Originally Posted: May 18, 2012
Last Updated: May 30, 2012
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 (from $999) is the flagship camera in the Japanese camera giant's Micro Four Thirds lineup. it's the "professional" camera that Micro Four Thirds owners have been dreaming of for years. The E-M5 improves upon the features found on the E-P3 and puts them into a weather-sealed body reminiscent of Olympus' classic OM film cameras.
Here are some of the top features on the E-M5:
- Dust and splash-proof magnesium alloy body, designed in the spirit of Olympus OM film cameras
- 16 Megapixel Live MOS sensor
- Micro Four Thirds lens mount; classic Four Thirds lenses can be used via optional adapter
- World's first 5-axis image stabilization
- "FAST" AF system, which Olympus says is the fastest in the world, with 3D tracking
- Articulating 3-inch touchscreen OLED display with 610,000 pixels
- 1.44 million dot electronic viewfinder with a 120 fps refresh rate
- Dual control dials for quick setting adjustment
- More buttons than you can shake a stick at
- Continuous shooting at 9 frames/second
- Dual-axis electronic level
- Wireless flash control via included FL-LM2 flash
- Multiple art filters and aspect ratios
- Full HD video with manual controls
- Optional two-part battery grip
That's quite a list -- and there are plenty of other interesting features I'll cover throughout the review. And with that in mind, let's begin our look at the Olympus OM-D E-M5!
I'll be using the names OM-D and EM-5 interchangeably throughout this review.
What's in the Box?
The E-M5 comes in three different kits. You can get it body only for $999, with a 14-42 lens for $1099, or with the new 12-50 lens for $1299. You can choose between black and silver bodies for all of those, save for the 14-42 kit, which is black only. Here's what you'll find in the box for all of those:
- The 16.1 effective Megapixel Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera body
- F3.5-6.3, 12 - 50 mm M. Zuiko power zoom lens [12-50 kit only]
- F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm M. Zuiko zoom lens [14-42 kit only]
- BLN-1 lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- FL-LM2 external flash w/carrying case
- Body cap
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Olympus Viewer 2 software
- Basic manual (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM
The F3.5-6.3, 12 - 50 mm kit lens
The 14 - 42 mm lens that comes with the E-M5 is the same second generation kit lens that comes with the latest Pen models. It's definitely one of the better kit lenses on the market. Perhaps a more enticing option is the new 12 - 50 mm lens, which is water-resistant, just like the camera. It's also the first power zoom lens from Olympus (Panasonic already has two), allowing you to zoom in and out by twisting the lens in one direction or the other. Want to zoom the old-fashioned way? Just pull the zoom ring toward you and it'll be just a regular lens. I found it very easy to accidentally switch between the two modes, and would've preferred a switch instead of the method Olympus used here. This lens also has a dedicated macro mode, which reduces the minimum focus distance from 35 to 20 cm. Just hold down the macro button and move the lens ring, and you're set. This lens produced sharp photos from corner to corner during my time with the E-M5.
The E-M5 also works with "legacy" Four Thirds lenses, via the optional MMF-3 adapter (which is weather-sealed). Do note that some older Four Thirds lenses may not support continuous autofocus. You can also use classic Olympus OM lenses via another optional adapter (MF-2), which definitely not have autofocus.
Regardless of what lens you have attached to the E-M5, there will be a 2X focal length conversion ratio. Therefore, the 14 - 42 mm kit lens has a field-of-view of 28 - 84 mm.
Interchangeable lens cameras like the E-M5 never come with memory cards. So, if you don't have one already, you'll need to pick one up. The E-M5 supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards (including the super fast UHS-I cards). If you're mostly taking stills, then a 4GB card is probably fine. If you plan on taking a lot of movies, then you'll want something like an 8GB or 16GB card, instead. Picking up a high speed card (Class 6 or higher) is a good idea, especially if you'll be taking Full HD videos.
The EM-5 uses the brand spankin' new BLN-1 lithium-ion battery for power. This battery is fairly compact, yet still manages to hold 9.3 Wh worth of energy. Here's how that translates into battery life:
Despite having a powerful battery, the E-M5 still finds itself about 10% below the average among this group of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. You can buy a spare battery for a whopping $64, or better yet, pick up the battery grip shown below.
|Only the right hand grip is installed here. Sorry about the finger, the camera doesn't balance with this lens.||Here's the full grip, with the extra battery compartment, buttons, and dials|
The HLD-6 battery grip ($300) is super cool, and not just because it doubles your battery life. It comes in two parts: just the right hand grip, or the full banana. I much prefer holding the OM-D with the right hand grip attached, so on it went as soon as it came out of the box. Screwing on the battery portion of the grip gives you another battery slot, duplicate dials and shutter release for portrait shooting, and two customizable buttons. The one downside of the grip is that some of the buttons (namely movie and Fn2) become harder to reach. For those wondering, the OM-D is the first mirrorless ILC to support a grip of any kind.
When it's time to charge your BLN-1 battery, just pop it into the included charger. This charger, which requires a power cable, takes up to four hours to fully charge the battery, so you might want to go out for dinner while it's doing its thing.
The E-M5 supports a boatload of accessories, as you'd expect from a flagship ILC. Here are some of the highlights:
That's a pretty impressive list for a mirrorless camera! I should add that the 14 - 42 mm kit lens also supports macro, wide-angle, and fisheye adapters, which range in price from $50 to $120.
Olympus includes their Viewer 2 software (for Mac and Windows) with the OM-D. Olympus Viewer can be used to transfer, organize, edit, and share your photos. There are numerous editing controls, plus the ability to work with RAW files (albeit slowly). In theory, the Viewer software should be able to let you perform basic edits on movies, but the only thing that worked for me was saving a frame as a still. Olympus Viewer can also be used to update the firmware on your camera and lenses.
If you want to use Photoshop to edit the OM-D's RAW files, then you'll need to be running Camera RAW plug-in version 6.7 for CS5, and 7.1 for CS6.
Despite its flagship status, the OM-D EM-5 still gets the low-end treatment when it comes to documentation. There's a 31 page "basic manual" in the box that'll get you up and running, but for more details, you'll need to load up the full manual, which is included in PDF format on a CD-ROM disc. The manuals certainly aren't what I'd call user-friendly, but they should answer almost any question you'll have about the camera. Instructions for using Olympus Viewer will be installed on your PC.
Design & Features
The Olympus OM-D EM-5 is a compact interchangeable lens camera with a design that hearkens back to the OM film cameras from the 70's and 80's. The body is made of a magnesium alloy and feels solid and relatively light at the same time. All the buttons, dials, and doors are sealed against dust and moisture, so the camera can survive out in the elements.
Ergonomically speaking, the EM-5 leaves something to be desired, at least in this reviewer's opinion. First off, there's very little room for your thumb on the back of the camera, especially if you don't want to accidentally press a button. The front grip is quite small, and doesn't provide a lot of confidence. You also need to watch where you put the fingers of your left hand, as it's fairly easy to block the AF-assist lamp. Attaching the battery grip, even just the first "section", makes the camera much easier to hold. The E-M5 is a poster child for button clutter, with twelve miniature buttons crammed tightly together on the top and backside. The most frustrating buttons have to be those making up the four-way controller. I may have larger fingers than most, but I found myself pressing the wrong button frequently, especially when using the menus. I also found the playback and Fn1 buttons to be hard to reach, and the Fn2 and movie buttons on the top of the camera are easy to mistake for one another. The twin dials, on the other hand, are well placed and don't require moving your hand. I highly recommend trying the OM-D in person to see what you think about its ergonomics.
Image courtesy of Olympus
As I mentioned earlier, the OM-D is available in black and silver. The silver model seems to bring out more of the retro feel than the black one, but that's just my opinion.
Now let's see how the E-M5 compares to other interchangeable lens cameras in its class in terms of size and weight:
The table tells the story: the E-M5 is right in the middle of the pack in terms of bulk and weight. While you may be able to squeeze it into a large pocket with a smaller lens attached, I found that it travels much better over your shoulder or in a camera bag.
Let's start our tour of the OM-D now, using our tabbed interface:
Here you can see the OM-D EM-5 without a lens, showing off its Micro Four Thirds lens mount and new 16 Megapixel Live MOS sensor. I already told you quite a bit about the lens system in the preceding section, but if you weren't paying attention: you can use any of the growing collection of Micro Four Thirds lenses with a 2X crop factor. Original Four Thirds lenses can be used as well, with the appropriate adapter. To release a lens, press the button located to the right of the mount.
Like Olympus' PEN-series interchangeable lens cameras, the OM-D has sensor-shift image stabilization built in to the body. That means that every lens you attach to the camera will have shake reduction. This isn't just any image stabilization system, though -- it's the world's first 5-axis shake reduction system. It corrects for the usual up/down and left/right movement, plus movement along the X and Y axis, and even rotational movement. This movie that Olympus produced shows it in action. This system is controlled by magnets, and they make a distinct "hissing" noise, almost like there's a fan inside the camera. This sound even when the IS system is turned off. I didn't seem to get picked up by the camera's microphone, which is a good thing.
Like all of Olympus' interchangeable lens cameras, the OM-D features their Supersonic Wave Filter dust removal system. This uses ultrasonic waves to literally blast dust off of the sensor when the camera is turned on. I've been using Micro Four Thirds cameras for years and am yet to have a dust problem.
Above the Olympus logo is the FL-LM2 external flash, which is included with the camera. This flash mounts via the hot shot, but actually connects to the camera via the Accessory Port. The flash has a guide number of 10 at ISO 200, which is equivalent to GN 7 at ISO 100. This flash can also be used to control other flashes wirelessly. To turn it on, just lift it up. Pushing it down will disable it.
The last thing to see here is the AF-assist lamp, located at the top-right of the photo. Do watch your fingers around this lamp, as it's pretty easy to block with them.
This back-angled view of the OM-D shows its 3-inch OLED display, which pulls away from the camera and tilts up and down. The screen tilts up 80 degrees, and down 50 degrees, which comes in handy when the camera is above or below you.
Here's the OLED display in a more traditional position. The screen has 610,000 pixels, and is sharp and bright, with vivid colors (an OLED trademark). Outdoor visibility was never an OLED strong suit, and that's the case on the OM-D. Low light visibility is better, with the best results seen when Live View Boost is turned on. This display is also touch-enabled, and I'll tell you what you can do with it after the tour.
Straight above the OLED display is the camera's beautiful electronic viewfinder (EVF). This viewfinder has 1.44 million dots, which translates into top-notch sharpness. The viewfinder is large, with a 1.15X magnification and, as you'd expect, 100% of the frame is shown. I found the EVF very easy to use outdoors, and you'll again get the best low light results by using the Live View Boost feature. An eye sensor detects when you put your eye up to the EVF, and there's also a button to toggle between the two. You can focus the image on the screen by using the diopter correction knob on its left side.
Just above the EVF is the Accessory Port, which is normally protected by a plastic cover. It is here where you'll plug in the included flash or optional microphone, Macro Arm Light, or PENPAL.
Now let's talk buttons. The first two of note are the playback and Fn1 (custom) buttons, which are wedged into a crevice just above the thumb grip. In my opinion they should have been larger and more prominently placed.
Moving downward, we have more small buttons, which include those for opening the menu, toggling what's shown on the LCD/EVF, and deleting photos. The four-way controller is also here, which is used for menu navigation, focus point selection, and replaying images (among other things).
The last thing to see here is the power switch.
At the far left, you'll see the E-M5's mode dial, which is a mirror image of the one found on the E-P3. I'll tell you more about the options on the dial after the tour.
Moving to the right you can see the camera's hot shoe. As is usually the case, you'll get best results with the various Olympus flashes out there, as they'll sync with the camera's metering system. You can also take advantage of the flash's zoom feature, AF-assist lamp, and high speed x-sync capability. The included flash only uses the hot shoe as a mount, and communicates with the camera via the Accessory Port. The included flash (and most modern Olympus flashes) can be used as "masters" to control wireless slave flashes. If you're not using an Olympus flash, you'll have to set the exposure manually, with a x-sync limit of 1/250 sec.
They're hard to see here, but the two tiny holes just above left/right from the hot shoe make up the E-M5's stereo microphone.
Continuing to the right, you'll see both of the camera's dials, with the smaller one having the shutter release button inside it. You can use both of these dials for a number of things most notably adjusting manual exposure settings. The smaller dial handles exposure compensation (by default), in case you're wondering where the button for that is.
The final items of note here include the movie recording and Fn2 buttons, with the latter being the second customizable button on the camera. I'll tell you what kind of functions you can assign to these buttons after the tour.
Here's a look at one side of the camera. I want to first point out the two buttons on the 12 - 50 mm kit lens. The L-Fn button's function (no pun intended) is customizable, just like Fn1 and Fn2. If you hold down the macro button and move the lens ring to the left (in this photo), the lens will be able to focus down to 20 cm, instead of the standard 35 cm. The catch is that the focal length is locked just shy of full telephoto.
Moving to the camera body itself, you may be able to spot the speaker, which is three holes right next to the I/O compartment.
Speaking of I/O compartments, you'll need to pull the LCD back from the camera in order to remove the rubber cover that protects it. Once that's done you'll find a multi-function port that handles USB, A/V output, and wired remote input, as well as a micro-HDMI port.
On right side of the camera you'll find its memory card slot, which is kept under a sealed plastic door of decent quality.
Over on the 12 - 50 mm lens is a window with words that you probably can't make out inside it. It shows what the current zoom settings is: electronic (E-Zoom), manual (M-Zoom), or macro.
On the bottom of the OM-D EM-5 is a metal tripod mount, which is surprisingly not in-line with the lens (no room?). If you attach the optional grip (just the first part), the tripod mount will then be lined up properly. The battery portion of the grip again puts the mount off to the side.
To the right of that, under a rubber cover, are the contacts that digitally connect the camera to the optional battery grip (they're physically connected by the tripod mount). The two parts of the grip are connected in the same way.
At th far right of the photo is the battery compartment, which is covered by a door of decent quality. Speaking of batteries, you can spot the new BLN-1 battery at the lower-right of the photo.
The "view" in live view, with the electronic level activated
Before I start talking about features, let me remind you that since the OM-D E-M5 is a mirrorless camera, all photos are composed with live view on the OLED or electronic viewfinder. There you'll get super-fast contrast detect autofocus, face detection, a live histogram, real-time shadow/highlight adjustment, focus point enlargement, and much more. A handy electronic level, which works for both pitch and tilt, is also available.
There are several contrast-detect focus modes available on the OM-D. There's 35-point auto, 9-point area, or 1-point spot. The face detection feature is so elaborate that you can choose which eye the camera focuses on.
You can adjust the tone curve using the OM-D's two dials
Ever wanted to adjust the tone curve in real-time? The OM-D can do just that. First you need to have the multi-function feature assigned to Fn2. Press that once and the tone curve appears on the display or EVF. From there you can use the sub-dial to adjust highlights, and the main dial to handle shadows. The results are seen instantly.
The OM-D's 3-inch OLED display is touch-capable, and here's what you can do with it:
- Touch focus: tap the area of the screen on which you want to focus, and the camera will do the rest
- Touch shutter: similar to the above, but the camera will take a picture too
- Touch menus: you can use your finger to work with the Live Guide as well as the Super Control Panel (both described below)
- Touch playback: swipe your fingers to move between photos; tap to zoom in and scroll around
Olympus has done a nice job of making the touch interface as unobtrusive as possible. If you want to use it, it's there. If not, it won't slow you down.
Now it's time to talk about the items on the OM-D's mode dial, which include:
As you can see, there are options on the mode dial for just about everyone.
|The Live Guide can be opened using the touchscreen or the four-way controller||Adjusting exposure (including shadow/highlight detail) using the Live Guide|
If you want a point-and-shoot experience, set the mode dial to the iAuto position, and the camera will do the rest. It'll pick a scene mode for you, enhance colors (more so than in other modes), and detect any faces in the scene. If you "pull out" the tab on the right side of the display (with your finger or by pressing the OK button), you'll find the Live Guide interface. This allows you to change the saturation, color image (white balance), brightness (with individual controls for shadows and highlights), background blur, and motion freezing (for lack of a better word), without having to know any technical jargon. Here you'll also find shooting tips that will help you take better photos of kids, pets, food, flowers, and more.
Art Filter menu
The E-M5 has the usual assortment of scene modes, plus a slightly new assortment of Art Filters. The only new filter is key line, which you can see in action in this photo. Most of the Art Filters can be tweaked. For example, you can change the color tone of a pinhole filter photo. You can also apply the soft focus and pin hole filters to other Art Filters, as well as add borders, white edges, or a starlight (light trail) effect to them. Not sure what Art Filter you wish to use? Turn on Art Bracket and get all of them in one shot!
Naturally, the E-M5 has full manual exposure controls, as well. You can adjust the aperture, shutter speed, or both. There's also a bulb mode, and I'd recommend picking up the optional wired remote if you plan on using that. A "bulb timer" lets you select how long the exposure will last, which will give your finger some rest. The RAW file format is supported, and I'll have more on that later when we get to the photo tests. While there's no spot on the mode dial on which to store your favorite settings, you can keep up to four sets of camera settings in memory, and recall them easily via one of the customizable buttons.
Fine-tuning white balance in the amber-blue or green-magenta directions
White balance in numerous ways. There are the usual presets, two custom spots (for using a white or gray card), and the ability to set the color temperature. You can also fine-tune the white balance for each setting (or all of them), or just bracket for it.
Speaking of bracketing, the E-M5 supports five different types of this feature. You can bracket for exposure (2-7 shots), white balance (3 shots each in the amber-blue or green-magenta directions), flash exposure (3 shots), ISO sensitivity (3 shots), and Art Filter.
|The Live Control Menu is a quick way to adjust camera settings.||It's the Super Control Panel, now sort-of touch-enabled!|
When you're shooting in the P/A/S/M modes, you can use the Live Control Menu shown above left. This shortcut menu saves you a trip to the much more complex main menu. I'll tell you more about some of the items in this menu in just a moment. Old-time Olympus users may miss the Super Control Panel, but don't worry, it's there -- you need to turn it on first via an option deep in the menu, and then hit the Info button when the Live Control Menu is displayed. The Super Control Panel is compatible with the touchscreen, but you can only select an item on it with your finger -- actually changing the setting requires buttons or dials.
|Shooting menu, with help screen||Top level of the custom settings menu|
All of the other photo-related features that I want to talk about are in the E-M5's menu system. The menus are attractive, though some items are buried way too deep in the custom settings menu. Speaking of which, you'll need to turn on the custom settings menu -- as well as one for the Accessory Port -- via an option in the setup menu. By pressing the Info button, you can see a brief description of the selected menu item, which is a nice touch. Alright, here are the most interesting features from the menus:
- Picture Mode: each "mode" contains a set of image parameters, which include contrast, sharpness, saturation, gradation, plus black & white and monotone filters; there are six preset modes -- including an i-Enhance mode (only used in iAuto mode) that enhances the primary color in a photo -- plus a custom mode, each of which can be tweaked to your heart's content. This menu is also how you'll access Art Filters in the manual shooting modes.
- Image quality: there are numerous resolutions and quality settings to choose from, plus RAW and RAW+JPEG support. A RAW image takes up about 17 MB of space on your memory card, while a Large/Fine JPEG weighs in at 7.5 MB. There's a Super Fine JPEG option that you can turn on, which uses less compression and creates files 11 MB in size.
- Image Aspect: choose from 4:3, 16:9, 3:2, 1:1, and 3:4; while JPEGs are cropped, RAW images have the cropped area selected, so you're not totally committed to the chosen ratio
- Drive mode: here's where you'll get to the low and high speed continuous shooting modes (more on this later), as well as a 2 or 12 second self-timer
- Bracketing: as I mentioned earlier, the E-M5 can bracket for exposure, white balance, flash exposure, ISO, and Art Filter.
- Multiple Exposure: combine up to two exposures into a single image, with auto gain adjustment; you can also overlay a new photo over an existing RAW image
- Flash RC mode: turns on wireless flash control, assuming that you have a flash attached to the hot shoe!
- AF mode: select between single, continuous, manual, or a combination of two of those, for stills and movies
- Full-time AF: camera is always focusing, even when the shutter release isn't pressed; puts an extra strain on your battery, though
- MF-assist: the image is enlarged on the display/EVF when manually focusing
- Button function: here's where you can set the function of all the custom buttons on the camera and grip, as well as the four-way controller; see below for more
- Dial function/direction: choose what the main and sub-dials do in the various shooting modes, and which way you prefer to turn them
- Burst speeds: choose the frame rate for low (1-4 fps) and high speed (5-9 fps) burst shooting
- Burst + IS: whether the IS system is disabled during continuous shooting (it's off by default)
- Record Control settings: turn on the Live Control Menu, Live Guide, Super Control panel, and more
- Playback/Info settings: choose what information is shown during recording (histogram, level, highlights/shadows) and playback (same)
- ISO settings: you can select from ISO 200 and 25600 (in either 1/3 or 1EV step), or use Auto ISO. You can choose the minimum and maximum values used for the Auto ISO setting
- Live View Boost: brightens the view in low light on both the OLED display and the EVF
- Noise reduction: you can turn long exposure NR on or off, and adjust how much NR is applied to high ISO images by playing with the Noise Filter
- Shading compensation: supposed to reduce vignetting
- EVF settings: choose what information is shown and how it is presented
- EVF Auto Switch: turn the eye sensor on and off
- EVF frame rate: select from normal or high refresh rates
- Exposure shift: you can manually tweak the exposure for each of the metering modes
- Battery priority: choose which battery is used first when the grip is attached
- Touch screen settings: turn touch features on or off here
One of two pages worth of button customization options
I want to briefly touch on the button customization options. You can customize six buttons on the camera, two on the optional grip, and one on the 12 - 50 mm kit lens. Most of the major menu items can be assigned to these buttons, such as ISO, manual focus, RAW, drive, and MySet (where you save custom settings). If you want to make the four-way controller handle something other than focus point selection, here's the place to do it. The Fn2 button also has the ability to be handle multiple functions. Holding down this button lets you select from the tone curve adjustment I showed you earlier, plus white balance, image magnification, and aspect ratio.
Let's move on to movie recording. The E-M5 can record Full HD video (1920 x 1080) at 60i (sensor output is 30p) with stereo sound, using the H.264 codec. You can keep recording until the elapsed time reaches 29 minutes. There are two quality levels to choose from at the Full HD setting (Fine and Normal), with the only difference being the bit rate. You can also shoot at 1280 x 720 (60p), with two quality settings available. If you'd rather use Motion JPEG instead of H.264, you can record at 720p30 or 640 x 480 until the file size reaches 2GB.
The E-M5 can focus continuously while recording a movie, so you need not worry if your subject is moving around, or if you've adjusted the focal length. The camera does tend to "hunt" a lot when using C-AF, which gets annoying quickly (see sample movie for an example). Unlike the three Pen models, the OM-D can use its 5-axis IS system while recording a movie.
You can record movies in any shooting mode using the "red button" on the back of the camera. Put the camera into the dedicated movie mode and then you can adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. The microphone sensitivity and a wind filter can also be adjusted. You can use any of the Art Filters in your movies, as well, though the frame rate may drop for some of them. While you cannot take a still while you're recording a movie, you do have the option to take one when the clip ends.
There are two special effects -- one-shot echo and multi-echo -- which are new to Olympus cameras. These effects leave a sort of "trail" (or after-image) behind moving subjects, which looks pretty neat. If you head over to the Features page on the official OM-D site and go to "Full High Definition Movies" and then select the link at the bottom of the page, you'll see some of examples of this feature.
Here's a very long sample movie that I took from the Golden Gate Bridge, at the highest quality setting. While it generally looks and sounds lovely, you will notice that the camera repeatedly hunts for focus. I noticed this in some other movies I took, as well. In hindsight, I should've stuck with S-AF for this one. Since this movie is so large, I've also provided a link to a 720p version hosted by Vimeo. Enjoy!
Who's ready for a vacation?
The E-M5 has a pretty nice playback mode, with quite a few editing options (for stills, at least). Some of the notable features you'll find here include:
- Calendar view: quickly jump to photos taken on a certain date
- Zoom paging: enlarge an image with the main dial, position the view with the four-way controller, then use the sub-dial to move to the same spot in other images
- JPEG edit: allows you to brighten shadows, remove redeye, change a photo to B&W or sepia, remove skin blemishes, and more
- RAW edit: applies the current camera settings to a selected RAW image, and saves the changes as a JPEG; wish this worked like it does on Pentax cameras, where you can actually edit the properties while viewing the image
- Image overlay: combine up to three RAW images into a single photo
Unfortunately, there's no way to edit movies on the OM-D EM-5.
Something that did drive me nuts about playback mode is that if you happen to catch the attention of the EVF eye sensor with your hand, the camera will exit playback mode. I see the point of this (you can quickly take a photo), but since the camera is so small, it's really easy to do this accidentally.
By default, the camera doesn't show you much information about your photos. However, a quick press of the info button will give you a lot more, including histograms and "blinking" over and underexposed areas of your photo.
The E-M5 between photos instantly in playback mode. You can use your finger to swipe between images, or just the four-way controller.
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:
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):
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:
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:
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!
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:
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!
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!