Field Testing the Olympus OM-D E-M1

Noise Reduction set to 0, ISO 5000.
Noise Reduction set to 0, ISO 5000.

The second camera in my quest to find a mirror-less camera is the Olympus OM-D E-M1.  This type camera is called ILC, as in Interchangeable Lens Cameras.  At least one commentator suggested they be called Electronic Viewfinder, Interchangeable Lens – EVIL – cameras.  I’m sure Canon and Nikon see them that way.

While the X-T1 and E-M1 have the same number of pixels, the sensors are significantly different.  The T1 is a APS sensor – Fuji has a unique sensor but the size is essentially the same as other APS sensor cameras: the Canon 7D, Nikon 7100 and so on. The M1 is a four-thirds sensor camera; the sensor is about half the size of the ‘full frame’ sensor.  The APS sensor is about two thirds the size of the full frame sensor. (You can read more about sensor sizes here )  A rule of thumb (always suspect but…) is that more pixels in a smaller area leads to more image noise.  That would seem to be true in comparing the T1 and M1.  Time of introduction is a factor, however, and both the T1 and M1 have slightly better noise characteristics than my Canon 7d – a 2009 camera.

The M1 is stuffed with features.  The Electronic Viewfinder is large but slightly smaller than the X-T1 viewfinder.  Images on the viewfinder are clear and there’s little lag when things move around.  While I haven’t had both cameras at the same time, I think the Fujifilm viewfinder is slightly better.

The M1 uses “image sensor shift” for stabilization.  That method works for any lens attached to the camera.  Fuji uses lens-based stabilization. I like the M1 technique – it works well – but I’m not sure it’s a deal breaker either way.

A really cool feature of the M1 is that the LCD display is a touch screen.  It is possible to focus on a point and take a picture simply by touching a point on the screen.  That works with the remote app on my iPod also which is a good thing. ( I learned after the fact – according to some – the Fuji remote app has that capability also but I never tried it out.)  The major problem with the M1 is once connected to a remote control device that’s the only way to see the composition.  I found it difficult to change what I wanted in an image while holding the iPod in one hand and trying to frame a shot with the camera on a tripod.  Needed three hands.

One other thing about the M1: every button and switch can be reprogrammed.  Don’t like what Olympus uses that switch for?  Set it something you’d like.  I didn’t take the time to use this feature much.

OK, so what was my experience with the M1 like?  First, I like the camera.  Part of the idea here was to get a smaller camera with lots of capability.  The M1 would work just fine.  I got the 12-40mm, f/2.8 lens with the camera.  It is small but that lens is not a lightweight lens.  Still, it, in total, weighs less than my 7d with a 24-105mm, f/4 lens so that would be good.

In bright light, low ISO shots there’s little difference between the T1 and the M1 in noise.  I would, however, say the Fujifilm has better image quality.  The difference becomes more pronounced in low light, high ISO images.  There the smaller sensor of the M1 tends to have high levels of noise.  The M1 ‘demands’ that you expose to the right.  Blocked up shadows will have a lot of noise.

Battery life on the M1 is about the same as the T1.  I got around 250 shots on a full battery charge.  Olympus uses lossless compression for the raw files. ( Raw files range from 14 meg to 17 meg in one test. ) So, according to the camera I can get over 400 shots on an 8-gig card.  That’s about twice what the Fuji can do.  Still, the battery life says I will have to change something every 250 shots or so; interesting but also not a deal breaker.

One – possibly significant difference – between the cameras is the fact that the M1 has sensor cleaning built in – as does my 7d – but the T1 does not.  [Later – this is incorrect.  Comes under the heading of “read the manual.”  The T1 does have sensor cleaning; I assume it was disabled in the camera I had.]

I’ve put some samples of shots from the M1 here.  If you look closely, some of the ones from the Palace of Fine Arts have water spots.  It was raining and I didn’t notice it until later.  I didn’t put any effort into fixing it.  Not the camera’s fault.

Which way am I leaning?  Tough question.  The T1 has excellent image quality and a good feature set.  The M1 has an excellent feature set and very good image quality.  The M1 is more expensive than the T1.  I’m going to think about it…some more.