Tag Archives: olympus

Olympus technical service, color me impressed!

Quick follow-up on last week’s blog post about my bricked E-PM1: despite telling me on the phone that I should be expecting a four week service time, Olympus was able to service my camera within just two business days and have it sent back within a week! I’m impressed.

Surprisingly, they apparently had to repair the “main circuit board” to fix the issue. It really surprises me that a firmware update could have that kind of an impact on the hardware, but maybe this is an indication that there was something wrong with the camera from the very beginning.

Anyway, thanks Olympus for really quick service and for ensuring that I have a working camera over the summer!

Olympus, learn how to use proactive support to cut down costs

Wow, I didn’t even think this was possible in the modern IT world where software is constantly getting more intuitive and user-focused, but apparently it’s still possible to completely brick a modern digital system camera by accident. All it takes is poorly written software in combination with poorly written documentation (and just a second of not paying attention).

As I was packing my suitcase for the upcoming trip to the US the other night, I decided to give the new Olympus firmware a try. Having done the same process in the past with my old E-P1, I already knew that the process is a bit clunky and unintuitive with Olympus software, but I at least had a previous success in my memory, so it felt like an achievable task the night before traveling. (Three hours later, I definitely regretted that choice.)

The flaws in their documentation are obvious:

  • The instructions in the firmware update tool just tell you to plug in the camera to the USB port, but in reality, the camera then prompts you to choose one of three modes. It turns out after some trial and error that the correct mode is the one in the middle of the menu (not the default choice). Pointing this out in the documentation wouldn’t necessarily cut down on their number of support incidents, but it would make for a much smoother product experience and it would reduce the user frustration, which would lead to a closer attention to what’s going on in the process. Crucially, however, this is an indication of a deeper issue at Olympus, which is that there is a disconnect between the developers and the people doing support documentation.
  • After transferring the new firmware to the camera through USB, the update tool tells you that it finished updating the firmware and that you can either click Close to finish, or click the other button (I forget its label) to update the firmware on a different product, e.g a lens or another camera. However, the camera itself simultaneously shows a different set of instructions, or rather cryptic status indications. In reality, the update process is not finished, it’s just the USB transfer of the new firmware that is. Ensuring that the instructions on both screens are consistent would help reduce the likeliness of a user making the wrong choice in the process.

The latter point is where things broke down on my end, because I think I ended up turning the camera off by pressing the power button after having read the instructions on the computer screen to do so, but the camera screen was still showing some blinking icons that I paid little attention to at the time.

Boom. One second of not paying attention — two months without a working camera.

Documentation issues aside, having lead customer support for a major software product for the last five years, I’ve learned the importance of looking beyond documentation and rather focus part of the support efforts on fixing problems in the product itself and tightening up the loop between support and product development. Without this proactive type of support, you’re in trouble. Having gone through this painful experience with my almost brand new camera, I highly suspect that there is a disconnect between the support and development teams at Olympus.

Generally, you should remove as many possible points of user failure in the software itself as part of software design. In the case of the E-PM1, I have to wonder why it’s even possible to press the power button while the thing is updating — it’s an electronic button that they could easily disable during that critical moment, rather than exposing this ridiculously simple way of bricking your camera. I don’t know how many other people have had this problem, but having searched for it online, I know I’m not the only person. Another smart thing would be to ensure that there’s always a recovery bootstrap mode that enables the camera to communicate via the USB interface even after a failed firmware update attempt. That way, it would always be possible to retry and recover.

The brutal fact here is that I now have to send the camera to Olympus. The apathetic support rep that I was talking to on the phone today told me that their average processing time is at least a month due to their high support demand (no kidding!). Since I’ll only be in the Bay Area for a couple of weeks, this means I’m going to be without the camera for at least two months before I’m able to get back here again.

I tried to tell the support rep that I feel really strongly about improving processes like this that touch on customer support, because I have a full team of awesome people at Mozilla that do this for a living, and so I wanted to find the best venue to provide this type of feedback at a level where it would be listened to. He just politely said that he will pass on my feedback to “the customer feedback department” and that was the end of the discussion. Of course, what he really meant was “I’ll put some notes that I wrote into a system that will disappear among other notes that no one here really reads, and your problem won’t be solved proactively because I hardly talk to those that could do anything about this, and honestly I don’t really care either. Have a nice day.”

He didn’t really mean the last part — this is America after all. ;)

Olympus E-M5 – my next camera?

While I’ve only owned my Olympus E-PM1 a little over a couple of months now (read my review about that camera for more info), I’ve already got my eyes on my next potential upgrade: the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

Of course, this kind of represents a 180 for me, since I most recently “upgraded” from the E-P1 to the more compact and lightweight E-PM1. If I buy the E-M5, I’ll instead get a much heavier and more bulky camera, but the improved continuous focus speed, the new sensor, the built-in electronic viewfinder, and the new steadicam-like anti-shake feature make the extra bulk entirely worth it.I also feel after having used the E-PM1 for a while that the lack of controls is a little crippling at time, so I would definitely appreciate the added controls on this new 70s rangefinder-inspired camera.

I’ll be looking forward to more in-depth reviews and samples of the actual photos taken with this camera, but on the surface, this sure looks promising.

My review of Olympus E-PM1

I recently purchased my E-PM1 as an “upgrade” from my 2-year old Olympus E-P1, which of course is a more high end camera in some respects, but was simply getting a bit old and felt slow to me. I put “upgrade” in quotation marks because the E-PM1 isn’t really meant as an upgrade from the E-P1 because the two cameras target separate customer audiences. But — and I hope my review will be able to demonstrate this — it certainly is possible to take this upgrade path if you’ve used the E-P1, as long as you’re aware of what you’re gaining and losing during the upgrade.

Olympus E-PM1 “Mini” with the new 14-42mm lens.

I’ll focus this review on the differences (good and bad) between the old E-P1 and this new E-PM1:

E-PM1 advantages:

  • Much faster focus algorithms – even with the same lenses, the E-PM1 focuses noticeably faster. With the new lenses, it’s faster than any non-dSLR camera I’ve ever used.
  • Extremely lightweight and small – I think I managed to shave off another 100 grams of total weight in my camera bag with this upgrade! (For our fine Americans, 100 grams is approximately 1/2 cup of sugar, or 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour. I’ll leave the mpg calculation as an exercise for the reader.)
  • Much improved kit zoom in terms of size and focus speed/noise. Although the lens mount is in plastic, it doesn’t seem like there will be any problems with worn out mount connections.
  • Slightly, slightly better high ISO performance, though this is only confirmed by reading professional reviews.
  • Up to 5 fps burst mode – really impressive.
  • Nicer menu interface (though menu layout is mostly unchanged).
  • Comes with a useful snap-on flash that I’ve really missed on the E-P1 at e.g. very dim party nights. Now I just have to remember to bring it along with the camera. :)

E-PM1 disadvantages:

  • I definitely preferred the retro design of the E-P1, but I was happy to give it up in favor of a much more portable package.
  • There is absolutely no grip on the E-PM1, making it a bit hard to hold. You can essentially forget about holding the camera with just one hand.
  • For some reason, Olympus leaves out a basic orientation sensor in their simpler models, which means that if you take photos in portrait mode, you have to manually rotate the photos on your computer. Not a big deal, but I can’t understand why they would take out such a basic feature — there’s not a single mobile camera phone out there that doesn’t include it, so it can hardly be a size (or cost) issue.
  • I really miss at least *one* more programmable Fn button, or at least the freedom to assign *any* feature to the one that exists (the Rec button). For some reason, Olympus decided to omit certain essential features that you can assign, which means that some combinations of direct button access aren’t possible.
  • The video mode is crippled in the sense that it’s no longer possible to re-focus while recording by e.g half pressing the shutter (or assigning the AEL/AFL lock button to focus). It’s possible to program the AEL/AFL function (which can be assigned to the Rec button) to re-focus while in Manual mode when taking photos, but for some reason Olympus forgot to inherit that feature when switching to video mode. So, the only way to re-focus while recording a video is to give the control over entirely to the camera’s hunting focus algorithms by switching over to continuous focus. This is a shame, really, and it makes the video feature much less useful to me.
  • The screen, while higher resolution than on the E-P1, actually ends up being a disappointing experience because of its aspect ratio. This is a widescreen (16:9), while the E-P1 had a lower resolution 4:3 screen. Because both screens are labeled as 3″ sized, the widescreen actually ends up being a lot smaller if you still shoot your photos using the sensor-native 4:3 aspect ratio. (This is the same thing that happened a decade ago when you compared an old 28″ TV with the, then, new 28″ widescreen TVs — the latter ended up being a much smaller screen in most practical purposes.) If would be nice if Olympus gave you the option of only seeing 16:9 cropped version of the view when framing a photo, while still actually recording the full frame (this is admittedly possible if you shoot in RAW, which I never do).

My old retro-looking E-P1 (sold).

All in all, by selling my old E-P1 and (with a little help from Michael Verdi) buying the new E-PM1, I ended up spending an additional ~220 USD, which, all in all, feels like a pretty cheap upgrade. The E-PM1 is better than the old E-P1 in many important respects (to me) such as overall size/weight, autofocus speed, and flash — but it’s admittedly a step back in some others. As an interim upgrade until the “next big thing” comes out, it feels like a good choice to me in the end. But if you own an E-P1/E-P2 and plan to hold on to your next camera upgrade for a long time, I would suggest you wait until sometime like a future E-P4 is announced, which may be a far more significant upgrade with (supposedly) a much improved sensor.

Panasonic GF1 or Olympus E-PL1?

I’m currently owning an old superzoom (Canon Powershot S3 IS) and the Panasonic LX3 and am getting ready to move up to a “real” camera. emoticon - wink I’m convinced that the Micro Four Thirds (m4/3) system is the right choice for me, as I suspect I would never actually carry a full-size SLR with me.

Coming from the LX3, which is a camera I really love, I have a bit of Panasonic bias. I like the way it performs and handles, and that has at least up until recently made me convinced that I should get a GF1, especially since it has (had) a much better AF performance than the Olympus PENs.

So hard to choose!

However, I’m starting to slowly change my mind. I was recently playing with an E-P1 in a shop and was first very annoyed with the Auto mode which consistently chose slower shutter speeds than was possible to manage without a tripod. Then after about 20 shots, I realized that the in-body image stabilization (IBIS) was turned off. After enabling it, I suddenly got almost 100% sharp photos instead. (Btw, I guess this tendency to select too slow shutter speeds is a firmware bug or something? Shouldn’t it take into consideration whether IBIS is enabled or not?)

Unfortunately, Panasonic chose the route to put image stabilization in their lenses, but not in all of them (and obviously not in rivaling Olympus lenses). Olympys, on the other hand, chose the in-camera body stabilization instead, which means that any lens attached enjoys the benefit of stabilization. 3 stops of IS is pretty huge. In the Panasonic LX3, I can sometimes take sharp photos at 1/8 shutter speeds without a tripod I if set it to burst mode and take 3-4 photos at the same time.

This leads me to think that buying a camera without IBIS is a pretty bad idea, given that many lenses (20mm/1.7, 7-14mm, 9-18mm) don’t have IS in the lens either. Also, with the new firmware update, it appears that Olympus isn’t that far behind in terms of AF performance anymore, although the kit lens isn’t very fast of course (though I didn’t find it slower than my LX3).

So, I’m now a bit torn. I’m starting to lean towards an E-PL1 because it also has a built-in flash, and the out-of-the-box colors of the JPEG images are simply stunning. In general, it feels like it has many advantages over its bigger brothers E-P1 and E-P2 while at the same time being cheaper.

At the same time, I really want the Panasonic 20mm/1.7 lens and think I’d use that more than any kit zoom, and I realize that buying that lens separately ends up getting pretty expensive compared to buying it as a kit lens with the GF1.

Am I overrating the importance of IS here? It feels to me like buying any Panasonic m4/3 is a bad idea if you care about low light performance and want to also use the camera as a casual social setting camera.

It’s such a shame that Panasonic chose the in-lens IS route here, since it really makes me less interested in their cameras even though they seem to perform better in many aspects. At this point, I would even go as far as saying that I am hardly interested in what a future GF2 will look like, because I already know that it will force me to use 3-4 stops higher shutter speeds compared to any Olympus camera with the same pancake lens.