I’m just back from Ireland where I’ve been able to test the highly anticipated Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera. I was really excited to try this camera because I’m interested in mirrorless cameras as I need a smaller set to use for my street photography and everyday work. This new mirrorless camera is the next step in the Olympus OM-D series after the E-M5. It is a Micro Four Thirds camera aimed to the professional market (they say, at least!). It can shoot not only Micro Four Thirds lenses, but also Four Third lenses, and thanks to the new TruePic VII image processor, it is able to adapt and correct the specific lens you’re using.
The E-M1 is small, light and really well built with a sturdy feeling. The design reminds the breakthrough Giugiaro’s design of Nikon cameras and is quite pleasant. All the buttons and knobs are easily accessible, but to me, the camera software was a little tricky to use at first. I eventually I got used to it, but I still consider it a little confusing and I’d like to test it a little more. The E-M1 has a 5-axis image stabilization that works really well. I was excited to see that I was able to shoot even 1/10th of a second still making acceptable images.
The Electronic Viewfinder
I am really impressed by the electronic viewfinder of the E-M1. I’m used to the optical viewfinder of my DSLR, and all the electronic viewfinders I used until now where pretty disappointing. The viewfinder of the E-M1 is different. It is HUGE, luminous and fast. I couldn’t notice any lag and I could clearly see all the scene big and sharp.
The Dual Fast Autofocus
The E-M1 has both a phase detection and a contrast detection autofocus, and it is compatible with both Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds lenses. The focusing is snappy and the focus tracking works quite well. I had a little trouble with the face recognition function and the closest eye focusing functions, but I think I messed up some settings in the menu. The other photographers that where with me used it quite well without problems.
Low Light Performance
The ISO performance of the E-M1 is quite good and you can crank up the ISO to 12800 still obtaining usable images. However, I have to say the ISO performance isn’t comparable to full frame sensors, although Olympus says so. The low light performance of my D700 is still superior to what the E-M1 can do. That said, it is comparable, if not better than the performance of a APS-C sensor.
WiFi and Remote Control
The E-M1 has an amazing feature that allows you to remotely control the camera via WiFi. You have to download the app on your smartphone or tablet (it is available for both iOS and Android) and scan a QR Code that appears on the camera display to pair the phone and the camera. Once paired, you can control everything on the camera through the smartphone or tablet. You can see what the camera sees, you can focus, change settings and so on. This feature coupled with the splash and freezeproof body allows quite a lot of creative uses. At the event, the Olympus guys set up the camera on a tripod in the lake, with two horses running and splashing around it. I imagine how this could be useful to landscape photographers doing long exposures in bad weather, controlling the camera from the comfort of their tents.
Speaking of long exposure, the E-M1 has a feature unique to Olympus that is really amazing. Every photographer was impressed by this live bulb feature. With Live Time you can can shoot long exposures and see the image forming interactively on the display while the sensor receives the light from the scene. This feature gets rid of the guess work when doing long exposures. We did quite a lot of light painting with Live Time, but I can imagine a lot of other uses, maybe even using ND filters.
Although maybe a professional photographer wouldn’t use them a lot, the camera is equipped with a number of Art Filers, that are actually quite good. You can set a number of parameters such as grain, contrast and so on. As you may see in the attached images, the results are definitely usable, completely bypassing the post production. I wouldn’t use them for my work because I want to have more control, but somebody used to click on presets, could really appreciate them.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is an amazing camera, and I really enjoyed the time spent using it in Castle Leslie. With such a camera, buying a small sensor high end DSLR doesn’t make sense anymore to me. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is small, light, fast and usable and is capable to do everything a DSLR can do without compromises, although it can’t substitute the performance of a full frame sensor.