Many M4/3 photographers are facing an OM-1 upgrade decision, and other folks are seriously considering a move to M4/3 with OM System gear because of the OM-1. It really comes down to how well the OM-1 fits your specific needs and whether you can justify the purchase for the type of photography/videography that you do.
This article outlines my personal decision and is not meant to tell readers what they should, or should not do. Opening your wallet to buy new camera gear is a decision that only you can make.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
Photography Genre and Style
Fundamentally the new OM-1 camera is focused primarily on nature, wildlife, sports and other outdoor photography. Especially where extreme conditions will be encountered. That’s not to say that the camera can’t be used for a wide range of other subject matter. It most certainly can.
Like my E-M1X, the OM-1 appears to be a solid all round camera that can handle just about anything that a photographer can throw at it. If you already own an Olympus camera you’ll need to think about the added technology and capabilities that the OM-1 provides, and whether you actually need, and will use these features.
You may find that the OM-1 offers new technologies that will expand your photographic potential to a significant degree, thus taking you into new genres that you may not have previously explored. That may justify an upgrade.
Sensor Dynamic Range Performance
The new OM-1 has a new 20.4 MP M4/3 stacked BSI Live MOS sensor. There are all kinds of reviews on the internet that provide technical details on this new sensor and how it can contribute to overall camera performance. If you are thusly inclined there is a lot of material that you can read/view… so I will not duplicate any of that information here.
I’m not a technically oriented photographer so I don’t do deep drives into this type of information. I do pay some attention to dynamic range performance. Since the last Olympus camera tested by DxOMark was the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, we can’t refer to this resource to compare the OM-1 with other cameras like the E-M1X or the E-M1 Mark III.
So, I visited the photonstophotos website and went to the Photographic Dynamic Range Chart. The OM-1 is listed as well as the two Olympus camera models that my wife and I own, i.e. the E-M1X and E-M1 Mark III. I clicked on each of these three cameras and the website generated a dynamic range comparison graph for me. I found the resulting graph quite interesting as there was basically no discernable difference between the three cameras. You can check this out for yourself if you want to see the details.
Bill Cliff runs the photonstophotos website and I believe that he developed a comparison called the “Photographic Dynamic Range Shadow Improvement versus ISO Setting“. I opened up that comparison chart and entered the three cameras to see what I would find.
In this case there was some difference with the OM-1, mainly from ISO-400 through to ISO-3200. I find this measurement to be very technical in nature. For people who would like some information on how to interpret the “dynamic range shadow improvement” this detailed, online comment/explanation may be of interest.
On a personal basis I don’t worry about dynamic range performance nearly as much as other photographers do. I’ve found that the IBIS performance of my E-M1X allows me to use quite slow shutter speeds handheld at base ISO-200 on a frequent basis for landscape, indoor and architectural photography where dynamic range can be more important.
The RAW files from my E-M1X respond very well in post and are quite easy with which to work. I use DxO PhotoLab 4 with its DxO Smart Lighting Spot Weighted function, as well as a couple of other software programs. To my eye, I find this software combination helps me squeeze a sufficient amount of dynamic range out of my Olympus RAW files to more than meet my needs.
In addition, lenses like the M.Zuiko PRO 7-14 mm f/2.8 can often be shot wide open and still create the deep depth-of-field that I may want in a landscape photograph. Depending on subject matter, Handheld Hi Res (HHHR) can be used which has a positive impact on dynamic range performance.
My E-M1X gives me a number of ways to maximize the available dynamic range. Suffice to say, the dynamic range of the new sensor in the OM-1 would not be a motivating factor to prompt me to buy this camera. Of course, it could be a different story for other photographers.
Auto Focus Performance
Many of the OM-1 reviews cite greatly improved auto focus performance as a key improvement on this camera, especially when it comes to Subject Tracking AI technology. I can’t comment on that since I will not be getting a review sample of the camera to test.
I’ve been experimenting with my E-M1X for a long time, trying out various auto-focusing options. This resulted in me using Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking in combination with Pro Capture L, with a single AF point, as my ‘go to’ setting for birds-in-flight. The main issue I have with this camera setting is actually a good problem to have…. I get far more ‘keeper’ images than I can possibly use. The downside is that this causes a lot of extra work culling photographs in post.
Once I return from a birds-in-flight photo session I do a quick scan through my images to identify the most promising ones to work on in post. If that initial selection has met my needs in terms of the quality and quantity of photographs I need, the balance of my images are typically deleted right away. I usually don’t even bother looking at the rest of my photographs before I hit the ‘delete’ key.
Whether the auto-focus performance of the OM-1 is materially better than my E-M1X is basically a moot point to me. I’m more than happy with the auto-focus performance that I’m currently getting when using Bird AI in combination with Pro Capture L and a single AF point. I certainly don’t need any more ‘keepers’ than what I’m generating now. All that would mean is more culling work in post.
Low Light Performance
The OM-1 offers an expanded ISO range 2 stops higher when compared to previous Olympus cameras. On paper this looks enticing. For me, a reality check was in order. Even if I could shoot at two stops higher ISO value how likely would I actually do that? What kind of images would I want to capture at super high ISO values?
With my current E-M1X bodies I’m comfortable shooting at ISO-6400 whenever needed, and I’ll push things one stop more or higher if absolutely required. I don’t see anything changing in terms of the subject matter that I photograph or the lighting conditions under which I operate. Do I have a realistic reason why being able to shoot at ISO-51,200 or ISO-102,400 is practical for my purposes? Nope. For what I do the expanded low light performance of the OM-1 elicits little more than a shrug.
Faster Frame Rates
Without question the OM-1 offers faster frame rates in a number of areas compared to any of the earlier Olympus cameras. Being able to shoot at faster frame rates can be very important when photographing birds-in-flight and other moving subjects. There is real potential of capturing a higher number of unique, precise moment images with faster frame rates.
A couple of practical issues came into my mind when considering the potential benefits of the OM-1’s faster frame rates. The first was that my primary birding lens is the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS zoom. This lens isn’t compatible with all of the higher frame rate functions of the OM-1. So, I would get some potential benefits but not all of the ones offered by the camera.
The second issue is buffer performance/memory card writing speed. The OM-1 can crank out photographs at 50 frames-per-second using continuous auto-focus, and up to 120 frames per second with the first frame locking focus. This is incredibly fast. The issue isn’t the OM-1’s fast frame rates, but rather buffer management and the ability of my existing memory cards to write all of that data quickly enough.
If my existing UHS-II memory cards aren’t fast enough to handle all of that data, they will be the bottleneck in my image capturing system. and I won’t be able to fully utilize the OM-1’s fast frame rates. I could consider buying faster cards. If I did then the cost of those cards should be included in my overall purchase decision.
Improved Weather Sealing.
The OM-1 and the latest lenses introduced by OM System feature IP53 weather sealing which is an improvement over IPX-1 rated equipment. Unless the OM-1 is used with IP53 rated lenses, the camera/lens combination will perform at the level of the lowest rated component.
From a practical standpoint the full advantage of IP53 weather sealing would not be realized until a camera owner had upgraded all of their lenses to IP53 rated glass. My E-M1X bodies were tested to IPX-3 standards, but were only rated to IPX-1 by Olympus. So, I already own a camera that can perform beyond IPX-1 standards.
Expanded AI Subject Tracking Capability.
The OM-1 has added some improvements to the AI Subject Tracking technology, and also added ‘Dog/Cat’ AI tracking. Through some earlier experimentation I discovered that my E-M1X bodies are already very capable when it comes to focusing in on the eye of other wildlife/animals when using Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking. I’ve used this with squirrels, dogs and cats, and plan to experiment more with this approach in the future.
WOW Camera Decision.
As it happens I already made my WOW camera decision back in June 2019 when I purchased my first E-M1X. It was the E-M1X that broke new ground in a big WOW way. While the OM-1 appears to be a superb photographic tool, I see it as offering an array of important, but incremental enhancements, to the original WOW camera… the E-M1X.
For photographers who currently own E-M1 Mark I, Mark II, or Mark III cameras the OM-1 represents a very enticing upgrade opportunity. Some E-M1X owners may also see sufficient added value to do an upgrade.
Even if our corporate depreciation schedule had room on it (which it doesn’t), we wouldn’t be investing in an OM-1 camera. Our existing E-M1X bodies meet our needs extremely well, and I absolutely love the handling, ergonomics and comfort that they provide. From my perspective there is no point buying a camera that isn’t comfortable to use for extended periods of time. I’m a very happy camper who doesn’t need an upgrade.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Crops are noted. Photographs were resized for web use. This is the 1,144 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.
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