First impressions of Olympus for the best travel camera
Knowing that there are several reviews on this newly released camera, mine is a bit different. I don’t normally shoot Olympus. My current cameras are SONY cameras — both the A7R and A9. I initially started with Canon. These first impressions of Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III (shortened to E-M1 in the rest of the blog) are not a technical review, but rather my personal review as a travel photographer. Read more to see why I was not satisfied with my current set up and why I began to search for the best mirrorless camera for travel. I will also do some comparison pictures between Olympus vs SONY mirrorless.
Previous travel cameras
My first camera was Canon 5D. After that, I moved to Canon 5D Mark II, Mark III, and Mark IV and 5DS. My main lenses were 16-35, 24-70, 70-200, and several fast primes. I have no complaints with Canon cameras. They are great, but I am a travel photographer. This is a very heavy setup to carry with you. Mirrorless cameras intrigued me so I tried SONY cameras. Note that this was prior to Canon coming out with their mirrorless solution.
I liked the weight of the SONY camera compared to a DSLR. Also shooting with the histogram in my viewfinder works great for me. So I dove all in and replaced my Canon system with a SONY system. The mirrorless shooting experience appealed to me, especially the EVF and ability to see what you are capturing. I never liked SONY’s menu system. And to be honest, the full frame lenses are still large. Since I was only considering full frame cameras at this point, my assumption was that SONY was the best mirrorless travel camera.
Drawback of SONY camera
The biggest downfall with SONY is they are not small and light. While smaller than a DSLR, a full frame mirrorless camera will still have large lenses. You can’t change physics. Yes, there are some pancake lenses, but I’m talking about the main lenses I use — the 24-70, 24-105, 70-200, etc. Again this isn’t a bash in any way against SONY, it is just physics. So coupled with the fact that I had to do a lot of adjustments to SONY raw files to get the color that I liked, I never fell in love with my SONY cameras. Don’t get me wrong, I took a lot of beautiful pictures with them, but never loved the shooting experience.
Mind set change
So I’m still looking for the perfect travel photography mirrorless camera setup. My camera gear became so heavy I noticed I was taking more and more pictures with my iPhone for everyday pictures and less with my camera. And for the reasons listed above, this setup does not totally work for me as a travel photographer. While large file sizes are great, do you really need 42 MP to get a picture printed large? I know before I had 42 MP I printed numerous pictures large size with no problem. The first thing was I had to change my mind set. I was pretty much a full frame snob thinking bigger was better. And no one could have persuaded me to change my mind.
And the truth is that a camera is only as good as the photographer taking the picture. It is the photographer’s vision and composition that makes the photograph tell a story.
Enter Olympus Cameras
After reading the descriptions on the E-M1 I was intrigued. I know it is micro four-thirds. I know the differences in sensor sizes. But I read numerous articles and decided I had to try this. With many of the new features of the camera, I had to wonder could it be used effectively for a travel set up? Could the pictures be professional? Would they be sharp enough? Could this work for a mirrorless travel camera?
My first impressions of Olympus
- The build quality is incredible.
- The lenses are small, lightweight, fast and very sharp
- Lenses focus fast
- Still pictures are beautiful — (I have not tried video yet)
- The camera stabilization is fantastic
- The camera feels right in my hands. I know that’s not a lot of help to many of you, but you really do have to feel a camera.
It is very important for me to use a camera that allows me to capture what I see. I don’t care about features unless they help my shooting ability. So I pay little attention to what others say and how someone else shoots.
To compare Olympus vs SONY mirrorless, I took some test shots to compare the E-M1 and SONY A7R III. Now, conceptually, the SONY should have blown away the Olympus just from the sensor size and sensor resolution size — full frame and 42.4 MP vs micro four-thirds and 20.4 MP.
The test shots I took have the following criteria:
- SOOC straight out of camera
- Not edited
- I always shoot raw, but these test shots are jpeg for comparison purposes.
- Exact same settings although I used the equivalent aperture and focal distance on the SONY so it would be more of a comparison without looking at the obvious size difference.
- Most importantly, not meant to be stunning pictures. I picked the subjects to test particular details in the cameras.
- SONY lens was 24-105 and Olympus lens is 12-100.
The first Olympus vs SONY shot was selected to see how the camera reacted to texture and details. Again, not meant to be a good picture — just a test picture.
First impressions are you can obviously see the difference in sensor size, but I can deal with that when I compose.
The first picture is the Olympus. It is sharp and detailed. The second picture is from SONY. It is also sharp, but I also may have had a little camera shake because I would have expected it to be sharper. I like the color of the Olympus better. And a plus to IBIS because the Olympus shot has great detail in the fence post and vines. My initial impressions of Olympus are favorable so far.
The second Olympus vs SONY picture is a landscape shot. Looking to capture the entire image in focus. I also selected this test shot because of the blue barn. I have always struggled with blue tones with my SONY. They can be corrected in post processing, but I wanted to see a side by side comparison with the 2 cameras.
Both shots are sharp. I have to give a slight edge to the SONY in details such as the stone foundation of the barn and the silo. BUT, when I printed both to 16×20 size, there was no noticeable difference in the pictures. It was only when on my computer screen pixel peeping that I would give the edge to SONY. The blue and green colors are far more accurate in the Olympus. It is April in upstate New York — not much is green and the blue of the barn in the SONY is not accurate whereas it is accurate in the Olympus. Good first impressions of Olympus.
Snow and Water
This last Olympus vs SONY picture was selected to see the white of the snow and how the cameras captured white, some water, rocks and just a varied scene.
The SONY shot looks like it was exposed differently but it wasn’t. It is just the difference in full frame. Again, the Olympus has the more accurate color. I don’t see enough details in the rocks to make me think SONY is a better set up.
To give you an idea of size of the camera set up:
The Olympus has the equivalent focal distance of 200 vs. 105 for the SONY and is slightly smaller in size. Even though the Olympus is weather proof, it is definitely much lighter.
What is missing
From my first impressions of Olympus, the main things missing from the Olympus is the bigger sensor in full frame cameras that affects the bokeh in portraits. For travel photography that is not important. Night time noise may be more prevalent in Olympus due to sensor size but I have not tested that yet. I also think I can control this, but time will tell.
But to compensate for some of the short comings are features such as high resolution, live neutral density filter, focus bracketing and stacking which benefit me as a travel landscape photographer.
I have also adjusted my shooting style. Where I might shoot at F 22 in full frame, F 7.1 to F 11 are more appropriate for micro four-thirds for landscape photography. I also choose my focus point carefully and so far have not had difficulty getting great shots that are sharp and in focus.
For travel photography, any short comings are compensated with the features of the camera. This may just be the best mirrorless camera for travel, but I need a real travel test.
Real Travel photography test
A side by side comparison of both cameras was planned. I should be in Hawaii right now, but like everyone else, travel plans were cancelled due to Coronavirus. I can’t put the camera through a real test until I’m actually shooting while traveling. But I will do that as soon as it is safe to do so.
My initial impression is that the Olympus system can do everything a pro travel photographer needs it to do. But the true test will be taking it with me on my next trip. I will do some side by side comparison both cameras. If you would like to see how this comparison and my quest for the best mirrorless camera for travel turns out, I suggest you follow my posts. I will write about it when I complete real world testing.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
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Debbi Marquette Photography is located in Upstate New York at the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. Debbi is an award winning and published travel, landscape and bald eagle photographer specializing in artistic, authentic, and memorable landscape and wildlife photography. She travels frequently, lives near the mountains and constantly has a camera in her hand to capture photographs so others can see the beauty of our world.
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