Olympus' latest flagship Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera, OM-D E-M1, has large shoes to fill, and longer shoelaces to tie.
The E-M1 is the successor to the MFT E-M5 and the company's flagship Four Thirds DSLR E-5.
The newcomer uses a dual autofocusing system with 81 contrast detection autofocus (AF) points and 37 on-chip phase detection AF points.
These phase detection AF points allow faster autofocusing performance on small objects in a wide area for better tracking performance and faster AF during movie recording.
The result is a spectacular improvement in performance. Using the super-sharp M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens, which has a large f/2.8 aperture throughout its range, the E-M1 locks on to a focus immediately in bright sunlight.
Even in dim lighting, it takes at most 1sec to focus with the aid of AF assist lighting, against 2sec or 3sec for comparable cameras.
When panning or zooming to a new scene in video recording, focusing takes no more than 2sec.
Powering up is almost immediate at only 0.5sec; shutdown takes just over 1sec. Shutter lag is negligible.
With an SD card rated at 45MB per second, the E-M1 captured an amazing 39 RAW images in 3.7sec before the buffer ran out, a rate of about 10.5 frames per second, beating the performance of even some high-end DSLRs.
It can shoot at shutter speeds as fast as 1/8000sec, fast enough to capture a whirling dervish or your child on a swing, without motion blur. A built-in five-axis stabiliser prevents camera shake, regardless of the lens used.
With its special weather-resistant sealing, the E-M1 is also supposed to withstand dust and water splashes.
Its magnesium alloy chassis gives the camera a solid sturdy feel. A nice contoured rubberised grip feels really comfortable, accommodating all my fingers, with my thumb resting easily on the rear thumb rest.
Buttons and controls are intelligently placed on the camera. The placement of two control dials - one around the shutter release; the other on top of the camera - allows you to adjust settings easily with index finger and thumb simultaneously.
There is also a Mode dial, a dedicated video recording button and two customisable Function buttons for quick access to your most-used settings.
One nice addition is the lock button on top of the Mode dial. This prevents the dial from turning when pressed - no more accidental switching of modes when you take the camera out of the bag.
I particularly like the rear lever, which can switch the functions of the two control dials. So, you can use one setting for aperture and shutter while the other setting can be for exposure compensation and ISO.
The built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF) is the best you can find in a mirrorless camera right now. It is so sharp that you wonder if it is actually an optical viewfinder in disguise. I find myself using the EVF more than the tiltable display.
The E-M1's image sensor does not have an optical low pass filter, which reduces moire - wavy patterns - at the expense of lower resolution. However, its new TruePic VII image processor is supposed to do that job now. In the images I captured, I have yet to detect any moire.
Olympus mirrorless cameras have always delivered sharp and vivid images. The E-M1 is no exception with sharp crisp details and rich saturated colours in its images. A new Color Creator also allows you to tweak hue saturation and colours on the fly.
Image noise performance is on a par with that of mirrorless cameras using the larger APS-C image sensor. Hardly any noise artefacts are seen until ISO 1,600. At IS0 3,200, image noise is more evident, but instead of noise artefacts, what you see is more like a grainy film image. ISO 6,400 is still acceptable for Web use, even though there is clear detail loss. Anything above ISO 6,400 is not recommended.
Video quality is pretty good as well. Even though it picks up a fair bit of wind noise, the sounds of lens' AF and zoom are quite subtle and not distracting.
Battery life is average - it takes about 350 images on a full charge.
The E-M1 comes with built-in Wi-Fi. You can use the Olympus Image Share app (Android and iOS) to send images from the camera to your mobile devices. Shooting modes and settings, such as aperture and shutter speeds, can be set remotely.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is everything you will want in a camera. Lighter and more compact than a DSLR, it works fast, delivers speedy AF performance, great image quality, superb build and handling. But all good things come at a price. If you are willing to pay for this, you cannot go wrong.
The built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF) is the best you can find in a mirrorless camera right now. It is so sharp that you wonder if it is actually an optical viewfinder in disguise.
Price: $2,948 (with M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens), available late next month
Image sensor: 16.3-megapixel Micro Four Thirds Live MOS
Display: 3-inch tiltable LCD with 1,037,000 dots; electronic viewfinder with 2,360,000 dots
Sensitivity: ISO 100 - 25,600
Shooting speed: Up to 6.5 frames per second
Weight: 497g (body only with battery and memory card)
Value for money: 4
Battery life: 4
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