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

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The Good A dust-and-weather-sealed design distinguishes the Olympus OM-D E-M5 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.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Image quality 7

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.

(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.

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.

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.

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