Olympus OM-D E-M10 review

The entry-level mirrorless OM-D E-M10 is another winner in Olympus' OM-D series. Its image quality, speedy performance, and built-in EVF earn it Editors' Choice honors.
Photo of Olympus OM-D E-M10

Olympus has brought out an entry-level camera in its enthusiast-targeted OM-D line. This model, dubbed the OM-D E-M10 ($699.99 direct, body only), comes in at the lowest price point for an OM-D yet. It shares many of the features of the 16-megapixel E-M5, and adds new ones like Wi-Fi, but some things had to go in order to meet this lower price point. The E-M10 isn’t weather-sealed, and it doesn’t have an accessory port, so if those are must-haves you’ll need to move up to the E-M5. But it impressed us enough with its speedy focus and burst rate, overall image quality, and handling to earn our Editors’ Choice award for mirrorless cameras priced under $1,000. The former owner of that top spot, the Samsung NX300 is still a little stronger in some areas, including low-light shooting, but the E-M10′s well-rounded feature set wins out in the end.

Design and Features
The E-M10 looks a lot like the E-M5, but it’s just a bit smaller. It measures 3.2 by 4.7 by 1.8 inches (the E-M5 is 3.5 by 4.8 by 1.6 inches). In my hands, the E-M10 may be just a bit too small. There’s a removable handgrip available ($59.95), and although Olympus didn’t include one for review, I had some brief hands-on time with the grip at CES and found that it was quite comfortable in my hands. The camera weighs 14 ounces without a lens, just shy of the E-M5′s 15-ounce weight. Despite being part of the OM-D series, the E-M10 actually uses the same battery that is found in Olympus PEN cameras, including the current E-PL5 and E-PM2 models—if you’re considering this as a backup body for your E-M5 or E-M1 be aware that you won’t be able to share batteries among them.

The SLR styling is a departure from models in the company’s PEN line. The E-M10 has a centered viewfinder that rises above the top plate. Its appearance mimics the optical viewfinder of an SLR, but it’s not cosmetic. The space that would normally house an optical finder is instead occupied by the optical image stabilization system. The 3-axis stabilization system isn’t quite as advanced as the 5-axis version found in the E-M1 and E-M5; they compensate for horizontal, vertical, and rotational movement, while the E-M10 only compensates for yaw, pitch, and roll. There is a built-in pop-up flash, which is a first for the OM-D series, but the camera doesn’t include the accessory port that is featured on the other cameras in Olympus’s Micro Four Thirds lineup. There is a standard hot shoe, so it’s possible to use an on-camera flash or a PocketWizard to trigger off-camera lighting.

Despite its compact size, there are a good number of controls built into the body, mostly on the top plate. To the left of the EVF you’ll find a standard mode dial, and to the right there are two control dials, a movie record button, and the programmable Fn2 button. The Play and Fn2 buttons are on an angled panel that sits between the top plate and rear face, just above the rear thumb rest. Rear controls include the power switch, a four-way directional pad with center OK button, and the standard buttons to access the menu and delete photos from memory.

Additional shooting controls are available via an overlay menu, one that’s familiar to anyone who has picked up a recent Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera. Tapping the OK button brings up a menu along the left side of the rear display, from which you can adjust the drive mode, activate the self-timer, change the white balance, adjust the autofocus mode, and change the metering pattern, among other functions.

The rear display is 3 inches in size, is hinged, supports touch input, and has an impressive 1,037k-dot resolution. It’s one of the best displays that you’ll find in a camera of this class; it’s miles better than the low-resolution 230k-dot display on Sony’s low-cost Alpha 3000 and edges out the 920k-dot display on the Fujifilm X-M1. The E-M10 also has a built-in LCD EVF with a 1,440k-dot resolution. It’s one of the best you’ll find in a camera at this price level; it isn’t quite as sharp as the OLED EVF in the Sony Alpha NEX-6, but it also delivers a more natural look with a bit less contrast than an OLED EVF tends to produce. You can get a better LCD EVF if you move up to the top-end OM-D E-M1, but that’s a much more expensive camera.

Wi-Fi is built in. The setup is identical for iOS and Android devices; you scan a QR code that’s displayed on the camera’s rear LCD using the Olympus Image Share app, and that installs a network profile for the SSID that is broadcasted by the E-M10. Once you’ve connected to that network you’ll be able to transfer JPG images and QuickTime videos to your phone. There’s also a GPS function that geotags your photos—you’ll need to enable a location log and make sure that your camera’s clock is set correctly to make this work.

Remote control is also available. Your phone or tablet will show the Live View feed and you can choose a focus point and fire the shutter via touch. You’ll be able to shoot in any mode, including full manual, and in-camera art filters can be enabled and their effects show on the Live View feed. If you have a power zoom lens attached, you can adjust the focal length via your phone or tablet. The Wi-Fi is easy to use and the remote control is one of the smoother ones that we’ve used, but we do wish it was a little more functional. Samsung mirrorless cameras, including the NX300, have the option of connecting directly to a Wi-Fi network, so you can post images to social networks or email them directly from the camera.

Performance and Conclusions
The E-M10 is a fast-shooting camera. It starts and captures a photo in about 0.9-second, records a scant 0.05-second shutter lag in good light, and the focus speed is still an impressive 0.8-second in very dim light. If you’re a fan of rapid fire shooting, the E-M10 won’t let you down thanks to a 7.9fps capture rate. It can keep that pace for up to 15 Raw+JPG, 18 Raw, or 33 JPG images before slowing. Clearing the buffer to a SanDisk 95MBps memory card varies based on file format: 10.5, 7.5, or 6.7 seconds, respectively. The Samsung NX300 is slightly slower to start (1.1 seconds), records a 0.1-second shutter lag, requires 1.4 seconds to focus in dim light, and is limited to burst shooting at 7fps—and its burst mode can only capture 16 JPG, or 7 Raw or Raw+JPG photos before slowing.

We are reviewing the E-M10 as a body only, but it’s also available in a kit with the M.Zuiko 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 II R collapsible zoom lens for $799.99. We also tested the new compact power zoom M.Zuiko ED 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 EZ and the standard-angle prime M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8.

I used Imatest to check and see how the EM10′s 16-megapixel image sensor handles image noise. As you increase its sensitivity to light (ISO), noise increases in turn. The E-M10′s results aren’t a surprise—it uses the same image sensor as the E-M5 and the same processor as the E-M1. When shooting JPGs at default settings it keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 1600, and noise is a respectable 1.7 percent at ISO 3200. Despite skewing a bit on the noisy side, close examination of images on a calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W display shows impressive detail through ISO 6400. There’s a noticeable drop-off at ISO 12800, but images there are still quite useable; it’s not until you get to the top ISO of 25600 that JPG images really fall apart. The Samsung NX300, which has a larger APS-C image sensor, keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 3200 and shows 1.7 percent at ISO 6400; it also does a good job with image detail through ISO 6400, giving it a slight edge in very low light.

Raw shooting is also supported. Normally I use Lightroom to examine Raw images, but Lightroom has not yet been updated to support the Raw images that the OM-D E-M10 captures. I used Iridient Developer, which is generally one of the first applications to support new cameras, to convert Raw files from the E-M10 to TIFF in order to import them into Lightroom for comparison. This method resulted in images that showed a bit more color noise than I’m used to seeing with a Lightroom-converted Raw image, but otherwise the results were as expected. Raw images at ISO 25600 exhibit a similar level of noise and detail as those shot with the E-M1 and E-M5 at the same sensitivity.

The E-M10 records 1080p30 or 720p30 video in QuickTime format. The video is sharp with accurate color, but there is evidence of the rolling shutter effect—this shows up when panning the camera or in scenes with fast action. The bottom half of the frame advances more quickly than the top, giving subjects a jellylike look. The E-M10 has a built-in mic that picks up audio without issue, but serious videographers demand the ability to use an external mic; that’s not supported. If you’re serious about video, consider a body like the Panasonic G6 or the high-end Panasonic GH3. The E-M10 does have a micro HDMI port to connect to an HDTV, as well as a proprietary USB port and a memory card slot that supports the standard SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards. An external battery charger is included; in-camera charging is not supported.

The Olympus OM-D E-M10 is a fine example of what a mirrorless camera should be. Its autofocus speed and burst shooting impress, there is a large library of excellent native lenses available, and features like the integrated EVF and in-body image stabilization are usually reserved for cameras priced around $1,000 and up. It offers enough advantages over the previous Editors’ Choice winner, the Samsung NX300, to make it our favorite mirrorless camera in this price range. The NX300 is still a good option for folks who prefer the low-light advantages and shallower depth of field that its larger APS-C sensor delivers, or its more robust Wi-Fi features. But the E-M10 can shoot a little bit faster, for longer bursts, and its built-in EVF is a feature that the NX300 just can’t match. The E-M10′s biggest competitor is another Olympus camera, the E-M5. It’s priced a bit higher, but has been on the market long enough to come down in price. It doesn’t offer built-in Wi-Fi or an integrated flash, but it does add weather sealing, a more advanced image stabilization system, and support for an external microphone via the accessory port.

Specifications
Dimensions 3.2 x 4.7 x 1.8 inches
Interface Ports Proprietary, micro HDMI
Megapixels 16 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.12 seconds
LCD dots 1037000
LCD size 3 inches
Touch Screen Yes
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 25600
Type Compact Interchangeable Lens
GPS No
Boot time 0.9 seconds
Sensor Type CMOS
Weight 14 oz
Lens Mount Micro Four Thirds
Video Resolution 720p, 1080p
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
LCD Aspect Ratio 3
Image Stabilization In-Body
Shutter Lag 0.05 seconds
Sensor Size Micro Four Thirds (17.3 x 13mm) mm
EVF Resolution 1440000 dpi
Viewfinder Type EVF

Verdict
The entry-level mirrorless OM-D E-M10 is another winner in Olympus' OM-D series. Its image quality, speedy performance, and built-in EVF earn it Editors' Choice honors.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc