The Olympus E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8 lens on the road

I recently returned from a trip to the Yucat√°n peninsula — fortunately I’d received my pre-ordered Olympus E-M1 body and 12-40mm f/2.8 lens before we left for the trip (the lens’ arrival preceding my departure by all of two days), so thought I’d write up some quick thoughts on how the combination behaved for me in real-world travel.

The E-M1, de-blinged
The E-M1, de-blinged in Belize

First off, I like to take the shine off my camera gear before travel in the 3rd world (on the assumption that this will make it a bit less attractive to the average petty thief). Both the E-M1 and 12-40mm lens have quite a bit of flashy trim and lettering on them, so it took me longer than usual to “de-bling” them for travel. Still, at least they both have a black finish, so a 3rd party lens cap and about 20 minutes’ work with black gaffer tape did the trick.

You’ll also notice in the above image that I’ve set up my E-M1 with a Peak Design “Cuff” — I’ll write up a full review of this item later, but it proved to be a very helpful ally as well.

I was primarily surprised by the utility of the focal length range of the 12-40mm lens. A bit spoiled by my time with my 4/3 12-60mm lens, I was concerned that the 12-40 just wouldn’t give me enough “reach” on the long end. But at least for my trip, I found that I took most of my shots with the 12-40, switching lenses only occasionally to the Panasonic 100-300 (for wildlife in trees, primarily).

I’ve also become a big fan of the one-button access to HDR settings that Olympus provides on the E-M1. I can now switch in and out of exposure bracketing in hardly any time at all — very handy when you’re trying to move fast and find yourself in challenging lighting conditions.

As for image quality, I’ve found nothing to complain about from this combination. Colors are good, resolution is great, CA and distortion are well under control (both optically, and thanks to Oly’s new support for in-camera correction logic). I took no long-exposure images on the trip, so that annoyance didn’t hinder me in this case.

Headed up-river
Headed up-river
Tiny friend
Small but friendly
Homeward bound
Homeward bound

The E-M1‘s video capabilities are obviously still limited (as was the case for its predecessors), but the video it captures is crisp and clean.

Leaf cutter ants on the move

I also made a quick time lapse movie using the E-M1‘s built-in function for that — I think it turned out pretty well for a time lapse “newbie” working in uncooperative weather:

“Sunrise” at the ruins of Tikal (if only the skies had helped out…)

The E-M1‘s ergonomics are a huge improvement (vs. the E-M5) for a large-handed guy like me. I just have to remind myself on occasion that the lens can be (sometimes inadvertently) switched to manual control with an easy slide of an on-lens ring.

The 12-40mm lens is much better, though quite a bit larger than either of the current Olympus “kit” lens offerings with similar zoom ranges. Meanwhile, it’s lighter and smaller than the heritage 4/3 12-60mm lens. Here you can see the 12-40mm lens bracketed by the 12-50, and the 4/3 12-60 with adapter:

Three amigos
Three amigos

As a result of the 12-40mm lens’ size, it can block some of the output of the little flash that comes with the camera — but only near the lens’ 12mm focal length. If you’ve forgotten (or opted not) to carry a regular flash, you’ll want to take off the 12-40mm‘s hood and zoom in a little:

12mm shadow w/ hood12mm shadow w/o hood
Flash shadows at 12mm — with and without hood

All-in-all, I think the Olympus E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8 lens make a potent team for travel photography. They’re not exactly pocketable, but they’re a pretty compact pair and good as a “walkaround” setup. Throw in a longer lens for occasional photos needing more “reach,” and you’ve got a compact and relatively light (if not exactly cheap) set of camera gear that will cover most situations you’ll encounter out in the wider / wilder world.

Want to see more images from this pair? Stay tuned to this blog and my Flickr feed, l’ll be posting images from my trip to both over the coming months.