Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Overview of Olympus cameras

Following up my overview of Panasonic cameras, here is a presentation of the Olympus cameras, with a summary of their main features and differences.

While Panasonic released the very first Micro Four Thirds camera, the Lumix G1, back in 2008, it was Olympus who first made a real impact with their retro styled E-P1. Olympus have always drawn on their legacy by calling their compact M4/3 cameras "PENs", referring to the Olympus Pen half frame cameras from the 1960's and onwards. Also, their SLR styled cameras are called "OM-D", referring to the compact, reliable and successful series of film based Olympus OM SLR cameras from the 1970's.

These two lines of cameras make up their current offerings:

CameraOlympus OM-D E-M1Olympus OM-D E-M5Olympus PEN E-P5Olympus PEN E-PL5Olympus PEN E-PM2
Price$1500$1000$1000$600$400
AnnouncedSep 10th, 2013Feb 8th, 2012May 10th, 2013Sep 17th, 2012Sep 17th, 2012
Dimensions130 × 97 × 63mm122 × 89 × 43mm122 × 69 × 37mm111 × 64 × 38mm110 × 64 × 34mm
Weight497g425g420g325g269g
StyleSLRSLRCompactCompactCompact
EVFYesYesOptionalOptionalOptional
Tilt LCDYesYesYesYesNo
PDAFYesNoNoNoNo
Focus peakingYesNoYesNoNo
Built in flashNoNoYesNoNo
In a nutshellWeatherproof, pro ergonomics, 4/3 lens compatabilityWeatherproof, retro designEnthusiast friendly, but expensiveCompact, useful featuresVery compact, more stripped of features
Body

Sensors


Unlike the Panasonic camera lineup, all Olympus cameras feature essentially the same 16MP sensor. The sensor is Sony sourced, and is generally perceived as much better than the 12MP Panasonic sensor featured in previous Olympus camera models.

Video


Of course, all Olympus cameras feature video recording. However, if you are truly interested in video, it would mostly be better to look for a camera from Panasonic. The Panasonic cameras rely on lens based Optical Image Stabilization, which works better for video recording than the sensor based image stabilization Olympus uses.

Also, the higher end Panasonic cameras can record videos at a higher bit rate. Finally, Panasonic cameras record at 25/50 fps in PAL regions, while Olympus cameras only support 30/60 fps regardless of region.

Image stabilization


All Olympus cameras have built in image stabilization based on sensor movements (IBIS). This works with all lenses, even old mechanical legacy lenses, and can be an advantage over Panasonic cameras.

Olympus OM-D E-M1


The E-M1 cleverly replaces both the E-M5 and the Four Thirds Olympus E-5 as the high end camera. By employing on sensor PDAF technology, it can focus older Four Thirds lenses very quickly, when using an adapter. This is a first for Micro Four Thirds cameras.



Besides the PDAF technology, the sensor is the same as from the other Olympus cameras. It does, however, not have a low pass (anti aliasing) filter, which gives sharper images.

The imaging sensor has PDAF sensor built into the sensor surface. This means that some of the sensor pixels are replaced with PDAF sensors. In real life usage, this doesn't have any negative impact on the image output, even if there are some small "holes" in the image output.

The PDAF sensors are used to provide very fast focusing of legacy Four Thirds lenses, when using an adapter. However, the PDAF technology is not used while recording videos. This is sad, and a bit of a lost opportunity, in my opinion. The autofocus speed during video recording is one of the areas where Micro Four Thirds cameras do not excel. Even if the Panasonic GH3 does quite well in this respect.

The good grip makes the camera a lot more ergonomic to use than the predecessor E-M5, especially with large lenses.


Olympus OM-D E-M5


Olympus had a big hit with the retro designed E-M5.



Personally, I think the ergonomics are not very good. However, the camera becomes a lot more usable if you get the extra grip.

Olympus PEN E-P5


The E-P5 got a somewhat mixed reception. While the upgrade from the E-P3 is welcome, including, e.g., the tilting LCD screen, it is generally seen as quite expensive compared with what you get. Essentially, it is the same camera as the E-M5, but without the built in electronic viewfinder (EVF).



In addition to offering the tilting LCD screen, it also provides better control over the exposure with a two-dial control system.

Olympus PEN E-PL5


I think the E-PL5 is a quite interesting camera. It has the same sensor as higher end Olympus cameras, while the ergonomics are a bit stripped down, at a much lower price.



Beyond the ergonomics difference, it is worth noting that the more expensive E-P5 also has a more advanced five axis image stabilization feature.

Olympus PEN E-PM2


This is essentially a further stripped down version of the E-PL5. Just like the E-PL5, it gives you quite good image quality, at a lower price.



This camera is good for those who want the smallest possible camera, which still features a good image quality, and IBIS (in body image stabilization), and at a reasonable price. What you lose, though, is less buttons and dials, and you have to rely more on digging into menus for changing settings.

Conclusion


Olympus has got a quite full camera lineup now, from the technological wonder of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 to the cheap, but well performing Olympus PEN E-PM2. Generally, Olympus cameras are good for those who are more interested in photography than video. Otherwise, go for Panasonic.

Rumours now indicate that Olympus is in the process of launching a new OM-D model, which will probably sit well below the E-M1 in terms of price, competing with cameras like the Nikon D5300 and the Panasonic G6

4 comments:

  1. Where did you find that E-M1 has electronic shutter? I don't think it has one (except for movies, of course)

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    Replies
    1. You are right! Thanks for the correction, I have changed the text.

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  2. I disagree that optical stabilization is better than 5-axis IBIS for video. I have an E-M5 and a GX7 so I know firsthand. The E-M5 is let down by a poor codec but it's video stabilization is rock solid - certainly better than stabilized lenses on the GX7. Further, if I had to use unstabilized lenses for video, I would take the E-M5s inferior codec but superior IBIS for casual shooting. I hate unstabilized video. Even electronic stabilization would be better than nothing on the Panasonics.

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  3. The most clarifying post on the Olympus line up I have read. I have the OM D EM 5 and it is certainly the best camera I've ever owned and I go back to the Leica IIIG and a Nikon F. When they have an EVF all the m43 cameras combine rangefinder ergonomics with reflex viewing. No there is nothing quite like the early Leicas or even the M series but the m43s get the camera and lens size back down to very pocketable early range finders which of course lacked reflex viewing. It took me a year of shooting a roll a day with the Leica for me to be able to be able to confidently previsualize what the resulting negative would look like. One look through a Nikon F and I never looked back, but disliked the weight penalty. The smallness of the lenses, like the Lumix 14mm Pancake are actually better than the Leica collapsable lenses in their tiny size and being ready to shoot instantly. What a pleasure. And now Panasonic brings out the GX 7 with IBIS and it even looks like a distant descendent of the early Leicas. What a temptation, but on close examination it is pretty close in size the my OM D EM 5 so it would be pure indulgence to buy it. I think I am fine with the EM 5 too and will wait for the next iteration. Because I shoot mostly B&W stills (cropped in camera like I was shooting Kodachrome) I am delighted with the EM-5 and it's ability to display the EVF in monochrome. All those old previsualization skills are still there so what I am looking at in the EVF cuts straight to the finished print in a manner of speaking. Thanks again.

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