The Olympus OM-D E-M10 Review

Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 EZ lens

Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 EZ lens

You want a quick summary of what I think about the Olympus OM-D E-M10? For most users, it’s the best camera you can get for general purpose photography. It does everything quickly and smoothly and has all the features you’ll ever need in a camera. The micro 4/3 format strikes the perfect balance between size and image quality. It also has a boat load of lenses, the most of any mirrorless system.

Do you want a more detailed review? Please continue reading.

I like to start by thanking Charles from Olympus for letting me use the camera for an extended period. I shot this camera on many occasions and have even blogged about it couple of times (here and here), several months ago. If you read those early posts, you know that I often shot the E-M10 alongside my Fujifilm X100S that I purchased around the same time.

By almost every measure, the Olympus E-M10 is superior to the Fuji X100S. It focuses faster, the EVF works better, it’s more flexible and it has interchangeable lenses. I’ll give the Fuji the edge for high ISO quality and it’s probably a bit sharper. However, I’m splitting hairs here. For most people, you won’t notice a difference. Color wise, they both have their advantages. The reality is, however, for most users, the features and capability of the Olympus E-M10 will out weigh the slight advantage in X100S image quality.

So why am I shooting the Fuji X100S more these days than the Olympus? It has nothing to do with the capabilities of the camera, actually. The OM-D E-M10 is like the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. Over the years, Honda and Toyota have honed their best-selling cars so much, that they’ve perfected the family sedan. There isn’t much that’s objectionable about them.

Soho Lounge, 6th Street - Austin, Texas

Soho Lounge, 6th Street – Austin, Texas

On the Ledge, 6th Street - Austin, Texas

On the Ledge, 6th Street – Austin, Texas

In many ways, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 is like those perfected family sedans. You can’t go wrong buying those sedans or the E-M10. Understand though, that I shoot enough photos on practical cameras that I like to play with something different from time to time. The Accord and Camry are fine cars but their near state of perfection are, well, sort of boring.

That’s why other companies make quirky less practical cars, like the retro inspired VW Beetle or the Fiat 500. Using a practicality yardstick, the Japanese sedans will do most things better, but for a certain driver, the slightly impractical European cars are more fun. That’s the way I view the Fuji X100S. It’s quirky and a pain in the neck, at times. But that’s part of its charm. For most people, who aren’t camera nerds like me, I strongly recommend the E-M10. No doubt about it.

I bet you’re looking at those DSLRs aren’t you?

Like most people looking to step up into serious cameras, I’m sure you’ve been enticed by those inexpensive Canon Rebel watchamacallits or the Nikon D3xxx cameras. You certainly get a lot of bang for the buck out of those cameras. They also take great pictures, no question about it. But, I would strongly consider not getting them.

The Olympus E-M10 is going to be little more expensive, so if you’re on a really tight budget, it may not work for you. But, I can almost guarantee, if you’re like most people, you will enjoy the Olympus a heck of a lot more.

First, the performance of the E-M10 is more in line with mid-level DSLRs. It shoots pictures faster and it focuses quicker the the inexpensive DSLRs. But here’s the most important thing. The E-M10 is a lot smaller than even those entry-level DSLRs. I know so many people who end up not carrying their DSLRs because these cameras are cumbersome. They are bulky and they get in the way.

What good is a camera that you don’t want to use? Even my serious photography friends that all have DSLRs are starting to move to the smaller mirrorless cameras. While the DSLRs might be hanging on to sales, especially here in the United States, it’s inevitable that mirrorless cameras will supplant them. The relentlessly changing computer technology assures that these mirrorless cameras advance quicker than the comparably old tech DSLRs.

Do you want to take vacation videos along with those still photos? Keep in mind that most DSLRs don’t autofocus very well when in video mode. There are rare exceptions like the Canon 70D, but most DSLRs and casual home video don’t mix.

Jungles at Japan Nite, SXSW 2014 - Austin, Texas

Jungles at Japan Nite, SXSW 2014 – Austin, Texas

Mothercoat at Japan Nite, SXSW 2014 - Austin, Texas

Mothercoat at Japan Nite, SXSW 2014 – Austin, Texas

But aren’t DSLRs faster?

If you’re a serious sports shooter, the top end DSLRs still have the edge, in general, over mirrorless cameras. I’m talking about Professional DSLRs here that cost upward of $6000. But even this is changing rapidly. As for the Olympus E-M10, I’d say the casual weekend Soccer shooter should do fine. Certainly as well as an entry-level DSLR, probably better. For sports with more predictable movement, the Olympus will do an excellent job.

For random movements of a young child, which can be challenging to shoot with any camera, the E-M10 will do at least as well as an entry to mid-level DSLR. The fast focusing and the 8 frames per second makes it superior.

Sponge Bob Watches, Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

Sponge Bob Watches, Rodeo Austin – Austin, Texas

The Design

Olympus E-M10 Details
Olympus E-M10 Details
Olympus E-M10 Details
Olympus E-M10 Details

The Olympus E-M10 is the entry-level model of the OM-D line. It uses the same micro 4/3 sized sensor and mount as the entire OM-D line as well as the Pen line of cameras. It shares a family resemblance to the bigger and older E-M5 as well as the Stylus 1 super zoom. The angular black lines are part of the current Olympus design language — it works well to distinguish the brand from the other cameras. It’s not retro like Fujifilm and it’s also different from the softly rounded DSLR look.

The camera is built from a combination of metal and plastic. The two materials match closely and it isn’t always obvious to me which bits are made of metal. Overall, the camera has enough heft to make it feel like a quality product. Compared to the Stylus 1, for example, which is made of plastic, the E-M10 is clearly upscale. But it also doesn’t have that chiseled from stone feel of the flagship OM-D E-M1. This entry-level E-M10 compares favorably with entry-level DSLRs, which can feel very plastic-y, these days.

Being the baby in the OM-D line, it’s not surprising that the E-M10 is smaller than the E-M5 or E-M1. It fits my smaller hands well. People with large hands, however, may prefer the bigger OM-Ds. There is an optional grip that may help. I actually prefer this design over the older E-M5, which I’ll talk about in the next section.

For light kit zooms and prime lenses, the small E-M10 works great. But attach the premium Olympus 12-40 f2.8 zoom and the camera is not going to feel balanced. The lens is too heavy and bulky for the smaller body and the standard grip won’t inspire confidence. Of course, the lens is compatible and will work but it won’t be the ideal setup. That’s probably true for all the new f2.8 zooms from both Olympus and Panasonic. In a pinch, consider getting the optional grip, it integrates well and makes a significant difference.

The E-M10 has a built-in flash. I rarely use flashes and therefore I always get caught without the extra clip on units that come with the E-M5 and E-M1. I’ve personally experienced the “missing clip on flash” problem with my Olympus Pen E-PM2 and Sony NEX-5. For the rare times I need the flash, it’s nice to have it built-in and the low profile design on the E-M10 also saves space.

With a flip-up rear screen and EVF, the camera has all the required compositional flexibility. None of my actively used cameras have a flip up screen and I really miss this feature. The EVF (Electronic View Finder) while not as high-resolution as the E-M1’s (but equal to the E-M5’s), is certainly adequate. I was able to see my subjects clearly day or night.

The Ergonomics

Olympus E-M10 Details
Olympus E-M10 Details

While smaller than the E-M5, the E-M10 improves the ergonomics for most people, I believe. There were a few things that I didn’t like on the E-M5 — the shape of the front grip, the size of the rear grip and the accessibility of the Play and Fn1 buttons. Olympus did a good job to address all three areas.

Given the size of the camera, I always thought that the rear grip on the E-M5 was too small. The flip out screen took up valuable real estate and the control buttons and grip were squashed in a small area to the right. The play button, which I frequently use, along with the Fn1 buttons are tucked in a small, hard to access area above the screen and grip.

The E-M5 was not comfortable in hand, at least for me. The combination of its weight and undersized grip strained my hand. That, coupled with the hard to access buttons, turned me off from getting the camera. I actually ended up buying the entry-level E-PM2 instead, which ironically had a better grip and button placement.

The E-M10 fixes all these problems. The camera is slightly lighter than the E-M5 and the redesigned grip makes it easier for me to use. Back two years ago, if the E-M10 was released instead of the E-M5, I would have bought it. Even the awkward buttons have subtly been repositioned and juts out for easier access.

Image Quality

I’m not going to talk a whole lot about image quality because it hasn’t materially changed in the last 2 years. While Olympus made a few tweaks, the sensor and image processor on the E-M10 is basically the same as all Olympus micro 4/3 cameras released since 2012. The sensor was ground breaking when the E-M5 came out. Now, all cameras from the low-end E-PM2 up to the flagship E-M1 share the same quality. It’s the features and the external controls that change from model to model. As expected, the more you pay, the more bells and whistles.

The State and Paramount Theaters - Austin, Texas

The State and Paramount Theaters – Austin, Texas

I’ll just say that the image quality is wonderful, but you can judge for yourself, from the photos I posted. I took them all with with the E-M10. Make sure to click on the photos to see a larger version. Also, if you hover over each photo with a mouse, you can see the exposure details. I mentioned that the Olympus micro 4/3 cameras have basically matched the quality of the Canon 7D DSLR. Yes, I know that the 7D is a 5-year-old camera but Canon still sells it brand new and it has a large APS-C sensor. And actually, if you look at Canon’s newer APS-C offerings, you’ll notice that image quality really hasn’t improved much since then. So the current Olympus cameras match the Canon APS-C DSLRs.

But you can argue that Canon has fallen behind in the sensor race. Compared with Fuji, Nikon and Sony APS-C, in general, the Olympus’ high ISO quality trails by a stop. High ISO performance mainly comes in to play when shooting in darker conditions. I shoot my Olympus cameras up to ISO 3200. With the newer APS-C cameras like the Fuji X100S, I shoot up to ISO 6400. However, with the right lenses and image stabilization on the Olympus, much of this high ISO advantage can be minimized.

What all this technical talk says is that for most people, the E-M10 is more than enough camera. You shouldn’t have any issues with image quality.

Teutonic Beautiy, Congress Avenue - Austin, Texas

Teutonic Beautiy, Congress Avenue – Austin, Texas

Performers at the Bat Bar, 6th Street - Austin, Texas

Performers at the Bat Bar, 6th Street – Austin, Texas

Performance

Speed

The latest generation of Olympus cameras are fast enough for everyday life. As I mentioned up top, unless you’re a serious sports shooter, this camera should keep up with you. I’ve read that the flagship E-M1 is faster, which isn’t surprising. I can’t personally confirm this since I didn’t test the two cameras side by side. Using the E-M10, however, I never felt the speed lacking in any way.

Image Stabilization

All of the Olympus micro 4/3 cameras have in-body image stabilization (IS). Some are better than others. The E-M10 has a 3-axis system that is somewhat detuned from the class leading 5-axis system on the E-M1 and E-M5. In actual usage, I found the E-M10 to be plenty good for my needs, a noticeable jump in performance from my budget E-PM2. On my E-PM2 with a 28mm equivalent lens, I got stable shots at 1/10 of a second to 1/15 of a second. With the E-M10, I got good shots at about 1/5 of a second. So that’s at least a 1 stop IS improvement.

Tossing Rings, Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

Tossing Rings, Rodeo Austin – Austin, Texas

Comparisons

DSLRs

I mentioned already that when compared to entry and mid-level DSLRs, the E-M10 compares very favorably, besting it in many ways. But it’s really the size advantage of the Olympus that’s the key. The body is smaller and the lenses are smaller. Smaller usually means more convenient and you’re more likely to bring this camera with you all the time.

I can’t tell you how many friends have just stopped carrying their DSLRs, both the serious camera nerds as well as the casual photographers. Sometimes, people get hung up on technical minutia. They might buy that big camera and big lens because of technical image quality measurements and then realize that it’s no fun to shoot. Also keep in mind that most users look at images on computer screens or make small prints. Under those conditions, those uber cameras with 24 and 36 megapixels is not going to make much of a difference.

Sony Mirrorless

The latest APS-C Sony cameras such as the Alpha a6000 compare very favorably with the Olympus E-M10. They are both priced about the same and both are very refined cameras. Sony has upped their focusing speed and it’s now faster than Olympus. With a bigger APS-C sensor, the high ISO low-light performance is also better.

The Olympus has the edge with its smaller size, particularly their lenses. Keep in mind that often, it’s the lenses that take up more space than the camera body. Lens size is primarily determined by sensor size. So the larger APS-C sensor on the Sony, causes the lenses to get bigger.

Micro 4/3 also has the most lenses of any mirrorless system, Olympus and Panasonic, as well as a slew of smaller companies, make a lot of compatible lenses. That’s one of the big issues with Sony, their lens selection is lacking, even 4 years after their mirrorless launch. Since Sony released full frame mirrorless cameras (A7, A7r, A7s), their lens development is now split between full frame and APS-C. For this reason, I lack confidence in Sony’s lens roadmap.

Fujifilm Mirrorless

Fujifilm uses APS-C sensors in their mirrorless lineup. Therefore, much of the same image quality advantages and the lens size disadvantages that I mentioned for Sony apply to Fuji.

The big difference is that, unlike Sony, Fuji has really concentrated heavily in lens development. Within 2 years, they released a full compliment of highly regarded optics that cover much of the desired focal lengths. I really applaud Fuji for doing this and their mirrorless lineup is certainly worthy of strong consideration. The prices of the lenses, however, are generally (but not always) a lot more expensive than micro 4/3. And while Fuji has a good offering of lenses, micro 4/3 still has a superior selection.

Performance, such as focusing speed, for Fuji, while improving quickly, still is behind Olympus. Their flagship X-T1 is a strong performer but its pricing is inline with Olympus’ OM-D E-M1. In the E-M10’s price range, Fuji’s offerings are not as strong for overall features and usage, though their image quality and high ISO performance will be superior.

Panasonic Mirrorless

I have to admit that I don’t have much experience with the Panasonic micro 4/3 cameras, though I do own several of their lenses. Panasonic has made a strong name for itself in video and its superior to Olympus in this area. Olympus’ primary advantage is in-body image stabilization which most of the Panasonic cameras lack. It’s an advantage for still photography, though for video I heard lens based stabilization is better.

Cowboys Waiting, Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

Cowboys Waiting, Rodeo Austin – Austin, Texas

Olympus OM-D E-M5

I’ve mentioned the E-M5 earlier in the review. It’s still a solid, albeit slightly older camera. Its main advantage is the 5-axis image stabilization and the weatherproofing. I already told you that I prefer the ergonomics of the E-M10.

Olympus OM-D E-M1

This is Olympus’ flagship and it’s significantly more expensive. You get a bigger, beefier camera with a solid build. Of course, you get the 5-axis image stabilization and the weatherproofing. It’s the best camera to get if you have the older, legacy 4/3 DSLR lenses — they work quickly on this body with the lens adapter. Because of its larger body and stout grip, it works well for larger lenses. Read my detailed Olympus OM-D E-M1 review.

Olympus Pen E-P5

The E-P5 is the top of line camera in the Olympus Pen series. It’s a bit confusing since Olympus has 2 lines, the OM-D and Pen but they share the same sensor. It’s really a matter of packaging. The OM-Ds, for now, have built-in EVFs and the Pen line doesn’t. The E-P5 is a beautifully crafted and retro inspired from Olympus’ old film Pen cameras. It’s built better than the E-M10 and arguably even better than the E-M5. I love how it looks and feels. Read my detailed review of the Olympus Pen E-P5.

Which would I prefer, the E-P5 or the E-M10? That’s a hard question. For the price, you certainly get more features with the E-M10. The biggest one being the integrated EVF. The E-M10 uses that same batteries as my other Olympus cameras, which is a nice bonus. The E-P5 uses different batteries.

But the Pen E-P5 is seductive in its build and looks. And the E-P5 also has the 5-axis image stabilization. It’s clearly a more premium camera, and when it was introduced, it was noticeably more expensive. Over the past year the E-P5 prices have dropped, to the point where both cameras are about the same price.

Strapped In, Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

Strapped In, Rodeo Austin – Austin, Texas

My Likes

1. A complete set of features for a good price
2. Good ergonomic controls in a small form factor
3. That Great Olympus color
4. Fast focus
5. Accurate Exposure
6. 8 frames per second
7. Solid 3-axis image stabilization
8. Good quality EVF
9. Tilting rear LCD Screen
10. Built-in flash
11. Great lens selection, best in the mirrorless market

My Dislikes

1. On and off switch placed inconveniently near the bottom rear
2. Would prefer stiffer control dials to minimize any unintended changes
3. Does not have an accessory port for external mics

Conclusion

There is little to fault the Olympus OM-D E-M10. It’s a highly refined camera which you can tell has been honed over years of improvements. In reality, very little separates the E-M10 from its slightly older and larger brother, the E-M5. And being 2 years newer, the E-M10 has some new features such as a newer image processor and newer firmware. It has HDR bracketing features, for example, that the E-M5 does not have.

It seems like Olympus added all the latest features, detuned the camera a bit (using a 3-axis IS system instead of the 5-axis, removing the weather sealing) used a slightly less expensive body casing and dropped the price. At $799 it has all the features most anyone will need and it’s solidly under the $1000 mark.

I would seriously consider this over any entry to mid-level DSLR. The image quality is in line with DSLRs and it so much more versatile and fun. The smaller camera is going to allow you to bring it to more places than a comparably bulky DSLR. In theory, a skilled photographer might be able to get technically cleaner pictures from an APS-C DSLR, but for most people, it probably won’t make a difference. Size and convenience wins.

For any one looking for a camera under $1000, it’s the camera I recommend.

Long Legs, SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

Long Legs, SXSW Interactive – Austin, Texas

6th Street Acrobats, SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

6th Street Acrobats, SXSW Interactive – Austin, Texas


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21 thoughts on “The Olympus OM-D E-M10 Review

  1. Very comprehensive and clear article. Of course, there will be someone commenting that “CaNikon dsrl are better ‘cos they have APS-C that is a bigger sensor so IQ and dinamic range is better”, but oh well, Internet is a wonderful place… 🙂

  2. You say: ” However, with the right lenses and image stabilization on the Olympus, much of this high ISO advantage can be minimized.” The question is how much or under which circumstances, for what kind of shooter. I have long thought that Oly’s IS with any lens makes up for its lesser high ISO performance, but wondered how much so exactly. For some shooting situations or motives it might even be better than a non-stabilized APS-C. I have searched the web far and wide for an article, blogpost that enlarges on that topic, but haven’t dug up anything. Maybe you would like to take this up in a future post.

    1. Hendrik, yes that might make a good topic for a future post. Here’s an example of where I’ve used high ISO and fast glass on the Olympus.

      I occasionally do street photography at night. On the Olympus, I frequently use the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4, which is equivalent to a 50mm. With IS, I can shoot that reliably at 1/30 of second and of course even faster.

      Contrast that with a Canon 7D. I used my 50mm f1.4 Canon lens. First, on a APS-C sensor that 50mm is really equivalent to a 80mm (50 x 1.6), which I don’t like the equivalent focal length nearly as well. Also because it doesn’t have IS, I need to shoot that at about 1/80th of a second. But the Canon 50mm f1.4 is so soft wide open that I usually stop it down closer to f2. The Panasonic Leica is sharp wide open so I use f1.4 with no issues.

      Let’s do the calculations. There’s about a stop in the shutter speed difference from 1/80s to 1/30s. There is a stop difference if I use f2 instead of f1.4 for a total of about 2 stops. If we assume a stop better high ISO performance for APS-C (for some future Canon DSLR since the 7D is not better in higher ISO) than the Olympus still has a 1 stop advantage.

      In actual usage, I found that I can shoot low light-with the Olympus a lot better than my Canon DSLR, for the type of photography that I do. So the scenario above is based on real world usage.

      Now to be fair, Canon has finally created prime lenses with IS, though Nikon and Fuji don’t have any. Canon’s 35mm f2 IS would be a great choice for street photography on APS-C. The 35mm is equivalent to 56mm, so a 1/30s shutter is easy. There’s still a 1 stop difference with the aperture but if you again assume a 1 stop advantage for APS-C for high ISO, then the two will be equivalent.

      BTW, hover over the photos with a mouse cursor and you will see the exposure details. You will notice that I use the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 lens quite a bit.

  3. Great review. It seems an insignificant detail, but as a casual “casual weekend soccer shooter” (among other things) myself, shooting kids sports was definitely the reason why I picked a Rebel 3 years ago. I am now more confident that my next camera might be a m4/3.

    1. Laurent, the mirrorless cameras continue to get faster. A lot has improved with the technology from 3 years ago. Though, if you look at the improvements with the DSLRs, less so. In several more years, I have no doubt that all of the mirrorless will be outpacing DSLRs.

      Here’s a example. For mirrorless focus speed, and frames per second, the fastest cameras are the Nikon 1 series (Nikon’s mirrorless cameras). Some of them now do 20 frames per second continuous focusing. It actually has faster performance than their flagship D4 DSLR. Their disadvantage compared to the DSLR is a small sensor size, even smaller than micro 4/3. However, for daylight shooting, they should work great.

  4. Excellent review! I really like your real-world reviews of your shooting experience vs. the more technical reviews with all the charts. Much more informative. The EM-10 with a set of the little Oly/Panny primes seems like it would be a really great kit. One question: I’ve read about some people experiencing ‘rattlesnaking’ noise with the Pan Leica 25mm on other Oly cameras. What’s been your experience on the EM-10 or E-P5 with speed and noise? And have you used the Oly 25mm 1.8 to compare? (sorry that was 2 questions).

    1. Thanks Gregg. Yes, I have gotten the rattlesnake noise when using the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 as well as the 20mm f1.7 on my E-PM2. That sound and “issue” is so normal for me now, I automatically ignore it so I don’t remember if it happened on the E-M10. Sorry.

      I’ve never used the Olympus 25mm f1.8. I guess I never seriously considered it since I already own the f1.4.

  5. Thanks for elaborating and I am looking forward to more rigorous, methodical article. This really needs some in-depth thinking, how to find a kind of formula to compare IS to non-IS lenses/ sensors. Obviously it very much depends on the subject matter you’re out to shoot. The concert pictures need far faster speeds than the BMW sitting on the curb.

    Taking up your arithmetic: How about using a Sony a7 with a stabilized 50mm 1.8? You’d loose 1/2 a stop on aperture viz. the 25mm PanaLeica, gain 1.3 (according to DXO) at ISO 3200 or almost 2 stops with the A7s 😉

    1. Hendrik, I’m not sure how rigorous any possible future post will be on the topic. I do the best I can with the equipment I have. I know that I can do better low light shots with the Olympus compared to the Canon 7D. However, If I want really low light performance, I would use my Canon 6D and a fast prime with IS. The Canon 6D does pretty good images in the ISO 8000 to 12,800 range.

      From a very quick test with the Sony A7s, it seems like its about a stop or so better than the 6D. So a Canon fast prime might make up the difference. The Sony 55 f1.8 for the FE mount does not have IS.

  6. I use both the X100s and the E-M10 so it came as quite a surprise to find myself almost wholly in disagreement over the merits of the Olympus.
    The ergomonics of the Olympus give me difficulty to the point where I bought the excellent handgrip to improve things.
    You mention nothing of the menu complexity and vague nomenclature used by Olympus that makes learning a long process.
    You also fail to mention the inherent shutter shock that the latest firmware fixes albeit with limitations.
    My camera came with the new EZ 14-42 that looks wonderful but is sub par optically so I rarely use it.

    Sure there are lot of good things too but for me the camera is limited in its use and has convinced me that the future of m4/3 as a DSLR replacement isn’t here yet.

    1. tinfire, thanks for your comment. I write my reviews from my experience. I have not had any problems with shutter shock. The EZ 14-42 is one lens out of many. Your point about the menu complexity is valid, Olympus does have a lot of features.

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