Olympus E-M1 – Introduction

E-M1 Galleries

I have been in the Nikon camp for 40 years and fully intended to continue with Nikon for the remainder of my photographic experience.  However, in anticipation of a trip to the Holy Land, I decided to look for a second body to serve as a backup to the D800.  Unfortunately, all of the alternatives have some downsides.  The D610 is a great camera, but pretty large and heavy.  My current backup, a D3200 just does not have the features I would prefer to use on a regular basis.  So my search widened a bit.  A couple of friends have had good success with some of the newer mirrorless systems such as the Olympus Micro 4/3 line.

Then Olympus announced the OMD E-M1, which looked to be a game-changer.  Coupled with the Pro-line 12-40 f/2.8, the E-M1 seemed an excellent combination, so I investigated further.  What a nice package!  Small, lightweight and quite capable, in spite of the smaller M4/3 sensor size.  The reviews were excellent, so I had to have a look – well it turned out to be more than a look – I bought into the OMD system.  The rest of this personal review is my take on the E-M1, compared to two of Nikon’s best – the D7100 and the D800.  While in some ways this might not be a fair comparison, I use the D800 as my main system camera and was considering the D7100 as a backup, I wanted to see how the E-M1 measured up.

E-M1 Overview

E-M1 highlights – Micro 4/3 interchangeable lens (ILC) Mirrorless Pro-level system camera :

  • Micro 4/3 system developed by Olympus and Panasonic
    • 4/3 aspect ratio
    • Sensor size 18x13mm – slightly less than APSc
  • Mirror-less – no mirror mechanism to vibrate and make noise and the sensor set-back is very short
    • The small flange distance means lenses from almost any legacy system can be used in manual mode with an adapter
  • Small and light-weight
  • On-sensor AF and exposure control – both contrast and phase detect AF
  • Excellent Electronic Viewfinder
    • 2.3M dots
    • Effective magnification factor of 0.7 (same as D800)
    • Full-time live view with image preview
    • Exposure compensation preview
    • DOF preview
  • Live view histogram and highlight /shadow clipping preview with both EVF and LCD
  • More than 40 M43 lenses ranging from 14mm to 600mm (35mm equivalent)
  • 5-axis in-body image stabilization (IS)
  • Raw & various JPEG sizes
  • Weatherized, sealed body (some lenses also sealed)
  • Twin dial control with numerous programmable buttons and levers
  • Wi-Fi with smart phone apps for remote control and downloading
  • HD movie 1080p 30fps
  • Wireless flash (with external flash units)
  • Size – 5.13″x3.68″x2.48″, body @ 1.10 lbs.

Quite impressive specs, but how does it stack up versus the best in the Nikon pro-sumer lineup? (Click on images to enlarge).

Versus 1
Versus 2

Size and Weight

From Camerasize.com the three cameras are compared for size.

Size and weight

The stats are as follows:

  • E-M1 is 11% (15.6 mm) narrower and 24% (29.5 mm) shorter than D800 and 4% (5.1 mm) narrower and 12% (13 mm) shorter than Nikon D7100.
  • E-M1 is 23% (18.4 mm) thinner than D800 and 17% (12.9 mm) thinner than Nikon D7100.
  • E-M1 [497 g] weights 50% (503 grams) less than D800 [1000 g] and weights 35% (268 grams) less than Nikon D7100 [765 g]

Obviously the E-M1 is MUCH smaller and lighter than the D800, even more so when lenses of comparable focal length and aperture are used.  Since the objective is to have a travel system camera, all else being equal, the E-M1 wins this round.


For me an essential part of the photographic experience is viewing the image to be captured through a large, bright viewfinder.  In past generations of Electronic Viewfinder cameras, the EVF was not adequate for me.  The E-M1 now has a very bright detailed (2.3M dots) EVF, which is color accurate and gives a good preview of scene brightness.  The E-M1 size apparent magnification of 0.7x is equal to that of the D800 (0.7x) and the image is actually perhaps 5% bigger to my eye.  The D7100 magnification at 0.63x is smaller.  Micro 4/3 image area (4:3) is taller than the standard DSLR 3:2 ratio, so the apparent E-M1 image looks even larger through the EVF.


The only EVF complaint is about the slight jitter or image jumps when following action.  Most of my shooting is static, so that is not an issue for me.

The view through the EVF can be selected from 3 different options, each with several sets of displayed information.  One of the nicest combinations shows the full image with no superimposed data until the shutter button is pressed, which then adds the immediate shooting data.  This is great to compose the shot and then verify the exposure, etc. before capture.

A some of the EVF options include live view histogram, shadow and highlight clipping, level and detailed EXIF data:

EVF screens

Super Control PanelSuper Control PanelThe LCD panel can be set to show the live view, or more interestingly, the Super Control Panel that has almost all of the settings one would normally use, easily accessible without going to the menus. To change a setting press OK on the control dial and either use the directional buttons to move the selection or touch the screen to select. The use the rotary dials to change the parameter. It takes longer to describe than to make the selection. Since this screen is always available, diving into the menus is no longer necessary for most functions.

 LCD and EVF Playback Screens

Again, several options for playback and image review are available by pressing the “info” button while viewing an image.  Some of those screens show just the image, image with histogram, or image with lots of shooting data.  Image review can be set to automatic after capture, but I find it mostly unnecessary, since the live view through the EVF is quite color accurate and shows the scene brightness accurately.  The added bonus of the accurate EVF view comes from setting the exposure compensation for proper exposure the first time prior to capture, since the preview is so good.