The Olympus OM-D, micro 4/3 grows up
Olympus OM-D E-M5 (courtesy of dpreview)
This week, we saw the introduction of two major cameras. On Tuesday, Nikon announced their long-awaited 36 megapixel, full frame D800. The next day, Olympus took the wraps off the well leaked OM-D E-M5 (kind of a cryptic product name, why couldn’t they call it something shorter like the OM-D5), the most sophisticated micro 4/3 camera to date. While I have no doubt that the Nikon will be a fantastic camera, I’m really not going to talk about it much. Since I shoot with Canon, Olympus and Sony I’m not wed to any particular brand. Rather, I find a camera like D800 catering to a high-end clientele or high-end wannabes. Sure, for some people 36MP will be a necessity and will give them a competitive advantage but for the serious amateur is this over kill? I think so. Of course, if you’ve followed this blog, you know my bias. It’s not a brand bias, I have nothing against Nikon. Rather, I’m scaling down my interest to smaller, more practical cameras. In fact, I’m more interested in the Nikon 1 series than their high-end SLRs. Given this background, you might have guessed that I’m more excited by the Olympus OM-D announcement.
Spec-wise, there is a lot to love about the new E-M5, part of the new Olympus OM-D line. A lot of sites have published the E-M5 specifications so I won’t repeat them here. Keep in mind that all we have right now is marketing copy, written in the most enthusiastic and exciting way. That is what marketers do, right? We will have to wait for the actual test results. So I’ll take statements like the “fastest auto-focus” with a grain of salt. However, it is evident that this model has improved over the previous Pen line in some significant ways. With the magnesium, water-resistant build, the focus speed, the new sensor and the advanced image stabilization, this is the most serious and high-end micro 4/3 camera to date. Besting even the well regarded Panasonic G line.
Here are the 2 most exciting features for me.
New 16MP sensor The previous 12MP sensor is probably the weakest part the current Olympus PEN system. I love the quality of my Olympus but only up to ISO 800. I will be happy if Olympus could squeeze another stop of performance out of this new sensor. Basically getting the same quality at ISO 1600 that I get at ISO 800. The Panasonic G3 and GX1 uses a 16MP sensor with better high ISO performance, and some speculate that Olympus maybe using a modified version of this sensor. And, I want true sensor performance, not just better JPEG processing. I will be looking at this very closely.
5 Axis Image Stabilizer One of the key strengths of Olympus is the in-body image stabilization. This allows any lens, even old manual ones, to have the advantages of a stabilized image. This allows me to take photographs at a higher quality (lower ISO) because I can shoot with a slower shutter speed. The OM-D claims to have a super sophisticated stabilization that can be used for stills as well as video.
There are other great features but they are less important to me. This includes the weather resistant, magnesium body, the built-in high-resolution electronic viewfinder and finally the fast focusing speed. If I didn’t already have my Canon 7D, these features would probably excite me more. But for people who want one do-it-all camera these features would weigh more heavily.
Initially, the $999, body only price was a big, pleasant surprise. I expected, with all these features, Olympus would price the camera higher. Indeed, if you add the inexpensive 14-42 kit lens, the total package comes to $1,099. That is only $200 more than the E-P3 kit with the same lens. For a $200 price difference, it would be a no brainer to get the superior OM-D. The external viewfinder alone for the Pen series runs $200. Add to this you get a better sensor, better build, water resistance and a host of other features and benefits. The pricing does not make sense to me. If anything, I’m wondering if Olympus will drop the price of the E-P3.
Then, I really started thinking seriously about the pricing. Yes, while the price difference between the E-M5 and the E-P3 makes the new camera, relatively speaking, a bargain. $1000 is still a lot of money. Keep in mind that the current Olympus PEN line consists of 3 cameras. the E-P3 at $899, the E-PL3 at $699 and the E-PM1 at $499. All 3 cameras have the same sensor and image quality. Sure the more expensive camera has a better build and more manual controls but this is a wide price range. When I consider that my current two camera setup, where the camera and basic kit lens runs for a true bargain price of $230, all the other cameras seem pricey by comparison. Also consider that my older model E-PL1 has the same image quality as the current Pen line. Yes, there are certainly difference in focus speed, among other things, however, if you know what your requirements are, you might be able to get a true deal on your camera.
Ultimately, for me to be interested, at $1000 and beyond the new OM-D needs to take noticeably better quality pictures. Sure, I love the feature set and styling. I’m excited to try it out and I will reserve judgement until I see some reviews and hold the new camera in my hands. But remember, don’t be seduced by the camera, know instead what you need out of the camera. It’s important to keep this in mind whether you get a $230 bargain, a $1100 top of the line micro 4/3 camera and especially a $3000 full frame Nikon D800. Easily said when I’m calm and rational at home. I’ll see how I react when I have the new camera in my hands at the camera store.