Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Fuji X PRO 1 - hands-on at Focus on Imaging


Yesterday I had the chance to handle and shoot with both the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the Fuji X Pro 1. I obviously cannot comment on the image quality, but this are my (very personal) impressions of using the two cameras.


Olympus OM-D E-M5 Focus On Imaging show Birmingham 2012

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Focus On Imaging show Birmingham 2012

The Olympus stand at this years show was somewhat different. It consisted of a catwalk, on which there was a photographer shooting with some models. Occasionally the models would pose for the assembled photographers. There were presentations from time to time with video. There were Olympus reps. standing around talking to people and handing them cameras to try. It sounds a bit loose and chaotic but it actually worked very well. The atmosphere was relaxed and I got a chance to use the camera for some time, both with and without the two grips.

Initially I was handed the camera with both grips. Now I like grips, and I liked this one a lot. The camera felt instantly very comfortable, both in horizontal and vertical positions. It also felt comfortable without the battery holder portion of the grip as well. Without either, its actually quite small and essentally much like any other CSC.

As I said, I like the feel of a camera with a grip, and feel the handling is often much improved. The advantage with the OM-D is that its still pretty light with it attached. The two grip sections are actually quite small and add little weight. There is some extra weight obviously from the battery. The whole thing in the hand is not unlike cameras like the Nikon FM2 and Pentax MZ-5, which is no higher complement in my book.

Olympus seem keen not to class this as "professional" m4/3 but it essence thats exactly what it feels like. Finally someone has produced a digital camera that looks (its VERY classy) like a professional tool without the ridiculous weight and bulk that some modern DSLR's can have.

Taking pictures with it you become aware af several things. The rear screen and viewfinder are really good, sharp and clear. The AF is just lightning and THERE IS NO SHUTTER LAG!!! I pressed the shutter down and it felt that by the time I'd got the shutter down all the way it had already taken 4 pictures! Absolutely astonishing and completely different from any other m4/3 cameras. It doesn't seem to struggle in low light with low contrast and was one of the fastest cameras I've ever handled.

Using it, I wanted one very badly. However, at this current time its not a camera I have a lot of use for. Olympus were offering a show only deal, which meant if you pre ordered it there you got the grips plus case plus extra battery and a couple of other things thrown in. I even managed to resist that.

As you can tell I was very impressed. If at some point I ever go back to shooting weddings, portraits, events etc. I will buy one like a shot. Many of the samples circulating that I have seen indicate that this sensor and processing engine has improved high ISO performance and dynamic range, and combined with the modular design, superb (there's no other word for it) handling and sheer speed this is a camera that I would really enjoy using and that should be a real alternative to cameras like the Nikon D7000 and Canon 7D.


Fuji X Pro 1 Focus On Imaging show Birmingham 2012

Fuji X Pro 1 Focus On Imaging show Birmingham 2012

Between coming back from the show yesterday and writing this I've been wondering how to pitch this. Indeed in the car driving back with my nephew Ben who took the hands-on pictures above and shot the video, we were discussing as to whether I would write what I really think or keep this relatively bland.

As you probably would have guessed, I'm going with the former, but first of all here's a few disclaimers.

Firstly this is my personal opinion. Its not objective, its a purely subjective reaction. Secondly, I only had 10 minutes or so with the camera. Thirdly, I can make no comment about the image quality. I've discussed the samples I've found in previous posts and am still hopeful of seeing something better. Finally the cameras on show may have had some heavy use and not be typical of what would arrive on your doorstep.

I imagine you will get some idea of how this is going to go!!

To begin with a positive. It feels very nice for weight and size. Its somewhat more substantial than the X100 and is close to the weight and size of a Leica M8 or M9. Unfortunately thats where the similarities end. I had much the same reaction to the X Pro 1 as I had to the Fuji X100. It looks great in pictures but in reality is somewhat disappointing in the flesh. Aesthetically there's something I really don't like about it. It seems to lack a "personality". I did actually get my hands on it straight after the OM-D and my initial reaction was disappointment. I dislike the grip as its one of those neither one thing or the other types. I struggled to feel comfortable with it. There is an add-on grip that will be available that could improve this however. 

Like the X100, I'm disappointed with the finish. This is a £1400 body only camera after all. I have to say it, and I'm sure I'll get lots of reaction to this, but I thought it looked and felt cheap. Somewhat like a compact camera on steroids. The one I was given to try looked like some of the finish on the top plate was peeling off. As I indicated this may have been at lots of shows and have become somewhat battered, but even so. OK this is really a personal thing and its just my reaction to it.

What really concerned me was the AF performance. The camera I used was VERY slow to lock focus. In fact on several occasions it failed to achieve focus lock at all. I was using it on targets that were similar to those I had used the OM-D for and it was chalk and cheese. In desperation and to check if it was faulty, I aimed it at a very bright screen with black and white writing and it finally locked on. I was incidentally using the 35mm lens. I then tried various other high contrast targets and while it successfully achieved focus every time there was a significant delay. I actually thought this was worse than the X100. I talked to the rep. and he assured me that the AF was faster than the X100, however I have no evidence for that. 

I tried the optical vewfinder and the EVF, which is nothing remarkable and looked like the one thats in the X100. Regarding the optical viewfinder, I'm not quite sure why people get so excited about it. Yes Leicas have something similar, but as far as I was concerned the framelines was the thing I liked least about my Leicas. They weren't accurate was my primary criticism. Neither was the one on my X100. The argument for this optical viewfinder with a frame line is that you can see beyond the frame, which can be useful for anticipating and composition. OK I'm no street photographer, but is this any advantage with such sluggish AF? This slow focusing would also I imagine affect the cameras great virtue. As with the X100 there is no argument that this camera is superb at high ISO's. If the samples indicate anything, they certainly indicate that. However, the problems I had getting it to focus at all, let alone with any kind of useful speed, would indicate, if the camera I was using is typical, that this low light ability would be somewhat compromised. It wasn't after all, very dark in the hall. The shots that my nephew took of me holding the camera were typically 1/60th. sec at f/2.8 at ISO 1600. A pretty typical indoor situation. (Incidentally the NEX-7 and the Zeiss 35mm f/1.8 he was using performed flawlessly under these conditions.)

So, it gives me no pleasure to report like this, and I can only hope that I had a problem camera. Contrary to what has been written elsewhere, I really do not have any agenda to "slag off" the X Pro 1. Indeed when it was first announced I was excited by it and was keen to try one. Over time with the fairly dismal samples I have seen and now this handling disappointment I am actually wondering what is going on. Is what I'm seeing typical? Now that the cameras are shipping, I would be happy to publish anybody elses point of view and if anybody is willing to make samples (particularly raw) available then I'm happy to link to those.

I do want to be fair here and certainly don't want to get a reputation as a "Fuji Basher". However I can only report on what I see and how the camera I used handled.

So with the two cameras I wanted to try, very much a mixed reaction. I really do think that the Olympus OM-D is taking m4/3 to new levels and I'm crossing my fingers that the Olympus camera division doesn't get broken up because of the current troubles, as it seems they are moving in a very exciting direction.

As to the Fuji, I'm actually bewildered. Am I just unlucky? As ever, since the readership here is undoubtedly sensible, literate and intelligent, you will take what I have written and compare with all the words that have been written on this camera. Whether I'm swimming against the tide will become apparent in the future. I'm not going to be buying an X Pro 1 anyway. Even if the AF was a lot better and I saw some wonderful image samples I still don't like the look and feel of it. So you have to bear that in mind.

Finally just to reinforce some peoples notion that I am after all just a born-again Sony fanboy, this was actually the first time I've ever used (or had someone else use it) my NEX-7 at ISO 1600 indoors. It was actually pretty good. Certainly nothing spectacular and the X Pro 1 would certainly be better and probably (amazing that I would ever write this) the m4/3 sensor of the OM-D as well. But I'd be quite happy with the results from the NEX-7. The AF indoors in this light was good too. No, not as fast as the OM-D which was very good indeed but fast enough for me.

An interesting afternoon.

UPDATE - 8/3/2012

Just to say that I don't seem to be completely alone in my assessment of the X-Pro 1!!