get into video I would take a very good look at the Panasonic GH4, it seems to be more than a one trick pony.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 3rd, 2015

      Felmmings, Thanks for stopping by to offer your insight on the OM-D EM-1 and other Olympus cameras. I recently retried the EM-1 and my dealer, F11 Photo here in Bozeman, Montana, alerted me to the Super Control Panel. I was unaware of that feature when I did my first review. It made a big improvement in handling but still nowhere near the connivance of having WB, ISO and +/- buttons right at your finger tips as is the case on on the GH4. These three options are things I change constantly while I’m shooting. Being forced to pull the EM-1 down from my eye, to look at the back panel LCD, to make these changes, is a HUGE impediment. I missed dozens of beautiful images, maybe hundreds, during the test of the EM-1 on My Trip to Cuba. I finally had to put the camera back in my bag and go back to the GH4. I do agree with your comment, “I guess this review only proves that we are all very different photographers and not all camera’s are for everybody”. But with all due respect, keep in mind, I’ve made my full time living for almost forty years doing nothing but photography, making my entire income from images that sell to publications such as National Geographic. If I miss even one picture, it could be the difference between a paycheck or not. That’s tremendous inspiration for wanting to work with a camera that allows me to capture that one or many profitable images. Most folks, who love photography, are inspired by the idea they too may be able to make at least some money from their images. That being the case, it might be beneficial to at least consider the experience someone like myself brings to the discussion. I apologize if I’m coming across as Mr. Know It All, but all of my opinions are based on how camera equipment either does or does not produce income. I shot Nikon equipment for over 35 years and I did so because it provided the tools to pay my mortgage, my health insurance and the like. Again, with all due respect, when I decided to shoot Panasonic it wasn’t a whim decision. It was based on what these cameras could do when compared to my Nikons. The Lumix line is the closest system I have found that even comes close to what Nikon did for me all those years, with the added benefit of Panasoinc’s deep technology advantage, that’s going to be even more important as we move forward. Thanks again for bringing your insight to the discussion. Stop by anytime to add your voice. I do love hearing from all who enjoy photography.

  7. Robert D. BrownOn Nov. 6th, 2014

    Daniel:
    I guess complexity is in the eye of the beholder. I’ve been using Nikon DSLR’s (D7000 & D7100) with 150-600 Tammy zoom for birds and Nikor 18-140 for most other things. (See www.flickr.com/CaptainRBrown) Getting tired of the weight I trialed an EM-1 with the Panny 100-300. To set up the EM-1 for back button focus, manual ISO, center spot focus, center spot exposure metering, and turn-off inessential power consumption options took 30 minutes using the buttons and menus with minimum reference to the user guide. No problems so after testing autofocus with LensAlign I found that the Panny 100-300 is soft for full range and up to f/8. Then I went bird/landscape shooting. EM-1 is a dream to shoot birds with. With its quiet 10fps speed, has very good autofocus in low light even when the birds are in the brush where a lot can tangle up autofocus and easy to handhold. I shoot handheld most of the time and the IS on the EM1 felt even better than on my D7100 with the Tammy 150-600 and a tiny fraction of size and weight. It’s true EM-1 has a lot of features (which I’ll use sparingly if at all) but for bird/wildlife/macro/landscape shoots the EM-1 was a dream to set up and use. While shooting birds late afternoon I found I needed to use EV +.3,.7,1.0 on several occasions for some backlit bird shots but had no trouble figuring how to change on the fly. Long since past the age of being able to read anything smaller than a stop sign without glasses I could use the EVF w/o glasses using one time diopter adjustment to see all settings I needed to change on the fly so for me the EM-1 was easier to use than the Nikon DSLR’s which I love. I’ll continue using the EM-1 with better lenses for next 9 months and if it continues to be as good as it’s been up to now I’m taking only it on my next photo expedition to Alaska in June ’15.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Nov. 6th, 2014

      Thans for stopping by to add your voice. Glad it’s working out for you.

  8. ChadOn Nov. 5th, 2014

    Just a little background. I come from a long line of Nikon DSLR’s and a few Film SLR’s before that.
    For digital, first the D70, then D70s, D100, D200, D700, D800 (current).

    I recently added the E-M1 to my kit, with a few lenses including the 12-40 2.8.
    Before that, I owned the Olympus EP5 which was my first foray into MFT.

    I’m happy with my E-M1. In fact I love shooting with it, and the IQ is great. I haven’t shot with any other brands so I can’t compare, but the E-M1 fits the bill for me 🙂

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Nov. 5th, 2014

      Chad,

      Thanks for sharing. I too have been happy with the Lumix system. Still have some Nikon gear including the D800, D4, D600, 80-400, 200-400, and many other lenses. But I’ve not shot any of it for three months. Don’t plan to sell it all anytime soon but I’ve been so pleased with the Lumix gear for 90% of what I’m doing, I don’t see myself going back at this point.

  9. Graeme AitkenOn Sep. 29th, 2014

    Just an amateur – but bought an EM-5 on reputation. Had a 12-60 Olympus with my e-510 and wanted to use it on M4/3. Focussing is a real issue – it is slow – and often doesn’t work – just wanders off. It is unclear if the EM-1 handles the 12-60 (and 50-150) Olympus lenses any better – and to a workable level. I don’t need sports level – just to be able to focus in general shooting.

  10. Paul RossOn Aug. 21st, 2014

    I have been doing photography as a serious hobby all of my life since age 11. I am now, what is referred to as mature. And as a mature person, carrying equipment becomes an increasing burden so 2 years ago, I acquired a used m43 camera (Panasonic GH2) to see if the size weight and image quality would suit me. And it did, I was bitten. I shortly there after got a good deal on a used Olympus OMD EM 5 and began looking at lenses that suit my picture taking needs and interestingly looking at using some of my legacy film camera lenses with adapters.

    To cut to the chase, At the beginning of this year I sold all my full frame Canon (5Dmk2) camera and lenses and jumped into the m43 world with two feet and never looked back. I acquired a new OMD EM 1 with the 12 -40 Oly lens. I also sold the OMD EM 5 and the GH2 and began using the Olympus EM 1 camera with a Panasonic 100-300 lens for shooting birds. The weight difference between this gear and my former Canon gear with the 100-400 Canon L, was startling. And in the never ending search for optimal image quality, I recently picked up an Olympus 5-200 SWD lens, Converter (1.4), and M43 adapter. And that is what I have been carrying as I bike along the NJ shore.

    But…., But…. All was not well in my gear. I found the complexity of setting up the Olympus to be a monumental pain. I found the ability of the Olympus to track moving birds with both the Panasonic 100-300, and the Olympus 5-200, to be poor and as your review notes, the ergonomics of the camera leaves a lot to be desired. I am continuously frustrated by not being able to fix the center focus point and have the camera not alter it.

    As for the comparison of the Olympus 50-200 plus teleconverter the Panasonic 100-300, so far, its a wash. Some of my Pana shots seem sharper while others from the new Olympus rig seem sharper. But the weight difference is substantial favoring the Panasonic lens.

    To add to my confusion I also recently acquired a new GH3 and I have tended to use it for every thing other than my birding pictures. After looking as several lens options for it I found the new version 14-140 Panasonic about as good as it gets for a moderate priced zoom. But the more I used the GH3 the more I found the the ergonomics superior to the Olympus and while it cannot focus the Olympus 50-200 fast enough for moving objects, when I use it with the Panasonic 100-300, the AF is fast and right on target and it yields a large number of excellent images.

    Two final comments, I sold the Olympus 12-40mm Pro lens because its just too heavy for the zoom range it offers on a small camera body, and frankly, unless I am shooting wide open, its no better than an old Panasonic 14-45 lens that came with the Gh2, a truly excellent lens. Lastly, I seldom use flash, but when I need it, I prefer to have a small unit built into the camera and a separate dedicated flash with sufficient power that can slave to it (Olympus FL 36R). I found the Olympus flash a pain to put on and take off the camera and because I like to travel lite, it remained home most of the time.

    I am waiting to see what the next generation of Panasonic and Olympus pro cameras look like and feature and perhaps I will sell the current OMD EM1. I also hope Panasonic either comes out with a high quality 100-300 zoom or a 300mm telephoto lens with stabilization, or adds image stabilization the the future GH 5.

    Thanks for the excellent and honest review of both the Panasonic and Olympus offerings,

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 21st, 2014

      Paul, Everything you wrote is right in line with my experience with both Panasonic and Olympus. Including the tremendous desire for an update 100-300mm F/4. I really appreciate you sharing so much of your experience since it will give the folks at Panasonic encouragement to continue their quest to give us smaller, lighter, better cameras and lenses. So far they are off to a great start. Thanks so much for adding your voice.

    • PetraOn Feb. 28th, 2015

      Hello Paul,

      so what you are saying is I can stop saving up for the Olympus 50- 200 and the OMD EM1 for birding? I’m now in the process of doing this exactly for that, selling my OMD EM10 and trying to get an EM1 in order to work with the 40- 200.
      Right now I use a Nikon 1 with converter for wildlife, but my photos lack detail.
      I’m also looking into the Sony A57 and Pentax K30. The Sony because I love an electronic viewfinder, the focus points over the Nikon viewfinders I find too distracting. Can you help me out? Go for the large Sigmas? I’m not exactly rich…

  11. Otto RasconOn Jun. 26th, 2014

    Hi Daniel. Thank you very much for sharing your very insightful thoughts with us. I’ve been using the OMD EM1 for about a month now and love it! It was a bear to set up and the menu is pretty hard to go through, especially since it resets your location everytime you exit the menu! I agree that the Lumix cameras are much easier to set up and use. The menu system in the Panasonic’s are perfect IMHO. I’ve used the Lumix GH3, G6, GM1 and the GX1. Both systems are a joy to use and handle and the lenses for m43 are great. I definitely don’t miss the heavy full frame dslrs and huge lenses. Thanks and much love from Chicago.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 26th, 2014

      Otto, Thanks for stopping by to add your voice. Olympus really is doing a superb job with the Micro Four Thirds format cameras. However, that said I feel Panasoinc is doing an even better job. Yet so few people talk about Panasoinc. I think it may have to do with them being the new kid on the block making serious still/video equipment. What many people don’t know is that Panasoinc has been the leader in mid priced video production and cameras for decades; so they aren’t new to the game of quality image creation. Even so, many still shooters don’t even think about Panasoinc as a possibility since they aren’t aware of Panasoinc’s long history in video equipment. I’m hopeful the word will get out since competition between Olympus and Panasonic is good for all of us in the end. Just like it drove the amazing technology we all received from both Nikon and Canon due to the competition between these two mega giants. Currently Olympus and Panasoinc are seriously differentiated by their menu systems and ease of use with Panasoinc being much more user friendly and easy to understand right out of the box. Your experience seems to agree with mine. Olympus is starting to pull out in front with lenses and will be seriously ahead with the release of the soon to come 14-150mm F/2.8 and the 300mm F/4. Unfortunately I’ve not heard that these lenses will have any sort of Image Stabilization in them since Olympus puts IS in the body. That’s a downside for Lumix users. We shall see. I think Panasoinc has a few tricks up their sleeves as well. It’s all very exciting overall. Thanks again and stop by anytime.

  12. Bill TylerOn Jun. 13th, 2014

    I don’t understand why you consider an instantly accessible white balance setting essential. If you shoot raw, the files don’t change, and you can adjust white balance in post. If exact color accuracy is important, you’ll be doing that anyhow. Perhaps I’m missing something important, though, Please explain.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 13th, 2014

      Bill, I’m a firm believer of getting it right the first time, in the camera. Yes, RAW gives me options if I goof but I’m most interested in doing as much in the field while I shoot so I don’t have to spend hours and hours tweaking WB in post processing. Either way, having controls easily accessible is never a bad thing. Thanks for adding your voice.

  13. Dean SwartzOn Jun. 5th, 2014

    Big news today on www.imaging-resource.com that may have an impact on those considering the GH3/4 for wildlife photography. Olympus has announced plans (hopefully available in early 2015) for a 300mm f4.0. As you MFT fans know, this will mean that we will have a 600mm 4.0 equivalent lens that, based on the quality of the other lenses in the “Pro” series from Olympus, should be awesome. Because Olympus uses a 5-axis camera-based image stabilization, the new Olympus 300mm telephoto should be relatively small and light compared to its Nikon/Canon 600mm counterparts, and far less expensive. Unfortunately, according to the recently published interview on IR with Panasonic officials at the CP+ show in Yokahama, Panasonic has no plans for a telephone prime (because it is focusing on lenses that can be used for video). This means that, at least for the foreseeable future, if you want something other than the barely adequate Panasonic 100-300mm 4.0-5.6 for your telephoto shots, you will have to look to Olympus because with its soon to be released Pro 40-150mm f2.8 and 300mm f4.0 (neither of which will have IS) for long, fast lenses. And, that means, for wildlife still photography, the E-M1 will be the reasonable choice over the GH4. The GH4 still kicks major butt for video, but if stills are your primary interest, it is “Check” in favor of Olympus. (Sorry Dan, I know that you love your Pany GH3/4 bodies, but anyone looking to replace their Canon/Nikon systems with fast telephoto lenses will have to look to Olympus . . . or else develop outrageously steady hands to shoot the GH3/4 bodies lacking that awesome in-camera stabilization found in the new Olympus bodies . . . heck, even the E-M10 has 3-axis in-body stabilization!)

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 6th, 2014

      Sorry Dean. With the extreme difficulty I found in using the Olympus Om-D E-M1 I’ll be sticking with my Nikons for my wildlife shoots. Yes, I was disappointed to hear that Panasoinc had been considering a faster, Pro zoom and now seems to have cancelled it. However, one thing to keep; that interview with Panasoinc was given in February, long before the GH4 was released and Panasoinc had a chance to see what they had on their hands. Maybe the huge success of the GH4 will encourage them to reconsider the longer lenses. If not, I’ll still be shooting Nikons for my wildlife and nature work. That is of course unless Olympus changes their horrible ergonomics and makes an easy to use camera without the massive learning curve.

  14. Tom GrossOn Jun. 3rd, 2014

    Thank you for this review, Dan. It will keep me from making a big mistake.
    I currently use a Panasonic G5, and was looking forward to a new G7 sequel which I have been told is not going to happen this year, and maybe never. Consequently, I was thinking about getting the new Olympus OM10. But I rely on the dedicated buttons on the G5 and would never be comfortable without them. I don’t do video, so hadn’t wanted to spend the extra money on a GH3 or GH4. Now I may very well consider a used GH3.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 3rd, 2014

      Tom, I understand your desire not to spend any more money than necessary, on a great camera. Admittedly, if you have no interest in video the GH4’s remarkable, cutting edge video, seems like a waste of cash. However, something you may want to consider. I firmly believe that the GH4’s capability to shoot 4K video is directly related to the vastly improved Auto Focus and other fact action improvements, still photographers, myself included, were desperately hoping for. Fast AF is a product of bigger and better computer processors and I’m speculating that the processor that runs 4K video may well be involved with all sorts of of other benefits for still photography when it’s not chewing through 4K movie footage. I could be wrong since I’m not privy to any inside info, it’s just a guess.

      In regards to the GH3. It’s a great camera but if you shoot any kind of action you will have to forget that being an option with a GH3. Yes, $1700.00US is a substantial amount of money for a GH4 but for the amount of camera you get it’s an amazing bargain. I don’t think we would have the still camera the GH4 is with out the addition of the 4K video technology. The 4K video is obviously directed towards the moving picture shooters but I’m convinced still photographers have benefited immensely as well, even if they don’t shoot moving pictures.

  15. Peter BerryOn Jun. 2nd, 2014

    There are those of us who have the ability to recall a stream of non-related data points, and those who’s brains demand some sort of logical framework to fit things into. I’m hopeless with the simple memory task – to some – of recalling a random sequence of verbal or written directions, but I can trouble-shoot just about any system with a logic-based approach.

    Dedicated hard controls that pass from one generation to the next are a godsend. And I know in my bones that Oly’s radical flagship design would be an unending nighmare to me – and every day Groundhog Day all over again!

    I can access all usual GH3 functions with the dedicated hard controls without leaving the EVF if needed, including the five Custom setups (panorama manual settings, HDR rettings, and three video modes – 60p, Ext. Tele Conversion, and slo-mo) from the top dial. And all drive modes, including bracketing and time-delay, AF modes from all-sensor to pinpoint with full control of box size, and even flash EC from the top EC button. And, of course, an AF/AE lock button.

    When the GH4 arrives, I can rest assured the transition will be smooth.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 2nd, 2014

      Very well said Peter. I agree whole heartedly. You will very happy with the how virtually identical the GH4 is to GH3. Makes my life so much easier.

  16. Chuck CoyneOn May. 30th, 2014

    Dan, thank you for your thoughts on the Olympus EM1. I can understand you frustrations learning a new system. I took the plunge into M43 with the purchase of the Olympus EM1. It did take me several very focused hours and several photo outings to finally feel comfortable with the menu and custom button setups that are part of this excellent photographic tool. I think you may not have given the proper amount of time getting to know the EM1 and that is too bad. I believe that the EM1 is the finest camera I’ve ever used in my 30 years of using DSLRs. I sold off all my Canon Professional cameras and lenses and purchased a second EM1 after two months of using my first EM1. I found the usability and customization to be light years ahead of any of the Canon cameras I owned and used. The quality of the images are truly amazing and the selection high quality of lenses are very impressive. As Dean Swartz pointed out in his earlier response the camera’s Super Control Panel with the combination of the touch screen allows you to very quickly change ISO, WB, Shooting Modes, focus points, etc.. Additionally, the ability to setup and store 4 different camera configurations and recall them from the camera’s memory with the touch of a button makes switching from say a single shot manual focus setup to a continuous tracking high frame rate autofocus shooting setup easy and quick. Once you get your camera customized to your own personal liking you can easily make any adjustment you require to the camera without taking your eye away from the wonderful EVF. This even includes reviewing your shots in the EVF instead of the back of the camera LCD screen. You were dead on in your assessment of the very well constructed and high optical quality of the Olympus Pro 12-40 f/2.8 zoom lens. I used to be in love with my Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L II zoom but this Olympus zoom combined with the amazing 5-axis image stabilization is a dream setup to use. I hope you have a chance to spend a little more time with this photographic tool to fully appreciate what it has to offer. I’m also looking forward to the recently announced new Olympus Pro zoom lenses; the 70-150 f/2.8 and the 7-14 f/2.8 in addition to the 300 f/4 lens. I will be checking out a Panasonic GH4 for a week (rental) and see if that may be a nice additional M43 camera to add to my kit. Thanks for your review of the GH3 and favorable comments on the GH4. Happy shooting!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 30th, 2014

      Chuck, thanks for adding your voice. I always appreciate a good exchange of ideas. I do know that many folks love the customization of the E-M1 but I personally feel the ease of use of specific, dedicated buttons right at your finger tips, is a much faster and easier system. But that may just be me. I would love to see Olympus add three dedicated buttons, WB, EV and ISO. Thanks again. Maybe I’ll have another chance to test the Olympus. Thanks again.

  17. Dean SwartzOn May. 29th, 2014

    Dan, we all benefit greatly from your views and expertise. I’ve been shooting with the Olympus for several months and absolutely love it. Yes, there was a bit of a learning curve (especially after having my fingers wrapped around a Nikon body for the better part of the last three decades), but, as you know, the more you use a camera the better it handles. I cannot disagree with anything you have written, but I think if you spent more time with the camera, you’d grow to love it. The Super Control Panel feature give you immediate access to WB and ISO, along with about 20 others. And, as far as +/- EV control, that is easily done with the front dial (while looking at the live histogram) through the awesome EVF or LCD! I agree with you that autofocus (as it does on all MFT cameras) still has a way to go to catch up with bodies like the D4, but in time it’ll be there.

    I am waiting for my GH4 (based largely on your glowing reviews of the GH3 . . . see, I really do pay attention to you), because it seems to be an overwhelmingly good camera, especially for video. But, I will hang onto my Olympus bodies to use with the upcoming Olympus Pro lenses, especially the 300mm f4. Can you imagine how nice that will be to carry around instead of a Nikkor 600? And, you are spot on in your praise of the Olympus 12-40mm f2.8. Compared to the Nikkor 24-70, it is an absolute joy to carry around all day! And, paired with the Pany/Leica 42.5 1.2 or the Olympus 75mm 1.8, the Olympus is an absolutely demonic low light system (although, again, not on par with the D4 or, from what I’ve read, the D4S.

    I hope you and Tanya are well and happy. I look forward to the next time we journey together!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 30th, 2014

      Dean, I just can’t agree with the lengthy need for a learning curve. I tried and when the GH4 is usable right out of the box, to me there is just no reason for reinventing the wheel which is what it feels like Olympus has tried to do with so many controls on the E-M1. I know about the EV control on E-M1’s front dial but it’s not by any means obvious. Also, any EV wheel that does not have a lock on it, like that on the the E-M1, is an ongoing photo crash waiting to happen. When I shot Canon for six months, in the mid 90’s, the lack of a lock for the back wheel EV dial is the number one reason I sold all my trial Canon gear. Olympus now has no lock and Sony has the same problem with their new A6000. I’ve recently tried that camera as well and the dial is so easily moved its hard to believe. I’m currently in Italy and one of our Explorers who’s shooting the new Sony and he’s been going crazy not realizing that his EV dial was constantly being moved until I showed him the problem. Unfortunately, I stand by my critique of the E-M1. It certainly does produce some great images but only if your spend an inordinate amount of time learning all the reinvented wheels that did not need reinventing. I do applaud Olympus for taking part in driving the Micro Four Thirds system forward.

      Great hearing from you Dean and as always I really appreciate your thoughtful input here on the Blog.

  18. DougOn May. 29th, 2014

    Daniel: So glad you posted your thoughts. I’m in transition right now and have only a Nikon V2 in my bag, although it’s proven to be far better than I imagined. If only the files were a bit higher quality above ISO400. I became very unhappy with my D7000 for a number of reasons, weight and autofocus misses first among them. I am seriously considering making the change to Micro 4/3, and right now the GH4 looks really good to me, especially with the improvements in af over the GH3. I handled the EM1 for 5 minutes in my local camera store and hated the ergonomics. And the menu system was daunting. The GH3 felt fantastic and was a cinch to use. Can I go wrong with the GH4? This question from a 30+ years Nikon user!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 30th, 2014

      Doug, every thing you mentioned in your comment I agree with completely. The Nikon V cameras are amazing in some regards but image quality is just not there in the high ISO’s. D7000 was a nice camera but before transitioning more completely in to the Micro Four Thirds world I sold the D7000 and moved on to the D600. I still love the D600 when using my Nikon’s for wildlife. Your assessment of the E-M1 was dead on and exactly what I thought when I too went in and handled one across the counter. That’s why I decided to test one before even thinking about purchase. Finally, can’t agree more with your comment, “the GH3 was a cinch to use”. Good news regarding the GH4 is ALL the terrific ergonomics are the same as GH3. Same well placed buttons, same easy to read and understand menu, same batteries for amazing sake, same external vertical battery grip. The list goes on with all the things you won’t have to relearn or repurchase for the GH4 if you already have items for and have learned the GH3. You won’t regret a GH4 purchase.

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