Olympus EM1 for Video


This is the very first of a series of camera tests I shot recently in Sydney.  These are studio tests and I’m also currently shooting some more real life scenarios which I’ll be aiming to share with you in the coming weeks.

I’m planning to show you some examples of the Olympus EM1, the video oriented EM5 Mark II as well as the new Olympus PEN F.  I also used an external video recorder on the EM5 and had a look at the new FLAT log-ish profile Olympus introduced recently with a firmware update after some user feedback.  In theory this should give us a bit more room to move when we’re grading.

I also tested the Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6K and the Alexa XT, but we’ll get to those later.


So first off we have the Olympus EM1.  I have to say right off, this is my absolute favourite Olympus camera to shoot stills with.  I just like the way it handles and the sensor is really nice.  The pictures sit very nicely when graded and I don’t have to work them very hard at all.  Skin tones especially are very natural looking.  Their recent firmware update also made the camera significantly better.  I can now use silent shooting mode which is AWESOME on a film set ! Not only that but, for the first time you can now shoot video at the more cinematic friendly frame rate of 24 frames per second !  *technically 23.976 but we’ll discuss that later

While it is the flagship Olympus camera, shooting video is not really it’s forte.  It’s mostly limited by the data rate limited IPB codec they use on this camera.  Basically the bucket the camera has for storing video data is very small.  It’s more like a small bowl than a bucket.

I like the challenge though of making it look as good as we can get it.  I actually think these pictures hold up pretty well.  I first of all went into the custom picture profile menu and created my own profile so I could try and maximise the amount of dynamic range the camera can capture.  I do this by turning down the contrast as low as possible to -2.  I also turn the sharpness down to -2 so as to reduce the harshness and electronic looking image post sharpening can introduce.  We can always sharpen the image later in the edit if we need to, but if it’s baked in from the start it can’t be removed.  Lastly I also turn the saturation down a little to -1.

Once I have this custom profile loaded I can then try to make sure we get as much DR as posisble into the tiny little bucked the codec allows us to capture.   The data rate is very low at about 26 mbps.  The more modern ALL-I codec on the EM-5 MarkII by comparison is 77 mbps.

As I mentioned, I think these picture do hold up well even at such a low data rate.  You do notice the image though is quite soft.  This is a combination of the data rate and the way the sensor is read in the camera when in video mode.


To show these cameras off, I came up with three scenarios.  One is a scene lit by tungsten lighting, one is daylight and one is candlelight.

Here are the lighting plots.  I used the same lighting setups for all the cameras I’m testing.

Tungsten Set


So here’s the main tungsten lighting setup. I very deliberately say tungsten because in motion imaging, the sensors tend to be most optimised for daylight, usually around 5000K.  But we often use tungsten lighting to light with ! Tungsten is also a beautiful light source to work with.  Unlike LEDs and Fluros it’s got a beautiful and even spectral emission plot.  In simple terms, it emits all the colors we want to see in very even amounts.  A lot of other light sources like LEDs and Fluros are “peaky” so there can be big gaps in their spectrum of light that they emit.  So it made sense to me to start with and focus on a tungsten lighting setup.

You’ll notice in the lighting plots I will put the CRI, which is a score out of 100, 100 being a perfect and flat light in terms of colour.  I also note the exact WB point too.

I then tried to create a range of exposure zones and then had our wonderful model Madison walk through them.

Check out the lighting plot above.  You can see the key is a 12k Dinette Wedge or Booklight. It’s 12 x 1 K par64 cans, bouncing into a 12 x 12 Ultrabounce that then goes through a 12x 12 HiLite diffusion frame.

I created some negative fill on the camera left side, the 12×12 solid black.  Then on the back wall you’ll notice I used a 2K Fres to do what i call an exposure ramp.  By skidding the light along the wall, I can create a hot spot that falls off over distance.  This is really useful to us to compare when we try to recover over and under exposure. Incidentally there’s also a bare bulb prac light and of course a colour chart and cube.

So firstly I metered the end position of where Madison gets to.  Here when she’s looking at camera the meter says 198 foot candles.  At the base sensitivity of the EM1, where in theory we get the most dynamic range, that means an exposure of T5.6 at 1/50th of a second exposure.  I like measuring in footcandles because it’s an absolute measurement and independent of ISO.  It’s especially useful in scenarios like this because we have different cameras.  It’s also very easy to work out exposure ratios too.  400 Foot candles is double 200 foot candles and that means +1 stop…!

Now take a look at this hilarious image.


Now, where Madison starts she’s about 1 and 1/3 of a stop hotter to where she ends up.  At it’s very brightest, the back wall measures 2 and 2/3 of a stop hotter and the dark side of her face is as much as 2 stops under. She has a range to walk though of exposure that will remain constant.  This shows you also what I have set up and look for when comparing images.

For me I’m most interested in the extremes.  What is it like at what I call near clipping and then clipping.  How much detail is there holding in those highlights ?  Then I look at the same in shadows.  What detail is in near blacks and then true black.  I’ve tried to show those for you.

So.  Once I’ve built the above setup, I then do bracketed exposures.  I expose at the “On” exposure, indicated by the “0” on the slate.  Then I do a +1 stop version a +2 stop version and a +3 stop version. So you can then imagine the values indicated above, modified by the over exposure numbers.  At +3 stops, the back wall in effect is 5 and 2/3 stops over exposed.  Then I do an underexposed version at -1 and -2 stops.

I then did a daylight setup, though this time much simpler.


Daylight Set

And finally a candle light version.  In this one the camera was set to ISO 800.


Lenses were the Olympus 25mm and the 75mm primes.

I took the rushes into Resolve to edit and grade. Resolve is great because they have one of the most powerful colour correcting tools built in as well as great editing functionality.  It also reads almost any codec from any camera and works with it natively in 32 bit float precision.  What’s even better, is that it’s free with mostly the exact same functionality as Resolve Studio.  All you miss out on is the improved speed of using multiple GPUs (if you happen to have them) and a few things like noise reduction.

So because I’m going to give you the camera original files to work with yourself, I did a very simple edit and grade on these rushes, trying get them looking as nice as I could, showing them in their best light.

Here’s my best go at grading this camera for these setups. Click on the EM1 graded .mp4 file to watch or download.  In the link you’ll also find a folder containing the EM1 bracketed rushes as well as the actual 1920 444 ProRes if you’re super keen to pixel peep or try grading something better.  I’d love to hear how you find the over and under exposed images.

I’d love to add my files are being hosted by a terrific new file sharing service I’ve just discovered called Digital Pigeon.  Unlike a lot of other cloud services, these guys are specifically setup to handle very large files, very quickly AND they offer some cool services like an annoted video reviewing system.  You should try them out if you need to get big files moved around for client review.  They’re much much faster than the other clour based services.

Now are you ready for the end result ?

Here’s the link !!!


So my takeaway for the EM1 for shooting video is that the codec really limits what you can do with the camera because the data rate is so low and this means the image is a bit soft and get’s mushy very quickly in low light and when shooting at higher ISOs.  The actual pictures can look really lovely when the exposure is centered and meaty.  Normally the solution for a low data rate codec would be to use an external recorder like the Blackmagic Video Assist, but unfortununitly, the EM1 doens’t offer live view output over the HDMI port.  Let’s hope they address this in the future.  But, if like me, you already have an EM1, this is a great confirmation that the recent 4.1 firmware update at least get’s you 24 fps and in the right circumstances you can make it work. I would also like to see Olympus make sure that we have the option of true 24 FPS as well as 23.976 which is what it currently shoots when shooting at 24 FPS.

You should note that I’m an un-paid Olympus brand ambassador and Olympus supplied me with all the camera equipment used in this test.  This post is un-moderated and hasn’t been edited by Olympus in any way. I have been using Olympus equipment since I bought an E1 in 2004.


About johnbrawley

Director Of Photography striving to create compelling images
This entry was posted in Equipment, General, Photography and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Olympus EM1 for Video

  1. Ron Coker says:

    An interesting presentation with food for thought. I recently had a brief encounter with Olympus for filmmaking, my results were mediocre. My mainstay, a beautiful GH4 now with V- Log. Regards.

    • johnbrawley says:

      Oh for sure, I think Panny are a generation ahead on the video side of things. I think you’ll find that the EM 5 Mark II will be noticibely better than this effort, and I’ll hopefull have something to show for that soon.

  2. Mario Rossi says:

    Yess! I would really like to see a similar article about EM 5 II, that camera is such a nice concept but seems to be too limited for video yet.

  3. Bálint Tóth says:

    Great stuff! Loved both of your Olympus video articles. Good to see a professional pursuing an interest in Olympus. How about trying out the EM 10 Mark II? It’s the little brother but a nifty little camera.

  4. Pingback: Olympus E-M5 Mark II FLAT profile tested | johnbrawley

  5. Pawel says:

    I have been shooting video with EM1 for almost two years now. Yep the codec is not great but the camera handles beautifully and the sensor stabilisation allows me to travel light and shoot hand held. I absolutely love the camera. I miss colours from panasonic but the IBIS makes me stay with EM1.
    here is one of the recent hikes we did, shot on EM1 with no rigs etc.

  6. Mark says:

    Dear John,

    thank you very much for sharing all your knowledge! 🙂
    Even if it is a bit disappointing, that the EM1 has no HDMI live view output. 😦
    I am going to shoot a theatre performance this weekend and was planning to use two Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras and thought I could use my EM1 as a third body, with a BM View assist attached, to receive some similar quality footage… Now I am afraid this won’t be possible.
    If I would have known earlier, I might have bought a EM5 MKII instead. But I wanted a really nice camera for stills as well, so the EM1 will still be nice for traveling. Argh! Thats a pity! :-/

    Anyway, thanks again!!! 😀

  7. I just found a used OM-D E-M1 on the cheap because I love its photo capabilities, and I love the Olympus lenses. I couldn’t afford the OM-D E-M1 Mark II (maybe someday), and Panasonic is not nearly as good with Oly lenses, so this is what I have.

    It’s a fantastic camera…for stills. It’s serviceable for video if you’re an amateur like me, but if you’re a professional video shooter, this is not the camera you want. Besides not being able to do 4K at any frame rate, it can’t even do 1080p / 60, so no slow motion for B-roll. That’s a killer.

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