Olympus OM-D E-M5 User Report

2 Guys Photo, Rey Spadoni

Here at 2 Guys Photo, cameras come and go.  Most of them do the trick, are as advertised, get the job done.  The reviews I write typically reflect that sentiment.  Occasionally, the cameras I use are especially good.  Sometimes they are especially bad.  The Olympus PEN cameras have been on the positive side of that continuum as has been the Fujifilm X100.  The Fujifilm X-Pro1… eh, not so good.

And then there are the ones that really stand out.  That you love shooting.  That give you images which minimize the fuss and effort which block the way between vision and final product.  The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is one of those cameras.

If you’re looking for a visual walk-through of the camera or a list of specifications, Google and Youtube searches will handsomely reward.  My goal here is less ambitious – it’s merely to give you my sense of what it’s been like shooting with one all summer.  I’m going to give you the bottom line right here at the top: this one doesn’t go back.

2 Guys Photo, Rey Spadoni

2 Guys Photo readers already know (from parts 1, 2 and 3 of a series) that I’m a fan of smaller and lighter cameras.  More often than not, every time I’ve declared that, I’ve also had to offer some small token of trade-off barter.  For example: “I’m very impressed with the handling of camera X and its image quality is nearly a good as my regular DSLR.”  You caught the operative word there: nearly.

With the return by Olympus to the basic form factor of it’s film era OM series, the company that helped pioneer the micro four thirds standard (along with Panasonic) has upped, way upped, the ante.  Reportedly there’s a Sony sensor inside and that seems to have made all the difference.  Sony designed and produced the 16 mp APS-C sensors inside the Nikon D5100, Nikon D7000, and Pentax K5 DSLRs which are all camera’s I’ve recommended here.

But before we get to image quality, let’s talk about the shooting experience.  In two words: almost perfect.  I’ll get to the almost part in a few minutes (see the list of cons below), but about the perfection.  2 Guys Photo, Rey Spadoni

Olympus has fitted E-M5 with a tilting high resolution back LCD that is touch sensitive.  Touch to find focus, or touch to release the shutter, or touch to do nothing – you decide.  There’s an embedded super high resolution electronic viewfinder that is exceptional.  As good as an optical one?  Well, that depends.  If your definition of “as good” is as clear, without flicker or delay, and without complete and instantaneous feedback… then it’s not.  However, as far a providing full field coverage, a plethora of shooting information, and immediate feedback on exposure, white balance, in camera art filter effects, and more… then it’s a revelation.  Frankly, I’m probably never going back to an optical-only viewfinder… it has changed my shooting for the better that much.

The body has lots of external controls and a super nice top sided double-dial interface.  In Aperture Priority mode, where I mostly live, the back dial modifies aperture and the forward dial changes exposure compensation.  Easy, nice.  There are a few function buttons, one of which allows me to immediately shoot five bracketed shots at a set ISO (for HDR purposes).  I use one of the presets to contain those parameters and then force the back function button to immediately move me to that preset.  When I take my finger off the button, I’m back to the pre-preset status.  Now that’s super easy.

2 Guys Photo, Rey Spadoni

The camera body is comfortable, if perhaps a bit small.  Those of you with baseball mitt sized paws will want to grapple with one before committing.  The SD card slot is on the side, not next to the battery and accessible via the bottom facing battery door.  When mounted on a tripod, this makes all the difference in the world.

Finally, Olympus provided weather sealing on the body AND on the kit 12-50 lens.  More on the lens in a moment.  The seals allow you to take the camera out into all sorts of weather without worry.  I’ve already had mine out in downpours and haven’t worried a bit about it.  Now you may be thinking – who in their right mind would want to go out shooting in the rain?  Typically, that’s not me.  But to be out and about and not to have to worry about a sudden turn in the weather is quite liberating.  When on a beach recently, it started to rain and I just kept shooting away.

2 Guys Photo, Rey Spadoni

You’ll notice in the above photo the use of an art filter (dramatic tone).  Generally speaking, I’m not one to spend a great deal of time with in camera effects, preferring to dabble on a computer.  But the dramatic tone filter, in particular, is just plain fun.

Here are a few more taken by my son, Joseph, who is no stranger to Photoshop and who is an award winning photographer in his own right.  But he likes to have fun too…

2 Guys Photo, Joey Spadoni

2 Guys Photo, Joey Spadoni

As far as image quality, I’m finding the E-M5 to be highly capable.  Dynamic range is good and approaching APS-C DSLRs.  For the first time with micro four thirds cameras, I’m comfortable shooting above ISO800, getting into 1600 and even 3200 territory.  And the in camera image stabilization is a definite step up from the PENS that came before.

Here’s an image I took in a country story, handheld, at a half second shutter speed (!).  Impressive performance.

2 Guys Photo, Rey Spadoni

Usually the mere mention of kit lens makes respectable photogs shutter, but the clever 12-50/f3.5-6.3 kit lens is a winner.  It allows for instantaneous macro shooting and you can toggle between standard spin style zoom or a power shift style zoom.  A quick flick one way zooms in, the other way out.  It’s silent for noise free video shooting.  By the way, the E-M5 (like the PENS) is an exceptional video shooter.  I’ve been putting together a few videos for projects and this camera excels in this regard.  Back to the lens: it’s a joy to use.  Will it replace your fixed Olympus 45 or PanLeica 25?  No.  It’s surely not as fast or as sharp, but in terms of versatility, it is the best kit lens I’ve used in any format.  Period.

Would I recommend the typical 14-42 lens you can also get bundled with this camera?  Nope.  I’ve used it and it’s ok, nothing special.  I love that the 12-50 goes out to 12mm wide.  That in and of itself is worth the upgrade.

In terms of macro, here are a few close focus examples:

2 Guys Photo, Rey Spadoni

2 Guys Photo, Rey Spadoni

2 Guys Photo, Rey Spadoni

What’s not to like?  For me, a few things:

  • Olympus menus are poor.  Probably the worst around.  With the E-M5, I heard they had been given a facelift, so I expected a total rewrite.  Not so.  Just fresh paint.  It’s confusing to remember where to go to do what.  The abundance of external controls and ability to use the super cool Super Control Panel for critical adjustments thankfully means you don’t need to tread into the menus often.  Thankfully.
  • The two buttons on the back, under the shutter button, contain the playback button and a customizable function button.  It’s the one I configured to the preset as described above.  They are mushy and too small.  Not a deal breaker, just kind of chintzy and annoying on such a nice body.
  • What, no lens hoods, Olympus?  C’mon.
  • I’m a sucker for in camera machine gun style pano shooting.  Fujifilm and Sony perfected it.  Everybody’s jumping on.  Olympus – it’s your turn.
  • Would prefer gaining the ability to shoot three (instead of five) shots to run the gamut from +2 to -2 EV.  Helps with handheld HDR-directed bracketing.
  • The clip on flash is clunky.  It may pose an engineering challenge of epic proportions, but a built in pop-up one would be better for fill flash purposes.

None of these cons are deal breakers.  Far from it.  The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is a winner.  And I’m keeping it.

If you’re pondering getting one, please consider using one of the links below.  It will help us out and won’t cost you extra.  Thank you!

E-M5 silver body – here

E-M5 silver with kit lens – here

E-M5 black body – here

E-M5 black with kit lens – here

Please note that these cameras are extremely popular and Olympus can’t keep up with demand (as of the time of this writing).  Best to stick with a reputable store (like B&H) and either get on the waiting list or just order and wait until they ship.

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29 Responses to Olympus OM-D E-M5 User Report

  1. Mark James says:

    Still on my maybe list. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Rey says:

      Thanks, Mark. I’d be interested to know what else is on your maybe list… as this mirrorless space is getting crowded… particularly with Fuji and Sony about to introduce new bodies in the next week.

      • Mark James says:

        I’m heavily invested in m4/3 lens’s so maybe the GH3 if it has what I want or the om pro if it’s announced soon enough. I was really hoping the M5 would have what I wanted but it just missed too many key wants/needs to get me to pull the trigger… Yet.

  2. Anders Holmvick says:

    Hi Rey,
    Very helpful review. I love the your last macro shot, and the first one by your son. Keep the reviews coming!


  3. Excellent review, Rey… & very timely! I’ve been wanting to jump to a smaller camera for awhile & after reading your post am totally convinced that this is the camera for me. I’ve been shooting Olympus DSLR’s forever & have the E300 & E3 with way too many expensive lenses, so my dilemma has been…. micro or E5? The E5 is a bit scary as Olympus seems to be leaving that market behind.
    I went shopping yesterday & actually found a silver OMD EM5 & it is tentatively sitting on hold but before I make the plunge I have a couple of questions I’m hoping you could answer:
    – What do you think of the DOF on the 12 – 50 lens? How much control do you have over DOF with such a narrow choice of aperture? (F3.5 – 6.3). As you mentioned, I too, live in the world of aperture choices before every shot, so I’m not at all sure about such a limited choice. Or is this the way it is with mirrorless?
    – Apparently there is an adaptor that makes it possible to use my E3 Zuiko lenses, have you had any experience with using older lenses? Do you know anyone who has?
    Many thanks, Rey …you & Ed are a wealth of information & your blog is part of my daily reading, even though I don’t often leave a comment… :-))

    • Rey says:

      Hi Janet –

      Limiting DOF on the 12-50 is not its strong suit. It certainly can be done to pleasing effect, but the bokeh is not the best I’ve seen due to the somewhat smaller sensor size coupled with the slower lens. For portraits, you will get much (!) better results from the PanLeica 25/1.4 ($540) or Olympus 45/1.8 ($400). Those aren’t cheap primes, but they will give you far, far better results which get you very, very close to what I’ve acheived on my APSC cameras.

      I used the Olympus MMF adapter to good effect. B&H sells it as do others. When it comes to coupling electronics, I’ve personally had much better luck with manufacturer’s adapters (and extenders, etc.) than third-party. The AF and metering works perfectly with regular 4/3 lenses. Depending on the 4/3 lens, however, the AF can be a bit slower. For portraits, landscapes, etc. that won’t matter. If I were grabbing fast action, I’d stick with native m4/3 lenses.

      I think you’re wise to move on from 4/3 as it appears to be an abandoned platform. Olympus has had way too much luck with m4/3 to invest in 4/3 at this point. I expect we’ll see more bodies, but the smart money is on m4/3 for them. No hate mail please from 4/3 enthusiasts… but I truly believe the future for them lies in m4/3.


      • Thanks so much, Rey… very, very helpful… 🙂

        I’m so glad to hear that you agree with my feelings about the E5, it’s been a tough decision for me – I love my E3 & am saddened & frustrated when I see Olympus leaving the game, especially considering my investment in lenses.

        But.. I’m now feeling excited & confident about the OMD-EM5… one more question for you: Have you given the m.Zuiko 40 – 150mm, F4 – 5.6R a test run? Any thoughts? I was going to include it in my initial purchase, but now that you’ve suggested the Olympus 45/1.8, I’m thinking it might be a better choice. The 40 – 150mm is very cheap & I’ve never been very happy with a lens in that price range, but I’m new to the micro world, so maybe it’s still a good performer… ?
        Also… I have been shopping at B & H for years, do you benefit if I order via your blog?

  4. Rey says:

    Hi Janet –

    EM5. Great camera, bad value proposition. They went with a digital built from the ground up concept which resulted in a smaller sensor, but not a smaller camera. I think many concluded that if you’re going to be shooting with a camera (and lenses) that big, why not just go with APSC? The OMD and PENS change all that because the bodies and especially lenses are that much smaller.

    The 40-150. Yes. Shot with it. If you get it, make sure you’re looking at the second generation which is better for video shooting. It’s a surprisingly sharp lens and well, well worth the money (particularly since they often run specials/rebates on it). For me, however, when I want to go longer, I want to go much longer. So, in m4/3, that’s the Panasonic 100-300 which goes for about $500. I prefer that over the longer Oly telezoom because that lens is far too expensive. The Panny is a great lens and with the 2X crop factor, a 600mm equivalent. Great for wildlife. The 40-150 is a sweet lens for moderate telephoto and especially portrait shooting. The 45 is a different beast altogether. Vastly less versatile, but supremely sharp and with beautiful subject isolation.

    Let us know what you decide.



  5. Oh no! Now I want to buy them all … !!!

    Invaluable information here, Rey … many, many thanks!

    Very interesting about the E5… so glad I asked you! Your explanation makes a lot of sense & now I am on board for the OMD for sure.
    I’ll let you know what I decide, and it must be soon. They are only holding the camera until tomorrow… !!
    Janet 🙂

  6. Hi Rey,
    Just to let you know…. I bought the EM-5 with the 12-50mm & the 40-150mm (2nd generation) & I am absolutely LOVING it!! Wow! What a fabulous little camera! Haven’t had any time to do any proper test runs, but I put both lenses through their paces yesterday & could find not a single thing I don’t like about it. Both lenses are excellent, especially for the price & I will purchase the other 2 lens you recommended as soon as my budget recovers.

    My favourite feature… the size & weight. It will easily go everywhere with me & there will be no more aching neck & stiff shoulders from carrying the DSLR & lens…. yay!

    Excellent speed, features, easy access (I’m used to the rather complicated Olympus menus, so no problem there), sharpness on both lens … well, need I go on? I fired off 7 bracketed shots at the sunrise this morning & it was nothing short of lightening speed..!
    Hope to get some photos processed & up on Daily Photos asap… many, many thanks for your help here, can’t tell you how much I appreciated it… 🙂
    Have a great day,

    • Rey says:

      Janet – congratulations! And thanks for letting us know. Please feel free to send us some images for 2 Guys Photo (2guysphoto@gmail.com).

      A few other things to consider as you’re getting started:

      > The touch shutter feature. They say the track focusing on contrast detect systems (like m4/3) is not as good as phase detect (traditional DSLRs). Try following the action on the back screen and then stab at the subject as it’s passing through. Immediate focus and bam, you have your action shot. It works.

      > Try setting your bracketing settings to one of the presets. Then configure a FN button to the preset. Instantaneous, one touch bracketing. Take your finger off the FN button and you’re back to your prior settings.

      > Have fun with grainy b&w or dramatic tone art filters. You won’t want to but consider it a guilty pleasure.

      > Play around with the close focusing features of the kit zoom. You may be pleasantly surprised.

      I could go on…

      Good luck and thanks!


  7. Clanmother says:

    I have a lot to learn about cameras! I just point, click and hope for the best! Now that I know about your blog, I think my knowledge is about to expand. Thank you!

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  15. Very nice user report. I also have both the Fuji and the Olympus systems. Both are great with positives and negatives on both sides but I would not get rid of either. I find now that I am constantly pulling out the Fuji xe-1 and lenses as well as some M mounts, instead of the Olympus EM5. Reasons:
    I have large hands
    After using the Fuji I realized how small the Olympus buttons are
    Form factor. The Fuji fits in my hands more comfortably
    Image quality on the Fuji is wonderful as it is on the Olympus. But……I find the Fuji to have a textured richness that most digital cameras do not give. Most other digitals produce a harder image.

    Thanks again,

    • Rey says:

      Elliot – good summary. Thanks… pretty consistent with my own experience.

      Bottom line: both are great capture systems and in the right hands can produce winning results.



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