Has Olympus killed the DSLR with the launch of the Olympus OM-D E-M1?
By Simon Crisp
September 12, 2013
Olympus has revealed its new flagship camera, the OM-D E-M1. While the mirrorless camera builds on the success of the E-M5, it's actually been designed as the successor to the last DSLR the firm produced, the E-5. As such, the camera boasts a chunky grip and manual controls galore. There's also a 16 megapixel sensor with no optical low-pass filter, a speedy autofocus system and built-in Wi-Fi.
The OM-D E-M5 was a big hit for Olympus, which is presumably why it will remain on sale alongside the new camera. It charmed people with its retro good looks, and introduced many people to the potential of mirrorless cameras. Now, a year later, Olympus thinks it's created a truly DSLR-beating camera in the OM-D E-M1, which combines the portability of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras with the manual controls and image quality normally associated with DSLRs. It's hard to imagine the company releasing another mirrored camera after this.
Everything about the Olympus OM-D E-M1 screams high-end. Its 4/3-inch, 16 megapixel Live MOS sensor is anti-aliasing filter free, meaning it should be capable of shooting more detailed images. This is paired with a new TruePic VII image processor enabling an ISO range of 100 - 25,600. Also present is the impressive 5-axis image stabilization from the PEN E-P5, which helps to bag sharp hand-held shots, even at large zoom ratios.
The new shooter is also capable of continuous shooting at a not-too-shabby 10 fps (though this drops to 6.5 fps with continuous AF), and can record up to 50 RAW files at this pace. A new Dual Fast AF system is also said to be the fastest ever seen on an Olympus camera. However, while it combines both phase detection (as seen on DSLRs) and contrast AF (used in mirrorless and compact cameras) it does so differently to hybrid systems like that on the Sony NEX.
When using Micro Four Thirds lenses to shoot stills, the E-M1 uses 81-point contrast detection in Single AF, and a combination of contrast and phase detection to shoot in Continuous AF. However, when using older Four Thirds lenses – which can be mounted with an adapter – it only makes use of its 37 phase detection points. This is good news for Four Thirds DSLR shooters who should be able to get the same sort of speed performance out of their older lenses on the new mirrorless camera as they do their DSLRs. Only contrast detection is used when shooting video with Micro Four Thirds lens (so no Canon 70D-like magic) and it's manual focus only for Four Thirds lens.
The construction of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 is another area where it can rival all but the toughest of DSLRs. Featuring a rugged magnesium casing and 60 gasket rings, it is dust, splash and freezeproof down to -10 degrees Celsius (14° F). Thanks to use of a 2x2 Dial Control system (as seen in the PEN E-P5) and addition buttons, there's all the access to manual settings that most photographers are going to need or want.
Sitting at the top of the camera is a new electronic viewfinder which covers 100 percent of the frame, has a 2,360K dot resolution and boasts a 1.48x magnification, meaning it's as big as the optical viewfinders on many Full Frame DSLRs. Unlike slow EVFs of old, it has a lag of just 0.029 seconds, which Olympus says is quick enough that you won't even notice it. There's also a 3-inch tiltable LCD touchscreen on the rear with a 1,037K dot resolution which comes into its own for shooting in awkward positions or video. The OM-D E-M1 can shoot Full HD 1080p video at 30 fps and is the first Olympus camera to feature a standard external microphone input.
Other things worth noting about the new flagship camera include that fact that it has a shutter speed that goes to 1/8000 second, this is important if shooting with fast lenses in bright conditions. The TruePic VII image processor can also help to get the best out of older Olympus lenses by automatically recognizing them and adjusting processing to deliver the best quality images.
Wi-Fi capabilities are also built in, allowing not just the wireless sharing of images, but also remote shooting with the ability to mirror the Live View LCD on your phone’s touch screen and switch between shooting modes and make adjustments to things like aperture and shutter speed.
Measuring 130.4 x 93.5 x 63.1 mm (5.1 x 3.7 x 2.5 in), the Olympus OM-D E-M1 is available to pre-order now, ahead of release in October. It will cost US$1,400 body-only.
Because a camera is only as good as the glass in front of it, it's also nice to see that Olympus has announced a pair of quality Micro Four Thirds zooms. First up is the M.ZUIKO Digital ED 12 - 40 mm f2.8 PRO lens (which gives a 35 mm format focal length equivalent of 24 - 80 mm). In addition to the fixed F2.8 maximum aperture, the lens promises dustproof and waterproof performance along with top-notch image quality.
Coming along later next year is the M.ZUIKO Digital ED 40-150 mm F2.8 PRO which would pair nicely with the previous lens as it carries on at the telephoto end to 80 - 300 mm (in 35 mm format equivalent). It will also feature a dustproof and splashproof construction rugged enough for professional use.
The M.ZUIKO Digital ED 12 - 40 mm f2.8 PRO is scheduled for release alongside the OM-D E-M1 in October prices at $1,000, while the M.ZUIKO Digital ED 40 - 150 mm F2.8 PRO will be available in the latter half of 2014, but there's no price on that one yet.