Hands-on with the Olympus OM-D E-M1

Can the successor to our favourite mirrorless snapper make another leap for camera-kind?

Mirrorless cameras sure are growing up fast.

Only last June we marvelled at the Olympus OM-D E-M5, which rocketed to the summit of our Top 10 'DSLRs, etc' list. And now they've made our inner proud uncle all misty-eyed again with the OM-D E-M1 – an upgraded version that's left us very tempted to trade in the office cat.

Though it's also a semi-pro mirrorless camera with a built-in electronic viewfinder, the E-M1 isn't a replacement for its older brother. Instead, it's a new flagship with a price tag to match. Expect it to be ready to joust lenses with the likes of Fuji's XE1 from mid-October for £1300 (body only) – quite a leap from the £550 you can get a E-M5 for online.

What's new?

To help justify that Jackass-painful price tag, the E-M1 brings five big upgrades. Propelling it further into semi-pro territory is a new 16MP Live MOS sensor with boosted image processing. This kept our shots remarkably noise-free even at high ISOs and plays nicer with the range of Four Thirds lenses it works with via an adaptor. Along with the Micro Four Thirds lens range, this means the E-M1 has 63 pieces of compatible glass and counting.

Another boost that's more immediately obvious is the 'dual fast' autofocus system. The E-M5's autofocus was already snappy, but the E-M1's is lightning fast at locking onto targets and now also works in sequential mode – making it particularly talented at burst shooting moving objects, like horses.

More after the break...

Now with added Wi-Fi

Our favourite (if less essential) new addition is Wi-Fi. Press a button, scan the on-screen QR code with your iOS/Android device, and it pairs the two via the free Ol.Share app. It acts as more than just a remote shutter button – you can also fiddle with settings like aperture, ISO and white balance, while your E-M1 stands ten feet away in the line of fire. There's surprisingly little lag and it saves an extra copy of the photo onto your tablet or phone. 

Olympus OM-D E-M1

Then, finally, there are the exterior upgrades: better build quality and a boosted electronic viewfinder. The E-M1's new chunkier grip makes it steadier for handheld shots, and the body is now an all-magnesium beauty that, with the camera's feast of dials and controls, makes it feel reassuringly expensive. That bright and crisp viewfinder is also almost twice the resolution of the E-M5 and gets close to (gasp) troubling optical viewfinders. 

What's still great?

Hands-on with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 - What's still great? 2Hands-on with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 - What's still great? 3

As you'd hope for the price, the E-M1 also does all the things that made its predecessor our favourite camera. It's dust, splash and freeze-proof (down to -10C), has the same 'five-axis' sensor stabilisation that works really well for off-the-hip handheld photography, and has a fantastic Live Time mode for making long exposure light paintings.

Most importantly, it feels great in the hand and is really fun to shoot with. But is it £1500 of fun, the price of the E-M1 with a 12-50mm kit lens? We'll let you know in a full review very soon.

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