Thoughts on the Olympus E-M10 Mark III

It’s officially out. (See information page at dpreview.com.)

It looks like a pretty good camera for anyone who doesn’t already own a recent Olympus camera. It looks (from a functional perspective) very similar to the Pen-F (see my recent review series) but without the front DoF preview button and missing some specialty dials (like the JPEG dial and lever, and the exposure compensation dial) which I don’t think are that useful anyway.

Olympus has given the E-M10 Mark III the same sort of retro styling that the Pen-F has, except that it looks like an old SLR instead of an old rangefinder. I presume the E-M10 Mark III has a slightly less deluxe feel to it, given the lower price tag. But Olympus removed the cheap plasticky E-PMx cameras from its lineup, and now only makes cameras that have a quality feel with nice clicky dials, so it would probably feel like a nice upgrade in quality from less expensive cameras.

With a small front grip, and the Fn2 button in what looks like a more convenient location than on the Pen-F, the E-M10 Mark III might be the more ergonomic of the two cameras.

The obvious specs in which the Pen-F outshines the E-M10 Mark III are the max shutter speed of 1/8000 (vs. 1/4000) and a 20MP sensor (vs 16MP).

The mode dial on the E-M10 Mark III is missing the C1 – C4 settings; I presume you can overwrite some of the other settings with a custom setting (as you can do on the older Olympus E-P5 which I have), but it’s a lot more intuitive to have dedicated C1 – C4 settings. [UPDATE: now that I know that Olympus has dumbed down various capabilities of the Mark III, I would NOT assume that you can assign custom modes to the mode-dial settings.]

Is anything else important missing from the E-M10 Mark III? I’m not sure.

It should be noted that the E-M10 Mark III is about the same weight as the Pen-F (half an ounce lighter) so it’s not a super lightweight camera. Olympus seems to have abandoned the idea of super-lightweight plastic cameras in favor of cameras with a more retro metallic feel to them.

Although camera gearheads were very disappointed that Olympus gave the E-M10 Mark III only a 16MP sensor, 16MP is enough resolution for super-sharp 12×18” prints that are indistinguishable from prints made from pictures taken on cameras with more pixels, as well as enough resolution for viewing photos on 4K monitors, so there is no reason why this isn’t an excellent camera for someone upgrading from a smartphone or a point & shoot or an older interchangeable-lens camera.

UPDATE

I believe my initial positive impression of the E-M10 Mark III was WRONG. The camera is missing more than just a 20MP sensor. It appears that Olympus has REMOVED some other functionality from the camera, including RC flash among others. Olympus will claim that the purpose was to “help” beginners by making the camera easier to use, but the real reason is because Olympus doesn’t want advanced photographers to be happy with a less expensive model. If you want the best features, Olympus is telling you that you need to buy a Pen-F, an E-M1 Mark II, or an E-M5 Mark II (no doubt soon to be replaced by a Mark III model).

Sony and Olympus to dominate the future of photography?

Andrew Liszewski, writing for Gizmodo (in a review of the Canon M100):

Nikon and Canon both remain the most recognizable brands in the DSLR market, and both have released some truly spectacular cameras embraced by professional photographers around the world. But it’s clear that neither company wants to put out an equally fantastic mirrorless shooter that might jeopardize their DSLR sales. So it seems that instead it’s going to let companies like Sony and Olympus continue to improve and innovate in that field until no one wants a DSLR anymore, and no one remembers who Nikon or Canon were.

I agree that Nikon and Canon both fear mirrorless.

Allegedly Nikon is working on a new super-duper mirrorless system, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

I saw a photo with fringing

On another blog (no link because I don’t want another blogger to be pissed at me for dissing their photography) I saw a photo with fringing. It was lateral CA fringing, blue on one side and orange on the other side.

I seldom see that sort of fringing in my own photos because Adobe Camera Raw automatically corrects it (if you’ve checked the box). This is yet another reason to shoot RAW and not JPEG.

There’s a meme which sometimes appears on photography forums, that you don’t need good gear if you are just posting photos on the internet, because the small size of web-sized photos will make any flaws in the photo undetectable. Well that was not the case here. The photo was less than 700 pixels wide, but that CA fringe was in my face.

People say you shouldn’t pixel peep (and I agree, in theory), but is it pixel peeping if I could see the problem in a small web-sized photo, even though I wasn’t trying to find any flaws?

One may ask, did it matter? Did it make the photo unworthy? I think, in this case, the answer is yes. The photo was posted primarily for the purpose of showing off. “Look at my awesome photography!” But it wasn’t so awesome with that ugly fringe.

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Reminder: Just because a photo is free of fringing and other technical imperfections doesn’t mean it’s a good photo.

Pen-F review, part 3, EVF and display options

I’ve already discussed the aesthetic advantages of having the EVF built into the camera, but this is such a big advantage it’s worth restating. It’s so much more elegant than having a huge ugly plastic VF-4 sitting atop the flash hot shoe on the Olympus E-P5 camera that precedes the Pen-F.

The primary benefit of the VF-4 is that it has greater magnification and presents an image that’s noticeably larger. (A secondary benefit is that it swivels. And the diopter dial is a little bit easier to use.)

But otherwise, I find that I prefer the Pen-F EVF. The image is clearer and has more accurate colors. It somehow looks more natural and less electronic. I haven’t found the Pen-F EVF any more difficult to use with eyeglasses than the VF-4.

The Pen-F has improved live-view display options over what was available on previous Olympus cameras. The E-P5 can only display one of the following features at a time: shadows & highlights, histogram, or level indicators. With the Pen-F, you can display all three at once if you want to!

Shadows & Highlights is a display mode unique to Olympus cameras, which causes highlights (that would be blown out in the JPEG) to display in orange and shadows (that would be black in the JPEG) to display in blue. I always have this feature turned on, and it’s one of the main reasons I could never go back to using a DSLR. This mode allows you to expose to the right (thus minimizing noise) without blowing out any highlights. Even when ISO is set to “Low” (which I recommend whenever you have the time to carefully adjust your exposure), you can have a little bit of orange and still recover the highlights in Adobe Camera Raw.

Most (but not all) other brands of mirrorless cameras now have zebra patterns, which are supposed to do the same thing as the orange highlight indicators on Olympus cameras, and in fact they may offer more customization over when the zebra patterns are displayed. However, I have not personally used any camera which offers zebra patterns. As far as I know, only Olympus has shadow indicators.

Another new feature of the Pen-F which wasn’t available with the E-P5 is that you can set the viewfinder display so that various indicators such as f-stop, shutter speed, exposure compensation, etc., move to a bar below the image. This makes it easier to compose the photo because those indicators are no longer blocking your view of the bottom of the image. It also makes the viewfinder more SLR-like.

In conclusion, the EVF and the live-view display options on the Pen-F are a big improvement over earlier-model Olympus cameras.

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Reminder: You don’t need a new camera, it’s just G.A.S.

Read my previous Pen-F post: Pen-F review, part 2, buttons and dials out the wazoo

Pen-F review, part 2, buttons and dials out the wazoo

Olympus sure did stuff a lot of buttons and dials into the relatively small Pen-F camera. It’s the total opposite philosophy of the Leica TL2 (which I’ve mentioned twice before in this blog: There’s no mode dial on a Leica TL2, Leica TL2: the world’s most overpriced camera?). The Leica TL2 hardly has any buttons and only has two dials, and doesn’t even have a mode dial! With the Leica TL2, you’re supposed to use the touchscreen to do everything.

On the Pen-F, you get the front and rear assignable dials, a mode dial, an exposure compensation dial, a diopter adjustment dial (which is very useful for people who need vision correction and don’t want to wear glasses while looking through the viewfinder), a front JPEG dial (or whatever it’s officially called), an on-off switch that’s shaped like a dial, and a JPEG lever (all the other Pen-F reviews mention the useless [to RAW shooters] JPEG dial, but the fact that there’s also a useless JPEG lever took me by surprise). And then you get two “function” buttons, a magnifier button, a depth-of-field preview button (on the bottom front of the camera), an orange button, plus the standard array of 9 buttons used for menu navigation and previewing.

Yes, there are a lot of dials and buttons, but most of them are in awkward locations. The people who designed the Ricoh GR had the goal of placing the controls such that they are all easy to access while holding the camera with one hand. The Olympus Pen-F control placement gives me the impression that they started out with the goal placing dials wherever they would make the camera look the most retro, and then wherever there was some empty space left over, they added some extra buttons. It’s a great marketing accomplishment, but a dubious accomplishment in camera ergonomics.

All of the buttons mentioned above, plus two of the buttons on the directional menu, can be assigned to various functions, allowing one-touch access to commonly used functions without having to access the “Super Control Panel.” But there is still some customization I feel is missing. You can assign one button to “AEL/AFL,” but what if you want to have one button do AEL and another button do AFL? I actually do want that, but it’s not an option.

It would also be nice if you were allowed to assign the JPEG lever to a more useful task. I think it would make a great ISO lever.

But overall, the amount of dial and button customization you can do has increased over the previous Olympus E-P5. This is a welcome change. I especially appreciate that there are C1 to C4 modes on the mode dial. This makes it easier to assign and use custom modes. The E-P5 does allow you to overwrite useless settings like “Art” with custom modes, but having actual C1 to C4 settings on the mode dial is more intuitive.

I’ve set up my buttons and dials as follows:

Front dial: exposure compensation (in aperture priority mode)
Rear dial: f-stop (in aperture priority mode)
Exposure compensation dial: flash compensation (this assignment is necessary to allow the one of the other dials to be used for regular exposure compensation)
Orange button: AEL/AFL (The orange button by default is for video, but I use AEL/AFL often and the orange button is the easiest button to reach.)

And I don’t know what to do with the other buttons.

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Reminder: You don’t need a new camera, it’s just G.A.S.

Read my previous Pen-F post: Pen-F review, part 1, aesthetics and first impressions

Read my next Pen-F post: Pen-F review, part 3, EVF and display options

Pen-F review, part 1, aesthetics and first impressions

The Olympus Pen-F has been lauded by most reviewers for its retro looks. But I think that everyone ignored the camera that preceded it, the Olympus E-P5.

Side by side, they don’t look that much different. Olympus used just a few tweaks to amp up the retro-ness.

1. The modern, but very useful, front grip is replaced by a JPEG wheel. Which of course, in old cameras, represented something else. The JPEG wheel is useless to serious shooters who shoot RAW. For the next PEN, please lose the wheel and bring back the grip. The E-P5 was much more comfortable to hold. (But I doubt that will happen. Olympus got too much positive press over the silly wheel, but not much negative press for removing the grip.)

2. The dials, which on the E-P5 are flush with the top plate of the camera or partially hidden within the body, are now big and protruding on the Pen-F, like dials from the 1950s. And as much praise as these dials have gotten, I think the dials in the E-P5 feel better. The front dial around the shutter button feels kind of unpleasantly loose on my Pen-F.

3. There’s a new dedicated exposure compensation dial. I find it way too stiff, and it was probably made that way to prevent it from accidentally being turned and consequently messing up your exposure, but I don’t find it pleasant to use. I like to fiddle with my exposure before each shot in order to get the perfect exposure. I believe the camera lets you set one of the other dials to exposure compensation, so I may wind up doing that and ignoring the exposure compensation dial just as I ignore the JPEG dial. In which case they both become useless retro ornaments. [Upon further examination of the camera, you have to set the exposure dial either for general exposure or flash compensation.]

4. The silver metal parts of the body are less shiny and more matte.

5. The black part of the camera body is more textured.

6. The on-off switch is now a more old-timey dial instead of a modern toggle switch.

The E-P5 had one huge Achilles heel. And that is that it didn’t have a built-in viewfinder. And because of that, it didn’t get the respect it deserved. There is a really high quality add-on viewfinder, the VF-4, but that thing is huge. It adds a huge black plastic lump on top of an otherwise svelte metallic body. It totally ruined the look of the camera, made it take up a lot more space in your bag, and prevented you from using an external flash in the hot shoe while simultaneously using the viewfinder.

I have no doubt that the Pen-F is a much bigger success than the E-P5 because Olympus gave the people what they wanted, a built-in viewfinder. Despite the missing viewfinder, the E-P5 is the camera I’ve liked best of all cameras I’ve ever used. But I agree that it’s a lot better to have a built-in viewfinder, and I am hopeful that I will come to love the Pen-F more than I loved the E-P5, the addition of the viewfinder making up for the loss of some of the other stuff that I liked.

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Reminder: You don’t need a new camera, it’s just G.A.S.

Read my previous Pen-F post: Pen-F, why now?

Read my next Pen-F post: Pen-F review, part 2, buttons and dials out the wazoo

Pen-F, why now?

Besides having a G.A.S. attack, why did I buy a Pen-f now? The Pen-F has been out for a year and a half. So this is not the most opportune time in the product lifecycle to buy a one. I should have bought it a year ago so I could have had the latest and greatest for that much longer before it goes obsolete. (Well maybe obsolete is too strong of a word, but you get the idea.)

When the Pen-F did come out, I was unemployed, so it was a bad time for me to be spending money on gear I didn’t need. And I was also going through a phase where I wasn’t into photography. So in the winter of 2016, buying a new camera wasn’t in the cards for me.

But now I am taking more pictures, and I’ve been working for a few months so I can justify the purchase based on rewarding myself for going to such a boring and meaningless job five days a week, at least eight hours a day.

I don’t foresee there being a Pen-F Mark II for another year. It took Olympus two years and eight months between the Pen E-P5 and the Pen-F. Based on that timetable, maybe Olympus will announce a Pen-F Mark II next August.

And then there’s the Olympus August sale. If you buy a Pen-F, you can get $300 off on up to two prime lenses. So I bought a 12mm f/2.0 and a 25mm f/1.8 lens with the camera, for $500 and $100 respectively. I didn’t especially need the 25mm because I already have the 25mm f/1.4, but hey, for only $100 it’s probably worth buying.

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Read my next Pen-F post: Pen-F review, part 1, aesthetics and first impressions