19 September 2013

Weekend with an Olympus OM-D E-M5

Over the last few months our little Canon SD880 has become slightly unreliable. It often complains that it either has no battery or that the battery is empty, while there is a perfectly charged battery in the camera. 

It might have to do with us lugging it around on bikes, in top cases and tank bags, backpacks, and so on. We have been very happy with the picture quality of this little camera and will definitely keep using it as long as it works.

But, given that it sometimes doesn't work, we started looking around for another small(ish) camera with which to complement our Canon DSRL system. The DSLR system is plain a bit too heavy to carry around on the bikes. Andrea had done that during our last vacation, she had the 40D with a 70-300 Canon L lens attached and while this gave us some stunning photos, it was also quite a beast - 2kg just for this setup.

Now, looking around, there are a few nice small cameras, like the Sony RX-100 M2 or the older version of it. This little Sony gives incredible image quality with its very large sensor (for the size of the camera) and the great Zeiss lens. It might just be the perfect replacement for the SD880. 

On the other hand, I have been looking at a smaller system, too. The "Micro Four Thirds" (M43) is a system with a sensor slightly smaller than the DSLRs we have, but with a pretty good selection of lenses from Olympus, Zeiss, Panasonic, Sigma, and others. The bodies for this system are really small and I can easily imagine throwing one of these with a prime lens or a small zoom in the tank bag. As I was curious how I'd like using one of these, I rented an Olympus OM-D E-M5 for a weekend and played around with it.

Here are some results from the camera with the 12-50mm kit zoom.

Trying a Macro Shot

It was very cloudy at the coast, so I decided to play around with the build in ART filters. I really liked the "dramatic colors" setting:

Along HW1, CA

"Dramatic Colors" Filter, right out of the camera

Makes for nice car shots ...

More dramatic colors

There are a few other nice filters, like the "Grainy B&W" which I found pretty interesting:

Waiting for food

Some other ART filter


There are some other filters that I didn't really have good motives for, but I actually liked playing around with them and not doing post processing in Aperture.

Woodside, CA

More "Grainy B&W"

Another Macro attempt

JPEG right from the camera - pretty impressive

I have to say, I really like the image quality and I was surprised how much individual setup is possible with this little camera. 

What I liked (in no particular order):
  • nice electronic view finder
  • tilting touch display with high resolution
  • highly programmable
  • compact
  • weather protected (not fully sealed, but definitely not as problematic in rain as most other cameras)

What I really disliked:
  • heavy for the size
  • the kit lens is really large for a small camera system (although seems good quality)
  • hand grip - or better, the lack of one

Overall, the lack of a handgrip did the camera in. It's surprisingly heavy with the kit lens (~680g), and it's not easy to hold in one hand, it's just not ergonomic at all. The shutter button is also at a totally wrong place, my finger was always going somewhere else. 

Another thing that really annoyed me was the way too high sensitivity of the automatic display / view finder switching. When you get near the sensor, it switches to view finder. Which meant I had to switch this to "manual" as I couldn't take photos with the camera at belly level in front of me trying to take some sneaky shots. The sensor didn't let me get nearer than roughly 15cm to my body without turning off the display - I hated it. But I was surprised how much I loved actually having a view finder as it is much more natural to use for me.

The ergonomic problem can certainly be solved with an optional grip, but, really, come on Olympus, $300 for a piece of cheap feeling plastic? Really? You gotta be kidding me! No way. There are some cheaper ones on eBay, but they don't relocate the shutter button, therefore are not an option to actually solve the ergonomic issues. 


The E-M5 in its current form is not for me. I would have to buy the grip (too expensive) and I think it's slightly overpriced when compared to for example the Sony NEX-6 which also has an electronic view finder, tilting display, but an APS-C sized (larger) sensor. 

Olympus just announced the new OM-D E-M1, which should solve the ergonomic issues, but is also much more expensive (it's targeted at the more professional photographer, which I am certainly not), larger and about 20% heavier. Newer sensor and as it seems even better image quality. Impressive, but way over the top. Mainly also too big to carry around easily on the bikes.

What I find very compelling though is the lens selection in the M43 land - great primes from Olympus and Panasonic/Leica and some others. A M43 camera with 17mm and 45mm prime would be a very interesting package. Just have to find the right camera for it. I'll keep looking.


  1. Guido, I am also looking for a new lightweight camera (I have an older Sony Cybershot also often complaining about empty battery although just charged) but don't have a clue about photography so I am looking forward to further recommendations and reviews.

    1. With our old Canon - when we wiggle the battery a bit it normally works fine for a while. So it's likely to be contact problems, not a bad battery. We already bought a new battery for it, same issues there, cleaned al contacts, issue is still around.

      I'll keep you up to date.

      If I had to buy a small, light weight, integrated camera right now, I'd either get the current Canon S100, pre-order the Canon S120, or get the Sony RX-100 (either M2 or the original one - depends on price and whether I'd want a tilting display). Both are great cameras.

    2. Guido:

      the best one of those 3 would be the RX-100MK2. I looked at those but I wanted a camera with a remote input plug so that limits me to the SL1, G16 or T5i. I am trying to consolidate so I can use canon lenses and my radio remote shutter

      Riding the Wet Coast

    3. I guess it's a matter of price. The RX-100 MK2 is nearly twice the price of the Canons. Whether it's worth that price is up to the individual requirements and taste. The photos we got out of the small SD880 are good enough quality - I don't need any better. I would only go to a higher spec model if it had other benefits (tilting screen, hotshoe, view finder, ...) but wouldn't compromise too much on the size.

      And for me it matters even less. Andrea takes better photos with the SD880 than I do with the DSLR. For me, a prime lens is the only way to get better as my brain doesn't support zooming.

  2. Beautiful photo Guido. It is nice that you were able to rent a camera to try it out before buying.

    And on a side note our Canon always shows dead batteries even after putting fresh ones in. We rarely use it anymore and seem to use the Olympus Tough point and shoot camera instead.

    1. It's a fairly expensive thing to do, but I'm not one of these "Order it from Amazon, try it for a weekend, then send back" type of people. I rather make an informed decision and then stick with it.

      Yeah, it seems that over time the Canons have connectivity issues to the battery. Probably something shaking loose or contacts wearing out or so. I make take ours apart when it stops working and see whether there's an obvious reason to it.

  3. Guido:

    I too am looking for a camera replacement. I usually carry 3 cameras: 1 pocket (Lumix TS3) plus to APS-C (Canon T2i & Nex 5n). I want a larger sensor. I am not interested in 4/3rds as I don't wish to buy anymore lenses for a secondary camera. I like the Rebel series as they are smaller and lighter due to more plastic, but I am gravitating to an SL1 or G16 or the new 70D. I have always had higher line cameras but for m/c photography I downsized to the T2i due to small size, and it is lighter in a backpack when you travel. I may also wait for the new T6i which is rumoured to have the 70D sensor with the dual pixels.

    I too looked at the RX100 but the NEX outperformed it due to the larger sensor. I would really like to have a fully articulating screen for those low angle shots, and also for self portraits.

    I too used to have the SD880, it was a top rated camera but the rear display was intermittent

    Nothing to do with cameras but I noticed your response on the R1200R forums regarding fuel capacity on our "R's". I am of the opinion that our gas tank holds 21 litres. During my trip across the continent I had to be careful to NOT run out of gas but I didn't trust the computer range. when I filled up it would always be around 450 kms Range. but I always filled up when the range went down to around 300 kms and when I filled it would take anywhere around 15 or so litres, BUT my range would still indicate 160 kms left, which I never trusted. One time I had to stretch to around 350 kms and my tank took just over 17 ltrs, but the range still showed over 100 kms left and my fuel light never came on. so I don't really know how much is in there

    Riding the Wet Coast

    1. I don't care which sensor size I get for this type of camera (flexible walk around with the ability for prime as well as zoom lenses) as long as it's not a tiny sensor. Micro 4/3 is a very good and mature system and stands in now way behind APS-C. The differences are completely irrelevant for every single photo I take.

      And I'm really not looking for a "well performing" camera, I'm looking for one where I like the handling, ergonomics, and lens selection (I want prime + zoom for the flexible system, I want small for the SD880 replacement). Any APS-C sized DSLR is way too big for my requirements, even the SL1. The camera body is too deep because of the mirror and the lenses are too big because of the mounts and the distance to the sensor. And really good lenses for the Nex system are definitely around, but not in the selection I'd like. The e-mount would also lock me into a single manufacturer again (Sony), which I don't want. M43 is nice because it's backed by two companies.

      Regarding tank size: I don't know. Our R1200R doesn't have a range to empty as it doesn't have a fuel meter anymore. It only has a reserve light and it hasn't come on so far. Longest distance was 206 (~331km) miles and we filled it with 3.9 gallons (~14.7L). So, there was still quite some room left. We generally fill up around the 180 to 200 mile mark just because we need a longer break then anyways.

  4. Thank you for the informative, in-depth review. Like many others, I have been looking at the micro 4/3 sensor cameras. Especially since they have interchangeable lenses. I look back at the last couple of years and most of my pictures have been taken with my iPhone so maybe I don't need another camera since I probably won't be carrying it around when needed. The DSLR only gets used when on an actual "trip" and not carried around on a daily basis. Do you think the wear on the Canon is from vibration while being carried on the bike?

    1. Please don't take it as a review. It was meant to describe a weekend experience. I have neither the artistic nor technical abilities in photography to write a review about a camera. I can only say whether or not and why I like or dislike something. Not whether one is better than another. And that's also not my intent. Pretty much all reasonable cameras on the market today are way beyond my personal capabilities. Therefore I select by how the camera and the handling feels. Not so much by image quality which pretty much comes down to taste nowadays as none of the big manufacturers makes any blatant mistakes with quality.

      I don't like the iPhone for photos all too much. It was all I used on our trip as Andrea used both cameras we had with us, but I didn't like it all too much.

  5. Guido:

    I am thinking of purchasing the Lumix LF1 over the S120 Canon. Leica rebadged the LF1 and called it the Leica "C" Lots of positive reviews out there.

    Riding the Wet Coast