Olympus OM-D EM-5 Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

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:

Camera Battery life w/live view
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Nikon 1 J1 230 shots EN-EL20
Olympus OM-D E-M5 330 shots BLN-1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 330 shots * DMW-BLC12
Pentax K-01 500 shots D-LI90
Samsung NX20 360 shots BP1310
Sony Alpha NEX-7 430 shots NP-FW50

* With the 14 - 42 mm kit lens

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

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:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
External flash


From $192
From $299
From $499
The FL-300R is a compact flash with a GN of 28 (at ISO 200). The FL-600R is more powerful and can tilt/swivel. It also has a built-in video lamp. The FL-50R is an even more powerful flash, but lacks the video lamp. All three support wireless connectivity.
Power battery holder HLD-6 From $300 Described above, this two part battery grip doubles your battery life, makes the camera easier to hold, and adds additional buttons for portrait shooting.
Four Thirds Adapter MMF-3 From $177 This weather-sealed adapter you use "regular" Four Thirds lenses on the E-M5. Do note that not all lenses will support autofocus.
Remote shutter release RM-UC1 $37 A shutter release button on a 1 meter long cable. Good for tripod shooting.
AC adapter AC-3 ?? Power the camera without draining your battery. Requires the HLD-6 battery grip!
Eyecup EP-11 $19 A larger eyecup for the EVF lets in less ambient light than the included one.
External mic adapter SEMA-1 $61 Includes a stereo mic adapter that attaches to the hot shoe (and plugs into the accessory port), a clip-on stereo mic, and an extension cable.
Macro Arm Light MAL-1 $51 Two LED lamps on flexible metal arms, which can be positioned in almost any fashion. Lamps operate independently of each other, with two brightness settings to choose from. Plugs into the accessory port.
PENPAL PP-1 $55 Allows you to wirelessly transmit photos over Bluetooth to a mobile phone or laptop. Internal memory holds 2600 photos.
Underwater housing PT-E08 ?? This pricey underwater case lets you take the camera and its kit lens up to 45 meters underwater. Other lenses can be used with the appropriate adapter.
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

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.