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The Olympus EM5: Finally, a perfect camera?

The perfect camera?Not quite, but we are closing in..
This is an open letter to the Olympus design team:

I have used every analog film format. 110, 35mm, 120, 4X5.  Sinar, Hasselblad and Mamiya for work. Minolta for pleasure.
With digital – it has all been Olympus. With the superior optics and handling the four-thirds system and the E1 was the way to go. The E3 disappointed. The EP1 was exciting but it was the EP2 with the add-on viewfinder that made me, after 40 years, sell out my DSLR-system.
Then came Olympus EM5 – my best camera ever – by far.
I love the double dials, the image stabilization, the image quality (finally Good Enough), the build, the handling, the not built-in flash, the way they still name each image with both month and day.
And the most sexy shutter sound ever.

This camera is so good that it makes the perfect one within reach.
So Olympus, please listen. Here are the points you should fix (almost all are easy) before you come up with the next (pro?) camera in this range. Most of them can even be handled with a firmware update only.

This is not a camera review, I can only state that the pixels produced are good enough (cfr. DPReview for a thorough review). My views are all about camera usability, a topic not often covered in the camera press (two notable exceptions are Thom Hogan and Steve Huff).
So what is not perfect?

First the Firmware (the easy part):

  • Still no DNG. This is a non-brainer. Do I have to buy a Leica?
  • No focus peaking. The focus peaking as seen in the Sony NEX-7 is superior to the magnified view in the OMD. As a minimum the focus should shift to manual when you try to focus manually – at least make this an option.
  • There is no choice of bracketing in the Super Panel. This is one of the most important options and it should not be necessary to delve into the too complicated main menu to achieve this.
  • There is no possibility to assign the face recognition on-off feature to any button. Come on Olympus! Myself, I would be happy with only one, centered focus point and then the face recognition for when my grand-children turn up.
  • Please turn the arrow buttons OFF as a default setting. It is far too easy to accidentally activate any of these buttons when you wear the camera over your shoulder.
  • There is no possiblity (please tell me if I’m wrong) to assign the same filename to photos shot in the color-spaces SRGB and AdobeRGB. This makes a mess of my workflow when I import the photos into Lightroom.
    To explain: I love the way Olympus includes both the months and the day in the filename. This makes it very easy to sort and search the file listings. All I have to do is attach the year to the start of the name and the date for each photo is included in the file-name. This way a DNG-file will turn up with a beautiful like 2012_531xxxx.DNG (today). The trouble is that the SRGB-files have to be treated in a separate import process. The SRGB-files does not start with an underscore but with a P. And even after this import #2 I end up with something like 2012_P531xxxx.DNG. Why?

But I am a big fan of simplicity. So, do I end up with adding still more complexity to the interface of this camera? That may be. But there is one solution to this:

  • Please add a separate, simpler Super Panel for RAW-shooting.
    Lots of the options in the SP have no functions in RAW-mode and only serve to confuse the users. Besides, this would make a worlds-first …
    Why do I have to have all the options that only applies to JPG available when I am shooting RAW only?

Now to the hardware, still easy to fix:

  • There are too many loose parts to lose when you want to attach a flash or one of the other accessories.
  • The tripod screw is centered only with grip#1 (HLD-6). This makes it unnecessary complicated to build perfect panoramas at close distances.
  • There is no flash/pc synch (this will certainly come with a Pro version)
  • There is no extra battery supplied with the camera body. This should be a standard with all cameras – especially when the supplier is still not able to supply any spare battery on camera launch …
  • Why these bad and cheap camera straps that come with all cameras? Just take a look at the after-market for this important accessory. And take a special close look at the Upstrap camera strap.
  • There are still no weather resistant primes, please make the coming(?) black versions weather resistant

And now the hard part:

How is it possible name a camera or any product) “OM-D EM-5”? Even double hyphenated?
This is lousy product naming (and Olympus shares it with the rest of the camera industry).
Have you learnt nothing from Apple?
(please read Insanely Simple by Ken Segall, there is a whole chapter on product naming in there).
I know this is difficult, but at least skip the hyphenation!

Right now I own an Olympus EM5 – and is very happy about it.

18 Responses to “The Olympus EM5: Finally, a perfect camera?”

  1. Zohar says:

    Hi, I like all your suggestion – they are very practical and probably necessary. But one thing about the name – you don’t say PEN E-P3 you only say EP3.
    Same here – the range is OM-D and the NEW model is E-M5 or simply EM5. So no OM-D EM-5 but just The EM5.

    Just my thought. Everything else – great ideas.

    Thanks, Zohar

    • Terje Enge says:

      I agree about the EM5, tht’s my name from now on. But it’s still a mess: EPM1, EPL3, EP3, EM5 … Certainly EM1, EL3, EP3, EM5 sounds better but, again, Oly has messed it with EM1 vs EM5. Look to Apple – not CanIkon whose model names are even more complicated.

  2. Michel says:

    100% d’accord!

    Tripod screw isn’t centered on lens axes! Awful disease and a NoGo!

  3. rrockley says:

    You missed what, for me, was the most obvious thing missing – custom modes. It’s where you save a load of camera settings (exposure mode, ISO, focus mode, most of the other settings) and can access them with one switch. It’d be mostly a software change, with a couple of extra clicks on the mode dial.

    The GH2 has three. I’d be happy with two. It can’t be that hard to do.

    • Rockingoose says:

      As the IBIS regularly needs to be turned off if you are using a higher shutter speed or supporting the camera on anything, why not have IS assignable to a button. Easy to do via Firmware and a huge plus and time saver for me.

    • Zandr says:

      See page 42 in the manual. There are four “Myset” settings. What’s actually stored in those isn’t documented, however.

      • zandr says:

        I’m wrong, it is documented, the *1 column in the table that starts on page 111 shows whether the setting is stored in MySet

    • Terje Enge says:

      Yes, I missed this one.
      The custom modes is a mess – it’s difficult to know whether you set or reset a setting. Worse is the fact that it is not possible to assign one of the custom dials to switch between the sets. Also, it should be possible to name the sets (who can remember what all the sets stand for when there is only a number assigned to each?). Again, this will demand a firmware upgrade only. It seems tha Oly is better at hardware than software, especially when it comes to user interface design.
      That said, I have managed to activate one of my settings to the FN2 button. This button now gives me HDR bracketing.

  4. Geoff says:

    Amen to the naming, even if they just call it omd 1, the next version a 2 and so on…when they replace FT with MFT they can just tack a “pro” onto the end of the omd 2 or whatever it is at the time…

    Also olympus have done a fantastic job with accessories like the grip, i hope they continue to do so…

  5. Nick says:

    Sensible suggestions but +1 for Custom Modes on the mode dial – one look at the dial and you know everything is EXACTLY as you want it. Invaluable feature on my Gh2 (and lots of enthusiast dSLR bodies)

  6. Zandr says:

    There are a few more simple firmware tweaks that would make a world of difference:

    ‘Legacy’ Lens focal length:
    When using a legacy lens with an adapter, it’s possible to set the focal length so IBIS works. This is a huge reason lots of us started shooting Olympus 4/3 and m4/3 in the first place. There are two tweaks here that would be huge:

    * Record the manually set focal length in the EXIF data. This would give me a good shot at correctly identifying the lens used, since I probably only carry one lens of a given FL on any given day.

    * Prompt for FL if the camera is powered up without an electronic lens. Pentax does this (at least on my K10D) and it’s great for making sure the IS is set correctly.

    Bracketing for HDR:
    As it stands, I can only get +/- 2 stops, and I have to shoot five frames to get them. If I’m willing to pay for range with noise, I can turn on ISO bracketing and get an extra stop each way (but only if my ‘center’ ISO is 400 or higher)

    I’d really rather have -3/0/+3 (or more, but 3 is enough) in three frames. My LX3 does this, and so I end up using it for all my handheld HDR work. It’s a fine camera, but I’d rather have the flexibility and IQ of the OM-5.

    • Terje Enge says:

      I totally agree on the HDR-thing, they forgot about sufficient f-stops. But wouldn’t it be better to have a separate mode along the drive modes in the Super Panel which said HDR – then you could eventueally tweak the HDR-settings inside the menus?

  7. Steve Lawson says:

    I’ve had an OM5 Black on order since the first day they were announced. This is the first camera to actually yank me away from my Nikons. I was so excited but now I’m having second thoughts. They say Olympus makes all its money in the medical business. Do I really want a camera that is rumored to be on the block for sale? There are no accessories in stock and no bodies. What was Olympus thinking? Even their rebate had to be extended, and may well have to be again.

    I’m complaining because I can’t get what appears to be one of the world’s greatest cameras, not because of any design problems. I’m dealing with a major camera retailer and they’re talking about dumping Olympus, especially since the latest rumors of layoffs. Like you said, they’ve learned nothing from Apple. (As slow as apple is in supporting Aperture updates, they’ve added the RAW converter for the Olympus OM-D EM-5. Beats me.)

    • Terje Enge says:

      Same problem here. I had three pre-orders running simultaneously before I got my gear after close to three months. It was worth waiting for though 😉
      However, I am more worried about the camera service and repair time. Here (in Norway) it takes a minimum of three weeks to get your Oly camera repaired if something goes wrong (it will!) And there is no camera avalable for lending or renting in the meantime.
      If the come up with a professional model (I believe they will) this is clearly not good enough.

  8. Terje Enge says:

    Thanks for all the input!
    But I am wondering why nobody comments on the two most important points:
    1) RAW-files in DNG-format. We should all press Oly on this point.
    2) A simplified Super Panel when you shoot in RAW-mode only. Too many of the panel options have no meaning at all when you shoot RAW.
    I now also have learned that RAW-files have no color space assigned. So why this selection between SRGB and Adobe RGB? Simplify!

  9. Terje Enge says:

    There is a great review of the EM5 at Luminous Landscape (http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/olympus_om_d_e_m5_review.shtml) and they point to almost the same errors in the firmware as I have done. I will therefore add/stress a couple of points to my firmware critique:
    1) Make it possible to name the different personal settings
    2) Make it possible run through the different settings by rotation of one of the dials
    3) Increase the f-stop range with bracketing to support HDR
    This is firmware only and very easy to implement. Come on Oly!
    I totally forgot the battery charger. It is bigger than the previous version (!) and comes with a cord. Soon the chargers will be bigger than the cameras …
    I would appreciate more input on this, my aim is make Oly aware of this and make this camera even more perfect with just a firmware update.

  10. Terje Enge says:

    This may be related to hardware, but sometimes a low chip sensitivity is desirable – why no ISO 100, 50 and 25?
    This will make an ND-filter unnecessary to reach a shallow DOF with the primes 12mm/45mm in bright light.
    This seems to be the last stronghold of the full-frame enthusiasts – a shallow depth-of-field …

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