Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review

May 14, 2012 | Mark Goldstein |


The E-M5 is the new flagship Micro Four Thirds compact system camera from Olympus. The first in a brand new range of cameras dubbed OM-D, the E-M5 is a classically styled 16.1 megapixel model that offers the world's fastest auto-focus system and the world’s first 5-axis image stabilisation system. Other key features of the Olympus OM-D EM-5 include a dust- and splash- proof magnesium-alloy body, 1.44-million-dot electronic viewfinder, 3 inch articulated OLED touchscreen, 9 frames per second burst shooting, full 1080p video, and a sensitivity range of ISO 200-25600. In the UK the Olympus OM-D is available in silver or black as a kit with the M.Zuiko DIGITAL ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens for £1149.99, and in the US it costs $999 body only or $1099 with the 12-50mm lens.

Ease of Use

The fourth generation of Olympus' mirror-less Micro Four Thirds system has arrived, but this time the digital Pen has been usurped at the top of the Olympus mirrorless line-up by OM-D, a new moniker that harps back to the Olympus OM film cameras of yesteryear. Despite its outwardly classic appearance, the OM-D EM-5 has some distinctly modern tricks up its proverbial sleeve, from the super-quick auto-focusing system to a clever in-body image stabilisation system that works with any lens that you care to fit. This camera is not merely a trip down memory lane. With silver or black body choices offered, we had the latter version of the E-M5 in for review, along with the M.Zuiko DIGITAL ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 kit lens.

The E-M5 is the second Olympus compact system camera to feature touch screen operation, although if you're not a fan you can for the most part get away without using it much at all, as there are a plethora of physical buttons which are either dedicated to specific functions or can be customized to suit. Indeed, the touch-sensitive interface hasn't led to a cleaner or more pared-down minimalist look, as say the touch-screen on Panasonic's latest GF5 camera.

So, dare we suggest this is a feature implemented because it could be, rather than should be? That comment would be justified, perhaps, if the 3-inch 4:3 aspect ratio screen wasn't also an OLED panel, as opposed to the common-or-garden LCD variety, with a super bright 610k-dot resolution. Images look particularly vivid with plenty of contrast when viewed on the E-M5's screen and happily this carries over when photos are downloaded to your desktop. The rear OLED screen can be tilted by a maximum of 80° upwards and 50° downwards, which helps when shooting from high and low angles, although we did miss being able to fully articulate the screen from left to right as well which always proves useful when shooting video.

Dragging a finger, and so the AF point, around the screen is a quick and easy way of following the subject, though inadvertently subsequently taping it will cause the shutter to fire. This facility can be deactivated by prodding the relevant shutter button icon on the touch screen, but it's just as easy to accidentally turn it on again; even via an action as incongruous as the button of your shirt connecting with the screen as you're wearing the E-M5 on a neck strap, or the thumb of your left hand straying as you handle the camera.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Olympus OM-D E-M5
Front Rear

The Live Guide first seen on the Pen cameras has been implemented on the E-M5. This lets users try out picture adjustments with the aid of an onscreen slider bar to adjust the likes of depth of field and see the results in real time before pressing the shutter release button with accessibility extended beyond iAuto mode. The Live Guide options are presented as a colourful toolbar on the left hand side of the screen.

From the top we have the ability to change colour saturation, from 'clear & vivid' to 'flat & muted', next down is the ability to alter 'colour image', which translates as shifting the tone between warm and cool via slider bar, with the third option shifting brightness/exposure between a simple bright and dark. The fourth option down is probably the most interesting/effective in that it provides the ability to incrementally blur the background of your shot by again dragging an indicator on a slider - thus providing a similar shallow depth of field effect to that achievable with a DSLR and suitable aperture.

For its latest Live Guide option Olympus has retained the curiously named 'Express Motions', which to us has always sounded more like a bowel movement than the actual emphasizing of subject motion by introducing blur. Well, in fact, there's the option to both blur any movement or stop it in its tracks, again achievable by dragging a slider indicator. The last option on this tool bar is a on-board shooting hints and tips manual, with the usual 'suspects' of photographing children and pets given the most prominence ('take a picture at their height level' being a summation of the level of advice imparted). We even get tips, as a bit of closet advertising, for attaching Olympus accessories, such as lens converters.

Low light sensitivity has been boosted on this latest Olympus compact system camera, jumping from ISO 12800 to a pro-like ISO 25600. This is partly down, say Olympus, to the implementation of the noise reducing TruePic VI processor. Unsurprisingly the E-M5 retains the Olympus unique selling point of on-board Art Filters, which are also worth singling out for praise, with the appearance of the new Key Line mode allowing the picture to look more like an outlined illustration. Interstingly these filters can be applied to Full HD video as well as stills.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Olympus OM-D E-M5
Top Flash

Instead of a built-in pop-up flash, the EM-5 is supplied with the diminutive FL-LM2 unit (guide number of 10/m at ISO 200) which clips into the external flash hotshoe and the accessory port, much like the flash on Sony's NEX cameras. While many will bemoan the lack of a true built-in unit, thankfully Olympus have chosen not to sell it as an optional accessory, and it does have the same dustproof and splashproof construction as the camera body. It may make the OM-D EM-5 look a little top-heavy when fitted, but at least you have the choice of whether to use it or not and it is compatible with wireless flash control.

Feeling very robust and reassuringly solid in the palm thanks to the magnesium-alloy body which boasts the same dust and splash-proof capability as the flagship E-5 Four Thirds camera, the E-M5's dimensions are 121.0 x 89.6 x 41.9 mm, so it's definitely one for a camera bag rather than pocket if the kit lens remains attached, with a body-only weight of 425g. There's a rather modestly sized, textured handgrip which is sufficient to be able to still hold the camera nice and steady when shooting handheld, ably assisted by the more pronounced thumb-grip on the rear.

Most image stabilization systems compensate for camera shake by correcting yaw and pitch. Olympus claim that camera shake is actually caused by five different kinds of motion, and their new image stabilization mechanism additionally corrects for horizontal shift, vertical shift and rotary motion (rolling) for both still images and movies. You can see some examples on the Image Quality page of this new system in action. We also had very few images that suffered from camera shake during the review period.

From the front the E-M5 has a streamlined look, with just a round lens release button to the right of the lens mount and an AF assist lamp above interrupting the otherwise feature-less faceplate. On top is a vacant flash hotshoe that sits directly above the lens, with a partially recessed shooting mode dial on the left hand-side when viewed from the rear. The coin-like dial has been given a surrounding ridged edge for easier purchase, with the options remaining the same as the E-P3's, being program, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual, video, scene modes, Art Filters and - the most obviously highlighted of all - iAuto mode.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Olympus OM-D E-M5
Tilting LCD Screen Front

There are 11 Art Filters in total, with Dramatic Tone and the self explanatory Gentle Sepia working the best for us, the former adding an intensely gritty look as if a photograph has been photo copied and vividly hand coloured. The Art Filter digital effects are applied at the time of capture which means write speeds are inevitably a couple of seconds longer than for regular images. When shooting using certain filters, such as Diorama or Dramatic Tone, the screen's refresh rate slows, providing a real time preview of how the eventual image may look.

Over to the right of the external flash hotshoe are the small-ish shutter release button, with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 readying itself for action in a second or so. Squeeze down halfway on the shutter release and the E-M5 very nearly instantaneously responds thanks to the new and awkwardly acromyned FAST (Frequency Acceleration Sensor Technology) system, the screen almost imperceptibly blurring before snapping back into focus, with the AF point flashing up in green with an accompanying bleep of confirmation. The E-M5 certainly delivers in terms of focusing speed and perhaps more importantly accuracy too, with very few false poisitives.

Take the shot and when shooting RAW and Fine (top quality) JPEG in tandem there's a wait of an acceptable three seconds before the shot is fully committed to the memory card. Buffer memory is such however that you don't have to wait that long to squeeze off another shot if the opportunity presents itself. Action photographers will appreciate the headling grabbing burst rate of 9fps, although that's only achieved by locking the focus point at the first frame of the sequence - the EM-5 can perform at a more modest maximum speed of 4.2fps when auto-focusing.

The shutter release is encircled by the first of two command dials. This one by default allows you to change the shutter speed or exposure compensation when using one of the more creative shooting modes, while the second that's positioned under your right thumb principally adjusts the aperture. It's a neat system that make using the manual mode in particular a lot simpler than on most rival cameras.

Alongside is the non-specific, user attributable 'Fn2' function button, on our review sample sensibly given over to adjusting the ISO speed. Completing the EM-5's top-plate is a red video record button. Press this to record, or stop recording, no matter which shooting mode is otherwise selected on the top dial. The EM-5 offers two different movie formats - the MOV format (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264) for more convenient post-editing on a PC has a 4Gb limit, and the AVI (Motion JPEG) format has a 2Gb limit - with VGA, 720p and 1080p sizes all available. Audio is recorded in linear PCM. Shooting modes include Aperture priority, Art Filter, Manual, Program and Shutter priority, while one-shot echo and multiecho effects can now be added to movies.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Olympus OM-D E-M5
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

Moving to the backplate of the E-M5, again the lineage from the Pen series to this model is clear. The second accessory port has been retained directly below the vacant hotshoe, and underneath again is the built-in electronic viewfinder. This is activated by a small button to the right that's virtually hidden from view, which toggles between the rear OLED screen and the new EVF.

The EVF is an impressively detailed 1.44 million dot high-definition unit with 100% field of view and 1.15x magnification. The EM-5 actually has two independent image-processing cores, one for the recorded images and the other for Live View images, so the live and recorded image appears very quickly on both the EVF and the rear screen. The new Live Bulb feature cleverly updates the image on the rear screen at pre-set intervals during bulb shooting, giving you a live preview of the exposure.

There's a built-in eye sensor which optionally switches between the electronic viewfinder and OLED screen automatically, and the EVF helpfully displays key shooting information along the bottom of the viewfinder. Another boon to productivity is the ability to preview manual and creative adjustments live through the EVF without having to lower the camera to look at the rear screen.

To the right again are two tiny buttons, the first for image playback and the second for the customisable Function 1 button. Just below these two buttons and the thumb-rest are dedicated and self-explanatory Menu and Info buttons, the latter toggling through various LCD views. Underneath again is a option-less 4-way navigation controller with a central OK button - pressing this accesses the E-M5's quick menu system, a handy onscreen vertical list of icons that provide quick access to most of the camera's main settings. In conjunction with the camera's plethora of external controls and its customisable buttons, this makes the E-M5 a pleasure to use. The final controls on the rear are the Delete button and the On/Off switch.

Chunky lugs for attaching the supplied shoulder strap hang at either side of the camera, thankfully out of the way of fingers and controls. On the left hand flank, if viewing the camera from the back, we find a pair of covered ports for joint USB/AV output and mini HDMI output respectively. On the right is a flip open cover protecting the memory card slot. There is the option here to use all varieties of SD media card, up to and including SDXC cards. On the bottom of the EM-5, slightly off-centre, is a screw thread for attaching a tripod, with the lockable battery compartment alongside. The BLN1 rechargeable lithium-ion battery supplied with the E-M5 is good for around 330 shots.