Olympus E-M10 Review

 
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Olympus E-M10 Shooter's Report Part I

Initial Thoughts

By William Brawley | Posted: 1/29/2014

Olympus E-M10 Review - gallery shot
E-M10 + 14-42mm II kit lens: The articulating screen and decent close-focusing ability of the 14-42mm kit lens allowed to get down and close for this shot. (22mm, f/5.6, 1/80s, ISO 200)

I've mentioned this in some of my earlier reviews, but I began my journey into photography as a DSLR person. I've stuck with that style of camera even after mirrorless cameras came on the market. I still put a priority on good autofocus speed, the viewfinder and the fuller handgrip over sheer portability -- not to mention the extensive lens selection that the big DSLR brands offer. However, I've recently found myself leaning toward using smaller and smaller cameras (my cameras du jour are a Canon EOS M and a Sony RX100). Slowly but surely, I've realized that bigger does not always mean better. I like having a camera with me almost all the time, and, especially if I'm out doing something active like hiking, I've found I don't want -- or need -- to haul a bunch of DSLR gear around.

So, when I heard about the Olympus E-M10, I was really excited to review it, especially after the rave reviews and excellent images I've seen coming from its two sibling OM-D cameras. Furthermore, the E-M10 looks to combine lots of features I personally want in a camera: excellent AF performance, a nice viewfinder, a comfortable grip (there's also an awesome grip accessory for an extra-secure hold) all in a small, lightweight and well-priced package.

Olympus E-M10 Review - gallery shot
E-M10 + 14-42mm EZ: (14mm, f/3.5, 1/4000s, ISO 200)

I shot with the higher-end Olympus E-M1 briefly, and think it's an excellent camera. The performance all around is amazing, especially the super-fast AF and the grip, making it a standout among mirrorless cameras -- it really is like a full-size DSLR put under a shrink ray! However, its DSLR resemblance is not far off. It's quite a bit larger and heavier than the E-M10, for example, and therefore much less portable, and thus something I'd be less apt to carry it around with me all the time. It's also quite expensive: around $1,400 for the body alone. As Olympus themselves said, the E-M1 is aimed at advanced enthusiasts and professional photographers (though $1,400 is an outstanding price for a pro-level camera)!

In contrast, the Olympus E-M10 provides a stellar combination of features and performance, at a budget-friendly price point. In this first installment of my Shooter's Report, I'll report on my initial impressions of the camera after having shot with it for a few days, and highlight some of its excellent features, as well as some not-so-excellent details I've come across.

Olympus E-M10 Review - gallery shot
E-M10 + 14-42mm EZ: (14mm, f/3.5, 1/80s, ISO 400)

Design & Build: The good and the bad. The exterior design of the E-M10 is practically a carbon copy of the E-M5, with minor button rearrangements here and there, of course. The E-M5 is a gorgeous camera with superb build quality, and the new E-M10 follows right along with the same retro styling and solid construction. In fact, placed side-by-side, you be hard-pressed to tell them apart.

I my opinion, though, the E-M10 has both improvements on the E-M5's design, as well as some downsides. Like I mentioned earlier, the build quality of the E-M10 seems excellent. It's super-solid with a nice heft that feels nearly identical to the E-M5. The E-M10 is not weather-sealed like the E-M5, though, and while that may be a disappointment to some (I would have liked it, just for a bit of insurance in adverse weather), but the lack of sealing has made for a notable operational improvement, in that the buttons are much easier to press, and provide better tactile feedback. According to Olympus, the weather sealing on the E-M5 made the buttons, especially those on the rear of the camera, soft and mushy to press.

Olympus E-M10 Review - gallery shot
E-M10 + 14-42mm EZ: (14mm, f/3.5, 1/640s, ISO 200)

The E-M10 isn't just stripped-down E-M5, though, in fact it adds a new feature that's a first for an OM-D camera: a built-in flash. Both the E-M5 and E-M1 required an external flash, and given that the kit lens with the E-M10 is an f/3.5-5.6 variable aperture lens, it's nice to have an included flash when you need it. The control for the built-in popup flash (which is pretty solidly-built, by the way, and doesn't feel flimsy, the way some with multiple hinges or collapsible bits do) is very thorough, with automatic and fill flash settings as well as full manual brightness adjustment (full strength to 1/64th power). Although I generally try to avoid using flash, as it tends to look quite harsh and can be distracting, it's nice to have it there and ready to go, if and when you need it.

Olympus E-M10 Review - gallery shot
E-M10 + 14-42mm EZ: (14mm, f/22, 1/10s, ISO 200)
Olympus E-M10 Review - Top dials

When I took the E-M10 out shooting, one thing that kept annoying me was the front-most control dial: it's very easy to bump and quickly adjust something unexpectedly. In Aperture-Priority, for instance, this dial defaults to controlling Exposure Compensation. Numerous times, I'd put the camera up to my face to take a shot and notice I was +/- a third of a stop or so. When I got back to the office, I quickly grabbed our E-M5 to see if it had the same issue, and found that its dial -- even after undergoing heavy usage here in the lab and with a reviewer -- still takes a bit more effort to rotate.

Olympus E-M10 Review - Dial Customization

Customize. An example of the extensive customization options offered on the E-M10.

There's perhaps a silver lining to this, though, that brings me to one of my favorite features of not only the E-M10, but other OM-D cameras as well: customization. As any respectable enthusiast camera should allow, the E-M10 lets you customize all sorts of buttons and dials to suit your shooting style. Thanks to this, I was the able to swap the top dials around, with the front one controlling aperture and the back one for exposure compensation. Not only did this help prevent accidental E.C. adjustments, it was also more ergonomic for me as well. Shooting in aperture priority, I'm always monitoring and adjusting my aperture, and using my index finger to adjust aperture was more intuitive and more comfortable.

Olympus E-M10 Review - Icons

Symbols. Instead of using "Image Quality," Olympus chooses to denote this with a confusing diamond icon.

I'll admit that this vast customization aspect of the E-M10 can be a little daunting, particularly given Olympus' odd menu conventions, with a mixture of both text and symbols. I've always found this system to have a bit of learning curve, but once you understand its quirks and nuances, it's fairly straightforward.

Along the same lines, it seems Olympus has a habit of leaving important and useful settings disabled by default. Such is the case with the higher quality "Super Fine" JPEG compression, and also my favorite user interface improvement -- Super Control Panel.

Olympus E-M10 Review -- Quick menu

I love shooting with both the LCD monitor and the EVF, making use of the proximity sensor next to the EVF. With the Super Control Panel enabled (shown on the left), a quick press of the "OK" button brings up a big on-screen grid of all the major camera settings, giving you a quick lay of the land, as well as letting you easily adjusting all sorts of settings. Why this isn't enabled by default, I'll never know.

The last little design quirk I'd like to mention are the shoulder strap lugs. Not long after I began carrying the E-M10 around shooting, I started getting irritated at those little triangular shoulder strap rings -- particularly the one on the right side of the camera. The ring would either scrape up against my finger when gripping the camera, or I needed to make a conscious effort to move the ring out of the way. Using a strap or not, I find those lugs to be in the way, especially on my right hand. Upon mentioning this to a fellow IR employee, he retorted, "I know what you mean…I always take those things off!"

Olympus E-M10 Review - Gallery shot
E-M10 + 14-42mm EZ: (14mm, f/3.5, 1/500s, ISO 200)

Image Quality & Performance. Since the E-M10 uses a similar (though not identical) 16MP sensor as the E-M5 and also the image processor of the E-M1, it unsurprisingly manages to produce excellent photos. I took the E-M10 around the North Atlanta area and to a local park, and the images it produced were crisp and sharp with vivid colors and great dynamic range. A lot of building shots I took were backlit by bright sun, with the faces of buildings in shadow. The E-M10 did a great job of showing shadow detail, while at the same time keeping highlights in-check. Overall, considering the E-M5 and E-M1 produce stellar results, it's no shocker that the E-M10 follows suit.

Olympus E-M10 Review - Gallery shot
E-M10 + 14-42mm EZ: The E-M10 performed well with dynamic range, showing lots of shadow detail while keeping highlight relatively well-controlled. This particular image, however, does have some blown highlights right in the center. (42mm, f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 200)

Trying some low-light indoor shots, the E-M10's higher ISO images were very nice, and I saw performance similar to that of the E-M5. Things do start to get a little soft in very fine detail areas once you hit ISO 1600 and 3200, but if you don't pixel peep, images look great, as do RAW images.

View the IR Lab's in-depth Olympus E-M10 image quality test results by clicking here, but be sure to read further on to see side-by-side comparisons of the E-M10 against its top competitors.

Olympus E-M10 Review- Gallery shot
E-M10 + 14-42mm EZ: The E-M10 did well with higher ISOs and low-light shooting for its class of camera. (14mm, f/3.5, 1/60s, ISO 1600)

One really handy feature is the ability to set a maximum ISO sensitivity for Auto ISO. I love using Auto ISO; especially in situations where I'm in and out of varying lighting conditions, or if I'm shooting subjects that call for a certain aperture and shutter speed. You'll have to enable it manually, but you can use Auto ISO in Manual exposure mode, which is a nice touch.

As I mentioned over in my Panasonic GM1 Shooter's Report, I'm a Canon EOS M owner. And while it's a great little camera for a number of things, what it's not great at is autofocus, even after the firmware update. It was such a refreshing experience to use a small, lightweight camera like the Olympus E-M10 with excellent, lightning-fast AF. Shooting fast-moving subjects or just swinging the camera up to get the shot, the E-M10 was quick, accurate and fun to use. I've had no issues with AF whatsoever with the camera. Although since it uses the same contrast-detect system as the E-M5, it can struggle to focus on dark, low-contrast subjects, especially if you turn off the shockingly bright orange AF assist light.

Olympus E-M10 Review - Gallery shot
E-M10 + 14-42mm II kit lens: Although not a full-frame "bokeh king" camera, the E-M10's Micro Four Thirds sensor is plenty big enough for some great shallow depth of field shots. (14mm, f/3.5, 1/3200s, ISO 200)

The E-M10 has also borrowed the more precisely-segmented AF point grid from the E-M1, giving you 81 total "AF points" in a 9x9 grid for really precise control over composition. Compared to the comparatively coarse 35 AF points (5x7 grid) of the E-M5, this is a definite upgrade.

Olympus E-M10 Review - AF points

I found the E-M10's expanded AF grid very useful, especially when using fast primes, as the focus-and-recompose method can often lead to out-of-focus shots at large apertures, when the plane of focus shifts after recomposing.

Like other OM-D cameras, the Olympus E-M10 also makes it super simple to adjust the AF point -- simply press a directional button on the rear of the camera. No need to hold down a function button or activate some mode, instead you just use to the directional pad to move to the AF point of your choice -- all 81 of them. I love this about the E-M10. I use single-point AF most of the time, and this behavior lets me quickly and easily adjust the focus point to fit my composition and get focus right where I want it. Plus, thanks to the EVF, I can see all this happening in the viewfinder -- just like with a DSLR -- avoiding the need to take the camera down from my eye.

Olympus E-M10 Review - Gallery shot
E-M10 + 14-42mm EZ: The 81 AF point system and easy adjustment system let me quickly move the AF point to the front-most hanging lamp. (36mm, f/5.5, 1/80s, ISO 1600)

Speaking of EVF, the E-M10 shares the same EVF magnification as the E-M5, and looking through it is a very similar experience. The "DSLR guy" in me appreciates having the electronic viewfinder (versus just the rear-panel LCD screen), especially when shooting with longer, heavier lenses, or when shooting at slower shutter speeds. It's not the biggest or brightest EVF out there, but I found it to be just fine -- easy to read text and no strange rainbow tearing artifacts like I've seen with other cameras. In fact, Olympus has given the EVF a little performance boost compared both the E-M5 and E-M1 with a much shorter lag time, thus making the view of the EVF more like a traditional optical viewfinder. (Lag time in this context is the delay between when something happens in the scene you're shooting, and when you see it on the EVF screen.)

Olympus E-M10 Review - Gallery shot
E-M10 + 14-42mm II kit lens: (41mm, f/5.6, 1/160s, ISO 200)

Want to learn more about how the Olympus E-M10's 14-42mm II kit lens performs?
Click here to see our optical test results.

The new 14-42 lens: smaller, flatter...worse? Introduced alongside the Olympus E-M10 is a new 14-42mm lens with their "EZ" electronic zooming system. One of the biggest features is that when the camera is powered off, the lens automatically retracts to a very compact, almost pancake-style size, which makes this body and lens combo even more portable.

The pictures I've taken so far with the E-M10 have primarily been with this new 14-42mm EZ lens, and over all the images look nice, with great color and sharp detail. However, I did notice an issue with flare when shooting with the sun just outside the frame. I noticed this with the standard 14-42mm II kit lens as well, though, so it's not an issue unique to the new EZ lens.

Olympus E-M10 Review - Gallery shot
14-42 EZ - (14mm, f/3.5, 1/800s, ISO 200)
Olympus E-M10 Review - Gallery shot
14-42 II Kit Lens- (14mm, f/3.5, 1/800s, ISO 200)

On the physical side of things, I'm personally not a fan of the EZ lens' electronic zoom, and while it's smooth and very quiet, it's still much slower than your typical "manual" zoom lens. Thankfully, Olympus does let you speed up (or slow down) the zoom speed via a menu option, but I still found the fastest setting too slow for my liking. It feels almost like a point-and-shoot, and takes away a bit of the experience of a true interchangeable lens camera.

Olympus E-M10 Review - Gallery shot
E-M10 + Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 Leica: (25mm, f/1.4, 1/400s, ISO 200)


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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.

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