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Olympus OM-D E-M1 review:

Olympus OM-D E-M1

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The Good Substantial hand grip. In-camera processing options like HDR and colour control are very effective. Focus peaking. Very sharp images straight out of camera. Incredibly rugged design.

The Bad Fidgety autofocus in low light. Locking mode dial takes some getting used to. Only 30fps in video mode.

The Bottom Line Even though it is a serious camera for enthusiast photographers, the OM-D E-M1 nevertheless brings a lot of fun to the imaging experience.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

8.7 Overall

Last year's original OM-D certainly set a fire underneath the bushels of the interchangeable lens camera (ILC) market. Its compact size, teamed with a fast autofocus system, proved that Micro Four Thirds could be a very viable contender against the likes of APS-C models.

Design and features

This newer model, the E-M1, complements the original OM-D by boasting a chunkier body design. There is a large, more substantial side grip that does away with the need for a battery grip to add extra bulk, an optional extra for the original OM-D. There is still a battery grip for the E-M1, but it only covers the base of the camera.

Coupled with the substantial 12-40mm lens, the E-M1 makes for a hefty package that edges into SLR territory. This particular combination weighs 879 grams in total (with batteries), which is up there with the weight of a full-frame SLR with a smaller, 50mm f/1.8lens attached.

The E-M1 is still as resilient as its predecessor, with a splash-, dust- and freeze-proof chassis that can withstand temperatures as low as -10 degrees Celsius.

Delving into the internal components, the E-M1 does away with the antialiasing filter on its 16.3-megapixel sensor. Usually, removing the filter means sharper images, but the possibility of moire on videos in particular. The E-M1 will, however, correct moire in-camera as well as chromatic aberrations automatically, thanks to the TruePic VII sensor — find out how it performs in the image quality analysis below.

Buttons and dials on this camera will not disappoint the photographer who likes to customise every component of the shooting interface. There are dual control dials, one around the shutter button and one further back on the top panel to help you adjust exposure parameters quickly. Around the AEL/AFL button is another switch that can be customised to perform a number of different functions depending on its configuration, similar to what we saw on the Pen E-P5.

The mode dial operates in a slightly different way to other mode dials that come with a centre locking button. It works a bit like a ballpoint pen: depress the button fully to stop the dial from moving, or press it again to raise it and rotate the dial freely. The dial comes with full PASM control, iAuto, art filters, scene modes, creative frame and movie modes.

The E-M1 also boasts a maximum mechanical shutter speed of 1/8000 second and focus peaking, which can be selected to appear as a black or white outline. Photographers who are into high dynamic range (HDR) will also be pleased with the plentiful built-in modes. From the dedicated button on the top left panel, HDR mode 1 and 2 take four exposures each, with mode 1 delivering a normal effect and mode 2 offering a super-high contrast version. You can also get the camera to shoot off three, five or seven frames with 2EV or 3EV difference to make HDR yourself.

An example of HDR off (left) and on (right).
(Credit: CBSi)

The electronic viewfinder — built in, not an optional extra like on the E-P5 — now has 2.36 million dots and an 0.74x magnification with 100 per cent field of view. It also adjusts dynamically to ambient conditions, either boosting the brightness or reducing it, depending on the light outside. In use, the viewfinder has a rapid refresh rate so there's no real noticeable delay.

There is a slight discrepancy in colour accuracy between the viewfinder and the screen. Flicking between them shows the viewfinder is slightly more warm with a slight over-emphasis on the red channel. Fortunately the 3-inch tilting LCD screen at the back is just as effective for composing images, and offers pitch and roll or histogram information by pressing the Info button.

Built-in Wi-Fi means the E-M1 can sync with an Android or iOS device using the Olympus Image Share app to transfer photos and videos. But that's not all it can do:

  • Use a smartphone or tablet as a remote viewfinder to takes images with full control over exposure (from iAuto to PASM)

  • Edit photos using the Olympus art filters or a number of other effects

  • Add geotags to photos when GPS is active

  • Power off the Wi-Fi connection from the device.

When using an Android or iOS device as the remote viewfinder, there is negligible lag in the Live View image. The touch shutter is sensitive and accurate, and the resulting image is stored on the camera itself in full resolution. Then, images can be sent across either at full resolution or any number of lower resolutions for easy sharing.

One of the buttons at the front of the camera just next to the lens acts as a one-touch white-balance adjustment. Simply point the camera at a white object, press the shutter button and select which preset white-balance slot to assign that reading to.

The shadow and highlight button can be used to adjust a curve on the fly, or to bring up Colour Creator. This is a fun way to adjust white balance and saturation without needing to know what these terms actually mean.

The colour creator mode brings up a visual dial so you can adjust settings on the fly.
(Credit: CBSi)

Access the Colour Creator mode by pressing and holding the Fn2 (shadow and highlight button by default) and rotating the rear dial. Once it has been set, you can press the shadow and highlight button again to make adjustments, using the front and rear dials to change hue and saturation. These colour options can also be applied to black-and-white images to create a similar effect to putting a coloured filter in front of the lens when using monochrome film. Want to darken skies and create an image with more contrast? Set your colour creator to a deep red for added oomph. It's also worth noting here that colour creator only affects the JPEG files, not RAW images.

These colour effects can also be applied in video mode, but by default, it is not turned on. You can activate it by accessing the movie option from the menu system and turning off movie effects.

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