Note: This page was updated on 1/1/16 to link to newer models of the camera’s mentioned, apologies if I send you to an older model if you decide to buy one of these.
I’ve been talking a lot about photography recently, I’ll try to get back to travel stuff from the next post onwards, honest! But I’m so happy with photography and my current camera it reminds me of when I got my first dSLR and saw the quality improvement over a basic point and shoot. I really feel the need to shout about this camera.
I’m talking about the Olympus OM-D E-M5 (or latest model: Mark II version). It sounds much like a computer code rather than a product name, like a lot of cameras do, so what makes it so special and suitable for travel?
Well I prioritise 2 things above all else when it comes to travel photography. 1. Image quality and 2. Portability. This camera has both to a point where I’m not just taking great photos, but I’m taking my camera everywhere. Something I eventually gave up on with my dSLR.
Why not a dSLR?
It’s not much fun carrying 2kg (body and single zoom lens without accessories / lens selection and a reasonable sized bag) around hot and humid environments for the sake of a few photos. Many of us want to go to warmer countries so carrying around extra weight is unwelcome. And even if you prefer colder countries, who wants to carry that weight anyway?
It’s not just the weight too, it’s the size. As a person who encourages people to travel with the minimum necessary, I’ve written about mirrorless cameras against dSLRs before. The OM-D is not the lightest camera about, due to it’s magnesium alloy construction, but it does have small lenses available (glass weighs a lot) which is probably the main reason to sell your dSLR now if travel is your main photography interest (and they are certainly hobbies that go hand in hand). There was a time when my camera stuff took up 1/3 of my bag space and a similar percentage of weight allowance on cheaper airlines. But no more!
I know a lot of people may claim to be ‘more dedicated’ to photography than myself, and may argue that the weight and (more importantly) size considerations don’t matter when you’re trying to get the best image quality possible. But I say it does… to a point. I post jpegs on the internet (resized down to 500px usually) and seldom print anything out. I’ve had my images used in books before, and so as long as the quality can meet that requirement then I won’t need to meet a much higher quality standard. I’m not shooting billboard advertisements. I intend to sell my images more actively in the future, again the modern micro-4/3 camera like the E-M5 is well up to this job. It’s up to any job professionally. I’ve seen wedding photographers (is there a higher pressure use for cameras?), studio photographers and magazine photographers get more than satisfactory results. So I certainly don’t need any more at this moment in time.
Why not something smaller?
I could go smaller, a non-interchangeable lens point and shoot camera (like a Sony HX10), or a phone camera (bridge cameras like the SX60 are ultimately pointless in my opinion now – don’t bother with them for travel); But these cameras aren’t fast to operate (adjust settings) nor flexible in their use, not to mention the quality isn’t quite there. I see compact cameras as a dying breed now anyway, mobile phones already exceed them in features (with the exception of optical zoom, which is currently being addressed) which are constantly being updated and link to the internet making sharing a whole lot easier. So that just leaves high end compacts, compact system cameras (like the E-M5) or dSLRs.
High end compacts (like the Canon S120 which I think is good or the surprisingly heavy Canon G1X Mark II (which I think is pointless) are something that I would recommend, but are still quite boring and have their limitations, like one zoom range therefore unable to change lenses. It’s not so fun or tailored to your needs, it’s just a tool with a small zoom.
Why the E-M5 over other mirrorless cameras?
I’ve previously written about different mirrorless systems at the bottom of this post so I won’t repeat the conclusion, except now Fuji have now released a competitor. The Fuji X Pro 1 which renders photos in a gorgeous fashion, but the autofocus is slow, and it was awfully expensive, which is why I chose the E-M5 over it, it’s also not so good at video and needs quite a bit of learning to use well. I think a travel photographer needs a more rounded system for the different needs. Sony have great camera options like the NEX-7 (or newer Sony a6000) which is reasonably priced, but the lens selection is still quite average and the lenses seem to be quite expensive for what they are too.
The EM-5 has some bad points (what doesn’t?) such as the playback and fn1 button being way too small, and certain things being disabled when I want them (like 2 second timer in manual mode), although improved on the in mk2 version.
If you favour video quality, then the Panasonic Panasonic GH4 is the best on the market, although very expensive, it’s been the king for a while now too replacing the venerable GH2.
If you don’t want to cough up that much then the Panasonic G7 makes a decent alternative to the E-M5, but I chose the Olympus (despite it’s higher price) for numerous reasons:
- It’s gorgeous.
- It has great feel and build quality (magnesium alloy).
- Weather sealing – not essential, but nice reassurance to build quality.
- Flip screen (quicker to use than a flip-out and swivel screen).
- Nicer electronic view finder – it’s very clear and doesn’t have the problems that Panasonic have with RGB colours moving.
- 5-axis in body image stabilisation. So every lens is stabilised. This works tremendously well.
- Dual dials – making it much quicker to adjust the photo exposure without going through a menu.
- Wireless flash control – gives me more options in the future for lighting scenes from different angles.
- Fast autofocus (like really fast).
- Up to nine photos in a second can be taken. Apart from HDR bracketing, I don’t think I need this speed though.
- Useful touchscreen – click to focus, track or take a photo. That’s quite a feature. Also useful for scrolling and zooming in on photos in playback mode.
- More things are configurable than I thought. Even things like what way to turn the dial to adjust settings can be changed.
- It’s quiet to operate with a satisfying thud. Weather sealing quiets it down which assists me in those street shots I showed before.
- Fantastic thumb grip – makes it lovely to hold with a nice chunk of rubber (This is starting to sound a bit sexy now)..
- It’s FUN.
The last point is the most important, this is the most fun camera I’ve ever used, and who can argue with that?