Contemplating a camera brand switch - Part 3 of 5

March 03, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

The Olympus OM-1, now OM Systems, is a great camera specifically for the outdoors and wildlife (and macro). They just released an update of that camera. If the reviewers are correct, this is a really good camera. The autofocus system reviews very well. The frame rate is insanely fast. They also have a feature that I would loooooove to have, pre-capture. A half press of the shutter starts taking images and places them in the camera's buffer. When you fully press the shutter then the camera saves the images in the buffer plus what you shot while fully pressing the shutter onto the memory card. When birds suddenly take off or something exciting happens with no warning, the camera still captured all the action. This is a fantastic feature to have for bird and wildlife shooting. This camera has everything I could wish for in a birding and wildlife camera, including a stacked sensor which basically eliminates rolling shutter (which my camera is terrible at); except for one problem. The sensor is only 20MP. This is a deal breaker for me. Yes, because the sensor gives you a 2X field of view compared to full frame cameras and since OM Systems has a fantastic lens (more about this later), you would not need to crop for reach's sake. You can fill the frame with the lens and camera's reach. But that still does not solve the framing issue which necessitates some cropping.

          I also have two other objections relating to OM systems.

  1. Will OM Systems survive? They are a small company (the imaging division). Olympus sold the imaging division to JIP (the new parent company). Even though the OM-1 has been selling well, their market share is still very small compared to the three big players; Canon, Sony, and Nikon. I am not sure I want to risk a large investment which could loose all of it's value if the imaging division closes down. I recently corresponded with an OM Systems Ambassador who assured me that he sees people switching from the big three to OM Systems in large volumes. Then again, I also spend a lot of time reading in various photographic forums. Mind you, I am not reading what Canon, Sony, or Nikon users are saying, I am reading the OM Systems' forum (these are people who are shooting with OM Systems already). The sentiment in these forums also questions OM Systems' survivability. Furthermore, many of these photographers state that they are either leaving the system or not buying any new gear from OM Systems. The bottom line for me is that this does not inspire confidence in the brand.

  2. Lens pricing. OM Systems have a wonderful birding and wildlife lens in the 150-400mm F4.5 x1.25. The build quality, optical performance, weather sealing, stabilization, and the built-in 1.25x teleconverter are awesome. This is the ideal lens for what I shoot, and it is quite small and light for what it is. But, ... please just be patient with me as I quickly grab a tissue, the price makes me cry. At $7,500.00 this is deal breaker number two. Now many faithful Olympus photographers argue that this lens is an absolute bargain because the full frame equivalent does not exist and the full frame lenses that come close to this cost double this price. To be clear, 2x (field of view as compared to full frame sensors) of 150-400 plus the 1.25x teleconverter gives you 300-1000mm of reach. My counter argument is simple. That field of view advantage comes from the camera's sensor and not from the lens. The lens, physically is no more than a 150-400mm and therefore should not cost more than what it is. The glass, focusing motors, etc. in the lens are no bigger or stronger than what is needed for the stated 400mm. Let's bring in some perspective. The Nikon 400mm F4.5, which is also a professional series lens retails for $3,000.00. Let's add $1,000.00 for the zoom from 150-400. Let's add another $1,000.00 for the built-in teleconverter. This lens should not cost more than $5,000.00. There is no way I will pay $7,500.00 for this lens, even if the camera had a 33MP sensor. What is of further concern is that OM Systems just released a 150-600mm lens and priced it at $2,700.00. The Nikon 200-600 costs $1,700.00 while the Sony 200-600 costs $1,900.00 and both of these lenses are great. To add insult to injury, this lens is a rebadged Sigma lens (I am not bashing Sigma here, they make some great lenses especially their ART line of lenses) which sells for $1,500.00 (once again, my issue is not with the lens but with the price OM Systems want for it). Now I can understand OM Systems adapting this lens to work better with their stabilization system. Let's add $500.00 for that. Why would anyone pay $2,700.00 for this lens?

          With all that said, as much as I really wanted to like the OM-1 II with its fantastic 150-400mm lens, the resolution of the camera's sensor and the price of the lens rules them out. The concern about whether OM Systems will still be around in ten years did not help their cause.

          Since we are talking about smaller than full frame camera sensors here let us look at two other brands in this space. Panasonic and Fujifilm stand out. Fujifilm especially is noteworthy since they too use a stacked sensor. Their frame rate is great. Unfortunately, both of these companies' offering seem to fall short in the autofocus department. Photographing birds (birds in flight) can be one of the most taxing genres on a camera's autofocus system. In my opinion, both these brands just don't cut it for birds in flight. Now if I was filming video, the Panasonic really shines there, but that is not my focus.

          As a result, OM Systems, Panasonic, and Fujifilm have been eliminated from my list. I don't mind smaller sensors. If Sony were to introduce an APS-C camera with top notch autofocus tracking, a stacked sensor, clean noise levels, and a fast frame rate, I would buy it in a heartbeat, provided the price is not so outrageous as the Sony A1's price is (in my view).

          My search for gear that better matches what I shoot now continues ... See you next week as I discuss the next contender.


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