Compared to the E-M5, the E-M1 steps up to some higher-end features including an intervalometer for creating time lapse sequences and a proper multi-shot HDR function. The latter has two auto modes which capture four frames and two different amounts of exposure variation and then combine them into the one image with either “high contrast” or “super-high” contrast. Alternatively, there’s a choice of ‘manual’ settings – three, five or seven frames at +/-2.0 EV; and three or five frames at +/-3.0 EV. Multiple exposures – well, more precisely, double exposures – can be made with the option of an ‘Auto Gain’ exposure adjustment.
Additional images can be combined, but it’s necessary to use RAW capture and the ‘Overlay’ function (this combined RAW image can subsequently be converted to a JPEG in-camera). This is one of a number of editing functions which, for JPEGs, comprise Shadow Adjust, Red-Eye Fix, Aspect, B&W, Sepia, Saturation, Resize and e-Portrait. The special effects aren’t available post-capture.
The review/replay screens can be configured to include a thumbnail image with a full set of histograms (i.e. brightness and RGB channels), a larger brightness histogram superimposed over the image, highlight and shadow warnings and a ‘Light Box’ display for the side-by-side comparison of two images (complete with zooming which is very handy). The thumbnail pages comprise four, nine, 25 or 100 images plus a calendar display, but just about all of this has to be switched on (or off) in the Custom Menu. Touch controls are available for browsing, zooming and scrolling through
Setting up the monitor and EVF displays also requires a trip to the Custom Menu with the options being a real-time histogram, dual-axis level displays, highlight and shadow warnings and a superimposed grid (from a choice of five). The highlight and shadow warnings have adjustable thresholds and the real-time histogram includes an internal section – displayed in green – which shows the brightness values within the selected focusing point or cluster of points. Usefully, the ‘Super Control Panel’ is shown in the viewfinder as can the alternative ‘Live Control’ screen which leaves the image area largely clear and arranges the function tiles along the left-hand edge of frame and the actual settings along the bottom edge.
Speed And Performance
Our new reference memory card for conducting speed trials is Lexar’s Professional 600x 64 GB SDXC device. It’s UHS-I compliant and has a 45 MB/second write speed. We’ve had to adopt a faster card as the data handling capabilities of digital cameras have been steadily increasing and burst lengths, in particular, are now often dependent on how quickly the buffer can be emptied.
The E-M1 fired off a sequence of 49 super-fine quality in 4.762 second which represents a shooting speed of 10.29 fps. Impressive… as is the fact that these are processed extremely quickly indeed. With RAW capture the burst length was still 41 frames captured in 4.013 seconds to give a shooting speed of 10.21 fps. The key difference here was that the buffer took a lot longer to empty although, in reality, it’s only a delay of a few seconds. The maximum quality JPEG test files were typically 10.5 MB in size while the RAW (ORF) files were around 15.8 MB.
The autofocusing is impressively fast whether in single-shot or continuous mode, but as we didn’t have an adapter on hand we couldn’t evaluate the performance with a Four Thirds lens. The 324-zone ‘Digital ESP’ metering – already proven on the E-M5 and others – continues to deliver reliable exposure control in any situation, including with quite challenging lighting situations.
All the test images were taken with the new 12-40mm f2.8 PRO lens which is a lovely piece of work and easily rivals Panasonic’s equally mouth-watering 12-35mm f2.8 zoom. Firstly, the clarity and crispness of the super-fine JPEGs is simply stunning and they just ooze beautifully defined detailing. The colour reproduction is simply beautiful from the subtlest of shades through to full-on saturated tones and the camera handles all parts of the spectrum equally competently.
Noise isn’t much of an issue until ISO 3200 and then it’s only because that razor-sharp crispness starts to diminish and it’s a bit obvious. The ISO 6400 and 12,800 are still quite usable but with some graininess, while at ISO 25,600 there’s obvious blotchiness in areas of continuous tone and the colour saturation is also reduced. Probably the most important point to make about that E-M1’s imaging performance is that it doesn’t give anything away to any rival with a larger ‘APS-C’ sensor and that includes both D-SLRs and CSCs.
In fact, to a large extent, it makes the issue of sensor size seem largely irrelevant (although Sony’s as-yet-untested Alpha 7/7R models with their full-35mm sensors may change all this).
Can we forgive the E-M1 for its flaws? You betcha! Just as with the E-M5, the interface curiosities simply aren’t sufficiently annoying to detract from the overall experience of the E-M1 which is, quite simply, a hugely enjoyable and rewarding one.
It’s a camera that you constantly want to pick up and never put down. It looks fabulous, feels fantastic and, once you’ve weaved your way through the set-up, works beautifully. It’s a real Olympus. It’s more than capable of replacing the E-5 and it truly embodies the spirit of its namesake.
Better still, no matter how dedicated you actually might be to the idea of a D-SLR camera, the E-M1 will convert you to the mirrorless way. That, dear readers, is no mean feat.