Review Date: June 20, 2012
Category: Serious to Advanced
Photoxels Editor’s Choice 2012 – Interchangeable Lens Camera
Friday, June 1, 2012 – Here’s what I receive in the box:
- Olympus OM-D E-M5 (Black) with Body Cap
- No memory card
- Li-ion Battery BLN-1 7.6V 1220mAh
- Battery Charger BCN-1 (with power cord)
- Neck Strap
- External Flash FL-LM2
- USB Cable CB-USB6 and A/V Cable CB-AVC3
- Documentation: Basic Manual
- Software CD: Viewer 2 [Win] [Mac], ib [Win], Instruction Manual
- I also received the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 12-50mm f3.5-6.3 EZ ED MSC kit lens (filter diameter 52mm)
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is winning quite a following among professional photographers as their walk around camera of choice. When you see it and handle it, you’ll know exactly why: it’s a compact package with serious DSLR aspirations. The OM-D E-M5 sits at the top of the mirrorless offerings, and is targeted to serious and advanced photographers.
I rather like the clean lines of the OM-D E-M5. Some reviewers have commented on the lack of a handgrip but I don’t miss it since the surface is not particularly slippery, and the fact that it is a camera that you need two hands to hold and operate mean you are at all times securely holding it. When walking with it and holding it in one hand only, I hold it in my left hand, fingers wrapped around the lens, which is the correct way to hold a camera with a zoom lens attached. There is an optional handgrip (plus battery holder) for those needing a bigger hand grip.
The E-M5 is quite a small camera and that may not be apparent just looking at the pictures. Here is how it compares (as far as dimensions go) to other popular mirrorless and traditional mirrored DSLRs (APS-C and full-frame), comparisons courtesy of camerasize.com (click on a picture to see exact dimensions):
The E-M5 is smaller than the Leica M9:
The E-M5 has the added viewfinder hump whereas the NEX-7 includes the EVF:
The E-M5 is smaller than the Fujifilm X-Pro1:
The E-M5 has the added viewfinder hump whereas the X100 includes the OVF/EVF:
The E-M5 is just slightly wider than the Panasonic G3 (the E-M5 strap lugs jut out):
The mirrorless E-M5 is so much more compact than a traditional mirrored DSLR, here compared to the Canon EOS T4i:
The E-M5 is dwarfed by the professional Nikon D4:
The best news is that in use, the OM-D E-M5 is a fast and responsive camera with no shutter or AF lag. It’s as fast as you can click the shutter. Plus, it has a tiltable LCD, which adds tremendously to the enjoyment of the camera.
The OM-D E-M5 is not perfect by all means and could do with some improvements. Here are all the “missing” or idiosyncratic stuff all in one place. See if any bothers you, though I believe none of them is a real deal breaker.
The OM-D E-M5 does not have a built-in flash but comes with an external clip-on flash in the box. Unfortunately, the flash does not bounce its light, sorely limiting its usefulness. On the plus side, the flash can act as a wireless trigger to other external flashes.
The stereo microphone on the OM-D E-M5 is very sensitive and will record every little noise you make when you handle the camera, such as manual zooming. I recommend using the power zoom for a buttery smooth and silent operation.
The Movie Button allows you to immediately record a movie no matter what the Mode Dial is set to. However, there is a disconcerting lag when you press the Movie Button again to stop recording. At first, I was pressing that Movie Button on, off, on, off like crazy trying to get it to stop recording.
The camera does not sit flat with the kit lens attached, but leans forward. This means you cannot simply put the camera on a flat surface to stabilize it; you’ll need a tripod. The lens ideally needs a little plug at the bottom to level it with the camera.
The display gains up only slightly in low light.
If you are a beginner, you will appreciate the displayed help. When you have learned the controls well, turn help off at Custom Menu – Disp/Remote/PC – Mode Guide – OFF.
Finally, the Menu structure is still quite complex. Olympus has to seriously rework its Menu structure and User Interface. The continued insistence on keeping a strict hierachical structure does nothing to help the user set the most common features quickly with the least amount of frustration. Thankfully, once you set everything up (with the help of the Instruction Manual), you won’t need to access the Menu too often. This is especially true if you set the Super Control Panel (SCP). Here’s how to set the SCP: [MENU – Custom Menu – Disp/Remote/PC – Control Settings – P/A/S/M – SCP – ON]. Once you’ve set the SCP on, all you need to do to bring it up is to press the OK button, and you’ll have all the important exposure settings at your fingertips.
Take, for example, setting Custom WB. This can be a frustrating affair unless you delve into the Instruction Manual. I recommend that you set either Live Control or Super Control Panel so that you can “easily” use “One Touch” WB. Olympus succeeds in complicating what should really be an easy setup.
Here’s how to set Custom WB on the OM-D E-M5:
- Press the OK button to bring up the Super Control Panel.
- Navigate to WB, rotate the Sub dial to select WB1 or WB2.
- Press OK to display the “Capture WB [INFO]” message. The Instruction Manual does not mention this step and it can be a frustrating time hunting on which screen exactly you’re supposed to be.
- Now you can press the INFO button to activate the measuring process.
- Place a couple of sheets of white paper in front of the lens so that it fills the display.
- Click the shutter and press OK to Yes.
However, there is nothing that is a real deal-breaker and, once you take the time to consult the Instruction Manual and carefully and methodically set the OM-D E-M5 to the way you want it to work, you’ll be delighted with both the amount of control it provides as well as the performance and image quality it delivers.
So, here’s what I like about the OM-D E-M5:
- Excellent image quality at ISO 200, very good to ISO 800, even ISO 1600.
- Fast and responsive
- Compact and light compared to a traditional mirrored DSLR
- Excellent kit lens with no image quality or usability compromise (though slow at f3.5)
- Tiltable LCD
- More customization than you’ll ever need
- Just an enjoyable camera that works as you expect it to (once customized to your liking)
No review is complete without a couple of improvement suggestions:
- Tiny buttons with too many different tactile feedback
- OLED needs to gain up better in low light conditions
- Need quiet C-AF during movie recording
- Camera/lens combo should allow camera to sit flat
- Revamp Menu
- Get rid of the Movie button lag
Olympus succeeds in its quest to start a new OM-D series of cameras. The first of the series, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 looks great and produces excellent image quality. Though the interface is not strictly retro, it is however in line with what current DSLR users expect and are used to, making it a fast and enjoyable camera to use. It is pleasantly small and definitely more compact and lighter than a comparatively featured traditional mirrored DSLR. Even beginners will enjoy using it, though they would need some time to get used to the Menu and user interface. We are impressed enough to highly recommend the E-M5 and award it our Editor’s Choice.
Next: Olympus OM-D E-M5 QuickFact Sheet / Buy