What sorcery is this..? Olympus can do no wrong. Ever since it released the first camera in the newly-minted OM-D line -- the EM-5 -- it has gone from one perfect camera to the next. The latest work of art to come out of the camera manufacturer is the Olympus OM-D E-M1: your new favourite camera.
What Is It?
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is the professional's Micro Four-Thirds camera. Basically, it's a pro-style mirrorless camera with a 16-megapixel micro four thirds sensor.
Traditionally, when you drop almost $2000 on a camera, you expect it to be big, clunky and coated in rubberised-grippy bits. Not the E-M1. It harks back to Olympus models from the 1970's, with retro dials, retro textures, white font on black with silver accents and a brushed aluminium, all-metal body.
Olympus cares enough about what this camera looks like so much that it's even styling the stuff you'll probably never even see, like the materials underneath the tiltable touch screen with the same textures and accents that you'd find on the rest of the camera. Amazing.
The OM-D E-M1 has just about every feature and control you could ask for in a mirroless camera: two dials for function controls, a single, lockable dial for mode changes, an exposure and function lock button atop a function level for alternating the dial controls, two additional function buttons, a big beautiful LCD and EVF (we'll get to those) and even a button for controlling seven different HDR modes, five different sequential/self-timer options and five separate manual and auto-focus controls. Fantastic. Having so much control strewn across your camera is amazing, and Olympus have found a way to position all this functionality around the top and not the rear of the camera, so it doesn't look obnoxiously cluttered when you got to use it. Everything you want is either under your thumb or index fingers.
You're not about to drop your new baby whilst changing any of these features on the fly either, thanks to a nice deep grip on the right-hand side of the E-M1.
And of course, you've got your standard hot shoe, external flash input, external mic input, HDMI out and USB/AV-Out ports.
On top of all the buttons, dials, modes and functions, Olympus has packed in a swathe of tech under the hood to make setting up and taking a photo easier for a better result once you hit that shutter release button.
The five-axis optical image stabiliser now includes a visual representation of how straight your image is on the LCD or EVF as you shoot, meaning that your camera now has a spirit level for the horizontal and vertical axes. Olympus has also included a physical button on top of the camera that lets you change the brightness and colour curves before you take the image. This button also acts as your second Function key too. There's even a tool called ColourCreator which lets you adjust the hue and saturation of the images in-camera before you hit the shutter button.
Olympus' fantastic peeking technology is back for manual focus junkies. It's a system that highlights the focal point with a haze of silver as you move the focus ring, making it easier to take crisp photos.
All these features are designed so that less work has to go into the images in post-production, and while not everyone will like that, it's certainly handy to have for lazier pixel-peekers and colour tweakers.
The E-M1 is the first camera to pack in Olympus' new TruePic VII image processor for sharper images. The key differences here is that the low-pass filter in the camera has been removed and its functionality handed off to the image processing unit so that less comes between your subject and the image sensor.
Olympus has also used the new grunt in the TruePic VII processor to profile all of its four-thirds and Micro-Four Thirds lenses, so that chromatic aberrations like fringing and colour blending in the corners of images is virtually non-existent. That profiling also leads to better sharpness at lower F-stops for better images in both high and low-light. More on that in a moment.
These are little features that most amateur or semi-professionals wouldn't even notice, but it's a big sign from Olympus that it's about pro photographers with the OM-D line.
The E-M1 shines in daylight shooting, with colour, contrast and sharpness all coming out perfectly in images even before you tweak any of the colour, contrast or brightness curves, but where it really impresses is in low-light. We were out taking photos at the maximum ISO of an insane 25600 and noticing very little noise until we zoomed into the photo by about 4x. Results were also great at 1600 ISO. This camera is phenomenal.
Check out the full, uncropped images via Dropbox
We chastised Olympus for not building an electronic viewfinder into its last major camera, the PEN EP-5. Olympus told us that built-in EVFs were now the domain of the OM-D line, and the company really showed its commitment to it on the E-M1. Stick your eye on the cup and you'll be looking at a phenomenal 2,300,000-dot EVF which is mind-blowingly beautiful. It's the only way you'll want to take photos from now on.
If you are still a fan of LCDs, however, Olympus has gone to the trouble of making the 3-inch, tiltable touch screen pack in 1,037,000-dots for unparalleled shooting and reviewing of images. It still supports Olympus' nifty pop-out menu system on the LCD, and touch shutter is back with a faster focus than ever before.
Connectivity-wise, the E-M1 comes with Wi-Fi and a companion app for iOS and Android. This app allows you to pull images off the camera as it snaps them, or even use the phone or tablet as an electronic viewfinder in its own right. The external viewfinder function lets you use your tablet or smartphone like you would the touch shutter LCD: just tap where you want to focus on the device and the camera snaps the photo less than a second later. You can even use the tablet to view bulb exposures as they're exposed so you no longer need to guess about how long to leave the shutter open for. Genius.
We reviewed the E-M1 with the first new lens in Olympus' lens. Namely, the M.ZUIKO Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 lens. It. Is. Phenomenal. No loss of focus as you zoom on this lens, it does amazing work.
Similar to the other camera in the OM-D The E-M1's body and the lens are also "weatherproof". Olympus says that the new camera is dust-proof, splash-proof and freeze-proof (down to -10 degrees Celcius).
Click to enlarge...
While the M.ZUIKO Digital ED lens is great, it's not without fault. Olympus prides itself on having both the fastest auto-focus on the planet, and the best image stabilisation. It seems really strange that it would be without one if its key features.
We kind of liked the ability to tweak colour, contrast and and brightness on the camera pre-photo, but we still draw the line at so-called Art filters. This is a $2000+ product, let's save those sort of things for sub-$1000 models or Instagram, shall we?
It's also worth noting that the battery life is fairly average due to the fact that it has to power that awesome screen, all the awesome features and a Wi-Fi module. Save power by at least turning the wireless off.
Actually, while now that we've mentioned the price we might as well get into it. We love this camera and everything it's capable of, both the body and the lens itself are a bit on the pricey side. This feels like a common complaint we have with Olympus. For the body-only, you'll pay $1599. The 12-50mm Weatherproof Kit is $1899, while the 12-40mm Lens Kit is $2399. The M.ZUIKO Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 lens is another $1000 on itself. Feasibly, you could be spending over $3000 on this camera and its various accessories. That's in the territory of Canon 5D money: a full-frame camera for real pros. Even if you just opted for the cost of the E-M1's body, you could afford the (slightly older) full-frame Canon 6D. You've gotta really love this camera to spend the cash on it.
Should You Buy It?
This is the first mirrorless camera serious enough that a DSLR-less future is conceivable. The images you get out of the E-M1 are so hot it hurts. If you want a camera for serious business in all situations -- daylight, low-light and even no-light -- then the Olympus OM-D E-M1 is for you. Sure, it costs a lot, but it's 100 per cent worth it.