Sunday, August 12, 2012

Olympus OM-D Page 3 - Body Features

I'm Sexy and I Know It.
(Page 2 of review - click here)

Major body features of Olympus's new flagship m43 are as follows:

  • Twin control dials and dedicated mode dial
  • Built-in EVF
  • Tilting rear LCD (touch-screen capable)
  • 5-axis stabilization in the body, working for all lenses.
  • Weather sealing

Bullet lists are nice and all, but let's explore a little bit about the handling of the camera in the field.

The grip (body):

I mentioned this in another post - the rear thumb rest is awesome and provides great leverage, but unfortunately it doesn't have a capable partner - that being the front part of the grip, where one's righthand fingers would "grab".  It's not the end of the world, and with something like a simple wrist strap this is mostly avoided, but I did find it an annoyance when shooting with the Panasonic 25mm 1.4, and less so with the smaller/lighter Olympus 45 1.8.

The mode and control dials : 

The control dials (or, thumbwheel and fingerwheel) fall nicely within range of their namesake digits while gripping the camera, though the thumbwheel does require 'reaching' just a bit with the thumb to get to, which means the thumb must briefly leave the comfort of the thumb rest .

Both dials have distinctive clicks, without being too hard to turn.  The  fingerwheel has a bit higher-pitched "click" sound to it, which would be quite noticeable during video and is easily the loudest part of operating the camera (including the shutter sound, documented below!)  The thumbwheel is more muted and similar to the Big Wheel sound on the back of Canons.

The mode dial is just that - a dedicated left dial with the typical PASM modes, a dedicated video mode, and your modes inherited from the P&S world - iAuto, Art, and Scene.  I can't knock the OM-D too much for this, though - even the Canon 5D2 has 'creative auto' and 'green box' modes on the dial.

Mode dial resistance is good - so far in real shooting (10 days), including some in-and-outs from a photo backpack, I've had exactly one accidental mode change, and I think that was when I pulled the camera from my shorts pocket.  This is pretty good performance.

The buttons:

The shutter button is very good, with a distinctive resistance "break" required to trip the shutter - no mushy shutter buttons here, though theoretically there is more chance for shutter-induced vibration because of this slight click-resistance.  There is no forward angle to the shutter button - it points straight up.  This requires, at least for me, a slight arching and retraction (toward my body) of the index finger in order to trigger the button, but this hasn't resulted in any cramped and is easily forgotten - for the most part a very natural feel, and it allows my index finger to rest on the camera body, just slightly touching the shutter and avoiding most accidental actuations.

All other buttons are quite mushy and lack any tactile click response whatsoever - people theorize this is a side effect of the weather sealing.  The buttons don't feel cheap per se, but in comparison to the rest of the body they feel a little out of place perhaps.

Buttons are generally easy to hit with my largish hands, except the 4-way controller with its centralized "OK" button - this can be rather finicky to operate and requires one to be careful with thumb presses during menu navigation, as it can be a bit tricky to press exactly what one needs to press (and Olympus requiring the pressing of "OK" for commands to take hold doesn't help).  Operation during shooting is a bit easier, as the buttons are spaced far enough apart that accidental or incorrect activation is rare.

The LCD:

The rear LCD is for the most part a very nice panel that tilts either up or down for those off-angle shots I'm so fond of.  Unfortunately it doesn't swivel, so off-angle portrait shots are about as difficult to pull off as with a camera with a fixed LCD.

The top bevel of the LCD has small ridges molded into the left and right sides - this allows a decent finger grip (from the left index finger) when tilting the screen up or down.  In a rather nice touch, the top/rear of the LCD has very small "rub nubs", for lack of a better phrase.  These are just tiny raised portions of the LCD that make contact with "rub strips" underneath the LCD housing, on the back of the camera body.  These nubs provide ease and stability of movement and prevent camera marring, should one decide to tilt the LCD upward without first pulling it out slightly (which some people claim must be done - not true - just push down and pull outward simultaneously and let the rub nubs/strips do their thing).  A very nice attention to detail from Olympus.

In bright sunlight, the rear LCD can be a bit difficult to see, but I'm mostly talking direct, perpendicular angle sunlight (about the worst case scenario).  I'm using a screen protector, which may also be contributing to this issue, but I thought I would mention it.  In non-horrific conditions (sun off to the side but still bright), the LCD seems fine for composing, and it's mostly how I use the camera.

The EVF:

The EVF is a pretty good screen, and on a likability scale I place it a bit above the EVF of the A77 (which should be the same as the NEX-7 or NEX-5N add-on EVF, neither of which I own).  

While the resolution of the view is lower than that of the Sony, overall usability is better.  The EVF doesn't seem to "crush" blacks or blow highlights as badly as the Sony EVF does, and seems to have just as smooth as an update rate as the Sony.

To be fair to the Sony, it's actually possible to lessen this "crushing" of the EVF by changing the JPEG mode of the camera to something very neutral, with low contrast, etc - unfortunately, this affects those who are JPEG shooters, so it's something to consider if one occasionally dabbles in the dark arts of minimal post-processing ;)

EVF brightness is pretty good and seems less "muted" than my A77 was in bright light, but this could just be my memory fooling me - I don't have a Sony EVF to do an A/B comparison with.  It still can't touch a good OVF on bright days, but in dark conditions it's great and completely devoid of "the sprinkles" that grace the Sony EVFs in low light conditions.  I never really cared about "the sprinkles" but I know they drive some people crazy - not to worry, I can't find any on the OM-D (tested down to ISO 3200, f/1.4 1/20s light - that's dark people!).

In typical fashion, the EVF eyecup is a bit too shallow and allows light leakage, a nuisance on bright days and affecting both glass wearers as well as those who aren't.  Something to consider if one uses the EVF heavily in bright conditions - you might budget for a deeper cup if you can find one.

The EVF has an eye sensor, allowing automatic switching between LCD and EVF if one so chooses -- great for most people, but horrible for waist-level shooters - the sensor is too sensitive for waist-level shooting and rear touch LCD operation when its tilted upward.  I've written about it here.  Luckily, the auto-switching can be easily disabled.

Battery Door, Memory Card Door, Port Doors:

The battery door sits on the bottom of the camera and has a locking lever.  Unfortunately, this door is blocked by the use of the HLD-6 add-on grip, which is a shame because the HLD-6 is otherwise awesome (review coming soon) and using part 1 of the grip fleshes the handling of the camera out nicely.

The memory card door sits to the right side - it requires a decent amount of force to open and is very secure.  Consequently, it's much less prone to accidental opening than other cameras that have the large memory card doors on the right side of the body.  I have yet to accidentally open the door while shooting, and I'm not even sure it's possible to open the door with one's palm unless you're really trying to prove you can do it.  Awesome.

There are two (really just one) port doors on the camera - the left side includes a fixed-in-place rubber flap-style cover that opens downward to reveal HDMI and USB ports.  While the flap is a bit easy to remove, it can only really be gripped (and hence removed) if the rear LCD has been moved away from the camera.  If the LCD is flat against the body, it's virtually impossible to unseat the flap/door.  The second of these doors is really just a rubber cover on the bottom of the camera, which protects the pin contacts used for the HLD-6.  It is held in place by friction and so far has proven firm enough to not worry about.

Next page - coming soon

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