Monday, September 9, 2013

Olympus E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8

Well, September 10th is here and Olympus has announced their new professional-oriented equipment, the E-M1 camera body and 12-40mm f/2.8 lens.

As someone who has been using Four-Thirds equipment since early 2004 (when the alternatives were bad), the E-M1 is supposedly targeted at me.  The specifications sound great (but missing 14-bit raw files and a second card slot) and I'm enthusiastic but there is a huge problem: the size.

Sure, they're not charging US$1699.99 as with the E-5, but only US$1399.99 for the E-M1 camera body.  Since you have to buy the MMF-3 lens adapter (to use Four-Thirds lenses) for almost US$200.00, it's a small break.  However, mounting several of the Four-Thirds lenses on such a tiny body will create a problem with balance.  Certainly, the ZD 35-100mm f/2.0 was not meant to be on the OM-D series without a tripod, and the 35-100mm is hardly the biggest lens.

I understand the economics, but they had to design and create a new body to accomplish their goals.  If they'd made it the size of Olympus' own E-1, there wouldn't be a problem.  Plus, you have to use the lenses through the adapter, and it doesn't feel all that strong.  I use the 14-35mm f/2.0 frequently and the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 somewhat less frequently.  They're both fine with the GH3, but I still wonder if the adapter is going to come apart at some point while either lens is attached.  I don't use my ZD 35-100mm f/2.0 with it.

External size:
Width x Height x Depth

E-M1   130.4x93.5x63.1
GH3    132.9x93.4x82.0
E-1      141x104x81
E-M1    443g
GH3     470g
E-1       660g
Still, if you're looking at the Canon 70D or the Nikon D7100, you might want to think a few times about your intentions.  Starting fresh, the E-M1 offers loads of good stuff, especially if you like fixed focal length lenses.  The Olympus 75mm f/1.8, 45mm f/1.8, and 12mm f/2.0, Panasonic 7-14mm f/4.0 (yes, you are correct--that is a zoom!), and 8mm f/3.5 fisheye are really good lenses.

I've been a harsh critic of zoom lenses on micro Four-Thirds, including the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 I have.  After using it, I stopped short of buying their 12-35mm f/2.8.  If their high end lenses are just average, wait for the prices to drop, yes?

This 12-40mm f/2.8 lens from Olympus may be enough to make me forget that Panasonic has a 12-35mm f/2.8 lens.  The slightly bigger (62mm filter size vs 58mm) barrel hopefully houses better optical elements, and gives better image quality, while minimizing distortion.

The price of the Olympus lens is less than the suggested Panasonic price by US$300 at US$999.99, I believe, but the Panasonic lens has been out long enough to gain a discount or two.  If the 12-40mm is better then, the price might be justified because I feel that the 35-100mm (and likely the 12-35mm from what I've seen and read) are great US$750 lenses.  They're just not very good at their list prices.  micro Four-Thirds users pay too much for too little, but they have a wide selection, unlike users of other mirror-less formats.

It's likely that I'll check reviews as much as anyone else but I'll likely buy the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens sometime after its November availability.  The upcoming 40-150mm f/2.8 lens may be equally interesting, though it's a bit short to replace my ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 but for indoor sports, I'm using both the Olympus ZD and Panasonic 35-100mm lenses.

MTF charts:

12-40mm f/2.8

14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 Mk II

14-35mm f/2.0

Update 2013.10.04: Having used the E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8 on Thursday for an hour or two, I have no doubt that the E-M1 and the 12-40mm f/2.8 combination is an amazing step in image quality for micro Four-Thirds.

I am less in love with the ergonomics and comfort of using the E-M1 vs the E-5 or Panasonic GH3.  It seems to have been designed for casual users to hold.  I can't imagine a 14 hour day using the body because of the angles in the grip vs the curves of the E-5 or GH3.  The Super Control Panel, of course, makes adjustments easier, but the exposure compensation had been set and without help, I had a difficult time finding the dial combination to make it work.  Once again, the GH3 and E-5 had buttons marked for this, whereas the E-M1, in order to be more flexible, has few buttons marked.  Through the adapter, it focused the ZD 35-100mm f/2.0 well and the difficult ZD 14-35mm f/2.0 reasonably well but it's a gorgeous lens that requires some extra handling.  If Olympus put the E-M1's guts into the Panasonic GH3 body, they'd have a sale.  If the GH3 successor comes close to the E-M1's still photography functionality, guess where I'm going.

You can see my encounter here:

Update 2014.12.20: I've been using an E-M1 with the 12-40mm f/2.8 since early June.  It's a potent combination.  However, the 12-40mm f/2.8 also worked well on my Panasonic GH3 prior to that, and more recently, my GH4.  It's a good lens that has practically sidelined my dSLRs.

I have on one occasion seen nasty lens flare that was almost 100% eliminated by the automatic changes in Phase One Capture One 7 Pro.  It does exhibit minor lens flare more often than I would like, but so does the ZD 14-35mm f/2.0 but I rarely pull out the huge lens hood for that.

In day-to-day operations, I find the E-M1 to be good but with minor problems.  It's too easy to change the auto focus point, for instance, and exposure compensation is attached to the front dial.  They didn't make it work like the E-5 and that was a mistake given that they were promoting it as the replacement.

Still that 10 frames per second has been useful in skate park photos.  Then again, focus goes away suddenly, even though it's already in focus but only occasionally.  I've also had times when I'm ready and the camera body does nothing when I press the shutter release.

If you're not photographing sports, you'll be fine, I'm sure, and you'll be pleased. 

Update 2016.04.22: It's been a while since I first wrote this blog entry--about 2.5 years.  Much has changed.  I'm using an E-M1, along with the Panasonic GH4 and GX8.  I've bought several other, native micro Four-Thirds lenses.

The E-M1's firmware updates have made it very, very good but it's typical for me to reach for the Panasonic GH4 first.  I've taken so many photos with the E-M1, though, that I had to have the 150,000 actuations shutter replaced.  Still, using the E-M1 with the 14-35mm f/2.0 or 35-100mm f/2.0 is difficult.

Thankfully, the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens works quite well, and so does the 8mm f/1.8 fisheye, along with a number of Panasonic lenses that I never expected to have.

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