Today, I’d like to give you my real-world impressions of the new OM System OM-1 flagship camera.
In early November 2021, OM System approached and asked me if I’d be interested in working on the ‘5-photographer project’ for the new OM-1 camera. I was to be one of 5 in the world who was part of the global campaign to show off the new features and capabilities of the OM-1 camera. My role was to show off the ‘grit’ and weather sealing the new camera has to offer.
Naturally, I said yes and was soon after sent a pre-production sample of the OM-1 and have since been using it on various commercial projects in Germany, Austria, Finland, Norway and Belgium for 4 months prior to launch.
As you might know from my previous real-world reviews, I’m not here to compare stats and specs of the camera, but instead, I’d much rather like to share my experience as a working professional in real-world scenarios that I’ve actually found myself in and how I used the features of this new tool to be inspired, achieve my work and, ultimately, get paid.
So, for all the online keyboard-warriors claiming that micro4/3 can’t be used by professionals… this OM-1 camera has earned me around 25,000€ since I’ve unboxed it in November.
And, despite being an OM System Ambassador, I’ll be honest with you and will try to focus on all the things that are important to me when I’m researching and assessing a new piece of technology for my own work. I’m not really here to test and review every aspect of the new camera… I leave that up to others.
That being said, all cameras are great these days and there are only a very few specific scenarios where I’d really pick one camera over another. But more on that later in this article.
Am I biased? Sure! Does it matter to me if you buy this camera by the end of this article? Not really.
I’ve made a living with Olympus / OM System cameras for the past 7 years. So, yes I vote in favour of their technology. But let’s get to the bottom of all that in this article, shall we?
Also, you should know, OM System paid me and my team for the campaign work we did for the OM-1 which, in return, helped me assess the features of the OM-1. Basically a win-win-win (them, myself and you).
I’m also sprinkling photos captured during the past 4 months throughout this article. If there is no metadata below the photo they were not captured on the OM-1, but instead on the E-M1X. Also, please be aware that these photos should serve as a preview only. Since this is such a long blog post, I’ve had to apply quite a bit of compression to the JPGs. So please don’t judge the final image quality of the OM-1 here.
Let’s get the numbers I did not want to talk about out of the way first.
Here are the main hardware improvements in order of importance to me and my work.
The OM-1 comes with a new sensor. It comes with the same, 20 Megapixel resolution as seen in previous cameras but is of a completely different design. Resolution isn’t everything!
And in reality, this means it is faster and produces a cleaner signal for the processor to process.
Meaning, the sensor is better at capturing light and therefore produces less noise. Less noise means we get cleaner data for the processor to work with. This result is around 2 stops better high ISO performance as well as 1 stop better dynamic range.
Ultimately, I was very happy with the sensor before. But the faster performance and capabilities are a welcome upgrade. Also, the better noise performance was crucial to some of my work. But more on that later on.
The new processor has around 3x faster-processing power compared to the predecessor inside the OM-D E-M1 Mark III.
The sensor and processor sit at the core of most new exciting functions and features and almost everything can be traced back to these two factors.
120fps, better lowlight performance, dynamic range, faster speeds in general etc.
You really get to feel the speed of the processor from the very first moment you pick up the OM-1. In every aspect of using the camera, it is noticeable and helps get my work done more efficiently and faster.
The OLED EVF has a resolution of 5.76M dots and a 120fps refresh rate with a 0.005sec response time. It’s really impressive and has finally replaced the old one they have been using in their cameras for so long.
This really makes me forget that I’m looking at a screen and helps me focus on the subject and composition.
IP53 rated weather sealing. Meaning a level 5 for dust and level 3 for splash/water. This is up from the IPX1 rating from the E-M1X. In fact, almost no other major camera brands have weather sealing ratings for their cameras.
Look, I was happy with the IPX1 rating of the E-M1X… but a guaranteed improvement is always welcome… I just wonder how far I can push this?
1053-point, all cross-type, phase detecting focus points that cover 100% of the image.
The pixel points are much smaller too and can be arranged into all kinds of patterns and shaped to optimise the auto focus performance of the OM-1.
The AF performance is unreal. I’ve NEVER used such a fast and confidently focussing camera.
Up to 8 stops of stabilisation when combined with a stabilised lens.
Give me all the stabilisation I can get! Especially for handheld long exposures and video, you can feel the difference!
The screen on the back of the camera has also been improved and now offers a much higher resolution which helps when reviewing the sharpness of your shots on the go.
25% more battery performance compared to the E-M1 Mark III.
The more the better. The new battery is fantastic and allowed me to get through an entire day of work with ONE battery. Now why would
Not unlike the E-M1 Mark III, the OM-1 now also supports power delivery through the USB-C port. This also works with the new HLD-10 battery grip. But what has changed, is the fact that you can use and charge the batteries simultaneously when plugged into the camera.
Also, the HDMI port now stays active when the camera is powered via USB-C. This was not possible on any previous OM-D camera.
The OM-1 doesn’t deliver any particular new features we haven’t seen on other flagship OMD cameras before. While to some, it might be a bit of a disappointment, I personally didn’t miss anything here, as I’m not exactly the type of photographer or filmmaker that uses each and every feature.
In my opinion, Olympus and now OM System have really pushed the development of photography towards the future. Photography is no longer ‘as simple’ as capturing photons on a light-sensitive film.
These days cameras are incredibly powerful and smart. When programmed well they are able to understand what we are trying to capture and help us capture a better photo. This goes from simple things like autofocus, all the way to detecting the animal of the person we’re trying to capture.
So here’s a quick list of improved features that you’ll find on the OM-1 camera. I’ve listed them from most to least-used for my type of work:
- Smart Tracking and Detection (faces, eyes, animals, cars, helmets, trains …)
- 50MP Handheld Hi-Res Mode (or 80MP High Resolution Mode on a tripod)
- Starry Sky AF
- Live-ND (up to ND64 now on the OM-1)
- Focus Stacking
While these do not fall under computational features, I did still think the improvements are worth mentioning regardless.
- HLG profile
- 4k60fps 10-bit internally 4-2-0
- 2k 200fps in 10-bit internally
- 2k 240fps in 8-bit internally
- External ProRes RAW recording with Atomos Ninja V
Visual comparison to the E-M1 Mark III & E-M1X
The OM-1 seems a bit like a marriage between the E-M1X and the E-M1 Mark III. We get the general size of the Mark III and the beefy grip and protected wheels of the X.
I honestly really like how the OM-1 feels in my hands. The extra grip thickness really sits well in my bigger hands and, in terms of feeling, brings it close to my favourite: The E-M1X
The protected wheels are a welcome addition too since I’m usually dragging the camera through terrible conditions.
And if you prefer a bigger grip and extra battery life: there’s always the new HLD-10 battery grip.
I’ve been using the E-M1X body for the past years and really enjoy the more spaced out button layout on the extra room the bigger body provides. The buttons are bigger and easier to find and feel. Even when using gloves.
Something I really noticed when going back to a smaller shaped body like the OM-1. While OM System upped the level of weather sealing, I’m a little disappointed as to how unusable the OM-1 is with gloves. I think there could have been a little more ‘tactile-ness’ to the buttons as it’s clear that the improved weather sealing and marketing pushes for a more outdoor / adventure type of client.
Especially the record button and cross navigation buttons on the back are almost impossible to feel when using the camera with gloves.
The menu has been redistributed. It looks a little more friendly now and, in general, feels easier to navigate thanks to a little more colour and visual cues. I never really struggled much with the old menu, but this new one is easier and faster to use and takes no time to adjust to.
The new OLED EVF is amazing. It really is a big jump from the old one found in the Mark II, III and X. The extra resolution helps determine if images are actually in focus before you push the shutter button.
The same goes for the new screen on the back. The extra resolution is a welcome upgrade from the older ones and, again, helps to see if your scene is in focus. Especially when filming!
Honestly, the OM-1 feels great! The processing power and extra speed it offers throughout the camera really help with the experience and make it a much more productive tool and a true joy to use.
Now for the actual real-world usage and the reason for me writing this article.
I had the chance to work on 2 projects for OM System and have used the OM-1 on a further 2 client/personal projects over the past 4 months.
Today, I’d like to go into more detail about 2 of these projects with you so you can see how a professional would use the new camera to accomplish their job, satisfy the client and, ultimately, get paid.
Before we’re about to deep-dive into two projects I shot with and for the OM-1. Please, be aware that I won’t be covering all new features and aspects of the OM-1 camera.
Those two projects show off 99% of the features and functions I need from a camera for the work I do and allow me to confidently speak about my experiences with the new tool.
So, before heading out into the garden and capturing my dog racing towards me to test the AF tracking performance, 120fps RAW shooting modes or other features I’ll rarely/never use. I highly recommend you check out the reviews from mirrorlessons and DPReview TV as they always do such a great, unbiased job at covering every aspect of Olympus / OM System cameras and lenses.
Ok. Let’s deep-dive, shall we?!
This was a multi-layered photo project.
This project served as part of the initial 5-photographer campaign for the OM-1 where I was to be portrayed as an adventure / outdoor photographer with the new camera. Our task was to capture the story of a photographer (myself) and how he uses the new camera in his field of work. The main topics of this project were ‘grit’ and ‘weather sealing’. The general brief was: 90% story, 10% product.
But, instead of heading out to just capture me and the camera in bad weather on a ‘pretend adventure’, I wanted to actually find a good reason and, let’s call it, sub-project that justified my travels to the Lofoten Islands and gave myself and my team more of a meaningful story to tell.
And so we did.
I got in touch with a guide Kristian who told me about his master thesis on a device, the so-called ‘Plastsaq’. The Plastsaq is a kind of net, that gets dragged through the ocean behind a kayak over a certain distance to collect samples of microplastics.
He paddles out in different areas to collect the much-needed data that helps scientists then figure out the concentrations of microplastics in those areas. In return, this knowledge can lead to a more effective way of preventing microplastics from entering the oceans, (ecosystems and subsequently our food chain and ultimate us!). Knowing how microplastics travel in the ocean and how they spread is something that isn’t actively being monitored or studied at this time.
So, we had a truly fascinating sub-project! And thanks to Lars Schneider for putting me in touch with Kristian. And of course, to Kristian, our guide for sharing his research work with us and letting me document it on such short notice.
I liked his work so much, that I decided that our campaign for OM System almost was to become secondary. Meaning, we’d tell a story of how important our cameras (new or old) are to capture meaningful work.
You see, as an outdoor photographer, being out there with my tools and using them to document people and projects that can make a difference and possibly even let my work help spread the word, get funding or exposure for their projects and make this planet a better place… man… that’s what travelling, photography, filmmaking, storytelling is all about.
And, if a brand like OM System goes along with this philosophy and even demands a project that is 90% story, 10% product… This was literally the brief. I couldn’t be happier and proud to be allowed to work with/for them!
While our sub-project was super interesting, we did still face the challenge of being in the Lofoten Islands in the middle of the worst month of the year. Arctic temperatures, snowstorms and 2 hours of daylight didn’t make this easy in any way.
Add to that, that I only received the OM-1 around 3 days before leaving on this trip… You get it, this project was anything but certain!
But, our requirements were met. I was going to the right place to show the ‘grit’ a photographer needed for adventures all while actually creating work that meant something. Win-Win.
As expected. The camera didn’t disappoint.
With only 2 hours of actual daylight and around 1h of blue hour light, our production time was super limited. The 2-stops improved lowlight ISO performance was a lifesaver on this project.
Because being able to ramp up the ISO to 1600 or 3200 in order to maintain a fast shutter speed was crucial for me to capture sharp images of the kayaking action and sample collecting. It also meant that I could keep shooting 90% of the project with the 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO lens. Because, when you’re kayaking on a choppy, arctic ocean in freezing temperatures, you REALLY want one lens for everything and don’t want to be changing lenses.
Thanks to the new sensor and processor, there’s a noticeable improvement in general image quality. The extra sharpness was immediately apparent to me. It just brings a noticeable clarity to the images. Even if you’re still shooting at the same resolution as before.
It’s also something that becomes apparent when you print your work.
And the improved weather-sealing just gave me extra peace of mind when it came to capturing Kristian kayaking along in the choppy arctic ocean.
The 25% additional battery life does make a noticeable difference. On all days I managed to do get through the day with one single battery. Keeping in mind that our days were rather short.
While I wasn’t there for landscape photography being surrounded by such an epic landscape also meant that I stole every free moment of half-decent light to capture a few landscapes too. A great opportunity to test out the improved Handheld Hi-Res Mode.
I really had to rethink the way I used my camera here. Coming from the E-M1X with a processing time of around 12 seconds I had the habit of just dropping the camera over my shoulder the moment I had pressed the shutter for a HHH shot, simply because the processing time was so slow that I didn’t want to wait for the camera.
Now, with around 5 seconds of processing time on the OM-1 for handheld hi-res mode photos, it almost feels like you’re capturing a regular shot. And, because of this, I found myself using the HHH mode a lot more often.
The cleaner sensor signal means that there’s much less noise and the faster read-out times of the sensor mean less time between the individual images the processor then has to combine. This means you get cleaner and less / much more subtle artefacts in the high-res images.
The biggest downside on the OM-1 in Norway was that, as mentioned before, I couldn’t really use the camera with thick gloves. And honestly, this was a much bigger hassle than I thought it would be. I found myself getting really annoyed that I couldn’t feel the buttons the way I was used to from the E-M1X.
That being said. I managed to capture those crucial images to tell Kristian’s story and it’s some of the most meaningful work I’ve ever captured.
The second assignment for OM System was to show off the improved slow-motion video features of the OM-1.
After multiple project ideas, pitches, a bunch of back and forth between OM System and myself and several hiccups due to Omicron and lock-downs and whatnot, I was forced to stay local.
I contacted a friend who runs a Specialized Bikes dealership. We’ve been speaking about working together for years now and this seemed like a nice opportunity. He was super keen, as he had a rather special eMTB in-store that needed promoting.
It’s this super lightweight eMTB: The S-Works Levo SL. And since these bikes have a bit of a bad reputation for being heavy and… well… electric, our task was to create a short film to show off the new lightweight bike being ridden like a regular trail bike. The keywords are manoeuvrability & flow.
For this, I figured that we needed to show a skilled rider shredding the bike down a trail over drops, jumps and going super low in steep corners. And to really sell the whole thing, I was very keen to make the camera move just as fast alongside the rider to emphasise flow and speed.
I did actually make a full in-depth behind-the-scenes video on this, so, if you’d like to find out more, please check that out.
Again, the timing was super tight and us being in Belgium in the middle of January meant that the weather wasn’t on our side. At. All.
With a snowstorm passing through only days before our production was to start, all dreams of steep corners, huge jumps and super high-speed riding were tossed.
But, I didn’t let this stop us. We scouted a few new locations where we thought that the project could still work out. And we made the most of it.
The rest… I was going to fix it in post.
I put together a crew of 7 people, myself included, to make it all happen. We also made use of a Noxon high-speed cable cam to be able to move the camera at high speeds and enhance the feeling of flow, get more dynamic shots and possibly hide the fact, that the rider was partially struggling to build much speed through a thick layer of frozen snow and ice.
Important to me was, that I was actually capturing something a big potential client, like Specialized, would publish on their platforms to promote and sell their products with. And this would serve as proof, that the OM-1 is a video force to be reckoned with.
And, since Specialized ended up sharing the film everywhere, I think I succeeded in my mission.
In general, I was really impressed by the OM-1’s video capabilities.
FINALLY, we have 4k at 60fps in 10bit 422 internally. This is something I’ve been asking for, for a long time and OM System has finally delivered it. And they’ve done it well!
Add to that the capability of shooting in 2k at 200fps in 10bit too… well done.
The key advantage OM System has always had over every other camera is the IBIS. The smaller m/43 sensor and advanced technology of the IBIS give the OM-1 an advantage over every other camera that simply can no longer be ignored for video usage. The fact that I can leave my gimbal, tripod, monopod, sliders… you name it, at home without compromising in shot types is worth A LOT.
It means this is close to the perfect run and gun video camera.
And the IBIS didn’t disappoint. Handheld footage on the OM-1 is even smoother and when used with the lens stabilised 12-100mm IS PRO you can make any camera move look buttery smooth. All while shooting handheld in the worst of conditions.
I was also really surprised by the battery life. We had the OM-1 on for most of the day (around 7-8 working hours) and I got through the day with one single battery or would have to change towards the end of the day to squeeze in a few last shots. Really impressive!!
In video, there’s also a full stop of improved dynamic range. Something that is really noticeable. Especially with the smoother highlight and colour roll-off, the 10bit footage offers. This really shows in those scenes where the sun would burst through in the otherwise darker forest and you get a huge dynamic range.
The improved noise performance is also fantastic. A 10-bit, cleaner, less grainy image, even at higher ISOs, is much easier to colour grade in post-production.
The Hybrid Log-Gamma is also great and allows for HDR footage to be captured and offers a fantastic dynamic range!
The newer H.265 compression codec also helps with compressing the data more in order to keep the file sizes small yet manageable once worked with on a computer. I was a bit worried when I saw the rather small file sizes. But pleasantly surprised that the footage was detailed, crisp without worrying about compression artefacts.
The ability to shoot in 200fps internally at 2k is pretty sweet. While there is a slight crop on the sensor and noise is a little more apparent, the footage, although compression becomes apparent is very usable and mixes well with the other footage the camera produces. I do recommend shooting with fast lenses to gather as much light as possible for the slow-motion footage. This avoids extra noise and visible compression artefacts.
Now, if the internal 10bit footage isn’t enough… well you can use the HDMI connection to connect the Atomos Ninja V to the camera as an external monitor and recorder to capture ProRes RAW footage. Unfortunately still a micro-HDMI connection here… but I assume this has to do with the smaller body size simply not offering the needed space for a larger HDMI port. I got around this by using a 90º HDMI adapter.
Personally, I own a cinema camera. So, to me, this isn’t really the most interesting path to go down, as I feel like I then have to rig out the OM-1 to a size and weight that defeats its mobility advantages.
But, having this option, is, of course, fantastic!
All-in-all, the OM-1 is equipped with all the video features I could wish for in such a small package and I can’t wait to work with it in places where no cinema camera would dream of going.
And that is exactly my point: Opposed to it predecessor, the Mark III, the OM-1 is finally a viable alternative for the dirty work my heavy cinema camera isn’t made for.
On paper the OM-1 sure is impressive. It’s that incremental update we’ve all been waiting for.
And in reality… well… I’ve realised: it’s another camera.
And the more I realise this… the more I notice, that I don’t care much for a new camera… and neither will my clients.
Not unlike that annual hype when you pick up that new smartphone… On paper and in that mind-blowing keynote it’s amazing and better in every way. But, you know what: you’re going to be surfing on the same websites, taking the same old selfies, making calls and watching videos… not unlike the video you’re watching right now.
That revolutionary phone is a promised feeling you’ve successfully been sold… again.
When I look at some of the best photographers and filmmakers out there… not all their work is in focus or perfectly exposed or captured on the latest and greatest. In fact. All the greatest work is captured on ‘ancient’ technology… does it matter? no.
Some of these are academy award-winning creatives and they are probably the first person to tell you how unimportant all those tools are.
Its story. Nothing else. To professionals, cameras are storytelling tools. Nothing more.
Cameras are the painter’s brush, the writer’s pen, the runner’s shoe, the teacher’s chalk, the musician’s instrument… you name it. Without the vision and creative mind of a person, they are expensive, worthless objects.
And yes, every feature, function or capability that helps me tell a clearer, more interesting story is a plus. And if a camera gives me more confidence and works in all environments, makes use of smart technology to get sharper images, fast focus and/or pushes my creative expression: I’ll take it any day.
But you know what… it doesn’t make me a better artist.
Much rather, I’d like to see new technology stand for something. Bring me the inspiration and functionality I didn’t know I needed. Equip me with the tool that expands my creative vision and makes my mind wander where it hasn’t been before.
And, in a way, I believe OM System is trying to take on this role.
A brief that’s 90% story 10% product, a tool that simply works and features seen nowhere else… it’s a step in the right direction and what ultimately remains is us, creatives, pushing ourselves and our vision.
And I’m excited to have this new tool at my disposal!
Now, all I have to come up with is a project that puts those 120fps to unique use… or not.
I hope you enjoyed this real-world look into the OM System OM-1.
If you’d like to hang out in real life… consider signing up for one of my workshops!
A special thanks to the people behind OM System for trusting in me and my ideas and for their ongoing support and for letting me be a part of this camera launch. It truthfully is an honour.
And thanks to everyone who helped me bring my visions to life. You know who you are.