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Olympus OM-D E-M1: First Look


Olympus OM-D E-M1: First Look

And it’s finally here! Well over a year since the announcement of the first (and so far, the only) model in the OM-D line, Olympus has at last announced the successor, or at least the next model, in this hugely popular ‘line’: the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera. And boy, it’s a beauty!

Successor? Upgrade? Well, not quite, actually. With a whole bunch of new features, a redesigned body, a lot of general improvements, as well as a pretty hefty increase in the price tag department, the OM-D E-M1 (hereafter simply known as the E-M1) is placed as the flagship model in the OM-D line, and will be sold along with the slightly cheaper, less-of-a-flagship model that is the original OM-D E-M5, and doesn’t replace it. And yes, I know the OM-D line was not really a line until now, but there you have it – with two models in there now, the OM-D is a line of its own, and the E-M1 is its king!

And the king it is, leading the O-MD line in price and everything else. And that leads me to the question: does it justify the price? It has a a load of upgrades and improvements over the E-M5, but the cost of the body alone is quite a lot. Is it worth it? Well, quite simply, the answer is yes – for me, at least. With all the power that is packed into this small package, the price of the E-M1 is completely justified. Read on

Olympus OM-D E-M1 - Image from B&H Photo

Olympus OM-D E-M1 – Image from B&H Photo

Alright, so what are these upgrades, improvements, and all that, that make this camera worth it? One of the most noticeable upgrades in the E-M1 is the new AF system, which features on-chip phase detection AF (PDAF). The original E-M5 camera already has one of the fastest AF systems in the mirrorless market, so making this better by adding PDAF is fantastic. Apparently, this only works with selected lenses though – but that’s not really an issue. Even without PDAF, the contrast detect AF (CDAF) system found on the E-M5 is here as well, and that’s blazing fast as it is! Maybe it’s been improved and it’s even faster!

Next, we have a new electronic viewfinder, with a far higher resolution (2.3m-dot) than the one on the E-M5. It also has a magnification of 1.48x, making it one of the largest EVFs around. Oh and it has 100% coverage. Sounds stunning

In addition to this, the entire body has been redesigned, a design which gives the E-M1 a more of an SLR-type look, while still retaining that lovely retro style. It has a better grip, and more physical buttons, in addition to the same articulating touchscreen, and looks more like the kind of camera I’d like to use. That’s not to say that the E-M5 was something I wasn’t inclined to use – this one just looks better, and from a higher-end model, that’s something I like to see

What else? Well, the sensor is new, and rather surprisingly, has no low-pass filter. It has built-in WiFi, much like all new cameras released this year. It has a new processor that allows for better in-camera processing, lens corrections, and generally faster operation. And the rest is all in performance – faster burst shooting, faster focusing, and all that. It also has the same 5-axis image stabilization system as the E-M5, as well as a similar articulated touchscreen (although higher res), the same twin control dials, although paired with a lot more other buttons to give what looks like a better control system, all in a weather- sealed body – and yeah. That’s about it. Add the awesome Zuiko lens collection, and this is surely one of the best mirrorless systems out there

Compared to the E-M5, it has a better AF system, now capable of phase detect AF, as well as a better processor, built-in WiFi, a better EVF, faster burst shooting, and a better design/better controls. Very nice indeed

Get the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera (Body Only) on B&H Photo!

At $1399 for just the body, this isn’t a cheap camera. But it’s a mirrorless system camera that performs in most aspects like very good DSLR would. And it’s smaller. Even with the smaller m43 sensor, I’d say that’s a good deal. I’m very impressed with the sound of the E-M1 so far. If you are too, check out my affiliate links and think about pre-ordering one!

Specifications You Would Want To Know

  • Body: Compact-ish, mirrorless
  • Lens Mount: Micro Four Thirds
  • Resolution: 16.3 million pixels
  • Sensor Size: Four Thirds (17.3 x 13mm)
  • Sensor Type: CMOS
  • Image Stabilization: 5-axis sensor shift-type image stabilization
  • Shutter Speed: Max 1/8000 sec, Min 60 sec
  • ISO Range: 100-25600
  • White Balance: Auto, 7 presets, Custom
  • Video: 1080p @ 30fps (and lower resolutions)
  • Video Format: MP4, H.264
  • Metering Modes: Multi Area, Center-Weighted, Spot
  • Exposure Modes: P, A, S, M, Auto, Art Filters, Scene
  • Built-in Flash: No, but includes FL-LM2 external flash, attached via hot-shoe
  • Flash Modes: Auto, Fill, Red-eye, Slow Sync, Rear Curtain, Flash Off
  • Flash X-sync Speed: 1/320 sec
  • Hot-shoe: Yes – obviously, or else they wouldn’t include an external flash with it!
  • Autofocus: Phase Detect/Contrast Detect AF system
  • AF Modes: Single AF, Continuous AF, Tracking, Touch AF, Face Detection
  • Number of AF Points: 81 CDAF points, 37 PDAF points
  • Manual Focus: Yes (with focus peaking)
  • Screen: 3.0” LCD (1m dots)
  • Articulated: Yes, tilt
  • Touchscreen: Yes
  • Viewfinder: Yes, electronic (2.3m dots, 1.48x magnification, 100% coverage)
  • Max Drive Speed: 10fps (36 RAW file buffer), 6.5fps (50 RAW file buffer)
  • File Formats: JPEG, RAW
  • Connections: USB 2.0, micro HDMI, WiFi
  • Memory Card: SD/SDHC/SDXC
  • Dimensions (body only): 130 x 94 x 63mm
  • Weight: 493g (including battery/memory card)

First Thoughts

Yeah, you get the idea that I’m loving the E-M1. I loved the E-M5 too. A lot. And as this camera just seems to take whatever was good about the E-M5, and goes one up on it, it’s obvious that this is a camera I’m going to shower praise upon. And it’s not without reason

Just look at the spec sheet above, and you should see what a wonderfully capable camera the E-M1 is, or – as I always refrain from direct comments until hands-on time – at least, it appears to be. The combination of the excellent 16MP sensor, the TruePic processor, and the superb Zuiko lenses, produces excellent image quality – we already know that. But add the upgraded sensor, the newer processor, as well as the very high performance aspects of the E-M1, as well as its very nice control layout and new design, and things just get better

The AF system is the first area I want to talk about. The PDAF system is very impressive indeed. However, note that this only works with Four Thirds lenses, and not Micro Four Thirds lenses that the E-M1 natively accepts. You need an adapter to use the original Four Thirds lenses; so this, after a bit of a closer look, doesn’t seem as useful as it initially did. But then, look at the CDAF system of the E-M5, which even today (around 18 months after it was announced) is one of the fastest mirrorless AF systems around; surely the E-M1 is going to be as fast, or mostly likely even faster than that? No problem at all. I think it’s going to be blazing in this department

The SLR-inspired design is fantastic. The larger grip makes the entire thing more…well, more grip-able… and the twin control dials from the E-M5, plus a host of other buttons, along with the touchscreen, means that any control is just a press or two away. I love that they included both the touchscreen AND the array of physical buttons, giving the user any option they prefer. I mean, I love certain aspects of a touchscreen, like touch-to-focus etc., but I always prefer to have physical buttons for adjusting settings. This sounds like heaven to me!

Other aspects of performance has been improved too. Burst shooting can go up to 10fps, and can buffer up to 36 RAW files. Very impressive indeed! At a slower rate of 6.5fps, it can buffer up to 50 files. DSLR-like? Better than most, if you ask me. Combine these speeds with the new AF system and the SLR-type body and control layout, and you soon forget you’re using a m43 system, really. Except that it’s smaller. Much smaller

Image quality? Well, I can’t comment much on this, obviously, but having seen a few sample images, the pictures look beautiful. Better than the E-M5? It’s not that obvious, to be honest – the only thing different between these two cameras that directly affect image quality is the E-M1’s sensor, without the low-pass filter, and to detect that difference, you probably need to go a bit deeper. But having said that, the E-M1’s sample images look very nice indeed. Very sharp, and great at high ISOs, even at 6400. If I ever get my hands on one, I’ll do my usual full review, and you can see for yourself. But that’s all I can say for now though; and it’s looking good at this point in time!

Alright, it’s not being sold as an upgrade but rather is being sold along with the E-M5, in a different range – but it’s a step up from the E-M5, nonetheless. So what’s going to make existing E-M5 users want to upgrade? Let’s see

  • The newer sensor – same size, naturally, but it’s still newer, and has no low-pass filter. Sharper pictures? Most probably
  • Better processor – the new TruePic VII promises a lot of improvements, and I’m sure it’ll deliver. Overall speed, as well as in-camera lens corrections, should make a big difference to the final JPEG
  • Improved AF system – even if you don’t use PDAF with Four Thirds lenses, you can be sure the CDAF system will be faster (or at the very least, as fast as the E-M5)
  • Different design – this is a personal choice, but I like the look of it, and I feel it’ll handle better
  • Superior control layout – this isn’t a personal thing. The E-M1 just has more controls and buttons. It’s better. It also has their awesomenew 2×2 dial control interface – see Controls, for more on that
  • Upgraded EVF – higher resolution, more magnification. One of the best (or the best) going around
  • Faster burst shooting – 10fps and buffers 36 RAW files!
  • Built-in WiFi – no explaining needed here

Yeah, there’s a lot new going on here. Not surprising, really – the EM-5 was announced in early 2012 if I’m not mistaken. It’s been a long time, so really, the E-M1 needed a lot of these goodies to keep Olympus in the game, and boy, they really have delivered. Unless you’re looking for something on a budget, this one is definitely worth a close look at

The only thing I don’t love about it – and it’s no fault of the camera’s really – is the smaller-than-APS-C sensor, the Four Thirds sized one. It’s not a big issue, to be honest, as we’ve all seen the glorious images that the EM-5 and its Zuiko lenses can produce – but for some shallower DOF and more resolution/detail, and even better high ISO performance, an APS-C sensor is always nice. But being an m43 system, that’s not going to happen. And I still love it anyway

Controls & Handling

Coming from the QX100 post, where there were hardly any controls to speak of (just 3), this is quite a difference, isn’t it? I’m not sure I can even get them all. I’ll try

On the top, there’s nearly as many as on the back…possibly more. On the left side of the hot-shoe is the power switch, on top of which are two buttons: AF mode/Metering Mode and Drive Mode/HDR. Note that there are two functions on each button. That’s because each of these are actually adjusted by one of the two control dials. Press the AF/Metering button and turn the first control dial to adjust AF mode, or press it and turn the second control dial to adjust metering mode. Very easy, very nicely done. And as dpreview noted, and I just realized, the power switch with these two buttons has a very retro look – and if you’re wondering why, it’s because it’s designed just like a film SLR’s film rewind crank! Very clever

Olympus OM-D E-M1: Top Panel. Image from Olympus

Olympus OM-D E-M1: Top Panel. Image from Olympus

On the right side of the hot-shoe is a traditional mode dial, which has a nice locking feature, allowing you to lock the mode dial to avoid accidental changes. Useful. There’s also one of the two control dials around the shutter, the other control dial rather close to the mode dial, and the Fn2 and Movie buttons between them. There’s also the Fn1 button right at the corner. Did I get ‘em all? Think so!

On the back now, and there’s a lot going on here too, but surprisingly not as much as on the top. On the left of the EVF is a Display button. Immediately to the right of the EVF is the AEL/AFL button, beside which is the 2×2 dial control selector (read on for more on that)

Olympus OM-D E-M1: Back Panel. Image from Olympus

Olympus OM-D E-M1: Back Panel. Image from Olympus

On the right of the large touchscreen, there’s the Info button, the Menu button, Playback and Delete buttons, and a four-way directional pad with the OK button in the middle. Simple

And if you think that’s comprehensive, I haven’t mentioned the 2×2 Dial Control bit, have I? Quite simply, flick the 2×2 switch from position 1 to position 2, and that changes what many of the buttons (and both control dials) do. For example, in position 1, you press the AF/Metering mode button and turn the first control dial, and it adjusts the AF mode, right? In position 2, it controls the AE bracket mode. The first control dial acts as a standalone EV compensation dial in position 1, but in position 2, it’s a standalone ISO dial. Similar functionality with the second control dial, of course. Add to this the two function buttons, and quite a few more customizable buttons (on the four-way pad, for instance) and many other ways the 2×2 dial interface works, and this is probably THE most customizable camera I’ve seen to date. It’s similar to a very high-end DSLR in this aspect. It’ll take you a while to get used to all this, and all the 2×2 modes, but once you do, the experience of changing any setting you want with no more than a press or two will be magical

Oh, and don’t forget the front – there’s a lens release button, as well as the DOF preview button and a one-touch WB selector

Olympus OM-D E-M1: Front

Olympus OM-D E-M1: Front. Image from Olympus

Phew. That was quite a lot to write. And that’s a good thing. I always like physical controls on a camera, and when it’s as well-designed as this, ah…very nice indeed

As for the handling, well, with that new design and the very nice grip, handling should be fine. Better than fine, it should be really, really good. Even one-handed shooting should be nice and easy with this one. I love the new design! I really do

Performance

I feel I’ve already talked a lot about the performance of the E-M1- not that I’d know, not having used one – but yeah, everything seems to have improved coming from the E-M5. The E-M5 is no slouch in terms of performance either – in fact, it was blazing quick in most areas – but with a newer AF system, a newer processor, and lot of stats claiming faster speeds in every department, I’m expecting the E-M1 to be special

The new phase detect AF system isn’t as useful as it initially seemed, yes – since it only works with Four Thirds lens via an adapter (and not with the Micro Four Thirds lenses that this camera natively accepts) – but that’s no reason to be disappointed. Going by the EM-5, the OM-D line seems to be one of the best in its class in terms of AF speeds, even using CDAF, so this should continue and improve with the EM-1

Burst shooting is better, in terms of frames per second as well as in terms of memory buffer. That’s excellent news. Fast AF and rapid burst shooting – excellent for sports and action. A mirrorless camera, who would’ve thought!

The TruePic VIII should keep everything else running smoothly. Why shouldn’t it? Yeah

Conclusion

Well, it’s a very worthy upgrade to the EM-5 – or a very worth addition to the wonderful OM-D line. With the OM-D, Olympus created the first (and so far, the only) real high-performance, high-quality Micro Four Thirds camera, so it’s great to see them keeping things that way. I’m not taking anything away from the great Lumix cameras, as well as the other Olympus PEN cameras, but they don’t really come very close to the OM-D, right? The E-M5, and now the E-M1, are special cameras, and the only cameras you could call special in the Micro Four Thirds market. It’s as simple as that

Should you go for this, or should you look at other mirrorless systems that are also fantastic, and quite a bit cheaper? Well, obviously that depends on you, the photographer. The user. The Sony NEX series, especially the NEX 6, is fantastic, and features cameras that have equally good AF systems (or very close), larger sensors, and are much cheaper than the E-M1. But the NEX cameras are not perfect either. For once, the control layout cannot be called nearly as good as this one. They’re not weather-sealed. Burst shooting capabilities are not as good. Yeah. You get the idea. The Fujifilm X-series can be got for similar prices as the E-M1 (XPro1) or much cheaper (X-E1), and they produce (in my opinion) the best quality images out of all in the entire mirrorless market. The X-series also has a great control layout. But they’re a lot slower. And are not weather-sealed either. Yeah. You see where I’m going


It’s always a compromise. If you feel this is the camera for you, it’s a wonderful option, really. The images this thing will take, paired with a nice Zuiko lens, will be beautiful. The performance is right up there. The controls are brilliant. And it’s just a good camera, overall. If you want a larger sensor for shallower DOF and other stuff, then obviously this isn’t for you. But if this isn’t an issue, think about it. Seriously. It looks very, very good

Get the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera (Body Only) on B&H Photo!

Well, that’s all I have for you today. As always, using my affiliate links (from Amazon or B&H Photo) really help out with the running costs of my site, so contributing by simply clicking on one of these links and buying from them – it doesn’t cost you anything extra – will really be appreciated. Leave a comment if you have anything to say, of course – as you can see by my previous posts, I reply every single one – and that’s about it for today. Until next time

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By Heshan Jayakody
All content is my own - images from Olympus
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Discussion

6 Responses to “Olympus OM-D E-M1: First Look”

  1. love the new design!! beautiful handling from what i see. controls too, woah, awesome. image quality should be stellar too, if you ask me

    Posted by Jest | September 12, 2013, 18:52
  2. Impressive beast! DSLR-type look, DSLR-type performance too. You’re right, this would’ve been THE best mirrorless cam around if it had an APS-C sensor

    Posted by Bn | September 12, 2013, 20:02
    • Haha yeah – I guess perfection is not meant to be 🙂 Therefore this camera has a Four Thirds sensor, which is still quite large, and if you look at the optical performance of the E-M5, you can’t complain at all!

      Posted by pixelogist | September 13, 2013, 07:23
  3. Nice, Oly, very nice! Loving the new design. The 2×2 was there on the E-P5 too, right – great to see it here with the twin dials. Hot

    Posted by Gary | September 13, 2013, 07:16

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