Olympus E-M5 Review
|Full model name:||Olympus OM-D E-M5|
(17.3mm x 13.0mm)
|Viewfinder:||EVF / OLED|
|Native ISO:||200 - 25,600|
|Extended ISO:||100 - 25,600|
|Shutter:||1/4000 - 60 seconds|
|Max Aperture:||3.5 (kit lens)|
4.8 x 3.5 x 1.7 in.
(122 x 89 x 43 mm)
includes batteries, kit lens
|Full specs:||Olympus E-M5 specifications|
Your purchases support this site
- Amazon Click to see price
- Adorama for $599.00
- B&H Photo for $799.00 Buy here to enter drawing this month for $500 Gift Card
Resurrecting a popular design from its past proves fruitful for Olympus: Not only does the Olympus OM-D E-M5 look great, it takes great pictures, meeting or exceeding the quality of some pretty surprising competitors. Its interface is designed with photographers in mind, with ready control dials and a smart interface, all in a very small package.Pros
Attractive body design; Well-built, weather-sealed body; Excellent image quality; Excellent image stabilization; Very fast autofocus.Cons
Exposure compensation dial changes easily; Small buttons; No in-camera chromatic aberration correction; Bundled flash is weak; Video compression artifacts with rapidly-moving subjects.Price and availability
Body-only pricing for the Olympus E-M5 starts around US$1,000, with availability from April 2012. Two body colors are available: black and silver. In addition to the body-only kit, there are also two kits including lenses. The black version of the E-M5 body and M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 II R lens costs about US$1,100. Alternatively, a black version of the M.ZUIKO Digital ED 12-50mm f3.5-6.3 EZ lens is available with either the black or silver E-M5 body, for US$1,300.Imaging Resource rating
5.0 out of 5.0
$1124.48 (38% more)
20.3 MP (21% more)
Also has viewfinder
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review
by Shawn Barnett, Mike Tomkins, and Zig Weidelich
Hands-on Preview: 02/07/2012
Full Review: 06/15/2012
Note: Firmware version 2.0 released January 2014 adds an extended "Low" ISO 100 setting, as well as a Small AF Target option. Those enhancements are not reflected in this review. Click here for more details.
Raising the excitement around its Micro Four Thirds cameras, Olympus added a new branch to the line with the OM-D E-M5. Once again, Olympus resurrected both the name and appearance of a successful camera line from the company's past to appeal to the sense of nostalgia we're seeing return to the digital camera space. The new digital camera upgrades the sensor to 16 megapixels and includes a built-in electronic viewfinder, both firsts for an Olympus-badged MFT camera. Available in both black and silver starting April 2012, the new camera is also somewhat pricey, starting at US$1,000 body-only, US$1,100 with a standard 14-42mm lens, and US$1,300 with the unique 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ lens pictured at right.
If you've already read this part of the review, be sure to check out our Field Test below, where I used the Olympus E-M5 on a trip to Whistler, Canada.
Though the viewfinder housing is shaped like a pentaprism, there is no pentaprism underneath. Many might cry foul over this choice, but it makes sense. Rather than make their camera look like a modern, smooth molded plastic camera, they pulled from their own past, returning to an easily recognizable form. But I can't deny that a flood of analytical thoughts and emotions washed over me when I first set eyes on the OM-D E-M5. Was I impressed or put off? Did they hit the right notes? Is it too similar or not similar enough to the old OM line? Am I over-analyzing and under-appreciating because I'm afraid I'm a little too fond of bringing back the old camera forms?
In the interests of full disclosure, I have always been an OM fan, and have enjoyed long relationships with several OM cameras over the years. I still own an OM-1, though I haven't loaded film into it for a decade. I was sad when the OM line finally ceased in 2002. They were solid, reliable little SLRs with great optics and a refined personality. The return of the name, if not the mount, is enough to stir a complex of positive and negative emotions in any former fan.
The main question I had: Is it worthy of the OM name, or is it just window dressing? After spending more time with the E-M5, all I can think is, worthy or not, it just makes sense. If Olympus is to make an EVF Micro Four Thirds camera, it should look like their last SLR, not some odd modern interpretation of a Pen with a bump on top.
Names. What doesn't make sense is the camera's name. OM-D E-M5 is absurdly circumspect. They want to pay homage to the OM line while pointing out that it's digital, hence the D. Like we didn't know. Yet they want to keep pointing out that it's electronic like the other cameras in the line, hence the E in E-M5. I'd have preferred OM-5 or even OM-5D. We know it's electronic, and we know it's digital--I think we got it--so OM-5 would have been simpler, more evocative of the past they're so keen to recapture.
Look and feel. When I first saw the camera it looked a little strange, rather like a bootleg knock-off version of an OM camera. It more closely resembles one of the consumer OM models, like the OM-10, rather than the more pro versions of the camera, thanks to its wider pentaprism peak. Naturally, being an EVF camera, there is no pentaprism inside, so I'm sure some purists will cry foul. But for all their rangefinder aesthetic, the Pens, and even the Fujifilm X100 aren't rangefinders either, so purists should get over it. What the OM-D design can be called is reflective. Reflective of the long Olympus heritage, just as much as the bi-level top deck on the Pens, Canon G-series, and Nikon P-series as well. It's Design, and it's not always functional, but it does function to distinguish a camera, and they've done that very well.
At first it seems a little bit of a pygmy version of the original OM cameras. It's shorter, slimmer, and narrower. It has a slight grip on the front, one with sufficient width, if not depth, for my fingers to get a good purchase. It's bolstered on the back by a large, tacky, hard-rubber ramp that serves as a thumbgrip. It's quite nice; warm and smooth, yet grippy.
Even the left side of the camera's front has a good rubber grip, helpful while shooting overhead or looking at pictures after capture. The black version has a modern grip surface, while the silver version, shown above, has a faux-leather texture. A lens release button has the same shape and location as the Pen cameras, while the original OM system had the release button on the lens itself. The red lens mount alignment dot is still in the same position as the old OM cameras. An AF-assist lamp peeks out above the lens release button. The OM-D line also uses D-rings for the camera strap.
Note also how the sensor seems to hang down in this front shot. It's not centered top to bottom. But when you power on the Olympus E-M5, the sensor rises and centers just fine, and you can hear the IS system working. See the Image Stabilization section below for more, including a short movie demonstrating the new IS system's extreme freedom of movement.
The weather-sealed 12-50mm lens covers a range from 24-100mm equivalent, and includes a unique zoom mechanism. In the position shown above the mechanism is a momentary switch zooming the lens electronically with a twist of about 3mm left or right. I far prefer this to a single toggle on the left of the lens, as is found on Panasonic's X-series lenses. It is more intuitive, but not as fast as a mechanical zoom. Pull back on the zoom ring and it becomes a mechanical zoom control. Excellent. It's so cool that Olympus is designing interesting lenses with controls for real photographers. The motorized zoom is thus primarily for smooth zooming while shooting video. The only disadvantage is that the push/pull ring is easy to change accidentally.
The left side of the EVF housing has a Mode dial, while the right side has two unique dials. In Manual mode, the Rear dial adjusts shutter speed while the front adjusts aperture. In the center of the front dial we find the Shutter release button. The Shutter release button is spongy through the half-press, then firms up significantly for the final break. Just right of that is the new Curves button. Using the two dials on the top deck, you can adjust the onscreen curve for Shadows and Highlights and see the results in the onscreen preview. Just behind that is the Movie Record button.
While there's much similar to the Pens on the E-M5, the rear controls owe a little more to the Olympus E-5 professional digital SLR. Most Pen cameras to date have had a rear dial surrounding the four-way navigator, but the E-M5 has only the five buttons. Below that is the power switch, which is located where it is on the E-3 and E-5.
The OLED monitor tilts vertically, up 90 degrees, and down 45 degrees. It's the EVF that's even more fun, sporting 1.44 million dots. It's similar to the VF-2 accessory finder, but with a different optical formula, according to Olympus, that allows for better visibility, with a 1.15x magnification and 18mm eyepoint relief. I found it fairly easy to frame images with my eyeglasses on, but the corners were still vignetted unless I pushed my glasses in against my eye socket. That makes me wonder if it wouldn't be better without the circular mask you can see quite clearly in the shot above. This got even more comfortable to do when shooting in vertical mode, as there's more room for your nose in that orientation. I could see being quite comfortable shooting the E-M5 with its optional vertical grip.
Controls. By far our favorite controls are the two dials on the top. The front dial, made of plastic, is a little looser than the rear dial, which seems to be metal. On a camera with an OM designation, it's nice to see some effort to offer mechanical control. OM users are accustomed to adjusting both shutter speed and aperture via the ring around the lens mount and the ring on the lens itself, respectively. Given that the Micro Four Thirds system is already established without mechanical aperture controls on the lenses, this digital/analog pairing of two equivalent dials keeps to the spirit of the OM system in the digital age. Most competing professional designs have a dial front and back to control these two basic exposure functions, while most amateur SLRs, like the Rebel, have only one dial with a button to shift between the two exposure parameters. This simple difference marks the OM-D E-M5 as a camera designed for enthusiasts and pros.
Optics. As mentioned earlier, the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ lens is the main kit lens for the OM-D E-M5. Sliding the zoom ring forward puts the lens in motorized zoom mode, ideal for smooth zooming in movies. Speed is variable based on how far you turn the zoom ring left or right. Pull the zoom ring rearward, toward the camera, and it becomes a mechanical zoom. Manual focusing is fly-by-wire only. An MSC design, the lens focuses quickly and quietly. Announced in December 2011, the 24-100mm-equivalent lens has multiple sealing rings to make it as waterproof as Olympus's Four Thirds SHG (Super High Grade) lenses, and is individually priced at $499.99.
Good as it is, the shame is its length, making the camera quite a bit less pocketable. However, the OM-D E-M5 is also able to use any of the 26 lenses available for the Micro Four Thirds mount (not including the Panasonic 3D lens), with more coming from manufacturers like Sigma. There are also nine mount adapters that open up a wide world of options to use lenses from Pentax, Leica, Voigtländer, and even Olympus's own Four Thirds lenses. A new Four Thirds adapter, called the MF-3 is dust and splashproof to match the E-M5 body and the Four Thirds High Grade and Super High Grade lenses.
Sensor and processor. At the heart of the Olympus E-M5 lies a new 16.1-megapixel Live MOS image sensor, whose output is handled by a TruePic VI image processor, the same as in the E-P3. The E-M5's imager has a 4:3 aspect ratio, and allows capture of still images at a maximum resolution of 4,608 x 3,456 pixels. RAW images are 12-bit and stored using lossless compression.
The new image sensor is said to offer not only higher resolution than those of earlier Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras, but also offers both higher dynamic range and lower noise. Total pixel count of the new Live MOS chip is 16.9 megapixels.
Sensitivity. Sensitivity ranges from a base of ISO 200 equivalent to a maximum of ISO 25,600 equivalent, controlled automatically, or manually in 1/3 or 1 EV steps. (By default, the maximum sensitivity in Auto mode is capped at a more modest ISO 1,600 equivalent, however.)
Performance. The Olympus E-M5 is capable of full-resolution, continuous shooting at up to an impressive nine frames per second, although there's a proviso. To achieve this rate, focus must be locked from the first frame.
If autofocus is enabled between shots, the rate falls to 4.2 frames per second, or still further to 3.5 frames per second if image stabilization is enabled.
Focusing. The Olympus E-M5 improves on the already-swift autofocusing system of its Pen sibling, the E-P3. As in that camera, it still uses contrast detection autofocusing, branded as "Frequency Acceleration Sensor Technology," or "FAST" AF for short. Olympus again claims its new system offers the world's fastest autofocusing, so long as you're shooting with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ lens.
Compared to the E-P3, they've achieved the improvement in speed by doubling the sensor readout speed again, with this now able to reach as high as a stunning 240 frames per second. There's a catch, though -- achieving this speed means that the E-P3 can't read out as many pixel locations as at lower rates, and so the 240Hz refresh comes at the expense of contrast detection resolution (and hence, autofocus accuracy). For this reason, the E-M5 only uses the 240Hz rate for continuous autofocus, and falls back to a slightly slower--but more accurate--120Hz rate during single autofocus operation. Olympus also notes that the increase in refresh rate for continuous AF allows better subject tracking performance.
Although the E-M5 uses contrast detection, it still has fixed autofocus point locations, just like the E-P3. The E-M5's AF system provides 35 point focusing, with the points arranged in a 7 x 5 array that covers most of the image frame, with the exception of the extreme edges. Focus point selection modes include All Target (35-area), Group Target (9-area), and Single Target. In magnified frame AF mode, it's possible to zoom in to either 5x, 7x, 10x, or 14x, and this allows much finer-grained point positioning, with over 800 different focus point locations possible.
Face detection is supported (up to 8 faces), as well as Eye detection with options for Nearer-eye priority, Right-eye priority, or Left-eye priority. An AF illuminator is also provided to assist in low-light conditions. Focus servo modes include Single AF (S-AF), Continuous AF (C-AF), Manual Focus (MF), S-AF + MF, and AF tracking (C-AF + TR).
Dust reduction. The E-M5 retains Olympus' patented Supersonic Wave Filter dust reduction system, which operates courtesy of a piezoelectric element, vibrating the filter glass overlying the sensor. This shakes dust and other particles free, and they're then captured on an adhesive membrane beneath the imager. We've subjectively found piezoelectric systems like these to be significantly more effective than those using lower-frequency motion from a sensor-shift assembly.
Display. On the rear panel of the Olympus E-M5 is a 3.0-inch, 3:2 aspect Organic LED screen with an electrostatic capacitance touchpanel overlay, the same unit as featured in the E-P3. The E-M5 has an advantage, though, in that it features an articulated mechanism, allowing it to be tilted upwards by around 80 degrees for shooting from the waist or low to the ground, and tilted downwards as much as 50 degrees for over-the-head shooting.
The Olympus E-M5's OLED panel has a total resolution of 614,000 dots, equating to approximately 205,000 pixels, with each pixel comprising separate red, green, and blue dots. The display has a wide 176-degree angle of view, and offers two operating modes--vivid and natural color--as well as a five-step brightness adjustment, and a seven-step color adjustment.
Viewfinder. One of the defining features of the Olympus E-M5 is its built-in viewfinder. It's quite similar to the VF-2 electronic viewfinder accessory for past PEN-series models, but we understand that it's a new optical design. Resolution is 1,440,000 dots, equating to approximately 480,000 pixels. That's an SVGA array of 800 x 600 pixels, with each pixel comprised of separate red, green, and blue dots.
The E-M5's viewfinder, like that of the VF-2 accessory, has a 100% field of view, and 1.15x magnification. Eyepoint is 18mm, and the viewfinder's refresh rate is 120Hz. There's a diopter adjustment dial to the left of the eyepiece with a range of -4 to +2m-1, and the eyecup is removable. An infrared eye sensor is provided for automatic switching between the electronic viewfinder and OLED monitor.
Level gauge. To help ensure level horizons and avoid converging verticals, the Olympus E-M5 includes a dual-axis electronic level gauge. This indicates both front-to-back pitch and side-to-side roll on the live view feed, ensuring your framing is straight and even.
Shutter. The E-M5 provides shutter speeds ranging from 60 - 1/4,000 seconds, as well as a bulb mode that can be configured to allow exposures from one to 30 minutes, in eight steps. The shutter mechanism is tested to 100,000 cycles.
X-sync is available at 1/250 second or less, when using the bundled FL-LM2 flash strobe. Other flash strobes sync at 1/200 second or below, except for the FL-50R flash strobe, which is limited to a maximum of 1/180 second. Super FP flash is possible from 1/125 to 1/4,000 second.
Exposure. The Olympus E-M5 offers a wide range of exposure modes, including iAuto, Program (with Program Shift), Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, Manual, Bulb, Time, Scene Select, Art Filter, Underwater Wide, and Underwater Macro. Scene modes options are generous, with no less than 23 different choices: Portrait, e-Portrait, Landscape, Landscape + Portrait, Sport, Night, Night + Portrait, Children, High Key, Low Key, DIS mode, Macro, Nature Macro, Candle, Sunset, Documents, Panorama, Fireworks, Beach & Snow, Fisheye Conv., Wide Conv., Macro Conv., and 3D.
Exposures are determined using a 324-area multi pattern metering system, which also provides center-weighted and spot metering modes. The metering system has a working range of EV 0 to 20 (17mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 100). Exposures can be tweaked with +/- 3.0 EV of exposure compensation in 1/3, 1/2, or 1 EV steps, and an AE Lock function is available to hold a metered exposure. In addition, the E-M5 provides a handy 2, 3, 5, or 7 frame exposure bracketing function, with a gap between frames of 0.3, 0.7, or 1 EV (with the exception of the 7-frame mode, which is limited to a maximum of 0.7 EV steps). Like recent PEN-series models, the Olympus E-M5 also allows users to fine-tune the metering system to suit their own tastes, courtesy of an additive +/-1 EV adjustment in 1/6 EV steps.
Image stabilization. The new image stabilization mechanism is dramatically different from the past design. The old design moved in only two planes, and was a much larger mechanism, but this new design floats inside the camera, and can compensate along five axes. It compensates for yaw, pitch, vertical motion, horizontal motion, and roll, and Olympus says it's capable of up to 5 stops of correction. Click image at right to load video.
If it is very quiet, you can hear the IS motor running, keeping the sensor aloft inside the camera.
White balance. As well as Auto, two Custom positions, and Kelvin, there are a selection of seven preset modes. White balance presets include Sunny, Shade, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Underwater, and Flash. White balance can be adjusted in a 15-step range on both blue / amber and magenta / green axes, and bracketed for three frames in two, four, or six-step increments on the same axes.
Curves. Another interesting feature is available with a press of the Curves button. Using the two dials on the top deck, you can then adjust the curve for Shadows and Highlights and see the results in the onscreen preview.
Histogram. The histogram shows a scale in white with the values over the whole image area, and a green histogram appears inside the white values, showing the values just inside the selected autofocus point.
Creative. Like the company's PEN-series models, the Olympus E-M5 includes a generous selection of pre-capture Art Filter functions, and all of these are applicable not only for still images, but movie capture as well, although they may affect frame rate. Art Filters include Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Light Color, Light Tone, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama, Cross Process, Gentle Sepia, Dramatic Tone, and Key Line. This last option is new, and offers an effect not dissimilar to a paint-by-numbers painting. There are also new sub-options for the cross process and dramatic tone filters, the first allowing a choice of red or green tone, and the second being a choice of color or black-and-white.
Additionally, there are five post capture Art Filter Effects, including Soft Focus, Pin-hole, White Edge, Frame, and Star Light filters. An Art Filter Bracketing function helps users to see the effect of different filters by saving multiple copies of each individual shot, with different filters applied. Further catering to creative types, the E-M5 also offers an in-camera, two-frame Multiple Exposure function, a selection of different aspect ratios (4:3 native, 3:2, 16:9, 1:1, and 3:4), and an in-camera editing function.
Another new feature--and this one strikes us as particularly clever--is the new Live Bulb / Live Time function. This lets you preview the exposure as it is being developed, during long-exposure shooting. The effect isn't real-time, but rather happens at preset intervals, and there's a finite number of intervals that can't be exceeded (so for example, at ISO 200 you could have 25 intervals, which with a 0.5 second count per interval would allow a maximum of a 12.5 second exposure). You can either trigger the exposure with one press of a remote release, and finish it with a second press, or you can have the exposure run only for as long as the release is held. If you judge that your desired exposure has been achieved, this means you can stop the exposure almost immediately, rather than having to guess when to finish the exposure, and maybe waste the shot to under- or over-exposure.
3D imaging. Olympus has included its multi-shot 3D Photo mode in the E-M5, allowing in-camera creation of 3D images in the industry-standard Multi Picture Object (.MPO) format. MPO files contain multiple JPEG still images with slightly differing perspective, and can be viewed on some 3D-capable high-def displays. To capture a 3D image with the Olympus E-M5, you hold down the shutter button and slowly pan across the scene, until the camera automatically takes a second image with slightly differing perspective.
Video. As is now pretty-much obligatory for an interchangeable-lens camera, the Olympus E-M5 also provides for high definition video capture. Recording is possible at resolutions up to 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (commonly known as Full HD, or 1,080i), with a rate of 60 interlaced fields per second from 30 frames per second sensor output. Like earlier models, videos are still saved using MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, however they are now saved in a MOV container and in the same location as still images, meaning that if you like to copy data manually, you won't need to dig through folders trying to remember where the videos are saved. Two bit rates are available: either 20 Mbps, or 17 Mbps, and the maximum recording time is about 22 minutes for the former, or 29 minutes for the latter. At 1,280 x 720 pixels, HD videos can be saved in either MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 format with a rate of 60 interlaced fields per second at 13 Mbps or 10 Mbps, or in Motion JPEG AVI format at 30 frames per second. Finally, 640 x 480 pixel (VGA standard definition) video is saved as Motion JPEG AVIs at 30 frames per second. The maximum file size for MOV clips is 4GB, while AVI files are limited to 2GB. At all resolutions, videos include 16-bit, 48kHz stereo linear PCM audio.
Like the PEN-series, the Olympus E-M5 offers a full set of exposure modes during movie recording: Program AE, Aperture-priority AE, Shutter-priority AE, and Manual exposure are all supported, as well as Art Filter. Note that in Shutter-priority and Manual modes, shutter speed is limited to less than 1/30s. AE Lock is also supported.
Compared to the PEN-series cameras, the Olympus E-M5 has better movie processing, and much lower levels of rolling shutter. (This has been achieved simply by increasing the readout speed, although we don't have any precise numbers to relate for this change.) We're also told to expect fewer jaggies along straight edges.
A perhaps more significant improvement over the PEN-series (at least on paper) is sensor-shift image stabilization is now supported when recording movies. This should result in much more effective video stabilization compared to the digital IS system utilized by the latest PENs.
Another difference is the new Movie Echo function. This allows you to momentarily freeze the image during video capture, after which the frozen image will "fade away" into the continuing video feed. Two modes are available: One Shot Echo (which only freezes a single frame), and Multi Echo (which continues to freeze frames at set intervals.)
See the Olympus E-M5 Video page for more details and sample clips, as well as samples in the Field Test below.
Environmental sealing. The Olympus E-M5's magnesium alloy body is said to be both dustproof and splashproof to the same standards as the Olympus E-5 SLR. (Note that it's splashproof, not waterproof; it's not intended to withstand submersion.)
It's not just the E-M5 body that's sealed, though; there's a fully-sealed ecosystem available to the E-M5 user, and all of it said to be sealed to this same high standard. That includes the bundled FL-LM2 flash strobe, the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-50mm f3.5-6.3 EZ zoom lens, the HLD-6 Power Battery Grip, and even a new MMF-3 Four Thirds mount adapter, allowing use of sealed Four Thirds-mount lenses.
Connectivity. The Olympus E-M5 offers quite a range of connectivity options, including USB 2.0 High Speed data, Type-D Micro HDMI high definition video output, NTSC / PAL selectable standard definition output, and Olympus' proprietary Accessory Port 2, which allows use of hot-shoe mounted accessories including the VF-2 and VF-3 viewfinder accessories (replicating the camera's own viewfinder, but allowing VF angle adjustment), the SEMA-1 external microphone adapter, MAL-1 Macro Arm Light, and PP-1 PenPal bluetooth adapter. The Olympus RM-UC1 cabled USB remote release is also compatible.
Storage. The Olympus E-M5 is compatible with Secure Digital cards, including both higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC card types, with support for higher-speed UHS-I types. The Olympus E-M5 also supports WiFi enabled Eye-Fi Secure Digital cards, for wireless transfer direct from the camera body, although note that endless mode is not supported. At least a Class 6 card is recommended for movie shooting.
Power. The Olympus E-M5 draws power from a proprietary BLN-1 lithium-ion battery pack. Battery life is CIPA rated at 360 shots per charge using either the EVF or OLED display, with image stabilization active, though we don't know if the bundled flash is included in that rating. Courtesy of the optional HLD-6 Power Battery Grip, it's also possible to add a second battery pack of the same type, effectively doubling shooting times.
OM-D E-M5 Comparisons
Olympus E-M5 versus OM-1
Olympus E-M5 versus Panasonic G3
Olympus E-M5 versus Olympus E-PM1
Olympus E-M5 versus Canon T3i
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Field Test
by Shawn Barnett
As a camera fan, I can enjoy almost any competent camera, be it a simple pocket digital camera or a complex professional SLR. But something happened when I first used the Olympus OM-D E-M5. I could tell it was different. As a fan of the Olympus Pens, I've accepted quite a few limitations, including a somewhat thick body shape (on the E-P3) and a unique control system that wasn't always quick to adjust. I never missed the optical viewfinder, so the EVF of the OM-D isn't as important to me as it likely is to others, but they're still nice as a fall-back when conditions are bright, like in the snow.
So when Olympus invited a group of tech journalists to Whistler, BC, Canada to shoot the Telus Ski and Snowboard Competition, I was more excited about seeing a fully shootable Olympus E-M5 than I was about seeing the event, or even snowboarding myself. The camera left an impression on me. Of course having a beautiful place to explore and photograph always makes reviewing a camera more fun.
System. Though it would turn out that the event wasn't exactly ideal to demonstrate a few of the camera's excellent features, many other features did shine, like the E-M5's compact design, its water-resistance, its low light performance, and its membership in a fairly complete system of lenses and accessories.
Olympus set us up with not only an E-M5 with the 12-50mm kit lens and a battery grip, they also outfitted us with an impressive kit of lenses--primes and zooms--all fitting into a small, handy shoulder bag that accompanied most of us everywhere. A fairly complete Micro Four Thirds system is indeed compact.
Grip. My initial preview of the Olympus E-M5 didn't include the battery grip, but now that I've tried it, I strongly recommend this $300 accessory. I generally like to buy a battery grip with my cameras when they're available. Not just for the extra battery capacity, but also for the vertical grip, since more than 50% of my shots on average are vertical.
The OM-D E-M5 is so tiny, though, that the grip doesn't make the combination ungainly; instead it's just right for one with medium to small hands. As I find with my Rebel grip combination, the camera is easier to hold and shoot thanks to the grip, and the extra battery capacity is always welcome. Unlike the Rebel, though, the Olympus E-M5 is very small, light yet solid, and feels professional in your hand.
That the Olympus E-M5's controls are duplicated for the battery grip is both good and bad. Good, of course, because you get better camera control when shooting vertical images, but bad when you accidentally activate focus, aperture, and EV controls, even firing the camera without meaning to, when your palm touches the extra controls. You can turn off the Olympus E-M5's extra controls with a Lock switch on the battery grip, but then it's a pain when you need vertical in a hurry and have to search for the switch.
On the top deck, the battery grip adds yet another EV dial that you can accidentally turn to change the exposure. It's great when you want it, a bit of a pain when you don't. I'd prefer to keep the dials, but have them activate with a button before accepting input; at least the ability to make it an option in software to work one way or the other. I love these dials when shooting in Manual mode, though, because the front dial switches to Aperture while the rear takes up Shutter speed; and the onscreen display previews exposure so you know just what you'll get when you press the shutter button.
If you don't feel like you need the extra battery or vertical grip, you can still keep the main grip attached, as the battery grip comes in two pieces. You can set which battery is depleted first, and the camera warns you when the first is about to die. So long as the second battery is present, you needn't worry, as the Olympus E-M5 switches automatically. The battery grip holds only one battery, and the other stays in the camera's main battery compartment. That means you have to remove the grip to remove and charge the main battery. My choice in general would be to leave the main battery as backup, buy a third battery, and keep rotating those in the grip, charging the main battery only monthly.
Lens. I confess to being surprised by the Olympus E-M5's high-quality kit lens. Far from trying to be a smaller, compressible lens, as found on the Pens and latest Panasonic G-series MFT cameras, the 12-50mm lens is more analogous to the Canon 24-105mm lens on a 5D-series camera. With the 2x multiplication (or crop) factor, the 12-50mm is equivalent to a 24-100mm lens on a 35mm camera. Sure it's longer and heavier than a standard budget kit lens, but it's also of higher quality and includes a neat trick or two.
The first trick is the Olympus E-M5's dual-mode zoom ring. Clicked rearward, the ring enables a manual, mechanical zoom mechanism. Clicked forward, away from the camera, the ring becomes a momentary toggle for the electronic zoom function. Cool as it is, the mechanism often shifted to one when I wanted the other style of zoom, and knowing where you are in the zoom range is difficult--that is, unless you look at the tiny numbers in the upper right corner of the rear OLED display or electronic viewfinder, which shows the focal length for most zoom lenses.
When in mechanical mode, zooming comes with a rough feel of electronic motors being turned against their will. At the ends of the zoom range, you meet resistance, but can still turn the ring by applying more pressure. In electronic zoom mode, there appear to be three levels of available zoom speed; turning only slightly moves slowly, turning more aggressively moves more quickly. Zoom is relatively quiet and starts slowly even when you turn aggressively, ramping up as it goes.
The left side of the lens has two buttons. One is called the L-Fn button, the other the Macro button. The L-Fn button is set to AF-Stop by default, but it can also be reset to perform other functions, like ISO, Depth-of-field preview, or my favorite, One Touch White Balance. Just press the button and the shutter simultaneously to capture and set the white balance to one of two preset positions. A very photographer-centric feature.
High speed. I've spent a lot of time shooting the Olympus E-M5 at its highest speed, trying to capture a good sequence image. The best has to be the sequence I got at the snowboard jump event in Whistler. As I mentioned, these really weren't the best conditions to demonstrate the E-M5's capabilities, but at nine-frames-per-second, the camera can't track focus, which was the major problem we had capturing the jumps. The situation was made more difficult because the jumping didn't start until after sundown, and the light got gradually worse and worse, insufficient for the 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 lens required to get close enough from where we stood. It all worked well enough, though; just not as well as it could have been had we been closer, with better light.
Still, it's pretty remarkable that it worked as well as it did, and the Olympus E-M5's low-light performance was pretty good considering, allowing a fast shutter speed and decent image stabilization as well. Most shots were not made at the full 600mm equivalent, but it's pretty remarkable to hold the equivalent of a 600mm lens in such a small, handheld package, and get even one shot, let alone a dozen at nine-frames-per-second.
This same lens, by the way, allowed me to capture an eagle landing to clean up on a kill that was likely left by other animals. Don't click on the image if you don't like gruesome and prefer to think of bald eagles soaring and looking majestic (hey, they gotta eat). Even at 600mm equivalent, I was too far from the bird for a well-cropped image, so I took advantage of the E-M5's 16-megapixel sensor and cropped the image, rotating it somewhat and adjusting levels for this shot you see here. You'll also see the original image in the gallery to see just how much I had to adjust and crop, even with the 600mm equivalent lens (with the ice melting on the lake, this was as close as I dared get--not bad for a quick snapshot).
Stabilization. I had to explore a little bit to find it, but you can set the E-M5 to display a stabilized image when you half-press the shutter button, a reassuring feature I enjoy on a few of my optically stabilized Canon lenses.
Olympus' new image stabilization is incredibly cool, because as you can see in the video above, the sensor itself is suspended in a plane, allowed to move along many axes, even rotational. When you turn off the camera, the sensor falls toward gravity, about a millimeter or two, then rises to the center when you power on the camera again. You can also hear the "engine" working to keep the sensor suspended while the camera is on. In a very quiet room, this can get noticeable, but I don't think it's a deal breaker. The image stabilization is so impressive, you'll come to appreciate the sound as reassurance of the camera's capabilities.
Low light. Wandering around Whistler Village I found plenty of low light situations to demonstrate the E-M5's capabilities, both its high ISO settings and its image stabilization. For snapshots, I only let it go up to ISO 1,600. The E-M5's image stabilization let me get quality handheld shots at 1/20-1/25 second, as seen in the three vertical shots below. I also captured a shot of our hotel at 12,800, and another in a bar, both of which are mottled at 100% onscreen, but otherwise quite usable as small prints. The bar shot looks great printed at 8x10.
f/1.8, 1/25, ISO 1,600
f/1.8, 1/20, ISO 1,600
f/1.8, 1/25, ISO 1,600
f/2.0, 1/80, ISO 12,800
f/4.0, 1/13, ISO 12,800
Snow. The Olympus E-M5 costs a little more than most compact system cameras, but there are quite a few really good reasons for that, and one of them is waterproofing. Like the company's SLRs, the Olympus E-M5 is sealed against splashes and rain (though it's not submersible). It can also handle snow and cold, not to mention humidity. To prove it, I shoved the gripless Olympus E-M5 with the 12-50mm lens in my jacket pocket, strapped on a snowboard, and hit the slopes on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Lest you think that snow isn't all that dangerous to a camera, I get pretty steamed up when I snowboard (sweaty), so being in my pocket wasn't exactly the driest place to store the E-M5.
With the battery grip off, of course, it fit pretty well: a quality SLR-like camera with an EVF, and articulating screen, a gaggle of modes and settings, video capability, and a 24-100mm equivalent lens. I'd have needed a backpack to bring along a 5D Mark II, or even a Rebel T3i.
What wasn't ideal for the venue was the OM-D E-M5's small buttons and switches, because it was glove-wearing weather. Many of the buttons would challenge big-handed folks, so it was limiting to say the least. I was able to work the front and rear dials and the shutter button with the gloves on, and even switch modes with the Mode dial, but the tiny buttons were more difficult. I also kept hitting the curves button more often than the Movie Record button with gloves on, something that also happens without gloves.
Even when it was sunny all around, I didn't have much trouble framing images on the E-M5's bright display, so I only used the EVF on occasion. Both were fine. I kept running afoul of the proximity sensor, though, too often turning on the EVF when I was just trying to frame a shot using the rear OLED display. Again, this happens even back home without a lot of snow gear, so I might be inclined to turn off the sensor in the long run. It switches a little slowly for me, much like the Fujifilm X-Pro1 did, so I'm not so hot on it.
The Olympus E-M5 did better in my jacket pocket while snowboarding than it did hanging from my Bos Strap while riding a snowmobile. If I had it to do again, I'd have kept it in the sling bag. Though I wanted to shoot a few shots of other snowmobilers, the camera took too much of a jostling while we bounced along on the trail, taking random pictures, at one point even the vertical grip's battery door came loose, dropping the battery on the snow. I recovered that battery because it happened when my snowmobile's brakes went out at the top of a high hill. Nice. Naturally I didn't go down that hill, letting our more experienced guide handle that adventure, and managed to recover the battery. I also lost the eyecup, which actually seems to be fastened on reasonably well.
All that adds up to no fault on the camera's part, in my opinion; nor was it the Bos Strap's fault. It was all my fault for combining strap and camera on a snowmobile, when I should have kept it in its bag. I recount the story here for your edification. But the good news is that the Olympus OM-D E-M5 weathered my decisions just fine, and came out unscathed in both cases.
Capturing shots like these snow-capped peaks made me rather nostalgic for the old Olympus ads back in the 1970s or 80s, one of which showed a photo from the top of K2, taken with an OM-1. This was nowhere near that high, nor that cold, but it sure was beautiful, and the E-M5 brought it home despite my steamy jacket. I'm not saying other cameras wouldn't have done the same, of course, but having the Olympus E-M5 assured a little better quality from a camera quite small in size.
Curves. Fast access to tone curve adjustment is a new feature on the Olympus E-M5 that's worth a quick look. I don't think I've seen it so cleanly integrated into any camera up to this point, and with all the interest in automatic adjustment of tone curves to improve apparent dynamic range, it's good to see a manual implementation of the concept.
|+7 Highlight||-7 Highlight||+7 Shadow|
|-7 Shadow||+7 Highlight / -7 Shadow||-7 Highlight / +7 Shadow|
Movies. Movie mode seems improved over the recent Pens, with less extreme rolling shutter artifacts. I was able to capture some amazing rides up Whistler's long lifts, videos I plan to review when I need a moment of cool, heavenly bliss this coming summer here in Atlanta. A few rides were worth remembering.
I also dared to shoot a video while trying to keep my snowmobile moving. The camera did fairly well considering. It's a little wobbly, but pretty well controlled and stabilized for a left-handed attempt.
Overall performance in video was indeed improved, but a few problems remain. On wide, landscape shots, focus tended to wobble in and out constantly, creating a sickening effect after a bit. Focus was quiet, though, and fairly fast for contrast-detect. As I followed skiers, focus often got lost, even with bright clothing. Still, there was a lot of motion, including the lift chair, the skier, and my panning to keep up with them.
Creative modes. Like other recent Olympus offerings, the OM-D E-M5 is replete with modes designed to help your creative vision while shooting. After setting up a tripod to get a consistent set of images using all of these available Art filters, as I usually do, I got to the last setting called Art Bracket. With just one click, the camera captured one image and ran it through all 11 Art filters, saving each as a separate image, as you see below, and added six Picture modes as well. The camera named each as it showed each effect was applying and saving. Suppose I should have thought of that first. You can modify the Art Bracket setting to save just a few, or all of them.
Affinity. The word Love has already been used by too many other reviewers in reference to the Olympus E-M5, understandably so. I choose other words, not just to be different, but to be more specific. Indeed, I demonstrated my affinity to the E-M5 for weeks, through my refusal to turn the sweet little camera over to the lab for testing. But in order to finish the review, I had to let it go for a time.
The Olympus E-M5 is a very fine camera, one that serves my love of photography with form and features that are addictive. It very well fits my need to photograph, so my affinity for the Olympus OM-D E-M5 seems quite natural. Olympus' established and growing array of lenses are not just small, but of excellent quality, meaning a superb photography kit can fit into a small bag that's easy to bring along, not a monstrous, back-breaking burden. Olympus has realized the goal of a quality compact system camera that's capable of great photography, just like the original and enduring OM system of the last century.
Olympus E-M5 Image Quality
The crops below compare the Olympus E-M5 to the Olympus E-P3, Canon 7D, Fuji X-Pro1, Nikon D7000, and Panasonic G3.
Most decent cameras produce very good results at base ISO, but the E-M5 is interesting enough we wanted to show how it did at ISO 200 compared to similar cameras at their base ISO. We also like to see what they can do at ISO 1,600 and 3,200, and finally we'll compare high-contrast detail at base ISO, 3,200, and 6,400.
Note that these images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. Each camera was shot with one of our very sharp reference prime lenses.
Olympus E-M5 versus Olympus E-P3 at Base ISO
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 200
Olympus E-P3 at ISO 200
Olympus E-M5 versus Canon 7D at Base ISO
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 200
Olympus E-M5 versus Fuji X-Pro1 at Base ISO
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 200
Fuji X-Pro1 at ISO 200
Olympus E-M5 versus Nikon D7000 at Base ISO
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 200
Nikon D7000 at ISO 100
Olympus E-M5 versus Panasonic G3 at Base ISO
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 200
Panasonic G3 at ISO 160
How images look at 1,600 is also of importance.
Olympus E-M5 versus Olympus E-P3 at ISO 1,600
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 1,600
Olympus E-P3 at ISO 1,600
Olympus E-M5 versus Canon 7D at ISO 1,600
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 1,600
Olympus E-M5 versus Fuji X-Pro1 at ISO 1,600
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 1,600
Fuji X-Pro1 at ISO 1,600
Olympus E-M5 versus Nikon D7000 at ISO 1,600
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D7000 at ISO 1,600
Olympus E-M5 versus Panasonic G3 at ISO 1,600
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic G3 at ISO 1,600
Today's ISO 3,200 is yesterday's ISO 1,600 (well, almost), so below are the same crops at ISO 3,200.
Olympus E-M5 versus Olympus E-P3 at ISO 3,200
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 3,200
Olympus E-P3 at ISO 3,200
Olympus E-M5 versus Canon 7D at ISO 3,200
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 3,200
Olympus E-M5 versus Fuji X-Pro1 at ISO 3,200
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 3,200
Fuji X-Pro1 at ISO 3,200
Olympus E-M5 versus Nikon D7000 at ISO 3,200
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 3,200
Nikon D7000 at ISO 3,200
Olympus E-M5 versus Panasonic G3 at ISO 3,200
Olympus E-M5 at ISO 3,200
Panasonic G3 at ISO 3,200
Detail: Olympus E-M5 vs. E-P3, Canon 7D, Fuji X-Pro1, Nikon D7000, and Panasonic G3
Olympus E-M5 Print Quality
Excellent 24 x 36 inch prints at ISO 200; ISO 1,600 shots make great 16 x 20 inch prints; highest setting of 25,600 makes a good 4 x 6.
ISO 400 shots look quite good and crisp at 20 x 30 inches.
ISO 800 images look good at 20 x 30 inches, though some softness appears in low-contrast colors and slight luminance noise is visible in shadows.
ISO 1,600 images are a bit too soft in some areas for printing at 20 x 30 inches, but 16 x 20 inch prints look just fine.
ISO 3,200 images have some fine detail that prints well at 16 x 20, but other elements are soft, so we prefer prints at 13 x 19. Most reds look decent, but our difficult red leaf swatch is quite blurry, a common outcome that we'll just stipulate from here on up the ISO range.
ISO 6,400 prints have enough detail for good 8 x 10 inch prints.
ISO 12,800 images are too rough at 8 x 10, but look better at 5 x 7. Colors flatten just a little here, particularly greens, but most colors look pretty good.
ISO 25,600 are better at 4 x 6.
Overall, the Olympus E-M5 outperforms its Pen predecessors and produces excellent printed images across the ISO spectrum.
In the Box
- Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera
- Accessory flash
- Body cap
- 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ or 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens (if purchased as a kit)
- Front lens cap
- Rear lens cap
- Camera strap
- Lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- USB cable
- AV cable
- Warranty card
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- HLD-6G battery grip
- Fast, large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory card. These days, 8GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity, but if you plan to capture many movie clips or RAW files, consider larger.
- Camera case
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Conclusion
Olympus' new Micro Four Thirds flagship has made quite an impression. Not just enthusiasts, but pro photographers are taking the OM-D E-M5 and the platform's latest optics quite a bit more seriously. Our time with the OM-D E-M5 was pure fun. There was quite a bit to discover in the new design, and it all just worked better than before. As a big fan of the Pen cameras, the main author of this story was quite bowled over by how much more the E-M5 appealed to him.
Just holding the camera tells you there's something different about the E-M5. It's solid with or without the grip, and it has a more professional feel than most cameras in the category. Indeed, its sealed body is pretty robust, as our rugged use proved. Most appreciated is the E-M5's clear bias toward pro photographers. Olympus doesn't leave consumers out, with plenty of automatic modes to handle common situations and fun modes to make more interesting photos, but touches like the two top control dials for easier Manual exposure adjustment. The front EV dial can be a bit problematic, though, especially for novices who might not know why all their images are either over or underexposed.
The OM-D E-M5's rear OLED display tilts up and down for composition from more unique angles, but the design also includes an electronic viewfinder with a more conventional LCD inside for more careful, stable composition, as well as work in bright conditions.
Some of the controls were a little small for large hands, and also for gloved hands, so for some the OM-D E-M5 might be a little small. But overall the E-M5's controls are well-placed and easy to use. The 12-50mm kit lens is a little long for a kit lens, but its utility is comparable to a 24-105mm on a Canon 5D Mark II, in a much smaller package. Optical quality is also quite good, save for moderate chromatic aberration in the corners at wide angle.
Resolution and image quality was the most pleasant surprise with the OM-D E-M5, the best we've seen from a Micro Four Thirds camera. Even color was more accurate than we see from most SLRs, and high ISO images are much better than we've come to expect from Micro Four Thirds, rivaling APS-C SLRs. Printed image quality yields excellent 24 x 36-inch prints at ISO 200, good 20 x 30s to ISO 800, and even ISO 25,600 prints are good for a 4 x 6.
As we finalize this review, it's notable how many photographers are choosing the Olympus OM-D E-M5 as their new camera of choice. Its versatility is hard to deny: a small interchangeable lens digital camera with both an EVF and tilting OLED display that can autofocus incredibly fast, take crisp images across a wide ISO range, at up to nine frames per second, with an impressive built-in image stabilization system. It got our attention to be sure, and will remain one of our favorite digital cameras for some time to come, making it an obvious Dave's Pick.