The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is "the best Olympus camera ever", says its maker. Can it possibly live up to the hype?
The 16 megapixel Olympus OM-D E-M1 is currently both the latest and most expensive Olympus camera you can own.
And it's one in which its manufacturer has invested a massive amount of faith, promising that it delivers the best quality of any Olympus camera ever. That's 'ever'.
Just as well then that the mirror-less, interchangeable lens model had us uttering a series of wows upon taking delivery.
Firstly, for the deluxe-looking box/packaging it arrives in. Secondly, for the eye catching classic shape of the camera body, and thirdly for the lens supplied. The kit bundle includes a 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 zoom that's an all-encompassing starter option equivalent to 24-100mm in 35mm film terms, and features both zoom ring and manual focus ring.
For those who slavishly follow numerical sequences, it might seem odd that an E-M1 follows last year's Olympus E-M5. But the brand is simply expanding its OM-D compact system camera (CSC) line up rather than upgrading what's gone before.
This new range-topping camera now sits above the still current E-M5, and is its maker's most determined wooing yet of current DSLR owners and professional photographers.
While the OM-D E-M1 looks very cool, it can also handle the cold, maintaining full operability down to -10°C according to Olympus. Additionally it's dust proof and splash proof; basically British winter proof, if not quite fully waterproof like the Nikon AW1. What's more it can be operated remotely via the aid of built-in Wi-Fi, an iPad and a free downloadable Olympus app.
Where this pricier camera also differs from the earlier E-M5 is that it has an all-new sensor plus a latest generation TruePic VII image processor, as well as prior innovations like a tilting LCD screen that also offers touch panel control. Outwardly retro, but at the same time thoroughly modern; that's the OM-D E-M1 in a nutshell.
The cost of body plus the lens we had to play with is an initially sizeable sounding £1,500, though if its 'body only' you need the cost is £200 less.
Alternatively go for a bright f/2.8 aperture 12-40mm zoom bundled with the E-M1 instead and expect to shell out just under £1,950.
But, first things first, is the Olympus OM-D E-M1 worth spending upwards of £1300 on?
Olympus OM-D E-M1: Controls
For a camera that describes itself as compact, there is a lot of the E-M1 to get to grips with, including, literally, a reassuringly prominent and solid feeling handgrip - something that most diminutive CSCs lack.
While this camera does very much resemble a miniaturised SLR - more so even than the E-M5 - it appears Olympus has gone smaller whilst including just as many buttons and wheels as we might expect on a larger camera. Thus, to describe its layout as busy would be fair comment.
A knock on result of the busy-ness is that we found it took a bit of time to familiarise ourselves with how to get at certain functions. Though you can just point and shoot with the OM-D E-M1, with it incorporating almost as many knobs and dials on its comparatively miniature form as a planeís cockpit, itís evident from the off that it isnít a camera made for simple snapping.
This being an Olympus camera we get the usual slew of built-in digital effects or Art Filters on board; 11 in total here. Fun and effective though they may be, we suspect the audience for this camera will probably want to carry out their own tweaks once shots are downloaded and at the image-editing phase.
In terms of menu and function navigation, a simple back button here would have been helpful at times, and likewise a dedicated control for discovering ISO options.
Selecting the key features here such as drive modes and metering modes is often a matter of holding down one button with a finger and spinning a dial with another. Fair enough, but due to the busy layout, plus physically smaller size of the controls when compared to a DSLR, it did all get a bit fiddly on occasion.
Another thing to mention here is, as on a pro DSLR, there is no built-in flash. Instead we get a hotshoe provided for the attachment of an accessory flash, which obviously is an extra expense.
Then again, anyone spending this amount of money on their photography is going to want the best, so may feel the improved results from on-camera (rather than in-camera) flash, whereby artificial light can be bounced or diffused, is the true way to go.
Olympus OM-D E-M1: Screen
A tilting touch screen may be de rigeur among digital cameras these days, but you don't always find one on the range-topping model. Not when there's also an eye-level electronic viewfinder (EVF) ranged directly above.
Thus, in terms of framing or reviewing shots the OM-D E-M1 offers an intuitive best of both worlds approach. Furthermore at 2,360,000 dots, the EVF has to be one of, if not the highest resolution viewfinder we've encountered.
The LCD meanwhile offers over a million dots and seven levels of brightness adjustment, so neither is a slouch when it comes to crystal clear image composition or review.
On a practical level what impressed us was the built-in eye sensor for the EVF. Bring an eyeball up to it and it blinks into life, the larger LCD screen below deactivating simultaneously. Take an eye away and the EVF turns off instead, the LCD blinking back into life.
Thus if you do suddenly find yourself wanting the larger screen to check detail, you won't miss the shot in the process of grappling for dedicated buttons to achieve the same switch over. We like.
Olympus OM-D E-M1: Battery
The official power duration figures for the E-M1's lithium ion rechargeable battery are a maximum 330 shots from a full charge, if using the larger rear screen in Live View mode 50% of the time.
This number of images is commensurate with the performance of other compact system cameras at this level, which tend to offer a much lower battery life than the larger cells found in digital SLRs costing similar, if not quite providing the same overall convenience factor as a CSC.
Olympus OM-D E-M1: Picture quality
Now, this is what Olympus tells us we are paying upwards of £1,000 for, and we have to say that we were getting pretty close to DSLR level results from this camera.
At times, if you didn't know otherwise, you'd swear images were actually taken with a larger body, sensor and lens. Which, seeing as the same outlay would alternatively get you a pretty decent semi professional DSLR, is just what we needed to hear.
For video we get a dedicated record button provided just behind the shutter release on the top plate. Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 pixels clips are offered in widescreen ratio with a standard, smooth 30fps frame rate.
If we've a gripe here it's that auto focus for video could be quicker still; it lags behind the performance when shooting stills. As it is, if you adjust subjects mid framing it takes a few moments for the camera's AF to catch up.
Of course, as with a pro DSLR, on the E-M1 there is the option to use the manual focus ring on the lens and control sharpness yourself. Again the camera's target audience may well prefer this hands-on approach anyway, and we do kinda feel video here will be of secondary concern.
Olympus OM-D E-M1: Verdict
While it will just about still fit into an outstretched palm, the Micro Four Thirds format, 16-megapixel CMOS sensor incorporating OM-D E-M1 is one of the weightier mirror-less camera propositions in more senses than one.
But then it packs a hell of a lot in to savour, and for the price we naturally want solidity to go hand in hand with portability. We get that here.Our gripes are that its small-ish body has resulted in quite a busy control layout, and getting where you want and what you need requires a period of familiarisation. But then again, like a fine wine this is a camera that you will want to take your time over.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 release date: Out now
Olympus OM-D E-M1 price: £1299 (body only), £1499.99 (with M.ZUKIKO DIGITAL 12-50mm 1:3.5-6.3 lens) £1,949 (with M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 12-40mm 1:2.8 lens)