The menu system is the one area where the E-M1 trips up a bit. The so-called ‘Shooting Menus’ are actually quite sparse – what you see here is what you get – because Olympus has put everything into the exhaustingly extensive ‘Custom Menus’. The E-M1’s ‘Custom Menus’ run to no fewer than 97 items. Curiously, everyday items such as the white balance settings (right) are buried here.
The back panel is mostly occupied by a tilt-adjustable monitor screen which is now an LCD-type panel with capacitive touch control and a higher resolution of 1.04 million dots. Alongside is a four-way keypad which is the navigator and works in conjunction with the input wheels to perform a huge variety of selection and setting duties. The E-M1’s electronic viewfinder is also an LCD panel with a resolution of 2.36 million dots and a magnification of 0.76x. It’s a beauty – exhibiting exceptional clarity, contrast and colour, and no traces of lag no matter how fast you pan the camera. It’s also very comfortable to use thanks to the magnification. The only negative is the limited dynamic range in very contrasty situations. The eyepiece incorporates a proximity sensor for automatic switching between the EVF and the monitor screen, but this can also be done manually via a button to one side.
On the other side of the eyepiece is the AE/AF lock button which is combined with a selector switch with settings marked ‘1’ and ‘2’. This is a quick and easy way to change the roles of the two input wheels… set at ‘1’ they function as the exposure controllers (i.e. program shift/apertures/shutter speeds – depending on the mode in use – and exposure compensation) while set to ‘2’ they then adjust the ISO and white balance. It’s a neat little ‘mechanical’ arrangement that’s a bit unusual in this digital era. There’s a customisable button on the top panel just astern of the shutter release and which provides direct access to adjustments for highlights/shadows, colour hue/saturation (a new feature called the ‘Colour Creator’), the image aspect ratio and image/frame zooming for assisting autofocus. These are just its ‘Multi-Function’ operations because it can alternatively be set one of a long list of single functions… so it’s a sort of multi-multi-function button.
But wait, there’s more… there’s another multi-function button (located on the thumbrest) and a load of other buttons can also be switched between a variety of roles, including those for video start/stop, the AF/AE lock, depth-of-field preview, one-touch white balance and the key pad’s four quadrants. Basically, there’s around a zillion options and it’s all pretty daunting at first, but the reality is that you’ll probably only use a couple of them and only once as they’re ‘set-and-forget’.
If you’re getting the idea that Olympus is trying to keep you away from the menus when shooting, you’re right, and you can do pretty well everything via ‘hard’ controls. The alternative is the ‘Super Control Panel’ screen which provides direct access to 16 functions, but first you have to find it.
As on the E-M5, the SCP has to be switched on separately for each of the camera’s main operational configurations – iAuto, PASM, Art Filters and Scene Modes – along with the alternative ‘Live Control’ screen which allows for the image to be displayed alongside selected adjustable settings. This requires a trip to the Custom Menu and a long-winded set-up procedure which has to be executed four times if you want the SCP screen to always be available. At least when it’s done, it’s done.
Another idiosyncrasy is that while the tiles in the SCP screen can be selected via touch control that’s as far as it goes and to change settings you have to go ‘mechanical’. The quick option is to use the front input wheel which cycles through the settings, but if you actually want to see what’s what, it’s necessary to first press the navigator’s ‘OK’ button to access the sub-menu which are then navigated conventionally via the command wheels or the left/right navigation keys rather than via touch control. As was the case with the E-M5, the instruction manual isn’t especially helpful, being short on detail and less-than-logical in its organisation, but once you have the E-M1 set up to your liking – which will take a bit of time as you trawl through the myriad of possibilities – it’s reasonably straightforward from here on.
Focusing On The Future
There’s little doubt that the E-M1’s external layout has been designed with the refugees from Olympus’s D-SLR system in mind. And thanks to various internal features it’s been made easier for them to step straight across to the OM-D system with their Four Thirds lenses in tow.
For starters, the imaging sensor is equipped with dedicated arrays for phase-difference detection autofocusing and the E-M1 automatically switches to this method of determining subject distance when an FT lens is fitted. Additionally, the next-gen ‘TruPic VII’ processor is loaded with all the Olympus FT lens profiles – all 23 of them – so they’re fully integrated with all the camera’s functions, including on-the-fly corrections for chromatic aberrations. Given the effective focal lengths remain unchanged, the only issue here is the need to use a mount adapter.
The new ‘Dual FAST AF’ system has been designed so the left and right phase-detect arrays have minimal impact on the image (remember that these gaps have to be filled via interpolation) and it’s only really operating as a hybrid when MFT lenses are fitted and continuous autofocusing is selected. In this scenario, phase-detection does the heavy-lifting and contrast-detection the fine-tuning. With MFT lenses and single-shot AF operation, the system is exclusively contrast-detection which uses 81 measuring points (i.e. a 9x9 array) while the phase-detection system has 37 points. Just to refresh your memory, FAST stands for Frequency Accelerated Sensor Technology which references the high-speed data streaming from the Live MOS sensor... 120 fps in the single-shot mode, 240 fps with continuous AF operation.
Beyond the basic AF modes, there’s the choice of continuous AF with auto tracking or single-shot with a full-time manual override and the new PRO zoom has the nifty push-pull focusing collar for quickly switching between AF and MF. The zones can be selected individually or in clusters of nine. In the ‘Continuous AF + Tracking’ mode, the zones are selected automatically as the subject moves using data recognition for elements such as faces, colours and patterns. As on the E-M5, the face detection AF mode has an additional capability called ‘Pupil Priority’ which can be set to auto – so the subject’s eye closest to the camera will be used – or either right or left.
Image magnification can be set to 5x, 7x, 10x or 14x to assist with focusing – a feature that really comes into its own with the higher res monitor and EVF. It’s available with both AF and manual focusing, the latter also with the option of a focus peaking display. These are preset in the custom menu and will subsequently be engaged automatically when the focusing collar is twisted. There’s a choice of black or white as the edge enhancement colour, but curiously this setting is located in another part of the very extensive custom menu and these little anomalies crop up a bit as you delve deeper into the E-M1’s maze of settings. For the record, the custom menu comprises a total of 97 items! Consequently, the main shooting menu – where a lot of this stuff should be – contains only 13 items.
Live view screens showing a real-time histogram (left) and dual-axis level displays (right). The all-new ‘Colour Creator’ function allows for the quick adjustment of hue and saturation via the E-M1’s front and rear input wheels.