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

A professional photographer, website developer, and writer, Ivor lives in the North East of England. His main work is training others in photography. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being. In 2023 he accepted becoming a brand ambassador for the OM System.

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Previous comments

So you've collected all this water, which is your signal, but where is the noise coming from?

The noise comes from the readout of the signal and amplification of the signal. Because modern sensors have less read-out noise and with better image processors the image has lesser noise. That’s why the OM comes closer to the R6 that has older sensor architecture, but still doesn’t beat it when it comes to the final image regarding high iso images. Comparing it to the R3 which also has a modern sensor the difference is even bigger. All because the signal that comes from the photosite is higher to begin with.

Read noise is just one source of noise in a digital camera, it's not affected by the amount of light/water in the bottle, and when you have sufficient exposure, it's contributing significantly smaller than photon noise. This is why you're focusing on all the wrong things.

Than let’s just skip all the technical details and just look at the end result, the printed image . You can clearly see that cameras with the full frame sensors have better image quality at high ISO low light than M4/3 cameras. And of course if there’s sufficient light the noise will be less in the final image but that goes for the full frame also. And why is it that when the image quality is of the utmost importance , big productions (like the ones Karl Taylor shoots) are shot on Hasselblad or Phase one medium format cameras and not on M4/3 (or full frame) ?

Please tell me you're not going to start claiming a Phase One medium format back has less noise at high ISO than a full frame camera...

No, the Phase One isn’t such a good example with it’s CCD sensor. The Hasselblad XD-1 has a higher SNR than a Canon R5 though.
But you keep clutching at straws and keep sidetracking the point. With the same sensor technology and pixel count the full frame sensor has better low light high iso IQ.
Each system has its pros and cons. But if all my equipment got stolen and I got the insurance money I would buy the Canon EOS R6 because I like to shoot concerts and most of the ones I shoot are in low light. If I was a bird watcher or wanted a compact system to haul up a mountain I might choose otherwise and would consider the OM system.

When you say "the Phase One" "with its CCD sensor" you do know that there have been many medium format Phase One backs, right? And they've been making them with CMOS sensors for 8 years now.

Addition. Photon noise depends on the photons gathered. The more photons gathered the lower the noise ( it has a square root relation). So with the same light and aperture lower in a sensor with larger photosites.

if it rains 1mm/hour that means 1 liter of water per square meter. If one are is 1 m2 filled with 20 funnels each bottle will collect 1/20 liter of water in an hour. Now the other area is 4 m2, also filled with 20 funnels (which are off course larger, to fill the area) in an hour the area will gather 4 liters of water , divided by twenty funnels gives 4/20 , 1/5 of a liter.

The r6 has an older sensor , so does the a9 but look at the comparison of an newer sensor like the R3 (much more expensive camera, but there’s more to the price than just the sensor) Comparing the OM and the R3 can you still say that the m4/3 sensor is just as good in high iso as the full frame one (and the r3 has a slightly higher pixelcount )
I would be quite pleased with the OM results but still would prefer the r6 or, if money was no concern, the R3

On the solar panel analogy on ff with same amount of pixels as a M4/3 the individual photosites are larger, thus gathering more light. The intensity of the light is the same at the same aperture but the diameter of the bundle of light is larger on a ff. that’s why ff lenses are so much larger , a bonus on a m4/3 that you can have small lenses.
You are confusing sensitivity and amount.
In the cropped balloon example , the cropped image will have lesser pixels in it, giving less resolution. Because the image has to be enlarged to get the same image size, iq will suffer too.

"The individual photosites are larger, thus gathering more light."
The number and size of the photosites don't matter - they all gather the light that the lens is able to project onto them, no more and no less. For a given area, the lens is projecting a fixed amount of light, and it doesn't matter if there is one pixel under that area, or four, or sixteen.

This is amply illustrated by the fact that we've had full frame sensors in DSLRs from 6 megapixels to 51 megapixels, which is pixels pitches from 12 microns down to 4.14 microns, and the larger 12 micron photosites of the 6 megapixel cameras are not "gathering more light" in a way that alters how that area is represented in the final image.

if the size of the photosites doesn't matter then why does a 21mpx phone sensor have such poor image quality in low light? The size of the photo sites does matter, and so does the type of sensor (bsi stacked etc)
And if the size doesn't matter in gathering light why is the high ISO image (>6400) of a R6 better than the OM-1 that has a more modern sensor. (and even my EOS R betters the OM-1 in low light performance)

You're asking a good question, but comparing the output of a camera with baked-in noise reduction in its raw files to one without is not going to help you draw a good conclusion on the role that factors such as sensor area or photodiode size play.

But you can't deny when you look at the jpeg's (than both cameras their image files are processed and nr an sharpening applied) the one with the older sensor with the larger photosites still looks better. If it quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, it's probably a duck.

It's interesting that you would compare the JPG output of two cameras and believe the differences are due to larger photosites, and not consider the difference that the in-camera JPG processing will play a role.

The big failing of the argument about one camera performing better at extremes of light than another is that those big ISOs are irrelevant for most photographers. I shoot wedding and event photography, often in low light, and I do long exposure night seascapes. Until recently my main camera was an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. It performs perfectly well at those, Did I need it to perform better? No. It was good enough,

The OM-1 does a better job at higher ISOs, but I don't have to use them.

The high ISO performance becomes academic. It's like owning a car that can drive at 150 miles per hour when the roads are restricted to 60, or buying a 60 foot ladder when you only ever have to climb 30.

Consequently, other factors such as size and weight of the system, frames per second, IBIS quality, and computational features like built in ND filters become more important. They are all areas where the OM-1 wipes the floor of with the EOS-R. I am not saying the EOS-R is a bad camera, it's not. But there is more than one viable option for professional photographers on the market and more to getting a great shot than the sensor.

Best way to compare would be to process the raw files and print them

I would very highly recommend that you do that.

Voightlander makes a 29mm f/0.80, just for the record. But sure, same aperture, same sensor technology, and same pixel count puts the full frame at a 2EV light advantage. For non-action, the 7-8EV IBIS more than makes up for that... the OM-1 has reliably given me up to about 6 second handheld shots. I left Canon for Olympus years ago because, at the time, the Sony sensors used by Olympus were outprrforming Canon's on speed and DR. I do believe Canon has finally about caught up.

There was a question raised why DSLR users didn’t switch yet to mirrorless models?
The answer is quite simple: because we love pictures not the equipment :-)
You can chase the rabbit but there are more important things i.e. pictures.

Personally, I agree with you totally. But like a painter chooses the best paints and brushes for the job, the photographer chooses the best camera and lens. I am not sure that everyone agrees with that idea of the pictures being important though. I've written a relatively popular and well received series of articles on composition. But this article in the first three days has double the readership. Kit seems to be important to a lot of folk. Sad but true.

Unfortunately these days, photographers often choose not the best camera and lens for the job, but what a smooth-talking YouTuber who doesnt understand what they are talking about, but SEEMS to understand what they are talking about, has told them what the best camera and lens are.

"On top of that, you have high-resolution shooting that uses sensor-shift technology to produce up to 8 MP images"
I think you mean 80 MP 😉
I love my OM1, it's an amazing camera and I was surpriced about the price when it was launched. I think it's a cheap camera for so much feathures and for that quality. Thank you for an exelent and well written rewiue.

Oops, that is a typo, goodness knows how I managed that.

Edit, just checked the original text that I copied and pasted into the article and it definitely says 80. Very odd.

Edit again, it's been fixed. Thanks for letting me know.

Hi, I am fronm the old era always used film and had a hard time switching to digital and finnaly giving up on making pictures after trying to work with EOS 5D and later a simple RX100 fromn Sony. I just couldn't work with it I don't get what I used to get on film. I recently tried to start over and used a Sony A7 IV and it was terrible for me heavy and I can't see what I want in the viewfinder. Than I tried an Eos RP and R8 they seem nice but just as well could I use my old 5D instead beacuse it is still big and bulky specialy when I use my old lenses with a coverter to RF on it. I was doubting for years to get the Olympus OMD 5 but the reviews stopped me thinking I would not get what i want, speed AF for wildlife and low light conditions that have to optimal. So now I was on the lookput of the OM-5 but it it's just a few hundres less than the OM-1 so here I go again doubting.... your review make me want the OM-1 but stll in that price range there is a lot to get that seems simular and cheaper but yes not as compact. Just to say I need the final push... to get the OM-1 and than hunt for lenses. I love Canon still because I know them but they don't offer the compactibility. Sorry fotr the whole story but as you can guess I am looking for help to make up my mind....

Hi Johan, thanks for the comment.

Yes, choosing a camera system is always problematic. Do you have a camera shop near you? If so, I would highly recommend getting into the shop and getting your hands on the camera. What sort of photography do you enjoy? Most manufacturers have a range of ambassadors that specialize in particular genres, and you can look to see if other people take the type of photos that you enjoy, and to a standard you like.

When it was part of Olympus, there was a scheme for borrowing the pro equipment to try it out. I have emailed someone at the company to ask them if that's still possible. Send me a direct message with your location and I'll forward some info to your email address.

What is the "doubling of dynamic range" claim based on? Dxo says the difference is a negligible 12.7 vs 12.8 EV. Photonstophotos measured a 0.6 EV decrease in DR on the OM-1 to 9.1 EV. How are you finding a "doubling" of DR?

What lens/ lenses do you, or have you used with this camera?