Hands-on review: Updated: Olympus OM-D E-M10

Hands-on review: Updated: Olympus OM-D E-M10

Introduction and features

Olympus is hoping that the new OM-D E-M10 will find favour in the same way as the OM-10 did when it was launched way back in 1979. Whereas the OM-10 was the first consumer-level camera in Olympus’s OM series of SLRs, and went on to be a big hit and a popular choice for family photography, the Olympus E-M10 is the first consumer-level model in the highly-respected OM-D series. It sits below the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Olympus OM-D EM-1 in the company’s line-up of Micro Four Thirds compact system cameras.

Update: our full review of the Olympus E-M10 is underway and will be with you soon. In the meantime we’ve added some of our lab test results and sample images to this hands on review.

For those unsure of the difference, the Olympus OM-D series distinguishes itself from the Pen series (Olympus Pen E-PM2, Pen E-PL5 and Pen E-P5) by its more SLR-like styling and the presence of a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF).

Olympus OM-D E-M10

Features

Many of the features found in the E-M10 are the same as in the Olympus E-M5, the original OM-D. The Four Thirds type (17.3x13mm) 16.1-million-pixel LiveMOS sensor and 1,440,000-dot electronic viewfinder, for example.

This means that unlike the E-M1’s sensor there is an optical low-pass filter present. However, rather than using the TruePic VI engine of the E-M5, Olympus has used the TruPic VII processor that is found in the top-end OM-D E-M1.

The TruPic VII processor incorporates Fine Detail II Technology that adapts processing to the characteristics of individual lenses and aperture settings. It is also claimed to allow better noise control. These two features may mean that the new E-M10 could produce better quality images than the E-M5.

This processor also allows sensitivity to be set in the range ISO 100-25,600 and a maximum continuous shooting rate of 8fps – although focus and exposure are locked at the start. In addition, shutter speed may be set in the range 1/4000-60sec (plus bulb) and exposure compensation can be adjusted to +/-5EV.

While it’s the entry-level OM-D camera the E-M10 still has the enthusiast friendly exposure modes: program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual. There’s also a healthy collection of automatic scene modes (24 in total), including a new Hand-Held Starlight mode. In this mode the camera captures eight images and combines them into a single composite automatically for better exposure and noise control.

In addition to Olympus’s standard Live Bulb and Live Time modes which allow the photographer to see the image build-up on the screen during long exposures, there’s a new option called Live Composite Lighten Mode. This allows a Live Bulb image to be combined with one 0.5-60sec exposure for better dynamic range control in some situations.

Being an Olympus camera, the E-M10 has a large collection of Art Filter modes, 19 in total, which may be used to apply an effect to images. Many of these effects are customisable. They can be applied to JPEG files (and video clips), but raw files can also be recorded at the same time so there’s a ‘clean’ image for processing.

Like the other OM-D cameras, the E-M10 has a tilting LCD screen that is touch-sensitive for making settings adjustments and swiping through images in review mode. This is a 3-inch device with 1,370,000 dots, like the E-M1’s so it trumps the E-M5 screen’s 610,000 dot-count.

Olympus OMD E-M10

Key differences in comparison to the E-M5 include a simplification of the optical stabilisation system, which is 3-axis rather than 5, no battery-grip compatibility, the lack of an accessory port in the hotshoe and no weather-sealing.

The 3-axis stabilisation counteracts yaw, roll and pitch for both still shots and HD movies, irrespective of the lens attached to the camera. It is claimed to extend the safe hand-holdable shutter speed by up to 3.5EV.

A small pop-up flash, with Guide Number 5.8m at ISO 100, is a key addition to the E-M10. This will be useful for fill-in or shooting in low-light conditions. As mentioned earlier, there’s also a hotshoe to accept an external flash. While the built-in flash sync speed is 1/250sec, it is 1/200sec with an external flashgun (1/180sec with the FL-50R).

The new camera also has Wi-Fi connectivity built-in, the same system as in the E-M1. Furthermore, it’s compatible with the updated Olympus Image Share app which gives extensive control over camera settings, even allowing the exposure mode to be set to something other than the option indicated by the camera’s mode dial. In addition, it’s possible to use a smartphone like a standard wireless remote shutter and just trip the shutter keeping the camera settings as they are set on the body.

On the face of it the E-M10 looks like a very attractive alternative to the E-M5. It has many of the same features, makes only a few compromises and has a few aspects borrowed from the top-end E-M1.

Olympus has announced a new 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ lens to complement the E-M10 and it will be offered as the standard kit lens. This new lens is a powerzoom and it collapses down when the camera is turned off to maintain the slim lines of the camera. Olympus claims that it is the slimmest standard zoom lens in the world.

Build and handling

Olympus has used a very similar design for the E-M10 as it has for the Olympus E-M5, the original OM-D. However, at 119.1×82.3×45.9mm and 350g it’s a little bit smaller and lighter than the older camera (121×89.6×41.9mm and 373g). Consequently it is also smaller than the OM-D E-M1 (130.4×93.5×63.1mm and 443g), which sits at the top of the Olympus compact system camera line-up.

It doesn’t have the dust- and splash-proofing of the E-M5, nor the freeze-proof build of the E-M1, but it is constructed from metal so it feels nice and solid.

A small, but pronounced rubberised pad on the back of the E-M10 makes a good, comfortable thumbrest, while a ridge on the front provides grip for your fingers. The two combine to make the camera feel secure in your hand while shooting and when carrying it between shots.

The control layout of the E-M10 is almost identical to that of the E-M5, albeit on a very slightly smaller body.

As before, there are plenty of button and dial controls giving a direct route to camera settings. Everything is within easy reach and the controls feel responsive.

Following the layout of the E-M5 rather than the E-M1 means that the E-M10 has a mode dial on left side of the top-plate as you hold the camera for shooting. This provides a route to all the exposure modes. While there is the usual option for Art Filters, these can also be applied when shooting in the other exposure modes such as aperture priority, so it is possible to retain control over the camera’s settings.

Olympus E-M10 review

The two control dials on the top of the E-M10, for adjusting shutter speed/aperture and exposure compensation, are a little deeper and chunkier than the ones on the E-M5, but the difference is subtle.

Like the E-M5, the E-M10 has two Function buttons which can be customised to perform different operations. By default, the ‘Fn2’ button at the top of the camera gives direct access to the Highlights and Shadows control for boosting or reducing contrast.

The E-M10’s 3-inch 1,370,000-dot screen provides a nice, clear view with plenty of detail visible even in quite bright conditions, but when the sun is shining the electronic viewfinder (EVF) is a welcome alternative. It’s helpful that there’s a sensor to detect when the camera is held to the eye and activate the EVF so you can quickly switch between the two viewing devices.

Olympus OM-D E-M10

As usual, the touchscreen can also be used to alter the focus point, with a tap of a finger. It can also be used to trip the shutter, first focusing on the point you touch and then taking the shot. I found the touchscreen to be very responsive and quick to use, just as it is in the E-M5.

As it’s mounted on a tilting mechanism the LCD screen is easier to see than a fixed screen when shooting landscape format images from low and high angles, but it’s no help with portrait format images. Olympus is still resisting a move to a vari-angle screen that would prove even more helpful.

The 1,440,000-dot electronic viewfinder in the E-M10 isn’t new as it’s the same as the one in the E-M5, but it benefits from the Adaptive Brightness Technology found in the E-M1. This adjusts the brightness of the view according to the ambient light to give a more comfortable viewing experience that takes into account the size of the user’s pupil.

I found that the EVF provides an excellent view with no obvious texture or flickering (it operates at 120fps). EVF naysayers really should give it a try.

The new 14-42mm kit lens extends promptly when the camera starts up and it feels well-balanced on the E-M10. However, it takes a few moments to get used to how close the zoom ring is to the camera body and anyone switching from an SLR may find that their fingers naturally land on the focus ring on the end of the barrel at first.

Performance

To date I have only been able to use a pre-production sample of the Olympus E-M10 and I’m not allowed to publish any images from it because they may not reflect the final image quality. Consequently, I can’t pass final judgement on the quality of the images that it produces.

We also need the raw processing software to be made available so that we can inspect the raw files.

Olympus OM-D E-M10

However, as it has the same sensor as the E-M5 and the same processing engine as the E-M1 we can reasonably assume that its image quality will fall somewhere between the two. This bodes well as both cameras produce excellent images and are highly respected.

As it has an anti-aliasing (aka optical low-pass) filter, the E-M10 may not be able to resolve quite as much sharp detail as the E-M1, but it should be a good match for the E-M5. Noise should also be well controlled, probably on a par with the E-M1, which performs well even at the highest sensitivity setting, ISO 25,600.

Although we found some luminance noise visible in the E-M1’s ISO 25,600 images when they were viewed at 100%, there’s not much coloured speckling (chroma noise) and detail softening is fairly restrained. This is largely the result of the TruePic VII processing engine, so hopefully the E-M10 will perform as well in this regard.

We have found that Olympus’s general purpose ESP metering system performs very well in a range of situations and we expect this to continue with the E-M10. Doubtless, there will be some scenes that require a little exposure compensation, but if Olympus’s past record and the performance of the test sample we had is anything to go by, it will be in the type of conditions that test most exposure systems.

Olympus OMD E-M10

The E-M10’s autofocus system seems fast and able to cope with quite low light conditions, only faltering when it becomes dark. I want to use a full-production sample of the camera with a collection of lenses to test the system fully.

Olympus’s OM-D and Pen cameras generally produce natural looking colours in the default modes and I anticipate this will be the same for the E-M10. The images that I took on a pre-production sample certainly look good and reflect the shooting conditions.

The automatic white balance systems in the E-M1 and E-M5 generally perform well in a range of conditions, producing images that capture the atmosphere of the scene. Like many systems, they tend to produce rather warm images in artificial light, but this is easily corrected with a custom white balance settings or by adjusting a raw file. We will test the E-M10 in a range of lighting conditions when we get a full production sample in.

Olympus’s Art Filters have proved very popular because they’re a convenient way of applying effects to JPEGs. It’s particularly useful that you can set the bracketing control to produce an image using every Art Filter with just one press of the shutter release. You can select which Art Filter you want to use, so you don’t have to use them all if you don’t want. The TruePic VII processor makes using this bracketing option a much better experience than it was in the past as processing and write times are much faster. The fact that you can shoot unaffected raw files at the same time is a major bonus not offered by any other camera manufacturer.

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

These charts compare the results of the Olympus OM-D E-M10 with the Panasonic G6, Olympus OM-D E-M1, Fuji X-E2, Canon 70D and Nikon D7100.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Although the Panasonic G6 performs best at ISO 400, the Fuji X-E2 has the best results at every other sensitivity setting. This indicates that there’s plenty of detail and low levels of noise in the X-E2’s JPEG images in its default settings. However, the Olympus E-M10 puts in a very good performance and compares very well with the two SLRs (the Canon 70D and Nikon D7100), especially at the higher sensitivity settings.

Raw (after conversion to TIFF) signal to noise ratio

Raw signal to noise ratio

The Olympus E-M10 is a clear winner here, indicating that it produces the cleanest images across the sensitivity range. However, our resolution chart results show that this comes at the expense of some detail at the highest sensitivity values.

JPEG dynamic range

JPEG dynamic range

The Olympus E-M10 and E-M1 in their default (Natural) Picture Mode have very similar dynamic range in their JPEGs. This means that there’s a wide range of tones and detail isn’t lost quickly in the highlights or shadows. However, it’s worth noting that the Fuji X-E2, which has a lower dynamic range, produces punchier-looking images straight from the camera in its default configuration.

Raw (after conversion to TIFF) dynamic range

Raw dynamic range

These results confirm our real world findings that the Olympus E-M10’s raw files have lots of tonal data and its images have an impressive dynamic range. It beats all the competing cameras here.

Sample images

Signal box

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JPEG images have a high level of detail direct from the camera, but as usual there’s a bit more visible in the raw files (see below).

Signal box (raw)

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Raw files bring increased scope to fine-tune contrast and sharpening to help bring out detail.

Catkins

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These catkins were bobbing about violently in the wind, but in the bright light the E-M10’s AF system was able to lock onto them quickly. It even managed to keep up with them as they moved around the frame in AF Tracking mode.

Train

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In low light, AF performance drops off and although it wasn’t fast enough to produce sharp images of erratically moving dodgems, it managed to deliver a few sharp images of this junior roller-coaster ride.

White Flower

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The E-M10 general purpose ESP metering system wasn’t thrown off by the brightness of the main subject in this shot and has delivered an excellent exposure.

Crocus

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The tilting screen is useful when shooting very low subjects, like this crocus.

Fungi JPEG

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Although the white in the fungi in this JPEG file is a bit too burned out to pull back, it could be retrieved in the simultaneously captured raw file below.

Fungi Raw

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It only took a couple of seconds to adjust the raw file in Adobe Camera Raw to restore the highlights in this raw file.

Fair

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Using Live Time mode enabled us to see the image build up on the screen on the back of the camera (or our iPhone) and then close the shutter when the exposure looked correct. This image took 5.5 seconds at ISO 100 and f/18.

Coolers

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Olympus’s Grainy Film Art Filter suits this cooling tower image well, but if you’re not sure you can shoot a raw file simultaneously so that you have a ‘clean’ file to work with. It’s also possible to bracket the Art Filters and produce a sequence of images with each one (or just your favourites) applied with just one press of the shutter release. Alternatively, the supplied Olympus Viewer 3 software allows you to apply the filter effects to raw files as they are processed.

Landscape no drama

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Another example of where a tilting LCD screen can come in handy.

Landscape drama

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This JPEG file was shot at the same time as the raw file above, but the Dramatic Tone Art Filter has given it a bit more impact.

Early verdict

Olympus OM-D E-M10

The E-M10 has a recommended retail price of £529.99 in the UK, or £699.99/AU$999 with the new 14-42mm EZ (powerzoom) lens which makes it considerably more affordable than the E-M1 and E-M5. These cameras can be found for around £1,299/US$1,399/AU$1,199 and £749/US$1,099/AU$1,599 (body only) respectively.

Olympus has give the E-M10 many of the features of the excellent OM-D E-M5, and some from the E-M1 at the top of Olympus’s OM-D range. The only compromises appear to be the lack of weatherproofing, the loss of the ability to attach a battery grip (although there is an accessory grip to make the camera larger if you prefer), the loss of the hotshoe accessory port and a reduction in the level of correction offered by the stabilisation system.

However, you get a pop-up flash, a more advanced Wi-Fi system and a better LCD screen. Plus the camera is a little more compact and lightweight – but still robust with a metal construction.

As it has the same sensor as the first OM-D, the widely respected E-M5, and the same processing engine as the top-end E-M1, the E-M10 should be capable of producing high quality images. The OM-D E-M1 particularly impressed us with its noise control right up to ISO 25,600 and we have every reason to expect that the E-M10 will be just as capable. Because it has an optical low-pass filter over the sensor, it may not be able to resolve quite as much detail, but the difference is only likely to be visible when images are viewed at 100%.

I enjoyed using the pre-production sample E-M10 for a few days and I’m really looking forward to testing a full-production model. Olympus appears to be offering consumers quite a lot for their money in comparison with the other two OM-D cameras.

    



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