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Before I put out my wishlist for improvements to OM-D EM-5 firmware, I want to gush a little about this wonderful little camera that could. :-)

I do a lot of studio work and, for ultimate image quality, I’m using a Hasselblad 501cm with Phase One digital back… but this obviously is much more suited to studio work. My original intention in buying into micro 4/3 was just to have a small camera that I could carry around everywhere with decent image quality and an intuitive interface. The Olympus was meant to be my fun, out-and-about camera and I really didn’t take it all that seriously until I started using it to make example images for my photography students.

All I can say is WOW. I’m truly blown away by the image quality coming out of my OM-D and all the m43 lenses (and adapted Contax Zeiss lenses) I use with it. I never imagined when I bought this camera that I’d see such incredible quality coming from such a small sensor. I’ve made 30×40 prints that just look shockingly good. Now, I know that some of you are thinking I must not have a very keen sense of quality if I’m make such HUGE enlargements and not seeing the flaws, but you should know… I’m one of those pixel-peeping sharpness nut jobs I’m always warning my students to avoid becoming. Don’t get me wrong… I’m certainly not saying that these are the best large prints I’ve ever seen or made. Are they as good as prints from my Hassy/Phase One? Of course not! But I’ve got to say these are the best darn large prints I’ve ever seen from such a small camera!

Now, when I’m working on client projects and I have to be a raving lunatic about technical quality, I reach for my absolute “best” equipment to get the job done. But when I’m just producing images for myself, I’m keen to remember something I’m always telling my students when asked “What’s the best camera?” After all the complicated, detailed technical discussion is passed, it all boils down to this: “The best camera is the one you have with you.”

Of course, that’s a simplification and I might add a bit to that and say: Ideally, the best camera for me is the one I can always have with me AND allows me to be creative AND lets me enjoy myself in the process, AND (once I get the files into the computer) doesn’t make me wish I had taken my big boy camera instead. Now that is definitely asking a lot… and a camera that does all that is kind of like the holy grail. In fact, I’ve never had a camera that meets all those desires. Until the OM-D.

No, I don’t work for Olympus and they’ve never shown me any kindness whatsoever. I just love this camera. But… it’s not perfect. And, although we should always keep in mind that NO camera can ever be perfect, I think we should always strive to make good things (and even great things) just that little bit better, if we can. And I know we can.

Now, a lot of people love to complain about button layouts or missing technical features and there are plenty of wish lists out there filled with pie-in-the-sky features that simply are not realistic. But the great thing about these digital cameras is that we can make them better without necessarily replacing the hardware. Even if we leave ALL the specifications and hardware alone, firmware can make a huge difference.

The truth is that how we interface with our creative tools can sometimes be far more important than the resultant image quality. In fact, I’d venture to say, that digital technology has progressed so far now that we are approaching the technical limits for potential image quality improvements. I doubt that we will see any more giant leaps in mega pixels or high ISO performance. Honestly, how much better can it really get? Sure, tiny cameras have loads of room for improvement, but they’ll never be capable of controlling depth of field the way 4/3rds (or larger) sensors can and there’s only so high to go with ISO before we’re shooting in darkness. No, I say the hardware is good enough at this point.

So it would seem to me that the next wave of major improvements in camera technology should be all about the interface. Indeed, this wave has already begun. Unfortunately, some designers have moved toward the ever popular iPhone-esque touch screens which are all about the touch experience, yet ironically, make it impossible to operate anything by touch alone. No matter how good these touch screens get, and no matter how efficient they are to manufacture, nothing can replace the speed and efficiency of a button or dial that is dedicated to a single function. There’s simply no way around it… the more time I spend looking at my screen, the less time I spend looking at my SCENE. We need more buttons!

Thankfully, camera designers seem to have heard the cries of photographers around the world and are moving back towards buttons and dials. And, excitingly, the OM-D EM-5 has a huge array of buttons in all the right places (mostly) for sightless, touch-only operation and quick access to critical menus. In fact, I think this wonderful camera has plenty of buttons and dials and I have nothing to say about adding more or improving the physical interface in any way whatsoever. Any physical change would require Olympus to change their production line and for me to buy a new camera and that would just be silly. Olympus need only do some thoughtful programing to make an already wonderful camera into something all that much better.

So with ALL that said, here’s what I’d love to see improved in upcoming OM-D EM-5 firmware updates:
[checklist]

  • Make it possible to choose a smaller auto focus area square
  • Add focus peaking for manual focus lenses
  • Make it possible to customize the function of all 4 directional buttons instead of just 2.
  • Make it possible to assign ANY of the custom commands to ANY of the custom buttons rather than limiting what can be assigned where.
  • Allow us dedicate a direct access button to aspect ratio
  • Make it possible to assign virtually ANY menu item to a direct access function button
  • Make it possible to assign the trash button to a custom function in shooting mode rather than let it sit dormant
  • Allow us to specify what commands are listed as choices for the multi-function buttons on the top plate
  • Allow BOTH multi-function buttons on the top plate to be assigned different commands
  • Make it possible to assign a different multi-function list to each multi-function button
  • Make it possible to make any function button into a multi-function button
  • create a quick access menu for user saved camera settings (myset) and allow us to set a custom name other than “myset 1”, “myset 2”, etc.
  • Make it possible to choose a custom “myset” from a multi-function button on the top plate
  • Allow the iAuto, Art, and SCN mode dial positions to be programed as a custom set of camera settings
  • Allow us to make a list of favorite menu items and assign it to a button
  • Allow us to make adjustments to art filters
  • Allow us to manually sort the order of settings menus that appear when pressing OK in live view

[/checklist]
I think this list of changes should allow any user to thoroughly customize the interface to fit their personal shooting style and preferences. Let’s hear what you all want improved and let’s hope Olympus is listening!

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