Olympus OM-D E-M1 Review
This flagship Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera raised the bar when it was announced. Find out what all the fuss was about in our Olympus OM-D E-M1 review
30 second Olympus OM-D E-M1 review…
E-M1 has a Four Thirds type sensor and the Micro Four Thirds lens mount. It was the first Micro Four Thirds camera to have both contrast and phase detection autofocusing, with the phase detection aspect being reserved for use with Four Thirds lenses mounted via an adaptor. While it performs better than previous Micro Four Thirds cameras with these lenses mounted, it’s not a match for the DSLRs that they were designed for.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is a very competent camera with lots of customisation options and a wealth of controls, but the announcement of a higher resolution, faster focusing replacement can’t be too far off.
|Camera Name||Olympus OM-D E-M1|
|Date announced||10th Sept 2013|
|Price at launch||£1,299/$1,399 (body only)|
|Sensor size||Four Thirds type (17.3 x 13mm)|
|Effective pixel count||16.3 million|
|Lens/Mount||Micro Four Thirds|
|Viewfinder||Electronic with 2,360,000 dots|
|Sensitivity range||ISO 100-25,600|
|Reflex AF system||N/A|
|Live View AF system||Hybrid with 81 points (800 in magnified view)|
|Monitor||Touch-sensitive tilting 3-inch LCD with 103,700 dots|
|Max shooting rate||6.5fps with AF tracking, 10fps with AF locked on first frame|
|Max video resolution||Full HD (1920 x 1080)|
|Dimensions||130.4 x 93.5 x 63.1mm|
|Weight||443g (body only), 497g with battery and card|
When the OM-D E-M1 was announced Olympus already offered a mount adapter that enabled its Four Thirds lenses to be used on its existing Micro Four Thirds mirrorless system camera (the OM-D E-M5) but the autofocus performance of this combination was pretty terrible.
However, the E-M1 was designed to address this with the introduction of Olympus’s Dual Fast AF system which combines contrast and phase detection focusing. The contrast element is used when Micro Four Thirds lenses are mounted while the phase detection element is called into service when Four Thirds lenses are in use.
The latter made the E-M1 of particular interest to photographers with a collection of Olympus Four Thirds mount lenses that were designed to fit DSLRs like the Olympus E-5.
Olympus enabled its hybrid AF system by using half-photosites (pixels) on the E-M1’s 16Mp sensor for phase detection focusing. These half-pixels work in pairs of left and right halves on different rows on the sensor. They are only used for focusing and don’t provide image data so the ‘gap’ they leave has to be interpolated.
Another novel feature that the OM-D E-M1 brought for Olympus was that its Live MOS sensor has no optical low pass filter (OLPF) to give it the potential to record more detail than the original Olympus OM-D (or OM-D E-M5 as we have learned to call it).
The 16Mp sensor is couple with a TruPic VII processing engine and this enables a sensitivity range of ISO 100-25,600 and a maximum continuous shooting speed of 6.5fps (frames per second) for up to 50 raw files with continuos autofocusing. The shooting rate can be boosted to 10fps for up to 41 files if you are prepared to use Single-AF mode rather than Continuous-AF mode.
As you’d expect with a high-end mirrorless system camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 has an electronic viewfinder (EVF) built-in. This has 2,360,000 dots and a magnification of 1.48x. Cleverly this device offers the ability to preview the impact of the camera’s two HDR (High Dynamic Range) modes. When the camera is in Live Bulb or Live Time mode the EVF can also show the image building up as the exposure is made.
Olympus also introduced it’s Color Creator with the E-M1. This uses a colour wheel display to allow hue and saturation to be adjusted with the impact being visible on screen and in the viewfinder.
Other specification highlights of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 include five-axis Image Stabilisation (IS) giving a claimed 4-stop extension in the safe-handholding shutter speed, a maximum shutter seed of 1/8000 sec, a selection of Art Filter modes and built-in Wi-Fi connectivity.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Build and Handling
Photographers who find the Olympus OM-D E-M10 II or Olympus OM-D E-M5 II a bit too small should take a look at the E-M1 because although it’s not huge, it is a bit bigger. It also has a more pronounced grip which makes it sit comfortably in your hand, although inevitably your little finger slips under the camera rather than onto the grip.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is one of those cameras that takes a bit of getting used to. Most experienced photographers will soon find their way around, but it takes time to remember where all the direct controls are and there’s a lot of button pressing while using a dial.
There are also lots of customisation opportunities so if it doesn’t work as you want it’s usually possible to make it do so.
One of the most frustrating aspects for some is having to use the switch on the back of the camera near the thumb rest to change the function of the two control dials.
For some this is a stroke of genius that doubles the functionality of the dials, but others dislike having to remember to flick the switch before using the dials.
On the back of the camera is a 3-inch touch-sensitive screen with 103,700,00 dots which can be used for composing images, navigating the Super Control Panel (Olympus’s version of a quick menu) and setting AF point.
This shows a good level of detail and responds quickly to touch, but it’s disappointing that it’s not possible to navigate the main menu or make menu selections using it.
When the E-M1 was brought out Olympus was firmly wedded to tilting rather than vari-angle screens. A tilting screen is useful when you want to shoot landscape format images from above or below head-height, but it can’t help with portrait format shooting.
Olympus gave the OM-D E-M5 Mark II a vari-angle screen and we’re hoping it will do the same for the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II.
The electronic viewfinder is very good, with lots of detail visible and no flickering. It’s also quite large, especially for a Micro Four Thirds camera, which makes composing images easier. In addition, its refresh rate is high enough to allow you to follow fast moving subjects although you’ll first have to make sure that you’ve turned off the image review option.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Performance
Olympus and Panasonic stuck by the 16Mp Four Thirds type sensor for a long time and the one in the Olympus OM-D E-M1 is one of the best examples with noise being controlled well even at the highest sensitivity settings. Detail levels are also good for a 16Mp sensor.
Olympus has a good understanding of colour and exposure and this is reflected in the images that the E-M1 produces when its ESP metering and automatic white balance systems are allowed to do their jobs.
Exposure compensation is required any more often that you’d expect and with the Highlight and Shadow Spot metering, it can be avoided all together if you are prepared to meter from specific areas.
The autofocus system is a key selling point of the OM-D E-M1 and in Single- AF mode it performs very well in good light. It’s performance with Four Thirds lenses is better than with other Micro Four Thirds cameras and it’s even possible to capture fast moving subjects in good lighting conditions with Continuous-AF mode selected, but it’s not as good as the average DSLR’s.
While the focusing with either lens type slows down in low light, the camera can still usually be relied upon to get a motionless subject sharp and there isn’t lots of hunting backwards and forwards.
Olympus’s Stabilisation system is highly regarded and in the OM-D E-M1 it performed well in our tests. When shooting with the Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 at 50mm (100mm in 35mm camera terms) we checked images at 100% on-screen and found we achieved a hit rate of 7/10 at a shutter speed of 1/4sec.
Naturally this will vary by photographer and the lens in use, but it’s very useful.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Verdict
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is an excellent camera, but with it being almost three years old and Photokina being just around the corner in September, a replacement is seems very likely.
While a 16Mp sensor was fine in 2013, many people expect a little more in the way of resolution these days and 20Mp and 24Mp sensors are more common.
Until recently the E-M1 would have a justifiable claim to having the best autofocusing system in a mirrorless system camera, but other manufacturers have made significant progress, with the recently announced Fuji X-T2 particularly impressing in this respect. We’re anticipating that Olympus will have put a lot of effort in this area and that the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II will be billed as a camera for sports photographers.