Buy Olympus OM-D E-M5? – Yes!

February 29, 2012

Olympus has announced the OM-D E-M5, a “pro” Micro Four Thirds camera model, which sits Olympus PEN series. This new camera doesn’t actually comes as a big surprise, because Olympus already told the press at Photokina that it intends to release a new camera lineup of pro-grade Micro Four Thirds cameras.

The battle is still on and Olympus has certainly proven to be one of the best competitors in the Mirrorless camera arm-race. The Olympus E-M5 (some write it wrong like OMD EM5, OM-D EM-5, etc.) comes in times where Olympus already grabs  36.6% Mirrorless market share in Japan, and the popularity of those type of cameras continues to grow each year.

Olympus OM-D E-M5

Olympus OM-D E-M5

Leaving aside Olympus’ in-house management problems, Olympus seems to really understand the market needs, and the OM-D E-M5 is exactly the camera that many of us have been waiting for. An advanced Compact-System-Camera (CSC) that will get the Micro Four Thirds standard, now one, but two step forward.

Olympus OM Series Turns Digital

The OM-D E-M5 design is inspired by Olympus OM film cameras (OM-1, OM-2, OM-1n, OM-3, OM-4, OM-3Ti) that were introduced back in the 70s (the OM-1 was released in 1972 and the OM-2 in 1975) and continue their success until the middle 90s.

Here are the OM System camera models and the year they were released and manufactured.

The Professional Models:

1972 to 1987 — OM-1 (M-1, OM-1 MD, OM-1n)
1978 to 1987 — OM-2 (OM-2n)
1984 to 1988 — OM-2SP (OM-2S)
1983 to 1986 — OM-3
1984 to 1987 — OM-4 (OM-4)
1987 to 2002 — OM-4Ti (OM-4T)
1995 to 2002 — OM-3Ti

The Amateur Models:

1978 to 1987 — OM-10,OM-10 QD, OM-10 FC
1983 to 1987 — OM-20 (OM-G)
1983 to 1987 — OM-30 (OM-F)
1985 to 1987 — OM-40 Program (OM-PC)

No doubt, the release of the OM-D is a nostalgic moment. A moment that unite us with the film days. The retro design certainly catches the eyes of the observer, however, some photographers prefer a modern design, like those of the Panasonic GF3 and GH2.

Olympus wanted the OM-D E-M5 to be the most successful Mirrorless camera (with interchangeable lenses) in 2012 and respect the “OM” brand name, as well as the “Pro” grade camera that Olympus has promised us a few years ago. Just note that the E-M5 is not compatible with OM lenses, only the Micro Four Thirds.


Inside the OM-D E-M5

Built-in EVF – The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Compact System Camera is the first Micro Four Thirds camera equipped with an electronic viewfinder (EVF). With other Olympus PEN cameras, you would need to buy the EVF as a separate accessory and mount it via the accessory shoe. This is not the ideal solution for enthusiast photographers who don’t even intend to use the LCD for image composition. In fact, for many of them, the lack of internal EVF was a deal breaker. Some preferred to purchase a Panasonic Micro 4/3 camera, others just bought a DSLR.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera back

Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera EVF and Back LCD (plus battery grip)

This is a 1,440K-dots high-resolution electronic viewfinder that gives you 100% field-of-view and Max. 1.15x magnification. One of the advantages of an EVF over OVF (optical viewfinder) is the amount of information and the type of information that can be viewed through it.  Because its a small LCD display, not a glass, you can view information like: shutter speed, auto bracket, IS activating mode, Metering mode, White balance, battery check, etc. You can view the image as it will be taken after you press the shutter release button, including how white balance and exposure affects the final image.

Durable & Weather sealed body – The Olympus OM-D E-M5 doesn’t disappoint. It’s body construction is among the best you’ll found in any Micro Four Thirds camera. It’s a weather-sealed body, which is dust and splash proof. The body itself is built with magnesium-alloy chassis, which adds extra durability to the camera.  We also need to mention Olympus Supersonic Wave Filter, a dust prevention self-cleaning mechanism.

Splash proof, Olympus OM-D E-M5 with water drops

Weather-sealed body, Olympus E-M5

Of course a weather-sealed body alone is not enough. For that Olympus has also recently released the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 13-50mm EZ weather-sealed lens and the HLD-6 weather-sealed vertical battery grip for the E-M5.  We can just assume that more weather-sealed lenses and accessories will be released in 2012. The OM-D EM-5 is also equipped the E-M5 with a durable 100,000 cycles shutter.

No doubt that the E-M5 certainly tops any other Mirrorless camera in terms of its durability and weather-sealing capabilities, especially important for outdoor photography, or for anyone who need to shoot in tough weather conditions.

16.1-Megapixels Live MOS Sensor – If you’ve read my previous articles/reviews, you know that I am not a favor of M43 sensors with tons of megapixels. I prefer something like 10-megapixels at most. The reason of course is that I know the limitation of small sensors and I know that I want my camera to produce good quality images in high ISO sensitivity levels.

As sensor’s technology continues to improve, we expect the latest models to produce cleaner images which will give the latest model at least 1EV stop advantage compared to older model.

Of course my expectations from the Olympus OM-D E-M5 were pretty high I must admit, and the Olympus OM-D E-M5 doesn’t disappoint. I had a chance to inspect many high ISO photos taken with a pre-production camera, and was just stunned with the low amount of noise that I”ve got in ISO3200 / ISO6400. This new sensor certainly revives the OM cameras brand name.

With the E-M5 you can shoot photos up to ISO 25600.

5-Axis Image Stabilization –  Olympus E-M5 enjoys a brand new type of image stabilization mechanism, which compensate camera shake up to 5-stops and in 5-axis, which includes:

  • Shift Vertical (up & down)
  • Shift Horizontal (left & right)
  • Rotational Yaw (along X-axis)
  • Rotational Pitch (along Y-axis)
  • Rolling (along Z-axis)


5-axis image stabilization, OM-D E-M5

5-axis vs 2-axis image stabilization

This is the first camera ever to use this type of image stabilization mechanism. Remember that you don’t have to purchase a lens with IS, because any lens that you attach to the E-M5 camera will be stabilized by default. That can certainly save you money, because image stabilized lenses are (in almost all cases) more expensive, sometimes much more expensive than the non-stabilized ones.

As a Nikon DSLR owner, I always wished that Nikon (or Canon) would come up with a digital SLR camera with integrated IS/VR, but they won’t do so, because they already invested in the lens-shift technology, which make those companies earn much more for those type of lenses. So if you but the Olympus OM-D E-M5, be happy that you have this feature, it is very useful when shooting hand-held (especially with Macro and telephoto shooting) and will save you quite a lot of money when you purchase Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lenses (although due to that reason, most of them are non-stabilized).

9fps Continuous Shooting – The Olympus OM-D E-M5 utilizes Olympus’ newest TruePic VI image processor. The new processor allows photographers to take up to 9 fps sequenced shots in “H-mode”. That’s very fast, and sports photographers will certainly enjoy this speed. When shooting Raw, you can shoot up to 17 sequenced frames, and in JPEG until the full extend of the data storage capacity.

Full HD Video Recording – It’s no surprise, but the Olympus E-M5 can shoot full HD video at 1080i60, 720p30 and 480p30.

It’s certainly worth mentioning that the 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization works for videos too, so you won’t get that jumpiness that you get when shooting without non-stabilized lenses. It will give you better results, smoother looking videos that won’t give a headache to the viewer :)

 Ultra fast AF – Olympus calls it the World’s fastest Autofocus mechanism. I didn’t measure it versus the competition, but from what I’ve seen, the AF is super fast and accurate too. You can also control the AF via the back touch-sensitive display. The new AF now supports Face detection up to 8 faces at a time and also Eye detection AF.

Olympus also incorporated a 3D tracking AF for very accurate subject tracking, not just in the X,Y axis movement but also for Z-axis movements.  So when the subject enters the frame, the AF system will lock on it an stay lock on it without losing focus. Of course it depends on other factors that aren’t always in the control of the camera/photographer. In the bottom line, both Olympus and Panasonic have already proven that they are capable of delivering very advanced AF systems that gives DSLR cameras a tough competition.

Should You Buy the Olympus E-M5?

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is in my opinion, THE Best Mirrorless camera to date. It offers all the manual controls you wished for in an advanced camera, it’s ultra fast, takes very high-quality images (with low noise), has the 5-axis image stabilization, tilting LCD display, high-res EVF, weather-sealed magnesium-alloy body, can shoot Full HD videos and support all the Micro Four Thirds mount lenses.

I personally think that the best thing in this camera is actually the sensor itself. The image quality that you get out of this sensor is just amazing, matching the Sony NEX-5N image quality in my opinion (the 5N has an APS-C sensor, compared to the smaller M43 sensor on the E-M5). That just tells us that Olympus put its heart out in this camera. This is the camera that many of you have been waiting for so long.

I would pick it up over any Sony NEX, Panasonic GH/GF, Olympus PEN or any other mirrorless camera on the market right now. It doesn’t have built-in flash, but I personally don’t care about it. I prefer getting a fast lens or buy an external flash if I want to get great results. Even with my current Nikon DSLR I didn’t use my built-in flash even once (ok, maybe a few times), it just don’t give me the appropriate results.

This camera is for the enthusiast photographer, or for those who opted for a DSLR over Mirrorless, but didn’t find a camera that fits their needs. The OM-D E-M5 is one of the most interesting and important cameras I’ve seen for a long time. It will give you great images and videos, you can take it shooting in the rain without worrying that it will break, and above all, enjoy photography.

This isn’t the smallest Micro Four Thirds camera, in fact, it’s among the largest ones (E-M5 vs NEX-C3 vs GF3 size comparison). In my opinion, no matter which camera you choose, and considering that you will be using not just a pancake lens, you’ll have to put the camera in a bag anyway. So I don’t think that size is the major problem. In fact, in terms of ergonomics, I think that it will be more comfortable to hold and handle, especially when mounting telephoto-zoom lenses on it.

If you can afford getting this camera, it’s worth every penny you pay for it. Highly Recommended! 

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