Olympus OM-D E-M1


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    Olympus OM-D E-M1

      In summary

      Owners of Olympus OM-D EM-5 bodies will rightly see the E-M1 as a worthwhile upgrade option and/or extension to their existing kit – provided they are happy about its higher price tag. The new camera has just enough improvements entice many stills photographers, although not photographers who are more video orientated.

      The added support for Four Thirds lenses in the AF system will make the E-M1 attractive to owners of Olympus's older DSLR cameras. Stepping into place as the top model in Olympus's line-up, the E-M1 replaces the E5, which will be the last DSLR the company makes. With higher resolution, a more sophisticated AF system and integrated Wi-Fi in a lighter body (which is also weatherproof), the E-M1 provides significant advantages over the three-year-old E5.

      The arrival of the E-M1 has pushed the price of the OM-D E-M5 body down to around $900 (AU or US), which makes it a bargain in the current environment. However, Compact System Cameras are currently a growth category and Olympus has hinted at further developments in the OM-D range so, if you're not in a rush to buy, it may be worth waiting to see what comes next.

       

      Full review

      This review supplements the detailed 'First Look'  at the OM-D E-M1, which we published in September and focuses upon the new camera's  performance in our standard suite of tests with the new M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens, which is reviewed separately. We will also look at aspects of the camera that we weren't able to assess when we had the pre-production unit last month. 

      Angled view of the new OM-D E-M1 with the new 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens. (Source: Olympus.)

      Having used a production unit with the 12-40mm lens for just over a week, we can confirm our initial impressions that this is the most sophisticated and 'professional' combination in the Olympus line-up to date. We can also confirm that the E-M1's electronic viewfinder is the best we have used and has such a rapid refresh rate it rivals the optical finders of most entry-level DSLRs.

      The resolution of 2.36 million dots is the same as the Olympus VF-4 accessory EVF and it covers the sensor's full field of view at 0.74x magnification with a comfortable 21mm eye point. One great feature of the E-M1's finder is automatic brightness adjustment  in response to ambient light levels, making it brighter in dim lighting and pulling back in brilliant sunlight.

      Handling
       Aside from the improved grip and re-location of some buttons, the E-M1 feels rather familiar in the user's hands.  However, the larger grip gives the EW-M1 a more 'serious' look and the larger buttons area easier to operate. Like the E-M5, the extensive customisation offered by this camera requires users to spend several hours with the manual, allocating their preferred settings to the different buttons and dials.

      We liked the additional buttons on the front panel, which provide 'one-touch' white balance adjustment and depth-of field-preview but can be re-purposed to handle other functions. The external flash connector will also be appreciated by studio photographers.

      Familiar features like the twin control dials provide a quick and easy way to adjust exposure parameters, with the front dial handling exposure compensation and the rear one program shift aperture adjustment. But, unlike the E-M5, the E-M1 has a lever that changes these options. In position 1, the standard E-M5 settings apply. Switch to position 2 and the front dial adjusts ISO while the rear dial sets white balance.

      In some ways the differences in the control layouts of the E-M1 and E-M5 are reassuring; but there are times when a regular E-M5 user's attention is drawn to the differences between them. The main mode dial caught us out a couple of times because the normal instinct is to press the central button to unlock it.

      However, on the E-M1, pressing it down locks the dial and prevents it from moving. It must be pressed a second time to raise it and allow the mode dial to rotate freely.

      The fast 12-40mm f/2.8 lens supplied with the camera delivered an excellent combination of brightness, detail and colour accuracy with the 2.63 million dot EVF, which provides a larger view of the scene than the E-M5's. The touch-screen monitor also provides a better user experience, being larger, more colour accurate and having higher resolution than the E-M5's.

      Shooting Tests
       Having no Four Thirds lenses in our kit, we weren't able to test the E-M1's Dual Fast AF, which chooses the best AF mode depending on the type of lens fitted. With Four Thirds lenses it switches to 37-point phase detection, as distinct from the 81-point contrast detection used with Micro Four Thirds lenses. Because we couldn't test the camera with Four Thirds lenses all subsequent comments apply to the camera and 12-40mm f/2.8 combination.

      The production camera confirmed our initial assessment that the already fast system in the E-M5 had been slightly improved. But, like the E-M5 it relied upon relatively bright lighting and slowed down in poorly-lit situations and often struggled to find focus after dark. Focusing accuracy was also very good in bright conditions but it was possible to trigger the shutter slightly before focus was secured in low light levels, which led to a few slightly soft shots.

      Focus peaking was useful in manual focus mode and was consistently accurate with the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens. It's a shame this feature isn't supported for movie recording, although the reason it's not may be because it reduces the live view refresh rate. Tracking AF with continuous shooting was better in the production camera and we didn't find any noticeably soft frames in bursts shot at 10 frames/second.

      Although the E-M1 can capture bursts of 20 or more JPEGs continuously  at the highest speed,  it requires a fast SDHC or SHXC card to achieve maximum capacity when ORF.RAW files are recorded. There's nothing in the camera's manual about the buffer capacity (but it wasn't revealed in the E-M5's manual, either).

      Metering was similar to the E-M5's with a slight tendency to favour shadow detail, which was well suited to the clear light in our Southern Hemisphere. The camera's Highlight & Shadow control, which allows you to tweak either (or both) ends of the tonal scale to record the full tonal range within the histogram's limits, provided enough adjustability to cope with fairly contrasty lighting, without introducing posterisation.

      The HDR modes were fun to play with and the two automatic settings (HDR1 and HDR2), which captured four frames with different exposures and combined them in the camera delivered interesting results. These modes are JPEG only. HDR1 produces relatively natural-looking images; with HDR2, a high-contrast image is produced. The five manual modes, that bracket across three, five or seven frames with two or three EV steps provides plenty for scope for post-capture processing with a capable image editor.

      We didn't have time to try out the camera's full time-lapse capabilities, which have been extended from the 99-frame limit on the E-M5 to 999 frames per sequence. But we did note that exposure and focus appear to be set with the first frame in the sequence, which can result in variations in both parameters when the lighting or subjects within the scene change in the intervals between shots. (The shutter will trip even if the subject isn't in focus.)

      According to the user manual, sequences will be terminated when there isn't enough charge left in the battery. However, when long intervals between shots are set, the camera will turn off after one minute and then switch on again just before the next shot.

      Wi-Fi
       Wi-Fi implementation is the same as in the PEN-EP5, with a simplified set-up based on a QR code, which is 'read' from the camera's monitor by the QR code scanner in the Olympus Image Share 2.0 app (a free download), which must be installed on the tablet or smart-phone. You point the smart device's camera at the icon on the Connection to Smartphone page in the camera's Playback sub-menu and press Install to install the camera's profile and set up the connection. You can also synchronise the time and date in the camera with your portable device and use the latter's GPS data to geotag images.

      Once connected you can use the smart device's touch screen to operate the camera in Live View mode, provided the distance to the camera is within about 15 metres and there's nothing to interfere with the signal.  With our Nexus 7 tablet, we often found a slight lag between when the screen was touched and when the camera responded. This extended to almost a minute at times when the network is being used by someone else.

      Touch focusing worked pretty well, as did the touch shutter control and, allowing for the second or two delay, both operated as efficiently as the camera's touch screen. Transferring JPEG files from the camera to the tablet was easy, with transfer times depending on the size of the files sent. (Raw files can't be transferred.)

      Advantages over the EP5's Wi-Fi system include support for the camera's P, A, S and M shooting modes as well as the iAuto mode. In addition, you can adjust the ISO and white balance and preview the Live Time and Live bulb modes. But when you want to upload images to social networks, or transfer them to networked computers, you have to rely on the facilities in the connected smart device.

      Video
       The E-M1 is the first Olympus camera to provide full manual exposure control and an external microphone input jack. The only shooting mode in which movies can't be recorded in Photo Story. Otherwise, the E-M1's movie capabilities are similar to the E-M5's, with both MPEG-4AVC/H.264 and AVI/Motion JPEG formats available. The table below shows the recording options provided.

      File format

      Record mode

      Pixels

      Frame rate

      MPEG-4AVC/H.264

      Full HD Fine

      1920 x 1080

      59.94i (sensor output is ~ 30 fps)

      Full HD Normal

      HD Fine

      1280 x 720

      59.94p (sensor output is ~ 30 fps)

      HD Normal

      AVI/Motion JPEG

      HD

      approx. 30 fps

      SD

      640 x 480

      Users can select any of the P, A, S and M shooting modes to allow camera settings to be adjusted for recording video clips. Shutter speeds are adjustable from 1/30 to 1/4000 second and sensitivity can be set anywhere between ISO 200 and ISO 3200. Exposure compensation is not supported and there are restrictions on using some Art Filters, although most can be used as they are for shooting stills.

      The camera's AF system works normally in movie mode and all focusing modes are available. However, as it takes time to re-focus on moving subjects, both the continuous and tracking AF modes introduce some blurring as the focus changes. The tracking AF mode often 'lost' the subject, causing hunting to occur as it was found again.

      Some digital stabilisation is included when movies are recorded, enlarging the image slightly. Frames are also cropped to match the recording mode setting. Olympus provides a wind-reduction filter in the Movie pages of the Custom settings menu, along with the ability to adjust audio recording volumes across three levels: low, standard and high.

      The sound level adjustment isn't graphical, as it is in other cameras, and Olympus hasn't yet introduced focus peaking in movie mode, although it's provided for stills. Contrast detection is still the AF mode for movie recordings, even though there are phase-detection points on the sensor that could be utilised.

       Performance
       The review camera confirmed the impressions we formed with the pre-production unit. Still image files captured with the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens were as clean and crisp as we had estimated they would be and colour reproduction appeared very natural. Images also looked extremely sharp, as expected from a camera with no anti-aliasing filter over the sensor.  

      Raw files appeared to have a little more 'depth' for post-capture processing than files from the E-M5 and their default colour rendition wasn't quite as warm. But even with raw files, noise became visible between ISO 1600  and ISO 3200  and noticeable from ISO 6400 on. However, as in the E-M5 it was well-controlled at the highest sensitivity settings and produced printable images. Imatest confirmed our subjective assessments and showed a gradual decline in resolution as sensitivity was increased, as shown in the graph below.

      Flash performance was similar to the E-M5 we tested, with slight under-exposure at ISO 100 and over-exposure increasing progressively from ISO 6400 (about 1/2EV over) to ISO 25600 (more than 1EV over).

      We were expecting to see moiré patterns in some movie clips  by shooting some tightly-patterned subjects but were totally unsuccessful. The image processor appears to be capable of removing all but the most extreme artefacts of this type without compromising overall resolution. (Perhaps they would be visible with one of the new Pro lenses, which promise even higher resolution than the existing range of lenses.)

      Autofocusing for still shots was slightly faster with the E-M1, which is surprising as the AF system in the E-M5 is pretty quick. Focusing accuracy was also very good with the new camera, although when tracking moving subjects while shooting JPEGs at 10 frames/second we found a few (no more than three) frames in each burst that were slightly soft.

      Video quality was similar to the clips we shot with the PEN E-P5 and generally very good, although we noticed similar problems with focus lag with changes in camera-to-subject distances. This is to be expected with a contrast-based AF system. Soundtracks were generally clear and the wind-reduction filter relatively effective.

      White balance performance was similar to the E-M5's, with a slight warm cast remained in shots taken under incandescent lighting with the auto setting. Under fluorescent lighting colours were close to neutral. Both pre-sets over-corrected slightly but the camera provides plenty of adjustments to overcome biases and the manual measurement tools delivered cast-free shots.

      Overall response times were also speedy on the whole. Viewfinder lag was unnoticeable, thanks to the faster refresh rates. File processing times were fast enough to eliminate any delays between shots that prevented further shots to be taken and the buffer memory cleared fast enough when shooting bursts of JPEGs to enable a further burst to be recorded after a second or two.

      Our timing tests were carried out with the same 32GB SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC U1 memory card as we used for the OM-D E-M5. The review camera took just under a second to power-up for the first shot. Shot-to-shot times were consistently 0.2 seconds without flash and capture lag was virtually non-existent, provided the Art Filters were not used.

      Image processing was similar to the E-M5's, with JPEG files taking less than a second, ORF.RAW files just over a second and RAW+JPEG pairs very little more.

      In the high-speed sequential shooting mode, we were able to record between 28 and 30 RAW+JPEG pairs before capture rates slowed. The review camera recorded high-speed bursts of 10 Large/Super Fine JPEGs, ORF.RAW files and also RAW+JPEG pairs in one second, which matches specifications.  It took approximately 4.3 seconds to process the burst of 10 Large/Super Fine JPEGs, 6.5 seconds for the raw files and 10.8 seconds for the RAW+JPEG pairs.

      In the low-speed sequential mode, we recorded 10 frames in 1.6 seconds in separate bursts of 10 Large/Super Fine JPEGs, ORF.RAW files and RAW+JPEG pairs. It took 3.6 seconds to process  the JPEG burst, 5.5 seconds for the raw files and 7.8 seconds for the RAW+JPEG pairs.

      Conclusion

      Owners of Olympus OM-D EM-5 bodies will rightly see the E-M1 as a worthwhile upgrade option and/or extension to their existing kit – provided they are happy about its higher price tag. The new camera has just enough improvements entice many stills photographers, although not photographers who are more video orientated.

      The added support for Four Thirds lenses in the AF system will make the E-M1 attractive to owners of Olympus's older DSLR cameras. Stepping into place as the top model in Olympus's line-up, the E-M1 replaces the E5, which will be the last DSLR the company makes. With higher resolution, a more sophisticated AF system and integrated Wi-Fi in a lighter body (which is also weatherproof), the E-M1 provides significant advantages over the three-year-old E5.

      The arrival of the E-M1 has pushed the price of the OM-D E-M5 body down to around $900 (AU or US), which makes it a bargain in the current environment. However, Compact System Cameras are currently a growth category and Olympus has hinted at further developments in the OM-D range so, if you're not in a rush to buy, it may be worth waiting to see what comes next. 

       

      SPECS 

       Image sensor: 17.3 x 13.0 mm LiveMOS sensor with approx. 16.3 megapixels effective
       Image processor: TruePic VII 
       A/D processing: 12-bit lossless compression
       Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds
       Focal length crop factor: 2x
       Image formats: Stills – ORF.RAW, JPEG, RAW+JPEG, MPO (3D still); Movies – MOV (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264), AVI (Motion JPEG)
       Image Sizes: Stills – 4608 x 3456, 2560 x1920, 1280 x 960; 3:2 aspect: 4608 x 3072, 2544 x 1696, 1296 x 864;16:9 aspect: 4608 x 2592, 2560 x 1440, 1280 x 720; 1:1 aspect: 3456 x 3456, 1920 x 1920, 960 x 960; 3:4 aspect: 2592 x 3456, 1440 x 1920, 3216 x 2144, 2400 x 2400, 1824 x 2432, 2560 x 1440, 2544 x 1696, 1920 x 1920, 1440 x 1920, 720 x 960; Movies: 1920 x 1080, 30p at 20Mbps or 17 Mbps; HD: 1280 x 720 at 30fps, 640 x 480 at 30 fps
       Image Stabilisation: 5-axis sensor-shift type (yaw/pitch/vertical shift/horizontal shift/lens-axis roll); up to 5EV shake compensation
        Dust removal: Supersonic Wave Filter
        Shutter speed range: 1/8000 to 60 seconds plus Bulb/Time (default 8 min.; up to 30 min. selectable), X-sync at 1/320 sec. for built-in flash
       Exposure Compensation: +/- 5 EV in 1/3-, 1/2- or 1EV increments
       Exposure bracketing: +/-3 EV in 1/3- or 1/2-EV increments (can be combined with manual exposure compensation)
       Self-timer:  2 or 12 seconds delay
       Focus system: 81-area contrast-detection AF plus 37-area phase difference detection AF with All target and group target (9 area) modes; AF illuminator available
       Focus modes: Single AF (S-AF) / Continuous AF (C-AF) / Manual Focus (MF) / S-AF + MF / AF tracking (C-AF + TR) modes; magnify and focus peaking assists for manual focusing
       Exposure metering: TTL Image Sensor metering system with Digital ESP metering (324-area multi pattern metering),  Centre weighted average metering and Spot metering (approx. 1% of the viewfinder screen. Highlight / shadow bias spot metering are available) 
       Shooting modes: iAuto, Program AE (Program shift available), Aperture priority AE, Shutter priority AE, Manual, Bulb, Time, Scene select AE (Portrait, e-Portrait, Landscape, Landscape + Portrait, Sport, Night, Night + Portrait, Children, High Key, Low Key, DIS mode, Macro, Nature Macro, Candle, Sunset, Documents, Panorama, Fireworks, Beach & Snow, Fisheye Effect, Wide-Angle, Macro, 3D)
       Art Filters: Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Colour, Light Tone, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama, Gentle Sepia, Cross Process, Dramatic Tone, Key Line, Watercolour
       Art Effects: Soft Focus, Pin Hole, White Edge, Frame, Star Light, B&W Effect, Picture Tone (Sepia, Blue, Purple, Green)
       Picture Modes: i-Enhance, Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait, Monotone, Custom, Art Filter; Neutral, Sepia, Blue, Purple, Green for Monotone Picture Tones; Gradation adjustments of Auto, Normal, High Key, Low Key (except Art Filters); Neutral, Yellow, Orange, Red, Green B&W filter effects
        Photo Story: 4 standard frames, 4 fun frames, 4 window patterns
       Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
       ISO range: Auto: ISO 100 - 1600 set automatically (default); Manual: ISO L (100 equivalent), 200 to 25600 selectable in 1/3 or 1EV steps
       White balance: Auto, Sunny (5300K), Shadow (7500K), Cloudy (6000K), Incandescent (3000K), Fluorescent (4000K), Flash (5500K), Underwater; Custom, Color temperature setting (Approx. 2000-14000K); WB  bracketing of 3 frames in 2, 4 or 6 steps in A-B and G-M axes
       Flash: Bundled TTL flash, GN=7 (ISO100/m), Olympus Wireless RC Flash system compatible; X-synch at 1/320 second or slower
       Flash modes: Auto, Redeye, Fill-in, Flash Off, Slow sync. (1st/2nd curtain), Manual (1/1 (Full)~1/64) 
       Flash exposure adjustment: +/-3 EV in 1/3 , 1/2 or 1 EV increments
       Sequence shooting: Max. approx. 10 shots/sec. for up to  36 ORF.RAW files with a UHS-I certified SDHC or SDXC card
       Other features: HDR1/2 (4-shot auto composite) available with P, A, S and M mode plus bracketing of 3, 5 or 7 frames in post-process; built-in Wi-Fi
       Storage Media: Single slot for SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards; UHS-1 and Eye-Fi  compatible
       Viewfinder: Eye-level EVF with approx 2.63 million dots; 100% FOV coverage, 21 mm eye point, -4 to +2 dpt adjustment
       LCD monitor: 3-inch tilting TFT colour LCD with approx. 1037 million dots; capacitance touch-screen controls
       Live View shooting: Live previews for exposure compensation, white balance, gradation, face detection (up to 8 faces) plus grid line, histogram and magnification (5x, 7x, 10x, 14x) displays, Level gauge
       Playback functions: Single-frame, Information display (Histogram - independent luminance / RGB available, Highlight/Shadow point warning, AF frame, Photographic information), Index display (4/9/25/100 frames), Calendar, Enlargement (2x - 14x), Movie (with sound, FF/REW/Pause), Picture rotation (auto), Slideshow (with BGM/BGM+Sound/Sound)
       Interface terminals: Dedicated multi-connector; USB 2.0, HDMI (Type D), external microphone IN (3.5 mm stereo jack), terminal for RM-UC1 remote controller;  Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b/g/n)
       Power supply: BLN-1 rechargeable lithium-ion battery; CIPA rated for approx. 330shots/charge
       Dimensions (wxhxd): Approx. 130.4 x 93.5 x 63.1 mm
       Weight: Approx. 443 grams (body only)

       

      TESTS

      JPEG files:

       
       ORF.RAW files converted with Adobe Camera Raw.

       

       

      SAMPLES

       

       Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.
       

       Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.
       

      30-second exposure at ISO 100; 18mm focal length, f/5.
       

      25-second exposure at ISO 200; 18mm focal length, f/6.3.
       

      15-second exposure at ISO 800; 18mm focal length, f/9.
       

      6-second exposure at ISO 6400; 18mm focal length, f/16.
       

      4-second exposure at ISO 12800; 18mm focal length, f/16.
       

      2-second exposure at ISO 25600; 18mm focal length, f/16.
       

      Flash exposure with 40mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/60 second at f/2.8.
       

      Flash exposure with 40mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/60 second at f/2.8.
       

      Flash exposure with 40mm focal length, ISO 800, 1/60 second at f/3.5.
       

      Flash exposure with 40mm focal length, ISO 6400, 1/250 second at f/5.
       

      Flash exposure with 40mm focal length, ISO 12800, 1/320 second at f/6.3.
       

      Flash exposure with 40mm focal length, ISO 25600, 1/320 second at f/9.
       

      Wide dynamic range subject; 40mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/200 second at f/8.
       

      Close-up taken at 36mm; 1/100 second at f/6.3.
       

      Available-light exposure with no in-camera processing; 23mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/60 second at f/11.
       

      The same subject photographed in the HDR1 mode; 23mm focal length, ISO 320, 1/125 second at f/5.6.
       

      The same subject photographed in the HDR2 mode; 300mm focal length, ISO 320, 1/125 second at f/5.
       

      Stabilisation test with the camera hand-held at 1/2 second: 17mm focal length, ISO 200, at f/8.
       

      Stabilisation test with the camera hand-held at 1/4 second: 15mm focal length, ISO 200, at f/8.
       

      The same subject photographed at ISO 3200; 15mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/8.

      The same subject photographed at ISO 12800; 15mm focal length, 1/250 second at f/8.

      The same subject photographed at ISO 25600; 15mm focal length, 1/400 second at f/8.
       

      34mm focal length, ISO 3200, 1/60 second at f/9.
       

      40mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/320 second at f/10.
       
       

      20mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/9.
       

      35mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/100 second at f/6.3.
       

      Photographed with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II lens at 75mm; ISO 200, 1/125 second at f/8.

      Additional image samples can be found with our review of the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens.

       

      Rating

      RRP: AU$1599, US$1400 (body only); AU$2399 with 12-40mm f/2.8 lens

      • Build: 9.0
      • Ease of use: 8.5
      • Autofocusing: 9.0
      • Still image quality JPEG: 8.8
      • Still image quality RAW: 9.0
      • Video quality: 8.8

      BUY

        No