I did something a little out of my comfort zone and ordered the E-M1 before my X-E2 even made it back, leaving me in the potential state of having two cameras on my card. Thankfully it all worked out (Amazon is usually awesome about this stuff) and I didn’t have to go more than a few days without a new toy 🙂
Judging from my filesystem it looks like I’m about 500-700 frames into the E-M1, so these are really very initial reactions.
First thing I did was pick it up and, click…. woah, did that just take a shot? The shutter release button has a distinctly different feel compared to my GH2 (or even the X-E2). Most cameras I’ve used have a “notch” for the half-press of the shutter. You can feel that it will go deeper, but you also get some tactile feedback in the form of a click that you’ve achieved the half-pressed state. The E-M1 doesn’t have this, and it really threw me off at the beginning. Half press feels like you’re barely touching the thing, and full press doesn’t “bottom out” like other cameras do, so it feels like you’re just squeezing the thing. I did get used to it after a few hundred frames, but I don’t know if I’d say I prefer it quite yet. I imagine it was very deliberately designed this way, so perhaps there are different schools of thought.
On to actual shooting. This thing is snappy. If you’re not careful, you fire off 20 shots w/o even thinking about it. AF is definitely faster than the GH2, and I notice it more on the Panny 20mm (which has a slow motor) than on the 25mm which is faster. The focusing system does seem to have different behavior than the GH2, so it has taken some getting used to. For example, the single point AF (not the “small” mode) seems to be a bit finickier than on the GH2. So far I have been having the most success with the mode that lets you choose a 3×3 grid of focus points.
The touch to focus and touch to snap both work just fine. Face detection is much better than on my GH2, though, annoyingly, it’s not a mode on it’s own like on the GH2, so instead, it falls back to single-point AF or whatever you’ve configured when there’s no face in the frame, but then as soon as a face pops in, it locks onto the face. You can turn this off, but I’m not sure I wan to dedicate a Fn button to this quite yet. I had it left on, and a few times while shooting my kids, the face detect would just totally change the focus point that I had set up manually, which was a bit frustrating.
The EVF and LCD view both have no lag (way better than the X-E2), It’s so smooth that I now notice some lagginess in the GH2 in low light, where I didn’t notice it before.
It has an insane 41 shot RAW buffer, so unless you’re in 10fps mode and just holding down, you’ll never hit it, and I never feel like I’m waiting for the thing to flush stuff out so that I can keep shooting.
As far as physical controls go.. my GH2 actually has more dedicate levers and switches, but crucially does not have the two-dial control scheme. The Oly does (in addition to the 2×2 switch). I’m sure this will be totally better when I get used to it, but I’m just not quite there yet.
On the IQ front, as far as SOOC JPEG’s go.. X-E2 > E-M1 > GH2. The Fuji and the Olympus are close, but especially at base ISO the Fuji files are just really nice. I also like the color curves that Fuji uses vs the Olympus. They both have aggressive NR (I’ve toned down the E-M1 NR one notch already), and the E-M1 feels like it sharpens a little too aggressively (I’ve turned that down a notch too). That being said, the E-M1 is a solid step up from my GH2, so that’s good. I notice it mostly in high contrast scenes (extra DR), and high ISO scenes (ISO 3200). The E-M1 is definitely close to the X-E1, where as the GH2 is a distant third. The main caveat is I’ve only just gotten over my laziness to go get LR5 to use their preliminary E-M1 raw support, so I’ve been comparing JPEGs to JPEGs.
One interesting thing that had not previously entered my calculations was the effectiveness of the E-M1’s stabilization system. I’ve taken a few shots at 50mm 1/3s and they’ve come out sharp. That’s really quite amazing, and changes the equation in many low light scenarios. If you’re subject is not moving, and you can afford a slow shutter speed, now you have the flexibility to stop down, or bring down your ISO by slowing the shutter down. I took a shot of my xmas tree at 1/3s, F4.0, ISO800 at night (using peaking for MF), and it’s amazingly sharp (see image full crop below). This feels like cheating. Sure the X-E2 may beat you by a stop in terms of high ISO performance, but being able to do 1/3s on a f/1.4 prime lens gets you way more than that stop. I can see what all these people were raving about now.
The IBIS also kicks in during video, which results in some of the least shaky videos I’ve ever taken. Sure, they’re not 60p, but who cares? at least they’re not vomit-inducing.
Let’s see.. what else? The Auto WB is noticeably better than on my GH2. Interestingly, the E-M1 has a setting that basically says “don’t correct WB when it’s on the warm side”. So indoor incandescent shots will have that warm look. An interesting option, and it defaults to on. That being said, I still very much prefer to have complete WB control in RAW. It still gets it wrong enough that I’ll just tweak it in post most of the time.
One of my favorite small features: when reviewing images, you can hit the “ok” button in the middle of the 4-way pad, and it will center the image on any detected faces (and AFAICT, it re-detects the faces at playback time, and doesn’t require you to have been using face detection mode when shooting). When you’re shooting hundreds of shots of your kids, this turns out to be super handy. Why didn’t anyone think of this before?
In terms of external appearance, I’d have to say again that X-E2 > E-M1 > GH2. The more boxy Fuji just look classy. The E-M1 reminds me of the “gundam” battle suit asthetic. Lots of straight lines and hard edges. Panasonic has the curvy consumer-y feel which was popular at the time and is the worst of the lot. In the eye of the beholder as they say.
Ok, that’s more than I was planning to write. I’ll post some more thoughts later. Hit me up on my Facebook page if I can answer any questions. Here’s the link for this post on FB.