The E-M1’s sensor is an all-new Live MOS device with a total pixel count of 17.2 million and the sensitivity range is equivalent to ISO 200 to 25,600 (with a one stop ‘pull’ to ISO 100). In addition to having the embedded phase-detect AF arrays, another first for the MFT world is the absence of an optical low-pass or anti-aliasing filter. So, although the effective pixel count of 16.1 million is the same as that of the E-M5, these are 16.1 million pure and unadulterated pixels so there should, theoretically, be a difference in the resolution. Olympus says it’s able to counter the effects of moiré patterns with an updated version of its ‘Fine Detail’ pixel-level processing which is one from the ‘TruPic VII’s’ extensive box of tricks. Consequently, according to Olympus, moiré is “now a non-issue”.
The effective pixel count delivers a maximum image size of 4608x3456 pixels, but as has been the case on any Olympus interchangeable lens digital camera, there’s a huge choice of image settings. Four JPEG compression levels, eight sizes and five aspect ratios can all be mixed and matched. Only four image sizes are actually selectable at any one time and three of these are first predetermined in the custom menu from a selection of four under the ‘Medium’ banner and three classified as ‘Small’. Likewise, RAW+JPEG capture can be configured to capture any combination of JPEG compression level and image size.
The E-M1 inherits the same five-axes in-body image stabilisation as is employed in the current Digital Pen flagship so obviously it’s available with any lens, including the FT models. The range of correction for camera shake is up to four stops and there’s no fewer than six modes – four for still photography and two for shooting video. The former includes one which detects the direction of panning and the camera’s orientation to automatically set the required type of correction.
The ‘TruPic VII’ processor works in conjunction with a newly-designed shutter – which has a top speed of 1/8000 second – to deliver a shooting speed of 10 fps, marginally faster than the E-M5’s 9.0 fps. This is with the AF and AE locked to the first frame, but with continuous adjustment, the maximum speed is still a very respectable 6.0 fps.
In The Zone
The E-M1 retains the 324-point ‘Digital ESP’ multi-zone metering used in the E-M5 and which also offers the choice of centre-weighted average or spot measurements, the latter adjustable to give a bias towards either highlights or shadows. The main auto exposure control modes are backed by an AE lock, up to +/-5.0 EV of compensation and auto bracketing which can operate over sequences of two, three, five or seven frames with adjustments of +/-0.3, 0.7 or 1.0 EV. Incidentally, all the exposure adjustments can be preset to be applied in one of these three increments.
An ‘Exposure Shift’ adjustment is provided to fine-tune each of the metering modes over a range of +/-1.0 EV in 1/6-stop increments. No, this isn’t found in the custom submenu for exposure control, but in the ‘Utility’ sub-menu. Go figure.
The standard set of ‘PASM’ exposure control modes is supplemented by a choice of 24 subject/scene modes or an ‘iAUTO’ goof-proof mode. However, as is increasingly common these days, ‘iAUTO’ isn’t content with being entirely automatic so there’s a set of manual adjustments called ‘Live Guides’ which provide some control colour saturation, colour balance, brightness, background blur and blurring/freezing for moving subjects. These are accessed via touch tab and then applied via sliders which are also adjusted by touch.
For the grown ups there’s a selection of six ‘Picture Mode’ presets called i-Enhance, Vivid, Natural, Muted, Portrait and Monotone (a.k.a. B&W). The i-Enhance preset – which is short for ‘Intelligent Enhance’ – is designed to boost the saturation of whatever colour predominates in a scene. It additionally tweaks the dynamic range and operates automatically if the E-M1 is in the ‘iAUTO’ mode. Each ‘Picture Mode’ has adjustable parameters for sharpness, contrast, colour saturation and tonal gradation. The latter has Normal, Auto, High Key and Low Key settings. The automatic adjustments are made using Olympus’s ‘Shadow Adjustment Technology’ (SAT) processing which is designed to balance the amount of detailing reproduced in the highlights and the shadows. The darker areas of the image are selectively brightening by adjusting the tone curve while the highlights are selectively underexposed. The high key and low key settings obviously shift the tonal gradation to suit images that are predominantly brighter or darker respectively. This continues the long Olympus tradition of providing as much control as is possible over exposures which it began by pioneering the idea of multi-zone metering systems. Like the E-M5, the E-M1 has a simplified Curves-style adjustment for individually controlling the brightness of the highlights and/or the shadows. With this ‘Highlight&Shadow Control’ activated, the front dial tweaks the highlights and the rear dial works on the shadows. Similarly, the new ‘Colour Creator’ is also a quasi-Photoshop function – Saturation/Hue adjustments – and it’s controlled via a colour wheel displayed in the main monitor. The front dial adjusts the hue and the rear dial varies the saturation.
The Monotone ‘Picture Mode’s’ adjustments are for contrast, sharpness, gradation, contrast control filters (yellow, orange, red and green) and toning effects (sepia, blue, purple and green). There is also a provision for creating one user-defined colour ‘Picture Mode’.
The ‘Picture Modes’ and the E-M1’s ‘Art Filter’ effects share the same menu so, like the former, the latter can be applied with any exposure control mode. There’s a choice of 12 base effects, most of which are adjustable and can also be combined with a number – depending on the first effect – of extra ‘Art Effects’ from a total collection of seven called Soft Focus, Pinhole Frame Effect, White Edges, Starlight, Top And Bottom Blur, and Left And Right Blur. There is also an ‘Art Filter’ bracketing function which includes all the ‘Picture Modes’ so, if desired, it’s possible to end up with a total of 19 variations of the original image (including the custom ‘Picture Mode’). If you don’t want the lot, then it’s necessary to first uncheck the effects and picture presets that aren’t needed… another funny way of doing things.
Not surprisingly, the E-M1 also offers plenty of choices for dealing with colour balance, but obviously engaging the ‘Colour Creator’ overrides the white balance control. The auto correction has a ‘Keep Warm Colour’ option for use when shooting under tungsten lighting, and then there’s a choice of seven presets and provisions for storing up to four custom WB measurements. All have fine-tuning, set using slider-type controls for the amber-to-blue and green-to-magenta colour ranges. Manual colour temperatures can be selected over a range of 2000 to 14,000 degrees Kelvin, but which confusingly, Olympus persists in calling a “custom white balance”. Auto WB bracketing is over a sequence of three frames, but as on the E-M5, there’s a selection of bracketing functions centralised under the one sub-menu. The other options are for exposure, flash, sensitivity and, as mentioned earlier, the ‘Art Filters’ (which includes the ‘Picture Control’ modes).