Can Olympus Keep Up? — Ronn Aldaman Works the OM-D E-M1

Ronn Aldaman
By RONN ALDAMAN

This is an article for normal people, not technicians. The title is somewhat misleading. Some ask if the company can keep up with the competition. But the fact is, at the moment the real question to ask is: can Olympus keep up with with the demand for the new OM-D EM-1, currently an Amazon #1 seller. Product availability has been unable to keep up with demand and hype created.

Of course, we know this could be the same sort of marketing strategy as was employed with the Honda civic. Honda deliberately held back both on production and delivery, thereby creating a demand, and that demand created a myth. A myth which today, we might add lives on. Not only was Honda’s marketing strategy a huge success but, a well deserved one at that. At least within the context of automobile production.

There is another similarity between the new EM-1 and the Honda Civic. Both were aimed at a particular market sector of more informed buyers that were aware of the fact big cars were not as necessary as was previously believed and the price factor calculated in made the Civic a real competitor for many.

The Olympus EM-1, while not tiny, is still small enough to avoid making you look like a pro or, god forbid, a wannabe-pro prancing around with a volume of gear that really should be moved by crane. The mechanical type, not the bird.

In my eyes the size of this camera is both an advantage and yet, in a way a disadvantage. Some who will want it will possibly believe it is not quite small enough to tuck in a coat pocket. Others will feel it is not quite big enough to be considered serious (yes, many buyers today think about these things more so than the resulting photography) Their hesitation will hopefully not prevent them from buying.

Monk on Train | Ronn Aldaman
Monk on Train | Ronn Aldaman
Monk on Train | Ronn Aldaman
Monk on Train | Ronn Aldaman

I used this camera with a 12-40mm zoom lens. The size is increased considerably, to the disadvantage of those wanting to remain less visible. I was impressed by the ease of using the zoom though, and that’s something considering I rarely, if ever use a zoom lens. There were times I forgot I was using this zoom lens. The image quality was exceptional. But as I am not a pixel counter or interested in viewing bricks let me reiterate something I have said before which holds true for the EM-1 or any other digital camera in my opinion:

The images out of the camera are not decisively important. Almost all people will change the quality (or lack of it) in post-processing. This is after all one of the advantages of using digital photography. Digital photography is almost made for post-processing. Film scanned often means using post-processing to try to get back the original film look which scanning can alter.

Having said this, I will add a few of the images were so spot on in color there was no need to use post-processing at all, only for slight adjustment in exposure and/or contrast. This surprised me.

Monks on Train | Ronn Aldaman
Monks on Train | Ronn Aldaman
Monks on Train | Ronn Aldaman
Monks on Train | Ronn Aldaman

There is a gimmicky option listed as “art filters”. It is sort of like painting by numbers where you get a kit of basic colors and a blank canvas with numbers where you fill in the corresponding colors and presto, within a few hours or days you have replicated “art.” These are:

  • Pop Art
  • Soft Focus
  • Pale & Light Color
  • Light Tone
  • Grainy Film
  • Pinhole
  • Diorama
  • Cross Process
  • Sepia
  • Dramatic Tone
  • Key Line
  • Watercolor
  • Art Bracketing

Enough said. Why any company puts such things into their programs for a fairly serious camera capable of good images is beyond me. Actually it is not really beyond me but rather beyond the scope of this article.

One “gimmick” I much liked and used often is the 16:9 format. Coming from and still using primarily film I did not think it easy or interesting enough to use this format at first but the option proved me wrong. Composition can be tricky but in a sense a challenge which allows you to compose in ways you normally would nor consider nor expect.

What I do with a camera is usually easy enough. I set it to aperture priority, natural color, RAW when possible and prowl the streets and train stations, markets and off the beaten track places with camera in hand. The rest of the option possibilities are really superfluous for me and I believe, for most people once they realize they could, and should control the situation using a camera, not use a camera that will control and probably limit the possibilities of any given situation. The camera is a tool, not a crutch.

Train Station | Ronn Aldaman
Train Station | Ronn Aldaman

Casual snapshooters for family vacations and picnics or celebrations may more likely be using all auto-set ups and they might as well throw the manual away once the novelty of “art” presets wears off.

The camera itself is extremely easy to work with. The grip is exceptional.Even with the strap wrapped around my forearm I sometimes felt as if there were none. At no time did the camera risk slipping out of my hand. Not too heavy and not too light it felt like it belonged. Focusing and shooting were very easy. I do though wish, although as I said the 12-40mm zoom was very good and easy to use, a fixed focus lens had been made available. Perhaps at some future time I will do this.

I never quite felt I was wielding a huge beast. Nor though did I feel I was carrying a camera that allowed me to remain anonymous. The lens makes a big difference.

The viewfinder is excellent, easy on the eyes and in no way becomes a barrier. The functions simple enough if you ignore the options that are really not needed, with hot buttons you can easily program once and then use as long as you like.

Muslim Woman on Train | Ronn Aldaman
Muslim Woman on Train | Ronn Aldaman

At this point I take a small detour to add something humorous. I was given a small, condensed version of the user manual (they know what I don’t want for sure, a manual the size of War and Peace).

When I read the following I had to wonder who exactly some of the information was written for:

PRESSING THE SHUTTER BUTTON HALFWAY AND ALL THE WAY DOWN:

The act of lightly pressing the shutter button down to the first position and holding it there is called “pressing the shutter button halfway”; that of pressing it all the way down is called “pressing the shutter button all the way down.”

Got that?

Girl and Monk on Train | Ronn Aldaman
Girl and Monk on Train | Ronn Aldaman
Girl and Monk on Train | Ronn Aldaman
Girl and Monk on Train | Ronn Aldaman

Yes, the camera body is sturdy and weather proof, the viewfinder is as I said close to perfect. The buttons are comfortably placed and easy to grasp, both with the mind and the hand. Some say it is a “pro-built body” and I in large part agree. Some cameras may strive to look more like what people equate with pro cameras but the actual use is what counts, is it not?

Although there is a high potential for customized options I believe the intrigue for some people will wear off and they will be left to use the camera as a basic photography tool. And it will not fail them!

I have heard some say the options are just overwhelming; read “too much.” IMO a camera should give the basic options to people to go out and photograph and leave gimmickry to toy cameras or, in some cases to other fields of photography, like pinhole or Holga cameras which have rightfully claimed their place as “serious” photography.

As for some of the technical details any reader can find the information at any time. 16MP CMOS Micro Four Thirds sensor. ISO 100 to a ridiculous 25,600. Built in Wi-Fi. Electronic viewfinder. And more.

Girl on Train | Ronn Aldaman
Girl on Train | Ronn Aldaman
Girl on Train | Ronn Aldaman
Girl on Train | Ronn Aldaman

Lastly I refer back to its size, usability and handling. It is a camera somewhere between small and large, nor one nor the other. That is good and in some ways not so good. Its sizing is deceptive. In the right hands this camera is capable of excellent results. In the wrong hands it can help the user along. In my opinion it still needs to find or rather clearly define its place, where its roots are and where it is heading. In the meantime, it is a stellar performer and will be a major success. Of this I a sure. I am also sure to a large extent, although it seems to be trying a bit too hard, its success is deserved. And as far s its roots go, Olympus has a long history of quality camera making.

Image Quality

I have tested both the Nikon D700 and Canon 5D Mark III. Both of course are considered professional cameras and both can, after all give us good images. But somehow, the images from the OM-D EM-1 in an indefinable way result in images that are easier to work with in post-processing and give a certain dimension I find not as easily attainable by the former two mentioned models. There is an almost tangible feel to them.

That may or may not suit today’s ambitions and may seem out of place in a fashion magazine or model shoot, but for someone seeking good quality image potential with… forgive me for saying so… an almost nostalgic feel to them (granted with some post process manipulations) this camera is excellent.

Muslim Girl | Ronn Aldaman
Muslim Girl | Ronn Aldaman

Price

Down to the nitty gritty. The price is not low. It is closer to high than low and I believe those seeking assurance in product label and reputation will probably, if they already use nikon or canon, not switch. If the price were considerably lower they might be tempted, at least to give it a try. The current price tag for the EM-1 body alone is $1,399 and the said lens, $999 which is $2,400 after all. Of course as is being proven this price tag seems to be acceptable to enough buyers for Olympus to be satisfied.

So we know a new full-frame Nikon D600 is “only” a few hundred dollars more. Add a new $359.00 35mm F2 lens into the deal and you are using a full-frame body with one heck of a good lens for a total of about $2,200 to $2,300. Of course not everyone likes a fixed focal length lens. Personally it is my preference.

However the comparison price-wise is somewhat unfair except that yes, the Nikon D600 is after all full-frame. With the EM-1 at $1,399 we could put on a 17mm Zuiko F2.8 lens (34mm equivalent in 35mm photography) which is available for about $300. I would need to compare this Zuiko 17mm lens in actual shooting but it has received very good reviews. Price-wise the difference suddenly goes in the OM-D EM-1’s favor.

Train Station | Ronn Aldaman
Train Station | Ronn Aldaman
Train Station | Ronn Aldaman
Train Station | Ronn Aldaman

Overall Conclusion

Very, very good. Almost impossible to disappoint. Olymous as I said has a long history. Without doubt it also has a long future.

Addendum: Some refer to this camera as pro, semi-pro. Either way, anybody can in theory buy any camera. What makes a camera pro (actually what makes anybody good at photography) is not the camera itself but the person using the camera. This camera, in the right hands, can do even better than a pro camera in the wrong hands; it can create wonderful images not as commodities to sell on the market, but as visually pleasing images to enjoy and share.

+++ If you like what you read on THEME, please consider supporting this site by purchasing gear via these trusted partner links. We earn a small fee and you don’t pay a cent more.

You can order the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and the fast new 12-40mm F2.8 PRO zoom from Amazon (dedicated page / body / lens), B&H (body / lens) and Adorama (body / lens).

Ronn Aldaman is a photographer in Bangkok. He uses film exclusively — with the exception of occasional forays into the world of digital photography that he seems to enjoy more and more. Ronn organizes photo tours and workshops. For more information visit ronnaldaman.com.

You can also support Ronn’s Indiegogo (Kickstarter) project A Drop in the Bucket helping to improve poor people’s life in Thailand through the world of photography.

Bangkok Angel | Ronn Aldaman
Bangkok Angel | Ronn Aldaman

Here a series of triptychs showing images 1) straight from camera; 2) post-processed in color; 3) post-processed in B&W.

Cops & Clergy | Ronn Aldaman
Cops & Clergy | Ronn Aldaman
Dog at ATM | Ronn Aldaman
Dog at ATM | Ronn Aldaman



  • Neil Buchan-Grant

    nice review nice pictures!!

  • Passageways

    Thank you Neil, much appreciated…

  • perceptivelight

    A good review, I will in all in likely hood buy an EM-1. I currently use the EM-5 among others and am very happy with it. My only harsh criticism is that focus is often missed particularly with the longer focal lengths.

    I feel that Olympus has seldom made a bad lens even going back in my experience to the SP35. (some day I’m going to buy another) The spot meter function in that camera was nothing short of brilliant.

    I believe that Olympus’s lenses probably get their edge over the competition likely because of the crossover experience gained from their medical equipment.

    And their lens coatings which apart from aspherical designs are one of the few real design advances in the last hundred years. There is no doubt in my mind that many Olympus zooms are every bit as good as many primes. That remark is likely to be contraversal but for those naysayers I say go try and test it. I recently wrote a comment about an everlasting flower image I took a while back and did not process, when I did I was ‘gobsmacked’ (Australian for speechless!) The subtlety of tone in the petals was better than anything I ever captured with Canon L series macro lense over a very long period of usage. The image to which I refer (http://perceptivelight.com.au/the-largest-everlasting-helichrysum-macranthum/) was shot on the 12-50 zoom which when it was first introduced was initially not very well received but found it to be a stellar performer at a bargain price very much like most of Oly’s lenses.

  • Jon Caprez

    It is very refreshing to read a review such as yours, Mr. Aldaman. No tiring tech talk, no pixelmania, no focus on what doesn’t have anything to do with photography. Thank you so much Ronn Aldaman for these observations. I’m about to go Olympus.

  • danielpicasso

    a realistic, practical and sincerely written review… well done. While I rented the EM-5 and enjoyed it but found it a little tight/uncomfortable for my hand thus purchased the fuji x100 for I personally found the x100 to be the closest to film of the digital options at the time and did not produce images as “scientific/tight” as the EM-5. I would enjoy to try the EM-1….. thank you for your review as way of an introduction to your fine work. Daniel.

  • Trackback
  • Passageways

    Much thanks Daniel. I also wrote up the X100 some time ago. I enjoyed using it.

  • Passageways

    Thanks Jon, that is encouraging…

  • Passageways

    Thanks for the input. When out and about on walkabouts I almost never use zoom lenses. I was pleasantly surprised with this 12-40mm F2.8 in particular at how day it is to use.

    Olympus has a long history as both of us suggest. I am sure this new camera is worth the investment. I would not sell the house to get it and the lens but nor would I for any set up.

    BTW I still go out occasionally with my OM1 and a 50mm Zuiko lens, usually with Tri-X.

  • Mailman7777777

    ” It is a camera somewhere between small and large”. That just about covers every camera ever made.

  • Jeff

    Excellent write up, from a photographer’s point of view and not the usual specs listing.
    Having demand exceed supply is a “good” problem for a business to have. The EM-5 had this problem and eventually caught up and still has decent sales today (1 1/2 years later) for its niche. Where as Canon and Nikon have unsold previous models while introducing newer ones.

  • Passageways

    lol well depending on your interpretation. What i meant was (within the context) the camera is neither too large nor too small of course. It is somewhere in the middle, nor small like some P&S cameras nor huge like you know very well which “of them there beasts” are…

  • S.Yu

    I’ve actually seen this. Half-frame files easier to work with than FF files. a7r’s files seem to have worse color compared to NEX-7’s files. It could happen on m43 too, though there’s no way of getting original FF perspective and bokeh like half-frame could using a focal reducer.

  • Nemmondom Meg

    I don’t know, trust a review where the creator converts basically all the average pictures into B&W to show arty pics.