Nov 17

Review: Olympus OM-D E-M1

Image Quality: Dynamic Range and Color

First Snow, Columbus, OH - Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6

First Snow, Columbus, OH – Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6

The 16 Megapixel sensor found in the E-M1 is largely similar to the E-M5, save for the phase detection pixels.  Like its predecessor, the E-M1 has surprisingly wide dynamic range, with a solid two stops of highlight headroom in the RAW files and impressive shadow detail as well.  The E-M1 has an accurate color response. Contrast is good for a Micro 4/3 camera, though the tonal rolloff is a litle harsher than the APS-C competition.  Overall, an excellent sensor that is still right up there with the best cameras for the Micro 4/3 system.

Image Quality: Noise

The Olympus E-M1 starts with a native ISO of 200, which results in images with the widest dynamic range and good noise control, though there is stil a fine-grained noise visible when viewing the images full size on screen, though it won’t impact prints or the images when reduced for screen display.  The E-M1 does have the capability to shoot at ISO 100, and at this ISO, noise is extremely low, though you do take a significant hit in dynamic range, so you have to watch out for clipped highlights.

At higher ISOs, the E-M1 performs identically to the E-M5, though it controls color shift slightly better at the very highest ISOs.  Overall, this is still a good performance.  Images show low noise to ISO 800 and acceptable noise to ISO 3200, though even ISO 6400 shots are quite decent for smaller prints and web size use.  ISO 12,800 and 25,600 are quite noisy, but even these can be useful in certain situations and the right output considerations.

JPEG Quality

Olympus has always had excellent JPEG quality, and the E-M1 is no different.  E-M1 JPEGs are low noise up to ISO 1600 and even 3200 (though with a fair loss in detail).  JPEGs have minimal compression artifacts, outstanding detail and excellent color.  You can tweak the JPEG curves to maximize dynamic range or customize it to your liking.  If you are a JPEG shooter, or even a RAW shooter who is taking advantage of the in-camera RAW converter, the JPEGs on the E-M1 won’t disappoint.


As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, I am not a videographer.  I did take some videos and quality was excellent, with very low noise at higher ISO and smooth detailed output.  The E-M1’s in-body IS works brilliantly in video mode, which makes taking steady video easy.  There is external mic input and full manual control.  Most casual videographers will be very pleased with the E-M1.

One more thing:

The E-M1 doesn’t have an anti-aliasing filter, which in theory should allow for sharper shots.  While there might be a slight advantage in sharpness with the E-M1, I found in practice that it ultimately did not have a major impact on the final image.

Continue: Conclusion and Image Samples

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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