updated 09:00 pm EST, Tue February 7, 2012
Olympus OM-D boosts MFT pro credentials
Olympus ended rumors Tuesday by trotting out its highest-end Micro Four Thirds camera to date. The OM-D is consciously styled after the classic OM-4 film camera but, in place of the mirrors and optical viewfinder, has a 1.44-megapixel electronic viewfinder instead. It's billed as one of the few mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras to have its EVF in a more natural position above the lens, rather than at the corner on a camera such as the Sony NEX-7.
Its body is also dust- and splashproof, making it one of the few weather-hardened MFT cameras. A three-inch OLED touchscreen on the back tilts to give a large amount of control in off-angle shots.
Inside, the camera is Olympus' first mirrorless to break past the 12-megapixel barrier and carries a new 16-megapixel CMOS sensor. The shift ups the sensitivity ceiling to ISO 25,600, or about two stops higher in practical shooting.
The company claims the OM-D has retaken the lead in autofocusing speed, even over a fast mirrorless like the Nikon 1 series, and promises genuinely useful continuous shooting. It can burst shoot up to 9 frames per second for as much as two seconds, even with single-shot autofocus turned on. Most mirrorless and DSLR cameras have to lock autofocus after the first shot to maintain their speed.
Several other hardware and software boosts make for a more substantial upgrade. The OM-D adds a Canon Hybrid IS-like five-axis image stabilization system that can account for angled movement, rolling, and other complex shooting; Olympus claims that it produces sharper images even at the edges of the shot. Video capture now runs up to 1080i at 60 frames per second, records directly to H.264 and AVI, and is said to have tricks to correct for aliasing effects. Likewise, it counters the well-known rolling shutter effect, also known as the "tower of Jell-O," which makes some subjects appear to wobble while the camera moves.
Software changes are mild but bring single- and multi-shot Echo effects that let photographers insert many stills of a subject into the video itself, such as capturing key steps of a dancer. A new Key Line art filter gives a rotoscope animation effect similar to A Scanner Darkly or Waking Life, and numerous filters can use either an exaggerated Dramatic Tone variant or a magenta variant.
Shipments for the OM-D start in early April with all-black and two-tone black/silver versions. Olympusplans to ship a body-only version for $1,000 with a $1,300, 12-50mm f3.5-6.3 EZ lens kit version carrying its namesake electronic zoom control meant to provide smooth zooms during video recording. A more mainstream $1,100 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 II R kit will be an option. The company also promises additions later in 2012 of a 75mm f1.8 portrait lens with a metal body and a rare 60mm f2.8 macro lens with its own sunshade, focus distance meter, and resistance to dust and splashes.
Accessories for the OM-D include the HLD-6 battery holder, a weather-ready grip that provides controls in both in portrait or landscape modes; the FL-600R flash, which is good for GN-50 at ISO 200 and has a dedicated LED light for movie illumination; and the MMF-3, an adapter to use full-size Four Thirds lenses. Their prices aren't yet available.