Olympus E-M10 review – the OM-D for everybody

by | Feb 17, 2014

Olympus’ decision to revive the OM brand last year turned out to be a great idea. The OM-D E-M5 represented a real step forward for the Micro 4/3 format in terms of design, functionality, and image quality. At $1000, however, it reserved itself for serious enthusiasts. The follow-up, pro-focused E-M1 took the OM-D line a step further, raising the bar and the price. But now, with the E-M10, Olympus has produced a camera that maintains virtually all of what made its predecessors so good—in a smaller, less expensive body.

At $699.99, the E-M10 represents the entry point to the OM-D series, but it is anything but an entry-level camera. It uses the same 16MP sensor as the E-M5 and E-M1, has an equally robust all-metal construction (albeit without weather sealing), and offers a blazing 8 frames-per-second burst rate, easily outclassing most other cameras at this price point. The 81-point autofocus is lighting-quick in bright scenes, but does lag a bit in lower light, especially with slower lenses. This is not abnormal behavior for any camera, though. And while it lacks the stellar 5-axis stabilization of its bigger brothers, the E-M10’s 3-axis stabilization is no slouch. I found it easily compensated for my hand shake down to a shutter speed of 1/15 of a second when shooting the kit lens at 42mm (84mm equivalent on full-frame). The stabilization is, however, rather loud, making an audible “static” sound whenever you activate it by pressing the shutter button halfway. Interestingly (and fortunately), it is much quieter in video mode, and still appears to function just as well.

As for design, Olympus smartly took a conservative approach when it came to downsizing the E-M10: it is smaller than the E-M5, but not to the point of being difficult to hold and operate. Unlike entry-level DSLRs, it has two control dials for adjusting aperture and shutter (or exposure compensation) at the same time, a key function of OM-D cameras that thankfully was not removed. It also maintains the articulating screen and excellent viewfinder, both features often sacrificed to save space. The result is a camera that feels compact but complete. Olympus has made it very clear that any OM-D camera, regardless of price, is a premium product.

As expected, image quality is top-tier for a 4/3 sensor. For everyday use, it rivals larger cameras at the same price, although cameras like Nikon’s D5300 do offer significantly more resolution (24MP compared to the E-M10’s 16). Pixel-peepers will notice slightly more noise compared to new APS-C cameras, but overall I found nothing to complain about. The M4/3 system has really matured over the past couple of years, both in sensor quality and lens selection. Olympus offers a fantastic array of quality glass to compliment the OM-D series cameras. I tested the E-M10 with the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 and 12mm f/2.0 lenses, both of which produce very sharp images. While the available 14-42mm collapsible kit lens does a decent job, I recommend sticking with primes if you can afford it: 4/3 sensors benefit from fast apertures, and with a small prime lens, the E-M10 offers the perfect balance of image quality and size, giving it the potential to replace both your DSLR and point-and-shoot, so long as you don’t mind “zooming with your feet.”

The only downside, if any, of the E-M10 is that Olympus probably won’t sell as many E-M5 models now. If you are looking for a compact, high quality system camera for $1,000 or less, there is little apparent reason to buy the E-M5 over the E-M10. Outdoor enthusiasts will lean toward the E-M5 for its weather sealing, but most photographers for whom the E-M10 would not suffice will likely jump straight to the $1400 E-M1. (And yes, I know it’s difficult to keep track of all these model names—I keep double-checking as I write this just to make sure I’m referencing the right camera.) As for myself, the E-M10 is a very intriguing option. 2014 is off to a great start, and while I am eagerly anticipating another retro-designed mirrorless camera—the Fuji X-T1—I don’t expect anything to surprise me quite like the E-M10 has. This little Olympus may deliver the most bang for the buck of any camera currently on the market.

In my previous review for the Sony A7, I called mirrorless cameras the future of photography. While Sony’s efforts to promote full-frame mirrorless are commendable, the truth is that smaller formats—like M4/3—are every bit as important to that future. Call me crazy, but even if money were no object, I would choose an E-M10 over an A7. While I can’t claim the E-M10 matches the A7’s image quality, it certainly makes up for it in size, style, and functionality. It is a camera I would happily carry with me every day. Of course, I also have a great rental department to rely on whenever I require a full-frame camera. The E-M10 may not meet the needs of all, but it is a camera that should not be ignored by anyone. It is hard to not fall in love with it as soon as you pick it up.

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