Thursday, August 11, 2011

In Praise of Olympus FourThirds Cameras

E-1 glamor shot #2
E-1 + HLD-2 + Zuiko Digital 12-60mm
I've been pretty critical of Olympus these days, for reasons you can read about in some of my other posts. But I never said the equipment was so bad that I would sell it or stop using it. In fact I had opportunity to use it today, and I enjoyed every minute.

Early this morning I traveled to a farm near Oviedo Florida that has been used for some number of years as demonstration and test area. Today was a demonstration. The farm is still a working farm, which means everything is set up in a large open field. With all the recent rains the area was pretty saturated with lots of standing water, along with the copious cow patties dotting the field.

I carried two cameras with me this morning to the demo, my E-1 with the Zuiko Digital 12-60mm and my E-3 with the EC-14 and Zuiko Digital 50-200mm.

The demo started at 8am, under a foggy sky. I tried to turn the Prius' air conditioner down so the interior wouldn't get so cool, so that my glasses wouldn't fog over when I arrived and stepped outside. In spite of my best efforts my glasses still fogged over in spite of my best efforts. The air at the farm this morning was so super-saturated that both cameras covered over with so much condensation it was dripping off both cameras.

I arrived twenty minutes before the start of the demo, so I simply waited for the cameras to warm up to ambient temperature. They did, but because the air was so saturated the condensation didn't evaporate from the cameras, especially from the lenses' front elements. I've been through this before so I came prepared with a micro-fiber cloth, which I used to clean off the front elements of both lenses. Once that was done the cameras were put to use for the rest of the morning.

I can't show anything I took today, but I can say that both cameras performed flawlessly. Every photo was taken raw, then processed later in the day for an afternoon meeting in which the photographs were used as part of a review. Everyone was more than satisfied with the results.

Everyone talks about being able to use the Olympus FourThirds high-end bodies in the rain. In central Florida, during the hot humid months of the summer, the bodies combined with HG lenses are subjected to repeated entry from cool and dry to warm and very humid. Most of the time the condensation quickly evaporates, but there are those times when I have to wipe the front elements clean. In all cases the lenses and bodies are unaffected by the moisture, and they work flawlessly, exposure after exposure after exposure. This is one very important reason why I am so reluctant to let this gear go. I can't find anything with the same combination of features, especially the environmental sealing, that's as cost effective.

One day I'm sure something will go wrong with some item in my kit. But the kit has already earned my complete trust. I'll fix any problem and continue to use it until it completely fails. The total system is dependable in use, day in and day out. While I try to take care of my kit, it's definitely been used and carted all over the country. No other camera, not even my E-P2, has earned the same level of trust my FourThirds gear has.

5 comments:

  1. "No other camera, not even my E-P2, has earned the same level of trust my FourThirds gear has."

    Same here, which is exactly why I am critical of Olympus: they are letting an outstanding system die on the vine. Yes, you can still buy a $1,700 E-5 and all the latest 4/3 lenses, but it's obvious Olympus is only allowing that much to live because they can. The lack of any mid-tier or entry level DSLR's will mean the eventual death of 4/3.

    There was a rumor that Olympus might introduce a follow-up to the E-30, but it seems that will remain a rumor only, as spokesperson from Olympus America recently said "The area which remains in question for some people is the mid range category, such as the E-30. We believe that if they were given a choice, these people would really prefer an E-5. For those customers who are not looking for a pro camera , the Micro 4/3 system would suffice."

    In other words, pay-up for an E-5, or go with micro 4/3.

    They keep paying lip service to the DSLR users, but where the rubber meets the road it's been 95% micro 4/3 or else.

    It's certainly possible for Olympus to keep the E-X line for quite a long while yet, as well as the 4/3 lenses, and there's no reason to believe any of that will go away anytime soon. From what they've been saying, that seems to be the overall strategy.

    Perhaps I should just follow in your footsteps, get a used E-3 or two, and just use what I got until it's dead. I certainly have little to nothing to complain about in terms of image quality or system durability: I've not had ANY problems with my three Olympus DSLR's and ten lenses. A few minor things, sure...but they all still work just as good as the day I got them.

    Why give up on what works? Moving to another system can be a real can of worms.

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  2. Hmmm Bill - an E-5 with the two lenses (and the TC) you mention here doesn't really look that bad, considered these circumstances. I would hesitate to get my E-520 out of my knapsack in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia (tho I did, and it also performed well enough).

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  3. I think Olympus is doing what is necessary to survive right now:
    1. promoting their new, much more profitable M4/3 system
    2. milking their old 4/3 for every easy dollar they can wring out of it.

    Let me explain that second one. The E5 had to be a very cheap camera to develop. It is essentially an E3 with a new sensor, adding HD video ability, and new LCD. So there was very little R&D cost involved. And an E7 will probably follow the same route, reusing the E3 body yet again.

    This isn't a bad thing, since the E3 body is excellent, and all of the R&D cost was already expended.

    Olympus is still selling 4/3 lenses, at least as long as parts inventories last, but note that they haven't developed a new 4/3 lens since 2008.

    I think it's pretty obvious that without M4/3 the imaging division would probably be gone by now. So, it's pretty hard to criticize Olympus for doing what was necessary to survive.

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  4. Marty et. el.

    I can't disagree with Marty for two reasons

    1) He's probably right, and
    2) I'm tired of arguing about it. Really.

    Point 2 is not to malign Marty. It's just I feed a considerable amount of ennui from all the self-flagellation ever since the E-5 was announced last September. It's nearly a year later, and enough is enough.

    I've reached a point where I don't know what I really want anymore. Everything I consider as a reasonable alternative to my E-3 is expensive, and finding truly environmentally sealed lenses in other brands is difficult and expensive. Very expensive.

    At this point I'm going back to using and learning to use what I have. It may shock some to hear this, but I may end up buying an E-5 body and maybe, just maybe, one more E-series lens. Because to be honest, between the 12-60, 50-200, and 50mm macro, I have all the focal lengths I really need. Everything else I have is just gravy. Buying an HG or SHG would give me an environmentally sealed solution at those focal lengths and speed.

    As for µ4/3rds, I can (literally and figuratively) afford to wait. I might pick up one or two Panasonic pancakes (14 and 20mm come to mind) since they are relatively cheap and fast. Again, I've got plenty of adapters for both my OM and E-series lenses, so when I get really bored I can mount just about anything on my E-P2.

    Ron, even if they announced an E-50 I wouldn't be interested unless it were sealed. The E-30 was priced at $1,399 when first announced, and I'm sure they'll do the same with the E-50, just like they kept the E-3's price point on the E-5. Frankly, if I'm in for $1,400, I might as well throw in another $400 and step up to the E-5. There will be no compelling feature on the E-50 that would trump the E-5's sealing. None. At least, not to me.

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  5. Bill, I whine a lot because it's my nature!

    I think you can love something and be disappointed when it goes off in a direction you don't like. (Anyone who has teenaged children will understand that point.)

    I know we both were disappointed when Olympus essentially discontinued all 4/3 products except the E5.

    However, even when the grass is greener somewhere else, we rarely change systems. That's because the marginal improvements, while nice to have, may not be worth the cost and learning curve involved. And they may not even be needed, based on your own shooting style.

    For example, having video on a DSLR doesn't motivate me to buy it, although it might motivate someone else. We all have different needs.

    Incidentally, I just acquired my seventh 4/3 lens... a 35mm Macro, so you can see that talk is cheap. I'm not going anywhere!

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