Sunday, August 18, 2013

Olympus OM-D EM-1 Pro Camera - Accidental leak

Olympus OM-D-EM-1 Pro Cameras from the top-front.  

Well the mFT (micro four thirds) blogs are all abuzz about a leak on Engadget of a video showing the rumored Olympus OMD-EM1 "Pro" camera.   This is not a replacement for the well received OMD-EM5 that came out almost 1.5 year ago, but rather is a second, higher end and more expensive model that is placed above it, intended to be a "Pro" model.   A third lower end and lower cost model is also promised.  

M4/3 (micro four thirds) is not a system that is exclusive to Olympus.  It is also used by Panasonic which produces another line of excellent cameras that can use the same lenses, flashes, etc. as well as a growing line of lenses that will also work on Olympus cameras.  Soon, there may also be another m4/3 camera entry from JKIMAGING of China which purchased the rights to the Kodak name, and is planning the release this fall of the new Kodak S-1 which will also be a four third system camera.  That will make 3 different m4/3 camera systems that will share some compatibility, while also allowing each to take original approaches to design and function while adhering to the core m4/3 standards.

The images you see here screen shots from the video that was on Engadget.  Original video was removed from Engadget but is available for download, at least for a little while at the following links.
Also on YouTube for now:

It is important to keep in mind that what is shown here are not finished models, but either prototypes or early pre-production models and they do show some rough edges.    This is common, and it is expected that the final production models will be without obvious seams or irregular shaped items.   The important thing to keep in mind is that this video was never intended to be released to the public and was probably intended as a primer to go out to camera store sales reps or other representatives, prior to the official release which is expected sometime in September.   One should not make too many judgements about the final camera from this and there remain a lot of questions about camera specifics that are not yet known.

There are a lot of rumors and outright wild guesses about sensor size, video capability, etc, but I would caution against taking anything too seriously until we have actual specifics from Olympus.

What we do know.

  1. The camera "loosely" follows the original OMD film camera designs.   However it includes a built-in grip that is permanent and has what looks to be a large and heavy duty bottom grip for extra battery power and vertical controls.   -- The OM-D EM-5 which was the first in this series of cameras and the middle of the line, does not have the large built-in grip but does offer an "add-on" grip and battery pack for those who want it.  
  2. It is a m4/3 sensor (micro four thirds) which is a bit smaller then the APS-c sensors in most popular DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras on the market.  
  3. It is a Mirrorless camera, so it does not have the reflex mirror or Penta-mirror/Pentaprisms that are the hallmark of DSLR cameras.  This allows the cameras be smaller, lighter and to allow for a shorter lens flange distance.  - In plain english, the lenses for mirrorless cameras, especially m4/3 cameras can be smaller and lighter while still producing very high image quality.  
  4. One of its main features, not included with other m4/3 cameras is that it has a new sensor that works with both CDAF (Contrast Detect Auto Focus) and PDAF (Phase Detect Auto Focus).   Up until now, all m4/3 cameras have used CDAF.   While very quick they tend to hunt sometimes when trying to lock onto moving subjects or in low light.    PDAF systems typically are a little less quick (very little) but lock on directly without much hunting.   Let me clarify though that for the average photographer the differences are in fractions of a second to a second for the most part.  
  5. Olympus started out with the 4/3 (Four third, aka Regular four third) system using a typical DSLR design.  Three models, the E1, E3 and E5 were produced, along with a several very high quality and sharp Pro grade lenses that are among the best ever made.   They included single focal length and some remarkable zoom lenses that pushed the limits of optical design.  These lenses and their internal electronics however were designed to work with PDAF focus systems.  When Olympus introduced the m4/3 (micro four thirds) standard, the older lenses could be used via an adapter on the smaller m4/3 bodies but did not work well with the CDAF focus systems.   As a result, while they would focus, they were very slow.  
  6. Since the new Olympus OM-D EM-1 provides both CDAF and PDAF focus systems (built into the sensor chip) this new system allows the older lenses to focus nearly as fast as the m4/3 lenses, which are very quick.    So it is a hybrid system (PDAF and CDAF) that attempts to combine the best of both worlds.   Some other camera manufacturers (such as Sony) have already built hybrid camera systems but so while improvements, none of them have yet been ideal.  We will have to wait to see if Olympus does any better. 
  7. That perusing all the rumor forums, people tend to love or hate the design, with a few somewhere in the middle.   A lot seem to have difficulty grasping the idea that the camera's shown are either prototypes or preproduction models, and don't completely reflect the final production models. 
Olympus OM-D E-M1 shown with an older 4/3 system lens, the exceptionally sharp 14-35mm F2 zoom Equivalent to a 28-70mm zoom on a full frame digital or 35mm film camera.  As you can see it is a very large lens, on a rather small body  Behind the lens you can see the adapter that allows it to fit the m4/3 body.  This image also shows the optional Battery back that can attached to the bottom of the camera for additional power and to provide additional controls for vertical shooting.   A common accessory for Pro grade cameras.  

In the photo above you can see how large the older 4/3 lenses are compared to the smaller m4/3 bodies.   An equivalent m4/3 lens would be about half the size and weight.   The advantage of micro four thirds is the smaller and lighter camera bodies while still providing image quality mostly equivalent to larger APS-c camera sensors.  (And yes we do note that in various camera/photo forums there is some vigorous debate on this matter.)  

Olympus OM-D E-M1 with its new, large 2,380,000 dot OLED EVF. 
One of the hallmarks of any Pro camera is a good viewfinder.   Typically most EVF (electronic viewfinders)  and lower level OVF (optical view finders) have smaller, less detailed and less bright view finders.  With the introduction of their Pen E-P5 camera recently, Olympus also introduced the VF4 add-on viewfinder with 2,380,000 dot OLED EVF.   The original E-M5 model only provided a 1,444,000 dot resolution and at a lower effective magnification.  While it was a good viewfinder it was not exceptional.   The new EVF in the E-M1 is technically the same as the VF4 minus 90 degree vertical viewing capability and is larger, brighter, higher magnification and much higher resolution, then before.  It approaches, but not quite equals the best OVF (optical) viewfinders in high end DSLR's.   As you can see above, the viewfinder is very large, relative to the camera size.   This is something that most serious enthusiast and professional photographers will appreciate.  

The OM-D E-M1 is fully weather resistant (with sealing gaskets), meaning it is water resistant, dust resistant and can be operated consistently down to 14°F or -10°C.  While you don't want to drop it in a lake or bucket of water, it can easily be used in rain or snow showers without worry of harm to the camera.  Do note though that to have the complete weather resistance you must also use weather resistant lenses.  

Olympus OM-D EM-1 shown demonstrating its wifi capabilities and the ability to both view images before, during and after shooting and control the camera from a smart phone or tablet.  
The OM-D EM-1 also comes with Wifi connection capabilities.  This is a common addition to many of the new digital cameras, and for Pro use opens up many possibilities.   The ability to monitor the camera's images before, during and after shooting at larger sizes is a definite benefit for studio work,  wildlife, experimental, astrophotography, field and even scientific work.   The new app that makes this possible also provides control over most camera functions from exposure program, to shutter, aperture, ISO, and shutter triggering.  Previous apps from Olympus and Panasonic also allowed their respective cameras to use the GPS in a smartphone or tablet to record location GPS information while shooting and then later add that to the images via a time sync.   So while GPS is not built-in to the camera, there is still a convenient and relatively easy way to add the information later to every image, if you want to.

One of the big questions a lot of Olympus users have had is will Olympus improve their movie capabilities.  While previous models have all offered some form of video capability, compared to the Panasonic series m4/3 cameras it has been quite limited.  To date, we really don't know if the EM-1 will bring a better video capability or not, but the above photo might give us a clue.  Note that the camera on the right is displaying what it sees on a hard-wired "video display" (not a tablet computer connected by WiFi)   While we can't be sure, this could be an indication of an HDMI output on the camera which gives us hope that there will be a better and more professional video codec as well.    

The image above was also a demonstration of the 5 Axis IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization) of the camera.  The OMD-EM5 already had an excellent 5 Axis system but was apparently improved upon in their recently released  Pen EP5 camera which also introduced the new viewfinder (as an add-on accessory).   The video showed the camera rocking back and forth, and demonstrated how when the shutter was depressed, the video actually was completely steady despite the camera rocking.   

I think it is reasonable to expect that the OM-D E-M1 will inherit all the improvements of the EP5 and may incorporate some other improvements as well.  The rumor mill has already indicated that the sensor while basically the same as the EM5 incorporates some additional improvements bringing slightly improved image quality and lower noise, in addition to the PDAF.  Again these are rumors and the language used is kind of vague.   Some other rumors, though less believable, indicated a higher rez sensor, which I doubt, as well as improvements in image quality and noise.   However as with all rumors we don't know the source, and many such rumors can be unreliable.  What we do know that sensor technology right now tends to improve incrementally, rather then radically.  If there was the possiblity of some incremental improvements, I am pretty sure Olympus would have included them in their top of the line Pro model.   There are some things in the works that may be radical innovations but they are quite a ways down the road for now.  

However for now, we do have reasonable proof of the new Olympus OM-D EM-1.  In the video, the Olympus Rep (would hate to be in his shoes at this time) definitely referred to the camera as their "Professional" model.   

A few pre-production rough spots aside, I very much like the looks and design of the EM-1.   The final test for me would be holding one to see if it meets my test for personal ergonomics.   Of course there are a lot of people who don't like it, because they wanted something different.   I hope it does live up to its "Professional" classification.   


Looking through many of the forums regarding the OM-D E-M1 rumors, it would seem that a lot of people think that Olympus just arbitrarily made up some specs to produce the camera (mostly because it isn't what they wanted).   It is important to keep in mind that from the outset, based upon extensive market research, they decided to make the OM-D series cameras a 3 tier set.   The OM-D E-M5 was the first camera and established the middle ground.   It has been a great success and won multiple camera of the year awards.   They also promised a "Pro Grade camera" to fill the upper tier, and a more affordable model (probably without weather resistance and some more advanced features) for the lower tier.   The E-M1 is their "Pro model".  It's design is not arbitrary but part of what the originally conceived along with lots of feedback from consumers, professionals, and enthusiasts on what they would like to see.

Since the introduction of the E-M5 almost 1.5 years ago, they have had significant feedback from enthusiasts and professional on what they thought should be incorporated into the top line model.   The E-M1 is the culmination of all that feedback combined with Olympus's own vision.   This is not a camera for everyone.  It is intended for Professionals and serious enthusiasts who want maximum image quality, great ergonomics, quality optics, durability and finely placed and designed controls that are intuitive.  This along with a complete range of quality optics for most conceivable purposes.   Micro 4/3's has the most complete line of optics of any Mirrorless cameras system to date.  Olympus users can choose from a constantly growing range of  fine Olympus optics including a few that are truly amazing.  There are already 12 and more coming.   In addition Olympus users can also select from nearly 20 Panasonic m4/3 lenses.  Not enough?  Add in several super high quality regular four thirds lens.  Several from Sigma and with adapters you can utilize manually, lenses from Zeiss, Leica, Nikon, Canon and a whole range of specialized cinema and scientific optics.   Literally hundreds of available optics for almost every purpose.

An important distinction for Micro Four thirds, is that not only are the bodies more compact and lighter weight overall, but the lenses are dramatically more compact and lighter weight as well while producing very good to excellent image quality.  It makes for a near ideal combination of quality, versatility, durability, light weight, and compact camera system that is capable of Professional quality images.

So while it may not be what everyone wants, it is what the target market overall has asked for.   Will it succeed?  That is always a difficult question.  I think it will and with flying colors.

While I will not likely be an early adopter, this is a camera that has peaked my interest and a likely choice for a compact system camera.  It is a camera I would seriously consider getting if I had the money.   I had previously owned an Olympus E3 DSLR and also a Panasonic GH1, really liked them both.   For now, though, due to finances, I will have to limit myself to dreams, but there is a new top camera in those dreams.   At least I still have my venerable old Olympus E510, humble as it is.  

Hope you enjoyed this article.  Please like my Lightweaver Facebook page as well.  

Here are some other internet links on this prospective new camera.

M43 Blog

4/3 Rumors

Digital Camera Info (Asian website - translated by Google) (Asian website,translated by Google) 

Original video was removed from Engadget but is available for download, at least for a little while.