Kathy & I recently decided to take a long weekend to Waynesville, North Carolina, and I decided that it would be an excellent opportunity to try out the second of the two cameras that I have been wanting to try. While I wasn’t (and still am not) looking to replace my Canon gear, I have been wanting to try a few of the “state of the art” mirrorless cameras. I decided a while ago that of all the cameras to choose from, I was most likely to choose between the Fuji XT1 and the Olympus OMD EM1.
Back in January I rented a Fuji XT1 from Lensrentals and tried it out over a weekend in Charlotte. I wrote about the experience in a couple of posts, here and here. So for the weekend in Waynesville I decided to rent the other camera, an Olympus OMD EM1. Yes, I know the punctuation isn’t quite correct, but it’s too hard to get that alphabet soup arranged correctly!
Whenever the time comes to replace my current camera system, I know that my two priorities are going to be image quality and handling. The 5D Mark III checks all the boxes for image quality, and after 12+ years of using Canon DSLRs the handling and layout of the menus is second nature to me. My only real reason for giving that up would be to find comparable image quality and good handling in a camera that is smaller and lighter. I can get used to just about any menu system given enough time, so I’m not too concerned about that.
My impression from the Fuji was that I really liked the files. I felt like the image quality was very good, and that it would likely be a suitable replacement for the full sized DSLR. My only real objection was that the camera felt too small for my hands, and I never felt like I had a secure and comfortable grip on it. That could probably be solved with one of the accessory grips sold by Fuji and others, but I didn’t get a chance to include that in my rental. Since January, Fuji has also come out with a larger “pro” level lens that might give me something more substantial to hang on to.
Being a firm believer in Murphy’s Law, I had had a feeling that when I tried the Olympus I would really like how the camera handled but that I wouldn’t like the files as much. But I’ve been a fan of the more square aspect ratio of the 4/3 cameras since my 6×7 medium format days, so I knew that would be a plus. From the moment I opened the box, assembled the camera and lens and held it in my hands, I had the feeling that “this is it.” In fact, the entire weekend I was daydreaming about how I could get the Canon gear boxed up and sent off to trade it all in on the Olympus and a supply of lenses. I really liked the way it handled, and other than the 30 minutes I spent trying to figure out how to get the lens out of Manual Focus mode (little did I realize that the Olympus 12-40 has a “push-pull” clutch mechanism to change between auto and manual focus) and the well-documented frustration with the menu hierarchy, it was a breeze to use.
As luck would have it, I came home from a nice relaxing long weekend into a hectic week so my time to evaluate the files immediately was quite limited. I boxed up the camera and sent it back to Lensrentals, and downloaded the files to my computer. I snuck a quick peek at a few of the photos before heading off to bed, and was astonished to find that my initial impression was “yuck!” I even told Kathy – who had been patiently listening to me sing the praises of the Olympus all weekend – that my initial reaction was “leave your credit card in your wallet.” She was as surprised to hear it as I was to say it.
I’ve now had a chance to spend some quality time with the files in Lightroom, and my impression has improved significantly. I’m going to try to tread very carefully here, because (a) I’m only trying to describe my experience and am not trying to write a comprehensive review, (b) I know a lot of people whose photography and opinions I respect who use the Olympus, and I’m not trying to question anyone else’s opinion, and (c ) I am by no means a qualified camera tester.
In general I don’t find the image quality to be bad or anything, but my impression is that the files do not have the contrast, sharpness and color rendition that I get from my Canon cameras and that I saw in the Fuji files. They seem to be a little noisier than the Fuji files and I don’t feel that they have the dynamic range of the Canon or Fuji files. I suspect that this is due to the smaller sensor as much as anything. They seemed to require a little more sharpening and noise reduction than the Canon and Fuji files, and don’t seem to respond as well to large adjustments.
Admittedly I have not spent nearly as much time with either the Fuji or the Olympus files as I have with my Canon files, and I have processed a lot of Canon files over the years. I may have “gotten lucky” with the Fuji files, and given more time I might find the key to the Olympus files. But based on my limited experience with both of them if I had to make a choice I would probably have to choose the Fuji over the Olympus at this point in time. I would just need to find a solution to the lack of a grip, which I think would be pretty easy to accomplish.
I’ll undoubtedly have more to say on the subject over the next week or two, and I will certainly post some additional photos and commentary as I get to them. I might actually bring myself to make a purchase at some point in the near future. But we have a big trip coming up in June and there is no compelling reason to rock the boat. Kathy & I will be taking our first-ever trip to Colorado in June, and I’m planning to go with the tried and true Canon kit. I know it well, am confident that it will give me the results I want, and other than schlepping it through the airports we will be doing most of our travel by car, so the size and weight will not be as big of a factor.
If you were hoping for a little bias confirmation bias, sorry for the disappointment. 😉