Olympus OM-D E-M1 hands-on preview




This is the camera that really has to win over DSLR die-hards

After using an OM-D E-M1 for almost two weeks with a wide range of Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds lenses we feel we're getting to know the new Olympus flagship quite well. For a guide to the camera's key features, see our special article dedicated to what's new in the OM-D E-M1.

Four Thirds lens use

Undoubtedly for many E-System DSLR users who have been waiting for a very long time for the E-M1 the top question will be - how well does the new camera work with Four Thirds DSLR lenses. The good news is that problems using these lenses on Micro Four Thirds cameras, including slow and sometimes inaccurate autofocusing, can now be forgotten. Under most circumstances the E-M1 focuses Four Thirds lenses normally and perhaps even faster than an Olympus E-5. We have been using lenses like the Zuiko Digital 300mm f/2.8, 90-250mm f/2.8, 150mm f/2.0 and the 50-200 f/2.8-3.5 SWD photographing birds in flight (BIF) perhaps the ultimate challenge for an autofocus system, and as you will discover in our sample image gallery on page 2 of this article we have been able to get some excellent results. We have also been enjoying the use of Micro Four Thirds lenses chasing birds as well thanks to the E-M1's PDAF support in continuous focus (C-AF). The E-M1 is at least as good as an E-5 and we honestly feel that overall it is actually better thanks to the 26 additional focus points and improved predictive focus and subject tracking algorithms. The E-M1 is not top in class but it is a very respectable performer in action photography conditions, well-aided by up to 6.5 frames per second continuous shooting while continuously focusing.

If there is a weakness, the lack of cross-type AF points is occasionally frustrating when you happen across details you are trying to lock focus on that are largely made up of horizontal lines. But a twist of the camera around 45 degrees will do the trick. We found that the E-M1 focused well in low light using Four Thirds lenses, although a direct comparison with an E-5 saw the older camera edge-out the E-M1 in extremely low light. The E-M1 does better if you use very bright lenses and when it does focus successfully it is faster to achieve a focus lock. If you need every ounce of performance, full support for AF fine adjustment tailored for individual lenses is provided and the adjustment process has been vastly improved thanks to on-sensor AF points allowing a real-time live view of critical focus.

But fundamentally, if you had concerns that a Micro Four Thirds camera would never be able to do your Four Thirds lenses justice, we found little to confirm any such worries.

As Olympus' flagship Micro Four Thirds camera

If you liked the OM-D E-M5, we can't fail to see how you couldn't like the E-M1. It's as good as or better than the E-M5 in almost every way. The new viewfinder, based on the VF-4 detachable electronic viewfinder provides a really large and clear view and maintains a remarkably natural-looking view thanks to the addition of Adaptive Brightness control.

The camera's larger design, although still remarkably compact compared to most DSLRs, combined with larger buttons that are better spaced and the confidence of a larger hand grip inspires confidence with larger lenses. If you have larger hands the E-M1 will definitely be nicer to use than an E-M5. We suspect that some people will want an even chunkier grip but Olympus has moved in the right direction, size-wise.

We would have preferred a side-hinged reversible articulating LCD screen like the E-5's. The need to remove the optional HLD-7 grip to access the primary battery inside the camera body is not ideal and it's disappointing that the grip itself only holds one additional battery, especially as they are BLN-1 types used in the E-M5 and Pen E-P5 and so lower capacity than Olympus' bigger BLM-1/5 batteries. While we're listing some niggles, the lack of additional video frame rate options apart from 30p is far from ideal and we'd like to see PC tethering support restored although Android and iOS smartphone and tablet support for wireless control and shooting now looks really good - apart from the fiddly GPS geo-tagging procedure.

It's still early days - the camera has so much to discover and master but the dominant first impressions are very positive. We'll provide a more comprehensive report on the E-M1 in due course. In the mean time, enjoy our product photo gallery and no less than 54 sample images!


Olympus OM-D E-M1 product gallery

Here is a our exclusive set of hands-on photos of the new OM-D E-M1. Below is a gallery of thumbnail views of the E-M1. To see a larger view of the the thumbnail, just click on the thumbnail image you are interested in to open a new page with the full-size view.

To return to the thumbnail gallery, click the home arrow at the bottom of the page, or navigate forwards or backwards through the gallery using the backwards/forwards arrow buttons.