Date: 19/08/2013 | By: Mathieu
Will the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 be the best MFT camera ever?
Update: 43rumors has posted some new pictures of the E-M1 with the new 12-40mm f/2.8 lens attached. I have to say that I like the design more now that I can see the body+lens combo. It looks very solid and well-built. We can clearly see now two Fn buttons in addition to the toggle on the rear. There is also a burst/HDR button and an AF area mode button on the top left of the camera. I can’t help but wonder if Olympus will release a black/silver version as well. The tech geek dreamer inside of me would have preferred a new version of the two f/2 constant aperture zoom lenses Olympus had for the Four Thirds DSLR system. It would have been a much more interesting alternative to the two f/2.8 Lumix zoom lenses and would also have attracted more professionals. It is probably something to do with Olympus trying to keep the lenses small enough for the body. Not only, but they are probably harder to design for the MFT system as well.
I wasn’t planning to write about the rumored OM-D E-M1 until the release became official, but then something unexpected happened yesterday. A video about a pre-production model of the new E-M1 that wasn’t supposed to be published was leaked from the Engadget website. In the video, an American representative from Olympus explains in great detail some of the new features and gives us an up-close look at the new camera.
Please note that my thoughts are based on an unofficial video about what seems to be a pre-production model. The news originally leaked on 43rumors. Engadget asked them to remove the link, but it was too late as the video had already spread to multiple sites and YouTube accounts. In this other 43rumors post and on Steve Huff’s website, you can see pictures of the new camera. They are still frames extracted from the video so the quality isn’t great. The video was posted on our Facebook page as well but it isn’t there anymore as it has been removed from YouTube.
So as to respect the wishes of Engadget and Olympus, I won’t post the video and photos of the new camera in this post. Feel free to visit the sites mentioned above if you want to have a look at the camera.
After watching the video a couple of times, I have gathered the most interesting specs that we will see on the new camera:
- Full water, dust and freeze proof (down to -14°F, -10°C);
- New dual contrast and phase detection AF;
- New electronic viewfinder, probably with 100% field coverage and with more resolution than the VF-4;
- Integrated landscape grip;
- Wi-fi capabilities with full manual remote control;
- Improved 16mp Live Mos Sensor;
- Same function switch toggle as the E-P5, but in a horizontal orientation;
- Improved buttons on the rear and on top of the camera;
- Updated LCD tilting screen.
Ergonomics and Design
From an ergonomic/design point of view, we can see in the video that the camera has a black design very similar to that of the OM-D E-M5. Seeing the Olympus representative holding the camera in his hand, it seems very similar in size to the E-M5 but as he states later on in the video, it is a little bit larger. Increasing the size has allowed Olympus to place more buttons and dials on the top.
The first relevant thought is that the grip is integrated into the body, unlike the E-M5 for which you can purchase an optional landscape grip. We can see that the dials and buttons (aperture/shutter speed) have changed; they seem bigger and more in the style of a DSLR. The mode dial has been moved to the top-left side of the camera and a new dial appears on the right, where you also have a dedicated AF area button and a burst/HDR button. There is a flash socket on the right.
On the rear, we can see a re-designed command dial where the 4 arrow buttons appear more robust than the E-M5. On the top right of the LCD screen, you will notice a familiar toggle that will probably work like the toggle on the Pen E-P5. In position 1, you can use the two main dials on top to change aperture and shutter speed, and in position 2 you can customise these two dials with functions such as ISO and white balance. The thumb grip has been re-designed as well and seems larger. The playback button which used to be closer to the Fn2 button on the E-M5 has been moved while the Fn2 button disappears.
The camera also has a large new viewfinder with 2.8 millions dots, which outdoes even the recently released external VF-4. The representative states that it is even larger than some full frame cameras! So I suspect it will have 100% field coverage.
In the video, you can see the camera with a 17mm f/1.8 mounted, as well as another model with a new battery grip that is different from the E-M5 vertical grip. (This means that the old battery grip won’t be compatible.) The second camera has a four thirds 35-100mm f/2 lens mounted. You can clearly see the FT to MFT adapter, so the camera won’t have the hybrid FT/MFT mount that was rumored some time ago.
Features and expected performance
The new dual AF system should give very similar results when using MFT or FT lenses. I can’t confirm this, but listening to the representative’s explanation, it seems that the camera will use phase detection with Four Thirds lenses and contrast detection with Micro Four Thirds lenses. But I could be wrong. Anyway, I’m curious to test it and see if the AF-C/AF-Tracking modes have been improved over the E-M5. According to the latest rumours, the hybrid autofocus will work in AF-C mode with both MFT and FT lenses.
The video also shows the Wi-Fi function, similar to the Pen E-P5 but the App on the iPad allows you to choose between P, A, S and M mode meaning you can have full control over the camera (shutter speed, aperture, ISO, etc.). I noticed while he was working with the iPad that the ISO range seems to go up to 25600. So I believe that the sensor will not be new but an upgraded version of the E-M5 sensor. Again, I could be wrong.
The latest rumours suggest that the E-M1 has been improved by 1 stop in comparison to the E-M5, meaning that ISO 800 on the E-M1 will look like ISO 400 on the E-M5. That’s a good piece of news.
The video ends by showing in a very effective way how the 5-axis stabilisation works, and it is really impressive. Since I am already used to it, I can only confirm how good it is.
No words about a new and improved video codec or more detailed specs about the sensor, so many questions remain unanswered.
Olympus states that it has listened to its customers, and many of the features seen in this pre-production model seem to reflect this, such as the ability to use FT lenses with the same AF effectiveness and the integrated grip.
Looking at the latest rumours and pictures, I can clearly see that the camera is aimed at professionals. I’m really curious to see if the improved ergonomics and functionalities will be worth the switch from the E-M5.
So, will this camera become the best MFT camera ever? Well it certainly could. It is an important upgrade from the E-M5 with a lot of “pro” additions. But at the same time, it’s hard to say whether there is a real motivator to upgrade for someone who already has the E-M5, and probably like me purchased some accessories like the HDL-6 grip that (probably) won’t be compatible with the new E-M1.
Though Olympus has listened to its customers, they don’t seem to have seized the opportunity to build a new “killer” camera. I would like to see a new sensor and features that render this camera unique–a real flagship that other brands will try to copy.
There is another thing that bothers me, and it is that this new E-M1 doesn’t seem to be a E-M5 replacement but rather a high-end model, meaning that there will probably be an E-M5 replacement soon after. This could mean that we’ll have three OM-D cameras with similar specs and features.
Do we really need them? In my opinion, no. One issue of MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens cameras) is that sales aren’t doing well and I feel that it is due to there being too many models out there. Too many Pens, too many Nikon1s, too many Nexes. They should be a niche that represents a great alternative to DSLRs, the perfect bridge between compact/smartphones and DSLRs, but you won’t achieve that if you have too many models to choose from. Moreover, they cost more than an entry level DSLR. Faced with the decision, confused consumers will end up buying a low-end DSLR over a mirrorless camera because their two thoughts will be “I am paying less for better quality” and “DSLRs are a reliable reference.”
Anyway, I am running off on a tangent. It is really too early to come to any conclusions about this particular camera or the state of the mirrorless-DSLR war in general.
By the way, the “old” OM-D has recently come down in price. It is an excellent camera that we often use for work, and with the release of this titan, now would be the right time to pick it up for a bargain price.
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