Olympus OM-D E-M1: Mirrorless Masterpiece

olympus om-d e-m1 sample images

With the Holiday Season under way, and visions of sugarplums cameras dancing in my head, I’ve gotten my hands on an Olympus OM-D E-M1 for review purposes.  

Olympus OM-D E-M1:  the Mirrorless We’ve Been Waiting For

If you’re like me, you probably had your doubts when Mirrorless cameras first started showing up.  Certainly, it looked like another gimmicky bridge camera.  Almost like a DSLR!  Hold something that feels like a toy!  Or maybe it was when we started testing those mirrorless marvels, and realizing the guts of the camera left certain things to be desired.  Undoubtedly, there were those of us who kept holding them to our faces, only to realize at the last moment, that there was in fact no viewfinder.

And even with the introduction of certain features – WiFi, “improved ergonomics”, and EVFs – many of us were still holdouts.

Folks, if you want to remain a holdout on the mirrorless mania sweeping the camera clique, do not – I repeat, DO NOT – try out the OM-D E-M1.

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The idea that this camera is revolutionary is not quite accurate.  The E-M1 is more of a culmination of the best parts of the mirrorless industry, crystalized into a smooth, cold, photographing machine.  And that feels like a revolution in and of itself.

Out of the box, I was impressed by the overall design, but once I powered this beauty on and started navigating the menus and controls, I realized that she was more than just a mirrorless camera.  The E-M1 is the mirrorless camera I (WE!) have been waiting for.

When I first started playing around with mirrorless cameras, it was hard to understand controls aimed at beginners.  I was going from a Nikon D2Xs to a Pen [insert letters and numbers here].  And despite the okay performance of the Pen cameras or even their Fujifilm counterparts, I was still seeing red when I tried to be more manual with them.

The E-M1 delivers, though.  Like a pro body somehow reduced to an ultra-portable package, with all the Olympus features I both love and hate, it’s hard not to go out right now and rob a bank just so I can own one of these suckers (it isn’t really that expensive).  I mean, seriously…it’s just a WOW camera.  My lens cap is off to you, Olympus.

But now, on to the review…

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 features a 16.3 megapixel sensor, AF out the wazoo (phase- and contrast-based, able to magnify AF area from 800 points, eye- and face-detection, 81- or 37-point AF, etc.), a max shutter speed of 1/8000 of a second, 6.5 frames per second,  this camera is packing serious innards.

One of the notable things about the camera design in terms of control is the 2×2 dial configuration – one dial controls shutter speed and one dial controls aperture.  Flip the ae/af lock and now the same dials control white balance and ISO.  Some reviewers have cringed at this, stating you may get frustrated when you miss shots because you’re too busy going from one set of controls to another.  For the first five minutes or so, you may experience some slip-ups, but just tinkering with the camera in manual mode for a little while will let you get the hang of it.

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Another feature I’ve heard some beef about is the WiFi Connectability and how difficult it can be.  I consider myself moderately inclined to electronics, but even if you aren’t, the setup is fairly easy.  Here are the 10 steps involved.

  1. download the OI.Share app from Olympus
  2. open the app on your phone and select Easy Setup
  3. now go to your camera
  4. go to the camera menu
  5. go to the playback menu
  6. select “Connect to Smartphone”
  7. a QR code comes up
  8. scan the QR code with your smartphone
  9. ???
  10. PROFIT

While the live view on your smartphone doesn’t do justice to the images your E-M1 will take, the app does offer you the ability to change settings, select area of focus, and trigger the shutter without having to physically go to the camera.  Unfortunately, because the design is similar to an SLR and not a rangefinder, you won’t be able to take a picture of you taking a picture of you taking a picture, as my failsy photos will show.

olympus om-d e-m1 sample images

The EVF is definitely above average.  It works well, it’s bright, and it turns on relatively fast.  I am not a live view shooter, nor will I ever be.  Compound this with a tendency to raise the camera to my eye only when I absolutely know that I want to take a photo AT THAT PRECISE MOMENT, this EVF still has a split second of lag between my eye being raised to the viewfinder, and actually being able to see the scene in front of me.

I know this might seem like a minor point, but it still irks me.  I don’t think it should get in the way of purchasing one of these bad boys, but if you’re in doubt, head out to your local camera store and see if someone will let test it out for yourself.

Manual mode was surprisingly fun for a mirrorless camera.  Manual focusing is incredibly easy – even with the bottom-of-the-line 17mm f/2.8, focusing was slick, and in-focus stops were hard and defined.  All those years of practically ruining my eyesight to gain exceptional manual focusing skills were pretty much rendered useless by whatever magic Olympus has put into this camera.  I can only imagine how much fun this camera would be in manual and sporting the 17mm f/1.8 with its improved focusing abilities.

ISO performance on the OM-D E-M1 is also top-notch.  Most of my time with the camera was spent shooting at 800 ISO (something I can’t do on my old Nikon without bucket-loads of grain), but I stopped it down to 200 and pushed it up to 6400 and 25600 just to see what was what.

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The camera performs with no to low grain up to 800 or even 1000.  Kicking it up to 6400 will give you some noise, and 25600 should only be reserved if you want that gritty film look for some of your images.

It may not be the ideal camera for every type of photography, but as an all-around shooter, it performs above and beyond what you would expect, and that’s coming from a brainwashed DSLR owner.  Another thing I would like to highlight about this camera, is its application for street photography.  People don’t even notice this camera, really, despite its size.  When you take into account the all black body, a basic pancake lens, and a near-silent shutter, it’s no a mystery why I don’t see more people shooting on the streets with this.

All in all, it’s a great camera, with stunning image quality, excellent autofocus (and manual focus), perfect ergonomics, and intuitive controls.  It’s easy to use, fun to learn, and it really is a pro body for the mirrorless system.

Going forward, I may continue to test the E-M1 for different kinds of shooting, from street photography to portraiture to architecture to macro.  If there’s something specific you want me to test on this camera, contact me and I’ll see what I can do!

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