Three Things I Appreciate About Olympus Cameras

Three Things I Appreciate About Olympus Cameras

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.

The Super Control Panel is a thing of beauty.

The Super Control Panel is a thing of beauty.

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.

Image Stabilization

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

The tiny and light 75mm from Olympus is a gem among many in the lineup.

The tiny and light 75mm from Olympus is a gem among many in the lineup.

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.

Conclusion

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!

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16 Comments

David Wardrick's picture

The image stabilization in video mode is phenomenal. Also makes me wonder if we even need gimbals.

Glen Barrington's picture

Yeah, I like my Olympus cameras. I just don't understand the appeal of FF, and I don't see the practical difference between m43s and APSC. I am content.

Jason Flynn's picture

The appeal of FF for me is low noise at high ISO, blurred backgrounds in close quarters, ultra wide lenses, bodies an adult can hold in their hands without getting cramps from claw gripping

Glen Barrington's picture

With the exception of noise above ISO 6400, my OMDs offer all of that!

Jason Flynn's picture

I’ve had 1”, m43, APS-C and FF and my experience has been the opposite especially when it comes to blurred backgrounds in small rooms.

Glen Barrington's picture

You need fast lenses, to be sure, for that intangible 'Bokeh control', but it IS possible.

Matt Williams's picture

Olympus also has probably the closest to what we'd call "computational photography" in their cameras - for example, you can watch a long exposure photo "develop" on the screen, not unlike in an iPhone. Their menus are a mess, but that's more a result of packing so many features in there than just simply being bad, I think.

Matt Williams's picture

Nikon and Canon are both pretty good imo. Sony has a weird UI but I actually prefer it over Olympus.

Like I said, I think it's more a matter of the sheer number of features packed in there than anything else - especially because it got noticeably worse from the original E-M5 to, say, the E-M1X. Just more stuff being crammed in there.

Nikon and Canon are probably the only two that I actually *like* (aside from niche examples like Leica or the Ricoh GR).

Edit: and oh, duh, I like Fuji's. They're quite good.

Matt Williams's picture

TBH, I haven't extensively used Pentax cameras aside from the Ricoh GR series. I do wonder if the menus are as good - though obviously probably more intricate with more features.

Kurt Hummel's picture

I started with Pentax then switched to Canon. At first I thought the Pentax menu was better but now I really like Canon menu. I think it's just what you learn and use, Sony,Fuji,Nikon,Panosonic, Olympus they would all be weird for me but if you use them everyday you probably like them.

Juan Guerrero's picture

Coming from Nikon, I ended in Olympus initially for portability (I mostly do wildlife), after 5 years using it, I do not regret at all that decision. Quality of images, noise, etc,... are in par with anyone and I have with me the camera most of the time thanks to its size and weight. I rarely use tripods now, only for night photography.

Spy Black's picture

Don't know about the new E-M1, but AF on most MFT sucks, although I have to say Panasonic's Depth of Focus tech like I have in my GX-85 works surprisingly well and raises the bar on MFT AF, even in low light (but it only works as such with Panny lenses). My Olympus E-M10 Mk II is not good in the dark unless it has an f/2.8 lens or faster. The new E-M1 has an AF feature that sounds similarly to Panny's Depth of Focus, so that would be a welcome tech.

Juan Guerrero's picture

Hi Angus,

I did not have the intention of comparing anything, just said that the reason for changing was the weight, portability and the ability to take more photos than using a larger system. My physical condition does not allows me to go through harsh terrain loaded with 15kg.

Nowadays is difficult to buy a bad camera, although for specific topics like BIF, the camera can mark a difference, A good friend of mine have also a D500 and he is very happy with the focus, as you are.

In my experience, I had not too many difficulties shooting birds in flight using the em1.2 and the EM1X, but I cannot compare with others, apart from looking the final results.

Last fall I rented both the Fuji XT-3 and the Olympus EM1 Mark II, looking for something smaller to replace/supplement my Canon gear. I do mostly bird photography and the FF Canons were getting heavy to lug around. I found that the Olympus gear yielded consistently sharper photos than the Fuji. Not sure if it's the lenses or the IBIS or both. And I found the Olympus more user-friendly, too. Ultimately I bought the EM1 Mark III when it came out in February and I haven't used the Canon gear since. Not ready to sell it but very happy with Olympus.

Jon The Baptist's picture

Since 2012, I've been using a D4 and a D800 as my daily drivers. It's May of 2020, and I haven't shot the D4 in over a year since switching to an E-M1X and E-M1mk2 combination. I still use the D800 a fair bit for studio and food work.

I average 1-2 jobs a week, in studio, on location, usually tethered (Capture One). Although I do specialize, I shoot literally everything under the sun, short of weddings and babies. Been there, done that, have the T-Shirt, lets climb back in the car.

3 years ago, I picked up an E-M10mk2 w/ 12-32mm used for maybe $400 to take with me on a job to San Leandro. Shot the job on my D800, but took the Oly for some street stuff in case I got jumped, didn't want to lose the work cameras. BOY WAS I IMPRESSED. I thought my D4 was the camera that could do everything. IT'S NOT.

Fast forward 3 years, and much testing/many rentals/expensive lens purchases later, when the E-M1X was announced, I was the first person in my city to receive theirs.

Not everything I shoot is at ISO 6400, and with lenses like the 12mm f/1.4, 45 1.2, 75 1.8 (which are all near perfect wide open), I don't need to anymore.

On the E-M1X, between its near-perfect C-AF, wireless tethering, durable construction, superb High-Res modes, perfect horizontal AND vertical grip ergonomics, strong video AF, decent Log profile, and INSANE continuous frame rates, there are extremely few jobs this camera cannot do well, and it does all of them better than my old D4.

No wonder you see so many video shooters using GH5's, the value proposition in Micro 4/3rds is objectively tremendous, especially when purchased used.

Tim McBroome's picture

I have been shooting with an EM-1 mark 1 for years. I have shot some product work, some landscape, street, travel, and portraits (beauty, senior, maternity, and boudoir). While I use flashes/strobes in a lot of portrait work, I have also used a lot of available light. My camera and lenses (25mm, 45mm, and 75mm) have never disappointed me. The only thing that I want at this point is a sensor/processes combo that could capture full 16-bit images for the greater color and tone fidelity.