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OM System OM-1 review

The OM System OM-1 is the last camera that will ever wear the Olympus badge. Does it live up to its legendary namesake?

Olympus OM-1
(Image: © James Artaius)

Early Verdict

Don't let the "OM-1" name fool you into thinking this is a camera from yesteryear – this packs the technology of tomorrow. The world's only IP53 weather-sealed camera, the world's first Cross Quad Pixel AF camera, it is also packed with bleeding-edge computational photography tech, image stabilization that blows everything else out of the water, and ISO performance that promises parity with full frame sensors. However, the caveat is that this is only a 20.4MP sensor – albeit a stacked one, which can deliver 120fps shooting, 80MP pixel-shift stills and 4K 60p ProRes Raw video. You won't find this much firepower in another camera, even one twice the size.

Pros

  • +

    120fps burst shooting

  • +

    IP53 weather sealing

  • +

    4K 60p 12-bit ProRes Raw

  • +

    8 stops of stabilization

Cons

  • -

    Native 20.4MP resolution

  • -

    No 8K video

The OM System OM-1 has a lot to live up to. While Olympus wasn’t exactly unknown when the original Olympus OM-1 was revealed in 1972, the revolutionary downsizing of the 35mm SLR propelled it towards becoming a major player in the camera market. By the end of the 1970s, Olympus was one of the ‘big five’ Japanese camera makers along with Canon, Minolta, Nikon and Pentax.

Yoshihisa Maitani’s remarkably compact design – which was largely achieved mechanically as this was before microchips were widely used – set the trend towards smaller 35mm SLRs and Olympus basked in the glory of the OM-1 for many years.

So the new OM System OM-1 has a lot to live up to – particularly as it replaces the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III (opens in new tab) and Olympus OM-D E-M1X (opens in new tab) as the flagship model. And, according to OM Digital Solutions – which is what Olympus’ camera business is now called under its new ownership – it’s “time to do it again”. 

The occasion is the launch of the first camera under the OM System branding, so it seems fitting to start again with ‘OM-1’ – except, as you’ve probably already noticed, the new camera also says ‘Olympus’ on the front. 

Well, this is a one-off that’s been permitted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original camera’s unveiling, and it won’t be happening again – so this also helps make the new OM-1 a bit special, too. 

Olympus OM-1: Specifications

Sensor: 20.4MP Micro Four Thirds stacked BSI Live MOS
Image processor: TruePic X
AF points: 1,053 cross-type phase / contrast detect
ISO range: 200 to 102,400
Image stabilization: 5-axis IBIS, 7 stops (body only) or 8 stops (w/ Sync IS lenses)
Max image size: 5,184 x 3,888 (standard 20.4MP), 8,160 x 6,120 (50MP Handheld High Res Shot), 10,368 x 7,776 (80MP Tripod High Res Shot)
Metering modes: Multi-pattern, center-weighted, spot
Max video resolution: 4K 60p (H.264, H.265), 1080p 240p (H.264)
Viewfinder: 5.76m dot OLED, 120fps, 0.005 sec delay
Memory cards: 2 x SD/SDHC/SDXC, UHS-II
LCD: 3-inch articulating touchscreen, 1.62m dots
Max burst: 120fps (no AF/AE), 50fps (full AF/AE)
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB-C, headphone jack, microphone jack, remote connector
Size: 139 x 38.5 x 80mm
Weight: 511g body only (599g with 1x battery and 1x memory card)

Olympus OM-1 + OM System M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro II (1/400 sec, f/4.0, ISO200) (Image credit: James Artaius)

Olympus OM-1: Key features

For the first time in a long time, there’s a significant update to a Micro Four Thirds (MFT) sensor, which of course can’t change its size, but adopting the stacked BSI arrangement that’s now becoming common in the larger formats can deliver other key performance benefits, most notably a faster readout speed, an improved dynamic range and lower noise levels. 

The sensor in the OM-1 also has a revised architecture on its receiving surface to deliver a new autofocusing system called Cross Quad Pixel AF. Under each pixel point are four photodiodes rather than one, which collectively – by comparisons between each’s read-out – can determine depth and hence distance, enabling phase-difference detection measurements to be made across the entire frame. 

The increase to the dynamic range – by a claimed one stop – and the reduction in noise are important to help counter the common criticisms of the MFT sensor versus anything bigger, as both will contribute to improvements in high ISO performance. Consequently, the native sensitivity range is extended to ISO 25,600 and you can push on by two stops to ISO 51,200 and 102,400, which is very much new territory for an MFT camera.

It’s not all that surprising that OM Digital has stuck with the same 20.4MP count as previous models, as we’ve noted on many occasions that this is probably the sweet spot for an MFT sensor in terms of balancing resolution and the signal-to-noise ratio. And, again, it boils down to just how much resolution do you really need? 

If you do want more, there’s the multi-shot High-Res Shot mode, which uses pixel-shifting to quadruple the resolution when the camera is mounted on a tripod, and deliver 50MP when shooting handheld. Eight shifted frames are captured in very rapid succession and then combined in-camera, with the resulting image also exhibiting a two-stop reduction in noise. 

Olympus OM-1 + OM System M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro II (1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO200) (Image credit: James Artaius)

The various in-camera multi-shot compositing modes are now bundled together under the title of ‘Computational Photography’ and get their own menu pages. Live ND was introduced with the E-M1X and carried into the E-M1 Mark III, but here it gets an additional ND64 setting that represents a six-stop reduction in exposure. However, unlike with a conventional neutral density filter, Live ND enables you to effectively reduce the exposure without needing to use a tripod – and you don’t have to use small apertures, either. 

The Live Composite function isn’t included on this menu page – but at least it’s still in the same menu – and can run for up to six hours (as on the E-M1 III). In case you’re unfamiliar with it, it combines a reference background exposure with subsequent multiple exposures that only add any bright light sources (such as stars), thereby avoiding any overexposure. Usefully, it can be monitored in real-time in the rear screen or EVF. However, the big update with the OM-1 is that image stabilization is now available with Live Composite so you can also use it when shooting handheld.

The OM-1’s in-body image stabilization is again based on a super-responsive gyroscopic sensor – as introduced on the E-M1X – but is a smaller module yet again, and also faster. It operates over five axes with up to seven stops of correction for camera shake, but this increases to eight stops when lens-based optical image stabilization is on the job to assist with yaw and pitch, called Sync IS. 

The headline spec here is 50fps shooting at full resolution with either maximum quality JPEGs or 14-bit RAW files, and with continuous adjustment of both the autofocusing and metering. The stacked sensor allows for a blackout-free viewfinder, too. This is very impressive, but the caveat is that the AF adjustment at 50fps is currently only supported by 6 lenses – although this does include a couple of older models, such as the original 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro.

If you’re happy with the AF/AE locked to the first frame, then you can shoot at up to 120fps – but again there’s a caveat in that the buffer calls time at 92 frames (either fine-quality JPEGs or RAWs). Realistically, though, you’d have to think that 50fps is going to be fast enough to cover a lot of high-speed subjects, in which case the burst length is nearly 170 frames with JPEG/ large/fine capture. As on all the previous OM-D models, there is a higher-quality ‘superfine’ setting for JPEGs that doesn’t affect the shooting speed, but will reduce the burst lengths.

Olympus OM-1 + OM System M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro II (1/60 sec, f/2.8, ISO200) (Image credit: James Artaius)

Olympus OM-1 + OM System M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro II (1/640 sec, f/2.8, ISO200) (Image credit: James Artaius)

Of course, the rapid-fire speeds are made possible by using the electronic shutter, as is the ‘Pro Capture’ pre-release buffering, which is now available in three modes – up to 20fps, up to 50fps and up to 120fps. 

The maximum number of frames captured at pre-release – the moment at which the shutter button is pressed to its halfway position – is increased to 70, and this is a rolling sequence that continues until shutter release. You can, in fact, specify any number of frames from one up to 70 for pre-capture buffering. In both the 20fps and 50fps modes, continuous AF/AE adjustment is performed, too.

Olympus pioneered Intelligent Subject Detection AF on the E-M1X (it isn’t available on the E-M1 III) and it’s been upgraded here to include cats and dogs. These join those for motorsport (which includes both cars and motorcycles), aircraft, trains and birds (which was added to the E-M1X later via firmware upgrade). 

It’s worth pointing out that it’s subject-recognition algorithms that are driving these modes, and they actually don’t use the autofocusing system – or at least, not the distance determining part of it. Pixel-by-pixel processing is determining what’s the specified subject and what’s not. It’s for this reason that eye/face detection for human subjects is something different and, on the OM-1, it’s controlled by a new algorithm that allows for a smaller target area and more erratic movements, aided again by faster processing of the subject distance data.

A comparison of a regular 20.4MP image (left) next to the 50MP handheld High Res Shot (right) (Image credit: James Artaius)

OM System OM-1 review: Build and handling

In terms of both size and styling, the OM-1 is similar to the E-M1 Mark III – but it’s actually an all-new design with a grippier handgrip and a smoother, shallower EVF housing. The bulkier grip means that the OM-1 doesn’t look quite as appealingly pretty as the OM-D cameras, but it’s form versus functionality, right? And you’d have to say it’s still a good-looking camera.

An all-new menu system is a vast improvement on what we had to endure before. Everything is better; the graphics, the groupings (now properly color- coded) and ease of navigation, which you can do by chapter, page, or line. Everything is now arranged horizontally rather than vertically, so it’s all much more logical both visually and in practice. 

It’s certainly greatly enhanced the camera’s operational efficiencies, and there’s still Super Control Panels if you want to get somewhere even faster – though as ever, the menus are not touch-controllable.

The OM-1 has a new EVF with OLED panel, refreshing at a fast enough rate
(120fps) to deliver blackout-free viewing at the fastest shooting speeds. The resolution is 5.76 million dots and the .83x magnification (35mm equivalent, and the same as the E-M1X) makes it nice and airy for an MFT camera’s finder. This is down to the optics, and the eyepiece lens has an anti-fogging coating. 

Olympus OM-1 + OM System M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro II (1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO200) (Image credit: James Artaius)

The OM-1’s LCD monitor remains the same size as those on the E-M1X and E-M1 III, but the resolution increases to 1.62 million dots. It’s fully articulated and the display is again adjustable for brightness and color balance.

The body is a one-piece magnesium alloy casting with upgraded weather protection to the IP53 standard, which is actually quantifiable rather than just a vague claim about sealing points. To obtain this certification, the OM-1 had to prove it could withstand at least 3 minutes with water being sprayed on it continuously at a 60° angle. The body is also insulated to allow operation down to 14°F / -10°C. 

The OM-1 is powered by a new battery – the 2,280mAh BLX-1 is good for around 520 shots per charge – and allows for both in- camera charging and powering via USB-C. There’s also a new battery grip, designated the HLD-10, which adds a second battery to the camera and is again sealed to the IP53 standard.

In addition to USB, the OM-1’s interfaces comprise micro HDMI (Type D), a 2.5mm connector for wired remote controllers, a stereo audio input (with switchable plug-in power) and a stereo audio output for connecting headphones. As noted earlier, it also retains a PC flash terminal to supplement the hotshoe. The wireless connections are Wi-Fi at 2.4GHz and Bluetooth LE, with the OM Image Share smartphone app also allowing for remote camera control.

Olympus OM-1 + OM System M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro II (1/100 sec, f/5.0, ISO200) (Image credit: James Artaius)

OM System OM-1 review: Performance

Loaded with a Panasonic 64GB SDXC UHS-II V90 speed memory card and using the standard silent sequential shooting mode (the electronic shutter), the OM-1 captured a burst of 207 JPEG/large/fine frames in 10.315 seconds, which represents a speed of 20.06fps. This is bang on the money as far as speed is concerned, and exceeds OM Digital's claims for the burst length by a considerable amount, as the specs say 116 frames is your limit. 

The average file size was 9.5MB. Switching to the 50fps ‘SH2’ high- speed mode, a short sharp burst of 92 frames was all over in 1.837 seconds. The card’s write speed is critical here, with anything slower than 250MB/second likely to become a bottleneck. The camera can go on shooting at 50fps while the buffer is emptying – obviously only for much shorter sequences – so you’ll likely want the delay between bursts to be as brief as possible.

The AI-based object-recognition tracking was a revelation when we first experienced it with the E-M1X, and with the OM-1 it’s been expanded to include more subjects, but it’s still remarkable just how reliable it is regardless of the subject’s size or the way that it’s moving. It grabs onto a subject virtually instantaneously – even one that’s closing rapidly on the camera – and then simply doesn’t let go. It’s noticeably faster than the E-M1X – OM Digital says by a factor of three – with new algorithms apparently further improving the accuracy. 

The low-light performance also gets a boost, although it’s probably more realistic to look at the -5.5 EV minimum at f/2.8. The eye/face detection for humans is also driven by a new algorithm to assist faster acquisition and more reliable tracking, including if the subject momentarily looks away. Additionally, of course, this tracking is now also possible across the entire frame.

Olympus OM-1 + OM System M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro II (1/60 sec, f/6.3, ISO200) (Image credit: James Artaius)

While the effective pixel count might be the same as that of the E-M1X and E-M1 III, the image quality is significantly better in terms of dynamic range and reduction in noise at the higher ISO settings. In terms of the latter, it’s obviously not going to match the best full-frame performers, but the OM-1’s new sensor has closed the gap and the native ISO range of 200 to 25,600 is useable with color saturation and definition holding up well beyond ISO 6400 – which is something we haven’t really seen even on the best Micro Four Thirds cameras (opens in new tab)

Even the one-stop push to ISO 51,200 looks pretty good and would allow for significant enlargement before any softening of the finer details is noticeable. The increased dynamic range also enhances the flexibility of the RAW files, giving plenty of scope for post-camera exposure adjustments for the highlights and shadows without compromising the image quality. 

However, it’s likely that most sports, action and adventure photographers are going to want as much JPEG quality as they can get, and the OM-1 certainly delivers here too. Detailing and definition are discernibly better than before and it’s particularly evident in tight patterns and textures, which are very crisply rendered. To be frank, it’s very unlikely you’ll look at the OM-1’s best-quality JPEGs and complain that the resolution is ‘only’ 20MP. 

For landscape work – and maybe even wildlife if the subject stays still long enough – the improved High Res Shot function is an option for bigger image files with even finer detailing, smoother tonality and, as noted earlier, with reduced noise as a byproduct. Faster processing – now down to around five seconds – also makes it more convenient to use.

Olympus OM-1 + OM System M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro II (1/320 sec, f/2.8, ISO200) (Image credit: James Artaius)

OM System OM-1 review: Video

The faster sensor and processor give the OM-1 faster frame rates for video recording, delivering 4K DCI or UHD at 50/60p and Full HD at up to 200/240p. While the Panasonic GH5 II and Panasonic GH6 are a more logical choice for anybody with higher-end video requirements and who like the advantages of the MFT sensor, the OM-1 is still a lot more capable than either the E-M1 X or the – E-M1 III and has enough to be competitive.

You can have 10-bit 4:2:0 color with the H.265 HEVC compression codec, which delivers bitrates of up to 152Mbps. With the standard MPEG-4 AVC H.264 codec and 8-bit 4:2:0 color, the bitrates extend up to 202Mbps. The LongGOP interframe compression regime is applied to 4K recording, but there’s the option of ALL-I intraframe compression with Full HD at 24, 25 or 30fps, which boosts the maximum bit rate up to 202Mbps.

The OM-Log400 and Flat profiles are now joined by HLG (HDR) for 10-bit color and an enhanced dynamic range (using H.265). Usefully, View Assist is available for the OM-Log and Flat profiles so you can get an idea what the final footage will look like. There’s no limit on clip durations.

The external recording options are topped by a 12-bit 4:4:4 color ProRes RAW output in 4K DCI or 4K UHD up to 60fps, which is supported by the Atmos Ninja V and V+ devices (via a firmware upgrade). The OM-1 sticks with a micro HDMI Type D connector. There’s the option of recording high-quality sound with 24-bit quantization and sampling at 96kHz. 

Olympus OM-1 + OM System M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro II (1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO200) (Image credit: James Artaius)

There’s both a stereo audio input (with switchable plug-in power) and a stereo audio output for connecting headphones. Both are the standard 3.5mm stereo minijack connections. Sound levels can be adjusted manually and there’s a built-in attenuator for shooting in very noisy locations.

Additional electronic stabilization is available when shooting video and enables remarkably smooth handheld shooting, but it results in a small crop of 1.18x because the image is shifted electronically on the sensor. Subject-based focus tracking is available when shooting video (although only in the C-AF + TR mode) or, alternatively, eye/face detection for humans. Tracking sensitivity is adjustable to one of three settings.

The rest of the OM-1’s video functionality includes a handy white balance lock (that can be switched on and off during recording), time-coding, two zebra patterns with adjustable thresholds, flicker reduction, the PASM exposure modes, the Picture Mode presets, most of the Art Filter effects, lens vignetting correction, grid guides, the real- time histogram display and the focus peaking display. Touchscreen controls are available for AF point selection, pull focusing, exposure adjustments (apertures, shutter speeds and compensation), audio recording levels, headphone levels and power zooming.

In terms of the basics, the OM-1 really isn’t all that far away from the GH5 II, but it lacks most of the latter’s more pro-level features such as anamorphic recording, a waveform monitor and vector scope, knee control, luminance level adjustment, colour bars and a 1.0KHz test tone. However, for anybody who wants to shoot professional- looking videos as an adjunct to their photography, the OM-1 has everything they’ll need.

Olympus OM-1 + OM System M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro II (1/60 sec, f/2.8, ISO200) (Image credit: James Artaius)

OM System OM-1 review: Verdict

The OM System OM-1 is a very important camera for a number of reasons. Firstly, it needs to prove that OM Digital Solutions is still really the old innovative Olympus on the inside, but is also capable of staying competitive in a market that’s really heated up of late. Next, it needs to make a very bold statement about the validity of the MFT size sensor and the distinct benefits that it delivers – at a time when full frame is making a lot of the running. And, finally, it needs to start building more market share for OM Digital Solutions –  or at least help improve profitability.

The good news is that it’s capable of meeting all these challenges, even if the third objective is certainly the biggest. It probably helps here that the OM-1 is still badged ‘Olympus’, which provides a tangible link to the new era of OM System. However, this is a very fine camera regardless of the name on the front and it’s arguably fine enough to attract newcomers to the system. It’s small without being too small, and it’s as tough as any of the pro-level full-frame cameras.

The ergonomics are excellent and are now complemented by a redesigned menu system that results in significantly enhanced efficiencies. The stacked sensor delivers significant imaging performance benefits – especially at higher ISOs – so it brings the size-related advantages into sharper focus. The new AF system is easily up there with the best in terms of its overall capabilities and you can shoot at 120fps at 20MP, while the Nikon Z9 (opens in new tab) – the only other mirrorless camera that can keep up this speed – knocks the resolution back to 11.4MP. 

Olympus OM-1 + OM System M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro II (1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO200) (Image credit: James Artaius)

The only downside is that the OM-1 really needs a bigger buffer memory to make better use of 50 and 120fps shooting speeds; the Pro Capture function is the saviour here, otherwise you simply wouldn’t be able to react quickly enough.

On balance, though, the OM-1 is otherwise very hard to fault now that the image quality has been given a boost via the new sensor, the AF is even more capable, it’s tougher than previously, and the menus enhance the operational efficiencies. 

Like the camera that inspired the model number, it just feels so right in the hand from the moment you first pick it up and, while it’s not as petite as the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III (opens in new tab) or Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV (opens in new tab) cameras, it’s addictively easy to carry around and supremely comfortable to use. Our test camera came with the new 40-150mm f/4.0 Pro telezoom, which we had to keep reminding ourselves is equivalent to 80-300mm because it’s just so compact and lightweight. 

Micro Four Thirds is arguably more about the system than an individual camera, but the cameras are the cornerstones – and with the new OM-1, the OM System has established a very firm foundation for the future indeed.

Read more: 

Best Olympus lenses (opens in new tab)
Best Micro Four Thirds lenses
(opens in new tab)
Best professional cameras
(opens in new tab)
Best mirrorless cameras (opens in new tab)

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Paul has been writing about cameras, photography and photographers for 40 years. He joined Australian Camera as an editorial assistant in 1982, subsequently becoming the magazine’s technical editor, and has been editor since 1998. He is also the editor of sister publication ProPhoto, a position he has held since 1989. In 2011, Paul was made an Honorary Fellow of the Institute Of Australian Photography (AIPP) in recognition of his long-term contribution to the Australian photo industry. Outside of his magazine work, he is the editor of the Contemporary Photographers: Australia series of monographs which document the lives of Australia’s most important photographers.

With contributions from