It showed up yesterday and despite the US/Canadian postal services best efforts, it arrived intact.
Even though there is a little mangling, the box just looks nice. Maybe it is because I know what is in it.
I don’t plan on using the 14-42 that came in the kit. Its mounted on my wife’s E-PL1 right now. I wouldn’t say that focusing on her camera is worlds faster, but it does seem slightly faster and it is definitely silent, which cannot be said for the old 14-42. The zoom ring also has a much nicer feel to it and supposedly the lens is sharper, though I haven’t had a chance to look at any pictures from the lens yet to get an idea for that. The old 14-42 is probably going to be up on eBay before the end of the week (as well as a Sekonic light meter and either 50/1.8 MIJ or 50/1.4).
On to the OM-D E-M5 though. I spent most of my time sitting on my couch last night after the kids went to bed setting up the camera with just a bit of playing around. Very little real picture-taking, other than snapping from the couch with a single piddly 12w LED light in the table lamp on in the room.
It is going to take me a little while before the camera operations are second nature to me, but I am already getting a handle on most of them. The menus are pretty extensive, but maybe I am just used to technology and delving deep in to the bowels of things like Windows, DOS, systems’ registries, etc, but they don’t seem that opaque with the exception of a couple of things I had to look up that weren’t familiar from using other dSLRs and ICL cameras.
My first impressions though are that the technology is a significant step forward from the E-PL1 at least. I can’t comment on the E-PM1/E-P3/E-PL3 or similar newer Panasonic cameras as I have never used any of them. However, compared to the E-PL1, the resolution is noticeably better, ISO200 is also noticeably cleaner/sharper at a pixel level, higher ISOs are much, much better and dynamic range seems a little better, but that later one is hard to test right now. Focusing is also, I would hazard a guess, twice as fast or a little bit better than the E-PL1. Also much easier to set up a smaller focus box and it STAYS that size. The touch screen is also kind of nice, though I haven’t played with it much other than setting it to touch to focus as that is nice to quickly change the focus box location. Oh and the IBIS is also noticeably better. With the E-PL1 with the 45/1.8 or Sigma 30/2.8 I could generally shot at about 1/focal length (not EFL, but focal length). With wider lenses like the Panasonic 14/2.5 I could generally shoot about 2/focal length and for the most part get pretty good and sharp results. With little use of any lenses on the camera I haven’t formed a strong impression yet of the improvements, BUT the Olympus 45mm seems to have about a 1 stop improvement over the E-PL1, the Sigma 30mm about 1 1/2-2 stops and the Panasonic about 2 stops or a bit more in improvement for handholding (which means around 1/20-1/30s is generally sharp with the Olympus 45mm, 1/8-1/10s for the Sigma 30mm and about 1/4s with the Panasonic). Of the 60-80 or so frames I shot there are a few from the Sigma 30mm at 1/3 and 1/4s that are pretty sharp and a few with the Olympus 45mm at around 1/10 and 1/15s that are sharp, but reliably sharp seems to drop off below the numbers I listed parenthetically.
Olympus 45mm, f/1.8, 1/25s, ISO1600 +1EV
The above is an out of camera JPEG. I’ll have a side by side comparison of some OOCJ as well as RAW conversions to show the difference in high ISO noise performance of the two cameras, but for now and without any 100% crops handy, lets just say it is at least 3 stops + an overall qualitative difference.
Here is the same image, but from RAW processed through light room 4.1rc with the highlights pulled back. Slightly better colors, but also the highlights restored.
Back to the high ISO differences. The E-PL1, in my opinion, starts getting some shadow noise at ISO400, but generally isn’t bad until around ISO640-800 which is also where mid-tone and highlight noise starts appearing. Also the E-PL1 has a lot of chroma noise which, to me, renders images above around ISO640-800 (depending on the scene) not very usable unless you are just looking at low res web reproduction. With the limited use of the E-M5 I can say that Chroma noise is significantly, significantly better. In OOC JPEGs the improvement is massive, but even with RAW the difference carries over. Chroma noise is not evident in OOC JPEGs until you start getting up on ISO3200-6400 and is very low still. You do get a fair amount of noise working up to those ISO levels and you start losing some details from in camera noise reduction (even with it off/lowest setting).
In RAW the chroma noise is evident lower, around ISO640 you start to see a tiny bit of it, but a very, very small hair of color noise reduction in light room eliminates it with pretty much no loss of detail until you get up around ISO5000, at which point you start to lose some details to color noise reduction (if you want to knock all/most of it out), but it is still pretty minor until you start getting up toward ISO12,800.
Also starting around ISO640 you start to notice some luminance noise, but it is pretty low until you move toward ISO1600. At around that point it is noticeable, especially in shadows, but still fairly well controlled and is rather pleasing, to my eyes at least. ISO3200 is fully usable and ISO6400 is even, if you don’t mind the picture being rather noisy. However, at its worst until you are pushing ISO12,800 it just looks like grainy film. At around ISO12,800 up to ISO25,600 you lose a bit of the film grain and the chroma noise starts stepping in, in a bad way. However, a quick B&W conversion and the worst you get is the appearance of push processed B&W film. Not exactly high quality results up there, but we are talking ISO values in the multiple thousands up to TENS of thousands. This is a little itty bitty sensor! I can remember the days when my ISO negative film had less grain than 35mm sensors did at ISO400! That wasn’t even that many years ago. Now ISO3200 of a m4/3 sensor probably has as much grain or maybe slightly more than my ISO400 color negative film does. That is absolutely insane.
Last night right before going to bed I took a picture of my daughter sleeping in her basinette next to our bed with her thumb stuck in her mouth (great, a thumb sucker. Avoided that with both the boys, but I guess one had to be). The only light is a 13w CFL in ceiling of the master bath, with a semi-transparent covering on the light (probably knocks out a stop or so of light) about 18ft away in the next room. Needless to say, it was dark. Yet I still managed to snap a picture with my Sigma 30mm f2.8 @ f2.8, 1/6s and ISO25,600. Sure it won’t be a master print, but looking at it, it wouldn’t make a horrible B&W 4×6 print either. Grainy, but still usable and maybe even with a little charm.
I couldn’t have done that with my OM-1 and any film or lens combo, not handheld anyway. My wife’s E-PL1? Well ISO3,200 looks worse on that than ISO25,600 does (not by much, but the noise character is worse even if the overall volume of noise isn’t much different ISO3,200 E-PL1 vs 25,600 E-M5), let alone being 3 stops slower and worse IBIS.
A quick note on a couple of other things. The camera hum, yeah it is there. With the TV on, people talking or the camera sitting in my lap I just plain can’t hear it. My eye up to the view finder I can just barely hear it. As many of said, it is really just a non-issue. Even in a library in an abandoned section with the HVAC off, you probably wouldn’t be able to hear it 4ft away from the camera.
One disappointment for me though was the EVF. I think in large part based on other people’s comments and review and my lust for the camera I had built it up in to something in my mind that it wasn’t. It IS a good EVF. In fact the best I have ever used (which for modern cameras, admittedly is a whole heck of a lot of EVFs). I think my disappointment stems from two things, it is NOT my OM-1’s enormous OVF and the other is that it is still an EVF, which are kind of the same thing. It is very usable, decent resolution, good refresh rate, great info in the view finder, switching from back LCD to view finder is very fast and barely noticeable that it wasn’t on when shifting your eye up to the EVF, etc. Really just a great EVF. However, for me, you still can’t see in to the shadows or the highlights as far as the sensor actually is, at least for RAWs. IE the DR of the EVF is at least a bit lower than the actual DR of the sensor. An issue that most/all back LCD panels on cameras have, or least the bunch I have tried. In a lot of ways that is better than an OVF, where you eye is probably going to see a lot deeper in to shadows or in to highlights than the sensor will, but still a bit of a nagging bother to me. The other is, that is good as the refresh rate is/can be and as good as the resolution is, I wouldn’t mind if both were a little better. Say, double the resolution while also being able to do a 120hz or better yet 240hz refresh rate, and I don’t think you could ask for a better EVF (and maybe an extra stop higher DR both towards the shadows and towards the highlights).
So I guess that is it for me, for now. The EVF really is quite good, but after months of obsessing over the thing, I think it was hard not to be a little disappointed. Angels did not sing when I put my eye up to the EVF, which frankly would have been the only thing that would have matched my expectations. Still a very usable EVF and very good. Please note if anyone from Olympus or Epson (who makes the EVF) read this. The EVF is really good, but it can still be better. More resolution, even higher refresh rates at higher resolutions and better DR please. Don’t take the praise of “a very good EVF” to mean you should rest on your laurels and not try to make it even better than it already is.
The high ISO performance is really just stellar, the extra resolution is nice, the focus speed is much improved, the shutter sound is just sexy. Some have likened the later to the door of a Rolls Royce shutting, of which I have no experience. I’d liken it to that of a nice solid mahogany door with a really well machined and oiled brass latch shutting gently. Solid, sensual, but quiet. Also the controls are great, but my niggle is there isn’t much of a positive feel to the buttons, so you do kind of have to give them a little extra force on the push to make sure they are pressed.
I digress, this time it is it for me, for now. In another day or two I’ll have more once I have had a chance to shoot more with the camera, especially in daylight, had more of a chance to play with the RAW images in light room and become more familiar with the controls. Then I’ll have a more through walk through of my setup and impressions. I don’t plan on anything too in-depth as I am sure you could read any of the three hundred different reviews of the camera to get nice details information. More just my user impressions, what I think of it and how I have mine configured as well as some E-PL1 vs E-M5 shoot out (spoiler, the E-PL1 does not win).