(Micro Four Thirds Just Took A Big Step Up)
DISCLAIMER: Crop factor and the associated focal length multiplier only affects field of view. I prefer to reference this as effective focal length but others use FOV. Feel free to use whichever term you like.
I love small, lightweight, inexpensive, powerful cameras. I became interested in the M43 format in the Summer of 2009 when these cameras first started shipping. By 2010 I had purchased my own Micro Four Thirds system and over the ensuing years have upgraded or added to that system many times.
I like these cameras so much that in the summer of 2013 I released a lynda.com training title with my pal Rich Harrington called Up & Running With Micro Four Thirds Cameras. (Updated in 2015.)
But when it comes to M43, even though my heart is in it, my head hasn’t been because of three things:
1. Lack of long lenses
Initially, M43 cameras simply didn’t come with lenses that were fast enough, long enough, or sharp enough for me to get the subject as large in the frame as I need it to be when I shoot birds. The system lacked a super high-quality 600mm lens. The big zooms for M43 cameras were also too slow and not contrasty enough for my taste.
That has been rectified “bigly” by the superior Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm f4.0 PRO Lens which, when paired with an Olympus MC-14 1.4X Teleconverter gives me an equivalent focal length (EFL) of 840mm. It’s sharp and fast to focus either way.
When it comes to zooms, the Olympus M.ZUIKO 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO Lens and the Panasonic LUMIX G LEICA DG VARIO-ELMAR, 100-400mm, F4.0-6.3 ASPH Lens offer anywhere between 80-300 f/2.8 (EFL) and 200-800mm f/4-6.3 (EFL) respectively.
All the aforementioned lenses are top-notch with great handling and all have solved my lack of long lenses in M43 problem.
2. Lack of sufficiently reliable and fast continuous autofocus
I couldn’t get autofocus that would allow me to get the kind of results as a bird photographer I’ve come to expect out of flagship DSLRs like the Canon 1DX MK II. Most M43 systems autofocus quite well on static subjects, but when it comes to birds in flight they simply can’t cut it.
The new OM-D: Olympus E-M1 Mark II camera body has solved that problem. While it won’t catch up with the AF on the newish Canon 1DX MK II, it also doesn’t cost $6200 and doesn’t weigh half a ton. And it’s very good. When you practice with it, learn how it works, how to deal with it (as you’d be required to do with any sophisticated AF) you can tune it to your liking and coax results that approach what top-of-the-line, full-frame DSLRs could do just a few years ago. The Olympus E-M1 Mark II comes with an entirely new autofocus system, featuring 121 on-sensor phase-detection points. There is one in-camera processor exclusively devoted to AF so it’s really very good. Even in bad light it acquires focus quickly. In my opinion the AF problem is hereby solved and it will only get better.
3. Lack of sufficient image quality to print 30×40” prints
Lastly, image quality (while excellent) hasn’t been sufficient some times for the really big prints I often make of my bird photography. I can make 20×30” prints from the legacy flagship M43 cameras but rarely am I happy with the results I get when printing longer than 40” on the longest side.
The new OM-D: Olympus E-M1 Mark II camera body has also mostly solved this problem. Literally the first thing I did was take a picture of my handy-dandy test chart (it’s actually my business license) and print it 30×40”. It looks pretty darn good, especially at appropriate viewing distance. There is noticeable improvement in small details over image files made using previous versions of this and other top M43 cameras. If people can make big prints from their iPhone then there’s nothing wrong with printing from M43. So now that’s out of the way.
I could stop right there and be happy with the new OM-D but there’s more to brag on.
The handling is great. The battery life is the best I have ever seen on a Micro Four Thirds camera. In fact, battery life approaches the same experience you would have with a top DSLR. I also love the new in-body stabilization when worked in conjunction with a stabilized lens. Let’s just say I won’t be bringing a tripod NEARLY as often as I used to on my future field trips. In most cases a small, lightweight monopod is more than enough.
The camera is very sturdy and weather-sealed. I shot with it in a light drizzle using a weather sealed lens with no problem. The MKII also delivers very high-quality video and superb JPEG colors straight out of the camera if you’re into that sort of thing.
Oh yeah, and the MKII offers a ridiculous 18-fps frame rate (WITH Continuous AF engaged) which is faster than any flagship DSLR on the market!
Olympus has finally offered a second SD-card slot although only the top slot is video/fast card capable. (NOTE: there might be compatibility issues with 128GB cards in the number one slot so check with Olympus to make sure your card works.)
The new High Res Shot mode is not just a gimmick – likewise “pro-capture.” These really work but they do take getting used to.
What don’t I like about the new OM-D? There’s not much to complain about. When you’re an early adopter (I received one of the first of these to ship) there are inevitably things to work out. So far I am not in love with the fact that you can’t enter playback mode while the buffer is full. I still think the menus are a bit too much. Less is more and a simpler camera interface would be welcome. The buffer fills a bit too quickly for my taste (but then again I am used to the Canon 1DX MK II which has NO LIMIT on its buffer.) The shutter button is almost too sensitive. I am sure I will get used to it but I accidentally fired off a couple of bursts more than once (it’s only digital so I don’t have to pay for it at least!) The manual that comes with the camera is pretty thin but if you dig around on the Olympus site you should be able to find a digital copy of the REAL manual that better explains things. The camera is very expensive for a Micro Four Thirds camera body, but I didn’t say it isn’t worth the money. I think it is worth the money. Unfortunately, if you don’t have the money it doesn’t matter if it’s a great camera. The price point will send some photographers elsewhere.
This is a fast-handling camera that has every pro feature you can imagine. It’s expensive but I think it’s probably worth the price. It’s also smaller and lighter than its DSLR counterparts. It’s good enough that I can use it instead of the heavy, bulky full-frame DSLRs I used to have to rely on. It works with some fantastic Olympus glass but as a bonus, also works with the superb lenses produced by Panasonic for the M43 system. The main thing I can’t get over is how small, and light weight the kit is in comparison to my usual stuff. It may seem like a heavy rig to those of you who are not wildlife photographers but it’s amazingly light weight to me.
I need more time to develop a more in-depth look and opinion, but so far I’d say highly recommended.