From entry-level to pro, the Olympus Mirrorless Four Thirds OM camera series has something for every aspirational travel photographer.
Are you looking to get serious about your digital photography and move up to an interchangeable lens system? Or maybe you are looking to upgrade to a pro level weatherproof transportable system?
Are you off on a journey of a lifetime and looking to record every moment? You want to be sure there’s no danger the camera won’t be up to the task – so which will you take along?
The Olympus OM Micro Four Thirds system could be heaven sent. In this article, we’ll look at the OM-D E-M10 entry-level camera and the top of the range OM-D E-M1 through almost 12 months of use.
Why Olympus mirrorless systems are phenomenal travel cameras
This was taken handheld, showing just how good the image stabilization is on these cameras.
The important considerations for travel cameras are size and weight, versatility, durability, performance, and picture quality. Ideally, you want a light-weight system that will easily move between landscape, street, and portrait photography.
Let’s look at each of these considerations in turn.
Size and weight
Incredibly, they both fit in a parka-style coat pocket when fitted with a 14-42mm kit lens. Look at the size of my Sony DSLR in this picture below to see just how much of a space saving there is comparatively.
There are obvious advantages to the smaller cameras in regards to luggage on a plane, and carrying gear around all day. But the small size is also non-threatening if your shots include passers-by. Plus you can take it places where professional style cameras are not allowed.
The Micro Four Thirds System also means lenses are much more compact. For instance, the Olympus 75-300mm zoom lens measures 130mm and weighs in at 430g (just under a pound). The equivalent focal range for a full frame camera is 150-600mm. That kind of glass for a DSLR would weigh in at about 3kg (6.5 pounds)!
There is a good range of lenses available for the Micro Four Thirds mount including ranges by Lumix and Panasonic, as well as Olympus. The range will take you from a fish-eye pancake lens, through wide-angle primes to long zooms. The image stabilization system built into the camera means the lenses are both light and affordable.
Extension rings with electronic connections to allow your lens and camera talk to each other are also available allowing you to make the best use of your available lenses. Two lenses and one converter will take you from wide-angle to macro to long zoom without missing a beat.
Both these cameras look and feel solid and durable. Having used them both for almost a year in sometimes inhospitable conditions and on long hikes, I have had no issues with these cameras or the lenses I use.
If you look at the pictures the condition is still like new. They even get taken along on motorbike and camping trips in the winter!
Performance and Picture Quality
Firstly, I should mention I am using systems that were current when they were purchased at the beginning of 2017. They have both been upgraded since with some notable improvements. The EM-1 now has a Mark II version with a 20MP sensor rather than 16MP chip, and improved AF tracking. The EM-10 moves up from Mark II to Mark III with more minor improvements.
The camera has a fantastic viewfinder with 100% picture coverage as well as a touch-control rear screen, a feature that will feel familiar if you use a smartphone. A massive range of buttons allows you to set up the camera to suit your style with several where you can assign the functions. The menu system will feel familiar if you’re a DSLR user. It has a very useful one-click user “Myset” comprising four customizable options for configurations that you use frequently.
The 5-axis stabilization is excellent, making handheld shooting easy and rewarding. The AF system has 81 points and is surprisingly good though tracking is not up to that of the weightier and roomier APS-C cameras. This is one of the trade-offs for having the compact size.
As the cameras use electronic viewfinders or the rear LCD screen, batteries get used up quickly. Battery packs are available, but this adds to the size. So if you attach one the camera won’t fit in a pocket anymore.
All the photographs in the article are taken with either one or the other of these two cameras, so you can judge for yourself the quality of the results. The newer versions of these cameras can only be even better.
The cameras provide great results for landscape photography, handling a range of tones well, especially with the added use of the HDR function to bring out details at both ends of the scale.
At lower ISO levels, up to 1600, there is little evidence of noise, although it increases in the dark areas as you approach that mark. Quality is acceptable up to ISO 6400, in my opinion.
Skin tones are good, producing great portraits and color handling is great. Low light shooting isn’t a problem for this camera, especially at the lowest ISO.
Both of these Olympus mirrorless cameras are fantastic pieces of kit for almost every situation. Picture quality is good, handling with the stabilization is awesome, AF and exposure are solid. With an entry-price of about $500 for the EM-10, the value is terrific.
The pricier EM-1 is also a good value, especially when considering the price of additional lenses. A Mark I at less than $1100 represents astonishing value. However, I do aim to upgrade to the EM-1 Mark II when finances allow, knowing I already have a decent range of accessories for it.
As a travel camera, I don’t think these two Olympus mirrorless cameras can be beaten at their respective price points. If you are new to system cameras, the EM-10 would be a fantastic introduction, with its straight-forward layout. A more seasoned photographer may prefer the customizable options and total control of the EM-1
Either way, you won’t be disappointed with the results. You can take that once in a lifetime trip knowing you’ll bring back images of your travels to be extremely proud to show off to friends.