My Olympus OMD-EM10 review – thoughts after a year’s experience

I’ve had my Olympus OMD-EM10 for about a year now. It sits alongside a Pentax K20D which is a “traditional” big and heavy DSLR. This means it sat at home far too often, especially on big mountain days out, just the days when I need a camera with me. I was missing lots of shots, could that justify a new camera? Of course it could. I worked out I could afford about £600 and my criteria were: Small enough to fit in a pocket; A decent viewfinder; Good picture quality; Nice in the hand. Note the viewfinder requirement – this made the list of contenders very short. I decided on the EM10 with the kit 14-42mm pancake zoom lens after trying out a few choices in the shops.

So how has it turned out? Has it been a success? This is my own subjective experience of using it. If you want a full technical review I suggest you turn to one of the major review sites but if you want one person’s biased opinion, read on.

Handling

The EM10 does fit in a pocket but it depends on the pocket. It won’t fit in a jeans pocket. It has plenty of protrusions that will snag, especially the rubber eye-cup round the EVF, but it fits fairly easily in the pockets of the various wind-proofs, soft-shell jackets and waterproofs I wear when walking. The big question is, do I tend to take it out with me? Yes, and that was the whole point. I’ve ended up using a very long boot-lace as a strap and I carry it round my neck but in a jacket chest pocket. The boot lace is fine enough not to add bulk but the camera’s immediately accessible.

In the hand it’s very nice to use. All the controls I need are nicely to hand. I usually shoot on aperture-priority mode. The rear control wheel changes the aperture and the front wheel controls exposure compensation. These are usually all I need and setting correct exposure is very quick and easy, especially using the live-view histogram. I generally stay between F8 and F11 for landscape shots.

The camera detects when you hold it up to your eye and automatically switches to the EVF, which I much prefer. It’s large and good quality and generally nice to look at. It isn’t, IMHO, as nice as an optical finder except in dim light when the optical finder would be too dark, but it’s still good enough and I like it. The refresh is fast enough and the contrast range is adequate. Resolution is good.

The EVF has the very big advantage of a live histogram display. You can get your desired exposure extremely quickly – compose the shot, check the histogram, twiddle the front wheel to set exposure compensation to get the exposure you want. If you want to get rid of all the displayed information and concentrate on the framing there’s a small button that falls to hand that controls this. It took a little while for me to find this button easily but now I can hit it almost first time.

I rarely use the rear screen except when using a tripod or taking a very low level shot (i.e. near the ground). In this case being able to pull the screen out and look down on it is really handy, something you definitely can’t do with my DSLR.

Shutter action is nice. I don’t notice any shutter lag and the feel and the noise are both satisfying.

I nearly always use single-point auto-focus but I change the focus point during composition. Unlike the Pentax, if you focus lock by half-pressing  the shutter then recompose it also seems to lock the exposure settings, which isn’t what I want. So I compose, choose the focus point using the rear multi-controller, then shoot. I prefer the Pentax design.

I don’t use many of the other controls so I’m not too bothered by how far down the menus they’re hidden. On the whole things are about as accessible on the Olympus as they are on the Pentax so I think the user interface is fine.

I’m less keen on the power zoom control with the kit lens. You use a ring on the lens barrel just like a normal manual zoom but it’s fly-by-wire instead and just not as precisely responsive. Not a show-stopper though. You can change the zoom speed between fast and slow settings but I’d still prefer a manual control. I’ve set the zoom speed to fast, which means if you fully turn the control ring it zooms quickly but a half turn lets you zoom slowly, which helps. The lens is nice and small, which was one of my essential requirements as it means the whole package fits in a jacket pocket. It has the usual kind of lens cap that is guaranteed one day to get lost. I’ve almost lost it several times, it’s just a matter of time.

The on-off switch isn’t ideal. I find it a little fiddly to use. I don’t want to leave it turned on all the time, the battery life isn’t good enough for that, but finding the switch quickly is a challenge. Also, about a third of the time, when I power off the lens stays extended. You have to turn it on and off again and then it will retract. Not a big deal.

In the hand it’s small but not cramped and the thumb rest at the back makes it very secure. Wearing gloves in winter is harder and I usually have to take my gloves off to take a picture but I can’t see any way round this with a small camera.

Overall, I like using it, it’s quick and easy enough for my kind of photos, and I always have it with me.

On a tripod

I hadn’t planned to use it on a tripod, that’s what the Pentax is for, but I have done. In this case I still generally use the EVF unless the light is dim enough to see the rear screen. I’m also more likely to use manual focus.

In manual focus mode you use the lens focus ring, which is fly-by-wire but OK to use. You can also set it to focus peak. This means that as soon as you move the focus ring the screen/EVF display will zoom right in to the focus point and then use contrast to show areas in focus. This seems to work pretty well and you can get pretty accurate focus quite easily. It works well for me.

I also use the two-second self-timer and another setting it calls anti-shock (Menu -> Custom Menu -> Exp/Iso -> Anti-Shock) which adds another two seconds. I haven’t tested the difference these make but I think it’s a good idea on a tripod.

Picture quality

My completely non-scientific assessment is that quality is on a par with my Pentax, for the pictures that I’m taking. This agrees with the DxO Mark scores which aren’t that far apart. I print up to A3+ and I’m getting very similar results from both. Perhaps if I tried shooting at various extremes I’d notice different things but I use a limited range of apertures, I don’t have the very best lenses, and I only shoot at the lowest ISO settings so noise isn’t really a problem.

I thought dynamic range might be an issue at the start but then I tried the trick of changing the in-camera picture settings to low contrast. This doesn’t have any effect on the raw file but it does change what’s reported by the live histogram so you get a better idea of what dynamic range you can extract from the raw file. Since I did that I’ve found I can get dynamic range on a par with the Pentax (though as I’ve said, I haven’t tested this scientifically). Having said that, I think I’ve still got the picture settings on the Pentax set to normal contrast so perhaps there’s some headroom left to find in there. Let me say again, this change doesn’t affect the raw file but it gives you more confidence to shoot a high contrast scene and know whether you’ll be able to get a good result in your raw processor (Lightroom in my case).

Auto-focus seems to be generally reliable. I’m not in a hurry so I’m less bothered about focus speed. I use the out-of-the-box setting for the in-body image stabilisation but I haven’t done any testing to see how good it is. It makes an odd noise in operation. When you press the shutter the camera hisses. I worried about this until I realised what it was. Also, when you’re carrying it round it has a very slight rattle but I believe this is also the stabilisation system. You can see it in operation when you compose through the EVF. If you hold the shutter button down and compose and try and get the horizon level you see a distinct lag as the stabiliser damps your movements.

I have had one quality problem which I haven’t been able to track down. This consists of blurriness on just one side of the picture. This is always on the right hand side when the camera is held normally. I haven’t noticed it on the left hand side and I haven’t noticed it at all when I hold the camera vertically for portrait format shots. I tried to track this down but couldn’t isolate any cause. It doesn’t happen that often so I’m happy to live with it.

Build quality

A couple of months after purchase I dropped it onto a gravel/stone path. I put a ding on the lens barrel but otherwise it was unharmed. Generally it feels sturdy enough except for one thing – the battery compartment cover. This has now fallen off. It’s held on by two tiny tiny plastic hinges that fit in two tiny tiny plastic recesses. Both recesses have broken and the cover doesn’t stay on anymore. This is crap. I can see this being a problem for every owner. The first hinge broke after about eight months of ownership, the second about a month later. Now the battery and memory card are exposed to the elements, asking for trouble.

Overall

I take it out with me on all my walks and mountain days so I’m taking lots of pictures. This means it’s fulfilled its brief. The quality is as good as the Pentax and I enjoy using it so I’m judging it a big success. The battery cover is my only real (and serious) complaint. Conclusion – money well spent.

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