The mirrorless marketplace is getting crowded these days, with a number of fantastic cheap cameras already on our radar. However, Olympus was one of the pioneers of mirrorless technology.
While many manufacturers have gone full tilt into the full-frame arena, Olympus has been refining and perfecting its micro four-thirds (M43) range of cameras – which have the unique advantage over full-frame and APS-C cameras, given that micro four-thirds lenses are much smaller and lighter (and often cheaper).
This is the main benefit of the format; fantastic image quality housed in camera bodies that are physically more compact and lightweight. This is thanks to the size of the M43 sensor, which is even smaller than APS-C sensors, with a crop factor of 2.0x.
Olympus' cameras are divided into three main categories. The OM-D line harks back to the OM line of film cameras, featuring SLR styling and an advanced electronic viewfinder, which are aimed at professional and enthusiast photographers.
The other main category is the PEN series of cameras, which feature a more ‘compact camera’ style of build that generally omits a viewfinder altogether. PEN cameras are particularly stylish, making them coveted by the fashion-conscious.
Olympus' third category is the Tough line of cameras. These don’t have interchangeable lenses, as they designed to be near-indestructible cameras that can be used in any environment; they're dustproof, crushproof, waterproof, shockproof and freezeproof.
01. Olympus OM-D E‑M5 Mark II
The OM-D E-M5 Mark II is powerful and versatile yet fun and reasonably affordable
Type: SLR-shape CSC | Sensor: Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16.1MP | Screen: 3.0-inch 1,037k pivot touch | Viewfinder: Electronic 2,360k | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast
The best Olympus camera deal: The original E-M5 was the first Olympus OM-D camera and a groundbreaking mirrorless body. The Olympus OM-D E‑M5 Mark II edition is a worthy update, boasting an upgraded image sensor and processor. A new trick mode enables 40MP images to be created, based on a sequence of eight shots in which the 5-axis stabilizer shifts by a very small amount before each exposure.
There’s also a fully articulated touchscreen, instead of just a tilting screen, and both the rear screen and the electronic viewfinder have nearly double the pixel count of those in the original camera. The megapixel count of the actual image sensor remains the same, at 16.1MP. Overall, it’s a beautifully engineered camera with great handling. It’s a joy to use and is capable of delivering fabulous images.
02. Olympus OM-D E‑M1 Mark II
This is the range-topping OM-D but the E-M1 Mark II is a pricey buy
Type: SLR-shape CSC | Sensor: Four Thirds | Megapixels: 20.4MP | Screen: 3.0-inch 1,037k pivot touch | Viewfinder: Electronic 2,360k | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Continuous shooting speed: 15fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Professional/Enthusiast
The best premium Olympus camera: Unlike other current OM-D cameras, the Olympus OM-D E‑M1 Mark II range-topper boosts the megapixel count to 20.4MP, while also delivering a faster 15fps maximum drive speed. A new image sensor comes complete with greatly enhanced phase-detection autofocus and stabilisation systems, as well as enabling reduced image noise at high ISO settings. The camera also has a more professional/enthusiast-grade menu system which, although a bit complex in places, enables excellent shooting versatility.
There’s 4K video capture on the menu, while the electronic viewfinder and fully articulated screen are both excellent. The camera costs around twice the price of the E-M5 Mk II but, if you want to buy the best OM-D camera on the market, this is it.
• Read our review of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
03. Olympus OM-D E‑M10 Mark III
It’s the least expensive of the new-generation OM-D cameras, but the E-M10 Mark III is full of tricks
Type: SLR-shape CSC | Sensor: Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16.1MP | Screen: 3.0-inch 1,040k tilt touch | Viewfinder: Electronic 2,360k | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Continuous shooting speed: 8.6fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Intermediate/Enthusiast
The best value Olympus camera: There’s a lot to love about the Olympus OM-D E‑M10 Mark III, from its high-res electronic viewfinder and tilting touchscreen, to its 5-axis image stabilization, simple yet effective controls and 4K movie capture. It lacks the E-M1 Mk II’s advanced phase-detection autofocus system and can struggle to track moving objects, but focusing is still pretty fast for stationary subjects.
Like the E-M5, the latest edition of the E-M10 retains a 16.1MP sensor but that still enables richly detailed images, in conjunction with the wide range of high-quality Micro Four Thirds lenses on the market from both Olympus and Panasonic. Compact and lightweight yet immaculately engineered, this is a camera that’s easy to take anywhere and everywhere, and it’s great value at the price.
04. Olympus PEN E-PL8
Retro chic design meets sensible form and function in the PEN E-PL8
Type: Compact-shape CSC | Sensor: Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16.1MP | Screen: 3.0-inch 1,037k tilt touch | Viewfinder: Optional electronic | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Continuous shooting speed: 8.5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner
The best budget Olympus camera: Olympus calls the Olympus PEN E-PL8 camera ‘the fashion icon of photography’, but it’s thankfully not a case of style over substance. While highly attractive to look at, it’s a serious camera with logical controls, a high-res tilting touch screen, and effective sensor-shift stabilisation.
In keeping with the small, lightweight design, there’s no built-in viewfinder, but an electronic viewfinder is available as an optional extra, which plugs into the camera’s ‘accessory port’ at the rear. There’s no 4K video capture on the menu, but the camera can muster full 1080p. The E-PL8 is currently exceptional value for money, at around half the price of the newer E-PL9.
05. Olympus PEN E-PL9
The PEN E-PL9 is a truly travel-friendly camera with tremendous versatility
Type: Compact-shape CSC | Sensor: Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16.1MP | Screen: 3.0-inch 1,040k tilt touch | Viewfinder: None | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Continuous shooting speed: 8.6fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner/intermediate
The best travel Olympus camera: Unlike the PEN-F, the Olympus PEN E-PL9 retains the same megapixel count of the E-PL8 and a number of other Micro Four Thirds cameras, at 16.1MP. That’s still plenty for many photographers and the new camera maintains the PEN tradition of being very intuitive to use and easy to live with. It also has excellent build quality despite its compact, lightweight construction. Better still, this camera is a thing of beauty in its own right, as well as being able to deliver beautiful image quality.
A bonus over the older E-PL8 is that it can also capture 4K movies rather than just 1080p. There’s no viewfinder, nor an accessory port for adding an optional one (unlike in the E-PL8), but the diminutive build is still ideally suited to travel photography, especially when the body is paired with the remarkably small Olympus 14-42mm EZ ‘pancake’ zoom, available as a money-saving kit lens option.
• Read our full Olympus PEN E-PL9 review
06. Olympus PEN-F
The PEN-F is the most exotic Olympus camera to date
Type: Compact-shape CSC | Sensor: Four Thirds | Megapixels: 20.3MP | Screen: 3.0-inch 1,037k tilt touch | Viewfinder: Electronic 2,360k | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast
The best retro Olympus camera: Olympus PEN film cameras date all the way back to 1959 and have followed a long evolutionary path. The latest in the line is the Olympus PEN-F, which grabs many of the best bits from the range-topping OM-D E‑M1 Mark II and shoehorns them into a more compact PEN-style build.
You therefore get a 20-3MP image sensor, 5-axis image stabilisation, advanced controls and, for the first time in a PEN digital camera, a built-in electronic viewfinder. The result is a truly enthusiast-level PEN camera with terrific performance, functionality and handling, adding real clout to its stylish good looks.
07. Olympus TG-5
A camera with attitude, The Olympus Tough TG-5 knows no fear
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3-inch | Megapixels: 12.0MP | Screen: 3.0-inch 460k | Viewfinder: None | Lens: 25-100mm f/2-4.9 (effective) | Continuous shooting speed: 20fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner
The best rugged/waterproof Olympus camera: The Olympus TG-5 that can take pretty much any punishment you throw at it. You can drop it from a height of 2.1m, submerge it in 15m of water, freeze it down to -10C and even try crushing it with a 100kg weight, and it’ll still keep on working. And it works very well too, with a 4x optical zoom lens, fast 20fps continuous drive mode and 4K video capture.
There’s also a smart range of accessories available, including fisheye and telephoto lens converters. It’s even great for extreme close-ups, with specialist macro and microscopic modes.