Looking for Versatile Camera Recommendations
April 18, 2012 8:06 AM   Subscribe

What's the best micro 4/3 (or similar format) camera for my needs on the market right now (or soon-to-be-released)?

I've been looking at the micro 4/3 models, as well as Canon's similar G1 X. The Canon looks amazing on paper, but I'm not sure I'd be all that happy with a single objective, and the f-numbers aren't that great for low-light photography.

I've had a number of point-and-shoot digitals, as well as one of the original EOS 300D models. I generally take a lot of landscape, travel and architecture photography.

I'd like to get into more people-photography - parties, candid portraits, even street shots. I've been asked a number of times to photograph parties or events for people who like my landscape and travel photos, but I don't really have the gear to do a great job (I'm thinking fast glass, fast autofocus and low-light capabilities are at the top of the list here). I've agreed to photograph a few events, but I've been disappointed with the results, so far (as have, I imagine, the friends who've asked me to shoot them).

I'd like to continue taking travel, landscape and architecture photos - it'd be great to have something small to tote around, but which still delivers high quality shots.

Say my budget is ~$1000 for a micro 4/3 camera. $3000+ for a DSLR, if that's the way I need to go, but I really like the idea of the rangefinder form-factor and the portability of the micro 4/3 models.
posted by syzygy to Technology (34 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have a Lumix GF-1 with a couple lenses - pancake and zoom - and am very happy with it. Great for travel given how light it is. I may add a viewfinder since the one significant negative is only having a screen to frame images, which is problematic in bright light. The successors are far less expensive - you would be able to outfit yourself with a couple lenses given your budget.
posted by leslies at 8:11 AM on April 18, 2012


The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 is another model at the top of my short list. Thanks for the recommendation.
posted by syzygy at 8:14 AM on April 18, 2012

PopPhoto called the Sony NEX-7 their camera of the year, which is interesting in that it beat out not just the other ILCs, but also the DSLRs. There's also been a bunch of discussion about the Olympus E-M5/OMD, thanks to a review on TechRadar that showed incredible dynamic range.
posted by themadthinker at 8:41 AM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Long winded answer follows. Remember that you are asking about cameras on the internet, so you will end up with a ton of conflicting opinions.

If you are looking for wide apertures, you won't find too many in Micro 4/3s - They are great with the fixed lenses IMO. Problem is that, as always, the good glass is the expensive glass, and the Micro 4/3s lenses seem prohibitively expensive for lenses that should, for all practical purposes, be LESS expensive than the DSLR equivalents.

I've been interested in the canon G1X as well, the single optic doesn't scare me in that regard, and F2.8 is about as low as most of what you would see in Micro 4/3s.

I'm a bit biased - I tried a Micro 4/3s for a while, and I really liked it at first, but I ended up selling it pretty quickly because, while it put out decent enough images, it was frustrating to use compared to the DSLR, and didn't save much space. Additionally, it was MUCH more expensive to have a setup that met my needs than a DSLR.

Canon S90 has been my portable for a while, because I haven't found much better that actually is small enough to be useful the way I want it to be. It's good, but it's never been my primary for events. That being said, it's often been the only camera I've brought while travelling light, and I've generally been happy.

Micro 4/3s is only as portable as the lens. It makes sense with a pancake, and some of the newer (but SLOW) zooms aren't SO bad, but I'd rather carry my D90 w/ a fixed 35mm any day.

If fast glass and fast autofocus are what you are looking for, DSLR is still king... You can spend very little for a fixed 35mm or 50mm at 1.8 that'll focus extremely fast.

To find the combination of fast glass and fast focus in Micro 4/3s, you'll spend much more, and potentially be tying yourself to a lens that requires firmware support in order to get non-distorted images.

Some of the Fuji's out there could possibly meet your technical requirements, but they blow your budget.

I've heard good things about the Sonys, but I'd be concerned about usability.

The canon seems to be a better degree of portability, and I personally don't see the limitations of the single lens for most street photography - It has a wonderful usable range, especially for landscape, travel, and architecture. Canon's recent G and S series cameras have been EXTREMELY strong performers for the form factor. They are also made for "photographers" in terms of the button layout, mechanical operation, etc, whereas many of the Micro 4/3s have layouts not as familiar or useful to traditional photographers.

Of course, with the Canon, your upgrade option is "all of it" as opposed to lens or body. That depends on how much you want to commit to the format.

Whatever it is, I'd want to spend some time with it, and look specifically at these things:

1. How much space am I saving vs. DSLR?
2. How close can I get to things with the lens I want to use? Is there a single lens that will be a good walk around lens? (you won't want to screw with them if travelling light)
3. How does it focus in low light?
4. How much do I have to screw with it to get a picture looking the way I want it to look? If I make settings, does it easily retain them?
5. Do you want an optical viewfinder?
6. How bad is the shutter lag? Some micro 4/3's have taken care of this, but others are still very frustrating.

The mirror-less market is still all over the place, so there's a lot of variety there.

The DSLR market is more stable, and any new one should be more than capable of dealing with low light, with plenty of lens options to meet your needs, likely for less than you would spend on mirror-less, not saving THAT much space.
posted by MysticMCJ at 8:45 AM on April 18, 2012

It looks like you are checking out the right places (dpreview) in terms of specs, so the only thing I feel like I can contribute has to do with handling.

For people photography, I always recommend having a camera that has two dedicated manual controls. DSLRs at the enthusiast-level and higher typically have a thumb wheel in the back of the camera and a wheel for the index finger at the front. In reviewing MFT cameras, I often notice that its the front wheel that is often missing.

Well..so what? It comes down to whether or not you want to shoot in full Manual mode. I don't know your photographic ability but I think that people who are learning should be shooting in Manual mode as much as possible. Therefore, having a camera in which you can access Aperture and Shutter Speed easily is a must. In cameras with only one wheel, you may find yourself having to "menu-dive" or having to press a selection button to switch from Aperture to SS, or vice-versa. This basically means having to pull the camera away from your eye to make changes.

Is that a big deal? Well, for me it is...I spot meter and the more easily that I can get the reading that I want, the better. So, in terms of handling it's up to you to decide if access to controls is important. I'd argue that for most people it is.

OTOH, Joe McNally seems to live in Aperture priority (meaning that he would only need one dial) and he's Joe F-ing McNally. Don't believe the hype about "true-professionals-only-shoot-in-Manual" it just isn't true. Instead, Manual mode is great as a learning technique that continues to be effective as you get better.

Side Note - The smaller the sensor the deeper your depth-of-field will be. Thom Hogan suggests that the DOF difference between Full-frame and APS-C is one stop and from APS-C to MFT is another stop. Shallow DOF is something to think about with people photography and you may find yourself being unhappy with your kit-lens options which are slow and compound the issue.

TL:DR - IMHO, a camera with more manual controls is the better learning tool...most MFT cameras use menus instead of dedicated controls...that Panny GX1 may be your best bet if you're committed to MFT.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 8:59 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm very happy with my Olympus E-PL2.
posted by toerinishuman at 9:09 AM on April 18, 2012

There is one universal truth to remember about this - No matter what you get, something that does it better will come out immediately afterwards. Don't obsess too much over specs.

Hypnotic Chick nailed the essential part of this - the controls. The camera is only as good as you are with it, and dedicated controls allow you to make rapid changes without having to consult menus. Most mirror-less cameras fall short here, and while they can often produce incredible images, it can take lots of fumbling and menus to get what you want.
posted by MysticMCJ at 9:13 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm also very happy with my E-PL2, but for your budget you could get the E-P3 (or one of its smaller siblings, like the E-PL3) and have much, much faster focusing.

I'd skip the Sony -- it has a bigger sensor, but just doesn't have a lens set on par (from a quality standpoint) as m4/3.

But the most important thing I'll say is this: GET YOURSELF THE PANASONIC 20mm 1.7 LENS! This is the best piece of m4/3rds equipment you'll own, and it's very reasonably priced (unlike some other m4/3 fast lenses).

I WOULD recommend waiting for the EM5 -- by all accounts, it will be without peer in the m4/3 world when it's released in the next few weeks -- but that would put you above your budget, especially when you GET THE 20mm 1.7!
posted by coolguymichael at 9:19 AM on April 18, 2012

If your budget is a max of $3k on a camera, buy the OM-D/EM-5 ($1k) plus some lenses: a fast prime or two, maybe a standard and a telephoto zoom. Everything about the EM-5 is screaming that it will be the camera you want, and that M4/3rds folks have been waiting for: the control, speed, and responsiveness of a dSLR with the M4/3 form factor.
posted by The Michael The at 9:32 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I own an E-P2, and I don't know that I'd buy it again. In many ways it is a very good camera, and there are a lot of things to like about it, but there are a few big caveats:

It's too big to stick in your pocket, which largely defeats it's whole purpose. Especially if you're carrying multiple lenses. If you've got the camera and three lenses, then you've got to carry around some sort of a camera bag. If you're already there, then you find yourself wondering "Why didn't I just get a DSLR?"

The autofocus sucks. It works fine for things that aren't moving, but it can't track action at all. The continuous autofocus on it is useless. There's nothing like watching autofocus go all the way to infinity and then reverse and come to crystal clear focus on your subject 2 seconds after something exciting happened.

The lens selection sucks. Want to go on safari and take a 500mm F/4 with you? You can't. There isn't one. If you had a Canon or Nikon DLSR, you could rent a big giant expensive lens for the week and take some great wildlife shots. With micro 4/3, there is no such lens.

Low light performance is OK, but not that great. The electronic viewfinder makes it worse. With an optical viewfinder, you can still focus manually when it's too dim for the AF to work well. With the electronic viewfinder, you can't, because what you don't get the benefit of your eye being more sensitive than the camera's sensor, since you have to look through the sensor to see anything. You end up looking at grainy blackness, when you'd be looking at moonlight or whatever if you had an optical viewfinder.

It's a good travel camera. Carry it with the 20/1.7 and one of the wide angle zooms and it's not too bulky. But my next camera will probably be a 7D or its successor.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:53 AM on April 18, 2012

I've owned the Panasonic GF-1 for about 3 years and I'm thrilled with it. Great camera. Very solid, great feel in the hand. I use it almost exclusively with the 20mm 1.7. Very, very pocketable, very unavailable light friendly. I have a big Nikon DSLR costing 5x what I spent on the GF-1 that I rarely use anymore cause it's huge, heavy, and the IQ is no better.
I also own the 14-42 zoom but rarely end up taking it out. That 20mm is just perfect for me.
If you want to shoot wildlife or sports, or you want to be a fashion shooter, then you definitely want a DSLR with all the long lenses avail. But for "travel, landscape and architecture photos" the micro 4/3 cameras are perfect. And you can use adapters to use just about any other brand lens. I have adapters for my Nikon, Leitz and Olympus glass (not that I've every actually used them, but the idea is nice).
posted by johngumbo at 10:24 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might take a look at the new Fuji X-Pro 1. Its an interchangeable lens mirrorless camera - and it produces killer images. I also own the Fuji X100, which is also fantastic, but the XP1 is really the ideal camera in my opinion. I will only be using my huge, heavy 1 and 5 series Canons if absolutely necessary from now on. Heres a set of shots I did recently that demonstrate what the XP1 is capable of.
posted by blaneyphoto at 10:39 AM on April 18, 2012

Thanks for the excellent tips, so far. I only wish I hadn't set the somewhat artificial budget numbers. I guess I'm willing to spend up to and over $10K, but that sort of ruins the question.

MysticMJ: 2.4 isn't bad, but look at the Panasonic 20mm 1.7 lens recommended by coolguymichael - that's a significant step up. Thanks for the juxtaposition with DSLRs - it's a tough call for me to make. I like shooting with a DSLR, but it would be nice to find something smaller, if possible.

Hypnotic Chick: I prefer to shoot in aperture mode, only, most of the time, but the tip about dual control wheels is a good one. Also for the note on depth of field. I prefer to at least have access to a shallow depth of field for people shots.

MysticMCJ: I prefer mechanical controls to on-screen controls. Wheels, dials, buttons are what I like, rather than on-screen menus.

coolguymichael and The Michael The: Thanks for the OM-D/EM-5 & Panasonic 20mm 1.7 lens recommendations - that sounds like a very interesting combination. I'll take a serious look at this camera.

tylerkaraszewski and johngumbo: Thanks for the comparisons between the micro 4/3 and a DSLR. I only want to go with 4/3 if I can find something that I'll be happy with. Sounds like the two of you have ended up on separate sides of that argument.

blaneyphoto: Nice shots! I'll add the Fuji X-Pro 1 to my short list, right up there with the Olympus.

Now I'm going to throw you all for a loop - forgive me... But let's say I decided to splurge. Is something like the Leica M9 or M9-P worth the extra dough? I'm having a tough time finding dpreview-quality reviews on these two cameras...
posted by syzygy at 11:47 AM on April 18, 2012

DPReview has two previews for the OM-D: a hands-on, with real-world photos. 10 fps with locked focus/metering or 4.2 fps with live view between shots, built-in viewfinder, thumb- and forefinger-rollers for total manual control, two programmable function buttons... it looks like the real deal.

I'm super impressed that M4/3 has come this far in what's essentially four generations (E-P1 > E-P2 > E-P3 > EM-5). I have an E-P2 and love it, though it does suffer from some lag here and there, but I'm willing to forgive it for being a second-generation camera. If the EM-5 lives up to its promise, Micro 4/3rds will have arrived.

Lens-wise, I have the Olympus 14-42 f/3.5 kit lens and the 40-150 f/4 tele zoom; both are great and inexpensive lenses, and I've had Nikon shooters comment jealously on their bokeh, so I can recommend both. I can't wait to get my hands on the Panasonic 20 f/1.7, but I've also been considering the Olympus 17 f/2.8: low-light performance is pretty good and I like a slightly wider prime than standard. We'll see.
posted by The Michael The at 12:00 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't waste your money on a Leica, that product exists for those who must have Leica. You won't find good reviews on it because nobody else buys it. You are considering multiple brands, which already puts you outside the target market.

The 20MM 1.7 lens would be the only reason I'd ever use the Micro 4/3s with the justification of portability, that is indeed a great lens.

Elaborating on the DOF issue - if you are expecting to get that wonderful shallow DOF with a large aperture, be prepared to be let down... This is only an issue if that's your main mechanism for controlling DOF.

Fuji X-Pro really piques my interest as well...
posted by MysticMCJ at 12:03 PM on April 18, 2012

The OM-D looks to be made for actual photographers - I'm impressed. I still don't think there's a significant size advantage until you involve pancakes, but it appears to deal with my single biggest complaint - handling. If I was to go into a system from scratch, I'd give this a close look. Focus speed and accuracy would be my concern.

Definitely pick one up and use it for yourself, first.
posted by MysticMCJ at 12:12 PM on April 18, 2012

The Michael The: Awesome - thanks for the links and the lens recommendations. I'm excited to take one of these for a spin.

MysticMCJ: OK, Leica forgotten. I'm going to pick up an OM-D and a Fuji X-Pro to have a look at both. These seem to be the two clear 'winners' in this discussion. Now I'm going to expose my ignorance and ask what other methods there might be for achieving shallow DOF. I primarily shoot in aperture mode for control over DOF. What other mechanisms exist for controlling it?
posted by syzygy at 12:25 PM on April 18, 2012

I came here to recommend the Sony. Their NEX-7 is, in my opinion, the best option right now. It actually outperforms their top of the line DSLR (the a77). And the Sony a77 is a frigging phenomenal camera. I've never shot with anything so photographer friendly. In many ways, the NEX-7 is everything great about the a77 but in a smaller package.

Google it. You'll find no shortage of praise for the NEX-7.

A year ago, I was a long time Nikon guy and never imagined shooting with anything but a Nikon. Since I made the switch to these new Sonys, I'm happier with my gear than I ever imagined. LOVE MY a77!!! If I could justify it at all, I'd buy myself an NEX-7.
posted by 2oh1 at 12:27 PM on April 18, 2012

P.S. Here's a source for tons of Sony NEX info. Some of it is rumors about future stuff, but there's a lot of excellent links, reviews and info too.
posted by 2oh1 at 12:29 PM on April 18, 2012

I have an EP-3 with the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 lens, plus the 14-55mm kit lens. It's a fantastic camera and I'm really happy with the set-up and the pictures I get out of it. I take lots of close-up people shots, but have been very happy with this gear for shots of scenery, etc. when traveling.

There a quite a few good primes for micro 4/3s -- if I had the money I'd spring for the Olympus 12mm -- and more coming out all the time. I've also been able to use a couple of my grandfather's old manual focus lenses with inexpensive adapters and gotten great results.

The EP-3 feels good to me, but it's a bit bigger than other micro 4/3 bodies. A smaller body with the 20mm lens would be pretty pocketable.
posted by hukka at 12:29 PM on April 18, 2012

2oh1: You're not making things any easier for me :) It seems the NEX-7 is also an excellent piece of kit. I suppose I'll have to include it in my short list, as well.

First world problems...

hukka: Thanks for the real-world EP report. Seems Olympus has done a fine job in this segment.
posted by syzygy at 12:44 PM on April 18, 2012

You will get shallow DOF with an increase in aperture, AS WELL as an increase in focal length. Minus one, you control via the other.
posted by MysticMCJ at 12:50 PM on April 18, 2012

Some of the key variables that influence DOF are the following:
1. Sensor size...the bigger it is, the shallower the DOF can be,
2. Aperture....the wider open, the shallower the DOF,
3. Focal length...the longer the lens, the shallower the DOF can be,
4. Subject-to-Camera distance...the closer you are to a subject, the shallower the DOF can be.

These variables interact, but being aware of them is useful. Using a Full Frame body (1) with a 2.0 aperture (2) 200mm lens (3) on a subject that is 7 feet away from you (4) will absolutely blow out the background. This is an extreme case, but the point here is to be aware of the variables and to know your equipment and what you want out of it.

Finally, Zack Arias had a long and interesting take on the Fuji X-Pro 1. It isn't a camera without faults, but he makes a solid case for the system.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 1:34 PM on April 18, 2012

Couple comments here I feel bound to call out.

the Micro 4/3s lenses seem prohibitively expensive for lenses

This is a weird statement. Here are Adorama's m4/3s lenses from low to high. There are tonnes of reasonably priced lenses in there (plus to the two Sigma lenses coming out soon). M4/3s is undeniably cheaper than apsc or god help you full frame (I know, cause I'm on APSC now, and there's now way in hell I could get three good quality lenses at wide angle, "normal" view and an all right telephoto for under $500 each).

Secondly: Want to go on safari and take a 500mm F/4 with you? You can't. There isn't one.

This is true, but it's worth noting that because of the smaller sensor size, 500mm on an m4/3 will give you the equivalent of 1000mm on a full frame camera, and about 750mm on APSC. Thus, you only need a 250mm focal length on a M4/3 to get you to that 500mm mark, and the lenses are much much cheaper (albeit not necessarily f4) at that focal length.

I'm not a m4/3 fanboy - I don't even own one and have no intentions of doing so in the future, but lens choice as a limiting factor is really only relevant if you're preparing to drop thousands of dollars on a lens.
posted by smoke at 3:26 PM on April 18, 2012

After further review, I'm leaning heavily toward the Olympus. This multipart review of the Olympus OM-D/EM-5 is super thorough, with lots of pictures and videos taken in a variety of conditions. You've got to see the videos - this camera is tiny! Throw in a quiet shutter and the ability to take pictures from the tilt screen while holding the camera at waist level, and it looks like a real stealth option, perfect for street shooting. The ruggedization and weather-proofing are also outstanding for me - I can be pretty rough with gadgets.

The Fuji reminds me of my first girlfriend - beautiful but flawed. Seems shutter lag is the main complaint there, as well as slower / less accurate autofocus and subpar manual focus capabilities. I want instantaneous, accurate autofocus and 0 shutter lag. Shame Fuji's let us down on those fronts.

The Sony looks amazing from a technical perspective, but the relative lack of and high price of the glass puts me off a bit. Looks like a very promising option in a year or so, with proper support for the format.

I'll give the Olympus a go before I purchase it, but looks like a real winner for my needs.

Thanks, all, for the excellent input. Will report back after I put one of these through the ringer...
posted by syzygy at 2:55 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a follow-up question about glass for the Olympus.

I'm thinking of ordering the body with no kit lens and looking at the following 4 lenses. As you can tell, I'm thinking about primes for wide, normal and portrait formats, with a zoom to fill out the long end of things.

If you have specific/other recommendations, lemme know.

Wide Prime: Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens (is that going to be wide enough? Should I go for a wide angle zoom?)
Normal Prime: Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 Lumix - seems to be everybody's darling
Portrait Prime: Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 45mm f/1.8 - might hold off here if I can get a longer lens that starts near 45mm
Longer: Panasonic 45-175mm F/4.0-5.6 Lumix - or should I go for something even longer?
posted by syzygy at 12:18 PM on April 19, 2012

Lens recommendations are always a challenge, there is so much information that I, for one, just don't understand. For MFT, I'd suggest looking this table by Thom Hogan.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 6:16 AM on April 20, 2012

Hypnotic Chick: Thanks for the link - I've adjusted my tentative selection based on some of his notes:

Wide Zoom: Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ Zoom (one of the kit lenses)
Standard Prime: Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 Lumix
Portrait Prime: Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 45mm f/1.8
Long Zoom: Panasonic 45-200mm f/4-5.6 G Vario MEGA O.I.S.

Gets me a wide zoom, a slightly longer zoom and drops the expensive 12mm f/2.0 from the list for now.
posted by syzygy at 8:55 AM on April 20, 2012

All four of the lenses in my last list seem to review well - either good or very good, but I would like to double check one thing - the Panasonic 45-200mm has a built in stabilizer that, apparently, can't be turned off.

I wonder whether this could cause any problems when used in concert with the in-camera stabilizer on the Olympus - anybody know?
posted by syzygy at 9:09 AM on April 20, 2012

If I recall correctly, the Panny system does stabilization in-lens and the Oly system does it in-camera. My sense is that your 20mm choice may also have in-lens stabilization. Since P and O are designed to have the same mounts, I'd imagine that there shouldn't be any compatibility issues, though, but I don't know for sure. Definitely something to call BH about.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 2:34 PM on April 22, 2012

Folks - it was tough to pick a single best answer in this thread.

I ended up picking up an Olympus OM-D E-M5 a couple of days ago (they had a couple in stock at Saturn, a big-box type of electronics store here in Vienna).

Am loving it, so far. I'm simply amazed at what this thing is capable of. The technology seems to have advanced light years since I bought my EOS 300D 8 or 9 years ago.

BTW - DPReview finished their full review of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 on Monday - it's the first m43 camera to get the gold award.

I love the magnesium alloy body, the retro styling, the rugged- and weatherization (erm, I fell into the Danube yesterday trying to get a perfect shot - banged the camera and got it wet without destroying it), the customizability of the buttons and dials, the fast autofocus, the excellent high ISO performance, THE IMAGE STABILIZATION (it's like a built-in tripod - insane). I love the feel of the camera, and although I'm still getting used to it, still learning my way around it, I'm loving the pictures that are coming out of it - the dynamic range makes my old Canon SLR look like a child's toy!

I picked up a black model with the 12-50mm kit lens. I should get the Pany 20mm f/1.7, Oly 45mm f/1.8 and a longer zoom (haven't decided which one yet) in a couple of weeks.

Thanks all for the excellent recommendations!
posted by syzygy at 7:01 AM on May 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Update: I'm still having a blast with this camera. I can say that it's very complex, from a setup standpoint. It's highly configurable, and takes some time to learn, if you want to play with the myriad of features. Once you have it configured to your liking, it's very easy to quickly change settings, either via the various customizable buttons and dials, or by the 'super control panel' menu (which is really nice).

I have the following lenses now (multiply the focal lengths by 2 to get the 35mm equivalent):
12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 kit lens: Weather-sealed, excellent range, macro mode, power zoom for video, lightning fast autofocus. On the slow end, but a reasonable walk around lens. Since I've added to my collection, I rarely use this lens, except at the widest end, since it's the widest I have at the moment.
Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake: Nice little lens. Very compact, very sharp, fast. It has an older focus mechanism that is a little noisy and not as lightning fast as the other lenses, but it's excellent if I'm out and about and want a compact package. The image quality from this lens is superb - my only niggle is the slightly slower autofocus.
Olympus 45mm f/1.8: Compact and light, very sharp, lightning autofocus. Excellent buy for the price. This is a great portrait lens that delivers excellent image quality at a bargain price.
40-150mm f/4.0-5-6: After researching the various zooms in detail, I decided to go with this one. I've been very pleased with it, so far. I don't have a lot of previous experience shooting at a 300mm equivalent, and I still need to work on my technique. This is my newest lens, so I'm still figuring it out, but it gets excellent reviews and when I do my job right, it delivers great results. It's also quite light.

Things I like about the camera (in no particular order):
The build quality: it just feels like a solid little tank, and even after taking a couple of heart attack-inducing impacts, it still works like a charm.
The compact size, light weight, portability: I take the camera everywhere I go. I purchased a leather Leica wrist strap meant for the X1. Looks good, comfortable, and makes it easy and convenient to carry the camera around like a P&S.
The image quality: The JPEGs look great, as do the RAWs. If you're willing to expose to the right, the RAWs can end up giving fantastic image quality with silky, creamy skies and practically no noise at base ISO. In general, I find the noise levels and appearance excellent, also at higher ISOs.
The speed of operation: It's just a lightning fast camera. Just over 4 frames per second with continuous autofocus and metering. Just over 9 frames per second with metering and focus locked on the first exposure. The buffer is large and clears quickly. The shutter lag is practically non existent. It takes just over a second for the camera to be ready to shoot after turning it on. Autofocus with newer lenses is lightning fast. Most settings changes are also super fast - with 2 dials plus one mode dial, 5 customisable buttons and the very useful super control panel, most of the settings you'll need access to can be adjusted insanely quickly.
The design: I'm a sucker for the retro design. I'll turn 40 this year, and the original OM1 was released 40 years ago, so this is sort of an anniversary model and an appropriate birthday present to myself, I think :-) The retro design means that many mistake it for an older film camera when they first see it.
The flip-out OLED touchscreen: It's bright and sturdy. Very useful for shooting over crowds or from the hip. Good for street shooting, handheld macros/closeups. The touch to focus and touch to set focus and actuate the shutter features are very nice (and fast).
The Customisability: Overwhelming, at first, amazing once you figure it all out (there are some good guides for this). Make the camera yours.
IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization): It's like a built-in tripod for stills and a built-in steady cam for videos. Works with all lenses (including legacy primes) for stills. Works with all native lenses for video.
Usable Dynamic Range: I'm very happy with the usable dynamic range, especially when shooting RAW and exposing to the right.

There's some room for improvement, too:
Bracketing: Buried in a menu.
IBIS: At some shutter speeds and focal lengths it can lead to unsharp / vertically-doubled images (longer focal lengths at shutter speeds around 1/100 second). Would be great if it were possible to have it just kick in when necessary, automatically. Not a huge problem, as I just turn it on or off via the super control panel based on what I'm photographing.
Exposure / ISO: The listed base ISO is 200, but it seems the 'actual' base ISO is around 125. This means the camera underexposes by design in order to protect highlights. This is where exposing to the right comes in handy, if you want to minimize noise and get the best quality RAWs out of the camera. With a proper exposure, you can get creamy blue skies. It would be nice if they offered a way to switch between a 'protect highlights' mode and an 'actual ISO' mode, but exposing to the right isn't too difficult to manage - just dial in some positive exposure compensation.
Autofocus: This generally works well, but it would be nice if it were possible to make the box even smaller than you currently can, and if you could tell the camera to keep that setting. This would help make sure you're locking focus on exactly what you want.
Tracking Autofocus: Not the strong-suit of cameras that use CDAF, anyway. It seems to have improved with firmware version 1.2, but I guess it's still no match for most DSLRs. This is important if you like taking pictures of things that are moving quickly - birds in flight, sports, etc.

There is no perfect camera, but this one ticks off so many boxes that it's just a thing of beauty. I'd say it's a great choice if shooting fast-moving action isn't your main subject, and you're either used to a highly configurable DSLR-type of camera who's looking for a smaller package that delivers excellent usability and image quality, or you're an accomplished P&S shooter who's ready to move up to something with more power and more customisability, but aren't ready to lug a big DSLR with you everywhere you go.

Again - thanks to everyone who chimed in in this thread with advice. I really appreciate it!
posted by syzygy at 2:08 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I for one, really appreciate great updates like this, thanks so much for coming back in.
posted by smoke at 2:24 AM on July 31, 2012

Final update from the OP:
I definitely feel that the Olympus OM-D E-M5 was the right choice for me. I'm still in love with this camera, and am excited about the direction of micro four thirds, as a system. New, high quality lenses, new bodies with innovative shapes, features and technologies.

The E-M5 was named "2012 Camera of the Year" by a number of respected camera reviewers and review websites. It won the 2012 Camera of the Year readers' poll at DPReview, as well.

This is a follow-up to my previous update. Most of what I wrote there still stands. Here I'll just add to what I said earlier and make a correction or two.

My lenses:
12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 kit lens: I still own this lens but plan to sell it soon. I think it's an excellent starter lens / kit lens, but after adding a few high quality, fast primes to my kit and seeing just how sharp they were, this lens lost its luster. Also, after I purchased the recently released, premium Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens a couple of weeks ago, I don't have much use for this kit lens any more. Not a bad lens. Versatile, but a bit slow and not a stellar performer.
Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 Lumix: Love hate relationship here. Very sharp, very small lens. Unfortunately, it causes intermittent banding when used in conjunction with some of the newer Sony m43 sensors (such as the one used in my E-M5). I hope an eventual E-M5 II will be released that takes care of this problem. Also, Panasonic lenses on Olympus cameras tend to have trouble with purple fringing. This can be addressed with a strong magenta filter and/or less satisfactorily in post-processing. I used to think it was slower to autofocus than some of the newer lenses, but further testing and reading has lead me to believe that it's not significantly slower than most other m43 lenses.
Olympus 45mm f/1.8: Great for people photos, low-light photos and getting shallow DOF. I don't need it all the time, but I am happy to have it in my kit for the times that I do need it.
40-150mm f/4.0-5-6: I never really warmed up to this lens. I still own it but plan to sell it soon. I've since purchased the 100-300mm Panasonic for longer telephoto requirements. It seems that my copy of the 40-150mm is especially prone to shutter shock on my E-M5. Not a bad lens, but doesn't work for me.
Olympus 15mm f/8 BodyCap lens: A novelty. Tiny, not very sharp. Basically, a body cap with a toy lens in it.
SLR Magic 12mm T/1.6 Hyperprime: I picked this up because the Oly 12mm was a little too expensive (for me) for a prime. The SLR Magic was $300 cheaper, so I figured I'd try it out. It's not a bad lens - decent image quality, fully manual operation, solid metal build. It isn't really good for the things I usually like to shoot at this focal length - landscapes, cityscapes, architecture. I plan to sell this lens now that I have an excellent 12mm performer in my Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8.
Panasonic 100-300mm f/4.0-5.6: I have been pretty happy with this lens, and plan to keep it. It gives me a lot of reach at a reasonable price and size. It's a daylight lens, for the most part, but it comes in handy for distant wildlife and close-up shots.
Rokinon/Samyang/Bower 7.5mm f/3.5 UWA Fisheye: A little gem of a lens that I plan to keep. Very sharp. Manual focus only, and offered at a reasonable price (watch for sales). A nice option to have in the kit.
Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro: And Stellar lens that compares favorably with some of the highest quality fixed aperture standard zooms. I finally have a lens with an excellent 12mm FL and a full standard zoom range. I've only had it a couple of weeks, but it has hardly left my camera since I picked it up.

Things I like about the camera:
- Live view Highlight and Shadow clipping 'blinkies': These make it supremely easy to get the right exposure on your first shot in Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority or full Manual Mode. Want to expose to the right? AFAIK, there are no other (non Olympus) cameras on the market that make it so easy to get right on the first try. I now shoot solely in full Manual mode 99% of the time.

There's some room for improvement, too:
- Bracketing: It is buried in the menus, but coupled with the E-M5's 9 frame per second high speed continuous burst mode, it's extremely easy to get a 5-shot bracket, handheld, for HDR merging. I'm not a fan of over-the-top HDR, but I think it can be done well, and affords much higher dynamic range than any camera can offer with a single exposure at this time.
- IBIS: It's not the IBIS that leads to the unsharp or vertically/doubled images I mentioned in my previous follow-up to this question. Rather, it's a phenomenon called 'shutter shock' that can strike in some camera body / lens combinations at a certain range of shutter speeds. It occurs on cameras without IBIS, as well, so I was incorrect to attribute it to IBIS in my previous follow-up. I'm looking forward to future developments that will make this a thing of the past. In the meantime, it's not too much trouble for me, since I know how to work around it.

No regrets here - the E-M5 is an awesome camera, and at current discounted prices, I consider it to be a real steal.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:34 AM on January 22, 2014

« Older don't tell mom, the clothes dryer's   |   Potatoes, potatoes, potatoes... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.