Olympus OM-D E-M10 review part 2, by Mark Cargill
In part one of our Olympus OM-D E-M10 review (see our earlier blog post) we put this exciting new camera through its paces with the compact and also new ED 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 EZ Lens and given the very compact design and relatively low price of the lens, the results were very good indeed.
In part two, all the images were shot with the Olympus 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 II R M.Zuiko Digital - it is less compact, and is perhaps capable of producing slightly better results.
In addition, we wanted to see how the camera performed at high ISO with indoor, non flash photography, how well the image stabilisation worked (3 axis v's 5 on the flagship models) and also how jpegs looked straight from the camera. We were also curious about the real world dynamic range performance e.g. how well the camera would perform in very high dynamic range shooting situations like a sunset.
Out Of Camera JPEGS
Any of you reading this article who are taking or have taken one of our online photography courses will know that we always recommend shooting RAW and then editing later - there are many technical reasons why RAW capture is always better that I will not go into here, however, many people like the convenience of shooting jpeg and then having little or no editing to do later.
All of the following images were jpegs straight from the camera - no editing done, just resized for web use.
These images were captured using the natural colour setting found in the camera menu and it is clear that the Olympus colours we have all come to recognise and love are apparent in these shots.
These JPEGs have colours that are vibrant, punchy and have an almost 3d look and feel to them.
The metering of these was spot on and as a comparison we were also shooting with a Fuji X100S which seemed to always underexpose in the same light as the images shot with the E-M10 above. In fact I got very frustrated with just how inconsistent the Fuji metering system was (regardless of metering mode) - The E-M10 in comparison nailed the exposure each and every time.
All were shot hand held and the normal process of framing each shot through the EVF (Electronic viewfinder) and then firing the shutter with the E-M10, are very easy, intuitive and fluid - each shot taken in succession with little or no lag either in viewfinder refresh rate or the camera being ready to shoot a new frame.
What also becomes apparent during this capture process is the very high build quality this camera possesses. This is quite remarkable especially when you consider the relatively low price tag - a metal body and high quality controls is not something you would normally find on what is an entry level OM-D camera.
One feature also worth a mention here is the camera level indicator. Those of you who shoot horizons that normally resemble a listing ship will no longer have any excuses. You can also calibrate this through the menu system if required too.
It is fair to say that the larger the sensor, the better the low light performance - low pixel density = low noise. Micro 4/3 sensors have always been lagging slightly behind their APS-C and full frame counterparts in the noise department, however in recent times, that gap has narrowed somewhat as the technology has improved and noise becomes a non issue.
The shots below were taken at 3200ISO handheld and the 100% crop demonstrates just how far Olympus have come in terms of low noise performance.
The lower of the two images above is a 100% crop of the main one. As you can clearly see, the image is sharp and in relative terms (especially considering this is pixel level) there is very little noise visible. We printed this image at A3+ size and quite honestly the noise is a non issue.
The Image stabilisation also did a good job here too. While we are on that subject, I would say that the 3-axis system is not as good as the 5-axis variants (you can shoot 1 sec exposures on an E-M5 and E-M1 handheld!), it does make shooting slow(ish) shutter speeds (0.5sec and faster) fairly easy, assuming of course you don't have a moving subject. That is still better than any lens based system out there.
In our part 1 review posted previously, we published a couple of images shot at long exposure. The first image at the top of this review was 88 seconds and this camera will meet the needs of even the most demanding long exposure photographer.
This shot above - 42mm, 5 secs @ f/11, 200 ISO, shows some of the creative possibilities available when shooting with an Olympus OM-D E-M10.
We used the brilliant manual focus system to capture this image. The rear touch screen lets you quickly and easily select your focus point, then as you rotate the focus ring, the camera automatically magnifies your chosen area making focusing very easy indeed. (You can also use this excellent feature with autofocus too)
Another great feature to put a smile on the face of the long exposure enthusiast is the fact you can shoot up to 60 seconds without the requirement to use a cable shutter release (Or the superb Olympus app). Almost every other camera system only offers shutter speeds of up to 30 seconds, after that you'll need to be using cables.
The Achilles heel of smaller sensor cameras has been a lower dynamic range - the cameras ability to capture the light and dark tones of a scene. Along with improved high ISO performance, has come improved dynamic range.
Have a look at before and after below of this sunset, shooting straight into the sun:
After Editing in Lightroom
This image really shows the benefit of shooting RAW. The unprocessed capture (top) has enough tonal information intact to allow editing in LR to give you a very useable image (top lower). This is a real credit to the E-M10 sensor, providing you with a remarkable level of exposure latitude. We are bordering on almost HDR results here. All from one capture. Whilst this type of shot is also achievable on larger sensor cameras, the point here is to demonstrate that even as recent as 3 years ago, smaller sensor cameras could not deliver a dynamic range anywhere close to this.
I remember after capturing this and looking at the preview on the rear screen - I honestly thought there would be nothing useable. Whilst this is an extreme example, there will be many shooting situations where this camera will allow you to recover tonal information that you simply did not consider to be possible before.
I honestly believe that Olympus have hit the ball out of the park with the E-M10 especially if you are a photography only shooter. If you are looking for a camera that offers professional video capture, you will no doubt be looking elsewhere. In saying that, it does shoot full HD and for casual video, it will do a great job.
Where this camera really excels is stills. Shooting with the E-M10 gives you confidence as there is not a situation where it has the potential to let you down. In fact, I cannot think of an occasion where this fantastic little camera delivered results that were below expectations and in reality, there were many times when I was pleasantly surprised at just how good a job it did - remembering that this was all shot with a very basic lens. There are some great lens choices out there too and in terms of system building, you will be spoilt for choice.
There is no doubt this camera will be on the shortlist of many photographers and deservedly so. It looks great, it is lightweight and compact, it is fast, it has an excellent viewfinder (essential for shooting in direct sunlight), it has class leading build quality and delivers consistently great results in all conditions. There is a superb feature set too - as someone who likes manual settings, these are not too important to me, however built in wifi and a great app to control the camera with, a flip out screen, creative image settings for straight from the camera artistic looking photographs (including picture in picture jpegs), all make for a very compelling argument.
When you also consider the massive range of lenses available for any type or genre of photography, it really is the icing on the cake.
This camera receives our highest recommendation possible.