Olympus makes the OM-D better, stronger, faster

Cameras come in all shapes and sizes, and Olympus is no stranger to the small, medium, and large cameras out there. It has small compacts, mid-sized interchangeables in the Pen range, and now it’s bigger OM-D gets a newbie, too.

Aimed at expanding the Olympus Micro Four-Thirds line-up to include bigger bodies, the E-M1 is the Olympus upgrade to last year’s E-M5, a body that was designed to look like a camera from long ago, yet contain the bits and pieces inside necessary to make it excellent in today’s digital age.

Barely a year on, the E-M5 isn’t the be all end all, and Olympus is upgrading the technology and body to be better than before.

Parts are similar sounding, mind you, and while the 16 megapixel sensor sounds close to what it was in the E-M5, Olympus tells us it’s all new, working alongside the fastest auto-focus system the company has ever crafted, able to achieve focus lock through either on-chip 37 point phase detection or 81 point contrast detection, with a combination of the two possible.

The sensitivity still pushes to a maximum of 25,600 ISO, but the speed of shooting has increased, capable of capturing up to 10 frames per second, with an intervalometer also in play to let you capture up to 999 photos and make a time lapse movie.

There’s also a neat mode that allows you to change the colour for JPEGs and movies by playing with a colour wheel, increasing or decreasing saturation as you move through the colour table.

While the insides are all new, the outside has changed too, with a slightly different control layout still built in metal, and a new electronic viewfinder accompanying the 3 inch touchscreen LCD on the back, allowing you to see with a 2.36 megapixel screen with a 100 percent field of view.

Some extra technology will light scenes inside the viewfinder to emulate how an optical viewfinder would work too, bringing this closer in functionality to that of a mirror-based camera like a digital SLR.

Two forms of viewing are great, but there’s also WiFi control in this camera, just like on the E-P5. With WiFi build in, the E-M1 can be viewed and controlled remotely using either an Android or iOS device, complete with touch-to-fire functionality.

The heavier chassis has also been improved, now splash, dust, and freeze proof to roughly -10ºC, making trips to the cold possible without fear of certain camera death.

While the Olympus E-M1 isn’t coming until October, we’ve gone hands-on with the camera earlier than expected, playing with the build, focus speed, and some of those nifty features like the colour wheel.

In the hands, it’s a hair bigger than the E-M1, but barely noticeable, and still just as solid. It really does feel like a camera made ages ago, you know when cameras were cameras and not toys, and even in a pre-production stage, the high quality was evident.

Image quality we can’t judge just yet – no images were allowed to be kept – but the colour wheel controller is quite cool, allowing you to change not just colour saturation and temperature, but also change the degree of colour filtration and the way it applies to monochromatic images, similar to gels or colour filters in film cameras.

Regarding monochrome images, we did check on this and this colour wheel concept is based on a desaturated image and not a true black and white.

That said, it’s a neat feature altogether, and one that could later work with the Olympus art system, which is of course included in this camera.

Overall, it looks like Olympus is on track to one-up its excellent E-M5, so look out for it in October when it hits stores for a recommended retail price of $1599 in black.