OM Digital Solutions Launches the OM-1

bythom om1

OM Digital Solutions turns out to be first to officially iterating its high-end m4/3 camera, now dubbed the OM-1, despite Panasonic having long ago pre-announced their still to arrive GH6. I can't say for certain yet, but the image sensor behind both models is almost certainly the Sony Semiconductor IMX472. That new image sensor is both BSI and stacked, features 3.3um pixels, and opens up a new range of "speed" options, which Olympus and Panasonic appear to be tackling slightly differently.

The OM-1 is mostly based on the existing E-M1 chassis, with a few updates I'll get to in a moment. Technically, this could be called the E-M1 Mark IV, but it's wise that OM Digital Solutions is now trying to establish its own branding. As usual, the lens mount is m4/3. 

Inside the OM-1 we have that new 20mp image sensor, so let's get to what that enables first. 

For still photography, we get up to 120 fps still photography (though the buffer is less than a second at that rate), faster and improved focus, and small improvements to a number of OMDS unique camera capabilities (such as handheld high-resolution photography). Strangely, mechanical shutter has declined to 10 fps (from 15 fps). Technically, the data integrity of the sensor is still 12 bits, but frankly, I'm usually happy with anything that has good raw integrity at 11 bits or more; as many have discovered along the way, 14-bit capabilities don't really offer anything useful above base ISO values, anyway, at least not on current generation image sensors.

As with the recent Canikony offerings, we have the promise of blackout free EVF, which is now a 5.76m dot OLED one. 

On the video side, the new sensor adds quite a bit—which is why Panasonic wanted it for the GH6—though it is surprising Olympus has stopped at DCI 4K 60P video. The video specs look a little dated for a flagship camera (LongGOP instead of All-I, for instance, though we do get H.265 compression and HLG now), and the external HDMI connector necessary to do raw video is a micro HDMI, which videographers won't like. 

Of course, all the previous Olympus IP has moved on to OMDS and shows up in the new camera: We still get IP53-rated splash proofing, things like starry sky AF, Live Composite, Live Time, and both the handheld and tripod high resolution modes (50mp and 80mp, respectively). Sensor-based IS remains at 7 stops CIPA.

There's a new battery, BLX-1, with more capacity but the same form factor as the BLH-1. The Rear LCD has increased in resolution to 1.62m dot.  We get both an AF-ON and AEL button, but most of the other buttons are the same or very near where you expect them. The command dials have become more Nikon-esque (embedded in body as opposed to sitting on top). The hand grip is a different size and shape, more like the E-M1X. These changes make the OM-1 slightly bigger and heavier than its predecessor, with a strong emphasis on slightly. 

Price is US$2199, and the camera is scheduled to begin shipments in March, making the OM-1 the first significant camera introduction of 2022. Along with the OM-1, OM Digital Solutions also announced the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO II and 40-150mm f/4 PRO lenses, both US$899, and both about the same size and weight.

Next up (on February 21st) will be the GH6 implementation using (I believe) the same image sensor. 

So, some commentary on the news: I think Olympus m4/3 fans will be relatively happy with the OM-1. I've already noted a few saying that the OM-1 looks to be what the E-M1 Mark III should have been, and I'd tend to agree. The Mark III really didn't up performance and specification over the Mark II in enough ways to make even the more eager among us update. I think the focus and EVF changes alone will do that with the OM-1, and the 120 fps electronic shutter frame rates will attract some, though they come with footnotes and caveats. Little things, such as both card slots being UHS-II are also better aligned with the "flagship" status. 

As to the image sensor, it's again a Sony Semiconductor one, but this time OM Digital Solutions is getting some technologies that have eluded m4/3 for awhile now. BSI should produce a (very) small improvement in dynamic range, though I worry a bit about how the BSI will interact with OM's traditional thick UVIR filter stack over the image sensor. Dual gain and better read noise performance are characteristics of the current Sony Exmor sensors, and that's another small area where we might see an improvement.

I have questions about the focus system, though. Sony (and the Nikon cameras that use Sony sensors) all use row-based phase detect but OM Digital Solutions is talking about cross-type focus sensors. I suspect that the actual chip may use the original row PD pioneered in the Nikon 1 and now present in virtually all Nikon and Sony mirrorless cameras, but that Olympus has merely opted to show sensor areas as "cross." Still, this should be a big improvement over the original Olympus-style PD-on-sensor, which had fewer dedicated focus sensor positions with largish gaps. 

The real heart of the Olympus m4/3 system hasn't changed with this new camera, though, and that's a very good thing. In essence, OM Digital Solutions has modernized the OM-1 to be much more competitive with the bigger sensor players without sacrificing anything that made them interesting and useful. The OM-1 is still remarkably small, light, and rugged, but packed with technological features that appeal to many. 

The real question for me is whether the focus system has improved to the level of the current Canikony top offerings. Because the value of that small system for sports, birding, wildlife, and backcountry work will depend upon that being there. The real problem with m4/3 recently has been focus performance—both for Olympus and Panasonic—versus the technologies now packed into the Canon, Nikon, and Sony offerings. You sell cameras these days—at least the bulk of your sales—by making things easier for people, and cameras quickly get retired to the closet when they can't focus fast and reliably for every situation that confronts them. 

One problem, of course, is that come spring, all the mirrorless camera companies will have stacked BSI sensor wonders without viewfinder blackout and with high frame rates. m4/3 will be without 8K video in that contest. But it may be the lowest cost option, too. 

So, the question comes up. Chief Technology Office Kataoka-san was quoted in an Asahi interview as saying OMDS planned to launch products that will "wow" us. That word got picked up by a lot of fans and fan sites, and I think will now come back to haunt the OM-1. Is it wow? Doesn't feel that way to me. It feels like m4/3 is staying up with what the Big Three are doing. The usual geeky new thing and technology that only Olympus, uh OMDS, does doesn't seem to be present in the OM-1. That doesn't make the OM-1 bad—it's an impressive update that brings the OM line back into the mirrorless present—but I'm not seeing a clear wow. Maybe I'll see it when I test it.

From a market standpoint, the OM-1 will definitely hold serve with its core high-enthusiast base. 

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