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OM SYSTEM OM-1 review: Micro Four Thirds is alive and very well

The release of OM Digital Solutions “WOW” camera has been highly anticipated. Now, the OM SYSTEM OM-1 is finally here. We’ve had our hands on the camera for a while now and we’re ready to let you know if the WOW camera lives up to its nickname.

I’m not going to bore you with a long intro because you want to get right into the review. Still, I do quickly want to note why the Olympus name is still front and center on this camera. The OM SYSTEM OM-1 will be the last camera to use the old Olympus logo.

This design was has been used to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original OM-1 and as a logo handshake between the old and new companies. It’s a nice final farewell to the legendary Olympus name. We’re also looking at the OM-1 from a photography standpoint and not a video standpoint. Now, let’s get right into the review.

Pros

Autofocus = WOWImproved low light performance, but …Great image quality, improved DRNew menusIP53 rated weather sealingImproved battery life, EVF and LCDYou get a lot of camera for the price

Cons

The menus aren’t touch-friendlyNo dedicated dial for ISOAnimal eye AF is unreliable

OM System OM-1 — Technical specifications

All specifications for OM SYSTEM OM-1 are from OM Digital Solutions:

Sensor effective resolution: 20.4 megapixel Stacked BSI Live MOSDust reduction: Super Sonic Wave FilterProcessor: TruePic X dual quad core processorImage Stabilization: 5-Axis image stabilization with up to 8 shutter speed steps compensationViewfinder: OLED electronic viewfinder, approx. 5.76M dotsRear monitor: 3.0-inch vari-angle monitor, approx. 1.62M dotsWeatherproofing: Dust, splash and freezeproof (IP53 Rated)Media: Dual UHS-II SD cardsBattery life: Approx 520 shot (CIPA Rating)Focusing system: Phase detection AF and imager contrast AF, cross-type phase detection AF (1,053 points)AI detection: Formula cars, rally cars, motorcycles, aircraft, helicopters, bullet trains, standard trains, steam locomotives, birds, dogs, catsSequential shooting: Approx 10 fps, anti-shock sequential shooting: approx. 10 fpsSilent sequential shooting: Approx 20 fps without blackout, SH1, approx. 120 fps without blackout, SH2, approx. 50 fps without blackoutPro Capture: Approx 20 fps, SH1, approx. 120 fps, SH2 approx. 50 fpsAdditional features: Focus stacking, art filters, Live Composite. exposure bracketing. Live ND, 4K video, wireless shooting & GPS via smartphoneWeight approx.: 1.12lbs / 511g (body only)Dimensions approx.: 5.3 inches (W) x 3.6 inches (H) x 2.86 inches (D)

OM SYSTEM OM-1 — Ergonomics and build quality

From an ergonomics standpoint, the OM SYSTEM OM-1 is nearly identical to the E-M1 III. This is no bad thing. The E-M1 III was a delight to hold and use thanks to its low weight, deep grip and well laid out controls. These positives have carried over to the OM-1.

The camera is small and weighs just 1.12lbs. Despite this, the OM SYSTEM OM-1 is very comfortable. The top panel is well designed and is easy to navigate. You’ll find the usual mode dial, on/off switch, burst mode and AF function controls. New to the OM-1 is a red button that is dedicated to putting the camera into handheld and tripod-based hi-res modes.

Thoughtful design

Around the back, you’ll find the articulating LCD screen and a bevy of controls, Most controls are easy to reach. The joystick is perfectly placed and works well, and the new dedicated AF ON button for back button focus is a great idea.

There is a directional pad on the back. Still, I would have preferred a jog dial that could double up as an ISO control. The front of the camera houses two customizable function buttons. The right side of the camera houses the dual UHS-II card slots, while the left has a mic input jack, a headphone input, mini HDMI and a USB-C port.

Overall the button layout is great, I do have a complaint though. It would have been would be nice if both the on/off switch and menu buttons were on the right side and not the left. As it stands you have to use your left hand to get into the menus and to toggle power, which means both are a two-handed affair.

Build quality

OM SYSTEM OM-1

OM Digital Solutions has designed a camera that will stand up to immense amounts of abuse. The OM SYSTEM OM-1 has a shutter that’s rated for 400,000 clicks. The camera has a weather sealing rating of IP53 which means it can withstand pretty extreme exposure to dust and moisture. While I didn’t get the chance to use the OM-1 in the rain, I have no doubt it will laugh in Mother Nature’s face. I have used the E-M1 III and the E-M1X in extreme conditions and they both held up well. I expect the OM-1 to as well.

The body of the camera is tough and features a rugged magnesium alloy frame that will withstand the rigors of modern photography. All of the controls provide nice positive feedback and the camera is covered in a textured grip that provides lots of traction. I have used the OM-1 a lot since it has been in my hands and it has put up with everything I’ve thrown at it. There’s not a single spec of dust on the sensor after multiple lens changes and after being subjected to incredibly demanding conditions while out on a few windy hikes. I do not doubt that the OM SYSTEM OM-1 will take lots of abuse.

OM SYSTEM OM-1 — In the field

The OM SYSTEM OM-1 offers users an easy-going experience. This is thanks to the camera’s lightweight, compact design, button placement and a host of features that are designed to help you get the most out of this camera.

There’s a new 5.76 million dot EVF that’s crisp, large and bright. It has a high refresh rate of 120 fps and is blackout-free when used in multiple different modes. This is a huge departure from the 2.36 million dot EVF that Olympus used for many years. It’s great that the OM-1 has caught up to some of its competition.

The Super Control Panel has received a face-lift and is as useful as ever.

The OM SYSTEM OM-1 has also received a new LCD. It has a resolution of 1.62m dots, which makes it easier to make out fine details. It also makes focus peaking easier to use. The screen is fully articulated. In standard settings, the LCD is hard to see in direct sunlight. However, you can bump up the brightness to help with this. The touch screen is nice and responsive too. I’m also pleased to report that the OM-1 still features the Super Control Panel. This menu has received a face-lift but it still provides quick access to many settings.

There are lots of customizable buttons and there are four custom modes on the mode dial. You can make this camera work for you. Separately, these features might not sound like much, however, when they all come together, they make the OM-1 a joy to use. Let’s break things down a bit further.

Menu system

The OM SYSTEM OM-1 features an all-new menu system. Hallelujah! The new menus are laid out logically. All of the different categories are color-coded and instead of scrolling down a never-ending list you now scroll from left to right and vice versa. The setup reminds me of Canon’s menu system. This is great because I’ve said for many years that Canon’s menus are industry-leading.

One thing I love is that you can hit the info button on any menu setting and you’ll be told in plain terms what the setting does. When an item in the menu is grayed out, if you hit the info button, sometimes you’ll be told why the feature is disabled. It’s a small feature but it adds a lot to the overall user experience.

However, I do have one big complaint about the new menu system. It’s not touch-friendly. Fortunately, you can use the front dial to jump between categories, and you can use the rear dial to jump between category pages. You can also create a menu with options you use frequently, which speeds things up. Overall, the new menus are a huge improvement, but the user’s experience would have been even better if the menus were touch-friendly.

IBIS, Live Comp and Live ND performance

Olympus was known for its IBIS system. OMDS has taken what was already amazing and has made it even better. The IBIS unit is 10% lighter than in previous cameras, however, it’s built stronger and reacts faster. In all, it can give you up to eight stops of image stabilization with certain lenses. It’s phenomenal to use out in the field.

Hand holding this camera for two to three seconds is pretty easy, especially with wider lenses like the 8-25mm f/4 PRO. I was even able to handhold the Olympus 100-400mm (200-800mm equivalent) at the 800mm equivalent long end at less than 1/100s and could still get razor-sharp images. The Live ND feature is back as well, only this time it goes up to ND64. I just leave my ND filters at home. I know I can get natural-looking results using AI instead.

OM SYSTEM OM-1

Live Comp is always been one of my favorite features and I’m pleased to say it works perfectly. You simply set a base exposure and take an image. When you hit the shutter again, the camera only adds new light to the scene. This makes it incredibly easy to capture gorgeous star trails. The image above is 200 four-second images stacked together in-camera. In the end, you get one RAW file that you can easily edit. It’s brilliant. Features like these make the OM-1 fun to use.

Buffer performance and battery life

The OM SYSTEM OM-1 has two UHS-II card slots and it puts them to good use. The camera has excellent burst rates and the speed of UHS-II cards means you can rattle off 131 images (RAW to one card, JPEG to the other) before the buffer fills. When I was out shooting I never came close to filling the buffer. I think most photographers will have nothing to worry about here.

The OM-1 uses a new battery, the BLX-1. This battery has the capacity to deliver 25% more shots compared to the previous battery. According to CIPA, the BLX-1 will deliver 520 shots. However, you can shoot far more than 520 shots on a single charge. I fired off over 750 shots and the battery still had 30% of its life left. I got these results by shooting a mixture of burst shots, long exposures, using AI tracking, IBIS and Live ND filters, and there was plenty of image chimping thrown in for good measure. Battery life is pretty great. If you do need to top off the battery you can do so using a USB-C battery bank.

OM SYSTEM OM-1 — Autofocus performance

The OM SYSTEM OM-1 uses an all-new Cross Quad Pixel AF system. This system feature 1,053 focus points that are all cross-type and that cover 100% of the sensor. The end result is nothing short of spectacular. It’s the autofocus system that will make you say WOW.

I have used this camera in multiple situations, on multiple subjects, and in varied lighting conditions. It has not disappointed. Using a single point is flawless. It’s blazing fast and accurate in both good and less than ideal lighting conditions. You’ll have no issues here. Continuous autofocus is also brilliant. The OM-1 easily keeps up with whatever you’re tracking. I did notice a little hunting in backlit situations, but it was brief and once it figured itself out, it found focus again quickly. Now, let’s break down the rest of the AF system.

Continuous + tracking

Tracking is something that Olympus has struggled with in the past. However, the engineers at OM Digital Solutions have finally figured it out. The tracking on the OM-1 is super sticky and I can say that it performs as well as many Sony cameras. Still, it falls just short of matching the A1 and the Canon EOS R5 and R6.

In the field, I have easily been able to track erratic birds in flight, squirrels bouncing between trees, dogs running, people, cars going by and more. Once the object has been focused on the tracking box stays with it until an object passes in front of it. Even when this happens, the OM-1 regains focus rapidly once the object has passed. As you can see in the sequence above, the OM-1 tracked this seagull well. These represent 7 frames out of 18 I captured. Greater than 95% of them were in focus.

This camera is unlike any Olympus camera before it. If you cant get the shot with this camera, it might be time for you to put cameras down so you can start knitting instead.

AI subject detection and eye AF

OM SYSTEM OM-1

AI Subject detection was introduced in the E-M1X and it’s something I have enjoyed using. I’m glad OMDS has knuckled down and improved this feature. AI Subject Detection is another WOW feature of the OM-1. There are dedicated AI tracking modes for cars, motorcycles, trains, birds, cats and dogs, and each of them works pretty flawlessly.

The camera doesn’t auto-switch between the different objects, but each dedicated tracking mode finds its intended targets with ease. Once locked on, the camera does not let the subject go. It’s brilliant and makes capturing fast, erratic objects like birds, cars and motorcycles easy. These tracking modes also work in single AF modes as well as continuous focus modes.

OM SYSTEM OM-1Animal eye AF can be a little sketchy.

Human eye AF is greatly improved over the system found in the E-M1X and the E-M1 III. Point the camera at your subject and the camera locks on. It consistently provides great results and doesn’t lose focus on the eye to capture eyelashes, for example. The camera will also focus on animals’ eyes (birds, cats and dogs), however, eye tracking is a little more erratic on animals. It will often find the eyes of the animals if you’re close enough, but it just won’t stick. The algorithm here needs a little work.

Overall, the AI subject detection helps make the autofocus system on the OM-1 one of the best on the market.

Pro Capture

Another WOW feature is Pro Capture. Pro Capture allows you to catch a set number of frames when you half-press the shutter. When you hit the shutter fully, the camera saves the frames before you fully depressed the shutter and the frames after. This means you can capture the precise moment of any action easily.

In the OM-1, Pro Capture has been taken up a notch. Now, you can fire off 120fps and still maintain focus on the initial focal point, and you can shoot 50fps with continuous focus. 50 frames per second with continuous focus. Just let that sink in. It’s mind-blowing and it works very well.

Starry AF

OM System OM-1Captured using Starry AF.

Starry AF is as good as ever in the OM SYSTEM OM-1. You simply select this mode, dial in your settings, use the LCD to touch on any tiny point of light in the sky and the camera does the rest. You’ll get pin-sharp stars in your image (as long as you have followed the 500 rule of astrophotography). It’s really impressive that the OM-1 can nail focus like this. It makes astrophotography easy.

OM SYSTEM OM-1 — Image quality

The OM SYSTEM OM-1 will provide you with stunning images. The 20-megapixel BSI sensor captures a ton of detail. It, along with the image processors, produces wonderful colors, low light performance has been improved by two stops, and dynamic range gets a one-stop bump as well. Let’s break things down below.

Dynamic range

OM Digital Solutions claims that the new sensor in the OM SYSTEM OM-1 provides 1 stop more dynamic range compared to the last generation M4/3 sensor. They’re not lying. As you see in the two comparison sliders, the files have a lot of play in them when it comes to highlight and shadow recovery.

In the first slider, you’ll see that pulling details out of a blown-out sky was no problem at all. The second slider shows you how impressive shadow recovery is. Even when pushing shadow recovery very hard, noise levels are well controlled. Unless you get your exposure completely wrong, you’ll have no problems recovering your images.

JPEG quality

The OM SYSTEM OM-1 is a camera that will please photographers who like to shoot JPEGs. Olympus cameras always produced pleasing colors. OM Digital Solutions’ first camera carries on this tradition. JPEGs exhibit pleasing colors and tones.

The camera does a nice job controlling both highlights and shadows. The images don’t appear to be over-sharpened, and noise reduction isn’t cranked up to a crazy level. You’ll find that your JPEGs will contain a ton of detail and that they’re ready to share to your favorite social platform immediately.

High ISO performance

One area Micro Four Thirds cameras have struggled with is high ISO. The new BSI sensor In the OM SYSTEM OM-1 does improve low light performance, but it’s not groundbreaking. I feel completely comfortable shooting up to ISO 6400 with the OM-1. Images look clean and they contain a lot of small details.

I am also happy with images at ISO 12800, though color noise does start to show. One of the images above was shot at ISO 25600. Honestly, images at this level are fine for web or even small prints. Before, this wouldn’t have been possible. So, improvements have been made. Micro Four Thirds veterans will be pleased with the increased low light performance. Others will continue to see it as a weak point, even though ISO 6400, which is the arbitrary standard, is more than acceptable.

OM SYSTEM OM-1 — Micro Four Thirds is alive and well

OM Digital Solutions were faced with a tough challenge when they purchased the camera division from Olympus. OMDS had one chance to produce a camera that would show the world that they made the right choice in buying the beleaguered camera manufacturer. I am pleased to say that their decision has paid off. The OM SYSTEM OM-1 isn’t a perfect camera. However, it improves on the Micro Four Thirds platform in all of the right places.

At $2,199 the OM SYSTEM OM-1 isn’t cheap. The naysayers out there will say “$2,199 for M4/3s! What a ripoff.” But they’d be wrong to think that.

Yes, you can buy full-frame cameras for less. You have to remember though — the OM-1 isn’t a camera that has been designed for everyone. OM Digital Solutions is targeting a niche market with this camera, and honestly, for this segment (wildlife, adventure and travel photographers), they have hit the nail on the head. Those who value small, light, powerful cameras that can go through hell and back will be thrilled with this camera.

The OM SYSTEM OM-1 is light, rugged, insanely powerful, it has one of the best autofocus systems on the market and the IBIS performance is unmatched. Images from this camera sing with gorgeous colors and lots of detail. Now, users will also get great low-light performance. Even dynamic range has been improved. This is everything fans of this platform have wanted.

If you’re a birder, a wildlife photographer, a nature photographer, a traveler, or even a sports photographer, this camera will serve you very well and it will last you a long time. Haters are still going to hate, but the fact is, this camera from OM Digital Solutions is fantastic.

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