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Olympus OM-D E-M1 Hands-On

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Hands-On

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A hands-on tour of the first production model to arrive in the US

September 10, 2013

Olympus's OM-D EM-1 is a small, smart MILC with professional ambitions.

Olympus OM-D EM-1 shown with Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens, both introduced today. Lens and camera will be available separately.


Olympus today introduced the 
Olympus OM-D EM-1, filling a void left when the company quietly shifted its pro- and enthusiast-camera focus from DSLRs to MILCs. Designed with high-end enthusiasts and professionals in mind, the ruggedly built Olympus OM-D E-M1 shares Olympus's classic compact OM SLR design elements, adding a more robust feature set including features (some borrowed from the pro-level E-5) and build than the OM-D EM-5, which took the photo world by storm last year.


The Olympus OM-D EM-1 can be pre-ordered now from Adorama, and will be shipped on a first-come, first-served basis. Credit cards will not be charged until the camera ships.



Diane Wallace and I had the opportunity to spend a few hours playing with one of the first production models to arrive in the United States. Watch Diane's product overview of the Olympus OM-D EM-1, then read on for more details and my personal observations handling this camera.



Olympus OM-D EM-1 Key Features

  • New 16MP Live MOS Image Sensor
  • No Low-Pass Filter
  • Dual Phase/Contrast Autofocus with small target Autofocus
  • 5-axis image stabilization
  • New dials, built-in grip, direct buttons
  • Extension feature and control customization
  • Mic Jack
  • HDMI-Out
  • First OM camera with an X-Sync socket
  • Mechanical shutter release, 60-1/8000 sec plus Bulb and "Life Time" modes
  • Burst rate up to 10fps
  • Dust, splash and freeze-proof magnesium alloy body
  • 2.36 million dot resolution EVF
  • Built-in Wi-Fi with Geotagging, QR Connect
  • New HDR features
  • New Color Creator mode
  • Many in-camera art filters
  • In-Camera RAW and JPEG image editing
  • 1080p HD video with time lapse


If the Olympus OM-D EM-5 is a jewel of a camera, the Olympus OM-D EM-1 is a rugged, practical tool designed for experienced shooters. It fills the gap created when the pro-level Olympus E-5 quietly disappeared over the past year or so. In may ways, the EM-1 far exceeds the E-5 for features and durability.

The Olympus OM-D EM-1 is rich with features, and is highly customizable. As with the EM-5, in the hands of a beginner-intermediate photographer it will deliver outstanding results and ease of use via its flip-out touch screen operation, multiple art/scene filters, and iAuto modes, but its strengths will be most appreciated by experienced shooters. It will be special interest to those understand the utility of multiple, at-your-fingertips HDR settings, custom function assignments to particular buttons, multiple RAW and JPEG image capture options, and lightening-fast autofocus.

For fans of the Olympus Micro Four Thirds system, the introduction of the EM-1 is big news. Let's take a closer look.

Models prepare to pose with the Olympus OM-D EM-1 last night at the press introduction in New York City. At ISO 100, image quality was excellent. Photo by Mason Resnick.



Sample Images:





In The Hands

Grasp the Olympus OM-D EM-1 and you'll immediately notice its substantial grip and build. A heavier camera than the EM-5, the EM-1 has a multitude of buttons and controls. The drive /HDR button, located on the left side of the top plate, provides quick access to burst rates and seven flavors of HDR exposure bracketing, including a setting that shoots up to 7 frames with a 2 EV spread or 5 frames with a 3 EV spread.

The bulk of navigation is done via thumb and forefinger dials atop the camera that are within easy reach. There's a PASM dial that also includes access to iAuto mode, Art filters (12 total, along with an "art Bracket" setting that automatically creates 12 different images with each filter applied) and 24 Scene settings, as well as multi-image montage templates (a feature introduced earlier this year in the Olympus E-P5) and movie mode.

The flip-out LCD monitor offers touch focus (touch the part of the picture you want in focus and it immediately snaps into focus), touch shutter release, etc.  I found the LCD monitor to be bright and usable in sunlight. I also give high marks to the eye-level EVF, which projected excellent image quality with barely any "jaggies" when moving the camera.

The EM-1's convenient articulated LCD monitor lets you place the camera on the ground and compose from a comfortable position.

Favorite Features
 
Such a feature-packed camera has a mile-long list of capabilities, but I'd like to focus on a few personal favorites that are relatively new for this class of camera, or new to Olympus.

In-camera image editing: Whether you're shooting JPEG or RAW, the OM-D EM-1 offers several post-processing options, including shadow adjustment, redeye fix, crop, changing the aspect ratio, converting to sepia or black-and-white, adjusting color saturation, or changing resolution. If you shoot RAW, you can apply any number of Art filters after the fact and the camera will generate filtered JPEG images. Very cool!

WiFi: The OM-D EM-1 offers hot-spot connectivity, as well as the ability to load images into your tablet or smart phone, and all Wi-Fi options can be password protected.

Custom settings: A good pro-oriented camera lets you tweak its settings, and the OM-D EM-1 offers plenty of options. Some custom resets include: Changing flash sync from the default to as high as 1/320 sec; an extensive array of white balance choices, Color Balance Bracketing, changing the direction of the focus ring, MF focus peaking or magnification, reassigning functions to 5 different dials and buttons, setting the number of images shot in burst mode, tweaking the shutter release's sensitivity to pressure, histogram settings, adjusting amount of noise reduction, and changing the ISO setting steps. There are many more options, but this should give you a sense of how extensive and exacting these settings are.



Image Quality

While I didn't have time to conduct extensive, formal image quality tests, I found the Olympus OM-D EM-1's image quality to be excellent in general, and held up very well at ISO 800 with less noise than its predecessors.




My fuzzy dog: Shot in low light without flash, the OM-D EM-1 defaulted to ISO 800. Below, a 100% detail shows noise is under control, showing some noise reduction artifacts.



At ISO 100, nice and sharp, showing lots of details. At native resolution you can expect high-quality images.

ISO 25,000!


Pushing the envelope: Image quality at ISO 25,000 was better than I expected. I shot this last night at the Intrepid in New York CIty at the press preview with an OM-D EM-1 mounted on a tripod. There is noise, of course (see 100% detail, below) but the image holds up well at screen resolution and should produce acceptable smaller prints.

Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens

In addition to the OM-D EM-1, Olympus announced its first Micro Four Thirds "Pro" lens, the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO contstant aperture zoom lens. With a 35mm equivalent 24-80mm focal range, this lens aspires to be a fast-focusing mid-range lens. It has an L-Fn (Lens Function) button, and accepts 62mm filters. While I didn' have the opportunity to try out this lens it is said to be as fast-focusing as Olympus's zippy prime lenses and with a constant f/2.8 wide aperture, will endear itself to high-end users who like to shoot in low light sans flash. This lens will be available separately from the camera.

Summary and Buying Advice

Based on my short time with the Olympus OM-D EM-1, I predict this camera will, like the EM-5, take the world of photography by storm, and will excite those who have been waiting for a new prosumer-level camera from Olympus. It offers ample customization to meet the needs of particular photographers, and lets you adjust image quality before, during, or after exposure. It has a fast enough burst rate to keep sports photographers happy and thanks to Olympus's growing line of lenses, enough optic choices to meet a wide range of picture-taking needs. It is a premium camera that I believe will deliver outstanding results for demanding photographers.

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