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Olympus OM-D E-M1 Review

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I got the feeling the opposition was spooked by the news that this one was coming. Suddenly, major makers all over town announced press chats to bellow their wares from the heights.

Olympus has a disturbing habit of delivering tasty morsels resembling full-on meals (!) in a manner far beyond its size. In the past companies such as Nikon and Canon have been justifiably wary of the O company and its moves on the market. This looks like another one.

The retro-styled, magnesium alloy bodied E-M1 is Olympus’ flagship compact system camera and, in some very obvious ways, announces that Micro Four Thirds has well and truly arrived. Farewell Four Thirds!

The review camera was supplied with the f2.8/12-40mm lens which has the same type of sealing as the camera body. The E-M1 was loaned to me for only a few days, so this review will have to be a tad cursory … but, please forgive me if I lean on the hyperbole a bit!

First up, as far as handling goes, we see the benefits of the Micro Four Thirds system: the camera and lens are not a bulky package.

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 Features

The first (and still current) model in the OM-D series was the E-M5 … don’t you just love the numbering system!

  • The 16.3 megapixel LiveMOS sensor has on-chip Phase Detection AF, True Pic VII image processor and a new electronic view finder. No anti-aliasing filter.
  • Dual Fast AF Technology supports both Contrast AF and On-chip Phase Detection AF, which allows users of both the Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds systems to use their lenses.
  • There’s an enhanced 5-axis image stabiliser for improved stabilisation at lower shutter speeds.
  • ISO range: 200 – 25600.
  • Manual focus with focus peaking.
  • Focus points: 81-area multiple contrast detection AF with 37-area multiple AF phase detection AF.
  • In-camera HDR.
  • Flash: no built-in flash. Flash sync (for external unit): 1/320 sec.
  • Built-in WiFi.
  • Weather sealing: dust, splash, freeze resistance (-10?C).
  • The LCD screen tilts up and down in a vertical plane but does not tilt up and forward for self portraits.
  • Customizable buttons: two on the front.
  • Built-in microphone socket.
  • Interface: AP2 accessory port, AV/USB, HDMI connector.
  • The maximum image size is 4608×3456 pixels, which leads to a 39×29 cm print. Video is in Full HD 1920x1080pixel resolution. If you shoot a still mid video recording the video is interrupted.
  • Continuous shoot at up to 10fps.
  • The intervalometer can shoot up to 999 shots with a movie compilation at the end.
  • The Color Creator mode allows you to adjust the camera’s colour response, accessed from the Function 2 button and allows a live preview of its effects with a navigable colour wheel that changes the hue and saturation of the image.

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 Controls

At first, the camera appears to have a crowded control layout: but this is only because the whole kit is so modest in size!

Flanking the lens mount are a pair of buttons that offer instant, one touch white balance (targetting a white card) and a preview button that gives you an idea of the scene when stopped down. These buttons are devilishly hard to activate too!

The first — and only — shock is that the power lever is located at the left of the camera’s top deck, tucked in between two buttons which access AF options and HDR/sequential shooting. It takes some adjusting to feel relaxed with this location!

Off to the right is the mode dial. This has something I have never seen before: a two way lock to set or release the dial.
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This dial gives access to auto, PASM, Art Filters (13), Photo story (in this mode you can shoot multiple shots, then combine them into one image and then add handwritten text), Scene Filters (24), video.

Nearby are the shutter button, a front and rear control dial, Function 2 button and the familiar video record button. Tucked awkwardly into the far right corner is the Function 1 button.

On the brow of the top deck and rear panel are the top/LCD viewfinder button and a two position lever that swings from AE to AF options.

Rear: buttons for Info (screen display options) and menu plus replay and trash.
The four way jog dial has a central OK button that quickly gives access to ISO, AF/MF, flash choices, image sizes,single/continuous shooting, white balance, etc.

As you can see, there is a whole forest of choices with often more than one way to get where you’re going.

It’s worth mentioning there are three options for the touch screen: off, tap and shoot, tap to display a resizeable AF target — then tap to shoot!

Olympus OM-D E-M1 ISO Tests

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Only at ISO 6400 is noise slightly noticeable. At ISO 12800 noise is up a little more but still useable. Surprisingly, ISO 25600 would be useable for certain subjects, ie those with no large areas of continuous tone.

Some Notes

The viewing setup is to to die for: while the rear screen is excellent, the top finder is superb, sharp and bright, while seeming so close to an actual optical finder. Remember this is a mirrorless camera!

And note: there’s an underwater case for the Olympus OM-D E-M1, allowing shooting down to 45 metres. It’s equipped with a wireless flash control function and a waterproof lens port can be attached.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Review Verdict

Quality: truly superb quality with tons of access to image management.

Why you’d buy the Olympus OM-D E-M1: excellent stabiliser for video shooting; arguably the best Micro Four Thirds camera on the market.

Why you wouldn’t: you don’t have the expertise to drive it!

And now a confession: in my rush to get shooting I found myself with a lens that was determinedly manual in operation. No way could I get it onto AF. Then I found a tiny leaflet in the lens box that imparted the secret: slip the focus ring forward and you enter auto focus; reverse it and you’re in manual.

So I ran the E-M1 for a while in manual focus and can’t rave enough about the focus peaking approach which gives a superb confirmation in the viewfinder that you’re on the right spot.

A truly remarkable camera. Want one!

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Specifications

Image Sensor: 16.28 million effective pixels.
Metering: Multi pattern, centre-weighted averaging, spot.
Exposure Modes: Auto, Program AE, shutter and aperture priority, manual.
Effective Sensor Size: 17.3×13.0mm (22.5mm diagonal) Live MOS.
Lens Mount: Micro Four Thirds.
35 SLR Lens Factor: 2x.
Shutter Speed: 60 sec to 1/8000 second, Time, Bulb. Internal/external flash sync: 1/320/250 sec.
Continuous Shooting: up to 10 fps.
Memory: SD/SDHC/SDXC cards and Eye-Fi.
Image Sizes (pixels): 4608×3456 to 640×480. Movies: 1920×1080, 1280×720, 640×480.
LCD Screen: Viewfinder (2,360,000 pixels), 7.6cm LCD (1,040,000 pixels).
File Formats: JPEG, RAW, JPEG+RAW, MPEG4.
Colour Space: sRGB, Adobe RGB.
ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 200 to 25600.
Interface: USB 2.0, HDMI mini, AV, flash, mic, WiFi.
Power: Rechargeable lithium ion battery, DC input.
Dimensions: 130.4×93.5×63.1 WHDmm.
Weight: 497 g (inc battery and card).
Prices: Get a price on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 (Body Only) or the Olympus Om-d E-m1 with 12-40mm F2.8 Lens.

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Barrie Smith
Barrie Smith

is an experienced writer/photographer currently published in Australian Macworld, Auscam and other magazines in Australia and overseas.

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