I had only heard of their iconic Olympus OM-1 Film Camera from the 1970s that was popularized by photojournalists and street photographers at the time. (Fun fact: Most iPhone and Android keyboards use a spin off version of this vintage camera as an emoji.) But besides that, I hadn’t paid much attention to the brand until I got my hands on an Olympus OMD EM5 roughly 4 years ago.
For context, I was originally shooting on a Canon T3I Rebel for most of my photography lifetime. That was the first DSLR I received, and it was pretty much all I knew in terms of the “pro-sumer” market. It wasn’t until I decided to randomly bid on a cheaply priced camera on eBay that I ventured into the world of mirrorless cameras and micro 4/3.
The OMD EM5 didn’t strike me as an amazing camera at first glance. For a majority of the first year that I got it, I still used my Canon T3i for any high-pressure shoots such as portraits and marketing photos for my job at the time. Don’t get me wrong, the build quality of the EM5 was fantastic! And yes, we are talking about the original “EM5 Mark I.” The tactile feel of the buttons, dials, and vintage look of it were really what made me fall in love with at first sight. However, those things were not what kept me going back to it and eventually ditch my T3i altogether.
I decided to jump to Olympus after nearly 5 years of owning a Canon camera and here are the main reasons why I did so. Remember that these were spread out through the course of 4 years of owning the EM5. This means as the years went on, each reason popped up and really made me appreciate the camera and brand I was working with!
1.) In body Image Stabilization
The Image Stabilization is, by far, the number one reason I switched to Olympus. When I picked up this camera, the first thing I noticed was the image stabilization kick in with each half-press of the shutter button. Saying I was amazed Is an understatement.
For those of you who don’t know, Olympus is known for implementing a technology that moves the image sensor based on your movements while holding the camera. The result is stabilizing your images to reduce camera shake and accidental motion blur from your end. This makes taking photos nearly hassle free in that regard. You can cut down the shutter speed a few stops to allow more light in without risking camera shake.
For some reason, my go to shutter speed on Canon was almost always 1/125 which I would adjust as needed. As a side note, there is just something fun about that shutter and the way it pairs with street photography that I love. Regardless, as I started shooting more during the late afternoon and night times, I realized the luxury the EM5 gave me being able to use longer lenses while stopping down to about 1/60 or even 1/30; still getting static subjects in sharp focus.
The assistance in stabilization really made the overall shooting experience less stressful and allowed my brain to spend more time thinking of other things like composition and subject matter rather than absolute proper hand position for stabilization.
I highly encourage you to walk into any camera store near you, pick up an Olympus branded camera, and test the image stabilization for yourself. It gets better with every new model of camera they make, and you will be impressed!
2.) Assortment of Lenses + Fun with Vintage Lenses
It is no surprise that as a camera enthusiast, we all love buying new gear to complement our cameras.
Now it is true that the gear does not make or break the photographer’s skill, however certain gear purchased at the appropriate time can just make the act of shooting more fun. This was why for a brief time I was scouting for vintage camera lenses on the secondhand market that I could adapt to modern day cameras. It just so happened that Micro 4/3 is one of the easier camera formats to adapt vintage lenses to since it is one of the smallest mount sizes on the market.
To adapt lenses from one brand to another, both lenses must be of relative size. Many Nikon lenses can be adapted to Canon cameras and vice versa with the help of a 3rd party adapter. Because the sensors and mounts on ASPC/Full Frame Cameras are so big, sometimes it’s harder or les advantages to adapt smaller vintage lenses to those cameras. No Micro 4/3 lens can be adapted to a bigger frame.
On the flip side, many vintage lens mounts are so small that they can fit perfectly on Micro 4/3 camera bodies. It is also possible to take the bigger lenses from Canon and Nikon to adapt them to Micro 4/3, but this will also hinder many of the modern-day advantages such as auto focus. When I got my Olympus EM5, I did purchase it with an adapter so that my assortment of EOS mount lenses would work on the camera. This stalled enough time until I began purchasing dedicated Micro 4/3 lenses.
Micro 4/3 has a wide variety of 1st party lenses offered by Olympus at your disposal, fitting nearly all budgets. You also have what I like to call “2nd party lenses” available; these are Panasonic lenses as they also share the Micro 4/3 mount. There are also many 3rd Party lenses available such as Sigma, 7artisans, etc. who produce lenses for nearly all camera mounts. Finally, you will have the vintage market, as we stated earlier.
Here is a list of lenses I use on my Olympus cameras:
- Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 Pro (1st Party)
- 7artisans 55mm f1.4 (3rd Party)
- SEARS 110mm f2.8 (Vintage)
- Panasonic 45-150mm f4-5.6 (“2nd Party”)
- Sigma 19mm f2.8 (3rd Party)
- Quantum 35mm f2.8 (vintage)
3.) Form Factor and Convenience
One big feature is how small Olympus Cameras are! It was a breath of fresh air carrying around the EM5 on street shoots compared to the T3i. I could walk around and get tired lugging around a big DSLR around my neck or shoulder all day. But now I constantly find myself shooting strapless, hand holding the EM5 for hours while doing street shoots with no problem!
The smaller profile even made me shoot more freely since the form factor of the EM5 didn’t scream “Hey everyone I’m a photographer!” The quiet “thug” sound of the shutter is so satisfying whenever I get the shot! Even their newer models are relatively small and lightweight compared to other cameras on the market. Durability plus small form factor really makes for an overall comfortable shooting experience.
Don’t get me wrong, the EM5 was not a perfect camera. As with any older tech, it had its limitations and drawbacks. Higher ISOs put too much strain on the sensor and led to a lot of noise clean up in post. But I’d argue that even that limitation made me a better photo editor. While I praise the form factor and light weight durable build quality, I did purchase an extra grip for the camera to give me sturdier handling. And I won’t even get into the video capabilities on the camera. Long story short, don’t even try it. I always stuck to my T3i whenever I needed to do any video projects. However, the EM5 is just as much of an “old reliable” in the pictures department as my T3i was. It introduced me to a brand that I liked and was willing to invest in by purchasing accessories and lenses.
I recently purchased an Olympus OMD EM1 Mark 2 off the secondhand market since I knew prices would begin to drop as the Mark 3 was announced earlier this year. This camera sings true to many of the other benefits of the EM5 just with more updated features that are a bit more tailored to prosumers and the professional end.
There are many more reasons I decided to switch to the Olympus brand of cameras, but this article would get way too long and I’d much rather you experience them for yourself! I’ll link to their website where you can look through a bunch of the newer features, they’ve added to the newer cameras to see if these cameras are right for you.
Remember though, brands do not make the photographer. These cameras are just tools for the art. I encourage you not to be too loyal nor too hardcore over the brand you or someone else uses. Find what works for you, go shoot, and most importantly have fun doing it!