Wednesday, 20 November 2013 17:50

First Impressions with the Olympus OM-D EM-1

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It has now been a few weeks since I've put my D700 and full frame equipment on extended leave to go mirrorless. While I have not yet had the opportunity to give the camera a real-life stress-test, I am confident enough to give some detailed first impressions about what I like, and what I don't like so much about this little gem.

First off, let me say that overall I do not regret my choice. I knew there would be some compromise moving from what is possibly the best DSLR ever produced to a camera with a sensor half the size. There was a significant financial risk involved, but I can say that until now, things have worked out quite well.

I've taken the camera out a few times and shot under different conditions. I've spent hours navigating a very complex menu and flipping through a not-so-well written menu, and finally I think that I'm starting to warm up to the new system. This is definitely a camera which has been designed with the professional or semi-pro in mind, and it is reflected in the myriad blog posts out on the net from pro photographers who have dumped their heavyweights for featherweights and have not regretted it. I can almost hear backs around the world rejoicing in chorus from the weight relief, and I must say mine is one of them. But let's get down to the details.

The first fully processed image from the OM-D EM-1In terms of image quality, I have to say that although it doesn't quite match my D700, it's impressive to say the least (keeping in mind my adulation of the D700). The sharpness is astounding - sometimes I feel it could also be just a tad too sharp but that will certainly be of benefit when blowing up images to exhibition-size. In terms of ISO performance, the positive is that it is almost as good as the D700 up to ISO1600. I probably wouldn't push it over that for images which are to be heavily post-processed. Further to that, the noise is quite elegant (for lack of choice of a better word), and similar to the D700 in nature. It is quite film-like and easily controllable in ACR. The bad news is that even at base ISO there is some noise present, and I have ended up giving every image a little luminance noise reduction. However the amount needed does not really affect detail and makes the image much more "processable".

In terms of RAW images, I must say I was equally impressed. Also keeping in mind that the final ACR profile for the EM-1 has not reached production yet as of writing, what I have seen is quite awesome. The dynamic range is excellent, and recovery of both highlights and shadows are very good, with good detail retention and acceptable noise levels. I can possibly say the two cameras are head to head on this, with the EM1 possibly having an edge. In all this, one should also keep in mind that the D700, while still current, is about 4 years old. Having said this, my view is that apart from improving video functions and ISO vs Megapixel performance, little has been done in these 4 years in terms of sensor technology.

The autofocus is snappy and accurate, the camera is incredibly responsive, and coming from SLRs, sometimes shockingly so. The one thing that bothers me slightly is that I could leave my D700 on all the time without draining much battery, while the OM-D is less nifty in waking up and unless you want your battery drained, you'll have to let it turn off after a while, which could catch you off guard having to switch it off and on again. However if it's going to be and intense day of shooting, I suggest just letting it sleep without turning off. Which brings me to another point. I still can't get used to the combination EVF and back-screen. To clarify - I absolutely adore the EVF. It's impressive and easy to get used to. However, I have had to switch off the eye sensor as it wouldn't let the camera go to sleep continuously switching from one to the other as I walked with the camera around my neck. This is one thing that needs some tweaking. One other thing I miss, is the shoot-from-the-viewfinder-and-review-on-screen method from DSLRs. I've had to take down image preview to half a second, since every time I was shooting, it would show the image on the viewfinder and obstruct my next shot. It would be fantastic to be able to set it to preview images on the screen rather than the viewfinder. The D700 had this great thing that you could see a short preview of every image after a sequential burst to get an impression of what you got. I guess that's one of the little compromises, and the way of the future. I feel old already.

There's much more to say about the EM-1, however I'll pause there for now and give some more time for practical shooting and editing before I move on to more detailed analysis. Over all, until now, I can't say I regret my choice to move to featherweight at all. I said this and will say it again. This is the future. I just pity the big guys out there still clinging onto their DSLR roadmaps shooting out blanket statements such as "mirrorless is for amateurs". I don't know if they're trying to convince us or themselves, but this feels so much like the film-switch and the full-frame switch. I guess we'll have this conversation again in two or three years tops.

Last modified on Wednesday, 20 November 2013 18:50

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