Initial Thoughts About the Olympus OM-D EM-1

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
  • ISO 100-25,600
  • 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
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • Locking “mode” dial

Lens Announcements


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).

My Take?

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_em1. 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 DUAL FAST 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…

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    • Josh

      You make is sound like the E-M1 is a replacement for the E-M5. Do you have any evidence of this? It strikes me that the E-M1 is meant as an additional camera aimed at a higher tier to the E-M5 and thus the two lines might happily coexist.



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    • The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is scheduled to release in October 2014.

      That's probably a typo.

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    • Yes, Olympus has made it clear that the E-M1 is meant to be a 'Professional' tier in the OMD line. They have stated that a successor to the E-M5 will be released down the road, but the E-M1 is definitely not a replacement.

      I'm already on the waiting list for the E-M1 :-)

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    • Many thx Josh; I've been treading in your footsteps since your review of the Roleiflex 6000 series (and now, I really should sell it).  Now, this seems improved over our E-M5s, but clearly the BIG news is the E-lens compatibility and the 2.8 zooms.  I've been buying their primes, but have really missed being able to use my Zuiko 7-14 (the adapter may match it physically, but mentally, on the M series, it's not worth lugging around owing to horrible focus response)…and they knew it.  Me thinks they have found a way to let their legacy E-series shooters down without a bang, while at the same time attracting other-branded shooters to 4:3.  Do we have a lens release date?

      Finally, considering the absolute torture I went through with E-M5 (unlocked battery grip) random exposures (never knew what that lock button did), I also welcome the added body grip.  My E-M5 is just too small without it.

      Sounds like a winner, thx for your efforts.

      Ray Hull

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    • The OMD-EM1 is actually already shipping to those in the U.S. who ordered from Olympus's web site. They should have them in their hands by the 1st of October. The official release for primary dealers to ship in the U.S. is October 4th. This is for "body only". The lens, the 12-40 f2.8 sadly is actually NOT officially scheduled to be deliverable till late November-Early December. There is currently NO "kit" available PERIOD. The body and lens are to be ordered as separate items. There is supposed to be a $200 rebate available for those early pre order folks who order both the lens AND body at the same time to ease the sting of not having a kit officially available. The HLD-7 grips are supposed to be available approximately the same time as the bodies. The 4/3rd adapter ring is also available immediately. This information was directly from a well known Olympus dealer that I got my OMD-EM5 from last year ahead of most of the other dealers with a close working relationship with them. So take it for what it's worth. I'm confident this information is accurate.

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    • Although the E-M1 is a really nice camera and clearly an evolution of the E-M5, I doubt it's an interesting upgrade for current E-M5 owners. Looking closely at all the available information online at this moment, the image quality of the E-M1 is practically the same as the E-M5. The differences are minor. When a grip (not the extra battery part) is used on the E-M5 both camera's are almost the same size and weight. The only thing that fascinates me is the new viewfinder, but I'm not willing to pay that much more just for a bigger viewfinder. Great a camera as the E-M1 is, if you already own a E-M5 with grip, personally I don't see enough changes to switch. If you don't own an E-M5, things are probably very different. Then I think I would definitively go for the E-M1.

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    • I was able to get my hands on the EM1 before other most photographers here in the UK and I'm certainly enjoying it. Handling and overall performance has been improved in a genuinely useful way and I would agree that it is certainly worthy of the professional designation. IQ is not notably different to the EM5, but there are subtle improvements to the JPEG engine such as even better white balance and the ability to retain very accurate colour at high ISO sensitivities. In terms of "ISO improvements" I am not seeing less overall noise in quantity terms,  but instead the noise improvements are down to less chroma noise, reduced colour shifts, and a little more detail retention. I would say that these improvements are confined to the highest sensitivities rather than lower down the scale. Overall speed of operation is even faster than they EM5.

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