DCRP

Olympus OM-D EM-5 Review

Performance & Photo Quality

The OM-D EM-5 is one of the most responsive interchangeable lens cameras I've tested. The chart below summarizes its performance in a number of areas:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares
Startup 1.1 sec Average
Autofocus *
(Normal light)
0.1 - 0.3 secs (W)
0.2 - 0.6 secs (T)
Above average
Autofocus *
(Low light)
0.8 - 1.0 secs Above average
Shutter lag Not noticeable Above average
Shot-to-shot
(No flash)
~ 1 sec (JPEG)
~ 1 sec (RAW + JPEG)
Above average
Shot-to-shot
(Included flash)
~ 3 sec Average
* With 12 - 50 mm kit lens

Olympus says the OM-D has the fastest AF system of any ILC, and I think they're right. It focuses very quickly and accurately, so you'll rarely miss a shot. It's not just on the kit lens, either -- I tried some Panasonic lenses (new and old) and they were just as snappy. I was also pleasantly surprised by the very brief shot-to-shot delays -- you can literally take the next shot as fast as you can compose it.

The OM-D is capable of some very fast continuous shooting. There are two continuous modes to choose from, aptly named low and high speed. You can set the actual burst rate for those in the custom settings mode. Here's what kind of performance I was able to get out of the OM-D at the default frame rates (3.5 and 9 fps, respectively):

Image quality Low speed * High speed
RAW + Large/Fine JPEG 19 shots @ 3.5 fps 15 shots @ 8.9 fps
RAW 21 shots @ 3.5 fps 16 shots @ 9.0 fps
Large/Fine JPEG Unlimited @ 3.5 fps 18 shots @ 8.8 fps
Tested using a SanDisk UHS-I SDHC card

Well that's quite a performance! The E-M5 can't shoot at 9 frames/second forever, but what it does pull off is pretty darn good for a $999 camera. The IS system is turned off during a burst, though you can turn it on if you wish, though I assume the burst rate will drop. When the limits shown in the above table are reached the camera doesn't stop shooting -- it just slows down.

Let's talk about photo quality now, shall we?

I took our usual macro test shot with the 12 - 50 mm kit lens in its dedicated macro mode (described earlier in the review). I have absolutely no complaints about how the photo turned out. Color is nice and saturated, plenty of detail is captured, and there's no sign of noise.

The minimum distance to your subject depends on the lens you're using. In its special macro mode, the 12 - 50 mm kit lens can get as close as 20 cm. For the other kit lens (the 14-42), it's 25 cm. While Olympus doesn't sell any dedicated macro lenses, Panasonic has a pricey Leica model available.

I took the night test shot with my trusty Panasonic F4.0-5.6, 45 - 200 mm Micro Four Thirds lens. Well, it wasn't too trusty, as during my first attempt at taking these photos, it often mis-focused. After that, I went with manual focus, just to be safe. The results look pretty good. There isn't too much highlight clipping, especially by MFT standards. The image is fairly sharp, save for the left side, though that's a lens issue. There is some cyan and purple fringing here, but it's not horrible. You should be able to reduce this by either using small aperture when you take the photo, or removing it later on your PC.

Now, let's use that same night scene to see how the OM-D performs at higher sensitivities in low light:


ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600


ISO 3200


ISO 6400

ISO 12800

ISO 25600

The ISO 200 and 400 crops are more-or-less the same. You start to see some detail loss at ISO 800, but it's still usable for smaller prints. The detail loss increases at ISO 1600 and 3200, so I'd definitely switch to RAW (or stop increasing the sensitivity) at that point. ISO 6400 is a mushy mess, and it all goes downhill from there.

Can we squeeze more detail out of the ISO 1600 and 3200 photos by shooting RAW and performing some easy post-processing? Let's take a look:

ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 7.1 RC)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 7.1 RC)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

There's definitely an improvement, most notably at ISO 1600. Colors look better, there's more detail captured, and highlight clipping is reduced. You can also take advantage of the RAW format to reduce the amount of purple fringing in the photos.

We will do this all over again in normal lighting in a moment.

Night test shots updated on 5/19/12

Here's a pleasant surprise: there was no redeye to be found when using the included external flash. If you do encounter some, you can remove it using a tool in playback mode.


12 - 50 mm kit lens

There's mild-to-moderate barrel distortion on the 12 - 50 mm kit lens. I did not find vignetting or corner blurring to a problem with this lens. The 14-42 mm kit lens has performed well in my previous tests, as well.

Now it's time to see how the OM-D E-M5 performed in our studio ISO test. Since these photos are taken under consistent lighting, you can compare the results with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. Keep in mind that the crops only show a small portion of the test scene, so view the full size images too. And with that, let's travel from ISO 200 all the way to 25600!


ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800

ISO 25600

The OM-D produces photos that are free of noise all the way through ISO 800, with just a tiny increase at ISO 1600. ISO 3200 is still remarkably clean, and should be usable for all print sizes. Things start to get muddy at ISO 6400, so you're going to want to downsize your prints or switch to RAW at this point. I would pass on ISO 12800 and 25600, at least if you're using JPEGs. The OM-D is way better than the Olympus E-P3 at ISO 1600 and 3200, and beats out the Sony NEX-5N at ISO 6400.

Can we make those high ISO images look better by shooting RAW and spending 30 seconds in Photoshop? Let's take a look:

ISO 6400

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 7.1 RC)

RAW -> JPEG + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 12800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 7.1 RC)

RAW -> JPEG + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

Olympus is well known for having a great JPEG engine, but it looks like on the OM-D, you can get better results at the highest sensitivities by shooting RAW. Using RAW allows these two high sensitivity photos to become a lot more usable for mid-sized and large prints than the mushy JPEGs the camera produced.

Overall, I was very pleased with the photo quality on the Olympus OM-D EM-5. I'd say that it produces photos that are among the best of the interchangeable lens cameras on the market. Exposure was generally solid, with highlight clipping kept at a lower level than on most Micro Four Thirds cameras. I did find that the OM-D underexposes by 1/3 to 1/2 stop fairly often. Colors are nice and saturated, and even more so if you're in iAuto mode (which uses the i-Enhance Picture Mode). White balance got a bit funky in a few photos taken in artificial light, so that's something to keep an eye on. Photos are a tad bit soft (with the 12 - 50 mm lens), and if you agree, you might want to adjust whatever Picture Mode you're using to compensate for that. Photos are a tad bit soft, perhaps due to the effects of noise reduction, which seems to be more heavy-handed than on the Pen models. As the preceding tests illustrate, the OM-D keeps noise levels low through ISO 3200 in good light. Low light performance wasn't quite as impressive, with detail smudging becoming quite apparent at ISO 1600. For best results at high ISOs, shoot RAW. Purple fringing will mainly depend on your choice of lens, and it was relatively low in most cases.

As always, don't take my words as gospel. Instead, load up our photo gallery and view the photos with your own eyes. Hopefully then you'll be able to make a decision about the OM-D's image quality!

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