Ten Things I Hate About the Olympus E-M 5
As of this writing (May 2012) the Olympus E-M 5 is one of the latest “it” cameras — one that all the online pundits, forum posters, and reviewers are talking about. Almost all the talk is positive: people seem to love the E-M 5′s looks, handling, and overall performance.
Me? Well, I’m not in love. I’ve probably had my E-M 5 as long as any U.S. “civilian” (non-shill, non-reviewer) user, I’ve shot with it pretty extensively, and I’ve found lots of things about it to like. But I’ve also found lots of things that drive me a little crazy, including:
#10 – The battery door isn’t spring-loaded. It may seem a minor point, but on this type of camera, you change batteries a lot. So it should be as easy as possible, right? For example, I also own a Panasonic GH2; on the GH2, when you unlatch the battery door, a spring flips it up. On the E-M 5, there’s no spring; you either have to pry up the door with your fingernails or turn the camera over so it flops open. Lame.
#9 – It gets annoyingly warm when you shoot for a long time. This was the first thing I noticed about using the E-M 5. It’s surprising how hot it gets around the handgrip (which houses the battery) during continuous use. I’m sure that when winter comes I’ll love this feature — hey, a built-in hand warmer! — but in summer, the last thing I want is a camera that gives me sweaty palms.
#8 – There’s no protection for the LCD. Again, the GH2 is my standard here; you can fold its LCD over so the surface is protected when you pack it away in a bag. No such luck on the E-M 5.
#7 – The control dials are hard to reach. I shoot a lot in manual mode, so I thought I’d love having separate dials for controlling aperture and shutter speed, instead of the GH2′s single, push-to-select dial. As it turns out, though, the dual dials actually are harder to use. It’s hard to find a grip that’s comfortable for both the index finger on the front dial and the thumb on the back dial. And if I use the index finger to turn both dials, it has to move a long way away from the shutter button.
#6 – The buttons are too flush and hard to push. You spend a lot of your E-M 5 time pushing buttons, so it would be nice if they were easy to reach and positive in operation. They aren’t. All of them are so flush to the body that they’re hard to press, and none of them has a tactile “click” to let you know when you’ve pressed far enough. I realize the “click” would be difficult to implement in a weather-sealed camera, but I still miss it.
#5 – The EVF is sluggish and doesn’t show enough fine detail. The eye level finder is smooth and looks very “photographic,” but it doesn’t show fine details such as eyelashes or fabric textures as clearly as either an optical finder or the GH2′s sequential EVF. This lack of detail means it’s hard to focus manually without bringing up the magnified “focus assist,” which has its own frustrations (see #4 below.) Also, if you try to use the EVF’s “instant review” feature for a quick check of your last shot, it blacks out both before and after the review image appears; the total time is so long that this feature is almost useless for shooting active subjects. Again, sorry to harp on the same point, but Panasonic does much better here: the review image appears and disappears in its finder almost instantly, making it much less disruptive when following the flow of action.
#4 – Manual focus assist requires two button-pushes. One reason I bought a Micro 4/3 camera is that I can use lots of interesting old lenses – such as screwmount and M-mount rangefinder-camera lenses – by means of adapters. Manual focus assist magnifies the view through the camera’s EVF, making such lenses easier to focus accurately. On the GH2 (and, I’ve read, the Fuji X-Pro 1) you can bring up the magnified view with a single push on the rear control dial. On the E-M 5, you need to find a button, press it to bring up the magnification “frame,” then press it again to engage the actual magnified view. Why?!?
#3 – The control dials don’t keep up with my fingers. On every other camera I’ve owned — the GH2, several Nikon DSLRs, an Epson R-D 1, etc. — turning a control dial has produced an instant result. You can spin the GH2′s dials as fast as your fingers permit, and the settings will change right in step with them. The E-M 5 can’t do this — it’s easy to turn the dials fast enough that the camera “misses” inputs, leaving the setting you’re trying to change lagging behind. When you’re trying to work quickly, this is a huge frustration.
#2 – The eye sensor responds too slowly. This is another frustrating shot-killer. When doing documentary shooting, I normally let the camera hang on a neckstrap, bringing it up to my eye only when I see a shot I want. Again I’ll use the GH2 as an example: Its eye sensor turns on the EVF very quickly, so it’s always ready to view by the time I’ve gotten the camera to my eye. The E-M 5 responds more slowly; often, when I see a sudden picture opportunity, I miss it because the finder is still blacked out.
#1 – There’s too much “user” in the user interface. Reviewers have praised the extensive customization options that the E-M 5 provides, and I’m glad it offers those options because, in my opinion, the designers made so many wrong choices in choosing default settings and assigning functions to buttons. It’s as if they just decided to space off the whole user-interface-design process, and dump that job on the purchaser instead. Sheesh, guys, this is a thousand-dollar camera — do I really have to finish it myself?
Update: I had to turn off commenting because I was getting tired of reading the outcries of outraged Olympians, many of whom didn’t actually seem to own an E-M 5 yet, but all of whom were passionately convinced that this superb instrument could not possibly have any faults susceptible of improvement. In the hope of saving one or two of these people from a fatal aneurysm, I’ve decided to add the following:
…and five things I like about it:
#5 – The image stabilization is a huge help in focusing legacy lenses. Lots of EVF cameras (such as my competitive reference, the Panasonic GH2) let you magnify the EVF image for more accurate manual focusing. This helps, but when viewing a highly magnified image from a long-ish lens (such as the 100mm f/2 I often use) it’s hard to tweak the focus exactly because the finder image shakes so much. The E-M 5 solves this problem: half-pressing the shutter release activates the in-body stabilization and “freezes” the finder image, so exact focusing is a snap. (Note that by default, half-pressing the release switches off the finder magnification, so to use this feature you have to override the default by following the steps in DPReview’s excellent E-M 5 user guide.) Yes, the Pens have in-body stabilization too – but they don’t have built-in EVFs, and I think critical focusing is easier at eye level.
#4 – The wireless TTL flash system is superb. This won’t surprise veteran Olympus users – the E-series DSLRs have had excellent wireless flash control from the start (as have the Pens from the EPL-1, if I remember correctly.) However, it may come as a shock to Canon and Nikon DSLR users how well it works. I’ve used both the Canon and Nikon systems extensively, and in my opinion the E-M 5′s is as good as Nikon’s (which most people consider state-of-the-art) and better than Canon’s (which gives good results but is hampered by odd control logic.) Combine an E-M 5 body, a lens such as the fabulous 45mm f/1.8, and two or three FL-series flash units, and you’ve got a complete, highly-capable “studio” that takes up less space than a loaf of bread. Incidentally, that teeny external flash that comes with the E-M 5 may look silly, but it works just fine as a wireless controller.
#3 – It’s quiet, subdued and unobtrusive. I don’t know whether or not the E-M 5 is quieter than, say, an Leica M9, but I do know its brief, low-pitched shutter sound is one of the most discreet I’ve ever heard. It’s a vast improvement over my competitive reference, the GH2, which makes a sound like a gerbil sneezing. Anyone who shoots documentary-style pictures will find the E-M 5′s low-noise operation to be a big benefit. The shutter button’s responsiveness and feel of the “click” are great, too.
#2 – The image results are very, very nice. One reason I ditched my Nikon D300 outfit was the realization that, for the image-quality measures that matter to me, the Panasonic GH2 was just as good. And the E-M 5 is just a bit better than the GH2. The two cameras’ high-ISO noise looks fairly similar to my eyes (shooting in raw format and converting with Lightroom) but the E-M 5 definitely has a wider tonal range. This means you can expose to retain highlight detail and still keep a nice, open, airy feeling in the midtones. I’m really liking it for studio shots with controlled lighting, where the E-M 5′s files deliver a distinct “big-camera” look.
#1 – Owning and using the E-M 5 inspired me to write this post, which reminded me of the utter futility of trying to write anything sensible for Internet consumption. Next time I get the urge, I’ll go make pictures instead!