My journey to Olympus — E-M1 — My favorite mirrorless camera to date!

My main camera is a 5D Mark III, I love the quality of the images, the handling, autofocus, frames per second, and the lenses that it can utilize. However, point and shoots, mirrorless cameras, and cell phones are a more convenient way of running and gunning than having to carefully compose each shot, adjust the focus point, bring the camera to your eye, lay on the floor, crouch, stoop, stand on a chair, etc. in order to get the shot with a DSLR.

My requirements for a second camera are the following: fast optics f/1.8 or better, the ability to shoot RAW, super fast autofocus for my spastic children, facial autofocus, tilting lcd, and a 35mm equivalent focal length. 2013 has been a year of finding the perfect mirrorless camera.

Here’s a rundown of the cameras that I have purchased, sold, or returned in 2013. WARNING — it’s a lot!

  1. Canon G15: I had this for less than a day. My thought was I could use this with my canon flashes. I could, but there was a weird and terrible delay. Forget that! I returned it that same day. Also the quality of the images were undesireable.

2. Sony NEX-5R: the 18–55mm kit lens is good for outdoor and sunny days, but it has a narrow aperture and really there is only one choice for a 35 mm equivalent focal length. That’s the Sony/Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 which retails for $1,100. I owned this combo and liked it quite a bit. The touch screen on the NEX is not the same quality as an iPad , iPod, iPhone, etc. in fact, it’s quite useless on the camera. The menus are awful, and the JPEG color rendition isn’t pleasant at all. The RAW files are ok. My biggest complaint was that the lens wasn’t the best 35mm focal length I’ve ever used. Optically it wasn’t on par with Nikon’s 35mm 1.4G or Canon’s 35mm f/1.4L lenses even though it’s priced like the full frame lenses. Also, within the first 60 days of use, the camera developed a dead pixel. I honestly believe this in inexcusable regardless of what the manufacturers believe is within fault tolerances. I ended up returning the camera and selling the lens.

Sony NEX-5R + Sony/Zeiss 24mm f/1.8

3. Sony NEX-3N: this is just an inexpensive kit with a 16–50mm lens. Honestly, the main attraction to this camera was the low price. I didn’t like the lens or the camera, it’s just too slow at focusing. Also, no touch screen. I exchanged this for a…

Sony NEX-3N +Sony 17–50mm

4. Sony NEX-6: I figured this would be the one. The EVF is awkward looking, and I really didn’t like it. Also, there is no touch screen. I purchased an NEX 35mm 1.8 because I didn’t want to repurchase the crazy expensive 24mm. This combo just wasn’t good for me. It really needed a touch screen and the focal length of the lens was boring. I returned both.

Sony NEX-6 + Sony 35mm f/1.8

5. Olympus E-PL5: I purchased this with the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 lens. It’s a great little lens and the image quality for a smaller sensor is really quite nice. The touch screen was really too small for me and the camera felt kinda dinky. Also, the images aren’t 2:3 in dimensions like my Canon, they are 3:4 which was kind of annoying. I ended up returning the body and the lens.

Olympus E-PL5 + Olympus 17mm f/1.8 — YES, I KNOW IT’S A CAT PICTURE!

6. Canon SL-1: I know it’s not a mirrorless, but it has a touchscreen and can autofocus better in live view than my 5D. It works great and reasonably fast with the kit 18–55mm STM lens. There’s a bit of a delay when you push the shutter due to it not being a mirrorless camera, but you can work around that. When I put on my other Canon lenses that weren’t STM lenses, the focusing hunts and slows down to an unusable crawl. This was the deal breaker for me, since my plan was to use it with my faster Canon “L” primes. In the end, I sold the kit.

Canon SL1 + Canon 18–55mm STM

Here are some of the cameras I tried in the store…

  1. Sony RX100: it’s pretty impressive for what it is, but honestly after owning and using the other cameras, this just wasn’t as good.
  2. Fuji X20: pretty cool little camera, but not as nice as the other ones. I liked the parallax viewfinder. The autofocus isn’t quick enough for me. I literally played with this for a minute. The LCD and live view focus also wasn’t that great.
  3. The X-E1 and later the X-E2: the fake aperture ring is annoying, there was a delay in the autofocus, no facial autofocus (there is in the X-E2, but it missed the face of the camera salesman three feet away — straight on, numerous times), and the LCD/viewfinder isn’t as nice as the camera I ultimately purchased.
  4. Sony A7: It felt dinky and there are only one or two lenses at the time of this writing.
  5. Olympus OM-D: neat camera, but felt a little aging compared to what I ended up buying.
  6. Panasonic GX7: I just didn’t like the feel of this camera. The EVF wasn’t to my liking, nor was the look of the camera.

Back to cameras which I have owned…

7. Olymous E-P5 kit with the 17mm f/1.8mm and VF-4: I missed the image quality of the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 and the E-PL5 — even though I didn’t really care for the camera. The E-P5 however is more solid than the E-PL5, nicer LCD, better controls, electronic viewfinder, faster autofocus, better controls, etc. Most of the time I kept the EVF off, but on a bright sunny day, I threw it on.

Olympus E-P5 + Olympus 17mm f/1.8

Like the E-PL5, the image quality is really impressive for the size of sensor. However, it’s not as good as the NEX cameras or the SL-1. This shouldn’t be surprising as it is indeed a smaller sensor. Still, the positives out way this con for me. The image quality really is good enough for a point and shoot application. If I’m going to shoot something serious, I’ll take my time and use the 5D Mark III and “L” lenses.
The lens selection for the micro four-thirds cameras are quite impressive and inexpensive in comparison to the other systems. I can see myself purchasing the Olympus 70–300mm lens to get a 35mm equivalent of a 600mm lens or a fisheye. To me, both of those types of lenses serve a specialty application that would be fun to shoot, but too expensive for the amount of time I would use it on my full frame Canon.

The Finale…

8. Olympus E-M1: I knew the E-P5 wasn’t going to remain with me long term. I sold it in favor of the Olympus E-M1. Olympus took all of the good from the E-P5 and put it in a sturdier DSLR type frame with an integrated EVF. It’s responsive, feels great in the hand, the facial recognition works extremely well, and the touch screen is quick and accurate.

Olympus E-M1 + Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4

See my other articles for a more complete review of the Olympus E-M1 and lenses that I currently use on Micro 4/3.

Originally published at on December 23, 2013.


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