Olympus at CP+ 2014. Girls were there, too.

Promising Return to Form for a Former Industry Heavyweight  

With a large booth showcasing their full range of cameras, lenses and accessories, Olympus came out in full force at last month’s CP+ Camera and Photo Imaging tech show.

In the center of it all was an aviary of sorts, home to spectacular ornithological subjects displaying splendidly colorful plumage. They strutted around as subjects for viewers to take test shots with provided sample cameras in the OMD range.

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Apart from being a birdwatchers paradise, it was easily the best sample shooting area of the entire show.


Olympus’ CP+ Aviary - Gallery Link & Video Below 

At first we chatted with Eiji Shirota, the Senior Supervisor in charge of Project Development in the R&D department. He talked about where the company is and what it plans to do from here on out. With regard to lenses, Olympus intends to bring out a full range of ‘pro’ micro 4/3 zoom lenses with imaging capabilities and build quality to match their now legendary Zukio glass for the old 4/3s system.

It makes sense to focus on the pro market; there has been very healthy and steady growth in the m4/3 high-end across the board - from AP journalists to filmmakers to the occasional AkihabaraNews contributor. It also shows that Olympus is definitely as committed to the m4/3 as Panasonic, which will help it stand up to those ancient systems still using 1940’s flappy mirrors and pentaprism viewfinders.

At the consumer and semi-pro end of the scale, however, Olympus seems to be a little less decided. The future makeup of the PEN range is up in the air. With 3 OMD cameras targeting enthusiasts and pros, one wonders if there is a need for 3 consumer bodies as well, especially when they all essentially do the same thing and have the same (albeit stunning) image quality.


For Shooting in the Aviary - Gallery Link & Video Below 

Shirota was not keen to comment on the fruits of their recent deal with Sony, but he did say that both companies, though working in co-operation, will remain separate entities focussing on enhancing and improving their current brands and lineups. He did mention that Olympus is beginning to develop proprietary video capabilities for future cameras. Since Olympus’ video heritage is practically non-existent and Sony is one of the biggest players in the video industry, one presumes that being buddy buddy with the big S could be of some benefit.

Regardless, since both companies are firmly pushing mirrorless cameras, if nothing else they’ll form a combined motivational ‘Get with the Times’ kick to the behemoth behinds of Canon and Nikon...and that could finally get camera and imaging tech moving toward the future again.

OMG a new OMD (that was a bit lame, forgive and read on)

The E-M10 is the third camera in the OMD range, and it’s place in the lineup is a bit of an unknown. On one hand it seems like an upgraded E-M5 (the camera that put the m4/3 system on the pro photography map), but it still exists alongside it. It features the same 16mp sensor as the EM-5, but with the improved TruPic VII engine of the flagship E-M1. It can fire of 8 shots per second and gains a flash and WIFI, but it loses weather sealing and the accessory port. It also loses a good deal of size and weight compared to the E-M5, but in doing so the spectacular 5-axis in-body image stabilization had to be given up for a 3-axis solution.

Video performance has improved a bit too as it can now handle a full 30fps, 1080p, at 24mb/s. Admittedly, nothing spectacular from a hybrid photography standpoint, but for what it’s worth your YouTube clips will be full HD. It is also a good deal cheaper than the E-M5 and E-M1


Copping a Feel 

With camera in hand, the first thing you notice is the reduced size. It’s significantly smaller than the E-M5, but at the same time feels somewhat better to hold (though that particular point is highly subjective).

The second point that comes to mind is that It OLYMPUS MOVED THE DAMN POWER BUTTON AGAIN!!!!! Seriously. Pick a spot and leave it there. Its not that hard. Everyone does it because it’s a good bloody idea. Yes: 3 OMD models, 3 power buttons, in 3 different places. It seems like a small thing but shooting is a physical experience and muscle memory is built-up. Forcing users to adapt to different layouts after a year or more of something different is an unnecessary chore that could cost a great many photos, not to mention customers. That hiccup aside, it handles in an Olympus-like manner.

New Power Zoom Lens
The image quality promises to be at least as good as the EM-5, and a quick Google will find you some reviews by those with access to some of Olympus’ quality glass, and they were really bring out the best in the new body. At CP+, however, they only let us play with it using the new m.Zukio 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ MSC power zoom lens, which will be available both as a kit or on it’s own. It’s also crap.

Maybe that was a bit harsh.
The new 14-42 is a tiny lens that when closed barely adds anything to the camera’s size making it pocketable while providing a decent average zoom range and average image quality to average consumers. The power zoom will likely appeal to compact camera upgraders and casual shooters, but it’s unintuitive, laggy, and more effort than it’s worth for anyone who has been shooting with interchangeable lenses for any period in time. The lens’ average aperture range may be great in sunlight, but it struggled under the artificial lights at the show and will probably be near-useless in low light situations.

So maybe it isn’t entirely crap after all, but it’s not the lens to bring out the best in the new camera. It would be nice if they had a prime lens kit option available, perhaps pairing the new camera with their spectacular 25mm f1.8 for people who want quality images and are willing to use their feet a bit.

Sample Shots from the 'Aviary' 
Possible equipment shortcomings aside, a photographer needs to make the best out of the situation he’s in, and so we dutifully took our fair share of...samples…an attempt at making the most of…the lens. Take a look at the gallery and tell us what you think of the...image quality.

In the end though, especially after having seen some real life tests on the interwebz, as a tool for photography the new EM-10 - when paired with high-end glass - remains true to the stellar quality and capability for which the OMD badge has become known.

With their enthusiast and pro lineup looking promising, Olympus is off to good start in 2014, if somewhat conservative. Solid performing still cameras are what built the brand, and they’ll ensure a good foundation moving forward. With Fuji and Sigma gaining ground, however, it will be interesting to see where Olympus goes from here and even more interesting to see where their new relationship with Sony takes them.

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All Photos: Nayalan Moodley, AKA DarcNoodles - Darc.jp

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