Friday, January 11, 2013

Olympus OM-D: First Impressions & Comments on DOF

Olympus 45mm f/1.8 wide-open
You probably already know my story with the DSLRs and why I suddenly decided to switch, and start a new life with micro four thirds and Olympus, here's the link if you haven't already read it before.
These are my first impressions on the Olympus OM-D, I have not had a chance to thoroughly use the camera, I only used it 3 times briefly, at home, at work and at a petrol station where the picture above is from. Hit the jump for a quick, fun read.

Can you guess the car? Panleica 25mm f/1.4 wide-open

DISCLAIMER: Excuse the pictures in this post, they are not the best, but this is what I have to show during my very brief time with the OM-D.

  • If you don't already know, the crop factor of m4/3 is 2x, just keep that in mind when reading, multiply any focal length by 2.
  • The system is incredibly tiny, especially the lenses, the 45mm f/1.8 is very minute, it has a 37mm filter thread, that's the same size as a large coin, incredible.
  • The 12-50 kit lens is very nice, it sells alone for $500 and for $250 as a kit with the body, I got it for the following reasons, wide angle, general walk-around zoom (especially for video, it has both mechanical and smooth electrical zoom) and macro which is very useful, 0.72x magnification and a suitable min. working distance of ~ 20cm.
  • Focusing is incredibly quick and accurate, and by quick I mean "high-end DSLR + high-end lens" quick and sometimes even faster, and since it's a contrast detection based focus, it is most accurate, there are no front or back focusing issues. Focus tracking is where DSLRs pull ahead, they say, but I haven't had a chance to test it yet.
  • It can auto-detect faces despite the selected focus point (during normal focusing modes, no need for a special face detect focus mode), and can focus on the nearest eye on it's own, this is incredibly handy and very accurate. I gave the camera to a friend to try it out, and he took the following picture of me, he didn't choose any focus points, he just pointed the camera at me and snapped away.

That's me, Olympus 45 1.8 wide-open
100% crop of the image above

  • That's also one of the benefits of a smaller sensor, you don't have to stop down to get both eyes in focus, and lose shutter speed, there is a biting sharpness with the fast lenses wide-open on m4/3.
  • There are 35 focusing points by default, positioned in a 7x5 matrix filling 90% of the frame apart from the very extreme edges, you can focus anywhere you want without recomposing. And the focus point size can be changed by a single button press, using the smallest size I can move it into one of 1100 positions!!
  • Lenses don't have a manual focusing switch (they are all focus by wire), so I configured it to one of the function buttons, since there is an EVF, you can get a magnified view by up to 14x to help in accurate focusing.
  • I am still not used to the EVF, but it is amazing in displaying all sorts of useful information during shooting, the most useful for me are the live histogram, showing the blown-out higlights and blocked shadows real time, and finally a quick playback of the image after pressing the shutter.

Olympus 45 1.8 wide-open, again auto close-eye detection

  • The camera is incredibly customizable, you can change the functions of a lot of buttons, you can select what each of the dials do in every mode, you can switch the dial rotation direction, and you can even change the focusing ring rotation direction.
  • I can choose how many fps I need for the low speed setting (1-4 fps) and the high speed setting (5-9 fps), the 9 fps is crazy, I don't use it because I can't take a single shot, the fastest shutter press I can manage takes 2 shots at least.
  • It has the best AWB I have ever seen, even under tungsten lighting, a first for me, colors are excellent as well, I hope to see good color tolerance when I mix flash with available light.
  • Noise performance is incredible, people saying it is a match for the 7D are not giving it full credit, the 7D noise performance is no match for the OM-D at all, forget about charts and DXO, from my own experience on lightroom, this camera is much closer to my 5D2 up to 3200 ISO, haven't tried 6400 yet, and even then, the noise is very fine grain that doesn't look obtrusive at all.
  • In body image stabilization is working very well, I find myself shooting at much lower shutter speeds that I was used to on the 5D3.
  • It has abysmal battery lifetime, but I am still breaking it in, still on my first charge, but people who use it as a DSLR (i.e. use EVF only to shoot, and LCD for playback, otherwise both are turned off) claim upwards of 600 shots (some say 1200 shots) per charge, we'll see, anyway I have ordered a couple of 3rd party spare batteries plus a car charger for just $25.
  • My OM-D has a defect, the eye sensor doesn't work properly to switch between the EVF and the LCD, it only works in direct sun light or near strong light sources, but I will not return it since I would disable this functionality anyway, and I don't want to stay without a camera anymore.

Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 wide-open


This is always a much discussed issue, and I have made my own conclusions based on shooting with APS-C and FF for a long time, and now the micro four thirds. I don't care about DOF calculators or any technical measures, I am talking about DOF from my own perception POV.
There is shallow DOF and then there is SHALLOW DOF, you can see from the examples above that you can get significant shallow DOF even with the smaller m4/3 sensor, it looks the same as f/2.8 ~ f/4 on FF, and very similar to what I used to get with APS-C and fast lenses. This is the shallow DOF that I want, and would not sacrifice it by any means.

Now the really shallow DOF advantage of FF shows when using really fast apertures f/1.2 ~ f/2, and on wide angle lenses (35mm or wider) with fast apertures, anything slower than that like f/2.8 can be achieved with smaller sensors and faster lenses. FF look at f1.2 or f/1.4 cannot be matched by any smaller sensor.

Below is an example to illustrate my point, I picked a picture for my daughter shot one year ago using the 5D2 and the 50 1.4 wide-open, then another one shot with the OM-D and the Panleica 25 1.4 wide-open (50mm equivalent). Subject size is almost the same in both, the major difference however is lighting, the 5D2 is well lit with flash, while the OM-D is lit with a mix of available and tungsten light, I still haven't received my Olympus flash.

UPDATED: due to popular request, I updated my daughter's picture to be shot in the same place as the 5D2 picture, so the background is the same distance behind the subject in both shots, the angle is slightly different however (check the mirror on the right in the OM-D picture, this is not captured on the 5D2).
Canon 5D Mark II and 50mm f/1.4 wide-open, with soft lighting
Olympus OM-D and Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 wide-open
The FF picture @ f/1.4 displays crazy thin DOF, not possible at all with m4/3, but do you always want this thin DOF? Do you want the rest of the face to be OOF? If the answer is yes, then you would better use FF and fast lenses.
You can draw your own conclusions, but for me, both pictures have "sufficient" shallow DOF, the advantage of the smaller sensor is having enough of the face in focus, while still maintaining shallow enough DOF, and enough shutter speed and/or low ISO.
I will be testing a lot more and taking lots of pictures before I do the full review. My next post will be about the Yongnuo RF-603 flash trigger.


  1. Thanks for your review. I'm mulling either the OM-D or the Fuji X100S when it comes out; have you used the X100, which is the predecessor? If so, I'd love hear thoughts on the comparison.

    1. I haven't used the Fuji X100, I didn't even think about it once because of the lens, I am not comfortable with anything wider than 50mm equivalent, except for situations where I need 24mm or even wider (landscapes).

      I would have considered the Sony RX1 if it had a VF and a 50mm lens, other than that, I'm out.

  2. >> FF look at f1.2 or f/1.4 cannot be matched by any smaller sensor. <<
    Not true. Ever used all those nice f/0.95 lenses on crops like the Fuji X-E1? With a lens like the SLR Magic 35/0.95 DOF is the same as with a FF and a 50/1.4 lens.
    Just one example. ;)

    1. If you're sure, then I believe you, I haven't tried it of course.

    2. Yes I have tried and it's quite fun getting this sort of narrow DOF with a significantly smaller setup. Steve Huff also posted some examples.
      That's also one of the advantages of the mirrorless systems. Because of their short registration distances you can adapt a whole lot of such extremely fast lenses you just can't stick on a DSLR.

      Anyway, narrow DOF is just one parameter and there are quite some more a lot more important ones that make the recent group of highly capable smaller mirrorless systems extremely useful and versatile, also without those ultrafast lenses.

      Thank you very much for your personal insight and pictures!

    3. Thanks Anonymus, check the updated DOF comparison picture, will be added in a couple of minutes.

    4. Very nice. I also think the comparison between two 50mm-equivalent f/1.4 lenses on m43 and FF is better with the new sample because of a quite similiar situation (whereas it's always difficult compairing sensors with different aspect ratios because you can always only adapt to one side and the additional space on the other system gets kind of wasted).

      Thanks for the quick update.

  3. Dear Mohamed,

    I am very happy for your new camera, it seems to be an excellent choice. the image quality looks great and competing with most of the high-end DSLRs.

    waiting for more photos.....

    Mohamed Hassan, Alex.

  4. Thanks for the review. I also have the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and love it. I have the 12-50 kit lens and also the Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4. I haven't sold my Nikon D7000 yet because I still think it does better when shooting sports, like my grandsons' soccer games. But since I bought the Oly, my Nikon stays at home most of the time now.

  5. Hi Mohamed,

    What noise reduction settings do use use? Custom or default?

    Lovely photos!


    1. Hi, I don't know how I missed this comment, and I am really sorry for the late reply, I don't shoot in JPEG. I shoot RAW and I process all pictures in Lightroom 4, I use standard NR settings in LR.

  6. Hello!
    First of all. Sorry for my English.
    You wrote that: "There are 35 focusing points by default, positioned in a 7x5 matrix filling 90% of the frame apart from the very extreme edges, you can focus anywhere you want without recomposing. And the focus point size can be changed by a single button press, using the smallest size I can move it into one of 1100 positions!!"
    Please let me know, how can I change the focus point size with a single button? (I know there is possiblity to change trough the screen.)
    I would be happy if it would work!

    Thanks a lot.


    1. Hi Balint,

      Since you already know how to do it in touch screen mode, it will be very easy to do, make sure that on the touch screen you select the maximum magnification (14x), then exit this mode.

      Next, you assign any button to the "Magnify" function through the buttons/dials settings menu, I have assigned it to the red video recording button, once that is done, here's how to use it.

      In normal stills shooting mode, whether through the back screen or the EVF, pressing the assigned button once will give you the small green focusing box you want, and indeed you can move it to more than 1000 positions using the arrow keys, and if you hold the arrow keys it will jump more quickly instead of moving one pixel at a time. If you want to exit this mode at anytime, you press the ok middle button. And if you press the assigned button again while you see that small green focusing box, it will show you magnified view, that helps you in manual focusing.

      Let me know if it works.

    2. Hi!
      Thank you for your quick answer. I'm not an owner yet - now I have a Nikon D7000, but I would like to change the system. (I hesitated because of the Oly focus system working totally different way. But I read many articles, and opinions and finally yesterday I ordered the OM-D.) I will get the camera within 2 weeks. Then I will check it. I answer as soon as possible.


    3. Hi Mohamed,

      Thanks a lot! It is working! :))


  7. If you are doing product shots you want the RAZOR THIS DOF, Yes. So FF is still the better option. Try and print a nice LARGE size portrait of your daughter from that OM-D and do the same from your FF then you know the difference. Cheers

    1. I am confused but what you're trying to imply, I suppose this is what you wanted to say:

      - If you are doing product shots, so a large depth of field is preferred, thus the OM-D (or a smaller sensor) would be a better option. I agree.

      - Printing a large size portrait with a FF would be better than the OMD. I disagree.

      Assuming that you've taken identical pictures with any two cameras (FF & OMD in your example), nothing dictates the FF picture would be better, generally more megapixels will be able to print larger, so in that sense a 16MP OMD picture would print larger than a Nikon D700 12MP picture, right?

      There are thousands of factors that go into play, anyway, I never print pictures, I always use my iPad to show pictures since it is more convenient.

  8. That's good to hear, I hope you like your OMD as much as I like mine.

  9. Hi! :)
    Could you try the GGS screen protector for the OMD? (So the question is that, in these case the touchscreen is still working?)

    1. Hi Balint,

      Unfortunately I never use screen protectors, neither on my cameras, phones or tablets.
      Mic is the one who uses the GGS protectors, sorry. :(

    2. Hi Balint. I've never tried the GGS with the OM-D or any other touchscreen. However, my understanding is that the OM-D has a capacitive (not resistive) touchscreen See
      Therefore *in theory* the GGS should work but I wouldn't know for certain.

      Best regards,

  10. Thank you very much guys!
    Best regards,


Thanks for your comment. It will be published as soon as we get a chance to review it, sorry for that, but we get lots of spam with malicious links.