Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Joys Of Owning An Olympus E-M1 (firmware v4.0)

For a long time, I wanted to post a review of the Olympus E-M1 and how it compared to the Olympus E-M5 I had before. However, I guess this is not relevant anymore with the release of the E-M10, the E-M5 II and the E-M10 II. Let me tell you the jump from the E-M5 to the E-M1 for me was quite significant, these are some of the major differences that affected my day-to-day use of the camera:

  • EVF with double the resolution, auto brightness, and auto-off when screen is tilted, better LCD as well
  • Focus peaking
  • More reliable continuous AF with on-sensor phase detection
  • Lots of customizable buttons, with better positioned rear dial
  • 9 fps burst rate with C-AF and a huge buffer
  • 1/8000 max shutter speed
  • Electronic first curtain shutter to solve the famous shutter shock issues with long lenses
  • Faster sync speed, and less lag when using FL600R in TTL mode
  • Much better video codec, although still shoots 30 fps only
  • Mic input with 21 adjustable levels
  • Fully sprung battery door
  • Very good JPEG engine with spot-on colors, sharpness and noise reduction, first time I can shoot JPEG confidently
  • Built-in WiFi to share images with smart phone, and use the phone as a remote live view shutter (stills & video)

As you can see, these are significant differences that transformed my experience with the E-M1. To date, I still enjoy using the E-M1 immensely because of the transparent shooting experience, the fast AF, the beautiful and accurate colors, and the malleability of RAW files in LR (easier to process than Sony A7II files).

The E-M1 was released two years ago as the Olympus mirrorless flagship, and it still is compared to other MFT and mirrorless cameras. Olympus took a hint from Fuji, and for two years to date, they are updating the E-M1’s firmware to add new features and fix idiosyncrasies that existed. Every time they release a major upgrade, I feel like Olympus have given my camera a new life, and they are still caring about its flagship status. Yes, some of the updates should have been included in the camera from the beginning, and some of the upgraded features were already available in other mirrorless cameras earlier than Olympus, but that still doesn’t take from the importance of what Olympus does, and how they make their users feel happy and proud. Look at what Apple did with the original iPhone. They made a 2G-only iPhone with a bad fixed-focus camera and made a big fuss about it, while at the same time all other manufacturers had 3G phones with way better cameras. Then they released the iPhone 3G and made an even bigger fuss about it as if Apple has invented the 3G technology, etc… At the end of the day, the users were excited with each release and flocked to buy the upgraded version. In analogy, Olympus does the same with the E-M1, but without costing you extra money. How good is that?

Which brings us to the subject of this post (long intro, eh?): Olympus’ announcement of E-M1 firmware v4. Before telling you about major this update is, I would like to start with the earlier firmware upgrades (starting with v1.1) and let you know how they mattered to me as an end-user. I will only list the features relevant to me. You can find the full list in this link.

v1.1 (23.Nov.2013):

  • improved live bulb image quality

v1.3 (31.Mar.2014):

  • added 21 audio levels when using external mic with the ability to switch the volume limiter off/on
  • added a 0 second anti-shock setting (EFCS) which finally got rid of the shutter shock issues completely, however, it is only available in single-shot mode and not in continuous shooting modes which I use extensively

v1.4 (21.May.2014):

  • improved stabilization when shooting in C-AF modes
  • OI Share (remote shooting app) supported custom self-timer, digital tele-converter and zoom operation for lenses with electronic zoom

v2.0 (16.Sep.2014): this was a MAJOR update

  • added keystone compensation (digital shift), it works brilliantly
  • added tethered shooting with PC
  • added live composite shooting (shoot several photos imposed over each other)
  • added vintage and partial color art filters, both are very cool to use
  • added AF function for each frame in custom self-timer
  • MF assist available in magnified frame
  • completely removed the lagging that happened with focus peaking, that was one of my favorites
  • level gauge and histogram are visible in magnified view
  • current focal length for zoom lenses appear on the screen/EVF

v2.1 and v2.2 (Nov.2015):

  • mainly bug fixes

v3.0 (24.Feb.2015): another MAJOR update

  • improved burst with C-AF from 6.5 fps to 9 fps
  • now on-sensor phase-detection AF works in C-AF mode with MFT lenses, while it previously worked only with FT lenses .. this made the C-AF much more reliable and accurate with MFT lenses .. I was able to shoot a jet-ski moving at high speed with water splashing everywhere with a 99% hit-rate

v3.1 (16.Jun.2015):

  • added “Live View Boost 2” function to make shooting stars and very dark environments easier

v4.0 (end of Nov.2015): third MAJOR update, and best of them all. I will only mention the updates that will be useful to me, full update can be found here

  • add 4 colors for focus peaking, yay, I hate the white I have now and wish to use red (like on my Sony) or blue
  • add full electronic shutter (not only first curtain) enabling full silent mode and shutter speeds up to 1/16,000
  • enable continuous shooting in Anti-Shock mode (EFCS), another yay, now I can shoot continuously with no fear of shutter shock
  • add 4K time lapse movie, a slight meh, I don’t like to shoot time lapses in fear of wearing my shutter down, but now with full electronic shutter, I am more inclined to use it
  • add digital IS in addition to the 5-axis IS in movie mode, similar to the E-M5 II
  • add 24 and 25 fps in movie mode, a big yaaay, finally!
  • add movie info display, I wonder what that is, but anything to improve movie mode is welcome
  • update firmware of M.Zuiko lenses to improve aperture action for smooth exposure control even when shooting movies in situations with sudden changes in brightness
  • add focus stacking mode: the camera takes 8 pictures with different focus distances and combines them in one photo to maximize DOF, very useful in macro shooting (to be available with 12-40 f/2.8, 40-150 f/2.8 and 60mm Macro)
  • add focus bracketing mode: takes up to 999 shots at different focal lengths and lets the user use programs like photoshop to stack the photos and achieve deeper DOF

As you can see, Olympus has continuously updated the E-M1 (and other cameras too) throughout its 2 year-old life. And not just small updates, no, hugely useful updates to cater to all types of users. And for that, I am eternally thankful, and would stay loyal to Olympus for the time being. I just hope they concentrate on a better video codec and 4K shooting on their next flagship, not that I need to produce 4K-sized videos, but it looks very impressive and detailed on a 1080p timeline, and gives me flexibility to punch-in for close-ups as if I was using two cameras for the same shot.

Thank you for reading.

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