Olympus OM-D E-M1 review - at the pinnacle of what a compact interchangeable lens camera can achieve

Hang on, you might be saying; whilst the 16.3 effective megapixel OM-D E-M1 may outwardly resemble a DSLR it’s not actually one in the strictest sense, on account of being a mirror-less model. But since Olympus hasn’t released a DSLR proper in years, this interchangeable lens camera is the closest we currently get from the brand – and a pro-level alternative at that – which is why we’re including it here.

Like Nikon’s D610, this camera has been weatherproofed for professional use, and is, its maker claims, the ‘best Olympus camera ever’. However it’s also the manufacturer’s current priciest at £1300 body only, £1500 if opting for the 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens we had on test, or just under £1950 if going for the version bundled with a 12-40mm kit lens which offers a faster still f/2.8 aperture, making it most suitable for achieving those shallow depth of field DSLR effects. Pro quality yet with the kind of portability you wouldn’t get with a regular, bulkier DSLR is the pitch here. And whilst the OM-D E-M1 is a heavyweight in terms of specification, it is the smallest unit overall on test. There’s also a case for it being the best looking too, thanks to the gorgeous retro styling recalling analogue OM cameras from the 1960s. In terms of how it fits into the range, it offers an alternative to 2012’s E-M5 model, rather than strictly replacing it.

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Coming after 2012’s EM-5 model, the even higher end E-M1 provides a more professional finish as well as a dust and splash proofed body

Once again still pictures and video are composed either via eye level electronic viewfinder or 3-inch, tilting touch panel back screen, the latter offering over a million dots of resolution for a crystal clear display in Live View mode. If the OM-D falls down against the true DSLR competition here, it is as regards a rechargeable battery life of 330 shots. Fine if comparing it to a compact camera, but far less impressive against a DSLR proper. Swelling its feature set it is the first OM-D to feature built-in Wi-Fi – so it can be hooked up to and operated remotely via your iPad – and what’s more it can be operated in temperatures as low as -10° C. It’s also very fast in terms of auto focus and image processing, thanks in part to a very latest gneration TruePic VII processor.

If we’ve a gripe with the OM-D it is that is feels slightly over engineered, with a plethora of buttons and dials that don’t always offer the most intuitive route to getting at the core functions, such as ISO control, that we wanted. A simple ‘back’ button would have helped at times for us in retracing our operational steps. Also, there is no built-in flash, just a means by which an accessory flash can be clipped on. Compensation comes however in 11 fun and effective Art Filter digital effects, massively high 2 million dots plus resolution EVF, tilting touch screen below and the fact that image quality is such that if we didn’t know the OM-D’s shots hadn’t been taken on a DSLR in the strictest sense of the definition, we would have been largely fooled. That said, video response, particular as regards auto focus, could have been quicker still, being no match for Canon’s 70D in that respect.

OUR VERDICT

Despite a few reservations the OM-D E-M1 is right up there at the pinnacle of what a compact interchangeable lens camera can achieve. For most of us, in comparison with a DSLR, the image and build quality will be more than good enough to prompt a possible switch of allegiance. Apart from the largest sensor on the block, this is one serious photographic tool that appears to have it all.

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