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New flagship Olympus mirrorless compact camera fits all lenses

Jackie Dove | Sept. 11, 2013
It's not every day that a major camera company touts a brand-new flagship product, but that's the agenda for the new Olympus OM-D E-M1. And there's a good reason.

Olympus camera

It's not every day that a major camera company touts a brand-new flagship product, but that's the agenda for the new Olympus OM-D E-M1. And there's a good reason.

Olympus baked the the technology of its traditional E-Series mirrored DSLRs into a compact, mirrorless body that's similar to its recent Pen and OM-D models. The result is the best of both worlds: A professional-level mirrorless interchangeable lens camera with conveniently compact dimensions of 4.8 × 2.7 × 1.5 inches, weighing just under a pound.

Four thirds vs. micro four thirds

This digicam is designed to integrate two distinct lens systems—the four thirds and micro four thirds, offering full compatibility between them for the first time. To achieve this feat, the camera incorporates Dual Fast AF—two different auto focus systems: phase detection AF (when the four thirds lens is attached) and contrast detection AF (when the micro four thirds lens is attached). With this new model, Olympus had to choose between the mirrored classic DSLR (four thirds) approach and the mirrorless compact system camera (micro four thirds) approach. It chose the latter because of size, speed, response, and viewfinder magnification advantages.

The choice of a compact body is not surprising. Hobbyists and enthusiasts are among the fastest-growing segments of the market—living in a smartphone environment that has made everyone more aware of ubiquitous photo opportunities. Cameras need to take great pictures, but also be more portable, swift, and easy to operate.

Micro four thirds cameras evolved from the four thirds standard several years ago—the former being even smaller and lighter. Both four thirds and micro four thirds systems use the same image sensor, but the newer models have a shorter lens-to-sensor distance, allowing their lenses (and thus the entire camera) to be smaller and lighter. This size/weight differential drives their growing popularity, even among advanced and professional shooters who crave a second, more-casual camera in addition to their weighty work model.

And that's another area where the OM-D E-M1 is distinctive. It's not merely a second camera--it's a pro-level unit unit itself, though not a full-frame camera.

Impressive specs
The OM-D E-M1's 16.3-megapixel Live MOS sensor is paired with Olympus' new TruePic VII image processor, which supports 10 frames-per-second shooting in single autofocus mode and 6.5 fps in continuous autofocus mode. ISO range is 200-25600.

It doesn't hurt that the Olympus OM-D E-M1, with its magnesium alloy body, is built to be more durable than its predecessors. Olympus has expanded the rugged dustproof and splashproof characteristics of previous models by adding freezeproof capabilities--with guaranteed operation down to 14 degrees Farenheit.

As far as video goes, surprisingly, there's nothing special--it shoots at full HD 1920 x 1080 (16:9) 30p, 24Mbps (MOV)--while some Sony and Panasonic models support 60p.

 

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