Nov 17

Review: Olympus OM-D E-M1


When Olympus released the first member of the new OM-D line, the E-M5, there was considerable buzz over the retro styled powerhouse.  Ultimately, that camera gave Micro 4/3 a shot in the arm and showed just how capable a small camera could be.  Serious amateurs and even many professionals added the E-M5 to their arsenal.

Now Olympus has released the next camera in the OM-D series.  Rather than replacing the E-M5, Olympus added to the lineup with a truly professional grade camera: The E-M1.

They’ve integrated a full grip, improved the weatherproofing to professional standards, improved the autofocus, upgraded the viewfinder to a new huge high-resolution viewfinder, added phase detection autofocus on sensor, flooded it with larger and easier to access controls and priced it a fair bit higher as well.  Let’s take a look at this new Olympus flagship and see if it’s worth the $1399 price of entry.

OM-D Generations, the new E-M1 (foreground) and the E-M5

OM-D Generations, the new E-M1 (foreground) and the E-M5

If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool in actual use. I am not a videographer, so my reviews concentrate on the still imaging capabilities of a camera.

Body and Ergonomics

The E-M1 is fully weathersealed and freeze proof for shooting in most any condition

The E-M1 is fully weathersealed and freeze proof for shooting in most any condition

The first thing you notice about the E-M1 is that it is a bit bigger than its predecessor.  They’ve made the camera slightly wider and slightly taller, and have incorporated a hefty hand grip into the right side of the camera.  While larger than the E-M5, the E-M1 is still notably smaller than the Panasonic GH3 while maintaining most of that ergonomic advantage.  The grip is incredibly comfortable and is sculpted to perfectly conform to your hand on both the front and rear as you hold it.  If you have large hands, your pinky will slide off the bottom of the camera, however.

The E-M1 features a fully weathersealed magnesium alloy body.  Olympus designed this camera to meet professional levels of build quality, and they’ve succeeded in my opinion.  While much lighter than any professional grade DSLR due to the size, the E-M1 is every bit as sturdily built.  There is absolutely no flex anywhere on the camera.  It feels sculpted out of a solid block of metal.  The buttons are larger and have more positive action than the somewhat squishy buttons on the E-M5.  The overall impression upon picking up the camera is one of rugged utilitarianism.  Olympus traded some of the great looks on the E-M5 for ergonomics, and while it isn’t as pretty to look at, it’s far more pleasing to hold and use.

One result of this ergonomic focus is reflected in the outstanding control layout on the E-M1.  Olympus put every major control at your fingertips.  The shutter button is surrounded by the front control ring, and the rear control ring has been moved from its somewhat awkward position on the E-M5 to a very accessible position on the top rear of the camera.  The top also features a programmable function button and the movie record button.  The Fn1 button has been moved from its odd position above the thumb rest on the E-M5 to a very easy to access, yet hard to accidentally press, location to the right of the thumb rest.

The only real controversial aspect of the ergonomics is the placement of the on/off switch, which resides at the left of the viewfinder hump.  It is often convenient to have the power switch accessible with the right hand so you can turn on the camera while bringing it out of your bag.  That’s certainly understandable, but in practice, the switch location didn’t bother me.

While I didn’t fully test the weathersealing since this was not my camera, the camera did get wet on occasion (and was sprayed down a bit for the photo above), and the camera continued to operate beautifully.  There have been tests shown with the camera operating while standing in half an inch of water under a shower faucet, so I think it’s safe to say the E-M1 will stand up well shooting in the elements.

Overall, the ergonomics of the E-M1 are outstanding.  The camera feels fantastic in the hand and the body is as solid as they come.

Two OM-Ds...the E-M5 on the left, and the E-M1 on the right

Two OM-Ds…the E-M5 on the left, and the E-M1 on the right

Viewfinder and Screen

The E-M1 features a 3″ tilting rear LCD with 1 million dot resolution and capacitive touch capability.  The rear screen is rich in color, clear and very detailed.  I noticed slightly better viewing angles than on the E-M5.  The screen can be pivoted facing up at close to 90 degrees for low to the ground shooting, and down at roughly a 45 degree angle to aid in taking overhead shots.

The rear of the Olympus E-M1

The rear of the Olympus E-M1

The touch interface is useful for selecting focus points, activating touch-shutter and selecting items using the Super Control Panel.  Touch screens have become prevalent on every micro 4/3 camera over the past 4 years, and the E-M1’s is among the best.

The biggest viewing upgrade in the E-M1, however, is in the new electronic viewfinder (EVF).  The EVF in the E-M1 is a similar panel to that found in the Olympus VF-4 add-on viewfinder that debuted with the Olympus Pen E-P5. The EVF in the E-M1 is simply the best in the industry.  It is a high-resolution panel featuring 2.4 million dots, has excellent refresh with no perceptible lag even in very dim light, is extremely large and has excellent dynamic range that gives an accurate preview of the final image.  The E-M1’s EVF is roughly the size of the viewfinders in the top-tier professional DSLRs from Canon and Nikon.  The size and clarity of the view makes manual focus quite easy with the E-M1.

Continue: Operation and Performance

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad


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  1. Gonzalo

    Nice pictures, they speak for themselves!

  2. Ron

    Wow! Beautiful sunrise photo. Great meld of old architecture and new technology.

  3. Don

    Its nice to read a slightly more critical review than some of the others I’ve seen lately, which have been a little too ‘gushing’ with their praise I think. This is the first time I’ve seen anyone be a bit more critical about the E-M1’s IBIS, for example.

    I don’t think I’d buy one, mainly for ergonomic reasons, but if I was in the market for a M4/3 body I’d be glad I’d read this review. Thanks Jordan.

  4. Peter F

    I am interested in the focus peaking implementation because I like it on my Sony NEX. I also know the feature appears on Fuji mirrorless. Have you been able to compare the implemention (on the E-M1) with either Sony’s or Fujifilm’s implementation? Thanks for another awesome review. (I’m pretty new to your site, and have now been reading your Fuji reviews… will you be doing a review of the 18-55?)

    Thanks for an awesome job. I like well written stuff!!

    Peter F.

  5. Charles Eklund

    A very thorough review oriented to how most of us actually use our camera. I have an E-M1 and I think you hit the nail on the head.


  6. cosinaphile

    a very enjoyable read , your real world impressions are more meaningful than a bunch of charts and graphs , as far as im concerned.

    for the time being im sticking with my em5

  7. Alpha Whiskey Photography

    I find that enabling the Anti-Shock feature helps to achieve sharp pictures hand-held at slow shutter speeds (as well as being using for tripod stabilised long exposures). I get more keepers that way, shooting hand-held at around 1 sec.

    1. Peter F

      What speed to you set the anti-shock at? I use 1/8th but don’t really know why….

  8. bousozoku

    Glad to see another opinion on this body.

    I spent some time with it at an Olympus event and found it to be a very good shooter, but didn’t find the angular grip comfortable, unfortunately, compared to the E-5, E-1, or GH3 grip.

    I was also less than enchanted with the display out in the open on a “professional” model, mainly because of the small battery, but also because they chose a flipping, sliding display instead of an articulated display.

    Those who have the E-5 will instantly notice better low light image quality but will notice many compromises, such as the balance with Four-Thirds HG and SHG lenses. The GH3 is better but still too small.

  9. caver3d

    Jordan – In your conclusions, I did not see the very important fact that the E-M1 works very, very well (AF) with the original Olympus and (Pany) 43 lenses (due to on-sensor PDAF). This is one of the major reasons I purchased the E-M1, even though I have the E-M5. I have twelve 43 lenses (in addition to several m43 lenses) and I can now happily use them on the E-M1. That was not the case with the E-M5 (CDAF only), So, the E-M1 is also an upgrade (or an option) to my older E-5. I assume you do not have an Oly 43 camera with 43 lenses. But please do not ignore this important point.

    Yes, there are still many of us out there that also still have 43 cameras and lenses. The E-M1 is indeed the “one beautiful system”.

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