Olympus OM-D E-M10 review: Olympus' E-M10 offers a good mirrorless alternative to a first dSLR

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.7
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 7.0
  • Image quality: 7.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The Olympus OM-D E-M10's design and interface works well for both beginning and advanced photographers, it has a well-rounded feature set, and it's fast enough for general-purpose kids-and-pets photography.

The Bad It produces good-but-not-great photos and videos.

The Bottom Line Though it doesn't deliver the best photo quality, the sum of the Olympus OM-D E-M10's design, performance and features add up to a nice upgrade from a point-and-shoot.

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The E-M10 is a solid Micro Four Thirds camera that sits at the bottom of Olympus' higher end OM-D line; the line includes more advanced features, like an electronic viewfinder and tilting display, than the more compact PEN cameras. It's both designed and priced more for enthusiasts than the always-auto crowd, but with both a basic touchscreen interface and a physical-control-driven advanced interface, it's great if you want a camera you can grow into.

Image quality

Overall, I'd classify the E-M10's image quality as good, not great; it looks typical of what I've seen from other Micro Four Thirds models with lower-end lenses, in this case, the new 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 power zoom lens. I also field tested with the new $399.99 25mm f1.8, which pairs well with the camera for things like portrait or street photography. In comparison, its big brother the E-M1's shots look generally sharper, but we tested that with a better lens (the $999 12-40mm f2.8) because it's a higher-end camera. It uses the same sensor as the E-M5 but the newer image-processing engine of the E-M1; in general, the photo quality matches that of the E-M5.

As with all its cameras, Olympus hides the lowest-compression JPEG setting; you won't know it's there unless you actually read the manual. With the E-M1 I retested after discovering this; with the E-M10, I didn't. It compresses 4:1 at the default Fine setting, while the hidden Super Fine compresses at 2.7:1. If you want best quality, shoot raw.

The E-M10's JPEG shots in bright daylight look just a bit crunchy and over-processed, but at least at low ISO sensitivities the out-of-focus areas look nicely smooth and the kit lens delivers rounded out-of-focus highlights. At higher sensitivities, starting at about ISO 400, sharp areas look fine but areas that are even a touch out of focus start to get mushy and display noise-suppression artifacts. That's a concern if you plan to shoot sports, which frequently requires high shutter speeds and usually higher ISO sensitivities; while the camera might be able to keep up, there's little latitude if you don't get the focus spot-on. That said, in indoor lighting for still subjects at ISO 400 JPEGs look very good and you can probably even get away with ISO 800 and ISO 1600 in good light if you don't peer too closely at the details. You can gain back some detail by processing raw files starting in the middle ISO sensitivities, though clipped highlights frequently seem to be unrecoverable.

Click to download ISO 100

ISO 1600
ISO 6400

Like many cameras these days, Olympus offers two options for auto white balance, a normal mode and a mode that preserves some of the color of the light, generally to keep the warm tone of traditional light bulbs. I find the normal mode to be a lot cooler than I've seen with other cameras and that even under other lighting types I prefer the preserve warm tone setting better.

Video quality is fine for short vacation clips and other casual movies, but overall it's softer than I like. Diagonals don't look terribly jaggy and aliased at low ISO sensitivities, but by about ISO 1600 there's quite a bit of color noise.

Performance

When it comes to speed, I'd classify the E-M10 as sufficiently fast, and it's notably faster than the E-M5. You'll be able to keep up with kids and pets, though you may miss some action shots. It's relatively slow to start up, about 1.3 seconds, in part because of the power zoom lens -- those always take more time to extend and initialize than a manual zoom or fixed focal-length version -- and partly because most mirrorless cameras take longer to initialize than comparable dSLRs.

Once powered on, it's reasonably fast compared to competitors. It takes about 0.2 second to focus and shoot in good light and about a tenth of a second longer in dim conditions; overall, the autofocus system works quickly and accurately. There's also a menu setting for decreasing release lag time, which sucks up more battery power but does shave about .07 second off the default settings. Time for two sequential shots, either raw or JPEG, runs about 0.4 second, which seems to be caused by the autofocus completely resetting even though the subject hasn't moved. With flash enabled, shot-to-shot time rises to about 1.3 seconds, which isn't bad.

Burst shooting with autofocus and autoexposure enabled runs 3.3fps, and it can sustain that rate for at least 30 frames, raw or JPEG. It even holds up fairly well when shooting raw+JPEG. In its high-speed burst, which fixes focus and exposure on the first frame -- that makes it useful in only a limited set of circumstances -- it sustains almost a 7fps burst for at least 30 JPEGs, about 7.4fps in raw, but for only 15 shots.

It's important that the camera has an electronic viewfinder -- and a good one -- because the LCD display gets pretty reflective in bright sunlight. Otherwise it's a bright display and responsive touchscreen. Although the battery life is only rated for about 320 shots, it seems to last longer.

Design and features

I enjoy shooting with the E-M10; it's pretty compact, especially equipped with the relatively flat 14-42mm power zoom lens. The tiny lenses are the real advantage of getting a Micro Four Thirds body over an APS-C model, even a mirrorless. Though the camera has a touchscreen you don't have to use it, and camera operation can be as automatic or manual as you like without losing the streamlined shooting feel. You can opt for Olympus' ingenious two-part ergonomic grip accessory (i.e., it's not a battery grip or vertical grip, just a bigger grip) does let you snap off a section for quick access to the battery/SD card) if you agree with me that the built-in grip feels a little shallow .

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Optical Zoom 3 x
  • Optical Sensor Type Live MOS
  • Sensor Resolution 16.1 Megapixel
  • Image Stabilizer optical (5-axis image sensor shift mechanism)
  • Optical Sensor Size 4/3"