16 MP sensor | Large high-resolution EVF | Weatherproof construction | Wi-Fi

One of the privileges of working for DPReview is that we get to shoot with all of the latest and greatest cameras. Over the past year I've got my hands on most of the top-end SLRs and mirrorless cameras, and used some pretty exotic lenses. All have their own strengths and weaknesses, and inevitably a couple of inexplicable design decisions too. But of all this year's top cameras, my favourite has to be the Olympus OM-D E-M1, especially when paired up with its M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO 'kit' lens.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 - What I love

  • Excellent image quality in both JPEG and RAW
  • Extensive array of external controls
  • Superb electronic viewfinder - large and high resolution 
  • Tilting touchscreen
  • Weatherproof construction
  • 12-40mm F2.8 zoom is optically superb

As a disclaimer, I'm naturally predisposed to like the E-M1. I started using Micro Four Thirds shortly after reviewing the Panasonic 20mm F1.7, initially buying the DMC-GF1 with this tiny pancake lens as a complement to my SLR. But over time I found myself using it more and more, and when the OM-D E-M5 appeared last year I bought one to use as my main camera for personal shooting. I love this camera because it offers image quality that's good enough for most of what I want to do, in a small, lightweight and highly capable package (and crucially, with equally compact lenses). 

The E-M1 takes the E-M5 and improves on it in almost every imaginable way. It's more pleasant to hold due to its large, comfortable grip, and has a comprehensive array of external controls to place almost every shooting setting at your fingertips. It has built-in Wi-Fi to share your pictures, or use your phone as a remote control complete with onscreen live view - a surprisingly useful feature. Overall it just feels like a genuinely serious photographic tool, giving up nothing compared to high-end APS-C SLRs like the Nikon D7100 or Pentax K-3. Crucially, it's simply a great camera to pick up and take out shooting.

What else does the E-M1 have going for it? Its electronic viewfinder is excellent - large and high resolution - and personally I find it to be the best of any mirrorless camera yet. Indeed, perhaps for the first time, I really don't feel it's in any way worse than shooting with the optical finder of an SLR, just different (and in some ways better). The E-M1 is also genuinely fast and responsive, and its autofocus is unerringly accurate. It includes Olympus's somewhat under-appreciated trick of taking face detection a step further and being able to focus specifically on your subject's eyes. This may sound like a gimmick, but it genuinely seems to work.

Seven years ago, before I started working at DPReview, I shot almost exclusively with an SLR, taking everything in RAW and post-processing my shots until they were just so. But in the intervening years I've really come to appreciate the value of high quality out-of-camera JPEGs for everyday or social shots (not every image has to be tweaked to perfection), and the E-M1's are very good indeed. I also really like the portability offered by mirrorless systems; the E-M1 itself may not be the smallest of its type, but I can fit a comprehensive Micro Four Thirds lens set into a bag that I would otherwise use to carry an SLR with just a couple of zooms.

 Olympus OM-D E-M1 + M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm 1:3.5-6.3 EZ

Of course I'm something of a lens geek, so have to talk about the E-M1's premium 'kit' lens - the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO. This offers a really useful range (24-80mm equivalent), lightning fast and silent autofocus, and well-implemented manual focus (not traditionally a strength of lenses for mirrorless systems). But crucially, I've been really pleased with its image quality, and found barely anything to complain about at all so far. A high-end camera needs a high-end lens to shine most brightly, and the 12-40mm certainly fits the bill.  

Mirrorless cameras have really come of age over the past few years, and indeed reached a point where the size advantage of the overall system has, for me, really started to outweigh any disadvantages compared to SLRs. There are still subjects that SLRs are better for, of course, but I don't tend to shoot them. Picking the best of the current crop of high end mirrorless models isn't easy - I'm also a huge fan of Fujifilm's X-Pro1 - but if I was selling every camera I own and starting afresh, the E-M1 would probably be the one I'd buy.

This is part 3 in a series of articles where DPReview staff will be highlighting their personal standout products of the year.

Andy Westlake

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Sample Images

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