Today, Olympus has announced the second model in its OM-D mirrorless camera lineup, the E-M1. It does not replace the previous flagship model, highly regarded and popular E-M5 (click for our review), but rather stands above it with more impressive specifications and purposeful design. With a steep price of $1400 body only, let’s see what the OM-D E-M1 has to offer and compare it to the already very capable older brother, the E-M5.
1) Olympus OM-D E-M1 Overview and Key Specifications
The first thing you notice, being used to E-M5′s sleeker look, is the protruding, DSLR-style hand grip. This camera, although small, has ergonomics as a priority over compact dimensions. But it is not just the grip that has gotten bigger. Although the imaging sensor is the same or similar to the one used in E-M5 and E-P5, the built-in electronic viewfinder now has 2.36m dots instead of the already high-res 1.44m of the E-M5. On top of that, it has the full-frame equivalent 0.74x magnification, which means it is large and even bigger than that of Canon 5D Mark III (0.71x), a camera with a much bigger sensor. Very impressive. The E-M5 had an equivalent EVF magnification of 0.58x, which already was very good for such a small sensor camera.
On-paper improvements do not end here. The OM-D E-M5 had a very impressive contrast-detect autofocus system – the best in class, likely, and one that proved more capable than EOS M’s hybrid AF as seen in our review of that camera. E-M1 builds on the capability of that contrast-detect system and adds phase-detect sensors as well, a must on a modern flagship mirrorless camera. Potentially, this could mean even better focusing for the E-M1. If this hybrid AF system with its 37 phase-detect and 81 contrast-detect AF points is at least close to Nikon 1′s system, expect decent subject-tracking as well, something a lot of mirrorless cameras struggle at. The E-M1 is capable of firing up to 10 frames per second. If the AF system is indeed as good as we want to expect, new Olympus mirrorless flagship should prove to be capable for wildlife and sports photography where a small m4/3 sensor is no objection. New hybrid AF also promises faster focusing with Olympus Zuiko lenses for their four-thirds DSLR system (which is now virtually dead and never made much sense in general).
As for other specifications, decent low-light high ISO performance and ISO range of 100-25600 coupled to already-familiar 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization introduced in E-M5 should help get good image quality under varying levels of light. Olympus cameras have always been known for their dependability in unfriendly environments and the E-M1 features best weather protection of any previous Olympus camera, mirrorless or DSLR. There is built-in Wi-Fi for those who want to stay connected and a nice 3″ 1.037m dot tilting LCD touchscreen for controlling the camera and reviewing images. The shutter speed range has been bumped to an impressive, pro-level 60-1/8000s.
Here is a short list of Olympus OM-D E-M1 key specifications:
- High resolution 2.36 million dot Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) with an impressive 0.74x magnification (35mm equivalent) and short lag
- 16 MP sensor & TruePic VII Image Processor
- Hybrid AF system with 37 phase-detect and 81 contrast-detect AF points
- “5 axis” in-body Image Stabilization
- Dust and splash proof 3″ 1.037 million dot tilt/touch screen
- Magnesium-alloy body with advanced splash, freeze and dust protection, the best in an Olympus camera yet
- Self-cleaning ultrasonic sensor dust reduction system
- Shutter speed range of 60-1/8000s
- Built-in Wi-Fi connectivity
- Creative filters and modes
- 1080p30 video recording
- Battery life for up to 350 images
- Up to 10 fps continuous shooting at full 16 MP resolution
- ISO range of 100-25600
- Measures at 130 x 94 x 63mm (5.13 x 3.68 x 2.48″)
- Weighs 497 g with battery (1.10 lb / 17.53 oz)
2) The Elephant in the Room
Specifications of the new OM-D E-M1 mirrorless camera are, no doubt, very impressive and may be well worth the $1400 price tag for body-only for some. But I must admit, even though it may seem shallow and irrelevant – it is ugly when look at from the front. Naturally, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but where the original E-M5 had a relatively sleek, beautiful body reminiscent of their stylish film OM SLR cameras, the E-M1 looks like E-M5 with bits stuck on it. Mostly it is the very useful hand grip that just feels out-of-place, as contradicting as it may sound. It reminds me somehow of the disproportional Olympus DSLRs, such as the E-5, which were never much to look at. It is strange how one manufacturer can do it so well (the Pen E-P5, for example), and then so wrong with the E-M1, a lump of a camera.
Having said that, as I’ve already mentioned, the new OM-D does look very purposeful, a tool rather than an accessory, so I may be exaggerating a bit. There will be plenty of those who will actually like such an industrial design (or lack of it) and learn to appreciate it for the ergonomic improvements. If you do, don’t be offended by my remark. It is just that Olympus did their best to create a stylish yet comfortable camera with the E-M5. I was sort of thinking the same would apply to all upcoming OM-D cameras, and perhaps got spoiled by Fujifilm’s attractive design language. In the end, the way your camera looks does not have much to do with the photographs it helps you produce.
3) Official Press Release
Here is the official press release for Olympus OM-D E-M1:
NEW FLAGSHIP OLYMPUS OM-D E-M1 CAMERA IS THE PINNACLE OF OLYMPUS INNOVATION
CENTER VALLEY, Pa., September 10, 2013 – In response to the demand for a compact system camera as powerful as a professional DSLR, Olympus introduces the OM-D E-M1®, its new premium flagship camera and worthy Micro Four Thirds successor to the Olympus E-5 DSLR. The E-M1 has a revolutionary design for advanced photographers looking for a high-performance tool in a compact system camera package. The powerful E-M1 is packed with incredible speed and image quality that rivals full-frame DSLRs, in a portable yet lightweight body designed to go anywhere.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 now works seamlessly with all ZUIKO Digital lenses, in addition to working with M.ZUIKO Digital lenses, so photographers can enjoy optimum performance of the entire Olympus lens lineup. This is possible due to advanced DUAL FAST AF system that combines both Contrast AF and On-Chip Phase Detection AF. DSLR users familiar with an optical viewfinder will marvel at its electronic viewfinder (EVF) that is as large as a full-frame DSLR viewfinder and has added creative control. Its ergonomic body provides easy access to all manual controls and is ready for action in the most difficult shooting conditions.
Olympus also announces today the development of two new high-performance lenses, establishing the M.ZUIKO PRO lens category. The ZUIKO Digital ED 12–40mm f2.8 PRO lens (24–80mm, 35mm equivalent) and the ZUIKO Digital ED 40–150mm f2.8 PRO (80–300mm, 35mm equivalent) will expand the imaging options for professionals and serious photo enthusiasts alike.
DSLR Image Quality
With the OM-D E-M1, experience the highest image quality of any Olympus camera through the combination of a new 16.3 megapixel Live MOS sensor, a new TruePic VII image processor, and its best-in-class M.ZUIKO lenses. The TruePic VII image processor reduces noise and color fading at high ISOs for improved image reproduction. New Fine Detail Processing II technology configures the appropriate sharpness processing for each individual lens for natural, high-quality resolution, as well as reducing compression artifacts when recording movies.
Fast and Accurate AF for Complete Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds Lens Compatibility
The newly developed DUAL FAST AF selects the ideal method, depending on lens type and settings: either 37-point On-Chip Phase Detection AF or 81-point Contrast Detection AF to maximize the performance of both ZUIKO and M.ZUIKO lenses. Both systems work together to significantly improve continuous autofocus tracking performance when a Micro Four Thirds lens is attached and C-AF is selected. Users can select Group Target AF for a variety of situations, Small Target AF for pinpoint shooting, or Super Spot AF for capturing even smaller subjects and specifying a small area focus location during macro shooting.
The TruePic VII engine supports 10 frames-per-second shooting with a 41-picture RAW buffer in single autofocus (S-AF) mode and 6.5 frames-per-second shooting with a 50-picture RAW buffer in continuous autofocus (C-AF) mode.
New Super-Large Interactive Electronic Viewfinder
The E-M1’s advanced, built-in Interactive Electronic Viewfinder features a 1.48x (35mm equivalent of .74x) magnification factor that rivals full-frame DSLR cameras. The extremely high-resolution 2.36 million-dot LCD panel provides a large, clear image that is on a par with optical viewfinders. Tracking moving subjects is completely natural, with a display time lag of only 0.029 seconds. Users can experiment with aspect ratio, magnification, color, and highlight and shadow, and the effects of camera settings on subjects are viewable prior to capturing the finished image. Adaptive Brightness Control raises the brightness when shooting in bright outdoor conditions and lowers the brightness in dark indoor conditions, reducing visual errors from light and dark adaptation of the eye.
Color Creator is a new easy-to-use tool that fine-tunes hue and color saturation using the intuitive GUI and Live View screen, so users can create original images imbued with their own choice of colors. Creative Color was created with a designer’s sensitivity in mind, and hue can be adjusted in 30 steps, and color saturation adjusted in eight steps, including the baseline.
The Most Effective 5-Axis Image Stabilization System
The Olympus E-M1’s built-in 5-Axis Image Stabilization with Multi-Motion IS mechanism reduces the effects of camera motion and image blur from five directions. Whether shooting stills or HD video, even the motion blur caused by walking or running is stabilized. New algorithms make image stabilization more effective at low shutter speeds. When it is employed while panning during still image shooting or movie recording, IS-AUTO mode automatically detects the camera’s movements and provides optimal correction regardless of direction or camera orientation – even when panning in a diagonal direction. Users can check the image stabilization effects on the Live View screen as well as the viewfinder to accurately frame and focus, even during telephoto or macro shooting. Multi-Motion IS, used in combination with the 5-Axis Image Stabilization mechanism, produces excellent correction during movie recording.
Rugged Freeze, Splash, Dustproof Durability
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 expands the dustproof and splashproof capabilities of the E-M5 even further with freezeproof capabilities — guaranteed operation down to 14 ºF — for the best environmental resistance of any Olympus interchangeable lens camera. Its durable magnesium alloy body, and weather-resistant seals and gaskets block moisture and dust for use in any environment, without sacrificing image quality. The camera’s Supersonic Wave Filter (SSWF) dust reduction system vibrates at a super-high speed of more than 30,000 times per second to powerfully remove dust particles so users can shoot in dusty environments.
Ultimate Camera Control
Advanced photographers will appreciate the intuitive 2×2 Dial Control system to easily adjust four often-used functions with the camera’s lever or two dials: aperture/shutter speed, exposure compensation, ISO speed and white balance. A built-in grip similar to that of the E-M5 makes shooting with Four Thirds lenses more comfortable, and all frequently accessed buttons are logically laid out. Controls are now more functional: the settings reset function is activated by pressing and holding the OK button and there is a toggle option for the My Settings shortcut and a locking mode dial to prevent unintentional movement of the mode dial during shooting or when removing the camera from a case or bag. The dedicated “mic-in” jack supports an external microphone when recording HD movies and a built-in X-Sync socket easily connects to studio strobes.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 includes built-in Wi-Fi, and the set-up is simple. By quickly scanning the QR code displayed on the camera’s LCD with a smart device, it syncs with the Wi-Fi network created by the camera. The free Olympus Image Share 2.0 smartphone app synchronizes a user’s smartphone and E-M1 so the camera’s “Live View” is effectively displayed on the phone, and the camera can be controlled by touching the smartphone display as if it were the camera. This is ideal for taking self-portraits, capturing images of wildlife from a distance and sharing images easily online. The E-M1’s remote shooting function has been improved for use in all main shooting modes (P, A, S, M and iAUTO). Users can now wirelessly adjust various settings, such as the shutter speed, aperture value, ISO and exposure compensation, as well as operate the Live Bulb shooting mode from their Wi-Fi devices. They can also use their smartphone to embed GPS information into their images.
More Creative Features
New Diorama II adds to the popular range of Olympus in-camera Art Filters and offers left and right blur effect in addition to the top and bottom blur effect of Diorama I. The Olympus E-M1 is equipped with two variations of HDR Shooting – HDR1 and HDR2. With a single press of the shutter button, four images with differing exposures are captured and automatically merged in the camera into a single HDR high-contrast image or super-high-contrast image. Photo Story mode enables users to capture a scene from multiple viewpoints and then combine the images into a single image to create unique collages inside the camera. Time Lapse Movie converts the series of pictures taken using interval shooting into a movie inside the camera. The Time Lapse Movie length has been increased to a maximum of 100 seconds. The number of possible shots that can be captured with Interval Shooting has been increased to 999. The E-M1 is also equipped with Focus Peaking, which dramatically improves the usability of older manual focus lenses.
New High-Performance Lenses and Accessories for Every Shooting Challenge
The M.ZUIKO Digital ED 12-40mm f2.8 PRO lens (24–80mm, 35mm equivalent) is the first model in the new M.ZUIKO PRO category and is scheduled for release at the same time as the Olympus OM-D E-M1. It features dustproof and waterproof performance, toughness and excellent image quality. Its mount employs the same type of sealing as the camera body and is Movie & Still Compatible (MSC) with high-speed, near-silent autofocus during still shooting and high-definition (HD) video capture. It maintains the brightness of a constant f2.8 aperture for high-grade image creation, one of the requirements of professional photographers for a high-performance lens.
The M.ZUIKO Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO (80–300mm, 35mm equivalent) also joins the new M.ZUIKO PRO lens category. This lens is currently under development, with a planned release in the latter half of 2014. It will be a telephoto zoom lens with a bright constant f2.8 aperture and will feature a dustproof and splashproof construction rugged enough for professional use.
Several new accessories are designed to complement the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and broaden the creative horizons of all advanced photographers. The HLD-7 Power Battery Holder is a dustproof and splashproof power battery holder that can enable the capture of approximately 680 shots (based on CIPA tests) between charges. It features a shutter button for shooting with the camera held vertically and two control dials and two function buttons for the same easy controls as when shooting from a horizontal position. The GS-5 Grip Strap for the HLD-7 keeps buttons and dials accessible even when the battery holder is attached. The PT-EP11 Underwater Case is made exclusively for the Olympus E-M1 and allows shooting down to 45 meters.
The new CBG-10 Camera Bag is compact, yet designed with Four Thirds lens use in mind, and the highly water-resistant CS-42SF Soft Camera Case, which is part of the Camera Bag CBG-10 system, is made exclusively for use with the E-M1. The CSS-P118 Shoulder Strap is made of washable material with a slender width that matches the versatility of the Micro Four Thirds System.
U.S. Pricing and Availability
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 will be available in October 2013 in the following configurations.
Estimated Street Price:
$1399.99 Body only, available in Black
To find out more about the OM-D E-M1, and for a complete list of specifications, visit the Olympus website at: http://www.getolympus.com/e-m1.html