Olympus has at long last announced the replacement for the ageing E-5 DSLR, but it might not be what people were expecting. Richard Sibley tests the micro four thirds OM-D E-M1. Read the Olympus OM-D E-M1 review...

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 review

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£1,299.00

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 at a glance:

  • 16.3-million-pixel, micro four thirds Live MOS sensor
  • ISO 100-25,600
  • Dual Fast AF: phase-detection and contrast-detection autofocus
  • Five-axis image stabilisation
  • Weatherproof, magnesium-alloy body
  • 1/8000sec maximum shutter speed
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • 2.36-million-dot EVF
  • 3in, 1.037-million-dot tilting LCD screen
  • Street price around £1,299 body only
  • See sample images taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M1

Olympus OM-D E-M1 review – Introduction

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 caused quite a stir when it was unveiled to the public last year. Looking like a digital version of the classic 1970s Olympus OM SLR – with the modern conveniences of a smaller body, LCD screen and electronic viewfinder – the OM-D E-M5 marked a sharp turn in direction from the small rangefinder-style Pen series of compact system cameras the company had so far been producing.

While the E-M5 was praised by photographers and journalists alike, many Olympus DSLR users felt abandoned, with the E series looking more and more like a lost cause as the company concentrated its efforts on its micro four thirds system.

It has now been more than three years since the release of the E-5 DSLR, a camera that, even on its release, fell short of what some enthusiast photographers had expected of a premium DSLR, so its successor was long overdue.

Rumours of a new E-series DSLR, or at least a new camera that would be able to utilise the comprehensive line-up of four thirds lenses, began to surface, with much speculation as to what form the new camera might take. Many thought Olympus would opt for a pellicle mirror, much like Sony has in its SLT cameras, while others thought it would be mirrorless, like the Pentax K-01.

In fact, the E-5 replacement that has emerged is the micro four thirds-format Olympus OM-D E-M1. Those wanting to use their E-series four thirds lenses on this new camera must employ an Olympus MMF-3 four thirds to micro four thirds mount adapter. In the past, four thirds lenses have been sluggish to focus when used with this adapter on a micro four thirds camera, but Olympus claims that it has designed the E-M1 so that it meets the demands of E-system DSLR users.

The E-M1 is a substantial camera, larger even than the E-M5, and with a built-in handgrip to make it more comfortable to hold when using heavy lenses. The sensor features phase-detection AF for fast focusing and, of course, the body is strong and sturdy, which was one of the hallmarks of the top-end E-series DSLRs.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 certainly looks the part, but it needs to go further than this – it must be a CSC that is fit to replace an E-series DSLR, and that’s a different task.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 review – Features

It is difficult to know exactly where to start when talking about the Olympus OM-D E-M1. The camera is crammed full of features and settings that photographers can use to customise the way the camera operates and how its images look.

At its core is a 16-million-pixel, micro four thirds Live MOS sensor. Olympus has made no secret of the fact that the sensor is manufactured by Sony, whereas its previous micro four thirds sensors were produced by Panasonic, the other micro four thirds camera manufacturer. Although the older OM-D E-M5 also uses a 16-million-pixel Live MOS sensor, the sensors are quite different. The key change is that the new sensor in the E-M1 features phase-detection autofocus, but only when used with four thirds lenses. This new sensor, combined with improved image processing, is proudly claimed by Olympus to produce the best images yet from any of its digital cameras.

Reinforcing the E-M1’s credentials as a true replacement for a DSLR are some impressive specifications, including a sensitivity range of ISO 100-25,600, a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000sec and continuous shooting, with AF, at a speed of up to 5.5fps. With five-axis image stabilisation built into the camera, all lenses are stabilised when used on the E-M1, regardless of their brand. Four thirds lenses, and even vintage, manual-focus optics, can also take advantage of the excellent stabilisation.

Built-in Wi-Fi connectivity allows remote shooting and viewing with the Olympus OM-D E-M1, via a smartphone or tablet. Even better, the live bulb mode – which is a bulb mode but with an updated preview of the current exposure shown live on the rear screen – can also be used via Wi-Fi. As winter approaches, the idea of shooting a long-exposure, night-time scene using the live preview while sitting in the warmth of a car, is certainly appealing.

  1. 1. Olympus OM-D E-M1 at a glance:
  2. 2. Olympus OM-D E-M1 review - Using four thirds lenses
  3. 3. Olympus OM-D E-M1 review - Build and handling
  4. 4. Olympus OM-D E-M1 review - Metering
  5. 5. Olympus OM-D E-M1 review - Dynamic range
  6. 6. Olympus OM-D E-M1 review - White balance and colour
  7. 7. Olympus OM-D E-M1 review - Autofocus
  8. 8. Olympus OM-D E-M1 review - Noise, resolution and sensitivity
  9. 9. Olympus OM-D E-M1 review - Viewfinder, live view, LCD and video
  10. 10. Olympus OM-D E-M1 review - The competition
  11. 11. Olympus OM-D E-M1 review - Our verdict
  12. 12. Hands-on
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