Olympus has today introduced their newest digital system camera, the OM-D E-M1, which finally combines the Four Thirds and the Micro Four Thirds camera and lens systems into one. E-M1 ends a years long speculation on how or when or if at all this will happen.
Roughly a year and half ago I had a candid conversation with Mr. Akira Watanabe from Olympus Imaging. Surprisingly he told me then how this merging will go. Of course at that time there was no E-M1, just an on-going development and comparing the benefits of DSLR and mirrorless solutions. Many key components of this new E-M1 were not yet available by then, but they already could see the direction and pace of development of technologies. This favored the mirrorless solution, especially in the areas of versatility, mobility and viewfinder quality. Naturally there were also prototypes for a successor to present DSLR model, E-5. They were abandoned latest by the beginning of this year when major design features of OM-D E-M1 were finalised.
One of the biggest uncertainties with leaked images seemed again to be the size of E-M1. So many thought it to be big. This is how it looks with E-M5.
E-M1 is slightly wider but lower than E-M5 with landscape grip.
It is a nice combination with M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8
Zuiko D. 12-60mm f/2.8-4 zoom lens makes it look even diminutive.
But surprisingly they fit so well together with the Zuiko D. 150mm f/2. It was about time...
For better handling with bigger lenses and more power with extra battery there is a new power grip HLD-7. It has also shutter button, dials and function buttons for portrait shooting. Plus a jack for AC-adapter. There was no HLD-7 available to test yet. Seeing Olympus actual product images like this leaked, the camera may look huge.
Olympus five main claims for OM-D E-M1
1. The best image quality in any Olympus camera.
According to Olympus, E-M1 has a completely new 16MP sensor and a completely new image processor, the TruePic VII. Olympus does not tell who makes the sensor which according to Olympus is designed by Olympus. Of course it is based on somebodys base silicon and a safe bet would naturally be Sony. This new sensor has phase detecting elements on sensor. Also it has no low pass filter. Although I would say that even the sensor in E-M5 and E-P5 had no low pass filter. This is not verified by Olympus, though.
By image quality Olympus refers always to their in-camera JPEG output. They claim improvements in color and noise performance and video image quality with the new sensor and processor. Lateral chromatic aberration is now compensated and there are completely new algorithms for moiré removing. Still, maybe the most clever improvement is adaptive sharpening optimization which is based on lens characteristics and used aperture value. It compensates even for diffraction at various apertures. This might be a biggie if implemented well. E-M1 has in store lens data for all FT and mFT lenses.
So far I have paid no attention at all to E-M1 image quality. This is because I am more interested in RAW than JPEG. There is no RAW converter for E-M1 yet. Also the body I had for a limited time is a preproduction model. While it had already been updated to firmware version 1.0, it might have its own quirks. And because I had this body only for a limited time I used the time for more interesting things. So, I am not saying anything about E-M1 image quality compared to, say E-M5, but noticed while looking at images for those other things that there should be nothing to be worried about... ;-)
2. DUAL FAST AF - Olympus´ fastest ever AF
FAST in FAST AF is an acronym, and FAST AF is just a registered expression. FAST AF has been there since PEN E-P3. It is Olympus´ contrast detecting AF, CDAF, which is also actually fast. DUAL comes of course from the fact that E-M1 has both, CDAF and PDAF. It can use either or both according to lens type and shooting situation.
While it has been possible to use FT lenses with every mFT camera via an adapter, autofocus speed has been something between average to nearly non-existent depending on lens and body. Now the situations changes totally with E-M1. It´s AF performance with FT lenses is as good or better than what has been seen in any FT body. It is also vastly superior to any other Olympus mFT camera in C-AF.
To keep this article shorter, I have separated focusing into a another article.
3. Olympus´ most powerful electronic viewfinder
This built-in E-M1 electronic viewfinder has the same panel which was introduced in Olympus VF-4 viewfinder. Image size in EVF is similar to the very best optical viewfinders in DSLRs (35mm). The 35mm relative magnification is 0.74X and the number of dots is 2.35 million. Time lag is short (29 ms) and this viewfinder is sharp. I´m 60 and wear glasses but have no problem focusing manual focus lenses just by looking at details on screen. This viewfinder has also focus peaking feature but I prefer just to see an image snap sharp. While usable sometimes, focus peaking is not selective enough in any camera I have used. E-M1 is not an exemption.
While E-M1 EVF is based on VF-4, it has gone a few steps forward. One drawback with electronic viewfinders has been their constant brightness. Optical viewfinder is always related to ambient light. In dim light I have liked Olympus VF-2 and VF-4 viewfinders better than optical ones because they are brighter and easy to use while optical may turn already too dark for me. In bright sunshine the situation has been reverse. EVF seems too dark when my eyes have adapted to bright light. E-M1 corrects this behavior. It has automatic screen brightness adaptation to ambient light. Its behaviour feels now a lot more natural than any other EVF I have used. Automatic brightness adaptation is a menu option which can be turned on or off.
The benefit of EVF is of course real time WYSIWYG. What you see when you make camera adjustments is what you get into image file. E-M1 has all the goodies of E-M5 and E-P5 in this respect but it has also a few new features. Besides Highlight&Shadow curve control by dials, you have now similar ability to control hue and saturation as Color Creator in your image in real time. You can even combine these and save your settings as a personal favorite, kind of make your own art filters.
Fn2 button is Multi Function button as default. Behind it are these four functions.Magnify magnifies viewfinder with preset amount. Image aspect has five setting 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 1:1 and 3:4. The image in EVF is cropped with black accordingly.
Highlight&Shadow has been there since E-M5. You can modify gamma curve with Dial1 (highlight) and Dial2 (shadow). The image in EVF is affected accordingly. (Sorry about this dull graphics...)
Somewhat dull example again, but starting from upper left corner we have a brown surface in front of camera and Color Creator at neutral starting position. Dial1 is for hue (color) and Dial2 for saturation (vivid). Shifting color into green direction turn image greener while keeping saturation at neutral line (right upper corner). Images in lower row show what happens with mimum and maximum saturation.
The other new feature is HDR preview. E-M1 has in-camera HDR creation like many other cameras. No other camera can show how your image will look like before you shoot your HDR image. It needs menu option "Expand LV Dyn. Range" to be ON.
HDR 2 gives an overprocessed look to the image while HDR 1 is quite usable. There only is no control on process. Sometimes it overexposes highlights. Both HDR modes shoot automatically four images at 9 fps. The image type saved is what has been chosen to be saved generally: JPEG, RAW or both.
4. Olympus´ most reliable ever camera
This is what Olympus claims. We only have to wait a few months to see how it looks against user experiences.
E-M1 has magnesium body and I expect they have paid attention to the weight of long fast lenses like ZD 300mm/2.8 in construction. E-M1 is also splash, dust and freezeproof. According to Olympus the sealings are better than in any Olympus camera so far (including E-5) and E-M1 stands up to or surpasses the best among other brands.
There are stories about Olympus E-5 being dipped into water (under surface) and still working when raised up. Maybe, maybe not... Anyway, an ”average” rain should not be too much for E-M1. Freeze proofness means that E-M1 has now -10C as the lowest operating temperature. Usually camera specifications state 0C as the lowest. I have been shooting at -30C with cameras having 0C as the lowest allowed temperature. Well, it all depends... Sometimes everything goes well in the extreme conditions and then the hell breaks loose after a minor bump.
Inside E-M1 there is basically the same shutter as in E-P5 with 1/8000s as the fastest shutter speed. According to Olympus it has been improved. In which way? They don´t tell. Shutter is tested for 150.000 actuations like E-5 and it has better durability than the shutter of E-M5. This mentioned number for shutter only gives an idea of shutter´s statistical durability.
Inside E-M1 is also Olympus´ already well tested 5-axis image stabilization system. Actually they still are the only company having one. Compared to E-M5, stabilization has been improved at lower shutter speeds.
All in all durability is at least on E-5 level in every detail.
5. Olympus´ smartest ever WiFi integration.
Well, this one has not been too difficult to make smarter because with E-P5 the features were still quite basic. Luckily camera control is now up to a very good standard with one big step.
Making connection to smartphone or tablet (iOS and Android, no Windows) and basic operations to view and send images with the free Olympus Image Share app are just the same as with E-P5. With E-P5 WiFi connection has shown to be realiable but camera control has been restricted to just focusing and taking pictures in iAuto mode.
Connection to smartphone which has Olympus Image Share app installed is made simply by reading the QR code on E-M1 monitor with smartphone camera.
Now with E-M1 you can set remotely exposure mode (P, A, S, M and iAuto), shutter speed, aperture, ISO speed, WB and exposure compensation. As before you can focus by touching the Live View image on smartphone screen. Even Live Bulb effect for long exposure times can be seen developing on smartphone screen. Live Bulb updates the image at pre-set intervals and you can stop the exposure when you are happy with the image by touching smartphone screen. Sadly, all this is right now just what Olympus says. I have had no possibility to test it by myself as there was no beta version of Image Share app available when I had E-M1. I really am quite enthusiasted to try and see because already those limited possibilities with E-P5 were nice to have.
Other features of E-M1
E-M1 has the same battery as E-M5 or E-P5. According to Olympus the battery consumption is on the level of E-P5, which is slightly better than E-M5. For extra handling comfort with bigger FT lenses and extra power there is a vertical grip HLD-7. It has built-in shutter button and configurable function buttons. What was a bit surprising to me is that there is space for only one battery in HLD-7. I would have expected two slots because I expect the battery consumption to be higher with FT lenses. On the other hand you can choose the order of using batteries. You can have just the HLD-7 battery always in use and camera battery used only when grip battery dies. Changing grip battery is fast which helps in keeping camera battery last for a long time.
I shot slightly under 1000 shots while testing E-M1. It used two batteries and the third one was in when I returned the camera. Now, I have automatic playback always off, eye sensor always off and have a habit to turn camera off when not needed because they power up so fast.
Continuous shooting is again made a tad faster with the help of new processor. With S-AF sequential shooting is now 10 fps and with C-AF 6,5 fps. With IBIS ON the highest frame rate is 3,5 fps. Helping all this there is a huge improvement in buffer size. Now you can shoot 41 consecutive RAW images at 10 fps and 50 at 6,5 fps. With JPEGs only I could shoot on and on, didn´t hit any buffer limits.
Time-lapse feature has been upgraded to 999 shots. In-camera time-lapse movie has also 999 shot limit and final processed movie can last up to 100 seconds. E-M1 saves also still images used for movie.
For video shooters there is a jack for external microphone. Video frame rates have not changed but bit rate is now at 24 Mbit/s.
Focus Peaking, Live Bulb, Art Filters and Photo Story (one extra layout) are now standard Olympus features. Also art filters have one new effect. This one is actually quite usable. It is called Diorama II, and it gives a left to right blur with the sharpest point being where focusing point is.
Myset configurations can be saved into any mode dial positions.
So many buttons and dials. I will come back with configuring E-M1 in a later blog.
New Lenses, new lens categories
Olympus introduced one new mFT zoom lens at the same time with E-M1. It is the first lens in the new M.Zuiko PRO category: the M.Zuiko 12-40mm F:2.8 PRO. This lens is weatherproofed to the same standard as E-M1, and all in all it is in the same class as Super High Grade FT lenses. Especially Olympus says that this nanocoated lens is better than the highly regarded Zuiko Digital 12-60mm F:2.8-4.
Again I have separated lenses into another article.
Olympus goes back to Pro
With E-M1 Olympus approches again professional photographers. They offer E-M1 buyers a Service Plus package and extended warranty. Customers who sign up for Service Plus will enjoy flagship service that includes a priority hotline number, personal camera pick-up (from and back to customer) and fast-lane repair. Fast-lane repair means maximum 3 days at service shop.
In some countries there will be also substitute camera service for registered professionals.
Availability and pricing
The shipments of E-M1 bodies and E-M1 plus 12-40mm lens kits start at mid October. Prices in Europe are:
- €1499 for the body only
- €2199 for a kit including the new M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 12-40mm 1:2.8 lens
- €1699 for a kit including the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 12-50mm 1:3.5-6.3 lens
- €999 for M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 12-40mm 1:2.8 lens
- €199 for Power Battery Holder HLD-7 w. one battery included
Two limited time offers
Current registered E-system owners get one MMF-3 adapter for free when they purchase the E-M1 by November this year.
All customers who pre-register before the October sales start will receive an HLD-7 vertical grip free of charge when they purchase the E-M1.
Above is a single JPEG shot exposed so that the brightest area of sky is just turning white. Below E-M1´s automatic HDR1 exposure. To my taste it is too bright in the brightest area and can not be rescued in JPEG file. Flatness in other areas is easy to fix. It remains to be seen if HDR RAW file is workable in highlights.
Combining FT and mFT lens systems together in a body which focuses both systems better than any FT body or mFT body so far is quite an achievement. Suddenly there are 65 perfectly functioning lenses to choose from for this camera in mFT and FT systems. Some of those lenses are arguably the best for any brand. There are no more situations where FT/mFT photographer needs really to feel limited by focusing speed or lens quality.
S-AF is up to highest standards now with all lenses (limited by lens drive) and C-AF is, while not the best of the world, up to a very good standard when you choose the right lens. It will be interesting to see if Olympus will update some slower FT lenses with more modern drives or will they design new lenses in mFT shape.
Improvements with EVF and WiFi are real and quite important. The automatically adjusting brightness of EVF removes the last gripe I had and makes it a very comfortable viewfinder to use.
Sadly I did not get beta version of Image share. By features and against my experience on using E-P5, WiFi should be functional for both image sharing and remote camera control with Live View. It will of course not fullfill all the demands of tethered shooting but will make many situations doable.
It is naturally not possible yet to say anything about reliability. E-M1 feels like a real tool, though. Handling has improved immensely from E-M5 without landscape grip and notably from E-M5 with landscape grip. Now the buttons are good and the configurability is superb. Picking up E-M5 after shooting with E-M1 feels like returning to a very simple camera with limited abilities. Not true factually but that´s how I felt.
Handling E-M1 is better than E-M5 with or without landscape grip. Buttons are better situated. And there are more of those and more configuration options. Some people complain about Olympus menus being difficult. Those people will find the situation even worse now. More possibilities means more menu items and options. How could it be otherwise? Maybe the whole menu could be organized differently but it would not make any items or options disappear. I don´t know. The important point is that E-M1 (like E-M5) can be configured so that there should be no reason to go to the menu while shooting. Both cameras can be operated without lowering them from the eye.
Like said I have not checked anything about image quality except that there was no surprises.
Video is an area where Olympus should pay more attention in the future.
Every proper blog needs at least one picture of the friendly dog. E-M1, M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8