Thank you for looking up our Olympus OM-D E-M1 Review. The full review is below, but you may prefer to download our PDF version, which includes test images and full specifications. You can download it here: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Review.pdf
It had to happen, of course. Even while we were all drooling over the gorgeous E-M5 after its launch back in 2011, Olympus was emphasising that its new OM-D system was indeed a system and that there would be more camera bodies in the future. As time went on, Olympus became more definite about what would come next… a higher end – even pro-level – OM-D camera. It was a tantalising prospect especially as the E-M5 ticked so many boxes in terms of its styling, features and performance. And Olympus hasn’t disappointed with the E-M1 which takes over where the E-M5 leaves off, including being even more traditional ‘OM’ in its styling.
It is, however, something of a good news/bad news scenario because not only is the E-M1 the OM-D system flagship, it’s Olympus’s flagship camera full stop. What this means, then, is the end of the road for Olympus’s D-SLR program and the E-M1 is also designed to be the replacement for the E-5 even though it’s a compact system camera (CSC) and not a reflex. Of course, it’s what we’ve suspected for a while given there have been no new Four Thirds mount lenses from Olympus in years and, of course, the E-5, while not officially discontinued, hasn’t been available for ages. Now it is official, but Olympus is hoping to soften the blow by making the E-M1 ‘compatible’ with the Four Thirds lenses – albeit still with the inherent clunkiness of a mount adaptor – and, more generally, making it hard to resist for anybody with any affinity for the marque.
Additionally, there’s a new series of M.Zuiko Digital PRO lenses which represent the pinnacle of performance, construction and specifications. The first of these pro-grade lenses is a 12-40mm f2.8 standard zoom (equivalent to 24-80mm) with an all-metal/all-glass construction, full sealing against dust and moisture, and Olympus’s high-end ‘ZERO’ multi-coating. There’s a 40-150mm f2.8 telezoom (equivalent to 80-300mm) on the way, but apparently we’ll have to wait until the end of 2014 for this.
One On One
Available in black only, the E-M1 looks even more like the classic 35mm OM System cameras than the E-M5 because, quite simply, it looks even more like a reflex camera rather than a CSC masquerading as one.
Significantly, it carries a model number that’s very famous – or perhaps that should be infamous – in Olympus history. When the legendary camera designer Yoshihisa Maitani devised his ultra-compact 35mm SLR back in the early 1970s it was going to be called the M-1 and, indeed, production commenced using this model designation. When the camera was revealed at the 1972 Photokina, Leica objected to the use of the ‘M’ prefix – most probably because Maitani’s tiny 35mm SLR would be a real challenger in terms of its size to the 35mm rangefinder camera – so Olympus hastily switched to ‘OM’.
Fast forward to 2013 and the spirit of the original M-1 is re-incarnated in the E-M1, a camera with the potential to be just as significant for Olympus at a time when the boundaries between D-SLR and CSC are being increasingly blurred. Incidentally, while the E-M1 replaces the E-5, it doesn’t supersede the E-M5 which continues and is also quite a lot cheaper.
The E-M1 does its very impressive impersonation of a D-SLR partly because it has a good-sized grip and partly because its control layout is more about dials than ever before. Without the grip, the E-M1 is actually pretty much the same size as the E-M5, but it looks a whole lot more purposeful… in fact, it makes its OM-D sibling look a tad wimpy. The control layout is completely different and includes a long power on/off lever that’s pretty much an exact replica of the OM-1’s. There’s a conventional main mode dial – with the option of being lockable, but you can make the choice – with the rear input wheel located alongside. The front input wheel surrounds the shutter release atop the handgrip. The power lever is located around what looks like yet another dial, but is actually a pair of half-circle-shaped dual-function buttons. A PC flash terminal – new on the E-M1 – is situated on the panel in front while the hotshoe incorporates the AP2 auxiliary port terminal so Olympus has all the camera’s connections covered.
Even more so as the E-M1 also gets a conventional stereo audio input, eliminating the need for an additional adapter to fit an external microphone.
On the other side of the bodyshell – which comprises magnesium alloy covers and is both fully sealed and insulated – is a dedicated compartment for the memory card which is just so much more convenient than having it share the battery’s compartment in the base. However, the E-M1 uses the same BLN-1 lithium-ion battery pack as the E-M5 and it’s supplied with the same FL-LM2 compact flash unit which, although very small, still has a tilt head which makes it rather more useful than a fixed built-in flash. Additionally, not incorporating a flash into the E-M1 allows Olympus to maintain an OM-style ‘pentaprism housing’ (although, of course, it’s an EVF inside and not a lump of glass).
The right-hand side of the top panel (as viewed from behind) on the E-M1 at left and the OM-1 at right. Of course, the OM-1 didn’t need a main mode dial, but the basic configuration on both cameras is still as similar as 40 years of progress allows.