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Insights & Thoughts

From Canon 5D Mark III To Olympus OM-D E-M1 – First Impressions

By Ki Thomas on February 13th 2014

Canon 5D Mark III to Olympus OM-D E-M1 – First Impressions from a Canon User

Up until recently, most of my photography work has been shot with a Canon 5D Mark III and a small, but heavy and expensive collection of L lenses. Over the past year I’ve been experimenting a bit with my approach to photography and filmmaking, utilizing the smaller and more affordable, but just as good mirrorless offerings, including cameras from Fuji, Panasonic and Olympus.

SLR Lounge Canon 5D3 vs Olympus EM1 First ImpressionsI must admit, I did sell some of my Canon gear and then buy similar stuff again (via eBay) on a few occasions, and yes, I did waste time and money in the process. I just couldn’t make up my mind and one minute, I felt confident I could do all my work with smaller mirrorless cameras, and then the next minute, I felt like I needed the full frame Canon again with fast primes. It literally started to send me around the bend. This had very little to do with the capabilities of the cameras and everything to do with me and what I thought I needed to do the job. A beautiful picture can be captured with anything, but some are better than others at certain things.

SLR Lounge Canon 5D3 vs Olympus EM1 First ImpressionsAfter hearing and reading so many glowing reports about the new flagship camera from Olympus OM-D E-M1, I really wanted to try one out for myself and put it to good use. I got in contact with Olympus here in the UK to inquire about using their flagship OM-D E-M1 for some of my work going forwards. I already owned and used the Olympus OM-D E-M5 in the past and also use the Panasonic GH3, alongside my Canon 5D Mark III (more for filming than photos), so felt quite familiar with what it would produce.

[REWIND: 11 Key differences between DSLR and Micro Four Thirds]



Olympus UK were super helpful and after a phone call and a couple of emails, they organized for a new OM-D E-M1 with 12-50 lens kit to be sent out to me. I received it the very next day. As most photographers will tell you, getting new gear, especially of this caliber, can easily be related to being 6 years young again on Christmas Eve, very exciting.

SLR Lounge Canon 5D3 vs Olympus EM1 First ImpressionsTrying It Out For Fun

With my new toy in hand, I charged up the battery and headed out the door with family in tow –  something I rarely do with the Canon 5D Mark III because it’s simply too big and heavy for family stuff unless planned. I shoot quite a lot of children’s portraits and families. I also shoot weddings and people moving around, so I felt like it would be a good test for the camera. Also, it was my family, so there’s no pressure, just go out and take some natural photos of the kids playing and get a feel for the camera. Amongst all these storms here in the UK, we actually had a very rare sunny moment too, which helped.

I took a bunch of different photos trying to get used to the controls and how everything works. The EVF is awesome, although I can still tell it’s an EVF and not an OVF, which is neither good or bad, just an observation. The focus speed is fast, I can’t tell a huge difference between my Canon 5D Mark III and the E-M1 (very unscientifically tested, of course). The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is one of the best handling cameras I’ve tried, but as with anything new, it does take a bit of getting used to and a bit of time to set it up to suit your shooting needs.

SLR Lounge Canon 5D3 vs Olympus EM1 First ImpressionsMy main stills camera for the past year has been the Canon 5D Mark III and I know it like the back of my hand. The Olympus felt quite different to shoot with. I kept forgetting to change the multi-selector switch back from position 2 to position 1, so I ended up changing my white balance/ISO a lot when I meant to change my aperture/shutter speed. Not a big deal to be honest, once you get used to this, it’s very fast to operate.

HDR Photography

I also shoot a bit of HDR from time to time. The HDR function on the E-M1 is great, but it’s a shame you can’t select the 2/10 second self timer whilst in HDR mode, allowing you to take the photo without touching the camera and not needing the remote shutter release. The plus though is the E-M1 shoots at an incredible speed, combined with the amazing 5 axis image stabilization, you can actually hand hold the camera for some HDR photos in good light.

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SLR Lounge Canon 5D3 vs Olympus EM1 First ImpressionsBecoming One With the Camera

For me personally, a camera is more than the sum of its parts and I need to spend more time with the E-M1 to become one with the camera, so to speak. I also need to work out how to get the most from the sensor in terms of image quality and then post processing them. It is quite different to my Canon 5D Mark III and, in fact,  my previous Olympus OM-D E-M5. I also shoot with some Fuji gear and for me, I love the images out of the Fuji‘s and I love the feel of the camera, too. The E-M1 is taking a little more getting used to than I thought it would. I want to love this camera and perhaps, in time I will, but right now, after my admittedly short time with it, I’m not there yet. So far I’ve only used the kit lens and the 45mm 1.8 so perhaps some other primes would develop my love for the camera quicker.

Face Recognition

I have a on again/off again relationship with the face recognition. It always nails the focus and is very helpful, but sometimes it’s on the wrong eye/person/area. I think, until you can plug the camera into your brain so it knows intuitively what you want it to focus on, this is inevitable and will be the same with most cameras. It does an amazingly good and very accurate job, but it can’t read my mind yet. It is however a gazillion times better than the Canon 5D Mark III which doesn’t have it at all.

SLR Lounge Canon 5D3 vs Olympus EM1 First ImpressionsI do still find it easier to move the focus points around on my Canon though and just as quick as the auto face recognition. That little joystick on the Canon 5D Mark III is awesome. Moving the focus point around on the E-M1, with the little directional pad buttons can be a bit fiddly. I love how you can use the screen to touch focus, but not if you are using the EVF at the same time. The Panasonic GH3 is great in this respect as you can fold out the touch screen and use it to focus even when your eye is stuffed into the viewfinder, brilliant and very quick indeed.

Picture Quality

Picture quality is the big question for many. Is it good, is it good enough? Yes, it IS good. It doesn’t have the same punch to it as a camera with a full frame sensor and I don’t expect it to. Just as any full frame sensor doesn’t have the same punch to it as something like the Medium Format Phase One IQ250. It’s different tools for different jobs. I wouldn’t expect a builder to turn up with just a hammer to build a house. The right question to ask is, “Is the image quality good enough for you and the work you do?” For most, it will be. For me, I’m still undecided. It’s a very personal thing and I’m insanely picky about it, too!

SLR Lounge Canon 5D3 vs Olympus EM1 First ImpressionsAs I said above, I need to spend a bit more time with the camera to get the most out of the images. I don’t generally sit at the computer zoomed in to 100 percent anyway, and from normal viewing/printing sizes the image quality is awesome, as is testament by many very talented photographers using this and other Micro Four Third cameras throughout the world and producing fantastic work. I recently wrote an article for Small Camera Big Picture detailing a shoot I did with the Panasonic GH3 that was used for the front cover shot for a national UK flying magazine. As you can see, these sensors really are plenty good enough for most applications.

Dynamic Range and Colors

Dynamic range and Colors are great, a bit greener than what I’m used to on the Canon 5D Mark III, but it’s a simple white balance/tint adjustment in Lightroom to sort it out and the Canon is quite known for it’s warmer colors, which I do actually prefer. I’ve never been a big fan of the straight out of camera Nikon colors, preferring the warmth from the Canon files. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 seems more similar to Nikon colors than Canon. The raw files are solid and withstand more or less the same amount of abuse as my Canon files.

SLR Lounge Canon 5D3 vs Olympus EM1 First ImpressionsConclusion

That’s it for now, until I get a few more hours of use under my belt, these are just my first impressions. All these photos were taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and 12-50 kit lens. I edited these images in Adobe Lightroom using the SLR Lounge and VSCO Film Presets Systems. Very exciting results from both companies and well worth investing in, with VSCO having added more Olympus specific camera profiles recently. I might write a post about getting the most out of the Olympus OM-D E-M1  using the Lightroom presets from SLR Lounge and VSCO Film if anyone’s interested?

Looking Forward

I’m also looking forward to getting hold of the recently released M.Zuiko 12-40 f2.8 Pro lens to use with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 asap and will be writing about that, too. I will be shooting some more air to air shots with this setup very soon and luck forward to sharing the result.

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Ki Thomas is a freelance photographer, filmmaker, graphic designer and writer based in the UK. Ki is known for his approachable, friendly and professional ethos. Specialising in small / start up business promotion, initiating projects and driving companies forward through a successful, sustainable and creative vision.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ian Moss

    I love my OMD. It took a while to sort out the settings so that it gives me the results that I want, but now I have, it’s a joy to use. I just love the WYSIWYG viewfinder.

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  2. jazzmine

    Hello everyone, I know I am totally late to the party but I’ve been using this camera since it came out and I love it but I feel like there is a lot for me to learn. Like my pictures don’t have much depth and up close they do seem a bit pixilated. Do any of you have examples images of your work so I can compare? I think I may need a new lens.

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  3. Mary

    I have had used Canon 60d for a while. I splurged on an Oly OMD em-1 and Lumix Leica lenses, 25mm 1.4 and 45mm 2.8 macro. I have used them for a few weeks now. Your photos look fantastic, but I am not impressed with mine very much. JPEG’s are too contrasty. Photos blurry, depth of field is not impressive even at higher apertures. Now I am tempted to get a Canon 6D with a full frame sensor, and a few other lenses…..but I hate the weight! I am in a quandary. Is my OMD sensor weak are my lenses off, should I send the whole system back. Because for a camera body that costs 2x as much as my 60D, I am liking very few images, as compared to all of the raving reviews….

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  4. martin crombie

    Hi ki
    Interesting point you raised about the abuse of files.
    I came from Fuji then Canon & back to Fuji.
    Fuji are king of abuse. Light years ahead of Canon FF by as much as 4/5 abuse stops i would say

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  5. Steve Cullen

    Interesting article, i have also just traded in my Nikon full frame and 16-35 F4 lens for an EM1 and 12-40 F2.8 lens. Awesome camera and lens package, has me interested in photography again, got tired of lugging the 1.6kgs of camera and lens around and didn’t use it enough so i took the plunge and went mirrorless.
    best photographic decision i’ve made in a long time, so far i don’t regret it at all.

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    • Ki Thomas

      Hi Steve, glad it’s working out for you.

      If it inspires you and free’s you up to enjoy things again then it’s got to be the right decision, right?


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  6. JSM

    Great post and will await your feed back with the 12-40mm 2.8.

    The 12 -50mm lens has its place but not in the professional field. The 12-40mm 2.8 is the lens you need to compare IQ if you like the zoom abilities. However, still for best IQ in micro 4/3 I believe in the primes. They are also lighter and more discrete.

    I have only tried the EM1 at an Olympus event for a few hours that was with the 12-40mm 2.8. It was a great system and I write about it on my blog (if interested).

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    • Ki Thomas

      Hey Jason, thanks for the comment. What an inspiring and moving story you have shared on your blog too. As the father of two girls under 3 I can relate to a lot of the emotions expressed.

      I’m looking forward to getting some more lenses to try out with it and will write about them shortly afterwards.

      Keep in touch.

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  7. Peter

    I have chosen one over the other. I’ve just sold off all of my FF gear to move to the OM-D E-M1 and so far i haven’t regretted it. Good bye Nikon and hello Olympus!

    I shoot a lot of street portraiture and I found that walking the streets for 4-5 hours a day with a 1.6kgs of camera and lens on a black rapid strap with extra padding still left me sore and tired at the end of the day.
    Also, I was leaving the DSLR at home when going out most times as i couldn’t be bothered to lug around all that heavy gear. My desire for photography was waning because my gear just didn’t suit my style of shooting.

    I’ll admit it was a very hard decision as i love the IQ of FF and was very happy with my PP flow, but after a lot research and talking to actual users of the E-M1 I took the leap of faith.
    I guess in about a month or two I will know if I have made the right decision.

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    • Ki Thomas

      Hey Peter, that’s great to hear. Let me know how you get on via my social networks would be interested see how it goes.

      I’m also on the journey to discovery :-)


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  8. Graham Marley

    I’m not trying to be antagonistic, but this is just more something I’ve been seeing on photo news blogs. I honestly don’t understand the anxiety over pitting mirrorless systems against full frame systems. Neither Canon or Nikon have been putting out disruptive products lately, but mid-range and up with both brands is incredibly solid offering *refined* systems. That’s not stagnation. I think the Oly looks like a great camera to have, but why do you have to choose between the 5D and the OM-D? Is it just a weight thing?

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    • Ki Thomas

      Hi Graham, thanks for the comment.

      The reason behind my trying out different systems is simply because I enjoy keeping up with current technology and enjoying everything this life has to offer. I’m more than happy to stick with my Canon but I’m also more than happy to try out other things, given the opportunity. It also allow me to do my job better with a larger knowledge of the systems in use.

      I haven’t chosen one over the other I’m just playing and thought I’d share my thoughts for those in a similar boat.

      Cheers :-)

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  9. Bhupinder Siran

    Hi Ki

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the EM-1. I too have one and think capturing images with it is a real joy. I’m would be extremely interested in an article on getting the most out of the camera using the slrlounge presets. In fact an article on how you’ve set up the camera itself would also be amazing for amateurs like myself to help configure it for optimal use.

    Anyway thanks again. I look forward to your future articles.


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    • Ki Thomas

      Hey Bhupinder, thanks for stopping by.

      That sounds like a good idea. I’ll see what I can do for a future article. I haven’t really spent enough time with it myself yet to offer that kind of resource but watch this space :-)

      Cheers. Ki

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