Five years ago Olympus introduced the first OM-D E-M1

With the new official entries of Nikon and forcoming Canon into the professional mirrorless world  in the next months (end of 2018 or beginning of 2019), many reviewers were anticipating the apparition of big camera body assorted with mammouth lenses which will contradicte the very essence of the mirrorless camera evolution. In fact the newest rumors feed by the concerned Nikon and Canon confirm this very fact.

When I have learned that Mike Johnston of the famous “The Online Photographer” web site have decided to renew with the Panasonic GX8 model I was not overlay surprised. The present “plateau” of the mirrorless evolution seem to temperate most of the recent past enthusiasm of the photo passionates on the web.  In fact the excitement is shifting from the equipment mania to the pleasure to do photography with always exciting products.

Why speaking of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 (original version) in 2018? Five years after its official introduction in 2013, the OM-D E-M1 has been surpassed technically in many ways by more recent models such as the E-M5 Mark II and others Mark II versions of the E-M10 and E-M1. But productivity (or creativity) has not a direct link with the technical performances of the camera model. Proof of that has been demonstrated over times by many renowned photographers. The fact is you are better to master the use of your camera instead to exchange it for a more recent model because the learning curve of the novelty can differ you to produce satisfactory and repetitive image output.

The evolution of hardware is not a guaranty of evolution of the essence of photography as a visual art of expression. And we are not speaking of a “coming back” (like saying “things were better in the past”) but more likely a choice between devices, techniques and outputs that suit our expectations. In saying that last remark I don’t want to prevent also the manufacturers to poursuit their research to innovation which is always a good thing to do in my sense as long they can preserve in their line-up the models that are still in demand (that is another debate…).

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 first version was a great effort from Olympus to seduce the professional market  (or part of it) to migrate to the M4/3 or MFT image captor format. The success of their OM-D E-M5 model was so good that some very serious photographers already start to use it on a professional level  for studio purpose, wedding and photo-reportages. Sure the E-M5 was not a camera model that was initially designed to sustain the intensive work pression in those fields and Olympus wisely extended its line up to offer a more rugged device. When I saw first the E-M1 I was impress by the solid feel of the model compare to my OM-D E-M5 that I was using at that time. It remind me the same feeling I have experimented with previous film professional models such as Nikon F3 HP or Leica R4 or even Olympus OM-2.

By the MFT standards of the moment (circa 2013-2014) the Olympus OM-D E-M1 was a bigger camera compare to the previous Pen series and the original E-M5. Sure everybody has understood the technical constraints to built a “Pro” oriented model with weather seal and stronger dials and others operational mechanisms needed to do so. But the fact remains that it was a bigger photo device in dimension and heavier to hold. However direct comparaison with APS-C competitor equivalents such as the Nikon D7100 prove the compactness of the Olympus package (OM-D E-M1 body + HLD-7 vertical grip). Moreover it appears more equilibrated when you combine the E-M1 with the M.Zuiko Pro lenses as for the 12-40mm & 40-150mm F2.8 for example. On a long term it create two design tendencies between the Premium lenses and the “Pro” series which were obviously bigger by design nature. Later in 2014 Olympus has completed its OM-D offer by adding the amateur E-M10 model into its line-up (entry level – intermediate – pro).

The original E-M1 camera was an impressive step ahead from the first E-M5. Better ergonomics were certainly a good part of it as for a clearer electronic viewfinder (EVF) with more eye relief. Because of its permanent right hand grip (oppose to the optional OM-D E-M5 one) the camera body stay firmly on hand in a very confortable and secure way plus the fact you are gaining more space for the different control buttons and dials of the device. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 interface is very complete and it can be personalized at will if you care to do so. Many specific direct functionalities are already configured into the E-M1 but permutations are possible if you invest time and interest to learn from the camera. Tutorials are available over the Web to help you to master the model. No serious photo gear reviewers have really contested the ability of Olympus to design and produce a “pro” camera. Since the venue of the OM camera series back in the nineteen-seventies they had developed a more compact signature alongside with electronic innovations and the actual OM-D series inherit a lot of that thinking.

The original Olympus OM-D E-M1 won’t surprise the new user with its pseudo SLR architecture positioning the EVF at the same axis of the optical taking lens.So it gives you a very predictable camera especially when you are doing action photography including news, travel, urban or even sport. If you are working with a small Premium lens or a regular M.Zuiko one you may find that the Olympus OM-D E-M1 is a fairly compact camera assuming you don’t add the optional HLD-7 vertical grip (even if it is still more compact that many D-SLRs with vertical grip). But it is not as discrete compare to a “rangefinder” style model like those offered into the Pen series and it won’t definitively fit in your pocket even the largest one.

Many features were imported from the original OM-D E-M5 to accommodate the E-M1 users. If you are familiar with the Olympus complex interface way you should be able to mastermind most of the critical operations in a rapid pace. Newcomers to Olympus OM-D products have to invest time and intellect to learn the multiple options of the camera. At first don’t be confuse and rely on the short OK menu option to get to the principal parameters of the E-M1.

If you stay in the comparaison with the first Olympus OM-D E-M5 it is easy to notice the added robustness of construction of the “pro” E-M1 including, the body, the function buttons or dials. You feel more confident to use the E-M1 in adverse conditions alongside with a lens that got the same feature of resistance. On still photographic point of view, the original Olympus OM-D E-M1 can stand even today high quality standard image results. Video is another story but as usual I am not really concern since I don’t produce any.

The electronic viewfinder (EVF) can be qualified within the good average of today (2018) standard. It is not outstanding compare to the replacement version of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II. The eye relief is good also but on the limit for eyeglasses wearers like me to be able to see the entire picture at glance. There is a subtle light greenish viewing cast that can be detected but other than that you can rely on the EVF to get a good appreciation of your final result registered on the native picture file.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is very fast to wake up after the camera put itself on standby which preserve your battery pack. You won’t be able to totally shut down the LCD viewing screen on the back if you want to use only the EVF (with the eye detection on) because it remains a kind of very dark blue screen. Since you cannot pivot back the LCD screen like the Mark II the battery pack endurance will be affected in some way. The tilting back screen stay a nice option for retro-macro-waist level-crowd level work.

The optional HLD-7 vertical grip is an intelligent add-on for the Olympus OM-D E-M1. For people that are producing critical vertical framing like in portrait, sport, nature the accessory will give a better handling and an extended battery life (along the possibility to change the exhausted one on the grip first in a 3-pack rotation). (Small trick: by removing the battery pack from the HLD-7 grip the combo will be a bit less heavier). Finally you have to be aware that the function buttons and dials as the shutter release button may be activated inadvertently if you don’t lock the grip controls.

Flash system rely on the Olympus ou dedicated third-party flashlight devices beginning with the very diminutive unit furnished with the camera that can serves as an emergency unit for fill flash or command   unit in a multi-flash arrangement. I am not really fund to use a direct flash on camera that literally kill the light ambiance and is often unpredictable. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 can deliver you very decent image results up to ISO 1600 which in my sense is mostly sufficient in many low-light situations.  For sure in that case a faster lens (with a larger maximum aperture such as F1.8-1.7-1.4-1.2) will be strongly appreciated. Since the beginning of the M4/3 format, many independent flash manufacturers have decided to extend their flash system possibilities offered for the Olympus and Panasonic cameras.

A standard lens or a transtandard zoom lens for the E-M1 is a very personal choice. On many publication you will see most of the time the combination of the E-M1 coupled with the M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 Pro which is mimicking the Pro D-SLR usual kit (Body + 24-70mm F2.8 lens for the 24X36mm image sensor format. Since the M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 Pro is a bigger and relatively heavier zoom lens the HLD-7 vertical grip may be required to get a better balance between the camera body and the lens. Some reviewers have proposed more modest lenses such as the M.Zuiko 14-42mm (basic) or 12-50mm (Splash-proof) zoom lenses or a Premium lens such as a 25mm or 17mm F1.8. These optics are smaller and lighter than the Pro ones but often in a less quality construction and sometimes with less optical quality. At the end it remains that the combination of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera body with the M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 Pro lens appears to be the most appropriate one except for the compactness factor.

Five years ago the Olympus OM-D E-M1 introduction confirmed the serious of Olympus into its involvement in MFT format. Moreover the forwarding presentation of their M.Zuiko Pro lenses has offered a complete new alternative for professionals that are looking for a serious MFT system available.