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Olympus OM-D E-M5 review: Olympus OM-D

Though it doesn't have the best photo quality we've ever seen, there's a lot about the OM-D E-M5 that compensates, including great performance, a broad feature set and an interesting yet functional design.

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Reviews

I've been writing about and reviewing consumer technology since before the turn of the century. I'm also a photographer and cat herder, frequently at the same time.

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8 min read

Much as it did when launching the PEN series of Micro Four Thirds cameras, Olympus trots out another beloved film brand and updates it for the digital age. This time out, though, Olympus frames enthusiasts squarely in the scene. Olympus' reincarnation of its OM film line squarely targets those enthusiasts who've proven to be either Olympus loyalists or fans of the Micro Four Thirds (MFT) interchangeable-lens standard. And while I'm not fond of the nomenclature -- the first model is the overhyphenated OM-D E-M5 -- Olympus certainly deserves points for style. In fact, the camera has some really outstanding qualities, including a great feature set and class-leading performance. Unfortunately, I was less impressed with the photo quality than I would have liked.

olympus_camera_01_620x433.jpg
8.0

Olympus OM-D E-M5

The Good

A dust-and-weather-sealed design distinguishes the <b>Olympus OM-D E-M5</b> from the rest of the interchangeable-lens crowd, and its class-leading performance doesn't hurt, either. Plus, it's got an interesting, relatively streamlined shooting design.

The Bad

The photo quality is solid, but not outstanding, especially if you shoot only JPEG.

The Bottom Line

If you're looking for something a lot better, faster, and more sophisticated than a point-and-shoot that can stand up to your adventures, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is a great choice.

(Note: If some of this sounds familiar, it's because it's the result of a combination of my previous coverage plus my final test results.)

Image quality
I have mixed feelings about the photo and video quality from the E-M5. It's very good, and definitely better than most point-and-shoots, but despite an upgraded sensor and imaging engine, it lacks that extra je ne sais quoi that I expect from a camera in its more advanced class. On one hand, it delivers very well-rendered color and accurate, consistent exposures. At ISO 200, the JPEGs look excellent, although the camera frequently oversharpens -- in some places where it shouldn't be sharpening at all. It retains highlight detail extremely well, too, and bright, saturated reds and magentas look as they should.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 photo samples and analysis

See all photos

But one stop up at ISO 400 the noise suppression kicks in for the JPEGs and begins to blur out significant amounts of detail in places. I really wouldn't recommend shooting JPEGs beyond ISO 800, and even then it really depends on the contents of the scene. Regrettably, that's normal for many of these cameras. However, there also seems to be a lack of dynamic range in the shadows, which makes it difficult to get really good results from raw files at ISO 1600 or higher; there's little detail to recover and you get a lot of noise.

Click to view/download ISO 200



ISO 800

ISO 3200

And while I generally like the video quality from the camera, it's what I'll call "consumer good": fine for shooting vacations, kids and pets, but probably not up to the standard of real video shooters. In good light there's moiré and edge aliasing, although there's far less rolling shutter than I've seen in previous Olympus models, even with image stabilization enabled. In low light, as with the JPEG images, you can see the effects of the noise reduction -- some mushiness.

Performance
The camera is quite fast -- generally fastest in its class. It powers on, focuses, and shoots in just under 1.1 seconds; that's not blazing, but acceptable. It takes 0.3 second to focus and shoot in good light, which is a hair slower than the NEX-7 but still quite fast. Two sequential shots take 0.5 second for JPEG and 0.6 second for raw, which more than doubles the shot-to-shot time at 1.8 seconds. But it zips along at a clip of 8.4fps for continuous shooting for a reasonably number of shots.

It focuses and shoots quickly enough that I was comfortable foregoing prefocusing and took more impulse and experimental shots where I simply pointed the camera in a direction that seemed interesting and snapped without framing. The one aspect of performance I find irritating is the lagginess coming out of sleep mode. I frequently had to check to ensure the power was on as I waited for the camera to awaken. It's also a bit sluggish autoswitching between the LCD and the EVF, but that's common. Annoying, but common.

The burst shooting is also surprisingly robust, with an EVF that refreshes well enough for most continuous shooting. With a fast SD card it can maintain a reasonable burst of raw+JPEG.

There are no surprises in the autofocus system -- that is, the center-spot AF works well; the face-detection AF is frequently helpful and occasionally gets in the way (there needs to be an instantaneous override when you don't want to focus on the people); the full-time AF is easily confused and pulses too often when shooting video; and the tracking autofocus seems like it's working at the time but in actuality lags the subject. All of this is pretty much par for the course in today's AF systems, however.

Design and features
It has a modest-size body, but it's built along the same lines as the E-5 dSLR -- a bit tanklike, with a magnesium alloy body that's dust-and-weather sealed and weather resistant from -4F degrees to 140F degrees. While the PEN series eschews built-in electronic viewfinders (EVF), the OM-D takes advantages of that design's distinctive pyramid-shaped housing for the optical viewfinder's prism. Here it houses the EVF, along with a hot shoe and a connector for the bundled compact flash unit (the same connector used by the PEN models for the external microphone and other accessories). The viewfinder itself doesn't match that of the Sony Alpha NEX-7 -- it's smaller and because of the MFT 2x crop factor has a lower effective magnification -- but it's similar to the optional viewfinder for the PEN models and is still pretty nice.

My one quibble with the design is that the buttons are either too small, too mushy, or both.

Overall, I enjoy shooting with the E-M5. Like the NEX-7, it's a good size -- neither too large nor too small -- and comfortable to grip, and all the lenses are small enough to stash in a roomy jacket pocket if necessary. The retro look deservedly attracted quite a bit of attention, and several accidental drops attested to the camera's sturdy build.

The EVF and tilting OLED touch-screen display are bright and usable, though the latter becomes nearly invisible in direct sunlight and I always find OLEDs too cool and contrasty for my taste. The buttons feel mushy and some of them are a little too small for easy access (like the function and review buttons), and there's no way to lock the front dial, which adjusts exposure compensation -- with the inevitable consequences -- without changing its function entirely. And it's time for the company to overhaul its implementation of custom settings to bring it into parity with competitors to make them easier to use.

Fujifilm X-Pro 1 Olympus E-P3 Olympus OM-D E-M5 Samsung NX20 Sony Alpha NEX-7
Sensor (effective resolution) 16.3mp X-Trans CMOS
n/a
12.3mp Live MOS
12 bit
16.1-megapixel Live MOS
12 bit
20.3mp CMOS
n/a
24.3mp Exmor HD CMOS
12 bit
23.6mm x 15.6mm 17.3mm x 13mm 17.3mm x 13mm 23.5mm x 15.7mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.5x 2.0x 2.0x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 6400/25,600 (expanded) ISO 200 - ISO 12,800 ISO 200 - ISO 25,600 ISO 100 - ISO 12,800 ISO 100 - ISO 16,000
Continuous shooting 6fps
approx 15
3fps
unlimited (LN) JPEG/17 raw
9fps
17 JPEG/11 raw
8fps
11 JPEG/8 raw
3fps
unlimited JPEG/6 raw
(10fps with fixed exposure)
Viewfinder
magnification/ effective magnification
Optical
90 percent coverage/
EVF
0.47-inch
1.44-million dots variable
n/a
Optional EVF
n/a-inch
1.44-million dots
100% coverage
1.15x/0.58x
n/a
480,000 dots
100% coverage
1.04x/0.69x
EVF
0.5-inch
2.4-million dots
100% coverage
1.09x/0.73x
Autofocus 49-area
Contrast AF
35-area contrast AF 35-area contrast AF 15-point contrast AF 25-area contrast AF
Shutter speed 30-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 60 min; 1/180 x-sync 60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/4,000 FP sync 60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 8 minutes; 1/250 sec x-sync (flash dependent) 30-1/8,000 sec.; bulb to 4 minutes; 1/180 x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync
Metering 256 zones 324 area 324 area 221 segment 1,200 zones
Metering sensitivity n/a 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 18 EV 0 - 20 EV
Flash No Yes Included add-on Yes Yes
Image stabilization Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift Optical Optical
Video 1080/24p H.264 1080/60i AVCHD @ 20, 17Mbps; 720/60p @ 13Mbps 1080/60i QuickTime MOV @ 20, 17 Mbps 1080/30p; 1080 x 810/24p; 720/30p H.264 MPEG-4 AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12Mbps
Audio Stereo Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo Stereo; mic input
LCD size 3-inch fixed
1,230,000 dots
3-inch fixed OLED
614,000 dots
3-inch tilting touch screen OLED
614,000 dots
3-inch articulated AMOLED
921,000 dots
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
Wireless file upload None None Optional Bluetooth Wi-Fi None
Battery life (CIPA rating) 300 shots 330 shots n/a 330 shots 350 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 5.5 x 3.2 x 1.7 4.8 x 2.7 x 1.4 4.8 x 3.5 x 1.7 4.6 x 2.5 x 1.4 4.8 x 2.8 x 1.7
Body operating weight (ounces) 15.9 13.0 15.1 14 (est) 12.4
Mfr. price $1,699.95 (body only) n/a $999.99 (body only) n/a $1,199.99 (body only)
n/a $899.99 (with 14-42mm lens) $1,299.99 (with 12-50mm lens) $1,099.99 (with 18-55mm i-Function lens) $1,349.00 (with 18-55mm lens)
n/a $899.99 (with 17mm f2.8 lens) $1,099.99 (with 14-42mm lens) n/a n/a
Ship date February 2012 August 2011 April 2012 May 2012 November 2011

On the unique feature front is the ability to display and adjust the highlight and shadow areas of the tone curve in the viewfinder. It's a great idea, but a little difficult to use on the spur of the moment -- there's lots of pressing and fiddling with the tiny controls, and you're putting a lot of faith in the accuracy of the viewfinder. It would be a lot more convenient if you could save presets for immediate recall.

A little more useful is the ability to finely adjust a lot of parameters. For instance, you can program an exposure shift for each of the main three metering choices, set the maximum and minimum values for the histogram, choose which type of metering the auto exposure lock uses, and opt to keep a warmer tone in automatic white balance. You can customize the display in a gazillion different ways so that, for the most part, you only see the options you want. And while the camera doesn't have a full touch-screen interface, it is a touch screen and allows you to perform the operations you really want a touch screen for: touch focus with magnification, touch shutter and swiping navigation during playback. The one missing option is touch spot metering. Though it doesn't include built-in wireless as Samsung does, it's optional via the PenPal Bluetooth adapter. (For a complete accounting of the camera's features and operation, download the PDF manual.)

Furthermore, the relatively new 12-50mm lens is a really nice kit fit with this model. Though it's not as small as the typical 14-42mm version, it's got a load of nice features, including a macro setting and quiet electronic zoom for video, it's weather sealed and feels well built. It's a good focal range, too -- angle of view equivalent to 24-100mm. It's not the sharpest or fastest lens, and could probably use a better class of coatings, but that would also make it far more expensive.

Conclusion
You don't have a lot of choices if you're looking for something rugged under $1,000 that's better than most of the point-and-shoot alternatives. There's the forthcoming Pentax K-30 dSLR, but it's bigger and clunkier. While you don't get best-in-class photo quality with the OM-D E-M5, it's a not-unreasonable trade-off for the rest of the package.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Raw shot-to-shot time
JPEG shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim light)
Shutter lag (typical)

Sony Alpha NEX-7
0.9
0.9
0.6
0.5
0.2

Olympus OM-D E-M5
1.1
0.6
0.5
0.5
0.3

Olympus PEN E-P3
0.6
0.8
0.7
0.6
0.3

Fujifilm X-Pro1
1
1.5
1.4
0.8
0.5

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Olympus OM-D E-M5
8.4

olympus_camera_01_620x433.jpg
8.0

Olympus OM-D E-M5

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9Image quality 7
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