Sunday, March 04, 2012

Why I'm Sticking With Olympus

OM-D Black side_lens
The E-M5 with M.Zuiko 12-50mm, the copy I have on pre-order

I have ranted and raved a good bit over the last 18 months against Olympus, starting in late September 2010 with the release of the E-5, then again in June 2011 with the release of the E-P3. I went out and tried the big names in cameras (Canon, Nikon, and Sony) looking for the Holy Grail of photography. After all the tryouts and comparisons and analyses I learned all over again what I'd learned not very well when I first purchased digital Olympus cameras, and that for my level of photography my dollars go a lot farther with Olympus equipment than with any other camera. And I've also (re-)discovered a number of other factors abut Olympus:
  1. For environmental sealing and a magnesium body, at the time I purchased the E-3 in 2009, the next camera that came anywhere close was $1,200 more expensive
  2. From an operational perspective, the E-1 and E-3 are more quiet than the Nikon D700 and the Canon 5D Mk2
  3. For sharpness and overall image quality, equivalent Olympus lenses were less expensive than equivalent Canon and Nikon and came environmentally sealed
  4. Ergonomically I preferred how the Olympus cameras operated over Canon and Nikon, even the maligned E-3.
So how did I get in such a lather to start with, so that I refused to buy either the E-5 or E-P3? Frankly the blame lay in my inability to think for myself at that time. I allowed myself to be swayed by the forum monsters who kept bashing the equipment. All those irrelevant arguments concerning equivalency regarding depth of field, sensitivity, noise, etc created something of a toxic mental stew with regards to the equipment. It didn't help that Olympus America seemed grossly incompetent when it came to marketing and local camera store support. I was ready to junk it all given the right opportunity.

But then, starting in January of 2011, I experienced something of an epiphany when I purchase my first of three used E-1s on something of a lark [1].

Two Classics
First E-1, 19 January 2011, purchased from KEH

I discovered that the E-1, with it's mere 5MP Kodak sensor, was an amazing little camera, far more deserving of respect than what it received when it was first released, let alone what it was experiencing at the time I purchase it used for about $250. It fit right into my style of photography just like it seemed to fit my hands; almost perfectly.

Royal Purple and Red
Max, My Traveling Buddy
Backyard Orchids 1
Water Lilies, Maclay Gardens

I've taken thousands of photographs with the E-1s (tens of thousands with all my Olympus gear), and when I've pushed myself I've discovered Olympus cameras, from the E-1 forward, are capable of producing images that rival anything I could have made with any other camera brand. Color, sharpness, clarity, you name it, the E-1 and later were more than capable of producing quality photographs.

The halo effect from the E-1 spread to the rest of the Olympus equipment I owned, restoring luster to equipment that I had allowed to become tarnished in my mind. I started digging deeper, working on my technique to produce better results. In order to practice technique I started taking a lot more photographs. I started carrying as much camera gear as reasonable in the car, making sure it was covered and locked when I was away from the car. I began to make time to make photographs. I really began to use the gear, starting in December 2010. And I haven't let up since.

But no matter how good the results, I still harbored dark doubts in the back of my mind that I really needed a "real" camera, a 35mm equivalent digital camera such as the Canon 5D Mk II or the Nikon D700. When those doubts rose up I'd go walk a camera store or browse on-line. Every time I'd add up the price of a body and equivalent lenses to what I had with Olympus and marvel at the high cost. And the dark doubts would retreat.

Then this year Canon and Nikon both introduced the next incremental upgrade to their cameras. Canon introduced the 5D Mk III and Nikon the D800/D800E. The price for just the bodies alone rose from the mid-two-thousands to the low-to-mid three-thousands of dollars. I read that for the Nikons I'd need even more expensive lenses just to take advantage of the newer, more fabulous Nikon sensors. Those high costs killed any lingering doubts I might have had. Canon and Nikon had officially priced themselves right out of my budget like a rocket launching from the Cape.

Along came Olympus in the middle of all this with the E-M5 + 12-50mm lens for roughly 1/3rd what those cameras cost body only. The day the E-M5 was announced I pre-ordered a kit in black. I didn't even bother to wait for reviews of the official release. I'd seen the results from the E-M5 through the work of others, and I had no doubt in my mind that the E-M5 would continue the upward trend in quality on all levels. The over-the-top cost of the latest Canon and Nikon bodies have vindicated my choice. Once again, for my level of photography, my dollars will go a lot farther with the E-M5 than with anything from Canon or Nikon. And that's with steady improvement in my abilities, especially my technical abilities.

A lot of folks who can afford it will purchase the latest Canons and Nikons. More power to them. I'll read a lot of their glowing on-line reviews and I'll pixel peep their photos along with everyone else. But unlike times past I won't let the imps of doubt enter my mind. I've reached a point where I'm truly happy. I know the limitation lies within me, and I'm having fun overcoming those limitations with Olympus cameras. Most importantly I'm really enjoying photography, and isn't that what it should really be about?

[1] My third E-1 was given to me by Kirk Tuck.


  1. Wonderful images, taken with a more than capable camera. But you're right: it's always up to the photographer to make gear "sing". Right now, I'm still at the deciding process either to buy the Panny 14 and 20, or the Panny/Leica 25mm... sigh...

  2. Bill... extremely good post, and you reflect exactly the same experience that many of us have had.

    It is painful to say this but the OM-D is pretty much everything the E5 should have been. Small, light, compact, incredibly well made, weather sealed, and providing all the image quality and features that any photo enthusiast will ever need. And even the price is right.

    The painful part is that we love our 4/3 ZD lenses, and most will not focus very fast with a M4/3 cameras.

    Sure, they will still work, but they also add a huge amount of size and weight and be prone to sluggish AF, so it might be time to say goodbye to 4/3 and hello to M4/3.

    I can't help but think that all this new technology put into an E620 sized 4/3 camera would be a big hit, but it might be too late for 4/3. Olympus has moved on.

    I'll probably end up with an OM-D too. I'm looking forward to seeing your first impressions and user review when you get yours.

  3. Excellent post Bill. It's so easy to get caught up in gear lust, happened to me about three years ago when I "upgraded" from my E-510 to a D300. A month later I was back with the 510 after the D300 was stolen, and I found myself being very happy about that. Better ergonomics, smaller and lighter, better lenses, easier to use, and so on...

    Six months ago I bought an E-1 on ebay for about $250 and I just love it, it's my camera of choice for most outings now, except perhaps for macro work where live view and the higher res of the 510 are useful.

    I'm also convinced now, like you, that improving the photographer is way more important than any equipment upgrade. And on that aspect I have to say I'm constantly impressed with the photos you post on your blog.


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