Last July I traded in my old Nikon 400 2.8 AFI and purchased a Panasonic GX8 and a 12-35 2.8 lens with a portion of the funds I received for the lens. I liked the portability of the system and the video quality was outstanding, however I was not too crazy about the still imaging performance. It seemed kind of slow, and non-responsive, the focus was not able to keep up and the view finder blackout while shooting action was horrible. Lucky for me I just had to change a few settings to get all those things corrected. The micro four thirds community has many resources online to help with these cameras and lots of guides on how to setup cameras for any possible use. The only downside with micro four thirds is the high iso performance; not much can be done about this due to the small sensor. As I have said before, this is not really a limitation; especially if you come from the good old film days. If 1600 was not good enough you just had to suck it up and deal with it!
Using the Panasonic was “fun” due to its portability and it was very capable, it could do everything I needed for 90% of what I needed. The only short coming was the lack of high iso performance, too some that may be a deal breaker (however it really should not be). I shoot a lot of sports and need a camera that can shoot at high iso’s and be good enough for newspapers and magazines and rarely do I need to print my photos larger than 8×10. The micro four thirds format fills this need just fine. I decided to do a little experiment and put the camera up against my trusty Nikon D3 to see if it was a viable alternative. I took the Panasonic to the Miami International Auto Show along with the D3 and used it for about 25% of the images I took. The images were processed with my normal workflow and when the selects were made the ratio was about the same; 25% Panasonic and 75% Nikon. The image licenses over the first month tells an interesting story with the micro four thirds images being licensed at the same rate as the full frame images. The percentage of total images was considered so I could compare apples to apples. The key take away from this experiment is that image content/subject is way more important than sensor size and noise.
Armed with this knowledge I decided to really consider micro four thirds and see if it could replace my full frame system. There is a lot of information online such as forums, reviews and sample images; and I looked at so many of them I felt like my eyes were going to bleed. Everything I read basically came down to Panasonic for video and Olympus for images. I decided to try an Olympus E-M1. I purchased an E-M1 with a 12-40 f2.8 PRO lens from B&H to see how it performed and it rocked! The camera is very responsive, and this one was at firmware 4.1 so it could do AF-C at 9 fps! I tested the camera out and found it to be a great all around camera and the image quality was better than the Panasonic, but only slightly. So, I sold all of my Nikon and Panasonic gear and entered the world of Olympus. I bought a second E-M1, 40-150 f2.8 PRO lens, 1.4x converter and a HLD-7 grip. The whole package covers the 35mm equivalent of 24mm-420mm, in a two-lens setup with a converter and it weighs less than one D3 and the 80-200 f2.8.
So, it is lighter and smaller, but how does it perform in real world situations? Well I can say this, it performs very well. I took it to the Charlotte International Auto Show and it performed flawlessly, the Olympus in body image stabilization is nothing short of amazing! I could shoot at iso 400 and f5.6 handheld, even with shutter speeds down to 1/15th of a second, no problem! The color is great, images are sharp and the ergonomics are decent, but more impressive is the build quality. The Nikon pro cameras, those with a single digit like D4 or D5 are tanks, and the E-M1 is built with that same level of quality. I can shoot in the rain, sand, dust and snow with no worries about it affecting my gear. As for the high iso performance issue I can say this; it performs just fine up to 1600 and 3200 is usable in a pinch. Now then, I really think the iso issue is a non-issue. Let me elaborate a little on that statement, some of the most iconic images of our time were shot on film and at 1600 iso or less, a low iso compared to what a basic digital camera can shoot at. The silver halide “grains” got larger as the iso went up and gave us the graininess we see in the old images. Today it is noise introduced as the amplitude of the signal is increased, so grain now is actually signal noise. There are ways to decrease the effect of noise at capture and in post processing and for most uses today these are very effective and produce images that are better than anything from the film days. The problem with “noise” is no one cares except photographers, I have never lost a sale due to an image having too much noise. Don’t get caught up in the noise debate, shoot below 1600 and have fun doing it. I have been really impressed with the Olympus E-M1 and plan to pick up Mark II in the near future as well as a 7-14 f2.8 PRO lens to round out my kit. Who knew you could get excellent image quality, the holy trinity of pro glass all at f2.8, and tank like build quality in a system that weighs 2/3rds less than the equivalent Nikon or Canon pro system!