YANNICK KHONG

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Wrapping up the Olympus Journey. Closing notes on the Olympus EM10 system

A year ago, I spend some hard earn money on a dream Olympus m43 system. It had to do with a great camera (OMD E-M10) on which I wrote a glowing review and the best lenses my money could buy (Zuiko 9-18, 25, 45, 75, a cheap 40-150 4-5.6 + Leica 15). Not long ago, I sold it all out. While I would still highly recommend what I had to the consumer who have the means to afford it, I outgrew the system and never looked back. Here is a chain of realizations that has led to the end.

Disclaimer

If you haven’t seen enough already, the type of cinematic photography I practice requires various pushing and pulling of the dynamic range to render a scene as the augmented reality of it in my head. As such my files need to contain rich depth, tonal and detail information for me to access during the creation of the final photograph. I currently use a Nikon D750.

D750 Kit as of July 2015, it has changed since then.

D750 Kit as of July 2015, it has changed since then.

TLDR

At the time of writing of this article, the Olympus M43 system produces “flatter” and more “compressed” images than any other interchangeable lens digital camera alternatives. Producing images with significant depth rendition (often called as the "3D pop") requires way too much effort and the number of opportunities or gear to create is not worth the investment for such a purpose. It is still the best “retiree”, social, travel camera system of all. Lets get to the article.

Hitting the sensor limits way too soon.

The m43 sensor is mostly very efficient at gathering details, but I was continuously hitting the dynamic range limits of the Olympus sensor all the time, more often than I would hit with the 1 inch RX100 I had prior to the Olympus purchase. My shadows were mostly muddy and hard to manage so I had to clip them most of the time. My highlights weren’t rolling off as nice as those of the rx100 or the Nikon dSLR. As mentioned before, the sensor just goes flat very quick if you are badly composing your shot according to light, so you can’t really trust it to keep quality shadows like the RX100 or the Nikon dSLR.

Seeing the limitations of the lenses.

M43 lenses are sharp, all of them are. Many of them have great bokeh if you buy them below f1.8, that has never been a problem. When I started, I had two zooms (9-18 and 40-150 4-5.6) that would cover the spectrum of use that my primes couldn’t reach. I realized that using a zoom on m43 never yields as good results as primes. Obviously, primes are always better than zooms but that differentiation was even more punishing on an Olympus m43 sensor in terms of contrast, tone gradations and colors. Some primes are definitely weaker than others and behave a lot like their zoom brothers. There are still some wide angle distorsions to lenses that were made to give the 35mm equivalent of “normal lenses” to which there are no ways around, thus no great 50mm lens. On top of this, all the top fast lenses are easily 9 elements and up with tons and tons of ED lens elements with only the old “slower” lenses to be under. Glass is evil, it slows down some wavelengths of light to correct of chromatic aberrations. Slow it down too many times and you give yourself the results of a one-eye-vision devoid of any perspective or depth information (more on that on a later article). When shot wide open, any of the M43 lenses will be successful on creating depth by shallow depth of field. Give them a wider depth of field and they all produce flatness, albeit a very sharp flat image.

Flatness?!

Yes! Okay some might not see it, but look closely at ANY Olympus m43 photograph with a wide depth of field and you’ll start to confuse the length or proximity of the nose from the eyes on a portrait or any foreground subject to the background. That is flatness. If you want to see unflat images, just look for Pentax 67 images. I assure you that none of them are flat.

The whole M43 standard prevents depth rendition (NOT TRUE)

(The sensor is “fine”, the lenses are flat. I can’t seem to create images that impress me. I could have solved the lens flatness issue by using lenses of lower element count, but then I also started to notice than even the low element count lenses gave flat images. Flatness usually occurs when a lens uses too many elements to correct incoming light, therefore homogenizing the flow of the luminary wavelengths and giving this one-eye-vision effect. But if the lens is low-element count, the only culprit would be the sensor. I went on the official site of the M43 system to learn more. The standard requires all m43 lenses to provide a homogenous flow of light towards the sensor therefore ensuring that it will produce a corrected yet flat image in the end.)

All m43 lenses are 100% corrected for sharpness by sacrifice of depth (NOT TRUE)

Some images with the RX100 (7 elements lens)

Just to prove the point. The Rx100 has 1inch and a 7 elements fixed lens. It renders depth in a scene much better than an Olympus EM10 + Leica 15mm.

Game over, I sold off my Olympus Gear.

Packed Em10

Packed Em10

Lets not panic.

Yes, writing this article has nothing to do with your enjoyment of the m43 system. There are many m43 users that excel at what they do and even though the results are flat, their content surely isn’t. It is a small, practical, smart system that produces very sharp results. Many great olympus users I know have given up the dSLR because of physical reasons and I understand them. I would have done it too but then I had to opportunity to workout my own body to get my Nikon back. The Olympus is still the ultimate life camera as there are no other solution that provides such image quality in such a small package: Fuji has taken the mid-size retro route, still fixing its autofocus and everyday, the Sony mirrorless system is growing in size literally in all directions, therefore sacrificing portability.

If not Olympus M43, then what? 

Lets not kid ourselves, there are no camera systems as mature and small as the olympus m43 system, but there are plenty of “unflat” “mature” alternatives. Here are some.

  • The existing full featured dSLR system (Nikon/Canon) can use low-element count lenses and both of them have decent size camera bodies (70D/D7100) to harness such lenses.

  • The Fuji system has “some” low-element count lenses and a special sensor that seems to provide “better” depth rendition.

  • Panasonic m43 cameras of 12mp and 20mp LiveMOS eras (not 16mp) have definitely a different output to the Olympus cameras. The Lumix 12mp and 20mp LiveMOS era render depth better.

  • Some compact cameras have low-element count lenses and a non-m43 sensor... (Sony Rx100m1 and m2, Sony RX1, Fuji X100, Coolpix A, Ricoh GR…)

I just decided that it was simply not for me. I then sold all my Olympus system and acquired a Ricoh GR…

I will leave you with some memorable images taken with Ollie (2014-2015)

Update

Many of you have suggested to use a different brand of the same sensor size. I have been lucky to be donated a Lumix GX8 with an assortment of quality prime lenses. I have since renewed faith in the M43 system. I have since corrected the article and have made this article.

Yannick Khong38 Comments