Olympus OM-D -  E-M5

Olympus flew me up to Sydney on the 8th Feb. for the launch of their new flagship camera. They declared their intention to produce a professional quality micro Four Thirds camera about 18 months ago so the wait has been long and loaded with speculation. All we knew was that the new unit would be inspired by the original OM range of the 1970's. So, first a little history.

The OM1 was a landmark camera of the early 1970's. Until that time SLR's had been pretty hefty but the OM was designed by Maitani at Olympus to be lightweight, compact and high quality. Even the lenses were quite tiny compared to the opposition. It was so significant that almost all the other manufacturers had produced a similar compact within a couple of years. But Olympus still remained a niche player - it never seemed to grab the large chunk of the market that many believed they deserved.

The new OM-D is directly inspired by the OM. There are obvious design links to both the OM and the recent E-P* series. It is tiny, so much so that I'd immediately bolt on the vertical grip, or at least the grip only part of the vertical/battery grip. (It's a unique two piece - brilliant). It's 16mp, probably relying on the recent Panasonic LiveMOS sensor although they claim that they've tweaked it for improved performance. The silver (not chrome!) or black body is weathersealed and so is the new 12-50mm kit lens. Focus is contrast detect type and claimed to be the fastest around, with the new lenses. Other points of note are the tilt OLED display and the new 5 axis image stabiliser.

This is a significant camera. It's not the first miniature SLR of course - both Panasonic and Samsung have been there already (and Pentax too many, many years ago with the tiny 110 film system). But it is the first to be presented as a serious system camera with some professional credentials. No pro will use one of course, except for personal projects. Clients expect you to turn up with a big, black Canikon and part of business is meeting client expectations. But it is a very significant attempt to bring the new mirrorless compacts into the realm off 'proper' cameras and more power to them. I suspect I may end up with one of these, along with many of my old OM fans.


Sony NEX 5n

Sony lent me an NEX 5n this week. I've already had a play with the NEX 7 and was suitably impressed. My Mostly very positive) review of it is in the Feb./March 2012 issue of (Australian) Digital Photography and Design Magazine (buy it - I have mouths to feed). However, the 7 won't be available in any numbers until the end of February thanks to the floods in Thailand that wiped out sensor production facilites for several manufacturers. Time to look at the little brother.

OK. 16mp instead of 24 - frankly that's enough for most of us. Smaller and with only one control wheel, around the menu button. Sigh. This is clearly the amateur model. The thumping great big standard zoom lens is still monstrous compared to the tiny slab of the camera - it's a bit of an ugly duckling really. The larger body of the NEX 7 was much more sensible - easier to handle and better balanced.

One of the most interesting features is the so-called 'Twilight' scene mode. This does that cute Sony routine of banging off a series of shots and then blending them to reduce ISO noise, prioducing a very good low light image. I pushed my luck with it, using it indoors to avoid flash use (come on, who shoots much at twilight? - I'm usually sleeping or eating around then). It seems to use the first shot as a base image and sbsequent shots to do cute stuff like capturing more information in shadows. It works really rather well if the subject is relatively static, including slow moving people.

I took it off to the Chinese New Year celebrations in Melbourne - a good test because the colours are vivid and the movement rapid. Lots of colour and movement - and noise and smoke too. The 5n did very well indeed. It's harder to make rapid adjustments than with the 7's thumbwheels,switching from street faces in the shade to whirling dancers in the sunlight for instance. But when I did have time to set it up properly, the results were pleasing and the shot-to-shot time was much quicker than the slow-writing 7.



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