In our last episode, I wrapped up my final thoughts on the Fuji X-E1, a very capable camera (sans a few AF quirks that have been dealt with in the new model) with an excellent form factor for travel. Now I move on to the second half of this protracted review: the Olympus OM-D E-M1.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is the big brother to the OM-D E-M5 (reviewed here) and addresses all of the shortcomings of its older sibling. According to the specs, continuous AF (C-AF) performance has been improved with the addition of phase detection AF (PDAF) on sensor, image sharpness has been improved with the removal of the anti-aliasing (AA) filter, and the ergonomics have been improved, especially for the large handed (like yours truly). The image size remains the same at 16 megapixels as does the aspect ratio of 4:3 (hence the name Micro Four-Thirds).
Other goodies include phase detection AF support for Four-Thirds lenses (m4/3 lenses are designed for contrast detection AF and only use PDAF to assist in continuous AF situations), built-in WiFi (which allows iOS and Android-based devices to control the camera remotely and provide geotagging data – a very cool feature), improved HDR bracketing, panorama assist, focus peaking (finally!) and better high-ISO performance. There are more, to be sure, but I am going to concentrate on these features specifically.
As I noted last time, the OM-D E-M1 and the X-E1 are very similar in size, except for the viewfinder bump on the top of the E-M1. The viewfinder bump is purely cosmetic, since Olympus is trying to recreate the look of their now classic OM film cameras. I happen to like this look and the centrally mounted viewfinder is a bit more comfortable to me. YMMV.
Most of the time when I am reviewing a camera, I end up taking night shots. Wife, two kids and a day job tend to eat up the daylight hours. That’s why I’ve been reviewing cameras while on vacations/trips: I can take pictures while the sun is out and no one will get upset that I am not taking care of them. Anyway, having used the E-M1 on our voyage to the Great Smoky Mountains, I have a much better idea of how improved it is over its predecessor and the X-E1.
Autofocus – When the X-E1 was first released, its autofocus system (CDAF only) was a bit of a dog. Fuji (in the spirit of kaizen), released firmware updates to greatly improved the situation and even added focus peaking. They are quite possibly the only camera company to ever do this. The OM-D E-M5 has a single shot AF system (CDAF) that is greased lightning. It was so good, you could shoot sports with it. That was a good thing too because the continuous AF system was rather asthmatic, wheezing and groaning under the effort of trying to track a moving object. The OM-D E-M1 sports a hybrid AF system mixing CDAF and PDAF cells on the imaging sensor itself. This has vastly improved the continuous AF performance but is not without its “gotchas”.
Gotcha #1 – Single shot PDAF only works with Four-Thirds lenses (via the MMF3 adaptor). Micro Four-Thirds lenses are all designed for CDAF operation. However, continuous AF with tracking does use PDAF on both types of lenses.
Gotcha #2 – Even though PDAF cells on the sensor allow for more accurate tracking of a moving subject, the camera’s algorithm for selecting a subject to track leaves a little to be desired. I took some shots of the kids snow tubing and if more than one tube rider got in the shot, it was jumping between subjects too often for my taste.