Review: OM System OM-1
Remember that format called Micro Four Thirds? Ok, we’re teasing, but in an era of cheap full frame cameras, powerful APS-C options, and even cut-price Medium Format, Micro Four Thirds (M43) has felt like the lost child of the camera world for the last few years.
It hasn’t helped that Olympus has been caught up in a very public sale and rebrand (it’s now known as OM System), while Panasonic has spent the last few years pushing its full frame L-Mount offerings instead.
It all means that for M43 shooters, it's been a quiet few years. But we’re glad to say that the OM System OM-1, the first new Olympus flagship since the OM-D E-M1X back in 2019, is officially here and, best of all, it’s rather great.
Released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the original OM film SLR, the OM-1 certainly doesn’t deviate greatly from previous Olympus models– and it even still carries the 'Olympus' name across its viewfinder in case you needed another reminder of its heritage. However, we’ve heard it's likely to be the last model that will.
As anyone who has shot an Olympus camera will likely tell you, size and weight is one of the main drawcards for the smaller M43 format. It’s also one of the reasons why I don’t think I ever quite gelled with the E-M1X, which was, by M43 standards at least, a big camera.
By comparison, the OM-1 has more in common with the E-M1 Mark III, and it’s better for it. In the hand, it’s a comfortable camera to hold with a logical button layout that speaks to it being ‘almost’ the fourth iteration of the E-M1.
On the top panel’s PASM dial are four dedicated custom buttons, and to the left of the EVF you’ll find a neatly integrated Drive mode and AF button. Olympus’ two-position 'Fn Lever’ also makes an appearance here. It surrounds the AEL button and can be used to switch the function of the camera's command dials, or be used as an On/Off switch.
You can customise it further too, such as between two different autofocus combinations for example. This gives it an additional layer of adjustability beyond a standard Fn button.
On the rear, the OLED EVF is light and bright, and at 5.76M dots is a big improvement over the OMD-E-M1X’s 2.36M dots. Better still, OM System says the new 1600 x 1200 pixel display can refresh at 120hz with a delay of just 5ms. There's also a fully-articulated 1.62M dot touchscreen (Again, sharper than that on the E-M1X) on the back of the camera that is responsive and snappy.
OM System have also stuck with the Super Control Panel, which brings quick and intuitive adjustment to any of the camera’s major settings. Unfortunately it doesn’t allow you to switch between the OM-1’s newer autofocus capabilities like Subject Detection for example, but this is something we’d expect to see in a firmware update down the track.
Finally, Olympus’ track record of excellent weatherproofing has been retained by OM System. The OM-1 achieves an IP53 rating, where the '5' represents a very high level of dust resistance (6 would be completely dust-proof), and the '3' indicates that the OM-1 can withstand at least three minutes of water being sprayed at a 60 degree angle.
As far as we're aware, Leica is the only other company that makes specific claims like this for its interchangeable lens cameras.
The OM-1's AF system uses a newly developed quad-pixel autofocus system — the first such system in any camera — which brings with it 1,053 all cross-type phase-detection focus points and coverage of nearly 100% of the sensor. You can also set it to recognise different types of subjects - Trains, Cars, Planes, Helicopters, Animals and Birds, with OM System stating that the autofocus uses AI to help identify subjects.
For testing I stuck to birds flying at a local seal colony. On occasion the AF would struggle to track particularly fast moving birds such as swallows, but these are challenging birds to capture for any photographer. For most other flying subjects, the OM-1 tracked consistently, doggedly following our subject even with complex backgrounds and multiple subjects in frame.
Delve into the menu, and you’ll find a variety of camera modes aimed at improving your hit rate – you can shoot at 50fps in full C-AF mode, or even faster at 120 fps, albeit in S-AF. No other camera offers a drive speed like it.
The OM-1 is also capable of buffering shots from the moment before you fully press the shutter, which is great for subjects such as lightning that you have no chance of getting to repeat.
For this review we were loaned OM System’ quite lovely M. Zuiko ED 40-150MM f/4 Pro lens (80-300mm equiv.) and the 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens (24-80mm equiv.) which gave us a good opportunity to test the OM-1 with a variety of subject matter, including wildlife, landscapes, and portraits.
On the inside, the OM-1 is built around a completely new 20MP Stacked BSI CMOS image sensor. The addition of a stacked sensor is welcome – these sensors offer faster readout for improved processing and AF.
Some users will likely be a little disappointed the OM-1 is only 20MP especially so when we know M43 is capable of greater megapixel density, like with the recently announced 25.2MP Panasonic GH6. But to alleviate this somewhat you do get a very refined High Res Shot mode with the OM-1. Essentially, this allow multiple images to be combined quickly while retaining, and in many cases enhancing, image quality and dynamic range.
High Res Shot mode generates a 50-megapixel image, and it works best with subjects that aren’t moving. This isn’t new technology of course, with the EM1-X offering a similar feature. But it’s now much faster than it was in that camera thanks to the improved TruePic X processor. In fact, OM System said the combination can happen in-camera in less than five seconds, which very closely matched our testing.
A smaller sensor is also lighter, which means it has less inertia when it moves and is therefore easier to stabilise. With a claimed 7EV of in-body stabilisation in the OM-1, and up to 8EV with compatible M.Zuiko lenses that feature built-in IS, you’ll find you can hand hold some seriously slow shutter speeds – as slow as 1/8s in my testing.
Finally, the combination of the Pro glass and the new sensor revealed plenty of image detail, with dynamic range also impressive. Low light performance is another win here. I had good results up to ISO 8000, but as you’d expect the best results are found around ISO 200-800. It’s when you combine the OM-1’s excellent stabilisation, fast glass and good high ISO performance together you realise how powerful the combination can be.
The OM-1 is capable of capturing 4K video at 60fps, and also supports H.264 (8bit), H.265 (10bit), and Multi Frame Rate recording. The OM-1 can output raw video at up to 12bit 4:4:4 to external devices, and there's Full HD at 240fps for slow-motion video.
Our results for video were solid, and having the ability to shoot 4K at 60fps in particular is very welcome.
We hugely enjoyed using the OM System OM-1. It offers a rugged build, modern, reliable autofocus and a variety of useful image-making functions like High Res Shot and Live ND that really enhance the image-making experience.
The result is a well-rounded camera that’s a genuine alternative to full frame options on the market. Our only reservation is with its price – at an RRP of $3,299, the OM-1 is competing very much in the full frame imaging space, a market that’s probably the most competitive (and arguably innovative) of all.
However, if you’re not sold on full frame, and appreciate the size and weight advantages of the smaller sensor, we believe the OM-1 is the M43 camera to own, and perhaps the most complete Olympus camera yet.