Olympus OM-D E-M5 Full Review - Joshua Waller tests the new Olympus OM-D E-M5, the E-M5 is such a significant upgrade to previous Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras that it gets a completely new name. But is it a case of style over substance? Find out in our review...
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is a Micro Four Thirds camera from Olympus, and rather than follow on from the Olympus PEN series (such as the E-PM1, E-PL3 and E-P3), Olympus has gone "retro" and made this their digital version of the Olympus OM. The new OM-D not only features a stylish classic design available in black or silver/black, but also features a completely new 16 megapixel sensor, 5-axis image stabilisation, weather sealed magnesium alloy body, electronic viewfinder and promises the World's fastest AF.
Olympus OM and Olympus OM-D with OM to M43 adapter.
When compared to one of the original Olympus OM film cameras, the OM-10, the digital version is much smaller, even when using an OM lens and adapter. When we asked for the reason behind the new name, we were simply told it's a mystery, although Olympus did say they are often keen to avoid any confusion by having a name similar to other camera manufacturers, unlike some! Also, despite the camera being weather sealed and featuring an SLR-like design, the camera body is really rather compact, which can be seen in the comparison below, showing it next to the Olympus PEN E-P2.
Olympus OM-D size comparison with E-P2 - front view
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Front With Lens
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Features
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Front Angle
This is the first Micro Four Thirds camera from Olympus with a built in viewfinder, previously if you wanted a viewfinder, you would either need to buy an optional electronic viewfinder from Olympus, or look at the Panasonic Lumix G series of cameras. The viewfinder features 1.44 million pixels, eye-detection, and dioptre correction.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Rear Screen
Video features are updated to include additional features previously unseen on Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras such as microphone level adjustment (three levels) and wind noise reduction. The 5-axis image stabilisation is also available when recording videos.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Top
16.1mp Live MOS CMOS sensor
EVF 1.44million with eye-detection, dioptre adjustment, vignetting correction
3inch OLED tilting capacitive touch-screen 610k dots (equivalent to VGA)
World’s fastest*2 FAST AF auto-focusing system plus 3D tracking
Handling - The mode dial is on the left and the camera has front and rear dials on the top, plus top function and video buttons. It feels more compact than the Olympus PEN E-P3, but is larger than the E-PL3. There is a large rear thumb grip and a textured leather effect front grip that covers the camera across the front, as well as side access to the SD memory card - this is weather sealed. The buttons are quite chunky making it possible to use the camera in cold weather when wearing gloves even though the buttons are quite small the amount they protrude from the camera helps.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Front Grip Part 1
For additional grip the optional two part grip can be used, the first part gives a much larger hand grip and moves the shutter release and front control dial forward. The second part of the grip adds a vertical shutter release, with both rear and front dials, as well as two function buttons and a lock switch. The second part of the grip allows you to put a second battery in the camera, gives a DC input connection, a large rubberised base, as well as another strap loop so that the camera can be kept round your neck in the vertical position.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Front Grip Part2
Menus - The menu system is very similar to the Olympus PEN E-P3 with even more options and controls. A number of buttons on the camera can be customised to get the camera setup how you want it with quick access to your favourite settings and it didn't take us long to get it customised so we could quickly change ISO and shooting options. Below you can view the menus as well as the new touch-screen "Super Control Panel" in the walk-through video below. The EVF refresh speed can also be increased and the effects of IS can be viewed in the EVF. The camera's menus have built in pop-up help describing each option - this can be switched on or off:
Battery Life - The camera's battery life is rated at 330 shots (the same as the Olympus PEN E-P3) which is similar to other mirrorless cameras, for example the Panasonic Lumix GX1 has battery life rated at 310 shots, while the Sony NEX-5N has battery life rated at 400 shots. Battery life can be extended to 650 shots with the optional battery grip. We took over 400 photos before the battery went flat, although a number of these were taken using the 9fps shooting mode.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Bottom Battery
Speed - We tested each camera's performance at focusing, shutter response, shot to shot time, continuous shooting etc and have posted the results below. To test this we took 6 or more shots and calculated the average, so that consistent results were produced. Shown next to the Olympus OM-D E-M5 results are the Sony NEX-7 results, another premium mirrorless camera with high speed shooting.
Focus speed was extremely quick with excellent shutter response. Switch on time and shot to shot time were also very good, quicker than the Sony NEX-7 and with a fast memory card it was possible to take 19/16 shots before slow down at 9fps in JPEG and RAW respectively. The number of shots taken before slow-down depended on what speed card was used, with faster cards allowing more shots to be taken.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Rear Grip Part 2
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Performance
Here are several sample photos from a production version of the new Olympus OM-D E-M5. The camera was tested with the 12-50mm lens as shown above, as well as a few other lenses. Additional photos of the camera and sample photos can be found in the Equipment Database, where you can also add your own photos and ratings.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Sample Photos
Sample photos - Flash performance is good with no signs of red-eye. The camera performs well whether outdoors in bright light or indoors in low light. It performed well in our studio with a remote flash trigger taking over 400 photos without problems.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Lens test images
Lens test images - The 12-50mm lens provides a good range from the equivalent of 24mm to 100mm with very good macro performance. It also offers power zoom, or manual zoom by pulling the zoom ring towards the camera. To activate the macro mode you press the side macro button and push the zoom ring forwards, this sets the lens to 43mm (86mm equivalent) and you can get very close to the subject. Performance from the lens is good, however it becomes noticeably softer when the lens aperture is closed down and chromatic aberrations are visible in the shot of the trees.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 ISO test images
ISO Noise Performance - Olympus say that the camera has 1 stop lower noise compared to the 12 megapixel sensor in the Olympus PEN E-P3, and our results show impressive noise performance. In our E-P3 review we recommended resizing ISO12800 images, with the E-M5 the ISO12800 results are significantly better than the E-P3, with even ISO16000 and above producing usable results, although at ISO20000 colour loss is noticeable, so at this setting and above it may be best to resize or convert to black and white.
The camera has a number of noise reduction options: Off, On, Auto, with the noise filter options of: Off, Low, Standard, High. Low gives a nice grain with good detail, Standard (Default) does a very good job of removing most of the noise if you're not a fan of noise, while High was a little too strong in our view.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 White-balance test images
White Balance Performance - Auto White Balance (AWB) performed well under tungsten and fluorescent lighting, often producing better results than using the respective presets. The camera has an option to "Keep warm colour" when using auto white balance, which can be useful for capturing the mood of a scene - examples can be seen above. Detail and resolution is excellent, and clearly better than the 12 megapixel Olympus PEN E-P3, with no signs of moire.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Digital filters
Digital Filters - The camera has an updated range of Art Filters, including a new Key Line mode that was described as similar to "Manga" and being all about emphasis of the lines in the image. Dramatic Tone has been updated to include a new black and white version and there are further options for Cross Process. Image stabilisation works extremely well with photos taken at 1/6th of a second producing a sharp image. The camera features a panoramic scene mode, however this does not automatically stitch together images.
Another unique feature of the E-M5 is a new "Live Bulb" mode, you set the camera up in the normal way with a remote release, press the shutter button and hold it and while you're taking the photo, the exposure is shown on the rear screen of the camera "developing" as you watch it, so you can decide when the photo is exposed correctly. We tried this and were impressed by the results, an example can be seen in our earlier hands-on review.
Video - There are P/A/S/M video modes, as well as Art Filters, Wind Noise Reduction (Off, Low, Standard, High), Recording volume (Low, Standard, High) and ISO from 200 to 3200. When using the power zoom, there are two speeds available, slow and fast depending on how far you turn the zoom control. The built in image stabilisation works very well, with a hand-held example with image stabilisation Off here, and another hand-held video with image stabilisation On here. We've also posted a video recorded at ISO3200.
For anyone doubting the ability of mirrorless / compact system cameras, this is the camera that should answer a lot of concerns. It has a weather-sealed compact body, an excellent range of lenses and most importantly excellent image quality - that is significantly improved over previous Olympus PEN cameras. The noise performance and detail in images is very good even at high ISO settings, comparable to cameras with APS-C sized sensors, despite the Micro Four Thirds sensor being smaller.The built in sensor based image stabilisation is excellent and works extremely well on photos and videos. Focus speed, shutter response and continuous shooting are all excellent with the camera shooting at a fast 9fps - the quickest of any Micro Four Thirds camera, only bettered by the Sony NEX-7 and NEX-5N with 10fps shooting.
Additional lenses have been announced by Olympus, a 75mm portrait lens and a weather sealed 60mm macro lens and with Sigma and Tokina recently releasing and announcing new lenses, the appeal of the Micro Four Thirds system continues to expand. Now that we have tested a full production version of the camera, the camera continues to exceed our high expectations with better than expected noise performance even at high ISO settings! The sensor in the camera has more resolution, with 16 megapixel compared to the PEN cameras 12 megapixels, yet also offers lower noise results! The price of the camera is relatively high compared to other Micro Four Thirds cameras, however we feel that the added performance, handling and features of the camera make it easily justified.
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is a stylish weather-sealed camera with exceptional performance.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Pros
Excellent noise performance
Excellent image quality
Excellent Image Stabilisation
9fps continuous shooting
Extremely fast focus, shutter response, shot-to-shot etc
Weather sealed body
Excellent range of lenses
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Cons
12-50mm Lens not the best - but good for macro
IS system noise