So you may have noticed I write a lot about Olympus cameras. That's because I use them. I don't review them. I use them because they are, in my opinion, the best small cameras for still photography on the market. And the competition is fierce: Sony, Fuji, Panasonic, and Pentax are all major players in the field of "mirrorless" cameras. In general, there are some critical differences between "DSLR" and "Mirrorless," and I've summarized here.
- More megapixels
- Generally better low-light capabilities
- Arguably better depth of color
- Larger cameras better for larger hands
- Pro lenses have "better" depth of field
- Lower cost
- Much smaller camera and lenses
- Image quality essentially the same (pixel peepers may disagree)
- In-camera stabilization (at least for Olympus)
- "WYSIWYG" View (you see the exact exposure results in the viewfinder)
- Touch screen actions, similar to smart phones
Many of those differences are becoming smaller, or at least blurred. For example, Sony now has a full-frame mirrorless camera, although you'll have to pay for it. And in my opinion, the size advantage is lost and the larger shutter sounds like a garage door opening.
How to choose a camera
Back to Olympus and why I like their cameras. They are small, but not the smallest. They have excellent in-camera stabilization (and the new E-M5 MII is said to be 'the best'). And they are very well thought out. That is important to me as a photographer, and here is why: cameras are just tools. I doubt anyone could look at a photograph and say "wow, that was taken with a Nikon D800." I doubt anyone could even pick two 11x14 prints out of stack and say "This was taken with a full-frame camera, and that one was taken with a mirrorless." So what makes one camera better than another? The way it feels in the photographer's hands. And the way it performs, according to the photographer's needs. That's it. Well, there are two parts to it.
If it Feels Good...
If a camera initially 'feels good' in my hands, I'll probably take more pictures with it. And I'll probably take better pictures with it. And I'll probably have it on me or around me more, so I'll get some shots that I would otherwise miss, because I'm not carrying around that big camera.
And if it is Good...
Different cameras also provide different "services" for different photographers. For example, some are better at video. Some are weather-sealed. Some have a flip-up or flip-open touch screens. Each photographer has his or her own needs, and if a camera can meet those needs, then the result will be better pictures.
Back to the Stack
So if I'm pulling prints out of that stack of 11x14" prints, I may not be able to tell which camera a photo was taken with. But I can probably tell which photos are 'better' or, at the very least, which ones speak to me. And chances are, those will be the photos taken with an optimum "camera - photographer match".
So is the E-M5 a Match?
Yeah. For me, definitely. I picked it up and immediately it felt like it was made for my hands. I don't have large hands but I can spread more than an octave on a piano. This camera has a beautifully articulated, minimalist front grip that doesn't get in the way but still gives you a firm hold on the camera. To me it feels just as nice as the E-M1, which has a much larger hand grip.
The touch screen also pops out and flips, which is both good and bad. If you are used to flipping the mirror up (like most previous Olympus cameras), you will miss being able to "shoot from the hip" by taking photos while looking down at the screen. But what you gain is the ability to do selfies (applause, at least amongst some people). You can also flip the screen backwards so that it is protected from scratching, which is great if the camera lives in a bag or purse, and you are constantly putting it and and taking it out. Also, the flip-out does allow you to take pictures from any angle, including "shoot from the hip" - it just takes a bit more to get it to that position.
Inside the camera, a few really cool features struck me immediately. First of all, the new shutter is both extremely fast and extremely quiet. Both of these are handy for any kind of street or candid photography, and for theater or other events where photographers are expected to be seen but not heard. There's even a 'silent' mode so you can take photos completely without a sound. I tried this out in "High" sequence mode which peaks out at 10 frames per second - that's almost fast enough to shoot a movie - and I could not hear a single click. I had probably shot 30 frames before I realized what I was doing.
My type of features
This camera is loaded with too many features to list out here. But I will list out the features that are important to me as a photographer who travels a lot, and who does a fair amount of 'street' photography:
- Twin control dials
- Bright, full-size electronic viewfinder
- 5-axis image stabilization
- "Live" long exposures (watch as it 'develops)
- "Pro" video quality
- Slim body does not attract attention
- Extremely fast sequential shooting
- Silent mode
- HDR as top-level item (use sparingly!)
- 4 programmable function buttons
- It's beautiful!