Olympus OM-D E-M5 £1150
13th Apr 2012 | 15:19
Is this retro-styled Micro Four Thirds camera worth its high price?
Overview and features
Three years after making its first entrance into the compact system camera arena with the PEN E-P1, Olympus has gone back to its roots again to produce the OM-D E-M5, with its retro styling owed to its analogue predecessor.
Inside the camera are an all new 16 million pixel Live MOS Four Thirds sensor and TruePic VI image processor, which Olympus says is designed to give better low light performance and higher dynamic range than previous Micro Four Thirds cameras in its line-up.
As a step-up from the PEN range, this camera is designed to appeal to advanced enthusiasts, however Olympus is keen to point out that the camera isn't necessarily intended for use by pros, which it still believes will be drawn in by the company's range of DSLRs.
That said, there are a large number of impressive specs crammed into the OM-D's diminutive body. A new image stabilisation system uses a 5 axis system which combats bodyshake for vertical, horizontal, pitch, rolling and yaw.
Along with its Micro Four Thirds cohort, Panasonic, Olympus is keen to emphasis the benefits of using the smaller sensor, including edge to edge sharpness.
That retro body has been designed with serious photographers in mind, with the magnesium alloy being dust and splash proof, featuring the same all weather proofing as its top of the range DSLR, the E-5.
This dust and splash proofing has also been carried over to a number of accessories compatible with the OM-D, including the detachable flash which is bundled with the camera, as well as the new 12-50mm zoom lenses and the new battery grip.
As the camera is pitched at higher end users, a new higher price tag has also been attached. At £1000 for the body only, the camera certainly isn't cheap, but it's likely to be pitched against other high-end cameras such as the Fujifilm X Pro1 and Sony NEX-7, which fall into similar, if not more expensive, price brackets.
Build quality and handling
If your only exposure to the OM-D so far has been through print advertising, you might be forgiven for thinking it's larger than it actually is.
It's actually not quite as wide as its smaller brother, the PEN E-P3, and about the same height. Despite its small size, it still feels like a solidly built camera, with extra confidence coming from the weatherproofing.
The angular body of the OMD also makes it easy to hold and quickly access the various buttons, which have been fairly sensibly laid out in the most part.
As this camera is intended for a more advanced audience, there are a greater number of control dials and direct access buttons, many of which are customisable depending on how you prefer to use the camera. It's a shame that there isn't a direct ISO button, however one of the Function buttons can be customised to control this.
On the top plate of the camera, two dials provide the mechanism for altering shutter speed/aperture and exposure compensation. These can be very easily accessed when using the LCD screen to compose an image, however anybody with larger hands may struggle to make alterations when using the electronic viewfinder.
There are two Function buttons which can be customised to perform different operations - by default, the 'Fn2' button at the top of the camera gives you direct access to the Highlights and Shadows control.
The buttons themselves are one of the only disappointing features of the OM-D, feeling a little cheap for a camera of this price. We'd really like to see more solid, metal buttons being used on the body, with some of the smaller buttons feeling a little too delicate.
We also found that the buttons could sometimes be a little less than responsive, occasionally requiring a double press to get the desired result. Similarly, when using the scroll dials to make adjustments via the Quick Menu, these could be a little laggy.
For controls not accessed via a direct dial button, a Quick Menu is provided and can be accessed by hitting the OK button on the back of the camera. Here you'll find the most commonly changed parameters, such as White Balance, ISO, Autofocus, Aspect Ratio and so on. For the first time on an Olympus camera, these can be selected via the touchscreen, though you will still need to use the scroll dials at the top of the camera to make changes.
The touchscreen, as with the E-P3, can also be used to alter the focus point, simply by tapping various locations around the frame. It can also be used to activate the shutter release, first focusing on the point you touch, before taking the image. We found the touchscreen to be very responsive and quick to use, certainly a step up from some of the compact cameras currently available.
With the ability to tilt the screen, Olympus has combined the best features of the PEN E-P3 (touchscreen) and E-PL3 (tilting screen) for the OM-D monitor. While it's a shame that the screen doesn't articulate fully, having the ability to tilt it is useful for certain awkward angles, and for shooting "from the hip". It doesn't help much when shooting in upright format though.
A tiny, almost hidden button near the viewfinder can be used to switch the LCD screen from Live View to Menu mode, while a sensor fitted within the eyecup has the ability to detect when the camera has been lifted to the eye - which is a useful addition that saves having to mess around with extra buttons.
An optional vertical battery grip can be purchased to attach to the bottom of the camera, providing considerably extra bulk, but fortunately not much extra weight. It comes with an extra set of scroll dials and buttons, as well as shutter release to make shooting in portrait orientation easier, and of course the extra battery effectively doubles the operation life of the camera.
Art filters can be scrolled through via the Quick Menu, which although quicker to use than on the E-P3, an extra button to quickly turn off (or on) an art filter without having to laboriously scroll through the options again would be a very welcome addition.
The new 12-50mm kit lens can be bought as standard with the OM-D, and is a great pairing with the camera. With three different shooting options allowing you to change between a standard zooming mechanism, a power zoom and a new "macro" mode, it is also weather and dustproof.
The only slight complaint we have about this lens is that switching to macro mode is a two handed operation, and it would be better if the button was on the other side of the lens.
Electronic viewfinders tend to suffer from a bad reputation, but the device found on the OM-D is certainly one of the best we've used, if not quite matching up to the clarity of that found on the Sony NEX-7. Offering an impressive and highly useful 100% field of view, the viewfinder refreshes very quickly and feels very natural to use.
It is certainly useful to have the image you've just shot appear in the viewfinder, so you don't need to constantly remove the camera from the eye to check the shot. However, we found on a couple of occasions, the image appeared to be in focus through the viewfinder, but only on closer inspection either on the LCD or at a computer did we see that focus was soft.
Image quality from the Olympus OM-D is very good, producing a noticeable improvement over the 12 million pixel sensors found on its PEN series and making a fantastic argument for compact system cameras (CSCs) in general.
The level of detail captured is particularly impressive, especially when shooting in natural light and using low sensitivity settings, while JPEGs straight from the camera are very sharp indeed.
In most situations, the OM-D's automatic white balance setting does a good job of producing accurate colours, although it does struggle a little indoors under artificial or mixed light - tending to favour warm tones. Switching to incandescent white balance mode is easy though, and it performs well.
As we have found before with Olympus cameras, the multi-purpose 324-zone ESP metering on the E-M5 is pretty consistent, and the system accurately judges the exposure in most situations. There is also the option to switch to spot and centre-weighted metering, which we used in a couple of tricky lighting situations and found worked well.
At the launch of the OM-D, Olympus was keen to emphasise improvements it had made to high sensitivity (ISO) performance, which again is something that is noticeably better than on its PEN series of cameras.
We've found that although image quality does start to drop off from about ISO 1600, some of the images captured all the way up to ISO 10,000 are perfectly usable, especially when publishing online or printing at relatively small sizes.
For most every day situations, the noise control means that images taken at up to ISO 1600 are more than acceptable.
Another key new feature is the reworked image stabilisation system. This is designed to help keep the image sharp across the frame, and we've found that it consistently performs well, although it struggled when shooting a low-light macro image at high ISO.
There seems to be an on-going argument between Panasonic and Olympus about which exactly has the fastest autofocus, but at the time of the OM-D launch, Olympus claimed that this camera, with its FAST (Frequency Acceleration Sensor Technology) was the fastest in the world.
We were impressed by the speed of the autofocus, but can't honestly say that we noticed a marked improvement from the PEN E-P3 (which was also claimed to be the fastest at its launch). However, given that we are talking about microseconds of difference, it's probably not worth quibbling about, needless to say it is very fast, locking on to the target nigh-on instantly in almost every situation.
Colours are generally represented well, producing bright images which don't suffer from being overly vibrant, however we did on occasion find some benefit to boosting the saturation in post processing.
Olympus is well known for its wide array of art filters, and has added some new functionality to the OM-D. One completely new filter - Key Line - is joined by two new variations to those brought over from the PEN E-P3, a black and white "Dramatic Tone" mode and a another version of Cross Process.
As with the PEN series, art filters can be deployed when shooting in P, A, S, M modes, allowing creative control over parameters such as aperture to be retained. Not only this, but images can be captured in both raw and JPEG, allowing the filter to be removed (or even swapped for another one) in the post-capture editing stage. This offers a clear advantage over its biggest competitor, Panasonic, as cameras in the G series are not capable of this.
In terms of how the art filters perform, some will not be to everyone's tastes, for example, we can't see the new Key Line feature, which is supposed to replicate the look and feel of Manga-style Japanese cartoons being especially popular outside of Asian countries.
However, the new variations on Cross Process and Dramatic Tone are a welcome addition, especially the latter which produces an impressive HDR style monochrome image.
Live Time is a new feature for the E-M5, which helps with the composition of long exposures. In Live Time mode (which can be accessed by scrolling to the end of the shutter speeds) the developing long exposure is is displayed on screen as soon as the shutter is released so it's possible to stop it when you believe the exposure is correct.
This is a very exciting piece of technology, and it will surely be appreciated by landscape and low-light photographers who will be able to gauge how successful an image is at the capture stage. However, for such a revolutionary function, we're surprised this is not more prominent being relatively hidden away in the shutter speeds. If this was a menu function, we think it would be found and used by more people.
Processing speed and battery life
Although overall the camera's processing is very fast, it's worth bearing in mind that it can be a little tardy at times, such as when shooting with Art Filter bracketing, using the Live Time mode and shooting several continuous sequences.
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 promises 330 shots from its battery, which we found to be about accurate, and it's worth remembering that this can be boosted by the addition of the battery grip. After a day of heavy shooting with the camera, it was starting to wane, but for the average user we can't see battery life being too much of an issue.
A number of basic edits can also be made in-camera with the OM-D. This is a feature which is growing in prevalence on the digital camera market. On this model these include processing raw files to JPEG, converting to sepia and adjusting the saturation.
Olympus Viewer 2 software is supplied in the box and this can be used to make edits and convert raw files. Although it doesn't offer the same level of fine tuning of some aspects as rivals from Canon (Digital Photo Professional) and Nikon (View NX2), it is more than adequate, providing a good level of control.
It also offers advantages over processing raw files in Photoshop (or similar). For instance, if you decide to shoot at 3:2, 1:1 or 16:9 ratios, the camera will still capture a 4:3 ratio frame, meaning you can alter the composition later if necessary. You can also remove and swap art filters using this software.
As part of our image quality testing for the Olympus OM-D E-M5 , we've shot our resolution chart with a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM lens mounted. If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 200 the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is capable of resolving up to around 24 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them please click here to read the full article.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 200, score: 24 (see full image)
ISO 400, score: 24 (see full image)
ISO 800, score: 24 (see full image)
ISO 1600, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO 3200, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO 6400, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 12800, score: 12 (see full image)
ISO 25600 , score: 10 (see full image)
ISO 200 , score: 26 (see full image)
ISO 400 , score: 24 (see full image)
ISO 800 , score: 24 (see full image)
ISO 1600 , score: 22 (see full image)
ISO 3200 , score: 22 (see full image)
ISO 6400 , score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 12800 , score: 14 (see full image)
ISO 25600 , score: 10 (see full image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
Our analysis shows that the Olympus OM-D's raw files (after conversion to TIFF) produce impressive results that beat all the comparison cameras and compare well against models with larger APS-C and full frame sensors. When it comes to dynamic range, the raw file (after conversion to TIFF) results show it produces the highest result so far gained by any compact system camera.
JPEG signal to noise ratio
JPEG images from the Olympus OM-D E-M5 have a lower signal to noise ratio than the Fujifilm X Pro 1, Panasonic GX1, Sony NEX-7 and Olympus E-P3 up to a sensitivity of ISO ISO 1600. However above this sensitivity value the OM-D produces better results than all but the Fujifilm X Pro 1.
TIFF signal to noise ratio
TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the OMD have a better signal to noise ratio than those from the Fujifilm X Pro 1, Panasonic GX1, Sony NEX-7 and Olympus E-P3, showing that the camera copes well with noise.
JPEG dynamic range
Raw dynamic range
This chart indicates that the Olympus OM-D's JPEGs have a consistently high dynamic range across the sensitivity range, showing that tonal gradations are captured well in the highlights and shadows even at the top end of the sensitivity range.
TIFF images (after conversion from raw) have a high dynamic range across the sensitivity range, with the OM-D achieving the highest result we've seen for any compact system camera. The chart shows that compared against the E-P3 the E-M5 is achieving at least 3EV greater dynamic range across all sensitivities.
In bright, natural light, the OM-D is capable of producing shots which more than compete with its DLSR rivals.
A wide variety of Micro Four Thirds lenses are now available, including Sigma third party lenses, which we used to shoot this image (30mm f/2.8). It is when using the different lenses that are available for the system that the true versatility of the camera becomes apparent.
The macro mode on the supplied 12-50mm kit lens is an impressive addition, allowing fine detail to be captured and a very shallow depth of field effect to be achieved.
A number of different art filters are available, including the Pinhole effect, which can be customised to emphasise one of three different colours - here yellow tones have been chosen.
Shot at f/9 to get a feel for the level of detail that can be captured, the OM-D has performed reasonably well, although the reds do appear slightly over vibrant, and there is some examples of over sharpening along the high contrast edges.
Shot with the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens. Here we increased the exposure compensation by +1EV to bring out the colours in the sky and flowers.
Here's another shot taken with an art filter - this time the Gentle Sepia. Art filters can be activated when using PASM modes, giving the user creative control over parameters such as aperture. Shooting in raw format means that the filter can be removed (or swapped) in post-production.
We shot this image with the 12-50mm lens with macro mode engaged - the tip of the lens was just a couple of centimetres away from the bud of the flower, showing how impressively close the lens is able to focus to produce great detail.
Shot into the sun, flare and ghosting is apparent on this image, which also suffers from a small degree of chromatic aberration. Overall though, this is kept to a minimum.
You can shoot in different ratios, not just the native 4:3 which is native to the camera. This includes 3:2, which is likely to be popular with those used to shooting with DSLRs, and 1:1, which produces a square crop as seen above.
Colours are generally captured well, with the whites here appearing particularly bright without losing highlight detail.
The OM-D has been able to capture an impressive amount of detail, while also producing great out of focus background effects when coupled with the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens.
In this low and mixed lighting, the OM-D has captured the mood well, and the Auto White Balance has done a pretty good job. Again, this shot shows how the background can be defocused for pleasing effects.
Colours have been captured well, being bright without being overly vibrant.
The dramatic tone black and white filter is a new filter for the OM-D, which creates a HDR style image. You can choose from either b&w or the original colour filter.
The OM-D boasts ISO sensitivity shooting at up to 25, 600. Here, in this image shot at ISO 1600, noise has been relatively well controlled, while the highlights have been mostly kept intact.
A single scene photographed at every sensitivity setting. The first image shows the full scene, and the ones below show cropped versions at Actual Pixels, or 100%. Follow the links to download the full images.
Our initial impressions of this camera were very promising, and after having spent a lot more time with it now, we're happy to report that its charms still manage to hold our attention for the most part, especially now we have had a chance to fully examine image quality.
While its retro looks may not appeal to everyone, for original OM users, it will certainly be a treat. Weatherproofing and ruggedness of the camera mean it feels as if it is built to last after taking some serious abuse, so we can also see street photographers falling in love with this camera.
Introducing an in-built EVF to this camera elevates it status above the PEN, taking it (despite Olympus's own protestations) almost into semi-pro territory.
The wide range of compatible Micro Four Thirds lenses now available on the market - not forgetting those made by Panasonic and third party manufacturers such as Sigma, make purchasing a Micro Four Thirds camera a very interesting proposition. It's when using different optics that the versatility of the OM-D is truly revealed.
The excellent viewfinder shows a marked improvements on those we've used before, while new art filters and variations on existing ones show how creative you can be with this camera. Image quality, in certain situations, is excellent and comparable to DSLR quality, while being confined within a much more portable device.
There are still a few little bugbears that could do with being ironed out. For such an expensive camera, the buttons could have been metal to add a better finish, while some of them were also a little slow and unresponsive.
The Olympus OM-D is of course an expensive proposition, at £1,149 for the single lens kit or £999 body-only, but when you consider all of the improvements that have been made, we think the extra expense when compared with an E-P3 is just about worth it.
It's also worth pointing out that one of its biggest rivals, the Fuji X Pro1, is currently retailing for around £1,500 body only, making the E-M5 suddenly seem more attractive.
However, having said all of that, we can't help but feel that the E-M5 is a little bit 'unfinished'. As this is the first camera in the new OM-D line-up, it seems as if there is some work to do to make this camera live up to its full potential. For example, the plastic buttons feel like an afterthought.
Olympus has been guilty of this before, with the original PEN (E-P1) being superseded by the E-P2 only a few months after, packed with better features. So, for that reason, we'll be very excited to see how Olympus develops this line going forward, and will be watching with anticipation.
Olympus has delivered a fantastic camera, which, along with its premium CSC cohorts, has the potential to be a game-changer, stealing focus from certain areas of the DSLR market. There's a lot to love about the OM-D, especially the great image quality and its retro appeal - it will be interesting to see how sales perform.