Three Months of Using the OM-1 Mirrorless Camera: Am I Still Impressed?

Three Months of  Using the OM-1 Mirrorless Camera: Am I Still Impressed?

Only if you buried your head for the last few months would you have missed the enthusiasm for the OM-1. The new camera from the company previously known as Olympus caused quite a stir. How is it faring in the real world? I've owned the OM-1 for a little over three months. Am I still as enthusiastic about it as I was when I first bought it?

That excitement is firstly due to the doubling of the dynamic range of the OM System OM-1 compared to its predecessor, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III, and a quadrupling of the noise control. Then there is the AI-driven subject recognition system. Thirdly, the brand-unique computational photography features such as Live Time and Live Composite are astounding. The former feature allows you to watch a long exposure develop on the viewfinder or rear screen. Live Composite, on the other hand, only adds new light to an image, which is great for light painting. Plus, the inbuilt ND filters now go up to ND64. Then, there is the IP-53 weather sealing, the only ILC with that rating.  

The OM-1 and the pro lenses are the only ILCs on the market with an IP53 rating. As I shoot seascapes with salt water spray in the air, this is a boon for me.

On top of that, you have high-resolution shooting that uses sensor-shift technology to produce up to 80 MP images. There's also a host of video improvements, including 24p-60p C4K, time-lapse, and high-speed up to 100 fps. The 7 stops of image stabilization are also worth mentioning, of course. That increases to 8 stops when used with a compatible lens. Oh, and then there are the 120 frames per second, the in-camera HDR mode with raw output, and the diminutive size of its Micro Four Thirds System. Then I nearly forgot to mention Pro Capture, the facility that buffers images before the shutter release button is fully pressed, only permanently recording them when it is, meaning no more missed action shots.

I wrote about those in my initial review of the OM-1 soon after I first bought it. In the three months since then, I've used it for long exposures, wildlife expeditions photographing birds in flight, weddings, business events, and the numerous workshops I run. So, does it make a difference in the real world? You bet it does.

I handle a lot of cameras. From the big and heavy full-frame, top-of-the-range flagship dinosaurs down to cheap mass-produced beginner DSLRs that seem made from the same plastic used in cheap toys, most pass through my hands. The OM-1 feels robust and built to last.

The body is slightly smaller and lighter than most other mirrorless cameras. But the significant size advantage comes when you consider the entire system. Smaller, excellent lenses in the M.Zuiko professional range are tiny compared to the equivalent full-frame behemoths. Furthermore, the OM-1 overcomes the tricky balance between ergonomics and customizable functionality.  

The OM-1 is well balanced, and the system is far lighter than others I have used.

I have often wondered why so many full-frame shooters are committed to staying with a DSLR despite all the advantages brought by mirrorless systems, and maybe some of it is due to balance; you need a big camera to balance a big lens. I've previously tried enormous 300mm to 600mm lenses on Canon, Nikon, and Sony full frame mirrorless cameras, but they feel front-heavy and unwieldy. Some are too big to comfortably handhold. DSLRs do act as a counterweight. For some, the combined weight and cumbersome size of a DSLR/long lens combination doesn't bother them. In that case, I understand why some big-system photographers are not swapping to the mirrorless bodies, despite all the advantages that would bring.

This issue is not there with the OM-1; it always seems well-balanced, whatever lens I use with it. Because of the smaller proportions of equivalent lenses on the Micro Four Thirds system, they are more suited to the slimmer, smaller bodies. The OM-1's body is not much smaller than its full-frame mirrorless contemporaries, but the far more compact comparable lenses make all the difference in balance and ergonomics. 

It's not a cheap camera, the OM-1; it isn't meant to be. But let's compare it with the other stacked sensor cameras released around the same time. Like everything in photography, sensor size has both its advantages and disadvantages. The price is one of the significant advantages of the OM-1 over these larger cameras. The Sony A9 II costs $4,498, more than double the price of the OM-1. Meanwhile, the Nikon z9 is priced at $5,496, and the Canon R3 is a whopping $5,999.

So, at $2199, although it is a top-of-the-range flagship camera, the OM-1 is excellent value compared with other stacked sensor alternatives.

Using the OM-1 in the Field

I have big hands and long fingers. The buttons and dials on the OM-1 are easy for me to manipulate. My son's hands are smaller than mine, and I just asked him to try it. He found it comfortable and easy to use, too. So too did my wife, who is relatively small and has tiny hands. Strangely, the smaller E-M5s also fit my family's range of hand sizes. Consequently, I expect much thought goes into the ergonomics during the design stage.

Cameras are designed for right-eyed and right-handed people. I am fortunate to be both right-handed and right-eye dominant. When shooting action, I like to keep both eyes open to spot subjects outside the frame I might want to capture. This smaller system helps facilitate that.

Spare a thought for left-eyed people. Most cameras are disadvantageous for those that hold the camera to the left eye in that the camera's body and right hand obscure the vision on that side. I tried shooting left-eyed with the OM-1, and although there is less peripheral vision than when using my right, I can still see enough to detect a bird flying my way or a person acting interestingly on the street.

With greater peripheral vision because of the smaller size and its outstanding AI-based subject detection, my success rate of capturing small fast moving birds has increased to nearly 100% of them being in focus.

One criticism I've heard of the OM-1 is about its tracking ability of humans. I disagree with this because it is terrific compared to many cameras I've used. The AI-based tracking of birds, animals, and automobiles is even better. A friend who was in the Navy described the AI-based subject detection as having "military precision." Nevertheless, the human face and eye recognition aren't bad. I used it on all the shots I took at a wedding last weekend, and it didn't miss a beat. However, I anticipate the inclusion of Human AI, perhaps in a future firmware update.

I was always pleased by the quality and sharpness of the photos I shot with my previous Olympus digital cameras going back to the E-510 I owned many years ago and even a bridge camera I had around the same time. But the detail in pictures shot with the OM-1 is astoundingly crisp. That has much to do with the new sensor, the In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS), and, of course, the superior lenses.

Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw always over-sharpened Olympus raw files (.orf), and many professional Olympus users have felt let down by Adobe's shoddy raw conversions compared to other software. Capture One and ON1 seem to be firm favourites for the system's professional users, plus the proprietary OM Workspace, which best develops the raw files. For high-ISO noise handling, something that is exceptionally well controlled anyway. I'm happily shooting up to ISO 102,400, and ON1 NoNoise and Topaz DeNoise both work well at extra cleaning if desired. However, for the images used in this article, I employed OM Workspace, which has its own AI-based sharpening and noise reduction. It works well.

I turn sharpening off when running the raw files through different third-party processors. When shooting weddings and portraits, I invariably soften the skin so as not to show every irregularity within every skin pore inside every wrinkle. The OM-1's finest detail lifts the photos to a new level for most other of images. That, partly due to the doubled dynamic range, has led me to start reshooting the seascapes I caught with my previous iterations of the Olympus OM-D E-M1s and the E-M5s. Don't get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with the photos from those older cameras. I still happily take an E-M1 on my morning bike ride, but the OM-1 is a massive leap forward.

I don't do as much in some genres of photography as I would like; I am just too busy. However, I see some excellent macro results from Geraint Radford, and Gavin Hoey's studio work is outstanding. They are both using OM-1s.

Battery life is tremendous. I bought three extra batteries for when I am shooting weddings and events. At an all-day wedding shoot, I changed the battery once at a convenient time mid-afternoon when it had discharged to 45%. The following battery still had over 50% life when I finished at 9.00 pm. I didn't have to change the battery on a four-hour wildlife shoot. I bought the optional BCX-1 external battery charger for its flexibility. I thought it would be beneficial when coupled with a power bank, but so far, I haven't needed to use it.

What I Do and Don't Like

I can honestly say that the OM-1 is the best digital camera I've ever owned or used, and I use lots. It lives up to its "Wow Camera" status.

I love its robustness and its 400,000 shutter actuation rating, putting many other similarly priced models to shame. Environmentally, its longevity is important, as the world's resources are limited and we should expect quality products to last. It would be great if OMDS made a big commitment to reducing the environmental impact of its products' manufacturing, but at least they are not greenwashing like some other brands seem to be doing. The good news is that they seem to be recruiting photographers onto their worldwide ambassadorial scheme from diverse backgrounds, helping to democratize photography. That has to be great for our art.

There are a couple of tiny things I would improve. Keyhole screw slots on the bottom of the charger would make it wall mountable. Plus, isn't it about time that all camera manufacturers stopped supplying neck straps and gave us shoulder straps instead?

There have been supply hold-ups for both the camera and its accessories because of the unprecedented demand, but the back orders are being caught up now.

There was also one small software glitch that a few people experienced (I didn't) that was quickly addressed with a firmware update. But there is rarely any complex technology that doesn't get updated for similar reasons. My camera did lose its date and time settings during the firmware update process, but again, it was no big deal.

Developed in OM Workspace, but only using settings also available in the camera.

These are minor things. Overall, this is a fine camera in a league of its own. It's not a jack of all trades but a master of many. It meets the needs of photographers with innovations that I've heard other camera users saying, "Why doesn't my camera have that feature?" In time, they probably will, but by then, it will be a sure bet that OMDS will have brought in a range of new features, as its Olympus heritage did in the past. Like Olympus claimed with the E-M1 Mark II, it is over-engineered. There is a lot of stuff that I will never use, apart from out of curiosity, but they will be features that appeal to others.

An OM-1 black and white conversion. Straight out of camera apart from a slight horizon-leveling adjustment.

Is it a success? Everything I have heard behind the scenes suggests so, a punch on the nose for the naysayers and doom-mongers who incorrectly predicted an ominous future for the brand. Breaking away from the medical side of Olympus, which influenced and restricted the research into the camera systems has been a success for OMDS, enabling it to break away from the restrictions imposed on it. I personally know five people who have swapped their old system with other brands and bought an OM-1. I cannot think of any other camera where that has happened. Even if you are dedicated to another manufacturer, having different brands in the market is a good thing as it pushes advances through competition, especially when one of the brands is as innovative as OMDS. Consequently, I am glad that the heritage of Olympus has been revitalized. Plus, I'm looking forward to the rumoured OM-5 too.
Ivor Rackham's picture

Earning a living as a photographer, website developer, and writer and Based in the North East of England, much of Ivor's work is training others; helping people become better photographers. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being through photography. In 2023 he became a brand ambassador for the OM System

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Nice article Ivor, some serious features available on it.

Thanks Stuart

Forget drilling holes in walls to mount your battery charger, use velcro mounts instead. Then there's not need to fill and redrill holes when the next battery charger has different spacing for the mount holes.

It's a good point. I've used Velcro in the past, but found it would pull off the wall rather than separate the velcro. I live in a Victorian-era sandstone and lime mortar house and so the walls are painted with traditional, breathable paints that doesn't work well with adhesives. I like keyhole slots because it's easy to hook them on and off the screws when I need to take them with me.

I'm now experimenting with my various camera chargers being mounted upside down under my desk. Or, fixing a mounting board to the wall under the desk. That would work with velcro, so thanks for the reminder.

Thank you. I'll give it a go.

Olympus has always produced quality and innovative equipment. I loved their lenses years ago because they put the shutter in the lens itself, just like Hasselblad and other quality companies. They keeping abreast with other manufacturers and high-stepping their digital tech output. Keep it up Olympus. Don't want to see them go away.

I think we will see more and more innovations from them, especially now as they are not tied to developing products that must help the medical arm of the business. Thanks for the comment.

Glad you're enjoying your OM-1. I prefer the E-M5 lineup (only due to its size) and can't wait for the OM-5 to arrive! It will make a huuuge difference in my pet photography as I can let the camera do the focusing on the subjects' eyes. With the E-M5III I need to either "focus & recompose" or move the focusing point and when shooting ADHD models you don't really have to for that.

Nice article. Makes me want to get rid of all my cameras (including my e-m10) and get the OM-1. My first camera was the original OM-1.

You might want to fix your typo since the extended ISO range only goes to 102,400, and I doubt you meant 125,000.

Thanks. Goodness knows how I managed that. I've asked the editors to correct it.

A nicely build and very capable compact system, but when I look at the high iso comparison on DPreview I still would prefer a Canon R6 to shoot poorly lit concerts. All the advanced electronics still can’t beat the bigger pixel size it seems

Hi Rudd,

I often have the discussion about a camera being "good enough". I agree with the idea that bigger pixels have better dynamic range but the smaller size MFT cameras do a good enough job. The OM-1 outperforms many of the earlier full-frame cameras and they were good enough for the job back then, and still are now.

Take the Canon 5D Mark III as an example, it was and still is still a great camera and is used by wedding photographers who shoot in similar low light to concerts. It has 11-stops up to ISO 200 and falls to 8-stops at 25.600. If the 5DIII was good enough for concerts, then the OM-1 must be too as it has a better dynamic range than that.

For me, it is about being able to provide quality images to my clients. Ther OM-1 does that at a standard that is more than good enough.

As with everything in photography, there are advantages and disadvantages. The R6, fine camera though it is, would mean me having to lug extra weight with those huge lenses and I would be limited to just 12 frames per second. There's always a compromise. But as sensor technology improves, the compromises made by smaller sensors become less relevant.

Thanks for the comment.

Thanks for the reply Ivor,
I totally agree that the OM would certainly suffice for low light concert shooting, when you look at older sports or concert photos there’s a lot of noise and they are still wonderful images. I still use my old 6D at concerts regularly but if I was to invest in new gear, I would go for the best I could get for my money and prioritise high iso performance over size and weight ( weight never bothered me and I like a larger camera, put that’s just personal preference) and 12 fps is more than enough for concerts( overkill really) . Shooting landscapes with the OM makes a lot of sense, not a lot of bulk to carry around , great lenses and image quality.
Cheers , Ruud

True and if you need shallow dof with a small sensor you will need some very fancy lenses. Every system has it’s ups and downs. But gathering four times more light gives me 2 stops before the playing field levels, and shooting at 2.8 normally gives me enough dof during a concert.

If we are both using a 1.2 lens , the ff sensor has four times the surface area of a micro 4/3 sensor , so gathering four times as much light. If you are using a 1.2 lens to to keep things equal the FF could use a 2.4 lens. At three meters distance to the subject you would get 49cm dof. An Eos R with 50 at 2.4 would get 51cm dof. Now if I use a 85 1.4 where will you get a 42 0.7 lens?

Again this has to do with sensitivity, the sensitivity doesn’t change. A roll of film is a film of a photosensitive material , with the same iso/asa the size of the particles in the e emulsion determines the sensitivity. The larger the particles the more sensitive to light they are, that’s why high iso film looks grainy because the grains are bigger. On a large format film camera there will be more material (with the same sensitivity) to expose giving more resolution. Also when the image gets printed to get the same size of image the large format negative doesn’t have to be enlarged that much, and enlarging also enlarges the “flaws”
On a digital sensor the size of the photosites does very, with the same resolution the ff sensor will have larger photosites gathering more light and when converting to an actual image doesn’t have to be enlarged 2x

Hi Rudd, that's a slightly different argument. You are right that larger photoreceptors do collect more light, but it doesn't necessarily follow that a larger sensor has larger receptors as there are other variables. For example, it may have a greater pixel count, thus having a greater pixel density, or, in the case of the new stacked sensor in the OM-1, the sensor's construction is such that it has more room for each receptor so they are bigger.

Stephen is right that an f/2 lens on any sensor size or focal length will give the same shutter value, with the caveat that the T-Stop is the same.

The whole sensor size argument is old hat and very much driven by the marketing departments of camera manufacturers. Medium format photographers make much the same argument against full-frame as you are about MFT. Yet, they all have advantages and disadvantages. There are some fabulous photographers that use all sizes of sensors, taking advantage of the benefits of each and working out different ways of shooting to work around their limitations. All contemporary cameras are capable of taking great shots when placed in the right hands. So it is just down to whether the photographer needs the extra unique facilities that come with some cameras, like the OM-1, and whether the ergonomics are good.

You’re right about the size and pixelcount , and that’s what I sad. And I do agree that the type of sensor also matters. The OM-1 has much better signal to noise than my old 5D mk1. And the stacked sensor on the OM is cutting edge technology, but still the R6 gets better image quality at high ISO’s (6400 and beyond). And yes like I sad , every system has it’s ups and downs, and there are always compromises. The R6 is bigger, heavier and the lenses are much bigger but for concerts it would be my choice. The OM would be great as a walk around camera, and macro shots would benefit from the larger dof. And it’s speed would also fit outdoor sports. And like you sad earlier the most important bit is behind the camera.

okay, but still to doesn't work the same as a digital sensor, regarding size and sensitivity. you don't have a sheet of photo sites where you use a larger of smaller portion off. We were talking about digital sensors with the same amount of megapixels/photosites with different sizes gathering different total amounts of light.
If it rains, a shed will get the same intensity of rain as the roof of a house, but the amount of water captured by the roof is much larger. and if we divide the roofs up in an equal amount of portions, the portions on the roof of the house will be larger and will gather more water.

But the intensity of the rain is the same (the same aperture) So the rain per square meter is the same. But my roof is bigger so I have bigger tiles (the same amount of photosites on a bigger sensor) so my roof tiles gather more water.

Partly true, but still the photosensitive site has 4 times more surface area on the equally pixelated full frame sensor than the m4/3. So the amount of light gathered by pixel is greater and has a better signal to noise ratio.
If this is not true, why does the full frame sensor (with the same technology) have better snr.

The om has a great sensor with the latest technology, clear by the fact that it almost beats a five year old full frame sensor. Technology is moving so fast, who knows in five years medium format is shooting at 20fps.
We are never going to agree on this subject, you’re never going to admit I’m right and I’m not going to admit I’m wrong. If someone gave us the money you would buy the OM-1 and I would be the Canon EOS R6 and we would both be happy.

My eyes dare to differ

Both in print setting

It is an indication though. Maybe the processed and printed files would be closer but I don’t think the om images will suddenly look better than the images from the R6

Nice Video about the OM vs R3, also covers DOF difference and image quality

Now just imagine. Two squares filled with 20 funnels and bottles underneath the bottles. One square is four times the area, so it has bigger funnels (the amount of funnels is the same) now when it rains for an hour. Which bottles will contain more water?

When you increase the number of funnels, thus the pixel count the funnels will have to be smaller and the amount of water per bottle reduces. But we are comparing two sensors with the same pixel count. And I’m not trying to understand this , I’m trying to make you understand. Your starving grass example doesn’t work because you also increase the number of grass leafs/plants

Indeed. But then there would be the problem of resolution and when you enlarge the image there will be an increase in noise. But looking at it per pixel , the noise would be the same. There are a lot of other factors like read out noise, the quality of the image processors, the type of the sensor (stacked, bsi etc ) It is quite an accomplishment that the OM-1 has this high iso noise performance, but with the same type of sensor and equally good image processor, the full frame will win the high iso “contest “

There’s also an interesting video on DPreview (I know you prefer written articles) where they compare high res and low res images of two Sony full frames with the same type of sensor regarding noise . The results surprised me. It’s worth a look.

First , the dprview video I quoted is a comparison of two sensors of the same type and age. And the video was an eye opener. But that doesn’t change a thing about our r6 vs OM. (With the OM having the advantage of a much more modern sensor)

I have also been trying to get my message across by making analogies and have listened to your points and analysed them, but most of them just didn’t make sense ( enlarging the field of grass for example)
In my professional life I was an executive lab technician ( clinical chemistry and haematology) part of my job was testing and assessing new analysers and tests. So I have an analytical way of thinking and always doubt claims from manufacturers.
I believe in facts and data.
You come across as someone who loves the m4/3 system ( and you are welcome to it, it has some great things going for it) but doesn’t want to see the shortcomings of the system. And will try to find ways to convince others that it is the best system there is.
It is starting to feel like a discussion with a flat-earther ( and I’ve had quite a few of those)
So let’s end it here and agree to disagree.
I hope you have a lot of fun and create wonderful images with your camera.

Funnel size, water per bottle…. who’s not wanting to listen and keep an open mind.
The end

Now you have fallen in the trap of your own logic or you just don’t get it According to you the total amount of water didn’t count. And the comparison with the bottles was same amount of bottles in both area’s but the larger area has larger funnels , so the larger funnels collect more water per bottle like the photosites on a full frame are larger than those on a M4/3 and thus gather more light if the amount of photosites is the same. Can’t put it any clearer or make it any simpler. Get it now?

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