The 2013 Olympus OM-D E-M1 review, part two: some comparisons

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In part one yesterday, I looked at the camera as a standalone device with few references to its predecessor or competition; today we’re going to examine some of the technical differences in a bit more detail against two benchmarks: the outgoing OM-D E-M5, and the Nikon D600. Both are 2012 cameras, and cameras that I’m intimately familiar with because I use them heavily in the course of my normal work – the E-M5 as my travel/teaching camera, and the D600 for video and backup to the D800E. The former is a no-brainer; the latter is perhaps a bit more of a stretch: not only is there a significant price difference, but the sensor goes up in size by two whole notches – it’s effectively four times the size of that in the E-M1. Surely this is an unfair fight?

Update: ISO comparison chart mislabelling fixed, and I am checking on the 12 vs 14bit issue.

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E-M1 against older brother E-M5 with grip extension and full vertical grip; the E-M1 seems larger but is in fact just slightly wider, taller with its vertical grip, and actually shorter if you compare it to the E-M5 with the grip extension piece only.

Here’s my rationale behind the comparison: we want to know if the new camera is better than the old one – it is – and more importantly, by how much. But at the same time, the E-M1 really has no direct competition at the moment: the only other camera that comes close spec-wise is the GH3, and that doesn’t have the same level of build quality, PDAF, frame rate, or EVF quality; it’s really built with a different purpose in mind, too. Bottom line: there are no real pro-grade* DX or compact system cameras out there at the moment; the E-M1 is pretty much it. However, that brings us to the relative price point: in Malaysia, street price of an E-M5 body is about RM2,800; the E-M1 is ~RM4,500; the Nikon D7100 RM3,900; the Canon 7D RM4,000, and the Nikon D600 RM5,500. The Canon 6D is a bit more at RM5,900. I don’t have a D7100 or 7D handy; in any case, I don’t think they’re quite the same level of camera – the E-M1 trades a little resolution for a higher frame rate, significantly larger buffer, and much better build quality. In fact, the on-paper spec is much closer to the flagship D4 or 1Dx (16MP, 10fps, 51 shot RAW buffer, full environmental sealing) than the D7100. Bottom line: if you’re going to spend this much on a camera and you’re not committed to a system, you are probably going to be considering most of these options; especially when another RM1,000 (US$300) gets you full frame, and the D600 is the lightest and smallest there is at the moment.

*Built without compromises, or to protect a product higher up in the manufacturer’s line.

Before we get into raw performance, let’s talk a bit about use in the field and system completeness. The Nikon and Canon full frame lens lineups are undoubtedly mature; there is pretty much a lens for everything, including special purpose optics like supertelephotos, tilt-shifts and macros that exceed 1:1 reproduction ratio. There are also several grades of lenses to suit all budgets and durability levels. M4/3 has the most choices out of all of the mirrorless systems, but we’re lacking the tilt shifts, the pro telephotos, and the weather sealed high grade primes – surprisingly, lenses like the 12/2 and 75/1.8 are not sealed, (though I’ve had no problems with operating them in harsh environments). Flash solutions are a wash for both systems; there are wireless TTL/ commander options and heads of different power outputs.

Mirrorless of course has an enormous size advantage; having undertaken plenty of reportage and travel photography with both, I can tell you that there’s absolutely no question or shade of doubt in my mind – if I have to carry it for any length of time, I’m going with M4/3. Image quality is already more than good enough for large prints – and that’s with the previous generation of sensor. The one final element missing from M4/3 was continuous autofocus capability – and we’ve seen that’s just been addressed by the integration of phase detection photosites on the new sensor. So does there remain any solid reason to pick an APS-C or FF DSLR other than absolute resolution or extreme low-light? I opened a can of worms with an earlier article on the demise of the DSLR; now I’m going to pour that can out onto the table and spread it around a bit.

E-M1-Comparison-spec sheet

Here’s how the core feature table looks; I’ve thrown in the D4 for comparison, because I think this is the E-M1′s natural full-frame competition: a tough-as-nails, pro-grade, speed-focused general purpose photographic bludgeon. Green is a decisive win, red is a decisive loss. There’s one thing missing here – that’s the E-M1 and E-M5′s stabilizers, which is a definite advantage. You’ll note that the E-M1 actually seems to have the best balance of compromises, unless you’re a videographer – in which case the Canon (or the GH3) would be a better choice. In fact, what stands out is that the older E-M5 loses on a lot of the categories – yet that was reflected in no real disadvantage in its ability to make great images. More, is of course better. This is of course not a complete spec sheet, but I think it goes to show how difficult a comparison we have on paper. The price is undoubtedly steep – and that’s something I criticised the GH3 for, given that the camera was still lacking PDAF and had a subpar viewfinder even compared to the E-M5; the E-M1 pushes the boundaries higher still. It’s a shame, because I think Olympus must be torn: price it like the tool it is, or go for volume because a lot of consumers are still motivated by size?

I don’t think there’s any doubt that if the core sensor technology is of similar vintage, then the larger sensor will be better on all technical measures; the more pertinent question is just how much better, and more importantly, how far up do you have to climb the diminishing returns tree to see the difference? And that’s what I’m going to try to answer today.

Important testing notes: we do not yet have ACR support for the E-M1, and I’m not familiar enough with the Olympus software to be confident of extracting the most out of the raw files, so testing will be done with JPEGs – I’ll update this portion as soon as an update is released. For all cameras, sharpening will be set to the optimum for the camera – generally about halfway between default neutral and maximum; saturation was reduced slightly, contrast was set to minimum and noise reduction off; basically, I tried to create as good a starting point as possible for processing – in effect a ‘quasi-raw’ JPEG. I’ll use the 85/1.8 G on the Nikon, and the 45/1.8 on the Olympus cameras – stopped down to f8 on the Nikon, and f5.6 on the Olympus to balance off optimal sharpness, depth of field and diffraction. The cameras will be locked down on on a heavy Gitzo 5-series tripod and Arca-Swiss Cube geared head. You can click on any of the relevant links following the images below for 100% crops.

E-M1-Comparison-low ISO
Low ISO comparison – 200-1600 – click here for 100% crops.

Let’s talk about the easy stuff first – low ISO noise. I’d say the most obvious thing that’s apparent from the above swatches is that the D600 has more dynamic range than the M4/3 cameras; unsurprisingly, the ensuing images look flatter and lower contrast (lighting conditions and exposure times were identical for all three cameras). All three cameras are very clean to ISO 800, though it’s also clear that the E-M1 has the weakest (i.e. none) AA filter of the three; the D600′s AA filter is fairly strong – look at the dot pattern in the white CD case. The E-M5′s JPEG and NR engine is noticeably coarser than either the E-M1 or D600; there’s just a hint of splodginess creeping in at ISO 1600. Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to use any of these cameras at any of these settings.

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High ISO comparison – 3200-25600 – click here for 100% crops.

Higher ISOs are a different story – the E-M5 is looking very ropy by ISO 6400; I try not to exceed 3200 on this camera. The D600 is still pretty smooth and retaining fine detail well (look at the logo in the black CD case) though color is starting to get very flat and chroma noise is dominating the shadows past ISO 6400. This is actually a little surprising as Nikon’s forte has always been keeping noise in the luminance channel. I wouldn’t use this camera past 6400. The E-M1 is actually keeping pace with the D600, and trades chroma noise for a bit more luminance noise; there’s not a lot of difference in resolution to ISO 6400, but above that the D600 pulls away. On an absolute basis, I think the E-M1 has pulled out a stop from the E-M5 – I’d use this camera at 6400, but no higher. What’s really impressive about the E-M1 is that there are no odd colour/hue shifts going on as the sensitivity increases – look at the red swatch, for instance. (Actual color in real life is somewhere between the D600 and E-M1; neither camera gets it right.)


In this scene, we look at dynamic range. Each camera was exposed until the any of the individual channel highlights just clipped; I used the live highlight warning on the M4/3 cameras, and the playback highlights on the D600. It appears that the E-M1 has a slightly brighter highlight rendition than the E-M5 – the same amount of clipping was visible in both at these settings. I suspect it might have something to do with the color rendering: even though all cameras were manually set to the same Kelvin WB, the E-M1 has the most accurate color of the three; the E-M5 is too yellow, and the D600 is too green. On the E-M1, the histograms for each individual color channel are much closer together – resulting in slightly brighter highlights.

Highlights. 100% crops here.

Shadows. 100% crops here.

No question that the D600 has the most dynamic range of the three; that’s to be expected given that it has the larger pixel pitch by some margin. I’d call it half a stop in the highlights and perhaps a stop in the shadows; I suspect it would be a lot closer in RAW however – the E-M1 seems to have very clean shadows, potentially hiding quite a bit of usable latitude. The E-M5 noticeably trails both cameras again – look at the folded cloth, and the hat band. Out of the three, I prefer the E-M1′s rendition of the scene; I think it’s the mixture of getting the color almost spot on, as well as the added punch from the lack of AA filter; though the two M4/3 cameras are quite similar here, note the softness in the D600 image – even at the point of focus (look at the hat).

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Next up is a grab from out of the studio window; we will consider real world resolution and dynamic range.

E-M1-Comparison-car highlights
Highlight rolloff – click here for 100% crops.

E-M1-Comparison-car detail
Practical resolution – click here for 100% crops.

Once again, the D600 seems to have the flatter image – shadows aren’t quite as dense as the E-M1, but we really need to see RAW files to figure out how much of this is the in-camera processing and how much of it is the sensor’s native response. What I do notice though is the highlight rolloff of the E-M1 seems to be the best of the three, though it shares the densest shadows with the E-M5; the E-M5′s highlights are a bit dull, and the D600 seems to clip abruptly. Differences in native tonal response? Probably. Though the two M4/3 cameras are pretty close on resolution, I’d give the E-M1 a hair in acuity and microcontrast; it must be a mix of the lack of AA filter and new image processing engine; fine detail just doens’t seem as coarse as the E-M5. The D600 is clearly resolving a little bit more than the other two – look at all of the number plates – but it’s really surprisingly quite close. If the D600 also lacked an AA filter, the difference would be much larger.

Here’s the practical challenge, though: all of these tests were conducted under optimal shooting conditions: heavy tripod, magnified live view to confirm critical focus, base ISO. In the real world, you’re not going to be able to achieve that all of the time under the shooting conditions for which these cameras were intended – handheld travel or reportage-style work – which means that you might well not be able to get the same results. I find that the current crop of 24 and 36MP cameras give up a stop or two in shooting envelope – you have to have a much higher shutter speed to ensure critical sharpness, which effectively degrades both low light capabilities and dynamic range. The OM-D twins, however, have that excellent stabilizer that allows you to stick to the 1/focal length rule or below; effectively buying you a couple of stops. Unless you’re shooting action, where shutter speed is critical to freeze motion, this makes a huge difference in practice! If we couple that with the increase in size of the larger sensored system – for both camera and lenses – then the advantage of the mirrorless contingent becomes even larger.

With PDAF on sensor, that last bastion of the DSLR is eroding, too. Practically, the D600′s AF system still tracks better than the E-M1; I spent some time shooting traffic and found that the E-M1 would perform similar to or slightly better than the D200 generation of cameras in terms of tracking ability; I think with another iteration or judicious firmware update, the gap will, shrink even further. Mirrorless will always outdo an SLR in AF accuracy; simply because the exact focus point is also the exact imaging point.

And here we come full circle: I compare the E-M1 to the D600 because it’s the cheapest entry into full frame (and I didn’t have access to a pro DX camera; in any case, none of the current lineup match it on spec either) – and whilst the D600 still holds a bit of an advantage in image quality, it’s not as much as you might think; less in practical application; far more of the difference will come down to shot discipline and how the images are processed. And that’s assuming pixels are going to be peeped: they’re close enough that even at 100% it takes a reasonably trained eye to spot the difference. Everybody will see the composition first, of course. Even if we’d had DX cameras in the mix, the results would be even closer still – if not an even match. Even as it stands, I haven’t observed that much difference in underlying sensor quality between the GR and OM-D; at stop, at most. Most of the difference is due to the optics. Yet despite its sensor, the D600 lags behind in every other specification; it’s not until you hit the full-fat D4 that you can match frame rates or environmental sealing. Bottom line: there is simply nothing quite like the E-M1 at the moment – a very compact professional system camera.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is available for preorder here from B&H and Amazon.
The Olympus 12-40/2.8 PRO is available for preorder here from B&H and Amazon.
The E-M5 is available here from B&H and Amazon.
The D600 is available here from B&H and Amazon.


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  1. very interesting review. what is missing, i think, from the discussion is the pictorial possibilities opened up by the shallower depth of field of the larger sensor. given how good these cameras all are at high ISO, comparing the size of the “midrange f/2.8″ zooms isn’t that meaningful when the m4/3 lens is actually making an image that looks like the full frame lens two stops stopped down. nobody makes a full frame 24-70 f/5.6 zoom (for obvious reasons!) but if they did it probably wouldn’t be as heavy and expensive as the f/2.8 version.

    for some uses, more DOF is better. but for some, less is better and m4/3 simply doesn’t give you as many options there. the really great 75 f/1.8 doesn’t sound quite as great if described as “equivalent to a 150 f/3.5″

    • It depends on how you shoot. For most commercial and documentary work, you don’t want too little depth of field anyway. Weddings…another matter.

      • agreed. depends on subject and creative intent… but you can always stop down a larger sensor a bit, given a large range of usable ISO settings. the smaller lens can’t be opened up any further ;)

        • The shallow depth of field is exactly the reason why I switched to the micro 4/3 system. I don’t need shallow depth of field when I use 35mm lens, a 50mm lens and even on a 85mm lens it’s too shallow. I have to close the aperture (and bump up the ISO or lower the shutter speed) to get enough depth of field on a full frame of APSC camera. Now I cann set my Panasonic 20mm at f/2 and seldomly think about DOF. If I do need shallow DOF, I just slap the excellent 45mm f/1.8 on.

          • that is what’s bugging me, too. very often, the envelope of sharpness is too small. then again, in some situations you crave the creamy bokeh of leica glass on FF, i saw too many glorious pictures… steve huff showed a comparison between leica FF 50mm f/1.4 i thing with f/0.95 voigtländers on mFT and it was rendered similarly in a way…

            and by the way, i saw sooo many bad pictures which were blurred far too much, because people often can’t control their bokeh!
            like this petapixel review! where they had one and one focus alone: the camera!!!
            there, in my opinion, they missed almost all shots,

      • “for some uses, more DOF is better. but for some, less is better and m4/3 simply doesn’t give you as many options there.”
        The point he makes above does not depend on how you shoot, it is a statement of fact.

        • The subjective part is better. That is not a fact. You can always compose in such a way that requires (or does not require) shallow DOF. Smaller sensors having less DOF control for a given angle of view is a fact.

    • I’m just a lowly amateur photographer, but I think f/0.95 lenses already give you pretty shallow DOF. If you really need more, you can always use a Speed Booster with a legacy lens. I’m shooting primarily MFT, but just for shallow DOF I’m sometimes carrying my old NEX-3 with me that got a second life through a 150€ lens turbo. This really gives you (almost) the same FOV as a 35mm system, though on MFT it would be more like a 1.45x crop. So yes, you can kind of open up the lens further on crop systems. ;-) Sure it’s kind of a hacky solution, but I like the modularity: You have a small camera and depending on what you want to do you can keep it small or extend it to do almost anything.

  2. Hello just want to mention that you should change the chart in part 2 to show the E-M1 is i2 bit not 14 as that is an important statistic. Great job on the lens review. Rod

  3. I would say that a much more natural competitor to it would be the Pentax K5IIs, which I find about as curious ommission in your comparison as the inclusion of the D4.

    • I can’t include or make meaningful comments about a camera I haven’t used and am not familiar with.

      • True, but it does make your bottom line statement incorrect all the same.
        There is other compact professional system cameras out there. That you have no experience with them does not make your comment any less incorrect.

        That said, I spend some time reading a bit on your blog. You run a good shop overall I think.

        • I just checked the K5IIs spec – it doesn’t match the E-M1 on frame rates or weather sealing, nor does Pentax have wireless TTL flash. It’s D7100/ 7D class, not D4 class.

          • It does match E-M1 on frame rate with continous AF – the other numbers are meaningless. As for weather sealing, you can find videos where people are taking showers with their Pentax K5. It has a lot more metal in it than a D7100. It was promoted with the same arguments as EM-1 – the thoughest built compact “pro” camera. It also has a program of smaller, but high quality lenses. As far as I can see a Pentax K5 is the most directly competing camera vs an E-M1. Yes, it is not a D4 competitor in a meaningful way – it cant touch it in sensor performance, DOF control, lens program, action shooting capablities – but neither can an EM-1. The K5 is the natural competition for the new Oly.

            • Well, you learn something new every day. I am not familiar with or have access to every single camera; I can only comment on what I’ve used. I’m a photographer not a gear reviewer who happens to also photograph!

  4. Great review and blog. Really enjoy it. Can you comment on the quality of the E-M1 to that of E-P5. You did state in your updated review of the E-P5 that “I still think they’re still a hair better than the OM-D in terms of color and tonality, and possibly the best I’ve straight-from-camera output I’ve seen”. Is the JPEG engine in the EM-1 better than that of the E-P5?

  5. Just a small note on lenses. There is a tilt shift lens for m4/3s. It is a 2.8/20mm made by Arsat in Ukraine. I have one. Though it might be discontinued by now. I could post you a picture but don’t know how to do that.

    • That’s news to me – how are the optics?

      • I would say similar to the Samyang/Rokinons with ‘top’ corners a bit soft when fully shifted and with noticeable purple fringing. But in architectural photo of a building the top corners are often sky so not a big deal. In interiors it would matter more, or in shifted panoramas. Also 20mm is of course only 40eq so not that wide but better than adapting a 24 or 28. It has 10-11mm of shift, which is quite a lot on m4/3s so normally one only needs a few mm and then the quality is quite acceptable. Tilt is more of a gimmick in wide angle lenses, especially on small sensors but sure you can get the usual miniature effects and the depth of field that runs left to right with a band of sharpness from front to back. Not so much need to ‘increase’, depth of field which can be done just by stopping down a bit more, I have a Schneider 28 shift for Sony 900 and it is clearly better quality but at that price (and size) it should be. This 2.8/20 Arsat was about USD 425 if I remember right, some two years ago when I bought it.

        • Thanks for that info. Doesn’t sound like that fantastic a lens; perhaps something like the Voigt 20 or Zeiss Distagon 18/21 would work better. Depends on the format though: tilt can be useful to extend DOF if you’re going for very extreme perspectives on larger formats.

  6. Stephen Scharf says:

    “there are no real pro-grade* DX or compact system cameras out there at the moment; the E-M1 is pretty much it.”

    That’s not true, the Fuji XF system is a professional grade compact system camera.

    • Nope, it isn’t. It’s not weather sealed and you can’t compare AF performance with Olympus. It’s good enough for me and I’ve owned one for over a year but due to slower AF and lack of any treatment against environment I wouldn’t call it pro-grade.

    • No it isn’t; weather sealing is missing, and frame rates are much lower. More importantly, workflow and file handling are both a disaster. External/physical controls are also limited. I tried one at the initial launch with some excitement but found it seriously wanting. Not so for the OM-Ds.

      • Stephen Scharf says:

        You can’t judge the performance of the X-Pro1 at initial launch with the system as it stands today. The AF is considerably faster with the newest lenses and version 3 of the firmware (if you haven’t used this version, then these comments are presently inaccurate). As far as frame rate, I’ve shot the camera at 6 fps at a recent Indy Car race in the pits, as well as NHRA pro drag racing and obtained excellent results. If you mean by file handling and workflow, the RAW conversion, this too is dramatically better with LR 5 and the current version of Capture One 7. By no means can it be considered a disaster. Most importantly, it’s image quality is superior to the OM-D; I know that for a fact because I have and use both extensively.

        • I have used v3. It just doesn’t work for me. Image quality may be superior if you have the time to work with individual files in silkypix or are comparing jpegs only, but if you have hundreds to deal with – then it’s simply impractical unless you are willing to settle for jpeg, which defeats the point. A professional system is not just about the camera, but workflow, too.

          • Stephen Scharf says:

            For all but the most challenging of image content, I’m getting excellent results with X-trans RAW files with Lightroom 5.1. For “mission critical” images, Capture One works even better and has a workflow quite comparable to Lightroom. We both have different requirements, and that’s fine, but in my case, workflow is definitely not an issue. Just my two cents…

            • The problem is there’s enough of a gap between C1/Silkypix and ACR that the latter is really leaving some image quality behind on the table. My workflow requires PS for local and sequential adjustments; having no (good) ACR support means an intermediate step that adds quite a bit of time – enough that it makes me think twice about whether I want to use the camera or not. It is suited to reportage/ location assignments, which have a high quantity of output and thus requires fast processing; for low-volume/ultimate perfection studio work, then I’d rather use something with even higher image quality like the Hasselblad or D800E. I guess it just doesn’t fit the way I work…

      • Stephen Scharf says:

        Just one more comment, and then I’ll be quiet, I promise! My comments regarding the Fujifilm XF system as a pro level system aside, as an owner of an E-M5, I have to say am very, very impressed with it and the system of Oly and Panny lenses available for it. It’s also just a lot of fun to shoot with, and it’s very high image quality is well-known. Your review of the E-M1 is excellent and provides a lot of very useful content for considering this camera as a potential purchase. I look forward to your continuing field reports with interest.

        • The X system is really a shame: the lens selection for that is actually perfect, and I thought as much when it was first launched. I was contemplating switching over to that system because of that alone…until I used one.

          I do agree though – the M4/3 system has a lot of options, and whilst there’s a lot of uninteresting stuff in there (mostly consumer zooms), and few options on the wide end – there are also some truly outstanding gems like the 60 and 75mm lenses, and surprises like the 14-42X.

  7. Hi Ming, Thanks for your review, a good read as always. I have a 7 year old D80 which i typically pair with an 18-50 2.8 Sigma lens and have been looking for a replacement for a while now. My top contenders for the Slot are the Oly OMDs and the Fuji X Series. I thought your comparison on Dynamic Range above was really telling as i have always found the MFT cameras to be fairly muddy in terms of shadow detail. Having said that the sharpness as compared to the FF D600 was great. I was wondering if you could somehow take some similar test shows with a Fuji XE1 with its 18-55 Kit to show the DR. I think that would be really great to see from a comparison perspective as i think a lot of people look at these two cameras / systems together when doing a new buy decision. Thanks. Hoshner.

  8. Thank you for the review, it is great. Also look forward to the raw test as the jpg could be a compromise based on manufacturers’ thoughts about consumers’ needs?
    I have em5 and really happy with it. Compared with my d7000, I feel the image quality are close to each other, but it appears that d7000′s raw files have much higher tolerance to post processing – or it could be because I am more familiar with capture nx than other software. Appreciate for your thoughts?

    • Definitely; every JPEG is a compromise because it assumes that the end photographer requires a certain result. We now have preliminary ACR support, so I’ll be going back to update the review soon. The E-M5 files have plenty of latitude too; though to be honest most of the time I don’t need to do much recovery since one tries to get it as close to perfect out of camera to begin with…

    • Samson,
      If I good remember (I had a Nikkon D7000), in the LR, I can modify easier the picture – especially in the darker areas. But may be the highlights processing is better if you work with OM-D files.
      It is interesting question. The D7000 have 14 bit raw files (12 or 14 bit – depends on what do you choose), and the OM-D (even the OM-D E-M1) has 12 bit files, unfortunately. :-(

  9. The Heavyweight says:

    You wrote that images taken with a camera with higher DR will look flatter and less contrasty. Indeed, I have always wondered why some highly acclaimed cameras’ pictures (or rather – crops from them) look fairly bland when compared to the Olympus pictures.

    Would you mind explaining why? I’d really like to understand this.

    Also, some say the APS-C or M4/3 cameras due to the higher pixel density will be better for cropping than an FF camera (crops looking sharper and allegedly showing more detail), showing more detail. I always wonder, is this true? Or is it a logical error, and if you use a lens with a higher focal length for the FF camera, the crops will look the same? Or is this also a result of the effect you described above (i.e. there is not more detail due to higher pixel density, but the image simply looks more contrasty and colourful due to this effect) ? I always wonder whether the smaller pixels won’t actually reduce the detail, because they can capture less colour nuances than larger pixels?

    Apologies if this is not the place to ask these questions, I’m just looking for explanations.

    • You have the same amount of output DR regardless of the camera; the screen is the same. So if you have more input dynamic range, you have to allocate that to the same output range; there will be overlaps.

      Cropping: no. More pixels means better detail retention. Regardless of the sensor size. You simply cannot argue that if you chop a 16MP APSC image in half to 8MP it will be better than a D800E image with 36MP chopped into half. Even if you match the same resultant FOV, you’ll land up with more pixels on the D800E (9).

  10. Honestly, I don’t see much difference between output of the E-M5 and the E-M1. Nothing significant anyway. The E-M5 seems to have a very weak AA filter and resolves fine detail just fine. the only things I like about the E-M1 is the new viewfinder and the improved ergonomics. It’s not enough to justify an upgrade though. I’ll skip this one and wait for the 24mp successor.

    • We’re long past the point of huge leaps with every product cycle; it’s incremental now. No harm in skipping a generation or two – the old cameras don’t become worse automatically because a new one got released…

    • I agree, perhaps a bit (only a bit) better at higher iso.s , but not more, than you can gain with a good noise reduction program. I do not think I would have upgraded even the price was lower, but certainly not with this price, and I very seldom shoot at higher iso.s because the in-camera stab. is so very good, so I do not need it

      Now I am thinking about buying the VF-4 for my E-.M5

  11. Hello Ming, do you plan to test the video capabilities of the M1 into more details? Thank you.

  12. Many thanks for the review! while I was going for OMD anyway, it did sway me towards the EM1 rather then the EM5.
    just two comments though. I believe the D600 JPEG results are significantly less impressive then an equivalent RAW file. I’m not sure how that affect the comparison (and for me it is not an issue anyway)
    Also, another big aspect is the availability of great lenses at affordable price. the equivalent for the micro 4/3 star lens in the full frame world cost twice and more and that have impact both on picture quality and my bank account :)

  13. Hi Ming !

    Thanks for your excellent reviews. Been following your blog since I got myself an EM5 6 months ago. And I’m still refering to your first videos to improve.

    I have a quick question about the video mode on the EM1. I tested briefly the video mode on the EM5, no big surprise : the IBIS is awesome. The only problem I found is the compression algorythm ; when presented with lots of motion (like, say a first person shot with lots of wanted camera movement), the compression falls apart and it’s just a mess of ugly pixels.

    I also own a video camera, a Panasonic AG HMC151. The optics and sensor can’t really compare, but it’s a video camera, so on that side it’s more suited usually. When confronted to a lot of motion, the image quality barely suffers.

    Now they’re both using AVCHD I believe, but the EM5′s bitrate is lower. Might be the issue.

    I don’t know if you stress-tested the EM1′s video mode on that type of situation yet ? Would be interested to know if it’s better. I have an upcoming shoot and I’d love to make use of the IBIS and my optics… Plus I could call an EM5 friend and shoot dual-camera !


    • Haven’t quantitatively stress tested the E-M1 – and won’t be able to until my own unit arrives, the loaner went back two weeks ago – but the bitrate has increased significantly, and I see far less blocking and tearing than with the E-M5 under similar situations. The raw video output still isn’t as good as the dedicated video cameras, but then again, it was never designed for that.

      • Thanks for the quick feedback. That’s what I expected. One little thing I’d like to know is if, contrary to the EM5, the EM1 can have live view over HDMI… Could allow to record uncompressed 4:2:2 via an Atomos Ninja or similar device. But I guess not…

  14. Great review Ming. Yesterday, DPReview released their E-P5 in-depth review in which they talk about camera-shake issues. Especially how the 5-axis can not prevent vertical shake when pressing the shutter.

    Here is the link:

    Have you noticed this issues in the E-M1 or the E-P5 and E-M5? I am assuming because the E-M1 is bigger and with a bigger grip, it should prevent some of these issues.

    I have am trying to sell my D7000 and two lenses to get the E-M1, so this might make me rethink my buying strategy.

  15. according to Olympus website, em1 has the same 12 bits so 14 bits looks like incorrect information. New processor speeds things up in terms of bursts but doesn’t add any more dynamic range.

  16. HI Ming, what do you think about the Omd Em1 vs the just announced Sony Alpha 7?

  17. Thank you for an excellent review (as always).

    I received my E-M1 two weeks back (my girlfriend takes the E-M5). In most respects it is a truly excellent camera and with the new EVF there have been a few occasions where I have forgotten that I was looking at a screen. Remarkable progress.

    The one thing that I do not like about it is that they have not fixed Auto-ISO. It is still remarkably bad for such an advanced camera. What I am missing for Auto-ISO are the following things:

    * Exposure compensation in manual mode with Auto-ISO.
    * Ability to adjust the thresholds for the balance between ISO and shutter speed in A and P mode. It seems to not like shutter speeds slower than 1/2*focallength (for example 1/90 on a 45mm lens). On a camera with excellent IS I do not ever want to use ISO3200 for a static subject. Why can there not be a button assignable to change the focal length multiplier with a wheel?

    Since Auto-ISO is essential to my way of working I doubt that Olympus will see any more money from me unless they can fix at least one of these issues in a firmware.

    • With all due respect, it seems to me that your needs are so peculiar that Olympus will never fix them . They will go fine without your money, too…

      • No he’s not and there’s nothing peculiar about it. There are many people who find the ability to set EC while specifying the shutter speed and aperture with auto ISO useful. Nikon has done it since the D3, Sony does it and Leica did it with the M9 (and then broke it with the M 240).

  18. Ming Thein,

    Awesome review, very helpful. thank you. I was wondering how you feel about the new long exposure issues owners of the E-M1 are having? Does your body have the same issue?

  19. thanks for taking the time with this review, very helpful

  20. This is an interesting and informative review. As someone who would like a much lighter/less bulky system camera that is well built, works well and has excellent lenses, I think the EM1 is certainly worth considering. I also think comparing this camera to FF cameras or other professional cameras makes sense. (I currently use a 5DII).

    However, I would very much like to read a review based on RAW images, since I would never use JPEG, and anyway they limit the value of the comparison. I would also like to see some images (as in the D800/Leica MM comparison), which work with people and shallow depth of field, to see exactly how handicapped the EM1 is in this area.

    Obviously I’m biased – I work only in B&W and I generally only photograph people, usually in their environmental context. I like to know the level of control I have over how that context is rendered with regard to depth of field, so those sorts of visual indications would be much more relevant to me than cars. Thanks anyway.

    • Perhaps you should go read one of the other bloggers who only shoot models wide open…that is not what I do. However, I can say that the DOF performance is the same as the E-M5, E-P5 and every other M4/3 camera. If you use the 45/1.8 or 75/1.8 lenses, there’s plenty of DOF control.

  21. Hi, Ming,

    Thank you for the excellent review.

    I am curious if there is any information about the dynamic range of consumer LCD monitors (such as those on iMac 27″) and what is the latitude of the currently used commercial printers.

    When it comes to the dynamic range, I guess a good camera should have at least equal dynamic range to the one of the monitor or the latitude of the printer. Extra dynamic range might be helpful during the post-processing but could be an overkill as well.

    Basically, by asking about the dynamic range of the LSDs and printer, I am trying to find an answer to the question how much camera dynamic range is enough.

    I appreciate any help with this.

    Thank you.


  22. Hi Ming,
    What would you say in terms of comparison between the Ricoh GR and the EM1, IQ wise at similar mm with 12-40 2.8?
    I have a Leica M and a Ricoh GR and am finding the Ricoh provides a far superior amount of keepers although would prefer native 35 and 50mm options instead of software crop it provides. I’m therefor intrigued by the EM1 12-40 combo as a one lens system travel camera for when I’m concerned about my Leica Noctilux walk around value (unfortunately happens very frequently and therefor stays home)… Will the M43 sensor allow for high quality A3+ Prints?

    Congrats on your site, I really enjoy your reviews and photography!

    • No, the GR is still better – a matched prime of moderate aperture and larger sensor will always win out over a smaller sensor and zoom. That said, the E-M1 is more forgiving at a wider range of shutter speeds because of the stabilizer; for static subjects handheld in low light, it will overtake the Ricoh because you’ll be a couple of stops lower in the ISO range.

      I have 36×50″ prints in my current exhibition from the E-M5, and they’re good enough to not see pixellation even at 6 inch viewing distance. It depends on the starting quality of your file, which is in turn related to your shot discipline :)

      • Thanks Ming, what a camera the GR is huh… I might just have to wait for a GR with a standard 50mm fixed lens, that would be the pair of cameras which might make me forget about my M completely, and all for £1200, less than 1 Leica lens… Pretty please Ricoh?!?!?!?!?!?!?!????

  23. Hello, Ming. I currently shoot with both a Leica M8 and an Olympus E-M5. One issue I don’t see discussed in reviews is the significant EVF delay in the E-M5, and whether it the E-M1 has improved this enough to matter. The E-M5 EVF lags about 1/8 second behind real life–enough that it was very difficult to nab a fleeting “decisive moment.” Example: I could not catch the instant of ball meeting the raquet in a very gentle family game of duffer tennis. I have no trouble doing such things with a Leica RF or a DSLR. I also found that if I put an external optical viewfinder in the hot shoe, the problem went away, and results were similar to a Leica RF. So the problem is not *shutter* lag, but the EVF.

    I later confirmed the viewfinder lag by photographing an electronic metronome with the sound turned off. Yes, I know my reaction time is significant, but my results with the Leica M8 and the E-M5 using an external bright-line viewfinder were about the same. The E-M5 with EVF was about 1/8 second longer. I even tried the Custom Menu J option to speed up the viewfinder refresh rate. It didn’t help.

    So my question now is: Has the E-M1 improved on this significantly? This subject is rarefied enough that no reviews I’ve read address it. I’d also like to know how much if any the shutter shock has been mitigated, because this means I must add yet another 1/8 second delay if I want the sharpest pictures.

    Sometimes all this doesn’t matter–often actions and expressions “peak and hold.” But somtimes the E-M5 doesn’t cut it for fast “people photography.” A pity, because it is so very, very good at so much else.

    Thanks for any insights.

    • It doesn’t if you use high speed refresh on the EVF. There might be AF lag, but that’s present on any camera, and frankly, I thought the shutter lag on the Leicas was amongst the worst I’d experienced. Prefocusing on the Olympus will eliminate lag entirely – you should be doing this anyway.

      I suspect the reason why nobody has mentioned lag is because it’s a non-issue in practice with both cameras. I certainly haven’t found it impeding my photojournalism work. Again: I notice more lag on the Ms than the E-M1 or E-M5.

      • Thanks, Ming. Interesting–your experience is different from mine. I do pre-focus. These shots are typical of the results that I got with the metronome. One forward swing of the needle is 1/2 second. From L-R: M8, E-M5 with external optical viewfinder, E-M5 with EVF, and E-M5 with EVF and 1/8 second shutter “anti-shock” delay.

        The M8-9-ME shutter is much louder when recocking than when the shutter opens, which made me think it was lagging until I got used to it. All I can say is that for some reason, I often lose a fleeting instant with the E-M5 and usually don’t with any of my optical viewfinder cameras, including film Ms, and M8, and the several Oly DSLRs I’ve owned. I’ll try the high frame rate again and see how it does.

  24. I use the delay often, but I know when I’m using it. Only picture #4 in the test shots has the delay.

    • There’s a setting on the E-M1 that seems to make the ‘bite point’ on the shutter button higher up, so it’s set more on a hair trigger – I find it doesn’t give me enough control, but perhaps it might be useful for you.

  25. Curious D600 owner says:

    Hi. Any update on the E-M1 vs. D600 in RAW? You made mention that you might update this comparison once ACR was available for the E-M1. Very interesting comparison for me, as that’s the EXACT trade I’m considering. D600 to E-M1. Thanks

    • The original review was updated some time back to include raw image assessment.

      • Hi Ming, I’ve been reading your posts lately and I find your blog really filled with great information and knowledge. Congratulaciones for that. One thing that I really can’t find anywhere is whether the responsiveness of the e-M1 is on par with that of the advanced or pro dslrs. I have a D300 and a e-m5 and althought the little om-d is way way battery than older m43 cameras, it still cannot match the responsiveness of the D300. I’ve recently used both in a studio shoot and after the first hour I stopped using the omd because it was killing the rythm of the shoot. I have been wondering (and lusting a bit) of getting an e-m1 to replace the e-m5 but I need to know if the camera is as responsive as the D300, close to it or very far from it. Can you give some feedback on this? I’d really appreciate your input. I understand the AF speed will be less than the phase detection one of the d300 but I am more worried on startup, delay on response from menu, review, sleep recovering, etc…

        best regards and thanks!!


        • I already answered that in the first part of the review. The E-M1 is just as responsive as the pro Nikons/ Canons.

          • Hi Ming,

            Thanks! Sorry I must have skipped this comment.

            Best regards


            • Ming, still can’t decide between the Olympus E-M1 and the Sony A7r for my new go to system. (Have the Ricoh GR as my compact backup which I purchased through your link to support the website!). I mostly shoot the family on vacation as well as at special events
              that sometimes require speed. Also enjoy portrait work as well as landscape shots on my vacation travels, and the ability to make enlargements. The E-M1 seems to do it all so well and with the 5 axis stabilization it looks like almost every shot is a keeper. But also intrigued by the full frame sensor and resolution power of the A7r. Is the focusing of the A7r too slow that I might miss some of those special family moments? If you weren’t invested in the Nikon D800 with the same sensor as the A7r, would you give more thought to the A7r as your primary camera, or would you stay with the E-M1?

              • I wouldn’t buy the A7R because a) native AF lens choice is very poor and Sony has a bad track record on this, and b) it has serious double image problems caused by shutter vibration at 1/150-1/500s. I covered both of these things extensively in the A7R review.

                • Recently purchased the E-M1 with the Olympus 12-40mm 2.8 pro zoom for my everyday lens. Looking for a top quality portrait lens to travel with. I know you haven’t reviewed the Pan-Leica Nocticron 42.5mm 1.2 yet, but assuming it is the same quality (or very slightly better which early reviews have suggested) in sharpness, tonality, and bokeh as the Olympus 75mm 1.8 , what lens would you tend to pick to put in your travel bag as a second lens?
                  If money were no object, would you pick the costlier Leica Nocticron that allows you to stop down twice more in a more useful 85mm ‘classic’ portrait range? Or would the 40mm end range of the 12-40mm 2.8 be good enough to use in most applications (with obvious low light restrictions)?
                  I’m thinking the Olympus 75mm 1.8 for the money would make the more useful 2nd lens to carry, but I’m just worried the 150mm length may be a little bit much to use frequently. Do you find the 150mm length more difficult to work with for family applications, as opposed to street photography?
                  Is it stupid to be considering the Leica for so much money but a useful f1.2, or will I find myself using and adapting to the ‘bargain’ Olympus 75mm more than I think?
                  Appreciate your insight.

                  • Sorry, but I haven’t even handled one. How can I possibly pass a fair judgement in advance on whether it works for me?

                    • Do you think the quality, DOF and speed of the 12-40 pro zoom makes a good enough portrait lens at 40mm, or should I have a second lens for that purpose? In your use of the Olympus 75mm 1.8, would I tend to have a harder time working with the 150mm length for family work as opposed to street photography?

                    • Again. I can’t answer that question because I have no idea how or what you shoot. I can make a portrait at 12mm or 75mm, both of which ‘work’. Either lens has more than sufficient quality, pictorial results depend on how the photographer uses them.


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