This is an in-depth review of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mirrorless camera that was released on September 10, 2013. Standing above all other Olympus mirrorless cameras, the E-M1 is a flagship model with the most impressive list of features. Built on the success of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 (which we highly praised), the E-M1 reigns over the OM-D line on a number of features – from the design of the camera and its incredibly fast autofocus system to the advanced shutter mechanism, high-end electronic viewfinder, WiFi and amazing weather sealing options. In fact, the E-M1 is one of the very few freezeproof, splashproof and dustproof interchangeable lens cameras on the market today.
When it comes to mirrorless cameras, the Micro Four Thirds (M43) format has been out on the market the longest. As a result, the format enjoys the most selection of lightweight and compact Micro Four Thirds lenses – everything from wide-angle to telephoto options from Olympus, Panasonic and a few third party manufacturers. This obviously gives the M43 a competitive advantage over all other mirrorless formats on the market today. Despite the continuous threats and tough competition from larger sensor size cameras on the market, both Olympus and Panasonic have been focusing on innovation as the driving force behind their products, while staying committed to keeping the format small and lightweight. Without a doubt, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 is the culmination of innovation and finest technology, coupled with a beautiful and functional retro design, along with advanced features that are not even found on high-end DSLR camera systems today.
Whether you are looking at the superb in-body 5-axis image stabilization, the incredibly fast and accurate autofocus, or the large, super high resolution electronic viewfinder, the E-M1 in my eyes has become the role model for proper mirrorless camera development. Although my initial impressions of the controls were not very positive, just using the camera for a couple of days changed my mind and I quickly realized how much better the E-M1 was compared to my older E-M5. Before I give away too many spoilers, let me just state that during the last 4+ months of using the camera, I have gotten deeply attached to it and in some ways I have made the E-M1 my reference camera for top notch performance. In this review, I will discuss my experience with the camera and compare it to the E-M5 and a few other cameras like Fuji X-T1, Nikon D5300 and Nikon D600.
1) Olympus OM-D E-M1 Specifications
- 16.3 MP Live-MOS sensor & TruePic VII Image Processor with Fine Detail Processing II
- High resolution 2.36 million-dot Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)
- 81-point Contrast AF and 37-point on-chip Phase Detection AF system with Focus Peaking capability
- All new “5 axis” in-body Image Stabilization with Multi-Motion IS and IS-Auto
- Freezproof, Splashproof and Dustproof Magnesium Alloy Construction
- 3″ 610,000 dot tilt/touch OLED screen
- Self-cleaning ultrasonic sensor dust reduction system
- Durable mechanical shutter mechanism with up to 1/8000 sec shutter
- SDHC/SDXC memory card compatibility for ultra-fast data transfer speeds
- Wireless flash control and a built-in ISO standard hot shoe
- Built-in Wi-Fi with remote control / shooting capability
- Built-in digital leveler function
- Up to 1080/30p full HD video recording capability
- Battery life for up to 350 images
- Face Detection Capability
- Computerized focal-plane, high-speed shutter
- Up to 10 fps shooting in Single AF mode and 6.5 fps in Continuous AF mode
Detailed technical specifications for the Olympus OM-D E-M1 are available at Olympus.com
2) 16.3 MP Live-MOS sensor
One of the most important attributes in a digital camera is its sensor – the heart of the camera that is responsible for capturing images. Despite Sony’s large stake in the company and the fact that Olympus used a Sony sensor in the OM-D E-M5, Olympus this time chose a different sensor manufacturer for the E-M1 – Panasonic. This was an interesting find for me, because I assumed that Olympus would continue to use Sony sensors in the future. It turns out that, despite Sony’s rescue of Olympus from its financial crisis, the company is still free to choose whichever vendor they find the most appropriate for their business.
For those of our readers who do not know much about Micro Four Thirds, the term “Four Thirds” comes from the physical size of the sensor that measures 4/3″ and from the 4:3 image aspect ratio. This means that the physical size of the sensor is smaller than APS-C sensors used in DSLRs and mirrorless cameras (about 40% smaller), and the image is not as wide, since APS-C and full-frame sensors use a 3:2 image aspect ratio. If APS-C sensors have a 1.5x crop factor relative to a 35mm / full-frame sensor, Micro Four Thirds sensors have a 2.0x crop factor (more on this under “Lenses”). So a 12mm lens would be equivalent to a 24mm lens in terms of field of view (12mm x 2x crop factor = 24mm). You can read more about Micro Four Thirds on Wikipedia. Here is a chart that summarizes sensor size differences (courtesy of Wikipedia):
So if we look purely at the sensor size, the Micro Four Thirds format is at a disadvantage compared to the larger APS-C mirrorless options. However, it would be a mistake to only look at the physical sensor size without taking into account all other great features of the camera, of which the OM-D E-M1 has many. Despite facing the challenges from the larger sensor cameras, Olympus engineers were able to squeeze every bit of performance from the 16.3 MP Live-MOS sensor and deliver excellent image quality, as demonstrated on the ISO Performance page of this review.