Thursday, October 3, 2013

A few hours with the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 and E-M1

Today, I had the chance to extensively use the Olympus E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8 lens, alone and with an Olympus-chaperoned group on a photo walk.

My first impressions of the lens are that it’s quite amazing compared to any other micro Four-Thirds zoom lens and as good as the 14-35 f/2.0 and 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 lenses.  It’s well worth the US$999.99 that they’re supposedly asking for it.  The manual focus clutch mechanism was as odd and brilliant as it is on the the 12mm f/2.0 lens.

It should be in my camera bag before the end of the year.

Update 2013.12.29:  I read the account of one person (and there are others apparently) who has had a serious problem with the 12-40mm lens.  It broke apart, where the mount separated from the lens, not unlike the initial 18-55mm kit lenses that came with the Canon 300D so many years ago.  Those lenses had a plastic mount, though.  Apparently, Olympus was saving weight by using plastic or nylon screws and other parts.  This is disturbing, especially considering the abuse my 14-54mm and other lenses have seen.  My ZD SHG 35-100mm f/2.0 and E-5 fell from a seat to a pool deck and I continued to use them, and they're just fine nearly a year later.  How would the E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8 survive?

The E-M1 is not as clearly or easily great.

Yes, it’s very fast.  There is no half-press of the shutter release.  I got a photo every time, mainly because the button is mushy.  Those coming from the E-M5 will understand.  The Super Control Panel is different than what is on the E-5 but still amazingly useful, easily beating my GH3’s Quick Menu, for me anyway.

Holding it is uncomfortable.  Rather than the curves on the grip of the E-5 or GH3, it has angles.  This should not be a problem with the micro Four-Thirds lenses, including the 12-40mm f/2.8 because they’re so incredibly tiny and light.  I can see it as a problem using my light (for Four-Thirds) 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5.  I hold my current camera bodies one-handed by the grip at times.  I don’t think that would last long, as the angles would work into my hand.  I can appreciate that they wanted to make the body as small and light as possible, but professionals will be using it for hours on end, most likely (and they could use a larger battery to go into that larger grip).  It shouldn’t be designed as a casual tool.  It was sufficient to be tried with my ZD 35-100mm f/2.0 and ZD 14-35mm f/2.0.  They worked well enough.

Olympus E-M1 in hand, barely big enough
GH3 to the left, surrounded by an E-M5 and 2 EM1 bodies

That brings me to the next issue.  The rear display seems to be on most of the time, and of course, it’s not fully articulated, so you can’t turn it inward.  It would show me the photo I just took, even though that drains the battery and isn’t what I would want.  The clarity of the display is very good.  The EVF is much, much better than the EVF of the GH3.  Since I wasn’t able to photograph sports, I don’t know if it’s fast enough for manual focus in that situation.  I suspect it will be okay, whereas the GH3’s EVF is not so good.

The controls are not exactly easy to understand, coming from the E-1, E-5, or GH3.  The exposure compensation was not at zero when I was handed the E-M1 and it took some time to be able to change it with the unmarked button.  Sure, taking time to acclimate myself to it would do wonders, but it’s not intuitive, as the E-1, E-5, and GH3 are.

Live View worked well, and it was actually the first time I used Live View for more than an experiment, even though the GH3 and E-5 support it well with the fully-articulated displays.  The E-M1's display tilts but it was enough to get a good shot from a very low angle.
Since Phase One Capture One doesn’t yet support the E-M1, I only shot JPEG files and I find them to be quite good.

I added a photo album here: The photos were not corrected in any way.  They were re-sized for the album by Picasa and renamed, due to a problem with switching cards and the camera body not starting from the next sequential name.  To add to the problem, Picasa does not sort by name, only by the order in which it imported the photos.  Who knows?

E-M1 Pros
  • Better than a casual camera body
  • Great image quality
  • Super Control Panel still excellent
  • Phase detection AF allows AF with Four-Thirds lenses and tracking with micro Four-Thirds lenses
E-M1 Cons
  • Uncomfortable
  • Too small to be used effectively with larger SHG lenses handheld
  • Worse than a professional camera body, even though it can be used for professional work 
  • Mushy shutter release makes half-press difficult
  • Phase detection with many Four-Thirds lenses not very good.

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