First thoughts on the Olympus OM-1

Since writing previously for Olympus Passion about my B&W street photography with the PEN-F, I have given up my job as a full-time accountant and instead work part-time as an accountant and have the support of my new employer to pursue additional income through my photography.

I’m not usually an early adopter of trends or new technology or someone that ‘needs’ the newest camera, preferring instead to enjoy a ‘good deal’ when a camera is being discounted due to an impending release of a new model. In addition to the PEN-F, I have the E-M1 Mark ll, which is now six years old.

That said, when I first read about the OM-1 thought that I should consider ordering one, especially now that I can put the purchase ‘through the books’ of my photography business. Whether it would be a ‘WOW’ camera was another thing.

Another factor in my consideration was because the first SLR that I bought in the late 1970s was an OM-1 and so I felt an emotional pull to have the digital version, especially as we’re led to believe it’s to be the last camera with an Olympus logo; complete the circle, as it were.

I don’t usually take birds in flight, do long exposure landscapes, astrophotography or take any video, but the draw for me was the improved dynamic range from the new sensor, reduction in noise in low light and the major improvement in autofocus.

Add in the blackout-free shooting, the joystick for choosing the point of focus and the improved EVF/screen, the in-camera ND and pro capture, and I was a convert. I recognise that the draw may not be as strong for someone with the E-M1lll or the E-M1X.

I ordered it on the day it was unveiled in a global announcement and was pleased to be in the first wave of deliveries in the UK. As an added bonus, Guernsey (where I live) does not have any VAT/GST so the cost of photographic equipment is one-sixth lower than in the UK.

On taking the camera out of the box, I was pleased with the look of the camera and how it felt. The redesign of the grip is great and although it feels very secure in my hand, I’ve added a wrist strap as a backup, using the same one as I have on my PEN-F, and this gives me the availability to quickly take a photo as I don’t like to carry a bag round my shoulder in addition to the camera.

Rather than buy a battery charger, I took the additional free battery and bought a 20,000 mAh Power Bank that I can use to charge the camera from, if necessary, when out and about. It will also run the camera at the same time, so, if necessary, I can pop the power bank into my back pocket and run a USB cable to the camera.

After charging the battery, I went out for a ‘test drive’ with my dogs, as usual, and took a number of photos of common street scenes. I packed my bag with a 12mm f/2 on the camera and added the 17mm, 25mm, 45mm and 75mm f/1.8 lenses. These all fit into a small over the shoulder bag, and although I do covet the f/1.2 versions, I don’t think they are small or light enough for carrying when dog walking.

Later, I took my dogs to a beach, put on the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO and set the subject recognition to dogs and the autofocus to C-AF + tracking. Not one shot was out of focus, whereas on the PEN-F I’d struggle to get one in focus and on the OM-D E-M1 Mark ll, I’d be lucky to achieve 50% in focus when the dogs were running towards me.

I have been very impressed with the OM-1 compared to the EM-1 ll and the PEN-F, I am blown away by the autofocus. It is lightning fast, extremely accurate, even in the dark and doesn’t hunt for focus.

Ergonomically it’s a dream with one very small niggle; I wish the menu button had been accessible with my right thumb whereas its placement on the top left-hand side means that two hands are needed to navigate the menu. The new menu is laid out in a more logical manner, and the addition of the information of unavailable ‘greyed out’ menu options is an improvement.

I shoot in raw using the ETTR (expose to the right) method to try and capture as much information as possible without blowing the highlights. I mostly post-process in Lightroom but will sometimes export to Photoshop for removing unwanted elements and Nik Collection for Silver Efex.

I like to shoot scenes around my town, and at night I usually shoot at ISO1600 and then denoise the raw files in DxO DeepPrime, but at ISO1600 I find that the raw files from the OM-1 do not need to be denoised.

I’m still experimenting with the OM-1, taking it out with me every day in place of my PEN-F. I have no intentions of retiring the PEN-F, it’s just that I want to get to the same level of mastering the intricacies of the OM-1 controls and settings so that I’m not fumbling through menus and buttons wondering how to effect a change (let’s be honest, we’ve all been there!), especially if on a shoot for a paying client.

While it’s still early days, I have no complaints about the OM-1, only praise and look forward to what I hope will be many years of service.

"My name is Sam Thompson, a lifelong Olympus user living in Guernsey, walking forty miles a week with my dogs and my camera, looking for the next “keeper”; the one you can feel when you’ve taken it and carries you through until the next one."

15 Comments

  1. I am also an avid Olympus camera user.
    Use the OM-E5 Mark III I cherish.
    Watch out with the hope that OM-System will one day integrate the improved menu of the OM-1 into my camera. Of course with only the possibilities of the E5 MIII
    Look forward to the OM-1 with interest but as a hobbyist I have trouble with the heavier device than the OM-E5 Mark III
    Greetings from Belgium
    Freddy

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Freddy.

      I’d like to see the capability of the OM-1 released in a rangefinder version; PEN-F Mark ll. I doubt that OMDS will roll out firmware to change the menus on previous models but it would be great to be proved wrong.

  2. Very interesting article and normal persons’ review.
    Clearly this is an excellent camera, the more so for those already invested in the excellent, and value for money Olympus/OMS lens line up.
    It should be noted that Sam is a master B and W shooter, in the past whilst out walking with his two canine companions.

  3. Good review. What I would be additionally interested in is a comparison between these examples and comparable pictures taken with the PEN-F.
    I doubt there would be visu difference. But I could be proven wrong.

    1. I thought that was mentioned? 100% keepers vs 50% for the EM-1 Mk II and 10% for the PEN-F. Once the picture is nailed, in focus, then its down to the lens, especially when the pictures are then further reduced for display on the web. SO once they get to that point, little to no difference – except the picture has been nailed, rather than another “almost there”.

  4. Hi Gerrit,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I would agree that for most of the images that accompanied this article there would be little (if any) visual differences between them had they been taken with the PEN-F or OM-1. The difference is noticeable in the nighttime shots that I took at ISO1600. In the PEN-F, I need to use some denoise software (in my case, DxO DeepPrime) and for the OM-1 I don’t need it until higher ISO values are used.

    In addition, the noise from the OM-1 has a different quality to it, looking more like grain rather than noise – others may have a different view, of course.

    The other area where there is a huge improvement is with the autofocusing. I took my dogs out this week and used Procapture low with CAF + tracking and subject recognition selected for dogs. I ended up with dozens of images and not one was unusable. I would be lucky to get one in tack-sharp focus with a moving dog using the PEN-F. I honestly feel like I’m cheating!

  5. Great shots Sam ! I have been enjoying your photos on Facebook for quite a while now and really enjoy seeing the different area of Guernsey. You have a great eye for street photography.

    I started with an EM1 Mk II, then an EP-3, EM5 Mk III and recently received my OM-1 with the 12-40 F2.8 Pro II lens.

    I have been experimenting with different lenses and settings. It is really a remarkable camera.

  6. Thanks for this review and for your great photos (I also love shooting in black and white).
    I hope OMDS is thinking about a future rangefinder, the long awaited PEN FII (we street photographers would really appreciate a new version).
    One question: Where did you buy this bag in which you carry your camera and lenses? I think it’s perfect for travelling light and unobtrusive, is it on Amazon maybe? Thank you very much, Sam and I hope to read many more of your articles.
    Best regards from Barcelona!

    1. Hi David,

      Sorry for the delay in responding.

      Yes, I bought it on Amazon. It is called Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 25i. They also do a slightly bigger one called the 30i but the 25 suits me really well.

      Many thanks for your generous feedback.

      Kind regards,

      Sam

  7. Hi Sam – your review was fascinating, many grateful thanks – if a little frustrating as I’m still waiting for ‘my’ OM-1 ordered early in March. With hindsight I should have ordered one immediately rather than dithering! Now my trusty PEN-F looks as if it will be on duty for our Guernsey trip in two weeks’ time. No hardship certainly, but your piece has got me looking even more frequently at my email in the hope of news …

    1. Thank you Roger,

      I hope that it arrives in time for your visit. I know that it’s a significant investment but should you be thinking of adding to your lens collection, remember that there is no GST or VAT in Guernsey so the prices from Amazon or Park Cameras delivered to Guernsey are 1/6th lower than in the UK.

      The PEN-F, as you are well aware, is no slouch in image quality, it just lacks a few refinements in AF and weather sealing.

      I’ve been on leave this week and we’ve enjoyed a great spell of weather which I hope will still be with us when you visit at the beginning of May.

      Best wishes,

      Sam

      1. With OM-1 deliveries apparently at standstill, I fear it will have to be the PEN-F. Your lack of VAT will be tempting yet resisted: a recent 8-25mm cost a month’s pension (I’m 75). Fortunately, all lens look the same to my wife! I’m staying with my wife & her brother at the Duke of Richmond 9-14 May; if you can spare a few minutes, could I walk into town one morning and buy you a coffee? I can be reached on 07472 120 861 or roger@wwwords.co.uk.

  8. I can’t wait until OMDS puts this technology in a smaller body like the Pen-F or the E-M5. I like having one full size pro body with all of my most commonly used controls at my fingertips, and a smaller one for more deliberate but unobtrusive shooting with a prime lens. Right now I have an E-M1 II & E-M5 III which are the same sensor & processor in different form factors. My dad is more of a bird shooter. I have an OM-1 on back order for him and he’s going to swap me his E-M1 III + cash for it as he’s the one with the most to gain from the OM-1. For me, the E-M1 III’s AF joystick, auto ISO in manual video, handheld high res shot & better IBIS are plenty meaningful upgrades over my E-M1 II.

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