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Olympus knocked one out of the park in 2012 with its OM-D E-M5. While mirrorless systems have been gaining steam for a while, this was the first body where I noticed a lot of “serious” photographers getting interested (myself included). Unlike so many mirrorless bodies before it, the E-M5 was designed to appeal to advanced shooters with a dedicated control and function buttons/dials, weatherproofing, a built in EVF, an optional vertical grip, and so on. This was a camera obviously NOT designed for the happy-snappy crowd. Combine it with a well-timed emergence of some very nice fast prime lenses from Olympus and others, and you had an explosion of interest in micro four-thirds from photographers who might not have otherwise cared.
Over the past 12 months we have seen Olympus update the other cameras in their micro four-thirds line. Most recently, Olympus gave the PEN E-P5 a makeover that significantly increased its allure to serious photographers, leaving us all to wonder, “What would the next generation of the OM-D bring us?” Would it merely be an E-P5 with a viewfinder and weatherproofing? Or would Olympus attempt to significantly evolve their lineup as they did when the E-M5 was released?
Today, we got our answer with the announcement of the OM-D E-M1.
Olympus E-M1 Specs
16MP MOS Four Thirds format sensor without a low-pass filter
True Pic VII processor
On-sensor phase detection AF
Twin control dials with the PEN E-P5’s ‘2×2’ option
1/8000 sec top shutter speed, 1/320 sec flash sync (and a x-sync PC socket!)
‘5-axis’ image stabilization with automatic panning detection
Focus ‘peaking’ mode
10fps continuous (6.5 fps shooting with continuous AF)
1.04M-dot 3" LCD touchscreen display – up and down tilt
EVF2.36M-dot LCD, 0.74x magnification
Locking “mode” dial
Not only do we get news of this new body, but Olympus announced a new lens line featuring constant f/2.8 zoom lenses. Available with the E-M1 is the M.ZUIKO Digital ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lens (24-80mm equiv). 2014 will see the release of the M.ZUIKO Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO lens (80-300mm equivalent).
Here are my initial thoughts after a few hours of playing with a pre-production E-M1. Overall, I’m pretty stoked. While it may have been unfounded, I was more than a little worried that Olympus was just going to give the E-M5 a facelift and add a few features. Happily, they absolutely did not. The E-M1 is a definite evolution.
First off, not only is this Olympus’s next generation E-M5, it is also meant to be the next generation of the Olympus E-5 DSLR (and an answer to the prayers of users of the long dormant four-thirds system). Olympus has made a pretty big deal about how the E-M1 is a melding of the two camera lines (E series and OM-D). The E-M1’s 16.3-megapixel Live MOS sensor uses what Olympus is calling “on-chip phase detection.” They claim that this will allow legacy Four Thirds lenses (using an MMF-3 adapter) to focus significantly faster than previous micro four-thirds bodies. This isn’t surprising as the original four-thirds system was designed with phase detection, so attempting to use contrast detection (as micro four-thirds bodies do) was never going to allow the lenses to focus optimally. The “this is a four-thirds AND micro four-thirds camera” thing is very nice, to be sure. But, part of me wonders just how many four-thirds users there are out there. On the other hand, why not? There may very well be a lot of four-thirds glass out there sitting unused. And even if there isn’t, I bet the used market for some of the nicer four-thirds lenses will heat up considerably after the release of the E-M1.
The larger grip is VERY easy to hold in your hand. Some Olympus micro four-thirds bodies have a bit of a tendency to give you a “less than secure” feeling, even the E-M5 wasn’t super solid without one of its accessory grips. With the E-M1, you’ve got no such issue. However, you do trade the addition of some bulk for that security. The E-M5 without its accessory grips was actually a pretty small body. The E-M1 is going to be a bit larger in the bag or purse. Is it enough to put people off? I highly doubt it, but it bears mentioning. The E-M1’s viewfinder is quite, okay VERY, nice. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that it is the nicest that I’ve looked through thus far. One of the big selling points of the E-M5 for many photographers was the inclusion of an EVF. For some photographers an LCD simply won’t cut is and there is no comparison to lifting the camera up to their eye for an image. These photographers are going to love the E-M1’s EVF.
The E-M1’s controls and dedicated buttons are outstanding. I love being able to have my most used camera settings right at my fingertips. As far as I am concerned, an “advanced” camera should not require us to scroll through a menu for anything. However, just like when you got your first pro SLR, do expect a bit of a learning curve. You’ve got to remember where everything is and you’ve got to remember what function you assigned the assignable buttons and then you’ve got to remember if those settings were for 1 or 2 of the 2×2 switch. But once you’ve got it all sorted out to your liking, it is a really impressive setup. The depth of field and one-touch white balance buttons are particularly nice options.
Some small things I love are:
The ever-falling-off rubber eyepiece design from the E-M5 has been improved with a little lip that prevents the previously mentioned falling off.
The lock button on the mode dial is outstanding. I frequently found myself inadvertently rolling the E-M5’s mode dial when pulling the camera out of packs and bags.
1/320 flash sync? Sign me up! I can’t remember when I had a flash sync this high on a digital camera.
The PC flash-sync socket is another feature that is pretty neat for serious photographers.
Finally, the on/off switch and left shoulder buttons are styled to remind one of the film rewind knob on an older SLR, which I find clever.
It may be silly to say, and perhaps surprising given how much love I’ve showered the Oympus primes with, but I am absolutely elated at the announcement of a line of f/2.8 zoom lenses. While it was not a production model, just playing with the pre-production version on the E-M1 was really very cool. Perhaps these lenses will be what it takes to see mirrorless cameras make inroads into the “working professional” market that has, for the most part, remained firmly in the DSLR world. Even if not, there are many photographers like myself who will be very happy to round out our micro four-thirds kits with a couple f/2.8 zoom lenses.
I think most people are going to like the E-M1 a lot. This is a great direction for Olympus to go. Yes, an argument can be made that the E-M1 abandons some of what people liked about the E-M5. However, I would respond that the feature set of the E-M1 more than makes up for it. Particularly when you consider that the PEN E-P5 has made serious inroads on the most important aspects of what people loved about the E-M5. Bottom line, while the proof won’t really be shown until I can really put one through its paces, I have a hard time believing that the E-M1 won’t be another success for Olympus and be a strong competitor for the hard earned dollars of the advanced photographer.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is scheduled to release in October 2013.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 - Release Date 10/14/13, (compare prices) (review). From the Olympus website: The new OLYMPUS OM-D E-M1 is the flagship OM-D model, with even greater image quality and support for both Contrast AF and On-chip Phase Detection AF. These features draw out both the Four Thirds System standard and Micro Four Thirds System standard conformity of the lens to its maximum level.
The newly-developed Live MOS sensor supports Phase Detection AF on the imaging surface. In combination with the newly developed TruePic VII image processor, the camera reduces noise even further at high-sensitivities, and provides excellent image quality with improved reproducibility. Additionally, the newly-developed DUALFAST AF is also included with optimal selection of Contrast AF and On-chip Phase Detection AF. These enable not only to use the expanded lineup of Micro Four Thirds high-performance fixed-focal length lenses, but also to support comfortable use of Four Thirds lenses with excellent depictive power. By polishing the three elements of image quality (lens, imaging sensor, and image processor), the absolute best image quality in Olympus’s top class DSLR series is achieved…