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My OM Systems OM1 Review

      Much has been written about the OM1 camera, most good but some negative and this is the reason I decided to write my findings with this camera. I am a long time Olympus user, going all the way back to the E500. I have progressed through the system using various Olympus camera through the years and have been using an OMD EM1 Mk2 for the last 4 years. I am quite familiar with Olympus cameras so I believe I am able to get the most out of the new OM1 camera. I also have no affiliation with the company and it is my own money that is spent on their products so purely my opinions. 

     I watched the press release on the OM1 and immediately ordered mine. I was the first at The Camera Store in Calgary to do so and received mine the first of March. I had some time to get familiar with it before we did a trip to Kenya where we did a 16 day safari. I averaged 2000 images a day on this trip, a great way to really learn a camera well. All together I have taken at least 40000 images with this camera so feel comfortable making this review.

     I will also point out my wife has used a Nikon D500 for 4 years and currently has been using a Sony A7R4 for the last 2 years. I have had the opportunity to use both of these very good cameras so have a good idea of what I wanted in the OM1; improved autofocus and better high ISO performance. Read my review to see if I am satisfied I got this.


Note: This is a user review and will use actual images and real world usage not technical charts to back up my statements. I will not comment on ergonomics as this is personal preference. I will state that I use my EM1 Mk 2 as my backup camera and even though there are differences I find no problem going back and forth. There have seen comments on the dials as they are more recessed. It did take a couple of outings to get familiar with the difference but that is all.  There has also there has been comments on camera issues people have had and I can state my camera has had zero issues to this point.

Rolling Shutter

Of course what makes this all work is the new stacked sensor in this camera. With pretty much all mirrorless cameras it is now possible to get quite high frame rates. However, some have quite slow sensor read out giving them terrible rolling shutter. The reality is the mechanical shutter determines their real frame rate.  With my OM1 I have observed no rolling shutter and in fact I have never used the mechanical shutter on this camera. Bonus, it will never wear out.

     I have included an animated GIF using 160 still images of a very fast moving Pied Kingfisher, shot at 25 FPS and played back 12FPS. See if you see any rolling shutter. This was shot with the 300 F4 with the 1.4 teleconverter handheld from a small boat so please excuse that it bounces around.

Note: Also look at the wings of some still images I have shown and will show. I see no warping.


Autofocus Including Subject Detection

      Now I will address what really tweaked my interst in this camera, the autofocus. I will begin by saying I was quite satisfied with autofocus of my EM1 Mk2 for static subjects. It is fast and acurate. My OM1 is the same in this regard. I have read about the odd issue with single autofocus using the OM1. I have set up both my cameras so the shutter release does not engage auto focus, back button focus only. My cameras are always in continuous autofocus and even when doing scenery I focus-stop focus-recompose-press the shutter release. I can concentrate on holding my camera and using electronic shutter can hold my camera very steady. IBIS in the OM1 is improved and I can use very slow shutter speeds. 

     So what I am sure most people are interested in is subject detection for fast moving subjects. I will state first that I do not do planes, trains,  automobiles, or people so no comment on these. I have done lots of animals and birds so will comment on this subject detection. First I will address a negative comment I have read that the camera should automatically detect what ever the subject. It does. We were do a game drive when we came across a leopard sunning on a rock. I managed a quick burst before he jumped up and ran off. I had my camera set for birds but it immediately drew a box around him and a smaller box around the eye. You can see focus is perfect and we have a 36 inch print of him on our wall. I have tested this on other subjects and it has worked even in bird detection. So why different selections, I suspect it is more accurate when set for the correct subject.

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Animal Subject Detection

I have to say here I have had mixed results. I attended a company sponsored online session and the company rep suggested the animal detect is optimized for cats and dogs so temper your expectations for other animals. I would suggest any animal that looks like a cat or a dog, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, jackals it works well. Others species not so much. It works sometimes and sometimes not at all. In fact I suggest you need to assign subject detection to a button and for other species turn it off. It has good autofocus without subject detection. I have included an image of a black rhino and baby where they stopped and looked at us and you can see the subject detection blew it, they are not sharp. My wife with her Sony has tack sharp images. In fact when animals were too close for 840mm (300F4 and TC) I used my EM1 Mk2 with the 40-150 and every image with this camera is tack sharp. The fact is we do not need subject detection for slow moving animals.

Note: I have included an image of a Lessor Kudu using subject detection and it did work. It also worked when the Rhino was running. I think it may work better for moving subjects but I cannot definitively say this.

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Bird Subject Detection

      Birds are always a tough subject as they are often small, move very quickly and are often half hidden. Fortunately bird subject detection works very well, my wife with her Sony is so jealous. It grabs birds quickly and especially BIF it follows them very well. Having said that it is not perfect so I will share what works for me.

     I have included 2 images of the same sunbird, one looking at us has critical focus and the other the camera just front focused and the bird is not tack sharp. Unfortunately you cannot see this little miss in the viewfinder it shows up when viewing on the computer. Bird detection was used for both images and the camera confirmed focus in both. I have seen others complain about this. I will begin by saying have read articles written by professional photographers and they will always say avoid busy backgrounds so no matter how well the camera can focus you cannot make a good image in this situation. Having said that there were several sunbirds that looked just like this with small differences in colors or size so I wanted this image for ID purposes. How I make this work is I have my function lever set to quickly change to select single point in these conditions. I will than engage autofocus do a quick burst, release autofocus, re-focus and do another quick burst. If you do 4 or 5 bursts you increase the odds one burst will be sharp. The reality is if the camera can see the eye it will probably grab it. If you can't see the eye and just want an ID image turn subject detection off and use a single point and again do several bursts. You can see it is very possible to get tack sharp images in tough conditions like these.

Note: Most comments about misfocus are when the bird is in bushes like this. What I found was the deep grass in several places actually caused more issues than branches. This just means you have to work harder to get a good image.


Birds in Flight

This is where this camera has substantially improved my number of good BIF images. I have included an image of a Malachite Kingfisher and a White Throated Bee-eater (this image is ISO 5000, I will talk about this later). These birds move fast but the OM1 had no problem keeping up.

It is important to note that the camera will still miss some images, as do all cameras. Near the beginning of this review I included a tack sharp image of a Pied Kingfisher with its wings skimming the water. Here I have included an image from the same burst that is just has just slightly misfocussed. Others have suggested the hit rate is 90 to 95% and this is probably accurate. My findings are against a clear sky with little panning hit rate is near 100%. In the animated GIF above there are 160 tack sharp images, no misses. The faster you are panning, which was the case with the Pied Kingfisher here; or the busier the background, the more misses you will get. However, using 25fps I seldom went away without a shot I liked.

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Image Quality

     Now the subject that has probably raised the most controversy. OM Systems made some bold statements on release day, maybe too bold. Since  than some others have almost seemed to want to go out of there way to prove them wrong quoting different types of charts or using studio tests.  I  have no interest in what these charts or studio tests of RAW images show I am only interested in the images after I have post processed them on the computer.

      I will begin by saying that although this still a 20 mp sensor I believe it may capture just a little more detail. Having said that the difference is so small it is just better to say that it is at least as good.

   The real question than is high ISO shooting and this was one of my wants when purchasing this camera. This discussion needs to start with what you want to use high ISO for. If your goal is to just to be able to take a static image in the dark without a tripod you may be disappointed. I suggest if taking static images keep your ISO low and lower your shutter speed and if needed use a tripod, you will be happier with the results. What I want high ISO for is to keep my shutter speed high. Even though there may be good light I may need high ISO when shooting fast action. With the Bee-eater shot at ISO 5000 my shutter speed was 1/4000 to freeze the action, he was very fast. There was enough light I could have used ISO 200 and have the bacground sharp but the bird would be blur. 

     Now having established what I need high ISO for the second thing to address is image noise at high ISO. Many people that want to criticize this camera suggesting images are just as "noisy" as previous camera. They may be right, so what. Image noise is no longer an issue as there are several software products on the market that can totally remove all noise from an image. Image noise is a nonissue.

     So what is the concern. At higher ISO values you will start to get weird color shifts and you will lose detail in the image. What I have found with my images taken in the field is that the OM1 definitely holds colors very well even into ridiculous ISO values whereas my EM1 Mk2 colors were not to my taste beyond ISO 4000. I have found that my OM1 retains detail up to about ISO 12800 where it starts to drop off quickly. I have included 2 images of African Firefinches taken at ISO 12800, again to keep shutter speed up. They may look stationary but the only stationary bird is a stuffed one, the rest move pretty quickly. I would not dream of using this ISO with my Mk2.

    To be clear you will get better images at lower ISO values and seldom do I use this high ISO but it nice to know I can. I could not with my EM1 Mk2 so I am satisfied I got my wish here of at least 1 stop better ISO performance.

     I am sure many critics will say this is nonsense but most people that actually use this camera will probably agree with me.

ISO 12800


Computational Photography

     I believe these features help to set Olympus cameras apart as no other camera has all these features. As my EM1 Mk2 had most of these features I will say little here as they all work the same only much faster than my old camera making them more usable. In particular the high rez shot now assigned to a button and being so fast I use it for all my static shots, not that I need the larger image but for the improved dynamic range and super clean images, no noise.

    The one feature that is new to me is the live ND. I love taking waterfall images and have dozens. To soften the water it often meant pulling out a tripod and attaching an ND filter, not any more. I just moved into position and shot the image you see here. I know this will raise my fun factor considerably.

   Note: Be aware that you get a weird moving image in the viewfinder until you engage autofocus. Also I usually do scenery in Aperture Priority mode and Live ND is not available in this mode, I had to switch to Manual mode

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     In conclusion am very satisfied with my OM1 which is good as this is not a cheap camera. I am very satisfied with the autofocus but do realize you still need to sometimes take control and turn off subject detection and sometimes even use manual focus. Makes me wonder how we ever managed without all this tech in the past.

     I am also satisfied I got want I wanted in terms of High ISO performance no mater what critics say.

     This is still a 20 mp sensor and my wife's Sony A7R4 definitely captures more detail when we both nail the same shot. I would expect this. What I also know is that when the action gets fast I definitely get more interesting shots than she does as she does not have the speed and her buffer fills quickly. As she is the birder this makes her envious. If OM Systems were to make a lens like her Sony 200-600 for the price of the 200-600 I am sure she would switch in a heartbeat. Are you listening OM systems.

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