On the Almost Magical IS of Olympus/OM System Cameras

About a year ago a question was posted to the Fujifilm X System / SLR Talk forum of the now-defunct DP Review (which is to the shock and amusement of the camera world is still kicking). I’m not much of a forum posting/responding kind of guy, but this question was right in my wheelhouse and so I gave my $.02. Since DP Review is apparently going to cease existence some day, I decided to save the post and reply for posterity, in case it helps other aspiring photographers figure their stuff out. Here is the question and my response:

Has anyone used an xt-4 vs the om-1 or x-hs2 or indeed vs a second-hand full-frame system?

I have been a Fuji shooter since 2015 and since March [2022] have switched my kit almost entirely over to Olympus/OM System. I have owned both the X-T4 and the OM-1 and I also shoot travel, so some of our experience overlap.

I’ve loved my Fuji gear, but there are two reasons why Oly makes more and more sense to me.

First is size and weight. Fuji is getting larger and heavier. My first “real” Fuji (I started with the X-T10) was the X-T2, which weighed 507g. I traded it in on the X-T4, which weighed 20% more. That 20% was noticeable, but the X-T4 was also chunkier. Blockier. Ergonomically, less enjoyable to use. With the intro of the X-H1 and now the X-H2S Fuji has been getting away from svelte and small and as a stills shooter I feel I’m losing the reason I moved from full-frame DSLR to mirrorless.

My OM-1 weighs the same as the X-T4, but feels better ergonomically. One can look at the dimensions all day and declare them equal, but the OM-1 just fits better, both in my hand and sliding in and out of a bag. The X-H2S is even chunkier and heavier: 9% heavier than the X-T4.

My biggest reason turned out to be image stabilization. I come from the Canon world and owned the excellent 24-105 L f/4 IS and the 70-200 L f/4 IS. Even 10 years ago that IS worked wonders. NOT so with the X-T4. The X-T4’s stabilization was so poor that I thought that the system wasn’t on or broken, until I read this comparison. I’ve also rented the X-S10 and owned the 18-55 f/2.8-4 IS and the performance of both was also “meh.”

Four months ago on a whim I bought a used E-M1.2 and a 12-40mm f.2.8 PRO for a trip I was taking. The IS is astounding and a week after I got back I traded the E-M1.2 in on an OM-1 and soon after started downsizing my Fuji kit.

How astounding? Here’s how Amateur Photographer describes the X-H2S:

Fujifilm’s in-body stabilisation works well, and I was able to get sharp images hand-held at shutter speeds as slow as 0.6sec when using the 16-55mm f/2.8 zoom at wideangle. This is on a par with cameras like the Sony Alpha 7 IV, although it’s some way off class-leading Micro Four Thirds models such as the Panasonic GH6 and OM System OM-1.

[Management: I didn’t call it out at the time, but “some way off” is doing a lot of heaving lifting in that pull quote, as you’ll see below. I respect and admire Amateur Photographer as a magazine, but I wish camera journalists would report objectively in a way that would allow readers to make informed decisions instead of using language designed not to piss off camera manufacturers. Let’s continue, shall we?]

By comparison, here is a shot from the E-M1.2 at five seconds, handheld:

E-M1MarkII | 12mm | 5sec | f/5.6 | ISO-250

Here’s another at 4 seconds, handheld:

E-M1MarkII | 12mm | 4sec | f/8 | ISO-200

Both images have plenty of detail, even if they’re lacking in artistry. I was pushing the envelope, not trying to be artistic 

In real-world use I just posted three fireworks images on my Flickr feed taken from 1.3 to 2.5 seconds, handheld, all at ISO 200 to keep the shutter speed as slow as possible. When I’m out and about I’ll routinely shoot >1 second shots, just to prove to myself that it is possible.

I’m over 50 and my hands are not as stable as they once were, so IS has turned out to be incredibly important to me, though your mileage may vary. If it’s a priority for you, you’re looking at a system that boasts .6 seconds vs. one that performs at 4+ seconds [Management: “some way off” indeed].

This is an old, though recently active, thread, so if you’re still on the fence see if you can get a long-term test with the E-M1.3. It’ll perform much the same as the OM-1, but it’s easier to get ahold of. I’m still keeping my X-T3 and most of my Fuji glass; my X-T2 was the proverbial one-that-got-away and I’m not making the same mistake twice.

Vanilla Week Continues: WDW Fireworks

OM-1 | 32mm | 1/3sec | f/5.6 | ISO-200

As the sidebar says: “Fine Art Nudes, Erotica, Travel, Portraits, Cats.” Having featured Harrow yesterday, let’s continue vanilla week with this image from last Halloween Eve.

One of the things that I adore about OM System (formerly Olympus) cameras is their class-leading image stabilization (“IS”). In fact, their IS was the thing that sold me on the system. Back in March 2022 I was visiting my favorite local camera store, Southeastern Camera in Carrboro, prior to a trip to Disney World. In the used case was an eight-year-old Olympus OM-D E-M1 MkII for about $650. Every photographer in the world gets GAS (“Gear Acquisition Syndrome”) on a bi-weekly basis and despite being a Fujifilm fanboi, I have been fascinated by Olympus since my film days (circa 1987). But they are Micro Four Thirds cameras, and in this “bigger is better” world their sensors are “too small,” so I’ve always discounted them as an option.

But the GAS was strong and lately I had started eying them again. After all, they were technological monsters, despite the teeny sensor. So when I saw the E-M1 MkII in the case at a “why not?” price point, the GAS became too much to bear.

“Golly,” I said, “it would be really keen if y’all had a used 12-40mm f/2.8 on hand.”

“As a matter of fact, we do!” came the unexpected reply.

Well, shit. I guess I was buying an Olympus kit.

And sweet raisin danish, I’m glad I did! The next week I took both it and my Fujifilm kit to Walt Disney World. Over the next five days I captured 4,200 images and not a single one was with my beloved Fuji. The photo above is a big part of the reason why: I’m hand-holding this SOB and because of the fantastic IS I am shooting firework photos as if the camera is locked down on a tripod. As much as I love Fuji, there was no way in Hades I was going to be able to replicate this on a non-IS body. I may get lucky, but with the E-M1 I was nailing every shot.

And 1/3 sec is nothing for Olympus/OM System. This is hardly pushing the envelope: in my March 2022 tests I was shooting four to five second exposures just to see if I could do it, and sure as shit I could.

But that’s a story for another day.

I came back from that trip a convert and almost immediately upgraded to OM System’s new flagship, the OM-1, which which this shot was captured. I still have my beloved Fuji kit, which I use for about 95% of my studio and portraiture work, but the OM-1 is my go-to one-lens travel kit.