Olympus OM-D EM-5 Review
Olympus' OM-D EM-5 is their flagship Micro Four Thirds camera, and it performs at the level that one would expect for a product with that title. It has a well-built and compact weather-sealed magnesium alloy body (available in silver or black) that evokes the style of the old Olympus OM film cameras. While holding the E-M5 is fairly easy, I much preferred using it with "part one" of the optional battery grip. The camera's compact body also leads to what I consider its biggest flaw: button clutter. The OM-D has over a dozen chicklet-sized buttons scattered across the body, most of which are crammed together. This makes it quite easy to accidentally press the wrong button, which I did on numerous occasions.
The OM-D supports all Micro Four Thirds lenses with a 2X crop factor, and can use "classic" Four Thirds lenses via an optional adapter. The camera has a new "five-axis" sensor-shift IS system, which brings shake reduction to every lens you attach. Some folks may be bothered by the "hiss" produced by the IS system, though it didn't really get to me. On the back of the camera is a gorgeous 3-inch articulating touchscreen OLED display (say that three times fast) with 610,000 pixels. The display is bright, colorful, and has a wide viewing angle. The only problem is that, like all OLEDs, outdoor visibility is pretty lousy. The OM-D also features a large and sharp electronic viewfinder. The camera lacks a built-in flash, so you'll need to carry around the small external one that Olympus includes (or something larger).
While the OM-D is undoubtedly aimed toward enthusiasts, Olympus hasn't forgotten about the folks who want a point-and-shoot experience. They've included their iAuto mode, which selects a scene mode automatically, plus a ton of other scene modes that you can pick manually. And let's not forget a wide selection of Art Filters, many of which can be combined and customized. Enthusiasts will be pleased with the OM-D's large selection of manual controls, which include those for exposure (including a bulb mode), white balance, real-time tone curve adjustment, multiple ways to bracket, and support for the RAW image format. There are a ton of custom settings, and the camera has probably the largest selection of customizable buttons of any interchangeable lens camera (at least when the grip and 12-50 kit lens are attached). The OM-D also features Full HD video recording at 1080/60i (though the sensor output is 30p) with stereo sound. Continuous autofocus is available while you're recording movies, though I found that it's constantly hunting for focus, which makes your movies look awkward. The 5-axis IS system is available as well, and the OM-D gives you the ability to adjust exposure and the microphone level manually.
Performance is absolutely one of the OM-D's strong suits. The camera takes a little over a second before you can take a shot, and then it's off to the races. Olympus has appropriately named their AF system "FAST", and it certainly lives up to the hype. The OM-D focuses faster than any ILC that I've used, whether you're outdoors or in low light. I didn't find shutter lag to be a problem, and shot-to-shot delays were very brief. The OM-D can shoot continuously at a whopping 9 frames/second, slowing down after 15-18 shots (depending on the image quality setting). Battery life on the camera is about 10% below average for high-end ILCs, so I'd recommend picking up a spare battery (and maybe that nice battery grip, too).
The OM-D produces photos of very good quality. The only real issues I had were exposure-related (and minor, at that) -- the camera tends to underexpose slightly, and it will clip highlights at time (though it's not as bad as previous Micro Four Thirds cameras). Colors were nice and saturated, though there was a bit of a color cast in artificial lighting. Images are slightly soft, probably due to the heavier-than-normal amount of noise reduction being applied here. You can try turning the noise filter down or just increasing the in-camera sharpening to get around this -- or just shoot RAW. The OM-D keeps noise levels down through ISO 3200 in good light, and ISO 1600 in low light. Once you get to those points, you'll want to switch to RAW for noticeably better image quality. Purple fringing levels were relatively low with the lenses I tested. Redeye was not an issue with the included external flash.
Overall, the Olympus OM-D EM-5 is an excellent Micro Four Thirds camera, assuming that you can survive with the less-than-stellar ergonomics. It produces very good photos and HD movies, performs extremely well, has a large feature set, and has top-notch build quality. Besides the button clutter issue I described above, its other "big" downsides include poor outdoor OLED visibility and focus hunting in movie mode. If you're looking for a premium interchangeable lens camera then I'd definitely recommend the OM-D, but do yourself a favor and see what you think about the ergonomics first.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality (though best results are achieved by shooting RAW)
- Well-built, weather-sealed metal body with a retro flair
- Five-axis, sensor-shift image stabilization system
- Beautiful 3-inch articulating touchscreen OLED display with 610,000 pixels, plus a large and sharp EVF
- Full manual controls, with lots of white balance options, five kinds of bracketing, real-time tone curve adjustment, custom functions, and RAW support
- Lots of custom buttons, especially if you have the battery grip
- iAuto mode picks a scene mode for you, finds and tracks faces, and enhances colors
- Super-fast autofocus, shot-to-shot speeds
- Continuous shooting as fast as 9 frames/second
- Live Guide, menu help system, and shooting tips make camera accessible to beginners
- Fun Art Filters, which can be fine-tuned and combined
- Handy two-axis electronic level
- Full HD video recording with stereo sound, continuous AF, use of IS system, and manual controls; cool new "echo" effect
- Lots of optional accessories, including highly recommended two-part battery grip, Bluetooth transmitter, Macro Arm Light, and underwater case
What I didn't care for:
- Occasional underexposure and highlight clipping
- Tiny, cluttered button layout makes it way too easy to accidentally press the wrong one
- OLED display difficult to see outdoors
- AF system tends to "hunt" when recording movies
- "Hiss" from IS system may bother some folks
- No built-in flash (though included external flash is pretty good)
- Movies cannot be edited in-camera
- Full manual on CD-ROM
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and its competitors before you buy!
Check out our photo gallery to see how the E-M5's image quality looks!