Why The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Original Was Such An Important Camera

Olympus followed up the game-changer E-M5 by releasing their first mirrorless Micro Four Thirds camera targeted toward the professional and serious enthusiast market - OM-D E-M1 in 2013.  Scrutinizing the paper specifications, nothing much have changed, the core of the two cameras were rather similar - same 16MP resolution Micro Four Thirds sized image sensor, 5-Axis image stabilization built in, weather sealing, built in electronic viewfinder and the claim of having the fastest AF at that time. However, those who have used the E-M1 extensively would testify that the E-M1 was a more refined camera and certainly better suited for professional and more heavy duty use. E-M1 was the camera that successfully convinced me to switch from DSLR to mirrorless camp, and since then I have always believed that mirrorless is the future. 


Olympus got a lot right in the E-M1, and they did not do so by beating the competition in any specific manner. The E-M1 was not the best in any aspect of a camera, it does not have the highest Megapixel count, not the best C-AF tracking for sports, not the best low light shooting camera and certainly pales in comparison to full frame cameras when it comes to dynamic range. However, why was E-M1 such a popular camera and became so successful? DPReview crowned the E-M1 their two most prestigious awards in 2013 - The Best Camera Of The Year as well as The Product Of The Year. Olympus must have done something right, though they did not particularly excel in any singular aspect of a camera capability. 

The answer - Olympus managed to strike a balance, and paid attention to every single aspect of the camera. The camera may not be the best at anything, but it does everything very well. The 16MP image sensor won't beat a full frame image sensor, but it comes very close to APS-C DSLR performance. The AF was shockingly fast and accurate, and Olympus managed to include some interesting features such as 5-Axis Image Stabilization (which was improved from the E-M5). While the E-M1 was a mirrorless camera, Olympus did not skimp the handling part, they gave the E-M1 a beefy hand-holding gripping area, and those who have held the E-M1 knew that Olympus made sure the ergonomics of the camera was well made. The electronic viewfinder was bright, large and lag-free, certainly a peek into the future of possibilities when it comes to mirrorless camera imaging. 

What made me switch over from my old DSLRs to E-M1? 

I was using the Olympus DSLR E-5 and E-520 for photography jobs (I was freelancing) as well as personal shutter therapy sessions. The E-M1 came along with EVF that matches the LCD screen in color and contrast. The color was visibly different between the LCD and EVF in the previous E-M5, and Olympus managed to fixed this quickly. The EVF was further improved - increased in magnification, refresh rate and resolution. Having the superior what you see is what you get advatage of live exposure simulation, or as Kirk Tuck put it - pre-chimping (you see the results before you press the shutter button), it was indeed revolutionary for my photography, at least for my own shooting. The AF was miles ahead in terms of speed and accuracy in comparison to many cameras available in the market that that time, and certainly was better than my DSLRs. I knew I had to make the switch. 

I have been shooting with the E-M1 and a plethora of Micro Four Thirds lenses for many years, before I finally made the switch to E-M1 Mark II. Mind you, all these happened even before I joined the Olympus Visionary program. 

I truly believe that the E-M1 was the first real professional mirrorless camera in the market. It certainly checked all the right boxes, and when Olympus designed the camera they had professional photographers in their mind, making sure they final product is a balanced camera that can perform well in any given shooting environment. It has served me well for many years, doing countless photography jobs and many many more personal shoots. I could not have been happier to make the jump to the OM-D camp when I did. 

Olympus did many things right with the E-M1. They introduced the venerable M.Zuiko 12-40mm PRO which was their first PRO lens to match the E-M1, a worthy standard zoom lens that was well constructed, sharp optically, fast in AF and weather-sealed. Olympus also listened to customer feedback and quickly fixed many issues that were found in the predecessor E-M5. I would go as far as to say that the E-M1 was what the E-M5 was supposed to be, and it was a more refined version. 

The continuous support from Olympus by releasing Firmware Upgrades was commendable for the E-M1 camera. Over the four iterations of Firmware updates, Olympus has not only fixed the bugs/errors but made significant improvements when it comes to real practical shooting. They managed to increase the burst sequential shooting with continuous AF from the limit of 6.5FPS to 9FPS, that was an almost 50% increase of performance. They also added many features into the camera, such as better movie recording modes (audio level control, more frame rate options eg 24p, 25p), live composite, focus bracketing and stacking, silent shutter, S-OVF, new Art Filters, and many more. 

Today the E-M1 stays in my camera bag as a fail-proof back up for my main workhorse, E-M1 Mark II. Truthfully, even now in 2020, I can still confidently take out the E-M1 with no hesitation and I know I will be able to deliver satisfactory shots to my clients. The E-M1 was genuinely a camera that shows Olympus DNA, and I am glad Olympus continued that in the E-M1 Mark II, and hopefully in their future iterations. 

I am sure many of you have used, and still use the E-M1. Share your experience using your E-M1!


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10 comments:

  1. Very close path and experience to yours. E-M1's ability to handle FT lenses convinced me to switch. Gradually replacing them with m43 versions, I still keep 50 F/2 and 50-200. Original camera served me faithfully for 6 years, until E-M1X came around. I kept it as a backup and a secondary camera for adapted vintage lenses, still works flawlessly even though shows its age in appearance

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    1. 50mm F2 and 50-200mm, I owned both lenses before too before gradually making the switch to Micro Four thirds. There is something really special about the 50mm lens!

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  2. Thanks for this short overview of why the OM-D E-M1 was such a big deal. Actaually I was one of the first users to preorder and to get one of these in 2013 in Germany. One year later I got a second one as a backup (which used to be my E-620 before). The E-M1 is a great and very reliable camera that I traveled a lot with and that I still use from time to time. Like you mentioned the firmware-upgrade policy of Olympus is an important part of keeping the camera valuable for the users. This is one reason that makes me stay with Olympus until today. Still great ideas in great cameras!

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    1. Indeed, I think the Firmware Upgrade was indeed a crucial factor, adding value to the existing Olympus shooters. Honestly it costs the company a lot of money doing the firmware upgrades which not many people know. I am glad they still continue to do it.

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  3. Just a note on EM-1 ( that I use together with EM-1mkII ): The baterry is pain in the s.

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  4. Hey Nice Blog!! Thanks for Sharing! I really enjoyed this article, waiting for a more new post. Keep Blogging!
    Clipping Path Adept

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  5. The FW updates were probably the biggest and most unprecedented factor. Previous to the E-M1 there was virtually no camera Olympus made that got much past v1.1 or v1.2 in FW. A camera would be released at v1.0, some immediate bugs would be found and v1.1 would be released to fix those and then the camera was essentially abandoned at this point. If anything you might see v1.2 but only if they had some new lens or flash they were trying to push they might do one more FW update to support something about the new product, but it wasn't to make the camera better per se but to sell the next thing. But with the E-m1, this was the first time they actually updated it several times specifically to improve or add features to keep the camera relevant, even when other newer models were already on the market and they still were willing to push some of the new features down the the E-M1. Again, unprecedented!

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  6. Hey Robin, nice post mentioning the original EM1. I got this camera back in April/Mai 2015 when i was looking for a smaller, lighter and compact system. I had a great time with this camera. Lots of fun and joy.

    However 2 years later i exchanged it with the EM1 II. Only because the Mark 2 brought so much more performance to the table ...

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