Olympus OM-D E-M5

Can a classic camera inspire a digital masterpiece? In the case of the Olympus OM-D the answer is yes, with updates to its feature set and a snappy performance.


8.7
CNET Rating

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Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.


Design and features

Olympus has come to be known for its retro-tastic camera designs, catapulted by the launch of the Pen series of interchangeable lens cameras, just a few years ago. The OM-D E-5 borrows bits and pieces of the aesthetic from classic Olympus OM cameras, but updates them just enough to make the camera feel contemporary.

In terms of construction, the OM-D consists of a magnesium-alloy body with splash-proof elements that bring to mind the Olympus SLR range. Inside is a 16-megapixel Live MOS sensor, upping the ante from the 12-megapixel models found on cameras like the E-P3.

The shooting configuration is very comfortable. In the hand, the camera feels particularly light and won't overwhelm you after a long day of taking photos. A protruding thumb grip at the rear of the camera works well for one-handed shooters, while the front can be bulked up a bit by adding the optional battery-grip elements. The vertical configuration, in particular, is comfortable with the grip attached.

While control and menu buttons are quite small, they are never difficult to press. Our only wish, for the next version, would be to slightly increase the size of the playback button, to make it easier to find for on-the-fly reviewing. At the top of the camera, a multi-dial configuration allows photographers to adjust settings quickly and easily, a little reminiscent of the system found on the NEX-7.

Other elements that have been inspired by previous cameras include a 3-inch OLED touchscreen (610,000 dots), which can articulate and pivot from the top hinge, as well as a 1.44 million-dot electronic viewfinder. Both the screen and the viewfinder are a pleasure to look through, and at — though (as is often the case with touchscreen cameras), more often than not, we found ourselves using the physical buttons rather than using the panel. There are also some functions where the touchscreen proved to be more trouble than it's worth. For example, you can't adjust shooting parameters, like changing the ISO value, by just touching the screen; the buttons still need to be pressed.

On the topic of ISO, the OM-D's sensitivity ranges from 200-25,600. Naturally, there is full-HD video recording on-board, though it is only 1080/60i. With the redesigned sensor, Olympus says the OM-D is capable of delivering broadcast-quality video, with a video-processing algorithm that reduces aliasing and has virtually no rolling shutter.

Olympus OM-DOlympus OM-DOlympus OM-DOlympus OM-DOlympus OM-DOlympus OM-DOlympus OM-DOlympus OM-D

Click through for a complete photo gallery of the OM-D. (Credit: CBSi)

The OM-D also has a five-axis image-stabilisation system, which works to alleviate all forms of camera shake. The system works for both images and video, and, in practice, we found it to be excellent. By far, it is the best image-stabilisation system found in any interchangeable lens camera, thus far. Make sure to see some examples of the system in action farther on in this review.

For all levels of photographers, there's a shooting mode to suit you. Full program mode, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual (PASM) control is available, on top of intelligent automatic, art filters, scene modes and a movie mode, which are all accessible from the top dial.

Art filters on the OM-D include pop art, soft focus, pale and light colour, light tone, grainy film, pin hole, diorama, cross process, gentle sepia, dramatic tone, key line and art bracket. This final filter, art bracket, processes the one photo, with all of the other art filters and colour effects.

A selection of the art filters available on the OM-D.
(Credit: CBSi)

Two programmable function buttons, one at the back of the camera and one next to the shutter, can be assigned to almost any task you so desire. The options and customisation afforded by the OM-D can be almost mind boggling at times, with a myriad of features from shadow and highlight control through to selectable AF points, all accessible from within the menu system. It's definitely worth your while to get acquainted with these functionalities by reading the manual.

Olympus OM-DOlympus OM-DOlympus OM-DOlympus OM-DOlympus OM-DOlympus OM-DOlympus OM-DOlympus OM-D

Click through for our unboxing gallery of the OM-D. (Credit: CBSi)

There's a sensor that detects when your eye is brought up to the viewfinder, which then automatically switches off the OLED screen. An instant-on record button is located on the top panel.

A small flash, which attaches via the accessory port and hotshoe, is provided in the box with the camera. Like other interchangeable lens cameras that use an accessory port, you can only attach one extra device to the camera at a time, such as a macro light or flash unit.

Connectivity is provided via proprietary mini-USB and a micro-HDMI ports.

Performance

General shooting metrics (in seconds)

  • Start-up to first shot
  • JPEG shot-to-shot time
  • RAW shot-to-shot time
  • Shutter lag
  • 0.70.40.60.04
    Olympus OM-D E-M5
  • 0.80.70.70.2
    Olympus E-P3
  • 11.31.40.5
    Fujifilm X-Pro1
  • 10.70.80.3
    Sony NEX-7
  • 1.71.42.20.2
    Nikon 1 V1

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Continuous shooting speed (in FPS)

  • 10
    Sony NEX-7
  • 9
    Olympus OM-D E-M5
  • 5.5
    Nikon 1 V1
  • 5.2
    Fujifilm X-Pro1
  • 3.2
    Olympus E-P3

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Olympus touts the speed and agility of the OM-D for a number of reasons; not only for its shooting performance, but also the autofocus speed. The company claims to have bettered the "world's fastest" AF tag that was used for the Pen series cameras, released in 2011, with the OM-D now taking that title.

In our tests, the OM-D proved to be a ridiculously speedy performer. While we're always dubious of "world-first" claims, the OM-D is certainly the fastest interchangeable lens camera when it comes to autofocus. Touch to focus is also incredibly quick, certainly whipping the speeds delivered by digital SLRs in Live View mode and other interchangeable lens cameras by a fair margin. Even in low light, the OM-D doesn't miss a beat, snapping on to a subject within 0.5 seconds.

Olympus claims the OM-D can reach 4.2 frames per second with autofocus, and 9 frames per second with fixed focus. These figures did hold up in our lab testing.

Olympus rates the battery at 330 shots, though we found that during the test period, the battery drained a little quicker than this. The camera also takes an age to wake up after it's been sleeping; forget to switch the camera off and expect a wait, as you press buttons and wonder why nothing is responding. Starting up from scratch is so much more quicker.

Image quality

We conducted most of the testing of the OM-D with the 12-50mm lens, which features an internal silent zooming mechanism that is ideal for movie recording.

The OM-D produces very bright and punchy JPEG images on default settings, with saturated colours and good dynamic range. RAW files provide a lot of usable detail.

A comparison of how the OM-D renders JPEG and RAW images. There's a tiny amount of smeared detail on JPEG images, when viewing at full resolution, which isn't present in the RAW files. Also, as you can see, there's quite a big difference in the colour rendition, with JPEGs being a lot more saturated. The conversion was done in Adobe Lightroom 4.
(Credit: CBSi)

The image-stabilisation system provides some stunning results. Most interchangeable lens cameras start to quiver as the shutter speed drops, introducing camera shake into images. With the OM-D, we were able to get down to 1/8 of a second, without any discernible motion blur in low light.

Noise control is very good. The OM-D can hold its own, up to around ISO 1600, which is when noise starts to become discernible at full magnification. Images are perfectly usable around ISO 4000 and beyond.

This image was taken at one eighth of a second at ISO 4000. The 100 per cent crop (inset) shows the amount of detail still captured by the camera, and there's really no evidence of camera shake, at all.
(Credit: CBSi)

Given the design of the OM-D, it's understandable that a microphone should be able to attach through the accessory port. However, this connectivity comes at a price, and there is no 3.5mm jack on the camera body to attach another microphone of your choosing. You will have to buy the EMA-1 adapter and microphone unit, in order to get this functionality.

Video quality is very good, with excellent sharpness across the frame plus a decent amount of shadow and highlight detail. There's little evidence of rolling shutter and interlacing elements across the frame. Unfortunately there's no selectable frame rates on the OM-D, just 30fps. We conducted our tests with the Olympus stereo microphone, which provides very good definition, but, overall, doesn't really lift the audio in the same way as other stereo microphones we've tested.


You can shoot HD videos with one of three art filters turned on; pop art, soft focus or pale and light colour. There's also full PASM control available in video mode. Autofocus is OK, but a little twitchy; regardless, anyone looking to do serious video work with this camera will be using manual focus.


Image samples

Exposure: 1/80, f/6.3, ISO 1600

Exposure: 1/60, f/5.6, ISO 200

Exposure: 1/80, f/6.3, ISO 1600

Exposure: 1/200, f/5.6, ISO 200

(Credit: CBSi)

Conclusion

A fantastic device, packed to the brim with features, the OM-D marks the marriage of Olympus legacy to a contemporary camera. As with many other flagship cameras, you certainly pay the price for its little luxuries, but the OM-D is the sort of camera that you'll keep around for some time. It's a very usable camera, but some photographers may find the buttons a little small, or the configuration a little cramped.

Tossing up between an interchangeable lens camera and an SLR? The OM-D shows that you don't have to compromise much for the rewards afforded by small size and good performance.

The three kit configurations of the OM-D are with the 14-42mm lens (AU$1299), 14-42mm lens and 40-150mm lens (AU$1499) or a 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens (AU$1499). It's also available as body only for AU$1199 — the camera comes in either silver or black.

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JosephS2 posted a comment   

No mention of weather proof with the 12-50? Or the fact that the viewfinder is "what you see is what you get?"




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  • JosephS2

    JosephS2

    "No mention of weather proof with the 12-50? Or the fact that the viewfinder is "what you see is what you get?""

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