Olympus E-M10: Quick Notes

My other articles related to the Olympus OM-D System.

Here are some specs and my remarks on the new Olympus E-M10, announced in January, 2014. As of the original writing, I haven't used that camera, but then I bought one for a friend, and gave it a decent workout over two weeks in March. The text was modified as needed to reflect my experience with the camera.


The classic SLR camera evolved over a few decades into the familiar shape: a horizontal box topped with the prism hump and two shoulders devoted to controls. This is how the first Exaktas looked, not much different than the late film SLRs from the beginning of this century, or the digital ones being made now.

If a formfactor works ergonomically well (and looks good), it will often be used for constructions where it is no longer necessitated by the technical solutions used inside. This is how we arrived to dozens of models of "SLR-like" digital cameras, i.e. ones which do not have a viewing prism and therefore do not need the hump, but still have it, and people who buy and use cameras just like this shape for various reasons.

The first such non-SLR cameras were "superzoom" models with wide-range, non-interchangeable zoom lenses. Then the design was adopted to interchangeable-lens cameras, with the Panasonic G1 (2008) being, if I'm not wrong, the first such model (and also the first one using the Micro Four Thirds mount/sensor standard, introduced jointly with Olympus).

The first Olympus μFT models (from 2009 on), the Pen line, went another way, having adopted a brick shape, with the only viewing aid being the rear-side monitor (and the eye-level electronic viewfinder introduced a bit later as an add-on). Still, it was certain, especially after Olympus abandoned their Four Thirds SLR line that year, that an SLR-shaped μFT camera from Olympus will follow.

It did. While the Pens were quite successful (especially, but not only, in Japan), the E-M5 of 2012 was the best-selling Olympus camera in years, and deservedly so. This was the beginning of the new Olympus model line, named OM-D. A year later, the E-M1 was released, to a most enthusiastic response of the photographing crowd — and that in spite of a relatively high price of $1400 (or $2400 with a premium standard-range F/2.8 zoom lens).

Enter the E-M10. While the E-M5 is a very nice camera and provides most satisfactory results, the market demands a "new, improved" model every year, so we now have a replacement (?): the E-M10, which should be available mid-February at $700 (body) or $800 (with the "old" 14-42 mm lens, see below).

Actually, as some of the (less-essential) specs of the E-M10 have been downgraded from the E-M5, it is not clear if and for how long both models may coexist on the market, although I don't think this will happen.

Note of 2017: I was wrong: the E-M10 became the entry-level camera n the OM-D family, with the E-M5 being the mid-line; this became even more clear when Mark II models of both were introduced.

Enough introductions, now let's get down to a close look at the specs. As the new camera has big shoes to fill, comparisons with the E-M5 will be unavoidable.

Size, weight, shape

This is a small camera, a tad smaller than the E-M5. Look at the mug shots of both, to scale:

Olympus E-M5

Olympus E-M10

According to the Olympus data, the size (W×H) of the E-M10 is 119×82 mm, compared to 122×89 mm for the E-M5.

While the difference between both seems obvious in the vertical dimension (mostly, but not only, due to shrinking the hump protrusion), there is something fishy in quoted camera widths (for this comparison I scaled both pictures so that the inner diameter of the lens mount, measured in pixels, is the same).

Oh, well, I'm glad the difference is not larger, as this is probably the smallest system camera I can handle.

The weight of the new model has also been reduced: from 425 to 396 g (including battery), or by about an ounce.

The body grip remains mostly the same: if you liked the one in E-M5, you will like this one, and vice versa. It is adequate for use with smaller lenses, but not with heavier ones. Still, you can get used to it.

There is one omission in the E-M10, which for some people may be a complete non-issue, but for others — a deal-breaker: no splash- of dust-proofing. While this is a feel-good feature, it costs extra money, so I'm not surprised Olympus dropped it from this model, priced 30% less that the E-M5 originally was.

External controls

The top deck remains almost exactly as in the E-M5, which is a good thing. On the right side we find two control dials (one with the shutter release) and two buttons.

By default one is used for video recording, while the other adjusts four parameters (to switch turn the dial while holding the button down). Both can be assigned to (almost) any other function, with a few strange omissions.

The dials have been mechanically redesigned, hopefully for the better (not that there was anything wrong with the old ones).

The left side of the deck is taken by the mode dial, unchanged from the E-M5. I dislike it, mostly for wasting the space for Art Modes, Picture Stories and My Little Pony (in addition to Scene Modes and iAuto, which is a program mode with all adjustments disabled). The dial shows no slot for user-defined presets, but some of the existing slots can be assigned to those — unlike in the E-M5 (a feature introduced in the E-M1). C'mon, people: your own, humble Stylus 1 has custom mode slots!

The prism hump houses two more controls just next to the eyepiece: the eyepiece diopter adjustment on the left, and a display toggle switch on the right. The latter toggles between eye-level and monitor display of the scene preview.

The rear side of the camera remains largely unchanged, except for one addition and one improvement. A new button is located to the left of the eyepiece; it is used to raise the built-in flash.

The two elongated buttons at the top-right: Fn1, defaulting to AF/AE lock (but re-assignable) and one for image review, moved up and to the right, to a much better spot on a new slanted surface.

They used to sit in a recessed part of the rear side, difficult to access with medium-size fingers (especially Fn1). This was one of my complaints about the E-M5, and I'm glad to see it fixed.

Last but not least, the On/Off switch remains implemented as a tiny lever in the bottom-right corner. I didn't like its position and feel in the E-M5 and I don't like it now.

Generally, external controls in the E-M10, while basically inherited from the E-M5, underwent some incremental (but welcome) improvements, and I think I can easily live with them (even if I like the E-M1 more from this angle).

Viewing

The eye-level electronic viewfinder (EVF) in the E-M10 is the same as in the E-M5, or at least has identical specifications: 1.4 million dots (RGB sub-pixels) and a magnification of 0.575× (normalized to the full-frame film size; the nominal value is twice that, but it is not meaningful in comparisons). A few years ago this would be just great: the apparent image size is the same as in the E-3 or E-5 SLRs, significantly larger than in most other such cameras, Olympus or not. Still, the E-M1 beats that easily with 2.36 million dots and 0.74× (normalized), and so do some other recent upper-shelf cameras. Well, you cannot expect a camera to match one at twice the price; something has to give.

Anyway, the finder is perfectly usable, and under most circumstances as good as (or better than) an SLR one in this price range, so no complaints here. Sorry to say, but the SLR is on its way out. And yes, you can choose from three various display layouts to suit your taste; nice.

A button switch toggles the display between the EVF and monitor. There is also an eye-proximity switch activating or disabling the EVF and monitor as needed, depending if your eye (or some other body part) is close to the eyepiece. The logic works just fine in either display toggle position (this is not true for all cameras I've tried; don't take things for granted!).

The 3-inch monitor has an improved resolution of 1.04 million dots, improved from the 0.61 million in the E-M5 (the difference is really visible only in direct comparison, I could easily live with the lower value). It tilts up and down, but does not swivel to the side. Actually, I prefer this as a simpler and more robust solution, which is also more compact in use.

If requested, both the EVF and monitor may show a level gauge, which is more useful than it may seem at the first glance. I found this indispensable.

Under the hood

Internally, a few things only changed from the E-M5. Here is a list of the new camera's features, old and new, with all changes explicitly identified as such.

  • Sensor: 16 Mpix CMOS type, μFT size (17.3×.13 mm), probably the same as (at least similar to) the one used in the E-M5. Upgraded (whatever that means) image processing pipeline. I was happy with the sensor performance in the older camera, so I expect this one to deliver as well.
  • Image file format: Olympus Raw (ORF) or JPEG; the latter can be set to four different compressions (starting from 1:2.6, which is almost lossless) and a number of downsampled resolutions.

    Olympus JPEG conversion was always very good; I don't usually have a need for saving raw files. Your mileage may differ here. Read this at the (useful an entertaining) Ken Rockwell's site.

  • Storage medium:: Secure Digital (SD) card, including the high-speed and high-capacity variants (SDHC, SDXC). When the camera is hooked up to the computer with use of a (proprietary) USB cable, it will be seen as another disk drive, so no special software is needed to move files. (And people who do not know how to copy files should not be using computers.)

    Still, the included Olympus Viewer software will also download files from the camera to the computer, if you so insist.

  • ISO range: 100..25600 (with ISO 200 being the native "sensor" sensitivity). Can be set to Auto, with a user-defined top limit.

    On the E-M5, ISOs up to 1600 are perfectly usable, for me at least, but even ISO 3200 could be just fine (once I shot a whole wedding at that setting, and it was not by accident). On the E-M1 I can easily go one notch above that, to ISO 3200 or 6400. For the E-M10 I would expect at least the E-M5 performance, maybe better.

  • White balance: in addition to the usual presets (Sunny, Cloudy, Shade, etc.), and to a user-specified custom setting, Olympus continues to include one of my favorite features: setting WB by reference, by taking a picture of a white surface. In all Olympus cameras I tried this was the most accurate (read: pleasing) method, and omitting it from the E-M10 would be unforgivable.
  • Noise filtering: this is algorithmic removal of random noise during the raw-to-RGB conversion. Some of this noise component is removed at the expense of some detail loss, nothing comes free. Like other Olympus cameras, the E-10 allows you to choose between four different strengths of this process. I usually set Noise Filtering to Off and use the lowest ISO I can get away with.
  • Noise Reduction is a process affecting even raw image files; it is intended to remove, partly at least, the static noise caused by some photosites being more sensitive to light than others. This is applicable only to exposures of one second or longer, and essential at higher ISO settings. Like some other manufactures, Olympus addresses the issue by taking a dark frame exposure just after the "real" picture (using the same exposure time) and subtracting it from the latter. This works quite well.
  • Picture Modes from previous Olympus cameras have been retained in this one. These are combinations of image processing presets (sharpening, contrast, saturation, tonal curve); each of them can be additionally adjusted and then the user may quickly switch from on such set to another.

    In addition to the expected Vivid, Natural, Muted and Portrait modes, you see some others, which I would really prefer not to see: i-Enhance (whatever that means) and all twenty or so special effects, or Art Modes. Why, for crying out loud? The latter already have their own position on the mode dial, why to pollute the user interface? Luckily, at the expense of thirty or so key presses you can remove them from the Picture Mode sequence (at least you could in the other OM-D cameras, I hope Olympus did not get rid of that option.)

  • Image stabilization: Body-based (sensor-shift) like in all Olympus cameras since the E-510. This time Olympus reverted to a 3-axis solution (from the 5-axis one used in the E-M5 and E-M1), but I don't think anyone would have noticed the difference.

    (Supposedly, the two extra dimensions can help in hand-held macro shooting, but I haven't checked that claim.)

    Olympus promises "up to" 3.5 EV IS advantage (which means 13× longer handholdable exposure times, which in my tests translates into 1-2.5 EV (2-5×), depending on the focal length used. For the E-M5 the claim was up to 4 EV, no big deal.

    Image stabilization will also work with legacy lenses (with no information exchange with the camera), except that the lens focal length will have to be entered manually. This also remains unchanged.

  • Autofocus: Imager-based, contrast detection, like in the E-M5 (and unlike in the E-M1 which added phase detection). This means that while for the dedicated μFT lenses AF should be fast and precise, the performance with the old Four Thirds ones will be slow and often erratic. If you plan for using legacy FT glass, you have to go for the E-M1.

    A continuous AF mode is available, as well as focus tracking and face detection, with an option to select the eye on which the focus is set.

    The new feature (picked off the E-M1, missing on the E-M5) is focus peaking in manual focusing. This will work even for legacy lenses (those with no coupling), except that it would require pressing a dedicated button.

    I really like focus peaking on the E-M1 — what it means is that image contours being in focus are highlighted in a highly-magnified image fragment. It is quite easy to get used to it and live happily without AF (I never though I would say that!). Any of the Voigtländer F/0.95 Noctons will make a viable choice for a camera with this feature.

  • Exposure metering and control: as expected, no surprises. Metering is done by the imager and can use matrix, center-weighted or spot pattern. Shutter- and aperture-priority modes are provided, in addition to a program mode (with an option to auto-adjust ISO as well). Exposure compensation up to ±3 EV is easily accessible via a control dial (you can opt for not using a button for that; I did).

    Additionally, you can hardwire an additional exposure bias into the settings (different for each metering pattern); consider it a kind of general calibration of the camera to your liking. For example, I'm using a bias of -1/6 EV for matrix and center-weighted (but not spot) metering in the E-M1 and E-M5.

  • Shutter: mechanical, electronically controlled, from 60 s to 1/4000 s, in user-preferred increments. No change from the E-5.
  • Built-in flash: yes. Olympus managed to put a small flash into the E-M10 (the first time in OM-D series), and that in spite of reducing the "prism bump" protrusion. It has a guide number of about 8 m (or 27 ft) at ISO 200, which is adequate for emergency use. Obviously, a built-in flash unit cannot provide, by design, any decent results, but it can be quite useful as a fill light outdoors, and this is why I'm glad to see this addition.
  • Drive modes: no change. First, you can switch to the low- or high-speed sequential mode (3.5 or 8 frames per second; can be set to lower values). In the high-speed mode the AF and AE will be performed only before the first frame of the sequence.

    These frame rates compare to 9 or 4 FPS for the E-M5. I don't see a significant difference here.

    Then there is a self-timer (10 or 2 seconds of delay) and lapsed-time sequences up to 1000 frames or so.

    The last option among drive modes is bracketing. Unfortunately, in the E-M10 Olympus sticks to the design used in the previous cameras. In addition to the genuinely useful AE bracketing, Olympus insists on bracketing everybody and his mama: ISO, white balance, flash, and (no, I'm not inventing this!) Art Filters. The bad news is that in the other cameras AE bracketing was implemented in a clumsy way (no automatic switch to sequential drive mode, a possibility of incomplete sequences) and this was not fixed in the E-M10.

  • Movies. Yes, the E-M10 can be used to make movies in true HD. If you want to know more on this, you have to find another review, sorry.
  • Art Filters, Photo Story: please, don't get me started on this. Obviously, somebody at Olympus got very disoriented.
  • High Dynamic Range (HDR): the camera will take a number of pictures varying the exposure and combine them into one of higher dynamic range (but, obviously, less contrast). Alternatively, it may take a sequence for merging in an external application. I haven't used this feature on the E-M1 (it was not included with the E-M5), but one day I will.
  • Multiple exposures: yes (double). Ditto.

I think I've covered all specs, at least the important ones. If I discover something else, the article will be updated with a proper notice at the top, so that you do not have to read the whole thing again.

The bottom line

After this walk-through I can say the E-M10 seems functionally identical to the well-proven E-M5 except for just a few points:

  • Simpler image stabilization (I don't consider this important);
  • No sealing against weather or dust;
  • Built-in flash (!)
  • Manual focus peaking (!!!)
  • Lower price.

Therefore, with the image quality similar to that of the E-M5, and very nice build and finish, I consider the E-M10 to be a (slightly) better camera — unless you must have weather sealing.

In any case, in spite of growing competition in the ILC camera market (Panasonic, Sony, Fujifilm, to name just a few), I expect the E-M10 to become a hot seller.

Appendix: The new 'standard zoom" lens

Thanks to the joint effort between Panasonic and Olympus, Micro Four Thirds cameras enjoy the widest lens selection in this (ILC) camera group. Both companies offer a nice range of high-quality, reasonably priced primes, and they keep adding new releases over the whole price spectrum. Here, however, I will focus on a new "standard zoom" lens released at thee same time as the E-M10 (and, at least on some markets, but not in the U.S., sold bundled with that camera).

The new lens is the pancake zoom: M. Zuiko Digital ED 14-42 mm F/3.5-5.6 EZ.

MZD ED 14-42 mm F/3.5-5.6 EZ, collapsed and extended, on the E-M1 body

This is a collapsible lens, one of the coolest I've seen: collapsed it protrudes just 22.5 mm (0.9") from the flange; it weighs 93 g (3.3 oz) and takes 37 mm filters, focusing down to 20 cm (at 42 mm). It has three aspherical elements and two made of special glass. Zooming is motor-driven, so it can be done remotely from a smartphone application. On top of all this, the lens looks very cute.

In the U.S. it is sold separately, to the tune of $300. If you want to get a bundled starter lens with your E-M10, this will be probably the 14-42 mm F/3.5-5.6 II R, also collapsible but less so, and also taking 37 mm filters. This one will add about $100 to the camera price, which is a bargain.


My other articles related to the Olympus OM-D System.

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Posted 2014/01/30; last updated 2017/02/20 Copyright © 2014 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak