First Impressions: The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera


The new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera is a high-end offering aimed squarely at the professional and advanced enthusiast, and adds significant enhancements to the already well-received OM-D E-M5. The new 16.3MP Live MOS sensor features rapid dual-phase and contrast autofocus (AF) and is coupled with a new TruePic VII image processor designed for maximum performance, allowing the camera to easily compete image-wise, and in some cases beat, larger-sensor-sized cameras.

The original OM series was introduced more than forty years ago, bringing with it the trend toward more compact 35mm SLR (Single Lens Reflex) film cameras that did not sacrifice the features of their bigger and heavier compeers, a revolutionary concept for its time. The form factor, finish, and design philosophy of the present  E-M1 harks back to that age with its solid dust-, splash-, and freeze-proof metal and magnesium-alloy body. An enlarged handgrip provides very comfortable handling, and all the knobs and buttons have a substantial feel and function smoothly.

An original OM series camera, courtesy of Zevi Slotkin (click to zoom)

With a further nod to the past, the pentaprism housing that once contained the optical viewfinder in the original OM series now houses a bright 2.36-million-dot resolution EVF (Electronic View Finder) with 1.48 times magnification and a short, 29-millisecond image-display time lag. Control settings such as aspect ratio, highlight and shadow, magnification, and more can be made without the eye leaving the viewfinder. Diopter adjustment is, of course, provided. On the flip side, the top 1/8000-second mechanical shutter speed and up to 10 fps sequential shooting with tracking AF are fully modern attributes that should appeal to sports and action photographers, while touch focus and shutter release on the LCD, coupled with the exceedingly fast autofocus, deliver a convenient system for quick image capture.

Recently I had an opportunity to work briefly with the E -M1, and the first challenge was to set up the camera without the aid of any documentation. Using the tilting 3” monitor to navigate through a sensible menu system allowed the camera to handily pass this first test, despite the deep level of customization available. The screen, with its 1.04-million-dot resolution, provides a crisp display that is easy to read and delivers a good representation of the framed shot while displaying pertinent camera-setting information, without overwhelming the image. Since there is as yet no raw profile for the camera, I opted for shooting the largest JPEGs. All images here are straight out of the camera with no post processing.

Fountain, 75mm f/1.8 (click to zoom)

I like to work in fully manual mode. Because my eyesight isn’t in the best shape, I elected to use autofocus, while still retaining control over exposure and shutter speed. Both adjustments are simultaneously available via two top dials which, as already mentioned, make adjusting effortless. Additionally, the focus peaking that's provided for manual-focus assistance is especially useful when shooting with older manual lenses. The other two adjustments that require fewer changes, but for me need to be readily available, are ISO levels and white balance. At first it appeared that those adjustments had to be made through repeated menu navigation, but as the afternoon wore on I was able to place top-level access on the screen for these functions, with adjustments made using the rear scroll wheel.

Grade-A Bistro, 12-50mm f/3.7 (click to zoom)

For this review, I was supplied with two native Micro Four Thirds lenses. The weatherproofed 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 M.ZUIKO EZ is a good, all-around workhorse lens that provides wide-angle to short-telephoto fields of view with fast focusing and smooth zooming. The other, the 75mm f/1.8 M.ZUIKO Digital ED, although a slightly awkward equivalent focal length for general purposes, elevates the output of the camera. Useful for close and far portraits, the lens also serves product photography well, delivering sharp and accurately colored images. Needless to say, the lens does not need to be relegated to only those duties.

While we're on the subject of lenses, the camera supports the use of all Olympus Four Thirds lenses, delivering all their original functions and autofocus performance. An adapter is still required, but this development has to be music to the ears of users who own what may have seemed like legacy lenses by breathing new life to such classics as the highly regarded 14-35mm f/2 ED SWD ZUIKO zoom, for example. And speaking of legacy, one of the great features of the CSC (Compact System Cameras), and Micro Four Thirds in particular, is the ability to utilize a virtually inexhaustible range of older lenses using the seemingly equal proliferation of adapters.

Portrait, 75mm f/3.2 (click to zoom)

While working with the camera, I also shot several 1080 30p HD video clips using both lenses, recording stereo audio through the onboard microphone. Again, in the limited time I had with the camera, perhaps certain settings could have been selected more appropriately, but nonetheless the camera handled the task of recording video admirably. What really pleased me, especially since I come from a CSC-video-centric background, was how well the image stabilization worked. Olympus has pioneered sensor stabilization with their 5-axis IBIS (In-Body Stabilization System) for both picture and video, a feature already available in several of their previous models. It was wonderfully liberating to see the lack of “wobble” often produced by other cameras when handholding video, even compared to cameras that have in-lens stabilization. A built-In level gauge allowed for maintaining correct composition in relation to horizontal or architectural elements on the Live Preview of the LCD, and as mentioned earlier, the dual displays sit comfortably at the bottom and sides and don’t intrude on the image while filming. The level gauge is also available for aligning photographs.

Onions, 75mm f/5.6 (click to zoom)

The camera features a microphone input, for an external shotgun or lavalier microphone, to enhance audio capture. Surprisingly, I found the onboard stereo microphone to be very decent, other than the common susceptibility to wind-noise overload. Here, several settings allow for modulating the effect of wind noise, but there is no headphone output, so audio-level monitoring has to be made by eye using the built-in audio meter. One thing I did notice while editing was that the audio recording began about 10 frames later than the video. Audio doesn’t go out of sync but it’s something to be aware of where initial transient capture is important. That aside, all these features, and particularly the image stabilization, make the camera a great travelling or photojournalist's tool, rendering crisp and nicely balanced images straight from the camera. Video is recorded in either MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 or Motion JPEG formats. The clips presented here were all recorded handheld and without any post processing.

42nd Street, New York City, 12-50mm f/3.7 (click to zoom)

Although I didn’t have a chance to test or use any of the following, features such as 1- to 999-shot interval shooting with selectable 1-second to 24-hour time intervals makes creating time-lapse movies a breeze. And for those who want instant gratification, the camera will convert the series of pictures internally into a time-lapse movie. Another useful feature is Live Bulb with Histogram that displays the progression of the exposure when shooting in the "Live Bulb" mode while the live histogram shows how the exposure is distributed across all points of the image.

Portrait, 75mm f/2.2 (click to zoom)

Improved Eye detection can be set for either left- or right-eye priority modes to get the correct focus point for portraiture; up to eight separate faces can be detected by the AF system. The camera is equipped with a built-in Wi-Fi function and, when using the Olympus Image Share (O.I. Share) application, images can easily be shared, AF and shutter can be operated wirelessly from a smart-device, and location information can be obtained with a smart device and can be added to images' metadata.

A series of optional accessories will be available that include the HLD-7 battery holder/grip that allows for housing an additional battery for extended shooting, the LH-66 lens hood for the 12-40mm f2.8 and the LH-55C lens hood for 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lenses, the LC-62D metal lens cap for the 12-40mm lens, and the EP-13 black eyecup. Other products include the PT-EP 11 underwater housing that can be used to a depth of forty-five meters, the PPZR-EP04 zoom gear for use with the 12-40mm f2.8 lens, the PRF-D62 62mm thread lens-protection filter, the CSS-P118 washable strap, and the GS-5 grip strap.

With twelve in-camera Art Filters, HD movie, interval shooting, time-lapse photography, and more, everyday scenes can be enhanced in so many ways using the user’s signature and personality. And with features such as Color Creator and HDR shooting, the photographic possibilities are expanded even further. As already mentioned, the depth of customization available in the camera will satisfy most users, even down to the ability to change the direction of the focus-ring rotation when using focus-by-wire lenses. I can only imagine what raw processing will do to this already highly capable camera, and I have to admit to a certain amount of sadness when it was time to return the camera. I’d got so accustomed to using it, for a second it felt like my own camera.

For more information, stop by the B&H SuperStore in New York, speak with a sales professional on the telephone at 1-800-606-6969 or contact us online via Live Chat.

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When using the Olympus M-D E-M5 (or M1) camera with the MFN-2 adapter for older OM Series film lenses, what is lost?

can the camera be used in auto focus?

Ops, I meant the MF-2 adapter

The Olympus MF-2 adapter will not allow for autofocus or auto exposure.  You will need to manually focus the lenses, and shoot in either aperture priority or manual modes.

I just recently bought this camera from B&H. I also bought the ED 12-40 mm F2- 8 pro lens. I have a few questions. I am a bit of a novice but I am learning! 

To use the zoom feature I have to manually make that adjustment I can see, as there is no "auto zoom" buttons anywhere. But is it possible to zoom manually and use the auto focus together?  

My best reply is to give it a try and see what your result is.  In video modes most cameras permit this.  With still photo modes it can vary as autofocus sensors differ from one camera to the next and zooming whilst exposing a still exposure could confuse the AF sensor.