Olympus OM-D E-M1 review: A prosumer camera that, with some effort, delivers

On the imaging sensor, one out of every 16 pixels -- one out of every eight of the green pixels in the Bayer array, to be precise -- is replaced with a phase-detection sensor. The missing image value is then interpolated. Like the system in the Canon EOS 70D it's measuring directly off the focal plane, which helps drive the lens directly toward the correct focus point, the biggest problem when using phase-detection-optimized lenses with contrast-detection-based systems.

The autofocus generally works very well, though it's not as decisive as the 70D's. With Four Thirds lenses, such as the 12-60mm f2.8-4 and the 35-100mm f2I tried, the response is certainly a lot better than with just contrast AF, but the lenses (at least the good ones) have heavy glass that slow down their movement compared to the more compact Micro Four Thirds versions. Tracking autofocus operates relatively well during burst shooting, although it jumps to another object a little more frequently than I'd like; for instance, if you have two runners with one coming from behind, it might jump to the second runner for a few shots and then jump back. It does provide nice feedback, changing the color of the tracking box, so it obviously knows it's made an incorrect decision.

Its excellent EVF and LCD, in combination with magnification and focus peaking, works extremely well for manual focus. I never once wished I'd brought a loupe for shooting video. Ditto for the image stabilization, which I was able to handhold down to 1/6 second for stills.

The one not-inconsiderable drawback of the E-M1, and indeed advanced mirrorless ILCs in general, is that they don't deliver the battery life you expect of a camera in its price class. Among other things, the EVFs and LCDs they require consumer a lot of power, and unlike a dSLR don't have an optical viewfinder to fall back on.

Design and features
Overall, I like the design of the E-M1. The magnesium-alloy body is freeze-resistant down to 14 degrees, in addition to moisture-and-dust-sealed like the E-M5. It has a substantially bigger and more comfortable grip -- it's a substantially bigger camera -- which gives you plenty of leverage when using moderately large Four Thirds lenses. My one complaint about the controls: they all feel mushy.

Given how many physical controls Olympus has crammed onto the body of the E-M1, it's pretty well designed -- "overdesigned" frequently flitted through my brain while shooting, as I tried to remember what was mapped to what, and trying to figure out why I couldn't find some functions because I'd changed the defaults. You really have to read the manual for this model. (Download a PDF here.)

Top right controls include a mode dial with a smartly designed lock -- press it in to lock and pop it up to unlock instead of holding it down while turning, like most cameras -- front and back adjustment dials, two programmable function buttons and a record button. Sarah Tew/CNET
In addition to the power switch, on the left shoulder sit two dedicated buttons, each of which brings up two different functions that you adjust with either the front or back dial. One handles drive mode and HDR options, while the other selects either autofocus mode or metering. Sarah Tew/CNET
On the back, a switch by the AF/AE-lock button lets you toggle between two sets of functions for the dials, which are context-sensitive for each exposure mode. Sarah Tew/CNET
On the front are two programmable buttons, bringing the total number of assignable controls up to a gazillion. Sarah Tew/CNET

I also want to note how much I like the design of the new 12-40mm f2.8 lens, the first in Olympus' M.Zuiko Pro line. It feels sturdy, with great action on the zoom ring. The manual focus ring feels a little too loose for my taste, but I got used to it. It's weather resistant to match the camera, with a programmable function button.

Like some of Olympus' recent primes, the 12-40mm f2.8 incorporates a manual focus clutch, where pulling back on the focus ring automatically puts you in manual-focus mode. Sarah Tew/CNET
Canon EOS 70D Nikon D7100 Olympus PEN E-P5 Olympus OM-D E-M1 Olympus OM-D E-M5 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3
Sensor (effective resolution) 20.2MP CMOS
n/a
24.1MP CMOS
14 bits
16.1MP Live MOS
12 bits
16.3MP Live MOS
12 bits
16.1MP Live MOS
12 bits
16.1mp Live MOS
12 bits
22.5 x 15mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 17.3mm x 13mm 17.3mm x 13mm 17.3mm x 13mm 17.3mm x 13mm
Focal- length multiplier 1.6x 1.5x 2.0x 2.0x 2.0x 2.0x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 12800/25600 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp) ISO 100 (exp)/200 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 (exp)/200 - ISO 25600 ISO 200 - ISO 25600 ISO 180 (expanded)/ 200 - ISO 3200/12800 (expanded)
Burst shooting 7fps
16 raw/65 JPEG
6fps
(7fps in 1.3x crop mode)
n/a
4.5-5fps (lens dependent, IS off)
70 JPEG/20 raw
(9fps with fixed AE/AF, no IS)
6.5fps (with IS off)
unlimited JPEG/60 raw
(10fps with fixed focus and exposure, IS off)
9fps
17 JPEG/11 raw
6fps
29 raw+JPEG
Viewfinder 98% coverage
0.95x/0.59x
Optical
100%
coverage
0.94x/0.63x
Optional EVF
n/a-inch
2.36m dots
100% coverage
1.48x/ 0.74x
OLED EVF
n/a-inch
2.36m dots
100% coverage
1.3x - 1.48x/ 0.65x- 0.74x
EVF
n/a-inch
1.44m dots
100% coverage
1.15x/0.58x
OLED EVF
n/a-inch
1.7 million dots
100% coverage
1.42x/0.71x
Autofocus Dual Pixel CMOS
19-pt phase-detection AF all cross-type; center cross to f2.8
51-pt phase- detection AF
15 cross- type; center to f8 or faster
(Multi-CAM 3500DX)
35-area contrast AF 27-point phase detection,
81-point contrast
35-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF
AF sensitivity range -0.5 to 18 EV -2 to 19 EV n/a n/a n/a n/a
Shutter speed 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 60 - 1/8000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/250 sec x-sync
(FP to 1/4000 sec)
60 - 1/8000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/320 sec x-sync (Super FP to 1/8000) 60 - 1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 8 minutes; 1/250 sec x-sync (flash-dependent) 60-1/4,000 sec.; bulb
Metering 63-zone iFCL 2,016-pixel 3D color matrix metering II 324 area 324 area 324 area 144 zone
Metering range 1 to 18 EV 0 to 20 EV 0 - 20 EV -2 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV n/a
Flash Yes Yes Yes Included add-on Included add-on Yes
Wireless flash Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Image stabilization Optical Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift Sensor shift Optical
Best video H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/ 60p/50p 1080/60i/ 50i/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/ 50p H.264 QuickTime MOV
(60i/50i only in 1.3x crop mode)
1080/30p @ 20Mbps H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p QuickTime MOV @ 24 Mbps 1080/60i QuickTime MOV @ 20, 17Mbps H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/60p/50p @ 50Mbps; 1080/30p/ 25p/24p @ 80, 50Mbps
AVCHD
1080/60p/50p @ 28Mbps; 1080/24p @ 24Mbps
Audio Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input; headphone jack Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input; headphone jack
LCD size 3 inches inches articulated touch screen
1.04m dots
3.2 inches fixed
1,228,800 dots
3-inch tilting touch-screen LCD
1.04m dots
3-inch tilting touch-screen
1.04m dots
3-inch tilting touch-screen OLED
614,000 dots
3-inch tilting touch-screen OLED
610,000 dots
Wireless Wi-Fi Optional via WU-1a adapter Wi-Fi Wi-Fi None Wi-Fi
Battery life (CIPA rating) 920 shots
(210 Live View)
950 shots 330 shots 350 shots 330 shots 500 shots (est)
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 5.5 x 4.1 x 3.1 5.3 x 4.2 x 3.0 4.8 x 2.7 x 1.5 5.1 x 3.7 x 2.5 4.8 x 3.5 x 1.7 5.2 x 3.7 x 3.2
Body operating weight (ounces) 27.2 27.3 15.1 17.5 (est) 15.1 19.4 (est)
Mfr. price $1,119.00 (body only) $1,199.95 (body only) $999.99 (body only) $1,399 (body only) $949.99 (body only) $1,299.99 (body only)
$1,349.00 (with 18-55mm STM lens) $1,599.95 (with 18-105mm lens) n/a n/a $1,199.99 (with 12-50mm lens) n/a
$1,549.00 (with 18-135mm STM lens) $1,799.95 (with 18-140mm kit) $1,449.99 (with 17mm f1.8 lens and VF-4 EVF) n/a $1,099.99 (with 14-42mm lens) n/a
Ship date September 2013 March 2013 July 2013 October 2013 April 2012 September 2012

I'd expect a camera like this to have built in GPS -- you can geotag images via the phone app -- and possibly a headphone jack and second card slot, but otherwise it's got a cornucopia of useful features.

These include automatic HDR compositing of four shots with strong or subtle options, which delivers really nice results even handheld at slow shutter speeds, as well as traditional exposure bracketing (which Olympus calls HDR bracketing) of up to seven frames and up to three EV. The camera also adds a time-lapse mode of up to 999 shots at 1-second to 24-hour intervals, from which it can automatically create a 100-second movie.

Olympus offers one of the more robust Wi-Fi connection solutions. It uses QR codes for quick Wi-Fi setup rather than� NFC . When you bring up the connection on the camera it presents a QR code that you capture with the OI.Share app on your device, and the app automatically configures the connection. It's a clever, inexpensive solution to setup on devices without NFC. The app provides a larger-than-usual set of remote control capabilities, though it oddly won't let you change the white balance. It also has an edit module for applying filters, scribbles, signatures and so on to photos on the camera, but no way to do basic exposure adjustments.

Color Creator, the hue/saturation color correction tool, doesn't do anything new but I think it's one of the most natural interfaces I've seen for making these adjustments. Lori Grunin/CNET

Conclusion
While it's a really great camera for the money, with excellent raw photo quality, a host of useful features, and speedy performance, I ended up docking the OM-D E-M1 a point in design for its needlessly overcomplicated configuration options and its opaque choices for defaults.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Digital camera type Mirrorless Digital Camera
  • Optical Sensor Type MOS
  • Image Stabilizer Optical (image sensor shift mechanism)
  • Optical Sensor Size 4/3"
About The Author

Lori Grunin is a senior editor for CNET Reviews, covering cameras, camcorders, and related accessories. She's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software since 1988.