There’s been lots of (digital) ink spilled about how great Fujifilm cameras feel to use. While I share many of those sentiments, there’s another seemingly oddball camera brand that I find myself reaching for, even when I have (ostensibly) much better options available: Olympus. Here’s a look at why I often find myself reaching for the company’s pint-size powerhouses.
While I’ve in the past written about the possibility of Olympus biting the dust (and I’m glad to be wrong about that so far), or how the company has sometimes lost its way with over-sized behemoth cameras with small sensors, the truth is, when they are on-brand, the cameras are truly wonderful. Just witness the success of the E-M10, E-M5 and PEN series of cameras to get a sense of what Olympus is really about. For starters, that would be a few of the following reasons:
Infinite Customizability and the Super Control Panel
Aside from the E-PL series, everything else up the food chain has a ton of function buttons and customizable dials on even the most entry level OM-D cameras. The E-M10 II, for instance, a $350 entry-level camera is more customizable than my Nikon D750 in some ways. What’s great is that you can add multiple layers of functions to buttons. Activate a function key, and you can have one dial set to control ISO and the other to control white balance, for instance. You can make the D-Pad do almost anything. Many of the bodies feature two control wheels even at the entry level, while other manufacturers make you step up to a mid-range model to get the same level of control. It means a very personalized experience every time you shoot, and it’s wonderful.
Beyond the customization, Olympus has a tool called the “Super Control Panel” across most of its cameras. While it sounds like a marketing gimmick, it’s actually the most useful control point I’ve seen from any manufacturer, gathering every setting you could ever want in one place. Even if you forget what you set all your function buttons to, chances are you can get to that function almost as quickly with the Super Control Panel. You can even use the Super Control Panel to check (and change) those function controls you forgot. It’s brilliant.
It works really, really well. My workhorse cameras have mainly been from Nikon and Canon over the years, and as a result, I bought into the line about stabilization being better in the lens because it’s then custom-tailored to that lens. That’s baloney. Olympus was my first taste of in-body image stabilization, and it was worlds better than lens-only stabilization. In the end, it’s how the tech works that matters, not whether it’s in the body or the lens, and Olympus’ secret sauce for stabilization is excellent.
Size and Price
E-1MX notwithstanding, Olympus bodies and accompanying Micro Four Thirds lenses are incredible values. Portrait staples like the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm f/1.8 Lens are more affordable and easier to carry than their full-frame cousins. There will undoubtedly be a lot of howling about the bokeh and light-gathering differences between full frame and the smaller sensors of Olympus cameras, but I think the images speak for themselves. A good lens is a good lens, and Micro Four Thirds is plenty big enough to capitalize on the ability to deliver the goods in smaller packages.
Olympus has carved out an interesting niche and loyal following over the years. When playing to the system’s strengths, the company has produced some interesting and innovative cameras.
What do you like about Olympus cameras? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!