New Gear: The Olympus OM-D E-M10 - First Impressions

Last week, I read a post on Peta Pixel about a rumor that Canon might make a mirrorless camera. That post linked me to another post about how one photographer switched to FujiFilm's mirrorless camera line. The mirrorless camera removes the mirror from the camera body. The mirror in a DSLR allows you to see through the lens in your viewfinder - taking the image through the lens and reflecting it into your eye. Losing the mirror clears up a lot of space and makes the camera much smaller. After reading the aforementioned article, I started fantasizing about a mirrorless camera: how much easier it would be to take with me on the few trips that I do make, how I could have a camera on me at all times and a good camera at that. Not that my iPhone isn't a good camera, it does the job and it has given me some of my favorite photos. But while I wait for the iPhone 6 to come in the mail, my aging 4S crashes when I take photos now and it just isn't cutting the mustard.

So I started looking for mirrorless cameras. The whole point is that I'm not replacing my beloved Canon 6D. I know it and I love it. It isn't a 5D Mark-Whatever, but it's a damn good camera and it suits me just fine. But it's huge. And it's heavy. But mostly, it's expensive and huge. I can't take it with me to New York City and take pictures with it as I walk down the street. It draws attention to itself just because it's a DSLR and it says "Canon" on it. Long story short, I was really into getting a smaller, unobtrusive camera.

I spent at least three full days obsessing over it. Then agonizing over it. Which company is better? What do the price brackets mean in terms of quality? Do MegaPixels really matter? What the hell is aspect-ratio and why can't I find a simple explanation of it? Lens selection is pretty important. So I spent a lot of time on snapsort.com comparing FujiFilm X series cameras to one another, the Sony a7, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 and the Samsung NX300. I made three pros and cons lists and comparison lists. I even asked the know-it-alls on the Reddit subreddit r/photography, and of course felt insecure with the advice I was given. I kept going back and forth and back and forth and it finally came down to the Olympus and the Sony cameras and the $500 that separated them. In an ideal world, I would get a Leica camera, but I am even hesitant to buy $20 Bumble and Bumble hair shampoo... so Leica was out of the question and will be forever confined to my ultimate wishlist alongside a Hasselblad because that's what photographers are supposed to want, right?. The Sony a7 was the top of the heap, but would come out to be the same price as my refurbished 6D and while it would be smaller, I'd be just as anxious carrying around with me.  I own an Olympus OM-20 film camera so I figured I'd already be somewhat familiar with the system. And maybe I could use the same lenses (I can sort of, but not really). Regardless, I saw a massive deal on Amazon: the Olympus OM-D E-M10 body with a 14-42mm kit lens for $700, a free 40-150mm lens and they even threw in an Amazon Basics camera bag. It took me a few days to pull the trigger, but then I realized that the deal was pretty phenomenal considering I'd save about $350-400, and I really wanted to take it with me on holiday.

It was delivered a day early. As I unboxed it, my face transformed into what I'm told was a priceless expression. It is tiny. Miniscule. It looks and feels like a camera for ants. It's adorable. It's light. It doesn't feel real, it's that tiny. The lenses are miniature, although the 40-150mm zoom lens extends out in a way that my friend described as very "Diglett"-like. What's surprising is how light they are. The 14-42mm lens has a locking mechanism which allows you to smush it when it isn't in use - something I doubt I'll ever get used to as it's in the same place as my Auto-Focus/Manual-Focus switch on my Canon. To be honest, I thought I broke the lens when I couldn't figure out how to close it. They're so light that it wouldn't surprise me if I had.

When I turned the camera on, I found it to be less like my DSLR and more like a digital camera, which turned me off. There are a lot of features and menus and icons and it's just very cluttered. (I believe this is one of the common criticisms for the OM line). I had a very hard time finding the things that I wanted, like changing the loud auto-focus beep or even finding the manual focus, and have yet to fully explore the extensive online manual. There's a smiley face icon on the menu that I find really disconcerting and I have no idea what it means. I can't even do a ctrl+f for the smiley face in the manual... The biggest challenge is the view finder. It's a digital viewfinder. I am unsure how that will affect the battery life, but I have a feeling negatively. There is a dial to sharpen the image in the viewfinder, which is odd in comparison to seeing a perpetually crisp image in my DSLR viewfinder and if it isn't clear, I know there's something wrong with my lens. But this is the entire point of a mirrorless camera. Without the mirror, you can have a miniature camera. On a DSLR, you can look through your lens, compose your shot through the lens and it feels real and organic. With the digital viewfinder, it feels like you're trying to look at everything through a video camera feed. It just feels less "real." However, I imagine it's a lot better than having to compose your image on the screen. The Olympus has a touch-screen feature, but I doubt I'll be using it.

I wasn't 100% on board. It felt new-fangled and different. It seemed overly-complicated for something that was supposed to simplify things for me. But then I started exploring the menus (admittedly, they're rather circuitous) and started making the small changes as per my preferences and then I put it next to my DSLR and remembered how small it is. It is so damn small. And it's really cool.

So I'll be figuring it out. But that's my new camera and my first impressions of it.