Olympus’ latest micro 4/3 camera has arrived and it brings many improvements to the table, like a 37-point phase detection (in addition to the 81-point contrast detection) that is built into the 16.3 Megapixel sensor of this camera. This means that the OM-D E-M5 camera no longer has the best AF system in Olympus’ micro-4/3 line up, thus effectively becoming the number two m4/3 camera from now on.
The Olympus O-MD E-M1 is bigger than the M5, and has a more aggressive design in general. The grip size is substantially larger and there are even more physical controls. That alone would be a good hint that it is overkill for those who just want an awesome and very expensive point and shoot. Yet, even though it looks like a “semi-pro” camera, it’s fair to say that it remains substantially smaller than an actual DSLR camera (but definitely not pocketable). Small enough to justify having it as a secondary camera.
In the back there’s a swivel screen (720×480) which operates more or less like the M5’s: it can help you shoot while raising or lowering the camera, but does not face forward in case you want to take a self-portrait. If you don’t want to use the screen, there is a high-resolution electronic viewfinder (EVF). If the refresh rate is as smooth as the M5 is, and there’s no reason to believe the contrary, it should be a pleasure to work with.
There are a number of ports, including a microphone input (handy!), a USB port, a micro-HDMI port, an accessory shoe (compatible with PEN and OM-D accessories), a flash sync connector and one more connector for an accessory grip. The presence of a flash sync connector reveals its “pro” nature, but personally, I find the microphone input to be the most interesting for my own usage.
HDR is built into the camera, just like it is on many modern smartphones. This allows you to have the benefits of HDR photography, without the hassle of having to deal with a computer. If you are not familiar with HDR, it stands for “high dynamic range” and HDR photography consists in taking multiple pictures of the same scene at different exposures in order to gather more details in high contrast situations.
Lens correction is also a feature that is present in the phone’s specifications. I haven’t tried it yet, but the idea is that Olympus has some lens-specific corrections (done during image processing) when the camera can identify a specific lens that is connected to it. The end-result should be a reduction of chromatic aberration and increase sharpness.
With phase detection, AF could be much faster, but to reach peak levels, you probably need to use a lens that can move very quickly. That’s probably why Olympus has added the M.ZUIKO Digital ED 12-40mm f2.8 PRO lens (24–80mm, 35mm equivalent) to its line of product. While the AF speed won’t be even close of beating a DSLR when using a view finder, it should be respectable when comparing to a DSLR in “live view”.
Our test of the Olympus M5 revealed that continuous tracking was not stellar. In theory, the phase detection should improve that situation, but without a hands-on test, it’s hard to tell.
Olympus says that the E-M1 can withstand water splashes and dust, and that included the ability to clean the sensor even if some (mild quantity of) dust makes it there, thanks to the Supersonic Wave Filter that shakes the dust by vibrating 30,000 times a second.
Finally, the E-M1 has built-in WiFi support. This makes it possible to connect the camera to a smartphone via the Olympus Image Share 2.0 free app.
The Olympus O-MD E-M1 looks like an impressive camera, but it doesn’t come cheap: at $1400 for the body, or $2200 for the body and ZUIKO Digital 12-40mm lens, you have to be seriously motivated to get one. For the lucky ones who do, they will most likely end up with the best micro 4/3 camera of the moment.