My Fuji vs. Olympus catch-22

My Fuji vs. Olympus catch-22

Regular readers of this blog would know that I use both Olympus and Fuji cameras. I may happen to occasionally use another brand, but it will probably be for testing/review purposes. Although I started shooting Olympus m43 cameras exclusively more than 3 years ago, during the last year or so I also entered the X-System and, today, use is practically equally divided between the two.

It's funny if you recall that both companies are named after holy mountains; Olympus from the Greek mountain of the Gods, and Fuji taking its name from that natural monument of Japanese culture. But, apart from that, both companies have much more in common.

It could be said that both target broadly the same audience. Although they have consumer cameras in their line-up, the throw their weight on the higher level enthusiastmarket, while their flagships also target professional users. Same is true about their respective lens systems.
They have both decided to go with the retro styling; Fuji even extending it to the control structure. This, I believe, have gained them quite a following, be it from nostalgic film-era photographers, hipsters, or, simply those with enough taste to loathe the bloated "black jellybean" look of modern DSLRs. There are other common themes between the two brands, which we'll discuss later on.

Working with two different systems is not only difficult logistically, but, at times, it can be seriously counterproductive. Beyond different interfaces, one has to deal with, probably, different workflow decisions too. There is also the issue of overlapping; how many portraitshort telephoto lenses one needs? There are, of course, people using different system cameras for specialized tasks; e.g. a compact format camera for travel, street and everyday general photography, plus a bigger system for studio work, etc.

In my case, both systems are very similar in format and size. Which begs the question: would I consider investingin just one of the two? I guess I have enough experience with both to make an educated decision. This would simplify things greatly and help avoid various headaches, and it's something I was thinking during my latest roadtrip, where I took both systems along.

Let us remember that any decision on a camera system is a compromise. The question everyone has to answer is whether he or she can live with certain limitations and what features are more important. Then there is also the matter of artistic/aesthetic choice; one camera can simply be "better" because it is more inspiring and/or intuitive.

I have been asked this question (and also asked myself) many times and my honest answer is, I can't decide: I dream of an ideal camera that combines features (and eliminates weaknesses) from both. Consequently,  instead of trying to present both systems' feature sets, which has been done elsewhere ad nauseam, I'll describe what my " ideal system camera" would be. Please, be advised this will be a highly subjective matter, although it is based, best I could, in real world, user experience based remarks.

Just so we get it out of the way, what about a third, different system? In reality, most people getting into mirrorless cameras today, are primarily consideringSony. After all, Sony managed to bring affordable FF mirrorless cameras to the spotlight. Unfortunately, for the time being at least, I don't see Sony replacing either -and even more, both- of my systems. I could live with the limited, for now, lens selection. But, barringthe monster that is the a7Rii, I haven't seen a decisive IQ improvement with FE Sonys; and haven't observed any serious usability or performance advantage either. One could of course build a system based on the flagship a7Rii, but the need for high quality glass, plus a backup body would easily turn the whole thing into a quite expensive endeavor. Not to mention abandoning various advantages of the Olympus/Fuji systems, such as high speed burst, smaller lenses, and several more, not least of all, brand "philosophy".   

I'm talking about "systems" but, in reality, the discussion is about the flagship E-M1 and X-T1 bodies. That said, I'll include in my remarks features and advancements made in later models. And, because, both cameras are going to be replaced during the next 12 months at the latest, all later features will be included to their successors, and then some (rumored) ones.  Let's start then...

What would I keep from Olympus

1) Number one on the list, IBIS with the latest improvements made with the E-M5Mk2:  I can't stretch enough what kind of difference IBIS can make in delivering a sharper image, most of the times gaining at least one to two stops in the same (hand-held) shooting conditions, over any other camera, even if the latter has a IS lens. IBIS already endows the E-M5mk2 with the ability to shoot ultra-high resolution static images. But, in the near future Olympus also promises much more utilizing the IBIS mechanism, hand-held high resolution "composite" shooting being the most exciting. This would be a gamechanger, offering ultra high resolution images (suitable for cropping and huge prints) from a "low" resolution base sensor. This means higher speed and lower storage requirements for "normal" shooting conditions, with the option of high resolution output on demand.

2)  Build quality. The E-M1 is built like the proverbial tank. There is very little to be desired even over the top of the line pro DSLRs here. Weather and cold sealing is second to none.

3) Tactile feel and responsiveness. All controls are reminiscent of old time, high quality mechanical controls in their response, helping in making the user experience fast and pleasant. All buttons and dials are where they should be and easily accessible, even in the dark or while wearing gloves and the grip is perfect for almost any hand size. Also, buffer size is exemplary, making it ideal for burst shooting scenarios.  

4) Static subject AF, under any conditions. The E-M1 is literally a cold blooded killer in this department. Using almost any system lens, it locks focus instantaneously and doesn't get bothered by backlighting or lower contrast conditions as most other mirrorless systems.  

5) Shooting modes and options. For example the E-M1 (and E-M5mk2) allow bracketing on everything, including combinations.  Although I may be in the minority, I love the "creative" modes offered; they might handily serve to kickstart your creativity at times. And the crown jewel has to be the Live shooting modes. Olympus simply plays at its own category with features like Live Composite. And, building on the capabilities of the mighty IBIS, in-camera Focus Stacking/Bracketing is coming soon.

6) Sensor "health" support. I never had an Olympus camera with a dirty sensor. They probably have the best sensor cleaning mechanism in existence; which is notpeculiar since they actually invented automaticsensor cleaning. Olympus is also one of the very few companies which offer user-end hotspot removal (pixel mapping).

What would I keep from Fuji

1) The IQ and X-Trans sensor rendering. It's hard to argue that, given the ideal conditions Fuji can produce simply astounding photos, that can rival those from most FF cameras. Furthermore, it's the representation and unique style of the produced pictures that can make one fall in love with the X-System.

2) Fuji colors (both in JPEG and RAW) are probably the best in the businessFuji also has the best auto WB I've seen and the film simulations are fantastic (and highly useable out of camera, especially if one takes care to setup jpeg parameters to one's liking).  

3) Analog type controls and feel. This is of course a matter of preference. Fuji goes for full manual controls which will be familiar to older users but probably a bit baffling to those accustomed to modern DSLRs. But the thing is, if you enjoy the control paradigm that Fuji promotes, you can work both fast and intuitively.

4) AF for moving subjects (tracking). There was a time when "fast Fuji AF" was something of a joke among photographers, in the same category as "Canon dynamic range" and "budget Leica lenses". Just three years later and Fuji has one of the best implemented and highest performing AF systems in the mirrorless market, using the latest firmware (in the X-T1 and X-T10)

5) Manual focus support. The X-T1 is the best camera to use with old (or modern) manual lenses, period. Features such as magnification, peaking, SLR-style split screen and dual-screen focus point, make it a breeze nailing focus.

6) EVF: even against EVFs introduced 2 years later, the one in the X-T1 excels in size and responsiveness. Can't wait to see them top that in their next high-end body.  

Where both get it right

1) Support. Fuji started a brave new trend with their Kaizen philosophy and Olympus quickly followed suit. In a world where cameras are nothing more than a consumer commodity, they both practically give you a new camera for free every couple of years, by means of huge firmware updates. There are also minor updates/fixes in between. In short, anyone having invested in one of the top of the line Fujis or Olympus can be safe in knowing their camera would be reasonably up to date for probably its whole lifetime.

2) Lenses. Here we have a draw, in my opinion. Both Fujinon and Zuiko lenses are superb in optical quality and performance, having absolutely nothing to envy from any other high end lens lineup. I would give a slight advantage to Fuji for the single reason that they don't even have a mediocre/entry level kit lens in their collection; I also love aperture rings (what can I say...).

Where both suck

Menus and customization. Both systems' menus are a mess and the only redeeming quality is the SCP (Olympus) or Quick menu (Fuji) which can be used for quick access. As a matter of fact, although some companies (e.g. Canon) have well designed menus, all companies are living in the Dark Ages as far as menu interface is concerned. The only one which seems to get it, is Leica, with their T model. This is a subject for another extensive blog post, but, in a nutshell, my ideal camera should have an "app-based" structured, modular interface similar to the Leica T. As far as customizations of buttons, etc, goes, no complaint from either of the two: they are both very extensive albeit hard to set.

As a final thought, let's consider the fact that both companies are tied, more or less, to others' development of sensor technology. For the most part, Sony. This is unfortunate, since they are tied up to what Sony has to offer in their respective formats. Regrettably, it's rumored that Samsung is getting out of the game. It would be very interesting, for example, for me personally, to see a ~20Mp version of the 28Mp BSI Samsung sensor, in one of these cameras, with even more improved ISO performance. That said, both companies are going to introduce new sensor options in the near future, and are researching new technologies.

Whatever my "ideal" camera body may be, two things are for sure. Number one, I'm currently keeping and shooting both systems. Number two, we have still to see very exciting future cameras on both systems, which still have a lot of life in them.

I see what you did there, Leica

I see what you did there, Leica

Photos from a roadtrip, part 2

Photos from a roadtrip, part 2