Micro 4/3 Update: Olympus OM-D E-M1 ; Olympus 12mm-40mm f/2.8 Zoom Lens ; Olympus 75mm f/1.8 Prime Lens

Review of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Camera;  Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 Zoom Lens; and the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 Prime Lens

I have been a proponent of Olympus Micro 4/3 camera systems for a long time.  The flexibility of having an interchangeable lens camera that is a fraction of the size of a traditional DSLR is great for my needs, particularly when I am taking my camera into the backcountry, where weight and bulk are the enemy.

I’ve been using the Olympus OM-D E-M5 as my primary camera for a couple of years now, and overall have been very happy with it.  See my review of the E-M5 and my Micro 4/3 System by Clicking HERE.

However, I’m always a sucker for shiny new gadgets, and so when the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 was released, I decided I would get it as an upgrade to my E-M5 body.  (I kept the E-M5 as a backup.)   I also picked up a couple of new Olympus micro 4/3 lenses; the 12-40 f/2.8 zoom, and the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 prime.   After using this new kit for about a year, these are my impressions:

Weights of gear reviewed in this blog entry:
Think Tank Digital Holster 10      10.4 ounces
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Camera body with battery      17.7 ounces
Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 zoom lens     15.4 ounces
Olympus 75mm f/1.8  prime lens  with lens hood   14.1 ounces
Optech Digital D Midsize Camera case    3 ounces
Shoulder Strap      1.8 ounces

OM-D  E-M1 Camera Body
There are a ton of reviews of  the EM1 on the web.  They discuss everything from ergonomics to image quality.  One of the better review sites is DP Review and their take on the EM1 can be found here:  OM-D E-M1 Review at DP Review

I’m not going to try to duplicate all of these reviews, as I don’t have the resources they have for all of the analytics they use to assess camera quality.  I’m going to focus on how the EM1 works for my needs, with an emphasis on using the EM1 as a backcountry camera for use in climbing, skiing, backpacking, and other backcountry pursuits.

Physical Characteristics of the E-M1.
The EM1 weighs  17.7 ounces without a lens.  That is a couple ounces heavier than the EM5, which comes in at 15.3 ounces.  While the weights of the EM5 and EM1 are so close as to be practically indistinguishable in real life use, the EM1 is a bit bulkier, due to the larger hand grip.  The effect of the bigger hand grip is that I can’t quite fit the EM1 into the same carrying case that the EM5 is compatible with and still have room for all the lenses.  The EM5 will fit into a Mountainsmith Small Zoom case with 3 prime lenses.  The EM1 will only fit 2 primes.

Although the hand grip on the EM1 adds some bulk, it makes one handed shooting with the EM1 very secure.  It feels good in your hand, and obviates the need for a wrist strap.

The controls of the EM1 are well thought out, and easy to use even with gloves on.  One very simple feature I appreciate is that the PASM control ring is easily locked so you don’t end up changing shooting modes by accident.  The tilt screen is useful, and I’ve often used the tilt screen to compose a shot while holding the camera away from my body for a slightly different perspective.  (Especially good for taking pictures of your climbing partner from above.)

Battery life with the EM1 is excellent, and I can take hundreds of shots without needing to change it.  The viewfinder is very bright and clear.  Image quality of the photographs is also excellent, with a very slight but (barely) noticeable improvement over the EM5 in color rendition and dynamic range.

The EM1 is weather resistant, which means that its body is sealed against dust and rain.  You can’t take it swimming, but rain and snow will not harm the camera, provided that it is used in conjunction with a weather sealed lens.  (The Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens is weather sealed.)  The EM1 is also somewhat shock resistant.  Theoretically, you can drop it or bang it around and it will be more likely to survive such abuse than a normal camera.  I try not to test this feature, but I have subjected the EM1 to a fair amount of abuse (including some falls while skiing) and so far it seems unaffected by the bumps and falls inherent in backcountry activities.

I use the EM1 most often in combination with the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 zoom.  (More on that lens below.)   The case I use 90% of the time with the EM1 body and 12-40mm lens combo is an Optech Digital D Midsize neoprene camera cover.  This soft neoprene cover fits the EM1 with the 12-40mm lens perfectly, and provides some protection from bumps, scratches, dust, and precipitation. Generally, I just keep the camera slung cross-body over my shoulder using a detachable shoulder strap.  When I need to use the camera, I just pull the stretchy Optech neoprene cover off, take some photos, then slip the cover back on.  The Optech cover is not as weather proof or padded as a traditional camera case, but because both the camera body and lens are weather proof, I don’t really worry much about keeping things absolutely dry.

For those occasions when I want additional protection, or when I want to attach the camera to a pack hipbelt, I use the Think Tank Digital Holster 10.  This camera case fits the EM1 very well when the EM1 is coupled with the 12-40mm lens, and the case can even expand a bit to accommodate a longer lens if necessary.

OM-D E-M1 with Olympus 12-40mm Zoom on the left; OM-D E-M5 with Olympus 45mm prime on the right


E-M1 in the Optech Digital D neoprene case on left; E-M5 on right


Think Tank Digital Holster 10 on the left, with OMD EM5 on the right for a size comparison


In general, I have found that for just about every activity other than difficult climbing, the easiest way to carry the EM1 is in the Optech case, slung over my shoulder.  This is my preferred method for skiing and hiking.  For climbing, having the camera slung over my shoulder tends to get in the way of my gear and flops around a bit too much.  When I take this camera climbing, I either attach it to my packbelt in the Digital Holster, or I just leave it in the Optech case and put it in my pack.  Having the EM1 in my pack while climbing means that I only get it out when I’m at a belay.  This typically isn’t a big problem, however, because I always have a pocket camera with me on climbs, so I use the pocket camera for impromptu photo opportunities where it’s inconvenient to access the EM1.

Skiing with the OM-D E-M1 in the Optech Case (Look closely, and you can see it slung over my shoulder)

Some useful features of the EM1 (that the EM5 doesn’t have) that are helpful when using legacy (non micro 4/3) lenses.

A couple of advantages of the EM1 when compared with the EM5 relate to use of non-micro 4/3 lenses.   The first is the ability to utilize autofocus with Olympus DSLR lenses.  The EM1 uses both contrast detection and phase detection auto-focus, while the EM5 is contrast detection only.   I actually have no idea what “phase detection” even means, but the practical result of having phase detection is that I can use legacy Olympus four thirds DSLR lenses on the EM1 (with an adapter) and the auto focus works like it should.  This is useful to me, because I happen to own a very nice Olympus 50-200 f/2.8-3.5 zoom lens, and I can now fully utilize the autofocus features of this lens.  With the EM5, the autofocus performance was so bad, I pretty much had to just use manual focus.

OMD-#M1 works well with legacy Olympus four thirds lenses' autofocus

OMD-EM1 works well with legacy Olympus four thirds lenses’ autofocus. This picture was taken using the Olympus 50-200mm zoom lens that was made for the Olympus 4/3 DSLR camera line.

The other feature that the EM1 has that the EM5 lacks is “focus peaking.”  Focus peaking is a focusing aid that helps when you are using manual focus lenses, including the old Canon FD lenses that I often use with my Olympus micro 4/3 cameras.  The focus peaking feature provides a little “halo” on the edges of whatever part of the picture is the center of focus.  This makes focusing with a manual focus lens quite a bit faster.  If you’ve never used focus peaking before, you may have a difficult time understanding exactly what I’m talking about.  If you’d like an explanation, here’s a nice video that demonstrates focus peaking on the EM1.

The Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 Zoom Lens

This lens has become my go-to lens for my EM1 camera.  When I sorted my EM1 photos in Lightroom, I found that I have taken more EM1 shots with the 12-40mm zoom lens than all of my other lenses combined.  It is really close to being the perfect “one size fits all” backcountry lens.  The 12-40 zoom range on a micro 4/3 camera is the equivalent of a 24-80 zoom on a full frame camera.  This combination of wide angle and short telephoto capability is ideal for climbing, as it allows you to get both “scenic” captures and “up close and personal” shots as well.  The two photos below give a good representation of the versatility of the 12-40mm zoom range.  I have found the lens to be very sharp across the entire zoom range and apertures.  Some of the high quality primes may be better, but in real-world use, I haven’t had any reason to complain about the image quality I get when using this zoom lens.  For those who are interested in the details of the optical qualities of this lens, there is a very comprehensive review of the 12-40mm lens at SLRGEAR.com  Click HERE.   

12-40mm Lens at 12mm

Olympus 12-40mm Lens at 12mm

Olympus  12-40mm lens at 40mm

Olympus 12-40mm lens at 40mm


The lens has an f/2.8 aperture that is constant across the entire zoom range.  2.8 isn’t as fast as some of the prime lens options that are available, but I’ve found that it is adequate for most dim lighting situations, particularly because the EM1 has excellent image stabilization capabilities and decent high-ISO performance.  As mentioned above, this lens is weather resistant and dust resistant.  When coupled with the similarly sealed EM1, you don’t have to worry about rain or snow ruining your camera gear, and I can dispense with a heavy water proof camera bag.  I happily carry the camera in any weather without worry.

Documenting a day of early season ice climbing with the 12-40mm zoom

Documenting a day of early season ice climbing with the EM1 camera and the Olympus 12-40mm zoom. This is a very rugged, weather resistant combination.

Weather proofing means that snow doesn't  affect your ability to keep shooting

Weather proofing means that snow and sleet doesn’t affect your ability to keep shooting

Night time shot at ISO 25600  with heavy, wet snow falling.

Night time shot at ISO 25600 with heavy, wet snow falling.

Overall, I am extremely pleased with the Olympus 12-40mm lens.  It feels like it was made specifically to complement the EM1 camera body.  Indeed, I really feel like if you have the EM1, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t also buy the 12-40mm zoom to go with it.  This camera lens combination is what I take with me now for the majority of my backcountry trips (When climbing, I’m typically carry a pocket camera in addition to or instead of my micro 4/3 camera.)   The benefits of of great image quality, rugged weatherproof build, and a relatively compact design (for an interchangeable lens camera) make the EM1 and 12-40mm zoom an ideal combination for outdoor photography.

The Olympus 75mm f/1.8 Prime Lens

As outlined above, the EM1 and 12-40mm zoom is my new go-to camera-lens combination for backcountry photography.  However, if I’m going to add an additional lens to my backcountry quiver, the 75mm is generally the first lens I will toss in to supplement the 12-40mm zoom.

The Olympus 75mm lens is an extremely high quality piece of glass.  Reviews of this lens have been universally positive, and the excellence of this lens has been borne out by my experiences with it as well.  For a feel for the detailed optical characteristics of this lens, you can check out a Review of the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens HERE

Size and weight of the 75mm lens are pretty close to the 12-40mm zoom.  The zoom is about an ounce and a half heavier, and they have comparable bulk.

75mm and 12-40 are approximately the same size

75mm and 12-40 are approximately the same size

This 75mm lens is not weatherproof, so you have to be more careful with it than with the sealed 12-40mm zoom.  Another negative is that the lens does not come with a lens hood, and you need to buy the hood separately if you want one.  (I bought a generic hood rather than the uber-expensive Olympus hood.)

On a micro 4/3 camera, the 75mm length is the equivalent of a 150mm on a full frame sensor, so it serves as a medium telephoto.  For me, this is a good compromise between bulk, weight and telephoto capability.  Generally, I don’t have the dedication to carry anything bigger or heavier than this into the backcountry unless it’s just a short day trip.  However, I’ve become accustomed to carrying the 75mm with me, as it gives me decent telephoto capability in a relatively lightweight package.  Below are some examples of the sorts of photos you can capture with the 75mm.  The longer focal length gives you more control over depth of field than you would have with a wider angle lens, and the medium telephoto capability also allows you to get a little tighter on your subject.

75mm is good for isolating subject with shallow depth of field.  (1/500 second at f/3.2)

75mm is good for isolating subject with shallow depth of field. (1/500 second at f/3.2)

100% crop shows how sharp this lens is.

100% crop of above photo shows how sharp this lens is.

While the 75mm length isn’t going to replace a super telephoto for true wildlife shooting, I’ve found that it’s often sufficient for taking photos of various shy critters that I encounter while traveling the backcountry.  The medium telephoto focal length allows me to keep enough distance between me and my subject that I can often avoid spooking the animal, provided I am careful and slow in my movements.

100% Crop photo of a Critter taken with the 75mm prime

100% Crop photo of a critter taken with the 75mm prime

One use I have found for the 75mm lens is taking very detailed panorama shots of big vistas.  The photograph below is a panorama stitch of two photographs taken with the 75mm lens.  I could have taken the same field of view with a wider angle lens, but I would not have been able to capture the same level of detail with a regular wide angle shot.  Looking at the full size TIF file, I am impressed by the detail in the photo, and it serves to emphasize the utility of a telephoto lens as a landscape tool when used in combination with panorama stitching software.

Download Panorama Full size TIF File HERE  (69Megabyte File)

Panorama stitched from 2 images taken with the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 prime

Panorama stitched from 2 images taken with the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 prime

The f/1.8 maximum aperture of this lens makes it good for low lighting situations.  It’s not really backcountry related, but I have found it to be a great “stage” lens for taking photos of performances in less than ideal lighting situations.

Stage camera:  Olympus 75mm; ISO 640  (1/160 second at f/1.8)

Stage camera: Photographing a high school musical with the Olympus 75mm; ISO 640 (1/160 second at f/1.8)

Really, I can’t say enough good things about the 75mm lens.  Combined with the 12-40mm zoom, it has become the 2nd part of my 2 lens backcountry solution.  It combines sharpness, medium telephoto reach, and terrific build quality in a reasonably compact package.

Ricoh GR Pocket Camera

I am a big proponent of using small, compact cameras when climbing.  Although I sometimes take larger, interchangeable lens cameras with me on climbs, there are many circumstances where the bulk and weight of a big camera doesn’t make sense.  If I’m climbing something difficult, I will often opt for a pocket camera.  Even if I’m bringing an interchangeable lens Micro 4/3 camera, I typically will also carry a pocket camera as a backup.

Over the years, I’ve used more than a dozen different pocket cameras.  In my days of shooting film, one of my favorite pocket cameras was the Ricoh GR-1.  It was light and compact, had a very sharp fixed 28mm lens, and took excellent quality photos.  It was like having a little SLR with a 28mm prime lens in my pocket.

Since I made the switch from film to digital, I’ve been on an unending search for the perfect pocket camera.  I’ve used most  of the high end digital options, including the top of the line offerings from Ricoh (GRD); Sigma (DP1); Panasonic (LX3 and LX5) Canon (S100) and Sony (RX100.)

While I have been generally happy with these pocket cameras, I never had quite the same quality of results that I enjoyed with my larger cameras.  The image quality from the pocket cameras were good, but when I compared the photos with photos taken with my Micro 4/3 system cameras, (especially the OMD-EM5) the pocket camera photos came up a little short.  In general, the pictures were not quite as sharp, and photos with wide dynamic ranges did not come out as well.  None of these pocket cameras fulfilled my need for a tiny camera that could measure up to the quality of my Micro 4/3 system.

The Ricoh GR is the first digital  pocket camera I’ve owned that has image quality that rivals that of my Micro 4/3 system cameras.  It has a large, APS-C sensor, shoe-horned into a really small package.  It has a fixed (non-zoom) 28mm (equivalent) lens that is very sharp, with an aperture of 2.8.   The best technical review of the GR that I’ve seen is the very detailed review at DP Review HERE.   My review will focus on my working impressions of the camera, with an emphasis on performance in climbing and backcountry photography.

Ricoh GR and Mountainsmith Cyber Small Case

The GR body is very light and compact.  It fits perfectly into a Mountainsmith Cyber Small case.  This case will attach to a pack strap with velcro straps, or can be secured to a climbing harness with carabiners.  In colder weather, when I’m wearing a jacket, I typically dispense with the case altogether and just put the GR in an ultralight ditty bag and keep it in a chest pocket.  Ease of access is everything in climbing and backcountry photography.  If your camera is in your back pack, you won’t get the photos you want.  The small size of the GR makes it easy to keep close at hand.

GR in the Mountainsmith Cyber Small Case fits nicely on a climbing harness

GR in the Mountainsmith Cyber Small Case fits nicely on a climbing harness

The camera controls are customizable, and are pretty easy to use.  I can change exposure settings and other critical controls even when wearing gloves.  The view screen is decent, and is visible even in bright glare conditions often encountered on the snow.

The sensor is very good at handling high-contrast scenes.  This is particularly important for winter use, as snow scenes can be particularly challenging for other pocket cameras I’ve used.


High contrast shots are not a problem for the GR

Color rendition is very pleasing, and photos are crisp and sharp.


Unlike most pocket cameras, the GR does not have a zoom lens.  With the GR, you’ve got to do all of your shooting with a wide angle (28mm equivalent) lens.  Generally, I don’t find this to be a problem.  The wide angle of view is great for scenic shots, and helps capture perspective on climbs as well, where you’re trying to capture a climber and also some background.  Zoom lenses can provide some flexibility, but I generally put more value on the superior optical quality of a fixed lens.

Fixed 28mm field of view is great for scenic shots

Fixed 28mm field of view is great for scenic shots


Wide angle of view allows capture of climber and the climb

After several months of use, I have been increasingly impressed with the Ricoh GR.  Because it delivers consistently excellent image quality,  I’m getting more and more comfortable using it as my primary climbing camera.  This means that I’m carrying my larger Micro 4/3 system cameras less often, which allows me to go light and fast, while still having a high quality photography option in my pocket.

The Ricoh GR is the first digital pocket camera I’ve used that has lived up to the standards of the GR-1 film camera.  It really is capable of providing SLR quality in a tiny package.  Because of this, the GR has become my new climbing/backcountry photography tool of choice.

Excellent image quality in a tiny package

Excellent image quality in a tiny package

Outdoor photography gear update Part 1: Pocket Cameras

Outdoor photography gear update Part 1:  Pocket Cameras 

This update addresses Pocket Cameras.  A follow on update will address Micro 4/3 system cameras and lenses, including the new Olympus OMD E-M5

I almost never go into the outdoors without a camera.  I love taking pictures of the places I visit and the things I do.  Whether it’s climbing, hiking, fishing, or anything else in the outdoors, I like to have photographs to memorialize my trip.

Over the years, the camera gear I use has evolved quite a bit.  The biggest change came when I finally moved from film to digital cameras.   The change to digital has been a very expensive one for me.  With my film cameras, I used the same SLR body for twenty years, and in that same two decades, only used three pocket cameras.  With film cameras, there wasn’t enough change or improvement in camera technology to entice me to upgrade my equipment very often.  What I had worked well, and that was good enough.

However, after I made the switch to digital media, I found myself switching and upgrading pretty regularly.  I’ve found the changes to digital camera technology to be significant enough that I’m often enticed by the latest “new and improved” camera, particularly pocket cameras.

On my photography page, here, I’ve written a bit about the cameras I’ve owned over the years, so if you’re interested, you can see the progression of cameras I’ve been using.

This blog entry is a snap shot of the current state of my thinking with regards to camera equipment.   As camera companies continue to expand and improve their offerings, no doubt I will be tempted by some of them.  For the time being, however, I’m pretty happy with the state of the art in digital cameras right now.  There are some excellent cameras available right now that work really well for outdoor pursuits.

Pocket Cameras:

(left to right) TS2, S100, LX5

Sometimes saving weight and space is the most important consideration and you need a small camera that you can fit in your pocket.    For me, this typically involves climbing.  If I’m climbing something hard (hard for me anyway) or technical, I typically only take a pocket camera.  System cameras with interchangeable lenses are nice, but on a difficult climb, I usually can’t justify the weight and bulk.

When it comes to digital pocket cameras, I currently own and use three different models, the Panasonic LX5, the Canon S100, and the waterproof Panasonic TS2.

Panasonic Lumix LX-5  10.9 ounces (with Optech case)

The LX-5 is the best all around pocket camera I’ve ever used.  It’s an update to the highly respected LX-3 which I used for years prior to purchasing the LX5.  The LX5 supports shooting in RAW format, and has a wide array of exposure controls, from full manual to full auto.  Size of the LX5 is a little on the large size for a pocket camera.  It will fit in a large pocket, but it’s not as small as the Canon S100.

The LX5 has a wonderfully sharp and bright lens.  I has a zoom range of  24-90mm (35mm equivalent) The lens is quite fast for a point and shoot, with a f:2.0-3.3 f-stop aperture.  For a small sensor camera, the LX5 has very good image quality, including decent low-light performance.  In camera image stabilization coupled with the relatively fast lens means that shooting at dawn and dusk is feasible, even hand held with no tripod.

For examples of the LX5’s image quality, most of the photos on the page HERE were taken with the LX5.  I have photos taken with the LX5 made into 16×20 enlargements and they look great.

Assiniboine. Taken with the LX5

The ergonomics are also decent.  The camera has a good grip “bump” that helps with handling.  There is also a very nice control dial that can be manipulated even when wearing gloves.  In order to adjust exposure (my most common adjustment,) all you need to do is to press the dial, and then roll it to the right or left to increase (or decrease) exposure compensation.  I can do this even while wearing heavy gloves.  Likewise, I can easily manipulate aperture and shutter speeds the same way even with gloves on.  For shooting video, there is a dedicated button on top of the camera that allows for one-touch HD video recording.

The biggest ergonomics issue with the LX5 is the lens cap.  Rather than an automatically retracting lens cover, the LX5 has a lens cap that you need to remove by hand before you can take pictures, and replace when you’re done.  Luckily, it has an integrated keeper string to keep you from dropping it.  Another ergonomics issue is that the slider that sets image aspect ratio gets moved around easily, so you can find yourself shooting at 1:1 instead of 4:3 if you don’t pay attention to it.

After much experimentation, the case option that I have arrived at that I like the best is an Optech neoprene soft case.  The specific model is the Optech SOFT POUCH – DIGITAL D-SERIES D-Micro.  The case provides good protection from bumps and shocks, but doesn’t add very much additional bulk or weight.  Even with the case on the camera, I can still fit it into the smallish pocket on my windbreaker.  The case has a strap that keeps it attached to the camera even when it’s removed, so you don’t have to worry about dropping it.     Instead of the standard wrist strap that came with the camera, I added my own larger strap made from some cord.  I needed a larger strap because I often am using this camera while wearing bulky gloves and the stock strap wasn’t large enough to accommodate them.

LX5 in Optech case on left, TS2 in Always On wrap on right

Battery life is pretty good, and I can take 200+ photos without depleting the battery, even in cold conditions.  Build quality is reasonably robust and I’ve never had any issues with malfunctions or failure to operate, even in cold conditions.

Overall, I am extremely happy with the LX5 as a climbing camera.   It combines very good image quality, with pocketability, durability, good ergonomics, and a reasonably fast zoom lens.

Canon S100 (8 ounces including Always On wrap case)

The Canon is another high quality pocket camera that has good optics, shoots RAW format, and allows full manual control over exposure.  It has a 24-120mm (equivalent) lens that has even more zoom range than the Panasonic LX5, although the variable f-stop of f: 2.0 to 5.9 means the lens isn’t quite as bright as the LX5 at the long end of the zoom range.

Canon S100

What the S100 really has going for it is that it’s small.  While the LX5 is kind of large for a “pocket” camera, the S100 is really small.   This makes it easy to take along no matter what the circumstances.  Ergonomics are good for such a small camera, and the controls are all pretty easy to use.  The front ring around the lens provides the ability to adjust exposure compensation (or shutter or aperture in the shutter/aperture priority modes) and is easy to use with gloves on.

My favorite case for the S100 is a neoprene wrap from Always ON.  It provides protection from bumps and scrapes, is light, compact, and easy to get the camera into action.  You can wrap the neoprene around a pack strap and attache it to the strap if you want to carry the camera on your pack strap.  This is nice because you can keep the camera handy without needing a separate pouch/pocket attached to the pack strap.

The S100 is significantly thinner than the LX5

I own and use both the LX5 and the S100.   Although both are good cameras, I find that I tend to take better pictures with the LX5.  Because of this, the LX5 is my camera of choice for mountaineering and climbing trips to places with spectacular scenery.  It just seems to have a slight edge in terms of picture quality in my hands.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t use the S100, however.  Because of the small size of the  S100, it’s my cragging camera of choice.  Even if I don’t have any pockets big enough to hold the LX5, I can always find room for the S100 in a small pocket, or strapped to my harness.  So, even though I tend to prefer the LX5 for image quality, I actually use the S100 more, because I tend to spend more time cragging than I do mountaineering.

Bell’s Canyon Granite (taken with the S100)

In truth, both the S100 and LX5 are good cameras, and a climber who can’t be satisfied with either of these cameras probably needs to just start carrying a big DSLR, a micro 4/3 system camera, or another of the large sensor mirrorless camera options.

Panasonic TS2  Waterproof Camera  (7.9 ounces including Always On wrap case)

Sometimes, I need a camera that’s waterproof.  Usually, the time I need a waterproof camera is when I’m wading around in a fast moving creek while fly fishing and I slip and take a plunge.  Most cameras wouldn’t survive a dunking, but luckily, there are a few rugged models that are designed to be waterproof.  I’ve used a number of waterproof cameras over the years.  My current favorite is the Panasonic TS2.  The TS2 is compact, rugged, and takes decent pictures.

(left to right) Panasonic TS2, Canon S100, Panasonic LX5

Image quality isn’t up to that of the S100 or the LX5, but it’s pretty decent for a pocket camera and better than the other waterproof cameras I’ve used.  Unlike the S100 or LX5, the TS2 takes pictures in JPEG format only, so you don’t have the benefits of shooting in RAW format.  You also don’t have the control over exposure that the other cameras give you.  No aperture priority, no shutter priority, no full manual control.

The TS2 is pretty small, just a tiny bit larger than the S100, so it easily fits into a shirt pocket.  One odd thing about the design of the TS2 is that the lens doesn’t retract and the clear lens cover is therefore susceptible to getting scratched if you’re not careful.  Because of this, I use the same Always On neoprene wrap that I use with the S100 to protect from scratches.

I haven’t gone snorkling with the TS2, but it’s survived numerous dunkings and occasional drops without any ill effects.  In addition to being able to survive unintended dunkings in water while fishing, waterproof cameras can be fun for candid underwater fish photos.

Brook Trout smiling for the camera

Other Pocket Cameras

Although I’d like to be able to own and use all the new cameras that are coming out lately, sadly I can’t afford to buy them all.  That doesn’t keep me from checking them out, however.  There are a few new pocket cameras that look like interesting options for outdoor photography.  I haven’t used any of them, but based on various web reviews, they look like contenders.

The Sony Rx100 is the new top contender for a high quality pocket camera.  Sony has shoe-horned a large sensor into a camera body almost as compact as the Canon S100.  Initial reviews of this camera have been overwhelmingly positive.  If I were in the market for a new pocket camera (but I’m not) the RX100 would be my top pick.

Fuji X10  This camera is quite a bit larger than the S100 or the LX5, but it has a built in viewfinder in addition to the standard lcd screen.  Image quality appears to be very good from the pictures I’ve seen in various reviews.   There’s been some talk about some “white orb” artifacts that show up in certain direct lighting conditions, but hopefully Fuji will fix this in a firmware upgrade.    The X10 seems like a very nice camera, but it’s just too large for me to really view it as a “pocket camera.”  If you don’t mind carrying a larger camera with you, however, it might be a good option.

One of the best real world reviews I’ve seen of the X10 is HERE.

Another review HERE

Olympus XZ-1

The XZ-1 is Olympus’ entry in the high-end pocket camera wars.  It has a 28-112mm (equivalent) zoom lens with a very impressive f: 1.8-2.5 aperture.  The XZ-1 is slightly larger than the Panasonic LX5.

In depth review HERE

Another review HERE

Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS Waterproof Camera

Olympus announced a new waterproof/shockproof camera with some interesting features and specifications.  See information HERE.  Based on the information available, it doesn’t look like a huge jump forward in waterproof cameras, but looks very competitive with the Panasonic TS4.    If I were in the market for a waterproof camera, the Olympus would definitely be on my list.

I’m a bit disappointed this camera isn’t more focused on the higher end of the pocket camera spectrum.   What I’m waiting for is a waterproof camera that has the image quality of the S100 or LX5, with RAW file support and aperture and shutter priority and full manual modes.   Until somebody comes out with a waterproof camera with these “enthusiast” features, I’m sticking with my TS2.