Olympus EM1 - First Impressions Review

Discussion in 'Olympus Cameras' started by Ray Sachs, Oct 31, 2013.

  1. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    I got a loaner copy of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 a few days ago. I have yet to take it out for an extended shooting session, but I've played around with all of the settings and checked out its performance.

    I'm frankly getting whiplash by the fine m43 models available today. I bought an E-M5 in April of last year, pretty much as soon as one became available. I love that camera and saw it as the realization of everything I'd hoped for from an m43 body. I've used it happily since, heavily at first, more lightly since I've sort of moved away from "system" cameras for the bulk of my shooting, but it's continued to be my go-to camera for portrait length and longer lens shooting. As good as the EM5 is, I recently had a chance to shoot with the EP5 and GX7, liked the EP5 a lot (particularly the VF4 EVF), and LOVED the GX7. Which was a bit of a surprise because I hadn't really been able to bond with a Panasonic body since the GF1, despite owning a GH2 for quite a while and giving a G3 a good solid try (haven't tried a GH3, so I can't comment on the current flagship). I'd sort of settled on m43 as my long lens system and Fuji as my wide lens system, but I liked the GX7 so much I briefly flirted with the idea of selling my Fuji gear, buying a GX7 and a 7-14, and just having a small m43 "system" to support my primary fixed lens shooters - the RX1 and Nikon "A". I got over it (tried out the Zeiss Touit 12mm for the Fuji and it was all over), but that's how much I liked the GX7. Now the EM1 shows up and I'm floored again. It's objectively not a lot better than either the EM5 or the GX7, but its just such a refined and fully realized camera body that I'm sorely tempted to buy one even though I have absolutely no need to upgrade from the EM5, given the way I use m43 these days...

    In many ways the EM1 is very similar to the EM5. But in subtle ways, it just feels and acts like a lot more camera.

    What I really like about the EM1:

    * The Grip - I've never minded the lack of grip on the EM5 and didn't particularly like the add-on grips available for it, even Oly's own grip. I've owned and used various cameras with and without grips and have remained mostly agnostic on grips - I tend to sort of like 'em when they're there but never miss them when they're not - it has never figured into a buying decision before. So I never thought of that as a negative for the EM5. BUT, the grip on the EM1 fits my hand like like a glove, or a perfect guitar neck, or just the right handlebar shape on a bike, or a perfect shift knob on a manual tranny. There's something about the little "ceiling" on the underside of the top of the grip that braces your middle finger in a way that you don't feel like you have to grab the camera, you just put your hand there and it grabs your hand. Its the jumping cholla cactus of camera grips but in a GOOD way (for those of you not from the desert, you might have to look that one up). And the button placement on the top is perfect and shutter finger falls naturally on the shutter/front dial with very easy access to the two fn buttons behind it. In short, this is the first time I've ever reacted to a grip as a major positive on a camera, but this one is that good. Or maybe it's just that good for MY hand - YMMV of course.

    * The Buttons - very nice feel, location, and size. The buttons on the EM5 were often criticized for their mushiness and being too small. And the playback and fn1 buttons are located in a tough location to even reach. But I never minded any of that - I could get to what I needed easily enough. But any of those potential downsides are gone with the EM1. The buttons are large enough, plentiful enough (the two on the front near the lens are another nice touch), firm enough, and generally well located. The only exception is the AEL button which is located a little farther to the left than I’d find ideal – on the GX7 my thumb just naturally went to the AEL button when I wanted it, but it’s a bit of a hunt and a reach on the EM1. Far from a fatal flaw, but I’m glad I could find SOME flaw. OTOH, the fact that this camera HAS a dedicated AEL button is a distinct advantage over the EM5…

    * Focus peaking – a real advantage for manual focus since Sony invented it a few years ago. This isn’t the best implementation I’ve seen but it works and I'd definitely rather have it than not…

    * Small AF Points – getting a smaller, tighter auto-focus box has always been a bit of a hassle on Olympus cameras. You can get reasonably small on the EM5, but it’s not sticky – you have to hit the magnification button each time you turn the camera on to get it back. With the EM1 you can set a very small AF target and it’ll be there until you change it to something else. And its even smaller - this implementation is as good as that on the GX7 and Panasonic has generally done this very well...

    * EVF – I’m not quite as thrilled with the OVF as I expected to be after using the VF4 on the EP5 – the VF4 is SOOOOO big and bright and clear it’s kind of a revelation. This is the same viewfinder, but maybe having to stuff it into a smaller enclosure makes it feel more claustrophobic. The viewing window is a bit smaller and that makes the whole EVF experience seem more like a great EVF, where the VF4 on the EP5 actually could fool you into thinking it was an OVF. Still, this is as good as EVFs get and it’s very very good. A distinct step up over the EM5 or the EVF in the GX7 or RX1 (and those are already really good). If it was as good as the VF4, I’d almost consider it a reason to buy the camera on it’s own. The implementation in the EM1 isn’t quite as amazing, but its still really a fine EVF.

    So far, only two minor complaints:

    * The AEL button has a fine little switch next to it with two settings. There are a host of possible ways to program this switch, but it’s missing what I’d consider an obvious use for it – let it toggle whether the AEL button is set for auto EXPOSURE lock or auto FOCUS lock. You can set this preference in the menus, but you can’t use this to toggle between them. I have it set to switch from auto to manual focus mode, which is nice on lenses that don’t have a clutch focus ring (like the 12 and 17 from Olympus). Speaking of which…

    * When you have the magnification and/or focus peaking set as your manual focus assist aids, any time you switch the camera to manual focus, they automatically come up when you turn the focus ring. But with the lenses with clutch focus rings, switching them to manual focus with the clutch ring puts them in manual focus mode, but then turning the focus ring does NOT trigger the magnified view or peaking. You literally have to also switch the camera BODY into manual focus mode. This seems like an oversight that should be quickly and easily fixed in firmware.

    I haven’t had a chance to try out the new AF tracking capability in burst mode, so I can’t comment on how effective it is. I rarely have any need for this capability, so I’m probably not the best one to pass judgment on this, but I plan to give it a try anyway, maybe at the local dog park. I tend to trust the reviews that put is as a big improvement for m43 but still below the standards of a good PDAF DSLR more than I’d trust anything I’m likely to come up with…

    There are a lot of other features that the EM5 had and this camera has and it might make minor improvements, but I don't feel a need to really comment on them. The IBIS. for example is amazing in both cameras - I've read its slightly better in the EM1, but I don't know how I'd ever be able to tell. I've gotten good 8/10 of a second handheld exposures out of the EM5, beyond that it just doesn't matter to me... Same with face detection - the EM1 seems very very good, but so is the EM5, so if it's better, it's not by enough to matter to me. AF speed too - really really REALLY fast, but faster? Don't know, don't care...

    I don’t know anything about the image quality out of this camera yet. The little I’ve actually shot and processed with it seems very much in line with the EM5 and GX7 and all of the other top-line m43 sensors out there today. There may be subtle differences but I’m not a good enough pixel peeper to be able to comment intelligently on them. Within a couple of hairs of good APS, not terribly close to full frame – you’ve heard it all before. It’s state of the art m43 and that’s not a bad place to hang out…

    If I had ANY reason or justification to buy this camera, I probably would find a way to do it. As is, I use m43 for longer lenses which I do less of than anything else. With the holidays coming up, I’ll get a lot of use out of the 75mm lens for a bunch of family shots. I may still have the EM1 for Thanksgiving and I’ll give it a good workout, but I don’t expect it to practically do any better than the EM5, but it should be fun to shoot with. I don’t see myself buying this camera, as good as it is. But the fact that I WANT TO with all of the stuff I own and get to shoot with its testament to it’s overall goodness. When I have some images worth posting, I'll put 'em up in the appropriate threads...

    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 21, 2016
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  2. caimi

    caimi Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 13, 2012
    middle US
    Caimi caimiphotography.com
    Thanks for your thoughts. I reached the same conclusion after trying out an EM1 recently: any reason or justification to buy the camera and I would find a way to buy it. The problem is I haven't found the justification yet. It's not enough better than either the EM5, the EP5 or the GH3 to justify the expense. It felt like a nice, well-built camera but it didn't seem to do anything better or even all that different. If I was steppinng up from, say, an EP3 and was choosing between the EP5, EM5 or GH3, I might very well go with an EM1.
  3. Armanius

    Armanius Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 23, 2010
    Thanks for your first impressions Ray. I played with an EM1 at the local shop. The shop had two for about one week. When I went there a week later thinking about buying it, they were both gone. Bummer.

    The EVF is indeed really nice. And all the controls are great like you wrote. I don't care for the shape of the grip though. I find it too narrow. I like slightly fatter grips and find the one from the GX7 more comfortable to hold, event though it makes the GX7 butt-ugly.

    I also couldn't tell if the AF on the EM1 was faster than the EM5. Felt the same to me. Similarly, the GX7 was about the same too. IMO, S-AF speed on m4/3 cameras has gotten to the point that they are all very fast. It should be all about C-AF improvements from now on.

    At some point, I see myself owning an EM1 (after the A7r novelty dies off). My "justification" is so that I can use my "legacy" 4/3 lenses on it. I think it's a good justification!
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  4. hkpzee

    hkpzee Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 5, 2011
    Hong Kong
    Thanks for your first impression, Ray. I always appreciate how well you articulate your thoughts into your commentaries, and have the patience to write it all down. I have owned an E-M1 for almost two weeks now, and I think your first impression is very much in line with how I felt about the camera. Although each of the improvements of the E-M1 over the E-M5 seems to be minor, they all add up to a very complete package, which makes the camera an absolute joy to use!

    As far as the GX7 is concerned, I have never tried one, but it is a camera that I also lust after, if for nothing else but the 7-14. The tilt EVF and LCD screen makes it the perfect match for that lens. Knowing the pricing strategy of Panasonic, I am hopeful that I can pick one up at a steep discount 6 months down the road. In the meantime, I will be enjoying using the E-M1.

    It is such a wonderful time for M4/3 owners! :biggrin:
  5. jnewell

    jnewell Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 23, 2011
    Boston, MA
    I'm sort of getting the impression that the EM1 may (or may not be, depending on personal preference) a significant handling/ergonomic step up from the EM5 and/or the GH3, but probably isn't in terms of image quality. I'll be interested to see how your thoughts progress. Thanks for the write-up!
  6. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    It shouldn't be much different in terms of IQ except for the lack of AA filter. Which, according to more technical reviews I've read, seems to expose how good a lens is or isn't rather than really upgrades the final IQ (except with the very sharpest lenses, like the Oly 75). So, yeah, it's more of a features / handling / performance upgrade rather than an IQ upgrade. All of the latest m43 models, including everything from Oly since the EM5 and at least the Pany GH3 and GX7 (maybe the G6 too?) seem to have the same basic sensor performance, whether they're the same Sony sensors or not. I've shot a lot with the EM5, EPL5, EP5, and GX7, and now a little bit with the EM1, and I haven't seen differences in the raw files worth obsessing over.

  7. robbie36

    robbie36 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 25, 2010
    rob collins
    What have you set up your FN1 (the one next to the thumb rest' to do?
  8. M4/3

    M4/3 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 24, 2011
    On mu-43.com I can find Pages and Pages of info. on ergonomics, size of viewfinder, focusing with 4/3 lenses, etc. between the E-M1 and E-M5, but no side by side image sample comparisons between the E-M5 and the E-M1. This is quite fustrating for some prospective E-M1 buyers like me who would eagerly upgrade to the E-M1 if there truly was a difference in IQ (e.g. an improvement in the overall brightness of the images (that matches the bright E-PL1) as well as more appealing colors (again like the E-PL1 had) and more detail resolution when shooting outdoors).
  9. HappyFish

    HappyFish Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 8, 2012
    It's like a BMW 3 series durring a major body change some don't like it some do
    but still a fun 3 series either way :)
  10. Serhan

    Serhan Mu-43 Top Veteran

    May 7, 2011
  11. bcaslis

    bcaslis Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 3, 2011
    Wilsonville, OR, USA
    Brian Caslis
    I don't have any side by side but there is not much IQ difference. I do see much better color in the JPEGs and the low ISO setting sure makes a difference in the JPEG quality but until Lightroom gets updated it's hard to judge RAW. If the ergonomics, better build, better controls, and great EVF are not of interest you won't be interested in the E-M1. I bought the E-M1 because those were my main areas of complaint with the E-M5. I love how this camera feels. But it those things or the continuous focus or 4/3 lens support are not of interest, I would not upgrade from the E-M5.
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  12. b_rubenstein

    b_rubenstein Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 20, 2012
    Melbourne, FL
    Imaging Resource and DP Review can be used to view well controlled, side by side images shot with both cameras over a their ISO ranges. Photo Review has an analysis of the JPG saturation and accuracy of both cameras. (The E-M1 is more neutral.) The E-M1 has a new imaging processing chip that corrects many lens defects when shooting JPGs. The chromatic aberration correction is most obvious, particularly with WA lenses. Bottom line is that there isn't much difference between the cameras when shot using default, natural JPG settings. One would have to experiment with the JPG settings to make either the E-M1/5 JPG images look like an E-PL1.
  13. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    At the moment I have it set for AF area, but I don't think I'd end up leaving it there. If I was to keep the camera long term I'm quite sure most of my custom settings would evolve over time to the most useful set for me. As is I have the two buttons right behind the shutter button set for ISO and Peaking, one of the front buttons set for AF-home (returns the AF box to it's home position), the AEL button for AEL, and the switch next to the AEL to toggle AF/MF. But it would change over time if I bought the camera...

  14. RakSiam

    RakSiam Mu-43 Regular

    Oct 11, 2013
  15. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    One more REALLY nice thing I've recently noticed is that the eye sensor in the EVF/LCD switch really does seem to be an EYE sensor now, not just a "presence" sensor. I do a lot of street shooting using the LCD in flipped up position. I like letting the display switch between the OVF and LCD based on whether I'm holding the camera down near my belly or whether it's at my eye. But the EM5 would almost always switch to the EVF if I held the camera even remotely close to my body, so I had to change it to switch the display between EVF and LCD manually. The EM1 won't switch to the EVF even if I hold the camera right against my belly or otherwise block it - it will ONLY switch to the EVF if my actual EYE is at the EVF. If this was my primary camera, this would be HUGE for me. The ability to let the camera switch between the EVF and LCD automatically is really nice when it gets it right. The EM5 got it wrong at all of the wrong times. The EM1 NEVER gets it wrong! Not only that, but it gets it right FAST - the sensor seems to find my eye when it's still a few inches from the EVF so the EVF is on and ready to use by the time I get my eye up to it. And I can't fool it into switching to the EVF if it's near anything BUT an eye. Not sure if it has an iris detector or what, but it just works and works perfectly. I don't use a flip up LCD for street work anymore, but if I did I might buy this camera for this improvement alone...

  16. robbie36

    robbie36 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 25, 2010
    rob collins
    Actually Ray there is a reason for that....

    The 'auto-EVF' is switched 'off' if the LCD is tilted.You can put it to your eye with the LCD tilted and it wont 'switch'. As you say this is a great improvement even if it a simple one. I find it amusing that in all those 'what would we like to see improved from the EM5' nobody thought of suggesting that.
  17. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    I'll be damned - you're right. I sort of liked the idea of some ultra hi-tech iris detector or something, but just having the tilting LCD turn off the EVF and/or the auto-sensor is a simpler solution that works brilliantly. Thanks for letting me know...

    BTW, I did see other folks complain about this with the EM5 - I'm not sure if a specific solution was proposed, but it was ID'd as a problem. Nice simple solution in this model too...

  18. This change was adopted from the E-P5/VF-4 combination, where pulling the screen out automatically disables the eye-sensor. Great idea! I always turned the eye-sensor off on my E-M5.
  19. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2010
    Near Philadephila
    Interesting - I never noticed with the EP5 / VF4, probably because I took the EVF off when I was using the screen flipped up... I leave the sensor turned off on the EM5 also...

  20. ean10775

    ean10775 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 31, 2011
    Cleveland, Ohio
    Thanks for the overview Ray! I have to say that the EM-1 is the first m43 camera in a while that has piqued my interest with its built in EVF, 1/8000s shutter speed and 1/320s flash sync. I don't know that I'll ever get rid of my FF Canon gear seeing as I do like to shoot cycling and even despite the 5DII's annoying AF performance its still better than any non-DSLR camera I've tried (and the other thread on the EM-1's C-AF doesn't seem terribly encouraging to me). However, for my portrait work I've always been intrigued with the face detect/eye detect features on the newer m43 cameras as well as the many focus point options that live view cameras offer, but was put off by the slow flash sync and top shutter speeds. The EM-1 is expensive for me, knowing that it won't replace my DSLR gear, but still tempting due to the size advantages it offers for when that is important.
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