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Review Olympus OM-D E-M1: Best of both worlds? (M-43)

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The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is very good. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is even better. Everything there was to improve about the E-M5, is clearly better with the Olympus OM-D E-M1. Differences in image quality are small, but still (sometimes) visible and measurable. The differences in versatility and ease of use are greater.
The Olympus OM-D EM-1 body has more buttons, better ergonomics and a larger, sharper viewfinder. Continuous AF is much faster thanks to a new dual AF (contrast + phase detection) system, whereby the usability of four-thirds lenses has been greatly increased.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 offers user capabilities and image quality almost on a par with professional SLRs with a full frame sensor. Is this mirrorless system camera thus "the best of both worlds"?

 

 

Olympus omd em1 test, Olympus cameratest, OMd EM1 test

Design

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 looks like a professional SLR and feels, for photographers who are used to an SLR camera, familiar. At first glance it seems strange to build a relatively large micro-43 that looks like an SLR camera. Still, it's a design that many photographers find it nice to work with.
Why wouldn't you choose an SLR camera? A professional photographer will often already carry a greater weight of lenses in addition to the considerable weight of his professional camera. If you choose a micro-43, that saves not only more than a kilo on the camera, but also a few pounds of lenses.

Olympus Om-D E-M1 test

 

The ergonomics of the camera are improved compared to the Olympus OM-D E-M5. The buttons on the camera are bigger, more robust and are a bit further apart than on the Olympus OM-D E-M5. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 has a well-designed grip, making this camera – also with larger four-thirds lenses – fit very well in the hand. More and more with professional cameras you run into a lock on the PASM button. With other brands, you need to unlock the button and at the same time press a small button and turn the PASM button. Such locking is also on the Olympus OM-D E-M1, but much more user friendly. In the middle of the PASM button is a smaller button (see picture right), with which you can lock the PASM button by pressing the small button. Press the small button again, then the PASM button will be unlocked.

 

OM-D E-M1

The longer you work with this camera, the more you find how many tools you have at your disposal without having to use the menu. For example, next to the eyepiece is a toggle switch on the back of the body (move your mouse over the image top right), which lets you change the function of the wheels by your thumb and index finger. Normally, you use these dials for adjusting aperture and shutter speed. In position 2, you can adjust ISO sensitivity and white balance settings.

SLRvsCSC

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 may look like an SLR, but the EM-1 is more compact than most SLRs. To the left of the lens you see in this picture on the front of the camera are two buttons: 1 button for setting a custom white balance. This annoying chore ("How does that work again?") is generally performed by few photographers. The camera menu of the OM-D EM-1 helps you through the procedure with instructions. This will appeal to many professional photographers.
The other button is for checking the depth of field. On an SLR camera with an optical viewfinder, the image gets very dark if you use the depth of field control button. For me, that's a reason not to use the depth of field control on a traditional SLR. With an electronic viewfinder, you don't have the viewfinder getting dark, which makes it much easier and more enjoyable to check the depth of field.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 versus the Olympus OM-D E-M5

  • Olympus OM-D E-M1 versus the Olympus OM-D E-M5
  • The OM-D E-M1 has a larger viewfinder (comparable to a professional full-frame SLRs) with higher resolution than the OM-D E-M5 (similar to APS-C cameras)
  • The OM-D E-M1 has phase-detect AF, allowing continuous AF and the use of four-thirds lenses a lot better than at the OM-D E-M5
  • The OM-D E-M1 is guaranteed to work even in freezing cold (-10)
  • The OM-D E-M5 is better suited to video (full HD @ 60 fps vs 30 fps)
  • The sensor of the OM-D E-M1 has no anti-alias filter
  • The OM-D E-M1 is almost twice as expensive

OMDEM1

LivebulbLivebulb with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 @ 100 ISO, f/20, 53 sec
Livebulb At exposure times longer than 1 minute you use the Bulb mode. A useful feature of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 is (as with the OM-D E-M5) Livebulb. In this setting, the image on the LCD screen is refreshed regularly, so that you see the picture. It is similar to developing a picture in the dark room. You stop exposing when the shot is right. Without Livebulb (read: with all other camera brands) you get to see the result only after the picture failed or succeeded; there's no guide. Livebulb does not work forever: the longest time you can apply Livebulb is about two minutes. The picture still gets taken, but the screen is not refreshed.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 versus Panasonic GH3

  • Both cameras are suitable alternatives to high-end SLRs. The Panasonic GH3 is a fantastic camera for video. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is a camera for photographers. There is video on it, but that's not the reason you would choose this camera.

  • The OM-D E-M1 has phase-detection AF, allowing continuous AF and the use of four-thirds lenses a lot better than with the GH3

  • The Panasonic GH3 is 10% lighter and 30% cheaper than the OlympusThe Olympus OM-D has very effective built-in image stabilization
sideview

Viewfinder, screen and menu

 

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 has an electronic viewfinder. Not everyone will find an electronic viewfinder as pleasant to work with as an optical viewfinder. On the other hand, electronic viewfinders offer many extra features you do not have with an optical viewfinder. This way in the viewfinder of the OM-D E-M1, you can see how the final shot will look if you make an HDR picture, use an Art filter or if you overexposed or underexposed (WYSIWYG). You can also display a histogram in your viewfinder.
The viewfinder accuracy is 100%, the magnification amounts to 1.39 and with the crop factor of 2, the total magnification is 0.7. The viewfinder image is thereby larger than the field of view of all APS-C SLR cameras with an optical viewfinder. The viewfinder image of the OM-D E-M1 is the same size as the viewfinder image of the full-frame Nikon D800E.

 

back

The camera menu of the Olympus d-D is unchanged from the camera menu of the Olympus OM-D E-M5. In the main menu, you have enormous possibilities for setting the camera (noise reduction, file type, file size, what you see on the screen or in your viewfinder and much more). This is a process that you will probably go through several times, before you have the camera set up in such a way that you can work comfortably with it.

What works very well, is the super quick menu that you bring up by pressing the "OK" button. The super quick menu contains all the most frequently used camera settings. Today, all camera brands have such a menu.

The monitor on the back of the camera is big, bright and can be used as touch-screen. If you put the camera into Liveview, then you can take pictures by touching the screen at the point where want the focus. The camera focuses and takes the picture. This is ideal for those who want to do unobtrusive street photography.

Live warning for overexposure and underexposure in your viewfinder

What you see on the screen or in the viewfinder, you can set up separately from the main menu. You can, among other things, install a spirit level, a histogram or a live warning for over-/underexposure of the highlights/shadows. Shadow areas that are in danger of being completely black can, just like in Lightroom, be shown in blue in the viewfinder or on the screen. Highlights that are in danger of being washed out, are orange (move your mouse over the image on the right). The unique feature of this option is that you get these warnings in your viewfinder or on your image screen before you take a picture, and that you can set the threshold at which the warning appears (see image here).

Olympus Om-D E-M1 test

This warning function applies, we think, to an sRGB jpg file. If you shoot in jpg, then the orange and blue marked areas are actually underexposed and overexposed. A RAW file has more almost 1 stop extra exposure latitude. For RAW files, the warning function is a bit too sensitive, so you don't always have to intervene if you see the warning.

Resolution Olympus OM-D E-M1

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 has a sensor without a low-pass filter. The advantage of such a filter is that you have less bother from moiré. The disadvantage is that this is at the expense of resolution. Just as with the comparison of the Nikon D7100 (without filter) with the Nikon D5200 (with filter), we saw in the pictures taken in practice no difference in sharpness between the Olympus OM-D E-M1 (without filter) and the Olympus OM-D E-M5 (with filter). In addition, we did Imatest measurements done for both jpg and RAW files. There too, we found no significant difference in sharpness between the two cameras.

To be able to directly compare the measurement results of a micro-43 camera with lenses on (APS-C/full frame) cameras of other brands, we have the Olympus OM-D E-M1 on aspect ratio 2: 3. If you shoot in the regular micro-43 format, then the resolution, expressed in lines per picture height, is still slightly higher. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 delivers images that are at least as sharp as pictures made with other 15-20 megapixel cameras with a micro-43, APS-C or full-frame sensor. Only the best glass is good enough if you want to take full advantage of this camera. Because the sharpness of a picture is now more determined by the lens and by the sharpening of the camera or by a photo-editing program, than by the choice of camera.

Dynamic range Olympus OM-D E-M1

On a larger sensor, you have the space for larger pixels. And the larger the pixels, the greater the dynamic range can be. Even so, the dynamic range of a micro-43 camera like the Olympus OM-D E-M1, loses nothing to the dynamic range of an SLR camera with a full frame sensor like the Canon 5D MK3.

In our practice shots, we see no difference between pictures made with a Canon 5D MK3 or with the Olympus OM-D E-M1. This applies to RAW and jpg files from ISO 200 to 6400 ISO. In our measurement results the dynamic range of the Canon 5D MK3 is 0.3 stops higher than the ISO range of 100 to 6400 ISO. That's a difference you (almost) don't see in practice.

Our results are consistent with the findings on other websites: DxO Mark only measures the dynamic range from RAW files. On DxO Mark the dynamic range of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 micro-43 sensor exceeds the dynamic range of the Canon 5D MK3 full-frame sensor of the lowest ISO value up to and including ISO 400. At 6400 ISO the dynamic range of the full frame sensor 0.1 is higher than that of the micro-43 sensor. At 25,600 ISO the difference is still invisibly small (6.46 vs. 6.32 stops).

Dpreview measures the dynamic range of cameras only in jpg files at 100 (or in the case of the OM-D E-M1 at 200) ISO. At the bottom of page 19 of their Olympus OM-D EM-1 review is a module that allows you directly compare the dynamic range of the OM-D E-M1 to that of the Canon 5D MK3 (and/or the Canon 70D). Also, the dynamic range of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 is the greatest.

miniDRRAW

Noise Olympus OM-D E-M1

The upper limit where a person still considers the results acceptable is personal and also depends on the size at which you print or show pictures on the internet. In addition, the lighting conditions under which you take a picture greatly affect the noise that you see. A studio picture made at 6400 ISO shows less noise than an outdoor shot made in the dark or on a drizzly day at 1600 ISO.

If you rarely shoot at a sensitivity of ISO 3200 or higher, then you don't need a sensor any larger than a micro-43 sensor. This was true for the Olympus OM-D E-M5 as well. If we compare noise in pictures taken in practice with the Olympus OM-D-D E-E-M1 and M5, then it's difficult to find differences between them. For me personally, although I might be somewhat conservative, the line is at 1600 ISO for the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and at 3200 ISO for the Olympus OM-D E-M1.

Noise

Below you see a standard 1600 ISO jpg file. Click (2x) on the picture below for a larger version. There is no noise visible. Above you can see a picture of lichen made at 6400 ISO. In RAW files without noise reduction, there is visible noise at 6400 ISO, but that is well suppressed in the standard jpg file. If you compare 200 ISO jpg files with 6400 ISO files, then you see that the resolution is lower because of the noise reduction. The image is smoother. Yet that's not noticeable if you make an A3 print from a 6400 ISO jpg file,

1600miniOlympus OM-D E-M1 @ 1600 ISO, standard jpg

Color accuracy Olympus OM-D E-M1

In terms of color reproduction in daylight, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 (just like the E-M5) is one of the best cameras now out on the market. This applies to both RAW and jpg images with image style: natural. The red and orange colors are slightly more saturated than the reference color, which delivers beautiful skin tones.
In artificial light there is a visible, light orange cast visible in the pictures. Photographing in RAW can significantly improve the white balance in artificial light relative to the automatic white balance.
In terms of color reproduction, modern cameras are very similar and not everyone prefers a completely natural color reproduction. Therefore, every brand offers different choices/picture styles (natural, lively...), with which you can apply nuances in color reproduction. The differences in color reproduction of the different image styles of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 are subtle, but greater than the color differences with pictures made with professional cameras of other brands.

miniColorAccuracy200ISORAWomdem1

miniTungstenColorAccuracy200ISORAWomdem1
Color accuracy @ daylight Color accuracy @ tungsten light

SampleimageOlympus OM-D E-M1 + Olympus 300 mm f/2.8 @ f/4, 800 ISO, 1/1250 sec

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Auto focus

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 has a fast contrast AF, based on the sensor signal. A disadvantage of contrast AF is that it can not anticipate on the direction of motion. You notice when taking pictures of fast moving subjects, while using continuous AF. The number of sharp images is low.
The autofocus of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 is a hybrid AF, which in addition also the contrast AF phase detection AF is used in AF tracking. Here you see a picture of Olympus, in which the principle of Dual Fast AF is shown. This principle is similar to the new on- sensor phase detection of the Canon 70D when shooting video. One difference is that Olympus sacrifices some pixels for the phase - detection (which you do not see in the images), while the Canon 70D phase-detection works without sacrificing pixels for the AF. Another difference is that Canon's on-sensor phase-detection only is applied to video. When taking photographs, the Canon 70D uses a regular AF module, which includes the risk of front or back focus .

Remarkably, the AF area for micro - lens 43 has a different shape than the AF area for four-thirds lenses . For the four-thirds AF you have an option in the camera menu to correct for any front or back focus . Per AF sensor At the micro -43 phase - detection you do not.


 

AFsensormini

Four-thirds lenses

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is the first micro-43 camera on which the AF is also fast combined with four-thirds lenses. This applies to single AF and continuous AF. Continuous AF of a moving subject delivers a series of sharp pictures. Click (2x) on the image on the right. A positive in comparison with other Olympus cameras is the large buffer of the OM-D E-M1, so you can shoot long series in RAW without the camera stopping because the buffer is full.
Olympus has for the four-thirds system a large number (23) of lenses on the market, including a number of top class/professional lenses. The lucky owners of an Olympus telephoto lens like the Olympus 300 mm f/2.8 can now combine their top lens with a modern camera.

OMDEMAF

The shot above of a galloping rider comes from a series of regularly sharp images created with the Olympus 300 mm f/2.8. With that lens, you have a very small field of view (equivalent to a 600 mm lens on a camera with a full-frame sensor) and a limited depth of field. At a distance of 30 meters, you have less than a meter depth of field. In such situations blurred pictures won't cut it. The contrast AF of the OM-D E-M1 is fast, but it's still not comparable to the Canon 1Dx or a Nikon D4.

Wi-Fi, NFC, built-in image stabilization and much more

Olympus indicated at the release of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 that in-body image stabilization was even further improved. That would be a spectacular performance, because the image stabilization of the OM-D E-M5 is already among the best of what is currently for sale. We publish the effectiveness of image stabilization, even if the image stabilization occurs in the camera, with our lens tests. Soon we'll publish a review of the Olympus 12-40 mm f/2.8, and then we'll know more about the renewed image stabilization.
In a relatively concise test, we unfortunately cannot cover all aspects. Therefore, the different creative possibilities and all the options that the built-in Wi-Fi offers are not included here. Possibly, we'll come back to it later on.

Conclusion Olympus OM-D E-M1 review

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Pro
Year:2013
Overall score:7.3
Resolution:7.0
Dynamic Range:7.8
Noise:7.5
Color:8.8
Whitebalance:6.0
Megapixels:16
Sensor:M43
Sensor magn.:0.65
fps:10
Weight (gram):497
MSRP NL (Euro):1500

Pros

Cons

  • Good image quality and perfect image stabilization

  • Fast continuous AF

  • Wonderfully designed camera with all the features of a professional camera, but lighter and smaller

  • Bright, large viewfinder

  • Suitable for 43-lenses thanks to double AF system

  • Built-in Wi-Fi

  • Not cheap
  • Complicated menu

With the Olympus OM-D E-M1, Olympus has its best and most versatile camera to date. In terms of image quality (and price), the Olympus Om-D E-M1 gives nothing up to SLR cameras with an APS-C sensor. Often you won't even see difference in image quality compared to an SLR camera with a full-frame sensor. Where build quality and application possibilities is concerned, this is a full-fledged professional camera with a bright, large viewfinder. This is, in short, a professional camera with the size and weight of a small SLR.
Thanks to the contrast AF, especially the telephoto, lenses from the four-thirds era are a perfect complement to the micro-43 lens offerings. I know several professional photographers who would rather go out with an OM-D E-M5 than with a much heavier professional camera (and its associated weighty lenses). That is a thing of the past. Henceforth, they’ll prefer to go out with an OM-D E-M1. Probably, their example will be followed by a large group of ambitious amateur photographers, as soon as the price of the OM-D E-M1 drops a bit. The future of micro-43 looks sunny.

 
Ivo Freriks
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.

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